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Monday, 13 February 2006
THE DRIVE IN, a graphic novel by Joe Lansdale
Mood:  chillin'
Now Playing: with myself
Topic: Book Review

As you might have figured out from reading this book blog, I'm an unabashed fan of Joe Lansdale, the best damn shitkicking author to emerge from East Texas. I didn't post a review of THE DRIVE IN (the book) here because, frankly, I've been flooding the blog with Lansdale stuff. I did read it, and frankly thought it was one of his best (certainly his creepiest) story ever.

Unfortunately, the graphic novel based upon the story (and fairly faithfully; the story is retold in almost exact detail, just more visually and less verbose) published by Avatar comics, failed to inspire me. The drawings (aside from the cover and a couple of inserts, almost entirely black and white line drawings) are too damned intricate and the lack of color washes most of the story away.

It's a pity; I wanted to like this one because I liked its parent novel quite a bit. I can't fault the guys at Avatar for the idea, which is stellar; DRIVE IN was a spectacularly visual mindfuck of a book. However, I do fault them for execution. The art was poor to mediocre at best. The story was topnotch, but Lansdale gave them a big hand with that one.

Good effort, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Posted by mrnizz at 3:37 PM EST
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Thursday, 9 February 2006
WHO MURDERED CHAUCER? by Terry Jones
Mood:  celebratory
Now Playing: Django Reinhardt's Greatest Hits
Topic: Book Review
Most of us remember Terry Jones as "the Nude Man" from Monty Python's Flying Circus, or "King Pellinore" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or Brian's obnoxious mum in "The Life of Brian". So it's hard to grasp that that same Terry Jones who used to dress in drag and make silly faces on TV is really quite a gifted and clever author, and a learned fellow to boot. I had some prior experience with Jones' kid's fiction: ERIK THE VIKING, NICOBOBINUS, and one of his history books: CHAUCER'S KNIGHT: A MEDIEVAL MERCENARY, so I knew what he was about.

Jones' book works on the central premise: Geoffrey Chaucer, court poet of the unfortunate Richard II of English History, was a famous man, perhaps the liteary voice of his age (though I personally think Jean Froissart could have given him a run for his money). His work was famous in his lifetime, a literary feat almost unheard of in an age where books were copied by hand. When he disappears from history, he was neither young nor terribly old by the standards of the day; and no mention is made of this celebrated individual's passing by fair means or foul.

How, then, did Chaucer die? Jones' opinion is that he was murdered, that much is clear from the title. The reasons why are a mystery and Jones can only produce enlighted guesses as to motive. If you are reading this novel merely for another period-piece mystery, you will be disappointed. There is no costumed villain. However, it is a great history book for all of that; Jones has a wondeful literary style that describes the period in everyday langauge that makes for a fun read.

Not so much a murder mystery as a survey of the middle of fourteenth century English society, WHO MURDERED CHAUCER? is a bright, fun engaging book. I loved it.

Posted by mrnizz at 12:56 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 12:58 PM EST
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ALTERNATIVE GENERALS III: By Harry Turtledove
Mood:  accident prone
Now Playing: Django Reinhardt's Greatest Hits
There's a guy in my office that is one of the most rabid Harry Turtledove fans I know; he reads virtually anything HT writes in the novel line (except the blatant fantasy stuff). I am not like that guy. I enjoyed Turtledove's early work (especially AGENT OF BYZANTIUM) but I don't feel like his talents lay in the area of the larger novel. Turtledove can write a wickedly good alt-history short story with a twist ending at the drop of a hat, and he can edit compendiums of similar material. His novels tend to be overly long, hugely repeitive and so complex each one requires a glossary appendix.

So I was pleased to find a SHORT STORY COLLECTION at the local library recently. Alternative Generals III is supposed to be another one of those "what if we switched out some key individuals and reran key events in history?" collections. Very few of the stories in practice focus on different or alternative generals.. they just depict "what if" alternatives.

Stories:

A.M. Dellamonica A Key to the Illuminated Heretic
James Fiscus The Road to Endless Sleep
William Sanders Not Fade Away
John Mina I Shall Return
Harry Turtledove Shock and Awe
Brad Linaweaver A Good Bag
Mike Resnick The Burning Spear at Twilight
Roland Green "It Isn't Every Day of the Week"
Judith Tarr Measureless to Man
Lillian Stewart Carl Over the Sea from Skye
Esther Friesner First, Catch Your Elephant
Lee Allred East of Appomattox
Chris Bunch Murdering Uncle Ho

Of these, I liked Resnick's Burning Spear at Twilight (depicting a passive resistance Jomo Kenyatta) Esther Friesner's send up of the Invasion of Italy by Hannibal, and Lee Allred's powerful East of Appomatox, where a victorious Confederacy is all of a sudden considered declasse...

In sum, a good collection of mediocre to excellent short stories with some bright spots.


Posted by mrnizz at 12:16 PM EST
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Tuesday, 11 October 2005
Never too late for the SANDMAN
Mood:  accident prone
Now Playing: the dozens
Topic: Focus on Author


(crossposted from Another Point of Singularity, because it fits here)

I missed out on the "Sandman Craze" when the popular comic book series was being published from 1989 to 1990-whatever. I never took to "Goth stuph" when I was younger; I suspect I was too old for serious Goth lifestyle changes, and had been through that phase before it was even called "Goth". Since so many Goth-wannabees were aping "Dream" (the titular character of the series) in style and dress, I kind of turned my nose up at it. Big mistake, as it turns out. I deprived myself of a very good read for a long time.



The other night, I was in the library over at Pohick, and noticed that A) they are carrying graphic novels; and B) they have almost every one of the Sandman books.

Now, that's a cool thing. Because I find spending 14.95 plus on a graphic novel trade cover just little bit much, considering 9 out of 10 of them get recycled to a used book store or library book drive. I think my only "keepers" have been KINGDOM COME, THE WATCHMEN, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, MAUS, DAREDEVIL: GANG WAR, and BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE). So I don't "do comics" like I used to. Being able to check them out of a library is a big bonus. Among Pohick's graphic novel collection (which is, alas, mostly Manga), is almost all of the Sandman milieu that saw print.

I currently have out on loan A Game of You (a sort of Alice through the Looking Glass meets Steven King's Dark Tower series), Fables and Reflections (all short stories with different graphic artists. My favorite so far), Dream Country and the Kindly Ones (both not read yet, but that is a fault soon remedied). I also picked up A Season of Mists at a garage sale some time back and posted good things about it in my book blog.

What can I say (further) that hasn't already been said, in gushing detail?

I'm impressed that writers that I respect and admire, such as Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison and Samuel Delaney find this series so awe-inspiring that they all have written, intricate, thoughtful introductions (my favorite so far is Wolfe's, but I love his writing). The story line appears to have a connecting thread througout (concerning "Dream's" unusual family), but it really doesn't matter that much. Each book stands and falls on its own. I particularly like the way Gaiman adroitly weaves characters and pieces of myth into his storyline; each story is like a subdued trivia test as I read and recognize this or that clever literary reference.

So I like them. I like them quite a bit.

What's the lesson for today, kids? Just because an item is the darling of the culture vultures, DOESN'T neccesarily mean that it sucks.

Posted by mrnizz at 2:27 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 3:21 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 5 October 2005
TWO ROMANS
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: Nothing
Topic: Literary Survey

Hail, Caesar



My two favorite historical mystery writers, John Maddox Roberts and Steven Saylor, have released new series novels almost simultaneously, and that's great news indeed!

Roberts' "Roman Detective" is Decius Metellius, a Roman senator that lives right about the time of the end of the Roman Republic and advent of Julius Caesar. He is patrician, from an old and noble family, and a struggling politiician. The series is called "SPQR" (For the Senate and People of Rome), and the latest volume is THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATES. I'm almost done with it, and have been enjoying it immensely. This is a nautical adventure where the thirtyish Decius is sent to Cyprus to unravel a mystery involving pirates, an exiled general, and the young princess Cleopatra.

The other "Roman Detective" is Gordianus the Finder, a creation of Steven Saylor. Gordianus is a plebian Roman citizen of good if undistinguished family who is a "finder" (analogous to private eye) to various important Roman citizens, including some of the lights of the era: Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, Catiline, Cato, and many other important historical figures routinely show up in his stories. His latest, A GLADIATOR ONLY DIES ONCE, is a collection of short stories, some of which I have seen compiled elsewhere (in Historical Whodunits, for example), but it is good to see them all in one volume like this. I'm about halfway through this, and all of the stories (including the ones I've read before) have been uniformly good, some better than others.



Needless to say, since I already said it, I like the authors quite a bit, and can't say which I prefer. My recommendation is to check them both out of the library as fast as possible, like I did, before some other selfish bastid gets in front of you.



Posted by mrnizz at 4:46 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 2:21 PM EDT
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THE BOTTOMS, by Joe Lansdale
Mood:  bright
Now Playing: The Gorey End by the Tiger Lillies and Kronos Quartet
Topic: Book Review
THE BOTTOMS is a powerful novel, one of the many by Joe Lansdale (Who else, lately?) that I've read lately.

From the blurb:
Deep East Texas in the Great Depression. A place where poverty is as prevalent and devastating as tornadoes. When young Harry Crane discovers a mutilated body in the river bottoms, a cold fear grips the region and racial tension nears fever pitch. Harry believes the killer is the Goat Man, a monster of Texas legend, made all the more real to Harry because he has actually seen him on his nocturnal wanderings. In the dark and gloom of the Texas night, and with no suspect in sight, the body count rises, a man is lynched, and the local law—Harry's father—intensifies the search for a savage killer who may be closer than anyone dares imagine.


There are many elements that thread throughout Lansdale's novels, some of them being a childlike first person perspective (as in A FINE DARK LINE), taking a moral stance (as in SUNSET AND SAWDUST, A FINE DARK LINE), ferocity towards evil-doers (every Lansdale novel written), the power of memory and country-style justice.

THE BOTTOMS takes up these themes in Lansdalian style and delivers a fine, scary tale set in (where else) East Texas during the Depression. The underweaving threads of loneliness, poverty, and memory perfay pervade throughout. Many of Joe's books look back on a vanished America, usually set in a Depression that he isn't old enough to have witnessed firsthand. It's a perfect setting for dread and suspense... not just for the evil that occurs in the novel (and it's pretty nasty) but also the underlaying dread of poverty and hunger that is in the background of it all.

THE BOTTOMS reminded me strongly of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for some reason. The stories aren't all that similar but the perspective and settings are not all that different.

I strongly recommend THE BOTTOMS, it might be my favorite Lansdale book yet.


Posted by mrnizz at 4:32 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 14 September 2005
A FINE DARK LINE, by Joe R. Lansdale
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: with myself
Topic: Book Review

Joe Lansdale is the writer that brought us "Bubba Ho Tep" and he actually narrates it in the expanded bits on the DVD (with his authentic East Texas shitkicker accent). I'm on a Lansdale reading binge at the moment, having gone through (rapidly): FREEZER BURN, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, MUCHO MOJO and now A FINE DARK LINE. Like most of his books, this one is set in Texas and in times gone by. In this case, the year is 1958 and the protaganist is a 13 year old boy who is pretty wet behind the ears. His inadvertant discovery of an old box of letters sets in motion an investigation to an old murder and coverup.

Lansdale is masterful as a dialogue writer; his choice little inserts and conversations are the real reason to read his fiction (I'm compiling a list of these on my "Staring at my feet" blog). Any writer who can come up with "I've got a growth on my pecker"-- Bubba Ho Tep is probably going to come up with choice material, consistently.

What I liked about AFDL, more than the murder story, which is good, but somewhat conventional, was the social consciousness of the book. AFDL speaks to racial divisiveness with a clear voice. Although there is only one POV character in the novel he is in contact with several black characters (good and evil) that present an alternative view to the 1950s white man's world. I could tell that there might be a little bit of this in Lansdales' own past, perhaps.

In any event, A FINE DARK LINE had me laughing and it kept me engrossed. Having lived in the South (and in Texas for small stretches) it really sounded authentic to me. I hope they makes some of Lansdale's more conventional stuff into a movie some time...


Posted by mrnizz at 5:16 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 6 September 2005
Mister Joe Landsdale of East Texas, he can surely turn a phrase
Mood:  energetic
Now Playing: Carmina Burana at loud volume
Topic: Focus on Author
One of my favorite new fixations is the fiction of Joe Landsdale. He is a writer from East Texas, and it's hard to really place him in any genre-- he's written SF, Horror, Westerns, modern crime, thrillers and mysteries. In recent months, I've read MUCHO MOJO (featuring two recurring characters, Hap and Leonard, who live in, you guessed it, East Texas). Much of what I've read so far has been framed as either a period thriller or a murder mystery. Landsdale's work is good in its own right, but new readers will treasure the way he can turn a phrase.

I'm keeping a list of memorarble Lansdale quotes from the books of his I've read so far. Here is a partial list:

Joe Lansdale quotes

From: FREEZER BURN

That guy had a wart for a dick. A thing like that can give you a pissed-off attitude,

It was as hot and sticky as the crack of a fat man's ass

As creepy as a masturbating fat girl on a nude beach.

As lonely as the last pig in a slaughterhouse line.

A woman like that, she could make you set fire to an old folks home and beat the survivors over the head as they ran out.

From SUNSET AND SAWDUST

(Sunset in a rape scene, page 2, Pete gets killed)

When he snapped his gun belt free, he tossed it nearby, and while he was on her, tugging at his zipper trying to put the mule in the barn, Sunset reached over and slipped his .38 revolver from its holster, and without him being aware, put it to his head, and gave him one to the temple.

When she pulled the trigger the shot was loud as Gabriel blowing her up to heaven, but it was Pete who went to heaven. Or departed, anyway. Sunset liked to think he got a nice chair in hell, right next to the oven.

Pete went limp, not in the organ he had intended to use, but all over. He said not a word, no “ouch” “oh shit”, or “can you believe that?” Things he liked to say under normal circumstances, moments of surprise and duress. He just took the hot load, cut fart near loud as the .38 shot, collapsed, and rode on out on Death's black horse.

(Jones has just killed himself with a giant crosscut saw at the lumber mill. Zack, a black lumber mill worker, has found Jones' wedding ring during the cleanup)

Zack thought about giving it to Mrs. Jones, then thought it might be better to take it into town and sell it. But if someone found out he sold the ring, it could go bad for him. So he put the ring in one of Jones' boots after removing what was left of ankle and foot. Interestingly enough, both boots were in good shape. No cuts, or tears, just bloody inside.

Later that night, at home, Zack thought about the beating Pete had given him and the way that Jones had made him carry the body (of Pete) back. He thought about the ring again and wished he had kept it.

A week later, Zack found a chunk of Jones, possibly a testicle, under a log fragment in the mill house. He kicked it around for a while before using a stick to toss it out to the one-eyed stray cat that hung around the mill.

The cat took it in its mouth and ran away into the woods.

(later)

It was Clyde Fox. He had removed his cloth cap and his black hair hung down, almost covered one of his eyes. He was big enough to go alligator hunting with stern language.

(later-- Sunset is attracted to “hillbilly” her deputy)

Sunset knew Hillbilly’s pat on the leg and remark were unnecessary and an excuse to touch her thigh, but she couldn't bring herself to say anything against it. She wished she could say: “put your hand here, your mouth there, twist one of my legs behind my head an make me say calf rope”

(later, Clyde the other deputy thinks Sunset is cute)

Clyde took a chair, watched her write. He liked watching her do most anything. Her hair was so red and long and smooth, flame-like, but much prettier in color than the fire that that had licked his home to death. Her face was smooth and pink-cheeked and she had about the most beautiful nose and mouth he had ever seen. He really liked her mouth. Last night, in his dreams, her mouth had played a prominent part. He even liked the way her feet fit in her work boots; there was something, so damn cute about those little feet in those work boots. And that thick gun belt. He shouldn't think of that as cute, but he did. If she had suddenly bent over and farted out “Old Man River” to the beat of her tapping feet, he knew he would have found that cute as well.

(Deputy Rooster encounters a blonde prostitute at McBrides apt)

He had seen her before (though he was now seeing a part of her he hadn't seen before), but he didn't know her name. When the blonde turned away, leading, her naked ass moved from side to side like a couple of happy babies rolling about.

(deputy Clyde again)

When they finished eating, Clyde said, “I think I'm going to be the first ass in that outhouse. I feel it coming”

from: MUCHO MOJO

I drove into town and rented a VCR and checked out a couple movies. Jaws, which I'd never seen, and Gunga Din, which I saw when I was head high to a cocker spaniel's nuts.

