Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fire Engine That Disappeared, by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

(hb; 1970: fifth book in the Martin Beck Police Mysteries. Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate.)

From the inside flap:

"The cunning incendiary device that blew the roof off a Stockholm apartment house one cold winter night not only interrupted the small, peaceful orgy underway inside, it nearly took the lives of the building's eleven occupants. And if one of police commissioner Martin Beck's colleagues hadn't been on the scene, the explosion would have led to a major catastrophe -- since, for reasons nobody could satisfactorily explain -- the fire department didn't arrive until too late.

"How could a regulation-sized ladder tuck vanish in the center of Stockholm? What, if anything, did the explosion have to do with the peculiar death earlier that day of a 46-year-old bachelor whose cryptic suicide note consisted of only two words: 'Martin Beck'?"

Review:

The Fire Engine That Disappeared is plot-tight, wry and thrilling as its series predecessors, with continued, almost quirky, focus on its Beck and his team of investigators' lives as they piece together, through luck and hard work, what happened the night a local man committed suicide and a fire truck vanished.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Murder At The Savoy.



The video film was released on July 2, 1993 in Sweden. Hajo Gies directed the film, from a script by Rainer Berg and Beate Langmaack.

Gösta Ekman played Martin Beck. Kjell Bergqvist played Lennart Kollberg. Rolf Lassgård played Gunvald Larsson. Ing-Marie Carlsson played Gun Kollberg. Bernt Ström played Einar Rönn. Niklas Hjulström played Skacke. Birger Österberg played Kvant. P.G. Hylén played Kristiansson.

Torgny Anderberg played Evald Hammar. Rolf Jenner played Max Karlsson. An uncredited Anita Ekström played Inga Beck.

An uncredited Maj Sjöwall, who co-authored the film's source novel, played "Woman Next To Beck on Plane".

Thursday, December 30, 2010

**My story, "Village Bride," was published on the Flashes in the Dark site

One of my mainstream/PG-13 stories, "Village Bride," was published on the Flashes in the Dark site.

For those of you have ADD-like attention spans, and/or don't have a lot of time, the story is only 200 words.

Flashes in the Dark - namely, its editor (Lori Titus) - has been a joy to work with. Even her rejection letter for one of my other pieces made me smile.

:)

See?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

**New William Viharo writing and host-gigs

William Viharo, aka "Will The Thrill", has been writing some must-read entertainment/b-movie related columns for The Examiner.

Here's his latest column: "National Film Registry 2010: the 'B' sides".

Many movie geeks in the East Bay know Will as the host of Thrillville (which has morphed into Forbidden Thrills, a monthly showing of b-movies at the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, CA).

Will is not only a b-movie host, he's an author, with four (thus far) published novels to his credit: Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, Chumpy Walnut and Down a Dark Alley.

Will is a truly nice guy, who happens to produce equally-great work, whether it's through his movie hosting or writing.

His ongoing jazz-cool ventures are worth supporting and celebrating. Check his works out!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Time Axis, by Henry Kuttner

(pb; 1948)

From the back cover:

"Called to the end of time by a being they knew only as The Face of Ea, four adventurers from the twentieth century faced a power that not even the super-science of that era could meet -- the nekron, negative matter, negative force, ultimate destruction for everything it touched. It seemed hopeless to expect them to win this battle for the fate of the universe -- but between them they had a power they themselves could not suspect."

Review:

A series of strange murders and a story assignment sweep reporter Jerry Cortland into a wild science fiction ride, full of split-mind possessions, cloning, and time and space travel (often in a smash cut blink of the eye), where he, along with three other humans, must battle the deadly, advancing void of the nekron, in order to save not only Earth, but past/future alien civilizations.

This story was initially confusing to me -- Kuttner often favors fast, one-sentence transitions to convey complex theories and twists, alternating/mind-sharing personalities, as well as space and time travel. Once I got into the blunt, choppy rhythm of the story though, it was an exhilarating blast-read.

This is not recommended for people who want everthing explained to them; this is a action- and abstraction-packed work, from an author who eschews traditional transitions and science fiction clichés.

The Time Axis is fun, vagaric, with a smart-minded b-movie feel to it. Check it out.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Twelve Frights of Christmas edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg

(1986: horror/science fiction anthology.  "Introduction" by Isaac Asimov.)

From the back cover:

"We wish you a macabre Christmas with thirteen of the best horror tales of the season. Hang on to your stocking with very special care by 'The Chimney,' a chiller about what really comes down from the roof on Christmas Eve. Or join Robert Bloch on 'The Night Before Christmas' by trimming the tree. . . in a shocking fashion. It's hardly a silent night even in outer space, where Arthur C. Clarke makes our blood run cold with the truth about Bethelhem's star.

"So curl up by those chestnuts roasting on an open fire. . . as these masters leave you screaming on a white Christmas."


Overall review:

Quality-wise, this anthology is a mixed bag.

Seven of the stories are good or excellent, the rest are decent or unpublishable (those that fall into this category often run too long; with some quick trimming, they, too, might've been excellent, or at least publishable).

Worth checking out from the library, this. Don't spend your money on it.


Review, story by story:


1.) "The Chimney" - Ramsey Campbell: A boy discovers another spirit of Christmas. Miasmic, relentless, childhood-true.


2.) "Markheim" - Robert Louis Stevenson: An impoverished criminal (Markheim), trying to complete what appears to be a successful crime, is interrupted by a wily stranger. Overly long, chatty, sharp-humored story.

"Markheim" has been filmed twice.

The first version, a twenty-five minute short, aired on Polish television on January 28, 1972. It was directed and scripted by Janusz Majewski.

Jerzy Kamsas played Markheim. Grazyna Dluglecka played Karolinka. Aleksander Bardini played Antykwariusz. Jan Tesarz played Pijak.

The second version aired on British television on December 24, 1974. Tina Wakerell directed the film, from a script by Tom Wright.

Derek Jacobi played Markheim. Paul Curran played "The Dealer". Julian Glover played "The Stranger". Sally Kinghorn played "The Maid".


3.) "The Night Before Christmas" - Robert Bloch: A portrait painter gets caught in the middle of a dangerous divorce between a rich man and his beautiful wife. Suspenseful, witty, noir- and horror-veracious tale.


4.) "The Festival" - H.P. Lovecraft: In the town of Kingsport, a questing man, honoring the wishes of his people, attends a terrifying, subterranean, once-a-century "Yule-rite".

This is a typical Lovecraft story: vivid, miasmic-mood descriptions, oozing/spooky locales and, of course, a touch of madness. The story ends on a tepid - compared to what precedes it - note, but otherwise it's okay.


5.) "The Old Nurse's Story" - Mrs. Gaskell: Ultra-chatty first-person POV tale -- too loquacious for this reader: I stopped reading it two pages into the story.


6.) "Glámr" - S. Baring-Gould: Long than necessary, but overall okay Norse horror story about a ghost-/vampire-haunted sheepwalk.


7.) "Pollock and the Porroh Man" - H.G. Wells: Pollock, a callous man, falls prey to a witch doctor's vengeful predation. Good, colorful story.


8.) "The Weird Woman" - Anonymous: Two brothers (Frank and Oswald Tregethan), along with a cousin (Cicely Mostyn), arrive at their dead uncle's estate in North Wales to attend the reading of his will, only to fall under the dark sway of "The Tregethan Curse".

Atmospheric, spooky, exciting tale.


9.) "The Hellhound Project" - Ron Goulart: 2030 A.D. Thad McIntosh, a homeless man, is asked by the Opposition Party to go undercover, investigate and stop a mysterious corporate secret weapons program.

Fun science fiction/action story, with lots of twists and twisty characters.


10.) "Wolverden Tower" - Grant Allen: Mostly-solid tale about a young woman (Maisie Llewelyn), whose arrival at Wolverden Hall sets off a series of supernatural events.

The story's deep flaws reside in its excessive length and its anticlimactic, obvious-early-on finish.


11.) "Planet of Fakers" - J.T. McIntosh: Alien, human-possessing telepaths (Procarpans) threaten to take over a human population on an alien planet. Good, clever, plot- and character-wending piece.


12.) "Life Sentence" - James McConnell: Oliver Symmes, an institutionalized aged murderer, relives, again and again, the events that led him to his current situation. Well-written, okay-plot work.


13.) "The Star" - Arthur C. Clarke: Scientists, investigating the aftermath of a supernova, discover humanity-altering veracities among the scattered cosmic rocks.

This is an excellent, intellectualized story that sports a big nod at Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

**Microstory A Week update

READERS & WRITERS:

Another story - Nick Nicholson's sublime Naples - was published on the Microstory A Week site today.

If you're interested in submitting a story to the Microstory site, be warned that slots are filling up fast.

Also, if you're wondering what kind of stories I publish on the Microstory site, check out the books I review on this blog (Reading By Pub Light), as well as the stories I post on the Microstory site.

Genre-wise, I'm open to most writing, as long as it's not religious, Hallmark-toned or erotica. (For further details, check out the submission guidelines.)



I just added several publisher/magazine links to the Link List for the Microstory site. There are now thirty-seven publisher/magazine links on the site, so even if you're not interested in submitting to Microstory A Week, there may be worthwhile links there for you to check out. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wolfshead, by Robert E. Howard

(pb; 1968: fantasy/horror anthology. Edited by Glenn Lord. Introduction by Robert E. Howard.)

From the back cover:

"From Hell itself. . . from the Satanic depths where imprisoned lost souls wail forever, from the outer reaches of space where warped laws rule the lives of hideously alien beings, from beyond the elusive veil separating 'reality' from sorcery and the supernatural. . . come these. . . stories by a master of fantasy. . ."


OVERALL REVIEW:

Solid anthology of Howard's writing, whose publishing dates span from 1926 to 1951. (Howard, a successful pulp writer, blew his brains out on June 11, 1936, after his mother died.)

Most of these lurid, intense, thematically-overlapping stories are good (except for "The Valley of the Worm", "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" and "The Horror From the Mound", which are either too long, or too generic). That said, this should be read as a fictional leftovers anthology, not a main course read.

Worth checking out, this. Worth owning, if bought for a couple of bucks.



REVIEW, STORY BY STORY:

1.) "The Black Stone": An unnamed twentieth-century scholar, compelled by a rare nineteenth century tome (Nameless Cults, by the gone-bonkers scholar Von Junzt), travels to a distant European village (Stregiocavar, whose name "means something like Witch-Town"). The unnamed scholar's intent: to investigate, translate the strangely-lettered ancient Black Stone, where, if a man spends a Midsummer's Night near it, he will either go mad, or be haunted by wild nightmares for the rest of his life.

Solid, doom-suffused work that ought to be familiar to fans of H.P. Lovecraft.


2.) "The Valley of the Worm": An Æsir (Aryan warrior), Niord, hunts a man-slaughtering serpent (Satha) in the Valley of the Broken Stones, a vale so frightful, even the Picts, known for their fearlessness, shun it.

This is an okay tale that, with a few quick edits, could have been excellent. What mars it is the lengthy introductory prose, in which the oft-reincarnated awareness that gives breath to Niord brags about its multiple, previous embodiments.

Once Howard actually starts the story (almost halfway through it), "The Valley of the Worm" becomes enthralling, action-packed, with an atypical-for-Howard finish.


3.) "Wolfshead": The reveling guests in Dom Vincente de Lusto's castle are stalked by a flesh-rending beast. Fun, character-rich tale of lycanthropy, lust, treachery and strange redemption.


4.) "The Fire of Asshurbanipal": Two adventurers -- Yar Ali (an Afghan) and his friend, Steve Clarney -- seek an "ancient, ancient City of Evil" and its legendary foul treasure, in the wastelands of Persia.

As in "The Black Stone", there is a black monolithic structure and mention of "Xuthltan" (though in "Asshurbanipal" Xuthltan is a magician not a place, as he/it is in "The Black Stone").

This is an okay tale. It runs a few pages longer than it should, largely because Yar Ali and Clarney talk too much.


5.) "The House of Arabu": Pyrrhas the Argive, an accursed barbarian, visiting the treacherous city of Nippur, uses his wits and brawn to buck the curse of "Lilitu. . . the night spirit" and her equally transformative supernatural mate, Ardat Lili.

Intriguing, fun tale that (by Howard's standards) cuts to the black heart of the action-punctuated plot.

(This story, first published in 1951, was originally titled "The Witch From Hell's Kitchen".)


6.) "The Horror From the Mound": Solid, if uninspired, tale about an idiot cowboy (Steve Brill) whose curiosity awakens a bloodsucking monster.


7.) "The Cairn on the Headland": In Dublin, Ireland, an American (James O'Brien) and his shady companion (Ortali) view Grimmin's Cairn, a mysterious centuries-old mound. Shortly thereafter, O'Brien is sought out by a woman (Meve MacDonnal), who warns O'Brien about future horrors, should the cairn be dismantled.

Good, character-interesting horror/fantasy work.

Friday, December 10, 2010

American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story, by Cynthia True

(pb; 2002; biography. Foreword by Janeane Garofalo)

From the back cover:

"Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman -- add Bill Hicks to that list of brilliant, fearless comics. Just emerging from underground cult status when he died at age thirty-two, Bill Hicks spent most of his life making audiences roar -- and censors cringe -- with biting social satire about everything from former president George Bush to rock stars who hawk diet Coke. His nervy talent redefined the boundaries of comedy in the '80s and won him a list of admirers that includes John Cleese, George Carlin, and Thom Yorke of [the band] Radiohead.

"This posthumous biography reveals for the first time what made Bill Hicks tick -- what made him laugh, what pissed him off, and what he saw as his ultimate mission: to release people from their prison of ignorance. From his first comedy gig at Bible camp to his infamous cancellation on The Late Show with David Letterman, Cynthia True portrays an artist whose outrage, drive, and compassion fueled a controversial body of work that still resonates today."

Review:

Excellent biography, as intense as its subject. Hicks comes off as someone who strove to be more than just a joke-teller; he was a literate spiritual philosopher, who, for a time, loved drugs, all the while seeking to combat collective (often religious) ignorance, kneejerk uber-patriotism, and unthinking political and social conservatism.

Often savage and pornographic in his rock n' roll-themed stage act, Hicks was a friend of Sam Kinison (with whom he shared similar comedic sensibilities) and Denis Leary, who, in his 1993 No Cure For Cancer routine, ripped off Hicks' "kill talentless rock stars" riffs (from Hicks' 1989 Dangerous set).

