Matheson Uncollected: Volume One
by Richard Matheson
Cover Artist: Harry O. Morris
Review by Andrew Brooks
Gauntlet Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781887368971
Date: 21 August 2008 List Price $85.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Matheson Uncollected is the first of two volumes showcasing Richard Matheson's previously unreleased work, as well as the screenplay for an old Star Trek episode. The price for the collection is high, but each copy is signed by Matheson and Guantlet Press is only printing 500 copies of this volume. So if you're a Matheson fan you owe it to yourself to get one before they're all gone, and as of the writing of this review there are still copies available. The unpublished shorts may be a little on the short side, but they're mostly solid stories. But the real treat here is one of Matheson's unfinished novels, which although incomplete is vintage Matheson. Written with the understanding of how people really think, set in a far future that is familiar, "Colony Seven", is the gem of Matheson Uncollected.
But the Star Trek screenplay "The Enemy Within" is pretty good as well. It takes a bit more imagination and work to enjoy reading a screenplay, and the stage directions and abbreviations can rob the story of its immediacy, but it's a fascinating story nonetheless. A transporter on the Enterprise malfunctions, essentially separating Captain Kirk into two separate Kirks-one holding all of his evil and base desires and the other becoming a manifestation of all of the captain's good qualities. The evil Kirk runs amok on the Enterprise while the good, yet timid, captain attempts to capture his worse half. It's an interesting story, a duality of man themed tale, but I would have preferred reading it in short story form. Or watching the episode. As I said it's hard to stay in the story when you're reading stage directions, and none of Matheson's prose is included by default of his writing in the screenplay form. The dialogue comes across cheesily at times, but the subject, and the contemplation of man's good and evil sides, is entertaining.
However, the real treat in this volume is "Colony Seven". In a future where man has overpopulated the planet, basically having used up all the natural resources of Earth, the government is taking young volunteers to populate other planets. The story follows David and Jo, newlyweds who've decided to be a part of one of the new colonies. While David is excited about their future, Jo is not. David won't be leaving any family behind, and while watching Earth recede as they take off into space does trouble him somewhat, he's convinced himself that the colony is his new cause. Colony Seven is his chance to make a difference, something he doesn't feel he can do on Earth. Jo does have a family she is leaving behind, and at the outset of the story seems to have agreed to leave only because of David. David's resentment of her over this creates minor tension from the outset that builds when Matheson focuses a few chapters on how, and why, the two married. I don't wish to give that detail away, not because it is earth-shattering, but because of the emotional impact when David's feelings about going to Colony Seven are revealed. Jo and David's relationship is heartbreaking, made more so by the fact that David feels himself to be somewhat heartless at the same time he grasps for something to give him purpose and drive. Jo's purpose and drive derive from Jo, however, so you can guess that their long journey will be filled with a lot of unpleasantness between the two. Although this is an uncompleted novel Matheson does provide an outline of what eventually happens to the two of them. I think it would have made a good novel, not on the scale of What Dreams May Come maybe, but still a fine example of what science fiction with character and heart can do for a reader.
The shorts in this collection range from science fiction to horror to fantasy. "The Prisoner" is about a man who wakes up on death row, hours before he supposed to sit in the electric chair. Turns out, though, that he is innocent. In fact he's not even the man the guards think he is, but an accidental time traveler with horrible luck. The story is quick but great, as Matheson doesn't overwrite but provides just enough to give you a complete read. Of the ten shorts presented here it was my favorite. "1984 ½" was also enjoyable, if a little too light-hearted for my tastes. It's a humorous look at how one wife goes to a lot of trouble to communicate with her husband that he's not giving her exactly what she wants. It and "Professor Fritz and the Runaway House" read more like elaborate jokes than short fiction, although they were still enjoyable. The other ten were okay, but nothing approaching the quality of Matheson's works seen in other collections.
Matheson Uncollected Volume One really is worth it if you're a huge Matheson fan, and although "Colony Seven" is incomplete it's the star of this show, but the casual fan should begin with one of his other collections first. If you haven't read any Matheson before you really owe it to yourself to do so. His imagination is boundless and his stories vastly entertaining.