Once upon a time, there was a young man who believed that books were always better than movies. Everyone whose opinion he respected told him it was so...moreOnce upon a time, there was a young man who believed that books were always better than movies. Everyone whose opinion he respected told him it was so, and he believed it must be. And for a time he saw nothing to shake this belief. He read Dickens and saw filmed versions and knew it was so. He read Dumas and no version of Musketeers could shake his conviction. Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Scarlet Pimpernel all bore this out. But the young man discovered that it wasn't just the classics for which this held true. He read the popular books of his day, the mysteries and science fictions and fantasies, and those were always better than the movie.
But the inevitable happened. One day his notions were challenged in the most devastating way. A man, wild with isolated madness, chopped a door down, poked his head through the cracks and declared his frightening presence. It was an iconic moment. A new idol to replace the idol he'd worshipped, but he didn't know it yet. The young man went out to read the book that gave birth to that image, knowing that the book MUST be better than the film. He turned the pages with excitement, and it began as he expected it would. Tension built, suspense drove him on, the characters seemed fuller and richer, but that began to slip away. Where was the thematic depth? Where was the powerful iconography? Where was the terror? It was gone, and with it his notions.
Suddenly there was a film that was better than the book. By a long distance. And it was happening everywhere around him. On screen Replicants beat their written counterparts. Russian poets in frozen manors moved him in ways the translated words couldn't. Christs made love to Magdalenes and it made him weep for joy.
The truth was other. Rare though it remained, movies could be better than their sources. He would never again be the snob he'd been. He would embrace those films that trumped their books, and proclaim it to the world. (less)
Since joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be un...moreSince joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be universally loved, and I’ve been skeptical of this emotion that borders on worship. These books are good and all, and I recognize their general accessibility, but I don’t personally find any of them mind blowing literature. Gaiman’s prose is no match for China Mieville’s or Iain M. Banks’ or Ursula LeGuin’s (and countless others who write speculative fiction), and the way he recasts mythology into contemporary settings is more clever than inspired. The love accorded Gaiman, therefore, feels disproportionate to the quality of his work – at least to me.
Lately, however, I’ve been reminded that I once loved Neil Gaiman, and that reminder was my return to The Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes. Like his other fine work, The Wolves in the Walls, The Sandman series plays to Gaiman’s greatest strength: his ability to conjure beautiful images from artists. But it also elevates many of the things that Gaiman is usually only able to do adequately. His writing, when confined by thought and dialogue bubbles, is inspired (mostly because its goal is to be natural and believable rather than aspiring to literary greatness); his contemporizing of mythology is much more palatable (happening, as it does, in a comic book universe predisposed to gods and heroes); and his naturally cinematic pacing works better in a graphic format. Yes, indeed...graphic novels are Neil Gaiman’s best form.
Sleep of the Just – This may be the greatest first issue of a comic ever written. The capture of Morpheus/Dream/Sandman (or whichever name of his you prefer), the sleeping sickness, his inevitable (and beautifully patient) escape and vengeance guarantees that any fan of fantasy or comic books or fantasy and comic books must continue with the series. Even better, though, Sleep of the Just could have been its own stand-alone issue, and that would have been good enough. There are few single issues of a comic that are so fulfilling. I buy it all, and everything I had to know was given to me. Luckily, Gaiman left me with plenty beyond what I wanted to know. My personal favourite: the introduction of Sandman’s helm. Killer.
Imperfect Hosts – A kick ass follow up episode that includes a taste of Sandman’s powers, the characters that populate his Dreamworld, and the beginning of his search for the three artefacts stolen when Burgess captured him instead of Death. This episode is most notable, however, for the way Gaiman weaves his Sandman into the existing universe of DC. I am not a DC fan. I read Batman and Superman because they are cultural requirements, and what I know of the DC Universe is filtered through the pages of those books, but Sandman was a rare piece that warped and wefted its way into the DC universe without letting itself get bogged down in DC’s usual shabbiness. Imperfect Hosts is where this all begins to happen.
Dream A Little Dream of Me – A weakened and vulnerable Morpheus is busy looking for his sandbag, the first of the three stolen artefacts that can restore him to his former splendour and power. So he tracks down John Constantine, the Hellblazer, who bought the sandbag years before and put it into storage, but the sandbag is gone, stolen by Constantine’s ex-lover, Rachel, a heroin addict who needed money for a fix. She never got it; instead, the sandbag took control of her mind, throwing her into a forever nightmare that included the transformation of her father into a room sized, living, breathing, tortured, mass of flesh. Dream a Little Dream of Me is a horror show that hints at the depths of nightmare Dream will combat in future issues, and it embeds Morpheus more deeply into the DC Universe. It’s a satisfying chapter in Morpheus’ rebirth, and this is where the patient build towards the story’s literary quality begins.
A Hope In Hell – This is the one issue that really doesn’t thrill me too much. Morpheus goes to Hell and meets up with Lucifer, Beelzebub and Azazel – Hell’s triumvirate of Dark Lords – demanding the return of his helm. He ends up dueling Choronzon for his helm in a "reality" battle. Each takes a turn in the shape or form or concept of something or other. Each incarnation is slightly tougher than the opponent’s until the victor’s incarnation can’t be beat. Morpheus defeats Choronzon as "hope," which totally sucks. Hope?! Please. I can see hope as a stage in the battle, perhaps, but as the ultimate incarnation of victory? No way. Hope can be good, but it’s also an emotion that can derail thought and action -- and that makes hope potentially bad and self-defeating. Still, Lucifer was cool and his parting words about Dream give us plenty to look forward to in the series to come: “One day, my brothers...One day I shall destroy him.”
Passengers – A creepy start to the search for Morpheus’ last artefact – the Ruby of Dreams. A decrepit Doctor Destiny is sufficiently mad when he escapes Arkham Asylum, Morpheus runs into J’onn and Scott Free from the JLI, and the Doctor Destiny corrupted Ruby throws Morpheus into a catatonic stupor on the floor of a storage garage in the middle of nowhere, all setting the stage for the most terrifying chapter of Volume One:
24 Hours – Bloody, nasty, marvelous. Dreams in the hand of a corrupted man become corruption, and the whole Earth suffers. This is the best issue of The Sandman in Preludes and Nocturnes, so I'll let it speak for itself. But be warned: this one is not for the faint hearted.
Sound and Fury – This is a satisfying resolution to Dream’s return to power. Sandman shows John Dee mercy, he bestows the Earth with a night of pleasant dreams, and he returns to his Dreamscape to rebuild his kingdom. It’s not quite as powerful as 24 Hours, but it does what it needs to do.
The Sound of Her Wings – Death is a beautiful thing. If there were no other reason to love Neil Gaiman, this realization would be enough because Death really is a beautiful thing -- both in the comic and at the end of our lives
I’m glad I revisited Gaiman's greatest moment. Maybe now I can enjoy his new stuff more and appreciate him as much as so many of my friends do.(less)
Is it heresy to say that I liked both film versions better than I liked the book? Probably, but it's true.
Thomas Harris isn't the finest writer in th...moreIs it heresy to say that I liked both film versions better than I liked the book? Probably, but it's true.
Thomas Harris isn't the finest writer in the world, and I think even he'd acknowledge that, but he is full of great ideas, and Red Dragon is absolutely one of his best.
I think the mark of how great his ideas are is that they almost always make a compelling transfer to the screen, and Red Dragon has made that transition twice: once as Michael Mann's Manhunter and once as the more faithful Red Dragon. Each film provides a different take on Harris' most famous character, Hannibal Lecter, both films provide a chilling effect on the viewer's emotions, and both films offer up a frightening -- though very different -- Francis Dolarhyde.
Harris' writing is cinematic in structure and quality, making his books easy to transfer to the screen. Characters, settings and even action can be dropped or rolled into others or completely altered without harming the telling of the tale. Much of this is about the mood Harris creates. There is an underlying suspense and oppression in his books that gives a screen writer or director a sound compass for adaptation, allowing him/her to do justice to a Harris book by maintaining the spirit of the story -- no matter what changes are required by the shift to cinema.
Still, as a novel Red Dragon is merely enjoyable. A rather twisted and macabre diversion, but a diversion nonetheless. It is one of those late night, make you uncomfortable reads, or a dreary, rainy, wish you were at the beach reads.
There is much to like in Red Dragon, but it is essentially high end pulp, which is a good thing. And more than enough to recommend it to anyone who likes something a little twisted, with just a hint of the anti-hero. (less)
Maybe I am being too hard on the piece of derivative trash that is Koontz's Phantoms, but it was so bad – and so memorably bad – that I’ve never read another Koontz book. But I am probably being unfair.
After all, I often find myself reading the garbage put out by Harlan Coben, and is there really any difference? I don’t think so. Koontz is just older. In fact, I like to imagine Koontz as the seed spraying father of Harlan Coben, standing over the world of pulp fiction, dick in hand, saturating the fields of crapness like an inspirational sprinkler, and wherever his seed falls a bad writer pops up. Oops, there’s some Koontz seed on the “Coben field,” and there rises a new author, another pop hackosaurus with the storytelling skills of an illiterate mute with severe brain damage from falling out of bed. Harlan Coben, the author who, these days, most makes me want to poke out my book reading eyes (despite the fact that I keep going back for more).
But if I am willing to keep reading the bastard son, why not the father?
I dunno, but once upon a time I DID read Koontz, and it was awful. A friend of mine, a close friend, recommended Koontz because, he said, “He is awesome!” So I read him because I trusted and loved my friend, and our trust was broken forever. I fell out of love. Koontz destroyed our relationship. We’re not friends anymore.
Phantoms contains girls in peril, an Ancient Power -- the same one that killed off the dinosaurs – that’s back for more world changing ass-whooping, dumb cops and Bones McCoy style scientists (they of the “Hail Mary” science discoveries) to protect the girls in peril and make everything okay with a bacterial solution; it’s full of bad writing, bad characters, bad dialogue, and it gave birth to a badder than bad screen version starring Ben Affleck (has any actor ever made so many truly terrible movies? Does any other Academy Award Winner even come close?) Phantoms is, by any measure, pretty awful.
But I am probably being too hard on Koontz and Phantoms.
Still, I think of those other hackosaurs who’ve risen from Koontz’s seed, and I am pretty sure that my assessment is as fair and balanced as can be. I am a reasonable man, however; I am willing to admit I could be wrong. So I ask you Dean Koontz fans: “Am I wrong? Should I give him another chance? And, if so, which book should I read?”
I promise I will try it once. If I can do it for the son it’s the least I can do for the father. Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years. But I doubt it. (less)
You know that scratchy eyed, dough headed, morning thickness that comes with a low-grade hangover? The hangover that doesn't end up with puking, but m...moreYou know that scratchy eyed, dough headed, morning thickness that comes with a low-grade hangover? The hangover that doesn't end up with puking, but makes it difficult to crawl out of bed to grab that bottle of Advil that'll help you start your day? That's how I feel after rereading Dracula.
