Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Box: Uncanny Stories by Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson has rising back up in popularity lately, in large part due to the release of the movie version of his famous I Am Legend. Tor then proceeded to release a number of low-priced reprints of his work, and now another Matheson-based movie is upcoming, The Box, based on the short story “Button, Button.” The story is part of the collection Button, Button: Uncanny Stories, but the book has been rereleased with the movie cover, and a new title of The Box: Uncanny Stories. As a fan of all of the Matheson that I have read, I was more than happy to pick up any cheap Matheson book I could find, and dove right in. After a very brief introduction, the stories begin.

“Button, Button”: What is a fortune worth to you? Meet Norma Lewis, who is part of an occurrence that will question just that, with unintended consequences. A fun if light tale.

“Girl of My Dreams”: A husband-wife team sets out to save lives…for the right price. This tale of psychic precognition is another fun story.

“Dying Room Only”: A story of disappearance in a small desert town, where a wife loses her husband. An interesting crime story, and an unexpected inclusion in this collection that seemed, from the title (Uncanny Stories) to be based more on the speculative genres, this tale was an interesting change of pace.

“A Flourish of Strumpets”: In a world where sexuality is becoming more and more open, one man decides to stand up to the new presence of door-to-door prostitution, because if he slips up, he might just find out that turnabout is indeed fair play. A bizarre idea that Matheson turns into an engaging and fun story, with a lovely twist ending.

“No Such Thing as a Vampire”: As a man’s wife wakes up in blood, with two holes in her neck, they fear the worst, despite attempts to prove that it isn’t a vampire. However, this vampire’s motives may be a little different than you expect. An excellent, moody piece.

“Pattern for Survival”: A light, slightly fluff piece about one man’s quest to retain sanity (or his version of it) in a world gone wrong. Fun, but very little meat to it.

“Mute”: This tale is another of Matheson’s forays into telepathic abilities, in this case one of growing them in children before they are culturally trained to lose them. An overlong story that didn’t work for me.

“The Creeping Terror”: A fun mockumentary, if you will, this “thesis” describes the historical Los Angeles Movement. Full of hilarious bits (“Caltech Physicist Finds Signs of Life in L.A.”), this story makes fun of almost everything, and is one of the highlights of this collection. Of note: This story has also been published as “A Touch of Grapefruit.”

“Shock Wave”: A strange story of a living organ (as in the musical instrument), this one wasn’t one of the best stories in here. The attempt at horror falls flat.

“Clothes Make the Man”: A fun twist story, in which the last line gives a whole new meaning to this tale of a man obsessed with his clothes.

“The Jazz Machine”: A poetic tale of a man who has created a machine to decipher the feelings behind pieces of jazz music, and the jazz musician he brags about it to. An interesting, if overly artsy at times, story, with a good message.

“’Tis the Season to Be Jelly”: An odd, off the wall comedy in a nuclear fallout world, with an ending that you can’t help but smile at, while at the same time groaning. A wonderful wrap up to the collection.

While The Box: Uncanny Stories contains some less than stellar stories, the whole of the collection is of a very high average quality. Most of the stories don’t read as old as they actually are, and when they do, it is with a touch of nostalgia that doesn’t hurt the story at all. The Box is a very quick read, and is a fun diversion. Well worth it for fans of Matheson, and for newcomers this is a nice step into the style of one of the greats. You can certainly see, if you have read much early Stephen King, how Matheson was a strong influence (and one King admits to), as these stories, less in content but more in style and presentation, definitely are close.


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