Before … 12:01 … and After

We’re back to the Fedogan & Bremer series.

Raw Feed (2005): Before … 12:01 … and After, Richard A. Lupoff, 1996.before-1201

Foreword: About Dick Lupoff“, Robert Silverberg — Silverberg talks about how singularly unlucky his friend Lupoff is in his relationships with publishers; several of them collapsed right after or right before publishing work they bought from Lupoff. Silverberg also disputes the notion that Lupoff, known for his many pastiches, is a “hitchhiker on the creativity of other and greater artists”. His pastiches are, he says, complex experiments and his non-pastiche is greatly varied in style and theme.

“Introduction: How I Learned to Read” — Lupoff provides an autobiographical account of his life with accounts of his days writing for radio, in the US Army, working as a technical writer in the computer industry, a fan magazine writer and publisher (with his wife), and an account of his fiction career.

Mr. Greene and the Monster” — Lupoff’s earliest story that he has record of. It’s a slight tale of a part-time sf writer being transported back into a simpler, pulpier time more in keeping with his style. He sells a story to one “Hugo Burnsback”. The story ends with the story disappearing from the magazine it is to be in. Probably more of an ironic joke than a rumination on temporal censorship.

BOOM!” — A slight Lupoff effort showing his love of comic books. A homeless man in New York City and the bookstore owner who lets him hang around looking at the comic books which hold an odd attraction for him are revealed to be superheroes.

Incident on the 14th Street BMT” — A more polished reworking of “BOOM!”. This one introduces a quest for a missing sister by the two (now) brother superheroes revealed at story’s end.

After the Dreamtime” — If you get past the dubious idea that a genetic variation in Australian Abos gives them, along with their very dark pigmentation, imperviousness to radiation, this is an interesting exercise in style which puts clipper-like ships in space, Abos swarming in the riggings, and a air of doom as the narrator relates how a killing has exiled him from the life of a space sailor the Abos now pursue. (A bunch of bigoted emigrants to a planet seemingly inhabited by nostalgic American Southerners don’t believe that only Abos can crew the spaceships and violently take one over. It’s somewhat hard to believe they wouldn’t know the salient fact that only Abos can be crew members.)

12:01 PM” — Given his various career reversals, it’s understandable that Lupoff bitterly contends that the excellent film Groundhog Day is based on this story with little except the title changed. To add further insult to injury, some critics contended that the feature length film based on this 1973 story was a ripoff of Groundhog Day. However, while the latter film takes the basic premise of a repeating loop of time (taking another’s basic starting premise and using it for a different purpose has a long and honored history in sf), it bears little resemblance to this story. There is no romance, no perfecting of the day after repeated tries as in the film There is an attempt at suicide, but mostly this story involves the protagonist trying to stop the physics experiment that caused the loop in time which, here, is only one hour.

Venus–Ah, Venus!” — A humorous story about a an alien wise to all the conventions of pulp sf convincing a slacker Earthman to be transported to a pulpy Venus. Unfortunately, the man is transported to a Venus where he inhabits the body of an oppressed Venetian.

With the Evening News” — There are two interesting things in this 1975 story. The first is its casual cynicism in having a joint media-government (specifically cable news organizations) conspiracy considering things like assassination and war to boost its ratings. (This post-Watergate story imagines that the government gets media support in exchanging for manufacturing exciting news stories.) The second is its prophetic air. TV news consumption, in the age of cable, is down. (This story of course was written before CNN.) And certain news organizations do collude with governments to manufacture news at times. Of course, the whole factor of the Internet is completely missed though.

Saltzman’s Madness” — Lupoff is known for his Lovecraft pastiches. But the collection’s annotated bibliography doesn’t list this excellent story as one. It may not deal with any of Lovecraft’s fictional geography, books, or deities or be written in his style, but it’s very Lovecraftian in theme, realistic execution, framing device, and plot. The protagonist, now in an insane asylum, has an obsession with time, begins to believe that our minute is not a real minute, that some of the real minute is being stolen. With the help of manipulated recording of some music, he opens his mind to the entities that really are stealing our time. He memorably sees them dancing on his lawn during a snow storm and, at story’s end, horribly and urgently urges us to avoid their notice, to let them have the forty seconds they have taken from the true minute.

God of the Naked Unicorn” — Kind of a silly exercise in pulpy metafiction. (This is part of a deliberately shlocky series written under the pseudonym Ova Hamlet.) It started out promisingly enough like some work by Philip Jose Farmer or Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (the story was written after Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life but before Moore’s comic book series) by combining Tarzan, Doc Savage, Dr. Watson, John Carter, and numerous other pulp and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters in a quest to combat a supervillain, but then came the silly and unamusing twist where the supervillain is a pulp writer. There are some bits that are good parodies of pulp writing.

Nebogipfel at the End of Time” — Nebogipfel is the name of the time traveler in H. G. Wells’ “The Chronic Argonauts”, the original version of The Time Machine. Lupoff is hardly the first one to write a sequel to that novel, detailing what happens to the Time Traveler after he leaves Victorian London for the final time. The story starts out promisingly enough. Various time travelers, human and otherwise, show up at the End of Time depicted in the Wells novel to see what the first of their number, Wells’ Time Traveler, will do. He speaks of despair and hopelessness, says he just wants to return to an ordinary life in his native London, abandons the White Sphinx. They urge him not to, that his own personal philosophy dictates that he must see what comes next. However, at story’s end, Lupoff doesn’t give us any more of a resolution to the Time Traveler’s life than Wells did. He simply gets back in his time machine and vanishes. A promising, moody story is marred by irresolution.

Mort in Bed” — Fantasy story of a woman who develops an irrational hatred of her husband after she can see his sexual dreams. She eventually finds a way to enters those dreams but picks the wrong time to do so since her husband, in his dream, kills the dream character she chooses to merge with. Sort of a biter bitten story.

Stroka Prospekt” — There is the flavor of the sexual underground in this story. Its plot of a Soviet asteroid miner, in a future where the Soviet Union has a large presence in space, developing a strange sexual obsession with the alien Polnyik (which doesn’t officially exist) and eventually finding one to have sex with, is very reminiscent of a man seeking a first time homosexual encounter. The protagonist blows all his money on the tryst as well as being somewhat physically injured. I would have liked to know more about what happened to the character after the end of the story. With this story, “Nebogipfel at the End of Time”, “BOOM!”, “Incident on the 14th Street BMT”, and “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone — March 15, 2337” I’m sensing either a characteristic inability of Lupoff to end a story satisfactorily or my inability not to appreciate some subtlety of his.

Two Sort-of Adventurers” — It’s been a very long time since I read my one and only Fafhrad and the Gray Mouser story by Fritz Leiber, so I can’t say how close this Ova Hamlet parody is. Nor can I account for the presence of the Jewish element in it (food and names).

Blinky Henderson Again” — Bitter mainstream story about a former screenwriter and writer of Westerns trying to get a job from as a temp and being interviewed by a young woman who has never heard of him and doesn’t appreciate his work. The story ends with the temp agency telling him, in line reminiscent of Hollywood, they’ll call him. Blinky Henderson is the name of his most successful Western series character.

The Digital Wristwatch of Philip K. Dick” — Lupoff was a friend of Philip K. Dick’s and this story is an effective pastiche of Dick and a loving tribute to the themes of his work, most notably the notions of the transmigration of souls, the difference between the machine and the human, how to tell if yourr alive or dead, and the nature of reality in general. After his death in 1982, Dick finds his consciousness in his digital wristwatch. (I have no idea if the details of where he got the watch are accurate.) He meets all sorts of people whose souls now inhabit electronic devices (a playing off the notion of distinguishing machine and human in Dick’s stories) and a spiritual guide who tells him reality can be anything he wants, a notion he rejects since he says he needs a touchstone. Eventually, he makes his way to the phone company’s computer network. He also encounters the soul of a female cosmonaut who is familiar with his works “Foster, You’re Dead” and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The story is a nice tribute combining the interests of Dick the man (including music and hi-fi equipment) and his work.

