Free Shock Totem

Want to read some of the best short horror fiction on the market today? Want to read it for FREE? Then you’re in luck! This week only, Shock Totem is offering up their first five issues in e-book format from the Amazon Kindle store for the low low cost of nothing! Time is limited however, so hurry up and get in on this.

Head on over to Shock Totem’s website to find out more. (more…)

Giveaway – Chorus of Dust

OH HEY THERE

It’s been a while. I once again find myself immediately kicking off a blog post for an apology for being away so long, which is not a good habit to get into. I would offer an excuse, probably having to do with how my day job has once again consumed all free time I have available, but would you care? Probably not, so let’s just say I’ve been a bad host and leave it at that.

As recompense, I offer you the delayed fulfillment of a promise I made waaaaay back in July, which is that I intend to give away a hardcover copy of my novella, Chorus of Dust. Here’s how you can get it. (more…)

The Reviews Are In…

Well, a few of them anyway. You can’t expect a book like Chorus of Dust to be reviewed by the NYT or anything. However, a couple of excellent websites have posted reviews of my first novella, and both are very positive! (more…)

Chorus of Dust

I suppose I’ve put this off long enough, and I think it’s time to make it official.

My first published book, Chorus of Dust, is releasing this July in limited edition hardcover, and will also be available in May as an eBook.

 

Let me repeat that in case anyone missed it: I have a book coming out in a month. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

So yes, it’s technically a Novella, but as far as I’m concerned that counts as a book as much as anything else does. Think of it as a full novel with all the extraneous pulp and fluff filtered out, squeezed down and refined to a relatively small but surprisingly satisfying nougat of chocolaty goodness. Only, instead of chocolate, you get an extra concentrated dose of mind-bending horror!

Or something like that. I’ve never been all that great with metaphors. In any case, as you can see, I’m definitely excited to see this one in print. I spent the better part of 2011 writing and refining this story into what it is today. To me, it felt like something special, but the hard part would be finding a publisher who agreed and felt that it would be a good fit for them.

That publisher turned out to be Delirium Books. Founded and still run by Shane Ryan Staley, Delirium has been putting out quality titles in dark fiction for over a decade and is one of the leading names in the horror genre, publishing lots of well-established horror authors such as Jack Ketchum, Greg Gifune, and authors such as Lee Thompson and Weston Ochse who I was honored to appear next to in Shock Totem Magazine. Delirium was one of the first publishers I looked at when I first started shopping this book around, but at first I didn’t think I had a chance. Still, you have to aim high, right? If I truly felt this story was special, then anything less would be selling myself short.

So I took a chance, and it paid off. Delirium accepted my novella for publication in January, and from that point forward we were off to the races. I don’t think I can express my thanks enough to Shane and the other folks at Delirium Books for taking a chance on a new author like myself. I shouldn’t be surprised, as they have a long tradition of doing exactly that, but it still means a lot to me.

That’s it then, it’s as official as it can be on this website. As we count down the days and weeks to the release of Chorus of Dust, I’ll be talking a little more about it. Specifically, the process of writing it and the inspirations for the story. Once it’s available for purchase as an eBook and in hardcover, you’ll be the first to know about it right here.

Literal Daze #6

Oh ho ho, what’s this? My semi-regular feature Literal Daze, wherein I review books and audiobooks (and maybe the occasional movie thrown in for fun), has reached a lucky half-dozen! Let’s not waste any time then.

 

Book

The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss)

The Wise Man’s Fear is Patrick Rothfuss’ second book in the fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. This one picks up basically right where the first one leaves off, with the main character Kvothe attending a sort of medieval version of a university for magicians known as the Arcanum. The story takes us from his trials and tribulations there, through to his search for a wealthy patron and then his adventures out in a bandit-infested forest known as the Eld. Eventually it ends up back at the university, bringing us full circle once again.

I’ll be honest. Never has a book frustrated me in the way this one has.

It’s long. Longer than it needs to be. Despite being a thousand pages long, the plot seems to be paper thin. Everything happens, and yet nothing happens. The story suddenly splits off on a tangent at a moment’s notice, like a child with ADD trying to follow an angry cat. By the time it returns to the thread it left so many pages ago, you’ve forgotten what you were doing there in the first place. Never have I read a book where so much and yet so little happens simultaneously.

Despite all this, I still loved this book.

Kvothe is just such a fascinating character, it almost doesn’t matter what’s going on in the story, I don’t know, maybe that’s the point. I could read about his exploits all day, regardless of what he’s doing. It was especially enjoyable seeing how his myth grows in the book, how the mix of truth, half-truth, and outright fabrication mix together to make Kvothe into the legend he has already become by the end, even though he hasn’t even reached his twenties.

Give me more, Mr. Rothfuss. I need more Kvothe like a bad drug. Just please don’t make me wait too long.

 

Audiobook

The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

I’m genuinely surprised that I liked this book as much as I did. I’m not real big on historical fiction most of the time, and the very fact that this book had so much hype behind it (Oprah’s book club, Television Series, etc) made me wary to give it a shot. However, when I could find nothing else at the library, this caught my eye and I reluctantly decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

For those in the minority like I was who haven’t read this book, The Pillars of the Earth is the story of the building of a new cathedral in the fictional city of Kingsbridge in England during the Medieval period of time known as “The Anarchy”, around the mid 12th century. Sounds like a snoozefest, right?

Wrong! It turns out, the building of the cathedral is only the backdrop in a story that’s actually about war, political intrigue, mystery, and love. The various characters we follow throughout the story and how their lives interweave with the new church are interesting and three-dimensional, whether they are likable protagonists, hated villains, or the many who fall somewhere in between. The scope of the story itself is impressive, covering about forty years and nearly the entire lives of some of the characters. This makes sense of course, since the building of a new cathedral back then took decades, but being able to pull of such a feat and managing to still keep the plot moving forward and interesting throughout is something that is not easy to do. Here, Follett made it look easy.

Overall, the only conclusion I can draw is that, for once, the hype was justified on this one. It’s just a wonderful book through and through. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

As usual, since I listened to the audiobook version, I’ll also make a quick note on the narrator, John Lee. At first, I wasn’t crazy about his narration. His voice and british accent are well suited to the material, but it almost seemed too soothing, and the voices of the different characters didn’t seem all that distinct. However, as it went on, his style really grew on me. I realized that his different characters actually were pretty distinct, just very subtly so, and his tone and inflections really drew me into the action of whatever was happening in the specific scene he was reading. Overall, he did a great job.

 

Movie

John Carter

I never read A Princess of Mars, the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs that the new movie John Carter is based on. In some ways, I think that’s probably a good thing. I’m always weary of movies based on books that I’ve already read. They never seem to be able to live up to the hype. So, when I went into John Carter, I was fresh to the material and had no preconceived notions about the story. I didn’t even know what it was about.

For a quick summary, the story is about a guy named John Carter (funny how that works), a confederate soldier in the old west. After a series of incidents, he finds himself wandering into a cave, where he meets a strange futuristic figure and somehow ends up unconscious.  When he comes to, he’s on Mars, though he doesn’t know it yet. The premise here of course is that over a hundred years ago, perhaps Mars actually did have an atmosphere and alien cultures inhabiting it. When he comes to, John has to adjust to the reduced gravity of the planet, and soon realizes he is like a superhero there. He can jump higher, he’s stronger, and faster than any of the natives. Eventually, he joins up with the struggles of some of the people there and finds his place in this world, so to speak.

Though John Carter wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy material, or even anything above the level of a popcorn-flick, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it thoroughly. It’s good, pulpy, fun Science Fiction, unabashedly embracing the clichés of the genre and playing to their strengths. There’s no deep message behind the movie, save for the idea that it would be awesome to be a superhero and save an entire planet. It never tries to be more than that, and in the process reminds us of how fun going to the movies can be. Frankly, that’s good enough for me.

 

Next Time

Make sure and come back again when I’ll be reviewing Ghost Story by Peter Straub, as well as the audiobook of World Without End by Ken Follett. It’ll be a smashing good time.

Literal Daze #5

That’s right, I’m back with edition number 5 of my semi-regular feature Literal Daze, where I review stuff I’ve read, listened to, or watched lately. Today, we have not one, but two audiobooks to check out, so let’s get to it.

 

A Dance With Dragons (George R. R. Martin)

 

I’m a huge fan of the series, ASoIaF (“A Song of Ice and Fire”, for the uninitiated). I started reading them back in I think 2006 or so, and rushed through the first three books, which was something like 3000 pages total, in less than a week. Yeah, these are big books, and yes, they’re that good. I literally couldn’t put them down. Then I got a hold of the fourth book, finished it, and kind of went “Whaaaaat?” It just wasn’t as good. For as long as it was, it felt like very little happened overall, and the grand sense of epic settings, political intrigue, and amazing characters that had defined the series so far seemed lost. Maybe this was because of his decision to split up this one into two different but concurrent books, the fourth focusing on specific characters in the South of Westeros and the Iron Islands, and the fifth planned to focus on everyone else in the North of Westeros and the Continent of Essos. It turns out, it felt like he left out all the awesome characters in book four.

But, in a way this was good, right? That means book five, A Dance With Dragons, should be nothing but distilled awesome, right? Yeah, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad. In many ways, it’s actually quite good, and it is objectively much better than book four. It was excellent to finally see what become of some of favorite characters like Daenerys the Dragon Queen, Tyrion the Dwarf, Theon the Turncloak, Davos the Onion Knight, and Jon Snow the Bastard of Winterfell. Overall, their character arcs did a decent job of progressing the story and bringing back the sense of urgency that had entirely gone missing in A Feast for Crows, and most of them were genuinely enjoyable. Tyrion’s journey after his deeds in King’s Landing to try and reach Daenerys and finally see the fabled dragons she possessed was particularly enjoyable, and as always his chapters were usually the most fun simply because he’s such an awesome character. Theon’s story, though I wouldn’t call it “fun”, was also really interesting. It was fascinating, after his betrayal in book three, to see him get his just desserts (and much, much worse), but then grow as a character once again until I found myself cheering him on. After what he did, I wouldn’t have thought that possible, but like Jaime Lannister throughout the first four books, GRR Martin seems to have a way of taking the worst of his characters and shaping them into his most beloved.

All that said, the lingering issues that plagued book four did not entirely go away. For as long as the book is, in many ways it still feels like not a lot happened. Going back over it in my head, I know that’s not true. Quite a lot happened, actually. I think the problem, though, is that it could have been told in maybe half as many words. It feels like, as Martin’s series becomes more and more popular, he is becoming less restricted in his editing process. There are tangents everywhere in this book that, while sort of interesting, in no way contribute to the story. Whole chapters could have been chopped out and not have affected the story one bit. This makes the book feel like more of a chore to slog through than the adventure it felt like during the first three. Book three I think was actually longer than this one, but it also felt like twice as much happened. I’m not opposed to a long book, but not when the story suffers as a result.

The bottom line is that this book could have done with some tighter editing and a little self-control on the author’s part. It was a good book, but couldn’t live up to its own legacy, the standard set by A Storm of Swords. Still, if nothing else, it feels like maybe after the train wreck that was A Feast for Crows, we’re at least back on track.

Now that we have the review of the book itself out of the way, let’s talk about the Audiobook experience. First off, have you ever listened to a 1500 page book over audio? It’s long, nearly 50 hours in fact, which is probably the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to. It was a good way to experience this kind of book though, because the material is just so dense. Where I may skim through sections and not really retain everything when reading normally, audiobooks force me to slow down and listen to every word, savoring each rich detail, at a pre-rendered pace. I definitely retained more of the book in this format than with previous books.

On the downside though, I wasn’t crazy about the narrator, Roy Dotrice. I know I know, some people love the guy, but it just never clicked with me. After hearing the incredible voice talents of Peter Kenny in reading “Surface Detail”, maybe I’ve just been spoiled, but this just didn’t seem to measure up. Dotrice’s regular narration itself was very nice – his deep voice and slightly gruffy British accent fits the world perfectly. The issue comes in with his interpretation of the different character’s dialogue. Where Kenny’s voices ranged from various tones and timbres, accents galore, and subtle inflections that made the characters come alive, Dotrice’s voices essentially consist of “Old Man”, “Old Woman”, and “Roy Dotrice”. Daenerys, a young teenage girl, should not sound exactly the same as “Old Crone #4”. I know that in a story with this many characters some overlap is inevitable, but I can’t help but feel that someone like Kenny would have at least attempted a few more variations.

Still, it was a good experience overall, even if it was a long one. I just hope I don’t have to do it again until The Winds of Winter is released in about 20 years.

 

The Strain (Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan)

 

Considering how popular the zombie and vampire sub-genres are right now, it’s almost impossible to come up with something fresh and unique. The Strain doesn’t succeed entirely in doing that, but it makes a darn good attempt.

The Strain is about a CDC Doctor named Efrain Goodweather who is called into an emergency one night when a plane lands in New York, then inexplicably shuts down on the tarmac. Why do they call in disease control expert? Because everyone on the plane is dead, despite the fact that all were in perfect health moments before landing. Believing it to be some kind of outbreak, Eff and his team are brought in to investigate. They eventually discover that the bodies are undergoing a metamorphosis, then reanimating with an unnatural thirst for blood. An old professor and holocaust survivor who has dealt with the issue before in Europe comes into the mix to help out, and off they go.

So yes, the book is about vampires. Thankfully though, these aren’t your run of the mill, sharp-fanged, sleep-in-a-coffin type of vampires (well okay, one actually might be, but I’ll gloss over that), and they especially aren’t the angst-ridden, teenage glittery vampires that are all the rage these days. No, they’re almost more like Zombies than Vampires. After reanimating, they wake up with one single-minded purpose, which is to feed. All other higher order functions, at least at first, are secondary to that instinct. When they do feed, they also transfer the agent that forced their transformation onto the victim, and that person then also becomes a vampire. See? Just like zombies.

The authors manage to make them frightening and disturbing in their pursuit of this goal, and they do so while attempting to explain the biological makeup of these new creatures and how they function (certainly a function of Del Toro’s involvement). At several points they are likened by Eff to a “virus incarnate”, which is actually fairly accurate (and also explains the title of the novel). They feed and spread, that’s it.

Hogan and Del Toro do a fantastic job in building up the tension as the book progresses, slowly unfolding the mystery of where these things came from and what’s actually behind the outbreak. As the book goes on, things take a surprising turn from science to the supernatural which I didn’t see coming. I also appreciate the amount of depth written into all characters in the story, whether they ended up heroes battling the forces of evil with Eff or as vamp-food. The impression is that every person is important, that they have hopes and dreams and faults, and none of them deserve such a gruesome fate no matter how small their role in the overall story may be. That attention to detail definitely drew me in and held onto me, even through the rough parts.

Yes, there were some rough spots. My biggest complain is the way that the heroes, as soon as they decide to fight back against the forces of darkness, suddenly become master vampire slayers. Yes, they have some help from an experience hunter, but the change is dramatic to say the least. You have this guy Eff who was a doctor before, and suddenly he expertly wields a silver sword like some kind of crusader. It seems that in this world, it just needs to be accepted that anyone can use hand weapons with perfect skill, despite zero experience with these weapons beforehand. It’s just one of those things that breaks the suspension of disbelief, which is a shame in a story like this that works so hard to build that suspension up in the first place. The other big issue I had is that the story seems to lose a lot of steam toward the end of the book, which is ironic considering that it’s also probably the most action packed. By about 3/4 of the way through, all questions surrounding the mystery of this outbreak have been answered, and all we’re left with is a good old-fashioned vampire hunt. It’s entertaining to an extent, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The whole thing becomes very predictable.

Still, a solid entry for the genre. Since this is only book one of a trilogy, I can give it some leeway in that there’s hopefully lots more story to tell. Hopefully I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg here. I only hope that the next book takes things in a direction that I won’t see coming.

The audiobook itself was… eh, it was alright. When I saw it was being read by Ron Perlman, I was beyond excited. His voice is like butter, after all. Yet, only a few minutes in, my disappointment was palpable. Perlman makes absolutely zero effort to create distinct voices and differentiate the various characters in the book. Other than the old Holocaust survivor, which Perlman voices with a barely passable accent, every single other character sounds exactly the same. If not for the fact that his voice is so awesome, this thing would have been a total loss. You get the feeling that if Perlman would put in even a modicum of effort, he would be an amazing voice actor on top of already just being an amazing actor.

 

Next Time:

I’ve said this before, but look for The Wise Man’s Fear, the anticipated sequel to The Name of the Wind, coming down the pipe soon.  Eventually we’ll also be checking out The Pillars of the Earth, another ludicrously long audiobook.  Until then!

