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Weekly Book Buzz: Kage Baker Loses Her fight With Cancer
A New Novel From Horror Master Peter Straub
By Tim Janson
February 07, 2010
A Dark Matter by Peter Straub
…We reported a few weeks back that Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee Kage Baker was gravely ill with cancer. Sadly, Baker lost her fight January 31, at age 57. Baker’s most noted works were The Empress of Mars (2008), The Anvil of the World (2003), and World Fantasy Award-nominated sequel The House of the Stag (2008). In 1999, she was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
It’s a light week for new releases so everything is being condensed into one category. I am especially stoked about Del Rey’s release of “El Borak and other Desert Adventures by Robert E. Howard. As a lifelong Howard fan, it always pleases me to see his works in print. This represents some of Howard’s lesser known, but certainly not lesser quality, adventure writing featuring two of his more modern characters, Francis Xavier Gordon—known as “El Borak”—and Kirby O’Donnell. I also have a review of the book this week as well.
The other highlight of this week is a new from Horror Master Peter Straub, A Dark Matter. I have not read a Straub novel in several years but his 1980 novel Shadowland is one of my all-time favorites.
El Borak and Other Desert Adventures Robert E. Howard (Del Rey)
Robert E. Howard is famous for creating such immortal heroes as Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn. Less well-known but equally extraordinary are his non-fantasy adventure stories set in the Middle East and featuring such two-fisted heroes as Francis Xavier Gordon—known as “El Borak”—Kirby O’Donnell, and Steve Clarney. This trio of hard-fighting Americans, civilized men with more than a touch of the primordial in their veins, marked a new direction for Howard’s writing, and new territory for his genius to conquer.
The wily Texan El Borak, a hardened fighter who stalks the sandscapes of Afghanistan like a vengeful wolf, is rivaled among Howard’s creations only by Conan himself. In such classic tales as “The Daughter of Erlik Khan,” “Three-Bladed Doom,” and “Sons of the Hawk,” Howard proves himself once again a master of action, and with plenty of eerie atmosphere his plotting becomes tighter and twistier than ever, resulting in stories worthy of comparison to Jack London and Rudyard Kipling. Every fan of Robert E. Howard and aficionados of great adventure writing will want to own this collection of the best of Howard’s desert tales, lavishly illustrated by award-winning artists Tim Bradstreet and Jim & Ruth Keegan.
Tails of Wonder and Imagination: Cat Stories Ellen Datlow (Night Shade TPB)
Few things alarm the experienced reader more than the prospect of a science fiction, fantasy, or mystery book that involves—or worse, fetishizes—cats. This reprint anthology is the exception, an assortment of 40 stories by authors who are for the most part willing to take cats on their own ground. Datlow avoids the trap of a too-narrow premise: though there appears to be a slight bias toward horror, the stories are various within that field, from Jack Ketchum's ghost story Returns to Michaela Roessner's highly scientific Mieze Corrects an Incomplete Representation of Reality and Edward Bryant's brilliantly repellent Bean Bag Cat. Other tales are amusing, like Lawrence Block's The Burglar Takes a Cat, or gently sentimental, like Dennis Danvers's Healing Benjamin.
Resistance Mike Costa (DC/Wildstorm Graphic Novel)
The first-ever graphic novel based on the best-selling Sony PlayStation 3 from writer Mike Costa (SECRET HISTORY OF THE AUTHORITY: HAWKSMOOR) is integral to the video game story and helps further define this complex universe!In this volume, Nathan Hale leads a desperate fight against the extraterrestrial Chimera as the invasion of America begins!
A Dark Matter Peter Straub (Doubleday)
The charismatic and cunning Spenser Mallon is a campus guru in the 1960s, attracting the devotion and demanding sexual favors of his young acolytes. After he invites his most fervent followers to attend a secret ritual in a local meadow, the only thing that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body—and the shattered souls of all who were present.
Years later, one man attempts to understand what happened to his wife and to his friends by writing a book about this horrible night, and it’s through this process that they begin to examine the unspeakable events that have bound them in ways they cannot fathom, but that have haunted every one of them through their lives. As each of the old friends tries to come to grips with the darkness of the past, they find themselves face-to-face with the evil triggered so many years earlier. Unfolding through the individual stories of the fated group’s members, A Dark Matter is an electric, chilling, and unpredictable novel that will satisfy Peter Straub's many ardent fans, and win him legions more.
Showcase PresentsThe Secrets of Sinister House (DC Comics Omnibus)
DC's classic gothic horror/romance from 1971-1974 is collected for the first time in this value-priced collection. This moody, atmospheric volume collects THE SINISTER HOUSE OF SECRET LOVE #1-4 and THE SECRETS OF SINISTER HOUSE #5-18.
The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion Brian M. Kane (Fantagraphics)
Prince Valiant is one of the longest-running and most beloved newspaper strips, getting its start in 1937 courtesy of legendary illustrator Hal Foster. The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion is the indispensable guide to the strip and a must have for its legions of fans new and old. Fantagraphics has been re-printing these original strips in chronological order in beautiful hardcover volumes and this guide makes the perfect complement.
Inside the 160 page book you’ll find story synopses for each and every one of the 235 story arcs from 1937 right up through August 2009, complete with dates and page counts. But you get much more than that…Also included is a breathtaking 16 page full color gallery of Prince Valiant strips, culled from throughout the decades and digitally remastered from the original engraver’s proofs. This gives you an idea of how the strips looked when created before being printed onto inferior newsprint.
There is an enriching history of Prince Valiant by Brian Kane; a vintage 1949 magazine feature on Hal Foster; a 1979 interview with Foster after he had recently finished his last Valiant strip; and interview with John Cullen Murphy, the artist who succeeded Foster; and an interview with Gary Gianni and Mark Shultz, the current team handling the strip. Throughout the book there are illustrations by Foster, Murphy and others as well vintage photos of the various creative talents.
No matter how long you’ve been a Prince Valiant fan…one year or seventy years, you’re certain to find this book informative and entertaining. Fantagraphics has produced another spectacular book! Grade A
The House of Mystery Vol. 3: The Space Between (Vertigo Graphic Novel)
The third volume collects issues # 11 – 15 of the comic series and is the most revealing yet. The House of Mystery is beginning to give up some of its secrets (pun intended). As with the previous volume side stories of the House’s past (or future) are mixed in with the main story. Fig has been reunited with her jerk of a father who seems to know a lot about the house’s past and relates some its tales. Miranda, the House Bar’s waitress has been removed from the House and is being coerced by the devilish Ceorel to show him how to gain access to the House. He is working for the Conception who wants to take the House over.
The House’s origins are hinted at and were at least told that it is very ancient and a “lost relic of a dead world”. Most importantly, the devious figure behind the mask that is trying to take over the House of Mystery is finally revealed. A startling revelation about Harry, the bar’s proprietor also comes to light.
The side stories are done by a variety of artists including Jim Fern, Eric Powell, and the legendary Neal Adams. Some of the stories give great insight into the House’s origin and purpose while others tend to be a bit flat and are like puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit. Still, writer Matthew Sturges continues to make this a compelling story to read. Delving into just what the House is rather than concentrating solely on those who encounter it, has been a long time in coming. Sturges has successfully turned this revamped series from a run-of-the-mill horror anthology into a dark fantasy that fits in nicely with the rest of the Vertigo line. Grade B
El Borak and Other Desert Adventure Robert E. Howard (Del Rey TPB)
Robert E. Howard is best known as the creator of Swords & Sorcery heroes like Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane. But Howard was nothing if not pragmatic as a writer. Working during the Great Depression, Howard went where the work was in sold in any market—any genre he could to make money. Some of Howard’s best work in fact was in the field of adventure fiction where he created characters such as Francis Xavier Gordon, aka El Broak, a gunfighter and adventurer from Texas, and Irish American treasure hunter Kirby O’Donnell. These were both early 20th century characters, set in the 1920s, post World War I against the exotic backdrop of the Middle East. Seven El Borak tales and three O’Donnell tales are collected together in this huge new volume and restored back to the definitive Howard version with their original titles. Several stories did not see publication until after Howard’s death and thus some of the titles had been altered when previously published.
“Son of the White Wolf” has Gordon on the trail of Turkish troops under the command of Germans who wipe out a village and steal all the women including a beautiful German spy. Gordon sets out to rescue her and get revenge.
In "The Daughter of Erlik Khan" Gordon must rescue a runway princess from the husband who wants her returned and executed and has hired a pair of English assassins to do the deed.
"The Lost Valley of Iskander" finds Gordon discovering a lost civilization that dates back to the time of Alexander the Great and an evil king who wants him dead.
“Three-Bladed Doom” is the longest tale, near novel in length, as Gordon has to track down a ruthless cult that is killing regional leaders who are loyal to the British.
In "The Curse of the Crimson God" O’Donnell is on the trail of a stolen treasure map that leads to a fabulous jeweled idol call the Bloodstained God.
The O’Donnell stories have a distinct “Indiana Jones” type of feel to them as O’ Donnell is disguised as an Arab, Ali el Ghazi for much of the time. The stories are filled with a lot of intrigue and loads of two-fisted, sword-swinging, gun-blazing action. These two heroes are more than just modern day versions of Conan. They each have their own unique character traits that set them apart from Howard’s other characters. If you love Conan, Kull, or Solomon Kane, you owe it to yourself to check out this collection. Grade A