The Paperback Fanatic #21 is out!

I’ve been subscribing to The Paperback Fanatic magazine for a few years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here on the blog. What is it? It’s a British magazine that focuses on paperbacks from the 1960s-80s, focusing heavily on “genre literature”: fantasy, science fiction, horror, men’s adventure, sleaze, etc. It’s the brainchild of Justin Marriott, who has continually improved the magazine with each issue. The magazines are now almost entirely in color, and feature discussions of key series, interviews with authors and artists, and color reproductions of cover art. They also invariably sell out not long after publication. The authors that Marriott lines up are obsessive experts in their areas of interest and are genuine authorities — I learn a great deal about collectible genre paperbacks every issue.

Why have I decided to mention The Paperback Fanatic now? Well, Issue #21 has just been released and I have an article in it. My piece covers the insane, over-the-top men’s adventure series TNT by “Doug Masters.” In this article, I give an overview of the series’ complex publishing history, the authors, the series as a whole, as well as reviews of each of the seven English-language novels in the series. Justin has also included some lavish color photos of the covers. These reviews are published nowhere else, though I hope to one day include this article in a monograph on the men’s adventure genre (mostly unwritten as yet).

Here are the complete contents for #21:

Bounding From the Thirties! The Corinth regency reprints of The Phantom Detective and Dr. Death (Justin Marriott)

Gold Medal Crime: part 1 of a definitive A-Z (Rob Matthews)

50 years of Rhodan: a celebration of pulp astronaut Perry Rhodan’s 50th birthday (Andreas Decker)

TNT: the overlooked and demented men’s adventure series (Andrew Byers)

Frank Bernier: A Forgotten Australian Paperback Artist (James Doig)

Abraham Merritt cover gallery: examples from around the world

Opinion columns, reviews, letters and much more.

88 pages, most in full color

You can pick up the magazine here, and can even subscribe. If you’re a collector of genre paperbacks, you won’t regret it!

The Joy of Books

As an avowed bibliophile, I sometimes post about other people’s bookshelves and libraries (my last post of this topic can be found here). Well, I have two updates on that topic today.

First up is a phenomenal video that a married couple and a team of helpers put together about what happens in bookstores at night when no one is around. (Can you imagine how much effort went into this short video?)

And second is an excellent Tumblr feed that calls itself simply “Bookshelf Porn.” Nothing pornographic about it, of course, but if you love images of books, then this is the place for you.

Check them out!

Review: Static! by Michael R. Collings

I’m a fan of horror – H. P. Lovecraft’s work holds a special place in my heart, as does Stephen King’s work through the mid-1990s – though I don’t read enough of the fine horror novels and stories that have been produced in the last decade or so. I was familiar with Michael R. Collings’ science fiction work (see my previous reviews here and here), but I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read one of his horror novels. I was thus almost astonished to find out how much I enjoyed STATIC!, one of his horror novels.

Please note: some plot spoilers follow, though I don’t plan to wreck every twist and turn in the novel.

Nick Wheeler is a graduate student slaving away on his Ph.D. in English. Like all such poor, lost souls, he needs an inexpensive residence where he can spend his waking hours reading, writing, and grading papers. He ends up renting a cottage on the grounds of a larger home in an obscure suburb of Los Angels, Tamarind Valley, owned by an extremely eccentric old woman he only rarely even catches glimpses of. The lady dies and her great-nephew, Payne Gunnison, inherits the home. Nick and Payne become friends and they discover that the house Payne has inherited holds a number of mysteries. For an old lady who never seemed to leave the house, it contains an up-to-date videotape and DVD collection, plus every room is wired with state-of-the-art audio and video equipment. Some of the tapes contain shocking footage of graphic sex and violence. And gradually, Payne discovers that the house and its films seem to be changing his own personality, urging him to do things he otherwise would not….

There are points, especially in the first half (which I found marginally stronger than the second), where I’d almost have sworn I was reading a Stephen King novel. I mean that in the best possible way, as I’m a fan of King’s and think there are few better modern American storytellers. Had STATIC! replaced a few of the literary and film references (which were just a tad metatextual for my liking at times) with pop cultural references and been just a bit more profane, I think we’d have something very much like King’s work.

The novel’s beginning was particularly strong, and the character of Nick Wheeler was especially well-developed. I actually liked Nick quite a bit better than Payne and wished that Nick hadn’t become something of a secondary character in the final third of the book. (It probably helps that I am finishing my doctorate and am entirely sympathetic to Nick’s situation.) Indeed, if there could have been a way to write Payne out of the story entirely and have the events of the book befall Nick, I’d have been happier. But these are quibbles where I am essentially asking for a second piece of a pie I enjoyed.

There is strong element of sexual tension throughout, on multiple levels, though I don’t want to spoiler the work further by elaborating too much on what I mean by that, as it’s one of the more interesting elements of the novel. Frankly, I’d have liked to see that element played up more. There was certainly room to explore that dimension of the plot further.

Here is one lingering question I had about the story (and this will only make sense to you if you’ve already read the book, but I’ll note it here for those of you reading this who have): am I imagining things, or was it (strongly?) implied that The Greer was not really the old woman she seemed to be? Is it possible that her body had been inhabited by an old (gay?) scientist who had originally discovered the process for electronic transfer of consciousness? That would certainly explain some of the dark (same-sex) elements of sexuality in the story. I may be imagining things here, and this crazy idea may say more about me than any backstory intended by its author, so take this comment with a grain of salt.

This is a very, very minor quibble, but I’m not hog wild about the title. That exclamation point bothers me for some reason I can’t quite articulate, though if the title had just been STATIC, I don’t think that would have worked terribly well either, as that just reminds me of a second-rate Dean Koontz kind of title. I don’t have a constructive comment here, just that perhaps a different title could have helped the novel attract more attention.

It wasn’t until after I finished reading STATIC! that I realized that it is part of a loose sequence of horror novels set in the suburban (fictional) Tamarind Valley outside Los Angeles. I very much appreciate that Collings has set out to create his own unique horror setting, as so many others have (e.g., Lovecraft’s Arkham, Innsmouth, and Dunwich; King’s Derry, Castle Rock, Jerusalem’s Lot, etc.). Now that I know a little more about Tamarind Valley and its dark history – having just read another work set in Tamarind Valley – I wish those elements had been played up just a tad more.

I give this one a strong 4.5 stars out of five. The first half of the book is especially strong. Had there been a little more explanation of the backstory and perhaps an ending that offered a more ominous twist, or more of a hook for a follow-on, I’d have rated it a bit higher. Collings is a gifted storyteller, and I only regret that his work is not better known. The whole “I couldn’t put this book down” thing is a bit of a cliché, but STATIC! really captured my interest and I recommend it highly.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers

Book Review: That Which Should Not Be by Brett J. Talley

We live in a Golden Age of pastiches and new tales of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. It seems as though every week a new collection of “Lovecraftian” fiction is released, containing new and reprinted stories of the Mythos by the famous and not-so-famous. Relatively few of these works are novel-length (appropriate, I suppose, since most of Lovecraft’s work is sub-novel length), and while some rival or exceed Lovecraft’s own work, most others are less than memorable. Brett J. Talley’s THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE is a welcome exception.

Please not: spoilers follow, but only in a cursory, plot-summary sense.

Our story begins with the precocious Miskatonic University student, Carter Weston, tasked by one of his professors with retrieving a powerful occult tome, the Incendium Maleficarum, before it can fall into the wrong hands. Before Weston can get very far in his quest, he encounters a gathering of fellow travelers who relate their own tales of past encounters with the macabre. The novel is thus comprised of four seemingly disparate stories related on a dark and stormy night, along with the hoary framing device of a young man sent on a quest to retrieve a MacGuffin who encounters the travelers. Talley uses this to good effect here. Weston eventually realizes that he has a date with destiny and must play a critical role in stopping a great evil from the depths of time (is there any other kind?) and travel halfway around the world to stop a certain Great Old One with whom we are all familiar.

There are a number of “Easter Eggs” hidden throughout the text for fans of Lovecraft’s setting as well as other classic works of horror. Perhaps most obviously, the protagonist’s name – Carter Weston – evokes Lovecraft’s own “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” We encounter Drs. Seward and Harker, who should immediately remind you of the characters from DRACULA (Talley’s characters are not the same as our fearless vampire hunters though). An evil abbess, by the name of Bathory is surely intended to remind the reader of the “vampiric” Elizabeth Báthory. The infamous, real-life Danvers State Insane Asylum (rumored origin of the pre-frontal lobotomy and mentioned in Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model”) also makes an appearance here. The Flying Dutchman makes an appearance, and the evocative names Kadath (from Lovecraft’s Dreamlands) and Lenore (from Poe) are used. Last but not least is everyone’s favorite fictional university, Miskatonic University, which is used to good effect, as is its Chief Librarian, Henry Armitage. There are undoubtedly others that have slipped my mind, but these stand out and are certainly representative of the kinds of small finds that observant fans of weird fiction can expect to find here.

I should note that Talley’s use of language evokes a subtly Lovecraftian feel without resorting to ridiculous over-use of some of Lovecraft’s favorite terms: eldritch, foetid, gibbering, noisome, rugose, squamous, etc. His tone is evocative of Lovecraft’s work without being slavish.

Lovecraftian purists, take note! Talley has created his own unique vision of the Lovecraftian universe in which God – that is, the Christian God – exists and has real power, as evidenced by the final tale in THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE. Personally, I think this works well and isn’t at all heavy-handed or preachy. But it’s also not exactly the sort of tale that Lovecraft himself would have written.

I give this one four stars out of five. I know that some Cthulhu Mythos purists may not appreciate it, but I had fun with it and found it to be an engaging read. I hope to see more Lovecraftian fiction from Talley. I recommend THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE to readers who are looking for some newer Lovecraftian tales, as this is one of the better novel-length efforts I’ve come across in years. Because it neatly ties in some other more traditional horror themes and tropes (e.g., the wendigo, the Flying Dutchman, evil cultists and psychopaths) with the Cthulhu Mythos, I think that fans of horror fiction who have not yet encountered the Mythos should enjoy this one as well.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers