Monday, October 12, 2015

Reviews for the Week of October 12, 2015

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


THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER by Jeff Strand (to be released 3/1/16 by Sourcebooks / 272 pp / trade paperback)

15 year old Justin Hollow loves to make monster movies with his friends Gabe and Bobby. After a couple of shorts involving mummies, werewolves, and vampires, Justin gets the urge to shoot his first full-length feature, and is determined to make it The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever.

He manages to get a $5,000 loan from his quirky grandmother, gets the two best looking kids at school to star, and agrees to let one of his friends' slightly off-balanced uncle do the special effects. Being a Jeff Strand novel, you can imagine the mayhem that ensues, and this time the laughs come fast and furious. A couple of scenes had me laughing out loud, and it ends with a hilarious and satisfying finale.

Underneath the silliness there's a fine look at friendship, with one scene being quite touching (Justin's friends are willing to sacrifice their beloved possessions to help finish financing the project). But don't think the author is going soft: there's still an abundance of his trademark sarcasm, weird characters, and surprises around every turn.

This is another solid YA novel from Strand that can be enjoyed by anyone (especially zombie film fans) and it's easily his overall funniest work to date.

-Nick Cato

SNAFU: RECON edited by Geoff  Brown and Amanda J. Spedding (2015 Cohesion Press / 116 pp / eBook)

The SNAFU books are all about the military. These aren’t ordinary people caught up in violent life-or-death struggles … these are the troops, the dedicated men and women in uniform who do this sort of thing on purpose.

But, since the SNAFU books are also horror and sci-fi, they’re not just any ol’ war stories, either. Think ALIENS. Think DOG SOLDIERS. Think (that movie with Andy Serkis). Sometimes, even the best battle-hardened, armed and armored soldiers run up against foes or situations not covered in basic training.

The books themselves feature a variety of sub-themes, and the stories in them range across many eras and many worlds. Seasoned veterans such as Weston Ochse, James Moore, Jonathan Maberry, Greig Beck, and Joe Nassise lead the way for dozens of newer recruits.

This particular volume, RECON, is a sampler, a teaser, a tantalizing and enticing come-on to encourage you to enlist. It contains five diverse stories to showcase the range and span of the series, starting with R.P.L. Johnson’s “Taking Down the Top Cat,” in which a covert op to take out the head of a drug cartel pits the squad against something even more ferocious than they’d bargained for.

Next up is “War Stories,” by James A. Moore, a harrowing and heart-wrenching tale set not in the thick of the action, but in the long aftermath of those who came back alive to have to deal with the memories, and a society unable to fully understand their sacrifices.

Weston Ochse’s “Cold War Gothic” has a gritty almost-noir feel despite being set in the late 1960s, as Special Unit 77 handles another super-secret supernatural case. Also, the thing with the spiders? Pure genius, a head-smacker of the wish-I’d-thought-of-that caliber.

“Skadi’s Wolves” by Kirsten Cross had my attention right from the title, historical fiction in general and Viking-historical in particular being very much my thing. It’s a rousing tale of a Saxon and a Dane sent as emissaries to a Pictish tribe, only to find themselves threatened by beasts out of legend.

Last but not least is Jack Hanson’s “Fallen Lion,” an excerpt from his contribution to SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest. The most futuristic of the bunch, it’s got intelligent weaponized elite dinosaur warriors helping defend human colonies from aliens, and if that’s not cool enough for you, I don’t know what more to say.

-Christine Morgan

POINT HOLLOW by Rio Youers (2015 Chizine Publications / 310 pp /  trade paperback & eBook)

Youers (author of my favorite novel of 2012, WESTLAKE SOUL) returns with another descent into darkness, this time with a more classic feel.

Matthew Bridge and his family left Point Hollow, NY over 25 years ago after a traumatic experience found Matthew alone in the woods for three days. He went into a state that left him with no memory of the incident, but now, on the verge of getting divorced from his wife in Brooklyn, something is calling Matthew back home.

