Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mad Max should have been best picture rant

My Mad Max should have won best director/ best picture rant. I know many think because the movie is mostly action or a car chase think it has little or no story or character development. That is not true. Just because the storytelling is unconventional. George Miller said he wanted the movie to tell the story so that it could be viewed in Japan without subtitles.

I will point to the scene when the one of the four wives who was pregnant hung out the door to block the gunfire. That moment contains both character and story for the wife, and Joe. There were one hundred moments like that in the film.

Furiosa is a great character with amazing depth, her story is told in subtle strokes but it is a rich and powerful story. Her reaction to the lost of the green place was heartbreaking and it is impossible if she was a cardboard character without depth. She steals the show, but why is that so bad?

Max, Furiosa, Nux and several of the wives all have character arcs (growth and change from start to finish) which is amazing considering how fast pace the movie is. Even the The Vuvalini (Older women of the wasteland) were well drawn characters. It is crazy to say the movie lacked character development when so many characters showed growth. I'll admit the title character had the thinnest arc but really that was true in Road Warrior as well.

A movie can't win 6 technical awards without the vision and leadership of a director overseeing the whole thing. George Miller worked on this film with massive international production and put equal amounts of skill and passion into moments as bat shit crazy as the high speed stunts and down into to the looks of emotional depth in the suffering character's eyes. The movie looked beautiful, bizarro and disturbing all the same time. It created moments of kinetic action that were worth going to the theater, paying 15 bucks for. It was an experience.

Sure maybe Spotlight or the Big Short might be more important. Star Wars might have been more fun, maybe not. Mad Max Fury Road was the best movie last year. It should have been picture.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing

Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing
Paperback, 224 pages Published July 2015 by Word Horde

There is a lot that can go wrong when an author decides to commit an entire novel to an experiment. When a novel clocks at 210 pages and sticks with a second person narrative it is nothing short of bold. Readers often don’t even notice when writers play with styles. Ideally if a story is good enough the mechanics of how the story is told should not matter anymore. Once I get lost in a story I normally stop noticing the nuts and bolts.

Nicole Cushing’s novel however forces the reader to never forget how it is being told. If you are not familiar with the concept of second person narrative it is when the text directly speaks to you the person holding the book. Mr. Suicide declares this intent with the first sentence. “Like everyone else in the world you wanted to things you shouldn’t do.”

Like many things in this novel Cushing is pulling a slight of hand. Second person narrative is supposed to break the fourth and speak to the reader, but the narrative is personal one, directed by a character trying to figure himself out. I was very engaged in this novel and yet I was not sure as I closed the book for the last time that I ever learned the main character’s name.

The title character is the one you’ll remember. Mr. Suicide is the ultimate boogeyman because he is somebody we already know. It is quite a feat after all these years of horror fiction to create a monster like this. This monster speaks to everyone, he is not so much evil incarnate as he is doubt incarnate. Depression, self doubt as a monster is the incredible hook for this fantastic novel. This was perfectly revealed in the novels strongest moment on page 22. You make sound as if you know him? How do you know him?

That is why the second person narrative works so well, because in the end it is Mister Suicide speaking to you in the book. Sure Cushing is telling the story of a young man in Louisville, but you watch this monster make another monster talking to the young man in terms and feelings many of us understand. It is a gnarly work of razor sharp high lit horror. Yes you should read it, yes you will be impressed and if you read it the right way it will make you feel a bit nervous.

Lastly I want to say this. It is clear I was impressed by this novel. I decided to read it because it received praise from critics I trust. Desmond of Dread Media and Nick Cato of Horror Fiction Reviews. I had never written Cushing off, but as impressed as I was with this book I was equally not a fan of the first release I read of hers. A early entry in the new Bizarro author series Cushing released a book called “How to Eat Fried Furries.” I don’t think it represented her well as a author or her path.

Cushing is clearly a brilliant writer, I am so glad I came back to her work. Had I only given her one chance, I certainly would have missed on this wonderful book and this woman’s amazing growth as a author.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

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

hardcover, 403 pages

Published June 2014 by Orbit (first published January 14th 2014)

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee for Best Novel (2015),

Audie Award for Paranormal (2015),

British Fantasy Award Nominee for August Derleth Award (best horror novel) (2015),

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2014),

James Herbert Award Nominee (2015)

This book written under a very thinly veiled pen name for long time comic writer Mike Carey. Most well know for his genius run of Hellblazer comics. He has written for X-men, created Lucifer and wrote a series of novels about a exorcist named Felix Castor (I reviewed at least one of those novels a few years back). Carey is my favorite writer to tackle Constantine in the graphic novels, and decided to read this book after hearing an interview with him on The Three Guys with Beards podcast. He is a fantastic writer and without hesitation I would say his strongest work across the many media he writes in.

Lets just say this. I went in 100% cold knowing nothing and I am glad I did because the reveal of the story worked super well without knowledge of the plot. The first act is incredibly strong, but if I had any idea what the plot was going to be I am not sure how well it would have worked. but if you want to know more keep reading...

The story of Melanie a young girl who we meet living in a strange situation. Prisoner or student? Both. Before she can go to school she must be locked down, muzzled and the soldiers who transport her are terror-filled just being the room with her. The opening act is mostly from her point of view. We quickly learn that Melannie is a sweet and innocent child, who doesn't understand the fear she receives from every one except her beloved teacher miss Justineau. The strength of this first act is hard to explain. Carey sells both the sweet innocence of the child and unexplained terror the soldiers and scientist that deal with her feel. It is a power start.

I admit I am jealous of this book, I suspect most horror writers would be. A book that tugs at the heart strings as much as it delivers gore, and horror is a thing of beauty. This is also YA really. Not to forget 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 interesting new take on the zombie novel thing is really happening. The Girl with all the gifts certainly is all that, you have to find your interesting take.

The rules are slightly different and this leads to several moments of terror, the novel is structured in such away that the story flows page to page at a break-neck pace. My morning commute I normally read 50 to 60 pages. I read 80 pages two days in a row of this book. I had one nitpick, but in a sense it is major. Mike Carey has done this before, it must be his thing but the book is written in present tense like a screenplay. I didn't notice until my wife looking over my shoulder pointed it out. Then it drove me nuts. Does not matter...

This novel is storytelling magic. A masterpiece. One I think anyone would love.

PS If you are looking for some other interesting takes on the genre One by Conrad Williams, Blood Crazy by Simon Clark, Positive by David Wellington are some I have read...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Book Review: A Necessary End by F. Paul Wilson & Sarah Pinborough

A Necessary End by F. Paul Wilson & Sarah Pinborough

Paperback, 174 pages

Published January 12th 2014 by Shadowridge Press

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel (2013)

It is not every day that two of my favorite authors combine their powers and work together. I have no idea what took me so long to get this as F.Paul Wilson and Sarah Pinborough are clearly two of my favorites. In many ways these two plotting to end the world is a absolute match made in heaven. Wilson has ended the world before in classics like Nightworld and Midnight Mass, and Pinborough has done slow burn collapses in the Dog Faced Gods Trilogy and Deathhouse.

As someone who has read almost 40 novels between the two I admit I was curious to see if I could detect one author's touch on given passages. For the most part it was a perfect blend. The London setting might trick a reader to think the narrative was lead by Pinborough. There are moments that clearly in the voice of Paul Wilson. Neither dominates for more than flashes and as such it provides a unique reading experience that only bums me out at the short page count.

The novel is the story of Nigel and Abby a married couple in London facing the end of the world caused by a plague of flies. Nigel is a reporter who has just returned from a investigation in Africa to find the roots of the plague. The novel starts with his return but that trip itself felt like it could have been a equally interesting novel. There are many moments that felt ripe for expansion of the story. This concept could have carried an extra 200 or 300 pages that is something as a reader and critic I almost never say.

The end of the world in this novel is quite horrifying, in fact there is a scene that takes place at London's Heathrow airport that is jaw-droppingly good. Both authors do a really amazing job squeezing in a ton of story and world building to the 174 pages. If there is a negative is that Wilson's trademark B story plot twist doesn't have the time to develop. Repairman Jack novels almost always weave B stories that often develop organically from plot points you don't see coming, even when you look for them. (I mean sometimes he plants seeds two or more books out)

The B story of a missing child amid the chaos of the end of the world was great but might have worked better as a case that Nigel was working on before the end of the world started. This was hard to do as the entry point the authors used was jumping in mid-apocalypse. That's minor nitpick.

The real strength of the book might get over looked in such a high concept story. The characters of Nigel and Abby ground the story. A strong indication of how well the characters are realized comes when I led off describing the story with them before I did the Fly apocalypse. The end of the world is my favorite subgenre of horror and those elements are well represented, but Nigel and Abby's personal struggles get magnified by the stress. Nigel throws himself into work, and Abby into faith. It is interesting view the different ways they handle it all. A human way to view the world ending.

I really loved this end of the world novel, I wanted more. I wanted to see more of the global response, I wanted to see Nigel's trip to Africa. I really love these two authors, so lets face it I just wanted a longer book. That said I am happy with what we have. If you like end of the world novels this one featuring a swarming disease infested flies is well worth your time.

Book Review: Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Hardcover, 206 pages

Published February 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Duchovy is known first and foremost as an actor, and certainly I am a fan. Lets face it he is alot more than an actor, he has degree in English from Yale, and was one paper away from being Doctor Duchovoy. He is musician, writer and director. He wrote and directed really good episodes of the X-files. He has directed films and I respect his output.

So his first book is a surreal satire of animal exploitation. As a fan of the message, the man's work, and him personally I was rooting for this book. I mean I have never met him but I always enjoyed listening to interviews with him. I am a animal rights person, and it seems like nothing could go wrong right?

This tongue and cheek book feels like a book Woody Allen would have written in the 70's. Sure I laughed and yes the message was made. Duchovny accurately portrays the insanity of a industry that turns living feeling beings into food.

