Wednesday, January 31, 2007

By H.P. Lovecraft

At the Mountains of Madness is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s best novellas. It is also the title of this collection of some of his minor masterpieces.

The title tale concerns an expedition to a mysterious region of the Antarctic. When they discover evidence of strange life forms and an unknown civilization, things go terribly wrong. Some readers may find Lovecraft’s pseudo-history overlong, but HPL wasn’t about splatter effects (though “Mountains” has its share of gruesome sights) he was fascinated with man’s place in the universe. The book includes the pre-Cthulhu “The Shunned House” and the later “Dreams in the Witch House”. “Shunned House” shows HPL making very effective use of traditional horror material in creative fashion. “Witch House” comes more form his “cosmic horror” phase when he freely mixed science fiction elements with horror (much as in “Mountains”).

This is a very good small set of novellas. It is essential reading for horror fans and not a bad place to start for newcomers trying to get a handle on the strange appeal of Rhode Island’s master of the weird.
-Dave Hardy

Monday, January 29, 2007

By E. Hoffman Price

Back in the 1930s and ‘40s, E. Hoffman Price was a regular contributor to Weird Tales as well as “Oriental Adventure” magazines. Though he retired from writing when the pulps were superceeded by paperbacks, in 1967 his old comrade August Derleth at Arkham House produced this collection of Price’s orietales.

As Price made no secret of his disdain for “action” stories, it should come as no surprise that while these tales are fantasies, they are rather gentle ones. That is not to say that they are devoid of conflict or even violence. Two tales (“Graven Image” and “Bones for China”) are set in Ming Tien, a Chinese setting for stories of missionaries and Chinese immigrants caught up in the Japanese invasion. Many of the stories are pure romance. “The Fire and Flesh” is a wish-tale of an American planter in Indonesia who finds his goddess in a culture not his own. “The Girl from Samarcand” is about a love affair between a man and a rug (albeit a very special rug) and stems from Price’s deep knowledge of Oriental rugs (he was a collector of note).

Other tales in the collection are more in the macabre vein, such as “The Stranger from Kurdistan” (one of Price’s early devil worship yarns) and “Tarbis of the Lake” (another romance, but an unhappy one). “Strange Gateway” is perhaps the best of the lot, mixing macabre fantasy with romance and tragedy. There is one straight up story of intrigue: “Pale Hands”, a sting-in-the-tail story if double-dealing and broken love.

While Strange Gateways doesn’t have quite the wild inventiveness of Price’s contemporaries, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, or Clark Ashton Smith, it is a solid collection of gentle fantasy from the Golden Era of the pulps.
-Dave Hardy

Sunday, January 28, 2007

By E. Hoffman Price

Edgar Hoffman Price started writing more or less on a whim in the 1920s. He built himself into a regular contributor to Weird Tales and eventually made the plunge into writing full time for a wide variety of pulps in 1932. In the process he came to know many of the pulp writers of his day and especially his fellow writers for Weird Tales. He was active as writer until the pulp markets crashed in the late ‘40s.

In Book of the Dead Price gives pen-portraits of many of his friends and colleagues of those days. In addition to Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, Price recounts his memories of Farnsworth Wright, Otis Adelbert Kline, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Bracket, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith and many others whose names deserve to be better remembered. Between sharing drinks, stories, money problems, successes, drinks, failures, more drinks, and a fierce camaraderie, these men and women helped create the great groundswell of popular literature in 20th century America.

Price wrote this when he came out of retirement in the ‘70s. He had assuredly earned the right to be a grumpy old man, which what he often sounds like here. Price has only contempt for Thrilling and other Leo Margolies pulps that demanded action above all else. Price is also a confirmed Conan-hater. While he admired Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane and Kull, he found the Conan tales “too dreary to read.”

Often, much too often, Price criticizes Howard’s and Lovecraft’s writing and professional choices. This attitude may seem like sour grapes, but I believe it is really a reaction against the adulation granted these writers by their latter day fans. At the end of his tribute to Kirk Mahsburn, Price urges fans to lay aside the big names (especially their leftover stories) and take a look at the “writings of the Forgotten Men, they’d be richly rewarded in anthologies of the unique.” Amen to that.

Illustrated with photos of Price’s comrades-in-ink and an EHP bibliography, Book of the Dead is a valuable testament of the pulp era.
-Dave Hardy

Saturday, January 27, 2007

By K.K. Beck

The Revenge of Kali-Ra is a mystery novel without the usual corpse. Instead of a know-it-all amateur detective, we have a diverse cast of characters each out to make the most of a long-forgotten pulp writer’s legacy.

The idea is that Nadia Wentworth, a prima-donna Hollywood star, decides she’s going to do a film based on the writings of Valerian Ricardo, the creator of Kali-Ra. Ricardo’s work combines the sinister super villain of Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu with the Theosophism of Talbot Mundy and the tie-‘em-up-and-flog-‘em scenes from REH’s Conan tales (man, this book is so ripe for a Margaret Brundage cover!).

This starts bringing the odd-balls out of the woodwork. There is Dr. Glen Pendergast, an English prof who writes pretentious po-mo lit-crit about Kali-Ra. Nick Iverson is Ricardo’s grand-nephew, and perhaps heir. Ricardo’s loony widow turns up, as does a sleazy lawyer representing an even sleazier swindler who might own the rights to Kali-Ra. And then there’s Callie, a young woman whose relationship with Kali-Ra might be too close. Keeping the whole show moving is Melanie, Nadia’s long-suffering assistant. A drunk screenwriter and an over the hill crooner with ties to the Mob round out the cast.

Naturally, they all end up at Nadia’s Hollywood mansion. Just as naturally, the lights go out and mayhem ensues, albeit a very low-key sort of mayhem.

Kali-Ra is an amusing satire on pulp writers, Hollywood, cranky heirs to literary estates and even crankier fans. Having spent some years in REH fandom, I found myself laughing pretty hard at certain points in this story. While my taste in crime fiction runs more to hard-boiled PIs and serie noir, a good laugh is worthwhile every so often.
-Dave Hardy

Friday, January 26, 2007

By Sharyn McCrumb
By Mark Finn

Since Gather in the Hall of Planets was pseudonymously penned decades ago, there has been remarkably little fiction set in the eccentric world of fandom and cons. Here are reviews of two books who ventured into that perilous land of poor hygiene and worse diets.

