Friday, December 30, 2016

My Top Ten Movies of the Year!

Best movies of 2016


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.


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 MiƩville

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 MiƩville

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


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.