By Marc Savlov
SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:
Although this year's Worldcon didn't really do it for me --
too many paunchy caped crusaders rushing through the halls, a threadbare dealer's
room, and a woeful amount of absentee luminaries -- the number of legends wandering
around and looking somewhat dazed still managed to impress. Forrest J. Ackerman,
sporting his trademark retro-eyewear (ridiculous yet endearing, and let's see Harlan
Ellison try to pull that off), lounged about, basking in the attentions of
legions of Famous Monsters of Filmland fans and glowing over the rebirth of
his seminal Perry Rhodan, Master of the Stars. An aging Frederik Pohl sought
cigarettes and some idle chatter outside the Avon Books fete. Michael J. Straczynski,
of Babylon 5 fame, looked immensely hurried and probably hoping to avoid the
crush of the fannish crowd, what Ellison calls "xenogenesis."
In all, though, it was not what I'd hoped. For my money, the annual World Fantasy
Con or even Fangoria magazine's twice-yearly Weekend of Horrors offers more
bite for the buck, cramming in fantasy and horror filmmakers alongside old guard
literary lions and the new, young turks of the field. These affairs are a bit more
raucous, full of long-standing feuds that ellicit spectacularly public arguments
(the 1989 WFC birthed a "quiet horror vs. splatterpunk" row that was especially
notable thanks, in part, to Charles Grant's seething war of words with a slightly
tipsy John Skipp and Craig Spector). There are, too, tremendous parties that always
seem to end up with John Shirley ranting atop someone else's bed, and groggy, bleary-eyed
brunches attended by the few, the proud, the editors (and, of course, Kirby McCauley).
Most fans, I'm thinking, are drawn to the cons by way of their love for the books
that startled and shocked them when they were young, getting the meathooks in early,
so to speak. I'm no different, as the list below should serve to demonstrate. All
of these books (and their authors) entered my consciousness by the very fitting age
of 13 or so, and have stuck with me since, marking both the foundations and, occasionally,
the boundaries of my literary groove. Almost all of them have been returned to on
a yearly basis, some more than that, some much more than that. In no particular
- Without fail, this finds its way into my hands every October. It's one of Bradbury's
richest outings, full of lengthy passages that almost border on the purple at times.
I'll forgive him his trespasses, though, because it's just such a damn fine read
overall, drawing as it does from the author's dark Americana and elegiac youth in
fabled Green Town, Illinois (it's not on the map -- I looked). As a metaphor for
both dwindling innocence and the vagaries of advancing age it remains nonpareil.
And as a record of the Halloween-loving Bradbury firing on all eight cylinders over
the course of the 175-plus pages of the novel, it's unsurpassed. Quick trivia: The
novel was based on Bradbury's 1947 short story "The Black Ferris" from
the Arkham House collection Dark Carnival. I'm sensing a pattern of some sort
- This collection of seven of Ellison's best, earlier works ended up in front of
me at a library book sale some 15 years back; I liked the cover illustration and
the rest, as they say, is history. One of the most prodigious of living writers,
Ellison, amazingly, remains vital to this day, although I Have No Mouth, and I
Must Scream, published way back in 1967, is far more affecting than much of his
- Any Lovecraft, really. Especially the black-bound Arkham House editions.
Now that his name is officially an adjective ("Lovecraftian"), his fate,
like that of Charles Dexter Ward, is forever sealed. I credit Lovecraft with my able
spelling of the words "batrachian" and "squamous," not to mention
my ongoing love of Providence, R.I., and its surrounding environs.
- "...And Then We'll Get Him!" by Gahan Wilson
- Who says cartoons can't be literary? Rubbish. Wilson's vile wit and sketchy pen-and-ink
drawings frequently evoked Lovecraft's elder New England horrors better than Lovecraft
himself, and anyone who can maintain a stable freelance position in the changing
hierarchy of Playboy magazine for as long as he has is someone to be respected
and perhaps feared. And, in this case, laughed at.
- King's name remains anathema to many critics these days, not least of all because
he's so damn successful. He's Midas with a Smith Corona. Nonetheless, his masterful
characterizations are top notch; love them or hate them, you always feel as though
you know King's characters, even the ones you'd really rather not have as
next-door neighbors. This updating of Stoker's Dracula is another perennial
Halloween read for me; it goes equally well with a cool glass of fresh apple cider
on the dusky front porch swing or a sixer of Pabst Blue Ribbon sprawled out on the
living room couch. Either way the goosebumps rise unabated.