Saturday, June 11, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #6

Blogger and Internet Explorer 8 (my browser of choice) were not playing together nicely for nearly all of Friday, so this blog post is a day later than I had anticipated. However, I'm still on target to complete 26 blog posts, at one post per week, to introduce the 26 stories to be included in my Alien Contact anthology, forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November. My rather loose introduction to this anthology was posted on April 25 and would be a good place to start, if you are new to this blog.

"I Am the Doorway" by Stephen King

Night Shift, I believe, was Stephen King's first short story collection. I had to obtain permission for the use of "I Am the Doorway" through Random House, who owns the publishing rights to Night Shift, which includes this story. So that's why you're seeing the first edition of the book pictured to the left. And also because this story was originally published in the March 1971 issue of Cavalier, a so-called "men's magazine," and the cover is a bit too risqué to reprint here.1 But that was the magazine Stephen King was selling his stories to at the time.

"I Am the Doorway" is the oldest story included in Alien Contact, and is approximately 5,000 words in length. I had not intended to include in this anthology any stories that were published prior to about 1980 or so. But during my second meeting with Jeremy Lassen, Editor in Chief at Night Shade Books, in which we discussed the contents of the anthology, he suggested King's "I Am the Doorway." And, when the editor in chief recommends a story to this editor -- considering that the anthology had not as yet been accepted for publication by said editor in chief -- well, this editor in particular listens!

In my own library I have King's Dark Tower series as well as the Green Mile series; and I have also read the "complete and uncut" edition of The Stand (which endowed me with a near-divine appreciation for the art and skill of editing). And I am also eagerly awaiting King's forthcoming novel 11/22/63. But I haven't read much of King's short fiction, so for this reason alone I appreciated Jeremy's suggestion.

I then asked Jeremy for some thoughts on this particular story; I had assumed he had read it many, many years ago and yet the story remained fully in mind, enough so that he was easily able to state the title, and some basic content, during our meeting. Here's what Jeremy had to say:
A couple of years ago, I went through a Stephen King short fiction re-read...reading through Night Shift and Skeleton Crew back to back.

What struck me at the time was how incredibly political, and grounded in the politics of the Vietnam war, much of Stephen King's early short fiction was. "I Am the Doorway" is, to my mind, no exception to this. It reads now as alternate history, with an extrapolated space program...but at the time, I think it was a great metaphor for the failure of American Imperialism. Despite our technology, we were defeated...infiltrated even, by an alien enemy we didn't really understand. Science Fiction. It's not about the future, it's about the time it was written. And to me, "I am the Doorway" is a perfect expression of the era in which it was written. And it is a lesson...a metaphor that is even more horribly appropriate now than it was then.
"I Am the Doorway" is indeed horror, albeit science fiction horror. It's the style of horror that King was writing at the time: visceral. In the following scene, former astronaut Arthur is recounting the details of his flight, in hopes of remembering something new, anything, that might explain...
     We went into an eccentric orbit around the planet.... The cloud cover is equal parts methane, ammonia, dust, and flying shit. The whole planet looks like the Grand Canyon in a wind tunnel. Cory estimated windspeed at about 600 mph near the surface.... Spectroscope indicated only traces of the valuable minerals. And that was Venus. Nothing but nothing—except it scared me. It was like circling a haunted house in the middle of deep space. I know how unscientific that sounds, but I was scared gutless until we got out of there. I think if our rockets hadn't gone off, I would have cut my throat on the way down. It's not like the moon. The moon is desolate but somehow antiseptic. That world we saw was utterly unlike anything that anyone has ever seen....
     On the way back we heard the Senate had voted to halve space-exploration funds. Cory said something like "looks like we're back in the weather-satellite business, Artie." But I was almost glad. Maybe we don't belong out there.
And one more paragraph, from a few pages later, to set the stage...
It was a feeling like no other in the world—as if I were a portal just slightly ajar through which they were peeking at a world which they hated and feared. But the worst part was that I could see, too, in a way. Imagine your mind transported into a body of a housefly, a housefly looking into your own face with a thousand eyes. Then perhaps you can begin to see why I kept my hands bandaged even when there was no one around to see them.
When -- and how -- do we draw the line, once we become aware of the alien within? And if we wait to long....

[Continue to Story #7]

Notes and footnotes:

1. I found a few copies of this issue of Cavalier for sale online from various dealers. If you are curious to see the cover, a proper search should yield the necessary results.

Note: When I opened my blog on Friday to begin entering this post, I discovered that the Home page to my blog had no visible links in the top right corner: no "New Post," "Design," or "Sign In" link; the area on the screen was simply blank where these links should have been. Also, a number of the Blogger widgets on the page weren't working either. Consequently there was simply no way that I could access the Dashboard to enter a post. I don't know if this was an IE issue or a Blogger issue, but Blogger is rolling out a completely new Dashboard -- and, after posting my problem to Blogger's Facebook page early Friday evening, the problem miraculously corrected itself later that night. Everything was working just fine for my Thursday evening post on Neil Young, and then Friday morning -- pfft!

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