Tag Archives: book reviews

Less Than Human


Humanity Is The DevilHumanity Is The Devil by Jordan Krall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One sitting. I don’t often read things cover-to-cover, especially when I start them after midnight, but I was compelled to keep thumbing the kindle once I began. One of my rules of thumb is that you lose me immediately if you cite devils, demons, Xtian objects in general, but I’ve read a few of the author’s things and was willing to compromise.
Often it is said that the evil people harbor within them is worse than any number of movie monsters, and that’s the principle this book operates on. JG Ballard-influence is clear, and there’s a poetic sort of repetition going on, symbolizing the mc’s obsessiveness, though there’s some Ellison-Deathbird flavor to the proceedings as well.
Not SF though, not “weird”. Has more in common thematically with Jim Thompson than anything else, as do True-crime newsstand periodicals in general.
Devilishly clever. Well-executed.
Review not available on Amazon because the author has a problem with the publisher of that version. I agree and will not promote their product.

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Famous Armenians for 1000, Alex.


I Am Providence: A NovelI Am Providence: A Novel by Nick Mamatas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very much enjoyed. I remember my old English teachers telling me that you couldn’t tell a story from the pov of a corpse. They were wrong. I proved it in third grade. Mamatas proves it here.
Even though I’ve never been to a “weird” convention, I am acquainted with enough people in the field that I can guess who most of the Tuckerized characters in this untidy murder mystery are, or are based on. I guessed the wrong person as the killer (actually I guessed Rhan-Tegoth). But the signs aren’t very obvious, so I forgive myself.
Laughed out loud in several places. Read the book in two sittings, at night, and then the next morning. Good summer-type read. Has some depth of character but fairly slight compared to the bulk of the things I’m reading currently, one of which is the “other” version of this title by ST Joshi, who is likely skewered in this novel.

Fun. I’m sure people will be upset. Nick Mamatas is a bit of a provocateur, and knows it, and Panossian is probably a reasonably accurate portrait. Maybe a little exaggerated – I don’t think there’s quite that much antipathy…but then I haven’t been to a Necronomicon yet. The Futurians, these people aren’t.

Yossarian and Karabekian would probably have enjoyed this novel. I dunno about Mordiggian. It has an effective graveside manner and enough easter eggs to keep one amused for a while.

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Accepting Authority


The final two pieces of the “Area X Trilogy”: I’d have to recommend reading the series at least once, but I’m not happy with the level of resolution.

Authority (Southern Reach, #2)Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t like the main character’s nickname. It’s as bad as Hiero Protagonist. “Control” is cutesy. It’s a shorthand way of imputing that the mc is the normal one, the one that doesn’t get the drugs or the treatment or whatever, and misleading in that regard.
A good part of this book seems based on department infighting and the other half goes a little Rogue Moon if Algis Budrys had written the Manchurian Candidate into the story.
It’s odd, and there’s enough conflict on various levels to be effective, and yes, weird stuff happens and characters undergo mindbending changes…but it’s a bit numbing to me because I didn’t really like any of the characters. They all seem to operate at a remove, and the narrative works at arm’s-length too.
And there’s little exposition in a narrative that seems to call for it. I’m gonna go with Aliens did it.

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Acceptance (Southern Reach, #3)Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a lot of trouble getting through this book, the second time. I found it unsatisfying, ultimately. The reason why Area X exists is never explained. What Area X actually is remains mysterious. Some of the character arcs are completed, and there are hints of resolution, but they’re only hints.
The tone continues to be the same scientist-as-hero that gives this series its Golden Age echoes. Events unfold, to a point, but one gets the idea that the author is holding back a lot of information, and also setting up for more stories in this milieu.
It’s effective enough, but I was left wanting.

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annihilation nation


I couldn’t sleep. Strange things happen when I’m sleepless, which happens entirely too often. I am very bad at sleeping and have periods where I might sleep two hours at a time for weeks, or stay up three or four days.
It’s been that way since I was very young. I missed about two weeks of third grade because I wasn’t sleeping well enough to move around safely on my own.
Reading has always been my fallback. If I can’t sleep, I read, first. I like a little noise when I read, but just a little, and it has to be familiar, comfortable. Old sitcoms or crime shows will do. I need the rhythms. Talking-head shows work too.
annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerI’ve been re-reading the Area X trilogy, these last few days. I have the kindle versions, so I can turn out all of the lights except the tv and greedily drink the words. Jeff VanderMeer is one of those practitioners of the “weird” that comes from sf, like I do, and I very much enjoy, in fact prefer, that approach. Jeffrey Thomas, too, has those echoes, the clanking rhythms of cyberpunk informing his harrowing parables. VanderMeer is the co-editor of the Big Book of SF, about which more will be said, in another post. His stuff has more New Wave in it…the world of the Southern Reach being a fine example. Annihilation, the first book of the trilogy, is not the first of the author’s books that I’ve read, but so far, it’s the best. I put it on my ballot for the Hugo nomination. We all know what happened there, and I’m not going to get into it…anyway, I thought it the best work of the year.
I loathe using comps to make my points, but I’m going to have to either resort to that or do out-and-out spoilers, which I hate worse. So comparisons it is….Michael Bishop’s anthropological pieces, especially Death and Designation Among the Asadi, his 197- award-winner, have this same sort of straight-up Scientist-As-Hero, performing-a-survey trope going, and deploy a similar air of strangeness, of menace, just offscreen, or in so strange a form that it goes unrecognized. I am  minded, also, of Kate Wilhelm’s The Clewiston Test, and Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, which had similar main characters.
Of course the mc is also exploring the interior landscape at the same time. It goes with the territory. Even though the biologist is working with others, at least initially, she’s always alone, remote.
It turns out that some of this anti-teamwork is the result of hidden persuaders, in a nicely-Dischian. way. Good. Very subtle. The second read reveals the process of hints and allegations that lead to that conclusion, but on the first encounter, it’s almost subliminal.
It takes a practiced hand to do that. Reader manipulation on that level isn’t done often.
Outstanding book. Really good. The main character is interesting enough to listen to, the story has psychological depth, strange detail, interior travelogue, and an inevitable if slightly maddening conclusion. Five stars.
Another tomorrow.

Broken thumbnails


Gateways to Abomination: Collected Short FictionGateways to Abomination: Collected Short Fiction by Matthew M. Bartlett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gateways to Abomination consists of a number of vignettes and flash fictions tied together by a framing device, a fictional radio station way to the left on the dial, and by the rot that exists within a small town. It doesn’t have any plot, possesses little forward movement or narrative structure. It’s somewhere between a new-wave novel and a themed collection, and what it has, in spades, is an overwhelming sense of dread, an anything-can-happen atmosphere, which gives the events that take place within a certain non-sequitur quality. Things just happen. Strange things, disturbing things, things that go bump no matter what time of day or night it is.
Nothing is defined or explained, and this opacity lends itself well to the mysterious occurrences in Leeds. It’s unclear whether WXXT is the cause of or merely the reflection of the rot in the town’s heart, or whether it just chronicles the happenings, but the whole bundle is very effective at communicating a sense of foreboding, and the spot-on thumbnail sketches of the people, animals, and places within add an element of hyper-realism to the proceedings.
Definitely not your run-of-the-mill portal. Pass through this gateway and you’ll never be the same.

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Hooked Up


guttedGutted by Doug Murano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was fortunate enough to be advanced a copy of this book prior to publication. And I mean fortunate. This book is destined to generate strong sales, firstly on the strength of the names involved (Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell), and then on the strength of the poem and stories included.
Stephanie M. Wytovich leads off with an effective piece of verse, which leads into what I think is the best story in the book: Brian Kirk’s “Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave.”
That story illustrates what lengths a person might go to to accomodate a loved one, in exquisite detail. The actual tableau is revolting, but the internal logic is inescapable. The tone is perfect.
“Splinters” is followed by Lisa Mannetti and then Neil Gaiman. Both stories are good — not pedestrian, but are overshadowed by the excellence of Kirk’s piece. Christopher Cooke’s “Dominion” levels up one from those and leads into a tetralogy of really effective horror tales by Mercedes M. Yardley, Paul Tremblay, Damien Angelica Walters, and Richard Thomas, before Clive Barker takes center stage with his “Coming To Grief”. I’m not going to say that this story is as good as “classic Barker” pieces like “In the Hills, the Cities”, but it is a Barker story, and has a certain resonance.
The second-best story, John F.D. Taff’s “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare”, which has distinct Kingian undertones, is set in the early 70s of my own childhood and morphs into a fairly classic ghost yarn. Cheers for the setting and characters.
Amanda Gowin contributes a decent piece, “Cellar’s Dog”, with a good portrait of po’ white trash, and Kevin Lucia adds “When We All Met at the Ofrenda”, which again hits me especially, as I live in the Southwest and am familiar with the lore that contributes to the setting and setup.
That’s followed by good pieces from Maria Alexander and Josh Malerman, before the capstone, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Place of Revelation”, which does not disappoint.
Strong, strong, strong. Pieces that find beauty in grotesquerie, love amid the ruins, that entice you with beauty and magic and then hang you on a meathook, still wanting more.
Gutted will have out your liver and lights in an instant, after you give your heart willingly.
An easy five stars.

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Of a mind to…


Nightmares from a Lovecraftian MindNightmares from a Lovecraftian Mind by Jordan Krall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Smooth, polished, professional. Disturbing, subtle, and definitely nightmarish. The stories in this volume are not so Lovecraftian as the title would have you believe. There is a dollop of cosmic horror, but none of the usual suspects are present. No hooded cultists, octopus-headed monstrosities, cyclopean ruins, non-Euclidean space.
Headspace is more the issue. The Lovecraftian “mind”, indeed. Some of the matter-of-factness of JG Ballard, the inventive weirdness of David Lynch, the slightest hint of Philip Dickian mindrape, a tinge of the existential, a small infusion of the Gnostic. The reading of strange texts informs the text. Mr. Krall has been turning some strange pages indeed, and he melds all of those disparate elements into a surreal collage all his own.
These are pictures of minds after “experiences”, continuing to try to function in mundane space, and largely failing.
Recommended reading.

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More to come.
I really enjoyed this book. It kept me from sleeping soundly, both by engaging my attention while reading late at night, and then speaking to me in my dreams.
This was not my introduction to Jordan Krall’s work but it is the first full-length book I’ve read of his. I have seven more, which will appear in these pages at some point.
I also have another nine bearing the name of his small press. And I’m not a serious collector. I just buy the best that I can find.