In terms of snappy patter and witty banter, I was familiar with the screwball caper and screwball comedy … I’d not previously encountered this level of screwball horror. Not slapstick horror-comedy like Evil Dead, but really icky, nasty-bad-dark stuff. With snappy patter and witty banter.
What a combo! And it works! The characters deliver dialogue in a way that is both believable (because it doesn’t feel like created characters in a book) and not (because we all WISH we could be that sassy and clever in real life!). I found myself enjoying that and would have read a whole book of it even without the smut and gore.
But ohhhh is there smut and gore. Lots of both. Lots of graphic, very graphic both. The story opens with our protagonist, Madison, walking in on her cheating husband … and her sister. Her reaction is a perfectly reasonable tirade of swearing, followed by a perfectly reasonable bout of rebound revenge nookie.
My only criticism of the sex scenes isn’t even a criticism, more of an observation; sometimes, you can just kinda tell when it’s a female-POV written by a guy. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I noticed it, though, and figured it was worth a mention.
Anyway! Skip ahead a few years. A meteorite has been recovered, carrying what appears to be some sort of extraterrestrial fungus. Madison, a noted mycologist, is part of the small, elite team chosen to study this incredible find. It does mean being shut away in a secure lab deep below ground, with nobody but her teammates for company.
Well, her teammates, and her friend with the rechargeable batteries. The close quarters and security monitors don’t allow for a lot of privacy; even if they did, Madison is, uh, noisy. She soon strikes up a special relationship with another of the team, as well … one that takes a nightmarish turn as some problems develop with their test samples.
They discover the fungus from the meteorite is far from dead, far from inert. It’s very lively. Fast. Hungry. It has a terrible, voracious, contaminating effect. As long as they can keep it quarantined in the subterranean lab, the world might be safe … but to do that means they’re unable to leave, or send for help from outside.
This is a squishy, gooshy, squelchy story about ravenous appetites of many descriptions. The writing is great fun, both talented and skillful. I know a lot of writers who’d be tempted to sneer it off because it began as a NaNo … but it was a NaNo from a couple years ago and has been given the proper finishing treatments and touches. This is how it should be done. This is an author to watch.
A group of friends are driving home after a night of partying and find themselves in a small town named 'Stokes.' The place seems to be deserted, and worse, they can't find their way back to the main highway. As they look for a way out, our six friends are about to come face to face with a supernatural force that will test their mental and physical endurance in ways they never dreamed of...
At first they are confronted by what seems to be human dolls/mannequins, crudely stitched together and, after one nasty incident, they learn the dolls have hybrid flesh/mechanical innards. And when they find themselves split up, they encounter creatures also comprised of doll and human parts, one of which turns out to be among the most wicked creatures to come down the pike in ages.
The strongest character here is Ramona, who decides to follow a siren sound to an industrial complex that's apparently creating Stokes' monstrosities. Once there, she comes closer to understanding what they're up against, and eventually meets up with Lex, another one who followed the siren and they're now faced with battling the mastermind behind the cyberflesh evil that has entrapped them.
DOLL FACE is like an extreme episode of THE TWLIGHT ZONE. It begins with a familiar but spooky set up then quickly shifts into the violent madness Curran has become known for (what becomes of poor Chazz had me squinting worse than chalk being dragged across a black board). I think some of the second half could have been trimmed a bit, but overall this is a satisfying read that blends horror, cyberpunk (or steampunk, I'm not sure!), and good old fashioned scares into a hearty brew that will have fans racing to the final chapter.
MADNESS ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS edited by James Lowder (2014 Chaosium / 288 pp / trade paperback)
If there’s a hierarchy to the realm of Lovecraftian fic, I’m not sure where I’d stand, but I know when I recognize the names of some real heavy-hitters. Ken Hite, Robin Laws, Christopher Golden, Lucien Soulban and Cody Goodfellow are only some of those whose work appears in this classy book edited by James Lowder.
And speaking of classy, is there anything more evocative of class, of the golden age of the good old days of high-end travel and prestige, not to mention mystery and intrigue, than the fabled Orient Express? What a central setting to serve as a theme for any anthology; giving it an eldritch twist only enhances the experience!
A train might seem like a limitation; there’s only so much to do with the same route, right? Wrong. Each of these tales bring something different. Some are set during the glorious heyday of the Orient Express, others in later days when nostalgia comes up against the inevitable decay of time, still others transcend or step out of time altogether.
