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BOOK REVIEWS: November 1999
By Paula Guran

A RED HEART OF MEMORIES
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Ace/ $21.95/ 329p.
ISBN: 0441006515

book cover Reviewing A RED HEART OF MEMORIES here is, admittedly, slightly off our horror base. Although the book is about the rediscovery of dark secrets, magic, witchcraft and a ghost in a haunted house, it's not really horror or even dark fantasy. Hoffman's auctorial intent seems to lie in bringing comfort and reassurance rather than in creating an atmosphere of fear; her disruption of the "normal" world brings solace instead of terror. Gracefully written, A RED HEART OF MEMORIES glows with a gentle glamour that is uniquely its own

The ever-wandering Matt (Matilda) speaks with inanimate, man-made objects; with her "dream-eyes" she can see within other people. She meets Edmund, a nomadic witch guided to help mend places and things by "spirit." The two loners join forces to embark on a journey to rediscover Edmund's past. Their first stop is with Nathan, Edmund's best teenage friend -- who happens to be a ghost. A key to Edmund's now-fragmented personality lies with another lost friend, Susan, and the odyssey continues in her direction. A stop at the home of Edmund's sister, Abby, brings them a new sort of magic -- unknowingly engendered by Abby's creativity and her desire for her own magic; unwittingly brought to life by Matt.

The adults Matt, Edmund, and Susan have become, the very powers that make them so extraordinary, are grounded in traumatic reality. As fantastic as it all is, these are characters of grit and substance as well as charm. They all have dark places within them to find and overcome. Their journey ranges geographically from Oregon to San Francisco and back again, and the reader might fear a descent into stereotypical left coast psycho-babble or New Age-ish admonition -- but it never does. As questions are answered and solutions obtained, there is whimsy and wisdom and the sort of fantasy that compassionately feeds the soul. Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a wonder of a writer and A RED HEART OF MEMORIES is, simply, wonderful.

MOJO HAND
Greg Kihn
Forge/ $23.95/ 256p.
ISBN: 9312872461

book cover In last year's BIG ROCK BEAT, author Greg Kihn left our hero, Beau Young, in 1967 with rock'n'roll shaping the world and overcoming the forces of Evil. (Beau, of course, got the girl.) Now it's 1977 and Beau's lived the short life of a rock god, indulged in all its trimmings to excess, lost the girl, but found sobriety and a new life playing the blues with the legendary Oakland Slim. Although most may be well with Beau, the world is as messed up as ever. It's bad enough that disco is popular, but the real evil going down is that bluesmasters are being slashed to grisly, gruesome bits -- murdered one-by-one. Another mystery is added to the mix when Robert Johnson -- a folk legend who supposedly once stood at a Mississippi crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-playing prowess and undoubtedly the first modern bluesman and a father of rock'n'roll -- is found alive. (Everyone thought he was poisoned by a jealous husband and died back in 1938.) In double-time tempo, Beau teams up with beautiful and bright blues maven Annie Sweeney, and is off finding evil-doers and trying to prove Johnson is alive. (Considering the royalties involved from cover versions of Johnson songs by the likes of Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, this would mean a considerable amount of money.) There's voodoo, blood, poison, greed, more blues, and the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World all delivered in Kihn's now trademark full-tilt boogie brand of storytelling. Kihn's literary skills grow with each book and this time out he delivers a considerable amount of music history along with his entertainingly gonzo tale. The plot crashes to a rather abrupt end, but we already know that Beau will be back for an encore soon in what is becoming a series of zany and chilling "music thrillers." Maybe we can stand the break, but it won't be easy; Kihn's got his mojo workin' and it's sure to put a spell on you.

THE LAST CONTINENT: NEW TALES OF ZOTHIQUE
edited by John Pelan
Signed/Limited Edition: $60.00 / ISBN: 0-9665662-4-6
Deluxe Edition: $100.00 / ISBN: 0-9665662-3-8
Shadowlands Press
(tempus@bereshith.com)
(Order directly from publisher.)

book cover Exotic, sometimes erotic, the florid prose of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique story-cycle could be summed up as Baudelaire meets Lovecraft; doom and decadence meets mythological cosmology. Clark (1893-1961)described Zothique as "...the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves....The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days." Incredibly imaginative, Clark influenced and was influenced by H. P. Lovecraft and is credited with inspiring Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, Harlan Ellison and others.

This "homage" anthology of original stories set in Smith's Zothique-world avoids, for the most part, the excesses of pastiche and pale imitation. There is some worthwhile indulgence in typically Smithonian style and vocabulary -- Gerard Houarner has a particularly gleeful romp with phrases like "fulgurant chitan scale," "chatoyent walls," catachonian sanctuary," and "marmolean figure" in the lead-off tale, "To Wake the Dead in Nypholos." And, of course, there are plenty of characters with unpronounceable names pullulated with clusters of the lesser-known consonants. For the most part, the contributors manage entertaining tales with some measure of originality, but still full of necromancy, gramarye, concubines, plague, death, dust, and dissolution. Notable entries include Brian McNaughton's "The Benevolent Emperor," David B. Silva's "Where the Past Lay Buried," Dan Clore's "The Connoisseur of Corpses, Jessica Amanda Salmonson's "Hode of the High Place," Gene Wolfe's "A Traveler in Desert Lands," Lucy Taylor's "Ashes of Longing, Ashes of Lust," Charlee Jacob's "The Leper King," and Brain Stableford's novella "The Light of Achernar."

ZOTHIQUE: THE LAST CONTINENT, like any true tribute, can be enjoyed even by those to whom the volume serves as an introduction to the venerated. Still, it is obviously not meant for the mainstream as it is available only in a signed $60 limited or $100 deluxe edition.


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