Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday 's Forgotten Books, June 29, 2018

Forgotten Books: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (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 reviewerTom 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..

Frank Babics, THE HANDKERCHIEF, John Saul
Brian Busby, MEMORY'S WALL, Flora McCrea Eaton
 CrossExaminingCrime, THE BETEL NUT MYSTERY, Ovidia Yu
Martin Edwards, THE PIT-PROP SYNDICATE, Freeman Wills Crofts
Richard Horton, INVADERS FROM RIGEL, Fletcher Pratt
Jerry House, FELONY FILE, Dell Shannon
George Kelley,  YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS: 1954 Edited By Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty
Margot Kinberg, A CUT-LIKE WOUND, Anita Nair
Rob Kitchin, THE MAGPIE MURDERS, Anthony Horowitz
Evan Lewis Captain Blood in "The PRIZE", Rafael Sabatini
Steve Lewis, THE FRIGHTENERS, Donald Hamilton
Todd Mason,  THE UNEXPECTED edited by Leo Margulies; THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION 9th Series edited by Robert P. Mills 
Steven Nester, (THE RAP SHEET)THE BIG KISS-OFF OF 1944, Andrew Bergman
J.F. Norris, DREAMLAND LAKE, Richard Peck
Matt Paust, THE ECHO MAKER, Richard Powers
James Reasoner, TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, John Peter Drummond
Richard Robinson, TETHER'S END, Margery Allingham
Gerard Saylor, THE CYCLIST, Anthony Neil Smith
Kevin Tipple, LUCKY YOU, Carl Hiassen


Anonymous said...

Sorry that you got your balloon pricked, Patti. I think that's one thing about writing: developing a thick skin, and being able to deal with setbacks like that. At any rate, thanks for sharing the story with us. And thanks for including my post here.

Todd Mason said...

Margot, I think you're mistaking Patti for Ed Gorman, whose review this is...had me wondering there, for a minute..

Thanks for the list, Patti!

Mathew Paust said...

Anyone heard from Yvette Banek lately? She seems to have dropped off the radar--even on Facebook.

Jerry House said...

Mine is up now, Patti. FELONY FILE by "Dell Shannon."

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't know why, but I've had "Darker than you think" for many years now and still have not read it. Maybe this is the catalyst I need

Yvette said...

I'm back in the game, Patti, after going AWOL. :) Got two books for the price of one today.

Yvette said...

I'm back, at least on my blog, Matthew. Staying off Facebook for now, too much for me to handle. I'm a cold turkey kind of gal. I'll be back at some point though.

Mathew Paust said...

Nick o' time, Yvette. I was about to send the Hounds of Baskerville to hunt you down!

Mathew Paust said...

Here's a link to Yvette's FFB twofer, this week:

J F Norris said...

Mine's up now. Something different from my usual fare -- a young adult novel from 1973.

Dreamland Lake by Richard Peck