The Slacker returns.

Forgive me father…it’s been 2 weeks since my last Blog post. The Chaos of Christmas and New Year are finally behind me and I can get back to some serious….and some not so serious blogging.

I’ve been reading a book called “Armageddon in Retrospect” by Kurt Vonnegut and it’s got me thinking about things. What sort of things? Well civilisation for one thing. Looking up the meaning of civilisation (I’m using the English spelling rather than the American) – I’m told it means the following:-

the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced. Or the process by which a society or place reaches an advanced stage of social and cultural development and organization. OR the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area.

And of course is derived from the word Civil – meaning courteous and polite.

I’d like you to really think about those definitions and consider if it applies to how we treat our fellow human beings and how we are as a society today.

We in the western nations consider ourselves to be civilised and have in the past, and some would even today, claim that we are more civilised than the communists of Russia or China and certainly more civilised than those who ran Nazi Germany before and during WW2. By the way these days the word Nazi is taken to refer to those who express extreme racist or authoritarian views or behaviour. But are we actually any better? Have we learned anything during those 74 years since the end of WW2 to today? Are we a more civilised society…..can we even claim to be civilised at all in view of the various definitions above? Judging by the number of wars and armed conflicts that the western nations have been involved in in the last 74 years, I don’t think that we can.

Let’s take the USA for example – I don’t like to pick on one country when many are guilty, but the USA is a prime example of what is wrong with the world today. The USA was built around immigration. It’s not known as the “Alien nation” for nothing. The early settlers had a chance to live peacefully with the first nation peoples, but as more outsiders arrived land was taken by force and the original American people were pushed on to reservations and even today are still struggling to be heard by the all conquering uncle Sam. Now we have President Trump in charge (who going by the earlier definition of Nazi …… you finish the sentence, you know where I’m going with this…..) – who’s pledged to make America great by stopping immigrants (particularly Mexicans) from entering the country and kicking out all illegals. He knows that this doesn’t make any sense because it’s the illegals, doing all the low paid jobs, that white Americans don’t want or can’t be bothered to do, that keep the country running. Currently he’s not paying “unnecessary” government employees – this includes the likes of air traffic controllers – who among many others are hardly unnecessary (think about those pissed off air traffic controllers next time you fly somewhere in Air Force One Mr President) – and his actions are putting many families to the wall. There’s a standoff between the 2 major parties who’s leaders are trying to prove who can piss the farthest up the wall – the one that Trump wants to build presumably. BUT meantime, while others suffer and are expected to work unpaid, those making the decisions in Congress and the White House are still being paid. The powers that be are simply looking after number one and sod the rest of you. This is hardly civilised behaviour.

But I’m not here to bash Trump and his rich political buddies – there are plenty in line before me to do that. The USA still has the death penalty (is that civilised?) – does it work? No it doesn’t – how many of those executed by lethal drug injections last thoughts were “Well I guess that will teach me a lesson?” Probably none. Has the threat of the death penalty stopped people committing crimes that will mean that they will get the death penalty? Does a mugger worry about death row when he shoves a gun in your ribs, is prepared to pull the trigger, and demands your wallet? Nope. Is it civilised for one human to kill another by hiding behind “the law” to administer a lethal injection? Is it civilised to spend a trillion dollars on arms and armaments and go blowing up and destroying thousands of people in foreign lands each year just because they are the “wrong colour” or follow the “wrong god”? A civilised society would insist on that money being spent on things like health, education and welfare for its own people, who are in desperate need – instead of on war. But America, like the majority of western nations, is a capitalist country and will always put big business and profit for shareholders over the needs and well being of its own citizens. These are not signs of a civilised country. The USA still tortures prisoners of war and “suspected” terrorists – something banned by the Geneva Convention but being the strongest military might in the world, rules don’t apply to them. No proof of terrorism is needed, just suspicion. It’s a very slippery slope folks. Kind of reminiscent of the days of witch hunts and witch trials – suspicion of being a witch brought you the death penalty. Have we made any progress since the Salem witch trials? Don’t we know any better……really?

They – the USA – are backed up by the members of Nato and the United Nations. Surely all who support the acts of criminals are themselves as guilty as those committing the acts. Warfare is not something that civilised peoples subscribe to.

We as citizens of these countries, we who vote in the idiots who make the big decisions, could be deemed equally guilty of being uncivilised. But what can we do to stop the insanity? Sign a petition? Take to the streets and protest like “we the people” have done in the past – marching against war, marching for peace, marching for equality of race, gender or sexual orientation? I’ve done it all. Sometimes we make small gains, but mostly it’s like throwing custard pies at an advancing enemy armed with tanks…..(to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut when referencing the futility of protest marches against the Vietnam War). Peaceful protest seldom works, violent protest as with the Yellow Vests recently in Paris also doesn’t work. Hey we’re pissed off with the government – let’s burn some poor schmuck’s car or trash their shop – oh yeah that’ll work! The entire system as it stands doesn’t work.

As capitalists, as fully signed up members of the consumer economy, we endorse unlimited growth and to hell with the environment, to hell with the planet. We allow the corporate’s to lay waste to the planet, to destroy habitats of other species simply to provide more stuff for us greedy humans and to make money for company shareholders. Our support of this system is definitely not civilised.

But we also claim to be the most intelligent species here on earth – how can that possibly be true? We are the only species on the planet capable of wiping out of existence not only ourselves, but every other living thing on planet earth, thanks to our “superior intelligence” – and we’re the only species stupid enough to allow the people in charge to put us all in this position in the first place. The system is broken, it doesn’t work and we need a new plan.

Getting back to Vonnegut’s book – Armageddon in Retrospect.

Image result for kurt vonnegut armageddon in retrospect

It’s a book made up of selected essays/short stories all centred around war. Some of the stories are based on his own personal experience as an American soldier – prisoner of war in Germany. One of the stories concerns the bombing of Dresden toward the end of WW2. Although many other major German cities had been bombed by the US and British throughout the war, Dresden was not considered to be a target because it had no military, industrial or strategic purpose – did not manufacture steel or armaments. It was a city of universities, churches, hospitals, theatres, museums, libraries, the arts and beautiful architecture. It had become a haven for the weak and displaced. BUT someone high up in the US military decided that the rail-yards at Dresden needed to be bombed. It should be pointed out at this time that every able bodied male aged between his mid teens and late 40’s had already been conscripted into the German army and were fighting on the various “fronts”. The city of Dresden was populated by the very old, the very young, the infirm and women. In bombing the rail yards, what actually happened was that the entire city was flattened. Up to 200,000 ordinary people were murdered by the bombers during that time. And if the massive loss of life is not enough, so much history, art and heritage was also lost for ever. The rail yards however were repaired and up and running again in two days. Two days! Was it worth it? Was it the civilised thing to do?

Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners of war had the gruesome task of pulling the bodies of those dead children, wives, mothers and grandmothers out of the twisted wreckage of what had been the beautiful city of Dresden. This very much turned him against war and warfare. War should at best be an absolute last resort when everything else has been tried to keep the peace – not the first consideration, nor should it be a way to settle a political argument, or to simply prove who is strongest, or as a means to take what “we” want from other, weaker nations. The murder of innocents and the destruction of beautiful things is not what a civilised society condones.

Like I said earlier I am not bashing America in particular – just using it as an example, as did Vonnegut in his book. I know many Americans – even have some as family – and they are wonderful, warm, kind people…..but the decisions of those leading them….!! NOR am I bashing the military or those who serve or have served. Many of my own family have served in the military including my father, uncles, cousin and grandfathers. They were fighting for what they considered to be a just cause. It’s not usually the military who bring one country into armed conflict with another – they just have to go where they are told and do what they are told to do – it’s usually politics and political leaders who are at fault…..and those who provide finance to the political parties. Big business runs politics by financing political campaigns and therefore buy and own the politicians. It shouldn’t be allowed. As I said before, the system is broken and does not work – certainly not for the average Joe. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. The system is rigged that way.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the silver bullet is. But we could start by being kinder to one another. We can start by trying to reconnect with our neighbours, our community. We could start by simply smiling and giving a friendly greeting to a stranger. Welcome people instead of shooing them away. Offer the hand of friendship instead of holding up the fist of fury. We could bring back things like trust, integrity, understanding and peace. We could, and should, be civil and civilised. But do we want to be?

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Christmas is over for another year…

I’m not going to go into depth about what I do or don’t believe in about Christmas…..except of course that Santa really does exist….(cough cough). Christmas is a magical time of you have little kids to share that magic with……..otherwise, it does all seem to be a lot of work for one day of stuffing our faces and damaging our livers.

At our home, in the build up to Christmas, my wife had reeled off a list of things that “needed to be done before Christmas” and we sweated and toiled in order to get most of them done before the big day. We live in New Zealand so Christmas falls in our summer-time meaning that usually we can bask in sunshine with temperatures in the high 20’s or low 30’s Celsius. Christmas lunch is taken in the garden…..usually…..which is why a lot of the tasks tended to centre around the garden and lawns – making everything as neat as a pin and putting up an awning for a sun-shade and of course fairy lights – although with it being a lunch time feast, no one will see the lights against the bright daylight. BUT they were on the list so had to be put up and switched on.

