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BOOK REVIEWS: May 1999
By Paula Guran

THE HOUSE
Bentley Little
Signet/ $6.99/ 360p
ISBN 0-451-19224-9

book cover Daniel, Laurie, Norton, Stormy, and Mark: four men and a woman separated by geography, background, interests, and age. Terrifyingly odd things are happening to each and each is suddenly aware of bizarre childhood memories that have remained -- until now -- forgotten. Each recalls a mysterious man who had lived with their families when they were growing up. Each has disturbing, highly sexual recollections of a little girl. They are each drawn back to the house of their childhood: Mark to a gothic Arizona ranch house, Laurie to a Victorian mansion surrounded by old-growth redwoods in Northern California, Norton to a bucolic midwestern farmhouse, Stormy to his parents' old house in Chicago, Daniel to a gloomy haunted mansion in Matty Groves, Maine. As the destinies of the five protagonists converge there is -- as in any haunted house tale -- evil to overcome and the past to confront as both readers and characters deal with the Other Side. But don't assume the extremely talented Mr. Little will allow you to comfortably settle into to a simplistic universe starkly divided between the forces of good and evil -- the cosmos of The House is far more subversive than traditional horror tropes would allow. The author of eight previous novels, including the dystopic paranoia of The Store) and his brilliant take on the fear of anonymity in The Ignored, Little is as thought-provoking as he is chilling. Suspenseful, scary, and smart, The House (first published as Houses in 1997 in England), stands as one of his best yet.

THE DEVIL WITH YOU!: The Lost Bloch, Volume I
By Robert Bloch, edited by David J. Schow
Subterranean Press/ $40/ 330p
ISBN 1-892284-19-7
(This limited edition book is no longer available)

book cover Although Robert Bloch was an acknowledged master of horror, The Devil With You! is not a compilation of his most masterful works. Instead, it (first of several volumes planned) presents "lost" novels and novellas written for the pulps that were never (or rarely) reprinted. As the editor, David J. Schow, admits in the introduction, "This material is not supposed to be classic literature...yet, in a way, it is, because it easily accomplishes one of the criteria: It presents an honest snapshot of its time..." The time is the late pulp era of the 1940s and 1950s: a time when a fictional young man could grab a sassy young woman of immediate acquaintance, propel her to a chair, turn her over and apply "the palm of his hand repeatedly to the most available spot" because "[t]his is what they do in the movies" -- and receive his victim's appreciation rather than finding himself either in the middle of a SM scene or about, at the very least, to be arrested for assault and sexual imposition . Men are hard-boiled and women are girls. The characters drink alcohol like water, smoke cigarettes with no fear of cancer, and find themselves in madcap situations riddled with snappy dialogue and incredible puns. Written sheerly as entertainment, the stories capture the essence of the better penny-a-word (or less) typewriter pounders and show considerably more intelligence and wit than their modern day entertainment equivalent -- sit-coms. In opening novella, "The Devil With You!", Bill Dawson becomes the owner of a hotel expecting -- or rather dreading -- a convention of magicians. What would have been an amusing piece of farcical whimsy gets stretched beyond its limits (remember, pulp writers got paid by the word), but one still chuckles at the absurdity. "Strictly From Mars" is a bit more serious and decidedly more chilling as a hard-drinking (what else?) science fiction writer and his tough-as-nails (what else?) editor deal with an invasion from outer space. There's enough paranoia and post-World War II fear of collaboration with the enemy to probably have made this one pretty scary when first published in 1948. "It Happened Tomorrow" also delves into the seriously science fictional with machines turning against humankind. The puns come hot and heavy in "The Big Binge" when a college man gets involved with a wacky psychiatry prof, his niece, a machine called the "psychopathfinder," naked girls, vampires, and commie spies. Included with the stories are an introduction by Schow that readily evokes the spirit of the pulpmeisters, a more scholarly forward by Stefan Dziemianowicz, and the text of an interview Schow conducted with Bloch at the first World Horror Convention in 1991. All-in-all an interesting trip back in time

THE OUTER LIMITS COMPANION
by David Schow
A GNP/Crescendo Book/ $39.95/ 399p
ISBN 0-966516-90-7

book cover Okay, I wasn't allowed to watch The Outer Limits when I was a kid. I can't claim any life-changing personal influence or even legitimate nostalgia for the show. I've seen episodes in the last three decades or so, of course. I understand its place in history as "the best program of its type ever to run on TV" (according to Stephen King), and its place in the evolution of special effects. I even have an appreciation for its sense of Gothic horror mixed with science fiction in a relatively literate fashion. But, hey, I would not have rushed out to buy a "companion" book about it...or, frankly, any other television show I can think of. After getting a look at The Outer Limits Companion, however, that's exactly what I'm going to tell you to do: get this book if you have any interest at all in post-1960 social culture as a whole, the history of television/film, or science fiction and/or horror. It's not just about the TV series (although it's certainly complete in that respect), it's about the creation of television in the Golden Age and the people involved in it; a behind-the-scenes, in-the-scenes look at how this piece of popular culture came to be, lived, and eventually died. It's absolutely fascinating whether you know much about The Outer Limits or not. Thoroughly and lovingly researched, written in an intelligent, entertaining, and fond -- but not overly sentimental -- fashion, The Outer Limits Companion is far more than a book about a television show. It's outstanding pop criticism and history.


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