Book Review-Dick Tracy: The Secret Files, edited by Max Allan Collins and Martin H. Greenberg

Title: Dick Tracy: The Secret Files

Author: Max Allan Collins, Mike Resnick, Henry Slesar, Ron Goulart, Rex Miller, Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, F. Paul Wilson, Ed Gorman, Francis M. Nevins and Josh Pachter, Barbara Collins, Wayne D. Dundee, Barry N. Malzberg, John Lutz, Ric Meyers, Edward D. Hoch, Stephen Mertz

Format: Paperback edition by Tor

Published: 1990

dicktracy

Let it be no secret that I am a Dick Tracy fan, have been since I was a kid.  Not just a fan of a particular era or of Dick Tracy from the newspapers, or the movies, or any particular medium.  I am a straight up fan of Dick Tracy.  I love the hard boiled type tales, I adore the science/technology stuff, and even absolutely go nuts over the more science fiction stuff (looking at you, Moon Maid!)  So, when a copy of Dick Tracy: The Secret Files ended up in my hands, it was something special to me.

Fortunately, I wasn’t overall disappointed.  Not overall.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files was a collection released in 1990, in conjunction with and due in large part to the Warren Beatty movie that debuted that year (Yes, I actually liked the movie, but that’s a whole other argument to have elsewhere).  Two legends in literature, Martin H. Greenberg and Max Allan Collins, at one time the writer for the Dick Tracy strip, helmed this sixteen story juggernaut of a collection and brought on talent of all types to tackle the yellow trenchcoat wearing wunderkind of crime deduction created by Chester Gould.  From Edward D. Hoch to Ron Goulart to F. Paul Wilson to John Lutz and beyond, the list of contributors to this book held a lot of promise, a fair amount of which was fulfilled.

Overall, this is a good bunch of stories.  It appears writers were pretty much allowed to come at Dick and company in any fashion they chose to and there were a variety of approaches taken.  That part turned me off a little as I read through the collection.  Yes, there were some definite straight up true Dick Tracy type stories, but there were others that, I think, tried to hard to be something different.  As a fan, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Dick take on his old and established villains throughout an entire collection, but he didn’t do much of that in this book.  Most of the adversaries were either new oddities or they were simply ‘normal’ criminals. And let me say, Dick has come up against his share of normals, but I’d hoped we’d see Pruneface and Flattop and more of the traditional Tracy villains.

Another way this didn’t deliver due to attempts to be different was that some of the stories were not about the Dick Tracy universe.  One was a fictionalization of how Dick Tracy was created in a sense, another took Dick Tracy to Hollywood, but he ended up being a deus ex machina bit player in his own story, and still another focused almost exclusively on Tess, Dick’s wife.  Now, this doesn’t mean they were bad stories, as you’ll see when I list my favorites in a bit.  But I simply wish the collection had been more streamlined with a ‘theme’ of sorts, a spine authors worked around, more than just ‘Here’s Dick Tracy. Leave your mark however You wish.” Maybe that wasn’t what was done, but this collection definitely feels that way.

The stories in this collection, though, that do stand out are numerous.  Dick Tracy and the Syndicate of Death by Henry Slesar, The Cereal Killer by Rex Miller, Auld Acquaintance by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, The Curse by Ed Gorman, Homefront by Barbara Collins, The Paradise Lake Monster by Wayne Dundee, Old Saying by John Lutz, Whirlpool, Sizzle, and the Juice by Ric Meyers, Chessboard’s Last Gambit by Edward D. Hoch, and Not a Creature Was Stirring by Max Allan Collins are all great stories and hit on most, if not all the right notes for a Dick Tracy collection.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files is a hard one to rate for me. Using the blog’s system, I’d have to give it 3 out of 5 pages.  This has a lot for Tracy fans as well as quite a bit for fans of Detective stories, but the scattershot approach to how Tracy’s world is addressed will probably make this a not read for many.

As for my usual scale, this gets four out of six bullets.  The strong stories outweigh the weak ones and my issues with the organization of the collection enough to make it one that hits more than half of the things it’s aimed at.

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Book Review – Darkness With a Chance of Whimsey

TITLE Darkness With a Chance of Whimsey: Ten Years, Ten Stories
AUTHOR RJ Sullivan
FORMAT Paperback
PUBLISHED 2015

Darkness with a Chance of Whimsey is a collection of ten pieces of fiction mostly already published in various places. As a collection, there isn’t much that ties this together. I mean, you can argue that he pretty much writes in the same genres, but nothing beyond that. Not saying it’s good or bad, but just saying it’s a thing.
Also, each story has an explanation from the author in front of them. I thought that it would annoy me, but I kinda liked it after all, especially since a lot of the notes talked about when and why he wrote the story. And they didn’t really add anything to the understanding of the story, which was nice; if you have to explain your story, you’re doing it wrong.

