Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 2: The Kill Floor

Stephen King fandom was moderately rattled this week by the news that the first Dark Tower movie is going to include a lead female role for a character named Tirana.  What followed -- including from yours truly -- were a rather loud chorus of "huh"s and "WTF"s and "they're ruining my Dark Tower"s.
  
Meanwhile, Hulu released the second episode of 11.22.63 into the world on Monday.  "The Kill Floor," it's called, and it deviates from King's novel in several significant ways.
  
So why am I not as angry about this as I am about The Dark Tower?
  
I'm not entirely sure, so let's try to find out.  I've lined up an interviewee who will help me try and figure it out: Bryant Burnette, author of the blog The Truth Inside The Lie (which I hear is both a hoot AND a holler).
  
*****
  
Q:  Bryant, when was the last time one of us interviewed the other?
  
A:  I dunno, Bryant.  It's been a while,  How you been?
  
Q:  As always, I'll ask the questions.
  
A:  Right.  Forgot.
  
Q:  So, you liked the first episode of 11.22.63?
  
A:  I did.  I assume you did, too.
  
Q:  Nicely phrased to avoid that being a question.  I'll answer anyways: yeah, I liked it a lot.  Did you like this one?
  

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Review of Joe Hill's "The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015"

Before we proceed, let me briefly issue a plan of attack for the next few months' worth of activity on this blog.  There are two novels that I'm very anxious to write about: Revival and Finders Keepers (the former because I feel as if I didn't give the novel a fair assessment when I read/reviewed it upon its release, and the latter because I have not yet written a review of any kind on it here and would like to do so in an attempt to not have the blog continue to feel unbalanced in some self-centered way).  Ideally, I'd like to cross both of those off the list before May, when the new Joe Hill novel (The Fireman) is published.  June will bring King's new novel, End of Watch, so I'd like to be back on track by then, and afterward be in good position to return to a semi-regular rotation of exploring King novels, stories, and movies.
  
Good plan!  Let's see if I can stick to it.  I'm not always great at that.  But it's always worth having a target: not having one removes the possibility of missing, but it also removes the possibility of hitting, and I'd like to hit.
  
I've got some other stuff I'd like to polish off prior to getting back to Revival, however: a couple of posts on Joe Hill and Owen King, who have both published things that I've missed in the past twelve months or so.  I'm a fan of both writers, and the fact that I've had some of their stuff sitting to the side for a while is unacceptable to me.  Therefore, in addition to this post, you can look for one covering Owen King's Intro to Alien Invasion (as well as a few other bits 'n' bobs) soon.
  
In any case, let's get that target officially pinned to the wall, and start taking a few shots at it, beginning with:
  
  
  
  
Houghton Mifflin introduced a new spinoff to their Best American Short Stories line last year with the first-ever edition of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy.  My knee-jerk reaction was to be a bit grumpy about the fact that the two genres have been mixed for the purposes of this anthology, but series editor John Joseph Adams has anticipated the reaction of kids like me who prefer that their corn and their potatoes not touch: his introduction makes a compelling argument for mixing the two.  By that I mean science fiction and fantasy, not corn and potatoes.  Nobody will ever be able to sway me on that topic, because nothing should contain even trace amounts of corn juice except for corn.  No offense to corn or the juices produced by cooking it; I feel the same about all cooked vegetables and their various moistures.  Keep that shit away from my other foods, please.  
  
John Joseph Adams would powerless to convince me I am wrong about this, but on the subject of mixing sci-fi and fantasy in an anthology, he's much more successful.  He refers to the combination of the two as SF / F, and for the purposes of this review, so shall we.
  
Adams read several thousand SF / F stories during the preparation for this project, and whittled it down to a list of eighty tales that he then passed along to the year's guest editor, Joe Hill.  He gave Hill the eighty stories in a blind-ballot manner, meaning that Hill read the stories without the benefit of knowing who had written them.  Hill then selected the twenty he felt rose the farthest to the top, and voila, Houghton Mifflin (under their Mariner imprint) had themselves an anthology.
  
I'm going to read and briefly discuss each story in turn, but first, a few words about Hill's introduction, "Launching Rockets."  It's a mere five pages, but those five pages are superb.  Stephen King fans will probably know that King is very good at writing introductions to other people's works.  Not all traits and talents pass from father to son, but this one seems to have done so, because Hill is just as good at it as his daddy.  Maybe even better.
 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Uh-oh...

Deadline is reporting that Abbey Lee is in talks to join the cast of The Dark Tower as the female lead alongside Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.  Lee is best known for her role in Mad Max: Fury Road.  She looks like this:
  
  

  
  
Deadline reports that Lee will be playing Tirana.
  
Uh-oh...
  
Who the fuck is Tirana?
  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 1: The Rabbit Hole

I've been onboard for Hulu's miniseries adaptation of 11/22/63 ever since it was announced, and on Monday night, the first episode finally arrived.  I'm going to offer up a thoroughly spoiler-filled review beginning in a few paragraphs, but first, let me explain why this particular adaptation is so welcome inside the offices of The Truth Inside The Lie.
  
Simple: television is where King adaptations belong.  Maybe not all of them; an occasional novella-length story like The Mist or whatever fits on the big screen just fine.  Most King stories operate at a much more expansive length, however, and those have no dadgum business being in cinemas.  Right now, during what is almost certainly going to be considered a golden age Golden Age of narrative television, King belongs on the small screen.  Which, depending on your home setup, ain't necessarily a particularly small screen.
  
Our pop culture is practically drowning in outlets that are conducive to top-notch television productions.  HBO, Netflix, AMC, Showtime, USA, Sundance, Amazon, Hulu, the various actual broadcast networks, Syfy, FX, Starz, Cinemax, the BBC, and who knows who else: all creating content that is eminently worth my time and your time alike.  I can't keep up!  Odds are that you can't either.  Critics I follow are practically wailing at the wall in despair over the sheer amount of programming they have to keep up with.
  
On the one hand, I guess I'm thankful that Hollywood hasn't quite figured out yet how ginormous a cash cow Stephen King could be within that system.  After all, if there were a King show on every channel -- and lord knows that there is enough source material extant to make that a reality -- I would feel the need to watch every second of it.  But so far, Hollywood mostly seems to be focused on turning obviously-tv-ready properties like The Stand and It into big-budget (or, in some cases, slashed-budget) features.  Hollywood loves to prove that it has no actual fucking clue what it is doing, and it keeps doing it with those two novels in particular.
  
I wonder, though...
  
I wonder if that might not be about to change.  I suspect 11.22.63 is going to do quite well for Hulu, and if it does, then you've got to figure that they are going to want to stay in the Stephen King business.  Imagine a world in which Hulu pumps one of these puppies out every year or two.  We could get top-notch miniseries based on stuff like The Talisman or Insomnia or Duma Key; or something older, like Firestarter.
  
If that were to happen, it might be that whoever owns the rights to, say, It might decide that there was an easy two or three seasons of that sucker waiting to bring in the subscribers to a Netflix or an Amazon Prime.
  
Based on the quality level of the first episode of 11.22.63, that's a possibility to savor, and one to try to influence into being.
  
  
Note that the opening credits officially name the series 11.22.63, instead of the novel's title of 11/22/63.  A minor distinction, but a helpful one, as it allows us to clearly delineate between book and series here.
  
  
I'd like to establish right up front that 11.22.63 appears to be a much classier and more effective affair than the previous King novel adapted to television, Under the Dome.  CBS took a perfectly good novel and performed lewd acts upon its prostrate form, and their take on Under the Dome is almost certainly one of the very worst King adaptations of them all.  This is taking stuff like Thinner and Graveyard Shift and Children of the Corn into account, too; it's dreadful in almost every way (with only occasional good performances from the mostly-just-fine cast to offer brief moments of respite).
  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Review of Joseph J. Christiano's "Old Ghosts"

Howdy, readers!  I have a question: will you permit me another excursion outside the bounds of Stephen King's work?  It'll be a quick one, but I've got a book review that I felt like I needed to let you know about.
  
The author Joseph J. Christiano and I share a mutual friend, and Joe has occasionally commented on my posts (especially over at my James Bond blog, You Only Blog Twice).  Last year, he sent me an inscribed copy of one of his books: Old Ghosts, a collection of horror stories.


  
Because I suck at reading these days, it's been sitting on my up-next shelf glaring at me ever since.  Its company there includes at least two anthologies in which various members of the King family have stories, as well as Owen King's Intro to Alien Invasion, a book about Dollar Babies, a sci-fi trilogy I bought myself for Christmas, and various other recent, semi-recent, and distant-past acquisitions.  Also: The Man in the High Castle (never read it, but I want to after finishing the superb first season of the television adaptation), a bunch of Lovecraft-centric books, Childhood's End (which I want to reread after watching the not-bad Syfy miniseries), and so forth.  That shelf is always loaded.

However, at long last, I finally grabbed Old Ghosts off the shelf and cracked it open.  I'm glad I did: it's a fun read, and Christiano's approach to horror is one that reminds me more than a bit of several Joe Hill stories.  I feel certain that most King fans (and Hill fans, obviously) would enjoy what he's done here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Review of "Cujo" (2016 Intrada release of the Charles Bernstein score)

Heads up, King fans who double as film-score fans: Intrada recently released Charles Bernstein's score for the 1983 film adaptation of Cujo.
  
  
  
  
It's the first time Bernstein's score has ever been released commercially (excluding a promotional CD that paired Cujo with The Covenant that occasionally pops up on eBay for outrageous prices despite not being licensed for sale).  EVER.  It took 33 years, y'all.
  
Bernstein's score clocked in at #16 on my Worst To Best list of King-film scores a couple of years ago, which is a respectable placement considering the fact that King's movies have actually had a fairly decent history of film music.  One could probably make the argument that none of the movies based on his works have yielded an A-#1 all-time classic score (in the sense of classics like Star Wars or Psycho or Out of Africa or stuff like that); but one could just as easily make the argument that while there may not be any A++ scores in the King canon, there are a whole bunch of scores that fall somewhere in the A- or B+ range, and quite a few more in the B or B- range.  In other words, there are plenty of bad King movies with good scores, and (I would argue) no good King movies with bad scores.
  
Overall, it's a very strong body of work that comes from the combined efforts of a remarkably talented group of composers.  It's an aspect of the Wide World Of Stephen King that isn't acknowledged very often.  I'd like to do my part to try and change at least a handful of minds about that; I've written a few other soundtracks reviews, so this isn't exactly a first step, but I think it might be the first time I've been conscious of the need to carve out that territory.
  
In any case, Cujo is finally on disc thanks to the good folks at Intrada.  If you've got a $20 bill lying around that you're not sure how to spend, you could do worse than to go give them a bit of custom.
  

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Review of the 2015 Edition of George Beahm's "The Stephen King Companion"

I had the good luck recently to win a copy of George Beahm's The Stephen King Companion from the author himself, as part of a contest hosted by Lilja's Library.  Beahm appeared with Hans and Lou on the podcast, and if you haven't heard that episode, you should go give it a listen.
  
Beahm's books about King and his work played a massive role in helping to develop my King fandom; I've written about that several times, so apologies if I repeat myself a bit, but it can't be overstated how big a deal a book like the ones Beahm wrote was to a budding young fan in the pre-Internet days.  Remember, kids, you used to have your work cut out for you before Google and Wikipedia: if you wanted to know something, you might actually have to work for it.  So if you'd just gotten into Stephen King and wanted to know more about him and his work, you were sort of dependent on what was close at hand.  A visit to a library might help; fannish magazines like Starlog and Fangoria and Cinefantastique might help; a friendly bookstore clerk might help.  Emphasis, in all cases, on "might."

Finding a treasure like George Beahm's The Stephen King Companion was almost too good to be true.  And yet, there it was!  It was like Beahm had read my mind, agreed with the justness of my quest for knowledge, and decided to help me out.  He wasn't the only writer doing work of that kind, of course; but he was the one whose work helped me the most at that time, and I'm forever grateful for that.

So needless to say, winning an autographed copy of his new book was a thrill for me, and having him answer a question from me on the podcast was, too.
  
  
  
  
This 2015 update of The Stephen King Companion is the book's third edition, and if any of you who are on the fence about getting it are on that fence because you've got one of the previous editions, let me assure you that this is a must-buy.  It's nearly six hundred pages long, has copious photos, a large number of Glenn Chadbourne illustrations, and covers twenty years plus of writing from King that didn't exist when the book's second edition was issued.  And that's just for starters.
  
Before we move on, let me take a moment to be an ungracious winner by crowing over two bonuses Beahm included when he sent me the book:
  
  
  
  
This is a print of a King photo that was secured into place above the personalized Beahm autograph on the first page.  How cool is that?
  
And then there's this:
  
  
  
  
That's a scan of the 8.5x11 print of Glenn Chadbourne art that came with my copy of the book.  Beahm had mentioned on the podcast that he was going to include some bonuses like that when he shipped the winners their books, but I'd forgotten he'd said it; so these were both very nice surprises.