Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reviews for the Week of August 31, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES by Christopher Slatsky (2015 Dunhams Manor Press / 184 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Slatsky's first collection features 13 stories, 6 presented here for the first time. I had previously read his great tales 'A Plague of Naked Movie Stars' and 'No One is Sleeping in This World' (both are included here) so was curious to see more from this rising talent in the field of weird horror.

The opener, 'Loveliness Like a Shadow,' about an artist living in an apartment that may be haunted and that produces obscure water stains on the walls, gets the goosebumps going. Then in 'An Infestation of Stars,' a girl learns her parents have run afoul of an unusual religious group.

One of the finer moments here is 'Corporautolysis,' where a man's job literally takes over his being. It's claustrophobic, offbeat, and wonderfully written. A strange figure causes apprehension for an actress in 'Making Snakes,' a short but sweet creeper. 'The Ocean is Eating Our Graves' is a fine blend of native American folklore and cosmic terror, while 'This Fragmented Body' will easily get under the skin of those not fond of dolls ... not to mention body modification.

'Tellurian Facade' is quite possibly the weirdest yarn about a funeral you're likely to read anytime soon, and just when you thought you've read every kind of story there is about horror film fans, wait until you check out 'Film Maudit.'

'Scarcely Have They Been Planted' does to hillbillies and compost what JAWS did to swimmers (I kid you not), then a woman walks through a desert in 'Intaglios,' fearing two biker hippies are following her and wondering, after a while, if she's even on earth. This one's a real trippy offering with a great sense of tension.

Capping things off is the title story, 'Alectryomancer,' dealing with a laborer named Rey who is about to put his prized rooster "Little Cerefino" up against an undefeated foe in an underground cockfight. But Rey is plagued by visions of a burning horse and has come in possession of an odd journal that has him contemplating time travel and machinery he has never heard of. I'm not sure when this tale takes place but the term "Lovecraftian Steampunk" came to my mind as I finished it. For fans of bizarre fiction it just doesn't get much better than this.

Slatsky manages to bring the weird yet rarely loses the reader. His stories are often unique and scary, and best of all, never boring. His concepts kept me glued to the pages and I found myself wishing some of the shorter pieces were longer.

A fine introduction to a writer I'm looking forward to seeing much more from.

-Nick Cato

THE GATE AT LAKE DRIVE by Shaun Meeks (2015 IFWG Publishing / 222 pages / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, now, just to be clear … where it says “Monster Dick” on the cover, it means in the sense of a private investigator. But, hey, as an advertising shtick, it’s certainly a memorable attention-getter! So’s the art, which features a freaky nightmare sure to haunt your next nice lakeshore getaway.

This isn’t your usual urban fantasy with fae and sexy supernaturals as it is an MiB kind of situation, where creatures from other places keep showing up where they’re not welcome, and it’s the job of people like Dillon to deal with them.

Not that Dillon’s exactly normal himself. He’s covered head to toe with mystic wards, geared up with arcane gadgets, and has various connections in the occult biz. He should be prepared for anything. Even a dame with a case. The case turns out to be simple enough; the dame – a burlesque artist named Rouge – is another matter.

And the NEXT case, the one involving a possible-hoax/publicity-stunt local legend lake monster, also turns out to be a little more than Dillon’s prepared for. Something’s got it in for him, particularly, and isn’t shy about racking up a messy body count to get there.

This book’s biggest issues are in editing/proofing, punctuation errors, and a tendency toward repetition or overuse of phrasing. Nothing too hugely major, but enough to keep knocking me out of an otherwise engaging yarn with exciting action, fun twists, and a nice goosh factor.

I mean really, people, when you start hauling dead or dying squidgy unnatural fishthings out of your lake … don’t eat them … why would you do that, don’t do that!

The author’s already done a few short stories in this world, so there are some little easter eggs and references here and there. One of those stories is included as a bonus at the end. And, as THE GATE AT LAKE DRIVE is the first of a projected novel series, be ready for more!

-Christine Morgan

WICKED TALES (VOLUME 3) edited by Scott Goudsward, Daniel G. Keohane, and David Price (2015 by NEHW Press / 248 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This third offering from the New England Horror Writers features 20 stories from 21 writers, with topics ranging all over the genre. The great Chet Williamson provides a fun introduction before the festivities get underway.

Kristin Dearborn kicks things off with 'Somebody's Darling,' a zombie tale set during (I believe) the Civil War. It's a real heartbreaker and a fine piece to open the anthology. Rob Smales' 'Keepsakes' finds a couple of friends at an unusual garage sale in a dark-humor-enriched offering that reminded me of a story from an old issue of EERIE or CREEPY. 'The Hiss of Escaping Hair' is another solid tale from the always reliable Christopher Golden, this time dealing with an actress and an odd balloon that will allegedly help her career to continue.

In Howard Odentz' 'Handsome,' a man deals with his abusive mother and the damage she has caused to his body over the years, then E.A. Black's 'Fog Over Mons' finds German and French troops battling cosmic monsters during World War I in a quick-paced thriller. Paul McMahon brings another heartbreaker when a man dying of cancer tries to help his son who has recently been abandoned by his family in 'Bitemarks.'

One of my favorites here is Trisha J. Woolridge's 'The Crocodile Below,' about a bullied girl who gets revenge on her tormentors with the aid of a demanding sewer croc. It's written in poem form and is just so damn good.

In 'The Blood and The Body,' Bracken MacLeod introduces us to goth girl Em whose boyfriend takes her to a party that turns into a wicked little Satanic bash (complete with a few genuine surprises), then vampires learn they can never fully trust humans in K.H. Vaughan's 'The Opacity of Saints.' Holly Newstein's 'Live With It' is a revenge tale that will surely give abusive parents (or anyone for that matter) the creeps; this one's short, sweet, and terrifying.

We're then treated to a classic story by the late Rick Hautala titled 'Love on the Rocks' (the only story not original to this anthology), a prison break / monster tale showing why Rick was one of the greats.

WICKED TALES then gets a bit darker with 'As Sweet as Baby's Breath' by Peter N. Dudar and L.L. Soares, about a fiend dressed like a priest who keeps his son alive by breathing the breath he steals from infants into his lungs. This one would've made a good episode on the MASTERS OF HORROR cable series. 'My Brother's Keeper' by Sam Gafford is another tale featuring cosmic creatures, this time highlighted by a grandfather's humorous hillbilly dialogue.

In T.T. Zuma's 'The Pawnshop,' a man is forced by thugs to steal something from a store. If he doesn't his wife and daughter will be killed. But tables are turned when the pawnshop's owner and his giant assistant straighten things out in their own way. Matthew M. Bartlett's 'Master of Worms' reads like a classic Hammer Film, with a violent grave exhumation and dark family secrets written in a wonderfully weird prose.

David North Martino's 'Sat Down Beside Her' finds a female alien abductee learning she has become a breeder for future humans. This scifi/horror hybrid really gets the creeps going. John Goodrich's 'Odd Grimson, Called Half-Troll' seems a bit out of place here as it's a more fantasy-oriented tale, but it still manages to bring the monstrous goodness. Timothy P. Flynn's 'A Rhythmic Creation of the Damned' is a very short vampire tale that reads like an intro to a longer piece.

Michael Arruda's 'Created Woman' is a real gem, about a woman named Jewel who learns she just might be the reincarnation (or continuation) of actress Susan Denberg, who starred in the 1967 film FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. Horror film fans will eat this one up.

Ending the anthology is John McIlveen's 'Eve,' which gives yet another reason why you should never text while driving, and after reading this you just might pull over the next time you get the urge...

Like most anthologies, WICKED TALES has a couple of forgettable stories, but I found the majority to be quite good. This third installment from the New England Horror Writers showcases the group's blazing talent, and some authors present here will surely gain new fans. The wrap-around cover art by Ogmios is fantastic, too.

