Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Review: Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Paperback, 202 pages

Published 2015 by Fungasm Press

Laura Lee Bahr is a fantastic storyteller. A multiple platform artist who has starred in, written and directed films. She has written stand out story stories in anthologies that were filled with the biggest names in genre fiction and her first novel Haunt won the wonderland book award for best novel. That novel Haunt is a absolute masterpiece of LA bizarro noir. It is a one of a kind book that is part choose your adventure, part horror and never feels like a traditional novel.

On the surface this a more straight forward narrative than Bahr's debut, but the subject matter and story elements are just as subversive. This is a funny book in many ways, and pokes fun at Hollyweird. Bahr writes LA like King writes Maine. With a completely different tone LFRP explores LA just as her first book did.

The story of aspiring writer - director Madeline Hunter who is desperately trying to get her Indie film made. The key to getting it made cast George Clooney in the story of Dominique Colt - a woman who murdered her partners in a three-some romance. Mads is not having having luck getting the movie started but perhaps her friend revealing that he is a vampire will change things. He reveals that vampires are all over the industry, operating like a cult.

The writing is excellent and most important for a structure geek like me the story unfolds perfectly, balancing the Madeline story with the back story that inspired her film. The main characters are well constructed, but in many ways I found Dominique to be the character I was most interested in.

LFRP is great storytelling unleashed from mainstream expectations and Laura Lee Bahr proves again she is one of the most impressive voices in Bizarro. This novel doesn't forsake intelligence for crude humor Although the book has one of the most cringe worthy farts in a book I have ever read. At times this book is erotic, funny and always weird. Not of that stuff would work for me if not the hands of a gifted storyteller. Thankfully it is.

One of my top ten reads of 2016. I read this on a flight between San Diego to Indiana, only stopping to switch planes. I was almost a month late with the review, but not I loved this book.

Book Review: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Hardcover, 384 pages Published July 2016 by Doubleday

There are a few critics whose opinions I value more than others. This book got the top slot on "The novel Pursuit" top ten list by California critic Marvin Vernon. Since it was his novel of the year I was very interested. I can say right off the bat I didn't like this novel as much Vernon, but after reading this book I can also understand why he liked it and I didn't.

The Heavenly Table is hillbilly noir set in backwoods Ohio in the nineteen-teens around the same time as the first world war was raging in Germany. The narrative has a main point of view family in the Jewitt gang, but interludes and side characters make up a thinly connected mosaic.

The Jewitt family made up of three brothers Chimney, Cane and Cob have grown-up with Pearle a widowed illiterate farmer. Their father believes the heavenly table they go to after death is what is important. They are poor dirt poor when Pearle suddenly passes the boys feel sudden freedom. No one to tell them not to eat all their food, to go to bed. They have a brother who can read and they are all about pulp western books about Bucket Bloody Bill. Why not become outlaws? They need money and food and start by robbing a bank. They want to avoid violence, but as you might suspect their plans don't exactly work out. Their outlaw life does in many ways mirrors the pulps they love.

The Heavenly Table also follows several other characters some directly connected to the story, some with very thin connections. This is one place where the novel lost me. Sometimes this move away from the main narrative confused me. When I hooked on the main story - ten pages on some other unconnected story can lose my attention. There is a subplot about a Gay solider that was more interesting to me than most of the other interludes.

The prose is excellent, the characters are vivid and Pollock paints a grim world. That said there is some weird off beat humor and it is not stretch to compare this book to Cormac McCarthy. I think my problems with the book was a lack or narrative clarity, and a personal dislike for how redneck the book was. Not sure I was in the mood to be in this world.

That said I didn't enjoy this novel, but I respect it enough I am interested to read more by this author.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Paperback, 275 pages

Published May 2016 by Tachyon Publications

"Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change."

Central Station is the third release by the world Fantasy award winning author. It is a a really cool concept that while sold and marketed as novel is much more of short story collection. This didn't really occur to me until I was 100 pages or so into it. It was then that I looked in the back to see that many of the pieces were published in various magazines and anthologies.

Certainly it is a mosaic style of story telling and while the setting is entirely futuristic I think Tidhar is going for a Cloud Atlas feel to the book. The stories are interconnected for sure and not just by the setting - the current bus Station of Tel Aviv, which in this book is a interplanetary spaceport.

One or more of the stories ventures out into the galaxy at wide, and certainly Mars looms in many of the stories. The main connecting narrative is found in a story line about data vampire that feed off information left similar to blood. the different stories have different leads but perhaps the most interesting was Boris Chong who just returned from a years on Mars. There is magic, surrealism and plenty of Science Fiction invention.

Over all this was a neat book but the last of a single driving narrative slowed me down a bit because I was not primed to read a collection, I believed even 90 pages in that I was reading a novel. The impressive invention on every page is fun and makes the book a worth while read but I would not consider it essential reading.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

Paperback, 149 pages

Published February 16th 2016 by

This is a short book but it is packed genius and invention. Pretty audacious of the author to use 1920's Brooklyn to explore racism in a Lovecraftian novella. Horror author HP Lovecraft has been the source of controversy in recent years when black authors objected to the use of his face on the world fantasy award. You see if you didn't know HP Lovecraft beloved for his genre expanding horror fiction was also a flaming racist.

While many authors write in a lovecraftian style or universe what makes the Ballad of Black Tom such an impressive book is that it explores the issue of racism of Lovecraft's time. If you are not a serious fan of Lovecraft you may not understand the levels here. Indeed I am not exactly a scholar of Lovecraft so I sure much of it goes over my head. People who think it was just his letters often forget the Horror of Red Hook and this book is like photo negative of that work.

You see Lovecraft lived in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn during this period, which he considered the worst of his life. It is my understanding that a great of his racism was expressed with most venom during this era. So here we have a novella that tells a Lovecraftian style story exploring these themes and even includes some cool noir settings and happening jazz environments.

The story of a street hustler named Charles Tester who is hired to deliver a magic tome. For a short book alot happens, and I think the only flaw is that to really get the strength of this book you have know Lovecraft. That said it is written with skill, and the voice is powerful. Second Tor novella I read this year and they were both great. I am glad they are doing these.

This novella is is but the best thing I can say about it is that it is important.