Saturday, November 5, 2016

Brief Thoughts 18

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

The first books I had read from Brite weren't his horror work, but books in his Liquor series which followed two chiefs opening a restaurant in New Orleans. Most people who were fans of Brite's work recommended this as his best.

The story follows four characters. An English serial killer named Andrew, a New Orleans cannibal named Jay, a runaway boy named Tran, and a writer and pirate radio show host named Luke. Andrew manages to escape from prison in London and flees to the United States. There, he meets another killer named Jay and the two fall in love. They both become fixated on a runaway boy named Tran who they view as a perfect victim. Meanwhile, Luke, who was Tran's ex-boyfriend, desperately misses Tran and wants to get him back.

I could nitpick certain things in this book, like how Andrew's point of view is first person while the rest is third or some clumsy phrases in the book (marijuana has a "spicy" green taste? what weed has Brite smoked?), but frankly none of that detracted from the book for me. This is an incredibly decadent, colorfully disgusting book. It's full of intense descriptions of murder, sex, disease, and consumption. It has a straightforward story that propels at a good pace but the experience of reading this is more of a draw than the story.

This isn't a book for everyone, but if you enjoy the work of writers like William S. Burroughs and Dennis Cooper, this is a must read.

Buy Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite here. 

The Maimed by Hermann Ungar 

Franz Polzer is a bank clerk obsessed with order. Neurotically so. Due to having witnessed his father and aunt committing incest as a child and being molested by a neighbor's maid, Polzer hates and fears sex. So when his widowed landlady begins making advances to him, it throws his life into chaos. To make matters worse, his childhood friend Karl Fanta has lost both his legs to an unknown sickness and it seems to have made him lose his mind as well. Karl believes his wife is sleeping around and is planning to have him killed for his money.

This is quite a grotesque novel. It's best described as a psychological horror. Polzer, while he's the main character, is the eternal middle man. He's a low level bank clerk, he acts as an intermediary between Karl and his wife, and he absolutely hates being the center of attention. To him, nothing good can come from being paid attention to. He wants nothing more than for things to be left in order. He hordes his possessions and makes a catalog of them. He constantly worries that he'll be stolen from. He doesn't feel safe anywhere.

Sex and religion are probably the biggest themes in the book. Nearly every character here suffers from a disordered sexual drive. Polzer is hates sex due to his childhood abuse, Fanta is frustrated due to his inability to have sex because of his illness, Polzer's landlady is extremely promiscuous, and an attendant hired to take care of Fanta is an extreme masochist who believes injuring himself is atonement for his sins.

Polzer is a Catholic who is not religious, but keeps a picture of a saint above his bed. He believes it protects him. Polzer's landlady is a Jewish woman who can't stand the picture. Fanta is also Jewish, but is completely indifferent to religion, this ends up clashing with his pious attendant.

Ungar is not a well remembered author. He was a contemporary of Kafka and is often compared to him. They were both Jewish writers from Prague who wrote dark fiction, but Ungar is quite distinct from Kafka. Ungar finds horror in the every day and in the repressed psyches of the people around him. While his body of work is not large, this book makes it clear that Ungar deserves to be more well-known than he is.

Buy The Maimed by Hermann Ungar here.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Update: A New Review of My Chapbook and Another Story

Recently, writer HAarlem VEnison of Acid Right. Did a video review of my chapbook, "the sky is black and blue like a battered child." You can watch it below.


I also have another story up at CLASH Media. Another creepy short story called "Please File Under Adult Contemporary." They had also published another short creepy story of mine called "The Soda" as well.

Don't forget that I'm also writing a lot at Cultured Vultures. Here are the last three articles published.

Book Review: Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks by Christoph Paul 
13 Halloween Books You Should Read (If You Dare) 
How to Get Book Review Copies

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Towers by Karl Fischer

Civilization is threatened with destruction by sea monsters. Defense towers that require the operators to meld their conscious with them are erected with the promise of eternal bliss to the volunteers. Alti and Quatra, seduced by the promise of being together forever in heaven, volunteer to operate the Towers. Alti wakes up to discover he's been tricked. He sets out to escape the Tower and be reunited with his darling Quatra.
We were three hundred meters tall, anchored to the bedrock mammoth monopile roots. We were carbide skeletons on which steel and lead and graphene plastic matrices were layered to oblique, unbreakable skin. But most of all, we were the Gods of Fire and War and Thermonuclear Destruction. When we unleashed Atomic Hounds upon the night's void, every kingdom shuddered and every mortal knew why were built.
The best part about Towers is easily the prose. Fischer has a way of writing that reads as both intense and dreamlike. This is the kind of book that can be read in one setting and finishing it is just like waking up. Despite the disjointed narrative, the novella remains engaging and moves along at a good pace.

Ultimately, Towers is a love story. Alti spends most of the book attempting to reunite with his beloved Quatra. An intense longing runs through the book that only occasionally feels schmaltzy. Fischer builds their relationship convincingly and the pain of Alti's separation from her comes through.

The biggest flaw in the book is the abruptness and unconvincing neatness of the ending. Most of the novella uses the short length to its advantage, but the ending comes along and the book feels more like it just stops than properly ends. Not to mention the fact that after everything that happens in the book, the fact it wraps up as easily and neatly as it does feels forced.

Towers is a strong debut. Despite the disappointing resolution, its masterful prose, strange imagery, and pathos make it well worth reading.

Buy Towers by Karl Fischer here. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III

I thought the act of kissing became extinct long ago, even before the walm, people just stopped caring enough to kiss before fucking. Love is a dead performance. Only the hardcore fuck job is required.
I discuss bizarro fiction in a lot of my reviews. It's taken me some time to get to Carlton Mellick III's first novel from 2001, though. What Neuromancer is to cyberpunk, Satan Burger is to bizarro.

It's difficult to summarize the plot of Satan Burger. It's not an especially plot-driven book and there is a lot going on. The main story line is that a door to alternate dimensions, called "the walm," opens up on Earth. It lets beings from other worlds in but it's powered by sucking the souls of people, leaving them hollow shells. To keep the walm from putting him out of business, Satan opens a burger joint where people trade their souls for burgers. The narrator, Leaf, gets a job at the Satan Burger along with his friends to avoid losing their own souls.

I'm not kidding when I say a lot is going on. Take the narrator Leaf, for example. His eyes are very unusual. In his normal vision, he sees the world as a rolling ocean. Everything his distorted and it makes life difficult for him. However, he also has what he calls "God eyes." These granted him omniscience to a certain extent. Because of this, the story flips between first person and third person.

This novel is billed as an "anti-novel," but unlike most books called that, there isn't much formal experimentation. There's the switch between first and third person (which is explained in the story) and some odd spacing, but that's it. The weird story itself and the difficulty of pigeonholing it is what separates Satan Burger from most novels.

Despite the plot line I described of the walm and Satan's burger joint, the vast majority of this book focuses on Leaf and his friends. They're a group of young people who have a band and are struggling to get buy in a
world full of people turned into zombies by the walm. One could argue that this is a novel of Generation X disaffection at its core.

Mellick has gone on to write so many books, I've honestly lost count. This first novel of his shows that he had a wide imagination and it hasn't dissipated. It's a strange as hell book, but I enjoyed it a lot. Anyone looking for an entry point into Mellick's work or into the bizarro genre couldn't ask for a better book than this.

A quick note: Mellick recently released a 15th anniversary edition of this book. The version I read is the original paperback, which now seems to be out of print.

Buy Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Brief Thoughts 17

The Iron Heel by Jack London

Before Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984, there was The Iron Heel. This is widely regarded as the first dystopian novel. Released in 1908, it proved to be rather prescient in hindsight.

The book is framed as manuscript that was discovered in the far future. It's annotated with footnotes by the historian that discovered if (I wonder if Ann Sterzinger read this before she wrote The Talkative Corpse). Written in the 1910s, it traces the rise of the fascist regime known as the Iron Heel that conquered much of the world and ruled for several centuries.

Avis was a girl of privilege and wealth. One day, her father invited a man named Ernest Everhard to a dinner party. With his passion and eloquence, she fell in love with him and joined him in his activism against the rising oligarchy in America. The oligarchy, however, takes over the government much faster than anyone anticipated.  Eventually, Avis and her new husband are forced into bloody revolution.

Like Jack London's other books, this is an exciting page turner. For the most part anyway. It drags a lot at the beginning. Ernest makes a lot of speeches, including one that's two chapters long on Karl Marx's theory of value. It feels like reading an Ayn Rand novel. It especially feels sloppy because London's novel The Sea Wolf has just as much philosophical discussion but never feels like a lecture.

