Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Reading Report

Spent a lot of the weekend reading stories from a collection called Thriller. This is an anthology of short suspense tales from a lot of big name thriller writers, such as James Grippando, Lee Child, David Morrell, Brad Thor, David Liss, and many more. It even has a Repairman Jack story by F. Paul Wilson, but unfortunately I'd already read that one. I really enjoyed this collection. The stories had widely divergent plots, crossing a whole spectrum of what could be defined as a 'thriller.' A couple of them packed a considerable punch and truthfully, I didn't find a clunker in the bunch. Best thing is I've probably found some new authors. I'll definitely be trying novels by some of the folks I'd never read before. There's a second volume of Thriller out now in hardback. Might pick that up this weekend.
After I finished with the suspense stories, I switched to a re-read of Robert E. Howard's Conan yarn, Iron Shadows in the Moonlight. This is one of Howard's strongest Conan stories and features a giant ape, pirates, and a particularly nasty supernatural menace. It also has one of the most convincing scenes of rage that I've ever seen. When Conan finds an old enemy, a man who tortured and killed Conan's comrades, the big Cimmerian is literally foaming at the mouth. Howard makes you see it. For whatever reasons, REH was a man who understood pure, primal anger and could get it on the page in a way I've never seen equaled.
Now I'm about three quarters of the way through James Patterson's third Maximum Ride book, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. All I can say about this one is that if you liked the first two, and I did, then you'll like this one. Mostly plotless, but full of action and last minute rescues and escapes. Mutant kids with wings. Genetically engineered werewolves. Evil scientists. Teenage angst. Robots! Not going to win any literary prizes, but a fast, enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
Anyway, that's the reading report for now. Got a long weekend coming up for the Fourth of July, so I'll probably have a lot more reading to blather on about next time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Letting Go

The time has come again to cull some books from my collection. I've been acquiring new books hand over fist here lately and I need some space on my bookshelves. As some of you may recall, when I moved, over four years ago now, I got rid of roughly 3600 books, bringing 800 hardbacks and about that many paperbacks with me to my new place. This fills six 6' bookshelves with a little overspill to one smaller bookshelf. And I made a deal with myself that I would buy no more bookshelves. So as new books come in, old books must go out.
However there's a slight problem with that. I have the collector mentality. There are some books I've had forever, and though I'm not likely to ever read them again, I don't seem to want to part with them. This, as Mr. Spock says, is not logical. Some are leftovers from former hobbies or interests which I haven't indulged in for years. Some the works of authors who I no longer read. Some are reference books that I think I might need again some day. And some just have some sentimental value.
So I have begun leaning some sections out. I used to be fascinated by the Jack the Ripper murders and I had over a dozen reference books on Saucy Jack. I have pared that down to six. I suspect I could get that number down to two, but I'll wait a bit. I've gotten rid of all my Kinky Friedman books except the two that are autographed to me. Don't really read the Kinkster these days.
The one author who has always been safe has been Robert B, Parker, but it occurs to me that I don't really need all those Parker hardbacks any more. They take up a lot of room and, except for the very early ones, they aren't valuable. So I have separated out the ones that are autographed or rare. I haven't gotten rid of the others yet, but I'm certainly thinking about it.
See, the thing is, getting rid of things I've had for so long, even when I no longer need them, seems like I'm closing a door on someone I used to be. When I got rid of my comic book collection it felt almost as if I were betraying my younger self, saying, "I'm not that guy anymore so I can throw out his stuff." Almost as if I were dismissing things that were once of vital importance to me. These are things I used to define myself by. When I first moved, I was proud to display a lot of these books. Now, not so much. I've moved on. But it's still hard to let go sometimes.
Still, as I have noted before, through the wonders of the internet there are very few books that I couldn't get again within a couple of days if I really wanted to. Except for some collectible stuff, it's all replaceable. So I really shouldn't worry. Bruce Lee once said, "When you have used a boat to cross a river, don't carry that boat upon your back." I think the man had a point. Then again he also owned a lot of books.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The House of the Sphinx

Of all of Lord Dunsany's many strange and wonderful fantasy stories, there is one that has always haunted me. The House of the Sphinx is very short, only three pages long in the collection Wonder Tales, and yet, whenever I read it, I always get a feeling of ineffable unworldliness that I've never found in longer works by other authors.
Perhaps, as is fitting in a story featuring a Sphinx, much is left unexplained. An unnamed narrator is fleeing a dark and horrible forest. He takes shelter in the House of the Sphinx. The sphinx ignores him but some terrible deed has been done in the house recently and the results of that deed are hidden under a cloak. What the deed was is never explained, but perhaps (and perhaps not) as a result of it the narrator learns that "some imperious and ghastly thing was looking for the Sphinx, and that something that had happened had made its arrival certain."
The narrator at first attempts to see if some defense can be mounted against whatever is coming and after deciding there's nothing he can do, he flees back into the dread forest. As I said, creepy and hard to explain. However I can send you to read it yourself. The story is online here:


But be aware, Dunsany is habit forming. H.P. Lovecraft was a huge fan of Dunsany's work, and it shows in a lot of his non-Cthulhu Mythos stories, though I usually find Clark Ashton Smith's tales to be closer in spirit to Dunsany's than anyone else's.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Safe at Home

Trish made it back from Iraq early on Saturday morning. I saw her yesterday at a Welcome Home pool party held by one of her friends, and believe me, there aren't many people for whom I'd attend a pool party. There were so many folks there that I didn't really get a chance to talk to Trish much about her adventures in Iraq. But I'll see her again Wednesday.
Her plan at the moment is to spend two weeks in this area, then go to visit her family for two weeks, so rather than take her cats home for two weeks and then bring them back, Bruce and Amelia will just stay with me for another month. Better for the cats in the long run and I'm certainly in no rush to get rid of them.
Anyway, I'm just glad she made it through her deployment unscathed and I'm glad to have her safe at home.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Silent History

Wow, I've gone almost a week without blogging. What can I say? Things are slow. I've been reading a good bit, but it's been all non-fiction and short stories. Working my way slowly through the Joseph Payne Brennan collection The Feaster from Afar. Lots of great stories in there, but I've blathered on about Brennan enough lately. I've already mentioned the Kit Carson book.
After several weeks of being extremely busy at work, things have slowed down so nothing to report there. I'm just in one of those lulls that pop up in life on an annoyingly regular basis.
The one interesting thing I have going on at the moment is a short story contest I'm joining over at Michael Moorcock's forum. It's not really a contest since there's nothing to win, but a bunch of the writer types who hang there are all going to write stories based on a randomly generated title. The title we all got is 'The Silent History'. Now all I have to do is think of a plot that fits that title. Shouldn't be a problem for the plotting machine. It should be interesting to see what different types of stories we get from the same title. The story can be in any genre and has to be between 6000 and 10,000 words and we have three months to finish. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Reading Report

This weekend I read the Entropy Tango, the only one of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius books that I had left. It might as well as been titled The Further Adventures of Una Perrson since it deals far more with the exploits of Mrs. Perrson than of Mr. Cornelius. This is fine with me as Una is by far my favorite character in the Jerry Cornelius series. It's construction is much like that of The Adventures of Una Perrson and Catherine Cornelius in the 20th Century (which I reviewed a couple of months back) following Una as she jaunts about in time and alternate realities.
Also read the first quarter or so of Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, just enough to see that the duo's prose style leaves me completely flat. I liked the plot but just couldn't wade through the serviceable but unimpressive word smithing. Not my cuppa.
I'm having a similar problem with Lee Child (no relation) and his books about Jack Reacher. I'm about halfway through Nothing to Lose but I keep putting it aside. It's a bit more riveting than Relic but not much.
In the meantime I switched to a non fiction book by Hampton Sides called Blood and Thunder: Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. I'm having a fine time with that one so expect a full review later. My 'to be read' pile is pretty high just now, so I'll hopefully have plenty of reading reports and book reviews coming up soon.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Score another one for Mr. Parker. Brimstone is the third book in the trilogy that began with Appaloosa, one of my favorite of Parker's books. (Appaloosa was recently made into a movie which followed Parker's novel almost word for word.) Brimstone picks up shortly after the events of the second book, Resolution. "Town Tamers" Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are riding southwards through Texas, looking for Allie French, the girl who broke Cole's heart. The otherwise emotionally impervious Cole can't seem to stop loving Allie, even though she cheated on him numerous times. After things went wrong in Appaloosa, Allie left town and Cole hasn't seen her since.
When Cole and Hitch find Allie she is now a fallen woman and has fallen just about as far as one can fall, working in a filthy, riverside brothel in a town barely worthy of the title. Cole and Hitch rescue her after a violent confrontation with the brothel owner and his men and the three travel to the town of Brimstone where the real plot begins.
Brimstone is a boomtown, fueled by the cattle industry. A real town, as Hitch calls it, with folks with regular jobs, and women and children strolling the streets. The town has a large number of saloons and these have become the target of a religious zealot called Brother Percival, who plans to shut them all down. Opposing Percival is a salon owner named Pike, a former outlaw who has made good. The conflict between these two men becomes Cole and Hitch's problem after they sign on as deputy sheriffs in Brimstone. There's also a sub plot about a mysterious Indian who's apparently got a grudge against someone in Brimstone.
I thought Brimstone not quite as good as Appaloosa but better than Resolution. It's more of a real Western, with fewer anachronisms. At times Resolution read like one of Parker's crime novels with Cole and Hitch acting like Spencer and Hawk in Stetsons. There's still an element of this in Brimstone. Sometimes the dialog seems a bit too contemporary, but for the most part it rings true.
I mentioned to my pal Nav that reading a Western was a different experience for me now that I have actually been out west. Beforehand I was imagining things based mostly on Western movies. Having traveled to Santa Fe last year, I can now draw upon my own experience when Parker is describing landscapes, climate, and such. I've walked in an arroyo and I've crossed the Rio Grande. Makes for a much more visceral experience.
Anyway, I enjoyed Brimstone quite a bit, racing through it in two sittings. Parker is calling the three books a trilogy and he gives Brimstone an ending that could be the end of the series, but I hope he plans to visit with Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch again. They're stand-up guys.