Friday, August 30, 2013

H.P.'s Big Adventure

  It took me a little while to get a handle on S.T. Joshi's new novel The Assaults of Chaos. Given the general premise and the colorful cover, I was expecting a pulpish romp. I saw fairly quickly, however that this wasn't the direction Joshi was heading in. He was going for something a bit more literary.
   The book begins just before World War One,  when Howard Philips Lovecraft was still a young man seeking his path in life. All of his famous stories and creations are still ahead of him. For the moment he is trapped at home with an ailing mother and no clear direction for his life. If like me, you've recently read Joshi's biography of Lovecraft, I Am Providence, you may get a feeling of deja-vu during the opening chapters of the book, as the author gives a truncated but fact filled account of Lovecraft's early life.
   Things pick up when Lovecraft's father, long supposed dead, turns up alive and apparently in need of Lovecraft's help. He urges his son to accompany him to England where the two of them will join with a group of others as champions against a menace to mankind in general and England in particular. Their weapons? Their imaginations.
   Again I as expecting a little more action, but I slowly came to realize what Joshi was doing. He was writing the exact sort of adventure that H.P. Lovecraft would have wanted to experience.
   Lovecraft journeys to his beloved England and teams up with a group of his favorite authors, including Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and Lord Dunsany. They aren't the sorts of heroes that Robert E. Howard would have written of, but rather the sort that Lovecraft created. Studious intelligent men, pitting their wits and their formidable imaginations against cosmic evil.
   When the various authors appear, Joshi has tried to make them speak very much in their own real words, pulling their dialog from actual letters, essays, and such. A nifty approach.
   Joshi may upset some fans of Lovecraft by his introduction of a romantic subplot for Lovecraft, but I thought it a nice touch.
   Anyway, though not the fast paced adventure I was expecting, The Assaults of Chaos is well written, well researched, and a lot of fun, and definitely something that fans of H.P. Lovecraft will want to add to their libraries.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Acquisitions

   Bruce looks over the last couple of day's haul of books. The two-volume Essential Solitude is a collection of the letters between H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth.  Then we have The Assaults of Chaos, a novel featuring Lovecraft as the protagonist. Volume 14 of Dark Horse Comics' Savage Sword of Conan collections is just about a full book of stories written by Chuck Dixon. I always felt Dixon was the best Conan comics writer at marvel after Roy Thomas.
   And we have Boys Will be Boys, a history of British Weekly story papers, and finally assorted Sexton Blake paperbacks. Looks like I have plenty of reading material for the long weekend.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's Jack Kirby's Birthday! Hail to the King!


Today is Jack Kirby’s birthday. In case you’ve forgotten, Jack is the comic book artist who created, or co-created Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, and basically everything that’s still making money for Marvel Comics.
   More important to the comics medium, Kirby defined and re-defined the language of comic books. The way heroes are drawn. The way cityscapes are depicted. The way force, impact, and energy are rendered on the printed page. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Jack Kirby is the most influential artist in the history of comic books.
   And he was and remains my hero. Growing up, I spent untold hours copying Jack’s drawings, trying to learn how to replicate his foreshortening, his dynamics, his way of making a static drawing seem to not only move but to leap off the printed page. I lived and breathed Kirby art.
   And you know the best thing? Years later, when I finally got to meet him; he was the greatest guy you can imagine. Friendly and enthusiastic and just the coolest ever. I need to write a long post about that meeting because it’s a very funny story. For now, though I’ll just say Happy Birthday to my hero, Jack Kirby. You’re still The King, Jack.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sexton Blake Bonanza!

   Had a nice bit of luck today and scored 40 different Sexton Blake Library Digests for far less than I would pay for them individually. This should keep even me busy for a while. Okay...maybe not. But still...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some Ruminations of H.P. Lovecraft on the Anniversary of His Birth


   The other day, Cliff and I were talking about ordering some new books about H.P. Lovecraft, and I mentioned that wasn't it amazing, that after all the years that the two of us had been reading, reading about, writing about, discussing, and just plain loving Lovecraft's work, that there were still new things to read and new things to learn about the writing and the writer.
   Today, on Lovecraft's Birthday, I wanted to reminisce a bit about HPL and me, because Lovecraft is an author who has brought innumerable hours of enjoyment to my life.
   I first discovered H.P. Lovecraft about 1982. I had heard the name before, mostly in articles I'd read about HPL's Weird Tales comrade, Robert E. Howard. I knew that Lovecraft wrote horror, and truthfully, in those days, I had little to no interest in horror fiction. I don't even recall what caused me to pick up the Del Rey book, The Best of H.P. Lovecraft. I bought it new, probably at a mall bookstore.  I had recently read Stephen King's non fiction book, Danse Macabre, where he discussed Lovecraft, and I suspect that might have been an influence. Maybe I liked the Michael Whelan cover. Or maybe I just decided it was time to find out why so many people were interested in this writer.
   For whatever reason, I bought the book and read all the stories in it and was very very taken with Lovecraft's fiction. Amazingly I can still recall some of the things I thought back then. I remember reading The Picture in the House and thinking, "This could be rural Georgia as easily as rural new England." I recall reading The Music of Erich Zann and being very taken with the idea of a window that should have shown the streets of the city below but instead showed something entirely different. I remember really liking the last part of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, where the Deep Ones are pursuing the narrator. I remember thinking that Stephen King's short story Jerusalem's Lot was very influenced by Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls.
   Fortunately for me, this was around the same time that I met Cliff Biggers, who being a few years older than me, and a SF/Fantasy/Horror fan for a few years longer, had accumulated a mass quantity of Lovecraft books which he was happy to loan to me. Thus I was able to read pretty much all of Lovecraft's fiction in the famous Arkham House editions and all five volumes of the selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft. My knowledge of HPL was growing like some gibbering slavering thing in an attic. Over the next several years I would collect many volumes of books by and about Lovecraft.
   More recently, by re-reading Lovecraft's letters, and by reading I Am Providence, the massive biography by S.T. Joshi, along with the Memoirs Lovecraft at Last and HPL: Dreamer on the Nightside, I feel that I've gotten a better picture of Lovecraft the man. I think I'd have liked him. I think we'd have gotten along. Just a few weeks back, wandering the streets of HPL's beloved Providence RI with my buddy Jim Moore, I got a better feel for the background that shaped Lovecraft's fiction. I want to return to providence when the weather is cooler, however. I think Halloween in Providence would be a real kick.
   So what is it that keeps pulling me back to the work of Howard Philips Lovecraft? Many things. I'm fascinated by his invented mythology. By those Great Old Ones Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and the rest. I like the brooding atmosphere of his stories and the sheer creep factor. I love that blasphemous book The Necronomicon, which has inspired so many other books from The Compendium of Srem to The Silent History. And I love the ideas, which were so different from anyone Else's horror at the time, and which have become such a huge influence on modern horror.
   Just a short list of the writers influenced by Lovecraft would include Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian Lumley, Lin Carter, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Clive Barker, F. Paul Wilson, C.J. Henderson, Henry Kuttner, Karl Edward Wagner, Joe Lansdale, Robert E. Howard, Donald F. Glut, Manly Wade Wellman, Joseph Payne Brennan, Fritz Leiber, James A. Moore and well, me.
   We won't even get into the many games, comic books, movies, books, toys, TV series, and such that are mining the works of H.P. Lovecraft because the list would just be too long. And many of these are fourth or fifth generation works who don't even know exactly who they're paying homage to. Lovecraft is probably the most influential author who hasn't been read by the people imitating him.
   But those of us who have read him are legion. We have conventions. We have blogs and fanzines and Facebook groups. We read and re-read the stories and sometimes we write our own stories in Lovecraft's universe or use elements of his mythos. And I think he would like that, because while he was alive he encouraged many of his writers friends to add to the myths he was creating. To join in the fun.
   So anyway, I just wanted to say a few things about Lovecraft on his birthday. Thank you, Howard. Your friends call you Howard and I hope that I can be counted in that number.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sexton Blake: The Trail of the Golden Girl


Yes, I read another Sexton Blake book over the weekend. What can I say? I'm having a lot of fun with these relics from the 1960s. The thing is though, they are often surprisingly well written. This one, The Trail of the Golden Girl, written by Rex Dolphin, is the most hardboiled of the sixties era Blakes I've read so far, and one of the best written.
   It's also the most 1960s intensive so far. The first scene is set in an abandoned house that a bunch of hippies and one would be rock star have turned into a swinging pad. Unfortunately some bad guys show up and murder one of the group in a very brutal way. It turns out that the murdered hippy was actually a reporter in disguise, a young man who was the protégé of Sexton Blake's old pal, Arthur 'Splash' Kirby. Kirby sets out to find the men who killed his young friend, putting his own life in danger.
   Meanwhile a wealthy businessman seeks Sexton Blake's help in locating his missing daughter, the Golden Girl of the title. Not surprisingly it turns out that the two cases are connected. Blake and his blonde secretary Paula Dane head for the wilds of Cornwall to search for the girl among the groups of hippies who congregate there. Tinker is once again relegated to the sidelines, but he shows up a few times to call Blake 'guv'nor' and to question the hip young things who wouldn't give a square like Blake the time of day.
   This book has more violence than all the other Sexton Blake books I've read so far combined. Stabbing, strangling, shooting, fistfights, a character being hit by a car and another character being stomped to death. Blake has a bit more of an edge to him in this one as well. As I said, there's a lot of sixties color, with a lot of talk about marijuana and the use of lots of 1960s terms like mod, fab, and the like. The hippies are presented in a negative light for the most part and at one point Blakes gives a bunch of them a very establishment style dressing down.
   Anyway, The Trail of the Golden Girl is less a Sexton Blake book than a hard edged crime novel that happens to feature Sexton Blake. A more turbulent book for more turbulent times.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sexton Blake: The Witches of Notting Hill

   This books starts with a coven of wannabe witches, attempting to summon the devil himself to a sabbat held at a ring of standing stones in the English countryside. Unknown to the coven, their leader is a confidence man and he's arranged a fake human sacrifice for the evening's festivities. But he gets a surprise when the group arrives at the standing stones only to find a crushed and mutilated body on the alter already. The damage done seems far more than human beings could have accomplished.
   Enter the great detective Sexton Blake, visiting the country for a routine security consultation. Blake gets caught up in the investigation and soon he and his old friend Scotland Yard Inspector George Coutts are tracking what seems to be a killer with supernatural powers.
   Where, you may ask, are the  Witches of Notting Hill. Well...technically there aren't any. There are a couple of chapters where Blake's young assistant Tinker does some investigating of London based witch covens, but that's about it. I was a little disappointed as I was expecting a more urbanized adventure, but I still enjoyed the book a lot.
   The author of this one was W.A. Ballinger (Keith Chapman tells me  this was probably Wilfred McNeilly, rewritten by William Howard Baker and G. P. Mann.) and the prose is lively and straight forward. Pedro the bloodhound does make an appearance in the book, as does Blake's newspaperman friend, Splash Page, renamed Splash Kirby for some reason.
   Not really much swinging sixties atmosphere here, but still much fun. The solution to the mystery may stretch credibility a bit but all and all, a good entry in the later Blake series.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Acquisitions

  Got three more 1960 era Sexton Blake books in the mail today. Already well into The Witches of Notting Hill and having a fine time. More about that later.
   Also picked up Bob Salvatore's new Drizzt novel, but I think I may have hit my saturation point with that character and setting. Couldn't seem to get into it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sexton Blake: Bred to Kill