Bimbos of the Death Sun was the freshman effort of Sharyn McCrumb. It was an impressive first effort and won the Poe award for best original paperback in 1988. The story concerns various con organizers, an engineering professor turned sci-fi novelist, the world’s most obnoxious Sword and Sorcery writer, and divers maladjusted fans, gamers, paste-eaters, and ladies of epic proportions. Oh yes, there’s also a murder to be solved, but that’s more-or-less an excuse to traipse through the world of “Rubicon” and its peculiar denizens.

Mark Finn’s Transformation of Larry Croft follows four friends attending a con. As it turns out the hotel’s new manager is a practicing wizard who assumes the fantasy fans are not just nerds, but actual vampires, sorcerers, aliens etc. His confusion is nothing compared to that of Stercutus, the discarded Roman god of feces who is trying to make a comeback in human form. Rabbelaisian humor mingles with and almost pedantic urge to document just how much like Finn and his friends the characters are.

Of the two, Transformation works better. When all is said and done, Bimbos treats its characters not as people, but punchlines. McCrumb occasionally slips some darkly cynically observations that ring painfully true, but by and large takes a condescending view of the pathetic freak show. Finn on the other hand revels in the world of Con-dorks. Every dodge to get money form parents or drive a sharp bargain with a comic-book dealer is matched by a look behind the goofy face these kids show the world. Finn lets his characters’ vulnerability show with almost painful honesty. And in the end he lets his freaks have their moment of redemption without ever dipping the freak flag to the smug and self-satisfied world they face. Long live the Con-dorks!
-Dave Hardy

The Transformation of Lawrence Croft by Mark Finn is part of Gods New and Used and can be found online at:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dir. by Dan Ireland

Listen up, this is the first, and I daresay last, time I will enthusiastically recommend a Women’s Entertainment Network movie. Hey, even if I wasn’t friends with the screenwriter, Michael Scott Myers, I’d still love this movie!

It is the true story of the friendship between Novalyne Price (played by RenĂ©e Zellweger), a young schoolteacher in Cross Plains, and Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio), the greatest pulp writer in The Whole Wide World.

The film is based on One Who Walked Alone, a fictionalized memoir of Novalyne’s friendship with Bob written decades later. Novalyne Price-Ellis taught high school in Louisiana for many years and numbered among her students Michael Scott Myers and Benjamin Mouton who would later bring her story to the screen.

Novalyne met Bob Howard through a mutual friend, Tevis Clyde Smith (Benjamin Mouton), in 1933. She was intrigued by him and when she went to Cross Plains to teach high school, she renewed the acquaintance. What followed was a wonderful friendship and a terribly strained romance. Bob wrote lusty, swashbuckling tales filled with sex and violence. Novalyne was a prim and proper schoolteacher. While the Conan stories are perhaps mild by today’s standards, the utter insistence on Bible Belt respectability (especially by teachers) in the 1930s should not be underestimated. Novalyne was a strong-willed lady, she braved a certain amount of disapproval in seeking out Bob. On the other hand Bob pushed her farther than she was willing to go.

Novalyne was fascinated by Bob’s ability to commit his imagination to paper and hoped to learn from him how to start her own writing career. She got a lot more than she bargained for, and ended up in something of her own debate on civilization and barbarism. She actually came off a better than H.P. Lovecraft did in his famous epistolary duel with REH!

But there was a dark side to Bob. He was a moody man, and his stubborn, argumentative nature sometimes riled Novlayne. His disdain for conventional opinion dismayed and infuriated Novalyne. For a Christmas gift he gave her a book of French erotica, which is about like giving Mother Teresa the DVD of Kill Bill V1&2. It appears Bob had a bit of a chip on his shoulder too. He was aware of the disdain the some, let me emphasize only SOME, of his neighbors felt for him. Bob harshly dismissed her attempts to bring him into her social world. He also emphasized his need for freedom, to not be tied down by a woman.

Then there was Mrs. Howard (played by Anne Wedgeworth), surely one of the most debated literary mothers of all time. Novalyne saw her as plainly hostile, aiming to keep her precious Robert to herself. While that is possible, she was also terminally ill. After Bob and Novalyne drifted apart, Mrs. Howard’s health declined sharply. Strained to the limit by helping to care for her, wounded by his self-inflicted break-up with Novalyne, and too stressed to write (a pulp writer was like a shark, he had to keep moving or die), Bob began behaving erratically. Soon after Novalyne left to attend LSU, Bob shot himself. He had decided not to outlive his mother, and when he was informed she would die shortly he took his life.

Now all of what I’ve written makes for a so-so summary, but a cruddy review. Because this movie is about the wonder of discovering a love that might be, filled with promise and adventure. It is about the uncertainty of seeing an open door, and not being sure if one can step through. It is about the pain of losing someone, and never being able to say goodbye. I watch this movie about once or twice a year. I never get tired of it.
-Dave Hardy

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Mark Finn

Once upon a time there was one major biography of Robert E. Howard. It was Dark Valley Destiny by L. Sprague De Camp. While readers might find the many recollections from people who knew REH personally to be fascinating, the whole was overlaid with a massive amount of pop-psychologizing. While LSdC spoke highly of the Conan stories, he adopted a patronizing, if not downright dismissive attitude toward much of the rest of his work. So REH fans were stuck with something that had splendid detail, but was locked into positions that were unconvincing to flat-out offensive.

Not any more. Mark Finn has finally written the answer to DVD. Blood and Thunder uses the wonderful detail de Camp amassed in his interviews, but eschews the spurious psychoanalysis and smug condescension of the former. Finn’s basic premise is that Howard was a man addicted to telling a lively story. That may not be much of a stretch when we consider his chosen career and the way many of the tales from his letters turn out to be very tall. The memoirs of Novalyne Price (later made into a film as The Whole Wide World) do a lot to round out this study of one of Sword & Sorcery’s most influential writers.

Finn examines the impact of Howard’s family life on his career as a writer and his attitude toward life. He takes a cautious view that friction between his parents and the social disruption of the Oil Boom years in Cross Plains contributed to a level of stress that he was ill-suited to cope with. Howard’s suicide in 1936 was not a random impulse, but part of a personal crisis that had been building for a long time. To his credit, Finn does not boast of having “solved” the riddle of REH. He freely admits that the best you can do with a man so contradictory, so enamored of his own myth making, is make tentative conclusions.

On a more definite note Finn looks at all aspects of REH’s writing, from tall-tale Westerns to boxing stories to Oriental Adventures to Conan and Sword & Sorcery. Finn relates Howard’s work to his personal tastes, opinions, interests, and life in a way that shows how his work is a reflection of Howard’s delight and disgust with the world he lived in. While it’s perhaps too much to expect a full scale depiction of Howard’s life AND times, Finn does not neglect to explain what life was like in Cross Plains from 1906 to 1936. He delves into diverse aspects from farming to the chaos of the Oil Booms to impromptu boxing matches in the icehouse to spinning yarns on the back porch.

Blood and Thunder is the new standard by which biographies of this talented, lively, and enigmatic writer will be judged.
-Dave Hardy

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

By Robert E. Howard

This is a nice little collection in the style of Cthulhu, an earlier REH anthology of horror stories. The premise is that REH wrote horror tales in the same vein as H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed the subtitle is “The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard”.

Well, not exactly. Editor Robert M. Price does a fine job of tracing the background of these stories in letters to friends (especially HPL himself), literary allusions, and REH’s personal interests. He rides the thesis a bit hard in figuring out exactly where each of REH’s beasties, cults, lost cities, and foul sorcerers fits into the grander “Cthulhu Mythos”. Of course one can take that as a literary in-joke as much as anything else (Namelesss Cults is a Chaosium publication, so Call of Cthulhu gamers are the tome’s special audience).

Be that as it may, Nameless Cults is a solid collection of REH’s horror fiction. Some of REH’s best-loved series characters are represented: Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh Dubh, and Kull (sorry, no Conan). The collection boasts eighteen tales. The top entry is “Worms of the Earth”, undoubtedly one of the best American fantasy stories ever written. Action-oriented tales such as “The Shadow Kingdom” and “Gods of Bal-Sagoth” show that REH could use violent conflict as well as moody horror to create unforgettable tales. “Shadow Kingdom” pits Kull against a hidden race of demons, while “Bal-Sagoth” is a classic lost-city tale.

Another mix of action and horror is “The Fire of Asshurbanipal”. This tale is essentially an El Borak adventure (a Texan gunslinger and his Afghan buddy are the heroes) with a nicely executed Lovecraftian monster in a lost city. It’s an overlooked gem. The ever-popular “Skull Face” (an ancient sorcerer has a plan for the modern world) and “The Black Stone” (a very creepy tale of Balkan horror, where the Turks are the GOOD guys) are included.

There are a few “posthumous collaborations” included. While some misfire, they don’t detract form the overall value of the set. To be honest, most of what is in this book can be found elsewhere. But if you haven’t found it, then this is a good place to start.
-Dave Hardy

Monday, January 22, 2007

By Robert E. Howard

Finally Kull has joined Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, and Conan in the REH Library of Classics originally envisioned by Marcello Anciano of Wandering Star Books. REH fans get the same careful treatment of the original works as in previous volumes. The original texts of Howard’s stories (allowing for basic copyediting) presented in the order they were written.

To see them thus is to understand just how different REH’s characters were in conception and execution. Kull is a barbarian who has won the throne of a civilized country, but that’s pretty much the limit of his similarity to Conan. Where the Cimmerian is a headlong, swashbuckling adventurer, Kull is an introspective man tempered by experience but deeply at odds with his restrictive role as king.

The Kull stories also differ in that REH was at a different stage as a writer and attempting different things. Kull’s world is one of mythic qualities where Stone Age tribesmen rub shoulders with silken aristocrats and beings from the mythic past. There is a strong aura of myth and legend surrounding events, unlike the hard-edged and sharply defined settings of the Conan tales. The stories are often simpler, with less of the multi-sided plotting of the Conan tales. Kull is not always the driving force, he is sometimes at the edges of events. Indeed some of the short-short stories allow him less than a cameo. Kull is only mentioned in “The Altar and the Scorpion” and “Curse of the Golden Skull”. The Picts, in the form of supporting characters Brule the Spear-slayer and Ka-nu, play a prominent role.

The classic Kull tales are all present. We get “The Shadow Kingdom”, a story of intrigue and plotting by dark forces from the distant past against King Kull. “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” (one of the best) is the ultimate in Kullish philosophizing, where REH pits his fierce engagement in real life against his need to withdraw and make sense of it all. “The Cat and the Skull”, “The Purple Kingdom”, and “By This Axe I Rule!” mix intrigue, dark sorcery, the clash between duty and individualism (a recurrent theme for Howard). “By This Axe I Rule!” was of course later re-written as “The Phoenix on the Sword”, the very first Conan tale.

Perhaps my favorite of the bunch is “Kings of the Night”, the great cross-over tale where Kull meets Bran Mak Morn. It is a marvelous Howardian tale of war between the Romans and the Picts. Treacherous Vikings, Gaelic mercenaries, and the greatest king of Pre-history round out the cast.

There are plenty of illustrations by Justin Sweet. They have a dark, brooding quality that complements the settings. There is a very interesting introduction by literary critic Steve Tompkins and an excellent historical account of the Kull tales by REH scholar Patrice Louinet.

For REH fans this is a must have. For folks who want to see the origins of Sword and Sorcery and get something that isn’t a re-tread of Conan or Tolkein it’s a worthy addition to your library.
-Dave Hardy

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Edited by Scott A. Cupp and Joe R. Lansdale

The year 2006 was the centenary of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, Bran Mak Morn, El Borak, and many other memorable swashbuckling heroes. A bunch of writers celebrated in appropriate fashion by writing stories in homage to REH’s life, times, and lasting influence. Produced in joint by MonkeyBrain Books and Fandom Association of Central Texas (FACT) the book is also a celebration of Texas writers.

The tales range from the neo-weird to retro-pulp. Veteran western author James Reasoner provides us with a six-gun shoot-‘em-up featuring El Borak the fastest El Paso gunslinger ever to dwell in the Hindu Kush. Gene Wolfe rips out a Sword & Sorcery tale with a sting in “Six from Atlantis” proving that REH’s spirit lives even when Conan isn’t invoked. Michael Moorcock, who is pretty much one of only two guys as influential as REH enters a tale of Rakhir the Red Archer (an old pal of Elric) in “The Roaming Forest”.

Neal Barrett Jr. (“The Heart”) and Howard Waldrop (“Thin on the Ground”) look at the Texas milieu that inspired Howard and hundreds (thousands perhaps?) of other writers. They find con men and urban legends mix easily with magic in the heat that blankets the land above and below the border. L.J. Washburn (“Boomtown Bandits”) goes directly into Oil Boom-era Cross Plain for a detective tale with young REH as a supporting character. Mark Finn tackles the politics of posthumous collaboration in “A Whim of Circumstance”, a what if about a Conan movie that sounds kind of interesting, no matter what Finn says.

Perhaps two of my favorites are “Prince Koindrinda Escapes” by Jaime Lynn Blaschke and “The bunker of the Tikriti” by Chris Nakashima-Brown. “Koindrindra” is arguable much more of an homage to King Kong than to REH, but who cares? It is rattling good fun of the liveliest sort, action, politics, Rabbellaisian humor, zeppelins, and giant Apes mix in the ultimate retro-pulp nostalgia piece. “Tikriti” is a much more direct homage to REH by Nakashima-Brown. For what it’s worth, I think Nakashima-Brown is one of the best writers around that you probably haven’t heard of. For a writer whose style is far more involved with cyber-punk and post-modern irony, than the swashbuckling verities of REH, Nakshima-Brown GETS Howard unlike anyone else I’ve read. If for no other reason, get Cross Plains Universe to read “Bunker of the Tikriti”.

That is a very small and biased look at a few tales represented here. Cross Plains Universe boasts of twenty-one stories by twenty-three writers. For fans of stories that evoke the wonder of old-time pulp with a modern sensibility, there is a feast here.
-Dave Hardy

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Edited by David Moles and Jay Lake

Who can resists a title like All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories? I couldn’t, so I bought it knowing full well that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But then it turned out that the cover didn’t lie.

I dare say just about every kind of luftschiffe there is turns up in here. There are retro-zeppelins (“The Last of the Zeppelins” by Jed Hartman), zeppelins restored by time-travel (“The Eckener Alternative”), gambling zeppelins (“The Sky’s the Limit” by Lawrence M. Schoen), cyber-punk zeppelins (“Sky Light”by David Brin), even living zeppelins (“Voice of the Hurricane by Paul Berger”).

If there’s one thing besides zeppelins here it’s alternative history/alternate worlds. In “Voice of the Hurricane” we have an Old West where giant floating gasbag creatures, not buffalo are the great grazing beasts. A determined time traveler in “The Eckener Alternative” seeks to prevent the golden age of zep travel from coming to an end. Other time travelers (“Where and When” by James van Pelt) discover that time streams are not easily diverted. One of my favorites is “Instead of a Loving Heart” (Jeremiah Tolbert) about a mad scientist, his estranged daughter, and a robot with the brain of a man. It’s a truly touching story where genre cliches become an excellent tale about relationships (and zeppelins).

Two other stand-outs are the swashbuckling “Biographical Notes” (by Benjamin Rosenbaum) where SF fandom collides with an alternate world where the Indians and the Chinese colonized the West. “You Could Go Home Again” is a lovely closer by Howard Waldrop where he imagines a better world for Tom Wolfe, Fats Waller, and zeppelin travel.

All-Star Zeppelin Adventure is a charming love-letter from SF to its favorite mode of air-travel.
-Dave Hardy

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Edited by Chris Roberson

This hefty compendium of adventure tales embraces everything from the corniest of old-time pulp (“Dogfight Donovan’s Day Off” by Michael Moorcock) to the weirdest New Weird (“Eel Pie Stall” by Paul di Filippo). It’s a bit dizzying, though there should be something here for almost any taste.

Some random highlights from this anthology:

  • “Ghulistan Bust Out” covers the classic ground of Talbot Mundy and Robert E. Howard’s El Borak tales. The style is post-modern, the mcguffin is cyber-punk, and the setting is GWOT. Let’s put Chris Nakashima-Brown in charge of Saving the Free World.
  • “The Island of Annoyed Souls” by Mike Resnick is a hilarious re-take of Dr. Moreau. Imagine that Mark Twain re-wrote H.G. Wells’s original.
  • “Richard Riddle: Boy Detective” by Kim Newman mixes a charmingly old-fashioned Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew story with a Victorian setting and some weird Lovecraftian horror. It’s delightful.
  • “Prowl Unceasing” by Chris Roberson, brings together Sir James Brooke (aka “The White Raja of Sarawak”), the last descendant of Tipoo Sultan, and Abraham van Helsing for a peculiar romp that truly deserves to be called Imperial Gothic.
  • “Acephalous Dreams” by Neal Asher is a bizarre space-opera about psychological archaeology that might unearth a power that could dominate the galaxy. Also some pretty horrific sexual abuse, not for the squeamish.
  • “Bridge of Teeth” by Mark Finn has carnivorous, boxing ghosts. Need I say more?

On the whole Adventure Vol. 1 divides pretty evenly between the New Weird and the Old Swashbuckling. My preference is for the latter, but such representatives of the former that show up are well executed. I must admit I’m looking forward to Adventure Vol. 2.
-Dave Hardy

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

The final volume of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series finds our heroes in semi-respectable retirement. You knew that couldn’t last!

Death and the gods are still out to kill and otherwise torment Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Meanwhile the heroes are now leaders on Rime Isle. They have settled down with local women, Cif and Afreyt. They are formidable ladies of keen and subtle intellect (which helps them keep out light-minded heroes on track). They have deputy heroes in Skor and Pshawri and a gaggle of youngsters who are no end of trouble and relief.

The centerpiece of Knight and Knave is “The Mouser Goes Below”. This tour de force sends the Mouser on a subterranean tour of Nehwon, a review of his life and a “where are they now” of long-ago loves and foes. While there is some very strange sorcery, there is little sword here. It’s a summing up, but the Falstaffian touches are still here. We learn the shocking truth about cabingirls and have a fond tribute tot he shaving fetish that marks Fafhrd and the Mouser’s adventures.

The Knight and Kanve of Swords is a strange and elegant farewell to two of sword and sorcery’s greatest heroes from one of sword and sorcery’s greatest writers.
-Dave Hardy

Monday, January 15, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

This is the sixth and penultimate volume of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series. The heroes have adventured in just about every corner of Nehwon and they’ve made piles of enemies. In particular they’ve made an enemy of someone who is out to get us all, sooner or later, Death himself.

While that is nothing special, one must admit that when Death gets personal it’s a very serious matter. “The Sadness of the Executioner” opens the book with a tale of how Death decided it was time to let go of his two most effective servants. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s problems get bigger, the gods themselves take a hand in “Under the Thumbs of the Gods”.

The stories build to the heroes’ fateful decision to venture to Rime Isle. In the climactic tale (titled “Rime Isle”) the twain confront the old and new enemies in a complex multi-cornered struggle to destroy the heroes and their new home.

Swords and Ice Magic is fun and thrilling sword and sorcery adventure. It is also fiction that reflects on itself. Leiber looks at where his heroes have been and where they are going. He has a fine time reviewing his heroes past loves (sort of a sword and sorcery psychoanalysis) as if to ask how they developed such idiosyncratic sexual preferences. In “Rime Isle”, Leiber confronts the death-wish that lies at the heart of adventure fiction. This is fiction that is almost painful in its self-awareness. Fritz Leiber helped create sword and sorcery as a genre. In Swords and Magic he managed to transcend his own creation.
-Dave Hardy

Sunday, January 14, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

The one true novel of Fafhrd and the Gray Mousesr, Swords of Lankhmar brings our heroes into conflict with their most determined foes. At stake is nothing less than the Queen city of Nehwon, Lankhmar itself.

After a convocation of the twain’s creditors fails to arrange a mutually satisfactory payment schedule, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser go to sea. Wile acting as guards for Lankhmar’s grain fleet, they meet the delectable Hisvet and her dour but lovely maid Frix. Aside from an invasion of Mingol Hordes and an eruption of the skeletal, flesh-eating ghouls, Lankhmar has some real problems. An enemy within, dwelling alongside humanity is finally making its power manifest. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you who they are.

Fritz Leiber is undoubtedly one of the three best sword and sorcery writers ever. In the author’s note, he compares his heroes to Robin Hood. There’s quite bit of truth to this, not that the twain are champions of the poor who steal from the rich in some Marxist tract. Rather they are trickster heroes as much as battlers, much like the legendary Robin Goodfellow. Leiber’s heroes are as uproariously funny as Falstaff and as dashing as Douglas Fairbanks.
-Dave Hardy

Saturday, January 13, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

Swords Against Wizardry is the fourth book of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Fritz Leiber’s unparalleled sword and sorcery heroes. Fafhrd is a tall, Northern warrior and sometime singing bard. The Gray Mouser is a short, slender thief (in the Douglas Fairbanks tradition) and sometime sorcerer. The twain are not exactly inseparable, Leiber enjoyed splitting them up so he could bring them back together in ways that delight and amaze his readers.

The pals seek a legendary treasure on top of Nehwon’s (the imaginary land where their adventures take place) tallest peak, Stardock. After much stern mountaineering they arrive, though Stardock is anything but a barren wilderness. A race of invisible folk make an entrance thus thematically linking this tale to a number of others involving the semi-invisible ghouls (their skeletons are visible, see Swords of Lankhmar) as well as women who are bald or completely hairless (see “The Sadness of the Executioner” in Swords and Ice Magic). Which is to say that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s somewhat fetishistic relations with women is of increasing import here.

Balancing out the journey to the highest peaks is “The Lords of Quarmall” where Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser find themselves gainfully employed on opposite sides of a dynastic war in Quarmall. That Quarmall is an entirely subterranean kingdom ruled by wizards of formidable power only makes the twain’s sojourn there more interesting.

From mountain climbing to subterranean wizards, Swords Against Wizardry is an eccentric travelogue from Nehwon, the imaginary world where Fahrd and the Gray Mouser, two of sword and sorcery’s most eccentric heroes dwell.
-Dave Hardy

Friday, January 12, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

Swords in the Mist is the third and shortest volume in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. I believe it is also the first one I ever read, so it has a special resonance for me. First impressions count for a lot, Fritz Leiber’s first impression on me was very favorable.

Swords in the Mist follows Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in more of their swashbuckling adventures. “Lean Times in Lankhmar” actually splits them up. Fafrhd gets religion and becomes a hymn singer (he was going to be a singing skald before he left home abruptly) and the Gray Mouser joins an organized crime outfit. When the gangsters start taking an interest in the prophets to be made in the Street of the Gods, the pals are on a collision course. “Lean Times” is one of the funniest sword and sorcery tales I’ve ever read.

The other bookend for this set is “Adept’s Gambit”. This story blends fantasy with a historical setting (a very happy mix). The twain find they’ve wandered out of the fantasy world of Nehwon into the 3rd century BC Seleukid Empire. After a strange curse afflicts the heroes, they undertake a strange journey to lift it. Leiber has returned to the coming of age story, only this time it is about a sorcerer (no Harry Potter) and the pain he inflicts on those who love him. While still filled with the absurd humor that characterize the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser tales, “Adept’s Gambit” is also truly creepy, a good reminder that sword and sorcery has its roots in the horror genre.

Swords in the Mist is a true feast of sword and sorcery. A remarkable set of tales by any standard, it is part of one of the best s&s series of all time.
-Dave Hardy

Thursday, January 11, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

Swords Against Death is the second volume of the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. There are ten tales of marvels, mourning, comedy, and derring-do. Fafhrd is a tall Northern barbarian, serious and introspective, his comrade in arms, the Gray Mouser is a small, lighting quick fellow who specializes in theft and dabbles in sorcery.

Leiber wanted to create sword and sorcery heroes on a human scale. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have any number of fantastic adventures, but they always keep an ironic distance from “heroism”, avoiding any hint of self-importance. Sometimes they even mourn when they kill an enemy. These guys are Conan with empathy, Elric with a sense of humor.

Leiber introduces the twain’s sorcerous mentors: Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes. While trying to maintain symmetry (two heroes, two wizards), really Ningauble is the prize. Ning matches the pair in outlandishness, whimsicality, and erratic behavior. He’s Gandalf on cough syrup.

The stories here are good, but the final two are the crown jewels: “The Price of Pain-Ease” and “Bazaar of the Bizarre”. Images from those weird and wonderful tales still flash in my mind’s eye, some decades after first reading them. “Pain-Ease” involves the theft of a vacation cottage, a journey to confront old sorrows, and a duel with Death. It is a look into the subconscious of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and sets a pattern for their peculiar choices of female companionship. “Bazaar of the Bizarre” tells of a heroic battle against an alien invasion of corporate strip malls (for lack of a better expression). It’s a good story to keep in mind when you’re shopping, though Leiber does make the goods on sale awfully tempting.

Swords Against Death is part of one of the greatest sword and sorcery series of all time. Read it and you’ll see it’s greatness first-hand!
-Dave Hardy

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

By Fritz Leiber

Here are three novelettes that tell of the origins of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, sword and sorcery’s most raffish and charming rogues who ever to cut a purse or battle a demon.

We meet Fafhrd as a callow youth, not yet quite a man among his tribe. But he has a very fine singing voice and girlfriend who has a little surprise for him. When a troupe of traveling performers show up, Fafhrd starts to take an interest in the outside world. “The Snow Women” is a witty tale of coming of age, in an age-old war of the sexes, with a little swordplay between men as well.

“The Unholy Grail” tells of how Mouse, the timid youth, became the Gray Mouser, swordsman, thief, and occasional sorcerer. It is a fine, dark tale of loss and revenge, a fitting companion to “The Snow Women” as a sword and sorcery coming-of-age story.

“Ill Met in Lankhmar” brings the two heroes together in the City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes. Leiber is at his best mixing comedy with tragedy as Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser initiate their long war with the Thieves Guild. While too many fantasy settings seem to be little more than routine backdrops, Leiber invested Lankhmar with a fantastic solidity, making its wonders and horrors seem very real.

There are only a few sword and sorcery series that reach this level of excellence. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are dashing scoundrels, outlandish and heroic, but with a human dimension too. Leiber’s great acheivement was to bring that into a genre dominated by supermen, and he brought it in with a song and a laugh!
-Dave Hardy

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

By Robert E. Howard

This is the third and final volume of the Conan series from Del Rey (though Wandering Star had a hand in it too). The critical aspect of these books is that they present the Conan tales in the order REH wrote them using the words he put into them, without heavy-handed editorial intrusion. If you are familiar with the old de Camp edited series of Conan stories, you’ll recall that they are arranged according to what de Camp decided they fit into Conan’s life. Further, de Camp made quite a few interpolations to link up stories, as well as re-writing non-Conan stories to include the Cimmerian. All that is gone, you get REH and nothing but REH.

While the first volume showed REH building Conan’s character, the second showed a confident maturity as REH broke the boundaries of fantasy, and the third is the Cimmerian at his grimmest and bloodiest. The book opens with “The Servants of Bit-Yakin” (aka “Jewels of Gwahlur”), a tale of deceit and treachery among treasure hunters in a haunted ruin. “Beyond the Black River” shows Conan as a ranger in the service of Aquilonia. It is a distinctive tale, the point of view character is not Conan, but Balthus, a young settler on the Pictish frontier. “Black River” more than any other tale, gives REH’s view on the clash of civilization and barbarism. It is a grim one, “Barbarism is the natural state of mankind… civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph.” Discounting their technological sophistication, the horrors of the 1940s fully confirmed this prognosis. The 21st century has done little to dispel it.

Unlike other Conan tales, there is no treasure to win or beautiful girl to carry off. This is a battle for survival on a bloody frontier. It also has one of REH’s most lyrical passages in a demon’s description of the rituals of death.

My brother had not painted a skull black for you and hurled it into the fire that burns forever on Gullah’s black altar. He had not whispered your name to the black ghosts that haunt the uplands of the Dark Land. But a bat has flown over the Mountains of the Dead and drawn your image in blood on the white tiger’s hide that hangs before the long hut where sleep the Four Brothers of the Night. The great serpents coil about their feet and the stars burn like fireflies in their hair.

When somebody talks about a “sense of wonder”, this is what they mean.

“The Black Stranger” and “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula” come next. The first is a tale of Hyborian Age pirates on the Pictish shore. While it is a good tale, I think in some ways the re-write to make it a historical adventure (featuring Black Vulmea) works better. “Man-Eaters” takes the Cimmerian down to the borderlands where the Turanian Empire butts up against the lands of Zuagir nomads and the lands of the black-skinned folk of Kush.

The last story is “Red Nails”. REH called it the “bloodiest and most sexy weird tale” he had ever written. While the latter may be questionable, the former is most emphatically true. Conan pursues Valeria, a pirate/mercenary who has fled from a murder charge in Stygia. She is a woman in a man’s world and wants nothing to do with the Cimmerian, but when they find a massive ruin they explore it together. Inside they find the decadent remnants of a tribe called the Tlazitlans, now split into warring factions. Their home is a single structure, the size of a city, entirely enclosed. Food is produced by means of a forgotten science without sunlight or soil. The “people of the feud” as they call themselves live only to kill and torture rival clansmen. REH lets the corrosive nature of hate flow freely here; the Cimmerian is a grim slayer indeed, but compared to the Tlazitlans, he is a ray of sunshine. The apocalyptic violence seen in “Beyond the Black River” reaches the ultimate level in “Red Nails”, absolute destruction.

Extras include drafts and synopses, as well a map of the Hyborian world, and an excellent critical essay by Patrice Louinet. Gregory Manchess is the illustrator, he favors smoky, charcoal smudged backgrounds that characters emerge from. It’s a bit of nit-picking, but sometimes he arms the Cimmerian with a falchion or cutlass, when REH stresses the double-edged broadsword that Conan usually carries.

The Conquering Sword of Conan is essential reading for Sword & Sorcery fans.
-Dave Hardy

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dir. by Don Coscarelli

Based on a story by Joe Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep is a simple tale of how Elvis and JFK teamed up to defeat a soul-sucking undead mummy terrorizing a nursing home in East Texas. It is also one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while.

Elvis (played by Bruce Campbell with dizzying aplomb) is no longer the king of Rock’n’Roll. Rather, he’s a decrepit old man with a bad hip and a very nasty growth on the tip of Little E. The staff keep insisting he’s really Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator who’s gotten too identified with The King. Life is a series of humiliations as he waits to die, forgotten like the other old people warehoused at the Shady Rest retirement home in Mud Creek, Texas. A spark of life returns when he fights a brutal battle to the death with a Texas sized cockroach. But the cockroach is the harbinger of dark forces that imperil one's very soul. Elvis gets the skinny from no less than JFK hisownself (Ossie Davis, yes he’s Black, I was howling with laughter when he explained just how things went wrong after that day in Dallas). It seems the ex-president is an expert on souls and soul-stealing undead fiends. After finding hieroglyphic graffiti in the visitor’s crapper, they know that they are faced with a diabolic Egyptian mummy, preying on old people (which, if you’ve ever watched Home Shopping Channel, is not that unusual). Faced with an evil more inexorable than Lyndon Johnson, Elvis and JFK head for a showdown

Coscarelli has toned down some (only some) of Lansdale’s exuberant vulgarity, while not sacrificing Lansdale’s gut-busting humor. Lansdale’s sympathy for his characters shines through too, whether Elvis is Elvis or Sebastian Haff, his need to regain his dignity and pride is touching. Getting respect from the nurse who treats him like an oversized baby is just as critical as defeating soul-sucking devils.

Bubba Ho-tep is howlingly funny. In true Lansdale style it mixes genres, adding horror to humor with a touch of the Western and a little bit of the classic Elvis movie charm. As a lover of all things that flow from the pen of Joe R. Lansdale, I might seem prejudiced in favor of this film. Well, watch it for yourself without laughing. I double-dog dare you! Me, I’m headin’ fer a peanut butter and fired ‘nanner sandwich, then I’m Taking Care of Business Baby!
-Dave Hardy

Sunday, January 07, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

This is a collection of tales that Lansdale calls “a garage sale”, bits of this and that. I’d have to say A Fist Full of Stories is better than a garage sale because everything here is valuable.

A number of the stories appearing in Fist Full have also been included in Bumper Crop (another collection that Lansdale modestly considers as odds and ends). “Bar Talk”, “Listen”, Billie Sue”, and “Old Charlie” all display Lansdale’s style of swift set up and punch that characterized his early work. “Master of Misery” is a minor epic of macho martial arts and mayhem, while not as fully developed as the lunatic intensity of The Big Blow, it is a gripping action tale.

Also included is the sixth chapter of Two Bear Mambo, a little bit of Big Thicket legendry (for those readers who ain’t from Texas, the Big Thicket is a damn big swamp). The articles are a couple of Lansdale rants and several reviews from “Trash Theater”, a column that Lansdale and David Webb wrote for the speculative fiction magazine, Cemetery Dance. These are some of the funniest, laugh-out-loud pieces in the book, mostly because they really have nothing to do with the movies they are reviewing (though I REALLY want to watch Dolomite now!).

While Lansdale’s reputation rests on his later works such as “The Pit” or “By Bizarre Hnads’, his earlier work is by no menas to be despised. All in all, this set is a pretty decent fist full of Lansdale.
-Dave Hardy

Saturday, January 06, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

Bumper Crop is Joe R. Lasnsdale’s follow up to High Cotton. While High Cotton features the Mojo Storyteller at his most outrageous, Bumper Crop is in, I won’t say a gentler, but a less extreme vein.

That is partly by design I believe. Bumper Crop features many of the best short stories that Lansdale wrote during his early years. Twilight Zone magazine was a principal market and T.E.D. Klein bought many of these tales. Lansdale’s distinctive style of storytelling is still developing here. The tales are polished and professional, and not quite as over the top as his later "Southern Gothic" work.

That is not to say these are less appealing, indeed they may be more so! These stories reflect a period of success in the magazine markets. Lansdale outlines his transition to the style epitomized by “The Pit” and “By Bizarre Hands”, it was not a happy one. The story “Bestsellers Guaranteed”, which reveals the nexus of conspiracy theory and publishing, is an arch response to the frustration he felt as editors declined to buy his new style tales.

There are many gems in Bumper Crop. “Fish Night”, a yarn about two men stranded in the desert on a magic night, is beautiful, mythic, and horrific all at the same time. “In the Cold Dark Time” reveals the ferocity that lurks behind good intentions in wartime. “Fire Dog” is a hilarious take on work, relationships, and identity, like something Kafka would have written if he came from Nacogdoches.

There are many, many more tales of outstanding quality in Bumper Crop. All together there are 26 stories in this book, many of them are quite short (Like Ambrose Bierce, Lansdale packs a big wallop in few words). Bumper Crop is an abundant harvest of good storytelling.
-Dave Hardy

Friday, January 05, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

Joe Lansdale is one of the most inventive, outlandish, and uncompromising authors you can find today. His Hap and Leonard novels are a long running manifestation of his twisted imagination at its best. The protagonists are Hap Collins, an easy-going redneck, and his best friend Leonard Pine, a black, gay Vietnam veteran. Yup, you read that last part right. And it all happens in Texas.

Rumble Tumble begins with Hap on the outs with his girlfriend, Brett. Romantic disputes are shelved when they get a visit from Red, a midget gangster, formerly a circus performer, currently a pimp. He knows the whereabouts of Brett’s daughter, a drug-addled prostitute. She is in the clutches of the most vicious biker gang in Texas (or anywhere for that matter). To reach her they have to go to Red’s brother, once the gang’s most feared enforcer, now a born-again preacher and gopher removal expert.

If that sounds like a whacked-out tall-tale, that’s pretty much what it is, told by Joe Lansdale hisownself. Lansdale does not shy away from a good digression, if it adds spice. The tale of Red’s rescue from his life as a trick-rider of dogs is just about the funniest and most touching thing your likely to find in fiction.

The Hap and Leonard novels are a true Texas treat, do not miss them.
-Dave Hardy

Thursday, January 04, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

“Different” is an adjective that applies to much of Joe Lansdale’s fiction. So asserting that Freezer Burn is different is perhaps not too daring. But Freezer Burn is different from other Lansdale stories. Lansdale’s favored ground is coming-of-age story, his protagonists are innocents who experience the bitter truth of life in a tragic world. That goes double for Hap Collins, he’s a perpetual innocent.

But in Freezer Burn, Lansdale puts a true low-life front and center. Bill Roberts is a cockroach, a sorry excuse for a human being. After a botched robbery, carried out with a great deal of bloodshed by scumbags even stupider than himself, Roberts escapes through the swamps. He takes refuge with a travelling freak show. It is not a post-modern, ironic freak show, but an old-fashioned collection of deformed outcasts.

The show boasts Conrad the Dog-Boy, U.S. Grant the bearded lady, assorted Pinheads, Siamese Twins, Pickled Punks, and the Ice Man. The Ice Man might be a frozen relic of prehistoric times or he might be the Savior. Presiding over it all is Frost, a world-weary showman with a wife that is too young and too beautiful.

Here Roberts finds himself in a curious quandary, he can carry on in his accustomed bubble of loathsome egotism, arrogant and selfish, or he can accept the shelter granted to him by the freaks and in accord them the respect and affection he receives from them.

More so than other Lansdale tales, Freezer Burn fits into the classic pattern of serie noir. Roberts inhabits a world that can be heaven or hell, entirely as he makes it. The upward road is a rocky one, and the higher one climbs the greater the temptations become. The life of the show-folks is a hard-scrabble one where facing down rednecks spoiling for a fight is all in a day’s work, sex may sometimes be bartered, and even cub scouts strut with macho attitude.

For memorable, gripping, noir fiction, Freezer Burn cannot be beat.
-Dave Hardy

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

The fertile imagination of Joe Lansdale spins another gripping tale of the life and crimes of a naif in a corrupt land. Lansdale doesn’t just spin out a mystery, he tells a story about a time and a place and the people who live there. You could say he paints a picture, the dominant color is blood-red.

In Sunset and Sawdust the time is the mid-1930s and the place is (where else?) East Texas. A tornado is whipping through the land and Sunset Jones’ husband, Pete, is raping her again. This time there’s a surprise for Pete. Sunset blows his brains out. With a pistol shot during a tornado she starts on a journey that will lead to discoveries about herself and her loved ones. Her mother-in-law, who happens to own the local sawmill, promotes Sunset to constable. But the elder Mrs. Jones has her own motives, and they aren’t necessarily about feminist empowerment.

Sunset is surrounded by a motley band of helpers: her deputy Clyde, a charming hobo called Hillbilly, her daughter Karen, and a the county’s toughest black man, a giant fellow known as Bull. Sunset takes on her first case: discovering the identity of a baby found buried on the land of a black farmer. The solution leads to a crisis that threatens to tear apart not just the local powers that be, but Sunset’s own family.

The forces aligned against Sunset are more than formidable. She is not just a woman in a man’s world, but a woman trespassing on man’s territory. She also treats black people in an unthinkable manner: as people. Of course Lansdale’s specialty is villains and he provides Sunset with two of his finest. McBride (last seen in the Big Blow), a Chicago hoodlum of the toughest kind, and Two, one of the strangest and creepiest killers I’ve come across.

This is classic Lansdale territory: the story of a dedicated individual who sets out to solve a mystery that reveals a deep truth about the protagonist and his community. Novels like A Fine Dark Line and The Bottoms (as well as Sunset and Sawdust) look at the dark underbelly of greed, cruelty, and racism in small town life. The image we see in Lansdale country is often a bleak one, with few heroes in sight, but that is the point. Lansdale writes tales of exceptional heroes (and I use that term intentionally) who break society’s bounds to right very great wrongs. When a Lansdale hero achieves any kind of success, it is hard won, often at a brutal cost.

Foe sheer, exhilarating suspense, vivid characters, pure-dee evil, and dogged crime-solving, Sunset and Sawdust is without parallel.
-Dave Hardy

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

This is another instant classic from Joe Lansdale. The man from behind the Pine Curtain weaves another tale of murder, memory, growing up, and a certain place in time.

Dewdrop, Texas in the late ‘50s was frozen in time. Through the eyes of Stanley Mitchell Jr. the reader sees the harsh dividing line of whites and colored in the segregated South. Stan’s dad owns the local drive-in theater. While Stan reads Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes he dreams of adventure in his sleepy town. He finds it in the form of a box of letters in a buried trunk. The letters open up the mystery of the death by fire of a rich young girl and the brutal murder of a prostitute’s daughter on the same night years before. Before he’s done Stan has to learn just how many sordid secrets his town hides, and he has to learn what they mean.

Stan devotes himself to finding the truth. Not by himself though, Lansdale provides a rich cast of characters. Stan has help from his best buddy, Richard, a boy with a brutally abusive father. Stan’s older sister assists in solving the riddle while providing some fine comic relief (there’s a wickedly funny subplot involving a “water balloon” in her bedroom). Stan’s dog Nub proves to be man’s best friend (reminiscent of Sailor Steve Costigan’s bulldog, Mike). But Stan learns the most from Buster, the old black man who runs the projection room at the drive-in. Buster teaches Stan about the ways of being a man, even when the world insists you are just a boy.

This is a rather restrained tale for Lansdale. There is a degree of sweetness about it, though there is plenty of darkness to go with the light. A Fine Dark Line is superlative Texas noir from one of the best writers around.
-Dave Hardy

Monday, January 01, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

The Bottoms is a classic coming of age tale set in the deep Piney Woods section of East Texas. Harry Crane is ten years old. His daddy is the local constable as well as being the barber and a farmer. Texas is locked in the dark days of the Depression and Blacks are definitely not equal to Whites.

Harry and his sister Tom, short for Thomasina, like to visit the Bottoms. This is the swampy area of mosquitoes and alligators along the Sabine River. It is a haunted place, the dreaded Goat Man wanders the area by night. Other things wander too, one leaves behind the body of a murdered Black woman.

What follows is formally a mystery story, much like A Fine Dark Line, or Sunset and Sawdust. But The Bottoms is as much about the people that Harry grows up among, the ones he learns from, the ones that are admirable, and the ones that are despicable.

The Bottoms is a raw story, sometimes brutal and sometimes coarse. Lansdale does not pull punches. The reward is his amazing story telling ability and the deep love he has for East Texas in this unique and typically Lansdale story.
-Dave Hardy