Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Jack Matthews (1925-2013)



It's Christmastime, but here in the Midwest it's more like spring. I have seen snowdrops, dandelions, violets, and forsythia in bloom. Robins are still hanging together in flocks, but they have been singing their spring songs, though only a few notes. I doubt they have mistaken the season or feel any embarrassment for it. Robins, in their boldness, seem incapable of that. It may be that they hold their songs at the ready and are simply trying out for a debut that is still three months away.

It was a colder season forty-eight years ago today when the Silver Bridge came down. Forty-six people died that day, on the bridge and in the waters of the Ohio River. Even now, in the area of Point Pleasant and across the river in Gallipolis, Ohio, there are people who remember the disaster or knew or are related to someone who died there. Jack Matthews was born in Columbus, Ohio, but had roots in Gallia County, of which Gallipolis is the seat of government. Matthews' father came into the world on a Gallia County farm. I don't know that Jack Matthews knew or was related to anyone who died in the Silver Bridge disaster, but he took on the identity of a fictional survivor in his novel Beyond the Bridge, from 1970. The book jacket biography above is from that novel.

Beyond the Bridge is brief but dense and complex, a much different book than Matthews' first novel, Hanger Stout, Awake! (1967), which is more a song of innocence than of experience. Beyond the Bridge takes the form of a diary of a man who has put his old life behind him and assumed a new one on the other side of the river--beyond the bridge--in West Virginia. The book ends with an entry for July 18, 1968--four days before Jack Matthews' forty-third birthday--as the protagonist sets out to cross another bridge and begin another diary.

In Beyond the Bridge, Matthews' diarist is friends with a fallen preacher named Harlan and becomes the lover of a local woman, Billie Sue, who knows all the superstitions of Appalachia. The diarist, Neil, writes of himself and Billie Sue:
     Only before we went to sleep, I myself wondered why I should be so interested in these silly superstitions and Harlan's insane theology.
     I couldn't figure it out, except for the possibility that I could feel human breath in them. And I can't help feeling close to people who have long been dead, and have no other voice left. (p. 138)
I like to think that those who are gone still have a voice, even if it's one we can no longer hear. But if Jack Matthews' only remaining voice for us--whether we are vast seas or merely islands of readership--is in his books, then I must share the feeling of his diarist, that of being "close to people who have long been dead, and have no other voice left." His books speak, have the breath of life in them, and, though their author has been gone two years now, still live.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 4, 2015

Steele Savage (1898-1970)




Harry Steele Savage was born on December 21, 1898, in Central Lake, Michigan. According to his biography in The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories (The World Publishing Company, 1956, shown above), he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Slade School in London, and in Vienna and Paris. He designed the sets and costumes for Caviar, a musical comedy than ran for twenty performances at the Forrest Theatre in New York in 1934. Savage was also a designer of furniture, and he created at least one poster design during World War II.

Steele Savage is most well known as an illustrator of books, especially on mythology, history, and the Bible. He also created the covers for many science fiction novels of the 1960s and '70s. The illustrations above, from The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories by J. Harold Gwynne (1956), show Savage's style, which can be described as a kind of magical realism. Savage's other credits include:
  • The Decameron of Boccaccio (Blue Ribbon Books, 1931)
  • The Arabian Nights edited by Bennett Cerf (Triangle Books, 1932)
  • The Droll Stories of HonorĂ© de Balzac (1932)
  • No Other Man by Alfred Noyes (1940)
  • Stories of the Gods and Heroes by Sally Benson (1940)
  • Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton (1942)
  • Throne of the World by Louis de Wohl (1949)
  • The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March (1949)
  • Adventures with the Giants by Catherine F. Sellew (1950)
  • Adventures with the Heroes by Catherine F. Sellew (1954)
  • The Life of Christ by the AbbĂ© Constant Fouard (1954)
  • The Token by Samuel Shellabarger (1955)
  • The Golden Library Book of Bible Stories by Jonathan Braddock (1956)
  • Martin Luther by Henry Emerson Fosdick (1956)
  • The Adventures of Ulysses by Gerald Gottlieb (1959)
  • Little Golden Book of Airplanes by Ruth Mabee Lachman (1959) 
  • Life in the Ancient World by Bart Winer (1961)
  • The Virginian by Owen Wister (Scholastic, 1964)
  • Golden Blood by Jack Williamson (1967)
  • The Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Pratt (1967)
  • Breakthrough by Richard Cowper (1969)
  • Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • The Long Result by John Brunner (1970)
  • The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein  (1970)
  • The Sorcerer's Skull by David Mason (1970)
  • The Squares of the City by John Brunner (1970)
  • The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Starbreed by Martha deMey Clow (1970)
  • The Whole Man by John Brunner (1970)
  • Anti-Man by Dean R. Koontz (1970)
  • The Citadel of Fear by Francis Stevens (1970)
  • Black in Time by John Jakes (1970)
  • Report on Probability A by Brian W. Aldiss (1970)
  • Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (1970)
  • Barrier World by Louis Charbonneau (1970)
  • World's Bible Story Library by J. Harold Gwynne (a multi-volume reissue of The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories, 1970)
  • Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein (1971)
  • Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (1972)
  • Hurlbut's Story of the Bible (revised edition) by Jesse Lyman Hurlburt (1974)

This list is not necessarily complete.

Steele Savage lived in New York for much of his career. He died on December 5, 1970, at age seventy-one. You can read a little more about him on my blog, Tellers of Weird Tales, here. Part of the book list above is from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Robert J. Serling (1918-2010)



Robert J. Serling was born Jerome Robert Serling on March 28, 1918, in Cortland, New York, and grew up in Binghamton with his younger brother, Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. Both men served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and both attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Robert Serling spent twenty-three years covering the airline industry for the United Press International. The Probable Cause: The Truth about Air Travel Today, published in 1960, was the first of his twenty-five books. Most were non-fiction involving aviation, but Serling also wrote five published novels including The President's Plane Is Missing from 1967. The mystery of a missing airliner is nothing new to readers of 2015. Robert J. Serling died five years ago today, on May 6, 2010. He was ninety-two years old.

Photo by Alex Gotfryd
Jacket design by Al Nagy

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley