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  #41  
Old 09-25-2010, 07:46 PM
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Finished a novel by Jack Ketchum, "Ladies Night". This was the second novel he wrote, but was not pulished until fairly recently because the publication of "Off Season" caused such a backlash in the spineless suits that run the publishing biz, this book never saw the light of day because of its violence. To be sure, it's nowhere near as violent as "Off Season", "Offspring" or GND. But it has its moments. It was a fun, & very quick read (under 200 pages).

The premise is that a mysterious unmarked tanker truck is involved in an accident, & releases a mysterious substance into the air over Lower Manhattan that causes all the women who breathe it in to have psychotic breaks, and turn violent. Deadly violent. They also develop exceptional strength and bloodthirstiness. The protagonist is a philandering husband & father, out on the prowl for another one night stand when the epidemic strikes. The rest of the book is mostly a chronicle of his efforts to make it the six blocks or so home, where his son has been left alone. . . with his mother.

I suppose Ketchum could have used such a premise to ham handedly get moralistic about womens' roles in society. He does mention some things of that nature, but I think they're more plot devices than an attempt to moralize (such as, the female newsstand owner's distaste for, but grudging tolernace of porn because of its profitability). They seem more specific to the individual characters (not surprisingly, the philandering protagonists's wife is not at all happy about his cheating, but you never get the sense she feels all men are like that & no good at all for that reason). And there's a few that seem not to detest men at all before the plague strikes. Although the ending does get a touch heavy handed (not to mention derivitave; any horror fan worth their salt will know immediately what I'm talking about), I think it's a credit to Ketchum's credibility that he doesn't choose to get up on a high soapbox & preach to us. There's flawed male characters here, but not all of them are. And there's some flawed females, too. It's the individuals in some cases that are fucked up, and not society as a whole. The moral never got in the way of the story, much as it doesn't in Stephen King's stuff when he's one.

As mentioned above, there is a fair amount of violence to be had here. Nothing stomach churningly gross for veteran gore hounds like me, but a few cringe worthy scenes. So if you like that (as I do), you won't be disappointed. There was at least one scene that was horrifying in its emotional implications, and a few that'll make you shake your head and say "Damn, that's fucked up. Can't believe he went there." Never a bad combo in a horror novel, IMO.

One serious flaw the story has, IMO, is it's too short. And I'm not trying to flatter Jack here. In his intro he notes that when he originally wrote it as the planned follow up to "Off Season", it was almost twice as long. It delved a lot more into the scientific aspects of the phenomenon. He says he had a trusted friend help him pare it down to its current form, and it feels a little choppy in places, like you can tell something's missing. It sems like watching a DVD on the fastest FFWD setting, wherein it seems to skip frames rather than just play really fast. You get the sense that transitional scenes have been cut in a few places. I guess we didn't need the science delved into, but the choppiness I could have done without. I'm all for economy of language & being against bloat, but genuine plot advancement, character development and action are hardly (in most readers' opinions, I daresay) bloat. I would love to read the original version, if he ever has it published. I think the lack of character development hampers the book quite a bit, because we're not heavily invested in even the most important characters. This prevents it from being a great book, as opposed to a fun genre read, more than anything else, IMO.

Overall, this was far, far from Ketchum's best work. It's not in the same league as GND, the Lost or Off Season by a long shot. It's probably not as good as Offspring, She Wakes or Red. But it's better than Hide & Seek. And way better than a lot of the shit being published today. I'd recommend it to any horror fan, because it's such a short quick read that even if you DON'T like it (and I think you probably will), it won't take up too much of your time.
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  #42  
Old 10-04-2010, 07:25 PM
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Just finished a collection of short, mostly raunchy, water/aquatic themed short horror stories called "Dead Bait". I had only heard of one author in this collection (David Dunwoody, who wrote "Crawlies", which was probably the most disturbing tale in the book). And that's a shame, as some of this stuff was quite good.

Don't get me wrong; none of this stuff is high literature. And save perhaps for Ron Leming's "Fox Goes Fission" and Mark Onspaugh's "Death Roe" (the opening & closing tales, resepctively ) none of them is particular genre standouts, for that matter.


A couple were also kind of (intentionally) silly, like Mark Zirbel's "Something Fishy is Going On". Although I will admit, despite its seemingly stupid premise, the imagery form that one kind of stayed with me. And there were not one but two - count 'em, two! - zombie fish stories. One involved zombie piranha. I kind of have to wonder: why bother? Piranha are reputedly savage eating machines already; did one really need to turn them into zombies?

