Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Review of FAT RICH DOG by Stephen Beam (Jagged Books, 2012)

Penned by the prolific Stephen Beam, author of The Teddy Bear Singularity, Monster in the Tree and many others, this novella is a madcap existential adventure featuring a colorful cast of characters, including a trained serpentine assassin, Satan; Gil, a Filipino ritual-circumciser-cum-mad-scientist; and the titular character, Jake, a bio-modified dog whose amazing physiognomy belies his less than amazing life—wasted watching television, smoking, eating Velveeta nachos and vacuuming his own fur from the sofa. One day, Jake decides he wants more, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery which leads him to learn to read, piss on a religious proselytizer, accidentally acquire a pet cat and promote bizarro fiction, among other things. The outcome is genuinely surprising, yet strangely satisfying, and as a creature equally blessed and cursed with self-consciousness, Jake’s story is an allegory of our own as human beings (or bio-modified monkeys, if you will). On one level, we simply want to satisfy our physical appetites for food, sleep and sex; on another, deeper level, we need spiritual fulfillment. Through it all, we’re haunted by the specter of death. A quick, enjoyably compelling read which teaches us that, I quote, “Life is more than banging poodles or smelling asses.”

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Review of ATTIC CLOWNS by Jeremy C. Shipp (Redrum Horror, 2012)

Attic Clowns

Attic Clowns, the latest playfully macabre collection from Jeremy C. Shipp, mixes horror, sci-fi, fantasy and slapstick with generous pinches of pathos, clowns, claustrophobia and attics to make one delicious literary pie. Some of these stories are allegories about the absurdity of work. In “The Quivering Gray Fog,” a woman living in an attic attempts to piece together an apparently impossible puzzle while a legion of demons make her home below into a living hell; in “Giggles,” another woman, Joan, is cursed to entertain a clown forever, lest he become bored, break free and wreak havoc on the world. Others address the absurdity of family life. In “Blister”—one of my favorites—a melancholic narrator, Corn, looks after his mentally ailing father, who does little but sit at the dinner table reading books about the afterlife (including one in which God is a T-Rex); in “Microcircus,” a woman struggles to manage miniature versions of both herself and those she loves. A palpable sense of impending entropy pervades the whole book, which is, paradoxically, rendered in Shipp’s characteristically precise, controlled prose—easy to read, not so easy to forget.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review of LAWSON VS. LAVALLEY by John Edward Lawson and Dustin LaValley (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2011)

Lawson vs. LaValley

A good story to page count ratio always gets my pulse racing, so when I examined this thin book’s table of contents, I nearly had a heart attack: Thirty-five stories in one hundred and twelve pages! I love collections like this precisely because of their ability to introduce readers to a wide variety of characters and place them in a range of settings, with such economy of words. Some of these tales—those starring homicidal milkmen or a murderer of axes—are absurd, as the best flash fiction often is. Others touch on sensitive personal and political issues like euthanasia and homophobia. And there are imaginary horrors—winged demons from the sinkholes, a possessed dildo, a rodent-munching vagina dentata, a vampiric gas tank—alongside all-too-real ones like terminal illness and irrational, fundamentalist mobs. The imagery utilized is always affecting, frequently grotesque. In “The Stoma Laughs Last,” a sentient stoma drools bits of bloody stool when it speaks; in “The Lightness of Being,” the slow dissection of a sacrificial victim is detailed. To read and finish this is, for fans of the short and horrible, like waking up, wide-eyed and sweaty, after a succession of satisfying nightmares.

Friday, 3 February 2012

DEFENDOR (Peter Stebbings, 2009)

A mentally disturbed road construction worker, played by Woody Harrelson, fights crime at night, disguised as “Defendor” and armed only with a jar of angry wasps, a few marbles and a highly-developed moral sensibility. He rescues a crack whore, and friendship ensues.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Review of NIGHT OF THE SQUIRRELS by Eric S. Brown

From the author of the Bigfoot War series and Last Stand in a Dead Land (among many others), these six shorts feature a zombie whale, a forest full of savage squirrels, an undead peeping tom, a vigilante lizard man, a cameo appearance from a band of murderous sasquatches, and a whole lot of blood and guts. The settings are invariably bleak, usually post-apocalyptic. The main characters are isolated and lonely, sometimes suicidal, often driven to kill in order to survive. Groups of people are not to be trusted. The endings are downbeat, and yet the whole collection manages to retain a relatively upbeat feel, due in large part to the constant action—the pace of these stories is relentless—and abundance of dry humor, with lines such as, “Perhaps the world descending into Hell was taking a greater toll on him than he thought” and “The closest of the two died quickly from an exploding head.” And I particularly like the reimagining of biblical stories and themes in “Jonah and the Dead” and “Saviour,” the latter of which stars a self-aware zombie who has a religious experience. This is immensely readable, classic creature horror. Let’s hope the real apocalypse is this much fun.