Friday, April 20, 2018

A Few Words About That "Riverdale" Episode

Say, remember that Guided Tour series I did late last year?
That sucker was a lot of fun, and though I was caught up by the time it ended, that certainly didn't mean the end of the Kingdom.  I've already begun Part 16, which will span the year 2018 to the year ... well, who knows?  I'm guessing it will run through 2020 or 2021, which means you fine folks won't be seeing it anytime soon.
But I thought it made sense to post an excerpt from the work in progress, just so as to give us an excuse to talk about the episode of Riverdale that aired a couple of nights ago.  The episode in question, "A Night to Remember," involved...
...well, read this, and you'll see.
Riverdale season two episode eighteen: "Chapter 31: A Night to Remember"
(television episode)
  • broadcast on The CW on April 18, 2018
  • directed by Jason Stone from a teleplay by Arabella Anderson and Tessa Leigh Williams
  • inspired by and featuring songs from Carrie The Musical

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Movie Review: "Ready Player One"

"Oh, good, look ... another post at The Truth Inside The Lie that ain't got jack squat to do with Stephen King!  This guy..."
I hear ya, I hear ya.  But here's the thing.  This movie I'm about to review in brief, it's absolutely germane to a discussion on this blog.  Or any Stephen King blog.
You'll have to read all the way to the end to find out why, because I can't talk about it without being a little bit spoilery.
The setup for the movie is this: in the future -- it's, like, 2047 or something -- Americans (and maybe the world) are obsessed with a virtual-reality service called The Oasis, which is a place where you can "go" so as to escape the bounds of reality.  It was created by an eccentric genius named Mark Halliday, who has died and has left a will decreeing that the winner of a game he's written into The Oasis will inherit control of the board which runs it.  Along with this comes half a trillion dollars or so.
The game has been going on for some time when the movie begins; our hero, a teenager named Wade Watts, is one of the many, many, many people trying to win it.  His digital avatar is named "Parzival," a reference to the fact that he does not "clan up"; i.e., he is a solo gamer who avoids joining with other gamers.  
Plenty of folks have no such compunction, however, including a massive corporation called IOI, which employs gamers to do its bidding in the virtual world.  They are apparently able to purchase debt and more or less enslave people to do menial tasks within The Oasis so as to advance their cause of trying to forcibly take control of Halliday's estate.
So basically, the movie is a mix of live-action scenes within the real world of 2047 (or whatever it is), and the virtual landscape of The Oasis.  Parzival makes some friends, and begins making some headway in playing Halliday's game.  But, of course, the minions of IOI are on his trail the entire time.  Who will prevail?  I'm not telling.
This is a very, very busy movie, and if you want to know the truth, I'm not sure it made a lick of sense.  I am sure that I didn't care; I loved this movie, and while it's not perfect, it's got a lot to recommend.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Movie Review: "Children of the Corn: Runaway" (2018)

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by myself, and me decided to take I up on the opportunity.  This despite the fact that me only wanted to speak to us -- ? -- on the subject of Children of the Corn: Runaway, the recently-released fauxquel that marks #9 in the series.  Or #10 if you count the remake.
We'll get into that below, among other things.

Q:  Hi, Bryant!
A:  Uh ... hi.
Q:  Thanks for taking my call!
A:  *sigh*  You bet, man.  Happy to ... uh ... yeah, happy to do it.
Q:  So my first question is this: Children of the Corn: Runaway was released onto VOD services on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, which -- let me consult my calendar here and make sure this is correct -- uh-huh, yeah ... which was LAST Tuesday.  It is now March 20, 2018.  So my question is: why did it take you a full week to watch a new Stephen King movie?
A:  I'm not sure anybody cares what the answer to that is, but I can answer it.
Q:  Well, don't let me stop you.
A:  Right.  Well, see, I bought the Blu-ray, which...
Q:  You bought this on motherfucking Blu-ray?!?

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Look at "The Twilight Zone," Season 1

Your humble blogger acquired the complete Twilight Zone Blu-ray set for Christmas (all the way back in 2016!), and decided it might be nice to share his journey through Serling's masterpiece as he works his way through it.  I'd seen only a handful of episodes through the years; for all practical purposes, the series is uncharted territory for me, which is exciting, given its reputation.  To me, it made sense to blog my way through it (an urge prompted, it must be credited, by the Twilight Zone Tuesdays posts at Dog Star Omnibus).
I had not initially intended for this walkthrough to appear on The Truth Inside The Lie.  Instead, I planned originally for it to be part of Where No Blog Has Gone Before, my infrequently-updated sci-fi blog.  But as I was reaching the end of the first season, it occurred to me that not only is The Twilight Zone almost certainly of interest to many Stephen King fans, it's also germane to a discussion of King's career.  Germane enough, I think, to allow it fit in nicely here.
In his 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, King devotes about ten pages to The Twilight Zone and its creator, Rod Serling.  These are not uniformly sycophantic, not by any means; King admits to preferring The Outer Limits, in fact.  Nevertheless, King recognizes the program's unique position in the pantheon of fantastic storytelling.  "Of all the dramatic programs which have ever run on American TV," King writes, [The Twilight Zone] "is the one which comes closest to defying any overall analysis.  It was not a western or a cop show (although some of the stories had western formats or featured cops 'n' robbers); it was not really a science fiction show (although The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows categorizes it as such); not a sitcom (although some of the episodes were funny); not really occult (although it did occult stories frequently -- in its own peculiar fashion), not really supernatural.  It was its own thing, and in a large part that fact alone seems to account for the fact that a whole generation is able to associate the Serling program with the budding of the sixties . . . at least, as the sixties are remembered."
King's storytelling has sometimes been described as evincing a Twilight Zone influence, and he has often mentioned that the work of Richard Matheson was influential upon his development.  Matheson was perhaps the second most notable writer for The Twilight Zone behind Serling himself.  King would also eventually be published in the eighties Twilight Zone Magazine on numerous occasions, and even had a story ("Gramma") adapted for the revival of the television series during that decade.
So all things considered, I thought it made sense to put these blog posts up here.  I was going to be writing them one way or the other, and while I've gotten some feedback that my King blog doesn't always have as much writing about King as it might optimally contain, I think this side-step is permissible.  It's not going to be super in-depth; just an episode guide and some relatively brief comments from yours truly, conducted in as un-spoilery a manner as possible.
With that in mind, let's get to side-steppin'.
There's a signpost up ahead...
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
"Where Is Everybody?"

(season 1, episode 1)

airdate:  October 2, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
The place is here; the time is now...

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Review of Robert McCammon's "The Listener"

Today, I've got a review of the new Robert McCammon novel The Listener, which was released by Cemetery Dance on February 27.
Before we get to the review itself, I wanted to mention that on the day of the book's release, I was lucky enough to meet McCammon at a signing hosted by the Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham.  I suppose you may feasibly care nothing about that; if so, you are more than welcome to scroll down to the photo of The Listener, after which the review will begin.
Everyone else: assuming you don't mind indulging me a bit farther, I request that you click here to read a bit about the Alabama Booksmith.
Go on, it won't bite!
Isn't that a cool bookstore?  I'd never been there prior to this McCammon event, and I intended to take some photos that I could use in this very blog post.  I got there and got to browsing and chatting with other attendees, and I plain old forgot about taking any pictures.  I kind of remembered it on the way to my car, but thought it might be weird if I walked back in and started snapping photos.  Sorry about that!  Hopefully I will have occasion to visit them again at some point, and can rectify my blunder at that time.
Here's a link to their website, and I'm sure they would be more than happy to mail a book to you anywhere in the world.
I wasn't sure how events like this signing worked, so I labored mentally over whether I could/should take some of my old McCammon books and ask the man himself to sign them.  I worry about shit like that.  I don't want to breach etiquette if I can possibly help it, and this is especially worrisome when I don't even know what the etiquette is.  I figured it'd probably be okay, since I would be picking up a copy of The Listener while I was there ... but I wasn't sure.  So I left the four books I'd brought in the trunk of my car and went inside to get the lay of the land.
The event began at 5pm, and I went in about 4:40 so I could look around for a while.  I ended up buying two books:

El Paso, I bought as a gift for my father.  He ain't getting it until Father's Day, though, so don't mention it to him.  Plus, I have to say, I'm tempted to just keep it for myself; it sounds like the sort of thing I'd enjoy.
As for The Border, I already had a copy of that novel; but (as I mentioned in my review) I have the limited edition.  This is the mass-market edition, which apparently turned out to not be all that mass, since it is thoroughly out of print.  I didn't feel as if I could pass up the opportunity to get a copy of this edition, since who knows if such an opportunity will ever come again.  They had two copies, and I was strongly tempted to buy both, but I feared that this might make me look like a crazy person.  Plus, I was doing my damnedest not to spend money like a hog-wild fool.  Trust me, the temptation was there; this is the kind of store that makes you want to buy books by people you've never even heard of, not to mention by the ones you have.
Anyways, my books purchased and my copy of The Listener (which I'd pre-ordered) retrieved, I got in line for the signing.  I immediately overheard people talking about the literal sacks of books they had brought to be signed; one lady, on a previous visit, had evidently brought literally every McCammon novel she owned (which was every McCammon novel), and he had graciously signed every single one.  I looked around, and sure enough, several other folks were clutching older books.  So I turned around, walked back to my car, stowed my new purchases and retrieved my older McCammons.  As I walked out, I neurotically explained to one of the store's staff members what I was doing and she just sort of nodded in a "cool, thanks for the info, nerd" kind of way.  Not rudely -- the staff seems awesome -- but in the way you nod when you've seen a thing a gazillion times, up to and including the person you're observing do it thinking that they are the first person in the history of ever TO do it.
Looks, folks, here's the bottom line: I'm not exactly the most socially graceful person you've ever met.  A shocker, I'm sure, but it's true.  I never suck at it AS much as I expect to ... but I do suck at being in places I've never been, especially if I'm solely around people I don't know.  So did I trip and drop my books as soon as I walked back in the door...?
No!  But I did drop one of them, minus the tripping.  I dropped it right in front of a lady at the back of the line, with whom I had a good conversation while we stood waiting.  The book I'd dropped was the paperback version of Blue World, and she noticed it and we talked for a while about the cover art for that Pocket Book series of paperbacks, of which Blue World was seemingly the final entry.  She mentioned that the cover to Swan Song had scared her silly back in the day, and I mentioned the fact that -- as previously related here to you fine folks -- the cover to that edition of Mystery Walk had scared me so much that I had put off reading it until it was literally the only McCammon book left for me to read.
As we were standing there, I noticed that a lady at the front of the line was having McCammon sign a copy of the original Dark Harvest Swan Song hardback.  This was not the novel's first edition; it was a paperback original, but Dark Harvest published a limited-edition hardback a year or so later, and if you've got $400-800, you can buy one on the secondhand market.  I was immediately struck by a wave of envy, and I strongly considered joking with her about it when I saw her leaving a few minutes later.  "Hey," I was going to say, "I just wanted to mention that I absolutely will NOT follow you to the car and steal that copy of Swan Song from you, but it's kind of a temptation."
But of course, that would be a creepy and offputting thing to say, and might well earn me a maceing in the hashtag era of 2018.  So while I wanted to mention the book and ask her if I could check it out, I decided against it.
Eventually, I made it up to the front of the line and immediately apologized for bringing old books.  McCammon said that was no problem at all, and proceeded to sign for me the following books:
  • The Listener (already signed, but I asked him to personalize it, as well as the others I'm about to mention);
  • my original paperback edition of Blue World;
  • Shadow Show, an anthology honoring Ray Bradbury, in which McCammon's story "Children of the Bedtime Machine" is a standout;
  • and my limited edition of The Border.

We chatted for a bit about "Children of the Bedtime Machine," which I told him is, in my opinion, probably his best short story.  He was either surprised to hear that or he didn't agree with my assessment; probably the former, but the neurotic side of me fears McCammon might have judged me in that moment and found me lacking.  Which, to be fair, I kind of am.  Either way, he told me a quick story about how he came up with the title, which I really enjoyed.
Goes like this: in writing his rock-and-roll-centric novel The Five (which, to the shame of my clan, I have not yet read), he needed a name for a rock band.  So he went to a band-name generator, and what it gave him was "Children of the Bedtime Machine."  He was struck by this and the mental gears began a-turnin', and it eventually resulted in this story.  (He chose another name for the fictional rock band in The Five.)
I was intrigued by this and said so, and wondered whether he had already been approached about doing a story for Shadow Show.  He said he had, but had not come up with anything up to that point; so when the gears began turning, they steered his thoughts toward something in the vein of Bradbury.  It's a case of beneficial dovetailing, and not only is the story ("Children of the Bedtime Machine") beautifully Bradburian, but this story about the story is pretty dang Bradburian in its own right.
I love that.
I also talked to him for a bit about The Border, which I confessed that I had not read until just a few weeks prior to the Listener launch event, and had loved.  He was pleased to see a copy of the novel's limited edition, and showed it off to a few people, including the gentleman who runs the Alabama Booksmith.  I thanked him and said it'd been a pleasure to meet him (which it had), and got out of the way so somebody else could take my place.
As I was walking out, a lady at the back of the line said, "We've been talking about following you out to the parking lot and stealing that copy of The Border from you."  I looked up and saw several people grinning at me, so I stopped and chatted with them for a bit, and showed off my copy of The Border.  I even told them about seeing the lady earlier who had the copy of Swan Song that made me feel the same way.
Ain't that funny?
All in all, it was a fine old time.  I loved the bookstore, I enjoyed being around (and chatting with a few of) a bunch of fellow McCammon fans, and, of course, it was very cool to meet McCammon himself.  He was one of those guys who just seems friendly as all get-out, and happy to talk with his fans for a bit. 

I wouldn't be surprised if The Listener earns McCammon a few more of those fans.  This is a crackerjack of a novel.

Friday, March 9, 2018

"Sleepwalkers" Revisited, Part 4: The Music of "Sleepwalkers"

Well, werecats, our time with Sleepwalkers is drawing to a close.  It's been fun for me, and hopefully it's been of use to a few of you, as well.  (You can find the first three segments here, here, and here.)
We're going to conclude with a look at the music of the film, beginning with -- but not limited to -- the Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album.

A word about the word "soundtrack."  This is going to sound pedantic, but I think it's a good thing to remind people of every once in a while (myself included).  At this point, I'd say the most common use of the word "soundtrack" is in the denotation of "the music in a film or television show" (or video game, nowadays).  Even more specifically, it often refers to a commercially-available album collecting that music.
But in fact, a sound track (or soundtrack) is exactly what it, uh, sounds like: it's the entirety of everything you hear in a movie.  Music, yes; but also sound effects, dialogue, and even silence.  The word itself comes from the days of film -- actually, physical film -- when the sound was imprinted onto the celluloid.  Eventually, when music from films began to be marketed as its own thing, the word became commonly used simply to denote those albums (or cassettes, or CDs, or downloads) of songs and/or score.
Seeing the "Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" designation on the Sleepwalkers CD made me think of it, and the way my blog posts work is that typically whatever jumps into my mind is what ends up on the screen.  In this case, though, I think it's permissible.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

I Am Like the King of a Rainy Country: "Sleepwalkers" Revisited, Part 3

The screenplay for Sleepwalkers has never been published.  There's nothing peculiar about that; the only King screenplays that HAVE been published are Silver Bullet, his Tales from the Darkside episode ("Sorry, Right Number") a segment from Cat's Eye ("The General"), and Storm of the Century.  I don't think I forgot anything.
If you're anything like me, you think this is a shame.  The ones that did get published are all very readable; whatever you think of them AS screenplays, they tend to be more readable than your average screenplay.  King's writing voice and sense of humor come through loud and clear.
Before I began this series of posts (the first two segments of which can be found here and here), I knew I was going to read the screenplay.  A fellow collector sent it to me a couple of years ago, and I'd been intended to read it; this seemed like the perfect excuse.  And I also knew that I wanted to write about it.
What I wasn't sure about was whether I should write about it.  After all, this IS a piece of unpublished fiction; so an argument could be made that I shouldn't even have a copy of it, much less put proof of it out into the world.  Would Stephen King want me NOT to review it?
If you're me, you ask yourself questions like that sometimes.
Obviously, I decided to go ahead with it.  Would King approve?  Eh ... probably not.  But I figure Uncle Steve has better things to do than worry about some fatso in Alabama expressing his enthusiasm in blog-post format.
The case I'd make FOR it goes like this.  For one thing, I think it's instructive -- rarely (if ever) necessary, mind you, but certainly instructive -- to read a movie's screenplay in order to better understand the movie.  For another thing, screenplays tend to be very commonly traded among film enthusiasts; they are not always super easy to find, but this IS a different thing than a manuscript of a short story or novel that has never been published.
What decided me, however, is that there are places where the screenplay is being sold.
Now, say what you will about enthusiasts sharing the screenplay among themselves for the simple pleasure of the reading.  That's one thing.
Attempting to profit off the work is another thing entirely.  But in researching the issue, I found for-sale copies of the same draft of the Sleepwalkers screenplay that I was sent; their price ranged from $20 to in excess of $100.  These were not in uncommon places, either; they were in the types of places one would be most likely to think of if looking for something like that online.
When I saw that, I thought, well, if THAT sort of thing is being allowed, then I doubt me simply talking about having read it is going to cross anyone's eyes.  It's not like I'm posting the screenplay for others to read.  And it can be a public-service announcement of sorts: there's really no need to give some fuckhole $100 for a bootlegged copy of this screenplay.  Just make a friend in a screenplay community, and you'll almost certainly be able to get it for free eventually.
The draft we will be considering is the sixth draft, dated March 20, 1991.  As far as I know, none of the previous drafts have ever leaked into the world; I know that Rocky Wood, in his book Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished, says that an initial draft was titled Tania's Suitor.  I also do not know if this was the final shooting draft; there may well have been further drafts, since the finished film does have some differences.
But since this is what we know, this is what we will review.
The reason to compare screenplay to film, in my eyes, is pretty simple: to gain insight into some of the creative choices that went into the finished product.  There have been cases where the "final" screenplay would not be particularly final at all; a director can make huge changes, actors' performances can change the meaning of scenes, and the editing process can radically change the writer's intent.
So: is King's screenplay for Sleepwalkers a radically different animal that demonstrates director Mick Garris ruined and distorted his original vision.
Nope, this is essentially the movie you know and love/hate/endure/ignore.  There ARE some significant and highly interesting differences, though; by the time I finished reading it I was -- even apart from the sheer enjoyment of the reading -- very glad I had decided to do so.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Real Spielberg Story: "Sleepwalkers" Revisited, Part 2

For the second part of our series revisiting Sleepwalkers, we're going to examine some of the press materials related to the film, from both before and after its release.  (Part 1, an examination of the film, can be found here.)
Let's begin here:
This special King-centric issue of Cinefantastique is a treasure trove, y'all.  It's so great that I may eventually do an entire post just about it.
The issue is dated February 1991, but magazine cover dates are weird, so the issue itself may have actually hit newsstands as early as December of 1990.  Either way, this hails from well over a year before Sleepwalkers was released.  It therefore might be the earliest known mention of the film.  
Let's see what Stephen King had to say about it, within the body of a lengthy Gary Wood article titled "Stephen King & Hollywood":
Not yet announced is SLEEPWALKERS, King's third original screenplay since CREEPSHOW (1982), written last spring.  Said King, the Bangor, Maine-based novelist whose name has become synonymous with horror, "I guess it's going to be bought for this huge amount of money and put into production immediately by these guys who have bankrolled a couple of Steven Seagal's films [ABOVE THE LAW and HARD TO KILL].  It's a pretty good screenplay, a real Spielberg story."
And that's it for the mentions of Sleepwalkers in this issue, but there's still some stuff to contemplate.  For one thing, when Wood says that the screenplay was written "last spring," that may mean the spring of 1990, but it might also mean the spring of 1989.  This makes sense; most screenplays go through a lengthy shepherding process before they are produced, if every they are.  I'd be curious to know where King was in his writing chronology when the idea for Sleepwalkers presented itself, and when he wrote the first draft.  It feels to me like it could have come from around the same time as some of the individual components of Four Past Midnight; would you be surprised to learn that this and, say, "The Library Policeman" were back-to-back efforts?  Nah, me neither; I have no idea, obviously, but it seems like a possibility.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Here Comes Johnny With His Pecker In His Hand: "Sleepwalkers" Revisited, Part 1

Before we begin, I've got to cop to something: yes, in fact, I do know that he doesn't actually sing "here comes Johnny."  He sings "there come Johnny."  I am indeed aware, so just in case you thought I got that wrong, know that I did it on purpose because I prefer the way my version sounds; plus, as we will discuss later, the lyrics to the actual song do in fact say "here comes Johnny."
If you have no bloody clue what I'm on about, well, saddle up, pardner; you're in for a heck of a barn dance.
Today, we shall ponder Sleepwalkers.  Oh yes we will; that's a threat AND a promise.
The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the title of this post bears a "Part 1" designation.  You have correctly assumed that this means a(t least a) Part 2 will follow.  If you are wondering how and why that can be, let me lay out an agenda for this FOUR-PART series.  Yes, you read that correctly; four flippin' posts on Sleepwalkers, consisting of:
  • Part 1: an appraisal of the movie itself
  • Part 2: a look at some of the press about the movie, mainly consisting of magazine articles
  • Part 3: a review of the screenplay (never published but obtainable nevertheless)
  • Part 4: a review of the soundtrack CD

The goal is to give this movie a fair shake.  It's been derided by lots of people, myself included, and I cannot deny that it's fun to go into ultra-snark mode with a film like this one.  That's not much of a challenge, though; and better snarksters (by far) than I have already done that work.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Books I Read in 2018, Part 1

Once upon a time, I used to read damn near constantly.  I mean, all the damn time!  It was rare for a week to go by without me finishing a book, and not uncommon for me to finish two or three.
I have no idea how I managed to do that, apart from the fact that I didn't spend 129 hours per day on my PC, fucking about in way or another.  Whatever the case, I miss those days; for any number of reasons, really, but the reading-like-a-champ thing is one of the biggies.
Anyways, I'm hoping to make 2018 a better year for reading than 2017 was.  And my first act of 2018 reading has been to begin making a dent in my to-be-read shelf.  There are some books that have been sitting there for far too long, among them a number of books I was given as gifts.  It always makes me feel like a prick to not read a book somebody gives me.
So, a resolution has been made: get them motherfuckers read, not because I feel obliged, but because I want to AND feel obliged.  I had no initial intention of blogging about it; but then I thought hey, why not?  Some of these might be of interest to y'all, and anyways, there'll be some King (and King-adjacent) reading sprinkled in there, as well.
We begin with something that's at least more or less in the horror genre:

Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
My friend Randy gave me this for my birthday all the way back in 2016, which shows what a piece of shit I am.  He also gave me Job by Robert Heinlein, which I read in a more expedient fashion (but will not cover here, great read though it was).
I'd never read anything by Anne Rice before this, and part of me found it weird to dive into a series in the middle.  This is the fifth novel in Rice's Vampire Chronicles, and left to my own devices, I'd never consider skipping the first four.  But it's not a bad idea to occasionally shake up one's preferred method of doing such things; and anyways, Randy assured me that it would read fine on its own.
He wasn't wrong.  I sense, after finishing Memnoch, that I'd probably benefit from reading the other novels, but I sense also that this is a singular novel, and that it was of benefit to read it in isolation.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Review of Robert McCammon's "The Border" (plus two more)

Today, we will briefly look at The Border, Robert McCammon's sci-fi novel from 2015.  I had not intended to write a review of it; I'm curating a running post (or series of posts, more likely) about every book I read this year, and my intention was to simply give it a couple of paragraphs in that post.  Not because it's unworthy, mind you, but simply as a time-saving gambit.
I enjoyed the novel enough, though, that I felt like I had to get something on my blog about it sooner rather than later.
So here 'tis!
It's a crackerjack of a book that many reviewers have said is the closest McCammon has gotten to his '80s/'90s heyday since ... well, since the nineties, I guess.

Having not yet read the entirety of his output from the '00s and '10s, I can't speak to that for the time being.  But I can say without a doubt that The Border is something that any fan of McCammon's early work is apt to enjoy quite a bit.

The setup goes like this: a pair of alien races invade Earth as part of a long-running war over the border between their territory.  Earth has, in the normal course of its journey through the galaxy, become part of that border, and the aliens -- referred to by humans as the Cyphers and the Gorgons -- devastate the planet and its inhabitants in their squabble.

