Reading

{Book Review} Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

{Book Review} Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

Before we get into this review I need to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? Here it is. I may be a bit biased when it comes to works by Laird Barron.

There is a bit of history behind this bias. I first came across Laird Barron about a decade ago. Up until that point I'd only been reading Tolkien style fantasy and the occasional science fiction. At that time I was working at a large chain bookstore and I came across an intriguing book with a beautiful cover. It was so different from all of the other books around it.

This book was The Imago Sequence by an author I'd never heard of and published by Night Shade Press. Every other book was ultra glossy and they all looked just like the others, while this one had a gorgeous dust jacket printed on a slightly textured matte paper that made the different shades of absinthe tinted green stand out like a beacon among the gleaming rows of spines. Also, throw in the vague and unsettling image on the front cover. I had to have this book. So I used my employee discount and bought the store's only copy.

Up until this point my only real exposure to horror literature was a little of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, some Lovecraft, and Frankenstein back in high school. So the use of this level of nightmare imagery was something almost shocking. I'd never experienced anything like it before. It was new, exciting, and completely different, and it changed my tastes in fiction forever.

After reading this enlightening collection I began to search out other similar reading experiences and each time a new Laird Barron work came out I made sure to find a copy to devour. And this brings me to his most recent collection of short stories: Swift to Chase

Synopsis

Laird Barron's fourth collection gathers a dozen stories set against the backdrops of the Alaskan wilderness, far-future dystopias, and giallo-fueled nightmare vistas.

All hell breaks loose in a massive apartment complex when a modern day Jack the Ripper strikes under cover of a blizzard; a woman, famous for surviving a massacre, hits the road to flee the limelight and finds her misadventures have only begun; while tracking a missing B-movie actor, a team of man hunters crashes in the Yukon Delta and soon realize the Arctic is another name for hell; an atomic-powered cyborg war dog loyally assists his master in the overthrow of a far-future dystopian empire; following an occult initiation ritual, a man is stalked by a psychopathic sorority girl and her team of horrifically disfigured henchmen; a rich lunatic invites several high school classmates to his mansion for a night of sex, drugs, and CIA-funded black ops experiments; and other glimpses into occulted realities a razor's slice beyond our own.

Combining hardboiled noir, psychological horror, and the occult, Swift to Chase continues three-time Shirley Jackson Award winner Barron's harrowing inquiry into the darkness of the human heart.

{back cover copy}

My Thoughts

With this collection Barron is trying something new. The stories of his previous three short story collections all seemed to take place in a similar universe. These stories still seem to have a slight connection with his past work, but, at the same time, you can tell he is tackling new territory; and new styles as well.

Having said all of that, I'm not sure if this collection was as good for me as his previous work. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing. He has said in recent interviews that he is trying to branch out his writing styles to appeal to more than just the niche 'weird fiction' market, and this collection has some traces of that. There are some stories that verge on slasher thriller and there is one that is futuristic science fiction. If this means bringing more people to the wonderful worlds of Laird, I'm all for it.

I did absolutely love the story Frontier Death Song. This one was about a man who comes across the mythical Wild Hunt in progress while in the wilds of Alaska. (Wild Hunt – it is bad luck to see the Wild Hunt, click here to read more about it on Wikipedia) The Wild Hunt was also a major story component of another recent story I've read and enjoyed: The Brotherhood of the Wheel. I think I may have a thing for folklore based horror.

Conclusion

Do I recommend that you pick up a copy of this book?

Yes, very much so. Bit with a caveat: don't read it as a collection of short stories. Instead read it as a single story arc covering the plight of a group of people connected to a series of events in an Alaska town. Having finished the book I find much more value in the stories after the fact while thinking over who the all connect. I think this book would be a very enjoyable one to read a second time, and possibly more enjoyable than the first read.

If you are interested in reading some of Laird Barron's work I would suggest picking up a copy of his first collection The Imago Sequence as well as this one. You will not be disappointed.

Also be sure to check out his blog.

Posted by Joe in Reading
{Review} – The Fisherman by John Langan

{Review} – The Fisherman by John Langan

Synopsis

In upstate New York, in the woods around Woodstock, Dutchman's Creek flows out of the Ashokan Reservoir. Steep-banked, fast moving, it offers the promise of fine fishing, and of something more, a possibility too fantastic to be true. When Abe and Dan, two widowers who have found solace in each other's company and a shared passion for fishing, hear rumors of the Creek, and what might be found there, the remedy to both their losses, they dismiss it as just another fish story. Soon, though, the men find themselves drawn into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir. It's a tale of dark pacts, of long-buried secrets, and of a mysterious figure known as Der Fisher: The Fisherman. It will bring Abe and Dan face to face with all that they have lost, and with the price they must pay to regain it.

Back cover copy

My Thoughts

First of all, just look at that cover! It's flarkin beautiful! I want that painting framed and on my wall!

Seriously though, this book was amazing. As I've said recently in my review of Gemma File's Experimental Film, I love good slow burn read. I regret taking so long to get to this title. It's recommended by my favorite author: Laird Barron. You can see his sparkling review of it at the top of the front cover.

But why did I love it so much? Well, it was like this book was written specifically to target my interests. It's a terrifying story involving the occult/paranormal with a slight Lovecraftian flavor yet elevated high above the slush that makes up most genre fiction. It's not just a book about monsters, nor is it about hacking and slashing of bodies. It truly is a telling of horror that happens behind the scenes of the world and of the plight of those few who are forced to face it in some fashion or another.

Even the most fantastic elements of the story, though they are definitely beyond fantastic, do not stand out as they would in most speculative fiction. Langan has the ability to make these unnatural things fit into the world of his story with ease. He makes you truly believe every word he puts down and think about how you, as the reader, fit within the world of his story, and thus into the real world itself.


I could not recommend reading this book more. I borrowed this one from the library, but I plan on adding a copy to my personal library in the near future.

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 4: The Mist

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 4: The Mist

Today I am sharing my thoughts on The Mist, a novella originally collected in his Skeleton Crew short story collection.

If you haven't already, be sure to read the previous posts in this series.

Summary

From the back cover: It's a hot, lazy day, perfect for a cookout, until you see those strange dark clouds. Suddenly a violent storm sweeps across the lake and ends as abruptly and unexpectedly as it had begun. Then comes the mist…creeping slowly, inexorably into town, where it settles and waits, trapping you in the supermarket with dozens of others, cut off from your families and the world. The mist is alive, seething with unearthly sounds and movements. What unleashed this terror? Was it the Arrowhead Project—the top secret government operation that everyone has noticed but no one quite understands? And what happens when the provisions have run out and you're forced to make your escape, edging blindly through the dim light?

Screen Adaptions

My first experience with this story was the movie that came out sometime in the 2000s. It was such a great film, and has one of the most gut punching endings I'd ever experienced in film. I won't spoil it for you. Go watch it for yourself, you won't be disappointed. (You can thank me later.)

As for the recent television series, I've only seen the pilot and cannot comment on the quality of the remaining episodes. The pilot did look intriguing, just not intriguing enough for me to sink hours of screen time into.

My Thoughts

This was a fun and fast paced read. I loved all of the creatures and the atmosphere of this story. But the crown jewel of this terrifying tale is one very horrific character: Mrs. Carmody. So, all of these townsfolk are trapped inside a small supermarket together by a mist filled with dangerous creatures. You would think that the man eating bug things from another dimension would be the biggest threat. But nope; Mrs. Carmody handily takes that title in this one.

In the beginning she is just the local crazy lady who just goes around spouting off biblical apocalyptic drivel left and right. This whole story is worth the read just to experience the feeling of her slowly turning the desperate locals against our hero and those that stand with him. She is like a mind controlling evangelical itching to pin the blame for their catastrophes on someone and thirsting for vengeance.

The creatures and all of the monster fighting is fun too, but that crazy lady takes the cake.

The only real problem I had with the book is one scene that felt really out of character for the main character and hero of the story. You'll know it when you read it yourself. (No spoilers here.)

Dark Tower Connections

As per connections to the Dark Tower books,  there only seems to be one. The Arrowhead project (the secret military project that leads to the mist and all of its monsters) is probably the same thing as the 'thinnies' from the Dark Tower books.

Conclusion

This is a great book, worth checking out. As is the rest of the Skeleton Crew collection this novella was originally published. For some classic King, be sure to give these a read.

Posted by Joe in Reading
Book Review: Experimental Film – by Gemma Files

Book Review: Experimental Film – by Gemma Files

I love a horror story with a nice slow burning, bone grinding plot. Some stories attempt this and utterly fail. But some do pull it off, the dread builds layer by layer drawing you deeper and deeper into the glorious bleakness.

