Sunday, January 25, 2015

A star is born

This was born early today, at 6 a.m. this morning. It's a girl. Mom and baby are doing fine.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Last Starfighter

A teenage guy is so good at an arcade game about shooting spaceships that he gets shanghaied into space and fights enemy spaceships. I believe this film was sold to producers on that line, but for some reason it works pretty well, even though it's still silly.

I remember seeing posters and ads for The Last Starfighter (called Viimeinen suuri seikkailija / "The Last Great Adventurer" in Finland, maybe they thought referring to "space" would scare the audience) and feeling sorry for not seeing the film. We didn't have a VCR at our house, so I wasn't able to see even it on video at the time. Not long ago I bought the film on VHS cassette for 20 cents and was able finally to watch it.

The Last Starfighter was directed by Nick Castle whose other films are not much of interest to me, with a possible exception of his first feature, T.A.G.: The Assassination Game. Castle of course was the guy behind Michael Myers's mask in Halloween. The Last Starfighter was an early example of incorporating computer graphics into a feature film alongside with Tron. I believe this one was more successful commercially*, but it's nowhere near the innovative graphic look of Tron, although The Last Starfighter is more entertaining than Steven Lisberger's stiff movie. The Last Starfighter benefits from two good veteran actors, Dan O'Herlihy and Robert Preston. Lance Guest as "the last starfighter" isn't bad either. He should've had a better career. The main plot about the battle in space is silly and clichéd, but the aliens look delightfully goofy.

I would've loved this as a kid, and there's still enough charm for me to like it even that I'm now a cynical adult. More Overlooked Films here (when the time comes).

* In IMDb's biography for Lance Guest it is said: "He was told that Starfighter reportedly made no money on it's initial release, so he returned to the theatre", but Wikipedia states thus: "The Last Starfighter was a financial success, earning over $28 million on an estimated budget of $15 million."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Paul D. Brazill: Guns of Brixton

Guns of Brixton was the last book I read during the Christmas holidays that had nothing to do with work. It was perfect for that: a mix between Guy Ritchie's hyperkinetic crime movies and Irvine Welsh's lowlife scum novels. I don't need to recap the plot, here's a good outline from Out of the Gutter.

That said, I must note that I lost my way amidst all the lowlife in the book. There are quite many characters, maybe one or two many, and perhaps too many scenes are about new characters making their way into the story. Guns of Brixton gets too convoluted in the end, and I read the last pages having lost some of my interest. There are also more typos near the end, so perhaps Paul D. Brazill himself got lost in his own text! Available as an e-book, for example here.

Here's also Paul's blog, full of interesting news items and interviews with new noir authors!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Michael Marshall: The Straw Men

the Finnish translation
I'd been looking for the Finnish translation of Michael Marshall's The Straw Men (translated literally as Olkimiehet) for some years. It seems to be rare (though there are several copies for sale online), but I located a copy a month ago and read it last week. True enough, the book passed by in Finland without making much impact here and no one ever talks about it, even though it's a very good book, rising above many Scandinavian thrillers everyone seems to be reading now.

The Straw Men is a very clever and frightening take on the serial killer genre - genre that I'm not very interested in. Michael Marshall gives the phenomenon a nice historical and even mythical explanation and creates a conspiracy thriller that one won't easily forget. There's not much a reader will guess beforehand, and the climax is very exciting.

The only bad thing about the book is that it was written in the early 2000's and there's just too much talk about the internet, ADSL cables, IP addresses and such. It's dated already - probably was dated even five years ago. Marshall should've seen it coming, though the plot points about the internet must've been quite original in 2001 when the book came out.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Frank Castle: Lovely and Lethal

After Brian Evenson's weird and effective The Open Curtain I thought I'd be in the mood for something lighter, maybe something old, maybe something pulpy (or paperbacky). I have tons of old paperbacks in my shelves, but not enough to time for them. So I thought I'd read one.

I read two or three westerns by Frank Castle when I was doing my book on American westerns paperbackers called Kuudestilaukeavat ("Six Guns" in English) and liked them well enough to try one of his crime novels. I picked up Lovely and Lethal, a Gold Medal paperback from 1957, and started it - and pretty soon dropped it and moved on to something else.

Lovely and Lethal is a bit like a private eye novel, but the hero of the book, one Jeff Normand, is actually a lawyer moving to a small town and getting acquainted with both the high society and the low-life of the place pretty quickly. He meets a beautiful dame, whose sister had possibly killed herself, but in odd circumstances. Normand starts to unravel the mystery behind the sister's death.

Castle's prose style is flat and not very interesting, not even very hardboiled, though I remember his westerns were pretty tough. The characters in Lovely and Lethal are pretty much stock. There's too much talk, not enough action. So Lovely and Lethal proved a bit boring and thought I'd read something else instead. And the book has a boring cover. Where's Robert McGinnis when you need him? There are enough sultry babies in the book to warrant a nice GGA cover!

Here's my earlier post on Frank Castle and his later crime novel "Sowers of the Doom" that seems to have been published only in Finland, and here's Castle on Steve Lewis's MysteryFile blog. I'm beginning to think that the book published in Finland only was the last one on Castle's career, unless he moved on to markets where he used only pseudonyms, writing porn or some such, and the pseudonyms have never come to light.

I'm now reading Michael Marshall's The Straw Men and enjoying it more.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brian Evenson: The Open Curtain

I'd ordered Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain on a whim when I noticed someone post about it on Facebook. It looked intriguing, and based on a short description of the plot it reminded me of the manuscript I've been working on. Now that I read The Open Curtain, I can tell it really doesn't resemble much what I've written so far, but let me tell you that I'd really like to be able to write as well as Evenson - and just as daringly and as unpredictably as Evenson! The Open Curtain really grabbed and scared me, even though there are virtually no hallmarks of the horror genre.

Yet The Open Curtain is clearly a horror novel. It's terrifying and very distracting. The main character is a teenage guy Rudd, who seems a bit autistic and lives with his Mormon mother. His father has been dead for some time now, and Rudd finds some letters in a garage that seem to reveal he has a half-brother, called Lael, living somewhere else with his own mother. At the same time Rudd has to make an essay on history for school, and he stumbles on an article on an old murder case in which there was a possibility of an old Mormon ritual of a blood atonement. There were lots of bizarre elements in the murder, such as an accomplice the existence of whom was never proved. All these elements start to show in Rudd's life and toy with his identity that seems to fall apart. The twist in the middle made me almost pee in my pants.

This is something David Lynch might have written, but all the elements are actually very down-to-earth and realistic. Even the 100-year-old murder was a true case. Evenson describes it with a chilling minuteness, and the whole novel is written with minimalist preciseness that's quite scary. To know that blood atonement was a true doctrine in the Mormon faith makes The Open Curtain really effective as a horror novel. Yet Evenson never really gives any sure answers. The end might be a bit of a letdown, but it's the only alternative imaginable.

Someone said (I don't remember anymore where I saw the comparison) that if Jim Thompson were alive today, he'd write like Brian Evenson. Based on The Open Curtain, Evenson is a more literary writer, but there are same elements, for example the use of the unreliable narrator and the disintegration of the identity. (And taking a look at Evenson's Facebook page, I notice there's a discussion on Thompson in which Evenson says: "Have read almost all of Thompson, who I really love.")

I'll definitely be reading more Evenson. There are no Finnish translations, but if I have anything to say about the state of affairs, there will be.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

New publisher in the works

A new Finnish publisher announced its first three books just before the holidays. I had something to do with all of them, so I'm a bit obliged to say something about them, even though the books are in Finnish. The new publisher is called Putki Kustannus (never mind the translation, it doesn't make much sense) and it works only via Lulu. The books are print-on-demand, which is still a novelty in the Finnish book industry, but it's a bit cumbersome to make the books in Lulu, since they don't offer Finnish ISBN codes (or any ISBN codes for that matter), so they are a bit invisible and won't automatically be catalogued in the Finnish National Library system.

But on to the books! Remember my 12-hour novel I wrote some years ago? I thought initially I wouldn't publish the book, but when Jukka-Pekka Kervinen e-mailed me about his idea to publish pulp-styled literature in print-on-demand and asked for help, I thought immediately about my manusript. It fits here perfectly, and the story was actually better than I remembered. The book is called Älä soita sinivuokoille, Joe Novak, which translates roughly as "Don't Call the Coppers, Joe Novak" (Novak being the private eye hero of my one previous novella and various short stories).

I also put together a small anthology of crime and horror stories, some of which were previously published, mostly in my fanzines Isku and others. Some of the stories were previously unpublished, though, for example Harri István Mäki's wonderful story about Edgar Allan Poe's relationship with Annabel Lee. The book is called The Last Shot according to Tuomas Saloranta's sleazy story of a revenge falling over a porn dealer. The first line: "Start jerking off."

The third book is Petri Hirvonen's short story collection Kuolevan jumalan yö ("The Night of the Dying God" in English) that I put together from the stories I've published in various mags through years. There are some western stories, a pirate story with horror overtones, some eighties-style action, some revenge stories, all told with energy and a good eye for violent action. Petri is a little-known pulp writer who's done some Finnish Jerry Cotton stories and the FinnWest western series. Putki Kustannus is also putting out his novella Kalmankylväjä ("Deathsower" or some such) that takes place somewhere in the Central America. The body count is massive in just 100 pages. Both Petri's and my book have forewords or afterwords that explain what's going on.

There are other books coming out from Putki Kustannus: a criminous short story collection by Teemu Paarlahti, a collection of my Mikko Jarmo short stories that mix private eye genre with silly alternative history themes, a collection of flash fiction crime stories I ran in my mag, Ässä, and a collection of my reviews and articles on American hardboiled fiction. I've been also working on a small collection of obscure Finnish pulp short stories from the thirties and fourties, but there are some copyright problems I'll have to resolve. There's possibly also a western short story collection coming from Sami Myllymäki.

Here's more in Finnish on my other blog.