Monday, April 27, 2009

A New Blog: SF Safari

Last year (2008 for those of you who will read this after 2009), I put myself through a self-education in the field of crime and mystery fiction. All my life, I had read science fiction or fantasy or other type books and never really put my toe in the crime fiction ocean. I read a lot, got wonderful feedback from other travelers farther down the road, and even got a few wistful reminiscences from folks who lived vicariously through me as I read a favorite author (to them) for the first time. It was a great year and I am firmly an irrevocably a devoted fan of crime, mystery, and noir fiction.

But, recently, I’ve rekindled a love for the first genre I read as a child: science fiction and fantasy. The inspirations are many and you can follow the breadcrumbs over at my first post on SF Safari. Needless to say, I realized I was woefully underread when it came to modern SF/F and it is a deficit I want to fill.

But this blog is not the place for it. Were I some name-brand author and y’all returned to my blog again and again because of me, I would start this journey and relate of its exploits here. But that is not the case. I’ve built somewhat of a reputation around the blogosphere as a ‘crime blogger’ and I am so enthused about it. I love it so much that I don’t want to dilute this blog with non crime fiction related topics.

Thus, I’ve created a second blog: SF Safari

The blog description pretty much sums up the reason for the blog's existence: Rediscovering the lost civilization of literary science fiction & fantasy and all the menagerie along the way...

It will be the place where I chronicle my rediscovery of all the joys of science fiction and fantasy in the written format. I plan on giving myself another crash course in a genre where I’ll read classics of the field while keeping abreast, as well as possible, of the new and modern storytellers of the genre. The links over there are all SF/F links of people and places you might know or might not.

I’m not abandoning this blog or crime fiction by any means. I love both genres, but I think both genres need a separate place to live and breathe and grow. I’ll still be posting here on all things crime fiction related. The Friday Forgotten Books will still be here. I’ll still blog about my writing projects (more about that on SF Safari’s first post). My review of the Gabriel Hunt books will be here. My review of the new works by George Pelecanos, Megan Abbott, and Michael Connelly will be here. And I’m still working with NewMysteryReader and a new review of my current book will be posted later this week. And I’ll still write about music here.

So, not to worry (as if y’all even did), I’m still here and alive and kicking in the crime fiction world. But I’ll also be writing about science fiction and fantasy. Come along for the ride, if you like. It should be fun.

First up: How writing a western inspired a fantasy story.

Later this week: a science fiction reading list sent to me by Lou Anders, the Editorial Director of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My first published short story this weekend!

It is difficult to explain how excited I am about this weekend. On Sunday, over at David Cranmer's wonderful and entertaining Beat to a Pulp ezine, my first published short story, "You Don't Get Three Mistakes," will be published. This is the first piece of fiction I've written that will be published.

It's a western but with some deductive flair.

When I got word from David that he'd accepted my story, needless to say, I was ecstatic. Beat to a Pulp's editor, Elaine Ash, then contacted me and we worked through a few points here and there. I hope all editors with whom I will work in the future are as easy-going Elaine. We got the story into ship-shape and now it is going to be sent out into the world.

I hope everyone will head on over to Beat to a Pulp on Sunday when the story goes live. This week's two-fer of Frank Bill stories makes him a hard author to follow.

Thank you, David, for accepting my story.
Thank you, Elaine, for helping me get it publishable.
Thank you, Readers, for just being there.

And check back here on Monday to see what this one little story hath wrought.

Forgotten Books: Star Trek Fotonovels

(This is my latest entry for Patti Abbott’s Friday Forgotten Book extravaganza. For the complete list, head on over to her site.)

(To celebrate the arrival of the new Star Trek movie, I'm going to review some of my favorite Star Trek books, most of which are forgotten. This week is Part 1.)

