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Archive for November, 2007

Fritz Leiber – “The Moon is Green,” “A Bad Day for Sales,” “The Inner Circles” (aka “The Winter Flies”), “The Death of Princes,” “A Rite of Spring,” “The Button Molder,” Gummitch & Friends, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser (graphic)

Posted by Mike on November 26, 2007

I rediscovered my library system about a month ago or so. When I used to use the system they had a link to three other library systems, now they seem to cover almost the entire range of California and Nevada libraries meaning, there’s very little I can’t find anymore. My greatest joy is getting access to the set of Jack Vance Integral Edition books, which was a subscription series I couldn’t afford when it was available.

So I’m well behind on writing about what I’ve read lately, considering I’ve read more in the last month than I had in the previous six months. Much of my reading has concentrated on eking out rarer material by a few favorites and in particular the work of Fritz Leiber, whose bibliography is fairly complicated, especially when it comes to short work, with stories spread far and wide. When I made up my mind to track down everything I could find by Leiber (on the heels of reading “Ship of Shadows”), I came across the Darkside Press/Midnight House limited editions. I managed to get the third and fourth and a reprint of the first, but the second (Smoke Ghost & Other Apparitions) is still very rare and am hoping it also gets a reprint (despite how amateurish the POD Black Gondolier reprint is). Other DP/MH lim eds seem to be stuck in limbo at the moment, but I hope One Station on the Way and others are to follow. Needless to say, none of these volumes show up at any of the library systems, which is a shame, even if most of what wasn’t originally reprinted is fairly minor.

Quite a few of the stories listed are from an out of print collection called “The Leiber Chronicles” out of which I read everything I didn’t already own, most of which were minor stories. “The Moon is Green” is set on a future, post apocalyptic Earth where everyone lives in hermetically sealed buildings. The wife of a couple is considered a dreamer, wanting badly to see and set foot outside, but the husband, the pragmatist, tries to hold her back. All it takes is a moment when he’s not looking and she comes face to face with the humanity who was exposed to catastrophe. “A Bad Day for Sales,” also continuing the post-WWII look at nuclear war, features a programmed sales robot trying to cope with a new future. A few of the others I didn’t make notes on (at least not here) and are generally minor Leiber, although I found myself a little disappointed with “The Button Molder” which is considered one of his classics. The same thing happened with “Smoke Ghost” which may just mean they didn’t freak me out.

Gummitch & Friends is Leiber’s collection of cat stories and poems, the first five stories in the book are about his cat Gummitch and others. The first two, earliest stories (“Space-Time for Springers” and “Kreativity for Kats”) seem to be fictional renditions of stories of Gummitch, where the latter three (“Cat’s Cradle,” “The Cat Hotel” and “Thrice the Brinded Cat”) move the stories well into fictional realms. For instance, Cat’s Cradle gives one an interesting, science fictional idea as to what might happens when cats congregate, while the latter two speak of Gummitch and his owner’s encounter and aftermath with witches who run a cat hotel. None of the five are anything more than amusing stories by someone fond of his felines, but with Leiber’s talent they can be quite amusing, especially when the younger cat, Psycho, is involved.

The rest of the book has other cat stories by Leiber, including a trio from the early 70s (“The Bump,” “The Lotus Eaters” and “Cat Three”) that are very minor. The best story reprinted here, unsurprisingly, is “Ship of Shadows,” which finishes off the stories and leads one to a few poems, mostly written by Leiber’s wife and friends (including one by Poul Anderson).

The last title is a comic rendition of Leiber’s most famous duo and the stories that made me a fan, Fafhrd & Gray Mouser. I thought they (Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola) did a great job picking out the stories to make graphic, including favorites “Bazaar of the Bizarre” and “Lean Times in Lankhmar.” While the duo look in my mind’s eye more like they did in that old Deities & Demigods manual (initial influences die hard) than they do here, it’s really the stories that win you over as two friends come up against some of the most imaginative and unusual threats you’ll ever find in fantasy.

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Fritz Leiber – “A Defense of Werewolves,” “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” “In the X-Ray,” Joe R. Lansdale – The Two-Bear Mambo, The Nightrunners plus

Posted by Mike on November 19, 2007

I’ve been managing to get quite a bit of reading done of late and rediscovered the local library system as well as the Link Plus system that allows me to borrow books etc from libraries throughout California and Nevada. I’m particularly pleased that one of the libraries has the full set of Jack Vance’s Integral Edition books, which was a subscription series way out of my price range when it was available. Needless to say it’s going to fill in some holes in my Vance reading.

Also great is that I’ve had access to Joe R. Lansdale and Fritz Leiber stories I haven’t had before and while a lot of is lesser work, the stories are pretty short. Hopefully I can try remembering what all it was I’ve been through of late. With Fritz in particular, I’ve been hopping all over the place. While going as chronologically as possible through the stories at first (including this smaller batch), I’ve managed to read all the stories in the rare and out of print “Leiber Chronicles” collection that I didn’t already own elsewhere, as well as the Gummitch series of stories in “Gummitch and Friends,” and have also started the Change War series (other than “The Big Time” which I’d read a while back). But more on those later.

“A Defense of Werewolves” is unusual in that it’s hard to tell if it’s fiction or just an unusual paeon to fantasy (it was originally called “Fantasy on the March.” It’s only a few pages and tends to read strangely in several different parts and I felt like I was missing context with it. The language is ornate and meant to be inspirational, but it all comes off as a bit of a mess.

“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” is one of Leiber’s more important works, having had at least one movie made from it. It’s a story of a photographer who meets a strange young model who has a supernatural effect on the people she meets. It’s a solid story, if a bit dated at this point. “In The X-Ray” was another short piece that I barely remember without the text in front of me, but it seemed inconsequential at the time.

Lansdale’s The Two- Bear Mambo I borrowed as it’s out of print, although it’s still pretty affordable. It’s the third in his Hap & Leonard series about the friendship between a straight white Democrat and a gay black Republican and the best one up to this point. Hap’s ex has disappeared into a small town in East Texas known for its Klan population and a cop who had been dating Hap’s ex lets Leonard off for another crack house arsony charge to go after her. The town is something out of the recent, racist past and the duo’s first foray ends badly. Everything here is strong from the solid plot to the cracking dialogue, which rings laughs off of every page. Even at the halfway point of the series (by this point), I can barely wait to read the others. I can usually get them done in a couple of days.

I also managed to read quite a few minor Lansdale stories and articles from the books God of the Razor, Fist Full of Stories (and Articles) and Writer of the Purple Rage. God of the Razor is a collection from Subterranean that is something of a deluxe reissue of Lansdale’s second published book “The Nightrunners.” This is a story I found heavily reminiscent of Richard Laymon’s “The Cellar” in the way both sets of protagonists are trying to keep away from brutal murderin’ types, but in the Nightrunner’s case it’s about what drives the evil where in “The Cellar” it ended up being about the protagonists and their pursuer meeting a third thread. As can be told from the collection name, this story inspired quite a bit beyond it including several stories by Lansdale and others.

Of the remaining stories not many were major, except I finally read the “Bubba Ho-Tep” novella, which I’d seen as a movie with Bruce Campbell. I didn’t like the movie as much as the novella, which is quite a bit leaner, without the long tangent of how Elvis switched his life with an impersonator, which to my mind jolted the ambiguity of not knowing whether your protagonist Elvis was really the Elvis. But the story’s in a nursing home where Elvis and another resident discover ancient Egyptian evil in cowboy boots.

I thought Lansdale’s best non-fiction was included with the Electric Gumbo collection, the rest of Fist Full didn’t do much than mildly amuse. The better stories from this collection and Purple Rage are in Bumper Crop, for when I get to it. The other Purple Rage stories I did read included another Wild Bill Hicock story with “Man with Two Lives” (in a way he’s part of The Magic Wagon), the very icky “Love Doll: A Fable,” the slightly Flowers from Algernon-like and experimental “The Diaper,” and the slightly different and fun play/theatrical version of his classic “By Bizarre Hands” story. Before High Cotton and Bumper Crop this appears to be the collection to have had.

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Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space; Lucius Shepard – “How Lonesome Heartbreak Changed His Life;” Fritz Leiber – Destiny Times Three, “The Dreams of Albert Moreland,” “Mr. Bauer and the Atoms,” “Alice and the Allergy,” “Diary in the Snow,” “The Man Who Never Grew Young”

Posted by Mike on November 1, 2007

It feels good to finally get some reading done, it’s been quite a while since I finished a book. The length of time it took me to finish Alastair Reynolds’ highly acclaimed debut novel was mostly related to not having much time to do so and not a reflection of its quality. I’m behind the eight ball on this one, but it’s sort of a hard sf/space opera combo about future humanity, both natural and augmented, and its encounter with some ancient secrets. It revolves around three characters, all initially far apart with different aims, a weapons expert on a posthuman startship, an archaeologist closing in on the secrets of a dead alien race, and a soldier turned assassin who closes in on the archaeologist. These three narrative strands start to converge as all three become embroiled in a profound mystery about an ancient universal conflict called the Dawn War, the previously mentioned dead species called the Amarantin and a mysterious entity called Sun Stealer. While it takes a little while to get going, it’s almost always engaging, well written and scientifically intelligent, with an increasingly developing plot that goes to some neat places. I’m definitely continuing with this series and its related books at some undetermined future time. In some ways it’s not all that far off from Jack McDevitt’s Hutch series, although that seems a lot more old school in comparison with this.

Finishing that off let me get back to a few prattle mainstays, the work of Lucius Shepard and Fritz Leiber. Shepard’s “Lonesome Heartbreak” seems to have been a story written early in his “comeback phase” about a journalist, drifter and girlfriend in Vietnam who begin the story musing on the differences between cultures and end in an unusual stand off that smacks mightily of being partially non fiction. Minor Shepard, yes, but always enjoyable.

Now I’m back on the Fritz Leiber trail, which slowed down when a novel and novella came up on the list. Leiber’s best work is usually novella or shorter (with a couple notable exceptions). While Destiny Times Three does deal with some issues that presage his Changewar series, starting with The Big Time, it was apparently edited for length, which apparently cut out some female viewpoint characters, leaving the story a little on the strangely incomplete site. It deals with parallel earths and the impending war between two of these parallels and wraps up in a way comparatively unusual to modern takes on the same ideas, such as the Sliders TV show.

Getting back into the shorts is a lot more fun. “The Dreams of Albert Moreland” is one of Leiber’s early classics about a chessmaster and an unknown game that is waged as he sleeps, his opponent veiled and dark. Like other contemporary Lovecraftian stories, this one reachers a dark conclusion that’s perhaps a bit pat, although not one that lessens the creepy imagery the story is redolent with.

“Mr. Bauer and the Atoms” and “Alice and the Allergy” are two very short Weird Tales pieces that strangely enough never made any version of the Night’s Black Agents collection that collects most of Leiber’s early works from that venerable publication. I’m somewhat surprised that the Lovecraft mythos types haven’t repackaged and released either by eliminating the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories (both of which have been reprinted frequently) and gathering the rest of his wartime/weirdtale material. Then again, neither of these are strong enough to compare. “Bauer” seems a response to the newly discovered atomic energy, positing a man who thinks he might become a bomb, and without it in front of me, I barely remember “Alice.”

“Diary in the Snow” is also a very Lovecraftian story with a lot of similarities to “The Whisperer in Darkness.” A writer goes to stay with a friend in an isolated cabin in order to rejuvenate his career only to see his developing story start to reflect in reality as strange patterns are left on the windows and his friend starts to show concern. The events are recorded in a diary…

And, bringing me current, another short piece that, like the previous story, was new to the Night’s Black Agents collection. “The Man Who Never Grew Young” masks a man who lives time backwards seeing Earth history from a totally different perspective. Quite inventive, although it still feels a bit crammed into the framework.

I’m keeping a bibliography of these stories as I go (there’s an early version on the blog somewhere) and hope to post the update at some point.

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Joss Whedon returns to TV!

Posted by Mike on November 1, 2007

As a (relatively recent) fan of Whedon-TV (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly), I was just lamenting the fact that he hasn’t returned to TV and then five minutes later found this news. Especially after what has been a rather weak season for new shows, this couldn’t come at a better time.

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