Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: 2061 Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke

2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke

*** Del Rey 271 pages

Major spoilers for all three books in the series, you were warned. So I have mixed feelings on this novel. I listened to the abridged audio book when it came out a million years ago. I decided to read this when I saw it and the final odyssey sitting on the shelf at the library. I thought it might give me a deeper experience to read this second sequel to his masterpiece 2001 as an adult. (By the way I think his masterpiece is Songs of a Distant Earth, I think most think 2001)

You may or may not be aware but Clarke and Kubrick created the film and the screenplay first for 2001. The novel ended up being released first due to special effects delays, but it’s hard to not think of that novel in relation to the film. The novel 2001 does not have as much of the awe and mystery of the film. That is not to say that the novel is not filled with mystery. That is just the nature of telling a story with words, you can leave as much to the imagination as you can in a film. Certainly we get more of a glimpse of the nature of the monoliths, the star child and the re-birth of Jupiter as a star. In the sequel 2010 Clarke threw more stunning revelations and creates one of the most powerful and original first contact stories in hard Science fiction.

We find out what happened to David Bowman, what the monoliths are sent out in the universe to do, and we see a glimpse of a species so powerful that they can explode a gas giant and turn it into a sun. They warn humanity…They can have every other world in the solar system but leave Europa alone. With the powerful ending 2010 continued to build Clarke’s amazing story. We were treated to a thinking person’s science fiction adventure and we got answers while still suggesting even deeper questions. Who are the aliens behind the monoliths? Why did they turn Jupiter into a star? Why is Europa off-limits?

I enjoyed reading 2061, consumed it quickly into two days (while still writing and reading another book) so I have to say it is a quick page turner. My problem with the book is I feel Clarke missed some huge chances for powerful high concept Sci-fi drama. The Adventure aspects of the story, the luxary space liner “universe” having to land and manipulate Halley’s comet to launch a desperate rescue mission was well done. That said something was missing.

The ship they are sent to rescue “the Galaxy,” has crashed in the new ocean on the former Jovian moon of Europa. (Is it still a moon since Jupiter got blown up and turned into a star?) This crashed ship is a big problem since the super powerful and complete mystery aliens warned Humans never to land on Europa.

Sixty years have passed and no word has come from the aliens. Europa was covered in ice, which is now melting into an ocean. Humans have noticed that a large mountain and several islands have cropped up, but there is no evidence of any intelligent life.

The reality is humanity in this concept has every reason to be FEAR the beings that can blow up a gas giant and warned them to stay away. So the terror and suspense possibilities available to a story teller when a human vessel is high jacked and crashed into the forbidden moon is endless, and much to my dismay unrealized.

Here come the huge spoilers…

Once the Galaxy crashes nothing really happens. No alien reaction. It doesn’t seem like sixty years after that warning that any one is even on Europa or cares. * It had seemed like a pretty stern warning. Clarke did a great job of building the fear mystery of the possible landing and when it happens…the novel falls flat.

It also feels that no great mysteries are answered at the end of this book. Not every novel has to end with a mind bending humanity changing revelation, but when you’re writing a sequel to two books that did end that way – it leaves part three feeling a little flat. I wanted to find out about the aliens behind the monoliths and it seems like I have to wait until 3001.

So yeah I enjoyed the novel, I would suggest you read it. That being said I felt like 2061 didn’t build on 2010 like that book did build on 2001.

*(So this is sorta explained in 3001. I read it since I wrote this review.)

Book Review: The Face That Must Die

The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell

**** Centipede press 312 pages

I suppose I would have to file this under a classic I was long over due to read. It has been many years since I last read a Ramsey Campbell novel( I read Count of Eleven probably fifteen years ago). I have read lots of wonderful short stories over those years and not sure what took so long to get back to reading one of his novels.

If you don’t know Ramsey Campbell is novelist and film critic who is considered one of the greatest living British(or otherwise) horror novelists of all time. With good reason, many consider this novel to be his ultimate classic.

Poppy Brite the author of my all-time favorite serial killer horror novel (Exquisite Corpse) introduced a new edition of this novel. Peter Straub (Ghost Story) said it was one of his favorite horror novels. David Morrell (First Blood) and Whitley Strieber (Wolfen) blurbed it and if that was not enough the paperback I read had an introduction from Psycho author Robert Bloch.

Sold yet? That should be enough but if not I’ll tell you my opinion on this psycho-killer horror novel classic. If that is your type of novel, you must read it. The Face that Must die comes with a thirty plus pages forward that really is amazing. It comes across as brutally honest and opened hearted explanation of what events Campbell’s life led to him writing this novel from the ultra-paranoid point of view of the killer.

I feel like a jerk even suggesting the notion, but is it possible that Campbell is pulling our chain, adding additional story telling device in the form of a gut wrenching forward where he pours out his heart?

It is all told with such an open mirror cast on Campbell I felt that he was being brutally honest. In the end I would say this part was worth the read on it’s own. Once in the story we are introduced to Horridge a paranoid character who doesn’t even admit to himself that he is a killer. Driven by homophobia and homesexual panic he becomes entangled with a group of young Liverpool professionals who all live in the same building.

Of course they don’t know that he is involved in their lives, as he stalks their gay neighbor, and blames his own violence on others. Campbell is a master at the level of paranoid narrative and might even match some of Phil K. Dick’s deepest and most powerful delusions. A lot of the suspense is built off of watching helplessly as the delusions deepen, We see the trainwreck ahead but understand nothing can stop it. Standard moments of suspense pepper the story, but the strength of the novel is found in Horridge’s mind. In that sense it’s fitting that Bloch wrote the introduction as the novel resembles Psycho in it’s source of terror. It’s a trip into the killer’s mind. If that sounds interesting, and it should you should read this classic.

Book Review: Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

*** Warner books 884 pages

Maybe hearing that the book was a masterpiece for more than a decade set the bar too high for this novel. I also think the blurb comparing it to ‘The Stand’ on the cover also hurt my reaction to this novel. I mean besides the massive number of pages I can't see another thing about Carrion Comfort that makes it at all like the Stand.

This novel is amazing in many ways, but I don't think I am saying anything sacrilegious to say that it might be a page or two hundred too long. Simmons is a brilliant writer and this novel does brilliant things. He expands the vampire concept away from blood to the mind and thus explores several deep issues ranging from violence, cruelty to what makes a person evil. What gives them a hunger for violence?

The novel has epic scope starting on the bottom of mass grave outside a Nazi concentration camp and going as far as island in the early 80's that has become a vacation spot for the worlds most powerful. We follow Saul a holocaust survivor who has never lost his desire to find the Oberst, a Nazi so evil he seemed to enter the minds of his victims.

Once Saul looks into this man he uncovers a conspiracy of powerful psychics who play with victims by controlling their minds. The concept is powerful, vampires who stay young by feeding off the violence between others. They enter your mind and control people using them as pawns. The psychic vampire concept is well executed in several very suspenseful moments in this novel.

The novel is well written, but that is not a surprise coming from Dan Simmons who is one of the best most imaginative writers working in and out of genre. The major characters are well done, and the book is excellently plotted. I don’t think it is as strong a novel as Song of Kali, or Hyperion.

One of my biggest problems with the novel comes in the climax when the pawn concept goes beyond analogy and Simmons devotes almost 20 pages into a mind numbing chess battle. It is a pet peeve but I hate gambling parts in Bond movies, and in this novel the Chess showdown put me to sleep.

There are alot of impressive things in this novel. I gave it three stars and not five for a couple reasons. The entire violent show down in Philadelphia seemed like an unnecessary distraction from the main plot. The dialogue of the block gang members sounded like the jive-talkers in the movie Airplane, I have a hard believing in 1980 that gang members really said honky that much. I know a little thing but it annoyed me. The suggestion during the epilogue and the near apocalypse that is avoided sounded far more interesting to me than the last 400 pages we ended up with in this novel. That and the long chess show down really hurt my opinion of the book.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Conspiracies (Repairman Jack#3) by F.Paul Wilson

Conspiracies By F.Paul Wilson

**** 416 pages Tor

This is the third novel in the F.Paul Wilson epic Repairman Jack series and the first one where he ties Jack to the events that will weave into a 15 book story. Warning after book two it is possible to walk away from the series it gets much harder after this book.

You see Wilson has created a series time commitment because in this novel he is weaving events and a time-line together for two separate series (The Adversary cycle and Repairman Jack). The have the same ending and it is in this book that we really see the Wilson start that journey.

Again, the master plotter has tricked me. I had every reason to believe that book two was a stand alone, and Wilson has stated so. At the same time there are surprising connections. This book is also very connected by the locale to the Adversary novel “The Touch.”

In this novel Jack is pulled into the world of conspiracy theory. A woman set to attend a conference for Coast to coast AM types, she disappears and tells her husband how to contact the only person she claims can find her – Repairman Jack. Jack is confused but wants to understand so he takes the job.

This book thanks to the wing-nut characters provides more comic relief than any other Repairman Jack novel. Jack as a character continues to grow deeper and this novel provides great moments to side characters like Jack’s lover Gia and his best friend and black market weapons dealer Abe.

At the heart of this novel Jack is being pulled into the inescapable path that will lead humanity towards the end. Heavy stuff but there is lots of adventure and humor along the way of this novel. It is not as strong as the last book legacies, but it is strong enough to make me excited to keep reading.

As I post this review I have almost finished the series, and I can say that it is an important turning point in the series. One of my 2012 reading and reviewing goals is to read and review all the books in F.Paul Wilson’s Secret History of the World. This includes the entire Adversary Cycle and Repairman Jack series.

Book Review: Legacies (Repairman Jack #2) by F.Paul Wilson

Legacies by F.Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack #2)

***** 448 pages Tor

I really enjoyed The Tomb, but it was this book the second in the series that sold completely on reading the entire saga. As strong as the Tomb was Legacies is a much stronger book and really defines Jack as a character in deeper way. There is good reason for that, it was the first novel that was intended to be a repairman Jack novel, and it was a good decade and half since Wilson created the character.

If you trust my opinion consider that I am finding it hard to review this book without a wee bit of spoilers. You have been warned, because twists in the plot were a huge part of why I found this book to be one of the best in the series.

The novel starts when Jack is hired by a doctor working in a clinic for children with AIDS. He is hired because the Christmas toys were stolen and the police basically said there was nothing they could do. Jack has an idea of how to track down the toys and Fixes the problem. His ability to solve this problem shows his customer Doctor Alicia Clayton that she can trust Jack with a family secret.

She has inherited her father’s house and large sum of money. She doesn’t want the house, but everyone she hires to look at the house or take care of it dies. Most authors writing a series develop a series around a set of characters through into stories and settings that only change slightly.

After the monster story of The Tomb (and fans of the novel waiting 15 years for a sequel) Legacies looks another supernatural novel. The first 100 pages seem like Wilson was setting up a haunted house novel. Wilson has done this before, in his classic horror novel The Keep (Adversary series book one) The Keep appears for more than a good chuck of the novel to be a traditional vampire novel complete with a Transylvanian castle. It also has Nazis and World War II back drop, but in many ways it is more of a Lovecraftian tale that sets off the events that lead to five more Adversary novels and fifteen Repairman Jack novels.

Legacies starts strong and moves through plot twists and suspense in a different and stronger way than the first book. This is the most stand-alone of all the Repairman Jack novels, so I think it is a great introduction, plus if you are only going to read one, this is the one to read. After this one the books start to build on each other.

SPOILERS: Wilson had not wanted to write a series when he wrote this one, so that explains why the novel doesn’t connect to the rest of the series. He didn’t seem to see the series unfolding until he wrote book three. I really did think he was setting up a Repairman Jack haunted house novel (Which he ended up doing in the equally strong Haunted Air – Book six), and the direction fooled me.

The Christmas toys revenge story is one of Jack’s greatest hits. Really fun.

Book Review The Fury and the Terror by John Farris

The Fury and The Terror by John Farris

***** Tor 512 pages

It has been to long since I read a John Farris novel, I am big enough fan that I have a dozen well worn paperbacks on my shelf with his name on them. This novel is the long awaited sequel to his 70’s classic The Fury. It was his biggest hit and Farris himself adapted the novel for Brian DePalma film that starred Amy Irving and Kirk Douglas.

I read the first novel many moons ago and thought I would have no trouble jumping into the sequel as I have seen the movie many times. First things first I forgot how much Farris and Depalma simplified the story for the movie. The movie was a sopy thriller about psychic spies and the father that tries to find his teenage son Robin who was kidnapped by the supernatural spy agency MORG.

Robin we learn has amazing psychic abilities that include mind control, telekinetics and the ability to create an astral doppleganger. He is not alone, he also has a psychic twin Gillian. The first novel is basically about the twins and their attempt to understand their power, the government spy agency that wants to exploit them.

This sequel takes place in 2001 after a nuclear bomb has blown up Portland Oregon. Yep, my town was blown up some time before the events of the novel takes place. In many ways I felt like you are thrown into this story having missed about 50 or so pages of story. I found myself checking a couple times to see if I had missed a book.

The story follows Gillian’s daughter Eden Waring, who was raised apart from her. As she is about to graduate from college she has not even discovered that she has the same power as her mother. While she has traveled in the astral plain during her dreams she had not become aware until she interrupts her graduation to warn the crowd of a plane (still miles away) is coming to crash on top of them.

It’s not just any plane, it’s a MORG plane taking the captured Avatar(most powerful psychic) back to their secret compound. The Avatar while seditated manages to cause the plane to crash and creates a situation that forces Eden out into the light. Hence a race begins between the various agencies and powerful people who want to control Eden.

Farris crafts a near perfect horror/ espionage thriller. There are several entries in this cross over subgenre including King’s Firestatrter( which has been called a weak rip-off of the Fury) and my favorite being Lumley’s early Necroscope novels. The strength of The Fury and the Terror is the political intrigue.

Rona Harvester, the first lady in the novel is a cold hearted but wonderfully composed villain. You just can’t stand her, but at the same time you can’t wait to see what she does next. Farris also created another powerful who is perfectly set up for the third book in the cross dressing showgirl assassin.

Of course the story includes an attempted coup, terrorist attacks, psychic warfare, astral projections, psychic doppelgangers and an out of control black funded government spy agencies. Great stuff.

Farris remains a graceful story teller, I am glad he returned to the Fury, a story that deserved a sequel and I am glad to say he did it justice.

