Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Pickup"

Of all of the numerous and varied magazines that published John D MacDonald's short fiction over the years, two hold the record for "most appearances." The first, not surprisingly, was a pulp: Dime Detective, where from 1946 to 1952, thirty-nine JDM stories appeared in 36 separate issues. The other may be a bit of a shock to modern readers (but not to faithful readers of this blog), especially considering the current personality of the magazine in question. From 1947 to 1975 Cosmopolitan magazine published 36 issues containing MacDonald's fiction, fiction that spanned the gamut from short story to novella to "full-length" (read: condensed) novels. The numbers break down thusly: 13 short stories, five novellas and a whopping 18 novels. The short stories include two of his very, very best work ("The Bear Trap" and "Hangover"), while his novellas include "The Impulse," which was adapted for television as an first-season episode of Thriller (re-titled "The Fatal Impulse"). The novels were all works that were published in concert with their appearance in book form, either contemporaneously or several months prior to hitting the bookstands.

Aside from the fact that Cosmopolitan paid substantially more than the two-cents-a-word rate common in the pulp world, it afforded the author a significantly larger audience, and -- believe it or not -- a more upscale audience, a fact that must beggar belief to anyone looking at the covers of recent issues of this woman's magazine. With headlines such as "Guys Rate 50 Sex Movies," "How to Outsmart a Bitch." "50 Things to Do Butt Naked" and the highly doubtful "The Sex Article We Can't Describe Here!" it is completely understandable that most modern readers have difficulty wrapping their heads around the fact that Cosmopolitan began life as a premier fiction magazine, and that it once led with fiction, and even that it once marketed itself without prejudice to either gender.  Helen Gurley Brown changed all that when she took over as editor in 1965, but even then the change was gradual. Back in its heyday Cosmopolitan was a highly respected publisher of fiction -- popular fiction, to be sure -- but fiction nonetheless, featuring authors of every level of the business, including Ernest Hemmingway, Ambrose Bierce, Sinclair Lewis, Damon Runyon, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton and A.J. Cronin.

After World War II the magazine shifted slightly and began including many popular writers, some graduating from the then-dying pulps, and including names like John Cheever, A.A. Milne, Mary Roberts Reinhart, Agatha Christie, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Patricia Highsmith, Ian Fleming and, of course, John D MacDonald.

MacDonald's first sale to Cosmopolitan took place in 1947 with the publication of his crime tale "The Pay-Off". It was the author's third sale to a large-circulation slick magazine, following appearances in Esquire and Liberty. "Pickup" was published the following year, in the February 1948 issue. It's not a mystery and contains no crime whatsoever, unless one considers a tired premise and an artificial situation as crimes. It certainly has the feel of the author "writing to market," despite his protestations that he never did such a thing. Worst of all, it features a female protagonist -- thankfully revealed in the third person -- who is dealing with decidedly female problems, and if MacDonald had any weakness, it was getting inside the heads of women. Not that he couldn't do it on occasion, usually with secondary characters, but the author's singular ability to create fictional people who seem uncannily real seemed to fail him when it came to the ladies. Examples include Alice Furmon in Contrary Pleasure, Judy Jonah in All These Condemned or Ginny Sherrel in Murder in the Wind. (His bad girls, on the other hand, are usually marvelous creations.)

There's nothing really wrong with MacDonald's depiction of Catherine, the subject of "Pickup," but then there's nothing really deep about her either. JDM's attempts at meaningful introspection in Catherine are done so with overly-florid language that makes it seem like a smokescreen, covering up something the author really didn't understand. In the end "Pickup" is unsatisfying and almost trite, although it's subject matter is anything but, and one gets the feeling that in more competent (and female) hands, this could have been a deeper story.

Catherine Hazard is a young housewife, the mother of two young children and married to Carl, a man twelve years her senior. The family lead a seemingly happy and fulfilling life in a midsized city -- Carl has a good job as an accountant with a building contractor and Catherine is a stay-at-home mom (this is, after all, America in 1948). But something is not right, at least with Catherine. A darkness is creeping into her soul, an emptiness whose cause she is unable to identify.

"[She] looked out the wide front window, saw the street distorted by the large wet flakes that melted against the glass -- and something in the wet asphalt's shining, something about the yellow of the early street lights, the soggy fall of snow, called up the feeling of emptiness, of strangeness that had haunted her for over a month."

As she awaits the arrival of her two children from grade school, she contemplates her husband Carl's return from work at five and it brings another dark shadow across her mind.

"Thinking of him brought back the new dark feeling of aloneness, and she knew that it was tied up with him somehow, but there was no way for her to find out. The new feeling was something restless within her that receded as she tried to grasp it, to find its component parts, its chemical analysis."

She wonders if this first autumn with both kids out of the house during the day has brought about her feelings, with the silences offering more time to think about herself.

"[As she looked around the house, it] looked different. She saw frayed edges where before she had seen newness and adequacy. She felt the smallness of the house; the constriction and tension building within her was like a spring, which, if released, would flatten the walls, send the roof sailing off, open the square rooms to the gray sky above."

This foreboding fades away as the kids come in and, later, Carl arrived home. This is the typical MacDonald family unit, one he used in virtually all of his early This Week stories, where there was never any gloom or feelings of doom, and here we are presented with the hardworking husband, weary from work but shrugging off that weariness once he sees his wife and kids. And MacDonald is at pains to depict Catherine as a good wife, loving, supportive and properly domesticated. After dinner she has more housework to do, but with the kids put to bed all she wants to do is "sit and look at Carl's strong square hands holding the [newspaper.]" When Carl gets up and announces that he has to return to work for a few hours, Catherine sees the weariness in his eyes "and she [wants] to hold him tightly, somehow to rest and restore him." Even a troubled housewife in 1948 couldn't resist her innate impulse to be an Earth Mother.

Carl senses something wrong with his wife and asks her about it. Catherine deflects any idea that there might be something wrong, but when Carl shrugs off his concern by blaming "the old differential"  -- their pronounced difference in ages -- Catherine inwardly wonders if he has put his finger on exactly what ails her.

"There had been dancing and music and brightness, and in the middle of it all Carl had come along, with his steady eyes and gentle hands, and before long the world had become a place full of grocery bills and washing and cleaning and formulas and bitter fights with the man from the diaper service. Maybe the sense of loneliness came from the thought of time going by, each second a knife that neatly sliced off a small chunk of the only life given her."

A few moments later the doorbell rings and it is the babysitter, arriving on the wrong night. But Catherine urges her to stay and watch the kids anyway so she can go out for a long walk, to be by herself for a while and contemplate her feelings. Here follows many column inches of prose as Catherine wanders the snow-covered streets, looking at life going on around her. She spends a few minutes in a hotel lobby, imagines herself to be an actress in a movie, fends off a would-be suitor who offers to buy her a drink, and without realizing it, begins to weep.

On her way home she is walking down her street when a car comes up behind her and follows. Catherine begins to walk faster, but the horn beeps a familiar beep and she turns to see her own car with Carl behind the wheel.

Carl: "You going my way, lady?"

Catherine (affecting coyness): "And what way would you be going?"

Carl: "Oh, I thought I might go out on the turnpike and buy a beer or two. Come along. I'm harmless."

Now if this were a really cool John D MacDonald pulp tale, Carl would be someone else -- a "sex maniac" or something -- and Catherine would be in a in a mood to expiate her depression with a mad fling, only to be terribly sorry for doing so once she got into the car (see "Jail Bait"). Or even better, Carl would be himself, but suffering some sort of psychotic reverie, and it's later revealed that he has been secretly trying to kill Catherine since last year! ("Mr.Killer") But no, this is a JDM social tale, so the reader has to suffer through an extended scene of this married couple pretending to be strangers, the only way -- apparently -- that they can reveal their true hearts to each other. The ending of "Pickup"  is as glib as anything MacDonald was ever guilty of writing.

MacDonald continued to pen these kinds of "women's stories" throughout his career, and the pages of magazines like McCall's, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Home Companion and Redbook are full of them. He got better as he went along, and some of these stories are incredibly well done. It should be remembered that "Pickup" was published only nine months after he had his first story published in a real magazine, so I suppose I should cut him some slack. Yet when the ultimate John D MacDonald short story anthology is finally published (yes, I'm dreaming), "Pickup" shouldn't be included.

MacDonald was rarely what one could call a pretentious writer. He dealt straightforwardly with his subject matter and told a tale as well as any writer who ever lived. Yet his invention of story titles reveals a side to him that the general reading public didn't see. In the case of "Pickup," MacDonald should have gotten down on his knees and thanked fiction editor Dale Eunson for sparing him the embarrassment of his original title: "A Soupcon of Despair."

The MacDonalds were living in Clinton, New York when JDM wrote this story, and were still there when it was published. He wrote a column for the local paper during those day, and he mentioned "Pickup" in one of his rare moments of self-revelation. Under the headline "ADVERTISEMENT" he wrote (using that annoying royal "we"):

Strange things happen in this business of putting words on paper, and in the interests of breaking a wrist, slapping our own back, and in order to bolster the sagging newstand sales of our major masterworks, we herewith record this one.

This is the month in which we became the composite author, the cross section of American scribblers. All at the same time, and all on the same newstand we were shocked to find ourselves published as follows:

One gentle little love story in Cosmopolitan entitled "Pickup."

One humorous story in Blue Book entitled "The Pastel Production Line."

One sports story in Sports Fiction entitled "Punch Your Way Home".

One story of politics and murder in New Detective entitled "One Vote for Murder."

One psychological crime story in Dime Detective entitled "High Walls of Hate."

One worlds-of-the-future story in [Astounding] Science Fiction entitled "Cosmetics".

The thing which gives us pause is the fact that not yet have we ever written a story of which we are completely proud. We are serving an apprenticeship to the Angry Gods of the Typewriter, but we can't bury our lesser efforts. We have to sell them for grocery money. It's a good thing they don't let doctors practice this way.

Any one of those other stories sound better than "Pickup," a JDM effort that has never been anthologized.


Story art by Tom Lovell

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Schmidt on JDM and Dorothy


The only time I ever saw John lose his temper was in defense of [his wife] Dorothy. We were covering the Coppolino trial in Naples [Florida], and at the trial was an actor by the name of Brad Dexter. His claim to fame was that he had appeared in a movie with Frank Sinatra called Never So Few [sic]. In the process of this movie, when they were filming -- it was a World War II movie -- they were storming the beaches. Sinatra and Brad Dexter and all the actors were disembarking from the LST, and Sinatra happened to fall into a sink hole and was about to drown. Dexter was a much larger man, and he reached over and pulled him out by the collar, saved his life. It was a matter of weeks that Dexter was a producer in Hollywood.

He happened to show up at the Coppolino trial in Naples because he was producing a movie called The Lawyer, based loosely on the Sam Shepherd case. That eventually evolved into a TV series called Petrocelli.

Anyway, during one of the breaks in the trial, John and Dorothy and myself, along with other reporters, were gathered around the coffee bar. Dexter and F. Lee Bailey had come back from a three or four martini lunch. Dexter was using some really foul language, and John cautioned him not to do that. Not only was Dorothy there, but Theo Wilson, a [female] reporter for the New York Daily News among other women [were] standing around. He persisted, and you could just see John starting to turn red. Finally he challenged the guy. Doc Quade, a reporter for the United Press International and myself had to physically restrain John from going after Brad Dexter because he could not tolerate that kind of language or that disrespect. Dexter backed down; he left and he never came back -- he didn't appear in the courtroom after that. In fact, I never saw him again after that.

Dorothy was a very important, a very important part of his life. After every session of the trial, we would go back to the apartment. We stayed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Dorothy was always there with cherry tomatoes and cashew nuts, and all these cheeses and snacks; and we would sit and rehash the whole day's trial. She would give her input and she was part of the whole creative process. She was a wonderful, wonderful person...

John was very high on Jack Lord [portraying Travis McGee in the movies]. Jack Lord in his early career played in a very short-lived TV show called Stoney Burke. John and Dorothy were both fans of the show, and we thought that Jack Lord had expressed an interest in playing Travis McGee. I remember John telling me he had all the moves. He had the look of a sailor. He would probably be good for the part, and then Lord... started appearing in Hawaii Five-O. He was still interested in Travis McGee, but Dorothy watched his performance and she finally said, "John, all he does is act with his teeth!" And that was the end of Travis. Jack Lord, he lost his chance to play Travis McGee. She was a wonderful person; John was a wonderful man. I was fortunate in knowing them when I was in my early twenties, and... he was a very fatherly figure.


