The book does what it says on the cover. It delivers macabre (and gross) tales that are also very ordinary in some manner. It’s a very interesting wayThe book does what it says on the cover. It delivers macabre (and gross) tales that are also very ordinary in some manner. It’s a very interesting way to tell stories, to permit the narrative to fall flat in some manner, or to tell a story most people know and do it in such a creepy way you make it your own, or to tell a very simple story that seems like it is telling you everything but is really telling you just enough to ask more questions. At times Mikul denies the reader the catharsis often expected at the end of a tense story because he doesn’t spell things out, and in other instances the narrative ends in a manner that is blunt and horrible. Sometimes the simplest subversions of the traditional story-telling method are the most effective, and each of these stories in some manner are indeed macabre and indeed very ordinary.
The collection has nine stories, and I want briefly to discuss each one. I’ll do my best not to spoil the endings but in a collection like this one, avoiding spoiling endings may well be impossible. Metaphorically, how do you spoil a door slamming in the middle of a sentence? Still, I’ll be careful.
First story, “Dead Spit,” is Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley dropped into the Outback. I don’t think I have spoiled it by describing it this way because, again, the ending will deprive you of the momentum you think the story is gathering. The best part of this story, for me at least, was when I realized that I had created a big mystery clue/red herring due to my own ignorance. I don’t use canola oil because the word canola disgusts me, so I was not aware it comes from plants that collectively are known as canola. I guess I thought canola oil was a mixture of crappier oils and that the trade name for such oil was “canola.” Who knew? Well, evidently everyone else on the planet knew, but that is a detail in this story – working in a canola field and it distracted me from what was really happening.
Review snippet: Drukija, Contessa of Blood, however, may be of more interest to the general reader of gory comics, though this is not a comic as muchReview snippet: Drukija, Contessa of Blood, however, may be of more interest to the general reader of gory comics, though this is not a comic as much as it is an illustrated free-form poem. This is Glenn Danzig’s riff on the Countess Bathory legend and it’s pretty well done. The drawings in this book are more restrained in style, though certainly extreme. One is of Contessa Drukija, stabbing a young woman and pulling the still beating heart out of her chest. Pretty foul stuff and fans of extreme horror will like this book. Only discordant note in this book is that Contessa Drukija is a dead ringer for Vampirella (though I guess there are only so many ways to draw enormous-breasted, raven-haired, creepily beautiful women who have a thing for blood) and a few of the drawings probably should pay royalties to Frank Frazetta, so utterly were they reminiscent of his work.
My only real issue with Danzig’s poetic prose is that no one should be called Grimstonia. Contessa Drukija de Grimstonia? Nein! That is a very bad name for an otherwise serious character because, truly, there is none of the camp in this book that I saw in Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand. Grimstonia is the setting of a Mel Brooks vampire movie, not a mass-murdering Gothic killer. But otherwise the prose in this book was pretty good, though I confess that I didn’t pay much attention to the editing because I loathed the font and found reading it difficult enough without engaging in my usual picking apart of prose.
Review snippet: "What I guess I’m saying is that for me Glenn Danzig’s music career, while definitely impressive, takes a back seat to the fact that hReview snippet: "What I guess I’m saying is that for me Glenn Danzig’s music career, while definitely impressive, takes a back seat to the fact that he clearly has the same taste in books as I do and that he is also fond of cats. It was hard for me to see the humor in the macros generated from a grocery store trip wherein Danzig was buying cat litter. Honestly, we buy Mr. Oddbooks’ body weight in cat litter every month. What’s the interest in a man with a cat making sure it can crap someplace other than the floor?
The problem, of course, is that he is Glenn Fucking Danzig. I guess people would feel the same sense of shocked mockery were Lemmy Kilmister found carefully cultivating a butterfly garden. Men like Danzig, who at times seems like a Frank Frazetta character come to life, are not supposed to be caregivers or nurturers. But being who I am, knowing he has a couple of cats he takes care of made me like him so much I was willing to pay a substantial price for two of his comics, a price that Mr. Oddbooks, the real comic aficionado in this house, found shocking for something with a cover that to him was essentially an extended van mural as imagined by a 15-year-old dirtbag as he sketched on his Trapper Keeper in biology."
My selection of "read" is misleading. I actually gave up halfway through. These days I only finish a book I dislike if it would be a good addition toMy selection of "read" is misleading. I actually gave up halfway through. These days I only finish a book I dislike if it would be a good addition to my odd books site. This book was not odd enough.
There was something about the style Tem uses that I found strangely muffled. A widower father has taken his small daughter to a dreadful hotel so he can learn to be its new caretaker. It is a place where horrific creatures live. The current caretaker keeps assuring the father that his daughter will be safe there when it is manifestly clear she isn't. And even though the father knows this to be the case, he keeps taking the caretaker at his word. No idea why but then again, nothing was explained well.
The man's dead wife has also followed him to the hotel, a carping, nasty spirit, and so muffled is the tone that I never felt the man's grief, his despair at hearing his dead wife's disapproval from the grave, his daughter's pain at being left motherless.
This muffled style of writing is most irritating in the scene I'll call "The King of Cats Wages War." There is some incredibly violent and gory imagery, some of it involving kittens. I think my aversion to reading fictional torture of animals is well-known by this point but this was so... nothing, so bland, so removed, that it didn't bother me.
This flat, bloodless way of writing seems to be a trend. I mostly see it in literary fiction and edgy memoirs. I suspect there are some who really like this type of writing but I am not one of them and it's a curious method to tell a horror story of a widow and his little girl in a hotel where literal nightmares live....more
My only problem with this book is that it felt like the first section in a larger work. I hope Keene revisits this book one day and tells us the restMy only problem with this book is that it felt like the first section in a larger work. I hope Keene revisits this book one day and tells us the rest of what happens to the protagonist, a key player in the world coming to an end.
Very good book, and while at times what is happening is broadcast very clearly, I am unsure if there is a way to discuss the beginning of the end of the world based on Biblical texts without what is happening being clear to a large portion of the readers.
An excellent, dark, sad, absorbing book. This is actually a 4.5 star book....more
The collection starts off with the best story of the bunch, “Bebbel” by John McNee. This was a seriously disturbing and upsetting story. Bebbel is a pThe collection starts off with the best story of the bunch, “Bebbel” by John McNee. This was a seriously disturbing and upsetting story. Bebbel is a part of a trans-humanist freak show, living in a dark, silent cage between performances, his body brutally modified against his will. The Mistress of Ceremonies, Sally – The Keeper of Dark Secrets, has created a repellent cast that performs on her command, feeling adoration and loathing for their cruel maker. The story is full of body horror, creepy trans-humanist revisions:
"Lupi is operated via remote control. Somewhere off-stage a switch is thrown and she rumbles into life. Her body begins to shake, shoulders quivering, head lurching. The exhaust pipes jutting out from between her ribs belch black smoke. Blood seeps out through her gritted teeth. There’s a motorcycle engine in her belly. The block is visible where the metal has split the skin. Under her seat is a single motorcycle wheel, and it starts to roll now, inching towards the front. When the revs get up, Lupi vomits blood. She can’t make a sound, poor Lupi. Her throat is full of liquid. Can’t speak, laugh, or moan. But her eyes are screaming."
The story is plagued by poor editing, as are many in this collection, but in most horror books from small presses, you will see similar lack of attention, if not worse. But in terms of creating a horrific story that is truly upsetting and foul without crossing over into the sort of comic overkill that dominates much of extreme horror, McNee succeeds quite well. The reason this story is different from all the other trans-humanist freak show stories is Bebbel. Bebbel, a victim like the others, grows into his role as a monster in a surprising way. Imaginative, frightening, and very unpleasant, this really is the best story in the collection and it’s nice and somewhat unusual that the editor led with his strengths. Generally the best story is buried under lesser stories.
Review snippet: I haven’t had much luck with extreme horror over the last five years or so. There’s the occasional gem but for the most part the genre is a toilet into which many otherwise fine writers crap their id. Which would be fine if the crap was at least well-written crap. Crap can be fun if it doesn’t insult your intelligence. So believe me, I picked up this book fully expecting to have my intelligence insulted as the same old, same old substandard verbiage was cloaked behind horrible details that would hopefully hide how substandard it truly was.
This book is a gem, a gem that is all over the map. It’s noir. It’s horror. It’s extreme fiction. It’s literary fiction. It’s a really good book. And it’s edited very nicely, though there are problems wherein wrong words are used. It’s a weird place for me to be, to say that a book wherein the occasional word is misspelled is finely edited, but it’s all a matter of comparison. In comparison to most small press books, this book is immaculate.
Rautembaumgrabner, to be called LVR for the rest of this discussion, divides his book into two sections: Murderers and Lunatics. Within those two divisions, the reader is treated to stories that, while united by LVR’s style and sly humor, spread across a lot of genres. LVR’s stories really are quite something because in some cases you think you are reading a basic noir or a character sketch of a murderous loser and suddenly you realize you are in the middle of some very gruesome horror. Some of the characters are peppered with instincts and interests that make no sense, bordering into bizarro, but the human pathos and disgust they generate are all too understandable.
See? It can happen! It is possible to write excellent extreme horror without treating your readers like you think they are a bunch of assholes who don’t care about plot, characterization, spelling and grammar! It can be done. After reading this book I suspect I will be all the harder on authors who flog mediocre extreme horror because it will be harder to make excuses for the poor writing that seems to dominate the genre when this unlikely-named author has pulled it off....more
In Jack’s Magic Beans, people are going about their day as they notice the people around them are getting tense and angry, tenser and angrier than peoIn Jack’s Magic Beans, people are going about their day as they notice the people around them are getting tense and angry, tenser and angrier than people become even in long grocery lines and in traffic. Then everyone snaps. Everyone outright snaps and begins to kill violently and indiscriminately. Four people find themselves unaffected by the madness that is gripping the slaying madmen around them, hiding in a walk-in freezer in the back of a supermarket and they eventually discover what it is that they have in common, a shared trait that is the reason they remained sane when everyone else lost it.
This is one of those stories that I wish was longer. Why everyone lost their minds is likely not important, but damn it, I want to know. And we get only a brief look at the world that remains when the survivors step out of the freezer. It’s hard to know the world ended but not see how the survivors maneuver in what remains of civilization. But sometimes you got to love a story for what it is and not what you want it to be. I always find it to be a slightly backhanded compliment to wish that a story was more than what it is, but in this case, I think it is just a natural reaction to reading a good story. Read my entire review here....more
It’s been a while since I read a book that, editing issues aside, got every damn thing right. Agranoff’s book is clever, satirical, gross, touching, It’s been a while since I read a book that, editing issues aside, got every damn thing right. Agranoff’s book is clever, satirical, gross, touching, sad, and filled with more pop cultural references than you can shake a stick at. Music, movies, hipsters, Juggalos, books, vegan culture, non-vegan culture. This book is a near perfect example of the saying that sarcasm is the body’s natural defense against stupid, or, in the case of one character, mindless regurgitation of useless pop culture trivia is the best defense against awkward situations.
This book also employs the most traditional use of zombies of all the story-oriented books I will discuss this week. The agent that causes zombie-ism makes people die and come back from the dead. The transition from life to death is slow but the living are sick, and then the next moment, they are zombies. They are brainless, driven only by the impulse to attack non-zombie humans. They tend to arrive in packs but they are not organized – they don’t have the mental capacity for it. These zombies are driven so exclusively by impulse that they no longer know how to climb, how to open doors, how to escape from the buildings many of them died inside. These are creatures that can also eventually starve to death if they don’t have access to fresh humans. The way these zombies came to exist precludes the already dead rising from the grave – if you weren’t alive when the agent struck, you won’t come back. Read my entire review here....more
This is going to be a startlingly short discussion. I am a person who is, to put it kindly, verbose. Wordy. I type too damn much sometimes. I know thiThis is going to be a startlingly short discussion. I am a person who is, to put it kindly, verbose. Wordy. I type too damn much sometimes. I know this. And if I let this tendency go unchecked in this discussion, I will spoil this entire book for you. This is a book wherein crucial plot points are revealed in layers. As you read, Faber reveals bits and pieces that make you wonder what is wrong, why the main character is experiencing back pain, why she looks odd, why she is stalking large, well-built men, and it call becomes clear about a third of the way into the book. The horror continues to unfold apace but in the interest of not ruining this book for anyone who wants to read it, I will have to discuss it in vagaries that may not show the true mastery of this book.
So I will have to do that which I hate doing the most. I will have to ask you to take my word for it. This book is cleverly written. It is full of pathos and a character who is working her way through physical pain, mental anguish, and moral dilemmas that could potentially render her life meaningless and cause her to become in her own mind the worst sort of monster. It is literary fiction, but at the same time, it is extreme horror. There are graphic descriptions of cruelty in this book that are fucking horrible. This is a novel that will give you no comfort, none at all, save for one scene where Isserley, the main character, manages to prevent a dog from starving to death. Read my entire discussion here....more
Review snippet: However, Gast never loses site of himself even as he is made senseless. He refuses to cooperate in any manner, fighting as much as heReview snippet: However, Gast never loses site of himself even as he is made senseless. He refuses to cooperate in any manner, fighting as much as he can, refusing to do what his captors ask of him. In order to increase the theater of the torture, his captors want him to scream, to yell in pain, to fight overtly instead of rebel passively. At one point, Blackbeard tells Gast that his Internet pain show is making the terrorist group lots of money, 10% of which will be his if only he will cooperate and scream in pain. Gast, who is clueless in some respects, hopes it is true he will be permitted to leave if he does what is asked of him but doesn’t take such promises to heart. Instead, he hopes he can unmask Blackbeard in front of one of the cameras, revealing his face to the millions Blackbeard says are watching, making him a marked man. Instead of railing against his tormentors when he is left alone, he is resolute – all the ghouls who are watching will get is a man kicking a wall over and over and over. Moreover, it is hard to tell if Blackbeard is taunting Gast, asking him to participate in his own torture, or if Blackbeard genuinely thinks Gast is so craven he would think screaming in agony for a cut of the profits a good deal. In a book about senselessness, it is hard to know which character actually has any sense. Read my entire review here....more
I don’t know. Extreme horror just isn’t that extreme for me anymore except in what seems like the pervasive poverty of concept. I’m unsure if I’ve jusI don’t know. Extreme horror just isn’t that extreme for me anymore except in what seems like the pervasive poverty of concept. I’m unsure if I’ve just read so much real extreme horror, meaning nastiness with a real plot and real characterization, and splatter, which makes no pretense about being simply an attempt to gross-out, that it takes a lot to move me. Perhaps I just lucked out in the beginning of my literary life and read good horror, good extreme horror and now little measures up. I mean, you have writers out there like Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee, who write hard content in the course of telling one mean story. The horrific content happens because the tale itself is horrific but you get a plot, you get characters you give a damn about, you get a tight story that draws you in even as it appalls you. Then you have collections like Excitable Boys that are meant to be grotesque and nothing else and present no pretense otherwise. And then you have collections like this, wherein the stories which were meant to be actual stories were poorly written vehicles in which to deliver a gross-out, and not very gross gross-outs at that.
I know, I know, some are going to be tempted to say, “Look, Sugarpants, you just don’t get extreme horror. It’s not meant to be good fiction.” To which I say, “Feh.” Too many writers manage to get it right, marrying excellent story-telling and fabulous gore, for this argument to hold water. Accepting the mediocre because it is gross demeans the whole genre. This collection was neither good stories with extreme content nor a straightforward nausea-fest and as neither fish nor foul, it occupies an uneasy nether land, all the more uneasy because the stories were so… nothing. Nothing to them. It never bodes well when after reading a collection of short stories, I find myself rereading the whole thing because I can’t remember it. Sometimes you need a refresher when you want to discuss a story. You can jog your memory by reading a few lines. Not here. I had to reread entire chunks of many of these stories to recall what they were about, so unimpressive were they as a lot. A few were decent, three were quite good, but the rest were terrible and one so bad I could not get past the first few paragraphs. Read my entire review here....more
This collection contains eight stories, some hard science fiction, some science fiction combined with erotica, some transhumanist analyses, and plentyThis collection contains eight stories, some hard science fiction, some science fiction combined with erotica, some transhumanist analyses, and plenty of dystopia to last even the most jaded of readers for a long time. I admit that I prefer CRK when she is writing works that tilt more in the vein of horror – Alabaster and Daughter of Hounds are both in my list of Top 25 Books of All Time. But her essential themes remain even when her genre differs, and that is what matters I think. Read my entire review here. ...more
This is a book that should have annoyed me but it didn’t because Huston incorporates infuriating writing habits, cliched characters and plot devices iThis is a book that should have annoyed me but it didn’t because Huston incorporates infuriating writing habits, cliched characters and plot devices in a such a way that they seem fresh and interesting. Moreover, he blends and recreates genre in a way that others have tried and mostly failed to pull off. Read the entire review here....more
This is a hard one because overall most of these stories were entertaining and well-written. Yet many missed the point entirely or I am being too striThis is a hard one because overall most of these stories were entertaining and well-written. Yet many missed the point entirely or I am being too strict in what I consider a modern vampire story. I tend to think it is the former. Many of the stories really pushed the boundary of what it means to be a modern vampire story and not in a good way. In a 'this really has nothing to do with vampires in any way, shape or form unless one redefines the notion of vampire to have nothing to do with the concept of a vampire in a context in which vampires are recognizable' sort of way. Yeah. Seriously, that mangled sentence is the mental gymnastics one must go through to find vampires in some of these stories.
A vampire does not have to suck blood to be a vampire. Most vampire fans also do not demand a strict adherence to vampire canon in order to find worth and entertainment in a vampire story. But on some level, the vampirism cannot be so postmodern in its interpretation of vampires that an audience has to analyze the story to the point of banality to find the vampiric element and too many stories in this collection demanded that sort of analysis.
On the surface, this book seemed like it was gonna be great. The presence of Ed Lee was part of it but the descriptions also made it seem like it wasOn the surface, this book seemed like it was gonna be great. The presence of Ed Lee was part of it but the descriptions also made it seem like it was a winner. A journalist is contacted by a serial killing female in order to tell the killer’s story. The journalist enters a new relationship that challenges her emotionally and before long, the woman, her new lover and the killer are on a collision course, and the journalist and the killer find a horrifying link between themselves. Add a mean cop, lots of violence, and pow, you got yourself a decent enough serial killer book. And to be frank, the killer herself was at times an interesting character, and the violence she wreaks might be, for some extreme horror fans, worth the price of admission.
So… Why does this book stink a’plenty? The reasons are myriad and glaring. First, you will never read a more cliched book outside of a romance novel or a western, or maybe a romance set in the Old West, preferably written by my mom. You’ve got your neurotic heroine who is hot and sexy but at weight lighter than Marilyn Fucking Monroe feels she is obese and ugly. Also she’s wacky and likes to run around naked all the time, as body-loathing headcases are wont to do, amirite? We have a murderous whackjob who is a caricature of every abused female killer, with an endless mental dialogue with her abusive daddy. And despite the fact that she’s a mentally deranged killer, she still somehow manages to dress up, lure, stalk and kill her victims and hold a day job with almost nary a hiccup.
But there’s more, oh so much more. We have the cliche of the hard ass cop bullying his unhappy witness. We have a man who is evidently a poet who is acclaimed enough to have made it into The New Yorker who is capable of writing poetry that would make a teenage goth misery case ashamed at the turgid purpleness of it all. Also, he falls in love with the heroine after a night of sex, because that’s what poets do – they fall in love with weird women involved in murder cases. And in a novel about tracking a serial killer, despite the fact that Elizabeth Steffen is a federal crime analyst, we have characters who use the words psychopath and psychotic interchangeably, descriptions of mental states that read like gibberish and a character who appears to be largely psychotic who is yet still able to write out scholarly analyses of her torture techniques. Read my entire review here....more