Friday, June 29, 2007


Jeff Strand is not a household name in the horror genre, but he should be. He has written a series of novels featuring a smart-ass protagonist named Andrew Mayhem. The first title in the series, Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), is a wonderfully humorous interpretation of the horror novel.

The novel begins when Mayhem attempts to earn money—without getting a real job—to cover the expenses of a car accident he recently caused. It happened not too long after his auto insurance expired and he wants to keep it secret from his wife. A friend offers Mayhem a job videotaping her cheating husband. He likes the idea of playing private eye until he loses (it is smashed to bits) his wife’s video camera and gets beat-up.

The next week Mayhem and his best friend Roger are in a bar waxing melancholy over the injustices of life when they are approached by an attractive blonde. She hands them an envelope with five hundred dollars inside, just to hear her story. The money is theirs whether they help or not, but if they accept the job she promises another $20,000.

The deal is, they have to dig up her recently dead husband and find a key that was buried with him. Mayhem feels like a slug, but he needs the money too badly to turn it down. His brief foray into grave digging leads Andrew Mayhem into a maze of terror and death. He is caught in a game designed by a psychopath and everything he has, his family, his friends and his sanity, will be threatened before the final page is over.

Graverobbers Wanted is a humorous novel, but don’t mistake it for a silly one. The action sequences are wonderful, the suspense is harrowing and the plot is tight and full of surprises. The characters are well drawn and add to the depth of the novel. The only funny thing about the story is Andrew Mayhem’s place in it. He can’t have a conversation without letting some witty, mocking sarcasm (often self-deprecating) slip out, and he is perfectly set-up in Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) as a dupe and a very much abused—he gets beat-up routinely—hero.

This is a novel that should be at the top of every horror fans list of books to read. If you haven’t read this book yet, you should.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Inflation of Reading

I am a notoriously cheap person. I save every penny I can, and with the rest I purchase books—new, used, and everything in between. I like my books unsoiled, uncreased, and in mass-market paperback editions. There is something special about the mass-markets—they are small and comfortable to read, with (usually) great artwork, and they are light to pack around in a bag or suitcase. I can sneak them to work and read them on my break, at lunch, or any damn time I have a minute.

I also like to complain about how expensive books are—specifically mass-market paperbacks. I’m still stuck in 1992 when the expensive paperbacks were $5.99—and most of what I read was between $3.99 and $4.99. So when I walk into the bookstore and nearly everything has a retail price of $7.99 I gasp, bitch and moan and then buy a couple—and always think, damn, a few years ago I could have walked out of here with three.

Where is this going? Well, all this complaining and comparing got me thinking about what the inflation rate on mass-market paperbacks is, and how it compares, in general, with the overall inflation rate of the U.S. economy. So I put together a few numbers—in a very unscientific manner—to see just how much the price of books have increased on an annual basis over the past sixty years.

The numbers are rough, and the sampling is far from complete, but I had a good time doing it, and I hope you have a good time with it to. My only request is that you don’t take the numbers as perfect, because they aren’t. I used a discount method of present value of money to calculate them, and while they should be in the neighborhood, they certainly could be improved.

General Genre Rates

The westerns are a comparison between the common price of the 1949 Gold Medal editions and the common price of 2007 westerns. The mysteries compare these same GM editions and the current line of Hard Case Crime novels. The science fiction is a comparison between the old ACE Doubles in 1956—I have several of these, and that is where the price came from—and the most common price of ACE science fiction books today. I did this by sampling the science fiction area in a local bookstore last weekend.


The 1949 price was: $0.25
The 2007 price is: $5.99
The annual inflation rate is: 5.63%


The 1949 price was: $0.25
The 2007 price is $6.99
The annual inflation rate is: 5.91%

Science Fiction

The 1956 price was: $0.35
The 2007 price is: $7.99
The annual Inflation rate is: 6.33%

Some Particulars

The particular series and title numbers came from editions that I either own, or could easily find comparison prices on the web. When possible I compared the first edition of a book with the most current edition. For The Executioner series I compared a recent release with the 1976 edition of #26: Acapulco Rampage. The Gunsmith series is a comparison between the 1982 first printing of #1: Macklin’s Women and the 2006 release of #294: Farewell the Mountain. The individual titles should be self-explanatory. I hope.

The Executioner series

The 1972 price was: $1.25
The 2007 price is: $4.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.03%

The Gunsmith series

The 1982 price was: $2.25
The 2006 price was: $5.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.16%

Off Season by Jack Ketchum

The 1981 price was: $2.50
The 2006 price was: $6.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.19%

Among the Missing by Richard Laymon

The 2000 price was: $5.99
The 2007 price is: $7.99
The annual inflation rate is: 4.20%

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter

The 1993 price was: $5.99
The 2007 price is: $7.99
The annual inflation rate is: 2.08%

The Totem by David Morrell

The 1980 price was: $2.50
The 1995 price was: $6.50
The annual inflation rate is: 6.33%

The numbers really aren’t terrible, but they aren't good either. Every category except Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact exceeded the national inflation rate by between one and three points—if you figure the overall inflation rate in the economy over the same period at about 3%. The general genre rates were around double the overall inflation rates, while the individual titles were slightly less.

It might not be a huge inflation rate, but it is enough above the overall inflation rate to give me grounds to gripe. I hope the little extra growth is headed towards the writers, but somehow I doubt it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Girl Next Door -- Movie Trailer

The movie trailer for Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door has been floating around the Internet for a month or so, and I finally discovered it last week. It looks pretty good. There are even a few familiar faces in the cast: Grant Show from Melrose Place fame, and William Atherton.

The Screenplay was written Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman, and it was directed by newcomer Gregory Wilson.

Click Here to visit the IMDB page for The Girl Next Door

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum

This is the week of Jack Ketchum here at Gravetapping. I reviewed his novel Offspring earlier in the week, and now here is a review I wrote for The Girl Next Door when it was released by Leisure Books in the summer of 2005. It is long, and at times meandering--the review, I mean--but the book is absolutely terrific. It is a novel that should be read by everyone, and not just the genre regulars. Make sure to come back tomorrow when there will be something kind of cool about the film version of The Girl Next Door.

The horror genre, like any other genre of fiction, has a few legends, stars, and icons. Jack Ketchum is one those writers. He burst onto the scene in 1981 with the devilishly horrid Off Season--the story of a clan of cannibals living in a cave off the coast of Maine. The novel was instantly reviled and censored by all of the right people: a core group of do-gooders, and several mainstream newspapers. In spite, or perhaps because of the bad press, it went on to sell more than 250,000 copies and guaranteed a place for Ketchum and Off Season in the canon of horror literature.

Unfortunately most of Ketchum's early works are unavailable in affordable editions today. There is good news however: over the past several months Leisure Books has released in mass market paperback two of Jack Ketchum's early novels, She Wakes and The Girl Next Door. These titles have been long out-of-print, and their re-appearance is a welcome sight for readers. The Girl Next Door, released by Leisure Books in June 2005, is the best of Ketchum's early work. Warner Books originally published it in 1989, but its impact was negligible. It was out-of-print nearly before it hit bookstore shelves. With the new Leisure release this novel should reach a larger and more appropriate audience.

"You think you know about pain?" The novel opens with this line, and it is the main crux of the story. It is about pain. The pain one human being forces upon another. The pain one culture visits upon another--it is a story within a story. The small neighborhood setting fills in for the big, dangerous and mean world. It is the story of a twelve-year-old boy named David, as told by his adult self. A kind of epistle really. A confession.

"So here's my check. Overdue and overdrawn." It is revenge against his neighbor. The mother of his best friend: a woman he admired, and maybe even loved. Revenge against her acts--against her spiral into madness. It is revenge against the world--our world--for allowing terrible, violent acts to go unchallenged every day.

