Month: April 2020

Greatness that Smacks You Right Between the Eyes

Greatness often isn’t recognized in its own time.  Think of all the memorable films that didn’t even garner an Oscar nomination while the Best Picture winner languished in obscurity after a couple of years*.

Other films (the same can be said of books, of course) are slow-burning, becoming classics long after their first run bombed or otherwise made little impact.  A literary example illustrates this beautifully: HP Lovecraft.  He was a minor writer in the literary landscape of the 1920s and 30s, who was recognized after his death as the unrivalled master of a particular brand of fiction.  Hell, as a writer, I’m not entirely certain if we’re allowed to write the word “eldritch” unless we’re doing a Lovecraft pastiche.

But some just hit you between the eyes and you have no question that it’s a great one.  In the Noir Era, The Big Sleep is one that stands out.  There is no doubt that, perhaps without breaking any new ground, it brings a certain type of film to a supremely high level.  I have yet to watch one that I think is better.

Today’s subject is one of those.

The Third Man Movie Poster.jpg

Brilliant from the outset, The Third Man is an atmospheric study of postwar morality and the awful realities of a terrible time but, unlike The Bicycle Thief, it treats the subject matter as a way to tell a great story as opposed to using it as a political canvas.

And the story holds up its side of the film.  This isn’t just an atmospheric crime movie–and it most definitely isn’t noir–but a well-blended mix of high-quality ingredients.  Acting, setting, story and darkness combine to put you in Vienna in 1947.  It is utterly perfect, and quite possibly the film that best uses the fact that it’s black and white… ever–I still have a few of the greats to watch, but color was making strong inroads by the time this one was released in 1949–because it is one of those movies which would have lost a lot if they’d been in color.

So everything comes together beautifully, and the semi-twist ending (I won’t give any spoilers here, even though both film and book are well known, as many people will have forgotten how it ends), as well as Orson Welles’ few onscreen minutes, almost, if not quite, a cameo, make it about as close to the perfect movie as I’ve ever seen.

Also, the book is quite good as well, if I remember correctly (it was assigned reading in the eighth grade, so it’s probably high time I reread that one).  A Graham Greene Classic.

If I had to watch one movie from the forties, and one movie dealing with the effects of WW2, I admit I’d probably go with Casablanca over and over again.

But this one comes dangerously close.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is Jungle Lab Terror (just released–you could be one of the first readers!).  You can buy it here.

 

 

*Which, in the current “politics matter more than quality” climate, will actually happen more often.  I shudder to think of how future generations will laugh at the current Oscar dynamics.

My Latest Book, Jungle Lab Terror, is Out!

Jungle Lab Terror.jpg

Very pleased to announce that my latest monster book, Jungle Lab Terror, has been published by the good folks at Severed Press.  This one takes place in the Darien Gap, the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere… but there are more than just human predators prowling the area this time around.

You can buy it from Amazon in both paperback and ebook form.  Here’s the link!

If you do happen to buy it, I’d love it if you popped in and let me know what you thought.  Reader feedback is always appreciated!

The Perfect Response to “Bite Me”

Those of you who’ve been following along know that, though I’m not particularly a follower of the genre, I have little problem with an occasional piece of erotic fiction, whether it be a timeless classic or a forgotten piece of 1970s sleaze.

You might also know that, as a writer, I occasionally dabble in erotic fiction across a few genres.  I mentioned a sale to Blood in the Rain 4 a few months back, and the book has cycled through my enormous TBR pile and now I can review it.

Here’s that cover again:

cof

Now that I’ve read it, I can state that the content within is exactly what it says on the tin: vampire erotica.

Now before you run off, I need to say three things that surprised me (as someone who doesn’t read all that much modern erotica).  The first is that the stories in this volume are uniformly well-written.  On a sentence level, the writing (and don’t tell anyone I said this), is of a much higher quality than that which you’d find in a non-erotic science fiction or fantasy volume of the same payscale.

Secondly, the definition of what a vampire is gets examined and plenty of different roles, good and evil, victimizer and victim are studies between the sheets of this book.

Third, there is much less preoccupation with politics than in the rest of the genre.  This book is lovely in that any personal politics the author might have are left behind.  And that means you actually get decent stories instead of manifestos.  SF and fantasy editors need to take note.

In fact, the weakest story of the bunch is the single story that is a political revenge fantasy.  Included, one supposes, for variety’s sake, it was the single clunker as a tale, although well-written.

As for the sex, all varieties are sprinkled in here and, like me, you will probably find some stories that turn you on while others might make you squirm a bit.  Which, quite possibly, is the whole point.  In my own case, male / male stories aren’t my cup of tea, but there are a couple in here, “Lawful Evil” by Erin Horáková is memorable that worked for me as a tale despite being male / male.  In fact, almost every single story was excellent, with well-done sex scenes central to each.  Vampires lend themselves well to that.

The best of the bunch was “The Prisoner” by Bill Davidson, a long story with a twist ending that nevertheless follows logically from the themes developed inside.

This one is highly recommended (and not just because there’s one of my stories in it).  The quality of writing is superlative, the sex is sexy and the vampires are memorable.  What more do you want from life?

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His novel Timeless is a fast-paced and sexy thriller, and you can buy it here.

Psychological Subtlety Lifts this One Out of Noir

I love film noir.  The moody scenes, the stock phrases, the sultry femmes fatale.  It’s a wonderful transportation to a lost world that probably never really existed.

But subtle?  No way.

The characters spiral out of control and, except when Bogart is involved, come to awful, well-deserved and often gruesome ends.

And then we come to 1949 and The Reckless Moment.

The Reckless Moment - French Film Poster.jpg

This is a noir film where the psychological motivations are much deeper than the usual greed, lust and fear.  It’s a film that leaves you with questions, even though it’s not exactly Camus.

The setup is that a mother is being blackmailed for her daughter’s indiscretions after an unfortunate accident kills off the girl’s lover.  The mother, far from being innocent, responds foolishly – but we’re never quite certain if the mother’s innocent, wholesome facade afterwards is an act or if it’s coldly calculated to draw in the man who ultimately takes the fall.

The criminal element in this one is an Irish gangster with–in what later becomes a cliché–a heart of gold.  In single handedly saving the day, he becomes the sympathetic character, the one socially conscious people point to when the say that people are good, but sometimes their upbringing didn’t give them a chance.

Like Gun Crazy, I wouldn’t call this one noir.  It just doesn’t hit the mark.  While Gun Crazy misses because it’s too B-movie simplistic, this one misses because of its attempt at sophistication.  I would call it a crime drama… but not noir.

As for the film itself, in moving away from the noir formula, I’m not certain it helped its cause.  It is both slower and less impactful than the films which share its supposed genre.  Decent, but others are better.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose crime thriller Timeless is the story of a journalist who gets involved with forces she can’t quite understand, much less control.  It’s sexy and fast-paced and modern… and you can buy it here.

 

Eventually, they Restarted

Last year, I read and reviewed the very first Road & Track Magazine, from June 1947.  Nowadays, it’s a monthly but, like many magazines, getting the first few issues out was a bit of a rocky road.

May 1948 saw the second volume published, so nearly an entire year later.

A

Like the first issue, this one has a lot of material reprinted from other sources.  Photographs, particularly are credited to several other publications.

Additionally, as someone used to reading the fat issues from the 1990s, a Road & Track only 36 pages long is an unexpected item.

As always, these are interesting for their period features and their antiquated assumptions.  But two things make them worth tracking down (and they aren’t easy to find sometimes–this one was an original, not a reprint).  The first is to see how auto enthusiasts of seventy years ago viewed the future, and the second is for those forgotten wrinkles and oddities which, though widely reported at the time, are long forgotten.

This one can be read in one sitting, but it will be a pleasant one in which you are smiling–often nostalgically–the whole time.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose love of automobiles even seeps over to his literary fiction.  It reached the point that his story “August Nights”, included in  his book Love and Death deals with the joy of driving fast and well (among other modern things).  And it’s not the only one where cars are characters.  You can buy the book here.

A Wonderful Cultural History Lesson

Several years ago–long before this blog was born–I stumbled upon a series of books that i absolutely love and that I dip into every once in a while, although I know them basically by heart.

These books were published in the early 2000s by Collector’s Press (which I can’t seem to find today, so perhaps they no longer exist): Fantasy of the Twentieth Century and Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century.  The fantasy volume in particular is spectacularly well-thought out, but both are good.

But I needed to complete the genre set.

Horror of the 20th Century.jpg

Horror of the Twentieth Century, written by Robert Weinberg, didn’t let me down.  Although it wasn’t quite up to the Fantasy volume (I am in awe of that one, it’s a wonderful history), it does an excellent job of tracking the literary and cinematic fortunes of the horror genre through the 1900s (and with a bit of history to set the stage).

Of the three genres, Horror is probably the one that, particularly in the first half of the 20th century survived because of the movies, and that is reflected particularly well in this book.  Also, the horror boom and crash are looked at long and hard, which is key to understanding the genre today.

Since I’m not a collector, the text is as important as the images here, but as a writer, it’s always fun to fantasize about what would have happened if I’d been active in any of the eras described within.  Would this or that Weird Tales cover have had my name on it, or, better still would I have rated a Hannes Bok cover painting?  Reading these books creates a tangible feeling of connection with the men and women writing in bygone eras, sometimes even more than reading the stories did.

For readers who aren’t writers, these books are just as good (probably even better, as there’s no pressure to compare yourself to the heroes of the past…) and it’s the kind of book you’ll find yourself pulling off the shelves whenever you have a few minutes of free time and the novel you’re reading just isn’t as engrossing as you wanted.

In short, this is a great primer for those just getting in to any of these genres, but it’s also the stuff experts’ dreams are made of.

Hugely recommended.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a collection of dark fiction which would fit beautifully within the volume we’re discussing.  It’s called Pale Reflection and you can buy it here.

Some Books are Just a Pain

I usually try to spare Argentine writers the worst reviews.  After all, a shared background and experience has to count for something, right?  When I don’t quite enjoy a book by one of my countrymen, I simply refrain from recommending it.  I don’t usually feel the need to go any further.

Siete Casas Vacías_Samantha Schweblin.jpg

Unfortunately, the latest book in this list that I’ve read is Siete casas vacías (Seven Empty Houses) by Samantha Schweblin and I can’t in good conscience give this one an ambiguous review–you never know who might mistakenly buy the thing and then come after me with a fire axe.

First, let’s get some things clear.  It’s very, very evident that that author is both extremely talented and extremely well-versed in the craft of writing.  The fact that this is a bad book doesn’t mean that Schweblin is a bad writer.  She very clearly isn’t.  In fact, I’d say she is a very good writer.

The second thing I need to point out is that this book–a collection of seven short stories–has one some serious awards.  The main body of the collection won the Ribera del Duero Prize while the story not included in that prize won the Juan Rulfo Prize.  While I’m not as familiar with Spanish-language awards as those given in English, and can’t truly say how prestigious these two are, it’s clear that these stories were highly valued by the judges of two different international competitions in two different countries.

So, please keep the above under consideration while I tell you why I didn’t like this book at all.

The reason Schweblin’s undoubted talent couldn’t keep it from being a massively boring read is down to the subject matter she chose.  So let’s have a look at that.

The overall approach is similar to what I discussed in the O Henry Prize volume I read recently.  Schweblin goes tight into her narrator’s mind and looks at the world from that extremely limited perspective.  The key difference with a typical “woman goes to the laundromat and thinks deep thoughts about menstruation” story that we all love to laugh at is that Schweblin’s characters are mentally a bit off.

It sounds interesting, but in this particular case, it really isn’t.  These characters aren’t insane in ways that entertain, but each one has just a little bit of their personality exaggerated–an obsession taken a bit further than is healthy, a neurosis that comes to the fore and pushes normal behaviour aside.  It’s not enough to make the characters memorable… just enough to make the reader get depressed on their behalf.

Reading a book while alternately feeling depressed and embarrassed at the poor people populating its pages is not what I’d call an entertaining read.  As a writer I recognize that only an excellent writer can maintain a consistent, unbroken sense of depression and ennui through a hundred and twenty pages.  Shweblin is enormously talented; she did this on purpose.

It’s not a choice I would have made myself.  I understand that there is a certain amount of this sensibility in literary fiction but, even when writing in that genre, I try to keep the stories and characters more interesting.  I suppose that the difference is that I deviate just a little more from the everyday.

Speaking as a reader, I would love to be able to enjoy the characters, to find them interesting, likeable or entertaining as opposed to perfect recreations of my more annoying neighbours.  This book failed in that respect despite the fact that it would have gotten full marks in most creative writing classes–and despite all of its prizes.

Anyway, I hope I’ve given an objective review of the volume–you can decide for yourself.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His own book of literary short stories is entitled Love and Death, and you can buy it here.

 

 

Powerful and Linear – White Heat is a Gangster Rush

In the late 1940s, it’s unusual to find a straight gangster movie in the old-style tradition.  Most of the crime flicks of the era incorporate noir influences in an obvious way (Gun Crazy is a good example).  White Heat, in my opinion, owes much more to earlier films such as Scarface (1932), Little Caesar and The Public Enemy than to anything with Bogart in it.

In that sense, casting James Cagney as the gangster in question was inevitable, wasn’t it?

White heat on top of the world

The plot focuses on a gangster with no regrets, a man who isn’t worried about how to escape from the life, but whose sensibilities have to do with the next score and the next piece of vengeance.  His wife is amoral and sensual, ready to betray anyone to the highest bidder, and suits him perfectly.

No regular Joe getting dragged in above his head for this one.  It’s a straight take on how a homicidal maniac would respond in particular circumstances related to his chosen line of business.

As such, it’s extremely fun to watch.  The action doesn’t slow down to show you the emotional struggle of the doomed man, it just barrels forward at breakneck speed to its inevitable conclusion and ends with a climax that will never again allow you to hear the trite phrase “On top of the world” without thinking of the final scene.