So about the stories. I’ll say a little, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you… :

The Assurance Salesman – A group of people on a train meet a mysterious stranger with an even more mysterious blue rose.
According to the note, this was his first published story and I can tell. I think that the premise was interesting, but I think that it had some execution issues. I’d like to see it more refined and as part of a longer piece. Solidly 3/5

Fade – College students Spencer and Anna go to her parents house and get caught up in what her dad does for a living.
First of all, Anna is your typical blonde idiot character, and I hated her from just about the first sentence. The stuff with her dad was cool, though, and I thought that this story really had potential. Still, I feel like the execution didn’t quite make it, so I’ll give this one a 4/5.

Able-Bodied – This one was actually interesting. There was a detective who felt like he was being held back by a whiz-kid detective who showed up, gave an answer, disappeared and that was it. It was a really cool setup, and there was a bit of a turn in the story that wasn’t anywhere my head was going at the time. I thought that it ended a little too abruptly, though, and with an info dump to explain it to another character in the story that made it much too long. 3/5.

I Remember Clearly – This was the author’s first piece of flash, and again, I thought it showed. There’s a really interesting premise here. But the author sort of shoved a couple vignettes together and called them a story. It needed a little something else to make it rounded, and I just didn’t see that something. 2/5.

Do Better – More flash. This one has a couple (young adults, maybe?) locked in an old church after a night of… well, you know.
I think the paragraphs need a little work – almost every one of them flipped points of view – but there was a really cool idea here. I really like this one, and if it weren’t for the paragraph breaks, I’d have given it top marks. 4/5.

Grammetiquette 2030 – The story centers around a piece of tech called the Grammetiquette 2030. As it is flash, I’d pretty much ruin the story if I told you what it did. For the story, the author basically showed us the character’s input and the machine’s output.
Um. Okay? I actually wrote in my notes “What is the point of this?” Again, we have another moment of something that had potential without follow through. I like what was done here, but I wanted this to be the catalyst of something bigger and not the entire thing, you know? Maybe flash just isn’t the author’s thing most of the time? 2/5

Inner Strength & Backstage Pass – Okay, I’m rating these two together because they’re both companion stories to his novel series.
Inner Strength is about a little girl kidnapped by a demon. It’s okay, but I feel like the transitions are a little bumpy and the ending was kind of expected.
Backstage Pass is about a superfan and his favorite singer. … The singer was every stupid cliche you’d expect to hear in a country singer, except I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a country singer. It was just annoying. It was a much better written story, though, so at least there’s that.
Incidentally, and the reason I put these together, I haven’t read the novels that these are supposed to be companions of. And based on these stories, I can tell you that there’s a demon, but I can’t even a little bit tell you how they come together. I would assume that you would get it if you’ve read the novels.
Inner Strength – 3/5. Backstage Pass 4/5.

Starter Kit – Poor little Belljy (no, really) had something go wrong with his creatures in a tank. I… I’m torn on this story. I mean, it sort of reads like a story about those sea monkey things that you sent in the order form from the back of a comic book and $1.50 postage and handling, except the names were changed to protect the innocent. I felt like I wanted to like this story, but I just felt like I was missing something. I’ll give it a 4/5

Robot Vampire – Note: I read this before in Michael West’s Vampires Don’t Sparkle anthology, which I gave a 5/5 review to. But I only know this because the author note says so. I really don’t remember the story.
The title probably doesn’t leave much to the imagination here, but I will say that the demon that they talk about is freaking awesome and leave it at that so I don’t spoil everything. The story deals with a Japanese family and has the feel of Japanese fiction. It’s the newest story of the anthology, and by far the best written. You’re supposed to lay out an anthology/collection with your strongest stories at the beginning and end (which doesn’t affect me because I don’t read these books in order ever), and he definitely ended with his best piece. 5/5.

In all, the collection is pretty short – it’s roughly 170 pages and read very quickly. (I read seven of the ten pieces in about 90 minutes the day I opened the book….) I know I have some pretty mixed feelings about some of the stories, but I guess this falls less into the category of a book you’d have to take seriously and more into the category of stuff you’d read as filler or between heavier novels.
He does have several other titles in print and e-Book, including two that tie into this, and I’ll say that while I wouldn’t seek them out, I also wouldn’t be opposed to giving this author another shot, which is a good thing.

I’m torn between the end rating. I think this book knows its place, and that’s a good thing, but it’s not the best out there by an means. Still, the average rating of the individual stories puts this just about at a 4/5, so I’ll agree with that.