I just finished reading one such novel that accomplished this task of unstoppable yet addictive horror. It is called Experimental Film and was written by Gemma Files. I read this late into the night as each time I declared “this will be the last chapter before bed” I would have to turn the page to see what happened next.

The Story

The story follows Lois Cairns, a Canadian indie movie reviewer who used to teach at film school, as she tracks down a piece of lost film history. But were these lost films lost for a reason? Lois employs one of her best film school students, Safie Hewsen, to help her track further information down for a documentary. Lois must deal with her own embroiled life (her downward spiraling health, a hard to manage autistic son, and more) as she attempts to dig up the secrets of the lost female filmmaker’s past.


I highly recommend giving this book a read. Especially if you like books similar to House of Leaves or you enjoy well written weird fiction and/or supernatural horror. Finding a slow burn terrifying horror story with such emotional impact is an absolute treat.

Posted by Joe in Reading, 2 comments
Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 3: The Talisman

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 3: The Talisman

Be sure to check out the previous posts in this series:


Are you ready for the next installment of the Great Dark Tower Re-Read? Right here and now?! (The words echo across the vast plain before you and bounce back from the granite cliffs in the distance. [maximum drama!])

If so, be prepared. For here are my thoughts on The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. For many people, this book is their introduction to Peter Straub, one of modern horror’s most successful authors. This was not the case for me though as this was my first time for The Talisman. My first Straub book was Shadowland. (A totally awesome book, worth checking out. Maybe I’ll do a write-up on Shadowland in the future.)

What is it?!

The Talisman is a story about a teenage boy named Jack Sawyer who moves out to the east coast with his widowed mother trying to hide from Jack’s nefarious Uncle Morgan Sloat. Jack’s mother, a b-movie actress past her prime, is slowly dying of lung cancer and he learns from Parker, an elderly black amusement park repair man, that the only way he can save his mother is to go on a quest for a powerful talisman. To do this he must “flip” to an alternate reality called the territories and travel back to the west coast.

Along the way he comes across many obstacles including the mechanizations of the powerful Morgan Sloat.

Good Stuffs

The Talisman was a pretty good book. All through it you are rooting for Jack to save the day and thwart the bad guys. My favorite character of the novel, by far, is Wolf. He appears about half way through the story and becomes Jack’s companion in his adventures. Wolf is a werewolf and, in the Territories, werewolves are not evil creatures, but shepherds. The do still transform into bloodthirsty wolves under the full moon, and they are very dangerous than. Otherwise, Wolf is very kind and innocent.

Not-So-Good Stuffs

Like many of King’s works, this book was way too long. I’ve only read one other book by Straub, but I’m fairly confident that the blame for the gratuitous length of the book lies on SK. There was a very large portion in the second half of the book that could have been totally cut.

I’m sure this is a controversial opinion but, this means completely cutting a fairly important character from the book: Richard Sloat. Richard is Jack’s childhood friend/cousin and Morgan’s son. He does have interesting story significance, as he creates a nice dichotomy between Morgan/Richard and Phillip(Jack’s suspiciously dead father)/Jack.

There’s some stuff that happens at the end that gives Richard’s character importance, but I feel that the book would be just as strong with Richard completely excised. This would take a good 100 pages or so off of the grand total.

Feel free to skewer my thoughts down below in the comment section.

Dark Tower Connections

So, why did I read this book as part of my Dark Tower Re-Read? Well, I’m not completely sure yet. I can see similarities between Midworld of The Dark Tower and The Territories. I’ve heard that there is more of a connection with sequel (Black House). It was still worth the read though, and would recommend it if you’ve read all of the DT books and need more of something similar.


Do you disagree with my thoughts? If so, let me know below. Let’s talk about it!

Posted by Joe in Reading, 1 comment
Book Review: Brotherhood of the Wheel

Book Review: Brotherhood of the Wheel

So, I just finished reading this very interesting horror novel by R. S. Blecher: The Brotherhood of the Wheel.

What’s it about? Well, way back in the olden days, the Knights Templar Order took it upon themselves to protect the peoples traveling the road to Jerusalem. Since than the order has changed and now protects the roads of the modern world from monsters, both human and supernatural.

Jimmie Aussapile

The story follows Jimmie Aussapile, a member of the Brethren (current name of the knights) as he takes down organizations of serial killers using the highways as hunting grounds and beasts feeding on the innocent. Jimmie is an awesome representation of the ‘every-man’. He’s a truck driver with a wife, kids, and a mortgage.

Supporting Actors

Other characters in the book were impressive as well; such as Heck, the motorcycle club member recently returned from serving in the middle east, and Lovina, the police officer with the tortured past. Though, none of the other characters seem quite as fleshed out as Jimmie. I’m probably a bit spoiled on reading too much Stephen King lately, but I would have loved reading more back story on the other characters.

There is one group of characters, I’ll call them the Ava Bunch, that could have been given more back story. The way they are included they are more plot points than people. I would have reveled in any extra time spent in this story world.

One character I would love to had more back story and more ‘screen time’, is Max. She is a member of another branch of the ancient Templar Order, the Builders. They collect information, unlike the Brethren who act as the muscle doing the actual footwork and dying. She sort of reminds me of Abby from NCIS.

Luckily, there are possibilities left open for further explorations of Max and the intricacies between the different factions.

All of the Song References!

One thing that could have been toned down were the constant song references. It seemed like every scene had [random hit from the 70s] playing on the car stereo or on the bar’s jukebox. It was distracting at times.

Conclusion

This story is an intense thrill ride smushed with Supernatural and that odd M. Night Shyamalan movie, Lady in the Water. Like these things this book is an amalgam of folklore and urban legends. Belcher has pulled many disparate creepy things into a believable narrative. Here are some items that come up: shadow people, black-eyed kids, truck stops, black dogs, the wild hunt, the zodiak killer, lay lines, the Illuminati, greasy diners, etc.

Some of the violence is a little graphic, so, I wouldn’t recommend this to younger readers. But, for the mature audience, this is a fun read. Highly recommended book.

I give it 4 of 5 semi trucks:

I look forward to devouring the next book when it comes out and falling further into this fictional universe.

Until next time,
The Wheel Turns

Posted by Joe in Reading, 0 comments
Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 2: The Gunslinger

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 2: The Gunslinger

Part 1: The Movie

I have fond memories of reading The Gunslinger way back in college. It was one of the first books I read for myself after a very long break from reading for my own enjoyment. AP English courses in high school had killed any interest I had in reading. There was too much analysis and not enough just reading for the fun of it.

What drew me to this book was a mash up of a few traits. I’d not read any Stephen King yet, and was interested to try something of his. Also this looked to be a mix of western, horror, sci/fi, and fantasy.

Now that I’ve re-read this over a decade later, here are my thoughts on Stephen King’s The Gunslinger:

The Good

It was awesome getting to meet Roland and Jake at the beginning of their journey again. Roland’s control of his guns and the Mid-World dialect were like stepping into a well worn pair of comfy shoes.

The Bad

But, this book was no where near as good as I remember it being. Back when I read it the first time, the extra weight of it being my first real Stephen King book may have influenced my opinion as I read it.

The Fugly

This time around it felt rather disjointed. There was no real character building. This probably has roots in the fact that this really isn’t a novel, but a woven together collection of short stories. Originally these stories were published in the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 70s. In the early 80s SK put them together as a book. Then, again when he was finishing off the last three books of the series, he revised it again to add in references foreshadowing to the later story.

 

It was awesome going back into this journey once again, but I was let down by this first installment. I’m still looking forward to the next book in the series though, The Drawing of the Three. Lots of other readers claim that the series gets much better after this first entry. I do remember book three, The Waste Lands, being my favorite.

Next up in the Dark Tower Re-Read is a few books that aren’t in the series, but are other SK books connected to the series. Next up will be The Talisman by SK and Peter Straub.

Posted by Joe in Reading, 0 comments
Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 1: The Movie

Dark Tower Re-Read – Part 1: The Movie

Hello people and porpoises of all the world’s proliferated provinces.

Today, I have something new for you. I’m going to write a movie review. But not just for any movie.

I remember way back in high-school getting the first glimpse of behind the scenes footage of the brand new Lord of the Rings movie. This was a very big deal to me. Those books were my very favorite. I’d already read the Hobbit and the full trilogy at least twice through by that time. What sucks, is that when I saw this footage, it was still another couple years before the movie finally came out. And…

IT WAS AMAZING!

