Friday, December 30, 2016

My Top Ten Movies of the Year!

Best movies of 2016

Snowden

Oliver Stone helped me to understand what a hero Edward Snowden is. Excellent film.

Train to Busan

So yeah, it is not perfect a little long. But this is a totally gonzo Zombie film that looks good and uses it’s limited setting to great effect.

10 Cloverfield Lane

OK I admit the second half is not nearly as good as the first half but I loved the first hour.

Star Trek Beyond

I don’t think you need a trailer. It was the first modern trek film that felt like ST to me. I loved the Yorktown colony. The movie looked amazing. I had fun. Plot holes? Sure but compared to the last two? Arrival

Intelligent emotionally powerful Science Fiction. The message, the story, the visuals. All of it near perfect.

Loving

Jeff Nichols has a career full of 5 star movies for me. Loving is probably his best film and I would be surprised if it doesn’t acting Oscar nods. It is probably a better movie than Midnight Special which he also directed. Tense true love story not about romance but about a marriage.

Nice Guys

I would watch Shane Black written anything. Not as good as his first film as director Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but awesome dialogue. Laughed throughout.

Rogue One:

Star Wars movie with Forrest Whittaker and Donnie Yen.

The Disappearance of Willie Bingham

The most powerful experience I had in the theater was during the Horrible Imaginings Film Fest. Perfectly shot, acted and composed this short film is powerful. Brutal stuff and left me stunned.

Number 1: Midnight special My favorite movie of the year easy, while you could argue that it was not even the best film director Jeff Nichols made this year, it worked for me. I loved that it paid homage to Starman and Close encounters but pay close attention and you would notice this is not a first contact movie. Might have had 2 extra minutes tacked on the end but I loved it over all.

Count Agranoff's Top Ten Reads of 2016

2016 Top Ten Reads!

*released this year

Number 10: The Surgeon's Mate by Alan M Clark*

I read two novels by author/ artist Alan M.Clark and both were excellent works of horror. The other A Brutal Chill in August was in his series of novels about Jack The Ripper’s victims. That was good but this Surgeon’s Mate was a fucking weird part memoir part meta exploration about what drew this artist to work on the darkside. The final act of The Surgeon's Mate is like woven tapestry being pulled tight. The ending is both thrilling and heartbreaking. This is a horror novel that balances a dark bizarro high concept with a emotionally rich character study that is clearly written in front of a mirror.

Number 9: Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Laura Lee Bahr is one of the most talented people in the bizarro movement. This is a weird funny book about Hollywood. The coolest thing is this novel is not about the vast movie machine. It was cool that this is about a struggling indie filmmaker that is more LA or Hollywood that walk of fame superstars. This novel includes vampire celebrities, kinky sex, murder and above all a well structured story. Laura's strength is being a natural story teller.

Number 8: Abomination by Gary Whitta

This is the debut novel of the writer of The Book of Eli and Rogue One. Abomination is a dark fantasy novel that skips a world like Middle Earth or Narnia for England of the dark ages. It is a really interesting time to set a monster novel. With elements of high fantasy, historical fiction and straight brutal Lovecratian monster horror Abomination is high concept awesome-fest.

Number 7: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno Garcia*

Certain Dark Things is excellent example of what a vampire novel could be. The Characters are strong, the writing is fast-paced, and it paints a vision of world we have not seen before. Mexico City, narco gangs and Aztec vampires. this is a really cool novel.

Number 6: Underground Airlines by Ben Winters*

This alternate history set in modern Indianapolis is about a modern world where slavery still exists in two states. This world is well realized even if it is a little far fetched, you just kinda have to ride with the idea to enjoy what the author is trying to get across. In 2016 when a national movement exists just to remind many in this country of the basic concept that human rights and black lives matter I think this is a important novel. Speculative fiction at its best is a story not grounded in realism, but one that explores ideas. I loved this novel and thought it was quick and powerful read.

Number 5: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones*

This is such a good werewolf novel it immediately became a classic in the subgenre. It also had one of the most hilarious paragraphs I read in a book all year. But it is not all fun and games. Mongrels is a fantastic novel that feels dangerous, semi-feral and raw. It is unlike any werewolf novel I can remember and considering it is 2016 that is saying something. Smart, funny, sad and scary at times like most great novels Mongrels is a journey of discovery. SGJ violates many of the sacred rules of writing almost wire to wire but with zero fucks given and he makes it work beautifully.

Number 4: Stranded by Bracken Macleod *

My pick for best horror novel of 2016 goes to the second novel of the northeastern author Bracken Macleod. This book is a doozy and plays with isolation and paranoia so well it will blow your mind. This novel has the cold isolation of The Thing mixed with the descent into madness from Jacob's Ladder and at times reaches Phillip K. Dick levels of paranoia. I know that is pretty high praise but this book earns it. This is a horror novel that works on every level. A masterpiece of slow-burn insanity and isolation. This novel uses nature and the arctic cold in the same way Danny Boyle's Sunshine uses the power of the sun.

Number 3: The Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The best horror novel I read this year was from last year. Late to the game I can’t say enough about this novel. Bird Box is one of the strongest most frightening horror novel I have read this year, and it is built on a high concept. The execution with a non-linear plot structure is so well done it is hard to believe this was the novel of a first time writer. The first 50 pages are almost impossible to put down. I went into the novel completely blind (pun intended) and I believe my enjoyment of the novel was boosted by that.

Number 2: The Warren by Brian Evenson*

This short 96 page novella is part sci-fi, part horror but all amazing. Evenson is as reliable a storyteller as there is. While this story is written with incredible poetic prose and style the story is not lost in the mix. Read it to the end and you will feel paid off for all the creepy build-up. The Warren is tiny book but damn is it powerful and worth every penny, an absolute masterpiece.

Number 1 Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson*

The best novel I read all year by a long shot. I can’t express the feeling I was left with in the last 100 pages of this novel. Aurora is a thrilling novel, it places you in the universe of the story. It feels lived in and believable, and it provided jaw dropping awe. The most fascinating aspect is that it uses science to put roadblocks in front of the characters who have to survive incredible odds. Thick of the Apollo 13 astronauts trying to survive, but on a much larger and insane scale. While scientists and engineers often say that some day we will be able to make these journey to other solor systems this novel is 466 pages of Robinson calling bullshit.

These thinkers are just looking at the nuts and bolts of the travel time and propulsion. What Aurora does is look at the science not only of the travel but biological, ecological and sociological. Because that kind of journey will be effected by all those things. Some science fiction readers might find KSR's point of view to be a total downer. A surprise after the uplifting story and message at the heart of his novel 2312.

The reality of this novel when you boil it all down is this: Earth is a starship, and it is the only one we as a species can count on. Aurora is a epic science Fiction novel with a simple message one important enough for me to call it a masterpiece. I was blown away.

** Honorable Mention

Best Short Stories Any Corpse by Brian Evenson, Free School by Cody Goodfellow

Books I read in order: Three Body Problem by Liu Chixen

Consumed by David Cronenberg

The Surgeon's Mate by Alan M Clark

King Space Void by Anthony Trevino**

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

Inherit The Stars by Tony Peak

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

A Necessary End by F. Paul Wilson & Sarah Pinborough**

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey**

Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing**

The Howling by Gary Brandner

A Splendid Chaos by John Shirley

Junior Seau: The Life and Death of a Football Icon by Jim Trotter

The Things That Are Not There by C.J. Henderson

A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson**

Tin Men by Christopher Golden

X,Y by Michael Blumlein

SEAL Team 666 (SEAL Team 666 #1) Weston Ocshe

Wire and Spittle by Chris Kelso

The Free School by Cody Goodfellow**

Aftermath (Star Wars: Aftermath #1) by Chuck Wendig

Dungeons & Drag Queens by MP Johnson**

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

States of Terror edited by Matt Lewis & Keith McCleary

Predator Incursion by Tim Lebbon

The Hive Construct by Alexander Maskill

Towers by Karl A. Fischer**

The Principle by J.David Osborne

The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese**

Star Wars Bloodline by Claudia Gray

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Arkwright by Allen Steele

The Lost World (Kolchak, The Night Stalker) by CJ Henderson

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Malediction by Lisa Morton

Pressure by Brian Keene

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

God's War by Kameron Hurley

Panacea by F.Paul Wilson **

Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debit by Chuck Wendig

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Eternal Frankenstein Edited by Ross E.Lockhart

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer **

Rattled by the Rush by Chris Kelso

A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Warren by Brian Evenson

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

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

And Kid Ghost by Desmond Reddick **(unpublished)

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley**

Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Fellside by MR Carey

Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Invasive by Chuck Wendig

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno Garcia

States of Terror vol.3 edited by Matt Lewis

Star Wars Catalyst by James Luceno

Mortuary Monster by Andrew j Stone

Dracual vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane** Duncan Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Long form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Book review: Dracula Vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan

Dracula Vs. Hitler by Patrick Sheane Duncan

Hardcover, 441 pages

Published October 2016 by Inkshares

So I first heard about this book when I did a book signing at Mysterious Galaxy here in San Diego with the author of this book. My first impression when I saw the title of the book listed before the event was to assume it was goof ball Bizarro comedy. I expected the author to be some young dude who had self-published his goofy crossover novel. Look the lesson here is you can't always judge a book or author by the title alone.

When Duncan spoke at the bookstore he admitted that the title started as a joke. One he kept thinking about, eventually he decided he wanted to write. He did an OK job selling the novel, but not once did he mention that he was the playwright behind Mister Holland's Opus (that he also adapted to the screen) and he also wrote Courage under Fire. I am sure he didn't want to brag but mister Duncan...Telling us your credits certainly would help sell your book that intentionally has a corn-ball title.

I only discovered this listening to Duncan on the Horrible Imaginings Podcast. It is a great interview and I respect Miguel's tastes so his high praise for the book was the main reason I decided to read it. Super glad I did.

Dracula Vs. Hitler is actually quite a fantastic read. It is not the book you would expect from title or is it. PSD crafted a excellently thought out and researched novel. In the end it actually ends up being a powerful piece of work. It was not the strongest first act, but that is because he paid serious homage to the structure of the 19th century classic. Dracula doesn't even appear until 100 pages in, but the stage is set with journal entries telegrams and in the same way that the OG Bram Stoker novel did.

The novel begins following descendants of the Dracula characters Jonathan Harker and Lucille Van Helsing. Harker through his war-time journals and Van Helsing's unpublished novel written in a pen name. When we meet these characters in 1941 they cross paths in the Romanian resistance to the Nazi invasion. Harker is a English spy and Van Helsing is fighting with the partisans. We quickly learn that her father the elder Van Helsing is also part of the resistance. He has a radical idea for how to combat the barbarism of the Nazis. After the SS execute a dozen random citizens to punish the resistance. He hatches his plan. Fight monsters with the ultimate monster. Considering the monster got his first taste for blood fending off an invasion it seemed he might be into it.

The reason Dr.Van Helsing never left - he had tp guard the castle of Count Dracula. You see he did not cut off the monster's head as the book claimed. The vampire is frozen in death inside his coffin with a stake in his heart. The chapter 100 pages into the book that Van Helsing takes out the stake and recruits Dracula is excellent. It is a powerful moment that showcases Duncan's skill as a writer. What could be cheezy drips with tension. The book has two more chapters that are that powerful indeed the chapter when the title characters finally meet is so great.

As a reader one of my only problems is each switch in POV brought with it a new font, and some were hard to read, but over all it was well edited and laid-out. This novel was released by Inkshares which is the kickstarter of publishing so I wondered about some of those things. That being said Gary Whitta's Abomination was a excellent book also released by Inkshares. The chapters "written" by Eva Von Braun Hitler's longtime partner were some of the most interesting of the book but the handwriting style font was hard to read at times.

The events of the book perfectly set up a trilogy and I have to say I'll sign up to read the next book for sure. I am pleasantly surprised. Great historical horror that would make a great companion read to McCammon's Wolf Hour.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Book Review:The Mortuary Monster by Andrew J. Stone

The Mortuary Monster by Andrew J. Stone

Paperback

Published October 2016 by Strange House books

Welcome to the debut of a great new voice in Bizarro. Andrew J. Stone is a young writer just barely out of college who has crafted a very hard to define novel. Sure it is bizarro, but in a genre that has everything from Skullcrack City to the Traveling Dildo Salesman that is not enough to describe a book. MM is a like no other book I have read and since it is a debut I can't compare it to other works by Stone.

The story of Gonzalo who grew up in a cemetery, and inherited a life surrounded by corpses. They are sorta dead and sometimes he has to nail their coffins shut so they don't make trouble. Things change when his corpse bride Fiona is about to give birth. Things have to change and the graveyard needs a little law and order. Help comes from the wise old dead guy named Arthur Oatsplash.

The setting is sorta Victorian but in a great technocolor surreal way that reminded me of being on a hammer films soundstage. That being said the book has witty and stylish prose that at times has hysterical moments of humor. The book is short but a excellent show case of wild talent that is creating a book impossible to compare. The publisher says Corpse Bride meets Eraserhead but that is pretty surface level. While the prose is pretty at times there is also a part that includes a gruesome moment of necrophilia that made me cringe.

I was lucky to read with Stone in LA and he read as one of the characters. This book is a must read if you are interested in high-lit bizarro that raises the genre up with skill, talent and 150 pages of invention. You have a chance to say you read him at the start of his career. Do it!

Book Review: XCatalystX - A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno

XCatalystX - A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published November 2016 by Del Rey Books

I read this book super fast leading up to the release of the film, My hold from the library came in wednesday and I had a Friday night date with Rogue One in Imax 3D. I can say that I am glad I put in the effort to read this. I was interested as soon as I saw that Star Wars Vet James Luceno was writing this. He has written probably a dozen titles so of which are straight EU classic like The Rise Of Darth Vader that takes place after the events of Episode 3.

This novel provided a interesting depth to the story that I am was glad I had going into the movie. I don't think it will be as meaningful once you have seen Rogue one and since it made 155 million opening weekend it is a good chance you have already seen the movie. This will be a spoiler heavy review. Consider yourself warned.

Catalyst is basically the story of Galen Erzo the character played in the movie by actor Mads Mikkelsen know for this amazing turn as Hannibal Lecter. How many actors could step into that role and make us forget about Anthony Hopkins? As a character in the Star Wars universe he is unique, A researcher, a scientist it is about time we got a story like this. When you meet Galen in Rogue one he is a father, a pacifist in hiding from the empire because his research into the Kyber cyrstals - which are pure force and are used to power lightsabers for example.

At the start of Catalyst we are in the middle of Clone Wars. Count Dooku and the separatists have jailed Erzo and his pregnant wife. This child of course will group up to be Jyn the hero of Rogue One. We learn alot about Galen and his wife Lyra who met on a expedition researching the crystals. Galen is so wrapped up in his research, spending time with his daughter he doesn't know or understand the political turmoil around him. He wants to believe everything will be fine under the control of Palpatine. Lyra never for one minute trusteed either the separatists or the Republic.

It is their good friend and fellow researcher Orson Krennic who embraces the empire. He believes the empire is the only hope for peace in the universe. He is the man who is tasked with completing the project started on Genosis. The Death Star. He knows he can't finish a weapon with that kind of power without Galen. Lyra who gave birth to Jyn in separatist custody sees this coming. She knows this weapon will be a disaster for the entire galaxy so convinces Galen to run. They grab young Jyn and with the help rebel Saw Gurrea helps them to esacpe the capital planet and next you see them all is the opening of Rogue one.

I was hoping for more of a Manhattan Project style stroytline, and in some senses it is. We get a lot of detail and back ground about the relationship between Krennic and Galen. This adds a depth to the first scene more than anything. I think it helped add power to the film I saw but going back and reading it after seeing the outcome might not be as great an experience. It is Solidly written Luceno knows the universe but is also a gifted story teller always looking for the best moments of emotional depth in Ol' Georgie's sandbox.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: States of Terror Vol.3

States of Terror: Volume 3

Edited by Matt E. Lewis , Keith McCleary

Paperback, 150 pages

Published October 31st 2016 by Ayahuasca Publishing

Bloody Mary. The Donkey Lady. Goatman. Champ. These names and others are whispered across generations as warnings of evil manifestations which dwell on American soil. Some are beautiful and misunderstood, others are nightmarish and unspeakable. Despite their differences, they share one thing in common: they are all part of the shared tapestry of terror which winds its way through time and space, but stays forever rooted in the landscape of the United States.

In this chilling conclusion of the horror anthology trilogy, 17 writers and 28 artists have teamed up to unleash the final beasts of the union upon an unsuspecting population. From the humid swamps of South Carolina to the dark forests of Hawaii, prepare yourself for one last journey through the states of terror, and whatever lurks within them.

This finishes off a trilogy of anthologies that San Diego can be really very proud of. Not only are the stories of high quality but these are amazing journal style over sized books that just look straight cool. Filled with amazing art these books should really be in contention in award season. I know that sounds like hyperbole but let me state my case I hope you'll make sure to check them out.

Each story represents a different state and a urban legend/ monster that comes from that state. Over three books each state and DC was well represented. Each story comes with amazing art. My favorite was by Daniel Kern and it went with the DC story Below 1600, the drawing was very haunting.

Some of my favorite stories were Below 1600 by Lauren Becker, Tropical Paradise Lost by Gabino Iglesias, and Son of Goat Man by Andrea Kneeland. The quality of the stories vary and I would admit that a few of the shorter pieces feel a bit mailed in. That said what separates this anthology is the whole package. The amazing design top to bottom is really impressive. The level of research into the mythology is another thing that help separate this book.

If there is a weakness a few of the more well known authors seemed to turn super short stories. I would love to have read more Bradley Sands. More J.David Osbourne. That is partly because I am fans of them as writers and people. Overall these books are really special. Excellent examples of hard work and determination for the editors. Obvious labors of love these books wont bring in bank they are something really special you can put on your shelf. I suggest you collect all three.

The level of research, detail, art and the cool design is enough to make these books award worthy. Horror readers will not regret picking it up.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Book Review: Certain Dark Things By Silvia Moreno Garcia

Certain Dark Things By Silvia Moreno Garcia

Hardcover, 323 pages

Published October 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

NPR's best books of 2016 Science Fiction and Fantasy.

People act real surprised every time someone does something clever and original with vampires. I get it there is a shit-ton of vampire fiction out there. Most of it is unreadable garbage, but I think every dark fiction authors deserves a chance to put there spin on the creature and bring a unique set of tools to the table. We have seen Mexican vampires before, most famously in Del Toro's Cronos, but Silvia Moreno Garcia not only brings fresh take a but skillfully built world and page turner at that.

In this novel the existence of vampires became public knowledge in 1969. Slowly the vampires became a part of society, there are many species and sub-species of vampires in this world. Many are geographical and culturally evolved. The book comes with a glossary which explains the ins and outs of the vampires and their history. I found this unnecessary and only referred to it once. The world-building is clearly one of the books strengths. Many of the details listed at the back of the book have little bearing on this story but it is clear the author has this whole world thought out in great detail. Reading it we sense that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg and I hope we come back to this world again.

Certain Dark things has more than one narrative point of view although a homeless teenager named Domingo is the lead character. When we meet Domingo he surviving on the streets of Mexico city by collecting trash. His life changes when he meets Alt, she is a vampire that comes from a Aztec background. Her biology requires that she feed from the young, but lets face it she likes the younger cleaner blood and who can blame her? Quickly we learn that she doesn't have to kill the young man to feed. Domingo however is struck by her, not really love but more fascination. Vampires are spread through out the world including the Necros the European style vampire fill up the surrounding country. Gangs of vampires and drug cartels battle beyond the city limits but in Mexico City the vampires are illegal. Domingo has read about the vampires but never met one. Why would Alt risk coming to Mexico City? This is what drives the narrative, a vendetta with rival drug dealing family of vampires is the reason she is on the run.

The novel is well structured switching POV's with great rhythm between Domingo, Alt, the antagonist Nick and my favorite character the police detective Ana. The story of the detective who killed vampires but came to Mexico City to escape them was interesting enough to carry its own novel. Ana is dragged back into that world and certainly we feel for her. Domingo had a chance to survive his one vampire encounter, but he couldn't forget about Alt. He walks back into that world and offers to be her Renfield a clever slang for the familiars in this universe.

Domingo has to come of age, but it is hard as he falls deeper and deeper for this various dangerous creature, we learn just how inhuman she is. One of the novel's strongest moments happens between them:

"But you are a good Vampire," He blurted out.

Of course there is no such thing and he knew it before he even said it. But he liked to believe it.

Certain Dark Things is excellent example of what a vampire novel could be. The Characters are strong, the writing is fast-paced, and it paints a vision of world we have not seen before. What more can you ask for? A sequel? I am sure Moreno-Garcia wants to write another. So I hope you'll listen to me and get yourself a copy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Review: Invasive by Chuck Wendig

Invasive by Chuck Wendig

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published August 16th 2016 by Harper Voyager

I admit my first two times reading Wendig were his Star Wars novels but I have been following him on twitter for a long time. I have been meaning to read Zeroes for over a year, and I knew I had to read his original work. It was Invasive that ended up in my hands in kind of an impulse buy. I saw on the new release rack at the library and picked it up knowing nothing except that I liked his command of structure and writing style when applied to star Wars.

It might have been a hard sell if I was pitched that it was an "ant apocalypse" novel. That said I really enjoyed this novel even if the subject matter didn't get my attention right away. I went into the novel completly blind not reading anything about just going on the strength of the author. The novel is a science fiction/ horror / monster / end of the world story and yes the monsters are ants.

The story follows Hannah a FBI consult who was raised by doomsday preppers and now she assesses risk and studies future threats. At the core of the novel is a woman raised in a storm of anxieties caused by the future and the end of the world. A unique and perfect protagonist for this story. Many of us fear the creepy crawly critters at the heart of this book but seen through the eyes of Hannah the novel has a distinct point of view.

Hannah is put on the mystery of a man found dead who appears to have been eaten by a swarm of ants. These ants however appear unnatural, possibly engineered. She tracks the mystery to an island owned by a rich man who reflects Elon Musk in many ways. Comparisons to Jurassic Park and the Island of Doctor Moreau are easy to make, but the novel has plenty of twists and reversals to move past any tired tropes.

I enjoyed the novel and think Wendig is a talented story teller. I think the prose of the novel is simple, efficient and kept me turning pages quickly. There was a strange interlude that took us out of the narrative for 20 or so pages in one chunk towards the final act. The interlude left our point of view character to explain what was happening else where. I felt this detour took to long. I think shorter interludes woven into the structure would have served the story better.

That said I thought this was a pretty good horror novel that skirts the techno thriller. Not sure it will make my top ten this year, but it did enough to put Wendig on my authors whose work I will try to read all of.

A little note about the book design, the book is covered in little prints of ants on the pages that start every chapter. Very neat design that considering the tiny nature of the monsters was a neat touch.

Book Review: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Paperback, 346 pages

Published January 2005 by The Overlook Press (first published 1968)

Literary Awards:Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1970)

Norman Spinrad is one of my favorite classic Science Fiction authors. Since his first novel in the mid-sixties Agent of Chaos NS has been a force of political fiction. While Leguin and Octavia Butler have been darlings of radical sci-fi readers Spinrad is just as vocal a voice in genre fiction for anarchist ideals. He has written several political sci-fi classics such as the Iron Dream, and Greenhouse Summer that was way ahead of Al Gore on Global warming. All that being said his most notorious political novel was his fifth to be released.

Spinrad's fifth novel novel Bug Jack Barron caused quite a upon it's release in 1968, and I decided to read it at this point because I heard a few people and the author itself mention the novel as has having weird similarities to our current president elect. That is why I decided this was the time to check it out.

The title is for a TV show hosted by a man we would now look at as a comically twisted cross of Jerry Springer and Donald Trump. Who by the way a desperate republican party begs to run for president. This reality TV star doesn't want to win but thinks it will be great for his brand.

Check out some quotes from this book:

"We can do with you what we did with Regan, and do it in spades, using the programme, and by the time your nominated you already have a bigger possible following than any possible democratic candidate." (p.61)

"I end up running against some obvious Howard stooge and everyone is stoned on election day, so I win. What then? I don't know shit from shinola about being president and what's more I've got no eyes to learn it." (p.107)

BJB is a very dated and old school political satire that contains more science Fiction elements in it's second half. I mean the novel is more that 40 years old so that is to be expected. I love old school out of date Sci-fi I am all for it. The biggest way that the novel shows it's age is the inherit sexism, and paper thin female characters. Some of this is important in the sense that this novel that takes place in the future but puts a mirror on the era it was written in.

The last act of the novel takes a super bizarro turn. Jack's political target is the man behind a compnay that freezes humans in cryo-stasis and extends their lives with immortality treatments. Once we find the reality behind wretched method that the company uses to extend life the political showdown is set-up.

I like how the novel started, the elements of the first 2/3 are focused on the media manipulation and several decades ahead of it's time. Sure the term Reality TV didn't exist and the instead of twitter we have vidphone interaction, but BJB is closer to reflected our present than many novels of the era. Yes a few of the elements are so much like Donald Trump's election that is creepy, but the novel doesn't hang on to those themes. Once we get into the immortality issues I was not enjoying the novel as much.

