I was a publishing magnate. And I was only 13 years old. The magazines I published between 1968 and 1975 were real – although you’ll never find them in any reference book: Mystery Magazine, Strange & Unknown, The Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidarian, The Warthog Reader, The Monkey’s Mag, and Quarterly Shorts. And they had an international following: copies were flown to England, France, Greece, and Australia, as well as to national fans in Illinois and Pennsylvania. There was also a following at St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s high school in New York City, where copies were eagerly snapped up at 25 cents apiece.
And what were these subscribers – actually, friends of the family and/or family members – and “newsstand readers” – actually, classmates of mine – getting for their money? Stories that were frequently absurd, often violent, and were clearly influenced by the macabre humor of The Avengers and The Prisoner TV series, with a pinch of James Bond tossed in for good measure.
They have not been publicly seen. Until now.
The new volume from Apar/Guardian, LOOK AT THEM NOW, features 40 stories – fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and black humor – that have not been available for 40 years.
The stories include “I Hid in the Ice Box,” “The Ultimate Weapon,” and “The Conditioners,” by Alan Saly (who is always precise and logical, crafting well-received sci-fi stories, much in the style of sci-fi greats Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov), “Look at Them Now,” “At the Top of the Stairs,” and “Trigger Happy,” by Christian Doherty (who is a different kind of storyteller altogether, the king of the illogical, the emotional, and the darkly absurd; a three-line short story, “Green Figs, Yogurt, and Don’t Forget the Death,” is about a man at a restaurant, ordering a plate of “death,” but not for himself. “Put it on Waldo’s check, won’t you?” goes the punch line; and “The Cave of Thith,” “Two Against the Wilderness,” and “The Warthog in America,” by Tom Sinclair (who is the best writer of the pack: literate and imaginative, author of a series of stories about a talking warthog and his two human companions that merited a publication all their own (Memoirs of a Wandering Warthog).
And me? I wrote stories that were thin on descriptions, long on dialogue, and derivative in ideas. Fiction was not my strong suit, though I think the ten stories I’ve assembled here demonstrate my strengths and weaknesses as a writer of short stories.
Only in my last story, “Understanding Williams” (1975), do I see the glimmerings of the fiction writer I might have been. The hero, Simon Williams (no relation to the actor who played James Bellamy on Upstairs Downstairs), is balding and nervous around women, and also plagued by self-doubts (welcome to the 19-year-old Tom Soter’s world). Although the plot resolves predictably – for a sci-fi buff, at least – the character of Williams held my attention. If the essence of life is change, then “Understanding Williams” held out hope for me as a writer. In the course of the story, Williams grows and changes; so, too, did I over the course of six years writing for Guardian – and the four decades of writing that followed.
Check it out!