Books on Film: First FAHRENHEIT 451 teaser from HBO…

A couple of days ago, HBO released the first teaser for their upcoming adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, here it is:

So, not hugely informative, but I am certainly looking forward to watching.

BradburyR-Fahrenheit451US-60thThe novel is published in North America by Simon & Schuster, and in the UK by Harper Voyager. Here’s the synopsis:

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

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Excerpt: MARLENE DIETRICH by Maria Riva (Open Road Media)

RivaM-MarleneDietrichORMOpen Road Media recently published Marlene Dietrich, a biography of the eponymous actress, written by her daughter, Maria Riva. To celebrate its release, the publisher has allowed me to share an excerpt. First, though, here’s the official synopsis:

With intimate detail, author Maria Riva reveals the rich life of her mother, Marlene Dietrich, the charismatic star of stage and screen whose career spanned much of the twentieth century. Opening with Dietrich’s childhood in Schöneberg, Riva’s biography introduces us to an energetic, disciplined, and ambitious young actress whose own mother equated show business with a world of vagabonds and thieves.

Dietrich would quickly rise to stardom on the Berlin stage in the 1920s with her sharp wit and bisexual mystique, and wearing the top hat and tails that revolutionized our concept of beauty and femininity. She comes alive in these pages in all her incarnations: muse, collaborator, bona fide movie star, box-office poison, lover, wife, and mother.

During World War II, Dietrich would stand up to the Nazis and galvanize American troops, eventually earning the Congressional Medal of Freedom. There were her artistic relationships with Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Morocco, Shanghai Express), Colette, Erich Maria Remarque, Noël Coward, and Cole Porter, as well as her heady romances. And in her final years, Dietrich would make herself visibly invisible, devoting herself to the immortality of her legend.

Capturing this complex and astonishing woman, Maria Riva’s insightful profile of her mother has the depth, range, and resonance of a novel, and takes us on a journey through Europe and old Hollywood during an era that is gone but not forgotten.

The excerpt, which starts after the break, covers how the actress decided on her stage name.

Continue reading

Upcoming: DUNE 50th Anniversary Edition

Today, Hodderscape unveiled the cover for the 50th anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Designed by Sean O’Connell, as you can see, it’s a pretty stunning cover:

HerbertF-Dune50thUK

I’ve never actually read Dune, despite many people recommending it (clearly, I’m just difficult). With this new edition, perhaps I will have no excuse…? The 50th anniversary edition will be published in the UK by Hodder on July 16th, 2015. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the novel’s synopsis:

Melange, or ‘spice’, is the most valuable — and rarest — element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person’s life-span to making intersteller travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the noble House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens fight back, murdering Duke Leto Atreides. Paul, his son, and Lady Jessica, his concubine, flee into the desert. On the point of death, they are rescued by a band for Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who control Arrakis’ second great resource: the giant worms that burrow beneath the burning desert sands.

In order to avenge his father and retake Arrakis from the Harkonnens, Paul must earn the trust of the Fremen and lead a tiny army against the innumerable forces aligned against them.

And his journey will change the universe.

Excerpt: THE BROKEN SWORD by Poul Anderson (Open Road)

AndersonP-TheBrokenSwordPoul Anderson‘s The Broken Sword was published the same year as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), and draws on some of the same Scandinavian mythology and history to create its fantasy world. The novel has been described as “a masterful tale of men, elves, and gods that is at once breathtakingly exciting and heartbreakingly tragic.” A winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, Anderson is considered by many to be one of the masters of “golden-age” speculative fiction. The Broken Sword was recently released in eBook by Open Road Media, as well as 16 of the author’s other novels.

Here’s the synopsis:

In his greed for land and power, Orm the Strong slays the family of a Saxon witch—and for his sins, the Northman must pay with his newborn son. Stolen by elves and replaced by a changeling, Skafloc is raised to manhood unaware of his true heritage and treasured for his ability to handle the iron that the elven dare not touch. Meanwhile, the being who supplanted him as Orm’s son grows up angry and embittered by the humanity he has been denied. A pawn in a witch’s vengeance, the creature Valgard will never know love, and consumed by rage, he will commit a murderous act of unspeakable vileness.

It is their destiny to finally meet on the field of battle—the man-elf and his dark twin, the monster—when the long-simmering war between elves and trolls finally erupts with a devastating fury. And only the mighty sword Tyrfing, broken by Thor and presented to Skafloc in infancy, can turn the tide in a terrible clashing of faerie folk that will ultimately determine the fate of the old gods.

Read on for a two-chapter excerpt. Continue reading

“The Shining” by Stephen King (Hodder)

KingS-TheShining2011Perhaps King’s most famous novel. Review by a first-time reader.

Danny Torrance is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr. Hallorann, he “shines” with an exceptional psychic talent. For most of Danny’s life, his clairvoyant abilities have helped him to puzzle out his parents’ troubled relationship, but when his father accepts a position as the winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel high in the Rocky Mountains, the little boy’s visions spiral into the realm of nightmare.

As blizzards isolate the Torrances, the hotel seems to develop a sinister life of its own. At night, unseen revelers ride the elevators and even the animal-shaped hedges of the topiary prowl the hotel’s grounds like threatening predators. But when Danny meets the woman in room 217, he discovers that the hotel’s phantom guests are more than shadows. Like Danny, the Overlook shines, but the energy it emanates is deadly.

The Shining is one of those novels pretty much everyone knows about. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, they know many references from it without having ever read the book. True, some will know about it from the Kubrick movie (which Stephen King is not too fond of) – although, I haven’t seen that, either. When I got my hands on the novel, I was certainly eager to see what all the fuss was about, and fill in this important gap in my reading history. It is, of course, brilliantly written. But. While it is a fascinating read, there were a couple of things that didn’t quite click for me. I would, however, agree that this is essential reading.

I’m not really sure what to write in this review. It’s a novel that certainly made me think. It’s far more psychological than supernatural (in my opinion). It didn’t “terrify” me, but it was emotionally affecting. Danny, the child, is sympatico, and so many scenes made my heart ache for him. He has “the shine”, a hyper-, supernatural awareness of other people’s emotions, and also telepathic gifts. As he’s only five, he struggles to understand a lot of what he ‘hears’ and taps in to. Jack, his father, is an emotional wreck, fighting against his genetic disposition towards alcoholism and violence. Wendy, Danny’s mother, is the product of a verbally- and emotionally-abusive family (in this case, her mother basically thinks she’s incompetent, a waste of space, and so forth). The majority of the novel is presented through these three filters: Danny’s confusion, his frustration and outright fears; Jack’s suppression of his impulses; Wendy’s self-consciousness and lack of belief in herself. Exacerbating all of their neuroses and hang-ups, is their solitary life at the Overlook Hotel, effectively trapped their during the harsh, inhospitable Coloradan winter. It’s a fascinating, chilling glimpse into the minds of two emotionally damaged parents, and their psychic, confused child.

My ‘issues’ with the novel (for want of a better word) are not with the story, or the majority of King’s approach. It’s a fascinating story of the psychological impact of lifetimes of abuse – both physical and emotional – exacerbated by extreme cabin fever. And some actually supernatural goings on. Maybe. What niggled for me was the relentlessness of King’s characterisation. It was excellently written, and I was engrossed for the majority of the novel, but there were certainly times when I felt that King got into a repetitive cycle – after three or four times of making a point about Jack’s or Wendy’s shortcomings, the fifth and sixth (and sometimes seventh) times around felt like overkill, and the momentum did drop a couple of times. Part One, in particular, was very heavy-handed in its approach to situating the reader in this family’s life and minds. It is a testament to King’s writing skills, though, that he nevertheless brought me back to the story each and every time I started to think things were getting too bogged down.

KingS-TheShining1977Why “maybe”, above, when I mentioned the supernatural? Well, the introduction to the edition I read (Hodder, 2011) could be seen as rather leading. It includes King’s opinion of what actually causes most the weirdness and psychosis in the novel. While I nevertheless came to my own conclusion, and there are certainly some weird and creepy-as-hell goings-on, I think it did prime my impression, or influence how I read the novel. [Maybe it should be an afterword, in future editions?] A really minor complaint, though.

Overall? I’m very glad I finally read this, and I wish I hadn’t taken so long to do so. It’s by no means perfect, but it is frequently engrossing, gripping, and chilling reading. King’s attention to detail throughout is both excellent and also natural. I was reminded of Robert Jackson Bennett’s writing, actually (only, less contemporary than RJB’s), who I read before this. It certainly deserves its place as a literary classic, and an essential read for anyone with an interest in horror, thrillers, psychological tales, and also writing in general. As someone who has read a fair bit of King’s non-fiction (his Kindle Single, Guns, is superb), but never got through the only other novel of his that I’ve tried (Dreamcatcher, which was Messed Up), I’m glad I finally popped my King Fiction Cherry (there has got to be a better way to phrase that…).

I can’t wait to get my hands on Doctor Sleep, the highly-anticipated sequel [oh, I wish I could afford the limited edition of that book…]. Definitely recommended.

***

The Shining was first published by Doubleday in 1977 (cover above). It is now published by Hodder in the UK, and by Anchor in the US.