I think it's fairly safe to say we all hold at least some fear of the sea on some level. And this book's tales tap into that fear - sometimes in surprisingly disgusting but effective ways. Good show overall for ahorro fan. Recommended.
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Old 10-04-2010, 07:45 PM
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I picked up Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts after really enjoying Horns. Can't wait to crack it!
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Old 10-05-2010, 12:09 AM
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For a change in pace, and a recommendation from the hermana, picked up a collection of Flannery O'Connor and John Osbourne's Look Back in Anger.

Must crack them spines as soon as I finish the latest Lapham's.
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Old 10-05-2010, 01:24 AM
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Flannery O'Connor is amazing. One of my favorite authors.
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  #46  
Old 12-02-2010, 07:23 PM
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Finished "Best New Horror IV" the other night. Another mid 90's (94, I think?) collection of short stories from my favorite series of that kind. One of the better ones. I don't have the book here at work so I don't recall the author or title, but a story based on "Dracula", which posits Drac killing Van Helsing & successfully wooing Queen Victoria and turning her into a vampire (making vampirism nit just legal but fashionable) in the Empire, was a particular standout. It featured appearances by Dr. Jekyll (and thru exposition, Mr. Hyde), Jack the Ripper, Robert Merrick (the Elephant man), and (again, thru exposition) Alan Quatermain & Sherlock Holmes. Typically stories like that are cheese to the core, and come of like literary fapping by some over exuberant fanboy. Perhaps because this story's author was female, it avoided that, and was just a good story, with a reserved tone, and a really good ending. Some nice, disturbing imagery to be had there. Also standing out was a tale called "Snodgrass". Again, I don't recall the author, but it posited the question: what if John Lennon had left the Beatles? I've never been a particularly huge fan of the Beatles, but I can see how some would find this concept terrifying indeed. It was not standard horror by a longshot, but the dismal tone of Lennon as has been, ne'er do well narrator gets one properly depressed.
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:54 PM
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Finished Philip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle" the other day. This wasn't really sci fi in the traditional sense, but more of an alternative history. The premise was that the Allies had lost WWII and America is occupied by the Reich on the East Coast, and Japan on the West Coast, w/ the midwest as a kind of free state, but only a shadow of its former self (mostly taken up by the Rocky Mountains & the deserts of the Southwest), and the South (presumably the Southesaters US) as another, wherein, for reasons unexplained, slavery is legal once again.

I admit, I kind of didn't get the ending completely. I think I get the gist, but wonder why everything was so frustratingly oblique. I can't really say more without spoiling it. The best parts of the book for me were the inner monologues of some of the characters, as they contemplated the state of the world. The characters' thoughts on the Japanese society foisted on the Pacific Coast and the unbalanced, sick nature of Nazi Germany (which continues to cleave to the racial views originally espoused by Hitler, even though he is long out of power by the time of the book, 1962), are fascinating. And totally believable. You find yourself truly believing that, were this nightmare scenario to come to pass, this is EXACTLY how it would be. Dick doesn't spend all that much time explaining how the military defeat comes about, although he does hint that FDR is assassinated before Pearl Harbor and his successor is a weakling. So I figure the social commentary is more the point of the book. A good read. I'd recommend it.
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  #48  
Old 12-27-2010, 09:34 AM
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Finished a book last night called "Cthulhu Unbound: Genre Blending Tales from Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos". An intriguing concept, to say the least. We've got everything from noir detective fiction, to westerns to a story pitting superheroes against Lovecraftian horrors, and a few spoofs as well. Overall, I liked this book. Most of the stories were at least readable, even if a few were cringe worthy for all the wrong reasons.

I once started a thread at The-Other-Site-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named about horror being the most blendable genre. At least in film. Horror just seems to work and play so well with others. I mean, we've got lots of horror comedies, sci-fi/horror blends, even a few romances thrown in the mix from time to time. So the idea for this book probably had a better than average chance for success. However, when writing an imitative work like this, one must be respectful of the source material. And it's apparent from some of these tales that a few of the authors just don't get Lovecraft. Or don't care to for purposes of their stories. For example, the lead story, "Noir-lathotep" is, as one could gather from the title, a noir detective story wherein an aspect of Nyarlathotep must solve the murder of one of his many aspects, which occurs in 1940's (I think) Earth. Detectives must, by definition, have orderly, logical minds in order to analyze clues & solve a mystery. This detective is no exception. But Nyarlathotep is the fucking Crawling Chaos, and logic and order are the farthes things from its mind. Writing a story like that makes no sense, and shows a complete failure to grasp the source material. I remember thinking to myself as I finished this story: "Oh, Christ I hope they get better than this" (They did, rest assured). Another entry, "Star Crossed", has Yog-Sothoth and Hastur assuming the forms of a beautiful woman and a handsome man, respectively and postulates that they're star crossed lovers as well as Great Old Ones. LIke all couples, they argue. In this case, over having a baby.

Really? Really?

