4 New Film and TV Books to Fall For

Two years ago, editor Stephen Jones delivered a coffee-table book for the ages with The Art of Horror, and now he and his gang of talented writers and artists are back for another go-round, this time silver screen-cemented, with The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History. Again published in a handsome hardback by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, this full-color follow-up tackles its admittedly intimidating mission by slicing and dicing the subject matter into by-decade chapters, starting with a broader look at “The Sinister Silents.” In doing so, whether accidentally or purposefully, the book presents a compelling visual history of cinema’s bastard child, as we see its ad campaigns evolve before our very hungry eyes. While Jones and company primarily are focused on providing broad-stroke, bird’s-eye views, it’s also not unusual to see them get creative in themed pages that celebrate everything from Rondo Hatton and Sherlock Holmes to covers of fanzines and hand-painted flour sacks used in African villages!

With Kong: Skull Island a massive hit earlier this year and sequels to Godzilla and Pacific Rim already on deck, the oversized-creature feature is enjoying quite the colossal resurgence, and Giant Creatures in Our World: Essays on Kaiju and American Popular Culture is but one piece of the proof. The McFarland & Company release comes co-edited by Camille D.G. Mustachio and Jason Barr, and while the latter dealt with this subject all by his lonesome in last year’s The Kaiju Film, this unofficial (but worthy) companion widens the net to let its contributors dig into the niche. Thus, while Barr theorizes about the nostalgia drive of the adult toy collector, Se Young Kim examines how American superheroes like Spider-Man become enemies of justice when incorporated overseas, and Karen Joan Kohoutek wonders if all those Gamera episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 aren’t maybe a wee bit racist. As Godzilla proved in his ’54 debut, rampaging monsters are to be taken seriously, and this collection does just that, examining these cultural giants with the gravity they deserve, but also the fun audiences expect.

If there will be a better encapsulation of the history and evolution of the medium than David Bianculli’s splendidly penned The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific … well, I doubt it will occur in my lifetime. A longtime TV critic for NPR, Bianculli takes what had to be a bear of a self-imposed assignment by foregoing the expected chronological route in favor of genre. For each of those — workplace sitcoms, medical dramas, Westerns, miniseries, et al. — he chooses five series that best represent the forwarding of the format and explains not only what they did and how they did it (and, in the case of something like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, how they got away with it), but also how their DNA thrives in the programs of today, in the style of this-beget-that. It’s rather amazing how essays so compact yield so much fascinating material; even the chapters on genres I have no interest in (like war) proved unskippable. Interstitial interviews with/profiles of key players — such as Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner, Ken Burns and, um, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. — make an already excellent book that much more rewarding. Tune in immediately.

It is strange to remember a time when The X-Files was just another under-the-radar, possibly doomed-to-fail show on the fourth-ranked (and occasionally fourth-rate) Fox network, rather than the cultural touchstone it has been for, oh, two decades and counting. But Ireland-based critic Darren Mooney sure does, and lays out that progression in Opening The X-Files: A Critical History of the Original Series. From McFarland & Company, the book opens with a foreword from superfan Kumail Nanjiani (whose 2017 romcom The Big Sick practically gives the series a subplot) before a headfirst plunge. Admirably, rather than following an episode-by-episode formula, which would get dull, the author discusses each season largely in standalone terms, while weaving in the various spin-offs and 1998 feature film. I’m calling it a success because it made me eager to revisit the Blu-ray box set; in fact, if The X-Files studies were a college course (and I’m sure it is somewhere), Mooney’s book would have to be one of its essential texts. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Gospel of Mary

Philip Freeman’s THE GOSPEL OF MARY is the third in his Sister Deirdre series of mysteries, but the first one I’ve read. It has an intriguing setting and premise. Deirdre is a young Catholic nun in sixth-century Ireland, but she is also a respected bard, and prone to get herself in trouble.

In a previous book, she ran afoul of a powerful abbot, and this abbot would love to find a way to destroy Deirdre and even the monastery where she lives. Thankfully, Deirdre’s monastery treats women as equals to men as they are all children of God, but they also know that their existence is tenuous. Any scandal brought to the church could mean the end of the monastery, and probably Deirdre, too.

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The Best of Richard Matheson

If you are a fan of classic TV and current movies, you are familiar with Richard Matheson without having read his works. Matheson wrote sixteen episodes of the original TWILIGHT ZONE television series (several adapted from his own short stories); his story “Duel” was the basis of an early Steven Spielberg feature; and his novels have been brought to the big screen as far back as 1957’s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (the word “Incredible” added to the title of his novel), and no less than three official versions of his novel I AM LEGEND.

Yet while a few of Matheson’s novels remain in print, collections of his many short stories are difficult to find. Now contemporary horror author Victor LaValle, one of the many authors influenced by Matheson, has selected 33 of Matheson’s short stories for Penguin Classics’ collection THE BEST OF RICHARD MATHESON.

