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May I once again state that I am sick to death of zombies. Seriously, weary of the walking dead. I don’t much care any more if they lope or shuffle, run or even fly. I’m all out of shits to give for the cavorting cadavers. Its all grown so damn boring.
Then Tim Waggoner decided to craft a zombie novel. I’m a big fan of Tim Waggoner. So when I was asked if I would like to review it, I said certainly. And when it arrived, I kind of thought I was in for it. The cover is a little hokey. Not horrible but not at all as cool as the inner contents.
The Way of All Flesh is a novel that is populated with the usual set pieces and suspects: A rag tag group of survivors holed up somewhere, in this case a fortified school. We have a brave warrior maiden, Kate, and her bookishly smart girlfriend, Marie. We have the macho man among them who is not at all what he seems to be. His name is Nicholas and before the zombie apocalypse he made Jeffrey Dahmer look like Michael Landon! Now that society has crumbled and zombies are the most feared in the land, he kind of lost his title. He ain’t happy about it. In his quest to regain his status as top predator, he really gets in touch with his psycho-side. I mean really.
But our hero is David, he’s a zombie and he’s also Kate’s twin brother. He doesn’t really know he’s a zombie. Zombies view the world a bit differently. They see humans as grotesque creatures out to kill them for sport. They also view one another as though they were normal living folks. David must find his family and save them and try to figure out what the hell is going on. He is dogged along the way by Simon, a skatery youth in a Megadeth shirt. Simon seems to know a great deal about what is happening and could help a lot more than he does. He’s kind of an asshole.
These are the ingredients to one of the most amusing zombie novels I’ve read as of late. There is zombie gore, people eating and all that, but damned if Waggoner doesn’t introduce existentialism and one of the most ingenious devices for the cause of a zombie apocalypse EVER. And when things get gruesome and fucked up, they get really gruesome and fucked up.
Deft characters and a cinematic gait keep The Way of All Flesh a fun sliver of bloody entertainment. Get it now from the fine folks at Samhain Publishing.
I came across the Dreadful Cafe website while looking for markets on Duotrope. The site is very shiny and well made and advertises that it is “a boutique press” and the editors “purveyors of fine, hand-crafted fiction.” My interest was piqued, so I solicited a reviewer’s copy of their first anthology, Membrane, edited by Rick Wayne.
I apologize, it isn’t an “anthology” but an “anthologie,” as the cover advertises. I raised an eyebrow at the avant-garde misspell, but pressed on. The art on the front was striking and kept me flipping through to the first story, “The Whiteface Plague,” by Paul Lorello, a tale of an alternate world where a “plague” of clowns has overrun humanity and created a set of very unique issues.
“Mechanical Cannibals,” by Aaron Renfro, is a dark science fiction short. What would humanity would be reduced to if everyone replaced their organic bodies for artificial ones—and then the manufacturer went out of business? Brian is trying desperately to find the right part so his wife can walk again, but it will cost him. What is the point of being immortal if spare parts are discontinued?
My favorite is another dark SF story, Danny Knestaut’s “The Last Hedonist.” Spuddy is the last human on earth and he is suffering from Huydak’s disorder, a plague created when humanity tries to make themselves immortal using nano technology. Despite the repeat theme of the cost of immortality, the descriptions in this short are breathtaking and artful. The main character of Spuddy is both amusing and sympathetic.
Membrane advertises on the back cover: “This book is not like other books. This book is different. It’s chock-full of amazing art and boundary-crossing, far-out fiction…” With this kind of promise upfront, I have to admit that this “anthologie” was not that mind-blowing. The rest of the stories were difficult for me to get into and suffered from very common writer pitfalls—not having a good hook, too much dialogue, too much exposition, not enough description for me to visualize anything. There were some enjoyable moments, but they were eclipsed by issues that should have been edited out.
The art was fun, and the “cover” art for each story was a nice addition, but the pieces chosen sometimes felt random and disjointed from the stories. In an anthology or a magazine the art should enhance the content within, not distract from it. Even the back cover clowns, while referencing “The Whiteface Plague,” threw me off because they were so different thematically from the front cover.
While this is a good first effort from The Dreadful Cafe, I don’t know if I’d pick up a copy of their next anthology. I don’t mind a publisher that toots their own horn, but they need to deliver as advertised, and I just don’t see enough “boundary-crossing, far-out fiction” in Membrane to draw in repeat customers, which confuses me. I know from working the Shock Totem slush that there is plenty of amazing fiction out there. I’d encourage Rick Wayne to dig a little deeper for the next installment.
Do you like being punched in the face? How about being kicked in the shins? Maybe someone holding you at knife point and making you lay your hand on a table so they can smash it with a hammer sounds like bliss? All of those brutal and violent scenarios have a lot in common with David James Keaton’s collection, Fish Bites Cop!: Stories to Bash Authorities.
Oh, I don’t mean it’s a painful read or anything; I mean that at any given juncture, in any story, the unexpected veering violence could take hold and you could lose and eye—or even bladder control. Fish Bites Cop is a collection of 30 short tales. The only thread that tethers them thematically would be that there is usually at least one cop, fireman, or EMT in each story. There is also a lot of death, anger, and, for some odd reason, hand deformities.
I won’t go into every story but I will touch on the ones that left scratches. “Trophies” is the opener and a wonderfully bizarro intro it is. Through seemingly strange circumstances we get to see what lies beneath. In “Schrodinger’s Rat,” we are introduced to a group of prison inmates and witness their odd dealings and shenanigans. Brutal and witty while never losing its edge, this ain’t no Shawshank fo’ sho’!
“Greenhorns” is a tale of a group of fisherman with a much more sinister agenda. “Three Ways Without Water (Or the Day Roadkill, Drunk Driving, and the Electric Chair Were Invented)” is my favorite of the bunch. What a delirious kick in the pants it is. Part weird western, part bizarro, it’s like Cormac McCarthy’s drunken cousin after he raided the medicine chest. I mean, it has everything: vampirism, zombie horses, gun slinging, shape-shifting, and did I mention zombie horses? Glorious!
“Castrating Fireman” is a darkly comic romp that is and isn’t what its title implies. “Three Minutes” is one of the few tales that feature “Jack,” an EMT with some serious issues. In “Clam Digger,” a younger sibling must come to grips with the events that ended with his older brother’s demise. “The Ball Pit (Or Children Under 5 Eat Free!)” is a troubling tale that hints at post-apocalyptic fringes but never reveals what’s behind that dark curtain. And for the grand finale, he smacks us over the head with “Nine Cops Killed for a Goldfish Cracker,” a gonzo bloodbath of law enforcement and craziness that should be the punch line to its own joke: What’s blue and white an red all over and goes a hundred miles an hour?
So, is it a good book? You bet. I dug it. But I must be honest and inform you that it is not for everyone. If you like gritty noir-ish bizarro stories and people, with authority figures who are as flawed and warped as all get out, this is your Easter egg. If that isn’t your thing, then you may want to sit this one out. There’s a bench over there, right beside the nice policeman.
Fish Bites Cop is available through Comet Press.
Mona Bright, ex-cop turned drifter, learns, years after her mother’s death, that she has inherited her mother’s house (which she didn’t know existed) and that it’s located in a town called Wink, New Mexico. And as far as she can determine, Wink doesn’t exist. Not on any map, and not as far as the people she asks knows, which only serves to make her ever more curious about her mother, her mother’s past, and why Wink is such a well-kept secret.
Already adrift in her life after the death of her unborn child, Mona is presented with a rare opportunity to learn the truth about her mother, who seemed to become a completely different person without reason nor cause, slowly, it seemed, submitting to a bizarre form of insanity. Mona goes in search of her own past and hoping, in the process, to solve the riddle of her life.
Never has the cautionary adage of “be careful what you wish for” been more appropriate than in Mona’s case. Because Wink, which may or may not exist in our current reality, is full of things that can drive any person lip-smacking, drool-spewing insane. But the town also holds all the answers that Mona wants to—needs to—discover. But what price is she willing pay?
Robert Jackson Bennett is a masterful l writer of unclassifiable fiction. Is American Elsewhere science fiction, fantasy, or horror? Is it a crime novel, a mystery, or satire? Is it an allegory of insular life in small town America, a commentary on the intolerance of outsiders? A send-up of the illusory wholesomeness of small town life? Perhaps American Elsewhere is all of these things, and none of them. Bennett’s prose style wavers between sparse and direct, never shying away from the gore and uglier elements that horror encompasses, while at other times tends toward hyperbole and over-expositing, with the potential of losing his readers through the lengthy trek of its 600-plus pages.
However, the individual elements make an excellent story, if the length isn’t too daunting for the average reader. Horror blends well with science fiction, which blends well with the human drama woven throughout, which again blends well with the horror. And while we’re shown the enemy and learn to despise them, we also invest in their pain because of how they’ve become that way.
At the center of it all, is Mona’s quest for truth.
Like the original Twilight Zone series, the story has an affinity for small towns and the monsters behind the masks. When Mona begins to suspect that there’s a lot more going on, she wants to flee but instead gets sucked into learning everything she can. Because somewhere in all that strangeness and bizarre discoveries is the mother she thought she knew and tried to love.
Mona herself, written as the protagonist, is difficult to invest in at first. She’s standoffish, rebellious, and sarcastic. Her role as a former police officer sometimes felt more like a convenience that was whipped out whenever it suited the plot. Otherwise, she did not act or behave like a police officer, former or not. There are sections where suspension of disbelief is necessary, but the story is able to overcome those issues.
Bennett’s prose tends to meander in places and depicts confusing events, but once we choose to invest in the characters and their stories, there is a tremendous payoff. To say that the ending is more than a little surprising would be an understatement.
With strong echoes of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub and Clive Barker, American Elsewhere may not be a traditional read, but it is thoroughly entertaining, and will like satisfy fans of dark fiction, horror and science fiction.
I picked up Deadfall Hotel, by Steve Rasnic Tem, based solely on the wonderful cover art, which fell somewhere between the lovely stuff from Edward Gorey and those glorious interior end pages of the old Hitchcock anthologies. I was familiar with his work, mainly through the odd handful of stories I have read over the years, but I had never delved into his longer works.
Deadfall Hotel is fantastic, whimsical and dark and beautiful. Imagine, if you will, spending a season in the Overlook Hotel, if it were peopled by the family from those Bradbury stories. For all his lyrical prose and stunningly surreal imagery, there is plenty of darkness and horror to be had.
Richard Carter and his young daughter, Serena, arrive at the hotel in the opening pages. They approach the front desk scarred and stained from recent tragedy. They are welcomed by Jacob, the current caretaker and the man who will “train” Richard as his successor. He will show him the ropes and rules to the hotel, a place where nothing is what it seems and even the most simple things can be dangerous.
Along Richard and Serena’s journey to accept and embrace their grief, we encounter a sinister old man and his lupine alter-ego, Dragon, the King of the Cats, disturbing housekeepers, and things that scuttle and bite. Meet the pool man, easily one of the most haunting characters I’ve read in some time.
Tem is quite masterful with his words. And even when the pacing and story become a bit slow, his language is hypnotic. The characters are rich and real. But the real star here is his cunning skill at presenting a feeling of loss and sadness. He has done this in several shorts I’ve read. The man can put that feeling of empty and sadness into words like no one else.
This is a novel about grief and what a heavy yoke it is to bear. About how it can be a many-faced monster that will devour your life, all aspects, right from under your nose.
It’s also about a creepy hotel with boarders who are not always human and not always nice. An utter joy to read.
I can honestly say that my favorite scary movie is Alien. I was blown away by the sequel, Aliens, as well. So I was very excited to hear about the release of Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon, an official canon novel that takes place in the interim between those two movies.
First and foremost—Ripley. She is smart, strong, brave and bad-ass. She is also scared, filled with survivor’s guilt, and humanly flawed. She is one of my favorite heroines, and this book gives you the opportunity to get to know her better.
The basic premise of the book is that Ripley’s EEV is picked up by a mining operation ship in orbit around yet another deadly, inhospitable planet. While mining for trimonite, a rare and sought after mineral, the miners stumble onto another ancient derelict spaceship. Besides the dead and petrified remnants of those who had once flown this ship and the ruins of an advanced culture where the ship crashed, they also find the preserved alien eggs that started the havoc in the first movie.
This is a fairly fast-paced story, and a lot of people die—badly. There is a lot of tension, and the feeling of holding your breath as you hurry to find out what happens next. I was a little worried about how it was going to end (without fundamentally altering Ripley or anything that happens at the beginning of the second movie) and still be able to get caught up with the action and characters. Turns out I didn’t have to worry. While I might wish that some things could have turned out differently, I wouldn’t want to change the continuing story.
It’s my understanding that there will be two more official tie-in novels released this year, and based on this first one I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting them all. I would definitely suggest this to any fans of the Alien universe.
I loved Christmas when I was a little girl. Santa Claus, the tree twinkling with lights in my living room, the anticipation of presents and cookies. The enchantment waned in my teen and young adult years, of course, but once I became a parent, the holiday was exciting once again. I loved providing the magic of Christmas for my own kids.
Santa has been out of the picture for us for several years now, and Christmas these days is more a source of stress for me rather than joy. The cleaning, the cooking, shopping, spending money on stuff we really don’t need—I’ve unfortunately become rather cynical about the holidays. It’s always a relief when it’s all over.
So all the sappy, sentimental, feel-good TV shows, movies, and stories don’t do anything for me. I will admit to still enjoying Rudolph and Charlie Brown, and my favorite Christmas movie is The Santa Clause 2 with Tim Allen, but otherwise, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot during the months of November and December. And don’t get me started on the saturation of Christmas music for two months.
Then I was asked to review O Little Town of Deathlehem, edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves. Christmas horror? Yes, please! Stories that won’t warm my cold, black heart, stories that would make the Grinch smile.
Catherine Grant starts the ball rolling with “One of His Own.” If you’ve never heard of Krampus, do a quick Google search before reading the story; it will be a much more rewarding experience. Krampus and his half-brother Sinterklaaus travel the world together on Christmas Eve—Sinterklaaus is the kind-hearted, benevolent elf who leaves presents, but Krampus is just looking to feed on fearful children. They enter the home of a drug-addled mother whose little girl is neglected and abused. For the first time, Krampus finds himself wanting to take care of a child instead of eating her. He whisks her away with him. As she grows older, she helps him with his quest on Christmas Eve. But then she wants his help with something else.
“One of His Own” is a great story, perfectly setting the tone for the anthology. Although their roles as good and evil characters are clear, Krampus and Sinterklaaus aren’t that black and white. Very well written, and the author gave the characters depth you don’t usually find in a short story.
Chantal Boudreau’s “Deck the Halls” is a familiar tale of a man who resents his mother and wants his inheritance sooner rather than later. He takes care of her, in order to not lose his coming windfall to nurses and caretakers. But she lingers, much to his chagrin, so he takes matters into his own hands. Things don’t turn out as he planned.
This is a fun, nasty little story that is truly the embodiment of “be careful what you wish for.”
Do you prefer live Christmas trees to artificial ones? “With Their Eyes All Aglow” by Jeff C. Carter might just change your mind. Ray is fascinated with insects and spiders. He is looking for a rare, extremely venomous spider in Myanmar, but is ready to return home to his wife and daughter for Christmas. He actually finds the spider colony, but realizes it has infested a once-trendy Christmas tree called “Nordmann Firs.” They are being grown to ship to the States—and Ray realizes that is the exact tree his wife bought several days earlier.
I don’t like spiders at all. “With Their Eyes All Aglow” was creepy, and made my skin crawl. Thanks to this story, I now know that real Christmas trees carry usually harmless bugs into homes. I’m sure I’ve heard that before, but was in denial. No more live trees or plants of any kind in my home!
“A Christmas to Remember” by JP Behrens could be a peek into Charles Manson’s boyhood until he grew up and gained terrible notoriety. Ten year old Nathan’s parents are Christmas shopping for him and his brother, a difficult task since Nathan seems to be obsessed with all things dark and horrible. His mother caught him dissecting a mouse with glee, and now he’s drawing pictures of mangled and broken animals. After shopping, Nathan’s mom follows him into the woods, and discovers his horrible secret. Somehow the family gets through Christmas, but that night, Nathan’s mom discovers he has put his present to use in the most awful way possible.
This story could also be a look into Michael Myers’s childhood. JP Behrens has written a shocking story about every parent’s worst nightmare.
Twenty stories make up this anthology. You’ll find a Santa-werewolf (or would it be werewolf-Santa?), evil ornaments, Christmas in a zombie apocalypse, evil Santas, and of course, Krampus. What you won’t find are sappy, sentimental, ABC Family Channel stories. So if you’re tired of Christmas cheer, grab a copy of O Little Town of Deathlehem, and let the holiday dysfunction take you away.
O Little Town of Deathlehem is available through Grinning Skull Press. All profits from the anthology benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Veins and Skulls, Daniele Serra’s beautiful, dark, and hauntingly surreal study on the complex layers of the human condition, is both a visual and emotional masterpiece. From cover to cover, this book is a stunning display—a gorgeous publication in which one could easily be lost for hours upon hours, again and again, finding threads and ties that bind each theme to its respective imagery.
As Jeff Mariotte says in the introduction, Serra “opens our hearts to the suffering of others… By showing us his dark side, he makes us feel better about our own. Precious humanity is his gift, and we, viewing his art, are the lucky recipients.”
Serra’s graceful artwork translates seamlessly onto the page. The watercolor feel and texture from his canvas is captured in consistent somber hues that lure the viewer in by becoming, for lack of a better word, familiar. Perhaps this lends itself to Serra’s evident connection to us all; as humans, as artists, as lovers of dark beauty and concepts and imagery which might be deemed taboo by others who do not share our fascination with grimness and morbidity. Or rather, it might be his innate ability to understand what it takes to truly draw us into his art: finding a way to connect—to make us want to keep searching, feeling, dreaming—losing ourselves in these portraits and landscapes to interact with and imagine what lies beyond with infinite possibilities left unsaid by his brushstrokes. These are not still-lifes, sculptures, or conceptual art forms we are seeing here—they are essences, ideas, specters and shadows—they are places to which we are transported and presences we need to understand more about on a profound and unsettling level.
Yet in all its macabre gloom, Serra’s artwork is delicate, elegant, and strangely comforting. His lines are soft and fluid, lending themselves to the feminine forms and erotic undertones he showcases in the first two parts of the book. The depth Serra creates on an artistic level is exquisite; particularly in Part One, where many of the figures are set against a backdrop of some sort and successfully convey varying layers of perception. But the depth is also one which transcends space and reaches an intimate, emotive level where the figures and images have no borders, no boundaries—no definitive meanings or messages, nothing blatant to be gleaned. They are black veiled allusions to the most organic of elements—Water, Breath, Seeds—to arcane notions such as Love and Goodbye.
Serra’s erotic pieces in Part Two are reverent and tender tributes to the female form in keeping with those which precede them; yet these are void of the colors, textures, and structures present in the others and direct all attention to the innate but elusive dichotomy of the female body—and perhaps its very essence. The ability to create life, which is inherently sexual—for one does not exist without the other—and the somewhat alluring, intriguing inevitability of death, as we see portrayed here in Serra’s sensual relationships between voluptuous women and lifeless skulls.
The breathtaking scenic landscapes in Part Three are a perfect way to close. However melancholy, these depictions give way to a rebirth of sorts—a renewed sense of hope—for the viewer. We have seen veins and skulls, blood and dust, life, death, and many unspoken things in between. But Serra leaves us with Light…a sun rising in the distance. This says a great deal not just about the intended journey and evolution of the story told in the illustrations, but perhaps that of the artist himself.
Click for larger images
The New Black is a collection of twenty neo-noir stories. That is the promise from the back cover of this new anthology put out by the fine folks at Dark House Press and edited by Richard Thomas. No, not the guy who played John Boy on The Waltons. This cat is cooler. Way cooler.
Now, full disclosure: I have no idea what neo-noir means. I don’t much give a flying fig about genres and sub-genres and their sub-genres. I like good stories, interesting stories. I love strange stories, especially. And I loved this anthology. Loved!
After a forward by Laird Barron, we get to the stories. Opening with a tragic and deeply troubling tale by Stephen Graham Jones, “Father Son, Holy Rabbit,” which stuck in my head for days! This is followed by Paul Tremblay’s “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks.” Another gut-puncher of a story about loss and regret and fear…and love. I almost jumped ship after this one, as I was not sure I could troop through another eighteen tales of this caliber of heartbreak. But I soldiered on.
Lindsay Hunter’s “That Baby” is a sideshow freakazoid parental nightmare. “The Truth and All It’s Ugly,” by Kyle Minor, is a disorienting re-tooling of Pinocchio or Blade Runner. Kind of. Craig Clevenger’s “Act of Contrition” gives faith fangs and something sharper and deadlier. With “The Familiars,” author Micaela Morrissette delivers what is my favorite of the bunch, a stunningly beautiful and terrifying tale of a child and his imaginary friend. Really, this one will knock you out.
“Dial Tone,” by Benjamin Percy, is a tale of loneliness and loss of one’s self. Roxane Gay’s “How” is a unique and wonderfully odd little story told in short instructional blocks. Roy Kesy’s “Instituto” is about vanity and its ultimate price. Craig Davidson’s “Rust and Bone” concerns a boxer and revenge. “Blue Hawaii,” by Rebecca Jones-Howe, is a scathing diorama of a deeply flawed pair and their demons. Joe Meno’s “Children Are the Only Ones Who Blush,” is a stunning and strange drama about an ostracized and pained young man and his struggles with getting on in his world.
“Christopher Hitchens,” by Vanessa Veselka, tackles faith and loss and stars grief and dolphins. “Dollhouse,” by Craig Wallwork, is an effective haunted house story, and that’s a very simplified synopsis. Trust me. “His Footsteps Are Made of Soot,” by Nik Korpon, is a haunting tale of home surgery, resentment, and mortality. Tara Laskowski’s “The Etiquette of Homicide” is a how-to guide to being a killer for hire. This story has one of the best last lines EVER!
“Dredge,” by Matt Bell, shows us a twisted glimpse into the lonely and odd circumstances of a sad man and the dead girl he finds. Antonia Crane turns in the metaphorically titled “Sunshine for Adrienne,” wherein we wallow in the tragic misery of a very broken girl. Richard Lange’s “Fuzzyland” is a brutal excursion into denial and running from yourself. And then we hit the final story, Brian Evenson’s “Windeye,” a delirious nightmare about a house with an extra window.
The New Black is a great collection of incredibly unique fiction. I honestly liked every story in here, and I usually don’t say that about an anthology. It was also nice to encounter so many authors with whom I was unfamiliar. A strong compilation of talent. Very strong.