Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Important safety tip. Cat vomit will pretty much kill a DVD remote control.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And speaking of horrors and dreams, I've been having a lot of very vivid nightmares lately. (Gee, Charles I wonder why? Maybe you should read happier books.) Over the weekend I had one about some horrible winged things that were terrorizing a British village. They were some sort of demons from another dimension and they were nesting in an old abbey. Might make a good sword & sorcery plot.
Then last night I dreamed about this big dragon sort of thing. I was trying to help some folks kill it and we had used a make-shift ballista to shoot a big arrow into its chest. But the arrow didn't penetrate deeply enough and it used its front claws to start pulling the arrow out. I got the bright idea to hop on a tractor (We were fighting the monster at some farm.) and ram the end of arrow, thereby driving it back into the creature's chest. It did work but the monster caused all kind of havoc in its death throws.
Those are the only two I remember clearly but there were some other ghoulies and beasties trying to kill me in my sleep over the long weekend.

Nine Horrors and a Dream

I managed to track down two more collections of Joseph Payne Brennan's horror fiction. One has yet to arrive, but I did receive a slender little volume called Nine Horrors and a Dream in the mail last week. It's filled with the same sort of imaginative tales as The Shapes of Midnight, which I reviewed a few posts ago.
I can once again see the influence Brennan had on Stephen King. The creepy story of a curse, A Death in Peru, could have served as a blueprint for King's Thinner and The Mail from Juniper Hill is just the sort of New England ghost story that King likes to tell. It's not that the two men write in similar styles. They don't. But the basic feel of the stories, a sort of cross between The Twilight Zone and EC Horror comics, and the heavy regional atmosphere are definitely similar.
This volume of stories came out in 1958, so it's older than I am, and the style of some of the stories might throw a contemporary reader. Particularly when Brennan is working in third person, because his style is all telling and no showing. A lot of these tales have no dialog. It's almost as if someone was sitting and telling you a story. That doesn't fly with today's readers, but it was fairly common in the last few, floundering pulp magazines of the 1950s. Working in the first person though, Brennan's prose seems very up to date. He has the interesting habit in many of these stories of telling them as if he were a witness to the events. In one or two stories he even plays a fairly large role. He never uses his name, but the faceless "I" is always a writer of weird fiction.
Another thing that I like about Brennan's weird tales is that he didn't feel the need to explain every detail to the reader. Sometimes things just happen. (Another thing he shares with King.) In stories like "On the Elevator" and "The Hunt" you're never really sure why some of the terrible occurrences happened. Possible explanations are offered but nothing is really confirmed.
One of the stories in the book, "Levitation" was apparently adapted for the 1980s horror TV show, Tales From the Darkside. Never saw it, but I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Apparently quite a few of Brennan's stories were adapted for Television or Radio. There's a clip of Vincent Price reading "The Calamander Chest" available on Youtube.
Anyway, I enjoyed Nine Horrors and a Dream just as much as the Shapes of Midnight. The next volume of Brennan's work I have on the way is the limited edition hardback I mentioned in the earlier post. That one has a ton of stories in it and is the first of a proposed set of four books collecting Brennan's work. I've yet to try any of the stories about Brennan's series character, psychic investigator Lucius Leffing. I'm sure I'll get around to it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Adventures of Spenser When He was a Boy

You think I'd learn to never count Robert B. Parker out. On the very day that I told Cliff that I thought Parker had too many irons in the fire and had phoned in his last couple of Spenser books, I sat down to read Chasing the Bear, a young adult novel expanding on some of the stories about Spenser's childhood that he has told his girlfriend Susan Silverman in the regular series.
It's a little gem of a book, tightly plotted and well told. 14 Year old Spenser is being raised by his father and two uncles. The uncles are his mother's brothers. Spenser's mom died in childbirth. One of Spenser's school friends has an abusive father who is something of a town bully. The girl's mother and father are divorced and one day the father, drunk and dangerous, kidnaps his daughter. Spenser happens to be in town when the father drives by on his way to the river. The girl presses her face against the window glass, silently mouthing "Help me. Help me."
Knowing that the father keeps a series of "hide out" shacks along the river, Spenser realizes that if he loses sight of his friend he will never find her, and so he sets out to follow the dangerous father and look for a chance to free her. What follows is a suspenseful yet believable adventure. Spenser, something of a Superman in the adult series, doesn't do anything a 14 year old kid couldn't do and in the end it is his wits that save him.
The book has a couple of other side plots and while written for a younger audience, is certainly enjoyable for readers of the Spenser series. Next up from Parker is Brimstone, the third volume in the Appaloosa Western trilogy. I'll probably wait a bit on that one, just in case it's a phone in, but with any luck, Parker will surprise me yet again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cautiously Optimistic

About six years ago a small publisher called Wandering Star put out the first of three projected volumes collecting all the unedited Conan stories in deluxe, illustrated, slip cased, hardback books. Boy, was it nice, and at 200 bucks a pop it better have been. Keep in mind though, in 2003 the majority of Robert E. Howard's stories were out of print and all of his Conan work had never been collected in a version that hadn't been tampered with by L. Sprague de Camp or someone else, so 200 didn't sound that bad to we Conan collectors. Karl Edward Wagner had made a valiant attempt at collecting all the Conan stories in their original form under hardcovers several years earlier but things hadn't worked out. (The existing Wagner volumes are very much worth owning though for Karl's insightful introductions and notes.)
Anyway, the second volume followed pretty quickly, but then things got derailed. Wandering Star made a deal with Del Rey Books to reprint their Howard material in inexpensive trade paperbacks. This included not only Conan, but Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, etc. In some ways this was great. Suddenly Robert E. Howard was back on mainstream bookstore shelves. To this day you can walk into Barnes & Noble or Borders and buy a complete set of the original, unadulterated Conan yarns. And that is a good thing.


When the Del Rey books started coming out, the third Wandering Star Conan volume was indefinitely suspended, leaving those of us who had purchased volumes one and two in all their expensive glory with an incomplete set. The reasons were many, varied, and often unsatisfying, but others folks have gone on and on about that. Oh, I bought the Del Rey books. All three. It's great to have more or less disposable versions of the Conan stories at my finger tips. If I wear one out, I can just go buy another. And at least by getting all three, I had a matching set with all the REH stories. But not having the third deluxe hardback rankled. I mean, here was what was supposed to be the ultimate Conan collection, and it looked as if it might never be completed. I had four hundred dollars worth of an incomplete set.
Now, finally, six years later it looks as if the third deluxe volume might actually come out. I read an announcement last night stating that Wandering Star and Book Palace Books were joining forces to publish the final deluxe volume. I haven't had this confirmed from more than one source yet so I'm not holding my breath. At one point Subterranean Press was supposed to be doing volume three as well and that didn't pan out. But I' am cautiously optimistic. It certainly would be nice to finally have the complete deluxe Conan set.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Shapes of Midnight

Joseph Payne Brennan may be the best horror writer you've never heard of. I hadn't heard of him, or if I had it never registered, until a passing comment about his writing at one of the Yahoo groups I frequent made me sufficiently curious to go to Google and look him up. Turns out Stephen King counts Brennan as a major influence, as do quite a few other writers of horror fiction. So of course my next step was to go to Amazon and order an old book of his short stories. That arrived the middle of last week and I spent the weekend traveling through the horrific world of Joseph Payne Brennan. It's a scary place.
Brennan is probably best known for his 1953 story "Slime", a tale that scared the beejeebus out of a 12 year old Stephen King, as King mentions in the introduction of The Shapes of Midnight. How much influence this story of a giant, oily, amoeba-like predator had on the 1958 film The Blob is arguable, but there's little question of the influence it had on the amorphous monster lurking in a secluded lake in King's story "The Raft".
However, anyone seriously looking for echoes of Brennan in King's work should look at such Twilight Zone-like stories as The House of Memory, where a seriously ill young woman wants so badly for her demolished childhood home to still exist that she calls it back form whatever limbo old houses go to, or Canavan's Back Yard, a seemingly small and ordinary patch of grass that becomes so large once you've entered it that you may never get out. These are the sort of places King likes to go.
For out and out gore and grue, there's The Pavilion, a tale of comeuppance that would make the EC Crypt Keeper proud and The Horror at Chilton Castle, a shuddersome tale of ancient and hungry evil.
I've heard that Brennan made one or two trips into Lovecraft territory but there are no obvious Cthulhu mythos stories in this volume. There is however, a very creepy little story called The Willow Platform which involves a luckless handyman who gets his hands on an old book that he really should have left alone. He ends up building a rickety wooden platform that allows him to look into another dimension. But as Nietzsche warned, when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you, and as Lovecraft might have added, things from that abyss sometimes come a calling.
Anyway, I definitely want to read more of Brennan's work. The old paperbacks are hard to come by and expensive, but supposedly someone is putting together some high quality collections of his work. So hopefully I'll have more to read by this somewhat forgotten author in the not too distant future.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Buy This Axe...

The sixth and final issue of Dark Horse Comics' minis series Kull, came out this week, bringing a close to an adaptation of what many consider to be the first sword & sorcery story, Robert E. Howard's The Shadow Kingdom. As fond as I am of the Dark Horse monthly Conan title, I think this may be the finest adaptation of a REH yarn that Dark Horse has produced so far.
Freed of the constraints of having to make the adaptation fit into the continuity of a monthly title, writer Arvid Nelson was able to take Howard's story and turn it into a lean, fast moving comics script. I thought he did a good job of not only sticking to Howard's story, but of not loosing the power and momentum of a Howard yarn. Sometimes the Conan adaptations lose a lot of impact as they are stretched or molded to fit into continuity.
The art is great too. I had enjoyed Will Conrad's art on the earlier Conan mini-series, Conan and the Midnight God, but he seems to have improved a great deal since that series. The art on Midnight God seems a bit more cartoonish and not as fully developed. On Kull, Conrad is a powerhouse. His figures are lithe and muscular, his faces are expressive and have individual features,(as opposed to the cookie cutter faces of many comics artists) and his panel to panel storytelling helps propel things along. I hope Dark Horse plans to use Conrad for further Robert E. Howard properties in the future. Anyway, as you can probably tell, I was very taken with Kull. If you missed it, don't worry. Dark Horse will be collecting the mini series into a trade paperback soon so you can get the whole story in one lump. I'll be buying a copy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reading Report

Been a while since I gave a reading report, but it certainly hasn't been due to a lack of reading. In fact I've had a real surge of reading here in the last two weeks. I read all four of Michael Moorcock's initial Jerry Cornelius novels back to back. That's not as impressive as it sounds since they're only a couple of hundred pages each. Of the four, (The Final Programme, A Cure For Cancer, The English Assassin, and The Condition of Muzak) my favorite was The Condition of Muzak, as it was closest in spirit to The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the 20th Century, which was the book that started me on the Cornelius kick anyway. I also read the original version of the short story collection The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius. I say original version because a later addition removed four of the stories from the original and replaced them with four different tales. (And yes I have a copy of that on the way, along with copies of collections which contain two other Cornelius novellas.)
I went back and read sections of Mike's Warlord of the Air trilogy, seeking the chapters that featured Miss Persson and then read one of his Seaton Begg stories which also features the elusive Una. I'm basically trying to see how this one character figures in so many of Mike's series. Keep in mind that not all the incarnations of Una are the same character, but most of them seem to be. She travels not only in time, but along the Moonbeam Roads which carry people from one alternate reality to another. Next up is Mike's Dancers at the End of Time trilogy. Una's in that one too.
In between the Cornelius stuff I read I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy, a book my father bought me at a library sale. It's a fairly interesting account of how Nimoy got the job as everyone's favorite Vulcan and his adventures playing the character for four decades. Just a coincidence that dad got it a couple of weeks before the new Trek film premiered. Also Read a couple of non-fiction books that I'll talk about later.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Spirit

As close to unwatchable as anything I've seen in some time. Really.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Good Morning Mr. Scott

Since I'm waxing all nostalgic about Star trek I'll tell you about my meeting with Scotty or rather with actor James Doohan. Happened at the San Diego Comic Con in 1989 or 1990. I forget which. As constant readers of Singular Points may recall I don't sleep well, usually about six hours a night, and I often wake up at odd hours. Of course being in San Diego I was three hours off from Georgia time, so when I woke up, at what to me was 6:00 or so, it was 3:00 am in San Diego. I hung out in my room, reading and such as long as I could stand it, until about 6:00 California time, then I went out in search of coffee.
I walked down the hall and pressed the elevator button and watched as the indicator lights showed the elevator heading my way. The doors swung open and there in the car was Mr. Scott. I stepped inside and Doohan said, "Good morning."
"Morning," I said.
"You're up early."
"Yeah, I'm out looking for coffee."
"Me too," Doohan said, "Do you know if the hotel restaurant's is open yet?"
"I'm not sure but there's a MacDonald's around the corner."
Doohan's mouth wrinkled. "That's too strong for me."
"Truck driver coffee, as my dad calls it," I said.
Doohan laughed. The elevator doors opened and we both exited. He headed toward the restaurant and I headed for the front door, both of us wishing the other a good one.
That's it. I never acknowledged that I knew who he was. Didn't ask for an autograph or anything. Didn't say "Beam me up, Scotty." Figured he got enough of that. We were just two insomniacs passing in the night. But as you can see, I always remembered that brief conversation.
Oddly enough, many years later at another comic book convention I rode in an elevator with Marina Sirtis who played Deanna Troi on Star Trek the Next Generation. She was much better looking in person and very tiny. Our conversation was much the same as mine with Scotty. We just exchanged pleasantries. So there's your tip to meeting celebrities at cons. Hang out in elevators and don't be a dweeb.

Star Trek 2009

I went to the first showing of the new Star Trek film yesterday. It's been a long time, maybe over a decade, since I went to see a movie on opening day. But see, me and Star Trek, we go way back. I was a little young to remember much about the first run of the series. I was four when Star Trek premiered. But the show went quickly into syndication after it's three year run and it seems as if it was always part of the background of my life. I don't think I'd qualify as a Trekkie, having never attended a Trek Convention, but I do love Star Trek. I can pretty much recite the titles and plots of all 79 original episodes. I watched the animated series and the theatrical films and all the spin off series and I count both Jim Kirk and Mr. Spock as role models of my youth. I am, without a doubt, a fan.
So what did I think of the new Star Trek movie?
I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
I went in prepared not to like it. I expected them to have thrown out most of the old continuity and to pretty much skew the film toward the MTV generation.
Nope. The movie is very respectful of the original series, and yet not afraid to go in its own directions too. There are tons of references to the original show and films for long time fans to catch, some fairly obscure. There are laugh out loud moments of dialog aimed at Trek fans. The ships look like Federation ships. All the techno babble we love is there. Warp drive, phasers, photon torpedoes, the whole nine yards. It FEELS like Star Trek.
The cast is well chosen and for the most part no one is trying to do an imitation of the original actors. Karl Urban's McCoy is an exception. The Kiwi actor does an almost scary job of echoing Deforest Kelly, not just in the way he delivers lines, but in his mannerisms as well.
Zackary Quinto's delivery as Spock is much like Leonard Nimoy's, but then Spock's emotionless way of talking doesn't allow a lot of room for interpretation. Of course in this movie we do get to see quite a bit of the more human side of Spock because much like in the original Trek pilot, The Cage, and in some of the early episodes of the original series, Spock hasn't quite gotten his emotions under control. And Quinto's voice is rather soft when compared to Nimoy's deep, almost growling tones. Still he does a terrific job.
Chris Pine as Kirk wisely stays clear of a William Shatner impersonation. But he does manage to invoke the swaggering, self assured cockiness of Jim Kirk.
Now there are a few changes, one fairly major, to the Star Trek universe we know, but I didn't have any real problems, especially since those changes are explained in relation to the original continuity. This both is and isn't your father's Star Trek. Some fans will doubtless be unhappy, but some always are.
Leonard Nimoy has a larger role in the film than I expected and not surprisingly he's looking old and frail but he's still Spock. His role in the film is very clearly to pass the torch to the (ahem) next generation. And he does.
I understand that a sequel to Star Trek has already been green lighted. I'm there. If they can hold the series to this level, I'll gladly show up for all the new films. As young as the cast is, we've got potential for a lot of new entries into the franchise.
Looking back over this review I notice I haven't said much about the plot or production values. Special effects are great. Costumes and sets, great. As for the plot, very interesting and with a couple of cool surprises. Yes there's the occasional gap in internal logic, but that was true in the original Trek as well. But enough of that. Go see it yourself. Go now in fact. It's worth the effort.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Escher Dreams

I was dreaming this morning that I was staying in a hotel. I don't know where, and it really doesn't matter. At some point I was in the lobby and wanted to go back to my room, but when I got to the stairs I found that I was looking at them upside down, as if the building had inverted. There were people standing, sitting or walking on other walls of the vast lobby. In short, the place had become an M.C. Escher painting. Unfortunately for me, I had been left out of the transformation and gravity only worked in one direction for me. Plain old down.
For some reason though, I was determined to get to my room and I jumped up and grabbed the inverted stair railing and began pulling myself up, hand over hand. After that I had a dizzying climb, over sideways furniture and inverted light fixtures, through the Topsy Turvy hotel until I reached my floor.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Moonrakers' Bride

After posting about 'Girl Running Away From House" books the other day it occurred to me that I'd never actually read one of mom's Gothic Romances. I probably wouldn't have thought much about it again except last Sunday, while I was at a used book store in Marietta, I came across an old hardback called a Collection of Gothic Stories. Now I assumed that this would be a collection of actual 'Gothics' from the 1700s/1800s, but no, it was actually five Gothic romance novels. I bought it on a whim, figuring at the very least I could give it to mom along with her other Mother's Day present next week.
But I'm a reader so I decided to read one of the novels yesterday. I decided on Moonrakers' Bride by Madeleine Brent, mostly because it was the first book in the collection and it had some illustrations by Robert McGinnis, a favorite cover artist. The plot was actually pretty good.
Lucy Waring's parents were missionaries in China in the late 1800s. Unfortunately both died of sickness while Lucy was just a baby, causing her to be raised in an orphanage and basically brought up in the Chinese manner. Jump forward to when Lucy is 17 and now helping the elderly British woman who runs the orphanage. The place is out of food and out of money, so Lucy resolves to go into town and steal something she can sell to get money to feed the orphans. She gets caught and thrown into the local village jail. She knows that she'll be lucky to escape with a whipping, but she could end up having a hand cut off.
In the cell next to her she finds a (what else?) broodingly handsome Englishman. She and Nick talk through the night and she learns that Nick is due to be executed the following day. He makes her a strange proposition. He will give her enough money to bribe her way out of jail and to feed and clothe the orphans if she will agree to marry him there in the jail. He wants to leave his lands and holdings to her so that some enemies back in England don't get their hands on his house Moonrakers. Lucy agrees and the marriage is performed and Nick gives Lucy some papers to give his solicitors when she gets to England.
Now Lucy isn't planning on going to England since she feels the orphans are her responsibly but when she gets back to the orphanage she finds that the old lady has passed away and new missionaries have arrived. They tell her that she's to go to England and live with a British family and she has little choice in the matter.
Since this is a romance novel, it turns out that Nick wasn't executed and he eventually makes his way back to England. By this time Lucy has a suitor, whom she doesn't care for, but Nick sees them together and of course misunderstands. Complications ensue.
Now you may have noticed that none of this sounds terribly Gothic, but there are a lot of Gothic trappings. There are two creepy old houses, a mysterious drawing, stolen Emeralds, hidden identities, codes and riddles, etc. Lucy gets lost in some caverns, almost dies rescuing a child in a snow storm, and is menaced or apparently menaced by at least three different men. Plus, though you know one of Lucy's two suitors will end up with her by book's end, it's kind of hard to tell which one is the good guy and which the bad. Both have elements of the 'hero-villain'.
Anyway, I found it to be a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I remember reading an essay by Karl Edward Wagner where he talked about the old Gothic Novels and warned that they had nothing to do with Gothic romances. That's not entirely true, though I can see why Wagner would have wanted to distance the Gothic Novel from the Gothic Romance. But most of the creepy tropes used in Moonrakers' Bride, and I suspect in the other books in the collection, are borrowed from the Gothic Novels, so there is some connection. At some point I'll probably read some of the other books and see how much old style Gothic stuff they contain. I think that brings the total of Romance novels I've read in my life to seven, and four of those were by my pal Laura.
Oh, a word about the author. years after the books were published Peter O'Donnell, the creator of comic strip heroine Modesty Blaise, owned up to the fact that he was also Madeleine Brent. Reportedly, O'Donnell's American publishers didn't know Madeleine Brent was a pseudonym. His wife signed all his correspondences to give the signature a more feminine look.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Turtle Cat, Turtle Cat....

Bruce's latest antic? He flips his foam cat bed upside down and gets under it, then crawls around like a turtle. I look and there's this inverted cat bed creeping across the floor. That cat needs therapy.