Monday, March 25, 2019

Reviews for the Week of March 25, 2019

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NOW IN OUR 16TH YEAR!





BLACKER AGAINST THE DEEP DARK by Alexander Zelenyj (2018 Eibonvale Press / 376 pp / hardcover)

Zelenyj’s 3rd mammoth collection features 31 stories, 19 presented here for the first time. Having read and loved his first 2, I was eager to see what else he could come up with. Turns out, plenty.

Among my favorites were ‘The Priests,’ which is the name given to a conjoined triplet male, who finds sanctuary at an isolated church and friendship with its pastor. We hear some of its stories of surviving in freak shows, but learn of its miraculous nature when it aids a baby in desperate need. A familiar trope but given heartfelt new life by Zelenyj. ‘We Are All Lightless Inside’ finds a group of secret scientists and magicians locating and battling otherworldly manifestations of diseases. I think this could make an interesting novel. In ‘Loneliness the Hunter’ a boy manages to call an odd being into our world, changing his own life—and those around his—for good.

A counselor has an incredible affirmation among the people in his group in the emotion-driven ‘Angels, and the Daggers of Darkness,’ then the sci-fi novella ‘Journey to the End of a Burning Girl’ follows two detectives as they seek the origin and suppliers of a mysterious drug which causes users to vanish to another dimension. Reminded me of a psychedelic version of BLADE RUNNER yet offers much more.

A bookstore employee meets a most unusual customer in ‘The Bloodmilk People,’ a wrestler named Monster Rollinski befriends a young fan and discovers his destiny in the wonderful ‘From Parts Unknown,’ and ‘The Terror of Broken Places’ looks at sadness and overcoming through the eyes of three humans and two aliens who meet in a place that allows them to understand each other.

‘Kill Them and Kill Them (and Pray for Something Good) is one of the best here, as a controversial comedian rises to Messianic status. Things get extreme in ‘Hush Honey, and Give Daddy Back His War Hammer,’ a ghoulish piece that will make you squint. ‘Christ on the Sun’ gives a depressing (and frightening) look at religion, then the short but terrifying apocalyptic tale ‘The Sky Was a Window All Along’ delivers the end-times goods (or bads, depending on your world view!).

Two tomboy friends meet for drinks to discuss their careers and reminisce over an unusual sighting they shared as kids in the wondrous ‘The Children Who Saw the Universe,’ while ‘Private Poison’ follows a platoon and their miraculous takeover of an enemy stronghold during the Vietnam War (has the feel of a classic WEIRD WAR TALES story).

Think you’ve read enough creepy crawly tales? The humorous element in ‘Spiderpartment’ may change your mind. Demons contemplate humanity in ‘This Lustful Earth’ and Charles Chekpak’s extreme sex life takes him to godhood (and beyond) in the show-stopping ‘We, The Burning Stars.’

‘Engines of Forever’ takes a strange look at two young, reluctant terrorists, then a young girl is tempted by a demon in ‘Flowers of Heaven,’ a great, classic styled horror tale.

The collection concludes with the thought provoking ‘Love in Uncertain Times,’ as a young boy, watching his little sister, becomes enchanted by an amazing Time magazine article.

Horror, sci-fi, bizarro, fantasy, and some unclassifiables are on display here as Zelenyj delivers yet another barrage of tales, and while I’ve listed my personal favorites, every story is solid and enjoyable. BLACKER AGAINST THE DEEP DARK is yet another stellar collection from a seriously talented writer.

-Nick Cato



CURSED BY CHRIST by Matthew Warner (2018 MW Publications / 228 pp / eBook & audiobook)

Almost like an odd mix of brooding Southern Gothic, CARRIE, and mutant-power-origin-story, this book is about a girl named Alice growing up in the oncoming shadow of the Civil War. All she knows at first about her “difficult time” is that she inherited it somehow from the mother who believes she was cursed for stealing from an angel … while her father attributes it to a ‘poison rock’ that they saw fall from the sky when the were young.

Either way, Alice is the only one of their children who’s been able to survive, and as she reaches maturity, the episodes of ‘sickness’ have made her something of an oddity to the extended family. A series of tragedies puts her at the mercy of a predator, and escaping turns out to be its own frying-pan-and-fire situation.

Suddenly married, the mistress of a plantation in another state, Alice finds herself more and more discontented and alone. The closest she has to friends are among the slaves, and their secret religions and rituals help her control her abilities. Try though she might to have a warm relationship with her husband, her inability to produce a child drives them ever further apart … and then he’s called off to war.

The war years go by with no word; he’s missing and presumed dead. The end of the war brings drastic changes. Alice is just about to finally take control of her own life when her husband’s surprise return throws her plans into chaos. Not only that, her husband’s return is followed by rising tension between landholders and their now-freed workforce.

I found it a good read overall, historically interesting, though Alice’s passivity as a character got on my nerves pretty quickly. Was really hoping to see more about her abilities come into play, and some more satisfying resolutions.

-Christine Morgan




ERIE TALES VIII: HOLIDAY TERROR edited by Michael Cieslak and Nicole Castle (2015 Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers / 92 pp / trade paperback)

This time, the capable crew of the GLAHW take on holidays, and not just the usual big traditional ones you might expect. With the entire calendar to choose from, including observations of various countries and faiths, they were able to come up with some new and interesting takes on the theme.

The year opens with Peggy Christie’s “Brothers of Death” in which medieval monks deal with a particularly grim January holy day, then reminds us that the season doesn’t technically end in December with Shad Kelly’s fae masquerade “On the Thirteenth Day of Christmas.”

In “The April Fool,” editor Michael Cieslak contributes a comitragedy as an unlucky and inept would-be suicide picks the wrong day to try to end it all, while Cassie Carnage’s “Walpurgisnacht” shows the dangers of trying to ignore the old ways and rituals.

One of my favorites here is “The Boy Who Knew The Ending,” by Justin Holley. The frustrations of a budding teen romance is set on the 4th of July, though in this instance that doesn’t much seem to matter; it could just as easily have been done on any of a number of others.

Ken MacGregor turns in a dark look at the hidden truths behind the origins of a November feast in the nicely done historical piece, “Giving Thanks.” Montilee Stormer brings the winter chills with a cold night’s observance of St Lucy’s Day in “It Came Upon.”

Finishing things out, because it wouldn’t be the holidays without goodies, is Heather Kapusta’s “Granny’s Christmas Cookies,” with their special secret recipe. Yum!

-Christine Morgan



SAINT SADIST by Lucas Mangum (2019 Grindhouse Press / 98 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Alright, folks. Here’s that scoop. That good ole fashioned four-one-one, I think some like to say. But, there’s a catch, go figure. There’s always a catch, right? Well, I think I said it last time that this was an author we all needed to keep our eyes and ears peeled like paint on, and with this very new release from the fabulous folks over at Grindhouse Press. I couldn’t be any more enthusiastic and happier to have said that some number of months ago, and not to toot my own horn or anything like that, BUT I was right, and I told you so. Lucas Mangum is good, guys and gals. I can and will not say it enough. His writing is well-crafted and unique and original and just overall super powerful. He’s one of the few new greats out there who just seems to get it right and pull off whatever it is that he sets out to do. We saw this last time with ‘Gods of the Dark Web.’ The author built this dark and glitchy underworld of filth and perversion that was beautifully executed and ended up being one of my favorite books of yesteryear.

This time around, the author takes on a different approach, and, trust me when I say it: It’s honest. It’s dark. It’s compelling. It’s brutal AF. It’s well written. It’s unique. It’s powerful, in a more transgressive and violent sort of way, putting us in the shoes of a young girl going through some serious shit as she leaves home impregnated by her father and back into the arms of a religious cult leader. Mangum parks us right inside her head as she searches for happiness and survival in a world full of past demons and terrible role models where she doesn’t want to be any longer. The heartbreak, pain, and suffering bleed out of every word on the page perfectly. The author deals with gruesome subjects that are often hard to write about with a shockingly admirable, creative, and honest ease that is the real and true art to be found in this book.

Definitely recommended. Proceed with caution.

-Jon R. Meyers



MURMANSK-13 by Richard-Steven Williams (2018 Amazon Digital / 419 pp / eBook)

In this ambitious but struggling mega-book of sci-fi horror, it’s Aliens meets the zombie apocalypse, with shades of LIFE FORCE and GHOST SHIP and PITCH BLACK thrown in … a mysterious space station appearing on none of the charts, secret experiments gone wrong, survivors of a crashed prison transport ship, another ship with the crew awakening from cryo-sleep to find they’ve been taken way off course on an unknown errand … it’s a lot to tackle, a lot to take in.

Kind of like a big sprawling video game with several intersecting objectives and side-quests, and multiple playable POV characters as well as NPCs with intricate backstories. There’s the troubled captain slowly losing his grip, the tough chick, the newbie cadet, the trash-talking wise guy, the noble loner rogue, the damsel in distress, the shady scientist, the sleazy bad guys.

And plenty of perils, from supplies and survival to spacewalks to crawling through ducts, fighting the infected, fighting each other, dealing with sudden disasters, isolation, no way to send for help, dwindling resources, betrayal, romantic entanglements.

I did have some problems with the way certain issues were handled (sexism, icky rape stuff, unrealistic emotional aftermaths, for instance). The editing, as well, needed definite work. I found myself wondering several times if the book had initially been written in another language and then translated. Many wrong words and mistakes, further knocking me out of the story.

Overall, entertaining enough if you’re into that sort of thing, but not particularly innovative or gripping to me; and yeah, a LOT of it. 400+ pages, made for quite a trudge.

-Christine Morgan



GAME CHANGERS OF THE APOCALYPSE by Mark Kirkbride (2019 Omnium Gatherum / 299 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You think YOU’RE having a bad day? Try being Greg, who, in a moment of waking-up grogginess happens to admit to his fiance he’s not all that excited about or involved in the actual wedding plans. Just the sort of thing you want to say to a stressed-out bride-to-be with the big day looming.

Next he knows, he’s out on his ear with a bag of his stuff. All he can do is go to work, and hope a friend will give him crash space while he figures out what to do. He loves Polly, he wants to be with her; it was poor phrasing, that’s all. Maybe he can find a way to smooth things over?

A nice idea in theory, except he’s not through screwing up yet. An email goof and some ill-chosen words later, he’s also out of a job. And accidentally locked out of his friend’s place. And the weather takes a sudden nasty turn.

And all that? All that’s still only the first chapter, only the beginning. It’s about to get a whole lot worse. As in, suddenly, everyone else is just … GONE. He’s alone in a deserted city of abandoned cars, as if all the people simply *poof* vanished.

What follows is a frantic adventure that gets weirder and weirder, as Greg searches for any sign of what happened (and, desperately, for any sign of Polly). Eventually, his search brings him back to his former workplace, where the fax machine seems to be printing drafts of what’s happening even as it happens … even before it happens … predictions, faxes of the future, dire warnings … and each time he changes his actions, a new draft appears.

Too much more would be spoilers, so, you’ll just need to read it yourself. I found it fresh and fun, well-written, highly enjoyable.

-Christine Morgan


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COMING SOON:


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