Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mirror Lake Highway & The Uinta Mountains

I don’t know how interested you are in this, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. This past weekend my girl and I took a day trip into the Uinta Mountains in Northeastern Utah. The Uintas are an offshoot of the Rocky Mountains. They are high—they range between 9,000 and 13,528 feet above sea level at the summit of King’s Peak, the highest peak in Utah. They average somewhere above 10,000 feet and their beauty is magnificent, noble, and very nearly without description.

The Uinta range is rugged, and the vast majority is accessible only by foot. As a boy I spent the best weeks of my summer vacation following my father across the rugged trails that cut through the land. The names and titles of the places still swim fondly in my recollection: The Highline Trail, Naturalist Basin, Four Lake Basin, Dollar Lake, Fox Lake, Henry’s Fork, White Rocks, Queant, and so many more that I could fill a page or better with nothing more than their names.

One summer our dog ran afoul of an unfriendly porcupine in Naturalist Basin; we met an early snowstorm on Labor Day weekend walking to Four Lakes Basin, and when I could no longer carry my pack my father hefted it onto strong shoulders and carried it for me; my great-grandfather walked twenty-some miles when snow came early to Fox Lake; and some seventy years later I followed a similar path, less the snow, and my fondest memory of that trip is my mother, an eagle foiling carelessly across the endless blue sky, and the solitude that snuggled up like an old lover.

The Uinta Mountains are the place I go—in my mind—when I need to escape the everyday stresses and pressures of life. I remember the good times I spent there. The fish I caught. The frolicking play with my brother and cousins. The awe I felt for the skill and knowledge of my father. I thought he knew everything; and most days I still wish he did. I remember the mystery night visitor we had one summer in Four Lakes who would take all our fish, but leave the heads dangling from the aluminum line that was attached to a tall pine. The amazing thing is we never heard a sound.

I don’t get up into the Uinta Mountains as much as I would like, but each summer we try to make at least two visits. And this past weekend the first trip to paradise finally happened. We didn’t do much but take the drive up Utah Highway 150 to Mirror Lake and have a picnic before walking around the lake. It was crowded—every time I go back there seems to be a few more people, a little more trash, and a whole lot more noise, but still it is the best place I have ever been. And I know that it is very probably the best place I will ever be.

The photographs were all taken Saturday July 28 at Mirror Lake. The really good stuff is off the beaten path in the backcountry. There are places where you won't see another person for weeks, and better yet places where it is easy to believe in something beyond oneself.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

HARM by Brian W. Aldiss

My latest review for SFReader is live and online. This month I reviewed Brian W. Aldiss’s latest novel HARM.

HARM—an acronym for Hostile Activities Research Ministry—is a satirical novel based in the near future. It is the story of Paul Ali, a writer and British citizen of Islamic heritage, who is being held as a political prisoner in a terrorist detention camp. Inside the prison he is known only as Prisoner B. His crime: a few characters in his comic novel "The Pied Piper of Hament," drunkenly joke about the assassination of the British Prime Minister. His only human contact is with his interrogators, who practice torture and violence with a particularly frightening glee.

HARM is a thought provoking science fiction novel that examines the surge of government sponsored fear and violence since September 11, 2001, and no matter your political views, it is a novel that will expand your perspective on war, hate, and fear.

To read the review click Here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

THE SHOOTER by Barry Sadler

In the 1980s and early-1990s men’s adventure fiction was in style. There were more action-thriller series than you could count with all twenty digits. My local bookstore even had a small section devoted to them—a section I went directly to upon entrance and then again on my way out.

I spent many hours reading the exploits of Mack Bolan, Barrabas, Casca, Remo Williams and so many others it would take me days to remember them all. I loved them as a teenager, and they—the books and the writers—have a fond place in my memory, so when I saw Forge’s reprint of Barry Sadler’s 1987 novel The Shooter I couldn’t help myself. I picked it up and read it, and it was the best two hours I’ve spent this week.

The Shooter is the story of Rossen and Tommy, two Vietnam veterans now working as mercenaries across the globe. They pick the jobs, love the action, and want nothing more than another day of the exhilaration that comes with the lifestyle. Then they get a visit from an old friend who tells them he has proof that U.S. troops are alive and still being held captive in Laos. It doesn’t take a genius to guess the rest of the story, but the journey is fun, exciting and extremely enjoyable.

The Vietnam MIA / POW storyline was common in the 1980s—it started, as far as I know, with J.C. Pollock’s Mission MIA, and then found itself in Hollywood with the film Uncommon Valor. After that there were several more novels and films with the same premise including Rambo 2, and even an episode of Magnum, P.I.

The Shooter holds its own against these tales: The writing is quick, the characters are trustworthy and noble without being self-righteous bores, and the action is top-notch. I don’t remember being overly impressed with Barry Sadler’s prose before, but with The Shooter I am. It is simple and smooth with subtle textures of both cynicism and melancholy that manifest themselves throughout, but are particularly visible at the height of the climax. Mr. Sadler also describes the jungles of Laos very well:

This was a deluge where a man could drown if he looked up, where the skyflood beat so hard that it could knock animals to their knees. And with the rains came the winds whipping the storm into a blinding sheet.

The Shooter isn’t for everyone, but if you like this kind of fiction, you won’t be disappointed. It represents everything good about those old action novels, with very little of the downside. It will never be deemed high literature, but it is definitely a fun and worthy read.

An Additional Note: Barry Sadler penned and sang the song The Ballad of the Green Berets, and he was murdered in 1989. I can still remember the short segment about his death on A Current Affair. In my memory he died suspiciously at his home in Mexico City, but the bio in the back of Forge's new edition of The Shooter says: Sadler died tragically in 1989, the victim of a brutal robbery in Guatamala City.

Wikipedia has an article that confirms he died in Guatamala City, but apperantly there is some controversy about his death. He was shot in the head while in a taxi. According to the article: It has been claimed that he committed suicide, that he shot himself accidentally while showing off to a female companion, and that he was assassinated for allegedly training and arming the Contras. It is also possible that he was simply a victim of random violence.

Interesting. It sounds like his life may have been more interesting than his fiction.

To read the Wikipedia article click Here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. -- Main Theme

I've been thinking about westerns more than usual recently—check out the discussion going on in the Dwindling Supply of Westerns post from last week, and join in if you are so inclined. And, I have been watching The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. on DVD. Brisco is a guilty pleasure. It is part western, part science fiction and all goofy fun. The intro is terrific. The music never fails to get me excited, and here it is. Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Devious Advertising, or...?

There is a mystery brewing in my office: I have an anthology—Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition edited by Rich Horton—and on the cover there are three names (all of them belong to significant writers in the genre) and not one of them has a story in the anthology. The names: Joe Haldeman, Alastair Reynolds, and Michael Swanwick.

Unless I’m missing something—which very well could be the case—this seems like devious marketing. These are authors who sell well, have a strong fan base, and could very well be the deciding factor between purchasing the book or not. And unless you go over the table of contents you would never know they are not represented in the anthology.

Fortunately the works represented in this anthology really are pretty great, even if there isn’t a Joe Haldeman story in the bunch. I haven’t read every story, but the few I have, have been well written, interesting and thought provoking. But still, what is the deal with the Haldeman, Reynolds, and Swanwick names on the cover?


UPDATE: If you haven't clicked on the comments link for this post, do so because the editor, Rich Horton, has explained what happened with the cover design. It was a mix-up, and the contributors from last year ended up on the cover this year. I knew there had to be an explanation.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Born Bad" by Jeffery Deaver

“Born Bad” is a cleverly plotted short story written by Jeffery Deaver. It is a simple yet powerful story that uses repetition—in one case the clatta, clatta, clatta of an operating sewing machine, and in another the mindless ebb and flow of an old fairy tale—to slowly build and maintain tension. And it works, very well.

“Born Bad” is the story of Liz Polemus, an aging woman who is nervously awaiting the return of her prodigal daughter—her daughter, Beth Anne, is a disappointment. She refused the love and affection of her parents, chose the wrong crowd in high school and then abruptly left home when she could. Now on a chilly and rainy Oregon night Liz is awaiting Beth Anne’s return. She doesn’t know what to expect—she feels fear, trepidation, and even guilt at what she did wrong as a parent. But still she waits.

This is the first story written by Jeffery Deaver I have read, and I was more than impressed. The plotting was nifty—he turned the story on its head in one paragraph without confusing or annoying me. The atmosphere was vivid: I could hear the rain pelting against the roof and windows, feel the damp night, and see Liz sewing and humming the old fairy-tale as she waited. The prose was light, swift and very readable. In short, “Born Bad” was very, very good, and it certainly won’t be the last Jeffery Deaver story I read.

“Born Bad” was originally published in the anthology Dangerous Women, edited by Otto Penzler, in 2005. It can also be found in The Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year’s Finest Mystery Stories, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Dwindling Supply of Westerns

I’ve been thinking about westerns recently. I have always read them, but until recently—the last few years—I hadn’t really given much thought to their strength in the marketplace or longevity as a viable genre. Then I noticed, belatedly, that the western section at my favorite local bookstore was shrinking, almost on a monthly basis, and the supermarkets and other non-bookstore outlets simply quit carrying western titles.

I did a little sample—very unscientific—on Amazon this morning to see how many new western titles they currently have scheduled for release in August. The total: 34. Of these 34 titles 14 of them are large print editions, 18 are mass-market paperbacks, and two are hardcover. It should be noted that the bulk of the large print editions are also in hardcover.

By my reckoning nearly all of the large print editions are reprints; the 18 mass-markets are a mixture of original and reprints—probably about 50-50. And the two hardcover editions are both reprints: Peter Dawson and Lewis B. Patten. So out of the 34 titles scheduled for sale on Amazon in August, nine or ten of them are original, and of that number probably half are from an adult western series like Longarm, The Gunsmith, The Trailsman, etc.

Which means that in August we will have a total of five or six original western novels published and available through Amazon. Wow. The western novel really is disappearing. Buy’em while you can. While I'm thinking about it, are there any viable markets--print or Internet based--that still publish western short stories?

A selection of the titles that will be available in August:

Cavalry Man: Doom Weapon by Ed Gorman, Aug. 1
Death Head Crossing by James Reasoner, Aug. 7
Remember the Alamo by William W. Johnstone, Aug. 7
The Mother Lode: A Man of Honor Novel by Gary Franklin, Aug. 7
Ralph Compton’s The Bloody Trail by Ralph Compton & Marcus Galloway, Aug. 7
The Fugitive by Max Brand, Aug. 28
Heaven is a Long Way Off: A Novel of the Mountain Men by Win Blevins, Aug. 28
Night Riders by Giff Cheshire, Aug. 28
A note: I'm excited by a couple of these offerings--Cavalry Man: Doom Weapon by Ed Gorman and Death Head Crossing by James Reasoner. I have never read a novel by Reasoner, although I have read several of his short stories, including a few westerns and enjoyed each of them. Especially Hacendado.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

American Gangster -- Trailer

There is a cool-looking new film scheduled for release this November titled American Gangster. It stars Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. It is directed by Ridley Scott. The description on Yahoo! Movies reads, in part:

Based on the life of drug-kingpin-turned-informant, Frank Lucas, who grew up in segregated North Carolina where he watched as his cousin was shot by the Klan for looking at a white girl. He eventually made his way to Harlem where he became a heroin kingpin by traveling to Asia's Golden Triangle to make connections, shipping heroin back to the US in the coffins of soldiers killed in Vietnam.

The trailer makes it look great. Hopefully it is.

To visit the Yahoo! Movies page for American Gangster click Here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"The Abelard Sanction" by David Morrell

In 1984 David Morrell published a thriller / espionage novel titled The Brotherhood of the Rose. It featured two foster brothers who had been mentored into the spy business by a man who they thought of as their father. I don’t want to say too much about Brotherhood, because if you haven’t read it I don’t want to spoil the story, but it is a terrific action novel filled with clever plotting, betrayal, and intrigue. Mr. Morrell then wrote two closely related novels: The Fraternity of the Stone and The League of Night and Fog.

The Brotherhood of the Rose and The League of Night and Fog featured CIA specialist and hit man Saul Grisman and his wife Erika Bernstein, a Mossad agent. The novels—particularly Brotherhood—are based on the idea of Abelard safe houses: defined locations where spies can go to get protection. No violence is allowed, and any operative who violates the sanctity of an Abelard safe house will be hunted by every intelligence agency in the world and killed.

The League of Night and Fog was the final novel in the trilogy, but it was left open for a sequel that never came. David Morrell’s son died about the same time and Mr. Morrell lost interest in the series and never came back to it. In an interview I once read—I forget where—he said, to paraphrase: these books were about a son searching for his father, and when I lost my son, I was a father searching for a son. Which brings me to the point: I recently read David Morrell’s short story “The Abelard Sanction”—the first story to feature Saul and Erika since League was published in 1987, and it was everything I liked about these books. It was fast, action-packed and very literate.

“The Abelard Sanction” opens with Saul Grisman driving through a dark and rainy New Mexico night. His destination is the Monastery of the Sun and the Moon, an Abelard safe house. The Monk’s are not happy to have him, but the sanction demands they give him shelter. To give more of the plot would give the story away, but rest assured “The Abelard Sanction” is just as sure-footed and fun as any of the novels. It turns the emphasis of the series away from a son looking for his father, to a father (and mother) looking for a son. It is a short read—17 pages—that reintroduced me to these characters and the world they occupy. It is a great addition to the trilogy, and made me wish again for that sequel that never came.

“The Abelard Sanction” was published in the anthology Thriller, edited by James Patterson, in 2005. It can also be found in The Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

J.C. Pollock Update

To read an updated post about J. C. pollock click Here

A few Internet searches—one site was in Japanese and another had a racket to sell me porn protection, whatever that is—a few misleads, and a little advice from a reader have led me to a pseudonym used by J.C. Pollock in the mid-1990s.

The pseudonym: James Elliott.

A couple Internet articles made the assumption that the James Elliott pseudonym belonged to husband and wife writing team Jim and Carolyn Hougan who write under the name John Case, but I found an article on Variety that made the connection between Pollock and Elliott. The pertinent portion of the Variety article said:

Pollock's credits include the novel "Mission MIA," which was the basis for the film "Uncommon Valor," starring Gene Hackman; and "Cold Cold Heart" (written under the pseudonym James Elliot), which was optioned to John McTiernan. Pollock has also optioned part of his forthcoming novel "Sometimes When We Touch" to Quentin Tarantino.

J.C. Pollock published two novels under the Elliot moniker—Cold, Cold Heart in 1994 and Nowhere to Hide in 1996. I vaguely remember the covers—especially the cover of Cold, Cold Heart—but I have never read, or even considered reading, either of them. Hopefully one of the few remaining used bookstores around here has a copy of one or both so I can at least take a look at them. Now I just need to figure out what happened to the Sometimes When We Touch novel that was optioned to Quentin Tarrantino. Hmmm. Any ideas?
There is also a film—End Game—starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Anne Archer, and written by J.C. Pollock released straight to DVD in 2006. The same guy? Maybe.

If any of you see any errors with my analysis, or have any new information, please share.

