Saturday, April 02, 2005

Judge A Book... by its Cover

Judge A Book... by its Cover: "I love books. I love the smell of 'em, the feel of 'em, and I love the look of 'em. In fact, I even like to read them, but that's another story. The main preoccupation of this site is the covers of books. Mainly books I've picked up in charity shops, or at carboot sales or jumble sales, even some that I've found on the ground."

The link above is to a site maintained by Jim Barker, clearly a collector after my own heart. He's the brains behind Planet of the Sardines, which I've mentioned previously. Judge a Book has the covers organized by category, and as Jim says, "Here you will find hard-boiled detectives, scantily-clad floozies, unlikely space-ships, grotesque aliens, bizarre religious images, beatnik shockers, hell's angels, skinheads, barbarian heroes, and horrifying monsters... among others." Check it out.

Sin City

Judy and I went to see Sin City yesterday. I tried to explain to Judy that this might not be her kind of movie, but she insisted. When it was over, I asked her how she liked it. She said, "It was about what I expected." I decided not to pursue the conversation any further.

From my point of view, Sin City was great. The B&W (with a few snippets of color now and then) photography is beautiful, and this is the best-looking movie I've seen in a long time. I'm amazed at what Robert Rodriguez can do in his garage in Austin.

The stories in the movie are lifted pretty much intact from Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, and graphic is the right word. There's enough violence to make Mickey Spillane blanch (though I figure Spillane must be a big influence on Miller). There's nudity. There's cannibalism.

Sure, it's all exaggerated, exaggerated to the point of impossibility. In our world. But not in the comic book world were the movie originated. That's the world where you slam a guy in the face fifteen or twenty times with a pistol, and all he needs is a few Bandaids. I think I liked the Mickey Rourke story best, simply because it's the most exaggerated.

I get the feeling this is a movie people will either like or hate. I liked it a lot. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 01, 2005

Secret Dead Men -- Duane Swierczynski

And now for something completely different. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Duane Swierczynski's Secret Dead Men is the goofiest book I've read this year. And I mean that in a good way. I don't think it belongs to a genre. It's sort of its own genre, a blend of SF and mystery like none other I've run across. I'll try to describe it, but (trust me on this) I'm not doing it justice. Del Farmer, the narrator, has the ability to gather souls. That's right. He can gather them from the recently dead, or even the living. (With the living it takes eye contact. And that's all I know about that.) When the souls are gathered, they reside in Farmer's brain, in what he calls the Brain Hotel, a simulacrum of the world of the living. He can talk to them, drink brain Chivas with them, or do anything else he pleases. He can even send his own soul into another body (eye contact again), should the occasion demand it, and you can bet that it will. Del is out to smash "the Association," which he believes to be something like the Mafia, and he's gathering some souls to help out. Things take a detour when one of the souls, from a guy named Brad, refuses to help unless Del solves Brad's murder. And after that, things really get complicated.

This is not your father's mystery novel. It's wild, weird, and very entertaining. PointBlank is going a great job of bringing out books like this, books the Big Boys probably wouldn't take a chance on. But PointBlank did, and you should, too. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Adventures of Jim Bowie

The Adventures of Jim Bowie is another old TV series now available on DVD for a buck. The only one at my local Dollar Tree was Volume 2, so that’s the one I bought. The quality of the transfer’s not bad at all. The quality of the episodes is something you’ll have to judge for yourself, but I thought they were worth my dollar.

The first episode is “Monsieur Francois,” and like every one of them it begins with the famous Bowie knife thunking into a wooden door. Then Jim comes to pluck it out while the theme song, by Ken Darby and The King’s Men plays. You remember the theme song if you’re my age: “Jim Bowie! Jim Bowie!/He was a fighter, a fearless and mighty adventurin’ man!/He roamed the wilderness unafraid/From Natchez to Rio Grande/With all the might of his gleaming blade/Flashing from either hand/Jim Bowie! Jim Bowie!/He was a mighty adventurin’ man!” The theme song is repeated at the end, and the soundtrack for the show is provided by The King’s Men, who hum annoyingly throughout.

But enough about that. Clearly I’ve digressed again. In “Monsieur Francois” the Bowie knife plays a big part. When Bowie (Scott Forbes) is in a fight with some wharf rats, all he has to do is pull the knife, and the rats run away. (A scene later borrowed for use in Crocodile Dundee?) And the show concludes with a “sword fight,” between Bowie, who uses the knife, and a guy with a rapier. It might have seemed exciting in the ‘50s, but it’s about the lamest sword fight I’ve ever seen. Pathetic, really. It ends with Bowie literally pulling the rug out from under the guy. The plot concerns a young boy who’s trying to find his relatives, and in one scene he’s in Bowie’s bed while Bowie is on the floor. Bowie complains, and finally the kid says, “You may share my bed.” Bowie hops in. I figure this scene could never occur in a current TV show, what with Michael Jackson and all. This episode might have played in heavy rotation at the Neverland Ranch.

The second episode on the disk is “Select Females,” and it’s better, mainly because it’s played strictly for laughs. It deals with a young woman who’s been kidnapped from a “school for select females,” and of course Bowie has to rescue her, with the help of an attractive teacher and the school’s headmistress. It’s corny and the comedy is very dated. But I still liked it. Or maybe that’s why I liked it. This episode is also notable because it marks the first screen appearance of Edd (billed as Edward) Byrnes, who of course went on to have a brief fling with stardom as Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip.

“Spanish Intrigue” is the final episode. Bowie gets mixed up with South American revolutionaries who are buying supplies for Simon Bolivar. It’s notable for its cast of WASPs trying to look and sound hispanic, and not much else. There’s another concluding Bowie knife vs. the rapier fight that’s not quite as lame as the other one.

I have to admit that I enjoyed all of these at least a little bit. They’re bad, but bad in a way that I can enjoy if I’m in the right mood.

A Trip Down Under

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Tales of the underworld

If you saw my post on the Sewergator site, you already know that I have an unhealthy fascination with sewers. The link above will take you to a fascinating (or not) article about a trip through one of London's sewers (no alligators, though). It's long but worth reading, if you're into sewers. (No jokes, please.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Matter of Perspective

For some reason I didn’t buy the DAW Books series of Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories when it originally appeared. I don’t know why, since it’s the sort of thing that appeals to me. Anyway, I’ve started picking up the books now, and the stories are as good as I remembered them to be.

I recently finished reading the tenth volume in the series, which covers the year 1948. I’d read every story in the book at least once before, and most of them I must have read in the years I first discovered the SF digests and anthologies, which would mean the middle 1950s. So the stories when I originally read them were anywhere from six to ten years old. At the time, I thought they were ancient.

After I finished the book of 1948's best, I picked up Donald A. Wolheim Presents the 1990 World’s Annual Best SF (also a DAW Book). All those stories are fifteen years old now, yet they seem to me to be quite recent, practically as if they were published yesterday. It’s funny how getting older affects your sense of time.

The stories that I remember most vividly from the Asimov book I mentioned are ones you’ll probably remember, too: Fredric Brown’s “Knock,” Judith Merrill’s “That only a Mother,” Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven,” Eric Frank Russell’s “Late Night Final.” Great stuff, as are all the stories in the book. The title’s not a misnomer.

The 1990 book was interesting to me because I don’t read nearly as much SF these days as I once did, and I wondered what I’d think of these “recent” stories. To my surprise, I liked a lot of them. The writing style is a little more sophisticated and “literary,” but the old familiar SF tropes are there. “Chiprunner,” by Robert Silverberg (who no doubt read the stories from the 1948 volume in the original magazines in his youth) is modern variation on Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, if not on Ray Cummings’ Beyond the Vanishing Point, and Silverberg’s “A Sleep and a Forgetting” is a time-travel-alternate-world-paradox story. Even James Morrow’s “Abe Lincoln in McDonald’s” is a time-travel-alternate-world story tricked out in new duds. “In Translation” by Lisa Tuttle is a first-contact-aliens-among-us story. I didn’t much like this one, but I still felt I was on familiar ground. I think there might even be a little Leinster connection. Brian Aldiss’ “North of the Abyss” is the old dead-man-who-thinks-he’s-alive tale with Egyptian gods. And my favorite was probably Lucius Shepard’s “Surrender,” which I see as a juiced-up version of an old movie called Alligator People.

I had fun reading both books, but I’m more interested in reading the old stuff. And in fact I’ve been browsing in several of the other Asimov volumes over the last couple of weeks. I’ve decided that I have to get all of them, and maybe I will, sooner or later.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Red Tassel -- David Dodge

I grew up in a house in which there were very few books. My parents introduced me to the library early, however, so that made up for a lot. Later on, I started accumulating books of my own, but my parents were never very interested. For some reason, one of the few books on our single bookshelf was David Dodge's The Red Tassel, the hardcover first. I have no idea why it was there, and I never asked. I did, however, read it. That copy has long since disappeared, but when we got back from Peru, I wanted to read it again. So I picked up this copy on eBay. The setting is Boliva, not Peru, but the scenery, the references to altitude sickness, and the alpacas were all familiar to me from my trip. Dodge is another of those underrated, nearly forgotten, writers who deserves a better fate. His writing is clean, and his observations are sharp. His descriptions are right on the money. And his plotting is something we could all learn from. I'm looking forward to the Hard Case Crime reprint of Plunder of the Sun, which should be coming along Real Soon Now and should go a long way to improving Dodge's visibility. I believe that one is set in Peru, at least partially. Should be a real treat. Posted by Hello

From Ed Gorman

Bill, when you say that the magazines Ennis Willie wrote for were "below Playboy," you don't know how much you understate. I wrote some stories for those same mags and I'll tell you while the erotic quality of the stories and photos wouldn't even qualify as "naughty" today, the sexism would probably get you the chair. A) all women were potential "nymphos." B) all men were potential studs. C) and if you thought that the cities had a lot of "nymphos" just drive out into the country sometimes. Every cornfield seemed to have thirty or forty "nymphos" hiding in the rows just waiting to jump some city slicker. The best part of every issue was the sex advice article, which was always written by somebody with PhD after his name. I wish (well, maybe not) I had a copy or two of those old rags just for the sex advice stuff. The weird thing was the mags were all innocent in an odd way. Totally adolescent--a seventh grade boy's misinformed fantasies about what "sex with nymphos" (probably even Maimie Eisenhower had a few "nympho" inclinations) was all about. Today they'd be fodder for Saturday Night Live.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Ennis Willie Is Back!

Ennis Willie Covers

That's right, folks. the best "unknown" writer of hardboiled p.i. fiction is going to be reprinted. (I'll have updates on that here, I promise.) Most of his novels were from Camerarts, a small Chicago paperback house, and his stories were published in men's magazines below the Playboy level. But it's all great stuff, though next to impossible to find these days. Now something's being done to remedy that situation. While you're waiting, have a look at this great cover gallery to whet your appetite.

THE GRADUATE -- The Sequel

Guardian Unlimited Film | News | What happened next? (the author will let you know after he dies): "What happened next? (the author will let you know after he dies) "

Key sentence: "Home School [the title of the sequel] owes its inspiration to Webb and his partner's decision to take their own children out of school and teach them at home, an illegal act which left them on the run from the US authorities and seeking refuge by running nudist camps."

I didn't know it was illegal to teach kids at home, but I'd be interested in learning more about that job Webb had while he was on the lam.

More Gators in the Sewers -- Rated XXX

BUCKY BEAVER: "Sue Prentiss R.N."

Art Scott clued me in to Sue Prentiss, R. N., a hardcore porn movie that doesn't sound as if it would be about alligators in the sewers. But it is. According to the Something Weird catalog (linked above, and definitely for Adults Only), "Annie Sprinkle is Sue Prentiss, R.N., one of four nurses waiting for a team of divers as they emerge from the NYC sewer system after searching for alligators. (Yes, alligators.)" This is the kind of high-class information that you can't find on other blogs.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Sewergator Sanctuary

The Sewergator Sanctuary: "The Sewergator Sanctuary "

OK, this is the greatest website I've ever found. No wonder I love the Internet. Those few of you who already know about my own peculiar obsessions will understand. In the "Literature" section, there's even a photo of the cover of Urban Legends. Click on the cover, and there's a mention of the story I wrote for the book.

Your Hit Parade

Welcome to The BigBands Database Plus Hit Parade Page: "Lucky Strike Cigarettes Hit Parade Radio Show - 1935 - 1955"

The real geezers among us (that would include me) will remember a TV show called Your Hit Parade. Some of us (me, again) will also remember that it was a radio show. The link above goes to a page that allows you to click on a year and find out which songs were the most popular and how many weeks they were on Your Hit Parade. There's even an alphabetical listing of songs, with their top position and the number of weeks they were on the show. Unfortunately, the listing stops in 1955, though the show continued until 1959. For more about the singers and such, click here.

Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice -- Ken Bruen

I bought this one at Noir Night last week. It's like a stripped down Gold Medal Book, only 124 pages long. It's great that someone's writing (and selling!) books like this one, as opposed to the bloated doorstops that there have been far too many of in the last couple of decades. It hits the ground running, and it doesn't slow down for a second. Dave Cooper is a tough guy, but he's never met anybody like Cassie, a psycho with a liking for the poetry of Louis MacNeice (which is about the best thing you can say for her). Unlike a lot of Gold Medal heroes, Cooper doesn't want to be involved with the femme fatale, but she doesn't give him much choice. Make that any choice.

One of the things about noir fiction is that the poor shmoe who's caught in the downhill spiral knows that he's screwed, but he keeps on trying to unscrew himself, getting more and more desperate as he goes along. And of course it never works out. That's life.