Q Island is a novel about an epidemic. It is not a zombie novel. I wanted to make that clear at the beginning because the virus that is taking over LoQ Island is a novel about an epidemic. It is not a zombie novel. I wanted to make that clear at the beginning because the virus that is taking over Long island in Russell James’ intelligent and exciting novel does develop zombie-like traits in the unfortunate people that get it. One stage of the disease gives its victim an insane style of rage that take over and, like zombies, inflicted injury on others just make more victims. To this reader, that is slightly unfortunate because it is not the “zombie” that is the center of the story. It is the reaction of those bought together for good or bad by the plague that moves it along so effortlessly and memorably. The ability to get beyond the zombie formula and look at the people who struggle through or exploit the catastrophe is the strength of the book. Q Island is part horror, part thriller and part disaster novel. All parts are equal and high quality. In other words, Q Island is a treat to read and an on-the-edge-of-your-seat experience.
Once the epidemic is raging, the author focuses on mainly three main protagonists. Dr. Samuel Bradshaw is the one who first experiences the unfortunate people who get the disease. He is tempting to find a cure but discovers other dubious things going on. Melanie Bailey and her autistic son are trapped on Long Island, where the government has isolated the virus and quarantined the population. She has a reason to risk escaping from the island. And lastly, Jimmy Wade is a petty criminal who discovers the virus affects him differently and uses the unique effects to wage his own kind of evil. The author follows each character separately and merges them into the rest of the big picture of the inhabitants of Long Island suffering the deadly and seemingly unstoppable plague.
One of the joys in the novel early on is when James describes how the virus originates. I am not going to say what it is, even though you learn in the first two chapters, because it is so clever and imaginative I want you to experience it for yourself. But it does reveal is that the author is not a run of the mill formula writer. Q Island is full of little twists that sets it apart from the pack of usual apocalypse/zombie/virus clones out there. If the authors throw out an unexplained far-fetched effect that seem a bit out of place, I can forgive it because it moves along a story that is tight to begin with. Couple that with some nicely written and continuously developing characterizations and you have a winner.
So what we have is a novel that involves and entertains with a high dose of horror and thrills but doesn’t talk down to the readers. It is a welcome change from the mainstream drivel yet reads easily and moves fast. In other words, it is a good summer read for the discerning reader. This book warrants an enthusiastic recommendation but also a warning. Protective body suits are not included. You will feel so much in the action, you might think you need one. ...more
Novelizations are always a little tricky to review. The entire idea of novelizing a film seems a bit odd. You are taking a separate art form and placiNovelizations are always a little tricky to review. The entire idea of novelizing a film seems a bit odd. You are taking a separate art form and placing outside its intended existence. You could say that about going from novel to film too. Yet while filmmakers strive, in theory, to form a different creation using all the nuances of sight and sound, the act of novelizing too often comes across as simply another way to exploit and create merchandise to sell. That isn’t to say that it can’t be literature although frankly, I cannot think of one novelization that makes it so. But they can be entertaining and, at best, can add some insight to the characters and action that the reader may have already seen on film. Off the top of my head I can think of a few novelizations that do that very thing well: The Howling by Gary Brandner and Dennis Etchison’s Halloween II and III and The Fog writing under the pseudonym of Jack Martin come to mind. These are examples of good novelizations of horror movies that stand alone as novels and add a little something extra to the films.
Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow is a novelization of Romero’s classic film of the same name. The film and book originally came out in 1978. This edition from Gallery Books is a reprint published in May of 2015 and comes with an introduction by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead). It’s an entertaining intro but it doesn’t really add anything of note to either the film or the novel. But I doubt anyone will buy the book for the introduction. So how about the book itself?
Unfortunately Dawn of the Dead, the book, does not fare well either. In fact, it is downright abysmal. It does not add anything to our understanding of the film nor is it very entertaining. It follows the film action quite closely but almost to the point of sounding like a exhausted writer reciting a bored treatment. When we do get details that are not in the movie and should help move it along, it is of all the wrong areas. For instance we get detail after detail of our anti-heroes walking through the mall but their inner thoughts and motivation remain cartoonish with no real insight beyond what we saw in the film. What troubled me is that the film itself was full of subtle touches. Much of what is happening as the characters survive and fight the zombies in the stereotypical world of the shopping mall comes across as a satirization of our own consumer driven society. None of this makes it into print. What we get is a not very well written account of “they did that and then they did this”. There is just bad writing throughout the book. The author will switch between two or even three characters doing something in entirely different parts of the mall all in one paragraph. It makes for a very badly structured and confusing narration.
