I love Horror novels. I absolutely love them. I love when an author can terrify me with things that prey on the most basic fears we feel as humans. A great story teller can spin a tale in which I'm scared to look at the next page, and yet I'm equally thrilled to do just that. I also love the unexplained, and it is in short fiction that the unexplained aspect of Horror really shines. If you want great Horror short fiction, the place to look right now, in my opinion, is either with Subterranean Press or with Tachyon Publications. For this review, I want to draw the attention of every reader to IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS, which is edited by Kasey Lansdale.
I bought IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS knowing nothing about it other than it was a Horror anthology published through Subterranean Press, and that there were stories in the collection by Joe Lansdale and Neil Gaiman. What else is needed? I really knew nothing about the editor, Kasey Lansdale, other than who she was related to. It didn't really matter. I just wanted good stories, and I figured I would learn a bit about Kasey's skill as an editor by reading the stories.
Let's just say I'm more than impressed.
IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS is an anthology about--wait for it--monsters! Impossible ones! Crazy ones! Different ones! Like every anthology, has its ups and downs. In every case these are due to personal taste. The variety of stories in the collection is so wide that there is something here for literally everyone who reads Horror. It isn't very often that I read an anthology and feel proud after finishing. I'm truly blown away by the quality of authors Kasey Lansdale was able to get, and even more proud of how well the stories are paced, how solid their quality is, and by how many different emotions are induced by reading this collection. In a collection like this, a reader isn't meant to love every single story. It just isn't going to happen. But it should also be easy to see whether or not other people could potentially love the stories others dislike. I'll keep the spoilers to a minimum, because you just can't have these stories ruined at all.
Let's start with the first story, Blue Amber, by David J. Schow. This was the perfect lead story. It starts with the discovery of a complete piece of skin from a person hanging on a fence. And by that I mean like a person having shed their entire outer layer of skin. The story is creepy, paced perfectly, and has a great, Horror-story ending. Loved it. One of my favorite stories in the collection.
Click-Clack the Rattlebag is an extremely short Neil Gaiman story, and in it Gaiman again shows how awesome he is. That's really all I can say about this one.
Monster, by Anne Perry, was a surprisingly good story. I haven't read much by her in the past, but this had a very distinct British Horror feel to it. The story was a bit predictable, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it at all.
Selina Rosen's, Nathan, was the hardest to read. The unreliable narrator (maybe) is executed effortlessly in this story, but a few sections in the story were truly horrific in an uncomfortable way. This could have been a terrible story, and yet I liked it in large part due to quality of writing. It was pulled off extremely well. Keep in mind though...geez...it was a bit much in places.
The Case of the Angry Traveler, by Joe Lansdale, is exactly what I've come to expect from him. Witty, with an odd blend of literary charm mixed with pulpish action and horror. I love Lansdale's stuff so much. For those of you that read a lot of Lansdale, this is a Dana Roberts story, so you know what to expect...kinda. This one kept me guessing. It was also my second favorite story of the collection.
The best story? For me it was Al Sarrantonio's Orange Lake. A Horror story within a Horror story, and it made me embarrassed that I'd never read anything by him before. I vow to remedy this. This wasn't just the best story fo the collection for me, it was one of the best pieces of Horror short-fiction that I've ever read. Sarrantonio manages to squeeze in so much character into his main PoV, that I hardly realized this was already an established character from a series he wrote. Orange Lake is a story I'd love to see win a Stoker Award.
The rest? Well, Blood Moccasins by Bradley Denton was so bizarre and different, yet I really enjoyed it. Charlaine Harris provides a story that her fans will like, but it didn't work for me (rough transitions that could have used scene breaks). Detritus, by Chet Williamson had a lot of winks and nudges to Joe Lansdale, and it was a fun read.
No matter who you are, if you like Horror, this is a collection for you. After reading most of the stories, I had an opportunity to talk with Kasey Lansdale at WorldCon, and I was so impressed by how friendly she was, and by how genuinely she just wanted people to read and enjoy these stories. She put a lot of work into them, and it shows. IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS is a fantastic collection of Horror stories that every reader of Horror should read, and every author who aspires to write Horror should study.
The best compliment I can give? Because of how awesome IMPOSSIBLE MONSTERS is, I'll read any anthology she edits in the future without a moment of hesitation.
Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: Yup. Pretty strong and frequent depending on the author.
