Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reading in June

I haven't since July posted one of my supposedly monthly reading recaps, with the books being discussed being from way back in May, and, while they're far from the blog's centerpiece as far as content/insight go, I do miss them a tad. Wandering about the delightfully cluttered "Hat Rack" section of my hard drive I noticed I'd actually written a summary of my reading in June but never posted it, so I decided it was high time for a jump back to the halcyon days of summer, the distant days of June...

Leviathan Wakes, the creation of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, is a Science Fiction novel manages to be a gripping mixture of Space Opera awe and a horror-derived, maybe even noirish, sense of claustrophobia. In the midst of all that, the book's fast paced, fun, and stars two excellently portrayed characters.

I'll admit to some measure of disappointment with The Blonde on the Street Corner. This is the third novel of Goodis's I've read – coming after The Wounded and theSlain and Black Friday – and both of those were downbeat tales of the low and the lonely, each depressive and captivating in its way. The Blonde on the Street Corner has the majority of the formula down. Our protagonists are deadbeats in the depression, bumming off their families with no prospects whatsoever. So the theme's there, and Goodis's prose is dotted with the same flares of poetic sorrow that I've come to expect. But what's missing is anything to grab the reader. This is a book that simply meanders along, but, unlike The Wounded and the Slain, we're never really presented with a reason to care. Though this certainly isn't a bad read, it's nowhere near the level that Goodis is capable of operating on.

The Hour of the Dragon is the only full length novel of Conan the Barbarian that Robert E. Howard ever penned. It's filled with all the hallmarks that are associated with the character – or, perhaps I should stress, those hallmarks that come from the creator's tales and not the lobotomized cinematic or otherwise later versions. This story is filled with adventure, intrigue, and tension, and though Howard manages to drag Conan through almost every aspect of his former life – pirate and thief and so on – it never feels like a rehash or like there's an author up above the pages dragging the characters this way and that without giving them any say. As for the writing, it's Howard's usual, which is to say that it's equal parts painfully exuberant excess and vivid mastery. If you're a fan of the character, this is a necessary read.

The full version of Thomas Ligotti and Brandon Trenz's screenplay Crampton – the earlier, abridged, and derivative version of which I read earlier this year – is a fascinating read for any Ligotti fan. The expected themes – the ephemeral and illusory nature of the world, the hollowness of all existence, and so forth – are present, but the author's hypnotic prose is absent, replaced by tightly written dialogue, bits of banter, and even expletives. Crampton moves at a fast and enjoyable clip, and the finishing anticlimax is powerfully done, but I still do have to say that, overall, the depressive and vivid ecstasy that Ligotti's writing normally brings is, by necessity, absent here. This is an interesting item to be sure, but it's most certainly just for the diehard collector, and not just because of the forbidding price tag.

George R.R. Martin's as adept at short stories as he is at doorstopper epics, and almost every one of the tales in this collection shows his mastery of the form. Reviewed here.

Fevre Dream, Martin's novel of Vampires and steamboats, has lost nothing with time, and it wasn't diminished on reread either. This is a novel rich in characterization and atmosphere, something not to be missed by any fan of Martin's work. Reviewed here.

In many ways, All the Pretty Horses is an inversion of the author's landmark Blood Meridian. John Grady Cole, our protagonist here, is a romantic and a dreamer trespassing on the brutal and unforgiving Wild West that McCarthy's become so justly famous for, and the results are at once heart breaking and even, at times, beautiful. Though I can't say that this novel's as revelatory as Blood Meridian, it's still an excellent read.

The third collection of horror writer Reggie Oliver, Masques of Satan is a volume of subtle ghost stories woven into theater backdrops. My reaction to Oliver is very similar to my reaction to the M.R. James stories I've read, and I mean that both in the positive ways that Oliver's adherents cite and also in the negatives that those Weird Tales-devotees would most certainly not agree to. Like James, Oliver writes in a formal but inviting style, and his words draw you in and make you feel like a part of the conversation. Also like James, his mastery of his subject area is obvious from every word he speaks, but – due to the aforementioned welcoming tone – the knowledge imparted is interesting rather than onerous. Oliver's ghosts, however, are – like James – the least interesting parts of his stories by far, little twists of the supernatural that aren't particularly memorable in and of themselves. I enjoyed this collection a fair bit, but I'd hesitate to recommend it at the forty or fifty dollars you're likely to find it for, and I certainly was not enamored enough with the stories here to spend the several hundred needed to read the author's first and second collections.

I'll admit it: I'm just bewildered here. Boneshaker was a forgettable read packed with problems and a few good ideas that weren't even taken advantage of. How, again, did this ever get near a Hugo? Reviewed here.

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