The novelization of Dawn of the Dead has little horror, little suspense, and little emotion. Those few who read the book without knowing the movie will be confused and bored by the haphazard writing. Those who saw the film will be better off passing it up altogether. The film itself is a classic and a must see for anyone who loves horror movies. For that matter, it is a must see for anyone who loves movie making. But novelizations like this one not only add nothing to the aura of the film but does the movie and the filmmaker a grave injustice, no pun intended. ...more
Philip Tarot is a fake psychic who witnesses a murder in an Edinburgh graveyard while visiting the grave-site of his deceased wife. At first he wantsPhilip Tarot is a fake psychic who witnesses a murder in an Edinburgh graveyard while visiting the grave-site of his deceased wife. At first he wants to report the murder but realizes that claiming he saw it in a psychic vision would be a boost for his career. At first the detectives are skeptical but when the murderer is caught, Philip becomes a hero and a celebrity. But it also places him in the sights of The Sorority, an occult group going back to Aleister Crowley and now headed by his granddaughter. They are using a series of murders to start a chain of events that will change the world for the worst. He also gets the attention of Iona Kyle, a real occultist and psychic, who knows the extreme danger he is in.
Dark Equinox is best described as a paranormal mystery. There is very little that is horrific about the plot and it travels well frequented paths in the occult and supernatural thriller genres. The author Ian Jarvis moves the action well although I would preferred a little more action and less verbal explanations at times. His best quality is the ability to bring Edinburgh to life. He combines action with place quite well. Yet there was an old fashioned feel to some to the dialogue. I had to keep reminding myself that most of the novel is set in present day rather than the 40s, where the prologue is set. Dark Equinox is titled “Book one of the Iona Kyle series“ yet Iona is not the main character nor the most interesting. Most of the pleasure in this novel centers on Philip Tarot, a morally ambiguous man whose love for his teenage daughter surpasses his own questions about his chosen profession. There is a nice scene early on where he tries to explain to his daughter that telling a lie is not always bad while realizing it is he who has crossed that line. It helps set up Philip’s developing dilemma as he go in deeper to his own lies and places him and his daughter in danger. Two other interesting characters are the detectives Angie Blair and Bernard Fry. Frye is a die-hard skeptic while Blair is a little skeptical but is willing to believe if it helps her solve the murder. Their different styles adds a nice level of tension to the mystery.
It is the characterization and the intriguing premise of fake psychic helped by real psychic that hooked me initially. But there are too many issues to make the novel successful in my eyes. First, there is Iona Kyle, the supposed heroine of the story. Compared to the other three I mentioned she comes across flat. The attempt by the author to make her a bit of a mystery herself gets in the way of the reader developing any empathy for her. Yet even when we find out more about her, it feels more like a standard plot twist than the type of development that involves the reader.
Which brings up the plot twists themselves. The paranormal mystery has been around for a while and is laden with formula and gimmicks. Unfortunately the author tends not to avoid any of them. There is pretty much every occult trick in the books thrown in from Nazis to mind control to rescuing spirits. When so many are thrown in, we also expect the formula that goes with them. We are introduced to the characters fairly quickly, but it is no surprise to us when we find out who the last potential victim of the Sorority will be. It fits the formula.
This being the first book of a series, there is always room for improvement. I would like to see Iona become more real and vulnerable and see perhaps a mystery that examines those vulnerabilities. There are a number of nice things about this novel but it doesn’t rise over the more generic paranormal thrillers that are glutting the market. I might recommend this to the avid supernatural mystery fan but not too many other readers. ...more
Urban fantasy books are still fairly popular. So popular that they tend to be a genre super prone to formula. Fortunately the genre is wide enough toUrban fantasy books are still fairly popular. So popular that they tend to be a genre super prone to formula. Fortunately the genre is wide enough to avoid the most obvious formulas if the author wants to avoid them. I admit I am not always "with it" when it comes to urban fantasy. Back in the "golden age of science fiction", which A. E. Van Vogt famously quipped was "14", fantasy meant sword and sorcery. The first fantasy/horror novel I ever read that seemed to be modern and urban in style was Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife. I consider that novel to be the grandfather of urban fantasy. Decades later urban fantasy have merged into a plethora of ideas including Leiber's modern horror tale of witches but also sorcery, usually sans swords, Lovecraftian elements, urban contemporary environments, a heavy emphasis on the supernatural and psychic powers, and an obsession with anti-heroes rather than heroes.
With all this in mind, Dreams of Darkness is typical urban fantasy yet it isn't. The first thing that is obvious is that Dreams of Darkness is much darker than what usually passes for urban fantasy with the mainstream audiences. James' novel centers around 20-something Jordan Hanson. He seems a typical young man with a girl friend and everyday problems until he is shot and killed in a bank robbery. He discovers abruptly that he was born to be the "anti-christ" for an ancient and powerful group of evil thingies called the Mondragorans. He escapes from them and find himself alive, or rather undead, still with the powers that the Mondragorans gave him to destroy the world and usher in their rule. Without knowing the full extent of his power or the consequences, he vows to fight the Mondragorans and save the world.
Which of course, ain't going to be easy. The first thing I like is that Jordan is a reluctant hero, something not that unusual in the genre. He struggles with his powers and eventually discovers using them may be more dangerous than not using them. James writes about this struggle well, making it deeper and darker than a Bruce Banner vs. Hulk dilemma. Jordan has a lot to learn and we learn it with him. A huge combination of occultist and mythological knowledge is thrown in. I do not know how much is borrowed from others and how much is of the author's creation, which is a strength of the work. Jordan makes some powerful allies and equally powerful enemies, including Lord William Ackerman, Jordan's chief boogeyman who is in cahoots with the Mondragorans. What ensued is a tense and long struggle with Ackerman and his henchmen culminating in a lengthy climatic battle in a demon infested Seattle. As if Seattle wasn't gloomy and dark enough to begin with!
When all is taken into account, Dreams of Darkness is an entertaining and welcome entry in the Urban fantasy genre. It has a likable and sufficiently brooding anti-hero paired with a love-to-hate villain. The creatures are quite imaginative and owes a bit to Lovecraftian horror. While the book is clearly labeled "Book one of the Mondragoran Chronicles" it is stand alone and doesn't end in a cliffhanger even though there is a nice hint of troubles to come on the last page. Unlike a lot of urban fantasies today, it doesn't overlap into paranormal romance, although there is an obvious candidate and a surprise for Jordan at the end of the book that makes me wonder about what is in store in book two. This is not to say it doesn't have its issues. This is a first,independently published, novel and has flaws typical of both. I know it is a bit of a cliche in this situation to say the author needs a good editor but it fits here. Many of the scenes seem drawn out and overall I felt the book was too long at close to 500 pages. While the many action scenes are excellently written they are also burdened with too much explanation and dialog in the midst of it. One of my pet peeves is folks fighting to the death with demons and trying to hold an conversation with them at the same time. It never felt like a good idea.
But overall it works quite well,. As mentioned, James' action segment are creative and fun. The characters are all interesting and involving. While the tale has more than its share of darkness, the author always manages to keep a little light seeping in so we remain hopeful for our heroes. I am not sure this will appeal to the mainstream reader that is not already seeped in the intricacies and nuances of urban fantasy but the avid reader of the genre should enjoy this.
“The liars among us will know that every lie must contain a certain amount of truth if it's to be convincing. A dash of truth is often enough, but it'“The liars among us will know that every lie must contain a certain amount of truth if it's to be convincing. A dash of truth is often enough, but it's indispensable, like the olive in the martini.”
Henry Hayden is a bestselling author but he did not write any of his novels. His wife Martha did and she is fine with her husband taking the credit. However when Henry finds out his affair with Betty has resulted in her pregnancy, he becomes concerned that everything he built with his wife will come apart.
That is the bare-bones description of The Truth and Other Lies, a devastatingly clever novel by the German author Sascha Arango. It would probably be classified as a suspense or mystery novel even though we know who's doing what from the outset. The mystery is in what is being done not who is doing it. The pleasure here is watching a charismatic and ultimately sociopathic individual dig himself in deeper and deeper as little plot twists make his dilemma even more outrageous.
Henry Hayden reminds me of Tom Ripley, a equally likeable and elusive protagonist. Like Ripley, Henry has a secret past and is adept at hiding the truth about himself. It doesn't hurt that Arango's themes and style seem similar to Ripley's creator, Patricia Highsmith. Arango has a similar talent for empathy with ones who feel no empathy and a healthy cynicism of human nature. But, again like Highsmith, Arango turns that cynicism into a playful if mostly wicked look at the dark side of man.
The biggest twist comes early and I will not say what that is. But the success of the novel hinges on that twist. "The best laid plans of mice and men" is working overtime in this story and the fun is to see how many precarious bends this Jenga-like plot can take without toppling over. It works because Henry is so complex in his twistedness. Characterization is what finally wins out in the end and all the rest works because we are not so secretly rooting for this immoral individual in spite of ourselves. There are also many minor characters that are well developed and give the story a lot of depth.
There is more than a little similarity with Gone Girl if not in plot but in the motives and personality of the players. Those who liked Gone Girl will catch it and if you didn't like Gone Girl you will probably dislike it for similar reasons. But not reading this novel will be a mistake. It is firmly set up to be the evil little thriller of the year and perhaps the one that raises the bar on the term "literary suspense". Praise should also be given to the outstanding translation which moves everything so effortlessly along. This is my pick for the must-read thriller for 2015....more
The setting for Adam Cesare's Mercy House may be as depressing as it gets. Harriet is reluctantly brought to the state-of-the-art retirement home callThe setting for Adam Cesare's Mercy House may be as depressing as it gets. Harriet is reluctantly brought to the state-of-the-art retirement home called Mercy House by her son and his wife, Don and Nikki. As they tour the home, a change comes over the elderly residents. It is a change that brings violence and depravity to the facility and leaves some staff and visitors desperately trying to survive as the residents kill, rape and eat their way through the night.