It's a cliché, but in Hicks' case, it's true: he was ahead of his time, and, as the book's back blurb notes, his often-hilarious, sharp commentaries are still applicable to today's American society.

Check this out.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Stuart Little, by E.B. White

(pb; 1945; pictures by Garth Williams)

From the back cover:

"Stuart Little is no ordinary mouse. Born to a family of humans, he lives in New York City with his parents, his older brother George, and Snowbell the cat. Though he's shy and thoughtful, he's also a true lover of adventures.

"Stuart's greatest adventure comes when his best friend, a beautiful little bird named Margalo, disappears from her nest. Determined to track her down, Stuart ventures away from home for the very first time in his life. He finds adventure aplenty. But will he find his friend?"

Review:

Bizarre-ish, unpredictable, quirky children's novel, this.

White avoids obvious character set-ups, with chapter finishes that almost seem to dead-end, rather than build to more "meaningful", life-changing events.

White is also subtle about certain things that might raise obvious, awkward questions with children reading the book. In some ways, this is a sly, borderline subversive, treatment within the children's book genre.

This is a good, distinctive read.

Check it out from the library before you buy this. It's appropriate for children, but White seems to have done away with the usual resolutions here.



The live action film version was released stateside on December 17, 1999. Rob Minkoff directed the film, from a script by M. Night Shyamalan and Greg Brooker.

Michael J. Fox voiced the CGI'd Stuart Little. Geena Davis played Mrs. Eleanor Little. Hugh Laurie played Mr. Frederick Little. Jonathan Lipnicki played George Little.

Nathan Lane voiced Snowbell the cat. Chazz Palminteri voiced "Smokey, the Chief Alley Cat". Steve Zahn voiced "Monty the Mouth". David Alan Grier voiced "Red the Alley Cat".

Bruno Kirby voiced Mr. Reginald "Reggie" Stout. Jennifer Tilly voiced Mrs. Camille Stout. Jeffrey Jones played Uncle Crenshaw Little. Brian Doyle-Murray played Cousin Edgar Little. Julia Sweeney played "Mrs. Keeper, the Orphanage Owner". Dabney Coleman played Dr. Beechwood. Jon Polito played Detective Sherman.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

**New publishing possiblity for writers: Microstory A Week

I just started a new blog for myself, and other writers - if you can write a good story in 500 words or less, check out this website: Microstory A Week.

Here's the guidelines.

I look forward to hearing from you! :)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells

(hb; 1896)

From the inside flap:

"[This] is the story of [Edward] Prendick, a common man, who is shipwrecked on a mysterious island populated by Moreau, a scientist and Montgomery, his drunken assistant, a disgraced doctor. Growing suspicious of Moreau's experiments, Prendick discovers Moreau is creating strange, human-like cratures from animals. Wolves, dogs, pumas, oxen and other animals have been transformed by Doctor Moreau's skillful hands and brilliant mind into Beast People, capable of speech and thought.

"Following a shocking sequence of events Prendick is left alone with Moreau's creations, as they revert back to their animal state. . ."



Review:

Wells's fast-paced novel is immediately gripping and timeless, perfectly balancing the action/science fiction aspects of the tale, the emotions of its lead protagonist (Prendick, whose panic suffuses the work) and its horrific men should not play God with nature theme.

True to Frankensteinean form, Doctor Moreau is a curious and barbaric man, often more cruel and perverted than the Beast People he created and brainwashed. And this reader could practically smell Montgomery's desperate, acrid alcoholic sweat, as he, caught in his own fugue-panic, further enables Moreau's escalating (and equally desperate) atrocities.

One of my all-time favorite novels, this: own it, already.

#

Seven films have resulted from this novel.

The first, The Island of the Lost, was released in 1921.

This German-language film was directed by Urban Gad, from a screenplay by Hans Berhendt and Bobby E. Lüthge.

Fritz Beckmann played Jim. Hans Berhendt (who also co-scripted the movie) played Pat Quickly. Alf Blutecher played Robert Marston. Tronier Funder played Dr. Ted Fowlen. Ludmilla Hell played Evelyn Wilkinson.

#

The second version, Island of Lost Souls, was released stateside in December 1932.

Charles Laughton played Dr. Moreau. Richard Arlen played Edward Parker. Leila Hyams played Ruth Thomas. Bela Lugosi played "Sayer of the Law". Kathleen Burke played "The Panther Woman - Lota". Arthur Hohl played Mr. Montgomery. Tetsu Komai played M'ling. George Irving played "The Consul".

Erle C. Kenton directed the film, from a script by Waldemar Young and Philip Wylie.

#

Terror Is A Man was the third cinematic version of Wells's novel, though the novel was never credited as the film's source material. Terror Is A Man was released stateside in November 1959.

Francis Lederer played Dr. Charles Girard. Greta Thyssen played Frances Girard. Richard Derr played Dr. Fitzgerald. Oscar Keesee played Walter Perrera.

Geraldo de Leon directed the film, from a script by Paul Harbor.

#

Tim Burton directed, scripted and starred in the 1971 shot-on-Super-8 short The Island of Doctor Agor. It was Burton's first film, and the fourth cinematic adaptation of this Wells novel.

#

The Twilight People was released stateside in January 1973. The film did not cite Wells's novel as a source, though this appears to be the case.

John Ashley played Matt Farrell. Pat Woodell played Neva Gordon. Jan Merlin played Steinman. Charles Macauley played Dr. Gordon. Pam Grier played "Ayesa, the Panther Woman". Ken Metcalfe played "Kuzma, the Antelope Man". Kim Ramos played "Primo, the Ape Man".

Eddie Romero, who also co-scripted the film with Jerome Small, directed this fifth film version of Wells's novel.

#

The sixth version, The Island of Doctor Moreau, was released stateside on July 13, 1977. Don Taylor directed the film, from a screenplay by Al Ramrus and John Herman Shaner.

Burt Lancaster played Dr. Paul Moreau. Michael York played Andrew Braddock. Nigel Davenport played Montgomery. Barbara Carrera played Maria. Richard Basehart played "Sayer of the Law". Nick Cravat played M'ling.

#

The seventh (and latest) cinematic adaptation, The Island of Doctor Moreau, was released stateside on August 23, 1996.

David Thewlis played Edward Douglas. Marlon Brando played Dr. Moreau. Fairuza Balk played Aissa. Val Kilmer played Montgomery. Ron Perlman played "Sayer of the Law". Marco Hoffschneider played M'ling. Temuera Morrison played Azazello. Mark Dascascos played Lo-Mai.

John Frankenheimer, who replaced an uncredited/fired Richard Stanley, directed the film, from a script by Richard Stanley and Ron Hutchinson.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

(hb; 2010; illustrations by Ian Falconer)

From the inside flap:

"If animals were more like us,

if mice kept pets and toads could cuss,

if dogs had wives and chipmunks dated,

sheep sat still and meditated,

then in the forest, field and dairy

you might find this bestiary,

read by storks, by rats and kitties,

skimmed by cows with milk-stained titties.

'I found this book to be most droll,'

might quip the bear, the owl, the mole.

Others, though, would be more coarse.

'Bull,' could say the pig and horse.

As to the scribe, they'd quote the hen:

'Trust me, he's no La Fontaine.' "





Review:

Grim morality-toned book that looks like a kid's book, but isn't.

Falconer's stunning illustrations amplify the effect of Sedaris's short, sharp 'animals with anthromorphized motives' stories, from the bleak "The Crow and the Lamb", "The Vigilant Rabbit" and "The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat" (with their egregious, manipulative and self-righteous villains) to the comparatively gentle and sublime "The Parenting Storks" and "The Grieving Owl".

This book isn't for the faint of heart, but it should be read by as many people as possible. There's more than a bit of ourselves in these fickle, purblind, judgmental and pernicious animals, more than most of us would probably like to admit.

This is one of my favorite reads of late -- worth owning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Death Wish by Iceberg Slim

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover:

". . . greedy Don Jimmy Colucci. . . wants nothing less than to rule the 'honored society,' dedicated warrior Jessie Taylor. . . is driven to destroy it. . . Vividly real, these powerful implacable figures and their stubbornly loyal underlings stalk each other through pages teeming with life, love, lust, and death."



Review:

Slim, aka Robert Beck, serves up an inebriating brew of cynical sex, savagery, greed and street-level racism, peppering his explicit slang verbiage with a diverse array of characters, whose often labyrinthine plots drive them (and everyone around them) to extreme, inevitable betrayals and bloodbaths.

Slim also spices up this Chicago-set, ghetto Shakespearean mix with "voudoo" [voodoo], an instance of bizarre bestiality, and briefly-mentioned necrophilia, with many of the characters laying down "psychodramas" [traps, as Taylor's fellow guerilla militants, The Warriors, call them] for those around them.

Stirring this potboiler even further, Slim's occasional bits of awkward-phrase, jagged urban poetry are thrown in for good measure (e.g., "The sex-fiend squealing of city death wagons sodomized infant day. Chicago, the gaudy b**ch, had banged another carnal night away. Now the fake grand lady lay uglied in her neon ball gown. Sleazed in merciless light. Her bleak drawers hung foul with new and ancient death.").

This last trademark element of Slim's writing is a blessing or a curse, depending on which of his books you read. In Death Wish, it's a blessing.

Worth owning, if you like raw, blaxploitative, don't-give-a-f**k writing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Businesss, by Milton Meltzer

(hb; 2001: children's book. Illustrations by Bruce Waldman)

From the inside flap:

"When people think of pirates, they usually envision swashbuckling, adventurous figures who spend their time searching for buried treasure. This is a distorted, romantic view that has come down to us. In reality, pirates were little more than thieves and murderers, dedicated to robbery, pillage, and enslavement. Their business was a continuous, organized activity -- from which both nations and individuals benefited. People eagerly bought plunder from pirates, and perhaps the most profitable of all were men and women pirates enslaved.

"Milton Meltzer. . . uncovers the true -- and often bloody, always fascinating -- stories of pirates and piracy, both past and present. Here are portraits of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and other notorious pirates, including women like Ching Shih and Mary Read. Here are also forms of piracy that still plague us today, such as smuggling and copyright infringement. . ."

Review:

I read this as a research book for a story I'm working on, and was delighted by how well written this was: I'd read this, even if it wasn't for research purposes.

This is an excellent, intriguing, informative read. My only caveat about this book is that it does briefly mention rape and, to a larger extent, slavery (though not in "adult" detail) -- so, if any parents have younger/sensitive children, and wish to avoid potentially awkward conversations, they may want to wait until their children are older - say, about tween age - to let them read this.

Worth owning, this.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, by Lewis Black

(hb; 2010: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas?

"Not on your life.

"Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace on earth and goodwill toward all. But not for Lewis Black.

"He says humbug to the Christmas traditions and trappings that make the holiday memorable. In. . . I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas. . . Lewis lets loose on all things Yule. It's a very personal look at what's wrong with Christmas, seen through [Black's] eyes. . .

"From his own Christmas rituals -- which have absolutely nothing to do with presents or the Christmas tree or Rudolph -- to his own eccentric experiences with the holiday (from a USO Christmas tour to playing Santa Claus in full regalia), I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas is classic Lewis Black: funny, razor-sharp, insightful, and honest.

"You'll never think of Christmas the same way again."

Review:

Black's take on Christmas is less blasphemous than one might expect, given his public persona and other books. Oh sure, there's clever digs and mild sacrilegious statements about "traditional" Christmas beliefs and American society, but Black's trademark outrage is often tempered by thoughtful, humble maturity.

I related strongly to this book, in my own way (for the sake of brevity, let's just say that the bombast, commercialism and hypocrisy of the "holiday season" has made me a non-believer, on so many levels).

Black's closing chapter about his USO comedy tours is a touching, non-sentimental tribute to our troops, currently mired in two money-hemorrhaging wars.

Black Christmas is a pointed, hilarious and relatable book. Worth checking out, this.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell

(hb; 1960)

From the inside flap:

"Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the Island of San Nicholas. Dolphin flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kelp beds, cormorants roost on its crags, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches.

"Here, in the early 1800's, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this. . . is her story. . . Karana had to contend witht he ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea-otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply, even when it meant battling an octopus. . ."

Review:

Based-on-true-events story about a young girl who, left behind on her tribe's island, survives despite unfavorable odds. Classic, detailed, burn-through work. Worth owning, if you're into children's books.




This was released stateside as a film on July 3, 1964.

Celia Kaye played Karana. Larry Domasin played Ramo. Ann Daniel played Tutok. George Kennedy played "Aleut Captain". Carlos Romero played Chowig. Hal John Norman, billed as Hal Jon Norman, played Kimki. Martin Garralaga played The Priest. Alex Montoya played "Spanish Captain".

The film was directed by James B. Clarke, from a script by Jane Klove and Ted Sherdeman.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

(hb; 2005, 2010. Translated into English by Ebba Segerberg.)

From the inside flap:

"Something peculiar is happening. While the city is enduring a heat wave, people are finding out that their electric appliances won't stay switched off. And everyone has a blinding headache. Then the terrible news breaks - in the city morgue, the newly dead are waking.

"David always knew his wife was far too good for him. But he never knew how lost he'd be without her until the night she died. Now she's gone and he's alone. But when he goes to identify her body, she opens her eye. . .

"Across the city, grieving families find themselves able to see their loved ones one last time. But are these creatures really them? How long can this last? And what deadly price will they have to pay for the chance to see their spouses and children just one more time?"

Review:

This is a sublime, dread-intensive, hard-to-set-down work, one of the best horror novels I've read this year.

Handling the Undead adopts a fresh narrative tack in terms of how society and individuals process their shock at the returning dead, who are less Night of the Living Dead than one might expect.

Lindqvist doesn't spoonfeed the novel's whys, hows and whos to readers, and that, for this reader, lent an "anything could happen" feel to Handling. Readers who are looking for action and gore should probably avoid this book -- Handling is not about that: it's about us, as people, collective and individually.

Worth owning, this, even if you're like me (tired of the overripe zombie genre, whose filmmakers and writers too often fail to establish their own unique voices, and who, instead, rest lazily on the storylines/violent tones established by George A. Romero's earlier work).

