“For a long time I had wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting.”
I finally read Stephen King’s The Stand during the last two months of 2020. What a year to read his story of a deadly new strain of the flu that wipes out most of the population of the planet. “Are you crazy?” I hear you ask. Probably. The timing wasn’t planned, it’s just the way it worked out. The length of this book kept me away from it for so long, 1152 pages in the Complete and Uncut Edition. Now that I’ve read it, I can understand all the high praise it gets. The Standis King’s masterpiece.
To simplify it, The Stand tells the story of a battle between Good and Evil after a devastating pandemic. I can’t say for sure that it is King’s “best” book because I haven’t read them all. It’s subjective, anyway, but it has become my favourite King novel. I could end the review here–“please do!” I hear you shout–but that would be lazy of me. Let me tell you some of the reasons why this book blew me away.
‘All of the reasoned editorials sounded hollow in light of the perverse randomness of the event. It was as if only a thin wall of electric lighting protected the great cities of the world from total barbarism.’
-Dan Simmons, Song of Kali
A random recommendation on Robert Mayer Burnett’s YouTube channel brought me to this book. I read Simmons’s Hyperion a while back and enjoyed it, but never tried anything else by him. The synopsis sounded intriguing, as did the setting of “Calcutta,” (now Kolkata). Song of Kali won the World Fantasy Award in 1986.
‘Song of Kali follows an American magazine editor who journeys to the brutally bleak, poverty-stricken Indian city in search of a manuscript by a mysterious poet—but instead is drawn into an encounter with the cult of Kali, goddess of death.’
Literary magazine editor Robert Luczak (Loo-zack) is sent to “Calcutta” to verify the rumours of new work by the legendary Indian poet M. Das. The poet “disappeared” eight years previously, and nothing has been heard from him since. It is presumed that he is dead. Luczak sets off on this journey with his Indian wife, Amrita, and their baby girl, Victoria.
‘Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.’
Did you watch the recent Netflix series about a brilliant female chess player: The Queen’s Gambit? I watched it and really enjoyed it. It is based on the book of the same name by the American author Walter Tevis. I’d never heard of Tevis before the series, but I did know the title of his most famous science fiction story: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963). I’ve seen the film starring David Bowie but I haven’t read the book. After reading Tevis’s novel Mockingbird (1980), I now want to read all of his books including The Hustler (1959) and The Color of Money (1984)–made famous by the Paul Newman-starring movies.
Mockingbird is a powerful novel of a future world where humans are dying. Those that survive spend their days in a narcotic bliss or choose a quick suicide rather than slow extinction. Humanity’s salvation rests with an android who has no desire to live, and a man and a woman who must discover love, hope, and dreams of a world reborn.
*This is my review of the novelette published by Lucius Shepard in 1985. The Jaguar Hunter is also the title of Shepard’s 1987 collection of short stories, a book I’m very interested in after reading this novelette.
This is the story of Esteban, a retired hunter living with his wife in Honduras. His wife gets into debt with a local businessman and Esteban agrees to hunt and kill a black jaguar to settle the debt. After entering the jungle on the jaguar’s trail, he meets a beautiful woman who begins to question him about his intentions toward the jaguar.
This was my first experience reading Lucius Shepard (1943-2014), an American writer whose work was first published in the 1980s. The Jaguar Hunter was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category in 1986. I read it in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” (1986) edited by Gardner Dozois. At only 22 pages, the story can be read in one sitting.
‘They float,’ it growled, ‘they float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too–’
I went through a Stephen King phase when I was sixteen years old. It only lasted a couple of years, starting with Misery (1987) and ending with the collection Four Past Midnight (1990). A year earlier and I might have started with It. I wonder what my sixteen-year-old self would’ve made of it. It’s very likely I would have enjoyed it a lot more than I did reading it in 2020. Does that mean that Stephen King is more suited to teenagers? Well, I don’t know about that but I would wager that we are a lot more forgiving when we are younger readers.
Before I go on, I want to point out that I have read Salem’s Lot, The Shining and Bag ofBones over the last four years. And I enjoyed each one of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy It.
I first got into Jean-Michel Jarre when I was in my early teens back in the mid 1980s. If my memory is reliable–ahem–I believe it was after watching “Rendez-vous Houston: A City in Concert” on BBC2 in 1986. This was a life-changing experience for me. I had never seen or heard anything like it. Watching a musician combine music and visuals to create a spectacular display on the skyscrapers of a modern city, in fact using that city as a stage, transported me to another place.
You can find the concert on YouTube now. Unfortunately the picture quality isn’t great but it’s better than nothing. I checked if there was a dvd release but it isn’t currently available. That’s a shame, as I would love to see a cleaned-up HD version.
‘Death is on wing this coal-dark eve. It soars as a silent smokey wisp through the long shadows over Boston’s Beacon Hill.’
Marvel Digest Series: Chiller Pocket Book #1
Chiller #1 was released in March 1980. It was part of Marvel UK’s Pocket Book series which lasted for 28 issues. Edited by Dez Skinn, it featured black-and-white reprints of Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula #59 & #60 (Aug. & Sep. 1977) plus “Deathsong,”a story from Marvel Premiere #27 (Dec 1975) starring Satana, the Devil’s Daughter. The Dracula stories were written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan & Tom Palmer. The Satana story was written by Chris Claremont with art by The Tribe.
‘Call me Shang-Chi, as my father did, when he raised me and molded my mind and my body in the vacuum of his Honan, China, retreat. I learned many things from my father: that my name means “The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit,” that my body could be forged into a living weapon through the discipline of Kung Fu, and that it might be used for the murder of a man called Dr. Petrie.
Since then, I have learned that my father is Dr. Fu Manchu, the most insidiously evil man on earth … and that to honor him would bring nothing but dishonor to the spirit of my name.’
Cover art of Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973)
Riding on the wave of the Bruce Lee-inspired Kung Fu craze in the 1970s, Marvel Comics launched the character Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in 1973. He was created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin and made his first appearance in Special Marvel Edition#15, cover-dated December 1973. He appeared again in issue #16, and with issue #17 (April 1974) the title changed its name to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. The series was a success and continued for ten years until the final issue #125, dated June 1983. Continue reading →
‘Yesterday I was shivering in London. Now the Sudanese sun scorches the skin from me, like a blowtorch.’
In this premiere issue of Hellblazer, streetwise magician John Constantine meets an old friend and goes in search of a hunger demon.
Hellblazer #1, January 1988, Cover by Dave McKean
The first Hellblazer issue I bought was number 31 back in July 1990. It was written by Jamie Delano with art by Sean Phillips. The story is titled “Mourning of the Magician” and tells the tale of John Constantine’s father’s funeral. I was vaguely aware of the character of Constantine but had no idea who anyone else was. What I do remember is how much the story pulled me in. It was a ghost story set in England with references to occult magic. I instantly wanted to know more about these characters and the world they inhabited.
I continued to buy Hellblazer monthly and made it my mission to get hold of the previous thirty issues that I’d missed. Some were easy to find, others not so much, especially the first ten issues. I remember tracking down issue one at a comics fair in Manchester, England. I don’t recall how much I paid for it but it can’t have been very much because I was in college at the time. I can trace my infection with the “collector-bug” to this comic book as well as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
“Your people contain incredible potential, but they die without using much of it.”
Dawn is the first book in Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. It was nominated for the 1988 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. I read her 1979 classic Kindred a couple of years ago and it totally blew me away. (You can find my review here.) I was so impressed with Butler’s storytelling that I wanted to read anything and everything written by her. I regret it has taken me this long to get around to this novel because it is a riveting and powerful story, one which I couldn’t put down.
Cover Art by John Jude Palencar
One of my aims with this blog is to write spoiler-free reviews. With this book, I am going to have to reveal some of the main plot details but I won’t go beyond the published synopsis. Unfortunately, the synopsis reveals important events which occur at the beginning of the story. If you would rather not know these details then stop reading now. Continue reading →