Friday, October 28, 2016

Pendulum by A.E. van Vogt

(pb; 1978: science fiction story anthology)

Overall review:

Pendulum is a good, fun story collection, one worth owning. Between the solid writing, the intriguing concepts, the humor and everything else within them, these stories are entertaining and provocative.


1.)  "Pendulum": An oceanic endeavor to regenerate new marine life  revives mysterious beings whose presence ushers in a new age of language and time-travel (particularly for a man, John Hudman). This is a mostly fun -- if overlong -- tale.

2.)  "The Male Condition": On an anger- and crime-free planet, a psychological study on rape is scheduled for re-enactment. Of course, complications ensue. This is a biting, satirical, non-explicit and non-violent work, embodied with psychological terms and quirky aliens (Tinkers). Fun, dark-themed and sometimes silly stuff, this.

3.)  "Living with Jane": A scientist (Dan), trying to fend off an android societal takeover, discovers that his family has been taken hostage. Plot- and character-twisty, this is a provocative and entertaining tale.

4.)  "The First Rull": Excellent thriller about an alien (the Rull) whose plot to steal a scientific discovery from a human college campus encounters disruptive complications. This is one of my favorite stories in this collection.

5.)  "Footprint Farm": A farm, the site of an ancient meteorite crash, may prove to be the salvation -- or doom -- of a family on the brink of falling apart. Good story, long enough to be interesting, short enough to not overstay its welcome. 

6.)  "The Non-Aristotelian Detective": An unusual sleuth figures out a murder case. Fun story.

7.)  "The Human Operators" (written in collaboration with Harlan Ellison): Mostly good piece about a man whose entire existence revolves around spaceship maintenance -- a Ship that is his master. The concept and execution of the work is solid, though it could have been considerably shorter.

8.)  "The Launch of Apollo XVII": A science fiction writer, at the site of a NASA rocket launch, interviews other spectators from different social strati. This humorous, loose work is political, satirical and offbeat, different than the other stories in this collection. Another fun offering, this.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Guns of the Timberlands by Louis L'Amour

(pb; 1955)

From the back cover:

"Clay Bell was a onetime drifter who'd grown weary of long trails and settled on the sweetest land he'd ever seen. For six years he fought Indians, rustlers and the wilderness itself to make the B-Bar ranch the prize of the Deep Creek Range. But now all that Clay has worked for is threatened. Jud Devitt, a ruthless speculator from the East, wants Bell's rich timberland -- and he doesn't care how he gets it. Backing Devitt are tame judges, crooked politicians and fifty of the toughest lumberjacks in the country. But Devitt's tried to stack the deck against the wrong man. Devitt doesn't know how to lose. Bell figures he's just the one to teach him."


Guns is another L'Amour gem of genre novel, sporting all the traits associated with the author's other works: it is a lean, smart, exciting and hard-to-set-down Western, with deftly sketched-out (later fleshed-out) characters, cut-to-it action and prose, and a reader-pleasing finale that delivers on the promise of its earlier excellence.  Like so many of L'Amour's other books, Guns is worth owning, the gold standard of Western genre writing.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Black Lizard by Edogawa Rampo

(pb; 1934, 2006. Translated from Japanese by Ian Hughes. "Introduction" by Mark Schreiber.)

From the back cover:

"A master criminal -- as deadly as she is beautiful -- wagers all in an epic battle with a master detective."


Black Lizard  is a difficult-to-put-down, plot-pretzel crime thriller, infused with Rampo's hinted-at supernatural touches and psychologically twisted sexuality. It pits Akechi, the equivalent of Conan Arthur Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, against the Black Lizard (a.k.a. Midorikawa), Doyle's equivalent of Moriarty. (Akechi also appeared in other works by Rampo.)

The twists are not unexpected -- a fact Rampo acknowledges by directly addressing readers in jocular, knowing fashion. This does not detract from the dark joy of reading this sly, intense and perfect novel. Lizard is a landmark work, one worth owning.


Two film versions of this novel exist.

The first, translated into Japanese as Kurotokage, was released in Japan on March 14, 1962. Umetsugu Inoue directed the film, from Yukio Mishima and Kaneto Shindô's musical stage play.

Machiko Kyô played Mrs. Midorikawa. Minori Ôku played Kogoro Akechi. Junko Kanô played Sanae Iwase. Hiroshi Kawaguchi played Jun Amemiya. Masao Mishima played Shobei Iwase. Sachiko Meguro played Mrs. Iwase.


The second version, titled Kuroto Kage, was directed by Kinji Fukasaku and released in Japan in 1968. Its screenplay was based on Yukio Mishima's stage adaptation and co-authored by Masashiga Narusawa.

Akihiro Miwa, billed Akihiro Maruyama, played Black Lizard. Isao Kimura played Detective Akechi. Kikko Matusoka played Sanaye. Jun Usami, billed as Junya Usami, played Shobei Iwase. Yûsuke Kawazu playec Junichi Amemiya.

Kô Nishimura played Private Detective Keiji Matoba. Toshiko Kabayashi played Hina. Sônsuke Oda played Harada. Kinji Hattori played Toyama.

Kurotokage playwright Yukio Mishima played a "Human Statue".

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale

(2016: story/novella anthology -- fourteenth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

Overall review:

Hap compiles seven stories, which have been previously published and take place at different times. One of the stories, Veil's Visit, by itself makes this collection worth owning, because prior to this, it was only available in an expensive collector's item book.  Inexpensive, practical (for most Hap and Leonard fans) and entertaining, Hap is worth your time and cash.

Followed by the story anthology Hap and Leonard Ride Again.

Story by story:

1.)  "Hyenas": See Hyenas review.

2.)  "Veil's Visit" (co-authored with Andrew Vachss): Leonard's new lawyer, a bad-ass named Veil, defends him in court -- the charge: arson, stemming from events in Mucho Mojo.

This story, full of Lansdale's trademark lively banter, was originally published as an expensive/out-of-print novella Veil's Visit: A Taste of Hap and Leonard (1999), the sixth book in the Hap and Leonard series. It is also the first story collection in the series.

3.)  "Death By Chili": Leonard solves a decades-old murder case without resorting to busting heads. This fun, super-short work sports a post-script recipe for "Lansdale Chili".

4.)  "Dead Aim": See Dead Aim review.

5.)  "The Boy Who Became Invisible": Originally published in the Hyenas novella, "Boy" is told from Hap's first-person point of view. In it, he looks back on an unfortunate childhood friend (Jesse) whose hard life leads to some brutal choices. The interaction between Hap and Jesse provide an effective heart-punch to this timely, you-can-guess-where-this-is-going short story.

6.)  "Not Our Kind":  In 1968, a young Hap and Leonard encounter racist, homophobic school bullies. They also glimpse a scene from their possible future.

7.)  "Bent Twig": Tillie, prostitute daughter of Leonard's girlfriend (Brett), becomes -- once again -- the reason why Hap and Leonard put themselves in danger, this time to rescue her from herself and her live-in pimp boyfriend. Of course, this is only the beginning of a much-larger-in-scope adventure for the do-right, brawling duo.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

(hb; 2009, 2012. Translated from Japanese by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates)

From the inside flap:

"The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. Most people are just a blur to him, nameless faces from whom he chooses his victims. He has no family, no friends, no connections.... But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can’t refuse. It’s an easy job: tie up an old rich man, steal the contents of the safe. No one gets hurt. Only the day after the job does he learn that the old man was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. And now the Thief is caught in a tangle even he might not be able to escape."


Thief is an excellent, fast-paced and word-spare crime tale, told from the first-person point-of-view of the Thief, whose emotional journey from jaded loner pickpocket to reluctant protector of a boy is marked by occasional violence and the predations of Kizaki, a master criminal with a dangerous political agenda – an agenda that may result in the Thief’s death.

Thief, a pulp-to-its-core read, is worth owning. This is a thematic counterpart work to  The Kingdom.

<em>The Letter, the Witch and the Ring</em> by John Bellairs

(pb; 1976: third book in the Lewis Barnavelt mysteries . Drawings by Richard Egielski .) From the back cover “Rose Rita [Pottinger]...