The big black cop didn’t' look at the white cop. You got the idea they did that kind of dull banter all the time, just to keep away. The black cop got a turd-colored cigar out of the inside of his coat and put it in his mouth and chewed it.

It was so dark in the back of the place you could have pulled your dick out and put on a rubber and no one would have known it.

(Ilium is dead, but the speaker doesn't know it)

“yeah, he runs all manner errands for the church. He's a real do gooder, that Illium. That sonsabitch dies, he's gone sit on the right hand of Jesus and Jesus gone give him a juice harp, personal like, let him play a few spirituals...

I figure Illium was probably twanging out a rendition of “the Old Rugged Cross” even as we spoke. I thanked the old man, paid up and started back to the house.

Hanson took a deep breath. He tried to smile but he had a face like a man that had just found a dog turd in his mouth.

In quite a different way, next door to us, operating against the law, but not restrained or bothered b it, a whole houseful of ball sweats were doing a similar thing, and we weren't stopping them.

She pointed the pistol at my groin, and I reached down and scooped it aside with my palm and jumped in close and grabbed her head with both my hands, and gave her a knee in the face. I figure I'd hear from the Southern Club for Manhood for that, but I didn’t give a shit, you try to hurt me, and I'm gonna hurt you back




For a real treat, check out an Audio interview with Lansdale
at the "Agony Column" website.


Posted by mrnizz at 4:13 PM EDT
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Monday, 9 May 2005
TWO TRAINS RUNNING by Lucius Shephard
Mood:  celebratory
Now Playing: Lucius Shephard interview on Agony Booth podcast
Topic: Book Review
Lucius Shephard is one of the few real true characters working in fiction today. Reading interviews about his life and work makes his real life adventures come off as cool as anything he writes about in his stories.

I first became a fan of Shephard with the publication of his near-future stories in F&SF magazine; these were in turn anthologized in the Gardner Dozois "BEST SCIENCE FICTION OF THE YEAR.." series. Shephard's stories are haunting and familiar, like they are taking place in a mirror image of reality but only a couple years later than today. Much of what he predicts in his fiction (smart suits, combat drugs, seeing eye gun tracking) has either came to pass or is in the works for the next generation of soldiers. Much of his story arcs concern themselves with an imagined war in Central America (a part of the world that he is very familiar with), and were later novelized on their own as LIFE DURING WARTIME and THE JAGUAR HUNTER.

The book I just finished, however, is not about a future war, and only a little bit of it is even fiction. TWO TRAINS RUNNING is three bits; the first bit is a lengthy article about hobos and the FTRA (Freight Train Riders of America), an alleged "hobo mafia" that might or might not have harbored homicidal maniacs at some point. The other two bits are short stories utilizing the settings and characters out of the FTRA story.

Frankly, the best part of the book is the non-fiction bit. It's humorous, wry and pointed. I like the fact that Shephard went out on the road with hobos and "catched out" to hop freights with them.. still, he doesn't pretend to reshape them as noble savages (as they probably would themselves). Shephard appreciates the romance of the hobo lifestyle but wouldn't trade his life for theirs for any money. And that's how most of us would react, too.

The stories are .. okay.

My next Shephard project is finding and reading COLONEL RUTHERFORD'S COLT, which appears to have some promise!

Posted by mrnizz at 12:04 PM EDT
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THE NARROWS by Michael Connelly
Mood:  cool
Now Playing: Black Flag
Topic: Book Review
Harry Bosch is back again, in all his cool, hip and noir glory. This is the big tie-in novel for all of author Michael Connelly's serial characters-- virtually every P.O.V. character from every series is tied up in a neat package here.. Harry Bosch (all the Bosch novels), Terry McCalleb (Blood Work et. al), and Rachel Walling (the Poet) all intersect as their plot lines come together for one big orgy of noir, sex and violence. What can I say? I think a lot of the "I'm gonna share universes and put all my characters together for a special novel" schtick is artificial, and the plot line strikes me as the most contrived Connelly book ever. There are so many POVs running simultaneously that it's hard to track. Still, Harry Bosch is Harry Bosch, and Harry Bosch is cool, violent, principled, unyielding. The character makes up for the deficiency in the plot. It's always a good time reading a Bosch novel...

Posted by mrnizz at 11:46 AM EDT
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