This was a nice surprise. It is a book about the last meals of famous people from Alexander the Great to Princess Diana. I admit it may be a little grThis was a nice surprise. It is a book about the last meals of famous people from Alexander the Great to Princess Diana. I admit it may be a little grotesque in theme but author Andrew Caldwell makes it intriguing and enjoyable adding all types of lesser trivia about these famous people. Most of the last meal menus are historically accurate but Caldwell admits to some creative license with ancients like Cleopatra and Montezuma by using what were typical dishes of the time. In most cases, Caldwell also adds the person's favorite food even if it wasn't is last. Lincoln;s favorite food was Dilled Chicken Fricassee and Martin Luther King's was Creole Catfish. All of these last suppers come with the recipes so you can wow your dinner quest by serving the last meal of Julius Cesar, Marilyn Monroe, or if you are a sicko, Hitler. I have not tried any recipes. This is more of a curiosity book for me. But I believe most will find it quite entertaining and informative....more
The Incoming Tide by Cameron Pierce is a small book of prose and poetry totaling only 73 pages. The prose is more like essays than fiction. To be precThe Incoming Tide by Cameron Pierce is a small book of prose and poetry totaling only 73 pages. The prose is more like essays than fiction. To be precise they border somewhere in between. It is not really a story although the poem and essays culminate into a theme. At first it appears to be about fishing, a popular theme for Pierce lately. Yet it quickly morphs into a meditation on parenthood, maturity, coming of age; all those things that come up when one has children.
That may be part of the uniqueness of this book. With The Incoming Tide we are seeing a mellowing, almost Walden-esque Cameron Pierce. There is no Bizarro here. There is no horror or fantasy; none of the things that formed his earlier works except an insightful imagination. It is not just a mellowing author but one who is more thoughtful on relating to the "real world". The style is still there but...dare I say it?...more mature. This is not a maturity of going to childhood impulsiveness to adulthood thoughtfulness as much as a maturity of style that discovers it can meld to any shape, form or idea and still move people with precise and beautiful prose.
I like this Cameron Pierce. I liked the old one too but this one speaks to my own development and maturity as I grew up. It speaks of passions that never cease but also about the sharing of that passion and the good things that come with this sharing. The Incoming Tide is the type of book I could read over and over and find something new and important. Fortunately it is a short book so I can reread it often!
The Incoming Tide reads like a meditation. It is calm, exuberant, caring and intelligent. I think it is the kind of work people will see themselves in and will get what they need out of it. Most of all it is simply a beautiful and delightful work of prose and poems. ...more
Let's cut to the wolf chase. I was really happy to begin reading Jeff Strand's Wolf Hunt 2, the sequel to...you guessed it. The main reason is becauseLet's cut to the wolf chase. I was really happy to begin reading Jeff Strand's Wolf Hunt 2, the sequel to...you guessed it. The main reason is because I got to spend more time with George and Lou. George and Lou are the main characters in Wolf Hunt and Wolf Hunt 2. They are thugs for hire who admit to being not exactly good role models but they have scruples. They are perfectly happy breaking knuckles but draw the line at indiscriminate killing and especially harming children. Yeah I know. You've seen this cliche before. Yet it works here mainly because we accept that George and Lou are part of the fantasy as much as we know werewolves are a fantasy. Why it works is because, as thuggish as they are, they always remain goofy and endearing. They are also the perfect literary example of a bromance. I think of them as the Tucker and Dale of organized crime. Or maybe the Hap and Leonard of supernatural crime noir. Whatever you call them, they are a riot and what makes both Wolf Hunt novels so much fun.
So. When we last left our anti-heroes, they were hiding out from the mob in Costa Rica. They are soon discovered and brought back to the main crime boss who wants them to either die or do compensation for messing up the job in the first book. He still wants to get bit by a werewolf to have their powers. He has found another one, a 14 year old girl who doesn't even know she has lycanthropic tendencies. George and Lou are not happy with child abduction yet must go along with it if they want to live.
