Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reviews for the Week of May 22, 2017

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

RELICS by Tim Lebbon (2017 Titan Books / 382 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Angela is a criminology student from Boston now living in London with her boyfriend Vince. Their life is picture perfect until Vince doesn't come home one night.

Not being able to believe Vince would walk out on her, Angela sets out to find him, and quickly learns the man of her dreams is involved with the London underworld. It turns out Vince works for notorious gangster Fat Frederick Meloy, yet he is no common hitman: Vince is a relic hunter, finding parts of mythical creatures and bringing them back to his obsessed boss. Vince has also caught the eye of a rival gangster and her two brutal assassins, which leads to the current mess he's in.

Angela's world gets weirder than discovering her boyfriend's true profession when she learns there's a living, breathing network of legendary creatures lurking right in the shadows. Creatures who owe Vince a favor...

RELICS is the first in a planned trilogy. In this opening installment, Lebbon introduces us to a solid cast, my favorite being Fat Frederick, who, although a ruthless gangster, is impossible not to like despite his reputation. The normal and the fantastic are brought together so smoothly you'll have no problem buying the idea of satyrs and fairies interacting with humans in the literal (and figurative) London underground.

With plenty of action and hints of great things to come, you'll be counting the days until the next book.

-Nick Cato

GRANDMOTHER by Gregory Thompson (2017 Fear Front Publishing / 213 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A nice quiet vacation, a long and restful chance to kick back at childhood home / grandma’s house, two weeks to do nothing but enjoy sweet tea and good cooking and nostalgia while working on your new book? Now, that is a deal a lot of writers I know, myself included, would jump at the opportunity!

Okay, so practically the first words out of grandma’s mouth are to ask how you’re doing with Jesus … and maybe being there dredges up some painful memories of how your parents died … and maybe you then find out your grandma’s been having fainting spells … only they aren’t just fainting spells but involve visions and biblical visitations …

Well, for Samuel, it does kind of interfere with those plans for finishing his book. Even before he gets roped into investigating the visions, trying to change the horrible things that are about to happen. Once that starts, once Samuel keeps turning up at the scenes of these accidents and crimes, I did find my suspension of disbelief slipping a bit.

The police aren’t more interested in all those apparent coincidences? In his presence at these violent injuries and deaths? And, not to be spoilery, but the arm scene, the logistics of and reactions to, really bugged me in the plausibility/realism department.

All in all, I would’ve liked to see a little more fallout and follow-through, and the ending might’ve left something to be desired, but it held my interest well enough.

-Christine Morgan

THE FETISHISTS by A.S. Coomer (2017 Grindhouse Press / 145 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Jefferson Wellman is a successful lawyer with a taste for kinky sex. After his friend invites him to attend an unusual auction for fetishists, he jumps on the chance and finds himself at an isolated house. His friend never shows up, but Jefferson quickly wins a "pony girl," and is given a room to do whatever he wants with her.

Of course things take a dark turn, and Jefferson finds himself on an incredibly bleak downward spiral.

The first few chapters are short and addictive, then the second half of THE FETISHISTS is told in one long section, as Jefferson becomes a mad woman's slave. A few scenes caused me to flinch, which isn't an easy thing to do.

Coomer's novel isn't for everyone. There's plenty of extreme violence and really sleazy sex, yet for those willing to sift through the grue there's plenty of subtext dealing with class, the nature of desire, and society in general. This is an intense blend of physical and psychological horror the squeamish need not apply to.

-Nick Cato

SNAFU: FUTURE WARFARE edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding (2016 Cohesion Press / 285 pp / eBook)

There is one upside to all these awesome-cool amazing anthologies I don't get into ... just means that then I can review them later with a clear conscience! And this is one I know I couldn't have gotten into if I tried ... sci-fi military horror is a ways beyond my skill set.

Fun to play or watch, though; I can appreciate a big plasma cannon as much as the next gal (maybe should rephrase that). And, when done by authors who know how to do it right, as is the case here, also very fun to read!

Steve Lewis starts us off very strong with 'Suits,' one of my top picks of the whole book, in which hardy pioneer colonists on an alien world defend their homesteads with some of the best-named mechs I've ever seen. My only quibble, however slight, was that it would've been nice to see at least one suit piloted by one of the ladies.

But, the gender-role lines get nicely erased in several of my other fave tales ... 'Under Calliope's Skin' by Alan Baxter pits rugged space marines against super-stealthy lethal monsters in an action-packed and fairly creepy excursion, Case C. Capehart's 'The ASH at Ft. Preston' gives us the ultimate badass warrior woman for full-scale combat carnage, and Jake Werkheiser's 'Perfect War' looks at what remote strike drones mean for more than one type of equality.

A special nod has to go to 'Kill Streak' by Samson Stormcrow Hayes, for presenting in a fun but also unsettling way a mindset/worldview with which far too many of us are far too familiar. And to Jack Hillman's 'Scout Mission' for creating a landscape so insidiously hostile and deadly I never want to go outside again even on Earth. Mike Resnick provides a more light-hearted reprieve in the form of 'Romeo and Julie,' a cleverly fun example of letting our vehicles and computers get too smart for our own good

With a grand total of thirteen stories, including heavy hitters such as Weston Ochse and Tim Marquitz, this book makes for a rollicking and rock-solid fine addition to the SNAFU library.

-Christine Morgan

A TIDING OF MAGPIES by Pete Sutton (2016 Kensington Gore / 262 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sometimes there are writers flying under the radar, and this guy's one of them. His fiction is smooth, stylish, subtle, just the right kind of spooky, and very well done. All that is on excellent display in this collection, woven together by a seamless and sometimes understated central theme.

Of the thirty-two stories contained herein, 'Sailing Beneath the City' is my top favorite, for its simply gorgeous imagery and the emotion it evokes; one of my greatest personal fears involves loss of memory, while at the same time it often feels like the inability to forget can be a curse. This one gave me all kinds of shivers.

That said, it was a hard decision ... lots of these tales are really, really good, highly effective at stirring disquiet. Several are short, like, a page or two, but in their very sparseness they pack a wallop; more words would have been doing them a disservice.

Others sprawl luxuriously; 'Le Sacre Du Printemps' is opulence and tragedy, an agony with which most creatives can identify; haven't we all yearned for, searched for, and been infuriated with our Muse from time to time?

They also range from eerily dreamlike dark fantasy to chilling sci-fi, from global threats to intimate single-person terrors ('Bruised' being a prime example of the latter, and another favorite for all it made me ache everywhere to read).

I also have to give special mention to 'Swan, Wild,' which does something I always enjoy -- takes a look at the fairy tale beyond the happily-ever-after; in this case, the one prince who was left with a swan's wing in place of his arm after his sister broke the spell.

On a similar note, 'Once Were Heroes' examines how superpowers might be dealt with in the real world; I am a big supers fan and think there's not nearly enough superhero fiction, so as soon as I realized what I was reading, I may or may not have made a happy little "eee!" noise (note: I totally did).

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Reviews for the Week of May 8, 2017

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


BURIED IN BLUE CLAY by L.L. Soares (to be released 5/9/17 by Post Mortem Press / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Reddy Soames is working on a book about the urban legends of his childhood hometown, Blue Clay, Massachusetts. Now on the west coast, Reddy decides it's time to go back home and meet a few people he has been speaking with on the internet.

It doesn't take long for Reddy to meet up with some real nutjobs, and when his friend Luke's dogs are killed by a bizarre-looking creature, Reddy's simple research assignment leads him into an underground world that would baffle even Mulder and Scully.

Reddy is befriended by a man named HEK, who lets him stay at his mansion that seems to constantly be filled with college students partying. It becomes obvious HEK is some kind of cult leader, and he's now prepping Reddy to take over his position.

Like Soares' previous horror novels (the Stoker winning LIFE RAGE and the grossly underrated ROCK 'N' ROLL), BURIED IN BLUE CLAY is a weird and original tale that kept me guessing until the last chapter. I had no idea where this was going even into the third act, and while Soares throws everything at you including the kitchen sink, he ties everything up during the satisfying finale.

Part monster mash, part strange occult sex drama, and with a feel all it's own, Soares' latest novel is a refreshing treat in a genre flooded with rehashes.

-Nick Cato

APOLOGIES TO THE CAT'S MEAT MAN by Alan M. Clark (2017 IFD Publishing / 158 pp / trade paperback)

Back in August, appropriately enough, I read and reviewed another in the author’s victims-of-Jack-the-Ripper series, A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST. It blew me away, historical fiction done right, so you’d better believe I was ready for more!

Oh, and if you’re one of those brats saying yeah but they all must be the same because of how they ended, like someone I knew once refused to watch La Bamba because it’d have the same ending as The Buddy Holly Story, well, *raspberries* to you; that’s totally not the point and you know it!

These were real people. With their very own real lives, pasts, hopes, fears, dreams, and feelings. Different people. Individuals with their own stories, who deserve to be remembered as something other than statistics.

Sure, on the surface, there might be similarities between Annie Chapman in this book and Polly Nichols in Brutal Chill – both were underprivileged women of their time, struggling to get by in a difficult world. They had their flaws and weaknesses, they made their mistakes.

In Annie’s case, she was plagued by what we might call ‘being a sensitive soul.’ It’s hard enough even these days to be squeamish and easily upset, in a world with modern hygiene and conveniences. She had troubled relationships with her family and friends, and with alcohol as so many did and still do.

The real horrors of this book have nothing to do with the Ripper and his knife. They have to do with futility and hopelessness, the devastating legacy of realizing you’re becoming just like a loved/hated parent, the desperation, the loss of control.

For me, the most harrowing scenes by far, still haunting me even now as I write this, have to do with the move-along policies directed at the city’s legions of homeless. Not allowed to rest more than a few minutes in any given spot, hundreds take to the streets in an unending, plodding, circular trudge through the long hours of the night. It’s a cruel purgatory, and I couldn’t help thinking that too many places in this day and age still haven’t come very far, in terms of how society treats its least fortunate.

Once again, Clark’s skill shows through in terms of bringing the era and setting and characters to vivid life. Not a feel-good read, not a fun read, but another powerful one, and a stirring memorial for a woman who was more than a mark on a killer’s score sheet.

-Christine Morgan

WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH by Ray Garton (2016 RGB Publishing / 303 pp / eBook)

I found this collection to be a difficult read, not in a literary sense but a psychological one. Difficult, but necessary. In the way a lot of the works of Wrath James White are, for instance. Forcing us to face very real problems in society, problems like intolerance and blind righteousness and unwillingness to change or compromise.

It is intense. It is personal (perhaps very personal; many of the stories evoke elements seeming intimately autobiographical, the kinds of things that must have been both hard and cathartic to write). It digs in deep to the emotional core. It confronts some painful, turbulent, fraught issues. Profound issues of identity, belief, belonging, worth.

What this book isn’t, though I can see how it might get the reputation, is a big long hate-bash on religion. The greater sense I got from it was of hurting, of sheer bafflement and bewilderment, of a wounded sort of loss and betrayal.

Then again, I’m not much of a religious person, so, maybe I don’t have as much at stake. I do know that I’ve lost friends due in part to religious differences, just as I’ve had relationships damaged over politics, race- and sex-based differences, and those other hot-button issues.

As for the stories themselves, well, they venture many dark places. Into the “he seemed like such a good boy” upbringing of a killer, into supernatural horror, into hubris and hypocrisy, and the making of monsters of many varieties. As is often the case, it’s the real-life could-happens that prove far more horrific and spine-chilling than the more paranormal aspects of some tales.

Side note: in the introduction – itself a must-read chapter, to appreciate the full impact – Garton mentions getting angry letters when he writes about the deaths of pets … those, okay, those he does deserve; I’m very upset!

-Christine Morgan

DEMONS BY DAYLIGHT by Ramsey Campbell (2017 Venture Press / 190 pp / eBook)

I was very glad to see an affordable digital rerelease of this 1973 hardcover brought to the Kindle earlier this year, and I just had the exquisite opportunity to finally check it out for myself after forking over a whopping $2.99. Let me tell you this: it was two dollars and some odd change well spent on some of the author’s earlier, more Lovecraftian voice, or, as stated in the introduction, “a collection of stories written with Lovecraft in mind.” The author’s motive worked out quite well because what we have here is a set of very original stories in the vein of one of the masters of macabre himself, but executed with Campbell's own dark, disturbing, and weird take on them. The stories collected here are by no means part of the constant regurgitation found in the genre, but arevery much a fantastically phantasmagorical, unique and powerful, with a strong sense of the author’s earlier roots shining through. One can get a strong sense of the beginning stages of his vividly dark, slow-burning prose being constructed here, as well as a distinct correlation between Horror and Weird Fiction.

Some of my favorites in this collection were 'The End of a Summer’s Day,' a tragic love story in a deep, dark cave tour led by torchlight, in which, a lover loses a loved one amidst the darkness by the end of the Summer Day. 'Sentinels' was my absolute favorite in the collection: A group of friends talk Science Fiction and Fantasy books and conventions over drinks at the pub, before venturing out to checkout a mysterious hillside location, in which, large concrete structures stand and shadows lurk eerily behind many structures are there at Sentinel Hill? And 'The Franklyn Paragraphs,' a true homage to H.P. Lovecraft that packs quite a punch!

Recommended for fans of Dark, Horror, and Weird Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

MEATCOW MAKER by Matthew Warner (2017 White Noise Press / 30 pp / limited edition chapbook)

Nove is a meatcow, a genetically engineered creature who serves its skrall master (skralls are pretty much human) in a post nuked earth. While traveling the desert wasteland with his master Jebediah, they come upon a seaside community where Nove is quickly abandoned.

Meatcows were designed to feed skralls (their flesh heals overnight, providing fresh meat every day), and in return meatcows live off their master's feces. Yet now skralls have figured out how to grow vegetables, and meatcows are becoming obsolete.

Warner is a master of the revenge story (see his intriguing 2005 collection DEATH SENTENCES), and here he wraps one in a bleak, heartbreaking post apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. As always White Noise Press presents the tale in a gorgeous chapbook design (with cover art by the author's wife Deena) so collectors best hurry before this beauty sells out. Fantastic all around.

Grab one here: Meatcow Maker

-Nick Cato

THE ORPHANARIUM by S.T Cartledge (2017 Eraserhead Press / 226 pp / trade paperback)

Given the title here, my first thought was FUTURAMA, so I got it set in my head I’d be reading about some bizarroland orphanage of little misfits and mutants getting up to all sorts of adorable, quirky hijinks … that it’d be all fluff and fun and frivolity.

Wrong-O! And was I ever! The ORPHANARIUM is a surreal futuristic dystopian pandimensional temporally fluctuating epic. Vastly complex, intricate, intertwined. I like to believe I’m no slouch in the smarts department, and even I was left jawdropped and gobsmacked here. This is next-level stuff, upper division, way high concept like whoa.

I’m not sure how to even begin attempting a summary. There’s a pair of orphans, Daff and Dil (I first thought they were a bro-sis duo but turns out they’re brothers) with their cyborg guardian and their computer generated dog, on the run from these hulking warrior lizard enforcer things, while various demi-godlike Elementals help and/or hinder them as they travel through space/time/dimensions against a backdrop of love, loss, and war.

I mean, yeah, philosophical transcendence through breathtaking prose. Cosmic mythologies, not cosmic in the Lovecraftian sense but cosmic in a way far stranger, more distressingly beautiful, and just plain mythic … both put together, cosmic mythologies and mythic cosmologies … stunning imagery and language use that plain blows the doors off the ordinary or conventional.

Seriously, this one’s going to join works such as SKULLCRACK CITY and QUICKSAND HOUSE in the growing category of books with which to smack upside the head those people who think bizarro is (or should only be) nothing but crudity and outrage.

-Christine Morgan

DEADLY LAZER EXPLODATHON by Vince Kramer (2017 Thicke and Vaney Press / 198 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If there’s an award for most use of the word lazer in a single book, we have this year’s winner and probably a new world record. Not even Lazery McLazerface’s Compendium Lazerium of Lazers would have a shot.

This book is also pure Vince Kramer, who is one of the rarest living exceptions to the “show, don’t tell” rule. Reading anything by him is just like hearing him relate an anecdote or adventure ... which is, to wit: with more sheer gonzo exuberance and enthusiasm than anyone else I’ve ever met. Imagine a half-grown golden retriever turned loose in a tennis ball factory, and you’ll have an idea.

So yeah, DEADLY LAZER EXPLODATHON is Vince at his Vince-est. It’s a crazycake romp of fun-poking love at classic sci-fi, turning tropes inside-out, and ruining your childhood with cheerful offensiveness at no extra cost!

We open with terrorists from the future destroying the set and lazer-slaughtering the iconic cast of 60’s Star Trek, thereby changing history. Another time-traveler (who calls himself “Doctor Y”) collects a team selected from various eras – from cavemen to cyborgs! – to crew a spaceship against this temporal menace.

If you think that sounds kind of GALAXY QUEST, with the lovable misfits overcoming their differences, discovering their own strengths, and learning to work together to save the day … wellll … maybe a little, but with sloppy sex, psychedelic space-mushrooms, and of course ALL THE LAZERS.

Now, do be warned, there’s rude content in here. There’s violence and rapey stuff and racist stereotypes and lots of uses of lots of words that many people consider not fit for polite conversation. It may upset. It may offend.

It may also make you laugh your head off and then feel vaguely dirty and ashamed of yourself for doing so; the hilarious guilty going-to-hell pride/shame of winning a game of Cards Against Humanity is the feeling I’m talking about here.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC issue no. 57 / Mar-Apr 2017

Lynda E. Rucker opens this issue's commentary, this time on staying true to your craft, and Ralph Robert Moore's piece on understanding art will be of interest to David Lynch fans.

Opening novelette (also by Ralph Robert Moore) 'Will You Accept These Flowers From Me?' deals with a struggling but dedicated magician named Michael, who, along with his monkey assistant Bella, work with a hat that's actually magic. But its inconsistency causes trouble for Michael and ultimately, reveals he and his assistant's destinies. A spectacular story not to be missed.

'Sunflower Junction' by Simon Avery: a man becomes fascinated with a musician named Hugo Lawrence. With only one CD to his credit, and no longer playing gigs, our protagonist goes looking for Hugo, talking to his old band mates in the hopes of understanding one of his stand out songs. After finding a recorder possibly containing Hugo's final recordings, our narrator manages to find...himself. A moving tale of self discovery.

In the third novelette this issue, 'Shadows on Parade' by Mike O'Driscoll, James is trying to understand his new girlfriend Gillian's past: she keeps pictures and videos of her former boyfriends, claiming it helps her remember who she is. Jealousy begins to overtake James, and he eventually destroys her photo journals. O'Driscoll brings the weird and the chills in this excellent freak-out, complete with a truly haunting finale.

This issue's lone short story, 'The Chambermaid' by Aliya Whiteley, features Bonnie, a hotel worker, whose future is revealed by an allegedly clairvoyant resident named Xania. But Bonnie is determined to have a different outcome for her life in this well written if routine entry.

Gary Couzen's latest DVD/blu ray column includes a nice crop of old and new films (the Arrow release of 'Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia' sounds particularly good) and among Peter Tennant's always reliable book reviews we get in-depth looks at recent releases from "in house" authors Lynda Rucker, Gary Couzens and Ralph Robert Moore, plus a nice interview with Andrew Hook along with reviews of 4 of his books.

An all around great issue highlighted by Ben Baldwin's dazzling cover art, BLACK STATIC continues to deliver some of the freshest fiction in the genre.

Grab a copy (or better yet, a subscription) right here: Black Static No. 57

-Nick Cato