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Archive for October, 2017

Best-Case Scenario

Penguin Random House, my long-ago employers (then Penguin USA), have just published an elegant Penguin Classics volume, The Best of Richard Matheson, edited with an introduction by award-winning author Victor LaValle, touted as “one of horror fiction’s brightest talents.”  My old pal Greg Cox and his colleagues at Tor pretty much own Richard’s oeuvre in trade editions and, since the mid-1990s, have done a commendable job of keeping his stories in print, either accompanying his shorter novels or in their own collections.  So the last thing we needed is one whose contents represent the usual suspects…and this ain’t it, which does credit to LaValle, who deems this “The Best of Richard Matheson—at least according to me”; that’s just as it should be.

Despite starting with Richard’s 1950 professional debut, these 33 stories are otherwise presented in no discernible order.  Many are established classics, yet others were first published more than 50 years after “Born of Man and Woman” by Gauntlet Press, Tor’s counterpart when it comes to limited editions of his work, in Masques V (“Haircut”) and Matheson Uncollected: Volume One (“Counterfeit Bills,” “Man with a Club,” “The Prisoner”).  Of greatest interest, at least to me, is “Now Die in It,” which after appearing in the December 1958 issue of Mystery Tales was soon expanded into Richard’s twice-filmed 1959 novel Ride the Nightmare, and only finally saw book publication in its original incarnation in Gauntlet’s Matheson Uncollected: Volume Two in 2010.

LaValle’s well-written 12-page intro says surprisingly little about the actual tales, with more than half of it devoted to relating his own unnerving “Matheson moment,” when his teenaged self “stepped into a story he could’ve written.”  Yet letting the work speak for itself is no bad thing, and given Richard’s customary concision, those 407 pages encompass an impressive range, both chronologically and thematically.  The stories run the gamut from the horror (“Blood Son,” “Dress of White Silk”) and science fiction (“Witch War,” “The Last Day”) genres for which he is best known to crime fiction (“A Visit to Santa Claus”), Westerns (“The Conqueror”), and even a collaboration with author/scenarist son Richard Christian Matheson (“Where There’s a Will”).

Nowadays, the DIY shorts proliferating like mushrooms on YouTube—a trend that was still but nascent when I went to press with Richard Matheson on Screen—have blurred, perhaps forever, the lines demarcating what I would consider “real” movies.  Yet given the frequency with which his work was dramatized, it’s no surprise that almost half of these stories have been adapted in features (“Button, Button”), TV-movies (“Prey,” “Dying Room Only,” “Duel,” “No Such Thing as a Vampire”), or episodes of The Twilight Zone (“Death Ship,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Third from the Sun,” “Long Distance Call,” “Mute”), Night Gallery (“The Funeral,” “Big Surprise”), and other TV series (“Shipshape Home,” “Dance of the Dead,” “One for the Books”).

Back in May, Richard’s agent e-mailed some bibliographic questions from Penguin editor Sam Raim, and since Mrs. Bradley didn’t raise any stupid children, I looped in my Richard Matheson Companion co-editor Paul Stuve, who is to his published work what I am to his screen credits.  We were, alas, not able to correct the citation misidentifying 87th Precinct creator Ed McBain as “Bain” in the title of his eponymous Mystery Book, or minor errors regarding Richard’s Twilight Zone episodes (he scripted 14—“Third from the Sun” not among them—rather than 16, basing only half on his stories).  But for non-curmudgeonly lay readers, this handsome edition, of which Sam kindly sent me a copy, can serve as a wonderful introduction to Richard’s legendary talents.

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