Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Shadow over Providence

So, someone did his research, and decided to have a stab at Lovecraft's mythos. Jonathan L. Howard's Carter & Lovecraft is what happens when you combine things that shouldn't exist with hard-boiled fiction, then modernize the entire affair and add in quite a few literary allusions.

We start with Dan Carter, working for the NYPD, and the suicide by cop of a serial killer that in turn leads to the actual suicide of his partner during the confrontation with the Child-catcher. Seems said serial killer (who's been kidnapping young boys and performing vivisections on their brains), had a wall o' madness that wound up with everyone but  the latest victim and Carter dead.

This causes Carter to leave the force, understandably. He gets a Private Investigator license and begins a long career of investigating cheating spouses. Well, until the day that Henry Weston walks in the door to inform Carter that he's inherited a bookshop in Providence, Rhode Island. Which leaves Carter to drive 4 hours away to check out his new inheritance, a used bookstore run by one Emily Lovecraft, a young African-American girl who's great-a few times uncle was one HP. (Her race leads into a discussion on H. P.'s rather well documented racism, which is a discussion really not fit for this blog. However, given how much his fiction has influenced modern horror, one feels we could probably adapt the Looney Tunes warning label on their more racist offerings as a warning on some of the more overt stories of the mulattos from hell.)

Like this
Anyway, the inheritance leads to texts from a guy who drowns in a dry car, which in turn leads to a mathematician with an attitude and the ability to run the roulette table as well as make 4 one armed bandits jackpot out all at once. (That he gives a wafer thin mint to the pit boss is of no consequence.) 
We hear about the odd family out on Waite's Bill, who've been on the land since well before the area was settled by Europeans. With all the women looking like teenage jailbait, unless you look in their eyes, or the men who only seem to want to swim...
All right. There's a lot going on in here, most of which revolves around the idea of Carter being much like his evidently non-fictional ancestor, Randolph. In other words, he can deal with the complete and total insanity around him without going there himself. 
It's a fun read, with echoes to the stories it's drawn from. It also has a few gaping plot holes, and another round of revisions may have prevented a few places where things get mentioned after not being there before. (One particular example is a figure on a bookshelf that gets mention late in the game that wasn't  ever mentioned previously.) There's also a a foreshadowed deus ex machina (or in this case deus ex libro) in the climax that's kind of annoying. But honestly, it's one of the better mythos based books I've found in recent memory.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My snake cult is bigger than your snake cult!

I got a surprise a few weeks back when people started posting about how their copy of Seanan McGuire's new InCryptid novel, Chaos Choreography, had arrived on their doorstep or in their e-reader that day. Then I got annoyed when I found out my local library had no copies and none on order. Which meant breaking down and buying a copy on Amazon, which in turn will mean buying the other 4 so that my collection will have no holes.

It was worth buying, though.

As she promised after Pocket Apocalypse (as seen here), we're back to following around Verity, the narrator of the first two books in the series. In between her last book and the current return, she's been across the US, getting married to Dominic in Vegas. They're currently in Portland on the Price family estate. Which is good, since we finally sort of meet the youngest sister, Antimony. However, we're in Portland long enough to rescue a dinosaur before Verity gets an e-mail for her alter ego Valerie, asking her to return to compete in an all star season of Dance or Die!, the show she came in second on before the series started.

Since this is an InCrypted novel, that doesn't go quite the way anyone expects.

Early on, we find out eliminated dancers are being murdered, and no one really remembers them leaving after the show. Which leads to another snake cult, this one much more knowledgeable than the one back in book 1. Verity receives help from two fellow dancers; Pax, an ukipani [wereshark, sort of] from her season, and Malena, a chupacabra from a later season. After it's revealled that this cult knows what its doing, Verity's grandmother, Alice Price-Healy shows up, marking her first print appearance. (Alice looks much younger than Verity, and also serve to explain dimensional reality as it applies to this particular world.)

We also meet a Routewitch (introduced in Sparrow Hill Road), who helps deliver some exposition on the nature of snake cults in the greater Los Angeles area.

While this all builds to an exciting and partially farcical conclusion, the journey is fun and satisfying.

It honestly reminded me a bit of the Season 3 Angel episode "Birthday", wherein the character Verity is given a second chance at something she wants, then has to decide if it's what she really wants.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

There's no business like show business

So, after about two weeks, I finally finished Michael Riedel's tome covering much of the history of Broadway. Razzle Dazzle: The Battle For Broadway is one of the rare non fiction books that I read, and wow, it became quite emotional reading towards the end.

Problem being it takes a few chapters before it really gets interesting. The intro is great, we start with an investigation into Broadway finances in the early 1960's following a phone call to a State Attorney from an "Angel" concerned that their contribution to a producer for a show wound up buying the producer a new boat, but they hadn't seen any return on investment. This leads into the investigation of "ice", which would likely be considered scalping in this day and age. Essentially, the box office sells the tickets to brokers for much more than face value, and the brokers in turn sell the tickets for even more. Only the face value sale gets reported, while the proceeds get passed up the chain and trickle down to people who don't have a stake in the show. Which leads tho things like the show losing money while people are getting quite rich on the extra money made from sale tickets. Or, as Richard Rodgers found out when Annie Get Your Gun! was in Philadelphia, there are no tickets available, but the orchestra seats are empty.

As the investigation winds down (and almost nobody get punished severely, although new laws and regulations go in place to keep it from happening), we then go back in time to Syracuse, New York, and the three Schubert brothers, JJ, Lee, and Sam, who essitially go from rags to riches working in the local theater, then buying local theatres. Eventually, they buy property in Manhattan, which runs them afoul of The Syndicate, a loose association of theater owners who pretty much run the live theater industry nationwide. (It started off as a good idea, it made sure shows and tours proceeded in orderly fashions, and everyone was happy. Sadly, over time, it turned into "If you want the show to open or play, you will play by our rules.")

The war with the syndicate goes on for quite some time, particularly after Sam dies, and a truce is thrown out the door under the pretense of a man named Erlanger telling the surviving brothers that he doesn't honor contracts with dead men. When the market crashes in 1929, the Schuberts buy out the Syndicate. Not that it matters, towards the end of the depression, the Schuberts wind up putting most of their theaters on the market, then buying them back since no one else had any money to buy them. Whne the last brother dies, the empire falls under the auspices of a governing board and foundation, nominally under the control of a drunken nephew who spends most nights drinking and womanizing. There's also the small matter of a lawsuit over JJ's two wives and which one should inherit the state.

Long story short, the lawyers Shoenfeld and Jacobs end up staging a coup to get rid of JJ jr. and get themselves and a third partner in charge of the company. (The third partner, Irving Goldman almost manages to wreck the company later due to doing things like making productions and theaters buy supplies from companies he either owns or has investments in.)

(Yes, I'm summarizing quite a bit of detail here. Deal with it.)

We discuss the near failure of Broadway during the late 1960s and early 1970's. The author points out that while rock music was popular, Broadway musicals were mostly old fashioned. That and Times Square, in the aftermath of White Flight and the collapsing economy of NYC, was pretty much a very seedy section of town that most folks didn't want to set foot into after dark. (Side note here: my trip there last year has seen Times Square transformed from "The Deuce" into something closer to Vegas. I literally had to use my hands as blinders to get past the number of giant television billboards advertising shows. Compare that with a High School trip in 1992, when we stayed at the Edison. While the district was safer than described in earlier time, there were 3 peep shows and a few adult movie houses right across the street from the hotel.)

Somewhere in here, in the narrative of the clean up, we start getting into shows the theaters were producing. We also meet Jimmy Nederlander, who came from Detroit to Manhattan, who's houses are mostly run down, although improving.

The book really shines when we get to the shows. (And when you get to this section, load YouTube. While the shows themselves aren't there on demand, many of the iconic moments discussed are.) For instance, when 42nd Street is in tryouts, a malfuntioning curtain leads to the rather wonderful opening number when the curtain rises just enough for the audience to see nothing but a chorus of feet tap dancing away. (As 42nd Street is one of the first shows I ever saw performed professionally, I let out and excited noise reading about it. Also, the YouTube clips of "Lullabye of Broadway" include Jerry Orbach singing.)

We here about Michael Bennett directing and choreographing A Chorus Line, as well as a rehashing of the story behind the story (although here they go in to the move from the off-Broadway  Public Theater into a Broadway theater.) We meet Tommy Tune, who is also a legend in his own right. We hear about Nederlander's major entrance into Broadway power with a little musical based on an old Depression era comic strip named Annie. (Funniest story in here is how the lady playing Miss Hannigan, Dorothy Loudon, allegedly told the child actors that if they stepped on any of her lines, they wouldn't live to see the curtain call.)

Mixed in to the early 80's is Schoenfeld's goal of continuing to clean up Time Square, which includes tearing down 3 theaters to put up a hotel with a theater in it (in which Nederlander ends up owning the theater). The backlash about that comes to the fore during the 1983 Tony awards when Bennett's Scubert financed Dreamgirls goes up against Tommy Tune's Nederlander financed Nine. The discussion of that year's broadcast is hysterical, as we first hear about Cher's cover of Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy". (YouTube this. It's well worth watching just for the whole "What did I just watch?" factor.) While Dreamgirls did end up taking home 9 Tony's to Nine's 6, Nine did get Best Musical, partially due to the backlash against tearing down the 3 theaters. That rivalry also ends the friendship between Bennett and Tune. (Which, given Tune opened Nine on the last day for Tony eligibility is sort of understandable.)

We go from there to the new British Invasion involving producer Cameron Macintosh and Andrew Lloyd Weber. While I will say I wasn't a huge fan of CAT$, here, reading about how they marketed the behemoth into what it is today was fascinating.

There's also two chapters with a chapter on Phantom of the Opera between them about one of my favorite musicals, Chess. The first chapter covers the actual writing of, and the West End production, which ran ito horrible trouble based on Bennett's dropping out halfway through rehearsals. (He publically stated it was due to chronic angina, but people close to him report it had to do with the Karposi Sarcoma lesions that were spreading from his foot to his forehead. This of course leads into a discussion on how many theater folks were dropping like flies in mid 1980's, including a tale of a group of 8 folks who figured that since they were all healthy, they would survive if they only dated each other. And none of them were alive a few years later.) Trevor Nunn ended up taking over the show and tried to mix his vision with Bennett's, to mixed reviews. When it comes to New York, Nunn throws out most of Bennett's work and does it his way. It fell apart. Evidently, there's a newer version that mixes the best of both worlds, which is probably the version I saw in 1993 at Wright State.)

We run in to AIDS again in the 1990's, as Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin move from off Broadway (Little Shop of Horrors) to Hollywood to help revive Disney's moribund animation division with The Little Mermaid. During the writing of Beauty and the Beast, Ashman dies in Greenwich Village. His music lives on, particularly given the success Disney has had moving their animated movies to Broadway.

In the end, the book is like a more musical version of Game of Thrones, as almost everyone is dead by the end. (As of 2015, Nederlander is still alive. Shoenfeld and Jacobs both died. Most of the producers, directors and choreographers asre dead, their torches passed on to new people.)

By far the biggest issue I had with the book is that, due to the nature of the narrative, he keeps jumping back and forth in time to show us where this person came from, what was going on in New York that lead tro this show opening, etc.

The other problem I had was that the book mainly focused on the Schubert shows, with them taking up probably about 75% of the narrative, Nederlander comes in with about 20%, and the last 5% goes to the indies, including Disney.

On the other hand, the book is probably as close as any of us will get to sitting down with the movers and shakers in the theater world and hearing their stories. Also, much like The Devil Wears Prada does with fashion, Razzle Dazzle provides an excellent overview of the business of theater. Also, it should be mentioned that no one is portrayed as a villain twirlling a mustache or a sainte polishing a halo. Everyone comes off as human, capable of both very good things while doing very bad things.

And in the end, I walk away with several 11 o'clock numbers ringing in me ears, and a few tears shed over characters whose art has had sunch influence over my life.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

It's 2AM, the fear is gone

So, I just finished reading Christopher Golden's new novel, Dead Ringers.  Which was....interesting.

We actually have a prologue to start, in which a man named Frank Lindburgh reflects on his horrible like, slowing drowning in booze much like his father did. He's lost his job as a reporter, with internet killing off print journalism. We hear of his downward spiral, and endure quite a bit of his backstory until he hears a noise in his kitchen. Going to investigate, he finds a man wearing his face who promptly beats the stuffing out of him.

From there, we center on Tess Devlin, who's introduced as she starts cussing out a man who looks exactly like her ex-husband Nick. Problem being Nick's in New Hampshire with his new girlfriend, not in Boston being verbally assaulted by his ex. Tess's best friend, Lili, goes to an art gallery, only to be mistaken for the featured artist. Frank, as it turns out, has been handcuffed to a post in his basement while his double goes out and leads a better life than anything Frank's accomplished in recent memory. And then there's Audrey, the married lesbian psychic who's wife is pregnant. Audrey's first encounter with the strangeness involves a run down to the beach and being assaulted by a filthy man dressed in rags and a look like Oedipus at the end of Oedipus Rex.

As the week passes in book time, we begin to get glimpses of what links all these characters, why there's a Psychomanteum in a fancy hotel restaurant, And the very real existential question of who is the real person.

The book has some genuinely creepy moments, like Tess's first encounter with her double, which happens when Tess wakes up in the middle of the night to her double standing over her bed and Tess's double pretending to be Tess's daughter's mother. Also, when we see what the Raggedy Man is actually doing, it's a terror inducing moment.

Unfortunately, when we get the real picture on what's been happening about 2/3 of the way through the book (which most readers will have figured out a few chapters earlier), the reveal plays out like the end of a Scooby Doo episode. I fully expected the revelation to end with "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids and your dog!"

At its best, which thankfully is the majority of the book, it's a bit like reading a Twilight Zone episode. (Specifically "Shatterday" from the 80's reboot, which wiki says was based on a Harlan Ellis story.)  At its worst, you can hear the canned laughter and incidental music in the background.