Wednesday, August 31, 2011

**MorningAJ's Disguise was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

MorningAJ penned this week's story, Disguise, where a woman changes herself, for reasons that may not be as clear-cut as they seem.

Be sure to check this short story out, comment on it, if you're so inclined. =)

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Ghoul, by Steve Niles & Bernie Wrightson

(hb; 2010: graphic novel)

From the back cover:

"When Los Angeles Detective Lieutenant Lloyd Klimpt finds himself in the middle of a Hollywood mystery that falls way outside the norm, he knows he's going to need a different kind of help he's used to. He finds it in the bizarre form of the The Ghoul, a monstrous investigator with a reputation for solving the world's weirdest crimes."


The first story, "The Ghoul," has a solid, if familiar, action storyline, and great artwork by EC/Creepy (and legendary) Bernie Wrightson.

The second story, "My Ghoul," which is a prose story with a few illustrations by Wrightson, is more interesting: Kevin (aka "The Ghoul"), sans Klimpt, encounters a femme fatale, who may or may not provide answers to their mysterious, separate pasts. Excellent, open-ended, noir-true entry, this.

Worth checking out from the library, if possible. If not, The Ghoul is worth owning - as long as you can overlook the first stock tale, and don't pay full price for it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Red Nails, by Robert E. Howard

(hb; 1977: third book in a four-book fantasy/horror anthology series, edited by Karl Edward Wagner & supervised by Glenn Lord)

From the inside flap:

"Red Nails, the third volume in the authorized edition of Conan edited by Karl Edward Wagner and supervised by Glenn Lord, trustee of Robert E. Howard's estate, assembles the authentic versions of three of Howard's greatest Conan stories: 'Shadows in Zamboula,' 'Beyond the Black River,' and the long novelette 'Red Nails.' These first appeared in Weird Tales during the flowering of the pulps in the 1930s. Since Howard's tragic suicide in 1936, no one has written tales of such magnitude. Also in this volume is Howard's own masterful essay on the world of Conan, 'The Hyborian Age.'

In 'Beyond the Black River,' we find Conan in the employ of the governor of Conajohara, defending the settlement on the westernmost frontier of civilization. The town Velitrium and the protecting Fort Tuscelan are under attack by the Picts, a barbarian tribe whose land the settlers have taken. But it becomes apparent that their real enemy is the wizard Zogar Sag and his demon spirits. In a struggle to the death, Conan prevails over Zogar's hideous manifestations.

"In 'Shadows in Zamboula,' Conan falls into the hands of a mercenary inn-keeper who drugs and sells innocent guests to a nearby tribe of cannibals. But ever-alert Conan outwits everyone, rescues a beautiful damsel from the tribe's hungry clutches. . . For her favors, Conan fights a deadly duel with the evil lord Totrasmek and his grotesque minions.

" 'Red Nails' chronicles Conan's adventures in the demon-haunted city of Xuchotl and his encounter with Valeria, the fiery adventuress."


Howard's vivid, brutal, overheated and sexist/xenophobic sword & sorcery fare is, once again, on full display here, within the intense and fantastical scope of these Conan tales.

1.) "Beyond the Black River," with its atypical-Conan tale structuring, is an homage to the American Western, with a sword & sorcery overlay. This is one of my all-time favorite Conan stories.

2 - 3.) "Shadows in Zamboula" sports an Asian fairy/horror tale feel, with its treacherous inn-keeper set-up, twists (some of them predictable, some of them not) and less focus on Conan's rude version of chivalry and romance - an element that's also, refreshingly, downplayed in "Beyond the Black River." Again, excellent, clever work.

"Shadows in Zamboula" was "freely adapted" into comic book form in issue #14 of The Savage Sword of Conan, by Roy Thomas (writer), Neal Adams and "The Tribe". This magazine was published by Marvel Comics in September 1976; it was republished in expanded, graphic novel form (The Savage Sword of Conan Volume Two) by Dark Horse Books in March 2008. (The cover for that graphic novel, illustrated by Boris Vallejo, follows this review.)

4.) "Red Nails" is the weakest of the stories in this collection. Part of the reason for its disappointing delivery is because of its extended length - it's a novelette, not a short story.

The tale's familiar set-up is stock and generic. "Red Nails," more ambitious in its piled-upon elements, sports less twists, and Conan - as pointed out by Karl Edward Wagner in his dead-on "Afterword" - is less a down and dirty adventurer this time out, due to the presence of Valeria, a woman who (for the most part) dishes back what he throws at her.

Valeria is interesting, because while she's more of a fully realized character than most of Conan's women, she occasionally she lapses into Howard-familiar, spiteful hussy fits. At the same time, the tale is more generic in its delivery because she casts Conan in a more heroic light.

This last tale is still an okay read.

5.) "The Hyborian Age," a Howard-penned overview of Conan's world, is interesting in that it not only shows what came before Conan, but also shows Howard's fictional-bible/history that the author adhered to when writing his Conan stories.

Worth owning, this, if you enjoy pulp-y fiction.

Followed by the series-novel The Hour of the Dragon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old Gods Almost Dead, by Stephen Davis

(pb; 2001, 2002: biography)

From the back cover:

"The saga of the Rolling Stones is the central rock mythology. From their debut as the intermission band at London's Marquee Club in 1962 through their 2002/2003 world tour, the Rolling Stones have defined a musical genre and experienced godlike adulation, quarrels, addiction, legal traumas, and descents into madness and death - while steadfastly refusing to fade away. Now, Stephen Davis, the New York Times best-selling author who has covered the Stones for three decades, presents their whole story, replete with vivid details on the Stones's musical successes - and personal excesses."


Intimate, electrifying read about the Stones - their personalities (and inherent flaws), their music (varied in its influences, sometimes groundbreaking, sometimes not) and their lives.

One of the best rock bios I've read in a long while. Worth owning, this - perhaps one of the most comprehensive Stones/rock bios I've ever read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

**Anna's Compulsion was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Anna penned this week's story, Compulsion, where a woman's OCD takes a startling turn.

Be sure to check this short story out, comment on it, if you're so inclined. =)

Friday, August 12, 2011

**Baird Nuckolls' Jet lagged was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Baird Nuckolls penned this week's story, Jet lagged, about the curious effects of having a traveling spouse.

Be sure to check this short story out, comment on it, if you're so inclined. =)

**Three of my mainstream poems were published in the latest issue of Milk Sugar Literature

Three of my mainstream poems - Just checking; Z waves on the 1:09 bus; Mailbox stomp 442 - were published in the August/September 2011 issue of Milk Sugar Literature.

If you have a moment, and are inclined toward reading life-true verses, check them out. =)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Coldheart Canyon, by Clive Barker

(hb; 2001)

From the inside flap:

"Hollywood has made a star of Todd Pickett. But time is catching up with him. He doesn't have the perfect looks he had last year. After plastic surgery goes awry, Todd needs somewhere to hide away for a few months while his scars heal.

"As Todd settles into a mansion in Coldheart Canyon - a corner of the city so secret it doesn't even appear on any map - Tammy Lauper, the president of his fan club, comes to the City of Angels determined to solve the mystery of Todd's disappearance. Her journey will not be an easy one. The closer she gets to Todd the more of Coldheart Canyon's secrets she uncovers: the ghosts of the A-list stars who came to the Canyon for wild parties; Katya Lupi, the cold-hearted, now-forgotten star for whom the Canyon was named, who is alive and exquisite after a hundred years; and, finally, the door in the bowels of Katya's dream palace that reputedly open up to another world, the Devil's Country. No one who has ever ventured to this dark, barbaric corner of hell has returned without their souls shadowed by what they'd seen and done. . ."


Coldheart Canyon isn't one of Barker's better works - it's overly long by at least a hundred and fifty pages and its characters suffer from Plot Convenient Stupid Moments (PCSM) from time to time - but it's still a worthwhile read, because few writers can create such grand, century-spanning epics like this. Barker's multilayered story telling is penned in an appropriately lush Hollywood film style, with its beyond-the-norm audacious horrors equally potent.

Even with its flaws, this is a fascinating book that is worth the journey, with its mostly interesting characters, insider's dark take on the Dream Factory and its sometimes transcendant grotesqueries and graces.

I'm glad I read this - once. It's not worth owning, as is most of Barker's other works, but it is worth checking out, if you can tolerate bloat with your read spectacles: to Barker's credit, and to provide a point of comparison, Coldheart Canyon is nowhere near as bloated as Stephen King's post-mid Eighties writing (e.g., any fiction King has published since It).

If you've never read Clive Barker, and are interested in doing so, read one of his other books first, like his three-volume Books of Blood anthologies, or Imajica, one of his many novels.

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...