Monday, June 30, 2014

Lovecraft Reconsidered


   I spent most of the weekend writing, so my reading was pretty minimal. I did a partial reread of Frank Belknap Long’s memoir, H.P. Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side, and sections from Lovecraft Remembered, an Arkham House book that collected various essays by people who actually knew Lovecraft. All this reading about HPL is part of some research I’m doing for a story idea, but also because I enjoy reading about the writer.

   I’ve come to the conclusion that Lovecraft’s reputation for being reclusive and misanthropic was pretty much wrong. He had many friends and he spent a lot of time visiting them. He even had ‘normal’ friends, people who lived in his neighborhood and who knew him just as a person and not the writer of Weird Tales. Over the years, folks who haven’t read about Lovecraft in depth have chosen to focus of the stranger aspects of the man’s life, as if someone who wrote such visions of cosmic horror couldn’t possibly be just a regular guy.

   Not to say that he wasn’t strange in some ways, but I think that part of his personality has been blown out of proportion. The thing you see time and again in the memoirs is what a nice guy he was, and how he would go far out of his way to help friends. He was also very funny and even whimsical, and though his one long term relationship went down in flames, (He was briefly married to a woman named Sonia Greene) the reminiscences of several of his female friends show that more than one of them would have liked to have been closer than just friends to HPL.

   I’m also reading a book about Lovecraft’s New York years, which is made up of the letters of one of HPL’s friends, George Kirk. Kirk and Lovecraft were part of a circle of friends, mostly writers, and Kirk makes no secret in his letters to his fiancĂ©, that Lovecraft is the most fun member of the gang to hang out with. This is a contemporary report, as opposed to someone saying nice things about the departed.

   Anyway, I know there are people who don’t want to let facts get in the way of a good story, and they’re going to cling to their image of H.P. Lovecraft as a strange and lonely man, living in seclusion in shadow-haunted Providence, but to a large degree, these folks are confusing the writer with his writing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aquisitions

A banner night at the comic books store. TWO Conan titles, the collected Jonah Hex stories of Joe Lansdale and Timothy Truman, and books by Andrew Vachss and my buddy, James A. Moore. Quantity and Quality!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Alchemist's Notebook

   Though I can tell you just how I discovered the writing of Robert E. Howard, I can't recall exactly how I started reading H.P. Lovecraft. Oh, I can tell you the name of the first Lovecraft book I read, but not why I decided to read it. I think Stephen King's 1981 non-fiction book, DANSE MACABRE had something to do with it. However, just this week, and rather by accident, I was reminded of another piece of the puzzle. A movie that never got made called THE CRY OF CTHULHU.
   I'd read about the projected movie (pun intended) in Starlog Magazine issue #24 in 1979 and I recall looking at some pictures of stop motion monster models and wondering what was the deal with this Lovecraft guy. I'd seen paperbacks at the bookstore with his name on them, but the covers had never appealed to me. Still, the article gave me the idea that there might be something interesting about Lovecraft's creations. I'd actually forgotten this until someone posted the three page article over on a Lovecraft Facebook group and then it all came back to me. Funny how memory works.
   That would have been the end of it, except being me I did some internet searching for more info on CRY OF CTHULHU and I learned that Byron Craft, the writer of the screenplay for CRY, had turned the script into a novel called THE ALCHEMIST'S NOTEBOOK and that the book was available for the Kindle. I read the plot synopsis and it sounded like fun, so I ordered the book and gave it a read.
   It was indeed a lot of fun, though I had a couple of issues. Nothing major and I'll get to them in a moment. The main story idea is about a young couple who inherit an old house near The Black Forest in Germany. They fly over and begin to renovate the house but then strange things start to happen.
   The novel is written in three sections and the first, narrated by the wife, is probably the creepiest. Left at home all day while her husband goes to his new job, she begins to experience strange dreams and to see some odd things. This section builds the tension sort of like a Gothic romance novel, with the young woman wondering about her sanity.
   The second part is the text of the diary of the titular alchemist and this is probably the most Lovecraftian part of the book with references to Arkham, Innsmouth, Miskatonic University, and The Necronomicon. So far, so good.
   Part three, the husband's story, was where things started to fall apart for me. The first several pages lose the creep factor that the first two thirds of the book had built up and become more fantasy like. It reminded me more of August Derleth or Brian Lumley than Lovecraft. Nothing wrong with either of these writers, but the concepts of good elder beings, bad elder beings, and Elementals are Derleth's for the most part and not the stuff I really like about the extended Cthulhu Mythos. That's my main quibble, and as I say, it's no big deal. It didn't keep me from enjoying the book.
   In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit, because the Lovecraft references do fly fast and furious and there are cool nods to many of Lovecraft's stories, without being and adaptation of any of them. Had this actually been a movie it would have been the most Lovecraftian thing put on screen up until that point. Pity that it never got out of pre-production. Anyway, THE ALCHEMIST'S NOTEBOOK is a fun Cthulhu Mythos novel. Fast moving and doesn't take itself too seriously. Craft says he's writing a sequel and I'll check that out too.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wonder of Wonders

Robert B. Parker, one of my favorite authors, passed away in January of 2010 at the age of 77. Since then several other writers have stepped in to continue his various series characters. Up until now I have avoided reading any of the new books. A lot of this stems from the fact that I started reading Parker's Spenser novels when I was 18 and frankly I just couldn't imagine anyone else writing Spenser, even when the guy they picked, Ace Atkins, was a crime writer whose own books I'd read and liked.
   In his book, ON WRITING, Stephen King says that writing is a form of telepathy. Thoughts from one persons head into another person's head through the medium of the printed word. I think that's true, and I think that if you read enough of someone's work you begin to 'feel' their personality a bit. That's how I felt about Parker anyway. When the first new Spenser book came out by Atkins, I read the first couple of chapters on Amazon and Spenser's 'voice' just felt wrong in my head. So I figured, "Well, that's that."
   Later I read an essay about Spenser by Ace Atkins in a book called IN SEARCH OF SPENSER and I found that Atkins was just as big a fan of Robert B. Parker as me, which made me feel better about him as the choice to continue the series. Also, a few friends and writers whose opinions I respect had read Atkins' books and said they were well done. Still. I stayed away from the new Spensers.
   Then, just yesterday in fact, I was browsing through the bookstore and spotted the paperback of Atkins' second Spenser novel, WONDERLAND, and I thought, what the hey, lets read the first chapter. Started off with Spenser's long time friend, Henry Cimoli, owner of the Harbor Health Club, asking Spenser for a favor. He and Spenser bantered  bit and I found myself smiling. Don't get me wrong, I still couldn't feel Parker in my head. But if it didn't feel like Parker, it DID feel a little like Spenser.
   So I bought the paperback and took it to lunch with me and continued to read. The further I went, the more I began to enjoy it. The first thing I noticed was that Atkins was wisely not trying to imitate Parker's style. Most of what I would call Spenser's catch phrases weren't there. Spenser was still a wise-ass, but the quips seemed to be more from Atkins than an attempt to mimic Parker. The ATTITUDE was Spenser, but filtered through another writer's perceptions. The best example I can give is when an actor takes over a role from another actor. If he's smart the new guy takes a few things from the previous actor, but makes the character his own.
   The other thing I noticed was that Atkins was writing a denser book than the more recent Spenser novels. After close to forty years of writing Spenser, Parker had stripped his writing down to a sort of prose haiku, made mostly of dialog. The early Spensers had more description. More exposition. More words. Ace Atkins writes that kind of book. It's not better or worse. It's just a different approach. Overall, as one of the cover blurbs noted, this is a good crime novel, pastiche or not.
   Anyway, as the book went on Spenser did the things he does, shooting and punching and cracking wise. He's assisted in this case by Zebulon Sixkill, the Native American character introduced in one of the last Spenser novels by Parker. Spenser's usual sidekick, Hawk, is no where to be seen. In some ways I think that helped me get into the book too, because Hawk is another character I feel like I know well. Parker hadn't had time to flesh out Sixkill, and that gives Atkins a chance to make that character his own.
   So the final verdict is, I liked the book. Ace Atkins is a very good writer and I think he approaches Spenser with the right amount of respect for his creator, but he isn't afraid to write his own book. I didn't want the Rich Little version of Spenser. Ace Atkins is his own man. His Spenser isn't Parker's, but it ain't bad.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It’s Quiet. Too Quiet.


   Sorry the blog has been so quiet lately. I’ve got a lot of writing stuff going on and it has seriously cut into my reading time. Since Singular Points is primarily a book review blog, that translates to not a lot of posts. Can’t blame it all on researching and writing though. I’m definitely in something of a reading slump. Been a while since I found a really good novel I could just get lost in.

   Anyway, I’ll try and be more interesting soon.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Acquisitions


Nice bunch of stuff this week. The third season of The Six Million Dollar Man. We're talking BIGFOOT, baby. The latest and possibly last collection of Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden's BALTIMORE. Trust me, buy the novel and all the collected comics. It is great stuff.
And finally, a nifty collection of one of my favorite 1970s era comic book series. Roy Thomas and Frank Robbin's THE INVADERS. Captain America, the Sub Mariner, and the original Human Torch fight the Axis menace during the Second World War. Volume one contains almost 500 pages of full color comics on high quality paper.
 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Sexton Blake Times Four

Four more Sexton Blake magazines headed my way. Found a good deal on them at Ebay. The biggest problem I run into when buying these is the postage. Plenty of dealers sell the magazines at reasonable prices but then the postage from the UK is murderous. These four are coming from Texas, which works a lot better. THE EVIL EYE is one I've been looking for. As I've mentioned before, Martin Thomas liked to write Blake novels with some supernatural overtones.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Batman 66 Meets The Green Hornet

My take on the BATMAN 66 series from DC has been a bit mixed. When I first heard the concept, I thought it a terrific idea. A comic based on one of my favorite TV shows from when I was a kid. A Batman comic in the style of 1966 series seemed like just the salve for the current gritty, doom and gloom interpretation of the caped crusader in comics. But the issues I read didn't really seem to get the FEEL of the TV series somehow.
   Enter Kevin Smith, writer of Clerks, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma and other comedy classics, and now doing a BATMAN 66 MEETS THE GREEN HORNET mini series. Smith knows his Batman and his Green Hornet. His narration is dead on and his dialogue could be pulled right from the show.
   The art, by Ty Templeton, is likewise spot on, though I get the idea that DC doesn't have permission to use Bruce Lee's likeness as Kato is the only character who doesn't seem to look like the actor who played him.
   Smith's story is a direct sequel to the two-parter from the Batman series where the Dynamic Duo met up with the Hornet and Kato. It even has the same villain, though with a twist that readers familiar with Captain America villain Baron Zemo will recognize.
   Oh and check out that Alex Ross cover. Man, that guy is good.
   All and all the first issue of this mini series is a great bit of comics story and art and something that reminds me that comic books can still be fun. The grim and the gritty need not apply.
   See you guys next issue. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Conan The Avenger #2

   The second issue of Dark Horse Comics' CONAN THE AVENGER manages to carry on most of the strengths from issue one. Picking up with a battle between the big Cimmerian and the witch-hunter Agara, Agara learns pretty quickly that he's no match for Conan with cold steel. So he resorts to sorcery. Then the zombies show up.
   Fred Van Lente's writing was what made me enjoy issue #1 and issue two is just as good. Van Lente's Conan doesn't take crap off of anyone, be it sorcerers, zombies, of the workers at a local forge. You get in Conan's face and you get dealt with.
   However, Van Lente doesn't make Conan a one dimensional, indestructible fighting machine. The Cimmerian is very glad of Agara's help later in the story. It's important to keep Conan human and he manages to do so. Especially in scenes where Conan still sees the ghost of his lost love, Belit, who still seems to be looking out for Conan from beyond the grave.
   By the end of the issue, the main plot has been set in motion and Conan and Agara have established an uneasy alliance. We also get a look at the beastie which gave the L Sprague de Camp/Lin Carter expansion of this story its title, The Snout in the Dark.
   I'm still on the fence about the artwork. I know this is supposed to be a young Conan, but he could use some more mass. Overall though, still having fun.