Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April Reviews: The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare; Street Raised by Pearce Hansen; The Elvis Room by Stephen Graham Jones; The Walls of the Castle by Tom Piccirilli; The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

Well April has been a busy month, due to attending the HP Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon in Portland, finishing up my Masters degree, and wrapping up work on The Children of Old Leech, the anthology I co-edited with Ross E. Lockhart. My reading has definitely slowed down, but I've managed to finish several shorter works. I don't want to neglect the blog, so I'm breaking from my traditional way of posting by fitting many short reviews in one blog post.

I rather enjoyed this novella from Broken River Books. It was my first time reading Cesare, and won't be the last. The novella follows a youngish deadbeat who works at a grocery store and makes ultra low budget, extreme horror films with his best friend. A sexy new employee starts working at the grocery store, and shows quite an interest in the narrator's films as well as his knife collection, and it isn't long before she's on board to be his next star. What starts out as a geek's wet dream soon becomes a nightmare. Cesare does an excellent job at creating a tense plot in a short amount of time, and rocket forward without letting the story lose any momentum. The narrator evokes equal parts sympathy and disgust. On one hand he seems trapped on the downward-sloping ride his life has become, yet on the other he himself is just as complicit and undeserving of sympathy. Time to seek out more books by Adam Cesare.

One of the five launch titles for Broken River Books was a stripped, revised edition of Peace Hansen's Street Raised. I had heard a lot about this book, and had recently read a King in Yellow tale by Hansen in A Season in Carcosa. The novel is short, dirty, and brutal. Recently released con Speedy rallies his old comrades, junkie brother Willie and tough sidekick Fat Bob, in order to pull one last job before settling down. At times the book felt too stripped down, and too short for all that was going on: vicious Mexican drug dealers, a creepy junkie serial killer that felt underused, and an angry and vengeance seeking gang of skinheads. While everything happens so fast that it often felt difficult to connect with the characters, it doesn't come across as a flaw. Instead, this approach mirrors the story itself. It's fast, it's ugly, and it's filled with characters who don't really give a shit. A fun, bloody book, this is yet another success for Broken River Books.

A favorite author of mine, Stephen Graham Jones has proven himself time and time again that he is an author that can bring it, no matter the genre. The Elvis Room is a chapbook from This is Horror, and a foray into supernatural horror. This novella follows a middle-aged professor, once disgraced and pushed into fringe circles due to an experiment to disprove the supernatural that backfired. The man needs something else to prove himself, and makes a discovery about ghosts and hotels which seems like it could be his ticket. Jones often shows a kind of genius with his ideas, and this novella is no exception. Clever, eerie, and beautiful, snag this limited novella before it's gone. (Edit: Looks like the chapbook is Sold Out, but the novella is available on Kindle)

This one is the first in the Black Labyrinth line from Dark Regions Press, and if it's any indication of what's to come then sign me up for the subscriber's package. This trippy short novel (novella?) follows a man known as Kasteel, a grieving father who becomes a fixture at The Castle, a huge labyrinthian hospital complex. After losing his son he finds himself becoming a sort of angel in the machine, helping patients in need and striking up friendships with strays from the psych ward. Every angel must have a devil, and eventually Kasteel finds himself up against Abaddon, his opposite. The labyrinth in this story is multifaceted. In the literal sense, The Castle itself is a labyrinth. A man can live in it for weeks and barely be noticed. The labyrinth also manifests itself figuratively in Kasteel's fractured mind. His grief for his son has become a labyrinth that he has found himself lost in. He doesn't even recall his real name, adopting Kasteel (Castle) as he becomes the building's angel. The story is a beautiful tale of a man trying to do good and find himself, a violent ex-con who has been broken and is attempting to put the pieces together. The only flaw is that the climax comes quickly and seems abrupt, where it seems it should be a bit longer. Otherwise it's a solid, psychological noir that shouldn't be missed.

This is the oldest book on the list, originally seeing print in 1986, and recently (in 2013) reprinted by Valancourt Books. I picked this one up after seeing some weird fiction readers and authors highly recommend it. I found the story to be mesmerizing, although it was completely unlike my expectations. A young married couple and their toddler son inherit an uncle's cottage in the Welsh countryside, as well as his unusual pet bird, a cormorant which the husband names Archie. The couple hardly knew the uncle, so the arrangement is highly unusual. As seems obvious, the arrangement doesn't work out well at all, and it's painful watching the family struggle with the often vicious, disgusting bird. Gregory has written an unforgettable weird novel, one which manages to twist expectations and have a field day toying with the emotions of readers. Sympathies will not remain static, as shocking scenes manage to completely subvert the readers feelings. This bizarre little novel should be on every weird fiction reader's list.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Ana Kai Tangata by Scott Nicolay

Only too often do debut collections or novels read as such, and while more than a few display promise they still bear the hallmarks of being the author's first foray into the publishing realm. Rarely, a debut work transcends the trappings, and reads as if penned by a master well into his prime. These are the sorts of debuts that readers should take note of, as they herald the arrival of talents that are titanic in scale, talents that will leave their mark for many generations to come. This year marks the appearance of one such debut: Scott Nicolay's Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer the Other the Damned and the Doomed.

Scott Nicolay came to my attention with his story "Eyes Exchange Bank" from The Grimscribe's Puppets, although he had a couple stories printed before that (one in the ill-fated magazine Phantasmagorium and one in the equally ill-fated Aklonomicon). In my review for The Grimscribe's Puppets I said the following about Scott's story: "Nicolay excels at creating the decrepit setting, which is an oppressive part of the narrative. The characters are realistic, and when the protagonist goes to visit his old friend in the run-down Pennsylvania town in order to find succor from his bad breakup, he finds a town that seems to be a black hole that sucks the life out of it's inhabitants."

"Eyes Exchange Bank" was one of the standout stories in the Ligotti tribute anthology. It managed to capture the theme and spirit of Ligotti's work while using a voice that was fresh and new.

In Ana Kai Tangata readers are served eight stories, every one of which is excellent. Nicolay is obviously very comfortable with the long form, with many of the stories measuring novella length. He takes advantage of the length, taking the time to build upon his characters in layers, resulting in protagonists who bleed off the page. Some are more likable than others, but all are real. The majority of stories focus on men who are struggling with personal issues, with loss and guilt taking the forefront. These broken men are often focusing their energies on certain obsessions. For some it's the loved one they lost, for others it's work related opportunities, and often it's a mixture of the two. These men often struggle with dark desires, and find themselves treading paths in which the light at the end of the tunnel is nonexistent. Almost every story is infused with a noirish inflection, a certain jaded and neurotic look at the world.

The fiction also benefits from authenticity. Caves feature in a few of the stories, and Nicolay's experience as a caver himself serves to anchor the fiction in a believable sense. Nicolay, born and raised in Jersey where some of the stories are set, has an eye for luminous, haunting locales, and many of the settings so perfectly described in the stories are weird, unsettling places that actually exist.

Of the eight stories present, four have been previously published, and four are original. "alligators" serves as an excellent opener, and shows that sometimes confronting one's fears does not have the therapeutic impact it's supposed to. Caves figure a large part in "Ana Kai Tangata" and "Phragmites" although the stories couldn't be more different from one another. "The Bad Outer Space" stands out for it's choice of narrator: a young child. It's not easy to write in the voice of a child, but Nicolay manages and makes the story all the more chilling because of the cold, matter-of-fact voice of the boy. The young Jaycee of "The Soft Frogs" is a perfect example of a Nicolay protagonist: jaded and getting himself in trouble all for the pleasures of the fairer sex. "Geschäfte" may be my favorite story in the book. The guilt ridden protagonist with the dark voyeuristic side paired with the one of the creepiest apartment settings make for a perfect weird tale. The collection ends with the extra long "Tuckahoe." Elements from Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" are present, and what starts out as a police procedural quickly descends into some freaky, backwoods territory.

It's very rare that a short fiction collection contains no weak stories, and it's practically unheard of that a debut collection manages to be all around excellent. Nicolay's debut is proof that it can happen. Eight of the best weird fiction stories that I have ever had the pleasure of reading, all paired perfectly with shudder-inducing art from David Verba, make this a landmark collection. Publisher Fedogan & Bremer have struck gold with Nicolay, and further refined the presentation with the amazing artwork from David Verba, and introduction from Laird Barron, and an afterword from John Pelan. As a bonus, the slipcased deluxe version (coming later this year)  also features a new chapbook novella that doesn't come with the trade edition. Although it is only April, I have a feeling that this is not only going to be hailed as the debut of the year, but possibly even the best fiction collection of the year.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Giveaway Winner: King in Yellow Ultimate Reader Pack

A big congratulations to Thomas Broadbent for winning the big prize, with copies of both A Season in Carcosa and Grimscribe's Puppets going to runner-up winners Shaun Gavin and David Stockton.

Winners were drawn by using, a true random number generator. Stay tuned for more giveaways.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Giveaway: Ultimate King in Yellow Reader Pack

Thanks to some generous publishers/editors/authors, I have put together a King in Yellow Ultimate Reader Pack for giveaway!! There will be one Grand Prize winner, and two runner-ups. Since Robert Chamber's tales are available to read free online (with two of the four included in The Hastur Cycle) what is included in the pack is the best King in Yellow fiction throughout the past several decades. Everything included was covered in the King in Yellow interview I conducted with Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

One Grand Prize: The Ultimate King in Yellow Reader Pack: The Hastur Cycle edited by Robert M. Price, A Season in Carcosa edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Rehearsals for Oblivion edited by Peter A. Worthy, The Yellow House by DJ Tyrer (Print run of 25 copies, with a few extra author copies, this is VERY RARE), Blood Will Have it's Season by Joseph S. Pulver, Sin & Ashes by Joseph S. Pulver. As a bonus we have also added a copy of The Grimscribe's Puppets by Joseph S. Pulver (This is a Stoker-nominated Ligotti tribute anthology, but is a sister volume to A Season in Carcosa. Since many are seeking King in Yellow reading material due to True Detective they will find a lot to enjoy here, as True Detective also pulls some inspiration from Ligotti's philosophy.)

Two Runner-Up Prizes: A Season in Carcosa and The Grimscribe's Puppets Double Pack: Two more names will be chosen and each will receive a copy of both of these anthologies.

Entering is easy. Send an e-mail to contest(at) with the subject line HAIL TO THE YELLOW KING. In the body of the e-mail include your snail mail address and why you want to read about The King in Yellow. I will do a random drawing in a week or two, so don't delay in entering. 

Special thanks to:
Nicholas Nacarino & Chaosium for The Hastur Cycle
Tom Lynch & Miskatonic River Press for the copies of A Season in Carcosa and The Grimscribe's Puppets
Derrick Hussey & Hippocampus Press for Blood Will Have It's Season and Sin & Ashes
DJ Tyrer for The Yellow House
William Jones for Rehearsals of Oblivion

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review: Lovecraft's Monsters edited by Ellen Datlow

Perhaps no one knows horror better than veteran editor Ellen Datlow.  Over the years she has racked up an impressive catalog, and took in many well deserved awards. In 2009 she did her first Lovecraft-themed anthology Lovecraft Unbound, and in 2014 her second Lovecraft themed anthology, Lovecraft's Monsters is being published by Tachyon Publications. The anthologies differ in that Lovecraft Unbound played with Lovecraft's themes and ideas, while trying to avoid mentions of tentacles, Cthulhu, the Necronomicon etc. With Lovecraft's Monsters Datlow has pulled together stories involving creatures from or based on the works of Lovecraft, and manages to give readers a multi-faceted glimpse into the physical horrors birthed from this man's imagination. As an added bonus, each story features an illustration from artist John Coulthart.