So after a week of hard work and fraying tempers, completing our garden tasks, of course it absolutely poured down the day before Christmas and on the day itself. Oh JOY! As the front lawn gradually became a shallow lake, we dined inside and it was a bit of a crush squeezing 11 around the tables in the dining room. We had to arrange the tables diagonally – corner to corner – in order to fit everyone and everything in, as a rather large Christmas tree occupied much of one side of the room.

We all ate more than we should – naturally. AND one or two of “us” definitely drank more than was sensible….but we survived the day.

Honestly – next year I wouldn’t mind just disappearing to a Pacific island for the week instead – to chill out and recharge the batteries. My wife even suggested flying to Norway for Christmas…..about as far as you can get from NZ – where we would be completely off the radar….not to mention freezing cold.

It’s now 2 days later – the 27th and finally I am kicking back, chilling out. I’ve just had a coffee with a large chunk of Christmas cake and am contemplating either opening a beer…..or finishing off one of the many bottles of wine that were opened and left unfinished on Christmas day. Why do people do that? Why open a new bottle when there is already another one of exactly the same wine already opened and has only one glassful missing. Does anyone else find that frustrating or is it just me?

Anyhow…getting back to chilling out – I’m reading a book put together by a lady called Penelope Rowlands of 32 essays / short stories by 32 different writers, of a variety of nationalities, who have all lived, or been seduced to stay longer than they should have, in the European City of Lights – Paris. It’s called “Paris was Ours” and I picked it up second hand. It’s in very good condition and I was drawn to the book by the beautiful moody black and white photo on the front of a dimly lit, rainy street with people walking -mostly wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas – lots of shadows but also reflections and rain spattered glowing pavements. By reading the inside back cover of the book it appears that the photo is from flickr by a Julien Brachhammer. Who-ever you are Julien, I love the photo.

Awesome photo on the cover and an interesting and entertaining read inside.

Inside the book the essays range from 3 pages long up to a maximum of around 16 or 17 pages, so it’s very easy to pick up and put down when you have spare moments…..or you can sit and binge read the essays – much like I was trying to do until I had the urge to share my experience of the book with you all – on here…WordPress.

All of the writers had been seduced by “the city of love” and all or almost all profess to still love it although some also claimed to have a love/hate relationship with a city that they found both passionately alluring, yet also one that theft them feeling lonely and blue. As one writer put it “Paris is a good place to be young and melancholy.” Another says “Paris steals in on you like fog.” Others refer to it as “the world capital of memory and desire” or insist that they were seduced by …”that siren, Paris.” I just love all these quotes – most are so poetic and I wished that I had written them first.

But living in Paris even for a short time – as a resident rather than a tourist – has been beneficial to the inner writer in all these essayists. As one put it “to be a writer you MUST come back to Paris.”

In her introduction to the book, the editor Penelope Rowlands speaks for most of the writers in this enthralling collection when she professes, “We hated Paris and loved it all at once.”

As writer and journalist Walter Wells wrote in his essay “I knew already that living in Paris would not be like visiting Paris, but I hadn’t appreciated what that really meant.” OR as Marcelle Clements attested – “Paris is a great place to fall in love, to eat, drink, and be merry. But it’s also the perfect city in which to be depressed or, even better, melancholy……You don’t have to be French to smoke a Gitane and notice the falling leaves drifting by your window.”

More than half of the essays have never appeared in any other publications and were written especially for this book. Some are well known writers, others – if you’re like me – you will never have heard of before, but all are intrepid men and women writing about their personal encounters with a magical yet uncompromising place – one that changes them indelibly and will stay with them forever – PARIS!

Most of these essays left me wanting to read more by each writer – to delve deeper into their backgrounds – and of course made me yearn to live for a year or more in that seductive city of lights, love and melancholy.

I’m not really a giver of stars to recommend books, as a book is a very subjective thing – what I love – you may hate. BUT if pushed….I would give this at least 4 out of 5.

Four fantastic, freaky, fanciful, frightening, fiendish, fables of fiction from the psychotically perverse pen of Richard Laymon.

The freaky Four books in question.

“When I get a little money,
I buy Laymon books;
and if any is left,
I buy food and clothes.”

On the covers of Richard Laymon’s books, you’ll find tributes by the likes of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Koontz saying “”No one writes like Laymon and you’re going to have a good time reading anything he writes.” Where as King stated “If you’ve missed Richard Laymon you’ve missed a treat”. Another quote reads “In Stephen King books, the blood drips….in Laymon’s books it splatters!” and “Stephen King without a conscience”. SFX magazine said “This is an author who doesn’t pull his punches….A gripping, and at times genuinely shocking read.”

