Thursday, December 30, 2010

Count Agranoff's Top Ten Books of 2010

The idea behind this post is to make a few suggestions that will benefit some struggling artists. But this is an honest top ten list of my favorite books I read this year that were released during 2010. You see that there are no authors or books on this list that are sold in airports or on the bestseller list. I didn't do this on purpose, but after I looked at I was excited that so many independent authors made this list. It's not that I didn't read any major authors this year. I read a few classics(they don't count) but I also read major releases from excellent authors like F.Paul Wilson (Ground Zero), Kaaron Warren (Slights) and David Morrell (The Spy who came home for Christmas) as great as all three were they didn't make my top ten.

The one thing I am bummed about is the lack of Non-fiction. I just read mostly fiction this year, and besides Jeremy Rifkin's disappointing new book there was much I was interested in. This is the list and believe me these days most writers depend on the independent press. You can safely bet the only authors making a comfortable living off their art are the ones you see in airports.

When you buy a book by a independent author, each sale means a lot to us. We get excited when we have sold 8 books in a month! Each one counts. So as a lover of books, storytelling and struggling artists I thought I would suggest some writers and books for you or for gifts. Dig deeper to find authors you that are not in the mainstream. So think of these as gifts that “give” not only to your friends and family but to the author and the independent press who published it.

A book is a gift that can pass on ideas, and hours of entertainment, but make sure the people you give these gifts too that that they understand why they are such wonderful gifts. Of course it's based on my tastes and opinions but I am going to tell you why with each one. Also if you bounce around my blog you will find interviews with many of the authors on the list that I did.

Honorable mention goes to Pandora's Seed by Spencer Wells. It is basically a study that lays out why civilization has been more negative than positive for our species. A little dry at times but mostly awesome.

Number Ten: Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple) Okay I have a bias because my novella, Punkupine Moshers of the Apocalyse is in this book. He is what you have 10 novellas by 10 bizarro authors including some of my favorites like Cody Goodfellow, Cameron Pierce (Lost in cat Brain Land), Jeff Burk (Shatnerquake), Garrett Cook (Murderland) and many more... 10 novellas from new authors basically one dollar a piece. This is the third bizarro starter kit. It is a great way to explore the authors outside the mainstream. Sample 10 authors for 10 bucks. Hard to fail if you like strange, out there fiction.

Number Nine: Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness by Robert Cheeke: If passion ever bled through the pages of a book about veganism, this is the one. While some of the information about bodybuilding competitions is not for everyone this is a great motivational book about veganism and fitness. Robert brings his trademark passion and energy to this excellent well thought out guide to vegan fitness. It works for both the newcomer and can also help vegan veterans.

Number Eight Werewolves and Shapeshifters Edited by John Skipp: This is a must read for fans of horror fiction. John Skipp has done here something that editors always try to do when they do a theme anthology. If this is not the ultimate collection of shape shifter stories I want to pointed to one that is better. Featuring classics from as far back as Hp Lovecraft’s Shadow over innsmouth to 80’s classics by David Schow and George RR Martin. The collection goes from strength to strength with original stories from some of my favorites like Cody Goodfellow and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Skipp combines classics and the voice of new bright stars in both the bizarro and horror movements. Fantastic anthology.

Number Seven Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall: The best thing I can say about Jordan Krall's bizarro horror Spaghetti western is that I pictured it in my head with grainy old VHS look and the dialogue in the soundtrack was dubbed and slightly off. Got to love a western with Lovecraftian Cthulhu worshiping native Americans and saloons named after Charles Bronson characters. It's also well written and a heck of a lot of fun. Fistful of Feet is a excellent western that just happens to be amazingly weird as well.

Number Six Jade By Gene O'Neil:
A 101 page novella released by Bad Moon books is a charming post apocalypse story, yep you read that right. O'Neil is a talented story teller through and through and this story set in the ruins that had once been San Diego is emotionally gripping from the first page to the last. I read this on a flight in one sitting, only stopping flip down my tray for my drink.

Number Five Cursed by Jeremy C. Shipp: Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award this is the third fiction release of Jeremy C. Shipp who is quickly making a name for himself in two fields of dark medicine. A word surgeon with skills that cut like a knife across the genres of horror and bizarro. A first rate surrealist who is assured enough in his craft to throw out the rules completely. It takes amazing skill to weave a horror tale the way he has without the benefit of a standard structure. Disturbing and funny all at the same time, this is a first rate piece of bizarro as literature.

Number four Castle of Los Angeles By Lisa Morton
: She has won the Bram stoker award three times, and this is first first novel. Morton has packed in an unbelievable amount of story for it's length. She doesn't waste pages and paces the story so well the pages fly by. I read the book in 48 hours that included two work days. Lisa Morton takes a familiar riff, tuned slightly to her pitch and the result is a near perfect traditional horror novel. The first of three haunted house stories on the top ten list, each has it's unique take.

Number Three House of Fallen Trees by Gina Ranalli
: I can't say enough about Gina. Her books have crazy range from surrealist laughers like Wall of Kiss to political commentary of Mother Puncher. This year saw the paperback release a classic grade A horror novel. HOFT shows mastery of pace and deep knowledge of genre that Gina has never had chance to show off in her many bizarro books. A Creepy story with strong characters and a little early Stephen King influence. A short but effective read. Gina followed it up with a very original take on the zombie genre. A Vegan warrior and effective horror writer, if I had sister author it is Gina Ranalli.

Number Two Deadheart Shelters By Forrest Armstrong: I have actually delayed writing this review twice because I didn't believe I could do this novel justice. If you do the right thing and get this novel you will understand. I found myself, reading sentences and feeling compelled to read them out loud. DHS is a surreal novel filled with poetic prose that is disturbing and beautiful all at once. This story of an escaped slave is like a journey on a spiral staircase into another world, Armstrong creates a surreal landscape that is vivid, and the prose itself has to be savored like fine chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth. This is an amazing book, it deserves to be celebrated.

Number One Perfect Union by Cody Goodfellow:
Perfect Union is a weird masterpiece. Influences ranging from Cronenberg body horror, Evil Dead style gore comedy to a fascinating political dissection of Marx and Thoreau. The combo make this a genius horror novel destined to be mis understand by the the masses, but loved by the readers ready to get in the ring with Cody. It's not for everyone, The sex scene between tweakers in the opening chapter is beyond gross and a signal to potential readers....can you hang? Cody Goodfellow can disturb, offend and amuse in a single sentence, he has done all three to me in a speech tag before.
This is a book where a woman bites the heads of fetuses and throws them at people, but also intelligently explores the failings of communism. Cody leaves the rest of us in his dust, it is hard to describe Goodfellow's writing without sounding over the top or hyperbolic. The man is a diabolical genius.
As I said in my review of his short story collection...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.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Magazine Review: Dark Discoveries #17

Dark Discoveries #17

I posted a review of another horror magazine Cemetery Dance last month, now time for a review of my favorite. The locally produced Dark Discoveries. Editor James Beach and his partner Jason Brock have done it again, making each issue better than the last. Without a doubt this is my favorite issue so far. The Dark Science Fiction issue features stories by Ray Bradbury, John Shirley, Jeffery Thomas, Bruce Taylor and Portland’s own Jeremy Robert Johnson.

All the fiction in this issue is top notch in this issue. Jeremy Robert Johnson’s The Oarsman was exciting to read as he is a gifted author who has been in hibernation for the last few years. This is a short science fiction, but it doesn’t take long to show a growth in JRJ’s use of language. He was already a great writer but I loved this story.

John Shirley has an excellent short called “Raise Your Hand if You’re Dead.” This returns Shirley to familiar territory that will excite his fans it is cyberpunk with a subtle but effective environmental setting.As is the case with the best short stories I finished it wishing it were a novel. Bruce Taylor's tale of surrealist humor he is known for and the Bradbury piece is poetic.

As for the non-fiction the highlight for this huge fan was Jason Brock’s excellent interview with John Shirley. A great introduction for readers unfamiliar with his work and for those of us who have read everything a peak a little deeper into the writer’s mind. I enjoyed Nolan’s piece about Phillip K. Dick and James Beach’s piece on Dark stories of Star Trek the original series. There were fascinating features abut J.G. Ballard (a writer I need to explore), Rod Serling and lots more.

Jason Brock continues to make the magazine look better with each issue. It’s clear he puts a ton of energy into the look and design of DD. It looks light years better than it did a few issues ago.

I only have one small problem with this issue and one with Dark Discoveries in general. The small problem first, I was excited about the David Cronenberg interview as it was the Dark Sci-fi issue. I was hoping for a look back at videodrome, scanners and the other fantastic films he made that crossed both genres. The interview was almost entirely about Eastern Promises. A good film, and a good interview but a small let down. I don’t blame The DD crew for including it, I just have to admit I was hoping for some dish on the early films.

Now for the only big, huge problem with Dark Discoveries! It’s so damn good I read it almost all in one sitting. Granted It was over a whole afternoon, but I slammed through this issue, and I did that the last two times as well. Now I gotta wait for another issue. I’ll be keeping my subscription.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: Slights by Kaaron Warren

Slights by Kaaron Warren
Angry Robot
498 pages (20 pages of extras)

This is a powerful first novel by Australian writer Kaaron Warren. This novel is marketed as horror, but as I read I had a strange feeling. This novel felt like the kinda of novel that is sold as literary fiction, when we damn well know its horror. For example American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis or in Science Fiction Mary Dorian Russell’s The Sparrow. Those are books that are clearly genre but we have to explain, argue and debate those titles into genre as if it’s a ghetto.

Slights feels like one of those novels, because while it is clearly horror it doesn’t follow any previously used horror structure. Those structures are often hidden to the reader, but to us students of the genre they are easy to detect.

It was a interesting read for me. I enjoy Slights a lot but because I am so comfortable with the structure that when it went off the rails it was a little off putting for me. I have had huge problems with the ways some books have unfolded but I could tell most readers would enjoy the book. Sometimes the missed chances for suspense drive me nuts but I know most readers don't know the difference.

When I was 300 pages into this book, I told my partner Cari that it was a good book but needed to lose two hundred pages. I was convinced that the story could have been told in much more streamlined way.

Thankfully I stuck it out, because I think the page count is paid off by the end.

Slights is disturbing and the most original psychological horror novel I read in years. It seems very Chuck Palahniuk influenced. A fasinating puzzle about Stevie a eighteen year old woman whose mother dies beside her during car accident. But Stevie died too, and before she came back she didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel She was in a dark room with as the people she had been bad to in her life.

Stevie is brought back to life and with each chapter when visit with Stevie a year older and more damaged. Early in the novel you have to wade through some jerky flashbacks, but dealing with Stevie's childhood is very important to the story.

The back of the novel sells a story of serial killer but that part of the story doesn't really become clear until you have read a novel's worth of pages. it doesn't matter the journey that makes this a must read book is the decent into maddness that drips off every single page.

Book Review: The Black hole of Carcosa by John Shirley

Kamus of Kadizhar: Black Hole of Carcosa
John Shirley
1988 St. Martin’s press
(Out of Print)

I have not worked my way through every book that cyberpunk and extreme horror pioneer John Shirley has written, but I have read the majority. Black hole of Carcosa is the most bizarro one I have read so far. 1988 is way before the bizarro literary movement kicked off but this book has more in common with the likes of D Harlan Wilson than it does the vulgar insanity of Carlton Mellick III.

Set on Darkworld a future human colony where technology doesn’t work but magic does. This is the surreal setting where noir style Kamus of Kadizhar is the world’s only detective.

I wouldn’t say this book is a satire, but it is as tongue and cheek of a science fiction novel I have read in a long time. So even though the plots are very different that is why it reminded me of D Harlan Wilson’s amazing science fiction surreal comedy Dr. Identity. If you compare the two Dr. Identity may seem a little bit more gonzo consider the time and place in his career that John Shirley was at.

Rudy Rucker was in a lot of ways cyberpunk’s comedian, and Shirley was at the time in the middle of a dark trilogy of world war III novels. The Song Called Youth Trilogy was a brutal look at the growing conservative fundamentals, so a whacky tongue in cheek surrealist comedy at the same time was a bold move in 1988.

Now there is a movement and peers that support this kind of off the wall novel, but at the time I think this was a pretty bold novel. Bizarro fiction fans need to find this book if they can. Maybe if its cult status grows Shirley can write sequel set on the punk rock planet mentioned on page 43. That would be awesome.