After the People Lights Have Gone Off is nagging at me for a review, and I'm not sure what to tell it. When, in his cover-blurb, Laird Barron likens tAfter the People Lights Have Gone Off is nagging at me for a review, and I'm not sure what to tell it. When, in his cover-blurb, Laird Barron likens the book to "a malignant grain of an evil dream," he's on to something. I keep thinking about certain of these stories in a kind of awe at how immediately they imprinted themselves on me, but others eluded or vexed me for reasons that probably say more about me than they do about Stephen Graham Jones' writing.
Let's start with what I loved. I loved that the collection contains gutting new twists on the dusty old vampire and werewolf genres; I loved the fact that two of the stories ("Xebico" and "The Spindly Man") are inspired rejoinders to other weird tales I'm fond of. I loved that SGJ can find the terrifying in the mundanity of a laser kitchen thermometer, an old fruit-crate or a thrift-shop hoodie. And I love that the title piece is looking like one of my favorite haunted house stories ever.
Thematically, though, not much love. There is an awful lot of grieving and coping (badly) and loss of all kinds going on here. In After the People Lights Have Gone Off grief is practically a character. There are stories about lost children, sick children, funerals, dead or sick or broken spouses, and also stories about the horrible deals humans make to keep death's darkness at bay. Though SGJ manages to inject the madness of grief with touches of humor and humanity, the vibe can get pretty heavy in the places most of us would rather not think about, where the terrible truths about loss live.
Maybe my indifference to certain stories, "Snow Monsters" and "Second Chances," for example, is that they didn't really poke my scary spots, as I'm not a parent or even particularly fond of children. (Some people think that makes me a sociopath, but I know they're just envious of all the "me-time" I get.) Other stories, like "This is Love," and "Brushdogs," I'll admit that I just don't get (yet). Both are also about lost children, in different ways, but what vexes me in both cases is the suggestion of repetitive time looping or doubling that I still just can't get my head around. (Which is funny, because I've read them both before in anthologies.)
I know this isn't my most coherent review, and that's because I'm not really done mulling the stories. I have to take After the People Lights Have Gone Off back to the library now, but I'm not likely to be done thinking about it for awhile....more
I finally finished, but honestly can't feel good about writing a review of The Bone Clocks, because my reading of it was so interrupted, so much in fiI finally finished, but honestly can't feel good about writing a review of The Bone Clocks, because my reading of it was so interrupted, so much in fits and starts. First, I had to return it to the library, mid-book; then I bought it on Kindle, which proceeded to give me problems at about 90% through. Obviously, problem solved, but I'm not sure it all sunk in, thematically speaking. I remember thinking "Wow! This is turning into some awesome urban fantasy!," then lost the thread at some point. I know I like Mitchell's writing quite a bit, as well as his ability to create and inhabit a large cast of very different characters.
Someday, I will obtain another physical copy and give it the better shot I know it deserves. ...more
Wow, this book took me a long time to read. Not in a bad way; it's just that Lindqvist's first collection of short stores, while beautifully written (Wow, this book took me a long time to read. Not in a bad way; it's just that Lindqvist's first collection of short stores, while beautifully written (and beautifully translated by Ebba Segerberg), is dense, with the majority of the dozen stories on the long side, some to good and others to not-so-great effect.
Fortunately, there were only two stories I simply didn't care for in Let the Old Dreams Die. One, "To Put My Arms Around You, to Music," Linqvist admits in his amusing afterword, nobody but the author himself likes. (So it's okay that my notes on this story consisted of "I don't get it.") The other, "Itsy-Bitsy," is short and sharp modern morality tale about a paparazzo, but its moral is kind of hamhanded, and it's just not of the emotional complexity I've come to expect from Linqvist and his characters. (Ironically, considering what I just said about long stories, I think those two are the shortest in the book.)
Overall, though, the collection is top-notch, with stories dark, surreal and moving all at once. Favorites include: "The Border," in which a middle-aged woman slowly realizes she's something other than she'd always believed (avoiding spoilers here); "Eternal/Love," about a couple who discover how to manipulate Death; "A Village in the Sky," about an apartment building gone subtly wrong and getting wronger fast; and "Tindalos," a tour-de-force portrait of one woman's anxiety which somehow morphs into a giant monster movie. These last three especially have a cosmic horror vibe that I really loved.
Finally, I'm sure people are wondering about the advertised "sequel" stories to Handling the Undead -- "Final Processing" -- and Let the Right One In -- "Let the Old Dreams Die." So how are they? Harrowing and beautiful, in that order. "Final Processing" brings us up to date on the un-pretty status of the "re-living," and is a pretty grueling read. It's also bordering on novella-length, losing some of its punch along the way. But "Let the Old Dreams Die," which closes the book, is a beautiful love story about a couple who met while working on Oskar's "kidnapping." (She was a cop; he was the station worker who punched Oskar's train ticket the last time he was seen alive. They clicked in the interview room.) The case continues to be an ongoing hobby for the pair, though the trail has long ago gone cold. I won't say any more, but the final page of this story is a little miracle, and a perfect note on which to end. (Except you should also read Lindqvist's afterword, which is funny and self effacing, as well as lending some insight to his madness.)...more
Simply fascinating! I've lived in San Francisco for the better part of the last 20 years, but there is so much I didn't know about my adopted hometownSimply fascinating! I've lived in San Francisco for the better part of the last 20 years, but there is so much I didn't know about my adopted hometown. In newsy, easily digestible chapters, Talbot takes readers on an intimate tour of the highs and lows of Baghdad by the Bay, from the first blush of the Summer of Love to the invention of the cocktail that saved countless suffering HIV patients from certain death. (FYI, while those events make neat emotional bookends, Talbot also covers some earlier socio-political history, mainly to set the context for the revolutionary times that are his focus.) Maybe most importantly, Season of the Witch sheds new light on just how those now-infamous "San Francisco values" came into being.
For his book Talbot interviewed many well-known but disparate locals, including former Mayor, now Senator Dianne Feinstein, writer Armisted Maupin, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and cult survivor Jim Jones, Jr. But he also took the time to talk to lesser-known game-changers like David Smith, founder of the revolutionary Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, and Dr. Paul Volberding, an early hero in the field of AIDS research. Both medical men have harrowing, yet ultimately heartening stories to tell. Talbot also profiles countless other San Franciscans from all walks: black music promoter and patron of the Fillmore district, Charles Sullivan, who gave Bill Graham his first big break by "loaning" him the Fillmore Ballroom on unbooked nights; legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who took the team (and the City) to glory in the 80s; beloved society columnist Herb Caen; and of course liberal political and gay rights martyrs George Moscone and Harvey Milk.
Just like San Francisco weather, the light moments here are interspersed with the dark. The Diggers confound shoplifters with their Haight Ashbury Free Store. Control freak Bill Graham gets dosed at a Grateful Dead show. Mayor Moscone and future Mayor Willie Brown paint the town red. The Cockettes and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence raise eyebrows while raising funds for local causes. The 49ers bring the City back from the edge of despair with a near-miraculous Super Bowl victory. And also: hordes of sick and malnourished flower children live in conditions comparable to Calcutta; the Altamont music festival spirals into a mess of blood and blame; heiress Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the shadowy SLA; and the Zodiac and Zebra killers run amok simultaneously, with a minimum total of 30 victims between them.
But the centerpiece of the book is when Talbot relates, in graphic detail, the two bleakest moments in San Francisco history since the 1906 quake and fire nearly wiped it out: in November 1978, popular Bay Area based preacher Jim Jones led 918 Peoples Temple followers to "revolutionary suicide" in Guyana -- leaving thousands of friends and families bereft. The liberal civic leaders who had been Jones' boosters were mortified. Then, just nine days later, Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk (both still reeling with shock and horror about their association with Jones) were assassinated in their City Hall offices by disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White. Dark days indeed.
I have one small reservation, based on purely personal bias. Nearing the end of his tale, Talbot includes two whole chapters on the birth of the championship-era 49ers (including some play-by-play of the 1982 Superbowl), but only one on the whole arc of the AIDS epidemic. I suppose if you like football that's a treat, but to focus on the struggles of a football team -- even one that may just have saved the morale of this city -- and yet give admittedly moving, but very short shrift to the thousands who died horribly before medicine caught up with liberation seems somehow wrong. But hey, maybe that's just me and my crazy San Francisco values. Overall, a fascinating true tall tale. 4.5 stars.
Though bleaker than the first book -- if that's even possible -- The Curse of the Wendigo is another cracking adventure in monstrumology from Ri4.5/5
Though bleaker than the first book -- if that's even possible -- The Curse of the Wendigo is another cracking adventure in monstrumology from Rick Yancey. This time, Pellinore Warthrop and young Will Henry trek to the trackless wilds of Canada, seeking a fellow monstrumologist who has gone missing in search of the infamous Wendigo. Their ordeal in the virgin forest nods to a certain other tale of The Wendigo, but this time it doesn't end there: the "curse" follows them home to America, and in its ravening hunger, this beast will leave a trail of bodies strewn across Manhattan . . . some of them belonging to beloved friends. This monster is even more dangerous than the slavering, subhuman Anthropophagi of the first book . . . for the cunning Wendigo not only hunts its prey, it knows its prey, and once you hear it call your name, there is no escape.
Darker, scarier and far more devastating than its predecessor, The Curse of the Wendigo once again serves buckets of blood and viscera, but also engages more deeply with the emotionally scarred monstrumologist, and baldly shows how punishments for our past actions can reverberate on our present. I'd say the themes are actually fairly adult -- the moral weight of guilt, love lost, hope slashed, and aspirations denied sits heavy on the book; even the "victory" is imbued with loss and a sense of failure. Definitely for older teens, who may better intuit the emotional world this book charts.
Though I did miss the slightly quippier tone of the first book, The Curse of the Wendigo is certainly haunting, and beautifully written in a style that would please Mr. Blackwood immensely. I'm fully invested in this series -- cannot wait to read The Isle of Blood...more
What a wonderful, terrible, hilarious, disgusting, compelling adventure yarn The Monstrumologist is! I've never read anything even remotely like it. In a nutshell, here's why you should read this book.
1) The monsters -- Anthropophagi -- are completely terrifying. Savage, headless man-eaters, fierce, fast and thoroughly disgusting, they have inexplicably appeared in a small New England town and embarked on a feeding frenzy. These nasty beasties are a welcome development for horror fiction, which has nurtured too many romanticized monsters of late. You do not want to date one of these fellows, of that you can be sure. On they other hand, they'd love to have you incubate their offspring . . ..
2) The sweet-and-sour relationship between the Monstrumologist himself (who is rather like a bizarro-world Sherlock Holmes on one of his manic benders), and our narrator, the plucky and resilient twelve year-old orphan Will Henry. Will has recently inherited his father's position as the peculiar monster-hunting scientist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop's assistant, and is about to be plunged into the kind of mayhem that would make even professional monster-hunters quail. Before the tale is told Will will see (and do!) unthinkable things in the name of science, and forge himself a new family from the ashes of tragedy.
3) Yancey's writing is wonderful. Densely descriptive without being dull; poetic without being pretentious. Top notch plotting as well. I've seen reviews say it was slow in the middle, but I couldn't put it down at any point. When the action slows down, the character development picks up the slack with sharp, funny dialogue and moments of painful honesty about the human (and inhuman) condition. Also, the feeling of dread that builds throughout, especially in the quiet moments, leads to a spectacular payoff.
4) It's viscerrific! The Monstrumologist may be one of the bloodiest (and brain-iest, and pus-iest, and maggot-iest) books I have ever read. The gore is so over-the-top that sometimes I laughed and cringed simultaneously. I know it's considered a YA novel (and has the Printz-prize sticker to prove it); however I'm pretty sure it would have terrified me as a kid. Granted, I was kind of a wuss, but there were at least two scenes where the jaded, adult me felt the need to avert my gaze and skip ahead because I really didn't want any more detail about the disgustingness happening. (No, no, no, no, NO. A world of no.) You'd better be sure your kid can take it -- I'd read it first, just to be sure.
Grotesque, rollicking and unique fun, The Monstrumologist has made a Rick Yancey fan out of me. I can't wait to get my hands on the second installment, The Curse of the Wendigo....more
George R.R. Martin writes a lot, having set his hand to everything from television scripts, to short stories, to epic series. Horror, science fiction,George R.R. Martin writes a lot, having set his hand to everything from television scripts, to short stories, to epic series. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, he's done it all. He's also been at it quite a long time. Fevre Dream, the story of a magnificent steamboat, her captain, and the vampires struggling for control of the Mississippi region, is one of his earliest novels -- 30 years old now -- but already his talent for world building was dazzling.
Let's get something straight up front. I can already hear people saying "Vampires? I am so over vampires . . .," and tuning out. But consider: this novel was written ages before the good vampire/bad vampire dichotomy became rote, years before they became rock stars, and decades before they sparkled. Do yourself a favor and try to approach it unjaded, because . . .
Fevre Dream is also fantastic historical fiction, as much about the vanished world of steamboats and their captains plying the eternal river as anything else. Martin's magic way with details transports the reader straight to the Mississippi waterfronts of the 1850s. There we meet the blustering Abner Marsh, owner of the Fevre River Packet Company. Abner has come on hard times; his once-prosperous fleet reduced from six boats to one by the vagaries of fire and weather. And so it is we find him entertaining a too-good-to-be-true offer of partnership from one Joshua York, a mysterious, and very rich, businessman. The offer includes not only the purchase of half the company, but the promise to build Marsh the most glorious steamboat the river has ever seen. The catch? York will of course be in charge, and his retinue aboard . . . And Abner is to ask no questions.
Dubious at first, Marsh is finally seduced by the idea of a steamboat so fast that it can beat the Eclipse, the current star of the Mississippi. And when she's done, it's love at first sight:
The mists gave way for them, and there she stood, high and proud, dwarfing all the other boats around her. Her cabins and rails gleamed with fresh paint pale as snow, bright even in the gray shroud of fog. Way up on her texas roof, halfway to the stars, her pilot house seemed to glitter; a glass temple, its ornate cupola decorated all around with fancy woodwork as intricate as Irish lace. Her chimneys, twin pillars that stood just forward of the texas deck, rose up a hundred feet, black and straight and haughty. Their feathered tops bloomed like two dark metal flowers.
Shrugging off any ominous associations, he names her the Fevre Dream, and the river's finest new showboat sets off with a full load of passengers and cargo, headed first to St. Louis, and on to New Orleans. It's the happiest day of Abner Marsh's life.
It's not long, however, before Abner tires of his partner's secrets and strange behavior. York sleeps all day, requests the Fevre Dream make unscheduled stops and disappears, sometimes for days, delaying the increasingly irritated passengers and, more importantly, spoiling the reputation of his boat before she has had a chance to prove herself. Suspicious, Marsh takes matters into his own hands, searching York's cabin while he is away. What he finds there will thrust him, and the Fevre Dream, into the middle of a decades-long feud between two vampires struggling for ideological control of their species.
It doesn't surprise me to find beautiful passages and sensuous detail in a book by Martin, or complicated relationships and complex reversals of fate. He's a magnificent writer. But it's clear in Fevre Dream that he's still honing certain talents. One of the weaker areas is characterization, which in some cases (looking at you, Abner) is more vivid than subtle. He is not yet the creator of the ridiculously lifelike Tyrion Lannister, and ASoIaF lovers might feel the characters approaching caricature some of the time. (So, really, Fevre Dream only suffers in comparison to his later awesomeness.) It's also hard to read old-school vampire stories with a straight face in the wake of the pop-cultural deluge. But do try to get past it: a 4-star novel from GRRM is probably better than whatever you're reading right now. ...more
I am ridiculously sad to say that my library e-loan expired before I had a chance to write a detailed review of Stay Awake. I hope to pick up a copy oI am ridiculously sad to say that my library e-loan expired before I had a chance to write a detailed review of Stay Awake. I hope to pick up a copy of my own shortly, but I can at this point say this is one of the best books I've read this year. Chaon is yet another contemporary writer who eludes easy classification (I love the outliers), walking the edge between realism and phantasm with a deftness that takes my breath away. One of the most instantly memorable stories is the title one, in which we meet the parents of a baby with a parasitic twin head. Without access to the text all I can do is paraphrase, but lines like a concerned bystander asking "Did you give it a name?" stir up all kinds of existential weirdness.
Not everyone loves short stories as much as I do, but even if you don't, Dan Chaon's might just change your mind. Five fat stars and a heaping plateful of envy....more
After the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -After the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -- and yet it's also quite perfect. Because, like Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, Maureen F. McHugh's thoughtful collection of stories is really about how we, just us normal people, get up and get on with it after the unthinkable has occurred.
At heart, these are intimate tales about people and their strange new lives: keeping family safe, finding work, finding food, losing their homes, their minds and their innocence. While some common genre tropes appear (a government "zombie reserve" that doubles as a fight-or-die penal colony; an unstoppable strain of avian flu that takes its sweet, relentless time to turn a human brain to mush; disparate strangers inexplicably drawn to converge in a particular place), the apocalypses -- yes, the plural form is required -- in these stories are equally the result of problems already on our doorsteps: natural disasters; overburdened and failing urban infrastructures; economic meltdowns; and machines that might just be smarter than we are.
With clean, evocative prose, a killer eye for detail, and a sympathetic, humorous (but never indulgent) view into the human condition, McHugh has crafted a work of speculative fiction about what humanity might stand to lose -- or just maybe gain -- when we are faced with the burdens of the end times already rearing their ugly heads. Her characters are not always kind, not always moral. But they are astute, funny and absolutely believable. (And as a bonus, one wears the coolest t-shirt ever: "If You're Really a Goth, Where Were You When We Sacked Rome?")...more
Justin Evans' The White Devil is yet another book I'd like to give 4.5 stars. As the system won't let me, I'll settle for saying it's among my favoritJustin Evans' The White Devil is yet another book I'd like to give 4.5 stars. As the system won't let me, I'll settle for saying it's among my favorites of 2011.
When rebellious seventeen year-old Andrew Taylor is packed off to do his senior year abroad at England's venerable and prestigious Harrow boarding school in hopes of restoring his tarnished record, he knows it will be a strange new experience. What he doesn't anticipate is that his arrival will be the catalyst for a series of eerie and deadly events which are -- somehow -- related to one of Harrow's most notorious alumni: the boy who would become the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" Lord Byron.
Part literary mystery and part ghost story, The White Devil is suspenseful, literate, creepy and melancholy all at once. And, while I thoroughly enjoyed Evans' debut novel, A Good and Happy Child, I think that with his second he has definitely become an author to watch. Again, I say 4.5 stars.
Set in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautifulSet in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautiful tale about loss, mourning and redemption. Within its modest number of pages, which easily could (and possibly should) be read in one sitting on a cold winter's night, new life is breathed into fairy tale, history lesson, love story, ghost story and travelogue.
If you've read Mosse before, the setting and even some of the details will be familiar ground, but this spare narrative about a grieving traveler who encounters the ephemeral in a tiny mountain village is unburdened by the complex twists and turns of her longer historical mysteries (which have their own pleasures), and feels strangely timeless, even archetypal. The writing itself is gorgeous, particularly when it comes to sights, smells, even food and fabric -- all the jewel-like details that make one place so very unlike any other. The Winter Ghosts is in fact an almost perfect gem of a book, and one that will no doubt linger at the edges of my mind for a very long time....more