Archive for Book Love

David Myers, I Will Miss You With All My Heart

Myers_DG

My morning began with a shock — one not wholly unexpected, but a shock, nonetheless. I learned from a message his sister-in-law Cynthia left on his blog, A Commonplace Blog, literary critic D. G. Myers (David to me) passed away from cancer this past Saturday, Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance), at the age of sixty-two.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, David was a friend. A true friend. I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon his wonderful blog, so rich with essays about standout writers and books from the past hundred years. I think perhaps I was searching for articles on Philip Roth, a particular favorite of David’s, or on Saul Bellow’s novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which I intended to read. After reading David’s incisive, compelling essay, I found myself going back for more and more; his blog is a cornucopia of riches, some of the best book-related reading I have found on the Internet. I began leaving David messages on his blog, and when we struck up a personal correspondence, we discovered we shared a love of science fiction. David was primarily familiar with Philip K. Dick (see his essay on The Man in the High Castle here), but he was a self-described novice regarding the rest of the SF field, and he asked me for recommendations of new books coming out that he should review. I sent him several lists compiled from the Locus Online list of forthcoming books, which David really appreciated.

Our correspondence grew more personal, particularly on my side. He provided much sympathy and needed perspective when I suffered an estrangement from my mother and step-father two years ago. Then, when my oldest son became very ill, he was again a pillar of support. We exchanged many messages when he suffered the great disappointment of being let go (most unfairly, I think) from his post as literary critic for Commentary Magazine, a position he had cherished.

As his cancer, formerly in remission, returned and worsened, David’s essays grew more infrequent and more personal. The last essay he posted was perhaps the most poignant. I consider it a small masterpiece of wisdom regarding the approach of death. It is called “Choosing Life in the Face of Death.” It is an essay which I expect to refer back to regularly as I proceed along life’s down slope. Please take a few moments to read it; you will be very grateful that you did. In a media (the Internet) so choked with the ephemeral and inessential, this is a piece of thinking, feeling, and writing which deserves to last, and which will last.

David, may your memory be for a blessing. Knowing you and reading you has been a blessing for me.

More tributes to David can be found here. Also, Cynthia, David’s sister-in-law, has posted information on memorial funds which have been set up in David’s memory, as well as funds for his three children.

The Decline of the Literary Celebrity

Stephen King

Stephen King

Who would be the most recognizable living literary celebrity to the average man on the street today?

I would guess Stephen King, and that being mainly because so many of his novels have been turned into popular films (and the fact that he, himself, has appeared rather frequently in movies and on television). I would give the runner-up spot to Maya Angelou, and that mainly for her poetic recital at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration and for her political activities on the behalf of Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama since then.

But would the average man on the street recognize the faces of any of the last twenty recipients of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Best Novel, or even the Nobel Prize for Literature? Would they recognize any of their names?

I highly, highly doubt it.

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer

Such was not always the case in the United States. As recently as the 1980s, the face and name of Norman Mailer were immediately recognizable. Now, admittedly, Mr. Mailer was famous for more than his books – he was also famous for stabbing one of his wives and for ticking off a couple of generations of feminists. But in the decades prior to the 1980s, literary celebrities, of whom Norman Mailer was one of the last ones, were not at all uncommon. The names and faces of writers such as Arthur Miller (also famous for his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe), Truman Capote, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway frequently appeared on the covers of such popular periodicals as Life and Time.

But there was a golden age of literary celebrity, prior to the pushing aside of novels as the favorite mass media of cognoscenti and commoners alike, and that was the latter half of the nineteenth century. Then, celebrities such as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens could have lived very, very comfortably off just their speaking fees. Before the advent of the movies, radio, and television, they were the Charlie Chaplins and Clark Gables of their day. Then, unlike today, when any potential literary celebrity must have an easy faculty with television, a literary celebrity did not even need to have a pleasant-sounding voice.

I was struck by the following scene from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1870 novel Devils, in which one of the supporting characters, the famed writer Karmazinov, is a wickedly funny caricature of the equally famed real-life Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev:

_______________________________________________________________________

Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Turgenev

“When rumors had reached us of late that Karmazinov was coming to the neighborhood I was, of course, very eager to see him, and, if possible, to make his acquaintance. … When we met he was standing still at the turning and looking about him, attentively. Noticing that I was looking at him with interest, he asked me in a sugary, though rather shrill voice:

“’Allow me to ask, which is my nearest way to Bykovy Street?’

“’To Bykovy Street? Oh, that’s here, close by,’ I called in great excitement. ‘Straight on along this street and the second turning to the left.’

“’Very much obliged to you.’

“A curse on that minute! I fancy I was shy, and looked cringing. He instantly noticed all that, and of course realized it all at once; that is, realized that I knew who he was, that I had read him and revered him from a child, and that I was shy and looked at him cringingly. He smiled, nodded again, and walked on as I had directed him. I don’t know why I turned to follow him; I don’t know why I ran for ten paces beside him. He suddenly stood still again.

“’And could you tell me where is the nearest cab stand?’ he shouted out to me again.

“It was a horrid shout! A horrid voice!

“… I almost turned to run for a cab for him. I almost believe that was what he expected me to do. …

“He suddenly dropped a tiny bag… I flew to pick it up.

“I am convinced that I did not really pick it up, but my first motion was unmistakable. I could not conceal it, and, like a fool, I turned crimson. The cunning fellow at once got all that could be got out of the circumstance.

“’Don’t trouble, I’ll pick it up,’ he pronounced charmingly; that is, when he was quite sure that I was not going to pick up the reticule, picked it up as though forestalling me, nodded once more, and went his way, leaving me to look like a fool.”

_______________________________________________________________________

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison

I actually had a very similar experience to that of Dostoevsky’s hapless narrator. My run-in was with the famed (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

In 1987 or thereabouts, I was browsing among the long aisles of science fiction and fantasy books at Forbidden Planet, a huge SF, fantasy, and horror books, comics, and toys store located at Broadway and East 13th Street in Manhattan, when I happened to see Harlan Ellison also browsing on the very same aisle. Trying to be as discreet as possible, I spent the next ten minutes following him around the store, staying at least three quarters of an aisle away, checking out what he was checking out. Then, having selected a few books, he went to the register to pay.

With his back turned toward me, I felt liberated to openly stare at the man and his purchases (none of which I can recall). I hid at the edge of an aisle and watched him head for the exit. But just before he left the store, Ellison swiveled around sharply, stared right at me with a sardonic smile, and offered me a little wave. Then he walked outside. Just like Dostoevsky’s narrator, I was left feeling like a fool in my own eyes.

In the science fiction world of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Harlan Ellison was the science fiction world’s Norman Mailer, equally as famous for his outrageous conduct as for the stabbing quality of his writing. His name and face were instantly recognizable to the great majority of science fiction fans, thanks, in part, to his photo appearing on the back dust covers of such seminal anthologies as Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions and for his having written one of the most fondly remembered and honored episodes of Star Trek, the heart-rending “City on the Edge of Forever.”

Yet today, fans of written science fiction are a very minute sub-group of the mass of sci-fi and fantasy fans, most of whom have knowledge of the field that begins either with Star Trek or Star Wars, or any of an innumerable number of sci-fi video games or roleplaying games. I would venture a bet that at DragonCon, perhaps the largest “pure” science fiction convention on the planet, host to up to 40,000 attendees, perhaps two percent of those attendees would recognize the name Harlan Ellison, and considerably less than one percent would be able to pick his photo out of a lineup. Yet as little as thirty-five years ago, his face was one of the most recognizable in the science fiction world. Now only Neil Gaiman, known more widely for his Sandman comics and his leather jacket than for his novels, might be recognized by a fraction as many science fiction fans as Harlan Ellison was recognized by in his heyday. The name George R. R. Martin would be recognized by some, but that is only because his series A Song of Fire and Ice has been turned into the massively popular HBO television series Game of Thrones. The total pool of fans of the genre has grown so much larger, and the space occupied within that fandom by written works has shrunk even faster.

Such is the fate of the literary celebrity today…

5/6/14 Addendum: A commenter over at The Passive Voice writing industry blog points out the case of Michael Chabon. I think Chabon is richly illustrative of the point made by my article. He has won several of the top literary awards; his books, while considered literary fiction, are very accessible to the wider reading public and feature strong, well-constructed plots; he is exceptionally photogenic (People Magazine once named him “One of the Fifty Most Beautiful People in America”); and, much like Ernest Hemingway was in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Chabon is the personification of his era’s dominant/elite conception of masculinity. If this were any time between 1930 and 1980, the era when the mass media lionized top writers, Chabon’s face and voice would be everywhere. But with the splintering of both the mass media and popular culture into thousands of sub-segments, as opposed to the monolithic mass media and pop culture which existed until fairly recently, Chabon is as lost in the crowd as any of us (despite his appearance in People Magazine, which itself does not have nearly the same clout it once had).

Two Dozen Outstanding Independent Bookstores – the Death of the Physical Bookstore is Greatly Exaggerated

Octavia Books in New Orleans

Octavia Books in New Orleans

Whereas many blogs on the publishing field mourn the coming death of the physical bookstore, the membership of the American Booksellers Association (the trade group for independent bookstores) has been gradually growing each year since 2010. And the website Flavorwire.com has published two lists of outstanding independent bookstores, one listing 45 stores, the other listing 25 stores. These articles are a real treat for lovers of independent bookstores.

Some of these stores are fairly new, founded since the most recent economic downturn. But many of them are long-standing central gathering places for their neighborhoods, their storied existences stretching back over decades.

I’ve gone through the list of 70 independent bookstores and note below the 15 stores I have a personal familiarity with.

Politics & Prose, Washington, DC
This is my current “hometown” bookstore, being only six miles away from my workplace in downtown Washington, DC. I’ll admit to not yet having made the 45 minute subway trip there, but this store has a reputation as one of the most outstanding booksellers in America, so I will get there eventually. Presidents, ex-presidents, and presidents’ wives have given readings here (and maybe I will too, someday).

BookPeople, Austin, TX
I visited this store several times when I lived in New Orleans and used to make fairly regular trips to Austin for ArmadilloCon. Wonderful ambiance, and very friendly to readers of science fiction and fantasy (they have a huge selection of such books).

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA
This is one of the most famous bookstores in America, founded by one of the original Beats, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. When I visited San Francisco on business a couple of years back, it was at City Lights that I discovered I needed reading glasses – I spent so long browsing there that I had a splitting headache later that night, and my eyes felt like they were about to fall out of my head. When I got home, I immediately bought a pair of reading glasses, and that fixed the problem. City Lights is also a publisher of poetry, non-fiction, and Beat-related fiction.

Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD
This is a store which I’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t gotten to yet. But I am very familiar with their terrific website, from which I’ve ordered lots of fun and eclectic stuff. Their specialties are graphic novels, pop culture, and alternative/weird lifestyles and fandoms; right up my alley! Baltimore isn’t that far from my home, so I will get there, eventually.

Books & Books, Miami, FL
This is actually an indie-mini-chain of bookstores and coffee spots/booksellers in the Greater Miami area, with the largest and oldest store located in downtown Coral Gables. I did a signing there in 2005, when I was staying in Miami Beach with my family following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (my home city was off-limits for nearly two months). The owner, Mitchell Kaplan, who founded the flagship Coral Gables store in 1982, was a big supporter of Hurricane Katrina relief, running at least one benefit reading during the crisis; for that, I will be forever grateful. Books & Books’ various locations sponsor approximately 60 author readings each month.

Square Books, Oxford, MS
This is one of my favorite stores in the whole world, in one of my favorite small towns (home to William Faulkner, whose house is now a fascinating museum). Two levels of literary goodness; and if you desire literature or non-fiction at a bargain price, Off-Square Books is right around the corner, specializing in quality close-outs. I signed stock there several times in the mid-2000s.

Maple Street Books, New Orleans, LA
For many years, one of my favorite “home town” bookstores. Maple Street Books is the grand-daddy of the Uptown New Orleans independent booksellers, having been founded in 1962 (here’s a terrific article on the store’s history, written by local mystery author Kris Wiltz, who is pretty terrific herself). Many, many were the times I stopped in to browse or to sign stock of the Fat White Vampire books.

Housing Works Bookstore Café, New York, NY
This is a very fun used books store and café in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, where all the books are donated, and all funds raised above operating expenses are donated to various housing-related charities.

D. J. Wills Books, La Jolla, CA
Founded in 1979, this very well-stocked store is also the home of the La Jolla Cultural Society.

The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
Wow, do I wish the Elliott Bay Book Company was a little closer! I’ve only gotten to visit there twice, once on my honeymoon with Dara in 2003, and the other time on a recent work-related trip. One of the largest bookstores in Seattle, which is one of America’s great cities of readers, and located in historic Pioneer Square, not too far from Underground Seattle (where the TV movie The Night Strangler was filmed). Back in 2003, I bought an issue of Locus Magazine which had one of the first reviews of Fat White Vampire Blues, a review so wonderful it brought tears to my eyes. For that reason alone, I’ll never forget the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Strand Bookstore, New York, NY
Eighteen miles of books! New, used, and close-outs! Three stories big! In the heart of Manhattan! Back when I lived in Long Island, I used to take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan nearly every weekend, and more weekends than not, the Strand was on my agenda. It is a not-to-be-missed destination for any book lover who visits NYC.

Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA
I simply cannot over-praise Octavia Books and its owners Tom and Judith Lowenberg. Tom and Judith hosted the “opening night” readings and signings for both Fat White Vampire Blues and Bride of the Fat White Vampires. They also hosted three annual George Alec Effinger Memorial Readings, each timed to coincide with the release of a new retrospective hardback edition of George’s fabulous short fiction from Golden Gryphon Press (now, sadly, defunct). Octavia Books is far from defunct, however. Tom and Judith were two of the very first merchants to re-open in New Orleans following the re-opening of the city to its inhabitants, and they provided a vital community gathering center and source of “normality” during those stress-filled first several months after the storm. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength, hosting several author events each week (with free refreshments).

Book Revue, Huntington, New York
During the three years I lived on Long Island, this was my home-away-from-home. Along with Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, this is the center of Long Island’s literary culture.

St. Mark’s Bookshop, New York, NY
A fixture of the East Village bohemian scene ever since its founding in 1977, this was also one of my “not-to-be-missed” stops on my long walks from Chelsea to Alphabet City. Open seven days a week until midnight!

Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café, Washington, DC
A fun place to both browse and eat, Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café features late hours, a big menu, and plenty of books to eyeball. I plan to have my fiftieth birthday lunch there.

The Flavorwire.com lists missed some terrific independent bookstores with which I’m personally familiar. I list 9 additional stores below.

The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN (formerly known as Davis-Kidd Books)
This huge store in Memphis was a centerpiece of my 2004 tour for Bride of the Fat White Vampire. They treated me with exquisite courtesy and are just as welcoming to their customers.

University Books, Seattle, WA
Another of Seattle’s tremendous independent bookstores, this one is close to the University of Washington and features a huge, and very well-curated, science fiction and fantasy section. A highlight of Dara’s and my honeymoon in Seattle, along with the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA
For mystery lovers who are visiting Seattle or who live there, this gem of a store, hidden on a side street in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, nestled between several cafés, is not to be missed. A huge selection of new and close-out mysteries from all the major (and minor) names in the field.

Left Bank Books, Seattle, WA
You revolutionaries and anarchists out there will not want to miss this tiny store nestled within the Pike Place Market, not far from the fresh fish vendors.

Arundel Bookstore, Seattle, WA
A very well-stocked store located just blocks from both the historic Pike Place Market and the Pioneer Square neighborhood; very close to the bay and all its attractions.

Borderlands Books, San Francisco, CA
I am very fortunate that I can call the owner of this wonderful science fiction, fantasy, and horror bookstore, Alan Beatts, my friend. He invited me to do a signing of The Good Humor Man and the Fat White Vampire books at Borderlands on my one and only trip to San Francisco (also home of one of my publishers, Tachyon Publications). I could’ve spent three times the couple of hours I’d allotted for browsing. Borderlands also features a terrific coffeehouse and bakery on the premises.

Mysterious Galaxy Books, San Diego, CA
This carefully curated science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror bookstore is a San Diego mainstay. They’ve always been big supporters of my Fat White Vampire books. The staff there are extraordinarily knowledgeable about their stock; it’s worth your time to just go spend an hour chatting with them.

Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA
Owner Britton Trice knows his books. He located his store in the historic Rink property in the Garden District of New Orleans, along fabled Magazine Street, upstairs of a popular coffeehouse. Garden District Books specializes in signed books by local authors, so if you want your signed Anne Rice tome, this is the place to get it!

Finally, here’s a story from the 9/23/13 issue of New Orleans Gambit on the state of New Orleans’ indie bookstores, which, considering the small size of the New Orleans market and the large number of independent booksellers, is far more positive than the doomsayers would have you believe. The Uptown Borders Books died a year after it opened (in the shell of the old Bultman Funeral Home, ironically enough), but this cluster of Uptown independent bookstores has been going strong for years.

Hail the independent bookstore! Long may you survive and thrive!

Update on 4/24/2014: Jay Ouzts at the Passive Voice blog reminds me that I missed Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. How could I possibly forget them???? I actually did a signing there on a couple of occassions for the Fat White Vampire books. One of the nicest independent bookstores in the South, in an absolutely beautifully designed location. Plus, downtown Jackson sports some classic diner-style restaurants, which are a short drive away from Lemuria.

Book Blogger David Myers’ Cancer Has Recurred

Myers_DG

One of my best friends in the blogosphere, books blogger Professor David Myers, has been informed that his cancer has recurred and that he has, at most, two years left. He has written a wonderful, touching, and profound article called “Dying is a 12-Step Program.” I highly recommend it to anyone who has a friend or family member who is dying, who has a fatal illness his or herself, or who is faced with a major life crisis of any sort.

Also, David’s blog, A Commonplace Blog is fabulous, filled with hundreds of fascinating and illuminating articles about books and authors. Here is a link to his review of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. And here is a link to his article “Best American Fiction, 1968-1998,” in which he includes Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (It is listed and commented upon first on a list of 27 outstanding books, mostly literary fiction; it is the only SF book on the list.) Check it out, too.

And please, if and when you visit the blog, send David your best wishes for his recovery. Miracles have been known to happen, and he did manage to temporarily beat his cancer once before.

Fire on Iron Available for $2.99 in New Formats

Fire On Iron

My newest book, Fire on Iron, is now available in the following new ebook formats:

Smashwords

Nook

Apple iTunes

And the REALLY BIG DEAL is that Fire on Iron is available in these three new formats for the bargain price of only $2.99!

That’s HALF the price you will currently pay for a Kindle copy!

Dara and I are in the process of lowering the Kindle price to match the Nook, Smashwords, and iTunes price, but we’ve been just a wee bit distracted by all the chaos in our household these past few months (as anyone who has been following this blog is aware). We’ll get it done… just can’t say exactly when.

Also, yes, the trade paperback version from CreateSpace will be available very soon… also a victim of household chaos, but it shouldn’t be too much longer, so keep watching this space for an announcement.

And if you’d like to sample some of the early readers’ reviews, Fire on Iron currently has a 4.4 STARS rating on Amazon. So check it out!

About to Scratch the Itch to Begin Writing Fiction Again

juggling_books

I’ve come across two opposed quotes which most clearly explain the dilemma I have faced since early November of this year:

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”
― Gustave Flaubert

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
[Letter to Max Brod, July 5, 1922]
― Franz Kafka

I have not written a single word of fiction since November 12, 2013, or nearly seven weeks. This is among the longest continuous hiatuses I have taken from writing fiction in the past twenty years. The other two hiatuses of note were in 1997, when I broke my leg and my marriage in quick succession and wrote nothing but a pair of brief poems and one short story over an eight month period; the other was in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of much of New Orleans and the upending of my life, during which I was able to write only nonfiction for about five months.

I agree completely with the Flaubert quote. I need an ordered life, a schedule, most especially, to permit me to write. I need a modicum of serenity in order to enter the minds of the characters I have set into motion and to hear their thoughts and statements. I need to be rested and reasonably at ease.

I have been none of these things during the past seven weeks. On Sunday, November 10, I called a dear friend of mine who had suffered a stroke and who needed friendly listeners to allow him to practice his slowly returning power of speech. I was awe-struck by his courage and optimism, especially given that he is a man who has always made his living through words, and a large percentage of his words were now stubbornly out of reach. I told him that, should I ever suffer a similar fate, I would pray to see it through with even a portion of the courage he was displaying.

The very next day, I suffered the first full-scale panic attack I had ever experienced. Within days, I was suffering symptoms comparable to those of a mild stroke. At times, I sensed a “lead mucous” gathering at the top of my head and draining into my neck, shoulders, and back, reducing me to a somnolent zombie. Other times, I experienced muscle stiffening in my neck, shoulders, back, and arms so painful that it reduced me to partial paralysis and made it impossible for me to walk any faster than a slow shuffle. At times, I found myself unable to speak in any sentences containing pronouns or articles, like the character Rorschach in the graphic novel Watchmen. The terror, disorientation, and pain I suffered was akin to a car wreck continuously experienced over a period of several weeks, rather than thirty seconds.

The primary cause of my panic attacks was directly experiencing one of my son Levi’s most violent anxiety fits for over an hour, soon after learning that he had been subjected at his public elementary school to, at best, inappropriate restraint, and at worst, emotional abuse and the potential for physical abuse through negligence. A secondary cause was the emotional stress of an extended estrangement from my mother and stepfather and the strain of keeping the full truth of this estrangement from my children, out of fear of damaging any future relationship they might enjoy with their grandparents. Yet I had also been making my personal stress and anxiety levels worse by pushing myself beyond my physical limits to squeeze as much writing and editing time into each work day. I was seeking to ameliorate what I perceived as a failure in my chosen second career of traditionally publishing commercial fiction by going the route of self-publishing, with the editorial and formatting assistance of my wife, Dara. Together, we founded MonstraCity Press, and I set a very ambitious publishing schedule for our first year, to incorporate both some of the eight unpublished novels I have sitting on my computer’s hard drive and newly written novels. I was aiming at a first year’s output of four or five books, both in ebook format and in trade paperback. My extended writing and work schedule involved me getting out of bed at 5 AM and often not getting home until 8 PM.

All this stress resulted in my worst mental and physical setback since I broke my ankle and suffered a broken marriage in 1997. The only writing I’ve been able to accomplish since early December has been maintaining this blog, which has become a journal of my recovery and a highly valued lifeline and source of healing. But until now, fiction — the act of entering and inhabiting another person’s head for extended periods of time — has been beyond me.

Yet I have sensed myself getting stronger each day. An analogy for my overall recovery has been my increasing ability to drive my car. As of two weeks ago, my friends and relatives were driving me everywhere I needed to go. However, driving with my mother-in-law was such a nerve-wracking experience that I ended up hurrying my return to the wheel. At first, I found it impossible to split my attention between the road and any conversation in the car. I directed my kids to never ask me any questions while the car was in motion. The only music I could stand listening to was Lou Donaldson. Lately, however, I have regained the vital ability to split my attention between the road and conversations in the car. I’ve also been willing to listen to music which does more than simply sedate me; I’ve been listening to the Talking Heads and David Bowie and Bruce Springstein’s The Rising, music I listen to when I want to make myself feel things. Until very, very recently, my mind and nervous system have been enmeshed in a storm of uncontrollable emotions, and I would do anything to avoid additional emotional stimulations of any kind. If I’m now listening to The Rising again, it means I am beginning to thaw from my paralysis.

I need to reflect on the second quote above, Kafka’s quote: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” I also agree 100% with this sentiment. For over twenty years, daily or near-daily sessions of fiction writing have been a vital part of my mental health regimen. For the past seven weeks, the blogging has taken up some of this role. But blogging or non-fiction cannot take the place of creating a world and the voices which inhabit that unique world. So I plan to return to writing fiction the day I return to my day job, Thursday, January 2, 2014.

It is instructive for me to reflect upon my experiences following my last two fiction-writing hiatuses. In 1997, various chance meetings and associations resulted in my coming up with the idea for Fat White Vampire Blues, my breakup recovery novel. Although the book had little to do with a divorce, it centered on a protagonist who had fallen into an extremely comfortable and comforting rut, and who’d then had that rut plowed under, in the process being forced to become a very different sort of man/vampire. It was a very emotional work, and possibly for this reason, it has been my most commercially successful work to date, by far.

Following the Katrina disaster, all I wanted to write about was the impact of the storm on New Orleans and upon my friends and family. I began a non-fiction book, The Janus-Faced City. I also began writing, in parallel, a fantasy novel about the storm and its supernatural accelerants — The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club. All the right emotions were there for both projects: I was filled with a passion to write and to explain. But the subject matter proved too vast for me to handle at that point in my writing career. I simply found myself with too much material for any single book. I exacerbated my difficulties by insisting that my Miasma Club, the confederation of bad luck spirits responsible for the storm’s onslaught, be made up of thirteen ethnically distinct trickster or bad luck entities. This required me to come up with back stories and side plots for thirteen supernatural characters, in addition to a large mortal cast, and the original manuscript ballooned in size to over 225,000 words, too long to be commercially published (or so I was told back in 2006). I had to endure the writer’s agony of five complete rewrites to slim the book down to a manageable 130,000 words.

Today, I have seven and a half additional novels strung from my writer’s belt, and I feel much more confident in my ability to plan out a manageable plot of reasonable length. I feel I have much better control of the material I am currently working on. Just as in 2005, I find myself suffused with new and powerful emotions and desires to work on new projects, both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, the non-fiction book I have in mind, to be called The Super-Mensch Syndrome, has its roots in the longest segment I wrote for my never published book of essays The Janus-Faced City, a long section on my leadership of the New Year Coalition, the New Orleans-based educational and public safety campaign against holiday gunfire.

I have no wish to become one of Kafka’s non-writing writer-monsters. January 2 can hardly come quickly enough. But I know I will need to recognize my emotional and physical limitations and pace myself much more reasonably than I’d been doing during the half a year leading up to my breakdown. As much as I may want to be one, I am not a Super-Mensch. The books I have in mind will not fade from my brain, and with time and patience, and the modern miracles of self-publishing technology, all of them will eventually see print and find an audience. I just need to focus on time and patience.

Asking My Friends for Help with Fire on Iron

Fire On Iron

Okay, my dear friends… this is me, your somewhat distressed author, acting like a mangy dog with a lame leg who is lying on his back, begging for a belly rub. I must warn you, what I am about to request is viewed in some quarters as unethical, if not illegal. Should news of my request spread, I could be censured in the next issue of the SFWA Bulletin (whenever that comes out… and I LOVE you, Barry N. Malzberg, now and forever, no matter what the radical feminists say!).

I will admit that, as a Person Who Suffers From Depression, I am somewhat of a Dopamine addict. Now there are good ways and bad ways for me to get my fix. A bad way is to continuously bid on vintage laptops on eBay, constantly raising my minimum bid until I come out on top. This is bad because I spend all my money and add more stuff to a house which is already too small for all the stuff I already have. Good ways to get my fix include bicycling or fast walking (either of which could be hazardous, considering how off-balance and shaky the Klonopin is making me feel right now), writing posts on this website (Yay!), seeing “hits” on my latest posts, getting positive, supportive comments (Yay!)… and also selling more copies of my first and only Kindle self-published book from MonstraCity Press, Fire on Iron. One way for me to sell more copies is to get the word out that this brand-new Civil War steampunk supernatural adventure novel is available. One way to get the word out is to advertise on Internet sites which promote ebooks. However, these sites have minimum standards for submissions: most commonly a minimum of 20 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4 stars. I recently checked my Amazon site. Fire on Iron, bless the hearts of those who have already read it, now has 9 reviews with an average rating of 4.25 stars. Pretty close to what I need. But I need more, unfortunately! Please see the offer below for a FREE, NO STRINGS ATTACHED .pdf copy of Fire on Iron. Well, the only “string attached” is that you agree to leave a review, negative or positive, on Amazon. Please feel free to hit me with your best shot and your honest appraisal… but (of course) try to be judicious, my friends.

Just knowing that some of you are asking Dara (see instructions below) for a FREE .pdf copy will send a surge of Dopamine straight into my cerebral cortex. What an easy way to help assist an ailing author’s recovery! I have admitted to my dear friend Maury Feinsilber that it is very difficult to continue to believe in the ongoing presence of God’s saving grace while I am depressed and pessimistic. Maury suggested that I pray for optimism. Good suggestion! Also, the old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” So by being possibly unethical and begging like a mangy dog for positive reviews on Amazon, what I am doing is HELPING MYSELF to receive jolts of Dopamine and gain optimism, and thus an ability to believe fully in the presence of the saving grace of God. It is a virtuous circle! (If you leave out the slightly unethical parts.) So, again, here are the details:

Any one out there in InternetLand interested in a FREE .pdf copy of my newest book, Civil War steampunk supernatural suspense novel Fire on Iron?

If you are, just send me your email address, either by leaving a comment to this post or by using the Contact Me feature. I’ll have Dara send you a .pdf copy, along with instructions for how to access it on your smart phone, tablet, or laptop. You may also email Dara directly, to this (slightly altered to avoid robots) email address (just remove the asterisks): d*a*r*a*l*f*o*x@g*m*a*i*l.c*o*m .

As I say above, I ask but one favor in return — please post a review to Amazon after you’ve read the book. Hit me with your best shot; I’m confident in how much you’ll enjoy the book. Dara and I would like to do some advertising on sites which promote ebooks, but they generally have requirments that books which are advertised must have a minimum of twenty Amazon reviews. We’re trying to get there, and you can be a huge help (along with getting a free book to read, the first in a new series!).

Here’s the back cover copy, to whet your appetite:

In 1862, Lieutenant Commander August Micholson, captain of the Union ironclad U.S.S. James B. Eads, leads his crew on a hazardous undercover mission. Their task? To destroy a hidden Confederate boat yard, where a fleet of rebel ironclads is being constructed which will allow the Confederate Navy to dominate the Mississippi and bombard Northern river cities into submission.

This is Micholson’s last chance for redemption. Weeks earlier, he lost his frigate, his best friend, and over a hundred members of his crew during a disastrous battle against the Confederate ironclad ram C.S.S. Virginia. Flag Officer Foote, commander of the Western Flotilla, believes Micholson’s ordeal and his terrible memories of the power of a rebel ironclad will give him the psychological edge he needs to prevail. Micholson’s crew, however, only knowing their new captain from scuttlebutt and scathing newspaper reports, fear he will lead them all to their deaths.

Micholson leads his crew on a false flag operation, pretending to be a turncoat who has switched to the rebel cause following his censure in the North. On the dark, muddy backwaters of the Yazoo River, the Eads becomes entangled in a plot devised by a slave and his rebel master to summon African fire spirits to annihilate the Federal armies. Micholson must battle demons both internal and external to save the lives of his crew, sink the Confederate fleet, and foil the arcane conspiracy. The Union men manage to prevail again and again against overwhelming enemy forces. Yet the machinations of the African sorcerer M’Lundowi, who hates the people of the Union and the Confederacy equally, threaten to undo all of their victories.

Ultimately, Micholson is faced with a terrible choice — imperiling the lives of every inhabitant of North America, or taking a demon into his body and melding his soul with that of his greatest enemy.

FYI: I am nearly half-way through the first draft of the second book in the series, Hellfire and Damnation. Lieutenant Commander Micholson finds himself transformed into a steampunk superhero — a cross between Dr. Strange and the Human Torch! Can you get anything cooler than that? By increasing my Dopamine levels, you will enable me to return to writing it as soon as possible, perhaps as early as January (or whenever I feel myself capable of listening to my characters’ voices in my head, over the clamor of all the other anxious voices there). So again, writing an Amazon review is a win-win — you get a FREE .pdf copy of the first book, and the second book gets written!

*********************************************************************

If you’d prefer to read the novel on your Kindle, here’s a link to the Kindle version:

Buy Fire on Iron for the Kindle

More electronic formats and paperback version coming very soon! The CreateSpace paperback is being proofed by my very dear and wonderful sister-in-law, Tracy Hirshfeld.

Thanks so much for any consideration and reading time you can spare, my friends! Signing off, Your distressed author, the mangy dog who needs his belly rubbed

FREE .PDF Copy of Fire on Iron

Fire On Iron

Any one out there in InternetLand interested in a FREE .pdf copy of my newest book, Civil War steampunk supernatural suspense novel Fire on Iron?

If you are, just send me your email address, either by leaving a comment to this post or by using the Contact Me feature. I’ll have Dara send you a .pdf copy, along with instructions for how to access it on your smart phone, tablet, or laptop.

I ask but one favor in return — please post a review to Amazon after you’ve read the book. Hit me with your best shot; I want honest reviews. I’m confident in how much you’ll enjoy the book. Dara and I would like to do some advertising on sites which promote ebooks, but they generally have requirments that books which are advertised must have a minimum of twenty Amazon reviews. We’re trying to get there, and you can be a huge help (along with getting a free book to read, the first in a new series!).

Here’s the back cover copy, to whet your appetite:

In 1862, Lieutenant Commander August Micholson, captain of the Union ironclad U.S.S. James B. Eads, leads his crew on a hazardous undercover mission. Their task? To destroy a hidden Confederate boat yard, where a fleet of rebel ironclads is being constructed which will allow the Confederate Navy to dominate the Mississippi and bombard Northern river cities into submission.

This is Micholson’s last chance for redemption. Weeks earlier, he lost his frigate, his best friend, and over a hundred members of his crew during a disastrous battle against the Confederate ironclad ram C.S.S. Virginia. Flag Officer Foote, commander of the Western Flotilla, believes Micholson’s ordeal and his terrible memories of the power of a rebel ironclad will give him the psychological edge he needs to prevail. Micholson’s crew, however, only knowing their new captain from scuttlebutt and scathing newspaper reports, fear he will lead them all to their deaths.

Micholson leads his crew on a false flag operation, pretending to be a turncoat who has switched to the rebel cause following his censure in the North. On the dark, muddy backwaters of the Yazoo River, the Eads becomes entangled in a plot devised by a slave and his rebel master to summon African fire spirits to annihilate the Federal armies. Micholson must battle demons both internal and external to save the lives of his crew, sink the Confederate fleet, and foil the arcane conspiracy. The Union men manage to prevail again and again against overwhelming enemy forces. Yet the machinations of the African sorcerer M’Lundowi, who hates the people of the Union and the Confederacy equally, threaten to undo all of their victories.

Ultimately, Micholson is faced with a terrible choice — imperiling the lives of every inhabitant of North America, or taking a demon into his body and melding his soul with that of his greatest enemy.

*********************************************************************

If you’d prefer to read the novel on your Kindle, here’s a link to the Kindle version:

Buy Fire on Iron for the Kindle

More electronic formats and paperback version coming very soon!

Frederik Pohl, Last Link to Science Fiction’s Golden Age, Has Died

Frederik Pohl, born on November 26, 1919, first published (a pseudonymous science fiction poem) in 1937 and continuously active in the science fiction world ever since, died at the age of 93 in Chicago on September 2, 2013. He was the last major figure whose career began during or before science fiction’s fabled Golden Age, that brief span of supercharged storytelling excellence which lasted from 1938 to 1946. His career in science fiction lasted seventy-six years, nearly equaling the longevity record set by his frequent collaborator, Jack Williamson (1908-2006), eleven years Fred’s senior, whose science fiction career spanned seventy-seven years.

Fred’s career was crowned with awards from both the science fiction community and the broader literary world. His 1977 novel Gateway won four major SF awards: the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Over the span of his career, his works received four Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, and two John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. He won the National Book Award for his 1979 novel, Jem. He became the twelfth recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 1993. In 1998, he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. He won his final Hugo Award, granted him in 2010, was (oh-so-fittingly, given his history and roots) in the category Best Fan Writer; he won for his work on his blog, The Way the Future Blogs.

Even given his tremendous output of more than sixty-five novels and thirty short story collections, I would venture that Fred’s greatest contribution to the field of science fiction was as one of the prime architects of its infrastructure. Today’s reality of science fiction as a thriving literary and commercial realm spanning print, film, television, comics, role-playing games, and virtually every other form of popular media would, in all likelihood, never have come into being without the pioneering work Fred performed, both as a fan and as a professional, during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Had Fred and his fellow Futurians (who included Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, Judith Merril, Donald Wollheim, and James Blish, among others) not created such a vibrant, resilient, attractive, a creatively fertile fan culture in the late 1930s and early 1940s, science fiction as a distinct commercial and literary endeavor probably would have perished in the second half of the 1950s with the death of the pulp magazine industry.

Although the literary roots of science fiction go back at least as far as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), its establishment as a distinct commercial literary genre did not occur until a little more than a century later, with the publication of the first issue of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in April, 1926. At the height of the science fiction pulp magazine boom, in the early 1950s, more than sixty SF pulp magazines were being published monthly or bimonthly, allowing dozens of professional writers to make their livings solely or primarily from writing science fiction. However, the boom was followed shortly thereafter by a bust. The demise of the American News Company, the nation’s largest magazine distributor, in 1957 kicked off a chain of adverse circumstances which killed off the majority of the pulps. By 1959, the number of science fiction magazines had shrunk to a bare half-dozen, one-tenth the number of magazines which had been published at the height of the boom. Many professional writers, unable to make enough sales in the severely constricted market, stopped writing science fiction altogether. Some returned to the field in the mid-1960s, when the growth of the markets for paperback original fiction, both novel-length and short fiction, breathed new life into the field. Many, however, abandoned the field forever.

Several once-thriving popular fiction genres did not survive the death of the pulps, or only survived in an extremely attenuated form. Nurse stories, air-war stories, and knightly adventure stories went the way of the buggy whip. Westerns, once enormously popular, nearly disappeared from the marketplace. Yet science fiction survived its near-death experience, to emerge, in the late 1970s, as one of the most dependable and widely popular of the genres of commercial fiction, surpassed in popularity and sales only by romances and mysteries (and, if one takes into account its impact through wider media, science fiction might be said to have leapfrogged those rival genres in influence and popularity).

Fred Pohl had an awful lot to do with this.

the Futurians in 1938, with Fred Pohl in the middle row, second from right

Fred and his fellow Futurians basically established the notion of a farm team for science fiction. He established the paradigm of fans (short for “fanatics,” remember) developing their creative chops by writing and editing fanzines, then transitioning into paying, professional markets. Fred himself laid the groundwork by accomplishing this feat amazingly quickly. With only one professional sale under his belt at the time (the poem, “Elegy for a Dead Satellite: Luna,” published in the October, 1937 issue of Amazing Stories), Fred snagged a position as editor of two lower-rung science fiction pulps, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, in 1939, a position he held until 1943, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army. As editor, he purchased the earliest stories of many of his fellow Futurians (and some of his own, but always under pseudonyms). Even earlier, in 1937, he began a side career as a literary agent, helping launch the careers of many prominent science fiction writers, most notably Isaac Asimov, securing the sale of Asimov’s first novel, Pebble in the Sky, in 1950. Fred went on to become editor of two far more prominent science fiction magazines, Galaxy Science Fiction and Worlds of If, from the late 1950s to 1969; during his tenure, If won the Hugo for Best Professional Magazine three years in a row, from 1966 to 1968.

That fan-to-pro progression was key to the science fiction field’s survival and eventual resurgence following the Great Pulp Magazine Die-Off of the late 1950s. Fans didn’t merely read or write science fiction; they believed in it, they lived it, they clutched it to their breasts as a form of religious faith. Only practitioners with that sort of passion for the field and its possibilities could weather an almost complete disappearance of income from their chosen area of endeavor for five to seven years, keeping themselves afloat with other forms of work during the lean years between 1958 and the mid-1960s, when the paperback market began filling up the vacuum left by the death of the pulps. Only writers with an abiding faith in science fiction would dare attempt a career in SF publishing after the flame-outs of so many of their predecessors in the late 1950s. Fred never left the field. Even during its darkest days, he kept the flag of science fiction flying.

The Futurians had their counterparts on the West Coast, in Los Angeles. Ray Bradbury, Forrest Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen all began their careers as fans in the late 1930s and went on to major accomplishments in the areas of fiction writing (Bradbury), magazine publishing (Ackerman), and filmmaking (Harryhausen). Many notable science fiction writers who began their careers during the decades following the Golden Age mimicked Fred’s trajectory from young fan to young pro. Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and Michael Moorcock all made the transition from fan to pro during their teen years. Silverberg began his career in the late pulp era as one of the youngest and most prolific new writers of the mid-1950s. He weathered the near-disappearance of his science fiction markets in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writing best-selling history popularizations, then returned to science fiction in the mid-1960s as a trendsetter of science fiction’s New Wave, publishing a series of novels which became enduring classics. Moorcock emulated Fred’s feat of becoming a teenaged pro editor by becoming editor of Tarzan Adventures at the tender age of 17; he later took over the reins of Britain’s nearly moribund New Worlds science fiction magazine, making that periodical a focal point of the New Wave, publishing stories by J. G. Ballard, John Brunner, Brian Aldiss, and Thomas Disch.

Fred Pohl did not shape the future of science fiction only through his early work as an editor and literary agent and his establishment of the fan-to-pro career path paradigm. He, along with his friend and frequent collaborator Cyril Kornbluth, broadened the fields of scientific endeavors extrapolated by science fiction to include the “softer sciences,” fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and economics. Their collaborative novel, The Space Merchants (1953) (first published in shorter form as “Gravy Planet” in 1952 in Galaxy Science Fiction), is a key document, the earliest extrapolation of the field of advertising in science fiction; it blazed a trail which led to the enormously influential novels of Philip K. Dick and to much of the work of the writers associated with the New Wave.

Up until the mid-1970s, Fred produced the majority of his fiction in collaboration, most frequently with Cyril Kornbluth and Jack Williamson. However, he experienced a major career resurgence in 1976 with the publication of Man Plus, winner of that year’s Nebula Award for Best Novel, and a new pinnacle in maturity and power for his solo fiction. Following this book, he went from strength to strength, publishing award-winners or nominees Gateway (1977), Jem (1979), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), and The Years of the City (1984). Following the mid-1970s, when he got his “second wind,” Fred published forty-five novels and story collections – an incredible total for what was essentially a second career, following his first career from the late 1930s to the early 1970s, and certainly an inspiration for any writer feeling fatigued after “only” thirty-five years of work.

As if all these accomplishments weren’t enough, Fred also wrote one of the most readable and fascinating of the memoirs of a life spent in science fiction, The Way the Future Was (1978). This is a must-read, not merely for students and fans of the science fiction field, but also for anyone interested in the history of the Great Depression, of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, and of the growth (and near-demise) of the American Communist Party during the years leading up to World War Two.

Regarding the first half of Fred’s amazing career, I wrote a seven-part series on his partnership and collaboration with Cyril Kornbluth (that series of articles begins here). Using all available sources, comparing various versions of their novels (oftentimes, shorter versions were published first in one of the magazines, usually Galaxy, and were later expanded for book publication), I attempted to unravel the strands of their collaboration, to determine which of the two contributed which ideas, characterizations, and plot developments. I was curious to find out how close to the mark I’d come, so I emailed links to my articles to the only man who could provide confirmation of my theories – Fred Pohl himself. I was extremely gratified to receive return correspondence, in which Fred praised the work I’d done and suggested that I collect the articles into a short ebook (which I just may do one of these days).

Rest in peace, Fred. You were a giant in so many ways, and all of us who labor in the field of science fiction (and its many offshoots) owe you an immeasurable debt of gratitude.

Fire on Iron Coming in October!

I am very, VERY pleased to announce that the first book to be published by MonstraCity Press will be my steampunk supernatural suspense novel, Fire on Iron. It will be available in all the popular ebook formats and as a trade paperback this October. The first of many projects to come from MonstraCity Press!

Here is the back cover copy:

“What price redemption? Is martial honor worth the cost of one’s soul?

“Lieutenant Commander August Micholson lost his first ship, the wooden frigate USS Northport, in reckless battle against the rebel ironclad ram CSS Virginia. However, Flag Officer Andrew Foote offers the disgraced young Micholson a chance to redeem himself: he can take the ironclad gunboat USS James B. Eads on an undercover mission to destroy a hidden rebel boat yard, where a fleet of powerful ironclads is being constructed which will allow the Confederate Navy to dominate the Mississippi.

“But dangers far more sinister than rebel ironclads await Micholson and his crew. On the dark waters of the Yazoo River, deep within rebel territory, they become entangled in a plot devised by a slave and his master to summon African fire spirits to annihilate the Federal armies. Micholson must battle devils both internal and external to save the lives of his crew, sink the Confederate fleet, and foil the arcane conspiracy. Ultimately, Micholson is faced with a terrible choice — he can risk the lives of every inhabitant of America, both Union and Confederate, or destroy himself by merging with a demon and forever melding his own soul with that of his greatest enemy.

“Book 1 of Midnight’s Inferno: the August Micholson Chronicles

I believe my protagonist August Micholson will be rather unique – a steampunk amalgam of Dr. Strange and the Human Torch, with a great deal of multiple-personality complications mixed in. My next project will be the second book in the Midnight’s Inferno series.

More news to come, both regarding the Midnight’s Inferno books and other exciting projects from MonstraCity Press – so watch this space!

Snapshot of the Revolution in Book Retailing, Circa 1978

Upheaval in the bookselling trade is not a purely 21st century phenomenon. The introduction of cheap paperbacks during the decade following World War Two turned the bookselling trade upside down, pushing the locus of the trade away from small shops located in big city downtowns to newsstands and drugstores, with their ubiquitous spinner racks. Cheap paperbacks helped (along with the introduction of TV into nearly all households) to kill off the formerly lucrative niche of pulp fiction magazine publishing; many of the specialty pulps disappeared altogether (nurse pulps, airwar pulps, and western pulps, to name a few), and the science fiction and mystery pulps shrank back to a handful of titles, the survivors soon reducing their format to the smaller (and cheaper to manufacture and distribute) digest size.

More recently, in the middle to late 1970s, the bookselling trade was transformed yet again, this time by the rapid spread of shopping mall-based national and regional bookstore chains which concentrated on carrying large selections of paperbacks and discounted hardbacks, most of the latter being “remainders,” unsold books which had been returned by stores and then offered by their publishers for resale at steeply discounted prices.

I came across this Time Magazine article from 1978, entitled “Rambunctious Revival of Books,” which gives a sepia-toned portrait of the bookselling trade thirty-five years ago, before the rise of the superstores, when mall-based chains such as Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Booksellers were the Amazon.coms/800-pound gorillas of their day. (Note: This article is brought to you by the Internet Archive Way-Back Machine, so it may take an extra few seconds to load.)

“Once upon a time book retailing was about as exciting as watching haircuts. Hardcover books were often sold in musty downtown stores by fussy bibliophiles, and many readers turned to paperback racks in the more informal atmosphere of supermarkets or drugstores. Today the bookstore business is in the midst of a rambunctious revival. … Largely as a result of their merchandising razzle-dazzle, the chains are inducing people to buy more books than ever. … Helped by the chains’ expansion, stores are springing up, increasing from about 7,300 less than two years ago to almost 9,000 now.

“In the forefront of the merchandising blitz are such chains as Waldenbooks, the nation’s largest book retailer, owned by Carter Hawley Hale Stores. Begun in 1962, the Walden chain now has 498 shops dotted around the country, mostly in suburban shopping malls. In recent years it has been opening a store a week. B. Dalton, a subsidiary of Dayton Hudson Corp., the department store conglomerate, is the second largest bookseller. Dalton too has been growing at a feverish rate in recent years and has 339 stores in 40 states. Other chains include Doubleday stores, an affiliate of the publishing house, and Brentano’s, an affiliate of Macmillan. The chains account for up to half of all hardcover retail sales, and their share of the market grows every month.

“These big companies operate with a cold efficiency that astounds the oldtime booksellers, who often take a warm proprietary interest in their wares. Highly computerized Dalton, which carries about 30,000 titles in each shop, assigns every book a number; when the book is sold the number is entered through the cash register into a computer, which produces a weekly report on what every store in the chain has sold. Slow-moving titles are quickly culled. Most chains concentrate almost exclusively on bestsellers—novels, selfhelp, biographies and the like. …

“Kroch’s, which has a reputation as a quality bookseller with an interest in the literary field, continues to operate in the old tradition; its sales people, for instance, often phone customers to alert them to new books that they might like. Against this, Dalton offers a plethora of autograph parties featuring such guests as Charlton Heston and former Treasury Secretary William Simon, and some selective discounting. Like many independents, Carl Kroch, the chain’s president, insists there will always be a place for the old, full-price shop. Says he: ‘You can’t provide our kind of services on such a large scale. Besides, there’s room for everyone. The public is still underexposed to books.’”

The modern reader has to stifle a laugh at the article’s swooning description of “highly computerized Dalton … (which) assigns every book a number.” Wow! What a wonder of the modern world! But the words of Carl Kroch sound much less dated – because they echo virtually every press release sent out by Leonard Riggio, Barnes and Noble’s chairman, whose firm, the only surviving national superstore chain in America, now finds itself in precisely the same market position as Kroch’s Books was in back in 1978.

Still, this article inspired a lot of nostalgia for me. I was thirteen years old in 1978, what Isaac Asimov has called “the Golden Age of science fiction.” It certainly was for me. I had just discovered Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, and Ursula K. LeGuin. I began building my science fiction reference library at my local Waldenbooks, tucked away inside the 163rd Street Shopping Center in North Miami Beach, spending my weekly allowance and bar-mitzvah gift money on such tomes as The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and David Kyle’s wonderful pair of beautifully illustrated, large-format histories, A Pictorial History of Science Fiction and The Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas and Dreams (still own all three of them and have been sharing them with my oldest son). That particular Waldenbooks, by the way, was where I met the first, great (unrequited) love of my life, a cultured young lady seven years my senior who was working as a bookstore clerk to pay her way through college. The nearest B. Dalton Bookseller was downtown, at the Miami Omni Mall; due to their well-stocked history section, that was my go-to source for big, thick, photo-choked histories of warships and armored vehicles. Four years later, when I went to New Orleans to attend Loyola University, I discovered a Brentano’s Books at the Shops at Canal Place mall, located downtown near the Mississippi River; it was a charming spot at which to enjoy a cappuccino and page through an imported art book.

I imagine that come 2048, thirty-five years from now, some other commentator will come across an article in the Internet Archive Way-Back Machine (or its future equivalent) from Forbes or The Wall Street Journal or Wired, describing the disruptive impact of Amazon on the bookselling trade and the death-throes of the physical superstores. I wonder whether that middle-aged commentator will look back on his or her teen book-buying years and remember the experience of shopping on Amazon with the warm glow of nostalgia?

Richard Matheson: He is Legend Now

Author and screenwriter Richard Matheson passed away at the age of 87 on June 23, 2013. Locus Online and Variety are two of hundreds of publications which have or soon will publish obituaries and tributes to one of the titans of twentieth century horror and science fiction.

I would struggle to add anything new to the commentary regarding Matheson’s literary and film output and its significance to the broad American culture. But what astonishes me personally is the realization of what a huge impact Richard Matheson had on my own childhood. The man was simply all over the map of early 1970s popular culture. When I was a kid in my most formative proto-geek years (the years between the ages of 6 and 11, which would be from 1971 or so to 1976 or so), hardly a month went by when I wasn’t exposed to another product of Matheson’s prolific pen. Exposed to it and imprinted by it. He was every bit as ubiquitous throughout the media of the early Seventies as his disciple Stephen King was in the Eighties.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane here…

I’m almost certain my first dose of Richard Matheson must’ve been repeated viewings on TV (either Saturday afternoon movies or Saturday night Creature Features) of The Incredible Shrinking Man. The 1957 film, whose Matheson-penned script was based on the author’s 1956 novel, The Shrinking Man, is probably best remembered for its iconic images of its tiny protagonist battling a spider with a pin or inhabiting a doll house. But when I was a kid, the elements which burrowed their way most deeply into my consciousness were the film’s quieter, more subtle moments. The opening scene, for example, when the hero, aboard his boat, is enveloped by a cloud of radioactive particles or toxic pollutants, is supremely creepy. Subtly horrifying are the first indications that the hero is shrinking… his clothes no longer fitting, his wife noticing that she is now taller than her husband, and, the real gut-punch, when his wedding ring falls off his shrunken finger. The film ends in a way vastly different from any other movie I had ever seen to that point (and different from most films I’ve seen since). The hero neither dies nor triumphs. He is left in a state of ambiguous hope, free at last from the cellar which had imprisoned him and in which he had nearly died several times, but now faced with the potentially greater hazards, all of them unknown, to be found in his own, continent-sized backyard. That ending gave me shivers of wonderment, and it still manages to do so.

Much of Matheson’s earlier work in TV and film played in frequent syndication on the limited television channels of my youth. At least a couple of times a year, my local CBS affiliate would schedule an “Edgar Allan Poe Week” for its afternoon movies slots, meaning I could enjoy Roger Corman thrillers such as House of User (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), and The Raven (1963) with my mother after I came home from school, before I had to start my homework. All featured screenplays by Richard Matheson. The last picture on this list, The Raven, was actually a comedy about the magical escapades of rival sorcerers, played by Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre; its connection to Poe’s poem “The Raven” was extremely tenuous. Still, it remains a fun and lively piece of work (unlike Matheson’s follow-up horror comedy, 1963’s The Comedy of Terrors, whose leaden, utterly unfunny script wastes the talents of Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Vincent Price; I saw it recently on Netflix and think the script is the worst Matheson ever put to paper, by far; he wanted to write a sequel, but The Comedy of Terrors was a relative flop, so the sequel never saw the light of day, to the benefit, I’m sure, of Matheson’s reputation).

Then, of course, there was The Twilight Zone, whose syndicated reruns formed another staple of my youthful media diet. Matheson’s involvement with the series began in its first season, when Rod Serling adapted two of Matheson’s short stories into episodes: “And When the Sky was Opened” and “Third from the Sun.” Matheson wrote an additional fourteen Twilight Zone scripts himself, including some of the series’ most famous and well-regarded episodes, “The Invaders,” “Steel,” and William Shatner’s star turn in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” One of my favorites of Matheson’s scripts was for another episode starring William Shatner, the low-key but paranoia-wracked “Nick of Time,” set entirely in the booth of a diner. Other Matheson scripts included “The Last Flight,” “A World of Difference,” “A World of His Own,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Little Girl Lost,” “Young Man’s Fancy,” “Mute,” “Death Ship,” “Night Call,” and “Spur of the Moment.”

That was the old stuff. But the first half of the Seventies was crammed full of Richard Matheson projects, most of them on television, where I could catch their original broadcasts and the reruns (which I would assiduously scan my weekly issue of TV Guide looking for; my mother had a subscription, as I suspect most mothers of the time did).

1971 brought us Duel, an ABC “Movie of the Week” that was Steven Spielberg’s first directorial triumph. Matheson wrote the script based on his 1971 short story of the same name, published in Playboy. What a suspenser! Who can forget the horrific vehicular bullying suffered by poor Everyman Dennis Weaver at the hands/eighteen wheels of an anonymously malevolent truck driver, whose face we never see? What an impact that movie had on me as a kid!

1971 was also the year in which the second film adaptation of Matheson’s classic vampire novel, I Am Legend (1954), The Omega Man, hit the theaters. This film I didn’t see until a few years later, when it showed up on TV. But it was the first film that genuinely made my skin crawl; even Scream, Blacula, Scream! and The Return of Count Yorga hadn’t managed that. Those albino plague victims (even though they weren’t portrayed as vampires, unlike in the source novel), really freaked me out. I’d watched The Omega Man at least a dozen times before I ever saw the first film adaptation of I Am Legend, 1964’s low-budget The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price and released by American International Pictures. Matheson, who did not have a hand in the script for The Omega Man, did work on the script for The Last Man on Earth, but he ended up very dissatisfied with the result, the product of four different writers; in order to retain his residuals, he allowed himself to be credited as “Logan Swanson.”

Undoubtedly, the best exposure to I Am Legend is to read the original novel itself. It is a short book, easily finished in the space of a single evening. One of my top recommendations for anyone who wishes to scare themselves silly is to read I Am Legend alone, at night, in a mostly darkened house. It was the first application of the techniques of science fiction to the subject of vampirism, and, as such, is a lodestone for all the vampire fiction that followed. Not only that, but the book grants Matheson a kind of grandfatherly paternity for the whole subgenre of zombie fiction, TV, and films. George Romero has said that the slow-moving, shuffling vampire hordes of The Last Man on Earth were a primary inspiration for his flesh-eating zombies in Night of the Living Dead. So, arguably, had there been no I Am Legend, there would be no The Walking Dead on AMC today.

Night Gallery was Rod Serling’s follow-on to his cult classic series The Twilight Zone (although Serling ended up with far less creative control over this series than he had with his seminal earlier one). Despite the myriad ways in which Night Gallery can be said to fall short of The Twilight Zone, the series featured a number of memorable episodes based on classic stories by writers such as H. P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber. Serling also called upon his old collaborator Richard Matheson to work with him again; Matheson provided scripts for the 1971 episode “Big Surprise,” based on his 1959 short story, and for the 1972 episode “The Funeral,” based on his 1955 short story. I have fond memories of Night Gallery (and I really should take another look at the best episodes on Netflix). Also in 1972, Matheson provided the script for the one-hour pilot episode of Ghost Story, NBC’s effort to compete with Night Gallery. Despite being hosted by a creepy Sebastian Cabot (and yes, Sebastian Cabot could be very creepy when he wished to be; see the end of The Twilight Zone episode, “A Nice Place to Visit,” for what I mean), Ghost Story didn’t do as well in the ratings as Night Gallery, and a mid-season renaming of the series to Circle of Fear failed to save it from cancelation. But while it was on the air, I watched it every week.

In early 1972 I was hypnotized by one of Matheson’s best projects ever, his script for the ABC made-for-TV movie The Night Stalker. This film was, of course, the source material for the well-loved (and much syndicated) TV series Kolchak: the Night Stalker, which ran on ABC during the 1974-75 season and which starred Darren McGavin, reprising his role as reporter Carl Kolchak. Matheson didn’t write any of the scripts for the series (which remains a great favorite of mine), but his script for the original movie won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. A year after the first movie’s broadcast in January, 1972, ABC aired a sequel, The Night Strangler, which also featured a script by Richard Matheson. Although not as well remembered as the original film (with its savage vampire), the sequel has its own merits, particularly its eerie setting in the Seattle Underground (which impressed me enormously as a kid; I finally got to see the place myself as a 39 year-old, on my second honeymoon).

How does an author help to ensure that a film adaptation of one of his books or stories is up to snuff? Adapt it himself! Richard Matheson followed this advice as frequently as possible. Not always with favorable results — see my notes above on his reaction to the script for The Last Man on Earth. However, he enjoyed a much better experience (and made a far superior film) with The Legend of Hell House, his 1973 script based on his 1971 novel Hell House. This is another film from the early Seventies that I caught on TV a few years later. I consider it one of the best haunted house films ever made, ranking up there with the original adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting. Roddy McDowell (fresh from his star turns in the Planet of the Apes series, including Battle for the Planet of the Apes, released the same month as The Legend of Hell House) is splendid as a paranormal investigator, and the film’s ghostly villain, Emeric Belascoe, is one of the most memorable menaces in the genre. This movie had almost as big an impact on me as a kid as The Omega Man.

Rounding out his Murderers Row of early Seventies projects was the classic Trilogy of Terror, a 1975 ABC made-for-TV movie which was based on three of Matheson’s short stories. Everybody who has seen it remembers the segment called “Amelia,” based on the short story, “Prey” (this was the only one of the three segments for which Matheson wrote the script; the other two were adapted by William F. Nolan from Matheson’s stories). Karen Black stars in all three segments; in “Amelia,” she plays a woman who lives alone and unwisely brings a cursed Zuni fetish doll into her apartment as a decoration. This is the movie that type-cast Karen Black and relegated the rest of her career to roles in B-movie horror pictures; the former A-list actress (nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in the 1970 film Five Easy Pieces) later said in an interview, “I think this little movie took my life and put it on a path that it didn’t even belong in.” But many fans of the horror genre would agree that Karen Black’s loss was our gain; few actresses are more closely associated with the horror genre of the Seventies, and much of that association is due to the indelible impression she made in Trilogy of Terror.

Wow! What a list of memory-makers from my childhood! And all from the pen/typewriter of one man, Richard Matheson. Mr. Matheson, thank you for the unforgettable images, in prose and on film, you have left for those of us “Born of Man and Woman” on this planet “Third from the Sun;” your “Disappearing Act” has left behind A Stir of Echoes which will never fade. May you find peaceful repose somewhere on The Shores of Space.

Bookseller Addresses Books-On-Demand: A Winning Proposition?

An Espresso book-making machine at the McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan

My friend Alan Beatts, proprietor of Borderlands Books in San Francisco, one of the country’s largest science fiction and fantasy specialty stores (with a wonderful attached bakery and coffee shop!), recently carried out research on the feasibility of purchasing an Espresso Books-on-Demand machine for his store. I’m proud to say my blog article on the future of the literary ecosystem sparked his interest in contacting one of the On Demand Books Company’s sales reps and running figures on various purchase and leasing options. Plus, the sales rep shared with Alan utilization figures from bookstores which are already operating Espresso machines.

What Alan discovered makes for very interesting reading, particularly for anyone interested in bookstores, book retailing, and micro-press publishing.

Alan writes that it can be financially feasible, even profitable, for a medium to large-size bookstore to purchase and operate an Espresso Books-on-Demand machine, even given the machine’s not inconsiderable hundred-thousand dollar price tag, plus thousands of additional dollars in licensing fees for the machine’s software. However, the experience of booksellers who have already invested in one of the units indicates that, especially in the earliest years of operation, the bulk of the machine’s usage comes not from customers purchasing commercially available books-on-demand, but rather from self-publishers:

“… (H)ere’s the surprise — most of the books sold are neither public domain titles via Google nor are they in-print titles from publishers. In the first year, 90% of the books printed by the current crop of in-store POD machines are self-published by customers of the bookstore. In other words, someone comes into the store with an electronic file of their book, gives it to the store, and then the store prints it for them on the EBM.”

This finding dovetails quite neatly with my proposition in the comments to my earlier article that “independent book sellers who opt to lease a machine do so in some sort of partnership with a group of regional small presses (and self-publishers) in their area, spreading the costs of the lease across a wider group of benefitted parties.” This kind of partnership, if in an ad-hoc fashion, is already developing, centered on the few dozen bookstores which currently run Espresso book making machines.

Alan makes some very pertinent points, however, about the level of hand-holding required from the owners and operators of the Espresso machine when working with self-publishers and micro-press publishers, versus the considerably lower level of effort and customer service required to simply print out commercially available books-on-demand. He suggests that not all bookstore owners will want their stores and staffs to become equivalent of Kinko’s Copies.

However, some store owners will find ways to make it work, both for themselves, their book-buying customers, and micro-publishers in their area. If enough bookstore owners and micro-publishers move to the model I suggest in my “future of the literary ecosystem” article, economies of scale begin to apply, and cooperative networks of writers, micro-publishers, and booksellers will be able to rapidly multiply.

Read Alan’s article. It’ll get you thinking…

Theodore Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood: No Bats or Fangs Here

Some of Your Blood
by Theodore Sturgeon
Original printing: Ballantine Mystery, paperback original, 1961
Most recent printing: Centipede Press, paperback, 2006

I do believe Theodore Sturgeon’s 1961 psychological suspense thriller Some of Your Blood wins the “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” award, at least regarding its 1966 second paperback printing. I sought out this book because I had heard it referred to as “Ted Sturgeon’s offbeat vampire novel.” Well, anyone with any familiarity with the works of Theodore Sturgeon — with books such as The Dreaming Jewels and More Than Human or stories such as “Slow Sculpture” and “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?” or the classic Star Trek episode “Amok Time” – could tell you that “Ted Sturgeon’s offbeat vampire novel” could mean any of several hundred different story concepts. The man was that unpredictable and inventive a writer.

But the cover to that 1966 second printing sure did sucker me. A wine glass filled with either a blush red wine or blood; a single rose lying beneath the wine glass; drops of red liquid, either wine or blood again, bracketing the rose… what does such a cover image make you think of?

I’ll tell you what it makes me think of, particularly in the realm of “offbeat vampire novels” – I figured Ted Sturgeon would be riffing on the Bram Stoker image of the vampire as irresistible seducer, subverting that popular twentieth century notion of vampire as suave, romantic, savage lover/conqueror. I’d done it myself with my novel Fat White Vampire Blues, and I looked forward to seeing how a master storyteller like Ted Sturgeon would pull off a similar trick to what I had done.

Well, boy howdy, was I ever wrong!

And delighted to be wrong, as things turned out.

There are no supernatural elements in Some of Your Blood. Many critics and reviewers have classified it as a horror novel. Anthony Boucher, in his cover blurb to the 1966 reprinting, describes it as “… his (Sturgeon’s) first, straight crime novel.” Personally, I wouldn’t call it either a horror novel or a straight crime novel. Crimes are committed by the protagonist, and they are horrific; but I feel the label “psychological suspense thriller” applies most aptly. Feel free to slap your own favored label on the book. But by all means, read it, because it is a wonderful example of whatever it happens to be.

Many aficionados of Sturgeon’s body of work have noted that his prime subject matter is love. Certainly, if he can be said to be predictable in any way as a writer, he is predictably empathetic to all expressions of love and to their progenitors, no matter how perverse or far from the mainstream. Ted Sturgeon, in his stories and novels, never recoiled. He always embraced, no matter how sticky or icky that embrace might be, and he encouraged his readers to surrender with him to that embrace.

The original 1961 Ballantine Mysteries cover

There are no despicable characters in Some of Your Blood. The closest any of the characters comes to despicableness is the protagonist’s brutal father, but, in true Sturgeon fashion, even he is allowed moments of humanity and shades of likability. The book has no villains; only victims of adverse environments. It features two Army doctors who struggle against harrowing Korean War-era resource limitations and bureaucratic resistance to do the right and proper thing by their charge and patient. Its protagonist is by turns clever, amoral, innocent, opaque, endearing, violent, infantile, volatile, and pathetic. But this reader, in the sure, steady hands of the author, stuck with the pseudonymous George Smith all the way through, never tempted to turn away in disgust or to reject the character as a monster beyond the pale.

I would like to have been the proverbial “fly on the wall” of a typical reader’s bedroom back in 1961, when the novel first appeared. The book’s key revelations would have seemed much more shocking and much less expected, I’m certain, than they do for a typical reader in 2012, fifty-one years later. Even so, our present time’s greater familiarity and degree of comfort with outliers on the range of psycho-sexual behaviors, with what used to be universally thought of as perversions, do not appreciably decrease the novel’s power and impact. If the book is less shocking today, it is all the more engaging as a character study and a sympathetic, in-depth visit with a damaged psyche.

I won’t spoil it for you. I won’t tell you what “George Smith” does or why he does it. Read the book. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Books, Books, Books!

My big book haul from Balticon

Ah, books, books! Can’t get enough of ‘em. Running out of room for them, of course, but I’ve never let that stop me before.

One of the appealing aspects of Balticon (and there were many) was the large number and variety of new and used books dealers in the dealers’ room. I picked up some real finds. Looks like I’ve got my reading all lined up for the long, hot summer.

My most unusual and rare find was Far Future Calling, a collection of short fiction by Olaf Stapledon, edited by Sam Moskowitz, featuring a seventy page biography of the writer written by Moskowitz. I hadn’t even known this volume existed. I’m a sucker for any Moskowitz-written nonfiction about science fiction or fantasy, and this volume will make a handsome companion to another book I picked up earlier this year in San Francisco, a collection of Stapledon’s non-fiction and less well-known fiction put out by Syracuse University Press.

I also found a pair of older paperbacks by Theodore Sturgeon, a late-1950s paperback of his short stories put out in an unusually compact format, Aliens 4 (notice how petite it is next to the standard-size mass market paperbacks flanking it), as well as his notable vampire novel, Some of Your Blood, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for years now. Interestingly, the cover of this late-1960s edition advertises the book as Sturgeon’s first “straight crime novel.” Yet I’ve always seen it described as vampire fiction. Perhaps it is about a non-supernatural vampire, like the protagonist of one of George Romero’s early horror films, Martin (1976)?

I was very pleased to find a beautifully designed first edition paperback of Avram Davidson’s initial collection of stories, Or All the Seas With Oysters. Davidson’s short fiction has always been held in high regard, but thus far I’ve only sampled it in small doses. So I’m looking forward to delving into this collection of his early work. I’m also looking forward to diving into a huge collection of Alan Moore’s Supreme stories, Supreme: The Story of the Year. I’ve been perusing that book in stores for a long time now, but have never gone ahead and bought it because of its high price (for a trade paperback). But I finally found a very reasonably priced used copy, so now it is mine, all mine. I have no attachment for the character of Supreme or for Supreme’s world, but what Moore has done with this series of stories is very similar to what he did with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — i.e., present a loving, nuanced, affectionate, and very funny tribute to the Superman stories of the Silver Age. Great stuff! The “Silver Age Suprema” stories (which are actually Silver Age Supergirl stories) are worth the price of admission all by themselves. I found a copy of Barry N. Malzberg’s final science fiction novel, The Remaking of Sigmund Freud and bought it even though I had a duplicate at home; but I couldn’t pass up a Malzberg book for a buck, and I can always give my second copy away as a gift (or offer it as a prize for a lucky reader of this website, once I come up with a suitable contest).

Philip Jose Farmer's two "pornos" from the late 1960s

The last book I purchased at Balticon was Philip Jose Farmer’s Traitor to the Living, his third and final novel featuring protagonist Herald Childe, a private eye who sticks his nose into matters cosmic and otherworldly. Traitor to the Living was a departure from the first two books in the series in that it was not sexually explicit. The first two, Image of the Beast and Blown, were written for Essex House, a short-lived, Los Angeles-based publisher of “literary erotica” (or high-toned smut). Apparently, neither of these two novels (nor others from authors such as Charles Bukowski) was well received by the “spank the monkey” readership, because Essex House did not stay in business for very long. Whatever their failings as pornography (thus far, I have gotten around to reading Image of the Beast, and while it is intermittently titillating, it would not be my first choice for nocturnal emissions stimuli), the books must be regarded as minor classics of the erotic horror genre, precursors to the entire sub-industry of paranormal romance. I bought my copies from Awesome Books, a British mail-order firm which maintains an inventory of over two million used books and which offers free shipping to the U.S. when at least two titles are purchased (a great deal, even if one’s order typically takes three weeks to arrive). I’ve recently become a regular customer of theirs, since it is great fun to be able to shop British editions which aren’t typically found in American used book shops, as well as books by British authors who aren’t well published in the States, such as Christopher Priest. The Image of the Beast and Blown, for example, despite being set in Los Angeles, are peppered with British usages in the editions I bought, such as “kerb” for “curb,” “funny house” for “fun house,” and “chutey chute” for… well, I’m not certain what Farmer’s original word choice would have been (chute slide, perhaps?).

All four of Moorcock's Cornelius novels

I’ve also bought a good bit of non-pornographic Philip Jose Farmer from Awesome Books, including The Book of Philip Jose Farmer, Venus on the Half-Shell (written under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout… subject of an upcoming review), and A Feast Unknown (which apparently features a semi-pornographic apocalyptic battle between Farmer’s versions of Tarzan and Doc Savage, something which I’m sure only makes whatever sense it does in the original prose, not any pale summation). Some of the books I’m most looking forward to delving into are the Cornelius Quartet novels of Michael Moorcock, who in the mid-1960s boldly strode through the doorways Philip Jose Farmer had begun flinging open a decade earlier. I recently watched Antonioni’s paean to Swinging London, Blow-Up, and it whetted my appetite for Moorcock’s science fictional version of the London of the late 1960s.

Watch this space for many reviews to come!

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