I read this book one other time -- 31 years ago when I was eight -- and I loved it. It made me mad for all things supernatural or occult. I thrilled over everything from spontaneous human combustion and devil's punch bowls to ghost sightings and werewolves. I tracked down every old movie containing anything scary: Frankenstein Monsters, Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Atomic Ants, Zombies, Mummies, anything with Bela Legosi or Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee or Claude Rains, anything that could give me the creeps.
I esteemed Dracula above all others as the greatest of horror novels, but I never revisited Dracula. There were too many other books to read (particularly Vampire books), and if I needed to satisfy my craving for the Count, it was always much easier to throw in a film adaptation of Stoker's Vampyre than to commit to reading. So my old copy of Dracula just moved from house to house and shelf to shelf, and though I always intended to read it again, I never got around to it until now. What the fuck was I thinking? I wasn't, apparently.
Three decades of untainted youthful love built Dracula into a work of art that it never was and couldn't be. I was prepared for that, though. I picked it up with a willingness to cut Stoker massive amounts of slack for my own distorted memories and to just enjoy the fun of something that gave birth to one of my earliest obsessions. I am a fool.
I didn't get any enjoyment out of rereading Dracula. It has been deeply diminished for me. Probably forever. Stoker was a sexist pig, and it can't simply be chalked up to his place in time. Henry James was writing back then; Oscar Wilde was writing back then, and while the two of them may not be what we would consider feminist, they are certainly not steeped in the painfully chauvinistic Victorianism of Stoker; couple that with Stoker's odd mix of pseudo-science and religiosity, and Dracula is difficult to endure. But that's not the worst of it.
You know those annoying sit-coms where the situation, week after week, is based on a misunderstanding? You know those weepy television dramas where the conflict is based on a lack of communication? I know you do. We all know them, and while we may remember giggling at Jack Tripper's antics or snuffling over the Salinger family's tragic woes, when we sit down to watch them now they just don't do it for us. We want to shake the characters and scream at them to just talk to one another. We want to smack the protagonist who says, "Trust me," instead of using ten words to explain what needs to be done. And this is what Dracula is from beginning to end. It is a string of misunderstandings, miscommunications and a crazy old Dutchman telling everyone to trust him rather than explaining what's going on.
I want to burn this book. But it's old and worn, and I imagine my kids will get some joy from it in the years to come. I wish I'd never read this again. I would rather have loved this blindly until the day I died rather than know that it sucks and has always sucked. I should give it one star for being crap, but I gave it an extra nostalgia star for old time's sake.(less)
I know this is supposed to be a scary story, and I know that it is the much lauded Henry James who wrote it, but The Turn of the Screw never grabs me...moreI know this is supposed to be a scary story, and I know that it is the much lauded Henry James who wrote it, but The Turn of the Screw never grabs me the way I hope it will or think it should. It's just not chilling to me, and that's what I want in a ghost story.
That doesn't mean it's without merit -- or perceived merit -- because this is James, after all. When I look at it as the story of an extremely disturbed and unreliable Governess being filtered through a nameless narrator, it takes on so much more depth than the average "scary story." These dual perspectives raise all sorts of questions about the veracity of the tale, whether or not the story-ending death is a murder, and whether the ghosts of Quint and Jessel are figments of an overactive, Romantic/Gothic imagination. And the potential readings spin off from there into politics, intertextuality, psychology, hyperreality and more.
I always wonder, though, if because it's James, I find myself digging much deeper than I was meant to in this tale. Is it possible that James was really just telling a good ghost story? Spinning a yarn? Is it possible that James' reputation, his literary chops, make this tale impossible for me to enjoy as a horror story? Is it possible that I read The Turn of the Screw too deeply?
I think the answer to all these questions is "yes" -- at least for me -- because what I really want when I read a ghost story is a chance to be shivered. I want to be induced to run around the house looking into dark corners and under beds, making sure no one is lurking about and waiting for me to go to sleep so they can paralyze me and gut me with a knife (sorry...I'm okay now). What I don't want is to be so conscious of the writing itself that the shivers never set in -- and that's what happens to me with The Turn of the Screw.
For pure fear, I'll take Poe over James anytime. You're just too damn intellectual to scare me, HJ. Sorry.(less)
Song of Kali isn't one of Dan Simmons' best works, but it is a fine example of what makes him one of my favourite writers: his range.
Simmons loves his...moreSong of Kali isn't one of Dan Simmons' best works, but it is a fine example of what makes him one of my favourite writers: his range.
Simmons loves history, mythology, authors, writing and reading, and his loves have led him to create one of the most varied bodies of work amongst active writers (although it appears he will soon be challenged for the crown by China Mieville). He's written about John Keats in space, Ernest Hemingway in the Gulf, the Greek Gods, Franklin's lost Arctic expedition, retold Dickens' unfinished novel, and in Song of Kali he tackles the bloody Hindu goddess of eternal energy, Kali, in a nasty, modern day Calcutta.
It's an urban-fantasy horror novel with some genuinely freaky moments, made all the more freaky by their macabre banality. To become a member of the Kali cult, for instance, one need only bring a corpse to the first meeting. It's irrelevant how you get your corpse. You can kill it, dig it up, steal it, whatever works for you, but it makes for a frightening sequence, fraught with "what ifs?" and "holy shits!". And all of this is offered as a reflection of what humanity truly is, even when most of humanity is gleefully hiding its ugly nature behind a saccharine humanism.
There's much of violence and its cost running throughout Simmons' work (another reason I love him), but it appears in myriad forms. And always from a different genre direction. Historical fiction, urban fantasy, hard sci-fi, horror, historical horror, whodunnit, poetry, mythos, and whatever else works.
Simmons is an author among authors, and if you have never read him this is a good place to start. Song of Kali may not dazzle, but it will pique your interest and get you ready for his more daunting books (of which there are many).
p.s. I don't care if you think I am crazy (or what he thinks, for that matter). I love him. So there. ;) (less)
Twenty winters ago I read Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire for the first time. I read it again just before Neil Jordan's film version came out,...moreTwenty winters ago I read Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire for the first time. I read it again just before Neil Jordan's film version came out, and then I let it slip into the recesses of my personal mythology, only letting the memory of it pop out once in a while for some wistful nostalgia and a vow to read it again.
This year's glut of filmed Vampire adaptations -- HBO's True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books, and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight -- got me longing for a good Vampire fix again, something well written, something weighty, something inventive, something that was targeted for an audience with literary tastes rather than your regular purveyor of pop culture.
The hunt was on.
My mind slipped straight through its familiar fondness for Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and dismissed her work as the wrong place to go to find my fix. After all, can you get more pop-culture than the Vampire Chronicles when you're talking about Vampires (besides the aforementioned)?
So I found myself going to the source of all great Vampire work -- Bram Stoker. I started peeking at Dracula late in the night when the rest of my day was done and the kids were in bed, or after True Blood was finished on the movie channel. Dracula was as excellent as I remembered, but it didn't come close to satisfying my craving.
Earlier this week, though, I found myself looking at my shelves and there, again, was Interview With the Vampire. This time, without a thought, without any hesitation, I picked it up and dove in.
It is not just a piece of pop culture fluff (although it certainly became a pop culture event after its publication). It is a surprisingly well written masterpiece of depth and feeling.
Anne Rice may have written some poor stories before and since Interview With the Vampire, but those stories don’t change the fact that she is a damn good writer (unlike Harris or Meyers who, despite their popularity and entertainment value, are mere hacks in comparison to Rice). Her prose is clear, clean and evocative of emotions and sensations, breathing undeniable life into the story of her undead hero, Louis.
She writes so beautifully about Louis that it is almost impossible not to find oneself believing his story is true. I want there to be a majestically handsome Creole vampire who consciously struggles with the cost of his immortality because of his human beliefs. I want there to be a tormented vampire whose visions of love transcend human morals and concerns, who can love a nihilistic child vampire, a seemingly sadistic master vampire and a brooding but gorgeous male vampire differently but with equal intensity.
And I want there to be a vampire so wrapped up in his own journey of undead discovery that the concerns of human history float past him like a stick sliding unnoticed under a bridge.
Louis feels the world, his world, so richly, loves humans so deeply, thirsts for human creation so intensely that he -- in his interview -- can convey nothing other than his lust for life and all that is living. And that is Rice’s gift to us: the declaration that living life intensely, whatever that life may consist of, is the most important thing we can do.
I think I might have received that message from her twenty years ago, and I’ve been trying to live it ever since. I hope I am alive in twenty more years to revisit Louis and test my living against his call to feel. I wonder how I will have done by then.(less)
Is the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is the...moreIs the Terror a mythical beast in the Arctic? The Tuunbaq? Is the Terror Her Majesty’s Ship of the same name? Is the Terror nights that never end? Is the Terror a Ripper style murderer and his penchant for mutilation? Is the Terror knowledge? Is the Terror sodomy? Is the Terror a silent Esqimaux? Is the Terror scurvy? Is the Terror unrelenting ice floes? Is the Terror belief? Is the Terror remembrance? Is the Terror dreams? Is the Terror the past? Is the Terror cannibalism? Is the Terror doubt? Is the Terror hope? Is the Terror ignorance? Is the Terror magic? Is the Terror misunderstanding? Is the Terror fire? Is the Terror interminable cycles? Is the Terror hubris? Is the Terror hate? Is the Terror capitalism? Is the Terror “civilization”? Is the Terror humanity? Is the Terror the unknown? Is the Terror failure? Is the Terror duty? Is the Terror ego? Is the Terror alcohol? Is the Terror visions and hallucinations? Is the Terror death? Is the Terror suffering? Is the Terror starvation? Is the Terror ice? Is the Terror morality? Is the Terror shame? Is the Terror foolishness? Is the Terror delusion? Is the Terror love? Is the Terror life? Is the Terror solitude?(less)
Nowhere near the best vampire book ever written, Dead Until Dark is also far from the worst. And its worth reading...if for no other reason than becau...moreNowhere near the best vampire book ever written, Dead Until Dark is also far from the worst. And its worth reading...if for no other reason than because it proves books are not always better than their cinematic counterparts.
Charlaine Harris' opening book in the Sookie Stackhouse series is just original enough to be interesting. Her slight twists on the Vampire genre, like True Blood (a synthetic blood that keeps Vampire's fed but not satiated) and the mainstreaming of Vampires, are nice little flourishes, which make an otherwise mundane serial killer mystery worth reading.
But it is the adaptability of Harris' characters to HBO that makes Dead Until Dark compelling enough to pursue past the first book. The characters come alive on screen. They were made for a modern day Dark Shadows melodrama and Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, American Beauty) nails the melodrama on the HBO series with the added titillation of stylish nudity and graphic violence allowed by the medium.
Moreover, there are characters and subplots in the book that haven't yet appeared in the series, and I want to find out more about them, although I think it is more out of curiosity generated by the series than it is curiosity generated by Harris' words.
Indeed, without the television series I wonder how much I would have liked the story of Bill the Vampire's love for Sookie, the kooky, southern telepath. I am fairly certain I would still have liked it more than I liked the painfully precious Twilight, but nowhere near as much I liked Interview with the Vampire. Even now Dead Until Dark falls somewhere between those two books, but it is much closer to Anne Rice's Gothic sexiness than it is to Stephenie Meyer's Mormon Vampire schmaltz.
If you're watching True Blood on television, give Dead Until Dark a chance. The source material, even with its pulpiness, is worth a look, and it is a nice supplement while you're waiting for the next episode.(less)
I hated all The Haunting of Hill House's characters so much that I couldn't stand reading the book, yet Shirley Jackson's need to make us hate all the characters in the book, and her success impressed the hell out of me.
But then I wondered if the reason I hated the characters was not genuinely because of the book, but because of the crappy film version from 1999. Jan de Bont's remake, The Haunting, was abysmal, and the performances of its four stars were some of the worst of their careers (especially Lili Taylor, whose performance as Eleanor was the most insufferable of the lot).
But as soon as I picked up the book Jackson's characters became the actors for me. Liam Neeson was all I could see when I was reading Dr. Montague, despite the fact that Jackson's vivid descriptions of the Doctor don't match the Irishman in any way. And I had the same problems with Owen Wilson (Luke), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Theo) and Lili Taylor (Eleanor). Their performances were the characters for me, and I worried that I wasn't giving Jackson's characters a fair shake.
This hardly ever happens to me. I watch movies all the time -- sometimes before I read the books, although I try to avoid this -- and I've nearly always been able to avoid the actors' performances spilling into my fanciful renderings of the characters. This time, though, all four horrible performances stuck.
So was my disdain for the characters really Shirley Jackson's doing, or was it my personal issues with a bad rendering of her work? I hope it was the former rather than the latter, but I remain unsure.
I also ran into problems with my expectations of the story, and these seem to have been miraculously untainted by the movie. Even odder than my retention of the movie characters was my total lack of recall for the story itself.
Jackson kept me guessing throughout The Haunting of Hill House, but right up until the end I felt like all these false leads and potential "realities" were missed opportunities. She frustrated me again and again. I wondered if the hauntings were being staged as a psychological experiment by Montague, then I hoped that was the case, then it wasn't. I wondered if Eleanor was there at all, then I hoped she wasn't, then she was. I wondered if someone was already a ghost, then I hoped she was, then she wasn't. And so it went: Jackson kept setting me up with the story's potential then knocking me down with an overturning of my expectations.
Then I reached the end of the story, and Chapter Nine actually redeemed the tale for me. It didn't make The Haunting of Hill House one of my all time favourites, but it did bring me closer to believing that Shirley Jackson really expected us to loathe her characters, that she even depended on it, and that the control she exerted over her work was as deliberate and delicate as a surgeon repairing ligaments.
***WARNING: This review contains a potential spoiler in terms of plot and character. Read at your peril.***
I wish I could say that I tried harder to g...more***WARNING: This review contains a potential spoiler in terms of plot and character. Read at your peril.***
I wish I could say that I tried harder to get through Pet Semetary before giving it up, that I carried it with me, that I read it in those stolen moments of banality, which I do with most books, but the fact is I didn't. And that says much about why I've decided to put it down unfinished.
It's not that the story is a bad idea. Stephen King's story of the Creed family -- new to Maine and a life near Bangor -- is pretty clever and has enough going on that it should be interesting. They move in, they argue about how to explain death to their children, their cat dies and is born again with a mean streak, then their (thanks, Kelly ;)) son Gage dies and all hell breaks loose.
It should be creepy (I remember the movie being creepy when I was young), and it probably would be if I could go on, but I just don't care.
When I am reading it I enjoy it well enough (it has been my walking home from jogging book), but once I put it down I don't really want to go back. I'm not sure why, although I think it might be have something to do with it just not frightening me. Indeed, nothing by King frightens me...ever...!and when I am reading a horror I want more than creepy and readable, I want freaky-to-the-core, make-it-hard-to-sleep-late-at-night, compel-me-to-keep-going-in-spite-of-myself scary. And King never seems to do that.
So...with another whimper ends my third attempt at reading King. I am sure I will try again a few years from now (something always pulls me back), but after book one of The Dark Tower underwhelmed me and Pet Semetary went onto my unfinished shelf, I realized it was time to concede my indifference and move on once again.
Sorry King fans (especially you Helen)...he's just not my bag. (less)
There came a turn in the vampire oeuvre -- and that turn had much to do with the Anne Rice's vampire novels -- when the inherent eroticism of vampiris...moreThere came a turn in the vampire oeuvre -- and that turn had much to do with the Anne Rice's vampire novels -- when the inherent eroticism of vampirism, which was one of many vampiric themes, shifted into a full scale fetishization of vampire sexuality.
I don't say this to criticize totally what vampire tales have become. I remain a fan of Lestat, Louis and Armand, and I certainly dig Sookie's Bill and Eric (the less said about Bella's Edward the better), but the fetishization of vampire sexuality has become a reductive cliche in vampire literature, and each new manifestation of vampire fiction seems to carry with it an increasing hypersexuality to the detriment of other potential vampire themes, so I've found myself less and less excited by vampire tales with each incarnation.
So reading Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night has positively rejuvenated my interest in vampire fiction, reminding me that there is much that remains unexplored and underexplored in fiction about this most human form of undead.
Hambly discards the fetishization; in fact, what sexuality there is in Those Who Hunt the Night is either between her human protagonists, Lydia and Asher, or is merely the bare minimum required by a vampire for hunting (who are, according to one of the number, basically asexual). Sexuality is incidental. And I think Hambly wants it to remain that way because the theme that most concerns her is predation.
She is concerned with the ethics of hunting to live, of killing to preserve life. She offers one complex vampire, the eminently likable Don Simon Ysidro, and a series of violent archetypes, from a violent and angry master vampire, Dr. Grippen, to a damned and guilt-ridden ex-priest, Brother Anthony. These vampires, and all the others we get a taste of, inhabit some position along an ethical continuum that runs from debilitating remorse to a pragmatic sublimation of remorse to no remorse at all. But Hambly takes things a step further and places some of her humans along the continuum too. The most important is Asher, the philologist/spy/private investigator coerced by Ysidro into hunting down a dangerous killer of London's vampires. Even Asher is forced, by his connection with and aiding of the vampires, to face his own predation and the motives he has used to justify or rationalize the actions in his past.
Hambly's thoughts on predation could have gone further, I suppose, but anything more would have been beyond the characters and their Edwardian milieu, and Hambly is a good enough writer to know that she must be true to her characters and their setting, no matter what else she is trying to achieve.
There are better vampire books than Those Who Hunt the Night, and from everything I've been hearing there are better Barbara Hambly books than Those Who Hunt the Night, but as a bit of a vampire geek, I am full of appreciation for her attempt to remind us that vampires are predators who feed on us -- as folklore has always warned us. In our fantasy worlds, vampires are on top of the food chain. And it sure sucks to be food, doesn't it?(less)
1. The Zombies are from space! 2. Not all the uniforms are Trek. Can you say Princess Leia fighting zombies in her slave girl bikini?! 3. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Star Wars references abound, driving our captain, Jim Pike, crazy! 4. Serious, gory, Zombie slaying madness with seriously cool Trek weapons (remember Amok Time?)! 5. A Convention within a Convention on the Edge of Forever! 6. Nuclear Blasts that turn out to be fusion bombs that put an end to USA's sixth largest city! 7. Twists and turns and octopus hands! 8. Plenty o' death to plenty o' red shirts! 9. A Kirk style hero with some genuine military training for that added flavour of believability ;) 10. 35 exciting chapters named after the best Trek episodes you can remember :)
I expected the book to end with me smiling a little -- maybe more of a smirk -- and shaking my head over the 17 bucks I wasted. I didn't expect to love it. And I did. It started to drag for about two chapters at the end, but even that couldn't wipe away the brilliance of Night of the Living Trekkies.
I don't know that people will like this book if they aren't fans of at least Zombies or Trek, but if you're a fan of both this book is a photon torpedo. It's slick, action-packed, wittingly hits all the right notes and plays by the rules of its sources, and it is ready, this minute, to be turned into an excellent film. I hope it makes it to the big screen, but even if it doesn't, I'll be returning to Houston and the problem of Third Eye Space Zombies real soon.
I admit it: The Walking Dead descends into cheesy soap territory from time to time.
I admit it: some of Chris Adlard's art seems sloppy and rushed.
I admit it: the AMC series adapting this into something even better than its source material.
I admit it: I am a massive geek.
Every once in a while Kirkman hits a patch of dialogue, almost always at a critical character moment, that rings emotionally pitch perfect. Take this moment between our "hero," Rick (could he be any more annoyingly one dimensional?) and Herschel:
Rick: And you're keeping those ... THINGS in your barn -- on your property -- right next to where you sleep?
Herschel: Yeah, we're keeping them in the barn until we can figure out a way to help them. What have you been doing with them?
Rick: What do you think we've been doing with them? You said yourself they should be dead. Shooting them in the head fixes that. We've been killing them.
Herschel: Killing them?! You've just been killing them?!
Rick: We're putting them out of their misery ... We should go in that barn right now and shoot every GODDAMN one of them in the head. It's nto safe for them to be here! We need to kill them before they kill us.
Herschel: My SON is in there GOD DAMMIT!
I can feel how expected, how trite this seems, but I can also see someone doing something as stupid as Herschel does, and I can see it happening for that very reason, and at the heart it rings true for me. I love these moments. And I think it is why Kirkland's comic has lasted so long and become such a hit on TV. It resonates.
You know, the soapiness is just fine by me because it offers something that no other Zombie tale has ever offered -- potential longevity. Why is this important? Because all of the movies we see, most of the literature we see, are at the beginning of a Zombiepocalypse or an explosion of the undead. The Walking Dead started the same way, but the longer it runs the mroe fascinating it becomes. What does a Zombie infestation look like 6 months later? A year later? 5 years later? A decade? A Zombie soap opera can explore that, and it is right now as we speak.
Even though Aldard's art can be sloppy at time, he's penciled some absolute gems that stick with me from this second graphic novel. The best is the cover to issue # 9:
It's genius. It speaks for itself.
I am glad about the TV show's decision to keep Shane alive. I am glad that they went to the CDC. I am glad that they cut the gated community. I am glad that they've added side journeys, like the run for medical supplies in the episode "Bloodletting." AMC's crew is making good choices. I hope they keep it up.
If you're reading this review, you probably already know what a geek I am. So no surprise. I might have liked this more if it hadn't followed The Dark Phoenix Saga, so my apologies for those who love this installment of The Walking Dead. My standards are unfairly high at the moment.(less)
And I've finally done it. I just finished reading The Sorrow King, and I fear it is the doobie-ous gateway to my new Prunty as heroin addiction.
I have to admit that The Sorrow King was a lot less bizarro than I had imagined it would be. Even with its semen monster and a zombie fellatio dream, The Sorrow King is more mainstream horror than bizarro madness. But that works. And works well. Those bizarro moments flavour the mainstream horror in ways that are horrible (rather than horrifying), spicing up a genre that often bores my tastebuds.
I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, but I seriously loved this book right up to the last chapter or two. I loved the shift in narrators; I loved that none of the characters were safe; I loved the way Prunty was able to maintain suspence and even surprise me once or twice; I loved the father and son bits between Steven and Connor; and I loved that Prunty remembered and could convey what it was like to be a horny teenage boy about to have sex. We need more of that in the books being written today. More of that would go a long way to removing the shame our society is piling on sexuality.
Back to the The Sorrow King, though. It is an excellent piece of horror fiction, and its cinematic qualities scream for a chance to find its way onto HBO or the big screen.
I don't know how you can be so prolific, Andersen, and still achieve the quality of The Sorrow King, but if the rest of your books are anywhere near as good as this one, I am going to be appreciate your speed and offer my vein up to you as my horror pusher.
In other news, this was the first novel length book I've read on an e-Reader. I can't see it becoming my main format -- ever -- but I like its convenience. I will read something that way again. (less)
Egyptian legends. Bloodthirsty giant felines that spring from common household cats. An über-Cat apocalypse. Armies on the ropes. Only one man who has...moreEgyptian legends. Bloodthirsty giant felines that spring from common household cats. An über-Cat apocalypse. Armies on the ropes. Only one man who has the key to save what's left of humanity. There was real potential here for a seriously fun B-movie, Golden Age of Hollywood style story, or at the very least, something so bad it was good like an Ed Wood Z-movie.
But nope. Jersey Shore musician Johnny Flora's novel is more like an N-movie -- nowhere near good enough to be good and not bad enough to be great.
The fault is in Flora's penchant for exposition and the fact that every character in the book, from an Egyptian neurosurgeon turned world saver to an African American national guardsman to the President of the United States (named Clancy. A tip of the hat to author Tom?), is another version of Johnny Flora.
Exposition first. For the first 53 pages, Alasham (the aforementioned neurosurgeon) listens to his grandfather, Arim (a famous Egyptologist), go on and on about the legend of Zalanon. We hear of ancient battles, Pharaohonic egotism, a plan to save humanity from a future of global warming and overpopulation, all as the two men sit static on the Giza Plateau and bake in the midday sun.
This is when "show, don't tell" would have been a great benefit to the author and reader alike. A prologue with all of that action, with Zalanon and Ramses and Cleeves and Bastet and Zagusah, all doing what they did to force the coming of the über-Cats, would have been a magnificent B-movie beginning. Then, BAM, we could have been thrown into the present where Alasham's grandfather is dead, and Alasham reveals to us that Arim entrusted him with the scrolls and the secret to saving humanity from the Spell of Zalanon.
But nope. We watch the grass grow, then skip twenty-five years to the day of reckoning and the über-Cat apocalypse.
Now the characters. I am going to talk specifically about Alasham. He is a highly educated, Egyptian neurosurgeon. He lives in San Diego when the real action begins, and he has been living there for 25 years. Still, his formative years, the first half of his life, were spent in Cairo. Yet here's how he thinks:
Their restless behavior was the prequel of an impending attack. The landscape was covered with these predators like onions on a T-bone steak. There were more lions on these hills than hippies at the Woodstock festival, except they weren't there for free love. I felt like Davy Crockett looking out of the Alamo at the vast Santa Anna army that hopelessly outnumbered his brave Texas militia.
Quite the string of similes, and a string that is hard to imagine in the brain of an Egyptian neurosurgeon. Not a medical or North African reference in the bunch. And exactly twenty pages later a completely different character, an American military Captain, thinks this: "He couldn't help but feel like Daniel Bowie [sic] at the Alamo as he looked at the fear in the expressions on their faces." Really?! Two men from totally different cultural backgrounds are going to think about the Alamo when the odds are against them. Oh well, at least Flora got the details right.
But nope. It was Jim Bowie at the Alamo, not "Daniel Bowie." And it wasn't "Crockett's ... brave Texas militia," but Bowie's then Travis' men who were hopelessly outnumbered. Surely that's a one or two off, though?
But nope. He even implies that the American Civil War predated Napolean's Hundred Days:
In all of history no battle would be more violent and ferocious, not Gettysburg, Waterloo, or the Invasion of Normandy.
And nowhere in there does he mention any battle from WWI. I admit these are personal annoyances, but when they are added to The Spell of Zalanon's other problems, they are unforgivable.
As is Flora's constant confusing of there - their - they're. As are his lack of punctuation and apostrophe errors. As is the Liger.
Did I say Liger? Yep. I sure did. Sekhmet, a bad ass Egyptian cat-goddess takes the form of a 2,000lb Liger., which could have been silly fun if the rest of the story had achieved its B-movie promise. But in the end it was just silly.
I've needed to read this for quite some time. Brontë finished it months ago, but my own books got in the way, and I never seemed to make it around to...moreI've needed to read this for quite some time. Brontë finished it months ago, but my own books got in the way, and I never seemed to make it around to Franny and her mad science -- until last night.
Insomnia kicked in, but I didn't have the attention span for my other books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Under Heaven, and I didn't want to start something significant while I was bogged down in those monstrosities, so Franny K. Stein won the night.
I was most struck by how far past this book Brontë is now. When kids are learning to read it really doesn't take long, does it? She bounced from Attack of the 50Ft. Cupid to Little House in the Big Woods, and now she is reading Stardust. Every stage from now on is growth ... if the child develops a love for reading.
As for this book, it was fun. It doesn't approach good literature, let alone great, but as a pseudo-graphic novel about pseudo-horror goes Attack of the 50Ft. Cupid isn't half bad. Franny is a mildly mad scientist. Igor is her brand new lab assistant (bought for her by quintessential Soccer Mom, who desperately wants to connect with her horror loving daughter), and Miss Shelley (love the name) is her much suffering teacher, trying to school Franny in popular -- normal? -- culture.
So on Valentine's Day, through much happen stance, a 50-Ft. Cupid appears in a Franny's house and tears around town trying to shoot people with giant, heart tipped arrows. Franny and Igor stop the loving rampage and all is well.
There are some fun jokes. There is an ass kicking Valentine's Day poem generator, that even you can use, and there are the same fun drawings we always get from Jim Benton. If you have a quirky little girl or two, you'll all love these books. They're pretty Scooby. (less)
The bloody, putrid, rotting corpse of soap opera goodness that is The Walking Dead graphic novels is in its full balls out glory in the third collecti...moreThe bloody, putrid, rotting corpse of soap opera goodness that is The Walking Dead graphic novels is in its full balls out glory in the third collection Safety Behind Bars.
Lori is pregnant with Shane's baby -- And in case you don't know, Shane is the former best friend of Rick, Lori's husband. Not only that, though, Lori and Rick's son Carl shot Shane dead. Not only that, though, Shane was buried after his death, and Rick realizes over the course of the story that Shane is probably zombified (more on this later), so he goes back, digs Shane up, and kills him again. Sweet.
It's not about being bitten anymore -- That's right. You don't have to die with a Zombie biting you to turn. All you need to do is die. You die, and you come back. How do we know? Chris and Julie (Tyreese's daughter) gave each other their virginity then enacted their suicide pact. As these things are wont to do, the suicide pact only resulted in Julie's death, and as soon as she died, with no zombies in sight, she was reanimated and trying to eat her grieving father's neck. Rick finishes her zombieness off, while Tyreese strangles his daughter's lover to death. What a meany!
Prisoners and Serial Killers -- It's not enough that our band of merry wanderers finds a prison and have to clear it out, but they also find a small cache of prisoners, still alive and eating meatloaf in the prison mess hall: a murderer (he killed his wife and her lover), a druggy drug dealer, an aging biker in prison for theft, and a white collar tax evader.
Next thing you know, heads -- and not zombie heads -- are literally rolling, and one of our prisoners is a serial killer. Surprise, surprise, surprise.
Love Connections Galore -- Andrea hooks up with Dale. Chris and Julie hook up pre-mortem. Tyreese and Carol keep their relationship going between mop up jobs. Glenn and Maggie get all romantic over a barber chair. Dexter and Andrew, former inmates, start to see their man love cool. And even little Carl hooks up with little Sophia. It's fun for all ages.
It's no wonder AMC's making it for the small screen. The melodrama suits TV perfectly.
What really keeps me reading, though, isn't all the silly shit -- which has its place and I do enjoy -- it's the constant shifting of ethical and moral attitudes as these people get deeper and deeper in to the Zombiepocalypse. Their ideas are constantly fluctuating; some of them talk a good game about retaining their humanity, then quickly blow it all in a moment of madness; they try to make laws to govern themselves and don't realize (at least most of them don't) that they've already been violated; the whole band of them are full of hypocrisy and selfishness and the baser human instincts, and the way it's being handled is definitely making the journey fun.
I don't know that all of this behavioural stuff can be sustained, but it is my favourite part of the graphic novels, no doubt about it. (less)
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the...moreA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell.(less)
Screw digging for meaning. This time it's just about the joy of a good yarn, and Miss Becky Cloonan, she can sure spin those good yarns.
The Mire, anot...moreScrew digging for meaning. This time it's just about the joy of a good yarn, and Miss Becky Cloonan, she can sure spin those good yarns.
The Mire, another of her beautiful one shots, is a creepy little tale worthy of a Twilight Zone episode or one of those old-time radio shows like The Hermit's Cave or Inner Sanctum. It's a deceptively simple ghost story that reveals a young man's lineage, steeped in lust and death and bastardy, and it all revolves around the Withering Swamp.
Cloonan's crispy pencils are matched by her natural feel for short storytelling, and there's not an image or word misplaced. I long for the day when she gets to write and pencil her own monthly title for one of the big comic houses (although I would much rather convince her to pencil a story of mine ... I am too afraid to ask, though. I wonder if she'd read my book if I sent her a copy?). C'mon Dark Horse. C'mon Image. You know what she can do. Get your acts together and give her a shot at complete control. Let her do it all because if The Mire shows us anything it shows us that Becky Cloonan can.