Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Review: The Deep by Nick Cutter

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Hardcover, 394 pages

Published January 13th 2015 by Gallery Books

The horror scene is not above the hype machine. Nick Cutter may not even be a real person but for better or worse Cutter went for a ride on the hype machine with his first horror novel The Troop. It is not a secret but Nick Cutter is the pen name for Craig Davidson a Canadian author known for works considered straight "literature." Davidson is mostly known for the powerful Rust and Bone which was made into a film that contended for Oscars. Under his real name he has gotten blurbs from the likes of Peter Straub and Clive Barker. Stephen King blurbed his first horror novel The Troop under the name Nick Cutter.

I think that last one is what set off the hype on The Troop. When you get down to it the hype was in this case justified, The Troop was to like Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever if Stephen King was given the job to give it a master’s polish. I understood why Davidson went with a pen name even though if the work under his name has dark elements his Cutter work is like old school horror.

Following up the Troop was going to take a serious horror novel. The promo materials helped to set the bar high by comparing it to The Abyss and the Shining. That second comparison was a little less obvious through most of the book and a bit of stretch but I think it is fair.

The Deep is set in a near future where humanity is suffering from the major outbreak of disease called “the gets.” I was prepared to learn much more about this world but it was simply a plot Mcguffin as Hitchcock called it. Our main Character Luke is the brother of the scientist looking for the cure for the disease in a research facility impossibly deep in the ocean. Madness has set-in at the research station and the man with the job of saving humanity has requested his brother join them.

The journey to the research station is something we have seen / read before in movies and books but I feel the author effectively conveyed the power and terror of nature. In that sense this novel reminded me of the Danny Boyle film Sunshine more than the Abyss. (p.89-90 just a fantastic moment) Once Luke goes deep into the ocean is when the horror really takes off. Without getting into spoilers about the end Luke is tested psychologically and these character moments are what really provide an experience.

With hype comes backlash, and it seems many found this book to be derivative. In this case I think the execution outweighs those problems. 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.

Only Lovers Left Alive would have been on my top movies of '14

Had I seen seen it in time. I know it was finished in 2013, but it was released in 2014. I have not heard much talk about it. Too bad. It is Jim Jarmush's best film since Ghost Dog if you ask me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Fringe-The Zodiac Paradox by Christa Faust

The Zodiac Paradox (Fringe #1)by Christa Faust

Paperback, 355 pages

Published May 2013 by Titan

Before I get into this tie-in novel, I want to talk about the show it was spun off from. I am assuming if you’re checking out this book review you probably watched the FOX show. Fringe is one of my favorite shows of all time. I know many who watched the pilot and just a few episodes feel like Fringe is just an X-files rip-off.

If you watched the show you know it is much more science fiction than X-files and in my opinion it has a better mythology. Walter Bishop played in Emmy/ golden globe worthy performances over five season by John Noble is one of my favorite TV characters. The mythlogy of the show extends into alternate universes and perfectly incorporated monsters of the week which were always based on interesting sci-fi concepts. All the characters were well written and performed. The finale was heartbreaking and tear jerker so I was pleased when scanning the shelves in Sci-fi and saw this book.

What made me even more excited was seeing the name of the author. Christa Faust is a great writer twice nominated for the Edgar award. This told me instantly that the book would be high quality. Two Faust written Fringe novels have been released and from what I can tell we will get a third and maybe a fourth. It also appears that Faust had access to writers from the show to develop these books.

It seems she is genuine fan of the show and the characters, which is not always the case in Tie-in novels. I only had tiny nit-picks with how the characters were realized in the book, but they were such small problems they are not worth going into.

This is a very Fringe story, set in the late sixties and 70’s with young Walter Bishop, William Bell and Nina Sharp. Tied into the Zodiac killings, experimental drugs and an alternate universe origin of the Zodiac killer.

Faust ties all these elements together and created a excellently realized prequel. Above average prose for a tie-in and short fast moving chapters make this a must read for Fringe fans.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book Review: Aberrations of Reality by Aaron J. French

Aberrations of Reality by Aaron J. French

Paperback, 390 pages

Published by Crowded Quarantine Publications

I love a good novel as much as anyone but there is no greater way to get to know a writer than to read a collection of short fiction. A good short story collection will have stories that vary in length, tone and style. This can inform a reader about a writer's potential range more than a single novel. Aaron French is clearly well read in the genre, a varied array of influences but classic and modern bleed through on every single page.

When I review a short story collection I often remember more about the tone and vibe of the book than I do the actual stories. I normally pick out stand-out stories but I can say there was not one that I thought was a dud. There was subtle humor at times but some stories took on a nearly mystical feeling.

Clearly influenced by early weird tale writers like Machen, Blackwood and of course Lovecraft French is able to mine that vibe while still feeling modern. My three favorites in the collection were "Graffiti Ghosts," a creepy tale "When Clown Face Speaks," and the thoughtful "The Four Transitions of the Soul Upon Death by David P.Reichmann."

This is a well written collection of razor sharp horror fiction. French has strong understanding of what makes the weird tale work. I am glad he got the gig editing short fiction for Dark Discoveries, they will be in good hands. Reality is always in question during this collection but the quality never is. Every library serious about intelligent high brow horror must get this book.

Book Review: Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas

Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas

Paperback, First Edition, 200 pages

Published October 15th 2013 by Dark Horse Books

Nick Mamatas is a writer I discovered from seeing him on a panel at the HP Lovecraft film fest. So lets put that out there. Authors can find readers by doing this kind of thing. I made a note to look up his work, and this (at the time) soon to be released book was the first thing I was interested in. Not wanting to wait for it's release I read the Mamatas book the Portland library had Bullettime. That was a fantastic read and was reviewed here on this blog.

I liked that book, but I loved this one. One of the reasons I write punk fiction is because I want more of it myself. With mentions of Token Entry and Ludichrist in the text punk readers can relax that this is not phony punk setting. I liked that the story included a '89 Long Island punk kid vibe.

The story of Dawn Seliger is a dark mystery that is very character based. It paints a more edgy hardcore mystery than books with double it's word count and sales. This book however deserves the hype. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? please. Dawn is character that doesn't just look out of place in society, she is out of place in the Long Island basement punk rock shows too. A follower of both Trotsky and Crowley, who finds her mentor in communism and magik murdered.

A older man who was friends with her father and had molded her political views and was somewhat of a sexual partner. There is not much to the mystery, but it is written with a brilliant touch. Short, but not sweet. It is both grim and amusing throughout. A fine piece of work.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review: Doctor Who: Engines of War by George Mann

Doctor Who Engines of War by George Mann

Paperback, 320 pages

Published September 9th 2014 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2014)

I am aware that Doctor Who novels don't need my help to be sold but I have a habit of doing reviews even short ones for everything I read. As a pretty young Whovian, I had never read a DW novel before. I had considered doing so many times. The reason I chose this one was because unlike most that I read about this one is actually meant to effect cannon and be somewhat of a prequel for the Day of the Doctor.

A little back story for the "War Doctor." I had fun reading this novel, reading 65% of it in one sitting on a flight. The prose style was simple YA friendly fare I was prepared for. With some neat images like battles Tardises and fleets of Daleks. It connected the story the the classic Five Doctors episode.

It was enjoyable read but I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped. The story was very basic. It felt like a Doctor Who story but the War Doctor is very standard here. Not the war weary man who does not even feel comfortable being the doctor. I think I will have to seek Stephen Baxter and other well established Sci-fi writers who wrote Who novels.

I picked up a 12th doctor novel at the same time and will give that a shot at some point.

My Top Reads of 2014

Best Reads of 2014

So I am a few days late. Sorry about that. Here are my rules. I do this list every year because reading and the novel/ short story are important to me. I just do my top ten reads of the year, doesn’t matter if the book was released this year or 1936. If it is a new release it is in bold. Please consider checking out these books by some of the less well known authors. Every book counts to those of us struggling authors. They are listed in the order of which they kicked my ass.

One by Conrad Williams (2009)

This British apocalypse novel knocked my socks off. So in many ways ONE is a masterpiece of the subgenre. Ironically considering the title it is like two books starting off like a straight forward end of the world novel and then in the second half becoming an excellent supernatural horror novel that is really the novel I wanted Simon Clark’s Blood Crazy to be. Believe it or not I thought it made Cormac MCcathry’s the Road seem light hearted.

Repo- Shark by Cody Goodfellow:

The margin between 1 and 2 is super thin. The most fun I had reading a book this year was Repo-shark. I will let Cody himself describe it. “It’s about a repo man who goes to Honolulu to repossess a classic Harley from a were-shark. If you’ve ever enjoyed the quirky detective novels of Charles Willeford, Joe Gores or Elmore Leonard while flying on mushrooms, then this will come as a sensible value. Zef DeGroot is a tarnished White Knight private eye in the classic Spade-Marlowe tradition, but with black belts in karaoke and auto-fellatio.”

14 by Peter Clines:

14 as a novel is many things, Gothic horror, a supernatural mystery, A haunted house story, (in this case a Los Angeles apartment building) and a Lovecraftian bizarro freak out. All those elements make for a fun novel but what makes it work are the well- written characters and perfect story structure

Say Anything but Your Prayers by Alan Clark:

This book is the second in a groundbreaking series that explores the Jack the Ripper history from an angle never before seen in over century of non-fiction and fiction inspired by the serial killer. This second book follows the life and demise of Elizabeth Stride the fourth victim. Each book in the series follows the life of the killer’s victim. Clark includes a few key Illustrations, but the strength comes from the attention to detail and the humanizing of Elizabeth Stride.

Doyle After Death by John Shirley: A really neat metaphysical mystery by the master John Shirley. The story is about the creator of Sherlock Holmes solving a crime in the afterlife. I loved every detail in this thoughtful mystery.

Netherworld by Lisa Morton:

This novel is a swashbuckling supernatural horror crossover with a historical vibe, big thumbs up from me. Lisa is one of my favorite writers. 19th century setting, multiple monsters and Wuxia moments. I loved it.

Wyatt in Wichita by John Shirley:

“It was largely a land without Borders - something that attracted him and disturbed him both. The land didn't need laws. But the people did." A historical western by my favorite author. Shirley paints a vivid picture and I loved every page. When authors go outside of the genres that they are most famous for it often ends up that the novels get overlooked. It is not my personal favorite by Shirley, I liked Doyle After Death more just this year, but I would say this is probably his BEST novel.

Spore by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow:

Zombie novel meets LA noir via two Crazy good writers combining their powers. This novel got lost in the mix of the demise of Leisure books horror line of paperbacks. Back out on trade paperback out of the three releases by Skipp and Goodfellow it is easily the best one. This would make a great film the trite Hollywood pitch would be think 28 Days Later meets the Wire. That sounds awesome right? It is!

Darling Brad C. Hodson:

This novel felt like a classic 80’s novel you might have found on the Abyss line. Hodson has a strength for plotting, everything from the background of the building to the history between the main characters are carefully revealed to perfect effect.

Three Chords of Chaos by James Chambers: Really bizarro punk rock fairy tale/ fantasy novel. Short fun read.

Honorable Mentions:

Luther the Calling by Neil Cross, The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale, Human Division by John Scalzi,