Even better than Volume 2! The byline for Shock Totem is: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted. What you get is a collection of stories (and more)...moreEven better than Volume 2! The byline for Shock Totem is: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted. What you get is a collection of stories (and more) that don't fall into the standard horror mix. These are tales that Vincent Price might regale you with, or Lovecraft would nod at with approval. If you're looking for guys with chainsaws running around, you're in the wrong place.
I don't think I've mentioned this before but the cover art always sucks me in. This issue, featuring a house of surreal, menacing architecture is no exception.
This issue opens with "Bop Kabala and Communist Jazz". It was the only story that I didn't enjoy so I'm glad that it was first. I can't offer a reason other than to say it didn't grab me.
"The Meat Forest" was next and it was great! The story takes place in a gulag in the Siberian wilderness surrounded by a forest. While the camp described by John Haggerty was bad enough, it was the forest where the real horror began. If I say anything more, I'll spoil it.
The first interview was next. This one was with author D. Harlan Wilson. I enjoy the interviews as they give you a peek inside the author's mind. Later, there's an interview with Count Lyle of the band Ghoultown. There's also many reviews of books, movies, and music. The subject of Mercedes Yardley's "Abominations" column in this issue is mines. The fact that it's titled "Voracious Black" should give you a clue.
"Worm Central Tonite!" was yummy goodness from John Skipp. "Day Job" imagines how the day-to-day grind of watching over humans can wear on an angel. "Wanting It" is a solid ghost story.
"Eye, You" is a rare second person tale that mixes social media narcissism with a dash of Lovecraftian flavored madness. "Stitched" begs the question, "Who gets to decide what is normal?" I'm not sure what was going on in "Duval Street", but I liked it.
"A Birth in the Year of the Miracle Plague" offers a glimpse into the life of children in a zombie apocalypse. It was my third favorite story in the issue.
Stories involving children who see monsters only to have their parents disbelieve them (until it's too late) is a common theme in horror. This issue has two stories that fit that theme: "Drift" and "Mr. Many Faces". The former involves snow, and it reminded me of that Robot Chicken episode where snowflakes are falling from the sky and screaming because they can't move once they hit the ground. They're just stacked on top of each other. Only this story is more sinister. "Mr. Many Faces" starts off with the proverbial daughter complaining there's a monster in her closet. But author S. Clayton Rhodes twists everything around and breaks out of what could've been a cliche. It wound up being my favorite story in the collection.
I look forward to what K. Allen Wood and company have in store for volume 4.(less)
A couple of years ago, I was wandering through the annual book sale held by my town's library when I found this treasure. It only cost me $2. 884 page...moreA couple of years ago, I was wandering through the annual book sale held by my town's library when I found this treasure. It only cost me $2. 884 pages of short stories for $2! A steal. A crime!
This collection of 100 short stories from 1943 to 1980 has been a joy to read. I've been able to re-connect with old favorites and discover new (to me) ones. It's like stepping back in time, to when the library stacks were tall and hallowed.
In this collection you'll find a wide variety of stories spanning Bradbury's career. You'll get the spooky stories that wound up in Weird Tales at the beginning of his career, a whole host of pulpy sci-fi from the dawn of the Space Age, and many more that explore the human condition with its immersion into suburbia and taking its first steps out among the stars.
Bradbury was one of the best authors of the 20th century. You'd be hard pressed to find another author who best captured what it was like to be alive during his time, from the wonder of a child to the dark murderous thoughts of the wicked. If you can find a copy of this book, grab it. (less)
European explorers spent centuries seeking an easier way to get to the Orient than the traditional rounding of Africa and journeying east. Columbus wa...moreEuropean explorers spent centuries seeking an easier way to get to the Orient than the traditional rounding of Africa and journeying east. Columbus was the first to try sailing west but instead of finding China, "discovered" two new continents (other earlier claims notwithstanding). While the New World consumed much of Europe's interest for the next few centuries, the quest to find a route around the Americas did not die. Sailors continued to brave the fearsome conditions of the Arctic in order to find the fabled northwest passage: a route through the ice to Asia.
While global warming has made this task easier here in the early 21st century. As recent as the 1840's the Arctic was still unexplored territory for the White Man. If they'd had the humility to consult with the local Inuit "savages", they could've saved themselves some trouble. But in the 19th century, the British Navy ruled the seas; its captains and admirals full of hubris and still a half century away from being seriously challenged.
The Terror is a fictional account of the ill-fated John Franklin expedition. Franklin's two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were lost somewhere in the Arctic and their crews never seen again. Genre spanning and award winning author, Dan Simmons, extensively researched the subject (Three pages worth of sources listed) and it shows. All the elements of mid-19th century naval life are present. The reader will also get an education of the various types of ice that constitute the Arctic landscape. Of course, the reader wants to know what happened to the crew. Simmons mixes speculation in with archeological evidence to showcase the crew's misery: insufficient coal stores, spoiled food (canned food was in its infancy back then), pneumonia and frostbite.
But if these things weren't bad enough already, Simmons throws in a bit of the supernatural. The crew of the two ships is stalked by a creature out of Inuit legend. Just when it seems like the crew's luck has changed for the better, the beast returns to wreak havoc. It's quite at home in the endless night of Arctic winters and gales and picks off any hapless crewman to catch its eye.
The story is told from the perspective of several officers and crewmen. Simmons brings each of them to life with as much intricate detail as he provides to the frigid landscape. However, Francis Crozier, the captain of the Terror, is the main character. Without spoiling anything, it's evident from the first chapter that there will be a showdown between Crozier and the creature, but the ending isn't what you'll expect.
The Terror is an excellent story of misery, betrayal and redemption. If you decide to read it, do so in the winter. The cold and the wind howling outside your window will help you empathize with the plight of the characters and you'll gain a greater appreciation for the comforts of hearth and home.(less)
IMO, volume 2 had a stronger mix of stories than volume 1 (and, yes, the larger font was easier to read). There wasn't any poetry in this issue, but t...moreIMO, volume 2 had a stronger mix of stories than volume 1 (and, yes, the larger font was easier to read). There wasn't any poetry in this issue, but the book/music/movie reviews were still there (and useful).
My favorite story was "The Rat Burner". It was a deliciously dark and gritty story. I'll have to look up Ricardo Bare's other work.
"Sole Survivor" was a humorous twist on adventure style reality shows.
"Sweepers" was decent but a bit lacking. I was left with too many unanswered questions. A longer story could've filled in those gaps.
"The Rainbow Serpent" was surreal with its horror. I really enjoyed the blending of myth, reality and nightmare.
"Abominations: Hide the Sickness", a non-fiction piece, was creepy. It also made me wonder if it's worth it to keep certain people incarcerated for life. I'm not sure they're human anymore.
"Pretty Little Ghouls" was a short bizarro piece. I liked it.
"Messages from Valerie Polichar" is a nice little ghost story that explores death and social media.
"Return from Dust" held an interesting premise, but I felt the execution left a lot to be desired.
"Leave Me the Way I Was Found" successfully grabs Lovecraft's penchant for not describing horrors that are incomprehensible to the human mind. In this case the author, Christian Dumais, suggests how the world would react to a certain YouTube video. In Lovecraft's day, the dark things were whispered about by a select few. In the Internet Age, no one whispers anymore; they broadcast.
"Upon My Return" had a hint of Bradbury (people forget that he wrote horror too) in the way the story was told. I liked it.
As usual, the cover art is great. Now to pick up issue 3.(less)
In The Jennifer Morgue, the second Laundry novel, Stross has once again perfectly blended Lovecraftian horror with a spy thriller. This time out, he m...moreIn The Jennifer Morgue, the second Laundry novel, Stross has once again perfectly blended Lovecraftian horror with a spy thriller. This time out, he mines the James Bond pantheon; complete with special gadgets, megalomaniac billionaire villain, tropical island, the "hot Bond girls", high society casino and a tricked out car. But our hero, Bob Howard, is really an anti-Bond. He's more at home wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt and drinking a beer than donning a tux and quaffing vodka martinis.
Unlike the Bond films, our "hot Bond girls" (maybe I should call them "Bob girls") are given depth of character. The drop dead gorgeous Ramona Random isn't the cold seductress she's made out to be and Dominique "Mo" O'Brien is far from being naive and innocent, though she is sweet, unless you piss her off.
Stross really plays the humor card well as our nerdy hero stumbles through his role. It's not that he's clueless; he's just more at home dispelling demonic intruders using glyphs and wards generated by apps on his Treo or hacking someone's network than embarking on car chases or gambling away the equivalent of his annual salary in less than an hour. Bond never had to deal with the paperwork. But when you're faced with Stygian horrors than have the ability to liquefy your brain in under a minute, if you can't laugh you're forced to run away screaming until a reservation can be made for you in a room decked out in comfy white padding.
The book also contains the short story, "Pimpf", wherein Bob gets an intern, not something Bob is geared to having. The poor kid becomes a pawn in another battle of office politics and in the Laundry stories that can have fatal consequences.
There's also an essay entitled "The Golden Age of Spying" in which Stross illuminates his reader about Ian Fleming, psychoanalyzes Bond, provides us with a villain's side of the story, and contrasts the shenanigans of malefactors then to what we have now.
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to continuing this series. (less)
A solid debut with good editing and decent story selection. The font was a bit small but that's ok as it helps to keep production costs down.
"The Musi...moreA solid debut with good editing and decent story selection. The font was a bit small but that's ok as it helps to keep production costs down.
"The Music Box", a very dark variation of Toy Story, was the best piece. I'm not normally one for poetry but "Mulligan Stew" was good. "The Dead March" gave us a look inside a trailer park where a troubled kid with a dark gift desperately needs to be loved. The other stories were technically fine, but didn't stand out like these others. And there was a sample chapter from a novel featuring a serial killer, a big turn off for me.
The interviews were good, particularly the one with John Skipp. The various reviews of select books, music, and movies were useful.
I liked it enough that I'll check out another issue or two and see where it goes.(less)
The book cover hooked my eye. I didn't know that the author, Richard Paul Russo, had won the Philip K. Dick Award for this work, his second. I'd never...moreThe book cover hooked my eye. I didn't know that the author, Richard Paul Russo, had won the Philip K. Dick Award for this work, his second. I'd never even heard of him. I was looking for someone new to try so I read the back cover.
No one remembers where they came from or where they're going. For hundreds of years, the starship Argonos, home to generations of humans, has wandered throughout the galaxy, searching for other signs of life. Now, a steady, unidentified transmission lures them toward a nearby planet.
The colony has vanished. But deep within the planet's steamy jungles, the exploration team finds horrible evidence of its fate.
Once more, a signal lures the crew of the Argonos. Haunted by what they have seen, they have no choice but to follow - deep into space, where an alien mystery awaits...
"Interesting," I thought. So I bought it. But the book really wasn't about all that. Oh sure, it's the story, but it's not what the book is about. Despite the fact that the book won the Philip K Dick Award in 2001, it turned some people off, including this guy. While I don't agree with his conclusions, he makes several good points that I won't refute. He's right about the story but not what the book is about. What the book really is about, IMO, is our beliefs.
The story is told from the viewpoint of one man: Bartolomeo Aguilera. He was born with several physical deformities: stunted arms, a damaged spine and a club foot. He makes up for it through the use of prosthetics and a metallic exoskeleton. He's a negative atheist who's intrigued by Father Veronica (yes, a woman priest), her faith in particular.
"I understand hypocrites, like the bishop, and I understand fanatics, or at least I can more easily predict their behavior, which is much the same thing, as far as I am concerned. But I admit I did not know what to make of true believers like Father Veronica. Her belief, her faith, was both profound and real. Her faith disturbed me."
Bartolomeo and Veronica are among the team sent down to the mysterious planet to investigate the source of the signal and the fate of the colony there. The two spend time together and slowly, over the course of the story, Father Veronica reveals a bit more of her faith to him. He also finds himself falling in love with her. In fact, since Bart isn't a member of the crew (he's the captain's adviser , a political position), he's free to dwell on these things while everyone else is engaged in their work.
So how did Bart find himself in this crisis of belief systems? His aforementioned deformities resulted in his being abandoned at birth. He was raised by the upper class community of which his parents, though he doesn't know who they are, are a part of. No compassionate conservatives here. He spent his whole life trying to find his own path. His deformities kept him isolated from the others and he had few friends (the captain being one). His predicament is just like the Argonos, the generational starship that he lives on.
Over a century ago, there was a strange plague that drove a large percentage of the ship's population mad. In the ensuing chaos, there was a lot of internal damage. Among the casualties were the historical records and navigational database. The ship has been lost since then and has no way of finding the other worlds that humans have colonized. They stumble upon habitable planets by accident. A star is chosen and they journey towards it but it's been 14 years since their last contact. An ill-fated attempt by the bishop to play missionary to the masses of that world forced the Argonos to leave. So the ship keeps wandering around, lost, with no idea as to what its mission is or even its destination. Bart is merely the embodiment of that rudderlessness.
Bart learns that Father Veronica doesn't blindly follow her faith, nor is she the preaching type. She doesn't patronize, condescend or condemn. She questions her faith regularly and periodically steals herself away for introspection. I won't reveal Father Veronica's confession to Bart and spoil it for would be readers. Let's just say I found it to be intriguing. I'm sure that there are plenty people of faith who will disagree with what Russo has her say. And he certainly won't convince atheists to pick up a Bible. But it might give some people something to think about.
