With titles such as Aloha From Hell and Kill the Dead, it’s clear that Richard Kadrey’s “Sandman Slim” novels are not for the faint of heart, something that should be equally clear from just looking at the author. If the photo’s not enough of a clue, Kadrey might be the most horror-author-looking horror author alive, an intimidating figure covered with elaborate tattoos, including runes burned scar-style into his knuckles.
Of course, he’s much nicer than he looks, or than his books would indicate. Kadrey, who’ll be appearing on behalf of his latest novel, Kill City Blues (Harper Collins, $24.99) at Flyleaf Books tonight, is a pleasant, even congenial fellow, even when discussing his passion for Grand Guignol levels of violence in his books.
“I’m not someone who’s really into writing hardcore social realist literature,” Kadrey says. “There’s plenty of people who are great at that, and I’m not one of them. I’m not John Updike, and I never will be.”
Kill City Blues is the fifth book in the “Sandman Slim” series, about a magician who’s escaped Hell seeking vengeance. Slim’s saga has escalated to the point where the probable destruction of the universe is a major plot point, with humor, violence and cultural references abounding (one of the last lines in Kill City Blues is Slim musing that “A universe without Terrence Malick and Lucio Fulci isn’t worth living in”).
“He’s what William Gibson called a ‘post-literate man’ in Neuromancer,” says Kadrey. “Though he was in Hell for 11 years, and while there he had to read a few books.”
His next work is due out in November, a YA novel called Dead Set, about a 16-year-old girl who encounters a record store where the vinyl holds the souls of the dead. It’s a different style for Kadrey (he’s already talked with librarians to make sure it’s shelved separately from the ultra-violent Slim series), though both books deal with the line between the living and dead worlds, something Kadrey says is a “modern mythology” with its roots in classic storytelling: “It’s a combination of a fairy tale and the big philosophical questions — what is life? Is there an afterlife? How does this affect how we live our lives and relate to other people? And of course there’s that mythological quality.”
For Sandman Slim’s tales, Kadrey reaches to the tradition of the classic pulp novels, which he calls “modern fairy tales.”
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it was a chance to play with the kind of over-the-top worldview you find in those books, and the over-the-top possibilities in those worlds,” Kadrey says.
“You can go back to something as obvious as James Bond and supervillians—the idea that there’s some lunatic somewhere with a home base built into a volcano is just a wonderful, wonderful thing to get to play with. It’s the same thing as with the Spaghetti Westerns—the almost kabuki-like violence and ritual behaviors among these characters.
“I’d rather see lunacy than everyday life. I believe that pulp tradition is pure imagination—it’s the real world, but with lunatic imagination put on top of it.”
Richard Kadrey will read from and sign copies of Kill City Blues at 7 p.m. tonight at Flyleaf Books. For more information or to reserve a copy, call 919-942-7373 or visit www.flyleafbooks.com.