-Nick Cato

CTHULHU ATTACKS! by Sean Hoade (2015 Severed Press / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dear Hollywood: THIS is the Lovecraftian movie you need to make, the surefire big-budget blockbuster special effects extravaganza. This book, right here. It’s perfect. Gets around the various issues of directly adapting one of ol’ H.P.’s works, while acknowledging them in glorious triumphant homage. Plus, geek-cred galore.

And seriously, the scene describing Cthulhu’s emergence … best I’ve ever read. So beautifully done. Short, sweet, simple, evocative, and haunting.

A lot of giant monster or cosmic horror fiction struggles to express the sheer sheer size and scale and scope. Sean Hoade nails it, not only nails it but takes it several steps beyond. Reading this book is to shiver from an overwhelming sense of immensity, of alienness, of strange inhumanity so far outside our comprehension as to bend the mind. I think Lovecraft himself would be impressed with just how well that’s all conveyed.

Okay, sure, so Lovecraft would probably be a little less impressed with how fun and funny it also is. There’s humor mixed with the horror, a humor almost of surrendering to madness so you just gotta give in and laugh. There are winks, nods, nudges, and in-jokes. A few familiar names pop up; those in the know will cackle and chortle like fiends (I did, anyway).

Yet, let us not forget, there’s that horror in the mix, too. The perfect kind for something like this. The helpless, humanity-is-utterly-insignificant, Total Perspective Vortex kind of sanity-shredding horror. On a global level. We’re talking body counts in the millions, before the Big C even surfaces.

Which is followed, of course, by the desperate scrambling of world leaders, scientists, and military to try and defend against something they can’t explain. Or don’t want to accept. You know how in some movies (looking at you, Independence Day), nations chuck their differences to band together against a far greater common threat? Yeah, right. Not happening.

A few minor typos and bloopers are the only flaws in this book, and in a weird sort of way I’m almost glad they’re there. Otherwise, it’d be too perfect. Now I just have to wait, with wild impatience, for the sequel!

-Christine Morgan


BLOOD AND RAIN by Glenn Rolfe (to be released Oct. 6, 2015 by Samhain Publishing / 228 pp / eBook)

There’s something to be said for horror novels that don’t play coy about the big reveal. It’s like, “THIS IS A WEREWOLF STORY!” and boom, go, we’re off to the races right from the start. BLOOD AND RAIN is just such a book, and it does not disappoint.

In many ways, it hearkens to early King and Brandner, and does so in a loving and fun-poking kind of referential self-awareness. Nods and winks and outright shout-outs are liberally sprinkled. The 1990s setting is handled in just such a way to make readers of my certain age flinch … we really don’t want to believe the 90s were THAT long ago … oh, sweet denial, let us cling to it!

Gilson Creek is a small town in Maine, not exactly insular but one of those places where most people know each other. Most people also know about the incident some years back, when all those people got killed. Most of them even believe, or are willing to tell themselves they believe, the official cover story about a bear or a mountain lion or whatever it was.

Of course, there’s always got to be the few old-timers and kooks who insist otherwise, or the tabloid with its features about the Full Moon Monster. For them, it’s no surprise when similar killings begin. For the now-sheriff, who thought the problem had been solved – dead and buried solved – it IS a surprise, and a particularly unwelcome one.

How do you go about keeping your town safe, convincing your teenage daughter and her friends not to enjoy their summer evenings at the lake, and explaining to your current crop of deputies just why they need to load up on this ‘special’ ammo? What do you do when your predecessor, the only person who might have helpful advice, has turned into a crazy, surly old recluse? Or when the closest thing you have to a local celebrity decides to go vigilante?

Meanwhile, the body count’s climbing and the body parts are piling up. Despite some instances of character overload, where the cast gets too big and/or with similar names that make things difficult to keep track of, the story is solid, the writing is clever and well done, and it’s generally all a howling-fun good read.

-Christine Morgan