Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Carrie

Carrie Carrie by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Outcast Carrie White has a secret. She's telekinetic. When a popular girl's boyfriend invites her to prom as atonement, she accepts, completely unaware of the horrors lurking on the horizon...

Carrie is Stephen King's first novel and has been part of our cultural landscape since it was made into a movie in the late 1970s. Somehow, I've escaped reading it or seeing the movie until now. I knew (or thought I knew) most of the wrinkles of the plot going in, due to sai King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and numerous cultural references over the years.

Carrie is told using an interesting structure, alternating passages from Carrie's timeline as it unfolds and excepts from accounts of what happened at the prom in the far future. The structure reminded me of Not Comin' Home to You at times. I think Block did it better.

The story itself is pretty good. It's a story of rejection, acceptance, betrayal, and bloody, horrible vengeance. It very much feels like a first novel, over written in places, but there's still a certain Kingliness to it.

While I wouldn't say I disliked the story, I wasn't in love with it. It feels like a novellette that was padded to bring up to novel length to me. Maybe it's because I already knew where the story was headed, both because of the structure and because it's been part of our pop culture for so long, I just wasn't hooked by it. The ending was much more horrific than I thought it would be, though. The rampage was by far the best part of the book.

Possible connection with another Stephen King story: Teddy DuChamp, owner of Teddy's Amoco, is mentioned as having died in 1968 but his son still locks up the gas pumps. The age doesn't seem right for Teddy DuChamp of The Body, though.

I'm glad Stephen King broke into the business with Carrie but it just wasn't my bucket of pigs' blood. Two out of five stars.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is a collection of short stories by Laird Barron.

Laird Barron is my latest literary obsession so I was glad to have this on my kindle when I finished Swift to Chase.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All covers a lot of ground, from noir to supernatural horror to cosmic horror to the horror of a puppet show about the end of the world performed by Thomas Ligotti. However, the tales are linked, albeit more loosely than Swift to Chase. Ransom Hollow gets mentions in several stories, the same character appears in two stories and I believe is mentioned in another, and there are some stories that appear to be referencing The Croning. And the life of the party, the followers of Old Leech, show up to say hi.

The stories have Barron's stamp on them, be they ghost stories, were-creatures, cosmic horror, or the aforementioned puppet show. There's a sense of inevitability throughout and Laird's prose makes reading about apocalyptic horrors beyond our understanding pretty enjoyable. Some moments were as gritty as Cormac McCarthy, only with the proper punctuation.

I've said it before but I really like the way Laird Barron has put his own spin on cosmic horror, wedding the isolation and loneliness of the wilderness with abominations from beyond. I'm not ordinarily a fan of short stories but I'll read a thousand more if Laird Barron keeps writing them. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling

Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling by Jim Ross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slobberknocker is the biography of wrestling announcer Jim Ross.

My first exposure to Jim Ross was during that shot time when a St. Louis station carried Bill Watts' UWF syndicated show. After that, I listen to him call matches in WCW and finally, the WWF/WWE. When I saw he was working on a book, I knew I had to read it.

The book starts and ends at Wrestlemania in 1999. The middle chronicles Jim Ross's life, from his days as a kid watching wrestling to breaking into the business to eventually becoming head of talent relations in the WWE.

The material within is great. There's self-deprecating humor and JR doesn't sugar coat much of anything. He freely admits his devotion to the wrestling business destroyed two of his marriages. He also goes into his bouts of Bell's Palsy with candid detail.

On the wrestling side of things, JR goes into the nuts and bolts of working for Bill Watts in the UWF/Mid-South, riding with the older wrestlers to learn the business. He goes into the chaos backstage at WCW and tells some very interesting stories about his friendship with Vince McMahon, something that's not normally touched upon in books like this. The road stories are pretty hilarious, as they usually are in wrestling books.

And here come the gripes! For one thing, some of the dates were way off. Did know one fact check this? Everyone knows the Montreal Screwjob happened in 1997, not 1998. And why the hell were some really interesting time periods glossed over? We got two pages of Bill Watts working for the WWF prior to Wrestlemania 11, and just a page or two more of Watts running WCW. Jim Ross was in the wrestling business for over forty years. Why wasn't this book about twice as large? And why did it stop at 1999? That's 18 years that weren't covered!

Gripes aside, this was a gripping book. It was too short, though. I expected the world from it and it's definitely a second tier wrestling book. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Swift to Chase

Swift to Chase Swift to Chase by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Swift to Chase is a collection of interconnected Laird Barron tales, most set in Alaska.

That's really underselling the collection. In Swift to Chase, Laird Barron performs a juggling act, pitting the bleakness of life in Alaska with the mangled nature of time and cosmic horror that lurks just around the corner. The interconnected nature of the tales and the fact that they aren't presented in chronological order drives home Barron's concept of time that is as twisted and deformed as a wrecked car. There is a disjointed, dreamlike quality to the collection but that doesn't diminish the horror in the slightest.

The Jessica Mace tales that begin the collection set the stage for the rest of them. Almost every character mentioned in every story appears somewhere in the book. I could read a hundred Jessica Mace tales and still want more.

The book bounces around between people Jessica knows to her parents to the people her parents knew once upon a time, all the while the Followers of Old Leech lurk in the background like a time bomb hidden in a closet.

Laird Barron's prose is as delightful as ever. There's a certain poetry to his descriptions of people being stabbed, short, or rent limb from limb. I've mentioned some horror authors as guys I'm sure I would have been friends with had we met as teenagers. Barron would have been the guy that I would have wanted to talk to but would have been afraid to approach. I get the sense that his early life in Alaska was brutally hard but that's what makes this book so effective. Which is worse, unfathomable cosmic horror or being alone in the dark and cold of an Alaskan winter?

