Archive for the ‘Author profiles’ Category

Author Profile: Richard Matheson

April 6, 2014

Author Profile: Richard Matheson

This is one in a series of posts where I focus on a particular author.

If you were a fan of a certain type of dark science fiction in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s (one which brought an often intellectual horror to a contemporary world; that used the rational to create an irrational fear), you were a fan of Richard Matheson’s…whether you knew it or not.

That would be true for readers, but also for television viewers. Matheson wrote 14 episodes of the original The Twilight Zone, and also wrote the two TV movies which were the basis for Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

In terms of books, you can find both novels and short story collections by Matheson in the Kindle store:

Richard Matheson’s Amazon Author Central page (at AmazonSmile)

Several of the works have been adapted for movies or TV (sometimes being adapted more than once). It’s interesting, because I wouldn’t say that  The Shrinking Man, for example, is particularly cinematic when you read it. Matheson (sort of like Michael Crichton, who came later, of course) is definitely writing a book when you read them…getting into inner monologues, crafting metaphysical journeys. Yet, even though the movies (even when adapted by Matheson) are not “faithful” to the written word, they still have such intriguing ideas that they work.

Here are a few suggestions for Matheson Kindle books:

I Am Legend (at AmazonSmile)
4.2 out of 5 stars, 1024 customer reviews

I would probably start here. This was Matheson’s first big successful novel (in 1954), and has had four definite movie adaptations (and George Romero cited it as an inspiration).

The basic idea, which may now seem familiar, but was pioneering at the time, is a lone human survivor holding out against…well, what are sort of vampires. There is a routine to this existence: humans adapt. I definitely also see echoes of this in AMC’s The Walking Dead…the characters are frightened and in danger, but killing zombies is all in a day’s work.

My favorite adaptation of this is actually the low-budget Vincent Price version, but you might be familiar with The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, or the Will Smith version.

Hell House (at AmazonSmile)
3.9 stars, 309 reviews

Stephen King has called this the “…scariest haunted house novel ever written.” Even though it is a “haunted house” book, it is still grounded in reality (with a physicist as one of the main characters).

Somewhere In Time (at AmazonSmile)
4.1 stars, 136 reviews

Do those two sound too dark for you? This time travel tale was the basis of a romantic movie with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

I’m going to just list some more, although that doesn’t mean that I recommend them any less:

  • What Dreams May Come (made into a movie with Robin Williams)
  • Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (remember the Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner and the “thing on the wing”? That was based on one of the short stories collected here…it also includes “Prey”, the basis of the classic killer African doll segment of  the TV movie Trilogy of Terror with Karen Black)
  • The Shrinking Man
  • Duel: Terror Stories (the first one was made into Steven Spielberg’s first movie)
  • Steel: and Other Stories (the basis for Real Steel with Hugh Jackman…and of a Twilight Zone episode with Lee Marvin)
  • The Box: Uncanny Stories (the title story here was a movie with Cameron Diaz)
  • Shadow on the Sun (a supernatural Western)
  • The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickock

From Star Trek to an episode of The Family Guy…to the inside of your head…Matheson will take you on a voyage you might wish you could forget, but that you hope you never will.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Author Profile: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

May 10, 2013

Author Profile: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is one in a series of posts where I focus on a particular author.

Sherlock Holmes would have sneered at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It’s ironic, really…almost like Daddy issues.

There are few clearer illustrations of an author’s ability to create a character who is in many ways superior, but certainly different, than themselves.

Can you imagine how Holmes would have approached a case where two young girls claimed to have taken photographs of fairies? It certainly wouldn’t have been with the generosity with which Conan Doyle championed it…even writing a book supporting it.

No, the detective and the author are two very different people.

No question, Holmes is one of the most popular literary characters of all time, and is repeatedly adapted into other media (not just the Basil Rathbone movies, but several TV series).

I would guess, though, that that is all that most people know of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It would certainly be enough, but it’s just the beginning.

This

Kindle store search for Arthur Conan Doyle

has 1,408 results at the time of writing. Certainly many of them are duplicates…since most of the work is in the public domain, it can be adapted, and reworked without obtaining permission (although that is arguably not true of all of it…that gets into a bit of a tricky situation).

You can find all of the Holmes books individually for free…or save yourself some trouble and for ninety-nine cents get this one:

THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE COMPLETE TALES OF TERROR AND MYSTERY (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and All 12 Tales of Mystery in a Single Volume!) … Conan Doyle | The Complete Works Collection)

It says its authorized by the estate, and it has enough reviews that I would guess it would have been pulled down by now if that wasn’t true. The estate does defend the copyright.

I’d say the next series to go to after Holmes is Professor Challenger. Bombastic and egotistical, most people know the adventuring Prof from The Lost World, but there are actually three novels in that series. Again, you can get them individually for free, or buy a one volume set:

Complete Professor Challenger Lost World Series (Pulp Lost Worlds)

In particular, The Poison Belt has somewhat of the feel for me of a Doctor Who episode…although Professor Challenger is certainly very little like Matt Smith’s Doctor Who! It’s more the reaction to an epic scale event.

As to the other works, this is a good collection:

Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Illustrated)

For $2.99 at the time of writing, you get a wide selection of works, including Holmes and Challenger, but also plays, poetry, military history, and Spiritualism.

That last one is something that many Holmes readers may find incongruous about Doyle. That’s due in part, I think, to a misunderstanding of Spiritualism. At the time, many saw it as a scientific attempt to prove life after death (and/or communication with other non-corporeal entities). People did experiments (some of the quite bizarre): it wasn’t just a matter of “believing in ghosts”.

Now, certainly, this wasn’t anything accepted by the mainstream, and there was fraud involved in some of it.

That’s a place where Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, who had a personal relationship, disagreed.

Houdini was an adamant anti-Spiritualist, on a campaign to expose what the escape artist saw as fakes exploiting the bereaved.

Conan Doyle was a supporter of the existence of the  supernatural.

There has been more than one book about this odd clash of celebrities, each with a larger than life mythos. Here is a recent and well-reviewed one:

Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini

While many people nowadays would laugh it all off, thanks to Holmes, Conan Doyle was an influential figure. When test footage of the 1925 version of The Lost World was shown to The Society of American Magicians, the New York Times reported it as uncertain as to whether it was merely a fictional movie (with amazing effects) or real pictures of real dinosaurs (perhaps obtained through psychic influence…they linked them to the Cottingley Fairies):

NYT article pdf

“Whether these pictures were intended by the famous author and champion of spiritism as a joke on the magicians or as a genuine picture like his photographs of fairies was not revealed. Sir Arthurs said they were ‘psychic’ and also that they were ‘imaginative,’ and announced in a firm tone, before they were shown, that he would submit to no questions on the subject of their origin.”

That certainly says something about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Was he just being a merry prankster (the author clearly knew that these were special effects)? Was the point to prove the fallibility of  the magicians, and thereby call into doubt their criticism of Spiritualism? Was all of Conan Doyle’s advocacy of Spiritualism perhaps done in a similar tone?

That’s a mystery…and the game’s afoot! 😉

Update: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reading list

I wanted to give you a few more specific recommendations…

Sherlock Holmes novel: Sign of Four

I normally like to start at the beginning of a series and go straight through, but honestly, the first Holmes book (A Study in Scarlet) has such a quirky story structure that some people think the copy they got is in error. 🙂 There’s a long flashback that people think is a different story. I’d skip it and start with the second. The Hound of the Baskervilles may be the most famous, but until you know Holmes, it doesn’t work as well.

Sherlock Holmes short story collection: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I’d say that this really cemented the idea of Holmes, and there are some great stories in this one. A Scandal in Bohemia is important in understanding Holmes, and The Adventure of the Red-Headed League and The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb will stick with you.

Professor Challenger novel: The Lost World

This is just flat-out a rollicking adventure novel. It’s one of the most universally enjoyable of Conan Doyle’s works.

Standalone novel: The Maracot Deep

This one is philosophical…more fantasy than science fiction in feel. Holmes would hate it. 😉

History: The Great Boer War

This was non-fiction revised repeatedly…it was actually published before the war was over. You can sort of think of it as investigative journalism, with Conan Doyle actually interviewing people involved in this conflict between colonial powers in Africa.

Paranormal: The Coming of the Fairies

How could you not? 🙂 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arguing for the reality of pictures that little kids took of dancing “fairies in their garden”.

Of special interest to readers: Through the Magic Door

Conan Doyle writes about the books in his library. That can be a bit like having somebody tell you their dreams, because they never mean the same to you that they mean to someone else. Here’s the opening:

“I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lowly the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and  vexation  can follow you no more.”

Autobiography: Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure

I haven’t read this one, but Conan Doyle served as the “surgeon” (which didn’t have quite the meaning it does today) on a whaling ship.

Special note: I chose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for today partially because I wanted an author who was also a doctor to tie into my having a minor surgery today. Should be fine…it is done under general  anesthesia, though. I might be a tad less responsive for the next few days. 🙂

Update: I’m home from the surgery…everything seems to have gone well, although of course, it’s a bit too soon to be able to tell much. I’m going to be careful writing this…might say something even sillier than usual. 😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Author profile: Isaac Asimov

April 5, 2013

Author profile: Isaac Asimov

This is the first in what I think will be a series of posts where I focus on a particular author.

Isaac Asimov embodied what was best about the human mind. The author was like a walking world-wide web, with one idea leading to another…but also like the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, with in-depth knowledge and explanations, while at the same time being an easily accessible author of science fiction, mysteries, and even limericks.

Prolific doesn’t begin to describe Isaac Asimov. Amazon lists 502 books (which does include different formats) at the

Isaac Asimov page at Amazon

and a search at Goodreads pulls up 1,762 titles (partially because different editions of the same book count as different titles there)

Goodreads search for Isaac Asimov

While Asimov famously has a book in nine out of ten of the Dewey Decimal major categories (although there is some argument about that…some suggest it might be all ten), I think my favorite thing was when Isaac did a commercial years ago (I think it was for tires).  Under the eclectic writer’s name on the screen, it just said, “Expert”. 😉

You can’t write about robotics without Isaac Asimov…in part, because he coined the term (although he later claimed he thought it was an already existing word). Even today, we see many references to his “Three Laws of Robotics”:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Robby the Robot famously (but unofficially) demonstrates the concept in Forbidden Planet (which is available to Prime members as streaming video at no additional cost). The movie is based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest…and Asimov wrote one of the great popular guides to the Bard.

It is fair to say that Isaac Asimov’s fictional novels and short stories are works of ideas more than of people. An average fan could quickly name ten titles, but might be hard pressed to name ten characters. One notable exception might be Susan Calvin, an industrial robopsychologist, who reappears in several works. Yes, I thought it was cool that her last name was “Calvin”. 😉 If you knew my family, she would fit right into it (we do have a Nobel Prize winner in the clan: I grew up with Melvin Calvin as my “Uncle Mel”, although he’s actually my father’s cousin).

So, where to start reading Asimov on the Kindle?

Unfortunately, Random House, publisher of many of the works as e-books, is blocking text-to-speech access on some of the best-known.

I think that

Caves of Steel

might be a good introduction. It’s both science fiction and a mystery, and is the first novel in the Robot series. Although short stories precede it, it can be read without first reading those. It was also published in 1953, so you can read it for its sixtieth anniversary. If you are a fan of the movie Blade Runner, you might see some familiar things, even though that work was based on Philip K. Dick.

From there, range on. 🙂

I want to conclude this with a bit observation on Isaac Asimov as a person.

I was at a World Science Fiction Convention (Discon II in 1974), and Asimov was there. I have a hard time thinking of Asimov as less than fifty years old…and I suppose the fact that he was in his early fifties at the time is part of it.

I remember seeing a knot of all female fans (not super common back then), and back to a wall holding court was Asimov. 🙂

He was also having a “feud” with Harlan Ellison. That was all in fun, but they were seen as the old school versus the new school. Asimov pretty much didn’t write about sex (in his fiction), and, well, Ellison doesn’t have that inhibition. Their styles were quite different in other ways as well: Ellison was seen as young and hip, and Isaac was, well, “Uncle Isaac”. 🙂

As I recall it, they were doing a “lecture” (more like stand up comedy, almost) together. Asimov told a story about going in for surgery, and saying to the doctor just before succumbing to the anesthesia, “Doctor, cut my throat.” He said that later on, the doctor said he was laughing so much, he had to wait to proceed. Ellison responded, “Isaac, do you have to be such a yenta and always talk about your operation?”

I’ve wondered if that line of Asimov’s to the doctor was related to this quotation:

“Observe the universe, young man. If you can’t force amusement out of it, you might as well cut your throat, since there’s damned little good in it.”
–Gillbert Oth Hinriad

The Stars, Like Dust
written by Isaac Asimov
category:literature
decade: 1950s
collected in The Mind Boggles: A Unique Book of Quotations

That’s certainly what Isaac Asimov did: forced amusement out every possible corner of the universe, and shared it with the rest of us.

What about you? What are your favorite Isaac Asimov books? What would you suggest someone read? If you’ve heard of Asimov and never read him, what has held you back? Do you think of him as something other than a science fiction writer? If you are a fan, who do you think writes like him today? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


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