Treasured Stories: “Life’s Illusion” (1988)

« Reality is a powerful solvent. » — Tony Judt

I was all set to write about a certain topic… but one hurdle stopped me cold: having recently moved, we are (mostly me, I confess) still somewhat living in boxes. So… where’s that other book? In any one of a hundred or more boxes. Fortunately, I try to always have a backup plan.

This isn’t the first time I draw attention to an offering from DC’s ambitious but ill-fated Wasteland (1987-88) under the Treasured Stories rubric. See also Foo Goo and American Squalor for more details and to (beware!) suffer a case of thematic whiplash. Whatever warts and blemishes Del Close and John Ostrander‘s Wasteland creations may have borne, they weren’t interchangeable.

Today’s yarn is a spot-on homage to author Philip K. Dick (1928-82), down to the name and occupation. The ‘real’ PKD may have been fond of meat loaf as well, for all I know.

Possibly a reference to PKD’s 1966 novel The Crack in Space?
Another cute detail: « From 1948 to 1952, he worked at Art Music Company, a record store on Telegraph Avenue » (in Oakland, CA). Oh, and Robin Williams was a Del Close fan… and vice versa.
Life’s Illusion appeared in the final semi-decent issue of Wasteland, no. 10 (Sept. 1988, DC)… beyond that point, it was a painful slide into the abyss. Anyway, I love how this story is able to deftly juggle its elements of comedy, tragedy and Dickian metaphysics without dropping the ball. Poor Mary.

PKD had been on my mind lately. Last fall, while rambling around town, I came upon a Little Library housing one of his books, a French-language edition of 1964’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I’d read the original paperback edition in 1992, but wasn’t sure I quite grasped its dénouement, and had no-one to compare notes with.

Somewhere, eons ago, I’d read that Dick’s manuscripts for his 1960s paperback originals were abridged (i.e. gutted) to fit the publishers’ format and predetermined page count. But this might be apocryphal. As it stands, I can find no trace of such a claim. The story went on to say that publishers in Belgium and France, where the author was more of a draw than in North America, based their renditions upon Dick’s unexpurgated manuscripts, leading to, unusually for translations, results hewing closer to the writer’s intent. It helps that Dick, not given to extravagant stylistic flourishes, is relatively easy to translate.

« This is an illusion ». Here’s the tome in question, published in 1977 by Belgium’s Éditions Marabout, using Guy Abadia’s 1969 translation. Despite the fact that the book’s been retranslated since, I’ve no quibble with this version, save for the lack of credit for the cover illustrator.

I’m currently halfway through, and so far all is clear; I may have to confer with my younger self to explain the plot to him, poor thing.

-RG

Treasured Stories: “Foo Goo” (1987)

« But observers say it is unlikely to slow down the consumption of fugu* »

DC’s Wasteland** (1987-89) was, to my mind, the publisher’s finest-ever horror anthology… for a handful of issues. While the experiment lasted but a couple of years, and it was mercifully, if a little late, put out to pasture.

To compensate for the usually uneven, often random nature of anthologies, the book was to be scripted by just two writers (John Ostrander and the fascinating Del Close) and illustrated by a carefully-picked skeleton crew of artists, namely George Freeman, David Lloyd, William Messner-Loebs and Don Simpson. Perhaps the vetting process wasn’t sufficiently thorough, though, because Freeman dropped out after a mere seven issues and one more cover, and Lloyd followed suit before the year was through. With proper bullpen substitutions, things might have run smoothly, but of all the ringers brought in, only Ty Templeton rose to the challenge, his sneakily clean-cut style providing ideal contrast and tension to issue 11’s nasty tale of Dissecting Mister Fleming, sadly the series’ final flash of brilliance… with seven dead horse issues left to flog.

But those early issues were, for the most part, quite glorious. Simpson and Lloyd landed the lion’s share of the very best tales, Simpson because he was most versatile, and Lloyd since he excelled at instilling the bleakest, most unsettling ambiances.

Today, we present Wasteland’s opening salvo, Foo Goo (Wasteland no.1, Dec. 1987, DC), by Ostrander, Close and Lloyd. Bon appétit!

FooGoo01AFooGoo02AFooGoo03AFooGoo04AFooGoo05AFooGoo06AFooGoo07AFooGoo08AFooGoo09A

The title, despite denoting a fictive species of fungus, is clearly a reference to the virulently-toxic liver of the globefish, pufferfish, or fugu… which is also, of course, a costly delicacy. It merely needs to be expertly prepared.

I first came upon this intriguing factoid in 1975, when a famous Kabuki performer, Bandō Mitsugorō VIII, presumed he could beat the odds. « In January 1975, Bandō visited a Kyoto restaurant with friends and ordered four portions of fugu kimo, the liver of the fugu fish, a dish whose sale was prohibited by local ordinances at the time. Claiming that he could survive the fish’s poison, he ate the livers and died after returning to his hotel room, after seven hours of paralysis and convulsions. »

-RG

*”Japanese Actor Poisoned“, The Leader-Post (Regina, SK), Jan. 20, 1975
**Not to be confused with the national capital of the United States of America