Quotes for and about Laymon’s books indicate that he is a larger than life author, and yet if you look on the all knowing Wikipedia, there is very little about the man, other than a list of the books that he wrote….information of pseudonyms or pen-names he used and that he died on Valentines day 2001 – supposedly of a massive heart attack. And that there is a back catalogue of manuscripts in the possession of his wife, to keep the publishers busy for a few more years to come. Add to this the “fact” that his “daughter Kelly” who just happens to do a bit of writing herself, has pieced together yet another old manuscript of an earlier Laymon book – The Woods are Dark – and had it re-released in 2008. How convenient! All of which makes me very suspicious that Laymon himself is actually someone else’s pseudonym.

His stories are of a sub-genre known as “Splatterpunk” – possibly a genre that more established and accepted writers would rather not be associated with….in their real names. His stories are filled with sexually perverse and violent themes – again something that more established writers would want to avoid tarnishing their good names with and yet may feel the need to write about in order to “scratch an itch that needs a very good scratch”. He tends to write like a horny teenage horror fan….over-dosing on Viagra.

However, real person or not, he has turned out a long list of titles and I am here today to give you my fabulous 4…..four of the best from Richard Laymon…..and why I have selected the following books.

Body Rides published in 1996 is my first choice because it was the first Laymon book I read and I was so taken by how different it was to everything else I’d read. It’s one of a few books that I will never part with. ( Actually that’s a great idea for another blog post….12 books that I will never part with). The story follows a guy who does a good turn by rescuing a woman from being assaulted (or worse)…and as a reward she gives him a bracelet with strange powers that enables him to feel, see and hear what someone else is thinking or experiencing….like hitching a ride in their body and mind. The person you’re transported inside of has no idea that they are being eavesdropped on in the most intimate manner possible. But it can only be done for a certain amount of time and over a certain distance until, like a piece of stretched elastic, you’re pinged back into your own body and consciousness. The thing is, until you are inside the other person you don’t really know who they really are. They could be an innocent choirboy or a crazed mass murderer, or anything in between. Of course in this story you’re going to bump into more murderers and perverts than choirboys. And while you are away from your own body – your body is vulnerable – unguarded. It makes for an exciting and unusual story.

Endless Night published in 1993 was the second book of Laymon’s I read and was recommended to me by a lady I used to work with. To look at her, (she looked like a prim and proper senior librarian) – she was not the type to read the likes of Laymon’s stories….but she did, and loved them. In this one the perverted murderers like to dress themselves in the skins of their victims while killing yet more innocents. I found it both disgusting and yet strangely fascinating. While murdering and skinning their victims….not to mention a little rape on the side for good measure, Simon and his friends get their perverted kicks, until Jody Fargo, a cops daughter witnesses their murderous rampage and rescues the 12 year old brother of a murder victim…killing a man in the process of making their escape. Simon’s friends make it his responsibility to track them down and tie up loose ends. Can’t have witnesses blabbing to the cops! And so begins an endless night of terror.

Island published in 1995 – I’ll let the blurb on the back of the book speak for itself. “When eight people go on a cruise in the Bahamas, they plan to swim, sunbathe and relax. Getting shipwrecked is definitely not in the script. But after the yacht blows up they end up on a desert island. Lucky for them, their beach camp location has fresh water and firewood, and enough food to last them out. Just one problem remains as they wait to be rescued – they are not alone. In the jungle behind the beach there’s a maniac on the loose with murder in his heart. And he’s plotting to kill them all one by one…”  What it doesn’t warn you about is that the maniac in question also tends to run around half naked with a boner the size of a canoe….and when he sees the female shipwreck survivors he wants to do more than murder them. Does he succeed or do they scupper his evil plans? It’s a fast paced read.

Quake also published in 1995 is about…yes you guessed it an Earthquake. Our hero, Stanley or I should say our antihero as he possesses none of the morals of the white hatted hero’s of old – where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black – is ogling a pretty female jogger, Sheila, through his living room window, 20 minutes before the quake hits. He has some very perverted fantasies about what he’d like to do to Sheila – who just happens to live near by. When the quake hits, she is naked in her bathtub, in her bathroom, as the building comes down and she’s trapped pinned in the tub by falling debris. Her husband and daughter are away from home for the day with no way of getting home quickly. The power lines are down, roads and bridges are wrecked and emergency services are stretched to the limit. The evil and lawless are already in the streets plundering and pillaging. Will someone rescue Sheila before the fat pervert Stanley gets his hands on her….pretending to come to her rescue? He won’t let anything stop him…..even if it means killing anyone who gets between him and his prey.

So that’s my selection of 4 of the fiendishly freakiest of Laymon’s works. Not for the fainthearted. If you can get past the apparent rush that the writer seems to get from fantasizing like a rampant horny teenager….they are fast paced horror / adventure stories that will keep you up all night (no pun intended!).

A few more of my collection of Richard Laymon books.

My top 10 Stephen King books.

