Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chiliad: A Meditation by Clive Barker

Sadly, this isn't a new piece by Barker, but it's one many might not have read before, myself included. It was originally published in Douglas E. Winter's Millennium anthology in 1997 (Revelations in the US).

This is written in a more dense literary--almost poetical--style than much of Barker's work. It also has meta-fictional elements that worked here, more or less. I usually strongly dislike works of meta-fiction. They always strike me as cutesy and too clever by half.

One of the 'surprises' revealed at the end of the second part was quite predictable, but the pleasure in this one is in the telling.

Oh, and don't get the wrong impression by anything written above. This story does contain many of the elements we've come to expect from a Barker story: uniquely described supernatural encounters and unflinching displays of sex and violence.

It's good.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ergot Suum and the Rampaging Ooze-Worm of Zupiter by H. Cogito Epsilon

It's kind of hard to describe what this book is. The closest I can come is to say that it's kind of like what a really smutty erotica novel might read like in the Futurama universe. It's a farce set in a zany SF universe where the plot chiefly exists to get our Earthling hero into sexual situations with a variety of alien females. There are lots and lots of human male-on-alien female sex in this book.

Now, before you run out and get yourself a copy, be forewarned, the alien women aren't even remotely humanoid. But, if you're one to be turned on by some hot erotic fiction featuring gobs of man-on-giant slugbeast or man-on-elephant/pig hybrid action, then this is the book for you. And, by all means, rush out and get it right away (just don't send me a friend request on Goodreads).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon

If this novel were a movie the filmmakers would have used the same bleach bypass film processing technique used for 1984. The action of this novel almost exclusively takes place in murky, gray interiors, and in dusty, crumbling city streets under overcast skies. On film, the one scene that takes place on a sunny day would have been presented overexposed, all blinding light and shadows. If this novel were a film, it would be one of those art-house pictures where the blemished and unwashed characters rarely smile and deliver their dialogue filled with inexplicably long pauses between every line.

What I'm trying to say here is that McMahon does a fantastic job with setting mood and atmosphere. He also does a fine job describing the supernatural elements that burst up through the cracks of the urban purgatory he's built here. The mysterious forces at work, again, if this work were a film, would be the only things rendered with splashes of color. The surreal intrusions on the everyday, the invading forest dreamscape and the twisted beasts living in the trees, would bleed with lush greens, deep browns, and sickening yellows.

Also, like many an art-house film, the story is a slow-burn, the explanations are few, and the audience is left at the end with a puzzle both provocative and strange, with a mystery that can be solved any number of ways over arguments with friends at the coffee shop after the show.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn

Hope for the Wicked combines several genres seamlessly. It has elements of the wise-cracking PI novel, the suspense thriller. and the horror shockfest. Even though the chassis this thing's built on is a hard-boiled detective story (the kind where the investigators get pulled deeper and deeper into an ugly underworld), I'd say the book would appeal most to horror fans. One reason is that the PIs are only PIs for a short time, and then they revert back to their old jobs as hired assassins. But the biggest reason this book will likely not appeal to your typical suspense reader is that it deals with subject matter that is extremely dark and discomfiting.

One thing that struck me while reading this book was that Lorn isn't afraid to take risks. There is one storytelling choice in particular that demonstrates that the man has rather large balls. Very large and admirable balls. And what I'm talking about here has nothing to do with the graphic subject matter, the pervasive theme of child abuse, the scenes of extreme violence and gore. I can't tell you what I'm referring to, actually. To do so would ruin the story for you.

You'll just have to read it to find out.

Not for the squeamish.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Escaping Barcelona by Henry Martin

I don't read literary fiction that's much concerned with realism very often. I usually like a bit of the absurd, the surreal, or the fantastical mixed in. The "straight n' serious" stuff usually isn't for me. So, when I was asked to read this book in exchange for an honest review, I was a bit hesitant. But I'm glad I took a chance on it.

This is a story about the down and out, and I'm generally pretty fond of some grit and grime. Martin does a good job of getting inside the head of a 19 year-old runaway named Rudy and exposing thought processes and observations that are often embarrassingly earnest, wildly idealistic, and excruciatingly naive. Rudy thinks a lot of the same shit I was thinking when I was that age, the kind of shit that I can only shake my head in wonder at now.

