Thursday, May 16, 2019

Book Review: Inspection by Josh Malerman

Inspection by Josh Malerman

Hardcover, 400 pages

Published March 2019 by Del Rey Books

Some horror fiction fits into neatly defined subgenres, and Inspection is one I find hard to pin down although there are some novels this put me in the same frame of mind. Very different in how they twist and turn, but this novel feels like it fits in with Sarah Pinborough's Death House or MR Carey's Girl With All the Gifts. It is basically coming of Age horror that is set in a dystopic like isolation, all three feature weird schools. In Death House the children are being isolated from global disease, in Girl with all the Gifts the threat the mystery gives way to a pretty typical but well done classic post-apocalypse event. One of my favorite things about Inspection is that Malerman doesn't answer every mystery. Know that going in and you'll be a happier reader for it.

I personally had no idea what the book was about, going in totally cold and spoiler free. I suggest that is the best way to go but if you need more let me tell you about it. Inspection is a dark novel about a group of boys being raised in isolation from the world. They are being raised in a Tower deep in the Michigan woods kept from the world in a school run by D.A.D. (what that stands for is one of the mysteries I don't think we got an answer on. The idea is if they are out of the world away from distractions then they can be trained to be genius level students.

One of those sides effects is that they know nothing of the outside world, and there is a lot of focus on the idea that they have no idea that girls or women exist. The boys, called Alphabet Boys don't even get names only Letters. The narrative early on goes back and forth for our main POV between J and D.A.D whose real name is Richard. J begins to see signs that his world view is based on lies. This is something D.A.D has worried about as the boys finally start to grow into young adults.

With his first release since the Netflix phenomenon and the meme that BirdBox became Inspection is a curious book for Josh Malerman. I really like that he is doing bold things and tell challenging stories. With novels like this one and Unbury Carol Malerman is coming up with original ideas that are not cookie cutter or generic horror. This novel has that strange dark vibe that is pure Malerman.

Half-way into the novel, there is a twist I felt I should have seen coming. The narrative is well down despite some serious challenges for the author. With the majority of the characters having only letters for names, it is hard to keep some of the boys straight. Malerman does as good a job as possible. The structure of the story and the prose are great.

I am not sure every single moment worked for me but that comes down to things about the concept I couldn't quite get with. At it's heart, I didn't understand the motivation of the scientists behind the experiment at the heart of the novel. Besides that, I just rolled with it. I was very invested by the final act. I can recommend this book, I liked it just not sure it will be on the year end list. Great novel overall, Malerman proves again the hype is real.

Book Review/Podcast: The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

Dickheads episode coming early June!

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

Paperback, SF Masterworks, 191 pages

Published February 2005 by Gollancz (first published September 1964)

PKD's Post nuke dystopia is about class, labor, and manufacturing of consent. With robots and simulacra leaders than Chomsky would ever have done. There are some weird story threads that come out of and go nowhere but this is great political PKD. Should make a fun podcast but we are not recording until June. Sorry for the delay.

www.soundcloud.com/dickheadspodcast

Twitter: @dickheadspod

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: Unamerica by Cody Goodfellow

Unamerica by Cody Goodfellow
Paperback, 448 pages

Expected publication: June 2019 by King Shot Press

I have reviewed most of Cody Goodfellow's books and I normally kick off the review with a paragraph on who Cody is. I feel like should not have to do that at this point plus I did just that three book reviews back when I wrote about the book set to come out after this one called Scum of the Earth. This book is a very different tone, but both are pure Cody Goodfellow. This one is more of a dark and serious novel and in the vein of Cody as I think of him. Not to say there are not fun moments as there certainly are. Most reading experiences from Goodfellow have equal moments of pained laughter and cringe-worthy unsettling doses of weird.

It might sound like exaggerating to say that I waited 10 years for this book but I did. Goodfellow has been working off and on Unamerica for that long, and once told me the concept during a conversation at Bizarrocon. I have several times since asked Cody when I was going to get this book. My bar was incredibly high so I was a little afraid that this book could not live up to the hype. So let's dig into this and figure out was this book worth the wait.

Unamerica is a story seen from several points of view but our main character is a former illegal raver and drug dealer Nolan Hatch who is trying to sneak his way back over the border after a few years aboard. It is amazing how ripped from the headlines this novel feels even with a ten year gestation period. Hatch gets taken by Border Patrol like commandos and is dumped in an underground city made mostly of stacked up storage containers.

In this underground city, it is basically anything goes, you don't have to work, the parties never end and drugs are endlessly available. Once in Unamerican Nolan reverts to his former ways. He can move drugs, and makes himself useful to the gangs but why does this city exist? What is the reason this place exists?

At the same time, religion rises in the form of several street preachers and the two forces rise not unlike the King classic The Stand, the way the drug acts seems very influenced by the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. For my money that is a great combination of influences. The street preachers give this novel a chance to explore religion.

There is a lot going on in this novel in this novel and I think Goodfellow may have been trying to express many political ideas that were rooted in the Bush Jr. years when it was conceived. This novel explores the way ghetto-style segregation and drugs affect targeted areas of communities. It also explores the idea of how and why the government benefits from pumping drugs into these neighborhoods. It is very much about prison-like conditions the residents in these neighborhoods have to deal with. One of the most interesting elements is the corporate government partnership that runs the underground city. In that sense, it explores the ills of capitalism in underground economies.

I know that sounds like a lot of different messages and ideas, It is true this novel explores religion, drugs, capitalism, social Darwinism, and probably more I didn't catch. It is a lot to take in but it is OK because Goodfellow fills the 436 pages with texture and swag. Underrated as a writer Goodfellow is a diabolical genius who balances strong political messages subtle moments of bizarro insanity. For every jaw-dropping speech about how the human brain works there are just as many scenes like the one with the cannibal complaining of needing maple syrup for his human meat. The line between high brow and low brow as never been thinner and it is one of the things that makes this author one of my favorites.

Goodfellow can break unwritten rules and get away with it. For example, no one should get away with paragraphs that are basically lists of elements that make up a setting. Goodfellow does this all the time in this novel Hatch’s introduction to Unamerica walking in has a long list of the various things he sees. They generally work. Goodfellow is one of the smartest writers of my generation and it is impossible for me to read his work without marveling at his skill, intelligence, and ability on page after page. Unamerica is the best thing I have read this year and I have read a few masterpieces already. This is a must-read for fans of weird fiction that lives on the border of science fiction and Horror. Goodfellow's most assured work is a dystopia not to miss. I hope the people behind the Philip K Dick award pay attention as it is worthy.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Book review up: Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older

Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older

Hardcover, 380 pages

Published June 2016 by Tor.com

So this is the book that has lead me to decide that I need to make a shelf for books that I learned about on Geeks Guide to the Galaxy. I heard Malka Older on a episode about political activism and was totally sold on the concept. This might be a short review as I finished this when I was in the final stage of edits for my next novel, and my brain was a bit fried. I also have finished a book since and that is not my favorite way to review a book. So sorry if I didn't give this book the attention it deserves

This novel at times has a cyperpunk feel just in that much of the novel place in our future where all things online mingle with real life. Don't go in expecting Cyberpunk, there is little punk about this novel. That is fine because this story needed a straighter approach. It has more in common with political thrillers than saw the weird works of say Sterling or Gibson. Think the Ryan Gosling movie Ides of March meets Leguin. It is part political and part spy thriller. Some of the characters are thinly depicted but not the two leads Mishima and Ken who develop a relationship despite coming from different forces. They are well written and engaging characters that I was interested and invested in.

The world building and ideas conveyed about this possible futures use of Micro-democracy was interesting. It was the strength of the novel for me. I certainly see why Older is planning to revisit the setting. There is action, and even swords that might be a little out of place but I choose to go with it. You see in this future the world is divided into micro democracies that are spread around the world to represent voting blocks not just by countries or ideals but sometimes by corporations. You can move around the world following the voters who connect to your ideas. If I remember this all correctly.

The pace of the novel starts a little slow, and it took me a little while to get comfortable with the world building once I did I was glad I. This is an impressive novel, even if it was not totally my jam. This was the first novel published by Tor.com's excellent line of books that until this were all novellas. They tend to be great. I will keep my eye out for the author.

Book Review: Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore

Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore

Paperback, Golden Age Masterworks, 256 pages

Published January 2019 by Orion Publishing Co (first published 1957)

This year I decided I was going to read a lot more golden age Science Fiction, one of the books I have already read and reviewed was the Future is Female edited by Lisa Yasek. There were many authors I discovered from this book who I wanted to explore. First on my list was C.L. Moore. The reason I wanted to read her is like me she is a Hoosier. Born in Indiana early in the twentieth century Catherine Moore published her first works in the student journal the Vagabond at Indiana University journalism school just blocks from the house I live in grew up 60 years later. She left IU to support her family during the great depression but published many stories in the early pulp magazines. Later she would publish many works co-written with her first husband Henry Kutter. They met because they were in a circle of friends who met because they all wrote letters back and forth with THE one and only HP Lovecraft.

So I was interested in reading more of her work and when I saw that our library had a battered and worn first edition I jumped on it. The first thing I feel the need to comment on in the almost 70 years this book has been in and out of print it been consistently packaged in covers that have nothing to do with the book. There are no spaceships, or lazer guns, no giant robotic spiders. This is a serious dystopia that apparently is a follow up to her 1943 novel Judgement Night. That novel was not the basis for the silly 90's gangster movie. That short novel was actually more of a space opera.

Doomsday Morning is about a post-America 50 years in the future although no exact date is given. The country is run by what appears to be some form of AI called Comus (short for Communications of the United States). This book is really the essence of out of date Sci-fi written just before TV took over as a popular entertainment. Our window into this future comes from the POV of Howard Rohan a washed up actor. Comus sends him out to California to spread propaganda and accidentally out the forces of resistance against him. It is hard to imagine this type of media as propaganda in the future being down by traveling theater.

Much of this novel is about the theater, I don't know much about that subject but I believe the author did. The play they are touring with is called Crossroads. Those parts gave me a somewhat tongue-in-cheek feel. I thought of those scenes having a Terry Gilum or Coen Brothers feel. It was a interesting change of pace from the majority of the book that has many dark moments. The rebellion eventually falls into riots and chaos.

There is plenty of weird out of date attempts to predict technology like "Hedgehoppers" and really Comus itself is AI before the term really existed. This is not a read for everyone. It didn't age well but anyone serious about reading golden age sci-fi can't go wrong. This was the last work of an important author. While she returned to conventions to be remembered and honored for her contribution Catherine Moore never wrote in the genre again. I am glad I read it but outside of Golden Age completionists I not sure about the appeal 70 years later. I certainly respect the work.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Book Review: Scum of the Earth by Cody Goodfellow

Scum of the Earth by Cody Goodfellow

Paperback,158 pages

Eraserhead Press

Advanced copy, Due summer 2019

This is a good month two new Cody Goodfellow books in one month. I admit this is a time when I have great privilege being published by the same press I accidentally got my hardcopy before Mister Goodfellow. I have not been shy in my opinion of Cody's work, as a writer I think he is the most underrated genre voice of my generation. one of the aspects that makes Goodfellow such as fun voice as he is important as he is not afraid to just have fun. This is the writer who already showed early in his career how he could go from a genius work political body horror like A Perfect Union to at times Satirical Kaiju action in the collection All-Monster-Action that you can still pick-up from Kingshot Press.

Close fans of Cody's Career have read novellas and short stories that have gone into full satire most notably The Last Goddamn Hollywood Movie about a crew trying to take advantage of the end of the world to make their movie. That book has a tongue in cheek crazy-ness that not every author can pull off. Scum of the Earth is like an artifact of late 50's or early 60's pulp sci-fi spit out of a wormhole into 2019 complete with Monty Python level of snark and Goodfellow's hyper-intelligent meets gonzo style of insanity. This book could only be written by Cody Goodfellow because it requires someone with the writing chops, the wit, and most importantly someone well read in the classic genre not afraid to play and poke fun at the conventions.

The back cover does a good job of selling all the weird elements from brain stealing drug-dealing gray aliens to space Vikings. All seen through the eyes of an ex-stripper turned starship and her shapeshifting first officer. Everybody fucks everyone on the ship as they are bored traveling through space inside a giant fish who they have to get drunk and trick into going to warp speed. The earth is dead and humans are scattered trying to not have their brains stolen...look you are better off reading this on your own.

There are twists that are smarter than anyone who didn't know Goodfellow's work before might not be ready for. Goodfellow speaks directly to the reader many times letting you know when he is conveniently using certain tropes. My favorite was part when he was describing a race of barbarians called Monitors with FTL ships and he described them as "the monitors are that rare exception that proves those optimistic nerds read entirely too much Asimov and not enough Ellison."

There is also a funny scene that despite my years being straight edge made me laugh. A character is trying to figure out if their ship is a time machine and another responds "Fuck Science," She snarled. "science is for people who can't handle Drugs."

Scum of the Earth is a fun read, people looking for more humor in their science fiction can't go wrong. Codiacs whose numbers are growing rejoice because this is a fun one to add to the collection.

Book Review: The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin: Edited by Lisa Yaszek

The Future Is Female!

25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin: Edited by Lisa Yaszek

Hardcover, 531 pages

Published September 2018 by Library of America

This is yet another case of a project I read/reviewed after hearing it featured on Geek's Guide to the Galaxy. First and foremost the editor Lisa Yaszek being a scholar of Science Fiction had me interested in having her as a guest on Dickheads to talk about the history of the genre. Second I knew I wanted to read this book.

The concept is simple starting with Claire Winger Harris and a story called 'The Miracle of the Lilly' and ending with A Ursala K Leguin Story Called 'Nine Lives'. That takes the reader through the evolution of the pulp era from 1928 to 1969. In the subtext of this anthology is the journey the women writing in the genre took from the great depression to the year humans landed on the moon. You might expect some Flash Gordan like space opera with lots of laser guns but I was struck by the high concept of many of the ideas stretching back so long ago.

CL Moore's 'The Black Kiss' read a bit like a high fantasy story to me, and Joanna Russ's 'The Barbarian' that was I believe a tribute to the former author's work. That style is fine, but it was the more groundbreaking and ahead of their time stories that really sold me. My favorite stories were the opening story 'The Miracle of The Lilly' and 'Contagion' by Katherine Maclean. I enjoyed the majority of the 25 stories but those two were the ones that had the biggest impact of me. I had never heard of those women, and I am ashamed to stay as a student of the genre I had only read previous works by six of the twenty-five featured authors. The book has done its job as I currently reading CL Moore's novel Doomsday Morning.

Let's start where the book did with 'The Miracle of the Lilly' which has the most vast scope of any of the stories which and what makes this striking since it is the oldest. This story that goes into a future where humans have wiped out insects, an act with horrifying unintended consequences is pretty much Cli-fi 90 years before the subgenre was invented. I am sure the science is wildly out of date but epic nature of the idea is pure speculative gee-whiz in the best ways.

'Contagion' by Katherine Maclean has a little bit of an Alien or Prometheus feel despite being from 1950, I really enjoyed this trip to another world that played with the idea of going to another planet. This story felt pulpy and wise beyond it's time which is a trick many of the stories pulled off but this one just worked for me.

A few others that stood out to me were Leigh Brackett's 'All the Colors of the Rainbow' that was written about racism in 1957. The saddest part is the message is still valid today. That is impressive and depressing at the same time. I also enjoyed Kate Wilham send-up of Hollywood and pre-VR technology in 'Baby You Were great.' The closers by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) and Ursula K Leguin showcase by they are gold standards in the genre.

As much as I loved the stories, the highlight for sure was the introduction by Yaszek and the biographical notes at the back. As a fan of the genre and a writer myself, I was interested in their stories. I found myself saying to myself I need a book of that history. I was glad to find out that Yaszek has written that book Galatic Suburbia. I will read that one as soon as I can. the biographical notes provided such valuable insights in the writers. On a personal note discovering a pulp-era writer, CL Moore was from my home state of Indiana and published her first stories in the student paper of my hometown university made me so interested in her story.

Anyone interested in the classic pulp era and the history of women in it should read this book. The way it follows the progressive of the genre gives it an interesting edge. This book is more than just another anthology, it is an important historical document that happens to have more than 20 stand-out works of bold science fiction. It should be taught in MFA programs but sadly I think it will be overlooked just like the contribution of the many women in the genre.

The good news is we have this book and can read it, review it and promote it to others. The Future is Female is a must read for serious fans of the genre.