Violence: All sorts. It varies based on the monster, but it can get pretty wild and graphic. Nathan has the most disturbing violence.
Sex: Nathan has some really messed up stuff in it. Bloaters has a bit too.
Want to buy the anthology? Good. You should. Right-freaking-now. Here's your link:
I know, I know. The book is old. You already know I love it. But here's the thing, THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is finally about to be released. Before I jumped into Scott Lynch's newest, I needed to go back and revisit both THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA and RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES. So I'm taking the opportunity to share my thoughts with all of you discerning readers. This of this as a re-read review.
I'll be blunt up front and share what you should already know. THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA was one of my favorite books ever when I read it for the first time five years ago. I accidentally ended up with a review copy of it when I worked for Waldenbooks. The novel sat on my shelf for about a year, untouched. It had a cover that made me think it was some sort of weird, literary fantasy romance novel. I actually began reading it by accident. I blindly pulled the novel off the shelf, thinking I'd grabbed the latest R. Scott Bakker novel, and flipped to the first page. It was fairly obvious from the opening paragraph that I'd grabbed the wrong novel. But I kept reading. And reading.
I loved it. Ever freaking word of every line. By this point I had already left the book store since it was a toxic environment perpetuated by the idiotic members of Borders' executive management (sorry, mini rant over). I had very few outlets to express my love for the novel. We've been very vocal here at Elitist Book Reviews about our love for the novel, but perhaps you want to know why? Perhaps you even want to know if THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA holds up after a subsequent read (or a third in my case).
First things first. THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, to me, is even better now than when I first read it. I appreciate it more. The ensemble cast of Locke Jean and the rest demand a reader's attention. This isn't a book you can just skim through like many novels in the Fantasy genre. Everything adds character, whether to the main characters, the villains, or the city of Camorr.
The novel follows Locke Lamora and his small gang as they execute a confidence game--or a long con if you prefer--on one of the rich and powerful couples in the city of Camorr. As you'd imagine, things go sideways, and a bigger threat to the city itself emerges. Locke and his crew are forced into the upheaval.
What I like so much about the way Lynch tells the story is that we jump back-and-forth in time as we glean bits from Locke's and Jean's past and how those moments relate to the current situation in the city. The timing of these flashbacks with either elevate the tension of the current timeline, give the reader a hint at how Locke and the gang will resolve an issue, or serve to maximize comedic impact. Make no mistake, THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA is profane and violent, but it also hysterical when the situation calls for it. This balancing act of emotions is by far one of the most impressive things Scott Lynch is able to pull off in the novel.
The city of Camorr, and its denizens, is a character unto itself. I love the way Lynch paints the contrasts of the city. The good, the decadent, the bad, and the atrocious. These opposites and all the blendings in between are shown in terms of lifestyle, food, clothing, neighborhoods, language...everywhere. It makes the city feel alive in a way that few authors manage.
I think what gets lost in people's musings on THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA--and on Scott Lynch in general--is how well he does action. I wouldn't consider him the best in the business, but Lynch crafts his action extremely well. I'm never confused as to who is present in the scene, and to how things are happening. Additionally, I particularly like how Locke isn't exactly good at fighting. Not even close really. It adds humanity to a character who has other talents.
In all, this is the type of book that any author should strive to write. And it Lynch's first. This was my third time reading THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, and it was even more entertaining this time as the first time I turned its pages. If you get a chance, listen to the book on audio. It is narrated by Michael Page, and it's completely amazing.
I'll review RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES next week to conclude my re-read. Then I'll be delving into my review copy of THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES.
Look. If you aren't reading this series, you're doing it wrong. There isn't anything else out there truly like it. THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA remains one of my favorite novels of all-time. I can't possibly recommend it more highly.
Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: All sorts. It never feels out of place though. This will likely turn off quite a few readers. This is just a heads up.
Violence: Quite a bit. Lots of throat cutting. This is a really bloody book.
Sex: Nope. It's mentioned and talked about, but never shown.
Here are your links to pick up the book, and the rest of the series:
THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA
RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES
THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES
Bryn is addicted to a drug that keeps her alive. Being tested for military purposes, Returné contains nanites that keep a body from decomposing even after it's been killed. Bryn is, in essence, a drug-induced zombie. Now, in TERMINATED Bryn will do anything to stop the Fountain Group from seeing its nefarious goals come to fruition: eliminating the addicted test subjects and selling the upgraded drug to the highest bidders.
