Stanley Wiater (ed.), Richard Matheson, Collected
Stories, Volume One (Dream/Press, 1989; Edge Books, 2003)
Stanley Wiater (ed.), Richard Matheson, The Twilight Zone Scripts, Volume Two (Edge Books, 2002)
Although his novels are as good as anything out there (I Am Legend, Hell House, and the more recent GMR-reviewed selections Hunted Past Reason and Come Fygures Come Shadowes), Richard Matheson is probably best known for shorter works: his short fiction and his scripts for the classic Rod Serling-created The Twilight Zone. In fact, Matheson, along with Serling and Charles Beaumont, was one of the top three contributors to TZ in terms of total scripts written. (Though he collaborated with Beaumont on scripts for other series, here they worked alone.) Now Gauntlet Press (under its Edge Books trade paper imprint) is publishing collections of both. The next two Collected Stories volumes will be published in 2004 and 2005, and both Twilight Zone Scripts volumes are readily available. Lucky for me, I became party to a sampling of both series.
In 1989, Dream/Press (formerly Scream Press until Matheson requested a name change for his book) published a limited edition called Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, covering Matheson's entire early output of short fiction from 1950's "Born of Man and Woman" to 1970's "Duel." This first volume features a variety of odd characters, from murderous munchkins ("Born of Man and Woman," "Dress of White Silk," "Blood Son") to Martian marionettes ("Full Circle"). It also covers Matheson's heavy paranoia period (which he admits to wholeheartedly in the introduction and which is particularly well-displayed in "Legion of Plotters" and "F---") and his "anti-marriage" period (written, tellingly, prior to his own nuptials).
Volume One covers a very fertile time period: 28 stories published between 1950 and 1953, ordered chronologically and then alphabetically within each year up to 1953's "Long Distance Call" (which TZ fans may remember as "Night Call" -- with a different ending -- from the fifth season; it is available in the other book in this review). As a writer, I can only cringe knowing that the first story Matheson ever published was so good that the editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction assumed he was an experienced writer who was experimenting instead of the relative neophyte he was. He had hit the ground running. As a reader, however, I am gladdened, at least, that there aren't many duds (several of these early works were selected by the author for inclusion in his Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, a recent "best of" collection).
In addition to the stories, this volume also includes both the 1989 Dream/Press introduction, in which Matheson explains how his early paranoia fed into his work; a new, shorter 2003 introduction that really doesn't add much to the equation; an Prologue from Stanley Wiater, explaining how the project came to be; and tributes from Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and William F. Nolan. Following each story is information regarding its original publication date and market, if and when it was adapted for The Twilight Zone or other media, and how (in some cases) it was changed during the adaptation process (or in the interest of salability). Most important to fans, though, will undoubtedly be the accompanying "After-Words" containing insights about the author's inspiration of each story, both for the classics and the clunkers. And Matheson isn't shy about expressing his true opinion, saying in one example that "I don't think it's particularly good." Here, he also reveals previously little-known connections between the stories, like the numerous ones set in and around the fictitious "Fort College."
If the series continues in this fashion, Collected Stories is bound to be the definitive reference for Matheson aficionados. But until all three are available, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with the other Wiater-edited series from Edge, Richard Matheson's The Twilight Zone Scripts, of which I received Volume Two. It contains the final six of the fourteen scripts he wrote for The Twilight Zone, two ("Mute" from his 1962 novelette, and "Death Ship" from 1953, contained in the above Collected Stories initial volume) from the often-derided hour-long series of the fourth season. The other four are the boxing story (a subject of which Serling was particularly fond) "Steel," the abovementioned "Night Call," the classic adaptation of his story "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (which starred a young William Shatner) and "Spur of the Moment," an original script from the fifth and final season.
Reading these Twilight Zone Scripts is an entirely different animal than reading his Collected Stories, but Matheson shows skill in both, making these teleplays very visually focused (the reason Matheson believes his writing was a good fit for TZ) and quick reads. It is easy to picture the action and character expressions from his directions, and even the voice of Rod Serling seems to emanate from the signature introductions. The dread in "Death Ship," the tension from "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," the frustration in "Mute," the pain of remorse in "Spur of the Moment": all of these aspects come across on the page.
Depending on how the reader approaches his Matheson appreciation, either of
these books are an excellent representation of his style and the quality of
his work. Fans of modern horror, science-fiction, or fantasy who never considered
approaching a classic writer would do well to pick up his work, as it has aged
well (apart from specific instances where a "far into the future"
year mentioned has already passed). Stephen King considers Matheson his greatest
Tidbits from other genres often find their way into his stories, making for a varied reading experience. And, especially, fans of The Twilight Zone will find much more in the style of that show in his short stories. The ones that were not adapted are just as appropriate, since Matheson was writing in that style from the beginning; he may even have been an inspiration.
Visit the Gauntlet Press pages for Collected
Stories and The
Twilight Zone Scripts.