Still, the book picks up a lot after the first few chapters. The rise of the Iron Heel feels pretty improbable at times, but some of London's predictions were surprisingly spot on. For instance, he predicated Japan gaining military dominance over Asia as they would later almost succeed in during WWII. He predicted WWI which in this novel is a war between Germany and the United States, though here the war is called off due to a general strike. In the climax of the book, there are even bloody battle scenes and mass murders that foreshadowed the battles of WWI and the atrocities committed in WWII.

This is a flawed book for sure, but it's well worth reading. London knew how rational his fear of tyranny was.

Read it for free here.
or
Buy The Iron Heel by Jack London here. 

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus 

"The Myth of Sisyphus" is probably Camus's most famous work besides his novel The Stranger. Camus posits that only serious philosophical question is that of suicide. Is life worth living?

Upon examination, life seems to be absurd and meaningless. According to Camus, there are three ways to respond to life's absurdity. Committing suicide is one option, of course. There is also the possibility of committing what he calls "philosophical suicide." That is, believing in religion or ideologies that give us ready-made answers to life's questions, appeals to higher purposes to give life meaning. What Camus advocates is the third option, living life without appeal and facing the absurdity head on.

Camus uses the Greek myth of Sisyphus to illustrate. Condemned by the gods for his arrogance, Sisyphus is forced to eternally pushing a boulder up a hill that will always roll back to the bottom. The struggle in pushing the boulder up the hill is where man can find his meaning. As he puts it, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

A triptych of other essays this book, "Summer in Algiers," "The Minotaur," and "Return to Tipasa." also serve as poetic odes to the cities of Algeria. In these essays, Camus explores the beauty in the struggle of living everyday life. From the exuberance of the beaches and dancehalls of Algiers to the wistful nostalgia that a trip to a place of one's youth like Tipasa for Camus brings one. He demonstrates in these how unnecessary appeals to higher purposes are to living a full life.

Camus was more interested in classical Greek philosophy than the works of his contemporaries. "Helen's Exile" is an interesting comparison of the state of mid-20th century Europe to that of ancient Greece at its height. The final essay, "The Artist and His Time" is an exploration of the place of the artist in society.

It's not for nothing that Camus won the Nobel prize for literature. This is an absolutely essential philosophical work. Highly recommended.

Buy The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brief Thoughts 16

The Haunted Mesa by Louis L'Amour

Louis L'Amour is best known for his westerns. He's probably the most famous author of westerns in the world. I had read his novel Hondo and enjoyed it. I decided to take a look at this horror title of his.

The story revolves around a debunker of the paranormal named Mike Raglan. When his friend, Erik Hokart, sends a letter desperately pleading for help, he heads out to Arizona where Hokart was building a home out in the desert. He discovers that out in the desert, there's a portal to another world.

This novel read to me more like a mystery than a horror novel. There's a lot of creeping dread towards the beginning, but for the most part it focuses on Raglan picking up clues to figure out where Hokart went. The biggest problem with the book is that it drags a lot during the middle. Raglan is constantly asking himself questions, which gets annoying really fast, and a chunk of the middle involves him waffling when he's discovered where Hokart has disappeared to.

For all the dread the book tries to build up of the other world the titular mesa leads to, it's not really scary nor even particularly odd. This is probably why this book gets called science fiction most of the time. You forget this book was supposed to be in any way scary towards the end.

Still, when the action picks up, it's fun to read. The mystery plot, while too slow in the middle, is actually pretty solid and suspenseful.

This probably isn't the best place to begin with Louis L'Amour, but if you've read his other novels and enjoyed them, then this is worth a read.

Buy The Haunted Mesa by Louis L'Amour here. 

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini  

While I've been a fan of pirates and sea adventures since I was a kid, I don't recall reading many books about them back then. I recently read and enjoyed Treasure Island, the book that established most known pirate cliches, and I started looking for some more. This book was high on a lot of "best pirate book" lists. It's easy to see why.

The story is about Peter Blood, an Irish doctor and former soldier. When he's found to be giving medical attention to English rebels, he's arrested and sold into slavery in Barbados. Through a mixture of ingenuity and luck, he escapes with several other slaves and takes to the sea to become a pirate.

This book was just fun to read. It moved at a good pace, had a lot of great humor, great action, Captain Blood is a very likable character, and it leaves you feeling satisfied after you've read it. This is the kind of thing you want out of an adventure novel like this.

I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. Sabatini's done several other adventure novels, including a sequel to this one, and I'll be sure to check those out as well.

Buy Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini here.