Thursday, April 28, 2011

Best New Horror 21

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21
Edited by Stephen Jones

Robinson, 2010

Quality of anthologies of the best of the year is always determined by taste of the editor. When the book reaches the reader, the taste of the editor is divided into reader's taste, and that is determined the degree of pleasure from a collection.
Long-term anthologist Stephen Jones tends to old-fashioned horror stories, with their roots in Gothic fiction of the XIX century. Such devotion to tradition shows the inextricable link between horror literature of the past and the present, but most often harms a story. Because of its archaic story becomes predictable and suffers from disrepair style. In this book, there are several such stories. They are readable, not without some pleasure, but we should not expect some quality break from them. Fortunately, the book has some good stories, psychologically adjusted, often with an unexpected ending.

If the above-described type of a story is usually based on the type of story in story, when the protagonist in the now listens to the story occurred once, and this story contains elements of the supernatural, then in the most successful stories of the anthology narrator is here and now, and all the events happen to him in present tense.

There are not so much stylists among the authors of the collection, just two. Nicholas Royle in «The Reunion» elegantly tells the story of a meeting of medical graduates in a huge old hotel. Royle is able to twist the intrigue, sowing doubts in the head of the reader and his hero, and the final just baffles. Australian Terry Dowling writes with the French ease, too. In his story «Two Steps Along the Road» the author describes the case of modern exorcism in an exotic background. The scientist-exorcist at the beginning of the story seems to calm and know his business, but later he nearly becomes the victim of dark forces. I had read almost a year ago the story by Michael Marshall Smith «What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night», and after re-reading it gets even better. Smith brings life to all the worst fears of a man by throwing him to meet evil that has no explanations. This shocking story, however, has a bit of black humor.

Zambian miners and the spirits of Zambia become heroes of the story of Simon Kurt Unsworth «Mami Wata». Office manager flies to Africa to find out the reasons for sudden drop in production at one of the mines the company. The hero does not believe that all the fault is on otherworldly forces, while he is not facing them himself. In «Cold to the Touch» Simon Strantzas religious scientist arrives on the territory of the Far North, to find the cause of unexplained changes in climate. Two local residents help the scientist. Strantzas not quite manage to create a convincing image of the scientist who believes in God, but the story itself is full of horror and pain.

«Granny's Grinning» by Robert Shearman is perhaps more science fiction story than a fantasy one. Children receive gifts for Christmas from his parents: costumes of werewolf and zombie who literally grow into a person, making him a werewolf and a zombie, respectively. Grandmother after the death of her husband decides to celebrate Christmas with the family of her son. You will do everything for a loved one - even become a zombie. Very powerful story. Screenwriter and novelist Stephen Volk presents us unusual world in «After the Ape». This is indeed the world after the ape: King Kong was killed, and his beloved actress is suffering from the loss and stays for a week in her hotel room. Volk showed here his best skills: cinematic style and a world full of sex and violence (only this time without paranoia).

Lyrical and truly chilling story is told by Barbara Roden in «Out and Back». In an ordinary story about an abandoned place Rhoden adds unprecedented depth. Father and son King, I mean, Stephen King and Joe Hill, wrote a story «Throttle» about a gang of bikers. This is not the best story for King and for Hill, but it’s written in a fairly briskly, and the theme is suitable for the authors: the relationship between fathers and sons.

A decent collection with a handful of excellent stories.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

N+1 magazine #8 (Fall 2009)

N+1 magazine
#8 Fall 2009

This issue was published just in the midst of the crisis, and because of that some of the articles were dedicated to it. Now, two years later, these crises materials are outdated, but they reflected two things. Firstly, it is clear that in the midst of the crisis in the U.S. there was serious panic, the world for every American almost tumbled into the abyss. Secondly, the magazine showed his citizenship: its pages splashed with despair, anger and hope in their country.

The best articles of this issue are those to whom the financial crisis did not have relations. Gays are our utopian heroes. So begins the article «On Repressive Sentimentalism», balanced analysis of gay movement and its possible future. What can cause a general lack of any bans on gay marriage? Why do more and more people opt for same-sex unions? How far does sex without consequences determine human behavior in today's world? These and other issues Mark Greif raised in his article.

«So Little To Remember» is an essay by Philip Connors in the form of a diary, which at first I take for a piece of fiction. The author alternates between diary entries that he experiences after the suicide of her brother, with quotations from the books.
Digression into the film industry of Mozambique has been taken by Emily Witt in the «Cinema E Luxo». Mark Roth sees another death of the novel at the peak of so-called neuronovel. In his article «The Rise of the Neurovel» Roth examines the books in which the work of mind is replaced by the work of the brain, then there are novels where the protagonist suffers from any disease of the brain. Among these novels - McEwan with "Saturday" and "Enduring Love", Haddon with "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time", Lethem with "Motherless Brooklyn" etc. Roth found an interesting new angle on those books, but his final conclusions are not convincing. End of the novel was predicted for hundreds of times, but the end never came, by the same the total amount of neuronovels is very small to talk about some dominance.

We should also mention fiction component of the magazine. Juan Villoro in «Among Friends» mixes the criminal plot with kidnapping with descriptions of the reportage of Mexico. What immediately gives Villoro a South American, so it's genuine sadness and his sociality. On the cover of a magazine Villoro is named the best untranslated Mexican novelist, after that short story, we can already say that it is no exaggeration.

N +1 is the best source of intelligent reading which I know about.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nazi Literature in the Americas

Roberto Bolano
Nazi Literature in the Americas

Picador, 2010

This novel finally confirmed that Bolano is a great fabulist. Imagine a directory of encyclopedia articles, written by a sensitive and well-educated scholar who has never read the encyclopedia, but read a lot of science fiction (and not only by South American writers) and watched European films. The book has through characters, but each article-chapter is a separate article and is devoted to a fictional writer. Among them are poets, novelists, but most often it is the writers - those who write: from plays to the letters. There are those who write all his life until death, there are those that released in a lifetime only two books of poetry.

Nazi literature from the title of the novel is something that unites all very different writers in this book. Though there are not Nazi literature by and large in the book, but in the fate of every writer there is a vital episode associated with the Third Reich. For Bolano the use of "Nazi Literature" in any case is no way outrageous, but the formalities necessary to give the seemingly banal encyclopedic compilation in novel form some mystique.

To understand the humor of Bolano - and appreciate it - you have to be bookworms and bibliophiles. Humor begins with the title of the novel. And anyone who tries to take the book seriously will be disappointed.

The merit of Bolano is not only his boundless imagination and a subtle humor, but also a sense of proportion. He knows when to get bored, and chooses the correct volume for the book. No matter how different writers’ stories are, sooner or later the author begins to repeat himself- and ends the book. Bolano himself appears in the final chapter, thus placing himself in a number of imaginitive writers. I made you up, and I, too, am made up by someone else, Bolano implies.

Well, probably so.


Raymond Carver

Vintage, 2010

«Beginners» is a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver, which was released in its original form, as it is conceived by the author. Earlier this book was known as «What We Talk About When We Talk About Love» and was a collection of the same stories, but in the editing of Gordon Lish, who is credited as a discoverer of Carver as a writer. In the book there are some notes which briefly give the basic differences in the stories between the versions of Carver and Lish. Such comparisons with a limited amount of space in the book do not give a complete picture: to compare the original version and edition of Lish is only possible if you have before yourself the full versions of stories. So to say what version is "better" is difficult; moreover, both have remained in the literary memory. And that's a matter of academics, to compare and comment. The reader, of course, will simply enjoy reading.

And there is a lot of enjoyable stuff here. Carver is a phenomenal storyteller, often not even at the level of plot, not on a level as something happens or has happened, probably on a level as something never happened. Carver primarily is a storyteller on the level of feelings and emotions (again - not shown feelings and emotions), and the story serves as a sort of escalator.

