As promised, I’m back with a small bit of news and a couple reviews. Even if it did take me a week longer than expected to get them posted here. Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and monsters.
Anyway… Let’s start with a long-overdue obituary, worth noting even at this late date because it’s likely that many have not heard the news… Legendary small press publisher Donald Grant died August 19, 2009. Grant began publishing in 1945, with a collection of Lovecraft memoirs, entitled Rhode Island on Lovecraft, the sole volume from his initial imprint, Grant-Hadley. From 1949 to 1958, Grant published several titles under the Grandon:Publishers imprint, and then withdrew from publishing for a few years. In 1964, he returned by launching the Donald M. Grant, Publisher imprint, which of course is still operating to this day. In addition to publishing the likes of William Hope Hodgson, Fritz Leiber, and H. Warner Munn, Grant earned the most attention (not to mention the most money) by publishing limited editions of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I featured Donald M. Grant, Publisher in the Spotlight on Publishing column way back in Cemetery Dance #12, in 1992, and even back then Grant had taken on a lesser role in the business, allowing his partner Robert Wiener to participate in the interview. Hopefully he enjoyed his retirement years in Florida. Grant is survived by his wife of 53 years and their two children.
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Things are starting to happen very quickly in the world of e-books. Among bigger names, Barnes & Noble released its nook device, which has some nice features, but is also lamely crippled. (The wireless only works inside B & N stores? Seriously?) Sony released their new $399 Daily Edition Reader, and expanded distribution of their smaller, less-expensive models. And a boatload of new readers were announced or released at CES in January, including the Que pro-Reader, the Skiff Reader, the Alex Reader, and the Entourage eDGe.
And, of course, as everyone in the known universe has heard by now, Apple announced and released the iPad. (More on that in a minute…)
On a personal note, I took the plunge in late 2009 and purchased a Sony Reader, which I’m mostly happy with, although the lack of backlighting (which contributes to the device’s admirable battery life) is definitely a pain when trying to read in low-light situations. When I purchased the Sony Reader, the aforementioned iPad was still just a rumor. Having now had the opportunity to spend some time with the iPad (cadged from friends who own one), I have to say that I have a certain amount of iPad lust…but reading is not highest on the list of things I’d use the device for. And the lust is offset by the loathing I feel towards the “closed system” approach that Apple employs — acting as “App Police”, often ignoring standards and inflicting proprietary formats, and not just refusing to support Flash, but engaging in adolescent-level flame wars with Adobe. So, for now, I’m going to stay on the sidelines and not buy an iPad. I’ll wait and see what version 2.0 looks like… and if I decide to take the plunge then, I’ll have gotten at least 18 months of usage out of the Sony Reader, so I don’t feel bad about that purchase.
There are also interesting potential ramifications to the pricing deals that Apple has worked out, with five of the six major publishers, for their iBook store — but I’ll hold off on that topic for now. Especially because recent news around pricing from Google and Amazon make this a large topic.
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And now, on to some reviews…
A collection from David Nickle was long overdue, a situation that Chizine Publications (www.chizinepub.com) has happily rectified with the launch of Monstrous Affections, which gathers fourteen tales, three of which are original to the book. I first discovered Nickle through his excellent contributions to the Northern Frights anthology series, and eventually purchased a couple stories from him for publication in Cemetery Dance. Those two CD stories (“Janie and the Wind” from issue #38 and “The Delilah Party” from #56) are both reprinted here, as are three Northern Frights stories – “The Sloan Me n,” “Night of the Tar Baby,” and “The Pit-Heads” (sadly and strangely absent is the excellent “The Summer Worms,” which also appeared in Northern Frights).
Even though this is the third or fourth time that I’ve read some of these tales, they’ve lost none of their power through the passage of time or the rigors of repeated study. In particular, “The Sloan Men,” concerning a family of physically repulsive men and their strange ability to mesmerize women, making them completely overlook the Sloans’ imperfections, and “The Pit-Heads,” involving a small coterie of amateur landscape-painters and their encounter with the denizens of an abandoned silver mine in Ontario, qualify as genre classics, resonating with a disconcerting sense of not-quite-right otherness. If there’s anything at all negative to say about Monstrous Affections, it’s simply that Nickle’s best work makes some of his lesser efforts pale by comparison…but that’s slight criticism indeed. Highly recommended.
Also recently appearing from Chizine is Nicholas Kaufmann’s novella Chasing the Dragon, which aims to tie together several centuries of dragon mythology, update it with a contemporary setting, and make a heroine out of a heroin addict. For the most part, the author succeeds.
Despite her drug habit and a few other rough edges, it’s not difficult to like Georgia Quincey, a determined and resourceful protagonist who also happens to be the latest in a long line of would-be dragon-slayers. Georgia has a complex and not fully understood relationship with the Dragon (there is only one such creature, and it’s a female as well). The heroin plays a role almost like a third character, acting not only as the object of Georgia’s desire, but also ultimately as a key ingredient in her attempts to end the dragon’s reign.
The strongest element here is the pacing, as the 133 pages fly past like a soaring dragon. Georgia spends the entire narrative in pursuit of the Dragon, following her trail of mayhem and battling not just the Dragon but her meat-puppet minions as well (the Dragon has the ability to animate and control the dead). Some of the climax seems a bit overwritten and borderline melodramatic, but overall Chasing the Dragon is an entertaining way to spend a couple hours.
More reviews soon, including titles by Darren Speegle and Lisa Morton…