Snow Ghosts” — Ghost story with nice atmosphere, but I’m not sure what the point was. On Christmas Eve in a bar around Lake Tahoe, an old man sits in the corner while the surroundings change about him. It becomes evident that we are seeing the old man at different points in his life. As Lupoff notes in his introduction, he’s not sure this is really a ghost story. (For instance, is the old man dead at any point?)

Triptych” — Funny, mordantly murderous war-between-the-sexes tale. A rather ineffectual husband is pressed by his rich wife to kill the woman he had an affair with. (The wife simply wants to punish the woman.) The husband botches it, and the intended victim blackmails him into killing his wife. He botches that too (his wife becomes suspicious). The two woman meet, agree that the man is good in bed, and condescendingly dismiss him when he shows up at the bar. Then be blows up the bar with the help of his plumber friend.

The House on Rue Chartres” — Not a Lovecraft pastiche per se, this story is based on a legend regarding Lovecraft’s visit to New Orleans and his meeting with fellow writer, (and one time collaborator) E. Hoffman Price. (Lupoff puts the visit in 1933, but Lovecraft’s biographer S. T. Joshi says it was 1932.) Price is supposed to have taken an unaware Lovecraft to a brothel where the women, fans of his work from Weird Tales, offered him sex on the house. Joshi says that, in as much as it has any basis in fact, it probably happened to another Weird Tales author, Seabury Quinn. (Price, in a letter, explicitly says he skipped taking Lovecraft to a brothel.) Lupoff, and I don’t know if this is his personal addition, has Price slipping Lovecraft some absinthe too. Price offers to show a materialist (and now intoxicated) Lovecraft a real ghost at the Rue Chartres, a house in New Orleans which was built in the hopes Napoleon would occupy it at the invitation of Jean Lafitte and Governor Claiborne of New Orleans. The ghosts of Lafitte and Claiborne, angry that once again Napoleon hasn’t shown up, try to kill Price and Lovecraft. Price, expert swordsman (he was also a student of Arabic, a West Point grad, a Theosophist and Republican), defends the pair. Price, when questioned by Lovecraft, claims it as all been an absinthe hallucination, but Lovecraft is unsure at story’s end. Lupoff does a nice job recreating the two men, New Orleans, and Lovecraft’s fascination with old architecture and Price’s chili.

The Doom that Came to Dunwich” — Another Lovecraft pastiche. This one is a sequel to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. It’s the 1990s. Professor Armitage is still around, his life mysteriously prolonged just as people can mysteriously not leave Dunwich. Cordelia Whateley, grad student from McGill University, comes to town to research the events of Lovecraft’s tale. She finds a government conspiracy (shades of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) preoccupied with exploiting the space time gates seemingly indicated by Wizard Whateley’s activities. They succeed in bringing a Cthulhoid deity through, the disaster befalling the town blamed on a meteor strike (shades of Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”). The story is effective, and its opening deliberately copies “The Dunwich Horror”‘s.

The Woodstock West Killer” — One of Lupoff’s mysteries. He took to writing largely mysteries when his sf career fell through in the 1980s. It involves some series characters of his. I’m curious about Lupoff’s politics. The plot, I suspect inspired by death squads in Rio de Janerio, involves some Berkley shopkeepers contracting the murder of some of the more obnoxious homeless people that scare their customers away. Lupoff’s introduction likens the homeless people to casualties of the sixties.

Easy Living” — Straightforward mainstream story about a failed boxer getting ahead in his new career as an actor — before he’s killed in a robbery.

Dogwalker” — Sort of a literal biter-bitten story. Its protagonist scopes out potential wealthy victims by walking his dog in their neighborhood and getting to know their wealth, routines, and defenses. However, this time he mistakenly thinks his intended victim (he always murders them as well as robbing them) is a widow. In fact, her husband is very much alive (if wheelchair bound) and kills him with a shotgun. The protagonist uses his trained dog to attack people during his break ins as well as cover.

A Funny Thing … ” — In its own way, this dream-vision story is reminiscent of Lupoff’s earlier “Snow Ghosts”. It features a life review of various scenes from a person’s life just as the latter story does. Here the review is forward, the scenes of a future life dreamed by a ten year old who sees the terrors and joys, personal and global, of the last half of the 20th century.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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