Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
Just checked on Smashwords and it's still available free of charge: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/85230
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
In this other world in this novel there is an ongoing war. The dominating power ruling the world is hunting down and killing individuals called “echoes.” These echoes are people transported to this new world from various timelines of our own reality. Alice is an echo. She is hunted by a young girl, Miranda, and her elder mentor, Joshua, in the opening scenes of the novel. As the novel progresses we learn that Joshua has begun to question authority and has lost his desire to perform his job which is killing these echoes. He sees them as people instead of as faceless threats to the status quo. This is lucky for Alice, of course.
But these people are ultimately secondary characters. There is another, far more important, echo that the authorities want destroyed. This echo is known as Elizabeth. In our world, she was Queen of England. In this other world, she is a potential spiritual savior. She transcribes the Bible in her early years in this other world to comfort herself in exile. These transcriptions were found and have started a spiritual revolution in a world that had existed without any form of faith, at least not in the religious sense. Her transcripts sow the seeds of an underground revolution.
This is ultimately what the novel is about, more than the characters, more than the settings. This is a novel exploring the concept of how Christianity might transform a world that has existed without it for most of known history. This idea is explored from several angles, it explores the good and the bad that such a powerful religious force might have within a world that is devoid of spirituality. There are no easy answers in the context of this novel.
Some proponents of the New Atheist movement often put forth the suggestion that religion is the driving force behind all wars. While there are many examples of religious disagreements leading to bloodshed, it seems naive and falsely optimistic to me to think that if we rid the world of religion that all wars and bloodshed would automatically cease. The human drive for power and domination would still exist, after all. I thought this notion was explored nicely within the context of this narrative. It's not the religions that are the problem, it's the people. Religions are just an extension of people and often stray from their most basic source truths, in my opinion, but I'm digressing. Yet this digression is intentional in the context of this review: This is exactly the kind of tough question the novel faces and is brave enough to leave behind with a measure of ambiguity in the answers. This is as it should be.
As one character states: "We can never know the truth. ... Only existence. We must accept our lives as they are, or else we will never know our suffering." So, what is the truth? "We can never know the truth." This seems to be the idea at the center of this novel. The only answer seems to be there may be no answer.
While a thought-provoking and mostly entertaining read, the novel does suffer from a few freshman foibles. The narrative thrust loses steam during transitions from one character to another in places. The epic battle scenes sometimes have a little too much going on and lose their focus. Also, another round of copy-editing may have benefited the story as I picked up numerous issues with verb tense and misused words. But these are minor quibbles, and I see these as common issues with first-time novelists. I know that Darby is working on a sequel. My friendly suggestion would be to focus more on the characters, on dialogue, on relationships, because that is where he shines. I understand Miranda will be the main focus of this sequel. I think this a wise choice. Her moral choices and evolving sense of self were the highlight of The Book of Elizabeth. I look forward to seeing what comes next. This is a world I would be happy to return to.
My six-pack review: 4 out of 6 Elizabethan Ales.
Disclaimer: The author of this review knows and has worked with the author of the novel in the past. Free electronic copy provided by the author for review.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Saturday, July 2, 2011
On a superficial level, at least through roughly two-thirds of the novel, the story is pretty simple to explain. It is about a private investigator named Joe living in an alternative present where 9/11 and The War on Terrorism are the stuff of pulp novels. Osama bin Laden is a popular character in a series of cheap paperback thrillers detailing the lives of terrorists by an author named Mike Longshott. When removed from reality, the exploits of the terrorists make for entertaining reads in this alternative history. There are even conventions dedicated to Longshott and his Osama novels. People dress up like Osama and terrorists at these conventions and have roundtable discussions concerning the social relevance of these novels, much like at a Trekkie convention. The fictional acts of terrorism are all entertainment, nothing to fear.
Joe's story itself reads much like a paperback thriller. He's a hard-drinking, smoking private investigator searching through the seedy underworlds of Europe. Joe is hired to track down Longshott and travels around the world looking to uncover this author. In the process, he starts to learn a thing or two about himself.
The last third of the book is full of revelations. Our reality and Joe's alternate reality collide and the text grows increasingly slipstream and surreal. I won't say anymore about plot because I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone. The less one knows going into this novel, the more they will enjoy it, I believe.
