Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Saturday, December 9. 2017
The world lost Conrad Brooks on December sixth.
Brooks wasn't so much a forgotten actor, but instead one who was known to a select few fans of bad movie history. As near as I can tell he was the final surviving member of Edward D. Wood's ragtag repertoire of movie misfits.
Conrad Brooks appeared in Wood productions such as Glen or Glenda?, Jail Bait, The Sinister Urge, Night of the Ghouls, Bride of the Monster, and of course, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Believe it or not, his acting career went downhill from there.
Brooks was in some decent low budget movies: Curse of the Queerwolf, Puppetmaster 3, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, Bikini Drive-In, and The Beast of Yucca Flats. This might seem like faint praise, but you haven't seen bad movies until you've witnessed things like F.A.R.T. The Movie, Zombiegeddon, Conrad Brooks Vs. the Werewolf, or Toilet Gator. Okay, I haven't seen Toilet Gater, but credit me with a little intuition.
The highlight of the later 'career' of Conrad Brooks was undoubtedly being cast alongside other Wood veterans Paul Marco and Gregory Walcott in Tim Burton's celebrated Ed Wood biopic.
It must have been a heady experience for a young would-be actor to be in those Ed Wood pictures. Appearing with matinee scream idol Bela Lugosi alone had to have been incredible.
Conrad Brooks kept busy in his later years, working on microbudget productions. I doubt that he was making much in the way of living expenses, but he always seemed cheerful to me. I used to see Brooks at Horrorfind Weekend conventions, where he would hawk his shoestring movies.
Conrad would talk people into buying DVD-Rs of his own meager productions. I'll never forget him wheedling me to buy something "For da kids, for da kids". Well, my kids wouldn't have wanted anything to do with these movies. Nor would any other kid I can imagine, but Brooks was so sweet that it was difficult to resist throwing him a few bucks. I bought Jan-Gel 3: Hillbilly Monster, which was written, directed and starred Mr. Brooks himself, just as his old mentor Edward Wood did. Only you'll wish you were watching Glen or Glenda if you had the misfortune to see Hillbilly Monster. I only made it through a few excruciating minutes of it.
I don't hold that against Conrad Brooks, who was a living, breathing piece of exploitation movie history. He scraped along somehow, and everyone seemed to like him. How could you not? Conrad Brooks was guileless and lovable.
It seems fitting that I am pondering the lives of Conrad Brooks and Ed Wood on the morning of the day in which I plan to see James Franco's The Disaster Artist. For no other movie I can think of encompasses the low budget charm of Plan 9 and other Wood films as does The Room. Not the self-aware movies that purposely attempt to recreate the bad movies yesteryear, but someone with passion and drive, but little talent, shamelessly trying to make movie history. Ed Wood somehow did it, and so did Tommy Wiseau.
Goodbye, Conrad Brooks, and goodbye to an era that married old Hollywood with modern exploitation trash. These movies may lack cinematic expertise, but they possess endless charm. And so did Conrad Brooks.
Conrad is on the left.
Sunday, October 15. 2017
Whenever I am preparing to go out to the movies, I always have a sick feeling in my stomach. Not that I don't love going, but I never know when the miscreants are going to ruin it for me. You know the type: the idiots who can't seem to keep their mouths shut long enough to watch a movie. The despicable cretins who think they are, with their loud asinine comments, more entertaining than the movie they and others paid to experience.
I used to make a joke about having snipers posted in the upper corners of theaters, but that isn't so funny when one considers recent horrifying news stories.
The incident I am relating occurred a few months ago. I had a rare free afternoon and I wished to spend it at the movie theater. In peace. A simple ambition, you would think.
The movie in question was The Big Sick, which promised to be a welcome return to form for Judd Apatow. I was excited about the prospect of seeing it.
It had been some time since I had been to the movies. I was stoked and looking forward to a special time. I bought popcorn. I bought hot tea. I was ready.
So I enter the auditorium and was making my way to my preselected seat, and there sat some individual right in the area I had chosen. He gave me a hopeful smile, held up his ticket, and said, "Seat G7?"
Already sick at heart, I agreed that I was, indeed, the lucky owner of the G7 ticket. Beaming, he stood up and with a flourish invited me to sit directly next to him.
You see, this kindly soul looked upon the available seat on the online seating chart, and he decided that he would make someone's day brighter by sitting next to him. Because surely anyone who is sitting by his or herself has to be lonely. Right?
It was like being in some wretched comedy where a hapless straight man runs afoul of some buffoon and gets stuck with him. Think a typically repugnant Will Ferrell comedy. And, in fact, this midguided individual did indeed look a little like Ferrell.
I wanted to move, move for my life, but the theater was getting full. Miserable beyond words, I stayed in the seat and tried to ignore this pest. It was like trying to ignore a particularly infuriating horsefly.
He babbled. He asked about movies. A wee part of me felt sorry for this schlub, but mostly I was pissed.
He could barely speak. "You shee Atomick bowm?". "Atomic Bomb
?", I coldly replied. No slouch he, the guy broke out his smart phone and conjured up an image of the Atomic Blond poster. "No', I replied.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to roar out, "NO, I HAVE NOT SEEN ATOMIC BLOND. I DON'T WANT TO SEE ATOMIC BLOND. I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT ATOMIC BLOND
But, nice guy that I am, I remained quiet. Then, sin of sins, the coming attractions ended and the movie began. Surely this creep would keep his trap shut now, wouldn't he?
What do you think?
He began to inform me about details of characters as they appeared onscreen. I probably should have just demanded that he shut the hell up, but I set my popcorn tub down, sadly bid adieu to my tea, and stomped out of the theater and to my car.
He probably hoped that a woman held the seat, and he could sweep her off her feet with his knowledge of mainstream movies. He almost certainly would have settled for a friend. I have a pretty good feeling that this guy doesn't exactly have a stockpile of bros on his side.
This is yet another example of the lie about treating others how you would like to be treated. To hell with that. Leave people the hell alone, or at least pick up on clues and grant them the peace they obviously want.
Other than Stephen King's It, this was the last time I have attempted to see a movie in public. Before that I tried to see the original Halloween and the audience seemed to think they were at a Rocky Horror screening and hooted and catcalled through the whole thing.
There are movies I want to see, but I don't wish to spend thirty bucks on tickets and concessions only to be infuriated by inconsiderate nincompoops. It doesn't help that theaters are increasingly being set up like living rooms, with recliners and all. It makes the idiots feel like they are in their own homes where they can behave as they wish.
It may seem like a little thing in light of the problems we face in America and in the rest of the world. But I work hard all week, and I have a grueling commute. Having my day off ruined is a pretty big deal to me.
So I don't really go to the theater anymore. I hate movies that look like they were made on a computer, so I guess it really isn't much of a loss these days.
Tuesday, September 26. 2017
It was the 80's. An unbeatable time to be a horror fan. I sometimes think that younger people--fans of this stuff--might get sick of hearing about the era, but to my surprise many enjoy hearing about those days. And look at the popularity of Stranger Things and Stephen King's It, not to mention the recently-published-to-much-excitement Paperbacks From Hell.
It was a great time for horror fiction, and goofy, gloppy horror comedies and sequels were everywhere. But it was also the day of the first real Gorehounds. A tribe of which I proudly numbered myself among.
I had always loved horror movies, and I reveled in the slasher movie cycle. But sometime around the mid 1980's I began reading Fangoria, and my love of horror grew exponentially.
There was, and in fact still is, a comic store in Hampton VA that had a tidy little horror section in it. Magazines and books were what held my interest, and I bought a lot of stuff there. It was at this place of wonder where I beheld the first issue of Deep Red Magazine. I snatched it up off of the shelf with trembling hands, and I instantly knew that I was going to buy it. I was pretty broke in those days, and even the decision to purchase a new magazine was fairly big. There was no doubt, though, that this Deep Red was eminently suited to me.
Deep Red wasn't Fangoria, that's for sure. I loved Fango, especially the Early Timpone years, but Deep Red was a lot more raw. It didn't need to cater to advertisers or to timid publishing execs. Chas Balun and his crew told it like it was. They skewered sacred cows, and they enthusiastically praised worthy movies and directors.
It was the heyday of Italian horror, and I had been learning about names such as Argento, Fulci, and Bava from Fangoria. But in Deep Red I began reading about directors like Ruggero Deodato and Bruno Mattei.
Deep Red also reviewed oddities that no one else in genre journalism would, like the Oingo Boingo nuthouse movie, Forbidden Zone, and Herschell Gordon Lewis kids' movies.
Deep Red was down. Dirty. Rude. Uncompromising. It was also intelligent and discerning. Did I agree with the writers all of the time? Hell, no. They all seemed to hate Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and I have always adored that movie. But I mostly saw eye-to-severed-eye with the Deep Red bunch.
I rented every damned low budget or foreign horror tape I could get my hands on, and I sat through a lot of shitty transfers, brutally cut prints, and just plain bad motion pictures. I loved the thrill of the hunt, and in retrospect it was more fun doing that than having everything available at our bloody fingertips. The chase was at least as fun as watching a gory videocassette.
I bought every issue of Deep Red at that same store, and I loved every one of them. But times changed, and the wonderful little horror section dwindled. They stopped buying and stocking new materials, because frankly I was the only one buying them.
And Deep Red ceased publication. The publisher, Fantaco, folded, as I understand it, and there didn't seem to be as big a market for gorehound publications as the nineties wore on.
Chas Balun did some books of horror journalism, and he published some fiction. I had all of it, but in pressing financial times I sold some of them. What hurts the most was losing Chas's fiction: Ninth and Hell Street and Director's Cut. I'd love to have them again, but alas they command a pretty penny nowadays.
The years went on. Horror fads came and went, but nothing ever compared with the days when I was so excited about seeing a newly unearthed Lucio Fulci picture, or discovering a new Eurohorror filmmaker. The days when Fangoria still had balls and Chas Balun was doing Deep Red.
Chas Balun lost his battle with cancer in December 2009. I never had the opportunity to meet the man, but I felt like I was saying goodbye to one of my closest friends.
Horror movie journalism had lost its luster for me in the ensuing years. Sure there was cool stuff out there, but it didn't have the magic that I once felt in the pages of Deep Red. Horror had lost its guts.
Now here we are in 2017. Horror seems to be popular again, and people are looking to the past. I was delighted when I saw an announcement that Deep Red was going to come back into print. An all-new magazine from many who had worked with Balun before.
Can it work without horror's boldest spokesman at the helm? I'm betting that it will. And I'm putting my money where my mouth is with the Deep Red Kickstarter
drive. As I write these words the goal has already been reached, and Deep Red will be a reality once again. I'd still love to see it be as successful as possible, and I hope, urge, plead with all horror fans to join us in the pledge
to keep the bloody waters flowing.
Wednesday, August 30. 2017
Have I ever been so excited about a new horror movie as I am to see the soon-to-be released adaptation of Stephen King's It?
Well, yeah, I think so.
The question takes me back, way back, to my favorite era of the genre: the mid nineteen-eighties. I had been a huge horror fan up until then--for my entire life, really--but reading King's mammoth ode to childhood horror brought it all into crystallized focus.
For me King had done no wrong at that point. Oh, Firestater wasn't a favorite, and some of the short stories didn't quite work for me, but I was an unabashed fan. With sincerest apologies to Mr. King, I didn't much care for some of the later work, but that early period? Perfection. Happily, I've loved everything Big Steve has done in the last decade.
After It I was about as rabid a horror fan as you were likely to find. I began buying and devouring every issue of Fangoria. I read all the authors, or at least the ones that mattered. It was a boom, and a lot of crud littered the shelves. I read the good stuff. Trust me.
Movies, books, you name it. I couldn't get enough. It was a busy time for horror movies, and most of it was horror comedies or sequels. Sometimes a movie was both.
Such is the case with Sam Raimi's frenetic, astonishing, and absolutely brilliant Evil Dead 2. The hype for this movie was strong in Fangoria, and I could not have been more excited.
Sure, I've been stoked about other horror movies since then. Hellraiser, Child's Play, The Lost Boys, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Scream, Hostel, and on and on. Some of these movies I loved. Some were slightly disappointing. At least one completely sucked. But I honestly do not believe that I've ever been as excited about a horror movie since Evil Dead 2.
This is a big deal. Yuge, as they say. So much so that I am planning a trip out of town just so I can see It at a drive-in theater. Can you imagine a better drive-in experience than Stephen King's It?
It's hard, nearly impossible in fact, to maintain the kind of enthusiasm and passion we have in our youth. I consider my mid-twenties to be my youth, by the way. Thirty years have passed. I've followed horror the whole time. Movies, damn straight, but mostly books. I did the splatterpunk thing, the gore/grossout thing (NOT the same as Splatterpunk, by the way), the transgressive movement, you name it. I've come full circle and crave old fashioned horror stories that involve kids and their innermost fears. Isn't that where and how we all became fans in the first place?
I miss the eighties boom, but I don't miss everything about those days. I worked, but the kind of jobs I had were ones where if I bought a new paperback, I probably had to skip a meal to do so. I was poor. I had relationships, but they were unwell, and my addiction and devotion to horror strained them to the breaking point.
Now I make decent money. I still damn near skip meals to buy books, but these books are stunningly beautiful and more expensive than the old paperbacks. Much more expensive. I'm with the best woman I've ever known. The genre has evolved and changed, publishing doesn't bear much resemblance to the pre-Kindle days, and movies look like they were made on computers.
I still love horror and I still love to read. I don't watch nearly as much as I used to, and I'm quite happy about that. I actually have a social life now, and not with drunks and burnouts. My reading time is precious and I value it like little else.
But King's It is very close to being here, and like Evil Dead 2, hype is high. I feel the kind of excitement I felt back in nineteen-eighty-seven, and I was poring over every word of Fangoria Magazine.
I hope that you do not miss the opportunity to see It in the theaters. We all bitch about the quality of horror movies, and how we wish more books would be adapted to the screen. Yeah, It is sort of a remake, but that old miniseries left something to be desired. I like the cast of it and the entire feel of the production, but it fizzled out in the second half.
So, please, go see It and support horror in the theaters. And if there is a drive-in theater within traveling distance, all the better.
Tuesday, August 22. 2017
There have been numerous rumors about a third Gremlins film for years and years. As always I greet such things with mixed feelings. Fans are eternal optimists, but we also have learned to expect the worst in situations like the return of a treasured icon like Gremlins.
Recently it has been reported that a script for Gremlins 3 has been completed. So far it sounds almost too good to be true.
Chris Columbus, who wrote the first two Gremlins movies, has written the screenplay. Good. He says that the proposed third movie with be "twisted and dark". Very good. CGI will be limited and old school puppetry is to be employed in Gremlins 3. Better all the time. And star Zach Galligan is said to be returning. Hopefully Phoebe Cates will follow suit.
Maybe they can even dust off poor Corey Feldman to reprise his role. But then Feldman is a long, long way from the cuddly moppet that he was in 1984.
The biggest hope of all is that director Joe Dante will be invited to helm Gremlins 3.
Under Dante's supervision, Gremlins was a huge success. One of the biggest of the 80's, and not just in box office revenue. Merchandising was enormous with Gremlins. Kids could not get enough of those cute, diabolical little demons.
It's kind of a retro surprise that Gremlins was as big as it was. It's a pretty dark movie. Not just the lovable Mogwai turning violent, but the Christmas theme is pretty ominous. It's still hard to believe that the execs allowed the Phoebe Cates rant against the holiday to be in the final cut.
I love that speech, and I love Gremlins. I enjoy it all, but I particularly like the early, Capra-esque moments in the beginning of the movie.
Just imagine the possibilities of Gremlins in today's world. The damage they could inflict upon software. I'd love to see social media chaos, such as liberals waking to see that they have bestowed praise upon Donald Trump, or conservatives aghast when they see Facebook updates in their name pleading for the return of Barrack Obama.
Curiously, there is a wealthy businessman character in Gremlins 2 named Daniel Clamp, who bears a marked similarity to America's current president.
But would Universal entrust an aged director like Dante to bring a big budget project like a Gremlins sequel to the screen? Why not? Warner did it with George Miller and Mad Max, and it turned out to be the right decision.
Centerfold to the October 1984 issue of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine
Wednesday, August 16. 2017
Do you remember back in two-thousand-and-two?
The internet was still relatively new
Our hearts were still young and strong and true
I moderated several busy message boards
Supporting horror was the goal we headed toward
Now there is a different game in store
Social Media killed the message board star
Social Media killed the message board star
Facebook came and broke my heart
And so I lurk at an abandoned forum rink
Photobucket has broken all the links
If you ask me the situation stinks
It was a great time
But now a late time
Social Media killed the message board star
Social Media killed the message board star
Facebook came and broke my heart
In my mind and at my desk
We can't delete we've left the nest
Put the blame on the beta test
Now advertisers watch everything I do
And all the authors beg for Amazon reviews
It makes me feel so lonely and confused
a message board sta-a-a--ar
When did the Internet become so ugly
I started Horror Drive-In as a nostalgia site devoted to horror fiction, exploitation movies, and drive-in theaters. Now I'm nostalgic for the days when the site was new.
I've been doing this stuff for--has it really almost been twenty years? How many hours have I spend pecking away at a keyboard, talking horror?
It was a lot of fun. Especially in the early days, when it was something new to be able to talk with people around the globe about horror. I was instantly hooked.
And from almost the start, I saw amazing success with message boards. The first board I moderated is still probably the best memory. I went on to do more, and my boards were always crowded.
Most people were really cool, too. A few problems here and there, but they were very few and very far between.
How did it all change?
The big sites grew more and more popular. Facebook was and is still the biggest, and that's where almost all my old friends have fled to. A few still hang out at the boards, God bless 'em. Some have disappeared altogether. I guess they finally grew up and didn't care to play any more.
I think a big part of it is, people didn't like having others moderate their posts. Everyone is his or her own boss at Facebook. Arguments are easily won. Delete offending posts or unfriend the offending user. With Facebook, everyone is the star of their own reality TV show, and their delighted fans can read about how tired they are, how work sucks, what's for dinner, and of course their prized political opinions.
Authors can self promo all they want without getting called down for it, as occasionally happened at the boards. And, yes, they can urge their readers to write Amazon reviews.
Remember when writers used to bitch that all readers were owed were the actual books they purchased? This happened when readers claimed that writers owed their success to their readers. Now buying a book isn't enough, we are supposed to write reviews for them, too. You got a royalty, and now I have to do that? What else can I do? Wash your car? Mow your yard?
All right, I get it. I seriously doubt that writers enjoy asking their readers to write Amazon reviews. It's the way the game is played today. I don't have to like it, and I don't, in fact, like it. I don't do Amazon reviews. I can barely respond to the emails I get, and I don't have time to write reviews for my own site, so why would I bother to do so at a webstore I despise?
Like I say, the rules have all changed. Amazon, social media, smart phones. People are getting rich off this shit, but I guarantee it isn't me, and I bet you aren't exactly floating in cash either.
I busted my damned ass in the early days of Horror Drive-In. Writing essays, reviewing books and movies, keeping the message boards active. I had hopes that it might all come to something. Why not? I had very respectable numbers in the first few years of the site's existence. I hoped for ad revenue, but I have gotten very little. People told me that I had to pursue that kind of thing, but I have no idea how to go about that. Now numbers are down, of course, because my uploads have been far more infrequent.
I often feel like I have wasted my damned time. Like all the work I've done, the time I've put in, hasn't amounted to a hill of beans. Then I tell myself to stop with the self pity.
I seriously doubt that I would be with Cemetery Dance if it weren't for Horror Drive-In. I've met some of the best friends of my life through Horror Drive-In But still...
I point to Facebook as part of the blame, but I'm as guilty as anyone. I use Facebook probably more than I do the HD-I forum. It's easier to post pictures there for one thing. And I get a lot more comments about how people love my Reading in the Great Outdoors posts at Facebook than I get feedback about Horror Drive-In these days.
Times change. People change. Trends change. I feel out of touch with most horror fiction these days. People at the Drive-In boards want to talk about TV shows and superhero movies instead of classic exploitation pictures. I don't blame them, and I am not the sort to tell people what to talk about.
I think some people left in disgust. There were problems and some felt that I didn't handle them in the proper way. But let me tell you something: when shit gets ugly at the boards, nothing a moderator does will please everyone, and no matter what course you take, people will be complaining or talking crap about you for your actions. It's goddamn thankless.
I've all but stopped using the boards. Things just don't seem the same. People get testy too easily, and I am not just pointing fingers. I'm as guilty as others. We have more stimuli and experiences at our fingertips than most of us ever imagined, and people have just gotten angrier and more self righteous.
My domain contract is over at the end of the year, and once again I am toying with the idea of letting it go. People tell me I'd miss it, and they're right. But I am also not much enjoying Horror Drive-In anymore.
It makes me want to shuck it all and just read like the old days. Which is pretty much what I've been doing.
I've accepted donations in the past to keep this website afloat. This time I am going to either pay for it all myself, or simply let it go. I'm one of the last of the old school message boards still going, but everything has to end sometime, doesn't it?
Though my time is more limited than ever, I'll try some more over the next few months left in twenty-seventeen. I'll try to get motivated to write reviews. To post at the forums. Maybe some of the old enthusiasm will return. If not?
Sunday, July 30. 2017
I need the Scares That Care Weekend
I turned fifty-six years old last month, and sometimes it's hard to keep from having the grumpy old horror fan syndrome. "You punks don't know good horror fiction! Why, in my day we had KARL EDWARD WAGNER! CHARLES L. GRANT! PETER STRAUB! T.E.D. KLEIN! DENNIS ETCHISON!".
Yeah, I feel that way sometimes, and it's lethal. It's a good way to grow old where it counts, and that's upstairs. Like those rubes with the shirts that say things like, "I may be old, but I got to see all the good bands!". Nyah, nyah nyah.
I do cherish the memories I have of reading and watching horror throughout the nineteen eighties. I stick to my guns that it was the greatest era for the genre, and I've had a lot of young readers tell me that they not only agree, but that they wish they had been around back then. Me, I wish I was young today. Sort of.
I can have my head buried in the past all I want, but the truth is, horror fiction is thriving right now. It's considerably more dicey than it was my my heyday, with the swamp of self-published materials out there, but despite that, there is one hell of a lot of phenomenal horror fiction on the market today.
You'll be hard pressed to find a place anywhere in which you'll see more horror fiction on display than the Scares That Care Weekend. Not just books are on display, but the authors themselves, and publishers. It's a thriving community, and like all communities, there are good streets and poor ones. But you have to walk down those roads for yourself to determine which is which.
Last weekend, as I write this, I attended the fourth Scares That Care Weekend (they deliberately eschew calling it a convention). It was a smoothly run event from the start, and this year was the best yet. STC is a charity organization, and every penny over and above costs goes to families in need.
There are media guests at Scares That Care, but frankly I am mostly uninterested in them. I don't even really know who half of them are (see old fogey references above). I'm there each year for the writers and the readers. In short: the horror fiction community, of which I have considered myself to be a part of for nearly twenty years.
The guests this year were a delightful mix of genre legends, current stars, and rising newcomers. The legends included Thomas F. Monteleone, John Skipp, Edward Lee, Joe R. Lansdale, John Maclay, and Chet Williamson. Today's heavy-hitters were represented by Jonathan Janz, Ronald Malfi, Mary SanGiovanni, and Paul Tremblay. And there were numerous new talents out there struggling to gain a foothold in the field.
It's a fantasy weekend for horror fiction fans, where you can step up and chat with favorite writers, or make friends with the new guys on the chopping block. And there are fans everywhere. It isn't a pro-centric event like World Horror or NECON, but a gathering of pros and fans. A harmonic weekend of horror.
What could be better for a fan or an aspiring writer? A great time, partying, books galore, and all for an unbeatable cause. You can literally feel the good will from everyone in attendance.
There are plenty of thanks to go around, but mostly I grateful to Joe Ripple for being the one who created the Scares That Care organization, and who holds it all together. Of course his staff are all overjoyed to be there, and together they make it all happen. Then there is Brian Keene, who organizes the author programming, and does God only knows what all else for the event.
No pay. Hard work. Endless headaches. They do it for people in need, and also for a great time for the horror community.
I started this piece off by saying that I need Scares That Care. And I do. This weekend of horrors is critical in keeping me up to date and aware of the changes in the genre. But you know what? Scares That Care needs me, too. They need all of us. The attendees who pay for admission, the ones who donate money, time, and valuable auction items. Scares That Care
is truly a group effort and I see mutual appreciation and gratitude in just about every face I see there.
Thanks to everyone involved, and I hope and pray for this joyous, beautiful event to go on for years to come.
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 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.