Monday, June 27, 2011

TIME CAPSULES classic book reviews by Bill Lindblad

TO LOVE A VAMPIRE by Nigel Fleming (1980)

In the 1960s, Playboy magazine started a book line called, appropriately enough, Playboy Press. It published everything from nonfiction to science fiction, and some of the books were impressive. For horror, just as examples, the first editions of The Fury and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris were released by them, as were four of the Charles L. Grant anthologies.
In 1979, one of Playboy's competitors, Hustler, started its own book line. It was not as successful as Playboy Press; the books had very low distribution and the line shut down inside of two years. They have since become sought by collectors of "adult" paperbacks and typically fetch high prices when they come to market.
To Love a Vampire is a typical example from Hustler. It is, arguably, the worst book I have ever had the displeasure of reading. The cover features a blond-haired vampire with black eyebrows and moustache fondling a topless young woman whose neck is as long as the rest of her head. The editing is terrible; examples of the poor quality include questionable punctuation (Yes, something was wrong. But what!), faulty spacing ("AllHonolulucould be in danger!") and even misplaced text, such as toward the end of the book where a sentence fragment, "Taking pictures of various carnal sex acts", is accidentally inserted between two paragraphs.
Then, the writing. I performed a test for this book. I typed "Fanfiction Vampire Sex" into google, and read ten paragraphs into the first thing that came up... which was an "erotic" Twilight fanfic. There was excessive use of italics, subject-verb agreement issues, inappropriate use of the passive voice, tense errors, and other problems. The story was still better written than this book, and strangely it was less derivative as well; the book attempts to playfully reference Dracula and instead ineptly mimics it.
I chose this book because Jen was reviewing sexual horror from around the world. I thought I'd review some obscure sexual horror books. This book is a series of hardcore sex scenes around which a web of horror scenes is spun. This can be done well; for example, there's Amarantha Knight's "Darker Passions" series. This story is not fit to be shelved in the same house as that series. It is grotesquely bad. Reading this "erotic" novel could serve as aversion therapy for sex addicts.

One star out of five.

A Lovely Monster by Rick De Marinis (1975)

This short book is a coming-of-age novel starring Frankenstein's Monster. It was very positively reviewed upon its release, due, I suspect, to the proliferation of drugs in the Seventies. It is not a bad book; it is simply not an unusually good book. The writing is tight and the characterization is strong but the internal logic of the story does not flow well and the dialogue is weighted down with excessive use of repetition and jargon.
There are humorous scenes within the book, but they are uncommon. There are moments of jarring, even horrific discomfort but those too are uncommon. For the most part we are introduced to the monster and follow his narration through until the end. We see his journey from innocence to jaded adult and watch his physical growth and eventual dissolution. Because of the monster's creation we can watch the entire cycle unfold over the course of weeks rather than the otherwise requisite years, and thus the author is able to show what maturing in the seventies would be like for child, teen, and adult in the span of relatively few pages.
As with any coming-of-age novel set in the 1970s, sex is covered repeatedly and drug and alcohol use is shown. Thankfully the sex is covered with a deft hand and maintains, rather than destroys, the tension and pacing of the book.
The concept behind the story is interesting. Once past the concept, however, there isn't much to make the book stand out.

Three stars out of five.

Deals With the Devil by Basil Davenport (1958)

Theme anthologies seem to have been around forever, but they were relatively scarce in the genre fields until the 1970s; prior to then, the majority of anthologies were focused around the genre itself; an editor would select a group of stories appropriate for a genre and release them together. When theme anthologies were produced, they typically fell into one of three categories: stories picked by a famous person, stories which had all been in the same magazine, and stories from a particular time period. All of these skirted what has become the typical style of today, that of commonality of literary theme.
Deals With the Devil is a pleasant exception to this rule. It opens with a six page simple history of the Devil and Devil worship, making the book seem more like a studious work than an entertaining one. This distinction is not wholly unwarranted; the editor, given hundreds of viable stories from which to choose (this was a day when, while the trope was already overused and would need to be handled expertly, a deal-with-the-devil story could still be sold to major markets) selected not only stories he considered enjoyable but stories he considered key. Thus, amidst work like the famous "Gimmicks Three" stories (a set of three short stories by Isaac Asimov, Miriam Allen DeFord and Theodore Cogswell in which time travel, a deal with the devil, and a locked room mystery are all central points) there are also the stories of Doctor Faustus, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and an example of the "Three Wishes" story. By ranging between contemporary stories and historical ones, horror stories and humor, and different writing styles Davenport presents the reader with a set of tales which seems authoritative, complete and even instructive. It also results in him producing an anthology which easily stands the test of time and is worth seeking more than fifty years after the date of its production.

Five stars out of five.

--Bill Lindblad