Saturday, December 26, 2015

Death-School by J.N. Williamson

(pb; 1982: third book in the Lamia Zacharius quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"Tonight, under the full moon, her shadow emerges from the black pits of hell. . . her icy breath cuts the night like a deadly blade. . . her fiery eyes pierce the darkness hunting for prey and fresh human blood.

"Tonight, she returns to the small, quiet town of Thessaly, which has been rebuilt from the bones and burning ashes of the dead. The new inhabitants have no idea of the horrifying evil that lurks in their midst, that their beautiful, young neighbor, the new schoolteacher, is Lamia Zacharius, Queen of the Vampires.

"Tonight, the children of Thessaly are snug in their beds. Tomorrow they enter the death-school."


Review:

Caveat: possible (minor) spoilers in this review if you have not read the first Lamia Zacharius novel, Death-Coach.

Nicole Michaels, cousin of  Mary Graham, moves into the house that Mary and her children left behind at the end of Death-Coach -- Nicole and her daughter (Lisa) are trying to escape from Nicole's abusive husband (Darrell), and Mary, thinking Thessaly deserted after the events of the first book, gives her cousin and niece a place to hide.

Thing is, Thessaly is not deserted. Lamia, now going by the name Miss Z, has been bringing  people to the town with offers of low-cost living and accessibility to nearby Indianapolis. And Lamia, dark and vampiric anti-heroine of the human race, has ambitious plans for these clueless people -- plans to educate and reform them in the old, timeless ways only she is familiar with.

Death-School is an almost-solid, drawn-out entry in the Lamia Zacharius series. As always, there is plenty of sex, blood and Greek-based philosophical horror, with constant underpinnings of B-movie quirkiness and humor, so it is not a boring read: it is an uneven offering that would benefit from either being trimmed to novella length, or combining key elements of its storyline with those of the next novel, Death-Doctor.

Death-School
 is worth owning* for those readers -- like myself -- who are curious to finish the quadrilogy, and cannot borrow these sometimes hard-to-find books from their local library.


[*If purchased at a cheap price]

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III

(pb; 2008, 2012: prequel to Clusterfuck)

From the back cover:

"Friday the 13th meets Visitor Q.

"Apeshit is Mellick's love letter to the great and terrible B-horror movie genre. Six trendy teenagers (three cheerleaders and three football players) go to an isolated cabin in the mountains for a weekend of drinking, partying and crazy sex, only to find themselves in the middle of a life and death struggle against a horribly mutated psychotic freak that just won't stay dead. Mellick parodies this horror cliché and twists it into something deeper and stranger. . .  If you are a fan of Takashi Miike, Evil Dead, early Peter Jackson, or Eurotrash horror, then you must read this book."


Review:

More than a shock-for-shock's-sake splatter novel, Apeshit is one of the most wryly hilarious and boundaries-crossing work I have read in a long time. Nothing is sacred in this nihilistic story, with its abortion-themed kink, ultra-gory cinematic scenes and sly twists. Apeshit is not for those who find Stephen King and Dean Koontz disturbing, or those who need to like the characters they are reading about -- it is, however, for those readers who like their splatter and terror works fresh and fearless, unafraid to offend with its waste-no-words (and otherwise well-written) prose.

This is worth owning, if you are a fan of the films and directors mentioned on the above back-cover description. If you are not, and still insist on trying to read it, buy a cheap used copy or try to get it from your local library.

Followed by Clusterfuck.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and others

(pb; 1974 -1978, 2004: graphic novel, collecting issues of  Marvel Premiere #15 - 25, Iron Fist #1 - 15, Marvel Team-Up #63 - 64, Power Man #48 - 49, and Power Man & Iron Fist #48 - 50)

From the back cover:

"Thirty years ago, Marvel's top talents created one of herodom's ultimate martial artists and set him against foes ranging from crazed cultists to alien automata! Now, look back on the days when kung fu was king, and witness Iron Fist's progression from naïve newcomer to hero for hire! Featuring Sabretooth, Luke Cage, the X-men and more!"


Review:

Storyline: When Danny Rand's parents are killed by his father's treacherous business partner (Harold Meachum), the nine year-old boy is taken into K'unlun, the nearby, mystical Himalyan city he and his parents had. been ascending to.

Years later, Danny -- an adult, who has become a martial arts master -- decides to leave K'unlun. The reason: he wants to avenge his parents' deaths by killing Meachum, whose business has flourished in the decade or two since the Rands' murder. Danny should have little problem doing so, having learned how to direct his energy -- his chi -- directly into his right, hard-as-steel fist, thus earning his titular hero name.