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First-Person Singularities

Any newly published compilation of short stories by science fiction Grand Master Robert Silverberg is cause for celebration. And FIRST-PERSON SINGULARITIES is no exception.

Following the structure of W. Somerset Maugham’s SIX STORIES WRITTEN IN THE FIRST PERSON SINGULAR, Silverberg has selected 18 stories written over the last 40 years of his distinguished career, all told in the first person. But while the perspective format is the same, the stories are wonderfully different in tone and content.

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Grandpa’s Ghost Stories

For fans of illustrator James Flora, the news that his children’s book GRANDPA’S GHOST STORIES has been rescued from oblivion is a treat worthy of Halloween and an early Christmas present.

For those who don’t know Flora by name, no worries — you most likely have seen his work adorning the coolest covers of jazz albums issued by the RCA Victor label in the 1950s. All you should know about the man can be found in Irwin Chusid’s introduction, new to this edition from the ephemera-friendly Feral House. The publisher’s reissue marks the first since the book’s original 1978 release.

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Double Wide

Journalist and Old West historian Leo W. Banks brings his knowledge of the Arizona desert, baseball, and even his expertise about cacti, to DOUBLE WIDE, his murder mystery debut novel. It’s a meandering but mostly entertaining first fiction effort that shows enough promise to make Banks a crime fiction author to watch.

Prospero Stark was once a pitching legend in the Minor Leagues, known as “The Phenom” and nicknamed Whip Stark. But a drug charge landed him in a Mexican jail and brought his promising professional sports career to an abrupt halt. Now he lives in peaceful semi-seclusion in a small trailer encampment in the Arizona desert with a collection of colorful outcasts who call him The Mayor.

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Detours

Anthologies tend to be theme-based: Vampires, UFOs, zombies, even “best of”’s… Usually when you pick up an anthology, you know what you’re getting. Personally, I like a good werewolf, time travel, or superhero anthology. But that’s enough about me.

Editor Brian James Freeman gives a short (one-page) introduction and explains what the theme is for DETOURS, the new anthology from Cemetery Dance. It’s “rare and lost material” written by his favorite writers, “along with a couple of original pieces that have never seen the light of day before now.”

Okay, so the theme is: There is no theme. Just obscure or unpublished stuff that couldn’t find a home anywhere else. And in some cases, probably shouldn’t have found a home. Not everything your favorite writer composes is gold, folks. Some things are better left in a drawer or in a folder on a hard drive. Anyway …

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The Wench Is Wicked / Blonde Verdict / Delilah Was Deadly

During the 1950s and ’60s, you couldn’t walk past a spin rack or bookstore without seeing several paperbacks bearing the name Carter Brown. In the early days of the paperback original, Brown was one of the most popular and prolific pulp fiction novelists. Now a new generation of readers can experience the first three mysteries in Brown’s Al Wheeler series, thanks to Stark House Press’s Mystery Classics.

In THE WENCH IS WICKED, a noted Hollywood writer is found shot to death in the bottom of a gravel pit. Homicide Lieutenant Wheeler, of the mythical town of Pine City (not far from Los Angeles) is assigned to the case and interviews the cast and crew of a low-budget western using the dead writer’s script. It doesn’t take long for Wheeler to discover that more than one person wanted the writer dead. But then the policeman who first discovered the body of the writer is also found dead in the same gravel pit.

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Joe Ledger: Unstoppable

As the protagonist of five novels and numerous short stories, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger is a fully formed character with recognizable traits. This new anthology, JOE LEDGER: UNSTOPPABLE, shows how a group of other authors, selected by the Editors, handle Ledger and his various missions with the Department of Military Science (DMS). The stories vary in both length and perspective, but adhere to the series’ combination of thriller and science fiction, and are for the most part worthy additions to the Ledger canon.

In “Banshee,” by James A. Moore, Ledger, with the able assistance of his DMS teammates Bug and Bunny, tracks down a nearly invisible, possible female assassin that has been murdering foreign diplomats. The method of the murders further suggests the assassin is something other than human. In Steve Alten’s “The Honey Pot” Ledger wakes up to find himself naked in an expensive Paris hotel room, with a beautiful girl in his bed and no memory of how he got there.

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How Comics Work

I’ve never been a big Dave Gibbons fan. I’ve read, liked and appreciated his work, growing up with 2000AD through WATCHMEN and GIVE ME LIBERTY amongst many other marvels, but to me he’s always been like the Kubrick of comics: precise and magnificent, but also somewhat cold and aloof. I like squiggly lines and minor mistakes, more organic and free flowing styles over realism and accuracy. Thus Gibbons’ work has always rather eluded me; it’s one of the reasons WATCHMEN wasn’t the big deal that DARK KNIGHT RETURNS with its fuzzy blobs of stylized ink was.

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