UPDATE. (4-Aug-2008).
Good news. I received an email from J. C. Pollock over the weekend and he confirmed the James Elliott pseudonym is his, that he wrote the screenplay for the film End Game (he was disappointed with the end result), and (here comes the really good news)he has a new feature film being produced by New Line Cinema titled The Venus Fixer, and there is another published novel under the Elliott moniker; End Game. There is no relationship with the film other than the title.

Friday, July 13, 2007

THREAT CASE by J.C. Pollock

I have been a voracious reader since I was a kid—I started with the Hardy Boys and moved on to Encyclopedia Brown and then somewhere between then and now found the espionage, thriller, and techno-thriller genres. And what a find it was. As a teenager my reading diet consisted of Tom Clancy, Jack Higgins, David Morrell, J.C. Pollock and a bevy of other thriller writers, which brings me to my point. I just finished J.C. Pollock’s Threat Case, and it was everything I remembered it to be. Cool, fast and engrossing entertainment.

Threat Case is Pollock’s second novel to feature former Green Beret and Delta Force Operator Jack Gannon. In it we find Gannon smack in the middle of a plot to assassinate the President of the United States. The drug war is having its affect on the cartels, and they want a little vengeance, so they hire a professional hitman to send Western leaders a message: no one is safe. Gannon is dragged into the mess when he learns of the murder of a friend who helped him through hard times, and it turns out her killer and the assassin are one and the same, and Gannon can’t believe it when he realizes he is hunting an old enemy who he thought had been dead for twenty years.

Threat Case was published in 1991, and its plot is reminiscent of the era—there are street gangs, cocaine, and Vietnam vets behind every tree. The protagonist—Jack Gannon—is tough as nails, and an all around great guy who not only has a sense of duty, but also has a very strict definition of justice and fair play. He is willing to kill, but the killing does not define him—corny sounding, but in its own literary sense very comfortable.

The plot is large: It begins in the Caribbean, but quickly moves to the Peruvian jungles and then on to Washington, D.C. and New York City with plenty of stops in between. The cast is large also, but the novel is at its best when Gannon is on stage struggling to stay in the game and stop the madness before it can change the world. He is a protagonist that, while not well developed, the reader can cheer for because he is representative of everything that is right with the world. He is bold, brave and honest as the day is long.

This is my second reading of Threat Case, and I enjoyed it as much, maybe even a bit more, than the first. It is the perfect length for a thriller, clocking in at 356 pages in mass market, and while it suffers the usual weaknesses of the genre—a little bloat, too much character description, and too much space to set-up the storyline—it makes up for it with heady you-are-there action, and a story that has just enough realism that it could maybe be happening right now. J.C. Pollock was one of the better thriller writers working in the Eighties and early-Nineties, and Threat Case is probably his best.

A little extra: J.C Pollock authored seven novels between 1982 and 1993. Then he disappeared from the world of fiction. His work disappeared at about the same time the genre imploded—one week there were dozens of new military-type thrillers, and the next they were gone. The short biography included with his books says, in part, that he: is a member of the Special Operations Association and the Special Forces Association and a contributing editor to the National Vietnam Veterans Review.

My question: what happened to this guy? He was an above average seller—most of my local bookstores carried everything he wrote up through the mid-1990s—and his work was a notch above most of the thrillers being written at the time. Is he still around? Does he write under a pseudonym—hell, was J.C. Pollock a nom de plume? If anyone out there knows anything about what happened to Pollock—and I know someone does—please send me an email. I would love to hear the story.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cavalry Man: Doom Weapon by Ed Gorman

I have good news for all the Ed Gorman readers out there. His next Cavalry Man novel is slated for release July 31.

The title: Cavalry Man: Doom Weapon

The publisher's description, in part:

When hard-living, hard-drinking federal agent Arnold Grieves came to Junction City, he saw a town overflowing with vice—the kind of place where an unscrupulous lawman could feed his twisted hungers and make a serious killing. Now the old Grieves is gone and the new one's hell-bent on getting rich . . . by selling a doomsday weapon to evil men who are not reluctant to use it. Click Here to read the full description.
Needless to say Noah Ford--reformed alcoholic and philosopher--is sent in to do something about it, and, I'm sure, he will find more than his share of trouble.

If you have never read an Ed Gorman western you are in for a treat--his westerns are less than traditional. They have the feel of a good mystery that just happens to be set in the late-1800s with a backdrop of brothels, Sheriffs, blacksmiths, horses, saloons and wagons. They are westerns that will appeal to a much wider audience--urbanites, women, as well as the traditional baby-boomer males.

I really enjoyed the first two titles in the Cavalry Man series, and my guess is Doom Weapon will be a great addition. Ed Gorman has always been a reliable storyteller.

To read the review I wrote for the last Cavalry Man novel--Powder Keg--click Here.

A note on finding this title: The last two Cavalry Man novels have been abundant in grocery stores and super markets, but hard to find in bookstores. Hopefully this one will be as easy to find--and the price, at $5.99, is oh so right.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Time Trax -- Main Theme

Time Trax was a syndicated television program in the early-1990s. It aired, at least in my market, on Saturday evening for two seasons--44 episodes. It was a fun little science fiction program similar in atmosphere and content to Quantum Leap. It was about a cop from the future who is sent back in time--the early-Nineties--to catch and send back criminals who had fled prosecution in their own time. It could be a little cheesy, but I liked it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hard Case Crime Double Artwork

More cool news from Hard Case Crime. I received a very nice email from HCC editor and co-founder Charles Ardai this afternoon with the artwork for their recently announced Robert Bloch "Double," as it will actually look--the the back-to-back format along with the spine.

While I had his ear I also asked him about the selection process of the titles they publish; particularly how they choose between reprints and original novels. His response was terrific and very kind. In part he said:

As for originals vs. reprints, to some extent it's the luck of the draw -- we'll have a run of reprints, then a batch of originals all clumped up. It's not intentional, it's just the result of when authors happen to finish writing their books, and also of the variable quality of the submissions we get. (I'll always choose to buy a great reprint rather than a second-rate original novel, if that's my only alternative.)

Which probably sums up why HCC has had so much success in the marketplace. I'm always pushing for HCC to release more originals, but I can't argue with the overall quality of the titles they have chosen to bring back into print. How can I when they are reprinting hard-to-find novels from authors like Lawrence Block, Ed McBain, Max Allan Collins, Day Keene, David Goodis, John Lange and so many more? But still....

Thanks for the artwork and the email Charles.

Hard Case Crime Double

Cool news from Hard Case Crime: They have just released the artwork and titles for their much anticipated—by me, at least—“Double.” This style goes back to the old ACE Doubles, which featured two short novels back-to-back with a separate cover for each story. ACE published mysteries, westerns and science fiction; their science fiction line was the most popular, and today is the easiest to come by, with westerns a close second, and mysteries a very distant third.

The titles for the new HCC Double are both Robert Bloch novels—it would be cooler if they had two different writers, but still Bloch is a pretty kick ass choice—and the artwork is, as usual, top-notch.

The titles: Shooting Star and Spiderweb.

The cover artists: Arthur Saydum and Larry Schwinger .

HCC says the titles have been out-of-print for fifty years—who am I to argue—and the descriptions on their website make the novels sound pretty cool.

Unfortunately we have to wait until April 2008 for its release.

Click Here to go to the Hard Case Crime promotion page for a description and a sample chapter their first Double novel.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Post-Postmodern Fiction--Lit or Trend?

My local newspaper--The Salt Lake Tribune--printed an interesting article about the newish literary genre that it calls “post-postmodern fiction.” The genre, as described by the article, is defined by a group of young writers—mostly male—who are playing with narratives and the way we read:

This new breed of writers…think nothing of breaking up prose with graphics, maps and comic strips. They vary their font sizes, add extensive footnotes, format their text into strange shapes on the page. Sometimes they even read the text upside down.

The article goes on to talk about the originality of the form, even going so far as making the comparison between what these new "post-post modern" writers are doing and what Faulkner, Woolf, and Joyce did in the early-Twentieth century:

[T]he current wave of young writers, in their own way, are doing what modernist novelists such as William Faulkner, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf did in the early 1900s with stream-of-consciousness, voice and other groundbreaking narrative devices.

The genre, according to the article, has been around for about a decade—its roots can be traced to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and now includes writers such as Mark Z. Danielewski, Jonathan Safran Foer, Mark Haddon, Evan Kuhlman and David Mitchell. It has a cult following, and is beginning to make gains in sales and even appearing in mainstream bookshops.

When I first read this article yesterday morning I didn’t know what to think about it. I’m not the target audience for these “post-postmodern” works, but my first thought was: This is why people don’t read anymore. But then I eased off a little. Maybe there is something to this—heck, can anything that brings people away from the television, telephone, video game console, and back to the written word be bad?

I would prefer new and innovative novels that I can read without getting a decoder ring in the mail, or turning the book upside down and back again every few pages, but—

—at least it is out there in the marketplace, and someone is reading it.

I would rather have literature that is progressive in its narrative power and story-telling,than progressive in how it is presented—a job primarily achieved by a the very non-literary graphic design companies that have designed the nearly indecipherable menus in every chic chain restaurant around the country—but maybe this is a move in the right direction.

Not that I want the text shaped into elephants on each page—or any page—but rather a reevaluation of how we deliver literature. We need to be progressive in using new formats and media—how can we use the Internet, email, PDFs, or any other piece of technology to improve the accessibility, readability, and desirability of the written word?

Maybe this “post-postmodern” trend will help give us some answers, not how to write quality literature, but how to think creatively in presenting it in new formats, which younger readers will find appealing and illuminating. And hopefully benefit not only those of us who love the written word, but our entire culture as well.

Click Here to read the article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Zingers 2: More First Lines With Grab

We all know the rules: the first few sentences of a novel have to reach out and grab us. If they don’t we generally pass on the novel and move down the shelves until something does grab us. Here are three more novels with openings that not only have grab, but have stayed with me since I first read them. Interestingly enough, they all are mystery novels.

1. Sweating, thirsty, hot, uncomfortable, and tired to the point of explosion.

Cynically I counted my woes.

Considerable, they were. Considerable, one way and another.

I sat in the driving seat of a custom-built aerodynamic sports car, the castoff toy of an oil sheik’s son. I had been sitting there for the best part of three days. Ahead, the sun-dried plain spread gently away to some distant brown and purple hills, and hour by hour their hunched shapes remained exactly where they were on the horizon, because the 150 m.p.h Special was not moving.

Nor was I.

Dick Francis was a favorite writer of mine in the mid-1990s—heck, he still is, and this opening from his novel Smokescreen is why. His writing is interesting, his voice is very working class, and his mysteries are top-notch. Not to mention they are exciting as hell.

2. Around eleven that night, the hostess broke out the Johnny Mathis and the Frank Sinatra, and everybody quit talking about their kids and their jobs and their mortgages and their politics, and got down to some serious slow dancing out on the darkened patio in the warm prairie night of summer 1961.

This is the first paragraph of Ed Gorman’s novel Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool featuring part-time P.I., part-time lawyer, and full-time small town fix-it man Sam McCain. The Sam McCain novels are a melancholy journey into a past that no longer exists, and the opening line from Everybody's Somebody's Fool fits the mood, temperament, and relaxed sorrow that is woven into each novel of the series.

The Sam McCain novels are my favorite P.I. series still being produced—the most recent, Fool’s Rush In, is scheduled for release later this year. I hope! It was originally scheduled to be released in March, but according to Amazon.com is now scheduled for the end of August.

3. I’m sitting on the porch of a bungalow on the Yucatan Peninsula with lit cigarettes sticking out both my ears.

This first line from Charlie Huston’s super-cool novel Six Bad Things begs the question: What? It also makes me want to read further, if for no other reason than to figure out why the guy has lit cigarettes stuck in his ears. And the great thing is, the novel only gets better.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

BLAZE by Richard Bachman

Stephen King has a new novel just out called Blaze. It is published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, and like the first three novels he published under the Bachman moniker, it was written before his first novel Carrie was published. In his frank and enlightening Introduction King makes it clear that Blaze is a trunk novel. He says, “It’s a revised and updated trunk novel, but that doesn’t change the basic fact.”

Blaze is the story of Clayton "Blaze" Blaisdell, Jr. He is a giant of a man—6’7” and approaching 300 pounds. He is slow of thought, a criminal, and alone. The novel opens with Blaze stealing a car—his partner, George, leaves him to hotwire an old pickup by himself. Blaze isn’t too bright, and he gets angry and scared. Fortunately he finds a key hidden under the floor mat, and in a huff he decides to leave George in the bar and go home. That’s when Blaze remembers George is dead.

The trouble is, Blaze forgets George is gone a lot, because he still hears him speak sometimes, but always from another room, talking through the door, giving Blaze advice about this and that: how to steal a car; rob a convenience store; and plan the big one. The one job that will get him out of the life and transport him to someplace warmer and safer than Maine. George planned that final job—the kidnapping of the infant child of a local wealthy family—before he died in a knife fight. And now Blaze decides he wants to do it. He’ll do it alone, but he’ll have George their to talk him through it.

I can’t say enough good things about Blaze. It is an old style novel. The voice is crystal clear and the theme is very much like an old noir. The protagonist, Blaze, is a good man who has never gotten an even break. He has never been at the right place at the right time, or any other clichĂ© you can think of. He is likable, chummy and in his own way one hell of a good person. His father beat the intelligence out of him and the unfairness of life took everything else. Blaze is a novel about love, need and just plain bad luck.

As for the trunk novel thing, my only thought: Damn if I don’t wish I had a novel this good hidden away in a dark, lonesome trunk.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I am Legend v. The Omega Man

A few weeks ago I saw the trailer for the upcoming film I Am Legend, which is based on the spectacular Richard Matheson novel. It stars Will Smith, and is scheduled for release this December. It looks decent: exciting, dark, and coolish. Although it doesn't seem to fit my memories of the novel much, but then again what movie based on a novel does?

And speaking of films based on Matheson's I Am Legend that don't follow the book much at all. Here is the trailer for the semi-cool (can I admit I sort of like this one?) Charlton Heston film The Omega Man. It is cheesy, over-dramatic, and takes itself way to seriously, but it is still has its moments. One of those moments is the ringing telephones. Too cool. Enjoy.

Monday, July 02, 2007

NO DOMINION by Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston is a favorite writer of mine. I read his novel Six Bad Things a couple years ago and it blew me away. The action was non-stop, and the characters—particularly the protagonist—were rendered as believable and served the story without fault. I have since read every novel Huston has published, and it is a list quickly growing.

He finished his Hank Thompson trilogy less than a year ago, and the second novel in his Joe Pitt series—a tough guy vampire based on Manhattan—was released earlier this year. Charlie Huston also has a crime novel scheduled for release sometime in August titled: The Shotgun Rule, and if there is anyone out there reading this—I want a review copy! [SFReader only gets the vampire stuff.]

With that said, my review for his second Joe Pitt novel, No Dominion, is live and online at SFReader. No Dominion starts where Already Dead left off, and it takes the reader on a fast, mean, and violent tour of the Manhattan vampire underbelly. It is quick, fun and very entertaining.

Click Here to read the review