Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Tuesday, November 26. 2013
My faith in humanity has faltered over the years. Most individuals are not bad, but when they become part of a corporation, decency seems to go out the window.
I was doing some rush grocery shopping on Friday morning. I have been going to Trader Joe's, because I love the quality of the products and the service there. My money was tight, so I went to everyone's favorite boogeyman retailer, Wal Mart. It was before work and I ended up running late. I had my cart filled, and I came to the front and only one lane was open. A long line was waiting in front of it.
I let out an "OH MAN!", and was about to leave the cart and go. A woman employee asked if everything was all right. I replied that I had to get to work. "C'MON!", she yelled.
She whisked me to the jewelry counter and said, "This man has to get to WORK! Help me!".
Another employee ran up and two of them were bagging while the other rang the stuff up. I literally could not get my items to the counter fast enough.
That was shocking. You don't see that kind of service often.
That evening I went to Jiffy Lube. I was traveling the next morning and the service was due. I asked the attendant to give me the synthetic blend deal. "Mr. Sieber, you have always gone with full synthetic", he said as he looked at my account on his screen. I replied that I was trying to save a buck. "You've been doing so well. I hate to see you change now". His voice lowered so others waiting did not hear. "I can apply these discount codes and give you the synthetic oil at the same price as the blend", he conspiratorially whispered. Astonished, I thanked him and he said that he just wanted me to continue to come there.
And now, due to an act of supreme stupidity on my part, I accidentally paid my car payment twice in one day. Double came out and then there was not enough funds in my account to cover my mortgage payment, which was due to come out this Friday.
Frantic, I called Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. The lady was ridiculously nice and asked how I would like it if they were to skip two payments and have them start back up on Dec. 27th. I pay twice-monthly. Again, I was astonished at this act of decency and, yes, humanity. The lady told me that she hoped this would help me have a merry Christmas.
I guess it all isn't so bad after all. I'm sure my patience and faith in our species will be challenged again, and soon, but for now I feel a little proud of being a human being.
Tuesday, November 12. 2013
A movie with a generic, RomCom-friendly title like Stuck in Love? A must-see for horror fans? Sure.
I'm not going to stand on this soapbox and proclaim Stuck in Love to be the best movie of 2013. Blue Jasmine holds that position, and I can't see anything replacing it in the next month-and-a-half. Nor is it my favorite of the year. I'd have to go with The Way, Way Back for that.
Stuck in Love is a good movie, though. It may be a little predictable, but its sincerity, smart dialogue, and all-around good performances make it well worth watching.
There are a few other reasons to watch this one.
For one thing, I'm pretty sure it's the only studio movie to date that has a Cemetery Dance book in it.
Stuck in Love is the story of a family of writers. Greg Kinnear is the divorced father of two young adults. He is a successful novelist, but he cannot get over his divorce. The oldest child is his daughter, who just sold her debut novel to Scribners. The youngest is a teenage boy trying to find his own literary voice.
The girl fancies herself a realist, and rejects the notion of love. Instead, she seeks experience and sensation without commitment. The boy is a hopeless romantic, and therefor is lonely and awkward. Changes are in store for both of them, as well as the father, who needs to take steps to move along with his stagnant life.
The beautiful Jennifer Connelly is the ex wife, and Kristen Bell has a fluffy role as Kinnear's NSA (No Strings Attached, in modern datespeak) gal pal. Logan Lerman, who was so good in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, plays a love interest of the daughter.
What really makes this cool for us is how the son is a big Stephen King fan. King is discussed in Stuck in Love, and the deluxe CD edition of It makes a cameo appearance. King himself sneaks into the movie in an odd way.
Stuck in Love was written and directed by Josh Boone, and it is his first movie. It's a strong debut and I expect to see great things from him in the future. These things tend to be false rumors, but he is supposedly on tap to direct an adaptation of King's Lisey's Story. I was not a big fan of that book, but if Stuck in Love is any indication of Boone's talent, he is a good choice for the movie.
Monday, November 4. 2013
Do you hate Audible.com as much as I do? I...
Wait, allow me to backpedal a bit.
I started getting into audio fiction in a big way a few months ago. I was listening to a lot of music in my car, but I'd been playing so many records at home that I needed a break.
It started with one of my all-time favorite books. I bought an MP3 CD of Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky for a road trip I was taking. I played it through twice and really loved it. Since then I have listened to quite a few books, including Lansdale's Vanilla Ride, Heinlein's The Menace from Earth, F. Paul Wilson's Cold City, Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, Ed Gorman's Different Kinds of Dead, David Morrell's Nightscape, King's Night Shift and a few others.
You may not think you drive enough to make it through a whole novel in any kind of decent time, but short drives really add up. I'm around ten minutes from my job, and between that and the odds and ends driving I do, I get through a book pretty quickly.
I tend to listen to books I have already read. Like many readers, I like to revisit beloved books, but can rarely find time between the new stuff I am working on.
I have found audiobooks to be highly relaxing. I used to build up a lot of impatience when behind the wheel, and often for no great reason. Now when I am enjoying a book when driving, I take my time. I don't rush at the yellow light so much. It's a good antidote for road rage.
Of course I do not enjoy all the books I try to listen to. Some audio readers have rubbed me wrong. Then again, I've discovered wonderful talents like Phil Gaganti and Stefan Rudnicki.
The damned audiobooks can be expensive. Multi-disc sets can set you back a bundle. I tend to enjoy MP3 discs. Not as much changing of discs, and the cost is much lower. Still at around twenty bucks or more a pop, it gets expensive.
I was buying a lot of used audiobooks. I want to give royalties to authors, but my own bottom line often prevents that from happening.
Then there is Audible.com. They are an Amazon company, and they control a big chunk of the audiobook market. I don't like them for a variety of reasons.
