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09-24-04: The Scarlet Gospels

A Conversation With Clive Barker

Clive Barker at KUSP. Photo courtesy Steve of KUSP. Thanks Steve!
It's been a long, long road, that started in Santa Monica, California, at Change of Hobbit in 1984, and ended up in Santa Cruz here in 2004. Twenty years of reading Clive Barker, from 'The Books of Blood' to 'Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of Wonder'. On Tuesday, September 21, 2004, I had the opportunity to talk to Clive Barker about, well, everything I think. Pretty close. Actually, I think we could have sat and chatted for a lot longer, but by that the people in the station were putting on those little glasses with eyes that bug out and standing outside the Production studio gesturing.

But inside the studio, time had taken a vacation. I got a lot of answers to questions that had been hanging about in my mind for many years. Clive talked about selling 'The Books of Blood', that famous ("monkey on my back") Stephen King quote and his appearance on the Today Show with King. We covered the making of 'Hellraiser', and he talked extensively about his latest work, 'Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War'. We talked about sexuality in horror and fiction, about myths and about publishing children's fiction. He talked about his latest movie, the upcoming 'Tortured Souls', which he wants to be a full-bore tale of terror. It was one of those interviews where I barely had to suggest anything and Clive could offer a riveting, entertaining response.

Readers can now download the interview in two formats and two parts. You can get Part One in MP3 or RealAudio format, and Part Two in MP3 and RealAudio format. Forget talk radio; here's your drive time listening for a couple days, assuming your commute is not so hellish as the one I undertook when I lived in Southern California. We were on a strict budget back then, and every other week I had $40.00 to spend at Aladdin Books in Fullerton, California. Heady days, those; reading Barker while my wife drove myself and our two kids over the scarred Southland landscape in a commute that was almost two hours in each direction -- traffic permitting. The reward, cutting edge horror, and memories of reading that will last a lifetime. I was reading Clive Barker then, and I'm still reading Clive Barker. With luck, in twenty years, I'll still be reading Clive Barker.

09-23-04: From Rare First to Mass Market Paperback; Collector's Notes and Notices

George P. Pelecanos' 'Shoedog' Hits the Racks
by Terry D'Auray

The cover of the now-rare first edition of 'Shoedog'.
I've given up on any efforts to understand, let alone try to make any sense out of, the vagaries of the publishing world – why certain books either do or don't get published, why some books are paperback originals or why some books have a hardback press run of all of ten copies or so, and then never make it to paperback. The latter circumstance is particularly frustrating to anyone attempting to backtrack an author's past work as I did the work of George Pelecanos. 'Shoedog' is Pelecanos' third novel, a break from the earlier Nick Stephanos novels, featuring Constantine, a drifter returning to Washington D.C. and Randolph, the shoe salesman. It's a classic noir stand-alone in the tradition of Jim Thompson or David Goodis with a classic noir anti-hero, described by Pelecanos as a "straight-ahead thriller that means to shock and entertain". Until now, the vexing problem has been that if one wanted to read 'Shoedog', one had to be prepared to cough up some hefty bucks for the privilege. Collectors and booksellers who managed to grab the few available hardback copies were unabashedly asking $150 - $600 plus for them. But all that has now been remedied with a new mass-market trade paperback edition of 'Shoedog' (Warner Books, August, 2004) at the far more palatable price of just $6.99. Grab it, read it and also read Pelecanos' musings about the writing and why it is "not an 'important' book, but it is one that I am proud of because it accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do" at his website.

The new MMPB.
After experiencing the dark intensity of 'Shoedog's noir anti-hero, Constantine, pick up the latest issue of 'Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine' for their cover story on 'The Anti-Hero in Mystery Fiction' and read about any number of altogether different anti-heroes of the genre. George Easter recasts "anti-hero" into "lovable rogues, thieves and killers with standards" and talks about James Bond, Block's Bernie Rhoendbarr, Westlake's Dortmunder, Eisler's John Rain, and the hot new anti-hero, Dexter Morgan, blood-spatter technician and serial killer (but a serial killer with "standards" – he only kills bad guys) in Jeff Lindsay's highly touted debut novel 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' (Doubleday, July 2004).

Strange Delivery, Atrocity Archives Reprint

The cover for the Golden Gryphon edition of Charles Stross' entertaining Lovecraftian spy novel.

A book that I'm pretty sure will be on many readers "Year's Best" lists is 'The Atrocity Archives' by Charles Stross. If you've been on the fence about whether or not to buy this book, now is the time to make a decision. Marty Halpern, the editor over at Golden Gryphon writes to tell me that the book is going into a second priting, but readers who want to get a first printing still can if they buy now from someone who has them in stock, or directly from Golden Gryphon. Remember that it is always best to support a small-press publishers as directly as possible. That way they stay in business and you keep getting the books you enjoy.Second printings are shipping next week. And even if you have to buy a second printing, it's really worth it. Golden Gryphon's hardcover is beautifully designed and produced. In several year's time, those who are buying the latest Stross novel will be kicking themselves for not picking up this limited edition, small press hardcover when they could.

The Clarke is in the mail.
For those who ordered the UK limited editions of Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell', you should have received email notices that your copies are on the way. Some of you may even be receiving more than one notice; and you will be especially happy campers!

Furthermore, note that the UK edition just came out this week, and that author Susanna Clarke is beginning her tour through the US. If you'd like a signed copy or simply to meet the fascinating writer of this NYT bestseller, then , in the US, you can go to this difficult to find URL and find out if, when and where she's appearing in your town. UK readers can find her appearances by going to this URL.

09-22-04: From 'Coalescent' to 'Exultant'

Stephen Baxter's 'Destiny's Children Book II'

The Victor Gollancz version, UK trade paperback, available now.
Stephen Baxter wastes no time whatsoever. Last year's 'Coalescent' is barely cooling on the shelves and the sequel, 'Exultant'( Victor Gollancz / Orion; September 23, 2004; £12.99 Trade paperback; Del Rey / Random House; November 1, 2004; $25.95) is almost in our hot little hands. Whereas 'Coalescent' was rather coy as to where exactly it was headed, 'Exultant' puts it front and center. We're in another set of novels from Baxter's Xeelee universe, a far-flung future of combat between star-faring humans and inimical, unknowable aliens, the Xeelee. How much and how exactly this is going to connect with the secret history of 'Coalescent' remains to be seen. 'Coalescent' was divided between the rather quiet voice of George Poole, set in the present and the strong narration of Regina, a Roman-era woman who founds an ageless sect of women. But in the end, it swept away into space.

'Exultant' starts 25 centuries later. So, OK, some time has passed. Humans have survived the Xeelee invasion, and thrived, led by the "Coalition". In terms of leadership, well, while 25 centuries may have passed, politics hasn't changed much at all. You're expected to live bravely and die young. And you know, if that's the case, why bother to survive into the future? Seems utterly futile to me. Apparently I'm not the model upon which future humanity is built, and future humanity is probably the better for it. And the sequel to 'Coalescent' certainly is.

Del Rey's US hardcover, coming in November.
It turns out the universe is fairly well populated, not just Xeelee and humans but all manner of critters. Humans have spread through the galaxy. It's the third expansion and we're only coming up against something we can't deal with when we hit the Xeelee stronghold at the core of the galaxy. Perhaps something else is out there, beyond the Xeelee or humans' comprehension. Fortunately, it's not beyond Baxter's comprehension, which is why I have hope that we won’t have this sort of 'fight hard, die young' future ahead. To my mind, one of the jobs of the science fiction writer is to prevent unpleasant futures from coming to pass by writing about them. When we write about a future, we immediately sideline the possibilities we describe. Oh, some specifics may shine through, but those big old fictional dystopias don't stand a chance. In the hands of a writer like Baxter, yes, they're entertaining as all get-out. But once committed to the realm of fiction, no matter how probable they may seem, they remain firmly and resolutely fictional.

Of course, given that much science fiction is not actually about the future but about the present, dressed in the clothes of the future, we can take small comfort from that fact. And then, that whole "fight hard, die young" scenario seems to make a whole lot more sense. Yes, the future may be safe as houses. But the present, damn, that's another matter entirely. And the questions start to mount. Where's the galactic center, really? And who are those unknowable aliens, inimical enemies? And the answers are every bit as frightening as 25 centuries of conflict.

09-21-04: Judith Tarr and Mercedes Lackey Mind the Gap

Add Magic to History and Build a Bridge to the Historical Fantasies 'Rite of Conquest' and 'Phoenix and Ashes'

Sure the magic is fantasy, but so is the romance.
Readers of fantasy and historical fiction have a lot in common -- at least authors and publishers seem to think so. One need look no further than the latest releases by Judith Tarr and Mercedes Lackey to see ample evidence of this. These two novelists take a bit of history and throw in a dollop of magic and a bigger helping of romance to grab readers from three disparate realms -- historical fiction, fantasy and romance. By adding history to magic, and keeping the magic aspect in the background, they hope to attract readers of historical fiction and not to alienate those who see fantasy as the realm of elves and unicorns. By adding the magic to history, they hope to attract readers of fantasy fiction and to hold the interest of those who find historical drama in itself to be dull. It's a best of both worlds scenario -- twice.

Judith Tarr's 'Rite of Conquest' (Roc / Penguin Putnam; October 5, 2004; $16.00) is a trade paperback original about the wild -- and magical -- youth of William the Conqueror. For five hundred years, the Saxons have ruled England, crushing the magic with weaponry and Christianity. But the magic's by no means gone. Across the Channel, in Normandy, William -- the bastard son of a duke and a Druid witch -- is growing into his own and showing the skills for battle that will win him respect. But he has little interest in magic, and without magic, he may not earn his destiny. To learn magic, to learn even an interest in magic, he needs a teacher. A beautiful French noblewoman (as opposed to the many historically ugly ones) named Mathilda, is going to have to rein him in so that he may learn to use his innate abilities lest they destroy him.

Elementary Masters of history, fantasy and romance.
Mercedes Lackey attempts to re-invent the Cinderella tale in 'Phoenix and Ashes' (DAW / Penguin Putnam; October 5, 2004; $24.95), the latest entry in her 'Elemental Masters' series. In the early days of the First World War, sixteen year-old Ellen's father remarries and heads off to war, leaving his daughter in the hands of a stepmother and two pampered stepsisters who clearly have it out for her. What's worse is that her stepmother is an Elemental Master, a magician who intends to destroy Ellen and steal her inheritance. Reggie Fenyx is an Ace who has lost his nerve, an Elemental Master of the Air who returns without his powers, shell-shocked and shattered. One would be correct to surmise that Reggie and Ellen re-kindle a romance that first stirred in Oxford. And that worse things come to pass before they're successfully re-united.

Two novels minding that gap between the mainstream and genre fiction, continuing to blur the lines until all that's left is just fiction. The brave writers who create them; the enterprising publishers who produce the books; the [how many?] readers who buy and enjoy them. It's a novel in the making; and readers, of course, are the final unknown force that could win the day for our brave writers. Is life itself a historical fantasy? We've certainly got to admit that fantasy has become a more important part of all our lives -- on every level. And, of course, we've got to mind the gap.

09-20-04: Clive Barker at the Commonwealth Club 09/22/04

'Days of Magic, Nights of War'

Clive Barker, thinking of ways to frigthen and enlighten.
In a sense, my current reading history begins with Clive Barker. It was 1985 when my new boss suggested that I might like this book, he'd read called 'The Books of Blood, Volume One'. I bought the cheesy paperback at Change of Hobbit, and read it, riveted by what was on the page. Barker wrote powerful prose, and he used horror as a canvas to explore a variety of moods and situations. In each story, he created a powerful vision. I was well and truly gobsmacked. But that cheesy paperback was only the beginning, and it might not have gone a lot farther if I hadn’t seen a hardcover book that included all three paperbacks in one volume. I was so enthralled by Barker that I sprang for the hefty cover price of the Scream/Press version of the 'Books of Blood -- Volume I-III'. Turns out they were illustrated by two artists I'd never heard of before -- JK Potter and Harry O. Morris. I was totally blown away by the combination of Barker's prose and the illustrations by Potter and Morris. I decided I needed a lot of books like this. Nearly 20 years -- and probably 5,000 books -- later, I still need books like this.

I've enjoyed numerous, memorable reading and signing experiences with Clive Barker. Back in 1987, I took my then not-quite-two-year old son with me to a signing at -- where else -- Change of Hobbit. We still have the Hellraiser poster with Clive's signature to my son, but it was years before we really felt comfortable hanging it in his room.

So now, here we are, firmly in the future of horror that was once handed to Barker by Stephen King, who probably should have called himself the future of horror. Clive writes much more than horror these days. He showed this inclination early on, as there were scenes in the novel 'Imajica' -- scenes of wonder -- that were every bit the equivalent of the scenes of terror he'd specialized in. He's since gone further down the path of wonder and fantasy to end up writing the 'Abarat' series.

The promo materials for Barker's latest.
And while Change of Hobbit is sadly gone, Barker's gone on to different venues for speaking and signing. The Commonwealth Club is a name that conjures up pictures of presidents, of distinguished world leaders; Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Lech Walesea. Not horror writers. Not Clive Barker. But the world -- and Barker have changed. So much so that Barker will be speaking to the Commonwealth Club on Wednesday, September 22, 2004, at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose California. Tickets are $15.00 a pop for adults, which includes a $5.00 coupon to buy his latest Abarat novel, 'Days of Magic, Nights of War', $8.00 for kids 18 and under, and $30.00 for a family of four. You can suss all the relevant details from the Commonwealth Club website entry for the event here.

Like many readers, the hype that surrounded 'Abarat' made me really cautious. But when I finally got round to reading the first book in the series, I was hooked. Now, the second novel is out, 'Days of Magic, Nights of War' (Joanna Cotler Books / HarperCollins, September 21, 2004, $24.99), and I'm even more convinced. Visually and in prose, Barker seems to writing true to his very strange heart. These books are really, really weird and yet sunny, happy, dark, scary and every other damn emotion -- and color -- that Barker can cram between the covers.

The front cover of Barker's latest.
First and foremost, as books the 'Abarat' novels blow just about anything else off the shelf. Go ahead, pick one up. They're heavier than hell, because they're printed on thick, glossy paper and littered with (we're told by the incessant reminders) more than 125 paintings, in this, the second novel. No expense has been spared in the production of these books, and if you want an example where great prose and great art are served by great production, then you need look no farther than 'Days of Magic, Nights of War'. But enough about the book -- I'll, cover it more thoroughly in the upcoming review. Suffice it to say that it is every bit as sumptuously produced as its predecessor, and should get on buy lists for that reason alone.

Back to Barker himself. I'll be really curious to hear what he has to say at his appearance, and believe me, you'll get a more in-depth report than you might expect. In the interim, if you're local enough to make it there live, then by all means take the opportunity to do so. Artists of barker's enormous talent -- he's proved himself as a movie director, as a prose writer, as an artist and a movie producer -- are all too rare. Especially those who take chances the way Barker does. Let Barker take the artistic risks -- that's OK. Readers should not risk missing him speak live. Look, here's your choice -- Nuclear Disarmament or Clive Barker? Apocalypse or the Abarat Archipelago? Can't we have both? Reality seems to be supplying nights of war; we'd best get our days of magic with Barker while the getting is good.