Ultimately, this is a novel about identity, a novel which reflects a reality of the modern age in which we live. We choose our identities in many aspects of modern life – whether it be through a pen name as a writer, the personas we take on in differing social situations, or through online handles and avatars. As one character states in the novel:
"'You have to choose what to be. When you've been stripped of everything; a
name, a face, a love – you could be anything. You could even choose to be
A wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking book – My six pack rating: 6 out of 6 Trader Joe's Vienna Style Lager
Friday, June 24, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Per editor Leah Bobet: “Our June 2011 issue is full of summer travels, both physical and of the mind and soul and heart.”
FICTION: We have one great selkie story; one good – if slightly derivative – shape-shifter piece; and one complex, thought-provoking experiment that is as well-written and intriguing as it is difficult.
“Rendered Down” by Cory Skerry – It appears Ideomancer is fond of selkie stories – I’ve read a quite few of them here if memory serves me right. In this selkie story, the protagonist, Miranda, is overweight and extremely uncomfortable in her own skin. She wants to be with a boy, she wants for boys to want her, and is disappointed when all the boys in her life prefer her coworkers and other girls “shaped like a Barbie” over her.
One day, Miranda finds a handsome selkie boy on a rock near the sea and begins to dream about him and his lifestyle.
Miranda is an instantly likeable and identifiable character. Her perspective – while a little pessimistic throughout much of the narrative – makes this story work. One of the best selkie stories I can remember reading in recent memory. There’s an interesting twist at the end which is a little different take on the whole selkie myth. It makes sense in the context of the story. Yet, to be honest, I kind of mourned the protagonist’s choice. I was sincerely hoping she would learn to love her own skin, and more importantly, her self.
I highly recommend this one.
“A Letter from Northern Nairo” by Alter S. Reiss – One character says to another at one point during this story: “This is a confused plot.” Well, no, not really. This one is a straight-forward werewolf tale, except instead of a werewolf, we are given the tale of weretigers. It is set in an Asian setting that I could not quite buy into. The description of the hunting party brought to mind Victorian-era England and fox hunts. I know similar hunts happened in other cultures as well, but the narrative is simply too similar in form and structure to other European werewolf stories. It is an enjoyable read, but there’s nothing particularly new or notable about this one. I also feel the format of this one is off. The narrative is in the form of a letter and I personally think it would work much better from either a 3rd person omniscient viewpoint or just a straightforward 1st person narration without the letter device. Who writes letters this detailed while adhering to Freytag’s Pyramid? Nor do letters typically have section breaks. These thoughts threw me out of the story. There is simply too much story “telling” for me to buy this story as a letter. Still, despite being a little derivative, it is a fun read.
“Chrestomathy” by Anatoli Belilovsky -- Per Mirriam-Webster, “Chrestomathy” is “a selection of passage used to help learn a language.” This title sums up this sometimes disjointed and meandering structure nicely. Fictional snippets of literature and correspondence and conversations between various famous authors weave a hidden tale of hidden meanings that discusses politics, slavery, and the ability for writers to spark revolutions (as indicated by the imaginary text-within-the-text “The Reluctant Revolutionist” by Vladimir Nabokov). A unique and interesting structure and format for which the author should be commended. You can feel a sincere love and appreciation of the authors mentioned in the text. Unfortunately, this story has very little narrative pull for a casual, lunch-break reader such as myself.
Also, on a personal level, I tend to disagree with some of the narrative’s assumptions. I see literature as more reactive than proactive as a tool for social change – much like a photograph. Sure there are famous, moving photographs out there that have ultimately, often indirectly, led to action (Kevin Carter’s photographs from Sudan come to mind), but those images are only reflections of a present reality. That reality is ultimately what leads to action – not the reflection, not the art. The art only serves to bring awareness, not change, although awareness can sometimes lead to change. But this is something which can be argued both ways and kind of beside the point and getting my review off on a tangent...
In short, a complex tale utilizing a unique narrative technique. Well worth reading and thinking about, just don’t expect any easy, clear-cut answers or a straight-forward story.
POETRY: A mixed bag. Two really great poems alongside two perfectly nice poems that I found somewhat problematic (although I admit the problem could be with me as a reviewer – poetry reviews are no joke because as subjective as fiction can be, poetry is even more subjective).
“Redcap Repast” by WC Roberts – A sonnet that merges the feel of modern urban noir and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I am left feeling these disparate elements never really coalesce into a whole. The purpose and meaning of the poem remains just a touch out of focus. I feel like I missed something important here, contextually, even though I read it several times.
“The Conqueror of Mars, To His Beloved” by Megan Arkenberg – An apologetic and confessional love poem to the Red Planet itself. Nicely done.
“Splendours to Devour” by Mike Allen – Full of powerful imagery, this disturbing narrative poem tells the story of a war between “…twin hunger holocausts/who shredded and swallowed every scrap/of squirming flesh and shrieking soul/between them…” Highly recommended for those with a taste for dark speculative poetry.
“Beansidhe” by Shannon Connor Winward – “Beansidhe” is the Gaelic word for banshee. This is a first-person poem from the perspective of a beansidhe. In this version of a banshee story, the beansidhe is the ghost of a drowned woman. She mourns the loss of her lover and murderer, an unnamed figure referred to as “you.” Who this “you” is remains unclear and perhaps a little beside the point. Whoever “you” is, she loves this person and misses them and forgives them for doing her wrong. That seems to be what matters. She’s happy enough in her cold marshy grave it appears, but would like for people to stop spreading rumors about her. She only has one love in her life, and that love is “you.” In the last two lines, instead of speaking to “you” she talks to a “they.” Does this mean that “you” might be more than one person? That seems to be the implication here, but I’m not positive to be honest. I found myself wishing the author would have stuck with “you” in place of “they” in these last two lines. This would have made for a more coherent and personal piece of poetry, I think. The “they” – in my opinion – depersonalized all that was building up in previous lines. Although, looking at it a different way, I can see how the “they” could add another meaning to the poem; I’m just not sure this other meaning is built up enough in previous lines to justify the twist ending.
Overall, despite some minor subjective matters, this issue is a great read from one of my favorite electronic markets. You can read the full issue here: http://www.ideomancer.com/?p=828.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
The Sad Tale of The Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington (Orbit - 2009)
I must admit that I am a sucker for good-covers, though I am aware of that age-old cliche that judging a book solely on its artistic representation can prove to be a waste of time as well as hard-earned money -- and let's face it, in this day and age hard-earned money is definitely something not to waste. However, when a book does come along with such an alluring design what other indicators does one have that such a book might prove interesting? After all, if the publishing company was willing to spend money on not only the book/author but the cover/artist as well -- especially during these trying times for publishing houses -- then perhaps it is alright to judge a book by its cover?
As such, how could one possibly ignore The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington when their (the reader[s]) eyes fall upon this illustrious cover? What appears to be a skull eventually comes into visual clarity as a pseudo-mish-mashing seek-and-find -- the skull is actually two men standing side by side, with satchels and shovels, whereabouts various artifacts are strewn. So yes, I was drawn towards this novel. I studied its cover for awhile before finally flipping it over to the back whereby I was intrigued by the synopsis and the tag-line: "We ain't thieves and we ain't killers, we's just good men been done wrong" (Bullington).
So, without any further inquiry into the matter I purchased the novel by newcomer Jesse Bullington at full retail price, taking a chance that the story wouldn't disappointment -- seeing as the cover didn't. I must say it was a gamble which paid off, but not handsomely so. While I did enjoy the story overall, and absolutely loved the characters (the brothers as it were), I grew rather bored of the novel about three-fourths of the way through. It wasn't as if I trudged through the book, finding it boring or taxing, but rather I found the scenes and themes inane. It was as if the adventure never stopped, but not in a fantastical way (i.e. epic adventures and long journeys), but rather in an overtly redundant way. It's almost as if the book could have ended several chapters earlier, or lasted several chapters longer.
The story was just the same scenario one after another. The brothers travel, the brothers face a foe, the brothers triumph. But for what? What are its morals or themes? There were religious contemplations, as well as pondering philosophically on justice and righteousness, but did such postulations deserve to last as long as they did; or for that matter end so abruptly? In the end, a better conclusion could have been reached one way or the other. Instead, what we're left with is a story a third of the way into the book which doesn't wrap-up until a few hundred pages later, adding nothing new but more dialogue conversing the same moral questions over and over and over and over and over with an overabundance of expletives. However, I am left to wonder if that's not the sad tale of the Grossbart . . . that life is monotonous, no matter what monsters you may face?
Overall, I liked the book and found it an enjoyable read and would recommend it to any fan of fantasy seeking monsters, gruesome battles, medieval history, religious inquires, and a lot of f___ing expletives.
Suffice it to say . . . Good Book, Good Read.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
The friends she finds include several historical figures including real-life occultist Peraclesus and the artist Manuel Deutsch (whose art provides quite an evocative cover image). Another friend, Monique, is a foul-mouthed gun-toting blacksmith and pimp who utilizes Awa's skills in communicating with spirits (including the spirits of venereal diseases) to keep the "cleanest" whorehouse in Paris running a profitable business. These friendships form the heart and soul of this novel.
There are massive battles, walking skeletons, monsters, and inquisitors with cellars full of torture devices. The novel is a manic hodge-podge of myth, fantasy, and history blended together into a contemporary pulp narrative. This is both the novel's strength and weakness. The narrative is quickly paced, but sometimes the modern language – especially in dialogue – is a little jarring considering the setting. The language utilized throughout – sometimes sounding medieval while utilizing modern sayings and profanity – can best be described as anachronistic. Also, Bullington tends to have a tendency to change perspectives and settings in his third-person narrative randomly which can be quite jarring at times.
Also, the action taking place in the novel is flat-out disgusting and profane, especially during the initial formative chapters. This may prove problematic for some readers. Fair warning: The novel contains liberal doses of gruesomeness including graphic scenes of necrophilia, cannibalism, and even self-cannibalism. In honesty, at one point during the first part of the novel I seriously considered putting the book down. I wasn't that into it, and it seemed to be disgusting and shocking simply to be disgusting and shocking. During the first half of the narrative, I couldn't quite get my head around the point of the nastiness. It seemed juvenile and, well, gross. And this is coming from someone who spent a large chunk of his formative years reading Clive Barker and devouring Cronenberg films.
But I'm glad I didn't give up. The book was truly worthwhile. The friendships that develop are extremely well-drawn and compassionate. The underlying themes of friendship, faith, and bravery in the face of adversity are nicely explored. The characters – especially that of the protagonist – are quite flawed but manage to be extremely understandable and relatable. In fact, this reader found himself extremely sympathetic towards the characters of Awa and Manuel in particular. The Bastards of the Schwarzwald and the hyena near the end are welcome additions and an interesting take on their folkloric roots. In fact, the final half of the book and the ending are actually quite wonderful. Despite the darkness of the earlier chapters, the book left this reader with a nice warm fuzzy feeling which was, well, unexpected, and quite nice. (But the story remains more than a little twisted – it's not all sunshine and roses in the end. A crazy Bollywood ending complete with big smiles, singing, and happy dancing would have been quite the disappointment, after all.)
Yes, I liked this book very much despite my repulsion during much of the first half. I guess you could say that The Enterprise of Death is a grower not a shower. In fact, I recommend it heartily if you have a strong stomach with a strong tolerance for the profane. My six pack rating: 4 out of 6 mugs of a stout mead accompanied by a nice shredded long pork barbecue sammich.
*Legal Disclosure: Book received as free electronic copy via author and NetGalley.com.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
For this reader, it was wonderful. I found Open Your Eyes entertaining, thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing in its violence, and even beautiful at times. It was not entirely consistent, however. The author’s tendency to overuse sentence fragments for dramatic effect grew tiresome during some of the action scenes. But this is a minor complaint. Overall, I found it to be an occasionally disorienting (in the best possible way) and excellent read. The story is something different, imaginative, and original. Open Your Eyes is a welcome oasis in the vast world of space opera, a genre that often seems too mired in the Golden Age of its past to contemplate moving forward.
My (modified) six pack rating: 3 out of 4 Steel Reserve tall boys.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The story follows a group of zombie apocalypse survivors as things go from bad to worse intercut with scenes from a zombie's POV--and the zombie is starting to remember pieces of its life. The survivors must make unpleasant choices about who should live and who should die given their predicament and limited food supply. At one point I wanted to slap some sense into one of the characters, but they all acted within their constraints, displaying very real human weaknesses.
I don't know what is scarier: fearing your fellow humans when faced with limited resources or thinking from a zombie's perspective on what it must be to realize you've become a monster.
The ebook edition contains an extra story by R.J. Sevin. It's a brief read, but well worth the buck.
Buy Thin Them Out for Kindle.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Push of the Sky
by Camille Alexa
Hadley Rille Books (2009)
I lucked out recently when I won a copy of Camille Alexa's short story collection from Red Penny Papers. I had previously read a couple of Camille's short stories, as well as read the series, Particular Friends, which is available to be read for free via Red Penny Papers. Camille has a writing style that is at times lyrical, probably thanks to her affinity towards poetry, and at times resplendent in her descriptions of characters and setting. Push of the Sky exemplifies this.
I believe Peter Straub was the first author I heard use the term "fantasist" to describe himself as a storyteller. It's a good label and applies to Camille, in my opinion. Many of the stories told here are housed in fantastical settings, some more than others. "Shades of White and Road" has a fairy tale charm to it with anthropomorphic objects tailing after a gal on a winding road, while a story like "The Clone Wrangler's Bride" takes sci-fi elements offers a fun adventure with robots and spaceships--and a bit of western flavor added.
It's all there inside the book's pages, a kind of cornucopia for any fantasy and sci-fi fan. I genuinely liked the collection, but I can't say I walked away with a stand-out favorite. There's a lot to like, but no one story for me to clutch onto and say I love. It's Camille Alexa's first book, so she's just getting warmed up and I am really looking forward to what she has in store in the near future. This book was published in 2009 after all, and she's already some really good work out in the couple years since (see above where I mention Particular Friends).
With thirty stories and poems in this book, there is bound to be more than one story for readers to find and admire Camille's ability to paint a picture with words. Some stories flow like a lazy, winding river, while a few amp up the level of adrenaline and intrigue. "The Beetle Eater's Dream" has a quiet mystery to it and its fair share of heartbreak, while "The Butterfly Assassins" offers a great little steampunk tale, a sub-genre I'm still warming up to.
If you love that ethereal style of escapist fantasy and science-fiction, you should take a chance on this one. If you're a fan of poetry, which admittedly I am not, there are a couple of real gems in this pages. Again, I'm not a poetry fan, but "I Consider My Cadaver" to be great. Hey, maybe that's the piece I love. Yeah, let's go with that. Me ... poetry lover. Pack your mittens, boys and girls, we're going to Hell.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The Grove is a gothic tale of murder, ghosts (not necessarily the kind you might think), and shattering relationships. The protagonist, Dexter, lives alone on his small farm sipping bourbon, beer, and subsisting mostly on regret. His wife recently separated from him to live with her mother, and he stopped taking his pills. His haunted past refuses to leave him alone.
One day, while staggering around his property the day after a blackout and violent argument with his spouse, he finds the body of a teenage girl in a cottonwood grove. He decides he should investigate what happened to the girl. He thinks by doing so he will be regarded as a hero and earn the respect of his community, and more importantly, his wife.
I’m not going to tell anymore because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. Some reviews I read noted disappointment with the ending of the novel, but I thought it was pitch perfect. I have few complaints.
All the same, there is a plot development somewhere in the third act involving some neighbors that I feel is tacked-on, did not quite feel completely authentic, and could have possibly been left out because it didn’t add anything to the overall story. Also – and this is just about as minor a quibble as you will ever come across – I thought the dialogue needed further editing. For example, characters referred to county roads as “CR’s” as in “CR-11.” I’ve never heard a road spoken of this way before. Living in an area with a lot of county roads, we usually refer to them by using their full name, as in “County Road 11,” or, more often, simply refer to them by their number alone (“I’m driving down 12 and almost home,” etc.) As I said, a minor quibble, but it knocked me out of the narrative at times. This is probably due to my own unique eye for dialogue.
All in all, I highly recommend The Grove. It’s among the best American rural gothic novels I’ve read in some time. It echoes Faulkner and McCarthy in some respects but still manages to be a page-turner. It’s McCarthy light, I guess. The prose is tight and compelling. I seriously read the novel in three or four short sittings and felt mournful every time I had to put it down. The ending left me anxious to check out other books by John Rector. He’s a writer to watch. This is a powerful first novel.
Based on my six-pack rating system, I give The Grove 5 out of 6 shots of Johnnie Walker with a Risperidone chaser.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Lee Thompson is a rare thing; a cracking writer and a genuinely nice bloke. He has started on the verge of real success (he has a forthcoming novel from Delirium Books and it’s already being compared to early Greg F Gifune) but his enthusiasm and passion for the genre is refreshing. Outside of short stories, this was the first 'longer' work of Thompson's I've read.
As I Embrace My Jagged Edges (Sideshow Press) tells the story of a shard from King Solomon’s temple guarded by a Jewish family. Boaz, twin brother to Angel, must come of age and stand tall against an onrushing chaos of demons, golems, sea gods and his own sexuality.
Thompson builds a believable mythical backdrop, based on Jewish history, and uses it to weave a mounting tension in the first two sections Morning and Afternoon. In the second half the pace hits breakneck and hurtles towards a startling climax, whipping the reader along for the ride. The final scene on the beach is superbly staged and littered with memorable imagery.
At its heart, lies Boaz, the real success of this story. In Boaz, Thompson has created a believable and flawed protagonist, whose struggles against his family, his own sexuality and the demons massing on the horizon will ring true with many a teenager. The second act - where Boaz meets the boy at the lighthouse - showed me the true potential of Thompson’s writing, a scene that carried a ring of truth and made for poignant reading.
The myth-making on display here is reminiscent of early Clive Barker and the unexpected poignancy put me in mind of British writer Joel Lane. All these ingredients make for a great novelette, packaged in ebook format at a very reasonable $3.
Undoubtedly, Lee Thompson will be a name to watch in 2011.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
All in all, the magazine consists of 17 stories and poems amidst 83 pages. It's amazing that a small-press magazine can offer so much, and it's definitely worthy of consideration for any freelance-writer or fanatic of fantastical fiction. This magazine covers it all: horror, science-fiction, fantasy, bizarre/surreal, comedy. So many stories and poems are offered that mentioning them all would just induce brain-overload on a scale of Cronenberg's Scanners. So rather than mention every story, I will just focus on two of the magazine's strongest and weakest.
By far the least favorite story for this reader was Heart of a Soldier by Rebecca Besser. The story was a science-fictional piece centered around a youth in space coming face-to-face with a moral dilemma The story was cute, in that it was a story for children/young-adults (adult readers of science-fiction might find its moral theme rather amateurish or childish); yet, the most troubling aspect of this story were the typos! So many typos that I found it hard to focus on anything else. And I quote: "Zyle tried to keep my tone light so he wouldn't worry her." Note the word "my" . . . who's first-person perspective is this? At no point in time (other than dialogue) is first-person ever used; the story is told in third-person. I don't wish to place blame on either the writer or the publishers (as typos are part of the game) but I couldn't help but wonder if a few proof-reads had been overlooked.
My favorite story was Nicholas Ozment's Frank Hunter Vs' The Crawling Brains. This was truly a humorous piece where the main character wakes to find himself as the leading role of a 1950's sci-fi/horror B-movie. With a beautiful co-star, the man is torn between his desire to stretch the family-morals of 1950's while simultaneously surviving an invasion of clay-animated brains which are on the hunt. But seriously, what's the worse that could go wrong for a film from the 50's? And what's the best?
In the end, Golden Visions Magazine has a lot to offer on almost every scale imaginable. I wish I could go more in to detail, but there's just so much this magazine offers that it's just easier to say that this magazine is for those who truly love to read . . . a lot.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
The main protagonist, a young virgin named Curtis, is on his first trip to a gay bar. While waiting for his friend to finish hooking up with a nameless accountant, the zombies begin attacking. They come out of nowhere. At first, the characters automatically assume the attackers are drunken homophobes, but soon realize these are not regular people. Their attackers are walking and eating their victims despite their own grievous wounds. Inside the bar, a character makes phone calls. Emergency responders have been inundated with calls. This is not an isolated incident. The dead have risen and there is nowhere to run. They barricade the doors of the bar and attempt to stay sane.
Asylum is a fitting title and a fitting name for the bar. Madame Diva, described as a drag queen, owns the bar, and she is a compassionate mother hen who created a place of refuge for the community she loves and cares for, almost as if these men are her children. She is a well-drawn and fascinating character.
In fact, most of the characters -- with a few notable exceptions -- are well-drawn. The story is tight and quick-moving and contains plenty of gory suspense for zombie fans. The gore is actually heartbreaking at times thanks to how well Gunnells draws most of his characters and manages to create sympathy for them. This makes for a compelling read, and I devoured this book in one sitting, even if it sometimes felt a bit too familiar and a trifle predictable. The ending, while not exactly unexpected, was a fitting coda.
So, overall, this is an extremely fun, fast-paced read. Highly recommended for zombie fans, especially those purists who enjoy the classic Romero-inspired zombies. My six-pack rating: 4 out of 6 glasses of Return of the Living Red Zombie Wine.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I've known about Barry Napier's work for a few years now, and he's always trying something new: comic books, novels, short stories. Granted, whatever Barry touches usually has a dark edge. 2010 was a big poetry year for Barry, and Needfire Poetry (an imprint of Belfire Press) released his first all-poetry collection, A Mouth for Picket Fences, in late September.
I'm a big fan of imagery, especially poems which surprise and sometimes shock. These kind of treats fill A Mouth for Picket Fences. Consider the following examples:
"The morning spoke in tongues of thunder..." (from "Eggs")
"It was the sort of day where one would / write their eulogy on a napkin stained with mustard." (from "Lives Upon a Napkin")
I also enjoy a strong sound-sense in verse--not necessarily rhyme or careful, repetitive meter, but the way a poem "feels" in your mouth when read aloud. Napier's poems beg to be spoken, tasted, felt...
If you like dark poetry and delight in surprises, look no further.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Jeffrey, who also has a couple of novels out there including The Kult, and most recently Deadfall, offers up fifteen short stories that run the gamut in some of the favored monsters and legends in horror. Vampires, zombies, and all sorts of things that go bump in the night make appearances in this book. The collection was originally published in 2007, with eleven of the fifteen stories are previously published, appearing elsewhere from as recent as 2006 and as far back as 1993.
Among my favorites is "The Watchers", a story of a young couple out to spruce up their love life by visiting a parking spot in the middle of the night so strangers can watch their lovemaking. The anxiety and wariness on the part of the boyfriend is easy to relate to. Voyeurs of Death proves an apt story to the collection with that story in mind, but the title story in this book, "Voyeurs of Death", is a very different--and very brief--story of a husband's horrifying vision of his wife's murder. "Sin Eater" is one of the more unsettling stories, as a family of four must contend with an imposing visitor they are regrettably familiar with, who has come to hear their confessions. Then there is "Venetian Kiss" and its reminiscence to the kinds of stories you would expect from an episode of The Twilight Zone.
A couple of the stories fell flat with me, like "The Flibbertigibbet" and "Life Cycle", but stories like "The Watchers" and "The Quilters of Thurmond" makes up for them, in my opinion. Like any collection or anthology, you're not going to like them all, but you're bound to find more than a few that you will.
I'm not sure I could reasonably recommend you shell out a heap of cash for that limited edition hardcover, but I'm the kind of guy who is thoroughly content with a well-worn paperback sitting on my bookshelf anyway--that means I'm cheap--and it is, after all, a deluxe signed limited hardcover. If you've read Jeffrey's work and enjoyed it, and you are a book collector, then you should check into it. Otherwise, I suggest sticking with an electronic copy from Amazon.com, or perhaps a trade paperback edition if it's available.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Readers familiar with Braunbeck's style will find familiar terrain in this novella. While not set within his Cedar Hill cycle, this surreal science-fiction story also involves some complex metaphysics. Fans of Braunbeck will not be disappointed. Personally, this may be my favorite Braunbeck story yet.
"One Brown Mouse," at its heart, is the story of Levon, a man mourning the loss of his girlfriend and trying to make sense of why he alone survived a catastrophic car accident. The story opens during a group therapy session for those learning to cope with the loss of a loved one and handles the subject of loss well with sincerity of feeling and heart. Tiresius, the titular brown mouse, and Levon's group therapist provide interesting secondary characters as Levon tries to make sense of his increasingly strange hallucinations and understand the new reality revealing itself all around him.
I would say more, but I don't want to risk spoiling this story. In short, it is a well-written and thought-provoking novella. My 6-pack rating: An enthusiastic 6 out of 6 Sierra Blanca Roswell Alien Amber Ales.