Button Button
 by Richard Matheson

Tor Books 2008, Paperback
First collection? No.

Richard Matheson was born on February 20, 1926 in Allendale, New Jersey, U.S.A. Among his best-selling novels are I am Legend, The Shrinking Man (a.k.a. The Incredible Shrinking Man), What Dreams May Come and Stir of Echoes. His collected stories fill three volumes, so far. He is also a prolific author of screenplays and scripts for classic television series such as The Twilight Zone. He has been honored with the Edgar, the Spur and Writers Guild awards and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

"'If you push the button,' Mr. Steward told him, 'somewhere in the world, someone you don't know will die. In return for which you will receive a payment of fifty thousand dollars.'
Norma stared at the small man. He was smiling.
'What are you talking about?' Arthur asked him. Mr. Steward looked surprised.
'But I've just explained,' he said.

Reviewed by Carol Reid

Like Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson is one of a handful of SF writers who both epitomize and transcend the genre. As a raconteur of ordinary folks thrust into extraordinary situations, no one spins a yarn like Matheson.

Readers who dip into this collection will quite possibly get a strong sense of déjà lu . So many of these stories have appeared in other collections and anthologies; others have been filmed for the silver and the small screen. The most casual fan of speculative fiction is likely to know Matheson's work if not his name.

The title story, Button Button, delivers a one-two punch of story and character in Matheson's trademark unadorned prose. Would you commit murder if there were no chance of being caught? All you have to do is press the button.

In Girl of my Dreams, a hapless woman with a psychic gift is exploited by her abusive partner. This is a brutal, ugly tale, barely redeemed by a nightmarish conclusion. Dying Room Only is a coiled spring of a story which might make readers reconsider that upcoming road trip. Suspicion and xenophobia abound here.

A Flourish of Strumpets and Clothes Make the Man are lighter pieces which reveal flashes of a wry, playful, often gallows humor.

To me the most memorable and remarkable story in the collection is the heartbreaking post-apocalyptic tale Pattern for Survival whose main character orchestrates a palatable existence in an unusual and profoundly human way.

These are "what if…" stories of the highest order, which back up Ray Bradbury's comment that he considers the author "one of the most important writers of the 20th century". And for good or ill, Stephen King points the finger at Richard Matheson for being "the author who influenced me most as a writer."

Read an excerpt from a story from this collection on  Tor Books

Carol Reid is a fan of mid-twentieth century speculative fiction. She lives in a small community on the west coast of Canada, where she is working on a collection of short stories set in a fictional small community on the west coast of Canada.
Carol's other Short Reviews: "Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction"

"Passport to Crime: The Finest Mystery Stories from International Writers"

Andrew Porter "The Theory of Light and Matter"

Fran Friel "Mama's Boy"

Matthias B. Freese "Down to a Sunless Sea"

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