The Best of Joe R. Lansdaleby Joe R. Lansdale
By turns absurd, hilarious, and terrifying, this outrageous collection features the best writings of the high priest of Texan weirdness. Odd-ball detectives, malicious rocks, spectral prehistoric fish, and vampire hunters permeate these vividly detailed stories. Featuring cult-classic award-winning tales such as "Night They Missed the Horror Show" and "Mad Dog Summer,… See more details below
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By turns absurd, hilarious, and terrifying, this outrageous collection features the best writings of the high priest of Texan weirdness. Odd-ball detectives, malicious rocks, spectral prehistoric fish, and vampire hunters permeate these vividly detailed stories. Featuring cult-classic award-winning tales such as "Night They Missed the Horror Show" and "Mad Dog Summer," along with nonfiction forays into drive-in theaters and low budget films, this dynamic retrospective represents the broad spectrum of Lansdale's career. "Bubba Hotep"-the tale of Elvis, John F. Kennedy, and a soul-sucking mummy, which was made into an award-winning film-is included along with the acclaimed novella, "On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks," and never before collected works. Original, compelling, and downright odd, this unforgettable compilation is essential reading for fans of horror, mystery, and southern gothic.
“Always entertaining, champion storyteller Lansdale shares his best weird yarns in this terrific collection.... This is a great introduction to the raunchy, cheerfully unclassifiable East Texan bon vivant.”
“Let this volume introduce you to his uncensored, unfiltered world. He is a writer deserving of a wide and appreciative audience.”
“Indisputably one of horror’s most revered craftsmen.”
- Tachyon Publications
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The Best of Joe R. Lansdale
By Joe R. Lansdale
Tachyon PublicationsCopyright © 2010 Joe R. Lansdale
All rights reserved.
Introduction by Joe R. Lansdale
Eventually, I will come to the point as I take you on a spin through the paint mixer of my brain and dip you in the mish-mash of my nostalgia, but not quite yet. For now I speak uncensored, unfiltered, and full of madness.
Thoughts, like electric grasshoppers, jump in space and time. When I was a child, in the fifties and early sixties, the world was full of magic, but not everyone could see it. For some the world was gray, and it could be that way for me too, unless I turned my head just right and looked for some well-lit crack in my universe so that I might peer into another that was full of color and commotion and a sense of wonder.
My mother opened the secret door first and showed me other worlds were there, and then she backed off and left it up to me to go inside and look around. She showed it to me by reading to me, fairy tales and funny animal stories from comic books, all manner of children's stories, and pretty soon I could read, and I could do this long before I went to school, and for no reason I can clearly explain, once I learned to read, and realized the alphabet helped accomplish what I was reading, I wanted to make letters and find their order and make words and sentences and paragraphs and pages and finally, stories, and books.
But the first things I read with great enthusiasm and wanted to write, and also wanted to illustrate, were comics. I loved DC comics especially, for here were refugees from another universe, brightly colored in panels with magnificent heroes and rocket ships and monsters and most importantly to me, people who wanted to be honest and good and make the world around them a better place to be.
So I'll say it again, and let me testify: I loved comics, and they introduced me not only to brighter and weirder worlds, but they crossed up worlds. Westerns sometimes blended with horror and science fiction and action and mystery, and sometimes my heroes, like Batman, traveled through space and time, or hung out with my favorite alien, Superman. There were men who were given powers because they were good and just and brave, like Green Lantern. Oh, man. I tried to be good and just and brave for just that reason, hoping some alien dying from a rocket crash might pass to me a power ring and a lamp with which to keep it charged.
"In brightest day and darkest night" and all that. I was primed and ready, waiting on my alien.
I sometimes wished I might find a chemical formula, if just by accident, that could be tasted by me, or that might drench me in such a way (perhaps by lightning bursting through my bedroom window and striking my chemistry set), that when it was all said and done, I would develop the ability to run at top speed, so fast I might have to wear a special red costume compacted inside a ring. I could call myself The Flash. I could vibrate through solid matter, run up walls, dash across the ocean without getting my feet wet, break the sound barrier, the time barrier, and if I was real lucky, I'd get to battle a giant super intelligent gorilla who lived in an invisible city full of other gorillas. Man, the possibilities.
As for Wonder Woman, well, I wanted to be heroic enough that she might like me. Back then I wanted to ride in her invisible plane and go to her secret island. I hadn't yet figured out there was something else about her that attracted me as well. That skimpy costume, for example, or what was under it, and the fact that her island was secret.
But Batman was my favorite hero. He was a regular guy. He learned about all manner of things because not only was he pissed off over the murder of his parents, he was a genius. He studied chemistry, astronomy, all the sciences. He was a gymnast and a martial artist: Judo, Jujitsu, Karate, boxing and wrestling (these were about all the martial arts the reading public knew of in those days), and he was good looking and had money and the women lined up for a mile.
Yeah, baby. I wanted to be Batman.
I didn't have the money. I thought I was okay looking, but nothing to look cool in a tuxedo at a charity benefit. In fact, I had never seen anyone in a tuxedo, or anyone who wanted to wear one. The only charity I knew about was us. We were poorer than the proverbial one-legged church mouse with a respiratory problem. I did study all the disciplines Batman studied, in a small child sort of way. I read books on chemistry and rocks and astronomy and insects and the human body, and before I realized my dad was in fact an excellent wrestler, a fair boxer, and a hell of a former country self-defense fighter, I read the one book I could get on weight training, exercise and self-defense. I don't remember the title, but it was mostly about exercises and lifting weights, and in the back were a few self-defense techniques. I probably got it from the Gladewater library on our trips there to visit with my cousins, returning it when my mother or father went in that direction. My dad tended to do that a lot, as he was a troubleshooter for a company, gone now, called Wanda Petroleum.
But, what I'm trying to tell you in this long-around-the-block manner, via the alleyways with a look in the trashcans and a glance at the sky, is, I wanted to be Batman, and I tried. Even to this day, that character has influenced my life, leading to a thirst for knowledge. I never mastered the disciplines Batman knew. After I found out how to make baking soda boil over, my chemistry skills hit the wall. When it comes to math, once I run out of fingers and toes, I'm done. I still look at the stars, but I remember very little beyond: Oh, pretty.
What Batman did for me, though, was make me understand that the world was bigger than I knew, that there were things beyond getting out of high school and going to work and waiting for retirement. Like Batman, I wanted to be something special.
And, it would be pretty cool too if I could learn to throw a batarang.
One last time, ladies and gentleman, I'll testify, shout it from the rooftops: I loved comic books.
Mae and Pete Green, who ran a kind of general store in my little town, one of the last of its kind, sold me comics on a regular basis, all in color and full of spandex or whatever costumes were made of in the fifties and early sixties, for a dime. Kid crack, jacked to the max. In the back of the store, half the cover page cut off, were unsold comics that were not supposed to be sold, but were in fact raffled off for a nickel a book. There were a few old pulps there too, and a lot of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines. I thought that store was a little slice of heaven and for a few coins I had been given the keys.
And my mother, bless her heart, she used to sew me Batman suits with cardboard inside the ears, though, in time, this didn't keep them from drooping until I looked a bit like a sad ear-cut Doberman with a constipation problem. She made for my nephew, who was close to my age, as my brother was seventeen when I was born and married not long after, a Robin suit. We were pretty damn cool, right there in Mt. Enterprise, waiting for crime to happen.
We did a lot of waiting. Back then there wasn't much crime in our part of the country, least that we knew about. Though our bank was robbed on occasion, and I remember hearing about that, thinking, well, where the hell were we? Not only did we not know about the robbery, unlike Batman who always seemed to be patrolling at just the right time, we wouldn't even have had our costumes with us if we had. It happened midday — admittedly not a classic time for our Bat hero — but no one sent up a signal or nothing. It was over and done with and we were at the house, enjoying our summer, either watching TV or wrestling in the yard, climbing the apple tree, pretending it was a spaceship. Hell, except for the Bat cowl, when all this happened, my suit was in the wash.
I began to believe my career as a crime fighter wasn't going to get off the ground.
But that writing thing, creating stories, I began to suspect it had chosen me, and that I had not chosen it, and that bitch was going to be a harsh but delightful mistress. Color poured into the world in a more constant fashion.
The reading of superhero comics led to my reading of other comics, and I suppose you could say more adult comics, like Classics Illustrated. These were wonderful and accurate and beautifully drawn and colored versions of classic literature. You'd be surprised what they adapted. Everything from H. G. Wells to Dickens, to all manner of books in-between; things a kid now wouldn't bother to examine, and may never have heard of.
Classics Illustrated led me to read the books from which they were adapted, when I could get my hands on books. They weren't readily available in small town East Texas. In fact, though I was born in Gladewater, my early years were spent in a town of 150 or so, called Mt. Enterprise. There was little enterprise to be found there, but I remember the place fondly, and it was a wonderful place for a kid to grow up. I felt like Huckleberry Finn, who didn't mind going home. And, in fact, I preferred to wind up in my room in my bed at night, perhaps to slip secretly into the living room to watch a late night movie, preferably science fiction, and all the better yet if space aliens were involved. Even better if they were the sort that were frightening and pissed off, and no friend of Earth. It made for a better story, and I was always drawn to that more than the "they don't really mean me any harm" aliens, though, on some level I liked it all.
Forbidden Planet, It Came from Outer Space, This Island Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, so many others, including one special bit of creepy nastiness, the original Invaders from Mars.
I had a bedroom that reminded me of Invaders. It had a back window that looked out on a back yard that also reminded me of the story, and not far away a stretch of woods. The movie came on late one night, on one of the three television stations available back then, one only available when the weather was a certain way and you held your mouth right and shifted your nuts to one side while you turned the antennae by hand.
I snuck into the living room to watch it, and it scared the bejesus out of me, didn't scar me, but tattooed me with deep, bright imagination ink leaking all the colors of the rainbow, and within the colors were dollops of delightful fear, sort you can get away from with the coming of sunlight, the passing of day, the immersion into something else. I liked this sensation.
I've seen the movie since, and it's still cool, but what's really good is the first twenty minutes or so, and the last few minutes. The middle minutes, with the aliens is a little less terrifying than I remember. Now I see the zippers and the men from Mars look a lot like guys in suits, and the master mind, a telepathic, tentacle-sprouting head in a jar, is like a sad octopus battling depression. And, of course, there's a portion lifted from what looks like an ad for the National Guard. Back then we believed the U.S. military could whip anybody and anything, including a bunch of zipper-suited Martians and their tentacle-headed leader.
Still, I love that movie. The power of the mind is great, and there was less to compare it to. No fantastic Star Wars effects and beyond, just simple suggestion and shadow. And now that I think about it, the film was in color, and yet it had a magnificent hint of noir about it, a surrealistic edge that seeps into my work a lot of the time.
Later on, a little older, I was hit the same way by the original black and white Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one that time doesn't damage, but in fact, makes creepier.
Wow! Got to get my breath. The memories are like arrows tipped with nostalgia, shooting straight through the heart.
Mt. Enterprise didn't have a library, though one was founded shortly before we moved, partly due to the interest of local women, like my mother, and the kind donation of someone with actual money. But before the library, there were only the occasional books given to me, or loaned to me, or on rare occasions, bought for me, due to their lack of availability in a town so small. There was the Bible, and I read it from cover to cover, and loved it, but realized rather quickly, like the Greek mythology I loved even more, it was nothing more than fantastic stories. Wonderful in their own way, but religion ... I was suspicious, and by the time I was seventeen, having read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times, loving the lilt of the language in the same way I love Shakespeare, it was pretty clear to me that there wasn't much reality in those pages. I liked the use of violence and horror and morality play, but for me it was a lot less fascinating and satisfying than the works of Homer. The old blind guy could tell a tale of foul and wounded and imperfect people and gods with the best of them. Better than the Bible. Better than Shakespeare. Homer, he was the bomb.
I lived inside of books — Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, loaned me by a lady across the street — and moved about in them, as if they were living tissue and I was their aching guts. I was especially fond of Saturday mornings, which for a kid is the magic day. I would get up early on Saturdays, and nothing was more disappointing than sleeping late, losing that wonderful day of the week. I'd jump up and my mother would fix me eggs and toast, and sometimes bacon, and I'd watch things like Fury, a story about a horse and the boy who loved him, or better yet, serials like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, both starring Buster Crabbe, with different hair shades. And best of all, Tarzan. I came to love Tarzan as much as Batman.
There were many Tarzans, but Johnny Weissmuller was my favorite, hands down. But I'd take any Tarzan I could get. Gordon Scott, Buster Crabbe (yep, same guy who played Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and many other heroes), whichever Tarzan movie and actor that was on Saturday morning TV. It's hard to see those movies now and think they were the same ones I saw. Because in my head, those black and white films, seen then, were in bright color and the jungles were rich and real and full of savagery. Tarzan, for me, was real. Lived in a cool tree house, had a funny chimpanzee for a pet named Cheeta, and a hot wife named Jane. I had some interesting dreams about that tree house and Jane. The chimp, Cheeta, I hasten to add, was not in those dreams.
And then there was the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Loved those guys. I always wanted to be Tonto. Maybe because I had heard we had Indian blood in the family. To this day, I don't know if that's true, but it's always been part of the family story, so perhaps it is; perhaps I am in fact Cherokee and Chickasaw, and perhaps Quanah Parker, the great Comanche War Chief, is kin to me by marriage.
Perhaps not, but these were part of the family stories, along with frontier tales of my kin traveling in covered wagons, going by horse, being pursued by panthers, bitten by snakes, fighting the elements and belligerent people; some of my people perhaps being the most belligerent of all.
Then came the building of that local library, and I read dog stories that told me dogs were noble and true and loyal and fine, and I believed it. I read adventure stories, and mystery stories, and horror stories, and finally, Edgar Rice Burroughs. The world really cracked open then, showed me dimensions that were sideways, threw me on a tilt-a-whirl full of magic that made all the magic before as small and dim as a birthday cake candle. It's hard to beat a world where all the women are beautiful and go naked, and men carry swords, monsters are slain, and it's all a simple morality tale. For boys, swords, naked women, and simple views are way cool. And did I mention naked women?
So you get the idea. I was dipped and battered and buttered and way deep fried in the idea of the hero; the idea that what was noble could stand against anything what was not; that a good man need do no more than put his chest out, keep his eyes lifted, and plod forward; bullies were cowards and dogs were your friends. Right against wrong. Good against evil. America against them.
And then, the sixties rose up over the horizon, head first, long-haired and skeptical, and things went topsy. I learned a valuable lesson. A lot of what I had been taught about right and wrong, the simplicity of it, the American view, was not exactly on the money. Certain dreams and illusions were crucified on the crosses of reality, and though some of those dreams climbed down from the cross, alive and breathing, if a little wounded, the dead ones remained dead, not risen, not reborn, just dead. Same as Jesus, I might add.
So, like the Lone Ranger, I rode on into the shadow of change, the nineteen-sixties, and when I rode out, I was a different person, still masked, still riding, but my clothes were ripped and dirty and the hat was gone, the long-haired head I now possessed was bowed, and the horse, man, he was tired. My view on dogs, though, even tired and barely mounted, has never changed. They're still way cool. And I suppose I have to mention cats in passing. I wish them the best, including my two, but I was never crazy about them.
Excerpted from The Best of Joe R. Lansdale by Joe R. Lansdale. Copyright © 2010 Joe R. Lansdale. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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