#

The film version is scheduled for a 2013 stateside release. I'll update the (concrete) information on this as soon as I become aware of it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Most Dangerous Game and Other Stories of Adventure, by various authors

(pb; 1957, 1967: story anthology)

OVERALL REVIEW:

Solid, action-oriented anthology, with only one stinker in the mix. Worth checking out from the library.


REVIEW, STORY BY STORY:

1.) "The Most Dangerous Game" - Richard Connell: Sanger Rainsford, an American hunter, gets trapped on the island of a homicidal Cossack (General Zaroff), and becomes Zaroff's prey in literal manhunt. Gripping, sharp work, with a zinger end-line.

Numerous film versions have resulted from this story.

The first film version was released stateside on September 16, 1932. It was directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, from a script by James Ashmore Creelman.

Joel McCrea played Bob. Fay Wray played Eve. Robert Armstrong played Martin. Leslie Banks played Zaroff. Steve Clemente (billed as Steve Clemento) played Tartar. An uncredited Buster Crabbe plays "Sailor who falls off boat".

Other versions include, but are not limited to: A Game of Death (1945), The Most Dangerous Game (1953), Bloodlust! (1961), Surviving The Game (1994, sporting a great cast, among them Rutger Hauer).


2.) "Leiningen Versus the Ants" - Carl Stephenson: A Caucasian gung-ho plantation owner and his native "peons" battle an ant invasion in Brazil. If you can ignore its era-inherent racism, this is a visually wild and thrilling tale.

This story was released stateside as a film on March 3, 1954. Titled The Naked Jungle, it was directed by Byron Haskin, from a script by Ranald MacDougall and Ben Maddow (credited as Philip Yordan).

Charlton Heston played Christopher Leiningen. Eleanor Parker played Joanna Leiningen. Abraham Sofaer played Incacha. William Conrad played "Commissioner". Romo Vincent played "Boat Captain".


3.) "Journalism in Tennessee" - Mark Twain: Witty, raucous take on Southern firebrand newspapermen.


4.) "Alone in Shark Waters" - John Kruse: After a hurricane sinks his ship and leave him afloat in the Indian Ocean, a fisherman (Mike Gardener) fends off dehydration, sharks and other forms of ocean-borne death. Harrowing, intriguing story.


5.) "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" - Rudyard Kipling: This story lost me almost immediately, interest-wise, so I didn't finish reading it - his writing style here is so jangly-noisy, perhaps too vivid.

Two animated films resulted from this story.

The first animated version aired on stateside television on January 9, 1975. Chuck Jones directed and scripted the thirty-minute short.

Orson Welles provided the voices for Narrator, Nag and Chuchundra. June Foray provided the voices for "Nagaina the Cobra, Wife of Nag", Teddy's Mother and Darzee's Wife. Les Tremayne voiced Father. Michael LeClair voiced Teddy. Shepard Menken voiced Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the Mongoose. Lennie Weinrib voiced Darzee the Tailorbird.

A later animated version, made by a different film crew, aired on Hungarian television on November 10, 1983.


6.) "To Build a Fire" - Jack London: In seventy-five-below-zero degree weather, a man wages a spirited struggle for survival against an omnipresent Yukon threat. Infotainment, with a nature-centric, telling finish.

Two film shorts have resulted from this story.

A twenty-minute short resulted from this story in 2003. Directed and scripted by Luca Armenia, Olivier Pagès played The Man.

A second, thirty-minute short was released stateside in October 2008. Mark Dissette co-directed this with Dave Main (who also scripted the short).

Michael Elmendorf played The Man. Eldon Cott played The Old Man of Sulfur Creek. Steven Kramer played Macmorvan. Chad Rowland played Bud. Bill Selig played Jedadiah.


7.) "Locomotive 38, The Ojibway" - William Saroyan: A seemingly crazy Indian (Locomotive 38) and a fourteen year-old boy (Aram, aka "Willie") go on a fishing trip in Locomotive 38's new Packard. Odd, light and charming, this.


8.) "High Air" - Borden Chase: Tunnel miners encounter a potentially fatal emergency. Solid, crises-exciting story.


9.) "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" - James Thurber: A wife- and society-pecked older man (Mitty) imbues his mundane life with unseen but intuited adventures. Fun, brief, to the point.

One film has resulted from this story. A remake of that film is rumored to be on the way.

The first version, released stateside on September 1, 1947, was directed by Norman Z. McLeod, from a script by Ken Englund, Everett Freeman and Philip Rapp.

Danny Kaye played Walter Mitty. Virginia Mayo played Rosalind van Hoorn. Boris Karloff played Dr. Hugo Hollingshead. Fay Bainter played Mrs. Eunice Mitty. Ann Rutherford played Gertrude Griswold.

The second version is scheduled for stateside release in 2012. According to comingsoon.net, Gore Verbinski is set to direct it, from a script by Steve Conrad.

I'll update this remake listing, as more information becomes available.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hide And Seek, by Jack Ketchum

(pb; 1984, 2007)

From the back cover:

"They were young. They were looking for kicks. They decided to play an innocent game in a strange old house.

"First it turned ugly. Then it turned brutal. Finally it became a nightmare of horror and violence.

"None of them was ever the same again."

Review:

Set in Dead River, Maine (also the locale of Off Season and Offspring), this tautly written, quirky, and ultimately horrific coming-of-age tale is unique, and, in true Ketchum fashion, consistently unsettling. It's also gory and nasty in patches, another Ketchum trademark.

Worth owning, this.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vampire Stories, edited by Richard Dalby

(hb; 1993: vampire story anthology. Forward by Peter Cushing OBE.)

From the inside flap:

"Few mythological creatures can have fascinated writers so much as the vampire: dark legends have been passed down from generation to generation of these undead beings, possessed of supernatural powers of metamorphosis and hypnotism, stalking the night for the blood of the living. Ever since Bram Stoker's novel Dracula projected the vampire into the public's consciousness, vampire stories have had an uncanny hold over readers.

"Loathsome, yet charged with decadent glamour, it is small wonder that the vampire has been a popular and recurring theme of horror fiction, and has inspired some of the finest writing in the genre.

"In this volume are gathered tales that may keep the reader awake long after midnight; a multitude of variations and unexpected twists of the theme which make few concessions to those of a squeamish nature. Included are works by such renowned writers as John Wyndham, Anne Rice, Robert Bloch and the undisputed master of the vampire tale, Bram Stoker, plus an introductory word from a man who has, over his acting career, staked numerous Princes of Darkness -- Peter Cushing."

OVERALL REVIEW:

Eighteen-tale, solid anthology that's worth checking out. Peter Cushing's literate, warm and wise Foreword adds futher charm to this collection.

STANDOUT STORIES:

1.) "Dracula's Guest" - Bram Stoker: A fool-hardy Englishman with a strange benefactor visits a haunted village on Walpurgis Nacht. Spooky, atmospheric, brisk-paced, this. (This originally was an excised chapter from Stoker's novel, Dracula.)

This story resulted in two films.

The first, Walpurgis Nacht, a seven-minute short directed by David Kruschke, was released in 2004.

Michael Glover Smith (billed as Michael Smith) played Jonathan. Jerry Blackburn played Johann. Charity Grella played "Countess". James Hurwitz played "Innkeeper". Mark Johnson played "The Host" / "The Captain".


The second film version, Dracula's Guest, was released stateside as a direct-to-DVD film in August 2008.

Wes Ramsey played Bram Stoker. Amy Lyndon played Mrs. Witham. Andrew Bryniarski played Count Dracula. Kelsey McCann played Elizabeth.

Michael Feifer scripted and directed the film, which re-imagined the story in a slow-paced, different way.


2.) "The Lovely Lady" - D.H. Lawrence: Pauline Attenborough, an outwardly youthful, secretly poisonous old woman, preys on the insecurities of her son (Robert) and her niece (Cecilia).

Theme-rich, classic (in a good way), character-centric tale, with a Pauline-true finish.


3.) "The Author's Tale" - L.A. Lewis: A fireside-chat takes a gripping turn when the Author tells a tale about an otherwise gentle man plotting torturous revenge on his crafty, vicious ex-wife.

Spooky, unsettling work that's equal parts Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker.


4.) "Close Behind Him" - John Wyndham: Two men (Spotty and Smudger) pick the wrong house to burgle. Strange, psychologically-taut story.


5.) "Vampires Ltd" - Josef Nesvadba: Tight, satirical and original story about an amazing vehicle and the darker side of the human drive.


6.) "The Master of Rampling Gate" - Anne Rice: Two adult siblings (Julie and Richard) return to their mysterious family estate, one they haven't seen in almost two decades. Romantic, Gothic, this story plays to Rice's popular, passionate strengths.


7.) "Quiet is the Night" - Jessica Palmer: A girl kills her emotionally abusive father, only to discover a darker fate. Sad, suitably Gothic, spooky -- this possesses a fresh authorial voice; I look forward to reading other works by this author.


8.) "The Last Sin" - Ken Cowley: Lord Ruthven, an immoral wealthy man, gets his bloody comeuppance in this lean, script-flipping morality tale (and update of Dr. John Polidori's famous character).



SOLID STORIES:

"Phantoms" - Ivan Turgenov; "The Haunted House" - E. Nesbit; "An Episode of Cathedral History" - M.R. James; " 'And No Bird Sings'" - E.F. Benson; "Chastel" - Manly Wade Wellman; "The Apples of Sodom" - David Rowlands; "The Undead" - Robert Bloch; "China Rose" - Ron Weighell; "Saint Sebastian and the Mona Lisa" - A.E. Kidd



DOGS**T STORY:

"The Woman on the Stairs" - Margery Lawrence (pretentious, bloated, homophobic "detective" tale)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Call for the Dead, by John le Carré

(hb; 1961, 1962: first novel in the George Smiley series)

From the inside flap:

"It was after a routine check by security that Fennan of the Foreign Office shot himself. George Smiley, the cleverest and most self-effacing man in Security, uncovers new facts in an exciting and dangerous investigation."

Review:

Call is a political murder mystery.

An unassuming, quietly feisty and clever George Smiley begins to solve the strange, badly-staged "suicide" of a fellow bureaucrat, who'd previously been suspected of low-level espionage.

The whos in this mystery aren't important; the whys and the hows are. Le Carré intentionally frames the slyly subversive Call this way, basing the novel's events and motives on the characters' personal histories.

Le Carré's books, whose tones are often set by Cold War era politics and British/aristocratic attitudes, aren't quick-thrill works: they're steady-but-intriguing ramp-ups that immerse readers - or at least, this reader - in the environs of a long-running spy game whose players change over time, even as the game continues.

Worthwhile read, this.

Followed, in a loosely-connected fashion, by A Murder of Quality.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jaws, by Peter Benchley

(pb; 1974)

Review:

Jaws is a fun, blast-through-it "killer shark in local waters" beach read that spawned one of my all-time favorite movies.

The novel has more character-intense subplots, and is a bit nastier (on the human scale) than the film; in the novel, the characters don't bond so much, as put up with each other, with venality and/or desperation defining many of characters' motives/actions. Relatable, and borderline noirish.

Even if you've seen the movie, the novel is a worthwhile read, with a notably different finish than the film.

For another review, check out Bryan's Book Blog.



The film version was released stateside on June 20, 1975.

Roy Scheider played Chief Martin Brody. Robert Shaw played Sam Quint. Richard Dreyfuss played Matt Hooper. Lorraine Gary played Elaine Brody.

Murray Hamilton played Mayor Larry Vaughn. Jeffrey Kramer, billed as Jeffrey C. Kramer, played Hendricks.

Steven Spielberg directed the film, from a screenplay by book author Peter Benchley, Carl Gottileb (who also plays Meadows), an uncredited Howard Sackler and an uncredited John Milius.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film, by Andrea Weiss

(pb; 1992, 1993: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Andrea Weiss tracks the often elusive trail of the lesbian through Hollywood films as well as B-movies, European art cinema, and the work of contemporary directors. With wit and political acumen, she opens the concealed sexual world of a host of movies both popular and forgotten and reclaims the secret history of gay women in film."

Review:

Weiss's short-but-sharp analyses and explanations of the social and cinematic dynamics of lesbianism (from the 1920s to the early 1990s) make for an informative, entertaining work. Weiss's writing, stated in everyday language, isn't so deep that it drowns in psychoanalytical excess, nor is it so shallow that it's puff-work.

This is a great gateway book for those interested in the above subjects, or, like me, who read it for research purposes. Worth owning, this.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Holcroft Covenant, by Robert Ludlum

(hb; 1978)

From the inside flap:

"March, 1945. From all over war-devastated Europe, by plane and ship and submarine, are secretly dispatched shipments of precious cargo. Children. German children. To nations everywhere. These are die Sonnenkinder, children who will come of age and in the 1970s carry out their preordained mission -- the establishment of the Fourth Reich. Everywhere.

"Noel Holcroft, an American architect, is flown to Geneva and shown an extraordinary document drawn up by three men more than thirty years ago, each a member of the Third Reich's High Command -- one of them Noel's long-forgotten, natural father. The three men, appalled by the revealed horrors of the Nazi machine, have created a covenant, and executed a massive theft. The sum of $780,000,000.00 was stolen from the German coffers, and in atonement for Hitler's crimes these monies are to be used to aid the survivors and descendants of those trapped in the Holocaust. All that's necessary to release the funds is Holcroft's signature and the signature of the other two heirs. They must be found.

"But the document is a lie. The millions are to be the economic foundation of a vast and ruthless plan that will politically shape governments across the world, a plan so brilliantly conceived it cannot fail. The other heirs are waiting: they know the true intention. Noel does not. In signing the covenant, Holcroft will in effect be signing his own death warrant just as he is signing away the future of free people everywhere. Yet even when he finds out what the document really is, even when he discovers who is enemies are and what power lies in their hands, he determines to aid in the release of the funds, for ironically it is the only chance to stop the plan and the men who are determined to carry it out."

Review:

Ludlum's trademark conspiratorial and labyrinthine plotting/twists/characterization, masterful bursts of violence and action, and reader-compelling prose made this near impossible to set down.

Great, fast read despite its bulk. Worth owning, this.



The film version was released stateside on October 18, 1985.

Michael Caine played Noel Holcroft. Victoria Tennant played Helden von Tiebolt/Helden Tennyson. Anthony Andrews played Johann von Tiebolt/John Tennyson. Lilli Palmer played Althene Holcroft. Michael Lonsdale played Ernst Manfredi. Shane Rimmer played Lt. Miles. Bernard Hepton played Commander Leighton.


