Friday, September 11, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible by Seb Doubinsky

 

Georg Ratner has recently been appointed the new City Commissioner of the city-state of New Babylon in the midst of an election with the incumbent president, the liberal Maggie Delgado, running against conservative populist Ted Rust. His main focus is to try keep the mysterious, powerful hallucinogenic drug Synth off the streets. However, his former partner, recently appointed head of the city finance department and well-loved poet Jesse Valentino is murdered. Ratner's investigations leads him down a political, metaphysical, and artistic rabbit hole.

"All cities were tombs, after all, and New Babylon maybe even more so than others."
 
Doubinsky's The Invisible is a mix of noir mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. It takes place in an universe that was built in his other books, however, it stands on its own as well. Doubinsky works the world-building into the story very well, avoiding info dumps and keeping the story moving at a good pace. It also leaves just enough untold to leave one wanting to pick up more of his work to learn more about this world. 

One of the major themes of the book is the impact of art. Valentino's murder is at first seen as a random one, despite Ratner's suspicions. His suspicions are confirmed when he learns that other poets in other city-states have also been murdered as well as the publisher of Valentino's newest collection of poetry. Ratner's investigations into the drug Synth also reveal it has rich subculture of artists and musicians, and even finds himself a fan of some it, despite the threat to the establishment that the drug has been labeled as. 

I've seen this novel labeled as a "dystopia" in some places, however, I don't find that accurate at all. While New Babylon is filled with corporate and political corruptions, it seems no worse off than the real world. In some ways, it seems a preferable place to live than the United States in the year 2020. The story is very prescient with its election storyline and the mass protests that happen as it picks up steam. There's a sense of optimism to it that many would find refreshing in these times. 

The novel is divided into short chapters, some only a paragraph long, and into sections labeled with a tarot card. The first chapter of each section is a tarot card "reading," at least that's what I believe it is. I'm unfamiliar with tarot readings, so I can't say I know what the significance of them is. 

The Invisible is an engaging mystery in a fascinating setting. I had a lot of fun reading this and I look forward to reading more of Doubinsky's work. If nothing else, to learn more about the city-state universe.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Brief Thoughts 29

Invisibility: A Manifesto by Audrey Szasz

This chapbook from publisher of transgressive and experimental book Amphetamine Sulphate is a fragmented novelette that's a bit hard to describe, even by the standards of a press as radical as AS.

The plot, if it could be said to have one, follows two characters. Nina is a young girl regularly abused by her Mother and prostituted to older men. Audrey Szasz is a "girl detective," whose story is told through a series of diary entries and documents, that falls in with a group of serial killer cannibals. These two girls may or may not be the same person.

For only being about about 50 pages, this novelette chops up, distorts, and incorporates numerous genres; crime, coming of age tale, horror, erotica, meta-fiction and mystery. The result is a series of stories that are horrifying, engaging, and very funny. Szasz (the author, not the character) has a great dark sense of humor.

The closest things I can compare to this book is Naked Lunch era William S. Burroughs and Atrocity Exhibition era JG Ballard. Both seem to be obvious influences here, especially since one of her other books is about Ballard, but Szasz has a unique voice that stands all on its own.

I highly recommend this book and after finishing this I'm picking up more of her work right away.

Buy Invisibility: A Manifesto by Audrey Szasz here.

 
Blood on the Moon by Jame Ellroy 

Lloyd Hopkins is a sergeant in the LAPD  who despises music and can't stop cheating on his wife. When a case involving a man murdering women in a brutal manner comes his way, he dives head first into it between trying to keep his family together, keeping his own fragile mental state together and keeping Internal Affairs off his case for his philandering.

This is one of Ellroy's earlier books. I couldn't help but compare it to his latter ones. For one thing, the prose here is more straightforward rather than the bare bones, telegrammatic sentences of his more recent works. It's also much shorter.

One of the biggest differences is the fact that Lloyd Hopkins is pretty unambiguously the "good guy." In most of his books I've read, even the so-called "good guys" are completely awful people and gleefully corrupt. Here, Hopkins is very flawed, but is without a doubt the hero working to catch a clear villain.

It lacks the dense historical explorations, though the beginning follows Hopkins's response to the Watts Riot. For the most part, however, it takes place in then contemporary early-80's LA. There also isn't much explicit political commentary.

Despite the differences between Ellroy's latter books, it remains a thrilling and engaging crime novel.

Buy Blood on the Moon by James Ellroy here.  
 
 
The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy
 
An old man who lives besides a rotting apple orchard, Arthur Ownby, finds himself caught between a young boy named John Rattner and a bootlegger named Marion Slyder, who had killed John's father unbeknownst to him. 
 
This was Cormac McCarthy's first novel. While it does have many of the themes of his latter books such as crime, biblical references, social outcasts, and decay, it reads as if McCarthy is still developing the voice that he would perfect in his next book, Outer Dark. The prose is far more consistently ornate, where his later ones only occasionally had such passages for emphasis, and the narrative is far more fragmented. 

The novel is compared a lot to Faulkner, and it's easy to see why. He uses a lot of similar devices, such as Ownby constantly going between the past and the present due to his senility. This threw me off some, as I'm far more used to McCarthy being pretty straightforward, and I had a little trouble following the story. I also found the characters far less memorable than his other books, which is saying something, given he often creates great characters who don't even have names. 

I only really recommend this if you're a huge Cormac McCarthy fan who's read his other books. His other books from his Southern Gothic period (Outer Dark, Child of God and Suttree) are much better. It's interesting to see where McCarthy started, but this novel shows he's a writer who came into his own in his later works. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Brief Thoughts 28

It's been awhile since I've done one of these.

Bash Bash Revolution by Douglas Lain

Matthew Munson is a high school dropout and slacker who spends all his time playing the video game Bash Bash Revolution, a stand-in for Super Smash Brothers, who has no real goals outside of lukewarm attempts to play the game professionally and hanging out with his fundamentalist Christian girlfriend Sally. Around him, a popular movement is taking place wherein people plug themselves permanently into a sentient AI, known as Bucky, which is working to gamify the economy completely. Matthew, knowing his estranged father was one of the scientists responsible for the creation of Bucky, finds himself rebelling against this new system, refusing to plug in as he attempts to learn to true nature of the AI.

BBR is told as a mixture of posts and messages through Matthew's Facebook and, in some chapters, of transcripts of Bucky conversing with itself as it tries to learn more. The two bounce off each other well. Matthew's posts and messages are essentially conversations with himself. No one seems to be responding to them, outside of the occasional bot, and Bucky is essentially trapped within itself, able to learn and grow but unable to have any profound experiences. As all Matthew can do is react to what is going on around him, Bucky can only follow what it believes to be the logical ends of its programming.

Besides the theme of alienation, the novel is also heavy on political commentary. There are observations of the current political situation, the book was published in 2018, on Donald Trump and the United States' rocky relationship with the rest of the world. One of the funniest passages is where the AI is debating with itself on how it can avoid nuclear war. It proposes working to increase Trump's intelligence, but its analysis finds that doing so would increase the probability of nuclear war by 95%.

It also looks beyond the immediate, examining alternatives to the current economy. Bucky's gamification of everything is essentially a Marxist accelerationist scheme. Despite Lain being a Marxist himself, this is not at all a preachy book or an Iron Heel style pushing of an agenda. The story frames Bucky's takeover neutrally, suggesting that the results of it may be horrible. There's a genuinely tragic, if somewhat comic, scene where Matthew's mom plugs into one of Bucky's games and, as a result, she takes off and Matthew never sees her again. It also causes Sally to have a severe crisis of faith. However, there are also indications that Bucky's work is the only thing preventing the apocalypse and that it will make people happier in the long run.

Bash Bash Revolution is a good mix of political satire, a melancholy coming of age story, and a science fiction exploration of artificial intelligence. This is a book well-worth reading, especially if you're a fan of sci-fi or videogames. I look forward to reading more from Lain.

Buy Bash Bash Revolution by Douglas Lain here.

The Lockdown Trade-Off by Sam West 

A pub owner in Cornwall, England trades his unfaithful wife Cat and her lover to a creepy, eccentric millionaire in exchange for a huge sum of money to save his business, which has been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This had a decent story that moved at a good pace, but the characters are one dimensional, the prose makes some very poor word choices at times (describing a person as "delectable" is impossible to take seriously), and the "climax" was kind of goofy for as serious as it tried to play it. Also, for a book that touts itself as "extreme," there really isn't much gore or torture. I appreciate it tried to be more "psychological" in its horror, but it's hard to do that with characters that lack depth. You could do worse for 99 cents, but I'm not exactly eager to pick up any more of Sam West's works. 

Buy The Lockdown Trade-Off by Sam West here.

SS Death Simulation by Michael Faun  

When the locals of a small village in Sweden in the midst of WWII discover a local woman is using her home as a brothel to service German SS officers, they devise a plan to infiltrate it and bring the Nazi officials down. 

Now this is how you do exploitation.

This little novella has it all; a Nazi midget, deviant sex of every kind, spies undercover as prostitutes, an exciting climax, and an appropriately bittersweet ending. I had a lot of fun with this one. It's one of the best examples of Faun's "b-movie in book form" style, maybe the best I've read so far.

Highly recommended.


(This book is currently out of print.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

NEW PODCAST - Bandcamp Massacre


I recently started a new podcast with Paul Bingham wherein, with guests, we comb through the depths of Bandcamp.com.

You listen to the pilot episode at soundclick.com/bandcampmassacre.

Friday, July 10, 2020

dr. sodom and mrs. gomorrah OUT NOW


or

If you're interested in a signed copy, message or email me. I'll have copies to sell directly soon.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Out Now: The Dying Nun Debut Album



I'd been wanting to get back into making music for a while now. I finally just went and did it and made a short album. It's the debut of my dark ambient/noise project, The Dying Nun

Download it for pay as you wish or for free at thedyingnun.bandcamp.com.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Review: From the Belly of the Goat by Donald Armfield


(Disclaimer: Donald Armfield has previously published some of my poems in an anthology he edited.)

From the Belly of the Goat is a collection of five horror stories with a bonus one in the paperback. Donald Armfield's style here is heavily reminiscent of pulp horror and adventure stories. Lovecraft is an obvious reference, but many of the stories also two-fisted tales of explorers exploring mountains and deep oceans, fighting monster with swords, and journal logs of horrific discoveries.

“Ancient Giraffe Experiment,” the first story, is a bit of a standout in that it's more bizarro horror than the rest. In a series of documents and logs, it recounts a story of the discovery of a giraffe skeleton on the moon. When astronauts attempt bring the bones back to Earth, it unleashes a gas that has a horrific effect on the crew. This is an entertaining bizarro horror story that reads almost like a creepypasta. It's one of the best stories in the book

“Guardians of Cedar Hills” is probably the most Lovecraftian story in the book. A man named Mazin travels to northern Lebanon to explore a forest slowly being lost to deportation. It's a simple, but effective story of making a horrible discovery in a mysterious place.

“Golem Sanctuary” is a pulp story of a cargo liner captain and his crew gathering parts of a statue from the ocean for a woman with a plan for causing Armageddon. This is a fun story that creates some great apocalyptic imagery. However, it wraps up a little too easily and quickly at the end.

“A Womb for Her Baby” is a pitch black horror comedy about two dumb brother accidentally releasing a pair of trolls, who go on a rampage in their small Alaskan town. The female troll wants nothing more than a baby, and is trying to find a human baby to eat and give birth to. That sounds a little weird, so read the story if you want an explanation. This is a pretty fun splattery story that maintains the pulp feeling of the prior stories. However, this one has the weakest writing with some very awkward dialogue.

“From the Belly of the Goat” is another Lovecraftian tale. A man recalls his encounter with a strange tribe who create a sickness that emerges from goat bellies and destroys an entire town. This one is close to bizarro horror, but is more surreal with its nonlinearity and unreliable narrator. It's a solid tale for the title.

The paperback version, which I read, also includes the bonus story “The New Albino Race.” A trio of brothers exploring a mountain for artifacts stumble upon an underground race of albinos bent on world domination. This is yet another pulp-inspired, two-fisted tale that's a lot of fun to read and makes a nice addition for those picking up the paperback.

From the Belly of the Goat is a very entertaining collection of tales that mix a little bit of bizarro and splatter horror with nostalgic, pulpy horror, fantasy, and adventure. I definitely recommend this collection for horror fans and people who want some fun, breezy reads with a little edge to them.

(Update: An earlier version of this review mentioned multiple copyediting errors, however, these have since been corrected.)