Wednesday, January 4, 2012

TIME CAPSULES classic book reviews by Bill Lindblad

DARK GODS (1985)
by T.E.D. Klein

I respect T.E.D. Klein. He was the editor of Twilight Zone Magazine for much of its wonderful but fairly short-lived existence, and he is also a writer of uncommon ability. His skills are showcased in Dark Gods, a 1985 collection of four novellas united around a central theme of gods and religion. The beauty of the book comes from the fact that there is little repetition in the novellas; they are all character-driven, but there are action-oriented and character study stories. One story takes place over the course of a lifetime, another over months, another over hours. The structure changes; sometimes the story is told in a straightforward narrative, another time it splits between multiple perspectives, another time it is told primarily through flashbacks.

All of the novellas are superb. Typically in a collection such as this there are inevitable favorites. In this, there is not only a lack of a consistent favorite, there is no agreement on what the weakest of the novellas is, either; ask different readers and you'll get different answers.

The distressing aspect of this book is simply that it reminds the reader of how little fiction Klein has produced. I have heard it rumored that he does not enjoy the process of professional writing. If this is true, it should be a source of regret to every horror fan.

What makes the collection more impressive is the fact that the novellas were not originally written with the intent to publish them together. Instead, the closing work was produced as an original work to Dark Gods, with the other three arranged so as to best showcase both Klein's efforts and as a cohesive book.

Three of the four pieces included here were nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and the one written exclusively for the book, Nadelman's God, won. People don't gush about Klein or this book nearly as much as they used to. It's worth reminding yourself what the fervor was about.

Five stars out of five.

by John Brunner

While the 1971 paperback edition of this 1970 novel clearly advertises itself as "a novel of terror" and was published as a Beagle Boxer Horror Novel", it undoubtedly caught people by surprise. For those who believed the cover copy, they were undoubtedly disappointed to discover that the horror aspects of the novel were actually fairly minimal. For those familiar with the author, a typically sharp and insightful science fiction writer, they were probably surprised to see him attempt this sort of work.
Specifically, an amateur detective novel.

There is a science fiction aspect to this book, to be certain, and it is central to the mystery. There are some horror elements as well. But fundamentally this book is a great example of the amateur detective field. After having a major character killed in an unusual way - scared to death by a sudden, highly detailed delusion - the remainder of the book consists of his friend attempting to discover why he died of fright and eliminating the agents who took his friend's life.

Brunner adds depth to the novel by giving us glimpses into British life in the late 1960s. It's interesting, although at times it seems he is purposefully exaggerating the places and personalities, channeling episodes of The Avengers rather than showing real examples of UK living. Then again, perhaps the nightclubs and the lifestyles of the rich truly were that odd at that time. I wasn't there, but I was able to visit by way of this book. It was a visit well worth my time, but the mixture of science fiction character piece, horror story, and dramatic thriller result in a book which is just a hair too busy for excellence.

Four stars out of five.

--Bill Lindblad