The Table of Contents is as follows:

“Only the End of the World Again" by Neil Gaiman
“Bulldozer” by Laird Barron
“Red Goat Black Goat” by Nadia Bulkin
“The Same Deep Waters as You” by Brian Hodge
“A Quarter to Three” by Kim Newman
“The Dappled Thing” by William Browning Spencer
“Inelastic Collisions” by Elizabeth Bear
“Remnants” by Fred Chappell
“Love is Forbidden, We Croak & Howl” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“The Sect of the Idiot” by Thomas Ligotti
“Jar of Salts” by Gemma Files
“Black is the Pit From Pole to Pole” by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley
“Waiting at the Crossroads Motel” by Steve Rasnic Tem
“I’ve Come to Talk with you Again” by Karl Edward Wagner
“The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale
“That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas
“Haruspicy” by Gemma Files
“Children of the Fang” by John Langan

In the Introduction, Datlow says that she had three goals in mind when putting this anthology together. She wanted to avoid pastiche, wanted to select stories that haven't been overly reprinted, and to also showcase Lovecraft stories by authors not usually known for these types of stories. Although there are a few I have encountered elsewhere, Datlow was successful in all three of her goals. 
Some Favorite stories:

"Bulldozer" by Laird Barron: This story has so much to like; a rough Western setting, a tough and jaded Pinkerton agent, a scary Circus strongman as the antagonist, and some really awesome scenes. This was one of the earlier Laird Barron stories I've read, and it never gets stale with rereads.

"Red Goat Black Goat" by Nadia Bulkin: This was my first time reading Bulkin, and it will be far from the last. The story is a blend of Indonesian folklore/myth and Lovecraft, and makes for a particularly disturbing read. I look forward to tracking down some more of this author's work.

"The Same Deep Waters as You" by Brian Hodge: One of the many stories in this anthology that draw from Lovecraft's Innsmouth, this one deals with Stockholm Syndrome. An "animal whisperer" is brought to a military prison island in an attempt to communicate with the mutated Innsmouth residents taken in the 1920's FBI raid. Hodge also makes good use of The Bloop.

"A Quarter to Three" by Kim Newman: This is one of those short stories that I've read many times, and I never get sick of it. Newman's use of language is spot-on, and sets the scene perfectly for this amusing little story.

"The Dappled Thing" by William Browning Spencer: Another light-hearted tale, this one is a pulpy steampunk yarn about an explorer and his group of men coming to the New Land in a bizarre craft to search for a Lord's daughter. The story is fun, although ends on a creepy note.

"The Sect of The Idiot" by Thomas Ligotti: A dreamlike narrative of a man in a bizarre town who stumbles "behind the curtain" so to speak. This is the kind of story Ligotti writes best.

"Black is the Pit, From Pole to Pole" by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley: I was lukewarm to this story at first, but it won me over rather quickly. The authors blend Frankenstein's Monster with Hollow Earth Theory and Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness into a strange sort of "epic quest" story. 

"Waiting at the Crossroads Motel" by Steve Rasnic Tem: The story follows a man who is more than what he seems as he drags his family to a motel in the middle of nowhere, as he waits for something he feels is going to happen. The man is disturbing, with sociopath tendencies (not caring about his family, only pretending to) and makes for a tense story.

"I've Come to Talk With You Again" by Karl Edward Wagner: A Wagner story riffing on The King in Yellow, what's not to like?

"The Bleeding Shadow" by Joe R. Lansdale: This is a writer who can tell a story, and never disappoints. This one follows an unlicensed PI looking into a case which involves the otherworldly.

"That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas: A trio of survivors drink booze in a cave and talk, while the world around them finishes falling apart. 

"Children of the Fang" by John Langan: When asked what monsters from Lovecraft's fiction would see resurrection in modern fiction, the reptilian creatures from "The Nameless City" would most likely not make anyone's list. Langan takes this overlooked creatures and breathes life into them in this wonderful closing story, which is also the only original piece of fiction in the anthology. 

Ellen Datlow's second editorial outing into the realm of Lovecraft proves even more fruitful than the first. Focusing on Lovecraftian monsters, Datlow offers readers sixteen stories and two poems of a variety that should please any fans of the genre. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Children of Old Leech are coming...

There are Things–terrifying Things–whispered of in darkened forests beyond the safe comfort of firelight: The Black Guide, the Broken Ouroboros, the Pageant, Belphegor, Old Leech…

These Things have always been here. They predate you. They will outlast you.

This book pays tribute to those Things.

For We are the Children of Old Leech… and we love you.

The Children of Old Leech
A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

Edited by Ross E. Lockhart & Justin Steele
Cover design by Matthew Revert

Coming summer 2014 from Word Horde

TOC to be unveiled soon

Reviewer inquiries to publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com

PS: Happy Birthday, Laird!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Interview: Joe Pulver talks The King in Yellow

Author/Editor Joseph S. Pulver Sr. is known throughout the genre as the go-to guy for anything having to do with The King in Yellow. He has written 30+ King in Yellow stories himself, and edited A Season in Carcosa, which is the ultimate modern King in Yellow anthology. Also, next month's issue of The Lovecraft eZine will be a special King in Yellow issue, edited by Mr. Pulver.

With the recent popularity of True Detective, there has been a surge of interest in The King in Yellow. Joe and I were talking one day about how some of the big articles seemed to get some facts wrong and we thought that we could put together an interview that would not only be a good primer/introduction for the newcomer, but also serve as a source of some more in depth information. Joe covers all the King in Yellow bases, and ends with several suggestions for the interested reader.


The King in Yellow - Robert W. Chambers: This is what started it all. Although the book contains ten stories, only the FIRST FOUR are the King in Yellow stories.

The Hastur Cycle - ed. by Robert M. Price: Essential. This volume contains two of the original King in Yellow stories by Robert W. Chambers, as well as the two Ambrose Bierce poems that Chambers drew inspiration from. Other notable King in Yellow fiction in this volume include Karl Edward Wagner's The River of Night's Dreaming (essential!), More Light from James Blish, and Lin Carter's Tatters of the King.

A Season in Carcosa - ed. by Joseph S. Pulver Sr.: Of the two modern anthologies, this is the better one. Published in 2012, Joe Pulver pulled together a dream-team of some of the best weird fiction writers working today. Modern readers who only want to buy one book to see what the King in Yellow is about should choose this one.

Rehearsals for Oblivion Act 1 - ed. by Peter A. Worthy: Another very strong modern anthology from 2006, including Broadalbin by John Tynes. Joe Pulver was attempting to publish an anthology of King in Yellow fiction, which didn't get off the ground even though some stories had already come in. Peter Worthy was able to save these stories when he acquired them for this anthology.

Blood Will Have Its Season - Joseph Pulver Sr.: Pulver's first anthology contains a large amount of his King in Yellow fiction. The full list of King in Yellow stories that can be found in this volume is HERE.

Sin & Ashes - Joseph Pulver Sr.: Pulver's second collection also contains a good amount of King in Yellow stories. The full list of King in Yellow stories contained within can be found HERE.

Portraits of Ruin - Joseph Pulver Sr.: Pulver's latest collection contains a handful of King in Yellow stories, the list of which can be found HERE

Southern Gods - John Horner Jacobs: A fun romp through the American South, Southern Gods is a blend of the Robert Johnson legend and The King in Yellow (more of the Derlethian flavor than Chambers) resulting in a rather fun debut novel that doesn't read like debut.

The King in Yellow - Thom Ryng: This is Ryng's version of the full King in Yellow play. Quite an interesting read.

The Yellow House - DJ Tyrer: I guess it is rather cruel of me to put this one here, since this novella was printed in an extremely limited release by Jordan Krall's Dunhams Manor Press (an imprint of Dynatox Ministries), yet I truly love this book and would feel even more wrong leaving it off the list. Maybe it will be reprinted one day, or find it's way into e-book land, so keeps your eyes peeled.