Friday, April 16, 2010

Leader of the Banned Review

Just because Brian is a friend of mine doesn't mean I can't objectively review one of his books.  Generally speaking, you can be assured that everything he puts out is going to kick all kinds of ass, but if he fucks one up, you can rest assured ol' Bob will call him on it, if for no other reason than because he has such a history of quality that he can now safely be held to a higher standard than other authors.

Long-time fans will recognize Leader of the Banned as the fourth (and, we're told, final) installment in the non-fiction "Hail Saten" series.  Yes, we spell Saten with an "e" and the reason is given in Sympathy for the Devil: The Best of Hail Saten volume 1 (it's a story that involves hate mail from an illiterate, and well worth reading if you own a copy).  For those of you not in the know, here's the deal: starting right around the beginning of Brian's professional writing career, he started keeping a blog, collecting non-fiction essays on writing, the genre, life, love, failures, successes, and everything else he could think of.  The best of these essays have been collected in the four volumes of the Hail Saten series (Sympathy for the Devil, Running with the Devil, The New Fear, and Leader of the Banned).

Throughout the series, we've seen Brian at his best and his worst.  Readers have laughed at his crazy antics, cried at the low points, and thanked him for the information, the entertainment, and for being so open with his friends, fans, readers, and the horror community in general.

Stylistically, Brian's non-fiction reads like it was written by the bastard love child of Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen King, and a mutant badger.  I'm sure Brian would agree (in fact, mutant badger aside, he's admitted as much himself--I think he was planning to save that revelation for the fifth volume that we'll probably never see).  Sure, a lot of the stories are more fiction than they are fact, but that doesn't detract from the truths Brian reveals in his collections.  If you care about the horror genre, enjoy an entertaining story, or are simply curious what goes on in the mind of a professional writer, you'll find a lot of value in this book, and indeed, in the entire series.

Which brings us to the sad part: this volume four is marketed as the final volume for a reason.  Genre politics, business, a visit from the federal government, and assorted other factors prompted Brian to bring Hail Saten to an end in 2008.  Sure, he still maintains a blog, but it's not the same snarky Hunter Thompson-esque, mutant badger influenced rant-fest it once was.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, and one certainly can't hold the decision against Brian (it's the same decision any of us would have made, I'm sure), but the material posted these days probably wouldn't make a very entertaining collection of essays.  The events leading up to its closure are detailed in this book, alongside some never-before seen material that the fans are sure to eat up.  It even includes "If I Were President," the very essay that landed Brian on a government watch-list and provoked a visit from a federal agent, including his description of that particular affair.  Read this book, and you'll get the inside scoop on what's been happening to the horror genre, and why it seems to be collapsing all around us (a topic I wrote at length on myself recently, posted to this very blog, and then deleted the following day because I decided I really didn't feel like naming names, despite how incredibly pissed I was at a particular turn of events).

To be perfectly honest, despite quite a few laugh out loud moments, this is a much more serious book than its three predecessors.  And it should be.  Because in the era of the New Fear, described in the third volume, sometimes someone has to say some unpleasant truths.  Brian's book will make you look some of these unpleasantries in the eye, and it's a very good thing that needed to be done.

Read for entertainment.
Read for information.
Read because it'll make you look cool.
Read because it's important.
Read because if you don't, mutant zombie badgers will kill you in your sleep.

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