Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Review: Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Paperback, 202 pages

Published 2015 by Fungasm Press

Laura Lee Bahr is a fantastic storyteller. A multiple platform artist who has starred in, written and directed films. She has written stand out story stories in anthologies that were filled with the biggest names in genre fiction and her first novel Haunt won the wonderland book award for best novel. That novel Haunt is a absolute masterpiece of LA bizarro noir. It is a one of a kind book that is part choose your adventure, part horror and never feels like a traditional novel.

On the surface this a more straight forward narrative than Bahr's debut, but the subject matter and story elements are just as subversive. This is a funny book in many ways, and pokes fun at Hollyweird. Bahr writes LA like King writes Maine. With a completely different tone LFRP explores LA just as her first book did.

The story of aspiring writer - director Madeline Hunter who is desperately trying to get her Indie film made. The key to getting it made cast George Clooney in the story of Dominique Colt - a woman who murdered her partners in a three-some romance. Mads is not having having luck getting the movie started but perhaps her friend revealing that he is a vampire will change things. He reveals that vampires are all over the industry, operating like a cult.

The writing is excellent and most important for a structure geek like me the story unfolds perfectly, balancing the Madeline story with the back story that inspired her film. The main characters are well constructed, but in many ways I found Dominique to be the character I was most interested in.

LFRP is great storytelling unleashed from mainstream expectations and Laura Lee Bahr proves again she is one of the most impressive voices in Bizarro. This novel doesn't forsake intelligence for crude humor Although the book has one of the most cringe worthy farts in a book I have ever read. At times this book is erotic, funny and always weird. Not of that stuff would work for me if not the hands of a gifted storyteller. Thankfully it is.

One of my top ten reads of 2016. I read this on a flight between San Diego to Indiana, only stopping to switch planes. I was almost a month late with the review, but not I loved this book.

Book Review: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Hardcover, 384 pages Published July 2016 by Doubleday

There are a few critics whose opinions I value more than others. This book got the top slot on "The novel Pursuit" top ten list by California critic Marvin Vernon. Since it was his novel of the year I was very interested. I can say right off the bat I didn't like this novel as much Vernon, but after reading this book I can also understand why he liked it and I didn't.

The Heavenly Table is hillbilly noir set in backwoods Ohio in the nineteen-teens around the same time as the first world war was raging in Germany. The narrative has a main point of view family in the Jewitt gang, but interludes and side characters make up a thinly connected mosaic.

The Jewitt family made up of three brothers Chimney, Cane and Cob have grown-up with Pearle a widowed illiterate farmer. Their father believes the heavenly table they go to after death is what is important. They are poor dirt poor when Pearle suddenly passes the boys feel sudden freedom. No one to tell them not to eat all their food, to go to bed. They have a brother who can read and they are all about pulp western books about Bucket Bloody Bill. Why not become outlaws? They need money and food and start by robbing a bank. They want to avoid violence, but as you might suspect their plans don't exactly work out. Their outlaw life does in many ways mirrors the pulps they love.

The Heavenly Table also follows several other characters some directly connected to the story, some with very thin connections. This is one place where the novel lost me. Sometimes this move away from the main narrative confused me. When I hooked on the main story - ten pages on some other unconnected story can lose my attention. There is a subplot about a Gay solider that was more interesting to me than most of the other interludes.

The prose is excellent, the characters are vivid and Pollock paints a grim world. That said there is some weird off beat humor and it is not stretch to compare this book to Cormac McCarthy. I think my problems with the book was a lack or narrative clarity, and a personal dislike for how redneck the book was. Not sure I was in the mood to be in this world.

That said I didn't enjoy this novel, but I respect it enough I am interested to read more by this author.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Paperback, 275 pages

Published May 2016 by Tachyon Publications

"Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change."

Central Station is the third release by the world Fantasy award winning author. It is a a really cool concept that while sold and marketed as novel is much more of short story collection. This didn't really occur to me until I was 100 pages or so into it. It was then that I looked in the back to see that many of the pieces were published in various magazines and anthologies.

Certainly it is a mosaic style of story telling and while the setting is entirely futuristic I think Tidhar is going for a Cloud Atlas feel to the book. The stories are interconnected for sure and not just by the setting - the current bus Station of Tel Aviv, which in this book is a interplanetary spaceport.

One or more of the stories ventures out into the galaxy at wide, and certainly Mars looms in many of the stories. The main connecting narrative is found in a story line about data vampire that feed off information left similar to blood. the different stories have different leads but perhaps the most interesting was Boris Chong who just returned from a years on Mars. There is magic, surrealism and plenty of Science Fiction invention.

Over all this was a neat book but the last of a single driving narrative slowed me down a bit because I was not primed to read a collection, I believed even 90 pages in that I was reading a novel. The impressive invention on every page is fun and makes the book a worth while read but I would not consider it essential reading.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

Paperback, 149 pages

Published February 16th 2016 by Tor.com

This is a short book but it is packed genius and invention. Pretty audacious of the author to use 1920's Brooklyn to explore racism in a Lovecraftian novella. Horror author HP Lovecraft has been the source of controversy in recent years when black authors objected to the use of his face on the world fantasy award. You see if you didn't know HP Lovecraft beloved for his genre expanding horror fiction was also a flaming racist.

While many authors write in a lovecraftian style or universe what makes the Ballad of Black Tom such an impressive book is that it explores the issue of racism of Lovecraft's time. If you are not a serious fan of Lovecraft you may not understand the levels here. Indeed I am not exactly a scholar of Lovecraft so I sure much of it goes over my head. People who think it was just his letters often forget the Horror of Red Hook and this book is like photo negative of that work.

You see Lovecraft lived in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn during this period, which he considered the worst of his life. It is my understanding that a great of his racism was expressed with most venom during this era. So here we have a novella that tells a Lovecraftian style story exploring these themes and even includes some cool noir settings and happening jazz environments.

The story of a street hustler named Charles Tester who is hired to deliver a magic tome. For a short book alot happens, and I think the only flaw is that to really get the strength of this book you have know Lovecraft. That said it is written with skill, and the voice is powerful. Second Tor novella I read this year and they were both great. I am glad they are doing these.

This novella is is but the best thing I can say about it is that it is important.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Top Ten Movies of the Year!

Best movies of 2016

Snowden

Oliver Stone helped me to understand what a hero Edward Snowden is. Excellent film.

Train to Busan

So yeah, it is not perfect a little long. But this is a totally gonzo Zombie film that looks good and uses it’s limited setting to great effect.

10 Cloverfield Lane

OK I admit the second half is not nearly as good as the first half but I loved the first hour.

Star Trek Beyond

I don’t think you need a trailer. It was the first modern trek film that felt like ST to me. I loved the Yorktown colony. The movie looked amazing. I had fun. Plot holes? Sure but compared to the last two? Arrival

Intelligent emotionally powerful Science Fiction. The message, the story, the visuals. All of it near perfect.

Loving

Jeff Nichols has a career full of 5 star movies for me. Loving is probably his best film and I would be surprised if it doesn’t acting Oscar nods. It is probably a better movie than Midnight Special which he also directed. Tense true love story not about romance but about a marriage.

Nice Guys

I would watch Shane Black written anything. Not as good as his first film as director Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but awesome dialogue. Laughed throughout.

Rogue One:

Star Wars movie with Forrest Whittaker and Donnie Yen.

The Disappearance of Willie Bingham

The most powerful experience I had in the theater was during the Horrible Imaginings Film Fest. Perfectly shot, acted and composed this short film is powerful. Brutal stuff and left me stunned.

Number 1: Midnight special My favorite movie of the year easy, while you could argue that it was not even the best film director Jeff Nichols made this year, it worked for me. I loved that it paid homage to Starman and Close encounters but pay close attention and you would notice this is not a first contact movie. Might have had 2 extra minutes tacked on the end but I loved it over all.

Count Agranoff's Top Ten Reads of 2016

2016 Top Ten Reads!

*released this year

Number 10: The Surgeon's Mate by Alan M Clark*

I read two novels by author/ artist Alan M.Clark and both were excellent works of horror. The other A Brutal Chill in August was in his series of novels about Jack The Ripper’s victims. That was good but this Surgeon’s Mate was a fucking weird part memoir part meta exploration about what drew this artist to work on the darkside. The final act of The Surgeon's Mate is like woven tapestry being pulled tight. The ending is both thrilling and heartbreaking. This is a horror novel that balances a dark bizarro high concept with a emotionally rich character study that is clearly written in front of a mirror.

Number 9: Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Laura Lee Bahr is one of the most talented people in the bizarro movement. This is a weird funny book about Hollywood. The coolest thing is this novel is not about the vast movie machine. It was cool that this is about a struggling indie filmmaker that is more LA or Hollywood that walk of fame superstars. This novel includes vampire celebrities, kinky sex, murder and above all a well structured story. Laura's strength is being a natural story teller.

Number 8: Abomination by Gary Whitta

This is the debut novel of the writer of The Book of Eli and Rogue One. 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. With elements of high fantasy, historical fiction and straight brutal Lovecratian monster horror Abomination is high concept awesome-fest.

Number 7: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno Garcia*

Certain Dark Things is excellent example of what a vampire novel could be. The Characters are strong, the writing is fast-paced, and it paints a vision of world we have not seen before. Mexico City, narco gangs and Aztec vampires. this is a really cool novel.

Number 6: Underground Airlines by Ben Winters*

This alternate history set in modern Indianapolis is about a modern world where slavery still exists in two states. 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. I loved this novel and thought it was quick and powerful read.

Number 5: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones*

This is such a good werewolf novel it immediately became a classic in the subgenre. It also had one of the most hilarious paragraphs I read in a book all year. But it is not all fun and games. 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. SGJ violates many of the sacred rules of writing almost wire to wire but with zero fucks given and he makes it work beautifully.

Number 4: Stranded by Bracken Macleod *

My pick for best horror novel of 2016 goes to the second novel of the northeastern author Bracken Macleod. This book is a doozy and plays with isolation and paranoia so well it will blow your mind. This novel has the cold isolation of The Thing mixed with the descent into madness from Jacob's Ladder and at times reaches Phillip K. Dick levels of paranoia. I know that is pretty high praise but this book earns it. This is a horror novel that works on every level. A masterpiece of slow-burn insanity and isolation. This novel uses nature and the arctic cold in the same way Danny Boyle's Sunshine uses the power of the sun.

Number 3: The Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The best horror novel I read this year was from last year. Late to the game I can’t say enough about this novel. Bird Box is one of the strongest most frightening horror novel I have read this year, and it is built on a high concept. The execution with a non-linear plot structure is so well done it is hard to believe this was the novel of a first time writer. The first 50 pages are almost impossible to put down. I went into the novel completely blind (pun intended) and I believe my enjoyment of the novel was boosted by that.

Number 2: The Warren by Brian Evenson*

This short 96 page novella is part sci-fi, part horror but all amazing. Evenson is as reliable a storyteller as there is. While this story is written with incredible poetic prose and style the story is not lost in the mix. Read it to the end and you will feel paid off for all the creepy build-up. The Warren is tiny book but damn is it powerful and worth every penny, an absolute masterpiece.

Number 1 Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson*

The best novel I read all year by a long shot. I can’t express the feeling I was left with in the last 100 pages of this novel. Aurora is a thrilling novel, it places you in the universe of the story. It feels lived in and believable, and it provided jaw dropping awe. The most fascinating aspect is that it uses science to put roadblocks in front of the characters who have to survive incredible odds. Thick of the Apollo 13 astronauts trying to survive, but on a much larger and insane scale. While scientists and engineers often say that some day we will be able to make these journey to other solor systems this novel is 466 pages of Robinson calling bullshit.

These thinkers are just looking at the nuts and bolts of the travel time and propulsion. What Aurora does is look at the science not only of the travel but biological, ecological and sociological. Because that kind of journey will be effected by all those things. Some science fiction readers might find KSR's point of view to be a total downer. A surprise after the uplifting story and message at the heart of his novel 2312.

The reality of this novel when you boil it all down is this: Earth is a starship, and it is the only one we as a species can count on. Aurora is a epic science Fiction novel with a simple message one important enough for me to call it a masterpiece. I was blown away.

** Honorable Mention

Best Short Stories Any Corpse by Brian Evenson, Free School by Cody Goodfellow

Books I read in order: Three Body Problem by Liu Chixen

Consumed by David Cronenberg

The Surgeon's Mate by Alan M Clark

King Space Void by Anthony Trevino**

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

Inherit The Stars by Tony Peak

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

A Necessary End by F. Paul Wilson & Sarah Pinborough**

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey**

Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing**

The Howling by Gary Brandner

A Splendid Chaos by John Shirley

Junior Seau: The Life and Death of a Football Icon by Jim Trotter

The Things That Are Not There by C.J. Henderson

A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson**

Tin Men by Christopher Golden

X,Y by Michael Blumlein

SEAL Team 666 (SEAL Team 666 #1) Weston Ocshe

Wire and Spittle by Chris Kelso

The Free School by Cody Goodfellow**

Aftermath (Star Wars: Aftermath #1) by Chuck Wendig

Dungeons & Drag Queens by MP Johnson**

This Census-Taker by China MiƩville

States of Terror edited by Matt Lewis & Keith McCleary

Predator Incursion by Tim Lebbon

The Hive Construct by Alexander Maskill

Towers by Karl A. Fischer**

The Principle by J.David Osborne

The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese**

Star Wars Bloodline by Claudia Gray

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Arkwright by Allen Steele

The Lost World (Kolchak, The Night Stalker) by CJ Henderson

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Malediction by Lisa Morton

Pressure by Brian Keene

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

God's War by Kameron Hurley

Panacea by F.Paul Wilson **

Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debit by Chuck Wendig

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Eternal Frankenstein Edited by Ross E.Lockhart

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer **

Rattled by the Rush by Chris Kelso

A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark

The Last Days of New Paris by China MiƩville

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Warren by Brian Evenson

My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor by Keith Morris & Jim Ruland

The Wild Shore (Three Californias Triptych #1) by Kim Stanley Robinson

And Kid Ghost by Desmond Reddick **(unpublished)

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley**

Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Fellside by MR Carey

Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Invasive by Chuck Wendig

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno Garcia

States of Terror vol.3 edited by Matt Lewis

Star Wars Catalyst by James Luceno

Mortuary Monster by Andrew j Stone

Dracual vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane** Duncan Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Long form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Book review: Dracula Vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan

Dracula Vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan

Hardcover, 441 pages

Published October 2016 by Inkshares

So I first heard about this book when I did a book signing at Mysterious Galaxy here in San Diego with the author of this book. My first impression when I saw the title of the book listed before the event was to assume it was goof ball Bizarro comedy. I expected the author to be some young dude who had self-published his goofy crossover novel. Look the lesson here is you can't always judge a book or author by the title alone.

When Duncan spoke at the bookstore he admitted that the title started as a joke. One he kept thinking about, eventually he decided he wanted to write. He did an OK job selling the novel, but not once did he mention that he was the playwright behind Mister Holland's Opus (that he also adapted to the screen) and he also wrote Courage under Fire. I am sure he didn't want to brag but mister Duncan...Telling us your credits certainly would help sell your book that intentionally has a corn-ball title.

I only discovered this listening to Duncan on the Horrible Imaginings Podcast. It is a great interview and I respect Miguel's tastes so his high praise for the book was the main reason I decided to read it. Super glad I did.

Dracula Vs. Hitler is actually quite a fantastic read. It is not the book you would expect from title or is it. PSD crafted a excellently thought out and researched novel. In the end it actually ends up being a powerful piece of work. It was not the strongest first act, but that is because he paid serious homage to the structure of the 19th century classic. Dracula doesn't even appear until 100 pages in, but the stage is set with journal entries telegrams and in the same way that the OG Bram Stoker novel did.

The novel begins following descendants of the Dracula characters Jonathan Harker and Lucille Van Helsing. Harker through his war-time journals and Van Helsing's unpublished novel written in a pen name. When we meet these characters in 1941 they cross paths in the Romanian resistance to the Nazi invasion. Harker is a English spy and Van Helsing is fighting with the partisans. We quickly learn that her father the elder Van Helsing is also part of the resistance. He has a radical idea for how to combat the barbarism of the Nazis. After the SS execute a dozen random citizens to punish the resistance. He hatches his plan. Fight monsters with the ultimate monster. Considering the monster got his first taste for blood fending off an invasion it seemed he might be into it.

The reason Dr.Van Helsing never left - he had tp guard the castle of Count Dracula. You see he did not cut off the monster's head as the book claimed. The vampire is frozen in death inside his coffin with a stake in his heart. The chapter 100 pages into the book that Van Helsing takes out the stake and recruits Dracula is excellent. It is a powerful moment that showcases Duncan's skill as a writer. What could be cheezy drips with tension. The book has two more chapters that are that powerful indeed the chapter when the title characters finally meet is so great.

As a reader one of my only problems is each switch in POV brought with it a new font, and some were hard to read, but over all it was well edited and laid-out. This novel was released by Inkshares which is the kickstarter of publishing so I wondered about some of those things. That being said Gary Whitta's Abomination was a excellent book also released by Inkshares. The chapters "written" by Eva Von Braun Hitler's longtime partner were some of the most interesting of the book but the handwriting style font was hard to read at times.

The events of the book perfectly set up a trilogy and I have to say I'll sign up to read the next book for sure. I am pleasantly surprised. Great historical horror that would make a great companion read to McCammon's Wolf Hour.