Monday, February 11, 2019

Reviews for the Week of February 11, 2019

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STORY TIME WITH CRAZY UNCLE MATT by Matt Spencer (2018 Back Roads Carnival Books / 218 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Then there’s the books you’re not quite sure where they came from, no memory of having been sent a review copy or picking one up … it’s just in your e-reader thingie as if out of nowhere, but hey, what the heck, why not? Especially when it’s got a fun title. Got to be worth a try, right?

This was one of those books. But, however it happened, I’m glad that it did, because it proved to be well-written, entertaining, and more than a little bit delightfully wacky. The author makes clever use of a variety of writing styles and approaches, showcasing a range of skills.

A couple of settings feature prominently, with several stories taking place in each – a fictionalized Vermont town in a world otherwise pretty much our own, and a more fantastic realm of warring races (though with dialogue and language use fairly modern/slangy and familiar, giving those tales a “gaming group” kind of vibe; I don’t always enjoy that in otherworld settings, but here it worked).

“Kids Say The Wildest Things” was a particular favorite of mine, doing a good job capturing the way kids really think and talk, not to mention presenting a child’s-eye-view of religious rites in an interesting light. I also got a kick out of the ones that took sudden turns into cosmic horror or other surprise genres.

Interconnections weave throughout the collection: a weird little shop pops up a few times, characters recur in unusual ways across distances and eras. The end result brings everything satisfyingly together, and made for an overall engaging read.

-Christine Morgan

GIANTESS GLOBALIST SPERM WAR by Mandy De Sandra (2018 Clash Books / 102 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I picked up this book before the edition with the really super naughty censored-by-retailers Jim Agpalza cover art, but oh my goodness is it causing a stir! It’s fairly, um, gynecological to say the least … and in terms of judging a book by its cover or not, with this one, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.

There were these weird bombs, see, and they destroyed most of humanity and civilization, and caused the surviving women to grow to colossal size. Surviving adult males were eradicated, boys rounded up and penned in the ruins of famous Florida theme parks. There, largely left to fend for themselves Lord of the Flies style, they grow up as best they can in loose tribal groups, until the time comes when the giantesses make their selections for food and potential mates.

Potential MATES? But HOW? you might be wondering, and with good reason. Well, basically, in the same way as ever. Just that, instead of having sex, the men themselves go inside and make the dangerous reproductive journey to see which of them will merge with the egg. Competition and cooperation are required, it’s part death race and part obstacle course and part puzzle-room.

I do wish the text had received a more thorough editing treatment before being put into print; it’s a crazy-clever story with an attention-getting cover, bound to upset, offend, and annoy a lot of people (while amusing the heck out of others).

When it’s Mandy De Sandra at the helm, nothing is sacred and nothing’s off-limits; leave your polite sensibilities at the door, and brace yourself for sharp social commentary skewering sexist attitudes and taking vicious swipes at the MRA movement. One way or another, even with therapy, you won’t soon forget this book.

-Christine Morgan

COLD DEAD HANDS by Jeff Strand (2018 Amazon Digital / 73 pp / eBook) 

A group of misfits hellbent on making a political statement on gun control enter the local Save-A-Lot equipped with knives, daggers, and battle axes while you’re out on the town shopping for weekly groceries. What do you? Throw the gallon of milk, carton of eggs, and loaf of bread on the ground before you, and attempt to make an inside out breakfast massacre omelet? No, silly. Better guess again. Unless you want your insides cooked up and spit out in a death frying pan, you’d better make that mad dash for the walk-in freezer in the back of the store, am I right? Somewhere cold and dark and safe. Lock yourself in and hide away from the bladed assailants.

Strand’s comically dark writing here is top notch as usual. His dialogue and prose, sharp and quick to the gut. His characters are very well developed (there’s a lot of them in this one too), heartfelt, and perfectly executed (pun very much intended), as this book reads like one of those badass super ultra-violent action flicks, you know aside from our favorite horror films, the next best thing since sliced bread (oh, snap, another violent food pun intended).

Put all of this together and mix it with a clever statement about gun control and violence and today’s media, and we have yet again another quick and powerful release from an author who continues to shock and entertain and deliver time and time again.

-Jon R. Meyers

OCCASIONAL BEASTS by John Claude Smith (2018 Omnium Gatherum / 362 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The first story I ever read from John Claude Smith is in this collection, and it is one I will never forget … it came in as a submission to an anthology call I was doing, and I flat-out could not believe it. Why in the world was someone sending something THIS good to ME? To my rinkydink nothing project? My first impulse, opportunistic and mercenary though it was, was to accept it at once, get the contract signed, and lock it down before the author realized he’d goofed.

The rest of his stories here prove to be of similar artistry and caliber. Why he hasn’t been snapped up yet by the big-name presses is beyond me. We’re talking intricate delicate word use but also a sense of dark grittiness, language like harpstrings and sudden thunder, mood and emotion and raw nerve-ending terrors interwoven.

Several of them touch upon cosmic horror; some do more than touch, they get right down in there and wallow in the weird, plunging the reader into it with a full immersion that would’ve had Lovecraft leaving the bedside light on. The unexplained often stays that way, as it should, as it must; that’s what makes it really work.

As for body horror and gore, even the most seasoned fans of the extreme may find themselves flinching over many of the descriptive passages. Humor has its place here, too; so does some fairly steamy sex. Most of all, though, it’s the use of language that consistently blew me away.

Special mention has to be made of “Personal Jesus,” in which a couple of road-tripping horror fans have the chance to stop in and meet one of their idols. When one asks THE question, their obliging host is all too glad – to their sorrow! – to answer. Anyone who’s been to cons or hung out with writers will likely be grinning and nodding throughout.

So, yeah … get this book, read the stories (maybe take more breaks than I did, to let your mind try to recover), and keep an eye on this guy, because he’s going to leave a definite mark.

-Christine Morgan

DAMNED FICTION by David Kempf (2018 Amazon Digital / 306 pp / eBook)

This book brings you stories within stories, constructed by way of a frame narrative in which the Devil himself challenges two authors – one of erotica, the other of extreme horror – to a writing contest. The ultimate prize will go to whoever proves their genre is the most sinful and corrupting.

So, not only do you get to witness the bargain and the interplay between the competing characters, you get to read the contest entries themselves. Which is more wicked? Graphic dirty kinky sex, or graphic bloody gory violence?

Unfortunately, fun though the premise is, the book itself doesn’t fully live up to its promise and potential. The writing’s on the rough side, fairly heavy on ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’, and the whole thing’s in need of some editorial polish … for stories in an ultimate-prize competition, neither the erotic nor the extreme entries seem all that erotic or extreme.

Plus, as someone who’s always been a little nitpicky about the whole issue of wishes (fine print, loopholes, letter of the law, sneaky interpretations, general rules-lawyering; what do you want, I was a gamemaster for many many years and ya gotta watch out for this stuff!), not to mention paradoxes, I did hit a pretty big stumbling block with a major plot element at the very start of the book. But maybe that’s just me.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 67 (Jan-Feb 2019)

Opening commentary finds Lynda E. Rucker digging into how loss, in horror, can explore the human condition perhaps even more soberingly than the graphic stuff, and Ralph Robert Moore’s personal account of not fitting in at the workplace hit home with me on a grand scale.

This issue’s fiction features 2 short stories and 3 novelettes, the first being ‘Do Not Pet,’ also by Ralph Robert Moore. Karl is a suicidal older man, upset over the suicide of his son. When he takes an odd ghost-sighting tour, the people running it give him a most extreme option. Moore brings the chills in this original take on the afterlife and depression.

In ‘Shore Leave’ by Mike O’Driscoll, Nick Baptiste is third mate on a container ship currently ashore in Manila. He’s attempting to forget about a horrible incident that led to the loss of his son and separation from his wife and daughters, and manages to find supernatural help through a tricky Djinn. A somewhat familiar yet emotionally powerful and engaging entry.

Kristi DeMeester’s ‘The Silence of Prayer’ looks at devotion and worship through the eyes of a woman who finds a man in the woods. He becomes her God and she finally sees him for what he is when he brings her a young girl to be part of their congregation. Spooky and well written, this religious terror tale is my favorite this issue and another in a growing line of excellent DeMeester appearances in BS.

In Michele Ann King’s ‘In the Fog, There’s Nothing But Grey,’ a woman arrives at a bar that’s populated with suspicious patrons. Outside, a mysterious fog and noises dare anyone to investigate. Is this woman a protector or part of the unexplained situation King vaguely hints at? A brief but thought provoking piece.

Finally, ‘All We Inherit’ follows David and his young son Brad as they respond to reports of a break-in at David’s late father’s farmhouse. A buck visits Brad late at night, attempting to lure him outside. Despite a phone call from his aunt warning them to leave, David assures her they’re only staying until the break-in situation is resolved, but in the meantime David learns the dark truth about his father’s passing, a truth that could affect his son. I loved the atmosphere here as author Eric Schaller delivers a solid chiller.

Among the book reviews (now being handled by seven reviewers) are in depth looks at the latest from Stephen King, Rio Youers, Gwendolyn Kiste and Simon Bestwick, as well as a collection and anthology which both sounds like best bets.

In Gary Couzen’s Blu-ray/DVD reviews we find a 4-film box set of William Castle titles, new Blu-Rays of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and Argento’s OPERA, plus newer films such as CAM and LOST GULLY ROAD, both of which are now on my must see list.

Black Static’s first issue of 2019 continues to deliver some of the best short horror fiction around, and although I am a big fan of shorter works, the longer novelettes appearing lately have been outstanding.

Grab a subscription or single issue here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato



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