21 December 2007

Rod Serling's Night Gallery: If you are a fan of Serling's television work, this is worth reading

Rod Serling's Night Gallery
Rod Serling
Bantam Books, 1971

Rod Serling was the genius behind one of my favorite TV programs, The Twilight Zone, and his face and voice are familiar to the millions who loved that show. Serling, and the other writers (such as the brilliant Charles Beaumont) always took their SF, fantasy, and horror with a serious dose of social criticism and thought-provoking philosophy. In the early 70s, Serling hosted another TV series, Night Gallery, which was less successful critically and commercially, in part because Serling had much less artistic control over the final product. Luckily, the control he did have allowed him to create more note-worthy stories.

Six of these stories are collected in the volume being reviewed, including the poignant, Emmy Award nominee "They're Tearing Down Tim Reilly's Bar." Most of these stories read like teleplays, and Serling's rhythm, pacing, and dialog will be familiar to any fan of his TV shows. He wasn't merely a good screenwriter, though; all of these are fine examples of well crafted short stories.

The first three, "Sole Survivor," "Make Me Laugh," and "Pamela's Voice," are vintage Serling with story arcs that lead to ironic (if unsurprising, for regular fans) twist endings. The first deals with a harbinger whose rescue from an ancient life raft spells doom for his rescuers; the second with a failed comedian who finally gets his wish---everything he says gets a laugh;, and the third with about a man who murders his shrewish wife, only to find that her nagging doesn't stop at death... or after it.

"Does the Name Grimsby Do Anything to You?" is an intriguing, if implausible, tale about an astronaut, specifically the first man on the moon, who is losing his mind because it seems that someone beat him to the lunar surface---over 100 years earlier! The penultimate tale is about a pathetic young pacifist whose big game hunter father is planning to strip him of his inheritance if he doesn't get over his compunctions about killing. Let's just say that the moral involves watching what you ask for. And the final story, the aforementioned Emmy-nominee, is a heart-breaking yet ultimately redemptive tale about a long-suffering widower who has come unmoored in the rapidly changing world of the early 1970s.

While not a literary classic, this is still a fun, intelligent book from a master of witty, ironic, and socially-relevant fiction. Fans of Serling's TV work should snatch it up.

(This review was originally written on July 13, 2007.)

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