Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Binding

The Binding (2019) by Bridget Collins is marketed as her first book for adults, following seven novels for young adults.  But there is really nothing in this novel that marks it out as for adults per se. It is basically an elongated love story, though details of the love are at first hidden.  Young Emmett Farmer tells his own story after a mysterious illness. It turns out that he was taken to a witch-like Binder, whom he learns removes memories from willing subjects and writes them down in beautifully bound books.  After he recovers from his ailment, Emmett is taken by the Binder Seredith (of whom he has no memory) to be her apprentice, for in binding him she discovered that he had the powers of being a notable Binder himself. In the first of three parts of this book, Emmett tells his story up to when he learns that he had previously been bound, and by burning his book, the memories come back to him. The second part of the book is  also in Emmett's voice, telling of the memories that were taken away. It is not really giving much away to say that his love story concerns another young man, as this is foreshadowed from very early on. For the third and final part of the book, the narrative shifts to the point of view of Lucian, Emmett's lover, who has similarly had his memories of their relationship bound. The shift in narrative voice is not very successful, and the whole third section seems rushed and forced in the telling.  Thought inevitably the two young men end up together again at the end, the reactions of virtually every other character in the novel to the idea of a same sex couple is positively medieval.  Though the plot gives the tale some aspects of a page-turner, the construction and technique of the author are second rate at best. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Northwest Passages

Northwest Passages (2009) by Barbara Roden contains some very enthusiastic blurbs from the likes of Peter Straub ("Barbara Roden has placed herself among the ranks of the most telling, most effective, most readable living writers of the strange and fantastic tale") and others.  I know to take such blurbs with the proverbial grain of salt, yet I couldn't help but expect something more than the mostly competent yet uninvolving tales that comprise this collection. Only in the title story does the plot and characters cohere into something more than the quotidian. A few of the other nine tales read almost like cribs from the diaries of polar explorers--interesting, but nothing special.  I wanted and expected to like this more than I did, but sadly found a number of the stories a slog to get through.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Search for the King

Gore Vidal is perhaps best remembered as an American public intellectual with a pungent wit. Of his writings, his essays are especially noteworthy, and many of his historical novels were  popular bestsellers. A Search for the King, published early in his career, is not a typical Vidal novel in a number of ways. Foremost because it mixes elements of fantasy into the story.  Basically, the novel is set in the late twelfth-century and follows Blondel, a faithful troubadour of King Richard the Lion-Heart. Early on, Richard is taken prisoner on his way home from the Crusades, and the novel tells of Blondel's adventures in central Europe while searching for him. These adventures include a fight with a dragon, meetings with werewolves and a vampire, but none of these fantastical encounters are entirely traditional according to legend.  The dragon does not breath fire, the werewolves act as bandits (as their king admits, "instead of eating human flesh we live on gold taken from human visitors"), the giant grew up in a monastery until his obtained his Growth, which the monks regarded as the work of the devil so they cast him out. The vampire is a practical female Countess, who feeds on her subjects but is careful not to kill any of them. And even a unicorn makes an appearance, but not to a young virginal girl but to a young boy on the verge of manhood whom Blondel had befriended.  A Search for the King is a slow-moving, meandering book, and not among Vidal's best, but I enjoyed it.

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.