One, Amazon is rapidly getting a stranglehold over the entire e-commence world. Many do not mind that at all. I don't think it's healthy for the system.
Two, Audible wants to snare you into a contract where you get a monthly charge. An extra bill is the last thing I want or need. Especially when I have a tight month, which happens a lot.
Finally, Audible is a huge, convoluted mess as far as I am concerned. You have to download the 'free' Audible Manager program. I never saw a way to choose what file I wanted. I downloaded one book. It was Paul Theroux's amazing The Lower River. I still have not been able to listen to it. I loaded it on to a flash drive, but my car did not recognize the files. I'm sure there are ways to do it, but I do not feel like jumping through a lot of hoops to listen to a book.
Audible seems to cater to those who listen with a device of some kind. A phone, an e-reader, a tablet. God knows what all. Me, I like things simple. The easier these contraptions are supposed to make our lives, the harder they seem to me.
Some will think I am an idiot. That's fine with me. People think I practically perform magic in the machine shop. I say that stuff is easy. It depends upon one's experience and they way his or her brain functions.
I found an alternative to Audible.com. It is cheap, simple and easy to use. And as far as I know the company is on the up-and-up, and creators of the intellectual property get paid.
The company is, of course, The Audio Bookshop.
The Audio Bookshop is a fairly new enterprise, and at least for now, their library is fairly small. However, they have some books by writers who are much admired by readers of this website. You'll find audiobooks by Brian Keene (The Rising!), Jonathan Janz, Jack Ketchum, Rio Youers, Tim Lebbon, H.P. Lovecraft, Ronald Malfi, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others.
I downloaded Ketchum's Hide and Seek. This was the first book by him that I ever read, and it remains a favorite. Plus, the first person narrative of the novel lends itself nicely to the audio format. Best of all, the reader, Wayne June, does a great job with the story.
Oh, did I say that the best part is the reader? No, that is not accurate. The very best part of the deal is the price. A full-length, unabridged audiobook for the sum of $3.00. Yep, three bucks. It must have been a temporary sale, because most of the books are around ten dollars now. Which is still around 33% cheaper than Audible.
The download process was simple and the files were user friendly MP3s. I don't love MP3s for music, but they are more than adequate for audiobooks. It worked like a charm, I did not need to install some program, and I dragged and dropped the book onto a flash drive. No fuss, no muss.
And you don't have to sign up to be monthly gouged to shop at The Audio Bookshop.
I said that The Audio Bookshop has a small library at the moment. One thing can change that. Success. If they sell a lot of these ridiculously low-priced audiobooks, it is almost certain that more will become available.
The Audio Bookshop is owned by Audio Realms
. Audio Realms has audiobooks by Garton, Lee, Laymon, Bryan Smith, Mary Sangiovanni, Nate Kenyan, and Thomas Tessier, to name a few, as well as many other titles by Keene, Ketchum, and more favorites. Hopefully more will migrate over to The Audio Bookstore.
Most of us wish we had more time to read, and now you can make use of your driving time with audiofiction, and for an unbeatable price. So far I am extremely pleased with Ketchum's Hide and Seek, and the next one I download/purchase will be Brian Keene's The Rising.
Tuesday, October 29. 2013
One of the nice things about the Halloween season is the plethora of horror everywhere. It's the one time of years where we almost seem normal.
I was having a quiet meal by myself a week or two ago, and the restaurant had some TV screens playing. I was alone, with a book (of course), but my attention was diverted to what was playing on the TVs. It was A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
For personal reasons that I don't care to go into here and now, I almost never watch movies at home any more. I miss it, but it frees my time up for other things.
I felt a pang in my heart as I watched Englund hamming it up as Freddy. The Dream Child is my least favorite in the series, even considering Freddy's Dead. As far as I am concerned, Freddy Vs. Jason doesn't count. And though I do consider it to be one of the original movies, Wes Craven's New Nightmare doesn't really fit into what I am talking about here.
Though the fifth in the outrageously popular Elm Street series is my least favorite, I still like it. A lot.
It's easy to criticize the later Elm Street movies. I can dig it. I mean, they are pretty silly. Especially when one considers the first one and how tense it was.
Are they good movies? Bad movies? I don't think it's quite fair to call movies from, oh, 3-6, good or bad. Certainly they are not what many would consider to be quality motion pictures. On the other hand, I think they are successful because they achieved what the filmmakers intended to do.
These movies are showcases of special makeup and visual effects. Some of the best shops working then were heavily involved in the elaborate set pieces the screenwriters concocted. Computers were used, certainly, but most of the effects were done conventionally. And I love them for that.
Oh yes, these are silly movies, but that is what audiences wanted from Freddy. The attempts at humor grew with each successive entry. Whether they succeeded is up to the individual. I always got a kick out of them.
In retrospect it was a great time. For the genre and in my own life. I was much younger and my love of horror was boundless. I saw all the movies, and I liked them all.
Freddy Krueger was big, big box office money for a while there. The audience for these movies transcended the relatively small cadre of horror fans. Freddy struck a chord in society with the first Elm Street movie, and a lot of people hung on for the ride as the series went on.
It was always good to see Freddy's grinning mug on the cover of Fangoria. It usually meant that either a new Nightmare was playing, or was on the way.
Some people say that these movies are not horror, but I do not agree. Horror is a broad umbrella and many approaches fall under the darkness it creates. I consider these movies to be Funhouse Horror, and those type of horror movies have been coming out since James Whale delighted audiences with The Bride of Frankenstein and The Old Dark House.
I'm not the kind of old guy who decries all modern horror movies. Though I do strongly dislike things like Saw and Rob Zombie movies, I have greatly enjoyed a lot of genre movies that have been released in the last decade.
But I seriously doubt that any of them will give me the nostalgia of the Freddy Krueger movies. Of all the horror franchises I think this series is the most watchable throughout the entire run of movies. Jason grew turgid, Michael got boring, Pinhead became trite, and Leatherface lost his edge. Despite how trivial and silly the later Elm Street movies are, they are at least entertaining.
