Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Sunday, July 16. 2017
I'm no fan of the undying zombie trend, but how can any self-respecting horror fan pass up an anthology called Nights of the Living Dead? Especially when it was co-edited by none other than the Godfather of the modern zombie ghoul, George A. Romero? Add in new stories by favorites like Brian Keene, David J. Schow, John Skipp, Joe R. Lansdale, and Jay Bonansinga, plus new fiction by John Russo and Romero himself, and this book is a dead-brainer.
Of course I could have saved a few bucks by ordering online, and I would have done so with B&N.com, but I felt like reliving that retro feeling of walking into a bookstore and purchasing a book from a real live human being. Besides, too many employees of the USPS seem like they would have a more appropriate position in a cheap-ass zombie movie.
So, to Barnes and Noble brick and mortar I went.
I live closer to one in Hampton, VA, but I was in Newport News this morning. The N.N. store was the first in my area, back in the mid-90's, and I was so glad to have it. I feel the pain of those who lost beloved indie bookstores from big box places like B&N and Borders, but we never had a decent independent store here. Despite the large population, this military and industrial region has never exactly been a bastion of culture.
I used to go to this Barnes and Noble every weekend when it opened. A different time, and a different set of rules in regard to book distribution. Electronic books have been around a long time. As early as nineteen forty-nine, in fact, but they came into forceful prominence with the advent of Amazon's Kindle device. Since then distribution has changed a lot. Maybe no so much for bestsellers, but for a lot of smaller genre writers, you can't find their stuff at the major bookstores.
I weaned off of my regular weekly trips to Barnes and Noble. I don't even go monthly now. In fact, it's quite a bit less often than that. I do continue to buy books, but they are often used, and I can't resist the temptation of the discounts the online stores offer.
I enjoyed walking into that old B&N. It still has loads of junk cluttering the place, and I guess all of those games and calendars and coloring books have helped the ailing corporation stay afloat. Me, I just think of all the shelf space could be devoted to books. But then as far back as I can recall, Barnes and Noble has always been filled with perpetrators.
I enjoyed looking at the magazines. I was more than a bit shocked to see that standbys like Videoscope, Scary Monsters, and Filmfax are still in circulation. Gotta admire these stalwarts for hanging in there. I almost bought one or two, but the truth is, with the internet there is more information about movie readily available than I will ever care to have.
I also saw some other cool stuff. The paperback cover of Grady Hendrix's excellent My Best Friend's Exorcism is ultra cool, and it reminds me of an older trade paperback of Brett McBean's The Last Motel.
I began to look in earnest for Nights of the Living Dead, but I couldn't find it. Surely they stocked a copy of this one...? It wasn't in the general fiction section, and not there in science fiction. I didn't see it in the new publications displays either. WTF. I was thinking that they had done a pretty damned good job of hiding it, when I realized that B&N has a section devoted to anthologies.
For the love of Lovecraft, would it be too much to have a Horror section? Borders had one, as did WaldenBooks and B. Dalton. Sure, it wouldn't be a perfect system, and not all books fall comfortably into one generic categorization, but it would be helpful for those of us who enjoy the dark stuff to be able to waltz up and peruse an area just for us. Chances are we would find something that we hadn't realized was out yet.
But at least I have it, and I plan to dive into the living dead just as soon as I am done the book I am currently reading.
I'm also grateful that, despite predictions, there are still bookstores out there, and still paperbacks to be had. Even if I do have to pay almost twenty bucks to own one.
Sunday, June 18. 2017
I've been having this pleasant daydream: George R.R. Martin, mega-famous writer of the Game of Thrones industry, didn't write all of that epic fantasy stuff. I realize that the idea sounds horrible to a lot of people, but not me. I'm sure that the books are beautifully written, but my love affair with fantasy began and ended with Tolkien. Yeah, I tried some Brooks, some Donaldson, but they weren't for me.
No, imagine with me, horror fans, that GRRM followed The Armageddon Rag with another horror novel. And another. And another after that. And so on.
Imagine if you will that Martin wrote and published big, fat, wonderfully-written horror novels ever after, to this day and beyond. Perhaps even overtaking Stephen King as the biggest writer in our dark little literary genre.
It could have happened. Really, it could have.
Before Armageddon Rag, Martin did Fevre Dream. Horror was hot and getting hotter by the day. And these two novels are as good as anything ever written in the horror field, in my slightly humble opinion. However...
While the fabled horror boom of the 80's was barrelling in, Martin kind of got left behind. The Armageddon Rag was a complete disaster. Not so much critically, but commercially. It simply did not sell.
I bought it. I distinctly remember being attracted to the cover of the paperback while I was in a grocery store. I knew GRRM's name from the Science Fiction field, where he had been working in for a decade or so beforehand. I had read some short stories, which were good. Like some others at the time, like Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Charles L. Grant, George R.R. Martin was shifting toward the lucrative horror genre.
The boom, as I said, was underway, and for my own journey from SF fan to Horror lover, Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag were both important and influential books. I devoured The Armageddon Rag over the course of a weekend, and then I located a used copy of Fevre Dream the following week, and I read it withing a couple of days.
Fevre Dream is a historical novel that sort of combines the steamboat setting of Mark Twain with Bram Stoker. It's certainly one of the greatest vampire novels ever published, and it came long before the thought of a vampire story served well as an ipecac to discerning horror readers.
I think I might like The Armageddon Rag a bit more. Rag was ahead of the curve and it beat the Splatterpunks to the rock and roll horror punch by a few years. The novel serves as a taut and scary supernatural suspense story with a hard rock backdrop, but also as a lament to the optimism and hope of the Sixties and the hippie generation.
I've read quite a few books twice, but there are precious few that I have done so more than that. I recently found the two pictured trade paperbacks at a thrift store, and I bought them. I am reading The Armageddon Rag for the third time in my life, and I think I am enjoying it more now than I did the other two times.
Why does one good book sell like gangbusters, and another tanks? If that were an answerable question, every publisher would be as flush as Fort Knox.
It makes me sad, but I doubt that George R.R. Martin, or his agent, are losing any tears over his departure from the horror genre. Still, I can dream, can't I?
And, yes, I can read these books again. As well as his novella, The Skin Game, or his nerve-jangling horror-SF short story, Sandkings. You can, and should, as well.
Sunday, June 4. 2017
It probably sounds like Hell to younger horror movie lovers, but it really wasn't. I loved the VHS era, and the joy of discovering editions of classic horror movies has been without parallel in my life.
You have to understand: Having movies at hand and being able to start and stop them at will was still a new and miraculous thing. It seemed too good to be true, and we loved it all. Yes, even the atrocious cropped pictures, the hideous pan-and-scan releases, the grotesque dubbing on Eurohorror opuses, unscrupulous distributors releases cut TV prints on tape, faded bootleg copies of movies. We endured movie retitlings, completely different movies than advertised on tape boxes, you name it.
The number one place to search for tapes was video stores. There was a time when rental shops were on damned near every corner, and serious movie fans belonged to as many as reasonably possible. You would rent something, and the cost was minimal, and if it turned out that you had landed on a gold mine, you'd make an illegal duplication. Heck, you probably would burn a copy anyway, just to have it. Shh...but then I guess the statute of limitations has long passed.
Then there were music shops, department stores, discount retailers. You could usually find videotapes there. Goodtimes Home Video, Video Treasures, International Home Video, Simitar Entertainment, and others specialized in Public Domain titles. Some good stuff was to be found there. And a whole lot of crap as well.
How could you keep track of it? Blowing ten or twenty bucks on a lousy or cut movie print hurt, and it was easy to go broke doing so. Well, there were places to help.
There was The Video Eye of Dr. Cyclops, from Fangoria Magazine. Chas Balun's Deep Red covered the gore scene. There were quite a few independently produced fanzines being published at any given time, and you could find ads for them in the bigger magazines.
None were as good as Video Watchdog. Tim Lucas began this venture as a column, which first began appearing in Video Times Magazine. This was back in a prehistoric time when Tim was actually reviewing Betamax tapes. I never saw any of those when they were new, but VW eventually found a home in Gorezone, which was a sister publication of Fangoria.
Lucas had a unique approach to reviewing. While he often did review the movie itself, he seemed to be more interested in discussing their home video releases. Video Watchdog became an invaluable guide to what to spend those hard-won dollars on, and what to avoid. Tim Lucas wrote with wit, knowledge, and passion for his subjects.
The success of the column led to the inception of Video Watchdog Magazine, a beautifully-constructed and informative showcase for every aspect of genre filmmaking, with particular emphasis on home video releases.
I was a VW subscriber, and when I couldn't afford to do that anymore, I would buy copies at a local comic shop. I always enjoyed reading it, and yet I eventually stopped. Why?
Well, raising a family made money scarce in some years. Then there was the abundance of information available for free on the internet. I became jaded, and I felt that I had all movie detail and trivia I could handle.
Too much of a good thing generally leads to ambivalence.
The fun, for me, was in the hunt. The thrill of entering a new video store and wondering what may lie on its shelves. The excitement of finding a cache of buck-ninety-nine tapes in a department store. It was fun and it kept me motivated.
Sure, it's great to land a copy of the latest pristine Steelbook release, or to get a new Blu of a beloved classic. On the other hand, as far as I am concerned a lot of these movies already had perfectly fine releases on Anchor Bay or Blue Underground DVDs.
Streaming really took the fun out of it for me, and I miss the collecting aspect of being a genre movie fanatic. I still collect, but on a very limited basis these days. I mostly do so with old DVDs that I find for a dollar or so in thrift stores.
Yesterday I dusted off my old copy of The Video Watchdog Book, and it took me back to those halcyon days of yore. It was a time of more innocence, if not really in the world, then in my own heart. It was so exciting to read the reviews by Tim Lucas, and I would make checklists of releases I would watch for.
Now all those tapes are gone. Probably buried in some lonely landfill, polluting the ground. Dreams and nightmares that brought so many thrills and so much joy...
Our most precious possessions are our memories, and I try to keep the joyful innocence alive in my heart. The Video Watchdog book is very helpful in that regard.
Sadly, Tim Lucas was forced to cease Video Watchdog publication in 2016. The Perfectionist's Guide To Fantastic Video no longer seemed to have a place in a world that has mostly turned to insubstantial electronic media.
Sunday, May 28. 2017
It's like something out of a John Irving or Anne Tyler novel. A domineering mother raises a large family in which two sons become writers. One, the elder, is the epitome of the pretentiously academic snob, deriving perverse satisfaction from reports of how difficult his books are to read. This elder is a poet, a painter, a scathing satirist.
A younger brother is a prolific novelist and travel writer. One of the most respected in the field. He's been all over the world, going to remote and difficult places, writing successful travel books. He also writes novels and short stories set in the exotic locales he has visited.
Two respected writers from the same parents. One might assume that this was from a happy and nurturing family.
If Paul Theroux's Mother Land is to be believed, nothing could be further from the truth.
The bothers are Alexander and Paul Theroux. Alexander being the more scholarly older sibling, and Paul is the traveler and (sometimes) bestselling writer. Reportedly these two have such animosity toward one another that they have either barely spoken or have not spoken at all in many years.
Not only that, Alexander scathingly reviewed Paul's semi-autobiographical 1996 novel, My Other Life, calling his more successful brother's novels "beach reads", and claiming that his work was just a notch above Danielle Steele. He goes on to not only trash the book, but to to assail Paul, claiming (among other things) that he eats prunes for breakfast and has bowel troubles.
It's all a very curious matter, and interested parties have speculated about the reasons behind the feud.
Some answers, though veiled in fiction, can be found in Paul Theroux's astonishing new novel, Mother Land.
Mother Land is a long, confounding, hilarious, horrifying story of a family held under the spell of a scheming mother. Eshewing conventional plot, Paul Theroux examines in painful detail the obssessive hold that his mother held upon her children. While ostensibly a work of fiction, there are too many parallels with the facts of the Theroux family to consider the book to be entirely untrue.
Paul Theroux is a shrewd observer of minute character detail and the keenest sense of atmosphere and place of any writer I know of. In sickening but blackly funny detail, often repeating himself time and again, Paul takes readers deep into the madness of these siblings. It had to be a painful yet exorcising experience.
Mother Land isn't a book I can recommend to just anyone. It's dense, maddening at times, but it's also powerful and moving. The book is also scarier than most horror novels I've read.
I've always said that horror is a genre about confrontation rather than escape, and being faced with how parts of my life and family resemble the dysfunctional family in Mother Land was not easy.
Equally hilarious and horrifying, I loved Mother Land without reservation. I can say with utter confidence that I will not read a better novel this year. Probably not this entire decade.
Wednesday, May 24. 2017
It was somewhere around the mid-late nineteen seventies. Me and a few friends used to spend weekends at one guy's house. We'd stay up late, gorge on snacks, watch TV, and talk shit. I was barely in my teen years.
One night we watched Night of the Living Dead. It was on an off UHF (Ultra High Frequency, to those who don't remember) station. I guess the movie was always in public domain. Anyway, you know the story. Ghouls (a far better description than zombie
, wouldn't you say?) had stormed an abandoned farmhouse, terrorizing bickering live people within.
The movie scared the hell out of us. None of us would admit it, but I know for damned sure it scared me. There hadn't really been anything like it at that time. The snowy reception of the channel only enhanced the newsreel feel of Night of the Living Dead, and helped its verité factor.
The director was George Romero, and he and his team managed to make a horror milestone. On a minuscule budget, no less. Romero followed it with two sequels, Dawn and Day, respectively. I love all three movies roughly the same. They all have their own subtext and flavor. Some were disappointed in Day of the Dead, but I always thought it was fantastic.
George Romero created the zombie movie genre, and I can't even allow myself to blame him for it. Until...
But wait, there's more. Romero made another horror masterpiece in Martin, a terrifying and brilliantly executed vampire movie. He created something truly special with Knightriders, a movie about a modern group of Arthurian motorcycle performers and the obsession of the group's leader. Romero hit all the right notes with Creepshow, a fun homage to the horror comics of days gone by.
I wasn't exactly nuts about Monkey Shines, Bruiser, or The Dark Half but none were out-and-out disasters.
Hey, I was on board with Land of the Dead, despite its shortcomings. I even saw it in the theater twice. Not only that, I didn't completely hate Diary of the Dead. Loyalty is a tenacious thing to some.
I drew the line with Survival of the Dead, which I absolutely hated. I found it to be tacky and an embarrassment to the legacy that came before it.
I kind of hoped Survival would be the end of the line with Romero and zombies. But no. Now we have learned that there will be a Road of the Dead, which will feature, yes Zombie Race Car drivers. George is co-writing it and allowing his collaborator to direct.
Maybe Road of the Dead will be a searing satire of the NASCAR set. One can hope. I'm afraid that I can't get my hopes very high with this one. It's literally one of the worst ideas I've ever heard.
Wednesday, May 10. 2017
James Beach has been a busy man. He is the founder of Dark Discoveries Magazine, he has organized conventions and record shows, he co-owns a music label, and now he is editing a series of deluxe Richard Laymon hardcovers for Dark Regions Press. He generously took time out of his frantic schedule to answer some questions about his work with the Laymon books.
Horror Drive-In: Hi James, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
James Beach: Thanks Mark. Happy to chat a bit about it!
HD-I: I take it you are a Richard Laymon fan?
JB: For sure! I discovered Laymon in about the mid-80s with The Cellar, his first novel. Loved it and started looking around for whatever I could find of his after that.
When I was publishing Dark Discoveries magazine many years later one of my goals was to publish a Richard Laymon story and in issue 19 I was very fortunate to do just that. It was going to be a reprint Ann Laymon was going to let me use, but I lucked out and ended up with a previously unpublished story instead.
HD-I: I stumbled upon The Cellar back then, too. There wasn't a lot of hype surrounding him at that point. Then, shortly after, his books became difficult to obtain in the States. Were you able to get British editions of his work?
JB: You're right there wasn't much really. I found Dark Of The Woods a while later and then Flesh, Funland, and some others as time went on. Even the British stuff didn't get a huge amount of distribution over here except for some specialty shops. I found some of those much later on at places like Wrigley Cross, Dark Delicacies, etc.
HD-I: I began ordering Headline paperbacks from The Overlook Connection.
So, how did you progress from fan to editing a line of deluxe Richard Laymon hardcovers?
JB: Well I published that story in Dark Discoveries and had the idea to do something on a larger scale. After I sold the magazine, I started working part time for Chris Morey at Dark Regions Press. He was very interested in doing a Laymon book. My initial idea was for a collection, but Kelly Laymon had some plans for a collection with some unpublished stories. So I decided to pursue doing deluxe editions of novels that never had such treatment. And include intros and afterwards from Richard Laymon's contemporaries. And some bonus materials as well. We pitched Ann Laymon at World Horror in Portland in 2014 and she had interest in actually letting us do three books so we made a deal.
HD-I: Was there any discussion of doing A Writer's Tale?
JB: Not really. Although both Chris Morey and I certainly would be interested in reprinting it if we could. I had a list of a few titles I knew hadn't had a deluxe signed limited treatment and that was what I pitched Ann Laymon. She did say that Kelly had been working on a reprint of Writer's Tale with the original guys that published it back then. And that there was some new material Dick had written towards a follow up that was never completed. So hopefully that will come out someday. A Writer's Tale is hands down one of the best books ever done on writing in my opinion and deserves a wider audience then the 500 or so people who saw the original one.
HD-I: You've done Night Show so far, and Funland comes next month. After that will be Midnight's Lair. There's a lot of Laymon titles to choose from. What stood out about these books that made you choose them?
JB: I had a list of a few titles that I thought never had a limited edition done and some that never even had a US hardcover. Night Show and Funland are two favorites of mine and I always liked Midnight's Lair as well. The first two only had paperbacks done in the states. Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Night Show never even had a U.K. Hardcover. Midnight's Lair was just a mass market PB and HC from St. Martin's. So it made sense for those three and Chris Morey and Ann Laymon felt the same. And so far fans have seemed to agree.
HD-I: I like these three, too. Funland especially.
Sales have been good, right? Will there be more Laymon to come from Dark Regions?
JB: Yeah I believe that Night Show is pretty much sold out. Possibly a handful of the numbered edition still left. The preorder for Funland starts in June and a lot of anticipation for it. And Midnight's Lair as well.
At this point no plans for more than the three but who knows. I think we'd like to see how it goes with these next two books.
HD-I: Can you tell me more about the supplementary materials?
JB: First off they have intros and afterwords by some of Dick's peers and mentorees like Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Bentley Little, Steve Gerlach and J.F. Gonzalez. Everybody except Gonzalez is signing/has signed the sheets as well. There is also material we are reprinting from A Writer's Tale, Mystery Scene, etc. that I collected together of essays by Laymon on the books and I created timelines from the book to show the original progress of the novels along the way to publication. Kelly Laymon has also dug around and found some very cool stuff that has never been published before for each book. Night Show has twenty pages of the handwritten and hand corrected manuscript of Night Show, under its original name Chill Master, and includes a little sketch of the theater by Laymon. Funland has some neat stuff as well with a few pages of plot and character development, story notes, ideas, etc. to accompany the timelines and "Laymon on Laymon" stuff. Midnight's Lair also will have some bonus stuff along the same lines as Funland.
HD-I: I came into serious horror fiction fandom around the time that Richard Laymon passed away, so I never got to meet the man. Did you, James?
JB: Sadly, I never did. I was going to go to the World Horror in Seattle in 2001, where he was to be the guest of honor, but he passed away before it happened. And then I didn't end up being able to make it up for that one anyway as I had to work (That sucked. Was still really looking forward to meeting Ray Bradbury. But later on did meet him and even had him in Dark Discoveries a couple times!). But I respect what Dick Laymon did for the HWA and I know a lot of people look fondly back upon when he was president. He died too young but I'm glad his work lives on and has continued to gain popularity. His books are still in print and easier to find nowadays. And the ebook line has gone well too. There's even a big group on Facebook devoted to Laymon. That's pretty cool.
And I'm honored to be able to help bring these neat limited editions out for people of three of his books I've always liked.
HD-I: Thanks, James, and I wish you the best of luck with the Richard Laymon books, and all of your future endeavors.
Please visit Dark Regions
for information on ordering these books, as well as numerous other fine publications.
The late, great Richard Laymon
Sunday, April 9. 2017
I'm in a long, slow process of moving. It's slow because I have been working a lot. A big emergency rush job at work that constituted a lot of overtime for a month. It's why I haven't updated this site much lately, too.
I've been going through stuff in the attic. There are tons of things up there. A lot of junk that was toted up there for no good reason. Misguided packrat mentality. But then there was also a lot of books, magazines, correspondences, etc.
I didn't mean to leave that stuff up there for so long. It's the kind of thing where you intend to do something about it, but there never seems to be enough time, or enough room for the stuff downstairs. Months go by. Years. A decade. More. Close to two decades for a lot of it. Nearly twenty years of intense heat, cold, dust, neglect.
It's heartbreaking. A lot of the stuff doesn't matter to me, but some of it does. Some of it meant the very world to me in times past. Books that I paid for and loved with all my heart. Magazines that were my lifeline to the genre in those pre-internet days. Videotapes. Letters, pictures, gifts from children.
Much of it is unsalvageable. Browned, brittle pages, irreparable dust damage, etc. So much isn't worth donating or anything.
I've gotten really emotional going through it all. In some ways it's a good thing. You have to move on here and there in your life. Excessive possessions slow us down, become burdens rather than bringing us joy.
I see the science fiction items from my youth. I worshiped that genre when I was in my teens and very early twenties. It hurts to have to trash that stuff, but that isn't what bothers me the most. Well, other than the personal, family, items.
For me the most vital years of the horror genre were from 1985-1990. I was a reader and viewer of it well before then, and I have been ever since those days. But it was that period that I was the most passionate about horror.
It was the birth of modern horror fiction, in my opinion. The era when chills and thrill met hard rock and roll midnight movies. A new breed of writer who grew up on Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The so-called Splatterpunk guys dragged the genre out of rural areas, away from leather arm patches, and the upper middle class, and plunked it down in the hard streets. Punk and heavy metal sensibilities conjoined with gore movie outrageousness.
It was an amazing time to be a reader. So exciting and so many new things to discover. The Golden Age of Horror Fiction.
Great things came before and after, to be sure. And it's a good time right now. The whole Kindle/e-book thing is leveling out now, and new writers are bringing outrageously inventive scares to the table.
But back then? It felt new and anarchic.
By the mid-eighties nearly everyone could afford a VCR and horror fans were rejoicing in the discoveries of past gems on tape. I have old tapes, and magazines that celebrated the phenomenon.
So much of it is gone, gone.
Sure, it's better today, right? We have pristine editions of horror movies, good and bad, on Blu Ray. We can watch trailers and behind the scenes footage till we're blue in the face. Interviews and retrospectives and reviews abound on the internet.
And, yeah, my life is better than it ever has been. I have a respectable job, I can afford books (even if I can't buy the expensive collector's items that are available), and I have a happier home life than I ever dreamed I would have.
Still, I sometimes long for the days when my love of horror was more innocent and unspoilt. I'm a lot more cynical about it now. Too much product coming out, and I find the quality of too much of it to be lacking.
Digital photography and editing in modern movies looks phony and unappealing to me.
Having everything at my fingertips takes a lot of the fun out of it for me.
But then I think of newish writers like Daniel Kraus, Caroline Kepnes, Jonathan Janz, Riley Sager, Grady Hendrix, and I smile. I'm going back to reread beloved books of my past with more mature eyes, and I find many of them to be even better than I remembered. I think of the upcoming Scares That Care Convention, and I anticipate hanging out with horror fiction fans. I rejoice that, despite losing so many important figures in the genre, so many are still with us, and still producing wonderful work.
Moving on. It's important to our growth as human beings. We hold on to some of the past, and we let a lot of it go. It hurts, but it also feels good.
I also anticipate the future of the genre. It seems like I have spent a lifetime delving into horror, but I'm not that old yet. I think I have two or three more decades to go at this stuff. I don't plan to stop. I won't like all the new trends, and I won't like all the new writers, but I bet that I'll love a lot of it. A love of the fantastic, the horrific, the imaginative, keeps us young at heart, and that's what we get back from the financial and emotional investment longtime fans like myself have put into it.
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 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.