Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Paperback, 125 pages Published February 28th 2017 by Tor Book

Something worked in this books favor was the fact that I really didn't like the last book I read. Kiernan is a author I have meant to read more of. Agents of Dreamland will only cement my need to read more of Kiernan's work.

One of the latest releases in the the Tor.com series of Novellas which has produced masterpieces like Binti by Nedi Okrafor, Buffalo Soliders by Maurice Broddus, The Warren by Brian Evenson and of course the Black Of Black Tom by victor Lavalle. Those are just the ones I have reviewed. I mean some release strange and original works that are short in page count but huge in Ideas. So Agents of Dreamland fits right in.

This balances lots of feelings for the reader. At times the the prose is vivid and crisp and times the narrative is so intensely weird it is hard to believe it is less than 150 pages. I mean this book is loaded with ideas. It is of course a Lovecraft influenced cosmic horror story but not in stereotypical adding tenticles kinda of way. At times it had the delightfully weird transcendental feeling of David Lynch. The story moves through space and time in a totally unpredictable way.

The story of Signalman a spy who gets off a train in the desert to exchange information that is tied events are tied to the deep space probe New Horizon about to buzz the dwarf planet Pluto. If I start to rattle off all the elements that make this novel you'll get an idea how out there it is. There is a woman who exists outside of time, Sogotths basically alien invading space fungus, A doomsday cult called "Children of The Next Level," tie-ins to early 20th century sci-fi films, and more.

It is one thing to throw a whole bunch of weird things together it is a another to put them all together in a well written creepy tale. Page after page page I marveled at little moments of genius, while remaining stunned at the level of weird. It is set in 2015 for specific reason...

That is when new Horizon was swinging by Pluto taking the amazing pictures in the video. This novella is a bit of a companion piece to the Lovecraft story Whisper in the Darkness that was inspired by the recently at the time discovered dwarf Planet. Kinda wish I know that going into it as I would have re-read that story. It has been a long time.

This is my favorite book I have read in awhile, I was excited by all the strange elements coming together. A masterpiece of Science Fiction, horror and Mythos fiction. Kiernan swung for the fences and knocked the sucker in the parking lot.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

Hardcover, 272 pages

Published August 1st 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Boy I really really wanted to like this book. There were a couple reasons for this. For one thing, I really enjoyed the interview with the author on the "This is Horror" Podcast. I found Percy to have lots of interesting takes on writing and the plot to this novel sounded interesting. I thought the concept was one that could be really cool. The fact that it was set in Portland a city I miss didn't hurt either. I WANTED to like this book, and yet I didn't. Not there are levels to disliking a book. I finished this book. Making it to the end says something.

As a novelist myself I know the huge amount of work involved in researching,writing, editing and marketing a book. I don't root against books but I felt like I was riding a fancy bike with the chain falling off every time we got some speed.

This book was alot of things going on but not exactly the book I was hoping for. The idea that a great supernatural evil is using the Dark Net - ie the underground unregulated internet is a fascinating one. What was needed to tell this story is a a really technologically oriented point of view that combines the feel of early William Gibson with the supernatural feeling of the Exorcist or The Omen. My favorite Horror film of all time Prince of Darkness is a great example of science fiction meeting supernatural even religious horror. Lets face it the evil in this story has demonic judeo-christian feel to it. One of the negatives to this book is I felt like I understood more about the real life Dark Net that Percy did.

The Dark Net is the story of many characters but our main point of view character is Lela a Technophobic Journalist, others include her niece Hannah who is blind but receiving experimental surgery, Her sister, A hacker named Derick and a former evangelist turned homeless advocate. Lela is investigating a murder that is connected to an apartment building that has a tenuous connection the other characters. There is a story line involving Hannah and the experimental treatment leading to her ability to see creatures that exist somewhere between a technological and spiritual realm.

None of these story elements really worked for me. Lela's murder investigation felt like a totally different story, and once the elements started coming together it I didn't feel anymore convinced. The Mike Juniper story on the surface sounded interesting, with a former believer just wanting to help the homeless but his chapters didn't stand out. Hannah and mother were the characters I found most interesting and even though they open the novel they felt under used.

My biggest problem with the writing were events that seemed to happen randomly just because the author wanted them too. The best example was in the first 100 pages. Look as a ex-Portlander who shopped at and loved Powell's city of Books on paper the idea of a suspense filled horror-action scene taking place in the store is cool. However in order to put Lela a reporter who doesn't work into the store alone Percy set-up a ridiculous scene where a Powell's employee just leaves her in the rare books room after the store closed. This would never happen. So it took me out of the book.

This is just one example but there were several times things happen without any logic except to advance the story. Lela's inability to use technology while it fits the author's narrative it is impossible to believe. So as reader in the first 100 pages there are several major strikes against the book. I can suspend disbelief about demons, but a reporter for the leading newspaper in the state being clueless with technology enough soo that she can't download a picture takes me straight out of the story.

Once we get into the third act I feel the title concept of the Dark Net is only touched on in minor ways, and considering it was the subject of the book I wanted more than a wikipedia entries worth of knowledge on the topic. The best techno-thrillers make me feel like the author is in touch with information about the subject I can't understand. The story often meets in the middle. I read this book mostly thinking of ways evil could travel through the dark-net and thinking that Derick was the only character we needed. Then again I didn't believe him as a hacker anymore than Lela as a Luddite reporter in the 21st century.

I wish I could tell you this is an awesome book worthy of your time. It has blurbs from really smart authors Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Chuck Wendig and Paul Tremblay. Percy is a much more successful writer than I am but I just don't see it here. I wanted a smart techno-thriller in the vein of Cyberpunk meets horror instead the third act contains a chapter that felt more like Maximum Overdrive. It was good enough to finish I may give Percy another chance but thumbs down on this one.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book Review: The Snake Handler by J. David Osborne & Cody Goodfellow

The Snake Handler by J. David Osborne & Cody Goodfellow

Paperback, 152 pages

Published 2017 by Broken River Press

This book came as a big surprise to me. I mean I am a fan of both authors, and I knew these dudes were friends but it seemed a strange combo. On the surface both authors are write strange fiction. Goodfellow is more of a horror author and Osborne known for weird crime, of course both crossover into the other's genre often. Osborne and Goodfellow worked together on Cody's criminally underrated weird crime novel Repo-Shark, with Osbourne serving as editor and publisher through Broken River books. But as a fan of works of fiction by both authors the differences in their styles had me scratching my head at the idea of them working together.

Goodfellow is an author whose strength comes in research and little details. Osbourne is more of an author who writes books that feel like a surreal version of the southern gothic. More importantly details are not his thing. Osbourne has admitted on his podcast he skips details, ignoring the parts of stories he finds boring. Osbourne often leaves these moments up to the reader to fill the details on their own. Goodfellow plays will those moments turns them into humor, horror or suspense and leaves no stone unturned. Osbourne's strength are tone, the off-color feeling.

So how would they combine their strength?

The Snake Handler is a (just barely southern) gothic crime novel that centers on Clyde Hilburn as Preacher and faith healer in West Virgina who is bit by a snake in the novella's opening moments. What follows is a weird crime story that involves the main character trying to solve his own murder caused by the bite that ideally should not be so full of poison. The setting provides alot of the weird the characters and it all adds to make for weird, violent fun if you are into the darker more gross forms of story-telling.

I could be wrong, but as much Goodfellow as I have read, and I have read a good % of his catalog it seems he wrote the majority of the first part and Osbourne seems to have been lead on the second part. That is not to say I didn't seem hints of the other through out, and I could be wrong I am just geussing. I enjoyed this book but I admit Goodfellow's clarity is a little more my thing. That is why I think I preferred elements of the first half more than the second. None the less I loved the whole thing, that is personal taste thing.

