Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rock's Hardest Partiers

I never get on lists like this one.

Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for the link.

War Is Hell. And then There's Houston.

Houston crime shows U.N. refugees the sinister side of America | LOCAL NEWS | Breaking Houston News, Weather, Sports, Traffic, Video from | 11 News: "Saleh is a refugee from Africa. He’s just one of dozens of Africans brought to the states by a United Nations program that enables the persecuted to get out of harm’s way.

These victims of many wars were literally dropped off in southwest Houston at an apartment complex where there’s a brewing clash of cultures.

While they thought their hardest obstacles would be learning English and having enough food to eat, in reality trying to survive the crime has moved to the top of the list.

Many claim they’re being assaulted. The latest such attack occurred Friday morning.

The refugee that was assaulted had to be taken to a local hospital. The attack was reportedly over a cell phone.

Over the last few weeks, at least six refugees have been assaulted."

Man of the House

Tommy Lee Jones is a Texas Ranger who's housesitting a group of University of Texas cheerleaders who have witnessed a murder. Either you'll want to watch the movie after reading that, or you won't, so I don't really have to say more. I will, of course.

There's some nice scenery in this one, including some fine shot shots of UT and the Governor's Mansion. Rick Perry, the current gov, whom I loathe, even has a speaking part. The Capitol building stands in for the county, or maybe the federal, courthouse.

The picture begins like a straight action movie with lots of shooting and explosions. It might even have been a good one. But right after that, it becomes an out-and-out comedy.

Jones is the straight-arrow, uptight guy who's going to get loosened up by his association with the life-embracing cheerleaders. He plays it deadpan all the way, and very effectively, too. The cheerleaders wear skimpy clothes. It's thoroughly implausible and, let's face it, dumb. I laughed a lot. You might not.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Update: Once Again, Texas DOESN'T Lead the Way

Where's the ad? Houston may have a beef with Silverstone spot - Los Angeles Times: " The 30-year-old actress set off a firestorm of interest -- and, apparently, controversy -- by posing nude in a television commercial on behalf of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Silverstone, a well-known animal rights activists and environmentalist, is shown swimming in a pool naked and talking about the beauty of a vegetarian lifestyle. As she emerges from the pool, her carefully placed limbs and some fancy camera work leave it all to the imagination.

But it may be too much for Texas.

The 30-second spot was to debut in Texas on Wednesday but was reportedly banned in that bastion of beef by Comcast Cable. (You may recall that the Lone Star State's beef barons took Oprah Winfrey to task for allegedly backhanding their industry. The O prevailed.)"

You can see the ad here if you're curious.

The Last Tomb -- John Lange

John Lange is the one of the names Michael Crichton used before he became a rich and famous writer under his own. Actually, I prefer the Lange books to Crichton's current novels, but that's just me.

The Last Tomb
is Bantam's 1974 re-titled reissue of Easy Go, originally published in 1968 by Signet. I reviewed that edition for 1001 Midnights back in 1985 or so, and when I ran across a copy of the Bantam edition the other day, I thought I'd re-read it. It's the story of a group of modern tomb-robbers in Egypt. Harold Barnaby, an Egyptologist, comes across the directions to a heretofore unknown tomb while translating some hierogylyphics, and he enlists a journalist named Pierce to help him find and loot it.

Pierce recruits the team in the book's first part. The second part is the search for the tomb. The final part is what happens after the tomb is found. Naturally things don't work out as the would-be robbers had planned.

I enjoyed reading this one again. It's fast and light, with plenty of local color and history worked into the narrative. I have no idea if Lange had been to Egypt, but he makes you believe he's describing sights, smells, and sounds that he's quite familiar with. The story's the thing here, not characterization or philosophy, and the story's good enough to carry you (or me, anyway) right along.

Hard Case Crime has reprinted one of the Lange novels, but this one, while equally good (maybe better), isn't really the kind of thing that would interest that publisher. You'll have to luck into a used copy somewhere. Don't bother looking on the 'Net unless you want to pay a lot more than the book's worth.

This Guy Can Do It in 7 Seconds

The Ninth Gate

George Kelley recommended this movie to me. It slipped by me completely on its original release, and I didn't even know that it had to do with rare books and book collectors. So I was glad to catch up with it on DVD.

Johnny Depp, doing his usual excellent job, plays a book dealer with questionable ethics. (I refuse to make any jokes here.) He's hired by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to compare his copy of a very rare book to the only two remaining copies. The book has an interesting history, and it begins to seem that the certain illustrations might have been done by Lucifer, whose work appears on different pages in each copy. Put all his engravings together, and what do you get? That's for Langella to know and for Depp to find out.

In some ways this is an effective horror movie, a lot more interesting to me than any number of variations on the old "how many buckets of fake blood can we use" pictures around these days. The book collecting aspects are especially appealing, and Depp's detective work is often engrossing. He's not an appealing character even at the beginning, and he becomes a much worse person as the plot thickens. Along the way he's assisted by a woman who may (or may not) be Lucifer in earthly form. (And not a bad form at all, I must say.)

So what's not to like? Well, the parts that are good in themselves don't add up to an entirely successful whole. The occult sex club wasn't creepy or effective, and the ending didn't satisfy me, though it might have impressed me more if I'd been sure what it meant. Overall, the movie's certainly worth a look, especially if you like books.

The Big O -- Declan Burke

It's hard to describe the plot of The Big O. Let's just say it has to do with a secretary who's into armed robbery on the side, a retired kidnapper who's not really retired, a recently released convict, a discredited surgeon and his wife, a cop or two, and a dog. I think that about covers it.

How all these characters act and interact makes up the plot, which I have to admit involves a lot of coincidences, enough to fill a couple of Woolrich novels. My theory is that the coincidences are there to show that there's some kind of hidden order in what appears outwardly to be a chaotic world. But I could be wrong. And it doesn't matter anyway, because
The Big O is a very entertaining crime novel. It's fast-moving, it has snappy dialog, and it's and wickedly funny. It's told in short chapters that concentrate on the individual characters and their situations. The plot builds and builds, and the climactic scenes really pay off.

As for the title, well, you'll have to decide for yourself what it means. And, yes, Roy Orbison is mentioned.

The book's not yet available in the U. S., more's the pity, but I was lucky enough to snag a review copy. Check it out if you get the chance.

The Man from the Alamo

Walter Satterthwait weighs in with another movie review.

I watched THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO last night. This movie is what we professional reviewers learn to identify in critics school as "a piece of shit." It's a Budd Boetticher film, so I had high hopes for it. But the dialog is sappy and stilted -- everyone except Glenn Ford talks without contractions, in the kind of stiff, formal English that might be used by a prissy schoolmarm. Even the little Mexican peasant kid says things like "I'll not let you." What little Mexican peasant kid says stuff like that? What human being, at any time in history, says stuff like that?

The idea is that old Glenn, one of the besieged defenders of the Alamo, leaves the place to protect the families of his friends, and his own family, all of whom are threatened by the Mexican army under Santa Ana. In an amazing plot twist, it turns out that the families are all dead, so Glenn doesn't have a whole lot to do
. But naturally everyone in town -- especially Hugh O'Brian, who struts around in a skin-tight buckskin shirt -- assumes that Glenn's a yellowbelly for leaving the Alamo, and wants to string him up. The Sheriff tosses him in jail for his own good, as Sheriffs are wont to do.

Fortunately, in an amazing plot twist, Glenn's cell is occupied by Neville Brand, who's one of the Bad Guys who killed Glenn's family. In another amazing plot twist, just as the townspeople break into the jail and carry Glenn off to hang him, as townspeople are wont to do, Neville Brand's fellow outlaws, led by Victor Jory, ride into town and rescue Glen and Neville, as outlaw gangs are wont to do. In an amazing plot twist, Glen goes along with Vic and the boys because this will give him a chance to exact vengeance on the lowlifes who killed his family.

Meanwhile, the whole town leaves town, to avoid being killed by General Santa Ana, who apparently has nothing better to do at this point than attack civilians. Hugh O'Brian, still wearing his skin-tight buckskin shirt, leads the wagon train. In an amazing plot twist, Victor's gang attacks the wagon train, but Glen is able to warn the town of the gang's coming, and then, in an amazing plot twist, he joins the wagon train himself. This puts him in solid with Julie Adams, who looks great and who's the only person on the wagon train who doesn't want to lynch Glenn, except for the little Mexican kid, who continues to talk like Angela Lansbury.

Hugh O'Brian still doesn't trust the yellowbelly. (Julie does, though.) But then, in an amazing plot twist, Hugh is ordered, by a dispatch from Sam Houston, to leave the wagon train and come fight at the Battle of San Jacinto. In a flash, and for no reason that I could determine, Hugh decides that Glenn is an okay guy and lets him take over the wagon train. Glenn borrows some rifles from Hugh and his men, who apparently feel that they won't be needing any rifles in the upcoming battle. Glenn doesn't borrow any ammunition, but maybe he figures that the women who'll be using the rifles won't know how to shoot anyway.

As soon as Hugh leaves, Vic and the boys attack the wagon train. Boy, are they in for a surprise when the women on the train shoot back. And, boy, are they (and me) in for a surprise when the women reload with powder horns that no one's ever seen before.

In an amazing plot twist, Victor attacks the wagon train from the rear, but Glenn has foreseen that, naturally, and he and Victor end up, naturally, in a fist fight at the top of a picturesque water fall. Victor cheats a bit, of course, tries to drown Glenn in the rushing current; but Glenn proves that morality beats out villainy every time, and, with a classic uppercut, knocks Victor off the falls.

We end with Glenn leaving the wagon train and riding off to fight in the Battle of San Jacinto himself. Julie Adams and the little Mexican peasant kid are confident that he'll come back safe and sound, which is a pretty good bet, considering that Glenn is packing a revolver that won't be invented for another thirty or so years. He probably has a Gatling gun tucked away in his pocket

I forgot to mention that Chill Wills plays a guy who has only one arm, although everyone is way too polite to bring this to his attention, and although the missing arm serves no function at all in the story.
At one point, in the middle of an amazing plot twist, Glenn tells him to climb up a tree. Neither Glenn nor Chill thinks that this is in any way notable. A couple of times, when old Chill turns his back, you can see the outline of his missing hand beneath his back pocket.

Beotticher went on to make a couple of those great Randy Scott westerns, but this movie really doesn't work.

Happy Birthday, MWA Grandmaster Stephen King!

The Writer's Almanac from American Public Media: "The novelist Stephen King (books by this author) was born on this day in Portland, Maine (1947). He's the author of The Shining (1977), Pet Sematary 1983), and From a Buick 8 (2002). He decided early on that it was more fun to write about giant man-eating rats than to write about the life of a gas station attendant or a high school English teacher, which was what he did before his stuff started to sell.

As a teacher, King had witnessed the cruelty of teenagers, so he wrote about a weird, miserable, high school girl with psychic powers named Carrie White, who takes revenge on all her classmates. Carrie was published in 1973 and King got $400,000 for the paperback rights and went on to become one of the most popular novelists of all time. It was King's contribution to the genre to take horror novels out of deserted castles and put them into small towns and fast food restaurants and libraries."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On the Road Again

Another good article, along with Kerouac's drawing of the cover.

Horrified B-Movie Victims Action Figures

You never know what will turn up on the 'net. Thanks to Beth Foxwell for the link.

Horrified B-Movie Victims - Plastic Scared Figures - Archie McPhee�: "We provide the victims, you provide the terror! Each dramatic play set includes nine 2-1/2' to 3' tall, hard vinyl victims captured in utterly terrified poses! Are they reacting to the advances of a giant, man-eating alpaca or the sight of your grandma in her nightgown and curlers? The possibilities are endless!"

Climate Change and Mammoth Bones

Mammoth bones worth money? Maybe that could be part of a mystery novel if anybody would write it.

Making a mint from Artic mammoths - Environment - "One day, climate change could cost the earth. For now, it is a nice little earner for Russian hunter Alexander Vatagin.

In Siberia's northernmost reaches, high up in the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature is thawing out the permafrost to reveal the bones of prehistoric animals such as mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions that have been buried for thousands of years.

Private collectors and scientific institutes will pay huge sums for the right specimen, and bone-prospectors such asVatagin have turned this region, eight time zones from Moscow, into a palaeontological goldmine.

'Last year someone was paid 800,000 roubles [$37,000] for a mammoth head with two tusks in great condition,' Vatagin said."

Once Again, Texas Leads the Way

The Associated Press: Silverstone to Appear in PETA TV Ad: "HOUSTON (AP) — An animal rights group says Alicia Silverstone appears naked in a television ad promoting vegetarianism that was to debut Wednesday in Houston.

The 30-second ad was to air about two dozen times in Houston on Wednesday, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said. PETA said Houston was picked for the commercial's launch because it is often high on lists of cities with unhealthy eating habits.

Houston was named the sixth fattest city in the nation by Men's Fitness magazine this year."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Issue of Flurb Now On-Line

It's the Fall-Winter issue, and it's right here for you SF fans.

Writing Advice from Clyde Allison

A note from Fender Tucker of Ramble House:

Writers and Wannabees like me,

I picked up a Clyde Allison sleaze book on eBay called SHAME SLAVE and on the second page was an excellent lesson on how to write descriptions. It especially hit home with me because I recently wrote a 50-page story and once it was "done" I realized that I had literally NO descriptions of the characters in the story. I guess I knew what everyone looked like and figured the reader would work it out himself. Probably a bad idea.