Even though this is considered one of his best most important novels I would put it behind even the the earlier Men in Jungle which is a gonzo take on the Vietnam war. Reading Spinrad is never a bad idea. Worth checking out!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Book Review: Scrapper by Matt Bell

Scrapper by Matt Bell

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published September 15th 2015 by Soho Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Review: The Complex by Brian Keene

The Complex by Brian Keene

paperback, 232 pages

Published March 2016 by Deadite Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2016

Book Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

Fellside by M.R. Carey

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published April 2016 by Orbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Review: Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Stranded by Bracken Macleod

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published October 2016 by Tor Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Review: Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Hardcover, 391 pages

Published May 2016 by Grand Central Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paperback, 384 pages

first published March 1984

Nebula Award Nominee (1985)

Locus Award for Best First Novel (1985)

Philip K. Dick Award for Special Citation (1985)

SF Chronicle Award Nominee for Novel (1985)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

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

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

by Keith Morris & Jim Ruland

Hardcover, 336 pages Published August 2016 by Da Capo Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

The Warren by Brian Evenson

Paperback, 96 pages

Published September 20th 2016 by Tor.com

This book will always be special to me and the San Diego horror community since this short 92 page novella was sold ten days before its official release from TOR books at Horrible Imaginings Film fest. 2016 was the first time HIFF included literature programming and when Anthony Trevino and I approached the event we wanted our first key note literature speaker to be Brian Evenson. Not only did we get the joy of seeing him read his short story “Invisible Box” at a live campfire style read but we got a chance to buy this book before the rest of the world.

The Warren is loosely connected to his last Science Fiction book released by TOR – Immobility. That book was one of my top reads of the year it was released and I listed it on my top 5 apocalypse novels list as well. Immobility took place after the end of the world in a scorched earth Utah and this novella may or may not be in that world it is hard to tell. Evenson told me in conversation that he wanted to write this because themes he started to explore in immobility still interested him. Might not be a strong connection but hell it is reason enough for me to tell to read both.

In the grand traditional of weird surrealist Science Fiction and horror The Warren is a mind bender with more weird moments packed into it’s 92 pages than some novels four times it’s length. It is a philosophical look at the question of what it means to be human. OK look I aware every Science Fiction writer has explored this theme, you may be thinking what can a writer in 2016 bring to the question. Well first off it is the deepest and darkest question in our hearts and fuck you very much there is a lot questioning left to be done. Evenson has a voice unlike anyone else and he brings a dark edge that cuts deep in part because his words are so beautifully composed. I would add that dark edge is something you would never see coming from a man so jovial in person. A curse all friendly dark fiction authors deal with.

The story of The Warren is about a character named X who lives underground and knows very little about his world. He is thinking about exploring the outside world but finds a surprise when he tries to open the airlock and hit the surface. The monitor is his only companion, basically a computer, who is our only connection to anything resembling company.

X has many different aspects to his personality and not all of them exactly function. To say he is a unreliable narrator is a understatement. That said Evenson is as reliable a storyteller as there is. While this story is written with incredible poetic prose and style the story is not lost in the mix. Read it to the end and you will feel paid off for all the creepy build-up. The Warren is tiny book but damn is it powerful and worth every penny, an absolute masterpiece. Will be on my top ten reads of the year no doubt.

Book Review: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Paperback, 272 pages

Published February 2015 by Solaris

Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2016)

Sunburst Award Nominee for Novel (2016)

British Fantasy Award Nominee for Novel (2016)

Prix Aurora Award Nominee for Novel (2016)

It can seem like a waste of time for authors to sit on convention panels. Four or five writers talking about a subject often and they are not normally given enough time and poor moderating doesn’t help either. That being said there have been a few times when thought to myself, that is a author I never heard of and I want to read their work. Silvia Moreno Garcia is one of those cases.

A few years back at the Lovecraft film fest in Portland I saw her on a panel and made a note to read her work. OK, OK it took me a little while or two years to get there but I finally read Signal to Noise. While it is not Lovecraftian or even really horror, the novel is dark fantasy and a terrific read.

I mean this in the best possible way, but I can’t think of anything directly I would compare it to. Here is the bottom line it is a good novel with elements of urban fantasy, teen angst and magic realism. It is a wonderful blend of those elements plus a very personal feeling snap shot of being a teen in Mexico City in the 80’s.

This novel is about the magic and power of music, and the author being the child of two radio DJ’s certainly knows and infuses the novel with music. Told in an effective structure of story present (2009) and story past (1989/90) the story has a song like rhythm where there two timelines make perfect harmony. The tacks build off each other and perform a perfect dance of set up and pay off.

The main character Meche is not exactly the most likable teenager and we get a strong sense that the adult returning to her home town of Mexico City doesn’t mind being home as much as she doesn’t want to confront the person she had been. How many of us would like the younger versions of ourselves?

Meche had two best friends Sebastian and Daniela they were not the cool kids but they found that together they could make magic. Their talisman for magic rituals were records, special records individual copies of certain records alone carried the magic they needed. Ineed certain recording and copies of songs become a quest to them, and they end up fighting over the records. You see when they made a circle they could create love, popularity but not without consequences.

While the music involved doesn’t really hit my personal taste I think SMG did a great job with the music getting the feeling and the vibe of the magic. Meche is a teenager and despite being our main POV it is hard to see how she treats her friends at times. There are some moments of cringe worthy behavior by her.

Signal to Noise is an excellent novel, it is not a mind bending piece of fiction that will tear down new walls but it is a solid work of talented writer. It seems that the novel is very autobiographical at moments but judging from interviews I have listened to on podcasts that SMG did not copy her life. I am very excited to read her next novel and see her stretch her wings in most weird genre territory – the next novel about drug dealers and Mexico City vampires sounds amazing.

Look it cannot be said enough that the horror lacks diverse voices, it is true we need more women writers and certainly more voices of color no matter the gender. SMG’s voice is very welcome not because she fits the diversity we are looking for but she is welcome because she is one hell of a writer that much is already clear. I hope you will check out Signal to Noise. I think it is with it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Hardcover, 262 pages

Published May 2014 by Ecco

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2014)

Shirley Jackson Award Nominee for Novel (2014)

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2014)

James Herbert Award Nominee (2015)

This is Horror Award for Novel (2014)

I admit I was a little afraid to read this one, and had it in the mental TBR pile for almost two years. At the 2014 world horror convention there was alot of buzz for Bird Box that was nominated for best first novel. look at that list of awards. Could this book really be that good?

To put it simply yes Bird Box is worthy of all of the hyperbole it has gotten. I have not sat down to make my top ten list of books that I read this year but Bird Box will be somewhere on that list. Interestingly enough this novel is alot like my number one novel from last year the Silence by Tim Lebbon. The two novels are similar in so many aspects it is almost impossible for me not to compare and contrast them through out this review. Let me focus on Malerman's novel and I'll swing back to The Silence.

Bird Box is one of the strongest most frightening horror novels I have read this year, and it is built on a high concept. The execution with a non-linear plot structure is so well done it is hard to believe this was the novel of a first time writer. The first 50 pages are almost impossible to put down. I went into the novel completely blind (pun intended) and I believe my enjoyment of the novel was boosted by that. So this is your last warning before I discuss the plot and events of the novel. I would go into this novel and not even read the dust jacket.

The novel opens with Malorie a young mother making the hard decision to leave the safety of her home and venture out into the world with her two four year old children. She insists that they wear a blindfold and not even peek at the outside world as they stumble their way to a boat and try to make it up the river. Instantly Malerman creates an intense mystery and misdirects the reader. Having not read anything about the plot I assumed the young mother was crazy and had sheltered twin children from the world. I assumed it was all in her mind and this was the story of abused children. I didn't suspect a global end of the world story at all.

The novel is written with a structure I love with the "story present" and "Story Past" taking chapter by chapter turns thus making Bird box a textbook example of obstacles and parallels throughout. The story builds tension of through parallel tracks, the story and character develops perfectly in story past because we know where things are going.

The moments of terror was so well down because Malerman builds off the paranoid thoughts and behavior of the survivors and we can feel and understand their fear. You see in this end of the world something, we don't know what is driving people crazy. It drives them insane with a the very sight of it. What it is we don't know, they don't know. Is it sunlight? is it a monster. The survivors only know they can't look, they hide inside and only go outside with blindfolds.

Reading this novel you really come to feel the safety that the blindfolds bring the characters and even moments where the characters were feeling light through the blindfold created tension. There is a moment when the blinds are pulled off a window that provided one of the best moments of terror expressed on the page that I have seen in a long time. Trapped in the home in the "story past" Malorie faces giving birth cut off from the world, while exploring human dynamics that writers have explored in these stories since Romero's Night of the Living Dead. in this aspect Malerman finds a way to make that fresh and doesn't waste time. This over took and ruined Joe Hill's The Fireman, which forgot the concept for stretches and got lost over doing the human dynamic.

So that brings me back to the The Silence by Tim Lebbon. Yes they are different Lebbon's novel is a straight up monster novel that uses the family unit as the basis for much of the suspense. The concept of the Silence was that the characters had to be as quiet as possible as the slightest noise would attract the attention of the monsters who would swoop in and eat you. While not that close these novels came out around the same time and I loved both for the high concept end of the world. One is about sound and the other is about sight.

Both are fantastic novels, and I might give the slight edge to Lebbon's The Silence, despite the massive support and love that Bird Box received. Lets just focus on Bird Box here. It is a masterpiece. A fantastic debut that should fill Malerman with anxiety in the sense that I would not want to have to follow this up. Ha-ha. Here is hoping he does, I am rooting for him.

This novel is everything I wanted in Joe Hill's the fireman, high concept end of the world this time written with focus and no fat.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Book Review: The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Hardcover, 205 pages

Published August 2016 by Del Rey

It is easy to blame yourself as a reader when a China Mieville book doesn't make sense. I mean there is no way to read any of his books and not realize that the man is a genius. I like to think I am a pretty sophisticated reader but I scratch my head alot when I read his books. Sometimes like Embassytown and the Census Taker the books worked for me. This time I don't think the book works and I don't think it's my fault. There are times with some well known authors when you wonder if the editor has the power to sit them down and say "Dude I don't know if this works."

There are plenty of reviews on line that think this book is a masterpiece and maybe if you have a knowledge of french art it will work for you, but not this reader.

This alternative history novel takes place in two moments in the history of Paris 1941 right after the Nazis took over and 1950 in a Paris/Europe still at war. You see in 1941 a bomb was set off in Paris called a S-bomb that brought to life the various works of surreal art. The main Character is named Thibault, who I assume in real life was a French painter. He leads the resistance and in that sense Mieville has a chance to really express the concept of art as resistance.

Look I realize I don't know squat about French surrealist art, but the author should realize many will be with me. I know how it is, I wrote a novel about punk rock and I had to assume that not everyone knows that world. I had to write about that world so it made sense to someone who has never heard of the Dead Kennedys. I don't think Mieville gave a shit and that is his right, but you know I found the book to be almost unreadable. That is my right.

I only understood what happened with the S-Bomb when I looked up a review that explained it on Goodreads. I don't think I can get behind a novel needing 88 numbered notes in the afterword to explain what everything meant. He already lost me. I mean I read every word in the book but I was confused almost the whole time and that is not what I consider a fun reading experience.

It was funny in each of the 1941 chapters Mieville wrote in a more simple style and for a few pages I relaxed a little and said to myself hey - there is a story here. Those few moments and the first part of the afterword were the only times the book really hooked me. I wont spoil the afterword but it did not justify the existence of this book.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Review: A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark

A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark
Paperback, 300 pages Published August 2016 by Word Horde

Alan M. Clark is better known for his beautiful award winning covers and illustrations that have been in the interior and the covers of works from authors ranging from Stephen King to Cody Goodfellow. His art is amazing but many forget that he was also nominated for a Bram Stoker award for co-writing Siren Promised with Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan of course has his artists eye for detail and has written historical horror before. Brutal Chill is the third in a series of novels about the victims of Jack the Ripper.

I reviewed the second book Say Anything but Your Prayers in 2014 and it made my top ten reads of that year. "This book is the second in a groundbreaking series that explores the Jack the Ripper history from an angle never before seen in over century of non-fiction and fiction inspired by the serial killer. This second book follows the life and demise of Elizabeth Stride the fourth victim. Each book in the series follows the life of the killer’s victim. Clark includes a few key Illustrations, but the strength comes from the attention to detail and the humanizing of Elizabeth Stride."

I am not sure why Clark Chooses the order of the novels and subjects but this novel the third in the series is about Polly Nichols the first victim of the ripper. It is the most powerful of the novels so far. If you are looking for novel about the Ripper then go elsewhere. You know the main character is destined to die at in his hands so he looms large but not a part of the novel itself.

