Sunday, May 22, 2005


Went to Bakka today and picked up a couple of new releases:

  • Year's Best SF 10 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.
  • Tesseracts 9 edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman.
Not much to say. Both are no-brainer purchases as I religiously read both series. Interesting because both contain a wealth of fiction by friends: Glenn Grant, Allan Weiss, Claude Lalumière, Yves Meynard and others. Of course, when I get around to reviewing them, I will be scrupulously honest.

Laymon, Richard. Darkness, tell us. London: Headline, 1991. 504pp.

Richard Laymon rocks! As far as commercial genre horror writers, there aren't many better, if any. He's tough and gruesome and scary and his novels propel you along link you're running in front of a freight train. Cliff hangers every chapter. Sympathetic, vulnerable, flawed characters. Sudden death. The body counts aren't actually that high generally, but that almost makes it better. It's not like you know everyone going to get it. Some might, some might not. It's always a surprise. As you can see, I like Laymon's work. Commercial horror is always a bit of a gamble -- sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. You have to find the author's that do it for you -- Tim Lebbon is another example of a good one.

Darkness, Tell Us is a fine example of Laymon's work. It starts with a party for some summer students at a college prof's house. The kids pull down an old ouija board and give it a whirl. The board tells them about some treasure hidden in a mine on a mountain. Of course, the kids head off. When the attractive young prof finds out that the kids have stolen the game she and her new boy friend head off in pursuit. Meanwhile, the spook on the other side of the ouija board has an agenda of its own, not to mention the freakazoid body builder hermit waiting for them all at the mountain. The six kids are a odd bunch, and romance and conflict amongst them add to the spicy mixture.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Lansdale, Joe R. Captains Outrageous. New York: Mysterious Press, 2003. 336 pp.

Can you say "Gonzo?" Lansdale has long been one of my favourite authors. I first got to know him through his horror stuff, particularly The Drive-In and The Drive-In 2. Those were way over the top. Over the years, I've read other novels and mostly short fiction in the genre. However, the last number of years he seems to be concentrating on crime/mystery at novel length. As well as a bunch of stand-alones (for which he should be praised) he does have a series of novels featuring Texas good-old-boy Hap Collins and his buddy, a gay black man by the name of Leonard Pine. Let's just say Hap might be a little more liberal than your typical redneck. Anyways, the series is definately gonzo crime fiction at it's best with the snarky duo having a series of bizarre misadventures over the last 4 or 5 novels.

Then comes Captains Outrageous. A spicy concoction of a daring rescue, an ill-fated cruise ship experience, stranded in Mexico, caught between a beautiful woman of doubtful morals and a gangster and finally an extended revenge set piece. Does it all hold together? Not really. On a few levels I was a bit disappointed with this one. First of all, the plot was a bit more random and scattered that usual, never quite deciding what kind of story this is. Lansdale always teeters between farce and tragedy, but the two co-existed here very shakily. Part of that is tone. Hap and Leonard have always been smug, edgy and flippant, with a hard bitterness and sarcasm propelling their relationship, but this was the first of the novels where they really don't seem that likeable. And to be frank, this kind of revenge tale really depends on the characters doing the venging being a bit more sympathetic. To echo my remarks a few years ago on The Sparrow, the character and their friendships -- Hap, Leonard, Hap's new/old girlfriend Brett, their posse bent on revenve -- seem just a bit too pat, too perfect in their own conception of their own righteousness.

I'm still a Lansdale fan, no doubt about it. I will read more of his novels and stories. It's just this one. Perhaps it's no coincidence that he hasn't written a new Hap & Leonard novel since this one. Maybe it's time to give them a rest, give them a bit of time to get over themselves.

The Merril Collection Annual Pulp Show

I was at the 9th Annual Fantastic Pulps Show and Sale down at the Merril Collection here in Toronto. As usual, it was a great dealer's room event and I did definately pick up a couple of nice items. I'm not actually that much into collecting high-priced collectables at this point in my life, but it's always fun to see what I could get if I wanted.

  • Somewhere east of life by Brian Aldiss
  • Tarzan forever by John Taliaferrro
  • Mischief by Douglas Clegg
  • Spirit by Graham Masterton
  • Succubi by Edward Lee
  • Curfew by Phil Rickman

The Aldiss is a book that came about 10 years ago. The premise of recovering lost memories combined with the good reception at the time sort of put this book on the "to get" list. However, I think it's rather obscure in North America and this is the first time I've ever seen it. The Taliaferro is one of the very few recent books on Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was definately an interesting figure in the history of the fantastic and I look forward to reading the book. The last four items are recent commercial horror titles, all by well regarded authors in the field who I've never read a novel by. Trashorama.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Harwell, David G. and Kathryn Cramer, eds. Year's Best Fantasy 4. New York: Eos, 2004. 484pp.

Another fine volume in the Harwell/Cramer Year's Best series. In fact, if anything I like this one a little better than the previous fantasy volumes I've read -- volumes 2 & 3 only, I still haven't gotten around to volume 1 yet. Fantasy is my least favourite of the genres of the fantastic, after sf and horror, so I probably found a few more clunkers in this volume that I would in some of the other Year's Bests I read. Typically, I also read Gardner Dozois' sf volume, Harwell & Cramer's sf and Stephen Jones's horror volumes.

What I propose to do, as an experiement, is to rate the fiction anthologies I read in a similar fashion to the way Claude Lalumière does in his blog for the past year's best of anthologies. His summary of the 2004 crop is here. My criteria will be a bit different. Claude uses whole number ratings from -2 to +2 to indicate how much he likes a particular story. I'm not particularly interested in coming up with ratings for stories that I was indifferent to or just plain didn't like, so my scale will be from 0 to +2: 0 for stories I disliked or was just indifferent to, +1 for stories I liked but I found to be somewhat flawed and +2 for stories I really liked.

So, How does the book under review fare:

Brendan Duffy "Louder Echo"
Mary Soon Lee "Shen's Daughter"
Lucius Shepard "Señor Volto"
Michael Swanwick "King Dragon"

Neil Gaiman "Closing Time"
Ellen Klages "Basement Magic"
Tanith Lee "Moonblind"
Rosaleen Love "Raptures of the Deep"
Pat Murphy "Dragon's Gate"
Arthur Porges "A Quartet of Mini-Fantasies"
M. Rickert "Peace on Suburbia"

Terry Bisson "Almost Home"
Octavia Butler "The Book of Martha"
Terry Dowling "One Thing about the Night"
Charles Coleman Finlay "Wild Thing"
Theodora Goss "Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold"
Kelly Link "Catskin"
Tim Pratt "A Fable from a Cage"
Robert Sheckley "The Tales of Zanthias"
Gahan Wilson "The Big Green Grin"
Gene Wolfe "Of Soil and Climate"

I'm pretty happy with the ratings here. The average score is .71, in other words on average I'm kinda mediocre about fantasy stories. The really superior +2s however, really blew me away. Swanwick and Shepard especially. The Lee story is a bit lite, but I thought it was very well executed. Of the +1s, the best by far was the Klages. I was very tempted to put it as a +2, but the ending wasn't really to my liking. To me it was the kind of ending where the author just seems to run out of story and has to just end it before going over the word limit. Down in the 0s, mostly I just found the subject matter or setting uninteresting. The Butler was a different case, however. I thought the idea was pretty good -- god comes to you in your dreams and gives you the chance to fix all the problems in the world -- but the solution that Butler's character comes up with is so breathtakingly lame that I really couldn't justify a higher mark to myself.

Fred Reinfeld

I mentioned Reinfeld a few posts ago as a chess writer I have a fair bit by. An lo and behold, Chessville publishes an article about him. Here's their link to a Reinfeld bibliography. Funny thing, I always want to type Renfield.