Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review: Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian

Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian

258 pages

Published November 2016 by Grand Mal Press

I have to start with some disclosure. The first time I met Bryan Killian he handed me a tattered and and worn copy of my novel Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich and asked me to sign it. Always a great way into a writer's heart, Bryan and I have shared two publishers now, but we approach our novels very differently.I plan and outline in detail, and BK just goes for it. I really enjoyed His short stories in the San Diego Horror Professionals and consider his Vol.1 story to be the best of collection. So I love the guy.

This novel is a follow-up to BK's debut on Deadite press Welcome to Necropolis, a very traditional zombie novel that uses the standard zombie tale tropes like a power cord on a guitar. These types of zombie novels are sorta like AC/DC riffs, they are not complicated, or ground breaking but often powerful. I am not against zombie novels (hell I wrote one myself)but I tend to like the entries that break new ground like M.R.Carey's The Girl with all The Gifts for example. Certainly you actually see the word zombie anywhere.

Dust Of the Devil's land is a Zombie novel with a capital Z. It is certainly one that with be popular and enjoyed by the traditionalists who can't get enough zombie books. It has excellent moments peppered thought-out highlights include a flashback to the early moments of the outbreak for a substitute teacher. All the marks of a a zombie novel are met, government intervention gone wrong, the stress of being locked away (a convention center) and the struggles to survive.

To me the biggest negative of this novel is the idea of two young boys riding out the apocalypse in a tree house is fantastic, but the boys leave the tree house so quickly that the concept is still largely unexplored. The Characters are engaging, the writing is good all around but it comes down to this. Are you burned out on zombies or are you in the can't get enough camp?

Killian is a good writer,and a better person so me personally I am ready to see him move past zombies. He showed growth as writer from book one to his follow-up, now I can't wait to see where he goes next.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson

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

Hardcover, 384 pages

Published June 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing

I went to into this novel cold. My editor at Monster librarian thought it sounded like something I would like and I decided to trust her. One thing is for sure this is literary horror. It is well written with a host of influences just below the surface. If I didn't already know this was a debut novel I probably would have never guessed this novel was written by a first timer.

I will avoid major spoilers however, I think I benefited going in as cold as possible and if you trust me go ahead and read 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 that any of those three. I like his books by the way.

OK last warning before I into the book, nothing you couldn't figure out by reading the dust jacket. While this novel walks a thin line between the gothic of southern and western feel it is 100% a monster novel. It is not the kind of horror novel that would benefit from any marketing department blasting out it's nature. There is plenty of grim settings balanced by beautiful prose to make this book for horror and non-horror literature folks.

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. The word vampire is never mentioned, but 60 pages in there was doubt. Had I read the dust jacket I probably would have had a clue sooner, but as such when the story kicks off with the main character Travis waking up covered in blood my mind didn't go there. Once it was clear the novel took on a dangerous edge, this was not Anne Rice's sexy vampires at all. Travis is in trouble, even if he doesn't come to grips with it.

Travis wants to maintain, he doesn't have the money to pay to park his truck and camper at the campgrounds run by Annabelle Gaskin and her ten year old son who I don't recall being called anything but boy. So he works odd jobs and transitions to undead life. Many of the best moments of the novel are conversations between Travis and the boy. These moments are both tense and emotional. It added an important emotional depth to the story that held the room together like the Big Labowski's carpet.

The narrative is excellent jumping between third person point of views, and different time periods with easy. We watch the investigation unfold into the murders tied to Travis. It all works and is not jarring at all. In the Valley of the Sun is a good spiritual cousin to the Stephen Graham Jones novel Mongrels. Different monster and different cultural backgrounds but the same off-color look at the American south.

Enough with the comparisons, it is hard not to do but the reality is this is fine debut of a strong new voice in horror fiction. The better a book is the harder critics will compare to the greats. In the Valley of the Sun is a first novel, so it is too soon to ask "is Andy Davidson one of the greats?" That remains to be seen but in the Valley of the Sun is a great book. It should be in every library collection, and if librarians check it out it will likely ended up in the staff picks.

I suspect we will revisit this title in December when I compile my top ten reads of the year, and I know I will revisit Davidson next time he drops a novel on us.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: Relics by Tim Lebbon

Relics by Tim Lebbon
Paperback, 384 pages Published March 2017 by Titan Books

Two years ago Tim Lebbon's The Silence was my favorite read of the year. I was already a fan of his work, and I decided to pick this book up off the new releases shelf at the library on the strength of that experience. I went into Relics totally cold. I read nothing about it, not even back cover. I am not sure if I had read those things if I would have been super interested. That said I am glad I read this book, and even though I did not dig it as much The Silence I think it is a good novel.

Relics is a weird crime, urban and dark fantasy story that has elements of horror. There are many elements that Lebbon is weaving into this story which sets up a continued story. The main character Angela is a academic who is thrust into this world of poachers when her boyfriend Vince disappears and the search forces her into a secret second life he was living.

These poachers are not selling tusks or rhino horns but parts sometimes living, sometimes long dead of mythological creatures. The underworld of creature hunters is by far the more interesting aspect of this novel. The criminal underground of mobster monsters hunters was far more interesting than Angela who is our main point of view. Don't get me wrong in the 70 pages I was very invested in her search and mystery for her lost Vince.

Once we actually start to solve the mystery the underground of mobsters and monsters eclipse Angela and that is somewhat of weakness in the narrative. The criminal underground is fasinating and the mythological creatures even more so. One thing I really liked is how the story built to the revalations and yet the book ends with hints of much more to come.

I bet many of the reviews on line that are positive will focus on the ending. While I was certainly not completely sold on this novel/or story universe until the ending, as it was a perfect set-up. Lebbon's powerful ending perfectly sets the table a far more interesting second book.

In many ways when I closed the book it felt like I was reading a prequel. I don't know how else to explain it. I really liked, but didn't love this novel. That is OK, because I am glad I read it. I suspect the second book will be awesome and the fact that I want to read is the best thing I can say.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)

by John Scalzi

Hardcover, 333 pages

Published March 21st 2017 by Tor Books

This is a very intensely political Science Fiction novel. It is not surprising that John Scalzi would do that, I mean his twitter feed is a source of hot button opinions. The right wing sad puppies (for those of you who don't know them, they're the sometimes far right and some times Libertarian sci-fi writers) despise him. I mean they tend to twist his words and critically tear about all he says. I think it is the fact that no one has been more popular or sold books more consistently in genre than Scalzi this century that breeds this kind of hatred. Personally I can set politics aside, Neal Asher is perhaps my favorite 21st century Sci-fi writer and his views are almost always opposite of my own. Enough on that, how about this book?

Despite the title Collapsing Empire is not ripped from the headlines look at Trump's blundering presidency or Hillary Clinton's almost guaranteed ascension. Nope this is a political but it is more of a statement on the sixteenth century than this one. Which is fine. This was a time when colonization was just starting in the Americas. It seems that Scalzi wanted to explore a world where this far flung space opera was dependent on something like trade winds were to Spain or the dutch east trading company part in the day. I suppose there is some modern climate commentary, but mostly I felt the commentary was old school.

I assume this is the reason so much of the story centered on the emperorox and the transition of power in the royal family. You see this novel takes place in a far future where a human empire has spread to the stars, and is cut off from earth. The vast empire is connected by faster than light travel that hitches on river like streams called the flow. The capital city Hub is on planet near spot where the flow all connects. The story kicks off when it is learned that the flow will soon be ending and this vast empire will have to face its demise.

With the dependence on a galactic ecology, and the great royal houses at conflict it would be easy to declare this Scalzi's answer to Dune, much in the way Old Man's war was his take on Starship Troopers. I am glad I didn't hear that comparison before hand. While Scalzi lived up and in my opinion out did his inspiration in Old Man's War. This is no Dune. Which is totally fine by the way. kinda sorta a really freaking high bar.

