Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon

Buoyed by the wild success of my post on Burnt Offerings, I thought I might use this space to write the occasional book or movie review. These will range in length and depth. Most will, I imagine, be somewhat short, but will hopefully give a flavor of the book or movie. Today's selection: Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon.

Told through letters and transcripts of therapy sessions, Some of Your Blood reads, in many ways, like Dracula. There are also italicized sections directed at the reader, by an unnamed narrator, presumably the author. These sections address the reader directly (second person) and talk about the book as a book. Very oddball. It took some getting used to, and it is a little slow at first, but stick with it; it's worth it.

Some of Your Blood (what a great title!) is the story of a disturbed young man, called George Smith--though the nature of his malady is not revealed until much later--growing into adulthood in horrible conditions: a drunk, abusive father, a stint in a correctional facility. The book builds up to a quite disturbing and nightmarish final third, when George's psychosis is revealed. I don't want to say much more about the book than that. It's very much a novel of revelation, and to write too much about it takes much of the fun away.

As many horror novels as I've read and horror movies as I've seen, I shouldn't have been as shocked and disturbed by the ending as I was. There's not much violence "on the page" as everything is reported second- or third-hand, in a rather detached clinical style. And yet, it really creeped me out. I'll confess that several times in the first fifty pages or so, I thought of putting the book aside. It doesn't read like a modern novel--it doesn't even read like a novel from 1961, which it is--and, as I said, it starts rather slow. But I'm glad I pushed on to the horrifying conclusion. It really is unsettling. Aside from the creepy thrills, the book is also very well-crafted. The psychology of George is explored subtly and realistically. (I should note, I have no idea if George's mental illness is plausible, but Sturgeon makes it feel plausible, which, I think, is enough.)

Highlight this area to reveal a discussion that includes some pretty big spoilers: So, Some of Your Blood is absolutely a modern take on the vampire novel. The structure is, as I said, reminiscent of Dracula, and George's real name isn't George. It's Bela. As in Lugosi. In many ways, the novel feels like a companion piece to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Both are modern updates on the vampire myth that utilized the science of the time. Matheson used biology to give his vampires a plausible explanation, Sturgeon used psychology. 

Would I recommend Some of Your Blood? Absolutely, though I'd warn folks used to modern horror that this reads differently than what they're likely familiar with. But readers who stick with it will be rewarded. Or maybe that's not the right word. "Rewarded" implies something far more cheery than the feeling you'll be left with when you finish Some of Your Blood. This one sticks with you, folks!

Sadly, the book appears to be out of print (I picked up a paperback at FenCon last year), though second-hand copies look to be widely available, and there is an ebook available on Amazon. (I imagine this might be one of those cheap-y ebooks rife with spelling errors caused when the paperback was scanned, but perhaps I'm wrong, or perhaps that won't bother some.)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: Burnt Offerings

Disclaimer: I have read Robert Marasco's 1973 horror novel Burnt Offerings and have watched the 1976 Dan Curtis film that was based on it, but have done neither recently. I was just thinking of both the book and movie today and also thinking I hadn't posted anything of length here in a while, so . . .



Burnt Offerings has a pretty decent pedigree. It stars horror icons Oliver Reed and Karen Black, and features the legendary Burgess Meredith and Bette Davis in smaller, supporting roles. It was directed by Dan Curtis, from a screenplay written by Curtis and William F. Nolan. Curtis is best known for his television work, especially Dark Shadows. He and Nolan worked together on dozens of made-for-TV movies in the 1970s, including the scariest made-for-TV-movie of all time, Trilogy of Terror, which also starred Karen Black. Burnt Offerings was Curtis' only theatrically released film, and truth be told, it does sort of feel like a TV movie--but a good one!

The plot centers on the Rolf family, who rent an old, run-down house in the woods for the summer, in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Davis and Meredith play the creepy old folks who own the house. Spoiler alert: things get weird. Turns out, the house is sort of a vampire, feeding off the pain and suffering of those who live in it.

Burnt Offerings is suitable creepy, and the tension builds throughout the film to an appropriate climax. Reed and Black give stellar performances and Davis and Meredith knock their few scenes out of the park. However, this isn't exactly a must-see film. I might call it a minor classic of its kind. If you like pre-slasher horror like The Wicker Man, Don't be Afraid of the Dark, Night Gallery, Trilogy of Terror and The Night Stalker (also directed by Curtis), then I'd say give it a go; it's highly likely you'll enjoy it. It's available on DVD and BluRay.

One last thing about the movie before I move onto the book. I read a funny anecdote, though I confess I forgot where. I mentioned William F. Nolan above. Nolan is perhaps most famous for co-authoring, with George Clayton Johnson, the novel Logan's Run, though he's had a very prolific career, spanning several genres and media. Nolan was also life-long friends with Ray Bradbury. Anyway, the story goes that Nolan was visiting the Bradbury house one day in 1976. He was talking to one of Ray's four daughters, who happened to mention she'd just seen a terrible movie called Burnt Offerings, not realizing she was talking to its screenwriter. Oops.



I read the novel Burnt Offerings after seeing the film. I'd never heard of it before, nor had I heard of its author Robert Marasco. Fortunately Valancourt Books recently brought out a re-issue of Burnt Offerings, with a new introduction by horror author Stephen Graham Jones. (If you are a fan of forgotten genre novels, check out Valancourt; they've got lots of cool obscure stuff.) The novel is set in New York rather than L.A., but the premise is the same. As with most adaptations, I think the book is better. It is, however, definitely a slow burn. Not a lot of whiz-bang action and little to no blood and guts. But if you're into what the great horror anthologist Charles L. Grant called "quiet horror," then it'll satisfy. The ending is different than in the movie and is very suitably creepy.

In conclusion, I wouldn't say that either the novel or movie Burnt Offerings are solid-gold classics, but both have much to recommend them to fans of old-school horror.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Year's Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 3 Table of Contents


Pleased to announce the table of contents of The Year's Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 3, which hits bookstore shelves June 6. Of course once you see the lineup we've got this year, you'll want to preorder it, I'm sure, so here's the link to Amazon, for your convenience.

Preface by David Afsharirad
Introduction by David Weber
“Cadet Cruise” by David Drake
“Tethers” by William Ledbetter
“Unlinkage” by Eric Del Carlo
“Not in Vain” by Kacey Ezell
“Between Nine and Eleven” by Adam Roberts
“Sephine and the Leviathan” by Jack Schouten
“The Good Food” by Michael Ezell
“If I Could Give this Time Machine Zero Stars, I Would” by James Wesley Rogers
“Wise Child” by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
“Starhome” by Michael Z. Williamson
“The Art of Failure” by Robert Dawson
“The Last Tank Commander” by Allen Stroud
“One Giant Leap” by Jay Werkheiser
“The Immortals: Anchorage” by David Adams
“Backup Man” by Paul Di Filippo



Friday, April 7, 2017

"Surprise" up at Every Day Fiction

My (very) short story "Surprise" is up at Every Day Fiction today. Click here to check it out.

One of the things I most love about short story collections is when the author writes story notes about each story, so I'm gonna do that now for "Surprise." Here we go . . .

A while back, I had four 100-word stories published by SpeckLit, a fact I shamelessly promoted on Facebook. I got the requisite number of "likes," which is always nice, and a friend from grade school liked them enough that she half-joked that I should write her one for her for her upcoming birthday. Well, who can resist that sort of flattery? Plus, I though it would be a fun writing exercise.

I wrote a 100-word short story with a birthday party theme and called it "Surprise." I sent it to Valerie and either she liked it or was polite enough to say that she did. I told her I might try and sell it, if that was okay with her. It was her story, after all. She said that would be fine. Well, I never sold that 100-word version of "Surprise." I'm not sure I even sent it out. I liked it as it was, but I thought the story might benefit from having just a little more meat on its bones. A couple more trips through the metaphorical typewriter and "Surprise" was now double its original length. I sent it off to Every Day Fiction, where it was met with interest. The editors did ask if I wouldn't mind expanding on a few things, however. I was happy to oblige. The version which appears at the link above was what I came up with, and though I'm rather biased, I think it turned out pretty well. See what you think . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

FenCon XIII

I'll be at FenCon this weekend. Here's my schedule. Come see me talk about things!

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Friday 3:00 PM  - 4:00 PM  Chinaberry 
Our Communicators Are Supercomputers! 

Description: Star Trek has boldly (or not so boldly) predicted the path of technology. What did they get right? What did they miss? And will we ever get that transporter? 
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Friday 6:00 PM  - 7:00 PM  Irving Lecture Hall 
The Slushpile 

Description: Editors discuss the horrors of the slushpile and how you can make your manuscript stand out. 
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Saturday  10:00 AM  - 11:00 AM  Trinity V 
FenCon Squares 

Description: It's the classic game show Hollywood Squares with a FenCon twist! Join us for an hour of fun and games as our panel of guests try to help (or bluff) our contestants. We even have a "Secret Square" in each game! Come check it out. You might win a prize! 
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Sunday  10:00 AM  - 11:00 AM  Red Oak 
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

Description: Scientific advances we see in the future, and how they might go wrong (and lead to interesting stories)? 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Things from Outer Space

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I've got a new story in Things from Outer Space, edited by Hank Davis! Get your copy today.
"As It Lays" by Yours-Truly is situated between stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Silverberg. Also featured: Stories by David Drake, John W. Campbell, Sarah A. Hoyt, Clifford D. Simak, and more.
It's a bit surreal to be in such great company, with so many of my writing heroes--but hey, I'll take it! Big thanks to Hank for having me.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"The Man from the Future in Rosebud #61

My short story "The Man from the Future" is in the newest issue of Rosebud Magazine (issue 61).

It's a thrill to find my work in the pages of Rosebud, The Biggest Little Literary Magazine in the World. The magazine was a favorite of Ray Bradbury's and, in my book you can't get a much better endorsement than that.