Tag Archives: Twilight Zone

American Elsewhere

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.

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Die, You Badass Bubbles, Die!

Earlier this year, Jan Kozlowski delivered her debut novella, Die, You Bastard! Die, via Ravenous Shadows, an imprint where every book is handpicked by John Skipp. This fact alone should be enough for most horror fans to take note, but if it isn’t let me up the ante: This book is hardcore!

Claire is a paramedic, and a damn good one at that, one who has spent her adult life trying to make up for and forget her childhood.

The novella opens with her and her partner answering a disturbing call: A little girl trapped beneath the body of a naked man. This case, coupled with a phone call, drags Claire back to the horrific events of her childhood and a lifetime of dark and dastardly suffering at the hands of her father.

Her father has been hospitalized, and in answering the call Claire is drawn into a warped scenario of revenge and double-cross and some of the most disturbing tactics ever committed to the printed page.

Ravenous Shadows debuted with a lofty promise of nearly forty titles a year, but sadly hit the wall after only five. Other than Jan’s, I have only read Adam Cesare’s wonderful Tribesmen, although I intend to track down and read the remaining titles.

Maybe after this unspecified hiatus Ravenous can get all oars in the water again and keep the line flowing. I truly hope so, but if not I am already grateful for being turned on to a pair of great authors I hope to follow for quite some time.

Dybbuk Press dropped this little collection, edited by Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall, way back in 2006. Consisting of seven stories, all poised to slap you in the face and hopefully knock out a few teeth. It was a promise I found sadly unfulfilled.

We open with the tale “Pool Sharks,” by Gerald Brennan. This is more or less hood-heavy, thug drama with a simple ghost-story twist ending. Not a bad story, but not anything a veteran watcher of Twilight Zone would not have seen coming. Next up is Garry Kilworth’s “The Stray,” a strange little number that is heavy with metaphor and satirical symbolism. Quite clever at times and a little silly at others, I rather enjoyed it. Michael Hemmingson’s “Hardboiled Stiff” is an overlong exercise in noir and the undead.

Ronald Malfi’s story, “All the Pretty Girls,” is my favorite. What we get is a darkly strange and spiritual tale of a man working to appease his god—in a very sinister fashion. Gord Rollo gives us a standard evil-tattoo tale in “Moving Pictures,” while Davin Ireland delivers “The Essences,” a story with an almost-dark-fantasy vibe. Closing out the collection is Michael Boatman’s gory “Bloodbath at Lansdale Towers,” a morality tale with a knifey twist.

While I did enjoy Badass Horror, only Malfi’s made me stand and say, “Wow!” Overall I couldn’t help but feel there was not enough “badass.” But I was entertained and could not call the evening spent reading this a disappointment.

Before reading Black Bubbles, released by Thunderstorm Books, earlier this year, I was familiar with Kelli Owen only by name, having never read her work. After reading Black Bubbles, I can say that Owen is a very good writer of dark fiction.

Reliant on character over shock and awe, I found this collection to be good, with several stories hanging on the cusp of “Holy shit, this is brilliant!” There was, however, one story that floored me. So much so that I have re-read it at least five times since the initial read, and given the amount of stories I read a year, that is saying something.

I won’t go over all of the tales, but will touch upon a few that I dug. “The Tin Box” is a familiar theme but the angle and delivery are what makes this a standout. The passing of a grandparent opens up an atmosphere of reminiscence and love…until they find evidence of family secrets best left hidden. “Shadows in a Bowl of Soup” is a wonderful prose piece. “Dig the Hole” is a fantastic slice of dark reality. A groovy little violent satire on therapy and sociopaths comes in the name of “How’s That Make You Feel?”

But “Spell” is the one. THE ONE! This story punched me in the face, wiped the blood from my lips, and then drew a big L on my forehead for not having expected it. Simply amazing story. I’m not even going to mention its plot as that would be a disservice to it.

Black Bubbles is a solid collection. While some stories were very strong, and others seemed like they could have been a bit more fleshed out, I liked every one. I hope to check out more of Kelli’s work in the future.

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Iron Transients Into Hell

I first met Darrell Schweitzer a few years ago at Necon 29, where he was selling books in the dealer room. I bought a few things from him, including his book Living with the Dead, a collection of interconnected short stories set in the bizarre world of Old Corpsenberg. It’s a short little thing, presented as sort of a novella, but its impact on me was immense.

I have numerous old fantasy anthologies and magazines with Schweitzer tales in them, but I became a fan after reading Living with the Dead.

And so this past July, at Necon 31, I picked up two more collections, Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, Refugees from an Imaginary Country, and the novels The Shattered Goddess and The White Isle.

Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, to put it simply, is a fantastic little collection of darkly weird fiction. Not surprising coming from the longtime Weird Tales editor. My favorite story in the book is “Clocks,” a bittersweet ghost story about love and the difficulty of letting go. Other great tales include “Peeling It Off,” “Pennies from Hell,” “Transients,” and “The Spirit of the Black Stairs.” The rest are quite good as well.

Actually, I could have lived without “The Man Who Wasn’t Nice to Pumpkin Head Dolls.” It had a overly cheesy Twilight Zone feel to it—which, now that I think about it, was likely intentional as it first appeared in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Not a bad tale, though, just dated and kind of goofy.

In fact most stories in this set were published in the 80s, so a few others read a bit dated, too; but despite this they’re all done really well. Schweitzer’s use of language is smooth, succinct, and at times downright poetic. I’m amazed this guy isn’t more popular.

He should be.

And in parting, I should mention that the stippled illustrations by Stephen E. Fabian are, as always, fabulous.

This was my first experience reading William Ollie (unless you count the novel excerpt from KillerCon we published in our debut issue), and it was pleasurable one.

Into Hell is part of the Delirium Books novella series. The story follows two post-9/11 scenarios: a group of war veterans struggling to survive during and after a bank heist gone awry (present day) and the same group struggling to survive on the front lines in the Middle East (past).

It’s a fast-paced and fun read, with a slight supernatural element. Very well-written, though done so in a rhythmic staccato fashion with lots of short, two- or three-part sentences that tend to detail the same thing. That might bother people who want a slower, less in-your-face approach to character development, but with it being a novella, and one on the shorter side of things, I felt the quicker pace worked to its advantage.

My one complaint would be that I found it a bit confusing at times. Both story arcs mirror each other, and when a new chapter started, I found myself wondering if this was war or post-war until something distinct appeared on the page. (Though with the luxury of having finished it, I can tell you that the chapters simply alternate back and forth between present and past right till the end.) Either way, both scenarios are depictions of war, one being from without and the other being from within.

Complaint aside, Into Hell is a solid read. It’s too bad that, for now, only 150 copies are available.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness Lee Thompson grow as a writer. I’ve read a lot of his short fiction, from the not so good to the excellent, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m sticking with this cat. He’s got the chops and delivers them yet again with Iron Butterflies Rust.

This is a tale written close to home, I think, one of love, hate, failure and redemption, and the richness—the realness—of it all shines through even the darkest moments of the story. And it’s plenty dark.

There were a couple parts in the beginning that lined up too conveniently for me, and Frank Gunn can be a bastard of a character to sympathize with at times, but overall Iron Butterflies Rust is a fantastic and heartbreaking little tale.

As with Ollie’s Into Hell, this is part of the Delirium Books novella series, thus equally as limited in quantity. A shame. Hopefully this and future Frank Gunn tales (there are more coming) will be released together in a more widely available format at some point.

For now, though, pay attention to Lee Thompson. He’s the real deal.

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