Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review Roundup: August

I'm finishing up the summer by posting another roundup of reviews. This time I review a collection, an anthology, and a book of non-fiction.


Gateways to Abomination by Matthew M. Bartlett

I tend to avoid most self-published works, as the vast majority I have encountered tend to be self-published because no publisher in their right mind would even touch them. This book is one of the exceptions, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it re-released under a publisher's banner. Billing it as "collected short fiction" kind of sells the book short. This book is MUCH more than that. It reads like a post-modern novel. Very short stories and vignettes combine in an effective way to offer glimpses into an area infected by a sort of weird evil, using a phantom radio station to twist reality. Bartlett's book gets under the skin and digs deep. There is a mad genius at work here, the stories offering enough of a glimpse that a full picture nearly forms, yet not giving away the full game. This collection of nightmares, and disturbing radio broadcasts blends together so well that the book transcends the concept of a simple short fiction collection and becomes so much more. Sure, the book could use a tad bit of polish, no different from many small press books, but the quality of writing here hints at a promising future. I fully anticipate this book to be considered by many to be a modern cult classic, and I very much look forward to more from Mr. Bartlett. Highly recommended, there is something special at work here.

Fearful Symmetries edited by Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow is the modern queen of dark fiction. It simply cannot be disputed. Published by Canadian publisher ChiZine Publications (who already put out one stellar horror anthology earlier this year with Shadows & Tall Trees 2014 edited by Michael Kelly) Fearful Symmetries is a non-themed horror anthology consisting of twenty short stories by many of the genre's best. As with most Datlow anthologies, these stories run the gamut from pure horror to dark fantasy, and as such there is a bit of something here for all sorts of readers. In reading this anthology I found that most of my favorite stories came not from my usual favorite authors, but from authors of whom I was less familiar with: Helen Marshall, Robert Shearman, Siobhan Carroll, Carole Johnston, Catherine Macleod, Bruce McAllister and Pat Cadigan. Definitely one of the better anthologies of the year.

When the Stars Are Right by Scott R. Jones

Scott R. Jones has done something really special with this book. What sounds like a ridiculous premise, namely taking Lovecraft's fiction and using it as the basis of a spiritual path, actually comes together to create a fun reading experience. Taking a unique look at Lovecraft's deities (the reader of this may never view them quite the same again) and using his own personal experiences, Mr. Jones makes a case for living a life dedicated towards achieving the 'Black Gnosis,' a sort of tentacled Nirvana. The "R'lyehian" therefore lives a life constantly seeking knowledge and experience, in both dreams and waking life. It's clear that the author knows his Lovecraft in a way that perhaps no one else does. At times hilarious, at others deeply personal, this book is as much a love letter to the Gentleman of Providence as it is anything else, a cosmic thank-you note if you will. Some readers might not think this book sounds like their cup of tea, but anyone with an interest in Lovecraft should put this on their to-read list immediately. It's highly entertaining, and there's enough interesting concepts inside that all Lovecraft fans will find something to take away from it. Highly recommended.

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