The Monster Outside the Closet

Nicholas Kaufmann writes a monthly column for Fear Zone called The State of the Genre.  It’s a great read, and one everybody should look up.  Nick’s one of the smartest folks we’ve got in this genre.

This month, Nick tackles the issue of homosexuality and how it’s perceived by some within the horror community.  He gives Just Like Hell a nice little shout, but it’s the words he says about the issue at hand that really matter.  Horror should be an all-inclusive genre, and to many it is, but like everything else in the world, we’ve still got a long way to go.  I’m hoping we get there someday.

Upcoming books I plan to buy

As you can probably guess, I’m an avid reader.  My “to be read” pile is about a mile high, and it just keeps growing.  With any luck, I’ll catch up someday.  I’m not too hopeful, though.  Besides, what’s the fun in having nothing left to read?

That said, here are a few books that are scheduled to see print by year’s end.  I plan to pick up every last one of them, and so should you.

ZOO by Otsuichi
September 15, 2009

I love Japanese horror and science fiction, so it’s a great thrill to see Viz release their new Haikasoru line.  Of their opening salvo, I have to say I’m most excited about this collection from horror writer Otsuichi.  The synopsis reads…

A man receives a photo of his girlfriend every day in the mail…so that he can keep track of her decomposition. A deathtrap that takes a week to kill its victims. Haunted parks and airplanes held in the sky by the power of belief.

Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like great reading to me!  If there’s one thing I love, it’s a great big slathering of crazy ideas.  I’m looking forward to September and the release of this one.

SHADOW SEASON by Tom Piccirilli
October 27, 2009

SHADOW SEASON is the story of a blind ex-cop turned teacher at an isolated girls’ school. Amid some scandalous events concerning an enamored student, he tries to struggle by with his handicap and a lot of unresolved issues dealing with his girlfriend, his dead wife, and his former partner. When a deadly blizzard hits, it brings along with it a mysterious girl and a pair of killers.

Here’s the deal… Tom Piccirilli is one of the best writers working today.  He always brings the goods, and the man can work prose like you won’t believe.  For a long time, the man walked the fine line between crime fiction and horror.  Now he’s firmly planted himself on the crime side of the line, and I couldn’t be happier.  Recent novels like The Cold Spot, The Dead Letters, and The Midnight Road have been some of the best of his career.  For Pete’s sake (whoever Pete is) pre-order this book!

AUDREY’S DOOR by Sarah Langan
September 29, 2009

In an interview, Langan described the book like this…

Next novel is Audrey’s Door, about a lonely, injured woman in New York who finds love, but is so afraid of being hurt that she breaks it off, and moves into a haunted apartment in Morningside Heights, where her obsessive-compulsive disorder gets the better of her, and she begins to build a door.

Here’s a little nugget of information for you: Sarah Langan is the best new author of the last five years.  She writes prose that makes me green with envy.  Her novels move from the mundane to the epic with a subtlety that will catch you by surprise.  Her characters are fascinating, believable, and relatable.  I’ll be buying Sarah’s books until I die.

URBAN GOTHIC by Brian Keene
August 2009

When their car broke down in a dangerous neighborhood of the inner city, Kerri and her friends thought they would find shelter in the old dark row house. They thought it was abandoned. They thought they would be safe there until morning. They were wrong on all counts. The residents of the row house live in the cellar and rarely come out in the light of day. They’re far worse than anything on the streets outside. And they don’t like intruders. Before the sun comes up, Kerri and her friends will fight for their very lives… though death is only part of their nightmare.

Brian Keene writes fun slabs of mayhem.  He can surprise you with tenderness now and then, but mostly he just pulls the cord and lets the saw rip.  He’s called Urban Gothic his most violent book to date, and I can’t wait to give it a read.  Maybe I’ll have to try going to the beach and reading it there.  Urban Gothic feels like the perfect beach book.

So there’s a quartet of books I plan to buy.  I think you should buy them, too.  In the meantime, what else is coming out that I should pick up?  This pile of books doesn’t want me catching up!

Top Ten Books of 2008

With the year coming to a close (thank goodness!), I thought I’d take the chance to look back on my year’s reading and pick my ten favorite books.  These are not all books that came out this year.  They are, however, books that I read the first time in 2008. 

1. American Skin – Ken Bruen.  I read a few Bruen books this year, and this was by far my favorite.  This tale of violent people doing violent things in Ireland, New York, and the American desert is spellbinding.  Bruen’s prose crackles as it grabs you by the throat and shakes you.  An incredible story, one of the best I’ve read in years.

2. Caught Stealing – Charlie Huston.  Maybe Huston is the heir apparent ot Leonard and Hitchcock; I don’t know.  After reading his debut novel, however, I am positive that he’s one of the best thriller writers working today.  A recovering drunk agrees to watch his neighbors cat.  Within a few days he’s graduated to murder, car chases, and lugging around sackfuls of cash.  A tight, gripping suspense yarn that must be read to be believed.

3. 20th Century Ghosts – Joe Hill. This collection of short stories was my first exposure to Joe Hill.  Luckily, it’s one of the best fiction collections to come down the pike in several years.  Stories such as “Best New Horror,” “My Father’s Mask,” and “Voluntary Commital” run the gamut from pulse-pounding to quietly chilling.  Hill shows himself to be a confident writer of great ability, and I hope he releases another collection sooner rather than later.

4. The Shallow End of the Pool – Adam-Troy Castro.  Parents can do terrible things to their children, and Adam-Troy Castro knows this.  In this novella, he paints a harrowing, heartbreaking portrait of two siblings who have never met and are forced to battle to the death in order to settle a grudge between their estranged parents.  Castro writes wonderfully, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

5. The Imago Sequence – Laird Barron.  Every now and then I read a book that really makes me want to be a better writer, a book that makes me realize how much room for improvement really exists.  Laird Barron’s collection of weird, chilling tales is a book just like that.  I won’t call these stories Cthulhu-esque, because that really sells Laird short.  Barron has created a whole new universe of terrible things lurking just inside the shadows, and the characters he uses to navigate these tales (a weathered CIA spook, a grizzled pinkerton, and several others) are masterpieces of characterization.

6. Scalped, Indian Country – Jason Aaron.  Aaron impressed me with his Vietnam series The Other Side, but he really took me by surprise with this noir set on a reservation.  He hits all the right, gritty notes, and he brings enough twists to keep you guessing well after you think you can’t be surprised anymore.  Two more collections are available, and both are just as excellent as the first.

7. The Dust of Wonderland – Lee Thomas.  This was one of the first books I read this year, and the fact that it still found a place on this list is a testament to Lee’s skill as a writer.  Thomas crafts a story about New Orleans, lost love, finding yourself, and terrible evil in the form of a man named Travis Brugier and his brothel, Wonderland.  The prose is masterful, and the characters and horrors will leave you uniquely satsified.

8. The Fever Kill – Tom Piccirilli.  Over the past year, Tom Piccirilli has morphed from one of the most original voices in horror to one of the most confident voices in crime and noir.  The Fever Kill, his tale of vengeance, justice, and all the terrible things our pasts can heap on us, is possibly the best example of this.

9. Severence Package – Duane Swierczynski.  When I was in middle school, I used to write stories about vicious battles breaking out among the student body, terribly violent and action packed things that would probably get a kid arrested today.  Anyway, transplant that sort of tale into a corporate office, and you have Severence Package.  Swierczynski is another writer I discovered this year, and I’m happy to report he’s one of the best. 

10. The Bleeding Season – Greg Gifune. What if you thought you knew somebody, only to learn it all might be a lie?  This novel by Greg Gifune addresses that question when a group of friends discover their recently-deceased partner in crime may have been a serial killer.  Gifune brings the chills, and his characters have a depth and realism I’ve seldom seen in genre fiction. 

The 2008 Halloween Buffet

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen, my Halloween recommendations for 2008. I’m changing it up a little this year.  Instead of rec’s for stories, movies, comics, and books, you’ll just be getting stories this year.  Many apologies.  The last few months have been rough ones.  I promise to make it up to you by spacing out further recommendations over the coming weeks.

SHORT STORIES YOU SHOULD READ

“Harvest” by Norman Partridge.
Starting with the wonderful image of a man peeling an orange to find a bloody skull inside, this story grabs hold of your mind and starts twisting.  Is the hero of this story losing his mind, or is something more sinister happening?  Partridge really makes you wonder, and the climax he builds to will leave you shaking. Available in The Man with the Barbed Wire Fists.

“Llama” by Bentley Little.
A man finds a dead llama in the alley behind his workplace.  He discovers secrets in its measurements, connections to his life and the deaths of his family.  As the man becomes more and more fascinated with the dead animal, we learn that patterns can exist in anything and that the human mind can be very dangerous.  Available in The Collection.

“The Owen Street Monster” by J.L. Comeau.
Through a series of phone calls, we learn the terrible secret of The Owen Street Monster.  This was one of the first horror tales to really grab me and show me the potential of the genre, and it’s contained in the first anthology I ever truly loved.  Available in Borderlands 3.

“Shadder” by Tom Piccirilli.
A failed Hollywood hotshot returns to the family farm to tell his brother he’s selling.  There are secrets at the farm, however, and the birds whisper terrible things.  Available in Cemetery Dance # 52.

“N0072-JK1” by Adam Corbin Fusco.
The genuine masterpiece is presented as a scientific study of the human “tickle reflex.”  It is written with such clinical detachment that at first you’re not sure that such terrible things are really happening.  By the end, you can’t help but be terrified.  One of the best stories I’ve ever read.  Available in From the Borderlands.

 

American Skin

This past weekend I read one damn good book.  American Skin by Ken Bruen is by far the best crime novel I’ve read this year.  Publishers Weekly describes the book like so…

At the start of Bruen’s dark tribute to the Irish fascination with the American dream, Stephen Blake is on the run after a bank heist, hoping to disappear in the desert near Tucson. He has the money, and his girlfriend, Siobhan, knows how to launder it. All he has to do is change his accent, his skin and pass as American. But John A. Stapleton, hit man for the IRA, wants more than his share of the swag, and the psychotic Dade, obsessively devoted to the music of Tammy Wynette, is wandering the Southwest like a slaughter wagon.

Bruen, who I’d never read before but am now addicted to, writes in a crackling-yet-sad prose style.  The words drip emotion and energy, carrying you through even the slowest portions of the narrative at a breakneck pace.

The characters populating American Skin are a vivid collection.  They run the gamut of sympathetic to terrifying, many times within the same character.  All of them are fascinating, some of them stupifying.

Look, I can be a slow reader.  I know that.  I couldn’t put American Skin down.  This novel wormed its way into my brain and changed the way I want to read.  It’s that powerful.

If Noir is your thing at all, then do yourself a favor and pick up American Skin.  You won’t be sorry.

2007 Top 10 Books of the Year

Every year, I like to list my favorite reads.  I’m pretty lax on my rules, as I’m constantly playing catch up when it comes to reading.  You’ll note that most of these books didn’t come out this year.  My only rule is that I had to read them for the first time in 2007.

Now, on with the list (complete with links where you can learn more and buy, buy, buy!)… 

1. Pressure, Jeff Strand.  I’ve mentioned this one multiple times, so you’ve probably seen this coming.  Strand’s tale of a man hunted by a former friend turned raging psychopath is at times funny, heartwarming, and utterly horrifying.  One of the best books I’ve ever read, and an easy cap to 2007’s list.

2. The Dead Letters, Tom Piccirilli. A masterful mix of police thriller and horror.  This tale of a man hunting a serial killer who’s just trying to make up for the horrible things he’s done will have you turning pages faster than you thought possible.

3. Under My Roof, Nick Mamatas. Funny and thought-provoking.  This story of a suburban home declairing itself its own micro-country is fun even as it makes you ponder the world around you.

4. The Keeper, Sarah Langan.  This story of a small town trying to get back on its feet even as terrible events begin to spiral out of control is as wonderful an example of mood and character as I can find.

5. Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis. Hilarious, twisted, maybe a little psychotic.  When a detective is sent after the original, secret Constitution of United States, he meets every imaginable nutjob in America.

6. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy writes in a style I didn’t think I would dig, but this story of a man and his son wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape just trying to stay alive was one of the most affecting books I’ve read in a long time.

7. DMZ: Public Works, Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli.  Wood writes a story of terrorism and corporate exploitation in a war-shattered Manhattan.  It helps to have read the previous DMZ volumes, but this story is powerful enough on its own to warrant inclusion on this list.

8. The Waste Lands, Stephen King.  As I make my way through King’s Dark Tower series, I find myself more and more amazed with each passing volume.  The third book in the series is the most wonderful yet.

9. Ghoul, Brian Keene.  Brian captures the spirit of youth in so many ways with this novel.  From the wonder of the unknown to fear of the adult world and what it might do to your innocence, Keene leaves no stone unturned, leaving us with one of his best novels to date.

10. Baltimore, Chris Golden and Mike Mignola.  In this illustrated beauty, Mignola and Golden weave a story that will remind you of Stoker, Shelley, Lovecraft, Poe, and all the old masters.  Incredible from start to finish.

The 2007 Halloween Buffet

I really enjoyed doing this last year, and my love of Halloween has not died in the slightest.  That said, here’s your halloween recommendations for 2007.

SHORT STORIES

1. “In the Hills, the Cities” by Clive Barker.  Barker set the horror world on fire with his original Books of Blood.  This story, about two lovers who stumble upon a ritual that involves two cities who fight it out by lashing their citizens together into living giants, is a masterpiece of mood and mayhem.  Available in The Books of Blood.

2. “Black Leather Kites” by Norman Partridge.  Norm writes stories that can be hard boiled as hell or so over the top you can’t help but smile.  This story, about vampires, warlocks, and a small town cop who uses nunchuku instead of his standard issue baton, is both.  Available in Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales.

3. “Gray Matter” by Stephen King.  An early work of King’s and one of his best.  A tight, suspensful story about a group of men checking in on a friend of theirs who may or may not have turned into a cat-eating blob after drinking bad beer.  Sounds silly, but this is an incredibly tense reading experience.  Available in Night Shift.

4. “The Pit” By Joe R. Lansdale.  Brutal, unrelenting, and kinda funny.  This story of kidnapped gladiators forced to do battle for a small town’s amusement is one of Champion Joe’s finer tales.  Available in High Cotton.

5. “Menage A Trois” By JF Gonzalez.  Gonzalez is one of the best writers you might not have heard of, and this story is a good old fashioned zombie yarn set in a world where safety and sex don’t always go hand in hand.  Available in When the Darkness Falls.

NOVELS

1. Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge.  I didn’t want to repeat authors during this list, but I will make an exception for this incredible book.  One of my favorites, and one I will be reading every year at Halloween.  Partridge creates a tribute to Halloween, B Movies (without giving in to B Movie production values), and the culture of the sixties and small towns.  Breathtaking.

2. Ghoul by Brian Keene.  A love letter to the eighties and childhood, and proof that adults can be worse monsters than anything that lives in a graveyard.  Next to Terminal, this could be Brian’s best work.

3. Pressure by Jeff Strand.  The story of a man running from the obsession of a former friend, a friend with some serious issues.  A masterpiece of terror and suspense.  Strand pulls out all the stops, and he’s never been better.

4. The Store by Bentley Little.  Never has Wal-Mart looked more evil.  Okay, maybe that isn’t true, but this novel by Little is about big box policies taken to there most extreme.  Riveting and frightening on several levels.

5. Succulent Prey by Wrath James White.  White writes horrible, gory prose with the grace of a poet.  It’s really an interesting experience.  This novel, about a man who fears he may have contracted a disease that’s making him a serial killer, is a visceral ride through Hell.

COMICS

1. The Damned by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt.  Mystery and shoot ’em ups in a prohibition era populated by humans and demons alike.  An incredible series.

2. Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Temlpesmith.  It may be disguised as a police procedural, but this is a horror comic all the way.

3. Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki.  An earthquake has trapped a commuter train underground, and everything feels far too hot.  And is there something in the darkness?  And what’s happened to the rest of the world?

4. Tales from the Crypt.  The EC classic is back in a archive edition.

5. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. Kirkman’s meandering masterpiece.  Zombie menace with some of the best human characters the comics world has ever seen.  This is what most soap operas should be like.

MOVIES

1. Hard Candy.  Ellen Page gives an incredible performance in this horrifying and riveting film of a pedophile getting his just desserts.  An incredible flick from start to finish.  The director or this film recently helmed 30 Days of Night. 

2. Kontroll. Director Nimrod Antal juggles comedy, drama, romance, and horror in this tale set entire in Budapest’s subway system.  Kontroll officer Bulcsú has become such a part of the underground he hasn’t left it in months.  An incredible movie from start to finish, and one of the best I’ve seen this year.

3. 13 Tzameti. 22 year-old Sébastien takes on a false identity in a quest to gain untold riches, but instead finds himself in a sick game of chance where losing means a bullet in the head.  A study in tension.

4. Prince of Darkness.  The second movie in John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy.” A group of grad student descend on a church to study a strange contraption that just might house the antichrist.  One of Carpenter’s most terrifying.  Once the terror starts, it does not stop.

5. Burnt Offerings. A dose of seventies cheese, but this Oliver Reed/Karen Black-led thriller combines plenty of chills with the creepiest representation of Death I’ve ever seen.

Read This!: First Blood

First Blood
By David Morrell

Anybody who grew up in or around the eighties probably knows this movie.  John Rambo, haunted Vietnam vet, is picked on by small town cops until he strikes back.  He’s the ultimate underdog, in a way.  He’s turtured and misunderstood.  His bodycount is quite low, and most of the deaths he causes are second hand, like creating a car accident.

Yeah, this is a different Rambo.

Morrell states in his intro he wanted to bring the Vietnam War home to America.  I don’t know how close he got, but he really did create an exhaustive exercise in jangling nerves and brutality.  This Rambo doesn’t get to sit in a cave and growl “They drew first blood,” over a walkie talkie in this story.  He’s too busy gutting cops like fish and taking out men with bullets through the face.  He’s still haunted, but he’s really let the darkness get the better of him.

Small town sheriff Teasle is a far more complex character than in the film.  He constantly straddles the line between trying to do what’s right and refusing to back down.  He may not be likable, but he evokes sympathy.

And the action…  This is one of the most visceral and thrilling books I’ve ever read.  There’s a reason it spawned a series of action films.  Too bad the films barely scratched the surface of these characters.

Recommendation: Very Strong.

Read This!: The Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1

The Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1
By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Every story has a beginning, and this is Spider-Man’s.  Collecting the first twenty issues worth of Spider-Man stories from the sixties, this black and white phonebook of a collection is a vital part of comics lore.

Back before Peter Parker drove a motorcycle, dated a supermodel, or was portrayed on screen as Batman in red and blue tights, he was a dorky-yet-optimistic kid with glasses the size of saucers who lucked into some really cool super powers.  Lee’s sharp writing and Ditko’s dynamic artwork bring these early Spidey stories to life, spending just as much time on Parker’s civilian life as Spider-Man’s adventures.  You get a great feel for how this geeky kid really managed to turn himself into a hero.

All the groundwork for the Spider-Man mythos is layed out here: Spidey’s web-shooters, J. Jonah Jameson’s hatred of the “masked menace,” “With great power must also come great responsibility (the actual quote),” and Aunt May’s distrust of the costumed hero.  You’ll also see the introduction of just about every important Spider-Man villain, and considering Spidey has, quite possibly, the best rogues gallery in comics, that’s saying a lot.

There are some things in the book I don’t care for, but they were all tropes of the era.  You’ve got your thought balloons on every page and your villains who talk out loud about their plans when they’re all alone.  The dialogue is largely of the “Gee whiz!” variety, but it lends itself to the book’s feel.

Probably the best thing about reading these early Spidey stories is the almost complete lack of continuity.  Everything you need to know about our hero is spelled out in each story, making sure you’re caught up on the world.  Today, even I can’t keep up with all the continuity going on in Spider-Man.  Did you know Spidey’s parents were secret agents?  Or that he had a clone?  Or that he was granted cosmic powers on at least one occassion?  Hell, I don’t even know if any of that’s true!  I just heard about it.  You don’t get any of that in these early stories.  You just get… story, and it’s damn refreshing.

Recommendation: Must read.