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Dan Simmons Meets the Annual Page Requirement

Ghosts of Henry James

Incoming Hardcovers & Paperback Writers


Commentary By Rick Kleffel


A Shelf Full of Simmons

 A Huge BookShelf Full of Dan Simmons' Books

An actual picture of my sagging bookshelves

If I crank my neck around about 180 degrees I can see an entire bookshelf full of Dan Simmons books. I've been buying Dan Simmons' books for a long time now.

Back in 1985 I bought 'Song of Kali', and I bought it in hardcover. Not sure why, it was very early days for the current book overload. I believe that it got quite a good review in the Twilight Zone magazine (where Simmons got his start if I'm not mistaken), and it sounded intriguing to me, even though it was probably not a novel of the supernatural. Still, I plinked down the dollars in A Change of Hobbit, then in Santa Monica, California. I enjoyed the book, enjoyed it enough to seek out his second novel, Carrion Comfort, when it was published by Dark Harvest in a very expensive at the time small press edition. When 'Hyperion' came out, I had my copy signed in a tiny bookstore in the city of Orange. I don't remember much about Mr. Simmons himself. But I remember those books, each and every damn one of them.

So, yes, I've done my Dan Simmons time. And it is quite nice to see him paying his readers back, time and time again for their willingness to read an author who doesn't act predictably. His early books were a good indicator that he wouldn't be predictable. 'Song of Kali', while it isn't overtly full of supernatural occurrences, has a supernatural feel to it. Simmons traveled to Hawaii in 'Fires of Eden', delivering a bang-up novel of resurrected gods. And although the subject of 'Carrion Comfort' is ostensibly "vampires", they aren't of the 'I vant to suck your blood' variety. The novel is certainly horror, but has big doses of history in it. It feels like a thriller though it has a throbbing vein of science fiction at its heart. Like all of his later novels put together, 'Carrion Comfort' is all over the map.

So a lot of people have come a long way with Dan Simmons. We know this because the big publishers are still publishing him in hardcover, and when they get around to it, the newspapers, magazines and on-line journals will give him a good review. But like many a writer who hovers on the edge of a genre, he's never quite made it into the 'advertised on radio' category. That's a shame because precisely the type of writer who should be advertised on radio. His books are bullet fast reads with more than a whiff of literature about them. And he does publish on the book-a-year schedule. Well, he did until this year, when he published two books in one year.

Hardcase by Dan Simmons

A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons gets Hardboiled in 'Hardcase'
Dan Simmons Gets --uh -- Haunted in 'A Winter Haunting'

The first novel to come out was 'Hardcase'. It's a pretty unusual novel, even for Dan Simmons. 'Hardcase' is a diamond-sharp novel of hard-boiled suspense. From word one to the final page, it's laconic, terse, to the point. If it didn't have Simmons name on it, he could have published it under a pseudonym and nobody would have easily made the connection. In fact, had he published it under a pseudonym, it could have been a bit easier to publicize. Instead of 'The new nothing like his other books novel by Dan Simmons', you could have had a dual track publicity line. On one hand you might have 'Dennis Samolian, A bold new voice in suspense fiction'. You pull in the action lovers and a few mystery buffs on that line. Then, on the litrachur line, you might have 'Dan Simmons writes as nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Dennis Samolian, like, you know, Stephen King as Richard Bachman, nudge, nudge, wink, wink'. I guess we're the better for it. It's certainly easier to respect Mr. Simmons in the morning, when you've finished the book.

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

'Summer of Night' -- Required reading for those who want to read 'A Winter Haunting'

Next -- out of the blue as far as I was concerned -- 'A Winter Haunting'. This is another sequel to 'Summer of Night', the book that earned Simmons a King blurb and any number of King comparisons. The first sequel, 'Children of the Night', came quickly, separated from 'Summer of Night' by only one novel. 'Children of the Night' was a bona fide vampire novel, albeit with a high suspense/current politics ratio and, sigh, a big dose of science fiction when it comes to what type of vampire is being defined. Then silence on the 'Summer' front until now. That would be ten years. If you're a newcomer to Dan Simmons, his publisher has just brought out a handy paperback version of 'Summer of Night'. If you haven't read it, take this opportunity to do so. You might also want to scare up 'Children of the Night', but it's not *necessary*. You could also read 'A Winter Haunting' without having read 'Summer of Night', but frankly, you wouldn't want to if you can avoid it. The ties between the two are many and important to the latter novel. In some ways, the latter novel is a way for the author to write the former novel, in a fictional sense.

'A Winter Haunting' also allows Mr. Simmons to fictionally disperse some vitriol in the general direction of folks like myself. Strictly fictionally, one of his characters hopes that "I would not have become a literary critic (or its idiot sibling, a reviewer of books)". And reflecting upon a Flaubert quote, he thinks, "I understood at once that the pissing jackals were critics." Of course, this is a character speaking, a would-be writer, and not the author. Simmons clearly understands that one does what one can; he just does what he can. We have to be glad that he does it. In this case, he even meets not just the book, but the brick-a-year contract between the author and reader. If you add up the pages of the two books he published this year, you just about get the length of the average best-selling doorstop. We're glad to get those pages, however they might come to us. Those of us who read Dan Simmons apparently aren't going to make him into a best seller anytime soon. But as long as we can keep buying the books, we're OK with the current state of affairs.

The Ghosts of Henry James

Dan Simmons summons the ghosts of Henry James in 'A Winter Haunting' by calling out the author's name. Repeatedly. It's a crude but effective tactic. There must be something about James in the air however, because other authors out there are getting the vibe as well. Tim Lebbon might be afeared if we were to call him the next Dan Simmons --simply because he writes both horror and science fiction quite well. But his latest novel 'Face', from San Francisco publisher Night Shade Books has more than a whiff of James about it. It is intense. It is intensely psychological. It is intensely -- but subtly -- supernatural. It's really, really good. And though I have not yet read it, I suspect that British author Graham Joyce's new novel, 'Smoking Poppy' has some of that going for it as well. His other novels certainly have. All of these authors -- the esteemed Henry included -- have a way of driving right to the edge of the human psyche, and peering over it into the abyss. Usually something looks back at them. Usually it's not a pleasant experience for the characters. Readers who like a nice chill with their humanism find it quite a pleasant experience.

Face by Tim Lebbon
Graham Joyce's Smoking Poppy US Version
Graham Joyce's Smoking Poppy, UK Version
Ash Tree Press 'A Pleasing Terror' MR James Collected Supernatural Stories

Tim Lebbon's 'Face' is terrorizing and psychological.

Graham Joyce's 'Smoking Poppy' in the US release.

Graham Joyce's 'Smoking Poppy' in the UK release sans the "ONLY £12.99" sticker.

The Ash Tree Press triumphs with this M. R. James anthology.

And while we're on the name of James, let me mention the other James associated with ghost stories -- Montague Rhodes James, known usually to readers as M. R. James. Though you may not be forced to read his work in your college English courses, you should. And if you'd like to get one of the best, most beautiful books you can imagine being made, then you'd do well to seek out and shell out for 'A Pleasing Terror', from Ash Tree Press. This small press has virtually made a religion out of publishing M. R. James and his progenitors (Le Fanu) and proteges for many years. If this is the culmination of many years of work, it looks like it. It is by far the most beautiful and best put-together collection of any single author's work last year. There aren't many copies floating around. Buy them up. It's the best investment in horror fiction you can make.

Rmsey Campbell Meddling with Ghosts

Ramsey Campbell carries on the Jamesian Tradition

But wait -- there more! Many of those who have read M. R. James have probably also read Ramsey Campbell. Campbell is certainly a study in the kind of ghostly doings that James so perfected, and some of his best work has been in this "Jamesian" mold. It's no surprise then to find that he's got an anthology out that's really worth looking for, if you want to be up on -- and entertained by -- stories in the M.R. Jamesian tradition. That would be 'Meddling with Ghosts', a collection that streches from his precursors, Sheridan Le Fanu and Sabine Baring-Gould, through his contemporaries, and his successors. Campbell's introductions and Rosemary Pardoe's bibliography are the icing on this enticing collection.

Incoming Hardcovers & Paperback Writers

..And The Angel with Television Eyes by John Shirley
Pashazade by John Courtenay Grimwood
What the heck is this?!!!!

Night Shade Press offers up the latest John Shirley novel in case you weren't hallucinating enough.

John Courtenay Grimwood's Art Clarke Award Nominated novel. A good reason to start? I'll let you know.

What's all this then? Please write to complain about this rampant, ridiculous excess.

I mentioned Night Shade Books back there with Tim Lebbon, and they're back here with John Shirley's latest '...And the Angel With Television Eyes'. Night Shade Books has been doing some stellar work. They're the kind of publisher from whom you can buy every title with a good chance of every book being worth of the cover price or more. Shirley's work of late has been phenomenal, and this one looks like a highpoint. With Shirley's cyberpunk orientation, it would make a nice segue into another book that's in the hopper, 'Pashazade' by John Courtenay Grimwood. If you're looking for a reason to read this author, who always comes up on my 'If you're buying that you would like this' web searches, here are two: 1) This is the first book of a new series. 2) It's been nominated for an Art Clarke award. (As are Justine Robson's 'Mappa Mundi' and Peter F. Hamilton's 'Fallen Dragon'.) I'm in -- eventually. And then there are the PS Publishing books, languishing in the mail somewhere between the UK and here. Adam Roberts, and even more Ken Macleod.

Bikini Planet by David Garnett

Haven't I warned you, there'll be no more of this -- sorry, never mind. Turns out it's legit.

The Anne Rice of Dragons? Promise or threat? I'm only 20 pages in and actually enjoying this novel. Scary.

I'm sorry, you're much too literate -- you'll have to leave. No, wait, don't!

Alas, alas...I'm on a paper diet now. Yep, I'm reading some paperback books by paperback writers, who may or may not deserve their fate. Probably not, if experience is any guide. I enjoyed 'Bikini Planet'. With a title (and a cover) like that, you hardly need the book itself, but -- there it is, and, by David Garnett, a legendary editor of SF's 'New Worlds'. I'm honored. Then there's 'The Dragon Delasangre' by Alan F. Troop (reviewed by Katie Dean), which promises to do for dragons what Anne Rice did for vampires. I'll soon determine if that is a promise or a threat. And finally, clearly too literate to be there, Robert Holdstock, 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'. I missed the hardcover -- lucky me -- so it's not just strictly fluff when you go on a paper diet. Of course, whenever I hear about any diet, I'm reminded of the Matt Groening line -- "Bad News About the Fudge Brownie Diet". I'll have the Paperback Diet news for you directly. Well, as directly as possible.


Rick Kleffel