So what went wrong? You have to have taste for surreal, and that is not the problem. The problem is that the book doesn't just break the fourth wall, it has not foruth wall like building half built on the set of a western. The book is funny at times, but the constant modern pop-culture references constantly took me out of the story. A author needs sink out of sight in a story, but Dochovy is always there. (notes about what the editor likes or doesn't like) Once was clever, but peppered through the text just gets old quick.

I like and respect Duchovny, and wanted to like and respect this book. Wanted to...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hardcover, 466 pages

Published July 2015 by Orbit

It's a short century, I know we are only sixteen years into it, but I think it is fair to say That Kim Stanley Robinson has written two of the 21st century's best Science Fiction novels. The two novels I am talking about are 2312 and this novel Aurora. KSR is on a heck of a roll writing Arthur C. Clarke worthy hard SCIENCE fiction that honors the genre. That is not Hyperbole, These two novels explore important concepts about the future of the entire human race while balancing a page turning story.

It is what the best do. Your Heinlein, Leguin, Asimov, Clarke or Brunner. There might be more Gonzo sci-fi novels that I had more fun reading in this century, The Skinner by Neal Asher or Old Man's War by John Scalzi. They are fun, but These Robinson novels are important. They stand up tall next to the classics of the genre. Don't get me wrong, They are not just important I had fun reading these novels, and despite being big thick books I read them quickly.

Ok so Aurora. It is hard to discuss this book and it's message with out spoilers but I will give it my best shot. The story of A interstellar starship traveling to the system of Tau Ceti. KSR tries to stick to the facts and get as much of the science right as possible. Spanning over hundreds of years the journey of the ship has already seen generations pass. Our main human character is Freya, who was born on the ship and lived every moment there in fact there is no human alive in this story who was not born during the journey. As the novel begins the ship is slowing down toward the moon that will become their new home. A planetoid they name Aurora. Once their they find that spreading the human race out on to other worlds is not so easy.

The narrative is unique here, it is not possible to call it first person, the story is told by the generational starship's computer. KSR uses this for humor early on, but eventually he is telling the story very much from this point of view. Ship becomes a character and it's point of view is important. The lens with which the journey is seen by a computer is fascinating. Ship like any fully realized character has an arc. Ship grows, changes and in that sense feels very alive.

Aurora is a thrilling novel, it places in the universe of the story. It feels lived in and believable, and the saw time providing 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 journeys 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 2312.

The reality is 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.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: Inherit the Stars by Tony Peak

Inherit the Stars by Tony Peak
Paperback, 464 pages Published November 3rd 2015 by Roc

There is something about debut novels, the author is putting everything they got into it, often they have worked on it for longer and harder than most that will come later. No deadlines, just years of tweaking and perfecting. The raw talent before it is fully honed.

Tony Peak is a first time author who think will get better and better with each novel. That is not to say I didn't enjoy this one. There were some growing pains here. Nothing that kept me from enjoying this old school style space opera that used never skimped on world building despite spending most of it's page count off-worlds.

The story of Kivita Vondir, a orphan space salvager who inherits her father's ship and travels the stars alone when she is dragged into a intergalactic conflict. In her latest job she is hired by a religious order to find a gemstone that contains data stored that can only be reached by psychics called Savants. Things get more interesting when her ex- a man named Sar is hired to beat her to the gemstone. Once they get the stone Kiv is pulled into a wider universe she didn't know she was a part of. At this point it becomes clear that Peak has built a traditional Joseph Cambell style hero's journey.

This far future (I think it's our future?)space opera uses a well thought-out religious mythology that seemed influenced by both Phil K. Dick and Dune at the same time. I know that is a crazy combo but that is the crazy thing about the beliefs and skills of the Savants in the story.

The only thing that didn't work for me. Peak did a great job building this mythology that reflected the Cambellian post Star Wars space fantasy, and put his mythology through great fully realized space battles. At the same time he spent a great deal of time mixing those elements with the hard science of space travel. I felt like the book would have been better off to fully deal with the fantasy elements and less on the technical aspects that seemed to try and ground the story at times.That said Peak used the time dilation and the long space journeys for good emotional impact.

I have to admit here that while I have never met Peak in the real world, I enjoy following him on Facebook. I probably would not have picked up this book otherwise. I do want to see where this series goes but I think it has as much to do with wanting to see what Tony Peak does next or how he grows in the future. I think Peak is a more exciting author than this is an exciting book. I hope to see more creations inside and outside of this universe he has created.

Bottomline, it is a well done hero's journey space opera. If you are looking for more of this type of novel it is great place to start.

Interview with me in the new issue of Dark Discoveries (#33)

All new Fiction by: Cameron Price, John Palisano, Max Booth III, MP Johnson, Mary A. Turzillo and Shane McKenzie

Interviews with: Laird Barron, Hal Duncan and Thom Metzger

Articles on: “Bizarro Punk” by David Agranoff, “Bizarro World Got Me Dirty and Wet” by L. Andrew Cooper, “Coffee – Bootlegging – Labyrinths” by Aaron J. French and Bizarro Comic by Phil Differ and Gavin Boyle

Columns from Mike Davis, Laird Barron, Robert Morrish, Donald Tyson and Richard Dansky!