Tag Archives: Review

Review: Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

27 Oct

Wells are for bells, swift slices, gory paintings, tunnels to everywhere, forgotten footsteps, enchanted afternoons, impeccable burglaries, locked in the locket of house’s owls, sultry sketches, devious daydreams, disappearing drives, lawful indiscretions, lonely afternoons, mysterious paternity, talking to elves in the painting, the unseen sands that draft at night, the empty refrigerator, stone portraits, romantic graveyards, tea-filled tires, jaguar breaths, silk bathrobe ties, stained drawings, war crimes, famine, the soul of Bluebeard, the rags of finery, meaningless piles of money to set aflame, and spies will be your friends.         

Review: Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky (Dynatox Ministries; 2015)

11 Dec

“Loveliness like a Shadow”

This first story in this collection has a crisp, clean, traditional style. 

It unnerved me first with this passage:

“She was about 5 when she first experienced it. Sleeping on the bottom bunk, her older sister snoring on top. A thin naked woman had settled on her chest, a coiled weight, loose skin slopping over her ribs into the floor. Wild confusion of hair trembling in the air like shock lines around a comic strip character’s head. A stunningly beautiful face. Mask of someone else’s mask. All that hair whipping and hissing with blind aggression.”

Yet it also contains haunted frames of contemporary malaise: 

“All of her actions were familiar, like an old videotape recorded over long forgotten shows, fleeting images of the original programming peaking through.” 

Although the style is orderly, the ambiguous ending and the desolately lonely madness of the atmosphere recalled Robert Aickman and Karl Edward Wagner. 

“An Infestation of Stars” 

Wow. This one, by its end, reached undreamed-of, dizzyingly weird heights. Let me leave you with an odd phrase as a hint or clue: “insect morality.” Trust me, it won’t make sense until you conclude this cosmic-horror-meets-Kafka-meets-Eyes-Wide-Shut tale. 


A subtle tale with a strong sense of dread and remorse. The mysterious, Kafka and MC Escher-ish nightmare that the narrator encounters is made even eerier by the fact that the specifics of the tragedy are never addressed. Terrible smells accompany a surreal and haunting visual at the tale’s end.

“No One is Sleeping in This World”

Slatsky has an impeccable eye for weird-tale world-building detail as seen here:

“I often dream of alien lands, obelisks wrapped in parasitic vines, foliage leeching minerals from the stone; glass and resin buildings shaped into spirals of filigree; mile-high mounds of compacted soil, crumbling surfaces pocked with networks of tunnels. I’d catch furtive glimpses of unusual folk, presumably masked, peeking from strangely configured clerestory windows or behind columns sculpted from enormous vertebrae.”

We enter a strange and intriguing premise: two filmmaker’s record the insides of a strange architects building of the “Luciferianism”-style. The pair bring an anarchic spirit to their projects, sometimes getting denied visas because of their methods. When they are barred from entering a certain building designed by this cult architect, they must find another way inside.

I won’t spoil what they find but only offer that the idea of a sentient city forms part of the Lovecraftian canvas painted at the tale’s crescendo.

“Making Snakes”

It certainly was terrifying to encounter the “powdery man”:

“The man’s eyes were deeply set in a wrinkly face powdered with stage makeup, like an actor from the silent era. A cigar dangled between his gray lips. He spoke in the high pitched voice of a prepubescent boy. Wanna make snakes?” 

A reek of trauma infests this tale as well, the terrifying image found on the abandoned dump referring back to the imagery of “Corporautolysis” slightly. 

The idea of the “powdery man”, his abilities, and his only repeated phrase reminded me of that German book Der Struwwelpeter.

An odd interest in the fissures and decay of buildings, of stains, and of the supernatural ingrained in the dejected or overlooked spots of our material reality. 

“The Ocean Is Eating Our Graves”

An incredible amount of research must have gone into he writing of this tale about Levi and Mariee, twin Native Americans who grew up on a reservation and discovered a mutant skeleton while they were children.

Levi moves off the reservation and gets a respectable job while Marie stays and also acquires a respectable job. New remains have been discovered, yet some have been tampered with. Then Mariee disappears and Levi investigates several collections, including his sisters garage where he finds a complete mutant skeleton. I’ll end my summary there so as not to give too much away. 

These are a few spellbinding passages I couldn’t refrain from quoting:

“His mind couldn’t quite interpret what he was seeing. The vague notion that an albino ribbon worm rose before him into the air so high it might punch through the clouds was all he could process. It’s tubular body glowed with an inner luminescence, radiant against the black rain clouds as it swayed in place. The stench of organic matter long decomposing on the ocean floor wafted across the beach.”


“He arrived home in Salem just as the sun was rising. Exhaustion and grief pulled him down onto the couch. He dreamt he was flying over the ocean, the sky filled with the flapping wings of death owls. He felt sleek, like he’d grown a layer of otter’s skin. But the death owls were not birds. They were plump, albino things flopping in the dark and suddenly Levi wasn’t in the air but deep underwater. He plunged into a crevasse. Into abject blackness.”

“This Fragmented Body”

Like an avant-garde Child’s Play, this story is truly wonderful. 

I’m going to read this one again.

After we catch a nightmarish glimpse of a doll petting a boy’s head from the perspective of the doll (“The Doll touches the boy’s hair and marvels at how soft it is. So unlike the cold, smooth surface of its own head.”), we are introduced to Jarrod and Mark. 

They met during college at a Black Flag show; they were two of the only Black kids in a predominantly white 80s punk scene–they are also gay. There’s some discussion about Darby Crash having to hide his sexuality–“Germ burns” are also referenced; I presume this refers to tattoos of The Germs symbol (a blue circle).

Why Jarrod becomes “concerned about their neighbors” a few pages in remains mysterious to me [Note: on a third reread, my guess would be the power outage.] It turns out one of their neighbors is a girl missing an arm (Jared is missing a leg). But, unlike him, she does not have a prosthetic limb. 

Two other neighbors are also amputees. 

I won’t spoil all the twists and turns of this magnificent tale, but will say there are all a multitude of ideas, perspective, and classic horror tropes turned upside down to surprise even the most jaded literary horror fan. 

“Tellurian Facade” 

This one reveals itself gradually although never completely. It’s like looking through slits in shutters and catching horrible glimpses of scenes of domestic heartbreak where Lovecraftian shadows may also linger. 

“Film Maudit”

Another brilliant one. I’ll have to leave you with the last line; no, it won’t be a spoiler. You’ll have no idea how he got here: “A light as harsh and raw as peeled stars flooded the theater.” 

This one unexpectedly crescendoed with an intense emotional insight, despite the lurid content–although, since it is about a cineaste, that content was filtered and separated by the eye, the bulb, the screen, the projector’s glass…or was it? 

“A Plague of Naked Movie Stars”

Wow. The stories keep getting better and better. This was definitely a favorite–right up there with “This Fragmented Body” and “Film Maudit.”

This one blends sci-fi, cosmic horror, mystery, and 80s horror cinema expertly. 
Slatsky has an ability to draw the reader in with a plain, neutral voice but then offers twists, visions, and threatening implications that are entirely his own, bizarre, and frightening in their alien shapes and daring permutations. 

“Scarcely Have They Been Planted”

Very Faulknerian.


This one reminded me a bit of Stephen King’s “Trucks” due to the way the fierce and threatening inanimate objects were written about. 


This one is quite experimental and wild. I found the burning mechanical horse imagery beautiful and the scenes of the cockfight riveting. 

There was also something palpable, vivid, and physical about this tale, despite many confounding but brilliant moments. 

Definitely one to reread, allowing it to shed its many meanings like the skin of a snake. 

If you have any interest at all in weird fiction, you NEED to read this book.

Read Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky

Review: Ecstatic Inferno by Autumn Christian (Fungasm Press; 2016)

3 Dec


“They Promised Dreamless Death”

A future is stained by urges for psychical annihilation because vampires stand at bedsides howling for 20 years. 

Reading this first story made me think of another Fungasm author: Violet LeVoit. They both blend genre tropes with mesmerizingly poetic lines–that’s not to say that their voices are similar but that they approach writing from a similar angle. 

This line stood out: 

“Life would be better if we weren’t present during our difficult transitory periods, if we shut off the part of us that thought and felt and tasted, and slid our heads down on dark waters while the machines lived for us.” 

A scary yet prescient line indeed in our age when we frequently disappear into our technology. 

Another poetic and startling line:

“I had to plaster every deer that stepped in the headlights and keep melting the asphalt with Jeanine’s teeth and my foot on the pedal and her warm honey shy eyes in my stomach because I’d never feel that way again.” 

One can sense the pleasure overwhelming and reordering reality and spatial planes here. 

Sometimes weird and wonderful ideas might slip past you in the seductive, otherworldly flow of the language–such as here: 

“I think that while the world is sleeping a new entity will enter our universe, like a thief in the night, creep over our head-fog, and take away our bodies and our space, infiltrate our energy and our nightmarescapes. If the world ever walks, I don’t think it will ever know what it used to be.” 

The world–having been taken over by an evil entity–will not remember what it used to be if it walks. You could build an entire story around this casually mentioned concept! 

When Jeanine calls the narrator a “deadhead,” I did wonder if he’d had one of the machines in his head since he couldn’t recall why he had refused the operation. That coupled with the fact that Boxy only answers to Jeanine (“the name of every pretty girl”) suggests that there’s something screwy with the narrator’s perceptions as he jumps into the lake even though he mentioned earlier they’d be going there “so we’re not going to die.” 


The imagery in this story about skull-conjoined sisters is terrifying in both its precision and originality:

“His mouth stretched. Heavy. Yawning. Burrowing, big mouth. Big tongue. Crystals studded his tongue. They shredded the roof of his mouth so that the skin hung down in thick strips, and when he breathed the strips fluttered.” 


“The crystals grew heavy in his mouth, and when he unlatched the window they sparkled in darklight. My sister’s snowpowder hair fell off the bed and he bent down and wound it around his wrists to drag himself closer to us.”

I picture the most evil cereal box cartoon monster ever here. Although perhaps that is a misleading statement for this story is bleak: “I imagine she wanted to dip us in formaldehyde and nail us to a piece of wood to sell to a curio shop.” 

After the conjoined sisters startle and assault a terrified boy in the woods, the smaller sister says “It’s fun to be a monster.” 

Later they go on a date which goes awry–however, they eventually get revenge on the incubus by ripping out his crystal tongue. This story is somehow wacky, devastating, and creepy. 

“Your Demiurge is Dead”

I enjoyed the surreal world-building in this one during passages like this:

“There were three trash bags of summer-heated, red exposed fetid god flesh that washed up on the Gulf of Mexico.”

This tale is more of a slow-burner than the other two. 

I particularly enjoyed the weird imagery of the faery hole.

“Sunshine, Sunshine”

The “sunshine man” is an eerie figure who will search “for women so he could bury his hands into their hair, make love to them not with skin but with needles and blood finger-painting, transform them with wounds and later dissect them upon his tables.”‘

There is a breathtaking originality and strangeness to lines containing ideas like making love with “blood finger-painting” and to “transform them with wounds”–it’s as if destruction and mutilation is viewed as a delicate and artistic virtue. I’ll quote a bit more from this stellar paragraph:

“He collected these women like butterflies beautifully pressed between pins, and his sunshine house hid a labyrinthine cellar maze underneath full of freezers and tubes and monsters that lived in family portraits. He killed delicately, spread out bones and skin like wings, preserving them in ice and serum, stored inside locker rooms that he visited sometimes like favorite poems, counting off delicate, torn paper haloes. Freckles and indigo eyes were favorite lines, and he gently touched the places he drained of blood, sensual but not exactly sexual, like he smell that lingers after rain.” 

“Pink Crane Girls”

Loved the idea of “simulated sunlight cafes” in this one.

Also, this odd glimpse:
“Behind him a girl sat, her back to the line going out the door, her pink dress unzipped and revealing the layout of her protruding spine. It didn’t seem like a real body part, but something holographic, simulated, a real spine wouldn’t be on a girl constantly humming and vibrating to frequencies we couldn’t comprehend.” 

“Out of the Slip Planet”

I found the imagery in this anthropomorphic passage to be quite potent and affecting: 

“I wanted to save them. I waned to get up and run out to greet them like a war hero, press my shoulders into their sides and push them back into the ocean. Except I imagined once I touched them their bottlenecks would become aquiline noses, their seaweed entangled throats would turn into wet hair. I would touch gray skin and it would become pink and cool. They would turn over on their backs and look at me with dying woman eyes that had seen leviathans, shipwrecked vessels, the blue heart of coral reefs.”

“Honeycomb Heads”

The land where the protagonists travel lies somewhere between an alien fortress and an otherworldly beehive.

“The Dog That Bit Her”

Didn’t appreciate the insult to Kafka. 

