Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I was doing an internship with Farm Sanctuary the summer this show happened three hours from Syracuse. This show was Strife, Snapcase and Chorus of disapproval. The ADL kids tried to get me to the show but it didn't work out. Damn I forgot how good Snapcase were during that time.When the core was good.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Transmanicon By John Shirley
Out of print (1978)
There is no writer working today in both horror and Science Fiction whose body of work I enjoy more than the work of John Shirley. While he doesn't get the credit he often deserves and i know I have said this over and over. He was cyberpunk before there was a name, he was splatterpunk before there was name. His early ground breaking work with City come a Walking in Science Fiction and Cellars in horror fiction is known with the serious fans of the genres. This debut Science Fiction novel which was written after but published before his early horror novel Dracula in Love.
Transmaniacon is super nutso off the wall original work of pre-cyberpunk science fiction that is like no other book I can think of. It is also a great work out-of -date old school science fiction.The plot centers on "The barrier" a huge shield erected as a nuclear defense over the united states in 1989. This book takes place in 22 century two hundred years after a nuclear conflict devastates the world outside the barrier. The U.S. has broken up into several city states that are each very different and all of them are at war with at least one other city. Beyond the barrier is a mystery, is nature claiming the earth, has chaos taken over?
The main character Ben Rackey moves pretty freely working as a professional instigator for corporations and states that pay him. Ben is is hired to steal a device, the "Exciter" which can be used to direct individuals and crowds by enhancing their strong emotions of anger, saddness etc. Ben sees this device as the keep to accomplish his lifetime goal to bring down the barrier.
Ben Steals the exciter and thus begins an adventure across the weird landscape of the united states under the barrier. The level of strange environments and original creations range from the disturbing to the hilarious. The tone shifts dark socially political themes to almost Douglas Adams-ish humor.
Some of the things you'll find in this novel include Fly and owl shaped -nul grav cars, Dolphin pilots who lead blood cults, fist fights with conjoined octuplets, two century old frozen biker gangs, Musac used as a sedative, motor controlled mindless slaves, brainwashed mercenaries, and my personal favorite - the flesh tractors which are genetically engineered giant hands that are used as beasts of burdens.
There is more, much more. Transmaniacon is early work and does not show the mastery of of political allegory that Shirley became. There is alot being said here, I took from it a subtle message of the negatives of US isolationism. A basic statement against the status quo most of all it is an excellent and imaginative piece of speculative fiction.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The Evolution of the Weird Tale by ST Joshi
During a discussion of books that every young horror author should read with fellow local horror author/filmmaker Jason V. Brock (Co-editor of Dark Discoveries magazine) suggested this book. He suggested a few others that I will review, but this was the first I read. I think William F Nolan’s How to write Horror Fiction (1990) is a better nuts and bolts starting point this is a great book to go to next. ST Joshi is one of the foremost experts in the works of early 20th century horror author HP Lovecraft. If there is any problem with this book is it’s the over focus on the work of Lovecraft and his influence.
There is a lot to learn from Joshi’s insights into the weird tale and how it developed over the years. There is barely a mention of genre classics like Dracula and Frankenstein and I certainly understand why not. Shelley and Stoker played a role but had more to do with setting up a gothic tradition that has little to do with the future work of Lovecraft and the horror genre of the 20th century.
The first half of the book focuses of the work of early American weird tale writers and the second section on the English. It is in the middle of the book where Joshi is really in stride picking apart Lovecraft. Here he traces how Lovecraft directly influenced younger writers most specifically Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Science fiction author Fritz Lieber. Bloch and Lovecraft traded many letters several where Lovecraft offered revisions on his stories. The suggestions are educational and make me happy that a book of their letters has been published.
I admit my knowledge of the early 20th century writers is lacking, so it is this part of the book where I felt I learned the most. I made a detailed list of books I want to read and headed to my library website. When I got to the modern authors is when I started to question the book a little bit.
From the sixties through today is the era of horror and weird fiction that I have known and studied my whole life. I don’t want to be to hard on Joshi here, because I know he has a book on the modern weird tale (it is already in my TBR pile) but there are serious gaps in this part of the book. At least mention that a book on the modern weird tale is coming!
There is a chapter on Rod Serling, but not Ray Bradbury. Maybe instead of a Rod Serling I would have included him in a chapter about the LA Group. That groups included greats of TV, movies and prose Richard Matheson, Bradbury, William F Nolan, Goerge Clayton Johnson and of course the late Charles Beaumont. Those writers influenced Stephen King and Clive Barker who influenced well you get the idea.
No chapters on King or Barker. Joshi hints at a dislike for these authors but the choice to not include them in some fashion seems strange. It makes sense when you realize they are in Joshi’s book on the modern weird tale but if I didn’t know that book existed I would be confused as to the relevance of the second half of the book.
In the modern era this book only highlights two authors David j. Schow (the so-called father of splatterpunk) and Poppy Z. Brite. He has some nice things to say about Schow and especially his second novel Joshi dismisses Splatterpunk altogether. Joshi loses me again when he declares Schow’s second novel as “perhaps the only genuine contribution of Splatterpunk to weird fiction.” Really? First off I have a problem the whole Schow as father of Splatterpunk thing since John Shirley wrote a novel like Cellars in 1981. That novel is an early horror masterpiece that predates Clive Barker, David Schow or Edward Lee for psycho sexual supernatural horror.
The novels of and anthologies of Skipp and Spector managed not only to shatter the glass ceiling of the NY times bestseller list but expanded the extreme genre. Their final novel ‘The bridge’ was an early political ecological horror that is finally coming back into print soon. I simply disagree with Joshi on Splatterpunk.
The last chapter is what drove me nuts. It serves as literary beatdown on the early work of young Poppy Z. Brite. It is too bad it was written before the release of her final original horror work Exquisite Corpse. Indeed it was her horror masterpiece, Joshi however spends several pages picking apart her first two novels Lost souls and Drawing Blood. He has a few nice things to say about Brite’s classic short the Sixth sentinel but he savages her in this chapter. I am not a big fan of her first novel but I loved Drawing Blood. I didn’t agree with his judgment but I did enjoy and learn from his take.
As a young writer (I am aware I am no longer a young human) I felt there is a lot to learn from Joshi’s book. I think fans of reading horror can learn a lot to but I think this book is best for those of us who take this genre very seriously artform to be practiced and studied.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Queen Of Kn-Yan
By Asamatsu Ken (Translated by Kathleen Taji)
Some of the most bizarre films the world has ever seen came from the small island of Japan. Some of the nastiest and most ear damaging punk rock have come from the same island. Attention has been paid to Koji Suzuki the horror fiction author of the Ring series which is J-horror's most famous export. Several of Suzuki's novels have made it into english, but I very interested in going further with Japanese horror fiction. Why not a Japanese take on one of the 20th century American horror mythos of H.P. Lovecraft?
That is what this novel Japanese horror author Asamatu Ken is.
Lovecraft reinvented the horror fiction genre in the the early half of the 20th century by excusing himself from the traditional tropes of vampires and werewolves. He created a his own mythology of cosmic monsters who very existence was hard for the human mind to handle. Well I often think of those mythos being placed in Lovecraft's native New England authors around the globe have been playing on Lovecraft's unhollowed ground since he was alive.
The man encouraged other writers to create with the mythos. I am not sure Lovecraft who at times had some nice things to say about the Japanese (but mostly racist things) would have felt about the translation. None the less Ken has created an excellent mythos story that as fan of asian cinema feels of it's culture.
The story centers around A biologist named Anri Morisita who is hired by a corporation to study the remains of a mummy unearth in China. The setting in the JGE's headquarters named the Leviathan tower reminds me of a Clive Barker influence. On the inside the building with various elevators connecting only certain floors with each other seems perfect for a Resident Evil style game.
Anri is a well developed character who has flashbacks to the cruel treatment of pre-WW II chinese at the hands of the Japanese. It suggests a deeper plot, but one of the few weaknesses of the narrative is the Flashbacks happen so fast. Written with no narrative transition I often got confused and had to scan back. After it's established in the novel that is less of a concern. Anri is hired to do research on the impossibly old Mummy.
As the research continues the corporation and it's motives are revealed with it's knowledge of the the mummy's ancient origin. This sets up an amazingly timed and delivered chapter break at the end of the fifth chapter. This is a short and effectively written story that deserves it's place as one of the finest modern takes of the Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft devotees should not miss this book.
Beautifully packaged with amazing artwork by Kojima Ayami the Queen of Kn-Yan is textbook example of why we need a healthy and thriving small press. Kurodahan press has translated and provided a book that no major publisher in New York would bother to give but it is an important and fun book none the less.
Libraries in Japanese districts and ones interested in having a complete and diverse genre collection should get this book for sure. This is an excellent work of horror fiction and it tells me that I should be investing the collections of Japanese mythos fiction released by the same press and edited by the author.
Check out their books for sale online or request them from your local library! I am reviewing another selection from the same press next month. An anthology of Japanese Science Fiction. Looking forward to that!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars by Cody Goodfellow
Swallowdown press (www.bizarrocentral.com)
I gotta be careful here. More than once Cody has been victim to the hype machine that his dedicated readers get on. Few writers in our generation of horror practitioners have received the kinda of admiration that mister Goodfellow has. It is hard to describe Goodfellow's writing without sounding over the top or hyperbolic. The man is a diabolical genius, all fiction offers us a chance to look into the world of the authors imagination, and if you want to visit a strange, scary, and messed up place look no further. I am convinced now that I don't really want to know what Cody was up to before he settled down to raise children and horror novels.
Up front I should say that when I lived in San Diego I was a part of tight knit short lived community of horror fiction writers who hung out and read for each other. So the genius of Cody Goodfellow's short fiction was well know to me before this – his first collection came out. I also made a point to track anthologies and collections with his work in it. Before Silent Wars appeared in a sack at my door step I had only read two of the stories. Contained are 15 short stories and an introduction by Cody's writing partner splatterpunk legend John Skipp. An afterword by Swallowdown master of ceremonies Bram Stoker award nominated Jeremy Robert Johnson.
This collection is grounded in southern California the same way Stephen King collections are grounded in Maine. The sunshine doesn't dull the horrific settings and gives each story a warm brown dusty feeling. At least four times I read stories that I thought, oh yeah this is the best of collection. As the stories tick away the quality never wavers. I might have to agree with Skipp's introduction that the magna mater is the best classical horror story here. It was perfectly written Twilight zone style classic that just happens to be about a coin operated video porn booth. El Santero is great story set on the nastiest border crossing in the world, Drop of Ruby is a re-ainimator style mad scientist tale, and In his wake is a great tale of goth stardom gone bad and is among my favorites. Not to mention a cleaver about the author at the end.
This is more than Lovecraft on acid, this is Lovecraft after a smack bender in Tijuana, one where he wakes up handcuffed to bed and covered in someone else's blood. Goodfellow's fiction has the otherworld -ness of Lovecraft, the sarcasm of Joe R. Lansdale, the mojo of a motley Crue tell-all and best of all it's wrapped together with prose that would satisfy fans of high literature in horror.
Is this an over the top review? I don't think so, I think if you take my advice and buy this collection, read it cover to cover you'll join the cult of Cody.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
As a kid there was only one show that came close to Star Wars in my love. That show was V. I had every hour of both mini-series and even the horrible weekly show all on Beta-max. I had a V pulse rifle that I could take apart, a visitor punching bag. I even had a mothership technical manual that I sent away for after I saw a classified ad in the back of Starlog. I was a V Geek.
Sure I loved the story, the gun battles, and the spirit of resistance even as a kid. I actually consider V a huge part of how I developed such a radical spirit. Over the years I returned to the Mini-Series in the nineties and found a totally different film. Suddenly I understood on a deeper level what Director Kenneth Johnson was trying to say about Nazi Germany.
Don’t look down on the Germans because it could have just as easily been us. This hit home even harder when I happened to watch it with friends in October 2001. Our country had lost it’s damn mind. Members of my very liberal family were calling for muslam blood and Indiana was awash with flags everywhere. GW was just starting to mold his bullshit Iraq agenda. V was more powerful than ever.
To this day I can always watch V. I always find something new. It’s like a song I love to sing along to because I know every word, every beat. So as much as I love the final battle (the official TV sequel) I have to admit it's cheezy-ness with half lizard human star children and corny red dust balloons doesn't hold up as well. They went on to 13 or so episodes of a TV show that about as corny as the season of Dukes of Hazard season where the cousins with same hair color showed to drive the general lee around for no good reason.
In 1999 My friend Ryan Downey won an E-bay auction on Visitor punching bag and we had a long discussion about V on a Drive back from Syracuse to Indiana. I told him how badly I would love to re-make V as modern TV show. Shows were just starting to do season long arcs telling stories over epic novels. Star Trek Deep Space Nine had successfully rolled out a story over it's seven years and at the time it was my favorite show.
“Just think about V done that patiently,” I told Ryan. You could spend a season exploring how Fascism weaves itself into mainstream acceptance. We talked about how cool it would be to let the resistance grow not in two hours but over 20 hours in the first season. How you could watch characters grow from living their daily lives to full blown resistance members. Eventually they would sacrifice maybe even become suicide bombers, would that be challenging for an American audience?
In 2007 I introduced my buddy Randall to V something he was too young to have seen as a kid. He loved it. And we talked my many ideas for a V remake. I often told him that if I could have a dream job in the universe it would be to be the show runner or a staff writer on a V remake. I never honestly thought anyone would do it.
So Obviously ABC has done it, I didn't get that job. Here is my long winded verdict. I am am 50/50 on the pilot episode. I will watch it. It's OK, more entertaining than most TV these days but I have serious problems with the show.
What I didn't like: My first reaction is slow down. In 1985 when they first attempted to do V TV shows were supposed to have a clear ending each week. Shows like Lost and 24 have shown you can tell an on-going story. So It would have been nice have the first episode of the new V be about the day they arrive. I understand that is a premiere and you want to hook viewers with an exciting opening. But how silly was it to have 29 massive alien space craft show up and after the first commercial break skip ahead three weeks. So really nothing important to the story happened in that first three weeks?
To me this is lazy writing. A whole hour could have been made exciting out of the arrival. Certainly it would a terrifying event and is ripe with potential drama. Honestly ABC should have given the pilot TV shows.
They did an serviceable job with the characters, introducing them and giving them some humanity. However to introduce all the characters, have aliens show up on earth and launch a resistance in 45 minutes. Too much.
What I hated: Calling the visitors V's. The name V wasn't about them. It was about the resistance. It was about the spirit of the people fighting back. The idea that V would be spray painted by the so called peace ambassadors, which is the modern shows take on the visitor youth was silly. Outright stupid. At the end of the Visitor speech when all the new yorkers cheered. Give me a break.
What I liked: setting the show in New York was a smart move. It makes more sense than the LA setting of the original show. What of the finest pieces of V fiction was the early V novel East coast crisis ( AC Crispin and Howard Weinsten) which followed the same time line as the original mini-series in New York. A must read for serious V fans. Good luck finding it, and I wont sell you mine.
The Firefly lady as the alien leader. She was creepy.
The visitor infiltration storyline is brilliant. While it could easily be compared to the cylons clone storyline in Battlestar it is a smart way to update the show and add tension. People you have loved and trusted might have been visitors all along. Too bad the writers and network weren't patient enough to roll that mystery out over a season. That is what makes Lost and BSG so good. It also makes sense that the visitors would create chaos, war and disease so they could offer us salvation. Why don't we just hand you our planet.
While it is smart they completely fucked it up. I think the producers, writers and network screwed this up putting all of their cards on the table. Bury the lead people. It's like doing a synopsis as the first chapter of a novel. What if in the first episode of Lost, they had introduced the others, their camp, the hatch, etc., etc., The show is good because they started with a mystery and let it unfold. BSG worked because even if you have seen the original there was a new mystery(Who are the cylons among us?). The new V has a perfect idea for a mystery but blows it open completely with the first 45 minutes.
Make the characters compelling, show me a hint of genius and I'll go along for the ride. Lost as a show is structured like a novel. Each episode is like a chapter. V needs to slow down and take that approach.
There is good news. In the last week, the writer of the Pilot Scott Peters( The 4400) was fired from the show. They stopped production after four episodes. To most shows that is a bad sign, but considering how awful the first episode's writing is. I am ok with that dude getting the can. I like the casting and the look of the show, lets get a better writer. It appears ABC has hired Chuck Rosenbaum who wrote for NBC's Chuck(which I have never seen) to run the show. Hope that helps. they should have hired Ronald D. Moore or JJ Abrams as consultants. I'm cheaper though. ;)
I'll keep watching but so far I think the 1983 mini-series kicks the crap out of this new one.