Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book Review: Abomination by Gary Whitta

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Paperback, 352 pages

Published July 2015 by Inkshares

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2015)

I was very interested in this book from the first moment I knew it existed. Book of Eli is a favorite of mine, and what I considered to be a underrated classic in one of my favorite genre of story post apocalyptic. That movie was excellently structured and you could just tell it have a great script as it's backbone. I was very excited when I heard he had gotten the gig for writing Rogue One the first stand alone Star Wars film. I know it's a little thing but his involement with a never produced film based on Journey to the West meant a alot to me. Over looked in our culture Journey to the West is one of the most important fantasy novels ever written. (and by the way my dark fantasy novel Hunting the Moon Tribe has many influences and connects to JTTW)

So Whitta had my interest as Book of Eli, and when I read the concept it just several books in my To Be Read pile. Coming off having read the experimental narrative of Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, and the bloated underedited Fireman by Joe Hill...Abomination was a joy to read. I don't mean this was knock but complement, Abomination has a very simple straight forward no non-sense way of telling it's story. This is great for several reason first of which is it is quick read and despite it's very dark tone could be appealing to YA and adult markets. You can feel Whitta's cinematic language on most pages and it plays very well as movie in the reader's head.

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. In the wake of the Roman empire europe was a mess and the King of the time Alfred had defended England from probably a dozen norse invasions. What if in a misguided attempt to fight off this relentless attack the king's spiritual leaders accidentally unleash monsters of Lovecraftian unexplainable vile-ness. With elements of high fantasy, historical fiction and straight brutal monster horror Abomination is high concept awesome-fest.

One of the strengths of the book is the two lead characters A young warrior named Indra and a disgraced Knight turned homeless begger named Wulric. These are two great characters, who in a narrative sense work together like peanut butter and Chocolate. Indra is a young fierce warrior, Wulfric is a once heoric figure, now dealing with having lost everything to the monsters he once fought, that now hide inside him.

Sometimes Screenwriters coming to this format over the the telling, not showing because they are not used to having the freedom of prose. Not a problem here. If anything is a weakness some of the back story with the evil bishop character and his magical ability could have used some back story or context. There is a twist towards the end that I don't think will surprise anyone but I also Whitta was right to not hide it.

Whitta published through Inkshares, which is basically a publishing kickstarter. It seems Abomination is Inkshares greatest success. I am glad it worked for him and hope he returns to Inkshares with more novels. Since my main publisher does my horror novels, and was not interested in my Science Fiction I tried Inkshares with crazy Dirty Dozen meets Phil K. Dick novel Goddamn Killing Machines. Despite really pushing to my social media I could not sell the concept of the pre-order to my readers. So it didn't work for me.

That said I love the idea of Inkshares and the fact that it worked enough to get this story infront of my eyes is reason enough to celebrate it. Fans of Dark Fantasy and Lovecraftian beasties should check this out for sure.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Hardcover, 300 pages

Published May 10th 2016 by William Morrow

If you are the fence about reading this book and check out a few of the reviews you'll probably see this word alot - SPECIAL. This is a one of a kind literary horror masterpiece. I know that kinda of hyperbole can often set up a book for failure. I am not sure anything can ruin this novel. Written by literature professor Stephen Graham Jones who has published more than a dozen novels, and he has been hinting for yeas that he was passionate about writing a werewolf novel. He clearly loves the creatures and after two false starts he does the almost unthinkable - An original take of the werewolf mythos.

Mongrels is a werewolf novel just as much an outsider coming of age tale. Our narrator is a werewolf, at least his Grandfather, aunt and uncle are. His grandfather was the first to tell him and he believes that someday he will one day shift. He has not when we meet him, and as much as he yearns to, it is beyond him. In the 80's Teen Wolf used this concept to get laughs but here SGJ creates both a outsider teen but family that lives on the fringe. Traveling around town to town deal with all the challenges werewolf life brings to them. The journey is an intense one that has plenty of laughs, chills and the heartache of a teen both scared and anxious grow-up. All teenagers fear this process but when you are a werewolf...

The Aunt and Uncle - Libby and Darren are great characters who seem magical and pathetic some times on the same page. They provide a window to the south, mid-south and south east where they travel. Drifting from town to town they work shit jobs teach us and our POV character the ins and outs of being a werewolf. This talk about what a werewolf is or is not takes up a good part of the novel, I think if I was told about that ahead of time I might not of thought that would work. It does.

Every other chapter leaves the story for a an aside. Those chapters explain werewolves almost like a class each of those chapters leave first person. They each start with a person's title say The mechanic. Then that chapter would be about the Mechanic's aunt or uncle (or Vampire, teacher or whatever) This first chapter like this almost lost me, and I am not sure entirely what this was supposed to mean. I enjoyed these chapters and think it has something to do with how our narrator feels about being an outsider.

SGJ violates one of the sacred rules of writing almost wire to wire but with zero fucks given he makes it work beautifully. That rule "SHOW DON'T TELL" takes a beating. Most of the book is told, told to the narrator and told almost conversationally to us. I don't know the main characters name, but I know him well.

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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman by Joe Hill

hardcover, 768 pages

Published May 17th 2016 by William Morrow

I have very mixed feelings about this book. Let me start by saying I am a fan of Joe Hill. I have only read 20th Century Ghosts which I thought was genius, and Horns which I enjoyed. I really enjoy following him on Twitter, listening to interviews and I have gone to his live book events twice. I think he is a talented writer and even though I think the book contains many excellently written pages and wonderfully realized characters it is over all a failure for me. Joe Hill is a fantastic writer don't get me wrong, and I can't argue with the fact that I read it pretty quick.

The book suffered from over hype some of which is the fault of the author himself who allowed the book to be compared to his father's masterpiece The Stand (on the three guys with beards podcast for example). Several authors I respect who read early copies hyped it as well. I was very interested because the concept is amazing. I loved that it was a original take on the end of the world novel. That is hard to do at this point but the concept of the dragonscale a disease that causes people to ignite into flames presents a very interesting end to the world as we know it.

It is unfair to always compare Joe's work to his father, that said it is almost impossible not to when he does it himself. Comparisons to the Stand, and the 700+ page count had me envisioning a globally reaching epic that explored the end of the world through multiple characters. What we get is better compared the farmhouse story line from the second season of The Walking Dead or if you want to keep it to Stephen King than I would say Cell. At the time King said in interviews he was inspired by Spielberg's War of the Worlds to narrow the focus of the world ending to a few characters. One of my biggest problems with the fireman is just that. A Narrow focus almost entirely on the point of view character nurse Harper Willows. It's not first person but it might as well have been.

There are plenty of positives in this novel, despite the Harper POV almost all of the characters are rich and well written. From the title character John Rookwood, Allie and even the villains are fully realized. One very interesting character gets ignored and that is the shock jock radio host the Marlboro Man. The narrow POV cheats us of a backstory or learning how he became the radio voice for the movement to kill the infected. This was a super interesting story. Hill gave us a glimpse but in order to do that he had to contrive a scene where Harper just happened to come looking for medicine at her old house at the right time to hide under a window and over hear her abusive ex plan murder with marlboro man. It was a stretch.

The opening 100 pages and the last 150 pages I thought were perfect but 250 pages is not enough when you have a narrative dragging through wet cement for the other 500 pages. Once Harper leaves her husband early in the novel she ends up at a camp for the infected, most of the novel is about the internal politics of the camp and survival on those camp grounds. We see little to none of how the plague effects the greater world. Hill calls it a plague novel but for 500 pages in the middle it is more of cult/ commune novel.

That was just not the novel the interviews and reviews got me excited for. In many ways I think Sarah Pinborough did a better job of creating the feeling he was shooting for in the Death House in more than half the pages. The novel felt bloated and it felt to me that the point of what made the story interesting flew over Hill's head.

It is interesting however that the root of the problem might be found on page 492 when he has a character say "Any writer who works by outline should be burned at the stake. Possibly with their own outline and notecards as kindling." First this statement didn't make alot of sense coming from the character, and took me out of the book. Of course I am a writer who believes in outlines. As Fundamentalist about writing by the seat of their pants as King , Hill and others are... I am with the outliners.

Joe Hill is more talented writer than I'll ever be. He has a real talent for characters, down to the minor ones. The prose is powerful and some of the scenes toward the end are savage and heart-breaking. I gave this novel 3/5 stars, because the actual prose was GREAT. The story however was not great, very disappointing since the concept was so strong.