Monday, June 26, 2017

Reviews for the Week of June 26, 2017

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

WHITE TRASH GOTHIC by Edward Lee (2017 Deadite Press / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The publisher who sent me the advance copy of this one told me there was almost no violence in it at all. I soon realized it wasn't that he was wrong, per se, but that we maybe needed to have a little sit-down chat about what constitutes violence to, y'know, normal people, not deviants like us.

Because, within the first few chapters, there's a variety of reprehensible acts, including but not limited to a 'dead-dickin' and a 'long-neckin', which, despite their folksy monikers, are pretty nasty. And it continues in like spirit from there.

Then again, this IS an Edward Lee book, so, a certain atrocity level is to be expected. Plus, and I say this with affection, even the casual Edward Lee readers have to be kinda twisted. The hardcore ones are seriously bent (again, with affection, and cameraderie because I am one).

Those hardcore sickos will be especially delighted with WHITE TRASH GOTHIC. It's not a good entry-level Lee book, because this is the beginning of a culmination. There've been interwoven threads and connections throughout many of his other works; here is where those threads all start drawing together.

It's been described as Lee's DARK TOWER, and I cannot disagree. Personally, I think it's even better than that, but that's because I'm biased and chortle like a maniac whenever I spot a reference or recognized a name.

In this one, we once again join the mysterious Writer, a pretentious and totally-not-Mary-Sue underappreciated master of the craft. The Writer has developed amnesia, and in attempting to regain knowledge of his former life, decides to follow the clues to his last recorded location.

Which is scenic Luntville, where he apparently left a bar tab and the first page of a new novel, titled White Trash Gothic. Yes, it gets pretty meta pretty fast, meta "a.f.", as the kids say, if not quite as meta a.f. as did Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road (fourth wall? what fourth wall? that collaboration was the Deadpool of extreme horror).

WHITE TRASH GOTHIC plays sequel to several predecessors, perhaps most directly to The Minotauress, but Lee's Lovecraftian stuff isn't left out, and my beloved Mephistopolis gets a nod, and there are references to Creekers and headers and all that good stuff, along with all the weird sex and depraved hillbilly hijinks we've come to know and love.

That said, yeah, it isn't the best introductory Edward Lee read; a new reader might risk getting lost. For the seasoned freaks, though, it's like ... if you've seen that pic on the internet of the possum who got locked in a bakery overnight, it's like that. You may feel gross and a little ashamed of yourself after, but overall, regret nothing.

-Christine Morgan

EXERCISE BIKE by Carlton Mellick III (2017 Eraserhead Press / 126 pp / trade paperback)

Okay, let me give you a little bit of background first before we get started here. I have been a huge fan of Bizarro Fiction since around the time I first read The Steel Breakfast Era, which I believe came out sometime around 2003. This was a split book featuring two brilliant novellas that were so different from anything and everything else available on the market at the time; I was instantly hooked. One was written by Simon Logan, and then the other and main topic of conversation here, Carlton Mellick III, who I have been an avid reader of ever since the release mentioned prior. And I have to say, this might actually be my all-time favorite CM3 title to date.

One of the elements that works so well in this book is the author's ability to create such an in-depth, weird, and original otherworld, but, manages to write it in a way that is very simple, realistic, and vividly clear to the real world via context clues and literal adjectives that anybody reading can and will understand, inside of a very well-written, classic textbook, adventure style storyline. In this case, we are talking about a Dystopian setting, in which, all junk food has been banished, health Laws exist, and calories are government mandated to two-thousand calories per day, literally clocked via food cards when purchasing food anywhere and everywhere, just like credit cards. If you don’t have the money (or, in this case the calories) left on your card, you’re not eating. This leads us to our main character, Tori. Tori is a loveable character who does some weird stuff and the author makes us love her even more. She has a high metabolism, so she is always hungry. Far much hungrier than two-thousand calories per day can even come close to filling. So, Tori eats wasps that live behind her walls, she bums food off strangers, she watches her calories very closely, and tries to get the most bang for her buck. Which leads us to her need for a new exercise bike, one that you put your calorie card in and earn more calories, so she can get more food, but, there’s a catch. They are way too expensive. Out of calories and dreading starvation for dinner, Tori makes a terrible decision that will change the rest of her life. A special exercise bike, in which, she will actually make money, a lot of it. All she has to do is keep the new bike happy. Which, is harder than you think when the bike is made of human flesh, needs to be cleaned, fed, and even goes to the bathroom. It’s even harder when your exercise bike is an asshole and makes you do stuff you don’t want to do.