Beginners, this is all the characters of Carver’s stories. They are not new to life, these people are already with life experience, but they are all beginners to the level of feelings. And in those stories that the author tells, his characters as if for the first time are experiencing real feelings. And often from such an emotional shock - resulting, in general, for the first time - they are lost, not knowing how to go on.

First-class writer, first-class collection.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Blue Light Project

Timothy Taylor
The Blue Light Project

Soft Skull Press, 2011

Eve Latour is a star. She is Olympic champion in biathlon and is known around the world. Latour became famous primarily because during the competition a cracker-sniper shot her in the leg, but Latour gave no sign, hidden injury and completed the race and won gold medal. She was bathed in glory, gave interviews, went around the world, was going to marry, but because of his father's death postponed the wedding.
Latour now works on TV and runs in the mornings. The reason for these workouts is the missing brother of Eve. When she returned from a trip to Europe, Latour discovered that her brother Ali was gone. Ali painted graffiti, filled his pictures in the most remote places of the city, so that Latour runs through the dark streets in hopes of finding his brother or at least someone who can give her any information on the whereabouts of Ali.

When Eve, along with Nick, who has not yet become her husband, watching television, they learn that someone took hostage an entire building with the children who starred in the TV show «KiddieFame», something like the "Minute of Fame" for the children.

Taylor introduces another important protagonist of the book as soon after the scene of hostage-taking. It is Rabbit, he is twenty-six. He partly is graffiti painter, partly parkur, partly implementer of a strange project. Rabbit, adding the device to selected of the roof of buildings, works on an installation.

This is a strange novel. He is superbly written, especially its second half. Taylor has charming style, he is very accurately conveys the tension, confusion, and hopes.
Time of the story is the future, 2014, the city has remained anonymous, but the author does not write science fiction, there is no change compared with our time there. Despite the seemingly serious subject that requires a correct approach, the author hadn’t written depressing novel, there are no anger, hatred, hopelessness, conversely, Taylor selects the protagonist of the novel light itself, and the author earned himself a hundred points with that, he is the author of hope.

The novel turned out metaphorical, not rudely embedded in reality. City’s name does not appear there, any historical names never appear in the text, the state machine is never called such. There are references to the terrorist attacks in Moscow and Beslan, but this is such beacons, which do not play a big role. Taylor seems to be not tied to the details, but it applies only to the details around terrorist attacks: everything else is very plausible, all the characters, their inner world, are three-dimensional; they are not puppets on the author’s string.

What, however, doesn’t quite work in this book, is incongruous inclusion of some storylines. The entire plot line of champion Latour doesn’t work at all. It is bound and serves only as sort of a lever, to somehow tell and fully disclose Rabbit and his project. The very story with the search of her brother, a worldwide fame at times are even annoying. Even the style of the author when he writes about Latour, is as if getting worse towards simplification.

And only that, perhaps, does not let to name the book excellent.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

White Heat

M J McGrath
White Heat

Mantle, 2011

The plot of this novel takes place on the Craig Island, near Canada, near Greenland. Edie Kiglatuk, an experienced hunter and guide, accompanies on hunting two men who wished to be in the extreme conditions of the polar north. But the hunt goes awry: one man is shot dead. His team-mate because of poor visibility hasn’t seen who shot Wagner. When the wounded man is brought to the hospital of Autisaq, the city where Edie lives Wagner is dead. Andy Taylor in the situation reveals himself not with the best side: nervous, panicked. In order not to raise the hype and not to call police with big land the mayor of the town decides to stay on a version of the accident: Wagner shot himself by a ricochet bullet.

Edie between two jobs is applied to alcohol and watches silent comedies. She and a local policeman Derek Palliser, who dreams of a major crime which he would have been able to uncover to win the heart of his wife, suspect that something is wrong associated with the death of Wagner, but both decide not to go against the Council of Elders.

If you take a look at the style of this novel, you never say it's debut in fiction. McGrath has a smooth style, not the Arctic cold, quite the opposite - full of energy and internal heat. Because of the stylistic elegance, this book certainly falls under the definition of "literary thriller". The main dignity if it, however, not even the style, bur well chosen surroundings. It’s incredibly interesting to see how people live near the polar circle. Because of constant cold, not only the daily life of a person changes, but his train of thought. Because of the remoteness from the mainland, in this case from the civilization as such, social structure of the Inuit is different from way of life of Americans and Canadians. With one hand, people living in the north, are not savages, but in general, normal people enjoying the benefits of civilization, not barbarians, not the pagans in their expression of extreme. On the other hand, the Inuit live only in their terms, do not like strangers, still retain the ancient traditions. All this allows the author to create an atmosphere for the reader unfamiliar, placing in the center of the plot a criminal story, not forgetting to create the complex background.

Mysery component, respectively, is largely determined by the environment: guide and hunter Edie, a lonely, but strong-willed woman who must not only unravel the crime, but also in parallel deals with natural conditions. The novel keeps in suspense until the last page, though detective plotline is the weakest and the most unconvincing. In the story there are vile Russian oil businessmen, fragments of meteorites, intelligent life from Mars, the fight for gas and almost a world conspiracy theory. All this looks like an awkward conglomeration of ideas, little related to reality. If you start to disassemble these waves simply from the standpoint of logic, the majority of composite lines will no make sense. The part of the mystery puzzle that relate to daily life of Inuit and quite a mundane motives, look much more authentic, perfectly fitting into the overall picture.

Though the author has not quite got to weave a perfect mystery in the picture of the created world, «White Heat» still is a very beautiful novel. And McGrath has already written a sequel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Skating Rink

Roberto Bolano
The Skating Rink
Translated by Chris Andrews

Picador, 2010

Roberto Bolano wrap around this short novel according to its title. The story is on behalf of three male heroes who change each other in short chapters. Thus, the reader moves in circles, like on a skating rink.

In the center of the story the girl Nuria Marti, figure skating champion, which unexpectedly due to reorganization of the national team has been expelled from the team and lost the grant. Nuria, famous after his victories, is deprived of the most important thing in her life. Local official Enric Rosquelles, overweight, unattractive, not very popular among women, is charmed by Nuria. The only possibility of being closer to beautiful Nuria, even though in purely platonic way, is to help her again to do skating, to continue training. Had not committed any crimes before Rosquelles makes a risky move that could cost him everything: an official on the public money behind the Mayor’s back built in the old stadium the new rink specifically for Nuria. On evenings they come to the rink together, and while Nuria trains, Rosquelles just sits and stares at her.

Two other heroes of the book, a Mexican drifter and poet, who turned out in the tourist town of Z, Gaspar Heredia and businessman and friend of Gaspar for the old days in South America Remo Moran are also drawn into the story around the rink.
Everything ends with, of course, murder, and the novel has even formal features of mystery: an investigation, unclear motives, several suspects, the double ending. But do not think that Bolano was writing this novel, keeping in mind only the detective.
Bolano is generally a big dreamer. Invent the idea of a skating rink to win a girl – onlu this already says a lot. By and large «The Skating Rink» is a novel about love, and a skating rink is a metaphor for love. It hides, becomes a secret, but when the senses go out, it is often too late, only blood on the ice remains.

Bolano is not only a visionary but also a big humorist. There are no jokes as such in the book, but then, that, as a writer collects different cliches and features from the romances, detective stories, black humor prose and then just lays out these cliches, gives a clue to the reader that all this is certainly an ingenious invention, despite the fact that book is very sad.

This Bolano’s book, but like his other books, of course what is commonly called the poet's novel. This is indicated in style of the novel, sliding, but full of Spanish (even though most Latin American) heat, and the novel's characters are poets. Moran and Heredia, they are that kind of character that all the time in dreams, nostalgic for the old days - and the old places - man, broken, but without strain, in search of the senses, but not letting his own feelings goes free.

Whether it's a bad novel, it would be finish this review with Bolanesque joke, quote from a radio – «We are all united by a stadium». But this is a good novel, but the same joke comes to mind. I think Bolano would appreciate the humor: we are all united by a rink.

The Suicide Collectors

David Oppegaard
The Suicide Collectors

St. Martin’s Press, 2008

After the Despair killed almost the entire population of the United States, in a small town in Florida only Norman and Pops survive. At the beginning of the novel Norman’s wife kills herself, and when the Siucide Collectors come for her body, Norman does what no one before him did: he kills with shotgun one of the collectors.
Having lost the last close person, Norman ponders the fact that situation like this can not continue more. During the five-year epidemic people stopped to see a purpose to his life and made - one by one - suicide. Mysterious Collectors has always appeared for their dead bodies and somewhere took away the dead. Remembering that one crazy man get to their town news about the scientist in Seattle, who works on a cure against the virus, Norman offers Pops to fly to Seattle on an old airplane. The old man had nothing to lose, just as Norman, and they decide to take on a dangerous flight. Fly to Seattle does not work, the plane breaks down, so that the rest of the way Norman, Pops and a girl with the name Zero goes on the ground.

In this novel there is a very good beginning and a very good end, all that is in the middle turned out not so well. Beginning, with scenes of rural life, with shocking scene of murder of the Collector, an evening drink of Norman and Pops, aptly reveals the state of the loneliness of those who are still alive and do not attempt a siucide. Norman, protecting the body of his dead wife, looks not like a superhero, but like an ordinary man who has recently been taken away all he got. Oppegaard chosen the narrator with a success. The novel is written from a third view, and the author does not allow us to look deeply into head of Norman. Something that becomes clear from his recallections, some from the phrases and actions, but in the rest of Norman - an enigma, and for himself as well.

The middle part sags: too much of cliche action, making the novel begins to seem like a novelization of the comic book. All along the way to Seattle villains are one-dimensional, their actions (and actions by Norman and co) are predictable, there is no tension, the chapters all the more boring and more boring, because you know that Norman would get up to Seattle.

The mystery of origin of Collectors, too, seems not very original, in general, even tortured, but in the end Oppegaard turn everything upside down. Before that «The Suicide Collectors» reads like dystopia mixed with horror, then in the end the novel resets all genre labels and beacons, becoming an incredibly powerful journey into the heart of darkness, when a man with essentially hollow inside is in an infinitely long tunnel full of darkness and a same emptiness. In the darkness, you forget who you are and where you are. In emptiness you see something you have never seen before.

After the death there is always a birth, and David Oppegaard managed to write about this not ideal, but a fascinating novel.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

new Nightjar Press chapbooks

Christopher Burns

Tom Fletcher

Nightjar Press, 2011

«Lexicon» and «Field» are two new books from Nightjar Press, which last year published very strong stories - on the edge of horror and dark fiction. The stories of this year are no worse than what we read.

If Christopher Burns debuts in Nightjar, then Tom Fletcher in the past year have already written the chilling «The Safe Children». His new story «Field» is written in a very different way. «The Safe Children» was science fiction with elements of horror, «Field» is pure horror. Fletcher in his story creates a world where there is no rational and irrational. It's the same thing. When a person is left alone with a black hole (figuratively speaking), you does not need to guess who will win in the end. Fletcher does not explain what and why, he throws a hero (as well as a reader) into the mouth of the vast nothingness. If you want to live - run. It does not matter that the field has no end.

Christopher Burns in his «Lexicon» deals with the more delicate matters. The hero of his story is a refined killer enticing victims to his home. Burns is playing with archetypes, and there is some connection between the sins of the past and present. Evil is continuous, it is transmitted, but not by inheritance, but through the elements of culture.

Recent stories by Nightjar Press again did not disappoint. And Tom Fletcher must now enter the premier league of British horror.


Neil Jordan

John Murray, 2011

This, as critics say, Gothic, although it is absolutely realistic, novel begins with the funeral. One of the two who is constantly confused is dead. The one that remains alive writes a long letter (which became this book) to the daughter of the deceased.

Two boys are confused since childhood. Kevin Thunder, the protagonist, lives next door to the house where once lived the author of "Dracula" Bram Stoker. The boy often seems that he is constantly watching vampire, sometimes even talking to him in the dark. Kevin begins to understand that he is mistaken for someone else first, when he was caught in a comic book store: another boy stole something and the seller accepts Kevin a thief and tells him get out. Then again, Kevin is mistaken for another boy, when one of the high school boys offers him a cigarette: the last time you smoked, says senior. So, Kevin begins to suspect that there is another boy from another school, so like him that they are almost impossible to discern. Once in the queue for ice cream a girl calls out Kevin and wonders why he did not call, even though he had promised. Kevin does not tell her that he is not who was supposed to call. Kevin pretends for weeks, walking with a girl on a date, he even likes to be so different.

Kevin first meets with his counterpart, when high school students take away pocket money, and Kevin defends mistaken boy Gerald, who later became a writer. They are both in awkward situation: they are often mistaken. Kevin advises Gerald to call the girl, which he once has not called.

Despite all the realism, the novel actually reads like something mystical. Jordan has a distinct style, which successfully blends into the narrative while giving away cold, but and the same time waking-up emotions. The author then started a triple play: there are three writers here – Jordan himself, Gerald and Kevin. And Jordan skillfully uses this twist, affecting issues of writing, sometimes merging with the protagonist, sometimes pulling away from him.

The narrative is divided into two layers: in one Kevin remembers his past, in another he meets the daughter of the deceased twin and tells her about her father, helps her to deal with personal life, replacing her father thereby. Twins’ fate was such that each of them thinks his life as a failure, living in vain and for nothing. But each of the two dreams that it appear they are on-site each other, then things would have been much better. Everyone would get what he wanted. They both want to live someone else's life, forgetting that one should live his own life.

The culmination of the novel can be considered the murder of Loretta, Gerald's mistress. Jordan, as expected, could not do without murder here. But the murder in the novel is completely in place, interspersed here not to just add suspense, which is already enough here.

«Mistaken» last but not least is a novel about jealousy. Brothers frankly envious of each other's lives, but because of the fiber of a character, none of them does not openly show his envy.

Jordan took up the challenge - to write an unbanal novel about twins. He won. Perhaps the main fault of this book can be attributed only to the final, when the reader learns the mystery of twins. Version that the brothers have been adopted and that in fact they are the sons of cyrcus woman seems even vulgar on the general background of the novel. The author prepares the reader to the mysterious riddle, increasing tension with each page. And then we learn about some twin brothers of dissolute mother. It's like a Gothic facade of the building in which someone threw a rotten egg.

It would have been a brilliant novel if not that end.

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

Georges Perec
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
Translated by Marc Lowenthal

Wakefield Press, 2010

In this novella (although it is rather a separate genre under the name "stapled sheets of scratch pad") a French classic Perec, author of the translated books "Things","Life A User’s Manual”, etc., attempts to describe the indescribable. Perec actually is not a writer, he is describer, fixator. During three days in October 1974, the writer sat in cafe and wrote down everything he saw, everything that came within his field of vision.

Perec finds rhythm in emptiness, finds consistency in the daily nature of things, challenging time. Time, by Perec, is not measured for years and minutes, but for buses, boys with a dog, a man in a tie, pies eaten on the go. Perec is aware that it is impossible to fix everything that happens: in a second there are so much microevents that even the human eye can not see everything. Nevertheless, the writer exhausts place. It's funny that the title of the novella consists the word «place», though the book seems to be about time, not a place. But without the space time does not happen, and vice versa.

In the best moments this book is reminiscent of free verse, in the worst - optional clippings from old newspapers.

«A mailman with satchel
Two meter maid-to-orders
Two dogs, brothers, Snowy type
A man in a beret, looks like a priest
A woman in a shawl
A granny with baby carriage
A man in a Russian fur hat (it’s the same one, he’s come back)
A priest in a beret (another one)»

Perec does not write, he describes, but his description of time and space leads to the sad thought: in our life there is actually much more emptiness than we think.