Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Imago Sequence- Laird Barron

The Imago Sequence is Laird Barron's third collection of stories, and a genuinely disturbing read. Barron is a name that I've heard many times as a brave light in Horror, and he does not disappoint. The Imago Sequence consists of nine stories, the stories range from "Old Virginia" which starts as a military fiction that soon goes off the rails to "Hallucigenia" which takes the black magical hillbilly cult to a new level all the way  to the title story, which is Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" exposed to gamma radiation and leaves you at the end shuddering. The range of theme that Barron utilizes is as diverse as his pacing and layering of tension is consistent. The cosmic horror that Barron creates and utilizes defies physical description and personality type, unless you consider all-permeating, eternal Hunger with a capital "H" as a personality type. The Imago Sequence is not a collection that lends itself to a quick read simply because Barron's style lends itself greatly to a slow read with a pacing that builds tension in a masterful fashion. Definitely give this a read. Five stars.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Worlds of Hurt- Brian Hodge

The Worlds of Hurt is a collection of stories revolving around Brian Hodge's own mythos, the Misbegotten. They are a group of tragic immortals who must feed on something, that "something" being different for each of them and often creating a visceral narrative in the story itself, in order to survive or at least endure. Every story stands on it's own, but in reading it from beginning to end the reader receives insights into the mythos and cosmology of the Misbegotten that adds extra horrific depth through the first three stories in a cumulative manner that reaches an apex in the final story "World of Hurt", a short novel that reveals the great horror associated with the Misbegotten. Hodge's writing style is engrossing and complex without being confusing. The utterly disturbing motives that drive not just the Misbegotten but also the "regular" people in the stories are laid to bare at a pace that creates a tension while reading that is enjoyable in a way that few works of horror that I've come across are able to match. This has been one of my favorite reads of the year, definitely worth five stars.

I contacted Brian and he was gracious enough to take part in a short interview regarding Worlds of Hurt and his writing in general:

AB: Music has a central focus in "The Alchemy of the Throat" and is used in describing cosmic horror elements of "World of Hurt". I've also had the pleasure of reading your story "Cures For A Sickened World" which delves strongly into Black Metal aesthetics. What place does music hold for you in horror?

BH: A pretty foundational place, really. But it has a pretty foundational place in life overall. I nearly always work to music, and it’s often dark or moody stuff. Plus, as a player, I sometimes like to make music that’s a sonic expression coming from the same place as the prose. That got so out of hand with Whom the Gods Would Destroy that it triggered its own soundtrack.

Then there are times I’m interested in exploring creators as characters, and the process of creation, and so on. Although I feel oddly repelled by writing about writers. There’s something about that that feels narcissistic to me. I’m much more drawn to narratively exploring music and visual art … maybe because, as languages, they’re much more universal. They engage the senses directly.

AB: What did you want to do different, if anything, in Worlds of Hurt in contrast to previous works?

BH: It’s an omnibus edition, and that’s something I’d never done. It brings together the first four installments in an ongoing mythos that I keep coming back to every so often: “The Alchemy of the Throat,” “The Dripping of Sundered Wineskins,” “When the Bough Doesn’t Break,” and World of Hurt. That’s three novellas and a short novel. They were all written years apart, so in a way, while still telling an unfolding episodic narrative, they all reflect different interests and concerns and states of mind.

I was needing to get World of Hurt ported over into e-book form, and thought, well, why not package everything together at this point. Instead of just converting over the one book, why not give the reader everything that preceded it, too? As I go forward with new works in that universe, consolidating the previous stuff into a single volume will make it a lot easier for readers to have it all, rather than telling them, in essence, “You have to get this novel and these three story collections.”

AB: Despite the monstrosity factor of the supernatural entities in the stories in Worlds of Hurt, the horror inflicted by humanity seems to be a predominant reoccurring theme. Any thoughts on that?

BH: I think that would be how such entities would operate most effectively in our world. That they’d get things done either through us, or by hiding behind our skins. It’s not only stealth mode … just consider what they would have to work with. Way too many of our species don’t need that much of a nudge.

AB: Do you see any major vital trends in Horror literature occurring that weren't there when you started writing?

BH: It would take someone more conscious of a long-term overview than I am to track something like that. It’s not anything that registers with me. I just do what I do, and try to always get better at it, and to keep challenging myself instead of digging a rut to live in. To me, being concerned with trends leads to the sort of silly conversations that a friend once related. He was talking to his agent, who was telling him, “Why don’t you write a book about a devil dog? Devil dogs are hot right now!” That was our go-to punchline for a while.

AB: What are your opinions on Horror as social commentary?

BH: It’s certainly well suited to the task. It can get away with being as rude as it needs to be, and you have the option of couching whatever you have to say in some potent metaphors, if you don’t feel like being blunt about it. That’s definitely informed a share of my work. Even the story you mentioned earlier, “Cures For A Sickened World,” which I wrote for the upcoming first Spectral Book of Horror Stories … in part that’s an allergic reaction to the rancid thing that journalism has become in the age of click-bait. “Let’s throw up any old hasty piece of incendiary bullshit, because it’ll piss people off and they’ll show it to everybody else so they can be pissed off too.” And so the signal-to-noise ratio gets ever more lopsided.

AB: What would you personally like to see happen with the Horror genre, either through your own writing or the writing of others?

BH: I don’t remember who or where it was, but I once saw someone make an interesting distinction between horror and science fiction: that science fiction is a literature of ideas and horror is a literature of emotion. That’s an oversimplification, of course. Sweeping generalizations usually are. Switching to film for a moment, you can’t look at David Cronenberg’s body of work in the genre and find it light on ideas. I got the point, though. I understood where that was coming from. But there’s no reason that the two should be mutually exclusive. So I’d like to see horror be unwilling to cede that ground. To continue to strive to put forth the best ideas about the world and human existence that it can, and develop them as far as possible.

AB: What would your opinion be if Worlds of Hurt inspired others to write stories revolving around the Misbegotten?

BH: I’m sure I’d be fine with that, and find it very flattering, although I’d rather do more work on the mythology before turning it open source.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wordslinger Shootout time

The second round of  Kenneth W. Cain's Wordslinger Shootout has begun. It's me vs. KT "Calamity Jane", doing what we do best with the writing prompt "Wire Brush". Vote on your favorite and leave a comment for a chance to win great stuff to read. Go here.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Codex Born- Jim C. Hines

Codex Born is the second book in the Magic Ex Libris series, and an excellent continuation from the first book Libriomancer. Our hero Isaac Vaino, librarian and covert Libriomancer, a magician capable of pulling items directly out of books (I KNOW, RIGHT?! SIGN ME UP!!!), is sent to discover what killed a Wendigo. This is a problem, as whatever can kill a Wendigo is something is probably something that can cause a lot of damage to...well, pretty much anything. 

This is the part where I say that Wendigo killing is the very least of our hero's concerns.

Codex Born is an great follow up to Libriomancer on many levels. On top of providing a new playground for Hines' unique and wonderfully consistent literary Magical system to run around in, you also learn more about key players in the story line, both friend and foe. You discover some interesting things about Gutenberg as well, things that not only affect future stories in the series, but possibly some things that have already occurred as well. 

I recommend this series to anyone who loves to read, simply because Hines takes what we have done with our imaginations whenever we read and makes it just a little bit closer to real. I can't appreciate that enough. Five stars.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

State of the Aaron Address

Kenneth W. Cain is hosting a fun little competition over at his blog wherein sixteen authors are paired up, given a word prompt, and are turned loose to write what they can out of that. I am one of those lucky sixteen who will be taking part in the shootout.  What is to be won? Nothing less than FORTUNE AND GLORY!!

Actually, it's just for fun, much like caps locking FORTUNE AND GLORY!! At any rate, the details can be found here. A lot of good reading to be had from all involved, so check it out.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review: The Rhesus Chart- Charles Stross

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross is the most recent full-length novel in the Laundry Files, an on-going series that combines espionage, bureaucracy, and cosmic horror equally, and it's sometimes difficult to separate the three. It is also probably the best book in the series thus far.

Without giving anything away, The Laundry comes into contact with vampires (the non-sparkly variety) and it all goes horribly wrong and downhill from there. I'm marking this as the best in the series because of all the books in it thus far, The Rhesus Chart has the most straight-ahead plot without limiting complex subplots, the most character development on multiple levels, and a wrap-up that left me just saying "daaaaaaaamn" over and over again. It's an incredibly quick 370 page read, which is unfortunately because you really don't want it over and done with as quickly as it is. Very well done, 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Axes of Evil anthology

There are just some thing you think there should be more of, but you don't realize it until you see it for the first time. It's like when the Eggo waffle folks finally got around to making their own syrup. How hard of an idea was that to pop out? And how long did that take them? It's not rocket surgery, folks. I felt the same way when I heard about Axes of Evil, an anthology of horror stories based with heavy metal music as the central theme. Heavy metal and horror, the chocolate and peanut butter of my world, together in the written word. I could pee.

Axes of Evil is a huge (almost clocking in at 600 pages) collection of  stories ranging from the brutally hilarious to the downright evil. Personal favorites of mine include "Keltorrian" by Jacurutu23, "Extremophiles" by Lucy Taylor, "Battle of the Bands" by Joel Kaplan, and "Tones of Skin and Bones" by Michael Faun. The absolute gem of the anthology, in my opinion, has got to be "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" by Charlie D. La Marr. It's set at the utterly tragic fire that took place during the Great White concert the Station back in 2003, and is one of the most emotionally riveting stories I've read in awhile, horror or otherwise. It packs a punch and puts a serious lump in your throat.

This is a definite must for fans of horror and heavy metal alike. Four stars.