Rudy isn't a sympathetic character, but he's a compelling one. I wanted to keep reading to find out where he would end up. But my lack of sympathy for Rudy was something that kept nettling me while I was reading this. After being sexually assaulted (and having his passport stolen) in a strange land where he can't speak the language, Rudy steadfastly refuses to reach out to his family for help. The reason why he never reaches out to his family for help is never explained. There is no hint at an abusive home life or anything of the sort. It just seems like he'd rather live on the street and risk starvation than simply swallow his pride.

Another thing that nettled me a bit was that it was never clear what language Rudy spoke (and I believe this was intentional). He visits Spain on a lark and it's made plain that he can't speak Spanish and that he only knows 50 or so words in English, yet it seems that he's able to communicate with a good number of street people (and the police) without much difficulty. This wasn't a huge issue. But I do think the vagueness of Rudy's native language served to over-complicate things, and it became somewhat distracting for this reader.

Aside from these two nettling bits, I found Escaping Barcelona pretty engrossing. The writing is smooth and draws you through the story. I read it in just a few sittings. Martin does a fantastic job evoking a sense of place and the people who inhabit the streets of Barcelona. It reeked of verisimilitude. I'd be surprised to find that the author hasn't spent a good deal of time in that city.

This book is the first part of a trilogy called Mad Days of Me. I've already decided to pick up the next one in the series. I'm still pretty curious about where Rudy will end up.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Needful Things by Stephen King

Mr. King likes to tell stories about people getting trapped. He's got one about a guy trapped in a bedroom. He's got a whole bunch of these stories, really. He's got people trapped inside a car, in a gas station, a classroom, a grocery store, a hotel, on an island, a city under a giant force field. I'm pretty sure he's got one about a lady handcuffed to a bed for the whole book. I'm just going from memory here. He's probably got a lot more.

In Needful Things, the entire town of Castle Rock is trapped by their possessions. Its citizens are punished mercilessly for 700+ pages with some special brand of evil that feeds off the sin of imbuing bric-à-brac with sentimental value.

Admittedly, I'm oversimplifying the plot of this book quite a bit. But Needful Things is just a morality tale at its core, a boldfaced warning about materialism. The message of the book seems to boil down to something we all heard as kids, mom saying that you don't need those roller skates, you just want them.

But to say that this is only a simple morality tale really does this book a disservice. It's got all the things I like in a King book: suspense, action, gore, folksy humor (the cruel and the crude varieties), characters you can identify with, protagonists you care about, insane people and perverts, monsters and great big explosions. Most importantly, it's got a great villain. Our bad guy, Leland Gaunt, isn't subtle, he chews up the scenery at every turn, but he's exactly what this novel calls for. Done well (and King does them very well), comic book villains are the best kind. All right, maybe just the most fun to read about.

And, yes, this book had some of the Stephen King things I don't like so much. I feel sometimes King is writing down to his characters, like he'll create a character just for the sake of mockery. Lester Pratt, the goody two-shoes, Christian 'boy scout' character in this book is a prime example. I would be willing to bet that no one ever--no matter how repressed and/or brainwashed, sheltered, or close-minded--ever, ever had an internal monologue that's featured the celebratory phrase "rooty toot toot" repeatedly while thinking about the prospect of getting some pussy.

King also has a tendency to veer into some rather cloying, almost treacly, Garrison Keillor territory, and in this book the opening and closing are perhaps the most nauseating examples of this that I've personally encountered.

And then, like with many of King's novels, we have the borderline deus ex machina ending.

Now, I know what you're thinking:

Wow, it seemed like there for a minute you were saying you like Stephen King. But now it seems like you're being rather hard on the guy.

But, you see, the thing is, Stephen King is sort of like the President of the United States of America. (Bear with me here.) The people you hear bitching about the President the most, the people who are the hardest on him, seem to always be the very same people who voted him into office. I've read over thirty books by Stephen King. So, in my mind, that pretty much means I voted that son-of-a-bitch into office over thirty fucking times!

I'll say what I want.

And now you're probably asking, would you vote for that son-of-a-bitch again?

No question.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

2014 Campbellian Anthology (M. David Blake, Curator)

M. David Blake’s 2014 Campbellian Anthology is now available. This book attempts to collect in one volume representative works by most of the writers eligible for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It contains more than 860,000 words of fiction by 111 authors.

And it's not just FREE, it's DRM-FREE.

I hear it’s only available for a limited time, so you might want to grab a copy soon. Chances are good you'll find a damn fine story by a new up-and-coming writer you've never heard of before.

Why not download a copy now?

Mobi file, for Amazon Kindle and Kindle Readers apps:

Epub file, for iPad, Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, and most other e-reader devices and apps: