On September 19, Liam Neeson’s latest blockbuster, A Walk Among the Tombstones, opens in theaters nationwide. Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop who is an off-the-book private investigator and a recovering alcoholic.
Scudder has starred in seventeen novels dating back to 1976 and a bunch of short stories; all written by Lawrence Block. Tombstones is actually the tenth book in the series, so they’re starting well into things.
Jeff Bridges had played Scudder in Eight Million Ways to Die (the fifth book), moving the story to California(!) and making him a sheriff’s deputy (Hollywood!)
Block, who I mentioned in this post, is a fantastic writer. Along with Scudder, he has written series’ starring an adventurer who can’t sleep (Tanner), a bookstore owning burglar (Bernie Rhodenbarr), a lawyer who will do anything to win a case (Martin Ehrengraf), a likeable hit man (Keller) and a humorous Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin-esque pair (Leo Haig and Chip Harrison). And he’s one of the finest short story writers I’ve run across. Enough Rope is a superb collection of his short fiction.
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Jeffrey E. Barlough is one of the most gifted and ambitious fantasists at work today, and his seven volume Western Lights series is unlike anything else on the shelves. In his review of the fifth volume, Anchorwick, Jackson Kuhl sums up events as follows:
Eugene Stanley has come to the university at Salthead (a parallel Seattle? Vancouver?) to assist his professor uncle in preparing a book manuscript. One night, while working in a deserted turret room at the college… Stanley is accosted by a phantasmal form. This ignites a definitive search for the missing don as Stanley and friends uncover lost civilizations, ancestral curses, whole companies of ghosts, monsters from Greek myth, and a few red herrings, all told in rich, dryly humorous style. It’s P.G. Wodehouse with woolly mammoths.
Those who complain that there’s nothing new in fantasy today aren’t looking hard enough. And they’re definitely not reading Jeffrey E. Barlough.
The eighth volume in the Western Lights series, The Cobbler of Ridingham, will be released in November, and it features Richard Hathaway who previously appeared in Bertram of Butter Cross and the short story “Ebenezer Crackernut” (from A Tangle in Slops).
A creeping shadow, a bump in the night, a thing in the trees — these are but a few of the surprises lurking in the pages of The Cobbler of Ridingham… The new work relates a curious adventure that befell Richard Hathaway while visiting at Haigh Hall, the home of a family acquaintance, Lady Martindale, on the marshes outside the picturesque old country town of Ridingham.
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The Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller gets underway with Sir Denis Nayland Smith in New York on special assignment with the FBI. He is partnered with FBI Agent Raymond Harkness to investigate why agents from various nations are converging on Manhattan. Sir Denis suspects the object of international attention is the special project being handled by The Huston Research Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Morris Craig. However, Smith initially chooses to keep the FBI in the dark on this matter until he is certain.
The Si-Fan has succeeded in closing in on The Huston Research Laboratory by drawing a net around parent corporation Huston Electric’s director, millionaire Michael Frobisher and his wife, Stella. The Frobisher marriage is not a happy one. Michael lives in fear that his flirtatious wife is unfaithful to him and Stella is likewise tormented by a series of neuroses. The family physician, Dr. Pardoe recommends an eminent European psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, Professor Hoffmeyer to treat Stella Frobisher. Both Mr. and Mrs. Frobisher are concerned that Asians have been spying on them, going so far as to break into their home and infiltrate their country club. As their marriage is not a healthy one, neither husband nor wife confide in the other, but rather let their paranoia grow until their nerves have frayed. What neither suspects is that Carl Hoffmeyer is really Dr. Fu Manchu in disguise.
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Last week, I told you that you had a chance to win a copy of Peter Watts’s brand new novel Echopraxia, on sale this week from Tor Books.
How do you win? Just send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title “Echopraxia” and a one-sentence review of your favorite Tor science fiction novel. One winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries and we’ll publish the best reviews here on the Black Gate blog.
What could possibly be easier? But time is running out — the contest closes August 31.
All entries become the property of New Epoch Press. No purchase necessary. Must be 12 or older. Decisions of the judges (capricious as they may be) are final. Not valid where prohibited by law. Eat your vegetables. Thanks to the great folks at Tor for providing the prize.
This Peter Watts fellow is one of the most acclalimed young science fiction writers working today. The first novel in the Echopraxia series, Blindsight, was nominated for the Hugo Award, and in starred review Publishers Weekly called it “a terrifying and original spin on the familiar alien contact story.” Watts has been called “a hard science fiction writer through and through, and one of the very best alive” by The Globe and Mail.
Read an excerpt from Echopraxia, and see the book trailer, here.
Echopraxia was published on August 26 by Tor Books. It is 384 pages, priced at $24.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition.
I think of Sam Moskowitz primarily as an SF historian, perhaps the greatest the field has ever known.
His book The Immortal Storm, a history of early fannish feuds, is still read and discussed today, and his numerous biographical articles on 20th Century SF writers — published in an assortment of SF digests in the 50s and 60s — were eventually collected into two popular books, Explorers of the Infinite and Seekers of Tomorrow. He was a tireless advocate for SF, and was famously the chairman of the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1939 at just nineteen years of age. He was so strongly associated with early pulp SF, primarily as a collector and genre evangelist, that Isaac Asimov dedicated Before the Golden Age to him.
But Moskowitz was also an editor of no little note, with some two dozen titles to his name. I recently stumbled on one of his first horror anthologies, Horrors Unknown (1971), which collects early 20th Century short fiction from Edison Marshall, Fitz-James O’Brien, Ray Bradbury, and many others — including a Jules de Grandin novelette by Seabury Quinn, a Northwest Smith novelette from C. L. Moore, and an incredible round-robin Cthulhu Mythos tales by none other than H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long.
Two more horror anthologies followed this one: Horrors in Hiding (1973; edited with Alden H. Norton) and Horrors Unseen (1974). The latter was his final anthology. Sam Moskowitz died in 1997, at the age of 76.
Sam wrote fascinating and detailed introductions — author appreciations, really — for each story, and his love and knowledge of the field shine through in every one.
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Reach For Infinity makes me very happy.
A while back, I wrote a blog post titled “Is the Original SF and Fantasy Paperback Anthology Series Dead?“, in which I lamented the death of the great genre anthologies like Orbit, New Dimensions, and Universe, and noted that no modern publisher had the courage to launch one these days. None except Solaris that is, which recently started several excellent new anthology series — including Jonathan Strahan’s terrific Infinity line, beginning with Engineering Infinity (2010) and Edge of Infinity (2012).
I’m thrilled to see at least one publisher willing to take the risk… and more importantly, to pull it off. Kudos to Jonathan Strahan and his editors at Solaris for making the impossible look easy. These books deserve your support and they’re a fantastic and inexpensive way to introduce yourself to some great writers. Check them out — and start with Reach For Infinity, the third in the series, now on sale.
Humanity Among the Stars
What happens when we reach out into the vastness of space? What hope for us amongst the stars?
Multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan brings us fourteen new tales of the future, from some of the finest science fiction writers in the field.
The fourteen startling stories in this anthology feature the work of Greg Egan, Aliette de Bodard, Ian McDonald, Karl Schroeder, Pat Cadigan, Karen Lord, Ellen Klages, Adam Roberts, Linda Nagata, Hannu Rajaniemi, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds and Peter Watts.
Reach For Infinity was published by Solaris on May 27, 2014. It is 346 pages, priced at $9.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition.
Garth Nix is one of my favorite young adult writers. I was tremendously impressed with his dark, gritty, and fast-paced Shade’s Children — talk about your dystopian settings! — and I’ve heard great things about his Seventh Tower series.
But it was his Abhorsen series — Sabriel (1997), Lirael (2002), and Abhorsen (2004) — that really made a splash in this house. My kids absolutely loved them, especially my oldest, Tim. So when the advance proof of Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen arrived last month, it was barely on my desk 24 hours before my kids ran off with it. It’s taken me this long to get it back so I can write about it.
Clariel is a prequel to the earlier volumes, returning to the Old Kingdom for a tale of dark magic, royalty, dangerous action, a strong heroine, and Nix’s usual superb world-building.
Clariel is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most important, to the King. She dreams of living a simple life but discovers this is hard to achieve when a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city, her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she finds hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers. Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage, and save the King?
Clariel will be published by HarperCollins on October 14, 2014. It is 400 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $10.99 for the digital edition.
See all of our upcoming book reports here.
The CBS TV series adaptation of Stephen King’s 2009 novel Under the Dome went into its second season this summer. I haven’t watched the show, but I always thought the premise would make good television. Since the show clearly has a following, I figured I’d revisit my initial impressions of the novel. Up first is what I posted on Goodreads immediately after I finished the book in the summer of 2010. Following that are some additional thoughts as I look back four years later.
June 2010: In a way, this is The Stand on a small scale: specifically, the scale of one rural Maine town. At over 1,000 pages, however, the book’s scale is anything but small. Typical King, though — all the things that fans enjoy about his writing are here: a broad cast of characters, lots of pop-culture references, and everyday people suddenly thrust into a strange situation of survival-of-the-fittest.
Basic premise, if you haven’t already heard, is that the town of Chester’s Mill, Maine — population 2,000 — finds itself cut off from the rest of the world by a sudden, inexplicable, invisible dome that rises far up into the stratosphere and goes deep into the earth. Things, as you can well imagine, go to hell. What may be surprising is how quickly it does: in a matter of days, not weeks or months.
I won’t say anything about the ending, except to say I found it somewhat unsatisfying — King sometimes seems to have trouble wrapping up his books. They start with a bang and keep you turning the pages until the end, but the endings are often lacking in finesse.
One other pitfall that King falls into too much here is the tendency to break people into two camps: the white-hats and the black-hats, with villains so villainously drawn they could be twirling their curly moustaches as a train heads for a damsel tied to the train track.
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“I will go when I have said my say. Don’t you dare to meddle with my affairs…”
“The Speckled Band,” the eighth of the short stories which make up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in the Strand Magazine in February, 1892. It is often cited as a favorite Holmes case by fans of the great detective. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself put it at number one on his own list in 1927. I’ve read it at least a dozen times.
However, it also appears to be one of the most poorly handled the world’s first private consulting detective. There are several questionable aspects that leave one to wonder at Holmes’ actions:
HERE BE SPOILERS
If you haven’t read this story yet, take fifteen minutes and do so. You can read it online here, with illustrations. Going on with my article before you’ve read the story will truly ruin one of the Canon’s best known tales.
Sending Helen Stoner Home – Helen Stoner is worried that her stepfather will be angry with her when they are both back home after their separate visits to Baker Street. Holmes tells her that Roylott must “guard himself” or he may find that someone is on his track.
Roylott already knows that Helen has been to visit Holmes: the cat is out of the bag. It is unclear why Holmes is not concerned for her safety. He even says that if Roylott gets violent with her, he will take her to her aunt’s home. That’s a bit reactive. Holmes does not seem to be properly safeguarding her welfare.
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I’m embarrassed to admit that I became a Jack Vance fan only late in life. I blame a misspent youth.
I first discovered him through his short fiction — especially “The Dragon Masters” and “The Moon Moth,” two brilliantly imaginative tales of far-off worlds. But I was slow to discover his novels and I’ve spent the last few years trying to catch up.
The one I want to read next is Big Planet, his 1952 novel of a massive but technologically backwards world known simply as Big Planet, settled over the centuries by a host of criminals, malcontents, and outcasts from Earth. Claude Glystra is sent to Big Planet to investigate rumors of a dark plot against Earth, but his ship is sabotaged and crash-lands 40,000 miles from his destination. Glystra and his crewmates must undertake an impossible journey on foot across a dangerous landscape filled with aliens, human colonies isolated for centuries, and the treacherous agents of his enemies.
Big Planet was Vance’s first major SF novel, and it is one of the classic adventure fantasies of the 1950s. It has been reprinted over a dozen times. I have several different paperback editions — and they are, in fact, very different. All I have to do is figure out which one to read.
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