Saturday, December 1, 2018

Black Unicorn

Black Unicorn (1991) by Tanith Lee is the first of a trilogy.  It is a slim story, part of the Dragonflight series of books arranged by the book-packager Byron Preiss. The Dragonflight series ran for about six years and included a dozen or so short illustrated novels by various authors. Black Unicorn has a small number of adequate ink drawings by Heather Cooper, and a color cover, which fails to capture the flavor of the text. The story itself concerns Tanaquil, the daughter of the desert sorceress Jaive. Tanaquil has a special talent for fixing things.  Her piecing together of the skeleton of a unicorn brings the creature back to life, and starts her on a quest to the city near the sea, which also involves the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.  I found the story surprisingly engaging (probably due to Lee's undoubted stylistic talent), and look forward to reading the next book. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Lee Brown Coye

Recent years has seen a resurgence of interest in artist Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981).  First there was the illustrated biography Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye (2005), by Luis Ortiz. In 2011, Centipede Press published a large retrospective of Coye's art.  And more recently, Mike Hunchback and Caleb Braaten have published Pulp Macabre: The Art of Lee Brown Coye's Final and Darkest Era (2015).  All three of these volumes have their attractions. 

Coye's macabre artwork is perhaps best known from its appearance in three anthologies edited by August Derleth in the 1940s—including Sleep No More (1944), Who Knocks? (1946), and The Night Side (1947)—and in Weird Tales magazine from 1945 through 1952.  Coye also did illustrations for Arkham House books, including Three Tales of Horror (1967) by H.P. Lovecraft. 

Pulp Macabre focuses on the Coye's projects from the 1970s, including work published in Carcosa Press books and Whispers magazine. Coye had a stroke in the late 70s, and tried to turn back to art, but the examples shown here are sketchier than was Coye's wont, though their style is still characteristically Coye's. Still Pulp Macabre makes for another fine Coye collection. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Prozess Manifestations

The Prozess Manifestations (2018) is Mark Samuels' new collection of six stories, all but one of which is explicitly connected by some mention of an offstage character named Doctor Prozess, who is involved in some way with some very odd and dark happenings. 

Most of the stories are quite engaging, save for the final tale, "In the Complex," which I found rather diffuse.  The best tale, for me, was the longest, the novella "The Crimson Fog," in which a military rescue mission heads into an enlarging area covered by a mysterious and deadly crimson fog. The idea is reminiscent of some aspects of the Tarkovsky film Stalker (1979)--which was clearly also the inspiration for Jeff VanderMeer's irritatingly context-less novel Annihilation (2014), bettered in its recent film adaptation. Yet whether Samuels' novella descends from Tarkovsky or VanderMeer I cannot guess. Samuels' novella is certainly much more interesting than VanderMeer's novel, and one wishes it went on a lot longer.

Friday, November 2, 2018

I'd Rather Be Reading

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel, is a small book of short essays about reading.  I normally like books about books, and books about reading, but each of these twenty-one short pieces seems designed to be just perfect reading timewise for a quick sit-down in the smallest room in one's house.  That isn't such a bad thing on its own, but the tone and style of the essays are that of a fatuous blog of a middle-aged person who rambles on while saying nothing. A complete waste of time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Karkadann Triangle

The Karkadann Triangle is a limited edition booklet (and ebook) containing two stories: "Unicorn Magic" by Patricia A. McKillip, otherwise unavailable; and "My Son Heydari and the Karkadann" by Peter S. Beagle, a story previously published in Beagle's collection The Overneath (2017).  McKillip's tale is very slight. It concerns a unicorn who had battled a sorcerer, and the sorcerer managed to change the unicorn into a young woman and send her into the future. There really isn't much story to it beyond that.  Beagle's story, on the other hand, is a real gem.  It concerns a young Persian boy who against all reason saves a dying karkadann, a monstrous one-horned beast known primarily for killing things.  Beagle's telling of the tale is near perfect.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Photographing Alice

Simon Winchester's small book, The Alice Behind Wonderland (2011), is deceptively titled and presented.  With the famous 1858 photograph by Lewis Carroll of six-year-old Alice Liddell (who was the inspiration of Carroll's famous Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) gracing the cover, and with the title as it is, one suspects a book more about the real Alice than anything else.  Yet this book turns out to be a potted biography of Lewis Carroll, emphasizing his hobby of photography, with only a short chapter at the end recounting the life of Alice Liddell Hargreaves when she visited America in 1932 at age eighty and was overrun by news reporters and photographers. Which wouldn't be a bad thing (there is a good chapter describing how the camera Carroll used worked), but even this coverage is hampered by the fact that there are no other photographs in the book, despite numerous descriptions and analyses of them. It left me resorting to the internet to find the examples that Winchester describes in order for his argument to register.  As an introductory biography of Lewis Carroll, this book seems okay, but if one wants something more thorough and rigorous (as I wanted) this book doesn't meet those larger expectations. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Other Side of Green Hills

The Other Side of Green Hills (1947) is a children's book by John Keir Cross.  It concerned five children who are staying at a house called Green Hills in Berkshire over a Christmas holiday. They discover that there is another dimension, an Other Side, to the house where things are very different. On the Other Side they encounter a strange pair, an old man and a young girl, who are called the Owl and the Pussycat after the famous nonsense poem by Edward Lear. (The British edition of this book is titled The Owl and the Pussycat. The title was changed presumably because American children wouldn't understand the reference.)  Owl has the very annoying tendency to burst into song. Later in the book things take a darker turn, as the children find out that an evil sorcerer, who controls the creepy Moon Folk,  is seeking to open further pages of the Book of All Wisdom, by which he can rule the universe. The Owl and the Pussycat and the children must find a way to stop him. 

This is an odd book, and the initial whimsicality doesn't mix well with the more serious later parts. Even the whole set-up doesn't seem very well thought-out, and the resultant story doesn't really engage the reader. And the illustrations by Robin Jacques are alternatively interesting or off-putting. The whole book is a misfire.