Archive for the reviews Category

Review: 12 Burning Wheels by Cesar Torres

Posted in reviews on March 3, 2010 by Jaym Gates

12 Burning Wheels: stories of the strange and the wonderous.
Published by M Brane SF, 2010
82 pages

I first met Cesar Torres through Chris Fletcher of M-Brane SF. I read Cesar’s blog, and the writing and themes within drew me in right away. So, when I heard that he had a collection come out, I jumped right on the opportunity to read and review it.

12 Burning Wheels was born out of a challenge that Cesar set for himself: write 12 short stories in 12 days. This is the result of that challenge.

Cesar nails the horrific and the weird. This isn’t stomach-turning viscera, though that isn’t too far around the corner. Instead, this is a lovely example of Weird fiction.

Some of the stories do venture into the gruesome. None of them shy away from sex, violence or uncomfortable situations, yet they also bring forward an unexpected tenderness in some cases.

Cesar is a member of Outer Alliance, an advocacy group for the positive inclusion of LGBTQ issues and characters in genre fiction, and 12 Burning Wheels does a great job of traditional and non-traditional relationships, and portraying both the positive and the negative.

Particular stories stuck with me, long after I went on to other things.

The Scryer is visceral, brutal and nasty. It also has a solid bit of world-building behind it, and would do well as an expanded story. Lemonade, the synopsis of a play, has the potential to be a great New Weird novel.

Mantis Love is a gentler piece, quite melancholy in its portrayal of a gay couple attending prom and the results of that. The weird, in this story, is a backdrop, the focus seems to be on the couple, and that brings an entirely different mood. Madre Catrina is another story that focuses on the characters, and brings out Cesar’s gift for showing the subtle dynamics of a relationship.

My personal favorite? Dig Your Own Hole. Straight Weird with strong mythological elements. For this one, in particular, the shorter length was perfect.

The strengths of this collection are in the subtle details of weirdness that slip into the most common-place description, and in the delicate portrayal of relationships. Cesar stays away from shmoopy romance to portray the reality and challenge in a sympathetic light.

12 Burning Wheels could benefit from expansion. Given the scope of the challenge set for himself, what Cesar has here is impressive, and I would like to see what these stories would do as longer works.

Keep an eye on this guy. Seriously.

Oh, and as a bonus? Cesar put together a playlist for the collection. It can be found on Youtube for free, or downloaded on itunes from his website.

(Disclaimer: I was given this ARC to review. The opinions are my own, and not influenced by anyone/thing except my own disturbed brain. I received no compensation for doing so. Promise. No, you don’t get to go poke around in my soul-closet. There’s no one there that you need to worry about. Now SHOO!)

Reading List: November

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , on November 10, 2009 by Jaym Gates

I ran out of interesting new books about two months ago. Oddly, I still HAVE books I haven’t read, but lacked the interest to get into them. I still have a Piers Anthony, two Rawn, a couple of Eddings, and two Huff books to read. The Eddings books need the rest of the series before I’ll read them, the Anthony and Huff books just failed to grab my attention, and I’m reading Rawn’s first book in the car while waiting for mom’s bus to show up in the evenings.

I needed new books. After re-reading Neil Asher’s Gridlinked–which I still enjoy, even after two readings!–and a Pratchett book, bits and pieces of half-a-dozen other things and plenty of research books, the three-week-long wait for my order from Powell’s was nearly unbearable!

Yes, I squeed when the box arrived. Here’s why:

Scar Night, by Alan Campbell. I started here when my new books came, and holy hell, that might have been a mistake. I’m not sure even favorite authors can follow this!

I will temper the glow with a comment that I’ve got a soft-spot for Poe, and stay away if you don’t like very dark, rich description and prose. But I swear, you can see, hear and taste the surroundings. I dream of being able to write like this.

The Riddle of the Wren, by Charles de Lint. I have yet to read anything by de Lint that I don’t love. Strong hopes for this book too.

Misspelled, an anthology edited by Julie Czerneda. I try to get at least one anthology with every book order. It’s a great way to find new authors.

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett. A great man, an amazing writer. Again, I’ve never read one of his books that I didn’t love. Most of them haven’t been read just once, either.