Iron Fist is a fun, 1970s kung fu-focused comic book series, with Blaxploitation thrown into the mix with the arrival of Fist's action partner, Power Man (a.k.a. Lucas Cage, who calls women "sweet mama," etc.). The artwork is excellent, the fight scenes well-choreographed, the storylines formulaic; that last trait could be a criticism, depending on the reader, but for this reader it was fine because the talent involved (Claremont, Byrne, others) kept it entertaining despite its cheese-flirtatious limitations. Not only that, but Danny's character matures during his two-year (post-K'unlun) journey, from a vengeance-minded loner to a less naïve man who now is part of an extended family, which includes the aforementioned Lucas Cage.

This is worth owning, if you are fan of the above-acknowledged Seventies elements and characterizations. For everyone else, it might be best to borrow it from the library before committing cash to it.

Below is the back cover of Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1, which was also used as the front cover for Power Man & Iron Fist Vol. 1.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Death-Angel by J.N. Williamson

(pb; 1981: second book in the Lamia Zacharius quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"At night she can be anything.

"She can be a sleek black raven or a large vicious dog hunting for human prey.

"She can be a menacing female hawk rising into the starless sky or tall slender woman with deep hypnotizing eyes into which a man might lose himself forever.

"She can be all of these things and more.

"As long as she quenches her three-thousand-year-old thirst for blood. As long as she returns to her long-forgotten coffin. As long as she remains queen of the vampires. As long as she is the death-angel."


Review:

Warning: possible (minor) spoilers are present in this review if you have not read the first Lamia Zacharius novel, Death-Coach.

Plot: Lamia, one of the only survivors of the cataclysm that destroyed part of Thesaly, Indiana, has moved on to Indianapolis, where she is working with a scientist (Frank Triladus) who is conducting experiments in psychic phenomena -- particularly psychometry, where a psychic can tell what the history of an object is by simply touching it. Lamia's work with Triladus is no idle endeavor, for with his help she can get what she needs to destroy the voracious, slaughtering Aether, a dragon-like creature freed from its underworld prison (the Vale of Aphaca, located on the outskirts of Thesaly) at the end of Death-Coach.

The Aether desires -- and can bring about -- the end of mankind and vampirekind, something Lamia may play a vital role in preventing*.


Death-Angel, like its source book, is a mixed-genre B-movie work. It brings together kaiju-style monster fighting, psychic phenomena, sex- and blood-based horror and an anti-hero whose abilities and outlook are distinctive. Judging by the over-the-top humor and sudden tonal and genre shifts, Williamson must have had fun putting together this intentionally cheesy, sometimes overly-chatty and always strange novel. It did not grab me like Death-Coach did, but it is still fun, and, more importantly, its own beast.

Death-Angel is worth owning, as an odd, entertaining work, and a continuation of the story begun in its source book. Followed by Death-School.

[ *Note: Whoever wrote the back cover blurb for Death-Angel did the book a disservice by misrepresenting it as a typical sex, blood and vampirism offering. Rather, this is a quirky, tonal jump-cut work, with a protagonist (Lamia Zacharius) who -- while a predator on a smaller scale -- intends to save the world (by and large) by preventing a larger predator (the Aether and his ilk) from running rampant through it. When deciding whether or not to read Death-Angel, try to look past its overly familiar back cover blurb. Even if you end up not liking it, at least then you will have given it a fair shot!]

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford

(hb; 1971)

From the inside flap:

"When Jacques Debierue, the world's most renown painter, secretly emigrates from the French Riviera to the Florida Gold Coast under the name of Eugene V. Debs, it inspires one of the most ingenious dramas and provokes the most intriguing crime of passion ever conceived in the world of art.

"One of the truly influential artists of all time, Debierue has kept his work from the public, allowing few critics ever to set eyes on his paintings. Why? What has made him single-mindedly shun recognition and refuse to open his collection and share the magnificence of his creative endeavor?

"This is the mystery that James Figueras tries to solve. Figueras is an art critic -- a rhetorical magician in the domain of aesthetics, a manipulator of taste, and an arbiter of judgment. Into his exemplary life arrives the ultimate professional opportunity: a chance to interview the subject of his own lifetime research, the mysterious painter Jacques Debierue. Joseph Cassidy, wealthy, powerful lawyer and art collector, has arranged the meeting, and in true Faustian fashion, Figueras is forced to tarnish his pristine critical soul in exchange -- to commit a crime. . ."


Review:

Burnt is a fun (in a could-get-sleazy, fast-talking way), humorous and ultimately good-hearted story, told from the point of view of James Figueras, whose belief that the ends justify the means dictates his actions and (by extension) their consequences. The same character-quirkish feel that so often colors Willeford's other neo-pulp works is evident here, as well as his deft use of character-based nuance -- even when events turn dark and (briefly) nasty.

This is an excellent read, worth owning.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Nam by Mark Baker

(1981: nonfiction)

From the inside flap:

"Numerous people who experienced the Vietnam War firsthand share their stories in this oral history. Men and women, officers and draftees, prowar and antiwar veterans, all give personal accounts of the bloodshed they witnessed, and the horrifying circumstances they survived."


Review:

This is a harsh, often gut-wrenching and compelling read. The stories that Baker's interviewees tell, without exception, are unputdownable, dark, violent and timely. I would not recommend this book for especially sensitive readers. For those readers who are otherwise inclined and interested in the intersecting subject matter (war, Vietnam, PTSD, etc.), this might be an excellent book to own.

 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Death-Coach by J.N. Williamson

(pb; 1981: first book in the Lamia Zacharius quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"While the town of Thesaly slept, the sound of hoofbeats echoed in the night, an eerie, almost ominous sound that spoke of foreboding evil and terror. And out of the darkness it appeared, an ancient, intricately carved carriage powered by four gigantic black steeds.

"Looming just above the carriage, silhouetted by the moon, was the vampire Lamia Zacharius. Older than time, reeking of evil, tonight she took on the form of a bird. Spreading her wings wide to help shadow the driver's hideous face, she accompanied him on his midnight journey, thirsty for the taste of fresh human blood -- seeking out the next innocent victim to be taken by the Death-Coach."


Review:

Death-Coach is a fun, blast-through horror novel that mixes ancient Greek beliefs, vampirism, small-town-cult horror and science fiction-ish concepts into a gleefully B-movie-minded book that is just crying out be turned into a movie. This is worth owning, especially if you appreciate Eighties-style monster works.

Followed by Death-Angel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Homecoming by Harold Pinter

(pb; 1965, 1966: play)

From the back cover:

"In an old and slightly seedy house in North London there lives a family of men: Max, the aging but still aggressive patriarch; his younger, ineffectual brother Sam; and two of Max's three sons, neither of whom is married -- Lenny, a small-time pimp, and Joey, who dreams of success as a boxer. Into this sinister abode comes the eldest son, Teddy, who, having spent the past six years teaching philosophy in America, is now bringing his wife, Ruth, home to visit the family she has never met. As the play progresses, the younger brothers make increasingly outrageous passes at their sister-in-law until they are practically making love to her in front of her stunned by strangely aloof husband."


Review:

Homecoming is a short, sharp and caustic play. While this is structurally and tonally stunning, its pitch black harshness, with its sudden character shifts (or angles of attack), made this an unpleasant read from start to finish: no rays of sunshine in this cutting, bleak familial drama.

This is worth reading, if you do not mind its repentless darkness or are interested in studying how waste-no-word plays are written. Otherwise, pass on Homecoming.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Bone: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

(pb; 1992, 1993, 2005: graphic novel, collecting issues #7 - 12 of the comic book. Second of nine graphic novels.)

From the back cover:

"Fone Bone and his cousins plan to return home after visiting the village of Barrelhaven with Thorn and Gran'ma Ben. But Phoney Bone risks everything on one last get-rich-quick scheme for the town's annual Great Cow Race. As usual, Phoney's plans go disastrously awry, and Boneville seems farther away than ever.

"Meanwhile, ominous signs indicate that a war is brewing, and Fone Bone finds himself helping his friends defend their idyllic valley from a formidable enemy."


Review:

Cow Race continues in the vein of the first Bone graphic novel (Out of Boneville) in that it is a fast-moving, word-spare and character-charming children-friendly comic book, a work that had me constantly smiling and laughing. Again, this is a great work, possibly landmark, with distinctive and equally charming artwork that further brought these characters and their world to life.

Cow Race, the second of nine Bone graphic novels, is worth owning. Followed by Bone: Eyes of the Storm.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

**M.J. Iuppa's Defining Even was published on the Microstory A Week site

M.J.Iuppa's epigrammatic and analytical Defining Even graced the Microstory A Week site today. 

This revenge-themed, numerically structured tale is the final entry in this year's Microstories. Many thanks to the authors who submitted their works and to those who read it. =)


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

(pb; 1994: nonfiction)

Review:

Bird is a good, entertaining and instructive how-to guide on how to become a working writer. Her balanced, sometimes pen-joyous attitude and execution is realistic -- becoming a solid, good or excellent author does not often translate into material wealth and bestsellerdom -- and this hard-truth approach (for some would-be writers) makes this one of the better instructive books I have read on the subject.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

**Michael Koenig's Like Venus was published on the Microstory A Week site

Michael Koenig's sex nasty, pulp-noirish Like Venus graced the Microstory A Week site today. 

This neo-pulp story, which details the machinations a porn-minded, scheming criminal, recalls the works of Gil Brewer and Donald E. Westlake.

 Next week's story: M.J. Iuppa's epigrammatic and analytical Defining Even.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bone: Out of Boneville by Jeff Smith

(pb; 1991, 1994, 2005: graphic novel, collecting the first six issues of the comic book. First of nine graphic novels.)

From the back cover:

"After being run out of Boneville, the three Bone cousins -- Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone -- are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. One by one, they find their way into a deep, forested valley filled with wonderful and terrifying creatures.

