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03-19-04: Springtime for Vertical

Spiral & Sayonara Gangsters in line to annihilate your reality

Your eyes are getting heavy...wait, did I use this before?
Like me, I know you've been waiting patiently for Vertical-Inc to release the sequel to Koji Suzuki's 'Ring'. Your wait is almost over. And if you've not read 'Ring', you'll soon have the opportunity to read it in a trade paperback, also from Vertical-Inc.

'Ring' was certainly a standout publication of last year, and not at all what you'd expect if you've only seen the US adaptation of the Japanese movie, which was adapted from the Japanese TV series, which was adapted from the novel. As you might expect, quite a bit was lost in translation.

'Loop' finds Ando, a medical doctor, haunted by the images of his drowned son. How all this plays into the viral outbreak described in 'Ring' is completely unclear to me. But what is clear is that Suzuki has a nicely mathematical and science fictional approach to his horror that serves the material well.

Wilder at heart.
Also very agonizing and forthcoming from Vertical is 'Sayonara Gangsters' by Genichiro Takahashi. He's described as Haruki Murakami's wilder variant, and more helpfully, indescribable. The latter is the tag usually associated with 'Sayonara Gangsters'. The novel itself is a series of short sketches, which reputedly read like philosophy or poetry. My inclination is to get out Rhys Hughes 'A New Universal History of Infamy', re-read and enjoy it, and then order up this book. Alas, none of these are yet available, but you can be sure I'll be the first to tell you when they are. These Vertical-Inc folks are really nice about that. If you email them, you can get on their mailing list. Look; they've got some really weird stuff going on. It's definitely worth checking out.

03-18-04: Bring Your Own Blood

The Conrad Williams London Tour Bureau

Please give blood. Or Else.
Conrad Williams first came to my attention with his 1998 debut novel 'Head Injuries', from Do-Not Press, which I obtained via the ever helpful Ziesings. It was one of those books the Ziesings have in their printed catalogue (such a joy to browse) that I took a chance on one and was glad that I did. Turned out that Williams was one hell of a writer.

He next popped into my view with his 2001 novella 'Nearly People' from the ever reliable, auto-buyable PS Publishing. Once again, I loved the book, and while Williams wrote in a style similar to that of 'Head Injuries', the surreal, science-fictional milieu of 'Nearly People' was very different from the workday nightmares of 'Head Injuries'.

If I had to wait until now for new material -- and there's lots of it, then it was certainly worth the wait. I reported recently on 'Use Once, Then Destroy' a new short story collection forthcoming from Night Shade Publications. Since then, I've found one new work on my own time, and heard from the author, which led me to another.

While poking about the Earthling Publications website for an article on Michael Marshall Smith, I found that they were publishing a new novella by Williams titled 'Game'. It sounds just as surreally unpleasant as anything else he's done. It's the story of Ness, a woman who can see things in the future that might happen -- very bad things. She's on a converging path with Rache and Fi, who are being forced to kill targets provided by a very bad man who holds a captive from whom he extracts blood one pint at a time --if they fail to provide proof of their murders. At 80 pages, it's a one-day read, a toe-tapping tale of terror written in Williams' lush, beauty-of-ugliness prose style. Literally the day after I found out about it, I got the Ziesings' catalogue -- which sported this title for sale.

And the day after I received the novella in the mail, I heard from the author. He was alerting me to the existence of the new novella and mentioned his website. The website is definitely worth your time; there are excerpts from 'Game', 'Nearly People' and 'Head Injuries', a short story -- 'The Light that Passes Through You' and links to other online short stories.

A new novel.
When I reviewed 'Head Injuries', I mentioned that the novel came from "a new publisher that promises to be the source of more interesting material." That would be the Do-Not Press and that has proved to be the case in spades. If you doubt, take a look at their website. They have a lot of titles and authors, mixing some familiar names with a larger number who are apparently known -- but not to me. Given that they share Do-Not Press with Conrad Williams, I'm thinking that they're probably worth a look. In particular, I was intrigued by John B. Spencer, who gets good press from notables like George Pelecanos and comparisons to Elmore Leonard.

Williams' website offers a peek at the cover -- and not much more, other than effusive blurb from M. John Harrison -- of a new novel forthcoming, from the Do-Not Press. Titled 'London Revenant', it appears to be another surreal peek at the unpleasant underbelly of London. While the UK small press is burgeoning and benefiting from Williams wonderful writing, I can't imagine that London tourism is faring quite as well. I have to say that a "Bring your own blood" tour of the city might appeal to me; but perhaps I'm in a minority.

03-17-04: New Phil Rickman Auto-Buy Selection and the Nightwear Psychic Line

The House of the Baskervilles

Look it's a mystery! It says so right on the cover! No horror fiction here, no siree!

What more could readers ask for than another Merrily Watkins mystery? How about another Merrily Watkins mystery revolving around the ever-popular Sherlock Holmes?

Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins novels are certainly amongst the most looked-forward to books in our house. His latest is 'The Prayer of the Night Shepherd', which find Merrily visiting the Victorian mansion-turned hotel of Ben Foley. He's been hosting "murder mystery weekends" there, and is striving to prove that his hotel is the actual house upon which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his famous creation of Baskerville Hall. As ever, Merrily finds plenty of evil residing in the present actions of those around her to keep her busy. And no doubt there is a spiritual aspect to this evil that is as threatening to her as the down-and-dirty folks who just want to make a quick buck.

If you haven't yet managed to get round to reading Rickman, there's no time like the present, but this is a series that you'll want to read in the order they came out. This would be:

December [Not a Merrily Watkins book, per se, optional but suggested for background of characters who play a part in the Watkins series]
The Wine of Angels
Midwinter of the Spirit
A Crown of Lights
The Cure of Souls
The Lamp of the Wicked [one of my favorite books of last year]

Like many series, one of the primary pleasures of the Merrily Watkins novels is visiting with the series regulars and finding out what's up with them. This is why you should read 'December' first, even though it's not about Merrily. Over the course of five, now six novels, they've come to be as compelling as the fascinating subjects Rickman picks to examine. And Rickman himself is becoming ever more confident as he strikes out a peculiar path between mystery fiction, supernatural fiction, procedural crime stories and based-on-actual-events stories. Rickman's novels offer the true joy of reading a writer who is following a powerful, individual vision and having one hell of a good time doing so. Start with 'The Wine of Angels', and be confident that you have at least five more novels to read before Rickman's next novel comes out. Catching up has never been this much fun.

Getting Past the Cover

Emma's secret is actually psychic.
Now, should you see this book on the shelves of your grocery store or book store, your first impulse like mine, is likely to glance away in embarrassment. I mean, here's your local nightgown model, standing in front of a burning house. It's not the kind of image that's going to pull in the readers, or at least serious readers. But something stayed my hand, and I have to admit that this novel -- the third in a series might have some untapped potential.

The premise is intriguing and if the execution isn't cloyed by the inclinations displayed in the cover art, then we might have a nice little bit o' cheese in our future. 'Taking Time' follows 'Out of Time' and 'Behind Time' in telling the story of Emma Merrigan. Emma (a very popular girl's name these days) has discovered a psychic talent for selecting nightwear,

no no no.


Emma can travel through time and save those who have fallen victim to curses. Of course, the problem with meddling in time is that actions in the past have consequences in the present, and it's not easy to predict those consequences. Now, Lynn Abbey is given credit as the co-editor of 'Thieves' World' -- whatever that is -- but I presume it's one of those series about which I'd prefer to know nothing. I'll preserve my ignorance in that respect, but I will allow that I could, under the right circumstances, be cursed to read just such a book as this -- and enjoy it. Fortunately for me, I'll have to travel through time to read the first two first. I'm well known for having the psychic ability to select nightwear, so we'll see how that talent serves me in the time travel department.

03-16-04: Computers & Marriage Put to Bad Use, Sucking Van Helsing Dry, Drunken Vangrants in Fantasy, Catching Up with 1987

Ridley Pearson's The Body of David Hayes

Runway models and forensic scientists.
The mystery field is so overcrowded, so overloaded with writers who at least in theory have interest and potential, it's sometimes hard to catch up with them. I've seen the name Ridley Pearson on the shelves for years now, and yes, they've looked good but never quite hooked me. 'The Body of David Hayes' is apparently his latest Lou Boldt mystery, the eighth book in the series. Bringing it out of the blur are two subjects that I personally enjoy reading about; bad marriages and computer crime.

The premise of the novel is that cop Lou Boldt's wife Elizabeth long ago had an affair with a younger colleague. When she ended the affair, the colleague, one David Hayes, reacted by embezzling lots of money from the company they both worked for. Though he was caught, the money was never found. Now, years later, he's been released from jail and tries to entice Elizabeth into helping him gain access to the bank's mainframe. He disappears and she's manipulated by people on both sides of the law.

I'm curious as to how accurate the computer stuff will be. There's an opportunity for real science fiction --without the speculation -- in this premise, and I find that intriguing. And there is also the opportunity for the written computer version of what is called "TV parking". I also find the family in distress intriguing, if only because I haven't encountered it in my admittedly limited reading in the mystery genre. LCC did some good in that regard, and I'm getting there!

'The Body of David Hayes' also treads new ground in terms of cover blurbs. We're used to Stephen King offering praise -- he's certainly a nice enough guy -- but we're not used to seeing praise from names that claim to be Detectives and Forensic Scientists. It's an interesting tactic. And I certainly hope that these Detectives and Forensic scientists look like runway models, because we know -- yes we know that the Law Enforcement professions draws only the best-looking men and women in America.

"Until time itself runs out"*

Who gets the next stake? Can I decide? Please?
Well that apocalypse has done come and gone, my friends. Not only is there no room in hell, they've used up every damn vampire in the literary universe, and the corpse grinders are feeding on the remains of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. When Dracula himself has been sucked dry, who do you turn to? Well, if you're going to make a cheesy movie full of recycled special effects -- no wait, that's special effects recycled to create yesteryear's monsters then you turn to their primary foe, Van Helsing. The upside of this mind-sucking creative vacuum is that every movie needs as much promotion as it can get, and books are an excellent tool to promote movies. And so, the ever-wise and glorious Jeanne Cavelos -- who once helmed arguably the best paperback horror imprint ever to hit the grocery store shelves, that is Abyss -- is called to duty, and she in turn gets a bezillion, make that 21 authors to crank out whatever the heck they want to say so long as it has something to do with the titular character from a forgettable film. But this is a good recipe for literary horror fiction.

You get Usenet whiz and novelist Lois Tilton, Abyss headliners Kathe Koja and Brian Hodge, Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SciFi Weekly reviewer and wildman author Adam-Troy Castro, Thomas Tessier and more than I need to type to convince you that your $14.95 might net you a number of nice reading experiences. Consider this evidence that even the most dubious enterprise -- this truly accursed movie -- can spawn some good in this world. And you can play the entertaining "Guess which of these stories will be nominated for a [put your favorite genre-oriented award name here]?"

Of course, I do have to take issue with something that Cavelos mentions in her introduction when she refers to the "infamous Buffy". Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done a world of good in a number of arenas. Ignoring the TV series, a number of the authors in this line up, including the excellent and highly underrated (in my mind) Christopher Golden, have earned more than a few samolians generating Buffy-inspired texts. As much as we'd like to look down our literary nose at such materials, it behooves us to know that were it not for them, a number of our favorite writers would be say, working in IT or some other form of gainful employment. Or writing Star Trek novels. We'll see if Van Helsing can put a stake through the heart of THAT monster.

*Captain Kirk speaking of two antagonists locked in a struggle until, uh.....

Drunken, Vagrant Fantasy

"This is much better than the pink elephants."

I'm not big on the heroes-on-a-quest deal. Or heroes-on-a-stick for that matter, though that's somewhat more my style. So when I saw this fantasy, I had to give it a second look, and I'm glad I did. When I can fold time and space, I might have a chance to read the damn thing! And if you like fantasy and like drunken vagrants, you'll enjoy it as well.

Well, I'm a fan of crabby old men as characters, though I tend to enjoy the Flannery O'Connor / William Gay model more than the JRR Tolkien model. Still Ian Graham's 'Monument' has a character at its center that is unpalatable enough to warrant a closer look. I missed the Orbit/UK edition, but some wise editor over at Penguin Putnam had the foresight to pick it up and publish it over here in a decent cover at a decent price. The premise has Ballas, a greedy drunken vagrant (Have we used that phrase enough?) saved from a beating by a priest whom he robs as a reward for his kindness. And therewith enters my heart fondly as the kind of guy I'd like to read about, though not necessarily meet. Wait! I have met him.

But apparently the version I met wasn't bearing an object of world-changing importance, as Ballas is. This lands him in what we could safely call fantasy-oriented hot water. And that will get you through about 370 pages of relatively small print in a relatively large format. Opening the novel at random I encountered a nail in the forehead and a bloodied stump of a neck -- wait, where's the head? -- oh never mind. It just goes to show that you can't go wrong with a greedy, drunken vagrant. At least, as a character in a novel.

Inception Date: 1987

Science Fiction?!?!? I don't read "Science Fiction"! What a maroon.
So much of the fiction I read today is big-scale British space opera. That's because there are a lot of great writers writing it. You've got the gothic complexity of Alastair Reynolds, shot through with science to make your head split open, you've got spaceships and evil dead from Peter F. Hamilton, you've got socialists in space with Ken Macleod, you've got monsters and methamphetamine mindsets from Neal Asher -- all great writing, fun and mind expanding in the way that science fiction was supposed to be. Plus those I'm blanking on at the moment, and there are plenty.

[Now science fiction is perfectly fine being something it isn't supposed to be as well, CF above, a crime thriller with one foot in the IT world. But. I digress.]

Many of these writers hail a writer whose work I've never read, because he got his start back in 1987, when you'd have had to shoot me to get me to read a science fiction novel with a spaceship on the cover. Eeeee-yew. All I was reading back then was horror.

Goes to show what I know.

I'm better now, really.

In a mid-life course correction, I've just managed to pick up 'Consider Phlebas' in a very nice first edition of the first book in Ian Banks' Culture series. This would be from the kind folks at Ziesing Books. And in case you think that a science fiction novel from 1987 is totally irrelevant, let me quote from the front quotes:

Idolatry is worse than carnage. -- The Koran 2: 190

Things have deep roots. The question that comes to bear is what are we missing now; and what fruit shall it bear in our future?

03-15-04: You Say You Want A 'Hard Revolution'

A Pelecanos Masterpiece With A Soundtrack

Historical mystery fiction.
Sometimes it's safe to say you're going to like something before you even crack the cover. I just finished 'Soul Circus' by George P. Pelecanos, so I'm not an unbiased observer. But even had I not just finished what the LA Times is calling one of the five best books of last year (and I can see why), I'd still find his new novel, 'Hard Revolution' a mighty attractive proposition. But it is a departure for this talented author, risk-taking of the highest order.

Pelecanos has built a rep as a great hard-boiled mystery writer. His writing is crisp, transparent, a laser beam directed from his brain to yours. The Strange/Quinn trilogy is not only great mystery writing, it's great political writing. Pelecanos writes with vigor and clarity about both sides of gun control, drug wars and the perennial poverty of the inner city as he carries his characters into the reader's memory.

But the Strange/Quinn trilogy -- and all of the Nick Stefanos novels -- are set in the present, that is, when they were written. But over the course of the Strange/Quinn trilogy, readers have been given quite a bit of background for protagonist Derek Strange. Though the novels that have thus far featured him have mentioned his backstory as a beat cop who quit the force long ago, details have been supplied only as they applied to matters at hand in the current narrative.

With 'Hard Revolution', Pelecanos enters the world of historical fiction, as he presents the story of the turbulent times that made Derek Strange the man we've come to know in the Strange/Quinn trilogy. It's 1968, and in Washington, D. C., Derek Strange is a rookie cop. He's trying to watch out for his brother Dennis, but it's not going to be easy; home from the Vietnam War with a disability and few prospects, Dennis is drawn into the world of a local criminal. This novel is set against the backdrop of the final days of Martin Luther King, as the nation was drawn into chaos and riots that change both the nation and Derek Strange.

Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Albert King, The Impressions, Percy Sledge, William Bell, Sam and Dave and Otis Redding.
When you buy 'Hard Revolution', make sure to ask for the CD that comes with it. If you've read the Strange/Quinn novels, you know that music plays a big part in these stories. It's constantly in the background. On one hand, you have Strange listening to the soul classics of the 1960's and 1970's. And on the other hand you have the Durham brothers "'Soul Circus') and Garfield Potter ('Hell to Pay') and Cherokee Coleman ('Right as Rain'), listening to the rough urban music favored by urban youth today.

Since 'Hard Revolution' is set in the late 1960's, you can expect only the former on the 'Hard Revolution' CD. The selections include 'Don't Fight It' by Wilson Pickett, 'You Don't Miss Your Water' by William Bell and 'It Tears Me Up' by Percy Sledge. You've got to hand it to !AOL-Time-Warner on this one. They capitalize on their huge music catalogue and help promote their books at the same time. They did this with the last Michael Connelly as well, and I bet that we can look forward to the new Connelly with another especially intriguing CD, given the controversial plot of 'The Narrows', which follows up on 'The Poet' in a particularly devastating fashion.

'Hard Revolution' is getting the kind of press most authors only dream of. It's been called a masterpiece by the people at Poisoned Pen, and given a very positive review by Janet Maslin of the New York Times, not notable as having a soft heart for genre fiction. I'll be starting this novel in a trice, and have a report back to my readers quickly.

Pelecanos is currently on tour; check out the dates here and if you can, make it to the store, hear him read and decide for yourself. I'm pretty sure most of my readers will enjoy Pelecanos, but the best way to find out is to either read some excerpts from his web site or more ideally, hear the man himself speak. Author tours are an excellent way to forge a personal connection to a writer, even if you don't actually speak to him or her. Being there in the same room, you'll know if this person has something to say that you want to hear. And if you do show and manage to speak to him -- tell him you read about it here! Especially if you see him before 3/22. [Thanks ever so much!]

But wait -- there's more! It may not be too late to get one of the signed, limited Dennis McMillan editions of 'Hard Revolution'. With a dust jacket by Joe Servello, which I've reproduced here as much as possible, in full pop-out glory*, this is certain to be one of the best limited editions you will be able to lay your hands on this year. If there are none left, I make no apologies; but I might suggest you apply now for a copy of 'The Narrows'.

*[This pop-out is 1200 x 500 pixels wide (IE, big), just so you're warned.]