Hard to believe but, in 1978, you could carry a Star Trek episode in your pocket. No, really, you could. And I did.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here but do ya’ll remember a time before VCRs? I’m of the generation whose formative years didn’t have said luxury but, by the time I graduated from middle school, we had one. And, oh boy, was it a thing of beauty. I remember recording shows off of the TV to watch later. One of the shows I loved was “Star Trek.” Just about every time one of the local UHF channels ran a Star Trek marathon, I convinced my parents to buy a few tapes and we’d record them. I think those tapes are still around somewhere.

But before VCRs, there was no way to carry around a Star Trek episode in your pocket. No, I take that back. You could carry around the James Blish adaptations. That was cool because you’d get five or six episodes to a single paperback but there were no pictures.

Enter Fotonovels. Here, the Mandala company would take still images of TV shows or movies, add comic book-style dialogue bubbles, and publish the result in a book the size of a paperback. Thus, you could take a Star Trek episode--complete with pictures!--with you anywhere you went.

The company converted twelve Star Trek episodes into this format and the only one I had--still do; it’s sitting here on my desk--was “The Devil in the Dark.” It’s a classic Trek story of human interaction with a species of creature wholly unlike us. And it contains one of Spock’s most memorable lines: “Pain!”

I did a quick internet research to help me remember when these books were popular: around 1978-82 or so. I’ll admit that the Fotonovel of 1979’s “Alien” was the first way I “saw” the movie and its infamous birthing scene.

What’s fun about this book (and, I assume, the rest) are the pages in front of and after the story. Before the story, the publishers reprinted some fan letters. They’re just like the stuff we have now only written better and with correct grammar. You have the cast list next and then the story starts. The Captain’s Log part is printed in that cool futuristic font so cool back in the day.

After the story, there is a glossary. No kidding. There are listings for “phaser,” “United Federation of Planets,” and “Vulcan.” The best thing is the quiz based on the episode presented. It’s multiple choice and, of course, it’s open book. The answers are printed on the last page which, not coincidentally, is an advertisement for the next Fotonovel, “The Day of the Dove.”

I think the older I get, the more fondly I remember my youth. I certainly don’t want to go back in time since I consider 2009 to be the best year of my life, so far. (I thought the same for 2008 last year. You can see a pattern.) But there were some nice, charming things about the late 1970s. Star Trek Fotonovels was one of them.

Go here for nice pictures of all the Star Trek Fotonovels.

Go go the Complete Starfleet Library for some more great information on Fotonovels and every other book published about Star Trek.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"On Paladin Road" by Patti Abbott

Here's irony: of all the blogger friends and pals I've met on my journey, I have not read much of their fiction. And believe me, they have written a lot of fiction. Ya'll know who you are.

Patti Abbott, the head mistress of the fabulously fun Friday's Forgotten Books, has a new story up at A Twist of Noir. It's called "On Paladin Road" and you have to go and take a read at it. You won't be disappointed.

Patti's lamented a few times about the types of stories she writes and the available outlets for said stories. And I think she has a point. There's the hard-edged sites and the soft-edged sites and there's not a great middle ground.

But a story like Patti's is a precious thing. Her prose has a nice, graceful elegance to it, the kind of prose one normally associates with 'literary' writers. As the grandson of a carpenter and the son of a woodworker, I can feel and see the type of workshop Patti describes here: "The steely gleam of sharpened tools, the bouquet composed of oils, wax and freshly cut wood, the familiar pitch of a blade making the first cuts into a good piece of Pennsylvania cherry, were intoxicating." To me, it's the little nuances like this passage that brings a basic story up a notch or two, becoming something else.

Over on her blog the other day, she posed a question "What great movie would you not watch again?" I made my choices (you'll have to jump to her site to see them) and one of the movies I consider very good I'll never watch again merely for the ending. What I'm not saying is that the ending isn't good. It is. It stays with me and everytime I think about the movie, a hole in my stomach opens up.

I got that kind of feeling with the ending of "On Paladin Road." It fits, of course, but it's, it's...well, just go see for yourself.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Forgotten Books: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

(My latest entry for Patti Abbott’s Friday Forgotten Books. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.)

Based on the cover painting of the late 70s edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars (1912), there is only one question: how the hell do you have sword fights with green aliens when you’re naked?

To be honest, as I re-read Burroughs’ first Martian tale—his first book, period!—I kept an eye out to see if the characters really did wear loin clothes, robes, or what. Turns out no one wears clothes. Strange Martian custom. But, then again, strange was the way our hero, John Carter, found his way onto Mars.

A Civil War vet, Carter and a friend found a gold lode in the mountains of Arizona. There’s a problem, natch: Indians. They kill Carter’s friend and come after him. He’s holed up in a cave, waiting to go down with guns blazing when a strange thing happens: he becomes paralyzed. He hears the Indians approach the cave entrance…and then turn in fear. Great, thinks Carter, whatever scared them is behind me and I can’t do anything about it. Turns out, the thing behind him is…himself. He’s some sort of phantom and, before he knows it, he ‘wakes’ up on Mars.

And he’s Superman. He can leap tall buildings (most of the way) in a single bound. His strength is beyond that of mere mortal Martians. Lucky for Carter the Warrior the first beings he meets, the Green Men of Mars (huge hulks—heh—that stand nearly fifteen feet tall with a set of intermediary limbs below the arms and above the legs) only speak War, Bravery, and Combat Prowess. He woos them, even though he’s ostensibly a prisoner.

Almost the entire story is a travelogue of Mars. Carter learns how martian babies are born, how navel vessels fly through the air, how the thin Martian atmosphere is treated, and how water is preserved on a planet without any surface water. Along the way, he doesn’t even bat an eye that he, and everyone else, is naked. That would include Dejah Thoris, the princess of the book’s title. She is captured after a battle and Carter falls for her. Well, of course. She’s naked. The rest of the book is his attempt to return her to her land and her people usually with many valiant sword fights and battles.

I read this book over thirty years ago and, as I’ve had a reawakening of my love of SF, I thought I’d read some of the classics as well as some of the modern books and stories being published. Burroughs’ books and stories inspired countless creators of science fiction literature and films throughout the twentieth-century. There were a couple of places where you could see directly how George Lucas was inspired. At one point, Dejah is taken before a giant, ugly monstrosity. Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia anyone? Speaking of Leia, I think we all know what she told Darth Vader in the first Star Wars movie. Come on. Do I have to quote it exactly? “I am on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.” Now, cut to this exchange between Dejah and her captor:
"And the nature of your expedition?" he continued.

"It was a purely scientific research party sent out by my father's
father, the Jeddak of Helium, to rechart the air currents, and to take
atmospheric density tests," replied the fair prisoner, in a low,
well-modulated voice.

"We were unprepared for battle," she continued, "as we were on a
peaceful mission, as our banners and the colors of our craft denoted."
Of course, I see Star Trek in there, too. How many missions were merely for “scientific research”?

The remnants of Victorian prejudices still color Burroughs’ characters. The Green Men of Mars basically are communists. They all live together each person owning nothing individual. One exception is Dejah herself. Like Leia and other damsels, yes, Dejah’s in distress but she holds her own, even helping out Carter a couple of times. It speaks to her character and the fact that Carter doesn’t put up a fuss makes him a better man for it.

A Princess of Mars is certainly a fun book. And there are ten more after it, eleven in all. Not all feature Carter and Dejah but Mars is the real featured player in these stories. Well, that and all our eleven-year-old imaginations that still live within us. You read this book and these stories and you will soar to the heavens with great abandon, losing yourself amid epic tales of heroism and courage, adventure and love. And, let’s be honest: isn’t that one of the reasons you read books anyway?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Starlog's Passing (from a certain point of view)

SF Signal, among others, have all noted the ceasing of Starlog, that venerable SF/F/film magazine, as a print publication. I just read Christopher Mills' post about it and posted a comment over there. He hits just the right notes about how Starlog was like a best friend for those of us in the Star Wars Generation who grew up on SF but had very few outlets from which we could learn information.

Head on over to his blog and see if y'all agree.

And for other SF folks out there, did you read Starlog back in the day?

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Little Dorrit" and a Dickens Question

Watched Part 3 (of 5) of the BBC's presentation of "Little Dorrit" on PBS last night. This tale just gets better and better. Unlike, say, "Bleak House" which sucks you in from the get-go, "Little Dorritt" is a gradual story and, by the time you realize you're inrevocably hooked, you're in episode 2 or 3.

In reading the recent book by Dan Simmons, Drood, and listening to some interviews with the author, I know that Simmons did a lot of research. Many of the conversations his imaged Dickens had with his imagined Wilkie Collins were probably based on fact. One of the more intersting conversations is when Dickens pointed out to Collins that the latter's novel, The Moonstone, was a new type of genre, a mystery. Dickens himself was inspired to write one but, alas, never completed one.

Now, back to "Little Dorrit" as the prelude to my question. "LD," like many of Dickens' works, has a little bit of everything. It has drama, soap-opera-ish personal interactions, a mystery, and a murderer...and I don't even know how it's going to end.

Which leads me to the question for any Dickens scholars (or anyone who wants to posit an answer): why didn't Dickens write a story of a single genre (even if the term wasn't invented yet)? Why did he throw them all into the same pot and stir?

My personal take on it is this: a typical Dickens story, with all the different elements, is more like real life than merely a drama or a mystery or whatever. Everything happens, usually on top of each other. Was Dickens so infused with real life--and wrote books that mirrored that--that he failed to see that he could write a story of a single genre?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Short Stories: Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King

At the time of its publication, I considered Stephen King’s third collection of short fiction, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, to be his Et Cetera Book. How else can you explain the wide variety of stories and genres between two covers. Of course you have horror. I mean, we are talking Stephen King here. But you also have some great pastiches (of Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, and Raymond Chandler), some SF, a revenge tale, and one of the best pieces he’s ever written...and it’s non-fiction.

Back in 1993 when this volume first came out, it was one of the few books made available in audio in an unabridged format. Granted, the 796-page book was split over three volumes of audiocassettes (this is just in the early days of books on CDs) but I shelled out the cash to get these stories read to me. And boy, let me tell you, it made all the difference.

Nightmares and Dreamscapes collected many (all?) of King’s short work for the latter half of the 1980s, picking up where Skeleton Crew (1985) left off. “Dolan’s Cadillac” kicks off the collection (read by Rob Lowe in his post-scandal, pre-second-chance years). It’s a fun tale of sweet revenge that is so logically plotted and executed you almost believe it could happen. To me, that is the genius of King’s storytelling. He makes the logical case that horrible things could happen or monsters actually live under your bed. He puts the supernatural in the natural world. And he makes a years-long revenge tale work brilliantly.

Other good horror stories are collected here. “The Night Flyer” is a vampire tale, decent, but forever linked in my head by the scene in the men’s room and what happens at the urinal. If you’ve ever wondered what the afterlife will be like with Buddy Holly and Elvis, “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” answers that question. And then you have the gross stories (“Dedication”) and the odd ball ones (“Rainy Season”).

It’s the pastiches that rise above the fray in this group of stories, much the same way “The Mist” was the best story in Skeleton Crew and, to me, “Jerusalem’s Lot” the best from Night Shift. I’ll admit that my first taste of Raymond Chandler is the Philip Marlowe-inspired “Umney’s Last Case.” Leave it to King to merge Chandler with science fiction. This first-person narrative pokes fun at the tropes of hard-boiled fiction at a time when I hadn’t read all the mystery novels I’ve now read. It’s a great story where the the detective, Umney, meets his maker...and his maker has an interesting proposition.