You've got to hand it to New Line, too. They at least tried to get some real talent with the writing. William Kotzwinkle worked on Part 4, and Splatterpunk posterboys John Skipp and Craig Spector were recruited to write The Dream Child. Too bad almost nothing of Skipp and Spector's was up on the screen in the finished product. At least that is what I have heard.
The inevitable Nightmare on Elm Street remake came along a few years ago. Reactions from fans was mixed, but I felt it was a game effort. Competent, watchable, entertaining enough, but unfortunately forgettable. The Freddy remake bombed at the box office. Times have changed and moviegoers want something else.
Come to think of it, The Dream Child was not much of a moneymaker either. The 90's were nearly upon us when it came out, and the good old days of FX-heavy horror comedy sequels were numbered. It saddened me then as it saddens me now.
Thursday, October 17. 2013
I know that it is considered hip to disdain remakes, but I have always looked forward to them. And, really, the trend has died down a bit in the last few years. Most of the successful horror movies in recent memory have been low budget, original productions.
The original Carrie is not only a horror milestone, but an important motion picture regardless of genre. It broke several taboos, and it touched on elements that had rarely been dealt with in the movies before. The movie is sad, warm, infuriating, and scary in varying degrees. Even the final Gotcha! moment, which was admittedly a bit of a cheap shot, was innovative. The producers of Friday the 13th and countless others stole it.
Brian DePalma was at the height of his skills as a filmmaker when he made Carrie. It is arguably his finest motion picture.
And perhaps most importantly, Carrie introduced the name of Stephen King to millions of moviegoers.
So, why remake it?
That's easy. The primary audience for this sort of movie is from age 15-25. And, the sad fact of it is, these kids are not going to watch an old movie. Sure, a few of them will, but it is a rare young bird who is interested in older movies.
As wonderful as DePalma's Carrie is, it is a bit dated. The picture was compromised as well. Carrie's demonic rage was much more devastating in King's novel. I assume that budgetary restrains prevented the old movie to do the finale the way King wrote it.
King describes Carrie as overweight and pimply, and obviously ChloŽ Grace Moretz is a breathtakingly beautiful young woman. That's Hollywood for you, and you might as well bitch about the high concessions prices and the abundance of ads before the feature presentation at the movie house. I complain about that stuff, too, but it does not prevent me from going to the movies.
Then there is Julienne Moore as Carrie's religious fanatic mother. Piper Laurie was excellent in the original, but Moore just might top that performance. She is one of my favorite actresses.
, folks. Time to stop being cynical and start being enthusiastic. Carrie has all the makings of a fun, scary, ghoulish time at the movies. And besides, when was the last time you saw a good King story on the big screen? The Mist?
If Carrie is as good as I hope (pray!) it will be, we can look forward to yet another remake by the same screenwriter, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. He has written the script for The Town That Dreaded Sundown. I live for this shit.
Thursday, October 10. 2013
Here's one that should be familiar to the old timers. Who remembers S&H Green Stamps?
My mother was a passionate saver of them, and she gleefully pasted them onto the provided booklets. She would dreamily gaze at the things she could get in the S&H catalog. If she sent us to the store for something, no matter how small, if we lost or didn't have the stamps for any reason, we faced her stern disapproval.
I mostly remember them from the 1960's. They went on, I have seen, until the late 80's, but the craze seemed to die down sometime in the 1970's. The incentives were not as good, it seemed, and fewer stores were involved in them.
For every penny you spent, you received a one point stamp. The weekly shopping trip for a family of seven could yield a lot of stamp buildup.
S&H Green Stamps were created by Thomas Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson. Think the latter's parents were literature fans?
There were other stamps, but S&H ruled them all. They were so big that, for a while in the '60's, the S&H Green Stamp Catalog was the largest publication of any kind in the world.
It was a cool incentive plan, and my mother was far from the only housewife who religiously saved them. I'm sure there must have been some who did not participate, but I didn't know any.
I have been listening to Stephen King's Carrie in my car, preparing for the upcoming remake. Which I happen to be excited as hell about. That cool prank
, that everyone has already seen, has really added to the anticipation.
Early on in Carrie, King writes that Carrie's mother, Margaret, obtained a clock with green stamps. Carrie considered asking her if the use of green stamps was sinful, as so many other things her mother decried. Carrie was afraid to ask and I don't blame her. It got me thinking about the days of green stamp saving and redemption.
Looking back, the Green Stamp craze was a wistful time, when hard-working people scrimped and saved for luxuries. Few regular people had credit cards, and those who did did not seem to abuse them.
Monday, September 30. 2013
Splatterpunk is the little handmade zine that packs a lot of talent into its pages.
I want to congratulate Jack Bantry on the completion of the third issue of Splatterpunk. It can't be easy. Especially in this day and age when most readers demand their product to be delivered in seconds. What happened to patience?
Bantry is a resident of England, so that makes it doubly difficult for American horror readers to order a copy. I urge everyone to do so, for more than one reason.
For one, Splatterpunk is a labor of love. Or, more correctly, a labor of passion. Jack Bantry obviously feels passionately about the horror genre. He definitely isn't doing this for the money.
Splatterpunk harkens back to a time when this is how amateur publications were manufactured and delivered. From fan to fan, with pros giving of their talents because they believe in this sort of thing.
Another reason you should buy Splatterpunk #3 is the content of the issue. Here's a rundown of what you will find inside it...
The cover, which is reproduced here, is by the talented Alex McVey. I think it's one of his better pieces.
Publisher/Editor Jack Bantry starts off the proceedings with a nostalgic trip into his past as a horror fan.
Tim Lebbon gives a heartfelt tribute and offers his gratitude to the late, massively influential, James Herbert.
Jeani Rector, editor of The Horror Zine
, offers up sound advice for writers attempting to get published. I am not in that category, but I enjoyed the feature nonetheless.
The Fiction begins with a good one from J.F. Gonzalez. Gonzalez often writes what may be considered hardcore horror fiction, but this story, Balance, is more of a Twilight Zone-type piece.
Ryan C. Thomas is one of my favorites of the newer breed of horror writer, and I liked his story in this issue. It's called Ginsu Gary and it is satirical along the lines of his underrated novel, Ratings Game.
Squash, by Nathan Robinson and Jack Bantry, seems to be inspired by those great E.C. Comics. It's a fun, ghastly tale.
The final story was my least favorite, but I still liked it. Robert Ford's Maggie Blue is about a hooker on the run from her pimp and the life she led in the city. It is well-written, but unnecessarily nauseating at times.
There is also an amusing interview with Jeff Strand, and another with Paul Fry, of SST Publications
Splatterpunk #3 ends with reviews of books by faves like James Newman, David J. Schow, J.F. Gonzalez, and others.
Oh yeah, did I mention interior illustrations by fan favorite Glenn Chadbourne?
I mentioned above that Splatterpunk is a labor of love by Jack Bantry. I'm sure he squeaks by on a shoestring budget. He not only needs your support, he deserves it. All three issues of Splatterpunk have been top notch, and for him to continue he must sell magazines. These kind of publications are few and far between these days. Let's keep this one alive.
Wednesday, September 11. 2013
When a writer announces that he is writing a sequel to one of his most popular and seminal works, it is natural for fans to have equal feelings of excited anticipation and trepidation.
But we are not talking about just any writer here. This is Stephen King. Undoubtedly the most important writer the genre has known since H.P. Lovecraft. Some might argue that he has had more impact than Lovecraft.
And this is The Shining
sequel. Very few would disagree that The Shining is one of the handful of genuine masterpieces in the history of horror literature. It is the book that put King on the map as not only a great horror writer, but one of the most interesting writers in the world.
I ought to know, because I was one of the doubters.
I was a science fiction reader, but I also liked horror. I had read Lovecraft, Levin, Matheson, Bloch, and I was beginning to read some modern writers in the genre, like Charles L. Grant. Like the idiot I can be, I assumed that this Stephen King upstart was a trashy bestseller. A spooky equivalent of Sidney Sheldon, or Judith Krantz.
One night I was staying at a friend's and I was up late. Could not sleep, so I picked up a book from the shelf. It was The Shining. Expecting to be less than impressed, I started reading it. And immediately I was taken away into the troubled mind of Jack Torrence.
Not only was I a fan right away, I think it is safe to say that I had a new favorite writer. This
is what I had been waiting for.
The writing in The Shining was so sharp, so perceptive. It reminded me a little bit of Philip K. Dick, but as much as I admire the mind and talent of that SF innovator, Stephen King writing was immeasurably richer. Perhaps because Dick had come up from the pulps, and while I know that King read and enjoyed his share of that type of writing, he also had an academic background.
It's kind of an unbeatable package: Genre fiction written in a literary style. Many have attempted it. Few have succeeded the way King has. And King himself has rarely succeeded as well as he did with The Shining.
I've been a King fan ever since. Like most readers, I loved some of the books, others didn't work so well with me. I never stopped coming back to see what he had in store for his constant readers next.
It pains me to say it, but King's work has been especially hit and miss for me in the last decade. I am very happy to say that, for me as a reader, he has been on one hell of a roll since Duma Key. I thought that one was terrific, and I also loved Full Dark No Stars, 11/23/62, Under the Dome, Blockade Billy, and especially Joyland.
Stephen King announced a sequel to The Shining a while back, and it was promised to be a return to the King of Olde. The guy whose job it was to scare the living hell out of his readers.
I saw a lot of guarded excitement. Rumors of a psychic cat worried fans. Myself included. Still, who could resist the idea of King returning to The Shining? Not many. Surely not I.
I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of Dr. Sleep recently. My excitement was palpable. This is surely the horror fiction event of a lifetime. Though I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check, it was nearly impossible. The very idea of getting back acquainted with Danny Torrence, his mother Wendy, Dick Hallorann, and even Danny's imaginary (or is he?) friend, Tony, seemed almost too good to be true.
How could anything live up to it? Could even King pull it off? Painful memories of Son of Rosemary sprang to mind as I held the book.
I could not be happier to report that he succeeded. Magnificently. I can not imagine a finer Shining sequel than Dr. Sleep.
Danny Torrence, now grown, is an alcoholic. He inherited the malady from his father. Having hit a particularly ugly bottom, Danny finds acceptance in a new city with new friends. He gets a job as a hospice and earns the name, Dr. Sleep, because he eases the passage of dying patients into the next realm. Yet the shining has never left him and he senses need from a child. Just as Hallorann knew that young Danny needed help in The Shining, adult Danny becomes aware of a young girl named Abra. A girl who shares his gift. A girl who is in deadly danger from a group of traveling beings who gain sustenance by ingesting the essence of human beings. But they will gain much more if they can devour Abra.
Stephen King is a multi-faceted writer, and his works can be taken on various levels. The Shining is a terrifying story of a haunted hotel, and it can be enjoyed as such. Some have speculated that The Shining is a metaphor for alcoholism. Jack Torrence is an alcoholic in a very shaky recovery, and there are definitely some haunted rooms in his mind. He returns to drinking and brings destruction upon himself and his family.
Dr. Sleep is an exciting, scary, suspenseful story of a man still haunted by his own past, but he also feels bound to assist a badly frightened little girl. It can be looked upon as a story of intervention.
Those who have read King's On Writing know that he is a former substance abuser and a resounding success in his struggles with it. Alcoholics Anonymous plays an integral part in Dr. Sleep. This might scare more readers off than the psychic cat, but believe me, it does not slow the story down a bit. On the contrary, I found it to be fascinating and inspiring.
Dr. Sleep is a horror novel, and it does its job well. It is also a deeply spiritual story. I've seen the question arise about whether horror can be life affirming. Dr. Sleep answers that question with a resounding YES.
Stephen King has never been in finer form than here, in Dr. Sleep. I'd say that it is like the old King many of us fell in love with in the 1980's, but that would be inaccurate. He is better than he ever has been.
No book will please all readers, and surely there will be those who dislike Dr. Sleep. I truly believe that these will be in the small minority. Trust me, you are going to love it.
And, please, don't worry too much about that psychic cat.
Wednesday, September 4. 2013
I have a theory. I think that when a reader--a passionate reader--has been a fan of a particular writer for a long time...I'm talking about decades, he or she might mourn more than if it were an actor. Or an athlete. A director or an artist. Especially when the writer in question has been prolific in both fiction and nonfiction. We have been in the writer's head. Intimately. It's almost as if the brain waves of the writer were transported into the longtime reader's own mind.
2013 has been a terrible year for readers. Especially genre readers. We have sustained so many losses. Richard Matheson. Rick Hautala. James Herbert. Jack Vance. Elmore Leonard. David B. Silva. I'm sure there have been others, but these names come painfully to mind right away.
And now we have lost the incomparable Frederik Pohl. The above names are all legends, and each of them mean the world to me. But Frederik Pohl? This one hurts most of all.
I'm hardly the first one to say this, but Pohl has been just about everything imaginable in the science fiction field: Fan, agent, editor, novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, lecturer.
Somehow Frederik Pohl never made the transition from genre heavyweight to the bestseller list. He might have had some things up there, but he certainly never attained the breakthrough recognition as the so-called "Big Three" did. This is definitely not because he was not their equal as a writer. It is arguable that he was more consistent with quality fiction than any of those guys.
I talk to people who are SF readers from time to time. Few seem to have even heard of Frederik Pohl. That is such a goddamn shame. Pohl was one of the most influential figures in the history of the field.
Pohl was there at the beginning. First Fandom. There with all the feuds and festivity of the very first science fiction convention. As an organizer of the event, Frederik Pohl helped pave the way for future cons like World Horror, NECON, Chiller, Comic-Con, all of them.
In his teen years he was one of the founders of the writing group, The Futurians. Over the years the club had members like Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Donald Wollheim, C.M. Kornbluth, and many others. These individuals become some of the biggest names in the history of the SF genre. Damon Knight wrote a book about the group, called appropriately enough, The Futurians. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is informative, entertaining, hysterically funny, and a little sad.
He began his long career in publishing in 1937, with a poem called Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna. In 1939 Pohl stumbled into the position of editing not one, but two, SF magazines: Astonishing Stories, and Super Science Stories. These were second-rate periodicals, but they were learning ground for his editorial skills.
Pohl wrote and sold stories regularly. He would fill the pages of his magazines with his own fiction at times, usually under a pen name. All told he used nearly a dozen pseudonyms in his career.
He tried his hand at being a literary agent, representing among other writers, Isaac Asimov. This venture did not prove to be lucrative, and he returned to writing and editing.
In the 1950's, Frederik Pohl took over the reigns of Galaxy Magazine, and its sister publication, Worlds of If. In this time he became one of the most important editors in the history of the field, winning numerous awards for the quality of the fiction he acquired for them.
Pohl was a prolific writer all through these periods. He wrote and published under his own solo byline, but also collaborated with other writers, most notably C.M. Kornbluth. The two authors were responsible for one of the most enduring classics of the time, The Merchants of Space. Pohl also wrote with Jack Williamson and Lester del Ray. Much later he helped Arthur C. Clarke with The Last Theorem.
The fiction of Frederik Pohl was often acidly satirical. A frequent target of his was consumerism and corruption in advertising.
Frederik Pohl became an established novelist, but after 1965's The Age of the Pussyfoot, it was over a decade until another one came out under his name. 1976 saw the publication of Man Plus, and while his early work was notable, with this one he emerged as one of the finest talents in the genre. It won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. But that was only the beginning...
Gateway, by Frederik Pohl, was published he following year, in 1977. It was a revelation and it took science fiction as a literary art to new heights. Not as preachy as Heinlein's counterculture hit, Stranger in a Strange Land, nor as befuddling as Clarke's 2001, Gateway contained elements of the sexual revolution, and recreational drug use was present.
Gateway is the captivating story of an everyman who wins a chance to earn a fortune, or lose his life, in a space jaunt courtesy of an ancient race called The Heechee. The novel is rich in humor and sociological observations, as well as the trappings of the SF genre that readers craved. Once again Pohl swept the major awards. For the second consecutive year. Gateway won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. It also spawned five sequels and a tribute anthology. Gateway makes the very short list of greatest science fiction novels of all time. If you have not read it, you should. Posthaste.
Pohl continued to write outstanding fiction. Novels like JEM, Stardust, The Cool War, The Day the Martians Came, and many others. His 1986 short story, Fermi and Frost, was the Hugo winner of that year.
I also highly recommend Pohl's autobiography, The Way the Future Was. It is not only the story of his life up to 1978, but the book also serves as a history of the science fiction fiction genre. From a guy who was there every step of the way.
Oh, and I almost neglected to mention his marvelous anthologies. Pohl edited many of them, but the best of the lot were the Star Science Fiction Stories books that he edited. These contained all original stories and were the SF equivalent of horror anthology series' like Shadows, Borderlands, and Shivers.
Frederik Pohl won his final Hugo Award in 2010 for, of all things, Best Fan Writer. This was bestowed upon him for his online webpage, The Way the Future Blogs.
On September 13th, 2013, at the venerable age of 93, Frederik Pohl departed this world.
