It is hard to imagine that it has been nearly a half century since the debut of The Twilight Zone on October 2, 1959. Each of us who were glued to the black-and-white screens of our 21-inch RCA televisions (or Sylvania or Zenith, perhaps and some smaller screens) has a scene from at least one episode fixed indelibly in our minds. For me the strongest image is of Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in “Time Enough to Last.” The last man alive on earth prepares to enter a library and happily while away the rest his life reading all of the great works, only to break his glasses.
Carol Serling, the wife of Rod Serling, the late genius creator of TZ, celebrates the semi-centennial anniversary by editing an anthology of 19 new stories written in the style of the seminal series.
Like the series which featured renowned actors and some unknowns who would become stars (Robert Redford, William Shatner and Cliff Robertson immediately come to mind), the anthology features several established authors and some lesser-known writers who may become the stars of the future.
Joe Lansdale, Timothy Zahn, R.L. Stine, Kelley Armstrong, and Whitley Strieber are among the better-known contributors, and there is even a short previously unpublished story from Serling himself.
Here are some highlights from the book.
Lucia St. Clair Robson tells of a lonely old lady in the Nevada desert who buys a ghost on Ebay. Far different from Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, which shares a similar conceit, “A Chance of a Ghost” is a satisfying tale of love, loyalty and poetic justice.
In “Ants,” Tad Williams shows what can happen when a woman watches too much Oprah and Doctor Phil. It’s hard to decide whom to root for, the ax-wielding husband or his harpy of a wife.
If you’ve seen District 9, you will have some ready-made images in your mind as you read Whitley Strieber’s “The Good Neighbor.” Having aliens move in to the house next door isn’t the greatest thing for property values.
Lansdale’s East Texas is the setting for “Torn Away.” An identity thief learns the hard way that he can’t fool the spectre of death, as he is run to ground in a hard-scrabble oil town.
The characters in William F. Wu’s contribution found joy only in one isolated incident they shared decades in the past. They haven’t seen each other since, but they have a chance to relive that moment “On the Road.”
In Serling’s “El Moe” I was prepared for a bit of Sesame Street, but then I remembered that series premiered ten years after TZ. No, in this short tale, a con man in a Mexican village finds the hero inside himself as he is mistaken for a legendary figure in the conflict between the peons and the Federales in the1920s.
Like most anthologies, this one is a bit uneven. Not every story is a great one, but none is a real disappointment, and all of them work well with the theme. It is easy to picture Serling introducing them in your living room:
Consider if you will, this new anthology of stories filled with nostalgia for a television series five decades in the past. These tales come from authors who have discovered the secret of “…a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”
Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper since 1988. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books. If you see a Rocky Mountain News blurb on a book it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.