-- Journalist John Pete Schmidt, JDM friend and collaborator, reminiscing at the Sixth JDM Conference (November 1996) in Sarasota, Florida. A transcription of the panel discussion appeared in the 59th issue of the JDM Bibliophile. Schmidt worked with MacDonald on his 1968 Coppolino book No Deadly Drug.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Spectator Sport"

John D MacDonald's "Spectator Sport" originally appeared in the February 1950 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Often cited by critics as one of MacDonald's very best science fiction efforts, its subjects include time travel, virtual reality, an impersonal bureaucracy, human ambition, and a decaying society, all done nicely in the relatively short space of 2,200 words. It was included in the author's 1978 SF anthology Other Times, Other Worlds, where editor Martin H. Greenberg referred to the story as "a minor classic," and it has been included in at least three other SF anthologies, beginning in 1952, only two years after it was originally published. What's more, in the sixty-one years since the story was written it has proven to be incredibly prescient, anticipating the invention, popularity and enervating effects of video games, although we are (thankfully) no where near the stage they exist in "Spectator Sport." Best of all, this is a great yarn, as enjoyable and as readable as anything MacDonald ever wrote, with an ending that -- for the lovers of the written word -- takes one's breath away.

"Spectator Sport" begins in much the same vein as another, earlier JDM SF tale, "The Miniature," although in this story the protagonist has arrived in the future by his own design and knows exactly why he is there. Dr. Rufus Maddon is a scientist who has studied and written on the physics of time, and who -- along with a group of other like-minded experts -- has finally perfected a means to travel into the future. Maddon is chosen as the first to try this new device, and he transports himself 400 years into future America, into the same city from whence he came. Expecting to appear to the inhabitants of 2350 as a barbarian, he is astounded to find things relatively the same. Relatively.

"There was a general air of disrepair. Shops were boarded up. The pavement was broken and potholed. A few automobiles traveled on the broken streets. They, at least, appeared to be of a slightly advanced design, but they were dented, dirty and noisy... as he reached the familiar park... his consternation arose from the fact that [it] was all too familiar. Though it was a tangle of weeds the equestrian statue of General Murdy was still there in deathless bronze, liberally decorated by pigeons... Clothes had not changed nor had common speech. He wondered if the transfer had gone awry, if this world were something he was dreaming... He limped out of the park, muttering, wondering why the park wasn't used, why everyone seemed to be in a hurry... It appeared that in four hundred years nothing at all had been accomplished. Many familiar buildings had collapsed. Others still stood. He looked in vain for a newspaper or a magazine."

Dr. Maddon makes several attempts to stop pedestrians as they hurry past him. He wants to announce his presence as the first man to travel through time, but no one is interested in even stopping. When he grabs one man and turns him around, he is rebuffed and told to "go get a lobe job."

But there is one change that has occurred in this seemingly decaying future, and it is the prevalence of a number of "low-slung white panel delivery trucks," all in good repair and all bearing the legend WORLD SENSEWAYS. Upon closer inspection he notices a smaller inscription on the vehicles. Some read Feeder Division, others Hookup Division, and one that reads Lobotomy Division. Unfortunately for Dr. Maddon, one such truck featuring the latter inscription pulls up beside him and two husky men get out and force him inside.

 The scene shifts and we are inside the office of Roger K. Handriss, the Regional Director of World Senseways. He has been informed of the detention and subsequent lobotomization of one Dr. Rufus Maddon, and has been made aware of his claims that he had come from the past. Handriss has been brought the contents of Maddon's pockets, which include some twentieth century change, several membership cards of the era and a letter that references a book on time travel that the good doctor had written. When Handriss confirms that just such a book had been published in 1950, he realizes that they have done Maddon "a great wrong." And it also serves as a literary device to allow Handriss to recall the history of the era, and of how things changed only four years after Maddon's time of departure.

"Imagine what it must have been like in those days, Al. They had the secrets but they didn't begin to use them until -- let me see -- four years later. Aldous Huxley had already  given them their clue with his literary invention of the Feelies. But they ignored him... All their energies went into wars and rumors of wars and random scientific advancement and sociological disruptions. Of course, with Video on the march at that time, they were beginning to get a little preview. Millions of people were beginning to sit in front of the Video screens, content even with that crude excuse for entertainment... Now all the efforts of a world society are channeled into World Senseways. There is no waste of effort changing a perfectly acceptable status quo. Every man can have Temp and if you save your money you can have Permanent, which they say is as close to heaven as man can get."

When the lobotomized Dr. Maddon is brought into Handriss' office, walking "with the clumsiness of an overgrown child," Handriss struggles for a way to try and rectify his terrible error. Reeducating him would take to long, and sending him back might bring a flood of others into the future. No, there is only one thing a compassionate corporate regional director can do in this situation: allow Maddon a privilege it takes most men all of their lives to save up for...

Despite MacDonald's reference to Huxley's 1931 novel Brave New World, the fictional future of the two worlds could not be more different. In Huxley's World State, a paternalistic and all-controlling government has made all resources readily available to everyone. It controls population and has eliminated the family unit. It encourages free sex and conspicuous consumption as a means to provide a stable economy and society. Yet both works feature society's rulers keeping its subjects under control with an external device: Huxley's "Feelies" and the drug Soma, World Senseways' Temps and Perms. In this respect the theme is the same: a future society built on the control of its subjects through the supply of endless distractions to those same subjects. Pleasure, rather than pain, is used as the ultimate controlling device.

Yet the difference in the choice of controlling entity -- government or private industry -- has led some critics to use "Spectator Sport" as an example of the evils of capitalism. Greenberg, in his very brief introduction to the story in Other Voices, Other Worlds, makes reference to the tale's "nature of reality, capitalism and American culture," and makes direct reference to cultural critic H. Bruce Franklin, who reportedly "praised" the story for it's "social content." Franklin is a noted cultural historian who has taught at several big universities, including Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Rutgers. He has written extensively on the Viet Nam war, on prison literature, and on science fiction. He is also a self-proclaimed Marxist. I suppose one's worldview colors one's observations on just about everything, and so it is with his opinions about "Spectator Sport." To me it is more than clear that MacDonald was writing from the Huxleyan point of view, that mankind's "distractions" are a better way to enslave society than using one's fears, but Franklin sees more than that. Despite the fact that JDM was a Keynesian at best and -- later in life -- fled from that point of view, Franklin sees in "Spectator Sport" a grand dissertation of the evils of capitalism:

"In fact the interlocking Anglo-American empires have decayed so far that they have produced some SF that does indeed border on a Marxist analysis. Advanced state capitalism has now given birth to a whole body of SF works that project the next stages of its monstrous cancer. Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano, Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants, Pohl's "The Midas Plague," Robert Silverberg's "The Pain Peddlers" and "Company Store," Robert Sheckley's "Something for Nothing," J. G. Ballard's "Subliminal Man," John D. MacDonald's "Trojan Horse Laugh" and "Spectator Sport"--all these are good projections of what capitalism might become if it were not destroyed. But capitalism is in the process of extinction, and those who are wiping it out and replacing it with a decent human society are guided by the science of Marxism."

No matter one's political point of view, I find this an utterly wrongheaded analysis of the story. MacDonald was writing about mankind's need to be distracted, and whether that need was met by a benevolent central government or by a global corporate entity was immaterial to the author. The point was that man will do what man will do, and the easiest way out was the way that would be most readily supplied, be it by government or by private enterprise.

 The real genius of "Spectator Sport" is it's precognitive recognition of television as the ultimate drug.  What in 1950 was a kind of a novelty, a "radio with pictures," became -- as MacDonald correctly guessed -- the great opiate of the masses. And its interactive stepchild, the video game, -- something MacDonald could have only dreamed up in his wildest fiction -- is the real prescience of this short story. Anyone who has ever played a well-crafted, involving game, or who has had a child born in the gaming age can well attest to JDM's surmise of an outcome. And do we really have to wait 400 years for the future of "Spectator Sport" to arrive?

Used copies of Other Times, Other Worlds are easy to find at relatively low prices. The other anthologies that include "Spectator Sport" are Omnibus of Science Fiction: 43 Foremost Stories (1952) edited by Groff Conklin (reprinted in 1956 and 1963 as Science Fiction Omnibus), Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales (1963) edited by Isaac Asimov and Groff Conklin, and Science Fiction of the Fifties (1979) edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

JDM on Mexico and Mexicans


Take along your little phrase books and take a shot at the language everywhere you go except China and France. The Chinese and the French don't care to have you trying to speak their language. Both of those civilizations think they are placed at the exact center of the known universe, and foreigners had best stick to their own barbaric gabbings and not sully the best language in the world by trying to speak it, no matter how fluently.

A pretty Chinese woman in Mexico explained to me why, when I had been stationed in China some years ago, they absolutely refused to understand my phonetic Mandarin.

She frowned, trying to think how to explain it to me, and then her expression cleared and she said, "It would not be wise to understand your dog if he asked you for a meatloaf, would it?" And then she realized what she had said, and blushed. A pretty Chinese woman blushing is even prettier than before.

The great shame of the United States citizenry is the huge numbers of us who go to Mexico and make absolutely no attempt to speak the simple phrases of courtesy. Buenos dias. Gracias. ¿Como está? Muy bien. Adios.

Of all the people in the world the Mexicans seem to me to be the ones most anxious to be tolerant of someone stumbling along in their language. Anxious to help/ Never laughing, as we so often do at the foreigners trying to speak English. It is their country, and making no attempt at all is gross and rude.

I remember being in a small Mexican Supermercado and a tourist man was in there -- purple pants, blue sneakers, yellow shirt and a fresh green palm-front hat. Evidently he couldn't find something he wanted and he started yelling, "Dozen no one speak English in this dump? Dozen no one speak English?"

I was of no mood to help him, and hoped the Mexicans present took me for a German. But one tall elderly man in wrinkled seersucker went over to him and said, "Yes. Somebody here does indeed speak English. One person, and it is certainly not you, you vulgar little twit." And with enormous dignity, the Englishman left.

We have driven all over Mexico, getting along well enough with our pidgin Spanish, wherein all the verbs are in the present tense. I go yesterday. I go tomorrow. Etc. We have broken down on rural little roads to nowhere, and have received far more courteous help than we could have anticipated north of the Rio Grande. It is the way to see the country and the people. We buy bread and wine and cheese in little towns and picnic in the hills. They are fabulous instinctive mechanics. One need only look at the age of the busses that still lumber through the countryside.

-- from "Nice Things to Know About Traveling" (1983),  published in various newspapers throughout the United States via the Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"I Always Get the Cuties" in EQMM


Back in February of last year when I wrote a piece on John D MacDonald's 1954 short story "I Always Get the Cuties," I based my posting on a version of the story that had been included in a 1998 mystery anthology edited by Billie Sue Mosiman and Martin H. Greenberg titled The Fifth Grave. I recently dug out my copy of the November issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine where the story was originally published and was delighted to find a couple of things I had completely forgotten about.

First, this was one of EQMM's "prize" issues, an annual event where the editors (read: Frederic Dannay) awarded three stories special honors, usually first, second and third place, along with some sort of monetary award. Back in 1950 MacDonald's supremely excellent "The Homesick Buick" won EQMM's third prize and the author received $300. In this 1954 issue there is no mention of any money passing hands, and the prize levels are somewhat confusing. The issue leads off with Harry Miner's "Due Process," and this story is headlined "Winner of a Third Prize." It is followed three stories later by Peter Godfrey's "Hail and Farwell," announced as a "Prize-Winning Story." Second place, first place, fourth? It is not clear. Finally, the eleventh story in the issue is "I Always Get the Cuties" and in addition to being designated the issue's only entry in the digest's "Black Mask Department," it is also given the headline "Prize-Winning Story." One would assume that MacDonald's tale came in first, based on its placement in the issue, or perhaps it tied with "Hale and Farewell." Who knows and, really, who cares? Like MacDonald's other three EQMM originals ("Buick,' "Funny the Way Things Work Out" and "He Was Always Such a Nice Boy") it represent JDM at his crime-writing best, each story expertly structured, using an economy of words and each containing a terrific surprise at the end.

But the best thing about unearthing the original magazine was discovering two paragraphs of introduction to the story, presumably written by Dannay, essaying a brief background of the tale.

Here is a story that John D. MacDonald (remember his earlier prizewinner, the wonderful tale of "The Homesick Buick"?) really wanted to write. He knew that at best it had a limited market -- he told us that if EQMM did not happen to like it, he would not even know where else to send it. (This is a fine compliment to EQMM's constant search for the unusual, but it is also an underestimation of the story's appeal.) In any event, Mr. MacDonald felt he simply had to write this story -- and any time an author feels that way, we want to see that story! The tales that lie dormant in writers' minds for years and years, that never die or even fade away, that keep nagging for recognition and birth -- those are the stories that so often have power, impact, and an unforgettable quality.

When Mr. MacDonald submitted "I Always Get the Cuties" to last year's contest, he wrote: "I suspect that it is probably as unpleasant a little yard as you will receive for this particular sweepstakes." No, we have had much more unpleasant entries. True, we don't buy stories that carry unpleasantness too far -- there are limits to what can reasonably be called entertainment and escape; and there is never any excuse for sensationalism, sex, and sadism merely for their own sake. As we have so often said, the only taboo is that of bad taste. But while Mr. MacDonald's story concerns a particularly gruesome murder plan -- and the author reminds us that "murder is something that should not be prettified" -- it is interestingly written, original in its conception, and from a technical standpoint, most artfully done. And perhaps we should warn you: it packs a wallop...

You can read my original posting on "I Always Get the Cuties" here.