Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Off the Grid by Dan Kolbet

Well, I decided I'd like to read some more self-published ficiton on the Kindle, and feeling a little bit loath to pay for it (I am mean) I thought it might be better if I can get it to pay me. I got in touch with the Self Publishing Review after they made an open call for reviewers and signed up, and this is my first review for them. Just to get the link in the first para, it's here, FWIW.

The SPR (as it shall be called from hereon, whatever the danger for confusion with The Society for Psychichal Research) charges authors for a review. That's a bit of a strange arrangement, but it seems to be common in the self-publishing arena. SPR charges US$40, but there are some places charging much much more. Kirkus Reviews - a name I'd heard but I don't know much about - charges between US$475 and US$525 for a review.  

$575!! Or all in caps a more expressive $%&%!!!

Paying for a review seems like an odd choice to me (who still thinks being paid to write them is a hilarious novelty) but it seems that in the vanity game there is no end to the queue of people waiting to take your money. At $40 it loooks more like a filtering system than a real money-making enterprise. A lot of the sites that will review what's now euphemistically called "indie ficition" have notices up saying they aren't accepting review submissions right now because they're so full up. I dunno if the bus has left on this one, but I have to say it's looking pretty crowded.

Desperate self-pity after the break!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Thing on the Doorstep

"The Thing on the Doorstep", first published in Weird Tales, January 1937.

This is the the thirty-first entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This is how I'd like the main run of HPL's stories to be. It's a chewy story of a man brought down by his passions, it's well structured and takes its more obvious schtick (in this case the whole Ephraim Waite mind-swap deal) and trumps it with a terrific shock ending. It's not HPL at full tilt; he doesn't pull off that delirious amazing writing that characterises his best work, and passages in some of his not-best work, but it's an effective story that makes good use of his by-now familar elements – Arkham, Innsmouth and various bits of Yog Sothothery.

Unfortunately, that's not how the main run of his stories are, and this volume is clogged with hard to pass matter like Cool Air, The Unameable, From Beyond and The Shadow Out of Time, and that's even ignoring border-line juvenalia like The Nameless City and The Lurking Fear and forgiving him the utter turds like Through the Gate of the Silver Key or The Cats of Ulthar. As I come to the end of this read-through I can't help thinking that HPL's reputation rests on a relatively small number of stories, that he got it wrong more often than he got it right.

I guess I'll return to this in the coming months when I come to sum all this up. For the meantime, though, this story lifts the lid on on a matter rarely addressed by HPL, the fairer sex.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

Once again, circumstances have conspired to keep me from blogging in a timely way. My commitment to blog about all the books I read has been sorely tested in the last month or so by a new job, house hunting, a bad cold, some other writing missions and – perhaps worst of all – a desire to do the books I read justice. Well, something's got to give, and I can't quit my job just yet, so on this occasion I'm going to have to admit up front that I'm not going to do this one justice.

Which is a huge shame, because this is a terrific book. This and The Big Knockover are two of the best I've read this year. I read both as part of my education in classic private eye stories for the sake of a project I'm working on, and by “project” I of course mean novel, and by “working on” I of course mean largely ignoring. What I'd really like to do here, in particular, is take the plot to bits, because that seems to be what I have the most trouble with. It's been so long that I'm not going to be able to do this in details, but let's see what I can do from memory.

Warning: this is not just boring crap about me, but boring crap about my boring struggles with my boring muse.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Haunter in the Dark

"The Haunter in the Dark", first published in Weird Tales, December 1936.

This is the thirtieth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This is HPL's last story. Just over a year after finishing this, he was dead from cancer of the smaller intestine and that was that. He seems to have spent those last months in a doldrum, unable to work and convinced his fiction days were over, even before it became clear he was dying. Joshi quotes him in A Life: “I may be experimenting in the wrong medium altogether. It may be that poetry instead of fiction is the only effective vehicle to put such expression across.”

Maybe he was right: I've often commented here that his stories have magnificent passages of brilliant writing, but they are often don't quite work due to structural issues. He seemed to be getting there for a while at least, but by this time he was a couple of years out from the incredible streak between 1926 and 1933, and I know only too well what it can feel like when everything else you touch seems to turn to shit (I haven't written anything worth a damn since 2009). Maybe he just needed to work it out, find a new creative direction; we'll never know.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Fain the Sorceror by Steve Aylett

A weird monster not featured in this book
This is another one that came to me on the Kindle, the only other version being a long out-of-print version from PS Books. This another good thing about ebooks: as well as the long list of out-of-copyright classics these types of hard-to-find gems are coming back in to circulation.

This is a more glittery gem than most. Steve Aylett is ruthlessly parsimonious with words: he's not keen to spend them unless he really thinks he's getting his money's worth, and so while this book is short it contains all the glister of a dozen longer works from more profligate writers. Some times you have to read a sentence twice not because the meaning is unclear, but because it has so many shades of meaning, in so few words, that it takes time to process them all.

Alan Moore sums up the problem with this style in his introduction: “If we loved Steve Aylett, really loved him in the way he deserves, a selfless love that genuinely wanted nothing save his happiness and comfort, we'd lobotomise him.”