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

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