Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Audio Book Review: A World Of Horror edited by Eric J Guignard

A World Of Horror edited by Eric J Guignard

Paperback, 330 pages

Published September 10th 2018 by Dark Moon Books

So this review is on youtube give it a listen...

Book Review: Halcyon by Rio Youers

Halcyon by Rio Youers

Hardcover, 377 pages

Published July 10th 2018 by St. Martin's Press

Full Review coming...

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Book Review: That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard

That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard
Paperback, 296 pages

Published July 17th 2018 by Harper Day Books

I was excited to dive into this book because I have read many books edited by Eric Guignard but this was my first time reading his own fiction at length. This is a thick well put together collection with 16 tales of dark and horror fiction. As a editor EJG has shown a great eye for horror fiction that are strong in theme and meaning.

My favorite thing about this collection was how traditional it was. This is a great example of old school horror fiction. EJG shows that he is a student of the genre, and in several cases he uses tried and true tactics of the genre to create stories that hang around after you close the book. If I am being honest there was nothing that really broke new ground. That is OK, because this is a very comforting exercise in a writer delivering exactly what I expected with great skill.

The opening story "A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It applies to Love" was a interesting opener. At first I thought the idea seemed similar to Joe Hill's novel the Fireman. When I looked at the copyright I realized that this story was published earlier. Both take place during a end of the world where people randomly catch on fire. That is pretty much all they have in common, the thing was I was disappointed in Joe Hill's novel and thought this story did more with the idea in 20 pages. More importantly EJG ties in some important social issues to this story.

This one is a Cli-Fi story and very much addresses global climate change. Since I personally think this is an important subgenre at the moment I loved this aspect. "The temperature rose another degree, bringing the weekly average to one hundred nineteen. Used to be, Late-November was a time to pull out those light sweaters from the back of the closet. Now every breath is a gasp, like choking on a blanket of dust. Your lungs burn, your eyes dry out, your head aches all day, you feel dizzy."

That is powerful stuff and it should freak us all out.

My favorites include Certain "Sights of an Afflicted Woman," "Last Days of the Gunslinger, John Amos" and tops for me was a short one called "Footprints Fading in the Desert."

The gunslinger story was a weird western that had monsters and a flood. The idea was not exactly mind bending but it was just really well composed.

"Sights of an Afflicted Woman" was the best concept in the collection with the creepy idea of a woman who can see germs. This one was executed with such skill that I think most readers will feel their skin crawl as they read this. The plague setting of the story was also very effective world building.

"Footprints Fading in the Desert" is a very straight forward old school horror story. It felt to me like a Twilight Zone episode. It is a simple concept but executed perfectly. This was such a perfect horror story I thought of it like a a long form perfectly drawn out math problem. The story needed perfect atmosphere and timing of it's reveals and it is textbook. this is the time of story that should be taught to young writers.

Lovers of well written short horror fiction cannot go wrong with this collection. I am looking forward to reading more of Guignard's fiction. I would love to read a novel. I think fans of traditional horror should not miss it.

Book Review: Nightflyers by George RR Martin

Nightflyers by George RR Martin

Mass Market Paperback, 295 pages

Published November 15th 1987 by Tor Books (first published 1985)

Literary Awards:

Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novella (1981)

This will be short as I am just reviewing the novella. I wanted to re-read this classic as the SYFY channel is set to turn it into a series soon. When I was young there was a direct to video movie made based on this novella. Now the cover of the books says a "Major motion picture." Major may be a strong word to use as the most famous person involved in the production was Catherine Mary Stewart. Doesn't ring a bell? If you are my age you'd know her as the Last Starfighter's girlfriend or the lead in the weird zombie movie Night of the Comet. That reminds me I need to see Night of the Comet again - because I am sure it will totally live up to my memory. As cool and amazing of an idea as Nightflyers was, this movie did not have the budget or the resources to pull it off.

This movie is the reason I bought this paperback in the day and read George Martin decades before HBO launched him to the point that he became a SNL character.

So SYFY channel being in the George RR Martin business makes sense. The thing that makes the most sense about it is that at 104 pages Nightflyers just scratches the surface of the ideas contained. Written in 1978 I am assuming GRRM just was not at the point of writing sprawling epics yet. It is a story that can and should be expanded.

This is a masterpiece of blending Science Fiction and horror. Long before event horizon Martin crafted a perfect deep space haunted house. The Nightflyer is haunted by ghost but in true genre blending fashion the ghost inhabits the AI at the heart of the ship. Royd is the captain but his relationship with his vessel is more like Norman Bates and his mother. While Martin manged to seed these horror tropes he also does the work of far future world building. in 104 pages a full universe is built and very different human culture is ripe for exploring.

It is amazing to know this was written during The Carter administration and holds up perfectly story wise. The biggest negative the sexual nature of the female characters are male nerd fantasy bullshit. Considering how Rapey Game of Thrones is this made me more uncomfortable, I hope SYFY ejects that aspects of Karoly.

Over all Nightflyers is a must read Sci-fi classic that should be read as is before the TV show changes our perceptions of it.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review:Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 341 pages

Published September 2018 by William Morrow (first published in the UK May 2018)

Cross Her Heart is one of the books I most looked forward to this year. I admit I miss Sarah Pinborough the supernatural horror writer. I am sure there are thousands of new fans that have just read the last two novels that might not jive with the heartbreaking end of the world novel Deathhouse or the grim dystopia of the Dog Faced Gods trilogy but to me they are some of the best novels I have read in the last decade. While the shift away from horror is a little bit of a bummer for me it is not heartbreaking as say Poppy Z Brite's shift to what I consider unreadable food porn novels.

Behind Her eyes and Cross her Heart mark a new direction but it is one I totally get behind because in the end they are amazing reads. the latest Cross Her Heart is a masterpiece of parallels and reversals. I should say that this is a twisty turny narrative that is better if you know nothing going in, and that is how I did it.

These are thrillers in the Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train style and if you trust me stop right here and read it.

OK minor spoilers ahead but mostly focused on theme not plot details. At it's heart is a thriller that is entirely about the bonds of friendship between women. The main character Lisa has a friendship with her co-worker that parallels one from her childhood. One is toxic one and one is lovely. It is one of the strong points of the book. As a male reader I really enjoyed seeing a thriller that was focused so heavily on the friendship of women.

The novel starts with a misdirection that if you read without any prior info really makes you think the novel is going one way. The story has a couple serious twists but all of them feel earned to me. SP is a writer is in full command of her narrative tool box and Cross Her Heart is a great example.

At the heart of the story are great characters. If Lisa was not a fragile and needy mother, If Ava was not typical thoughtless teenager it wouldn't work. If Marilyn Lisa's friend was not in a complicated (at first) relationship then the book would be a heart-less story of twists. The heart gives all the turns in the story weight. Personally I felt very deeply for Lisa and Marylin.

The other really great thing is the prose is tight, there is no fat on the bones here. Coming in at 341 pages I feel most writers would take 700 pages to tell this story. SP drills down to what is important keeps the pace moving and is master at skipping the parts you don't need. Cross Her heart is another example of why Sarah Pinborough is a master story teller.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book Review: Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen (Translation)

Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen (Translation)

Hardcover, 384 pages

Published August 2018 by Tor Books (first published 2005)

A few years ago Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem became a surprise bestseller. At this point very little Asian science fiction had been translated into English. Not only was it a commercial success but the first novel won the Hugo. It is not Hyperbole to say that the Three body trilogy is a series filled with Astonishing ideas. Liu Cixin is an author of fantastic ideas that is what makes his work special.

I enjoyed the first Three body Problem novel, and really liked his novella in Invisible Planets. When I saw that his pre-Three body novel was getting a translation I was excited to check it out and went in totally cold. Ball Lightning is a more grounded story in the sense that it doesn't leave earth but the imagination involved is still epic in scope.

The best moments of the novel come when the author explores the quantum universe. What if we discovered electrons the size of our heads? What if we found atoms that operate the same way but fill but exist in a macro style beyond our comprehension. What kind of weapons could be made? What impact would it have on science?

If you notice I talking about the ideas off the bat and not the character and plot which are thin. Not non-existent but very thin indeed. The main characters whose name I don't even remember witness a natural phenomena that reduces his parents to ash in front of him. This act of ball lightning is rare but he makes it his mission to learn the science.Over four hundred pages the novel follows his research and the various forces that want to harness his discoveries.

I gotta be honest I found this story just interesting enough with it's weird science concepts to keep reading but I really didn't enjoy this book. One other interesting note in the translation happens after China ends up in a war towards the end of this near future novel. The translator/editor went to great lengths not name the enemy in this war. At one point when they are setting up to attack enemy and the aircraft carriers are named. They are three U.S. aircraft carriers named including the Carl Vinson which is often docked here in San Diego. I understand why they were afraid to just say it. We are the enemy in the novel and I was OK with that.

Overall I think readers should stick to the story in Invisible Planets and The Three Body Problem. There are a few interesting and thought provoking ideas but not enough. This could've been and should've been a short story or novella in my opinion. Just not enough story or characters to justify the number of pages involved.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren

by Eric J. Guignard (Editor),

Kaaron Warren(Contributor)

Michael A. Arnzen (Contributor)

Michelle Prebich (Illustrator)

Paperback, 204 pages

Published May 2018 by Dark Moon Books

Last year when the first Exploring Dark Short Fiction Primer book was released featuring a tribute to Steve R Tem I was excited about the potential of these. Before I get into the content let me tell about the series. These are beautiful books, they look amazing and the quality of the production is some of the best I have seen by a independent publisher. When you add the commentary by PH.D Michael Arnzen, everything from the lay-out, to the art is top notch. When you add it to the amazing fictional content you have incredible value at $13.95. Each book comes with six stories, commentary, interviews, artwork and more.

So this book is dedicated to the work of the Australian Author Kaaron Warren who I had only read once before. I gave her debut novel Slights 5/5 in 2010. At the time I said "Slights is disturbing and the most original psychological horror novel I read in years. It seems very Chuck Palahniuk influenced." So I was way overdue to read more work by the author and excited to check out her short fiction. One of the exciting aspects of this series is you get a chance to meet the author.

Reading this book you get to know Kaaron Warren comes just as much from her story as her introduction as you do the interview. I didn't know that this author grew up around Hare Khrisnas. This lead to an author who thinks out of the mainstream. Warren's tales are not predictable and are hard to pin as traditional even though she often picks one of the oldest tropes in horror the ghost tale. This book alone has several interesting and thoughtful takes on ghosts.

The collection kicks off with a really strong fantasy "Guarding the Mound" that has a epic scope that plays with the eternity of the after-life and manages to make a subtle statement about patriarchy. Other highlights for me includes "the Wrong Seat" and "Crisis Apparition."

"The Wrong Seat" is very short but powerful story about a ghost that haunts the bus she was murdered on. "Crisis Apparition" is a story that Warren talks about in the interview. Reading about the inspiration and seeing how she wove it into a story is really great way for young authors to learn about short story construction.

That is the thing, this is a entertaining book, the stories are great. You will learn about the author but as much as it is primer for the author it is also a great education tool for short fiction in general. Editor Eric Guignard is doing exciting stuff with this series and Dark Moon Books in general. He is one of the hardest working folks in the indie horror scene and it is paying off. His name on a book is a mark of quality. This series is just starting but in a few years I suspect these books will help a new generation of authors learn the ropes.

Either way Dark Moon books is raising the bar, good news for all horror fans.