Richard Wilson—

The Story Writer


With this, the second volume in our series of classic science fiction and fantasy stories, it seems a good time to address some questions that came in from readers after the announcement of this series. Questions that probably should have been addressed in the introduction to the first book in the series, Malcolm Jameson’s Chariots of San Fernando. First and foremost was “What’s the horror guy doing presenting a science fiction series?” Well, call it a return to my roots as it were; while 99% of what I write is definitely in the horror genre, my early reading in the field of imaginative literature was definitely science fiction and fantasy in the late 1960s, a time that was really a “golden age”, in that one could, on the pittance earned with a paper route actually keep up with all new releases in the field in paperback and with judicious use of the Science Fiction Book Club, manage to secure hardcovers of the most indispensable volumes.

In other essays and introductions I’ve mentioned growing up in sort of a time warp . . . This unusual circumstance came about as the direct result of having a friend whose father was a First Fandom member and the owner of the first bona fide science fiction bookstore in the Pacific Northwest. When my friend’s father closed up shop in the late 1960s he simply took the remaining stock home and added it to his already impressive collection. So it was in the early 1970s, I was not only able to keep up with the current releases in the genre but also had access to the entire runs of Weird Tales, Astounding, Unknown, and even some of the more obscure pulps.

Along about this time I discovered the venerable Shorey’s Bookstore, which proved to be a treasure-trove of digest magazines. While I had always been an admirer of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, it was through the back issues available at Shorey’s that I discovered Galaxy and If (and numerous other titles from the 1950s). Prices at Shorey’s were exceedingly reasonable; if memory serves, the issues ran five for a buck or something along those lines. It was around that time that I started making up my lists of authors whose presence on the table of contents assured that quality reading lay ahead. The lists were comprised of two groups, the first was made up of authors that could nearly always be counted on to produce quality fiction and if two or more such appeared, than that issue of the magazine was likely worth buying . . .

The second group was comprised of authors who in my opinion so elevated the contents that even one such appearing on the contents page made the issue a worthy purchase. Exempted from either list were the titans such as Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke who could be found at the library. The first list included writers who were most often good, but could sometimes produce a clinker, or who were so prolific that one needed to be aware of what markets drew the best material . . . But let’s look at my “A” list from the 1950s, those writers whose presence guaranteed my buying the magazine and so strong was the impression that they left that the list (admittedly a short one) is still crystal clear some forty years after the fact: Fritz Leiber, Clifford D. Simak, Daniel F. Galouye, Richard Wilson, and Theodore Sturgeon. It was certainly helpful that all five authors also had novels and/or collections available in paperback, but the commonality in these very different voices was that even stories appearing in the lower-end markets such as Imagination and Super Science Fiction were unfailingly entertaining. The list for the 1960s is pretty much the same, though I made the addition of three authors, who while active in the 1950s really hit their stride in the next decade . . .

One would think that after writing introductions to upwards of some three-dozen single-author collections dating back to the mid-1980s, the exercise would have become somewhat routine . . . However, the circumstances surrounding the preparation of, and the publication of this particular volume have proven to be as humbling as they have been rewarding. I never thought that I would have the privilege of editing a collection by Richard Wilson; in fact, I would have thought that by this time a large omnibus collecting the best of Mr. Wilson’s stories would exist as an offering from one of the major trade publishers.

However, as the major publishers have not seen fit to assemble such a tome, it then falls on Ramble House and myself to present this and several subsequent volumes offering a selection of the late author’s finest stories. As with all multi-volume projects of this nature, I like to present each book as a mix of the familiar and the obscure, whenever possible selecting a range of stories covering the author’s career.

There’s more here than just a selection of previously published works . . . The selection itself is an eclectic one, ranging from an early story from Thrilling Wonder to the titular piece from Destinies, published in 1979. In between, we have a representative selection from the 1950s and three tales from the 1960s. The nine stories reprinted herein account for only two-thirds of the book’s content. It is the remaining piece that accounts for the last third of the book and my overwhelming sense of gratitude that I was allowed to include this particular piece . . .

While I never had the pleasure of meeting Dick Wilson, I have been assured by several reliable sources that he was a modest man, not given to hyperbole in regard to his own work. The story that we are presenting for its first publication anywhere was originally written specifically for The Last Dangerous Visions. Mr. Wilson believed of this story that it was the finest work from the latter part of his career. As that phase included such works as “Mother to the World”, “The Carson Effect”, and “The Story Writer”; that places this novella in rather august company. I’m delighted to say that not only do I agree with Mr. Wilson’s assessment, but if anything, feel he may have even underrated the piece. “At the Sign of the Boar’s Head Nebula” ranks as a brilliant work today, viewed in the context of being written over thirty years ago, I can only conclude that had the story been published in 1978 or 1979 it would have come to have been considered one of the classics of the field and a fitting capstone to a career that in the span of nearly forty years never saw Richard Wilson produce a story that was anything less than very good.

I am very much indebted to Harlan Ellison for making “At the Sign of the Boar’s Head Nebula” available for this collection. I’ve been aware of the story’s existence for some years and been told by at least one reliable source of the esteem that Mr. Wilson had for the tale. Harlan Ellison has extended me many kindnesses over the years and when I contacted him regarding this story, he was most enthusiastic about being able to get this story into print and his only concern was our ability to get the book out in a timely manner. As you’re reading this introduction now, we’ve been able to achieve the turnaround necessary to bring this book out on schedule.

While I take every project that I work on with a great deal of seriousness, I am particularly pleased and humbled to be entrusted with this project and to play my own small role in finally getting “At the Sign of the Boar’s Head Nebula” into print. Thanks to Mr. Ellison what was an excellent Richard Wilson collection may now be considered a magnificent one!

John Pelan

Midnight House

Gallup, NM