Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book Review: Abomination by Gary Whitta

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Paperback, 352 pages

Published July 2015 by Inkshares

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2015)

I was very interested in this book from the first moment I knew it existed. Book of Eli is a favorite of mine, and what I considered to be a underrated classic in one of my favorite genre of story post apocalyptic. That movie was excellently structured and you could just tell it have a great script as it's backbone. I was very excited when I heard he had gotten the gig for writing Rogue One the first stand alone Star Wars film. I know it's a little thing but his involement with a never produced film based on Journey to the West meant a alot to me. Over looked in our culture Journey to the West is one of the most important fantasy novels ever written. (and by the way my dark fantasy novel Hunting the Moon Tribe has many influences and connects to JTTW)

So Whitta had my interest as Book of Eli, and when I read the concept it just several books in my To Be Read pile. Coming off having read the experimental narrative of Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, and the bloated underedited Fireman by Joe Hill...Abomination was a joy to read. I don't mean this was knock but complement, Abomination has a very simple straight forward no non-sense way of telling it's story. This is great for several reason first of which is it is quick read and despite it's very dark tone could be appealing to YA and adult markets. You can feel Whitta's cinematic language on most pages and it plays very well as movie in the reader's head.

Abomination is a dark fantasy novel that skips a world like middle earth or Narnia for England of the dark ages. It is a really interesting time to set a monster novel. In the wake of the Roman empire europe was a mess and the King of the time Alfred had defended England from probably a dozen norse invasions. What if in a misguided attempt to fight off this relentless attack the king's spiritual leaders accidentally unleash monsters of Lovecraftian unexplainable vile-ness. With elements of high fantasy, historical fiction and straight brutal monster horror Abomination is high concept awesome-fest.

One of the strengths of the book is the two lead characters A young warrior named Indra and a disgraced Knight turned homeless begger named Wulric. These are two great characters, who in a narrative sense work together like peanut butter and Chocolate. Indra is a young fierce warrior, Wulfric is a once heoric figure, now dealing with having lost everything to the monsters he once fought, that now hide inside him.

Sometimes Screenwriters coming to this format over the the telling, not showing because they are not used to having the freedom of prose. Not a problem here. If anything is a weakness some of the back story with the evil bishop character and his magical ability could have used some back story or context. There is a twist towards the end that I don't think will surprise anyone but I also Whitta was right to not hide it.

Whitta published through Inkshares, which is basically a publishing kickstarter. It seems Abomination is Inkshares greatest success. I am glad it worked for him and hope he returns to Inkshares with more novels. Since my main publisher does my horror novels, and was not interested in my Science Fiction I tried Inkshares with crazy Dirty Dozen meets Phil K. Dick novel Goddamn Killing Machines. Despite really pushing to my social media I could not sell the concept of the pre-order to my readers. So it didn't work for me.

That said I love the idea of Inkshares and the fact that it worked enough to get this story infront of my eyes is reason enough to celebrate it. Fans of Dark Fantasy and Lovecraftian beasties should check this out for sure.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Hardcover, 300 pages

Published May 10th 2016 by William Morrow

If you are the fence about reading this book and check out a few of the reviews you'll probably see this word alot - SPECIAL. This is a one of a kind literary horror masterpiece. I know that kinda of hyperbole can often set up a book for failure. I am not sure anything can ruin this novel. Written by literature professor Stephen Graham Jones who has published more than a dozen novels, and he has been hinting for yeas that he was passionate about writing a werewolf novel. He clearly loves the creatures and after two false starts he does the almost unthinkable - An original take of the werewolf mythos.

Mongrels is a werewolf novel just as much an outsider coming of age tale. Our narrator is a werewolf, at least his Grandfather, aunt and uncle are. His grandfather was the first to tell him and he believes that someday he will one day shift. He has not when we meet him, and as much as he yearns to, it is beyond him. In the 80's Teen Wolf used this concept to get laughs but here SGJ creates both a outsider teen but family that lives on the fringe. Traveling around town to town deal with all the challenges werewolf life brings to them. The journey is an intense one that has plenty of laughs, chills and the heartache of a teen both scared and anxious grow-up. All teenagers fear this process but when you are a werewolf...

The Aunt and Uncle - Libby and Darren are great characters who seem magical and pathetic some times on the same page. They provide a window to the south, mid-south and south east where they travel. Drifting from town to town they work shit jobs teach us and our POV character the ins and outs of being a werewolf. This talk about what a werewolf is or is not takes up a good part of the novel, I think if I was told about that ahead of time I might not of thought that would work. It does.

Every other chapter leaves the story for a an aside. Those chapters explain werewolves almost like a class each of those chapters leave first person. They each start with a person's title say The mechanic. Then that chapter would be about the Mechanic's aunt or uncle (or Vampire, teacher or whatever) This first chapter like this almost lost me, and I am not sure entirely what this was supposed to mean. I enjoyed these chapters and think it has something to do with how our narrator feels about being an outsider.

SGJ violates one of the sacred rules of writing almost wire to wire but with zero fucks given he makes it work beautifully. That rule "SHOW DON'T TELL" takes a beating. Most of the book is told, told to the narrator and told almost conversationally to us. I don't know the main characters name, but I know him well.

Mongrels is a fantastic novel that feels dangerous, semi-feral and raw. It is unlike any werewolf novel I can remember and considering it is 2016 that is saying something. Smart, funny, sad and scary at times like most great novels Mongrels is a journey of discovery.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman by Joe Hill

hardcover, 768 pages

Published May 17th 2016 by William Morrow

I have very mixed feelings about this book. Let me start by saying I am a fan of Joe Hill. I have only read 20th Century Ghosts which I thought was genius, and Horns which I enjoyed. I really enjoy following him on Twitter, listening to interviews and I have gone to his live book events twice. I think he is a talented writer and even though I think the book contains many excellently written pages and wonderfully realized characters it is over all a failure for me. Joe Hill is a fantastic writer don't get me wrong, and I can't argue with the fact that I read it pretty quick.

The book suffered from over hype some of which is the fault of the author himself who allowed the book to be compared to his father's masterpiece The Stand (on the three guys with beards podcast for example). Several authors I respect who read early copies hyped it as well. I was very interested because the concept is amazing. I loved that it was a original take on the end of the world novel. That is hard to do at this point but the concept of the dragonscale a disease that causes people to ignite into flames presents a very interesting end to the world as we know it.

It is unfair to always compare Joe's work to his father, that said it is almost impossible not to when he does it himself. Comparisons to the Stand, and the 700+ page count had me envisioning a globally reaching epic that explored the end of the world through multiple characters. What we get is better compared the farmhouse story line from the second season of The Walking Dead or if you want to keep it to Stephen King than I would say Cell. At the time King said in interviews he was inspired by Spielberg's War of the Worlds to narrow the focus of the world ending to a few characters. One of my biggest problems with the fireman is just that. A Narrow focus almost entirely on the point of view character nurse Harper Willows. It's not first person but it might as well have been.

There are plenty of positives in this novel, despite the Harper POV almost all of the characters are rich and well written. From the title character John Rookwood, Allie and even the villains are fully realized. One very interesting character gets ignored and that is the shock jock radio host the Marlboro Man. The narrow POV cheats us of a backstory or learning how he became the radio voice for the movement to kill the infected. This was a super interesting story. Hill gave us a glimpse but in order to do that he had to contrive a scene where Harper just happened to come looking for medicine at her old house at the right time to hide under a window and over hear her abusive ex plan murder with marlboro man. It was a stretch.

The opening 100 pages and the last 150 pages I thought were perfect but 250 pages is not enough when you have a narrative dragging through wet cement for the other 500 pages. Once Harper leaves her husband early in the novel she ends up at a camp for the infected, most of the novel is about the internal politics of the camp and survival on those camp grounds. We see little to none of how the plague effects the greater world. Hill calls it a plague novel but for 500 pages in the middle it is more of cult/ commune novel.

That was just not the novel the interviews and reviews got me excited for. In many ways I think Sarah Pinborough did a better job of creating the feeling he was shooting for in the Death House in more than half the pages. The novel felt bloated and it felt to me that the point of what made the story interesting flew over Hill's head.

It is interesting however that the root of the problem might be found on page 492 when he has a character say "Any writer who works by outline should be burned at the stake. Possibly with their own outline and notecards as kindling." First this statement didn't make alot of sense coming from the character, and took me out of the book. Of course I am a writer who believes in outlines. As Fundamentalist about writing by the seat of their pants as King , Hill and others are... I am with the outliners.

Joe Hill is more talented writer than I'll ever be. He has a real talent for characters, down to the minor ones. The prose is powerful and some of the scenes toward the end are savage and heart-breaking. I gave this novel 3/5 stars, because the actual prose was GREAT. The story however was not great, very disappointing since the concept was so strong.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Book Review: Star Wars Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Star Wars Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published May 2016 by LucasBooks

Non- Spoiler Review...

As a serious Star Wars nerd since watching Empire Strikes back opening day at six years old I have consumed tons of Star Wars media. I understood the decision by Lucasfilm to jettison the previous novels but I admit it bothered me just a little. There are alot of Star Wars novels out there and to varying degrees of quality. The strength of Timothy Zhan's trilogy is well known. As hated as the prequels are by many SW fans my age I thought some of the best fiction set in this universe took place in the clone wars. I was for one example entirely pleasantly surprised by Michael Reeves Darth Maul novel and the Coruscant Nights trilogy that spun-off from that. There are several hidden gems in back catalog. At the same time there were plenty of New Jedi Order clunkers.

When I heard they were doing new novels as connective tissue between Jedi and Force Awakens I was interested. Then they hired very respected writers Chuck Wendig and Claudia Gray, who I had not read but knew we very respected and I was more interested. Then Force Awakens kicked my ass but like many I was left me slightly confused. JJ Abrams learning lessons from the awkward moments in the prequels wisely skipped over-explaining the political nature in the galaxy far far away. I mean I could ride with it, but most of us were wondering who the first order was? Why is there a resistance didn't the good guys win 30 years ago?

After having read Aftermath and Bloodline it is clear that you are going to learn very thing you want to know about the back story in these novels and Lucas books is taking them very seriously. Aftermath was an excellently plotted novel with a massive scope that the effect of the empire's fall on the whole galaxy. Claudia Gray's novel appears to have a more narrow focus on the surface. The novel's lens might be focused on Princess Leia but the whole galaxy is once again on her shoulders.

Gray does an amazing job of realizing Leia and giving us a window into the emotions of woman at the heart of this tale. The weight she carries from surviving the war,being tortured and watching her planet die at the hands of the man she has learned is her father. Gray goes there and succeeds in making Leia a richer more real character. Certainly this novel will add flavor to the force awakens much like frosting does to cake.

Bloodline is an excellent novel. It is one of the best written SW novels I have read, with excellent characters and pacing. It felt like a Star Wars story. It had the adventure, politics, drama you come to expect all tied together with a sense of fun. Like the new film it captures the sense of fun without talking down to the audience. The various characters were as interesting and fun to me as seeing Leia and brief but perfect moments of Han Solo. Six years before the events of Episode 7.

The pilots Seastriker and Greer were great partners for Leia and deserve their own books. But the true heart of the novel for me was Senator Ransolm Casterfo. His political dances with Leia were some of the novels subtlety great moments. His confusion over desire for the order of an empire balanced with his hatred for the abuse Darth Vader brought to his home world was so well done. A collector of empire artifacts but a man with a strong sense of judgement the reader is torn between many emotions with this character. There are moments when you wont like, him, then you will grown to like him and back again. Fantastic character.

As you might imagine the pain of Leia's bloodline and connection to Darth Vader is always under the surface of this novel. It is must read for fans of Star Wars fiction, or anyone who wants to understand the roots of the event of the new saga. I am sold on Claudia Gray. Her novel "A Thousand Pieces of You" sounds awesome so expect a review of that before the end of the year.

As for the spoiler review.................

OK at this point I am going to assume you have either read the novel or have no plans to. that's too bad. You're missing out. But I know I have some friends who just can't find the time to read a book. Last chance.

I know many were confused by the need for a resistance and where the first Order came from after Episode 7. Both Wendig's Aftermath and Bloodline explain parts of the story. In Aftermath Mon Mothma made the bizarre decision that what the universe needed was less military and central control. Bloodline is very much a Leia story but it weaves the political melodrama in very fluid way that episode I failed to do. The factions in the galaxy are forming and fighting. Mon Mothma is sick and Leia is nominated to be first senator. A position of leadership she doesn't want to have.

At the same time she suspects cartels of building illegal armies. The adventure part of the story is great with a underwater base, stolen data and Leia blowing up a whole army. Han comes to the rescue but not in a sexist way. Leia doesn't need him, he is just being a loving husband, which he still is at this point. If you are wondering Ben is off with Luke, Chewie is kickin it at home, Han is off racing ships. Leia is going on secret missions - no biggie. Gray does a wonderful job of making Senator Casterfo instantly dislikable, then when Leia and the reader start to like him he betrays her exposing her secret parentage to the full senate. By the time he realizes he was used and it is too late. Heart breaking ending for a rich character.

So the main spoiler he is that Leia stops an early attempt to build a first order army but exposing her real life father becomes the way the roots of the first order use to discredit her. This forces her out of the senate. Now She knows imperial elelments are at play she is on to them so the novel ends with a meeting between her Akbar and the roots of the new resistance. Perfect.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese

Hardcover, 320 pages

Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Thomas Dunne Book

Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there's no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation's labs, Keane is the one they call.

But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her - and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected - and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane's wits and Fowler's skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

Lets just start with a little love for how genius the title "The Big Sheep" is for a Phillip K. Dick meets Raymond Chandler hybrid novel. I mean that is what this is - a loving cross between Blade Runner, LA noir and a lot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sarcasm. All the ingredients are there. I would think for a great many of you I have already sold you on this novel and that is a great thing. Frankly I admit I am bit jealous of this perfect title for the concept.

This is my second time reading a Robert Kroese novel in 2014 I reviewed "Starship Grifters." "I laughed a lot reading it... This is a bizarro science fiction that does get a lot of it laughs from high concept ideas and clever jokes based on long standing genre clich├ęs. One of my favorites was APPLE (A Planet Perpelxingly Like Earth). Funny concept that turned into a great satire of silly sci-fi stuff."

I liked that book but The Big Sheep is also a big leap for the author in the quality of the work. Once again Kroese uses first person narrative told through the eyes of the hero's sidekick. Our narrator for the story Blake Fowler works for an odd Private eye. They are hired for a case of a missing sheep used in scientific research, and of course this connects to their other case. That of a TV star who is getting notes from her teddy bear. One of my favorite moments comes early. Fowler points out that the TV star Pria is crazy. Keane the private eye replies "She most definitely is. But she is also receiving letters from her teddy bear, and that is worth looking into." What a great way to launch into a LA noir!

I was pretty critical of Starship Grifters even though I enjoyed it but this time I felt Kroese nailed the concept top to bottom. there are alot of story elements, high concept ideas and it is tied together with fan service of the genres being crossed. The B story of Priya Mistry was more interesting that the A story of the sheep and wisely the story flowed that way. The setting of the novel clearly Blade Runner influenced but just a bit darker and slightly more post apocalyptic in moments.

The DZ the ruined parts of LA and how they were created are like interesting bread crumbs leading the path to more stories featuring Keane and Fowler. When need to learn more about Maelstrom and Keane's role.

The mystery unfolds predictably but not in a bad way, we know certain moments are coming but they are done with class. When you pay homage those moments are like slipping into a favorite sweatshirt.This book is worth a pre-order, I hope it finds the audience it deserves. The best thing I can say about this novel is that it like a sci-fi Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The wit- levels are off the chart you''ll be laughing but it more subtle than the authors almost slapstick previous novel. Very well done.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Book Review: The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

Paperback, 304 pages

Published May 2015 by ChiZine Publications

"Jonah Murtag is an Acolyte on the New Bethlehem police force. His job: eradicate all heretical religious faiths, their practitioners, and artefacts. Murtag's got problems - one of his partners is a zealot, and he's in love with the other one. Trouble at work, trouble at home. Murtag realizes that you can rob a citizenry of almost anything, but you can't take away its faith. When a string of bombings paralyzes the city, religious fanatics are initially suspected, but startling clues point to a far more ominous perpetrator. If Murtag doesn't get things sorted out, the Divine Council will dispatch The Quints, aka: Heaven's Own Bagmen. The clock is ticking towards doomsday for the Chosen of New Bethlehem. And Jonah Murtag's got another problem. The biggest and most worrisome... Jonah isn't a believer anymore."

Nick Cutter is a not so secret pen name for author Craig Davidson whose first two books The Troop, and The Deep were very popular in horror fiction circles. It seems Cutter is determined to carry the torch for Bentley Little on novels titled The ___. For whatever reason Craig Davidson is considered high literature, but Cutter is genre. As if he is Clark Kent going into a phone booth and coming out Nick Cutter. Look it is impossible to avoid a little hype when your books come with blurbs from names like Scott Smith (the Ruins) and light weights like Clive Barker and some guy named Stephen King. The acclaim is deserved.

In 2014 I reviewed the Cutter Debut The Troop. "I thought it was an effective and disturbing horror novel that made the best of a lean prose style. The King influence is one the author wore on his sleeve, and was found as much in the strong children characters as it was in the horror elements. Horror readers will be very happy with this one."

in 2015 The Deep "I found myself turning pages and feeling invested in the story. If there was a short fall for me was my interest in what was happening on the surface with the global disease, but I understand it was irrelevant to the story. The ending was not as strong as the build-up but it is impossible to discuss without spoilers. I think this is a must read for serious horror fans. if nothing else to chart the growth of this Nick Cutter Character."

First things first. This book looks amazing. The cover, the interior design, lay-out formatting. Just a gorgeous paperback. Chi-zine really made a pretty book. The structure, the formatting and of course the engaging prose are of equal quality all make a huge argument for physical books. This will look awesome on your shelf and shames New York publishers with their standard books.

This Cutter book is not traditional horror and delightfully very different from each of the books that followed it. I think that the novels each have such very different stories. It is a science fiction dystopia more in the tradition of 1984 or Brave New World than horror. Perhaps might explain why Cutter published this with Chi-zine an indie weird/ experimental/ bizarro publisher instead of the more traditional publisher his previous novels were released with.

Story wise I didn't like this novel as much the two previous ones, but of the three novel the Acolyte certainly was the most important. The themes explored in this novel are interesting and in the light of the events on the day I started reading it took on greater significance. The morning I started read this book NPR was discussing how a proposed Donald Trump ban on Islam would work.

I think the world in the light of the rise of Neo-conservatism needed a god fearing 1984 and the that is exactly what The Acolyte is. An argument could be made that the book is about a decade late, but it is better late than never. This would be a difficult world to envision, an author writing a fascist christian dystopia rides the line between excellent social commentary and goofy satire at all times. In the last act Cutter goes there with issues like abortion and it provides moments as squirm worthy as anything in The Troop.

Jonah is a Dystopian character we can relate to, and the reader certainly does not want to live in this world. His story arc is one that is fairly predictable, but one we needed to take. So I have given all my reasons why this is a great novel what was it that made it not as good as the first two. Maybe it was me but I couldn't get the Christian Bale movie Equilibrium out of my head. That 2002 film was about a similar world where enough emotions were outlawed and a police was formed to track down and arrest sense offenders.

The first act of this novel felt so similar to me I started seeing Bale's face on Jonah and the design of that film in my mind. I never totally got over that reading this book. That said I like Equilibrium which I consider a fun movie so it was not totally a negative. Maybe that is just a me problem.

Overall The Acolyte is a excellent book, the author should be rewarded for writing a daring and meaningful book. The publisher should be rewarded for making such a cool book with a challenging story. By rewarded I mean you should buy it, or read it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: The Principle by J.David Osborne

The Principle by J.David Osborne

Broken River Books

2015

"Two hunters come across a bag of money in the woods, a dead drop for two local low-life meth cooks. One of the cooks is content to watch pro-wrestling and wait for the next payday. But the other just can't quite let it go. It's the principle of the matter"

I wish more unproduced screenplays were published in this format. Last year I read Travis Beachum script for the Killing on Carnival Row and really wished someone had the courage to make that movie. It would also be nice to have had it in this nice format to read. I also found myself really wishing someone would find this script by J. David Osbourne. This would make a cool film and could be done without much of budget. The bells and whistles are not special effects but witty dialogue that makes it a true noir.

Osbourne is an author and publisher know for writing super weird crime novels and publishing books in that vein with his imprint Broken River books. His first novel "By the Time We Leave Here, We'll be Friends was like a crazy Russian prison movie directed by David Lynch. The only other one I read was a genius noir novel called Low Down Death Easy Right.

That novel like this screenplay had a total tornado alley noir that captured Oklahoma scuzy-ness the way Fargo paints the great white north.After a father and son hunting discover a bag full of money and take it takes gets off a series of crimes. The money was meant for Beau his monthly payment for cooking meth. Beau comes around town trying to find his money.

Was not sure what to think because I remember Osborne's work for it's unsettling prose more so than dialogue, but I laughed and cringed reading this. What more do you want? Cool read.