Friday, March 07, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, March 7, 2014

From the archives

Ed Gorman is the author of Ticket to Ride, Stranglehold, and stories in DISCOUNT NOIR, Beat to a Pulp: Second Round and DAMN NEAR DEAD 2. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson

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 practise 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..  

Sergio Angelini, THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS, Erle Stanley Gardner
Joe Barone, THREE TIMES LUCKY, Sheila Turnage
Brian Busby, SEPARATION TWO, Richard Rohmer
Bill Crider, OMNIBUS OF SCIENCE FICTION, Groff Conklin, editor
Martin Edwards, THE ANATHEMA STONE, John Buxton Hilton
Curt Evans, "VOODOO'D" Kenneth Perkins
Ed Gorman, SCANDAL ON THE SAND, John Trinian
Jerry House, THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER, Harlan Ellison
Rich Horton, GUYFFORD OF WEARE and MONEY MOON, Jeffrey Farnol
Nick Jones ASHENDEN, Somerset Maugham
Margot Kinberg. A CALAMITOUS CHINESE KILLING, Shamini Fling
Rob Kitchin, PIETR, THE LATVIAN, Georges Simenon
B.V. Lawson, AN AMIABLE CHARLATAN, E. Phillips Oppenheim
Evan Lewis, THE PRIVATE EYE, Cleve F. Adams
Steve Lewis, DEAD HERO, William Campbell Gault
Todd Mason, Assorted Forgotten Magazine issues
J.F. Norris, NINE DOCTORS AND A MADMAN, Elizabeth Curtiss
James Reasoner, PLEASURE GROUND, Orrie Hitt
Richard Robinson, THE MYSTERY MILE, Margery Allingham
Gerard Saylor, THE TENTH PLANET, Kit Pedler
Kevin Tipple, Barry Ergang, BAR-20, Clarence E. Mulford


Charles Gramlich said...

I've had that Williamson book for years but it is still on my to read list.

J F Norris said...

Mine's up now:

Nine Doctors and a Madman by Elizabeth Curtiss

J F Norris said...

Darker Than You Think is one of the most original spins on the werewolf legend. An excellent book on so many levels, not just the fantasy parts as Ed so incitefully mentions.

Todd Mason said...

I'm in, as usual slower to it than I expected to be:

McSweeney's 45: Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven (2013); The Paris Review 145 (Fall 1997); Ladies Home Journal August 1964

Todd Mason said...

Jack Williamson's novel one of the ornaments to the influential fantasy magazine UNKNOWN...the story powerful enough that James Blish rather ruefully noted that his well-received early story "There Shall Be No Darkness" was merely a "schoolboy pastiche" of the Williamson.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Patti, for another great list (and for including my humble contribution). My mystery blog will have something every week for you.

Now, because of your list this week, I have a few more great titles to add to my "must read" list. A lot of your contributors are very reliable sources of damned good book recommendations. Damn, my "must read" list is overwhelming. Do you run into the same problem?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks! I gave up trying to do that six years ago.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks for corraling us all Patti - the Allingham though must be MYSTERY MILE rather than MYSTERY MIKE, right? Or Maybe MYSTERY MILK ...

Anonymous said...

Thanks as ever, Patti, for including my post.