Rocky Wood wins a Stoker

Aussie writer Rocky Wood has won a Bram Stoker Award for best non-fiction book of 2011, a case of third time lucky. Rocky, flying the Aussie flag as the Horror Writers Association president, won for the most recent of his five titles about Stephen King’s works, Stephen King: A Literary Companion. An updated version of Rocky’s Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished was recently made available as a pre-order only as a fundraiser for the writer’s ALS fund, to help him cope with the effects of motor neurone disease.

King also featured on the winners’ list, for best short story, in the awards run by the US-based HWA. Other finalists from Australia were Kaaron Warren for short story and Jack Dann, who co-edited the Ghosts by Gaslight anthology.

The full list of Bram Stoker Award winners.

The HWA also announced Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend as the vampire novel of the century. (Note that the century was actually a hundred-year period, not an actual calendar century.) The scenario of a last man on earth surrounded by zombie-like vampire hordes is striking. It’s been filmed three times: once with pathos starring Vincent Price, once with a sense of impending doom starring Charlton Heston, and once with ridiculous special effects and titular corruption starring Will Smith. Wikipedia says there’s a fourth, straight-to-video version with even less relevance to the text.

For my money, it’d be hard to go past Interview with the Vampire for the most influential vampire novel of the 20th century. Stoker’s Dracula (1897) misses out by four years.

Aussies in Bram Stoker Awards running

Congratulations to the Aussies who have crossed the sea to make the final ballot for the Bram Stoker horror awards (five I’m aware of made the long list):

Kaaron Warren for her short story ‘All You Do Is Breathe’ in Blood and Other Cravings.

Jack Dann as editor (with Nick Gevers) for Ghosts by Gaslight.

Rocky Wood for his non-fiction Stephen King: A Literary Companion. Note that Rocky’s Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished
has been updated with a Q&A from the King himself, with profits to go Rocky’s ALS Fund. Available as pre-order only from Overlook Connection Press.

Gaiman’s Batman and two Kings: 20th Century Ghosts and American Vampire

A quick round-up of some recommended recent catch-up reading:

batman caped crusader

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC, 2009), written by Neil Gaiman, pencilled by Andy Kubert. Batman has always been my favourite superhero. There were others I enjoyed, but it was the Bat who’s stayed with me since the 1970s when I scoured the secondhand book stores for the Murray Comics’ collected issues of Batman and Detective. There’s something about him: the peak — maybe a little over the peak — of human excellence, but human. Using intelligence as much as brawn — the detective bit gets lost too often these days — and battling with that famous crime-fighting obsession. The battle between Bruce Wayne and Batman — who’s the real disguise here? It’s all so Gothic …

Gaiman tackles a bunch of this stuff in this tale, anchored around a funeral for Batman at which he is a ghostly observer and some of his greatest foes provide requiems. Catwoman features, naturally, another simply human (even with uber athleticism and kitty affinity) character with the most simple of motivations: she’s just a thief with a desire for a keen, bloodless getaway. The unresolved sexual tension is front and centre here.

Kurbert has risen to Gaiman’s challenge of capturing some great styles of past artists in the mini-stories. It’s a superbly realised tribute to the Dark Knight. The deluxe issue contains four other Gaiman Batman-universe stories, but for me, anchored in the black-and-white art of the ’70s, these don’t fly as high as the core collection. My pick would probably be the Poison Ivy origin story — a lovely, morally ambiguous villain — though the art isn’t quite to my taste.

American Vampire

American Vampire (Vertigo, 2010), Scott Snyder and Stephen King, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. Stephen King weighs into the bloodsucker graphic novel ouvre in Snyder’s project about, well, an American vampire born in the outlaw times of the Wild West. The aim was to put the nasty back into the vampire genre and it succeeds well, givin’ them crusty ol’ Euro-vamps a taste of American independence. It casts the vampire as villain and gives the law back its star: not as camp as the film Billy the Kid vs Dracula, and with an air of old-fashioned values being dusted off. Vampires, vengeance, six-shooters: it’s entertaining stuff. Compare and contrast to the excellent Vamps, a 1996 Vertigo graphic novel penned by Elaine Lee, which tells the tale of a group of female biker vampires wanting to break free.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts (William Morrow, 2005), Joe Hill. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he’s learnt a lot from his old man. Namely, character and voice. This collection of short stories is hugely entertaining, a real tour de force of style, most (but not all) using supernatural elements to put the pressure on. ‘Best New Horror’ is a gripping opening with its clever meta elements and ‘Abraham’s Boys’ visits vampire lore in an intriguing fashion. ‘The Cape’ is deliciously nasty, others hit the melancholy mark, one had me laughing out loud. A very few left me unsatisfied, belonging to the vignette camp whereby there is meagre beginning, mostly middle and no real end, but always the characters are spot-on. I still can’t believe it took me this long to get to this collection …

Books! King, Powers, After the Rain, Shaun Tan, the Man Booker International shortlist

After the rain

The news:

The Man Booker International shortlist (NOT the Man Booker, for a book, but rather for a lifetime achievement) features John Le Carre and Philip Pullman, and Aussie David Malouf is in the 13, too. I find it cool that Le Carre wants to stay out in the cold — he’s not competitive, it appears, and the organisers have politely declined his equally polite request to be withdrawn.

And FableCroft has opened pre-orders for After the Rain, which includes my cyberpunk homage to misspent RPG days. The story has been fine-tuned since it was included in FableCroft’s flood relief charity e-version. The physical release is due out for Easter.

And it would be remiss to fail to mention the ongoing Year of the Shaun Tan, with the Aussie artist adding the mortgage-killing Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award to this year’s Oscar. Huzzah!

And the reviews, briefly:

Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King, collecting four yarns all uniformly bleak. The opening novella, ‘1922’, is classic obsession/haunting stuff, I had a couple of wee niggles, but I can’t go past the man’s command of character and, in this collection, the economy of words and gorgeous phrasing. ‘Big Driver’ is an ugly tale where the ugliness is not just foreshadowed but announced — you’d think that’d kill the suspense, but it doesn’t. The short story ‘Fair Extension’ is probably the least engaging, a Faustian exercise in human bitterness with surprisingly few twists. And ‘A Good Marriage’ is another simply domestic bliss gone bad, an one way in which we can handle home-grown evil. Even when the story has a kind of happy ending, there are no real winners here: such an apt title. King at his best or even his mediocre is a great salve.

And the other novel to have travelled from the to-read pile to the finally read one is Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard, a fetching alternative reality in which the poets Byron, Keats and Shelley battled very literal demons. It’s clever and I can only imagine how much fun the author must’ve had digging up the poetic extracts to head each chapter, selecting not only for theme but to set the mood on the action to follow. It’s a pedestrian pace but well worth the stroll through this superbly imagined fantasy.

Stephen King on vampires with bite

american vampire by stephen king

It’s old news, but it’s worth another bite: Stephen King, the man who brought us Salem’s Lot, is at it again, this time with a comic — American Vampire (note the rather tantalising hardover collection being plugged on his site — how long till Xmas?). King’s contributed a story to the opening gambit of the series, helmed by writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque, aimed at putting the red back into the red, white and blue, he tells the Guardian, a kind of ‘so there’ to the fangheads with issues rather than appetites. Bless!

Salem’s Lot is an ace book, and I can’t help but wonder how it would go today, given the gorgeous slow burn as he lays the whole town out on the table before ripping it to bloody tatters. Not much teen angst and/or suppressed sexual tension going on in the vampire world, there; just a good old-fashioned homage to Stoker’s Dracula, beautifully done.

The link to top vampire books is worth a look, too.