Thursday, August 31, 2017

JAMES BOND covers by Michael Gillette (2008) - Part 1

Penguin commissioned these covers by Michael Gillette to celebrate Ian Fleming's 100th birthday in 2008. They first appeared on a series hardcovers limited to 4000 copies each. Nobody told me, and I don't own a single one.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert B. Parker (2008)

Help! I’m fast running out of unread Robert B. Parker books. Unless a battered tin dispatch box with new manuscripts turns up soon, I’ll have to break down and finally read Love and Glory, followed by the two he wrote with his wife, Three Weeks in Spring and A Year at the Races.

The Boxer and the Spy is the second of Parker’s three YA novels. I read the others, The Edenville Owls and Chasing the Bear, a couple of years ago, and don’t recall much about them, though I must not have hated them. I didn’t hate this one, either. Once I got used to it, in fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

What took getting used to was the repetition. Do Young Adults really need to read something over and over to get the point? Is their Short Attention Spanitis really that severe?

The biggest annoyance here was the overuse of steroids. Not by the characters, because I didn’t care about the users anyway, but by the author. The word “steroids” (or "'roids" for short) appears 62 times in this book (I know because my kindle told me so).

There’s a kid, you see, who supposedly committed suicide, and steroids (Yikes, I said it again) were found in his system, so all the Old Adults assume they were the cause. Our hero, 15-year-old Terry Novak and his 15-year-old almost-a-girl-friend Abby, don’t believe it, and spend oodles of time talking about it, and trying and failing to find out what steroids (I can’t help myself) are all about. They search online and quickly give up, then ask the school nurse and are turned away, and fret over their lack of knowledge well into the second half of the book, when they get some dope from the AMA via an older kid who works at the pharmacy. (Which brings up a sub-annoyance. Are we really supposed to believe it’s that hard for 15-year-olds to find info online?) Anyway, I got really tired of hearing the word.

The other repeated theme is he-was-gay-but-Terry- doesn’t-care. This mantra is repeated nine times. The fact that the dead kid was probably gay has nothing to do with the plot, and is never suggested as a cause for his death. It’s only there to make sure we know Terry doesn’t care. So what? Do any 15-year-olds care? I don’t know. Everything I do know about 15-year-olds seems to be about a hundred years out of date. Anyway, that mantra got old fast.

Once I got past that stuff, though, it turned out to be a pretty good book. As you might expect, Terry is sort of a young Spenser, and though he has a parent lurking somewhere offstage, his life lessons come from a retired boxer (now a boxing coach) named George. George, too, has a little Spenser in him, along with a little Hawk, making him the most appealing character in the book. Abby, likewise, is a young Susan Silverman, and though she and Terry have yet to do the do, the two know they are bonded for life.

The rest of the gang of town kids are from Parker’s stock cast of kid characters, employed over the years in various Spenser books, and in particular in the Jesse Stone series, where they regularly interact with the hero. Mr. Bullard, the high school principal, is an over-the-top villain (he’d be more believable running one of the Boston mobs), whose dictatorial powers are supposedly explained by the fact he is also the superintendent.

Parker’s pacing and humor are on display, as ever, making it all go down easy. I wish I could say the same for Robert Knott’s Cole & Hitch books. They have zero humor, scenes run on for many chapters at a time, and the always-annoying Allie is still hanging around (though Parker would probably have kept her, too). The Jesse Stone books were very well handled by Michael Brandman, and Reed Farrel Coleman is doing an equally fine job, despite the fact Jenn is still hanging around (Parker probably would have kept her, too). And Ace Aktins, after taking a couple of books to settle in with Spenser, produced a few extremely Parkerlike entries. He’s now veering into new territory, with his latest twice as long as a later-years Parker entry. I’m still hanging in there will all of them (even Knott, because I’ve gotten used to being disappointed).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

TARZAN SONG (1952) Hear it Here!

I was trolling eBay last week and saw this record selling for $40. "Was $50," it said. "You save $10. (20% off)," it said. ZOWIE! 20% OFF! And for that price, I thought, surely it must be autographed by both ERB and Johnny Weissmuller, if not the Lord of the Jungle himself. But no such luck. 

So I kept looking, and five minutes later found the copy seen and heard here for $3.99. It didn't have the autographs, either, but at that price I can live with it. Did I get ripped off anyway? I suppose that's in the ear of the beholder. It's sort of like the Mighty Mouse Theme Song (only not nearly as good) after the same singers have had a few too many. But what the hell. It's Tarzan. You need to hear it anyway.

And that 20% off bargain is still there if you want it.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

YouTube Theater: ROY ROGERS "in Old Amarillo" (1951)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE GUNSLINGER by Stephen King (1981)

Well, that was an experience. I read The Stand a long time ago, and probably another King or two, but I remember his writing being sort of normal. Disgustingly good, but normal. The Gunslinger isn’t. It’s wonderful and horrible, captivating and boring, meaningful and incomprehensible.

I picked up the first two Dark Tower books about ten years ago, read maybe twenty pages and put them in a box, never to be seen again. But when I went to see Wonder Woman a few weeks back, I saw the trailer for the new Gunslinger film, and figured I should give it another go. So I did.

Did I enjoy it? You can probably guess the answer to that one. Yes and no. Will I read the next in the series? Yeah, absolutely. I won’t be able to help myself.

Partly, that’s due to King’s writing. His sentences are like no one else’s, and at times he strings them into prose poems that make me feel like my head is about to spin off. Sometimes, I suspect, he gets so carried away his own head spins off, and the meaning is lost in the clouds, but it’s so well written I don’t really care.

It’s also due to the fact this is so totally unlike anything I’ve read before. A steady diet of normal works just fine for me, but it's probably good to shake up my brain once in a while.

I’m not going to tell you what this book is about, because that would ruin it for you. It’s not really a story so much as a voyage of discovery. You start out wondering what the hell is going on, and very gradually, mostly in flashbacks, you get some of the answers. And a lot more questions.

In the lengthy introduction to this revised edition (yes, he revised the novel in 2003, adding about nine thousand words and making who knows how many changes), King reveals what inspired it. The short answer is The Lord of the Rings and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. That’s all you need to know, and all you really want to know, before starting.

King is famous for his method of writing by the seat of his pants. He writes to see where the story takes him. Sometimes it takes him to great heights, while at others he seems lost (like the gunslinger himself) in the desert or under a mountain, waiting for something interesting to happen. The novel’s saving grace is that when something interesting does happen, it really happens

The worst part, for me, was a long stretch in the dark—so long even the characters lost track of time—that reminded me of one of my least favorite books, Rex Stout’s Under the Andes (unfavorably reviewed HERE). It also didn’t help that there’s a whiny, snot-nosed kid in it. Whiny, snot-nosed kids should be banned from fiction. Forever.

I’m curious to see how this will work on screen. A good screenwriter can probably patch together enough scenes to resemble a story. At least there’ll be plenty of shooting.

There are seven numbered volumes in The Dark Tower series and an eighth that slips in between. If I read them all, will everything make sense? Can my brain take that much shaking up? Will my head spin off before I make it to book III? Alas, more questions than answers.

I believe most of the artwork shown here, by Michael Whelan, is from the 1981 first edition, now commanding five or six hundred bucks on eBay. One of these pics is from the cover of the third edition, and another was the basis of the cover for first trade paperback. I own none of the above. Along with my lost-in-a-box later pb, I have only an ebook.