Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 6, 2016

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





BONE MEAL BROTH by Adam Cesare (2012 Rollin & Jeannie Press / 104 pp / eBook)

Reading a collection of eleven short stories from Adam Cesare is kind of like punching yourself in the head almost a dozen times … but in a good way.

He starts things off with a rustic tale of a couple kids on an errand to pick up the latest delivery from 'The Still,' only to find out just what really does go into the makings of the favorite local popskull. Then it’s time for an unsettling look at mental illness and death in 'Flies in the Brain,' and by then you have a pretty good idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, but it’s too late to back out.

The niftily noir case of a detective and a dame in 'Pink Tissue' and the skin-crawling twists of 'Bringing Down the Giants' tied for my personal favorites of the bunch, though the maddening mind-itch left lingering from 'So Bad' and the creepy siblings 'Rollin & Jeanie' both are strong seconds, making it a heck of a race overall.

Genre-wise, there’s a little something for everybody, provided everybody likes their somethings on the grim, weird, or twisted side. Like cryptids? Check out 'Boarder Jumper.' Prefer the perfect woman? Test drive 'The New Model.' Gritty revenge more your thing? 'Trap' should satisfy. Stories of loss and loneliness? 'The White Halloween' and 'The Girls in the Woods' give you a couple different but tragic and troubling takes.

So, yeah, not a dud to be found. Not that any duds would be expected from this author; everything I’ve read from him so far has been terrific, and now I just see he’s as good with the shorter stories as the novels.

-Christine Morgan



THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill (2016 William Morrow / 768 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

Hill's 4th novel is an apocalyptic epic dealing with a pandemic that causes people to spontaneously combust. Victims first notice black and gold scars on their skin (dubbed "Dragonscale") and know anytime after this they could explode. While the idea could've easily been used comedicly, Hill keeps things, for the most part, serious, and it wasn't hard for me to buy into the disease (there are some finely placed moments of humor, though).

Heading the cast of infected survivors is "The Fireman," who has learned to control the fire that wants to consume him. He has even discovered how to use his disease as a lethal weapon, and is able to keep a small community of infected safe from marauding gangs of extremination squads. He has a harder time, however, handling their internal conflicts, especially since he doesn't live with the group he protects.

Among the community is former nurse Harper Grayson, who is on the run from her crazed husband Jakob who's convinced she has infected him. John (aka "The Fireman") has placed a young boy in Harper's trust, and she becomes the nurse of her newfound home and family. But of course not everyone is happy to have her there, and Hill spends much time developing his varied cast as the uninfected close in on them.

Adding to the mounting tension is Harper's determination to bring her baby to term. The apocalypse is bad enough without being pregnant, and Hill uses this obstacle to wonderful effect, especially during the satisfying conclusion that sort-of reminded me of the film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 (the author even cites Bradbury's book as an inspiration in the dedication).

While I believe this could've been about 200 pages shorter, the novel still manages to move quickly and I wasn't bored for a second. Fans of end times stories will surely enjoy this, and those who think the subgenre is played out may be in for a surprise or two. Fun, creepy, and with some humorous pokes at pop culture, THE FIREMAN is another solid release from Hill. Read it in direct sulight for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato




COMPUTERFACE by Kevin Strange (2016 Carrion House / 84 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know by now it’s only a matter of time until the machines rise up against us. Yet we keep making our technology more and more powerful, more and more independent, more and more intrusive giving it more and more access to and control of our most intimate lives, information, and details.

Yet, when it DOES happen, I bet some people will still have the nerve to be surprised. Nerve, or arrogant hubris, tomayto/tomahto. That’ of course, is if the zombies don’t get us first … but people are arrogant and stupid enough to be looking forward to that one.

Anyway, I digress. COMPUTERFACE presents the robot uprising in a way that, well, you kind of have to admit we deserve it. To really drive the point home, the book opens with a prologue featuring the ultimate obnoxious neckbeard, Harry, an abusive jerk online and in real life. A total creep, but, thanks to his review website AngryDorks.com, a really rich total creep who’s already got his own high-tech hideout nerd-rage bunker. When he sees the end coming, he’s ready to wait it out in comfort.

Then we jump to the title character, who wakes up with no memory, no clothes, and a computer for a face. He thinks he’s a man; the reactions of the human survivors and robot attackers he encounters seem to suggest otherwise. But, to the leaders of the resistance, he presents a unique opportunity, possibly mankind’s last chance to turn this war around.

An unlikely hero, perhaps … distrusted by his own kind, fighting to cling to the vestiges of his humanity, wracked by revelations from his amnesiac past … and maybe the world’s only hope.


-Christine Morgan




GOVERNOR OF THE HOMELESS by G. Arthur Brown (2016 Psychedelic Horror Press / 70 pp /  trade paperback)

This book brings such a fast and free-floating sense of unreality, it’s like being swept along on a racing whitewater current or drawn by a riptide. Maybe you can see the shore, or a ways ahead down the river gorge, but any ideas of having control are pretty much an illusion. You’re at the mercy of irresistible forces here. The best you can do is hang on, try to keep your head above water, and hope for the best.

It’s a story of insanity. Or, several stories of insanities. Twisting in on each other, folding out from each other, an Escher print made from words. The characters are insane in ways that I, working in a psych facility, simultaneously found perfectly believable and kind of scary. I’ve HAD conversations mot dissimilar to those presented here.

What’s it about? Welllll … a trial, of sorts … a guy named Wilson is brought before the court for murdering the man known as the Governor of the Homeless. Except, the court is in Bum Town, the jurists are bag ladies, the Governor isn’t actually dead, and that’s before you even get to the stuff about creepy maybe-inhuman gangs, Abortionstein, and the Archaeopteryx. Hey, YOU read it, and try to explain it!

A crazygood story, well-written and filled with fantastic turns of phrase – the description of a plucked angel’s “embarrassed chicken wings” made me have to do that thing where you stop reading and just go wow with the admiration headshake – and laden with illustrations by Sarah Kushwara to add to the disorientation (my fave was on page 48). Crazygood, goodcrazy, all-around weirdness, definite psychedelic horror to live up to the publisher’s name.


-Christine Morgan




WASTELAND GODS by Jonathan Woodrow (2016 Horrific Tales Publishing / 362 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When a book opens with a kid getting the life-essence blasted out of him before being torn to pieces and scattered across a strange blighted landscape … by the GOOD guys, no less … you know you’re in for a wild ride. The compulsion to read on, the need to know what’s going on here, is downright irresistible.

What is going on here centers on a man named Billy, who’d lost his son a few years earlier. Not to illness or a senseless accident, but to a sadistic killer who filmed the whole thing. Needless to say, this messed Billy up more than a little. His marriage is in trouble, he’s drinking too much, and that’s when he gets approached by the mysterious Dr. Verity, with an even more mysterious offer. If he’ll work for her, in a unique capacity, she’ll help him find the man who murdered his son.

Billy, not unreasonably for a devastated parent, agrees. Even when he learns his boss is no ordinary person, the Wasteland to which she takes him is no ordinary place, and there are forces at work far beyond his understanding. The particulars of his job, which involve tracking down those destined to become evil and stopping them – permanently – while they’re still young and helpless.

Somewhere around there is when I started thinking I knew where the story was headed. And, whoa, was I wrong! It went several directions I never could have expected, a mobius corkscrew through possible timelines and alternate realities. By the halfway point, I’d given up trying to guess (though I was right about that one character!) and just read on with that delightful sense of surprises and discoveries we don’t often see in these generally predictable nowadays.

Be prepared, this is a hefty tome, a long read and a complicated one, with some difficult/troubling moments and subject matter. Not light easy vacation or bedtime reading; it requires paying attention and sticking with. But expertly done, and rewarding. Some of the Big Questions are of course left unanswered, because that’s kind of the whole point, and adds to the potent, lingering effect.


-Christine Morgan




MAGAZINES



BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 52 / May-June 2016)

After some opening commentary on horror TV and stage, this issue's fiction kicks off with a 23-page novella by Carole Johnstone titled 'Wetwork.' It's divided into 6 chapters, and my apologies to the author (who is excellent and has appeared in the pages of BS many times), but after a few attempts I just couldn't get passed the second chapter. It has a fine set up, but two of the main characters speak in a heavy (and I mean HEAVY) accent (written in intense phonetics) that I found incredibly distracting. Sorry, but I just don't have the time to decipher the main dialogue in such a lengthy story (and readers shouldn't have to, either). Perhaps one of our readers from across the pond can enlighten us in the comments below?

'Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile' is Damien Angelica Walters' second appearance in BS. Young Courtney and her mom move into her new stepfather's house. Her new stepsister is a weird one who doesn't want to give the new family a chance. And when Courtney starts getting along with her stepfather, Walters' tale becomes a gripping, unusual take on ghosts. Excellent.

A brother and sister are visited by an aunt they had never met in Robert Levy's 'The Oestridae.' The siblings' mother has been missing for a month, and it seems their aunt may have something sinister planned. Levy's suggestive prose amps up the chill factor in this impressive offering where no one is who they seem to be.

Mary Ann King's 'My Sister, The Fairy Princess' is a short but (un)sweet tale of Annamaria and her younger sister Daisy, who is a "fairy princess" of another kind in the wake of their mother's passing. Unsettling and deep.

And finally, 'Trying to Get Back to Nonchalant' by Ralph Robert Moore finds Hal spending his final days with his new girlfriend and her insightful young daughter. It's a heartbreaking study of people dealing with cancer, and not necessarily something I'd expect to come across in a horror magazine...yet it works.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' kicks off with a fantastic and informative interview with Paul Meloy (and a great review of his first novel, 'The Night Clock'). Then Peter gives the buzz on three books dealing with insects (one edited by The Horror Fiction Review's own Christine Morgan), and six (count 'em!) new horror film books, which made this horror film fan quite happy. I'm now looking very forward to Lee Karr's 'The Making of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead.'

Gary Couzen's 'Blood Spectrum' once again delivers a barrage of dvd and bluray reviews, including the Arrow bluray of cult favorite 'Audition' and what is possibly the first semi-positive review of the American remake of 'Martyrs.' 

As always, BS is packed with great stuff, and again, forgive me if you found my "review" of 'Wetwork' to be lazy. Just being honest here, folks.


Subscribe or check out a solo issue here: BLACK STATIC (no. 52)

-Nick Cato


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1 comment:

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