Sunday, August 14, 2011

Other Kingdoms

by Richard Matheson
August 2011

I was wandering through the new books at the library. A Richard Matheson book! And it was in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section! I loved Richard Matheson and read lots of his stories and books when I was a teenager: the Shock! series of short stories; Third From the Sun; The Shrinking Man; I Am Legend and so on.

Several years ago I read a suspense novel of his called Seven Steps to Midnight. I think that it had a fantastical element to it, but I can't remember for sure. It was awful. I was so disappointed and wondered if my memory of those Matheson books I'd read as a teen was wrong. Was he as good as I had remembered?

I was hopeful when I picked up Other Kingdoms. I wanted to like this book so much.

No good. I couldn't finish it. The story seemed promising. Narrated by an old man, a writer of horror fiction, the story goes back to World War I. The narrator learns of a beautiful place in England from one of his fellow soldiers in the trenches. After the English soldier is killed, the narrator goes to that beautiful place. He had been warned by the Englishman to "avoid middle..." but he never heard the end of that phrase. It had been the man's dying words. What could it mean? The narrator finds out. It's Middle Earth - the place of fairies and magic.

That's about as far as I got. The writing style in this book is highly annoying. Now, I like to use parentheses and dashes. Perhaps I learned to use these in my writing from reading Richard Matheson in the past. I can't remember if he wrote this way in his older books. But in Other Kingdoms, Matheson uses so many parenthetical asides and phrases set aside by dashes that I wanted to scream, "FOCUS!!"
"The book was fifty-seven pages long, and that was too much. Review? One word. Godawful. I planned - eighteen and brainless - to submit it to the primo publishers in New York - I'd show the damned Captain! - or, if necessary (most unlikely, I truly believed) London. Fortunately - thank God for the literary world - I never sent it anywhere. Rats (I'm not sure now, it was rats) chewed up the manuscript. Breaking my author's heart, but now at eighty-two, a source of profound gratitude. I will say that the wheels did begin to turn, later installed on the Arthur Black hearse. The rats - was it rats? - did me a favor."

I looked for reviews on Amazon to see if I was being too hard on Richard Matheson. Maybe I was just not in the mood for this style book. Maybe I should try it again later. Nope, the bad reviews pretty much summed up my own thoughts:
"Other Kingdoms is a far cry from Matheson's other works. The themes, characters, and overall writing style bear little to no resemblance to I Am Legend or Hell House. The narrator is annoying to no end, constantly making alliterations and drawing attention to them like a child showing off an awful drawing. The suspense, action, and eerie feel usual to Matheson are almost completely absent, replaced by dumb humor, an often disgusting and repetitive eroticism, and a bland paganism that can't be taken seriously, even in the context of a fairy story. It was so bad, I couldn't even finish the last quarter of the book. "

Here's part of another review:
"I am so disappointed in this book. I wanted it to be everything it promised to be! A fairy story by the Master! I mused in delight: "What ingenius twists and novel ideas will Matheson inflict on fairy lore?" The answer . . . is nothing new. Nothing fresh. And on top of this, the writing is amateurish at best. The overuse of parentheses and personal asides and apologies to the reader were so annoying that I almost flushed this book down the toilet page by crumpled page! You literally are interrupted and pulled out of the narrative flow EVERY FREAKING PAGE! Or just about. "

I looked online for a bibliography with timeline of Matheson's works. All of his great books were written between about 1954 (I am Legend) and 1975 (Bid Time Return). He published hardly anything in the 1980s and then began publishing again in the 90s. As I said, Seven Steps to Midnight (1993) was junk. Now Other Kingdoms in 2011.
What happened to Richard Matheson? Should I read more of his post 1980s books and give him another chance? Maybe third time will be a charm. Or maybe I should just go back to re-read those great stories that I loved all those years ago.


KCM said...

You can go up to 1978 with What Dreams May Come. I really liked that one, as well as all the others before. I have a lot of his books. He was such a great suspense and horror writer - he is about the only writer who could scare me.
Don't read Hunted Past Reason. It was horrible and disgusting. I read the whole thing, but then took it to Half-Price books, or maybe I just threw it away! (I thought the copy I read had a different title, but the story is what I see on Amazon for Hunted Past Reason).
I'd like to know if he wrote anything good after 1978.

Meggan said...

Thanks for the warning about Hunted Past Reason. It got 23 one star ratings. Only 4 five star ratings. What in the heck happened to him? I wonder what happened to him in the eighties that he didn't write much (or publish much) and then he hasn't had a good book since.

Caleb said...

Read "Hell House." Spooky, effective haunted house tale (even if it is highly reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's earlier "Haunting of Hill House")