Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Book Review: Glorious Fiends by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam


 

Glorious Fiends by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Paperback 130 pages,

September, 2022 by Underland Press

Reading this book was a happy accident thanks to one of the authors who blurbed the book. Now Sam J. Miller who has made my best of the year list twice with Blackfish City and The Blade Between said "If Hellraiser and Netflix's Castlevania hooked up and had a trio of queer poly bad-ass lady babies."  As great as that sounds it wasn't his blurb that sold me. After having interviewed Sam twice on two different podcasts I went to his signing at Mysterious Galaxy. As I waited to get in the long line to get my copy of Blackfish City signed Sam said "You should talk to David he is vegan and local."

So before I knew Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam was an author, we talked about all the glorious vegan food we have in San Diego, and where I should go if I come to her town in Texas. I took far too long to read this and I don't know if she listened to me and ate at Veganic Thai, but finally, we are here. I am sorry this sat on the TBR as long as it did. I like reading books by cool people and the good news is it is super fun!

Glorious Fiends is a dark monster bizarro gothic gore-drenched novella. Stufflebeam challenged my notions about a story being cute and gross at the same time, turns out that yes it can.

The story of Roxanne a manic, intense vampire...well she is a lot. When the guardian of the underworld gives her a task, she resurrects her besties a couple of classic monsters. When your best friends are Medusa and Mx. Hyde hijinks will ensue. The good news it is all entertaining gory, hot, and in the end, it will touch even the coldest hearts.

If you are a super-serious SF or horror reader then this book might not work for you. On paper, this is not the type of book I pick off the shelf. I like reading out of my comfort zone and the book was filled with moments that gave me a reason to smile.

Starting with the setting of the Great Library of Evil, a place you know you would love to browse. I love when one of the monsters picks up a living history book that is not finished, the book fills up as events unfold. There is a funny conversation about how annoying newly minted monsters are with their grand ideas. Medusa brings the funny conversation to a halt by admitting all she has wanted to do is fall in love. Medusa in many ways more than Roxanne wears the heart of this book on her sleeves.

 Consider Medusa's introduction... "Your hair is amazing," Roxanne said. She stepped around MX Hyde, toward Medusa, and reached out to pet a snake.

"I wouldn't-" Medusa began, but the snake struck the fatty round of Roanne's thumb before the words left her mouth.
Roxanne cackled "What a vicious garment."
"It's not a garment," Medusa said. Her voice was strange;strangled, not at all like it had been that night. "It's me."


If there is a mission statement, and anyone who reads my reviews knows I am always on the lookout for them it is right here. Glorious Fiends is a wonderful story of misfits who accept and love each other through all the weird and unfortunate violence that comes with being a monster. If there is a more important theme for young weirdos I am not sure what it is. I say weirdos with love in my heart by the way.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam wrote a book that is not really my style but one I respect when done right. It is a short quick, fun read. At 130 pages it is not long but packs a ton of invention into the short page count and if you like funny weird monsters with a heart you can't go wrong. The book also won my heart a little bit when Stufflebeam used the notes of a theremin to describe the feeling of a scene. I laughed but the reason I liked it...I heard it in my head throughout the book that I sorta envisioned it in glorious black and white.  

Monday, January 16, 2023

Graphic Novel Review: Star Trek Year Four #2 Written by David Tischman & Various Artists

 


Star Trek Year Four #2 by David Tischman, Steve Conley (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator),
Joe Sharp (Illustrator), Gordon Purcell (Illustrator), Rob Sharp (Illustrator), Leonard O'Grady (Illustrator)

I am not going to go super deep here. I don’t expect much from this series. I consider them basically lost episodes of the Animated Series. They have a bit more modern feeling, while still feeling like TOS, so I like that aspect. The stories in this collection are short, single-issue stories and I found myself wishing for one long story that would feel more like an episode of the live-action show.

That said I liked there were political stories, character stories, and a funny one that commented on TV. It was a good mix. It felt like Star Trek and I enjoyed it. Will keep getting it from my library.

