Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: The Detainee by Peter Liney

The Detainee by Peter Liney

Hardcover, 352 pages Published March 11th 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books

I am a sucker for a good Dystopia. I mean me of all people, I often complain about end of the world stories that do not have enough gloom. So what went wrong here? Plenty of other people liked this novel. It is doing well on good reads for ranking. I am not going to say this is a horrible novel, because there are few elements of good here, but I have to admit it didn't connect with me.

This first person narrative was the first strike against novel for me, certain novels lend themselves to this kind of storytelling. The Shawshank Redemption, A Simple Plan or American Psycho are stories that are told, but I felt this was a story that needed to be happening. 70 pages in I, as the reader had no idea who the main character was. He was an amorphous I. The book went on at length about his setting, and a few of the unfortunate events he had to deal with but I didn't learn his name until I looked it up in an online review of novel. That is a bad sign.

I mention this because my habit as a reviewer at this point is to say "This novel is the story of..." but I never got a strong sense of who the narrator was. Now I know he is Clancy, some people call him "Big Guy" that he is considered unproductive and has been exiled to a giant trash heap of an island. This is where this hyper-capitlist future sends the "unproductive." Thus the island population contains many people of an advanced age thus making it kind of an opposite to Logan’s Run. It is a great concept; I like the point of view and the message. As a concept it has potential to be a fantastic dystopia warning novel, my favorite kind of science fiction- Horror crossover really. Basically a warning of what could happen if the right wing’s stance against social programs and welfare were taken to an extreme.

This is not an essay it is a novel, and no matter how interested I am in seeing a dystopia make this point it has to function as a novel or story. I admit I found myself skipping entire paragraphs, I know lots of people read this way but I do not. I was bored most of the time I had this book in front of me.

When I looked at online reviews I was surprised how many people liked the book. This book has been promoted as Hunger Games for adults and certainly many responded to the book’s take on ageism. I think libraries should collect this book and make it available despite my personal dislike for it. Certainly the themes are worthy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Repo Shark by Cody Goodfellow

Repo Shark by Cody Goodfellow

300 pages

Broken River books

Broken River is a new bizarro publisher focused mostly but I don't believe exclusively on weird crime novels. This imprint is the brain child of J David Osbourne the author of "By the Time We Leave Here We'll be Friends" a novel surreal novel published by Swallowdown and one of the best books I read the year it came out. Swallowdown to me had put out a chain of books that I considered instant classics. So I was excited when Osbourne put out a novel by fellow Swallowdown alum and diabolical genius Cody Goodfellow fresh off his Wonderland award for All Monster Action.

The novel in question is the most straight bizarro of Goodfellow's novels. Every single one of his novels are on the bizarro side of horror. It is not to say that this novel lacks horror elements, in fact it has more horror elements than I expected. However this is a bizarro crime novel. Goodfellow himself described it as “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.”

The story of vegas based repo-ninja named Zef. He has just taken a job to re-claim a Harley Davidson sold to gambler on a roll in Vegas. Before the sellers realized this Hawaiian man named Donny Punani whose money was not good for it the classic bike was on it's way back to the islands. Punani is serious criminal but he is also the ghost-god son of the King of All Sharks.

As Zef navigates the island he has to sift through the criminal underworld and deal with the possible legends. I laughed through-out the novel, but enjoyed the story and setting as well. Zef is the kinda hapless hero. As weird as it is Goodfellow doesn’t skimp on the quality story-telling and razor sharp prose. It ends with a finale as disgusting as anything in the World Horror convention’s annual Gross-out contest, but it was not forced. It was perfectly weaved in the story and had me laughing and marveling at its genius.

The best thing about this novel? It is like nothing this author did before. I hope you buy it and read it. You’ll enjoy it and then we should all get more weird as hell crime novels from Cody Goodfellow.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

Paperback, 288 pages

Orb Books (first published 1987) Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1988), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1988)

As a going away gift from my homey Bru-dawg this cyberpunk classic was right up my alley. Taking place in a middle east (a setting I have yet to see in sci-fi) where the Islamic world is the dominate seat of power in this future. Automatically this makes for a very different and intesnse environment that makes this a special read.

The main character is Marid Audren a detective working the mean streets of Budayeen. This city has a violent underground run by a two-hundred year old godfather named Friedlander Bey. In this ghetto you’ll find people wired to be hyper intelligent who also download personalities and avatars that include James Bond and a vicious killer named Khan. Audren is trying to find the person behind the murder of a prostitute that he was friends with.

This is a fantastic Cyberpunk novel, perhaps one of the best I have ever read. The setting is fully realized and the characters are dynamic. The power of the setting is highlight but also Effinger also has a great wit that slices through a key moments.

That helps as this is a brutal setting, that makes blade runner’s LA look a little Disney. This was a quick read for me despite reading it at a busy time. I liked Effinger’s style and found the inventiveness of his world compelling and gonzo. If you like weird sci-fi then you can’t miss this one.

Wuxia film you should see! Young Detective Dee and the Rise of the Sea Dragon

Hong Kong master director Tusi Hark is back with a prequel that is even better than his last Dee movie!

Book review: The Exploded Heart by John Shirley

The Exploded Heart by John Shirley

309 pages Eyeball books (Out of Print)

Every time I review a book by John Shirley I have to kinda preface it. John Shirley is my favorite living author. It is impossible for me to list all the works that I consider classics in the novel category from Science Fiction like City come a Walkin to horror like Wetbones. As accomplished of novelist as he is John is equally as strong if not stronger of a short fiction author. With more than half a dozen collections of his fiction in print and stories in anthologies appearances all over the place the collections are easy to find. That said it took me almost 10 years of looking before I found a copy of this collection at Powell’s books in Portland.

The Exploded Heart is a punk rock themed collection of science fiction works written over the first 30 years of John’s career. Many are very old school stories even some that are from John’s workshop stories at the early 70’s Clarion workshop. The book also contains fragments of unfinished novels and stories that feature characters that ended up in Shirley’s Song Called Youth trilogy. Some of my favorites include “The Prince.” and the title story which is a fragment of a unfinished novel.

As for as story collections go this is not the place to start with Shirley short fiction. In my opinion Living Shadows is the best collection with a wide range of stories in it. Black Butterflies won both the Bram Stoker award and International horror Guild award for best collection. That is not to say that Exploded heart is not an important read, but less for the fiction and more for the autobiographical notes that appear before the stories. It will have you wishing for Shirley autobiography that feature hilarious stories of the young artist who proclaimed being allergic to work, told stories of starting fights while performing with his old band to stories of annoying Harlan Ellison at Clarion. Easily the best part of the book. It is the reason you should want to read this collection.

The stories show the sensibility and political understanding as it evolves. The highlight of the fiction is a story about a near future where department stores hire people to be mannequins inside stores. This story is great example how Shirley uses sci-fi and bizarro elements to express a poltical point of view, explore classism and still tell compelling story no matter what your political feelings are.

After you have read Living Shadows and Black Butterflies it is time to check out the Exploded Heart.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review:Wolf Creek: Origins by Greg Mclean and Aaron Sterns

Wolf Creek Origin by Greg McLean and Aaron Sterns

Penguin Australia 287 pages

Co-author Aaron Sterns was at World Horror Con and I saw him speaking on a panel about Extreme horror. I enjoyed meeting him so I decided to bump this prequel up to the top of my TO BE READ pile. If you have not seen the film Wolf Creek I would suggest starting there. It is a great horror film without a shred of supernatural in it. It is a slow-burn that many impatient horror fans complain is to slow. Too bad, it is too me one of the best horror films of it’s decade.

At its heart is an absolutely horrifying character named Mick. Out in the wilderness of the aussie outback Mick hunts down lost tourists from the big city. Quentin Tarantino was such a fan of Mick he wanted to cast the actor in Death Proof (he got a cameo in Django). So my attraction to the book was getting Mick’s back story.

We certainly get that in this book, it also has a similar slow burn to the film. Like the film I have seen internet chatters commenting that some readers were bored. What? I for one was interested throughout. McLean and Sterns do a fantastic job of creating a deep and affecting atmosphere. I was interested in the outback setting in the film but it works even better in the book.

There is a little bit of Mick’s childhood and father, but more about Mick learning about how the outback can be used as perfect backdrop for killing. Mick doesn’t set out to be a killer and indeed the best scene involves Mick confronting a hippie who he helps repairs a truck for.

Does this book add depth to the film? It does, but I don’t think you NEED to read it to get the power of the story. Fans of the film will enjoy the added depth. I knew Mclean was a good filmmaker, and Sterns is solid writer. I look forward to reading stuff he has written out of the Wolf Creek verse.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Paperback, 242 pages

Published May 6th 2014 by 47north

From the look of the book the publishers are selling the idea of an old school 50’s or 60’s chezy pulp science fiction novel. Sounds good to me, I am a good choice to review this novel as I am a huge fan of weird old school Science fiction and I like sci-fi satire. This book is funny, very review, or promo material for this book will tell you how funny it is it would be easy to dismiss this as hyperbole. I am happy to say it is indeed funny. I laughed a lot reading it.

This is a bizarro science fiction that does get a lot of it laughs from high concept ideas and clever jokes based on long standing genre clich├ęs. One of my favorites was APPLE (A Planet Perpelxingly Like Earth). Funny concept that is a great satire of silly sci-fi stuff.

I am generally not a fan of first person narrative for entire novels but it works here as the story is told the point of view of the main character’s robot sidekick SASHA ( It stands for something I can’t remember). The non-hero is Rex Nihilo. He is a total loser who wins a planet and a boatload of debt in a card game. In order to save his skin, he manipulates both sides of a war, and various conflicts.

I enjoyed this book but it was far from perfect. As I started to read I assumed this was a first time author, but he actually has published a series before. I was instantly turned off as the author violated one of the golden rules of sci-fi writing in the first three pages. The novel starts with a massive info-dump and takes pages to actually get to the story. It was a review copy so I read on but had I picked up the book in the bookstore I may never have read it.

Info dumps read like encyclopedia entries and are a “what not to do” Example for poor world building. Thankfully I kept reading. For the most part I enjoyed this novel even after what I consider a rough start. That may sound nitpicky or harsh but the quality of the rest of novel is what makes the rocky start stand out.

Read it. I promise those looking for a creative bizarro laugh riot will be pleased.