Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Best Movies (New Release) of 2013 list

13 best films of 2013

1. The Colony:
I happened about this trailer one night on youtube and thought it looked good. I ended up looking up the director, and thought his other two films looked interesting. I watched his political thriller Civic Duty first, a pretty good movie starring Six Feet Under’s Peter Krause.

This was my favorite movie of the year by a wide margin. This post apocalyptic sci-fi horror film is a well done medium budget film. For a Direct to video release it has two bigger named actors in Laurence Fishbourne and Bill Paxton. Taking place on future earth that has become a frozen wasteland (I like to think of it as earth during the film Sunshine). It is a grim life for the few survivors left in the underground colony. One of the other colonies has gone dark and a small team is sent to find out why. What they find are monsters born of the wasteland.

2. Gravity: I think this is the best movie of the year. Not my favorite clearly, but it is a movie to be celebrated. If this movie didn’t work for you my only thought is you didn’t approach with the right attitude. This movie requires that you place yourself in the shoes of the main character. Amazing use of music, effects and 3D makes this a complete experience. Maybe some of the story was cheesy damn this was an intense movie. Up there with Boyle’s Sunshine in managing to make space travel look as scary as it really is. (last time I will relate a movie to Sunshine promise) Much like Brad Anderson’s The Machinist, I don’t think this movie could possibly has the same effect on TV. Sorry if you missed it on the big Screen.

3. Stoker: Oldboy director Park Chan Wook’s first English language film is as weird and off color as a David Lynch movie. Remember how odd the acting felt in Twin Peaks? Nicole Kidman and the whole cast act so strangely (but perfect for the odd feeling of the movie) it left me wondering how odd the performances in his Korean films probably are to the people who speak the language.

This is a 100% arthouse horror film that is finely directed for details. I am glad I saw it in the theater. I laughed a lot, but noticed most of the audience was not as amused as I was.

4. Anti-Viral: If this movie was not directed by the son of famed Canadian director David Cronenberg it still would have compared to the elder’s work. It is a weird, creepy body horror film about the power of celebrity and all the creepy things fans do to get closer to the stars. A super bizarro film that takes place in a future where restaurants serve cloned meat of movie stars, and fans pay top dollar to get the illness and diseases of famous people. Strong Debut I hope both Cronenberg directors keep it weird going forward.

5. Blue Jasmine: Every couple movies Woody Allen makes a movie that has all the critics saying that he is back. My favorite of the more modern Allen movies still have to be the Sweet and Lowdown and Match Point. That said this movie is really well written, the thing that makes this movie really great is the performance of Cate Blancett. She better get an Oscar nod.

6. Dredd: This one came out of nowhere for me. I was mildly into the comics, and of course hated the 80’s Stallone movie. After the second person whose opinion I really respect suggested I see it, we ended up just watching it that night. This is mega-city of the Dredd comics stripped bare, told simply and perfect with maximum brutality. Karl Urban is amazing as Dredd never taking off his mask, the dystopic look is simple but very well done.

It is clear that this movie was influenced by the Indonesian action movie “The Raid.” That is smart since the Raid and Rambo IV are to me the best action movies of the century so far. Trailer says 2012, but I think it was delayed right?

7.Mud: One of the best movies I watched in 2012 was arthouse thriller Take Shelter, (I thought it was a horror film) so when the director had a new movie I jumped on going to see it. Mud is a strange southern crime drama with several intense performances. Matthew Mc. Is on a serious run ( Magic Mike, Killer Joe and this one). Note to mention that the kid in the movie wore a Fugazi shirt. For some reason this movie reminded me of Stand by Me. Not sure I can explain that feeling.

8. Pacific Rim: I expected this to be number one. Frankly this was my favorite director with Kaijus fighting massive robots (not really robots as they are driven by pilots but whatever). I did think that it was awesome, and good enough to see twice. I love the mythology, the unspoken back story and the world they created. Thanks to the box office in China we will probably get a sequel! I’ll be there opening day.

9. The Four: Super crazy kungfu fantasy movie directed by the Fist of Legend Director Gordan Chan. …

10. Tai-Chi Hero: This is the second film in a trilogy that was filmed all at once in China. The first one was a totally insane kungfu steampunk wuxia fantasy crossover. The main character has this strange birthmark, and if it gets hit, he turns into this supernatural maniac. The sequel takes place right after the first one. The music is kinda awful, but really fun stuff. If you are a fan of silly, weird Kungfu movies this one has a vibe of early 90’s Wong Jing movie (New Legend of Shoalin, Kungfu Cult Master ) you can’t go wrong.

11. The Last Stand: I give credit to Ahhhnold a lot of credit for choosing this script and director for his first starring role back. Too bad the movie bombed. This movie is funny, and has great action scenes. I loved it.

Fruitvale Station: Powerful real life drama, the story of the last day of man’s life before he was murdered by a transit cop in Oakland. Based on true story, and it features an amazing performance by Michael B.Jordan. Total tear jerker.

Prisoners: Yeah this was a horror movie. I am sure it was marketed as a thriller, but it was a horror movie. This suspenseful well plotted mystery has a great cast all pretty much turning in really solid performances. Maria Bello’s character was kinda shafted in the script, but Hugh Jackman really brings it.

Honorable mentions: World War Z, Elysium, Oblivion, Place beyond the pines, Iron Man 3, Europa Report

There were several movies I wanted to see that might have made the list. I wanted to see all these and didn’t get around to it. They are…

The Grandmaster (Hong Kong), 12 years a Slave, Would You Rather?, Upstream Color, Snowpiercer (Korea), Ender’s Game, Drug War (Hong Kong), New World (South Korea), 47 Ronin, The King of the Streets (China), American Hustle, Out of the furnace, The new Coen Brothers movie.

Book Review: The Daedalus Incident by Michael J. Martinez

The Daedalus Incident (Daedalus #1) by Michael J. Martinez

366 pages Nightshade books

I saw this book on a few best of lists and didn’t know anything about the plot before diving in. By the second chapter I was confused, but as the saying goes you can confuse me, just don’t bore me. This novel opens in 22nd century mars having just had a uncharacteristic “earth”quake. The scientists and miners on Mars start to investigate the mystery. In the second chapter we are in the 18th century, but on a English royal navy space ship traveling in the solar system.

This novel is in part an alternate history novel, but the future timeline takes place in our universe. Beyond that I will not spoil. This novel is well plotted, with twisting timelines and histories that connect in fun and neat ways. At the same time it is a swashbuckling adventure story in a fun and old school way.

I love super weird science fiction. This is just that, but it is also very smart. It is clearly well researched and thought out, not just in plotting and characterization but also in its take on the fake history.

I believe this is a debut novel, it is a strong debut. I can’t really think of another novel just like it. That is the best thing about it. Another great Nightshade release.

Top 11 reads of 2013

So these are my favorite reads 11 to 1 of the last year. I read 60 novels, so I promise these are all pretty good. These are not all new releases. This is just my favorite books of the year no matter when they came out.

11. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King: King had misdirected his serious fans when he said this was more a Dan Torrance story than a Shining sequel. It was much more of a Shining sequel than I expected. It is the story of an adult Danny who works in hospice, his shine gives him a knack for helping those who are dying. They call him Doctor sleep and teamed up with the hospice cat they help the dying. King did a worthy sequel and his most creepy novel in years.

10.Lesser Creatures by Peter Giglio:
Lesser Creatures is a truly odd novel, one thing I loved is it shared no tropes or any common structure with any other horror novels or the zombie subgenre. This is a very original feeling novel. In that respect someone looking for a paint by the numbers zombie novel is going to be bummed. Anyone looking for a challenging weird exploration of loss and love will be stoked.

9.The Summer I Died by Ryan C. Thomas: Vivid and powerful horror, well written and engaging, it is not for the faint of heart but certainly if you dare you’ll enjoy. On a personal note, I tend to not enjoy first person narrative for horror fiction but Thomas pulled it off for sure. I forgot and lost myself in the book. Well done.

