Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Review: Engines of Ruin by Lucas Mangum

Engines of Ruin by Lucas Mangum

Paperback 282 pages

Published November 1st 2017 by Doom Kitten Press

Lucas Mangum is a writer who has been on my radar for a long time. I only know him from social media, his opinions on fiction, horror, food are all ones I tend to agree with. I was excited to first sample his work with this collection featuring eight tales and an introduction from extreme horror author Shane McKenzie.

The length of the stories range from very short to several novella length pieces. It comes with detailed story notes at the end. I do this in my collections and I love when authors do it. I think those of us introduced to short horror fiction by Stephen King learned so much from reading these. The notes provide insight into the creative process. It is clear Mangum is a thoughtful writer very dedicated to the art of storytelling.

That is important when you read a collection. A few of the stories were an experiment like "A Killing Back Home" which was a very effective murder mystery, played more straight forward than LM normally writes. The story hinged on characters and it is clear from the first story that Mangum is very interested in the details that make characters.

"Hell and Back" the first story is very effective with character beats and the whole story centers around a Preacher turned bartender who goes a little to far to help a friend. "Occupy Babylon" was cool story that explored the occupy movement that was hot when the story was written. The story lost me a little men it went to classic horror monster. None the less the story was strong enough to justify the use of said monster. That made sense because said monster is not really the point."Our Lady of the Sea" was the best example of setting in the story. It was one of my favorites in the book.

Lucas is a author who writes with confidence, one of my favorite things about this collection is how sure of his abilities he is. Even when experimenting, you feel like you are in the hands of a gifted storyteller. This is uncommon for a self-published author. I don't say that as a insult but a strength. I know this from following Mangum on facebook/twitter he has only one weakness. His impatience to get his stories out there. He has the ability to go with a traditional publisher but seems unwilling to wait for that process. This collection is filled with wild and entertaining stories but is wrapped in a super vanilla cover that says nothing about the style or tone of the book. We all know not to judge a book by the cover, but it is also hard when you are competing with every form of entertainment in the world to separate yourself if you don't take that seriously.

I am however completely and totally sold on Lucas Mangumn the storyteller. I will be reading his longer work. There is plenty of grizzly and weird moments but it is the sure hand of master story-teller growing into his strength. This is the kinda book that if you get it now you can say you read that author before the world caught on.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review: Leia Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

Leia, Princess of Alderaan (Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

by Claudia Gray

Hardcover, 409 pages

Published September 2017 by Disney Lucasfilm Press

Part of the Disney plan for Star Wars that I enjoy as a nerd is that they are publishing canon books up to the events of each new film. Before Force Awakens there were several "Journey to the..." books I enjoyed that I felt added depth to the story and even answered questions. The absolute best of those Journey to the Force Awakens novels was a General Leia novel called Bloodline written by Claudia Gray. I am quickly coming to the opinion that Gray is the best author writing expanded universe novels at the moment. Her short story was the best in "From a Certain Point of View" and bloodline was a stunner.

For fans of Leia as a character Bloodline is a must read. It details more of the how how and why the first order happened, and the resistance to it. All of this happens against the back drop of the galaxy finding the true bloodline of Leia. Claudia Gray nailed that story in way that you understand why Lucasfilm came back to her to tell this prequel story that is about a young teenage Leia.

You might wonder how this serves to bridge the story to Last Jedi but it does. Introducing us to how Leia the rebel was born and forged despite her privledge. It introduces us to the young Amilyn Holdo who was played by Laura Dern in the film. Some of this books best moments add a depth to Holdo's sacrifice and her last scene with Leia. A scene that Carrie Fisher suggested herself.

It also introduces us to one of the most important settings of Last Jedi and explains it's existence. So yes it is tied to the new film in ways that are sometimes small sometimes big. I enjoyed alot of the scenes that should the resistance in-fighting that tied to Rogue one and saw Bail Organa butting heads with radical Saw Gurrea.

To me the best moment in the book is when Grand Moff Tarkin surprises the Organa family on Alderaan and is invited for dinner. He suspects them of being in the rebellion. The dinner is fantastic scene that shows Leia and her whole family working together to deceive Tarkin and protect rebels. It also adds an extra level of evil to his actions in New Hope. This scene stole the whole book for me.

Well I am convinced enough I decided to read Gray's original YA space opera novel Defy the Stars. I am reading that now so I will of course write a review. I need to read her SW novel Lost Stars but if Gray writes a Star Wars novel you can bet I'll be reading it.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Top Ten Books of 2017! (Tons of bonus audio content!)

Best of the year 2017:

#10 Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

This balances lots of feelings for the reader. At times the the prose is vivid and crisp and times the narrative is so intensely weird it is hard to believe it is less than 150 pages. I mean this book is loaded with ideas. It is of course a Lovecraft influenced cosmic horror story but not in stereotypical adding tenticles kinda of way. At times it had the delightfully weird transcendental feeling of David Lynch. The story moves through space and time in a totally unpredictable way.

#9 The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

The most powerful collection I have read since Brian Evenson's Collapse of Horses. Both are important reads however Voice of Martyrs goes beyond just being good, it is a book of deep meaning. I have read and enjoyed the work Maurice Broaddus before. I knew he was good but he is a Hoosier, and the fact that he lives a hour drive from my home town gives me a connection to his writing. This book is some next level stuff and I love reading along as a person from Indiana hits that next level.

#8 Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

First let me say that BHE is compulsive and additive read. Pinbrough always had skills for plotting, emotional depth and of course creating terror on the page. The big leap here is just magnetic the pull forward of the narrative. You will tear through this. This book is excellently plotted and when I closed the book the ending got me for sure. I was impressed and seething with jealousy That Pinborough pulled off such a great ending. I mean I am a total geek for story plotting and structure and goddamn it this was so tight it was hard not to be jealous. If you like domestic thrillers like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train you should check this out.

#7 Sip by Brian Allen Carr

Sip is one of the weirdest horror novels I have ever read. The structure of the narrative is a little more straight forward there are no one sentence chapters, but the idea is plenty weird enough. It takes place in a post apaoclyse western setting, the world was not ended by nuclear war or climate change. In this future our world fell apart when junkies developed an addiction for consuming the souls of others through their shadows. Drinking the shadows gives you rest and the dreams of the person or animals you steal from but leaves the creature dry. One neat aspect is how the concept and setting subverts the nothing setting or the dark or darkness being home to horror. In this world the sunlight and light in general is source of terror.

#6 The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow

The City, Awake is a genius surrealist noir that perfectly balances character, narrative drive and experimental prose. Delightfully weird, The City, Awake is an experience. It has the effect of feeling like we are are being lead by expert. Very different types of books but it reminded me of the reading experience that I had reading Brian Evenson's The Warren. Check the interview I did with the author...

#5 End of the World Running Club by Adrian J.Walker

This is my favorite sub-genre of horror in fiction and is my favorite I have read since Brian Evenson's Immobility. The best British end of the world novel since One by Conrad Williams. In a tradition of novel that includes the Stand and Swan Song. The book is almost 500 pages but it is quick read as the story cooks. Once the main characters take off on their run, the journey not only explores survival, themes of family but the limits of endurance. If you like end of the world fiction you MUST read this novel

#4 The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers

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 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.

#3 Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup

This novel has a middle era Clive Barker feel of dark fantasy without the elaborate over writing that books like Imajica or Everville fell into. Certainly the world of this novel has it's share of erotic fantasy and that is why you'll hear Barker comparisons. But Sweetville was a setting written by a hardcore kid, and not a theater nerd so secrets of the weird is filled with Neo-nazis, punks, metal dudes, non binary prostitutes and more. These characters are not marginalized like extras on the punk episode of Quincy or freak show on stage at 90's Jerry Springer taping. They are all written with depth even the characters who only briefly appear in the pages. Even the villains of the piece are given depth.

Secrets of the Weird is a fantastic read. This novel paints an erotic and dangerous picture of a city that you would only want to visit in the safety of a novel.