Richard Münch, billed as Richard Munch, played Oberst. Mario Adorf played Erich Kessler/Jürgen Mass. Carl Rigg played Anthony Beaumont. Alexander Kerst played Gen. Heinrich Clausen. Michael Wolf played Gen. Erich Kessler. Hugo Bower played Gen. Wilhelm von Tiebolt.

The Holcroft Covenant was directed by John Frankenheimer, who also voiced -- uncredited and unseen -- the character Bernie Sussman. The film was co-scripted by George Axelrod, Edward Anhalt and John Hopkins.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris

(hb; 2010: eleventh entry in The Sookie Stackhouse Novels)


From the inside flap:

"A Fae War has left the supernatural community of Bon Temps, Louisiana, in chaos -- and waitress Sookie Stackhouse mentally and physically drained. And still, the peace and quiet she so desperately craves is hard to come by. . .

"Even with the blood of two vampires in her system, Sookie is having trouble healing from the terrible torture she endured at the hands of her great-grandfather's enemies during the brief but deadly Fae War. Worse are the emotional wounds -- especially over the loss of her own personal fairy godmother and the near death of her first love.

"Sookie is hurt and she's mad. Just about the only bright spot in her life -- beside the fact that she, after all, still alive -- is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman, who is under scrutiny by the new vampire king because of their relationship.

"As the political implications of the shifters' coming-out are beginning to be felt, Sookie's connection to one particular Were draws her into the dangerous debate. And, unknown to her, though the doors to Faery have been closed, there are still some fae on the human side -- and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry."

Review:

Fun blast of a read, like most of Harris's Sookie works, bubbling with mixed-creature intrigue (that includes the f**ktard human bigots who are pushing through anti-Were legislation), as well as flirtiness, a world-savvy wit and briefly-glimpsed gore.

This is one of the better Sookie novels of the last few years, its focus solely on the action, plot-centric character interactions, and an ably-executed expansion of the Sookieverse.

Followed by Dead Reckoning.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association, edited by Lisabet Sarai


(pb; 2006: erotica anthology)


From the back cover:

"For ten years, the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (ERWA) has offered high quality erotica writing. Now, for the first time, in one steamy volume, Cream showcases the best of what has been been published by the ERWA.

"Offering humor and horror, drama and delirium, Cream introduces readers to characters they won't forget: the no-nonsense sex shop proprietix in Keziah Hill's 'Laying Down the Law,' the lewd and lovely bibliophile in Seneca Mayfair's 'The Bookseller's Dream,' and the tragically tattooed barmaid in Thomas S. Roche's 'Avril's Name.'

"Cream will take you from the slums of Bangkok to the snowy reaches of Central Park, from the jungles of Guatemala to the hockey rinks of Quebec, and from the days of the speakeasies to the post-apocalyptic future. Whether you like your sex as dark and bitter as black coffee or as light and sweet as crème brûlée, Cream has something to suit your taste buds."


Overall review:

Exemplary erotica anthology.

Editor Lisabet Sarai has set a high bar for these authors to clear, and, for the most part, they have done so. (Two of the stories didn't grab me, but that's because I had qualms with their stylistic choices and tones; that said, I still appreciated why Sarai included these distinct stories in this collection.)

There are so many wonderful works in this anthology that I set my standout stories bar higher than usual.

If you only own a few erotic anthologies in your life, make this one of them. All of these stories are worthwhile reads.


Standout stories:

"Because I Could" - Daina Blue: A Death Row inmate (Donald B. Camrooney) writes about the crime that landed him in prison. Brutal, dark, remorseless.

"What Was Lost" - Robert Buckley: Janet, a young woman, establishes a brief but oddly erotic relationship with a decrepit old man (Mr. Havilland) with a wild outlaw past. Intriguing, sympathetic, off-beat, with interesting characters and an eye on early twentieth century history.

"Newborn" - Ann Regentin: A forensics bone specialist, Martina, makes new discoveries about the world and herself in a war-torn Guatemalan village. Troubling, wise and ultimately uplifting work.

"Ghosts of Christmas Past" - Richard V. Rainment: Initially romantic X-mas tale with an effective mood morph at the end.

"Butoh-ka" - remittance girl: In Saigon, a woman (Sara) learns a new, borderline-bizarre way to dance, with help from her instructor (Kaoru). Not your usual "dance as a metaphor for sex/life" clichéd piece, this, "Butoh-ka" reaches into disturbing, gripping emotional territory that put me in a similar mindset of one of my all-time favorite novels, Kenzo Kitakata's Winter Sleep -- intuitive, beyond-words transcendant.

"Junkie" - Jaelyn: Short, sharp tale a nameless woman whose sudden, violent sex with a rough lover (Terry) hook her. Shattering depiction of addiction.

"Absences" - Chris Skilbeck: In a broken-society future, a man (James), his coma-prone wife (Petra) and her sister (Donna) deal with life- and society-changing realities. Longer than most of the stories in this anthology, it's complex, truly original and comparatively epic, echoing the best work of bigger-name science fiction writers.

"Secondhand" - Chris Bridges: Martha, a woman with psychometric abilites - she's "able to the history of a thing by touching it" - goes lingerie shopping in a thrift store, a visit that makes a bigger-than-expected impact on her. Original with a dramatic finish.

"A Man in a Kilt" - Helen E.H. Madden: In Scotland, a Dom (Nan) teaches her Scottish bottom (Jimmy) the difference between want and need. Romantic, in a BDSM way; distinct work.

"Color Less Ordinary" - Sydney Beier: A lipstick shade - "Garnet Chrome" - acelerates a pick-up that takes a surprising, delightful corkscrew. Light, fun.

"The Bookseller's Dream" - Seneca Mayfair: This bookstore fantasy is hot, smart and romantic.

"Avril's Name" - Thomas S. Roche: Sad, lovely, visually-intense tale of love and tattoo ink.

"Tears Fall On Me" - Sydney Durham: An emotionally twisty affair leads to something deeper -- and, for a time, darker -- for two lovers. Enchanting, loving work.

"Challenger Deep" - Kathleen Bradean: While fulfilling her deceased father's last wishes, a woman (Erica) begins to actualize some wishes of her own. Tropical and character-resonant story.

"Up in the Morning" - Mike Kimera: First-person point-of-view acount of male desire in married middle age, and its situational changes. Romantic, smart-minded and protagonist-progressive.

"Black Widow" - Seneca Mayfair: A husband-killer prepares to strike again. Striking, noiresque flasher.

"What Is Thy Name?" - Teresa Lamai: A woman decides between her divine amour, who may or may not be real, and the world's notion of sanity. Biblical, dark, original flasher.

"The Rigby Legacy" - Rose B. Thorny: Sex and revenge flasher, effective with its great finish line.

"Veronica's Knickers" - Julius: The funny exit sentence is a cherry to an effervescent, romantic flasher.

"The Question" - Jude Mason: Solid set-up, hilarious and wicked ending to this 100-word story.