The concepts of Love and beauty should be just as foreign to any Lovecraftian god as order. Clearly, this author doesn't get it, either.

On the better side were such tales as "The Invasion Out of TIme", by Trent Roman, a tale of modern, actually futuristic, fighter pilots battling what sounds like an invasion of Primordial Ones. From the tone of the naration and the names of the characters, I gather the pilots are Chinese, but this is never made explicitly clear. This tale explores the concepts of temporal and spatial distortion pretty effectively. I also really enjoyed "Turf" by Rick Moore, which explores the Deep One phenomenon (or something very much like it) in pretty gory and creepy detail. Well done. "The Menagerie" by Ben Thomas was probably my second favorite story in the book. It's about a hunter employed by an Italian prince in what sounds like the Rennaissance, tasked with hunting down and capturing as many of the horrific beasts in the Necronomicon as he can find. Naturally, the Prince gets much more than he bargained for. The conclusion plays a little fast & loose with the concept of the Return of the Great Old Ones, but it was still a fun read. LOVE to see that part captured on film. My favorite tale, however, was "In Our Darkest Hour", the superhero story. Not surprising, I guess, given what a comic book geek I've always been. Its connection to the Mythos is pretty tenuous, and could have been written w/o any reference to it and been just as enjoyable. But it was well written, and would make a cool graphic novel.

I'd recommend this book to any Lovecraft completist. I used to avoid the stuff written by Loveccraft's imitators, because I had this preconceived notion that they couldn't be anything but pale copies of the Master. But in recent years I've relented and started reading quite a bit of it. After all, the original authors to take up the Lovecraft mantle (Derleth, Belknap Long, and Bloch, among othrs) were HPL's close friends & literary confidants & sounding boards. HPL himself did quite a bit of uncredited ghost writing in his lifetime, putting his spin on the ideas of others, or giving others ideas to spin themselves. For the most part, I now think the Master would hve been pleased to see the works his pupils hath wrought. Besides, imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery, is it not? I regret now having closed myself off for so long from some really good reads. I suggest you not do yourself the same disservice.
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  #49  
Old 01-09-2011, 08:18 PM
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Polished off Boardwalk Empire a few days ago. This was a great little read, but if you're looking for an in depth chronologue of the life & times of Nucky Johnson, you're gonna be a little disappointed. Nucky only gets 2 chapters (of the book's 12). And those paint a fairly broad overview rather than delving into anecdotal, day to day detail. Some of the details Johnson does provide are also completely the opposite of what's being depicted in the series, so reading this book isn't really a spoiler. It seems the folks at HBO are taking quite a few liberties with the facts (not that there's anything wrong with that; it does say it's BASED ON a true story, after all).

That having been said, Nelson Johnson (who, contrary to what I have read somewhere and, much to my chagrin, posted numerous times, is NOT Nucky Johnson's grandson; not even related, in fact) does a fine job giving us an overview of the history of Atlantic City. He starts out before any town to speak of existed on Absecon Island (the site of present-day Atlantic City), when a man named James Pitney, a country doctor in South Jersey, dreamt of becoming rich by founding a health resort by the sea there. Through sheer perseverance and the shrewd insights of a few powerful businesmen who saw the potential for profit in the idea, deals were eventually struck with the railroads into Philadelphia, and the development of Atlantic City was underway.

Johnson then outlines the City's early days as a resort for the working class from Philadelphia, the prohibition/Nucky Johnson era, the contributions and plight of relocated southern blacks, who played a huge part in the hotel industry, the resort's eventual slow decline after the repeal of prohibition, Nucky's successor as boss, and in turn HIS would be successors (and why they failed), the town's partial renaissance with the advent of legalized gambling in 1976, and closes with a chapter called: "The Donald COmes to Town". Guess what that last one's about?

This book is written in an easy to read, narrative style, but does not skimp on well researched facts. The characters & events are larger than life, so you can't help but be entertained. But when you finish each chapter, you feel like you've actually learned something. The history of the city Johnson presents is fascinating, at times uplifting, and by turns heartbreaking and infuriating. Among other things, you gain an insight (better than any I've read anywhere else thus far, and I've made something of a study of these things) into how machine politics worked - and why it worked so well. His knowledge of how and why the first constitutional referendum on legalized gambling in 1972 failed, but the second in 1976 succeeded, and how the current shape of AC's casino industry came to be is also quite impressive.

This edition, which has a cover that is modeled after the HBO series' title sequence, has a color photo inset depicting Buscemi & co. in their roles as characters from the city's real history (you may be disappointed by how few of them are mentioned in the narrative itself; but I gotta say, Dabney Coleman is spot fucking on as the Commodore). But more interesting for me was a B & W inset w/ photos of the real Nucky Thompson, the real Commodore, "Captain" John Young (the guy who does the dockside "Creatures from the Deep" thing when Hans Schroeder's body is discovered), several incarnations of the Boardwalk, and other historical figures and places.

If the HBO series has sparked any interest in you in the subject matter or people it depicts, this book will be a worthwhile read for you. I recommend it highly.
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Old 01-23-2011, 04:02 PM
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Just finished the Second Fafhrd/Grey Mouser book, "Swords Against Death". Note I didn't say the second "novel" in this venerated sword & sorcery series. This book was not a unified, book length narrative. Rather, it was a collection of short vignettes. SOme were only a few pages long. They were very good examples of heroic S & S fiction, and clearly a huge influence on E. Gary Gygax' creation (he claimed more so than Tolkein; don't know if I'd go that far, but it's plain he borrowed concepts from these books heavily). BUT, I think I would have liked a book length (or maybe a book containing 2 or more novella length) stories just a bit better. That having been said, I still plan on buying the rest of the series that Lieber himself wrote. Now, don't for a minute think any of this is high literature. Viewed in that light, Tolkein wrote circles around Lieber. I read "The Hobbit" in my freshman year of high school as part of the Honors English curriculum. And it fit. I don't see Lieber's work doing that. But if you can put that aside and just enjoy some no-nonsense two fisted fantasy, this will be an enjoyable read for you.
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Old 01-23-2011, 04:51 PM
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Now that takes me back. Haven't read any of the Fafhrd/Grey Mouser stories in about 20+ years. More of an Elric of Melnibone fan myself, but it's past time I gave these stories another spin.
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Old 01-23-2011, 06:12 PM
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I enjoyed the Elric books (I'm not sure if I read them all), but they got a little too weird for me at times. That whole thing with the Eternal Champion being a composite of 4 heroes from other dimensions, jammed together into some 8 limbed monstrosity? I just didn't dig that. While they unquestionably deal with fantastic subject matter, The Lankhmar books are a bit more . . . grounded? I guess? The Elric books definitely gave me some D&D ideas of my own, but overall I think I prefer fafhrd & the Grey Mouse Dude.
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Old 01-23-2011, 06:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Hocken View Post
Iggy,

Seeing how you've read your share of horror. What was your thoughts Guiermo Del Toro's The Strain?
I should note that I bought this w/ one of my last B & N X-Mas gift cards. Looking forward to it, as I haven't read a good vampire novel in ages.
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Old 02-13-2011, 09:16 PM
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Just polished off the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vol. 10. This contained stories from 1998. Considering this was the tenth anniversary edition, one would expect they'd bring it in a big way.

Sadly, they didn't.

A couple of these stories were barely horror. Some were drama, with maybe an unpleasant bent. Including the inevitable Ramsey Campbell entry (which was, admittedly, a little better than his usual; the ending kind of had you wondering just what exacltly he meant, in a good way). But one particular standout at the opposite end of the spectrum was "Postcards from the King of Tides" by Caitlin R. Kiernan. At first, I totally didn't get or like this story. The ending was so subtle I didn't really pick up on its import. But it was strong enough that I kept feeling like I was missing something, so I went back and read it again. And again. And AGAIN. It's very rare that I do that, but somehow I felt it had to be me here. It was. This was a very well crafted, subtle and pretty damned scary little nugget. Kudos to the editor and author for finding and creating this gem. "Upstairs" was a very short but very creepy little yarn by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Impressive in its economy of language and the effective use thereof. And there was an entry from Harlan Ellison, which was great of course. Most of the rest were just OK. Not BAD, just. . . OK. Hardly as impressive as you'd want to see in a 10th Anniversary edition, as I said. Worth the read for the above noted standouts, however. And a necessary component in my quest to read them all.
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Old 02-13-2011, 11:00 PM
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Iggy, got any good zombie novels to recommend? I read the one rerb went on and on about and loved it but I need something new, or at least new to me. I like horror but really on a zombie kick lately.
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Old 02-14-2011, 06:56 AM
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Was it The Rising?
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Old 02-14-2011, 11:55 AM
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currently reading 'The Dawn Patrol' by Donald Winslow. This guy is frickin' great.
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Old 02-14-2011, 12:52 PM
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Iggy, got any good zombie novels to recommend? I read the one rerb went on and on about and loved it but I need something new, or at least new to me. I like horror but really on a zombie kick lately.
If you got "The Rising" go read "City of the Dead", "Dead Sea" and "Conqueror Worm".
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Old 02-14-2011, 01:51 PM
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Yeah it was "The Rising" will pick up those three Rerb. Really dug "The Rising."
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Old 02-14-2011, 01:53 PM
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City of the Dead is the direct sequel. But the rest of the books are in the same "world". There a TON more. But those 3 are pretty great IMO.
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