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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Joe R. Lansdale is something of an icon, or a writer's writer, if you will. I began reading him in 1981, with novels like "Act of Love" and in publications like Mike Shayne and Twilight Zone. Here was a bold new purveyor of the macabre—cutting-edge and razor-sharp, with a creepy neo-Gothic style unlike anything I'd read previously—a writer daring to be different. Lansdale was just starting out back then, and his work was outstanding. I shuddered to think how good he'd be in, say, 15 years, and I'm still shuddering. Since those early days, he has written more than a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories, commentaries, and articles, and he has even done comic and television work.
Let's call him...a "speculative" author, because speculative fiction, at least to me, has always been the stuff of real literature and true art—fiction that breathes more than whatever genre it might be placed in, work that resonates with something beyond the priority to entertain, work that tells us something about ourselves, our times, and our systems of belief. Lansdale isn't a horror writer, nor a suspense writer, nor a sci-fi/fantasy writer, and on the same hand, he's all of those things amalgamated, a writer whose creativity defies category. There's a certain voice to Lansdale that can't be duplicated or even effectively defined, and it's that voice that gives anything he does a thrilling and uncanny power that gets its claws right into your soul. Any given Lansdale book provides a grab bag full of surprises. You never quite know what you're going to get, but you do know youwon't be disappointed. This is a versatility most writers couldn't manage in three careers, and I suppose it's this same element that can help explain the fury his name now generates to collectors and specialty publishers, for Lansdale (in spite of a considerable profile in the mass market) has enjoyed about as positive a cult following as any author could ask. Hard-core fans simply can't get enough of this man's work (we're talking a lot of hard-core fans), and that incontestable fact clarifies this pair of classy, first-rate hardback collections.
It's the rabid interest in the Lansdale muse and the man behind it. "In The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent," Lansdale nearly apologizes for some of the stories, citing that "some are, well, mediocre, and a few are just plain bad," and amusingly, he refers to "A Fist Full of Stories" as a "garage-sale collection." Not much of an endorsement from the author himself, but who cares? Lansdale needs no endorsement from anyone. It's true, a few of the stories aren't very good, but even these early clunkers reveal some delectable slivers of the Lansdale magic. Conversely, many of the pieces in both collections are not only great stories ("The Junkyard," "Master of Misery," "Night Drive," and "Drive-In Date" to name a few) but they serve to shed light on Lansdale as the young, evolving author or, more abstractly, the entity behind the superior fund of work that now trails behind him in 1997.
What's particularly fascinating are the author's keenly biographical introductions (which you then catch glimpses of in the work) and the personal miniforewords to each piece. Of 'Fist Full', Lansdale writes: "This collection contains some odds and ends of my career that I don't mind seeing reprinted for followers of my work to examine." However modest that may sound, this is exactly the point of both collections—they're vehicles that enable the Lansdale reader to track the maturation and progress of the author's creative being. Not only do you get Lansdale's fiction, you get his attitude, his perceptions and opinions, his creative influences, and the things he loves and the things he hates (not to mention some utterly intriguing tales about his growing up). And there's more than just fiction in 'Fist Full:' "Drive-In Date" is written as a play, and his "Trash Theater" movie reviews (cowritten with David Webb) will have you laughing so hard, you'll be banging your head against the wall.
Both volumes share impressive production standards (a must for collectors and Lansdale connoisseurs)—these are quality first editions, to be sure. For Lansdale zealots specifically, these aren't just great, they're essential books. But even to an incidental reader who's never heard of Joe R. Lansdale: Read these books and you'll be buying everything else you can put your hands on by the guy. All in all, both of these volumes present an assemblage of fine work from an author who keeps making waves and just keeps getting better.—Edward Lee