Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Moonrise Kingdom

Okay, I'll admit up front that for the most part, "quirky" usually does not work for me. Most of the TV comedies of the past, say, decade and a half that were critics' darlings and multiple award winners I've found to be unfunny and downright annoying. The same goes for movies. From what I understand, writer/director Wes Anderson is known for films that are quirky. I can understand that after watching MOONRISE KINGDOM.

Which is not to say I hated it or even disliked it. I wouldn't be writing about it if I did. ("If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.") The plot's not bad: a couple of 12-year-olds fall in love and run off together, prompting a search that involves a rather wacky troop of Boy Scouts (they're called "Khaki Scouts" in the movie). Some of the characters are likable and interesting, there was an occasional funny line, and the movie generates enough suspense that I watched the whole thing because I wanted to know what was going to happen.

But almost everybody in the movie delivers their lines in the same deadpan monotone, which quickly got so irritating I wanted to yell at the screen, "Just talk like normal human beings, already!" The things they were doing and saying were oddball enough to start with.

So MOONRISE KINGDOM left me scratching my head and wondering how I felt about it. I still haven't figured it out. I think I kind of liked it...but I'm not sure yet. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

We Install - Harry Turtledove

Over the years I've given some thought to reading some of Harry Turtledove's Alternate History novels, but they're all so long I've never tackled one. They tend to run in series, too, and four or five or more books of that length...Nah, that's too much of a commitment for me. However, I recall reading some of Turtledove's short fiction in ANALOG and other magazines years ago and enjoying it, so when a new collection of his stories called WE INSTALL came out, I figured I'd give it a try.

As always in such a collection, the brief introductions to the stories that talk about how Turtledove came to write them were of great interest to me. I always find such things fascinating. So were the articles about writing, specifically about writing Alternate History, which is something I want to do more of.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag. Several of them are humorous, including the title story, and while they're well-written and clever, they didn't really connect much with me. I think that says more about me than the stories, since comedy tends to be very hit-or-miss with me, especially in genre fiction. I don't often find a mystery, SF, or Western comedy story that really appeals to me. A straight genre story with touches of humor is fine, I consistently enjoy those, but one in which the comedy is the main focus...I usually don't care for them.

However, the more traditional stories in WE INSTALL are pretty good. "Drang von Osten" is an Alternate History tale about a very different Russian front during World War II. "Under St. Peter's" is a Secret History story, rather than Alternate History (and Turtledove discusses the difference in the story's intro). It's a rather disturbing yarn, but well-written. "The End of the World as We Know It" is a far future tale, as the title implies, and quite entertaining, if a little bleak.

The centerpiece of this volume, and by far the best story, is the multiple-award-winning novella "Down in the Bottomlands", which is one of those ANALOG stories I mentioned above that I remember fondly from its original appearance. It really holds up well on rereading. This one is Alternate History at its most basic. In it, the earth developed differently geologically, and so everything else is different, too. The Bottomlands of the title are an arid, sunken wasteland where the Mediterranean Sea is in our world, cut off from the ocean to the west by a range of barrier mountains. It's a tourist destination, much like our Grand Canyon, and the protagonist is a tour guide who finds himself trying to solve a murder when a member of the group he's leading turns up dead. There's also a lot of political intrigue going on, which makes "Down in the Bottomlands" read like a contemporary thriller. Turtledove packs a lot into this story, and it's very well done. I don't know if he ever used this setting again, but if he did, I'd certainly be interested to read it.

In fact, I enjoyed this collection enough that I may have to break down and read one of his novels, even though they're too long. But not right now. Just not enough time.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1950

I'm well aware that my brow is on the low side, but dang, I love this stuff. An Earle Bergey cover and stories by John D. MacDonald, Eric Frank Russell, Sam Merwin Jr., Walt Sheldon, William F. Temple, and Robert Moore Williams. I'd read that. And enjoy it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second February Number, 1951

An eye-catching cover I like quite a bit on this issue of RANCH ROMANCES. I'd like to write a story based on that scene. Maybe I will. In the meantime, there's an excellent line-up of hardboiled Western Writers in this issue: Joseph Chadwick (I think I read a reprint of this story in TRIPLE WESTERN), Giff Cheshire, Wayne D. Overholser, Hascal Giles, and Bennett Foster. Lots of very good stories in RANCH ROMANCES during this era.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Persian Cat - John Flagg (John Gearon)

THE PERSIAN CAT by John Flagg is notable for being the first novel Gold Medal published (with a really nice cover, to boot), but in addition to that it's also a fine yarn of post-World War II international intrigue.

Disillusioned American Gil Denby, who worked with the O.S.S. and the French Resistance during the war, is recruited by an old colleague to go to Iran and maneuver a fugitive war criminal into returning to French territory so she can be arrested and put on trial. However, that fugitive is a beautiful woman, and once Denby arrives in Teheran he starts to fall for her. The city is full of clandestine agents working for various countries as well as master criminals, and not surprisingly, not everything is as it seems and Denby quickly winds up not knowing who to trust as he tries to untangle everything.

John Flagg, whose real name was John Gearon, was an excellent writer with a very smooth style and a steady command of pace and plot all the way to the very satisfying ending. I could easily see THE PERSIAN CAT being turned into a top-notch early Fifties movie with, say, Humphrey Bogart playing the cynical but stubbornly romantic Gil Denby. Stark House has reprinted this novel as one of the initial entries in its Black Gat Books line, and that's a good choice. I enjoyed reading THE PERSIAN CAT and give it a high recommendation.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Now Available for Pre-Order: Mutiny on Outstation Zori - John Hegenberger

Who stole the space station?

At the far reaches of the Imperium, something’s gone terribly wrong on Outstation Zori.  The station has cut itself off from all communication, and the corporation that owns it sends a team of specialists to get to the bottom of this mystery.  But a young con-man, a rebel leader, and a greedy space pirate are in for a mind-bending shock as they face off against alien races, bizarre religions, and an ultimate betrayal by one of their own.

MUTINY ON OUTSTATION ZORI: A space adventure caper with philosophical overtones from John Hegenberger, critically acclaimed author of CROSS EXAMINATION, TRIPL3 CROSS, and the upcoming THE LAST MARTIAN CHRONICLES.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Now Available: When Somebody Kills You (Rat Pack #10) - Robert J. Randisi

Eddie G. must discover why someone wants to kill him. His friends Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland are concerned for him, too.

After Dean Martin saves Eddie G. from being hit by a car, Eddie’s torpedo buddy Jerry arrives from Brooklyn with the news: somebody’s put an open contract out on him. As anybody can cash it in, pros and amateurs alike are coming out of the woodwork to have a shot. So when Eddie is asked by Frank Sinatra to go to LA to help his friend, Judy Garland, with a problem she’s having, Eddie and Jerry seize the opportunity to leave Vegas.

Unfortunately the contract follows Eddie there. While doing his best to stay alive long enough to find out who hates him so much they want him dead, Eddie must also solve Judy Garland’s problem of a possible stalker and blackmailer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Knockout

KNOCKOUT is one of the most predictable movies I've ever seen. A pudgy teenager who loves boxing (because his grandfather was a prizefighter) has to go to a new school because his mother remarries, and on the first day there he's promptly bullied by the star of the school's boxing team. Oh, and the school's janitor is played by Steve Austin. I don't believe it's too much of a spoiler to say that if you think good ol' Stone Cold is going to take the fat kid under his wing, whip him into shape, and teach him how to box so he can stand up to the bully, you'd be right.

All that said, I enjoyed KNOCKOUT quite a bit. There are a few minor surprises, such as the kid's new stepfather turning out to be a really decent guy and not the jerk stepfathers are usually portrayed as in movies. And Steve Austin, while not the actor that Dwayne Johnson has turned out to be, has a ton of screen presence and is very likable. He's probably my second favorite wrester-turned-actor, after Johnson. KNOCKOUT isn't a great film, but it's entertaining and worth watching if you like inspirational sports movies. And it passes my ultimate movie test: I stayed awake for the whole thing.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Lawyer: The Retributioners - Wayne D. Dundee

THE RETRIBUTIONERS is the second entry in the Lawyer series, created by Edward A. Grainger and written by Wayne D. Dundee. Like the first volume, STAY OF EXECUTION, this is a taut, gritty, well-written Western yarn.

The title character is J.D. Miller, a successful and respected attorney before the murders of his wife and children send him off on the vengeance trail to track down their killers. In THE RETRIBUTIONERS, Miller's search leads him to a small town in Texas just as a gang of bank robbers blow up the jail to rescue their leader who was captured in an unsuccessful raid a few days earlier. One of the men Miller is seeking is a member of the gang now, so there's no question that he'll go after them. He finds himself with an unexpected and somewhat unwanted ally in the person of the black former deputy who was the only lawman left alive in the settlement. Both of them are after retribution for those they've lost, hence the title.

Dundee's storyline alternates between The Lawyer and his temporary partner and the outlaws they're after, who still plan to return to the settlement and clean out the bank. There's plenty of hardboiled action, and the story just rockets by. The Lawyer is a compelling character, and his latest adventure makes for a fine tale. With luck it'll take him a while to track down all the men he's after, because that means we'll get more of these exciting tales to read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Now Available for Pre-Order: Fabulous Five: Five Novels for Middle Grade Readers

Five novels about the American West that will entertain ages nine and up. 

The Phantom Ranger and the Skateboard Gang—Livia And James Reasoner 
Codi Jackson has started a new school—again. Will she ever be able to settle down in one place and make friends? It seems unlikely, especially now that she has the ghost of her great-great-great grandfather appearing at the most inconvenient times! How can she explain him to her history project partner—and her own father? But Codi is determined to come to her dad’s rescue when he corrals a gang of young thieves on skateboards at a nearby mall—and they get some very unlikely help! 

Waiting For a Comet (Jo Harper Book 1)—Richard Prosch 
Racing a Dog Star (Jo Harper Book 2)—Richard Prosch 
Twelve-year-old Jo Harper is fascinated by what people are saying about the return of Halley’s Comet. The year is 1910, and her little Wyoming town is full of speculation. In the first two stories of this series, Jo and her best friend, Frog, unravel some puzzling mysteries that even the adults can’t solve. Join Jo and Frog as they help the new constable, Abby Drake, take on taming what’s left of the Wild West in Willowby, Wyoming! 

The Apache and the Pale Face Soldiers (The Saga of Indian Em’ly Book 1)-Sara Barnard 
On the Colorado Trail (The Saga of Indian Em’ly Book 2)-Sara Barnard 
Wind That Knocks Down Lodges and his little sister, Cactus Flower, must learn to survive among the Pale Faces who have taken them prisoner after their parents are killed. But how can a twelve-year-old boy protect himself and his sister from the Pale Face army men who are taking them away from their familiar surroundings into the unknown? Come along with Knocks Down and Cactus on their incredible journey that begins in the first two segments of the Indian Em’ly Saga, included in this collection.

(Great price on some fine novels. Check 'em out!)