I have mixed feelings about this book and that comparison. Because I don't think this book can hold a candle to Dune on the world building. For one thing the world building is done in cheapest most simple way with a teacher explaining the world to school kids. It is effective but so on the nose I laughed at the book. I think a book would need probably two hundred more pages to build that kinda scope. Here is the thing, I didn't actually want two hundred more pages. It was just the right length, it didn't have scope, but that is fine. Not everything needs to be epic.

I didn't like this book as much as the Old Man's War books, and honestly I picked this up because I thought it was in that universe until I was on page 2. The characters were all good, but characters like Kiva who is the captain of a starship in the book gave me mixed feelings too. Great character, very funny and cool. The thing about Kiva is she felt like a Old Man's war character. She felt out of place. The characters at times felt to much like characters of today, not in this far future. You mean to tell centuries in the future cut off from earth and they still talk like us? Just some subtle changes in dialogue would be cool.

That said it was a page turner, filled with interesting ideas and I wasn't bored. I read it quickly enough. Not sure if I hooked enough to check out book two. Scalzi is a good writer filled with ideas, this is just not my favorite of his. It does have some neat concepts like the flow, the Memory room and Kiva has some really fun moments. Good but not great. If you have not read any Scalzi I would start with Old Man's War and it's totally genius sequel Ghost Brigades.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Book Review: Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup

Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup

Paperback, First Edition, 294 pages

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Grey Matter Press

So I was pretty sure for many years I thought it was safe to assume I was the only Vegan Straight Edge kid turned horror author, I mean in the whole planet. Well a few years back I learned that I was not the special snowflake I thought I was. Not only does the world have another horror author who grew up on punk rock, draws X's on his hands and eats way to much vegan treats but there is another vegan straight horror author right here in freaking San Diego. Chad and I are very different writers, with very different training. We have similar influences and think alike often but what is cool is that we have both released books this year and they are very, very different.

Very very different is a good place to start in this review. Secrets of the Weird is not really like any other novel I can think of, while Stroup clears hints at influences it is not exactly in vein of anything else. Set in slightly surreal fictional town of Sweetville we get no sense of outside geography, or that any kind of world exists beyond the Sweetville city limits. Characters reference lyrics by real world bands, but not by name so in that sense we still do not have conformation that this world exists in our reality.

Our hero is a character named Trixie, she was born male but never identified with that gender. She is transitioning while I have had a few friends go through this process it is not one I have experienced. So it hard for me to say if this novel gets it correct. This was a bold choice for Stroup, one wrought with many pitfalls. It is a subject filled with landmines for author that clear in his dedication that he sides with those this society deems the weirdos and freaks. It is clear that Stroup had good and respectful intentions. I found Trixie to be a wonderful character and she is the main reason why I hope the book does well and we get another book with her at the center.

Trixie is has left home in the suburbs and is trying to make a life for herself on the street. After some time turning tricks and a period living with sibling sugar daddies she has settled into life. Sweetville is home to intense street drug. Sweet Candy is powerful designer drug, one she is trying to stay off of. Her life is turning around when a back alley drug addicted surgeon Julis Kast offers a radical underground surgery to become the woman she always wanted to be. At the same time she meets the boy of her dreams punk rock singer named Kristopher who she hides her big secret from.

At times 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.

I imagine a novel like this written by a straight male might be scary for readers of this community. Certainly Stroup handles the gender issues better than Brian Keene did in the Complex. Not that Keene was disrespectful he wasn't, but Stroup worked very hard to make this as natural a part of the world as he could. This is not over preachy or as direct as some of the fiction marketed "alternative sexuality." He didn't try so hard to be progressive that the book goes over board. Trixie is a complex character.

The prose is tight, well written and the narrative is straight forward. For as strange as the settings the actually writing is thankfully grounded. I read it quickly. Is is perfect? Look Chad is friend but I can't review books if not afraid to give my opinion. Personally I would not have used the dairy entries as a device. They were fine, didn't ruin my experience but took me out of the novel a bit. The book was a quick read because he didn't waste a bunch of word count on world building but I could have used a bit more of the fucked up world in Sweetville. Show us more of the gutter in book two Stroup. Oh yeah the ending was excellent but it leaves us hanging so you folks better get out there and read the book. I mean I turned the last page assuming there was at least a few more. Shit I wanted to yell at Chad for ending when he did.

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. I hope you'll take the trip and check it out.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review + Author interview: Feral By James DeMonaco & BK Evenson

Feral by James Demonaco, BK Evenson

Paperback, 256 pages

Published April 2017 by Anchor Books

This was interesting book and project. Anyone who has followed my reviews over the years should be aware that Brian Evenson (writing here under the very crafty pen name BK) is one of my favorite authors. Pretty much anything he is involved in I want to read. that was the selling point for me. Evenson is one of the best writers working today who is considered high literature even though his work is certainly horror and at times Science Fiction. Respected by genre fans and shelved in high literature in powell's city of books Evenson is a unique voice in modern fiction. The BK pen has been used for more commercial projects like media tie-ins although this is the first time a BK Evenson book has been connected to an original project.

Co-written with James Demonaco who is known for the Purge movies, I think most readers will come to this book through his work. I hope they will progress to check out Evenson's Immobility or Last Days. I have to admit I have not seen the Purge movies, I will try now to get to them. I do respect his script for the Negotiator which I think is a underrated action drama.

Feral has several times in reviews been called a zombie novel, and in many senses it is. It hits all the tropes and standard plot points that make Zombie fans feel comfortable. For me I think Feral is more in my favorite kinda of sub-genre of horror. What I call the high concept Apocalypse. Notables in this genre are diverse with some of my favorites being John Shirley's Demons about corporations using environmental disasters to raise demons or Tim Lebbon's The Silence about blind monsters who hunt by sound. Feral is about a epidemic that turns men into raging monsters.

The reality is you can't just do zombies anymore. You have to have a interesting take. In my satire The Vegan Revolution...With Zombies I connected it food issues and mocked of the "with Zombie" literature movement. MR Carey is perhaps the best example with last year's "The Girl With All the Gifts" which is better off not spoiled. It had a totally different take.

The concept sets up a battle of the sexes apocalypse that I admit was not fully explored to the full potential that this novel could have. That is not to say that I didn't like it, I did. This is a short no-nonsense horror novel. It doesn't beat you over the head with concept or message. That might seem like a positive but I actually think this needs more exploration of those issues certainly would have helped the novel stand out.

The novel has a interesting prologue that subtly points to how teen age boys treat young women. It marks a shift in the main character when we shoot ahead three years. The Point of view shifts in the novel several times but the main character was Allie, a woman who takes nicely to the Apocalypse, she knows how to shoot, and track, and becomes know for grabbing Ferals to study. Her camp has one of the scientists who worked at the research facility. At the same time the Ferals numbers seem to be growing, they are perhaps not as mindless as once thought. Allie begins to suspect that the ferals are becoming organized and coming after their camp.

The action and suspense are carried with incredible skill. The story doesn't drag at any point, knowing the publisher and co-writer's film background it is easy to assume this story was developed to be a film project. Two parts stuck as favorites of mine, in chapter thirty, the authors create a great sense of dread, we will read and discuss this in the audio interview. The action switches from first person to third and back and forth depending on the point of view. This can be distracting but after the first switches I didn't notice.

One aspect that was missing is a deep look at fears women carry of men naturally. Think of the issues of street harassment. Some women can not walk down the street without being objectified. One out of every three women have been sexually assaulted. These are sensitive issues but one that I think could have been explored more deeply in a novel that takes place in a world where only women remain sane. The novel does however tackle one of these issues in a major way towards the end that cannot be talked about without spoilers. Both Audio bonuses will discuss this message in the story. This reveal on page 271.

At the same time I respect Feral for for not being too deep. It is a excellently told story, and I was turning pages no problem. I filled in a alot of gaps myself well reading it. Feral is a good, and entertaining read that comes very close to expanding the genres. I admit as much as I love Evenson I think MR Carey's The Girl With all the Gifts is better example of expanding the zombie genre but both are worth reading.

BONUS MATERIAL: Check out this 40 minute audio review of Feral featuring myself and Critic Marvin Vernon. He blogs at: thenovelpursuit.blogspot.com

BRIAN EVENSON INTERVIEW:

On youtube:

Interview: Review:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

by Octavia E. Butler, John Jennings (Illustrations), Damian Duffy (Adapted by)

Hardcover, 240 pages

Published January 2017 by Abrams Books

OK this read was the library version of a impulse buy. I saw it sitting on the new release shelf and grabbed it. I am an Octivia Butler fan in general, in particular I love her Parable books. Like many readers I feel cheated by the universe that Butler was never able to finish in that series. I don't know how, in the 35 years since her masterpiece Kindred has been out that I never got around to reading it.

Half way through this book I became upset with myself that I have not read the novel first, but the graphic novel was in front of me so I kept reading. I can't compare it to the novel, but I can only state how this book made me feel. It looks amazing in a slick hardcover with fantastic art by John Jennings and A short but sweet introduction by the great Nnedi Okorator. The story of the two authors personal communications added depth to the artist whose story we were about to read. A perfect introduction to Butler the woman, and Kindred is a great example of Butler the story teller.

The story starts in the 70's - even in liberal southern California Dana and Kevin experience racism. The couple are both writers Kevin a White man and Dana a black woman. The story starts when Dana is suddenly transported through time to the early 19th century in the old south. There she saves the life of a young boy named Rufus. She is not in the past for long, when she returns to the 70's she discovers that Rufus was her Great great grandfather and also the slave owner of her descendants.

The means of the time travel is never explained but Dana quickly figures out she is tied to Rufus, being brough back and forth in time to key moments his life is in danger. Dana believes that she is being brought back in time to save her family line and in a sense her own life.

Eventually her husband come with her. holding on to her as she is pulled through time. Kindred is a neat example of Science Fiction horror using the strength of genre to explore and understand one of the most brutal aspects of our history. The most intense parts of the novel come from Dana's experience of going from a free liberated woman to a a part of the slave system. It is not as cut and dry as she gets there and leads a rebellion. That might seem like a path for the story but realistically that makes no sense story wise.

Dana has to keep Rufus alive and she has to accept some painful actions on his part if her life/ family are ever to happen. This novel has moral dilemmas one after another that drive the story. The plantation, is a abusive and awful place, but if they kill the slaver master the family will be sold and broken up. Time travel is less important to the story than the mountain sized moral dilemmas that drive the novel.

The art is fantastic, but it is the hardcover presentation that is most impressive thing about this project outside of the story itself. I would love to see more Butler novels get this treatment. Big thumbs up.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Review: Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

Lost Girl by Adam Nevill
Paperback, 448 pages Published October 2016 by Pan Macmillan

This looks like the last in my ecological horror/ Climate change Dystopia-a-thon. Not a bad way to finish off. Adam Nevill is a British horror author who was first suggested to me by my local Bookseller Mysterious Galaxy and their horror expert Rob Crowther. He suggested the book House of Small Shadows which I read and reviewed here on the blog last year. I was not a big fan of that novel, despite acknowledging that it was a good and well written book that just didn't work for me in part because I don't find dolls creepy and that is a huge part of the tone-setter.

What do I find creepy? Two things that creep me out big time are unchecked environmental destruction and child molesters, in that sense Lost Girl worked as horror novel. Because it is set in the near future (2053) it can be viewed as both Science fiction and horror, much like the classic I just reviewed last time - The Sheep Look Up. Lost Girl is in one sense a full blown climate-dystopia, but on the other hand one thing I was impressed by is Nevill never let this backdrop overwhelm the story.

Yes it is climate change novel, and that is important for setting up the lawless- and hopeless-ness of this near future Britain. This story could not exist in our world today. The main plot of the story is about a man named "The Father." This very Cormac Macarthy-like trick had the potential to drive me nuts over 437 pages. Thankfully it worked alright here. The Father is driven mad when his four year old daughter is taken from his back yard. After two years of nothing The Father decides he has to use any means to find his Daughter.

Why has everyone given up looking for her? The country has a refugee problem, Hurricane season is ramping up and crops are failing. Europe is staring down the hottest summer on record and frankly no one gives a shit about his daughter. the trail leads him into a nasty underworld of pedophiles, trafficking gangs and police corruption.

My mind was not blown by this novel, but I really enjoyed it and thought it was a very solid effort. Nevill is clearly a word-smith but never loses sight of the story. Without spoiling the ending the last act of the book didn't work as well as the first two acts. I mean I liked it enough to give it four of five stars. The book lost that fifth star by not providing an answer to the mystery that I found super believable.

I can't discuss it without spoiling the ending, but the person behind the theft of the daughter was something I didn't 100% buy into. That said the ending may work for others, and the novel along the way provides more than the cover price's value of scares. Nevill has a lyrical prose style but knows how to build an uncomfortable but fascinating world on the page.

Thumbs up.

Book Review: The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

Paperback, 388 pages

Published May 2003 by BenBella Books (first published August 1972)

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1972)

“She recalled him as a forceful and witty speaker with a ready repartee and a penetrating voice. He had once, for example, put down a spokesman for the pesticide industry with a remark that people still quoted at parties: "And I presume on the eighth day God called you and said, 'I changed my mind about insects!” ― John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

This is my second time reading this novel and it was just as powerful the second time. The Sheep Look Up is a huge influence on the novel I just finished writing. I waited until that was done to give it a re-read. It is of course apart of my eco-horror Dystopia-a-thon. While not as Climate change orientated as the others it is the oldest books in the series of books I am reading on these themes.

It is going to be impossible to talk about this book without giving context for the time in history when I read them. Both were times when the novel seemed to be "more important than ever!" or "Speaking to our times." I mean this novel is almost 50 years old. It would be easy to write it off, and say how much of it could Brunner have gotten correct if the world is still here. We are still breathing, drinking and more safely. For those of you who are not familiar with the works of John Brunner (who died in 1992) the great British Science Fiction I have included interviews with him. I mean he wrote about something that looks very much like the internet in in the early 70's. His Novel Shockwave Rider not only for saw the internet but viruses, and coined the term worm.

He had powers of prediction, and look Brunner wrote pulp sci-fi, but he had three novels considered his masterpieces that rose above the others, Shockwave Rider, Stand on Zanibar and of course The Sheep Look Up. The last two were both ecologically themed.

The Sheep Looks Up predicts everything from reality TV, Fake news, cities that need air filter masks (see China), the use of emergency actions to suspend basic rights, radical environmentalism, The stigma of being anti-capitalism for being ecologically minded,Micro-organism resistance to antibiotics, raging forest fires, Financial bailouts for failing corporations...Take a breath I mean there is more. John Brunner saw the future folks.

The edition I read came out early in the George W. Bush era, it was re-issued at the time and I infact bought my copy from radical environmentalists selling it at a lecture. It would be easy to look back at the time of that release and say we were all scared of what the Bush era would mean for the environment. In hindsight it was bad, but honestly the Clinton years were not a cakewalk for the planet or defenders of it. Obama was hardly better, come on what did he really do? He was not the disaster of the guys before and after him but what did he really do?

Trump is the nightmare of the Sheep Look Up in the making. This novel is a exploration of the consequences of industry unleashed. When our new president puts the EPA under the control of a man who was determined to kill it, then we see the possibility that a novel 50 years could go from a quaint warning to a blueprint. At time the resistance of Trainites seemed corny compared to the real life eco- movements, and yet at others times smart. I wish that the polluters and destroyers of the earth would have to drive around with skull and crossbones on their cars.

The novel itself is amazing well written but it is not a easy-peasy read, it is full of point of views shifts and is more of a series of snapshots that the story of one main character. The back cover makes it sound much more focused on Train and his eco-defense radicals than it actually is. Sheep goes chapter by chapter across one year in the earth of earth choked slowly by environmental destruction. The progression is quick but the novel which constantly switches Point of view takes some patience. In many ways it operates like a short story collection.

It would be easy to write off this 50 year old novel as hyperbole, certainly we have not seen the world it predicts yet. But lets be clear warning novels like Alas Babylon do not lose merit because we never had a nuclear war. The work of Rachel Carson and the landmark Silent spring did alot, and certainly eco-awareness is better than it was. We should be glad that we didn't see this world, but the reality is that Brunner's vision is still possible. With President Trump threatening to end many of the laws keeping corporations in check we may need Austin Train soon enough.

He talks about Sheep Look Up 14 minutes into this video:

“Next, the stalled cars had their windows opaqued with a cheap commercial compound used for etching glass, and slogans were painted on their doors. Some were long: THIS VEHICLE IS A DANGER TO LIFE AND LIMB. Many were short: IT STINKS! But the commonest of all was the universally known catchphrase: STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME!” ― John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hardcover, 613 pages Published March 2017 by Orbit

My favorite read of the year last year was KSR's Aurora and 2312 was a masterpiece to me, so as you can imagine I consider Robinson to be on quite a roll. I just finished a eco-horror novel and decided to go on ecological horror/ Dystopia reading kick. It was cool after the Water Knife to go somewhere totally different farther into the future. The title tells you the setting but lets explain the world a bit deeper.

Robinson is no stranger to ecological themed books...He wrote a trilogy that was recently repacked as a epic single novel called Green Earth, and he explored these issues in his early series The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988) and Pacific Edge (1990). I reviewed the Wild Shore here.

As for this book. The sea levels have risen over that time including two planet wide "pulses" known and the first and second pulse. After the second pulse the sea level has encroached 50 feet from where it is today. That is enough to create what the book calls ten thousand Katrina's. New York City has become a super venice, the sky line growing taller and certain parts of the city are just gone.

The story centers mostly around the inhabitants of a building called the Met. 2,000 or more people live in this co-op building that has investors interested in buying it. All the Characters are connected to this building. There are several characters and POV's that range from two hackers living on the farm roof-top, to the super and a woman who has reality TV flying ina airships rescusing endangered species. There are probably eight characters we follow and their chapters form the basis of the shifting narrative. In Between we have chapters titled Citizen that appear to be a history lesson speaking directly to the reader. The citizen chapters majorly violate one of the so-called rules of writing science fiction by information dumping but here in this novel it was one of the more interesting parts.

Story kicks off with Mutt and Jeff the hackers who have this idea for undermining global finance by hacking the global money networks. KSR uses this story line to shine a light on the failures of Capitalism. This appears to be inspired by the too big to fail bailout that the banks got themselves. I didn't find this story as interesting as I think it was meant to be. Bot we geta full spectrum of stories from a wall street romance, to a look at reality culture via the woman in the airship saving polar bears( to me the most interesting of stories) and the best character in the book the building super Vlade.

For the most part I enjoyed reading this book and seeing how KSR weaved these story lines together. While some may see the concept as alarmist, I think a story that casually takes a look at a future adapting to incredible change is important. So why am I so meh about the book. I think it was two hundred pages too long for one thing. I was really ready for it to be done by the time I closed the book.

The Characters are hit or miss. Some like Vlade were fun, others seem cardboard like Inspector Gen, I didn't even realize was black or a woman until I have read half the book. Her character didn't feel rich enough for me. I was interested in this because of the climate change aspects to the story. Robinson has said in interviews that was not his intention at first. He had told his editor that he wanted to write about global finance and suggested in set in the flooded NYC we got a glimpse of in 2312.

I get it, he wanted to make a statement about capitalism. He could've done that in 300 or 400 pages in my opinion. Did I like it? Yes I did. Did I love it like the last two I read. Not at all.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the topic of Sea level. from 4:00 minutes to 22 minutes in this video, from a lecture here in San Diego:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Review: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

he Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Hardcover, 371 pages Published May 2015 by Knopf

So this is the first entry in my eco-horror/dystopia-a-thon. Also my first time checking out Bacigalupi who I have known for awhile would likely be up my alley. Known for writing novels that depict a future destroyed by climate change. His Wind-up girl that took place in a drowned Bangkok of the future is one of the best reviewed sci-fi novels of the century so far and already considered a classic in the making.

Lets get something out of the way, if you are a climate change denier you are (dangerous and) not likely to enjoy this book although I don't think you are the target audience of this book. This not-so-far in the future novel is a glimpse into the future of the american Southwest if we don't turn things around. The author is known for his sci-fi, and certainly it is speculative but had this exact same novel been written by someone not effected by the genre ghetto this novel would be taken as seriously as it has every right to be.

The Water Knife is about an all to real future we face. This novel is about the life that depends of the flowing stream of the Colorado river. Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and southern California all depend on the mighty river. Every city, and small town along the way do as well. I have to think about with every drop of water I drink, bath or use to cook. You see I live in San Diego at the end of the supply chain of the same Colorado River.

In this dystopia government agencies fight and over water rights and Arizona has recently lost most of the water it depends on. The borders are closed between states, Arizona is dealing with Mad Max extra like Texan refugees and Nevada and California are taking drastic steps to keep refugees out. We see this through an excellently plotted array of characters who each could have supported their own novels. The most interesting is an enforcer doing dirty deeds for Nevada named Angel Velasquez who works for a brutally intense woman behind the Nevada water authority named Catherine Case. She is hearing rumors of a new water source in Arizona perhaps an ancient aquifer. The maguffuin becomes the water rights in question.

So at this point Angel has to travel across this awful messed up future Arizona that has fallen into chaos. There he meets Lucy who is a reporter cover the violence and death on the other side of the Arizona border. There are other characters fellow 'Water knifes' and refugees. This is not just a tale of political intrigue there is violence, betrayal, romance desperation and excellently plotted tale of the best things in story telling parallels and reversals.

I am sold on Bacigalupi as a story teller. I think this is an important novel that already has a wide audience but considering the vision of the future it presents deserves a wider look. Here in the southwest this should be required reading. Sure it is a dystopia and as such it exaggerates to clarify but the book was well researched. If we don't want to see this world become a real thing, then we need to make sure more people check it out.

Some might consider this book preaching to the choir. I feel on the issue of climate change there is no such thing. Most of you who understand it is a problem have taken very little time to think about what all this means for our future, your children's future. If you are in the so-called choir then perhaps a little more time and thought into what you buy and more importantly what you eat would be in order.Just my opinion.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Review: Chills by Mary Sangiovanni

Chills by Mary Sangiovanni

Paperback, 320 pages

Published September 2016 by Lyrical Underground

“True Detective” meets H.P. Lovecraft in this chilling novel of murder, mystery, and slow-mounting dread." The description of this novel above sold me. I have enjoyed SanGiovanni in interviews on podcasts, and even though I had a couple copies of her books on my shelf for years I never got around to reading them. This was going to be the first one because I loved the tone suggested and the plot sounded interesting.

A freak late spring snowstorm hits as a detective tries to solve a bizarre murder. The first act of this book is a very intense slow burn cosmic horror piece. Each page develops serious dread. Honestly I could have handled another hundred pages of this.

One of the best most fascinating scenes was an interrogation between the lead character and her brother - a serial killer now in prison. This is where the True Detective comparisons come into play. Really it is one chapter. It was very tightly wound and I was hoping the novel would returned to it.

