07-02-04: Join 'The Inner Circle'; Choosing 'The Third Alternative'
Boyle's Intimate Look at those in Orbit Around Dr. Alfred Kinsey
Boyle tells the story in the first person this time around, from the point of view of John Milk, your average American college boy in the year 1949. When I talked to Boyle, he was relishing the decision to return to the first person, and I can see why. This book seems to flow without pause, without effort directly into the reader's mind. It's a fascinating conversation in which the reader is invited to enjoy the prose of a powerful, intelligent writer as he takes on the voice of an uncertain (as the novel begins) young man first exploring a world that is to the culture in which the novel takes place, virgin territory.
For while we live in a world saturated with sex, it wasn't always so. Some of us -- including the author -- have seen the changes creep into our culture. The impact of Kinsey and his cohorts caused the first cracks that eventually fractured the solid Victorian austerity of post-World War II America. Boyle gets us in on the ground floor. We're standing there as Kinsey and company pickaxe the pretensions that kept our emotions -- and how they played out in the flesh -- from view. Best of all, we get to experience the demolition from the point of view of a relative innocent, a young man who, from what I can discern, manages to preserve a sort of fragile purity even in the face of what was once seen as sordid, excessive sexuality.
It's easy to see why Boyle, our premiere historical novelist, was drawn to those in orbit about Kinsey. The best novels are not about things, or events, but people. Those are the works that touch us the most, that move us the most, and that entertain us the most. By focusing on events that devolve solely out of human contact at its most intimate, viewed as if they were remote and distant, Boyle can fine tune his sense of the absurd across an emotional harp, and play the reader a tune so fine, a song so sweet, words so strong, one can't help but be moved.
But forget all the yucky, cloying versions of "moved." This is about being moved by humanity and laughter. Be assured that Boyle finds the same understated humor with his examination of America the Beautiful sex machine as with America the Beautiful freedom machine in 'Drop City'. Boyle's sense of humor is masterfully controlled and evoked with a sort of naturalistic, documentary eye. Seeing clearly, taking off the blinders allows us to see the contradictions, the complications, the delicious irony of everything we do and see.
'The Inner Circle' is slated for nationwide release on September 13, and I hope to have an in-depth look at this novel as it arrives. But for Boyle, reviews are somewhat superfluous. And while all his novels -- indeed, in a sense, all novels -- are historical novels -- Boyle manages the unique trick of capturing a voice from the past with his own timelessly clear prose that peels away the layers; what we present ourselves to be, what we know ourselves to be, what we hope to become. None of them the same, none of them staying the same, we shift, we change, and we never change at all.
Lane In the Minotaur's Maze, Graham Joyce in the Guest Editor's Hotseat
You do have another
choice; there is always 'The Third
Alternative'. There hasn't always
been a third alternative. We're two issues away from ten years. But given
the opportunity, readers would be unwise to let it pass by. The fact
that it has not been a constant in our lives means that we should not
take the gift for granted, we should make the best of what we have.
I'll stop the pontificating and bring on the The Third Alternative. In this case, the
usual mix of great artwork, I mean stupendously beautiful layouts
by the likes of Mike Dubisch, Vincent Chong, Robert Dunn, Edward
Noon, and Chris 'Jigsaw
Men' Nurse. Jonathan
Lethem and Lindsay
interviewed by Iain Emsley, while Russell Hoban is interviewed
by Andrew Hedgecock. Christopher Fowler talks about the films of
horror re-makes and The Passion of the Christ, which itself is
a recent horror remake.
07-01-04: Follow 'The Course of the Heart' into the Heart of Darkness
Shade Books Re-Issues an M. John Harrison Classic
But for all the science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction fame that Harrison has attracted, I first knew him as a writer of quite surreal horror. Sitting in my shelves and actually findable is a signed hardcover copy of 'The Course of the Heart'. I'll cop that it took me about a half hour to find a book that was only a couple of feet away. But at least I did find it. It's a 1992 hardcover edition from Victor Gollancz, and get this -- I even found the charming 1992 postcard/bookmark from bookseller Mark V. Ziesing proclaiming "Mark V. Ziesing sells spooky books."
Harrison's prose is as gorgeous as ever in this early novel. It's a dark, surreal story of romance -- think Shelley, Byron and Keats -- and the supernatural. Harrison's vision of the human heart and the heart of a continent is as precise as his prose. But that doesn't mean simple. Harrison's fiction encompasses the complexity of life, the many chambers of the heart. If you follow 'The Course of the Heart', you will find many answers -- and even more questions.
One of those questions of course would be, "Where can I get this book?" Well, not in the United States, or at least, not until this month, when Night Shade Books will release a new edition for American audiences. The original Gollancz version features cover art by no less than Dave McKean, who has since gone on to a serious collaboration with Neil Gaiman. The Night Shade edition will be available as a reasonably priced trade hardcover -- $25.00 for a well-built book, and a signed, limited edition at $45.00. That's actually quite cheap, considering the care that Night Shade puts into their products. But most importantly, it puts a great book in front of a whole new world of readers in a finely wrought version. It's nice to know that one will no longer have to search through the borders of a mystical country to find the book -- as compelling as such a search may be.
06-30-04: At Last the Story Can Be Told; Carl Hiassen, No Prequel Required
Better World's In Birth' from Howard Waldrop
Every writer works at his or her own pace. At his peak, Philip K. Dick was
dashing off five or six novels per year. True, this was done under financial
duress, and readers might wish he'd been able to take more time to perfect his art.
Still,he cranked out one classic novel after another in those years.
At the other end of the spectrum,
we have Howard Waldrop. His latest novella from Golden Gryphon, which
2 in their "chapbook" series, is titled 'A Better World's In
Birth', and took a mere 21 years from concept to finished product. If
you like, it can join you at the local pub for a tankard of ale.
great question is whether or not this is a real bit of research unearthed
by the vigilant researcher Howard Waldrop or a bit of fun
from the wicked
humorist Howard Waldrop. It's one of the reasons we love reading his
work, as he stimulates the imagination in utterly original ways. And
up gems in his Afterwords, in this case, the story of a statue of Lenin
that made it to Seattle in the mid 1990's. Howard again: "One
afternoon someone hung a sign around old Ulyanov's neck. It read: Workers
World! -- Sorry….Which is pretty much the way I feel."
Dip' Off the Coast of Florida
Well, no other reason than the fact that I might actually ENJOY them. After all, I'm a huge fan of Christopher Brookmyre. He's regularly called "The Scottish Carl Hiassen" or some other similar blurb-worthy appellation. And damn, he's is one fine writer; his comedic skills are to my mind unmatched. Well, Joe R. Lansdale has a similar way with words, and a similar bent attitude. And these two were writers I had almost grown up with.
But now I'll be in the position to offer up a unique blurb for Mr. Hiassen's publicists: "Carl Hiassen is the American Christopher Brookmyre!" I hope they like that there blurb, because, hell, I love Brookmyre and anyone who can be called the American version of this fine writer must himself be a fine writer. I suspect that's a tautology, but you can easily get away such-like when you're writing about humorists. You're laughing with them, they're laughing with you, nobody's embarrassed, and the grave's a fine a private place, but none do there, I think embrace. Because humor just works a whole lot better if it's informed by a shred or two of badness. The badder, the better.
Fortunately for me, Hiassen has pursued a strictly standalone, non-serial policy on his novels; or at least on this novel. Joey Perrone, the buxom blonde on the cover, is tossed from an ocean liner by her no-good husband. But she doesn't die. No, she lives and rather than getting her hubby tossed in the clink, she decides to torment him from the Great Beyond-Your-Immediate-Vision. I don't know as I'd be quite so slow to keep the long arm of the law from doing its job, but then, I'm no buxom blonde. In any event, hi-jinks ensue, as we in BlurbWorld are fond of saying. Those hi-jinks include a quick conversion to Christianity and a firm decision to vote Republican in the fall election. Wait, this is Carl Hiassen, not Karl Rove! And it's too early for election hi-jinks, isn’t it? Well, I for one can't wait to hear what Hiassen does with the now au-courant phrase "hanging chad" in this novel. And if he chooses not to, then I'm certain of one thing: hi-jinks will ensue.
06-29-04: 24 Hour Party Girls of the 1920's
Hair and Bathtub Gin' by Marion Meade
The organization of the book strikes me as novelistic rather than documentarian. It starts in 1920 and each of eleven chapters takes us through one year of a decade of decadence, parties, literature, sex, drugs and convention-flaunting women who helped break a mold while setting a new one. Within the years, each woman is brought to ever-expanding life.
Zelda Fitzgerald was the Helen of Troy of her day; she helped launch a thousand novels, and is featured in works by her husband and Hemingway. She married Scott in 1920, and he surely coined the word "flappers" to describe her -- "girls with an extraordinary talent for living." Trips to Paris, accusations of homosexual affairs with Ernest Hemingway, a penchant for ballet, and a few trips to the asylum complete the picture of an "It Girl" for the Roaring Twenties.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was a graduate of Vassar who wrote for Vanity Fair in the 1920's. In 1923 Millay was honored as the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She traveled in Europe and had one affair after another, with men like critic Edmund Wilson and poet Witter Bynner. She's well known for her ardent protest of the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian born anarchists and labor agitators who were accused -- many thought falsely -- of the murder of two payroll guards in Massachusetts. She was jailed for her efforts.
Of course, Dorothy Parker is the best known of these women. Her wit and the social swirl she managed to stir ensured that she's still making headlines. What more could one ask for than a book about a quartet of women such as these. You must love a woman who can write a tidy little poem about suicide;
"Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live."
Apparently, they knew how to deal with fame, wealth and notoriety quite well back then. It's one of the Timeless Sciences. In point of fact, H. G. Wells, who wrote 'The Time Machine' shows up in this book and showed up back then. Chances are he might have picked up a few pointers on how wild the future could be by simply enjoying how wild were the women with whom he found himself surrounded.
06-28-04: The Secret of the Silver Screen Behind 'The Arcanum'
Lovecraft, Doyle and Houdini Duke It Out With the Men Behind the Curtain
Suffice it to say that I did say that, and did get the novel, then went back and to my chagrin found out that I'd been told I'd like it months before it came out. Well, better late than never, a lesson that may apply to the novel itself. Because it comes hot on the heels of books like William Hjortberg's 'Nevermore', Richard Lupoff's wonderful Arkham House title 'Lovecraft's Book' and Mark Frost's fine and damnably unfinished series that began with 'The List of Seven' and was followed up by 'The Six Messiahs'. Of course those books came out between twenty and ten years ago, so "hot on the heels" is perhaps something of an overstatement.
Still, never too late for an addition to the "fiction about Lovecraft" genre.
In this case, Lovecraft and Doyle, along with Houdini and famed real-life voodoo priestess Marie Laveau are members of The Arcanum, a secretive group dedicated to maintaining order in the face of chaos, which becomes quite a bit harder when the founder of the group, one Konstantin Duvall is murdered. One bad murder deserves another. And one good conspiracy deserves a bad one to counterbalance it.
Now, as to the author, Thomas Wheeler, don't hate him because he's beautiful. Maybe just a little because he "sold his first screenplay at age twenty two." And he's got a television series about ancient Rome next year called Empire. But clearly the guy's got his writing chops lined up, and it should surprise nobody that this book has been described by others as "cinematic." To my mind, if you're the kind of person to take a hardcover book to the beach, and I am that kind of person, then you might want to get in line to pick this book up. Sleek, slick and admirably short, 'The Arcanum' is the kind of novel that could lead to a wonderful series -- but wait, he's already doing a TV series. I'll give this one a whirl and see if he should punt the TV series and pursue this. Alas, there's probably more money to be had in a single episode of prime-time TV than in a single novel. So we'll have to be thankful for what we've got, and take to heart the fact that if Wheeler took time out of his busy Hollowood schedule to write a novel, he must have had a particularly scary bee in his bonnet. That's a good bee. It's a bee we should pay attention to, and will the next time it buzzes in our general direction.