This book is fun, gross, original, clever, weird, and highly memorable. Proceed with caution.

-Jon R. Meyers

UNGER HOUSE RADICALS by Chris Kelso (2016 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 170 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When you've heard good things about a book, and find three pages of praise-quotes for the author from several sources you recognize and trust, expectations may run high ... and when you then get treated to a few more pages of newspaper clippings, crime scene and autopsy photos, and the like, well, the appetite becomes well-whetted for what turns out to be an extremely bizarre meal.

It starts off with a taste of film appreciation, followed by a dash of rustic family drama, and then gets down to the meaty main courses of sociopathy and serial killing, served with side dishes of artistic vision and philosophy, and a selection of sauces including cults, otherworldy experiences, malleable dopplegangers, obsessive love, and

Unger House itself is a murder house, chiming in with its own perspective on some of the heinous deeds that have taken place within its walls and how it becomes a place of almost pilgrimage, where admirers of the original killer and successors keep being inexorably drawn.

Simply reading it is a surreal experience, shifting among the varying narrative styles, timelines, and character perspectives. At times like a novel, at others like an essay or a true-crime work, it's another of those complex, multi-layered books where you better pay attention. No lazy skimming here, or you will be left floundering.

It's also a challenge in that even the most likable characters ... well ... aren't; hardly surprising given the subject matter. Unlike, say, DEXTER, these aren't your somehow endearing almost-vigilante types. No matter how committed they may be to the integrity of Ultra-Realism in life and art, they're pretty much all monsters. Entertaining to read about, but monsters nonetheless, and the kind that give a person deep-down chills to contemplate how many people might be out there who adhere to their philosophy.

-Christine Morgan

ANGEL MEAT by Laura Lee Bahr (2017 Fungasm Press / 146 pp / trade paperback) 

This was an absolutely great collection of extremely versatile stories. The stories flowed seamlessly, taking the reader on an adventure they are bound to never forget through tales full of thick, witty, and rich dialogue from characters with more depth and heart than the ocean. There’s a little bit of something original for everyone in here. A little bit of Horror. A little bit of Bizarro. A little bit of Science Fiction. A little bit of modern Noir and content movie buffs will appreciate. All from the extremely loveable and fractured mind of the great and fantastic Laura Lee Bahr.

Some of my favorite stories in this collection were 'The Liar,' a tale in which the younger of two sisters doesn’t know who to trust and may have some torture genes within her bones just like her older sister. 'Rat-Head,' a bizarre and surreal trip in and out of memory lane with your dream partner, who happens to look way more appealing to you in the mirror world because he doesn’t look like a pesky rodent, but, even when he does, you still want to sleep with him. 'Blackout in Upper Moosejaw,' a humorous tale, in which two competitive business professionals have intimate encounters with their professional robotic assistants behind closed office doors (high-five for robot sex!), and 'Happy Hour,' a horrific take on the classic guy meets girl in a bar and buys her a drink scenario, you might just get a little more baggage than you bargain for sometimes.

All in all, this is a very well-written, thought-provoking, entertaining collection.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE LONG DARK LONESOME by S.J. Duncan (2016 Ink Ribbon Press / 188 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I didn't realize at first that this was a book of mostly poetry, but hey, since I admire and appreciate poetry, I sure wasn't going to let that stop me. And, as I soon discovered, it was a book of more than poetry, no mere collection of assorted verses. Each was its own thing, to be sure, but all together they formed a greater story gestalt.

Oh, and these aren't happy poems. These are horror poems, not horror so much in the ghosts and ghoulies sense but horror from within ... the long dark lonesome of the title is a recurring theme throughout ... these are the horrors of the soul, of loss and regret, despair, grief, sorrow, the black undercurrents and riptides of the psyche.

These are one of the best examples I can think of that invoke the often-quoted thing about opening a vein and bleeding on the page. They are beautifully done, but they are pain and anguish. The friends to whom I would most want to recommend this book are the same friends I'd be kind of worried about to have read it, because of the emotional impact, the inner workings eloquently laid bare.

The book's presented in three sections, each ending with a piece of prose. Like the poems, they touch on deeply personal aspects of life, particularly the life of an artistic/creative ... our self-doubts and distractions, the lies we tell others and ourselves, putting things off, waiting for times to be right, opportunities slipping by.

Maybe I shouldn't have read the whole thing pretty much straight through, least of all during a difficult phase in my own struggles, but I couldn't stop. Didn't want to stop. And it was that emotional impact, that beautifully done bleeding soul laid bare ... even as it resonated, it helped, because we all go through it to some extent or another, and we can get through, and we aren't alone.

-Christine Morgan


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reviews for the Week of June 12, 2017

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

DEATH GLITCH by Ken Douglas (2012 Bootleg Press / 322 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

"Lila Booth is going to kill your granddaughter." Boom, with an opening line like that, we are off to the races. With a protagonist who's not just a grandma, but a retired expert heart surgeon grandma with terminal cancer. I mean whoa! What a character! Come on, how can you NOT keep reading?

Better and better, she's racing to save her granddaughter from a stone-cold hitwoman, at an erotic costume ball, in Reno, on Halloween, because her granddaughter got hold of some incriminating information belonging to the sleazy son of a crime lord mogul ... we've got action-packed thrills-a-minute right out of the gate!

I could hardly read fast enough. Get those words into my eyeballs, get them into my brain, I want to know what happens next! And then, what happens next is, after stopping to help deliver the baby of a hit-and-run victim dressed like a vampire, our gutsy granny gets shot through the heart.

You might think that'd be it, that the book would then switch to the point of view of her granddaughter or something. But no, there are far weirder twists and surprises in store. Such as granny waking up in the morgue, and discovering not only isn't she dead anymore, not only doesn't she have cancer anymore, but she's young again.

As if death itself glitched (hence the title) and respawned her as a previous version of herself, albeit with all her own memories and knowledge. So now, not only is she dealing with this assassin, she has this inexplicable stuff going on. Healing and youth? A lot of people are going to be very eager to get their hands on that secret, as she soon finds out.

This book doesn't slow down, doesn't let up, keeps up the hectic headlong pace throughout ... and at the same time still manages to sneak in several interesting, thought-provoking messages about second chances.

-Christine Morgan

SACCULINA by Philip Fracassi (2017 Journalstone / 99 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First of all, I couldn’t wait to check this one out. In fact, I opened it up and started reading it as soon as I got my filthy hands wrapped around it. Philip Fracassi is a brilliant writer who has, yet again, managed to deliver another solid title that delivers exactly what it sought out to do, and that is, entertain and creep out the reader. This time in the form of a deep-sea creature horror novella. Now, before you turn around and go the other way because this trope has been used time and time again practically to a literal death pulp ... don’t ... because Fracassi does it with his own style and grace that is found constantly floating around in his many published works prior, and he absolutely knocks this one out of the waterpark so to speak, and feeds us some good old-fashioned horror candy.

Two brothers, a friend, and their father go out on a fishing trip with a strange captain to celebrate one of the brother’s fresh release from prison. What better way than to go out into the ocean, drink some beers, and fish up a storm, right? Well, guess again because there is a rather dangerous storm ahead of them, and, well, something much more violent and mysterious is lurking in the water beneath the boat. The author lures us into the story with the characters’ vivid depth and emotion, typical of his prior work, whilst managing to creep and entertain with his excellent use of some of the finest slow-burning cosmic dread in town, just until he’s got you right where he wants you, and then, before you know it, you’re swimming in hell just like the rest of them.

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

-Jon R. Meyers

what if I got down on my knees by Tony Raucher  (2015 Whistling Shade Press / 204 pp / trade paperback)

The all-lowercase and lack of punctuation in the title made me wary ... was this going to be some overwrought trying-too-hard artsy pretentious thing? Or was it going to be one of the rare cases when the unorthodox usage serves to enhance rather that detract, to add a subtle but constant undercurrent of mental disquiet?

Well, obviously, it's the latter. Because, had it been the former, I wouldn't have finished reading, and therefore wouldn't be writing this review. Life's too short. Imagine being a musical type and hearing a favorite piece played well, but with all the notes offset just a little. In a weird sort of way, the writer/editor in me felt like that, but the uncomfortable sensation added something of value and interest to the overall experience.

What you have here is a collection of several strange and far-ranging tales, many touching upon similar themes of missed changes, solitude, loneliness, dubious friendships, lost loves, abandonment, rejection. Many seem laments, of a sort ... the lament of never speaking up, the one that got away, no appreciation and manipulation, occasionally edging from insightful toward borderline creepy.

Not a happy-happy feelgood batch of reads, in other words. But haunting, thoughtful, and effective. From a male perspective, yet also deeply immersive, intuitive, and emotional ... flying in the face of the commonly-held notions of gender roles.

"let's get sad" was a personal fave, as a group of guys try to depress themselves by watching tearjerker movies, listening to emo music, moping, and glooming ... all in the hopes of impressing the cool moody girls; sort of a wry jab at the lengths people will go to in order to try and get laid, even to the point of making themselves miserable and unable to function.

The structure of "modern problems (part 364,927)" is peculiar to follow but fascinating; reading along, there's no guessing where it's going and by the time you get there you're not sure just what happened; I liked it a lot and still can't pin down exactly why.

In some vaguely indefinable way, much of the book reminds me of the writing of Jennifer Robin ... except, instead of observational and autobiographical, these stories feel more fictional yet introspective ... an inward exploration of psyche through these various characters. Hidden depths and unknown profundities, is the kind of sense I'm trying to get across here. Whatever it is, it works.

-Christine Morgan


NEON GOLGOTHA by Michael Faun (2017 MorbiBooks / 47 pp / chapbook)

Faun's gloomy tale takes place in all five boroughs of New York City. Each chapter represents a borough with a new set of characters and off the wall situations.

NEON GOLGOTHA brings to mind Burrough's 'Naked Lunch' and Gasper Noe's 'Enter the Void' as if run through Dante's Inferno. A trippy tale of decadence and damnation in the big city. To tell you more would ruin this short but memorable nightmarish fever dream.

-Nick Cato

THE DOLL HOUSE by Edward Lee (2017 Necro Publications / 102 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

And another instance where suddenly there's an Edward Lee book I hadn't known about but immediately IT MUST BE MINE!!!! Some authors are automatic queue jumpers Fast Passin' their way to the top of my reading list, I must admit. Not fair, but, there it is. I'm only human (at least, until some better option comes along).

But, in this case, in my defense, it's a small book. A clever miniature, almost. A good-looking book too, but one that continues to support my only aggravation with this press. Gorgeous books in terms of production value, excellent stories ... lots of itsy-nitsy-bitsy non-spell-checker-able goofs slipping through.

That gripe aside, on with the show! The story's a pastiche, done in the style of M.R. James, though with the inimitable Edward Lee flair -- in other words, sexed up like whoa, perverse and delightfully nasty. Now, I know pastiches often get mocked and sneered at, but Lee's intro to this book nicely sums up my own feelings on the matter, so I needn't get into it here.

In The Doll House, collector Reginald Lympton gets a lead on a rare and valuable one for sale, the creation of a legendary craftsman who was also a reputed occultist and ancestor of the seller. None of this stops Lympton from shamelessly fleecing the sick old man and taking the treasure for much less than the asking price.

Lympton is an unpleasant fellow all around, lusting after his neighbor's daughter and the old man's daughter while bored with his own lusty and buxom wife. His libido and his personal unpleasantness both amp up as soon as the doll house is in his possession, and he soon finds himself in for a fittingly unpleasant fate.

-Christine Morgan

PURGATORY BEHIND THESE EYES by Doug Rinaldi (2016 Mayhem Street Media / 251 pp / trade aperback & eBook)

Even just the intro to this one hits its share of nerves for creative types ... because most of us have been there, in the doldrums, the dead seas where the joy gets leeched out of what we love to do, when it no longer feels worth it, when the temptation to give up and let it wither can get so strong.

I mean, I can relate, y'know? Been there. Been there all too often. But to come back from that, to persevere, is its own form of joy ... and that also comes through in the intro and the stories following.

Which are, many of them, let's put it right out there, kind of dark and messed up. You get savagery and mutilation, houses of dubious repute, devils and angels, bizarre contagions, necrophilia, insanity, murder, sinister betrayal, steamy sex, autopsies gone wrong, cannibalism, cults and killers ... all the gooshy good stuff.

Now, usually I have a hard time picking a top fave, but in this collection there was a clear stand-out winner: "Annual Seed," which starts off with a simple farmer's prize produce contest and a disgruntled competitor, ramps up toward being a revenge tale, and then swerves a crazy left turn out of nowhere into even more delightful fun.

What that meant, of course, was that I then faced the tough decisions on picking a second-fave, but really, this is not a bad problem to have. I ultimately narrowed it down to two strong contenders, the
OCD/anxiety-laden "Cleanliness & Godliness" and the historical maritime nightmare of "Maelstrom" (I have a thing for ships, what can I say?)

Bonus feature Author's Notes appear at the end of each story; there are mixed opinions about whether such belong there or at the end or not at all, but I like the little peek behind the curtain at the inner workings while it's still fresh in my mind.

-Christine Morgan

BLACK STATIC no. 58 (May/June 2017)

Opening Commentary from Lynda E. Rucker examines the classic lost girl trope in a couple of recent films, then Ralph Robert Moore shares how a heartbreaking real life event brought a few books and films to mind.

In Mark Morris' novelette 'Holiday Romance,' Skelton returns to a seaside bed and breakfast he last stayed at as a teenager. He contemplates his failing marriage and his late parents, as well as a girl he had met at the Inn all those years ago. During a walk on a rainy pier, a detective questions him, claiming a bag of body parts found on the nearby beach matches his DNA. And when Skelton discovers there's no record of a woman he had dinner with the previous night ever being checked into the Inn, Morris leads us into a Lynchian mystery that will surely give you the chills.

'The Process of Chuddar' by Tim Casson deals with a young man who befriends the last member of a cursed family. The curse eventually carries over to our protagonist's successful food business as well as his own life. This is the second part of a trilogy although you won't be lost if you missed Casson's 'Bug Skin' back in issue 50. A fine creature feature centered around a female artist.

'Nonesuch' by Joe Pitkin finds a city slicker named Jack purchasing an orchid in an area so remote he can never find the same way to and from. After meeting a hippie-like man who offers to cheaply prune Jack's apple trees, Jack decides to quit his city job and risk an apple cider press. Pitkin takes the classic "urban man moves to the country" thing and delivers a familiar yet finely written, solid chiller.

'Survival Strategies' by Helen Marshall centers around a reporter arriving in New York City to interview a woman named Lily Argo who had discovered one of the biggest horror writers of the 70s. Lily's stories of working back then in a male dominated industry are interesting, but not exactly what our reporter was looking for. So Lily gives her a bit about the legendary Barron St. John, which sort of mirrors recent events in our reporter's life. Haunting stuff.

And speaking of haunting, this issue's final offering by Gwendolyn Kiste, 'Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won't Stop Haunting You and Your Friends' is an emotional ghost story about a teenager dealing with her mother's death through certain rock songs. I'm a sucker for music-themed tales and Kiste's is as good as they get.

Gary Couzen's 'Blood Spectrum' gives us another large dose of DVD/blu ray reviews (including a beautiful PHANTASM box set) and Peter Tennant's always in-depth book reviews examines several graphic novels, three recent titles from Richard Chizmar (plus an outstanding interview), and 5 more books. Tennant's damn column always increases my TBR pile...

This 58th issue (that's technically their 100th...visit their website below for more info) shows BLACK STATIC continuing to publish some of the best horror fiction in the business.

Order your copy here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato