Friday, November 4, 2022


I confess that Richard Zimler has long been one of my favourite contemporary authors. I'm a huge fan of HUNTING MIDNIGHT, THE LAST KABBALIST OF LISBON, and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LAZARUS (a/k/a THE LOST GOSPEL OF LAZARUS). I was excited to be able to pick up his newest novel in English, THE INCANDESCENT THREADS, while I was in London this summer. I'm an American, and this book doesn't come out in the US until November 7th this year (2022). I'm writing this brief review on November 4th, but I read the book in September. I often write reviews right after finishing a novel, but it seems that this one wanted to bounce around in my brain and ruminate.

I'm drawn to works related to the Holocaust. Although I'm not Jewish, I'm a gay man and gays were also persecuted literally to death by the German Nazi regime. I consider those unfortunate gay men to be my ancestors, in a sense, and so I relate deeply to all the innocent victims targeted by the Nazis, whether they were Jews, gays, Poles, Russians, POWs, the differently abled, the sick, the mentally ill, and of course their political opponents. I've read all 1600 pages of William Shirer's THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, which recounts everything from the Weimar era until just after the end of WWII. I've read many works of nonfiction and fiction related to the Holocaust. I'll never stop reading about it, because I never want to stop reading about it. In this sense, I may be different from many readers who feel reluctant to dive into literature about such a disturbing era.

For any such readers, I'd want them to know that THE INCANDESCENT THREADS is overall quite a positive novel, with an optimistic mood and some kind of faith in humanity in general, even if this faith is often borne out only by the actions of "a few" brave persons. I don't like to provide spoilers, so I won't. But even from the cover copy, you would learn that THE INCANDESCENT THREADS concerns itself with the lives of the only two members of a Polish Jewish family to have survived the Holocaust - two cousins, Benjamin and Shelly. Both happen to be very lucky. Benjamin is hidden away throughout most of the war by brave and kindly souls. Shelly manages by luck to escape Europe to a relative freedom in Algeria. They both later resettle in North America and grow their own relationships and their own families. Through a variety of points of view in this novel, via different members of their families, we learn all the amazing and wonderful facets of their lives, and how they've managed to keep the Zarco clan alive - together with stories of appalling tragedy and cruelty at the hands of Nazis and their collaborators. 

I cannot give any more details about the story without spoiling it. The writing is beautiful and poignant. All of the characters are well-rounded people, deftly drawn, and highly memorable. But I will say I found the novel highly relevant to today, when so many political lies are perpetuated all over the world at the expense of minority populations, who are so likely to face persecution when the indifferent majorities allow Fascists to come to power and then openly collaborate with these Fascists' goals. Contrary to these sinister forces still at work all around us, THE INCANDESCENT THREADS offers a testament to the courage and strength displayed by everyday normal human beings in the face of true evil. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. It will stay with me forever. THE INCANDESCENT THREADS deserves a wide readership.

Sunday, September 11, 2022


Peter Straub is one of my favorite authors. I was very sad to hear of his passing earlier last week. I grew up reading horror fiction, and without getting hooked on horror, I may not have progressed to reading other types of fiction. Peter Straub was one of the earliest horror writers I read - and that was GHOST STORY in the old Pocket Books paperback edition, which I read in 1980 when I was 13 years old. 

The first horror fiction I read was H. P. Lovecraft and other writers of Cthulhu Mythos stories, collected in TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS by Ballantine Books. After that, I bought SUCH STUFF AS SCREAMS ARE MADE OF by Robert Bloch, collecting some of his very best horror stories (Del Rey, 1979). The first horror novel I read was THE AMITYVILLE HORROR by Jay Anson, which scared the crap out of me, although it's not that well written. Still, it had an emotional effect on me and made me want more. Next was 'SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King in the original Signet paperback (with a scary cover). Next was King's THE SHINING, which I read in summer of 1980 just before Stanley Kubrick's film came out (and now, to this day, I am determined to read a good book before ever watching a cinematic adaptation, for good reason, since most movies of good books are not very good). 

The next horror novel I read was Straub's GHOST STORY - over a Christmas holiday - and I literally couldn't put it down. At one point, I curled up in front of a fire burning in our Franklin stove in the basement of our house in Laramie, Wyoming, thus reading a few chapters of GHOST STORY by pure firelight. This was a mistake, of course, as the book was almost too scary.

SHADOWLAND by Straub came out in paperback (Berkeley Books) soon after GHOST STORY, but somehow I didn't read it at the time. I did, however, purchase the hardcover first trade edition of FLOATING DRAGON when it came out in 1983. I bought it at Books-a-Go-Go in Laramie, where I'd also bought the Bloch book and 'SALEM'S LOT and THE SHINING and GHOST STORY. I read FLOATING DRAGON straight away, and found it disturbing, scary, suspenseful, elegant, and superior to any other horror novel I'd read by the time.

I started going to science fiction & fantasy conventions in 1981, and in 1983 I attended my first World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa, Ontario. In 1984, I also attended WFC, this time in Chicago, Illinois. I can't remember at which one, but I had brought my copy of FLOATING DRAGON with me and must have been carrying it around when I ran into the author in the lobby of the main convention hotel. Straub was dressed like an investment banker, looking very natty in a grey suit and tie. I worked up my courage and approached him, told him how much I loved FLOATING DRAGON, and asked him to sign my copy for me. 

As he scribbled out his inscription and signature, I told him that I really admired how he had deftly switched the point-of-view of the whole novel halfway through, going from third person to first person, when we suddenly discover that an actual narrator has been telling us the story in a faux third-person POV up until the point when he advises us he's going to tell us the rest from where he himself enters the narrative. Peter Straub said, with great glee, "No one has ever noticed that before!" I couldn't believe no one had ever noticed, but it's quite possible no one had ever had the guts to tell him. 

I told him I loved the book, and that it seemed to me that in FLOATING DRAGON he was trying to write the "everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink" horror novel to end all "everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink" horror novels (of which there were plenty by that time, as 'SALEM'S LOT had spawned a lot of those). He laughed and told me I was absolutely right.

I consider myself lucky to have been present at the World Fantasy Awards banquet when he won Best Novel for KOKO and received his beautiful Gahan Wilson-designed bust of H. P. Lovecraft. He gave a self-deprecating speech but seemed truly honored. Later that evening, I was attending a party given by Karl Edward Wagner in his hotel room, quite packed, and Peter Straub was there for much of the time. So I got to chat with him about KOKO as well, and got to congratulate him on his award. He was gracious and seemed truly touched.

Since then, I've read everything else he's ever written, including SHADOWLAND (which is moody and dreamlike and strange, but not perhaps as good as most of his other novels). My favorite novel of his is actually MR. X, which seems his most Lovecraftian novel although it is by no means limited to that. Now that Peter Straub is gone, it's most likely that the first of his books that I would pick up would be MR. X ... although a re-read of FLOATING DRAGON and GHOST STORY are also definitely in order. The books that make up the Blue Rose trilogy of KOKO, MYSTERY, and THE THROAT are also worth a re-read. I'll definitely be getting back to all of them, one of these days.

Last year, I bought a beautiful limited edition (in two volumes) of THE COMPLETE SHORT FICTION OF PETER STRAUB, from Borderlands Press, which I'm grateful to own, as all of his short fiction warrants a re-read as well.

R.I.P., Peter Straub. One of our best writers is gone.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022


Steve Neil Johnson
Steve Neil Johnson, a pioneering gay author of nine novels for adults, young adults, and children, died in Los Angeles on December 13, 2021, just one day shy of his 65th birthday. Most of his fiction was in the mystery/suspense genre and featured gay male protagonists. He was twice a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Mystery, for Final Atonement (1992) and The Yellow Canary (2012). For his contributions to gay literature, he was also honored by the ONE Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries.

Born in Seattle on December 14, 1956, Johnson grew up there but left in the early 1980s to move to New York City with, as he liked to put it, “just a backpack (with a pair of cowboy boots tied to the back).” While producing his writing in his off-time, he worked the typical writers’ assortment of odd jobs, assisting early AIDS researchers including Mathilde Krim, and working for the first openly lesbian District Attorney of Brooklyn, Elizabeth Holtzman, in the mid-1980s. It was at the latter job that he began formulating the ideas and characters that would form his first novel, Final Atonement, featuring gay homicide cop Doug Orlando, who would also appear in his second novel, False Confessions (1993).

In recent years, he completed a four-novel mystery series (The Yellow Canary, The Black Cat, The Blue Parrot, and The Red Raven) interweaving the changing lives of two gay male protagonists – one a prosecutor, one a vice cop – as they navigate the investigations of tricky murders and other crimes over the course of four decades of Los Angeles gay history, from the 1950s through the 1980s. Collectively, these books form The L.A. After Midnight Quartet.

He was also the author of a novel for young adults featuring a gay teen protagonist (Raising Kane), a standalone thriller (This Endless Night), and a children’s book (Everybody Hates Edgar Allan Poe!) under the pseudonym Rathbone Ravenford. Together with co-writer Gary Stephens, he also wrote several telenovelas, which included Palero.

Johnson moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1987, together with his boyfriend Don Hoover, who died of AIDS in early 1989. In October of that same year, Johnson met Lloyd Brown; the two got married in October 2014 (soon after gay marriage become legal in the United States), and Brown survives him. Johnson is also survived by a sister, Stephanie, and a brother, Gary, both of the Seattle area.

The cause of death was reported as complications from non–small cell lung cancer.

See also Johnson's web site:

(Photo is in Public Domain.)