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,

Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Review: The Steps of the Sun by Walter Tevis

The Steps of the Sun By Walter Tevis

Paperback, 259 pages

Published February 3rd 1985 by Berkley (first published 1983)

I picked up this book for a buck at goodwill in Portland and I’m glad I did. Walter Tevis was a bestselling author back in the day known for classics of genre and straight fiction. His most well known work was the novel that the classic Paul Newman film the Hustler was based on. He also wrote a sequel The Color of Money and the classic science fiction novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. I read The Hustler for a class in college and always meant to read his science fiction. I always respected that he was an author who had both genre success as well as lit fiction cred. This was a time after all where the genre ghetto was even more serious than today.

I don’t think I enjoyed this novel as much as the concept. I love out of date science fiction which often tell you a lot about the time when it was written. The back cover describes a dystopian post ecological collapse earth that sounded interesting to me. The structure of the novel is such that we really don’t see that setting until the second half and not nearly as much as I would like. That setting is perhaps one of my favorites.

The story of Ben Belson an aging billionaire who in the midst of a world ending energy crisis buys a interstellar spaceship to find new sources of nuclear power. For a book written 1983 his vision of the future is an interesting one. He focused a lot on a gas/oil crash. There is some interesting things about a more dominant China that I thought he nailed.

The setting on Belson the world Ben names for himself is very interesting and well realized. Once back on earth the book felt a little less lived in ironically enough. There is more action and adventure but the plot just didn’t seem as well thought out. None the less an interesting read, and I will check out more Tevis science fiction.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Count Agranoff's Top Ten Movies of 2014

Top ten movies of 2014

10. Horns

This is a very weird bizarro horror film faithfully based on Joe Hill’s novel. Daniel Radcliffe is fantastic and coming from French director Alexander Aja (High Tension) everyone involved was stretching into fresh ground. Movie was funnier than I expected.

9. Captain America: Winter Soldier

I love that this film felt like Captain America in a 70’s political thriller. Not much else to say.

8. Cold in July

Not much to this bare bones crime thriller but it was a faithful adaptation of a novel I really love. So it made me happy.

7. Interstellar

I know Nolan wanted this to be his 2001, but it lacked the mystery of that film. That said it was a blockbuster that’s plot was dependent on the physics of time dilation. I think Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a better entry in the hard sci-fi genre. None the less I think it was Nolan’s best since Memento.

6. The Babadook

This emotional intense, heartbreaking boogeyman movie is the best descent into madness put on film since Requiem for a Dream.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

I don’t need to convince you right? This movie was almost perfect.

4. Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

So combine Crouching Tiger style kungfu fantasy with young Sherlock Holmes, then add a Lovecraftian style sea creature. All put together in amazing 3D visuals by visionary director Tsui Hark. I need to watch this one again actually.

3. The Raid 2

The difference between my #2 and #1 movies could not be more different. The Raid 2 has more story than the first film and that is not exactly a positive. That said The raid 2 is a epic action movie. Amazing ride, and awesome theater experience.

2. The Rover

This Australian apocalypse movie is brutal and powerful. Made all the more amazing by powerful performances from Guy Pierce and Robert Pattinson.

1. Boyhood

Yeah this is a one of a kind movie. It will never happen again. Huge gamble and if Richard Linkletter doesn’t win best director something is wrong.

Honorable mentions: Snowpiercer, Lucy, Edge of Tomorrow, The Monkey King.

Ones I wanted to see:

Only Lovers Left Alive, Fist of the Dragon, Journey to the West,Once upon a time in Vietnam, Die Fighting, Nightcrawler, Over Your Dead Body, Jordorowsky’s Dune, The Chemist, Calvary, 71,Blue Ruin.