Whether or not you’ve ever been to Italy there are inevitable mental images that are sure to manifest. The sumptuous food, the iconic history and architecture, the picturesque landscapes manicured with vineyards and olive groves, the eccentric personalities of each major region, the famous post WWII films and the familiar stars birthed by them, or the operatic display of the tumultuous national calcio team, the Azzurri. These are the usual hallowed foundations conjured by La Bella Figura. Right now I could throw a rock out the window and hit a travel guide to Italy or a remaindered copy of Under the Tuscan Sun, but there are other dubious treasures to be had from the peninsula too...and there may be dragons.

Lesser known perhaps are the numerous fiction contributions to world literature by Italian authors, or at least translated modern works (no disrespect to Dante or Boccaccio, two entirely different blog entries). Older Gothic successes emerged from European authors writing about their dreams or experiences traveling to Italy, such as Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, or Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. This gave way to more poetry, drama, and novels in the first half of the twentieth century from famous scribes like Pirandello, Grazia Deledda, and Carlo Vittorio.

 

Beyond Hellboy

The creative boom came post-WWII with the scattered viewpoints of many authors, resulting from the constant struggle between their fierce nationalist loyalty and Mussolini’s fascist, oppressive policies. Writers such as the husband-wife team of Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, Italo Calvino, Ignazio Silone, and Curzio Malaparte wrote smoldering novels of their experiences living through such a polarizing period. These important works paralleled the cinematic, neo-realist purge of post-war emotions from directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rossellini, and Fellini.

More modern contributions have included an explosion of genre fiction including the crime/noir creations of Massimo Carlotto, Andrea Camilleri, and Gianrico Carofiglio, comics from Lorenzo Mattotti and Tiziano Sclavi’s Dylan Dog, plus the unique originality of the fantasy and horror tales of Dino Buzzati, Iginio Tarchetti, and our own Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. If you have ever desired to explore the bountiful fiction created from Italian writers, try this book list featuring an extensive range of styles and voices from the boot of hypnotic magnificence. Buona lettura!

 

Buffalo SoldiersToday I wanted to showcase the prolific versatility of the great storyteller, Joe R. Lansdale. Known primarily for his mystery and suspense novels including the Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket, and his Hap and Leonard  series, the consistently entertaining East Texas author started out writing in every other genre, mainly horror, sci-fi, and Weird Westerns. I champion writers who continue to create the short story and Lansdale is a master of the form, using its limitations to sharpen his reliable trademarks of great dialogue, suspense, irony, violence, humor, and diverse, breathable characters.  His novella Bubba Ho-Tep  was adapted into a hilarious film starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis.  

 As of this post Multnomah County Library has over 130 materials featuring his words. They include seven graphic novels, twenty-one digital titles (two are e-book only), one young adult novel, and his stories are featured in no less than fifty-eight  anthologies, four as editor. It was difficult to choose which type of booklist I was going to compile for this post, as there are so many wells to siphon in his body of work. In my opinion, Lansdale perfected the Weird Western tale and I highlighted his offerings in an earlier blog post and booklist(s). His mystery-suspense canon would take up at least four to five lists so I decided to show MCL’s collection of his horror tales and comic scriptsContains "The Nightrunners"

No matter the setting, characters, plot, or pace, Lansdale writes with a blazing, maverick style and he will make sure you get your money’s worth. But his narratives aren’t cheap, lazy, or hacky, his characters you can relate to whether you love or hate them. He is a breed of storyteller that you want spinning yarns by the campfire on a spooky wilderness night or one that reminds you of a vibrant, jolly uncle who always has a tale at the ready. Buy the ticket and explore them all, his imagination has a selection for all readers.  

 

A large portion of my youth and high school years were spent in southern Arizona. Half of my father’s side of the family were immigrants from Montenegro who settled near Bisbee and worked the large copper mines. I was fortunate to have family members and eventually teachers who would introduce me to the history and literature of the area, focusing on Native Americans and the quiet, divided majesty of the Sonoran Desert.

At age nine, my grandfather gave me a copy of Anton Mazzanovich’s Trailing Geronimo, and soon after I wanted to absorb any other books or stories about the legendary Chiricahua warrior and the local history too. I even read his autobiography as told to S.M. Barrett. I still wonder if his story lost any details within the transcription. My mother would also take me to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson on many occasions, where I discovered a unique mix of an open-area zoo, geological caves, and a botanical garden. The center has changed much since that time, adding an art gallery and hosting events, but if you are ever in the area I highly recommend the experience.

Early accounts

In a recent booklist, I highlighted some diverse and important Native American authors. All introduced me to fresh voices and had an important influence on my writing. College helped invariably, but you can educate yourself down at the local library! While those titles were fiction, written by talented and respected representatives of many indigenous nations, here I decided to illuminate some other books that magnify history, nature, and travel.

I do miss the endless red-orange canvas skies and voluminous, crisp air of a freshly-emptied Arizona monsoon, as I do not see them on a regular basis anymore. The literature and memories, on the other hand, I can carry forever: No arid zones in these pages.

 One of my favorite sub-genres is a secret no longer. What was once a small specific mash-up of genre fiction sprinkled among a few authors and anthologies has blossomed into a renaissance of books, comics, and films. The Weird Western has its roots in classic pulp paperbacks and magazines (Robert E. Howard, Lon Williams, and Charles G. Finney) where authors who wrote with familiar tropes and themes of the western tale started to incorporate supernatural, speculative, ancient mythological, and even robotic fibers into their yarns. Unfortunately, in terms of content and what is available today with the e-boom of self-publishing, there are quite a few six-guns that should have remained holstered. This gold rush of stories has also expanded the arm of steampunk fiction, which has usually been contained within the constantly fluctuating threshold of science-fiction-fantasy. I’ve never been a huge fan of steampunk. I’ve read and liked a few original authors, but there is no denying that when it comes to Weird Westerns, that universe and it’s facets, without question, adds flair and substance to many creations on the Ranch.

So, every other month, in order to get you through the shutter doors of the saloon slinging the best whiskey, I’ll help you wade through the muck that has appeared near the hitchin’ post right outside...This month on the Ranch I highlight two collections that share the same title.

Just released is the anthology Dead Man’s Hand, edited by John Joseph Adams. Short stories are the backbone of the genre despite many successful and original novels and this new title has some heavyweights including Joe Lansdale, one of the patriarchs of the Weird Western tale, Alastair Reynolds, Orson Scott Card, Kelley Armstrong, and Jonathan Maberry. The Tad Williams story “Strong Medicine” recalls the enjoyable stop-motion film Valley of the Gwangi.  Despite leaning more towards fantasy and alternate history over horror, Adams has nonetheless roped some wonderful tales.

The other Dead Man’s Hand, by Nancy A. Collins, was published in 2004 and contains three novellas, two short stories, and an intro by, who else? Joe Lansdale. Known for her Sonja Blue series and most recent Golgotham books, Collins adds old and new elements to her offerings. I particularly liked “Lynch,” with its contribution to the Frankenstein legacy, and I have a personal attachment to the darker Dia De Los Muertos story “Calaverada.” This title is a softer addition to the canon but a worthy collection and perfect for the entry-level Weird Western reader.

If you like these titles or the booklists below, send me a message and I will provide a more thorough bibliography (or filmography) of other great Weird Westerns. Other booklists and reviews in the next roundup, happy reading!

Look into the futureI have friends who are political junkies who count the days between each Presidential election. That’s four years of waiting filled with competitive yet non-athletic bluster, bloated hypocrisy, and stagnant idealism, not including the Congressional races. But I do know how they feel, because the cruel disappointment and heartbreak forced onto me by twenty-one years of loyalty to Newcastle United FC, fractured Yugoslavian teams, and U.S.A. soccer is lifted every four years with the angelic arrival of the holiest of holies in all of sport: the World Cup. Somehow, before, during, and after this soccer celebration, politics, both governmental and athletic (FIFA is no secret to controversy) always seem to pervade the social and cultural unification of the games no matter the host country. In 2014, inside the fascinating world of Brazil, this impending party-crasher will be no different.

Government corruption, political demonstrations, martial law, election scandals, destructive floods, terrorist bombings, and kidnapping. These issues are everyday and commonplace around the globe. For twenty-five days this summer, however, these same problems currently presenting hardship in nations represented within the Cup will briefly stand aside to the enthusiasm, optimism, and allegiance of the Beautiful Game. Floods and landslides in the Balkans will further motivate Croatia and first-timers Bosnia-Herzegovina. The mass kidnapping and subsequent bombings in Nigeria should emphatically inspire the Super Eagles. Russia will undoubtedly be playing harder than ever in proud fashion to prove they can adequately host the next Cup. Yet it is Brazil and it’s society’s turbulent clashes over the expenditures of hosting both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics versus the lack of basic human social programs that face the toughest scrutiny. If ever the host country was to win it all at home, the Canarinho would be wise to do it this year. Teams representing countries in the news, especially negative news, tend to play harder with more passion and a greater sense of urgency. That’s when timeless moments occur and with one kick, an exhale or a blink, the entire conscience of an impoverished nation can be instantaneously and collectively transformed into pure hope and bliss. This is the power that gives names to snapshots such as “The Hand of God,” “Goal of the Century,” and the “Miracle of Bern.” Slayer of Lions

It seems that each day the news is consistently full of sorrow rather than smiles, but teams such as Nigeria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and flamboyant host Brazil will all be trying to erase the crushing adversity pervading their societies (as of this post) for at least a brief ninety minutes. And every team desires as many successive ninety minute chances as possible, for each match pulls them one step closer to lifting not only the World Cup trophy, but glory for their country and symbolic spiritual triumph over the perpetual numbness of suffering. So soak it in as much as possible I say, it goes by quickly. Samba till you just can’t stand up anymore.

 

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