8.Chickbassist by Ross E. Lockheart: Lockhart catches lightining in bottle by grabbing a hold of the raw feeling and energy of the era and buttering it up with all the smells pleasant and unpleasant of a pre-internet rock and roll.

7. (Tie) The Departure/Zero point by Neal Asher: giant space battles, spider gun robots and 23rd century warfare and revolution. It was a fun wild ride and only after it was done did I realize that Asher and I see a lot of the same problems coming in the future we just don't agree on the root cause. In the end I enjoyed The Departure and Zero Point, excited for book three.

6.New Taboos by John Shirley: Short but sweet new introduction to one of my all time favorite authors.

5.Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr: This novel won the bizarro writers association’s wonderland award for best novel and it deserves it because it is indeed like reading your way through a hall of mirrors. It is a cool looking and formatted paperback that adds to atmosphere of the novel. Laura Lee Bahr has a strong and unique voice that drips off these pages.

4. Art of War Blackguard Book 2: Morris wears his influences on his sleeves like patches sewn on on punk rock leather jacket. What we end up with is an edgy novel that is not quite cyberpunk, military sci-fi, First Contact story or distopia. It is all those things and more. I know I am bias because I just co-wrote a novel with Edward, but there is a reason I was excited to work with the guy!

3. The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough:
Chosen seed is a fantastic final act in a trilogy that is one epic story. Each novel has a distinct story with its own strengths. Each one builds off of the previous books but the foundation and atmosphere in the first book “A Matter of Blood” worked on me like being hit by lightening. Pinborough has created a cross genre masterpiece in this trilogy that defies simple classification and is impossible to speak of without hyperbole. It is that good.

2. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson:
Being a left coast liberal and radical thinker Robinson explores the nature of capitalism, hierarchy and environmentalism. While he may not get the attention from the crusty punks the way Ursala Leguin and Octavia Butler have gotten recently this is a subtly subversive speculative novel.

1. Immobility by Brian Evenson:
This is a strange and unsettling novel, that is so powerfully written it has a spooky feeling throughout. It is all done with a subtle tone, and no wasted words. Evenson is not so in love with his words and never overwrites, he writes with a tight control rarely since in genre work that is also considered “high lit.” It doesn’t remind me of any other book immediately but if pressed to make a comparison I would have to say a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with a little bit of a THX 1138.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review: Burial by Neil Cross

Burial by Neil Cross

291 pages

Tor Forge

This British author lives in New Zealand and writes about England, now this is my first Cross novel, who I discovered from his TV work. He created and wrote every first season episode of the BBC drama starring Idris Elba Luther. The first 6 episodes all written by Cross are brutal, powerful and amazingly plotted horror, weird crime dramas. I LOVED the show, yep ALL CAPS LOVE the show. Enough that when I learned Cross had written novels I got on my library website and reserved the first book I found – Burial.

Now, if you have watched Luther, or you trust my opinion at all you are best off reading this book as blind as possible. Don’t read my plot summery, don’t read the book jacket. Just trust me this is a creepy and unsettling novel that produces an uncomfortable fear that is like an untuned guitar string being strummed. It is a story about guilt, pure and simple.

Last warning plot description coming…

Nathan made a horrible mistake. He and his odd friend Bob hook up with a young woman and leave a party to do drugs and have sex. Both men have sex with her but while Nathan is out of the car leaving Bob alone, the young woman dies. In a panic they bury the body. For years it looks like they got away it. 10 years later a knock on the door brings that horrible night past to Nathan.

It is impossible to explain why Burial is so good with out spoilers, but by the end you just don’t know how to feel about Nathan. Cross plots the novel with excellent skill and creates a wonderful grey area for the characters.

Book Review: Immobility by Brian Evenson

Immobility by Brian Evenson

253 Pages


A few years back I went a reading at powells in Portland, one of the authors who read was Brian Evenson promoting his bizarro horror crime noir hybrid The Last Days. The reading won me over and I bought the book. I loved that short and gritty novel. I considered it one of the best reads I had in 2009. Evenson has done it again because Immobility is without a doubt of one my favorite reads of 2013.

Evenson is an author who writes mostly horror but has mostly escaped the genre ghetto in fact he is shelved in the lit fiction section at powells. He is a heck of a writer, so I understand why he would be considered a higher class of genre fiction. This novel is both Speculative fiction and horror but more than anything it is a post apocalyptic story.

The story of Josef Horki who wakes up disorientated in a world he doesn’t recognize. His memory is shot, but in better shape than his legs which are basically dead. He is told that in his former life that he was a fixer, and after 30 years in a deep sleep storage the survivors of the collapse have a mission for him. Travel across the wasteland and get a frozen vial of seeds. His Transportation are mules – that is what the twin humans engineered to be beasts of burden will carry him on the mission.

This is a strange and unsettling novel, that is so powerfully written it has a spooky feeling throughout. It is all done with a subtle tone, and no wasted words. Evenson is not so in love with his words and never overwrites, he writes with a tight control rarely since in genre work that is also considered “high lit.” It doesn’t remind me of any other book immediately but if pressed to make a comparison I would have to say a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with a little bit of a THX 1138.

More than just a story about the travels across the wasteland Evenson explores what it means to be human, and what effect humanity has had on the world. On personal note ¾ of the way through the book Evenson tips his hand a bit with a great exchange that of course I personally loved. A character talks about the possible death of humanity “Were a curse, a blight. First we gave everything a names and then invented hatred. And then we made the mistake of domesticating animals- almost as bit of a mistake as discovering fire.” Is this misanthropic point the bottom line of the novel. It is hard to argue after the powerful and disturbing ending that is anything else, but that could also just be this reader reacting to it.

Immobility is a powerful and thoughtful, highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr (Wonderland award winner 2011)

Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr

288 pages Fungasm press Introduction by John Skipp

Haunt is a strange and beautiful LA noir that feels to me like a lost David Lynch movie with dark supernatural underpinnings. First conceived as a very adult choose your own adventure novel Bahr does amazing things with the plot of this novel using the various choices that you as the reader might consider and showing you the various paths this story takes.

Told mostly in second person “you” are different shades of the main character at times working in a office, at times running to the Caribbean to be a beach bum musician or as a semi-famous reporter but mostly you are interested in solving the suicide of Sarah, who you believe who died in her apartment. Why so interested? She haunts you. Might be the woman of your dreams, and worst of all she is dead.

This novel won the bizarro writers association’s wonderland award for best novel and it deserves it because it is indeed like reading your way through a hall of mirrors. It is a cool looking and formatted paperback that adds to atmosphere of the novel. Laura Lee Bahr has a strong and unique voice that drips off these pages. Thankfully the universe put her in a friendship with Splatterpunk legend John Skipp who was the right champion for this book. As bizarro as this book is it very likely would have left most publishers scratching their heads.

There is a part early in the novel about the haunted nature of a typewriter and the sound of it clicking away. I loved that passage, that reminded me of my childhood hearing my mother’s typewriter clicking away. There are creepy moments, and laugh out loud moments. A great reading experience for anyone who likes to have a strange trip.

Book Review: Dark City by F.Paul Wilson

Dark City by F.Paul Wilson

366 pages Hardcover Tor Books

The middle book in the trilogy of Repairman Jack prequel novels set in the character’s early years in NYC is about how the character became who he is. This novel is great for F.Paul Wilson nerds but it is clearly a fan service. Being that I am a serious fan of this character and world, to say I was happy with it is an understatement. I am not sure this book would have the same effect if you were not a reader with 15 Jack novels in the back of your mind.

That said Dark City is a well plotted crime novel that has lots of nasty characters getting what they deserve thanks to Jack’s well thought out plans. I enjoyed all the little tiny ways that Wilson tied the events in subtle ways to the wider plot of the Secret history of the world (The saga that plays out mostly in the six Adversary cycle and 15 Repairman Jack novels).

