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: