Sunday, March 19. 2017
Being a reader can be painful. We've all been there. You look so forward to a book, and then it arrives and...
The Silmarillion: The Lord of the Rings was my favorite book when I was young, and I waited and waited for the new book by J.R.R. Tolkien. The day finally came, and I rode my ten speed to a little bookstore and plunked down the money for a hardcover. Feverishly excited, I couldn't even wait to get home. I pedaled to a nearby patch of woods, and started to read. Oh my God, this wasn't really a novel. It was like a history book
. Dismayed, I read on, and I slogged through the whole damned thing. Did I like it? No, not at all.
The Number of the Beast: I also loved the work of Robert A. Heinlein when I was a boy. His books thrilled, taught, enlightened me. Plus, many of them had a lot of sex in them. It was heady stuff for a lad of my tender years. Health problems prevented Heinlein from publishing from 1973's Time Enough For Love to 1980's The Number of the Beast. Perhaps the publisher, Fawcett, knew of the novel's gaping shortcomings, and published it as a trade paperback. I was trembling with excitement when I bought it, and then I was astonished (and not in any John W. Campbell-inspired way) at how sloppy and embarrassing it was. Old Heinlein did some interesting things after The Number of the Beast, but that was truly the beginning of the end for me.
Palm Sunday: I loved Kurt Vonnegut when I was a teenager. His work doesn't much appeal to me today, but then I was a huge fan. I once more paid for a hardback when I certainly couldn't afford to do so. It was Palm Sunday, a collection of autobiographical essays. I was appalled at how boring, pointless, and self-indulgent it was.
Son of Rosemary: Ah God, I loved the early Ira Levin books. The guy wrote suspense with exquisite precision. He was insidious, and all of them are classics: A Kiss Before Dying, Rosemary's Baby, This Perfect Day, The Stepford Wives, and especially The Boys From Brazil. I even read some of the plays. So what if Sliver wasn't up to the incredibly high standards Levin had set for himself. He was doing a sequel to Rosemary's Baby!
How could it be a disappointment? Uh, easy. Son of Rosemary is so bad, so ingeniously awful, so maddening. It's like Ira Levin sold a title and then crapped out something that resembled a novel, then took the money and ran. Never to be heard from again.
These four books top my list. And I read them all. Every wretched page of them. I do not possess the patience to do that nowaways. Then, I mostly finished what I started. These days if I hate something half as much as I did these books, they are gone out of my life. Note that all of these were published decades ago.
Friday, February 24. 2017
I was thinking about ol' Spider Robinson this morning. Too much rest from food poisoning these past few days, and I was wide awake at two AM. I was looking at a Mystery sale at Downpour Audio and I saw that Spider's Very Bad Deaths was for sale, so I bought it. I read Very Bad Deaths when it came out, and I liked it a hell of a lot. It's sort of a serial killer story, with a SF twist.
I always liked Spider. Though I have never met the man, I have enjoyed his fiction and his essays. He has been a strong presence in the science fiction field for decades.
Spider and his wife Jeannie hit the big time with their 1979 collaboration, Stardance. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula, as well as landing the annual Locus poll that year. Honestly, it wasn't a favorite of mine, but the story of interplanetary communication through use of dance struck a chord with many, many readers.
Spider Robinson had been publishing for quite a while before the success of Stardance. One of my favorites came out a few years earlier, an SF thriller called Telempath. Robinson also wrote numerous short stories, many of which centered around an interplanetary tavern called Callahan's. Spider won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974.
Yeah, you could say that Spider Robinson was a born writer. Conceived and bred for the science fiction genre. He was also a fiercely devoted Heinlein fan, which always earned him huge admiration from me.
As with 'most any writer, I have my favorite Spider Robinson books, and ones that didn't work as well for me. Telempath, which I mentioned earlier, is a big favorite. As is Mindkiller. Night of Power is a damned good one, and then there are the short stories.
Did I neglect to mention that Spider Robinson was granted the formidable task of completing an unfinished Robert A. Heinlein novel? Yes, he did. Regretfully, I started Veritable Star, but never finished reading it. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe I was too caught up in my endless horror reading back in 2006.
Spider Robinson. The name always carried enormous weight for me as a reader. Yet I've kind of grown away from the work. It makes me sad. I've dedicated too much of my reading life to horror. Oh, I love the horror genre, and I expect that I always will, but there's a big world of books out there. Too damned big to spend the majority of one's time in a single generic pool.
Spider was a hippie, and I guess I was kind of one too back in the day. Life has brought profound changes upon everyone over the past forty or fifty years. I understand that Spider Robinson has had his share of tragedy in recent years. He always struck me as a genuinely good guy, and few would deny that he is one hell of a writer.
So, yeah, I plan to visit with Spider Robinson. Starting with his chilling Very Bad Deaths on audiobook, and I just ordered his nonfiction essay collection, The Crazy Years (catch the Heinlein reference?) from B&N.com. Then, though I no longer sling the booze, perhaps a return to Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, where time travelers strictly pay cash.
I don't know how serious people take my recommendations, but I urge everyone to give Spider Robinson a chance. If horror is your main gig, try Very Bad Deaths. If action-adventure with a futuristic twist sounds good, Telempath is a great bet. If lyrical, poetic, visionary science fiction is what you need to cleanse your palette in these crazy years, you might be profoundly rewarded by reading Stardance.
Sunday, February 5. 2017
Ask an average reader what his or her favorite Science Fiction novel is. You might get Dune as an answer. Fahrenheit 451. Stranger in a Strange Land. You might even hear things like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe or Splinter in the Mind's Eye. A more discerning SF reader may bring up Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Edgar Pangborn.
It would be tough to pinpoint me with the question, just as it would be hard for me to list one horror novel as my very favorite. The Ceremonies? Son of the Endless Night? Incubus?The Shining?
The Science Fiction books that immediately come to mind for me are Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron. Philip Wylie's The Disappearance. Edgar Pangborn's A Mirror For Observers. Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky.
And there's one other that looms highly at the forefront of my heart as a very, very favorite book of Science Fiction. Of course it's Frederik Pohl's Gateway.
Born in 1919, the man seems to have been brought to this Earth to create superlative Science Fiction. Pohl never got the universal acclaim of Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, but his work is among the finest that the genre has ever seen.
Frederik Pohl had a penchant for writing searing satirical fiction, coupled with rational ideas and solid characterizations. He was not only a writer, but one of the most important editors in the history of the genre. People rightly point to John W. Campbell as the most influential editor in SF history, but Pohl is directly behind Campbell, but he brought more humanity and wit to the field.
Pohl wrote outrageously good stories and novels in the 50's and 60's, some of the best of which was in collaboration with C.M. Kornbluth. He was an important figure in the field, but things broke wide open in 1976 with his novel, Man Plus. Man Plus dealt with a man being biologically altered to live on the planet Mars. It was Hugo nominee and a Nebula winner. And this was back at a time when such things actually meant something.
The very next year, in 1977, Frederik Pohl unleashed Gateway into the world. He announced that it was the best thing he had ever written. People seemed to agree. Gateway won best novel of the year in the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and John W. Campbell Awards.
Gateway presented frank sex and modern satire in ways that were new to the SF genre. Of course aficionados like myself had seen mature, barrier-busting work from writers like Philip José Farmer, Robert A. Heinlein, Norman Spinrad, and others. But Pohl employed the elements of wit, drug use, and space adventure in a new way, with writing techniques that were unseen prior to its publication.
Gateway was and is Pohl's masterpiece, and one that he will forever be associated with. The novel was a huge success and it spawned several sequels and related works. It certainly remains one of my top favorite books in or out of the Science Fiction genre.
I have not read Gateway in almost forty years. I'm reaching an age where I want to re-experience favorite books. To see them again as the same person, but also not the same person. I've been doing so a lot in the past few years, but for some reason I had given Gateway a lot of thought. At least until last night, when I dreamed of Bob Broadhead and his Quixotic quests courtesy of the Heechee race.
You should consider reading, or rereading Gateway as well. Some I know in the Horror field don't seem to care much for Science Fiction, but I feel that they are doing themselves a serious disservice. Especially in the case of Gateway. It has about as much to do with Lucas and Roddenberry stuff as Peter Straub does with Goosebumps.
Now to start saving my Nickles so I can afford a copy of the Easton Press edition of Gateway.
Sunday, January 22. 2017
Who would have suspected? I damned sure didn't, and I seriously doubt that Joe R. Lansdale did, either. No one can predict this sort of thing.
In 1990 Joe Lansdale published a terrific crime novel as a paperback original. It was called Savage Season, and it featured two odd, funny, tough-guy characters. I was there, right at the beginning, having been a rabid Lansdale fan ever since I read The Drive-In two years prior to the publication of Savage Season. The cover of the Bantam paperback of Savage Season is one of the most memorable I've ever seen, and that was just the icing on the proverbial cake.
Readers responded strongly to Hap and Leonard, but it took a while for Joe to continue with the characters. Mucho Mojo came out in 1994, and he was off and running.
For a while--quite a while--the Hap and Leonard phenomena was a cult thing, but gradually more and more readers latched on to the series. I personally handed the books into many hands, some willing and some not so willing, but I don't believe that I have ever known anyone to dislike them.
Now, here we are, twenty-seven years after Savage Season burst onto the literary landscape, and Hap and Leonard are everywhere. Let's see, we recently had a new collection of Hap and Leonard short stories, called, appropriately, Hap and Leonard
(Hap and Leonard Ride Again in ebook form), there has been a wonderfully faithful Sundance Channel TV series based on them, a novella called Hoodoo Harry
was just published by The Mysterious Bookshop. And coming up?
Season Two of the Hap and Leonard show begins on March 15. A major novel, Rusty Puppy
, streets on February 23rd. The very good folks at Subterranean Press unleash another novella called Coco Butternut
(Don't you just love his titles?) which is coming right up on January 30th.
Is that all? Could there possibly be any more? Oh yes.
On February 20th, yet another collection is coming from Tachyon Publications. And this one is very special indeed.
We've come to expect outrageous humor, situations, and violence in Hap and Leonard stories, and there is some of that stuff in Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade
. But this collection is a more somber bunch of stories. Some feature crime and bloodshed. Some are funny. Some are wistful. Some are sad and thoughtful. Joe, slippery bastard that he is, even slips a ghost story into the mix.
Blood and Lemonade shows another side of Hap and Leonard. While, yes, there are introspective moments in each of the books up to now, these stories are often quiet. They give the reader pause; time for contemplation.
Joe calls Blood and Lemonade a mosaic novel. I always called this sort of thing a story cycle. Both terms amount to the same thing. There are connecting sequences with Hap and Leonard woolgathering about past events. Each story is a slice of life from when they were young, before the events of Savage Season. Some are not even Hap and Leonard stories, but simply Hap stories. That isn't surprising as Hap's perspective has always been the driving force of the series.
Tachyon also published the previously mentioned Hap and Leonard short story collection. Unlike that one, which contains a lot of reprints, Blood and Lemonade features mostly new works, and works that will be new to most readers. Both are essential to any fan, but as I noted before, Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade, is something truly special. You are going to love it. Regardless of whether, like me, you are a (savage) seasoned Hap and Leonard veteran, or are new to the characters. Trust me.
Monday, January 9. 2017
I've heard so many people curse 2016. I do get it, but, come on. Everyone who reads this survived the year. "In the midst of life we are in death". Yeah, we lost a lot of important people last year. Some lost family and friends. We also lost celebrities, many of whom meant a lot to our lives and personal development. I don't want to minimize that, but I also want to emphasize that we all have much to be thankful for.
One thing I am not thankful for is how America has become to divided. How manipulative the media has become, and the distorted facts and outright lies we see on a daily basis. I hate how so many on social media are self-righteous, and how they endlessly try to shame and belittle those who see things differently than they do. It's ugly and a huge part of the problem as I see it. It's been going on for a while, but has reached disgusting proportions in 2016. Is it any wonder the presidential election was such a farce?
I used social media a lot last year, but I almost always did so to promote reading, music, movies. The Arts are what saves our souls.
Anyway, I had a good year, so I guess it's easy for me to be upbeat. After a number of very difficult years for my personal life, I have found happiness and contentment. I'm still working on the person I need to be, but that's an ongoing struggle, is it not?
It wasn't a great year for movies for me. A lot of overblown action and superhero stuff that does not interest me. Digital photography and editing have taken away a lot of my enjoyment. But then again I haven't seen a whole lot of movies. Fewer, probably, than any year of my adult life. The reason is pretty simple: I have been busy doing other things. And enjoying the hell out of it.
I saw some older movies brought back to the screen. That's one advantage of digital projection. In 2016 I went and watched older movies like Ferris Beuller's Day Off, The Man Who Fell From Earth, Ghostbusters, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, The Shining, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, Halloween, and Purple Rain.
My favorite new movie of 2016 was Woody Allen's magnificent Cafe Society. I like every movie Woody does, but it's been quite some time since I called one my fave of the year. Cafe Society is about the myth and majesty of early Hollywood, and it's one of the few cases where I think that digitally-enhanced filmmaking is an asset. A lot of people didn't like the movie, but I am convinced that a lot of people judge the man rather than the movie. People seem disappointed that Woody isn't making the same type of movies that he did in the seventies, and I am pretty sure that some minds would be changed about Cafe Society had some individuals thought that it was made by an unknown foreign director rather than the notorious Woody Allen.
I also loved Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some, but again many didn't care for it. Or they even outright hated it. I don't care for all of Linklater's movies, but I love the ones like Everybody Wants Some, Dazed and Confused, and Boyhood that ring true to real life.
That's really about it. I rather enjoyed Pete's Dragon and The BFG, probably more so because I saw them at a drive-in. The Lonely Island's Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was reasonably enjoyable, if no great satire. I was lucky enough to see the Frank Zappa documentary, Eat That Question, at a theater.
I read more last year, which is one reason I saw fewer movies. I did a considerable amount of re-reading, and I absolutely loved going back to Straub's Shadowland, Ed Gorman's Black River Falls, Dan Simmons' Phases of Gravity, Thomas F. Monteleone's Night Things, and Harlan Ellison's Gentleman Junkie. There were others, but those top the list.
I read quite a few excellent new novels in 2016. The best of them were Jonathan Janz's Children of the Dark, Joe R. Lansdale's Honky Tonk Samurai, Glen Krish's Nothing Lasting, and Stephen King's End of Watch.
Joe Hill had a new one out. The Fireman is a controversial book. I've heard a lot of negative feedback about it. The Fireman is a complicated novel that is difficult to pigeonhole. I struggled a little through the first few hundred pages, but it really kicked in around the halfway point. I ended up loving the hell out of The Fireman, and it came this close to being my favorite of the year. But...
My very, very favorite of the year won't even come out until May 2017. I was fortunate to receive an advance galley of Bill Pronzini's The Violated. I've been a rabid Pronzini fan for just about as long as I can remember, but Bill really outdoes himself with The Violated. I think it is--easily--the best thing he has written to date. Do yourself a favor and don't pass it up this May.
The world rumbles on. We face good and bad things every day, and I strive to focus on the good. I have no lofty resolutions this year, but I do hope to be happier and more appreciative in 2017 and beyond. To learn that anger solves nothing and only weakens me. To read more and to celebrate my love of books and writing. You won't catch me binge watching or gaming this year. In addition to work, time with loves ones, enjoying the outdoors, I want to read as much as I can. I read more slowly these days then I used to. I like to savor every sentence rather than blaze through a book.
