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.

<em>The Thirst</em> by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2017:  eleventh novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series – Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith.) From the inside flap ...