Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review: FEVRE DREAM by George R. R. Martin

Before hitting it big in the mid 90's with the mega bestseller A Song of Ice and Fire Saga (A Game of Thrones) and the following HBO series of the same name, George R. R. Martin wrote a number of wonderful novels and short story collections, not to mention serving as a major creative force behind The Beauty and The Beast (1987), one of the best fantasy series ever put on TV.

But to many, the jewel of his output in the 1980's was the novel Fevre Dream (1982), a unique, humane, and infinitely compelling novel of the dark fantastic.

The story is deceptively simple: in pre-Civil War America, Abner Marsh, an ugly, down on his luck owner of a steamboat business, strikes a bargain with the mysterious Joshua York, a seemingly ageless man of pale skin and white hair. Marsh agrees to build York a luxurious steamer to take them on journeys unknown, therefore realising Marsh's dream of mastering the fastest steamer on the Mississippi river. But the more time passes, the more mysterious and threatening York is revealed to be. And who are those companions of his? The ones with the pale, beautiful faces, who only come out at night?

On the surface, Fevre Dream seems to be a historical vampire novel with plenty of style. But Martin has much more in mind. Fevre Dream is a dark fantasy novel, a meditation on the horrors of slavery, and, most of all, a touching tale of friendship between two very different men.

Yes, there are plenty of vampires, scary sequences, and atmosphere to burn. But Martin's rich yet readable prose, the tight plotting, and the thrilling and moving climax, put the novel in a league of its own. A must for fans of vampire fiction, dark fantasy, or just plain old marvelous storytelling.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2014- 2016.

This article was originally published on Bitlanders.

Review: RUMBLE FISH (1983)

Original Theatrical Poster
Another of Francis Ford Coppola’s 80’s masterpieces, Rumble Fish (1983) is a film for film lovers. With its dazzling black and white cinematography (courtesy of Stephen H. Burum), powerful sound design, and brilliant music score, this is a fantastic piece of expressionist cinema for modern audiences.

Adapted by Coppola and S.E Hinton from her novel of the same name, the story centers on Rusty James, a teenager from a broken home who idolizes his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy, a revered gang leader and all-around bad boy. As the film progresses, we follow James as he is drawn deeper and deeper into a self-destructive cycle of violence, as he tries more and more to emulate his older brother’s life.

Rumble Fish is not for everyone, as this is Coppola at his most free and experimental (yes, even more so than Apocalypse Now (1979), as he utilizes every aspect of filmmaking (sound, visuals, blocking, effects) to create a mythic, black and white world, haunted by shadows and violence. Collaborating with Stephen H. Burum for the second time - after The Outsiders (1983) - , Coppola creates a chiaroscuro world where fantasy and reality meet, and past and present co-exist side by side. This is Coppola’s love letter to expressionist cinema and the film-noirs of the 40’s, and if you love those genres, you’ll adore Rumble Fish.

Performances are excellent across the board, with Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke especially shining as the two brothers.

It is understandable that the film was a commercial disaster when it came out in 1983, as this is not a film for the masses, not a film designed to thoughtlessly entertain; this is a piece of avant-garde cinema made to be experienced with an open heart and where every frame is to be savored.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2014 - 2016.

This article originally appeared on Bitlanders.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Review: THE FILMS OF JOHN CARPENTER. By John Kenneth Muir.

Compelling, carefully researched, and clearly written guide to the films and career of John Carpenter. Covering everything from the films, to the screenplays, to the TV projects, this is essential reading and a treasure trove for fans of Carpenter and the horror/Sci-Fi genre.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Quick Review: OCTOBER By Al Sarrantonio

Original Paperback Cover
A compelling and ambitious horror novel, with finely-drawn characters and a surprisingly humane bent to the writing. It is marred only by an episodic, slightly disjointed feel, and a subdued if somewhat touching ending. As is typical of most of author Al Sarrantonio’s work, the novel is drenched in Halloween atmospherics.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Book Review: CHICAGHOSTS#1: GONE GORILLA By Robert W. Walker

Let me get this out of the way first: I am a huge Robert W. Walker fan. Ever since I stumbled upon a paperback copy of the superbly entertaining thriller Cutting Edge (the first in the Edge series featuring the incomparable detective Lucas Stonecoat), I've read every Robert W. Walker book I could find. I am somewhat in awe of Walker - who has written a countless number of novels, novellas, and short story collections - mainly because of his seemingly tireless ability to produce book after book of quality genre fiction (thrillers, horror, mysteries, historical fiction...), some of which, in my humble opinion, are landmarks of the mid-list market, like the superb and superbly entertaining Vampire Dreams (a.k.a Curse of The Vampire), one of the best horror-action novels ever written, and the aforementioned Cutting Edge.

When you buy a Robert W. Walker book you know what you are getting: smooth prose, tight plots, memorable characters, and oodles of entertainment.

And that brings me to Walker's latest, a short novel called Chicaghosts#1: Gone Gorilla (available to buy as an e-book on June 21, 2016), a fun, funny, light thriller, that's highly readable and, well, oodles of fun! It revolves around a stolen stuffed gorilla, a musty museum full of secrets, a spellcaster out for revenge, and the team of retired detectives, who call themselves "The Old Farts Squad", that takes on the case. It's a super-breezy read, with Walker obviously having a whale of a time. The story isn't that original, but what makes it fresh is Walker's emphasis on comedy, with the snappy dialogue containing some real zingers. Add to that prose so smooth it practically reads itself, and a surprising and welcome appearance by vampire-hunter/archaeologist Abraham Stroud (the protagonist of Walker's fantastic series Bloodscreams), and you got one helluva of an enjoyable read.

A must for fans of Preston and Child's Relic, Golden Age pulp fiction, and anyone looking for a short, fun read.

Can't wait for the sequel, tentatively titled Chicaghosts#2: The Monster Pit!

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.