“Crouch End” is King’s Lovecraft homage. In the audio version, Tim Curry reads this story. His voice and timbre suck you into this story at the get-go. An American couple in London get lost amid the claustrophobic streets. The street signs start to appear in a weird language, and the people who live down there are strange show up and seem to want something from them...or just them. King loves words and enjoys letting us complete a scene in our own heads. Take this one as Doris, the American woman, sees something behind a hedge:
“Then she glanced back at the hedge and saw something else was moving behind there, something that was more than black; it seemed ebony, the antithesis of light.
And it was sloshing.”
It’s easily one of the most eerie stories King’s ever written and Curry’s vocal acting takes the story to a whole new level.

But of all the stories in this collection, there is one I’ve read over and over. “Head Down” is King’s non-fiction account of his son’s Little League season. King himself reads this one and it was the first time I’d hear his particular Maine accent. It took some getting used to. How could a guy who sounded like that scare the crap out of so many people? Anyway, “Head Down” is the type of story had any of us pitched it to a movie exec, they’d have laughed their heads off and made us pick up the lunch tab. King writes with such tenderness and devotion (this man loves baseball) that you get wrapped up in every pitch or every instance of boys just being boys. I have to tell you, it took (and still does) me back every time I read it. It is so pure and you’ll find yourself cheering the team’s wins and lamenting their losses.

Now that the new baseball season has started, you ought to pick up a copy of this book. Flip to the end and read “Head Down” first. Then, make your way through the myriad of King’s trips. Not all the stories are great but, taken as a whole, Nightmares and Dreamscapes is still my favorite Stephen King short story collection.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Little Dorrit" and the Light Bulb Moment

This past Sunday was part 2 (of 5) of the BBC dramatization of Charles Dickens' "Little Dorrit" on PBS. Just like the first part, the stories and the characters gradually suck you in until you just *have* to know what happens next. That would be part of Dickens' genius.

Halfway through the show, I realized two things obvious. One, I thought "You know, the only thing Dickens is really doing is setting up relationships and characters with the pay off being when said characters meet."

And then the light bulb struck. When Elmore Leonard is dubbed "The Dickens of Detroit," I always took it to mean that he wrote about Detroit the way Dickens wrote about London. No! It's because both authors have, as their number one authorial goal, a bunch of characters who are destined to meet each other. Duh!

I thought about not mentioning this to everyone (i.e., the World) but, then, I thought perhaps I wasn't the only one who didn't know. And if I am the only one, just don't let me know. [wink]

Anyone else watching "Little Dorrit"? What do y'all think of it?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Forgotten Books: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola

(My latest contribution to Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Book Fridays. Head on over to her blog for the complete list.) 

Being first has its advantages, especially when you’re creating something new. Back in 1989, a singular comic book landed in stores: Gotham by Gaslight, written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame). Like the best of alternate history, Augustyn asked a simple question: what would Batman been like if he lived in a Victorian Gotham? The answer is the same, but slightly different. If the devil is in the details, Augustyn got everything right with this first alternate history title from DC Comics. Bruce Wayne’s parents are still killed in front of him except this time it is as part of a stagecoach robbery. And, as his enemy, none other than Jack the Ripper who has crossed the Atlantic and set up shop in Gotham. Here’s the problem. A strange bat-like creature has also made an appearance in Gotham. Some think he’s doing good. Others see him and Jack as the same man. Not a huge deal until the police show up at Wayne Manor...and find incriminating evidence that Bruce Wayne is Jack the Ripper. The best part of this story is Bruce becoming the World Greatest Detective. Now, that’s a moniker we’re used to reading about Batman but it’s put to the test after Bruce is convicted. He asked for all the evidence and has to figure out who the real killer is before he, Bruce, is hanged. Talk about pressure. Mignola’s artwork is wonderfully moody and a real steampunkish vibe is present throughout the book. The sequel (guess that spills the beans about the ending of the first story) is titled Master of the Future. It takes place eighteen months after Bat-Man defeated Jack the Ripper. Here, the Mayor of Gotham insists on having a world’s fair to demonstrate how forward-thinking Gotham is as it enters the twentieth century. A madman, Alexandre LeRoi--a copy of Jules Verne’s Robur-the-Conqueror--puts the city on notice: cancel the foul, pollution-filled fair or burn. The Mayor keeps the fair on schedule and LeRoi also keeps his retribution on schedule, too. I’ll admit that Master of the Future isn’t nearly as good (or moody) as Gotham by Gaslight. Batman is best when he, and the story and the scenery, are moody. The success of Gotham by Gaslight lead to DC Comics creating an entire line of “What ifs” under the imprint Elseworlds. Unlike Marvels's "What If...?" titles--which imagined alternate timelines from the already-established timeline--DC's Elseworld titles usually involved putting heroes at different places durig history. Thus, you get Wonder Woman in the Old West or the baby Superman's spaceship landing in the Soviet Union. The high point was the annuals (larger stories, usually one-shots, of monthly titles) of 1994. Every annual published that year was an Elseworlds title. Some of these stories are quite good; others not so much. Over the years, I stopped collecting the monthly comic books but I get most every Elseworlds title. Other than Gotham by Gaslight, some high points are: • The Blue, the Gray, and the Bat - Batman in the Civil War • Red Rain - Batman vs. Dracula (a trilogy actually) • The Doom that Came to Gotham - Batman vs. Lovecraftian monstrosities • A Nation Divided - Superman as a Union soldier • Speeding Bullets - Superman raised by the Waynes and becomes a superpowered Batman • The Feral Man of Steel - Superman lands in India with Rudyard Kipling There are a lot of these stories. Frankly, the Batman stories work best but many of the Superman stories are good, too. Here’s a link for more. But it all started with Batman in the Victorian Age. It answered questions we all wondered about. Now, we have many possible answers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Review Club: Drood by Dan Simmons

(This is the latest installment in Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list of this month's offerings, head on over to Barrie's blog.)

In his new novel, Drood, Dan Simmons has done for Charles Dickens what Jack Higgins did with First Gulf War and British Prime Minister John Major. Confused? Don’t be. It’s a simple novelist’s plot device.

On 7 February 1991, the Provisional IRA launched a single mortar against 10 Downing Street, the home of the British Prime Minister. From that real event, thriller novelist Jack Higgins wove a fictional story that sought to offer a possible explanation of how the event happened.

A similarly horrible event occurred in 1865 to Charles Dickens. On 9 June, the train on which Dickens, his “mistress,” and her mother were riding jumped a span of a bridge under repair. Dickens’ train car was the only first-class car not to be destroyed. The event scarred Dickens and he died exactly five years later. The last years of his life was marred by an increasing attention towards death and increasingly poor health. And Dickens left his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished and without any outlines or notes. That is the truth.

Or is it? If you seek shelter from the storm of modern economic tragedy in Dan Simmons’ book, you are treated with another possible explanation about the Staplehurst accident and the change in Dickens. In a wonderful conceit, the novel is narrated by none other than Wilkie Collins, Dickens’ real-life confidant and fellow writer. Collins’ main claim to fame is as the author of the first true mystery and detective novel (The Moonstone), the genre having been introduced to the world by Edgar Allan Poe.

In Simmons’ mind, Collins is writing in 1889, on his deathbed. Collins’ instructions are to keep the manuscript a secret for 125 years. That would be 2014. Guess Simmons was in a hurry. The Great Question Collins wants to answer with his manuscript (771 pages) is this: “Did...Charles Dickens plot to murder an innocent person and dissolve away his flesh in a pit of caustic lime and secretly inter what was lift of him, mere bones and a skull, in the crypt of an ancient cathedral that was an important part of Dickens’s own childhood?” That’s quite a question. And Collins gives us quite an answer.

In Drood, the Staplehurst accident happens as it did in real life. The only difference is that there, on that scene of unimaginable horror, Dickens encounters the mysterious visage of Drood. He is a man in a large black cape, “a pale, bald scalp,” a few gray wisps of hair, a nose that consisted only of two black slits, and “small, sharp, irregular teeth, spaced too far apart, set into gums so pale that they were whiter than the teeth themselves.” Not to be too flippant about it but it sound like Voldemort as played by Ralph Feinnes in the Harry Potter movies. Every person Drood consoles on that afternoon winds up dead.

Dickens becomes obsessed with finding Drood and drags a reluctant Collins along with him. They investigate Undertown, the subterranean crypts built by the Romans, early Christians, and populated in the late 1860s by criminals and opium eaters. Collins is a reliably efficient opium addict and takes numerous doses of laudanum daily.

During these searches for Drood, Collins is introduced to one Edwin Dickinson, a survivor of the accident and a young man whom Dickens invited to his home in Gad’s Hill for Christmas 1865. A few months later, Collins cannot find Dickinson and begins to fear that the author has done away with young Dickinson in an experiment not too unlike what the characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” undertake: the murder of someone just for the experience of it. After awhile (for us, the readers, it’ll be mere days; for Wilkie, it’s months and years), Collins begins to plan the murder of Charles Dickens.

This is a big book and there are so many nuances and nods that I can’t list them all. Heck, I can’t even remember them all despite my notes. Here’s one for you. In Dickens The Mystery of Edwin Drood, John Jasper is the name of one of the main characters. In the new novel Drood, that same name is part of the legacy of the character Drood. If little homages like this obvious one hit me, those folks who know Dickens’ work well likely will find more.

As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions of the writerly craft between Dickens and Collins and trust that Simmons did his research. During these years, Collins conceived and wrote The Moonstone and it’s fun to be a fly on the wall as these two authors discuss the creation of a new genre. Yes, it’s difficult for someone like me (non Dickens scholar) to know where the truth stops and the fiction begins but I can make educated guesses. And it really didn’t get in the way of the story at all. I just enjoyed myself in the work.

Had Simmons told this tale in a standard third-person POV, it would have been a good story. That he told it in Collins’ own first person POV makes the book something else entirely. Collins’ word sometimes drip like acid, piercing the text and you, the reader, with his disdain. It’s wonderful. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a great supporting character: Collins’ doppleganger, the Other Wilkie. Yes, Collins really believed his doppleganger walked and talked and helped his write his books. As a writer, if I wrote that, an agent would laugh in my face. Truth is stranger than fiction.

In interviews, Simmons openly acknowledges his debt to the play/movie Amadeus and its conceit: that composer and rival Salieri plotted to kill Mozart and pass off Mozart’s requiem as his own. If you remember the bitterness F. Murray Abraham laced in the aged Salieri’s voice when he talked about Mozart, you’ll get a sense of the jealousy and growing hatred Collins has for Dickens.

Simmons has written mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. He cut his teeth with his first book, the horror story Song of Kali, and Simmons brings his A Game when describing the horror and dread throughout the book. There were a few scenes in the book that were cringe-worthy and happily so. It’s a testament to a writer as good as Simmons that you lose yourself in this book, a real genre melting pot. When you pick it up, it’s hefty and big. You’ll probably wonder if you’ll ever finish it. You will. You won’t be able to stop, not in a thrill-a-minute kind of way, but in a deeply engrossing one.

Reading Drood has had a side effect in me that Simmons probably hoped for: I now want to read more Dickens’ novels. PBS’ “Little Dorrit” has come at the perfect time and I’m enjoying it so far. In high school, we’re force fed Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities like a prisoner on a hunger strike. As an adult, making my own reading choices, I’m free to read Dickens (or not) and simply enjoy the man’s genius. That, I plan to do.

Then there’s the ending, which I will not give away here. All I’ll say is I didn’t see it coming. It was a little irritating, honestly, but it fit the themes of the book quite well. There is a famous pop cultural moment--two really--that directly mirrors this book and its ending. That moment caused an uproar. Drood is not like that. It’s ending is one that’ll make you smile and, more importantly, want to re-read the book.