Setting the action in a retirement home is a tricky endeavor and invites all type of analogizing. The fact that the author provides no clear motive for the transformation of the residents is an interesting tactic. Without an explanation, we are forced to look at the action and emotions of the characters, searching for rationalizations where that may be none. Some readers have focused on the zombie-like state of the transformed seniors but I don't see it. The elderly protagonists go from helpless victims to savage victimizers in a moment. They are violent but still alert, more so than before and stronger than before. The viciousness in which they go after the caretakers imply an almost obsessive revenge, a turning of the tables so to speak. This theme of docility turned savage is not new. There are some comparisons that can be made to other sources. The focusing on one building where the characters are trapped and reverting to a primitive state is similar to J. G. Ballard's Highrise while there is a very similar setup in Cronenberg's early horror film Shiver. But I kept thinking that I may actually be reading sort of a geriatric Lord of the Flies. Are not the very old sometimes thought of as being in a second age of innocence especially as physical and mental frailty sets in. And if that was removed suddenly along with the effects of returned strength and heightened libido and emotions, could not the result be a wave of hostility and revenge upon those who controlled them?
Yes, Mercy House brings forth a load of questions. But are they the reader's or the author's? it is a little hard to say since Cesare's incredibly violent and intense novel never really lets up enough to indulge in answers. The author writes like in a whirlwind going to one shocking scene after another. it is really quite impressive. He focuses on a few of the characters more than others in a way that gives pretty much a capsule study on modes of survival. Nikki is basically the main focus, lost in the meaning of it all but simply trying to survive. Sarah is a nurse quickly headed for burnout when the events becomes for her a sad karmic accusation. Of the elder residents, Arnold Piper, a veteran, turns the horrors into what sometimes seemed to me like a gruesome re-enactment of his war years. And finally, there is Harriett, whose violent transformation is dominated by the obsessive hatred she has for the daughter-in-law she always resented.
Yes, there is a lot to take in here. Yet Mercy House is a visceral, controversial and ultimately difficult read. Cesare's skills are so good that his descriptions bring you into the action maybe a little too intimately. Intense may be an understatement. If one can handle the extreme ride it is a very rewarding if exhausting tale. But at times I wished he slowed down and gave the reader time and clues to ponder all the madness. I don't need explanations in a novel all the time but in this one I wonder if it would have been a little more helpful to tie the themes and action together.
Yet it is still a sick but wonderful roller coaster ride. I would certainly recommend this to those who enjoy extreme horror but also to those who want to see where the young writers in the genre are heading. For me, it is nice to know that the younger writers can still find stories that make us old veteran horror readers a little queasy.
Eric Red’s White Knuckle is as high octane a horror thriller as they come. It is a cross between Silence of the Lambs and Richard Matheson’s Duel. ItEric Red’s White Knuckle is as high octane a horror thriller as they come. It is a cross between Silence of the Lambs and Richard Matheson’s Duel. It also bears a very slight resemblance to the 80s film, The Hitcher which was written by Eric Red as well as was one of my favorite vampire movies, Near Dark. Those two movies and this novel have something in common and that is they show that Red knows how to write dark and evil characters that jump out at you. If his psycho villains come out a little too super-human sometimes, it just revs up the suspense and gives us a little more worry and need to cheer on the hero or, in this case, the heroine.
Our heroine is FBI agent Sharon Ormsby who is assigned to the FBI’s Highway Serial Killing Initiative which tracks and hunts down murders on interstate highways. She comes across a pair of bodies that appear to be linked but, if so, it means that the killer has been active for over 30 years. In the meantime through alternating scenes, the reader discovers quickly that this is a trucker who uses the CB handle White Knuckle. He is abducting women and imprisoning them in his own torture chamber on wheels.
White Knuckle has the right amount of action, crime know-how, suspense, and terror to appeal to a number of genre readers. The FBI/CSI enthusiasts will get a lot of crime-fighter stuff. The author certainly know a lot about the trucking industry too. The suspense/thriller reader will not be disappointed with the tense writing and many taut action scenes. And the horror fans will find lots of scares, both psychological and physical. But it is the cat-and–mouse relationship between Sharon and White Knuckle that kept my interest. The character of White Knuckle is a larger than life serial killer; obsessed, thinks he is smarter than everyone else and just may be, and highly misogynistic. His killing of women is described by the author in a way that hides no facts about his villainy and frankly may be too much for some readers. Yet when Sharon, who is undercover and on the road with a veteran truck driver she had partnered up with, comes into contact with him we can feel the killer being both threatened and challenged by this woman. This is handled well by the author and only adds to the tension as Sharon builds her case and White Knuckle prepares for what he sees to be his final triumph. The final climatic scene is one of the best written action segments I have ever read on paper.
