Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review: Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
Hardcover, 306 pages

Published October 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books

Lovecraftian fiction is tricky. In some ways I enjoy well done Mythos stuff better than the writings of HPL himself. However the growth of the mythos genre has seen dozens of Cthulhu themed anthologies getting released yearly and most of them are pretty bad. Mindless rehashes of Lovecraft style and tropes with out much creative juice to float them.

I admit I would not have even considered this book if it didn't have back cover blurbs from two authors I trust (F.Paul Wilson and Stephen Graham Jones). I am glad I did because I enjoyed this novel.

Combining the PI novel with the mythos is far from a ground breaking idea a collection a few years ago called Hard boiled Cthulhu. That book was a mixed bag but had a really cool entry by one of my favorite Mythos writers Cody Goodfellow. The author CJ Henderson also had a series of novel called Teddy Knight about a PI that messed with mythos beasties.

Carter and Howard is light years ahead of the well intentioned but not entirely well executed novels by Henderson. The opening chapter is a doozy and does a great job planting a story seed. The story of the the "Child Catcher" serial killer was the most interesting aspect of the story to me. Dan Carter can't take the police work anymore, the suicide of his partner and the crazy-ness of the crime scene was enough to force to leave the force. To be become a private eye. shortly after he gets mysterious gift. He has inherited from a man he has never met a book store in Providence.

The book store is like a dream bookstore for the nerdiest of Lovecraft fans. Picture a amazing old bookstore that is filled with rare limited editions run by a fictional heir to Lovecraft himself. From there the book gets whackey - in a good way.

Howard does a excellent job touching on aspects of the complete works Lovecraftian through the novel, chapters shift at times between titles, characters and themes that came straight from HPL works. That said the story hinges on this interesting metaphysical fold in reality.

The novel balances the tone and atmosphere of the genres crossed in the story. That is no minor task. I felt like the story got a little convoluted early in the third act. I think the early parts of the novel the first 60 pages were the strongest of the novel. Once the mystery starts unravel the novel loses a little steam.

That said I think this a really solid work and one of the better Lovecraftian works and interesting that it comes from someone who is not a regular at the Lovecraft film fest or has 38 stories in the various Cthulhu anthologies.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Review: Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published April 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

OK they had me at weaponized ghosts... Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens are most widely know for writing several of the best Star Trek novels. People who have followed their original work are aware that they write a brand of techno thriller that gets strength from the intense amounts of research they do. That is one reason I really was interested in their take on remote viewing and paranormal spies that has not been done this effectively since Brian Lumley's first three Necroscope books.

The Reeves-Stevens won me over in the mid-90's by writing what I still believe is the best Star Trek novel ever, and consider that I read about 150 of them before I burned out on trek fiction. That novel Federation got crushed by the film of First Contact, which is actually cannon. to bad Federation not only had the second best Trek bad guy ever, but combined both of the first two crews in a logical non-corny way and made one of the worst most boring episodes of Trek into a cool prequel to their novel. Federation is the only Star Trek novel I re-read.

The story of a detective named Matt Caidin who is trying to put back the pieces of his life back together after a nasty divorce. He witnesses a crash at a diner where he is a regular. He is shocked when the woman who he saw die in the car shows up and asks him for help. That woman Laura Hart is a agent for Crosswind at black ops psychic national security agency that needs Matt to get information from her about the counter organization in Russian. He learns that it is her ghost and she died with information about a coming terrorist attack.

This novel has alot in common with Necroscope but with ghosts instead of vampires and of course the lack of cold war makes a different tone. Wraith doesn't have the bloated scope of that series. One of the strength of Wraith is the short and to the point nature of the story. That is not to say that alot doesn't happen in the book, because many things happen in the perfect 315 page length. there are plenty of seeds that could grown into more novels, or a TV series.

You might think that the authors strength for research and technical accuracy would be wasted in a story about remote viewing but you would be wrong. I can only assume that they did their homework because they seem familar with the rumors and lore of remote viewing. Their knack for research comes in handy when the various intelligence agencies try to track our hero Caidin when he goes off the map to try and stop the attacks.

Rogue agents from the counter Russian agency VEKTOR provides many of the novel most interesting moments. While Crosswind is using remote viewing to spy it is VEKTOR that weaponize the psychic field created by it's dead agents. These ghosts called Bezerkers. One of the scenes with these ghosts in a restaurant is very very effective.(page 195-96) Borodin the rogue Russian agent is a great villain and the novel gives him a proper motivation even if he seems like mustache twirling bad guy at first.

I really enjoyed this novel and thought it was light fun. I wouldn't say this is a must read, groundbreaking but it was solid. The cover art is a little corny but don't let that scare you off. Reeves-Stevens are a great team and I am always open to check out their work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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

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

Mass Market Paperback, 130 pages

Published 2012 by Moonstone Entertainment, Inc.

I'll keep this short as this was a short book. I have mixed history with the late CJ Henderson who I think is a great short story author, whose novels have not worked as well for me. I am however a big fan of the Kolchak TV series which sadly only lasted one season. Ahead of it's time TV didn't do long narrative at the time, so the silliness of Kolchak running into a new monster every week doomed the series. What they should have done was a series of TV movies yearly like the first two Matheson films. Enough of that back to the book.

Well enter moonstone books who are doing pulp paperbacks and comics that include everyone's favorite monster hunter and newspaper man Carl Kolchak. I think this novel is only for diehard fans of the character like me. So the next step for enjoying this book is to not think to deeply about it, for example think of it as a lost episode not a novel. A novel suggests a bigger more epic scope. That said this story probably far exceeds the budget ABC would have thrown at a episode.

I like that this was not a paint by the numbers Kolchak story taking him to south america and putting him in between rival drug gangs. Don't worry there is a supernatural twist and plenty of weird mystery involved. This is quick read, I read it over three sittings on my morning commute. Henderson captures the feeling of the TV show, and writes in first person like the original Jeff Rice novel. Directly in Kolchak always suppressed account.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele

Arkwright by Allen Steele

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 2016 by Tor Books

This might sound like hyperbole but in the history of Science Fiction novels this might be nerdiest of all hard sci-fi novels ever. Let me say at the start I was rooting for this novel, which is unabashed love letter to Golden Age Science Fiction. One of my favorite sub-genres of speculative fiction is the hard science generational ship novel. The history of these types of novels include classics by giants in the field like Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss and Heinlein. In fact one of my favorite novels of last year was a Generational ship novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called Aurora. While I am positive that Steele was working on Arkwright long before the release of Aurora it has become a accidental response. It is unfair for Steele's novel has to stand up to such a master work, but lets face it the books are almost debating each other. I can't help but compare the two books.

Arkwright is a neat concept that fails to live up to it's grand vision mostly because of the paper thin characters and the epic scope that in the right hands could have been stretched over a couple books. The formatting and structure of the story didn't work for me and the ending almost jumped the shark by using what I believe as a reader was the wrong POV. The AI onboard KSR's Aurora had more personality and humanity than just about any human in Arkwright.

The story spans hundreds of years starting with an awkward flashback to the world Science fiction convention in 1939. Blending real and fictional Sci-fi writers Steele creates a history for Nathan Arkwright, A combination of Heinlein and Roddenberry whose "Galaxy Patrol" novels and TV show provides the seed money for a generational starship that takes more than a few generation of his descendants to fund, build and launch. (It also seems that every generation has woman dropping everything their doing to follow a man on this quest - a little odd) Not to spoil the second half of the book but eventually the ship is launched and sent toward a near-by star and founds a colony hundreds of years in the future.

KSR's Aurora was pessimistic look at the idea of interstellar travel with not so subtle desperate plea for humans to take care of the planet they have. Arkwright offers a hard sci-fi look that is clearly more hopeful. It suggests a path for interstellar travel that KSR clearly thinks is impossible. Forget for a moment which book you agree with. Comparing these books is like comparing a Spielberg movie to a Roger Corman produced movie. I really hate to say that as I thought the concept was promising. The book was interesting enough to keep my interest until the end.

Steele has interesting ideas but the story is told without rhythm, with so many characters and jumping generations the story requires structure. That is one thing I thought Steele did well, but without the rhythm, the underdeveloped characters and poorly developed obstacles thrown at them the novel is as flat as a pancake. Obstacles in form of a glossed over terrorist that was contained to a few pages and the threat of near earth astoroid that was curiously unscary. I really wanted to like this book I just couldn't. If you are looking for a "Go team" look at space travel then you might enjoy this book. I clearly didn't. This is a case of a book that I liked less the more I thought about it.

side note: I like Neil Degrasse Tyson I do but the naming of the starship after him in this novel caused eye-rolling. I think we are just seeing to much of him.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Paperback, 195 pages

Published February 4th 2014 by FSG Originals

Nebula Award for Best Novel (2015), Locus Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015), Shirley Jackson Award for Novel (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2014)

This might come off as a negative review, compared to the massive list out all the awards and nominations for this novel, and then factor all my friends who hyped this book as the greatest thing since sliced bread. I had many friends tell me of the genius of Vandermeer's book long before I actually read it. I admit one of the things that actually got me to crack it open was the looming film. I have great respect for the film work of Alex Garland. Not just Ex-Machina and Sunshine, but I actually love his Dredd movie. I knew I would be in the theater opening weekend, so I had to read the book and get Vandermeer's vision before seeing the movie.

This may seem strange but as much as I think this is a fantastic novel, and deserving of all the awards it won I didn't connect to it personally. Vandermeer has constructed a fantasy mystery in the deepest sense. I felt he has constructed a smarter more literate take on LOST. I have not read books two and three So I could be wrong, and it could go in a totally different direction. I don't think the answers are as simple and explainable as the mystery of Lost turned out to be. This becomes both a strength and weakness of the novel for me.

Area X is pure mystery and defies sense often, this makes narrative feel so other worldly as times that you can't help but be impressed. The story is about the 12th team to head to the area to research it. The Characters don't have names just titles. The landscape changes like a drawing being tinkered with by the artist. Quickly you figure out that while Vandermeer is storyteller you should trust his narrators and their perceptions are unreliable to say the least.

For me as plotting and structure geek...Well it just wasn't my favorite type of story. How novels reveal story is very important to me, I like the feeling of a author guiding me carefully up a ladder to reveal what is in the attic. This novel reveals story more like being pushed in a white river raft and trying to make sense of a world that is spinning. Not a bad thing at all. Infact I often like novels like that, it may just be that I was not in mood for it, I think I was looking for a straighter narrative. That's on me.

Infact much like Paul Trembley's Head Full of Ghosts, the more I thought about the book long after I closed it for the last time did I respect what I had read. I certainly think fans of weird intelligent science fiction and horror should read this short and effective book. It sure looks like this is a classic in the making. See it before the movie for sure.

Monday, July 4, 2016

I'm Co-Teaching a Class on Writing Horror Novels Aug.13th!

The Horrible Imaginings Film Festival presents a day-long workshop about the nuts and bolts of the horror novel writing process. If you are a screenwriter or non-genre novelist you can still learn a lot.

Click here for the syllabus: http://www.hifilmfest.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/How-to-write-horror-reading-list_edited.pdf

Teachers include:

David Agranoff, Wonderland award nominated author of four novels and two short story collections.

Ryan C. Thomas is an award-winning journalist and editor living in San Diego, California. He is the author of 10 novels.

Bryan Killian, Author of "Welcome to Necropolis"

Classes include: Outlining and plotting your novel

Dialogue and economy of prose

Writing a novel by the seat of your pants.

Building terror and suspense on the page.

We are raising money for our out-of-town literature guests that include New York times bestselling author and filmmaker John Skipp, Horror Writers Association President - author and Screenwriter Lisa Morton, author / filmmaker Laura Lee Bahr and keynote speaker award winning author and professor- Brian Evenson.

The class is limited to twenty spaces, first come first serve to registration.

Why learn from these guys with more than 20 published horror novels combined you will get a variety of experiences and styles of teaching.

Praise for David Agranoff as teacher and a writer:

"David Agranoff is one of the most dedicated, professional authors I know, as well as being one of the most moral and disciplined people. I have workshopped and dialogued with him, and watched him do the same with so many others. He was a core member of a writing workshop we had going here in Portland for several years, and it was his ceaseless fascination with the craft above all else that made him stand out in group. He is a born teacher, and exhibits this behavior uniformly." - Edward Morris author of the Blackguard series.

"David Agranoff is one of, if not the most dedicated author I know. Having attended a few workshops across the globe, I can say with absolute certainty that his passion and his drive make him stand out as a teacher. My short fiction has improved leaps and bounds working with David. I would recommend him to both newcomers and those looking to hone their skills." -Ivan Zoric

"Having written with David for a solid two years now, I can say without any doubt that he is a well organized, forward thinking, plotting obsessed maniac and there is a lot to be learned from him." - Larry Hall (David's screenwriting partner)

David Agranoff is a razor sharp writer, a storyteller with a hard rock pacing, a magician of ideas, an adventurer in subcultures, an expert in underground music scenes--all of which is apparent in Amazing Punk Stories. But he's fundamentally something else. David Agranoff is an idealist in Hell." - John Shirley Cyberpunk legend from his introduction.

Ryan C. Thomas

"If you want to freak yourself out on your next camping trip, you can't do any better than The Summer I Died!" BloodyDisgusting.com

"Ryan C. Thomas is not just a writer to watch, but one that has hit a stride most others at their own game should envy." HorrorDrive-In.com

"Ryan C. Thomas builds and drives tension like a screaming dream in broad daylight!" Cody Goodfellow, author of A Perfect Union

Bryan Killian

"A Harrowing, terrifying story with equal amounts of heart and headshots. Bryan Killian's debut novel is a thrilling non-stop ultraviolent powerhouse of undead action." - Bestselling author Brian Keene.

The Horrible Imaginings Film Festival is a nonprofit organization that showcases art and film that explores the darker or more macabre sides of the human condition. We promote and spotlight exemplary new artistic voices in what is commonly known as the horror genre. It is our mission to encourage an elevation of the genre through film discussion, question and answer sessions, panels, and other presentations, as well as educate and hopefully inspire future generations into the art of filmmaking.

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.