One of my stand-out favorites of the set is James L. Sutter’s “The God Beneath the Mountain,” which is set before the train ever makes its maiden voyage. After all, the tracks must be laid, tunnels must be hewn and blasted from the rock. It’s hard work, grueling, expensive, frightening and dangerous. Even more frightening and dangerous, as one young doctor is about to find out, than anyone ever imagined.
“Stained Windows,” by Joshua Alan Doetsch, is my other top fave (it was a close battle). It’s both nightmarish and dreamlike, a journey of true madness, brilliantly written and the best possible close to the book to make for maximum lingering unreality and can’t-stop-thinking-about-it effect.
I’ve sometimes had trouble getting into the writing style of Kenneth Hite, but in this one, I found his “La Musique de l’Ennui” surprisingly readable, refreshing, and fun. Besides, it takes a few affectionate jabs at the whole fandom phenom, and I can never resist a clever punny title.
A couple of other mentions before I end up listing the whole table of contents: “A Finger’s Worth of Coal,” by Richard Dansky, appealing to my interests in more-ancient-than-ancient history, time, horror, and destiny … as well as my fondness for really spectacular description. And Christopher Golden’s “Bound For Home,” in which Houdini attempts an escape more daring than even he’d bargained for.
The sixteen stories contained in this book are, let’s face it, pretty much riding in the first class cars. As one would have every reason to expect, from authors of this caliber. Well worth a look, and well worth a place on any Mythos afficionado’s shelf.
WHAT ROUGH BEAST by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge (2015 White Noise Press / 26 pp / limited edition chapbook)
The latest slick-looking chapbook from White Noise Press is a Western werewolf tale that (I'm assuming) takes place in the early 1900s. Deputy Tom Morton puts together a posse to find his wife when the stagecoach she's on goes missing. Among his crew are two strangers who help in ways Tom could've never imagined, especially when the wolves attack.
While I found the story here okay (werewolf fans will probably like it more than non wolfites, and it is exciting for such a short tale), WNP's presentation is once again to-die-for and includes different stocks of paper, beautiful artwork from Keith Minnion, and signatures from the authors and artist. Book collectors take note as this one's a real beauty.
CUPID IN BONDAGE by Wrath James White (2014 Deadite Press / 132 pp / trade paperback)
So, I’ve heard that a certain big online book retailer has some objections to listing this book because of the cover. Even with particular naughty bits blocked out, it’s, uh, quite a cover. Which we aren’t supposed to judge books by, but, in this case, it might be a safe bet … I mean whoa … this is some graphic smutkink goresmut kinkgore above and beyond.
The dedication, though, is the ultimate priceless touch. Simplicity itself, simplicity and beauty, a classic, so wonderfully wrong and wonderfully right, one can’t help but be amazed.
Much the same can be said for many of the artful turns of phrase found throughout. A few words here, and I didn’t think my soul would ever stop screaming. A different few words there, and the artistry is stunning. Yet a different set of words, and the room around you will just about melt from the hotness.
The intro, “Coming out Kinky,” is a maybe-TMI must-read, serving both as a warning of what you’re getting yourself into, and a stark, insightful, honest glimpse into the author’s life. Into parts of his life and soul and self where most of us might never be brave enough to turn an introspective eye.
Then there’s a whole lot of spanking. And bondage. And cutting. And blood, as well as bodily fluids of every other sort.
A couple of the stories were almost too extreme even for me – in fiction, that is; in real life I am a total squicky wuss who bruises at the drop of a hat, so, the lifestyle and world within them is WAY beyond my comfort zone. I almost had to stop reading more than once; with “Razor Blade F*** Toy,” I probably should have because halfway through was too much but by then horrified fascination and compulsion would not let me look away, and it still kept going further and further beyond all sane endurance.
But this is by no means mere torture porn, not shock for shock’s sake and gratuitous grossness. The psychology of domination and submission is not just revealed but dissected (for that matter, so are several of the characters). Religion, faith, need and belief are examined as well, along with control, power, death, sex, escape, and freedom.
In prose and in poetry, and in detail that is the very meaning of excruciating and exquisite, Cupid in Bondage brings 124 pages of pleasure and pain, terror and turn-on. Your bottom may not be paddled sore and bright red by the time you’re done, but your mind probably will be.