But it isn’t all perfect. That best action scene on paper sometimes comes across too well and feels like a send-up for a film. This is not necessarily a big problem but there are a number of times that some scenes felt too cinematic or too pat. Like the hitcher in the aforementioned film of the same name, the character of White Knuckle is often too “there” when he should be. Also, considering how detailed his descriptions of both FBI and truck driving is, there are some moments that stretch believability. For instance, it is hard to think that an agent that develops a sudden major disability would be kept in the field for such an important and dangerous manhunt. That almost lost me, to be blunt.
Yet overall, I have to admit that White Knuckle ends up as one of the most visceral and on-the-edge-of your-seat reading I have done in a long while. It never lets up. Red has an affinity not just for villains but for the victims which adds a lot of poignancy in the writing. Sharon Ormsby is a great protagonist with enough nerve and back story to make her easily likable. If this isn’t one of the best literary horror/action thrill rides of all time then it still easily goes to the top of the list for best action thrillers in 2015. ...more
I like the way Kurt Reichenbaugh's tricky little suspense mystery starts out. Kent Starling is a successful accountant with a wife and a mistress. HeI like the way Kurt Reichenbaugh's tricky little suspense mystery starts out. Kent Starling is a successful accountant with a wife and a mistress. He tends to speak his mind too often which gets him in trouble with his boss. One day he gets an email from his childhood best friend Roy who he has not seen for years and doesn't always remember with the fondest thoughts. He avoids the emails until Roy sends him a picture of his mistress.
From there things go downhill for our hero as Kurt loses his job and bodies start showing up. I really like fiction in which the relatively innocent protagonist is thrown into a bad situation that he never expected. I especially like seeing how and if he gets out of it. I think it is the essence of noir. The nice touch here is the addition of that old friend who you want to forget about. Don't we all have that strange friend in high school that we wonder why we hung out with and how we would react if he or she came back into our lives? This nifty little novel takes it to the extreme and adds the obligatory twist at the end. Reichenbaugh writes in a straightforward manner and with a slight Spillane-type roughness that doesn't go over the top but still lets us see the everyman in his character. My main problem though is with structure. The novel starts out quickly as the author introduces us to the character and sets the stage. As we come to the first murder, we are hooked. Yet after that it starts to drag. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because the detectives are unrealistically slow to see the bumbler in Kent. Or because I didn't see enough connection with Kent and his wife to feel the tenseness. But there did seem to be a mid-point lag where the intensity was lost. Yet it still remained an entertaining novel and a promising look at a young mystery writer. I definitely recommend this book to those who want a good mystery yet I still want to see what else Mr. Reichenbaugh has up his sleeve before I start throwing flowers and yelling hosannas. For now, a "Yippee!" will do. ...more
In Shane McKenzie's tense and different novella Mutt, Patrick, a young white/Korean male who is often mistaken as Mexican, lives with his mother, workIn Shane McKenzie's tense and different novella Mutt, Patrick, a young white/Korean male who is often mistaken as Mexican, lives with his mother, works at a boxing gym cleaning up, and basically stays out of trouble. That is until he meets a Mexican girl who mistakes him as being the same as her. Pat is too smitten with desire to correct her and finds himself taken to a party by the local gang Los Reyes Locos. When he discovers he has been "drafted" into joining, it is too late and he is neck deep in a lifestyle he doesn't want with a girl he cannot resist. Soon, he must fight his way out to save himself and his family.
McKenzie's writing is very visceral. As in his previous work, Muerte Con Carne, there is plenty of action and violence. Yet while Muertes Con Carne is clearly a horror tale, Mutt is closer to a suspense and crime tale and throws in a lot of human drama into its characters' development and emotions. Patrick is mixed race but is frequently mistaken as Mexican. Patrick is based on the author's own situation and speaks of his own dilemma as being judged as someone he is not. While the author is taking his queues from his own life, I am fairly certain the actual plot is not auto-biographical or at least I hope not! The fictional Patrick's situation is extreme but it works as an illustration of one of our own inescapable issues in our American life; being judged on appearance and race rather than for who we really are. Mutt is just as much a coming-of-age tale about growing up in race and class torn America as it is an edge of your seat thriller about gangs and violence.
That is why this book and the main character of Patrick moved me so much. Patrick is a normal kid who wants to be accepted and wants the girl. He is tricked into a lifestyle he does not want for a girl who may have other plans for him. In the midst of this plot we have great writing that brings Patrick and the gang of Los Reyes Locos to life. There is no sugar coating. Patrick is sleeping with cobras and he knows it. The scenes of violence are intense but fits squarely into the story and we see Patrick's own terror and bewilderment as he experiences it.
It is that part of McKenzie's writing that senses the horror of life choices when it collides with the human-created horrors of society that makes me come back to his stories. Whether it is cannibal families as in Muerte Con Carne or homicidal gangs as in Mutt, the author goes deeper than the suspense and visceral thrills inherent in the tale and digs into the existential dread that one will find themselves in. I hope the author continues this exploration of the human side of dark social and racial themes in future stories. Even if he decides to just thrill and terrorize us I will be pleased. He does it so well. But he has the gift of social observation that does not ignore the individual psyche and I hope he uses it again.
When I read a blurb on a book that compares it to Stephen King, I cringe a little. Sometimes it seems like every horror author wants to be Stephen KinWhen I read a blurb on a book that compares it to Stephen King, I cringe a little. Sometimes it seems like every horror author wants to be Stephen King. I cant blame them. I want to be Stephen King. But those public relation drones in the advertising division of that mainstream publishing company wants you to be Stephen King because that is where the big bucks are. If I ever do write the great American horror novel, I plan to have a provision in my contract that says, "DO NOT COMPARE ME WITH STEPHEN KING!"
But the blurb on Heather Herman's novel, Consumption does compare her to Stephen King...and Joe Hill...and the lesser known but in the same ball park Sarah Langan. That will probably be fortunate or unfortunate depending on the reader. But there is no doubt that Consumption is dependent on a formula for mainstream horror. We have a couple with issues going into a situation that will make or break them. There is a nondescript small town with a mysterious event about to take place, in this case the Black Squirrel Festival. We have a cast of dozens, all with their own level B issues. And finally, a dark and seemingly invulnerable terror. I've seen this all before. Yet Consumption starts out promising. There is a slow but nice build-up. We get some tragic happenings that foreshadow worst to come. For the first half of the novel, I was envisioning a scenario that raises the book out of the formula and into something different.
What went wrong? For starters our promised monsters called the Feeders didn't impress. Essentially they are a take-off on zombies; smart, hard to identify but still zombie-like nonetheless. With the nice build-up I expected more. Then there is the cast of dozens. No one really stood out. John and Erma seem to be the most obvious protagonists with their relationship issues and the faint glimmer of hope that we see at the beginning. But nothing really develops from there and we are thrown into a soup of extras all vying for the brass ring. When we finally find the catalyst that knows what is going on we have crossed the point of no return and are headed for "don't care."
Yes, Consumption is formula but that doesn't mean it can't work. Robert McCammon's first few books were all formula yet there was something about the writing that jumped out at you and made it live. I just don't see that here. While Hermann had a great idea and can write very well, the story overall becomes weighed down with too much filling, not enough uniqueness and not enough awe. It is mildly entertaining but eventually forgettable. There are some good, maybe even great things in it but just not enough for me to recommend it. ...more
Paolo Bacigalupi is one of the best writers of speculative fiction alive. He specializes in the dystopic novel often dealing with issues of bio-enginePaolo Bacigalupi is one of the best writers of speculative fiction alive. He specializes in the dystopic novel often dealing with issues of bio-engineering and technological advances that changes the world and humans, usually not for the better. But what I like about his writing is the solid grounding he has in the human spirit which remains constant over the most harrowing alternate reality leaving both the good and bad aspects in plain view. The author’s humans are resilient and admirable in their courage and drive if not always noble in their values and morality.
The first thing that hits you about his new novel The Water Knife is that this time he is not envisioning a future that is in the distance but one that is just around the corner for many people. To use a line from the TV series Max Headroom, the plot of The Water Knife is “20 minutes into the future” and, to quote a more mundane saying from hundreds of P.R. agents “straight out of today's headlines”. The author’s not-so-future world is the Southwest United States when the drought we are experiencing has become permanent, drying up most of the water in the Southwest. Phoenix is collapsing. Refugees from Texas are coming north looking for a better life but finding despair and corruption. Arizona, California, and Nevada fight furiously to maintain water rights in a way that is barely legal and, under the surface, full of violence and betrayal. Important to this battle is the water knife, the label for men who do the dirty stuff; sabotaging water pipes, removing people from their territory who are using up water that don’t belong to them, and occasionally hurting and killing. One water knife, Angel Velasquez, works for Catherine Case, a prime player in the fight to secure water for Las Vegas and an enemy of the “Calies”, the chief water enforcers for still powerful California. Arizona, primarily Phoenix, is a distant third with its population all but abandoned and left to fend for themselves through crime and corruption. Angel is ruthless but extremely loyal and is sent to Phoenix to find out why Case’s operatives are missing.
In the meantime Lucy, a reporter in Phoenix, is onto a story involving the killing of a water lawyer who may have gotten greedy. There is also Maria, a teenager growing up fast in the world that uses, abuses and discards young girls. She is a refugee from Texas and is trying to make her way north. These three characters come together in the alternating narratives, sometimes working together but mostly working against. The way that Bacigalupi weaves these narratives together is as skillful as any writer you will find.
As is often true about dystopic novels with complex setups, the first few chapters moves a little ponderously to acclimate you to this world. Fortunately the author is very good at that and we are soon transported not just into his world but into the life and emotions of the characters. What I like about the protagonists of The Water Knife is that they are very real, which means in this case that they are liable to be bending their values, fighting and betraying in a second if survival is the goal. In Bacigalupi’s world, survival is very often the goal. I was ready to hate Angel but his perverse sense of loyalty becomes a virtue. Lucy is married to her job and despite the constant dangers, finds Phoenix a place that speaks to her. Maria is also a fighter but her fight is to just make it through each day. If you are looking for knights in white armor, a Bacigalupi novel is not the place to find them. But if you want real characters that make each twist and turn believable then you are in the right book.
The Water Knife can easily be read for its entertainment value alone but there are always serious themes lying in plain view in a story by Bacigalupi. There are as many themes here as plot twists and character turns. The author has a good grasp at future slang which pops up often giving the story an understandable but separate worldview. One of these terms that just might make it into our own mainstream is “Collapse Pornography”. It is the term coined to describe the kind of news story that delves on the deterioration and misery of peoples and society and is devoured by the mainstream audience just as some in our reality devour tabloid gossip. When Lucy hears that hundreds of corpses are being dug up in the city she is more interested in what the story will do for her career than in the tragedy of it. Yet it also changes her life when she finds that the body of the water lawyer is one of them and leads her to the many decisions she will need to make.
Pacigalupi does everything well; characterization, world structure, action sequences. They are all meticulous. The Water Knife may appeal to the imagination of a population that is still struggling with the undeniable idea of global warming. Yet it is the human struggles that make this book work. This is a novel that should appeal to more than the science fiction audience. I would not be surprised if it breaks into the mainstream and becomes the book of 2015 that everyone talks about.
What a cute little chapbook! White Noise Press needs to be commended for making such a fine product. Bad Bratwurst by Jeff Strand is a small 28 page c What a cute little chapbook! White Noise Press needs to be commended for making such a fine product. Bad Bratwurst by Jeff Strand is a small 28 page chapbook with a very limited production of 160 copies. I think they may be sold out by the time you read this. I love chapbooks. When done well they are compact pieces of love by writer and publisher meant to be cherished. But when said and done, they are only as good as the fiction or essay inside.
Bad Bratwurst certainly deserves this type of love. It is a short tale that is part Monty Python, a tiny bit Calvino, and all Strand about a sausage maker bemoaning the fact that his butcher shop is not getting any customers. While he is trying to close for the night, his assistant comes up with a swift (get it?) solution that upsets the butcher and he turns it down almost immediately. He goes through an hilarious discussion of the moral dilemmas first. Yet the night is not over and, in Python fashion, he is besieged by other "helpful" characters.
I have always been amazed how well Strand can merge humor with the most repulsive subjects and this is no exception. Yet it reads more like a surrealist farce than any horror or suspense. No cringing (maybe a little cringing) but a lot of laughing. Our butcher friend does come to a solution that perfectly fits his staunch and odd set of values. It is also very funny.
This is one of the best short stories I have read from Strand and most of them have been pretty good. If you cant find a copy, hopefully it will show up in a collection sometimes in the future. But if you cant wait and want to read some other really good short fiction by Strand try Dead Clown Barbecue. Tell him the butcher sent you. ...more
William Cook is one of those authors in the horror/fantasy field I keep hearing about but I have yet to reach in and explore the depths of his talent.William Cook is one of those authors in the horror/fantasy field I keep hearing about but I have yet to reach in and explore the depths of his talent. I have read a book of his poems and found them quite engaging in a darkly fantastique way. In One Way Ticket we have an example of his short fiction and a fine one it is. Even if I did not read his poetry, I would have guessed we had a poet among us because of the beautiful descriptions and the instant immersion into an eerie and tense environment. One Way Ticket involves Abel Laroux, a man who farmed a forsaken perhaps cursed plot of land in the Louisiana bayou as did the generations before him. On the night of the thirtieth year of his life, he experiences something that may change his life or be his death. It is a brief glimpse of terror that reads like many of the folk tales of that region. But what raises it above the typical is a certain description of a mode of transportation that makes the story a marvel. it is eerie, grotesque, and one of those written narratives that manages to translate into sight, sounds and smells as you read it. The skill of the writing holds you and convince you of the devilish doings in this story. There is not much else to say but to get this little gem and enjoy the chills. I now have another name on my list of authors to remember.
One Way Ticket is approximately 64 pages long and currently a free ebook on Amazon. It includes an excerpt from Cook's novel, Blood Related and the poem The Temper of the Tides....more
Glenn Rolfe's novella Abram's Bridge isn't really horror. It is more of a supernatural thriller. Nothing jumps out at you, you probably won't have anyGlenn Rolfe's novella Abram's Bridge isn't really horror. It is more of a supernatural thriller. Nothing jumps out at you, you probably won't have any sleepless nights, and your wimpy significant other can read it without acclaiming, "How can you read this scary stuff?" Instead, we have a somewhat old fashioned ghost story set in a small town with more than a dash of "coming-of-age". It is actually a nice break from zombies and vampires to read about a ghost, a young sweet one at that. Yet the author does manage to evoke a good amount of suspense in this short but entertaining tale.
Ronald "Lil' Ron" Sawyer is living with his father, Greg Sawyer, and grandmother after his parent's tumultuous divorce. They have moved to his father's hometown and Greg has taken to drinking heavily. Ron spends much of the time staying away from his home and exploring the town and its rural environment. Under a bridge by a creek, he finds a young girl who we quickly learn is a ghost. When Ron finds out the girl was murdered he becomes obsessed with discovering who killed her even though he is afraid where his search may lead him.
As far as ghost stories go, it is a rather predictable one. Yet Rolfe makes it interesting and manages to eke out a good amount of suspense. The best thing about it is the way the author is able to maintain a small town atmosphere where everyone knows each other and secrets do not remain well hidden. As i understand it, this is Glenn Rolfe's first published story and it is a very nice debut. The coming of age feel is light. Yet it is there as Ron comes to terms with a secret that most a boys his age do not have to deal with. Yet I wanted a bit more twist in the story. It was too predictable and straight forward at times with the mystery's solution too easily and too early discovered. But there still is a lot to like in this combination ghost story and mystery. It will be interesting to see where Rolfe's imagination takes him next time.
Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut in a three-way with Anne Rice drowning in a sea of splatterpunk and Russ Meyers movies.
That is a fair descriptionRichard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut in a three-way with Anne Rice drowning in a sea of splatterpunk and Russ Meyers movies.
That is a fair description of the craziness and raunch in Vincenzo Bilof’s surrealistic and Bizarro sex-gore tribute Vampire Strippers from Saturn. I am relatively sure my intelligent readers know who Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan are. I am positive you all know who Anne Rice is and adventurous enough to be familiar with splatterpunk, surrealism, and Bizarro lit. But if you know who Russ Meyer is, shame on you. The casualness of sex and violence in Bilof’s novel which is essentially a literary experiment of the surreal reminds me of those campy 60s skin films by the famed director. Bilof’s book does vaguely make me think of a Vonnegut version of Faster PussyCat, Kill, Kill. So much so that if I made Vampire Strippers from Saturn into a movie, I would need to get into my own time machine and bring back Kitten Navidad for the lead role. But now I think I have revealed more about myself than I would like…
Nonetheless, Vincenzo Bilof has a deft hand in juggling the visceral with the intellectual. Even in the strangest scenes, his very literary prose gives it fresh meaning and heightens your curiosity of what will follow. I often think Bilof’s plots are secondary to his prose even though Vampire Strippers from Saturn has a very unique and intriguing plot. Vampire strippers from Saturn, actually near Saturn, have come to earth where we Earthlings are the last sentient life in this version of the universe. Their leader Rene is inclined to save it despite the opposition from their enemy, the shapeshifting Plots. However she discovers from a time traveler that saving Earth will usher in an age where women become no more than hunted animals. Now this seems to be a strange concern coming from vampire strippers whose main occupation is drinking blood and ripping off heads. But what is a vampire stripper going to do?
I will be honest with you. I wasn’t always able to follow the plot. It is an issue with Bilof’s style that it tends to overpower the plot and here is no exception. But the wildness of this idea is better suited to his style than the other two books of his that I have read and still recommend. Here he can disobey the rules and the craziness of the plot enables him to go with the flow, so to speak. And it is a rocky and wild flow. Bilof’s ideas was many and they are all over the place. That is one of the strengths in a weird way. A more philosophical reviewer than I could find tons of themes in here. The role of women in a man’s world, the greed of society, the consequences of our basic needs, the contradictions in the idea of free will, only to name a few. They are there if you are looking for them. But if you are not, you will still enjoy the brashness of this book with its sex, violence and all that bad rock music.
I do not pretend to know more than the writers I review. That falsehood seem to be a conceit that we reviewers appear to flaunt but don’t necessarily believe. However as much as I love Bilof’s style I sometime wonder what would happen if it was toned down a bit. There clearly is a Brautigan or Vonnegut amidst the splatterpunk and skin exploitation leanings. But I may be totally wrong. Perhaps the best thing Vincenzo Bilof can do is to give us is Vincenzo Bilof. Sex, gore and all the rest. I mean…we already have Brautigan Vonnegut, and Russ Meyer but who can claim to be Vincenzo Bilof?