Writer Wednesday – Mark Taylor

  1. Who are you?
    Mark Taylor, author of the macabre.
  1. What type of stuff do you write?
    Um…the macabre. I jest. I started my writing career in short stories, having many published over the years. Eventually the work got longer, and now I boast novels out with a couple of different publishing houses and some more self-published work. Mostly it’s horror, a little fantasy, and some science fiction for good measure.
  1. What do you want to pimp right now?
    Small Cuts to the Psyche. It’s a collection of some of my previously published materials as well as a few unpublished surprises. It’s chock full of the dark brooding horror that anyone that knows me expects to find.
    The special edition is available on Lulu in paperback: http://tiny.cc/1wfgsx
  1. What is your favorite book?
    Nope. I can’t answer that. But I’ll name an author. Richard Laymon. The man was a genius. His twisted work inspired me when I started writing, and still does today. I’ll admit though, Nicholas Grabowski reminds me of him.
  1. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
    I’ve proofed many novels and novellas and formatted more books than I can count. I’ve also done a good number of covers for other authors.
  1. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
    My website: www.authormarktaylor.com
    And of course Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mark.Taylor.Author

 

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Pantsing it…

 

The hardest lesson I’ve learned as a writer? Well, the mistakes keep coming, so all the while the lessons do too, I guess all is going right.

At the moment? It keeps rearing its ugly head with me, and many others too, I expect. It’s the old plotting vs pantsing. I’m a pantser. Have been since the day I sat at the keyboard. Working with tales of less than say, ten thousand words, it’s fine. I have no qualms about being a pantser with novella’s or shorts.

But I took my pantsing with me when I started writing novels. I thought I had learned my lesson after two novels, where my own blood was shed banging away at the keyboard in the wee hours trying to make head or tail of what I had written.

I decided on the vague outline of my third novel, and then started to plot. It was hard. Harder than I had imagined. But I did what I thought was going to work. I mean, who researches how to plot a story, right?

I have never been so wrong.

I plotted vaguely. Too vaguely, I know now. It sprawled, out of control. I had plot points bouncing around all over the place. I expected a pulp novel, sixty to seventy thousand words, maybe, and following my “plot” I hit nearly fifty thousand still in the first act. And there were new plots being raised.

Sheesh.

So I did some research. I’m still working on the third, so I don’t know if what my research told me is right or not, but I learned that a plot should be detailed. Pretty much every plot point covered. And stick to it. One piece I read suggested the plot outline be roughly ten percent of the length of the finished work. So my plot should have been six thousand words.

I think it was about six hundred.

Lesson learned.

 

Book Review – Proud Too Be Weirrd

Title: Proud Too Be Weirrd
Author/Illustrator: Ralph STEADman
Format: coffeetable    Hardback
Published: 2013

Okay, so when I was doing my read through of Roald Dahl just a few days ago, I ended up with a book illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and as I raved, I loved his artwork. So when Mom and I were walking through the library and I saw this book on the bottom of the new books shelf, I immediately swooped down for it.

Mom immediately made several jokes about proper lifting techniques of heavy objects, and once we got to the car, several about how the car would tip over by the weight of it.

Because this thing is big enough that it could *BE* a coffee table if you stuck a couple legs on it.

But onto the book itself.  Ralph Steadman went through his art and arranged it in a book. There’s all kinds of stuff in here – paintings, sketches, whatever.  And lots and lots of commentary.

From the library’s website:

STANDARD EDITION: Iconoclastic British artist Ralph Steadman has been creating editorial and political illustrations for more than five decades. Steadman is revered for his ink-splattered, anarchic, and often shocking drawings. His well-known illustrations alongside the work of literary legend Hunter S. Thompson have long been celebrated and have achieved a cult-like following. Together, Steadman and Thompson’s iconic work has come to be known as Gonzo journalism. Ralph and Hunter first met in 1970 on an assignment from Scanlan’s Monthly magazine to cover the Kentucky Derby. Their 40-year friendship included collaborations on seminal books such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Curse of Lono , as well as numerous articles for Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone , including the George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali fight and coverage of the Watergate scandal. PROUD TOO BE WEIRRD is the ultimate monograph of this creative genius. Steadman’s first-person narrative takes us on a literary and visual journey of his well-known, provocative work and is accompanied by his acerbic wit, heartfelt political views, and unique sense of humor. This must-have book comes in two collectible editions.

 

Before I even had the book home, I had already mentally added it to my Amazon wish list.  And then when I actually looked it up on Amazon, I about had a heart attack at the price tag ($200?! Holy Cow!).

But the art is amazing, the comments are great, and I highly recommend this book.  I’m not even done with it and I’ve already given it a 5/5.  I know it’s a little out of most of our price ranges, so check the library and see if they’ve got it.

Book Review – Blood Roses

Blood Roses
Francesca Lia Block
Hardback
2008

Blood Roses is a collection of short stories from author Francesca Lia Block. According to the dust jacket they’re stories of transformation.

According to the dust jacket.

And according to me… I wouldn’t have known that if they hadn’t told me. This is a collection of “short stories” but really it’s just a bunch of vignettes. A lot of these lack any substance to be called much beyond an idea. And I don’t really understand what is transforming when the stories are a couple hundred words long and nothing is resolved and nothing changes and whatever else.

*sigh*

FLB wrote one of my favorite novels with a co-writer, and unfortunately, since then I keep picking up her solo stuff hoping to find something else that I like. And every time, I get something that sorely disappoints me. This time I was able to put my finger on it – she is great at a moment in time. But she’s not capable of filling out a story in a way that pleases me. After reading this collection, I can certainly tell which parts of the aforementioned favorite book are hers and which aren’t.

So I’m happily turning this one back into the library.
I’d give it a 2 on writing quality alone, but since the stories don’t, imo, actually manage the point of the collection, I’m going to give it a 1/5. I’m also going to stop reading her stuff.

Book Review – 1602 by Neil Gaiman

Title: Marvel 1602

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Artwork: Andy Kubert & Reinhard Schweizer

Format: Graphic novel/comic collection

Published:  2004

1602 is a collection of 8 parts that operate under a very interesting premise – what if all the Marvel characters start their stories 500 years too soon? – written by the incredible Neil Himself Gaiman.   The story starts with a girl on a boat – 14-year-old Virginia Dare and her protective Indian guide on her way back to England to ask Queen Elisabeth for more money for the Roanoke colony.  At the same time, King James and the Inquisition are both trying to get all the freaks killed.

After that, there is *a lot* that goes on, and honestly, I think that it loses a little something if you’re not really into the comics.  For instance, Hawkeye makes an appearance as an apprentice… named Peter.  And if you weren’t really into Hawkeye or you missed the one offhanded comment that made you go… Oh, wait a minute!… you’d probably miss it.

So, truth be told, I missed most of them.  I mean, Thor was pretty easy, since he came down as, um, Thor.  But was that other one Arachne, Spider Woman or Black Widow?  And if it was Black Widow, who was the other one that I *thought* was Black Widow?  I’m pretty sure those are the X-Men, but I couldn’t name all of them, and even my Ultimate Marvel Character Guide isn’t helping with some of these.  Others aren’t so hard to come up with – Doom, Strange and Banner are called Doom, Strange and Banner, for instance.

Since this is a graphic novel/set of comics, let’s talk about the artwork for a minute.  The artists used a combination of techniques that made the art title pages (there are eight, one for each of the original parts) look like old wood carvings, and really gave the collection a feel of old 17th century artwork.  But some of the illustrations came out a bit odd.  For instance, Queen Elisabeth looks a bit like a groupie for Insane Clown Possee in a couple of them.  And because of the techniques, we lose a lot of the details that we expect in a graphic setting.  Not going to lie, it’s the only reason I read these – for the artwork that accompanies.

So although I give the story a four, I have to give the overall a three out of five.   If you’re into Marvel, don’t miss it, but otherwise, you’ll miss a lot.

 

 

Book Review – Talking Pictures by Ransom Riggs

Talking Pictures

Ransom Riggs

Paperback

2012

 

Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s, shows us the love he has of old photographs (and that which led him to Miss Peregrines, I do say) and gives us a glimpse into his (and his friends’) personal collection of someone else’s photographs, found at antique stores and flea markets, marked with comments from the original owners.

Really, there’s not much to say about this book.  The pictures are old – some 100 years or more – and black and white or sepia, slightly blurry and/or out of focus, or just generally lack the sharpness that a more modern camera can provide.  Some of the comments are cute (there’s a whole section dedicated to people who hate the picture that was taken of them), others a bit melancholy (boys off to war, for instance), and others downright sad.  In fact, it was a downright sad that started his collection.  A photograph that he bought for a quarter with a caption on the back that named the girl and her fate.

Its as good a place to start as any.

In all, if you haven’t read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I suggest you go read that first and then come back to this for a unique glimpse into an author.  But I think that if you don’t love that book already or aren’t as into old photos of strangers as Ransom is, that you won’t enjoy it nearly as much.

I’m going to give it a leery 4 out of 5 pages.  It’s worth a look, but if you’re not already into this, I don’t think this book will convert you.

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