Oscar winner draws plans for LOTR SKETCHBOOK

lord of the rings sketchbook reviewAlan Lee, the Academy Award-winning conceptual designer for Peter Jackson’s insanely successful LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, is set to get fans’ tongues wagging this fall with THE LORD OF THE RINGS SKETCHBOOK. The book includes more than 150 of Lee’s illustrations, showing how his imagery progressed from page to screen. The volume also features 20 full-color plates.

Lee will be embarking on a 10-city tour to promote the book with signings, Q&A and a slide show. The schedule is as follows:
• Oct. 22 / Books of Wonder, New York City, NY
• Oct. 24 / Friends Select School, Philadephia, PA
• Oct. 25 / Chapter 11, Atlanta, GA
• Oct. 26 / BookPeople, Austin, TX
• Oct. 27 / Tattered Cover, Denver, CO
• Oct. 28 / Borders, Murray, UT
• Oct. 29 / Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
• Oct. 30 / The Booksmith, San Francisco , CA
• Oct. 31 / University Bookstore, Seattle, WA
• Nov. 1 / Powell’s Books, Beaverton, OR

The SKETCHBOOK is due out Oct. 19, but you can preorder it now.

The Girl Next Door

girl next door ketchum reviewOn one hand, I’m relieved to find out that Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR was inspired by a true story, because I don’t want to think that the man’s imagination is so demented that he dreamt all this up by himself.

On the other hand, I’m repulsed to find out it was inspired a true story, because the subject matter is so horrific, it sickens me to think people like this actually exist.

Originally published in 1989 but just now back in print from Leisure Horror, the novel starts out innocently enough, with the narrator David recalling the summer in the late 1950s when he was 12. The memories he evokes are nostalgic, reminiscent even of several Ray Bradbury works. But then David meets Meg, aka THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. With she and her crippled younger sister freshly orphaned, Meg has come to live with her distant aunt Ruth, a single mother to three scrappy sons.

Meg knows her new environment is going to be an adjustment, but she has no idea what she’s in for. Nobody does. With no reason at all (perhaps the most chilling aspect of this tale), Ruth utilizes her basement as a torture chamber for Meg. Soon her boys join in. Before long, so do other kids in the neighborhood, with the level of depravity and violence escalating every day. David bears witness to several of the beatings (not to mention other atrocities) and is rightly terrified, but also finds something strangely attractive about it.

If this book doesn’t dig right under your skin and bother you, you’re soulless. At times you will find it difficult to progress; at other times you will want to throw it across the room. But you won’t, because Ketchum does such a compelling job at ratcheting up the suspense that you absolutely must see what happens next, even if next makes you want to jump into the story and choke these bastards yourselves. I have to give him credit for sending a chill up my spine with Chapter 24, which consists of a mere seven words.

That alone is enough to give THE GIRL NEXT DOOR a solid recommendation (at least to the strong-willed), but Leisure sweetens the pot by throwing in some value-added extras. In addition to an essay by Ketchum about why he wrote the book, two of his short stories are included, one of which is seeing print for the first time. Too bad neither is lucid enough to be effective, but chances are anything that would dare follow the harrowing main feature would pale greatly in comparison.

Tor teams with Sci-Fi Channel for ESSENTIAL line

cory doctorow reviewSci-fi book giant Tor Books has joined forces with sci-fi TV giant The Sci-Fi Channel for the Sci-Fi Essential Books program. Each month, one new noteworthy novel will be picked for the stamp of approval, which will be visible on the book’s spine and cover. The spotlighted books also will be promoted online, including at the program’s own website.

The program started last month, and the titles announced thus far are:
• AUGUST: LADY OF MAZES by Karl Schroeder
• SEPTEMBER: THE ROAD TO DUNE by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

BOOK WHORE >> 8.30.05

polar shift clive cussler reviewToday’s notable new releases:

• Clive Cussler has written a jillion adventure novels, all of which were bestsellers, so why should POLAR SHIFT be any different? Cussler has given us such titles as SAHARA and BLACK WIND, and all of them hold some interest for me, but I’ve already got a backlog of stuff to read that’ll take me years. Maybe when I’m old like my dad, I’ll start reading Cussler. My dad’s had the same dog-eared copy of RAISE THE TITANIC on his nightstand for at least two decades. Like I said, he is old.