Another interesting aspect of the film is how law enforcement uses cutting edge (for the day) technology to track the criminals and communicate.  Things that seem quaint to us today, but would have looked futuristic to audiences of the day.

It might not be a classic in the critical sense of the word.  It doesn’t delve deeply into philosophical questions, but that just makes this particular movie even better as entertainment.  I’m delighted that this one was part of the 1001 movies to watch before you die because, once in a while, it’s fun to be able to say: watch this film to pass an hour and a half while being entertained.

I enjoyed this one without reservation.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose thriller Timeless is a fast-paced crime novel.  You can buy it here.

The Art of Writing Adventure – Made Spectacularly Evident

There’s a rule to writing any kind of exciting fiction that says, and I paraphrase: “Put your here in a dangerous situation.  Then pile another complication on.  Then another.  Once we’re sure he will never get out, send in the zombies.”

I always thought this was a bit of an exaggeration, but in reading the first of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, Storm Front, I found that adage to fall well short of what Butcher does to his hero.

Jim Butcher - Dresden Files - Storm Front.jpg

Normally, I’d run, not walk away from a book that goes as far over the top as this one does with regards to ratcheting up the disaster but…

But Jim Butcher has rare talent.  His prose, and consequently, Harry Dresden’s voice in your head, is amazing.  The mix of desperation about what’s going to happen to him when the other shoe finishes dropping mixed with a kind of world-weary resignation makes the book impossible to put down.  Not only do you want to see how he gets out of it (there are a LOT of books in a series called the “Dresden Files”, so you kinda know he isn’t going to become monster food in the first book), but you are also infected with a morbid curiosity as to what else Butcher is going to do to him before the end.  (Pro-tip: Butcher is imaginative and sadistic.  Never make an enemy of that guy).

A second thing that made me love as opposed to loathe this one is that the noir sensibility erases any number of sins in my mind.  Give me a first-person private eye, even a magical one, and I’m pretty much going to enjoy it no matter what else you do.

So, simply put, despite seeing what Butcher was doing (obvious as it is, even a lot of non-writers are going to spot the technique), I loved every second and exaggerated crisis of this one, right until the fiery, demonic ending worthy of the troubles he’d gone through.

Job has nothing on this guy but, if I recall correctly, the book featuring Job sold pretty well. Dresden sells amazingly well, too.

My main regret is that I’m just getting to this now.  Hell, I’ve been a fan of Glen Cook’s Garrett series since before puberty, and this one should have been a no-brainer.  Yes, Cook is funnier than Butcher, but that’s no excuse for not having checked the Dresden Files out much sooner.

I have to thank a good friend and amazing beta-reader for gifting me this one (I always read my birthday gift books, because I like to see what people who know me think I’d enjoy).  Highly recommended, but, judging by the sales numbers, I guess everyone already knew that.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His novel Outside was well-received despite not having any magical detectives in it.  You can buy it here.

The Origin of the Wonder

Readers of this blog know that I have a serious soft spot for the writing of Gerard Durrell, a man I’ve always considered the ultimate eccentric, as well as the ultimate civilized human.  Reading one of his books is to leave angry political discourse on Twitter–what I consider to be the ultimate lack of civilization–far behind.

My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell.jpg

My family and Other Animals, part of Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy is a particularly lovely read because it tells the story of a period of years which he spent on Corfu as a boy of ten to about fourteen years old.  It shows how his already-present love of animals and the natural world flourished in this formative age.

Better still, the tale is told by Durrell who has one of the greatest eyes for the odd and not-quite-sane that I’ve ever encountered.  despite his obvious affection for his family and friends on the island, he leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that they are all at least slightly nuts.

As I was reading (locked in coronavirus quarantine), I looked at the children around us, obsessed with their devices and wondered, not for the first time, if modern idiocy is the fault of kids who who lost their way before becoming adults or helicopter parents who didn’t let them collect scorpions when they were eleven.  Or row out to sea in a homemade boat as a pre-teen.

I blame the parents but, that aside, it’s wonderful to see how independent children used to be before he world went stupid, and this book illustrates it gloriously.  From one anecdote to the next, a sense of the slightly unreal, despite the fact that every single one of these events happened, probably exactly as described, permeates the book.

If, like me, you’re stuck inside during these strange days, I recommend giving this one–or any Durrell–a go.  He has the rare ability to completely remove your surroundings and take you outdoors.

And this one takes you to a Greek island for the cost of a paperback and without coronavirus risk.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist whose book set in Greece is very different from the one described above.  It’s a fast-paced sexy thriller called timeless, and you can buy it here.