Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals: Essays on Crime Fiction Writers from the ’50s through the ’90s

Why would you want to read HARDBOILED, NOIR AND GOLD MEDALS, the collection of essays and introductions by Rick Ollerman – a longtime contributor to the classic crime fiction republished fiction by Stark House Press? Several reasons, really. But mostly because Ollerman’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the authors and styles he writes about shines through in ways that make these articles as entertaining as they are informative.

Then there is the structure of this collection. Ollerman could have simply assembled the various introductions he has provided over the years in chronological order. But Ollerman, a novelist as well as a critic, realized how dull this would be.

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Time Travel: A History

The title alone of science and technology chronicler James Gleick’s latest work, TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY, makes it irresistible to any serious fan of science fiction. Indeed if any single theme distinguishes science fiction from other genres, it is time travel. But does it have a history?

Yes! Gleick aptly proves that the concept of going forward and backwards in time actually predates science fiction as we know it. Authors and philosophers toyed with the idea since antiquity. But one particular novel, published first in England in the 1890s, forever changed the concept of time travel for both scientists and the general public alike.

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The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald

redhottype2016 marks the centennial of the birth of author John D. MacDonald, creator of the enduring Travis McGee mystery series. What better time for Stark House Press to reissue THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER, journalist Hugh Merrill’s biography of this popular, prolific, and influential author (first published in 2000). And this new edition contains a few extras, making it even more valuable to the legions that know and admire MacDonald’s work.

Although a lover of fiction since childhood, John D. MacDonald thought writers were born instead of made. It wasn’t until his was old enough to enlist in the Army, during World War II, that MacDonald tried his hand at writing stories. When he made his first short story sale, aided by his wife Dorothy (known to John D. and most everyone as Dordo), MacDonald kept at it while earning an income through a variety of jobs. Writing eventually became his main profession and lifelong passion.

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My Father, the Pornographer

myfatherpornCrazy-family memoirs are a distinct genre and they can certainly be enjoyable such as Cameron Castle’s MY MOTHER IS CRAZIER THAN YOUR MOTHER or perhaps the genre’s pinnacle, the absolutely hilarious LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny Lawson. Well, Chris Offutt’s MY FATHER, THE PORNOGRAPHER has the suitably quirky title (and a lovely book design by Keenan), and an extremely quirky central figure, Chris’ father, Andrew J. Offutt, noted science fiction author and indeed prolific pornographer.

But it’s not funny. It’s not even charming. In fact, it has a melancholy tinge and some definite cringe-inducing moments that make one wonder about the sanity of the Offutt family. In short, it’s a brutal expose of both father and son.

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The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Blood: The Spy Who Stole the Crown Jewels and Became the King’s Secret Agent

audaciouscrimesRobert Hutchinson has made a delightful career out of writing closely-grained stylishly written histories of various figures, both famous (YOUNG HENRY: THE RISE OF HENRY VIII) and others that may only be known to students of the era, such as the book under review, THE AUDACIOUS CRIMES OF COLONEL BLOOD. With Col. Thomas Blood, Hutchinson has a real corker of a character to describe.

In the late 1660s, Thomas Blood joined forces with a small group of other disaffected men and decided to overthrow the government and the King. They were largely ineffective, sometimes hilariously so, and Hutchinson relishes telling us the details of their failures. But they were still dangerous men. At one point, they nearly killed the Duke of Ormond, an act which brought Parliament and a hefty reward down on their heads.

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The Role-Playing Society: Essays on the Cultural Influence of RPGs

roleplayingsocietyFrom McFarland & Company Inc., THE ROLE-PLAYING SOCIETY: ESSAYS ON THE CULTURAL INFLUENCE OF RPGS, edited by Andrew Byers and Francesco Crocco, is a scholarly collection of essays that focuses on how role-playing games (RPGs) have influenced and continue to influence our society and culture.

This isn’t a “reception” study, it’s more a series of loosely linked essays (the theme is fairly amorphous) that examine how role-playing games, and especially DUNGEONS & DRAGONS since its introduction in 1974, have changed or affected individuals’ behaviors, lifestyles, educational growth, and more. Let’s look at each of the 12 essays in turn.

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The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen

temptationtudorAt first glance, Elizabeth Norton’s THE TEMPTATION OF ELIZABETH TUDOR is a book that seems not to have needed to be written. Surely by this date, we have enough books on Queen Elizabeth I who ruled England from 1558 until 1603. But on a closer look, we realize that this is not just another potted biography, but a very detailed investigation of the young Elizabeth and her infatuation with Thomas Seymour. It was a relationship, a convoluted one, that sent Thomas Seymour to the grave.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. When the king died, succession passed to Edward VI, Elizabeth’s half-brother. At this time, the boy king seemed in fine health and would potentially rule England for some time. Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth eventually came to live with Catherine Parr, the widow of Henry VIII. Catherine married Thomas Seymour, uncle of Edward VI and brother to the King’s Protector, Edward Seymour.

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The Last Armada: Queen Elizabeth, Juan del Águila, and Hugh O’Neill: The Story of the 100-Day Spanish Invasion

lastarmadaDes Ekin’s THE LAST ARMADA: QUEEN ELIZABETH, JUAN DEL ÁGUILA, AND HUGH O’NEILL: THE STORY OF THE 100-DAY SPANISH INVASION OF ENGLAND, is a triumph of readability, although the invasion in question is more of Ireland than anywhere else. This is a well-researched, and fairly balanced, account of the Battle of Kinsale, where del Águila and a Spanish force inhabited the Irish town, and were besieged by an English force led by Charles Blount.

Irish insurgent forces, led by Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, were to hook up with the Spaniards and lay waste to the English. This never quite occurred, and the contentious nature of either the Irish failure or the Spanish incompetence has vexed historians ever since.

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Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations

atlascursedOlivier Le Carrer’s ATLAS OF CURSED PLACES is many things — travel writing, folklore, true crime, history, map porn — all wrapped up in a rather splendid package. Consider one box checked on your holiday gift list — two if you buy one for yourself.

Published by Black Dog, the beautiful hardcover singles out 40 of the world’s most notorious places, a scant few of which make ideal vacation destinations. Organized roughly by continents, each spot is spotlighted by an essay with accompanying full-color map. On each map is a starburst icon to mark, quite ominously, where Shit Went Down.

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Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books

browsingsIn one of BROWSING’s earliest essays, book critic Michael Dirda writes, “Fiction is a house with many stately mansions, but also one in which it is wise, at least sometimes, to swing from the chandeliers.” Remove the word “sometimes” and you practically have the thought on which this very site was founded. Although Dirda is certainly more high-minded than we here at BOOKGASM, he espouses what we espouse: the pure pleasure of reading.

Over and over again, that is the simple message behind BROWSING, a collection of 50 columns that themselves add up to an experience of pure pleasure. If at times uneven, that’s not Dirda’s fault, as the individual pieces were not conceived as a whole.

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