Hollow Point's favorite citizen, Oliver Wray, harbors a secret he does all he can to protect. A mountain near Point Hollow known as Abraham's Faith speaks to him...demands of him, and he learns he isn't the first one to become a servant to its barbaric requirements.

Youers' prose here is nearly flawless. I read this in two sittings. It's a tight, well crafted novel with plenty of genuine scares and a couple of intense suspense scenes. The story itself, however, falls into the "ancient evil in a small town" category that has been done countless times, and I found much of it predictable.

Despite the familiarity, POINT HOLLOW is a real page turner. It's done much better than most novels of its ilk, and hence recommended.

-Nick Cato

NIGHT'S NEON FANGS by David W. Barbee (2015 Eraserhead Press / 184 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a whole lot of dark, twisted bizarro packed into a single slim volume. It’s like a can of orange juice concentrate – strong, potent, and brain-puckeringly powerful, especially if you don’t dilute it. In this case, diluting it would probably involve adding time instead of water, taking a break between stories to allow each one’s impact to diffuse and mellow.

I didn’t do that, and I’m still reeling. Each of the four is its own unique wallop of weirdness, beginning with rains of mummies. Yes, mummies, the dried ancient Egyptian corpses. I mean, forget your rains of frogs or fish … offend Anubis, and the jackal-god’s going to call down one doozy of a curse.

The world adjusts as well as it can, but then, the world’s gone a ways beyond normal. This is something Buster Wade knows all too well, because he’s also cursed. He’s an electric werewolf (hence the title of the first story and the collection), hated and hunted, with an unfortunate tendency to short out appliances and an even more unfortunate tendency to go on savage killing-and-feasting sprees.

The theme of gods and curses carries on into the next story, “Noah’s Arkopolis.” Imagine if you will that, after all that stuff with the forty days and forty nights and the flood and the boatful of animals two-by-two, God decided not to have the waters recede after all. Now imagine Noah, drunk and angry, deciding to turn the ark into a floating city populated by generation after generation of crossbreeds.

“That Ultimo Sumbitch” is a weird-wild-western cyberpunkish sci-fi dystopia, in which ostrich-riding cyborg bounty-hunters track camel-riding sombrero-wearing outlaws, where herds of pandas graze and indentured hippies toil in the fields, where scattered civilized settlements huddle in the desert against reptiloids and mutants. Part Westworld, part King’s Gunslinger, part I-don’t-even-know … wow.

And then there’s “Batcop Outta Hell,” my favorite of the bunch (seizing the honor away from the Noah story and bumping it to second place). It’s like a young Tim Burton teamed up with Edward Lee to remake Robocop … with bats. I mean, the batpeople, I love the batpeople, their batsociety, everything.

Imaginative, horrific, quirky, gruesome, outrageous, crazy-seeming-random yet cohesive and well-designed believability of the unbelievable worldbuilding, and just basically huge amounts of weird fun.

-Christine Morgan

FRANKENSTORM by Ray Garton (2014 Pinnacle / 352 pp / mass market paperback & eBook)

Ah, Northern California that really IS Northern California, none of this Bay Area business (it’s in the middle of the state! that’s Central, if anything!). I went to college there, my ex-husband’s family is from there, my sister currently lives there, I am familiar with the area.

So is Ray Garton, and he destroys it. There I’d be, giddy with the nostalgia of mentions of places I knew well – the Samoa Cookhouse, with some of the best bread to be found anywhere; the iconic green Carson Mansion! – then along comes Hurricane Quentin to wipe them off the map.

And yes, technical quibbling about hurricanes vs. typhoons / Atlantic vs. Pacific, etc. But everybody knows what a hurricane is, sometimes it’s more important to be understandable, and let’s face it, Typhoon Whatever just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Battering the picturesque rugged redwood coastline is not enough, however. The storm, as powerful and dangerous as it is, serves to make things way, WAY worse for what else is going on at the supposedly-abandoned mental hospital. Which, in itself, is foreboding enough … not in a haunting sense, but in a secret experiments sense.

One of the doctors involved is having a crisis of conscience regarding the nature of the program and the rather unethical means of obtaining test subjects. A local conspiracy podcaster with a snoop on the inside is ready to blow the whole thing wide open. A gung-ho paramilitary type is also ready to blow the whole thing wide open, only, in a more literal manner.

Not to mention, the experiment itself has turned out to be a bit beyond the anticipated parameters in terms of effectiveness and contagion. In other words, they’re turning innocent people into highly infectious maniacs. A rescue-effort raid is maybe not the best idea, but, by then, it’s too late.

Also caught up in the action, violence, terror, wild weather, and mayhem are a single mom and an estranged dad, each just trying to do what they believe is best for their kids. Garton has a knack for handling huge casts of characters with aplomb (though the fast-rising body count probably helps) and does not play by the usual comfortable rules of who lives and who dies.

FRANKENSTORM is a riotous good read, clever and intense, a terrific combination of the weather-disaster and the fight-the-infected action thriller. It’s desperate survival on multiple levels, pretty much impossible to put down. I’m sure I will be reading it again very soon.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue 48 (Sep-Oct 2015  / TTA Press / 96 pp)

This issue's opening commentary features Stephen Volk's look at SciFi television and its roots in films such as WESTWORLD, and Lynda E. Rucker digs into the parallels between horror and beauty, which leads to an interesting point on why (she believes) horror novels became so generic in the 80s.

The fiction opens with a novelette by Jeffrey Thomas titled 'Distinguished Mole.' Bendo, a doctor working in a run down clinic, experiments with cells in his apartment at night. After taking the mole of a monk, his life transforms in this bizarro multi-genre tale that brings the weird big time.

In Stephen Bacon's 'Bandersnatch,' a brother returns from 10 years in "exile" to meet up with his sister in the wake of their mother's passing. He still has incestuous feelings for her, and devises a plan to get rid of her live-in boyfriend. Despite a violent scene with a dog (that turned this animal lover off), Bacon's short tale is a real creep-fest.

A woman dealing with the death of her young daughter (and the end of her marriage) gives Steven J. Dines fertile ground for some disturbing revelations in 'The Suffering.' Here's a melancholy ghost story complete with an ending that's as slick as its prose.

In Andrew Hook's 'Blood for Your Mother,' a woman returns to her childhood home to see her dying father. Her parents never hid the fact she was unwanted, and when our protagonist discovers why, readers are in for a truly horrific treat (just don't let the author's overuse of the word "whilst" distract you).

Although doctors gave him six months, Olive's boyfriend dies a week later in Cate Gardner's engaging 'When the Moon Man Knocks.' Olive is then visited by Hector Wynter, who claims the dead live on the moon and communicate with their loved ones by sending him messages via origami birds. Olive needs to decide if she's being scammed or suffering from extreme grief. But what she learns about the dead becomes an eye-opener even for the mysterious Mr. Wynter. This is top-notch dark fantasy, showing off Gardner's ability to use emotion as a springboard for some serious chills. A fantastic novelette to cap this issue's fiction.

Tony Lee hits us with another massive round of dvd/bluray reviews (his look at the season 5 box set of THE WALKING DEAD is perfect for anyone who doesn't want to sit through hours of the show), and Peter Tennant provides an excellent interview with author Simon Kurt Unsworth. Among Peter's always detailed book reviews are a look at three re-released Lovecraft inspired anthologies, a good look at the latest two novels by Sarah Pinborough, and a batch of novellas, one from this issue's contributor Cate Gardner.

An all around excellent issue, and I welcome the weirder material. Subscribe or check out a solo issue here: BLACK STATIC 48

THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return on October 26th...

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