Friday, November 4, 2011
TIME CAPSULES classic book reviews by Bill Lindblad
HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
This book tied for the first Stoker award given for non-fiction work. It shouldn't have. It should have won it outright.
Now, mind, the book which shared the award was Harlan Ellison's Watching, a compilation of his movie reviews (which could be more accurately described as essays on the movie industry.) In my opinion, it's one of the top essay books produced in Speculative Fiction... on a par with Barry Malzberg's Engines of the Night, Thomas F. Monteleone's Mothers And Fathers Italian Association and Algis Budrys's Benchmarks. It is a brilliant book by a brilliant man. It required copious quantities of time, experience and effort to produce that book, whereas Jones and Newman had to do considerable editorial and production work but did not have to write much for their book.
If the award were about personal effort, that would be one thing. But it's about the best book. I've recommended Watching to people over the years and I've reread it twice. On the other side of things I've given copies of Horror : 100 Best Books to people as gifts and I can't guess at the times I've read the essays within, much less used it as a helpful reference.
Jones and Newman contacted dozens of influential horror professionals (writers, editors, publishers) and asked them each to contribute an essay about the horror book they felt was the best. The only rule seems to have been against duplication: if a book had already been selected by someone, another book would have to be chosen by the professional. They also culled some old essays written by authors like H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James regarding books they held in singularly high regard. The end result was a trek through the history of the best horror books ever produced, as judged by people who knew the business but had strikingly different tastes. There are books where the horror is immersed in violence and others where the terrors are merely suggested. Psychological horror. Supernatural effects. Horror of the speculative future and horror of the fantastic. Obvious titles and works of relative obscurity.
All of it is exceptional, and all of the picks are explained in detail by the contributors. The essays trend toward two pages, sometimes more and sometimes less, and they are prefaced by a summary preface to each essay written by the editors which explains salient points of the book judged to be the best by the essayist.
It is, strangely, a recursive sort of book, because it probably deserves to be on its own list of 100 best. It is a necessary read for any horror fan, and a copy should probably be on the shelves of every horror writer.
Five stars out of five.
WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE by Michael Moorcock
This 1987 publication is Moorcock's assessment of fantastic literature. It is authoritative, opinionated, elegant and interesting. I often found I didn't agree with his assessments of things, but he always presented his points in a compelling and understandable fashion. I could also not find fault with the substance of his complaints or praises, only disagreed with his analyses of that substance.
Moorcock is no stranger to speaking his opinion about literature. He spent time as an editor for New Worlds magazine and between his writing and editing was significantly responsible for the literary growth of the fantasy and science fiction genres during the 1960s. His fantasy and science fiction literature has been influential for two subsequent generations of writers and has garnered awards and plaudits from fans and professionals alike.
It was republished by Monkeybrain books in 2004. This was a favor to readers everywhere, because the book has a lot to offer. Moorcock presents his opinions about what is good and bad about fantastic literature and selects examples to bolster those views. He throws a variety of beloved authors under the metaphorical bus during his presentation: Robert E. Howard is affectionately called on what Moorcock sees as failings, for example; Lovecraft is lambasted and Tolkien is eviscerated. Other authors such as Clark Ashton Smith and Mervyn Peake are held up as examples of the success of the field. All of it follows rationally from Moorcock's personal views on what makes literature palatable or compelling, and due to that context any reasonable reader is left with valuable information and an appealing perspective on the field.
I find the book's biggest flaw to be the source of one of its greatest successes: it drips with Moorcock's viewpoint. The book is subtitled "A Study of Epic Fantasy", but it is less a study than a dissemination. There is neither attempt nor pretense toward scholarly reserve but rather a fearless approach to the subject matter and an assumption that the author's views are fundamentally correct. For a lesser author this would seriously injure and possibly destroy the book; for Moorcock it merely prevents it from being a defining work in fantastic analysis.
Four stars out of five.