Friday, February 26, 2021

Book Review: A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

 


A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 19th 2021 by Del Rey Books (first published October 31st 2016)



At some point, Malerman is going to write something bad right? Or maybe something that is just OK? Actually probably not, because at this point he is like a batter you put at the number four spot in the rotation. You are going to get a hit, just how far will the thing sail into the stands is the question. I know baseball metaphors are corny, and the reality is I don’t like baseball. I do enjoy the work of this author.

Most well known as writing the novel that became the meme generating Netflix hit Bird Box Malerman has been slowly releasing novels he wrote while being a touring musician. While he seemed like a lightning bolt on the scene in 2014 he already had a back catalog of unreleased gems waiting to be found.

I don’t know the whole back story on this novel, and yes I realize the marketing folks in publishing call this a novella but I think it is a novel. In a funny accident, I read this right after Philip K Dick’s 1969 classic Galactic Pot Healer, which is a novel that largely takes place underwater as well.  It was on my radar when The website/podcast This is Horror published it as far back as 2016. It wasn’t until my local library had it in the new orders that I got it. I didn’t realize it was getting the larger press treatment.

A House At The Bottom Of A Lake crosses many horror subgenres and I am sorry I slept on it as long as I did. It is a haunted house story, sorta. It is a ghost story, sorta. It is fully a romantic coming of age tale about first love that is built on a slow build that balances creeping dread and romance so perfectly sweet it feels like a fairy tale.

Amelia and James are on a magical first date, that might seem like a bit much. A romantic canoe trip to a small secret lake. Once the young couple boat there they find a third private lake. This third lake felt surreal to me, they talk about it with Uncle Bob, but no one else in town knows about the lake or the full house at the bottom of the lake.

“Yet, there was nothing. No images, no stories, no rumors. And with every dead-end she met, she experienced a little relief. If nobody else had a story about the house … didn’t that mean that, in a way, it still belonged to Amelia and James? And if they never talked about it with anybody else, if they forever kept their secret, wouldn’t it always remain theirs and theirs alone?”

This secret mystery was my favorite aspect of the short novel. I loved that the source of the creepy weird moments of horror was also about the wonderment of the fresh romance. I don’t think this book can be spoiled but I will try not to do that. The power and strength of this book are the push and pull between the sugary sweet prose and story with the eerie haunted house at the most impossible location. Mood and tone are the keys here and when you think about the horror and romance in this work it is like a literary see-saw.

I think the ending will not be what most readers expect or want when they open the book but I think it will leave them happy when they close it. A Josh Malerman book is a safe bet and I think readers will enjoy this one. It is short but effective. A fun piece of work.

Podcast Review Galatic Pot Healer By Philip K. Dick

 

Dickheads episode recording soon.

Graphic Novel review: East of West Vol. 1


East of West Vol. 1

 

I am not going to go into depth because graphic novels are something I enjoy but not feel like I can add very little to the discussion here. Odd as I review two Blade Runner comics this month as well. Last year I read most of SAGA by Brian K Vaughn and the thing that attracted me to that title is the fact that many said BKV wrote it with the intention of making a book that would be impossible for it to exist in any other form. I think if that is a genre East of West is firmly in said genre. So I want to thank Jacob Hall of the /Film Daily podcast who mentioned this in a water cooler episode because that is how I found it.

What I find most interesting and exciting about this title is the cross-genre aspect of the book. Yeah, it is a sci-fi dystopia, but it has elements of political alternate history, Cowboy yee-hah Western and supernatural horror. With villains like death and the fourth horsemen, you know this is a dark piece of work. The creator Jonathan Hickman plays with weird and wild ideas that TV and movies would struggle with. Like evil little kids. That reminds me to note although the show has been mostly forgotten the best evil kid on TV was Millie Bobby Brown pre-Stranger Things in Intruders. I digress.

East of West is bananas and since it was nominated for every award in comic I feel pretty late to the part eight years after it came out.  Well shit, I have some reading to do.

So this alternate history presents a future where the old western leaves a lingering cultural stamp. Not only did Native Americans getting involved in the civil war extend it, but it shaped America in a very different way. That is not all a super Mao-ist china under the rule of Mao 5.0 is a major player. Three of the fourth Horsemen of the apocalypse rebirthed as kids and Death being goth Chinese style (white is the color of death there that black is here).

The story so far is confusing but never boring and that is most important I think. I am interested enough to keep reading. May only review on Goodreads and not the blog moving forward, we will have to see.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Review: The Void Captain's Tale by Norman Spinrad


 

The Void Captain’s Tale by Norman Spinrad

Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 2001 by Tom Doherty Associates (first published 1982)


I think I get what Norman Spinrad is laying down here. Often in Spinrad’s long and honored career, he has been misunderstood more than is probably fair, but let’s face it Spinrad is a provocateur as much as anyone. This novel is as interesting and underrated experiment in science fiction that is only limited by some of its out-dated and unintentional sexual politics but when you factor in that it is a space opera with an FTL drive driven by female orgasms it could’ve been much worse.

I know, I know it is a pretty cringe-inducing concept, but considering Spinrad’s very leftie political stances I wanted to at the very least give the book a more serious look. Spinrad also called it his anarchist science fiction novel. On that note, the anarchist features are more subtle than Leguin’s The Dispossessed which is the most famous science fiction exploration of anarchism in practice. TVCT has more in common with LeGuin's Always Coming Home which is about a non-hierarchal society but it is quietly expressed in a way that makes it less likely to be found on the shelf at an anarchist info-shop. That said it is no less radical.

If I am reading TVCT correctly Spinrad is doing Dune with the influences of the summer of love and late 60s radicalism. What if your far-future galaxy-spanning story was not about a Campbellian (either of them) hero’s journey and inspired by the free love and drug culture of the radical youth subculture of that era. The main characters of this story are not learning ancient warrior ways so they can free oppressed people, no it is their mind that seeks freedom and much of life in this future is about wanting to experience the wonders and joys of the universe.

Spinrad talked about this in a 2012 interview with the LA Review of Books. “Three thousand years from now, barring the usual convenient apocalyptic cultural amnesia and taking into account the enormous wealth of books, discs, chips, tapes, and so forth that we have today, the Second Starfaring Age would have total access to all previous human history and cultural legacy. This culture would have long since mastered the sciences and technologies of mass and energy. It would not wage war.”

Never one to play nice or sugar-coat opinions to fit neatly into genre canon TVCT is a delightfully subversive work of science fiction. This aspect of the novel will get overlooked and that is too bad because there are really beautiful and interesting ideas here. Spinrad as he often does is reacting to what he doesn’t like in traditional science fiction. Much of Spinrad’s career is protesting and reacting to these norms and traditions in the genre. In the Iron Dream the inherit fascism of high fantasy was his target and in this novel, it is the feudal and dystopic futures like Dune and Foundation. It is important to note that Spinrad in the above interview quote mentions all the data of history. I suspect that Spinrad is calling bullshit on Foundation, by trying to picture a universe with evolved humans in it.


“If the floating cultura contained its fair share and then some of subsidized children of fortune, wealthy sybarites, refugees from ennui, and their attendant parasitic organisms, did these not serve as a communal matrix for the merchants, artists, scientist, aesthetes, and pilgrims who travelled among the stars for higher purposes? In ancient days, the courts of monarchs served as similar distillations of the more rarefied essences of human culture; these too were gilded cages filled with self-pampered birds of paradise, but in their precincts were to be found the philosophers, artists, and mages of the age.”


Asimov saw the cycle of history as a foregone conclusion and the psycho-history as the way to TRY to combat it. In a subtle way that doesn’t require massive world-building and word counts Spinrad counts these epics in the 220 pages that don’t overstay its welcome, which is helpful because he never cheats on the first-person narrative. He expects the reader to just flow with it.

In a 1999 interview with Locus magazine, Spinrad said ''I wanted to do a society that knows human history. My two far-future novels, The Void Captain's Tale and Child of Fortune, are set in a good society that works, this galactic culture in the far future, three or four thousand years from now. They are not about changing or wrecking society; they're about what happens to people inside it. Child of Fortune is another anarchist novel because there's no government. (All right, so I'm an anarchist – but I'm a syndicalist. You have to have organized anarchy because otherwise, it doesn't work.)”

The story is not really one you can spoil as this story is more style and ideas that a real plot. There is incredible world-building. The prose is very styled and includes lots of switches between languages and straight-made-up words. This is not for everyone but I enjoyed this aspect of the book. The galaxy as it is written in this book is not one of conflict, people travel the universe in search of art, pleasure, and experience.  Sounds great huh?

There is only one in-universe problem, there is one and one only exploited class. It is the icky thing here. In this the second space-faring age of humans the massive starships travel faster than like directed by a rare breed of pilot. These pilots are not the macho top guns but women who transcend space and time during moments of intense pleasure.  To me, the one in-universe problem is also the one problem I have with the book.

It is impossible to not think of this story as the Orgasm drive book. I understand what Spinrad was trying to do but from the outside, without context, it seems like the idea of a horny teenager or some hippie sex guru trippin’ balls and pitching his way cool space opera. It is hard to get away from that idea.

Let’s talk about how the orgasm drive works on page 73 of the Orb trade paperback.

“Via the lightest touch of my finger upon the Jump command point, I was, in cold objective literally inducing in Dominque an orgasm far beyond anything of which I could as her fleshly lover. As long as the pilot had been mere module in the Jump Circuit, this sexual connection between Captain and Pilot, this reality which went far beyond erotic metaphor, existed not in the sphere of my awareness. But now that awareness of her as a taled name, another subjectivity, a woman had been thrust upon me, I was aware of myself as her cyborged demon lover, as electronic rapist, yet somehow also the victim of the act as I plunged into her with my phallus of pychesomic fire.

“Jump!”

One instant the stars were in configuration in one configuration, then in another. Did I imagine that I had experienced the impalpable interval between, I could feel her being flash through its unknowable ultimate ecstasy? Did we silently sigh in unison or mutually shriek our mute violation?”


Yikes, there is so much to unpack here and much of it is not pretty. Eventually, the pilot Dominque and Captain Genero develop a consensual relationship that involves a galaxy-spanning Kama-sutra thing that leads them to want to go beyond light speed jumps to transcendence.  While the above quote implies that it is a violation for both the pilot and the ship Captain it feels icky just reading it and it only gets worse when the narrator spends a page and a half trying to understand how male and female orgasms evolved differently. Spinrad often narrates stories from characters' points of view that are political opposites (I mean he wrote a novel as Hitler) but this novel would have been 200% better if pages 106 and 07 were lost in the editing process.

In the LA review of books Spinrad seems to understand it is THE problematic part of his universe. “A culture far superior to our own in every aspect including the moral, but no perfected utopia, with the paradox at its core being that the Jump Drive, the faster-than-light technology based on “platform orgasm,” the very thing that makes a Second Starfaring Age possible, the legacy of the vanished aliens known as We Who Have Gone Before, and a mystery whose ultimate reality these perfect masters of mass and energy cannot fathom.”  
 
There are many cool elements of this book, how this near utopian far future exists, the beautiful and stylistic prose that portrays a delightfully strange future. The Anarchist vision, the subversion of the genre but the book often gets reduced to the orgasm drive book. I honestly think with a little woke editing this could’ve worked but the consent of the pilot is a serious question here. While the FTL jump is not entirely sexual it is close enough.

While the last two chapters take the book straight to nirvana and do so in a beautiful way, I am left closing the book and asking ugly and hard questions. This to me is the big difference between a masterpiece and a good book that I struggled with. It is not quite to the cat-suits in Star Trek level of nerd fantasy it is something else. This is not me being politically correct, that is not my concern is being ethically correct and that is something a genre reaching to the future should always do.

OK, I interviewed Norman Spinrad for the Dickheads podcast, he was very grumpy at the start as we had a host of technological problems getting him on the phone. So you may enjoy me squirming at the start but the interview gets better I promise you. 

My Spinrad interview for DHP audio

The interview on youtube 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Book Review: Breakfast in the Ruins: Science Fiction in the Last Millennium by Barry N. Malzberg


 
Breakfast in the Ruins: Science Fiction in the Last Millennium by Barry N. Malzberg
Paperback, 389 pages
Published 2007 by Baen Books (first published April 1st 2007)



One of the coolest things that has happened to me since starting the Dickheads podcast was speaking to and interviewing the author of this book Barry Malzberg. My biggest regret now is that I didn’t read this book before doing this interview. Breakfast in the Ruins is a big book and it is made up of two parts that are similar just written at different periods in the life of this writer who had a unique window to the 20th-century output of science fiction.

The first half of the book is made up of essays written mostly in 1979 and 80 about the first forty years of science fiction. The second half is made up of essays from the late 90s and early in the 21st century. The essays are very similar, in fact, you might not notice the difference if Malzberg had not mentioned that John W. Campbell would of loved the internet and Murray Leinster had been the first to predict it in a short story in 1946. That story was A Logic Called Joe. I know I am going to track down that story now.

This book was clearly and openly influenced by Damon Knight’s In Search of Wonder which collected his essays and thoughts on the early days of Science Fiction. I read that book last year and I think both are very important. If you are not making lists of books in the canon that you thought you should read along the way then you are doing it wrong. I added probably 40 books to my GoodReads “Want to Read” and found a few already there being reinforced.

In the opening essay, Malzberg talks about the definition of Science fiction. In 1980 he stated it this way…

“Science Fiction is that form of literature which deals with the effect of technological change in an imagined future, an alternative present or a reconceived history.”


This is an entertaining essay that bobs and weaves around other famous Science fictioneers giving their definitions.  Then BNM (that is Barry N. Malzberg’s  MC name) provides to show how major classics would be left out of those narrow interpretations.  I am not going to go through them all but he is right to say that in Theodore Sturgeon’s view of science fiction Anne McCaffrey's dragons would need to find another part of the bookstore to call home. JG Ballard doesn’t fit either, and certainly, almost everything that came after John W. Cambell died in 1971 would not have fit his rigid and pretty much-canceled ideas of sci-fi.

This is a great opening essay but once the definitions are out of the way there are a variety of topics.  It is interesting to get the snapshot of the genre seen through the lens of 1979 Barry and in many ways I found those essays to be stronger and more clear than the ones in the second half. Several of the second half essays were reprints of introductions to collections and novels.

I know in my interview 80 years old Barry was less grumpy than Spinrad, but these essays have a bitter and annoyed edge to them. Malzberg was not an Asimov clone and a one-of-a-kind in the genre. Even though he worked in and around the slush piles don’t think for a minute he wasn’t a team player.  

“We know what we do; the engines that eat us up-this is what science fiction has been saying (among other things) for a long time now. It may be preaching only to the converted, but the objective truth, the inner beast, will not go away and so neither-despite the hostility of culture, the ineptitude of many of its practitioners, the loathing of most of its editors, the corruption of its readers-neither will science fiction.”


He believed in the genre enough that much of his anger is a mix between the failings of Gernsbeck and Campbell to the names lost progress in the genre. He wants you to remember the genius of Judith Merrill, Damon Knight, Henry Kuttner, and CL Moore, to rediscover Burdy’s, Rogue Moon. To recover and promote the work authors I admit I didn’t know before like Mark Clifton and Murray Leinster. Sure he writes about Silverberg, Ballard, and Tiptree and that is important, but the lost novels, short stories, and authors are the key mission of this book.

These are titles and writers I will discover because of this book. While I didn’t always agree with Malzberg and cringed at some inherently out-of-date thinking like referring to the Henry Kuttner and CL Moore as the Kuttners when CL Moore’s role in the genre is as valuable as her husbands. Before you youngbloods come for Malzberg try to remember that he was confronting the right-winger and stagnation in Sci-fi before we were born, give him some credit.

In Malzberg’s case that is done with a push and pull. I am with him that we need to confront these titans of the field while balancing the good and bad they did.

“Whatever happens to science fiction, it would not exist at all if it had not been given a name and a medium for this, if we are not led to praise Gernsbeck, we must entomb him with honor. He was a crook, old Hugo, but he made all of us crooks possible.”


Malzberg was unaware of how and why the genre was held back so often. He understood the roots of it in a way that many young members of the community could stand to learn.  Each region now has a convention, each subgenre has its own gatherings, the diversity of the modern movement is bolstered by online forums and community unthinkable in the early genre.

“Modern” science fiction, generally dated as having begun in late 1937 with the ascent of Campbell, was a literature centered around a compact group of people. It was no Bloombury but there could have been no more than fifty core figures who did 90% of the writing and editing. All of them knew one another, most knew one well, lived together, married one another, collaborated, bought each other’s material, and so on. For a field which was conceptually based on expansion, the smashing of barriers, the far-reaching and so on, science fiction was amazingly insular.”

Right or wrong the early days of science fiction which really well documented in Damon Knight Futurians was a tiny community. Any progress that movement saw often started in the imagined worlds, but Malzberg is right to remind us. That is the importance of books like these that point out how small and humble these beginnings were.

When you see classic novels by Asimov, Knight, Merrill, or the others of these early days it might be tempting to think these writers were following the same paths through NY publishers that today’s Hugo and Nebula winners took. The early genre was more like punk rock zinesters, I mean Asimov got his start by taking the bus across the city and just introducing himself to Campbell.

“Certainly, forties science fiction can be seen as a reaction to or against the vision of a single man, John W. Campbell; in the fifties, H L Gold, Fred Phol, Anthony Boucher and a few others began to solicit stories and propound a science fiction of satire and doom, and in the sixties, Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison, by pressuring for and proclaiming a literature of catastrophe, got a great deal of it.”


The Eureka Years does a good job explaining Boucher and Mccoma's (The first editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) impact and is worth a read to anyone interested in this era where the scene was reacting to and rebelling against Campbell. Malzberg gives a ton of time in this book to Campbell and I understand why. But in the years since we got the biography in Astounding that Barry thought would never happen. So in a sense, I wanted to no more about the fee room at SMLA, and the impact of Judith Merrill and Gold who edited Galaxy.

Instead, we get three essays about Campbell. That said there is one piece I think is very important. In 2017 when Jeanette Ng was given the award named after him, she rightfully became a hero because she started with “John W. Campbell is fucking fascist.”  Not to take away from her defiant act, as I respect the hell out of it, but it was funny that at the time people were saying “Finally someone said it!”

Because I read this book, I learned that Barry Malzberg while using less colorful metaphors as Captain Spock would have said did the same thing at the very first John W. Campbell award. In fact, lots of people in the scene in 1973 were upset that Malzberg won the award over Asimov’s  The God Themselves. The award-winning book Beyond Apollo (that we covered in a special episode of Dickheads linked below) was everything Campbell hated. He liked perfect heroes and Malzberg’s book was a psychosexual book about astronauts going mental on their first trip to Venus.

Not only that but when Malzberg won he got up and told the story of confronting Campbell in his office in 1969 while accepting the first award:

“I stayed with him in his office for three hours, fighting from the bell. Catherine Tarrant sat at her desk in the far corner typing and making notes trying hard not to smile. A young man’s intensity can be a terrible thing to bear (for no one so much as the young man himself) and I came off the chair right away, throwing jabs, pumping and puffing, slipping the phantom punches, going in desperately under real ones.

Not interested in market conditions, no sir. I wanted to know why Analog was the restrictive right-wing, anti-literary publication that it had become. Didn’t Campbell care what all the new writers, the purveyors of street fiction and venturesome prose, thought of him?”


It is kind of amazing from the first time the Campbell award was given to the last Malzberg and Jeanette Ng both called out his right wingery. Despite all the failures and lack of progress in the early days, science fiction survived rough patches.

“More than two decades later we know that American Science Fiction was not murdered. It had a whopper of a heart attack; it lay in the intensive care ward for quite a while. (and had like most indigents to somehow find its way to the hospital itself), but time and a little fresh air did wonders for the patient, who toddled out of the hospital in 1965 and has not yet returned…Over a thousand titles labeled “science fiction” have been published every year since 1978.”


Science fiction survives and for that, we can be thankful for the good, the bad, and the ugly who were on the frontlines in the early days. It is valuable to learn from these times. We don’t have to glorify them but it helps that we have these books that contain candid and personal histories from various points of view.

Do you know what else survives? Barry freaking Malzberg. In the link below you can hear him in his own words from 2018. Thanks to the work of Professor D.Harlan Wilson his important works of fiction are staying in print. Beyond Apollo, Revelations, Galaxies, and more coming I am sure. I am glad this book exists, as important as his fiction is his critical voice is so valuable.  Yeah, if the history of the genre is important put this one on your shelf.

My podcast interview with Barry Malzberg from 2019

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Graphic Novel review: Blade Runner 2019, Vol. 2: Off World (Blade Runner 2019 #2) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Andres Guinaldo (Artist)



Blade Runner 2019, Vol. 2: Off World (Blade Runner 2019 #2) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Andres Guinaldo (Artist)
Paperback, 114 pages
Published September 15th 2020 by Titan Comics


Collecting issues 5-8 of the ongoing series we return to the story of Aahna ‘Ash’ Ashina and Cleo whom she saved at the end of the last book. Several years have passed and they are now on the run. Cleo has grown-up a bit and attached to Ash as they have made it off earth. The story centers around Cleo (pretending to be a boy to stay in hiding) who is separated from Ash.

The story really picks up when Ash is found and pulled back into being a hunter.  

As a Dickian it is interesting to see the frontier that was mentioned in the source material but not shown. Friend of our Dickheads podcast Evan Lampe who has written and podcasted about PKD for years often talked about Phil and the frontier. In the early years, the off-camera frontier was an ongoing theme that he revisited from time to time. It is not as if he didn’t ever take us to the frontier (some of the best examples are Martian Time-Slip and Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

That said the frontier in Do Androids and Blade Runner both remain nothing more than a commercial pitch and a legend mentioned but unseen. For the creators of the book actually showing us the Off-world colonies does come with serious risk. Blade Runner fans have had decades to fill in those gaps. The good news is we only saw one off-world mining colony so there is still room for the story to grow into the legend.

The one colony we saw was pretty drab and ugly and does kinda look like somewhere the Nostromo might pick-up ore. Certainly, this didn’t look like a place worth leaving earth for. The art didn’t feel as strong to me in this set of issues. The story also was not quite as strong as the last one. I was entertained but not as blown away as I was by the first volume.

When I finished the first volume I wished there was a movie of that story, but I was happy with this one as is. The first volume seemed to explore the themes a little stronger with the ethics of replicants tied more directly to the narrative.  Also, the grey area between ethical and non-ethical replicants was lost. Everyone but Cleo and her friend seemed like awful people.

Still entertaining but not as strong as the first volume. Excited to read part 3!

Anthony's video review of the same book!

Book Review: Gridlocked by Cody Goodfellow


 

Gridlocked

Paperback, 132 pages
Published October 2020 by King Shot Press

This is a short book so I going to plan on writing a short review and probably say more than I need to. Gridlocked is a short and small booklet sized slider of horror literature. Just like eating an overpacked slider, it helps to have a napkin ready because this book is overstuffed and dripping tidbits all over the place.  You might be finding stains and debris long after your last bite. That is a Cody Goodfellow special.

I like the idea of the commuter special, and that is how I read this. The first novella taking the bus, the second on the way home. It is also inspired that the cover design (it looks Revert did it) was themed like a hardcore show flyer…

All ages/ $7.95 cover/ B.Y.O.B./ No jocks

These two stories have a beer-soaked musty basement show edge to them. I thought about a basement show I went to around 1999 and saw Burnt by the Sun. The only spot I could find was behind the drumset and for 40 minutes I watched Dave Witte just beat the shit out of the drums. He was too good to be playing in the basement but I was goddamn thankful he was.

2020 was an amazing year for mainstream big NY based horror publishing. The Only Good Indian by Stephen Graham Jones, The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia. Big sales, mainstream attention. One-year earlier Goodfellow’s Unamerica was released and while it got a deserving Wonderland award, I could not help thinking that book is as brilliant as any of the others I just mentioned. The difference is a big-time established publisher.

I am not slagging on King Shot Press they are making beautiful and quality books but I am sure Michael would agree with me there is a crime here. I get that before Cody shaved he was side hustling with regular gigs playing the homeless drifter or the occasional wizard in an Anthrax video. He doesn’t look like a boy scout or he might not seem like the traditional NPR books podcast guest, but Cody is actually one of the most wickedly intelligent people I know, so forget that noise.

Gridlocked is like a gritty single recorded over a weekend by a band tuning up for a long tour. You are better off just trusting Cody and going in blind but if you are cool with my thoughts and wild spoilers keep reading.

The title story is a unique piece that takes advantage of the San Diego setting the same way King uses Maine. What is a more Southern California tale than to be trapped in traffic? One of the problems with modern horror is how do people end up trapped despite having cellphones, well being trapped on a California freeway after an accident. So that set-up for a werewolf story that includes weird cult biker dude bro werewolves would be enough to make a story interesting.

That said Goodfellow built the novella a very crafty time reversal in the narrative. This works because Aaron the main character and his frustration are relatable. What did he get himself into? It didn’t hurt that it took place here in San Diego and I understood the geography of the story. None the less the stage is so well set when the insanity comes it gives the reader the feels it is supposed to with such skill.

Gridlocked is an effective tale that feels like a story out of EC comics jazzed up by elevated prose. That is the Goodfellow vibe in nutshell insane ideas written intelligence and skill that separate good from the boring Spaltterpunks. Anybody can write a story about a nail going through an eyeball, but not every writer gross you out and make you feel smarter at the same time. That to me is the difference.

As for the second novella, I am not going to say too much as this is a story Breaking the Chainletter that I asked Cody to write for an anthology. This was the doomed Vault of Punk Horror. It is a great anthology that I  would be proud of if I had known what I was doing when We made it. As result, there are only about 30 of them in the world.  So I am glad that authors like John Shirley, Jeremy Robert Johnson, and now Cody have republished the stories.

This story is complete chaos and has a fever dream pace to it. Of course, I love it.

Yeah, for 8 bucks you can’t go wrong with this title. He keeps winning the Wonderland award for a reason. He is one of the best weird fiction writers we got.