Other stories:

"Laying Down the Law" - Keziah Hill; "A Race to the Finish" - J.Z. Sharpe; "A Little Help" - Nan Andrews; "Debra's Donuts" - Julius; "Mad Dogs" - Lisabet Sarai; "Kiki" - Jolie du Pré; "Drillers" - Dominic Santi; "My Dark and Empty Sky" - Teresa Wymore; "Boy Toy" - J.T. Benjamin; "Successor" - Amanda Earl; "Vegetable Medley" - Madelyne Ellis; "Dirty Velvet" - William Dean; "An Evening at Katzenspieler's" - Cervo; "Home Ice" - Tulsa Brown; "Groupie" - Lisabet Sarai; "Vixen 6.9" - Rachel McIntyre; "Maybe Next Time" - Michael Michele; "Punter" - Mike Kimera; "Lost and Found" - Dani Benjamin; "Grandmother's Inheritance" - Elizabeth Daniels; "A Good Haunting" - Amanda Earl; "Domestic Bliss" - Keziah Hill

Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo

(pb; 1939)

Review:

The most effective horror stems from a sense of (unfair) helplessness, and our inhumanity to our fellow man. Using that logic, Johnny Got His Gun is one of the bleakest, bluntest and saddest books I've ever read.

Joe Bonham lies in a hospital bed, limbless -- as in: no legs, no arms -- blind, deaf and dumb. He can communicate with no one, it seems, and his sense of terror, loneliness, outrage and sorrow plumbs further hellish depths as he recalls, in wandery dream-like fashion, his mostly-happy small town life, and subsequent war experiences that led him to his current circumstances.

The finish is furious, surprisingly shocking (given the emotional rollercoaster that preceded it) and heart-rending. One of the best anti-war novels I've ever read. Own this.



Two film versions have resulted, both of them keeping the book's title.

The first version was released stateside on August 4, 1971.

Timothy Bottoms played Joe Bonham. Kathy Fields played Kareen. Eric Christmas played Corporal Timlon. David Soul played Swede.

Jason Robards played "Joe's Father". Marsha Hunt played "Joe's Mother". Donald Sutherland played Christ. Peter Brocco played "Ancient Prelate".

Don "Red" Barry (billed as Donald Barry) played Jody Simmons. Judy Howard Chaikin played "Bakery Girl". Anthony Geary, billed as Tony Geary, played Redhead.

Luis Buñuel co-scripted the film, with book author Dalton Trumbo, who also directed the film, as well as playing the role of "Orator". For his film role, Trumbo was billed as Robert Cole.



The second version came out in 2008. Ben McKenzie played Joe Bonham. Meredith Kendall lent her vocal talents to the role of "Mother's Voice". Shane Partlow also provided voice-work.

Bradley Rand Smith adapted the screenplay. Rowan Joseph not only directed the film, he did voice-work in it, too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover:

"Louis Cyphre had a fiendish smile and flaunted some bizarre fetishes. So what. The fat price Cyphre was paying for a routine missing-persons assignment convinced Harry Angel to shake off his customary shivers about Cyphre's weird ways.

"But Harry's pay turned to blood as each of his leads dissolved into a dizzying nightmare of black magic and gory murders. And the more he sought the terrifying shadow of the long lost Johnny Favorite, the closer he came to chasing his own."

Review:

Set in 1959, Falling Angel is an original, über clever, supernaturally flavored private dick novel. It's tightly characterized and written, oozy and often bloody with neo-noir-esque shadows and characters who are cursed, but don't know it yet.

Falling Angel has one minor flaw. Hjortsberg, perhaps too clever for his own good, tips his hand a bit early on the final revelations of the book, at least for this (sometimes) sharp-eyed reader.

Despite this minor flaw, both noir/crime and horror aficionados should own this novel, because Falling Angel is a landmark crossover work.



The resulting film, retitled Angel Heart, graced stateside screens on March 6, 1987.

Mickey Rourke played Harry Angel. Robert DeNiro played Louis Cyphre. Lisa Bonet played Evangeline Proudfoot.

Charlotte Rampling played Margaret Krusemark. Stocker Fontelieu played Ethan Krusemark. Brownie McGhee played Toots Sweet. Michael Higgins played Dr. Fowler. Charles Gordone played Spider Simpson.

Dann Florek played Herman Winesapp. Pruitt Taylor Vince played Det. Deimos. Eliot Keener played Det. Sterne.

Alan Parker scripted and directed the film.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dexter is Delicious, by Jeff Lindsay

(hb; 2010: fifth book in the Dexter series)

From the inside flap:

"Dexter Morgan's happy homicidal life is undergoing some major changes. He's always lived by a single golden rule -- he kills only people who deserve it. But the Miami blood-spatter analyst has recently become a daddy -- to an eight-pound curiosity named Lily Anne -- and strangely, Dexter's dark urges seem to have left him. Is he ready to become an overprotective father? To pick up soft teddy bears instead of his trusty knife, duct tape, and fishing wire? What's a serial killer to do?

"Then Dexter is summoned to investigate the disappearance of an eighteen-year-old girl who seems to have been abducted by a bizarre group. . . who just may be vampires. . . and -- possibly cannibals. Nothing like the familiar hum of his day job to get Dexter's creative dark juices flowing again. Assisting his bull-in-a-china-shop detective sister, Deborah, Dex wades into an investigation that gets more disturbing by the moment. And to compound the complication of Dexter's ever-more-complicated life, a person from his past suddenly reappears. . . moving dangerously close to his home turf and threatening to destroy the one thing that has maintained Dexter's pretend human cover and kept him out of the electric chair: his new family."

Review:

Dexter takes his Dark Passenger -- or, as his step-son, Cody, calls it, his "Shadow Guy" -- on another pinball-ricochet ride of family craziness, wit, near-ruin and death (possibly his own).

Dexter is Delicious is another blast-through-it, funny, subversive take on American life from Lindsay, with an effective wraps-it-up-for-now, sequel-friendly finish.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Double Dexter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tell-All, by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2010)

From the inside flap:

"Soaked, nay, marinated in the world of vintage Hollywood, Tell-All is a Sunset Boulevard-inflected homage to Old Hollywood when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford ruled the roost: a veritable Tourette's syndrome of rat-tat-tat name-dropping, from the A-list to the Z-list; and a merciless send-up of Lillian Hellman's habit of butchering the truth that will have Mary McCarthy cheering from the beyond.

"Our Thelma Ritter-ish narrator is Hazie Coogan, who for decades has tended to the outsized needs of Katherine 'Miss Kathie' Kenton -- veteran of multiple marriages, career comebacks, and cosmetic surgeries. But danger arrives with gentleman caller Webster Carlton Westward III, who worms his way into Miss Kathie's heart (and boudoir). Hazie discovers that this bounder has already written a celebrity tell-all memoir foretelling Miss Kathie's death in a fortcoming Lillian Hellman-penned musical extravaganza, Unconditional Surrender, in which she portrays Lilly defeating Japanese forces from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki. As the body count mounts, Hazie must execute a plan to save Katherine Kenton for her fans -- and for posterity."

Review:

Subject-wise, Tell-All is one of Palahniuk's more lightweight efforts, a skillful side-step rather than a stepping-up of his storytelling talents. (This isn't a backhanded compliment; I'm noting that if this short novel were a song, it'd be a b-side song, not an album cut.)

Hazie Coogan, the tale's narrator, is less clever than she thinks, and Palahniuk seems to know this, so he wisely goes way over-the-top satirical, funny and bitchalicious in this Coogan-viewed neck of Tinseltown.

Check it out.