Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: WELCOME, CHAOS by Kate Wilhelm and A FOR ANYTHING by Damon Knight (and...)

Of all the impressive literary couples we've seen (not all happy but nontheless all impressive), ranging from Margaret Millar and "Ross Macdonald" to Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson to Marijane Meeker and Patricia Highsmith to Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton to C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, few hav been more variously influential as well as literarily impressive as Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight. The late Knight, my default choice for the best sf writer we've had in terms of his strengths measured all around, had one glaring omission in his c.v.: until CV (1986), the first in a trilogy that continues with The Observers and A Reasonable World, Knight had never written a fully successful novel, after brilliant work at all the shorter lengths, from vignette to novella. A for Anything is one of those not completely satisfying earlier novels, but it remains a valuable, even necessary, read for the short story which serves as preface to the main body of the novel. If a duplicator is created that essentially allows an end to all shortages and material want, what will this mean for human society? Knight's supposition, which sets the groundwork for the retro-feudal society of the somewhat satrical adventure novel that follows, is depressingly believable. The adventure story, drawing on the same traditions that Robert Heinlein and Jack Vance did in their turns (harkening back to Dumas and his peers), is considerably less compelling, but still fun.

While Kate Wilhelm's novel, an expansion of "The Winter Beach" (a novella first published in Redbook in 1981 and collected in KW's Listen, Listen the same year), is also satirical in part and typically for Wilhelm combining aspects from various forms of fiction (this utterly sfnal quasi-apocalyptic novel also incorporates a scathing parody of a typical romance-novel hero of the dashing, preremptory sort). Society is threatened, to say the least, by a new (fairly AIDS-like) disease that kills most of those who contract it...but after it passes for a small minority, it leaves them apparently immortal.

As too often with my FFB entries, this is just a rough sketch of what I'd hoped to get in (and I'll hope to expand it over the weekend), but I'll note in the wake of the recent Washington Post quizzing of writers as to what their favorite horror fiction is, or at least what scared them the most, one of the now-obscure favorites of my youth is David Campton's "At the Bottom of the Garden."

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more "forgotten" books for this week...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: Anthologies from AMAZING

Perhaps the ugliest cover of any anthology drawn from Amazing's fiction contents, although none of the anthologies has been particularly famous for its cover.

Extracted from the Locus and Contento/Stephensen-Payne indices:

The Best of Amazing ed. Joseph Ross (Doubleday, 1967, hc)
· Foreword · Joseph Ross · fw
· The Lost Machine · John Beynon Harris · ss Amazing Apr ’32
· The Worm · David H. Keller, M.D. · ss Amazing Mar ’29
· The Runaway Skyscraper · Murray Leinster · nv Argosy and Railroad Man’s Magazine Feb 22 ’19
· Marooned Off Vesta [Brandon, Shea & Moore] · Isaac Asimov · ss Amazing Mar ’39
· Anniversary [Brandon, Shea & Moore] · Isaac Asimov · ss Amazing Mar ’59
· The Metal Man · Jack Williamson · ss Amazing Dec ’28
· Pilgrimage [revised from “The Priestess Who Rebelled”, Amazing Oct ’39; Meg] · Nelson S. Bond · nv The 31st of February, Gnome, 1949
· Sunfire! · Edmond Hamilton · ss Amazing Sep ’62
· Try to Remember! · Frank Herbert · nv Amazing Oct ’61

The Best from Amazing ed. Ted White (Manor, 1973, pb)
· No Charge for Alterations · Horace L. Gold · nv Amazing Apr/May ’53
· The Augmented Agent [“I-C-a-BeM”] · Jack Vance · nv Amazing Oct ’61
· The Misfit · Roger Zelazny · nv Amazing Oct ’63
· The Dowry of the Angyar [“The Dowry of Angyar”] · Ursula K. Le Guin · ss Amazing Sep ’64
· Placement Test · Keith Laumer · nv Amazing Jul ’64
· The Horn of Time the Hunter [“Homo Aquaticus”] · Poul Anderson · ss Amazing Sep ’63
· Phoenix · Ted White & Marion Zimmer Bradley · ss Amazing Feb ’63
· Rogue Psi · James H. Schmitz · nv Amazing Aug ’62

Amazing Stories: 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (TSR 0-88038-216-3, Jul ’85 [Aug ’85], $7.95, 255pp, pb); Anthology of 20 stories which originally appeared in Amazing, with a section of color illustrations showing magazine covers.
5 · Amazing Stories and I · Isaac Asimov · in
9 · The Revolt of the Pedestrians · David H. Keller, M.D. · nv Amazing Feb ’28
29 · The Gostak and the Doshes · Miles J. Breuer, M.D. · ss Amazing Mar ’30
43 · Pilgrimage [“The Priestess Who Rebelled”; Meg] · Nelson Bond · nv Amazing Oct ’39
57 · I, Robot [Adam Link] · Eando Binder · ss Amazing Jan ’39
67 · The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton · Robert Bloch · ss Amazing Mar ’39
75 · The Perfect Woman · Robert Sheckley · vi Amazing Dec ’53/Jan ’54
79 · Memento Homo [“Death of a Spaceman”] · Walter M. Miller, Jr. · ss Amazing Mar ’54
93 · What Is This Thing Called Love? [“Playboy and the Slime God”] · Isaac Asimov · ss Amazing Mar ’61
103 · Requiem · Edmond Hamilton · ss Amazing Apr ’62
115 · Hang Head, Vandal! · Mark Clifton · ss Amazing Apr ’62
125 · Drunkboat · Cordwainer Smith · nv Amazing Oct ’63
ins. · 60 Years of Amazing Stories’ Covers · Misc. Material · il
147 · The Days of Perky Pat · Philip K. Dick · nv Amazing Dec ’63; expanded to The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964
165 · Semley’s Necklace [“The Dowry of Angyar”] · Ursula K. Le Guin · ss Amazing Sep ’64
179 · Calling Dr. Clockwork · Ron Goulart · ss Amazing Mar ’65
187 · There’s No Vinism Like Chauvinism · John W. Jakes · nv Amazing Apr ’65
215 · The Oögenesis of Bird City · Philip José Farmer · ss Amazing Sep ’70
225 · The Man Who Walked Home · James Tiptree, Jr. · ss Amazing May ’72
237 · Manikins · John Varley · ss Amazing Jan ’76
247 · In the Islands · Pat Murphy · ss Amazing Mar ’83

Amazing Stories: Vision of Other Worlds ed. Martin H. Greenberg (TSR 0-88038-302-X, Sep ’86 [Nov ’86], $7.95, 253pp, pb); Anthology of 15 stories. Includes a center insert (unpaginated) of color reproductions of 16 “Amazing” covers from 1930-1985.
7 · Introduction · Robert Silverberg · in
11 · Strange Wine · Harlan Ellison · ss Amazing Jun ’76
18 · The Cosmic Frame · Paul W. Fairman · ss Amazing May ’55
29 · Or Else · Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore · ss Amazing Aug/Sep ’53
38 · Sail 25 [“Gateway to Strangeness”] · Jack Vance · nv Amazing Aug ’62
62 · Third Stage · Poul Anderson · ss Amazing Feb ’62
79 · The Stars, My Brothers · Edmond Hamilton · nv Amazing May ’62
116 · The Bald-Headed Mirage · Robert Bloch · ss Amazing Jun ’60
ins. · Artists’ Visions of Other Worlds · Various Hands · il
129 · The Forest of Zil · Kris Neville · ss Amazing Dec ’67
134 · Before Eden · Arthur C. Clarke · ss Amazing Jun ’61
145 · Quinquepedalian · Piers Anthony · ss Amazing Nov ’63
160 · A Dusk of Idols · James Blish · nv Amazing Mar ’61
182 · The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal · Cordwainer Smith · ss Amazing May ’64
197 · We Know Who We Are · Robert Silverberg · ss Amazing Jul ’70
207 · No Charge for Alterations · Horace L. Gold · nv Amazing Apr/May ’53
228 · Titan Falling [Bradley Reynolds] · Gregory Benford · nv Amazing Aug ’80

Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The Wonder Years 1926-1935 ed. Martin H. Greenberg (TSR 0-88038-439-5, Mar ’87 [Feb ’87], $3.95, 316pp, pb); Anthology of stories from the first decade of Amazing, with an introduction by Jack Williamson. UK price £2.50.
7 · Introduction · Jack Williamson · in
11 · The Metal Man · Jack Williamson · ss Amazing Dec ’28
27 · The Jameson Satellite [Professor Jameson] · Neil R. Jones · nv Amazing Jul ’31
57 · The Man Who Saw the Future · Edmond Hamilton · ss Amazing Oct ’30
77 · The Machine Man of Ardathia [Ardathia] · Francis Flagg · ss Amazing Nov ’27
97 · The Tissue-Culture King · Julian Huxley · ss The Yale Review Apr ’26; Amazing Aug ’27
127 · The Voice from the Ether · Lloyd Arthur Eshbach · nv Amazing May ’31
165 · The Coming of the Ice · G. Peyton Wertenbaker · ss Amazing Jun ’26
185 · The Miracle of the Lily · Clare Winger Harris · nv Amazing Apr ’28
209 · The Man with the Strange Head · Miles J. Breuer, M.D. · ss Amazing Jan ’27
223 · Omega · Amelia Reynolds Long · ss Amazing Jul ’32
241 · The Plutonian Drug · Clark Ashton Smith · ss Amazing Sep ’34
257 · The Last Evolution · John W. Campbell, Jr. · ss Amazing Aug ’32
281 · The Colour Out of Space · H. P. Lovecraft · nv Amazing Sep ’27
318 · The Authors · Misc. Material · bg

Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The War Years 1936-1945 ed. Martin H. Greenberg (TSR 0-88038-440-9, May ’87, $3.95, 331pp, pb); Anthology of 10 sf stories, with an introduction by Isaac Asimov. Available in the UK for £2.50.
7 · Introduction · Isaac Asimov · in
11 · Robot AL-76 Goes Astray · Isaac Asimov · ss Amazing Feb ’42
29 · Devolution · Edmond Hamilton · ss Amazing Dec ’36
49 · The Four-Sided Triangle · William F. Temple · nv Amazing Nov ’39
79 · The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years · Don Wilcox · nv Amazing Oct ’40
119 · Adam Link’s Vengeance [Adam Link] · Eando Binder · nv Amazing Feb ’40
157 · The Living Mist · Ralph Milne Farley · nv Amazing Aug ’40
197 · Phoney Meteor [as by John Beynon] · John Wyndham · nv Amazing Mar ’41
229 · The Council of Drones · W. K. Sonnemann · nv Amazing Oct ’36
279 · Shifting Seas · Stanley G. Weinbaum · nv Amazing Apr ’37
311 · I, Rocket · Ray Bradbury · ss Amazing May ’44
333 · The Authors · Misc. Material · bg

Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The Wild Years 1946-1955 ed. Martin H. Greenberg (TSR 0-88038-441-7, Aug ’87, $3.95, 318pp, pb); Anthology of 12 stories from Amazing.
6 · Introduction · Robert Bloch · in
11 · You Could Be Wrong · Robert Bloch · ss Amazing Mar ’55
29 · Breakfast at Twilight · Philip K. Dick · ss Amazing Jul ’54
51 · Operation RSVP · H. Beam Piper · ss Amazing Jan ’51
63 · Satisfaction Guaranteed [Susan Calvin (Robot)] · Isaac Asimov · ss Amazing Apr ’51
83 · Restricted Area · Robert Sheckley · ss Amazing Jun/Jul ’53
105 · Peacebringer [“Sword of Peace”] · Ward Moore · nv Amazing Mar ’50
139 · The Little Creeps · Walter M. Miller, Jr. · nv Amazing Dec ’51
191 · The Draw · Jerome Bixby · ss Amazing Mar ’54
215 · A Way of Thinking · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Amazing Oct/Nov ’53
251 · Skirmish [“Bathe Your Bearings in Blood!”] · Clifford D. Simak · ss Amazing Dec ’50
275 · They Fly So High · Ross Rocklynne · ss Amazing Jun ’52
293 · Chrysalis · Ray Bradbury · nv Amazing Jul ’46
319 · The Authors · Misc. Material · bg

If Weird Tales has never been definitively, representatively anthologized (see my earlier post on this subject), then Amazing, the first sf magazine to be a no-bones-about-it science fiction magazine (as opposed to fantasy magazine with sfnal content, or a dime novel/dime novelesque production) has been ridiculously poorly represented, even as several of the anthologies above are pleasant reading. I picked up a copy of the first Martin Greenberg anthology from Amazing the other day, the one edited in collaboration with Isaac Asimov, and while it's a reasonably decent selection of stories from most of the editorial eras of the magazine, it definitely slights some even more than they deserve (to be sure, Amazing has had long fallow periods, most notably during the T. O'Connor Sloane, Ray Palmer, and Paul Fairman editorial reigns...even though the last was notable for much early, and rarely outstanding but reliably competent, work by a stable of Milton Lesser (who wrote more, slightly later, as Stephen Marlowe), Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, and Harlan Ellison--Fairman, who was primarily interested in crime fiction (much like his slightly more engaged predecessor and mentor, Howard Browne), famously would buy stories from this quartet without bothering to read them, and run them in Amazing and its slightly more fantasy-oriented companion Fantastic (and Fantastic's shortlived spinoff, Dream World)...his successor, Cele Goldsmith, working as his secretary and first reader, was apparently responsible for most of the better work to appear in the magazine in those years, as she pulled (perhaps most notably) Kate Wilhelm's first published story from the slush pile. Goldsmith, who married to become Cele Lalli, is perhaps the best-represented editor in the anthologies above, as her run from 1959-1965 was possibly the best period for the magazine, despite being barely supported by its publisher Ziff-Davis (her editorial budget apparently was restricted to paying a penny a word to most writers, less than even the other poorly-paying fiction magazines extant at the time, among which only Astounding, becoming Analog, was also published by a financially secure publisher). But being a ZD magazine meant that Amazing and Fantastic were out in the market and reliably issued monthly during her term, which mixed relatively traditionalist adventure fiction with innovative approaches from folks ranging from J. G. Ballard to Cordwainer Smith to David Bunch to such Goldsmith "discoveries" as Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Thomas Disch, Sonya Dorman, and Keith Laumer (often but not always rather a traditionalist)...and with some rather goofy materials that might've slipped in largely out of having Nothing Better at hand (fellow magazine editor Bruce Elliott placed a long story about a face drawn on the Moon which causes much shame among humanity, who feel themselves Observed).

Howard Browne had been editor during a brief attempt by ZD to budget its fiction magazines up to the standards of their other magazines, which had paid off rather well for the third issue of Fantastic, Fall 1953, featuring a story attributed to Mickey Spillane at the height of his popularity (it had been ghosted, out of desperation, by Browne when Spillane had described his actual contribution in detail, and apparently Not a Good One though this was less important, in advance in a profile in Life magazine, also at or near the height of its popularlity, the profile published as the Fantastic issue was being put to bed (this issue of Fantastic might still be the best-selling single issue of any fantasy or sf magazine so far, estimated at about 300,000 copies sold). Amazing's somewhat less successful ploy for reaching a mass audience was a story attributed to gossip-mongers Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, well-known at the time for such paperbacks as New York Confidential, entitled "Mars Confidential"--clearly a joke, but not a successful one. Browne (editor from the late '40s to the early mid '50s, when he formally tossed it to Fairman), had succeeded Amazing's most controversial editor, Ray Palmer, who mixed decent (and less decent) adventure fiction with nut-cult material, had hoped to make a big break from those years--most of the stories from Palmer's years reprinted in the books detailed above are by Robert Bloch, the most talented at sf of Palmer's stable, which also included such natural crime-fiction talents as William McGivern. (Palmer was perhaps the single most energetic proponent in magazine publishing of the notion that "flying saucers" were the spacecraft of alien visitors, and ran a number of pieces in his magazines from a somewhat delusional Richard Shaver, who believed humanity was imperfectly controlled by Lemurians who lived within the hollow Earth...Palmer, after leaving ZD, founded several magazines including the durable "mysticism" and fringe-topic digest Fate). Asimov sold his first story to Palmer, as well, and it unsurprisingly was collected in the above.

Amazing: 60 Years... not only sports a hideous cover, but also is set in the format that game publisher TSR put the magazine in during its early years of publication (giving the interior of the magazine, and the book, a rather drab look when illustrations are not present...the book includes a rather odd selection of issue covers, not all but most from the issues the stories come from). TSR probably kept the magazine (barely) alive, and even rather lavishly produced in its later years at the company, in large part due to Steven Spielberg's purchase of "media" rights and renting the title for his rather unimpressive anthology series, with ran on NBC television in the US in the mid 1980s (the magazine's covers trumpeted the connection for the two seasons Spielberg had been guaranteed by NBC). George Scithers, late of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and soon to move on to revive Weird Tales with his partners, produced a magazine not too different from IASFM, albeit with a bit more fantasy content (Fantastic had been absorbed by its older partner shortly before TSR's purchase) and better nonfiction-historical content about the sf field, and blessedly less of Barry Longyear's dire imitation-Jack Vance "Momus" stories which had plagued the latter years of the Scithers Asimov's. The Greenberg/Asimov book doesn't completely slight fiction from Ted White's editorship, during the decade of issues dated from 1969 to 1979, when the magazine's budget was ridiculously small (its publisher, Sol Cohen, treated it as a retirement job, not unlike the 1970s run of that other old pulp hand Leo Margulies as publisher of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and its shortlived companions). White nonetheless was able to publish an interesting mix of the traditionalist and avant-garde work, with somewhat firmer grounding in the field than Goldsmith/Lalli had had, and much as his immediate predecessors, Harry Harrison and Barry Malzberg, had also done while trying to move the magazine away from being largely devoted to reprints (but both Harrison and Malzberg chose to stay with the underbudgeted magazines for only a matter of months--White, living in an inherited house and capable of handling art direction and layout as well as editorial tasks, was able to make a longer go of barely being paid for his efforts).

Ah, well...this has turned into quite the late ramble. You could do worse than any of these books, except not Too much worse than Ross's, which is indicative of his rather poor judgment of what had aged well (he'd been the first editor hired for essetially no salary by Cohen when Cohen bought the magazines from ZD on the relative cheap, and while he published some notable new work, such as Avram Davidson's novel The Phoenix and the Mirror, much of that had apparently been in Cele Lalli's inventory when the magazines were sold, and she went on to her career as editor of ZD bridal magazines). Of the last three Greenberg anthos, published before TSR lost interest altogether, the one drawn largely from the Palmer and Browne years is somewhat surprisingly the most engaging, albeit the others are decent cross-sections of their decades. Given a little more support (and continuation), the Greenberg series might've been a decent roundup of the magazine, which throughout its existence managed to publish some remarkably good work under all sorts of remarkably bad circumtances...even as it was often overshadowed by its companions, the Palmer-founded Fantastic Adventures, which was somewhat better-produced at first and notable for late Edgar Rice Burroughs fiction, then as the home of sporadic evidence of Browne's good taste in fantasy fiction: around the turn of the 1950s, it ran such notable work as Fritz Leiber's You're All Alone, Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels, and Robert Bloch's "The Dead Don't Die!" (despite the classically-pulpy title, exclamation point and all, a rather deft and slightly metafictional novella with a genuine sense of unease to go with Bloch's trademark gallows humor), and Fantastic, which for much of its run benefited from being one of the few reliable markets for fantasy fiction in the Anglophone world, and so often averaged of higher quality than its stablemate...particularly during Browne, Goldsmith/Lalli, and White's editorships.

The most recent version of Amazing was shut down, the publisher, TSR heir Wizards of the Coast, claimed, because it was Too Successful, and thus somehow drew too much from the core business of the publisher. That's about Amazing's luck. Nonetheless, as it noted on a lot of its covers over the years..."First in Science Fiction: Since 1926."

See Patti Abbott's blog for other Friday Forgotten Books today...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: FATAL RENDEZVOUS by Milo Manara (Heavy Metal Books, US edition)

I first read Milo Manara's comics when, as a periodicals clerk at a Borders Book Shop, I was brushing up on my Italian by looking at Panorama, the newsmagazine of sorts (Panorama's sort of news included the early nude photography studies of Alyssa Milano, much to the dismay of my colleagues the receiving clerks, raised on Who's the Boss). The magazine also included a serialized comics supplement given the Italian title "The Invisible Man" (the characters in the comic smear a liquid on themselves to become invisble which, the eventual English translators decided, smells like Butterscotch, hence the title of the Anglophone edition). Manara toned down the unsavory aspects of his work for the highly-public forum, but it involved a woman improbably willing to reconcile with the Invisible Guy, after a combination of both of their foolishness led to her being all but assaulted, as well as seriously harassed, by various lowlifes.

He has an excellent design sense, and a clean line of rendering that has been highly influential (and he has worked with any number of impressive folk, including Frederico Fellini), but as one passes onto the majority of his work, the pass he's given for being "playful" and "merely naughty" starts being hard to take unless one has drunk the Polanski Kool-Aid. Fatal Rendezvous, the first book of Manara's I picked up after the Panorama booklets, is far more typical of the usual run of his work. It begins with a young political man and his attractive "trophy" wife leaving a dull party and engaging in some sexual play in his car on the way home. He's soon called to the carpet by a loan shark he's borrowed from, and the thug demands that the young woman deliver something her husband might need to the loan shark's house. The loan shark then decrees that until the young man's debt is paid, that his wife will be anally raped by one of the shark's goons on a daily basis. The rest of the comic is about this happening, and the woman recounting these experiences to the mentor of the young man, an older "senator" who hosts her on his yacht, to which she eventually flees to escape the goon after apparently at least several weeks of daily encounters. (After a certain period, the goon begins vaginally raping her, instead, at her prompting.)

It turns out, and this is a spoiler of sorts, that the goon and the shark were under the sway of the senior senator, who at one point tries "playfully" to pull the young woman's pants off as she's recounting the abuse she's survived...something she doesn't learn till the goon attempts to perform his daily attack on the yacht, only to be captured by his fellow employees and castrated. He survives this, and finds the young woman and tells her the story of how the senator set all this in motion presumably to soften her up for his own depredations. The goon, who has never spoken a word to her before this during his various attacks, then professes his love for her, and shoots himself in the head, leaving her to treat with this information as best she might.

So, this, like much of Manara's work, features an obsession with heterosexual anal sex, rape, and women who are (to say the least) much put upon by the men in their lives yet always seem to forgive them (and often are childish, selfish, and at least as likely to abuse each other and the men and children in their lives as the men are, yet somehow the men are more justified...somehow...or at least seem in Manara's compass to be less capricious). Much as with the inept philosophical and political commentary that his characters often spout, he likes to play it all ways at once. His rapists are usually Good Guys at Heart. Unlike, say, "Pauline Reage" or "Alison Tyler" (so few want their real names on such work), who give their characters at least some depth in their S&M erotica, Manara's are just goofy...which doesn't mean he doesn't mean his work to be taken seriously...goofiness, as the cable "news" channels demonstrate daily, is no sign that the goofy are kidding. And yet the party line on Manara is that he's a grand old man of kicky fun, rather than an idiot savant.

And, of course, perhaps Manara's celebrants have a bit of a point, given the perfervid visions of such colleagues as those who also do Italian and other European comics, including those highlighted occasionally at Curt Purcell's The Groovy Age of Horror (where Finnish contributor Jaako particularly presents some of his favorites among the most insane stories, which usually include a berserk anti-American bias along with the misogyny and sometimes as virulent misandry), or the kind of web comics inspired by the example of the Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal artists and their more underground colleagues, such as those highlighted at Alicia Kinomoto's Alicia in Comix Land blog, where the idly curious can get more than their fill. (Things being what they are, there are even more insanely violent and hate-filled comics devoted to slaughter and torture that can be engine-searched without difficulty.)

Not a recommended (more or less out of print) book, mind you, but nonetheless, given some of the discussions on some of the adjacent blogs about materials that leave one cold or depressed about the state of humanity, it is easy to see these cousins to the shudder pulps and to exploitation films as further sadness, even as their creators seem to suggest that those who enjoy them most are sad creatures themselves. Happily, as far as I know, Manara has committed no crime, unlike certain artists much in the news of late...and his revenge comic under discussion here isn't too far in appeal and content from much better work, in his and other media--the film Martyrs comes to mind, as one that takes the violence done to its characters seriously and does so for a serious end, much as does Reage's Story of O or that other grim, controversial film Irreversible; conversely, something like "John Norman"'s Gor novels, while attempting to be serious (and inspiring their own subculture) manage only to be goofy, much as Anne Rice's work in the same vein does. I don't know what all that means, ultimately, but it's best not to wallow too's always tricky to sort the wheat from the merely chafed, as it were.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: I'M DYING HERE by Damien Broderick and Rory Barnes (Point Blank 2009)

OK, this one gets provisi. Damien Broderick is a friendly netquaitance of mine, which is how I first became aware of this novel; like Bill Crider, whose laudatory blurb is quoted on Amazon, and myself, Damien is a member of the FictionMags list, and a fine and accomplished fellow. I suspect Rory Barnes is, as well, though the novel under discussion here is the only Barnes I'm sure I've read, and I've not corresponded with, favoritism warning out of the way, I'll note that Bill is quoted thus: "This is a comic, crazy, original crime novel. You won't find another one like it this year, or, more likely, ever."

I'll disagree with that only to the extent that what it reminds me of, powerfully, is a Donald Westlake comic novel about Dortmunder. I don't mean a pastiche, nor certainly a copycat, and I mean it feels more like a Dortmunder than even most "caper" novels do, and I mean it as high praise. If Dortmunder was an Australian reasonably proficient but somewhat principled crook rather than a Yank, his misadventures would tend to resemble these. This is a book you should pick up if you find yourself rereading THE HOT ROCK for the seventh time, and finding it rather familiar somehow. It also, in touching on sundered families and attempts at pulling some sort of relation back out of the mess, reminds a bit of the late John D. MacDonalds, but still, the comic tends to trump the tragic throughout (so far...I'm not quite at the end, as my own life has been more tragic than comic of late).

So why is a new book "forgotten"? It's had its difficulties in the US market, at very least. The first edition carried the Oz-friendly title I SUPPOSE A ROOT'S OUT OF THE QUESTION?, which if one prnounces "root" as "rut" will probably come clear to any puzzled folk--even when this question is posed in the novel in its new edition, the query is rendered in more Standard English, for the benefit of Yanks and such. So far, not nearly as much attention as it deserves, and its small publisher doesn't have the budget or the clout of a few of the other major projects in crime-fiction specialists active today (how this book got away from Hard Case, I don't know), and it'd be a pity if we let it slip by unremarked.

If you dig smart, funny caper novels, at very least, I suspect you'll like this one as much as I do.

For more "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.