Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review:THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH edited by Ross E Lockhart & Justin Steele (Word Horde)

As I've recently stated, I've been trying to catch up and read all of Laird Barron's works.  The man's writing is magnificent; it draws you in and doesn't let you go easily.  I've found myself more than once reading the last page, closing the book and then simply laying there, absorbing what I'd just read.  Embracing the weird.  Relishing the dread.

Apparently I wasn't the only one so transfixed.  Ross Lockhart, editor extraordinaire from Word Horde, and Justin Steele, author of the wonderful blog The Arkham Digest, have gathered together a stellar list of speculative fiction writers to pay tribute to the inimitable Mr Barron.  With The Children of Old Leech, Lockhart and Steele have not only assembled a brilliant collection of dark, weird fiction but they also present a truly fitting homage to a writer whose imprint on the horror and weird fiction genres is epic.

Each story in The Children of Old Leech leads you deeper and deeper into the "carnivorous cosmos" of Laird Barron; all the authors here have crafted glorious tributes to the master, faithfully plumbing his Mythos to create a truly stunning collection.  Each story is indeed worthy of its own review; here are my favorites:

The Harrow by Gemma Files opens the collection with a dark story that descends into true horror at the end.  Sets the bar high for the following tales, loved it.

Orrin Grey is a writer who I find myself enjoying more and more. Walpurgisnacht continues that trend, telling the story of a revel held for a retiring artist that turns into quite another kind of celebration.

Snake Wine by Jeffrey Thomas takes us to Vietnam and an ex-pat pub owner from Melbourne who is seduced by an exotic young woman  What follows after their night of passion is an increasingly sinister mystery told with frightening imagery.

Both Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox and Firedancing feature protagonists that are caught up in the rapturous spell of their worldly mentors, leading them to higher places and unknown fates.  In Love Songs, T.E. Grau perfectly captures the feeling of the 1950s and delivers a truly horrifying climax. Meanwhile, in Firedancing,  Michael Griffin presents a dark tale of art, relationships and enlightment. A nice one, two punch.

Reading Cody Goodfellow's Of a Thousand Cuts made me squirm.  Which for me is the sign of a story that is really getting under my skin with its imagery and language.  A good sign.  Excellent story, masterful storytelling.

And finally, my favorite jewel in this dark treasure chest, John Langan's Ymir.  The story acts a continuation of Barron's classic "Hallucigenia" and revisits the story of Wallace and Helen Smith and the mysterious Choate clan brilliantly.  Langan channels Barron here so completely and the climax is so stunning that the reader is left breathless.

The Children of Old Leech is a triumph for Lockhart and Steele, and a tremendous gift for purveyors of dark fiction.  Look for this volume to be on multiple "best of" lists this year.  Mr Barron would be proud!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: SWORD AND MYTHOS edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R Stiles (Innsmouth Free Press)

SWORDS AND MYTHOS is the latest anthology from Innsmouth Free Press, combining tropes of heroic sword and sorcery with classic Cthulhu Mythos elements.  I'd been looking forward to reading this since I first heard of it's coming out and was pleased to be able to include it in my "Year In Weird".  It is a very strong collection of stories and essays that excels in not only paying homage to the classic sword and sorcery genre but also explores the Mythos in new and original ways; many of the stories include non-traditional protagonists and take place in unusual settings.  For me, themed anthologies are normally a mixed bag but with SWORD AND MYTHOS I was reading gem after gem and it was hard to pick out my favorites.  Here are the stories that stayed with me:

Jon Carver of Barzoon, You Misunderstood by Graham Darling is a powerful prose poem that brilliantly brings to life a faraway world with vivid, alien imagery...

The Wood of Ephraim by Edward M Erdelac is for me the stand out piece in the collection.  Erdelac firmly places his tale in the time of King David and writes the creepiest, most gruesome of the entries here that kept me turning page after page to get to the end, only to turn around and start it over again...

