Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

Fresh Blood: Tales from the Speculative Graveyard
By Lawrence R. Dagstine
Review by Nickolas Cook
Sam’s Dot Publishing

First off, let me preface this review with the comment that the title says it all. This is not straight up horror the likes of which you’re probably familiar. Instead, Dagstine takes the tropes and archetypes of the horror genre and uses them to tell usually fantastical/alternate world stories with a decidedly dark bend. But unfortunately the old saying ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ mostly applies here. Dagstine gives nods to serial sci-fi adventure stories such as Doc Savage and Flash Gorden, one to the undead world of George Romero, and even a little love to swashbuckler films of the good old Errol Flynn school of sword and sails. But in the end this collection feels as if he’s trying so hard to borrow that he forgets to make it his own.
The biggest problem for a horror fan is that this collection is going to feel a little like too much cotton candy: sickly sweet and ultimately unsatisfying to digest. There isn’t much substance here.
One of the huge problem areas I found was the lack of genuine dialogue. It gets pretty cheesy in parts and pulls you right out of the story. There are a surplus of everyone’s favorite !!!. We should probably send out a newsletter to every new writer that !!! does not make for compelling reading; it does not add any drama to the dialogue and/or scene. It should, in short, be stricken from your freakin’ keyboard posthaste!!!
That being said, I will commend Dagstine for his attempt at trying to create in FRESH BLOOD something a little different in a so-so genre that may have seen its best days. In future, perhaps he will find more effective ways to do so.

--Nickolas Cook

This Ghosting Tide by Simon Clark
Review by Nickolas Cook
Bad Moon Books

As much as I love Clark‘s usual brand of unique fiction I have to admit I didn’t care much for his newest selection from the folks over at Bad Moon Books.
THIS GHOSTING TIDE tells the story of a weirdly diverse band of ghost hunters brought together by an eccentric and very rich man named Byron and his strangely human like monkey, Polidori (yes, you read that right all you fans of English poetry). They’re on a quest to prove the existence of a paranormal world beyond our own. Included in this merry band of misfits is Fletcher, a fat balding huckster playing the rich man for all he’s worth, Kit, the nonbeliever who needs money so badly he’s willing to get into coffins with dead people to get it, and Ashara, a strong willed woman helping to produce the material they hope to turn into a reality show for television.
After a fairly funny comedic opening to introduce the main characters, they’re approached by Ruth and her little sister Penny. The girls tip them off to an extraordinary daily event that happens near their home that they call The Ghosting Tide. Our intrepid ghost hunters rush to the scene just in time to be overwhelmed by a supernatural wave of pure evil that leaves them shaken. From there, the story gets a little…well…weird.
Sounds like a great little story, right? So why didn’t it strike a chord with me?
First and foremost, the narrative was jarring as hell. Clark makes a lot of assumptions to get the story moving along and doesn’t take much time to make them believable. These jumps in logic truly detract from the story and left me wishing he’d slow it down a bit and build some suspense. Now I know that’s hard to do in a wee book such as this (somewhere around 30K words, would be my guess), but if the story demands more room, give it the room, I say. Trying to cram too much into such a small area is just asking for criticism. And to me that’s an unforgivable writing sin.
Another thing that I didn’t care for much is that I got the sense Clark was sort of making sport of those who do believe in the supernatural. This may have been unintentional on his part (he was after all part of a now famous UK show called Winter Chills, a reality tv show about the paranormal) and can perhaps be forgiven. But it left me feeling letdown overall by his attitude towards the things that go bump in the night.
Bottom line: this is probably for Simon Clark completists only. For those who aren’t, save your money; Bad Moon Books puts out much better chap books than this one on a regular basis.

--Nickolas Cook

Wolfen By Whitley Streiber
Review by Nickolas Cook
Morrow (original publisher)

Personally, this reviewer thinks this is one of the classics of 70s horror fiction (but I may be a bit biased; see this month’s editorial) and it deserves a new audience. Sure, it’s a bit dated because of updated surveillance and detection technology available to today’s law enforcement, but still has bite…where it counts.
There is a species of prehistoric and super intelligent wolf-like creatures that feeds off of the dregs of society, the ones that aren’t likely to be missed: drug addicts, the homeless, etc., etc., and one particular pack of them is doing so in New York City. Unfortunately these wolf-like creatures kill a couple of on duty officers at a landfill and garner the attention of the police. That’s where Detectives George Wilson and Becky Neff come in, when they are assigned to the case. Along the way they find compelling evidence that this was no ordinary murder and try to call attention to the fact that something not human may be preying on the citizens of NYC. Of course, in true horror fiction fashion, no one believes them, despite some pretty overwhelming evidence, and the authorities try to shut them down before the press can get wind of their arguments.
But now the Wolfen (the name for the wolf-like monsters) know they’ve been exposed to humans and they must destroy Wilson and Neff before it’s too late.
What starts as a police procedural with a twist, soon becomes a chase novel (the Wolfen chasing the detectives) and then finally a siege novel.
By the novel’s end, Streiber leaves us with the notion that there are countless packs of these Wolfens roaming the world and soon their secret will be known to all mankind.
Of course, he doesn’t say what we’re likely to do to them once that happens, but I think we’ve all seen enough Hunting Channel to know we’re probably going to shoot them as quick as possible, right?
As good as the book is, there are problems. The first is that the dialogue comes off a bit stilted here and there, making it feel cardboard and unconvincing. Another issue I had is how far the authorities are willing to go to ignore the facts and keep the detectives silent. I suppose it could happen that way, but given the amount of evidence to the contrary, calling the killings a combination of carbon monoxide poisoning and indigenous after-death feeding seems a little too contrived to me. Of course, I’m sure he was concerned with pace at that point and didn’t want to hurry to fast towards the frantic, nail-biting conclusion.
Still, despite these minor flaws, WOLFEN is still a damned good read and should be picked up by any horror fan who wants to dive into the history of great horror bestsellers from the 70s.

--Nickolas Cook

Season of Rot: Five Zombie Novellas
By Eric S. Brown
Review by Nickolas Cook
Permuted Press

Just when you think the market couldn’t dare hold the weight off yet another zombie book, Eric S. Brown comes along and makes it feel new and fun again. Seriously, this was one hell of a great read. I wanted it to keep going.
Brown knows his way around the zombie film genre. Within the five novellas presented in Season of Rot (Season of Rot, The Queen, The Wave, Dead West, and The Rats) you have nods from everything from Romero’s undead to Bruno Mattei’s cheapjack flesh eaters. There’s even a little nod to Grau’s masterpiece “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”. But don’t get me wrong: these are not your normal shambling piles of hungry R-jelly monsters, folks. No, these zombies are super-charged, gun-toting, clever as hell creatures intent on using the last of mankind as food (see The Queen as to how they plan to do so) or simply just to eradicate them. Brown knows what works best in zombie fiction: gore, isolation, siege fighting and survival mentality. And no one is safe in his story. You think you know who will make it through each story, but you don’t. Brown manages to give his readers enough twist and turns and originality, in a sub-genre of fiction that feels quite frankly as if it will never die a good death, to keep you turning the pages. In short, he gives his reader the unexpected.
As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I think a good novella is extremely difficult to pull off. Here, Brown does it not once, but five times. Each one of these little jewels would have been worth the cover price, but Permuted Press gives us five outstanding examples of not only great novella writing (pacing, dialogue, and well drawn out characters in a limited amount of space), but every one is also some of the best zombie fiction I’ve read in ages (not since Brian Keene’s masterwork, “The Rising”). Why this guy hasn’t found big house success yet, is a mystery to me. Hey, Leisure! How about calling this guy and getting a full blown zombie manuscript from him?
Given what I’ve read in SEASON OF ROT I expect Brown in the next few years is going to kick horror butt and take names.

--Nickolas Cook