People in the know love and respect the work of Frederik Pohl. Too many others, George Lucas bootlickers especially, know nothing of it. Even though Pohl's work as a writer and an editor influenced virtually everything that has been watched or read in the science fiction genre.
For me Frederik Pohl was as a God on Olympus. Casting spells down upon mortals and shaping the lives and events beneath him. The has never been anyone like him, and there never will be anyone like him again.
Sunday, September 1. 2013
The slasher movie is alive and not doing so badly.
Some might argue that You're Next is not precisely a slasher movie. It does not feature the teenage or young adult cast that nearly all slasher classics have, but that doesn't mean a lot to me. As far as I am concerned, a slasher movie could take place in a senior citizen's assisted living home. Which, come to think of it, wouldn't be a bad idea for a movie.
The twist in You're Next is that the cast is mostly a dysfunctional family. These people are almost as bad as my own relatives, so I could certainly relate.
A wealthy couple invite their grown children and their significant others to their secluded home. It's a reunion of sorts, and they hope to have a warm, sentimental time. Instead they get bucketfuls of wholesale slaughter.
I'm not going to make outrageous claims that You're Next is a milestone of the genre. It's pretty predictable and the acting is sometimes creaky. But the movie is ably done, and there is some nice tension and suspense.
What I liked about You're Next is, while there are some moments of comedy, overall it is a serious horror pic. I also like that it was reportedly made for just under a million dollars. That's chickenfeed in today's movie climate, but You're Next looks professional and is well directed. It loses some points with me for relying a little too much on distracting shakey-cam techniques. I would have liked to have seen more lingering camera shots and not so much rapid editing, but it wasn't too bad. Especially compared to some of the motion sickness-inducing dreck out there.
I liked the Final Girl in You're Next, too. She was sweet and very attractive, but she also was tough as nails. That's refreshing in this sort of thing.
I could put on my critic hat and rip You're Next to shreds, but I really did enjoy it. This site is called Horror Drive-In, and I try to evoke the spirit of when me and my friends used to go to the local outdoor theaters and thrill to the horror shows. If I could have a good time with movies like Blood Beach and The Mutilator back then, I can certainly do so with a competent movie like You're Next. Despite the wart or two on its hide.
I've seen better in recent months, such as the surprisingly effective Smiley, but I've definitely seen worse. The more-expensively-produced House at the End of the Street comes painfully to mind.
If you like this sort of thing, and you know who you are, I recommend that you get out and support low budget horror at the movie theater. See You're Next and you might just have a good time with it.
Tuesday, August 27. 2013
Ever been to a drive-in movie? I have good memories of me as a little kid wearing spaceship pajamas and watching a double feature from the back seat of our car. Maybe you have a treasured memory like that, and if so, youíll be glad to know that drive-ins are experiencing a rebirth in the new millennium.
Almost 500 open, abandoned, and former sites of drive-ins in 49 states were visited in the making of this film. That alone is reason enough to want to watch, but April Wright also does an excellent job of tracking the rise and fall of this cultural icon in the context of American entertainment history. From the first bed sheets hung in the trees for a screen in 1933 (that was in Camden, New Jersey, and admission was only 25 cents a carload) through the heyday in 1958 when drive-ins boasted playgrounds and concessions that made the places more like theme parks (including pony rides, mini golf, and bumper cars) than outdoor cinema.
Interviews with cinema legend Roger Corman and Richard Hollingshead III, who is the son of the inventor of the drive-in, provide insight into how drive-ins evolved and changed with the times.
Daylight Savings Time changed the drive-ins, since when that was adopted, most parents didnít want to bring their younger kids to see a movie that started when it got dark at 9 p.m. The introduction of the television certainly took a bite out of the drive-in market share, making it easier for families with younger children to stay home, watch their own movies and eat their own popcorn.
However, as parents stayed home with the little kids and the 60s brought youth unrest and the civil rights movement, the drive-ins began to feature fewer family films and more movies to attract a teenage and adult audience, which included beach/biker/gang movies, horror, science fiction, martial arts and exploitation films.
That seems ideal for those of us who love those kinds of movies (and for a while they enjoyed success and popularity at the drive-in), but new challenges to the drive-ins began to arrive every year, from the development of the VHS to the gas crisis. Many drive-ins fell into disrepair and faced insurance issues from neglected playgrounds, fire hazards in faulty speakers, and screens damaged by floods or high winds.
For a while, it looked as if the drive-in as an entertainment option would be gone forever. Then certain cities began to experiment with outdoor movie settings that brought groups of people away from home computers and televisions and put them on blankets and lawn chairs under the stars to watch movies together. As that began to happen, the drive-in audience as a viable market began to grow again, and some drive-ins have reopened, while others are opening for business for the first time.
Fans of both the drive-in and movie history will enjoy this documentary. It includes special features such as classic concession trailers and footage of the landmark Route 66 Admiral Twin in Tulsa, which won a $35,000 grant from Hampton Inns' Save-A-Landmark program.
More information is available at www.goingattractions.com
Laura Long is a writer who lives in Sevierville, Tennessee. She owns and operates the website, Celebrate Knoxville
Sunday, August 11. 2013
If I had to choose one writer who I consider to be the most neglected, under-read, under-appreciated in the entire field of horror fiction, it would certainly be Ray Russell.
I would compare Russell with giants of the genre like Richard Matheson or Robert Bloch. He was not as prolific as those and other writers, but his influence on horror fiction is undeniable.
Russell wrote numerous short stories, the most famous of which is Sardonicus. It was filmed by William Castle as Mr. Sardonicus. Castle's meager skills at directing motion pictures prevented the movie from being the classic it could have been, but I do applaud him for attempting it.
Roger Corman, who is often unjustly referred to as a Schlockmeister, also used Russell's talent. X-The Man With X-Ray Eyes was written by Ray Russell. It's one of the few genuinely thoughtful and frightening SF pictures of its day. He also co-wrote (with Charles Beaumont) The Premature Burial for Corman.
Ray Russell's exorcism novel, The Case Against Satan, predated William Peter Blatty's much more famous and successful novel by nearly a decade. It also dealt with a possessed young woman. Is it possible that Blatty read Russell's novel and was directly or indirectly influenced by it? One cannot be sure, but it seems like a possibility.
Even if Blatty was influenced by Russell, nothing can take away from the cultural significance of both the novel and the film of The Exorcist.
My favorite Ray Russell novel is Incubus. Incubus may seem tame by the standards of hardcore and transgressive fiction that has come out since 1976, but it was a bold book in its day. It, like The Exorcist, had graphic sexual content, but was also brilliantly written. Incubus was rather ineptly filmed in 1982.
I consider him to be one of the finest and most important writers in the history of the horror field, but his work as an editor possibly had more effect on the field than his writing did.
Russell was an executive editor at Playboy Magazine in the 1950's. He continued to work with the magazine until the 70's. He helped horror, science fiction, and fantasy achieve respectability by getting it published in its pages. Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Charles Beaumont, Frederik Pohl, Richard Matheson, Kurt Vonnegut, and many others had stories in Playboy, and their work was exposed to a much wider audience.
Russell also edited anthologies of horror fiction, anonymously, for Playboy Press.
The movies were fun; even the bad ones. It is wonderful how he got genre fiction in Playboy. Ray Russell's novels are magnificent. But his heart always seemed to be in the short prose form. He had several collections published, the best of which is Haunted Castles. It was put out by the specialty press, Maclay & Associates, in 1985.
Time has passed and many great writers are forgotten. New trends, new generations of readers. I have been saddened at the number of horror readers I've known who had no idea who Ray Russell is. Well, it's not like his books are in stores, and used copies are getting harder and more expensive to obtain.
Thankfully, that is changing. Penguin Books is putting out a group of classic horror titles in time for Halloween this year. They are being edited by Guillermo del Toro. There will be some titles that are familiar to anyone with even slight knowledge of the field. Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, Poe. Included in the set of titles will be Ray Russell's Haunted Castles.
Folks, most of you are here because you love horror fiction. Some of you have Haunted Castles, I'm sure. Others, I'm just as sure, do not have it, nor have you read it. I am urging you to buy the book when it is published in a month or so. Don't do it for me, or for Penguin. Do it for yourself. You will not find horror fiction better than Ray Russell's.
It is my hope that del Toro's name will help with sales. Pacific Rim may not have been a huge blockbuster, but it has been embraced by a lot of people. I own the Maclay hardcover, but I intend to buy the upcoming hardback from Penguin. That may sound crazy to some, but it is my small way of saying thanks for bringing Ray Russell back to readers.
Wednesday, August 7. 2013
Dreams tell us a lot about ourselves. Our fears, our desires. They can help us confront and deal with our past and prepare us for the future.
I have always been an active dreamer. Despite the title of this piece, I had the strangest dream two nights ago. I can usually determine what one of my dreams signifies, but this one defies me. It was the most vivid and detailed dream I have ever had.
It's like I was not even me in the dream. Nothing at all like me. And it lasted decades
. I experienced an entire life in that dream. One that could not have been more different than mine.
It started out with the me-that-isn't-me as a boy. A member of a wealthy family. It seemed to take place somewhere in the past. Before my time. Like mid-20th Century.
We owned a race track and a restaurant next to it. There were car races on weekends and the restaurant catered to affluent people. A snack bar at the track supplied humble fare to the race fans.
I recall being young. Happiness, mischief, fights, meals, the races. I loved the races, and in real life I loathe NASCAR and that stuff.
I grew older and gradually realized that my family was involved in strongarm tactics from time to time. Not exactly mob stuff, but a little dirty business now and then. I was expected to take part in some of it, and one night I earned respect from my family and their employees by joining with several men in beating the hell out of some guy who was threatening our business in some way.
I didn't have to do that stuff much. I just had to get my hands dirty enough to be a part of it. I helped at the track and the restaurant some, but mostly the employees did all of that. I was idle a lot of the time. I had small romances, but nothing big.
Years passed, and the track began to show wear. Fewer people were coming, and we could not afford to repair it. I had to say goodbye to employees. More and more all the time. Business was falling off at the restaurant too.
One of the guys I went on that mugging raid came to visit and he and I mock sparred a little bit. He said that he was legit these days. Times were changing and that sort of thing was more difficult to do. We had a few beers and said goodbye. I never saw him again.
The once-grand restaurant became more like a greasy spoon. It was scaled way down and parts of the building were no longer used. My father and uncles were grim and getting increasingly sadder. Defeat hung over us.
Finally, we had an offer to sell the land that the track was on. We desperately needed money because I was middle aged, but my parents and aunts and uncles were old, and in need of medical help.
To save money we were tearing some of the place down. We intended to sell some of the scrap material. We were inexperienced, and a terrible accident happened. A lifelong friend of the family was crushed between a loader and a wall.
My family never recovered from that loss. The death of a loved one seemed to seal the doom that hung over us.
The old folks lost their homes and moved into cheap apartments. They died, one by one, fairly quickly. I had long ago given up my playboy apartment and was living in a rooming house.
At the end, I was old myself and still owned part of the old restaurant. It was sectioned off by that time, and other businesses owned parts of it. I had a small kitchen and people would come to a window and order chicken and biscuits. Not many did though.
All I had left were my memories of a life where my family lived like Kings and Queens. No wife, no children, no real friends.
I woke up feeling unbearably sad. I could not sleep any more that night, even though it was still very early in the morning. Hours before sunup.
Most of my dreams mean something to me. They reflect aspects of my life. This one befuddles me. It almost makes me believe in a past life. The life I lived in that dream has no resemblance my own in the real world. Where did it come from? What does it mean?
Tuesday, July 30. 2013
I just dropped off a terrible movie that I got from the library. It was Dark Horse, by Todd Solondz. Solondz brought us the feel-good features, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness. These movies are actually brutally disturbing, but also, gulp, funny. I saw a DVD at the library for a newish one by Solondz called Dark Horse. Of course I checked it out.
Something went wrong with this movie. The script wasn't necessarily bad. The acting was competent. It was professionally shot. But it stank like a hot dog turd in the sun. A grueling experience.
The thing is, I didn't have to pay for it. Nor did I have to subscribe to some service so I could stream it. And I most certainly did not acquire it from a torrent site. I'm a lot of things, but a thief isn't one of them.
While I was there I grabbed the audio CD set of Preston and Child's Cemetery Dance. This one is special to me for a number of reasons. It came out at a good time in my life, and I met the authors on a book tour for it. It's also one of my favorites of the Pendergast series, even though it was a painful read. Those who know the novel are aware of what I mean.
I checked out the CDs and I did not know it, but my reserve of the latest Nameless Detective novel from Bill Pronzini was there waiting. Nemesis is the title and I am as sure that I will love it as I am sure that them tax bill for my house will arrive soon.
Earlier tonight I made a couple of other reserves. Both involve the most celebrated and successful writer the horror genre has ever known.
Mr. King promises that Dr. Sleep will be a return to no-holds-barred, scare-the-shit-out-of-you horror that he does so well. I'm one of the first to sign up for it and I will get it on the week it is published.
Then there is that musical collaboration between King and John Mellencamp. I like Mellencamp like I like constipation, but I have to give it a listen, right? And I certainly don't want to have to PAY for it.
Some might not see the difference between getting a free item from the library, or illegally downloading it. It's crystal clear to me. The intellectual property of the creator has been honored with a library loan. The author and the publisher has been paid for the item. Loaning has always been acceptable. And legal.
When most public and private organizations are out to rape you financially and emotionally, the public library offers art, history, current events, music, film, literature, and a host of other services. For free. All you have to do is show proof of residency and you are in like flint.
Times are hard and none of us can afford all the limited editions, the great meals, the latest DVDs, record albums, not to mention saving money for our futures. Anyone who does not use the library is, in my opinion, a damned fool.
Sometimes there is a free lunch. They are serving it at your local library.
Monday, July 22. 2013
I was shocked when I heard that Harmony Korine was doing a spring break movie. And with name actors in the cast. James Franco even. I missed it at the theater, but I caught up with Spring Breakers the other night.
Harmony Korine's movies are not for everyone. Not many people get them, and many have no desire to get them. They are filled with the most unpleasant characters. His vision is usually of an ugly, unclean, nasty undercurrent of society. I understand that Mr. Lonely is different, but I have not seen that one. I have seen Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy.
is one of the most reviled movies of all time. I have rarely seen such hatred toward a motion picture. And, granted, Gummo is a sickening, disgusting movie. But to some of us with bizarre notions of wit, it is hilarious. Gummo is also visually arresting and endlessly fascinating. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.
Then there was Kids
, which Korine wrote when he was 19. It's difficult to imagine a more horrifying story than this one. Critics embraced it as a cautionary tale, but I think Korine was merely writing about life as he knew it in the streets. Kids sickened me, but I admired it. I saw it back when it came out, and I told myself that I never needed to see it again. But I did the other night, after watching Spring Breakers.
It's an accident that I even own the Kids DVD. I would not have bought it. I was in Raleigh, NC, one evening, waiting for my ex wife to get off work. I was exploring some woods behind the motel I was at and I found an area where there was a fire pit and a bunch of logs and stones set around it. The place was deserted, but I knew it was a spot where kids came to party. There was a copy of the Kids DVD lying on the ground. I picked it up and kept it.
Anyway, back to Spring Breakers. I was surprised---happily so---that many critics had good things to say about the movie. Maybe Harmony had toned his excessive tendencies down.
Well, yeah. This certainly isn't Trash Humpers
. Then again, it ain't Where the Boys Are
either. It is, however, the most commercial movie Korine has made to date.
Spring Breakers is still pretty weird. If you like credibility and logic in a story, you might wish to look elsewhere. Spring Breakers is a like a dark fairy tale. Very dark.
A group of obnoxious college women are desperate to escape their dull daily existence and make it to Florida for spring break. They raise the money by robbing a restaurant with realistic squirt guns. They also bring along an innocent Christian girl played by Korine's wife, Rachel Korine).
The four young women hit the hedonistic beaches of Florida, and the partying is just about as repulsive as the morally valueless kids in Kids. Even in my hardest partying years I would be sickened by the gross antics of the students in Spring Breakers.
The girls are arrested, but are bailed out by a drug-dealing rapper named Alien. Alien is played by James Franco, in a very high point in his career. He is perfect in the role. I've liked Franco since seeing him as Desario in Freaks and Geeks, but he has outdone himself in Spring Breakers.
The movie turns into a bizarre romance as Alien and the girls grow closer. Two of the girls bail and (wisely) head home, while two stay with Alien until the bitter end.
The entire movie has a dreamlike feel to it. The gaudy excess, the casual violence, sex, the endless use of drugs and alcohol. The final moments of Spring Breakers are especially surreal. It's oddly touching in a repulsive way. But that's Harmony Korine. He brings these horrific situations and people to the screen, and somehow he makes them a twisted, nasty dignity.
I loved Spring Breakers, but as I said above, many will have the opposite reaction. The reviews at Redbox (where I rented the DVD) are almost all violently negative.
It makes me smile to see that the notorious Harmony Korine got this movie funded and into multiplexes. Spring Breakers is a success, of sorts, and I hope it paves the way for more high profile features for him.