"Eventually, the cousins are reunited at a farmstead run by tough Gran'ma Ben and her spirited granddaughter, Thorn. But little do the Bones know, there are dark forces conspiring against them and their adventures are only beginning!"


Review:

Boneville is a fast-moving, word-spare and character-charming first collection of this children-friendly comic book, a work that had me constantly smiling and laughing. This is a great work, possibly landmark, with distinctive and equally charming artwork that further brought these characters and their world to life.

Boneville, the first of nine Bone graphic novels, is worth owning. Followed by Bone: The Great Cow Race.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rama Revealed by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee

(1994: fourth novel in the Rama quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

"On its mysterious voyage through interstellar space, a massive, alien starship carries its passengers to the end of a generations-long odyssey. For the great experiment conceived by the Ramans has failed. Rama III, with its carefully designed Earth habitat, as well as environments to house other intelligent species, has become a battleground.

"Instead of creating a utopia, the human contingent has brought forth a tyrant who seeks to conquer the other sectors of the vast Raman ark. Cosmonaut Nicole des Jardins, a lone voice for reason who is now jailed and awaiting execution, is aided in a daring escape by two tiny robots. On New York island, the dark, brooding and deserted city in the midst of Rama III's cylindrical sea, Nicole is reunited with her long-lost husband, Richard Wakefield, whom she'd given up for dead.

"Joined by their children and other rebels from the Earth sector, Nicole and Richard enter New York's labyrinthine underground aboard a ghostly subway hoping to find the ship's secret inner workings. What they find instead is the emerald-domed lair of the technologically advanced species that rules this fabulous subraman world: the octospiders. These arachnidlike creatures are luring Nicole and the rebels into their domain, but the Earth group is divided as to whether the octospiders are allies or enemies. . ."


Review:

Rama Revealed is a dystopian, violent and occasionally exhilarating read (especially when the octospiders, avians and other aliens are present) -- that said, there is a silver lining to this dark, sometimes horrifying fiction-themed novel, which runs chatty and long, especially in the first quarter and last twenty pages.

This is a mood-consistent, satisfactory (if often disturbing) finish to the Rama series. If you are a long-time Clarke fan, do not expect much of Clarke's usual optimism regarding humanity in this series -- except in Rendezvous with Rama, which Gentry Lee did not co-author.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

**Peter Baltensperger's Curvatures for Afternoons was published on the Microstory A Week site

Peter Baltensperger's cinematic-visual Curvatures for Afternoons graced the Microstory A Week site today. 

This is a romantic, atmospheric story, one you should check out -- and don't forget to check out next Wednesday's tale, Michael Koenig's nasty, pulp-noirish Like Venus.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Vampirella vs. Army of Darkness by Mark Rahner, Jeff Morales and others


(2015: four-issue comic book miniseries. Publisher: Dynamite.)

Review:

This is a fun, if plot-lite, read, with villains who are too easily defeated. The interior artwork is good (for computer-based art), the dialogue keeps with Ash's sarcastic tone and the boomstick/chainsaw action is plentiful. Vampirella vs. Army is worth reading, maybe owning, if you are easily entertained and do not expect too much from it.

There are variant covers for each issue. Some of the variants are relatively rare. Also, the graphic novel collecting this miniseries has not been published yet, as its fourth comic book issue was published this week.


 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

**Terrance Aldon Shaw's Señor Gordo was published on Microstory A Week

Terrance Aldon Shaw's hilarious and dialogue-driven Señor Gordo graced the Microstory A Week site today. Gordo, which details the personality differences between a man and his penis, is an R-rated, for-mature-audiences story.

This is a fun, raunchy tale, one you should check out (if you are an adult with an earthy sense of humor) -- and don't forget to check out next Wednesday's tale, Peter Baltensperger's atmospheric and romantic Curvatures for Afternoons.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Skin Trade by George R.R. Martin

(pb; 1988: novella, published in the 2001 novella anthology Quartet)

Review:

Plot: Lycanthropic private investigator Willie Flambeaux and his partner Randi Wade investigate a series of grisly murders where the victims have had their skins flayed off in expert, swift fashion. The case leads them into the usual pulp-gumshoe themes of sex, corruption, old money and  past familial crimes.

Skin is a good, entertaining and fast-moving novella, with its sometimes humorous, sometimes bloody and violent storyline. The characters are familiar but infused with a werewolf themed twist or two, while the storyline does little else to surprise pulp-familiar readers.

The open-ended finish is satisfying in that it effectively concludes the tale, while indicating that there is much more to these characters and their stories than what is shown in Skin. Good read, this -- worth owning, if you are a fan of pulp and werewolf works.

Skin was published in the 2001 novella anthology Quartet.  I did not read any of the other works in this collection. Their titles: Black and White and Red All Over, Starport and Blood of the Dragon.