Goodfellow and Osbourne are a welcome combination and with the Matt Revert cover it is a neat little novella, that should be on your shelf. Honestly this felt like a Tor.com novella series book and in a just world it would have been one.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: Blade Runner 2 The Edge of Human by KW Jetter

Blade Runner 2 The Edge of Human by KW Jetter

Paperback, 320 pages

Published October 2000 by Spectra (first published 1995)

This book sat unread on my shelf for 10 years. I bought it for a quarter at a library book sale in Port Angeles Washington. I knew the back story, KW Jetter who is a cyberpunk author I respected had been friends with PKD during his life. The story goes that he and Dick had discussed before his death his thoughts on seeing the rough cut of the movie, and his plans to write sequel novel Jetter then with permission of the family wrote a series of books that are a sequel to the movie more so than the novel.

The main reason I decided to give this book at spin was to kinda get back into the Blade Runner world before the release of the new film. So I re-watched the blu-ray of the final cut, and read this book. Thought that would be a fun way to get excited for the new film. I read Do Andoirds Dream Electric Sheep and re-watched Blade Runner about 10 years ago. At the time I remember thinking that the movie was more faithful to the source material that it is often given credit for. Certainly there are many concepts in the novel that don't get explored like the empathy boxes and the very term Blade Runner is only in the movie.

That being said the concept of animal extinction, empathy towards animals and the very idea of empathy as a test for humanity is very clearly a translation of the novel into the film format. Watching it again I found little subtle moments that I realized meant nothing to me when I first saw the film and would have no meaning to me without having read the novel. When Deckard asks the replicant stripper if her snake is real and she says "of course not, how could I afford it?" Having read the novel I understand that most animals on earth are extinct that fake animals are status thing. Or in the Tyrell corporations penthouse when Tryell's owl gets a close-up it is clearly a fake but that is never mentioned.

So considering that it was interesting after watching the film again to enter into Jetter's sequel. While there are nods to Dick's novel, this is not an androids sequel it is very much a Blade Runner sequel. There are pros and cons to this. If there is one serious negative is that Jetter doesn't introduce new characters hardly at all, the setting hardly changes. He takes very few risks. It was almost like he was told we have to use all the same actors and sets. Understandable for a movie or TV production just didn't make sense in a prose setting.

Odd choice because it was a book, none the less he finds interesting twists into the story and brings back characters (some of whom died) in interesting ways. At this point I am going to talk about spoilers. The book is many years old, and about to become obsolete. I think many of you want to read this review to skip the book rather than actually than deciding if you want to read it. As a fan of Blade Runner I enjoyed it, but unless you are hugely devoted to the film I don't you have to read it.

I enjoyed reading it rated four stars at first but lowered my score to three after thinking deeper about it. It is fun, but it breaks no new ground and pretty much re-hashes the film over and over.

SPOILERS:

In this novel Rachel has been put in a sleep chamber and Deckard is forced back to LA to look for a last Nexxus 8 Replicant. This mission is given to him by Sarah the template for the Rachel Android. Roy Batty returns in the form of the human template. Holden the Blade Runner shot in the early scenes of the movie returns with a new heart and lungs after nearly dying. Holden and Deckard are both convinced that the other Blade Runner is the last Replicant. This is pretty good PKD paranoia,but the best twist of the novel comes at the end of chapter 8 on page 153. Holden comes the conclusion that perhaps all the Blade runners are Androids.

I thought this was a fun twist. In the end we are left with the same mystery and I am not sure I have reading the other two books.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Review: Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi

Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi

Introduction by Laird Barron

Paperback, 292 pages

Published March 10th 2017 by JournalStone

A short story collection is one of the best ways to get to know an author. I heard Philip Fracassi on A podcast, a epic 3 part interview on This is Horror, and was convinced the guy seemed legit. I looked him up at my library, saw nothing so I requested a purchase and within two months I got a notice it was there. I knew he had worked as a screenwriter but honestly had never heard of him before the interview. Well it was clear I have to fix that.

Introduced by cosmic horror master Laird Barron this collection that has creepy and haunting cover. It feels like the intriduction to the author I was looking for. Fracassi clearly has a perfect balance of skill and style. The stories are all genre but have a diverse feel with in that spectrum. Some are straight fucked-up horror and some feel like classic weird tales.

Weighing with 9 tales some are novella length and had a previous life as chapbooks. The best of these long pieces was Altar a story that took place near a pool. The weirdest story of the book was Coffin whose POV character was excellent, she was the most interesting character in the book.

To me the best story in the collection was Fail-safe. In fact I would go so far as to say it was the best pure horror short story I have read since Brian Evenson's Any Corpse. This story is short on pages but loaded with high concept and perfectly composed moments of suspense and terror. The story includes misdirection, atmosphere and white knuckle scares. For this reader these 20 pages made the whole book worth it. To me it would have made a perfect Tales from the Darkside episode.

Don't get me wrong I read and enjoyed all of it. Fracassi found a fan in me. This is excellent horror literature, the prose is inventive and stylish. The Characters fully developed and Fracassi brings powerful new voice to the table. I know this is a short review but I feel confident that serious horror fans will enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Hardcover, 431 pages

Published June 13th 2017 by Spiegel & Grau

I really loved this book, and I know the hyperbole has started, Lavalle's last book book has seems to have won every major award. this book is no different it is getting rave reviews from almost everyone who read it. The reasons are clear. This book is the real deal story telling to it's core. It has a fantasy feel to that at moments feels like full on fable or fairy tale and other times brutal horror. At the heart of this novel is a very rich story that feels like it is being told to you as you sit on rocking chairs on the front porch. I picked up the book based on the strength of Lavalle's last book The Ballad of Black Tom. I think it was good that I didn't know anything about the plot.

It is the story of Apollo Kagwa son of single mother and African immigrant in New York City. His father left them and the reason is a mystery. The elements of this mystery unfold in a very magical way. Early in the story Lavalle creates a simple story that has a natural feeling of scope and magic. It is kinda hard to explain, the events of the novel are subtle with a slow burn but the way it is told just feels powerful. The pages fly by.

Apollo receives a clue left at his door step that leads him to want to collect books, there are really cool moments centered around the magic and power of books. Those passages set the tone but the zigs and zags into romance and horror. When Apollo meets the love of his life. A Librarian whose entry into his life fills a void. But there is tragedy coming. Soon his son and his wife are missing presumed dead, he ends up briefly in jail orginally charged with their murder. After he is released from prison he wants to get to the truth, is he unlucky or are dark forces working against him?

The strength of this novel is the constant balance that Lavalle brings to the text between the magic and beauty and the dark evil as it builds to a boil. I am sure some readers will feel jolted by the tone shift half way into this novel but this is earned through moments of tension slow building in the first half. The New York setting and characters are really well developed.

Was it perfect? Most seem to think so, the book is racking up five star reviews and started already to win awards. For me there were two elements that didn't work. For one thing I didn't like the addition of modern technology into the story. The inclusion of a phone app into a story that drew strength from a spiritual tone was jarring to me. There was one chapter that ended with joke involving an app that was so corny I almost slammed the book shut.

Apollo is tragic character but one I liked enough to feel for. I liked the strengths of this novel enough to ignore the parts I didn't like. I thought it was very, very good but I didn't like it as much as some. The Ballad of Black Tom was a masterpiece and this one was very good but I am not sure I would use the word that strong of a word here. Lavalle is an amazing writer and I think I will read what ever he writes at this point.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

he Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

hardcover, 288 pages

Published April 2017 by Harper

I have to admit I have never heard of Lidia Yuknavitch before. I have gathered since I started this book that she is an author whose books are shelved and marketed as lit fiction. Certainly this is one of those cases where a book is very clearly genre and is never slapped with the honest label. I understand that to the author she may not have set out to write a science fiction horror post apocalypse novel, but she did. I am sure all she meant to do was do a modern Joan of Arc novel.

Look it was the genre elements that hooked my interest and it the reason many of you read these reviews. Yuknavitch is a talented writer and I am I positive I will read her again. The concept alone, Joan of Arc re-told after the majority of humanity has escaped a radiated earth to live in a orbiting habitat. The humans who survive are transforming, fluid with gender and sexuality becoming a memory. All coo elements that make for interesting read.

Book of Joan is a an ultra-feminist speculative fiction that will get lazy comparisons to Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness just because of the gender fluid moments. I suspect fans of Leguin however will love this novel. There is alot to like here. Normally I am annoyed when a novel like this is not called science fiction, but I have seen worst cases. The novel is not hard sci-fi at all and is more surreal than anything.

Early in the novel I was riding with it. The prose is crisp and the pace starts up OK. I enjoyed the flurry of weird ideas, I had put the hold on the book so many months ago I had forgotten why I was interested so I went in cold. I thought Yuknavitch put more energy into the setting and the world building in the early pages, that is one reason why the first half of the novel worked better for me. In the second half the novel lost focus. So did I.

This novel is really cool, and I liked the themes and methods Yuknavitch used to express herself. I really enjoyed the first one hundred pages. The ecological message is as strong as the feminist one, but I don't think the story suffers for that reason. The last sixty became confusing for me. I admit I got lost and pages went by. That could have been on me, there is no denying the talent involved in the writing.

Overall I liked this book even if I was less happy with the last parts of the narrative. I think fans of smart politically charged speculative fiction should read this book. Fans of smart weird stuff will also enjoy.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: What Immortal Hand by Johnny Worthen

What Immortal Hand by Johnny Worthen
Paperback, First, 318 pages Published September 2017 by Omnium Gatherum

I was sent a review copy so I could not have gone into this novel anymore cold than I did. I expected something good based on OG's history of cool indie horror titles. WIH is a strange horror novel, and one I am glad I read it. Also kinda glad I didn't read the back cover description which gave away an aspect of the book I didn't see coming. Don't worry I'll warn you before I explain. You don't have to take the red pill.

Lets start with the story. Our POV is Michael Oswald a private detective who is hired by an insurance company to track down a stolen truck. Not because of the two people that went missing, but the rare equipment insured on the missing truck. This investigation leads Oswald across the southwest although mostly Utah and California. He eventually discovered a mass graves filled with bodies both fresh and ancient history.

How Oswald finds the bodies becomes a more important mystery than what happened to the truck. Let me cut to the chase here to avoid spoilers and then I'll come back to the story.

Did I enjoy this novel? Yes This is a odd horror novel that starts off as weird crime noir that has a edge of southwest gothic to it. The turn the novel takes as we enter the last 100 pages is a great one that crept up on me. It took a pretty simple novel and turned the narrative into a bit of live wire. It took a pretty simple book and gave it a really interesting edge. Before that twist I was enjoying it, but my feelings for the book really spiked.

That said I was not a huge fan of the last twenty or so pages.I didn't find the ending as satisfying as I had hoped but it didn't ruin the experience. The book is well written and Oswald is likable enough character. The story moves at a good pace but the things that made the book stand-up were back loaded. I enjoyed the book, and thought it was fun but honestly don't think it holds a candle to some of the very exciting things we have in the modern horror underground. I am thinking of authors like Laura Lee Bahr, Cody Goodfellow or Jeremy Robert Johnson for examples. Those writers are telling daring and brave stories in the sense that they are trying to break new ground.

This is a very good book but it felt a little safe to me. That is OK hell I like Vanilla ice cream. I enjoyed this book enough to give it four stars the problem is stacking it up against the amazing things I have read this year. It is a good book judged on it's own merits, but the hard part about giving a recommendation comes to how much do you devote to reading?. Hell I get it I released a book this year too. There is alot of amazing things out there and it is tough as hell to compete. Worthen should be proud of this book, no matter what I say. I really liked this book, think it is great but I am pretty positive even in September that it will not make my Top 10 list of the year.

OK Spoilers Bonus:

On the back cover the book is compared the 1985 World Fantasy award winning novel Song of Kali by Dan Simmons. That is really a bold claim and one I am glad had not read. I didn't read anything about the book dealing with Kali or thuggee cults. I am glad I didn't because that was actually a good twist for me. The twist introducing those elements worked for me but going fully into in the last pages didn't work as much for me. I am not sure how I would have written to the back differently I am just saying I am glad I didn't know.

(Audio) Book Review: Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

9 1/2 hours audio recording. I don't listen to alot of audio books anymore. I used to rock most Stephen King novels that way, and it used to be the soundtrack of my long walks. The growth of podcasts, my interest in sports and thus sports radio sorta killed my audio book consumption. But in a convoluted way I owe sports radio local legend and world class curmudgeon Jeff Dothseth. In between insulting basically everyone in San Diego but enemies and friends alike Jeff mentioned Author Don Winslow's new book the Force. I wanted to read that but it is popular and the book has 150 holds at the library. Jeff also mentioned This novel The Dawn Patrol which he described as a Mystery set in Pacific Beach. I was sold.

Last month I had a trip planned to Carbondale Illinois to go watch the total solar eclipse. This is only a four hour drive from my hometown Bloomington Indiana where I would be visiting my father. However I understood that the traffic into and out of the tiny college town of Carbondale would suck. Indeed on the way home the Drive from Carbondale to Mt. Vernon (normally 45 minutes)took 4.5 hours. I listened to more than half of this book on the drive there and drive back. That said I spent alot of that long drive to Mt. Vernon explaining how amazing it was to see the eclipse.

OK Dawn Patrol is written by the genius crime writer Don Winslow known for his cartel crime novels and Read by Ray Porter. Who I knew from his reading of San Diego's own Jonathan Maberry's books. Winslow is known for very honest and brutal modern crime novels. The Savages and and his novel Cartal are known for the detailed research as much as the characters. Dawn Patrol is the most classic noir novel set in San Diego I have read. It has a classic detective novel feel.

The mystery at the heart of this story is only one thread in a rich tapestry. The title perfectly captures the most important aspect of the novel The six characters that make up the Dawn Patrol surfing crew. While our main POV character is Boone Daniels PB surfer turned washed up cop, all the members of the crew did attention and add essential flavor to the story. Boone fits alot of surfer guy and novel detective story tropes but when he is given the job solving the murder of a stripper it drags him in the underworld of San Diego.

In many ways Dawn Patrol reminded me of Terriers, the short lived noir comedy Series on FX set here in San Diego. While I like Terriers slightly more, they kinda have a similar DNA.

As San Diegan my favorite aspect of this novel was the asides where Boone via Winslow explained San Diego to the readers not from here the city. This is important to explain the differences between OB, PB and mission bay for example. Living here I of course know much of this but Winslow really gave history and context that most San Diegans have no clue about. Like Why the Gaslamp district exists, and it's more than 100 years of history. This alone makes the book a worthwhile read

A part of me wishes I had read this novel myself but the audio book was well produced. Ray Porter is a world class reader. I think if you like crime novels you can't go wrong here, but if you are in San Diego you should read this local novel.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Book Review: His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem

His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem
Paperback, 199 pages Published November 25th 1999 by Northwestern University Press

This book had been on my shelf for years, and I knew I wanted to read it at some point. It is considered a classic and certainly Lem's Solaris is one of the best mind screwing sci-fi novels ever written. Lem pretty much broke the forth wall spoke directly to us on page 31: "The Reader who plowed his[their] way to this point and is waiting , with growing impatience, to be lead into a inner sanctum of the famous enigma, in the hope that I will regale him [them]with thrills and chills every bit as delightful as he experiences viewing horror movies, I advise to set my book down now."

Yeah I admit during the first 30 pages I found myself wonder what the hell was the story. If anything this warning was about 30 pages late. Alot of the early pages just came off as philosophical nonsense. I am sure that is on me but I was waiting for a story to begin. Once I got this warning I sat back to enjoy the book for what it was a thin story propping a discussion of how our species would/could handle contact with a intelligent species beyond our world.

So the story centers around a signal discovered to be repeating that is coming from deep space somewhere around Canis Minor. The signal is transmitted by a method that itself is barely understood. So the U.S. Government gathers physicists, linguists, engineers, psychoanalysts, mathematicians, chemists, humanists, anthropologists and many others. We are told 25,000 experts and sub-experts are gathered in the Nevada dessert to study it. Years go by they learn enough to bio-engineer something they call frog-eggs something they don't entirely understand.

The title of the book does a excellent job of expressing the whole point of the 199 page exercise. The title is reference to the record famously played for dog to test him if he would response to a recorded voice. It confused the dog, and that is what happens to humans here. Confusion. I actually wish Lem had kept the the title but not named the Manhatten style project in the book His Master's voice. I doubt the government would name their project that. Maybe the scientists would have but whatever, I think it took away from the power of the title.

This novel is a masterpiece of speculative philosophy, that is held together by a threadbare story. The story is not the point. Thinking about what it means to contact another civilization is the point. The extra-terrestrials here are not typical not war like or peaceful. They are as much a mystery as the nightsky itself. We are not even sure if the senders intended for earth to get the message or was it a accident. The message could have been sent out billions of years ago and the senders may be alive or not.

This may be a spoiler but the novel in the end is not about communication, but lack of communication. It becomes most clear when our lead scientists has to explain to us dummies through a dummy surrogate in the Senate. This dialogue clears up alot of things that frankly flew over my head.

There is plenty of ghee-whiz moments when the team discovers that instead of numbers and math the methods normally considered to be the common language in translation, the language is genetic, and based on chemicals. Lem writes some of the most genius and other worldly science fiction.

It might seem funny to say this is a masterpiece of science fiction and certainly worth of five stars even when I personally gave it three. Lot it is a work of genius and the ideas it brings up and discussion are important. I think it is an important book but it is not exactly a fun read. The opening 25 pages is a not stop pompus blab fest that adds zero to the book. In thinking about this book I would talk myself into it's genius at times and then marvel at how crap other parts were.

I also think it is a interesting counter to Sagan's Contact. I wonder if Carl had this book in his mind when he came up with that one. I can't recommend this as a fun read. But certainly I think the ideas are important, if a dry as sand paper sci-fif novel is something you can live with read it and lets talk.

Book Review: The Boy on The Bridge by M.R. Carey

The Boy on The Bridge by M.R. Carey

Hardcover, 392 pages

Published May 2nd 2017 by Orbit

The boy on the Bridge is a follow-up release to the M.R. Carey surprise bestseller The Girl With All the Gifts. If you enjoy horror fiction or just good story telling at all let me say right now that you need to get into The Girl With all the Gifts. It was was one of my top reads of last year. It was a great novel, but thankfully if you don't have it in you to read the novel, then you a pretty faithful movie based on it starring Glen Close. I think it is hard to talk about either book or movie without laying ruin to the effects the story has on the consumer. So if you trust me stop right here. Read the first book or see the movie.

OK maybe you saw the first movie or read the book and you are wondering if this one is as good. I'll get to that. First off I think the marketing and even the title for this book are really interesting. It seemed like they were really trying hard to make sure you were very clear this was in the same world as the first book. The Boy in the title certainly doesn't play the role the Melannie did in the first book.

This novel follows the science team living in a tank named "Rosie" that they take around the waste land. The main character was a scientist named Dr. Rina Khan and a savant named Stephen. The book switches back and forth from their points of view. Stephen is obsessed with finding a cure, and his chapters and unique way of viewing the world provide some of the most interesting moments of prose. For her part Khan reveals in the early pages that she is pregnant. This is very against the rules of the mission but they are too far out into the wilds of the apocalypse to return. This child on the way is well played for moments of subtle but creepy suspense. What world is this child coming into? Will it be safe? Will it be human?

I think for many the characters will come off flat to some readers, but I think this is a bi-product of their position in the mission.The two main characters were well written in my opinion, and yes some of the others filled tropes but I don't count them against my enjoyment of the novel.

Now is this a sequel? Does it take place around the same time as the first book? We know early on that the E-blockers exist in this story. That is the stuff they put on their skin so they are not smelled by the Hungries (zombies). Because I didn't really know I got treated to a bit of twist and I enjoyed that reveal. I think if I had read the first book more recently I might have had a better context for it. It will not be a twist for all readers.

M.R. Carey is a master story teller, and alot of people feel the first book was the man coming to the tops of his powers. There are moments of suspense and reveals through-out the book that really impressed me. He used the claustrophobic setting of the tank for both emotional as well physical suspense. The moments through Stephen's eyes we are watching him make amazing discoveries but we know he is doing it in a way that will harm him down the line.

The action in the book is done incredibly well. One scene chapter 38 pages 241-244 was something I had never seen before. Did it work? It did for me. Stephen just had seconds to save Khan's life and Carey broke actions down second by second.It was a really smart way to do action and character at the same time. I thought it was a neat trick. There is also a moment of heart-breaking coldness on pages 312-13 that I thought was the best moment of the book.

The Boy on the Bridge is a excellent follow-up to the Girl with all the Gifts after last year's disappointing (for me) Fellside I thought this was a great read. As good as the first, that would be tough to do. but it will make the first book stronger and that alone is reason enough to read it.

Check out this 30 minute discussion I had about the book with fellow critic Marvin Vernon or the Novel Pursuit blog.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review + Author Interview: Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Paperback, 144 pages

Published April 2017 by Tor.com

Boy Tor continues to release weird and exciting novellas! Now I generally think 100 pages or more is a novel, and I always bring up Of Mice and Men as an example. Hoosier horror and fantastic fiction author Maurice Broaddus is also on a heck of roll. His short story collection Voice of Martyrs is destined for my top ten reads list and this one has chance. If you read that review you might remember I said 'Voice of Martyrs goes beyond just being good, it is a book of deep meaning.'

I was first introduced to this world in the short story “Pimp My Airship” which appeared in the Voice of Matyrs. There all kinds of genius moments of world building through that story. And as soon as I heard that a novella set in that world was coming – I was sold.

This alternative history features a very different map and even though I am spelling it out here it is woven matter factually into the text in a way only masters of world building can do. Jamaica is a super power, Texas spelled Teja is its own country and the five native American nations control the west. You probably have more fun discovering that on your own, but I mention it to give you a understanding of the depth here. This is a short book but Broaddus is an author who has to sit on his over-stuffed suitcases to get them to close. These books are so filled with ideas you will marvel at them.

There were times when the world came off recognizable and other times so alien I had to really think about it. Is this the past, present or future of this other America…I can’t say exactly but it was an amazing steampunk setting. As great as that was it wouldn’t matter much if the characters and story were flat.

Our hero Desmond Cole is a Jamaican spy who brings a talented young man named Lij. The boy is hunted for his pychic abilities and here another tried and true sub-genre is added. Think of the magical child horror genre made famous by King’s Firestarter and originally in the John Farris classic “The Fury.” We also saw it more recently in The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers.

Broaddus has fun playing with old tropes and tools in a very different sand box. I think this a neat book and certainly could have been double the length. I mean this novel has the fantasy elements, the strong characters and the pieces of assassins and intrigue that make this at times feel like classic adventure while always balanced with imagination and invention of a master story teller.

Already now. I was recently back home in Indiana and asked Maurice if he wanted to have a coffee hang. So we did but I couldn’t resist the chance to record a interview in person. So this interview is mostly about Buffalo Soldier and the craft of writing. So if you have not read the book there is still a lot to learn in this interview. If you like it please check out my youtube channel for interviews with other writers.

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