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On the Information Superhighway to Hell

Wake up and Smell the Sulfur

By Denise Dumars     October 20, 2000

The closer it gets to Halloween, the hotter it gets here in SoCal. Is it the famed Santa Ana winds, or something else entirely? Clever segue here to our first title: The 13th Element, by science writer John Emsley, which seems an appropriate title for this month. It's subtitled 'A Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus,' and it is indeed all about phosphorus, beginning with its discovery by alchemists who considered itHarry Potter fans please notean essential element in the elusive 'philosopher's stone.' Emsley traces the history of the element, from its first use in matchesappropriately called 'lucifers'to its more nefarious uses as a weapon of murder and of war.

More Halloween-y titles from the non-fiction section include an interesting book on famous spiritualists by Richard Matheson. The appropriately-titled Mediums Rare is an examination of psychic phenomena covering, primarily, the 19th century through the present. Matheson has had a lifelong interest in parapsychology, and this book provides colorful anecdotes about such famous psychics as the Fox sisters, D. D. Home, and Edgar Cayce. It's available as a limited edition hardback from Cemetery Dance Publications.

Silver Ravenwolf provides more fun for the season in Halloween: Customs, Recipes, and Spells, a handbook that begins with the history and folklore of Halloween, continues with recipes for great Halloween party treats and favors, and finishes with rituals and spells. I am particularly impressed with her inclusion of the names of all the persons charged and executed or reprieved in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. This book is a good companion volume to Gerina Dunwich's Pagan Book of Halloween, which I mentioned in an earlier column.

Probably the most eagerly anticipated non-fiction volume this month is Stephen King's new book, simply titled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Part memoir and part advisory to the aspiring writer, this book should provide a fascinating look at the making of a horror writer as well as containing some good advice (yes, he encourages the reading of H. P. Lovecraft) for newbies who want to write.

Go to HellMichigan, That Is

Hell, MI, 'The town on its way up,' offers special Halloween fun as well as cute stuff for sale on its website: http://www.hell2u.com. I was particularly impressed with the offerings from Hell's own Damnation University, known locally as Dam U. I can't decide between the Dam U Literature Department's Ph.d in Thick Horror (awarded for reading lots of Stephen King books) or their Ph.d in Tabloid Journalism. Hmm, wonder how I'd qualify for that? In any case, check out their site and their catalog.

Got Fiction?

I'm sitting here looking at Noah Wyle's fuzzy face on the back cover of Entertainment Weekly in a Got Milk? ad. Wouldn't it be great if rich celebs appeared in ads for books? While such stars as Jimmy Smits, Oprah Winfrey, Michael J. Fox (holding a Stephen King book!) and Harrison Ford have all appeared on the American Library Associations' READ posters, just once I'd like to see say, Sir Ian McKellen hawking the latest Clive Barker title. Of course, a coupla weeks ago a full-page ad for Laurell K. Hamilton's new book did appear in EW, graced with a glamour photo of the author.

Be that as it may, at least we have fiction to talk about. Terry Brooks is back (did he ever leave? I wasn't paying attention) with the beginning of a new series, The Voyage of Jerle Shannara: Book One, Ilse Witch. This book is about Walker Boh, the last Druid; an elf with a map; and an evil Witch named Ilse, She-Wolf of the SS, or some such thing and their quest for, well, whatever people quest after in fantasy novels. Maybe a fantasy reader can tell me why it's always an 'evil' witch and a 'good' wizard. Nevertheless, this book has a really groovy cover including a translucent plastic dust jacket so it's pretty as well as big and thick and full of words.

First-time novelist Rhian Ellis has written, perhaps, the fictive companion to the above-mentioned Mediums Rare with her book After Life. The novel opens with the main character disposing of her boyfriend's body. But death isn't the end in this book, set in the fictional town of Train Line, which is populated by the descendants of famous spirit mediums. This is something of a literary novel, but it should appeal to fans of supernatural stories, as the main characters are all practitioners of the psychic arts. How they cope with their heritage and the influx of rich New Agers forms the subtext of the book. My planchette moves toward YES when asked if I should read this novel.

I'm also excited about reading the new Ursula K. LeGuin novel, The Telling, her latest in the Hainish cycle. In this book, a young woman who works for the Ekumen is assigned to a planet where the corporate culture has outlawed all customs and spiritual practices (gee, sounds like a place where I used to work...) She seeks the remnants of the banned culture of the Aka. While with them she experiences 'The Telling,' their unique religious practice. Expect a review and if I'm lucky, an interview.

The other SF book I'm excited about is called Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. Edited by Sheree R. Thomas, this collection of stories and essays features well-known SF writers such as Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due; classic authors such as W. E. B. DuBois, Charles W. Chesnutt, and Ishmael Reed; and up-and-coming genre writers such as Linda Addison, Jewelle Gomez and Nisi Shawl. Of particular interest is an essay by Delaney, who by virtue of his many decades in SF culture examines his own life in this context as well as the often unconscious but nonetheless still present racism in the genre. This is surely a welcome anthology; I've attended panels at science fiction conventions in which the theme was 'Why is SF so Blindingly White?' so I think this volume will help dispel the notion that SF is not relevant to the minority experience. Note to African-American Fandom.com readers: Sheree Thomas is now reading submissions of short stories for a second volume of Dark Matter.

If you're in New York, why not drop by the KGB bar, 85 E. 4th Avenue, and hear Dark Matter's Linda Addison read along with Lambda-award winning SF writer Richard Bowes on Wednesday, October 18 at 7 PM. This reading is part of SCIFI.COM's 'evening of contemporary science fiction' programming, hosted by Terry Bisson and Ellen Datlow. Yeah, that's right: I'm encouraging you to get out from in front of the computer for awhile and visit the real world. If you miss this event, most likely there will be others.

E.S.P.: Egregious Self-Promotion

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows is doing more than any film needs to do in the way of promotion. Even the October 20 issue of Entertainment Weekly stoops to hyperbole in a cover story with the tag line 'The Secrets Behind the Year's Most Controversial Sequel.' Controversial? Marilyn Manson backing George Dubya is controversial; Blair Witch is just a horror movie. Nevertheless, in an obviously desperate move, Artisan Entertainment recruited Antioch University Los Angeles perfessers Lollie Ragana and moi to be part of their two-day live webfest, which runs Oct. 18-20. Our slot is 5-6 PM on Friday, Oct. 20, at which time you may type in rude questions after our veddy academic talk of the Burning Times and the oppression of women. I'm not getting paid for this, but I made them promise to give me free movie tickets and tacky tchotchkes. Go to: www.blairwitchwebfest.com .

O Sister, Where Art Thou?

Paula Guran states in the latest DarkEcho news letter that it is going through big changes and we can expect it to possibly discontinue in its current form, which is sad news for horror habitues. Whazzup, Sistah? She also reports that J. Michael Straczynski, whose new book was mentioned in this column last week, has sold a pilot for a new show to Showtime. It's called Jeremiah and is based on a European comic series.

Speaking of Europe, any guesses as to why the Coen brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a retelling of the story of Odysseus set in the Depression-era South, is opening in the UK before it opens here? Just wondering.

Pumpkins Busting Out All Over

The Smashing Pumpkins may be defunct as a groupoops, I mean 'band,' my age is showingbut folks with nothing better to do are finding new and better ways of smashing our favorite squash-like gourd. From throwing pumpkins to hippos at the zoo to firing them from homemade cannons, destroying pumpkins has never been more popular. Wasting good pie filling is more proof of Western decadence, I say. Note to Viagra prescribees: pumpkin seeds are loaded with zinc, something you can try as a...uh...natural alternative.

If smashing pumpkins is old hat to you, you might try going to Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights, which feature among other things walk-through mazes designed by Rob Zombie and Clive Barker. Pictured at the left is a Beetlejuice impersonator, one of many ghouls prowling the grounds. Knott's Berry Farm has a similar event hosted, I think, by Elvira; these shows run from now through Halloween. Or if you like something a bit more specific, you might check out the 5th annual Bizarre Vampire Bazaar which takes place from 3 PM to 2 AM at 600 Queensway Drive in Long Beach, CA on Sunday, October 21. This is vamps-only, so get out your opera cape and black lipstick and party with bands like Penis Flytrap (!) and attractions such as Ted Shred's Vamphear Circus. Be there, or be dead, as we vamps like to say. More info at: www.gothicbeachstudio.com/gbsvampirebazaar.htm .

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