August 18th, 2008

there!, Hello

The tavern was ill-lighted and cloudy with smoke.

51) Elak of Atlantis by Henry Kuttner. (2007, Paizo Publishing, 224 pages)

With this volume, Paizo Publishing continues its efforts to reprint some neglected or out of print pulp fantasy fiction. This time around we find four sword and sorcery short stories starring the titular character Elak of Atlantis, as he and his troublemaking retainer (Lycon) face magic and mystery and more than a few Lovecraftian horrors on the ancient continent of Atlantis. Following this quartet are a pair of non-Elak adventure stories (starring Prince Raynor) taking place in time-swallowed kingdoms of what is now known as the Gobi Desert.

The yarns are fun affairs, with some exciting deeds and characters, but this reader found more joy in the engaging and colorful writing style. First published in issues of Weird Tales and Strange Tales (1938-1941), it is no surprise that these tales are in the Conan/Robert E. Howard's vein, but they are by no means pastiches. Kuttner's always engaging, sometimes surreal, and often savage stories offer the voice, themes and interests from a very different writer.

The volume includes a fine introduction from author Joe R. Lansdale.
there!, Hello

When you grow up in a place, especially if your childhood is a good one... fail to notice a lot of the nasty things that creep beneath the surface and wriggle about like hungry worms in rotten flesh.

This first line comes from:

52) Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale. (2008, Knopf, 287 pages).

Lansdale latest novel follows often drunk and miserable Gulf War vet and Pulitzer Prize nominated reporter Cason Statler, as he sucks up his pride and takes a job at his home town paper. There, he gets involved in a Cold Case around missing college coed Caroline Allison. Little does he know what levels of muck his interest in the case will rake up: Blackmail, murder, racial prejudices, manipulation, macabre homemade DVDs... All of these revolve around the titular maiden, which sounds like something kinky and certainly turns out to be fetishistic, but not in the way one might initially expect.

A new Lansdale novel is cause for me to do a happy dance. One of my favorite contemporary writers, I was all too eager to get this book (luckily, the local Border broke the lay down date and I managed to nab it two days before the official release date). It is a heavy duty comment on my emotional state that it's actually taken me two freaking weeks to finish this book. No fault of the book, certainly, but all me... Blasted real life distractions!

Folksy voice? Check. Delightful use of (often racy) metaphors and similes? Check. A book that bounces from guffawing hilarity, to an insightful perspective on how humans work (both among each other and when alone), to moments of gut punch brutality out of the finest horror novels? Check.

This novel fits into Lansdale's "mainstream" suspense works, meaning it is one part mystery, one part brutal thriller, one part meditation upon the capacity for human cruelty and kindness, one part revenge tale, one part story of an unusual friendship, and one part black comedy all dumped into a genre blender, served with plenty of east Texas charm.

It's difficult for me to approach a Lansdale book with anything resembling an unbiased opinion, but that's what I will attempt to do with my review. However, here in my personal journal I feel free to throw my "unbiased opinions" out the window. Leather Maiden is an amaaaaazing addition to Lansdale's body of work, and a fine place for new readers to see what this writer is capable of. Is it the best thing he's ever written? I dunno...

But with a writing resume including (in no particular order) The Drive In (brutal Lord of the Flies type scenario set in a temporally and spacially transported drive in theatre; never has anyone made popcorn so... memorably repulsive!), Savage Season (a black and brutal thriller, start of the Hap and Leonard series), The Bottoms (a suspenseful coming of age story set in the 1930s), "My Dead Dog Bobby", "By Bizarre Hands", Sunset and Sawdust (an empowered woman sheriff -- first woman to have the position, in fact -- encounters hatred and murder in Depression era lumbering town Fort Rapture, setting of Leather Maiden), "On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks" (zombie nuns, nuff said), "Bubba-Hotep" (Elvis and a black JFK square off against a soul sucking mummy in an east Texas retirement home; I kid you not), The Big Blow (boxing and a mighty storm, set around the turn of the twentieth centry), Cold in July (suspense story with a heartfelt meditation about fathers and sons), Mucho Mojo (the second of the Hap and Leonard series, and the first Lansdale novel I ever read), Zepplins West! (a steampunk-style tall tale about a zeppelin propelled wild west show (featuring Buffalo Bill Cody's head in a jar, Wild Bill Hickock, Annie Oakley, and more), on route to Japan; the book features a supporting cast that includes Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau and his island, Ned the seal, and more; off the wall does not begin to describe this one, but it's a hoot!), The Nightrunners (a very human and gut wrenching horror novel, recently reprinted as God of the Razor), The Magic Wagon (a western-fantasy of sorts), The Boar (or Git Back Satan!) (a coming of age story in which a boy squares off with the world's meanest boar), and Dead in the West (night of the living dead in the old west)... Needless to say, it's got some heavy duty competition.