Author Archives: george

WEDNESDAY’S SHORT STORIES #17: FINE FRIGHTS: STORIES THAT SCARED ME Selected by Ramsey Campbell

I’ve had this copy of Ramsey Campbell’s Fine Frights: Stories that Scared Me on my shelves since 1988, the year the book was published. I finally got around to reading it and found some gems.

My favorite story in this anthology is Joseph Payne Brennan’s creepy “The Horror at Chilton Castle.” The narrator of the story tells how he was involved in a bizarre ritual in the bowels of an ancient castle that holds a horror centuries old. Very atmospheric! I also liked “The Clerks of Domesday” by John Brunner. I’ve read a lot of Brunner’s work but somehow missed this story about the prelude to a nuclear war.

Ramsey Campbell provides informative introductions to the stories and reveals why he selected them. If you’re in the mood for some scary stories, Fine Frights will fit the bill. GRADE: B+

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Introduction / Ramsey Campbell — ix

Child’s play / Villy Sørensen — 1
More sinned against / Karl Edward Wagner — 15
Lost memory / Peter Phillips — 43
The fifth mask / Shamus Frazer — 67
The horror at Chilton Castle / Joseph Payne Brennan — 91
The clerks of domesday / John Brunner — 119
Thurnley Abbey / Perceval Landon — 157
Cutting down / Bob Shaw — 187
The necromancer / Arthur Gray — 219
The greater festival of masks / Thomas Ligotti — 235
The war is over / David Case — 251
Upon the dull earth / Philip K. Dick — 269

NOMADLAND [HULU]

Based on Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Chloe Zhao’s movie version features bleak look at contemporary America. Frances McDormand plays a 60-something drifter called Fern who lives in her van. Fern’s husband used to work at the U. S. Gypsum plant at Empire, Nevada. When the plant closes, the company town shrivels up. And, Fern’s husband shrivels up and dies.

Fern decides to become a nomad. She works briefly as a temporary worker at an AMAZON Fulfillment Center. Fern joins a group of aging workers and recent retirees with their RVs living their dreams of traveling around and picking up odd jobs when they need cash.

Fern meets Dave, played by David Strathairn, who she is attracted to. And the feeling is mutual. Fern is a moody character with a lot of emotional baggage.

Nomadland is not a documentary, but it occasionally feels like one as some of the nomads share their stories with Fern: tales of PTSD, early deaths, cancer treatments, and suicides. Chloe Zhao uses real nomads in many of the scenes which gives the film some of its gravitas.

Right now, I’d vote Nomadland BEST PICTURE and Frances McDormand BEST ACTRESS. What did you think of Nomadland? GRADE: A-

LATER By Stephen King

Jamie Conklin narrates this cautionary tale about growing up with a “talent.” Jamie can see and talk to dead people. The ghosts tend to fade away after a few days but while they’re around, Jamie can speak with them…and the ghosts always tell the truth.

It takes time for Jamie’s mother, Tia, to believe in her son’s power to talk to the dead. But when Tia recognizes her son’s talent, she also realizes it could bring Trouble. And, of course it does.

Stephen King manages to fit in a serial bomber, a drug lord who’s into torture, and a crooked cop into this fast-paced 250-page novel. You’ll find Jamie’s story compelling and suspenseful.

In 2005, Stephen King wrote The Colorado Kid for Hard Case Crime. In 2013, he wrote Joyland. Later (2021) is the third book King has written for this publisher. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another eight years for the next Stephen King Hard Case Crime novel! Are you a Stephen King fan? GRADE: A

BIG MACs & BURGUNDY: WINE PAIRINGS FOR THE REAL WORLD By Vanessa Price with Adam Laukhuf

Vanessa Price loves wine and uses her new book, Big Macs & Burgundy, to de-mystify wine choices. I enjoyed the scrumptious pairings of fast food and wine, but Vanessa Price shows about 300 matches of common foods with delectable wines.

I also appreciated Vanessa Price’s wine picks for every budget (I’m in the Low End since I find it difficult to discern a difference between a $12 bottle of wine and a $120 bottle of wine).

In addition to the wine advice, Vanessa Price shares her story of how she started as a novice in the wine business and rose to be one of the top sommelier restauranteurs in the country. If you’re interested in food and wine, Big Macs & Burgundy offers a lot of advice and fun. GRADE: A

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Introduction — 10
Wine 101 : the ripe stuff — 16
Pairing 101 : welcome to flavortown — 32
Subsistence pairings — 46
Southern comforts — 58
Extra value meals — 66
Roadside attractions — 78
Fast-food fixes — 90
Wine with breakfast — 100
Trader Joe’s : a love story — 110
Secrets of the bargain basement — 120
Crave the date — 134
Dinner party duets — 150
Boring but beautiful — 164
What to pair with greens — 176
The standard bearers — 186
Frightful delights — 202
Expense-account prep course — 210
Surf and turf — 218
Vanessa’s Recommendations –232
INDEX — 233
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS — 238

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #629: THE BEST FROM FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, SECOND SERIES Edited by Anthony Boucher & j. Francis McComas

The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction, Second Series presents an array of stories. One of my favorite Manly Wade Wellman stories, “The Desrick on Yando,” features Silver John  (aka, John the Balladeer) in a classic story of greed. I also enjoyed Sprague de Caamp and Fletcher Pratt’s clever “The Black Ball” is another of the Gavagan’s Bar series of wild stories.

As a Ron Goulart fan, “Letters to the Editor” made me laugh. These early The Best From Fantasy and SF anthologies included unlikely “genre” authors like Elizabeth Bowen and Robert Graves. I also found Boucher and McComas’s introductions to the stories in this volume informative. All in all, a satisfying group of stories. GRADE: B

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Introduction / [Anthony Boucher, J. Francis McComas] — vii
Budding explorer / Ralph Robin — 3
The shout / Robert Graves — 17
The tooth / G. Gordon Dewey — 44
Ugly sister / Jan Struther — 69
The black ball / L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt — 80
The hole in the moon / Idris Seabright — 93
The third level / Jack Finney — 101
The cheery soul / Elizabeth Bowen — 108
Ransom / H.B. Fyfe — 123
The earlier service / Margaret Irwin — 134
The hyperspherical basketball / H. Nearing, Jr. — 155
The desrick on Yandro / Manly Wade Wellman — 179
Come on, Wagon! / Zenna Henderson — 197
Jizzle / John Wyndham — 210
Stair trick / Mildred Clingerman — 227
The soothsayer / Kem Bennett — 235
Hobson’s choice / Alfred Bester — 246
Letters to the editor / Ron Goulart — 268

FORGOTTEN MUSIC #105: WOODSTOCK ’94 [2-CD Set]

Back in 1994, I was busy finishing my doctoral dissertation and preparing for my dissertation Defense…and working full time. So I don’t remember anything about the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock. But, according to the liner notes to Woodstock 94 300,000 enthusiastic fans showed up for the event.

And, plenty of Big Names showed up, too. Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Metallica, Traffic, Joe Cocker, the cranberries, Melissa Etheridge, Aerosmith, Sheryl Crow, and Nine Inch Nails. But, there are also a bunch of lesser bands like Candlebox and Jackyl.

Do you remember the 25th Anniversary Woodstock concert? Are any of your favorite performers on these discs? GRADE: B

TRACK LIST:

Disc One:

  1. Live – “Selling the Drama” – 4:33
  2. Blues Traveler – “But Anyway” – 4:18
  3. Melissa Etheridge – “I’m the Only One” – 5:33
  4. Joe Cocker – “Feelin’ Alright” – 4:57
  5. “Stage Announcement” – 1:22
  6. The Cranberries – “Dreams” – 4:25
  7. Blind Melon – “Soup” – 3:20
  8. Green Day – “When I Come Around” – 3:01
  9. Salt-n-Pepa – “Shoop” – 5:18
  10. Tom Arnold – “Stage Announcement” – 0:53
  11. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” – 5:21
  12. Porno for Pyros – “Porno for Pyros” – 3:05
  13. Primus – “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers” – 6:42
  14. Jackyl – “Headed for Destruction” – 5:33
  15. Aerosmith – “Draw the Line/F.I.N.E.*” – 9:45
  16. Calvert DeForest – “Stage Announcement” – 0:10
  17. Nine Inch Nails – “Happiness in Slavery” – 5:47

Disc Two:

  1. Metallica – “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – 7:23
  2. The Neville Brothers – “Come Together” – 3:53
  3. Youssou N’Dour – “Generation (Diamone)” – 5:47
  4. Zucchero Fornaciari – “Mama” – 7:23
  5. Sheryl Crow – “Run Baby Run” – 5:27
  6. Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Déjà Vu” – 7:18
  7. Violent Femmes – “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance!/Kiss Off” – 6:30
  8. Collective Soul – “Shine” – 5:58
  9. Candlebox – “Arrow” – 3:35
  10. Cypress Hill – “How I Could Just Kill a Man” – 3:22
  11. Rollins Band – “Right Here Too Much” – 5:18
  12. Bob Dylan – “Highway 61 Revisited” – 6:20
  13. Traffic – “Pearly Queen” – 5:08
  14. Peter Gabriel – “Biko” – 8:06

WEDNESDAY’S SHORT STORIES #16: The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes By Sterling Lanier

There is a genre loosely termed “Bar Tales.” Lord Dunsany wrote 150 short stories written between 1925 and 1957 of these types of stories in his Jorkens series. Arthur C. Clarke wrote a similar series of stories later published in his Tales From the White Hart collection.

Tales from Gavagan’s Bar is a celebrated collection of fantasy short stories by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series by Spider Robinson is equally popular with readers of this genre.

I’m a fan of Sterling Lanier’s Ffellows tales. Take “Kings of the Sea” for example. Ffellows tells the listeners in the bar about an adventure he experienced in his youth that nearly cost him his life. The unusual events in “Soldier Key” produces another hair-raising adventure.

If you’re in the mood for some Tall Tales and incredible happenings, I highly recommend The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes. GRADE: A

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  • “Introduction” (Arthur C. Clarke) (English edition and later American edition only) — v
  • “His Only Safari” (1970) — 1
  • “The Kings of the Sea” (1968) –25
  • “His Coat So Gay” (1965) — 47
  • “The Leftovers” (1969) — 77
  • “A Feminine Jurisdiction” (1969) — 87
  • “Fraternity Brother” (1969) — 113
  • “Soldier Key” (1968) — 129

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold [Netflix] and Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

I consider Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album two of the best books of the 20th Century. Didion’s investigatory skills together with her unrelenting analysis makes her writing superb. I read Didion’s “new” collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, although the most recent piece in it, “Everywoman.com,” is from 2000. All of the other pieces in this book are from 1968 to 1998.

But, truth be told, these short articles are not Didion’s best work. “Everywoman.com” centers around Martha Stewart. “Last Words” deals with Didion’s assessments of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Norman Mailer.

The essay that struck me most vividly was “Some Women” where Didion talks about Robert Mapplethorpe, the unique photographer. Didion always tends to gravitate toward unconventional situations and people. Are you a Joan Didion fan? GRADE: B+

While I was reading Joan Didion’s new book, I figured I’d watch the Joan Didion documentary on Netflix, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. Didion, her husband John Gregory Dunne, and her adopted daughter Quintana Roo live an unconventional life. Didion and Dunne are constantly writing. Quintana looks happy in a lot of the footage, but later we find out otherwise.

If you’re curious about Joan Didion’s life, this documentary is probably the closest you’re going to get to the truth. GRADE: A-

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Foreword Hilton Als vii

Alicia and the Underground Press 3

Getting Serenity 10

A Trip to Xanadu 16

On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice 23

Pretty Nancy 30

Fathers, Sons, Screaming Eagles 38

Why I Write 45

Telling Stories 58

Some Women 79

The Long-Distance Runner 89

Last Words 99

Everywoman.com 123

BLACKTHORN WINTER By Liz Williams

Blackthorn Winter is the sequel to Liz Williams’ delightful Comet Weather (you can read my review here). Both novels feature the Fallow sisters who grew up in Somerset and possess abilities which involved them in ghosts, demons, alternate dimensions, time travel, and star-sprites among other strange aspects.

Serena, a well-known fashion designer in London, finds her latest collection of clothes shredded by a demon. Stella, a DJ, meets an angel who gives her hints on where she might find her missing ex-boyfriend, Ben. Luna, pregnant with her first child, experiences visions of when England was part of the Roman Empire. Bee, the stable sister who lives in the family home of Mooncote, saves the life of a young, green-skinned girl from freezing. The girl, Aln, presents several mysteries that Bee and her Elizabethan ghost boyfriend to solve.

And then there’s the Fallow sisters’ mother, Alys, who disappears for years at a time and knows more than she’s willing to tell about those scary alternate dimensions. If you’re looking for an unconventional fantasy novel that will keep you guessing until the end, I highly recommend Blackthorn Winter. And I love the cover by Ian Whates, too! GRADE: A

The latest issue of LOCUS reports Liz Williams has sold the third and forth books in the Comet Weather series to NewCon Press. Embertide and Salt on the Midnight Fire should be published in the next year or so.