The deep and cosmic dread of the first half was everything I was looking for and the second half of the novel turns into something else that I feel gets into the territory of spoiler. Consider yourself warned. Chills is the third in a trilogy, a fact I didn't know this until I went to Good reads to post this review and had re-edit it. I am not sure if I am missing something, maybe the back story with the brother - not sure.

The best thing I can say about this one is I now want to read the novels that will for me be prequels. However I didn't enjoy the second half of the novel quite as much once it became a full on monster attack. SanGiovanni did such a wonderful job building the dread I wish the book had a longer second act focused on that part of the story and a shorter third act that dominated the novel's entire second half as is.

Am I glad I read Chills? Yes. For sure. I think horror fans will too, and I think many will disagree with me about the second half. I think you should decide for yourself. It is a cool book and deserves to be read and debated. SanGiovanni certainly knows how to write monsters. I am sold for sure and will read more SanGiovanni.

Monday, April 24, 2017

San Diego Bahr Crawl reading available online...

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival helped organize the San Diego leg of what is being called "The Bahr Crawl." It has been a road trip of readings to celebrate the release of Angel Meat, a new collection of short stories from award-winning author Laura Lee Bahr. Joining her in these readings are Splatterpunk legend John Skipp, Andrew J. Stone, and San Diego's own David Agranoff and Anthony Trevino, who brought selections of their own to share at Verbatim Books.

Check out this brief preview, and listen to the full sessions at:

http://www.dreadcentral.com/podcasts/225175/horrible-imaginings-175-dark-stories-bahr-crawl/

Sunday, April 23, 2017

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

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

Hardcover, 423 pages

Published February 2017 by Del Rey Books

Look this is a Star Wars novel. It is the third in a trilogy. I reviewed the first two. The Aftermath trilogy is meant to tell the story of the events after Return of the Jedi. I know alot of fan boys were upset the novel that was promoted as the Journey to The Force Awakens and that it was not about Luke, Leia and Han on every page. I have never understood the bad reviews.

Even though books 2 and 3 of this trilogy do not have the journey tag this is the book that most sets up Force Awakens. Empire's End is about the battle of Jakku that left the ruins of the empire behind.

Why was it such important battle fought on a random world. This book will answer those questions. I know that is the thing that will sell most nerds but come on there is alot to the aftermath trilogy and it is common theme with it's readers.

I fell in love with the characters. Sure I was impressed by Wendig's ability to tell an epic SW story but more important than spinning the galaxy spanning story is creating character like Sinjar and Norra Wexley who were likable SW characters.

One of the problems that the prequels suffered from was that no one liked the characters. I liked that Wendig made Characters that felt like Star Wars. Mister Bones certainly fills the comic relief droid, Timmin the young idealist in the mercenary crew in general they are fun characters, by the end I was thinking I wanted more novels with them. Norra and Jas both have moments of great-ness and in this novel the way they separate is handled with style. But the most interesting character is Sinjir. Not because he is the first openly gay character in Star Wars although that is cool. What makes Sinjar cool is his position as ex-imperial enforcer turned empire war criminal hunter. Very cool.

Book one was the most direct story of the first days after ROJ, even over lapping, and introduced the new characters. Book two dealt with the battle for the Wookie home world and Book three is mostly a set up for the battle.

All three are character driven and fun. The two things that made this a entertaining read (by that I mean the whole trilogy) and something I think SW fans should read. It comes down to why Jakku? Does it add depth to the star wars universe and is fun at the same time what more do you want?

Book Review + Author Interview: The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow

The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow

Paperback Published March 2017 by Stalking Horse Press

This review comes with it's fair share of bias. I have to explain how that works for me. When I like a person or artist I root for them to do well like anyone else. When that artist is a friend I have known for years it doesn't mean I will like everything they do. Duncan Barlow is someone I got to know through the hardcore scene. Some of his bands Guilt, By the Grace of God and especially Endpoint were huge parts of my teenage and young adult life. That is not to say he hasn't played on records that I didn't like. I am able to be critical, I say that so you can understand just how much I liked this book. I liked Duncan's first novel Supercell Anemia but I loved this novel.

In the 90's midwest hardcore scene shows were a little like mini-family reunions. Duncan was always someone I looked forward to seeing and chatting with when I saw one of his band's name on the flyer. He was one of the first people I talked to about my dreams to one day be a writer. We shared similar challenges with leaning disabilities. In my case I found my dyslexia to be crippling to my desire to write. I can point to one inspiring conversation with Duncan outside a show in my hometown that lead to me feeling that I had to pursue those dreams.

Thanks Duncan. OK so the novel...

The City, Awake is a early contender for my top ten reads of the year. It is very hard to talk about the book without spoilers in my opinion. The strengths come in the reveals and the inventiveness with which the author puts his cards on the table. So this review will have a spoiler warning at some point and then we will talk more openly after that.

The City, Awake is a genius surrealist noir that perfectly balances character, narrative drive and experimental prose. It opens with a note in a man's pocket. "You are David. You were made in God's image. You are the author of all language,emender of sins." After a few chapters we see David get the same note in other moments. Sometimes he excepts the note, but in one case he doesn't except insists that his name is Saul and through Saul we look into the mystery. in other tracks David is sometimes closer and further from the truth. Beyond that we see some traditional noir tropes.

Saul/ David hunts for clues in a city that is not clearly defined as real, and throughout the narrative we can never feel safe that we are in a real setting. 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. Read it, Read it!

****Spoilers ****

So one of the things that impressed me most about this novel was that I was fooled for 150 or so pages. The first chapter is numbered 7, the second is numbed 18, some chapters are numbered 23, and 30. When David wakes up at different points with the same note I assumed as I think most readers will that we have a lead with Amnesia. We do have a lead with memory issues, but those numbers were not time signatures as I thought they were. The Reader certainly should feel that way because Barlow is setting up a excellent twist. The numbers represent Doppelgangers number designation in a wider plot.

The slight of hand was well executed, perfectly fair and had me perfectly fooled. For this reason alone the novel is worth the money and effort. Well done.

END SPOILERS

I have known duncan for 27 years, since he was guitarist of one of my favorite bands Endpoint when we were both in high school. So I was excited to interview him for the review. I hope you enjoy. It is raw no editing, just a chat by old friends.

We talk about his novel the City Awake, writing and how we both struggled to adapt to dyslexia to become authors. 10 minutes spoiler free. From 10 minutes in to about 30 is about the book the last half hour is about general writing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review + Author interview: Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

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

Paperback, 432 pages

Published April 2014 by Solaris

I am a huge fan of military sci-fi, there is certainly nothing wrong with it being written by people who have never served and some of it is very good. Heinlein never was in the military and neither was Scalzi and Old Man's War is probably the best novel in the sub-genre this century. Certainly Grunt life is the most IMPORTANT military sci-fi novel of this century. Probably the most imporant since A certain Vietnam vet wrote a sci-fi novel by the name of the Forever War. There is a little something extra when you have novels like the Forever War written vets like Joe Handleman or the works of Weston Ochse.

Weston Ochse is a Bram Stoker award winning author who started his second military fiction trilogy with Grunt life. The first was a very good pulpy horror/ monster trilogy called Seal Team 666. In three books the Seal team team took on creatures and conspiracies that took them around the globe fighting monsters (I reviewed the first book last year). Of course one of the strengths Ochse who spent decades in the military or contracting over seas brings is a sense of reality many author couldn't.

Grunt life is the story of Benjamin Carter Mason who attempts suicide in the opening pages, he is prevented from doing that and given a choice. You can kill yourself now, or die for us and do something important. Mason is unsure but gives himself over to train with a group of mentally ill and suicidal soldiers that make up Task Force OMBRA.

Ombra you see has been preparing for the day when the invasion comes. They know some very alien force is already preparing the ground work. The non-humans are called the Cray, who are testing humans with acts of mind control that result in a epidemic of violent acts that appear random. A whole novel could have been built out of OMBRA's research into these events.

That however is not the point, we are very tightly focused on Mason. Written in first person this forces the narrative to stay with the main Character and away from generals, world leaders or a global view of the alien invasion. This is Grunt life after all. I want to be careful to remain spoiler free but the really smart thing Ochse brings to this military Sci-fi sub-genre is including victims of PTSD as twist on the classic Dirty Dozen set-up.

This is a military sci-fi novel that is much deeper than a surface action novel. A story about PTSD, that explores the issues related to the trauma that is all to common in warriors. The novel is also very much about what it means to be a grunt and of course the title suggests that. Without giving away the back half of the book it is not just the main characters who have an arc.

Seal Team 666 was a fun book, one I really enjoyed but damn Grunt Life is 1,000 times better. So yes read it.

Since I had met and talked to Weston a few times I asked him if I could interview him to make as a bonus video for my youtube channel/ this blog. We try not to spoil the book for the first 10 minutes, but after that we do mild spoilers. Here is the thing the last 20 minutes are real nitty gritty details about writing the book. I think all authors could learn from the discussion. So yeah here it is.

You can download the audio for a limited time here on my soundcloud page:

https://soundcloud.com/david-agranoff/weston-ochse-interview

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: Nod by Adrian Barnes

Nod by Adrian Barnes

Paperback, 261 pages

Published September 1st 2015 by Titan Books (first published November 2012)

Literary Awards:

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee for Best Novel (2013)

One of my favorite sub-genres of fiction skirts both science fiction and horror but comes down mostly in the horror camp. It is the odd high concept end of the world novel. Nod is one of these novels that hinges on a excellent concept.

Global insomnia, seen through the eyes of our two main characters Paul and Tanya. Paul is one of the few who can still sleep.Tanya is with the majority of our species struggling to sleep. As the days drag on society starts crumble. Food is not being made, restaurants are not opening, the basic functions are coming slowly to a halt. The premise comes built with a excellent ticking time bomb built in. How many days before you become ill? How many before you lose your sanity? In the vacuum new religions pop up and not surprising those desperate for sleep that they would look to the sleepers for answers. Paul becomes a reluctant prophet.

Adrian Barnes is a great writer but I am not sure he is as strong of a pure story-teller. Maybe that is not fair but I think writing horror it is good to have certain finely tuned techniques. I just found myself feeling through-out the story that we were missing moments of suspense and dramatic tension. In the back of the Titan edition that I read included a interview with Barnes so I consider this information fair game for the review. The author makes clear that he is not a genre writer. Which is fine, lots of non-genre authors have written excellent pieces of science fiction horror from Cormac Mcarthy's The Road to Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow there are great examples.

In this case Barnes has a neat concept, interesting characters, well written and involving prose. So there is plenty to like the problem I had with the book is that I wanted more of the tension building between Tanya and Paul for example. I thought about moment where he might wake up and find her not in bed in the early days. Maybe chapters devoted to her tension listening to him snore, watching him dream when she was tortured by the inability to sleep. I think a genre author who knows the field better might not miss the idea of how tense it would be to sleep 5 or 6 days in knowing the world was filled with people losing their minds not sleeping near by. Barnes did work well with the ticking clock of sanity but even that could have gotten more targeted attention.

Last in the story there is a chapter that takes place on a U.S. naval vessel that is a classic example of telling, meaning events took place outside of the narrative. Technical things aside I think the novel has alot of interesting things to to say about life, death and our culture. Paul is very outspoken character and his eye into the end is interesting one. Even if I though I was critical of this novel I read it fast and there is no greater compliment I can give a book. As for high concept apocalypse you will see many such titles on my best of the year blog posts heading back years now. Novels like Tim Lebbon's The Silence and M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts are strong examples of this kind of novel. Both were written with incredible skill. Going back a little farther the poetic example of John Shirley's The Other End and his gonzo end of the world novel Demons.

I bring up those other examples because they all balance high concept with excellent plotting and construction. Nod was good read, one I was glad to have. Those interested high concept end of the world novels should add them to their list. As much as I enjoyed it I could not call it a masterpiece. Shout-out to my co-worker Andrea for lending me the book. Clearly she has eye more my taste in books!

Book Review: 13 minutes by Sarah Pinborough

13 minutes by Sarah Pinborough

Paperback, 405 pages

Published July 2016 by Gollancz

US edition summer 2017

Sarah Pinborough is one of my favorite authors. So when I say this was not one of my favorites of her novels understand something. It is still a GREAT book and really that just says so much about her entire catalog.

13 Minutes is indeed a brilliant YA murder mystery. It is funny because it was marketed as YA,I believe that is because it is about teens. At the same time the paperback has "not suitable for younger readers." This book will be released in U.S. this summer and there is a degree that the YA classification could hurt it with adult readers. I hope not because what it says about teens in this social media era would be good for more adults to see.

This novel is a murder mystery that involves teens, social media and bullying. On the surface it is the story of Natasha a teen who is found in the river, brought back from the brink of death no memory of the events before she died for 13 minutes.

There is a cast of friends and frenemies who are involved. Being a modern tale of murder and teenage women alot of the story unfolds in text, social media and the like. Pinborough does an excellent job of using the different media to unfold the story. This is similar to the technique Stephen King made famous in his first novel Carrie. The POV switches are jarring at times sometimes feeling random but they are not at all random. Pinborough places the POV changes intentionally to drive the story and she is always in control.

This novel about teenage women in England feels correct but of course how do I know what those teens think like. that is important because the the motivations and the narrative drive are so closely tied to Becca an old friend of Natasha (the victim) and her group of friends who embrace the name "the Barbies" for their social circle.

The ending is not as jaw dropping as Pinbrough's next book Behind Her Eyes but that is OK not every ending has to be a stunner. it is just as good a feeling when the end of a book can get you to raise your eyebrow and say 'Huh.' I think this ending does a little more of that. 13 minutes has alot to say about the world teenagers live in, and one that i think would be good for young women to read even if some moments are intense. Adults have good reason to read it as well as a tiny window into the pressures of the cool kids at school in this modern world.

The murder, or attempted murder in this case is a Mcguffin that sets the wheels in motion. 13 minutes is an exploration of modern teenage social dynamic and in that sense it is a much deeper novel then it appears on the surface. Like I said at the start of this review this is probably my least favorite Sarah Pinborugh novel that I have read so far, that is not a insult by any means. The Dog Faced Gods trilogy is my favorite horror trilogy, Behind Her Eyes is a masterpiece and mayhem and Murder were excellent examples of an author stretching out of her comfort zone(by writing a period piece). So You know what 13 minutes is a great read and one you should check out...after Behind Her eyes if you are a thriller type. If you are horror reader start with A Matter of Blood. Either way read some Pinbrough.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book review: Ratings Game by Ryan C. Thomas

Ratings Game by Ryan C. Thomas

Paperback, 349 pages

Published May 2008 by Cohort Press

Ratings game is a book I have meant to read for years. The second novel of San Diego based horror author Ryan C. Thomas is a bit of a departure from his first novel The Summer I Died. A decade has passed since those first two books came out and we have had a chance to see the potential RCT showed grow into several books and reputation for character driven horror.

I really like the left turn that RCT took with this second novel, his first release was a masterpiece of extreme horror. It would have been easy go straight back to the blood drenched success of The Summer I Died right away. RCT did eventually do two sequels (on my to read list) but this novel has a very different tone.

Blending social commentary, satire and the occasional gore soaked serial killing. Ratings Game is the story of Roland Stone and Doug Hardwood. Two new York based TV anchors who are on the edge of aging out of the industry for good. After an encounter at a bar they both realize what they need is a big story attached to their names.

It starts when Roland finds the body of a homeless man already dead. He claims the murder with a letter sent to him at the station, he names the killer and the ratings soar. Not to be outdone Hardwood is on to him and stages his own more violent murder with a letter that comes in the mail to his station. On the outside it looks like two killers engaged in a game, but of course it is a boost in the ratings and viewers they want. What follows is a novel that is a smart mix of Anchorman and American Psycho.

On the surface the concept is pretty silly, which is why the novel goes the route of satire. This was a smart move that RCT has crafted a fun novel that captures the "it bleeds it leads" world of news. The two killers "the Chef" (Stone) and Cassnova Carver (Hardwood) bring the gore and style to their murders. This is something Thomas brings to this novel mainstream satires would have strayed away from.

If there is a weakness in the novel it is the sexism of the characters while probably accurate got a bit grating to me. Ratings Game was just as funny as anything I have read from Jeff Strand who is considered the king of horror comedy. I laughed alot reading the book and I really appreciated that it was so different from his first book.

Excellently plotted and structured to deliver a well timed story. If you have not read any Ryan C. Thomas I would start with The Summer I Died, that is just a perfect horror novel. That being said Ratings game is probably a better more dynamic example of what Ryan C. Thomas is capable of.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: Among Madmen by Jim Starlin & Daina Graziunas

Among Madmen by Jim Starlin & Daina Graziunas

Paperback, 268 pages

Published 1990 by Roc

This is a short but wickedly intense read written by a married couple and long time comic book creators Jim Starlin and Daina Graziunas. Released in 1990 this is apparently a lost classic that was blurbed by Stephen King and George Romero at the time of it's release. I think I first heard of it when Brian Keene mentioned it in a interview on Dread Media, I just happened to be in a used bookstore an hour later and found it for $2. Sold.

I am surprised I had never heard of it because it's post apocalypse setting a gritty characters make it right up my alley. It is a cool book with lots of little pieces of art through out and starting each chapter. It is also very ahead of it's time by taking the zombie novel and adding the berzerker element.

The story of Tom Laker a vet and former NYPD cop who moves with his wife after a virus starts slowly turning the population of into berzerkers. He has become the sheriff of this small town and is trusted to protect the community. Laker is a great character his anguish bleeds off the page. He is trying desperately to hide the fact that his wife has the disease and is at times trying to kill him.

Matters are made worse when a band of raiders are making there way to the small town and someone inside is helping set them up. As we head toward the final battle Tom has to confront his world and family falling apart at the same time.

This novel packs alot of story and emotional punch into it's short page count despite being just over 200 pages it feels epic. Tom Laker and his psycho deputy Benny are both really strong characters who carry alot of the novel on their shoulders. I was less impressed with the story line between Tom and his wife Maria. It just didn't work for me but I feel for Tom when it came to a head.

The placement of the art was an issue. Some of the art spoiled the coming narrative since it appeared a page or two ahead of events in the prose. That said a few times this was used to actually add to the suspense. This is a must read for folks who really enjoy dark, brooding end of the world stories. In that sub-genre it is pretty classic. If that is not a strong motivation for you I don't think it is essential reading.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published January 10th 2017 by Gallery Books

Nick Cutter is one of the hottest names in horror fiction, and for good reason. The ironically this hot name is a pen name for Canadian literary author Craig Davidson most well known a novel Rust and Bone. I have read all four Nick Cutter books now and I thought the praise was certainly warranted. I enjoyed The Deep and the Acolyte but I didn't like either one nearly as much as the Cutter debut The Troop. That debut was a wicked intense character rich body horror novel. At a time when major publishers were shy about hardcover horror it was a major hit.

It worked in part because despite a modern settings it felt retro in all the right ways. It felt like a a golden age of horror paperback classic. People rightly compared to it to classic Stephen King. I thought it was an effective and disturbing horror novel that made the best of a lean prose style.

So now we have Little Heaven. First off it is nice to see Cutter shake the Bentley Little title disease that has plagued him. Finally a novel that is not THE ___ Whatever. To me Little Heaven is a masterpiece of horror fiction and pays tribute to 80's in a even stronger sense than The Troop did. As good as the last two Cutter books were they missed that retro feel that made The Troop special.

So I have seen again the comparisons to classic Stephen King but in this case I don't see it at all. This is lazy analysis from readers who might not know the influences on this novel. This novel has more Clive Barker and Robert McCammon in it's DNA than King. I would also argue the setting and characters give it more of a Cormac McCarthy feel than King. With the structure and dialogue a argument could also be made that Tarantino was a influence.

Cutter proudly wheres his influence on his sleeve, and that is why we talk so much about it. Take all this narrative chemistry and it adds it up to novel that feels like others but is actually like nothing I have read before. Personally I would use the word masterpiece. In part because I think a novel that delivers exactly the feeling of classics and causes me to turn pages is all I am asking for.

This is the story of four trained killers given the mission to rescue a young boy whose father has taken him to a compound called Little Heaven in the New Mexico desert. Cutter clearly has fashioned this cult after real life cults and doesn't hide it as you discover in the second half. We know quickly that these killers are not normal humans. The narrative switches back and forth from the mid 60's to the 80's and the structure unrolls the story in a unconventional but very effective manner.

We know the four mercenaries survived but they changed and are haunted by what they have seen. 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.

I made a mistake reading some of the reviews on goodreads, and the litreactor review by Max Booth that called this book a rehash of IT. I honestly was not sure we all read the same book. So yeah I think you should read Little Heaven. I think it is the best Cutter book and personally I think the best horror novel in years.

Now something new. Below is a audio review/ discussion between author Anthony Trevino and myself talking about the book. it's 20 minutes the first half is non-spoilers and the second half talks more about the writing in the book. Check it out. I am going to do a few more of these from time to time on the blog.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Review: Masque by F.Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello

Masque by F.Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello

Paperback, 368 pages

Published June 1999 by Aspect

I have been reading mostly new releases lately so this is kinda of a random book for me in a couple ways. Anyone following my reviews knows F.Paul Wilson is one of my top five writers easily, his ability to pace and structure a novel is the best on the planet. I admit I had not heard of Matthew Costello before but Dr. Wilson was the first draw, and the high concepts.

Look I picked this up at a used bookstore that was going out of business and the corny cover made me laugh. That said It is one of my favorite authors and when I read the back cover description I was sold.

This novel is set a century or two in the future in a dystopia, I got the feeling these future earthlings had survived a nuclear war or a ecological collapse but that was a bit vague. Don't misunderstand me this novel is effective at many things, one of which is world building. No matter how strange this world was it felt fully developed. This was important because the concept was such a vital part of the story.

At the heart was a very interesting character Tristan. Indentured to a corporation Tristan is not a normal person. He is a perfect spy because his genetically engineered to be a shapeshifter. The people with metamorphic DNA are called "mimes" and for good reason they are very mistrusted in this world. Tristan wants to be locked into one form and finally get citizenship. To get these things he must complete one mission.

What follows is a strange cyberpunk spy novel that is not as streamlined as I used to with Wilson. One of his strengths is no frills narratives that fly! The level of weird here was source of constant enjoyment for this reader. Former mimes turned religious leaders, Mutant underground clubs, and hero constantly changing identity. Tristan gets dragged into plot to kill off all Mimes and can't trust anyone.

First off this novel is 19 years old so some of the technology and terms you would expect to feel out of date. Not really, the most out of date thing in this novel is the Max Headroom-ish cover art. The elements of Noir,spy thrillers and Cyberpunk are perfectly executed.

Keep in mind it was released in 1998 it was ahead of it's time. Two popular works of fiction came later and did very similar things. In the not super close but was on my mind category is the Richard Morgan novel Altered Carbon (and it's sequels) in that novel all the name elements were there. Spy, noir and Cyberpunk, The hero didn't morph DNA but was switching bodies and never said the same. Fans of Altered Carbon might really enjoy it.

As the morphagentic DNA shape shifters. Yeah they had those in Fringe. Yes it was done here first. Did someone at Bad Robot read this novel first? Who can say? I suspect it was coincidence.

Overall I enjoyed this novel but I can think of a dozen F.Paul Wilson books I would recommend before this one. If you are looking for weird whacked out Cyberpunk not written by authors not known for this sub-genre then yeah, It is a fun read.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Paperback, 316 pages

Published July 2012 by Quirk Books

Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original (2013)

The lone cop who gives a shit about a murder, that no one else thinks is a murder to a trope way over used in mystery or cop dramas so you have to give credit to Winters her. It is hard to make a mystery original at this point, but every genre has been over done at some point. One of the most fundamental ways to breath life into genre writing is cross genre. Science fiction does this all the time. It is not a new thing, but I am not sure how much this tactic is used by traditional mystery writers.

Ben Winters is a writer who lived in my home state of Indiana and got on my Radar last year when he cracked my personal top ten with the intensely political alternative history book Underground airlines. While this book gets filed in Mystery it is certainly more science fiction to me.

Set in a world that is 77 days from the end, the earth of The Last Policeman is on a collusion course with asteroid big enough to end everything. Social-norms are out the window and things are bad in this small New Hampsire town That Hank Palace a 27 rookie detective is trusted to solve crimes. So when he finds a man hung in the bathroom his buddies just consider it "another hanger."

Suicide is all too common in this world so no one, not even the put upon medical examiner wants to consider this latest case a murder. Palace of course can shake the case. From here it is a trope-fest. I mean the corny cop dialogue, love interest involved in the case, deeper involvement in a larger case it is all there and perfect. I mean those perfect tropes set against a new apocalyptic setting is what makes this one special.

I think the familiar moments are what made me feel so comfortable reading this book. I enjoyed the dialogue. If there is one weakness is that the mystery ends up feeling pretty low stakes consider all that is happening in the world. That can work out if the themes grow in the next two books. Yeah this is a trilogy and I hope Winters treads a little new ground in the next two books.

Winters is a interesting writer I was impressed by this but even more so by his Underground Airlines. Sorry this review is a little short I neck deep in writing a novel at the moment. So my attention is a little scattered.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Magazine Review: Cemetary Dance Joe Hill Double issue

Cemetery Dance issues #74/75

Cemetery Dance is one of the longest running magazines for horror fiction and I admit I missed a few issues, since my local bookstore Mysterious Galaxy carries I am going to make a point to buy each issue. Now if only they would carry Dark Discoveries.

I was pretty clear that I was not a big fan of the last Joe Hill novel the Fireman, but that is OK because I am huge fan of his work and him personally. So when I saw this double issue was coming I knew I wanted to get it. I also enjoy the usua suspect essays, even Thomas Monteleono's MAFIA pieces even if I disagree with the points being made.

I was excited for the Joe Hill interview being done by long time Stephen King expert, assuming that his knowledge of the family might provide fresh questions. It was fun interview but maybe not as deep as I was hoping.

I skipped the Fireman excerpt as I have already read the novel but the new novella "Snapshot 88"is excellent piece. 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.

There are plenty of short stories by other authors but three stood out for me. The story by Ray Garton was my favorite, followed by Lisa Morton and Josh Malerman's short by very interesting story.

Big thumbs up.

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published January 2017 by Flatiron Books

It is really hard to talk about this book without spoilers. I am going to try very hard to discuss this psychological thriller without ruining the reading experience for those of you who have not read it. I tried to go in knowing as little as possible and I think that is the best way to go.

I discovered Sarah Pinborough in 2012, when I learned that she had written a book with one of my writing heroes F.Paul Wilson. I decided to check out the first book of a trilogy called Dog Faced Gods. That first book A Matter of Blood was one of the best books I read that year and a rare book i have considered re-reading. It is a master work of supernatural neo-noir dystopia and still my personal Pinborough favorite. As I continued to follow the output of Pinborough I have read masterpiece after masterpiece.

You can find reviews of Murder, Mayhem, Death House and of course the rest of the Dog Faced Gods Trilogy. I think many readers will be introduced to her from this latest book which has become a #1 bestseller in her native England. I think in time it will grow to have just as many readers here in the states. I mean they are selling this bad boy at Costco. For us to see someone from our community hit mainstream success is super wonderful. It couldn't happen a better and more hard working novelist.

So the question becomes is it worthy of all the hype?

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. You might not realize it but you'll have suspend disbelief and kinda ride with it at times. This is not supernatural novel but you will have to take a leap and if you do you'll be glad.

Behind Her Eyes is the story Adele and Louise two women whose lives are intertwined. Louise is a single mom who has chance encounter with a man at bar. It is just a kiss but one to remember. So when that man walks into her work and becomes her new boss it is a horrible coincidence, made worse by the fact that he is married. Louise tries to keep it personal but she slowly falls for the man.

His wife Adele is a special case. Survivor of a tragic accident that her future husband David saved her from. Adele and Louise share more than a man. Victim of night terrors and a survivor of a tragic teenage experience that left her with nightmares. It is what bonds Adele and Louise who become friends. Louise is now keeping a secret from her new friend and her husband that she is sleeping with. There is more going on but this love triangle is one that is best to enter with as little heads up as possible.

The book is being promoted with a hashtag #wtfthatending. When I first saw that I thought it was a mistake, Because how could the story still surprise? I thought of Old Boy the Korean movie with one of the best twist endings ever. I once told someone they would never guess the end and of course half way through he did.

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.

BHE is a fantastic read, if you like domestic thrillers like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train you should check this out. This book is in that genre but it takes a writer like Sarah Pinborough to cross the lines that she does. She does one thing those other authors as good as they are would not dare to do.

"You should read BEHIND HER EYES. Even if it's not a thumping good read, it's bloody brilliant." - Stephen King

"I'm being perfectly honest when I say "Behind Her Eyes" is a quantum leap for her. She's always been good but she surpasses her best here." - F.Paul Wilson

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Paperback, 388 pages

Published March 15th 2016 by Broadway Books

This is the second book in a row that I read because of Facebook posts by authors I respect. In this case it was a post by one of my all time favorite authors F.Paul Wilson who said "It’s a work of amazing imagination...Its influences come from all directions: the Old Testament to Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” to regression analysis and beyond." That was enough to sell me on it. I put on my hold for later in the library and now just seemed the time.

It is a weird and amazing fantasy novel that is challenging to explain. The dust jacket of the book says:

A missing God.

A library with the secrets to the universe.

A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

The Main Character of the novel is Carolyn who was brought to the library in the 70's after losing her parents. She has a new Father who we eventually learn is a god. The library outside of space and time is a massive pyramid filled with all the knowledge and secrets of the universe. Makes sense right, her brothers and sisters are at library to learn the knowledge of the universe but when their father disappears they are dragged back to our world to try and find him.

This novel is cross between high fantasy that verges on the feelings evoked by biblical and greek gods in fiction with moments of gonzo violence and bizarro surrealism and humor. I was not expecting some of the crude humor but the novel never feels dumb. With chapter titles like Buddhism for Assholes this is C.S. Lewis style fantasy. The level of imagination and creativity is just as extreme as some of the humor.

As fantastic as the setting is the characters at the heart of the novel Carolyn, Steve and NSA agent Erwin are fully realized. Erwin is probably the character I most related to, and he has some of the best moments and lines in the novel. Carolyn is interesting and certainly this is here story, you can not say she is a hero. A deeply flawed character that has access to godhood. Hawkins smartly rolls out her back in the second half of the book.

This is a excellently written, paced and realized novel. I didn't give it higher markings because I just didn't connect with it. However I read it quickly and laughed often while reading. This bizarro fantasy novel will probably please most readers. The last 80 pages I felt really cooked. I think it is cool to read a epic fantasy set in our modern that also celebrates the magic of a Library.