Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As I Embraced My Jagged Edges by Lee Thompson

Lee Thompson is a rare thing; a cracking writer and a genuinely nice bloke. He has started on the verge of real success (he has a forthcoming novel from Delirium Books and it’s already being compared to early Greg F Gifune) but his enthusiasm and passion for the genre is refreshing. Outside of short stories, this was the first 'longer' work of Thompson's I've read.

As I Embrace My Jagged Edges (Sideshow Press) tells the story of a shard from King Solomon’s temple guarded by a Jewish family. Boaz, twin brother to Angel, must come of age and stand tall against an onrushing chaos of demons, golems, sea gods and his own sexuality.

Thompson builds a believable mythical backdrop, based on Jewish history, and uses it to weave a mounting tension in the first two sections Morning and Afternoon. In the second half the pace hits breakneck and hurtles towards a startling climax, whipping the reader along for the ride. The final scene on the beach is superbly staged and littered with memorable imagery.

At its heart, lies Boaz, the real success of this story. In Boaz, Thompson has created a believable and flawed protagonist, whose struggles against his family, his own sexuality and the demons massing on the horizon will ring true with many a teenager. The second act - where Boaz meets the boy at the lighthouse - showed me the true potential of Thompson’s writing, a scene that carried a ring of truth and made for poignant reading.

The myth-making on display here is reminiscent of early Clive Barker and the unexpected poignancy put me in mind of British writer Joel Lane. All these ingredients make for a great novelette, packaged in ebook format at a very reasonable $3.

Undoubtedly, Lee Thompson will be a name to watch in 2011.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Golden Visions Magazine - fall

The fall issue of Golden Visions Magazine offers so much that not even the faintest synopsis of each and every story could be done in a relative amount of time. This magazine is big, and by big I do mean the sheer size.

All in all, the magazine consists of 17 stories and poems amidst 83 pages. It's amazing that a small-press magazine can offer so much, and it's definitely worthy of consideration for any freelance-writer or fanatic of fantastical fiction. This magazine covers it all: horror, science-fiction, fantasy, bizarre/surreal, comedy. So many stories and poems are offered that mentioning them all would just induce brain-overload on a scale of Cronenberg's Scanners. So rather than mention every story, I will just focus on two of the magazine's strongest and weakest.

By far the least favorite story for this reader was Heart of a Soldier by Rebecca Besser. The story was a science-fictional piece centered around a youth in space coming face-to-face with a moral dilemma The story was cute, in that it was a story for children/young-adults (adult readers of science-fiction might find its moral theme rather amateurish or childish); yet, the most troubling aspect of this story were the typos! So many typos that I found it hard to focus on anything else. And I quote: "Zyle tried to keep my tone light so he wouldn't worry her." Note the word "my" . . . who's first-person perspective is this? At no point in time (other than dialogue) is first-person ever used; the story is told in third-person. I don't wish to place blame on either the writer or the publishers (as typos are part of the game) but I couldn't help but wonder if a few proof-reads had been overlooked.

My favorite story was Nicholas Ozment's Frank Hunter Vs' The Crawling Brains. This was truly a humorous piece where the main character wakes to find himself as the leading role of a 1950's sci-fi/horror B-movie. With a beautiful co-star, the man is torn between his desire to stretch the family-morals of 1950's while simultaneously surviving an invasion of clay-animated brains which are on the hunt. But seriously, what's the worse that could go wrong for a film from the 50's? And what's the best?

In the end, Golden Visions Magazine has a lot to offer on almost every scale imaginable. I wish I could go more in to detail, but there's just so much this magazine offers that it's just easier to say that this magazine is for those who truly love to read . . . a lot.

Apex Magazine Issue 20

Douglas F. Warrick opens the January issue of Apex with 'The Itaewon Eschatology' a tale of night clowns, magic tricks and the end of the world. A delightfully-weird story.

In Seanan McGuire's 'The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells', a writer (and scientist) unleashes deadly viruses--her daughters--on a world that really should suspect. Well she did her best to warn them about the effectiveness of quarantines in her books. Despite a non-sympathetic protagonist, this is an engaging tale and my favourite this issue.

'Tomorrow and Tommorow' by Mary Robinette Kowal is an off-world tale about a mother desperate to save her son and how others take advantage.

You can read these stories by subscribing now to Apex Magazine ($1 an issue) or waiting until February when they'll be free to read online.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells

Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells is the debut publication from The Zombie Feed, a new niche publisher specializing in zombie fiction. In this novella, Gunnells utilizes many of the well-known topes of zombie fiction. His zombies are slow, ambling, unintelligent Romero-inspired zombies chasing after a group of survivors who are barricaded inside a confined space. Fans of zombie films are in familiar territory here. However, Gunnells gives this old story a unique twist: This ragtag group of survivors are barricaded inside a gay bar called Asylum.

The main protagonist, a young virgin named Curtis, is on his first trip to a gay bar. While waiting for his friend to finish hooking up with a nameless accountant, the zombies begin attacking. They come out of nowhere. At first, the characters automatically assume the attackers are drunken homophobes, but soon realize these are not regular people. Their attackers are walking and eating their victims despite their own grievous wounds. Inside the bar, a character makes phone calls. Emergency responders have been inundated with calls. This is not an isolated incident. The dead have risen and there is nowhere to run. They barricade the doors of the bar and attempt to stay sane.

Asylum is a fitting title and a fitting name for the bar. Madame Diva, described as a drag queen, owns the bar, and she is a compassionate mother hen who created a place of refuge for the community she loves and cares for, almost as if these men are her children. She is a well-drawn and fascinating character.

In fact, most of the characters -- with a few notable exceptions -- are well-drawn. The story is tight and quick-moving and contains plenty of gory suspense for zombie fans. The gore is actually heartbreaking at times thanks to how well Gunnells draws most of his characters and manages to create sympathy for them. This makes for a compelling read, and I devoured this book in one sitting, even if it sometimes felt a bit too familiar and a trifle predictable. The ending, while not exactly unexpected, was a fitting coda.

So, overall, this is an extremely fun, fast-paced read. Highly recommended for zombie fans, especially those purists who enjoy the classic Romero-inspired zombies. My six-pack rating: 4 out of 6 glasses of Return of the Living Red Zombie Wine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Mouth for Picket Fences by Barry Napier

I've known about Barry Napier's work for a few years now, and he's always trying something new: comic books, novels, short stories. Granted, whatever Barry touches usually has a dark edge. 2010 was a big poetry year for Barry, and Needfire Poetry (an imprint of Belfire Press) released his first all-poetry collection, A Mouth for Picket Fences, in late September.

I'm a big fan of imagery, especially poems which surprise and sometimes shock. These kind of treats fill A Mouth for Picket Fences. Consider the following examples:

"The morning spoke in tongues of thunder..." (from "Eggs")

"It was the sort of day where one would / write their eulogy on a napkin stained with mustard." (from "Lives Upon a Napkin")

I also enjoy a strong sound-sense in verse--not necessarily rhyme or careful, repetitive meter, but the way a poem "feels" in your mouth when read aloud. Napier's poems beg to be spoken, tasted, felt...

If you like dark poetry and delight in surprises, look no further.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Voyeurs of Death" by Shaun Jeffrey

I've had an electronic copy of Shaun Jeffrey's short story collection, Voyeurs of Death, sitting on my hard drive for nearly a year now. It kind of got lost in the shuffle, but it came to my attention again over the holidays when I found out that Dark Regions Press was releasing a limited edition hardcover of the collection. So, I guess that makes my review a timely one. Neat.

Jeffrey, who also has a couple of novels out there including The Kult, and most recently Deadfall, offers up fifteen short stories that run the gamut in some of the favored monsters and legends in horror. Vampires, zombies, and all sorts of things that go bump in the night make appearances in this book. The collection was originally published in 2007, with eleven of the fifteen stories are previously published, appearing elsewhere from as recent as 2006 and as far back as 1993.

Among my favorites is "The Watchers", a story of a young couple out to spruce up their love life by visiting a parking spot in the middle of the night so strangers can watch their lovemaking. The anxiety and wariness on the part of the boyfriend is easy to relate to. Voyeurs of Death proves an apt story to the collection with that story in mind, but the title story in this book, "Voyeurs of Death", is a very different--and very brief--story of a husband's horrifying vision of his wife's murder. "Sin Eater" is one of the more unsettling stories, as a family of four must contend with an imposing visitor they are regrettably familiar with, who has come to hear their confessions. Then there is "Venetian Kiss" and its reminiscence to the kinds of stories you would expect from an episode of The Twilight Zone.

A couple of the stories fell flat with me, like "The Flibbertigibbet" and "Life Cycle", but stories like "The Watchers" and "The Quilters of Thurmond" makes up for them, in my opinion. Like any collection or anthology, you're not going to like them all, but you're bound to find more than a few that you will.

I'm not sure I could reasonably recommend you shell out a heap of cash for that limited edition hardcover, but I'm the kind of guy who is thoroughly content with a well-worn paperback sitting on my bookshelf anyway--that means I'm cheap--and it is, after all, a deluxe signed limited hardcover. If you've read Jeffrey's work and enjoyed it, and you are a book collector, then you should check into it. Otherwise, I suggest sticking with an electronic copy from, or perhaps a trade paperback edition if it's available.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

One Brown Mouse by Gary A. Braunbeck

"One Brown Mouse" is one of the first releases from Apex Book Company's new Alien Shots program which offers customers short stories, novelettes, and novellas from Apex authors. Priced at just 99 cents, this novella was a great bargain. If "One Brown Mouse" is any indication, the Alien Shots program is one to watch.

Readers familiar with Braunbeck's style will find familiar terrain in this novella. While not set within his Cedar Hill cycle, this surreal science-fiction story also involves some complex metaphysics. Fans of Braunbeck will not be disappointed. Personally, this may be my favorite Braunbeck story yet.

"One Brown Mouse," at its heart, is the story of Levon, a man mourning the loss of his girlfriend and trying to make sense of why he alone survived a catastrophic car accident. The story opens during a group therapy session for those learning to cope with the loss of a loved one and handles the subject of loss well with sincerity of feeling and heart. Tiresius, the titular brown mouse, and Levon's group therapist provide interesting secondary characters as Levon tries to make sense of his increasingly strange hallucinations and understand the new reality revealing itself all around him.

I would say more, but I don't want to risk spoiling this story. In short, it is a well-written and thought-provoking novella. My 6-pack rating: An enthusiastic 6 out of 6 Sierra Blanca Roswell Alien Amber Ales.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories

The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories -- By Aaron Polson
This review comes with a couple of disclaimers: this collection is authored by the host of Skull Salad Reviews, horror writer Aaron Polson. The second disclaimer is that I only review work that I enjoy. My aim in reviewing is to point readers to good stories in the small press.
So it's no surprise that I enjoyed this collection of dark tales. This is a collection of fourteen stories where dark things lurk under the surface of normality. Aaron is adept at creating the tales of quiet horror that I am fond of: creepy tales of escalating tension
Readers may recall that I'm a fan of flash (stories under a thousand words). 'Everything in Its place' is a weird flash story, showing who things can so easily go awry in the world of Aaron's imagination. Flash doesn't owe the reader any explanations. I like that. I enjoyed this slither of strange horror.
Cover for 'The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories'A young couple, Zach and Courtney, come to the town of Broughton's Hollow fields to claim their inheritance. I enjoyed the vivid description of the inhabitants with their waxy grey skin, their unreasonable love of the desolate land, and their tendency to express the unspoken. Zach slips easily into the ethos of the community, but pregnant Courtney is determined to fight for herself and her unborn child.  
One thing that I enjoy about horror is that it doesn't have to be fair. You never quite know where you're going to end up when you read it. I keep thinking about the unfairness of 'Brian Cullen's Confessional."  When Mark returns to Black Mountain to attend the funeral of an old friend, the events of childhood rise up and overwhelm him.  
Fourteen fine tales, of hidden horrors, mutant creatures, and strange pasts. Read the free version of The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories at Smashwords or shell out a mere 99 cents to get the full fourteen tales in the bonus edition. Recommended.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Daily Science Fiction - December

A brief review of three short stories from Daily Science Fiction. I highly recommend the site. You can read the stories online or have them delivered to your email.

Nothing but the Truth by Stephen V Ramey is a short tale about a mother who thinks she is doing the best for her boy because of her own twisted ideals. Enjoyable and very effective.

In The God Solution by M.E. Castle, Deliah destroys Gods. Her five-year-old brother is a god. A heartbreaking tale that I almost want to advise against not reading because it's so sad. Beautiful writing. My favourite story of the three.

A Christmas Frost by Robert E Keller is a charming story about Wretch Pines and dark gnomes and continuing family traditions.

And if they don't tempt you. There are plenty more to choose from over at the Daily Science Fiction website.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories

Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories
by Luc Reid

Bam,  indeed. This is a collection of 172 fantasy and science fiction, flash stories. That's right -- 172. Each of them short enough to read in a few minutes, each of them rich, well crafted, meaningful. Dark chocolate stories that deserved to be savoured.

Luc Reid is a winner of the Writers of the Future award, and it shows. Most of these stories have been previously published in venues such as Abyss and Apex, Brain Harvest and The Daily Cabal.  Reid has compiled this collection, added some interesting commentary and published them at the bargain price of $2.99.

I have a taste for flash, and with the explosion of e-publishing, it could be that flash is going to take off in a big way. You could read these stories to slip a little strangeness into your life, standing in line at the check-out, on the bus, waiting in the doctor's surgery.
There are two things I like in my flash. I love spec fiction, I love ideas. Bam has idea after idea, expressed succinctly. Glimpses into worlds, very much like own, but skewed in some interesting and wonderful way. I also like my flash to have an emotional resonance. I particularly like the three linked 'Outcasts on Earth' stories, written through the eyes of alien perception.  Many of Reid's stories are moving, many of them are funny. There are too many stories to mention all my favorites. I enjoyed the Parthenia Rook series, a tongue-in-cheek pulp style science-fiction adventure series. Ever wondered what happened, after the 'happily ever after' -- read the Cinderella series.
Reid has published the collection in a number of formats. If you have a kindle you can sample or buy on Amazon. If you're like me, a person who is always trailing behind the latest trends, you can read the collection on your computer in pdf or html format. On Smashwords you can read a generous 20% sample of the book for free. I highly recommend this collection. Dark chocolate flash stories which deserve to be savoured, or, if you're greedy like me, you can gobble them all down at once.   

Tying Knots by Ken Liu

In Tying Knots by Ken Liu, To-mu, a traveller from Boston, persuades the naïve, but brilliant, Soe-bo to help him with his research in return for a new crop of rice for his village. However, the gains are weighed in one man's favour.

In Tying Knots is a tale of how the march of supposed progress is sometimes impossible to stop and how the old ways are becoming lost. Deeply effecting.

Beautifully written, this tale will stay with me for some time. You can read it here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What They Hear in the Dark by Gary McMahon

What They Hear in the Dark by Gary McMahon is the first chapbook from new publisher, Spectral Press. Both author and story are excellent choices to open the imprint.

There's no sound in the quiet room. After the death of their son, Rob and Becky move into a new house and discover the room. It's a room that shouldn't exist and like grief, the couple experience the space differently. For Becky it is a comforting place, somewhere to feel close to her son. For Rob, it is a different experience altogether.

There is a sense of menace to the tale and McMahon weaves these characters and the room into our hearts and our nightmares.

What They Hear in the Dark is a gorgeous chapbook--both the story and the presentation. The publisher Simon Marshall Jones has produced a top quality chapbook and I highly recommend it. I should however note (though there is no bias towards the story in this review--I hope) that I have a chapbook forthcoming from Spectral Press.

You can find out more about the imprint and how to purchase either subscriptions or Gary McMahon's chapbook at the Spectral Press website.