Friday, November 14, 2003

Little Deaths: An Anthology of Erotic Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow

This paperback has been with me through multiple moves (offhand, I'd estimate at least four). Now that I finally got around to reading it, I realize that I've encountered a couple of the stories here in other places. One was Dan Simmons's story "Dying in Bangkok," which I skipped because I found it so disturbing the first time around. Also, Kelley Eskridge's "And Salome Danced," with its ambiguous protagonist and equally ambiguous love object, which I saw her read at WisCon a few years back--a really nice story for reading aloud, I thought. Those two are among the better stories in this volume, which is not to say that there are any bad ones. There are some deeply disturbing ones, like "Lover Doll" by Wayne Allen Sallee, which contains one of those images which I cannot scrub out of my brain, like the horse's head infested with eels at the beginning of The Tin Drum. Yish.

Some of the shorter stories are the most effective. F'r instance, "Ménage à Trois" by Richard Christian Matheson is weird and haunting and three pages long. And "Becky Lives" by Harry Crews is twisted and sick and satisfyingly brief. Other highlights include Lucy Taylor's "Hungry Skin" and Clive Barker's "On Amen's Shore." Not every story is a classic, but they're all worth reading (at least once), depending on your constitution.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories by Carol Emshwiller

I have to confess that although I'd read several of Carol's stories over the years, I hadn't connected the tale in Dangerous Visions to the stories I'd seen in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction since Gordon Van Gelder took over. Not until Small Beer Press put together this collection and quite rightly hyped it and Carol all over the place. Emshwiller's protagonists are perhaps her most distinctive feature, quietly obsessed people who move in increments towards strange and sometimes horrifying acts. Emshwiller's worlds are beautiful and harsh and often terribly lonely, and her language is spare, straightforward, skeletal. She makes her words work hard. There are not many writers as weird and wonderful as Emshwiller. Pick this up now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The Mike Hammer Collection, Volume 1: I, the Jury; My Gun is Quick; Vengeance is Mine!, by Mickey Spillane, with an introduction by Max Allan Collins

It's funny to me that my only early exposures to Mickey Spillane were the sanitized Mike Hammer TV series that ran in the '80's and those "Tastes Great, Less Filling" commercials for Miller Lite that ran about the same time. By Hecate, the Eighties were weird. Since then, of course, I've seen the noir oddball classic Kiss Me Deadly, but the film is almost peripherally a Hammer story and failed to intrigue me about him.

Now that I've finally gotten around to reading these novels, I feel like I finally understand the meaning of "pulp." These are quick and dirty reads, and have the feel of quick and dirty writing. And they're good. They move fast, they're well plotted (although after reading three in a row, certain patterns become clear), and the dialogue and characterization are sharp and mean. Vigilante justice is alive and well in Hammer's world, and it's easy to see echoes of him in characters from Dirty Harry to The Punisher. The cops, in particulary his pal Captain Pat Chambers, alternate between standing in his way and abetting his crusades on the sly. Mike's appeal to the WWII vets who made him an icon is easy to see. He's what every man's man imagines himself as: hard, smart, loyal, wronged by the world, irresistible to dames and the last man you'd want as an enemy. At times it's a bit much, but Spillane's tough-guy stylings have a lot of charm--he's no Raymond Chandler, but he can string a sentence together. When I get my hands on the next omnibus edition I probably won't read the books back-to-back, but I'll read them.

Monday, November 10, 2003

True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass, by Tom Piazza, with a foreword by Marty Stuart

Jimmy Martin has been recording bluegrass for more than fifty years, but if you're not a bluegrass afficionado, you might never have heard of him. He started out playing with "The Father of Bluegrass" Bill Monroe, is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honor, and has written some of the greatest bluegrass songs in history. But Martin's holy grail, an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry, eludes him still. A mystifying fact, until you read this book (or see the recent documentary about Martin, King of Bluegrass, the Life and Times of Jimmy Martin). Martin's music is often wistful and romantic--aside from a peculiar fixation on huntin' dogs--but the flip side of that appears to be alcoholism and low-grade paranoia. What emerges in Piazza's account of a day and night spent with Martin, at his house and on a visit to the sacred Opry, is a man whose resentment at having been snubbed for so long has fed into his disruptive and confrontational tendencies, thus causing him to alienate the very folks who could make it happen for him. Martin's story, even in this brief book, is rollicking, hilarious, and sad all at the same time. Buy one of his records first, and then buy the book.