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  • Jon Gutierrez 4:30 pm on 2014/11/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Stephen King’s Revival Reveals a Life in Supernatural Peril 

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    Stephen King's RevivalIn the dedication to Revival, Stephen King includes a long list of “the people who built my house”: horror writers like Mary Shelley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Bloch. But it’s really a love letter to two of those writers in particular: H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. (If you haven’t read Machen, check out his novella The Great God Pan. Even 124 years later, it’s still disturbing, while delivering the valuable message that sleeping with an unknowable horror from beyond just might have a downside.)

    While Revival ticks off many of the boxes on your Stephen King checklist (small-town Maine, classic rock, deranged religious figure…), the tone of the book would fit right into a work by Lovecraft or Machen. It’s your classic “average man discovers a horrifying world beyond our own” story, but with King’s talent for fleshing out characters giving the terror even more punch. After all, wouldn’t Lovecraft’s Dagon be a little more emotionally gripping if we actually knew something about it’s protagonist? (For example, his name?)

    Revival follows guitarist Jamie Morton’s life through his increasingly disturbing encounters with the minister of his childhood, Reverend Charles Jacobs. The book opens with Jacobs befriending 6-year-old Jamie, a member of his new ministry, and the two forging a close bond. Jacobs has a growing obsession with electricity and electrical devices, which culminates in his healing Jamie’s mute brother with a device of his own creation. But when a horrific tragedy befalls Jacobs, he falls from grace and leaves town.

    Years later, Jamie runs into Jacobs at a county fair. While Jamie’s now a touring rhythm guitarist with a heroin addiction, Jacobs has become “Daniel Jacobs,” a sideshow pitchman who uses his electrical wizardry to create special photos of fairgoers, showing them not as they are, but how they picture themselves. Jacobs uses his knowledge of “special electricity” to cure Jamie of his drug habit, but leaves him with some unsettling side effects. He’s also left with a growing fear of what Jacob’s healing might be doing to his patients, and exactly how far he might go to get the knowledge he seeks.

    It’s hard to give a sense of Revival’s tone in a summary, because so much of the terror happens at the very end of the book. Here King is all about the slow buildup to horror, with large swathes of the book detailing Jamie’s life away from Jacobs: his first love, his music career, his reconnection with his family… And while these sections are never boring, the horror takes a backseat to a well-written coming-of-age novel, colored with dark foreshadowing. The narrative moves quickly and has no filler, and in the end, everything we learn about Jamie feeds into the horror of the climax, even if the reader doesn’t realize it on the way.

    So much of Lovecraft and Machen’s horror came from seeing how a man’s life can be destroyed by a brush with something unimaginable from beyond our world. Revival takes that idea further by lovingly fleshing out that life in painstaking detail. By the end of the book, we know Jamie Morton as well as any other character King has written, which only makes the possible destruction of everything he’s built all the more terrifying.

  • Jon Gutierrez 5:00 pm on 2014/08/14 Permalink
    Tags: , ed wood, harry stephen keeler, weird and wonderful   

    The Weirdest Novels of Harry Stephen Keeler 

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    The Skull of the Waltzing ClownBadly written stories can be fascinating simply because of all the questions they leave unanswered. Why did the characters act that way? Why did the villain suddenly die at the end? Why did the author think writing was a good career choice?

    And it’s those unanswered questions that make me love writer Harry Stephen Keeler, often called “the Ed Wood of mystery novels.”

    His novels (many of which were never published in his lifetime) feature truly inexplicable plots, bizarre characters and weird obsessions with skulls and human deformities. His “webwork plots” feature vast amounts of different storylines that weave in and out in completely unexpected ways, kind of like R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet.” Sometimes his characters simply sit down and read a book, allowing Keeler to reprint a short story of his own in its entirety.

    You’ll never completely understand why anybody does anything in a Keeler story, but that’s the fun of it.

    While his books now go for hundreds of dollars with collectors, Ramble House has recently been reprinting much of his back catalog. Here’s our picks of the greatest (and weirdest) of his works:

    (And for more about Keeler’s books, check out the Harry Stephen Keeler Society or pick up A to Izzard: A Harry Stephen Keeler Companion.)

    X Jones of Scotland Yard: When a millionaire is murdered in the middle of an untouched croquet field, Scotland Yard hunts for their chief suspect, “the flying strangler baby” – an infant piloting a tiny autogyro. This is actually the second in a four-part-series about “The Marceau Case,” with each book presenting a different solution to the crime, one of which involves Napoleon.

    The Riddle of the Traveling Skull: When a candy salesman accidentally switches bags with a priest, he discovers the bag contains a skull with a bullet hole stuffed with love sonnets. That sets him off on a path that includes overly litigious widow Sophie Kratzenschneiderwumpel, a janitor that specializes in jigsaw puzzle championships, and a cemetery dedicated to circus freaks.

    The Skull of the Waltzing Clown: A young man confronts his safe-collecting uncle about a debt, only to get involved in a story concerning international dress-shirt sales, the infamous Hawaiian mind-control drug “pau-ho” and the unsolved murder of a clown named “Clowno.”

    The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro: Based on Keeler’s own experiences of being committed to an insane asylum, this genuinely disturbing novel follows Jerome H. Middleton, the victim of an elaborate conspiracy to make him appear insane and lose the inheritance from his father’s estate. But why did his father stipulate in his will that Middleton had to wear a pair of blue glasses once owned by the French sorcerer Cagliostro every day for a year?

    Finger! Finger!: Imperial Japan’s plans to conquer China rests on finding “The 13th Coin of Confucius,” which has been sewn into the lining of a raincoat. Their quest eventually involves a “professional alibi checker,” bootleg magazines and, of course, a couple of severed fingers.

    Have you read Harry Stephen Keeler?

  • Jon Gutierrez 5:00 pm on 2014/07/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , expanded universe, , , ,   

    Where To Find All Those Dang A Song Of Ice And Fire Novellas 

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    George R R Martin's Rogues

    If you’re like me, you’re counting the days until George R.R. Martin finally releases The Winds of Winter, book six in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Which can be pretty hard to do, since we still have no definite idea when it’s going to happen (at this point, I’m just hoping the year starts with a 2).

    But what some readers don’t realize is that there’s more to ASoIaF than just the novels. Yep, Martin’s also put out a bunch of novellas set in Westeros that flesh out the world’s backstory and even feature occasional cameos from characters in the novels. (If you thought you hated Walder Frey now, wait till you see him as a bratty toddler!) What makes them a little hard to find is that they’ve been released in different anthologies over the last 16 years. You can still track them down, but you have to do a little hunting to do it. Or you can let us do the hunting for you: here’s our guide to those lesser known parts of A Song of Ice And Fire. Here’s hoping they’ll tide you over until…who knows when?

    1. The Hedge Knight

    Set roughly 90 years before A Game of Thrones, the Dunk and Egg stories follow the adventures of wandering “hedge knight” Sir Duncan the Tall and his squire, Egg. In this introductory story, Dunk is forced to pretend to be a knight when the hedge knight he squires for dies on the way to a tourney. And once there, he has to fight for his life after he falls afoul of an angry Targaryen prince.

    Where you can find it: You can either pick it up in the Nook version of the anthology Legends Volume II, or in the George R.R. Martin retrospective Dreamsongs Vol II. If you want to read it in comic form, there’s also graphic novel The Hedge Knight.

    2. The Sworn Sword

    Dunk finds his devotion to chivalry tested when a feud breaks out between his sworn lord and the lord’s neighbor, a beautiful widow who must defend her honor.

    Where you can find it: It was published in Legends Volume II and as the graphic novel The Hedge Knight II: The Sworn Sword.

    3. The Mystery Knight

    Dunk and Egg travel to a wedding tournament to fill their bellies and win some coin, only to be confronted with the growing threat of an armed rebellion.

    Where you can find it: The anthology Warriors.

    4. The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother

    Written in the style of an archmaester’s historical treatise, this novella details the life of Prince Daemon Targaryen, the infamous womanizer and dragon-rider, along with all the incidents that would lead to the bloody civil war known as The Dance Of The Dragons.