The novel itself begins some two years after that initial invasion took place, as a teenager with amnesia and some really gnarly bruises finds himself fleeing a battle between the warring aliens.  He finds shelter with a band of human survivors who are holed up in an apartment complex.

From there, the novel turns into something that many people might derisively refer to as YA, and if that's your conclusion I guess I can't fault you for coming to it.  I didn't feel as if McCammon was courting that audience in any way, however, and nothing about the book's marketing seems to have done so.  (By the way: good luck finding a copy of this book.  It was released by Subterranean Press, but only barely, and is out-of-print as fuck.)  It does not, for example, promise a never-ending stream of sequels.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Review of Robert R. McCammon's "Mystery Walk"

Mystery Walk, published in 1983, was Robert R. McCammon's fifth novel, and his first to be published in hardback.

It's the story of the first 21 or so years in the life of Billy Creekmore, who has inherited his mother's ability to see ghosts and ease the troubles of the ones who have not yet managed to pass on from the earthly realm into the more peaceful places that wait beyond.  The novel opens with Billy's mother (she's very pregnant with him), progresses on to his first childhood experiences of the supernatural, and eventually turns into a coming-of-age story that involves his going out into the world to try to figure out the purpose of his "mystery walk" through life.
This was the novel that turned me into a McCammon fan.  I'd forgotten that until rereading it, but it's true; I'd thought it was Boy's Life that had turned that trick, but that was a failure of memory on my part.  No, it was this one; and not for the reasons you might think.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Review of Peter Straub's "Koko"

Koko, released in 1988, was Peter Straub's first solo novel since 1984's collaboration with Stephen King, The Talisman.  Straub had been a bestselling author in his own right before The Talisman, but the team-up with King brought with it a new level of public interest (and scrutiny).  We'll return to that idea in a bit, but first, it might be helpful to briefly recap Straub's career up to this point:
1973:  His first novel, Marriages, is released.  A would-be mainstream literary novel (i.e., not supernatural or fantastical or horror-based in any way), it failed to get much attention from anyone.  Noteworthy for structural and stylistic experimenting that is cleverer than it is effective, it reads like the work of a writer determined to impress college English departments the world 'round.
1974:  His second novel, Under Venus, was finished in 1974 but would not be released until 1984.  This was not for lack of trying on Straub's part; it's just that nobody would publish it.  Like Marriages, it is mainstream literary fiction; unlike Marriages, its author appears to have had at least a vague interest in story and character.  Not a great novel, but a step up.
1975:  Straub turns to the ghost story with Julia, his first supernatural novel.  This seems to do the trick for him, and from this point forward he seems to be a novelist with purpose.
1977:  If You Could See Me Now, another horror novel, is released.  If Julia was a promising novel, If You Could See Me Now is that promise nearly fulfilled.  The next novel IS that fulfillment.
1979:  Ghost Story becomes Straub's first bestseller.  A thick, challenging read; it is every bit as experimental as Marriages, but in a successful manner.
1980:  A fantasy novel about magicians, Shadowland wins Straub his first World Fantasy Award.  This is not the first time his fiction has explored the idea that the line between reality and fantasy -- or between truth and falsehood -- is exceptionally thin, but it reads almost like a culmination of those ideas.
1983:  Floating Dragon is released.  In many ways, this feels like Straub's master's thesis on the subject of horror literature (in much the same way Stephen King's It would be a few years later).  If I'm not mistaken (and I might be, since I haven't read most of the remaining books in his bibliography), he would not return to the genre in this manner for quite some time to come, if at all.
1984:  The Talisman is released and spends twelve weeks as the New York Times #1 bestselling hardback.  This collaboration between two of the world's best-known horror novelists is something of a curiosity in that it's ... not really a horror novel.  Sure, it has horrific elements; but really, it's a fantasy novel in the Tolkienesque vein.
That brings us to:
In a 1993 interview for Horror Magazine, Straub said that Floating Dragon had represented him going as far as he could go with "supernatural special effects."  He said, "It would have killed me to try to top it or done anything again in which I used the conventional mechanics of the supernatural. The very idea of it caused real despair."  He had, of course, immediately returned to the supernatural -- or, at least, the fantastical -- with The Talisman, but it's possible he did not think of this collaboration in precisely the same way he thought of his own work.
Let's let Straub expert Bill Sheehan explain what happened next.  Here's what he had to say about it in his book-length inquiry into Straub's fiction, At the Foot of the Story Tree (which no Straub fan should be without):
In the aftermath of this complex act of collaboration, Straub's pen fell temporarily silent.  Having produced four large, increasingly ambitious works of the fantastic in just under six years, he found himself suffering from creative exhaustion, compounded by the belief that his capacity to produce this sort of fiction had finally played itself out.  Yielding to necessity, he retreated into a year-long period of silence, reflection, and renewal.  At the end of this period, he began the slow, painstaking process of redirecting his fiction into new vital areas.
Those "vital new areas" eventually took the form of Koko.  A long novel about Vietnam veterans, it's a different thing in many ways than Straub's previous novels had been.  It's got as many similarities as it does differences, though, and anyone who has read those foregoing works would be likely to recognize the same authorial voice at work.
The story opens in 1982, in Washington, at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  A former soldier, Michael Poole, is in town to meet a trio of members of his platoon.  As it turns out, they are not there merely for the dedication of the Wall; they have also been assembled because their lieutenant has become aware of serial killings that he suspects have been carried out by one of their fellow soldiers, Tim Underhill, who was last known to be living in Bangkok.  The lieutenant wants the four of them to go overseas, find Underhill, and do what they can to both stop him and get him the help he clearly needs.  They (mostly) do, they do, they don't, and they really don't; that's pretty much the story.  As is often the case with Straub, though, the story is only the top layer of the cake; there's plenty more going on in Koko, and almost all of it is more interesting than the story itself.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Review of Tabitha King's "The Trap"

In the spirit of self-recrimination, I feel like I'm obliged to begin this review by pointing out that it's been slightly less than three and a half years -- YEARS! -- since I last blogged about a Tabitha King novel.  (Here's the evidence, your Honor.)
I wish I had a better excuse.  What I do have is this: a combination of too many ideas, too little time, and WAY too little self-discipline in the area of time-management.
Tabitha King need not feel like a sole slightee, though: I've similarly failed to be productive at blogging about the specific works of Peter Straub (June 2014) and Robert McCammon (May 2014), both of whom I had hoped to work on steadily.  And I think there might have been one other one, too.  Who am I trying to think of...?
Oh, yeah.  Stephen King.  THAT guy.  I haven't done one of the in-depth analyses of his novels that I enjoy doing since I covered Needful Things in October 2014.  Three years and some change!  Okay, sure, I did take a lengthy look at Revival in December '16 / January '17.  So it hasn't been AS long as it feels.
You don't care about any of this.  And if you do, you shouldn't; I thank you, but trust me, you've got better things to care about than this.
I myself do care, though.  I worry about this stuff, Bevvie; I worry a lot.  And for my own purposes, I'd like to talk a bit about that.  Since you are here only for the Tabitha King review, I'll make it simple for you to get to it: just scroll down to the photo of the book cover, and read from there.
If you're still here, know that I am in full self-indulgence mode for a few paragraphs and tread accordingly.
I started my blog in January 2011, and I did it for a simple reason: I needed to do something.  I'd long entertained the vague goal of writing some sort of long-form analysis of Stephen King's work.  This goal went all the way back to a pre-9/11 era, and at one point I had the ambition to put it to use in a graduate-school way.  That was a long time ago, now; and even though it seems occasionally to still be a fresh and possible ambition, in fact, it's anything but.  It's been anything but for at least a decade now, and probably longer.
And that's okay!  Find me a living adult human and I'll show you someone who hasn't done everything they wanted to do.  No, I'm not worried about that much.  And my urge to write about Stephen King's books is a separate thing, which never went away.  By January 2011, its only existence was in my mind, but it DID exist there; and when I was sitting in my apartment one night, pondering the growing feeling that I needed something other than what I had, this idea -- my "Stephen King idea" -- floated to the top of my mind.
Nothing uncommon about that; it often did so.  But on this particular night, it evolved, and a new thought presented itself: you could start a blog, it said.  I'd always thought of my "Stephen King idea" as plans to write a book (or a series of books); I'm old-school in many ways, and that's what old-school fellows think when they think about writing: books.  But even then, I was living in a new-school world, and blogs made it very simple and (potentially) inexpensive for any dolt in the world to put their thoughts out there in a formal manner.
So why not do that?
No reason not to, said my brain, and so the next thing you knew, I'd created a blog -- Ramblings Of A Honk Mahfah, it was called then -- and had begun writing about Stephen King.  The plan was to ... uh ... the plan to was to find a plan, eventually.  At first, I didn't know if I'd try to be a news aggregator or a critic or a commentator or what.  But I knew I wanted to write about the books and stories and movies.
At that point in time, I was already well into a chronological reread of all of King's works.  I don't remember precisely when I'd begun that reread project, but I'd made it up to The Drawing of the Three, which I'd just finished.  So this presented a dilemma of sorts: did I want to start over from the beginning (Carrie) and write about everything in order?  Or did I want to simply pick up writing about the next book (Misery) and go from there?
I decided on the latter approach, and I began fucking up almost immediately.  I read the novel, took a bunch of notes on it, and then planned to write it all up and present it as "A Week of Misery."  This was going to be a five-part, Monday-Friday series.  I got the Monday post out on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011, and then ... didn't finish the second part until Wednesday.  Part Three landed on Thursday, but then the fourth part did not appear until the next Monday.
So right off the bat, I learned that my ability to keep to a schedule was perhaps not the best; but I also learned that writing of the type I was interested in doing was resistant to being scheduled, and that I might be best-served to not try.  This didn't prevent me from trying again, on multiple occasions; and once in a while, I actually managed to get the job done.
From there, my goal was to simply continue my chronological reread, and blog about the books (and any significant adaptations of them) as I went.  Here's what I've gotten done since then:
The Tommyknockers (April 2011)
The Dark Half (August 2011)
Four Past Midnight (December 2013 - January 2014)
Needful Things (October-December 2014)
I also reread the revised/uncut version of The Stand, and while I did not write about the novel itself, I did write extensive analyses of both the miniseries and the Marvel Comics adaptation.  Oh, and I reread The Waste Lands, but opted not to blog about it because it made little sense to me to do so without first blogging about The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three.  
Plus, I covered many of the books King has released during the time my blog has existed: 11/22/63, Joyland, The Wind Through the Keyhole, Doctor Sleep, Revival, etc.  I wrote what might be one of the more comprehensive pieces ever written about Golden Years, too; not a novel, but a major original work (partially) by King, so that kinda counts.
Yes, I've done lots of pieces in those nearly-seven years that I'm proud of.
But there's no getting around it: I've made shockingly little progress on my reread project.  If you count both The Stand and The Waste Lands, that's six books in seven years.  We're talking about a guy who turned 38 the year he began his blog, which is about an author who has (depending on what you count and how you count them) in excess of 70 books on his bibliography.
Do the math on that.
I have.  
It's not pretty.
So with that in mind, the time has come to tighten the fuck up around here.  There are still side-projects I'm going to work at -- like the Tabitha King project, and the Peter Straub project -- and I'm sure others will pop up on occasion, but the goal is simple: no more fucking around.
The Guided Tour Of The Kingdom project I completed late last year was designed to sort of throw down a gauntlet for myself.  "THIS," I was saying to myself, "is what you've got to do, asshole.  Get the fuck to it!"
Because time is a finite resource, isn't it?  Yes, it certainly is.  So I find myself thinking more and more frequently, can you really afford to spend your time doing _________ when you could be working on your projects?  Sometimes, that's a yes.  There's never going to be a time when I'm not going to watch a new Star Wars movie, probably twice; I'm going to be pickier with other movies, though.  This is a curious feeling for a man who works at a movie theatre; this is a curious feeling for a man who has not missed an Oscars telecast since at least 1990.  But this year, do I really need to see The Shape of Water and Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread and Molly's Game and Hostiles and the Disaster Artist and whatever else when every hour I spend doing so is an hour I'm not working on my project?
I might see a few of them; I will not see all of them.
As much as I'd like to watch the new seasons of some of the television series I'm interested in following, when I weigh the thirteen hours it would take to watch the third season of __________ against the amount of work I could make on my project during the same amount of time, how often can I honestly say that watching television is worth it?  And let's not even talk about new series.  I'm sure that show you want me to watch is awesome; unless I feel like I can't live without it, it ain't happening.  I'm sure that The Deuce is great; I'm never going to find out.  Mindhunter sounds like it'd be right up my alley; so does Dark.  Fuck 'em both; it ain't happening.
Time to be realistic about all of this stuff, folks.
Good news is, we're only about halfway done with January, and I've already read three books, which is more than I read during the entire spring of 2017.  None of them count toward my Stephen King project, per se (i.e., none of the three were by King), but that's okay; that's by design.  I am working my way up to it, and I'm actually ahead of the schedule I've made for myself ... so far.
Plans can always go awry, though.  For example, I hadn't planned to write any of this.  I planned to merely launch into a relatively brief review of The Trap.  But sometimes, the fingers start to typing, and the soul dictates what keys they hit moreso than the brain does.
That's okay; got to be realistic about that, too.
And now, with no further ado:
The Trap was published in 1985, and was King's third novel.  Her first, Small World, was a science-fiction novel; her second, Caretakers, was a generations-spanning drama set in the small fictional Maine town of Nodd's Ridge.  (Nodd's Ridge will be the setting for most of King's novels, including The Trap.)
I'm not a huge fan of Small World, which has some interesting situations and characters but feels a bit like a chocolate and tilapia sandwich in that the whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts.  It feels to me like King was trying too hard in her debut, but it also feels as if she figured out whatever she needed to figure out by the time Caretakers rolled around.  Her second novel is a much more assured piece of work in every way.
The Trap almost feels as if it could have been an intermediate step between the two.  I won't further bury the lede: I don't think this is as good a novel as Caretakers is.  But so what?  I love Caretakers, so taking a step down from that one -- even a large one (which is this is not) -- could still put you on a plane where you're reading a good novel.  And if you're reading The Trap, you're reading a good novel.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Brief Review of Joe Hill's "Strange Weather"

It's been nearly three months since Strange Weather came out, and it's really rather unforgivable that I waited that long to read it.

Finally, though, I can cross it off my list.  And, having thus crossed it, I figured I'd give you folks a brief non-spoilery review.

It consists of four novellas -- or "short novels," as Hill has designated them (in a clear case of six versus half-a-dozen) -- that are varied in content and tone.  They are as follows: