The following posts include (1) "footnotes" for The Doris Piserchia Website (link at left), (2) texts-in-process that will eventually appear there, (3) texts from other websites, and (we hope) (4) stimulating discussion threads. The picture to the left is the back cover of The Spinner (book club edition), depicting a citizen of Eastland "hanging out" while Ekler the cop and Rune the idiot-superman look on.
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I'm having some late thoughts on Blood County, specifically about my conclusion:
Strangely, there's almost no subtext (this is true of many of Piserchia's books). Yes, there is an implied condemnation of Appalachian provincialism (and unhealthy political systems the world over), and a certain emotional tug that comes from an author revisiting the world of her girlhood.Big point I missed, considering the semi-autobiographical aspect of the book: how despairing is it that Clint tries to leave the sick, hick town he grew up in, to start a new life as a teacher in the big city, only be drawn back to Blood County till the end of time? What is Piserchia saying about the difficulties of transcending roots and class in America? Or about her own fears and frustrations trying to make the same kind of transition Clint did? It's something many of us can relate to: Clint as a kind of bloodsucking George Bailey, doomed to make the best of his own hillbilly Bedford Falls. I should add something about this to the review.
Thanks to Nathan Shumate for letting me reprint this (see link below).
I don't know how the term "second-rate" developed into a pejorative. After all, everything can't be the best in its class, or the term "best" would lose all meaning.
In this sense, then, Earth in Twilight is a second-rate science fiction novel. Its premise and execution is inventive and creative, but it cuts corners in the elements of human drama that should rightfully form its core, especially as it flirts so much with the idea of what it means to be human.
In the far-flung future, humanity has abandoned the over-polluted Earth and settled on a dozen other terraformable worlds, rarely giving the ancestral homeland a second thought. Finally, though, a mission is put together to exfoliate the huge flora and fauna that have grown up over the millennia, making the Earth itself a candidate for custom terraforming at some later point. A two-man expedition is sent to rubber-stamp what the historical record and long-range scans show, i.e., that there's no human life left on Earth.
Except there is.
One astronaut bites it immediately (more on that later); the survivor, Burgoyne, discovers a world overflowing with life, and some of it is recognizably human, or at least human-ish. The inhabitants who discover Burgoyne are green-tinted and absorb water through their skins; they droop when the sun goes down. They are plant people, the likely result of careless tampering with nature in the last days of normative humanity's residence on Earth. Burgoyne simply doesn't want to accept them as human, because that would mean that he would be honor-bound to do his best to scuttle Project Deep Green; and since he knows his superiors intended his mission to be more of a formality than an honest fact-finding mission, he knows he won't be able to stop the destruction.
Such a storyline, while possessing some novelty, isn't overwhelmingly original, nor is it given the depth that it could reasonably accomodate. Burgoyne simply remains in denial while encountering all of the novelties of the planet, and when his change of heart comes, it gets such little mention on the page that it practically happens off-stage.
What raises the novel up from the levels of incipient mediocrity is the novelty with which Piserchia has populated this new Earth. The spaceship first lands on one of the great towers which sticks out from the surface clear into empty space (there are so many of them that the planet is described as a ball of yarn with knitting needles stuck through it), constructed so that once-common spacecraft could dispense with all the added resources necessary in being re-entry-worthy, and instead just disgorge their passengers at the top of the tower, where spacious elevators would trundle them to the surface over the course of a couple of days. Unfortunately, the tower has evolved its own inhabitants, and one of them eats Burgoyne's partner as soon as he leaves the ship. The creature in question, though, is not merely a mindless monster. He's named Whing, and not only is his species moderately intelligent (enough so to argue matters of adultery with his mate), but thanks to a freak accident in one of the abandoned medical labs of the tower, he got a piece of freeze-dried human brain tissue lodged in his head and thinks he's a human. This leads to his insistence that his mate produce a live child for him instead of the eggs she keeps churning out, and his disappointment when the spaceship apparently has no "humans" aboard, but only these little worms of which he ate one. I think Whing may be my favorite character here.
In fact, there are several semi-intelligent species in evidence here (and as usual, the evidence is in the form of discussions and arguments about marital faithfulness), as well as a couple of different social arrangements among the human tribes, from a group of woman-haters (who all have secret wives and children hidden out in the woods away from the village) to a tribe which believes that any acknowledgement of gender, even in the animal kingdom, is terriby gauche and offensive.
There's also Peru, a three million-year-old bit of bacterial disease which achieved sentience somewhere along the way and, after finally figuring out how to travel with an ambulatory host, has made it his mission to use his powers of instant infection and putrefaction to wipe out all other life on Earth -- and, when he meets Burgoyne, he extends that mission to the inhabited planets out there.
It's an inventive little novel, which could have benefited from an extra fifty pages delving deeper into the substance under the novelty. But it gets high marks for imagination and intelligent humor.
--Nathan Shumate, 2003, from Disposable Lit. Reviews.
Joanna found this review written in 1982:
Mister Justice, 1973.
Crammed into half an Ace double and never reprinted, Mister Justice remains in a class by itself: hardboiled America, sci-fi style. Here the 2030s appear as a mutated 1930s, complete with an economic catastrophe that threatens evolution itself. The Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Untouchables - they never had what Mr. Justice has going for him. Sprung from humanity's threatened altruistic genes, this masked vigilante has the ability to travel into the past, where he can witness, but not prevent, murders.
He then returns to the present, where he arranges an "eye for an eye" treatment for the slayers, including full-scale gangland rub- outs. But he can't easily dispose of one Arthur Bingle, global crime archon who has the same powers as Mr. J. and then some. Bingle feels about the human race in general what Mr. Justice feels about criminals, and he plans to thin us out and "empty the world." With the help of his powers, his syndicates of henchmen and corrupt cops, and his dreadful lady friend Godiva - she of the constrictor thighs - Bingle gets the drop on humanity. But justice is just a matter of time. Piserchia relates this furious folktale with Chandler soul, Hammett snap, and not a trace of camp.
Jim Trombetta, "The Coolest Sci-Fi," from The Catalog of Cool (1982), edited by Gene Sculatti, p. 87.
Here's an update on this site. Obviously I haven't been working on it much lately. I admit to sort of having the wind knocked out of my sails by the author, who, as you can tell from the interview, is pretty ambivalent about being back in the writing game. For someone who professes to "just write for me" these days she is very protective of her canon. I made a mistake and posted the text of an early short story that a fellow fan transcribed. When I asked the author's permission (I know, I should have asked first) she sent me a formal email requesting that I remove it immediately. When the Google Directory (via DMOZ) embellished on my site description and called this the "official" site, I wrote Doris asking if it was OK and got no reply.
While I'm a bit disappointed not to get warmer treatment from the author, it's not the reason I started the site. I like many artists' work without having to be buddies with them. I saw it as filling a gap, since so little critical writing on Doris can be found--putting as much of it as I could find under one roof and adding my own thoughts. I like certain other people's writing about Doris much better than my own. (Liz Henry, where are you?) I would still like, during my dwindling spare time, to do a chapter-by-chapter analysis of Doomtime, as I did with Blood County. It was the first book of hers I read and still tugs at me as a singularly strange piece of writing.
The good news is I have had a few inquiries that I have passed along to the author. One was from a screenwriter looking to adapt one of her short stories. The other was from a publisher specializing in print on demand books. The latter seems like a great way to keep good but cult authors in print. If the technology and the economies of scale are there, why not?
I can imagine Doris not going for it, though. For someone who made her mark in science fiction she's kind of retro. She doesn't really get the Net, for example. She was well within her rights asking me to remove the above-mentioned story, but her reason made no sense. I wasn't charging to read the story; it was 35 years out of print, after it appeared once in a science fiction monthly. In so many words, she said people could still find copies of the stories in libraries and secondhand book stores. True, but by putting it on the Net they could find it much easier and faster. A copyright notice was posted giving her full credit, and the text was accurate and readable. In her overweening concern to keep her work out of the public domain, she is also losing an opportunity for a new, computer-literate generation to know and discover it.
Lastly, another reason the site has been moribund is that no one's come forward lately with any critical thoughts to add to it. I get a fair amount of Doris search requests but no dialogue going about the author. One can only go so long working entirely on one's own before interest starts to wane.
There is a newsgroup discussion here captioned "Whatever happened to Doris Piserchia?" Welcome to all who recently checked out the site. If there are any questions please feel free to use the comment feature on this page.