#2 In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson

This southern Gothic that I feel is like the movie Near Dark if it was written by Cormac McCarthy. The official statements by the publisher makes that Macarthy comparison as well as Joe Hill and Anne Rice. Hill sure, but Anne Rice not so much for me. Hell I see more in common with True Detective writer Nic Pizzalto's books. The writing is gorgeous, at times the west Texas drips off the page and you almost feel the humid air. You can picture the rust on the trucks, the stress of the sheriff's belt and many things that make this world vivid. Lets not avoid the subject it is a monster novel. Damn good one.

#1 Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

An effective and disturbing horror novel that made the best of a lean prose style. The supernatural elements have surreal quality that brings to mind early Clive Barker. Monsters like the Long Walker were disturbing in how unnatural they were yet described so well you see them in your mind and were nothing short of creepy.

The tone reminded me of McCammon's Gone South. This comes from the characters that are both scary and hilarious at times. The prose itself was excellent. Cutter creates vivid landscapes and the horrors pop off the page causing several cringe worthy moments of supernatural horror.

Check out this audio review I recorded with author Anthony Trevino after we both read Little Heaven:

Honorable Mentions: The Force by Don Winslow, Feral by BK Evenson, Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill, Benti-Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Best Pure Sci-fi novel: Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill

Best short story I read: Fail-safe by Philip Fracassi

Best pre-2017 reads: Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal, Lovecraft Alive by John Shirley, The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr, Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

Here is a one hour discussion I with Critic Marvin Vernon on each of our Top ten reads of 2017:

Complete reading list in order All 2017 releases have a *:

Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

The Valley by John Renehan

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.*

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Masque by F.Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter*

Among Madmen by Jim Starlin & Daina Graziunas

Ratings Game by Ryan C. Thomas

13 minutes by Sarah Pinborough *

Nod by Adrian Barnes

Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow *

Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath #3) by Chuck Wendig *

Chills by Mary Sangiovanni *

(Eco-horror kick:

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson *

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi)

Feral by James Demonaco, BK Evenson *

Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup *

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi *

Relics by Tim Lebbon *

In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson *

Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian *

Death Metal Epic I: the Inverted Katabasis by Dean Swinford

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee *

World Revolver By Gina Ranalli

The Sub by Jimmy Jazz

Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal

Lovecraft Alive John Shirley

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus *

Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor *

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley *

Entropy in Bloom by Jeremy Robert Johnson*

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers *

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar*

Mormama by Kit Reed *

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow*

Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen *

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus*

The Boy on The Bridge by M.R. Carey *

His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem

Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

What Immortal Hand by Johnny Worthen*

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch *

The Changeling by Victor LaValle *

Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi * (best short story I read this year:Fail-safe)

Blade Runner 2 The Edge of Human by KW Jetter

The Snake Handler by J. David Osborne & Cody Goodfellow *

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy *

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan *

Bone White by Ronald Malfi *

The Force by Don Winslow *

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter *

Pinball Punks by Dave Anderson *

End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker *

Strange Weather by Joe Hill *

Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill *

Sleeping Beauties By Stephen & Owen King *

Under the Shanghai Tunnels and Other Weird Tales by Lee Widener *

Sip by Brian Allen Carr *

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View *

The Best of Richard Matheson (Selected and edited by Victor LaValle) *

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #1: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem *

Leia Princess of Aldderan by Claudia Gray*

Engines of Ruin by Lucas Mangum*

81 books 44 2017 books

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: Exploring Dark Short Fiction #1: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem by Eric J. Guignard (Editor) & Steve Rasnic Tem

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #1: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem

by Eric J. Guignard (Goodreads Author) (Editor), Steve Rasnic Tem (Goodreads Author) (Contributor), Michael A. Arnzen (Goodreads Author) (Contributor), Michelle Prebich (Illustrator)

paperback, 224 pages

Published July 2017 by Dark Moon Books

Lets talk first about this format, which is fair I think because it is the first in a series. Edited by Eric J. Guignard I think he is on to something special here. If this is the system he is going to follow. This is a really, really cool book and the format is inspired. It has six short stories by the subject of the book, including one new to this edition. A long and complete bibliography, each story comes with academic commentary,beautiful art and an essay on the genre from Tem.

When I closed the book my first thought was all the authors I would love to see in this series. Lisa Morton, Cody Goodfellow, Stephen Graham Jones, to name a few. I have no idea who Guignard has in mind but I am ready to trust him as I love the format.

OK I am familiar with Steve Rasnic Tem but not a huge devotee. I read and reviewed a collection of stories he co-wrote with his late wife. I had read stories here and there and was a fan of a novel of Melanie Tem but have yet to read one of his. So I was a prime candidate for this book. The Six stories were a great example of various tones and subjects in horror. I finished the book very interested in his most recent novel and I will read more.

Several of the stories had moments of humor but most were dark in all the right ways. "Hungry" the first story was great at setting the tone and I like that we got introduced to the author's work with the same story as the editor. That was a neat touch. The story played with the freak show setting and made for a wonderful story environment. The second story "The Last Moments Before Bed" was to me the most powerful story in the book, this absolute heartbreaker of a story that explores loss.

All the commentaries written by author and PHD Michael Arnzen all added depth to the experience and in a few cases confirmed my feelings on stories. I have admit on the Christmas story new to this book I didn't catch some of the elements Arnzen brought up. It was great because I re-read the story with new eyes.

This is not just a great collection and introduction to a underrated writer, it is great showcase on the nuts and bolts of what makes short horror fiction work. This is a book that may some day be taught, I don't say that lightly.

Book Review: The Best of Richard Matheson (Selected and edited by Victor LaValle)

The Best of Richard Matheson (Selected and edited by Victor LaValle)

Paperback, 384 pages

Published November 2017 by Penguin Classics

It is not Hyperbole to say that Richard Matheson is one of the most important writers of the 20th Century. Ray Bradbury said that and I want to expand on the point. It is not just the novels, or the films and the TV shows. It is all of them. Neil Gaiman nailed it when he said you know his stories even if you don't know him. Weather it is I Am Legend, The Night Stalker, Somewhere in Time or one of his many Twilight Zone episodes. I have met most of my professional heroes and the only time I was ever star stuck in my life was the three times I met Richard Matheson. I often tell that story and people often tell me "I never heard of him," then I say his titles and they know them. Many of them are classics.

Matheson was a hero to me growing up. I started to read him shortly after I discovered Clive Barker and Stephen King. As a young horror reader, I was reading everything I could get my hands on by those two giants. I lived in the used section of Cavet Emptor the used book store in a old house turned into a jam packed used backstore. The store has moved but still exists. When I was young the horror section was in a small room just bigger than a closet.

Richard Matheson had a shelf to himself, his name caught my attention because I knew it, from years of watching the Twilight Zone. I proceeded to buy every book I could. I loved Matheson right away in part because he was a pure story-teller. I loved that he wrote Twilight Zones, novel and movies. He wrote weird but didn't create things so out there that a young reader like me couldn't get it. That was a problem I sometimes had with Clive Barker at the time. He didn't waste words like Stephen King.

So how does one compile a best of book for a author with a long productive lifetime of writing short stories. I am sure it was a huge challenge. It fell on the shoulders of Victor Lavalle (author of The Changling and the Ballad of Black Tom)who is certainly one of the IT writers of the day. He responded by reading everything and choose thirty-two classics.

LaValle's introduction was good, he gave a personal story that set the tone. I had read a good many of these stories before. Several of them you will know from the Twilight Zone, and if you don't know them you need to know them. The selection of stories is thoughtful and shows a good range of what RM could do as a writer. If this is your introduction it is a good place to start.

Stories that stood out for me in this reading include "Shipshape Home" about a apartment building with a mystery. Deus ex Machina that had a great emotional core and the Twilight zone Classics "Button, Button" and "Third From the Sun." Some of the best stories like Duel did less for me because I just watched the film (That Matheson wrote himself) and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet as it is also too well known.

Content wise this is a no brainer 5/5 book that should be required reading not just for genre fans but anyone wanting to understand 20th century American fiction. There are a few little things I wish they had added to the book, and I understand I might be asking for things outside of the Penguin classic Formula. Listing the year of publication under the title of each story and maybe editor commentary after each title. maybe even a paragraph. I would like to know more about the selection process.

Must have read and now that I know about The Charles Beumont Peguin Classics I have to read that too.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Review Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View edited by ?

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View edited by ?

Hardcover, 477 pages

Published October 2017 by Del Rey

Well first things first I am amazed this book does not credit a editor or team of editors because the first thing I thought of was what amazing piece of a editing it was. Content editing I mean. This is a one of a kind anthology with a hell of a table of contents featuring tons of top notch authors it just has to be about Star Wars. Let me be clear this book is not about the Star Wars universe. It is a anthology on the 40th anniversary of A New Hope.

According to the back cover: "All participating authors have generously forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book - a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch of this book and both companies' longstanding relationships with First Book, Penguin Random House has donated $100,000 to First Book, and Disney/Lucasfilm has donated 100,000 children's books - valued at $1 million - to support First Book and their mission of providing equal access to quality education. Over the past 16 years, Disney and Penguin Random House combined have donated more than 88 million books to First Book."

The title is from a line in Return of the Jedi when Obi-wan said he had told the truth from a certain point of view. These stories fill in moments A New Hope with new short stories from the point of view of side characters and sometime moments that were off camera. Some of these stories are quite inspired and worthy of reading and few I admit I didn't finish. As you can imagine some had alot of fun with moments of new Hope and others actually added depth. A couple the stories did nothing for me or for the universe.

This book features stories from many big name authors including Nnedi Okorofor and Daniel Jose Older who I want to get their own Star Wars novels. Gary Whitta co-screenwriter of Rogue One kicks off the book with a story that ties the two films together. Claudia Grey who is a fantastic Star Wars novelist wrote the best piece. One that includes a conversation between Obi-wan and Qui-gon while Obi-wan helps clean up the jaws.

A fun read but not a must have. Get it for the cause and read a couple of the stories. I thought the Daniel Jose Older one was funny, The Nnedi Okorofor one was weird, The Wil Wheton one added neat little depth to character we saw for a few seconds. The Claudia Grey one gave me goosebumps, Beyond that it was light-hearted fun.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: Sip by Brian Allen Carr

Sip by Brian Allen Carr
Hardcover, 304 pages Published August 29th 2017 by Soho Press

I reviewed Brian Allen Carr's surreal horror novel "The Last horror novel in History of the World" back in 2015. I enjoyed it as a short but totally surreal novella. At the time I said I laughed alot reading this novel which is some kinda of supernatural small town siege tale set against the interesting back drop of a small border town in Texas. Given the title I expected a satire, or a bizarro send up of horror novels but that wasn't the case. This is more like experimental horror that based on the strength of the strong prose is a really cool quick read.

I was excited about this book and wanted to read it after hearing BAC on the JDO (J.David Osbourne) show podcast. Between then and actually getting around to the book I remembered nothing about it. I am glad I went in cold. SIP is a totally weird novel, those worried that BAC would lose his edge getting published by a traditional publisher - don't worry.

Sip is one of the weirdest horror novels I have ever read. The structure of the narrative is a little more straight forward there are no one sentence chapters, but the idea is plenty weird enough. It takes place in a post apaoclyse western setting, the world was not ended by nuclear war or climate change. In this future our world fell apart when junkies developed an addiction for consuming the souls of others through their shadows. Drinking the shadows gives you rest and the dreams of the person or animals you steal from but leaves the creature dry. Dry means you can't sleep or dream.

On a basic level you have great weird elements like shadow drinkers and limb scavengers, you have western elements with the train and the wasteland setting. Those are lots of neat-o elements but at the heart are human characters. At it's core friendship and loyalty plays as important a role as a mainstream YA novel. There is much to relate too at the heart of the story.

One neat aspect is how the concept and setting subverts the nothing setting or the dark or darkness being home to horror. In this world the sunlight and light in general is source of terror. The characters from Bale and Mira break the tension with momments of humor from time to time. The gee-whiz of the concept was enough to get my interest but it is Characters that made this a step-up from the BAC novel I read.

BAC is a talented writer and the very concept is strong argument for the book. At times the prose is poetic, but it is the world building and setting where the beauty lies. That is a neat trick. Overall I would say this is a weird fiction masterpiece if you like bizarro, horror or science fiction there is something here for everyone. If you think that all the ideas have been exhausted before 2017 then you need to read Sip. It is a book like no other and worthy of massive praise.

Magazine Review: Deciduous #1

Deciduous #1 Edited by Tara Blaine

169 pages

Published by Deciduous Tales

I am a huge fan of the horror short story. One of the biggest problems is the markets for the horror short story shrinks each year. It is always a good thing when a new source comes around. Featuring new fiction and and few classics reprinted Deciduous is a fine entry to the world of dark fiction that comes with a San Diego connection. Associate editor and contributor Brian Asman is here and a part of our local community.

As dark fiction journals go this is a great start, with 169 pages it is pretty much a paper back anthology and while the $14 cover price might scare off a few it shouldn't. The quality level in these pages are really high. The selection of stories is very good, there is not one story that turned me off completely and I tend to expect that in any given anthology. Almost all of them has a stinker.

That said there were stories that were stronger than others and I am not totally sold on what the classic stories added outside of slight vibe. The stories here are generally more on the surreal side of dark fiction. Bless the cracks for example by Brian Asman had Clive Barker ish concept of a world inside the cracks of sidewalk. The interplay between the people who see it and those that don't made it a fun read.

My favorite stories in this issue were Bone Dust by Joshua Chaplinsky and Getting Wet by Adrean Messmer. The dark tone and beautiful written prose of Bone Dust created a rich misery. Reminded me of some the post Apocalypse stories of Brian Evenson. Bone Dust was worth getting the whole thing. Chalinsky is on my radar now.

I didn't know any of the authors by name so I enjoyed the discovery process and that is how it is supposed to work. I would read it again and for those who are serious about short horror fiction should get for sure.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book Review: Under the Shanghai Tunnels and Other Weird Tales by Lee Widener

Under the Shanghai Tunnels and Other Weird Tales by Lee Widener

Paperback, 188 pages

Published by Strange House Books October 2017

Coming from Portland based bizarro and weird fiction author Lee Widener Under the Shanghai Tunnels is a neat little collection. It was not entirely my thing but I certainly respect the the book. The author is clearly heavily influenced by the works and mythos of HP Lovecraft. I should not have to explain who that is to horror readers. Certainly there is a seriously overwhelming amount of fiction released each year by writers who want to play in Howie's sandbox. There are two styles of Lovecraftian fiction the ones that directly try to write in his style and the ones who write in their own voice using the mythos.

I grew-up on Lovecraft like alot of horror fans and writers. I am not against Mythos writing in fact one of my favorite reads of the year is Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I admit I get a little tired of Lovecraft tropes and this book is 100% Lovecraftian. Lee Widener brings a off beat sense of humor that provides a cool counter balance to the atmospheric moments. Those of you who can't get enough of old school Weird Tales should not miss this book.

The title story is my second favorite of the collection. As someone who lived in Portland for several years I enjoyed how Widener was able to weave in this location and local lore into the mythos. The story was told in third person at time and slipped into a first person narrative that was a journal entry. This journal style was where we got the Lovecraft tone and almost his voice. There is no new ground really broken here but I don't suspect most readers of this style of fiction are looking for that. The title story feels like slipping on a favorite familiar sweatshirt.

My favorite story in the collection was a funny and very weird tale of a Shoemaker called "At the Shoe Shop of Madness." This kinda off beat humor is Widener does best. This is a really cool book for Lovecraftian fiction fans, and it is clearly written by a talented author. I know I would like to read his work that is not in the shadow of Lovecraft.

Book Review: Sleeping Beauties By Stephen & Owen King

Sleeping Beauties By Stephen & Owen King

hardcover, 702 pages Published September 26th 2017 by Scribner

When Stephen King released Doctor Sleep (his best novel of this century in my opinion) he went on a book tour with his son Owen who had just released his first novel Double Feature. While on the road apparently Owen pitched his father an idea that he thought sounded like a Stephen King novel. On that tour more than once King suggested that he wanted to write it with Owen. Five years later we have 700 page door stop and The King family has three members in the NY Times bestseller top ten at the same time.

I reviewed Owen King's debut novel Double Feature here on my blog when it was released. The book was humorous and I really enjoyed the first 100 pages but I didn't enjoy the book as a whole. Owen King certainly has talent and it has got to be hard to be the youngest in a family of writers who have all (Tabitha King included) seen the bestseller list. While Joe Hill has done everything he can to forge his own path without the help of his Dad's legacy. Owen has been more indifferent. I don't blame him for wanting the experience to write a novel with his Dad, what an amazing experience that would be.

On the surface Sleeping Beauties is a very Stephen King idea, in the vein of Cell or Under the Dome it is a weird speculative Apocalypse novel. The story is global but the point of view is narrow and focused much like Cell. It has almost the page count of The Stand but not the scope. There is a very clear influence or feel of the HBO show The Leftovers. The book is 700 pages and honestly didn't need more than 400 pages to tell this story.

In this novel the women of the world are subject to a pandemic called Aurora. The women affected fall asleep and their faces break-out in a cocoon that keeps them asleep but alive. In the days that follow men have to deal with the loss and certainly most men in our world don't understand everything important that women do. A few women are trying desperately to stay awake and some of their struggles provide the novels most suspenseful moments.

Focused on a fictional West Virginia town called Dooling the novel follows events in the town and in the near-by women's prison. The book has enough characters that it starts with a glossary of them, I suspect most regular King readers wont need it. The Kings do a great job of making the characters vivid. We know this is a family strength. The early build-up is great and there are many really intense moments of creepy-ness related to the face cocoons which I found scary to think about.

Alot of the best moments of horror and story come in moments that I consider spoilers. There are lots of really great character moments. I have seen reviews that diminished Owen's role in the overall book but everyone has to remember he pitched this idea as a SK novel and I am sure he was writing to match that feeling. There are moments of syntax, dialogue and structure that felt different to me as a life long King reader, but I think that was symptom of a third voice.

The early tone of the novel is science fiction but over time the pandemic and related events become more and more supernatural. The story makes less and less sense as the scope narrows and gets more weird at the same time. Almost 100 pages is devoted to a siege of the prison that should have been a chapter at most. None the less the book is peppered through out with great moments of character and tension so I kept turning pages. I think most readers not thinking like writers will not have as many problems as I did.

Story wise I still found it compelling and enjoyed the ride the less I thought about it.I think story wise it is a four out of five star book, Politically it is a 2 out of five. So I am ending up with a 3/5 rating. It is hard to talk about it without mostly major spoilers. I am going spoiler ahoy. Without spoilers I will say this novel has problematic political implications from unintentional patriarchal notions despite being written by two progressive men. This idea is one that would have benefited from a female voice.

In some of the press tours Stephen King has said some cringe-worthy things about how men would react to a world without women. "Who would do the dishes?" I know this can be a generational thing but thankfully The book handles this a little better until the final act. There are plenty of excellent female characters including the Sheriff Lila, that was not the issue it was the notions that were under the surface. More details in Spoilers...

Spoilers: First the positive. There was a chapter about half way into the book where the story took a huge turn, and I admit when it happened I groaned. You see it is 500 pages into the novel that we discover that the sleeping women are living on in an alternate reality without men. This reveal shifted the tone so heavy at first my reaction, was no, just no. But after one chapter it was paid off. The chapter before featured the novel's bully and prime asshole Don Peters talking about wanting set one of the sleeping women on fire just to see what happens. I forgot about them doing this, because of the slight of hand in the form of a huge story shift. The first chapter ends with a woman in the alternate reality suddenly and shockingly dying. When you flip to the next chapter you realize it was the work of Don Peters and young recently deputized man just experimenting.

This was a super effectively reveal. Great storytelling for sure.

As for the bad. I can't believe after Spike Lee complained about Stephen King's use of the "magical negro" in books like the Green Mile and the Stand he would return to the trope but he does. Even naming the woman Evie Black. Evie is in prison for killing a meth dealer and she becomes the key to the whole thing. She is like the gatekeeper between the two worlds.

Even worse is that when she leads the women to discover the path back to our world through this tree portal there is a scene where the women in this new world meet and decide what to do. For a reason I was not clear about they all had to agree and vote on weather to to say in the male-less world that most agree was a better place. In the end they all have a unanimous vote to return to our world.

I can't believe that EVERYONE of them would vote that way. The Kings give the reason that many did not want to be separated from their sons. A better argument is would be that their bodies would always be at risk in the male world. I also didn't understand how the rest of the globe was liberated by Evie's action.

I came away feeling uncomfortable about the ideas at the end of this novel and felt that this story needed a woman's touch.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Big news: New project! Future Shock Live!

I'm creating an exciting new project. I'll be doing this project on a grassroots level.

Future Shock will be a bi-monthly live discussion panel open to the public and heavily promoted in the media. It will feature panelists ranging from political figures, academics, activists and Science Fiction authors. I'm looking for interesting community members who would like to participate by being a panelist for one of the events.

Each installment of Future Shock will focus on a single topic and will be like a live interactive episode of Black Mirror – a theater of the mind with ideas for a better tomorrow. The format will include an hour of discussion, thirty minutes of Q and A, followed by a social and organizing hour.

Topics will include The West Coast in 2075, City Planning for the Future, The Future of Media, Artificial Intelligence, Trans-humanism, Living with Climate Change, and many more.

We will be recording portions of the event for a Future Shock San Diego Podcast. My hope is to get people to gather and discuss the future. I'm shooting for February 2018 to premiere.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill

Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill

hardcover, 384 pages

Published September 5th 2017 by Harper Voyager

This is the first novel I have read by C.Robert Cargill but I am certainly familiar with his writing. I discovered this book while browsing the new releases at my favorite local bookstore Mysterious Galaxy. I knew Cargill's work under the Aint It News Pseudonym Massawyrm. I also of course seen his films Sinister and Dr.Strange. I was sold when the book was described on the back as a "Post Apocalyptic Robot Western." I knew if he could deliver on that promise we had seriously cool story on our hands. Some of the marketing did however have me scratching my head. The publisher called it a twist on the Martian, which makes zero sense. Specifically considering Post apoc robot western sounds way better.

This novel takes place in a world that is fifteen years beyond the death of the last human being. After a brutal war fought between humans and five major AI mainframes. In the aftermath the mainframes are fighting for control of the earth. Our point of view character is a former service robot named Brittle. Many of the service robots identify with genders as they were set up to interface that before the fall. Brittle is now a scavenger searching the barren landscape that had once been the American midwest.

Brittle has to find parts to keep operating, and the struggle becomes harder when a competing robot attempts to kill her, and worse one of the mainframes is targeting her for assimilation. If that was not enough she meets a robot with a important secret the attention of the mainframe may not be a coincident.

Sea of Rust is a bold as hell concept for a science fiction novel, and it comes with it many, many narrative challenges. Cargill is clearly a very serious writer who takes great care with every minor detail. In a novel like this the story requires master level world building. Cargill nails almost all of it. From the history of the great war and how that history unfolds in the selective memories of Brittle, to the post human landscape and the fact that robots would never use things like smell,taste feelings of the like.

Is it perfect? No but pretty close and that is saying something because of the challenge. Cargill did break a major rule of science fiction by including entire chapters of info-dumps. These were found in alternating chapters within the first act of the book. Normally this is a big No-no in sci-fi but it worked for me. as these chapters progressed they tied more into the narrative by connecting to Brittle's story. There were a few times in the third act where I felt the robots were acting a bit too human. It was easy as a reader to forget these are machines and as an author myself I understood the challenge Cargill had. He had to walk a fine line telling a story about machines to consumers who are human. That is a narrative magic trick.

Overall I think Cargill did a amazing job with the world building and it is no small narrative feet to make a story with all machine characters feel visceral and relentless. One of the best science fiction novels I read this year. Now I am going to have to go back and read his other novels.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Hardcover, 432 pages Published October 24th 2017 by William Morrow

I was not shy about my feelings on Joe Hill's last book The Fireman. While it had moments early and late the middle of the book was so bad to me I considered it my biggest disappointment of the year. I loved the concept and I am a Joe Hill/ King family fan so believe me I wanted to like the book. I just couldn't.

So I am very excited to say Strange weather is an excellent collection that carries on his fathers tradition of the four novella collection that started with Different Seasons and done so well recently in Full Dark No Stars.

That is the last time I will mention the family I promise. Hill is a fantastic writer who crafted four novellas that were very much in his voice. One of the things I really dig about these novellas is they are all three pretty different in style and they don't really compare to anyone else. That is really cool aspect of the book. Each novella is very different and has their own strengths. the first and third novellas are a bit more experimental and all of them are interesting.

"Snapshot"is excellent piece. I first read it in the Joe Hill issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, and something even cooler is he said in the notes he started hand-writing in Portland 2013. Cari, my buddy Ivan and I went together to see that event at Powell's so that was neat. I think the title changed from Snapshot 88, it is a somewhat experimental mystery that takes the narrative and wraps it around a story about dementia. What is cool is as the characters spiral into insanity the narrative loses it's form and becomes more and more strange. Well done.

The second novella "Loaded" is a very political story about guns. In many ways it has a Crash like feel with many stories that seem unconnected weaving together. It was surprisingly well plotted for a writer who openly disdains outlining, and said he hand wrote the first drafts in the novel. The main character is a unlikable dude, a gun nut mall security guard who appears to have ended a mass shooting and declared a hero. there are just a few problems, he has a restraining order from his ex, and the shooting appears to have some unexplainable moments.

This novella is really well written but I suspect conservative readers will not enjoy the point of view.

The third novella is in a sense is the title novella. I mean it is called "Afloat" but if any story is about Strange Weather it is this one. I have a feeling this one will divide readers. certainly it is the most bizarro story and least marketable concept. Personally I found this one to be solid - pun intended. The story of a skydiver that moves back in forth in time during the narrative and gets progressively more surreal as it goes on. There are plenty of powerful moments although I do think a shorter short story version might have been even more impact.

The last novella "Rain" is up my alley as it is a weird post apocalypse story and come to think if it it is a fitting for the title as well. It is about a storm that hits Colorado. The main character travels across the landscape with the mission of informing her father in law that her partner is dead. This is is a darker than dark story that for me was far more impacting in it's short pages that all of Hill's last novel "The Fireman"

Over all I enjoyed this collection, I think it is a must read for Hill or King fans. Joe Hill does a fantastic job of expanding his voice. Big Thumbs here. For a discussion on Strange weather with fellow critic Marvin Vernon:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker
Paperback, 464 pages Published September 2017 by Sourcebooks Landmark

There are certain books that when I read them I know long before it is finished that I reading something that will be there at the end of the year when I make my top ten of the year. This is not a little deal. I hit my reading goal of the year with 70 books with this one. The End of the World Running Club is a masterful epic of post apocalyptic fiction. This is my favorite sub-genre of horror in fiction and is my favorite I have read since Brian Evenson's Immobility. The best British end of the world novel since One by Conrad Williams. In a tradition of novel that includes the Stand and Swan Song, it should be noted The author of both those books have now blurbed this book. Infact it was this tweet that lead me to read it:


THE END OF THE WORLD RUNNING CLUB, by Adrian J. Walker. This one's a real find. I got a copy in Toronto. Might not be published in the US.

7:17 PM - 12 Oct 2017

EOTWRC is a novel that pushes almost of my buttons. The story is set in Scotland and follows Edgar Hill, he is not going to win father or husband of the year awards. He avoids home by overworking. He forced into survival mode by the end of the world, over night the north hemisphere is hit by hundreds of asteroids. They survive this event by huddling in a cellar. Weeks later they hear a helicopter that takes them to a base where survivors are gathered. While out collecting supplies Edgar and a small group of survivors miss a series of helicopters that are taking survivors to southern England to meet rescue ships. These ships are leaving around Christmas Day in Cornwall will take the survivors to unaffected South Africa.

After waiting a few days they realize no rescue is coming back for them. They have a month to get 550 miles, the problem is the roads are destroyed. Cars, bikes, none of it will work. And despite the fact that Edgar has never been into fitness they have one choice. Run. Pretty much a marathon a day, across the wasteland and through the weather.

What follows is a nerve-racking suspense filled novel that feels like a journey for the reader as much as the characters. The Running part doesn't even start until almost 200 pages in. No matter the building of the characters and universe are done with amazing skill. As a reader generally who doesn't like first person narrative, this in no way held me back from enjoying the story it was so well told.

That is not to say the early moments of the book are a slow build. One of the most harrowing moments of the novel was on page 46 shortly after the asteroids fell. Walker used tried and true methods of suspense building to make the possibility of someone on the other side of the cellar door terrifying. There were several moments in the book that worked well enough that I dog-eared the pages.

There are moments where Walker checks the boxes and hits us with some very trope heavy aspects of the post Apocalypse novel. The camps with the new world tyrants and the like. This doesn't distract from the over all product. Each of these detours from the run at the heart of the novel help deepen the narrative. It gives the journey higher stakes at every turn. By the end of the run we are fully invested.

Certainly I felt a kinship with Ed. I don't like to run, but force myself to do it. He doesn't want to run, but when he is left behind he finally realizes what his family is worth to him. Through the pain and hardship his need to see his family grows. There is a chapter in the book where he highlights the moment where his body excepts the running. When his body gives in and he figures out why people do it. It is a powerful moment in a book filled with them.

I don't use the word masterpiece lightly, but hot damn this book is. There is one scene (page 361) that I didn't feel was earned when a character had a random item they needed to escape a situation that I don't remember being mentioned earlier. It was the only moment I rolled my eyes at. I felt that was a little cheap and forced. A minor thing consider how powerful the book was over all. At the same time there were moments of horror done so well (like page 384) that used setting, sound and atmosphere to such wonderful effect, that is what I will remember.

Oh yes I should mention, I decided this year to only read books released in 2017/16 basically new releases. I understand a version of this novel was self-published in 2014. I suspect this edition is a new edit, and basically a new book. So it fits.

The book is almost 500 pages but it is quick read as the story cooks. Once the main characters take off on their run, the journey not only explores survival, themes of family but the limits of endurance. If you like end of the world fiction you MUST read this novel, if you just like a good story then you probably should read it. I think it was amazing.

Book Review: Pinball Punks by Dave Anderson

Pinball Punks by Dave Anderson

Paperback, 200 pages

Published September 14th 2017 by East Falling

This is a really cool example of what is good about DIY publishing, and look I am not always a fan. I believe in the gatekeepers generally when it comes to publishing. That said there are a few times that a book comes our way that didn't stand a chance finding a traditional publisher. Lets face it a punk book makes more sense DIY than many. Anderson has a book on his hand that is off-beat and fun but it is not a concept that I think screams market-ability.

It does not fit into a standard genre, not horror, not new weird and while it is bizarro it is one that doesn't feel like it should be close on the shelf next to Eraserhead press or Raw Dog Screaming Press books. That is not a knock. The book is strange for certain and at times absurdist, but it is not so weird that it exists sorta in a recognizable reality. Certainly the people in this book listen to alot of the same bands we do.

This is the story of a punk band called the Piss Rats who is just about to start a U.S. tour. I sure I will not be the only person who will wonder if this book was written before or after Trump got elected. In this world there is a dumbass president but this one is way cooler than the one we have in the real world. Because of a e-mail suggesting the country kick start it's economy by creating a network of pinball machines, the president who wants to be called Mister Awesome hires the The Piss Rats to promote the idea.

Before long the president is on tour with the Piss Rats. That is when things get weird. There is alot of wonderful moments in this book and I laughed throughout. It took me awhile to finish this book because honestly it is not exactly my type of book. I am a horror guy. I did enjoy the punk rock of it. You can tell Anderson is a legit hardcore kid, who grew-up going to shows. That is perhaps the biggest strength of the book. The reality is we need more, and more punk fiction. Good punk fiction.

In that sense Pinball Punks is a fun read and I happy to have it on my shelf. Punks looking for more punk stories need to pick this book up.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Book Review: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Hardcover, 487 pages

Published August 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)

(first published January 2017 in England)

More than 100 years old War of the Worlds is about as classic as science fiction gets. The novel is one thing, but when you add the radio drams, TV shows and various films the reach of WoTW is hard to measure. Every first contact or alien invasion novel, TV show or film since is in it's shadow. Normally I would think it was a pretty ballsy move to write a sequel that is in many ways the first earliest sci-fi novel. I know there are examples from Frankenstein and more that predate it but in many ways WoTW is the first true classic of the genre that balances depth with pulp appeal.

Kudos to the Wells estate who authorized this, Baxter appears to be the guy to do it. He is a self professed Wells expert who already wrote a sequel to The Time Machine, and From the research he did into not only the original but the history of the times - he was the right before for this job. That is what makes this book something really special. The details and history of the novel is treated just a carefully as the history of the early 20th century. Real life figures play into this novel that takes in and around the 1920's.

The aftermath of the first Mars invasion has effected the entire planet. Germany and Russia are at war and france has fallen to Germany. But everyone comes together for one foe. There is a limited peace as Mars and Earth's orbits are in opposition around the sun. Everyone is tense as they orbits are about to line up. Once they do the Martians return The war is on and wider, in slow motion humanity watches the launch of the Martian attack and have time to prepare.

The war in this novel is wider and more global seen through the eyes of a unlikely narrator. The Sister-in-law of the first book's POV Walter Jenkins. Julie Elphinstone is a fantastic voice for the book, a strong female lead in a era that was still filled with sexism. I admit I was surprised by the choice but it worked great for the novel. Characters often underestimated her, and as she becomes important to the war effort she comes into her own.

Without major spoilers there are major surprises throughout the solar system in this novel. Baxter uses research done in this century to add flavor but he also is willing to use ideas that would be considered out of date. I liked that he mostly used the science of Mars that would have existed in 1920. With a tiny dash of modern knowledge for flavor.

As a war novel Massacre of Mankind works quite well, as an Alien invasion novel it works even better. As a sequel to War of the Worlds it worked for me but keep in mind it has been 30 years since I read the novel. So for me it works really well. Oddly I have never read Baxter before. I think I need to fix that. I really enjoyed this novel. Was it amazing? Not really but it was very solid and Baxter deverves alot of credit for the depth and research he brought to it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: The Force by Don Winslow

The Force by Don Winslow

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published June 2017 by William Morrow

I know this year has been a real sci-fi and horror heavy year for me reading wise but I enjoy crime novels. So this is not that out of left field for me. Dawn Patrol Winslow's amazing San Diego based novel is one of the rare books that broke my published in 2016/17 rule for reading this year. The Force follows those rules and it was one I wanted to read since I heard the author on a podcast. Crime novels come in different shapes and sizes and depending on the skill of the author different levels of quality. On the surface the Force is a cop novel, surely there are many of those. Don Winslow is not just a novelist, trained as journalist and academic Winslow writes stories that educate as much as they make you feel. It is a little less message oriented than his last novel, I have not yet read the Cartel but Winslow seems passionate about ending the war on drugs.

The level of detail and research have become a trademark of a Winslow novel. They are fiction but they feel like a window on to the world, you will be educated as well as entertained. That is the important part entertainment and believe me the book is thrilling. Moments of suspense, drama and intensity.

Sometimes I think cover blurbs work against an author with hyperbole that is impossible to live up to. I worried about this as Stephen King compare this book to the godfather with cops. The NYPD world of The Force is clearly detailed researched but one would hope it was not as ugly as this. Keep in mind this is not bash fest of cops. It is clear Winslow does not have a ton of respect for the methods and processes of the Federal investigation agencies. From my experience of being a radical activist I can tell you those parts felt dead on.

This might be a result of the tight point of view. This is not a first person narrative, but unlike the Don Winslow books I have read before the POV follows the main character Denny Malone closely. He certainly hates Internal affairs and the feds. Not sure if that is a feeling Winslow has himself but he certainly gave us that feeling dripping off the page. Denny is a hero cop, son of a hero cop. He is not exactly clean and it is not a spoiler to say he ends up in trouble as we meet him in lock-up and then we are told the story backwards.

Denny is our window but the elite group of cops know as "Da Force" and the justice system in the city is the focus of the book. So the cops break down a few doors and make busts but the action and tension comes from the interplay of Denny and his borthers with the whole system. Judges, lawyers, special agents, internal affairs. Denny has to interface with federal agents investigating his unit and that interplay is like a boxer trading blows. All the best moments of drama and suspense are woven with those confrontations.

The feds have Denny by the balls, and he is forced to do things he finds disgusting. "being a Rat" disgusts the man who had no problem doing the same thing to criminals. It is a interesting moment when Denny realizes he has become many things he hated. That is how the feds and the court system works. How many times do people lie to protect themselves in court? How times do innocent people accept deals because they are afraid to lose in court? How many times do deals get made by the people caught in deals on and on. The questions that rise about our system while you read this book are numerous.

This novel does a great job of shining a light on how the gears of "justice" work in the system. There really are no good guys here. The novel is a exploration of loyalty in a impossible situation. The Force is a must read novel for crime fans. I think it is a masterpiece however I think it is really essential for crime fans but also anyone wanting to understand the criminal justice center.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Book Review: Bone White by Ronald Malfi

Bone White by Ronald Malfi

Paperback, 384 pages

Published July 2017 by Kensington Publishing Corporation

I admit I was not familiar with Ronald Malfi before reading this book. I had heard him mentioned on the Horror Show with Brian Keene, but it was a review that tipped me off. Marvin Vernon of the Novel Pursuit who I sometimes do audio reviews with called it "one of the best books of 2017 of any genre." and it was why I immediately went to my library website and put it on hold. I trust Marvin.

I am glad I did. I enjoyed the hell out of this book, which for the first 100 pages felt like the set-up episode of the next season of Fargo. I know it takes place in Alaska not the upper midwest. It does however start with a weird crime in the far north with a woman detective taking the lead despite many around her doubting her. Not sure it was intentional but that is what it made me think of.

Bone White is a northern gothic horror novel that I liked very much. I gave it five stars but I am not sure I ready to use the word Masterpiece. I mean it is very good. It has many moments of dread and outright creepy-ness while never skimming on characters.

The main character is Paul, who is estranged from his twin brother who a year earlier left for a new life in Alaska. He is more stable than his brother Danny who after moving up north has now gone quiet. The story really starts with a creepy scene in a small town called Dread's hands. Joe Mallory a local older man walks into a diner where everyone knows him and informs them that he has committed a series of murders and you better call someone to get the bodies. This intro was very off-putting in a good way. You can feel the thick tension of the scene drip off the pages and we as readers feel the discomfort.

Malfi appears to have a skill for making excellent off-putting discomfort. I don't want to get into it but I find Alaska to be a creepy enough place but Malfi does a good job of making us feel the isolation. Without giving away spoilers for the end the story takes a supernatural turn. With hints of classic Gothic and cryptic warnings that showcase a heavy Stephen King influence Malfi maintains most of the mystery right up to the horrific end.

This is a deeply psychological novel at times, brutal and atmospheric. The skill of the writing takes a pretty basic concept and elevates it beyond tropes into an experience. The pacing of the novel is very impressive that doles out mystery just enough. If I am critical of anything it would be the weak cover that suggests nothing of tone or feeling of the novel. Jill Ryerson the cop investigating the murders is a very interesting and frankly under used character. These are minor issues and the best thing I can say about the novel is I will read more Malfi.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Paperback, 125 pages Published February 28th 2017 by Tor Book

Something worked in this books favor was the fact that I really didn't like the last book I read. Kiernan is a author I have meant to read more of. Agents of Dreamland will only cement my need to read more of Kiernan's work.

One of the latest releases in the the series of Novellas which has produced masterpieces like Binti by Nedi Okrafor, Buffalo Soliders by Maurice Broddus, The Warren by Brian Evenson and of course the Black Of Black Tom by victor Lavalle. Those are just the ones I have reviewed. I mean some release strange and original works that are short in page count but huge in Ideas. So Agents of Dreamland fits right in.

This balances lots of feelings for the reader. At times the the prose is vivid and crisp and times the narrative is so intensely weird it is hard to believe it is less than 150 pages. I mean this book is loaded with ideas. It is of course a Lovecraft influenced cosmic horror story but not in stereotypical adding tenticles kinda of way. At times it had the delightfully weird transcendental feeling of David Lynch. The story moves through space and time in a totally unpredictable way.

The story of Signalman a spy who gets off a train in the desert to exchange information that is tied events are tied to the deep space probe New Horizon about to buzz the dwarf planet Pluto. If I start to rattle off all the elements that make this novel you'll get an idea how out there it is. There is a woman who exists outside of time, Sogotths basically alien invading space fungus, A doomsday cult called "Children of The Next Level," tie-ins to early 20th century sci-fi films, and more.

It is one thing to throw a whole bunch of weird things together it is a another to put them all together in a well written creepy tale. Page after page page I marveled at little moments of genius, while remaining stunned at the level of weird. It is set in 2015 for specific reason...

That is when new Horizon was swinging by Pluto taking the amazing pictures in the video. This novella is a bit of a companion piece to the Lovecraft story Whisper in the Darkness that was inspired by the recently at the time discovered dwarf Planet. Kinda wish I know that going into it as I would have re-read that story. It has been a long time.

This is my favorite book I have read in awhile, I was excited by all the strange elements coming together. A masterpiece of Science Fiction, horror and Mythos fiction. Kiernan swung for the fences and knocked the sucker in the parking lot.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

Hardcover, 272 pages

Published August 1st 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Boy I really really wanted to like this book. There were a couple reasons for this. For one thing, I really enjoyed the interview with the author on the "This is Horror" Podcast. I found Percy to have lots of interesting takes on writing and the plot to this novel sounded interesting. I thought the concept was one that could be really cool. The fact that it was set in Portland a city I miss didn't hurt either. I WANTED to like this book, and yet I didn't. Not there are levels to disliking a book. I finished this book. Making it to the end says something.

As a novelist myself I know the huge amount of work involved in researching,writing, editing and marketing a book. I don't root against books but I felt like I was riding a fancy bike with the chain falling off every time we got some speed.

This book was alot of things going on but not exactly the book I was hoping for. The idea that a great supernatural evil is using the Dark Net - ie the underground unregulated internet is a fascinating one. What was needed to tell this story is a a really technologically oriented point of view that combines the feel of early William Gibson with the supernatural feeling of the Exorcist or The Omen. My favorite Horror film of all time Prince of Darkness is a great example of science fiction meeting supernatural even religious horror. Lets face it the evil in this story has demonic judeo-christian feel to it. One of the negatives to this book is I felt like I understood more about the real life Dark Net that Percy did.

The Dark Net is the story of many characters but our main point of view character is Lela a Technophobic Journalist, others include her niece Hannah who is blind but receiving experimental surgery, Her sister, A hacker named Derick and a former evangelist turned homeless advocate. Lela is investigating a murder that is connected to an apartment building that has a tenuous connection the other characters. There is a story line involving Hannah and the experimental treatment leading to her ability to see creatures that exist somewhere between a technological and spiritual realm.

None of these story elements really worked for me. Lela's murder investigation felt like a totally different story, and once the elements started coming together it I didn't feel anymore convinced. The Mike Juniper story on the surface sounded interesting, with a former believer just wanting to help the homeless but his chapters didn't stand out. Hannah and mother were the characters I found most interesting and even though they open the novel they felt under used.

My biggest problem with the writing were events that seemed to happen randomly just because the author wanted them too. The best example was in the first 100 pages. Look as a ex-Portlander who shopped at and loved Powell's city of Books on paper the idea of a suspense filled horror-action scene taking place in the store is cool. However in order to put Lela a reporter who doesn't work into the store alone Percy set-up a ridiculous scene where a Powell's employee just leaves her in the rare books room after the store closed. This would never happen. So it took me out of the book.

This is just one example but there were several times things happen without any logic except to advance the story. Lela's inability to use technology while it fits the author's narrative it is impossible to believe. So as reader in the first 100 pages there are several major strikes against the book. I can suspend disbelief about demons, but a reporter for the leading newspaper in the state being clueless with technology enough soo that she can't download a picture takes me straight out of the story.

Once we get into the third act I feel the title concept of the Dark Net is only touched on in minor ways, and considering it was the subject of the book I wanted more than a wikipedia entries worth of knowledge on the topic. The best techno-thrillers make me feel like the author is in touch with information about the subject I can't understand. The story often meets in the middle. I read this book mostly thinking of ways evil could travel through the dark-net and thinking that Derick was the only character we needed. Then again I didn't believe him as a hacker anymore than Lela as a Luddite reporter in the 21st century.

I wish I could tell you this is an awesome book worthy of your time. It has blurbs from really smart authors Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Chuck Wendig and Paul Tremblay. Percy is a much more successful writer than I am but I just don't see it here. I wanted a smart techno-thriller in the vein of Cyberpunk meets horror instead the third act contains a chapter that felt more like Maximum Overdrive. It was good enough to finish I may give Percy another chance but thumbs down on this one.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book Review: The Snake Handler by J. David Osborne & Cody Goodfellow

The Snake Handler by J. David Osborne & Cody Goodfellow

Paperback, 152 pages

Published 2017 by Broken River Press

This book came as a big surprise to me. I mean I am a fan of both authors, and I knew these dudes were friends but it seemed a strange combo. On the surface both authors are write strange fiction. Goodfellow is more of a horror author and Osborne known for weird crime, of course both crossover into the other's genre often. Osborne and Goodfellow worked together on Cody's criminally underrated weird crime novel Repo-Shark, with Osbourne serving as editor and publisher through Broken River books. But as a fan of works of fiction by both authors the differences in their styles had me scratching my head at the idea of them working together.

Goodfellow is an author whose strength comes in research and little details. Osbourne is more of an author who writes books that feel like a surreal version of the southern gothic. More importantly details are not his thing. Osbourne has admitted on his podcast he skips details, ignoring the parts of stories he finds boring. Osbourne often leaves these moments up to the reader to fill the details on their own. Goodfellow plays will those moments turns them into humor, horror or suspense and leaves no stone unturned. Osbourne's strength are tone, the off-color feeling.

So how would they combine their strength?

The Snake Handler is a (just barely southern) gothic crime novel that centers on Clyde Hilburn as Preacher and faith healer in West Virgina who is bit by a snake in the novella's opening moments. What follows is a weird crime story that involves the main character trying to solve his own murder caused by the bite that ideally should not be so full of poison. The setting provides alot of the weird the characters and it all adds to make for weird, violent fun if you are into the darker more gross forms of story-telling.

I could be wrong, but as much Goodfellow as I have read, and I have read a good % of his catalog it seems he wrote the majority of the first part and Osbourne seems to have been lead on the second part. That is not to say I didn't seem hints of the other through out, and I could be wrong I am just geussing. I enjoyed this book but I admit Goodfellow's clarity is a little more my thing. That is why I think I preferred elements of the first half more than the second. None the less I loved the whole thing, that is personal taste thing.

Goodfellow and Osbourne are a welcome combination and with the Matt Revert cover it is a neat little novella, that should be on your shelf. Honestly this felt like a novella series book and in a just world it would have been one.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: Blade Runner 2 The Edge of Human by KW Jetter

Blade Runner 2 The Edge of Human by KW Jetter

Paperback, 320 pages

Published October 2000 by Spectra (first published 1995)

This book sat unread on my shelf for 10 years. I bought it for a quarter at a library book sale in Port Angeles Washington. I knew the back story, KW Jetter who is a cyberpunk author I respected had been friends with PKD during his life. The story goes that he and Dick had discussed before his death his thoughts on seeing the rough cut of the movie, and his plans to write sequel novel Jetter then with permission of the family wrote a series of books that are a sequel to the movie more so than the novel.

The main reason I decided to give this book at spin was to kinda get back into the Blade Runner world before the release of the new film. So I re-watched the blu-ray of the final cut, and read this book. Thought that would be a fun way to get excited for the new film. I read Do Andoirds Dream Electric Sheep and re-watched Blade Runner about 10 years ago. At the time I remember thinking that the movie was more faithful to the source material that it is often given credit for. Certainly there are many concepts in the novel that don't get explored like the empathy boxes and the very term Blade Runner is only in the movie.

That being said the concept of animal extinction, empathy towards animals and the very idea of empathy as a test for humanity is very clearly a translation of the novel into the film format. Watching it again I found little subtle moments that I realized meant nothing to me when I first saw the film and would have no meaning to me without having read the novel. When Deckard asks the replicant stripper if her snake is real and she says "of course not, how could I afford it?" Having read the novel I understand that most animals on earth are extinct that fake animals are status thing. Or in the Tyrell corporations penthouse when Tryell's owl gets a close-up it is clearly a fake but that is never mentioned.

So considering that it was interesting after watching the film again to enter into Jetter's sequel. While there are nods to Dick's novel, this is not an androids sequel it is very much a Blade Runner sequel. There are pros and cons to this. If there is one serious negative is that Jetter doesn't introduce new characters hardly at all, the setting hardly changes. He takes very few risks. It was almost like he was told we have to use all the same actors and sets. Understandable for a movie or TV production just didn't make sense in a prose setting.

Odd choice because it was a book, none the less he finds interesting twists into the story and brings back characters (some of whom died) in interesting ways. At this point I am going to talk about spoilers. The book is many years old, and about to become obsolete. I think many of you want to read this review to skip the book rather than actually than deciding if you want to read it. As a fan of Blade Runner I enjoyed it, but unless you are hugely devoted to the film I don't you have to read it.

I enjoyed reading it rated four stars at first but lowered my score to three after thinking deeper about it. It is fun, but it breaks no new ground and pretty much re-hashes the film over and over.


In this novel Rachel has been put in a sleep chamber and Deckard is forced back to LA to look for a last Nexxus 8 Replicant. This mission is given to him by Sarah the template for the Rachel Android. Roy Batty returns in the form of the human template. Holden the Blade Runner shot in the early scenes of the movie returns with a new heart and lungs after nearly dying. Holden and Deckard are both convinced that the other Blade Runner is the last Replicant. This is pretty good PKD paranoia,but the best twist of the novel comes at the end of chapter 8 on page 153. Holden comes the conclusion that perhaps all the Blade runners are Androids.

I thought this was a fun twist. In the end we are left with the same mystery and I am not sure I have reading the other two books.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Review: Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi

Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi

Introduction by Laird Barron

Paperback, 292 pages

Published March 10th 2017 by JournalStone

A short story collection is one of the best ways to get to know an author. I heard Philip Fracassi on A podcast, a epic 3 part interview on This is Horror, and was convinced the guy seemed legit. I looked him up at my library, saw nothing so I requested a purchase and within two months I got a notice it was there. I knew he had worked as a screenwriter but honestly had never heard of him before the interview. Well it was clear I have to fix that.

Introduced by cosmic horror master Laird Barron this collection that has creepy and haunting cover. It feels like the intriduction to the author I was looking for. Fracassi clearly has a perfect balance of skill and style. The stories are all genre but have a diverse feel with in that spectrum. Some are straight fucked-up horror and some feel like classic weird tales.

Weighing with 9 tales some are novella length and had a previous life as chapbooks. The best of these long pieces was Altar a story that took place near a pool. The weirdest story of the book was Coffin whose POV character was excellent, she was the most interesting character in the book.

To me the best story in the collection was Fail-safe. In fact I would go so far as to say it was the best pure horror short story I have read since Brian Evenson's Any Corpse. This story is short on pages but loaded with high concept and perfectly composed moments of suspense and terror. The story includes misdirection, atmosphere and white knuckle scares. For this reader these 20 pages made the whole book worth it. To me it would have made a perfect Tales from the Darkside episode.

Don't get me wrong I read and enjoyed all of it. Fracassi found a fan in me. This is excellent horror literature, the prose is inventive and stylish. The Characters fully developed and Fracassi brings powerful new voice to the table. I know this is a short review but I feel confident that serious horror fans will enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Hardcover, 431 pages

Published June 13th 2017 by Spiegel & Grau

I really loved this book, and I know the hyperbole has started, Lavalle's last book book has seems to have won every major award. this book is no different it is getting rave reviews from almost everyone who read it. The reasons are clear. This book is the real deal story telling to it's core. It has a fantasy feel to that at moments feels like full on fable or fairy tale and other times brutal horror. At the heart of this novel is a very rich story that feels like it is being told to you as you sit on rocking chairs on the front porch. I picked up the book based on the strength of Lavalle's last book The Ballad of Black Tom. I think it was good that I didn't know anything about the plot.

It is the story of Apollo Kagwa son of single mother and African immigrant in New York City. His father left them and the reason is a mystery. The elements of this mystery unfold in a very magical way. Early in the story Lavalle creates a simple story that has a natural feeling of scope and magic. It is kinda hard to explain, the events of the novel are subtle with a slow burn but the way it is told just feels powerful. The pages fly by.

Apollo receives a clue left at his door step that leads him to want to collect books, there are really cool moments centered around the magic and power of books. Those passages set the tone but the zigs and zags into romance and horror. When Apollo meets the love of his life. A Librarian whose entry into his life fills a void. But there is tragedy coming. Soon his son and his wife are missing presumed dead, he ends up briefly in jail orginally charged with their murder. After he is released from prison he wants to get to the truth, is he unlucky or are dark forces working against him?

The strength of this novel is the constant balance that Lavalle brings to the text between the magic and beauty and the dark evil as it builds to a boil. I am sure some readers will feel jolted by the tone shift half way into this novel but this is earned through moments of tension slow building in the first half. The New York setting and characters are really well developed.

Was it perfect? Most seem to think so, the book is racking up five star reviews and started already to win awards. For me there were two elements that didn't work. For one thing I didn't like the addition of modern technology into the story. The inclusion of a phone app into a story that drew strength from a spiritual tone was jarring to me. There was one chapter that ended with joke involving an app that was so corny I almost slammed the book shut.

Apollo is tragic character but one I liked enough to feel for. I liked the strengths of this novel enough to ignore the parts I didn't like. I thought it was very, very good but I didn't like it as much as some. The Ballad of Black Tom was a masterpiece and this one was very good but I am not sure I would use the word that strong of a word here. Lavalle is an amazing writer and I think I will read what ever he writes at this point.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

he Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

hardcover, 288 pages

Published April 2017 by Harper

I have to admit I have never heard of Lidia Yuknavitch before. I have gathered since I started this book that she is an author whose books are shelved and marketed as lit fiction. Certainly this is one of those cases where a book is very clearly genre and is never slapped with the honest label. I understand that to the author she may not have set out to write a science fiction horror post apocalypse novel, but she did. I am sure all she meant to do was do a modern Joan of Arc novel.

Look it was the genre elements that hooked my interest and it the reason many of you read these reviews. Yuknavitch is a talented writer and I am I positive I will read her again. The concept alone, Joan of Arc re-told after the majority of humanity has escaped a radiated earth to live in a orbiting habitat. The humans who survive are transforming, fluid with gender and sexuality becoming a memory. All coo elements that make for interesting read.

Book of Joan is a an ultra-feminist speculative fiction that will get lazy comparisons to Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness just because of the gender fluid moments. I suspect fans of Leguin however will love this novel. There is alot to like here. Normally I am annoyed when a novel like this is not called science fiction, but I have seen worst cases. The novel is not hard sci-fi at all and is more surreal than anything.

Early in the novel I was riding with it. The prose is crisp and the pace starts up OK. I enjoyed the flurry of weird ideas, I had put the hold on the book so many months ago I had forgotten why I was interested so I went in cold. I thought Yuknavitch put more energy into the setting and the world building in the early pages, that is one reason why the first half of the novel worked better for me. In the second half the novel lost focus. So did I.

This novel is really cool, and I liked the themes and methods Yuknavitch used to express herself. I really enjoyed the first one hundred pages. The ecological message is as strong as the feminist one, but I don't think the story suffers for that reason. The last sixty became confusing for me. I admit I got lost and pages went by. That could have been on me, there is no denying the talent involved in the writing.

Overall I liked this book even if I was less happy with the last parts of the narrative. I think fans of smart politically charged speculative fiction should read this book. Fans of smart weird stuff will also enjoy.