Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Die Empty

Die Empty Die Empty by Kirk Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You're forty and work a dead end job. You've tried giving your life meaning through possessions and failed. Your wife is having an affair with the neighbor and thinks you don't know. When Death shows up at your door with a job to do, what other choice do you have?

I first encountered Kirk Jones through the New Bizarro author series years ago, with Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, and then years later with Journey to Abortosphere. The thing that sets his writing apart from other Bizarro fiction is that his stories always have a underlying logic no matter how demented things are on the surface. When he hit me up to read Die Empty, I was up for another run.

Die Empty is the story of one man's journey into middle age and the deal he made with Death. Told using a second person point of view, there's an odd intimacy to the tale. It's at once funny and depressing. Actually, the main character reminds me of the main character from Fight Club, only without all the macho bullshit going on.

Entering your forties sucks. You're not old yet but you're not young anymore. Die Empty captures this nicely. Lance, the main character, works a dead end job, lusts after every woman except his drunk wife, and basically coasts along. He hates his neighbor and not just because of the affair he's having with his wife. When Death shows up, Lance doesn't really have anything better to do but help Death claim some lives through shitty products in exchange for forty more years of life.

I'm not really selling this right but it's a hard book to quantify. Once I started reading it, that was pretty much it. There's humor, sadness, some time paradoxes, and even some lessons to be learned. I'm docking a fraction of a star because the Masters of the Universe action figures' name was Tri-Klops, not Cyclops.

Die Empty is a thought-provoking read, to say the least. It's not for everyone but if you're looking for something off the beaten path, this is it. Four out of five stars, adjusted for Tri-Klops.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Wrestle Maniacs

Wrestle Maniacs Wrestle Maniacs by Adam Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wrestle Maniacs is a short story anthology featuring stories about professional wrestling.

Let's face it: apart from Hoodtown, Champion of the World, and Ugly As Sin, there isn't a ton of pro wrestling fiction out there. When Adam Howe hit me up to read an ARC of this, I went for it like a series of Ric Flair chops in the corner.

I expected Wrestle Maniacs to be entertaining but I was pretty surprised at the overall quality of the collection. I've read a handful of the authors before, like Adam Howe, Gabino Iglesias, and James Newman but a lot of them were new to me and people I'll seek out later.

The stories run the gamut. There's comedy, tragedy, action, gore, and WRESTLING! There aren't many anthologies dedicated to one subject that actually cover a lot of ground. There was fiction loosely inspired by the tragedy of the Von Erich family, of Chris Benoit's murder/suicide, and the Montreal Screwjob. There were also really entertaining tales of luchadors and wrestlers that suddenly find themselves in a shoot. Or something out of the Twilight Zone, in one case.

My favorites were A Fiend in Need, Last of the High Flying Van Alstynes, and Rassle Hassle but there wasn't a jabronie in the bunch. I hope Wrestle Maniacs does well enough that Adam Howe and Honey Badger Press do another wrestling anthology in the future. Four out of five snap suplexes.

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: The Best of Richard Matheson

The Best of Richard Matheson The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Best of Richard Matheson is a collection of 32 of Matheson's best.

Around the turn of the century, I was enduring the agonizing gulf between Dark Tower books four and five when the local bookstore owner turned me on to Richard Matheson, saying he was one of Stephen King's biggest influences. After devouring one of his westerns and I Am Legend and Other Stories, I was hooked.

After a creepy introduction by Victor LaValle, we're treated to many of Matheson's iconic tales, some of which were turned into Twilight Zone episodes or adapted to TV or film in other ways. Many of the greats are here: Button, Button, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Duel, Third from the Sun, as well as others I'd never read before, like The Prisoner, Big Surprise, and Mute.

It's funny that Matheson's is one of Stephen King's influences in that their writing isn't all that similar. Where King's prose is overly verbose at times, Matheson's is more like a sharpened knife. He cuts you hard and deep, knowing just how to hurt you the most. He knew just how to let the suspense build, like a pressure cooker. It's no wonder many of his stories were adapted for the Twilight Zone and other shows. Richard Matheson was the master of the twist ending.

The Best of Richard Matheson is a must read for anyone who likes suspenseful short stories, fans of the Twilight Zone, or Stephen King fans interested at getting a peek at some Kingly lineage. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shortly after the death of his father, bluesman Deacon James rolls into Arkham with an otherworldly song in his head and a sinister detective, John Persons, on his trail...

I follow Cassandra Khaw on twitter and she mentioned needing reviews for this. Since I liked her first John Persons novella, Hammers on Bone, I was all over it like a ghoul on an unsuspecting citizen of Arkham.

Noir mixed with cosmic horror is the best combo since chocolate and peanut butter and A Song for Quiet is a prime example. Much like in Lovecraft Country, the horrors of the cosmos mesh with the mundane horrors of racism and ignorance. Deacon James is much more worried about white folks putting the screws to him, partially in the form of the strange detective on his trail, than horrors from beyond the stars.

Melding music with Lovecraftiana isn't a totally new concept but Khaw does a great job with it here. The truth behind the song was in keeping with Lovecraftian tradition while still being fresh. Actually, the only gripe I have about the tale is I wish I'd read this one before Hammers on Bone so I wouldn't have an inkling what John Persons was up to.

Khaw's prose reminds me of Laird Barron's, a great blend of pulp and poetry. Where's my full length John Persons novel, Khaw? Where?

Silliness aside, this was one hell of a read. Four out of five squamous, suckered stars.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the near future, the rights of women have been stripped away and the fertile ones become Handmaids and are assigned to upper class men. Offred remembers the time before and knows there must be a way out of the hell men have created...

Once upon a time, I dated a woman whose favorite writer was Margaret Atwood and she passed along this book for me to read. Frankly, I was pretty impressed with the dystopian tale but found it a little far-fetched at the time. Now, in the later part of 2017, it feels a lot more plausible so I decided it was time for a reread.

Margaret Atwood paints a grim view of a future when women's rights are stripped away until they're reduced to breeding stock. Reading is forbidden! Reading! At the time I first read it, it seemed like a paranoid fantasy. Now, in an era where people's rights are being steadily eroded and the gap between the rich and the poor is a fathomless chasm, it's all too easy to imagine. Anyway, the paranoid feel is one of my favorite parts. Anyone could be a rat!

Atwood knows her way around a sentence. The writing is rich and she weaves quite a narrative around the life and times of a Handmaid. While she alleges she doesn't write science fiction, yes, Margaret, this is science fiction, at least on some level. Just because it's also literary and something of a cautionary tale doesn't give it a free pass. While I like the writing quite a bit, I thought it was a little wordy for what it was.

The Handmaid's tale is a powerful book and there's a reason it's won so many awards and wound up on so many people's top lists. Through the magic of aging 10-12 years, I forgot most of it so it was like a whole new book. I'm glad I reread it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.



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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: An Apocalypse of Our Own

An Apocalypse of Our Own An Apocalypse of Our Own by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a green cloud makes people hemorrhage from every orifice, friends Kevin and Missy find themselves trapped in a bomb shelter. Can their friendship survive the end of the world, killer mutants, and having sex with each other?

Jeff Strand's brand of horror comedy is normally a can't miss prospect for me. This one popped up for ninety-nine cents and I was powerless to resist.

For a book that mostly takes place in a bomb shelter, An Apocalypse of Our Own is surprisingly hilarious. Kevin and Missy try to maintain a sense of normalcy while subsisting on canned goods and trying to crack the code on a lock that only allows them four attempts a day.

Strand's gore-strewn comedic skills are in full effect here. I had to stifle laughter quite a few times. I wound up busting this down half a star because of the dark turn near the end. Who would have thought an apocalypse featuring flesh-eating mutants would be such a downer? 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Paradox Bound

Paradox Bound Paradox Bound by Peter Clines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eli Teague lives in Sanders, Maine, the town that time forgot. A chance encounter with a Model A Ford and its driver when he was a kid sets Eli on a collision course with all of America's history. That is, if the faceless men don't get him first...

Peter Clines impressed the shit out of me with The Fold and 14 so it was a no-brainer when Crown came knocking with an ARC of Paradox Bound.

Time travel stories are something that's hard to do well. Peter Clines takes an admirable stab at it in Paradox Bound. Instead of traveling through all of time and space, Eli and the searchers travel through American history, searching for the missing American dream.

Feeling more like a road book than a standard time travel story, Paradox Bound has a lot of innovative things about it. The faceless men, generic feds with no faces, protect the American dream until it is stolen and lost to history. Scores of people scour history looking for the American dream and the power to shape the country. Eli and Harry are just two such searchers, tooling around in a Model A and trying not to die.

The book maintains a pretty gripping pace. While I knew Eli wouldn't die, I wasn't sure about Harry or any of the other characters. Peter Clines did a great job with time paradoxes and keeping the proceedings logical while still being outlandish.

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't love it. I think Clines set the bar a little too high in 14 and The Fold. It had a less serious tone than either of those books. However, that wasn't the part that really rubbed me the wrong way. Eli makes a couple leaps in logic in the last 20% of the book that really didn't sit well with me. I can buy time, sorry, history travel, but I couldn't buy the conclusions Eli jumped to.

Paradox Bound is a fun book but I didn't think it was nearly as good as his previous two outings. Three out of five stars.

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