Book Review: 999

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999Al Sarrantonio, Editor
HarperCollins
2001

27 short stories by several notable authors in the fields of horror, suspence, fantasy and sci-fi, including Stephen King, William Peter Blatty, Neil Gaiman, Joe R. Lansdale, David Morrell, Joyce Carol Oates, Ramsey Campbell, and others…

Apparently, the concept for this collection had for its catalyst a desire to further the genre of horror fiction. Whether this helped or not is up for debate, but tell you the truth, that’s not really a big point. What matters is whether or not the stories are of good quality for those into the oft forgotten genre of horror fantasy.

I would say yes. Yes it is.

In this collection, Al Sarrantonio (also an accomplished writer in the horror genre, as he also contributed a story within) includes previously unpublished work from some of my personal favorites in the genre. And the spectrum of horror fantasy is pretty wide as well, pretty much something for everyone- ghost stories, vampires, zombies (the lead story is quite interesting, to say the very least), haunted houses, dark mythology, and general weird and wacky stuff. The stories are very well written, and in such bite-sized portions they’re quite satisfying. Really, about the only story that I didn’t get was the one by Joyce Carol Oates, where the ending just left me wondering what the heck happened. Otherwise, really good collection, and not a bad way to introduce someone wanting to get into horror fiction to some of the better writers of this widely varied and colorful genre…

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Book Review: CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY

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CITIZEN OF THE GALAXYRobert A. Heinlein
Scribner’s
1957

Thorby is a young, defiant slave boy on a strange planet who is bought by a beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial amount of money. Once back at the beggar’s hideout, Thorby soon realizes that all is not what it seems in this world- the hideout is well furnished, and Baslim is incredibly knowledgeable about all things scholarly. Treating Thorby like a foster child instead of a slave, Baslim drills him in mathematics, history and several languages as well as sending him on errands all around the city. Soon, however, it is discovered that Baslim is actually a spy, and after a police raid Thorby narrowly escapes on a Free Trader ship. From there, his adventure across the cosmos and the discovery of his true identity begins…

This is, perhaps, one of my favorite Heinlein space novels. Sure, it’s considered one of his “juvenile books” (Useless Trivia: Citizen Of The Galaxy was originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, before being published in hardcover in 1957), but apparently either the literacy level of kids and young adults was higher back then, or Heinlein just never felt the need to dumb things down for the younger set. I’m suspecting both. Pulp writer he may have been, but it’s hard to deny the fact that his stories defy the conventional theory of a plot thread; the story of Thorby here takes so many twists and turns that, at the end, you’ve given up guessing what’s going to happen next. Like in all of the Heinlein books I’ve read thus far (both “juvie” and “adult”, and quite frankly I’m hard pressed to point out the distinctive difference between the two), the snappy dialogue and the quick pace intermixed with the heady sci-fi techno-babble kept me reading and foregoing sleep for a while. Really good read. Recommended…

Book Review: DEMOGORGON

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DEMOGORGONBrian Lumley
Tor Horror
1987 / 1992

1936- A young Greek by the name of Dimitrios Kastrouni, on the lamb due to a crime of passion, witnesses a rebirth of sorts at the desert ruins of Chorazin, an ancient Middle East town steeped in the supernatural, and rumored cursed by evil. He barely makes it away with his life…
1957- Kastrouni, now on the lamb from the ancient evil that has pursued him since that night 20 years ago, makes a surprise visit to his father on the Greek isle of Larnaca, meaning to take him and the rest of his family into hiding with him for their safety. Only, the evil has already arrived, impregnating three women with its demonic seed, killing Kastrouni’s father and bringing a political and social chaos to Larnaca in its wake. Again, Kastrouni barely escapes with his life…
TODAY (well, 1983 actually…it’s a bit dated)- Charlie Trace, a professional thief, receives a visit from a now-old Kastrouni at his London flat, who tells him of the ancient embodiment of evil before he’s apparently killed by a freakish lightning storm. From there, Trace watches his life tumble down the proverbial crapper as he’s now finding himself dodging assassins and various strange folks, meets up with a mysterious beauty who may or may not be aligned with the evil, and struggles with his own personal belief as the whole conspiracy comes to a head back in the ancient ruins of Chorazin, all because Trace may or may not be the son of the Antichrist. Will he make it out with his life and sanity intact? Will he want to? Good question…

I’ve known Brian Lumley’s work on his ‘Necroscope’ series, a very engaging and interesting take on Vampires and the supernatural. So it was by his name alone that I picked up ‘Demogorgon’ at the used book shop that I peruse once in a while. It’s one of his earlier works, released here in the States after the success of the Necroscope series (the paperback I have has an excerpt from the first book of the series). Lumley is an interesting storyteller…I find his take on the macabre to be unique, especially with the vampires in ‘Necroscope’. Here, science is replaced with Gnostic postulation, plumbing the depths of superstition and dark horror. The epilogue is a nice twist, indeed. Very good read, if you’re looking for something different and engaging…

Book Review: The EYES OF DARKNESS

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EYES OF DARKNESSDean Koontz
Berkley
1981

It’s been one year since the tragic death of her only son, and Tina Evans is still haunted by his loss. Only now, the hauntings have been taking on a more sinister tone, leading her to believe against all evidence to the contrary that her boy is still alive and somewhere bad…

Just like any other Koontz novel, this dark thriller doesn’t pretend to be anything more than fast-food literature, the kind you curl up with on a rainy weekend afternoon. Pretty basic plot going from point A to point B with minimal twists and turns, which is a minor gripe. This is, after all, an early Koontz story, and didn’t really master the twists until around Watchers and Lightning. Captivating none-the-less, with a dark ending…

Book Review: H. P. LOVECRAFT’S BOOK OF THE SUPERNATURAL

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HPLovecraftsBookOfTheSupernaturalStephen Jones (editor)
Pegasus Books
2006

Written by one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, Lovecraft’s 1927 essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” traces the evolution of the genre from the early Gothic novels through to the work of contemporary American and British authors. Throughout Lovecraft acknowledges those writers and stories that are the very finest that the horror field has to offer: Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Guy de Maupassant, and Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.

I’ve been reading a lot more collections lately. A lot of these collections of short stories happen to fall under the “classics” heading, although there are those that carry modern tales and a mix of classics and modern lore. This entire year (2010, in case you’re wondering) I think I’ve read only one full-on novel, while the other books are of the short story collections. There’s something about collections, really; they’re bite-sized in length, but still manage to pack a literary punch, especially in the supernatural and horror genre. But enough mindless meanderings, on with this recently read book here, H. P. Lovecraft’s Book Of The Supernatural.

Essentially, this collection features tales from authors that are mentioned in Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror In Literature. That particular essay was Lovecraft’s critical shout-out, as it were, to the genre that he was quite prolific in. Hey, the main inspiration for modern horror had to have inspiration himself, right? Editor Stephen Jones put together this collection of short stories by some of the authors mentioned in that essay, with a quotation from Lovecraft’s essay leading into the story provided.

Of the authors featured in this collection, the ones that I recognized right off the bat were Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Steveson, Rudyard Kipling, Bram Stoker and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The other ones – Guy de Maupassant, Erckmann-Chatrian, Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Fitz James O’Brien, Ambrose Bierce, F. Marion Crawford, Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Lafcadio Hearn, H. R. Wakefield, May Sinclair, William Hope Hodgson and Arthur Machen – I found myself interested in looking further into after reading their work here in this book.

What I discovered, though, is that this particular edition of H. P. Lovecraft’s Book Of The Supernatural is a Barnes & Noble version, that only features 19 stories, as well as the introduction by Stephen Jones, and a short excerpt from Lovecraft’s essay on writing weird fiction. The original Pegasus version has 20 stories; the one story not featured on the B&N version was the Henry James classic Turn Of The Screw. When I discovered that little omission, I was not very happy. Still, I think it has something to do with B&N publishing the full story by itself in its classics line.

Despite that little…um, shortcoming in this edition, I found this collection to be rather enjoyable, and went far to expand my interest in classic weird fiction. Highly recommend this book, but would recommend trying to get this with the Turn Of The Screw included.

Book Review: The TALISMAN

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talisman_largeStephen King / Peter Straub
Doubleday
1984

Jack Sawyer is a 12-year-old boy whose mother, a former B-movie queen, is dying of cancer. While holed up in a New England hotel hiding from Jack’s evil-minded “uncle”, Jack meets a kindly but strange man who shows him the way to cure not only his mother, but also a real queen that dwells in the very real parallel lands called The Territories, where almost everyone has a version of themselves and werewolves exist not as monsters, but as benevolent friends and guardians to humans. Jack must now travel across our America and The Territories version in search of the Talisman, all the while trying to outrun the evil forces that are trying to stop him in his quest…

While I’m pretty sure this book wasn’t meant as a tie-in to King’s more popular Dark Tower series, there are certainly a lot of parallels to the two. Either way you look at it, The Talisman is a rather engaging dark fantasy opus that draws on fantastic and horrific imagery as well as a pace that slows down maybe once or twice (especially near the end), but always keeps you turning the pages to see what will happen next. Recommended…

Book Review: LOST SOULS

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lost-souls-by-poppy-z-brite-650x970Poppy Z. Brite
Dell Publishing
1992

At a club in Missing Mile, N. C., the children of the night gather, dressed in black, looking for acceptance. Among them are Ghost, who sees what others do not; Ann, longing for love; and Jason, whose real name is Nothing, newly awakened to an ancient, deathless truth about his father, and himself. Others are coming to Missing Mile tonight. Three beautiful, hip vagabonds — Molochai, Twig, and the seductive Zillah, whose eyes are as green as limes — are on their own lost journey, slaking their ancient thirst for blood, looking for supple young flesh. They find it in Nothing and Ann, leading them on a mad, illicit road trip south to New Orleans. Over miles of dark highway, Ghost pursues, his powers guiding him on a journey to reach his destiny, to save Ann from her new companions, to save Nothing from himself…

To many, these following words will seem like utter blasphemy: Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles are overrated. I’m not saying that they’re unreadable — far from it. I’m just saying, compared to Poppy Z. Brite’s vampire stories…well, overrated, and let’s leave it at that.

When she was a horror writer, Poppy Z. Brite had a style that really grabbed you by the huevos and draw you in, fascinated by the disturbing and haunting atmosphere, underscored by a dark romanticism. I think of her as the female Clive Barker.

Lost Souls, as the title of the novel, serves as a double meaning of sorts. On the one hand, we have the vampires and the humans who are empty, looking for meaning as the lost souls. On the other hand, Lost Souls is the name of the band Ghost and Steve, the two main protagonists, are comprised of (these two were previously featured in a couple of short stories collected in Wormwood). There’s a strong homosexual air in the story, which is really par for the course when it comes to Brite’s novels. It adds to the general foreboding and oppressive darkness of the tale. Overall, the book was creepy and captivating; a bit slow at times, but even then it’s used to build up the atmosphere to good effect. Pretty good payoff at the end, methinks. Not your usual vampire tale. Recommended…

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