Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: Subject 11 by Jeffrey Thomas

Cutting right to the chase, Subject 11 is one of the best novellas I've read all year. Jeffrey Thomas is at his best in this eerie story following a group of ten people (five women and five men) taking part in a mysterious experiment. I'll keep this review short, as the novella is about 90 pages and I wouldn't want to give anything away.

The setting is Ligottian urban decay at it's finest, as the experiment takes part in an abandoned complex of old, decrepit buildings. The ten participants are not allowed to tell their real names to each other, and instead refer to each other by their numbers. The particulars of the experiment are unknown to the participants, they just have to follow a simple list of rules: they can't share their names, they take the pills provided every morning, and once per day they must each enter a "confessional room" where they are free to talk about anything.

Thomas develops this story perfectly, and it's clear from the start that there is something sinister about the experiment. It's hard to put down, and the pacing doesn't let up. The mysteries are enticing, and Thomas brings them together for an ending that is sure to linger long in the minds of readers.

Keeping in line with the other Delirium Novellas, Subject 11 is available as an e-book for $2.99, or a limited hardback for $35. It's completely worth it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations by Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer's debut collection, A Pretty Mouth, is easily one of my favorite reads of the past year. The connected Lovecraftian short stories detailing the legacy of the Calipash family became an instant weird classic. That being said, I had high expectations for her second collection, Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations, recently published by Egaeus Press.

This hardcover is limited to a 250 copy print-run, and contains the title novella as well as six short stories. While the Calipash family fails to make an appearance, a few of the stories are still Lovecraftian flavored, but before digging into the fiction, it's worth taking a moment to talk about the book's aesthetics. Egaeus Press is fast becoming not only a quality outlet for weird fiction, but a publisher that makes beautiful books (here's a look at a previous collection: The Transfiguration of Mr. Punch). Rumbullion is a solid hardcover, with some gorgeous middle-ages woodcut style artwork throughout. Tanzer's love of mixology is present as well, each story being followed  by a drink recipe in order to quench the thirst of imbibing readers. Very cool!

The fiction within is further proof that Molly Tanzer is a unique voice in the weird fiction community. The title story, Rumbullion, is the highlight. A nobleman struggles to reconcile the bizarre events of an evening party at his house by obtaining accounts from various men and women who were in attendance. Of course, everyone is unreliable, and in the end the reader is left just as confused as the narrator. Tanzer herself described the novella as "Rashomon with fops" and I struggle to find a better description. Rumbullion has moments of hilarity, ridiculousness, and mystery aplenty.

Some of the short stories are better than others, but they all see a recurrence of themes. How John Wilmot Contracted Syphilis continues the theme of noble dandies, and follows lecherous nobleman John Wilmot pretending to be a foreign doctor while struggling with a bizarre supernatural force. Herbert West In Love, a take on the infamous Lovecraft character, is a darkly humorous story in which the protagonist is struggling with his sexuality, akin to the narrator of Rumbullion.

Oddly enough, while A Pretty Mouth and a few stories present in Rumbullion seem centered on fops and dandy noblemen and noblewomen, a prominent theme in the second collection alone is anthropomorphism. My least favorite story in the collection, In Sheep's Clothing, is one of the more bizarre post-apocalyptic stories I've come across, and seems very much a "go green and don't eat meat" propaganda piece, although the end of the story is pretty cool, and is when anthropomorphism first comes into play in the collection. The Poison-Well goes all out, with a small community of animals in which a shrewmouse starts a feud with a mole, making for a hilariously tragic tale. The full-out anthropomorphism continues with Tubby McMungus, Fat From Fungus, a story co-authored with Jesse Bullington and first appearing in Fungi. Tanzer and Bullington pen this funny tale of feuding, merkin-making noble cats, a tale that will not soon be forgotten. The collection closes with Go, Go, Go Said the Byakhee. This Lovecraftian tale is a beautifully twisted take on a far future earth in which at least one Ancient One has risen and works to remake the world in it's image. The people left go on pilgrimages in which they are changed into strange human/animal hybrids, making for one of the best "post-Cthulhu rising" themed stories I've read.

With Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations, Molly Tanzer's humorous wit and wickedly bizarre imagination are on full display, providing discerning readers with a one of a kind weird fiction treat. With a fast-selling print-run of only 250 copies, this is a book that is grabbed sooner rather than later. It can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Also of note: an interview I conducted with Molly Tanzer in February, after reading A Pretty Mouth.