• With an Antonio Banderas ZORRO sequel that I don’t think anyone was anticipating about to hit theaters, Penguin Classics weighs in with THE MARK OF ZORRO, Johnston McCulley’s 1919 novel that introduced the legendary swashbuckling character. It was originally titled THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO until a year later, when Douglas Fairbanks filmed it, moviegoers turned out in droves and McCulley made the brightest move of his long career by changing the title to match it.

• While you’re waiting for Neil Gaiman’s ANANSI BOYS to come out, why not pick up his SMOKE AND MIRRORS: SHORT FICTIONS AND ILLUSIONS, finally out in mass-market paperback today (and including a preview of the highly anticipated ANANSI). This book collects 30 of Gaiman’s short stories – ranging from horror to sci-fi and fantasy – from more anthologies than you could ever keep track of. Oh, and it’s also damned good. I read it a couple years ago just as I was experiencing severe AMERICAN GODS withdrawal. He’s since published enough stories to fill a second edition, so hopefully that won’t be far off in the future.

You buying anything? Post your take below.

Down These Dark Spaceways

down these dark spaceways resnick reviewMike Resnick had a great idea for an anthology: Take the formula of the pulp detective genre – you know, the first-person narrative, the voluptuous dames, the double-crosses – and place it in a sci-fi setting. The result is DOWN THESE DARK SPACEWAYS, and Resnick is lucky that five of the six novellas within work, even exceedingly well.

The best include David Gerrold’s timequake-driven serial killer story “In the Quake Zone,” Jack McDevitt’s alien art conspiracy “The Big Downtown” and Robert J. Sawyer’s “Identity Theft,” concerned not with a stolen name, but an entire consciousness. Only Robert Reed’s confusing “Camoflauge” buries its own chances for fun by losing the private-eye angle in boring SF details. Otherwise, this strange but satisfying anthology is a unique little gem.

The Museum of Horrors

museum of horrors reviewThe award-winning THE MUSEUM OF HORRORS is a 2001 anthology featuring 18 all-original “tales of terror and the grotesque.”

The always reliable Joyce Carol Oates kicks it off with “The Museum of Dr. Moses,” while Gordon Linzner offers a satisfying revenge tale (“Author, Author”) and Darren O. Godfrey tells of a disturbing childhood tragedy in “Inland, Shoreline.” Even more disturbing is the wonderfully gory “Hammer-head,” from the late Richard Laymon, and Peter Straub teases with “Perdido,” and then leaves us hanging, because it’s merely an excerpt from a work in progress.

Other authors include Ramsey Campbell and LOGAN’S RUN creator William F. Nolan. All in all, it’s a worthy edition from the paperback gang at Leisure Horror.

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order – Dark Tide II: Ruin

star wars dark tide II ruin reviewIn STAR WARS: THE NEW JEDI ORDER – DARK TIDE II: RUIN, things get much worse.

The sub sub-title RUIN becomes very accurate by the end of the book. We now realize that the first wave of Yuuzhan Vong invaders (introduced in VECTOR PRIME) weren’t even warriors at all. They were essentially from the politician class and were eager to grab a few new planets. Since they botched the job, the warrior class has been sent in to finish the job and restore honor. The Yuuzhan Vong have their eyes on the peace-loving forest planet of Ithor.

So it falls to the Jedi Knights and the New Republic to defend the planet against all odds. There are a few side trips along the way, including a visit to Imperial space, where the last remnant of the Empire is licking its wounds. A primary focus of the DARK TIME duology is the Corellian Jedi Corran Horn. He’s a compelling non-movie character and author Michael A. Stackpole does a great job of fleshing him out and giving him a great arc.

It’s still strange to me that this story was split up into two different novels. It could have worked a lot better with a tighter focus and in a single volume. My main problem with this book is that there are so many subplots and all of them are given essentially equal importance. Some of the subplots seem only to exist to give the major characters something to do, such as Luke Skywalker’s pointless mission to hunt down a Jedi hellbent on getting her hands on a superweapon.

But I don’t attribute the subplot problem primarily to Stackpole. Since this is part of a multi-volume, multi-author series, there are threads that he has to carry throughout his books for the next writer to pick up. Some of these threads are bound to be more interesting than others. The way the story is structured so far makes it feel like the storyline for a long and really well-done STAR WARS television series. The strength of the story is really in the ensemble cast of great characters. When the NEW JEDI ORDER series slows down and takes time to focus on the characters, it becomes quite a page-turner.

Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy

flights sarrantonio reviewAl Sarrantonio has previously edited two anthologies – the perfectly decent REDSHIFT: EXTREME VISIONS OF SPECULATIVE FICTION and the great horror-centric 999 – but his latest, the now-in-paperback FLIGHTS: EXTREME VISIONS OF FANTASY, is his best yet. And this comes from someone who generally dislikes fantasy.

Say the word “fantasy” and people immediately think of wizards and dragons and elves, often ignoring the fact that BIG and FIELD OF DREAMS qualify, too. Luckily, Sarrantonio doesn’t ignore that, filling his book with stories that have nothing to do with Hobbit-like worlds. Oh, sure, there are a couple of wizards and dragons and elves within, but when have you ever read a story about an elf who goes to San Francisco, picks up AIDS and takes it back to his elf village to infect all the other elves? Never, until now, as it’s one of 29 stories here.

Sarrantonio gave his contributors – ranging from Neil Gaiman to RAMBO creator David Morrell – full creative freedom to explore taboos if they so wished. Thus, Peter Schneider reimagines FIGHT CLUB with diaper-clad toddlers, Joyce Carol Oates offers a rather disturbing tale of a family stricken with a mysterious disease and BUBBA HO-TEP author Joe R. Lansdale contributes a sexually charged fairy tale about a steam shovel that wants to do nothing more than demolish forests and insert his dipstick into a tailpipe.

This is an excellent collection that pushes boundaries and exceeds expectations, and is one of the most solid anthologies I’ve ever encountered. Highly recommended.

Psi-Man: Deathscape

psi man deathscape reviewOh, the discoveries awaiting you at Dollar Tree.

Every time I’ve visited one of those “everything’s a dollar” stores, I’ve never found any reading material of value. Until just recently, when – hidden amidst endless copies of the same three romances and novelizations of DAWSON’S CREEK and that damned Olsen Twins movie – I unearthed three titles from Peter David’s six-book PSI-MAN series, originally published in 1991. I had never heard of them, but they looked like thin, fun reads, and a buck’s a buck, right?

Right! And I got more than a buck’s worth of entertainment out of the second volume in the series, proudly boasting the gotta-love-it title of PSI-MAN: DEATHSCAPE. Our protagonist is Chuck Simon, a quasi-superhero deemed “Psi-Man” by the government because he harbors extraordinary telekinetic powers, including the ability to levitate objects, converse telepathically with his German shepherd Rommel and, as we witness, make wild animals explode. Chuck’s on the run from the feds – not sure why or how, since I wasn’t able to locate book one – with a former circus trapeze artist and the aforementioned dog when they stumble upon a group of environmental extremists whose members blow up a chemical plant, toxins from which have seeped into the water supply and “altered” the nature nearby.

So we have Psi-Man and friends running around in the forest being chased by the Greenpeace-esque terrorists, who are being chased by the army, all of whom are being chased – and occasionally torn in half – by mutated bears, rabbits and raccoons. It’s awesome, like THE FUGITIVE meets PROPHECY meets ZAPPED!

DEATHSCAPE – and the rest of the PSI-MAN books, I’m sure – is the very definition of an escapist read, coming in at well under 200 pages and digestable in a single sitting. It feels highly episodic, as if it could easily be turned into a one-hour show, each of which would end as this does, with Psi-Man moving on to the next adventure. There are five left, and I intend to join him on all of ’em.

The Face of Fear

face of fear dean koontz reviewWritten by Dean Koontz under a pseudonym in 1977, THE FACE OF FEAR traps a psychic former mountain climber and his girlfriend in a high-rise skyscraper on a Friday night with a serial killer dubbed “the Butcher.”

Up until now, Mr. Butcher has butchered only women, but he’s a mite bit pissed after the psychic appeared on live TV and had a vision to his identity, all but exposing him. He must pay … with his life! A few dead people later, the Butcher plays cat and mouse with the couple from story to story, until the gal pal realizes the only way out on this blizzardy night is to scale the side of the building. Too bad our psychic hasn’t been able to get back in gear after a near-fatal Mt. Everest accident five years prior.

THE FACE OF FEAR may sound a little silly, and it is, but damned if doesn’t generate a chunk of supsense. Most of that comes in the book’s first two-thirds, as the third act grows tiresome with meticulous descriptions of climbing gear in use and is saddled with a big “reveal” that you’re likely to have guessed before the happy couple even sets foot in the high-rise. Imagine if DIE HARD had a rape-happy slasher in place of a German terrorist, and you’ve got a feel for FEAR. It’s not Mr. Koontz’s best work by a long shot, but good enough to reaffirm my belief that anything the man writes is worth reading – past, present or future.

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