Of course things are never easy for George and Lou. Crime boss betrayals, werewolf avengers, and a cute but smart-ass teenager all make their lives more complicated. There is a lot of buddy dialogue, action scenes, and some pretty disturbing images for what is mainly a fun but dark comedy. Yet the author again deliver just what he wants to deliver, a rollicking good time. Strand is one of the funniest writers in the horror and thriller genres yet he knows how to both scare and up the tension. I liked Wolf Hunt 2 more than the first one. The stakes are higher and there is more complexity and character interaction in the plot. Yet it is George and Lou that pulls it together. There is also a nice twist in the werewolf legend that puts this high up in the ranks of werewolf sagas. It's has to do with how and when they change. Actually, there was only one thing I hated about the story but I cant tell you what that is.. I think the author knows. If you like dark horror comedies with likable but unlikely heroes, then you should read this....more
The first thing you need to realize about Garrett Cook is that he is a seriously deranged individual. I say that with only half of my tongue firmly inThe first thing you need to realize about Garrett Cook is that he is a seriously deranged individual. I say that with only half of my tongue firmly in cheek. His last two books, Time Pimp and You Might Just Make it Out of This Alive are weirdly brilliant Dadaist masterpieces of craziness existing somewhere between the landscapes of Manga and Freud. If only the rest of us were this deranged!
At first, it seems that Cook has returned to Earth in his new novel, literally and figuratively. A God of Hungry Walls is a haunted house story set firmly on earthly soil. Haunted houses are a traditional fixture in the the realm of fantasy and horror. But the author does not do "traditional". The main departure in this disturbingly violent and erotic ghost tale is that it is told totally in the perspective of the haunted house or more precisely, what is doing the haunting. To do this effectively, one cannot just relay the events. One must endow the narrative with the right amount of evilness and perverted logic that a malevolent creature with so much twisted obsession must have. This is what Cook does so well. He gives us a new alternative universe of terror. He drops us into a mind that is unfathomable by our own perceptions and he makes us believe.
We meet. through the haunter's eyes, the four residents of the house and the new arrival that disrupts the haunter's world. We are introduced to the ghostly entities that do its bidding. We find out a little about the primary entity's past but is then immediately told it is a lie. While there may be more earthly grounding in A God of Hungery Walls than Cook's other recent books, it is still a tapestry of poetic surrealism, fantastical environments and grotesque imagery. As in any Garrett Cook work, there is copious amounts of violence and sex. It can be call a novel of erotic horror but that does not communicate the extreme images in its pages. Yet sex and gore in Cook's writings ends up leaving the reader amazed at its lyrical beauty while still being shocked at the actual events and its implications.
It is a cliche to say a Garrett Cook novel is not for everyone but it must be said. Yet if one does not read his books they are missing out on one of the strangest literary experiences available to the adventurous reader. Because of its conventional setting, A God of Hungry Walls is a good place to start. But if you are looking for a harmless escape to ghostly hauntings of the usual variety, you can't say I didn't warn you.
Have you ever started reading a fictional suspense novel and the world slaps you in the face with reality?
That is what happened when I started readingHave you ever started reading a fictional suspense novel and the world slaps you in the face with reality?
That is what happened when I started reading GodBomb! by Kit Power. The novel, which I picked up due to a rave review by a friend despite what to me seemed to be a turn-off title, occurs in the year 1995 in a North Devon church during a evangelical revival meeting. A young man steps up to the pulpit to testify and reveals he is wearing a bomb. In the next few hours, he wants to talk to God and have God talk to him. The people in the audience need to pray to make this happen or he will detonate the bomb, killing not only himself but the more than 70 people in the church.
Power's novel got to me in the first few pages, It is the epitome of a page turner as we meet the people in the audience and watch them confront this mad suicidal seeker who hold their lives literally in his hands holding down the red button that, if released, will unleash the blast. But I was listening to the news in the background that day while reading. "Breaking News: Gunman kills nine in Oregon college shooting." It was later reported even though the details are still somewhat vague, that the shooter asked his victims if they were Christians and then shot them. It was also reported that he stated before shooting them, "I will see you soon". Whether the accounts were totally accurate is moot. What it does tells us is that the shooter, while obviously mentally ill, was also a confused and troubled man burdened by his own hatred and doubt. He was so caught up in his own suffering that he was cold and heartless to the suffering of others, just like the protagonist in GodBomb!. It is too easy to label one a sociopath in each rather sterile times yet I am not sure that explains much. Is the protagonist in GodBomb! a sociopath? That will be for the reader to decide.
The news troubled me so much that I had to delay reading any more of GodBomb!. When I picked it up a day or two later I started over, knowing this book was no longer just a thriller. I also quickly realized that Kit Power clearly didn't think of it as just a thriller either. The novel's unnamed protagonist is also a man with deep questions and a perverted and sinister way to get the answers. The characters in the captive audience all have their own questions and issues. We learn about them through their thoughts, interaction and responses that ranges from brave to cowardly and everywhere in-between. The unnamed bomber's question to some, "Did God speak to you?" becomes a terrifying mantra with varying replies and results. The main characters that interact with the bomber equal about seven or eight yet they are in essence the representatives of the entire audience and their fears.
Power walks a tightrope in these pages. The problem is that the story can be bogged down in biases and assumptions. It can easily turn into a propaganda piece for either the believer or the unbeliever. The author deftly avoids this. We are caught up not in finding the answers but in how the characters react and survive while being placed in a life and death situation involving an unanswerable question. It occurred to me that we are already in that dilemma. We struggle overtly or covertly with the question of Life's meaning. We wait calmly for some, but in anxiety, fear, and chaos for others, for the point where our own bomb explodes and we may decide on our answer at that time or perhaps after that time. All the author is really doing is placing that existential dilemma in a nutshell of a few hours.
One of the things that intrigued me was Power's setting of 1995. This was before the Dunbane school shooting that had the result of banning most guns in England. The U.K. does not have the dubious honor of regular mass shootings. I couldn't help thinking if this is why the author appears to have what I would call a healthy attachment to this story's events. I would think an American writer might be to tempted to lean into either political or religious meanderings. Powers resists these traps and his tale is better and more powerful without them. It is a suspense thriller and an damn excellent one. But it is also a story of seekers and their emotions and of the challenges of birth, life and death. It may be one of the most powerful novels you will read all year.
Brother by Ania Ahlborn is easily the most disturbing book I have read this year. It fits into a personal reading category I call “Loved and Hated” siBrother by Ania Ahlborn is easily the most disturbing book I have read this year. It fits into a personal reading category I call “Loved and Hated” sitting comfortably, or perhaps uncomfortably, with books like We Need to Talk about Kevin and American Psycho. These perpetrators of extreme angst immerses us into the story yet makes us very uncomfortable in the idea that we can even identify with the topic and the emotions, or lack of, in the characters. The result is a surreal experience that teaches us something about human nature. It is often something we may not have wanted to know.
At the age of 19, Michael is the youngest boy in the Morrow family. His brother Reb is 26. The Morrows live in rural West Virginia isolated from others and from the small nearby town of Dahlia. But Michael does not feel like he is part of his family. He tries to connect with them even when suffering abuse from all of the family members particularly his brother Reb. He especially cannot help feeling disconnected and guilty about his family’s primary activity; abducting young women, torturing them and slaughtering them.
Ahlborn places us into this horrific scenario immediately. She hits us over the head in the first chapter with the horror of the family’s actions. I do not know what disturbed me the most, the description of the atrocities or the fact that I was starting to like and empathize with Michael. For even as he plays his role we instantly know through the author’s skilled prose that Michael is different. Why he is different is the cornerstone to the success of this novel and Ahlborn slowly but steadily reveals this.
Yes, this novel is disturbing yet it is surprising just how few segments of gore and violence are actually in the book. Much of it is suggested or “off screen” so to speak, yet the reader still feels like they have been put through a wringer. The explicit horrors are spread out and work in the idea that when they happen, they hit you fast. However, most of the shock value is in how natural the members of the Morrow family seem in their house of horrors. Michael is the most emphatic of them. Reb is the most bitter and dangerous. He is the result of an abusive family whose anger often is played out toward the next most vulnerable member and then passed down. How Reb’s pent-up anger is finally displayed reveals a deceptively brilliant form of evil. There is also the mother, the father, and two sisters who play lesser but essential roles, each showing different attributes of severe dysfunction in this immensely dysfunctional family.
When Michael meets a young girl who works in a music store in Dahlia, he begins to think there is more in life for him. He begins to wonder if there is a possibility of leaving his family and going out into the world. But in the time honored literary depiction of dysfunctional families this can never be good. In Brother, we get the granddaddy of “can never be good” as the author weaves an exceptional but revolting series of twists and turns.
Not too long ago. I read and reviewed Ahlborn’s last novel, Within These Walls, a quietly scary haunted house story with well developed characters and a strong psychological sense of suspense. There is nothing supernatural about Brother, yet the author still maintains that skillful development of her protagonists while she places the reader in a world that is likely impossible for them to imagine as being real life. Above all else, Brother is a fictional psychological study of a sociopathic family and extreme psychopathology. With each book, Ahlborn is becoming the lead dispenser of psychological horror. Her style can be very subtle yet there is nothing subtle about the terrors of the Morrow family. In Brother, Ahlborn finds her own terrifying niche in horror literature. You may cringe from the telling of this story but you will be hooked right down to the shocking end. ...more
This edition was privately published in an limited print of 100. You can also find it in Our Love Will Go The Way of the Salmon. It is quite possiblyThis edition was privately published in an limited print of 100. You can also find it in Our Love Will Go The Way of the Salmon. It is quite possibly my favorite short story by Cameron Pierce. That is surprising because it isn't really magical weird or Bizarro weird like most of his prose. It is weird in a black comedy heist / road trip sort of way. Read it!...more
If you are looking for a straight forward no frills werewolf novel, Blood and Rain is a good bet. Glenn Rolfe gets right down to the story and, in theIf you are looking for a straight forward no frills werewolf novel, Blood and Rain is a good bet. Glenn Rolfe gets right down to the story and, in the space of a couple of full moons, will scare your socks off just as quickly as his werewolf chomps off legs. His story takes place in the rural town of Gilson Creek, Maine. On a full moon summer night people are dying in what appears to be animal attacks. It is almost a reenactment of what took place years ago and Sheriff Joe Fischer is one of the very few who knows what really happened...
Yep. Fairly typical werewolf story. Yet the author tells the story in a way that is sure to entertain. We all know where traditional werewolf tales end up and this is a very traditional telling. One of the things that keeps it going is the author's setting. Rolfe knows his small towns and Gilson Creek has its characters and its secrets. Atmosphere building is a strong point in Rolfe's art. Yet when we get to the rampages, there is a a sufficient amount of action and gore who keep the horror fan happy. Yet I sometimes felt there were too many town characters,. I felt some of the tension would have worked better if we only had fewer people to watch. Eventually though, it does come down to a handful of characters and the plot is back on track. Rule one of a good werewolf novel; If you have too many characters, let the wolf kill them off.
It has been a while since I have read a good werewolf novel. Blood and Rains has the goods. If I prefer a novel to take chances and to leave the formula a bit more often, it doesn't mean it isn't a bloody good tale. Emphasis on bloody. If you are into lycanthropes, Blood and Rain will fill your lycanthropic needs.
When one writes a novel featuring a hitman, there seems to be a problem followed by a cliche. How do you make a career killer sympathetic? In the moviWhen one writes a novel featuring a hitman, there seems to be a problem followed by a cliche. How do you make a career killer sympathetic? In the movies and novels the usual way is to write your hitman as a person with some values like, "I don't kill women and children" or "I only kill the bad guys". I have always found this, if necessary to provide empathy, a troubling solution. Do people really think the type of person who becomes a career killers is going to make these type of moral limits. "Only in the movies", as they say. Recently, the ante has been upped as we find books like The Serial Killer Club and the Dexter series where all of a sudden Serial killers are now developing moral consciences killing only other serial killers. As much as I enjoy Dexter both as a TV series and a series of novels, how long can this cliche continue without becoming a joke?
In The Killing Kind, Chris Holms brings up this dilemma again. In this very visceral thriller, Michael Hendricks is a hit man who only kills other hitmen. He, with the help of his technically savvy friend, finds people who have a hit out on them. He offers to kill the ones who will do the dirty deed for ten times the fee that was offered to the hitman. The trick is making Hendricks believable and Holms is up to the task. He builds an unlikely but intriguing premise where Hendricks is a black ops soldier who has been thought to have been killed in action. He then builds his character up with the appropriate guilt and emotional baggage, Our damaged but emphatic assassin tends to stay away from the victims who are killers themselves and chooses those who inform on or one ups the criminal organizations. So we end up with a significantly flawed but perversely likable individual who we can sufficiently root for. In other words, the author gives up something in the cliche that we have not seen before and earns our attention.
Yet now we need a villain who is ten times worse than our troubled hitman and the author gives him to us too. Holms can write some truly vicious bad guys. When the criminal organization realizes someone is killing their killers they send out the worst and the brightest. What comes out of it is a sharply written cat and mouse game that is high on adrenaline and crowded with hot and bloody action.
I believe it is this fast and furious action writing that really puts this thriller over the top, While Holm does his best to give us an emphatic hitman with human weakness and longings, he is able to hide the inevitable implausibility of it in terse and riveting action prose. He has written a page turner that is tough and intelligent despite it occasionally turning brain-dead.. Even when we start to say "Hey, wait a minute" we are already trapped in the ride. It is the best kind of bestselling suspense thriller, one that allows us to escape but doesn't talk down to the reader and says, "hey, just go with flow. It will be worth it."
So even if I felt suspicious with the idea of a hitman who only kills hitmen, it ended up working quite well. Certainly that can attributed to the author's own abundant writing skills but it was also because he took a different twist on an idea and ended up with something fairly original despite the danger of being a cliche. The Killing Kind ends up as one of the more entertaining and exciting suspense novels of the year.
Note: This is a dual review for Debbie Does Monsterland and Alien vs. Debbie. It appears on the Goodreads page for both books.
I met up with Godzilla sNote: This is a dual review for Debbie Does Monsterland and Alien vs. Debbie. It appears on the Goodreads page for both books.
I met up with Godzilla shortly at his vacation villa near Fukushima after his surprise appearance in the monster erotica series, F*ck All Monsters. It has been rumored that the superstar has been exploring other avenues of creativity. This exploration resulted in two books with the mysterious writer Emma Steele. However most of his fans were shocked by his recent excursion into not just porn but monster erotica and the literary scene, Here is the interview.
I want to thank you for taking time out of you busy schedule for this interview.
The first question is obvious. Why porn?
Well, I’ve been getting tired of the whole stomp and burn scene and there aren’t a lot of monsters that i haven't worked with. I did go into negotiations with Spielberg to appear in Jurassic World but the man has no vision. There was some talk about a Freddy Krueger vs Godzilla movie but it didn’t work out. I mean, what could be done? STOMP! End of movie. I have been looking for opportunities to broaden my fan base and stretch my talent, so to speak. So when Emma Steele called me…
Wait a minute. You actually met Emma Steele?
Not really. I talked to her on the phone. It’s weird though. Every time we talked her voice kept changing and at first it was pretty low for a woman. I just assumed she was hoarse, a result of in-field research for her book. Anyway, as I was saying. We talked about me appearing in a book and, being Japanese, I was familiar with manga tentacle sex comics. It’s a big thing in Japan. It has even been rumored that Hedorah appeared in a few under another name. When Emma suggested a non-Japanese excursion into monster porn I was intrigued. Plus I would be working with an actual human female that was 50 foot tall. How could I resist?
Godzilla, this might be a good time to explain the first book, Debbie Does Monsterland. Can you give us an idea what it is about.
OK. It’s about Nancy Archer aka Debbie who is 50 foot tall and has a libido the same size. In order to satisfy her sexual urges she escapes from HOME (Hollywood Organization for Medical Experimentation) to Monster Island where she means to take on yours truly. But as she arrives she is met by a horny welcoming party consisting of Minilla, Baragon, Gamera, Rodan, and Kumonga,. She dispatches each one with her skills. On the last page I show up.
And? And nothing! The books ends! No one gets to see the parts of me they don’t see in the movies! I tell you, it was a big waste of time and money. But Emma told me she wanted to wait until the sequel.
In telling us about Debbie Does Monsterland, you know you pretty much gave away the entire plot.
So? It’s a porn book. Who cares about plot? But if you do care, then you are going to like the sequel.
So tell us about the second book, Alien vs. Debbie.
That one they got right. I show up at the beginning and what a scene! Debbie’s a real pro and has finesse. Mothra can keep The Twins. Debbie knows what she is dong.
So the book, despite its title, is about you and Debbie.
Well, no. That’s the thing. Debbie does me and bang! A bomb goes off sending Debbie out into space and leaving me forever out of the action. Now I know how Janet Leigh felt in Psycho. Debbie returns to normal size but still has the libido of a 50 foot woman. She ends up on a ship carrying a zoo of fictional alien characters. Predator, Alien, Jabba the Hut, ET, you name it they are there. I think you can figure out where this goes. Frankly I think it’s a big stretch except for ALF. As he says in the book, and it’s no secret in the trade, he loves to eat pussy.
So now that you conquered the porn market, what’s next?
I think I’m done with monster erotica. There is not much else I can do in it. But I have been touring in Summer Theater and expanding my horizons. One local critic said I was the best Willy Loman he’d ever seen.
No more appearances with Debbie?
No, there will be one more book but I won’t be in it. I hear they booked Cthulhu. Working with Cthulhu is crazy. If you aren’t insane before you will be afterwards. But I wish Debbie the best of luck.
Before we go, how do you rate the two F*ck All Monsters books.
Debbie Does Monsterland is three stars because it’s too short and I’m not really in it. Alien vs. Debbie gets four star because it has me and an actual plot.
Thank you for your time, Godzilla.
No problem. When you get back to California, tell Spielberg I said Jurassic World sucks the big one.
Daniel Gates is hired to deliver a demonic book called the Choronzon Grimoire. When it is found, a page has been torn out of it. He is sent to North WDaniel Gates is hired to deliver a demonic book called the Choronzon Grimoire. When it is found, a page has been torn out of it. He is sent to North Wales to find and retrieve it. Yet he is not the only one who wants to find it and take hold of the demonic secrets told in its writing. He discovers a dark secret about the town where he is sent and why the book may be more dangerous than anyone realizes.
That is the bare bones of The Leper Window by Frazer Lee. It is a good story of demonic horror limited by its brevity of 50 plus pages. The author appears to have an expert grasp on this type of tale and understands the traditional roots surrounding its telling all the way from Machen to Campbell. I was caught in the tale immediately and enjoyed the author’s distinct yet descriptive style. The author has a good sense of atmosphere and uses the old Welsh countryside and history to good advantage. In fact, I wished he used it more since I felt there was a much longer story aching to get out. But overall I really enjoyed it. I have never heard of a leper window before this. A quick search told me that they were actual fixtures in medieval churches used for a particular purpose. The town and church in Lee’s story seems to be fictional but the way he instills these fixtures in the story in quite intriguing as is how he merges the history of the demonic book with the end of his tale. It is this type of detail that kept me engrossed in what some readers might classify as an old fashioned tale of horror.
The Leper Window is an interesting and creepy work that entertained me for an evening. One might call it mainstream and subdued in style yet it packs an eerie punch in the end. I suspect The Leper Window may be an appetizer to steer you to his longer novels. If that is the case, it is successful as I plan to check out his other books soon. ...more
Jacob Reilly is 12 years old and the youngest of five boys. His short life has been one of hand-me-downs and that of having no real standout talent orJacob Reilly is 12 years old and the youngest of five boys. His short life has been one of hand-me-downs and that of having no real standout talent or feature. He feels disconnected to his family, his school and community and has no real friends. His only solace is in the church. He feels accepted, and in some ways special, in his position as an altar boy at the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. He is particularly fond of one priest, Father Matt, who seems to prefer Jacob as his altar boy and has developed an interest in him.
In The Sunken Cathedral, John F. D. Taff has taken a disturbing and all too common situation and turned it into a heart-wrenching coming-of-age tale. Perhaps it is more of a "disruption of age" story since it is about broken trust and the destruction of identity. The entire story is in the first person narrative of Jacob and that is a major reason it becomes riveting yet sometimes difficult to read as we share Jacob's own confusion and loss. Taff has a brilliant ability to get into the emotions of the main character and to dig deep into his psyche. For a fairly short novella of 90 pages, it is incredible how much emotional exploration the author fits into it. It is a dark piece of fiction yet not without a glimmer of light as we come to the end of the tunnel. Taff's style is alternately realistic and poetic. He touches on uncomfortable themes and scenes with just the right amount of tension, giving us Jacob's insight slowly and realistically. His focus on Jacob and his direct experiences and emotions gives the story the right amount of pathos without ever crossing into the sensational or histrionic.
The Sunken Cathedral may be hard for some to read despite the author's flowing and accessible style. However, it is the type of story that needs to be read. It can be useful for those who have experienced this kind of tragedy or for those to get some insight on the confusion and hurt that accompanies the victims. But it is also great storytelling. Highly recommended.
Surrealism in its traditional definition is a form of writing and art that expresses thought through strange and often irrational imagery and a contraSurrealism in its traditional definition is a form of writing and art that expresses thought through strange and often irrational imagery and a contradiction of free association and linear thinking that often crosses the boundary between dreams and reality. Andre Breton called it a philosophical movement rather than an artistic one and Salvador Dali described it as "destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision." Literary Surrealism can be frustrating and difficult to read but the effort leads to not only Dali's descriptive sense of annihilation but a liberation of how we think and how we perceive.
Surreal Worlds is an anthology edited by Sean Leonard and published by Bizarro Pulp Press. It mainly but not exclusively includes contemporary writers who write in the more modern Bizarro movement. Bizarro is a close cousin to Surrealism. Bizarro is more closely aligned with Sci-Fi, horror and even the pulp comic/graphics madness of the last few decades. But as weird as Bizarro can get, it is usually still grounded in a world that we can identify. Surrealism plays with our mind with free association, a non-lineal process of descriptions and a weirdness that is set more in our quirky dream state rather than any reality we know. A good example of this is the very first story of the collection. Steve Rasnic Tem's "Paul Breaks" is only three pages long and is very much in the feel of a dream state not really making sense but latching on to a strong sense of human emotion. It moves us but we may not be able to verbalize why.
The 25 writers in the anthology range from the established (Tem and John Palisano), to talents quickly rising in notoriety (Seb Doubinsky, Max Booth III, Gabino Iglesia) to quite a few I am not familiar with. Whether they are regular writers of Bizarro and/or Surrealism or not, they all take on the challenge with a passion. Some of the stories have more grounding in reality than others and I must admit I am drawn to a little grounding. My favorite story in the book is one of those. John Palisano's "The BiPolar Express" is a retelling of the classic children novel The Polar Express except the train picks up a boy in a psychiatric facility and transports him to the Middle Pole. It is clever, funny and eventually very sad. Wol-vriey's "End of the World Pie" is also a story that, despite its utter strangeness, uses a metaphor that links us to a grim reality. "aaaaaaaaa" by Gabino Iglesia is somewhere in the middle. It is very surrealistic but in a other-world adventure sense, like a cross between Dali and William Hope Hodgson. I loved "House Party" by Dustin Reade because it almost reads like a parody of Surrealism. Much of the fiction here is best described as "Don't try to figure it out, just go with the flow" Finally of the ones I will mention, Carter Rydyr's "Pain Pig's Pilgrimage" is one of the longest and strangest tales. I cant say I liked it. It tended to be out of control much of the time. But it is certainly memorable especially since it is accompanied by equally surreal and troubling illustrations.
Surreal Worlds is ultimately an experimental collection and as such it doesn't always work. But the sheer audacity of the anthology makes it essential. It is a delight to read so it becomes a successful collection of strange ideas and creative madness. Equally impressive is the book itself with its odd cover and inside illustrations. Even if you consider yourself a mainstream reader, this is a great book for challenging your boundaries....more
I have always been fond of writers who seem to write in hyperdrive. Whether it is Hunter S. Thompson, Harlan Ellison, or Garrett Cook, I like the writI have always been fond of writers who seem to write in hyperdrive. Whether it is Hunter S. Thompson, Harlan Ellison, or Garrett Cook, I like the writers that let it all out, appearing not to care whether you can keep up with them. If their imagination or emotion gets a little ahead of the prose, that is just part of the attraction. The writers I like realize that they can’t write for the audience. The audience needs to come to them and the payoff is when the reader gets into the writer’s strange and manic mind and say, “Wow! Now I get it!” At least, that is the way my own strange and manic mind perceives it.
In The Art of Horrible People, John Skipp becomes one of those authors. Of course he had a bit of a head start as one of the early architects of Splatterpunk. His standing as a father figure of the Bizarro movement doesn’t hurt either. But in this new collection of eight short stories, Skipp seems to be airing a mixture of amazement and repulsion over the acts of the human race which frankly can be pretty horrible. Call it cynicism or realism, Skipp may have held it in too long to be anything but a torrent of words and emotions. There is a mishmash of styles here from straight horror to dark comedies and pieces that border between free association and straight-out rant. Yet they all are entertaining in Skipp’s own manic and sometimes just far-out crazy style.
For instance, take the first story. “Art is the Devil” is a dead on depiction of the too often overhyped and phony world of the visual arts. If anyone is going to be an art connoisseur, wouldn’t it be the devil? It is a funny over-the-top satire of the contemporary art scene. The second story, “Depresso the Clown” is very different but just as extreme. It is a straight horror story on the capture of a rather pathetic clown. Whether you call it tragedy or comedy will depend on how you feel about clowns.
“Rose Goes Shopping” is a dark comedic takeoff on the zombie story. It reminds you that even in the zombie apocalypse, old habits die hard. In my opinion, this little story makes the zombies seem relatively decent. “Worm Central Tonite!” is quite short and more of a concept piece. It packs a nice philosophical wallop in just a few pages.
“Skipp’s Hollywood Alphabet Soup of Horror” is essentially 26 flash fiction pieces all about Hollywood and the movie industry. This is Skipp’s cynicism working overtime. You can argue that Hollywood is an easy target but the quick vignettes are essentially spot on and it is clear the author has waded more than once in the craziness of the movie game.
“Zygote Notes on the Imminent Birth of a Feature Film as Yet Unformed” is ironically the best work here. “Ironic” because in some ways it is the most typical of the Bizarro genre yet atypical for this collection because it seems reflective and intimate with multiple layers. I think it is one of the best piece of short fiction I have read from this author.
“In a Waiting Room, Trading Death Stories” is an amusing hiccup of a tale but simply whets our appetite for the last and other best short fiction in the book, “Food Fight”. This is Splatterpunk at its best. It is a tale about chaos in a behavioral health center told through different perspectives in Skipp’s equally chaotic style.
Skipp is one of those writers that need to be read to be believed. Although he is mostly a stalwart of the splatterpunks it is easy to see why the younger Bizarro writers see him as so influential to their own movement. But what it comes down to is that Skipp is basically his own sub-genre and resists pigeon holing. The Art of Horrible People is no less than the art of telling a good story....more
This is the second short story collection that features horror short fiction with a rock music theme I received in the past few months. I have alwaysThis is the second short story collection that features horror short fiction with a rock music theme I received in the past few months. I have always enjoyed the combination. There is a lively "take no prisoner" attitude in both art forms. When it works it is fresh and magical.
But that doesn't mean it always works.
Sex Death Rock N Roll is a collection of five short stories by Staci Layne Wilson and Darren Gordon Smith.. All of them with a rock and roll theme. The first one, "Fandom/Phantom" is a collaboration. Of the other four, "Little Rosie vs The Devil" and "Depraved Indifference" are by Wilson while "In(ter)vention" and "Fishing with Grandpa" are by Smith. Most of the stories are well written and enjoyable. Yet I kept looking for the sparks I expect in this type of rock horror hybrid. Unfortunately someone forgot to light the fire. "Fandom/Phantom" has the best rock music feel to it. It is definitely not a horror tale but for what it is, a sci-fi look at the relationships between the rock idol and his admirers, it is quite touching. "Little Rosie vs the Devil" is a cute deal with the devil story that doesn't go very far in its brevity. "In(ter)vention" falls totally flat as a not very well thought out parody of addiction intervention. Then there is "Fishing with Grandpa" a sleazy story that is frankly repulsive especially considering the recent news regarding older celebrities and their manipulative sins.
That leaves "Depraved Indifference" which is the best of the lot. It is a disturbing but riveting ode to rocker suicide as it follows a man who himself is obsessed with the idea of suicide in a decidedly dangerous way. It was the one story that stayed with me after I closed the book.
Overall, I wasn't that enthused with Death Sex Rock N Roll. You get death, sex, and rock N roll, yet the three very intimate subjects never really take off with the notable exception of "Depraved Indifference". It is ironic that I would see this story as the best of the lot since its title can also be a fairly accurate description of my own feelings toward this collection.