Post by allthingshorror on Feb 1, 2009 18:33:12 GMT
Panther - 1st edition 1969
Introduction The Frontier Guards - H Russell Wakefield The Ash-Tree - M R James Back to the Beginning - John Connell The Idol of the Flies - Jane Rice Caterpillars - E F Benson Silent Snow, Secret Snow - Conrad Aiken The Master Plan - John Sladek The Watch-Towers - J G Ballard Breakaway - Alex Hamilton We Fused Ones - Perry A Chapdelaine Crab Apple Crisis - George Macbeth.
My continued ignorance of the other Vault site will probably mean that this book has alrwady been covered. As recompense, I'll write up Evans' whole introduction...
Fifty years ago, faced with the sneers of successful 'hard' scientists - engineers, physicists, etc. - psychologists moved away from the apparent profitless field of introspection into the more scientific area of behavioural studies. In practise this meant the replacement of the human being as the principal laboratory animal by the inquisitive rat and more recently the obligingly responsive pigeon. These two creatures have now, for decades, been running mazes or pecking away at luminous discs providing interesting information about their learning capacity for a perceptual discrimination. The applications to an understanding of human psychology, have alas, been rather dissapointing, and perhaps it is not surprising that the last few years have seen a growing swing back of interest in human studies, and a slight, but again increasing, feeling that psychology is not, as I was solemnly taught ten years ago, simply the study of behaviour, but also the study of the mind.
Of course to study the mind is easier said than done. As an experimental psychologist myself, I am only too aware that the brain works with such rapidity and apparent autonomy that introspection is nearly hopeless - the process one is interested in investigating is often over and done with before one can even begin to study it! As a result, one falls back on tricks to trap the brain into giving up some of its secrets, or alternatively in interferring by the study of repetitive or characteristic patterns of human behaviour the hidden rules which govern these patterns. These are in many ways the territory and tactics of psychoanalysis, and although not psychoanalytically oriented myself I nevertheless look to external symptoms for clues to the archetypal material within. The contemporary writer J. G. Ballard, one of whose stories 'The Watch Towers', I have included in this collection, has dubbed this rich and unexplored territory of the mind 'inner space', and suggested that it may be as profitable and certainly as surprising a field for exploration as 'outer space'. Presumably the world of the interior - and not just the sparking of neurones, or the microbiology of memory - is for all practical purposes limitless, and I think there is little doubt that it is to date poorly mapped. We know far more about the stars and planets, rockets and meteors than we do about the human mind - though this may only be a temporary shortcoming.
Which then are the most promising gateways to this territory? One is obviously the dream, as the surrealists have long been aware. Another gateway is through the raw material of imaginitave fiction, particularly the fiction where profound emotional response can be set off by some literary strategem - a turn of phrase or a carefully worded theme. Frequently ( and I feel that this is particularly interesting) while the power of the stratagem is obvious to both writer and reader, the source of this power and the reason for its effectiveness is quite obscure. For this reason the horror story interests me particularly, for the success of one story where another fails is rarely easy to understand. Certainly, whatever the Gothic frights of the past, today's horror stories use a different language. The effectiveness of a story is no longer measurable in terms of blood spilt nor in the amplitude of screams from within the torture chamber. A century of staggering technical development and the glossy veneer of sophistication which has come with it have made the clanking chains and hauntedcastles hopelessly out of date and writers have turned, with varying degrees of deliberation, to the misty chambers of the mind and to the ephemeral logic of the unconcious for their inspiration. It should therefore not surprise anyone to find that several of the stories I have selected deal with peculiar states of mind in which the individual is at the mercy, not of some improbable bogeyman, but of his own psychological state - a condition in which his lonliness and hopelessness is particularly profound whether he be, as in ALex Hamilton's brilliant 'Breakaway', trapped on a slowly melting iceberg, or as in John Sladek's 'The Master Plan', wrestling with the delerium of his own death.
This collection is an exceedingly personal one which may be dipped into at random or, preferably, read in the sequence I have chosen, for this has a deliberate logic which should give the interested and contemplative reader some insights into my pown thought process. Over and above this, each story expresses a particular and seperate horror theme, a play on the archetypal fears of our time. There are one or two old stagers, like M. R. James' the 'Ash Tree' which have still validity today, and some, like George Macbeth's prose-poem, which are essentially of this decade. The stories, when taken in sum (apart from their value as entertainment) to give a picture of at least some of the universal horrors of the time. Perhaps they will be of even greater interest to some psychologists of the far distant future, when the phantoms that inhabit our minds may be taking quite a different form again.
Yeah, as it happens, we did have a mumble or two about this and Mind In Chains on Vault Mk 1, not that it matters a jot. A book is never done no matter how many times it's been commented upon. Anyhow, Christopher Fowler, another big anthology fan, once mentioned to me that Mind At Bay is one of his favourites. I particularly like Alex Hamilton's Breakaway (a man adrift on an iceberg .... heading into warmer waters), Wakefield's malefic haunted house, the grim study of a child's mental retreat into a void (Silent Snow, Secret Snow) and Jane Rice's all-time nasty kid classic. A very deep but far from meaningless approach to the horror anthology. In Benson's unforgettable story, a man's cancer manifests itself in the form of squirming yellow caterpillars. "Crab Apple Crisis" is Grumpy Old Men Go Nuclear as a petty squabble between two neighbours quickly degenerate into all out war between their families.
Christopher Evans [ed.] - Mind In Chains (Panther, 1970)
Editor’s Introduction – Christopher Evans
Saki – The Cobweb Brian W. Aldiss – Faceless Card Cynthia Asquith – The Playfellow M. R. James – Lost Hearts Theodore Sturgeon – Thunder And Roses Ambrose Bierce – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Christopher Evans & Jackie Wilson – The Dreams of the Computer May Sinclair – Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched Perry A. Chapdelaine – Breathe! Breathe! Oh God, How I Would Breathe! J. G. Ballard – The Dead Astronaut Lady Eleanor Smith – No Ships Pass Giles Gordon – The Line-up on the Shore Alex Hamilton – Below the Shadow John Sladek – Anxietal Register B
Thanks to Steve for contents list and Rog Pile for the cover scan!
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
I had to read MaB for a project (even if the translation had to omit a few stories for length). I was quite surprised. While a lot of the anthologies of the time were at best okay to meh, this transmitted the same vibe like Langdon Jones' The New S.F. or Judith Merrill's England Swings.
The contrast between the old ghost-stories and the then contemporary tales of madness was unique and thought-provoking. Contributions like Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Aiken or the chilling Back to the beginning by Connell were so far removed from the usual Weird Tales reprint in terms of literary quality and content.
And I was astonished how frightfully actual and on the chin Ballard's The Watch-Towers still is. I read quite a few of his stories and they often filled me with unease, but this was a minor revelation and a sad testament how far SF has fallen in terms of quality and relevance. It really doesn't matter if there are towers hanging in the sky monitoring every move - or maybe not - and everybody is just studying the ground or faceless corporations tracking every move on your smartphone after politly asking your permission.
But the story which I strangely have a hard time to forget is E.F.Benson's Caterpillars. The setting seems like a fairy-tale today, were there really ever such stinking rich, snobbish bachelors traveling to Italy in the summer, playing tennis or golf and conversing with artists without a care in the world? But after too many Poirot adaptions on the screen I like the setting and the idea, and Benson delivered an unforgettable gruesome image. Are the caterpillars already on the way for me or you?
Evans put a lot of thought in this and for once this kind of high concept worked. (At least for me.) It is a testament of the cultural climate at the end of the sixties when people were receptive for new ideas.