 Continuing with my reading of the Martin Thomas penned adventures of Sexton Blake, I read Bred to Kill, which is number 448 of the Sexton Blake Library, published in 1960 by Fleetway (The Amalgamated press), the same company that had been publishing Blake's adventures since 1893. By this time, The Sexton Blake library was published as a series of thin digests with a glued square spine but also with a staple through the booklet for stability I guess. Most collectors removed the staple, as the staples tended to rust and stain the paper. My copy of Bred to Kill is nice and shiny and sans staple. Not bad for a 53 year old book.
   This is the story that introduces Blake's occasional ally against the occult, the mysterious Gideon Ashley. A sort of origin is given for Ashley, who would appear again in the Sexton Blake library (In Assignment Doomsday, which I've yet to read) and in a couple of the paperbacks put out by Mayflower-Dell. Ashley makes a brief appearance in Laird of Evil and plays a more important role in Sorcerers of Set, actually fighting a psychic battle with another mystical adept. As I've said before, if you're expecting Sexton Blake stories to be like Sherlock Holmes adventures, you'll be surprised.
   That said, Bred to Kill does have a few things in common with the Holmes tale The Creeping Man. In an amazing bit of literary prediction, the plot of Bred to Kill anticipates genetic engineering and several elements that will show up in the book and film Jurassic Park.
   What appears initially to be a search for a serial killer turns into something far more dangerous as a menace to the future evolution of the human race shows up. Blake is more in action hero mode than deductive genius in this one, though he does make a few Holmes style inferences. Blake's assistant Tinker is sidelined for much of the story, replaced by Blake's secretary, the blonde and lovely Paula Dane. One can scarcely blame Blake for this. No sign of Mrs Bardell or Pedro the bloodhound, though Blake does mention Splash Page, his American newspaperman friend, who appeared in a lot of the early Blake stories in Union Jack and Detective Weekly story papers.
   Anyway, Bred to Kill was a lot of fun. I need to make a quick thank you to author Keith Chapman for bringing this story to my attention. As I mentioned in a previous post, Keith worked at Fleetway and knew writer Martin Thomas.
   Oh, though this one is set up as a whodunit, the title actually gives away the identity of the killer if you think about it. Elementary.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Justified With Monsters

   Both James A. Moore and Cliff Biggers have been trying to get me to watch Justified. Watched the first episode tonight and REALLY liked it. In several reviews of Blind Shadows folks have called the book 'Justified with monsters.' Having never seen an episode I didn't know why, but now I get it. The Southern small town setting. The hard boiled sensibility. The shooting and the killing....

Conan the Cat Wrangler


My cat Bruce hangs out with Conan. (Actually he's trying to get me to play rather than write. He's like that.)

Through the Dark Curtain


THROUGH THE DARK CURTAIN, an adventure of The Guardians, fits into the sub genre of the British Village Horror story. Like The Wicker Man or Village of the Damned or Manly Wade Wellman's What Dreams May Come.
   This one begins with a man and his wife lost in the British countryside during a heavy rainstorm. Their car runs out of gas just as they reach a signpost and the man hikes the mile or so into town while the wife waits in the car. Always a bad idea in these stories. The man returns to find his wife wide-eyed and screaming, curled up in a fetal position in the hedges that line the road. From there she sinks into a non-responsive catatonic state.
   Turns out the husband's father is a Lord and he seeks out The Guardians in their swinging London headquarters. The Lord tells Steven Kane, the leader of the Guardians, that his daughter-in-law was literally frightened out of her wits because she "saw the devil."
   Kane and his colleague, Father John Dyball, head out to the country to do battle with the forces of evil. As usually happenes in this sort of story, they are met by suspicion and outright hostility by the clannish villagers. The one fellow who does open up to the guys ends up dead in short order. Soon Kane and Dyball find themselves pitted against a dark cult centered on the old religions from the days of the Druids. Reincarnation, possession, and malignant spirits are just some of the ingredients of this occult thriller.
   As I mentioned in previous posts, Peter Saxon, the 'author' of the Guardians series was actually a house name, also used for Sexton Blake stories and a bunch of stand-alone thrillers and horror novels. For Curtain, the writer behind the Saxon name was Ross Richards, about whom I know absolutely nothing. I will note that of the Guardian books I've read recently, Richards has the smoothest, most 'modern' prose. If you slapped a new cover on this book, you could sell it to the same folks who are buying the numerous paranormal suspense series available today and I don't think any of them would blink and eye.
   I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but I'm a sucker for this sort of rural horror tale with its quaint pubs and inns and rustic villagers all hiding some horrible menace.
   This appears to be the only one of the Guardian books that didn't get a Jeff Jones cover when it was reprinted in the US. The art reminded me of Gray Morrow, but Martin OHearn tells me that the painting was done by Joseph Lombardero.
   Anyway, a fun entry in the series.

Monday, August 05, 2013

It Pays to be Patient

   At one point I owned all the Peter Saxon Guardian books, though I had only read a couple. The other day, spurred on by my recent  renewed interest in the books,  I went looking for them and could only turn up two of the six. Don't know if I lost them when I moved a few years back or what, but they were gone. So being an experienced book collector I went looking for replacement copies.
   Most of the books were in the three to five dollar range, with one being 31 cents. But one, The Vampires of Finistere, for some reason went on Amazon, Ebay, and ABEbooks for from $30 to $57 bucks. A bit expensive for a paperback. Maybe it was because of the Jeff Jones cover on the US edition, but whatever the reason it was more than I wanted to pay.
   So I kept checking Ebay for Peter Saxon books and a couple of Days later someone put up a group of six for ten bucks. And lo and behold, one was the vampire book. Needless to say, I ordered them. They arrived today and the guardian book was in great shape. Several of the other books look fun too. So once again, patience and persistence pay off.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

New Doctor in the House

And the new Doctor Who is Peter Capaldi. I am pleased. He's a good actor and I think he'll bring a new approach to the show.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Curse of Rathlaw

 After I posted my review of the Sexton Blake supernatural thriller SORCERERS OF SET, writer Chap O'keefe (Keith Chapman) left a comment about the book's author, Thomas Martin, mentioning that while Chapman worked as editor W. Howard Baker's assistant on the Sexton Blake Library books published by Fleetway Publications, Martin had been the writer most interested in supernatural themes. I did a little digging and turned up a second Martin occult Sexton Blake, LAIRD OF EVIL, which I have acquired a copy of and will be reading in the near future.
   Chapman also mentioned that Martin had been involved in the creation of The Guardians, a series of six books about a team of paranormal investigators written in the late 1960s. More digging turned up the fact that Thomas Martin had authored one of the series, THE CURSE OF RATHLAW. Beyond that, Martin had probably helped come up with the series characters and basic concepts. A clue is that two of the Guardians are Gideon Cross and Anne Ashby. The occult specialist who assists Sexton Blake in SORCERERS OF SET is named Gideon Ashley. Rather close.
   Anyway, THE CURSE OF RATHLAW concerns a couple of Scottish brothers, Fergus and Cosmo Trayle, who share supernatural powers. After being humiliated by Sir Alistair Rathlaw over a woman, Fergus casts a curse over the Rathlaw family. At first Sir Alistair and his son Donald dismiss the curse, but when the prophecies that Fergus made about future events begin to come to pass, Sir Alistair begins to fear for his son's life and contacts the Guardians for help. Martin seemed to know his stuff, both about occult rituals and Scottish legends. I was impressed with Martin's writing in SORCERERS OF SET and I like it here as well. The book has the feel of a crime novel mixed with the supernatural and we know this is a favorite genre of mine. I know a lot of folks think that paranormal crime is a genre of recent vintage, but trust me, it's not. The Guardians has much in common with Simon R. Green's Ghost Finders series and I think modern readers would enjoy THE CURSE OF RATHLAW.
   According to various internet sources, Rathlaw is the only Guardians book by Martin. The other five were written by other writers, but all were published under the house name of Peter Saxon. The Saxon byline was also used on a ton of other supernatural books. The American editions of The Guardian books mostly have nifty Jeff Jones covers and as a result can be fairly collectible, but most of them can be had at reasonable prices and still turn up in used bookstores. The series is as follows:

Dark Ways to Death (1968)
Through the Dark Curtain (1968)
The Curse of Rathlaw (1968)
The Killing Bone (1969)
The Haunting of Alan Mais (1969)
The Vampires of Finistere (1970)

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Paying it Forward

   I bought breakfast for a total stranger this morning. Never met him or her and probably never will. Here's what happened. A couple of weeks back I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee and a donut. I went through the drive in window and when I got to the window to pay, the lady at the register told me that the driver in the car ahead of me had already paid for my order. I asked why, and she said it was just something people did sometimes. I thought it a nice gesture, a random act of kindness and it made my morning.
   So here, a couple of weeks later, I made another stop at Dunkin Donuts and when I got to the window I told the lady there that I wanted to pay for the driver behind me too. Dark out, so I never got a look at whoever was in the car, but I hope they enjoyed their free breakfast.