Monday, December 7, 2015

Blue on Blue


                             I don't think I've ever encountered a book as dreamlike as Blue on Blue. And not in the same sense as the surreal stories I read or anything like that, no, when I say Blue on Blue is "dreamlike," I mean in the sense that it honestly feels like a dream. There's a sense of more commonplace surreality and bright, pastel poetics that Quentin Crisp brings to his novel, that dreamlike sense that everything is absolutely strange, but that everything is exactly where it's supposed to be. Of course there are gigantic sapient brine shrimp running an attraction called the Sea Monkey Kingdom. Of course the Buena Vista (which I assumed looked like Sleeping Beauty's Castle from the Magic Kingdom) is a lucid dream palace. And of course all of these things are kind of  In Blue on Blue, Quentin Crisp creates an intriguing world with wonderful sensations and feeling, and I'm definitely going to seek out more of his work. 

More, as always, below.       

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Jottings from a Far Away Place

                            There are some books that command your undivided attention. That's the best way I can put it. There are simply books where having music on in the background or reading in a place where one could become distracted just isn't feasible. Sometimes it's because the material is dense, or the plot is heavily involved, or simply because the narrative style is just that immersive. In the case of Jottings from a Far Away Place, it's because Brendan Connell has written a book that's best contemplated and absorbed, and the best way to do that is without all that many distractions. 

                           It's a book that does things to my head in the best way, a book where each section has its own unique rhythms and place, but that builds on the sections by featuring recurring characters and themes as it goes along. If nothing else, I have to say the closest thing I've ever read is either the Zhuangzi or the works of Ryu Murakami (with their own brand of meditative gorn), and Connell manages to distance himself from those works pretty thoroughly just by dint of being a lot more bizarre.

                         In the end, I'd suggest reading a little of this one to get familiar with it. While it's a fantastic book that gets inside your head in just the right way, it'll definitely take a little to get the rhythms down. 

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Scarlet Gospels


                  I waited nine years for this book, and I'm still not completely sure it was worth it.

                   It's a good book, to be sure. And I didn't give up on it the same way I gave up on, say, Abarat (which is a huge rant I will deploy at another time. Maybe for post 200) by the same author. And, let's be honest, any meeting between Harry D'amour (the detective from Great and Secret Show and Lord of Illusions*) and the being people can't help but refer to as "Pinhead" (Him what was in the Hellraiser series**) would be final for one of them, if not both. But I couldn't help feeling like this was possibly a tired and annoyed farewell to his work, melding the dark, beautiful fantasy of his later works (D'amour's dominion) with the brutal, gruesome horror of his earlier works (you know who) in an effort to put them all to bed for good. 

                   I'm not quite sure if it's just because I expected a four to five hundred page doorstopper about the ultimate battle between the reluctant champion of humanity and Barker's most terrifying agent of change, or because it dealt a final blow to stories I hoped would continue and I'm being entitled and pissy. Maybe it's that Barker took one of my favorite characters and flung them in a new direction. But either way, the book annoyed me. 

                   If you're in the mood for a vivid, twisted fantasy involving a team of occult investigators in Hell, great. If you're in the mood for some of the most fucked-up scenes in horror outside of maybe the Edward Lee crowd***, you're in the right place. But I don't believe this'll go on the shelf next to Imajica, The Great and Secret Show, Books of Blood, and Everville

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Quantum Thief


       I have not been able to stop talking about this book for months (yep, two of them now) and I want to discuss it. I first came upon Hannu Rajaniemi when I reviewed his short story collection for one of my compensated gigs. While I didn't think much of The Quantum Thief before then and had written it off as a cyberpunk crime novel (as well as confusing it with M.M. Buckner's War Surf for some reason), I was impressed enough by his short stories to read an excerpt of Quantum Thief, and from there instantly fell in love with it. 

           It's kind of an interesting balancing act to juggle techno-utopianism with fin-de-siecle French pulp novels (the gentleman thief and the master detective archetypes kind of originated with the Arsene Lupin novels quoted as the epigraph to this novel) with a kind of wild high fantasy and some odd quantum entanglement-influenced technological twists. And Rajaniemi nails it one hundred percent. He juggles things with an incredible sense of play that, while the story may not exactly be new to me (I'm wary of any plot that involves someone reclaiming their memory) is exciting in the way it's told. 

And it is brilliant.

More, as always, below.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Nuklear Age


        There are some very rare instances where I cannot actually reveal why I like a book so much. It's annoying, it's true. Private Midnight was a book like that. There are books out there that, to explain the reason I love it so much, would ruin the beautiful bounty the book has in store. But if I tell you guys too little, then I'm not doing my job as a reviewer*. So I have to give something away. 

                     I suppose I'll just frame it like this. This is a book where the charms are not immediately obvious. It rewards careful reading, and at some point you'll either start to figure out what's going on, or you'll get annoyed and leave it be. Yes, it's a strange, kind of silly story about superheroes. Yes, it kind of goes for unsympathetic comedy. But if you're patient with it, and you stick with the concept, then it's rewarding in ways that few novels, few concepts, hell, few pieces of media hit you.

                But if it doesn't draw you in, if you don't start to wonder about what's going on, if it doesn't "click" for you, you can walk away no problems. I'm not going to call this flawless, I know better. Nor am I going to insist, no matter how much I want to, that you read this all the way to the end. This is not a book that works when forced on the unwilling, and I'm pretty sure that's why it was self-published in all its printings. It's been said that you can write for an audience or write for yourself and hope an audience finds you. With Nuklear Age, Brian Clevinger clearly did the latter. Hopefully, it works for you.

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children


         I like this book in spite of the book. That's the best way I've found to say this. I've been going around and around in circles about Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and what I liked, and what really annoyed me, and it comes down to this: I like the book in spite of what the book is. There's a great dark, atmospheric story that exists within these pages. There's also a great, creepy found-photograph novel. And as this was Ransom Riggs's first novel, and definitely the first novel he wrote with such a concept in mind, And...found document novels or works can be kind of finicky to begin with. Depending on the work, and depending on the source used, it's possible to get any number of permutations, from House of Leaves  to S. to Pale Fire to everything in between. And a novel using creepy Victorian photographs and an abandoned Gothic-novel children's home is...pretty much exactly in my wheelhouse, let's face it. You could get a more Caius book, but only by virtue of the main bulk of my reading material being "very weird shit"*. 

                            But there are...difficulties with this one. The concept needs to hang together a little better than it does, and while it's a fantastic novel, it's kind of hampered by its own premise, a premise that is good on its own, but a little awkward in its execution. But by no means should that discount that the book is full of atmosphere and weirdness, interesting world design, and a very quirky mystery at its heart. 

More, as always, below.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Truth


        I never really had any kind of deep relationship with Terry Pratchett, but he left an amazing impact on my life. I'd tried to write this out as a brief tribute, but as there are certain undisclosable legal implications to me posting that piece (this, folks, is one of the drawbacks with going pro-- the first steps into the professional arena are rough and couched in weird legal implications), I decided instead that I would try to reflect on Sir Pterry's life in the way that I have so many other authors that have left an impact on me: I'd write a review of the book that got me into his work in the first place, the book that led me to Discworld and got me to start telling people about books I thought they should read. 

So without any further ado, I present The Truth. The book without which, along with Neverwhere, this blog would not exist. 

And Sir Terry? I knew it was coming. That doesn't make it hurt any less.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Health Issues Post

Hi, guys.

So you may have realized that this month, my output was...okay, let's call a spade a spade. It was piss-poor. It was terrible.

For the past few weeks, due to some serious time slippage and insomnia, I've had trouble keeping focus and keeping my head together. This is the first day in a while I even know what day it is, and that's because last night I had a game and today I'm going to ZenKaiKon for the weekend.

I'm sorry.

I'm really sorry. You guys are my lifeblood, you have given me the ability to do amazing, awesome things, and you deserve better.

I'm gonna take the next few days off, hopefully relax, settle down a little. And then be back in April with the posts I've been working on.

See you then,


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dr. Adder


        Okay, finally, a book I don't have to discount on the basis of it being a great book with an absolute shambles of an ending. A book I can feel proud to recommend despite it being one of the sickest books I have had the pleasure (and it was a pleasure) of reading. And maybe that's the point, that it's influential for not only the science fiction genre and the underground element of "bizarre fiction", but that it's also influential for the extreme horror genre, since it features one of the best gruesome operatic revenge stories this side of Sweeney Todd, only with a casual eye towards the kind of brutal grotesquerie that only the works of less well-known weird fiction like Geek Love and Freaks 'Amour (among others) can provide. While the book's plot is something of a series of potshots in a dark room centered around the titular doctor and the young man who is his assistant, the images are strong ones overall and stuck with me well after finally closing the pages. Even if I didn't necessarily understand the climax. 

              For those willing to brave the bizarre and sometimes downright sick and depraved (all good things in my opinion) world of the Interface and its inhabitants, you will find a hell of a good read, and one of the most shining examples of American dystopian fiction. For those who want something with a little less military grade hallucinogens, dying alien gods, and prostitutes destroying their own brains with permanent and harmful drugs, then you should probably look elsewhere, or at least get this out of the library before making a decision to commit fully to this classic act of lovingly poetic depravity. 

More, as always, below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Near Enemy

                           Why is this slowly becoming the month of books I really want to like but are laid low by really stupid ideas for endings? That's a terrible theme for a book blog, and in this case, where the ending ramps up to nowhere, it's especially egregious. Near Enemy enraged me when I read it, not because of its amazing depiction of a paranoid post-terror New York where anyone with money plugs themselves into a virtual world and forgets about the outside, but because the final sentences lead off into nowhere. Now, I have not yet finished Adam Sternbergh's first novel, the highly-acclaimed Shovel Ready (released a few months prior to Near Enemy), but I would hope it doesn't leave off unfinished at a random point before the assumed climax, or I would be forced to conclude that the man is one of those people who tells long stories at parties that go absolutely nowhere, trails off right when it sounds like it's going somewhere, and then never returns to it. 

                           But maybe a book with no ending won't bother you nearly as much as it did me. Maybe you will await the third installment on tenterhooks-- not your tenterhooks, of course, it's much more fun to use someone else's, but tenterhooks all the same. Maybe you'll see it as some kind of artistic choice. A terrible, terrible artistic choice. I'd suggest taking this one out of the library, or if you can find it for free somewhere by some miracle. But unless you're a disappointment fetishist, I'd strongly suggest that perhaps you don't buy this book. It's a lot of buildup for a few lackluster reveals and a plot that eventually ends just when it was getting good.

More, as always, below

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Supernatural Enhancements


            I should, by all accounts, like this book a lot. I love found document stories. I love gothic mysteries. I even love Edward Gorey and pastiches that borrow from Gorey (still trying to track down the volumes of Amphigorey that my dad doesn't own so I can add them to the collection). And I love mad science. There is literally no reason why I shouldn't like this book. The main character even has a love of The X-Files bordering on the obsessive. That's something I can get behind. 

                         But there is something that makes me pause. The book I spent nights breathlessly reading for page after page after page did something I disliked immensely. And then, against better judgement, kept doing it. And I'm going to try as hard as I can to keep this top portion spoiler-free the way I usually do and not give up too much, but I've gotta say this: Get the book for its awesome design and format. Read it because it's an incredibly quirky and intelligent read. Then throw it across the room because Edgar Cantero can't for the life of him end a book in the proper manner. After that, you're welcome to do whatever you wish. Personally, I'm looking forward to Edgar Cantero's next book. 

This one was really good, even despite its issues.

More, as always, below. 

Monday, February 2, 2015


         In my time running this blog, I've begun to wonder if I've become cynical. Hardened. Inured to the charms of some books. I wondered this when I read Down Town and failed to be captivated. I wondered this when I got slightly annoyed at the main character of one of my all-time favorite books, The Neverending Story. And I wondered it here. When I was sixteen, I read a lot of books like Motorman. Hell, when I was seventeen, too. I thought I was profound because I sought out strange books like Electric Jesus Corpse and In The Watermelon Sugar. Because I was the only person my age I knew who'd read Time's Arrow. And, well, Motorman was the kind of book I'd have read back then, read and recommended to a whole bunch of my friends, who probably would have punched me for it. Hell, even three years ago in the pre-breakdown time of 2012*, I was still reading Trout Fishing in America and feeling like I'd rediscovered something in myself.                 

           I enjoyed reading Motorman. I just want to get that out of the way, because the rest of this review is going to be very introspective and very weird and probably as much of an insight into the reviewer as an insight into the book. The issue with reviewing Motorman in a conventional way and adhering religiously to the format I've slowly tinkered with over the past four years is that Motorman itself resists conventional analysis a bit. It's a book that slips around chronologically as it examines the inner and outer contents of its main character's head, a book that trades more on feeling and atmosphere and weird, gooey tactile sensations than on any conventional plot or structure. There are points where the book seems to have an agenda and a point it wants to make about the interplay between the real and the artificial, and possibly the nature of things in general, but the narrative doesn't concern itself with making anything obvious. It just kind of lets the story about a four-hearted man trying to meet his mad scientist friend sink in and just kind of is.

                          It's certainly a book unlike many I have read. It's a unique experience, and while I enjoyed it, I'm not sure I could completely recommend it to people. I'm not sure I'd even recommend it to myself as much. But I did thoroughly enjoy it. 

More, as always, below.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Random Acts of Senseless Violence


       My wish for this year is that just once, just one time, just for a second, there would be a Jack Womack book that I could actually recommend to people. Because he's a good author. And as I slowly maneuver my way through the DryCo books, I do like them quite a bit. The futurespeak isn't completely impenetrable, the plots are intriguing and kind of freaky, and there's something very organic about the world of the books. 

But the ones I've read, I can't recommend. 

                      Random Acts of Senseless Violence doesn't have the problems of Going Going Gone, though. It's technically the first book in the series chronologically, it's written for the most part in conventional language instead of barely-coherent hipster slang, it doesn't slam the doors on any of the worlds it creates, and for the most part, it's a tense, engaging read that posits a near-future United States where society is quickly crumbling and then sticks to it. It manages some moments of intense black humor, memorable characters, and one of the most engaging and human-feeling female leads I've read in years. This is a book that should be reprinted in classic editions and substituted in high schools instead of The Catcher in the Rye, and read and analyzed alongside A Clockwork Orange and Riddley Walker.* This is, by all metrics I have available, an objectively good book.

                       But if I tell you to read this book, I do so with the knowledge it will hold you down and punch your lights out. It will attack you on pure lizard-brain instinct and punch you in the gut so hard and so often it'll become a second career. This is to dystopian literature what Straw Dogs was to romantic movies. 

And I loved every second of it.

More, as always, below.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Going Going Gone


            I really shouldn't have read this book. Not because it's bad, or because it's disturbing-- it's a little disturbing, but not in a bad way. No, I really shouldn't have read Going Going Gone because it is in fact the last book in a six book sequence known as the "Dryco novels". Going Going Gone is actually the book that more or less slams the door on the entire universe, and kind of reveals plot details for some of the goings-on in the rest of the series. In fact, the book ends with a "where are they now" look at every character in the universe Jack Womack created and how their lives have changed after the events of the book, sort of like a trans-universal version of The Wire's closing moments. 

                 That said, a lot of the questions I had as I was reading and issues I had with the book could probably be chalked up to not quite understanding the world I was dropped into, and while I enjoyed the book enough on its own, I have a feeling a lot of the points where I thought it wasn't going anywhere or that it was spiraling off on odd tangents is probably a way to tie up the few loose ends Womack left in the previous five books' worth of dystopian black comedy. It's hard to tell what was there to shut the door on Dryco and what was actually a thing in the book that perhaps should have been better thought out.

                 In the end, though, Going Going Gone is a hilarious and unusual novel. It's like very few things I've read (a few books with invented languages and shorter Pynchon books come to mind), it's kinda twisted, and it features a fast-approaching and most likely prophetic version of the town and indeed the neighborhood where I grew up. I wouldn't make this my first Jack Womack novel, but it's immensely readable and, if you're in the mood for a shaggy-dog story involving psychedelic drugs and government conspiracies, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015



          I'll admit it, I'm afraid to write fiction. There are a lot of things that make me utterly petrified to try and write a story, or I'll stop midway through a paragraph to ask myself "Where is this going?", or I'll have some memory from three years ago that'll make me close the window and have a minor panic attack. But there's one fear that tonight stands tall above any others, and that's the fear that someday I will write a book like this one. A book that constantly and unsubtly winks at the audience, a book with so many good flourishes that ultimately doesn't cross the finish line because it tries a little too hard to be clever. It's kind of a problem with authors in recent's not enough to write a good story, but they have to let people know how brilliant they are at the same time. 

                            And what really gets up me about this is that Horrorstor is actually, when it's not occasionally trying to nudge the reader here and there, a pretty good book. The setting is unique, the atmosphere of an empty retail store at night where weird things go on is something that's been explored but not often enough that it's a cliche, the cast is well rounded, and when the frightening parts of the book actually kick in full-throttle, it's pretty unnerving. But for every unnerving moment or cool scene or neat idea, there's just that smirk, that desire the book has for the reader to get its jokes, to be "in on it". It's a desire the book doesn't really need, and it's one that doesn't completely work in its favor. When it forgets it's supposed to be a clever book, it actually is a pretty innovative and clever book, but when it decides to go that extra mile and be about as subtle as a brick to the nose.

But more, as always, below.

Thursday, January 8, 2015



              In preparation for my first ever break with the format of this blog to review a Young Adult book about a school, I went back and looked up some of the young adult titles of my youth: Wayside School, for one. some of Ellen Raskin's books for another, and Neal Shusterman, and Bruce Coville, and some other titles here and there that I remember digging. And, upon looking back, I realized something: 

YA authors scare the living daylights out of me.

                         Seriously, YA is a genre full of some freaking warped books. And not just the ones they force middle and high schoolers to read at gunpoint, either. I'm talking about the humor books meant for the middle school-age audience, I'm talking about the ridiculous books they let us read thinking "oh, they're all right for kids" that involve stuff like child slavery and brainwashing. The aforementioned Wayside School is a series of linked cosmic horror stories that also work as school comedy. 

                             Now, they're also good books, because most of these people can write. But I did want everyone to know that I have read me some Edward Lee. And some Jack Ketchum. And some Clive Barker. And all the rest. And not once did I find anything nearly as fucked up as I did in young adult fantasy or science fiction or comedy books*.

This brings us to Ribblestrop.

                            In Ribblestrop, Andy Mulligan takes the "school of adventure" tropes that one seems to find reoccuring throughout young adult novels, and blows them so far over the top that it creates an unusual adventure in a school that might as well be unmoored from reality. Despite being ostensibly aimed at the younger set, it's a book full of strange mannequins, kids getting drunk on rum repeatedly, numerous train accidents, and at least one case of nonconsensual trepanation. It's also a book full of heart, and the points where the book gets shaggy make up for it with heart and character and a wicked sense of humor. It's not a book I'd necessarily recommend, but it's fun. And in this case, fun is really all that matters.