There are good and bad things about being indestructible. For one, when you're being hunted down by assassins (lead by the also upgraded Jane, Bryn's boyfriend Patrick's ex-wife) you have a better chance of survival, even if you get blown up or shot you still come back in as good of shape as before. The bad thing is that being blown up or shot is traumatic in itself and when you return you remember every detail in all its excruciating pain. That changes a person and even though Bryn tries not to change, she sees parts of herself in the monstrous Jane.
Fortunately Bryn has Patrick, and her friends Joe, Riley, Pansy, and her sister Annie. Together they may be just enough to stop the Fountain Group. The pitfall of only having read this book and not the previous ones is that while these characters were interesting, I didn't get the depth necessary to feel connected to them. The only person I really got to know was Bryn, the PoV character. She feels the urgency to survive and stop the Fountain Group, but it means doing what's needed to anyone who gets in her way, and sometimes it's violent and innocent people get hurt. Caine does a good job portraying Bryn's struggle with what needs to be done and trying to keep from becoming Jane.
The story moves very quickly. Bryn and her friends have to cover a lot of ground in order to find the key players of the Fountain Group. They trek across the country, cover thousands of miles, dodge assassins, hide out from missile-carrying drones...it all gets pretty exhausting, there isn't much downtime. I think perhaps that while the breakneck pace is a reality of the situation, it also hides a bigger problem: key plot events are contrived. It felt like a typical 'running from the bad guys' thriller without seeing the bad guys face to face or what they're really capable of, with the necessary back story thrown in to explain away twists in the plot. It was frustrating.
Still, Caine's prose is clean and straightforward and she provides an exciting and satisfying resolution. The series might be fun on a weekend when you need some mindless popcorn entertainment.
Recommended Age: 17+
Language: A few dozen instances scattered throughout
Violence: Lots of fighting, death, and blood
Sex: One scene with detail, rape referenced
Find this series here:
TWO WEEKS' NOTICE
An anthology of vampires and other dark creatures that go bump in the night, BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS attempts to explore the unexplained. While the concept is interesting, the selected stories are a mish-mash of clever, creepy, predictable, and just plain weird.
The majority of them were so-so for me, mostly because they were confusing and unexplainable--the style not unlike the stories you heard around a late-night campfire as a kid. If you like dark fantasy for the sake of the mysterious and creepy atmosphere, you'll probably like BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS for the ambiance alone. But for me, I guess I like my stories a little more tidy and explainable, less vagueness. Maybe I'm too demanding (yes I was the spoil-sport who rolled my eyes at the campfire stories).
A few of the stories did stand out, however:
"Needles" by Elizabeth Bear - A vampire and a lamashtu walk into a tattoo parlor...that kind of makes it sound like the start of a really lame joke, but in reality they are two immortals who help each other to fulfill their nefarious needs. Great dialogue and fluid movement, with an engaging story and the display of folklore in action that turns deliciously twisty. If you pick up this book and read one story while standing in the bookstore, this one is worth your time.
"Mulberry Boys" by Margo Lanagan - George is chosen from the village boys to help Phillips (the man from the towns) who gathers the silk for trading. When George learns the true horrors of Phillips' work, he takes matters into his own hands. All at the same time horrific, sad, and satisfying, Lanagan mixes up sociological with an everyday concept.
"Sweet Sorrow" by Barbara Roden - Brian's friend from school, Melissa, disappears one day never to be seen again, leaving an unfilled hole in his heart. Until one day Brian begins to see a pattern in the disappearances of other little girls. Straightforward and predictable, but still effectively written.
"Toujours" by Kathe Koja - From the PoV of a man who watches his protégé make a terrible mistake but is powerless to stop it. A little garbled at first, Koja makes up for it with the manipulating evilness of the antagonist.
If you like mental illness stories then check out the interesting "Keeping Corkey" by Melanie Tem and "X for Demetrious" by Steve Duffy.
If you like vague creepiness then read "All You Can Do Is Breathe" by Kaaron Warren, "Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow" by Richard Bowes, "Shelf-Life" by Lisa Tuttle, and "Miri" by Steve Rasnic Tem.
Recommended Age: 16+ for general creepiness but watch out for the sex scenes (noted below)
Language: Maybe ten instances in the whole book
Violence: Some, including deaths, but nothing particularly gory other than references to blood
Sex: Referenced in some of them; "Mrs. Jones" wins the award for the weirdest sex I've ever read with "The Third Always Beside You" being the second weirdest
Find this anthology here:
BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS
So. The Hugo Awards. Maybe you've heard of them. They come in a mixed bag of good and bad, full of second guessing and "should-haves". Here at Elitist Book Reviews, we were nominated for the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine. It was a big deal. I didn't expect us to win, so it came as no surprise when SF Signal was awarded the Hugo.
By nature I'm a rather competitive guy. Those of you that know me are very much aware of this. It's what's made me successful in my day-job as an accountant for a Department of Defense contractor. So to be nominated for a big-time award? Heaven have mercy. I knew we weren't going to win, but that doesn't mean I didn't want to win. I wanted to win because I just like winning, but also because it would serve as a recognition of sorts to you readers and to my reviewers who do such an amazing job here at EBR.
But we didn't win.
A few things happened at the ceremony. First, I was really nervous. I blame Lou Anders. We were hanging out before the ceremony and Lou suddenly says, "Well dang. I'm nervous now." This naturally made me feel the same way. Nervousness in contagious, and for me, Lou was Patient Zero. I couldn't eat. I couldn't drink. And I knew I didn't have a chance at the award. Yikes.
I sat by Stina Leicht and Max Gladstone and their spouses at the Hugo Awards ceremony (they were both up for the Campbell Award this year). Awesome people. Completely awesome. They wished me well before the ceremony, and knew just what to say after losing. When SF Signal won, a few things happened:
1) I was incredibly relieved.
2) I was sooooooo thirsty.
3) I was starving.
I know, I know. Deep, deep thoughts there.
I admit, even though I knew I wasn't going to win, I still had that hollow feeling of disappointment. For myself, for my reviewers, for our readers, and for those that voted for us to win. I had this odd sensation that I'd somehow let everyone down. And then they announced that Writing Excuses had won the Hugo for Best Related Work. I got to see some of my good friends receive the Hugo Award. Shortly thereafter Brandon Sanderson won for THE EMPEROR'S SOUL. Wow. Just wow.
I was positively thrilled for them all.
And suddenly I didn't really care that EBR had lost.
After the ceremony I turned into a serial hugger, not unlike Chris Garcia over at The Drink Tank. I may be competitive, but I also love to see my deserving friends succeed. I had a long chat with the fellas at SF Signal (who are incredible people), and as excited I was to see them win, they were equally excited for EBR's nomination. There's room for everyone in the category we occupy at the Hugo Awards. As I told John DeNardo at SF Signal, as long as I'm getting people to read books, I'm a happy camper. And as he said in his acceptance speech, it doesn't matter the format - pixel or paper - we need to be accepting of the good stuff in SF&F in all its forms.
During WorldCon and since, I was and have been flooded with well-wishes. You know who you are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. There were a ton of people at WorldCon who had no clue who the heck I was, or what Elitist Book Review was. Hopefully I left people with a good impression. I met some of the most awesome people ever (looking at you, Max, Stephanie, Stina, Tacheyon, Wes, Genese, Eric, Justin, Kasey etc, etc, etc...).
We didn't win the Hugo Award this year. That's OK.
Because it would be AMAZING to win next year in London. So, to all of EBR's UK readers, you know what to do (and if you don't, shoot me an email...seriously). If EBR is nominated, I'll be going.
See you in London.
It's been a long time since I've read a book in three days. (You have to understand that I work two jobs and have four kids, one of which is a two month old, so reading a book in three days is kind of like reading it in one sitting for me.) From the prologue STEELHEART, by Brandon Sanderson, hooked me in and never let me go. This is the type of book that begged me to slip away from family and read for just a few minutes more; to let the dishes sit in the sink for just a bit longer so I could read another chapter; to stay up late, no matter that I had work early the next day. I just had to know what was coming next.
STEELHEART is set on Earth after an event called the Calamity has appeared in the sky and started turning some people into superheroes. I say super heroes because of their powers, but in reality every one of them (they're called Epics in the book) has in fact turned into a super villain instead. Steelheart is one of them, and one of the most powerful. David was present when Steelheart claimed the city of Chicago as his own fiefdom and took over. That was the day that Steelheart killed David's father. That was the only time that Steelheart had ever been hurt in a fight and David is the only witness to it. The tagline for the book is (as far as I can tell) "I've seen Steelheart bleed, and I'll see it again."
