Kim Newman is best known for his alternate historical vampire novels in the Anno Dracula series, but he wrote Something More Than Night (2021), a standalone novel that brings together Raymond Chandler and Boris Karloff. It’s both a classic, hard-nosed narrative and urban fantasy set in Golden Age Hollywood.
Let’s talk about fantasy and sci-fi books that have fallen off the radar
Bradford Tatum’s Only the Dead Know Burbank (2016) follows a girl who magically survived the 1918 flu pandemic and has now become immortal. She finds work in the silent film industry in Germany before making the leap to Hollywood, essentially allowing the reader to trace the development of the film industry over the decades.
Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen, out this spring, is another title set in Pre-Code Hollywood. Here, Luli Wei, a Chinese-American actress, faces typography and racism on her quest for fame. In a world where magical businesses are shutting down to achieve beauty and immortality, and studio heads are literal monsters, making it to the top won’t be easy.
The living: Kim Newman is one of the UK’s leading film critics, so his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema comes as no surprise. I especially like his opening salvo in “Johnny Alucard” (the fourth of the “Anno Dracula” sequence), “Coppola’s Dracula”. Newman reinvents Coppola, shooting not Apocalypse Now in the Philippines but Dracula in Transylvania (Martin Sheen is turned into a vampire mid-production after his on-set heart attack). The only way to describe it is glorious. When Dracula (who is presumed dead in the third novel) comes back to life, he makes his way to Hollywood, where he meets Philip Marlowe and Orson Welles, who is working on his own never-produced “Dracula” film.
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And just as Welles attempted to adapt Heart of Darkness (the Joseph Conrad novel that inspired Coppola’s Apocalypse Now), young British author Ned Beauman envisions a film crew traveling to a lost Mayan temple in the Jungle travels to film – of everything – a screwball comedy version of the story in his 2017 novel Madness is Better than Defeat (a line from Welles’ screenplay). Beauman is endlessly inventive and the story twists and turns in unexpected ways. If you’ve never read him, let me plead his case for The Teleportation Accident, a riotous trip from Nazi Germany to Hollywood starring a certain Egon Loeser who has fallen in love with the unattainable Adele Hitler (“No Relationship!”). The title’s teleportation device remains a mystery for most of the novel, which feels like a more fantastical version of the Coen brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!”
Sylvia: I’ve always wondered if Clive Barker – who directed and adapted some of his own stories and novels – saw Death Becomes Her before writing Coldheart Canyon (2001). Or maybe the book is meant to be a riff on Sunset Boulevard. A movie star undergoes botched cosmetic surgery and takes refuge in the mansion of Katya Lupi, an actress who once made it big in silent movies and still looks mysteriously fresh. What follows is a mixture of grotesques, sex and violence. If you’ve always wanted Barker but with a dash of Hollywood glamour, this is the book for you.
The living: Among recent books, I really enjoyed Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick (2019). It’s non-fiction about one of Hollywood’s early and unjustly forgotten monster designers. I wish someone would do the same for Leigh Brackett, the Hollywood veteran sci-fi writer who wrote both The Big Sleep (starring William Faulkner) and The Long Goodbye years later. In the meantime, Brackett has written numerous sci-fi novels (and more than a few TV shows), and she deserves to be hailed as another pioneer.
Speaking of Hollywood novels, I think people forget about The Princess Bride by the great screenwriter William Goldman. The novel’s metafictional framing story is very different from that of the film; It’s about a screenwriter, his failed marriage and his distant son. It’s wonderful and much darker than the film. Tell us, dear reader, which stories of cinema and the fantastic do you like?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books include “Mexican Gothic“, “Velvet was the night” and “The Return of the Sorceress.” Lavie Tidhar’s latest novels are “The inhibition” and “The hood.”
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