Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of David R. Bunch

Today would have been David R. Bunch's 94th birthday. He was probably the most original writer of Cele Goldsmith’s tenure at Amazing/Fantastic. He has recently been brought back to print by of all organizations The New York Review of Books, via their NYRB Press imprint, with Moderan, a collection of his stories about the half-robots/half-men of Moderan. Bunch (1925-2000) was a Missourian, a graduate of Central Missouri State (where my son got his degree) and of Washington University in St. Louis. He also attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lived in St. Louis most of his life (though I never met him). He was a controversial figure to Amazing’s readers – the letter columns I’ve read featured plenty of screeds against him. But I find his short, very satirical, pieces continually intriguing, if at times a bit difficult.

Amazing, November 1959

David R. Bunch's “The Flesh-Man from Far Wide” is one of the earlier Moderan stories, and it probably serves as a decent introduction. The narrator, a typical psychotic man of Moderan, gets a visitor, who seems possibly to have no robotic “replacements” – no metal parts. And he has other strange ideas, about happiness – he wants to find Moderan’s Happiness Machine. But what do those of Moderan need with happiness?

Fantastic, December 1959

And Bunch’s “Was She Horrid?” is one of his first stories. He’s an author much associated with Goldsmith, though his first two pieces were in If, in 1957 and 1959. His first story for Goldsmith was in the November 1959 Amazing, followed by this one, a Moderan story, about a half-metal man visited by his daughter, ever suspicious that it’s all a plot by his wife in what seems an unending war.

Strange stuff, the essence of Bunch already from the beginning.

Amazing, July 1960

“Penance Day in Moderan”, one of Bunch's earlier Moderan stories, is one of the best, I think. It is told by a vain cyborg, on Penance day, when all the citizens of Moderan march out to shed fake tears. The narrator boasts of his accomplishments, and of what he will do when next they war against each other. It’s quite funny, and quite pointed.

Fantastic, June 1962

David Bunch's "Ended" is longer than most of Bunch's stories, but otherwise wholly characteristic. If you like Bunch -- and for my money he's such an original he demands reading, even though he's neither a comfortable read nor a consistently satisfying read -- you'll find this worthwhile. If not, not.

Fantastic, February 1964

The other is David R. Bunch, the wildly strange writer the great bulk of whose work was very short stories for Goldsmith. “They Never Came Back from Whoosh!” is a satire on commercialism and conformity, about a place said to be wonderful that everyone must visit but no one returns from. It’s one of Bunch’s better pieces I think.

Amazing, August 1964

David Bunch's "The Failure" is a Bunch story, more inscrutable than many, about a forlorn quest for the Final Truth.

Amazing, September 1964

About the Bunch ("A Vision of the King") once again I have nothing much to say -- it's fairly inscrutable as usual.

And, finally, I figured Darryl R. Groupe had to be a pseudonym, and it is, a fairly obvious one for David R. Bunch. Nobody would have been fooled for a second no matter what name was used: "2064, or Thereabouts", is a clearly a Bunch story, about people who are mostly metal, and paranoid, and one who lets an artist into his stronghold. Weird as one expects.

Fantastic, October 1964

Bunch’s “Home to Zero” is not a Moderan story, but it’s certainly a Bunch story, taking on a rather cosmic subject in inimitable Bunch fashion. No point explaining it – it simply needs to be read.

Fantastic, January 1965

David R. Bunch offers “Make Mine Trees” (1,200 words), very strange horror about a man whose wife left him for another man (a Spanish dancer) and who is raising his son alone while working on a formula to save the world. What the formula really does is slowly revealed… pretty effective.

(Cover by Gray Morrow)
Amazing, June 1965

From June, the cover story, David Bunch’s "The Walking, Talking, I-Don’t-Care Man", is a pure Bunch Moderan story, with the narrator, ruling his personal castle, encountering a man/robot who just keeps walking, and refuses to stop, even as his path leads him right through the narrator’s property. It works pretty well, really, in a somewhat talky way.

Fantastic, June 1965

Finally, the inimitable David R. Bunch’s very brief “The Little Doors” is, well, pure Bunch, hard to describe, but pretty effective. It’s about a sort of performance, with weirdly named “creatures” showing up and… well, no point in description. Needs to be read. It’s worth the 600 words.

[It's interesting that Bunch appeared in the last issue of both Amazing and Fantastic to be published by Ziff-Davis and edited by Cele Goldsmith Lalli. One suspects she was rushing to get him published before Sol Cohen took over -- and that the cover honor on the last issue of Amazing was a special nod to him, and perhaps an implied rebuke to the new publisher.]

Eternity, 1979

David R. Bunch's "Through a Wall and Back" is impenetrable -- he's always on the thin edge of simply being irritating, and he goes over the edge here.

1 comment:

  1. Bunch was very original that's for sure but Cele Goldsmith also published the very literate stories of J.G. Ballard. She published 10 of his stories in AMAZING AND FANTASTIC.