Monday, August 23, 2010

Lane`s and Moore`s books from Nightjar Press

‘When the Door Closed, It Was Dark’ by Alison Moore

‘Black Country’ by Joel Lane

Nightjar Press, 2010

The next two books from Nightjar Press continue to please fans of small form of fiction (there are not enough books for all fans, though: limited edition is only 200 and 300 copies). In this double both stories turned out to be good evidence that the small prose is alive and well, and one of the stories contains a little surprise.

Lane's prose is more elegant, but it also is required by the story itself. In the "Black Country" a policeman returns to the town where he grew up. The city itself, however, no longer exists: it is gradually deserted, destroyed, until it finally became a suburb. A policeman does not recognize home places: people are not familiar, old houses are gone, everything is absolutely strange. The case itself is quite a trifle, but with strangeness: it all started with a series of unexplained injuries to children - broken fingers, dislocated arms, but no children were not touched, they slept, and woke up already with injuries. Someone entered the newsagent, but except comics, nothing taken. Someone stole toys in a toy shop. Local police in confusion: all rowdy is children obviously, but children are always visible, everyone always knows who was capable of, no even clues. The protagonist seems to know what it was immediately on arrival in the Black Country. But he does not hurry with the investigation: drinking in bars, resting in a hotel, playing the harmonica among other musicians.

Lane in the story is a singer of the town, but the notes of his song are alarming. You can live without the past, rarely remember the past, but the past itself is capable of returning to the man. And often such a return will not be anything good.
The story «When the Door Closed, It Was Dark» by Alison Moore is not about memory but about fear, loneliness and misunderstanding. The beginning of the story is as the seed of Euro-horror: Tina, a maid, not understanding the language, comes to a certain country to work in one of the families. She has first taken care of the child: the boy has no mother, but the family has Father, Uncle and Grandmother. Getting to the house where she will live and work begins with a scene that you are waiting when the story becomes a slasher: the father of the child wrestles a pig out in the bathroom, then ordering the girl to remove bloodstains. The story, however, does not become slasher (and for the better, perhaps), but the goose bumps still will run for a short time while reading the story. Moore’s prose is angular, and this is explainable: such language would be used to tell a story of a person who does not understand the language of others, but trying to catch some words, but mostly read by others.

There is a surprise in this particular story: from Nightjar Press you could wait genre stories, but in «When the Door Closed, It Was Dark» there is nothing supernatural. If the author would give a country, where Tina arrives, the fictional name, the story would have passed into the category of horror, but without specifying any concrete names, the story, in fact, remains realistic. It should still say that it reads nevertheless not even like horror, but rather like a fantasy.
Two more books from Nightjar Press: We look forward to the next portion.

Mineshaft #25

Mineshaft #25

"Mineshaft" is a small magazine (only 52 pages), which is a sort of mix between a comic book and a literary magazine. Despite the fact that this is rather fanzine than a professional publication, "Mineshaft" is known because in every issue Robert Crumb’s works appear, and the cover of this issue is decorated with self-portrait of Crumb's daughter, Sophie. The Crumb family in this issue presented skits, small sketches, and Robert Crumb’s excerpts from his diary of dreams. It is surprising that in 2004 Crumb had a dream that he was Nicholas II and captured by the Bolsheviks, who, however, are not going to shot him.

The issue is opened by touching letters from fans of the magazine, underground artists. A short sketch of Pat Moriarty, dedicated to global warming, is well drawn, but too filled with the words, hence the loss of part of the charm of the picture. Jay Lunch’s "Eggwhites and Nehi" is a funny story, which does not aspire to any literary. A detailed critique of Crumb’s "The Book of Genesis" by Kim Deitch is interesting not only from the perspective of a comic critics, but also allows you to see the effect of Crumb on contemporary authors of graphic works, as well as works that have influenced Crumb himself, who now regarded the States perhaps the greatest comics underground author.