The House of Gaian, by Anne Bishop. A friend gave me the e-books of the Dark Jewels series a while back, and hooked me forever on an author I already liked. The first two books of this series were my introduction to Bishop, I’m hoping the third is as good.

Street Magic, by Caitlin Kittredge. One of the two new authors I’m sampling in this order. I attended a couple of panels that Kittredge was on at Dragon*Con, and liked what I heard.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. If I had a penny for every time I’ve been told I should read this book…

I’ll write reviews on all of them, hopefully. In the meantime… READING!

Book Reviews: Haunting Tales

Posted in reviews with tags , , , on October 27, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Halloween/Samhain is a perfect opportunity to drag out the horror tales, the scary clowns, blood and demons. There must be hundreds of great Halloween reads out there.

These two are specially-suited for a nice, chilly Halloween read with a cup of cider, a fire, a warm–living–body and a blanket. Both are specifically spooky, which is not unusual. Both are elegant, populated with rich characters, and chilling. True elegance seems to be rare in Halloween fiction.

Anne Bishop’s Tangled Webs
328 pages

The War of the Blood has been fought, Witch has healed, and the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan has made it clear to his Queens that he will not tolerate threats against his wife. All should be at peace, yes?

Not all threats died with Dorothea and Hekata. An un-jeweled landen has just discovered a secret. But his secret, what he believes should put him on a level with the SaDiablo family and the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, is about to get him laughed out of society. A mystery writer, he is being upstaged by another writer, a woman of all things, a white-jeweled witch!

Jarvis has had enough. And then Jaenelle Angeline, Witch, Dreams Made Flesh, decides to build a spooky house to teach the landen what the Blood are…and are not. It’s meant to be a lesson to Blood and landen alike, a reminder of what they bring to each other. It plays on misunderstandings, superstitions and folktales. It’s a harmless bit of fun, so long as you don’t kick the kindred.

But there’s another spooky house on the block. Jarvis hires Black Widows, witches who weave illusion and poison into webs of lethal beauty. He brings in demon children, Eyrien Warlords, and illusions that do bite. And then he sends invitations to the SaDiablo family.

With Surreal and her escort Ranier stuck inside the spooky house with seven landen children, it’s up to Lucivar, Jaenelle and Lucivar to get them out.

But first, Surreal and Rainier have to figure out how to stay alive in a house that takes every advantage the Blood have and turns it against them…and how to turn the tables on a bitter man who doesn’t plan on anyone getting out alive.

Tangled Webs can be read alone, although it’s better to read it after the Dark Jewels trilogy. It’s a spooky, creative adventure with a very real amount of danger to beloved characters. The ending is satisfying, and the action is fast-paced.

For Halloween? Bishop has witches, demons, haunted houses, skeleton mice, grapes that turn into eyeballs, spiders and just about every other Halloween treat you can imagine. It spooked me for sure…especially because one of the huge Palmetto bugs got into my room while I was reading!

Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
215 pages

But one strange wild dark long year, Halloween came early.

Two boys, a Midwestern town, a carnival that is more than it appears to be. Will and Jim are just boys, boys with a town to explore and lives to live. Standing on that weird boundary between child and adult, they spend a lot of time thinking about dreams, responsibility and the philosophy that seems to come with twilight.

The train comes at midnight, chuffing softly into the town. No one plays the towering calliope while the whistle wails with a thousand lost souls. In the morning, it is all lemon yellow, and grass green, and candy apple red; but when night comes, the carnival shows its true colors. All the delights of a boy’s heart are there, and they may cost him his soul, his family, his freedom.

Can Will and Jim undo what they’ve done in time to defeat the grand schemers? Will they survive?

This was my first Bradbury book, and it was easy to see why his books are such classics. Deep characterization, brilliant settings and strong voice make this book hard hard hard to put down! It’s genuinely chilling in a much deeper way than most Halloween-based fiction. And it will certainly stick with you.

There you have it. I’ve found two books, but what have I missed? What elegant, chilling tales of Samhain are out there, and who wrote them?

(No, I’m not making any money off of these reviews. I bought the damn books. And this disclaimer is annoying the hell out of me. Does the government really feel the need to watch-dog blogs now?)

Shock Totem: Issue 1

Posted in reviews with tags , on October 13, 2009 by Jaym Gates

How often does one get lucky enough to snag the FIRST issue of a great magazine? Well, this time, I got lucky.

Shock Totem is a bi-annual dark fantasy and horror magazine. But calling it magazine seems a little understated. I pulled it out of the package and my mom immediately said “That’s the magazine you were waiting for? That’s gorgeous!”

And gorgeous it is. 100 pages of high-quality paper, bookended with a lovely glossy cover, it’s more like a mini-book than a magazine. This is a publication that belongs on the bookshelf–or the coffee table. The cover itself hints at a fascinating story, artwork contributed by Robert Hoyem.Tasteful gray-scale photos add to the mood and help break up the print.

The fiction is particularly well-rounded. The mood is cohesive enough to tie everything together, the theme makes each piece stand out. To me, the fiction in this issue felt very quiet, perhaps understated. Even the gore and death was done in a tasteful, soft manner that made it all the more memorable.

Les Berkley’s First Light has to be my favorite for setting. The blend of old and new, of technology and magic is what I am always looking for in my reading and almost never finding.

For the story itself? The Music-Box by T.L. Morganfield. I just keep coming back to that one, although it is the most mundane in setting.

There isn’t a single weak link in Shock Totem’s first issue. Book reviews, interviews and fiction are all strongly-written and memorable. Although there are certainly many elements of fantasy in the stories, there are also stories where there is no fantasy. A little bit for everyone who likes a good twisted tale.

Shock Totem can be purchased at their shop. It’s worth every penny.

*disclaimer for the bloody FTC: I made no money off this. I paid for it. You know, like buying milk. And now I’m saying ‘hey, this magazine is pretty good’, and it’s like saying ‘hey, this is the milk I drink’. So don’t get yer panties in a knot over it. However, if you should happen to want to pay me for this review, I suppose I could accept that. With kicking and screaming and the proper disclaimers of course.

‘The Hunger’: Review

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , on July 8, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Browsing Netflix late at night is apparently either a really bad idea… Or a really good idea. After watching Corpse Bride last night, I stumbled across The Hunger, a series I had never heard of before.

The first episode I watched was Menage a Trois, the second episode of the series. Since Hunger bills itself as horror, I wanted to ease in slowly. Menage had less of the horror (in my opinion), but lots of sex. It was actually very well done for a small-budget production.

The Swords, Plain Brown Envelope, Anais, A Matter of Style and Footsteps were the others I watched. Of those, Style was easily my least favorite, but The Swords and Footsteps took the favorite category by storm.

Each episode opens with host Terence Stamp in some form of costume, expounding on different concepts of life, love, lust and depravity. It then slips into a story, often one narrated by one of the characters. Dialog is minimal, imagery is the key of the series. Some of the actors come across a little wooden, others sizzle. This does seem to be primarily character-driven, as plot is often minimal and most episodes are vignettes in people’s lives.

Daniel Craig is the male guest-star of Menage, and he pulls a tortured, lost act very well, possibly the best act of the series so far. The female stars tended to be fairly similar, even those billed as ‘exotic’ were the same small breasted, brunette (or red-head), pale pretty-girls. But one of the better aspect of the show was, to me, the every-man sort of characters. I could see these being real people, real events, even with werewolves and vampires. While the supernatural did make frequent appearance, it was submissive to the story, utilized as another character facet.

The over-all feeling of the show is a nice dystopian grit. The opening and closing sequences are often thought-provoking, the music is perfect. The writers of the episodes are noted horror authors like Poppy Z. Bright, Harlan Ellison and Gemma Files, and they generally deliver. The horror–at least in the episodes I watched–is not particularly gruesome or chilling, but that might be different in other episodes. The sex is soft-core erotica, with a bent for the kinky and animalistic, and really does go a long way to setting the mood of the episodes.

Overall, I like this series a lot. It has moments of being thought-provoking, and since each episode stands alone, they can be watched in any order desired. If you don’t like sex, stay away, there is plenty of that. Blood too, and disturbing images. The Hunger is dark, punchy and beautiful in a very dirty way.

And really, isn’t that what humanity is about? What fantasy, science-fiction, romance and horror writers really write? Lust, blood, brutality, folly, hunger?