Mass for Mixed Voices

by Charles Beaumont

“I just lie awake at night and thank God that I’m bald.”

Making your way through this gigantic book brings with it a revelation. You are not reading a book, you’re staring directly into the imagination of one of our best speculative fiction writers, one of our best situational thinkers. As the book moves along you’ll slow down. The stories get better and better, but you’re reading the largest collection of the author. Finite–as in ‘soon to be finished,’ and it’s scary. The book would remain unfinished if not for the discovery of Subterranean’s A Touch of the Creature, a much smaller production with no double-ups.

That’s how good this book is–so good that were it to be a complete collection of the author’s short stories you’d never finish it, because it would be almost like the end of the universe.

Beaumont possesses a style that is everything at once, but contains no fat. His stories can meander slightly or cut straight to the matter. He can write of dirt or of rocketships, beauty or pain, race relations or the loss of a child as if it’s right in front of him. With his imagination, maybe it is. He is fully accredited in the realm of speculative fiction, having written a number of the original Twilight Zone episodes, and this is one of the best collections you can read of any author. There is only one other to whom he might be compared, and that’s the (incomparable) Richard Matheson. Lovers of short stories owe it to themselves to read everything either have written–they just cannot be beaten.

Everyone has heard of “The Howling Man,” and that’s a terrific story. Some, including Mr. Ellison who introduces the story here, find it to be Beaumont’s best work. While certainly a possibility, there are plenty of other tales contained within shining at least as bright. “Appointment with Eddie,” “Last Rites,” “Fair Lady,” “Gentlemen Be Seated,” “Perchance to Dream,” and “The Neighbors” are stories in the vein of ‘as good as it gets,’ because they just can’t get any better–by anyone.

Finishing the final story in Mr. Beaumont’s definitive collection deserved a high quality scotch accompaniment; pick it up if you get a chance. It’s pricey but a superb Centipede edition through and through.

4 stars

Note: If you want all Mr. Beaumont’s collected short fiction, you’ll need 7 books, including this one. Here is a breakdown.

From my March 19th visit to the 2017 Vintage Paperback Collector’s Show:

I’m standing in line, realizing that because I usually skip intros when reading stories for the first time I’d never actually read the pages I’m about to have signed. I shuffled along and read, getting to Bill Nolan’s intro where it was almost palpable how much he missed his friend; when I stepped up to the man the connection between the two authors was still lingering, solid in the mind. Mr. Nolan gingerly accepted the unjacketed, hefty book, didn’t immediately recognize it, adjusted it to look at the cover, didn’t immediately recognize it, turned it to look at the spine, and a light leapt both into and out of his eyes. He saddened but also livened up considerably. We spoke of the incredible collection and our admiration for the writer whose imagination opened the eyes of the world. He spoke of his friendship with Mr. Beaumont and told a couple of stories, neither of which I recall properly because something was still thick in the air–perhaps the ghost of the monster himself, hand resting lightly on the seated Nolan’s shoulder, saying hello to his old friend. For a moment I was there with them both.

Still one of the greatest books in my collection, now something more:

SAM_5471

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