This novel is mostly about the jihadists and the child slavers that Jack got in the first novel (by tricking them and giving freedom to the girls). You see Jack train, and learn his revenge and fix-it craft while making the friends that become important to him in later years.

This is an easy read and a must for serious Jack fans but not where you start. It is a prequel and I think you should read the other books first.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Number one Classic Bizarro Science Fiction novel according to me!

Over the summer I did a ten week countdown of my favorite horror novels of all time. I had fun doing it and it seems based on the numbers that a lot of people were reading them. I enjoyed the discussions and so I decided to do another top down. So here are some rules, one book by each author because in this list it runs the risk of becoming the Philip K.Dick list. The second rule is nothing published in the 21st century. There are great gonzo sci-fi novels released in the last thirteen years for sure, The Skinner by Neal Asher and Dr. Identity by D.Harlan Wilson are great examples. They are great but we are talking old school now. The more weird the better, they can be serious or totally funny, the most important thing is that they are bizarro and awesome.

10.Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

9. Transmaniacon By John Shirley

8.Void Captain’s Tale By Norman Spinrad

7. Beyond Apollo by Barry Malzberg

6. Software by Rudy Rucker

5. Always Coming Home by Ursala K.Leguin

4. Two Hawks from Earth By Philip Jose Farmer

3. City by Clifford Simak

2. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

And the Number one classic bizarro Science Fiction novel of all in my opinion is:
Released: 1965 (Nominated for the nebula award)

The plot:

Taking place in overcrowded mid 21st century space colonies where a drug induced virtual reality is super popular. The drug that makes this mind bending experience possible is called Can-D. People take it to escape from the harsh realities of this future. Things can when a new drug of choice shows up. Chew –Z is so intense that the line between illusion, hallucination and religious experience becomes blurred.

The Weirdest Aspect:

Everything about this novel is bizarro. The method of Virtual reality is weird as hell involving people being doll-like avatars and such. That is weird, but the plot itself goes into a direction which is Dick at reality questioning best. Remember this was written in the sixties while drugs causing a spiritual awakening was probably popular in some circles but it was pretty revolutionary in the Sci-fi pulp circles Dick was trying to rise above.

What does it say about our world?

A lot, way ahead of it’s time this novel has a lot to say about the multi-media addiction of our modern age. Sometimes people focus more on the drugs in this novel and less on the artificial Reality aspect. Could Dick have foreseen the social media addiction of our age and how people create a second virtual life? What would PKD say about our world filled with internet and smart phones. I think This novel tells us a little bit about his feelings.

Bottom line is it good?

Well it’s number one so yes it is a worthy classic. I don’t personally think it is PKD’s best novel, but it is certainly his most bizarro novel. That is saying something as he has two dozen weird as all get out novels. You get the feeling reading it that PKD just said ‘Screw it,” and just went as weird as he could. There are so many layers to this novel. It is not for everyone, that weird. If you make it fifty pages in and still feel like reading on, then you have the right mind set. Congrats! The Author:

If there was a saint of weird science fiction it would be Phil K.Dick who lived as interesting a life that was as filled with as much drugs, paranoia and quasi- hallucinating spiritual experiences. He is most remembered for the movies based on his work. Blade Runner, Minority Report, Scanner Darkly and Total Recall to name my four favorites. Scanner Darkly is the most faithful translation of Dick’s anti-drug masterpiece. While the quality level of Dick’s novel vary as he sometimes he wrote in drug fueled blasts, they are always at the very least entertaining. His Masterpieces in this fan/critic’s opinion are Man in the High Castle, Scanner Darkley, Three Stigmata and Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep. That said I am also A huge fan of Martian Time Slip and the semi-autobiographical Valis.

David Agranoff is the author of two published novels the Wuxia Pan style horror fantasy crossover "Hunting The Moon Tribe," and the satire "The Vegan Revolution With Zombies. He is also the author of the Wonderland award short story collection "Screams From a Dying World." His next novel Boot Boys of the Wolf-Reich is due to be released soon by Deadite press.