#

The Skin Trade is being developed as a cable series for Cinemax. Its title: George R.R. Martin's The Skin Trade.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

**Kurt Newton's Black Dog was published on the Microstory A Week site

Kurt Newton's dark and cryptic Black Dog graced the Microstory A Week site today.
 
Black Dog tells the story of a wandering boy, his canine and their unusual relationship.

This is a good read, one you should check out -- and don't forget to check out next Wednesday's tale, Terrance Aldon Shaw's dialogue-driven, phallic-funny Señor Gordo.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Garden of Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee

(pb; 1991: third novel in the Rama quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"By the twenty-third century Earth had already experienced two encounters with the massive, mysterious robotic spaceship from beyond our solar system -- the incontestable proof of technology that far exceeds our own. Now three human cosmonauts are trapped aboard a labyrinthine Raman vessel, where it will take all of their physical and mental resources to survive. Only twelve years into their journey do these intrepid travelers learn their destination and face their ultimate challenge: a rendezvous with a Raman base -- and the unseen architects of their galactic home. The cosmonauts have given up family, friends and possessions to live a new kind of life. But the answers that await them at the Raman Node will require an even greater sacrifice -- if humanity is indeed ready to learn the awe-inspiring truth."


Review:
 
The first half of Garden is Clarke's usual awe-inspiring, optimistic "hard" science fiction mixed with Lee's relatively darker and more detailed take on humanity. The second half, with its introduction of significantly more characters, becomes brutal, nasty and especially cynical (or, as I acknowledge, realistic) -- Lee's influence, I'm guessing. Fans of Clarke's work may be put off by this violent second half, but it is still well written and -- as I wrote before -- realistic, a cautionary tale that reads like current events.

Garden is an excellent follow-up read to the first two Rama books, if you do not mind its pervasive, timely darkness and its occasional glimmers of hope. Followed by Rama Revealed.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Up Against It by Joe Orton

(1967; screenplay)

Review:

Orton’s sly, madcap, sexual and plot-lite screenplay [written as a possible silver screen vehicle for the Beatles] subverts – and expands – mainstream mores with its pointed political jibes, episodic sketch-pieces and sexually suggestive, PG-fied post-coital scenes of threesomes and pre-marital sex. It reads like a distinctive product of the Swinging Sixties, and, as such, is a fast and giddy-fun experience.

I did not read Orton's 1971 posthumous novel, Head to Toe, that Against was paired with.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

**Emily J. McNeely's Peragua was published on the Microstory A Week site

Emily J McNeely's entertaining nautical story, Peragua, graced the Microstory A Week site today.
 
 Peragua, as she describes it, is a "an excerpt from a longer story, about a pirate crew in the Caribbean in the 18th century and the tensions between the captain and his first mate, who is looking to leave his service."

This is a great read, one you should check out -- and don't forget to check out next Wednesday's tale, Kurt Newton's dark and cryptic Black Dog.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rama II by Arthur C Clarke and Gentry Lee

(hb; 1989: second novel in the Rama quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

"Decades have passed since Commander Norton and his crew met with the enormous alien ship dubbed Rama and declared it an intelligent robot with no interest in the creatures of our solar system. In those years the world has undergone dramatic changes -- from the wild prosperity immediately following the Raman visit to the cataclysm of the Great Chaos, also spurred by Rama. And then, near the dawn of the twenty-third century, a spacecraft is identified hurtling across our solar system. A crew of a dozen is assembled to rendezvous with the massive ship. And mankind has a second date with destiny.

"Some of the best and brightest minds on Earth are assembled to intersect with Rama II just inside the orbit of Venus. Among them are the brilliant engineer Richard Wakefield, scientist Shigeru Takagishi (author of The Atlas of Rama), heroic life science officer Nicole des Jardins, stern commander in chief Valeriy Borzov, and the duplicitous video journalist Francesca Sabatini. But even though the crew is equipped with every piece of information that is known about Raman technology and culture, there is nothing that can prepare them for what they will encounter on board. For while Rama II appears to be much like its predecessor, the crew will discover startling -- perhaps even deadly -- differences."


Review:

Rama II revisits an initially familiar, century-plus-later, new Rama, but differentiates itself from its source novel by -- plot-wise -- moving quicker, injecting more intrigue and human darkness, and showing brief violence. There is plenty of "hard" science, new (and updated) creatures and elements that reveal more, but not all of, Rama's intentions. The writing is excellent, the story more personal (if sometimes word-chatty) and its scope more expansive.

The ending is open-ended, sequel-friendly. Worth owning, this. Followed by The Garden of Rama.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1989: seventh book in the Elric series) 

From the inside flap:

"[Fortress] is set early in the warrior's career, opening as the Lord Gho Fhaazi seeks the principal seat on the ruling Council of Seven of the city of Quarzhasaat. He lures Elric into seeking the Pearl at the Heart of the World -- the price of admission to the council -- by addicting him to a slow-acting poison to which he, the Lord Gho, has the only antidote. Moorcock leads Elric over a course of monstrous and horrifying obstacles, pits him against the Sorcerer Adventurers, servants of Quarzhasaat's jaded rich, and then thrusts him into a dreamworld within the mind of an adolescent girl. Trapped in a comatose state by the Sorcerer Adventurers, she is undergoing her own rite of passage into adulthood. Through the vast and turbulent landscape of the Dream Realm, guided by the Dreamthief Lady Oone, Elric seeks the Pearl."


Review:

Note: Fortress -- written and published as the seventh Elric book -- is a prequel, which chronologically happens in a period of time between Elric of Melniboné and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (the first and second book in the series).

This word-spare, surrealistic and metaphor-deft prequel shows Elric not only trying to save himself from a poisonous death, but also a Quarzhasaatim boy (Anigh) and a Bauradiam "Holy Girl" (Varadia, a citizen of the Silver Flower Oasis) from equally horrible, if different, fates.

In order to do so, he must travel down the deadly Red Road (where bizarre, armed attacks can take place at any moment), as well as the expansive Sighing Desert to the Silver Flower Oasis, where the wise folk of Bauradim hold vigil over Varadia, a "Holy Girl" whose dream-coma fragility and inevitable disintegration threatens all of existence. This compels Elric and Oone (an experienced Dreamthief, who may be more than a traveling companion) to astrally traverse the seven, surrealistic lands of the Dream Realm to not only find the Pearl, which will save Elric's life and end Anigh's captivity, but shatter the paralyzing hold of whatever layers Varadia in life-draining slumber.

What sets Fortress apart from most of the previous Elric books is that it is a whole novel: it is not broken up into a series of tightly linked novellas, like Books two through six. Elric, in this seventh work, also possesses a hope that he lost early on in the series (Cymoril -- his fiancée -- is still alive and Melniboné has not yet fallen), which lends a different side-tale feel to these new adventures -- adventures whose events further shape and deepen readers' understandings of what was previously shown in Books two through six.

This, like previous Elric works, is excellent, word-efficient and otherwise masterful, a book worth owning.

Followed by The Revenge of the Rose.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

(pb; 1973: first novel in the Rama quadrilogy)

From the back cover:

"In the year 2130, a strange object is discovered, hurtling through space on what could be a collision course with Earth. What is it?

"Where did it come from?

"And, most important, what does it want?

"Those are the questions scientists on Earth have to answer -- and fast -- if Mankind is going to be ready for its first encounter with an alien intelligence!"


Review:

Rendezvous is an intriguing, steady-build story, its first quarter dedicated to giving its readers a chance to see (in cinematic and word-tight prose) the technological beauty of Rama, as well as the reactions and personalities of the humans witnessing this anomalous and history-changing ship -- or planet.  (Those looking for immediate, wall-to-wall action sequences may be disappointed by this, though curiosity, caution and danger are constant tonal elements throughout Rendezvous.)

The latter part of the book picks up, action- and intensity-wise, as Rama begins to show visible signs of waking, and its in-this-moment intentions. As always, Clarke's writing is crisp, plot-progressive and well-edited (within its gradual escalation situations) and engaging, making Rendezvous -- which is clearly a series set-up work -- a worthwhile and gently provocative read.

Followed by Rama II.

#

According to IMDb, a film version is forthcoming. I will update this information when -- if -- more information is available (and I have the time to do so).

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

(hb; 2015: fourth novel in the Millennium series. Translated from the Swedish by George Goulding.)

From the inside flap:

"Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist return.

"She is the girl with the dragon tattoo -- a genius hacker and uncompromising misfit. He is a crusading journalist whose championing of truth often brings him to the brink of prosecution.

"Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker -- a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it."


Review:

Lagercrantz's pick-up of Larsson's Millennium series maintains the same steady-build-then-explosive feel of the first three books in the series. Again, the characters -- some of them familiar, some of them new -- are worth rooting for or hissing at; the intensity and intentions of those characters are alarming and thrilling, lending additional urgency to the physical (sometimes fatal) action. These elements are further heightened by the cinematic (but character-true) jump-cut editing, especially during the multi-character cliffhangerish sequences.

Spider's Web is a fun, reader-hooking-from-the-get-go and deepening-of-the-familial-storyline read, one worth owning -- as are the previous Millennium books. (For those who have not read the first three books, Spider's Web also works as a stand-alone read.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

(hb; 1977: sixth book in the Elric series) 

Review:

The first story, "Dead God's Homecoming," pits Elric, his cousin Dyvim Slorm, and Jharkorian Queen Yishana and her many White Leopard guards against the combined armies of Kings Sarosto (of Dharijor) and Jagreen Lern (of Pan Tang). These savage regents, also allied with a planet-decimating "Dead God" (Darnizhaan), threaten the balance of the known world. Elric's situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Darnizhaan has kidnapped his wife, Zarozinia.

"Dead" not only brings together the Melnibéan's past-tale companions, but serves as a major turning point in the series: Elric, an Eternal Champion (as revealed in The Vanishing Tower), gets his first real understanding of his destiny -- this comprehension comes courtesy of Sepiriz, an ancient Nihranian, one of the "Ten who sleep in the mountain of fire," an ally whom Elric has not seen the last of.


In "Black Sword's Brothers," Jagreen Lern's Chaos-bodied (and ever-growing) army of darkness is running roughshod over the worldwide Young Kingdom, possessing -- incorporating -- those fallen soldiers into its black, murderous mass.

Fighting against this world-ravaging tide is Elric, Moonglum, Dyvim Slorm (who bears Stormbringer's brother blade, Mournblade), Rackhir the Red, Kargan Sharpeyes (spokesmen for the Eastern Sealords) and their forces, whose men stand little chance of holding back Lern's monsters. While Elric is guided by Sepiriz's seer-like visions, Lern is guided by enfleshed gods of Chaos.

When Sepiriz tells Elric that his cursed sword, Stormbringer, has spirit brothers in an alternate realm that might help them cast out the Dukes of Hell from this largely-toxic planet, the pale ex-emperor does what he must to summon the spirit-blades.


"Sad Giant's Shield" and "Doomed Lord's Passing" details the fallout from the events of the preceding tales. Elric, once again aided by Straasha (King of the Water Elementals)**, seeks the shield of a battle-inclined giant, Mordaga (whose castle lies in -- of course -- in a far-away realm). This shield, Sepiriz has claimed, is resistant to the evil magick of Chaos, as practiced by Jagreen Lern ("the Theocrat") and his ally, the powerful Lord Pyaray, who have taken Elric's wife, Zarozinia.

Elric, Rackhir, Moonglum and Sepiriz, in order to continue combatting Lern and Pyaray, also seek aid from the White Lords of Law (the deities who oppose -- provide counterbalance to -- the Lords of Chaos).

Stormbringer is an excellent, satisfying closer volume to the first cycle of the Elric saga. The pacing, structuring and other story-telling elements of the stories are inventive, the writing is crisp, exciting and succinct and the characters are reader-familiar and worth rooting for (or hissing at). Not only that, Moorcock keeps the albino ex-regent's adventures fresh by foreshadowing and increasing the stakes of Elric's quests: in this final (timeline-wise) tale, if Elric and his allies don't win, everyone -- literally everyone -- will likely die.

This is worth owning, just like the preceding Elric books. Followed by the first of several prequels, The Fortress of the Pearl.



(**previously seen in Elric of Melniboné)



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Creepy Comics, Volume 1 by various writers and artists

(pb; 2011: graphic novel, collecting issues #1 - 4 of the Creepy comic book series)

From the back cover:

"What's that huge, terrifying thing clawing its way onto your bookshelf? It's the biggest, bloodiest, most creepy collection of new terror tales you'll find this year! Creepy Comics Volume 1 gathers all of the new material from the first two years of Dark Horse's celebrated new Creepy series and collects it into one gargantuan book.

"This 184-page monstrosity features a spellbinding assortment of gory stories about all your favorite terror-inducing topics including: cannibals, lurking demons, werewolves, zombies, psychic trauma, and psychotic murderers, illustrated in glorious black and white, following the great tradition of classic Creepy. If that's not enough to make you scream with delight, we're also adding a special color section featuring the two Creepy stories that helped re-launch Dark Horse Presents on Myspace. You'll get all of this tantalizing terror for under twenty bucks - it's a killer deal."

Review:

If you are a fan of the old EC Creepy comic book-magazines, with their twisted, clever and (often) icky morality plays, there is a good chance you will appreciate the spirit, writing and the mixed/updated artwork of this resurrected and welcome series. I am thrilled that Dark Horse Comics brought this back.

This is a collection worth owning, one that lives up to its back cover description.

Followed by Creepy Comics, Volume 2.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

X by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2015: twenty-fourth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.
"X:  The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.
"X:  The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

"Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim."



Review:

X is a sometimes chatty, entertaining entry in the Kinsey Millhone novels, with a few effective but not earth-shattering twists thrown into its triply-mysterious tale. It lacks any white-knuckle moments (for this reader, anyway). (Note that this is not a criticism, merely an observation.)

One of the things I enjoyed about X  was that Grafton, in this book, has abandoned the multiple point-of-view chapters. It was all Kinsey, this time out.

Another thing I liked is how Grafton allowed the "bad guys" -- some of whom were not entirely "bad" -- to talk like regular people, making them more interesting and relatable and making X more realistic. Grafton has done this before, of course, but it is still an effective writing choice. (On the flip side of that, Ned Lowe is an especially slimy character, and that characterization is effective, too.)

X  is a good read, worth checking you are a Grafton fan who is not on the "why doesn't Grafton write shorter, terser novels?" bandwagon. (Again, this is not a criticism of those readers. It is a friendly caveat to those who fit that description. Cheers.)
 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Bane of the Black Sword by Michael Moorcock

(hb;1977: fifth book in the Elric series)

Review:

Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Like The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf and The Vanishing Tower, Bane is divided into a series of connected stories -- this time, a quadrilogy, not a trilogy.

The first tale, "The Stealer of Souls," takes place three years after the events of The Vanishing Tower; it has been five years since Elric led his fellow Imrryrians as their emperor.

"Stealer" begins in Bakshaan, a city "rich enough to make all other cities in the North East seem poor." Four merchants hire Elric to kill a rival merchant (Nikorn of Ilmar), whose dirty tactics have outraged them -- it seems that Nikorn has employed a private army, as well as Theleb K'aarna, a treacherous wizard, to do his bidding.

K'aarna, as Elric-familiar readers know, is one of Elric's most elusive and bitterest enemies, since his first appearance in Weird.

Elric, with help from his fellow Melnibéans (led by Dyvim Tvar) and Moonglum (Elric's companion since Weird), battle the slippery, treacherous K'aarna by attacking Nikorn's castle. Also aiding the ex-emperor are "Misha and Graoll, [elemental] Kings of the Wind," also called "Wind Giants," who deal with K'aarna's elemental, "Kakatal, the Fire Lord."

Queen Yishana (another character sprung from Weird) further livens up this story.


"Kings in Darkness," the second tale, begins in the Forest of Troo, a dark and deadly forest. Elric and Moonglum agree to escort Zarozinia Voashoon, a rich "daughter of the Senior Senator of Karlaak," through this forest.

The threesome find themselves at odds with the forest-familiar Orgs, a crude people led by the  especially-imperious King Gutheran. Thrown into this unpleasant mix are the Doomed Folk, the ghoulish undead citizens who live beneath the "looming Burial Hill," near Gutheran's citadel.


"The Flamebringers" takes place three months after the happenings of "Kings". Elric and Zarozinia (now Elric's wife) are living in her home city of Karlaak, a trading city ("not a warrior's fortress"). The physically weak ex-emperor is content and strong, his soul-thirsty black sword replaced with natural healing drugs he got from the forest of Troo.

Elric and Zarozinia's peace is broken when Moonglum, disheveled from his desperate ride across the nearby Weeping Wastes, bursts into their castle to inform them that Kaarlak is under threat. The source of this threat is the cruel barbarian Terarn Gashtek (a.k.a. "the Flame Bringer") whose massive, brutal army is augmented by the sorcerous magick of a kidnapped wizard (Drinij Bara), who has been prevented from using his knowledge against Gashtek and his men.

Because of this, Elric is forced to wield Stormbringer anew, to confront Gashtek. Dyvim Slorn, a Melnibéan and Dragon Master like his dead father (Dyvim Tvar), commits himself and his dragon-riding army to help the ex-regent and Moonglum (whose homeland has been ravaged by Gashtek, two years prior).


"To Rescue Tanelorn. . ." revolves around Rackhir the Red Archer (from Elric of Melniboné and The Vanishing Tower) and his further adventures, sans Elric.

Like the other books in this series, Bane is an intense, lean-prosed and hard-to-put down read -- one worth owning.

Followed by Stormbringer.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Cops: Their Lives in Their Own Words by Mark Baker

(hb; 1985: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

"What they can't say on television, what they won't write in novels, cops have now told Mark Baker. From the idealistic rookie to the burnt-out veteran, here are the unforgettable voices of over 100 police men and women across the country... cops who shoot and are shot at, who pick up the pieces of shattered bodies and shattered lives, who face the danger, the fear, and the depravity... who live every day in the frightening, hard world of Cops."


Review:

Cops is an interesting read, one that I picked up as a research tool. Some of the cops (all of whom are anonymously quoted) are clearly homophobic, racist and sexist pieces of dreck; other cops' tales are more believable and less self-serving, but it is generally a good -- if sometimes disturbing and morally icky -- book that is an enlightening and worthwhile read if you, as a reader, are willing to dredge through the muck of some of these officers' printed PTSD pathologies.

Baker has compiled a well-balanced collection of "real life" recollections, one that shows why we need to not only be wary of cops, but respect -- from an non-emotional distance -- (most of) these officers and the often-thankless job they do: trying to maintain the flow of society's sewers, sewers that (for the most part) are impossible to fully clean, for a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.

It might be interesting to read an updated version of this book, given the technological "advances" that have been marketed, current societal issues and our current legal codes.

I would check this out from the library, but I would not own it. This is not a slam on Baker's solid work, but, rather, a result of me being picky about what I own. If you are less selective about what you own and are interested in the subject, it is worth purchasing.