Truth Is Order and Order Is Truth by Nadia Bulkin is a beautifully written tale that incorporates Father Dagon and Mother Hydra into the story of Princess Dhani and her search for the land of her dead mother, fabled Jungkuno... 

The Bones of Heroes by Orrin Grey is a short, dark tale the real horror hiding behind the story of a child abducting witch...

The Serpents of Albion by Adrian Chamberlin brings the Cthulhu and Arthurian mythologies together in a wonderful mash up that cleverly reimagines the fall of King Arthur to Mordred...

In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath by Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas (translated from the Spanish by Silvia Moreno-Garcia) is exotic tale of warriors, blood sacrifice and ancient gods. I should definitely look for more from this author...

The collection is rounded out by informative essays from G W Thomas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R Stiles that detail how, in many cultures and media, "sword and mythos" has really been around for awhile.

SWORD AND MYTHOS is a great collection of stories that answers the question "What if..." by blending the Cthulhu Mythos throughout history, across the oceans and on other worlds, taking the beloved Mythos in new, wonderful directions.  I cannot recommend it enough; it's a must read for lovers of weird fiction and disciples of Cthulhu both!

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: HANG WIRE by Adam Christopher (Angry Robot)

I don't know how Adam Christopher does it.

First the genre-bending, retro-futuristic Empire State books, then the technicolor action of Seven Wonders; with each novel, Christopher gets better and better.  I repeatedly find myself wishing I could peek into his brain, just to see how he wrangles all these wildly original ideas into the words that keep me glued to the pages of his books.  Again, I don't know how he does it.

With Hang Wire, Christopher keeps the reading fun going, this time giving us an urban fantasy novel that brings gods, a traveling circus and a serial killer all to the rolling streets of San Francisco.  Readers that are familiar with Christopher's work will find more of the same enjoyment here; if you're experiencing Adam Christopher for the first time-Welcome!-and make yourself comfortable, since you will be kept reading in your seat til the book is finished.  

Hang Wire starts off with a bang-an explosion, actually-which gets the action going right from the gate, and Christopher keeps the pace up throughout the book, using a multiple POV narrative that is perfectly suited to telling this story.  There isn't too much time spent on world building here, Christopher preferring to dole these details out to us piece by piece, so we are left to find things out when the characters do.  Also with each chapter, we are given more and more of the characters' histories, oftentimes traveling back in time and place as the story progresses.  I found myself enjoying these characters very much and felt they were fleshed out fully as Hang Wire unfolded.

Typical of Christopher's work, there is alot going on in Hang Wire, so please take your time and read carefully.  You definitely don't want to miss anything and trust me, it will be worth it.  Christopher's strength is in his storytelling, which is always superior, and the manner in which he keeps all the plot lines woven together is masterful.  Everything comes to an action packed climax in the end and Christopher fits all the pieces together nicely.

Hang Wire is another feather in Adam Christopher's cap.  It is a great, fun book and perfect summer reading.  Pick up a copy and take it with you everywhere you go.  You won't be sorry!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: JUST SO YOU KNOW I'M NOT DEAD by Anonymous-9

JUST SO YOU KNOW I'M NOT DEAD is a short collection of three stories that is highly entertaining and also serves as a great introduction to Anonymous-9's writing.  Incredibly, this is the first time I've had the pleasure of reading this author's work but I can tell you now, very soon I shall be placing her other works near the top of the Reading List.

I came across this collection while searching for "weird" fiction to read for my "Year In Weird" feature.  I knew Anonymous-9 as an acclaimed writer of mystery and noir fiction but the closing story here, "Dreaming Deep", is an homage to the old master himself,  H.P. Lovecraft.

"Dreaming Deep" is a moody story that I feel nicely captures the atmosphere Lovecraftian fiction ought to have; a story where something dark and incomprehensible is happening off stage, yet still manages to permeate the action going on right before our eyes.  What really happened to the young boy lost at sea?  The local folk believe it to be the work of a serial killer but the boy's father knows the truth...and he is locked away in an asylum.  It would be awesome if 9 decided to continue this story elsewhere, or at least write more in this genre; she is as adept here as she is in her noir fiction.

And speaking of which, let's talk about "Triangulation".  I did predict the outcome of the story but still had a blast getting there.  For being such a short piece, 9 still manages to build tension as she goes, and before you know it, sadly for we the readers, the story is over.  I felt the way 9 has written here very cinematic and I could easily see this piece at home in a Tarantino movie.

"2,984,000 Pounds of Pressure" is the middle story in the collection and again, the suspense ratchets tighter and tighter as someone from the protagonist's past stumbles back into his life and he realizes whichever decision he is about to make will change his life forever.  To say more would spoil the story but I have to say, I loved the final choice that the character makes.

JUST SO YOU KNOW I'M NOT DEAD is a wonderful little gift that Anonymous-9 has given to us; as a thank you, as an introduction, as a reminder that she is someone to watch out for.  Preferably over your shoulder, of course.

Happy reading!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Weird News

This morning via Twitter Silvia Moreno-Garcia announced that her all female anthology of Lovecraftian fiction She Walks In Shadows is 50% funded!!!  Thanks to all the contributors for joining #TeamSquid, I have faith that this campaign is going to be a great success.  There are still 21 days to help fund this project and you can learn more  here.

Also, the inaugural edition of ChiZine Publications Year's Best Weird Fiction, guest edited by Laird Barron, finally has a cover!

I'm super excited about this book and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.  I know Mr Barron is going to pick out the best of last year's weirdest stories!  The Year's Best Weird Fiction will be released August this year from ChiZine's imprint Undertow Publications.

Happy reading!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: THE IMAGO SEQUENCE (Night Shade Books)

In a word, WOW.

I have read Mr Barron's work on many occasions in various anthologies and enjoyed each piece so much, I decided it was time to explore the man's writing more thoroughly.  The Imago Sequence, published in 2007, is Barron's first collection.


As I've said before, I am no expert in the field of "weird" fiction, but I do know when I've read a book that is special, and one that I am going to keep with me long after the spine is cracked and the pages are yellow.  The Imago Sequence is such a book.

What Barron does with this collection is slowly envelop his readers with an increasing sense of dread and horror, each tale like taking step after creeping step into the dark woods of the Pacific Northwest that feature in so many of his stories.  Barron is an expert wordsmith; his writing is unearthly and he dips his pen in noir, psychological and cosmic horror, and the weird.  The stories here are chilling and disturbing, and the horror here goes far beyond mere slasher and gore.  These stories stay with you, embedded in your memory for a good, long while.  My favorites:

"Old Virginia" opens the collection and also sets the tone for the entire set.  A government experiment has gone horribly awry and humankind are pawns in a game way beyond its ken...

"Procession Of The Black Sloth" is an atmospheric stand out in the collection.  It is a creepy, Chinese phantasia complete with ghosts and witchcraft...

"Bulldozer" is a type of Weird West story, with a Pinkerton detective hot on the trail of a mysterious serial killer...

"Hallucigenia"  is another story with Barron's signature brand of cosmic horror; the imagery here is surreal and unsettling.  Probably my favorite piece in the collection.

"The Imago Sequence" brings the collection to a close, and involves a series of photographs that are surrounded by mystery and the occult...

As a dark fantasy/horror collection, The Imago Sequence is amazing, truly one of the best such collections I've read in a long time.  With each story I finished, I was reminded of how excited I was reading Clive Barker's Book Of Blood for the first time.  Barron is showing here the same flashes of brilliance and is firmly establishing his own mythos with these tales.  As a collection of weird fiction, it is for me a great introduction of what heights the genre can reach, going beyond pastiche and into modern day classics.  If it isn't already, this volume needs to be on your bookshelves.

Happy reading!


Here is some Q & A on Silvia Moreno-Garcia's She Walks In Shadows, the first all-female anthology of Lovecraft inspired fiction, plus click here for info on how to fund the project (Check out those perks!  What a treasure trove!!)

Can't wait for this!  Happy reading!!