Polly Nichols is tragic figure and not just because she was murdered by one of the most famous serial killers ever. Her life was interesting as it was tragic. She lost a battle with alcohol and lost her whole family.

In a interview I did here on the blog with Alan he explained why he writes about the victims not the ripper "The more I looked at what we knew about the women, the lives they led within the extreme environment of Victorian London of the time, the more interested I became in what existence was like for them emotionally and the less interested I became in who the killer was. The more I find out about London of the period, the more fantastical the place becomes in my imagination. As a real world environment in which to stage drama, especially dark fiction, it is almost beyond belief. The rapid growth of British society during the industrial revolution, the disease, the poverty, the crime, the the hazards of unfettered industry, the abusive employment practices, the amount of labor required by most just to live a meager existence, and the endurance of countless simple human beings—these are great elements for story-telling. Researching the lives of the victims is like exploration to me. I’m endlessly fascinated and frequently surprised by what I find."

In a sense this novel is less of a horror novel and more or less a period drama. It would be easy to dismiss such a novel as boring or not horror. Clark has a way keeping the dread alive in the readers mind with subtlety. This time more so with a creeping device a demon that Polly Nichols lives in fear of from her childhood. This sets up a genius pay-off in the end. The novel is so well written that I was engaged on every page with Polly. It doesn't hurt that I knew the tragic end coming. That is the strength of the subject but in the hands of a lesser writer this novel could have been as boring as Baseball on TV.

Ross Lockhart's Word Horde press is quickly becoming the closest thing to lock when it comes to books of quality. This time he brings us the most powerful of Clark's Ripper victim novels yet. I deeply human story that paints a miserable life in 19th century London that is impossible to look away from. Another must read from Clark. I think his last novel he Surgeon's Mate might have been even better. Two masterpieces in a row that ain't bad Mister Clark.

Book Review: Rattled by the Rush by Chris Kelso

Rattled by the Rush by Chris Kelso

Paperback, 134 pages

Published January 2016 by JournalStone

I think Chris Kelso is a writer who will inspire alot of mixed and varied emotions. Lets make one thing clear the guy is talented and can write he writes worlds that are extremely weird. So weird I am not sure they are for everyone. His talent and ability is not in question, The man can write but the setting is so weird it feels like a disservice to use words like surreal and bizarro. This is the third Kelso book I have read all set in his fictional Slave State world. I have to say until p.23 of this book I was not sure what the slave state actually was. I knew it was a alternate reality, or at least I thought so. It was a very nasty world. Now I know that it is another dimension where alien hold humans captive, and in this case this reality with enslaved humans is at risk because a hole to earth has opened up in Siberia.

The main character is a failed comedian named Larry who is on to it all. Like all Kelso I admit I would lose track of the story from time to time. I don't find his narrative to be straight forward. It is easy to lose track of what is happy but the words and moments are so wonderfully weird and funny I am loving the ride. This book contains tributes to the master of surreal pulp sci-fi Phil K. Dick and even speaks to him directly at moments. Kelso has a few clever moments when he and his characters exchange letters.

Weakness...for me it is a short page count at has a couple pages of fluff pages 41-46 for example are unreadbable blocks of unbroken text I am sure had something to do with the book but I skipped and just thought was a waste. This book has about 15 of these pages. I couldn't hang with that.

If you are looking for weird sci-fi that takes elements of pulp, cyberpunk and makes them even weirder Kelso will be your jam. Kelso is a genius writer, while his style is not exactly my thing I can really respect what he is doing. Also I should mention that on page 77 there is hand drawing of a naked Hitler. I was reading on the bus and had no choice but to skip that page. Not public safe.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Paperback, 376 pages

Published April 2015 by Word Horde

Anyone following my blog will notice that I have been on a Word Horde kick. Ross Lockhart is one of the editor/ publishers whose stamp of approval means something to me instantly. Molly Tanzer's Pretty Mouth was a excellent collection - she is a great writer but the period setting style was not totally my thing. I knew she was a excellent writer. I am sorry it took me this long to get to Vermilion but I loved this novel. It many ways this feels made for me.

This novel may have more of a commercial set-up but it is just as excellently written as Pretty Mouth and Tanzer is quickly establishing herself as a major voice in modern weird tales. The story has a excellent franchise worthy character in Lou Merriweather. A hero both unconventional and amazingly cool and marketable at the same time. Lou is a Psychopomp in this version of the 19th century Pshchopomps dispatch ghosts and monsters. At 19 Lou steps on the scene dressed like cowboy with a set googles that give her the ability to see the dead. At the start of the story she is living in San Francisco her life split between her white father who is also a psychopomp and her Chinese mother who wants to send her on a case.

A group of Chinese workers helping in the rocky mountains to build railroads are disappearing, and Lou's mother suspects a supernatural explanation. Once in the wilderness the novel takes on a Western vibe. It is not a big spoiler to say that it involves Chinese vampires known as Geung si. So in many ways this novel is a the story of a female gunslinger in the old west meets Chinese vampires and folklore with a dash of steampunk. Yep it is all those awesome things.

The setting of old school San Francisco and the west are well drawn and add a flair to the novel. That is not the strength, the power of the book is in it's central hero. Lou is a excellent character who chews the scenes and will have most readers dying for a movie. I am thinking a Hong Kong hollywood co-production with a Kungfu movie director like Andrew Lau. How awesome would that be?

Tanzer is a major talent and Vermilion displays her skills throughout it's three hundred and seventy six pages. The world and setting are vivid the action thrilling and the story hardly ever drags. I enjoyed the fact that Lou was not a perfect badass, she had emotions, sadness and was unsure of herself at times. This novel feels like the first of many great adventures. I hope we get more.

I of course feel a kinship with Tanzer as we are both vegan and had Chinese vampires in our first novels. In a perfect world Lou Merriweather would some day have a team up comic book with Lisa Morton's Diana Furnaval who fought Chinese Vampires in her novel Netherworld. Two polar opposite characters that would be a interesting team-up. Hopefully Hollywood will discover them both and we will see a the explosion of Geung Si movies these creatures deserve.

Very cool book. I loved every page of it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: Eternal Frankenstein Edited by Ross E.Lockhart

Eternal Frankenstein Edited by Ross E.Lockhart

Hardcover, 320 pages

Expected publication: October 9th 2016 by Word Horde

Featuring:

Amber-Rose Reed – Torso Heart Head

Siobhan Carroll – Thermidor

Autumn Christian – Sewn Into Her Fingers

Rios de la Luz – Orchids by the Sea

Edward Morris – Frankenstein Triptych

Michael Griffin – The Human Alchemy

Betty Rocksteady – Postpartum

Scott R Jones – Living

Tiffany Scandal – They Call Me Monster

Damien Angelica Walters – Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Orrin Grey – Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet

Nathan Carson – Wither on the Vine; or Strickfaden’s Monster

Anya Martin – The Un-Bride, or No Gods and Marxists

G. D. Falksen – The New Soviet Man

Kristi DeMeester – The Beautiful Thing We Will Become

David Templeton – Mary Shelley’s Body

If you are a long time genre reader you know there are hundreds upon hundreds of anthologies that come out every year. Some good, some bad and a few that are just amazing. There are few names that you can see on the edited by line that promise really good work. Some that come to mind for me include Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, John Skipp and Douglas Winter. In the past names like Martin Greenberg, Charles Grant and Harlan Ellison were the best in the business. I think it is safe to assume we have a new contender putting his hat in the ring.

Ross Lockhart had done enough to garner that consideration with a trilogy of Lovecraftian collections that include Book of Cthulu book one and two. His Tales of Jack the Ripper and Giallo Fantastique are rich examples of his skill. These collections don't just happen for no reason Lockhart released the Ripper anthology on the 125th Quasquicentennial of the murders. So we have this collection in 2016 the 200th anniversary of the year without summer, the year she first conceived of the story which made her famous. Although she didn't write Frankenstein until two years later.

Frankenstein's monster and the novel itself has had 200 years to build up a mythology that has expanded beyond just sequels but original films like the Bride or novels like The Brian Aldiss classic Frankenstein Unbound. The idea of a Lockhart edited collection of Frankenstein stories is just almost too good to be true. I know that Lockhart has a keen eye for fresh takes on classic stories. Shelley's Modern Promethus was a story that had many angles and paths the authors could take.

There are many authors in the table of contents I am already a fan of such as Edward Morris, Orrin Grey and Tiffany Scandal. There were several I have met but never read like Mike Griffin, Anya Martin and Autumn Christian. Several I had never heard of before. This collection does something I am not sure I have seen before - perfect gender balance.

No anthology is going to be perfect, when I read one there will often be stories I don't enjoy as much as others, for me a collection is good when I enjoy more stories than not. 50% is a good average for many but Lockhart anthologies rarely have flat-out stinkers. They are often collected in order to build off each others themes. My two favorite stories include science fiction takes from Autumn Christian's Sewn Into Her Fingers and Edward Morris's Frankenstein Triptych. Two other stand outs were Tiffany Scandal and Damian Angelica Walters tales which explored childhood and the horrors of school. Nathan Carson and Anya Martin explored connections to the Hollywood film. Those six were my favorites of the collection.

The only weakness I could find was that the first two stories while setting a traditional gothic tone were the flattest of the book for me. The second part of Frankenstein Triptych by Edward Morris is one of the stronger short pieces he has written in a long career of anthology appearances and as a friend I was really proud of him. Autumn Christian displayed a skill that had me itching to read more. Since those came early found myself thinking they were a better hook for readers.

There are essential anthologies like Dark Forces, Dangerous Visions and Prime evil that must be read. I think Lockhart is making a case for his ability to deliver that kind of quality. I don't think this is essential unless you really love all things Frankenstein, that being said this is state of the art horror fiction. If you respect great writing and want to see what some powerful young writers are doing with a classic tale then you will be pleased. I for one loved it. Word Horde doesn't again!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Review: I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Book Review: I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Paperback, 256 pages

Published August 2016 by Night Shade Books

If this seems like a negative review, it is only because I had very high hopes for this novel. It is less of a novel and more of a thinly veiled act of trolling that takes potshots at members of the Lovecraftian lit scene. This is my third time reading a Mamatas novel and I think my problem with it is it seems a little below those books. When I read Bullettime and Love is the Law I was impressed and felt like I was reading works of genius.

I enjoyed I Am Providence, but it seems like an idea hatched at 2 AM in a bar during a convention. That is not to say that it wasn't worthy of exploring, hell my novel The Vegan Revolution With Zombies was no less an act of thinly veiled trolling. I get it, but I feel like Mamatas has more important stories to tell. I think highly enough of his writing that this just felt beneath him.

So OK lets talk about the novel itself. The story shifts between two POV characters one a stand in for Mamatas, named Panossian who is actually dead in the morgue the victim at the heart of the mystery. The other main character is Colleen Danzig who appears to be based on author Molly Tanzer. While their fictional counterparts are not as accomplished as Nick and Molly, there are hints if you are tied into the community. Each chapter is titled by a Lovecraft story that gives insight into the theme of the chapter. Well played.

The story goes that Panossian is murdered at the start of a weekend long convention for Lovecraftian fiction fans. Danzig (the character not the singer) tries to solve the mystery and that leads through a pretty funny look at the ridiculous factions and drama at the heart of this lit movement. The best laughs I got involved Lovecraft's cat.

The mystery is less interesting to me than the body blows and jabs the author takes at real life figures, and that doesn't help. The story starts off with some interesting structure and POV shifts but then as the novel goes on it loses focus. Mamatas was probably having too much fun roasting the scene, and it would have helped to keep the story itself a it more focused.

When I say this is trolling I mean the title is the exact same title as ST Joshi's biography of Lovecraft. While the character in the novel based on Joshi has their gender switched there is no mistaking what is happening here. The list of authors who are parodied here is long. Robert Price and Jason Brock get probably the most harsh treatment.

During the week I was reading this short novel Jason Brock and Mamatas had another flame war that was actually dramatized on the Horror Show Podcast with voice-actors. I shit you not. That was a real thing. It is all fun and amusing stuff. It is worth getting out popcorn and watching the drama unfold but really is a novel needed on the topic?

Sadly I think this novel will get more attention than many other fantastic novels coming out in the same year, or even Mamatas's own fantastic novels such as Love is the Law which I think is more worthy of your attention.

I suppose there is a certain curiosity surrounding a novel that sprung out a internet flame war about the racism of a long dead pulp writer. I don't know of any other novels based on internet arguments. I was entertained, however I don't know how the novel will play with people who don't know people being mocked or in the case of some writers given respect.

I think the less seriously you take it, then the more you'll end it. I think my hopes were too high.