Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Book Review: Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen

Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen
Paperback 218 pages

Expected publication: September 1st 2017 by Omnium Gatherum

Certain themes in horror work better for certain readers. For me the isolation of deep space, or the north/south poles really work for me. I hate isolation and so movies like The Thing, and the Final Winter or books The Terror by Dan Simmons or Stranded by Bracken Macleod just really work for me.

Cold Cuts is a neat little book that takes place in a research station in Antarctica. At the start let me point out that this is a great example of how important the small press is to modern horror fiction. In the 90’s or early this century a book like this was not publishable. It would have been considered to short the only way it would have seen print would be padded with a extra hundred pages and would not have the cool art at the end.

Honestly the idea is not a slam dunk pitch, I mean the bizarro con elevator pitch for this could have March of the Mutant Penguins. Maybe Killer Nuclear Penguins. I know that sounds silly, and while this book has humor and does not take itself too seriously it is weird concept. My point is this is not cookie cutter monster plot. It is odd plot, and that is one of the things I respect about it.

The main character is a scientist and horror nerd named Ozzy. It is quite a tale of survival after a huge chunk of his research station is blown up. The story is about his survial with one other researcher. Eaton and Ozzy are the only survivors and they have to battle mutant birds and despair to survive. The despair affected for more as the novel went on than the mutant birds.

The moments between Eaton and Ozzy were the best most effective moments for me. The mutant penguins were cool but not super effective until I looked at the sketches in the back. Cabeen is clearly a talented artist and the art in the back was totally amazing.

Some miscues include this Hour of the Red Wolf conspiracy, One of the most interesting things in the book gets introduced and forgotten. It gets a little explanation but not enough for me. I am not saying it should have taken over the book, but more could have been done. The references to horror movies and geek culture didn’t work for me and took me out of the story. We have seen that before (I know I did it myself in the Vegan Revolution with Zombies) but in Cold Cuts I don't feel it added much. I would suspect Cabeen meant for it to add to Ozzy's character. I am just not sure we needed it dialed to 11. That said the action figures do come back in the story in a Shane Black-style pay off. So I can live with it.

I don't think Cold Cuts is going to make my top ten list this year, but I am stoked that I was given a pre-release of it. It is fun book, some times when I get review copies it forces me to read a author or book I would not of read otherwise. Robert Payne Cabeen is a new author to me and I am glad I checked out his work. I think his is a fun and odd monster novel with a few moments of eye-brow raising weird-ness. The art at the end is really cool and this kinda small press I would love to see libraries pick-up and collectors support.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Hardcover, 379 pages Published April 2017 by Tor Books

This book will divide readers for sure, and hell it gave me very mixed feelings. Well I have enjoyed interviews with Doctorow and his many blog posts I decided to read this because I just had not read any of his work before. I mean this book has blurbs from William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson (who called it a utopia- huh?) and Edward Snowden. Yeah that edward Snowden on a side note that is a heck of a blurb.

Walkaway is a near future speculative fiction novel that looks at the economical and societal effects of a world where traditional free-markets can't function. In this future 3D printers can make pretty much anything. Most jobs are a thing of history. There is of course the effects of global climate change and no one should thing this is an amazing future where were sit around just having fun. That said the main characters do enjoy life quite a with a very free attitude towards sex and sexuality and drugs.

The most interesting characters are Hubert etc, and Natalie whose father is one of the richest men in the world. The characters are a strong point in the book which is quite diverse. People of color, and various fluid forms of sexuality and gender make up the cast. They decide to join a class of refugees who walkaway from the system. Social networks and the economy are just part of what that means. Instead of staying in the cities begging for food the walkaways take over areas that are declared a loss due to ecological reasons. Seriously this is part of the reason I can't understand the utopia moniker being thrown around. OK there is alot of sex but the setting and conditions were hardly ideal.

Doctorow clearly is reacting to the occupy movement re-casts the 1% as Zottas and Occupy movement is reflected in the people who live in default (or walkaway). There are various methods used through out the book to debate various forms of anarchist philosophy and certainly the author does not take a clear position. The debates between characters are often convincing of several points of view. The walkaway world is not perfect, and the clumsy attempts at self policing were interesting parts of the book for me.

So those are the political idea how did the story work? Not great. I was into it for the first 150 pages. Then I found the prose to be confusing at times. The characters that were interesting early on got lost in the mix for me. I was thinking alot about the ideas suggested by the book so I enjoyed that but my eyes often rose up from the page and I found myself thinking about the setting and ideas losing desire to read on.

It is funny I didn't enjoy this book, but at the same time I think the ideas and issue it raises are important. I am glad Doctorow wrote it. Does that make sense? Not sure but that is how I feel.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: Mormama by Kit Reed

Mormama by Kit Reed

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published May 2017 by Tor Books

I went back and forth on this one. Mormama is a strange gothern gothic that is kinda sorta a haunted house story. Told through multiple points of view, the closest thing to a main character is essentially Dell Duval a homeless man who decides to squat in the Ellis house a huge mansion with a an intense history in Jacksonville. The the many flashbacks and POV shifts we are given the horrid history of the house. Maybe it is better to say the house is the center of the story.

Kit Reed is certainly a talented writer but there is a reason why several of the reviews on Good reads are marked this book as the dreaded DNF. I have to admit there were a few times when I considered not finishing the book. It is not the author's fault but I came off reading one of the best books of the year - the extremely breezy read of Rio Youers The Forgotten Girl. Yes I felt Mormama was a slog at times but there was enough interesting characters and moments that I stuck it out. Every time I ready to give up a interesting moment hooked me.

I came to the conclusion that it is a smart inventive novel that is just not a easy read. I thought it was good but not exactly for me. I don't mind southern voice infact I like Many southern writers. in fact those elements were some of my favorite moments. I think many readers found the changing voice of the POV's to be disjointed. It was but after awhile I got into a rhythm with them.but if I had to put a finger on it would be that the book asks too much of it's readers.

You are going to have to remember various characters, who you have not heard from in a few chapters, if you put the book down for a night and return to it you often are picking up the story at a totally left field plot turn. Deel's story was always more interesting to me than say Theo's chapters. I felt a urge to skip his chapters. It is hard to keep track of what is flashback and what is living, dead or long dead voices from memory.

Loaded with a powerhouse of blurbs from Brian Evenson, Peter Straub, Tim Powers and Chelsea Quin Yarbro it is hard to imagine that a book is garbage. There are moments of genius in this book the concept should have been five stars but it just barely got a three from me.With as many awesome books out this year I just can't tell you this needs to be on the top of the list.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sample reading from my newest novel Flesh Trade (co-written w/ Edward Morris

"Edward Morris is a fearless writer, expanding the boundaries of what is possible with the weird. Read him." -Jeff VanderMeer author of Authority

"David Agranoff is a razor sharp writer, a storyteller with a hard rock pacing, a magician of ideas." - John Shirley Author of A Splendid Chaos

"It is that effortless switch from socio-political worldbuilding to sci-fi noir that makes this novel work so well... It is also an edge-of-your-seat adventure novel reeking in crime noir, mercenary action, and underworld decadence. What is impressive is how well they both come together and how we never lose the humanity of the main characters throughout all the double-dealing and violence. If you have any love for science fiction, I highly recommend this as your next read." - Marvin Vernon of the Novel Pursuit blog

for more info:grandmalpress.com/FleshTrade.php

Book Review: Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Hardcover, 175 pages

Published May 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications

Been a little while since I reviewed a Stephen King book on this blog. I think the last I read was Revival which I liked, not loved. This is not your typical King book, it is a novella that with drawings, and large print gets out to about 160 pages. It is also a rare collaboration only the second time King has worked with another writer outside his family on prose.

Richard Chizmar is a long time SK friend having published him in his Cemetery Dance magazine and in limited editions on the CD press. According to a Chizmar interview done on the Horror Show with Brian Keene it happened like this. King started this novella and wasn't sure how he wanted to finish it. He surprised Chizmar by sending him the story and giving him the option to finish it.

What an amazing experience for him! I can say this that after reading the book it starts with a very Stephen King feel. The characters are so well drawn and they feel so in a way that makes it clear King kicked off this story. I think I assumed there would be a moment when I feel the torch being passed.

People should not underestimate Chizmar who has edited a countless amount of horror fiction short stories for decades now in Cemetery dance. He has edited more than a 100 issues of the best and longest running horror mag in the world. Dude knows how to write and work with a another writers voice.

Part of the other surprise tipped off to entertainment weekly is that the story would return to Castle Rock, the city that SK claimed to retire in the novel Needful Things. I think he had one other story set there but this might be connecting to the upcoming JJ abrams show named after the fictional town. I am a big King nerd, but not enough to see why the story had to take place there other than maybe the suicide stairs as a setting.

The comparisons to Matheson's Button, Button are too obvious not to be intentional homage. Of course the box in question is a bit more elaborate and the issues it presents more so.

The strength of the novel is the characters and the weakness is the idea is not entirely delivered. A doomsday box in the hands of a kid could have so much more potential. Little details make the difference like the animal shaped chocolates and the hard to push buttons. Her life turns around and the ethical questions arise. This is a short book and certainly I read a review or two who would like to see the story expanded. While it is short I think a good length even if some things end quickly. Gwendy suddenly wants to become a writer with no earlier indication of such desire for one example.

Over all this was a fun read for serious Stephen King nerds, but not essential reading if you are not. The first few pages are creepy as hell, the antagonist is as vicious as ever, and we know SK can write bullies better than just about anyone. those elements are all there and certainly was fun.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book Review: The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers (Author interview TBA)

The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers

Hardcover, 368 pages

Published June 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books

This is the second novel by Rio Youers that I have read and as much as I liked the first one Westlake Soul it had been five years since I read the last one. Westlake soul was a very slow burn deeply spiritual novel. It was not a easy-breezy read, that I really enjoyed but it was one that I only suggested to fans of very serious horror literature. Not that it didn't have fun and like hearted moments, because it did. That said the tone was deep and introspective.

The Forgotten Girl is very different from that. It is absolutely Rio Youers but this feels like the arthouse film director who makes an excellent popcorn blockbuster. The serious horror lit fans will like this and I believe the mainstream readers looking for a thriller for their flight in the airport bookstore will too. At times it doesn't feel like it could possibly be the same others and then there are moments that it is clear. Youers was always a talented writer he has reached a new level here.

Some novels feel effortless, the pages turn fast and easy and before you know know it have read 60 or 70 pages read in a sitting and with great ease you feel the story flow over you. I know that is the ideal, but I think novels like that are rare. I still enjoy books that require dedication, but it nice when a book breezes by feeling effortless.Sarah Pinborough, David Morrell and Robert McCammon are examples of authors who make very easily readable books. The prose and narrative have a McCammon like flow that helps this book fly.

This is one hell of a novel. The publisher seems to be marketing it as a thriller and that is true the book is also very much A science fiction horror novel. The story is about Harvey Anderson a street musician is suddenly attacked by thugs who want to know about his girlfirend, that oddly Harvey has no memory of. The thugs are sure they were a couple and Harvey must know where she is. The problem he doesn't remember her at all.

Mystery is one best served cold so I nervous to tell you more plot but Sally the woman in question was in his life. The thugs have pictures, people around he remember her, and the couple were happy long time friends. The mystery of why Harvey doesn't remember her sets of journey that takes Harvey cross country. The story is very clearly influenced by and modernizing classics like Stephen King's Firestarter and the John Farris Classic The Fury. If you read those novels you understand we are talking about psychic conspiracy road trip thrillers. The strength of this novel is less about the plot and more the characters. Not just Harvey and Sally but thankfully the romance between the main characters was believable. Youers had a interesting challenge having the main character in love with a woman he couldn't remember and it was really interesting to watch him fall in love while solving the mystery and recovering lost memory. Some of the most interesting aspects of the writing and story structure came in these moments. Youers used the romance effectiely to tell the story build characters and ratchet the suspense cutting half a dozen carrots with one knife.

For that reason the novel works as fun story but if writers and storytellers unpack what is going on there is a deeper level happening at the same time. Dominic Lang is a vicious villain whose motivations and arc take him to a almost mythic status instantly, think Khan in Star Trek. That level of well rounded bad guy helps lift the novel as well. He also adds a political connection expands the scope.

Some of the best moments of character for Harvey come in the moments with his father. Harvey's father seems like a crazy person but he in a sense humanizes Harvey better than anything else in the novel. He is a minor but great character who adds weight to the novel as a whole. Excellent example of a character who is not in the whole story but adds so much.

The Forgotten Girl is a next level step for Rio Youers. It was a excellent reading experience and I think we'll be talking about it again come best of the year time.

Book Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Hardcover, 371 pages

Published April 2015 by Grove Press

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2016)

California Book Award Gold Medal for First Fiction (2015)

Edgar Award for Best First Novel (2016)

The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize (2015)

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction (2016)

Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Adult Fiction (2015)

International DUBLIN Literary Award Nominee for Shortlist (2017)

If you look at the list of awards this novel has been given you probably have seen all the reasons why this is a good and important read. I first had this book on my radar when Elliot Kalan of the Flophouse podcast recommended it instead of a movie on a episode of that show. It sounded like something I would be interested in. I put it on hold at the library and being 10 persons down the list I forgot about it until it came in.

This novel is a part historical fiction, mystery and throughout it is a novel of deep social importance. Sympathizer starts off in the last days of the US occupation of Saigon. The story is narrated by a man whose name we never learn. He works for an important general, while born in South Vietnam, he was educated in the U.S. caught between two worlds. One time spy, working both sides the nameless character at the center of the novel comes to LA as a refugee.

Some of the most interesting parts of this novel centered around The General and his wife the Madame. The Idea that they were rich and powerful during the war and end up owning a hole in the wall restaurant was interesting to me. Our hero however gets a job as a consultant on a war movie called the Hamlet.

This subplot is about 100 pages of the novel and was the storyline that most interested me. If anything really counted against the novel for me was this part was not a little more in depth. It is clear that Nguyen is writing about Francis Ford Coppola and this incitement of Hollywood taking on the war deserved more time and attention.

The writing is pretty amazing but took me some getting used to. There are no quotation marks. My general rule is that pretty much only Kathy Acker and Cormac Macathy can get away with such things. I hated it for the first 30 pages, and it slowed me down alot. Once I got over it the novel flowed faster.

It is a excellent story, well plotted and carried out. It won awards for a reason. It is funny because I didn't think was that much better than most of genre books I have read this year. It maybe a personal taste thing, but just this writer is considered literary I don't think makes his work better. Now this author unique heritage (compared to mainstream pop culture fiction) certainly gives this novel more weight. Voices from this culture responding to the vietnam war is certainly welcome and the most important reason to read this novel. The fact it was a good story with excellent twists and compelling characters was a bonus. Certainly worth the time.

Book Review + Author Interview: Entropy in Bloom by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Entropy in Bloom by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Hardcover, 272 pages

Published April 2017 by Night Shade Books

We have had a few authors in the horror genre really make huge strides in the last year. Some notables include the massive success of Paul Tremblay's Head full of Ghosts and Sarah Pinborough's Behind her Eyes. It is true That Jeremy Robert Johnson could be considered a part of a new wave of horror field to mainstream publishing success, but he is also the first to come out of the Bizarro scene with a major hardcover release. Stephen Graham Jones, Laura Lee Bahr and Brian Evenson are authors who I think walk this line that some times touches Horror, Bizarro and fine Literature all in the same stories. But Jeremy was a flag holder for the movement in the early days so this feels different.

Sometimes when a writer takes the next step in there career it is important to look back and see where they came from. Entropy in Bloom is that book, it features some of the best short stories from Jeremy Robert Johnson's two previous independently released collections both reviewed on this blog. Angeldust Apocalypse and We Live Inside You.

In that sense I have read all of these stories except the new novella Sleep of judges before. I read The Oarsmen and Flood of Harriers when they were first published in Dark discoveries and Cemetery Dance as well as well as when they were collected. I have to say both those stories worked the third time. The Oarsmen still continues to be a favorite of mine, the sci-fi setting is really subtle and I admit I would love to see JRJ explore space a bit more, but of course that is not the point of the story. The story is a tone piece that gives a otherworldly feeling the emotions of monks after the apocalypse.

Flood of Harriers has been frustrating to read all three times. The two stories that hit me harder than before were the ghost story "the Gravity of Benham Falls," and Snowfall. I mean I have read them before but this time it come off as really effective. It is funny if you listen to the audio interview I thought Snowfall was about something totally different from JRJ's intention.

The story Trigger Variation was one I commissioned for an anthology I co-edited called the Vault of Punk Horror. I have a really strange relationship with this story. It is a long story, but JRJ was writing this piece about a fictional faction of straight edge that was a photo negative of the movement I spent the 90's in. In many senses I had a very hard time with this story, but if you want to hear more about that...listen to the audio interview. That part of the discussion is more interesting if you have a back ground in punk or hardcore music.

A writer this talented is rare and it is incredibly exciting as a long time reader of his work and friend to see this happen. I mean he deserves it for many reasons. But I wonder sometimes how or why it happens to a certain artist? Certainly Jeremy himself would agree Cody Goodfellow and Laura Lee Bahr are equally deserving of this kind of attention and notice. Without his talent it would not be possible but often it is timing and luck...I couldn't be happier the stars aligned for him.

I don't want to take away from what JRJ has accomplished. It is exciting and important that these works reach a wider audience. The level of drug laced paranoia that drips off the pages is one thing but when you match it with fine tuned prose, intelligent with and skillful mechanics of suspense you quickly figure why Johnson is so readable.

Check out this interview recorded over skype on 8/3/17 I did about this book with Jeremy:

Soundcloud (with a download feature)

Youtube:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review: The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Hardcover, 380 pages

Published February 2017 by Saga Press

The Stars are Legion is a space fantasy novel that is high on concept from the first to the last page. Kameron Hurley is an award winning author and this is my second time reading her work. The first novel of hers that I read I remember thinking was good but honestly can't remember the title right now which is not the best sign. None the less I liked it enough to come back and read this.

The story takes place in a region of space called the Legion. Is this our future? Is it a totally different new civilization? Not sure. The legion seems to be a couple worlds and habitats in space. We are introduced to a woman named Zan. She is our hero and it becomes clear that she has no memory of the life she lived but remembers enough to be a badass warrior. We understand quickly that this has happened to Zan before. There is a woman Jayd who might be able to help her but it is possible Jayd is the reason Zan is in this spot in the first place. She is given a mission to board a space station/ world ship called Mokshi with the mission to liberate it. Her entry to the world requires a giant battle and only succeeds in getting Zan stranded deep in the bowels of the ship.

It about 100 pages I realized that this culture is devoid of men folk...more on that later.

In this novel the women of this universe don't talk about dying but being recycled, which on Mokshi means being ejected into the deep down below levels. Thus begins Zan's quest to climb the levels. Fighting monsters and the weird ship based ecology. Each chapter begins with quotes from The legions historical and or religious texts. These are not throw away motifs. They are important to the story and give clues of the direction the story is heading.

I read that Hurley is normally thin on plot but heavy on details, these chapter headers may have have been added later but as a fan of intensely plotted books I loved that detail. There are clues even in the first couple pages that pay off, I had to go back and re-read. I got a laugh when I listened to Luke Barrage on the Science Fiction book review podcast said he did the same thing. The second half of the book is pretty much a heroes quest, with moments of political intrigue. If you paid close attention in those early pages the second half is a bit more powerful.

Now I get why Hurley was making jokes about this book being lesbians in space. She was just kidding so don't get the wrong idea. This world is not soft gentle feminist utopia or nerd fantasy. This book depeicts a brutal society that worships war lords. It was not the book I would have expected if I had known that it was Matriarchal space opera. It is not that I needed the novel to constantly be exploring gender issues, it is probably better than just naturally exists as a feminine culture. Some of the most interesting moments revolve around body control and issues of reproduction. I am not sure Hurley was trying to express here, reproduction in this future comes almost randomly and is always painful.

I am sure this is not the first entirely matriarchal space opera, but it is the first I can remember reading, I know it has happened before and in a moment of zeitgiest I know Stephen Kozeniewski's new sci-fi horror novel THE HEMATOPHAGES is free of dudes too. I think this a neat part of the novel but I would not entirely define it as such.

The end of the novel is classic space opera and in some ways reminded me of sword and sorcery classics. It all comes together for a super entertaining read. This is not light reading sci-fi, the appeal would not be as board as say Old Man's War. This is not mainstream or for a beginning sci-fi reader. This book will lose some readers, but if you stick it with it pays off.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Paperback, 90 pages

Published September 2015 by Tor.com

Hugo Award for Best Novella (2016)

Nebula Award for Best Novella (2015)

Locus Award Nominee for Best Novella (2016)

Binti is an amazing experience on every level. When you close the book for the last time it will amaze you how much story, character and world building were put into the short 90 pages. I came to this book in a funny way having accidentally read the second book first, so this became a prequel for me. I think many ways it was a good way to read them, I think I might have been a little let down by the second one. But that is hard to say. I loved both. I am excited to finish the trilogy. Okorafor is at top form here and it is clear why this book sweep the major awards. I have read that it was intended for a YA audience, the book doesn't skim on deeply cultural ideas and far out Science Fiction concepts. I am not sure that it was meant to be YA.

The Afrofuturism is very well realized with details kept to a minimum we have to fill in some blanks but it is clear that this is African future we are seeing. The spirituality of Benti's people is fresh for a science fiction experience. I am well read in the field and I think this is a brand new level for me. I have heard some compare this to Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series - It would silly to deny the influence but the African roots are so much more a part of Binti. The stories are very, very different.

Binti is a coming of age novel, the title character is leaving home and her planet for the first time and is instantly thrust into a traditional space opera. For me some of the strongest moments were how well the scenes of arriving on a another planet how wonderfully they were realized, more than any other moment I felt like I was in the book at that time. Great descriptions of the alien world and her arrival. The non-human species are not as well realized but I felt the sequel answered some of the questions I might have had if I read this one first.

This is a perfect short read but I think I could have read a 300 page version of this story. It is rare when I close a book and wish it was three times longer but I did. Binti is amazing experience.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

Paperback, 250 pages

Published September 2016 by Rosarium Publishing

If you read this blog all the time you might notice that I am trying to read genre from more diverse sources. Maurice Broaddus was one the early black voices in modern Horror, although African Americans had made a impact in Science Fiction with Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler being the most well known. Butler dipped her toes into horror for sure but the long overdue introduction of black voices really started with Wrath James White and Broaddus.

I have enjoyed work by both but I deeply love the writing of Broaddus. The Voices of Martyrs will largely be over looked because short story collections rarely sell as much as novels. This finely tuned collection is a must read for anyone interested in high quality dark literature. The most powerful collection I have read since Brian Evenson's Collapse of Horses. Both are important reads however Voice of Martyrs goes beyond just being good, it is a book of deep meaning.

There is much of this book that the largely white audience in the horror community could stand to learn. Experiences that Broaddus shines a light on throughout the book. The book is divided into three parts past, present,and future. The stories in the past often get the horror elements from brutal realities of history, this includes two slave narratives highlight this section and the strongest being Rite of Passage. The story about a boxer was also very powerful. I enjoyed that several of the present stories that were set in Indianapolis.

My personal favorite section was the future, yes I love science fiction but these stories are so very unique I just loved every word of them. They are true science fiction, but MB brings his take of afrofuturism to every page. The level of inventiveness balanced with finely tuned story telling makes these stories sing. Most important is they feel like they could only be written by one person, totally 100% the voice of Maurice Broaddus.

Is it weird that I proud of an author I never met? Look I have read and enjoyed the work Maurice Broaddus before. I knew he was good but he is a Hoosier, and the fact that he lives a hour drive from my home town gives me a connection to his writing. This book is some next level stuff and I love reading along as a person from Indiana hits that next level. This author is going from great to amazing. Read this book!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Author Interview: Chad Stroup on Secrets of the Weird

Secrets of the Weird

Paperback, First Edition, 294 pages

Out now by Grey Matter Press

The fulfillment of your every desire…

That’s the enticing yet dangerous promise of Sweet Candy, the new designer drug making the rounds through the community of club kids, neo-Nazis, drag queens, prostitutes and punks who populate the mean streets of Sweetville.

