It’s that time of year, friends, the time when we look back in sorrow on the New Year’s resolutions that drooped and faded before the first bloom of spring, and when we start to formulate the resolutions that we know we’re really going to keep this time, dammit. I generally don’t make new year’s resolutions myself, for the reasons implied above, but last year I did — I decided that 2014 would be the year of rereading.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that even as I’m reading more than ever, I almost never do any re-reading. There are just so many books, both enticing new ones and old ones that I’ve always meant to get around to and never have (you know, all those great books, old and new, that you find out about whenever you visit a certain website which shall remain nameless).
When I finish one book and reach for another, the pressure exerted by both the never-ceasing pile up of the present and the still-unexplored past seems to weigh overwhelmingly in favor of the as yet unread. Rereading falls by the wayside.
This is in sharp contrast to my adolescent days, when I would regularly reread my favorite books, some of them many times. (I’ve probably read Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Gods of Mars eight or ten times each, for instance.)
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Like most writers, I too dream the unreasonable dream of breaking into comics as a writer.
Who wouldn’t want to correctly and appropriately use the word “Bam!” as part of their daily writing? Nobody.
So while writing short fiction and novels, I continue to do my research and recently stumbled onto the Make Comics Podcast. The format is pretty simple. Each episode, Joey Groah posed a comics-making question, sometimes his own, but more often from the mail bag of listeners. Then, Andy Schmidt, former Marvel and IDW editor, answers. Sometimes they switch it up with special guests.
Now, this isn’t 100% altruistic on their part. They’re obviously promoting classes on making comics for the Comics Experience company. That’s cool though. Power to them. If I was just starting my writing career, it’s just the sort of thing I would have loved to have taken. But with that very minor caveat, these guys are giving out amazing stuff, and needless to say, I listened to a bunch on my commute and took notes.
There’s way too much good stuff in there for me to talk about all of it, so I’ll mention a few high points.
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In 1991, more than 23 years ago now, Chaosium published the most ambitious Call of Cthulhu adventure ever created: Horror on the Orient Express.
It was a huge undertaking — a complete campaign that spanned the European continent, crammed into a box containing four lengthy books, numerous player handouts, a European route map; cardstock plans of the train that could be laid end-to-end; scrolls, and even luggage stickers. It wasn’t merely a high water mark for CoC; it was a template for how mega-adventures could be created.
The box retailed for $39.99, a lot for a role playing supplement in those days, and it didn’t really sell that well. It wasn’t long before it went out of print, and Chaosium — which invested heavily in the failed Mythos card game in the mid-90s — ran into financial difficulties and broke apart a few years later.
As a result, Horror on the Orient Express got lost in the shuffle. It was never reprinted, and it rapidly became almost impossible to find. It was still talked about for many years by dedicated fans, however, and the combination of scarcity and its status as the pinnacle of CoC adventures meant it gradually acquired a legendary status.
Well, you know what happens to those rare game supplements (or books — or anything, really) that even determined fans can’t get their hands on. They become a holy grail for collectors. And that’s exactly what happened to Horror on the Orient Express. I started to see copies selling for $200-$300 and up, on those rare occasions I saw one at all.
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What should we see in the middle of the desert but a bedside cabinet! Yes, really…no human brain could be capable of inventing something so idiotic
Why, you ask, am I reviewing a book by a former Africa Korps officer?
What should we see in the middle of the desert but a bedside cabinet! Yes, really… the picture is pointless because all it shows is a single piece of furniture. There’s nothing to prove that it is standing in the middle of the Libyan desert. But you can take my word for it… because no human brain could be capable of inventing something so idiotic.
Reisch, Max. Out of the Rat Trap: Desert Adventures with Rommel.
But also because it reads like something Edgar Rice Burroughs might have written.
In a classic ERBish foreword, Reisch describes how he wrote the manuscript high in the Italian mountains. The Nazis were in retreat, and this seemed like a good place to wait out the mayhem and surrender on his own terms. To pass the time, he purchased writing materials from a local farmer and recounted his escape from another military disaster — the collapse of the Africa Korps.
As we read, we discover that he’s the German motorised Indiana Jones, with pre-war capers including biking from Vienna to Bombay.
Come World War II he found himself in the desert helping run transport for Rommel’s army. This meant scavenging abandoned British equipment picked up during long missions into the desert flank.
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When Nnedi Okorafor’s first novel for adults, Who Fears Death, won the 2011 World Fantasy Award, a lot of people sat up and took notice.
It was also a 2011 Tiptree Honor Book, and a Nebula nominee. She followed it up the same year with her third YA title, Akata Witch, a Junior Library Guild Selection and an Andre Norton Award nominee. Her first collection, Kabu Kabu, appeared from Prime Books in 2013 — with a foreword by Whoopi Goldberg.
But it’s her second novel for adults that looks like it will really put her on the map. A tale of a strange alien invasion just offshore of the Nigerian city of Lagos, Lagoon has been getting a lot of the right kind of attention. It’s not yet for sale in the US, but it’s worth the effort to track drown a copy of the British edition.
Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.
But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.
Lagoon was published in the UK by Hodder Paperbacks on Sept 25, 2014. It is 301 pages, priced at £8.99 in trade paperback, and £3.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Joey Hi-fi.
A very long time ago I was taught how to write a piece of prose. Our teacher told us to write on every other line (yes, that’s how long ago it was) in order to leave ourselves room to make corrections and changes. I couldn’t think what she was going on about. Why would I want to change or correct anything? Why wouldn’t I just write it correctly in the first place? Wouldn’t that be a big savings in time and energy?
Aside: I’m a big saver of time and energy, otherwise known as a professional lazy person, or “prolazy,” as in “She’s extremely prolazy.”
Back in class, I ended up by making fake corrections to keep my teacher happy. There was no way she was going to believe that I could have gotten it right the first time. Of course, I was right, but the problem is, so was my teacher. We just didn’t realize that we weren’t on the same… well… page.
Back then, I didn’t realize that I was already changing and correcting. I was just doing it in my head before I put it down on paper. Just about anybody can do that for a paragraph or so. But no one can do it for anything much longer than that – nor for something a lot shorter, if you think about Twitter.
So, nowadays I agree with Tim Powers, who, on a panel at a World Con, once said that all professional writers revise, only amateurs think they got it right the first time.
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You don’t have to hang around Black Gate for long to know that The Shining is my favorite horror movie of all time. So it goes without saying that today’s news is proof positive that Santa is real, I’ve been really good, and he wants me to be happy.
Indy film writer Joe Lovero, a former auto insurance salesman who sold a full-length screenplay to Universal Studios, began work on a musical parody of The Shining entitled REDRUM: The Unauthorized Musical Parody of ‘The Shining,’ back in 2009. After several years developing the show with composer Jon Hugo Ungar, they decided it was time to put the concept to the test by recording song demos and film a scene to promote the project.
They landed Broadway actor and three-time Tony Award nominee Marc Kudisch to play Jack Torrance in musical short film of REDRUM, which was released in October of last year. The short parodies the scene from the film version of The Shining between Jack and Delbert Grady in The Overlook Hotel’s red bathroom and features the original songs “Correct Them” and “You’ve Turned On My Light.”
I nearly killed myself laughing.
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I don’t know a lot about Pamela Sargeant. But I knew one thing when I saw The Alien Upstairs on eBay: I didn’t have a copy. And I wanted one.
Who wouldn’t? Big spooky house, spunky heroine in the foreground wearing a sun hat, vast stretches of blasted heath… erm, I mean unmowed lawn. Anyway, it sure looks like a modern gothic novel. Except for the honkin’ big spaceship hovering stealthily in the clouds, where it thinks no one can see it.
And the marvelous What the hell is going on? look our heroine is sporting. You just know she’s going to get to the bottom of things, like a good gothic romance heroine should. You go, spunky lady with strange fashion sense.
Sarah and Gerard were dreamers — two young lovers fighting to make something of their lives in an America battered by depression and despair.
Then a mysterious stranger came to stay in their small, rural town, a handsome, enigmatic being from another world who promised to lead them to a realm beyond their wildest imaginings. But was he an angel, come to rescue them from the harsh reality of their lives, or a darker being, bent on a strange and terrible purpose?
The Alien Upstairs. An awe-inspiring tale of worlds beyond our own by the author of Watchstar and The Golden Space.
The Alien Upstairs was published in February 1985 by Bantam Books. It is 165 pages, priced at $2.75 in paperback. The too-cool cover is by Wayne Barlowe. I bought an unread copy on eBay for $1 (plus shipping.) Don’t be jealous, there are plenty more copies available.
Back in September, I wrote a Vintage Treasures article about Clifford D. Simak’s Cemetery World. Simak is one of my favorite authors and much of his work — especially his early pulp fiction from the 30s and 40s — is tragically long out of print.
While I was researching the article, I discovered to my delight that Wildside Press had produced several slender volumes reprinting some of Simak’s pulp short stories, as part of the Wildside Pulp Classics line. I mentioned two: Hellhounds of the Cosmos and Other Tales From the Fourth Dimension and Impossible Things: 4 Classic Tales. As soon as I was done with the article, I ordered a copy of the former. The paperback edition was just $6.99 and it was hard to resist. It’s hardly the comprehensive Complete Short Stories I might wish for, but it did include the title story, a novelette from the June 1932 Astounding Stories that had been uncollected and out of print for nearly 80 years. And that was pretty cool.
When the book arrived, I was very pleased with it. It’s an oversized trade paperback with a glossy cover and quality paper. As I expected, it’s quite short — 142 pages — but it includes four complete tales, and the price is right. It also includes an (uncredited) introduction, as well as a nice review of Simak’s career and the themes common in his work.
Naturally, I went back on the hunt to see what else Wildside had produced in a similar vein. It wasn’t long before I found collections for Leigh Brackett (Black Amazon of Mars and Other Tales from the Pulps), Fredric Brown (Daymare and Other Tales from the Pulps), E. Hoffmann Price (Satan’s Daughter and Other Tales from the Pulps), H. Bedford-Jones (The House of Skulls and Other Tales from the Pulps), Ray Cummings (The Fire People: Classic Science Fiction from the Pulps), Murray Leinster (The Runaway Skyscraper and Other Tales from the Pulps), and many others. Most were priced from $10-$15 or less (much less, for the digital editions).
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Playing on a tank in Ethiopia.
Last week, we looked at some of the arms and armor of the Abyssinian Empire. With the holidays coming up, I decided to do something a bit more peaceful. On my trips through Africa, I noticed a huge amount of detritus from its various wars. I was impressed at how the people adapted this stuff into something more useful. A lot of the spare metal is picked up and sold for scrap. Old battlefields once littered with burnt-out tanks get cleared out, only a few rusting hulks being left behind.
As you can see in the picture above, one of the tanks that was left behind has been turned into the local jungle gym. This photo was taken in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border. The tank was probably a casualty of the bitter war between the two countries. These kids are Eritrean refugees from a nearby refugee camp, whose only playground is a symbol of what made them refugees in the first place.
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