Book Review: Hide by Kiersten White

 


Hide by Kiersten White

Hardcover, 243 pages
Published May 24th 2022 by Del Rey Books

I admit despite her many credits I was not familiar with this author, and she lives in the same city as me. That is one reason I got this book on a whim at the library. It looked like horror, saw the author was from here and I avoided the plot description on the cover deciding to go in cold. What I have gathered from the acknowledgments and the bio this was the first targeted at adults novel.

There is a degree that this novel suffered from the reader (that would be me) not connecting to it. On a technical  level there are several things the novel does very well. The tone, the atmosphere all service the novel which  is clear meant to have a point of view and a message. I personally like my genere fiction heavy handed and to the point, it could have even gone further with me and I am there.

Hide has an excellent concept, a reality survival  game set in a old creepy abandoned  amusement park, the beautifully designed book comes with a map. The idea is a group of young people have to play hide and go seek in the park, they can come out at dark to talk, eat and so on. This is important to the story so the characters can develop and play off each other. As some characters are found they disappear. To the players they are going home losers, with out the big cash prize but for the reader we know something darker is going on.

The main point of view character was a young woman named Mack, who is chosen for the contest because hid while her family was murdered. As a writer/critic who loves parallels and reversals I dig this set-up.  Mack is well written character. There is great  attention put to the characters and developing them…

“She’s so sick of trying to turn everything into an opportunity, trying to exploit every hobby, every interest, every talent, even her own fucking face and body in a desperate attempt to make enough money. The last time they spoke—a year ago, maybe?—her father accused her of being lazy, of not working, but the truth is, like everyone her age she knows, she’s always working. She’s just not making a living doing any of it. Yet.”

 Thee problem is the deeper the novel goes I was having trouble keeping the characters straight. Fourteen characters in a survival horror story is a lot to manage even if the structure includes taking out two a day over the week long game. The structure is interesting, because hiding for the daylight hours provides less suspense then you might think much of the heavy lifting is at night when the characters come together.  They are looking for fame and money, there is some interesting stuff to be said about what young people crave, and the lengths they will go.

 The structure has chapters representing days and nights at a time. White does a great job balancing the tension. I think the dynamic is the strongest part of the novel, that is what made my trouble telling the characters apart frustrating. I kept thinking about Panic Room. Writer David Koepp uses the geography of the setting to build tension and keep the viewer on edge. That is the thing missing from Hide for me.   

Remember when I said it could have been more direct. Looking for Quote from the dog-earred pages I had I found this…

“People pretend things aren’t wrong, even when they can feel the truth, because they’re too afraid of what it means to look right at the horror, right at the wrongness, to face the truth in all its terrible glory. Like little kids, playing hide-and-seek. If they can’t see the monster, it can’t get them. But it can. It always can. And while you aren’t looking, it’s eating everyone around you.”

 I think White was doing a good job expressing her anger at the shit our younger generations have to put up with. Yeah, it is some bullshit. This is a novel that didn’t quite gel with me but I think it is as much on me. I want to read White’s other work.  This is not a bad novel, I just didn’t connect with it. I like the concept, and I am interested to  know if it works for you.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Book Review: Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold


 

Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold

Paperback, 246 pages
Published April 1st 2004 by Writer's Digest Books (first published 2001)


My first read of 2023 was a book that I could have taken an attitude with. I mean I am the author of 11 published books, many of which are Science Fiction. I recently interviewed Gerrold for my podcast, and for background on an article I am working on about Dorothy Fontana. In the interview, he mentioned that he and DCF covered each other’s, writing classes. I had the thought of how jealous of the students at Pepperdine who went to Gerrold’s writing classes.

I knew Gerrold had written a book about writing SF for beginners. That is indeed the bottom line this book is written for the first time and starting writers. DG is giving the very basics but that said there is still much for writers even with lots of experience to draw from. My personal favorite aspect is Gerrold fills the book with personal stories that involve people in the science fiction community, editors he worked with, and advice he got from friends who are legends.

The first story is about his best and worst teacher that challenged him and told him he had no shot, and DG spent his career trying to prove this skeptic wrong. That is a powerful tool not to be underestimated. As far as rubber meeting the road there is tons of nuts and bolts advice that can help the writer who has no idea where to start.

Creating a story, Structure, plotting, world-building, characters, and even style. First lines, last line. This is more nuts and bolts and nitty-gritty than most writing memoirs. More helpful than say Stephen King’s On Writing which kinda banks on the reader coming to the table with natural talent. This reminded me of David Morrell’s fantastic writing memoir as far as being helpful with advice.

As far as what I learned about classic writers, a topic I am most interested in Gerrold told a story that he devoted a chapter about.  This story was one about The legendary author Theodore Sturgeon (More than Human) who told him his style of writing using a beat, metric prose. That was fascinating but I also liked reading about “Ten Tuesdays down a Rabbit Hole,” A Harlan Ellison-hosted writing class at UCLA that many writers around LA attended and guest lectured at.

For an SF writer who is young and starting their journey is a really helpful book. It is 20 years old and as a devoted reader of Gerrold’s work, I can detect his evolution in minor ways between this and his last novel Hella. Mostly in the pronouns chapter, which is out of date with how the evolution in society has changed. Gerrold doesn’t even mention the concept of Non-binary characters in Worlds of Wonder but he did in his last novel.

The only nitpick I have with this book is Gerrold has a very rigid point of view of what style of Science Fiction works. Read Hella for example his most recent novel, for example, it is a hard-SF novel about a colony world. It is important to Gerrold that his fictional world be real, and function. The science and aliens have to be believable for him.

As a huge fan of Philip K. Dick and surrealist SF, I don’t need such things. I like reading old out-of-date science fiction and don’t need believability. It would have been helpful if Gerrold could have encouraged a surrealist take, even if he doesn’t use it. I can’t stand first person for example, but if young writers ask me I give them the best advice I can even if I don’t write that way.


My first read of 2023 was a book that I could have taken an attitude with. I mean I am the author of 11 published books, many of which are Science Fiction. I recently interviewed Gerrold for my podcast, and for background on an article I am working on about Dorothy Fontana. In the interview, he mentioned that he and DCF covered each other’s, writing classes. I had the thought of how jealous of the students at Pepperdine who went to Gerrold’s writing classes.

I knew Gerrold had written a book about writing SF for beginners. That is indeed the bottom line this book is written for the first time and starting writers. DG is giving the very basics but that said there is still much for writers even with lots of experience to draw from. My personal favorite aspect is Gerrold fills the book with personal stories that involve people in the science fiction community, editors he worked with, and advice he got from friends who are legends.

The first story is about his best and worst teacher that challenged him and told him he had no shot, and DG spent his career trying to prove this skeptic wrong. That is a powerful tool not to be underestimated. As far as rubber meeting the road there is tons of nuts and bolts advice that can help the writer who has no idea where to start.

Creating a story, Structure, plotting, world-building, characters, and even style. First lines, last line. This is more nuts and bolts and nitty-gritty than most writing memoirs. More helpful than say Stephen King’s On Writing which kinda banks on the reader coming to the table with natural talent. This reminded me of David Morrell’s fantastic writing memoir as far as being helpful with advice.

As far as what I learned about classic writers, a topic I am most interested in Gerrold told a story that he devoted a chapter about.  This story was one about The legendary author Theodore Sturgeon (More than Human) who told him his style of writing using a beat, metric prose. That was fascinating but I also liked reading about “Ten Tuesdays down a Rabbit Hole,” A Harlan Ellison-hosted writing class at UCLA that many writers around LA attended and guest lectured at.

For an SF writer who is young and starting their journey is a really helpful book. It is 20 years old and as a devoted reader of Gerrold’s work, I can detect his evolution in minor ways between this and his last novel Hella. Mostly in the pronouns chapter, which is out of date with how the evolution in society has changed. Gerrold doesn’t even mention the concept of Non-binary characters in Worlds of Wonder but he did in his last novel.

The only nitpick I have with this book is Gerrold has a very rigid point of view of what style of Science Fiction works. Read Hella for example his most recent novel, for example, it is a hard-SF novel about a colony world. It is important to Gerrold that his fictional world be real, and function. The science and aliens have to be believable for him.

As a huge fan of Philip K. Dick and surrealist SF, I don’t need such things. I like reading old out-of-date science fiction and don’t need believability. It would have been helpful if Gerrold could have encouraged a surrealist take, even if he doesn’t use it. I can’t stand first person for example, but if young writers ask me I give them the best advice I can even if I don’t write that way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

My Top reads of 2022 Thumbnails reviews (Podcast links)

 


 

2022 was a good reading year for me including SF magazines which are book-length (so not cheating) I read 100 books. I admit I didn’t finish Uncle Steve’s Fairy Tale, I had to read hundreds of unpublished Treatments and outlines for research, but only one of those was actually published at one time and doesn’t count. The amount Goodreads counted was 25,499 pages.

I did a bonus video doing a thumbnail review of each and every read here:

Video talking about all 100 books I read in 2022 

Then for the podcast, I was joined by my homey Marc Rothenberg to break down our top reads of 2022 together.  Now that it has been out for bit here is my list.

Here are the links for the discussion and which includes Marc's picks.

Video of my Top reads of 2022 Discussion

 Audio of the Top Reads of 2022 podcaast

Best reading soundtracks:

Smashing Pumpkins CYR

Leprous – Mix

Katatonia - City Burials, Mix

Best non-fiction reads

Monster She Wrote by Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson

JG Ballard/ The Stars My destination Companion by D.Harlan Wilson

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds Edited by Ian McIntyre and Andrew Nette

John Brunner Modern Masters of SF series by Jad Smith

The World Hitler Never Made by Gavriel Rosenfeld

Best 5 retro reads:

Honorable mentions (Scanner Darkly by PKD, Blood Music by Greg Bear Conditionally Human By Walter Miller Jr.)

The Hustler by Walter Tevis: I read almost all of the Tevis books in the last year, and the year before. The Hustler is a subtle classic, but a classic for a reason.

Ice by Anna Kavan  The story of a weird apocalypse is at times almost surreal. A supernatural cold is slowly creeping across the landscape entombing the earth in a sheet of thick ice. We are told this story by a nameless narrator who goes on a hero’s quest across this cold and dying landscape in an attempt to save the “Glass girl” a blue-eyed super goth lilly white-skinned woman who is on the cover of this edition. Just wow.

Northwest of Earth by C.L.  Moore: An amazing collection of 1930s Weird Tales written by a woman who grew up in depression-era Indiana. Stunning.

Galaxies by Barry N. Malzberg: Meta-surreal SF novel that breakdowns down the concept of the genre itself. Full podcast coming with James Reich and D. Harlan Wilson (PFDW #101)

The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett: My favorite novel from the 50s by the woman who wrote the first draft of the Empire Strikes Back. Dark hard SF. Well based on the science of the time.


 

Top ten new releases

Honorable mentions – Manhunt by Grethen Fleker Martin, The Devil takes you Home by Gabino Iglesias, and God’s Leftovers by Grant Wamack.

10: Road of Bones by Christopher Golden

Road of Bones is a brutal high-concept horror novel that I would describe as a strange mix of Paranormal Activity, Ice Road Tuckers, Wages of Fear, and Joe Carnahan’s The Grey.  I personally find isolation horror to be one of the most intense forms of the genre. Maybe the years living in San Diego have made me weak, but the knife-sharp cold makes the isolation even more powerful. Enter one of the most horrible settings I can imagine.

The story is simple, and the execution is not. Tightly wound around atmosphere at times, and action at other moments in this novel. it has more packed into its pages than novels twice its length.

9: Daphne  by Josh Malerman

A horror master at the top of his form. Daphne is a far better novel than the concept would lead you to believe, much the way I felt when I read Malerman’s Peral. This shouldn’t work but it does. Why? Because Malerman is that good. Not everybody could pull off this book, the amazing fact is Only Malerman could. A horror novel that is equal parts a deconstruction of teenage anxiety and a loving tribute to the sport of basketball.

8: Aurora by David Koepp

Koepp uses his strength for suspense and details to create creepy moments that signal everything has changed. When the Aurora comes the neighbors all go out to watch the light show, and for a bit, the power stays on, and people ignore the warnings thinking the media was fear-mongering. Like the moments when the storm passed and NOLA thought they escaped Katrina. The moment the power goes out is not a huge moment but subtle and creepy. Aurora is a sneaky good novel. The concept is not groundbreaking. There is nothing that makes me think that I have to tell everyone they can't miss it. To me, it is a page-turner for one major reason. This is a storyteller driving a few narrative threads perfectly in the dance of parallels and reversals. This might is a storyteller's story for that reason.

7: The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

The Last Storm is a CLI-FI novel, it has effective world-building, but it also has rich characters, and as Lebbon does so well there is a strong family dynamic. Jessie and Ash are tragic figures who have such important talents but it ends up being a curse.  This is a powerful story on many levels as a piece of science fiction it would be easy to focus on the dynamic of the rainmakers and the allegory they represent in the drought-stricken future. That is the heart of the story part of the story.

6: Insomnia by Sarah Pinbrough

The last couple of Pinborough novels are about the day-to-day death of a thousand cuts, and daily patriarchy in every way that Margaret Atwood deals with the system.  Insomnia is a paranoid feminist horror masterpiece. As the date approaches day by day, Emma loses everything through a series of plot twists. If there is a challenge to the book some of these twists are complicated, but no problem for SP. As Emma starts to lose sleep the events quickly spiral into paranoia and the reader will question her sanity just as Emma does herself. The 40th birthday becomes a monster lurking in the shadows, excellently off screen like the shark in Jaws

5 The Feverish Stars  by John Shirley

My favorite stories included Meega, Weedkiller, Waiting Room, and one written just for this collection Exelda’s Voice.  a sly character-driven story about a criminal who robs a bank with the help of a next-generation AI power directions app on his phone. It wasn’t lost on me in this high-tech world of the future the man in the story is robbing a bank to pay off healthcare debt. * Waiting Room is a story about being an old punk rocker. Weedkiller is the most powerful story about people who live online.

Best Shirley story this year – Lost City of LA in Startling Stories 2022 issue…

4:Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

 Noor is a deeply rich work of science fiction, that has more invention in the short length than some novels twice its length.  The subtext is close to the surface and hard to miss. Africa is a part of the world that for so long now had to fight colonial invasion and definition. AO and DNA Are on the run for their lives and that is the action on the surface, the real battle is how they define themselves. My favorite Okrafor novel so far.

3: Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi

 There is nothing soft, gentle, or politically sensitive about this novel. Which is kind of a pleasant (from my perspective) divergence from much of modern fiction that at times is afraid to push boundaries.  I think the reaction will be interesting as it is a very progressive story politically, but the delivery is zero fucks given warts and all depiction of the post-climate world. Of course, the future TO envisions is one where most of the wealthy have escaped earth to orbital colonies while the marginalized struggle to survive in our mutual home.

This novel is about the intersection between Racism/Classism and the growing climate change apocalypse. That was Brunner's message as well, but TO's window into it is fresh and vital in a way a book by a radical white Brit in 1968 just can't do anymore no matter how amazing it still is.

 

2: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

The marketing of the book makes the cross-comparison between Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven. The format is clearly influenced by David Mitchell's style of narrative formatting, It wasn't just that novel as he used a similar structure, he also used it in at least The Bone Clocks. The Station Eleven comparison is mostly pandemic related, but also the tone of reaching for hope.

Snortorious the pig chapter sucked. As a science fictionist and a space nerd, I found the chapter set on the generation ship escaping earth just as heartbreaking as an amusement park for euthanizing kiddos. Even with a chapter I hated, the rest was strong enough for it to be number 2.


1: A Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broddus

Sweep of Stars mixes deep cultural mythology and African vibes with characters who keep it real. Characters who give their family members shit and curse like normal people.

Sweep of Stars is Space Opera with an African feeling, it is an epic tale with lots of characters, narrative shifts, and twists and at the heart is a story that is entertaining for the events we witness as much as the radical ideas that get a subtle introduction.

“All of Muungano’s Territory lit up as a hologram projection, from the Dreaming City to Mars to the mining outpost. No borders, per se, not the way O.E. might define them. Only communities of alliance. This was what they had all fought so hard to forge. They needed a new vocabulary to describe the experiment they embarked on. Empire wasn’t it. A budding cooperative cradled in a sweep of stars.”

 This is one of the first elements I have seen ignored in almost all the reviews I have read. This may seem like simple world-building and MB does it subtly and right. These moments are not over-explained, they are naturally told in the midst of the story. You will of course notice the title of the book so it is not a stretch to think this passage is part of the mission statement of this story.

 

Leguin and Spinrad are some of the most well-known genre anarchists and I am not saying this book goes that far but it is clear MB is suggesting a divorce from western culture and standard capitalist monoculture. At the same time, this future while vastly different and divergent from our timeline is connected by characters like the Hellfighters soldiers who make a point not to forget the struggles the African diaspora had in our times.



--
Author of Ring of Fire and Punk Rock Ghost Story.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Book Review: I Think I Am Philip K. Dick by Laurence A. Rickels

 


I Think I Am Philip K. Dick by Laurence A. Rickels 

432 pages, Paperback 

Published: August 2010 University of Minnesota Press


I don't write super long reviews for stuff that is non-fiction or used for research but I want to highlight this book a little.

Laurence A. Rickels serves as the Sigmund Freud Professor of Media and Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, after a couple of decades teaching German and Comparative literature at UC Santa Barbara. This is the second book of his I've read coming after Germany A Science Fiction which I thought was a novel when I started reading it. Like Germany this book is a piece of literary criticism and it is very academic.

There are moments when things are going over my head. I needed parts of this book desperately for the chapter I am working on for my (title not public yet) PKD non-fiction book. Rickels and this book will be quoted in the book because I am interviewing him in two as of the writing of this review so you see I read this book very quickly. Too quickly, I think If I had not read most of PKD's books and studied them deeply I would have been able to dig through them as quickly as I did.

My copy of this book is dog-eared and marked with Yellow-highlighter. Rickels is a unique kind of genius to me in exploring the work of PKD. A media critic and a psychoanalyst, this book and Kyle Arnold's The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick are extremely useful in understanding him. Arnold's book is better about looking into Phil's life, but Rickels goes deep into his work.

Not counting the notes this book has 400 pages of deep dives into almost all of Phil's novels and a few of his short stories. Me, I was very interested in the influence of Heidegger and Binswanger but the last section goes deep into Robot ethics. All the major themes get explored deeply.

Rickels is often writing over my head but I know a serious Dickhead or researcher interested in the weight of this man's work needs to have this one on the shelf. I will reference it constantly in the years to come.

Book Review: Daphne by Josh Malerman

 



 
Daphne by Josh Malerman 
262 pages, Hardcover 
Published:August, 2022 by Del Rey
 
If there is one name that gets associated with horror it is Stephen King which is something early in his career he wouldn’t have minded. As the years moved forward King’s relationship to horror became complicated,  With a few Shawshank’s and Tom Gordan’s and the King equals horror got a little muddy. His last also didn’t help disavow from Horror royalty thing. The future of horror was Clive Barker and then for a generation it was Brian Keene. I enjoy Brian Keene the writer almost as much as Brian Keene the person. Truth be told I like Keene Lost level pulp stuff as much or more than his horror.  We got Maberry, Pinborough,  and Lebbon all experimenting with different genres. Stephen Graham Jones and Paul Trembly are so literary, incredible but…

When I closed the book on Malerman’s Daphne I started to think Josh Malerman might be the pure horror royalty at this point. I admit I was wrong about Josh Malerman in the early days. Bird Box was so good and even before the movie that was lightning in a bottle success. I thought there is no way this dude he repeats it. As a band dude, I thought all the young bands who poured all their heart and hunger into their first album never raged again. I thought there is no way he repeats the power of Birdbox.

The thing is Josh Malerman proves me wrong book after book. His novel play with the genre, horror western in Unbury Carol, surrealism in Inspection, and takes big swings like the cursed pig in Pearl. Just a few examples but every release is pure horror, and he seems very comfortable with that. His books sell and more importantly, they work for most readers.  

I mean you have the right to be annoyed because the dude is handsome, plays guitar, plays basketball, and writes amazingly. I would hate the guy if he wasn’t also a sweet and genuine dude. Damn it Malerman. You did it again. He hasn’t written a bad book. Not one. My least favorite is still a good book.

Daphne was a book that I was skeptical about it at first. He hinted at the plot as he was working on it when we hung around a zoom after recording a podcast interview. He had the spark in his eyes, by the end of the conversation I thought. He is going to pull it off.

Like his novel Pearl, it is a concept that if it was explained the wrong way would sound silly. Before I get into the details of the story and how genius much of the writing is. Yes if you are a horror reader you should read this book. Malerman pushes a concept and is inventive with how he treats the character and the horror elements. I would say this novel is a wonderful hybrid of a basketball story with the feel of the first Nightmare on Elm Street.

I wondered if the book would work for the non-sports fan. It was a trick Stephen Graham Jones another lover of basketball pulled off in his masterpiece The Only Good Indians. I peeped some of the reviews for this book and found one by fellow San Diegan and Horrible Imaginings Film Fest founder Miguel Rodriguez noted non-sports fan said Malerman got him invested.

I had to check because I am a hooper. I grew up in Indiana, I play basketball three times a week here in San Diego, yesterday I played a game that we finished after it started raining on us. So I was in the bag for the genius of a horror novel with the inciting incident based on the age old adage of hoop – the ball don’t lie. You see in basketball if you call a foul that players think is a BS call and the free throw is missed you’ll always hear hoopers say “Ball don’t lie.”
 
 The novel starts with Kit Lamb at the free-throw line, game on the line. She is about to take the free throw that will give them the state championship.

“Even as she lifts the ball, elbow in, left hand supporting, even as it seems like nothing could chop her focus, and nothing has yet, not in this game, not even when she made the and-one that lead to this moment, a question for the rim:
 
Will Daphne kill me?”

It is a game that Kit and her teammates play. Ask a question before you shoot the basketball the rime doesn’t lie. The ball goes in the hoop it is a yes. Just as Kit hits the shot that gives her team the lead with seconds to go she becomes a hero and target at the same time. They won the game, they were underdogs, but the rim doesn’t lie. Daphne the urban legend of the 7-foot-tall young woman who haunts their hometown is going to get her now. There is no stopping her.

The seed is planted not just in Kit, but her teammates that Daphne whose body would have made her a force in their chosen sport was looming over them. First as a topic, but a threat when they start to die one by one. Malerman shows he knows perfectly how to unfold the story that he meant to lovingly pay tribute to the sport and ties it to the game.

Starting at that moment works for any reader, but in a small Venn Diagram of people like me who understand both horror and basketball, this moment is genius. There is no more nerve-wracking moment for a hooper than looking at that rim with the game on the line and having to sink a shot. Kit who has survived Anxiety at that moment unlocking the ghost of Daphne. Well, it is genius.
 
The Rim said Daphne is real.

Making the team a girl's team was also a bold move. A smart move. Young boys playing basketball are a cocky bunch, the ladies play fundamental basketball and are more likely to struggle with the anxiety the story needed. Not to say that is always the case but that is one reason I think this was a good call. Also as a teacher, who is around young kids, I feel like Malerman writes good teenage characters. There is a funny part when Kit is freaked out by pictures of the band KISS – who of course young kids would not know anything about. A good detail. The young ladies are hoopers so that is easy in for the author but Malerman handles their fears and internal lives pretty solidly. 

One of the things that separate this novel is how it tackles anxiety. There is a journal entry of Kit’s talking about the time she called 911 on herself during a panic attack. It is written with such authority it is impossible to not believe it is personal. It is so powerfully written that the chapter alone elevates the book, not just because of how well it is written, but for how powerful it feels.  It deepens the characters.  A reminder that no matter how perfect someone’s life might look.  Everyone struggles. Powerful stuff and wanted to hug the book if that makes sense.

Kennedy Lichtenstein is a character that has a short but powerful scene, the Daphne super fans and Gloria the cop who is investigating the murders are minor but fully realized characters. 250 pages are short for a novel but Malerman makes all these elements gel.

A horror master at the top of his form. Daphne is a far better novel than the concept would lead you to believe, much the way I felt when I read Malerman’s Peral. This shouldn’t work but it does. Why? Because Malerman is that good. Not everybody could pull off this book, the amazing fact is Only Malerman could.