Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I finished two books last week. The other was The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. I thought I knew what to expect going into this book, and from the reviews and word of mouth I had high expectations. This book exceeded them on all fronts.

First, for some twisted reason, I love reading about writers. My favorite books by Isaac Asimov, of which I've probably read a hundred, are his autobiographies. Often my favorite part of anthologies and short story collections are the introductions giving you some of the story behind the story. I even love reading about writers in fiction. One of my favorite scenes in a P.G. Wodehouse novel goes something like: Aunt Dalia called. Though Nero Wolfe was about to have Archie call Inspector Cramer to bring everyone to his office so he could reveal the killer, I had to put the book down and go to her. (That's from memory and so no where near as good as the original). And don't even get me started on Philip José Farmer's fictional author period.

So, I knew going in the book was about Lester Dent and Walter Gibson, with L. Ron Hubbard and H.P. Lovecraft thrown in as well. But many other authors appear, including several science fiction writers (I won't say who as one of them is a surprise). So Paul did a wonderful job peopling the book. But where it really surprised me was the adventure itself. Just like in the pulps the book celebrates, the action builds and builds and keeps coming at you, one surprise after another. This is the part of the book that really went way beyond my expectations.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading his second book, Jack London in Paradise, and perhaps a sequel to Chinatown sometime down the road.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Journeys Beyond Advice

I've been so busy lately I've had almost no time for blogging. I finished two books last week and this is my first chance to talk about them, and I only have time for one. Maybe I'll get to the other one tonight.

One of the keys to enjoying fiction is the "willing suspension of disbelief," and Rhys Hughes is its poster child.

Journeys Beyond Advice is, fittingly, a collection of stories about people going on journeys. Bad ideas all of them. If you found yourself in the any of the protagonists' shoes, you'd take them off and run like hell in the other direction.

In almost all these stories, and much of Rhys' work, you read them as a spectator. You don't identify with the character and see the story through their eyes, or if you do, you don't for long. There is no agonizing over why the character made a decision you would not have made, because you would have made the decision not to be in the story in the first place!

One of these days maybe I'll come up with another word or phrase to describe Rhys' writing, but for now I have to stick with surreal. Here are a few highlights from the collection:

One of my favorite stories is the longest in the book, "The World Beyond the Stairwell." It is an epistolary story made up of journal entries, letters, a radio interview and even a manuscript outline sent to a publisher. Somewhat uncharacteristically it starts out like a "normal"--perhaps a little gothic--story. A man visits his friend's home out in the country, the friend isn't there but has left him a simple task; climb a stairway and block the door at the top. Of course the stairway is longer than he can imagine, longer than you can image. No really, even longer than that. And things happen on the stairway to make him change his quest and well, it doesn't really read like a "normal" story anymore.

"The Swine Taster," was a hoot, but no thank you, I don't think I'll try the Voluntary Ape Pie.

"The Semi-Precious Isle," has a couple of meta-fictional twists in it, I don't want to say more and give anything away.

"The Herb Garden of Earthly Delights," is one of several stories by Rhys I've read that make me think he's probably backpacked across Europe a few times. But that's the middle of the story, the really cool parts are the beginning and the end.

"The Singularity Spectres," is what I consider to be a typical Rhys Hughes story. A character in an impossible situation, believing ridiculous premises, taking an unfathomable journey. Full of humor, surprises, double crosses. Lots of fun, but don't take my word for it, you can read it here. Just click on the "Download this ebook" pdf link.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Signings: a good habit to start young

I took my son Jordan and his friend Andrew, both eight years old, to a book signing today. Yup, Anne Rice was in town...just kidding! Actually I took them to the always awesome, Little Shop of Stories in downtown Decatur. We didn't go for Mary Pope Osborne on Thursday but we did pick up a few of her signed Magic Tree House books while we were there. We went Saturday for the Origami Yoda Event! Did we yes.

Tom Angleberger has written a book titled, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Not only did he read from the book (funny stuff), and show us all how to make our own Origami Yoda, but he also did fun things like challenge kids named Larry to try and snatch balls away from him while he was juggling.

He also did a great job with the signing, talking to the kids, and inscribing the books, "may the folds be with you," and drawing a picture of Yoda. The kids had a blast and I think Tom did too.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Time Masters by Wilson Tucker

I can't quite put my finger on what it is I like so much about Wilson Tucker's science fiction novels. There is, almost always, something about the protagonist you instantly connect with. Even when this character isn't an ordinary Joe, there is enough familiarity in their behavior that you have no problem seeing the world through their eyes.

Perhaps Tucker's strength is simply that he does everything well; he tells a good story, with good pacing, natural dialog, believable characters, and doesn't seem to make a misstep. He is definitely one of the most under appreciated writers of his era.

The Time Masters isn't one of his more popular books; like The Year of the Quiet Sun and The Lincoln Hunters. However, with the exception of The Long Loud Silence, it is my favorite novel of his so far. I enjoy a book that mixes some history in with the fiction, and The Time Masters does that very well.

I have a few more Tuckers on the shelf to read: Resurrection Days, Time:X, Ice & Iron and the suspense novel This Witch. But next up is The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont.