Friday, October 16, 2015
Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, October 16, 2015
Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (reviewed by Ed Gorman) (from the archives)
Let's begin with a tale of woe. Mine.
Years ago I was asked to contribute a forty thousand word novella to a YA series about shapeshifters. You know, beings humans and otherwise who can transform themselves into other kinds of creatures. I immediately thought of Jack Williamson's The Wolves of Darkness, a grand old pulp novella set in the snowy American West and featuring enough creepy
violence and tangled romance to make it memorable. It even has its moments of sweeping poetry.
Reading Williamson's piece showed me how to write my own. A few days after the young editor received it he called to rave. And I do mean rave. The best of the entire series. Eerie and poetic. Yadda yadda yadda. For the next forty-eight hours I was intolerable to be around. It
was during this time our five cats learned to give me the finger. My swollen head was pricked soon enough. The young editor's older boss hated it. He gave my editor a list of reasons he hated it. I was to rewrite it. I wouldn't do it. I said I'd just write another one, which I did. Old editor seemed to like this one all right but he still wasn't keen on how my "characterizations" occasionally stopped the action. Backstory--verboten.
Shortly after this werewolves began to be popular. I spoke to a small reading group one night and told them about Wolves of Darkness and then about Williamson's novel Darker Than You Think. Everything I love about pulp fantasy is in this book. The werewolf angle quickly becomes just part of a massive struggle for the soul of humanity. As British reviewer
Tom Matic points out:
"According to its backstory, homo sapiens emerged as the dominant species after a long and bitter struggle with another species, homo lycanthropus, whose ability to manipulate probability gave it the power to change its shape and practice magic. These concepts, fascinating as
they are, might make for dry reading were they not mediated via a gripping thriller riddled with startling plot twists, that blends scientific romance with images of stark bloodcurdling horror, such as the kitten throttled with a ribbon and impaled with a pin to induce Mondrick's asthma attack and heart failure, and the pathetic yet fearsome figure of his blind widow, her eyes clawed out by were-leopards. With its scenes of demonic mayhem in an academic setting and the sexual and moral sparring between the two main characters, it almost feels like a prototype of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer in a film noir setting."
Williamson couching his shapeshifters in terms of science fiction lends the story a realistic edge fantasies rarely achieve. The brooding psychology of the characters also have, as Matic points out, a noirish feel. And as always Williams manages to make the natural environment a
strong element in the story. He's as good with city folk as rural. And he's especially good with his version of the femme fatale, though here she turns out to be as complicated and tortured as the protagonist.
This is one whomping great tale. If you're tired of today's werewolves, try this classic and you'll be hooked not only by this book but by Jack Williamson' work in general..
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Les Blatt, DEATH OF AN OLD GOAT, Robert Barnard
Bill Crider. THE BABY SITTER, Andrew Coburn
Scott Cupp, BEASTLY BONES, William Ritter
Martin Edwards, THE COUNSELOR, J.J. Connington
Curt Evans, Lady Carew's Secret, THE ABBEY COURT MURDER
Ed Gorman, LEMONS NEVER LIE, Richard Stark
Rick Horton, NORWOOD. Charles Portis
Jerry House, A YANK AT VALHALLA, Edmund Hamilton
Nick Jones, John Smith Spy Novels, Jimmy Sangster
George Kelley, SPECIAL WONDER, ed. J. Francis McConas
Margot Kinberg, CROSSBONES YARD, Kate Rhodes
Rob Kitchin, SIGN OF THE CROSS, Anne Emery
B.V. Lawson, A CRIME REMEMBERED, Jeffrey Ashford
Evan Lewis, THE SHADOW MEETS THE DICTATOR OF CRIME, Maxwell Grant
Steve Lewis, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED, Brett Halliday
Todd Mason, WORKERS WRITE! TALES FROM THE COURTROOM edited by David LaBounty, LOVECRAFT: A SYMPOSIUM by Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Arthur Jean Cox, et al.
Juri Numellin, GOODNIGHT MOOM, Jack MacLane
Mathew Paust, SARKHAN, Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer
James Reasoner, THE HORN HUNTERS, H. Bedford-Jones
Richard Robinson, MAIGRET'S PIPE, Georges Simenon
Kerrie Smith, THE SHIVERING SANDS, Victoria Holt
R.T. MR. HIRE'S ENGAGEMENT, Georges Simenon
Kevin Tipple, SHOT TO DEATH, 31 Stories by Stephen D. Rogers
TomCat, WHEN THE WIND BLOWS, Cyril Hare
TracyK, THE GLASS-SIDED ANTS NEST, Peter Dickinson
Westlake Review, HOT STUFF, Donald Westlake