Kim Newman is best known for his alternate historical vampire novels in the Anno Dracula series, but he wrote, “Something more than the night(2021), a stand-alone that brings together Raymond Chandler and Boris Karloff. It’s both a tough, classic tale and an urban fantasy set in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
“Only the dead know Burbank(2016), by Bradford Tatum, follows a girl who survived the 1918 flu pandemic through magic 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 follow the evolution of the film industry over the decades.
“mermaid queenby Nghi Vo, which will be released this spring, is another title that takes place before Code Hollywood. Here, Luli Wei, a Chinese-American actress, faces typography and racism in her quest for stardom. In a world where magic deals are made to achieve beauty and immortality, and studio bosses are veritable monsters, reaching the top won’t be easy.
The life: Kim Newman is one of the UK’s foremost film critics, so her encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema comes as no surprise. I particularly like his opening salvo in “Johnny Alucard(the fourth in the “Anno Dracula” sequence), “Coppola’s Dracula.” Newman reimagines Coppola filming not “Apocalypse Now” in the Philippines, but “Dracula” in Transylvania (Martin Sheen is turned into a vampire midway through production after his heart attack on set). The only way to describe it is glorious. As Dracula (presumed dead in the third novel) comes back to life, he heads to Hollywood, where he meets Philip Marlowe, as well as Orson Welles, who had his own never-produced “Dracula” image.
And just as Welles also tried to adapt ‘Heart of Darkness’ (the Joseph Conrad novel that inspired Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), young British author Ned Beauman imagines a film crew traveling to a lost Mayan temple into the jungle to film – of all things – a slimy comic 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 never read it, let me plead for its “The teleportation accidenta tumultuous journey from Nazi Germany to Hollywood starring Egon Loeser, who fell in love with the inaccessible Adele Hitler (“No relationship!”). The title’s teleportation device remains a mystery for most of the novel, which sounds like a more fantastical version of the “Hail, Caesar!” of the Coen brothers.
Silvia: I’ve always wondered if Clive Barker – who directed and adapted a few of his own stories and novels – watched ‘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 plastic surgery and seeks refuge in the mansion of Katya Lupi, an actress who once made it big in silent films and remains mysteriously fresh. What follows is a mixture of grotesqueness, sex and violence. If you’ve always wanted Barker, but with a touch of Hollywood glamour, this is the book for you.
The life: Among the recent books, I really liked that of Mallory O’Meara “The Lady of the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick(2019). It’s not fiction, about one of Hollywood’s unjustly forgotten early monster-makers. I wish someone would do the same for Leigh Brackett, the science fiction writer who, as a Hollywood veteran, wrote both “The Big Sleep” (with William Faulkner) and, for years later, “The Long Goodbye”. In between, Brackett has written numerous sci-fi novels (and more than a few TV shows), and she deserves to be celebrated as another trailblazer.
Speaking of Hollywood novels, though, I think people forget”The princess to be marriedby the great screenwriter William Goldman. The story of the novel’s metafictional setting is very different from the film; it’s about a screenwriter, his failed marriage and estranged son. It’s wonderful and much darker than the movie. Tell us, dear reader, which film and fantasy stories do you like?