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BOOK REVIEWS: May 2000
By Paula Guran

THE LONG ONES
Joe R. Lansdale
Signed & numbered/ 218p./ $45
Necro Publications/ ISBN: 1-889186-15-5

book cover If you've never read Joe R. Lansdale you can start right here. If you are an avid fan of His Ownself then you may not be starting with THE LONG ONES, but you sure don't want to miss it. Novellas (stories over 7500 or 10,000 words in length -- depending on who you ask --but shorter than a novel which starts somewhere around 40,000 words ) are a great length for Lansdale: they give him enough room to unwind, stretch out and stun the reader without cramping his storytelling. The man is a flat-out American writing treasure and this collection of four novellas captures Lansdale's gonzo mojo at the max. "Bubba Ho-Tep" matches geriatric old geezers who believe themselves to be Elvis and JFK against a soul-sucking mummy menace who leaves East Texas "hieroglyph" graffiti on the toilet-stalls of a rest home. Vulgar and poignant; silly and thrilling, "Bubba Ho-Tep" is a classic example of inimitable, extraordinary Lansdalia. The world goes to the zombies in "On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert," one of the most audacious, original works ever to receive a Bram Stoker award, a British Fantasy Award as fantasy, and an American Mystery Award. (Heck, it may be the only novella ever to have done so, but that ain't the point.) "The Events Concerning a Nude Fold-out Found in a Harlequin Romance" is about as wacky a detective story as one would ever want, with characters and events so absurdly true-to-life no other writer could turn them into fiction. Top it all off with a new novella, "The Steam Man of the Prarie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel," which follows, more or less, a silver-metal steam-powered "man" and its brave crew as they pursue a vampiric creature, the Dark Rider, and his minions -- the apes in trousers and Moorlocks -- in a world with rips in the sky that people can enter and things can come out of and three doomed astronauts and a bunch of other stuff [that would surely make P. K. Dick (to whom the story is dedicated) even more paranoid if he thought about it] before ending with a minivan and dinosaurs. Whoo-eeee! It's one dingdang scifi-surrealistic-horrorific weird story, yessiree. Like most of Lansdale's much-optioned-but-never-produced-as-film stories, these four have cinematic impact that leaps off the printed page. And that ain't all -- there's an afterward by the author and illustrator Robert Copley draws a real fine scorpion. I just hope Necro Publications has copies left by the time you read this, or that somebody gets a tradepaper out. THE LONG ONES is just too damn good to miss.

THE DIVINITY STUDENT
Michael Cisco
Buzzcity Press/ $12.99/ 149p
ISBN: 096522001X

book coverMixing surrealism and the Gothic, author Cisco comes up with a singular debut novel that is both nightmarish and strangely transcendental. Exquisitely cryptic illustrations by Harry O. Morris add to book's ominous atmosphere. The protagonist, who we know only as the Divinity Student, is sent from the chill, damp, solitary seminary where he has been educated to a sun-drenched, bustling desert city to become a "word-finder" searching for unknown words in aging tomes. He becomes part of a secret cabal that seeks to resurrect the Eclogue, a book written in a vocabulary of unknown words that "is the essential substance, or first cause, of creation, and is the source of renewal...a communion or synthesis of all natural forces." The Divinity Student has an ability, coached by the high priest of the city, to "walk directly into the memories of any dead man, and bring...the words...back again." Obtaining the words from twelve corpses stolen from churchyards and cemeteries, the Divinity Student obsessively pursues the arcane knowledge as he loses more and more of his sanity and humanity. Cisco is an astoundingly original textual alchemist melding metaphor and imagery into revelatory dark fantasy.

SKULL FULL OF SPURS: A Roundup of Weird Westerns
edited by Jason Bovberg and Kirk Whitham
Dark Highway Press/ 245p/ $29.95
ISBN: 0-9662629-1-3

book coverThe myths of the American West combined with elements of the weird have become a subgenre in dark fantasy. Debut editors Jason Bovberg and Kirk Whitham have compiled thirteen original "down-n-dirty tall tales" that should be welcome fodder for those who like their Westerns wilder and weirder than Louis L'Amour could fathom. Be forewarned that this is definitely a fictional wild west that owes more to the Hollywood Hills than the rough terrain of history, but that seems to be part of the territory. The better stories here tend to be those that stand-out from the rest by dint of tone or content. Brian Hodge's "Pages Stuck by a Bowie Knife to a Cheyenne Gallows," tells of a killer with a wound that brings about a very slow and unusual end. Nancy A. Collins combines the Mexican Day of the Dead and soulless murder in "Calaverada," one of the more chilling tales. In Yvonne Navarro's "Divine Justice," two less-than-savory showmen find an angel in the desert. It's genuine emotion and clean writing make it one of Navarro's finer short works. "Showdown at Stinking Springs" is one of Robert Devereaux clever, raunchy sexual fantasies in tall tale mode. The remaining stories by Adam-Troy Castro, M. Christian, Richard Lee Byers, Rick Hautala, Michael Heck, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, Edward Lee, and Lawrence Walsh are, for the most part, good, but tend to be a bit more of what one would expect in a "Roundup of Weird Westerns." Well-designed by Darin E. Sanders with suitable interior illustrations by Christopher P. Nowell and a creepily appropriate cover by Allen G. Douglas, the edition is limited to 1000 copies. Saddle it up for a rip-roarin' ride.


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