If you've been a long time reader of Singular Points, then you know
that I'm a huge fan of Doctor Who, in which case you may have noticed
that I've had little to say about this season. While very much approving
of actor Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, I've felt that most of the
episodes haven't been too well written this season and that the writers
have had trouble getting a handle of Capaldi's Doctor. Up until this
weekend there hadn't been an episode I actually liked that much and a
few I actively disliked. Thus, I didn't have high hopes for the 2014
Christmas episode, THE LAST CHRISTMAS.
But fortunately I was wrong. THIS episode the Doctor actually seemed
like the Doctor, using his brain to work out what was going on and
actively working to solve the problem. The inclusion of Santa Claus in
the story, which I figured would be just goofy, turned out to have a
logical reason that actually furthered the plot, and added one of the nicest bits of Christmas spirit. "Just one more time, believe in Santa Claus."
The menace, a creepy race of spidery creatures called 'dream crabs'
were almost Lovecraftian, and in fact reminded me a great deal of Frank
Belknap Long's 'The Space Eaters.'
So yeah, THE LAST CHRISTMAS was a lot of fun. Maybe it will be a
turning point and the series will impress me more in 2015. Who knows?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.