07 July 2009

Charles Beaumont: THE HOWLING MAN (ed. Roger Anker)

In the minds of those whose credentials say they know best (as well as that of your humble and wholly uncredentialed reviewer) Charles Beaumont ranks with Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling and Richard Matheson in the exclusive pantheon of 1950s-60s American science fiction geniuses. With the exception of Bradbury (who was busy revolutionizing written sci-fi a decade or so earlier), it was this small cadre of elites who both steered The Twilight Zone to success and penned its greatest episodes--as well as the stories those episodes were initially drawn from. The Howling Man is a collection of such stories, a career-spanning look at Charles Beaumont's written work. The Howling Man doesn't necessarily contain all of Beaumont's best (if that's what you're looking for, best to consult the very unironically titled Best of Beaumont collection); what it does instead is represent how balanced and broad Beaumont's talent really was, giving readers a taste of Beaumont's work in a wide variety of genres, including those he didn't handle quite as ably. At his best and at his worst, though, Beaumont is a truly original writer. He manages to convey a childlike sense of wonder at and joy in life, while at the same time communicating a more adult appreciation for its most gruesome horrors (the title story does this particularly well). In this sense, Beaumont is a contradiction waiting to happen, but the stories in this collection maintain that fine and careful balance throughout (for which some credit is surely due to editor Roger Anker). If you don't like Beaumont, the nearly 600 pages of The Howling Man obviously won't be worth it. But if you like originality and damn-good writing, then you will like Beaumont, and all those pages will just fly by. Give it an A-, and The Best of Beaumont an A+.

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