Monday, April 14, 2008

Recent Reads

THE WORLDS OF JACK WILLIAMSON (Haffner) is a massive handsomely made book that is a centennial tribute to the writer Arthur C. Clarke put on a level with both Asimov and Heinlein. The book is also a tribute to science fiction and fantasy as well because by the he passed at age 98 in 2006 Williamson's history was the field's history. He did everything from the Gernsbackian "scientifiction" of the Thirties to comic strips to juveniles to adult novels that set standards for decades to come. Here you'll find one of his swashbuckling Legion of Space tales; an example of his more thoughtful and elegant work "Afterlife"; and, my favorite, the short novel version of Darker Than You Think, a stunning dark fantasy later turned into the novel of the same name. A novel as strange and compelling as it was back in the Forties. With essays on aspects of Williamson's work, appreciations by Fredrik Pohl and James Gunn, this book is a graduate course in the history of science fiction. And a great read as well.

CRUCIFIXION RIVER (Five Star) is the first time Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have collaborated on a western. A powerful story of a confrontation at a stage station where passengers are holed up because of an impending storm, the short novel is told in brief segements by various travelers. This has the deep emotional truth of a classic Ernest Haycox piece and yet is is enriched and improved by the superb talents of Muller and Pronzini. Revenge was never so chilling. And don't just take my word for it. The short novel won the Spur for best western story this year. Several other stories ranging from traditional westerns to appearances by Sharon McCone and the Nameless Detective fill out this fine collection that needs to be in every library, home and public alike.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS by Margaret Locke (Juno) is more proof that the publisher has its own special take on supernatural and urban fantasy. This is a haunted house whodunit that works on both counts--the special effects are creepy, the mystery's a good one. Locke can write. The prose is nimble, the people real. With all the same old same old going on in mass market supernatural fantasy these days, it's refreshing to hear a new and different voice and to get caught up in wry tale ably told.

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