    Where you can find it: The anthology Rogues.

    5. The Princess and The Queen, or, The Blacks and The Greens

    Picking up right where he left off in The Rogue Prince (although that was published after this story), Archmaester Gyldayn gives the full story behind the The Dance of the Dragons. If you’ve ever wondered just how dragons were used in battle, or how they died out, this story tells you everything.

    Incidentally, this novella was written to replace another Dunk and Egg story, “The She-Wolves of Winterfell.” Here’s hoping that one gets published eventually, presumably in the Dunk and Egg collection that Martin has discussed releasing some day.

    Where you can find it: The anthology Dangerous Women.

    Oh, and while you might see some reference to other ASoIaF novellas (specifically, Blood of the Dragon, Path of the Dragon, and Arms of the Kraken), don’t be fooled. Those aren’t new material, but excerpts from the existing novels that ran in various magazines before the books came out!

    Are you looking forward to The Winds of Winter?

  • Jon Gutierrez 5:30 pm on 2014/06/30 Permalink
    Tags: alfred bester, , , , , ,   

    Four Sci-Fi Retellings that Are Even Better than the Originals 

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    Ray Bradbury's Now and Forever

    It’s a popular cliché that science fiction is just regular fiction…IN SPACE! It certainly doesn’t help that Star Trek was pitched as “Wagon Train…IN SPACE!” and Star Wars is Akira Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress…IN SPACE!,” with a couple of effeminate robots thrown in for good measure.

    But the belief that any story can be turned into sci-fi just by slapping blasters and jetpacks on the characters ignores the real strength of science fiction: the exploration of ideas. Great science fiction takes an idea, inspects it from new angles, then shows us how it could affect us and the universe. And when that dedication to exploring ideas is combined with a classic, time-tested story, sometimes the results are even better than the original. Here are four sci-fi stories that took classic stories and improved them…IN SPACE!

    The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
    The revenge tale is one of the most basic plots in fiction, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is the classic example of a man slowly building his revenge against the one who wronged him. But Alfred Bester’s take on the story improves on the original by also exploring a world where personal teleportation (or “Jaunting”) has changed every aspect of society. After all, how do you imprison a man who can be instantaneously on the other side of the world with just a thought?

    Double Star, by Robert Heinlein
    Anthony Hope-Hawkins’ The Prisoner of Zenda is an adventure story about a man who has to impersonate a king to save his country. The Heinlein novel expands the kingdom to the whole solar system, with down-and-out actor Lorenzo Smith hired to take over the identity of a prominent politician who has been kidnapped by the opposition. But where Double Star really shines is in its exploration of “The Great Lorenzo.” Heinlein gives us a great character study of a strutting, egomaniacal, and racist (toward martians) actor. And since the book is written as Lorenzo’s memoirs, we get a fascinating look at how that character has to grow and change to fill the role of a responsible leader.

    Now and Forever, by Ray Bradbury
    Ray Bradbury wrote the script for the 1956 John Huston film adaptation of Moby Dick (an experience he wrote about in his amazing novel Green Shadows, White Whale), so it’s no surprise that he’d also adapt the original Herman Melville story on his own terms. His novella “Leviathan ‘99” sets “Moby Dick” in outer space, with an obsessed captain hunting down a comet that blinded him. And while the original novel is undoubtedly a classic, it’s also a doorstopper with one too many chapters about chowder. But Bradbury distills his version to a more appropriate length, making it more compelling while also keeping the spirit (and beauty) of Melville’s original language.

    Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
    After reading Edward Gibbon’s historical treatise The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire, Isaac Asimov wrote this science fiction epic about the decline and fall of a galactic empire. But his biggest change was adding a mysterious organization dedicated to preserving the empire’s knowledge through the dark ages that followed. What started as a trilogy became a five-part series and eventually grew to include his Robot and Empire novels. But even if you just stick to the original trilogy, you’re left with a sweeping thousand-year epic that explores the ideas of fate, statistics and the effect that one individual can have on history.

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