Tag Archive | horror

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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2017 Spring into Horror Read-A-Thon

I almost forgot to join in this annual event! And since horror/thriller/spooky stuff is one of my favorite genres, that would be a shame indeed.

I’m currently about halfway through a re-read of Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods in anticipation of the Starz series (with IAN FUCKING McSHANE as MR. WEDNESDAY!!!!! *swoon*) set to begin on April 30. I’ll probably finish it in the next few days.  Then, who knows what evil lurks in the heart of my bookshelf?

Book review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness.”
~~~
Pause for a moment and ponder that quote.
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I’d substitute cardamom for vanilla (because I’m not overly fond of vanilla), but otherwise, yes. This is what books smell like. Imminently satisfactory, is it not?

Charles Manx loves children. He wants children to be happy all the time. He seeks out special children so he can take them to Christmasland where, as you may have guessed, it’s always Christmas and children are always happy. Taking these children to Christmasland and leaving them there has the side effect of keeping Manx young and vigorous, but that’s merely an inconsequential bonus to Manx’s generosity of spirit.

Victoria McQueen, usually called Vic, rides her bicycle as an escape from her tense home atmosphere and warring parents. One day when she is still quite young, she discovers her bicycle gives her the ability to travel across a non-existent bridge and find things. She finds jewelry, and scarves, and photographs, and all manner of lost things. She tells the grownups cover stories about where she finds these items, and as she grows older, eventually comes to believe these stories herself. Because riding a bicycle across a non-existent bridge and coming out miles or even whole states away would be crazy, right?

On one of these excursions, Vic encounters Charles Manx. Manx recognizes Vic’s special talent and wants to take her to Christmasland. Of course, her talent will fuel his continued youth, but that’s not his primary motivation, of course. He has true compassion for Vic’s unhappy life and wants to alleviate her pain and suffering. Really, he means nothing but the best for these special children.

Vic manages to escape Manx. She grows up, grows older, has a child, endures multiple hospitalizations and medications (both doctor-ordered and self-prescribed) to deal with the trauma of her kidnapping and the constant murmur of voices in her head.

Then Charles Manx takes her son. And Vic must summon all her courage to go after him.

That’s the story. But this book is really about love. Vic’s love for her son and for Lou, the father of her son; Lou’s love for Vic and their child; Vic’s parents’ love for her, although she didn’t recognize such love until nearly too late; the sacrifices all parents make to keep their children safe; even Manx’s twisted version of love for the children he “saves”: all of it, every word of this novel turns on love in its many-splendoured and sometimes malformed manifestations.

NOS4A2 isn’t the best book ever, but it’s well worthy of the multiple award nominations it received and it’s certainly worth the time one spends delving into its nearly 700 pages.

Hint: Make sure you read to the very last page. Really. The VERY last page. Otherwise, you miss out.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

Book review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

They called it “dragonscale”. And no one knew where it came from. It showed up as fine lines of black and gold, tracing the skin in loops and swirls and delicate patterns. Eventually, those who contracted the disease burst into flames and died, often taking buildings and other people with them. The uninfected feared the infected and began to set them aside in hospitals and camps and detention centers.

But some of the infected learned to control their fiery outbursts and channel them into a semblance of productivity or protection. Harper, a nurse, abandoned by her husband when she contracts the disease, is taken in by such a group in need of her medical abilities. They live in secret, hiding from the self-appointed Cremation Squads who scour the country looking for the infected. The group itself, however, is not ideal, and seems to headed down the path of becoming a religious cult. Harper and a few of her new friends begin looking for a way out.

I liked this well enough. It’s reasonably well-written; the story is engaging and the characters are mostly sympathetic; but the “…they would never do that/see each other/be here again” thing at the end of most chapters eventually became annoying. And the ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger, unless you’re like me and read all the acknowledgments, etc., at the end of the story. Because the real ending is hidden away back there.

Worth reading once.

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Further musing on this year’s SF/F Reading Challenge

Because I’m doing my best to “shop” my bookshelves and the public library, I’ve reviewed the awards lists carefully to find books already in hand, so to speak, to meet this challenge.  So far, I’ve found these here at home:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2006 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2006 Locus Awards.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  Nominated for 2002 World Fantasy Awards. Nominated for the 2002 British SF Association Awards.  Winner of the 2002 Hugo.  Winner of the 2002 Bram Stoker Award.  Winner of the 2002 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2002 Locus Awards. Winner of the 2003 Nebula. This would be a re-read in preparation for the TV series that debuts on Starz in April 2017.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2009 Hugo.  Nominated for the 2009 World Fantasy Award.  Nominated for the 2009 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards).

(Aside:  This is only a partial list of the nearly uncountable awards Neil Gaiman has been nominated for or won.  Why isn’t he a Grand Master already?)

The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll.  Nominated best novel for 2002 World Fantasy Awards.

Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons.  Simmons was voted a Grand Master of Horror in 2013, so any of his works will qualify.  Ilium was nominated for the 2004 Hugo; and Olympos was nominated for the 2006 Locus Award.  Also on my shelf are Lovedeath, nominated for the 1994 Bram Stoker Award and 1994 Locus; Phases of Gravity, 1990 Locus nominee; Drood, 2010 Locus nominee; Worlds Enough and Time, 2003 Locus nominee; and The Terror, 2008 Shirley Jackson Award nominee.  Can you tell I like Dan Simmons?  A lot?

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury is a Grand Master of long standing in several categories so, again, any of his works will qualify.  From the Dust Returned was nominated for several awards in 2002: World Fantasy; Bram Stoker; and Locus.  I have lots more Bradbury on the shelf, but this one, Farewell Summer, and A Pleasure to Burn are the only titles I haven’t already read.

Horns by Joe Hill.  2011 Bram Stoker nominee.  Currently reading NOS4A2, winner of the 2014 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards), and nominee for the 2014 Bram Stoker and Locus Awards.

Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe.  Another Grand Master.

Embassytown by China Miéville.  2012 Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award nominee.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.  2016 Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy winner; 2016 Locus nominee; and so far the only female author on this list.  I have other female authors on my library wishlist, such as Elizabeth Moon, Lauren Beukes, and Octavia Butler.  I must make a point of checking out those books.

2017SFFReadingChallengeOkay, that’s 19 named books and three authors without named books, so let’s try for the Hydra Category (21+ novels).

Care to join us in this reading challenge?  Click the badge to the left to be taken to the sign up page.

Book review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7)The Dark Tower by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh boy, how to review this without spoilers.

*thinks*

Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower drives him forward relentlessly and, as in the previous installments, people fall victim along the way. You’ll need a tissue. Maybe even a box of tissues.

Still, with the tears, we get grand resolutions, climactic confrontations, a few  gag-inducing gross-out moments, and an intriguing explanation for the presence of Character King (as opposed to Author King) within the narrative.

In the end, ka is truly a wheel.

My main quibble isn’t the presence of Character King, as seems to stick in the craw of other readers. Once that was explained, it made sense in context and I accepted it for what it was. No, my chief gripe was Mordred, as Susannah’s baby was named. As a concept, he was excellent: a child conceived from the line of Arthur for the purpose of destroying his father. As a character, he was pointless: simply a bootless boogieman, the promised confrontation with whom turned out to be…well, less than satisfying.

Said quibble aside, I enjoyed the time spent here, traveling with Roland and ka-tet, as we reached the Tower together, at last.

Safe travels, Roland. I’ll visit you again someday.

(NOTE: I read the Scribner first edition trade paperback published in 2005. This review links to the hardcover so it shows the correct cover art.)

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Book review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

wolves-of-the-calla2016 Re-Read
2016 is the year I decided I was actually going to finish reading the Dark Tower series. Since I hadn’t read this book in at least five years, a re-read was deemed necessary. And that was a good thing, because I had completely forgotten ALL of the events of this story, including the insertion of ‘Salem’s Lot character Father Callahan, who somehow managed to fall into Mid-World after his humiliation by the Vampire Barlow.

Immediately after encountering “Oz” in Topeka, Roland and his fellow travelers Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy continue on the Path of the Beam, eventually realizing they’ve left a plague-ridden Kansas behind and re-entered Mid-World.  Soon afterward, they are approached by the citizens of the farming community Calla Bryn Sturgis, who ask for their help in defeating marauders known as the Wolves.  Said Wolves raid their community once a generation and kidnap roughly half of the children, returning them severely brain-damaged several weeks later.  The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis want to put an end to the raids, and view the gunslingers as their only hope.

The gunslinger code to which our heroes have ascribed means not turning down such requests for assistance; thus they are honor-bound to take on this task, provided the majority of the town supports the endeavor and is willing to help themselves.  The townspeople do, and the ka-tet begins its preparation for battle, while simultaneously hatching a plan to return to Jake’s New York and protect the Rose.

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During all this, Roland and Eddie keep a weather eye on Susannah, who exhibits signs that she is not entirely herself.  Susannah, while vaguely uneasy and at times on edge, is generally unaware that anything may be wrong.  It is, however, and greatly.  The demon she distracted with sex [edited to add:  I had forgotten the circumstances of this “distraction”; in actuality, the demon raped Susannah, violently, brutally, and repeatedly] while her men “drew” Jake into this world (see The Waste Lands for that story) left Susannah pregnant; Susannah’s subconscious mind created another personality, Mia, to deal with the unwanted pregnancy.  Mia is dangerous and unpredictable and fiercely protective of her “chap”, as she refers to her baby.  Roland and Eddie fear she may disrupt, even ruin, their delicately-timed operation against the Wolves.  And Mia’s is not the only betrayal they fear.

As Dark Tower installments go, this one initially seems like a distraction, a step off the Path of the Beam that in no way furthers the overall story or the quest for the Tower. On its surface, it’s a re-telling of nearly every Western ever written: the ordinary law-abiding folk just want to farm their land and live in peace, but the bad guys are intent on shooting up the town at every opportunity; let’s recruit the Lone Ranger to get rid of the bad guys and earn our eternal gratitude.  (King acknowledges his debt to the Western in an afterword, so he is fully cognizant of his influences.)

But.  But.  This superficial interpretation does the story a disservice.  There’s far more than a simple Little Town on the Prairie tale to discover here.  With this novel, King appears to be setting up his end-game, with the introduction of the Wolves (who are far more and at the same time much less than we think); the repeated appearances of North Central Positronics technology; the side-trip describing Father Callahan’s journey to Mid-World, not to mention the mere existence of Callahan himself in Roland’s homeland; and the tension between Susannah, Mia, and the rest of the ka-tet.

2016SFFChallengeIf I have a quibble, it’s the same quibble I’ve had ever since Susannah was first introduced, and that is calling her a “schizophrenic”.  Susannah does not have schizophrenia; she has a dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).  Back in the mid- to late-80s, when King originally wrote the character of Odetta/Detta Holmes, who became Susannah when her personalities merged, it’s possible he didn’t know the difference.  The idea that schizophrenia means “split personality” is common, albeit incorrect.  And since King started out with that interpretation, I guess he must follow it through in subsequent novels, if only for consistency’s sake.  Still irks me.

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This review was written for two reading challenges:  Readers Imbibing Peril (affectionately known as R.I.P.) XI, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings; and the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between.  Click their respective badges to learn more about each.

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Book review, sort of: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

RIP 9 Peril the Second

Call this a testament to the reason I keep books I love and re-read them again and again.

1081372For R.I.P. XI, I intended to read, finally, The Dark Tower, the last volume of Stephen King’s epic Gunslinger* series.  I got 65 pages into it and realized I remembered next to nothing about its immediate predecessor, Song of Susannah.  Okay, let’s get that one down off the shelf.  41 pages into Susannah, I realized I remembered nothing about its predecessor, Wolves of the Calla.  I picked Wolves up, turned to the last few pages and recognized….nothing.

Oh bother.

So I went all the way back to Wizard and Glass, looked at its last few pages, shook my head in dismay and started at the beginning.  After re-reading the first section, the nightmare trip with Blaine the Mono, and reading enough of the middle section, the flashback to Roland’s teenage travels, to sufficiently reacquaint myself with the high and low points, I then skipped ahead to join up with the ka-tet once more, where they sit by the side of I-70 outside Topeka, after the end of Roland’s tale of young love, loss, and exile.  A quick trip to Oz later (read it: you’ll see what I mean), and now we’re back on the Path of the Beam.

I love Wizard and Glass.  I love it.  And I love it for all the reasons other readers of this series hate it:  that novel-length interlude where Roland tells the story of his trip West to the Barony of Mejis when he was 14 years old, where he fell in love for the first time, and how that love led to unexpected consequences and set his foot on the path that will lead inexorably to the Dark Tower.  I don’t want to say much more about it because of spoilers, but here’s the truth:  Roland is who he is because of that fateful journey and the story of the Tower couldn’t be told without it.

RIP 11This non-review was written for the R.I.P. XI Reading Challenge.  Click that badge to learn more about it.  You’ve got a few more days to join in, if you haven’t joined us already.

2016SFFChallengeAnd it’s also part of the Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge.  Click that other badge to find out about that challenge.  You have until the end of 2016 to join in.

*Yes, I know, it’s really “The Dark Tower” series, but I’ve always called it the “Gunslinger” series after the title of the first volume and the mythic characters King brought to life.

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Video review: The Day of the Triffids (BBC mini-series)


This 1981 BBC mini-series wasn’t what I intended to order from Netflix.  I had intended to order the 1962 B-movie starring Howard Keel, which I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager camped out in front of the television watching Bob Wilkins host Creature Features on Saturday afternoons.  So when the single-disc mini-series, comprised of six 26-minute episodes, arrived, I was somewhat puzzled until I looked at our Netflix account and realized “Oh, yeah, the 1962 film isn’t available, that’s why I got this one.” (IMDB indicates there’s yet another version, a two-part mini-series made in 2009, also British.)

No matter.  I watched it anyway, the day after I finished the book.  And the show is a faithful adaptation of its source material, with much of the dialogue coming straight out of the book.  It’s been updated so that it takes place in the early 1980s, so the chauvinism and sexism are somewhat lessened — omigosh, there’s an actual female who speaks from a position of authority — but the basics of the plot are fully intact.  I was fascinated by the depiction of the triffids in this version.  Keep in mind the only triffid I had ever seen on screen was that from the 1962 film — to the best of my recollection, they looked vaguely like walking asparagus with flailing “arms” and a kind of a dandelion-type “head”.  But the 1981 version looked a great deal like a titan arum, also known as a corpse flower.

PerfumeHere’s the titan arum my husband and I visited when it flowered at UC Davis in 2007. It’s huge. And it stinks.  Imagine this plant on a six-foot stalk, with the ability to walk — well, shuffle — and sting and eat carrion flesh.

Absolutely terrifying.

I didn’t make the connection until seeing it on the screen, but that first episode, set in the hospital where Bill Masen awakens to a silent world, vividly reminded me of the first episode of The Walking Dead.  Same eerie quiet, same vacant streets, same desperate effort to find other living human beings and discover what happened.

So, set aside the cheesy early 80s fashion — sheesh, did we really wear our makeup like that? — and the horrendous videotape production quality so common in early 80s TV (on both sides of the Atlantic), and prepare yourself for about two and a half hours of post-apocalyptic fun and games, dodging deadly triffids and ruthless press gangs and militia groups intent on enforcing their version of law and order.

Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

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Book review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bill Masen missed seeing the end of the world by sheer happenstance. He was hospitalized with bandages over his eyes on the night of the spectacular meteor shower that blinded everyone who watched it. Now he’s wandering the streets of London, one of the rare sighted individuals left, trying to avoid the gangs, the looting, the violence, and the triffids.

What are triffids? They’re a strange plant of unknown origin, with a sting of sufficient venom to kill a human being stone dead, and the perplexing ability to walk from place to place. But triffids had proved commercially useful and were cultivated under controlled conditions throughout the world. Bill Masen studied triffids before the meteor shower; he knew them and their habits fairly well, and in fact had begun to suspect they were not merely plants, but far more complex creatures. And now that nearly 100% of humanity was blinded and helpless, triffid containment failed: the plants were on the prowl.

Bill eventually joins forces with Josella, a woman a few years younger than he, and together they make their way through the city in search of a place where they can live safely. Danger and trouble abound; their road to security is neither smooth nor straight.

Some classic science fiction stories age well. Some do not. The Day of the Triffids falls in the latter category, at least in some respects. Reading John Wyndham’s tale through modern eyes means wading through the rampant sexism that permeates much of the story. For example, when our hero first meets Josella, she is described as a girl. It took me several paragraphs to realize the author was talking about a grown woman in her early 20s, not someone who had not yet reached her teenage years. There are no scientists who are women, no female leaders (except one, and she’s a caricature), and no women at all who had careers other than teacher or nurse, secretary or, in Josella’s case, author.

Still, if one can manage to overlook the male chauvinism, or at least accept the novel as a product of its time, the story itself is a rollicking adventure tale, full of frightful moments and feats of daring. Above all, it’s a survival story. One can only hope to fare as well as Bill and Josella and their band of adventurers at the end of the world.

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RIP 9 Peril the SecondThis post is part of R.I.P. XI Peril the Second Challenge. If you’re interested in knowing what that means, clickie the badgie to be whisked away to the blog post that explains it.

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