Craft

Wilson Tucker's "The Lincoln Hunters" (1957): Best novel ever set in B-N?

Good fiction is good fiction.

But it's even better when it has points of reference we can readily relate to.

The ghost story profiled above in today's GO! section would work just about anywhere you wanted to set it.

England (where it won its award from the ghost-revering Brits).

The Arizona desert.

The dark side of the moon. 

A haunting is still a haunting, a chill is still a chill ... wherever.

But having it unfold in our back yards, so to speak, ups the emotional ante.

The literary haunting that author Richard Agemo describes takes place on a rural patch of McLean County turf in the Hudson-Lake Bloomington area (we haven't pinpointed it precisely to spare the current residents any undue attention).

Because those of who live here can relate to the sense of isolation described in the story — not to mention the environment of cornfields, barns and the placement of B-N within half-hour reach — it somehow heightens the impact.

We have a more intimate relationship with narrative ... it makes it seem more immediate, and more likely to be true.

Even if it is fiction.

Though fiction-based stories and novels centered on the McLean County area are not unknown, we'd welcome more.

It's sad, then, to realize that the unparalleled king of the Pantagraph-area novel and short story is in danger of being forgotten, as most of his key works have gone quietly out of print over the decades.

We're talking about the late Bloomington-based author who signed his work Wilson Tucker, but was known to friends, fans and family as Bob Tucker.

Wilson or Bob, the man had a gift for narrative as he applied it to his two chosen genres: detective fiction and science fiction, the latter pursuit making him one of science-fiction's oldest pioneers and longest-running fans.

He was a winner of science fiction's highest honor, the Hugo Award (for fan magazine writing), and a recipient of the prestigious John W. Campbell Award for his career masterpiece, 1970's "The Year of the Quiet Sun."

Tucker, who died 11 years ago this month, amassed a canon of 150 editions of 24 novels and 50-odd short stories, many of them unfolding either in Bloomington-Normal or in parts surrounding.

In preparation for an interview some years back, Tucker handed us a box of his novels to read, all now sadly out of print.

Beyond his economical, straightforward writing style were the countless local and area settings, associations and details, many of them featuring a detective hero named Charlie Horne.

In 1941's "The Chinese Doll," Horne was on a lurid murder case in Bloomington, which, now serves as the closest thing to a trip in a time machine back to what 1941 Bloomington looked, sounded and moved like.

Tucker's most interesting use of local terrain occurred 16 years later, via 1957's "The Lincoln Hunters," in which time travelers from the future are sent back to 1856 to record Lincoln's lost speech in Bloomington.

Great stuff, we can assure those with the initiative to track down a dogeared copy online or beyond. (Good luck ...)

In past interviews, the modest author, who paid his bills working as a Twin Cities movie theater projectionist and stage electrician at ISU, told us that writing was "just" a hobby and he was "just" a fan.

He said he only indulged it when the weather was foul or when he wasn't attending a science-fiction convention ... which, at the time, was about once a month.

Genre fans never forget, bless their faithful hearts.

Thankfully, we're advised that the good keepers of our history at the McLean County Museum of History haven't forgotten either.

They are in the process of creating a record of Tucker's literary legacy on behalf of the museum's upcoming "Working for a Living" permanent exhibit due in 2018.

It is more than deserved ... and entirely welcome. 

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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