Literal Daze #4

After a long, long wait, the fourth installment of Literal Daze is here! This is an ongoing segment where I generally review two books, one in written form and the other in audiobook form. I might occasionally throw a movie in as well for fun. Let’s get started!

 

Book:

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

What if the various Gods throughout the history of mankind were physically manifested through humanity’s sheer willingness to believe in and sacrifice to them? What would they look like, and how would they behave? And what would happen to them when they were eventually forgotten and left behind?

This is the idea behind Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel and modern fable, American Gods. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I liked it and didn’t like it at the same time. It’s central concept, the idea of America being this strange melting pot of the various Gods man has created over the course of human history and brought with them when they came to this country, is an interesting one. As time marches on and the old Gods are forgotten, they are replaced by new ones, Gods who are probably more familiar to you than you know – The Internet, Television, Media, etc.  I liked its approach to this idea for the most part (Though I was bothered by one glaring omission.  Hypothetically, if this were the way things actually worked, if the “Gods” flourish through our adoration and worship, wouldn’t the most powerful American God be, you know, Jesus? I understand that Christianity wasn’t really the focus of this story, but 70-something percent of Americans claim to be Christian, so the fact that it was basically glossed over seemed strange to me).

Still, a concept can only take you so far, even when well executed. Despite being well written and featuring subtle yet fascinating characters, the heart of any story is the plot. This one does just a bit too much meandering and side-tracking for my tastes. I found myself caring more about the secondary mystery plot that isn’t even introduced until halfway through the book than about the main story, which ends in highly anticlimactic fashion.

So yeah, this one wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t terrible either. If nothing else, it’ll probably get me reading more Neil Gaiman.

 

Audiobook:

Angelology (Danielle Trussoni)

Here’s my review of Angelology:

This book sucked.*

The end.

 

 

 

 

*It should be noted, however, that the narrator for the audiobook was quite good. Probably the only good thing about this book. If I’d had to actually read it in print I probably would have gouged my eyes out.

 

 

BONUS Audiobook!

Surface Detail (Iain M. Banks)

I admit, I’ve never read a single novel in Banks’ “The Culture” series. Frankly, I didn’t know the books existed until sometime last year. Considering what a huge fan I am of Science Fiction, this is probably a crime against the genre, but there it is. In my defense, I have heard of a couple of the books in this series, such as Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward and simply didn’t realize what they were, so at least that’s something.

Anyway, yeah, back to Surface Detail. The good thing about the Culture series, in this case at least, is that it isn’t really a series at all. Notice that little tag on the cover picture that says that it is “A Culture Novel” instead of “A Culture Series”? There’s a reason for that. The universe that these books take place in spans millennia, and so books can actually take place hundreds of years apart. Other than the titular civilization of the Culture, a hyper-advance, sort-of anarchic conglomeration of different species and artificial intelligences, there is no real common thread between any of them. Each stands alone as its own story, and other than some background on the Culture itself (much of which is filled in in each book), no knowledge of previous books is required. So hopping straight into Book 9 as my first foray into the series wasn’t as jarring as you’d think it might be.

In Surface Detail, there are a couple of different story threads that kind of dance around each other. The first, more personal story, is about a young alien woman who is born as an lifelong indentured servant on her home world to an extremely wealthy yet sadistic businessman. Even before birth, she is marked on a genetic level with intricate and amazing tattoos all over her body, the incredible patterns of which help define the novel’s title. The book begins with her attempted escape and subsequent murder by her owner. However, where the Culture is concerned, not even death is always permanent. When she seemingly resurrects many light years away on a Culture ship, she eventually teams up with a slightly insane but powerful warship named “Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints”. Yeah, if that’s not the best name for a starship ever, I don’t know what is. Eventually her story brings her back to face the man who so wronged her, and she must deal with the implications of what she has become.

That story is set against a larger backdrop of war – in this case, a simulated war which isn’t actually real. Not yet anyway. As many civilizations become more advanced, they learn how to manipulate virtual worlds, creating artificial reality constructs that seem as real as the real world. So what happens when some of them take this a step too far Several worlds eventually decide that letting God take care of the afterlife isn’t good enough, and take it upon themselves to create their own virtual heavens and hells. When someone dies, the government downloads their mental state as a digital copy and decides which of these afterlives to place them in. You can imagine how a system like this might be abused and wielded for nefarious purposes.

The war, then, is between the worlds who condone the virtual hells and those who want them destroyed (the Culture falls in this latter camp by the way, though they vow not to become directly involved). Ironically, the war itself is fought in a virtual construct to prevent deaths in the real world. This story line is followed by a soldier who lives and dies a hundred times, fights in every scenario imaginable, and who’s shoulders the war eventually comes to sit upon. In parallel, another human woman who is a representative of the Culture investigates some strange happenings surrounding the war, and why it may be close to breaking through into real bloodshed.

Finally, there’s one more storyline that follows a pair of alien quadrupeds who hack into their own world’s virtual hell. It seems that some on their world don’t believe these virtual afterlives don’t actually exist, and so these fellow activists decide that the best way to blow the lid off is to get solid proof. The only problem is, their escape plan goes badly awry, and in the end only one of them manage to escape. After this their story splits into the man doing his best to expose the virtual hell to his countrymen, while the woman suffers through seemingly endless lifetimes of pain and torture still trapped inside.

If all of this sounds like a pretty complicated affair, you’re right, it is. Each story on its own is pretty good. However, even though Banks tried to tie them all together, it never really feels like any one of these stories has much bearing on another. If I have a complaint, that would probably be it. Though each character’s story comes to a natural end with varying levels of satisfaction, the novel as a whole still feels incomplete somehow.

Despite this, it’s a great book. If you like grand, epic science fiction, it’s hard to get much better than this. I’ve read that there actually may be some modest connections to another book in the series here, which is apparently something Banks doesn’t generally do, so I know I’ll have to go back and start catching up. If the rest of them are anything like this one, great things are in store.

Oh, and as for the Audiobook? Fantastic. I’ll just say right now, the narrator of this one, Peter Kenny, is without a doubt the best audiobook narrators I’ve ever heard. His normal accent and voice is just perfect for reading, soft and gentle yet engaging, and his ability to create new voices, accents, and tones for every new character that pops up is simply remarkable. Narrators like him are the reason I listen to Audiobooks in the first place. Bravo.

 

Next Time:

Get ready, because the fifth installment of the epic “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, A Dance With Dragons, is coming up! At nearly fifty hours, this was the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to by far, so we’ll see whether or not that worked in its favor or against it. See you back here then.

Literal Daze #3 – Horror Edition

As promised, to celebrate the release of my first short story in print, today marks a very special edition of Literal Daze.  As usual, we’re going to look at a print book and an audiobook (sorry folks, no movie review today), and this time they both fall under the horror genre.  Are you ready to be horrified, terrorized, dread-taculated?  Then let us forge ahead into the great unknown…

 

Book:

Midnight (Dean Koontz)

 

Believe it or not, I have never read a single Dean Koontz novel before this one.  I know, right?  What kind of person calls himself a horror fan but somehow misses Dean Koontz?  I think part of it was the fact that, for a long time (especially after high school), I only wanted to read the best of the best – the books with the highest literary acclaim, the best reviews, etc.  Book snobbery, if you will.  It’s not a bad plan in theory.  After all, there are so many book out there, a person has to use some sort of filtering method to decide which ones to read.  Dean Koontz has always had a stigma attached to him, this idea that his books, though wildly popular, are the mental equivalent of junk food.  Something to pick up when you’re bored or getting ready for a long airplane ride.

In recent years, however, my thoughts on this matter have changed somewhat.  I still look into reviews and everything, but I’ve found that critics don’t, and shouldn’t, account for personal taste.  Filet Mignon is wonderful, but sometimes I just want a good old fashioned cheeseburger.  And sometimes, I just want a pulpy horror read, and I finally decided that it was time to stuff my face with Koontz.  Or rather… eh, you know what I mean.

As it turns out, in small bites, Koontz is pretty tasty.

Midnight starts off as many horror stories do; somebody gets killed.  In this case, the killers are a ravenous group of monsters who seem to be infesting the sleepy coastal town of Moonlight Cove.  When a hardened FBI agent pays a visit to investigate this and other shady murders that have taken place, he walks into a bit more than he bargained for.  Through the eyes of several different characters, some more nefarious than others, we see a plot unfold involving technology run amok, societal devolution, and fighting the internal forces in us all.

I’m hesitant to say that Koontz writing is bad exactly, because… well, he’s published like fifty novels and I’ve published one short story, so I’m in no way qualified to critique him.  However, I will say that I wasn’t a huge fan of everything in the book.  Many of the characters were one-dimensional, never changing throughout the novel (which admittedly takes place in about 24 hours, but still, a lot happens in those 24 hours).  In addition, there were several threads brought up that just kind of didn’t go anywhere, or ended in an unsatisfying way.

Still, overall, it was an enjoyable read.  A straightforward horror story that doesn’t pull any punches, and for that I have to give it some credit.  Will it make me a Koontz fan for life?  I don’t know, probably not yet, but it does at least make me want to pick up more of his stuff in the future.

 

Audiobook:

The Ruins (Scott Smith)

 

This one was written by another somewhat well-known author who was new to me, Scott Smith, who also wrote the novel and screenplay for A Simple Plan.  Reviews for this one were wildly split online, which piqued my curiosity.  Many loved it, many hated it, but there were few middle-of-the-roaders.  Still, the premise looked interesting, so I took the plunge.

If nothing else, I now understand the split.  I think my own opinion of the book is split, so it’s no wonder that the critical response is so polar on this one.

The Ruins begins with a simple premise.  Two young couples take a trip to Cancun as a final fling before they all move onto new stages in their lives.  While there, they meet up with an athletic German fellow and some fun-loving Greeks who don’t speak a word of english.  When the German’s brother runs off with some girl he just met to investigate an archeological site of some ancient ruins, the German convinces the two couples and one of the Greek fellows to go after him.  They eventually find the site, and after some Mayan villagers round them up onto the ruins at gunpoint and don’t let them leave, the story really gets moving.

Of course, as you would expect, there are horrors at the ruins worse and more deadly than the mayan villagers.  What’s interesting though is that, almost from the very beginning, we know what these horrors are.  There is no dark secret they all have to eventually uncover – the deadly beings stalking them are known right from the start.  The horror here comes in this overwhelming sense of dread that covers the story like a blanket, a sense that their doom is inevitable and we’re simply along for the ride as it happens.  Like watching a forty-car pileup in slow motion.  By the end of the story, you feel that catharsis, the knowledge that at least it’s over now and you have nothing more to invest.  And of course, that’s when the gut-punch comes.

Frankly, I thought it was great.  However, I can understand where some of the hate comes from.  Many of the negative comments I’ve read about the book are related to the characters themselves.  Specifically, that they are too much alike and that they act in some stupid ways throughout the story.  I don’t agree that they’re too much alike, personally.  Some of them have similar personalities, especially the two girls, but there are important differences between them which are subtly exploited as the plot moves along.  As for their actions… yeah, sometimes they act like idiots, both individually and as a group.  But isn’t that true in real life too?  People act in differently based on their personalities, and not always in a good way.  I don’t think the characters are stupid as much as they are simply true to real life.

So yes, I fall solidly in the “liked it” camp.  I can’t say I would always recommend it, though.  Some of the scenes here require a strong stomach and a stronger will to keep reading to find out what happens next.  But, for horror fans such as myself who can appreciate it for what it is, it might worth picking up.

 

Next Time:

As promised, The Hobbit radioplay and The Wise Man’s Fear are still forthcoming, but they have been pushed down the road a bit.  Otherwise, look for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and the audiobook for Iain M. Banks’ newest Culture novel, Surface Detail, to appear in the coming weeks.  Until then!

Shock Totem #4 Is Here!

That’s right folks.  Nearly eight months after being accepted, my short story Lobo is now in print in the latest issue of Shock Totem Magazine!

 

 

You can purchase this issue from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly through Shock Totem’s Website.  I personally recommend this latter method, as it ensures that more money goes directly to the publisher, but that’s up to you of course.

In celebration, I officially declare this horror-week!  Stay tuned in the next few days for an all new horror-themed entry of Literal Daze, as well as an original horror piece from me that has never appeared anywhere else.

So, thanks to K. Allen Wood and the rest of the crew over at Shock Totem for bringing this issue together, and especially for making me a part of it.  They will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first publication to accept my work, so best wishes of continued success to their top-notch magazine!