Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Paperback, 376 pages

Published April 2015 by Word Horde

Anyone following my blog will notice that I have been on a Word Horde kick. Ross Lockhart is one of the editor/ publishers whose stamp of approval means something to me instantly. Molly Tanzer's Pretty Mouth was a excellent collection - she is a great writer but the period setting style was not totally my thing. I knew she was a excellent writer. I am sorry it took me this long to get to Vermilion but I loved this novel. It many ways this feels made for me.

This novel may have more of a commercial set-up but it is just as excellently written as Pretty Mouth and Tanzer is quickly establishing herself as a major voice in modern weird tales. The story has a excellent franchise worthy character in Lou Merriweather. A hero both unconventional and amazingly cool and marketable at the same time. Lou is a Psychopomp in this version of the 19th century Pshchopomps dispatch ghosts and monsters. At 19 Lou steps on the scene dressed like cowboy with a set googles that give her the ability to see the dead. At the start of the story she is living in San Francisco her life split between her white father who is also a psychopomp and her Chinese mother who wants to send her on a case.

A group of Chinese workers helping in the rocky mountains to build railroads are disappearing, and Lou's mother suspects a supernatural explanation. Once in the wilderness the novel takes on a Western vibe. It is not a big spoiler to say that it involves Chinese vampires known as Geung si. So in many ways this novel is a the story of a female gunslinger in the old west meets Chinese vampires and folklore with a dash of steampunk. Yep it is all those awesome things.

The setting of old school San Francisco and the west are well drawn and add a flair to the novel. That is not the strength, the power of the book is in it's central hero. Lou is a excellent character who chews the scenes and will have most readers dying for a movie. I am thinking a Hong Kong hollywood co-production with a Kungfu movie director like Andrew Lau. How awesome would that be?

Tanzer is a major talent and Vermilion displays her skills throughout it's three hundred and seventy six pages. The world and setting are vivid the action thrilling and the story hardly ever drags. I enjoyed the fact that Lou was not a perfect badass, she had emotions, sadness and was unsure of herself at times. This novel feels like the first of many great adventures. I hope we get more.

I of course feel a kinship with Tanzer as we are both vegan and had Chinese vampires in our first novels. In a perfect world Lou Merriweather would some day have a team up comic book with Lisa Morton's Diana Furnaval who fought Chinese Vampires in her novel Netherworld. Two polar opposite characters that would be a interesting team-up. Hopefully Hollywood will discover them both and we will see a the explosion of Geung Si movies these creatures deserve.

Very cool book. I loved every page of it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: Eternal Frankenstein Edited by Ross E.Lockhart

Eternal Frankenstein Edited by Ross E.Lockhart

Hardcover, 320 pages

Expected publication: October 9th 2016 by Word Horde

Featuring:

Amber-Rose Reed – Torso Heart Head

Siobhan Carroll – Thermidor

Autumn Christian – Sewn Into Her Fingers

Rios de la Luz – Orchids by the Sea

Edward Morris – Frankenstein Triptych

Michael Griffin – The Human Alchemy

Betty Rocksteady – Postpartum

Scott R Jones – Living

Tiffany Scandal – They Call Me Monster

Damien Angelica Walters – Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Orrin Grey – Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet

Nathan Carson – Wither on the Vine; or Strickfaden’s Monster

Anya Martin – The Un-Bride, or No Gods and Marxists

G. D. Falksen – The New Soviet Man

Kristi DeMeester – The Beautiful Thing We Will Become

David Templeton – Mary Shelley’s Body

If you are a long time genre reader you know there are hundreds upon hundreds of anthologies that come out every year. Some good, some bad and a few that are just amazing. There are few names that you can see on the edited by line that promise really good work. Some that come to mind for me include Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, John Skipp and Douglas Winter. In the past names like Martin Greenberg, Charles Grant and Harlan Ellison were the best in the business. I think it is safe to assume we have a new contender putting his hat in the ring.

Ross Lockhart had done enough to garner that consideration with a trilogy of Lovecraftian collections that include Book of Cthulu book one and two. His Tales of Jack the Ripper and Giallo Fantastique are rich examples of his skill. These collections don't just happen for no reason Lockhart released the Ripper anthology on the 125th Quasquicentennial of the murders. So we have this collection in 2016 the 200th anniversary of the year without summer, the year she first conceived of the story which made her famous. Although she didn't write Frankenstein until two years later.

Frankenstein's monster and the novel itself has had 200 years to build up a mythology that has expanded beyond just sequels but original films like the Bride or novels like The Brian Aldiss classic Frankenstein Unbound. The idea of a Lockhart edited collection of Frankenstein stories is just almost too good to be true. I know that Lockhart has a keen eye for fresh takes on classic stories. Shelley's Modern Promethus was a story that had many angles and paths the authors could take.

There are many authors in the table of contents I am already a fan of such as Edward Morris, Orrin Grey and Tiffany Scandal. There were several I have met but never read like Mike Griffin, Anya Martin and Autumn Christian. Several I had never heard of before. This collection does something I am not sure I have seen before - perfect gender balance.

No anthology is going to be perfect, when I read one there will often be stories I don't enjoy as much as others, for me a collection is good when I enjoy more stories than not. 50% is a good average for many but Lockhart anthologies rarely have flat-out stinkers. They are often collected in order to build off each others themes. My two favorite stories include science fiction takes from Autumn Christian's Sewn Into Her Fingers and Edward Morris's Frankenstein Triptych. Two other stand outs were Tiffany Scandal and Damian Angelica Walters tales which explored childhood and the horrors of school. Nathan Carson and Anya Martin explored connections to the Hollywood film. Those six were my favorites of the collection.

The only weakness I could find was that the first two stories while setting a traditional gothic tone were the flattest of the book for me. The second part of Frankenstein Triptych by Edward Morris is one of the stronger short pieces he has written in a long career of anthology appearances and as a friend I was really proud of him. Autumn Christian displayed a skill that had me itching to read more. Since those came early found myself thinking they were a better hook for readers.

There are essential anthologies like Dark Forces, Dangerous Visions and Prime evil that must be read. I think Lockhart is making a case for his ability to deliver that kind of quality. I don't think this is essential unless you really love all things Frankenstein, that being said this is state of the art horror fiction. If you respect great writing and want to see what some powerful young writers are doing with a classic tale then you will be pleased. I for one loved it. Word Horde doesn't again!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Review: I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Book Review: I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Paperback, 256 pages

Published August 2016 by Night Shade Books

If this seems like a negative review, it is only because I had very high hopes for this novel. It is less of a novel and more of a thinly veiled act of trolling that takes potshots at members of the Lovecraftian lit scene. This is my third time reading a Mamatas novel and I think my problem with it is it seems a little below those books. When I read Bullettime and Love is the Law I was impressed and felt like I was reading works of genius.

I enjoyed I Am Providence, but it seems like an idea hatched at 2 AM in a bar during a convention. That is not to say that it wasn't worthy of exploring, hell my novel The Vegan Revolution With Zombies was no less an act of thinly veiled trolling. I get it, but I feel like Mamatas has more important stories to tell. I think highly enough of his writing that this just felt beneath him.

So OK lets talk about the novel itself. The story shifts between two POV characters one a stand in for Mamatas, named Panossian who is actually dead in the morgue the victim at the heart of the mystery. The other main character is Colleen Danzig who appears to be based on author Molly Tanzer. While their fictional counterparts are not as accomplished as Nick and Molly, there are hints if you are tied into the community. Each chapter is titled by a Lovecraft story that gives insight into the theme of the chapter. Well played.

The story goes that Panossian is murdered at the start of a weekend long convention for Lovecraftian fiction fans. Danzig (the character not the singer) tries to solve the mystery and that leads through a pretty funny look at the ridiculous factions and drama at the heart of this lit movement. The best laughs I got involved Lovecraft's cat.

The mystery is less interesting to me than the body blows and jabs the author takes at real life figures, and that doesn't help. The story starts off with some interesting structure and POV shifts but then as the novel goes on it loses focus. Mamatas was probably having too much fun roasting the scene, and it would have helped to keep the story itself a it more focused.

When I say this is trolling I mean the title is the exact same title as ST Joshi's biography of Lovecraft. While the character in the novel based on Joshi has their gender switched there is no mistaking what is happening here. The list of authors who are parodied here is long. Robert Price and Jason Brock get probably the most harsh treatment.

During the week I was reading this short novel Jason Brock and Mamatas had another flame war that was actually dramatized on the Horror Show Podcast with voice-actors. I shit you not. That was a real thing. It is all fun and amusing stuff. It is worth getting out popcorn and watching the drama unfold but really is a novel needed on the topic?

Sadly I think this novel will get more attention than many other fantastic novels coming out in the same year, or even Mamatas's own fantastic novels such as Love is the Law which I think is more worthy of your attention.

I suppose there is a certain curiosity surrounding a novel that sprung out a internet flame war about the racism of a long dead pulp writer. I don't know of any other novels based on internet arguments. I was entertained, however I don't know how the novel will play with people who don't know people being mocked or in the case of some writers given respect.

I think the less seriously you take it, then the more you'll end it. I think my hopes were too high.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Punk Rock Ghost Story Available for pre-order! Full documentary released!

You can pre-order Punk Rock Ghost Story now!!!!!!!

Go to amazon here:

https://www.amazon.com/Punk-Ghost-Story-David-Agranoff/dp/1621052303/

And now for the first time the full 21 minute documentary on the band that inspired Punk Rock Ghost Story:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published July 2016 by Mulholland Books

I am a sucker for alternate history, most automatically think of the Nazis win classic Man in The High Castle and sure WW II has been ripe for these types of Stories. Harry Turtledove however did a classic novel about the South winning the civil war (Guns of the South) and in a sense this novel is more connected to that classic. The writing is not perfect but over all I find this novel to be a excellent entry in the subgenre.

Set in a modern alternate history Indianapolis, I could tell as a Hoosier native that the author actually knew the city. I think Indiana readers will enjoy that aspect of the novel. The story in set in a America where slavery remains legal in four states called the hard four. The main character is A US Marshall agent - a freed slave named Victor who tracks runaway slaves. He is in the circle city to infiltrate a abolitionist cell.

This world is well realized even if it is a little far fetched, you just kinda have to ride with the idea to enjoy what the author is trying to get across. In 2016 when a national movement exists just to remind many in this country of the basic concept that human rights and black lives matter I think this is a important novel. Speculative fiction at its best is a story not grounded in realism, but one that explores ideas. So to think that four states would still hold on to slavery is hard to follow, but so is a world where Trayvon Martin was shot for wearing a hoodie and his killer walks free.

Victor is a complicated character, but one who carries the novel quite well. I worried during the novel that Winters waited to long to give Victor's motivation for doing such a horrible thing as sending other slaves back to bondage. It makes sense when it is explained and provides to me the most heartbreaking reveal of the novel.

One of the most unbelievable things is Victor's obsession with Michael Jackson. ha-ha.

The side characters and plot-lines carry the novel, but it would not have worked without characters like the Abolitionist priest and the slave owning factory operator being believable. The world building is solid, a author without a foundation in the genre might not get the details right, thankfully they are done in subtle ways. Non-genre authors often write those moments with a hammer.

Underground Airlines is a terrific politically charged novel, it is not a fun world to visit but an important one.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Book Review: Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debit by Chuck Wendig

Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debit by Chuck Wendig

Hardcover, 430 pages

Published July 19th 2016 by Del Rey

I surprised by the slew of one star reviews on this book. I have read plenty of bad Star Wars novels, and frankly I am surprised to see how poorly this book was received. I admit when i first heard that Disney and LucasFilm were ejecting the EU I was disappointed as someone who spent many hours of my life reading books in the EU. Creatively I understand why they are doing it. I enjoyed the first book of the aftermath Trilogy and was blown away by the Claudia Grey novel Bloodline.

As for Life Debt, I enjoyed the ride and more than anything this felt like a trip in the Star Wars universe. Wendig has done a cool thing with the structure of these books. Telling the story of of a Galaxy spanning collapse of empire is hard thing to do. He has effectively captured this by spreading out around the galaxy in interlude that become like unconnected short stories. It a neat bit of foreshadowing the plot of the second book was hinted at in a interlude in the first book.

It was clear to me that Wendig would focus the second book the liberation of the Wookie homeworld Kashyyyk. I admit I was a little worried with Han and the Falcon which graces the cover had not appeared by the page 100 mark. That not totally bad to me since I really like the characters Wendig has created. Norra Wexley is an excellent character, I enjoyed both her and her son. The idea of her team which includes ex-imperial loyalty officer, a bounty hunter and battle droid hunting escaped Imperials was cool enough to me to carry novels on their own.

the story centers around this team who Leia hires to find a lost Han Solo who left to find a captured Chewbacca. The treachery inside the empire, the fumbles of the new republic help to make sense of the events we saw in episode 7. Those events drives the plot which I feel was well organized with perfect three tiered Star Wars action at the end.

If there was a weakness to the novel for me were several of it's elements deserved to be expanded into their own books. Like the team hunting War criminals the resistance on the Wookie homeworld could easily have carried a whole novel. It felt like those cool elements were brushed over.

I have seen a few reviewes that complained about Wendig's writing. Yes he has a few moments that took me out of the story when a character would fall to the "Earth," or non-Star wars elements. Those are nitpicks I care far more that the story felt grounded in the universe by way of character. I am excited for the third book.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Panacea by F.Paul Wilson

Panacea by F.Paul Wilson

Hardcover, 383 pages

Published July 5th 2016 by Tor Books

In the Thrash Metal world there is a phrase the Big Four, that describes the biggest most popular bands. F.Paul Wilson is one of my personal big three when it comes to favorite living authors. I have a huge collection of his books. I flew across the country to the Borderlands writers bootcamp - mostly because I heard he was teaching plotting. The man is a plotting and structure Yoda in my opinion. No one writes thrillers with better pacing. He has written many types of novels but he is most known for his genre hopping Repairman Jack series with ties to his Adversary Cycle horror novel series. I would read the phone book if F.Paul Wilson did a draft.

So when it was announced that F.Paul Wilson was putting out his first non-Repairman Jack novel in years I marked the calendar and counted down the days. It took me a few weeks to get to it but I have read Wilson's latest novel Panacea and yes it is great.

Panacea shifts Points of View but our main character is medical examiner Laura Hanning who is called to the scene of a John Doe burned to a crisp. It seems like just another body at first but Laura discovers a web of conspiracy connected to a liquid - the mythical cure-all Panacea. Laura has a sick child herself, but she doesn't believe in the Panacea. After a string of miracle cures at a local hospital she is hired by a dying billionaire. She still doesn't believe but the money is too great. Follow the cures, the money the clues. With a Ex-navy SEAL (maybe?) named Rick Hayden as her bodyguard they set out across the globe to discover the origin of the Panacea.

This is a great global trek thriller that follows Rick and Laura across the global as the CIA, ancient cults and more try to beat or stop them. This is a fun tale! Trade mark Wilson plotting and reversals are on display, and yes it connects with several easter eggs to the Secret History that expands through his whole universe. Rick and Laura are great characters and they make the book for me. You can certainly see how Wilson will expand into another book, and he is working on one now.

The very coolest aspect of the plot of this novel is the ticking time bomb. Wilson toys with this well known trope but creating a situation where we the reader are watching the ticking clock storyline but our hero is totally clueless that the clock is ticking. Wilson does it again!

It is not a repairman Jack novel at all, but I think Jack fans will find this novel like putting on a comfy sweatshirt. It has all the feel of and consistency we enjoyed. If there is a weakness it is that so much of how the plot comes together SEEMS convenient. This might throw off new readers, but long time fans of Wilson's Secret history knows that there are forces at work directing EVERYTHING.

Wilson's medical background adds small but important moments of Clarity, but they never slow down the story. Globe trotting thrillers need a frantic pace and Wilson swift and no nonsense prose moves the story quick. Very pleased and ready for book two!