I wanted to enjoy some quick pulp thrills and at the same time get to know one of the masters of horror fiction; when this book fell into my lap, it sI wanted to enjoy some quick pulp thrills and at the same time get to know one of the masters of horror fiction; when this book fell into my lap, it seemed the perfect ticket. True enough, this is a brutal novel that sets its table with admirable economy. For a while, the only thing wrong with it is that there's a lot of outsize concern with characters' sex lives. (Well...it's pulp from the late '70s, so whaddya expect?!)
As the story accelerates toward resolving the fates of several small groups of characters, some barely-sewn-together gaps appear in the pacing. The quick chapters gradually betray some clumsiness among the editing. The last handful of chapters amount to little more than a hot mess. (I understand that a posthumous revision of this novel re-creates much of the author's original intent from start to finish--and that it required significant changes over this original edition.)...more
A strong three stars for this graphic collection of five horror stories (and miniatures at front and back). Parts were very strong, both in to-the-bonA strong three stars for this graphic collection of five horror stories (and miniatures at front and back). Parts were very strong, both in to-the-bone wording and dynamics of stark-and-then-subtle shifts in illustration style. But a couple of the stories had endings that just thudded on their respective duffs, and some stories were so basic that I felt like I was just flipping pages and admiring the attempt, rather than feeling the story. (Caves, yeah--I get it; they make graphic pages more multi-dimensional...)
It's a risk with trying for a primal story, of course. There's no subplots, etc., to keep things sufficiently interesting to maintain a bridge of reader's interest when the atmosphere gets a bit monotonous or your main characters make predictable turns. Carroll's stories always either succeed chillingly or are competent in execution, so I'll keep curious and hopeful about investigating her back catalog and future works....more
Throughout the reading I was back-and-forth on whether I was significantly enjoying this book...or was it just too hit-and-miss?
First note: For a colThroughout the reading I was back-and-forth on whether I was significantly enjoying this book...or was it just too hit-and-miss?
First note: For a collection that was nominally YA, the editors weren't at all afraid to go significantly dark. But they certainly weren't looking for all dark--and among the stories that did hue dark, there was variety in levels of subtlety, quietude, modernity, grossness, and cruelty.
But it wasn't the bleakness or grue that made the collection inconsistent--it was that some stories just didn't earn their place here, and some of those that were here didn't earn their lengthier page counts.
Standing out among the disappointments: "Wings in the Morning," which wanted to be a little bit twee and a little bit instructive about tolerance among combative adolescents--but I felt I was being force-fed material that was working too hard to hit the correct sociological checklists. "Son of Abyss," meanwhile, was also trying too hard--but the author must've thought there'd be no problem being redundant about scenes of bullying among the demonic. Surprisingly, Kelly Link's story wasn't an absolute knockout, either.
But there were stories--and some sequencing--that just won me over. Holly Black's story of space piracy had an accomplished light touch--I'd hire her to script new episodes of "Firefly." In this book, that piece is immediately followed by a carefully and deliberately written novelette of nostalgic fable-spinning. The contrast between those two stories was a triumph in editing, as I see it (and a reminder that there's reason to read collections in order, though I don't always).
Nathan Ballingrud ("The Diabolist") and Nalo Hopkinson ("Left Foot, Right") contribute very intense and superbly written stories. The former has prose style to burn. The latter is a piece that develops a very full and satisfying sense of wonder, even as you know that the reed-thin posts upon which the plot is tiptoeing will give way to a fall that has plenty of the stuff of nightmares.
Speaking of which, I was uncertain whether this book had earned its fourth star all the way until the middle of the final piece. But Alice Sola Kim's "Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying" uses its last few pages to bring home a near-perfect example of what this anthology is trying to deliver. So I was left wanting more, overall, and the power of the best pieces made the lapses very much forgivable....more
Powerful use of language--just a little showy and self-satisfied in stretches, but the most humble parts of this short work are sufficiently disarmingPowerful use of language--just a little showy and self-satisfied in stretches, but the most humble parts of this short work are sufficiently disarming to re-establish the balance of the whole. Immerse yourself in this multidimensional update of Zelazny-style novelette. There's impressionistic association between phases of matter (specifically, what happens to bonds and containers when you keep adding energy) and life in the most violence-prone sections of Pakistan. Floating apart (above) the incidents and telling details are ideas related to lives (individual, sibling, family, community) lived as a zero-sum game. Yes, the demanding (and just a hair stiff) structure helped even more to remind me of Ellison's "The Deathbird"--but that's definitely not a bad thing....more
Rate this one at a strong 3 stars. I'm a great believer that many great tales of dark fiction are told best as novellas or short novels--and perhaps tRate this one at a strong 3 stars. I'm a great believer that many great tales of dark fiction are told best as novellas or short novels--and perhaps this is just the sort of exception that proves the rule. The early chapters are such a crash-dive into a series of convenient-to-the-plot oddities that it all felt a bit sketchy--as if the authors were more concerned with the poetic concision with which they kept the protagonists world off-kilter.
I found it very strange indeed that I was wanting this tale to be significantly expanded in those beginning stages. And then I found the final chapters to be heavy on detail as the complex nature of this strange world was fully explained and its driving forces rectified.
In between? The middle section of this book was where I was gripped. There's a scene at a prison that's written brilliantly. It's the fulcrum inserted to set up more-direct tensions for those readers who might be getting too comfortable with simply following along with the spooky surroundings.
The "goblin" about whom the story revolves, well he's quite the unique character.
So I'm left with a set-up that had me begging for a more placid pace, a riveting pivot (and the prison sequence isn't the only moment that succeeds to this extent--there's a moment where a thin coat of paint becomes oh so important...it's a real eyeball-grabber), and then an extended denouement that's just a bit overbusy.
I liked it, and at times loved it. Dark fantasy, well told on the whole. ...more
A shaggy HAL story. A traumatized protagonist gets a groggy awakening into a nightmare that will stretch years into the future--when all the time she'A shaggy HAL story. A traumatized protagonist gets a groggy awakening into a nightmare that will stretch years into the future--when all the time she's almost always been running to escape the past. This first-person portrait of deep-space aloneness ends up a little busy and imbalanced, though along the way there's a considerable amount of skill displayed in the characterization and world-building....more
In need of a relaxing few minutes, I couldn't have chosen better than this very good little chapter book. Le Guin shows a beautiful control (No surpriIn need of a relaxing few minutes, I couldn't have chosen better than this very good little chapter book. Le Guin shows a beautiful control (No surprise there) in how she balances the grit in the initial urban setting with the cuteness of the title characters--who know that to grow into their lives, they'll have to move beyond their kittenhood home. Potential threats appear wherever they go, but the four little protagonists have natural pluck and camaraderie to match any obstacle (Well, the wings are a bit of a help, too!)....more
A novelette that shows the inestimable Lucy Taylor is in fine form. In a way, this tale's foundation seems to lie in Taylor getting the opportunity toA novelette that shows the inestimable Lucy Taylor is in fine form. In a way, this tale's foundation seems to lie in Taylor getting the opportunity to employ her observations of the landscape and local culture since her recent move to New Mexico.
Roadside memorials--though they may be found all over--have a special place in the Land of Enchantment. Whether in the traditional form of crosses and flowers, or something very personal to the deceased or the family, the "descansos" are where matters spiritual and earthy have a very singular connection. One family recently transplanted from California to the outskirts of Santa Fe are subjected to the dangerous power found at those meeting places.
The narrative voice is wonderfully complex here--there's no doubt about being drawn in and then staying glued to what's happening to the teacher whose insecurities and determination may be making it difficult for him to deal with what's quickly escalating far beyond his control. All the other voices are very well handled, too.
I could've handled a good bit more of this story. The story seems to be missing its third gear on what is otherwise a beautifully fine course after initial setup. The story has rhythms familial, marital, community, natural, and parental all laid out well (in remarkably few pages) and its final sections are riveting--I just wish I could've known a little more about the slightly mysterious neighbor and the phenomena that, each in their own way, help lead to the gripping end. ...more
The setup is great--not innovative, but wonderfully executed: a small-time magician from Scotland gets some gigs he can scratch by on, if he'll go toThe setup is great--not innovative, but wonderfully executed: a small-time magician from Scotland gets some gigs he can scratch by on, if he'll go to Berlin. There he finds the Wehrmacht atmosphere that seems to be a permanent part of the city. His assistant might be more of a Mata Hari than a Sally Bowles. Eventually, the past comes calling in a way that's common to noirs and gothics. It takes s stretch in fever-dream before the author serves up a satisfactory return to relatively concrete reality. ...more
A vivid bit of historical recasting, at first. But like the title subject Marlowe, the ending (the approach to it, anyway--that's where Welsh depositsA vivid bit of historical recasting, at first. But like the title subject Marlowe, the ending (the approach to it, anyway--that's where Welsh deposits the reader, as if we've all stayed too long in a tale that is destined to fade into mystery) comes too quick. I don't mind a book of this length--not at all--but it had already picked up a small trace of tiredness. ...more
A solid-enough fable where multiple nations, multiple faiths, and multiple philosophies come together to sing Kumbaya and repetitively remind the readA solid-enough fable where multiple nations, multiple faiths, and multiple philosophies come together to sing Kumbaya and repetitively remind the reader to "Follow your dreams, Kid!"
For me, the book earned considerable respect by balancing the spiritual alternatives almost to the point of an impossible number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. And yet it comes in with two or three good little adventures and an equal number of Dickensian episodes and pulls it all home in less than 200 pages. Bravo, Mr. Coelho.
The idea of the Personal Legend was handled with aplomb (but not subtlety--the only attempts at that here are unsuccessful) Less successful were the discussions of how to hear the Voice of the Soul (or is it the Voice of the Universe? Yeah, sometimes the New Age substitutions for multiple layers of faith got a bit buzzwordy). The desert's an appropriate place for a spiritual coming of age, and the interactions with nature help the story along. Islamic attitudes get a couple of portrayals that offered light insights, but Christianity was seen as a mixed bag (in Europe it's a lapsed shambles; the Coptics in Egypt come off somewhat better because they don't get uptight about a working alchemist in their presence).
I liked the tale of Santiago enough, even after the unfortunate wish-fulfillment ending that played like a Joel Osteen sermon on an off-week. It would've been better to fill out details of the good story and trust that you didn't have to overinsert the lightweight philosophy. A little of that would've been plenty, and of course a lat-adolescent protagonist means that a bit of overkill on that account might be fitting to the maturity level. But it was eventually too much, and I eventually came to the conclusion that I was glad this was a quick 'n short book....more
Oft-wonderful narrative voice takes over this novella, so that I was surprised and gripped by the diptych of climactic scenes...even though one showedOft-wonderful narrative voice takes over this novella, so that I was surprised and gripped by the diptych of climactic scenes...even though one showed the entire work to be a retelling of a fable, and the other was a journalistic snapshot of historical realism. My compliments to the author that, even though this was a relatively short novella, she found the time and ability to have me lulled (but I never thought the story dawdled). Deborah's sharpness and her sister's impulsive younger-sibling attributes ("Sense and Sensibility" informs some of the interactions here) are brought to life masterfully, and the other characters handled just about as well. Though I can readily see that those who attach themselves to books based on length will wonder why "Burning Girls" wasn't a novel, I thought it worked fine as a novella.
A variation on Orpheus-and-Eurydice, featuring a post-punk teen heroine.
Actually, the majority of this book is the Orpheus variant. Early on, it seemeA variation on Orpheus-and-Eurydice, featuring a post-punk teen heroine.
Actually, the majority of this book is the Orpheus variant. Early on, it seemed to be more Faustian...but also ready to head in other directions. The final direction--that is, what takes up more than half of the book--is a protracted and convoluted chase sequence in an underworld that is the way-station of departed souls. And it drags in multiple places.
The initial setup, with introduction of the heroine and her family (including a dream figure, which added a little but not enough to justify his page-space), struggles on the verge of poverty, the alienation of being in a new school/life environment, and then a mystical record-store owner who has a tantalyzing offer...this was great stuff! If only these stayed in prominence after the one-third point, but they lessened in the focus, and the chase through the horrible underworld began.
Know what? Torturing characters who are already dead just deadens the impact. Likewise, a heroine who's in cussing denial of her own feelings isn't the best sounding board to investigate the unfairness that can be brought upon lost souls. She's fine during the early scenes, though...Yes, that's the word: nothing too wrong with the story as a whole, but it was going someplace unique and imaginative at first (I was thinking it would be like Charles Beaumont gone modern and savage) but its second half turned into a just-good-enough quest novella....more
Only some of the "surprises" really were. The wrap-up/last quarter seemed a bit haphazard and arbitrary. Katniss' adolescence-meet-PTSD symptoms got rOnly some of the "surprises" really were. The wrap-up/last quarter seemed a bit haphazard and arbitrary. Katniss' adolescence-meet-PTSD symptoms got repetitive as this book goes along. That said, as trilogy wrap-ups go, it had me hanging on and flipping through pages with enthusiasm and curiosity--so this just barely hangs on to its fourth star in my rating. Collins seemed to want to play more with variety of pacing here compared with the earlier volumes--and she often did this well. That may be the key to how she maintained my interest (which often slides so much that I don't often finish trilogies/series)....more
Erotic horror focusing on teens who are their own worst enemies when it comes to entertaining themselves and respecting each other. The novelette builErotic horror focusing on teens who are their own worst enemies when it comes to entertaining themselves and respecting each other. The novelette builds to a pair of climactic scenes that are relentless (in a good way--i.e., effective). The character development is subdued to an appropriate degree, although the quality of those moments are still a bit thin for my taste. I was disappointed in particular by the old man who makes them a tempting offer; I was expecting a more revealing compare-and-contrast between his failures and those of the teens....more
This collection offers four pieces--novelettes and a short novella--reflecting the "Four Ages of Man." Tone and direction and style vary greatly here,This collection offers four pieces--novelettes and a short novella--reflecting the "Four Ages of Man." Tone and direction and style vary greatly here, so this book is best approached by a reader ready for anything.
Malon Edwards' contribution seems equal parts steampunk, urban fantasy, and bizarre surrealism. My favorite genre is not on that list--and yet I found this piece very compelling. He's made a complete world and is very comfortable with sharing its extremes with the reader. But as much as he surprisingly won me over, I expect in subsequent reads I'll enjoy this author most in short doses.
The other three contributions are more traditionally grounded--but each author adds plenty of individual flavor. "Gully Gods" by Edward Erdalac somehow succeeds in maintaining the voice of a 17-year-old street thug. The story takes a while to get going but its momentum strengthens as it goes along. In contrast, "Queen" by Lincoln Crisler seems busy for the sake of busyness. There are a lot of plot elements that distracted from each other, even though some of the short scenes worked well at deepening character. "Cenotaph" by Tim Marquitz has some action-thriller elements pick up and resolve a morose setup that's written with great brio.
This volume is quite affecting at times. I'll be considering more from all of these authors in the future....more