Simon Deitch in "The Devil’s Chicken "finds the roots of the Dodo bird, which appeared in Lewis Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland ". Despite the obvious humor of the article, the author accompanies the text of various illustrations explaining the origin of the birds. The beginning of Elizabeth Koenig’s comics «Dark Grounds» rooted in social problems within the family. Unfortunately, four pages of the beginning don’t allow saying how well the author completed the story. The issue completes with the told in dark colors comics "The Procedure" by Nina Bunjevac. The social aspect of the story - a pregnant woman eats and drinks too much - does not let me completely fall in love with this comic.

This is a noteworthy magazine, which has two flaws: it ends too quickly, first, and second: the texts are less successful than the comics, so I would like more comics.

Dark Faith

Dark Faith
Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

Apex Publications, 2010

This anthology has a very attractive title. What is a dark faith? Faith in the dark gods? Envious belief that you all will be good, but others will not? Insincere, opportunistic faith? Faith in something light, but from which you have nothing but trouble? After reading this book, I hoped to find out. But I failed.

The editors have tried, but their efforts have not been converted into qualitative result: almost the entire first half of the book is rather weak. Since the faith is still more about the soul than the body, then to write a good story, you need to describe soul experiences in not a trivial way. But most of the authors have a problem with that. Either way, the faith (usually in God) actually occurs in most stories, but it often comes down to a confrontation of good people and bad God. God is unfair, they say, and need to punish him. These antitheist motifs fill this book.
Vulnerabilities of many stories in that they are insipid: the people in them do nothing except suffer, up in the clouds, suffering after the loss of a loved one - and that's it. The story begins with the abstract suffering and, passing a short way into a few pages, ends with exactly the same spot where it had begun.

Unable to build a plot outline in a small room, the narrator could compensate this lack by stylistic maneuvers, but they do not succeed in that either. (This refers, again, to the first half of the anthology to a greater extent.)
However, closer to the middle of the anthology situation is corrected. The story of Kyle S. Johnston «Go and Tell it on the Mountain» is not just a damn funny story (in it Jesus jokes as a boozer at the bar) about the second coming, but a sad story in the first place not even about people but rather about God, about that the life is not easier for him than for all of us here on Earth. This is one of the most powerful stories in the collection, it is also written much more interesting than stylistically faded stories of many other authors of «Dark Faith». Nick Mamatas in a very bright and generous in the details «The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ» shows that God is something abstract, non-transferable, and therefore the faith in God is abstract, each sees in it something that can - and wants to - see. Half of the story describes a situation with mainly students, who watched The God Film (this is not a film about God, not a film with the participation of God, not even a movie directed by God), the second one is the actual movie itself.
«You Dream» by Ekaterina Sedia is a melancholic story about return to Russia, about how those you have lost will haunt you forever. Sedia has its effect by lyricism and native landscapes. A boy Danny Knifepoint Wielder in the story by Jay Lake «Mother Urban` s Book of Dayes» can cause rain, sees spirits, changes the future. Not too original, the story nevertheless looks advantageous compared to its neighbors on the anthology: Lake created a convincing character that already has over twenty, but with thoughts and behavior of a teen. Parable about the Artist and Death in the anthology is introduced by D. T. Friedman. In «Paint Box, Puzzle Box» the author raises yet another interpretation of the dark faith: faith in the immortality. The word "dark" here is really to the point: Artist could not escape Death, but he still left a loophole. Catherynne Valente in her zombie story «Days of Flaming Motorcycles» turned the topic of faith in the unique perspective of a relationship of not between a man and God, but through the human and zombie. Does zombie have a soul? - asks the author. The same question is asked by the protagonist of the story suspecting that her father zombie still has a soul.