But here's what Clyde Allison, author of the 0008 series books, says:
"...if you want to describe your hero, and your hero is six feet tall, has wavy blond hair, huge biceps and a mean nature--never write something like Joe Blow was six feet tall with wavy blond hair, huge biceps and a mean nature."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because--because it's against the rules," said Clarence. "You gotta be subtle. You gotta write something like Joe Blow stretched to his full seventy-two inches, tossed his head to shake his wavy blond hair out of his eyes, and began to beat up his aged grandmother--his huge biceps rippling ominously with every blow."
Why didn't I think of that? My grandmother-beating scene is absolutely tepid compared to that.

News Headlines You Didn't Want to See

Grandmothers Swing on Stripper Poles for Exercise

Just in Case You'd Forgotten. . .

. . . I guess I should remind you that it's Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The Trail to Ogallala -- Benjamin Capps

This is pretty much the ultimate trail drive novel, I'd say. Sure Lonesome Dove is in the running, and then there's Red River. But this one has it all.

Billy Scott is to be the leader of the drive (3000 cattle), but the owner of the herd dies and his widow turns the leadership over to someone else. Scott's not even going to be the segundo, with that honor going to a man called Blackie.

The trail boss dies pretty quickly, and Blackie takes over. He's about as smart as a can of green beans. Scott has to figure out how to get the herd through without officially taking over control.

While the book has plenty of action (stampedes, fist fights, nights on the town), realism is the key. Capps never resorts to melodrama, and he never romanticizes the west. He must have studied plenty of true accounts before writing the novel. It's not your standard western.

One interesting thing: the book was published in 1964, but the style's more akin to a novel from another century. There's lots of showing instead of telling, and the paragraphs are long and complex. I don't mind this style at all, but I'm sure it would put off some of today's readers.

Robert Skinner is working on an article on Capps to appear in Firsts magazine. I'll be getting a copy of that, for sure.

The Grudge . . .

. . . in 30 seconds. With bunnies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Will the Persecution Never End?

I don't suppose it will.

Peru Update

Mystery illness strikes after meteorite hits Peruvian village: " Villagers in southern Peru were struck by a mysterious illness after a meteorite made a fiery crash to Earth in their area, regional authorities said Monday.

Around midday Saturday, villagers were startled by an explosion and a fireball that many were convinced was an airplane crashing near their remote village, located in the high Andes department of Puno in the Desaguadero region, near the border with Bolivia."

Manly Grooming Accessory

Walter Satterthwait sent this link. That doesn't mean he has this hair dryer, though.

Queenpin -- Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's fine story in Damn Near Dead, "Policy," is the basis for this novel, which expands on the story's ideas and characters. The unnamed narrator is 22 years old, and she's taken in hand by Gloria Denton, a woman well up in the mob hierarchy in a gambling town. Gloria teaches her how to dress and act, not to mention how to pick up pay-offs and distribute winnings. When the narrator meets Gloria, her first though is, "I want the legs." But that's not all she wants. Whatever she has, her next thought is, "I want more." And, as it turns out, she doesn't care how she gets it. The Life is what she was born for, what she is.

She's doing just fine until she meets Vic, an unfortunate meeting for both of them. It leads eventually to a scene of shocking violence, and to other things as well. You can almost see it unspooling as a black and white movie with voice-over narration. If you think you know what's coming because you've read "Policy," you don't. Get the book, and you'll see why Ken Bruen calls Megan Abbott "the new Queen of Noir."

Space Tourism

When I saw the article linked below, I thought of this offer from the Science Fiction Book Club that appeared on the back of Astounding in May 1955. The price of a ticket has gone up since then.

With thousands signing up as early space tourists, a new race is on - International Herald Tribune: "PARIS: The week after Richard Laronde returned home from a 16-day trek to the South Pole in January, he bought a ticket to outer space.

For Laronde, who had also journeyed to the North Pole in 2006, making the decision to splurge $200,000 on one of the world's first commercial spaceflights took about as long as it takes to do a Google search for 'space tourism.' 'As soon as I got back from the South Pole, I got on the Internet,' said Laronde, 56, who owns a prospering event-planning business in Boston."

Monday, September 17, 2007


The folks at bill themselves as "the future of art." Arriving in my mail today was their poster made from the cover of Junkie. You can see it to the left. I have no idea who sent it, but my thanks go out to whoever did. It's gracing my office door even now.

They have a lot of posters of old paperback covers, but there's much more, too. Check it out.

No Comment Department

Hit Ordered On Kevin Federline?: "ET has several reliable sources that the FBI and LAPD are investigating legitimate leads on a contract hit on KEVIN FEDERLINE's life.

Multiple sources tell ET that the FBI made attempts to contact Federline to inform him of the potential danger.

Sources within the FBI tell ET that this is the bureau's standard operating procedure when someone's life is threatened.

ET has been working this story for the past two months. When contacted, the FBI told us that the bureau cannot confirm or deny an investigation."

TMZ has learned that reports of an FBI investigation into a plot to kill Kevin Ferderline are completely untrue -- however, an LAPD investigation was conducted in the past.

According to LAPD, the department opened an investigation into a threat on Federline's life nearly two months ago, but the case was closed due to insufficient evidence.

Happy Birthday, Cassandra Peterson

Better known, maybe, as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Age 56 today. Younger than Joey Heatherton.

Gator Update (Reattached Arm Edition)

12-foot gator bites off man's arm in Lake Moultrie; doctors try to reattach: "MONCKS CORNER — A 12-foot alligator bit off and swallowed a man’s arm this afternoon in Lake Moultrie.

Department of Natural Resource officers then shot the 600-pound gator and retrieved the Summerville man’s arm from its belly, DNR officers and witnesses said.

Doctors at the Medical University are trying to reattach the man’s arm."

Happy Birthday, Robert B. Parker!

The Writer's Almanac from American Public Media: "It's the birthday of Robert Brown Parker, (books by this author) born in Springfield, Massachusetts (1932). He created a private eye named Spenser who spends his free time making gourmet food, including 'buffalo tenderloin marinated in red wine and garlic served with fiddle head ferns, corn pudding, and red potatoes cooked with bay leaf,' and 'German sausages with green apples sliced dipped in flour and fried in the sausage fat. Served with coarse rye bread and wild strawberry jam.'

The newest Spenser mystery, entitled Now & Then, will come out this October (2007)."

U. S. Losing War on Illegal Underpants?

U.S. probes banned briefs found at Gitmo - Yahoo! News: "SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp found two prisoners sporting unauthorized underwear, and the U.S. military is investigating to determine how they got the contraband.

Both prisoners were caught wearing Under Armour briefs and one also had on a Speedo bathing suit, items the military said were not issued by Guantanamo personnel or sent through the regular mail, according to a Defense Department letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press."

Mouthful of Bullets

The new issue is available on-line and in print. The print edition includes a lot more stories. The on-line edition is here.

You've Never Had this Editor, Right?

Thanks to William Dylan Powell for the link.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Round-Up Time in Texas

This was on the Western Channel this afternoon. I complained about the problems with 3:10 to Yuma, and then I watched this. Good grief. What can I tell you?

Let's start with the title. You'd think the movie was about Texas, right? And maybe a round-up. You poor fool. That shows how little you know. See, the deal is that Gene gets a telegram from his brother, Tex. Tex has discovered a diamond mine in South Africa and needs 50 horses. (I have no idea why.) Seems that he can't get any horses in Africa, or any place closer than Texas. (I have no idea why.) So Gene takes the horses to Africa, where the picture is set.

And speaking of "set," one of the many amazing things about this movie is that the African landscape looks exactly like the landscape of the west as seen in dozens of Republic westerns. If kids who saw this movie were confused in geography class, there's a good reason why.

We probably shouldn't even speak of racial stereotyping, other than to say that it's rampant. There's plenty here to offend just about everybody. I'm not talking about the singing, though. That's pretty good, and of course it includes the title song. Well, there is the scene where Frog (Smiley Burnette) teaches the native youngsters to sing and in which they set the world's record for learning English.

If you thought Phantom Empire was goofy, but you enjoyed it anyway, you should see this.

Once Again, Texas Leads the Way

Now here's a headline I don't like to see.

United Press International - NewsTrack - Science - Infectious skin disease found in Texas: "DALLAS, 15 (UPI) -- Texas doctors have identified nine cases of the skin disease leishmaniasis in patients who have not traveled to endemic areas.

The infectious disease, sometimes called the Baghdad boil, is common in South America, Mexico and the Middle East, but the North Texas patients identified by doctors at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center had not traveled to any of those areas."

King Kung Fu

Rick Klaw has posted the one-sheet and the trailer for King Kung Fu. It must be seen to be believed.