The Girl Next Door is Jack Ketchum's masterpiece.

It is set in rural New Jersey in the 1950's: a quiet street, perfectly manicured yards and houses, beautiful mothers and working fathers, the sound of neighborhood kids playing in the streets. It is idyllic. Ketchum's simple prose captures the mood of the time: The glossy innocence, as well as the seamy underside, the cover-ups. The quiet things polite people don't talk about. It is all here. Nothing is pure, the text seems to shout. Nothing is as wholesome, as inviting and open as it is seems.

David's small seemingly perfect world changes forever when two orphaned sisters move in with his next door neighbor and best friend, Donny Chandler. The girls were in an automobile accident. They lived, but their parents were killed. The older sister, Meg, is fourteen, strong and beautiful in that clean teenage girl way. Her little sister, Susan, was hurt badly. She can't walk without crutches and heavy metal braces on her legs. She is small and weak. The sisters are polar opposites. Meg is strong, athletic; Susan is broken, dependent.

Donny's mother, Ruth, takes the sisters in--they are the children of a distant cousin, and Ruth is their only relative. David--the narrator--instantly smitten with Meg. He meets her one afternoon at the brook, a place the neighborhood kids call the "Big Rock," hand fishing for crayfish. The two seem easy together. Their conversation is fluid and agile. The scene is light and friendly, but it is haunted with a feeling of doom. A darkness that is not shown, but hinted at. What starts out as an innocent, quiet memoir of childhood quickly turns into a horrific tale of madness and evil. It is the story of a woman's madness, and how that madness affects the neighborhood. Ruth is a woman who talks of a glorious past. She came from wealth, prosperity. She ran the office of a large company, but now she is stuck in a small New Jersey berg with no husband and three boys. She has failed, and is totally lost.

The sisters (Meg and Susan) become the targets of Ruth's rising anger, and later her brutal insanity. Meg, especially, can do nothing right. She is punished for her wrongs, both real and imagined. She is punished for being young, strong and female. The punishment and torment escalates quickly, yet somehow quietly (none of the adults in the neighborhood know what is happening, but the children all know and are involved either through participation or as willing voyeurs) through the summer months until the final, crushing, terrifying climax.

David watches the torture of Meg. "I was like an addict, and my drug was knowing. Knowing what was possible. Knowing how far it could go. Where they'd dare to take it all. / It was always they. I stood outside, or I felt I did." It begins with little disciplines: no dinner, no friends, a spanking, a derogatory word, mocking. But then things get scary. Hard. They take her into the basement, into an old bomb shelter. They take her there and leave her. Then they begin to play games with her. Punish her. Torture her, and even rape her.

David wants to be separate, apart from both Meg and her tormentors. He isn't participating, but only watching. It is like television: unreal, exciting. But everything changes when he is faced with a moral dilemma so powerful, so frightening that he must choose sides. The dilemma is real. It is a metaphor for much larger issues: genocide, fascism, war. It is the same dilemma a good German faced every time the Nazis stole away a Jew. The same dilemma we all face when we witness violence--random, horrible violence that affects more than just the victim. It affects society, casts a shadow over humanity and makes us realize: This is what it is to be human. This is what we are capable of.

Jack Ketchum is a master of technique, and The Girl Next Door is a prime example. The prose is tight, the plot fine tuned and quick. He understands the story, and he understands how the audience will react to it. He has a reputation for splatter and gore, but you will find nothing gratuitous here. In fact, at a moment of supreme violence, the narrator backs away from the action. The violence. "I'm not going to tell you about this. / I refuse." The memory is too harsh for him to share, to allow an outsider unfettered access.

The Girl Next Door should be on every reading list, but if that is too much to ask it should at least be on your reading list. Get it. Read it, and take it seriously. Mr. Ketchum is a brilliant writer who deserves more respect and a larger audience than he has.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

OFFSPRING by Jack Ketchum

In 1981 a first time author published a slim horror novel that would change the genre forever. The novel: Off Season; the author: Jack Ketchum. Off Season was a paperback original published by Ballantine Books, and sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 copies. Unfortunately the novel was deemed as repulsive, and unfit for human consumption—his next novel, Hide and Seek sold less than 50,000 copies.
In 1989 Jack Ketchum published the sequel to his legendary Off Season, and it disappeared from bookstore shelves nearly as quickly as it arrived. And it has been almost impossible to find without getting a second mortgage on the house ever since. This June Leisure Books re-released Offspring, and I finally got my hands on it.

Offspring has taken a few hits over the years. It has been challenged by a few top critics in the horror genre as nothing more than a derivative jumble of over processed crap. I had never read it, and so I held judgment, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed Offspring a whole lot.

Offspring takes place eleven years after Off Season, and the books are very much connected. The Sheriff of Deep River, Maine—George Peters—is haunted by the events of 1981; he has retired, his wife and only friend died a few years earlier, and his only solace is in the bottle. That changes on the evening of May 12, 1992 when the new Sheriff of Deep River pays him a call with a story of two brutal murders. The Sheriff asks for Peters help, and the scene is eerily familiar. The murder victims have been disemboweled and literally cannibalized. George Peters knows who is responsible, and he fears they won’t be able to stop the clan before they wreak havoc on the town.

Offspring is a well-written tale of gruesome, violent, and horrifying terror. There are no vampires, ghosts, zombies or anything else of the netherworld here, there is just good old fashioned human evil. The type of evil Jack Ketchum does better than anyone else. And it is scary as hell simply because gruesome inhuman stuff like this happens.

Offspring has the feel of a well-executed horror movie, although the themes and underlying meaning has much more depth than many of the current crop of films. The characters are likable; the description is tight and serves the storyline well. Jack Ketchum is my favorite writer of horror tales, and Offspring lived up to my expectations. It wasn’t quite at the level of Off Season, but it was tight, scary and very well plotted.

Now if we could get Mr. Ketchum to churn out a new novel or two.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

“The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” by Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is best known as a horror writer, but he has published two western novels—Grave Men and Coffin Blues—and several western short stories. I recently read his western short story “The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” and it had the same power as his best horror—the prose sharp as a dagger, the story literate, and very entertaining.

“Blood Beneath” is the story of Smoke, a Texas Ranger, who is hot on the tracks of two outlaws: rapists, murderers and overall bastards in the worst way. They left a child to die in the hot sun and raped her mother. Smoke quietly follows the outlaws across the open country of Texas until he hunts them down in the small town of Last Chance where he seeks justice and more than a little vengeance.

“The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” is one of the best stories I have read this year—short story or novel. It has the feel of a 1970s Spaghetti western, and as I read I couldn’t help but picture Clint Eastwood with his quiet strength, compassion, and tough-as-nails exterior. Smoke is the champion of the downtrodden, the protector of the weak, and basically one tough dude—an anti-hero to root for. Mr. Piccirilli brings a solid story to life with a bare, stark, cynical and violent style. The opening is pitch perfect:

“Smoke found the dying child in the rocks about midday, gave her water and shade for the two hours she lasted, and buried her beneath a red plum bush.”

The power of the prose never lets up, and the story glides seamlessly to its inevitable conclusion. Mr. Piccirilli is a terrific writer who deserves a larger audience, and “The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” not only gives hope to a shrinking genre, but is also one hell of a good tale.

“The Blood Beneath When the World Draws Back” was originally published in the anthology Texas Rangers—edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg--in 2004.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Renegade -- Main Theme

Renegade is a show that one doesn't want to admit one likes. At least I don't--but alas, as a teenage male I loved it. Renegade was a syndicated show produced by Stephen J. Cannell that aired in my local area late Saturday evening--maybe eleven?--in the early-1990s, and it was well worth staying up a little late to watch. What's not to like? A cool motorcycle, a fight every 4.3 minutes, and the occassional scantily clad female. Damn. I miss that show.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fanzines: "Ted White Still Scares Me" by Ed Gorman

Ed Gorman has published, over at eFanzines, a little piece on science fiction fanzines--mostly a reminiscence piece about his association with, and enjoyment of the fanzines in the late-1950s. It is an enjoayble article that features several great scans of old fanzine covers and memories of a time when science fiction was still new and progressive.

Go Here to read the article.

Monday, June 18, 2007

EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart

I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories: I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road a few weeks ago, and loved it. I planned to write a review, but I didn't know what I could say that hadn't already been said: It is great; it is science fiction; read it. Enough? Stephen King's The Stand made me forget its 1,000-plus pages and truly ushered me into a world that I not only enjoyed, but wanted to experience more of--no slim feat for such a long tale. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is a classic. I even enjoyed James Herbert's '48.

You may be asking yourself: What's the point? The point is, my review of the classic post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides by George R. Stewart is live and online at SFReader.

Earth Abides is advertised as one of the best post-apocalyptic stories ever written, and while I wouldn't go nearly that far, it is an interesting read. The prose, at times, feels a tad archaic--much older than its original publishing date of 1949--and the story can be frustratingly slow, but overall there are a good many ideas in this novel that are still applicable today, and those ideas alone, make Earth Abides a worthwhile read.

Click Here to read the entire review at SFReader.

Friday, June 15, 2007


The USA Network’s series Monk is one of the most enjoyable programs on television. It chronicles the adventures of the obsessive-compulsive and very brilliant Adrian Monk. Monk is a former San Francisco police detective who lost his job, his handle on life, and very nearly his sanity when his wife Trudy was killed by a car bomb. The television series has been turned into a series of novels written by Lee Goldberg.

The fourth novel in the series, and the latest, is Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants. As the title suggests we get a visit from Monk’s former assistant Sharona Fleming, and she is a lively addition to the normal cast. When her husband is accused of murder Sharona is heartbroken, and finds herself back in San Francisco working as a nurse. She doesn’t call on Monk to solve the murder because she thinks her husband is guilty, but as luck would have it, her and Monk find each other at the hospital were she works.

Monk is instantly awestruck—when he first sees Sharona he is speechless. Then as the realization dawns on him that she is truly back, Monk offers Sharona her old job as his assistant. Needless to say this doesn’t go over well with Natalie, and the rest of the novel unwinds to reveal not one murder, but three—and Monk is at his lovable best as he tries to figure out just who killed whom, and why, without getting dirty or into too many unpleasant germs.

Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants is a humorous whodunit. It is written in the voice of Natalie, who—in this novel especially—feels very much like Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr. Watson, and it is great fun to watch her struggle through the twists and turns of the plot. She is often just as lost as the reader when confronted with the powerful deductive abilities of Adrian Monk, and the wonderfully outlandish murders he solves.

Mr. Goldberg does an admirable job of portraying the characters. The novel is at its best when the entire gang is on hand—Captain Stottlemeyer, Lieutenant Disher, Monk, Natalie, and Sharona. The dialogue is pitch perfect, and the atmosphere of the television series is captured very well, except, instead of a single episode it feels like a two-part extravaganza.

Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants isn’t the best of the Monk novels—that is a slot thoughtfully reserved for Mr. Monk and Blue Flu—but it is an enjoyable, relaxing, and very fun read with an ample amount of mystery and deduction. If you are in the mood for something light, quick and devilishly funny, give Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants a try. You won’t regret it.

An aside: Goldberg introduces a character named Ian Ludlow, who is in reality a nom de plume of none other than Lee Goldberg. In the mid-1980s Mr. Goldberg published three novels in a men’s adventure series under the name Ian Ludlow. The series: .357: Vigilante.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Johnny Cash Does Elvis

This is a great little video of Johnny Cash doing an Elvis impersonation. It is funny, and a view into Johnny Cash's personality--maybe--that we don't often see. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"Pumpkin-Witch" by Tim Curran

“Pumpkin-Witch” is a spooky little horror story written by small press regular Tim Curran—he is the author of the novels Hive and Dead Sea. It is the story of an abused housewife named Maria, who finds solace, and maybe a little justice, on a chilly Halloween eve. Maria has a penchant for carving pumpkins—lots of pumpkins—and it is a tradition not shared, or understood by her abusive husband. She normally carves her pumpkins with happy poses, until this Halloween, when they seemingly take on a sinister look. And then Maria—or something darker and far more sinister—decides to makes a few changes in her life, in a very supernatural way.

“Pumpkin-Witch” is a quick, fun and very atmospheric horror story. It is written in an eloquent, and very literate style:

October was its own magic, its own spell and whispered conjuration. You could hear it in windy stripped trees and smell it in the aroma of cut pumpkins and feel its ice down in your bones like frost on a windowpane, locking something down, holding it there until the first kiss of spring let it loose.

The plot is smooth and, while I did guess the climax, the journey was anything but dull. “Pumpkin-Witch” made me yearn for autumn winds and Halloween nights—it made me think of the invitingly chilled air, and glowing orange Jack-o-Lantern’s. Not to mention, it gave me a good spook, and more importantly, made me smile.

“Pumpkin-Witch” was published in the Shivers IV anthology edited by Richard Chizmar and published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2006.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I found the trailer for the new Rambo film: John Rambo. It actually looks pretty good. On the violent side, but I am an action slut. It stars Stallone as Rambo, Julie Benz--she played Darla on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel--and Sam Elliot. It was co-written by Art Monterastelli who was a producer of the magnificent television series Nowhere Man. It couldn't that bad, right? Anyway, here is the trailer.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

JOHN RAMBO--News of the latest Rambo film

David Morrell has some news about the film Rambo IV—firstly, it is currently titled John Rambo; secondly, the production company wants nothing to do with David Morrell; and thirdly, there is a three-minute trailer floating around the Internet.

Firstly, the title sucks—but it is better than the lame Rambo IV. And maybe the title itself bodes well for the film—the best film of the first three was First Blood (not Rambo I, II, or III), and as a teenager I loved it. I must have watched First Blood five or six times—the first night my neighbor rented it from the video store. Then maybe (probably?) a few more times over the next few days.

I wish I could say that I didn’t like the second and third, but—ahem—I did. And it would also be downright dumb of me to make the claim that I won’t see the fourth film, because I will. I’m a sucker for an action flick. Good or bad. I should also mention that Morrell wrote the novelization for the final two films, and they were pretty good—they developed Rambo’s character much more than the films, and they were—to put it bluntly—much more entertaining than the movies.

Secondly, David Morrell has spoken before about his exile from the project; a situation he is seemingly not very happy with. Today on his website he said:

As I said in an earlier edition of this page, the producers of the current Rambo film have gone out of their way to keep me at a distance from the project. That doesn't make sense to me--to alienate the creator of the character--but sometimes the movie business is far from logical.
Click Here to read David Morrell’s entire comment on the new Rambo film.
Click Here to go to the IMDB page for John Rambo

Monday, June 04, 2007

TIME TO HUNT by Stephen Hunter

International thrillers have been a staple of my reading diet since I stumbled across the early works of Jack Higgins, Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, and a little later that of David Morrell, Noel Hynd and—don’t hate me—Tom Clancy. In the early-1990s I found a novel by an author I was not familiar with. The novel was The Day Before Midnight, and the author was named Stephen Hunter. I read The Day Before Midnight, and loved it. Then I promptly forgot about Hunter until I picked up his masterful novel Point of Impact, featuring sniper Bob Lee Swagger.

Unfortunately—after reading several of Hunter’s novels—I promptly forgot him again. I went some six or seven years without reading any of his work. (Admittedly this was, at least in part, due to my disappointment with many of the authors who dominate the genre with poor writing and bloated, uninteresting plots.) Well that changed a few weeks ago, because I—influenced by the film Shooter, which is based on Point of Impact—picked up a Stephen Hunter novel and literally read it overnight. The title: Time to Hunt.

Time to Hunt is the third, and presumably final, novel featuring former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger. It opens in 1971 Washington, D.C. as Donny Fenn navigates his way through more than one sticky situation only to find himself back in Vietnam working as the spotter for Sergeant Swagger.

The first half of Time to Hunt is a Vietnam novel, and a damn good one, but then it is transformed into a modern thriller with a plot full of questions and a hero not only worthy of the action, but very much worthy of his audience. Bob Lee Swagger battles an old enemy, his alcoholism, a separation from his wife and daughter, and even a few ghosts from Vietnam as he crosses the continent in search of the man who tried to kill him.

Time to Hunt is one of the best thrillers I have read. The plot is flawless, the characters are strong, and the forward momentum is astonishing. Hunter ratchets the tension with the finesse of an old pro, and with Bob Lee Swagger, he has created one of the most likable, able and well-drawn action characters ever created. He is all man—intelligent, tough and more than able to take on the bad guys. Simply put, Stephen Hunter is the best writer of thrillers still practicing the trade, and Time to Hunt is one of his best.

Good news: I just discovered that Stephen Hunter has a new Bob Lee Swagger novel scheduled for release on September 11, 2007—the title: The 47th Samurai; the publisher Simon & Schuster.

Friday, June 01, 2007

"The Underdweller" by William F. Nolan

I have enjoyed reading short fiction since I was a boy—the stories have to be compact, exciting and complete. They, just as a novel, must have a beginning, middle and ending. When a short story is done well, it is a delight. And for a moment the author leads us into a world that exists nowhere else. It exists only in the ink and on the pages of the magazine, collection or anthology where it was published.

Unfortunately the popularity of the short story is waning, to say the least, and as a form for storytelling it is very nearly dead. With this in mind, I want to introduce a new regular segment here at Gravetapping—a segment that is exclusively dedicated to short stories. Once or twice a month I will review one or more stories—they will be presented very much as I present everything here at Gravetapping with the randomness of my own reading. If I enjoy the story, I’ll tell you about. If I don’t, I won’t.

In this premiere post I want to talk about a story many of you have probably read: “The Underdweller” by William F. Nolan. “The Underdweller” was originally published in 1957 as “Small World” in Fantastic Universe, but Nolan later revised the story—he expanded it significantly—and published it under the title “The Small World of Lewis Stillman,” and later still the title changed to the more familiar “The Underdweller.”

“The Underdweller” is a last man story. It features Lewis Stillman, the last man to survive an alien attack. He lives in the storm-drain system beneath Los Angeles, where he survives by stealth. The city streets teem with an unidentified menace; a menace that will surely kill Stillman if he is discovered. He is alone, lonely and desperately in search of not only survival, but also acceptance by a world that no longer exists.

“The Underdweller” is a science fiction story, but it is more. Nolan has created a world that is our own, with one exception—we, all of us, are gone, but unfortunately the memory, the fear, and the disappointment that riddles us is still very much alive in Stillman. It is a tool Stillman uses—or a tool that uses Stillman—to berate himself into an action that will define his existence, or, put another way, give his meaningless life reason.

If all that sounds pompous—and it probably does—don’t worry, because above all else “The Underdweller” is a helluva well-told story. It is fast—the prose is light and readable, and Stillman is an everyman. He is likable, real and very much someone worth spending twenty minutes with once a year. Heck, maybe even two or three times a year.

“The Underdweller” has spent most, if not all, of the past fifty years in print. It has been anthologized multiple times and included in various William F. Nolan collections. It can currently be found in Nolan’s collection, Dark Universe, published in paperback in 2003 by Leisure Books.

If you are an author or publisher and have a short story, collection, anthology, or novel you think I would like to review please send me an email at: