Even though this is my first Tony Burgess read, I'm not exactly a Burgess virgin. He's a bit of a cult figure in Canada, thanks largely in part to the...more Even though this is my first Tony Burgess read, I'm not exactly a Burgess virgin. He's a bit of a cult figure in Canada, thanks largely in part to the iconic zombie flick Pontypool, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything. Confession time: I've seen the movie (it's brilliant), but I never got around to reading Burgess's book. Or anything else by him either. Until now.
Sweet Jebus. I was dimly aware of his reputation as a gore master, a mad splatter genius who frequently pushes boundaries of decency and sanity every chance he gets. It's a reputation well-deserved. Reminiscent of another iconic Canadian's early work -- David Cronenberg -- Burgess delves into body horror in such a way to disarm the reader and distress the shit out of you.
It's not a mere gross out that's easily dismissed as senseless pulp either, but an exercise in relentless brutality that leaves you mentally and emotionally floundering. In a lot of ways, reading The n-Body Problem reminded me of Kafka's The Metamorphosis because I was left feeling similarly shuddering and sad. (view spoiler)[The narrator's fate as an armless, legless torso mummy wrapped and encased in glass is a metamorphosis that leads to much the same kind of alienation and dehumanization experienced by Gregor Samsa. Except the ultimate fate of the narrator here is so much worse, if such horrors can indeed be quantified. (hide spoiler)]
This isn't a book I would easily recommend. It's Grade A disturbing, and very much not nice. I repeat: This is not a nice book. It doesn't want to hold your hand, or stroke your hair. Or make you laugh and feel better about life's absurdities. It wants to show you something very dark and nasty, about humans, about death, about our fear of death and extinction. Approach with caution -- and a very strong stomach. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Abandoning this one at about the 50% mark. I gave it the ol' college try, but turns out this really ain't for me. Densely written, huge passages of wo...more Abandoning this one at about the 50% mark. I gave it the ol' college try, but turns out this really ain't for me. Densely written, huge passages of world-building (and terraforming), but not enough of a propulsive plot or engaging characters to keep me turning the pages. (less)
It used to be I'd pick up any zombie book and be easily entertained. I mean, c'mon -- zombies...s'all good, right? But as I get older, with a gluttono...more It used to be I'd pick up any zombie book and be easily entertained. I mean, c'mon -- zombies...s'all good, right? But as I get older, with a gluttonous trail of consumed zombie books left in my wake, I've become a lot more discriminating and hyper-critical. And the simple reason for that is I have proof that zombiescan beamazing. And once you know that, there's no going back to the good ol' days when merely okay was good enough.
Which brings us to The End Games: a debut novel riding the tsunami-sized zombie popularity wave onto our to-read piles. At least onto mine. In short: there are some great action scenes, a few plot-twists I haven't seen before, and an endearing relationship shared between big brother Mike and five-year-old Patrick. But overall, it still felt average and meh. It certainly didn't blow my skirt up or leave me panting for more. I won't run out and scream for all my zombie-loving friends to get their greedy hands on a copy asap.
It was fine. It was okay. But these days, I'm looking for so much more than that. (less)
Patrick Ness is a magnificent storyteller and master wordsmith in possession of a vibrant imagination. His Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously uniqu...more Patrick Ness is a magnificent storyteller and master wordsmith in possession of a vibrant imagination. His Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously unique and exciting, and his A Monster Calls brought me to my knees with its merciless emotional elegance and purity of Truth.
More Than This shows glimpses of greatness, but never quite reaches that level of soul-satisfying, heart-stopping, mind-melting resolution for me. It's an existential tale of seeking -- the search for meaning, for Truth, for understanding and forgiveness and discovery of self -- where redemption and final destination are displaced for the all important journey. This is a story without a climax, a story which poses many questions and offers no definitive answers.
