Reading Around in Groff Conklin's Anthologies

Extollager

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My 11th (how about others commenting on some of their Conklinizing?) is Nourse's "Tiger by the Tail," in the fifty SF short stories book, a clever impinging-dimensions story. 3/5 I don't know what else is in this collection, but Nourse may have been right to highlight this one as the title story.


 

Extollager

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My first Conklin-anthologized story for this month is Theodore Sturgeon's "Talent." Till the surprise ending, this struck me as too close to Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life!"

However --

both stories seem to have been published for the first time in 1953; so was it just coincidence that each concerns an amoral boy with miraculous powers to transform things and dominate one or more adults?

And the endings are different. Everyone knows how the Bixby ends. In the Sturgeon, the brat is stopped dead.

3/5
 

Extollager

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My 12th Conklin selection is from Science Fiction Adventures in Mutation,



a 1955 collection I had to get from the library. The story has one of the most bizarre titles of any sf work I know -- "Skag with the Queer Head," author Murray Leinster. "Skag" sounded to me like one of those funky monsters that Jack Kirby used to draw for Stan Lee in the years before Fantastic Four, etc. -- except that there'd have been a second G -- you know, like "Beware of SKAGG -- the Creature from the Forbidden Galaxy!!" In fact, Lee and Kirby did offer a Skagg for our attention --



Back to the Leinster. "Skag" appears to be based on Skagway, Alaska, since the story concerns malamute dogs that are the subject of cruel experiments by a scientist operating in the remote wilderness, away from unwelcome attention from humanitarian authorities. The story may remind readers a little of Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau and the climactic bloodbath in C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength. The scientist has been forcing the development of intelligence in dogs and, when he would inflict suffering in the pups born to a dog-couple, finds himself in a duel of wits. 3/5
Skagway, Alaska
 

Extollager

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Again -- this thread isn't meant to be Extollager's reading log alone -- and I'll bet some Chronsfolk have Conklin anthologies in their collections, especially the older readers -- so why not add some comments here?

I seem to have been more distracted than usual yesterday. Read from the Mutation volume James Blish's "Battle of the Unborn" and Theodore Sturgeon's "The Love of Heaven," but in both cases felt that I was missing something -- so no comments or ratings on these.
 

Bick

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Extollager - may I just say that although no-one else posts here much, I do look at it regularly to read your updates, which I find very interesting and enlightening. I haven't posted any thoughts of my own, as I admit I don't have any Groff Conklin anthologies! (Eek, am I allowed to admit that on this forum, seems sacrilege). I must do something about this and find some on Ebay. Thanks for your posts, and keep em coming!
 

j d worthington

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I've not been adding to the conversation because: a) all my Conklin anthologies are locked up in storage halfway across town, and without a car to get there, it makes it rather difficult to get any of them home; b) it has been years since I last dipped into any of them, and I'd not entirely trust my memory to be accurate, nor to reflect what I might think about a piece at present; c) I've had extremely limited reading time for a while now, and have largely been concentrating on the Heinlein biography, with a few scattered older (and shorter) books interspersed there -- I've not even had time (or energy) to tackle much in the way of my research concerning Lovecraft and his influences/compatriots... which, for those who know how important that is to me, underscores rather drastically just how exhausted and pressed for time I've been....
 

Extollager

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Extollager - may I just say that although no-one else posts here much, I do look at it regularly to read your updates, which I find very interesting and enlightening. I haven't posted any thoughts of my own, as I admit I don't have any Groff Conklin anthologies! (Eek, am I allowed to admit that on this forum, seems sacrilege). I must do something about this and find some on Ebay. Thanks for your posts, and keep em coming!
Why, thank you!

Use Contento's sf index and that article about "41 above the rest" to find Conklin anthologies with contents that you'd like. I'm not a "collector" as such -- i.e. faced with a choice between buying at the same price a Conklin I don't have, and buying an anthology edited by someone else with more stories of interest to me, I'd probably go with the latter. But some of his anthologies were reprinted often and are easy to get cheap, and have a lot of classic and near-classic stuff. But I've never read one of them all the way through, as far as I remember, and when I have read some of the less inviting items I may decide that the overall average quality is not super high.
 

Extollager

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My 13th Conklined story for comment is E. M. Hull's "The Patient," once again in the Mutation volume. A shapeshifting mutant goes around killing researchers who are getting too close to a cure for cancer, because such a cure would threaten the "amorphism" mutation that depends on rapid cell growth. The story seemed silly to me. 2/5

The story was collected earlier in this book:
 

Extollager

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****
***** The climax of the story: the mutant turns himself into a bomb and detonates himself to kill a researcher. I dunno -- this seemed like the kind of thing my old friend or I might have written for our fanzine back around 1970.
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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The only Conklin anthology that I know I have read is Science Fiction Oddities.



Mostly comic stories, all with weird plotlines. The surreal cover actually illustrates some of the stories. From top to bottom, I can see visual references to "The Chessplayers" by Charles L. Harness, "People Soup" by Alan Arkin (the actor and sometime SF writer), "Callahan and the Wheelies" by Stephen Barr, and "Rundown" by Robert Lory.
 

Extollager

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That Oddities has a clever Fritz Leiber story, "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee," doesn't it?
 

Extollager

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My 14th Conklin item is my second 5/5 selection, Lovecraft’s “Colour Out of Space,” in The Omnibus of Science Fiction (1952). One reason I decided to reread it now was that we had news reports yesterday of a history-making and somewhat harmful meteorite in Russia. (When news reports about Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet were issued, I marked the occasion by rereading “The Whisperer in Darkness.”)


The story begins effectively, with sentences often featuring rather noncommittal constructions. Look at how the core of many main clauses is something of this sort: there are; there are; There are; there are; these are; folk have gone; It is; place is; It must be; Ammi Pierce has never told; Ammi is; There was; people ceased; Traces can; some will linger – etc. This style would, of course, be annoying if it weren’t for the fact that one senses something like this, that the narrator is trying quite hard to avoid sensationalism or an undue emphasis on how he feels about the events he is going to describe.


The fourth through sixth paragraphs introduce the narrator’s own impressions of the unwholesome region, and here we see that Lovecraft had learned something from Arthur Machen – evident in phrase such as “dark westward tangle of glens and slopes,” “Upon everything was a haze of restlessness and oppression,” etc. (In the first paragraph, which is not presented as being specifically the first or later impressions of the narrator, we have the Machenian “think brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight,” etc.) I would say the first just slightly false note intrudes here, with the somewhat clichéd locals who mutter and whisper in fright. They seem like stock properties in whom Lovecraft himself doesn’t quite believe.



The tenth paragraph (“It all began”) resumes the noncommittal style: there had been, These were not, dusk was, there had come, Arkham had heard, etc. The reader accepts without question “that white noontide cloud, that string of explosions in the air, and that pillar of smoke from the valley far in the wood,” all the more if he has just seen the Russian videos!

The description in the 11th paragraph recalls the always effective – no matter how many times the novel is reread – description of the Martian cylinder that crashed onto the Surrey heath in Wells’s War of the Worlds.


The 12th paragraph (“The day after that”) continues the firmly Wellsian style. (I should say that in suggesting Lovecraft had learned from Machen and Wells, I am complimenting him. They were two of the greatest fantasists of the generation before Lovecraft’s. Of course, they were still alive when he wrote “Colour,” but their most impressive work was largely behind them by the 1920s.) In this paragraph the “three professors” are “wise men,” and in the 14th paragraph they are “sages,” and one senses a nicely restrained sardonic quality; obviously they are puzzled, and it is taking them a while to realize the dreadful significance of what they test, seeing it right under their noses. If you blink, you miss the fact that Ammi’s wife does not come out to greet the professors on their second visit.


Paragraph 15 (“They had uncovered”) gives a nicely restrained account of a new development in the story of the meteorite, the bursting open of a bubble in it. I wondered if Lovecraft had seen geodes or “thunder eggs” as we used to call them in Oregon. I found a nice little specimen in the Buckhorn Springs Road are near Ashland while on a ramble with my dad some years ago. The picture is someone else's find:



Paragraph 16 (“Conjecture was vain”) contains a possible echo of a third master fantasist of the Wells-Machen generation, Rudyard Kipling. In his superb “Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes,” we read that a “little bit of the dark world came through” Jukes’s head “and pressed him to death.” Lovecraft writes that the meteorite “was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside.”



Paragraph 17 (“That night”) continues to display Lovecraft’s sure handling of his materials. If the reader pauses to imagine the scene, he’ll see something sublime enough (in Edmund Burke’s sense) – the lightning striking again and again at the meteorite site, etc. But Lovecraft holds back, orchestrating his effects such that he does not indulge in a premature bit of sublimity that could deflate what’s to come.
Now Lovecraft begins the sequencing of the meteorite’s dire effects. Nahum tires more easily and assumes he is getting old (paragraph 18). In the next paragraph there may be a reminiscence of Milton’s Paradise Lost, where the fruit that Satan and his angels sample is compared to the actual “apples of Sodom,” green globular fruit, hollow and bitter:


...greedy they pluck'd
The Frutage fair to sight, like that which grew
Neer that bituminous Lake where Sodom flam'd;
This more delusive, not the touch, but taste
Deceav'd; they fondly thinking to allay
Thir appetite with gust, instead of Fruit
Chewd bitter Ashes, which th' offended taste
With spattering noise rejected: oft they assayd
Hunger and thirst constraining...


A reminiscence of Revelation (8:11) may also appear, but here it is not waters but the soil that is poisoned by the fallen “star Wormwood.”
 

j d worthington

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A brief comment or two: Certainly, Machen was a major influence on HPl at this time, and Lovecraft found his regional descriptions (along with those of Hawthorne) very inspirational and instructive when it came to handling his own beloved New England in his tales. Save for Machen's occasional hyperemotionality, I think Lovecraft would be quite astounded, but also pleased, to be paid such a compliment as the above.

As for geodes... his friend James Ferdinand Morton, Jr., was a geologist, and Lovecraft had spent quite a bit of time discussing this subject with him (which likely played a fair role in the information in At the Mountains of Madness), as well as helping him to collect various specimens of rock from his own region (including some from the little bit of land he -- HPL -- rented out to Mariano de Magistris as a quarry)... so he likely had seen more than a few... (The bit in "The Call of Cthulhu" where the narrator comes across the newspaper while visiting a geologist friend is based, in part, on a visit to Morton.)
 

Extollager

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Here's the second of two comments on "The Colour Out of Space."

By the time we get to paragraph 25 (“April brought”), the spreading strange effects of the meteorite have begun a reign of terror in the immediate region of the landing. Lovecraft’s diction is masterful when he refers to the “hectic and prismatic variants” of the “primary tone.” (“Prismatic” made me wonder if this story helped to inspire Ballard’s story “The Illuminated Man” and his novel, not read by me, The Crystal World.) The “chromatic perversion” exhibited by the bloodroots, etc. reminded me much of the garden in Hawthorne’s superb weird story “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”


Paragraph 28 (“It happened in June”): The careful chronological sequencing works well, and the element of pathos is gradually intensifying, as we read now of the onset of Mrs. Pierce’s dementia and other dreadful signs of decline.


Around paragraph 42, we get the element of the unseen monster that lives in the well. I forget about it between readings of the story, and I think that may be because it is a bit too much like something you might encounter in some other story than this tremendous one; some other story by Lovecraft, or by E. F. Benson, etc. I wouldn’t say it is a flaw, but perhaps it is a *bit* of a concession to the needs of a plot.


Nahum’s cave-in, in the next paragraph, is ghastly enough, even if it is a demise pretty much such as we’ve seen in Poe’s “Valdemar,” several of Machen’s stories, etc.


Paragraph 53 (“Not a man breathed”) and Paragraph 58 (“When they”) contain the memorable description of the tips of branches and twigs flickering or flaming with the unearthly light, and I’m reminded of a figure of the greatest importance as a progenitor of the weird tale – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the eerie lights that burst out in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:


About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white.


(--also the aurora later in the poem)


Finally, the story reminds me a little of the Biblical book of Job. It is largely about severe suffering experienced by a decent man and his family. Nahum thinks like one of Job’s friends – “It must be a judgement of some sort; though he could not fancy what for, since he had always walked uprightly in the Lord’s ways so far as he knew.” Of course, it doesn’t conclude as the Biblical narrative does.


It seemed to me that, in "Colour," there was perhaps only one patch of the kind of over-the-top language that Lovecraft too often indulged in elsewhere, the simile in this sentence: “It was a monstrous constellation of unnatural light, like a glutted swarm of corpse-fed fireflies dancing hellish sarabands over an accursed marsh.”



Incidentally, those lights reminded me of lights in Machen’s strange story, written with a similar objectivity of style, “The Terror.”

"The Colour Out of Space" is Lovecraft's masterpiece, and, for me, one of, I suppose, four favorite stories by him (the others being At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness," and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth").
 

Extollager

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I said second of two comments on "Colour" in my previous message, looking to wait to say more, if anything, till others have said something, but I thought that, since I'd numbered the paragraphs of the story, it might be interesting to poke a little at them and see if anything came of it.

The story -- unlike many of HPL's tales -- has no breaks/chapters, and I think that is all to the good.

It has 66 paragraphs. This puts the midpoint at paragraphs 33 and 34. These two paragraphs begin in the same way, with Nahum Gardner bursting into Ammi's house to tell him of shocking developments. The first outburst is of the first death in the family, that of one of Nahum's sons. (His wife remains alive, though horribly decayed, till Ammi kills her with merciful intentions late in the story.) The second outburst is of the death of a second son of Nahum's, and includes important information about the haunted well. Certainly they make an appropriate midpoint.

About a quarter of the way through the story, at paragraphs 16 and 17, we have the conclusion of the professors' lab work on the second and final specimen from the meteorite and the "evaporation" of the meteorite during or after the storm that drew the lightning strikes. You could say that the phase of the story characterized primarily by curiosity is here giving way to the development of the "horror theme" that will persist throughout the rest, or at least most of the rest, of the story.

We are three-quarters of the way through the story at about paragraph 47, where twilight is giving way to the terrific night when the weirdness will most fully blossom and the greater "part" of the colour will return to space, or go out into space and then perhaps into some transdimensional realm apart from normal space-time.



Sept. 1927 issue of Amazing, in which the story first appeared. Here is a listing of other things that appeared in the issue:

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56665
 

j d worthington

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One thing I meant to mention earlier, and forgot, is the reference to "the blasted heath", which Lovecraft leaves ambiguous in origin: is he referring to Milton (Paradise Lost), Shakespeare (Macbeth), or both? Certainly, he was enormously taken with both. Dr. Price (if memory serves) has done a very interesting examination of this story in regard to biblical precedent....
 

Extollager

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JD, I've always taken it that HPL was alluding to Macbeth, assuming (as, in this case, I would) that he was consciously alluding to anything. I'm not enough of a Miltonist (but I'm working on it!) to say for sure about a "blasted heath" in the latter poet.
 
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