Thanks to everyone for being my friend, for being a part of the horror community, and for making it through another year. 2016 was a year of challenges and heartbreak, so let's make the best of 2017.
Saturday, December 24. 2016
I'm still fairly new to the area I am now living. We were driving last night, and I took note of a real, live, genuine video store. I commended on how cool that is, and how they are so few and far between these days.
Today we decided to take a visit there. Sure enough, it was the final day of its existence. In the dark last night we could not see the store closing signs.
We entered the store, and they were practically giving movies away. as low as eighty cents each. I looked through the whole place, and I ended buying a few Blu Rays--even though I currently do not own a player. I plan to do something about that very soon.
Anyway I chose Foxcatcher, Nebraska, and Superman: The Movie. I'm not much of a superhero guy, but I got the latter title for old time's sake.
As I was approaching the register, something occurred to me: Would this be the very last time I go through a line in a video store?
Sobering. My God, I spent so much time in video stores over the years. Especially in the 1980's. I lived right next door to an Erol's Video, and I spent hours in the place. Reading back covers, waiting to see what tapes would be returned by people coming and going, talking to the staff and other customers.
Video Stores were a huge business back in the mid-80's. One thing hasn't changed a bit from then to now...people love new things. Everyone was renting tapes, having movie parties, watching and talking about movies.
I always buddied up with the store managers. They give me screeners, held new releases for me on Tuesday when new ones went up for rental. It was great.
As the 90's came along and progressed, home video lost some of its sizzle. That newness had worn out, and gaming was becoming more advanced and was taking a chunk out of the industry. Then DVD came along, and that really put a ding in the video store business. The whole point of a DVD was to own
the movie. For repeat viewings and to have ample time to explore the supplementary materials.
Blockbuster took over the rental market by the 90's, and many of the smaller stores withered under the competition. I hated that, but I did use Blockbuster now and then. Like Amazon today, it's difficult to completely abstain from doing business there.
Steaming was the final blow. Why bother to even own movies anymore? Just cue up whatever you want from Amazon, itunes, Netflix, or wherever, and watch anytime. As for the once-cherished supplementary materials, who cares anymore?
Some of us care. The true movie geeks of the world. The ones with huge movie collections, with stuff even we have never watched. The ones who, way back when, felt the obsessive need to duplicate just about every movie we ever rented. The ones who watch treasured movies the way some visit old friends.
I've always been a nostalgic person, yet I am coming to the realization that nostalgia can be deadly. It, if gone unrestrained, can poison the present. I'm learning. But, still, I miss video stores.
I've said it in these pages before, and I'll doubtless say it again. The internet has brought us many riches, but it has taken things away in return. Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, You Tube, etc, have reduced the significance of our local communities. I hate that.
And so I bid a sad farewell to the video store. This may not be the last hurrah for me as a video store customer, but it quite possibly is.
Wednesday, December 21. 2016
A horror fan without humor is like a slasher film without blood: why bother? Humor goes hand in hand with fear. When we become nervous, thanks to unrelenting tension, we laugh, just like when we’re right on the edge of losing our minds to terror, we laugh (a bray of laughter, as one famous author might say).When we’re faced with blood and guts, we vomit in our mouths a little, sure, and then we laugh—not a pretty sight, exactly, but who cares? There is nothing more boring than a person who’s serious all the time, and there’s nothing more serious than a boring slasher film—except maybe a serious horror fan watching a serious slasher film without blood. That might be most boring of all.
Enter the opposite: Night of the Creeps (1986), a film written directed by Fred Dekker (who I learned wrote for Star Trek: Enterprise, too), is a slasher film with plenty of blood. It’s also a comedy. It’s got camp, straight humor, and moments of tension and gore that will make you laugh out loud, or go, “Ew, gross, seriously?” as my wife may or may not have done. This movie is meant to be a ‘B-Movie’, of course, but what I love about it is that it’s a lot of great fun.
The reason I had so much fun watching it has to do with the way the movie touches on, not just Horror, but genres like Science Fiction and Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction, as well as Mystery. There are tropes all over the place, but here are a few of my favorites:
Right away, you’re introduced to naked, midget sized aliens speaking a different language (though we are granted subtitles in both alien writing and our own English, thankfully) and running around their spaceship shooting at one another with ray-guns. These guys make Storm Troopers look like Russel Crowe’s version of Robin Hood, and, because of this, one alien achieves its goal: to jettison a science experiment right out into space. And where should that experiment end up but America, circa 1959. That experiment becomes the gift that keeps on giving, so to speak.
I mean, what the hell, right?
Whatever else you might be thinking, it gets better. The experiment produces these slugs that grow inside the human head and then burst out of it once full-grown. We’re talking The Puppet Masters meets Alien, here, folks, with just a dash of The Night of the Living Dead, because while the slugs are incubating (eating brains?), what could the human hosts become but … zombies!
Finally, my favorite trope has to do with the detective who is always one step behind the bad guys in this film. He’s an old-school detective, with great pulp-lines like, “Thrill me,” –he drinks way to much, and if you look close, he has a Dashiell Hammett book (The Maltese Falcon?) sitting just behind his chair. There are also some great detective pulp magazines on his desk. You can’t beat that!
There’s a little bit here for everyone—the laughs are non-stop—and, believe me, there is plenty of blood and gore and nasty, decaying faces stretched overtop skulls; just in case you’re a fan of humor and horror and not at all too serious.
Review by David M. Wilson
Wednesday, December 7. 2016
Every now and again, you have to take some time to process a novel once you’ve read it, and that’s especially true if you’re going to attempt to review it. As it happens, I read two books instead of one: Jack Finny’s The Body Snatchers and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. So, I guess there was double the process time needed before sitting down to write this review. But I was inspired by posts on the Horror Drive-In forum, posts that talked a little bit about these two books, so, my goal here is to do a little homage to some great stories—and maybe I will entice those reading this review to go back and enjoy a couple oldies, but goodies.
The Body Snatchers, published in 1955 (but first serialized in 1954), involves seed pods that land on Earth to do what seed pods do best—multiply. But the thing of it is, these seed pods aren’t looking to grow into anything other than copies of the people that live in the town they’ve set to invade. It is up to the main characters, who come to realize this threat, to see that the body snatchers are thwarted.
The Puppet Masters, published in 1951 (also serialized in a magazine), has visitors from outer space too, but these are a little different than those in The Body Snatchers. These are highly intelligent aliens, beings that intend to use human bodies for hosts—they look sort of like the nastiest version of slugs you can think of—maybe a cross between a slug and a leech and a snake, who knows—and those slugs, called ‘The Masters’ by the hero of this novel, want one thing only: world domination. It is up to a few special agents that are a part of an off-the-books agency to stop the invasion.
The books are similar as they both deal with hostile beings from outer space, intent on doing what the do best: kill off and/or take over humanity. Both deal with ‘the other’; that is to say, both deal with showing what is weird in contrast to what we all are, which is (supposedly) normal. They both say, “If you don’t watch out, you’ll be watching your own body eating your T.V. dinners and sitting next to your wife who isn’t really your wife anymore.” But, social and intellectual warnings aside, they books hold your attention as they are both action packed, especially Heinlein’s novel—if it were printed today, I daresay that it would be tagged with that insidious Thriller Novel label.
I think an important last point is that both deal with the specific instance of invasion (not a dystopian environment), and shows how humanity might react. Jack Finny’s writing from the perspective of the small town doctor, while Heinlein is showing us how a government that spends $100 on a toilet seat and $300 on a traffic cone might go about dealing with a superior nemesis. In either instance, I think the best and the worst of humanity is accurately portrayed. That’s a big deal for novels that were written some seventy years ago now. That they’re still relevant says much more than I ever could.
All of this is great, but how is it horror? Though I do understand why these books are classified as Science Fiction, I do also think there is an argument to be made in regards to their being functioning works of Horror Fiction as well. The narratives strike a deep sense of fear in the reader, fear of ‘the other’, but it is more than that, too. Both novels create a fear of being made into the ‘the other’ and the process that entails. In The Body Snatchers that seems to mean certain death. In The Puppet Masters that seems to mean something worse than death; possession. It is through these two fears—the fear caused by death, and the fear caused by possession—that both authors twist our feeling of suspense and dread. This is classic horror in its best emanations.
I enjoyed both of these novels. I recommend you read them, if you haven’t. For me, The Body Snatchers was the book I enjoyed more out of the two, but that is because I fear death much more than I fear being possessed (even if it is by a slug). Which of the two fates do you fear most?
Review by David M. Wilson
Saturday, November 26. 2016
At this point in the writing career of Bill Pronzini, having written over ninety novels and hundreds of short stories, one might expect the man to mellow a bit. He's been at the game for nearly fifty years, after all. And, at a glance, one could possibly make that assumption. Pronzini has been writing a series of light historical mysteries with his wife, the acclaimed author Marcia Muller. He steadily puts out a new Nameless Detective novel every year. Bill Pronzini has been a one-man publishing industry for about as long as I have been reading. If anyone deserves to kick back a little, it's him. To maybe go a little easy with the hard subject matter.
But then we have The Violated, a stand-alone solo novel that is coming on March 7th, 2017. I've been a longtime completest Bill Pronzini reader and fan for decades, and I never miss one of his books. For my money, The Violated is the hardest hitting, most intense novel he has written to date. My previous favorite was The Crimes of Jordan Wise, from 2006.
The Violated begins with an arresting opening line:
The dead man lay faceup on the grassy riverbank, legs together and ankles crossed, arms spread-eagled above his head with palms upturned and fingers curled, in a grotesque parody of the crucifixion.
From there the reader is thrust into a dark and horrible story of a suspected serial rapist who has been brutally murdered. Which brings forth numerous questions: Was he really the man who violated the victims? Was it a random crime? Who committed the murder? Will the atrocities continue?
Pronzini has often used multiple first person viewpoints in his books, but he has never done so as flawlessly and convincingly as he does in The Violated. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a person who is either directly or indirectly involved in the investigation.
The Violated is one of Pronzini's most brutal works of fiction, but as always his empathy and humanity shines in every page.
Bill Pronzini has never quite reached the mainstream success he deserves. Maybe it's because he rarely has cookie-cutter heroes and villains in his stories. Readers are as apt to have sympathy for the antagonists as they are the so-called good guys. It's impossible for reasonable people to feel sorry for a rapist, but perhaps one can be a sort of victim, too. That it might be possible to hate as well as try to understand what drove someone to such foul deeds.
As the saying goes, if there is any justice in the world, The Violated will find the biggest possible audience. As far as I am concerned, it is as good as anything out there on the shelves. It, and Bill Pronzini, deserve all the success in the world. I hope you will consider reading The Violated when it is published.
Wednesday, November 23. 2016
I've heard individuals speak of Thanksgiving with disdain, claiming that people should not need a special day to express and feel thanks. Maybe so, but we all have our bad sides. We're all human, and ego, frailty, spitefulness, anger, and self pity come along with the condition. I like the idea of a holiday in which to relax, reflect, and re-evaluate our lives. One to give thanks for what we do have.
It's a volatile time in American society. Many feel rage and helplessness. I understand those things, but then my life has always been uncertain. None of us can expect things to go our way all the time, nor can we hope to go through life without adversary. Most of us have food, shelter, companionship.
I could feel sorry for myself, and I sometimes do, but I do have a lot to be thankful for at the end of 2016. I have a decent job, and I finally found the right someone to share my life with.
I'll soon be celebrating eleven years of Horror Drive-In. I recently made the usual noises about shutting down the forums, and I do grow weary of it at times. However, Horror Drive-In has become one of the most venerable message board forums in the horror fiction field. Message boards were once as commonplace as typos in a typical self-published book, but they are very few and far between at this point. The big social media networks have claimed the lives of most of them. As well as loss of innocence and enthusiasm in online discussion. Times change, as do people.
I've mostly enjoyed my years in the forum business, at Horror Drive-In, Shocklines, and Gorezone. I've shared laughs, tears, love, and joy in our mutual obsession with all things horror. Horror Drive-In was born when I lost my brother to cancer. His death inspired me to make a move to start my own website. Since then I have shared my life in the pages of the site. The triumphs and the tragedies. The destruction of my marriage, my struggles with emotion and mental health, the loss of my longtime job. I also shared my successes with the friends who came to the boards, and who have continued to be a part of them. Others have come forth and spoken with often painful honesty about their lives.
I'm not thrilled about everything in my life. My health insurance has gone up again, and the premiums are what I consider to be an obscene amount of money each month. I've had a recent financial setback which will curtail my Christmas shopping drastically. My job is secure, but it can be enormously trying.
On the other hand I am happier than I have been in years. In many ways I am happier than I have ever been in my life.
I've neglected Horror Drive-In for the past few months. Past few years, really, but I plan to become much more active. I've been in the slow process of moving, and I haven't had a lot of access to my computer. I've used a laptop, but I've needed my own desk and PC.
So, yes, Horror Drive-In will be here for a long time to come.
I wish everyone, all over the world, happiness and prosperity. Books, movies, music, and joy. What the hell is
so funny about peace, love, and understanding, anyway?
Thursday, November 3. 2016
You know the routine: you walk into that used bookstore, the one with the loose floorboards and the bookshelves that are held together by two-by-fours jammed in-between them; they’re kind of dangerous, those shelves, but who cares? You don’t. You’re kind of … well … poking-around-but-not-really, because, deep down, you’re serious. You know what you’re looking for, what you want. You’re on your way. You’re headed to the Horror Section.
I love the thrill of the hunt. The book hunt, I mean—there is something scary-cool about finding a gem in a local used bookstore. So, as you may have guessed, I walked into that used bookstore, the one with the loose floorboards and the bookshelves that are held together by two-by-fours; they’re kind of dangerous, those shelves, but who cares? It’s what’s in the shelves, man—that’s what I care about. I entered into the Horror Section, and, boy, did I find a gem, one I’m proud to be reviewing.
It’s actually an anthology, though, and before you groan and click off the page (saying, “oh, great, here he goes, the new guy, spouting off about some lame collection of stuff we’ve all read before; kill me, won’t you, please?”
), let me promise that this is the perfect anthology to pitch to the Horror Drive-In crowd.
The anthology is called ‘The Ghouls’, edited by Peter Haining, and it’s a paperback that was published in April 1972. The book contains 18 stories, some short, some a little longer in length. But here’s the kicker: all 18 stories are collected together in this one volume because each story has brought about a movie, and nearly every movie represented by this collection is what we now consider a classic.
I mean, the thing was dedicated to the memory of Boris Karloff (“—gentleman of the cinema and the greatest Ghoul of them all,” it says …), so how could you go wrong? There is an introduction by Vincent Price, and an afterword by Christopher Lee. There is a cast/credits list in the very back of the book. And in the center, there are pictures of the old films—there is a great shot of the movie version of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
, based off ‘The Fog Horn’, a short story written, of course, by Ray Bradbury!
The contents make it special, though. Freaks
by Tod Robbins, The Fly
by George Langelaan, The Oblong Box
by Edgar Allen Poe, The Devil in a Covent
by Francis Oscar Mann, and All That Money Can Buy
by Stephen Vincent Benét, to name a few of the selections (most all of them are enjoyable, even Somerset Maugham’s The Magician
, although I’m not a huge Maugham man). You really could read a story out of this book only to then watch the movie straight away after, and be entertained for a good, long while.
For the sake of this review, I won’t go into detail on each story. Instead, I’ll post a list of the contents below. You’ll thank me for that later, believe me. Stories are in generous supply in ‘The Ghouls’.
The best part, though? For me, the best part is that it’s in paperback form and cheap (although the cover says $1.25 and I bought my copy for $2.00; some used bookstore that was, huh?). Now, I love hardcovers. I always have and I always will. But, if you want something to take with you on the go—something that isn’t an e-book, say—here is this little anthology, and, hey, once you finish a story (while sitting on the library john, perhaps, or while waiting in the line of your favorite coffee shop), you can go home and watch the movie and answer that question, the one that will be carved into Mark Sieber’s tombstone: which was better, the movie or the book?
Introduction, Vincent Price
The Devin in a Convent, Francis Oscar Mann
The Lunatics, Edgar Allen Poe
Puritan Passions, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
The Magician, Somerset Maugham
Freaks, Tod Robbins
Most Dangerous Game, Richard Connell
Dracula’s Daughter, Bram Stoker
All That Money Can Buy, Stephen Vincent Benét
The Body Snatcher, Robert Louis Stevenson
The Beast With Five Fingers, W.F. Harvey
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Ray Bradbury
The Fly, George Langelaan
Black Sunday, Nikolai Gogol
Incident at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce
Monster of Terror, H.P. Lovecraft
The Skull, Robert Bloch
The Oblong Box, Edgar Allen Poe
Afterword, Christopher Lee
Cast and Credits
Review by David M. Wilson
Friday, October 28. 2016
Detritus is a young boy, a young boy unlike any others around. He's got a "third eye", that lets him see what others cannot. What he sees are his best friends, those in the form of two members of the dead. A young girl by the name of Blank (whom he falls in love with, and she doesn't know she's dead), and a boy named Shultz that insists on wearing Nazi clothing. With a meth-head wreck of a human for a mother, Detritus has to find solace and friendship wherever he can, even if it's in those of ghosts.
The ghosts though know that something is coming. It's called The Opposite, and it means to end all that is going for Detritus. A life of despair, a life almost not worth living to begin with. Where his family wishes he was never born, and nobody wants to have anything to do with him. Can they stop the darkness from coming? Will Detritus finally find happiness in his meager life?
In this novella from Mercedes M. Yardley and John Boden, we encounter a sad, dark tale of a young buy with nothing to live for, a life of nothing but bad. A mixture of the depressing, the horror, and the bizarre, this novella is a quick read, but at the same time packs a good punch too for what it's going for. If you're in the mood for a good little read this fall, I'd check this one out. I'm going to give this a B, and thank John for sending me a copy to review for the site.
Review by Kyle Lybeck
Thursday, October 27. 2016
You say that you love horror fiction? Well, here's your chance to prove it.
One thing most of us can agree on is this: There aren't enough quality markets for short horror fiction out there.
I always loved reading fiction in a magazine. Something feels so right about it. There used to be a lot more of them around. I was at Barnes and Noble recently and there were a few of the old reliable workhorses like Ellery Queen, Mystery Scene, and Analog. Not much in the way of horror out there.
There are some cool ones still around being independently distributed, and I shouldn't have to list them. But there simply are not enough of them. Not for readers, and certainly not for writers.
There are anthologies coming out all the time, which is cool. But monthly, or bi-monthly magazines? Precious few.
Sure, writers can get their short fiction out through Amazon, and get lost in the ocean of others doing the same. It's kind of hard to get the attention of readers that way.
There's a new magazine on the horizon. It's called Deadlights, and there is a Kickstarter campaign going on now to launch it. Happily it has already reached its goal, but any startup venture can use more capital.
Deadlights is the brainchild of one David M. Wilson, and I've been talking to him a bit. The guy is young, passionate, serious, and well-versed in the genre. Not just the current crop of writers who came come forth since the Millennium, but deep in the history of the field. I respect that. I respect that a hell of a lot.
Now, some of you bristle at the notion of crowdfunding, and there's nothing I can say about that. I have my own thresholds, and I understand.
However, the rules of marketing and distribution are rapidly changing. Wilson is going for an Old School zine, which is wonderful, and he is using new technology to make it happen.
I've heard people make the claim that no one should try to sell something when they don't have the capital to get it off the ground. I don't subscribe to that train of thought. In this day and age, times are tough for a lot of people, and anyone who wants to make an effort to get a fiction magazine up and running is A-OK by me.
Many of the most revered magazines in the history of the field had very modest beginnings. Cemetery Dance, The Horror Show, Whispers, they all were projects of love by people who had passion and conviction.
Will Deadlights be a long-running success? That depends upon the perseverance and dedication of David M. Wilson--and upon the lovers of horror fiction out there like you and me.
And, yes, I contributed, and I am asking you to consider doing the same. Any crowdfunding scheme is a risk, but we're talking about twelve bucks here. Isn't it worth that much to help get in on the ground floor of a new market for horror fiction?
Monday, October 24. 2016
It's convention season and everyone is getting excited! Oh to see washed up stars from yesteryear pilfering out photos and signatures for $20, $40, and $50 bucks a pop! One starts to imagine why their fame holds on for so long, for the masses of the horror convention going circuit.
That's where Clarissa Lee comes in. A washed up horror movie phenom from back in the day. She's known around the globe, she's still hot as hell, but she's flat broke. That's when she gets the call of a lifetime, an invitation to join other former actors and actresses from the horror community to join a convention unlike any other. It will be extremely exclusive to those willing to buy passes, on a former summer camp in the woods of Kentucky, and promises tens of thousands to the former stars who all join on.
Once they arrive though, they realize this isn't going to be like any convention they have attended before. Those running the con have instructed those attending to wear masks, and not talk to the stars. They must create a true horror movie experience, not only for themselves but for the stars too. Events are taped as well, so that each person attending will bring home their very own horror movie starring themselves! That's when the fun stops though, as the event quickly turns from con to real-life horror. A star is murdered right before their eyes, and everyone else is on the run for their lives. Who will be next? Who will come out on top to claim their money in the end?
In the latest from Adam Cesare, we get a fun and bloody take on the convention going experience. One that could easily happen today, with convention goers always wanting that "next level" experience. It's a fun novel, a crazy novel, and one that I think fans of horror and of Adam's writing will very much enjoy. I'm giving this one a B+ overall.
Review by Kyle Lybeck
Monday, October 24. 2016
I lied to Mark Sieber.
My original intention was to review ‘The Fog’ (1980), directed by John Carpenter. I was in the mood for a creepy, goofy, folk-tale-ish horror movie a few nights back, and I loved ‘The Fog’ when I first saw it. It sounded like a good pick. Who cares if I’d just reviewed a novel of no real relation, titled ‘The Fog’? It sounded like fun, this movie, and so I told Mark as much.
But, I lied. After watching ‘The Fog’, I had an itch that needed to be scratched—I wanted to check out some recent films that were low-budget, something that I hadn’t explored, something that The Horror Drive-In readers hadn’t heard of, either.
Maybe I wanted to do this because I felt that ‘The Fog’ looked low-budget, compared with films of today—or maybe I just wanted a little new mixed into my love of the old. I don’t know.
Either way, I landed on a movie called ‘The Forest’. Now, if I were to rate it between 1 and 10, I would rate ‘The Forest’ about a 5—maybe a 6, were I to be feeling generous. That isn’t the best news for those of you reading this, but let me tell you why the movie was so-so, and why I still think a lot of you would enjoy watching it.
This movie has a great set-up and an equally great story idea. There is a forest in Japan where the Japanese go to commit suicide; it is a well-known, real forest, called the Aokigahara Forest. Some individuals go into this forest to contemplate suicide, and when they do this, they bring a tent to stay the night. Other individuals, the ones more intent on ending it, bring nothing but a roll of tape. They drag a line of tape off the path, leading to where their body will be, so that those looking might find them once they’re dead. Added to this, the Aokigahara Forest is said to be haunted. It’s said, by the locals, that the forest knows when you’re ‘sad inside’, and if you stray off the path, it can make you see things that aren’t there. The Forest has an end goal of making you kill yourself; it can’t kill you outright, but it can mess with you until you feel that there’s no other option.
So, naturally, Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) gets a call from Japanese officials who tell her that her identical twin, Jess (also played by Dormer), who is teaching English in Tokyo, has gone missing—has gone into the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, in fact.
There are rules in this movie, too, which is great; there are rules that mix a natural fear of becoming lost in the forest with the supernatural of a forest that sees death on the regular. If you go off the path while in the forest, you are free game for exploitation—and, of course, Sara goes off the path, just as Jess once did. She finds a tent belonging to her sister (though her sister isn’t there). Sara decides to stay there—over night!—to wait for Jess to return. From this point on, it’s a freak-out-fest.
The reason a movie with such a great story, with such a great idea behind it, really, isn’t as awesome as it could be, is because of a few detractors: CGI effects that make it look a little goofy at times, a ‘The Exorcist’ look-alike possessed little Asian girl who isn’t really all that scary, and some uneven scares—some scares that are more for a ‘make them jump’ effect than anything that makes much sense in the context of the story.
This might reflect some un-even writing in the script, but that’s okay, because the actors are fantastic. Natalie Dormer nails her lead role, Yukiyoshi Ozawa (who plays ‘Michi’, this creepy dude who goes into the forest every day
looking for people that have killed themselves) adds an incredible amount of tension, and Taylor Kinny (who plays Aiden, a traveling journalist) is so unreadable that you just don’t know what he has or hasn’t done, exactly.
For me, the acting, the story idea and the setup, as well as the second half of the movie, is enough to convince me to overlook the flaws in effects and writing. It was enough to make me enjoy the movie. I don’t think that Rotten Tomatoes (which gave this movie an 11% rating) is entirely fair toward this flick, because there is enough here for you to start to really look forward to future works by the director, Jason Zada. It isn’t a work I’d rush out and purchase, but it is one I’d rent and recommend to you if you’re not sure what to watch (and are okay with what I’ve written above, of course).
As for lying to Mark Sieber … well, as long as I keep out of the Aokigahara Forest, I think I can live with my fib. Maybe. Or, maybe, I need to go and see where I put my tent. Maybe that’s best.
Review by David M. Wilson