November 26, 1998
By Franklin Harris
In case you forgot, the Christmas shopping season begins tomorrow. If you did forget, you obviously don't leave the cave often. The lights and trees have been up since the day after Halloween. Santa has been on duty at the mall for weeks. And Wal-Mart stocked its shelves with Christmas supplies sometime around Easter Sunday.
Still, chances are you haven't finished your Christmas shopping - or started it, for that matter.
Well, that's why I'm here to help. 'Cause I know all the neat-o things your average science fiction or fantasy fan wants to find under the tree - or would want to find, if he knew they existed.
Books are always a nice choice, and there is no shortage of good ones available this season.
"Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines" ($39, Collector's Press Inc., 1998) has no relation to this column, despite its swell title. It is, as the hefty price tag indicates, an oversize coffee-table book.
Now, most coffee-table books do little but gather dust. But "Pulp Culture" is different.
"Pulp Culture," with text by Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson, is a handsome, illustrated survey of the art of fiction magazines.
If you're old enough, you probably read some of the pulp magazines of the '30s, '40s and '50s. They contained sci-fi stories, horror stories, westerns, romances, war stories and mysteries. And numerous A-list writers -- like Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Arthur C. Clarke -- started out in the pulps.
But the pulp magazines are today best known for their cover art, which was often lavishly detailed and -- sometimes -- sexy.
The mystery magazines in particular are remembered for their erotic cover art, which usually depicted some negligee-clad damsel in distress. Sometimes she was tied up, sometimes she was being threatened with an all-too-phallic pistol, and sometimes she was captive inside some mad scientist's oversized glass tube. But, hey, these books were from repressed times and people had to get their jollies somehow. And even the sleazy pulps had class of a sort.
But hardly all pulps were sleazy, and "Pulp Culture" is illustrated with cover art from all genres. Besides, it beats whatever is on your coffee table right now. Highly recommended.
My current favorite author is back, this time with a collection of his best short stories.
"Smoke and Mirrors" ($24, Avon Books, 1998) by World Fantasy Award-winning author Neil Gaiman is a real gem. Several stories in the book appeared in Gaiman's earlier small-press collection "Angels and Visitations," but that shouldn't keep the few of you who own the latter from buying the former.
Gaiman is British, which means he actually knows how to use the English language. He is one of those few writers whose every choice of wording, or even punctuation, seems absolutely dead-on.
Of the book's 30 stories -- counting one within the introduction -- "Chivalry" and "Troll Bridge" are the standouts. The first is about an elderly woman who discovers the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop. The second is a grown-up re-telling of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." Also noteworthy is "Only the End of the World Again," a werewolf tale set in one of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional worlds. Highly recommended.
Unlike those of Neil Gaiman, the works of the late Avram Davidson are all almost out-of-print, which is a crime. Fortunately, there is "The Avram Davidson Treasury" ($27, Tor Books, 1998), a collection of the author's award-winning and award-nominated short stories.
Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis, the book's editors, know Davidson is sadly obscure. So, they attract readers by having SF giants like Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Gregory Benford provide introductions and afterwords.
Introductions shouldn't be needed. "Golem" is so quirky, so perfect that it alone justifies the book's purchase. And it's joined by 37 other entries, all of which prove that dust-jacket proclamations aren't always hyperbole. Highly recommended.
It came from Japan
If your loved one likes Japanese animation, giant robots or science fiction that actually pays some heed to science, you might give him or her the new three-volume boxed set of "Mobile Suit Gundam" videos ($60, AnimeVillage.com, 1998).
Originally released in the early '80s and condensed from the TV series of the same name, "Gundam" is Japan's seminal giant-robot cartoon. The good news is that "Gundam" has finally come to America after nearly 20 years. The bad news is that you can only purchase the tapes through the Anime Village Web site, www.animevillage.com.
While the animation is clunky by modern standards, it's the "Gundam" story -- which follows a crew of young recruits during a devastating civil war between Earth and its space colonies -- that stands over time. The good guys aren't all-good, the bad guys aren't all-bad and the laws of physics aren't ignored. Recommended.
And for music lovers, there is "The Best of Anime" compact disc ($16.97, Rhino, 1998). "The Best of Anime" contains theme songs from 16 Japanese cartoon series. Some, like the classic themes from "Speed Racer," "Astro Boy" and "Sailor Moon," are English-language versions, but most are in the original Japanese. And, with a few exceptions like the slow, moody "Voices" from "Macross Plus," most of the songs are in the bouncy style of '80s pop. Recommended.