January 31, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Bottom Feeders" by Aaron Polson

The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories
by Aaron Polson
Skull Salad Press
ASIN: B003F777TW

Okay, full disclosure: I'm a reviewer with Aaron's Skull Salad Reviews, so let's just get that out of the way right now. Still, any online acquaintance we may have doesn't negate the fact that I've enjoyed his short fiction since discovering his blog a couple of years ago. I also bought this Kindle book--albeit for a sweet 99 cents if you're interested--so this wasn't swag.

In this collection, Aaron Polson brings together fourteen short stories with varying degrees of a dark sentiment. Some carry a rather tragic characteristic, while some can be described as downright sinister.

The collection starts with a rather brief story called "Everything in its Place" that sets the weird tale tone immediately. From there, things take a dip into the disturbing with "In Hollow Fields," which wound up being one of my favorites from the collection.

Another story that wound up a memorable one from the book was "The Bottom Feeders," which comes at the very end and serves as a stark and tragic bookmark to the beginning of the book. A story of two boys and their fishing trip back in the woods, in which something in the lake scares on and steals the other.

If I'm going to be critical about the book, it will be to simply note some instances where pacing and awkward switches from past to present tense inside stories caught my eye, but such distractions were few and far between.

The hook in each story was the life breathed into Aaron's characters. "In Hollow Fields", "The Bottom Feeders", and "Little Water Echoes" are particular instances of where the characters are not larger than life, but jump off the page because they feel very genuine.

If you've got a Kindle, are willing to spare a buck, and give an up-and-coming author a chance, I recommend this collection as a calling card and a sign of things to come from Aaron Polson.


January 28, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Dark Harvest" by Norman Partridge

Dark Harvest
by Norman Partridge
Tor (2010)
originally published in 2006 by Cemetery Dance
197 pages
ISBN 9780765358714

It doesn't really matter if it's Halloween or not, as a good Halloween tale is a welcome read year round. Still, the menacing and tragic tones struck by Norman Partridge's short novel, Dark Harvest, would have been a great book to sit down with on October 31st.

Originally published in 2006 by Cemetery Dance, Tor Books re-released in October of last year, and it's a good thing they did otherwise I might have had to wait a whole lot longer tor read it. And I don't know who did the cover art, but it is pitch perfect.

The story is told in a present-tense second person point-of-view, which is not a writing style I've come across all that often. Hardly at all, if I'm to be honest. It serves the tone of the story though, with a kind of Rod Serling vibe to it that makes it all the more delicious, in my opinion. It's Halloween during the early 60s in a small Midwestern town, and Pete McCormick has been locked in his room with nothing to eat for five days--just like every teenage boy in town. But why?

Maybe it has something to do with the October Boy, a monster born from the pumpkin patch outside of town that stalks the streets on All Hallows Eve, and can only be destroyed by one of those boys lest something even worse befalls the town. And Pete McCormick aims to do something his alcoholic father couldn't do back when he was his age.

For a book that is less than 200 pages long, the focus shifts from character to character a lot. That's one of the luxuries of having an omnipresent narrator, and it is executed very well with quite a few characters afforded a lot more devlopment than I had initially expected. The book is fast paced, starting with the creation of the October Boy--literally carved from a pumpkin by one of the townsfolk--and moving between the monster's path, to Pete's, to even the malevolent sheriff racing around town trying to keep all those boys from breaking the rules the town has set.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a run-of-the-mill monster tale, but only if you've never read it. There's a lot more meat on the bone than the Run (the name of the macabre game the boys must play). It's scary and suspenseful, and you're not going to put it all together until the final pages. While I might recommend you pick this up when Halloween next rolls around, but why wait? Just go read it now.

January 27, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Splice

starring Sarah Polley, Adrien Brody, Delphine Chaneac
directed by Vincenzo Natali
screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, & Doug Taylor
Warner Bros. (2010)

I remember quite a few years ago there was some weird cult/organization that held a press conference, during which they declared they had successfully cloned a human being. Of course, it wound up being a hoax, a recruitment video basically that the media was all to eager to facilitate. But the idea that a human had been cloned so early in the twenty-first century felt disturbing. What made it all the more disturbing was who was claiming responsibility. So, how about a movie that uses that as a kind of jump-off point?

Two young scientists (Polley and Brody) are the rockstars of genetic engineering, with their next feat an entirely new species spliced together from the genetic material of several animals. Their goal is to eventually find a way to cure human disease, while the corporation they work for is driven by less noble goals--profit rules all for the higher-ups footing the bill. So, when the suits tell the scientists that they are shutting down their lab so they can concentrate on more menial duties in deriving the genetic material that will garner the desired profit, they secretly go into business for themselves and splice human DNA into a brand new organism. A hybrid creature they come to call Dren (NERD, the company's name, spelled backwards).

It's kind of like Species, but so much better. Where the 90s movie didn't really delve into any subtext, and relied heavily on action sequences, Splice is a far more intimate and contemplative film. It isn't just a morality tale about genetics and cloning, but also about the relationships formed and tested between the two scientists and what essentially becomes their daughter, Dren.

And Delphine Chaneac as the CGI-accentuated monster, Dren, practically steals the movie right out from under Polley and Brody. There's very little dialogue on her part--almost none now that I think about it--so her performance relies on facial expressions and body language. Considering that her face is altered through CGI and the lower half of her body is digitally rendered, her performance shines through. And in the latter half of the film, that performance gets very disturbing.

I have read and heard negative reviews for this film, I honestly can't imagine why. I guess there are some viewers sitting down to watch this movie and expecting Alien, but this is nothing like that movie. If you want to harken back to a classic horror film, maybe take a look at Cronenberg's The Fly. Better yet, watch this movie without preconceptions and just let the story hit you. I'll bet you'll walk away impressed and possibly a little shook up.

January 26, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #83: Lucy A. Snyder's "Spellbent"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

I'm not terribly well-read in the urban fantasy genre, but I do enjoy reading about hot chicks slaying demons from time to time. Hey, I'm a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, so sue me.

Well, last year I was listening to The Funky Werepig podcast and the guest author one week was Lucy A. Snyder. She has an urban fantasy trilogy published through Del Rey, and the debut novel Spellbent sounded particularly promising. So did the sequel, Shotgun Princess, for that matter. Take a magic-wielding heroine and have her accidentally open a portal to a demonic realm, losing her boyfriend in the process. Then, after she's punished by her superiors, she must go on a quest to save her man. Sounds good to me.

Urban fantasy gets slighted a fair bit these days, especially for redundant book covers, but there's something about this book and the way Snyder sells it to potential readers that has me interested.

Have you been keeping up with urban fantasy? Is this a book you would recommend? If you've read it, what did you think?

January 25, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Twilight Zone: 50th Anniversary" by Carol Serling (editor)

Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary
edited by Carol Serling
Tor Books (2009)
444 pages
ISBN 9780765324344

It is near impossible to recapture the magic that was The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling's televised masterpiece. People have tried over the decades, either by resurrecting the series or bring the franchise to the silver screen. Word has it that even Leo DiCaprio is looking to make a Twilight Zone movie. But try as they might, there's something inimitable about the black-and-white series from the 60s that can't be translated to a modern day setting. But maybe there's something to the literary form that can have better luck--or at the very least keep the Hollywood types away from it.

This anthology brings together stories inspired by the original series or fit the pastiche at any rate. There's something about a good Twilight Zone story that make it easily identifiable. There's a kind of moral compass at its center where the needle will swing wildly in one direction as the story reaches its climax. That worked well whether the tale was light fare or had a very dark undercurrent. In this anthology, edited by Carol Serling, readers are given a healthy serving of both.

The book starts off with a pitch-perfect story called "Genesis" by David Hagberg about a soldier in World War 2 who seems to be shifting through time and space. The ending to that one lets you know very plainly that you have re-entered the Twilight Zone.

After that, and the foreword by Carol Serling herself, stories vary from the whimsical to the terrifying. Kelley Armstrong's "A Haunted House of Her Own" deals with a woman looking to start up an inn with a haunted house theme, despite not believing in the supernatural, only to wind up with more than she bargained for. Robert J. Serling even offers up a story that is dripping with that old TZ charm called "Ghost Writer." though this one relies on its surprise being revealed on the page--as a telecast the impact would be lost, most likely.

"Ants" by Tad Williams struck me as the most graphic among the stories, and more so than any TZ episode I can recall. But the story is very gripping, as a husband must contend with the aftermath of his violent outburst, as well as deal with his ant problem. The ending, however, was vintage.

There's nineteen stories all tolled, some short than others, capped off by a treatment of Rod Serling's own "El Moe". As for my favorites, I think I would have to go with "Your Last Breath, Inc." by John Miller and "On the Road" by William F. Wu. The former is a story that I could instantly envision in monochrome fashion, while the latter had a romantic quality that is seldom but highly welcome to the Twilight Zone mythos.

If you're a fan of the old show like me, this is a book worth checking out. Just be aware that not all of the stories are not strictly steeped in the old style, but they still offer something of merit under the franchise name.

January 24, 2011

Writing Like Crazy: The Waiting Game

Last week, I received the final draft of my winning flash fiction piece, "Staving off the Thaw." My last chance to go through it and give my stamp of approval before the anthology is finally sent to print. I pored over it one evening, then gave the big thumbs up. Seasons in the Abyss is making headway, and should be available for purchase through Blood Bound Books on Februrary 1st. But, man, the waiting is always a killer. I'm also standing by for the final edits on a couple of short stories.

"Patience is a virtue": That mantra was drilled into me at a very early age, but I've never really taken to it so much, as I've simply tolerated the reality of it.

The writing life is one with a hurry-up-and-wait mentality at times. It takes time to write a story. It takes time to submit a story. It takes time for those accepted stories to be published. And the only way to not drive yourself crazy is to move onto the next one.

I've got about a dozen stories out there in the ether right now, waiting months for a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And waiting months for a rejection is a heartbreaker, not matter how well you keep it out of mind. Granted, the long awaited acceptances are always great, but that uniform rejection popping up in my inbox always comes with the jingle from The Price Is Right when the contestant goes over the suggested retail price. But that's the Waiting Game, ain't it?

The ability to wait is necessary when writing too, I've found. Yes, always write. But it takes time for those words to gel, draft after draft. I've tried fixing my stories on the fly, essentially reworking that first draft as I go until it is just right. But that is an exercise in aggravation. I find, despite the despondency that sometimes comes from writing a terrible first draft, I just have to wait until I can dive into the second and third before I find the heart of the story.

I'm reworking a short story right now. It's one that kind of fell apart on me. But I stewed on it, and I think I've finally figured out the tone I want for it--and the ending. The hardest part of that process was the waiting.

How do you handle the Waiting Game?

January 21, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Rising" by Brian Keene

The Rising
by Brian Keene
Leisure Books (2004)
321 pages

With the proliferation of the zombie genre in horror and beyond, I figured it was about time I sat down and read one of the first books of the 21st century to ignite the craze. Brian Keene's debut novel did more than win a Bram Stoker Award, it showed there was still life in the living dead.

The zombies have risen from the dead and overtaken the world. You know, that old chestnut. These zombies aren't quite like the shambling hordes gifted to the world by George Romero, however. These zombies are smarter. Rather than act upon a purely instinctual call to feast on whatever living flesh is nearby, Keene's walking dead have a consciousness and not only seek out victims, but they plot and cooperate and even use tools.

The novel starts out with Jim, a beaten man in a Y2K bunker that wound up being useful after all--at keeping out the zombie hordes. He is just about ready to call it quits and eat a bullet, since his pregnant wife died and came back as one of them, as well his ex-wife and their son are presumably dead in their home in New Jersey. But then he gets a weak-signaled cell phone call from his son, Danny. Danny's alive, but he's alone and he's scared. That's all the incentive Jim needs to stay alive and makes his primary mission in life to make it to New Jersey and find his son before the zombies lurking outside find him.

Jim's isn't the only story though, as there's also Frankie. She's a New Yorker with a heroine addiction and a life as a prostitute before "the rising." We first find her trying to hide out in a zoo from a gang of thugs she's indebted to. The zoo isn't exactly a great place to find a safe hiding spot, however, since mammals of all kinds are susceptible to the zombie apocalypse. Her situation actually goes from bad to worse even after she evades the thugs and the zombie zoo, when her withdrawal symptoms kick in and the men she meets along the way are even more unsavory than the johns she used to let use her.

Then there's Baker. His is a tormented situation too, as he's a scientist hunkered down in a military research facility in Pennsylvania. It's a site where they have one of those Relativistic Heavy Ion Colliders to see if they can find particles called "strange quarks." While the populace was worried about a black hole being created and destroying the earth, the experiment just might be responsible for the dead coming back to life. Sort of. It quickly becomes apparent to Baker that there's at least one zombie exhibiting signs of intelligence and malevolence, a zombie that calls itself Ob. It might be worth studying if Baker wasn't trapped in the underground facility with it, and when it breaks out of its glass enclosure Baker can't get out of that place fast enough.

There are some more characters that appear on the periphery of the novel, but those three seem to be the main characters for this story and they're all on a collision course towards one big-ass showdown. It might not be so awful if all the survivors had to worry about were zombies, but there's also a rogue militia roaming the countryside that's asserted an iron fist rule over their fellow man in order to hold back the undead assaults.

For a novel that's barely over three hundred pages, it sure packs a whollup. There are elements to it that make it feel reminiscent of Stephen King's The Stand, what with the whole end-of-the-world scenario and two psuedo-armies amassing themselves. Only Keene's two sides of the battle are both pretty evil--Ob's sinister talk of demons entering the world to take over and Colonel Schow's psychotic vision of humanity's last stand. The real heroes of the story are stuck in the middle with no apparent escape. It was a very riveting story and the world Keene built for it was meticulously laid out.

If I am walking away from this book with any gripes, they are but two. The first was the cavalier one-liners that the zombies spouted when they attacked. Some were genuinely funny, while others just grated on me and made me wonder if the zombies were channeling Arnold Schwarzenegger. The second thing was the very end of the book and how it leaves off with the blatant cliffhanger leading into the sequel. I won't spoil it for anyone, but when I came to the last page I couldn't help but utter, "Crap." I still found it to be a great thrill-ride, but endings like that always irk me. It's a good thing I have the sequel, City of the Dead, sitting on my shelf so I can get to it soon.

EDIT: It's worth nothing that Brian Keene recently announced the new ways in which you can purchase his litany of books, since his relationship with Dorchester Publishing and Leisure Books ended in 2010. Find out more by clicking here.


January 20, 2011

The Best Movies of 2010 (Part 2): Sci-Fi & Fantasy

It's a little bit wrong that I'd offer up my fave five list of 2010 sci-fi and fantasy movies, considering I have yet to watch Inception. So, cut me a little slack, please. This is just for shits and giggles.

There are a couple of movies I've yet to see that stand a good chance of being on this list (Inception and Never Let Me Go). Both are critically acclaimed, and one was the movie of 2010 in the box office, so just assume they'll wind up on this list in time. In the meantime, here's my five:

Not as good as the first, but still not bad: Iron Man 2

Robert Downey, Jr. makes a great Tony Stark. And Mickey Rourke would have made an amazing Whiplash if the character had been utilized better in this movie. Granted, Sam Rockwell in the role as the #2 baddie is a nice consolation, but the trailers for this movie had led me to believe that Whiplash was going to be a marquee supervillain. This was not a great movie, but I enjoyed it enough to include it among the five. But when I finally watch Inception, it's gone--fair warning.

It made me wish I had a pet dragon: How to Train Your Dragon

The first fifteen minutes of this movie had me wondering if I was setting myself up for disappointment, because despite the flashy animation and opening action sequence, the characters didn't strike me as very interesting. Then, the relationship between Jay Baruchel's character and the dragon he captures, Toothless, gets going. After that, I was hooked. Depending on how much I enjoyed Despicable Me, this could very well be my favorite animated movie of the year.

The idea of a little girl as a superhero makes it fantasy: Kick-Ass

It's not exactly fantasy and it's not exactly sci-fi, but I think it can sneak its way on this list. It's a damned good action movie, at any rate. What reservations I have about this movie stem from the misleading trailers that depicted this movie as a fun PG movie, when in reality it is a hard-nosed depiction of vigilantism with a comic book veneer--at least in the last half of the movie. It's got everything an action movie needs to make it worth watching, including a campy homage to Adam West's Batman by Nic Cage.

A film for my inner gamer: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Comic book adaptations are dominating this list. And while I made fun of the fact that its target audience no-showed at theaters, I thought this was a fantastic homage to video-games of yesteryear. And the music was pretty good too. I'm one of those curmudgeonly types when it comes to popular music, but I really liked the songs played in this movie and could probably be swayed into buying the soundtrack. Cera does his usual schtick, which is fine, but it's the supporting cast that really carries this movie--especially Keiran Culkin.

It must be some kind of ... : Hot Tub Time Machine

Not only is this my favorite sci-fi movie of 2010--it's got a time machine so it counts--but it's my favorite comedy of the last couple of years, squeaking by The Hangover. Given the absolutely ridiculous premise for this movie, about a bunch of guys reliving their youth at a ski lodge in the 80s, but the cast wound up being perfect. John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Crispin Glover, Clark Duke, and Chevy Chase in a movie that pokes fun at and revels in 80s goodness. Fantastic.

Now that you know what my faves are: What were your favorite sci-fi/fantasy films from 2010?

January 19, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #82: David Sedaris' "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

One of the most effortlessly funny writers I can think of is David Sedaris. I discovered his work a few years ago on CBC Radio, as he read one of his stories and took part in an interview. Then I had the chance last year to read his book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (reviewed here), I realized this guy has an even more macabre sense of humor and morbid curiosity of the world around him than I do.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk offers up even more Sedaris goodness, but this time around all of the stories involve animals as characters. He's done that before, using anthropomorphic critters in his anecdotes, but this book sounds like an even greater step towards the truly strange.

Have you ever read David Sedaris' work? Are you a fan too? If you've read this book already, how did you like it?

Killer Kitsch: Urn for Ashes on the Behance Network

Back in October, I wrote a blog post about Huggable Urns and the creepy factor I thought came with them. Well, I stumbled upon another designer urn with a little less creep factor, but still qualifies as strange in my book.

Urn for Ashes on the Behance Network

In a way they resemble the ghosties from Pac-Man, all lined up like that in the picture to the upper-right. I can imagine a lone figure resting atop the mantle. A pleasant, unassuming little figure. Someone might say, "Oh, that's cute. What is it?" To which my reply would be, "An urn." Conversation over.

They're designed by Anna Marinenko. And while they hardly would match any of the decor in my home, if I were a minimalist with a cutesy edge, I think I could be persuaded into owning one of these. Of course, its ultimate use would be unappreciated by yours truly, since my ashes would be inside that adorable little glass encasement. Like a spooky Russian nesting doll for the dead.

What do you think? Too cute for a funeral?

January 18, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Dead Man's Song" by Jonathan Maberry

Dead Man's Song
by Jonathan Maberry
Pinnacle Books (2007)
508 pages
ISBN 9780786018161

SPOILER ALERT: I'll be discussing key moments from the first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, so if you haven't read that book yet and don't want the ending ruined, then stop reading this review.

After almost a year, I've returned to Pine Deep. Last year, I read and reviewed Jonathan Maberry's debut novel, Ghost Road Blues, and subsequently hunted down the other two books in the trilogy. But, like too many books I've horded, they've collected dust for months upon months while I read other stuff (As one of my New Year's reading resolutions, I want to spend 2011 finishing up the trilogies and series I have yet to finish, and until I do try to keep new reads limited to stand alone novels). So, here we go with the second book in the trilogy, Dead Man's Song.

The story picks up almost immediately after the climactic showdown between our hero, Crow, and a remorseless killer named Ruger. Crow successfully killed Crow, but not without taking one serious ass-kicking to wind up in the hospital along with his new fiance, Val, and her sister, Connie, and Connie's husband, Mark. Pine Deep is reeling, heading into October, as several local townsfolk are dead, including Val's father at the hands of Ruger.

But, the evil that has returned to Pine Deep is still busy in its mission to create an unholy army of minions to do its bidding, as Halloween nears.

On the other side of the coin, the good guys who are still standing are left to deal with the aftermath. Crow and Val are more committed to each other than ever, but both are scarred emotionally, not just physically. Though Mark and Connie are absolutely decimated by what they went through, and their marriage is strained to a degree that threatens to tear them apart. Then, there's the mayor and Crow's best friend, Terry Wolfe, as he continues to see his dead sister warning him that if he doesn't kill himself he'll wind up like Ubel Griswold. And an abused young boy, Mike, is having nightmares of his impending death, and still has to contend with his dispicable stepfather, Vic Wingate, who is secretly serving Griswold.

Dead Man's Song isn't nearly as action-packed as the first book, focusing more on the regrouping of both sides, building towards another showdown. There's a tug-of-war occuring on several fronts, and new characters take on more prominent roles, including a zealous reporter looking for the secrets behind what happened, and Dr. Weinstock as he suspects the strange elements to the dead and injured are more than meets the eye.

I think this book falls into the trap that seems to happen to a lot of second books in trilogies, and by that I mean it seems to serve primarily as a prelude to the third and final book. A sizable chuck of the first half of the book serves as a recap and re-immersion in the world created in the first book, so much so that a reader could presumably not require reading the first book to get the gist of all that is going on. For me, however, I found it dragged early and it wasn't until a hundred or so pages had passed before I felt like I was truly diving into the second book.

The slow burn through this book is rewarding enough to keep me engaged and looking forward the final book, Bad Moon Rising. And the character development rings true in a lot of cases, especially with the survivors from the first book. There are moments where the dialogue drags and feels too artificial for my tastes, but those moments are thankfully sporadic and do serve to provide key bits of information. I liked the book, but slogging scenes through the first half of the book prevented me from loving it like I did the first book. I've got my fingers crossed on the third.


January 17, 2011

The Best Movies of 2010: Horror

There's nothing I love more than a truly good horror movie. That's because they're so rare. Maybe if I could be bothered with Netflix I'd have better access to horror films of merit, but I'm admittedly a bit of a Luddite, reluctant to bow at the altar of one more corporation. Or I'm just cheap.

As it stands, this list will reflect the movies I've seen. There are a couple of movies I've yet to see that stand a chance at breaking on this list, namely Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 2, and The Last Exorcism, while others I will likely never make an effort to watch--Piranha 3D, I'm looking in your direction.

This is why I never liked skiing: Frozen starring Sean Ashmore [review here]

Think Open Water, but on a mountain. I watched Open Water 2 earlier in the year, was getting kind of bored in the last half, so I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy a movie so similar in plot but based on a ski lift. The key to movies that take place predominantly in one tight setting, and revolve a very small cast, is strong dialogue and actors who can carry it off and convey the mounting tension. The trio in this did well, and whoever did the sound editing went out of their way to make me cringe during a key scene when something goes crunch.

I'm just happy they didn't sparkle: Daybreakers starring Ethan Hawke [review here]

Maybe folks would rather classify this one as sci-fi, but there are enough ingredients in the film to make me comfortable in sticking it in the horror genre. Ethan Hawke does a real good job in this movie, which I was thankful for because when he's mailing it in he has a knack of dragging a movie down. Pretty much all of the cast play to their respective strengths, maybe to a point of cliche. And considering this one has been swept under the rug for a lot of year-end lists, I just wanted to give it a positive mention.

Who knew tails were sexy: Splice starring Sarah Polley [review coming soon]

Sarah Polley might be my favorite Canadian actor, at least from the past decade. And she, along with Adrien Brody, does a fantastic job of portraying a scientist with a wee bit more ambition than what could be considered safe. And Delphine Chaneac as Dren, the genetically engineered monster, is f-cking magnetic in just about every scene she's in. What really helps the movie, especially her performance is the fact that the CGI is not distracting and most of the time I wasn't overtly aware of it. I just got sucked into the story.

They're not zombies, but they'll do: The Crazies starring Timothy Olyphant [review here]

With so many horrible remakes, reboots, and sequels, I was relieved to sit down and watch this one and walk away thoroughly entertained. Maybe that's because I never saw the original, or maybe it's because this iteration of a movie about a town torn apart by some kind of infection that turns townsfolk crazy to a homicidal degree does more than offer a body count. Characters are sympathetic, the action seems plausible for the most part, and the pacing of the action is great the whole way through. It's not quite as good as Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, but it's pretty close in my view.

Bad Boston accents not withstanding: Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio [review here]

Leo can't carry a Beantown accent, but I'll leave the final verdict to New Englanders. Other than that niggling detail, this movie was about as great as I could have wished for. After seeing the trailer for this in 2009, I went out and got the Dennis Lehane novel on which it was based. Loved the book and salivated at the chance to see the movie. It has a wonderful blend of Hitchcockian suspense that is amplified by Scorsese's direction. This is one of those films that is shielded from the "horror" label in favor of "psychological thriller", but regardless of how you want to classify it, it's a damned good movie.

So there is my fave five in horror films. What were your favorite scary movies of 2010?

January 14, 2011

On My Radar: Anticipated Horror Novels in 2011

Oh, there are more than five horror novels I am anticipating in 2011--plenty more. But, I'm going to stick with five, which I spied while browsing Amazon. I had nothing but headaches trying to actually buy something from that site leading into Christmas, but it's still a great place to window shop (I'll just visit Book Depository when it comes time to buy anything).

Loss of Separation by Conrad Williams (March via Solaris): Every now and then I see Williams' name touted as one to look for in the horror genre. Well, this spring sees the release of his latest novel, in which a plane crash survivor questions his own sanity. Dean Koontz's Sole Survivor, which had a similar pitch line, was a disappointment to me, so I'd like to read a thriller about a crash survivor with more bite--and it sounds like Williams' novel fits the bill.

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan (March via Delacorte Press) - I listed Ryan's preceding novel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, in my list of favorite 2010 fantasy/sci-fi novels, but the content of this series seems very interchangeable. Heck, if Twilight can get away with being categorized as horror, then this book definitely deserves inclusion. Ryan is a fantastic writer and an unrepentant zombie fan, so I'm sure this third book in her series won't disappoint.

Captivity by Deborah Noyes (April via Unbridled Books) - Getting its paperback release, this one deals with the Fox sisters--no relation--who helped spark the spiritualist movement of the 19th century. I am a sucker for a good ghost story, and despite the inclusion of my namesake in this bit of history, I know relatively little about the Fox sisters, so this would be an especially interesting tale for me.

Willy by Robert Dunbar (April via Uninvited Books) - The author of The Pines and Martyrs & Monsters is coming out with a new offering of literary horror. What's it about? I don't know. But after reading only one of Robert's novels, and aware of the praise hurled at him from his peers, I don't think I need to know the pitch for the book. All I know is that when I get a chance to read this new novel, I'm going to jump on it.

The Color of Bone by Carol Weekes (coming soon via Dark Regions Press) - One half of the duo responsible for my favorite novel of 2009, Ouroboros, is coming out with a new short story collection as part of Dark Regions' New Voices of Horror series. I've been waiting for another chance to read Carol's work, so it's good to see her name on a book cover again. She also has a novel coming out this year as well, but it's the collection I have my eye on.

There's my five. What horror novels are you looking forward to in 2011?

Writing Like Crazy: My New Jalopy

It finally happened. I got myself a second-hand laptop. Just something that with wifi and can handle a word processor. I got a whole lot more than that with my new jalopy, but so far it does exactly what I need it to do.

In a perfect world, this would greatly improve my writing productivity, but so far that is an unproven assumption. Time will tell. One thing I know for sure is that the guy who owned it previously left a ton of music and games installed on the machine. Just what a writer needs: more distractions.

The keyboard is going to take some getting used to, but at least it`s portable. Sometimes a guy just wants to sit down on the couch at night and type--is that so wrong? Also, I think I'll need to invest in a wireless mouse, because that navigation pad under the space bar is cumbersome to a schmuck like me.

What kind of hiccups do you have when transitioning to another computer.

January 13, 2011

Interview with Mark A. Gunnells, Author of "Asylum"

After the opportunity to read and review Asylum, I got the chance to interview its author, Mark A. Gunnells (A quick note of thanks to Harry Markov for arranging things). If you're interested in reading my review of the novella, you can find it here. If you're interested in learning more about the book and possibly purchasing it, you can visit The Zombie Feed, an imprint of Apex Books.

Q. What first prompted you to put pen to paper?

I was young, I want to say ten, and it just came from a desire to tell stories. I don’t know where that came from, I didn’t grow up in a household were books held places of high honor or anything, but I would read books like ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ and just want to do that, create fictional worlds that fanciful and exciting.

Asylum nearly didn't get written from what I understand, abandoned at one point while you worked on other stories. What were your initial hangups with it, and what drew you back?

A. Well, the road to ASYLUM was actually long. I started the novella in college, when it was called NIGHT OWLS, and wrote an opening (the only thing that survived that initial opening was the first line, which I’ve always loved) but then got stuck. I’m not sure what I was stuck on exactly, but once I graduated college I went through a period where work stress and personal issues caused me to stop writing altogether. When I finally rekindled my passion for storytelling, I started again, giving it the much better title (I think) ASYLUM. I got three-fourths of the way through then stalled again. This time I felt it wasn’t working, that I was focusing so much on character and not enough on zombie attacks. I put it aside for almost a year. Then one day I opened the file and read over what I had and was surprised to discover I really liked it. My focus on character over horror and gore suddenly seemed like a strength to me as opposed to a weakness. So I went back to it and finally finished the thing. So from conception to completion—a little over ten years.

Q. One of the unique qualities of
Asylum is that it features a nearly entirely gay cast, minus the lone straight female. Would you consider that a selling point, or simply an under-utilized and under-appreciated detail in horror fiction?

A. The truth is, as a gay man who happens to be a big horror fan, sometimes I’d watch the Romero-style zombie flicks and note the lack of gay characters. It would lead me to ponder, “Where are all the gay folks? Don’t we ever survive shit?” Not that I think the typical horror fanbase is crying out for more gay characters, but I do feel we are underrepresented and thought it might be nice to have a standard zombie story with a nonstandard cast.

Q. Zombies are everywhere in horror fiction with no sign of letting up. Did you find yourself questioning how your undead tale might stand itself apart as you wrote it? Or did you find the inclusion of the walking dead inconsequential as far as the overall story was concerned?

A. I will admit, I did worry that people would view the story as too familiar, and I know of at least one publisher that passed on it because of that. As you said in your review, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, which is a fair statement and one I’ve actually used myself in regards to this story. But in the end I wanted to use the familiar type zombies because to me the zombies were not as important as the characters. It was the characters I wanted to explore, their reactions to what was going on, and my hope was that the characters would be strong enough and interesting enough to keep people’s interest. Not that I didn’t want to write a fun exciting zombie story as well, and I hope the story also succeeds there.

Q. I understand you write during lulls throughout your day job. Not an idyllic way to write a story, but you've made it work for you. Have you found any kind of advantage with the constant stop-and-start momentum, or is it simply a facet of your writing schedule that you endure?

A. I have friends who think it is amazing I can be productive with the stop-and-start writing system I have, wondering how I can keep focus and momentum. In the past I probably would have found it strange too, but I’ve really learned to thrive that way. It started out as part necessity and part convenience. Since I do have downtime during work, it seemed that I should really take advantage of it and get some writing done. Problem is I never know when my downtime will come or how long it will last, and yet I trained myself to write in these unpredictable blocks of time. If I get interrupted and have to put it aside for an hour, I usually have no trouble slipping right into the fictional world and the characters’ skins. It might not work for everyone, but I have found it’s a method that does work for me.

Q. So far your published fiction has been short stories and novellas, including your first short story collection which is soon to be released. Do you see yourself going after a novel-length project, or have you found a kind of comfort zone with shorter works?

A. I must say, short stories have always been my passion. I simply love them—both as a writer and a reader. I feel I understand their pacing better than I do novels. However, I do want to stretch myself as a writer and it is my intention to start working on longer pieces. I’ve actually decided 2011 will be the Year of the Novella, an intermediate form that bridges shorts and novels I feel. With these I can build up my confidence in longer formats and then move on to novels. Not that I’ve never written a novel. I have a novel called SEQUEL that should be released digitally from Sideshow Press this year, and I have completed another called THE QUARRY that I’ve yet to really shop around.


A big thanks to Mark for taking part in the interview. For anyone looking to crawl a little deeper inside Mark's skull, you can visit his blog. Or just go out and buy his books--Asylum is extremely affordable at a mere 99 cents, as are all of The Zombie Feed's novellas. Or if want to sample some of his work, you can read the first 3,000 words of Asylum by clicking HERE, or checking out his short story, "Midnight Shift," at Sideshow Press.