Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Lost Level by Brian Keene


  
Long time readers of this blog know that I am a life-long fan of the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. My mother collected the Tarzan novels and comic books before I was born and so I pretty much grew up with Burroughs. Once I learned to read, I quickly moved from Tarzan to Barsoom, (Mars) Amtor, (Venus) and to Pellucidar, that amazing world at the center of our hollow Earth where dinosaurs still roam and the sun hangs eternally at noon.

   The thing that I perhaps loved most about ERB’s books was the sense of wonder they gave me. The lure of adventure in exotic worlds full of strange creatures and dangerous foes. I can tell you that sense of wonder is hard to come by these days, but not impossible. Brian Keene’s new novel, THE LOST LEVEL goes a long way towards capturing that feeling of headlong adventure on another world.

   It begins in true Burroughs fashion, with the protagonist, Aaron Pace, introducing himself and giving you a bit about his background. Pace is a student of the occult, which makes sense, because Brian Keene is an award winning author of horror novels and knows his way around a grimoire. Unlike most of ERB’s heroes, who stumble into their adventures, Pace is seeking a way to explore alternate dimensions, looking for a place termed The Labyrinth, which serves as a pathway between other dimensions. (And is part of much of Keene’s other fiction.)

   Pace finds what he was looking for and is able to enter other dimensions, but a moment of carelessness sends him to the fabled ‘Lost Level’, a dimension where the flotsam and jetsam of other realities wash up. Unfortunately, much like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you like from the Lost Level, but you can never leave.

   The Lost Level is a homage to more than Burroughs though. While it possesses the eternal noon of Pellucidar (for different reasons) it also owes something to Sid & Marty Croft’s 1970s television series, LAND OF THE LOST and the DC Comic WARLORD, originally written and illustrated by Mike Grell. (Both, favorites of mine.) There’s some Robert E. Howard in there as well. Thus, you have not only dinosaurs, but robots, snake men, and all sorts of strange creatures of Keene’s own creation.

   A big part of the appeal of this sort of tale is the ‘fish out of water’ nature of the hero, and Keene does a fine job of showing how someone thrust into this sort of adventure might flip out a bit before settling down to deeds of derring-do. In this, Aaron Pace is perhaps closer in spirit to Carson Napier than John Carter, but he’s certainly a capable hero.

   As he explores the Lost Level, Pace finds a staunch ally in the cat-man Bloop, and even finds his own Dejah Thoris or Dian the Beautiful in the lovely and capable Kasheena, a heroine who would have made Burroughs proud. Together they face the many dangers of the Lost Level.

   Now here’s the deal. Though I’ve explained all the similarities to various books and comics, this is still a Brian Keene book and fans of his other work will find much to enjoy. The Lost Level is a pastiche, but it’s not old fashioned and there is much humor and the occasional moment of horror or shock, just like in Keene’s other work.

   Now obviously I’m the target audience for The Lost Level. I grew up reading those same books and comics and watching the same TV shows as Brian Keene. But you don’t need all that background. If you enjoy a well written tale of high adventure, this book is for you. And the good news is, it’s the first in a trilogy. More adventure and wonder to come in The Lost Level. Highly recommended.

P.S. I enjoyed this book so much that even though I got an advance copy for review I've pre-ordered a copy of the paperback from Apex Publications. You can too.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Odyssey by Anne Perry

   Back in the late 1990s, I read my way through all of Anne Perry's mystery novels about policeman Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte, a woman from the upper class. All of these books take place in the later years of the Victorian Age. A second series, about detective William Monk, is set about twenty years earlier. For the most part the books were traditional whodunits, though they had a pretty hard edge, especially when it came to the details of the murders. These definitely were not 'cozy' mysteries.
   By the time 2003 rolled around, when Perry wrote her first short Christmas novel, A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY, I had wandered away from reading traditional mysteries. I noted the little books, usually about 200 pages and smaller in height and width than the average hardback, and figured I'd try one at some point. I'm still something of an anglophile and I enjoy historical fiction.
   I tried 2007's A CHRISTMAS PROMISE more or less on a whim and enjoyed it. I started another one (can't remember the title) but it didn't hold my attention, and I bought 2010's A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY, stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it. When you have as many books as I do, that happens. Ran across it the other day when I was looking for something else and set it aside for Christmas reading. I decided today, a little more than a week away from Christmas, was the time to give it a shot. Really glad that I did. Made for a great afternoon of Holiday reading.
   This one is pretty dark for a Christmas book, I have to say. Elderly and ailing, the wealthy James Wentworth asks a favor of his old friend, Henry Rathbone. It seems that Wentworth's son Lucien has fallen in with bad company and has vanished into the dangerous warrens of London's West End, and Wentworth wants Rathbone to try and find the young man. Rathbone is a gentleman and has no knowledge of the streets and slums so he goes to the clinic where William Monk's wife, Hester tends to the needs of the poor. There he meets 'Squeaky' Robinson, a reformed Pimp who now works as the book keeper for the clinic. (The Christmas books tend to feature secondary characters from Perry's series as protagonists.)
   Robinson knows his way around the West End and he agrees to help Rathbone in his search. With Robinson as guide, Rathbone will descend into a sort of Dante's Inferno in the backstreets, alleys, and tunnels where every sexual taste can be found and danger and death lurk around every corner. The two men are aided in their search by an unlicensed doctor named Crow, and a 15 year old street urchin named Bessie.
   This book is definitely more suspense than mystery, though there are some very clever bits of misdirection. I didn't catch one of them which makes a long time mystery reader like me happy. Perry's knowledge of the time period is amazing and her descriptions of the time, place, and people are well drawn without being too detailed. You'll feel the cold in the air, heard the ringing of the horse's harnesses, and smell the noisome odors of the disreputable pubs and filthy alleys.
   There is, though, a good bit of Christmas spirit in the book, and you'll definitely get the feeling of a Dickens era Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a satisfying and suspenseful Christmas read.

Christmas Movies

Someone was asking me, the other day, what movies I like to watch at Christmas. Here are some favorites, old and new.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Bruce the Barbarian

I'm starting to suspect that my cat Bruce is reading my Conan books when I'm not home. I looked over and saw him sleeping with his paw on the hilt of my practice gladius. I like a cat who sleeps with his weapons at hand.

The Babadook

   Watched THE BABADOOK which is a darn creepy Australian horror movie about an apparently haunted children's book. I will warn folks that it's very slow in comparison to what we usually see in the US, but give it time as it needs to build slowly. This was a low budget film, and the special effects are intentionally low tech, but the 'in camera' feel gives it a reality that a lot of the recent CGI fests can't provide.
    The movie plays on childhood fears and upon the fears of parents as well. Not one to watch with the kiddies. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Acquisitions

Last night's acquisitions. Volume two of INVADERS complete collection. Even includes the mini series from years later and the issue of WHAT IF which featured the team. THANOS VS THE HULK written and drawn by Jim Freaking Starlin, kiddies. Latest issue of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE with a couple of stories I haven't read. First issue of the new HELLBOY AND THE BPRD series, which takes us back to the early days of Hellboy's adventures. And while I was at it, I got HELLBOY: HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD, which leads into Mike Mignola's upcoming new FRANKENSTEIN series, and which has artwork by Richard Corben. I'm calling this a good night at the comic book store.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank

GET TV was airing HAPPY HOLIDAYS WITH BING AND FRANK last night. This 30 minute special episode of the Frank Sinatra show from 1957, was filmed in color, though it originally aired in black and white. The idea behind the show is simple enough. Frank has Bing over to his swinging bachelor pad and they sing a bunch of Christmas classics. The high point for me was the middle of the show, where the boys time travel to Victorian England and go wassailing with a bunch of Dickens era folks. I am not making this up. Got my Christmas season off to a good start. Thanks to my pal, Cliff for bringing this to my attention.


And hey, I found a link.


http://vimeo.com/82117908