The setting is really fantastic. By setting the book in a present day earth Sanderson can really get down to what it is these Epics do and how they work. He can highlight the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in society as a result of these super beings. I love the idea of a being as powerful as Steelheart claiming the city as his own. No one can harm him so how can anyone stop him.
It's also fun to get this view of the world through David, a regular human in a strange world. The book is written in first person so we get a very personal view of that world and David's thoughts. A running theme throughout the book is David's inability to make a good metaphor. He's about as bad at it as a cat with chopsticks trying to play dominoes (see what I did there?). I wish I had written a few of them down for example here, but you get the point. Reading the book is just alot of fun.
The thing that had me turning the pages though was the pacing. This book moves along smoothly from one scene to the next. There's plenty of action, but then even the interpersonal scenes are gripping. As David helps plan to take Steelheart down you just race through the words wanting to see what happens next. Also, I'm kind of a sucker for a cliffhanger at the end of chapters. I love it. When you get to the end of a chapter and the last line is "And then I turned around and her sword was at my throat," you just HAVE to flip the next page and see what happened next. (That's just an example by the way that I made up. As far as I can remember, which is pretty well, there are no swords at people's throats at the end of chapters.) Some may dislike method for keeping the reader reading, but I'm not one of them.
Guys, STEELHEART is a good book. This is a book that my wife and I were fighting over to read (I won, by the way). If you're a fan of Sanderson's work, go buy it. If you're a fan of super heroes, go buy it. If you're a fan of good books that you don't want to put down and keep you up late in the night turning pages to finish reading and then you're sad when it's over because you have to wait for the next book in the series and that's going to take so long and I don't think I can wait that long, then go buy it. If you're a fan of slow boring books with no characterization and little plot, then I'd advise against it.
Age Recommendation: As soon as they can
Language: I think two words in the whole book and not major ones at that.
Violence: A few action scenes, nothing too gory, but it is there.
Want to buy the novel? Here's your link:
Jarra lives on Earth. But what sounds normal to us doesn't to those who live in 2788, when man has since left Earth for other worlds, thanks to the invention of portals. Unfortunately, not every human's immune system can handle what the universe has to offer. One in every thousand born can't survive on other planets and must return to Earth within hours of birth or they die. Jarra's parents sent her to Earth right after she was born and haven't been a part of her life since.
The year Jarra turns 18, she decides to do something risky: apply for a non-Earth university's archeology program. The first year requires time spent on Earth for practical history studies, during which Jarra plants to fool the class into thinking she's normal--it's hard to not be resentful when the rest of humanity thinks you're a Handicapped 'ape.' In the process she unexpectedly learns that norms aren't so bad after all...and that she could even come to love one of them.
Right from the start of EARTH GIRL, you're struck by Jarra's first person PoV voice--smart, young, and maybe a little crazy. Most obvious of all is her issue with being stuck on Earth in a day and age when it's considered a freak of genetics. She's tired of it and just crazy enough to pull a stunt in a bid to vent her frustrations.
In the meantime, we watch her interactions between her diverse set of classmates. It's obvious from the start that she loves history and it's no accident she choose this area of study. There are a lot of details about the way the class's archeology digs work--in particular here it's the abandoned New York City--it's not uninteresting and shows a lot about Jarra and her classmates. It can get infodump-y at times because there's a lot Edwards wants to tell you about this bright future for humanity, but she does her best to be concise and interesting.
Jarra felt believable as an 18-year-old young woman trying to find her way and struggling to understand her own identity. She can be a know-it-all (maybe a little too smart), silly, a show off, shy--and she even withdraws into a make-believe reality (this part is a little contrived). Her relationship with potential love interest Fian is sweet and even a tad complicated (the best kind). The other characters are a little shallow, but recognizable.
The plot is very straightforward, if sometimes bumpy as Jarra causes trouble that has to be worked around. The end felt a little rushed, but was still satisfying. Despite its problems, EARTH GIRL's themes of prejudice is handled with finesse, making it accessible to a YA audience.
Recommended age: 15+ for sexual innuendo
Violence: Non-human caused peril
Sex: Referred to mostly as innuendo; implied
If you're tired of dystopia, this would be a fun diversion. Find it here: