Sunday, January 15, 2012

Short Bits

A little this'n'that...

Over the holidays I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Pretty much more a steampunk James Bond film rather than anything from Conan Doyle, but considering how Holmes was the subject of so many pastiches and ripoffs, and how the character was borrowed by Maurice Leblanc for some of the Arsene Lupin novels, it hardly seems the sacrilege some of the pearl-clutching purists out there would have you think. Go see it, if you haven't already. I saw it with my sister and her family; we saw the last one together, too, so this has become Our Thing.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Hugo, which I knew little about but went to see based on recommendations of friends. It's really not that much of a kiddie film as you might think; it involves an automaton and some real history, including George Melies and his work. It's also some of the best-integrated 3D I've seen in a flick. I'm to the point that I now refuse to see a movie if I know it was retroactively made 3D; I was disappointed in Alice in Wonderland and the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had some truly crappy 3D work.

I bought a Kindle Fire with part of a check my parents gave me (never worry, the rest went in the bank), and am truly delighted with how you can load PDFs on it. There's a lot you can get on PDF that's not available in other ebook format, like just about anything from Horrormasters. Also, long ago I bought CD-ROMs of all the Doc Savage pulp novels and all the Shadow pulp novels in PDF, so there's lots of downloading going on.

So far read a couple of things from Horrormasters: "The Abby of Clunedale," by Dr. Nathan Drake, a short early Gothic bit of looniness, possibly first published as a chapbook or blue book, and included in Drake's collection Literary Hours. It's one of those all-atmosphere, no-characterization Gothicks meant to be consumed in one sitting, probably by candlelight while the wind rattles the eaves. It's OK stuff, has a Scooby-Doo-ish ending, but palatable. (Dr. Nathan Drake [1766-1836] was a physician, essayist, and Shakespeare scholar.) Also up was "The Abduction," an excerpt from a novel by a Thomas Frost, that's full of atmosphere as an innocent maiden is kidnapped and held in a crumbling castle, but it ends abruptly and I guess one is to seek out the rest of the book to learn what happens. (I think it's the same Thomas Frost [1821-1908] who was a dedicated Chartist and radical, who admitted to writing a series of potboiler novels.)

And then there's the first-ever Shadow novel (of which there were literally hundreds...I'm gonna busy for a few years with this project!). The Living Shadow really has the Shadow taking a back-seat. It's really the story of Harry Vincent, who is recruited by The Shadow as he's about to commit suicide. T.S. gives him a reason to live and something to work for, and Vincent throws himself into it. The plot involved is rather mundane (a man is murdered, the search is on for his jewel collection, and eventually a fence is unmasked), but it serves as a primer for The Shadow's organization. The man himself shows up from time to time, usually to serve as a deus ex machina when Vincent gets in trouble, but he seems to be a forgiving boss and realizes the occasional slip-up is an occupational hazard.

This isn't the Shadow of radio; he's not Lamont Cranston (although that is brought up later in the series) and doesn't have psychic powers. He has a wide network of agents and doesn't rely on just one person. (And the radio character of Margot Lane wasn't added to the novels until much later, and met with fan resentment and protest.) The Shadow could probably be described as a sort of western ninja, always hiding in the shadows and using dark outfits (but without those tiresome samurai swords and throwing stars and all that impractical nonsense that doesn't exist outside martial arts movies), but he's also a master of disguise. There is mention of how he may be a master spy from WWI who was disfigured in action and later reported dead; I've heard that later in the series someone actually glimpses his real face and reacts with shock, saying that the man of a million faces has no face of his own.

It's good pulpy fun and actually rather good. Worth checking out, if you can get hold of it.

So that's it for now. I'm relaxing at home, on a cold Sunday afternoon, with a pot of Pouchong tea and a BBC miniseries on the tube ("The Chelsea Murders" from Armchair Thriller), and enjoying a lazy holiday weekend after all the craziness of last month....

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