Sunday, April 20, 2008
I look back on my life as a reader and I can think of plenty of writers that I've called my favorite. Robert A. Heinlein was the first and Kurt Vonnegut came after. I read a lot of science fiction early on and favorites of mine at various times included Frederik Pohl, Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and Philip K. Dick. When I discovered Stephen King, he reigned supreme until I was blown away by the intricate writing of Peter Straub.
I remember the first time I happened across the name, Joe R. Lansdale. It was a triple review in Fangoria Magazine, praising Act of Love, the Magic Wagon and Dead in the West. I made a note to check out this Lansdale character as soon as I could. Then there was a full-page ad in The Twilight Zone Magazine (God, do I miss it) for a book called The Drive-In, by none other than Joe. R. Lansdale. The brief description convinced me that THIS was a book that I had to have. I found a copy on a Friday evening at WaldenBooks and started reading it around 11:00 PM. I couldn't finish it that night, but I picked up up immediately upon waking the next morning. Instantly, Joe R. Lansdale became my favorite writer. And he has held that position in my mind for a record breaking period of time.
Lansdale is an established literary phenomena by now. But it was fascinating and rewarding to watch this writer grow. His early career had a lot of extreme violence and showed a tremendous influence of movies in it. Over the years, Joe Lansdale has managed to mature, without getting stale or boring. Some of his stuff is really out there. My own favorites of his work have their feet firmly planted on Terra Firma. Suspense yarns like Cold In July, The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Sunset and Sawdust, The Boar.
Joe Lansdale has published in most conceivable genres. Though a lot of it (especially his shorter works) can be described as horror, you can't really call Lansdale a horror writer. He is, however, very popular among horror readers. I think the only way to truly pigeonhole Lansdale into one particular genre is to say that his style is Joe R. Lansdale. Many have tried, but none touch his own unique ability to weave words into stories.
One of Joe's earliest, and best, books is called The Nightrunners. It's a wonderful horror novel that sits nicely next to the so-called Splatterpunk books of its time. Now, Joe insisted that he was emphatically not a Splatterpunk writer and I definitely agree with that. Still, The Nightrunners is a prime example of the type of visceral, hard-hitting horror story that was associated with that semi-facetious term.
The Nightrunners was originally published as small press edition by Dark Harvest and it came out later as a mass-market paperback. It was reprinted again later in paperback, but it went out of print and has been something of a legend ever since then. Finally, last year Joe's primary small press publisher, Subterranean Press, reprinted The Nightrunners in an omnibus collection called The God of the Razor. This handsome volume also contains an interesting Introductory piece and several stories that either take place or were inspired by The Nightrunners.
The Nightrunners shows Joe's early talent in full, unbridled force. It's kind of frantic, as if he could barely maintain control of his imagination and enthusiasm. It's raw, it's powerful and it's funny and frightening and massively entertaining. And it is one of the finest novels of horror that came out in an exciting and fertile time for the genre.
Some books are good and enjoyable and then you may set it aside. Possibly on a shelf and maybe you'll give it away. Or it ends up in a box or to the paperback exchange store. The God of the Razor is not such a book. This is one that is the kind that you need in a deluxe, sturdy edition. One to proudly sit amid the classics of the horror and suspense genres. The Limited edition of The God of the Razor is sold out, but a deluxe, unsigned hardcover is still available. You can get it direct from Subterranean, or, if you are always looking to save a buck like me, from Amazon
If you come to this site with an interest in horror fiction, The God of the Razor is a mandatory book for your collection. If you've read it, then you already know that. If you haven't, you'd better grab one before it sells out again.