They were able to capture the same feeling of the books and somehow pack the trilogy into 10ish hours of movie over the full trilogy. Since then, I’ve had ridiculously high standards when it comes movie adaptions of books I love.

Another set of books that I came to love back in college were Stephen King’s (SK’s) Dark Tower books. These were great, because they were a mashup of epic Tolkien style fantasy, spaghetti western, and terrifying horror. Really, these books were my first foray into horror. These books were something new and I was hooked from the the first pages until the last.

And guess what…

Holy Saskatchewan! They Finally Made a Movie

There have been rumors on and off over the years of a movie. Everyone in the forums would argue back and forth over who would be the best Roland, who would be a good fit as Walter O’Dim/Randall Flagg. But the conversations would always boil down to the books being too out there. This, apparently, was one of the few unfilmable SK stories.

Some ignored this notion and decided to make a movie anyways. When I saw the first trailer I got really excited. I was ready to see these books brought to the screen. So, the family and I went to see it a day or so after opening; it being a PG-13 movie, my 8 year old was able to go. My son liked it.

Here are my thoughts.

The Good

First let’s talk about the best part of the whole movie. That would be Idris Elba. Putting aside the controversy of his race and any implications that may have down the line if they make future movies or television shows, he was amazing as Roland. SK had been inspired by old Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, and many of the die hards would have preferred the part to be played by ‘the’ Client Eastwood, but Mr. Eastwood is a lot older than he was in the 60s and 70s; the heyday of his westerns. Idris was the perfect fit. His stoicism and coldness were spot on.

The best scene, hands down, was when Jake took Roland to the hospital just after they left Mid-World and entered New York City. The doctor was amazed at all of the diseases riddling his body, and Roland just brushes it off and, after being stitched up, decides it’s time to go. Rips out the I.V.s and demands for Jake to ‘get my guns.’

Great stuff.

The Bad

One thing I would love is if they had spent the time and the money, as they had done for The Lord of the Rings, and made this into the 10 hour trilogy it truly deserves. The movie was too short. I was only an hour and a half long. This is pitiful considering all of the amazing content they had to work from.

I know that movies are a different medium than books, and that they must be treated as such. For this reason, I tend to avoid all trailers before going in to see any movie. I want the movie to be as much of a surprise as possible. But this movie was just too forced.

Book Spoilers Ahead

The director explained this by using how SK ended the last book. Roland makes it to the top of the tower, and, because he failed at his quest, he is again set back to chasing the man across the desert to try again. The director claims that the movie is Roland’s next attempt on his quest. It is a continuation of where the books ended.

End of Spoilers

I like this idea, but I also feel that it is a real cop-out. It is just an excuse for the script-writers and director to do whatever they want with the movie, leaving us fans still wanting for a real adaptation of the books.

The Fugly

But the worst aspect of the movie with no other competition within miles, is Matthew McConaughey as Walter O-Dim/Randall Flagg/The Man in Black. Now, don’t get me wrong here, Mr. McConaughey is a top notch actor. I absolutely loved him in season 1 of True Detective. But in this movie his character was flat and boring. The Man in Black is supposed to be this dark zany evil wizard that will murder you or crack an inappropriate joke at the drop of a hat. But here he was never funny, and his lines are just delivered with no style. Plus, they put way too much makeup on him. The only thing that would have made is complexion more face would be twilight style glitter.

Takeaway and Inspiration

All in all, I still did enjoy the movie. It was fun, just short lived. Idris Elba as Roland almost makes up for all of the movie’s other lacking qualities. Though, this movie could’ve been something truly amazing if it had been given the same money, time, and love that the Lord of the Rings movies received.

One huge thing that came out of this for me is the inspiration to read the book again. But this time I want to read SK’s other related books as well, since I’ve not read much of SK’s work other than the Dark Tower books and wondered if I’d get a different experience. I found a quality list to follow here: http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-suggested-reading-order-for-extended.html If you’d like to follow along, I’m reading the ‘Essentials Expanded’ list, not strictly in order, and I’ll probably leave out a couple of the more obscure short stories (like Reploids and The Dark Man).

And I want to drag you all along with me. (evil laughter booms across my apartment)

As I read each book on the list I will come here and write up a little review. Next up will be the first Dark Tower book: The Gunslinger. So keep watch, I’ll be posting Part 2 soon.

Until next time,
May you have long days and pleasant nights

Joe

Posted by Joe in Reading, 2 comments