The final part of the anthology, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired. All for the same reasons: not well-narrated stories.
It is worth noting that in the anthology there are 4 more stories, which have nothing in common with the theme of the collection, but the stories themselves are strong. These are «The Mad Eyes of the Heron King» by Richard Dansky, «Scrawl» by Tom Piccirilli, «Ring Road» by Mary Robinette Kowal, and especially «A Loss For Words» by John Hay. Kowal is able to create a memorable image, Pitccirilli has excellent sense of humor (the hero of his story is a writer of erotic fiction, the story itself is very funny), Dansky is not so elegant stylistically as Pitccirilli, but knows how to tell a story. John Hay wrote the original story about how a woman's body is -literally - a source of inspiration for a writer man.

Not a bad anthology with a dozen prominent stories, which, however, does not quite fit its name. Just «faith» would be enough.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Troll King

Kolbeinn Karlsson
The Troll King

Top Shelf, 2010

Retelling the plot of this truly insane book is a thankless job, exposing oneself to ridicule. Presumably the trolls (who knows how trolls really look? I do not know. The book has also no indication that it is trolls, the word "troll" is only in the title.) - underfed sumo wrestlers with the strange bags on their heads - live in a wooden house somewhere in the woods; put on a kind of veil, they go to the supermarket for food, cook pasta and smoke cigarettes. They are watched by another child of the forest, hairy hybrid of a bird and a snowman. After performing the rituals around a fire, they burn the scarecrow, get pregnant (though they look like one hundred percent men), through the anus they give birth to a child, which in the morning all the same bird-snowman presents to them. In the second part the picture changes completely, there is a red bearded man, surrounded by monsters that compel him to eat and drink. In the third part a carrot man appeared, and I think I should stop the retelling of this exciting Swedish delirium.

Actually, it is not so delusional as it may seem: the novel, composed of seemingly disparate parts, will complete in accordance with the logic, which may be in this absurd world Kolbeinn Karlsson invented.

Sweden is one of the countries where black metal flourishes, and this book is almost entirely built on what black metal breathes - on paganism. Narrative is so unusual, so engrossed in the natural essence, that would rather believe that the book written by one of the ancient tribes of Sweden, rather than a modern author.
The book is very skillfully written and drawn; in different parts the author changes the style, perfectly matching color.

«The Troll King» is one of the books in Sweden Invasion series. Judging by this novel, the series is worth paying attention.
Will it be a better compliment to say that this book is yet the most powerful graphic work I've read this year?

Undeleted Scenes

Jeffrey Brown
Undeleted Scenes

Top Shelf, 2010

«Deleted scenes» is called the not included in the film his segments, but are available as a bonus on the DVD. Jeffrey Brown, which American critics call indie comics legend and the genius of autobiographical comic books, named his 350-page book of his best works "Undeleted Scenes", very clearly identified the format. It consists entirely of fragments, pieces, which gradually set in a mosaic, although the fragments seem to be of quite different sources. The general is the life of the author. Besides the title refers to the fact that the fragments are not to be disposed of: some of them are the quintessence on two pages of what might have taken at least 50 from the other.

All the scenes are drawn by Brown himself and quite simple: black and white drawings, only the black lines on white. Technology changes a little throughout the book, but not much.
Brown wrote about that takes place in the life of twenty-with-something year old: the memories of childhood, meeting and parting with the girls, comic books, baby birth, work in the shop.

The book is quite funny: Brown the author puts Brown the hero in absurd situations, making fun of himself. Brown succeeds most in long fragments. In «Don` t Look Them In The Eye » lyrical hero becomes a victim of beggars, tricksters, boor shoppers, street madmen due to his naivety. He is fooled, he wonders, thinks, but in the end not much regrets that he is fooled by all those men who wanted to. «Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me» is a memoir about girls of the protagonist. At Christmas, Brown manages to tighten almost all of his girlfriends at once, and not finding out who suits him more. Brown the author chose an ingenious method to show the inner world of Brown the protagonist: each of his girlfriends is a mirror to the protagonist himself.

What needs to the book, that is the button "Del": some stories could be removed, they look quite clumsy (it’s the title of one of the previous Brown’s books).
It is not always exciting reading, but here as with life: how it had not been sometimes bored, but nothing could help.

Werewolves of Montpellier

Werewolves of Montpellier

Fantagraphics, 2010

Artist and author of no less than a dozen graphic novels Norwegian Jason in his work almost always uses the same scheme: a lonely and somewhat suffering hero lives, dying of boredom, a woman who seems not with the hero, but always has feelings to him, hidden under the animal skin (all Jason’s heroes are personified animals), their meeting, longing. The author seems not enough satisfied with just drama (rather melodrama), because of that he always makes his short novels thrillers, adding criminal component. At this time, the werewolves are called to stir the surface of the novel.

Boring hero that does not dissolve in a haze of uneventful life (though later he explains that it pushed his case from his youth), at night changes into werewolf and travel on the roofs of houses, climbs in the window, plundering tenants. Werewolf mask serves him like a cover and a scare track just in case, if the apartment owners suddenly would catch him for the crime. After one of the burglaries his picture, where he jumps from roof to roof falls in the newspaper. Fake werewolf did not think that the city has a clan of real werewolves that do not welcome the appearance of an impostor. They ask the weary robber to leave the city.

«Werewolves of Montpellier» is a sad and even somewhat funny novel about the fact that loneliness is not hiding under the mask. Is this novel better or worse than other works of Jason? Probably not. Despite repeated methods in his books, novels are utterly worth reading. If you have a werewolf friend, buy him this book. If you don’t, buy two.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

my interview with Lena Meydan

Lena Meydan is a bestselling author in her native Russia and won the Silver Kaduzei, the highest literary award at the Star Bridge International Festival of Fantasy, for her first novel. Her second novel, Twilight Forever Rising (translated by Andrew Bromfield), won Best Urban Fantasy for 2000-2005 by the 13th International Congress of Fantasy Writers in St. Petersburg.

- Lena, your novel, which is scheduled for September 2010, is about vampires. Do vampires in Russia differ from Western ones?
- Twilight Forever Rising will be released by Tor on September 28, 2010. This is a very multi-faceted novel and, I would say, multinational as well. Vampires have been living for centuries and, like people, change their place of residence, moving to different cities and countries. Little by little their community becomes very international. For example, the head of one family is a Greek woman who lived in the days of ancient Greece, the head of another family is a Marcomanni (Marcomanni lived on the territory of modern Germany), the head of the third one is a Gaul (Gauls were the ancestors of modern French). There are Italians, Irish, British, Arabs, and Bavarians, Czechs, Japanese, Swedes in the book... I travel a lot. I try to observe people in different countries, their behavior, temperament, read books about their history and culture. All of this is reflected in the novel as far as I could understand different people, different nations and their history. And, of course, I did not forget the Slavs. One of the vampire families in the book have Slavic roots and live an ancient Slavic way of life. I based them on the symbolism of an ancient Russian folktale "Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf". Even the head of the family is called Ivan.

- Can you define what kind of fantasy it is?
- I think it is vampire urban fantasy; maybe romantic urban fantasy. I think critics might be better at answering this question. Especially as I have heard repeatedly that with all the romance and lyricism inside the book, it has the features of a mystical thriller. It is an epic saga.

- Vampire fiction has flooded the fiction market. Are you afraid that your novel might get lost among the abundance of "bloodsucking" literature?
- There is a proverb "nothing ventured, nothing gained." No, I'm not afraid. I wrote about what I'm interested in and tried to make the book enjoyable enough so that it can be read many times. I, myself continue to be interested in the world of my novel and, of course, it’s my hope that readers will feel the same way.

- The fourth novel in series will be coming out soon in Russia. Will the whole series be published and translated into English?
- The fourth book is coming out in Russia on August 30, 2010. I hope the whole series will be translated. Of course, this depends on the audience’s reaction. So far, critics’ reviews have been positive. Remarkable authors Nancy Kilpatrick, Sherrilyn Kenyon and P.N. Elrod provided blurbs, which will be on the cover of the book. And now the translator is working on the translation of the second book in the series.

Twilight Forever Rising will be released on September 28, 2010 by Tor.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shambling Towards Hiroshima

James Morrow
Shambling Towards Hiroshima

Tachyon Publications, 2009

A successful b-movies star Syms Thorley is at the peak of his career: he stars in films with such titles as "Corpuscula", "Lycanthropus", "Curse of Kha-Ton-Ra" and their many sequels, writes his own script, which is already predoomed to success, and generally has fun life. Hollywood is Hollywood, but that is the early summer of 1945, Japan still resists in the Pacific Ocean, but the military plans are maturing how with minimal losses to end the war. For plan realization they need someone who knows how to convincingly play in the costume of the reptile. This is Thorley. After listening to a plan of U. S. Navy, Thorley could not believe his ears: there is a secret project that America wants to use to intimidate the Japanese without using nuclear bomb. A team of U.S. scientists raised in the laboratory dragon-like terrible lizards, like Godzilla, to release them on the Japanese cities. However, the reptiles were not dangerous than kittens, besides they don’t live long. The plan had to be adjusted: in a secret hangar an exact copy of one of Japan's cities had been built, the delegation of embassy had been invited, and the role of the lizard would have to play Thorley, especially for him the suit of mighty lizard had been stitched. According to the plan Thorley with stage effects would destroy the city to scare the ambassadors so that they would run to the Emperor to beg him to stop immediately the war to save innocent people from the giant reptiles.

If in retelling it looks just funny when you read this book this is very funny. It's not just an ability of Morrow to construct convincing despite its seemingly absurdity and impossibility plot, but that’s Thorley himself. That b-movies star jokes as good as Chandler’s Marlowe, besides he has a dig at Hollywood celebrities of that time (cinephiles will get a special pleasure), Thorley is witty and resourceful.

This brilliantly written short novel has, it seems, only one flaw: for all his playfulness and irrationality, Thorley is too contrite. But without actor's contrition this book which is the longest suicide note in the world as well wouldn’t appear.


Gary K Wolfe

Beccon Publications, 2010

For nearly 20 years (he began writing his column in 1991), Gary Wolfe is a permanent reviewer of "Locus". In his columns he usually writes about three or four or five books (such reviewing policy is set by the magazine), often finds in even the most dissimilar books something in common, any link. "Bearings" is his second collection of this kind. In the more than 400 pages volume contains his reviews written for “Locus” from 1997 to 2001. In the introduction Wolfe notes that he excluded from the book “year in review” columns, reviews of annual best anthologies, as well as small-circulation academic books, which is now difficult to obtain.

Whoever he wrote about, Wolfe always seeks the roots of modern science fiction writers in science fiction writers of the past, of "Golden Age", "New Wave” etc. He's very good at reviewing classic SF: the critic can not only praise covered with dust and sometimes outdated prose by Sturgeon, Bester, CM Kornbluth, William Tenn, but also give them a place in history, knowing that what was written 70 years ago can not be evaluated as well as what was written ten years ago.

He is equally good at reviews on both the author's collections and novels either. When reviewing the novels he is less than Clute absorbed with plot descriptions, digging deep into the problem, wondering how would a novel look after 5 years, and is there anything to expect from a writer in the future.

Wolfe prefers science fiction to fantasy; he is interested in hard SF as well. Among his favorite writers (judging by the number of reviews, attributable to the writer) are Le Guin, Elizabeth Hand, Sheri Tepper, Baxter, Greg Bear.
If Clute in his reviews builds Baroque performances, Wolfe rather is called a realist: he is persuasive, keen-eyed, trying to be unbiased.

"Bearings" is hardly a guide to all the attractions of fantasy and SF during five years, it is impossible to write a monthly column about all, besides that we need to consider the taste of the critic, but weak books among reviewed in this book almost did not appear - that's for sure: Wolfe simply does not spend their time on them.

Perhaps, there is not enough eccentricity in his text (sometimes reviews are too smooth to be interested), but it already can be attributed to his manner of writing.
That's 20 years of writing about the same theme in the same venue - and Gary K Wolfe didn’t write himself out. It needs a great talent for that.


Laird Barron

Night Shade Books, 2010

Laird Barron (“Occultation” is only his second book) have already been christened a successor of Lovecraft and the most promising writer in the horror genre. Barron had managed to get shortlisted for genre awards, won genre awards, and published his stories in year’s best anthologies. Is this good author's collection (three stories here original to the book)? Absolutely. Is this good horror collection? Not quite sure. Here's why.

Among nine stories and novellas in the book, the most powerful seem «The Forest», "The Lagerstätte", "Mysterium Tremendum", "The Broadsword" and "- 30 -. It is rather novelettes, and this is their advantage. When the Barron has enough room to display his talent, he is much more skillful and accurate. In these five stories the author can create such a dark atmosphere that even if you read this book during the day, always seems that now it is night. These works have the same features: extremely morbid attitude of the heroes of stories with the world. If the other stories in the collection, "Occultation", "Catch Hell", "Strappado", "Six Six Six", nightmare creatures (and sometimes they are hard to be named creatures - just something ghastly) appear as if suddenly, that all horrible, inexplicable, inhuman comes from outside, creating in some sort of surprise, in the already mentioned 5 other stories the beyond has no need to come from nowhere - it was as if baked in the system of the world according to Barron. And this creates an atmosphere of hopelessness and doom much stronger. In «The Forest» cinematographer comes to the forests of New England, where discovers that his fellow scientists conduct bizarre experiments on insects. All the time, while Partridge is in camp with friends, Barron describes as a viscous drowsiness of cinematographer, from the first pages you realize that something inexplicable, daze is already embedded in the genes of the story. And to survive, you need to change the cover. In "The Lagerstätte" woman loses in an accident her husband and son. Her life becomes a phantom: she goes to a therapist, trying to extricate herself from the depths of the memory of the victims, but the memories again and again pounce on her. Son and her husband return to her, and the woman does not know who they are and who she is now. "Mysterium Tremendum" (aka Black Guide) is a book a few friends find in a shop. It describes the strange places of the district where guys live. A wild journey of two gay couples turns into a nightmare. The old man and a resident of the hotel "The Broadsword" once lost a friend in Vietnam. He was not just killed, he had a something worse - he was kidnapped. The old man does not know, but guesses that kidnappers were not human. Tormented by not being able to save a friend many years ago, the old man lives as in delirium. Up until the victim's friend comes to visit remaining in human form old man. Even those stories that seem to be less strong as the stories are well-plotted.

Barron is also a very skilled stylist, also with brisk dialogues. Sometimes speech of the characters seems fake, but nevertheless you realize that people in principle say that way.

Repetitive elements fly through most of the stories: masks, doctors, dead children, young couples, worms. Attractiveness of Barron’s prose in the fact is that he never shows the thoughts of his characters. Heroes are absolutely transparent. It is ideally suited to the type of prose the author creates.

Why as a horror collection "Occultation" does not fully work? Laird Barron is a very talented writer as a realist. His prose is palpable, accurate in detail, even realistic, if I may say that about horror. Even the beyond in his stories so firmly encased in the reality that they do not contradict each other and make a whole. Is a horror story capable now to scary someone? I do not know. Not me. Besides that, the collection has another flaw, very serious. Novelettes and stories in it are generally very similar to each other. They are plotted on the same principle. Because of that the book is hard to read from cover to cover.

After «Occultation» it will be hard period for Laird Barron. If he does not create something new, doesn’t go to another level, it will be very good, but the repetition of the old. For the writer there is nothing worse than this.