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March 2002
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
 
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Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
 
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Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

THE BOOK OF COUNTED SORROWS - Dean Koontz
Barnes & Noble Digital, 2001; 238 pp; $4.95
e-Book; ISBN 1401400221

THE PAPER DOORWAY - Dean Koontz
HarperCollins, 2001; 160pp; $17.95
Hardcover; ISBN 0-06-029488-4

For some time now, readers of Dean Koontz's books have noted the poems used as epigraphs in his various novels and gone looking for the book from which they were taken. But The Books of Counted Sorrows never existed (at least until now). Koontz wrote the poems because he couldn't find appropriate verses to quote, citing the mysterious Counted Sorrows
because . . . well, that's what writers like to do. We make things up.

So for all those readers who've been trying to track it down, here it finally is, complete with Koontz's 22,000 word humorous introduction. Koontz has a delightful, whimsical, gruesome, and yes, corny, sense of humor. If you appreciate such, the introduction's worth the price of admission all on its own.

At one time a project such as this could only have come from the specialty press as some sort of a chapbook (and this particular one still might), but it would have been a limited edition, more expensive than the $4.95 being charged here, and would have quickly become a collectible, with the usual jacked-up prices collectibles acquire.

So I think it's a good thing to have it available in such a format. Along with keeping our field's backlist "in print" and offering a forum for new voices or difficult works that aren't feasible for large publishers to offer in a paper edition, this new e-book format complements traditional publishing well with exactly this sort of project.

The only downside is that you need a computer to read it. But as I've mentioned before in this column, many public libraries, schools, and cafés offer the use of computer for free, or for a nominal charge, so no one is really being cut out of the loop here.

But before the folks at Barnes & Noble Digital starting patting themselves on the back for a job well-done, I should note a couple of limitations:

First, the book can only be read with an Adobe Acrobat Reader or a Microsoft Reader, and only, at least in my experience, on a desktop PC. You can't transfer the book to read with the MS Reader available for handheld devices. Considering how many millions of handheld devices there are in use at the moment, you would think that they would have made it available in a format that can be read on Palms, Visors, and the various Pocket PC devices. Not many people like to sit in front of a desktop computer screen to read a book.

Second, the downloading of the book was a nightmare. It took me a week of returning to the site before I was finally able to get my copy.

So . . . a good idea, but a flawed execution. For Koontz completists only.

*     *     *

And speaking of Koontz completists and poetry, if you're one of the former and enjoy the latter, you'll probably want to check out his new collection The Paper Doorway, which consists solely of, as the subtitle informs us, "Funny Verse and Nothing Worse."

To be honest, it's pretty much doggerel (and I mean that in the sense that Webster's defines as "comic or burlesque, and usu. loose or irregular in measure"), but it's aimed at young readers, who will no doubt get quite a kick out of it, as well as the young at heart. I know more than a few of the poems got a chuckle from me--the ones that didn't get a groan.

The interior illustrations provided by Phil Parks are charming and suitable, while his cover sports what looks like an Americanized Harry Potter stepping into a book.

I don't say that to make a snide comment on Parks's originality. It's just an observation. I actually like the cover a lot, both its design and execution, and after all, the Harry Potter depicted on the book covers (and now in the movie as well) bears an uncanny resemblance to Neil Gaiman's character Timothy Hunter from The Books of Magic, which saw the light of day long before Rowling's series came upon the scene.

*     *     *

NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER - Richard Laymon
CD Publications, 2001; 489pp; $40.00
Hardcover; ISBN 1-58767-006-2

IN THE DARK - Richard Laymon
Leisure, 2001; 503pp; $5.99
Mass Market; ISBN 0-8439-4916-3

Back in the late eighties, I wrote a column called "Behind the Darkness" for Horrorstruck magazine. The columns were profiles of writers working in the field, combined with a look at their books, so to prepare for each interview, I'd read the author's entire body of work that was available at the time. The third column was devoted to the late Richard Laymon, an incredibly cheerful and kind-hearted man who seemed entirely at odds with the grim books that appeared under his by-line.

I was saddened to hear of his death in 2001. I also realized that it had been some time since I'd read any of his work. So when a number of his more recent books showed up in my P.O. box later in the year (my thanks to Bill Schafer and this magazine's editor, Gordon, for those), I plunged back into Laymon's shadowy world of words for a return visit.

What always appealed to me in Laymon's work was how he would take these ordinary people and put them into situations that were only slightly odd. At that point the protagonist could easily walk away. They don't, of course (or we'd have no story), but it's fascinating to see them making the choice to have a closer look at what, on the surface, appeared relatively innocent, if askew from how the world normally works. And to wonder at what point we would turn away, if we were put in a similar situation.

His books often start quietly, building slowly until you get about halfway through and you realize that you can't stop reading. The innocence turns dark, and darker. Grim. Often gory. But you have to find out how it's going to end.

If that sounds like a formula, I don't mean it to. While you will find this structural set-up in most of Laymon's novels, the characters and situations vary so wildly from book to book that it's impossible to guess where the story will go.

In Night in the Lonesome October, we meet college student Ed Logan, who goes walking late at night to try to get over a broken heart. Out on the night streets, he discovers a whole strata of lives that have no connection to daylight. I don't mean night workers, here--those
whose jobs take them out into the darkness. I mean strange folk. An old woman trying to run you down with her bicycle. Cannibals living under bridges like trolls. A young woman who makes a habit of entering peoples' homes and sometimes develops long-term relationships with those she finds inside.

And then there's the game of Ride or Hide. When you see car lights coming, or someone else on the street . . . do you make yourself scarce, or do you brave it out?

In In the Dark, librarian Jane Kerry finds an envelope with her name on it, lying on the circulation desk. Inside is a fifty dollar bill and a riddle that she realizes points to another envelope. She finds this one and in it is a hundred dollar bill and another riddle. Subsequent
letters keep doubling the money, but solving the riddles, and then undertaking the tasks they present, escalates accordingly in danger to one's self, and to others.

At what point would you or I stop?

Probably long before Laymon's protagonists. But through his books we get to see what happens when you don't, when you allow yourself to be pulled into the darkness--eventually going so far that you can no longer see the light that was once behind you.

These are engrossing novels, written in a plain, simple prose that, the further into the book one reads, prove to have surprising layers. They also build into very dark and, at times, gory books. So be warned, if you don't like that sort of thing.

But they're also fascinating maps into the human mind.

*     *     *

I, PAPARAZZI - Pat McGreal, Stephen John Phillips & Steven Parke
Vertigo, 2001; 96pp; $29.95
Hardcover; ISBN 1-56389-752-0

I remember when I was a kid they used to have "photonovels": they were like comic books, except instead of having artwork in the various panels, they had photographs. The books were usually romance stories, sometimes mysteries, and you'd see them on all the newsstands.

I haven't seen one for many years, although I believe they're still popular in Europe. And I certainly never saw them as lavishly produced as I, Paparazzi, or as expensive. The ones I remember sold for something like a quarter or fifty cents each, but then everything's more expensive these days.

They were never something I was all that interested in, so I was a little leery picking this one up. And to tell you the truth, a quick flip through the pages didn't do a whole lot for me. Photonovels are like a movie--the casting has to be just right--but even then, it all seems stiff and contrived.

But then I started to read the story . . .

Basically, it's about a photojournalist who, through various circumstances, is forced to make his living as a paparazzi--one of those photographers you always see at media events, shoving their cameras into the faces of celebrities. This one's not particularly likeable, but as the story progresses and we follow his descent into a nightmare, he becomes understandable, if not entirely sympathetic.

I'd tell you more, but the plot's based on conspiracies, secret (not altogether human) societies, and betrayals, and frankly I don't want to spoil it for you in case you should decide to give it a try. What I can tell you is that the writing's superb: it's told in the first person and the protagonist has a gritty, realistic voice, perfectly suited to his personality and the sort of story being told. The photographs are certainly much better than I remember from those old photonovels of my youth--crisper, great angles, and the layouts are particularly intriguing--but I have to admit that this still isn't a medium that I'd normally seek out.

That said, I still find myself recommending this particular book because the strength of the story far outweighs my prejudices to this medium.

*     *     *

Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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