Communion Of Dreams

Coming back online.

You may have noticed that some of my posts have gotten a little longer over time, at least in the last couple of months.  I haven’t been doing word counts or anything, but that is my sense of it, looking back over the archives.  This is because I am emerging from the exhaustion of caring for Martha Sr, slowly but surely.

And as this progresses, it is interesting to see how certain aspects of my life are starting to come back to me.  My wife and I have started to resume something that can be called a social life, getting together with friends for lunch or dinner, having people over.  I finally got that book review of the Matheson Companion done – that had been hanging over my head for a while.  I’m putting together the stuff for the ballistics testing, and figure that we’ll have the website for that up next month some time.  I got my garden in, and am harvesting strawberries.  This is good.

And I’m starting to get a creative itch again.  No, not the low-level sort of creativity that goes with this blog and my conservation work.  I’m thinking about the next novel.  I’ll probably toss out what I have written of St. Cybi’s Well, and just start fresh – those first couple of chapters were so long ago that I barely remember what I intended to do with them.  It takes (me, anyway) a lot of mental energy to juggle all the various threads in a decent novel, and I’m not ready just yet to tackle that.  But I am thinking about it, and that is a very good sign.

And I have another idea for something completely and totally unrelated, which would also be a lot of fun.  But I have to wait to get a new computer system for that – this old thing just doesn’t have the capabilities which would be required.  I would also need to learn some new software programs.  From these facts you can guess that this idea would have something to do with the ‘net, and you would be right, but that’s all I’ll say for now.

Oh, yeah, and I need to learn survival Spanish sometime before going to Patagonia in October.

It’s nice to feel this way again.

Jim Downey

Extraordinary, indeed.

This is a review written for the Columbia Tribune, as drafted. If and when they use it, I will link and/or copy the finished version here.

– Jim


Pulp writers – those hacks who churn out Science Fiction and Fantasy, Horror and Westerns – have rarely received much in the way of respect from the academic community.

So it is remarkable that among the William Peden Short Story Collection at the University of Missouri – Columbia there is just such an author. An author who was one of Dr. Peden’s students, and who grew to become a friend, corresponding with Dr. Peden for more than thirty years. That author is Richard Matheson.

Dr. Peden developed the Creative Writing Program at MU. He established the University of Missouri Press. He was the co-founder of the Missouri Review, which still bestows an annual fiction prize in his name. He was widely respected as a scholar of writing, and as an author in his own right. And he said this about a young Richard Matheson, writing a friend who was a publisher:

“A former student of mine [is] going to call you within the next few days and I think you might be interested in talking with the boy . . . The chap’s name is Richard Matheson and I really believe he has possibly an extraordinary future ahead of him.”

I would not have known this were it not for The Richard Matheson Companion (ISBN-13: 9781887368964, available from major booksellers). And it wouldn’t be in there except through the efforts of another Columbian, Paul Stuve, who is one of the editors of that book. It turns out that Stuve has one of the most complete collections of Matheson’s work in the world.

I contacted Stuve and asked him what got him interested in Richard Matheson.

“The first time I knew I was a Matheson fan was in high school, but the fact is I was a fan long before that. Through his Twilight Zone episodes mostly, and then Duel, and even the dreadful Omega Man (which was adapted, very badly, from Matheson’s modern-day vampire novel “I Am Legengd). But the first time I connected a name with the work was while watching The Legend of Hell House on TV with my dad one night. I promptly set about trying to find the book, and in the process I discovered who he was. I’ve been collecting him ever since.”

And how did he get involved in the Matheson Companion?

“When Matthew Bradley (whom I knew from another project) was asked to assist Stanley Wiater with the Companion, I volunteered to help with the detailed bibliographies and filmographies that were going to need to be compiled. I have a nearly complete collection of all the first published appearances of Matheson’s writings (and the limited editions, and the, well, it goes on and on…), and it seemed like it would be a fun task. As the project wore on, I became more and more involved (the lists themselves are nearly 200 pages long), and during the process I was made an associate editor, and finally a full editor.

What was the most rewarding part of the project, for you?

“For me, the real coup of the project was when I wandered over to the MU library
one day to see if I could turn up anything that Matheson wrote while he was a
student here in the late 1940s. I was expecting perhaps a letter or brief item
in the student newspaper, but I wound up discovering a file folder of nearly 30
years of correspondence between Matheson and William Peden, his advanced writing
professor at Mizzou.”

Some of those letters are reproduced in The Richard Matheson Companion, the most comprehensive collection of information about this versatile author, which also contains reflections and tributes by those who knew and worked with him, along with a previously unpublished novella by Matheson. It is a phenomenal resource. As co-editors Stanley Wiater and Matthew R. Bradley write in the Introduction to the book:

“Matheson is one of the most acclaimed and influential fantasists of our time. He and his work have won the Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe, Golden Spur and Christopher Awards, plus multiple World Fantasy (“Howard”), Bram Stoker, and Writers Guild of America Awards, including Lifetime Achievement awards from the World Horror and World Fantasy Conventions.

Yet, quite amazingly we think, there has never been a legitimate biography of the man, or a writer’s companion to his work. It is the latter that we have striven to create – the last word on the millions of words produced by Richard Matheson in a career that has already gone beyond the helf-century mark, with no signs of ending anytime soon.”

The recognition of Matheson’s contribution to the literature and popular culture of the second half of the 20th century will only grow with time. He was an inspiration to the likes of Stephen King, Chris Carter, and George A. Romero. It may yet be a while before he becomes of ‘scholarly interest’, but it was already clear to Dr. William Peden over fifty years ago that Matheson was a writer who was worthy of consideration and respect.

Jim Downey

Flu? What flu?

It’s been a little while since I’ve written about our old friend H5N1 – the “Avian Flu” virus. Partly this is because I like to keep my posts varied according to topic (which is a nice way of saying my attention wanders a lot these days). Partly, though, is because the mainstream media pays little attention to the threat of this flu virus as a general rule. Which is curious, given the potential threat it presents and the amount of governmental effort going into tracking and preparation for a possible epidemic/pandemic. Even if you take the cynical view that our news is event/entertainment-driven, you’d think with the release of I am Legend, the latest adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s SF novel of the same name, would be a natural tie-in to news about the flu.

Because yes, there is indeed news about the flu:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – International health experts have been dispatched to Pakistan to help investigate the cause of South Asia’s first outbreak of bird flu in people and determine if the virus could have been transmitted through human contact, officials said Sunday.

Four brothers — two of whom died — and two cousins from Abbotabad, a small city about 30 miles north of Islamabad, were suspected of being infected by the H5N1 virus, said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in Geneva. A man and his niece from the same area who had slaughtered chickens were also suspected of having the virus.

Another person in a separate case who slaughtered poultry in nearby Mansehra, 15 miles away, also tested positive for the disease, he said.

And if you saw either this diary on the front page of Daily Kos yesterday or check out the Flu Wiki, then you’d know that the situation is even potentially more troubling. From the Daily Kos diary:

See Flu Wiki’s Sunday wrap-up for the week’s documented human and bird cases, courtesy of the wiki volunteers who track cases around the world – helpful to CDC and WHO and other public health officials as they do their work (more than a few have written me that they stop there to get the morning news – this is netroots activism applied to public health!). Not only are there new human cases scattered throughout Asia (including Pakistan, Burma, China and Indonesia, all of whom are less than than transparent about internal news), there are also new bird cases of H5N1 in Germany, Poland, Russia, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia (and the hadj is soon, 1.5 million pilgrims expected).

Now, I’m not claiming that it’s the end of the world. Or even the end of what passes for civilization. But I do find it somewhat curious that this reality gets so little press attention, even when there is an obvious entertainment tie-in that can be made to the latest big-budget post-apocalyptic movie. Odd.

Well, when I do get back around to trying to find an agent or publisher for Communion of Dreams, at least I’ll be able to point to the ongoing threat of a pandemic flu that exists. Provided, of course, that the pandemic isn’t already underway.

Jim Downey