Book Review: Monsters of LA by Lisa Morton

Monsters of LA by Lisa Morton

**** Bad Moon Books 320 pages

Lisa Morton is becoming the horror author’s version of Meryl Streep, I mean she keeps writing books worthy of award nominations and wins. She has done it again! This woman is making a name for herself for a plain and simple reason. High quality works of horror fiction like her first novel “The Castle of Los Angeles,” Numerous strong appearances in in anthologies with the most high profile authors, and now this strong themed collection of short stories.

I have been chasing down her stories across a slew of high profile anthologies like Dark Delicacies and the Bleeding Edge. She had a great award winning story in one of my favorite magazines Cemetary Dance. So I have been calling for a collection of Morton stories for a while but I was pleased to learn that we got a bonus – all new stories.

Monsters of LA is a concept collection. Lisa Morton is a creature of LA and her work is as firmly place in LA as Early Stephen King was placed in Maine. This is an excellent and diverse collection of horror, dark humor and weird fiction. It is also an informative love letter to the city Morton calls home. Each story comes with a short explanation that has insight into the ways that the city inspired each story.

The book includes several pictures taken by the author of the many strange locales around LA over looked by tourists and wanna-bes who think all there is in LA is Hollywood. Morton certainly doesn’t ignore Hollywood, but has a focus of the strange and cool weird-ness that tourists will never see.

Each story is simply named for a classic movie monster and each story takes a real LA spin of each one. It kicks off with Frankenstein and Dr. Jekkel and Mister Hyde. I liked these stories but I felt the first two stories were the ones that were stretched the hardest to bit the theme of the book. In the case of Frankenstein I found the explanation actually added strength to the story and helped me understand how the story fits the theme.

The strongest story in the collection for me was the “The Phantom.” The darkly funny bizarre piece for Dracula will probably be very popular and is the tale that dips most in Hollywood satire. I also enjoyed the novella “Urban Legend,” which is a prequel to an unpublished novel. Crafty Morton, you have me dying to read that as yet unpublished novel.

Monsters of LA is a good read for horror short story fans but is also a neat read for people interested in seeing a side of LA that you don’t see in the movies.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review: Keepers by Gary Braunbeck

Keepers by Gary Braunbeck

339 pages Leisure Books

I instantly became a fan of Braunbeck after seeing him do a powerful reading performance of a zombie story that he had released as a chapbook. It was an emotional, heartbreaking and gut-wrenching performance. After reading my third Braunbeck Novel (In silent Graves and Prodigal Blues) I can say those three descriptions describe each of those novels but Keepers is my favorite of the three.

Half way through the book a friend asked me what the book was about. I tried to explain it to him, but it came out sounding like a mess. My fault Braunbeck told this story in a non-linear but brilliant fashion. It was my explanation that failed.

The story of a loner and souvenir shop owner Gil stewart is almost an inverse of Pet Semetary. It explores similar themes, where do our beloved pets , and family members go when we can’t keep them anymore.

Like many great horror novels the strength of the story is the rich love we as readers develop for Gil’s loved ones. This novel is full of rich emotions that power the story. There is a heart breaking relationship with Beth, the woman Gil loves despite her inability to love him back same way. Gil’s nephew with down syndrome is a charming character, all these emotions are what make horror novel work.

This novel is clearly a post Stephen King novel that is clearly influenced by the master. That is a great thing because Braunbeck is not influenced by King King plots or concepts but by his tone and rich connection to the emotions of his characters. I was worried this novel would demonize animals, but thankfully this novel was the opposite. Check this novel out!

Book Review: Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale

Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale

**** Vintage crime 287 pages

Lansdale is the East Teaxas author known to most as the evil genius behind the horror short story Bubba-Ho-Tep which became a movie starring Bruce Campbell directed by Phantasm director Don Coscarelli. To his readers he is known mostly for writing southern gothic weird crime mysteries.

It makes no difference what genre he writes in I spent the majority of the books laughing. The novels have the sarcastic dialogue of Fletch novels, but the narration also has a level of sarcasm that bring great hunor to his books.

This novel Leather Maiden is a murder mystery and the humor comes mostly in the third person narration of Iraq war vet and small town Reporter named Cason. He has returned to his small Texas town to a job at the shitty little paper and inherited a column that appears weekly.It appears at first this sleepy little town will be boring, but in the end he is able to discover a murder conspiracy that no one else seems to have noticed.

The fantastic dialogue between characters is a highlight, Lansdale shares the skill for dialogue that is only matched by Tarintino, Elmore Leonard, and Gregory Macdonald. If you have dark or grumpy sense of humor you can’t really go wrong with this, or any other Lansdale novel.

Book Review: One Second After by William R. Forstchen

One Second After by William R. Forstchen ***** 352 pages Forge books

I admit I almost passed on this book, since being the far left dude that I am I am not in the habit of reading books with a forward by Newt Gingrich. I still think Newt is a far right wing windbag, but we now have something to agree on – This is a must read book.

Fortschen is a military historian whose previous books include a series of historical military novels with the former speaker and a series of Wing Commander novels. I get the feeling the that he publisher considered this novel to be a bit higher class than his past work, and I have to say it is a novel of very high quality. It is a fantastic end of the world novel. I love this sub-genre, the author wasn’t shy about telling us up front that he wanted to make this book a entry in a pantheon that includes classics like On the Beach and Alas Babylon. I personally would add John Brunner’s classic “The Sheep Look Up” Or Norman Spinrad’s “Greenhouse Summer.”

Like those novels One Second After is a warning novel, that is what I call this sub-genre, It helps to have strong characters and settings but the point of these novels is dramatize a possible coming crisis. There are plenty of nuclear war novels, climate change and pollution.

Forstchen sets the novel in his North Carolina home town and based the main character thinly after himself. I can’t say how much of the town and the characters are based on real life but this novel feels extremely honest. They feel real.

The main character is a widower trying to raise two teenage daughters, including one with diabetes . the conflict comes when suddenly Civilization dies. It comes not in a Nuclear blast/winter, but a high atmosphere blast that causes an EMP (look it up if you have never heard of it). The aftermath leaves the skeleton of society, but instantly destroys all electronics.

Cars, Refrigeration, medicine production, hospitals and modern mass communication are instantly gone. The novel follows the year after the death of electronics and the results is a series of horrible events and a struggle for a spoiled and overpopulated nation to survive.

The action of the novel is well written, the characters are so strong that several moments are genuine tear-jerkers. It also has the most tragic use of a dog character since Matheson’s I Am Legend. This novel also manages to unintentionally make a very similar point to John Shirley’s Everything is Broken, while also warning people to a new danger. I think you should read this book, and maybe start a garden.

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin *** 879 pages Ballentine books.

I have been interested in this novel since it was released. At first I wondered why NPR (I mean all things considered even) did stories on this novel, but then when I listened to the story it became clear that Cronin was something the industry considers to be a author of fine literature. Sure it's a end of the world novel, filled with vampire but since this guy wrote some mushy over award nominated snoozer then it makes this novel beyond the genre ghetto and worth promotion on NPR. OK, maybe I am blowing this up a bit and honestly I have not read any other novels by Cronin so maybe they are not snoozers. I was interested to see if the publishers ignore the obvious fact that this was a Speculative horror novel.

The worst example of this was Mary Doria Russel's amazing novel "The Sparrow" (I reviewed it in Feb. 2009). That novel is 100% hard Science fiction and I would argue one of the most disturbing horror novels at the same time. Genre was completely ignored in the marketing of it, this was serious literature folks. I don't think Cronin and his publishers did that here thankfully. This novel has alot in common with multi-character end of the world novels like The Stand and Sawn Song although I would say it is not nearly as strong of a novel as those two. For my money Del Toro and Hogan's Strain trilogy was also a better take on almost the same story.

This novel is ambitious for a novelist entering into the genre for the first time, it has a grand apocalyptic canvas, several dozen characters, and equally as many story lines that weave together even if it seems they never will. It has almost an 800 page hardcover page count. Cronin's take on vampires is original enough, but in my opinion could have been cut into two different novels, and since it was left open for a sequel it might have been better served as a series of short novels.

The opening two and fifty pages are the strongest in the novel, there is a serious sag in the middle 2 or 300 pages like a tent missing a vital bar to hold it up. The first 250 pages were seriously so well written that it perhaps made the middle part look worse than it really was.

The ending pulled it out but there were several hundred pages where I was confused and wasn't sure how anything that was happening related to the brilliant opening. I kept reading thus proving Silence of The lambs director Jonathan Demme's writing advice "You can confuse me for twenty minutes but don't bore me for 5 seconds." He said something like that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: The Touch by F.Paul Wilson (Adversary cycle book 4)

The Touch ***** Forge 448 pages

Wow, I read all 448 pages of this novel in a weekend, while still reading another book. I found this medical horror drama to be a serious page turner. This book is considered to be book four in the Adversary Cycle and fits into the Secret History of the World timeline just after Ground Zero (Repairman Jack #13) and Reprisal (AC Book #5).

Written back in the 80’s I read the 2004 edition which is updated and also contains a bonus prologue short story. As an author I personally strive to write books that are so perfect for me that no one else could write them. In many ways The Touch is very much a novel that only F.Paul Wilson could attempt. Wilson you see was a practicing doctor before devoting himself to writing full time.

The story of the Touch is about a doctor named Alan who is the last of a dying breed. A family doctor with a private practice. He loves being a doctor and is called to heal. Then one day after a bizarre interaction with a homeless vet, Alan discovers he has the ability to heal any illness with a single touch.

What follows is not your typical horror novel. Sure you could call it a supernatural medical drama, but the horror of what this power means to Alan is very real if you do horror readers only job(put yourself in the shoes of the character). The characters are so well written it really helps the pages turn, you will become involved in the characters, even if it lacks Wilson’s trademark adventure.

Doesn’t matter the novel cooks. It connects to the series in minor that I can tell but I imagine once I read to the next two Adversary books they might tie in more. The character of Clubfoot Annie is an interesting one and readers of the series will find an explanation for her condition in the Repairman Jack novel Conspiracies. Willson…dude you are a genius of plot weaving. I’m in awe again. I feel like the Wayne’s World guys, like I should be on my knees saying I’m not worthy.

The Touch gets a bit preachy at times, but who am I to complain about that? Wilson is a libratarian and a doctor, this bleeds through the pages, but I can’t begrudge a Doctor getting on his/her soapbox for a few pages.

Great novel, read it even if you don’t want to commit to the series. It stands alone.

My novella is in the 'Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade" anthology

My novella "Punkupine Moshers of the Apocalypse," was elected to be in the best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade collection. I am super honored to be selected and in this book with so many awesome authors.

Edited by Cameron Pierce, the Wonderland Book Award-winning author of Die You Doughnut Bastards, Lost in Cat Brain Land, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island, and other books.

"A feeling has been tearing up the underground of the fiction world. It’s a nightmare reflection of the society you inhabit, a surreal explosion of pop, punk, and the post-apocalypse. Over the last decade, Bizarro Fiction has changed the definition of avant garde, it’s abolished the traditional prose of yesterday and established a new precedent for awesome. Collected in this anthology is some of the best weird fiction from the past decade. Award-winning writers, cult prodigies and burgeoning talents all collected together in one place. This is what you’ve done with the last ten years of your life."

Featuring stories by D. Harlan Wilson, Alissa Nutting, Joe R. Lansdale, Carlton Mellick III, Kevin L. Donihe, Blake Butler, Ryan Boudinot, Vincent Sakowski, Cody Goodfellow, Amelia Gray, Robert Devereaux, Mykle Hansen, Athena Villaverde, Matthew Revert, Garrett Cook, Roy Kesey, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Aimee Bender, Ian Watson & Roberto Quaglia, Jeremy C. Shipp, Andersen Prunty, Jedediah Berry, Andrea Kneeland, Kurt Dinan, David Agranoff, Ben Loory, Kris Saknussemm, Stephen Graham Jones, Bentley Little, David W. Barbee, and Tom Piccirilli.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: A Matter of Blood (Dog Faced gods #1) by Sarah Pinborough

A Matter of Blood (Dog Faced Gods book #1) By Sarah Pinborough ***** Gollancz books 421 pages

This is one of those reviews where I have to be careful of hyperbole. Each year I read a novel by an author I have never read before that knocks my socks off. This novel was the 2012 entry and thankfully there are two more books in this trilogy. This British import is trying to find a north American publisher and there are rumors that Penguin is releasing them under the title Forgotten Gods. Personally if you like original horror and speculative fiction specifically Dystopias, serial killer novels and all around Crime novels don’t wait for them to get their act together order this on the internet.

I discovered this novel from an article about the ending of the trilogy in Rue Morgue magazine. The plot sounded interesting but I admit it was the author mentioning that the trilogy had a champion in F.Paul Wilson that got my attention. I have four books into the Repairman Jacks books as Pinborough pointed out that Wilson was not only an influence but he was a fan helping to get the books published. What interested me is the dark dystopic environment that this brutal sounding crime novel was set in.

Rue morgue described the trilogy as an apocalyptic murder mystery, but having now read the book I felt the first book was light on apocalypse but heavy on dystopia. Not to worry end-of –the-World novel fans, the undoing of the world gets a strong foundation in this dark brutal hard boiled supernatural crime novel. It is an understatement to say that darker days are coming. This is the story of Detective inspector Cass Jones, who is hiding a drug habit and depression after he returns to the work in wake of an undercover assignment gone horribly wrong. His life is rough, hated by criminals and distrusted by the authorities. Not your typical heroic cop character, he is knee deep in a murder investigation of two kids who were gunned down in the street and attracting intense media coverage.

When one of his co-workers gets ill, he has to take over the investigation of a series of brutal murders. The crime scenes are well staged but also covered in an unnatural amount of flies. The killer refers to himself as the man of flies, and managed to somehow implant eggs of maggots under the eyelids of the victims without damaging their eyes.

All this before Cass finds out his brother has killed himself and his family. When Cass is framed for the murder of his brother, he begins to suspect the cases are connected.

How does this relate to the end of the world? Well, this novel is set in very dark times a very near future dystopia of future Britain that survives an economic collapse by surrendering to a mysterious cabal known as “The Bank.” The atmosphere of the novel has a dark surreal feel, I pictured everything with a grey filter that made Oregon winters seem like southern California. I also have the feeling that this first novel was meant to establish the characters while the next two will deal with grander issues.

Like Wilson’s Repairman Jack series I would define this novel as horror , but also as Weird Crime. That is not the only comparison I think is valid to Wilson’s Jack series. Like that series this has intricately woven plot, but it also has a much darker tone.

The tone makes all the difference in this novel, I mean for one thing Repairman Jack is a hero we can root for. The world that Pinborough has created here is filled with very dark shades of grey with almost zero characters worth rooting for. Oh you’ll be interested in them; you’ll want to keep turning pages.

On top of all those elements this novel also has a powerful plot line about a serial killer, including one of the creepiest serial killers I have read about since Brite’s Exquisite Corpse, but at the same time were talking about a novel with a subtle social conscience.

It is one of those novels that dragged me in quickly through the pages, creating dark moment of suspense that were so powerful I wanted to jump in the book and warn characters. There were several moments that made me uncomfortable enough that as a horror author myself I dog eared the pages so I could go back at marvel at how she created such gnarly atmospheric moments.

I can’t spoil it, but the Man of Flies has a moment early with a homeless boy and his dog that was gut-wrenching and awful. I loved it! Cass had a moment where he thought he saw the ghostly imagine of his dead brother, nothing ended up being there but Pinborough did such a wonderful job that I felt his very natural fear at thinking he had just seen his dead friend. Prime examples of master level horror writing by an author I somehow never read before.

Am I sold on Pinborough or the series? Of course I am sold on both. Is this the best novel I have read all year. No, probably not the best but I am sure it is my favorite. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King **** 849 pages Scribner

I admit when King first went on the Today show to promote his latest weight set style novel I thought it sounded a little silly. I had time on my hands and this was at the library so I decided to give it a shot. I am coming off disappointing turns with Duma Key and Lisey’s Story which I thought were awful. I did however still like Cell and thought Full Dark, No Stars was fantastic. It is not often that I read a 900 pager that I don’t think could stand to lose a little of the meat off it’s bones.

11/22/63 has been promoted as King’s novel about the Kennedy assassination, and Time Travel. It certainly is about that stuff, conspiracy theorists will be bummed that King basically agrees with the standard narrative- Oswald the lone gunman. I enjoyed this novel, Think it is one of the better ones King has written in some time. (I think Cell and Bag of bones are his best this century) The Oswald/Kennedy stuff however was the least interesting part to me. The love story which is the real core of the novel and the moral dilemma of what is really of value in one’s life is what makes this novel really pop.

Sure there are time travel elements that make you think and laugh. Sure there are lots of political issues that King raises when exploring how America might be different if history changed. All interesting stuff, but the best parts involve the love story between our time traveling hero Jake Epping and the love of his life Sadie Dunning. This is his best romance and at several points in the novel he actually made me teary eyed. It is funny because I have seen reviews where this aspect of the novel were considered a part of a sagging boring middle. Really?

Keep in mind there are really three novels here. King spends two hundred and fifty pages just showing us how hard it is to change the future. Could that have been done quicker, sure but I didn’t really mind.

I am not sure if I didn’t have so much free time when I read this if I would have read it in a week. I am also not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I read it slower. This is in the end a power time travel story about love. I understand why it was marketed about JFK but it has more in common with Matheson’s Somewhere in Time than Stone’s JFK.

Read it for the love story.

Book Review:The Tomb By F.Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack book #1, Adversary cycle #3)

The Tomb By F.Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack book #1, Adversary cycle #3) ***** 448 pages Tor books

So here is folks, were starting a journey here. Little personal background before I start this review. February 2010 I took a workshop for novelists called Borderlands. There was an author who taught apart of the workshop on “plotting” named F.Paul Wilson. I was already a fan thanks to Wilson’s classic horror novel “The Keep.” The reason he is teaching plotting is clear and this novel the Tomb is a good place to start to talk about it. You “The Tomb” is the first in a 15 Repairman Jack novels, (well 19 if you count the YA novels about Jack’s teenage years) but it is also the third novel in a different series of 6 novels called the Adversary Cycle. Both series end in the same novel called “Nightworld,” which is both Repairman Jack #15 and Adversary Cycle#6. At the same time there are other short stories and random novels that fit into the timeline of this mythos which Wilson calls the Secret History of the World.

Slightly...OK very influenced by Lovecraft but not quite Lovecraftian I would argue this mythos is deeper and more intensely plotted than even the Dark Tower series. It all starts in “The Keep,” but I had read that twice in the past and I had never read The Tomb, so when I saw it and the following two books in the series I decided I would read the first three Repairman Jack novels, and well I got hooked.

I decided that 2012 would be the year of F.Paul for me and set out of the goal of reading entire secret history of the world this year. So I’m reviewing the entire series over the next couple months and I intend to write detailed article at the end. I hope also to interview Wilson at the conclusion. Each review will have a section of spoilers for Jack fans, I hope to spark discussion. If I talk you into reading this series maybe you’ll come back and see if our opinions match. Talk about them, you know interact.

So Let’s start with the Tomb. Originally released in 1984, the novel has recently been updated to make it modern and fit the timeline. I read the updated book and certainly think that is where you’ll need to start there, I mean this version has cellphones and the internet. I generally am against these kinds of updates as I am a fan of out dated science fiction, however in this case it’s justified to update the books and link them together.

Repairman Jack is a great hero, in many ways the anti-hero, but the longer you get to know Jack you’ll see that whole Anti-thing wears off. Jack is a fix-it specialist. He is a repairman, but not for your fridge. Maybe you have a problem, one you can’t go to the police about. Need to find someone, get revenge. Jack is living outside the system, and he is really good at revenge, among other things. The Maguffin of the story is a necklace stolen off the neck of an old Indian woman who is dying in a Manhatten hospital room.

Jack is hired for this impossible job, find a necklace randomly stolen on the streets of NYC. Once he starts to track it down, a conflict arises. His recently ex-girlfriend Gia’s family members have disappeared. So at the same time he decides he needs to help find them.

Along the way Jack learns not only the history of this necklace, which tracks back to a bloody conflict over colonial India but the connection to the family whose disappearance he is investigating.

The Tomb is a great action horror novel which combines monsters,suspense, mystery and interesting characters. It is an excellent introduction to the world of Repairman Jack. It’s important you read this one because it effects the events of novels far into the series.

Spoilers: This is the first book but if you were to read the secret history in a straight timeline you would have read several adversary cycle books, Black Wind, Cold City and the Young Jack secret histories at this point. It is a great induction but looking back on it now after reading 14 other Repairman Jack books the strangest aspects of the book is the intensely erotic love story that Jack has with a woman who was not Gia.

This novel stood up on its own but as an introduction to Jack it stands out. It takes a while for the mystery to unravel and reveal the monsters. The impatient horror reader might have a problem with this, but it’s too bad. The final third of the novel cooks.

Book Review: Everything is Broken by John Shirley

Everything is Broken by John Shirley **** 320 pages Prime Books

It is no secret that John Shirley is my favorite author. I have devoted many posts on my blog to his work. I have been following the progress of this novel from it’s early stages and I am glad to say it lived up to my high expectations. If you follow Shirley’s blog you’ll know that he is not a big fan of Libratarians or the Tea party. Known for his politically charged fiction Shirley is back with a novel that has engaged more than a few tea-baggers.

It’s too bad because they are the one that could really think about the issues that Shirley raises in this novel. I think this book has more of chance to effect those readers who are on the right leaning moderates. Those who think that Regan was right about government needing to be small enough to drown in a bathtub are probably beyond help at this point.

Everything is Broken is not as subtle as Shirley’s liberal end times answers to the left behind series “The Other End,” but that novel at its heart was a spiritual tale. This novel is a nasty grime covered baseball bat to the head of cold hard reality. Makes sense when you consider the event that starts the novel off is a Tsunami, and the setting is a small coastal California town filled with Live wire villains. That is the reality though, who is keeping the jerks in line when the world falls apart.

This novel reminded me of how Stephen King creates vivid and anger inducing bullies better than anyone. Shirley goes a great job of creating characters just ripe for justice and imagine this, it didn’t take thousands of pages.

There is nothing subtle about this novel what so ever, it might easy to get turned away but the ugly-ness of the characters but that is a very important part of the story. The characters are strongly written and Fully realized almost instantly. A favorite moment of Characterization happened on page 196 – “He couldn’t even stare back at the guy. It was like looking at a harsh light.” The suspense and horror at the root of it is also perfectly done.

At first glance the monster of this novel might seem to be the Tsunami, but this is just a Maguffin. This novel could just has easily been about a tornado in Oklahoma, or a zombie novel for that matter. Romero always used the zombie tale to highlight social issues, and that is at the heart of this story. Don’t get me wrong the tsunami generated plenty of horror in this tale but the monsters are the people who the main characters considered neighbors in Freedom, California.

Even before the Tsunami came, the town’s mayor moved to cut ties with big government, by firing the majority of the cops, closing the fire department and encouraging Private industry to take over. Of course that didn’t happen so when the big wave comes, it means it is up to the twenty year old hero Russ and his dad to organize the town.

The mayor sees a chance to re-make the town to his beliefs, He has to do something as the storm has knocked out most of what he owns. Thus begins a relationship with Dickie, the local thug has similar ideas about riding the wave into a new era of “Freedom.” With the town cut-off from civilization the ideas of freedom and big government are tested.

Shirley’s Original title was “Welcome to Freedom,” While probably a more proper title it might have been a bit too much on the nose. It would be easy to say this novel is a 280 page argument against libertarianism, but it is much deeper than that. It is also about social controls that hold the socio-paths among us from running wild.

I’d put it up there with some of the great non-supernatural horror novels like David Morrell’s Testament or Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door. At the same time it’s an important novel that explores issues we as a society need to discuss. The question is do you have the stomach to read it?

I think you should read this John Shirley novel, but if you were planning on voting for Ron Paul to might want to put it a bit higher on your TBR pile. You have a “To Be Read” Pile right?