The characters are great. I loved them. Especially Tomasz. I want an entire book just of that kid. Seth's back story and his relationship with Gudmund (while taking up very few pages of the novel) burns bright, so vivid, so emotional. I quickly became astonishingly invested in their story after only a few scenes, in what they meant to each other and how they expressed their thoughts and feelings. So tenderly realized. There were times I did not want to return to the "other story" going on, I so wanted to stay with these two and find out everything about them -- everything that came before and everything to come after.
Patrick Ness, you need to write a love story. I believe you have it in you to break all of our hearts.
But this is not that book. This is something else. It defies categorization, and sometimes that's a wonderful, brilliant thing. Here, I'm left feeling a little let down and yearning for more. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black, Why you never see bright colors on my back, And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone. Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on. "The Man In Black", Johnny Cash
Marvel's ambitious undertaking to adapt King's magnum opus has been hit or miss for me. The first five volumes (essentially a re-telling of Book IV - Wizard and Glass) did not work for me, most likely because Wizard and Glass is my least favorite of the series. While I eventually grew to appreciate the story for what it is, young Roland will never beat out long, tall and ugly Roland. So I actually skipped over Volumes 3-5 and didn't pick up the graphic novel series again until Volume 6 The Journey Begins.
I was so relieved and super-psyched to resume the story as it's finally reached The Gunslinger. Roland’s young battles are behind him, all has been lost, and he is now on the road to the Dark Tower as a solitary traveler, embittered, battle-weary, with no tears left to shed. This is the Roland I adore. This is who I want to read about and see captured in the panels of graphic novel.
In the previous volume, Roland finally meets up with Jake, and I loved how the Way Station encounter is handled. This volume focuses on the slow mutants attack and ends with Roland's palaver with the Man in Black himself.
I did not hate this volume by any stretch, but the series is now venturing into sacred territory and I didn't cotton to several of the storyline alterations. Not to mention, most of the art was just...not good. Inconsistent shall we say. I didn't like how in some panels Jake and Roland are very chiseled and there while in other panels they're barely there at all, kind of just shadowy impressions, blurry lines and all.
While I wanted to love the prolonged and "extra" interactions between Jake and Roland, something seemed not quite right about how they were speaking to each other. I can't put my finger on it really. But my gut just wouldn't leave it alone. And the climatic "go then, there are other worlds than these" scene fell flat for me. I didn't feel the punch or the emotionality I should have.
The last section capturing Roland's fireside conversation with The Man In Black is well executed. It strays little, if at all, from the original source material, a lot of the text lifted right from King's novel. Still, there are gaps even in this pivotal scene that I wish weren't there.
It's probably a mistake to read these graphic novels and judge them against King's books. Different format and all that, but I can't help it. And while I'm desperate for more Dark Tower, I'm probably much better off to just go and read the novels again rather than trying to find solace and satisfaction in the colored panels of a comic. A re-read is definitely on the table, but I will stick it out with the graphic novels too. When and where they've worked, I've been extremely pleased. (less)
I'm going to tell you two things that made me want to read this book:
1) The cover - I mean, c'mon...how kick-ass creepy is this?
2) The first sentence...more I'm going to tell you two things that made me want to read this book:
1) The cover - I mean, c'mon...how kick-ass creepy is this?
2) The first sentence of the book jacket description: "A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother's neck and fires."
Creepy, evil kids doing creepy evil things is usually a win for me. So it was a foregone conclusion that I would dive into this book with abandon.
First of all -- it isn't horror, despite the cover and the book jacket description. It's more a mash-up of mystery sci-fi with a philosophical bent to it. There are creepy parts, but those are almost incidental to the book's defined purpose. And what is that purpose?
The writing is great. Liz Jensen knows what to do with words. Hesketh Lock is a remarkable character study of a person living with Asperger's Syndrome. I'm no expert by any means (and maybe it's a terribly erroneous portrait), nevertheless I appreciated the attention to detail. I found Hesketh's way of looking at the world and interacting with it endlessly fascinating.
The book opens with Hesketh being sent to different countries on various continents to investigate cases of industrial sabotage. It's not entirely clear how these financially devastating actions by valued employees are even related to the other disturbing cases occurring at the same time of children murdering their caregivers. Hence the mystery. But Hesketh is on the case and with his very unusual brain and the aid of Venn diagrams moves closer to the truth with each passing day.
Even up to the three-quarter mark I was still chomping at the bit to uncover what the hell was really going on. I needed to know. Things were going from bad to worse. What could be behind it all? Demons? Aliens? Time-traveling scientists? So many cryptic clues, hinting at something universally "big" in a space-time-evolutionary way.
I was ready for it. I believed in the author. It felt like she had a plan. I trusted her. Even with a mere 10 pages left and no definitive climax or resolution in sight, I was only slightly worried and concerned.
Ever watch an overwrought, existential and confused piece of French cinema replete with embedded themes and imagery and allegory that you were supposed to "get" but didn't, and then the end title comes up and looks like this:
And then you shout at the screen and shake your fist: What the bleep?! You fume and even cry real tears. Because you realize no one's going to tell you the answer. Oh no. You will have to guess, extrapolate, surmise and theorize, with your friends, or worse still, with the obnoxious douche you have to work with every day.
Well piss on that. If that's what I wanted to spend my time doing I would have gotten my PhD in goddam philosophy. I can tolerate some ambiguity, but by and large I don't like it. It aggravates me. I'm reading for answers and resolution, not for more questions and uncertainty. Ambiguity stinks. Ambiguity is not my friend. Which is also probably why David Lynch movies make me want to stab somebody, him mostly.
So for a horror novel, that turned out to be a mysterious sci-fi piece that turned out to be an exercise in pointless philosophy showcasing an excruciatingly ambiguous ending -- two stars. (less)
I don't get it. Were my expectations just too unreasonable? An okay premise with promise that's all too simplistically delivered. The twists aren't re...more I don't get it. Were my expectations just too unreasonable? An okay premise with promise that's all too simplistically delivered. The twists aren't really twists. The setup and foreshadowing is so heavy-handed nothing felt truly out of left field (like every M. Night movie since The Sixth Sense). (view spoiler)[And do I really have to buy into the gob-smacking coincidence that THE Ben Parrish -- Cassie's unrequited crush from high school -- becomes her baby brother's protector in the alien military complex that's the most important one on the continent? (hide spoiler)]
Eh. Just couldn't do it my friends. My cup of cynicism runneth over. But I swear it's not entirely my fault. It's true I do find it difficult to love pure plot-driven books. I harbor a reader need to love and care about the characters (or at least find them interesting should they be vile). That just wasn't happening here. All the characters are unfortunately pretty bland and uninspiring, and running around doing and saying the oddest things at the most head-scratching of times. I also didn't buy into the romance angle. The chemistry (there wasn't any) just fizzled and epically failed. Once you've seen it done well elsewhere, it becomes impossible to settle for anything less.
For an 'aliens/trust no one' invasion type story, this did not carry any of the gravity and sophistication of a classic sci-fi tale. This is no Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The War of the Worlds. And I'm not letting it off the hook for this just because it's written for teens: some of the best books I've ever read have been written for teens. I never lower my standards or my expectations just because what I happen to be reading has been classified as Young Adult.
Maybe I'm just cranky. Maybe I just wished I was reading about zombies instead. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Bottom line, this book has *a lot* to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists....more Bottom line, this book has *a lot* to recommend it: it is a dark, dream-like, post-apocalyptic landscape with sharp turns and compelling plot twists. I experienced a few moments of genuine shock (remarkable for a jaded reader like myself) and not once did I ever want to stop reading. I just had to know how it was all going to come out. The only way to really know if this book is for you is to go on this journey with Zoe, our narrator, and see for yourself.
This is one of those books that when I finished it, I sat for a moment and didn't know quite what to do with myself, pondering "what the hell did I just read?"
Zoe is a difficult narrator to get to know. She speaks and thinks in metaphors and similes (more on that later). Part of her story is constructed of remembrances of things past -- the THEN -- the other half is told in urgent tones of events unfolding in the moment -- the NOW. While Zoe's story is sympathetic, it took me a long while to warm up to her, even when the only religion she has in this dead and deformed new world is to hold on to the last remnants of her humanity. This means rushing in to "do the right thing" even when the choice to do so is stupid, dangerous or even meaningless.
But her compulsion brings some interesting people into her fractured life, and some monsters as well.
About those metaphors and similes? This is probably what irritated me the most about the book, for if a strong-willed editor had cut half of the flowery phrases from the myriad of thousands to choose from I could see myself giving the novel four stars no problem. Unfortunately, all of the "like a" and "as a" sentences often took me right out of the story, standing out like heavy oak coffee tables that you stub your toe on in the middle of the night (see what I did there?)
Not all of the language in this book makes you want to howl and curse in pain. Some of it is quite beautiful, poetic, startling even. It creates a pall over the story, a tension and a mystery. Zoe's dreamlike narration made me feel like I was moving through heavy water. When the jolts come (and they do, trust me), they really bite you because you've been lulled into a state of complacency.
I did warm up to Zoe eventually, and I keened for a happy ending. White Horse is the first book of a planned trilogy, but the good news is, it ably stands as a complete and satisfying story for those readers wary of committing to yet another series. (less)
David Moody fans (or sci-fi junkies) will be pleased to note that he has made this title available online for free at this website until about the end...more David Moody fans (or sci-fi junkies) will be pleased to note that he has made this title available online for free at this website until about the end of January. And it's pretty damn fine. Not as strong as Hater, but perhaps it isn't even fair to compare the two because in a lot of ways they are very different stories.
Imagine if you will your average particle accelerator -- the Hadron Collider if you please. But instead of smashing sub-atomic particles into one another, let's say you're David Moody and you decide you want to take Shaun of the Dead and violently crash it into M. Night's Signs and Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind until you're left with this existential, entertaining mash-up of a story that's reflective, funny, and chilling in its probabilities.
Tom Winter is your average English bloke who has left his high pressure job in the city and retreated to the very small coastal town of Thatcham. His parents have recently died and he and his younger brother are trying to put their lives back together. Into this small town an unidentified aircraft of behemoth size deposits aliens from an advanced civilization. They claim they have come in peace. They claim they only want our help to get home. But are they telling the truth?
Moody is not giving us an action-packed, pulse-pounding story about an alien invasion here; rather, he's focusing on the psychological and philosophical ramifications of human behavior in the face of a peaceful close encounter of the third kind. It's pretty interesting actually the way characters behave, how they gradually grow to accept the aliens as non-threatening visitors, the questions it makes them ask of themselves and of one another, the deep desire to weigh in on meatier moral issues and "the meaning of life."
It's a slow build that did feel like it goes on a little too long in parts. I started to get a bit twitchy; I just wanted something to happen. In a way, that's very effective writing though. If the aliens do land in peace and it turns out to be pretty innocuous and ordinary, our human reaction might very well be to wish for something more outlandish and mind-blowing. This can't be all there is? Surely, there's something else to occur.
When the direction of the story does change, it happens abruptly and is over quickly. I guess I wish there had been more of a balance between the first three parts and parts four and five. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it though, or that I don't appreciate what Moody is trying to do here, I just longed for more B-movie action and less navel-gazing character angst. (less)
This is the second installment of Atwood's great serial ebook experiment, and I'm definitely hooked. Choke Collar is an entertaining blend of dark hum...more This is the second installment of Atwood's great serial ebook experiment, and I'm definitely hooked. Choke Collar is an entertaining blend of dark humor mixed with delicious hints of dystopia dangers. I'm thoroughly enjoying the pacing and the when and the how Atwood is choosing to reveal things. I'm being pretty conservative with my star ratings so far, but that's only because I know the story is only barely getting warmed up. Don't let my three stars keep you from picking this up. Three stars in this case is not a reflection of "meh mediocrity" but rather "hmmmm...interesting. I want more please."
I love the nasty implications of "social experiments" gone horribly wrong, or hijacked for other nasty purposes. Humans do weird things when they are rigidly controlled. It is not in our nature it seems to respond well to being mere mice in a maze. Both Stan and Charmaine are great examples of this as they persist in their debauched extra-curricular activities.
(view spoiler)[Charmaine is fascinating to me as she continues to have her lurid affair with "Max" while she plays happy housewife with Stan yet still finds the time to take pride in her day job. Even though her day job is killing people by lethal injection, Charmaine finds the romance in it. She believes she has a "talent" -- and has even added her own personal touches -- the kiss on the forehead -- to a very ritualized procedure. It's amazing what can become "normal" under the right, twisted circumstances.
Stan is an ass, but I have to think much of his dysfunction and outright more unlikeable qualities are a result of Consilience than his natural character. He certainly paid for his pervy, lustful obsession with a woman who turned out to only exist in his imagination. Jocelyn is quite the bird too. A dominatrix flair with a Black Widow sting, and I found myself laughing helplessly at Stan's fate when he unwittingly falls into her spider trap and particular brand of torture.
The 'big reveal' offers a satisfying cliffhanger -- organ trafficking? Sweet. What will happen to Stan? Will Charmaine "kill him"? What will he do if he makes it outside the walls of Consilience? Does Stan even have it in him to be a hero? Is that even what Jocelyn and Phil really want or are they setting him up for something else? (hide spoiler)]
Ah Ms. Atwood. We meet again. You and I haven't been getting along so well of late. The Blind Assassin? Oryx and Crake? I tried to love them but it wa...more Ah Ms. Atwood. We meet again. You and I haven't been getting along so well of late. The Blind Assassin? Oryx and Crake? I tried to love them but it was not meant to be. But here we are. At last you've given me a tantalizing premise that I just can't walk away from. A dark future? Yes please. A sinister dystopian landscape dressed in idealistic utopian clothing? Tell me more!
While this first installment is short and sweet and only begins to hint at sinister shenanigans, I'm hooked already and will be sticking around for the duration. What I love about any well-constructed dystopia, is its construction. The devil is in the details. I love a slow reveal. I want a bit of foreplay. But then you had better be able to deliver on what you're promising!
I figure at this point in her writing career, I'm in good hands with Atwood and this crazy vision for the future she's concocted. I'm ready to go along for the ride anyway. I respect her tremendously as an author despite some painful misses, and The Handmaid's Tale has a permanent spot on my all-star team of favorites. Dystopias are my crystal meth, and Atwood's classic tale about reproductive rights is 'the blue stuff' -- Heisenberg grade if you kennit.
So far we have a kinky story going on that seems more lustful than outright unnerving and paranoid. But already I'm getting Stepford vibes that something is rotten in the the state of Consilience. Oh my my, Ms. Atwood, what do you have up your sleeve?(less)
I have a book shelf named "what the bleep" for books that unexpectedly shock my delicate sensibilities, blow my mind, and/or turn it into a pretzel. S...more I have a book shelf named "what the bleep" for books that unexpectedly shock my delicate sensibilities, blow my mind, and/or turn it into a pretzel. Sometimes the "what the bleep" is shouted in disgust or disappointment (as in -- this book sucks and the weirdness cannot save it). Other times, I shout it with glee for books that break my brain or tickle it so deliciously I can't help rubbing my hands together and cackling like a villain ripped from the pages of a Marvel comic.
I am delighted to report that '14' by Peter Clines is of the latter variety. It truly is a Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. I think what I loved most about this book is that it doesn't play by any fucking rule book whatsoever. It's horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and episodes of Friends mixed with Scooby-Doo and the movie Singles all rolled up into one. It should be a bloody, confused mess, but IT ISN'T. Once it really gets going, it shimmies and jives like John Travolta boogying his way through Saturday Night Fever, with pizzazz and fervor and purpose. And a HUGE side helping of crazy pants.
And it TAKES ITS TIME. Oh, how I love it when a writer can give me some literary foreplay I can work with. Clines lays on the mystery quite thick in the early stages. There's something going on, with lots of hints and just enough reveals to keep us interested and reading on with bated breath. But for a long, long, time Clines keeps the mystery unsolved. The stakes get higher and higher. And the reveal -- while a creaky house of cards and not built of perfection -- is supremely shocking and satisfying. At least it was for me.
This book is a celebration of weird and wacky, finding the fun and the supremely creepy all in one place. Clines borrows from a lot of different sources including Lovecraft, House of Leaves, and John Dies at the End, and cooks it all up in an unforgettable stew of unique flavors and textures. He's a guy to watch. Read this book. (less)
The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love...more The very short and dirty review for this collection could be -- when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is bad it is horrid.
I did not love all these stories equally. In fact, several verged on epic fail for me. Which is not hard to do. I am probably the worst reader of short stories. However, those that did work sent me into such shuddering, paroxysms of delight there are no words to express my infinite admiration. My favorites worked so exquisitely on a sub-atomic, cellular level that I immediately wanted to catch a red eye to Vegas and marry them no questions asked, no pre-nup, with Elvis Presley looking on curling his lip in approval. Thank you, thank you very much. My five stars is the only way I can think of to reflect that boundless joy. Is it for every story? Absolutely not. But I have no problem letting those five stars stand.
My first introduction to Kij Johnson was in June 2011 when I read her short story Ponies. It tickled something very profound in my imagination and gave a real goose to my pleasure center (at least the part of my brain that perpetually craves dark and disturbed). Funny thing is, I picked up this collection based solely on the cover and title. I didn't even notice that the author is the very same author who had impressed me with her little diddy about prepubescent girls and their pet ponies. When I finally put the two together in an "a-ha, duh" moment, saying I was pleased would be quite an understatement.
Kij Johnson is a bit of a mad scientist in her approach to storytelling. There is folklore, magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, fable, myth and legend. That sounds messy and confusing, and it should be. It should be a disastrous, alchemical experiment that blows the whole meth lab sky high. But somehow she makes it work, each story its own landscape playing by its own rules. She blends things in ways that made me think of how van Gogh saw sunflowers and starry nights. Even where I floundered, and did not appreciate the final destination, her prose ran like silk across the neurons of my brain, stroking them into a blissed out reader high.
Kij Johnson is on my radar. I will most definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her strange and wonderful words.
My two favorite stories of the collection are available online for free:
Ponies: If you haven't already, read this weird and deranged tale about youthful female rites of passage and the more brutal realities of fitting in. This is a macabre spin on the innocence lost theme delivered with cutting precision that slices deep.
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss: This one made me laugh with its whimsy and weep with its melancholy. I don't even know how to describe everything it made me feel actually. Aimee becomes the proprietor of 26 monkeys and a series of circus acts. Her biggest trick is that she makes all the monkeys vanish onstage. Where do the monkeys go? She does not know. All Aimee knows is that they return to her a few hours later bearing little trinkets from wherever they have been. The ending? Perfection in eight little words.
Honorable mentions must go to:
Names for Water - a phone call from unknown origin that whispers like water. I don't know if everyone will love the resolution here, but it gave me goosebumps.
Fox Magic - an Asian-themed fable about love's blindness. A fox falls in love with a man and lures him away from his human life.
Dia Chjerman's Tale - short, almost purely science fiction tale with apocalyptic overtones. There is a vibe of dread here that I really grooved on.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees - I'm usually not one for magical realism (sometimes I'm not even sure if I'm applying the term correctly), but there's a real dreamy quality to this one that almost hypnotized me. A woman follows a literal river of bees to its mouth. What will be waiting for her when she finally gets there? I'm thinking pet owners (and dog lovers) will find this one especially poignant. (less)