FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE PECULIAR EXPLOITS OF BRIGADIER FFELLOWES by Sterling Lanier, 1971
This is the 80th in my series of Forgotten Books.
Sterling Lanier was a renaissance man – writer, editor, and sculptor. As an editor at Chilton Books, he urged the publisher, who was noted for car repair manuals, to publish the massive novel DUNE by Frank Herbert which many houses had already turned down. According to Wikipedia, that decision later cost him his job because the book was a production nightmare, cost a lot and sold poorly. Perhaps he should have taken his severance in copies of the book.
This week’s book is only one of six published by Lanier. He had two novels in his Hiero story sequence (HIERO’ S JOURNEY and THE UNFORSAKEN HIERO), two unconnected novels (THE WAR FOR THE LOT and MENACE UNDER MARSWOOD), and two collections featuring Brigadier Ffellowes (THE PECULIAR EXPLOITS OF BRIGADIER FFELLOWES and THE CURIOUS QUESTS OF BRIGADIER FFELLOWES). He published 20 short stories of which 13 are in the two collections.
I remember finding my copy of this book in Austin about 1974 with Bill Wallace, one of the many people who helped forge my taste in weird fiction. We paid $.79 for our copies. It was a singularly unattractive brown title and I had not heard of Lanier or Ffellowes but Bill assured me that I should have and insinuated that I would be nuts not to get it. He was right. I later met Lanier at the 1986 World Fantasy Convention in Providence, RI and got him to sign my copy then.
The stories here belong to the English drawing room club story, wherein a group of gentlemen are relaxing at the club or pub and one of them begins to tell a story of fantastic proportions that is supposedly true. Other examples include the JORKENS books by Lord Dunsany which Lanier cites as a source, THE TALES OF THE WHITE HART by Arthur C. Clarke, Pratt and DeCamp’s TALES FROM GAVAGAN’S BAR, and, to some extent, CALLAGHAN’S CROSS TIME SALOON stories from Spider Robinson.
There is usually a foil for the stories. In these cases it is the American Mason Williams who cannot tell a story and has no sense of honor (or anything else). In several of the pieces presented here, Williams has been monopolizing (and boring) people until Brigadier (never General) Donald Ffellowes rises to the task of actually telling an interesting tale. The Brigadier has been involved in many of the British monarchy’s intrigues for more years than he will admit and the stories are told in no certain order. They represent adventures in Africa (His Only Safari), America (His Coat So Gay), the Baltic (Kings of the Sea), Spain (Fraternity Brother), Greece (A Feminine Jurisdiction), the Middle East (The Leftovers) and the Caribbean (Soldier Key). The stories all have fantastic elements to them which I will not discuss, since it would necessarily involve spoilers. Timeframes range from between the two World Wars to more modern times. They are all interesting and well told.
Having said that, they are not the easiest pieces to find. This book is fairly uncommon with only nine available on ABE. 32 on BookList, and one on eBay as I write this. There have been two editions (the Walker edition I have and a later Sedgwick and Jackson UK edition). The UK edition is generally less expensive but I saw no copies under $30 and most were much higher. The one signed copy was $350, if I recall correctly.
That said, all the stories appeared in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction between 1968 and 1970. Those issues are generally not dreadfully expensive if you are interested in finding them.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.