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January 2001
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

THE BOTTOMS - Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press, 2000; 332pp; $150.00
Slipcased hardcover; ISBN 1-892284-60-X

Last year Subterranean Press published one of my favorite Joe Lansdale books: The Boar. (Until this most recent novel, it sat there at the head of the list with The Magic Wagon, my other favorite Lansdale.) The Boar is set in East Texas during the depression, a coming-of-age story of a boy who wants to be a writer, but sets out instead with a young friend to hunt down a massive boar that's been terrorizing his parents' farm and the surrounding area. It was written in a somewhat colloquial first person voice and far from the one-note theme my brief description above might imply, it was a novel of great heart and inspired writing.

The Bottoms, set in the same area and time period (and sharing a cameo with the protagonists of The Boar), has much the same sensibility of that earlier novel, except the stakes are raised considerably.

Again, the protagonist is a boy. His name's Harry Collins and lives on a dirt-poor farm with his parents, and his tomboy sister Thomasina, called Tom. The story opens with their dog Toby getting his back broken while hunting a squirrel. Harry and Tom set off into the woods with the dog in a wagon and rifle to put him out of his misery. But the dog, for all its pain, is still eager to point out squirrels, and the children decide to let him have his last hunt, pulling Toby on the wagon, deeper and deeper into the woods, as he points out one squirrel after the other for them.

They go a long ways, night comes, and they realize they have to get back home. On the way they come upon the corpse of a dead black woman, bound in wire and mutilated and have a frightening encounter with a shadowy figure that appears to have horns that they're sure it's the dreaded Goat Man who's said to haunt the Bottoms.

It turns out the dead woman is the first of a number of victims of what we, with our unhappy present knowledge of the phenomenon, would call a serial killer. Besides farming and running a barber shop, Harry's father is the town constable, so it's up to him to lead the investigation. Unfortunately, he's woefully unprepared for the job and things go from bad to worse.

Like The Boar, this too is a coming-of-age story, but the two boys are very different, and the murdering human (that Harry and Tom remain convinced is the Goat Man) is a much nastier antagonist than the feral boar of the first book. One can at least understand the animal's rage and avoid it. When a human goes feral, there is no avoiding the consequences--especially when his or her identity is unknown.

In expressive and evocative prose, Lansdale writes tellingly of life in the depression, racism, and the character of the men and women trying to eke out a life for themselves in the poverty-stricken Bottoms of East Texas. There are grim sections to this book, certainly, but it's also full of life and heart and I'd recommend to anyone, though I'd also recommend you wait for the less expensive trade edition which will hopefully be available by the time you read this. The Subterranean Press is certainly a beautifully-made book, but at $150.00 a pop, it's for die-hard collectors only.

*     *     *

BLOOD DANCE - - Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press, 2000; 203pp; $40.00
Hardcover; ISBN 1-892284-66-9

And speaking of The Magic Wagon (as I did briefly above), while Blood Dance isn't the prequel to that book as some of Subterranean Press's advertising might lead you to believe, it does share a certain sensibility with that classic novel. Set in the old west of gunfighters and gold rushes, it paints an evocative portrait of veterans of the Civil War, Custer's Last Stand, and has a wonderfully eerie and mythically resonant sequence set during a Sun Dance ceremony.

However, even with that fantastical element, this is a true western novel and not really aimed at the fantasy enthusiast. But having grown up myself reading Louis L'Amour and Max Brand, I loved it.

Great western art, mostly pencil, by Mark A. Nelson.

*     *     *

Golden Gryphon Press, 2000; 267pp; $23.95
Hardcover; ISBN 0-9655901-2-7

At the risk of over-saturating this column with Lansdale content, I'd still be remiss not to make at least a brief mention of this new collection. Here are the stories that built Lansdale's reputation as one of the most audacious writers to come out of the eighties. You'll find his dark-as-midnight humor in "Steppin' Out, Summer, '68," just plain dark stories like "Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back," and even sick puppies (pun intended) such as "My Dead Dog, Bobby."

Though they were peers at the time, Lansdale was never one of the Splatterpunk writers. The stories here are certainly as in your face and graphic as those of the self-proclaimed Splatterpunks, but rather than going for a simple gross-out, these stories exist to explore the heart of darkness, more specifically the depths to which we will inflict it upon each other and to what lengths we'll go to escape it.

While I'll recommend The Bottoms to anyone interested in great American storytelling, and Blood Dance to those who love a western, High Cotton is only for the strong at heart, the fearless reader who can face its powerful subject matter as unflinchingly as did the author.

*     *     *

Text by Nigel Suckling
Paper Tiger, 2000; 144pp; $21.95
Trade paperback; ISBN 1-85028-154-8

This is a reprint of a book that was originally published back in 1991 by Dragon's World Ltd. The paintings are brash, cartoony and highly colorful (or as Brian Aldiss says in his foreword, "Yellow ogre"), and as dense with figures as anything by Hieronymus Bosch. Fans of Terry Pratchett will immediately recognize Kirby as the cover artist for the Discworld world books and he's also done a lot of work for role-playing game companies, covers for books by Craig Shaw Gardiner, Ron Goulart, and the like, as well as the poster for Monty Python's Life of Brian.

But as you explore this collection more closely, you soon discover that Kirby's far from a one-note artist. His technique runs from tight renderings with the figures almost outlined to loose painterly images where the brush strokes are as much a part of the design as the rest of the painting's elements. The subject matter can get quite dark as well, or darkly whimsical, as in his series of Alfred Hitchcock portraits where stories seem to come alive on Hitchcock's facial features.

It's certainly commercial art, but at least Kirby has his own flair and unique vision, as opposed to far too many other artists in the genre, each barely distinguishable from the other.

*     *     *

Text by John Grant
Paper Tiger, 2000; 112pp; $29.95
Hardcover; ISBN 1-85595-830-4

Much is made of the fact that Anne Sudworth's work is Fine Art rather than illustration, with the distinction rather strongly hinted that illustration is somewhat of a poor cousin to Fine Art. Normally that would annoy me, but as I went through the book I became more amused instead since the weakest work to be found here are Sudworth's paintings with figures (her wizards and fairies), fantastical creatures (dragons, unicorns), and her few book covers (for a number of Storm Constantine novels)-in other words, the more illustrative work. Her biographer John Grant shouldn't toss stones from inside the glass house of his text.

But with that said, I have to admit that Sudworth's arboreal paintings and her landscapes--particularly their skies--are quite stunning. There's little fantastical in either (for all that both Sudworth and Grant appear to think that they're the embodiment of what fantasy art should be), but they are fascinating, and while they could certainly serve as the backdrop for any fantasy painting, they work very well as they stand. The trees in the arboreal paintings are especially striking with the strong light that appears to pour right out of their bark.

Also present are a handful of figurative works that are more mainstream (horse races, riders, etc.). Oddly (considering the weakness of the fantasy figures), these are far more satisfying in terms of technique and overall design.

Grant's text is a little gushy in places; one quickly gets the idea Sudworth is his favorite artist--nothing wrong with that, of course, though it does get a little tiresome. But happily most of the text concentrates on the origins of the art and Sudworth's techniques, with sidebars of Sudworth's own commentaries and fascinating snippets of folk and fairy lore.

Enchanted World isn't really successful as a whole, but I'd recommend it on the strength of the arboreal paintings alone. Anyone who appreciates trees will love these ones that Sudworth has brought to life with her evocative pastels.

*     *     *

Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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