The Box: Uncanny Stories
by Richard Matheson
Review by Mario Guslandi
Tor Books Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765361431
Date: 29 September 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Author of countless famous novels and stories that have been often adapted either for the big screen (I Am Legend, Duel, etc.) or for TV episodes (e.g." Trilogy of Terror") as well as of great scripts for successful TV series (The Twilight Zone being only the more widely known), Richard Matheson stopped writing short fiction in 1971, but his stories are far from forgotten or outdated. Once again, one of his old tales “Button Button” has recently become a film, The Box, directed by Richard Kelly and starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella.
I haven't seen the movie and I probably never will, because I doubt if that, good as it may be, it could be equal to the strength and the charm of the masterful original story. Mind you, the story is very short (only thirteen pages long) and it certainly was never intended as the basis for a motion picture.
The subject is quite simple: pushing the button of a box would cause the death of unknown human being somewhere in the world and in exchange you would receive a very large amount of money. Would you be willing to accept the task and make it a deal?
With exceptional craftsmanship Matheson examines in depth the nature of the human soul (greed fighting against moral scruples) in just a few paragraphs of terse prose and well balanced dialogues. It's an insightful, sober masterpiece.
The volume reprints other excellent stories, such as “Mute”, an intense piece full of humane feeling, in which a young boy trained to use telepathy but not to speak human language, ceases to be the subject of a cruel scientific experiment to become the object of motherly love.
Another remarkable story is “Dying Room Only”, a tense, suspenseful piece set. in a forsaken café at the edge of the desert where a man mysteriously disappears leaving behind a distressed but pugnacious wife.
The entertaining “Girl Of My Dreams” features a sensitive who is capable of predicting lethal accidents, while the weird “Shockwave” revolves around the oddities of a church organ. The remaining stories, although fair enough, are little more than pleasant fillers: an offbeat vampire story (“No Such Thing As A Vampire”), an humorous SF tale (“The Creeping Horror”) , a tongue-in-cheek vignette about today's sex market (“A Flourish of Strumpets”), and a funny joke (“Clothes Make The Man”).
The book is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted, or re-acquainted, with one of the best fantasists of the century.