Sunday, March 26, 2017

Killer Flowers

Crawlers

By Ray Garton


Publisher: RGB Publishing

Pub. Date: October 26, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Flowers that kill. I've read a few science fiction books with a plot centering on such a contrary idea. The most famous novel of this variety has to be Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham although it is a toss up whether the real nightmare in the book is man eating plants, stumbling blindly (literally) through the apocalypse, or listening to long winded lectures about how to deal with these dilemmas.

In Ray Garton's novella Crawlers, you don't have to worry about making such choices. It's killer flowers all the way down. In Mount Crag, it is the morning after a meteor shower and the townspeople wake up to burnt spots on the ground with unusual flowers growing out of them . They are all over town and at first they are simply a curiosity, looking more artificial than real. But it doesn't take long for the plants to show a more sinister side. Crawling attacking flowers with a terrible side effect becomes the order of the day.

Like I said. It's fun and seems more like the old science fiction horror films of the 60s and 70s. In fact, the author acknowledges this in his foreword. The consensus is that this is a quick read that excels in entertaining and has more than a few thrills. Like anything by Garton, it is well written and delivers. It appears Mount Crag is a setting for a few of Garton's tales so I wouldn't advise moving there in the near future. Just enjoy this horror adventure and smell the roses while you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Joys of short fiction!

The Man in the Palace Theater

 By Ray Garton

 

Publisher:  RGB Publishing 

Pub Date: June 29, 2012

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

One of the nice developments in Kindle reading is its suitability for singly distributed short fiction. Before eBooks, if one wanted to read a recommended short story, one had to hunt down or borrow the magazine it was published in or find a collection with that particular story. The only exception was publications of chapbooks, a small limited printing of that one short work which was usually sold to collectors for a pretty price and rarely becoming accessible to the casual readers. But with the advent of the Kindle ebooks, and Amazon's strange but effective distribution system it is simple to distribute a work of short fiction for a nominal charge, usually being one or two dollars. This theoretically enables many to read a brief essay or short fiction piece that would be hard to find otherwise and/or simply forgotten.

The Man in the Palace Theater by Ray Garton is a good example of this. It was published originally as a limited edition chapbook. However it can now be had as an Kindle eBook for pocket change, 99 cents at last glimpse, and worth every penny even at the equivalence of 20 plus pages. In the short tale, John Bellows has been missing for a while but shows up unexpectedly at his friend's work. He convince her to go with him to see something he says is amazing. She reluctantly follows him, knowing he has been through a number of problems and is concerned for his physical and mental health. He takes her to an old abandoned theater, the Palace Theater of the tale's title. What he expects her to see and what happens makes up for the rest of the story.

And therein lies the gist of this short tale. It is difficult to explain any more without giving it away. But like many horror stories, there is a great deal of psychological tension in it. John is indeed a man of many misfortunes. Has the effects of his misfortunes led to the events that take place? This is one of those stories where it is not always certain what is supernatural and that is psychological. In fact, can they always be separated? I would submit, after reading this story, that what is supernatural is not necessarily the biggest horror.

If you haven't discover the joy of obtaining single short fiction on your kindle, this would be a great piece to start with. Ray Garton is an established writer with an impressive literary resume. His Live Girls is my pick for one of the best, and possibly the most underrated, vampire novels in decades. This short work, even in its brevity, shows many of the skills which makes Garton an author worth reading. Give it a try. For 99 cents, It's a steal.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Werewolves in New Orleans

The Wild Harmonic

By Beth W. Patterson


Publisher: Hidden World Books

Pub Date: November1, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Birch “Buzz” MacKinley is a musician playing bass at the many music venues in New Orleans. Due to her troubled past and a closely guarded secret, she finds herself usually alone and trusting of few until she meets Rowan and his fellow musicians. She discovers she is not the only werewolf in town. In fact, there are many different forms of shapeshifters in existence living in a world and culture she never knew before. She also finds there is a growing danger around her and her new friends that exists side by side with her new companions.

In The Wild Harmonic, author Beth W. Patterson has created a rather different society of werewolves than we may be familiar with. In Patterson’s society of shapeshifters, werewolves tend to be especially good in particular careers like music and the helping professions. One of Buzz’s lycanthropic companions is a nun. But Buzz is particularly drawn to a pack that is into music and that is where this story gets its strengths. A musician herself, the author has a deep understanding of the power of music. Music is often involved in rituals seeking higher realms of existence and, in this novel, Patterson combines the two to create a rather unique combination of tune and growl so to speak. Without disparaging any of the author’s seemingly considerable skills, I think it is safe to say Patterson is a musician who writes rather than a writer who plays music. Her expertise and love for the music comes out that strong in both her writing style and her descriptions of the characters.

This is an interesting take on the werewolf tale with some rather intriguing complications. Rowan’s pack is only part of a bigger scenario. There is a danger lurking as shapeshifters disappear or are found dead. While Buzz is slowly becoming able to trust her pack mates, she discovers that not everyone who is a werewolf or another type of shapeshifter is on the same side. Hence, we have the conflict that moves the plot along.

Two things make The Wild Harmonic work, the hidden culture and society of the shapeshifters which I have already mentioned and the alternately fragile and strong character of Buzz. She is indeed shown as fragile at the beginning, isolated but grounded in her music. Then she meets Rowan. Glimpses of a paranormal romance show up and Buzz spends a lot of time pining over what may be unattainable. But Buzz becomes strong on her own and how that happens is an essential part of the story. It is not lost on me that Buzz is a bass player. Anyone who has worked as a musician and played in a substantial number of bands (raises hand) know that the bassist is the soul and anchor of a group and that was not lost on me as I discovered how the character of Buzz develops.

So we have a novel that is one part fantasy epic and one part paranormal romance with neither drowning out the other. But for me there is something missing. The horror is missing. While we have werewolves, other shapeshifters, and a looming threat, the tension seem to be missing. So much of the story is in setting up the culture and the musical and philosophical tones that we lose the horror. When we finally come in contact with the threat it is too late to regain it and, frankly, it is a little cartoonish and predictable for my taste. I wanted more old scares and less New Age. But what is there is quite substantial and entertaining. It is still a smart fantasy that will please most readers. Even though it is a standalone novel I think we may see Buzz again if the author has her way.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Gives a new meaning to "frozen with fear"

The Winter Over

By Matthew Iden

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 

Pub. Date: February 1, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

  The first thing I recommend if you plan to read The Winter Over by Matthew Iden, is to turn your thermostat up. You are bound to feel more chilled than usual as you read this mystery/adventure novel set in the nine month long winter of Antarctica. The biggest strength of Iden's thriller is how he makes the dark and cold Antarctic environment and the seclusion of those inhabiting a research station come alive. The detail he puts in describing the compound and all the work needed to keep something like that operating is quite impressive. And they become very important details as we continue reading.

Cassie is a new worker at the Shackleton station. She is a hired as a vehicle mechanic but takes on a number of tasks in the station as many of the maintenance workers do. There is a bit of a class chasm between maintenance crew and scientists but the station keeps operating well despite of it. The long winter is about to start and the overall staff has been cut down to about 40 to keep the station going throughout the dark months and the well under freezing temperatures. The last plane is about to leave and there will be no way to leave the station after that. It's a yearly event which no one worries too much about except there is a seemingly accidental death just days before the last plane leaves. Cassie discovers some things to make her wonder about that death but it is not until well into the dark and cold isolation that she starts to put it all together.

I'm tempted to be corny and say, "But is it too late?" but won't because I think you get the idea. This is one of those stories that benefit from the reader knowing little about it before they dive into the pages. In basic plot ideas, The Winter Over is essentially one of those mysteries in which a finite number of people are trapped and you are wondering if any will make it out. But there are quite a few differences in this particular "And Then There Were None" scenario, of which many would make Agatha Christie envious. Iden spends a lot of time setting the scene well through half of the book. This leads a number of readers to call the book slow but I would rather call it " well planned". It isn't a case of "nothing happened" as much as a lot of little things are happening. Sooner or later though, all of frozen hell breaks out and it all makes sense. Lots of hints are scattered about and I suspect the savvy mystery buff will figure it out by the halfway point. Yet it is a very satisfying mystery that is weaved around a tight and well conceived setting. Like i said. Keep that thermostat up.

Many might consider this novel typical of a summer read and if you live in the desert like i do, it would probably a wise one when the temperature gauge hits 12oF.. But it's early in the year so let's call this a winter read perfect for around the fireplace. It is sort of a "Who Goes There?/The Thing" without the alien although there are monsters of a variety, the kind you meet every day. Mystery and adventure fans in particular will like this but anyone who loves good storytelling should give it a try.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Void and the Tingleverse

Dr. Chuck Tingle's Complete Guide to The Void

By Chuck Tingle


Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services LLC 

Pub Date: February 24, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

 Welcome to the Tingleverse

I must confess I have never read a Chuck Tingle novel. I have certainly heard of him and have chuckled over titles like Space Raptor Butt Invasion, Schrodinger's Butt, and Slammed In The Butt By Domald Tromp's Attempt To Avoid Accusations Of Plagiarism By Removing All Facts Or Concrete Plans From His Republican National Convention Speech. I must admit I am tempted to read one if his writing style is as silly as his titles. Yet I am not really into gay erotic sci-fi satire so I have avoided the temptation...so far

But there appears to be a darker side to Tingle. Threatening his loving and tingly Tingleverse is The Void. It is a dimension that is so totally terrifying just the mention of it can lead one to Void Madness, a condition that does not sound pleasant. Dr. Tingle wrote this brief 69 page work to help us recognize the dangers of The Void and to prevent being consumed by it, a place very few escape from. He tells us of the terrible creatures that come from The Void and gives some specific examples such as an especially vicious form of "Shrieking Mass"...

Throughout history, there has been several Shrieking Masses who greatly affected the course of humanity through their manipulation of humans. In recent history, the most notable Shrieking Mass is United States President Domald Tromp, who attained power despite the fact that the seams in his human suit remained clearly visible during his entire campaign cycle.


So what to make of this "guide"? Despite Tingle's endless admonition to be careful reading this book less you "succumb to the call of The Void", it is consistently humorous. I do not know if this is a companion book for fans of his novels or simply a sidestep into silliness. But it is entertaining and may cause me to take a look at one of his novels, butt pounding or no butt pounding.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Art and extremes

Unger House Radicals

By Chris Kelso

 

Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications 

Pub. Date: June 11, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

 Unger House Radicals starts with an Andy Warhol quote and a glimpse of the first narrator watching Andy Warhol's 8 hour film titled Sleep. Warhol was the poster boy for turning banality into art and The Factory was far from the idealist art community that many pretended it was. Mary Woronov popped that bubble in her memoir of negativity, nihilism, and drug use titled Swimming Underground: My Years in the Warhol Factory. Chris Kelso's strange and fragmented novel has its own art movement. creators and creative art house and, while thankfully entirely fictional, feels like a bit of a dark satire of the power of movements and the corruption of art.

In Unger House Radicals film maker Vincent Bittaker meets Brandon Swarthy, a serial killer. It's love at first killing. The two plot their own film movement and moves into the murder house of the serial killer Otto Spengler. Unger House becomes a focal point for the movement dubbed Ultra-realism in which Bittaker and Swarthy film murders as a testament to the ultimate and most realistic art. "What is more real than murder?" Swarthy asks. For the first part of the novel we follow their quest and relationship that takes strange sexual and psychological turns and plunges into the surreal.

But it doesn't end there. Ultra-realism catches on. The author continues the narration in the eyes of other participants and even critics as the movement becomes a cult and an equally disturbing counter revolution called The Last True Hope (Please do not let that be a Star Wars reference!) emerges. The narration is non-linear and very bizarre to the point of wondering if we entered another dimension only known to the author. This is one of those books which challenges the reader even if the writing flows like a sumofabitch through your veins as you read it. I'm not always sure I followed it but the emotional prose and the several philosophical tones that is batted back and forth never got lost in the shuffle.

Murder as art is one of those things that has become a clique in the barrage of mainstream serial killer novels flooding the market but they never go beyond the sensational. Vincenzo Bilof's The Violators and now, Unger Street Radicals show the the clique can go beyond the sensational and may reveal philosophical overtones that makes one thinks even if that thinking may feel somewhat uncomfortable. The violence and brutality may still be there but so is the examination of what is reality and how far is far enough. In Kelso's challenging and sometimes maddening book, we get a tome on the meaning , and meaningless, of movements. We examine if art can go beyond the boundaries of civilization and whether it should. But mainly we get a exhilarating and confusing ride. I have another Kelso novel to read and this one really whetted my appetite for more. A warning though. The Kelso universe may be very forbidding to some and should bear a label, "read at your own risk." But if you wish to take the risk you may be amazed and intrigued at what you read.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dr. Phil meets Natural Born Killers

Something Violent

By Kristopher Rufty


Publisher: DarkFuse

Pub. date: March 28, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Dr. Phil meets Natural Born Killers.

Actually it is Dr. Ron. Ron McClure is the marriage counselor to the stars. He is bit of a celebrity himself through his books and TV appearances. When he is leaving a convenience store he is a bit torn about approaching a crying women through fear of getting involved but also tempted because she is quite beautiful. The woman finally approached him and the temptation of her beauty wins out...until she chloroforms and abducts him. When he awakes, he is tied to a chair. He discovers that his abductors are Seth and Jody, a serial killer team called The Sweetheart Killers. Lately Seth and Jody are having troubles. Seth doesn't want to kill with Jody anymore. Now they want Ron to fix them, to put the zing back into their killing spree, and save their relationship. Despite the obvious conflict of interest in helping two killers be successful in their chosen occupation, Ron agrees to try. After all, they are probably going to kill him either way.

What entails in Something Violent is a series of alternating flashbacks told by each other chronicling how they met and the events leading up to the crisis prompting the decision to kidnap the famous marriage counselor. In between, the hapless Ron gives his sage observations. This is a combination of horror tale and psychological crime thriller. But for me, it is also a satire of the bad couple romance thrillers we see occasionally popping up mainly in movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and, as already mentioned, eNatural Born Killers. Seth and Jody are seriously unhinged but not so much that they don't want a special life with each other. So when the relationship falter , they act in the only way they know. They need to keep that homicidal spark that brought them together alive any way they can. The entire idea of a counselor struggling to save the joy of a behavior that will kill people, and probably himself, is deliciously perverse. Probably more so for myself since I am a retired therapist. Yet that is where the dark comedy comes in; A pair of killers struggling to find the humanity that keeps them together through their sociopathic thrills .

The other nice touch is hinted in the title. There appears to be a serial killer web site called Something Violent. Everyone needs a little support, I guess. This idea merges into the theme of the story and drives much of the narrative. How it does that will be left for the reader to discover. The author, Kristopher Rufty, does a nice job in moving the ideas along. There is lots of action and as should be expected in this type of dark thriller, lots of violence. The chain of events does call for a good amount of suspension of belief and if there is one main weakness, it is that the events often seems a bit to convoluted to come together comfortably. Yet I was able to exercise that suspension of belief mainly due to the fact that I saw it as a satire of serial killer tales, a kind of very dark comedy. The feel was enough to make me chuckle over the dilemma of Dr. Ron and his clients even in the goriest of passages.

In the last assessment, Something Violent gets my recommendation. It a clever take on the serial killer genre and remains entertaining throughout. It also makes me glad this couple never showed up during my counseling career.