One of my favorite parts of the book is in the introduction. One of Paul Tremblay's little girls asks Laird how he got his eye patch. He says "Has your dad ever told you not to run with a pencil in your hand?"

This was one hell of a read. I'm giving it a 4 now but I'll probably bump that up on a reread. This is definitely a book that begs to be read more than once.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: Gone South

Gone South Gone South by Robert McCammon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Vietnam vet Dan Lambert gets a notice in the mail that his truck is being repossessed, he heads down to the bank. The bank manager is an arrogant asshole and before Dan knows it, things have gone south in a big way. Where will Dan run when the police are after him and the bank president puts a $15,000 bounty on his head?

After reading Boy's Life, I kept my eye out for more McCammon on the cheap. Gone South, Bookgorilla email, yadda, yadda, yadda.

For some reason, this book languished on my kindle until someone let me know there were both an Elvis impersonator and a parasitic twin in this book. After that, I had only to fit it into my schedule.

Dan Lambert is a semi-employed carpenter at the beginning of the book, a divorced Vietnam vet with Leukemia that never left the war behind. When he loses his truck, he unwittingly unleashes a shitstorm and soon finds himself on the run. On his trail are Flint Murtaugh, gambler/bounty hunter, and Pelvis Eisley, a would-be bounty hunter he's saddled with. Flint has a conjoined twin he calls Clint and Pevlis is an Elvis impersonator if that wasn't clear by his name.

Gone South is more of a straight up crime book than anything else. There are no supernatural elements. There's a little more gore than most crime books, though. It's more in the Elmore Leonard/Joe Lansdale vein of crime books than anything McCammon had done prior. Also like Elmore Leonard, you wind up liking the bad guys quite a bit. The dialogue is great and sometimes hilarious. McCammon also shows off his writing chops quite a bit. I highlighted quite a few memorable lines while reading.

In the introduction, which I'm glad I read after the fact, McCammon describes Gone South as a journey from hell back to the garden of Eden, which I can see now that I've finished. Dan, Arden, Murtaugh, and Eisely are all pretty directionless at the beginning. They all grow as characters through the story, going through the meatgrinder, and coming out changed on the other side. It doesn't hurt that there are much badder bad guys than Murtaugh along the way.

What else can I say? Gone South is a really gripping, entertaining read. I don't have anything bad to say about it. While I've read and enjoyed four or five Robert McCammon books before this, part of me always thought of him as a Stephen King ripoff and I didn't understand why some people held him in such high regard. I get it now. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: X's For Eyes

X's For Eyes X's For Eyes by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Macbeth and Drederick Tooms are the wealthy sons of the founder of Sword Enterprises, an evil corporation bent on world domination. When they discover the wreckage of a Sword space probe, one that isn't due to launch for several days, a mystery is afoot!

Since I've recently discovered Laird Barron, I plan to devour everything he's written by the end of the year. Fortunately, I had this one on my kindle already.

X's For Eyes is an homage to the Hardy Boys books with Laird Barron's twisted cosmic horror woven in. It's a pretty crazy tale. When the story starts with a 12 year old and a 14 year old going on a road trip with whiskey and hookers, you know the end result is going to be something crazy.

And crazy it was! The Hardy Boy analogues go from one harrowing situation to another and are confronted with artificial intelligent super computers, conspiracies, a dark god from another dimension, and the peculiarities of time itself. Barron manages to work his theories on the nature of time seamlessly into what's a young man's adventure tale.

Barron's prose is as gorgeous as ever. Once again, I found myself wanting to highlight half the book. I had no idea where the plot would lead, always a plus.

X's For Eyes was a really fun but thought-provoking novella. There aren't a lot of writers with the chops to blend the Hardy Boys and cosmic, sanity-blasting horror so well. Fans of modern takes on The Hardy Boys and Nancy drew, like The Boy Detective Fails and The Case of the Bleeding Wall will find a lot to like here. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Gorel and the Pot Bellied God

Gorel and the Pot Bellied God Gorel and the Pot Bellied God by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On his quest to find his homeland, Goliris, Gorel the gunslinger goes to Falang-Et to find a magic mirror. Will he find the way home or death?

I've read a few Lavie Tidhar books before, A Man Lies Dreaming being my favorite. When I saw this "guns and sorcery" novella on Amazon, I broke my $2.99 ebook ceiling to buy it. It was worth it.

Gorel and the Pot Bellied God is a fantasy tale, owing quite a bit to the works of Fritz Leiber, and to a lesser extect Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance. Gorel is a gun-toting, drug-addicted mercenary in a fantasy world populated by all sorts of intelligent humanoid creatures, most of which Gorel has sex with at some point in the story. You heard. This is like the classic swords and sorcery tales, only with sex, drugs, and guns.

A lot of Gorel's background is mysterious but he had contact with a goddess at some point in the past, leaving him addicted to a drug called god dust. It's also not clear on how far away Goliris is, if it's on the same planet or even in the same dimension. That being said, Gorel is a fun character, conflicted, horny, and violent.

The core of the story draws from the fairy tale of the Princess and the Frog, only in this version, they have hundreds upon hundreds of human-frog hybrid babies, the Falang. Gorel heads into Falang-Et along the way, acquiring companions, killing things, and having inter-species sex.

The ending is bittersweet but Gorel isn't giving up on his quest. Good thing, since I want to read more of his adventures. Four out of five stars.

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