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by Rick Klaw

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Redemption by Whittington

This was a week of disappointments. As with most things in my life, it all began with a book. One of my joys is to come home from my day job (at the bookstore) to find a parcel with a free book sitting on my stoop. This time the package contained something extra special: Cantata-140 from Gollancz, a Philip K. Dick I had never heard of! I immediately hit the reference books. There are easily a half dozen titles on my shelves that would have the information about how I could have missed this title. The best book on Philip K. Dick is Lawrence Sutin's amazing literary biography Divine Invasions. Well written and well researched, Sutin ties the events in Dick's life with his writings. With Sutin's comprehensive chronological survey and guide to Dick's works, Divine Invasions is a must have for every Dickhead.

Turns out Cantata-140 is just a reprint of The Crack In Space. I've read all of Dick's books, and this is one of the worst. Interestingly, it was written between Clans of The Alphane Moon and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, two of Philip K. Dick's strangest and most original books. Within ten minutes I went from elation to annoyance.

Cantata-140 I really can't slight Gollancz for attempting to cash in on his popularity, although I do hold them responsible for deceiving their customers. If I had seen Cantata-140 in the store, I certainly would have bought it. Nowhere on the book does it mention that it is a reprint or that it originally had a different title. (To be fair, when the novel was first published in the pages of Fantasy & Science Fiction, it was called Cantata-140.)

Deception of readers is an age-old publishers trick. How many of us have brought home what we thought was a new book by a favorite author, only to find out that it is a simple repackaging with a new title? There ought to be an international law that requires publishers to alert the reader when a book has been re-titled.

This trick applies to other media as well. The South Korean giant gorilla film A*P*E* has been renamed and redistributed several times under titles such as A*P*E*: Attacking Primate Monster, Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla, King Kongui daeyeokseub (South Korea release), The New King Kong, Super Kong, and Hideous Mutant (in 3-D!). Doesn't really matter how you dress it up, the movie is a stinker. Inept script, not-so-special effects featuring a guy in a bad gorilla suit, and atrocious acting make this film laughable. The horrible giant ape versus giant shark scene is still one of the worst monster fights ever shot. Pour perfume on shit and you get shit-smelling perfume.

Armageddon The other source of disappointment came at work. Half Price Books buys more than books from the public. Records, CDs, videos, audio cassettes, laser discs, and DVDs can all be sold there. This week, someone brought in the two DVD set of Armageddon. That there was enough material from this crappy movie to make two discs is shocking enough. When I noticed the manufacturer though, my heart sank. Criterion is a producer of "important" DVDs -- films that deserve special treatment. Classics such as Seven Samurai, The Lady Vanishes, Jean Cocteau's Beauty & the Beast, John Woo's The Killer, The Seventh Seal, This Is Spinal Tap, Shock Corridor, M, Skjoldbjaerg's Insomnia are among the approximately 150 Criterion discs to date.

It's not that Criterion has never produced crap before. They did Michael Bay's The Rock, which is yet another awful film. But at least it had some enjoyable bits, unlike Armageddon, one of the stinkiest movies of the 90s. It is literally unwatchable. Believe me, I tried. It was on cable 24/7 for awhile. Each time I sat down and started to watch, I was flipping channels within moments. Infomercials were more fun, and a hell of a lot more realistic. I would rather watch A*P*E*. At least that one is bad enough to be fun with its goofy effects. By contrast, Armageddon is very slickly done with great special effects... and no soul. I bet if you held the DVD up to a mirror, there'd be no reflection.

The argument could be made that Criterion really should not have allowed The Blob (original), Robocop, and Carnival of Souls to bear the company logo. These three films have historical and/or artistic merits within their genres. At least The Blob featured a very young Steve McQueen in his first starring role. Armageddon, and to a lesser extent The Rock have neither.

The Dimes of Harry Whittington, Vol. 1 The week wasn't a total waste. I did manage to pick up two more Harry Whittington books. Whittington was the best selling paperback writer of the 50s. He wrote primarily mysteries and westerns, but dabbled in other arenas such as romance and historical fiction. In 20 years, he sold 150 titles. Ironically, his best selling novel all but ended his career. Whittington penned the second Man From U.N.C.L.E novel (Doomsday Affair) for $1500. That was it, NO royalties. It was his last book for Ace. Ace had previously bought thirty books from him and had always paid him royalties. After Doomsday Affair spent a year on the Chicago Tribune paperback bestseller list, Whittington decided that he'd had enough and retired. He did sell three books in the next seven years, because according to Whittington: "I felt guilty when I wasn't at my typewriter." In 1975, he started ghosting (as Ashley Carter) the Falconhurst novels about the Mandigo slaves, which were originally written by Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner. (Whittington's agent for that deal was Anita Diamant, who today is better known as the best selling author of The Red Tent.) Sadly, Whittington died in 1990 at 75, mostly forgotten, and with only a handful of books in print. Several of his westerns are available in large print as part of the Linford Western Library. The three omnibus volumes of The Dimes of Harry Whittington (with two crime novels each) from Disc Us Books, Inc, and one of my favorites, You'll Die Next, from Carroll & Graf are the only others available.

The Dimes of Harry Whittington, Vol. 2 I was first introduced to Harry Whittington's novels in the late 90s by Joe R. Lansdale and Bill Crider. Crider is a Whittington pusher. He believes, and rightfully so, that everyone should experience Whittington's works. Crider has written several essays about him, and will gladly discuss Whittington whenever the opportunity arises. In the past ten years or so, I've read about a dozen Whittington novels, all of them westerns or mysteries, and I've enjoyed all but one. While he is no Chandler, Whittington's prose is seamless and effective. At no point does the prose distract from the plot. And plot is what his work is all about. Whittington continually keeps the reader on edge as the action unfolds and plot twists in ways unimagined.

The Dimes of Harry Whittington, Vol. 3 Even though he sold hundreds of thousands of paperbacks, Whittington's books are difficult to find, so you can imagine my joy at acquiring two books that I didn't own. The original mass market Black Lizard reprints of Fires That Destroy and Forgive Me, Killer now sit proudly on my bookcase. I approach collecting Whittington like I did Philip K. Dick. When I started to buy Dick titles in the mid-80s, they were almost all out of print, so I had to hunt for them. It took me ten years, but I finally got all of his novels and short story collections. (Of course, by then the vast majority of his books had been reprinted.) Whittington is a bit more of a challenge. His titles may not be as sought after, but people are less likely to give them up. They are more likely to destroy them. You see, in his heyday, Whittington was more widely read than Dick, hence bought by more casual readers. Casual readers tend to view a book as disposable when read, so don't always keep it in good shape. I bet many Whittington books were just read over and over again until they fell apart. I will go out of my way to buy Whittington titles, but just like with Philip K. Dick I won't pay a lot. It is the thrill of the hunt -- finding my prey at an affordable price.

All weeks are full of ups and downs. Makes me wonder what next week will hold. Hopefully more Whittington, less deception, and no Armageddon.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (available September 2003 from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. This column is the beginning of Rick's third year writing "Geeks With Books." Don't feel sorry for him. Instead, buy his book when it comes out.

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