With its chewable hearts and candied lips threatening to forever transform the delicate social balance and the very lives of each and every member of the city’s underground, Sweet Candy is poised to ignite the tenuous powder keg that is life, love and lust in Sweetville.

But could the enigmatic back-alley surgeon Julius Kast and his partnership with a peculiar cult be the spark that lights the fuse once and for all? And how will their actions affect the life of a young woman named Trixie who is seeking salvation through transformation?

Take a remarkable journey that’s equal parts irreverent social commentary, revisionist dystopia, dark fantasy and horrifying reality when you travel to the unforgettable world of Sweetville’s counterculture where a host of sometimes dangerous, often deviant and always dark secrets are waiting to be revealed.

So I was pretty sure for many years I thought it was safe to assume I was the only Vegan Straight Edge kid turned horror author, I mean in the whole planet. Well a few years back I learned that I was not the special snowflake I thought I was. Not only does the world have another horror author who grew up on punk rock, draws X's on his hands and eats way to much vegan treats but there is another vegan straight horror author right here in freaking San Diego. Chad and I are very different writers, with very different training. We have similar influences and think alike often but what is cool is that we have both released books this year and they are very, very different.

Check out this hour long discussion with myself Chad and Anthony Trevino author of King Space Void:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published August 2015 by Gollancz

Crashing Heaven is first rate second generation cyberpunk, hard boiled and gritty as a granola mixed with rocks so on the surface I should have loved this. This bold debut novel is so full of ideas I feel like many of them will go over many readers heads. Al Robertson certainly went for it with this book.

Set in the aftermath of both ecological devastation and a war with AI overlords on one of the space stations orbiting the dead earth. there are lots of new interesting details The AI's who control the weave (a more virtual reality future internet) have established themselves as gods, many of the cyborgs live in wooden shells, and our main character has a vituual puppet who he uses for guidance as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed his now dead Ex-lover who is only alive as simulation based on data called a fetch.

The level of gee-whiz inventiveness is turned up to 11,and many of the novels best moments are found in the banter mostly internal between Jack and his puppet Fist. Fist often comments on the scenes being stand-in for the reader, being for example disgusted by the cheezy romance between Jack and his ex Andrea. The only weakness in the setting was that I felt the space stattion was not as wild or Dangerous feeling to me as I think the author intended.

I think this is a pretty cool novel and there were times when I really enjoyed it, but failed to connect to the material at other times. As inventive and cool as the world building was I was not super into the narrative. I would find myself losing attention, my mind would wonder. I don't know or can't explain because at other times I was enjoying the book alot. I think it is me, not the book but more than once I thought about letting it go.

I pushed through and I am glad I read it. Certainly this novel is an heir to the legacy of Cyberpunk, and certainly it carries the torch well for a debut. That said I believe it will not bee the shock to the system that the Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon had on the scene back when it came out. You can certainly feel the William Gibson influence dripping off the page and in some ways Crashing Heaven is more accessible than Gibson.

So I didn't really connect with this book, but that doesn't mean it is not good. On paper all the elements are there, but didn't connect with me. The setting of the space station was very cool, I think it would have been neat if that was not revealed until deep into the novel.

None the less I think if you enjoy cyberpunk this is a safe bet. Overall I think most readers will enjoy for the inventive settings and details alone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor (Book 2)

Paperback, 176 pages

Published January 2017 Tor Books

OK I have to start by admitting that I made a stupid mistake. I knew that Binti was a trilogy in progress,and for some reason when I picked up this book I assumed it was the first one. I noticed it was book two before I started reading but I have already left the house for my bus commute to work. If I had another book in my bag I would have waited until I could get the first book, but the end of my work day I have read more than half the book. So I finished it.

So you get a review of book two first. Thankfully I got up to speed pretty quick. The lead Characters Binti and the non-human Okwu had survived an adventure that left them friends despite their two species being at war. The events of the first book lead to a delicate peace. Now the two friends of different species were at college together on a world far from earth. Both lead characters were excellently written. I felt as though I knew them. Despite one being from a culture that was new to me and the other being a species new to me. The subtle world building is done perfectly like a lightly seasoned piece of food. Just right amounts of detail and not too much exposition. That is always impressive when sci-fi pulls off that balance.

The Afrocentric future was fascinating, certainly a universe that screams for more pages and books. Binti's family and culture at the heart of the tale gives this story a texture that jumps off the page. Okorafor writes beautiful prose and with that element we have the complete package.

It seems that this trilogy is basically a three part serial of where really is one story. Middle parts can sometimes feeler dark, or without resolution. I know some readers didn't feel this book was as strong as the first, something I clearly can't comment on. Certainly there was some bold narrative choices like setting action away from Binti and her point of view. Moving events off-camera might have lost many readers. But in a universe this rich and alive it didn't effect me as a reader.

So now I will back track and read book one, but I suspect I will be comfortable calling it a masterpiece too. Okorafor benefits from what is a unique setting for most of us Sci-fi readers. Afrofuturism It is not a gimmick, her fiction feels so heartfelt it is almost hard to believe it was invented in her mind. We are getting the chance to view the universe through such a magical and inventive eyes it would be crime for her books not to become a bigger deal. A must read for serious science fiction fans.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: Lovecraft Alive by John Shirley

Lovecraft Alive by John Shirley

Paperback, 254 pages

Published September 2016 by Hippocampus Press

The impact of HP Lovecraft is one I should not have to explain, it is like explaining the influence of the misfits on punk rock. Lovecraft died not realizing how he would lead the charge on a revolution that would change Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Since he was a racist, made clear in his many letters the debate of his impact has taken on a new importance. For those of you who might know it was his face on the statue for the world fantasy awards that brought this all back up. Afrocentric science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor had every right to feel uncomfortable accepting an award with his face on it.

So it is interesting to get a collection of Lovecraft stories from such a strong progressive voice in the genre. John Shirley cut his teeth as the punkest in genre of Cyberpunk. No one else had spiked necklaces or stood on tables and yelled at Harlan Ellison. The Lovecraft influence was always there, so in a way this is a long time coming. We always saw in bits and pieces.

Shirley was in the occasional Lovecraft anthology (mostly the highly respect ones edited by ST Joshi) but he was never a lock to be in all ten of the Cthulu titled anthologies like Cody Goodfellow, CJ henderson or Joe Pulver. It was less common event to get a Shirley mythos story but always welcome. When he was invited to have his own special issue of weird tales or invited into the pages of Madness of Cuthulu he brought it literally in Lovecraft style. Most of the stories in this collection are written in Lovecraft's voice. Shirley has in recent years developed a knack for imitating the style and voice of these long dead masters. Check out his Poe's Lighthouse story collected in Living Shadows. In that story he seamlessly finished a story Poe left undone at the time of his death.

Look John Shirley is my favorite writer on this planet. I consider his novel Wetbones to be the best horror novel I've ever read! It is also Lovecraft inspired in moments. So I am a much bigger Shirley fan than I am a Lovecraft fan. A good amount of this collection is Shirley doing a freaky good job of imitating Lovecraft's voice. Stories like Those who came to Dagon or The Rime of the Cosmic Mariner are amazing. Just not my thing.

My favorite stories in this collection are the ones that feel more Shirley than Lovecraft. I prefer his voice in general. "Buried in the Sky" that I had read before in Weird Tales when first it appeared, and again in Living Shadows when it was first collected. This story takes place in a skyscrapper, and is Lovecraft influenced but it is much more Shirley than anything. It has always been one of of my favorite Shirley shorts although it is a tad longer short story.

The story "How deep the Taste of Love," which appeared in the classic Hottest Blood anthology is a deeply disturbing erotica story that I enjoyed. but other favorites included the World War Cthulu story "The Holy Grace of Cthulu," that i felt was still in Shirley's voice and my absolute favorite of the collection is "Windows under water."

"Windows under Water" is the best story in the collection because it balances the heavy heavy influence of Lovecraft with themes and issues that are very very Shirley. One of two stories that heavily address the concerns of climate change. It makes perfect sense to do a dagon story in relation to rising seas. This story alone as as major Shirley fan made the collection worth it.

Personally I would suggest Living Shadows or Black Butterflies first before this collection but honestly I think anything with the name John Shirley on is worth having. If you are a Lovecraft fan who loves and reads anything mythos this book is a must have.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cover Reveal: Flesh Trade by David Agranoff & Edward Morris out in August!

How far would you go to rescue your child?

Would you risk control of your mind and soul?

Would you scour the darkest gutters on an alien world?

Andall Shellton is a politically-savvy governor on one of humankind's most populated colonies, and a rising star on the scene, married to one of the most famous actresses in all the worlds. Their ideal life is thrown into turmoil when their youngest daughter, Liv, is kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery on a hell-world beyond the Red Line of human expansion. Using all of the resources of his position, Andall follows the traffickers who stole his little girl - to the colony of NewKok, a pleasure planet beyond the rule of law, except for the law of the jungle.

Flesh Trade is a politically-charged story of 24th century crime, taking place on a lawless world where our humble protagonist quickly learns that military tactics and political power are meaningless. He resorts to a mind-fuse to upload the memory and skills of a dead war hero, Col. John Stack, and fights his way through the city to save his daughter. The fuse only lasts for one night on NewKok before the uploaded pattern takes over the host. With this clock counting down, Andall must battle genetically modified gangsters, dirty cops, sex slavers, underground surgeons, mercenaries, cannibals and aliens, while struggling to control his own mind, with only the night left to save his daughter.

For fans of Neal Asher and Phillip K Dick, this novel is a magnum opus of action, world-building and mind-bending speculative noir. Agranoff and Morris have plotted a terrifying path into a dangerous vision of the future. Come along for the ride, if you dare.

"It is that effortless switch from socio-political world building to sci-fi noir that makes this novel work so well...an edge-of- your-seat adventure novel reeking in crime noir, mercenary action, and underworld decadence. What is impressive is how well they both come together and how we never lose the humanity of the main characters throughout all the double-dealing and violence. If you have any love for science fiction, I highly recommend this as your next read." - Marvin Vernon of the Novel Pursuit Blog

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal

Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal

Paperback, 166 pages

Published March 15th 2015 by Ladybox Books

These last two books have alot in common, I shared the stage with both authors at the Vermin on the Mount, they are short powerful books, well written punk rock stories that feel so personal they feel like they must be memoirs. They are not memoirs but well worth your time. I have know Tiffany through the bizarro lit community for a few years, but I have to admit this is the first time I have actually read one of her books. I feel like a giant asshole for that but I fixed it and so glad I did.

This book feels so raw and real that it would be easy to assume that Ella who has alot in common with her creator and is just a stand in for her. I am not sure how much that is true but I feel like some things about her are very Tiffany and some are not. Who cares this is novel and all that makes is when you are turning pages Ella will feel real.

Ella is an artist, punk rocker, waitress and Photographer. She lives in Portland, her story involves losing a best friend for coming out of the closet, a shitty job, a band, lots intense relationships.

The fragmented narrative might look from the outside like a mess but it has a well plotted non-linear drive. Ella is presented with obstacle and parallels that if the story were told in a straight line word not have been as powerful. Scandal is a great storyteller, very aware how how things are unfolding and what things we need to know and when for impact. This is a key that many young writers never grasp.

So yeah she can tell a story but it is the rich characters and raw moments that make the book come alive in your hands. She is describing a scene that feels real. You can smell them, taste them. The chapter New York for example was a short but sweet tender moment in the book that contained more romance and tender-ness than novels devoted to the genre of sappy love. There are also moments of family drama that sting like a slap to the face and swing back. Moments of violent assault that feel so strong that they should not be able to co-exist in the same book but they do.

While this book is more straight forward than many that have come out of the bizarro scene, it is one of the best. It is no shock that some of the best novel entries have come from women like Gina Ranalli, Laura Lee Bahr and now Tiffany Scandal. I loved this book if you could not tell and think y'all should read it.

Book Review: The Sub by Jimmy Jazz

The Sub by Jimmy Jazz

Paperback, 106 pages

Published January 1996 by Incommunicado Press

So this is kinda of random out of my typical genre read, although I am ALWAYS looking for more punk rock fiction. How I ended up buying a copy of the Sub is a fun story. I shared a stage with Jimmy as a part of a famous and long running author reading series held in San Diego (and LA) called Vermin on the Mount. Jimmy was the headlining reader and blew the rest of us away with a reading for his epic release Book of Books. that book is 1,000 or so pages a memoir that uses the framing device of Jimmy writing a piece inspired by every book he has ever read. Some times memories of reading the book, sometimes about the or just pieces that reflect the time in his life when he discovered the books.

It was fascinating concept but I admit I was a little scared off by the size. I knew I wanted to go home with one of his books, and when I read about this one I had to have it. I am a punk kid who works in education, and am aware of the trouble and trials that substitute teachers go through. I assumed there would be some cool stories and laughs.

The book is called a novel but it feels like a memoir (same could be said of Tiffany scandal's book that I read next)and it is Mice and Men length. Despite the short pages it is filmed to the brim with lyrical prose and moments of stunning beautiful prose. This all comes with moments of tenderness and compassion. Don't worry there are moments of humor and reflection.

This is a short but beautiful book, a first person look at time spent going around to San Diego schools in the 90's. It deserves to be read.

Book Review: World Revolver By Gina Ranalli

World Revolver By Gina Ranalli

Paperback, 176 pages

Published March 2016 by Bloo Skize Books

Gina Ranalli is one of the weirdest writers to come out of the bizarro movement. I am talking about her writing, personally I have lots of love and respect for Gina. She has written books ranging from the surreal Wall of Kiss, to the monster Sillyness of Swarm of Flying Eye Balls to my personal favorite the creepy ghost story House of Fallen Trees. It would be hard to pin rules down on a writer who wrote a love story about a woman who falls in love with a wall. It has been awhile since I reviewed one of her books and that is my bad.

This novel is the story the story of Jeffery Eon who is offered a chance to indulge his drug habit with an experimental drug called Satellite. It has a crazy effect it sends the users mind through universes to alternate realities in the body of his multi-verse duplicate. Each time he finds a different version of himself, from the rock star to the bartender to the transgender version of himself.

In a more hard sci-fi book the different worlds would not develop such wildly diverse takes on the same person. Ranalli is exploring lots of different things in the short page count of this novel. Certainly she is exploring identity and how we choose to become the people that we are, and the paths we take.

The concept is science fiction sounding, but Gina doesn't really write science fiction, she skirts it in this book and one of my favorites of hers the dystopian Mother Puncher. This is short and effective book that tells the story needs to without alot of frills. Most important is the idea it explores - finely realized in the last few pages.

Also my favorite first sentence I have read in awhile. infact the opening prologue seemed at the start to be kinda of a different tone or set apart from the story. That is not the case at all. It was not until right at the end that I realized that we were revisiting that opener, that the book was coming around. Not a twist at all, but an excellent pay-off.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Paperback, 384 pages

Published June 2016 by Solaris Books

Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017)

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2016)

Locus Award for Best First Novel (2017)

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee (2017)

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2016)

This book came on my radar when Luke Barrage of The Science Fiction Book Review podcast devoted a second episode to it. I didn't listen to much but when he said this book would re-wire your brain or how you think about I was sold. Paused the podcast,decided to read it myself. I didn't know it was a military sci-fi space opera with a far future setting. I didn't know anything going in. That is a good way to read this novel, but I think it could easily go over the head of many readers. If you are into mind bendy sci-fi and like space opera you will probably like this. Mind you those two kinds of sci-fi don't often come together. Most military themed science fiction are 10th generation copies of Starship troopers.

There are elements of traditional tropes but for the most part this novel strikes excellent new ground. There is a reason it has been nominated for so many awards. On the surface the story takes place in our future, but very far into the future. Lee keeps elements of humanity, but this human race has changed alot. I admit there were times that the language annoyed me like the glooks and glops style of made up words, that is not my favorite aspect of sci-fi. The moths being the far future word for starships and the dates are named the Year of the fatted cow and things of that nature. I liked all that stuff, but the best aspect of this was the gender issues. Gender is fluid but not a huge issue like it was in Leguin's classic Left hand of Darkness, infact it would be easy to not even notice. I was 3/4 of the way through the book when characters who identify as female off handily mentioned her penis. It was jarring and then I realized that through the book I was viewing the book all wrong and had to re-think it with one sentence. There is no binary normative in this novel and that was cool.

In that sense it feels alot like a fantasy novel. This has a very oriental influence also in the way the story is and narrative moves forward it is the story of a General her name Captain Kel Cheris She has the job of closing down an insurrection in a colony outpost. So she is giving "the ghost" or saved memories of a long dead general to assist her. As an adviser Shuos Jedao was seen as a little of a live wire notorious for the murder of his own army in an act of Pyrrhic Victory. He is undefeated in a ghost role but this battle for the Fortress of Scattered Needles is near impossible. Cheris has unique skill as well, being gifted at numbers a skill that eluded Jedao.

The battle is fought with arms, but also in the mind as the dead general pauses at times to invent games to be played, in part to test Cheris as much as the enemy. This is a trick we have seen many times in classic stories of Chinese Wuxia fantasy. While nothing is expressively Chinese the society and it's calendar have a Chinese feel to them. Perhaps I reading to much into this based on the author's background, but I like to think it has to do with the dozens of Wuxia novels I have read personally.

That said this book is filled to the brim with ideas and as challenging as it is if you stick with it there is a fascinating twist at the end. Lee doesn't cheat, the clues are all there if you do what I did and skim back through the pages to make sure that I read it correctly. I don't think this novel is for everyone, in fact I think as genius as it is I think your average reader will probably be totally lost. So how intense of a sci-fi reader are you? How out there can you get?

This is the weirdest military sci-fi novel I have ever read. This novel is imaginative on the scale of Hyperion or even Dune but also an action adventure story as harrowing as Old Man's War, but even cooler is after all that it requires deduction to figure the twists and turns in a PKD kinda way. That is alot of cool elements for one short novel. It is not easy reading but if you stick with it and really try to decode it it is worth it.

That said I am not entirely motivated to read the rest of the trilogy I don't feel the story set up for more in my mind. It is a thumbs up, and with alot of respect for this novel I have to say it was not my thing. I respect the hell out of this novel. Am I glad I read it? I sure am.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Book review: Death Metal Epic I: the Inverted Katabasis by Dean Swinford

Death Metal Epic I: the Inverted Katabasis by Dean Swinford

Paperback, 160 pages

Published June 2013 by Atlatl Press

This book needed to happen. Punk rock, skinheads, straight edge and various other youth subculutres all have coming of age novels or movies some good and most bad. I know I am known for writing punk rock books, and I grew up on punk rock but I am just much if not more of a Death metal dude at heart. I don't want to be the white guy explaining his hip-hop credentials but I rock Morbid Angel,Carcass, Suffocation and Misry Index far more than I do Black Flag. Some people live and breath death metal like my homeboy Steve Crow who plays guitar in our San Diego locals Condemned. That dude sweats brutal riffs out of his pores. Infact their latest record is the soundtrack for writing this review.

Brutal.

I Digress but I think Swinford probably doesn't mind. Death Metal was desperately in need of a coming age story, and believe me this not the easiest task for an author. You can't really playing super seriously, because lets face it Death metal as genre is pretty funny. I have a story about a death metal band in my collection Amazing Punk Stories and I played it for laughs. At the same time if you are devoting an entire book to it you don't want to go full Spinal Tap because you want to give respect to the genre you love enough to write about. That balance is the spine of this short but fun book.

This novel is the story of Azreal AKA David Fosberg, a Florida teenager who is far too brutal even for Florida. He is trying very hard to put together a death metal band Valhalla. He keeps trying and burns through members including tolkein worshiping wizard who doesn't want drums. Things click when they start to get positive reviews for their demo Zombichrist.

Brutal.

So what is next but a euro-tour, which makes sense because that is the way it is for American bands. Can't draw twenty dudes in their hometown but rock euro-tours and 50,000 raging fans in Indonesian. The struggle is real, and if you have a back on your jean jacket filled with unreadable logos that look like the root system of tree knocked over by a storm then you find this book brutal in all the right ways. I gave this book 3/5 stars on Goodreads because it is not for everyone. Swinford knows his audience - if you grew up on this style of music the book will be better. You will get the humor, you will get the jokes about logos etc. If you don't like Death metal this book is probably a one star book. I hate to say because I like it personally.

Did I love it? Was I dying to read the second book already on my shelf? I liked, not loved the book. It is already there and I think Swinford will likely have grown as a writer in between books So I am interested in that aspect. The story was a little too straight forward to me. I was hoping for more of a surreal brutal death metal fantasy, in that regard perhaps book one is origin story and that is coming.

For those of you who love Death metal I think you should buy these books, support Death metal fiction and put this up on your shelf. I think you'll laugh and that is worth it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review: Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian

Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian

258 pages

Published November 2016 by Grand Mal Press

I have to start with some disclosure. The first time I met Bryan Killian he handed me a tattered and and worn copy of my novel Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich and asked me to sign it. Always a great way into a writer's heart, Bryan and I have shared two publishers now, but we approach our novels very differently.I plan and outline in detail, and BK just goes for it. I really enjoyed His short stories in the San Diego Horror Professionals and consider his Vol.1 story to be the best of collection. So I love the guy.

This novel is a follow-up to BK's debut on Deadite press Welcome to Necropolis, a very traditional zombie novel that uses the standard zombie tale tropes like a power cord on a guitar. These types of zombie novels are sorta like AC/DC riffs, they are not complicated, or ground breaking but often powerful. I am not against zombie novels (hell I wrote one myself)but I tend to like the entries that break new ground like M.R.Carey's The Girl with all The Gifts for example. Certainly you actually see the word zombie anywhere.

Dust Of the Devil's land is a Zombie novel with a capital Z. It is certainly one that with be popular and enjoyed by the traditionalists who can't get enough zombie books. It has excellent moments peppered thought-out highlights include a flashback to the early moments of the outbreak for a substitute teacher. All the marks of a a zombie novel are met, government intervention gone wrong, the stress of being locked away (a convention center) and the struggles to survive.

To me the biggest negative of this novel is the idea of two young boys riding out the apocalypse in a tree house is fantastic, but the boys leave the tree house so quickly that the concept is still largely unexplored. The Characters are engaging, the writing is good all around but it comes down to this. Are you burned out on zombies or are you in the can't get enough camp?

Killian is a good writer,and a better person so me personally I am ready to see him move past zombies. He showed growth as writer from book one to his follow-up, now I can't wait to see where he goes next.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson

In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson

Hardcover, 384 pages

Published June 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing

I went to into this novel cold. My editor at Monster librarian thought it sounded like something I would like and I decided to trust her. One thing is for sure this is literary horror. It is well written with a host of influences just below the surface. If I didn't already know this was a debut novel I probably would have never guessed this novel was written by a first timer.

I will avoid major spoilers however, I think I benefited going in as cold as possible and if you trust me go ahead and read this southern Gothic that I feel is like the movie Near Dark if it was written by Cormac McCarthy. The official statements by the publisher makes that Macarthy comparison as well as Joe Hill and Anne Rice. Hill sure, but Anne Rice not so much for me. Hell I see more in common with True Detective writer Nic Pizzalto's books that any of those three. I like his books by the way.

OK last warning before I into the book, nothing you couldn't figure out by reading the dust jacket. While this novel walks a thin line between the gothic of southern and western feel it is 100% a monster novel. It is not the kind of horror novel that would benefit from any marketing department blasting out it's nature. There is plenty of grim settings balanced by beautiful prose to make this book for horror and non-horror literature folks.

The writing is gorgeous, at times the west Texas drips off the page and you almost feel the humid air. You can picture the rust on the trucks, the stress of the sheriff's belt and many things that make this world vivid. The word vampire is never mentioned, but 60 pages in there was doubt. Had I read the dust jacket I probably would have had a clue sooner, but as such when the story kicks off with the main character Travis waking up covered in blood my mind didn't go there. Once it was clear the novel took on a dangerous edge, this was not Anne Rice's sexy vampires at all. Travis is in trouble, even if he doesn't come to grips with it.

Travis wants to maintain, he doesn't have the money to pay to park his truck and camper at the campgrounds run by Annabelle Gaskin and her ten year old son who I don't recall being called anything but boy. So he works odd jobs and transitions to undead life. Many of the best moments of the novel are conversations between Travis and the boy. These moments are both tense and emotional. It added an important emotional depth to the story that held the room together like the Big Labowski's carpet.

The narrative is excellent jumping between third person point of views, and different time periods with easy. We watch the investigation unfold into the murders tied to Travis. It all works and is not jarring at all. In the Valley of the Sun is a good spiritual cousin to the Stephen Graham Jones novel Mongrels. Different monster and different cultural backgrounds but the same off-color look at the American south.

Enough with the comparisons, it is hard not to do but the reality is this is fine debut of a strong new voice in horror fiction. The better a book is the harder critics will compare to the greats. In the Valley of the Sun is a first novel, so it is too soon to ask "is Andy Davidson one of the greats?" That remains to be seen but in the Valley of the Sun is a great book. It should be in every library collection, and if librarians check it out it will likely ended up in the staff picks.

I suspect we will revisit this title in December when I compile my top ten reads of the year, and I know I will revisit Davidson next time he drops a novel on us.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: Relics by Tim Lebbon

Relics by Tim Lebbon
Paperback, 384 pages Published March 2017 by Titan Books

Two years ago Tim Lebbon's The Silence was my favorite read of the year. I was already a fan of his work, and I decided to pick this book up off the new releases shelf at the library on the strength of that experience. I went into Relics totally cold. I read nothing about it, not even back cover. I am not sure if I had read those things if I would have been super interested. That said I am glad I read this book, and even though I did not dig it as much The Silence I think it is a good novel.

Relics is a weird crime, urban and dark fantasy story that has elements of horror. There are many elements that Lebbon is weaving into this story which sets up a continued story. The main character Angela is a academic who is thrust into this world of poachers when her boyfriend Vince disappears and the search forces her into a secret second life he was living.

These poachers are not selling tusks or rhino horns but parts sometimes living, sometimes long dead of mythological creatures. The underworld of creature hunters is by far the more interesting aspect of this novel. The criminal underground of mobster monsters hunters was far more interesting than Angela who is our main point of view. Don't get me wrong in the 70 pages I was very invested in her search and mystery for her lost Vince.

Once we actually start to solve the mystery the underground of mobsters and monsters eclipse Angela and that is somewhat of weakness in the narrative. The criminal underground is fasinating and the mythological creatures even more so. One thing I really liked is how the story built to the revalations and yet the book ends with hints of much more to come.

I bet many of the reviews on line that are positive will focus on the ending. While I was certainly not completely sold on this novel/or story universe until the ending, as it was a perfect set-up. Lebbon's powerful ending perfectly sets the table a far more interesting second book.

In many ways when I closed the book it felt like I was reading a prequel. I don't know how else to explain it. I really liked, but didn't love this novel. That is OK, because I am glad I read it. I suspect the second book will be awesome and the fact that I want to read is the best thing I can say.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)

by John Scalzi

Hardcover, 333 pages

Published March 21st 2017 by Tor Books

This is a very intensely political Science Fiction novel. It is not surprising that John Scalzi would do that, I mean his twitter feed is a source of hot button opinions. The right wing sad puppies (for those of you who don't know them, they're the sometimes far right and some times Libertarian sci-fi writers) despise him. I mean they tend to twist his words and critically tear about all he says. I think it is the fact that no one has been more popular or sold books more consistently in genre than Scalzi this century that breeds this kind of hatred. Personally I can set politics aside, Neal Asher is perhaps my favorite 21st century Sci-fi writer and his views are almost always opposite of my own. Enough on that, how about this book?

Despite the title Collapsing Empire is not ripped from the headlines look at Trump's blundering presidency or Hillary Clinton's almost guaranteed ascension. Nope this is a political but it is more of a statement on the sixteenth century than this one. Which is fine. This was a time when colonization was just starting in the Americas. It seems that Scalzi wanted to explore a world where this far flung space opera was dependent on something like trade winds were to Spain or the dutch east trading company part in the day. I suppose there is some modern climate commentary, but mostly I felt the commentary was old school.

I assume this is the reason so much of the story centered on the emperorox and the transition of power in the royal family. You see this novel takes place in a far future where a human empire has spread to the stars, and is cut off from earth. The vast empire is connected by faster than light travel that hitches on river like streams called the flow. The capital city Hub is on planet near spot where the flow all connects. The story kicks off when it is learned that the flow will soon be ending and this vast empire will have to face its demise.

With the dependence on a galactic ecology, and the great royal houses at conflict it would be easy to declare this Scalzi's answer to Dune, much in the way Old Man's war was his take on Starship Troopers. I am glad I didn't hear that comparison before hand. While Scalzi lived up and in my opinion out did his inspiration in Old Man's War. This is no Dune. Which is totally fine by the way. kinda sorta a really freaking high bar.

I have mixed feelings about this book and that comparison. Because I don't think this book can hold a candle to Dune on the world building. For one thing the world building is done in cheapest most simple way with a teacher explaining the world to school kids. It is effective but so on the nose I laughed at the book. I think a book would need probably two hundred more pages to build that kinda scope. Here is the thing, I didn't actually want two hundred more pages. It was just the right length, it didn't have scope, but that is fine. Not everything needs to be epic.

I didn't like this book as much as the Old Man's War books, and honestly I picked this up because I thought it was in that universe until I was on page 2. The characters were all good, but characters like Kiva who is the captain of a starship in the book gave me mixed feelings too. Great character, very funny and cool. The thing about Kiva is she felt like a Old Man's war character. She felt out of place. The characters at times felt to much like characters of today, not in this far future. You mean to tell centuries in the future cut off from earth and they still talk like us? Just some subtle changes in dialogue would be cool.

That said it was a page turner, filled with interesting ideas and I wasn't bored. I read it quickly enough. Not sure if I hooked enough to check out book two. Scalzi is a good writer filled with ideas, this is just not my favorite of his. It does have some neat concepts like the flow, the Memory room and Kiva has some really fun moments. Good but not great. If you have not read any Scalzi I would start with Old Man's War and it's totally genius sequel Ghost Brigades.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Book Review: Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup

Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup

Paperback, First Edition, 294 pages

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Grey Matter Press

So I was pretty sure for many years I thought it was safe to assume I was the only Vegan Straight Edge kid turned horror author, I mean in the whole planet. Well a few years back I learned that I was not the special snowflake I thought I was. Not only does the world have another horror author who grew up on punk rock, draws X's on his hands and eats way to much vegan treats but there is another vegan straight horror author right here in freaking San Diego. Chad and I are very different writers, with very different training. We have similar influences and think alike often but what is cool is that we have both released books this year and they are very, very different.

Very very different is a good place to start in this review. Secrets of the Weird is not really like any other novel I can think of, while Stroup clears hints at influences it is not exactly in vein of anything else. Set in slightly surreal fictional town of Sweetville we get no sense of outside geography, or that any kind of world exists beyond the Sweetville city limits. Characters reference lyrics by real world bands, but not by name so in that sense we still do not have conformation that this world exists in our reality.

Our hero is a character named Trixie, she was born male but never identified with that gender. She is transitioning while I have had a few friends go through this process it is not one I have experienced. So it hard for me to say if this novel gets it correct. This was a bold choice for Stroup, one wrought with many pitfalls. It is a subject filled with landmines for author that clear in his dedication that he sides with those this society deems the weirdos and freaks. It is clear that Stroup had good and respectful intentions. I found Trixie to be a wonderful character and she is the main reason why I hope the book does well and we get another book with her at the center.

Trixie is has left home in the suburbs and is trying to make a life for herself on the street. After some time turning tricks and a period living with sibling sugar daddies she has settled into life. Sweetville is home to intense street drug. Sweet Candy is powerful designer drug, one she is trying to stay off of. Her life is turning around when a back alley drug addicted surgeon Julis Kast offers a radical underground surgery to become the woman she always wanted to be. At the same time she meets the boy of her dreams punk rock singer named Kristopher who she hides her big secret from.

At times this novel has a middle era Clive Barker feel of dark fantasy without the elaborate over writing that books like Imajica or Everville fell into. Certainly the world of this novel has it's share of erotic fantasy and that is why you'll hear Barker comparisons. But Sweetville was a setting written by a hardcore kid, and not a theater nerd so secrets of the weird is filled with Neo-nazis, punks, metal dudes, non binary prostitutes and more. These characters are not marginalized like extras on the punk episode of Quincy or freak show on stage at 90's Jerry Springer taping. They are all written with depth even the characters who only briefly appear in the pages. Even the villains of the piece are given depth.

I imagine a novel like this written by a straight male might be scary for readers of this community. Certainly Stroup handles the gender issues better than Brian Keene did in the Complex. Not that Keene was disrespectful he wasn't, but Stroup worked very hard to make this as natural a part of the world as he could. This is not over preachy or as direct as some of the fiction marketed "alternative sexuality." He didn't try so hard to be progressive that the book goes over board. Trixie is a complex character.

The prose is tight, well written and the narrative is straight forward. For as strange as the settings the actually writing is thankfully grounded. I read it quickly. Is is perfect? Look Chad is friend but I can't review books if not afraid to give my opinion. Personally I would not have used the dairy entries as a device. They were fine, didn't ruin my experience but took me out of the novel a bit. The book was a quick read because he didn't waste a bunch of word count on world building but I could have used a bit more of the fucked up world in Sweetville. Show us more of the gutter in book two Stroup. Oh yeah the ending was excellent but it leaves us hanging so you folks better get out there and read the book. I mean I turned the last page assuming there was at least a few more. Shit I wanted to yell at Chad for ending when he did.

Secrets of the Weird is a fantastic read. This novel paints an erotic and dangerous picture of a city that you would only want to visit in the safety of a novel. I hope you'll take the trip and check it out.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review + Author interview: Feral By James DeMonaco & BK Evenson

Feral by James Demonaco, BK Evenson

Paperback, 256 pages

Published April 2017 by Anchor Books

This was interesting book and project. Anyone who has followed my reviews over the years should be aware that Brian Evenson (writing here under the very crafty pen name BK) is one of my favorite authors. Pretty much anything he is involved in I want to read. that was the selling point for me. Evenson is one of the best writers working today who is considered high literature even though his work is certainly horror and at times Science Fiction. Respected by genre fans and shelved in high literature in powell's city of books Evenson is a unique voice in modern fiction. The BK pen has been used for more commercial projects like media tie-ins although this is the first time a BK Evenson book has been connected to an original project.

Co-written with James Demonaco who is known for the Purge movies, I think most readers will come to this book through his work. I hope they will progress to check out Evenson's Immobility or Last Days. I have to admit I have not seen the Purge movies, I will try now to get to them. I do respect his script for the Negotiator which I think is a underrated action drama.

Feral has several times in reviews been called a zombie novel, and in many senses it is. It hits all the tropes and standard plot points that make Zombie fans feel comfortable. For me I think Feral is more in my favorite kinda of sub-genre of horror. What I call the high concept Apocalypse. Notables in this genre are diverse with some of my favorites being John Shirley's Demons about corporations using environmental disasters to raise demons or Tim Lebbon's The Silence about blind monsters who hunt by sound. Feral is about a epidemic that turns men into raging monsters.

The reality is you can't just do zombies anymore. You have to have a interesting take. In my satire The Vegan Revolution...With Zombies I connected it food issues and mocked of the "with Zombie" literature movement. MR Carey is perhaps the best example with last year's "The Girl With All the Gifts" which is better off not spoiled. It had a totally different take.

The concept sets up a battle of the sexes apocalypse that I admit was not fully explored to the full potential that this novel could have. That is not to say that I didn't like it, I did. This is a short no-nonsense horror novel. It doesn't beat you over the head with concept or message. That might seem like a positive but I actually think this needs more exploration of those issues certainly would have helped the novel stand out.

The novel has a interesting prologue that subtly points to how teen age boys treat young women. It marks a shift in the main character when we shoot ahead three years. The Point of view shifts in the novel several times but the main character was Allie, a woman who takes nicely to the Apocalypse, she knows how to shoot, and track, and becomes know for grabbing Ferals to study. Her camp has one of the scientists who worked at the research facility. At the same time the Ferals numbers seem to be growing, they are perhaps not as mindless as once thought. Allie begins to suspect that the ferals are becoming organized and coming after their camp.

The action and suspense are carried with incredible skill. The story doesn't drag at any point, knowing the publisher and co-writer's film background it is easy to assume this story was developed to be a film project. Two parts stuck as favorites of mine, in chapter thirty, the authors create a great sense of dread, we will read and discuss this in the audio interview. The action switches from first person to third and back and forth depending on the point of view. This can be distracting but after the first switches I didn't notice.

One aspect that was missing is a deep look at fears women carry of men naturally. Think of the issues of street harassment. Some women can not walk down the street without being objectified. One out of every three women have been sexually assaulted. These are sensitive issues but one that I think could have been explored more deeply in a novel that takes place in a world where only women remain sane. The novel does however tackle one of these issues in a major way towards the end that cannot be talked about without spoilers. Both Audio bonuses will discuss this message in the story. This reveal on page 271.

At the same time I respect Feral for for not being too deep. It is a excellently told story, and I was turning pages no problem. I filled in a alot of gaps myself well reading it. Feral is a good, and entertaining read that comes very close to expanding the genres. I admit as much as I love Evenson I think MR Carey's The Girl With all the Gifts is better example of expanding the zombie genre but both are worth reading.

BONUS MATERIAL: Check out this 40 minute audio review of Feral featuring myself and Critic Marvin Vernon. He blogs at: thenovelpursuit.blogspot.com

BRIAN EVENSON INTERVIEW:

On youtube:

Interview: Review:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

by Octavia E. Butler, John Jennings (Illustrations), Damian Duffy (Adapted by)

Hardcover, 240 pages

Published January 2017 by Abrams Books

OK this read was the library version of a impulse buy. I saw it sitting on the new release shelf and grabbed it. I am an Octivia Butler fan in general, in particular I love her Parable books. Like many readers I feel cheated by the universe that Butler was never able to finish in that series. I don't know how, in the 35 years since her masterpiece Kindred has been out that I never got around to reading it.

Half way through this book I became upset with myself that I have not read the novel first, but the graphic novel was in front of me so I kept reading. I can't compare it to the novel, but I can only state how this book made me feel. It looks amazing in a slick hardcover with fantastic art by John Jennings and A short but sweet introduction by the great Nnedi Okorator. The story of the two authors personal communications added depth to the artist whose story we were about to read. A perfect introduction to Butler the woman, and Kindred is a great example of Butler the story teller.

The story starts in the 70's - even in liberal southern California Dana and Kevin experience racism. The couple are both writers Kevin a White man and Dana a black woman. The story starts when Dana is suddenly transported through time to the early 19th century in the old south. There she saves the life of a young boy named Rufus. She is not in the past for long, when she returns to the 70's she discovers that Rufus was her Great great grandfather and also the slave owner of her descendants.

The means of the time travel is never explained but Dana quickly figures out she is tied to Rufus, being brough back and forth in time to key moments his life is in danger. Dana believes that she is being brought back in time to save her family line and in a sense her own life.

Eventually her husband come with her. holding on to her as she is pulled through time. Kindred is a neat example of Science Fiction horror using the strength of genre to explore and understand one of the most brutal aspects of our history. The most intense parts of the novel come from Dana's experience of going from a free liberated woman to a a part of the slave system. It is not as cut and dry as she gets there and leads a rebellion. That might seem like a path for the story but realistically that makes no sense story wise.

Dana has to keep Rufus alive and she has to accept some painful actions on his part if her life/ family are ever to happen. This novel has moral dilemmas one after another that drive the story. The plantation, is a abusive and awful place, but if they kill the slaver master the family will be sold and broken up. Time travel is less important to the story than the mountain sized moral dilemmas that drive the novel.

The art is fantastic, but it is the hardcover presentation that is most impressive thing about this project outside of the story itself. I would love to see more Butler novels get this treatment. Big thumbs up.