Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reviews for the Week of November 17, 2014

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

SAPIENT FARM by Querus Abuttu (2014 Scary Dairy Press / 392 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A secret project to engineer super-mutant pig people? Moral conflicts blurring the lines between what constitutes cannibalism, bestiality, and both? Working through the Mad Scientist checklist of no-nos, creating something more powerful/intelligent than us, thinking things won’t get out of control, even experimenting on oneself?

Even had I not been privileged to experience several of the author’s stellar performances at various convention Gross-Outs, Showdowns and such, I would have been all over this book. With what I already knew of her talents, I expected nothing less than brilliance from the phenomenal Q … and she did not disappoint.

The story begins with a difficult birthing, a sow’s litter of unusual offspring. Some are stillborn, others don’t live more than a few minutes, and it’s looking bad for the project. But, finally, the miracle twins are born. Unfortunately – for the scientists and their funding backers – disaster soon wipes out most of the notes and data, and the results might be impossible to replicate.

The siblings prove to be uncannily advanced for their age, maturing rapidly, demonstrating incredible intelligence and understanding. Soon, Gevu, the male, shows signs of outpacing his sister Binah in size and aggression. He also has quite the non-vegetarian appetite. Binah, however, develops early in other ways … ways that take an awkward turn with her mating options somewhat limited.

There are, of course, various factions at work behind the scenes. Some have medical motives, some have even more sinister ones, secrets are being kept on all sides, and then there’s those who are just out to get a profit.

What follows is a headlong rush of thrills and chills, conspiracies, betrayals, plots and counter-plots … plus truckloads of sex and violence, and looming doomsday triple-threats.

If I have any quibbles with this book, it’s that the romance storyline seems a little neglected; I was waiting for some awkward reactions, conversations or confrontations following certain key scenes, and felt kind of let down when they didn’t exactly pan out.

Aside from that, though? The characters are wildly fun, believable, sympathetic and/or despicable. The writing is wildly skilled and inventive, with humor and horror and some hard-hitting uncomfortable questions about what it means to be human.

-Christine Morgan

REVIVAL by Stephen King (2014 Scribner / 405 pp / hardcover, eBook, and audio book)

When I first read the synopsis of King's latest novel, I had expected something along the lines of Bentley Little's THE REVELATION or Richard Laymon's RESURRECTION DREAMS. And while REVIVAL does deal with religion and an underground scientist, it's nothing like either novel. 

In 1962, six year-old Jamie Morton meets his town's new preacher, a young-looking man who everyone quickly likes. The Rev. Charles Jacobs also has the unique ability to heal people, but not like your average everyday charismatic con man: he uses his love for science and electricity and even manages to help Jamie's older brother get his lost voice back. But when the Rev. Charles Jacobs' wife and son are suddenly killed in a car accident, he preaches a final sermon that has him banished from the local Methodist church, leaving everyone wondering if he'll ever get over the loss of his family.

Some years later, Jamie makes his living playing rhytym guitar in various bands, and he eventually meets up with Charles again, only this time the former minister is working his electric-magic at a carnival side show. And they meet yet again years later when he goes back into the ministry as a Peter Popoff-type faith healer, using his bag of electrical tricks. After Jacobs goes missing for a while, Jamie receives an urgent letter from him, claiming he needs his help and that he might be able to heal a former girlfriend who is suffering from cancer.

REVIVAL follows the lives of these two men from the1960s up to the present. We watch Jamie go from innocent youth to drug addicted musician to a senior with a heart of gold. Jacobs starts as a good-natured man who becomes a Frankenstein-meets-Carnie-meets-fallen preacher type who will do whatever is necessary to discover the mystery of what waits for us on the other side, and in the glimpses given it's not too pretty. During the suspense-filled finale, King ratchets his Lovecraft up to 11, yet the tale doesn't fall into what would be considered "mythos" lit even with the Old Ones being mentioned.

With side characters as interesting as the main cast and plenty of emotional and spiritual tension, REVIVAL might not be for all tastes (it's more a look at the baby boomer generation than a horror novel), but when the dark side is finally unleashed, King brings the goods and even delivers one of his darkest conclusions. One of his better recent titles and a thoroughly satisfying read.

-Nick Cato

DEADTOWN ABBEY BY Sean Hoade (2013 CreateSpace / 296 pp / trade paperback)

The instant I learned of this book, all other thoughts went out of my mind and I had to have it, had to read it, had to see if it was as delightful a romp as I dared to hope. And was it ever! Before the story even started, simply reading the cast list at the beginning, I was cackling with maniacal fangirl glee.

The cackling continued and intensified throughout the read. It’s a witty parallel parody of Downton Abbey, of course – and so spot-on that I heard the character voices clear as if I were yet again re-watching the series.

But it’s more than that. Much, much more. This is none of your cheatsy take-a-classic-and-just-add-zombies, oh no. This is a clever alt-history in which the lower classes still worship certain older deities, while the upper class elite follow the proper church … in which the sinking of the Titanic was due to nothing so simple as an iceberg … and the Great War is against a far worse foe than Germany.

This is also the story of the Shambley family, who face many trials and tribulations. Not only has the lord’s cousin and heir been lost at sea, putting some distant relation in line for the title (a stranger, and a pasty writer of occult thrillers, no less!), but the eldest Shambley daughter is at risk of vampiric seduction, the younger is developing some radical ideas about religion, and the middlemost’s unfortunate features give her just the most dreadful time in the romance department.

The household could never function without its capable, loyal staff, either. But what is a dedicated butler to do when important dinners are disrupted by werewolves running amok? How are they to cope with a young footman who comes home from battle badly damaged in body and mind? And never mind His Lordship’s crippled valet; the bigger problem is how to properly coordinate evening dress when one must wear special headgear to ward off psychic attack?

So, yes, it’s Downton with zombies (the manor was once an abbey, after all; graves surround the place!) but it’s also Downton with Lovecraftian mythos and traditional supernatural monsters and deals with the devil.

Best of all, it’s written in a style that kept me cackling all the way through. Wink-wink references, cameos and guest appearances by familiar names and characters, an author-narration voice that’s great fun, summary chapters and footnotes, and … oh, GET THIS BOOK, IT’S AWESOME!!!

-Christine Morgan

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