There's no point discussing many of the "real" plot elements. Russo leaves so many unanswered why's and how's that I can't see why I should bother. It's the faux story, which pissed some people off. The real story is Bart's quest for purpose, meaning, and belief. If the back cover was the real story, we would've been offered other viewpoints in the book. All of the major characters actions are revealed to us only through Bart's interaction with them. Reading Ship of Fools for the mystery teaser on the back cover is Russo's deceit to get readers to explore even deeper mysteries.(less)
In The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross perfectly blends Lovecraftian horror into a spy thriller. But don't think James Bond, though they have their...moreIn The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross perfectly blends Lovecraftian horror into a spy thriller. But don't think James Bond, though they have their own special gadgets, think bureaucrats mired in office politics and meetings who must battle bean counters as often as monsters.
Stross' protagonist, Bob Howard, is a Gen X hacker who gets drafted into the Laundry, the code name for the UK government agency which protects England from nasty beasties from beyond. It turns out all that complex math that fried my brain in college (like second order, linear, non-homogeneous differential equations) can be used to open portals to other dimensions where cerebellum sucking slugs are just itching for an invitation to our world. Bob starts out in tech support but his skills earn him his first field assignment. While it's clear he's not suited for dealing either with the harpies from accounting or the things that should not be, Stross has fun playing the anti-hero card with Bob, letting his wit and resourcefulness survive the cards he's dealt.
The book contains the short novel, The Atrocity Archives, and the Hugo Award winning novella, The Concrete Jungle. The former serves as an introduction to this twisted universe Stross has hatched. Bob is forced to deal with rival spies, terrorists and the twisted remnants of the Nazi occult fetish. In the latter, office politics come to a head while someone figures out how to weaponize a gorgon's stare. You remember gorgons, right? Medusa is the most well known of this crowd. The Concrete Jungle may have won the Hugo, but I liked The Atrocity Archives a lot more. I felt that it flowed better and the drama was more intense.
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the others in this series.(less)
From the cover it would be easy to dismiss We Live Inside You as a collection of parasitic body horror. But that would be a big mistake. Yes, there ar...moreFrom the cover it would be easy to dismiss We Live Inside You as a collection of parasitic body horror. But that would be a big mistake. Yes, there are three stories in which parasites appear but only in one of them, "When Susurrus Stirs", is it the focus of the story. In the other two, "Cathedral Mother" and "Laws of Virulence", the parasite's presence is secondary, a means to an end. The former is the story of how a young woman went from free love hippie to hardened anti-human ecoterrorist. The latter is the confession of how a guy who couldn't quit partying screwed up his last chance to salvage his marriage.
We Live Inside You is really about the emotions, needs, and ideologies that drive us and rule our lives. And in these stories they typically lead to terrible outcomes. The loneliness of a socially awkward orphan turns him into a thrill seeking cat burglar ("Persistence Hunting"). A father's mounting healthcare bills drive a daughter to stealing from drug dealers ("The Gravity of Benham Falls"). Ashamed of his father's weakness for alcohol, a young man joins a survivalist cult that believes the weak need to be culled from the human race ("Trigger Variation"). How people deal with the loss of a loved one is explored in "The Encore" and "States of Glass". A car accident doesn't faze a social Darwinist in "Consumerism". In fact, it solidifies his ideology. Tired of human suffering, a group of Buddhist monks decide to impose Nirvana (the state of mind, not the band) on the human race ("The Oarsman").
I'm trying not to spoil these stories for you. I couldn't even write anything about the emotional pain that lies in "Cortical Reorganization" without giving the story away. I'm trying to show that JRJ didn't write a bunch gross out stories; but the emotional monsters he throws at you are, in their own way, just as horrific as the physical ones burrowing underneath your skin.(less)
Angie is a drug addict. Thanks to her sadistic, drug dealing boyfriend she's spent most of the last decade hooked on various narcotics and hallucinoge...moreAngie is a drug addict. Thanks to her sadistic, drug dealing boyfriend she's spent most of the last decade hooked on various narcotics and hallucinogens. She ran away from the bastard long enough to clean up her act so that she can get home to her daughter, Kaya. Angie dreams about her constantly. Unfortunately, the dreams always end in Kaya's death.
Angie's friend wants her to celebrate by attending a rave. Although afraid that this one last party may tempt her to slip back into drugs, she reluctantly agrees.
Angie gets separated from her friend and, while searching for her, runs into her ex. He's not happy with Angie. With no one to help her, he slips Angie some bad acid. After the drug kicks in, leaving her helpless, he attacks her. She manages to injure him in the groin and make her escape. She runs blindly into the forest trying to put as much distance between her and her ex as possible where she stumbles into a dark grotto. The forest comes alive in a rather sinister fashion but Angie can't figure out if it's the acid or reality.
All that in chapter 1.
Meanwhile, Curtis Loew has moved in across the street from Angie's mother, Colleen, and Kaya. He grew up in a foster home, desperate to be part of a family. That burning need has gotten out of hand more that once, sending him packing under cover of darkness. But this time, he feels like he's finally found a family that he can be a part of. He searches genealogical websites to track down enough information about them to become "Uncle" Curtis.
The book isn't for the squeamish. The characters suffer, though it isn't gratuitous. The authors don't take any delight in their characters' pain, having experienced some of it themselves. The characters are people who have very screwed up lives on account of very poor choices. Redemption is a long, hard road where every step along the way must be earned. Sugar coating it would be an insult to the reader.
The authors manage to perfectly mesh their styles, seemingly with little effort. Even if the book wasn't filled with Mr. Clark's haunting illustrations (which will make you long for the full color version), you wouldn't have any difficulty envisioning the world around the characters. You'll sweat as the mist from the dank forest coats Angie's skin. Your nose will scrunch up in disgust as Curtis offers you an olfactory tour of Colleen's house. And you'll swear your ears heard someone stepping on broken glass, trying to creep up behind Angie in The Courtyard.
Find out what "Siren Promised" and then be thankful that you haven't heard its call.(less)
This book was a gift. I'm really not a fan of zombie fiction. Yeah, I like The Walking Dead on AMC, but that's kinda it. Someone with good intentions...moreThis book was a gift. I'm really not a fan of zombie fiction. Yeah, I like The Walking Dead on AMC, but that's kinda it. Someone with good intentions thought it would be a good idea to get me this book based on that.
It reads like what you'd expect from a survival manual. Dry. I don't understand where people are seeing any humor. This is as dry as the dessicated husk of a zombie that's been left in the Sahara for fifteen years.
Brooks makes recommendations on everything from weapons to vehicles to turning your home into a fortress to withstand zombie incursions (but only to a point). The last section of the book lists brief accounts of zombie incidents through history. I suppose if I had the time and the inkling, I'd look into each one to see which ones he made up and which were conspiracy run amok.
This book doesn't strike me so much as a survival guide as a writer's guide to writing zombie fiction. Here's the weapons your survivors should be using. Here's some stuff you can litter around their bunkers or what they'll be looking for. And the historical incident section is a writing prompt. Here's a mysterious massacre in 1808, flesh out (sorry for the pun) a story about what really happened and then submit it to your favorite zombie zines.
I guess if you really believe in the Zombie Apocalypse (and you've gone off your meds) then this book is for you.(less)
In Dreamcatcher, four men, friends since childhood, are out hunting in the woods of Maine. A lone hunter stumbles upon their cabin sputtering nonsense...moreIn Dreamcatcher, four men, friends since childhood, are out hunting in the woods of Maine. A lone hunter stumbles upon their cabin sputtering nonsense about mysterious "lights in the sky" while being plagued with the worst case of gas ever imaginable. It's Stephen King so you know what's coming.
The first third of the book is great. King hooks us right in and then beats a frantic pace: a snowmobile barreling through the woods with the reader being dragged gleefully through the snow. We can't help but stay up late turning those pages to find out what happens next. He seems merciful when he idles down the pace for the middle third so that we can catch our breath and brush off some of that snow.
But it dawns on me that some of this landscape seems familiar. We're given backstory on the protagonists, a group of men who've been friends since childhood, albeit a bit more distant (It). We get the long-winded side trip flashback, a King staple, where the boys confronted an evil back then (though it was a different evil) and now, as adults, face an evil alien threat in the woods (Tommyknockers). And then there's the psychotic government agent who becomes obsessed with one of the protagonists (Firestarter) and starts to hunt him down. Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers of our age. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he began re-using some elements of past stories. But I was willing to let all this slide if the book ended well.
The final chase consumes the last third of the book, but it drags. And when the crisis is resolved, it felt anti-climactic. Although King doesn't use the old "it was all a dream" cliche, the ending, for me at least, was just as insulting. I had to re-read it a couple times just to make sure I was reading it right. Maybe this was some kind of catharsis for King. He wrote this story while recovering from the accident where he was struck by a minivan (which is paralleled by one of the characters here). I haven't read any other of his post-accident works and after reading this I'm not sure when I will.(less)