I really didn't intend to write this letter.
I was just going to mind my own
business, write up a brief bit about some recent paperback books.
You won't believe the novel I met last night at the grocery store.
There I was, minding my own business, when I picked up the
latest book by a certain writer, expecting just another dose
of fangs, guns and easily solved crimes. But when I opened
her up, well, she opened up, and I was just flabbergasted at
what was beneath those prim little book covers.
|Thoe are rose petals, not undergarments.
Ever since Laurell K. Hamilton hit paydirt with her 'Anita Blake,
Vampire Hunter' series, the number of writers prospecting in that
territory has grown and grown. It's not surprising. Hamilton's
first novel in this series, 'Guilty
Pleasures' has a few things
to recommend it. The first-person narration of Anita Blake was
sassy and fun, the plot kept up a brisk pace, and the world of
vampires, werewolves and whatnots was intriguing if indistinct.
'Guilty Pleasures' lived up to the title and promised more of the
same. For those who liked their mysteries with a nice dollop of
the supernatural and those who like their horror novels leavened
with the plot-strengths of mysteries, this looked to be the start
of a long and entertaining series.
Early on the supernatural sleuth scene was Jim Butcher, with his
series, 'The Dresden Files'. Now, while I'm pretty sure I have
them all, they're kind of scattered about the house. These are,
after all, the kind of books I save for a rainy day. Damn that
Global Warming! Where's our Super-storm?
As the series grew in size (it now includes eleven novels, the latest being 'Cerulean
Sins' and is
waiting for the twelfth, 'Incubus Dreams',this fall) and popularity,
the content changed as well, and not, many thought, for the better.
Hamilton is actually a better writer now than she was back then,
which is great news. But she chooses to focus on the sex, the kinky
sex, the naughty bits and the sex rather than to significantly
expand on the histories and mysteries that intrigued me in the
first novel. Yes, the books are still told from Anita Blake's point-of-view,
but they're more like bedroom diaries than the supernatural mysteries
that opened up the series. They still aim low to entertain, an
admirable goal. But in aiming low one need not focus solely below
the belt. Hamilton's work of late has fallen victim to repetition,
and not the kind of repetition one would expect, of recycled plots
and re-named characters. Instead, her recent novels offer one sex
scene after another. She can do this quite effectively, as she
did in 'Kiss
of Shadows', a new series featuring a crime-solving
faerie queen. But as with the Blake stories, the crime and supernatural
aspects act as a backdrop for sex, sex, sex, and frankly, it gets
a bit old.
But in abandoning her original audience, that group of readers
looking for lightweight serial novels that offer a combination
of mystery and the supernatural and come out as mass-market paperback
originals, Hamilton has left room for new writers to move in on
her territory. Those who have show every bit as much promise as
she did and thus far, no inclination to slide into a 'Letters to
Penthouse' style of writing.
I've already extensively covered the work of Simon R. Green; his
series of 'Tales from the NightSide' are light as a feather and
entertaining as the hell raised in each installment. If you've
not read 'Something
from the NightSide' or 'Angels
of Light and Darkness', you can look up the reviews we
have of them and decide for yourself, but in my mind they’re
good, clean fun. Green's latest is 'Nightingale's Lament' and
it's creeping towards the
top of the queue.
Harry Dresden is Chicago's
only practicing Wizard, introduced in 'Storm Front'. Since
the novels are ostensibly set in our world, Harry's not getting a
of business. Of course, all it takes is one murder by black
magic to get things rolling and keep them rolling for by now, six
Butcher pursues just the kind of course that readers tend
to hope for, as his supernatural sleuth tracks werewolves, ghosts,
one menace after another, and, in his latest novel, vampires.
One hopes that this is not a Bad Sign. But Butcher seems
more intent on full frontal fun than full-frontal nudity.
Butcher has really hit the big time here, and not yet even
left paperback. A recent announcement from SciFi.com suggests
his novels might show up as a mini-series or perhaps a series.
they treat it nicer than they did the 'News From the Edge'
series based on the novels by Mark Sumner. I enjoyed
TV version of these books, and like most TV I enjoy, it was
quickly yanked from the schedule. Of course, Butcher's wizard
renamed Eric (can't have too many wizards named Harry).
Still, for Butcher the author, this is great news. If he
approaches this deal with the usual "toss it over the state line, take the
money and run", well, the money can be, I'm told, pretty
substantial, enough to see one through.
I spent a bit of time looking at his web
site, and while
not the most updated site in the world, that's probably because
he's busy writing his books as opposed to a blog, which a)
is good news for his fans and b) is good news for his landlord,
are more likely to pay the rent than blogging. But you can
out enough about the series to determine if it might be to
your liking. You can also learn how Butcher managed to get
published, which involves none other than Laurell K. Hamilton.
Last year saw
the release of the first novel by "Rachel Caine".
The colophon page will tell you that the books are copyrighted
to one Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, and I hope the two are
more than close friends, or lawyer and client. Caine's first
offered a refreshingly original take on the old supernatural
mystery. Instead of the magic detective, the heroine is
a Weather Warden.
Joanne Baldwin has an unusual aptitude for controlling wind
and water, and she's about to find herself on the run from
of antagonists. In the manner of Laurell K. Hamilton, we
apparently have a world where all this supernatural stuff
is pretty much
in the open; the Weather Wardens do their training at Princeton
University. How much us non-wardens know about what's going
on is open to question, but Caine is only two books in to
channel devotees rejoice!
Still, it looks as if she'll be willing to push things pretty far
and pretty fast. Her new novel, 'Heat Stroke', ups the ante and
the action significantly, in ways I won't reveal so as to not spoil
the first novel. Both novels feature the artwork of Dave Seeley.
He's done a bezillion book covers, and these are particularly evocative,
with a light touch that really enhances the reader's appreciation
of the novel. His website is well worth browsing.
news from the storm front.
Rachel Caine also has a website,
and it's a nice place to spend a few minutes to get to know the
author and the novels. Caine is
a former musician who tells us on her website that she has
at least four more novels in the series. If she can maintain
of fun and keep the invention at the level demonstrated in
the first two, she may get asked for a few more.
Returning to the mists of time, in the years BH -- before
Hamilton, readers may remember a paperback original that
made a little
spash back in 1884 titled 'Neuromancer'. Paperback original
cyberpunk has not yet died a graceful death, and it doesn't
to do so anytime in the near future.
paperback original by M. M. Buckner to claim the genre of "cyberpunk" hits
the shelves this month. The back of the book tells us:
brain hurts! It hurts!
the 23rd century, the Earth's surface is a toxic wasteland
and corporations called Coms have replaced nations, exploiting
of poverty-stricken "protes" whose lives they own..."
that's different from the present, how?
Well, yes, to my mind, dating SF is a dangerous business.
But getting over it, we find a an executive who, in the process
of trying to
quietly off a couple thousand protes bungles the task and
has to clean up. In cleaning up he discovers that he might
have a soul after all. If only his dear dead Dad didn't live
on in his
brain via a...wait for it...'Neurolink'! This sequel to 'Hyperthought'
follows on a hundred or so years later, and with those damn
Coms still in power, there's plenty to rail against. If you
paperback science fiction with a heavy dose of 80's nostalgia
and 21st century angst, well, it's there to be had.
But let's really
wind back that damn clock. Remember when you were about 15? And no,
I don't mean 19-goddamned- 95!
old coot! Further! You had hair back then! That's right,
1975, or perhaps even earlier, when you were rolling in
the barbaric movies based on the appealing creation of
Robert E. Howard were still on a blood-tainted horizon.
Back then, many a writer made a few spare samolians cobbling together
pastiches. True Fans disdained them, but Conan withstood
the ravages of many a writer, aided greatly by artist Frank
wrote the books for those who put the words between the
bought a very expensive-to-me poster of this painting
back in the day.
These days the
relationship has apparently been reversed.
Turtledove is a top-notch author, though not perfectly
in the quality of his output. But here his name is, on
a book you'd better be embarrassed to own. This is young
think it's probably fairly entertaining in the manner of all
Conan-related material, I've got to say that the cover
really leaves me cold.
The Conan of this cover is a Conan who would not have survived
in the world of Conan. He's not even looking at the huge
wolf that he's shooting. It's photo-op Conan, ready to
their latest hit 'Breath of the Bear'. Still, if you want
new Conan, here is new Conan, same as the old Conan. We
jacket for Breath of the Bear the new single from Spinal
But we will continue to buy paperbacks, cheesy and important,
meaningful and inconsequential. Because for every paperback
writer -- and
there are a stadium full of them -- there is a stadium
full of paperback readers. And on the backs of all those paperbacks,
pretty substantial careers are built. We're as happy to
build them as we are to sit in the sun and read them, or
loan them to
our pals. Hey, you wanna read a hot paperback? The first
five people to email me after this column goes up get a
in this column. State your preferences and be ready to
shell out for what you missed at the grocery store, that last
great book-buying. Oh how I miss my grocery store shelves.
Now, they serve only to demonstrate the capitalist form of evolution
most ruthless. Extinction in a week. Sell or die; sell and die.
You know, readers, I was at the grocery store the other day,
and you won't believe what I found on the bookshelves. Or