Saturday, December 3, 2016

Book Review: Scrapper by Matt Bell

Scrapper by Matt Bell

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published September 15th 2015 by Soho Press

"Kelly scavenges for scrap metal from the hundred thousand abandoned buildings in a part of Detroit known as “the zone,” an increasingly wild landscape where one day he finds something far more valuable than the copper he’s come to steal: a kidnapped boy, crying out for rescue. Briefly celebrated as a hero, Kelly secretly takes on the responsibility of avenging the boy’s unsolved kidnapping, a task that will take him deeper into the zone and into a confrontation with his own past, his long-buried trauma, memories made dangerous again."

Scrapper is a interesting novel. I discovered it from an ad on Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast and it sounded interesting. A end of the world novel that takes place in a post apocalyptic city that is surrounded by the rest of the world going forward as normal. As a concept I thought was super interesting. Kelly the main character is a scrapper who goes on short trips into the abandoned future Detroit. He is salvaging metal and supplies from the the city left behind for dead.

Bell is clearly a talented writer who choose to employee as experimental prose form that reminded me of Cormac Macarthy's Blood Meridian. No grammar rules. Look not everyone can do this and I think the novel suffered for this. This was interesting concept but the story was a hard to follow at time and it greatly slowed down my reading experience.

I feel Bell might be a much better writer than me, but I felt sometimes the prose was just too experimental at the cost of the story. That might be on me. I spent alot of time slowing down and re-reading sections because the no grammar rules made for a confusing lack of narrative drive. That said Kelly is a interesting character and the setting is fascinating.

The concept of a isolated end of the world is a interesting one that I think Bell missed a chance to explore. None the less there are plenty of interesting story points. The novel is very bleak and haunting through out. This Detroit is one that could serve as a cautionary tale, but the novel is never preachy. It paints a vivid picture of a place no one would want to go. We get the sense that Kelly is doing something dangerous and the novel works quite well on that level.

That is one reason that the lack of grammar rules annoyed me. I started to become more interested in the process of the prose than the story. How is Bell conveying aspects of the story without quotations for example. When I was not doing that and just trying to flow with the story I would often get lost. I would have to re-read parts. Thus this was not easy or fun read for me. Also it is broken up with chapters about Guantanamo Bay, and Chernobyl that are both excellent but totally out of place. The Chernobyl one was more connected at least in theme.

So I think I liked the idea of the book more than the execution. I think there is plenty of awesome things going on here. I would say if the idea of the experimental prose doesn't turn you off then you are more likely to dig than me. I still think it is 3/5 stars more positive than negative and overall I glad I checked it out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Review: The Complex by Brian Keene

The Complex by Brian Keene

paperback, 232 pages

Published March 2016 by Deadite Press

There was no warning. No chance to escape. They came suddenly. Naked. Bloodthirsty. Sadistic. They descended upon the Pine Village Apartment Complex, relentlessly torturing and killing anyone they could find.

Fearing for their lives, the residents of the complex must band together. A young trans woman, a suicidal middle-aged writer, a lonely Vietnam vet, a newlywed couple, an elderly widow, a single mother and her son, two on-the-run criminals and the serial killer known as The Exit. Eleven strangers. The only thing they have in common is the unstoppable horde that wants to kill them. If they are to make it through the night, they must fight back.

With two novels out this year and a successful podcast Brian Keene has been earning his Grandmaster of Horror award. Hitting the road this year with a tour to promote both Pressure his return to mass market publishing and Complex a paperback on Deadite our mutual publisher. Keene has been on the road alot promoting these books.

I listen to the horror show with Brian Keene most weeks, saw Brian Live here in San Diego and read both novels. To say I am a fan is not a stretch. It's funny I think in many ways Pressure was better written of the two but overall The Complex is the better story. Both were fun reads worthy of your time but I suspect The Complex with it's interesting characters will appeal more to the readers of this blog.

I liked the concept of the novel which anyone who listens to the podcast understands is inspired by an apartment building Keene lived in a few years back. There is a a horror writer character who stands in for Keene and the novel from my understanding ties many of his fictional works together more like F.Paul Wilson's Secret History of the World than Dark Tower.

My favorite aspects of the novel related to the character the Exit who is Keene's fictional serial killer. It made me realize I had not read enough of Keene's back catalog. I read books here and there. I realized that this novel would be stronger if I understood his whole catalog.

The concept is that Crazies or 28 days later style madness comes to the community and together the very different residents of Pine Village have fight together. Meth-heads, a Trans woman, a horror writer, a single mother a serial killer are all neighbors in Keene's universe. As a person who lives in apartment building the idea that I don't know my neighbors and how interesting it would be to struggle to survive beside them makes for a excellent horror concept.

The novel is written like a huge action piece, with unrelenting pace. This is the power of the novel. Is it's Keene's best? No but it is alot of fun and I enjoyed myself. I was sick when I read sorry if this review is short. Thumbs up.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Book Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

Fellside by M.R. Carey

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published April 2016 by Orbit

I have been a fan of Mike Carey for many years, having written many of the best stories in Constantine one of my all time favorite Comic book series. Known for the comics Carey has been writing novels for a few years mostly in a Constantine-like series of novels. Those novels about A exorcist name Felix Castor were not bad but kinda suffered from being pretty close to the series he wrote for in comics and just didn't hook me enough that I never read past the second book.

Then last year Carey released "The Girl With All the Gifts." It was easily one of my favorite books of the year and a 5 star masterpiece. On this blog I said "a fresh take on a tired genre. It is becoming it's own subgenre of horror now. The interesting zombie novel. No one wants to read the 300th generation zerox of Romero or the Walking Dead...This novel is storytelling magic. A masterpiece. One I think anyone would love."

So when a year later Carey released a new novel I jumped on it as fast as I could. Fellside is a true follow-up, although a totally different story it feels thematically related. A woman who is a prisoner hosts the point of view again. This time our story is told mostly through the eyes of Jess Moulson. A recovering Herion addict who makes up in prison disfigured. Accused of the murder of the 10 year old neighbor who died when she set her apartment on fire. A reaction to her addict boyfriend breaking up with her. At least that is the narrative she is being fed, she doesn't remember it and everyone expects her to die in prison.

As she heals a strange thing happens. Her spirit returns when the ghost of Alex the neighbor who died in the fire visits her. Jess learns that she can travel between the dreams of her fellow inmates. That is when the culture of the prison twist into the story. Corruption, drug mules, violence between inmates. Maybe there is more to the case involved case her fire?

The concept of the novel is strong and I liked the first 200 or so pages alot. Much like the last MR Carey book provided a fresh take on zombies this was an attempt to do the same with the ghost story. I don't personally think it was as successful. The second half kinda fell apart for me. I felt like half the characters Jess, her lawyer, the ghost had many dimensions but many of the prison characters were stereotypes without depth. and perhaps the greatest weakness can in the form of twist towards the end that felt very weak to me. It just felt like it was a cheap trick that didn't make alot of sense story wise. Very forced.

For that reason I enjoyed reading this book but didn't feel satisfied when I closed it at the end and found the last 50 pages to be a bit of a slog. I will give the author major props for telling a interesting ghost story and maybe it was the high bar he set with his last book but I just didn't enjoy it. The Girl With All the gifts is a must read.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Review: Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published October 2016 by Tor Books

I picked up this book because it was in the new releases rack at the library and I recognized the author's name from Facebook. I knew nothing about the plot and I kinda just went into it cold from page one. This novel has the cold isolation of The Thing mixed with the descent into madness from Jacob's ladder and at times reaches Phillip K. Dick levels of Paranoia. I know that is pretty high praise but this book earns it. I just wanted to say that before I get deeper into the book.

If Stranded has a weakness the first 20 pages didn't grab me right away. I was a little confused and we are dropped right into the action. Once I got my footing with the story I really got into it. The story follows Noah Cabot a sailor working on a deep sea vessel the Arctic Promise. The ship's mission is to supply a oil drilling rig in the Arctic circle. They are getting close to their drop when a storm hits and almost kills them. It is not long before the Arctic Promise is trapped in the ice. The radio doesn't work, the crew is getting sick and the weather is getting colder each minute. The captain hates Noah and as the prospect of dying at sea sinks so does the mistrust.

Stranded is a tightly written book that drips creepy- tense moments from every pore. Every moment of the build-up of the first 2/3 of the book is tight like a rope hanging with 2,000 pounds on the end. The descriptions of the cold, heat, sweat, and fear are all vivid as hell and when the characters suffer the reader feels it. When the characters despair you feel it. I loved how bleak and hopeless this novel was at moments. This is a classic example of a book being scary as hell if you just put yourself in the shoes of the people involved.

That being said I don't think the final act is nearly as strong as the first two. That is because the first two acts building up to a major twist are so strong. I liked the final act but once the book goes crazy it is a different kind of story. The strength of the slow burn is something that can't keep going I get it. Not the author's fault he did as good a job as possible.

Noah Cabot is a good character, and we feel for him. The tension he feels with the captain and crew is very well done. I have never worked on a ship in the deep sea but those elements felt well researched.The actual prose is tightly written and well edited. The twists were not telegraphed and lets just say it - Macleod has a new fan.

This is a horror novel that works on every level. A masterpiece of slow-burn insanity and isolation. This novel uses nature and the arctic cold in the same way Danny Boyle's Sunshine uses the power of the sun. The man vs. Nature survival aspect is done well enough to carry the novel but add in the twist and insanity of the second half and you have something special.

Excellent must read horror novel that will return in my best reads of the year list for sure.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Review: Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Hardcover, 391 pages

Published May 2016 by Grand Central Publishing

I am a huge fan of the FX series Fargo. The first season rebooted the classic Coen Brothers film, and it was pretty good, with some moments of genius dialogue. The second season kicked my ass. I loved it. The story tried to capture the feel of a Coen film in tone, look and sheer story telling force. The show runner Noah Hawley did a amazing job and when I saw he had a brand new novel in the new releases at Mysterious Galaxy here in San Diego I knew I wanted to read.

Before the fall is a curious novel that has many layers all of which are subtle. It is in many senses a slow burn mystery, and a fable that explores social issues. Hawley creates a novel that is tapestry of influences. I am not sure he would list this wide variety of sources but the novel feels at times like a Dennis Lehane New England crime novel, Coen brothers combo of tension and subtle humor, with moments Of Tarantino like dialogue and through it all A Dostoevsky like examination of class and social reaction to extreme events.

The story is about a private plane crash, 12 passengers, all but one man come from a life of privilege. The odd man out is painter named Scott the novel starts with Scott waking to in Ocean, he is hurt and doesn't remember the plane crash. He is about to start the long swim back to shore when he hears the voice of a child. He knows this is the son of a TV news network Icon. He is not thinking about the money but makes the impossible swim to shore. The aftermath of the crash and the events that lead up to it dance back in forth in this intense narrative.

It is sorta of a crime novel, sorta a thriller and it certainly is structured in a non-liner way to show-off Hawley's serious story telling chops. It comments on how the media reports scandals, in part through the ugly character Bill Cunningham who is a cable news anchor. The various characters drive the story, each fully realized. There are twists but none are jarring or too intense. The power of the story comes from the characters and dialogue.

I will be checking out Hawley's earlier novels. This one was solid, Fargo season two was solid. He is a story teller worth reading.

Oh yeah...Some of the most powerful moments in both seasons of Fargo hinged on fantastic dialogue. The same is true here. One scene really got me enough that I dog-eared the page and read it to a friend who also loves witty dialogue. Page 142-43 just amazingly funny dialogue.

Book Review:The Wild Shore (Three Californias Triptych #1) by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Wild Shore (Three Californias Triptych #1) by Kim Stanley Robinson

Paperback, 384 pages

first published March 1984

Nebula Award Nominee (1985)

Locus Award for Best First Novel (1985)

Philip K. Dick Award for Special Citation (1985)

SF Chronicle Award Nominee for Novel (1985)

The last two Kim Stanley Robinson novels I read (2312 & Aurora) were high on my yearly list of best reads. They were the first I read by KSR since the release of Mars trilogy which I read as they were brand new. These last two books gave me a really strong sense of the man's skill not just at telling scientifically strong speculative fiction but also his amazing ability to create characters and tell story.

I had no idea until I was almost finished with the novel that the book was first published in 1984, and not until I started this review did I know that it was his first published novel. I am sure that there is a trunk novel or two but this is a fairly advanced work for a first time writer.

I knew that this trilogy of California novels looked at three possible future California. They are connected only by theme and I have to say it was the idea of Kim Robinson looking into the future of our state was to good to skip. This novel set after a nuclear war that appears to have happened in the late 80's takes place in southern California 60 years after the bombs went off. It is clear from the event that the bombs were planted.

The Main Characters live in a wild OC that is cut off from the world with bombed out cities to the north and south. The main POV character is Hank Fletcher who struggles to survive and is slowly documenting his story in a notebook. He learned how to write and read by a teacher Tom who is the only survivor from the "Times before." This post apoc setting is a fully realized future California, when the novel travels here to San Diego I could see it vividly. The Flooded Mission Valley, to the changed jet stream and the suddenly green California was very interesting.

What confused me was the political aspects of the novel. I understand that the characters might not know or understand who bombed the U.S. As the mayor of San Diego starts organize a resistance it is Japan bombing them from off the coast. Who by the way should not have a military. Then sometimes they are attacked from Mexico. Either way it was the political aspects of the novel that caused eye rolling from me and kept this book from being perfect for me.

KSR is a master of style and character even this early in his career. While he has just as much skill at the hard science he never loses track of what makes a reader connection a story.

This is a sub-genre filled with classics. It is hard to rise above all the others. Aurora is a instant classic in the subgenre of the Generational ship. This is not that good.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book Review: My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor by Keith Morris & Jim Ruland

Book Review: My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor

by Keith Morris & Jim Ruland

Hardcover, 336 pages Published August 2016 by Da Capo Press

Alright I am sitting on a flight home to Indiana, Circle Jerks rocking on my headphones and I just closed My Damage as my flight reading. I almost never write a review this quick after reading a book. I was lucky enough to see Jim and Keith do a reading and Q and A in San Diego so they really got me excited to read this book, but I was sold as soon as I heard the book announced - Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were one of the early west coast hardcore bands and I have listened to Keith Morris bands for decades. In its simple way that first short Circle Jerks record Group Sex is a undeniable masterpiece and to me Deny Everything is one of my favorite punk songs ever, ever.

Some of it I can’t relate to because songs like Wasted don’t mean much to someone who has been straight edge for over 25 years since he was pretty young. All you have to do is read my last two books Punk Rock Ghost Story and Amazing Punk Stories to realize that I love old school punk I grew-up with far more than the shit kids create today. I love the old scene, and the history of it. The concept of punk ghosts is one I explored in my book are very much a thing in My Damage. If you are not familiar with Keith Morris or his music – he was the singer of two bands who were largely responsible for kick starting the punk scene on the west coast in the late 70’s and early 80’s. While Morris did not have a easy exit from his first band, we should all be glad it happened because we got his second band the circle Jerks.

It is easy to forget that these icons of crazy insane music were human beings with struggles. Kudos to Morris and his co-author Jim Ruland for dragging some pretty gut-wrenching and brutally honest stories out into the light. The book doesn’t disappoint. If you were looking for Morris to shit on Henry Rollins…no he will tell you some pretty harsh stories about his former Black Flag bandmate Greg Ginn.

Tales of backstages, piles of cocaine, drug deaths of friends, disastrous tours, the story behind albums and ins and outs of band drama are all there. For me the coolest moments of the book came from intense details of early venues, punk houses and day to day life of the old punk scene in LA. Stories of now famous members of Fear, Flag and Chili Peppers long before they were stars when they were getting beat up outside VFW halls they rented by the LAPD.

This is Keith Morris raw and he deserves credit for telling his story, and maybe it’s my bias because Jim is local but want to give co-author Jim Ruland a lot of credit. Most reviews will not focus on him. Jim did a wonderful job of putting the stories into a structure and making the book a super easy fast paced read. Morris himself spoke very serious praises of his co-author.

My Damage is a must read for anyone interested in the history of punk rock or takes the music seriously. This a punk history lesson that the young bucks growing up with the internet need to read, but the scene when the struggles were real.