I’ve been a reader of Stephen King books for about 30 years – his first book Carrie was written even longer ago, back in 1973. It was a book that may have never seen the light of day. He threw the first draft of the book into the bin. It was retrieved by his wife…..he persevered with the story and sold it to Doubleday. His advance was a miserly $2,500 and he later earned over $400,000 for the paperback rights alone. Not bad for a book that had been thrown in the garbage.

I have seen numerous top ten lists for King’s books, but mine is purely based on the books that I have personally read. I don’t pretend to have read all 59 of his novels plus other short story collections. These books are all on my bookshelf.

Counting down in reverse order…..

10. The 1992 thriller Gerald’s Game is my choice for number 10 on my top 10 Stephen King books list. I just enjoyed the twisted mind of King in this one. The idea that a married couple go away to a remote cabin by a lake in the back of beyond for a weekend of kinky sex. What could possibly go wrong???  Well, how about as soon as the husband has handcuffed his wife to the bed head ready for a little debauchery….he drops dead from a heart attack. What happens to the wife? Does she get out or does she lay there until she starves to death? Does someone else find her there helpless – if so do they set her free or have their wicked way with her? Is she attacked by wild animals?  Read the book and all will be revealed. 

9. Cell – written in 2006. This book is a story about an apocalyptic event, caused by a pulse sent through the cell phone network, that turns cell phone users into rabid monsters. Far fetched yes…..but what King book isn’t. Most of his books are written starting with the idea of “what if?” And through the actions of the primary characters he lets the story pretty much write itself. It’s a return to King’s horror roots after years of dabbling in other things. Some of his stories up to this point had seen him wallowing in elaborate character building and long drawn out scenes that have you screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” – but not in this book. He grabs you by the balls in the first few pages and drags you screaming all the way to the end. An homage to the old Zombie movies!

8. The Dark Half – 1990. I just had to include The Dark Half as it was the first King novel that I ever read, so has a special place in my literary heart. Without this book I may never have read or collected as many of King’s works as I have. It’s a story of a writer, who creates an evil, wicked character for a story he’s writing……but the character manifests itself, turns up on the writers door step and begins to take over his life. He creates mayhem in the small town where writer Thad Beaumont resides. Murder after murder follows and Beaumont realises that things have gone way out of control. How does he put the character of George Stark back into Pandora’s box once he’s released him? Is there any way back? Great story – Really enjoyed it.

7. Thinner – written under the name of Richard Bachman in 1984 as a stand alone novel. BUT I recall first reading it as part of a collection of stories… Any story that begins with the main character, a very overweight guy, getting – how can I put this tactfully? – sexual gratification, from his wife, while driving a car should probably make this list. It’s what happens while his wife is “busy” and HE is distracted that sets the scene for the incident that really starts the story. While distracted by his wife he accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman. He goes to court but gets off the charges (pun intended!) because he knows the judge. Case dismissed! BUT as he leaves the courthouse an old gypsy man walks over to him, taps him once on the arm and says the word “thinner”. Just that one word. Initially puzzled by this, the very next day our “hero” realizes that he’s lost weight. At first he’s quite happy about it – he could do with losing a few pounds…But the next day he’s lost more and continues to lose weight at an alarming rate –  victim of a gypsy curse. Can he track down the old gypsy and get the curse removed before he disappears completely?

6. Dream Catcher 2001 – a story about 4 friends who head off to a cabin in the woods for some R & R but end up encountering an alien invasion and a crazy – I mean really really crazy – military man. Covering eliments of horror, suspense and alien invasion/abduction….not to mention a fair chunk of lavatorial humour…..and an unlikely hero who has Down’s Syndrome. As I look at what I’ve just written it sounds like a ridiculous story but King has a way of carrying the plot along and to make you believe in what you’re reading. King himself was recovering from a life threatening traffic accident when he wrote this book…so maybe the plot line had something to do with the pain killer medication? Ha-ha! It made the list at number 6.

5. The Regulators – again written as Richard Bachman. 
In the beginning, we learn about the residents of Poplar Street, a normal Ohio block. There is a singular “token” black couple, another guy who is an alcoholic, his wife is the local busy body who no one can abide. Another lady lives with her autistic nephew, who’s family was murdered in a drive by shooting……and then a newspaper delivery boy is murdered by a mysterious shooter in a van. It seems that maybe Poplar Street isn’t quite as normal and idyllic as it first appears. Death and destruction follow at an alarming rate. 

And 4. Is the sister book to the Regulators – Desperation. The two novels represent parallel universes relative to one another, and most of the characters present in one novel’s world also exist in the other novel’s reality, albeit in different circumstances. Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolate highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to “rescuing” a family from a nonexistent gunman. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive. They begin to fight for their freedom, sanity and lives before realizing that if they are ever to escape Desperation, they must trap Tak in the place from which he came. But do they????

3. Number 3 in my list is the JFK book – 11/22/63. A high-school teacher is a regular at a run down diner in small town America. One day the owner of the diner reveals a supernatural secret to the teacher…..in the back of the diner is a kind of time portal – a worm hole if you like – back to the late 1950’s. If that’s not weird enough, Al, the diner owner, tells Jake, the teacher, that no matter how long you stay in the 1950’s world at the other side of the portal you are only away from the current world for a maximum of 2 minutes. You can be gone for days or years, but pop back to the side you came from and poof only 2 minutes have passed. There are other rules relating to this “time travel system” – but you’ll have to read the book to find out about them. The whole pretext of the book is the idea of going back in time to change a vital event. If you could go back and alter one thing that could change history, what would it be? King in this book chooses the assassination of John F Kennedy. Can Jake, under Al’s guidance save Kennedy…..starting a change of events that could then also save Kennedy’s brother Robert, save Martin Luther King, prevent the race riots, maybe even prevent the Vietnam war?

2. Number 2 is the extended/uncut version of the dystopian novel “The Stand”. It’s an interesting book to read from a modern day “Prepper” point of view. Would you react the same way as the lead characters in this story if faced with a similar situation? The scenario is that a strain of influenza, which has been modified as a biological weapon, is released, by accident, into the atmosphere causing an apocalyptic pandemic killing off most of the human population and causing a complete breakdown of society. It’s an epic story with a stellar cast of characters, who are for the most part quite believable – in such an horrific situation. Human frailties are highlighted by King – as is the tendency of “man-kind” to repeat the same mistakes over and over without learning from them. It is without doubt one of Kings finest stories. The only reason I have not made it number 1 is that I feel, after the wonderful work done throughout the story – it’s as though he had to hurry the end – which incidentally I think was a very weak and disappointing ending. I read later – years later – that King admitted having writers block while writing The Stand – which could account for the ending. It’s still an amazing book though – a MUST READ!

Fanfare and drum roll please…………..

NUMBER 1. On my list the top spot goes to King’s classic ‘bump in the dark’ novel “IT”, which reminds all of us of our childhood fears of bumps in the night and monsters under the bed. King first had the idea of IT in 1978, started to write down notes in 1981 and published in 1986…..so it was a long time coming. BUT worth the wait. IT is a classic horror story and one that deals with themes that have become in many of his books King’s staples…..I’m talking about the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a facade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. The evil being in this story appears in the guise of Pennywise the Clown who preys on small children…..and hides in the storm drains under the streets of small town America. This is only one of IT’s manifestations however, as it shape-shifts and feeds off the children’s fears. Our heroes in the story are a bunch of 7 misfit kids nicknamed the LOSERS. Of course where there are misfit kids there are also the town bullies – who add another dimension to the story. The timeline of the tale runs over many years and follows the Losers into adulthood – where they re-unite in a bid to rid the town of IT forever. It’s just a classic scary novel and I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read IT, you’re missing a treat.

Other novels that could have made my list but just missed out are the serialised novel “The Green Mile” and another epic story “Under the Dome” (which like The Stand – I feel had a very weak ending). 

Never judge a book by its cover…

I bought a few books…..well 16 actually….at the recent “Friends of the Library” book sale. Our local library had a stack of discarded books to get rid of so a book sale was the order of the day. Only NZ 50 cents per book. So I grabbed a few bargains –  having only a quick look at the covers and thinking “yep I’ll have that one…..and that….and that”.

One such book was “Nightscape” by David Morrell.  I have read a lot of his books in the past and mostly they are of the espionage/assassin genre. The first 3 books of his I read were “The Brotherhood of the Rose”, “The Fraternity of the Stone” and “The League of Night and Fog”. All were brilliant books predominantly about assassins. Full of twists and turns, action and adventure, destruction and mayhem.  Morrell is probably most famous though for writing the Rambo novel “First Blood”. I have, since then, read many more of his books – all of them extremely well written and fast paced. He has a way of writing that propels you at speed to the very last page.

Anyhow I broke the cardinal rule about never judging a book by its cover and assumed from the moody night in the city shot on the front of the book that it would be more of the same (a story about assassins). WRONG! It’s actually a book of short stories. I cast aside my initial disappointment though, opened the book and started to read. I absolutely barrelled my way through the intro and 5 of the 8 stories in the first sitting. This guy writes nail biting assassin stories, but his short stories – none of which are about espionage or assassins – certainly had my eyes glued to the page.

The intro is about Morrell’s life as a child and his stormy relationship with his mother and his step-father. The step-dad was a complete arse by the way!

The short stories are a mixed bag of subjects ranging from “Remains To Be Seen” – about a trusted soldier being tasked with spiriting a crate (contents unknown) out of a beseiged city to finally deliver it to his Excellency, after having to change plans several times enroute……to one called “ELVIS 45” in which an English Lit professor decides to run a course of lectures about the culture of Elvis Presley – a very dramatic ending to that one!

All of the stories have “interesting endings” – so even if you are able to guess how a couple of the stories will turn out, there is enough intreague in how the story develops to keep you reading.

The blurb on the back of the book says ” By and large the kind of tales an author writes are metaphores for the scars in the nooks and crannies of his/her psyche. In David Morrell’s youth, thrillers and horror stories provided an escape from his nightmarish reality. Is it any wonder that, as an adult obsessed with being a writer, he has compulsively turned to the types of stories that provided an escape when he was a child? In his own words, perhaps he is eager to provide an escape for others. Or perhaps he is still trying to escape from his past.”

Written with a haunting emotional intensity and lightning pace that has made Morrell the master of action/suspense writing. The short story collection includes the short novel “Rio Grande Gothic” – and will leave you wanting more. It certainly has with me.

DEADLINE….you can’t beat a good Zombie novel.

I love an exciting Zombie story

Two weeks ago I bought about 15 books from the local Lions Club charity book sale, one of which DEADLINE – by Mira Grant – I have just finished reading.

The book in question DEADLINE – the second book in a series of Zombie “Newsflesh” stories by Mira Grant.

Right now you probably have the same look on your face as my wife did when I showed her the front of the book I was so engrossed in – a look that said – Meh,  another Zombie book….they’re all the same.

But this one was different. Although it’s the second book in what is currently a series of 4 books (the first book was called FEED), it can be read as a stand alone story as you get to know about what happened previously very early on in the story. From then on you’ll be running hell for leather to the final page. Which incidentally has a double surprise at the end. For once, a Zombie story with an unpredictable ending. I literally said out loud – “Wow I was not expecting that!” – but it has set things up nicely for the next book in the series “BLACKOUT”.

It’s written from the perspective of former Blogger, now official journalist Shaun Mason, who’s blog about living with Zombies morphed into a major news organization called “After the End Times”. It’s set in 2041….after the initial Zombie outbreak of 2014 – which sparked, the end of the world as we knew it. It’s not just another Zombie story though. It’s not “the Walking Dead” – there are guns and bombs – but there is also political foul play, horror, miniature bulldogs (yes you read that correctly – miniature bulldogs),  the interplay or relationships between the main characters, journalism, suspense, action, science “Facts” to back up what was happening, mad scientists, sane scientists who appeared slightly mad…..and of course who could forget Shaun’s dead sister Georgina (who he refers to as George and whom I assume gets killed in the first book of the series) speaks to him, from the grave, in his head – and he talks back to her. Oh yes…this story has it all.

Described as “Perfect Summer Apocalypse Reading”, it is one of the few well written Zombie novels that I have come across and I ended up caring what happened to these characters. Sci-Fi Magazine praised the first book FEED as “The Zombie novel Robert A. Heinlein might have written”.

The blurb on the back goes as follows….”Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn’t seem as (much) fun when you’ve lost as much as he has. BUT when a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of Zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news – he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead. Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun”.

All of which sounds quite exciting – if slightly incorrect – you should never EVER use a shotgun on Zombies -potential contamination from blood splatter is increased by using a shotgun as opposed to a bullet from a pistol or rifle…. (as you’ll find out if you read DEADLINE).

Mira Grant  – the writer – lives in California, sleeps with a machete under her bed, and suggests you do the same (not to ward off Zombies – this is California after all!). Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire – winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for best new writer.

The 3rd book in the “Newsflesh” Series “BLACKOUT” was nominated for a Hugo Award…..and there is a 4th book FEEDBACK released in 2016 that I now feel I have a duty to track down and read.

The end of DEADLINE has me not knowing what direction the 3rd book, BLACKOUT will take. Must get on to reading that very soon. 

Meantime….my machete and baseball bat are beside my bed and this little lot are hanging behind my bedroom door…..just in case.

Are you prepared……for the Zombie Apocalypse?

Paris has it all. (Part one…)

My first ever overseas trip was a school exchange trip – to live with a German family in the town of Arnsberg in what was, at the time, West Germany. I was fourteen years old and although I was initially homesick and found actual spoken German, rather than school boy German, difficult to understand – in the end I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and became well and truly bitten by the travel bug.

Since then I have travelled all over Europe, the UK, the Mediterranean area including a couple of north African countries, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, a few of the Pacific Islands, The USA, Canada and Mexico. I don’t have heaps of money so usually this means travelling on a tight budget – even backpacking and hitch hiking. Naturally I have my favourite places – places I would willingly return to time and time again. In general I try to avoid some of the busiest cities – countries capitals – BUT I must admit to having a love affair with the French capital Paris.

Getting an eyeful of the Eifel Tower

For me, Paris has everything. My passions are writing, photography, art, travel – not to mention good wine and rich strong coffee. Paris offers up all these and more. It’s been a magnet for writers and artists, connoisseurs of fine wines and foods, travellers, poets and of course, being the city of romance – lovers. 

All the best writers of old had lived and written in Paris – F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to name but two. Of course France produced many famous writers of its own including Proust, Dumas, Flaubert, Sartre and we can’t miss out Voltaire. Paris was and is still a breeding ground for literature, philosophy, art, fashion and new ideas of all kinds

I have only visited Paris once, for a week, back in 2016, but I am smitten. We stayed in a small AirBnB apartment in the 17th arrondissment. It was basic, but clean and tidy and served our needs – and being in the 17th it was far enough off the tourist track for us to be away from most of the hustle and bustle. By this time, we had been on the road for about four months, so had become adept at living on a budget and sourcing and cooking our own food – although we did indulge ourselves in the cafes and patisseries. Who can resist French pastries? 
We had started our journey in early July of 2016, setting off from New Zealand with our backpacks and romantic ideas of travel. By the time we reached Berlin at the end of August, any ideas that travelling with backpacks was romantic had been kicked into touch and our packs had been swapped for suitcases with wheels – why carry when you can wheel? Paris was our last stop in mainland europe before catching the Eurostar train under the English channel to England. Despite having lived in England for my first almost 30 years of life I had avoided visiting France. Now because of my interest of writing and books, and having recently seen the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” I was quite keen to visit the “City of Lights”…..and track down some of the places that the movie was filmed.
 
We did a lot of the things on most tourists lists – went to see the Eifel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, Sacre Coeur, the museums and galleries, visited Printemps the big department store – partly to shop for a berret (the wife is so cliched) but also to visit the rooftop cafe which has some of the best views of Paris over the rooftops. The only downside was that on the day we went up to the roof it was overcast so Paris was not photographed at her best. However, what we enjoyed the most was just meandering through the streets and alleyways particularly around Montmartre – visiting the cemeteries and the final resting places of the famous (including writers – Proust and Wilde and composers Bizet and Chopin…and Jim Morrison of the Doors) and of course strolling the left bank of the Seine – perusing the wares of the book sellers lining the bank. Or simply enjoying a coffee in a cafe and watching the world rush by.

One of my highlights was visiting Shakespeare & Company book shop (twice). What an awesome book shop. A warren of rooms, packed bookshelves, books piled in every space, little sayings and quotes printed on the walls and stairs, and of course just breathing in the history of the place. The building used to be part of a 17th century monastery, although this particular shop was only opened in the 1950’s. Many famous writers, actors and artists have graced its rooms – Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, William Styron, Julio Cortázar, Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Lawrence Durrell, James Jones, and James Baldwin were some of the first. As an english language book shop in the heart of Paris, it became a haven for American and British ex-pats. Some have even slept there amongst the books, early in their careers (such as Ethan Hawke and Geoffrey Rush) or when down on their luck. From day one owner George Whitman encouraged writers and artists to seek shelter in his shop – a place to sleep and eat a meagre meal, in exchange for a couple of hours of work (and they also had to write a short bio and promise to read a book a day while living there). It’s been estimated that over 30,000 people, over the years the shop has been in business, have taken up the offer of food and shelter. It’s been owned by the same family throughout. Opened by George Whitman in 1951 (originally under the name of Le Mistral) and run either by him or under his watchful eye until he died in 2011 aged 98. His daughter Sylvia – named after Sylvia Beach, who founded the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919 on rue de l’Odeon – took over management of the shop in 2006. In 1964 on Shakespeare’s 4ooth birthday, and with the blessing of Sylvia Beach, the name of the shop was changed to what it is today – Shakespeare & Company. On my first visit, to the shop, I bought “My Brain on Fire” by Leonard Pitt – about his experiences living in Paris as a young man. Of his struggles to become a writer, living in a garret – naturally – and his mishaps in romance. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and read it before leaving Paris, it was so enthralling. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy.

On my second visit a few days later I bought the book about the shop – “Shakespeare & Company Paris” and subtitled “A History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart”. It’s been compiled partly from George Whitman’s notes and letters and partly by the many many people who have lived and worked in the shop over the years. It has photos, notes, receipts, short biographies and notices throughout its pages – edited by Krista Halverson – it’s a delightful book to own and to read. It gives a real understanding of life in the shop – bedbugs and all – and provides a window into the eccentricity of an interesting, passionate and complex man who’s dream and life this shop became. It is available from the many on-line retailers but my advice would be to go to the shop yourself, pick up a copy and absorb some of that magical atmosphere.

The two books purchased from Shakespeare & Co.

Part two to follow soon…….