Some great surreal touches in this nightmarish piece featuring recurring attacks by a rabid dog, such as here:

“I often rolled over and climbed up the attic ladder to find her at the canvas wearing her bloody sweater, head bent to the brush, red hair alive.”

I loved the twisted ambition of June throughout the tale to “bite him back” and the transformation scenes were incredibly vivid and original–much more disgusting, somehow, than a typical werewolf transformation sequence. 

“The Bad Baby Meniscus”

This line startled me with its eerie beauty:

“I got the feeling that underwater lived another me, a liquid, luminous blue me, who parted the reeds and struck me on the mouth.” 

As did these ones (although they’re a bit more grotesque): 

“The butterfly bite started looking even worse. Its poisonous cat-eye center dripped orange pus and black ichor.” 

One of my favorites. The idea of death as the perfect mathematical creation as created by a god was a fascinating one–as was the metaphor of existence as a vast labyrinth one must traverse in preparation. 
“The Singing Grass”

This has to be one of the strangest opening lines/hooks to a story that I have ever encountered:

“I told him that in the singing grass I saw a deer tear out the head of a cougar, but instead of staying away he went out there to paint.” 

In this story again we find these sudden, surreal, macabre moments mentioned casually like here:

“No girl from the town could’ve snapped her head back until it touched the tip of her spine. No, she emerged out of the singing grass, out of the electric song that whipped through the meadow and straight through me.” 

This story was definitely my favorite. 

These stories will wound you, warp you, steal your dreams, and entangle your soul with a weird otherworldly vision that is Autumn Christian’s. I loved the odd logic, surreal visuals, midnight loneliness, and speculative dream-visions in these tales. There is also a lyrical quality to many of the mind-bending lines, offering stories rich in detail and kaleidoscopic in construction, rewarding multiple rereadings.

Read Ecstatic Inferno by Autumn Christian 

Review: Gorgonaeon by Jordan Krall (Dunhams Manor Press; 2015)

30 Nov


I must preface this review by saying I have not yet read Aeon, the first book in a series that continues with this book: Gorgonaeon

Part 1: 

Below are some notes I wrote for each of the first 26 pages (figures) of this disjointed but magical work of art:

Figure 1: 

Decapitated heads are found on the dining room table–although it is phrased as if the 2nd person protagonist usually goes to the basement rather than the dining room. There is a first person interjection of: “You wait for me to come home. But I will never come home.” An abstract charcoal illustration of a vaguely human form is printed on the opposite page. 

Where are we? This short, deceptively simple paragraph that is the first section of Gorgonaeon in its entirety, hooked me immediately.

Figure 2:

The “I” is outside gazing at a broken mirror lying beneath a ladder leaning against a house that has been uninhabited for years. 

Figure 3: 

We are introduced to a distracted Phillip who focuses on a shiny piece of metal on a podium during a lecture. The words from the lecture become a series of sounds he calls “memory-speech”; he transcribes them until his pencil breaks.

Figure 4:

In the year “198X”, Phillip receives a letter from a friend congratulating him on a new position and inviting him to a gathering for poets.

Figure 5:

The “I” reflects on his arrangement with his lover while looking at a picture in her purse of him taken when he was more attractive. 

Figure 6: 

The “you” finds a plastic bag filled with snakes near the highway. 

Figure 7:

“You” listens to audio cassettes of recorded monologues about a decaying garden from her “predecessor.” This “you” is for the first time identified as a she; it is also revealed that she prefers to observe rather than participate. 

Figure 8:

The “I” says she has a husband. She also photographs non-chain motels and arranges the results “in a sort of geo-architectural reproduction of the highway motels.” 

Figure 9:

Phillip floats through a garden, feeling so either from pills or the flower stems he has ingested. He sees a woman’s face in the moon. 

Figure 10: 

In an accusatory tone, the “I” interrogates the “you” about the desire to imbibe the residue of the “I”‘s mother.

I adore the line “It pains me to acknowledge your pleasure” in this section. 

Figure 11:
The “I” observes and draws a beautiful girl in a coffee shop, wondering if she’s being creepy. 

Figure 12:

Phillip begins taking pills at his wife’s recommendation only to have an odd vision of a man that is not him “in a wilderness of mirrors” where “green lights reflect off every surface” and he sees “only snakes.” 

Figure 13:

A ditch is described where toy snakes are often found; this was also, coincidentally, the same ditch where a murdered woman’s (Nicole Logla) body was found.

Figure 14:

The “you” has entered the “I”‘s house; the “you” is betrayed for seeking answers that will never transpire.

Figure 15:

Phillip gives a semi-successful reading from his book: A Complete History of Industrial Parks–the title and subject matter of his book is related to his job. 

Figure 16: 

The “I” examines Polaroids of horrified, close-up faces found in the closet of her motel room. 

Figure 17: 

The “I” appears to be addressing the “you” as her child. She asks her child to “embrace me in the presences of She Who Stares” and states her child will be buried tomorrow. 

Figure 18: 

Describes a man watching television in a motel wishing to be “the mythological motel man.” 

Figure 19:

The “I” states she has a “wooden visage” and now that she will be buried tomorrow.

Figure 20:

A creepy scene: Philip is lured into the motel room where he finds a sacrificed body which disappears into “the glassy walls of the motel room.” 

Figure 21: 

A “man” notes that the shards of glass he picks up will help him make a 24-hour film about “ugliness in the form of doomed reflections.” It is then stated that “you” will “crawl out of the earth tomorrow.” 

Figure 22:

A “herald’s message” requires a new brain to be deciphered. 

This was the first section that I had difficulty examining. 

Figure 23:

Philip cuts his lip and fills a doll’s face with blood as “a deep red offering.” 

Figure 24:

The “I” becomes a “scrivener of lurid rituals.”

Figure 25:

Phillip hears a “brutal account of his mother’s death” and is then able to learn about “the unsolved murders of the other women.” 

Figure 26:

Snakes are seen as “heralds” as the mind of the “I” disintegrates and she voices a nihilistic yet creative outlook: ex. “I am the builder with no tools.”  

Part 2:

Having pinned certain skeletal ideas of the first 26 pages to the screen segments above in the form of notes, analysis, and synopses, I’m going to let the rest of the work roll over me and jot down a few musings as I go. 

The shifts in time and perspective give the building of this book’s reality a kind of rippling effect.

As I plunge onward, I believe at least more than one character is also using the “I” at various points. Am I wrong?

Phillip’s coin-playing reminds me of the stone-fondling scene in Samuel Beckett’s Molloy.

The image of a man dressed in armor made of crocodile skin startled me. 

I have to quote page 56 in its entirety. It contains an unspeakably haunting vision of a dimension so hellish it would make even Clive Barker’s skin crawl:

“The arena is located in the middle of an industrial park. Lord Patchogue, the emperor-god incarnate, taunts the dwarves and the drooling freaks who view him as the epitome of power, pride, and sheer violence of will. Above the arena, the gossamer floats: a parachute of bloody desire of the creature-gods, the incantations spit out by the worshippers, eating their own skin, cooking it into their bread, spinning visions of unveilings. They slither through the air and through the earth until the asphalt cracks. The offices are infested with pests. There is no hiding from Lord Patchogue.”

A truly sublime and frightening passage that vividly paints a surreal nightmare.

When the “dreadful infant” is born a few pages later, I thought of Lovecraft’s moments of horrific unveiling.

The idea of highways and hallways consuming suicides is a fascinating one. 

This may be the ultimate vision of loneliness: 

“Do I desire company so much that I am forcing some aspect of physicality into existence, a false trail of imaginary guests?” 

Wow. That was an enjoyable, transfixing, and puzzling read! 

The lack of traditional narrative structure will frustrate many readers; I, on the other hand, was thrilled by it.

I felt as if the pieces to the puzzle were coming together as my brain connected several dots, but which were then, in the end, left unravelling in the darkness of glowing eyes and crocodile-skin armor as the mirror shards reflected a summoned spirit. 

I will return to this volume after I have read Aeon. I sincerely hope Jordan Krall finishes this ambitious and original cycle.

Read Gorgonaeon by Jordan Krall

Review: Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias (Broken River Books; 2015)

28 Nov


The first line that struck me in this poetic, Spanish-language-infused noir was:

“The blackness covering his features sprouted ghostly tendrils that seeped into the night around us and made everything darker. Impossibly darker.”
It’s light hints of surrealism like this that make this book stand out from other noirs. 

Another random, great line: 

“The shoes on his feet looked five sizes too big and they were vomiting their tongues like alley winos.”

This book, despite the aforementioned surreal touches, is grounded in personal details and naturalistic experiences. The rawness of the violent scene in the bathroom comes to mind when thinking back on some of the more vivid moments in Zero Saints

Then there beautiful moments of tragic poetry like this one:

“La frontera is a place where miedo seeps into your bones and the silence you’re forced to keep allows the cries of dead children to enter your soul and break you in half like a dry twig. La frontera is a place where los huesos de los muertos are never buried deep enough and the pain of broken families and la Sangre de los inocentes has mixed with the plants and the air and the soil. All that darkness is what gives el rio its peculiar smell and green color. Some things have a bottom but they are bottomless. The infinite darkness that hides in that flowing jade vein is what makes white men with guns pull the trigger even when the figure moving under the crosshairs is a woman or a child.” 

As you can infer from the above-quotes passage, this book showcases a harrowing realism that cuts to the bone and is definitely not of the cliched, alcoholic, tough-as-nails, chain smoking detective–the narrator of Zero Saints admits that being a coward has kept him alive so far. 

I could basically quote the entirety of chapter 6 (where the above quote comes from). Whichever side the immigration debate you happen to fall on, this chapter will surely offer you a glimpse into the difficulty and terror ingrained in that experience, “because the thing about life is that time gets between facts and memories and as memories turn into what they are, facts start sliding back, moving into a space full of images from peliculas and skeletons from bad dreams and imagined monstruos and stuff that someone told you.” 

The rest of the book is elliptical and brutal. One later chapter comparing the difficulty of reality to the sustained faked sense of desire and enjoyment within pornography stuck out. 

There is a lyricism to this book that combined with brutality, a glimpse into the underbelly of modem Austin, Texas, and a holy tone using euphonic passages of the Spanish language, will offer the noir fan seeking something different and challenging, yet poetic and prescient, a vibrant new volume. 

Read Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias

Review: Scary People by Kyle Muntz (Eraserhead Press; 2015)

16 Nov

A series of disturbing vignettes open this curious, extremely fun, and playful novel. 

The style of this novel is breezy yet concise and funny while it disturbs. For example: one character named Siguard–identified early on as a serial killer–shares a song with the narrator about eating children’s fingers; eerily, the song is non-fiction. 

I enjoyed the elliptical nature and blank space in Scary People. The tone was apathetic and detached and the lack of extraneous description was refreshing–a task that is difficult for a writer but which Muntz makes look easy. 

Interspersed with the plain but absurd dialogue are dark gems like this: 

“You’re awful. If I was a teacher, I would say you have no future, and years from now you’re going to die in a gutter with syphilis and hemorrhoids, while living on a diet of plastic wrappers, fermented rats, and moldy grass, with half of your limbs rotted off, and only one eye.” 

And this: 

“”Nothing makes sense,” he said. “It’s kind of sad, really. The only light this world has doesn’t illuminate anything. All it does is shine brighter, so we have to pay attention to the things we don’t want to see.” 

I wish he wouldn’t be so profound, by accident.” 

We have glimpses into harrowing but transformative philosophical ideas amidst all the cartoonish violence. After re-reading the second, above-quoted passage a few times, it’s meaning still mystifies me–is it suggesting that optimistic aspects of life are difficult to discern because they are seen under the same light as negative ones? 

A disturbing scene with pirates is a memorable. I’ll leave it up to your imagination what they use a mean-spirited Redbeard’s peg-leg for! 

I loved the moment when Karen spits flame!

It was odd yet fun to encounter the scene Muntz and other writers performed at this year’s Bizarro Con later in the book, particularly having read about the fates of the characters during the 1st 200 pages–this pushes the RPG scenario into a different space than I had originally envisioned during the performance; if the conflicts and growth of the characters is sort of erased by this new scenario, then what plane of reality are we on now? Although the characters actions were cartoony in the first 200 pages, there was, while not exactly emotional depth, still, emotional currents and a rawness or: a sort of sadness observed at the heart of all human interaction. 

Which is a relevant observation as it turns out, given the metafictional nature of the final third. 

I deeply loved this book. It was fun, original, and a joy to read. I’ve never read anything quite like it or felt my sense of grounding become an entrance into a cartoon while being pinched in the rear by shears. 

Read Scary People by Kyle Muntz

Review: I Will Rot Without You by Danger Slater (Fungasm Press; 2015)

14 Nov


I Will Rot Without You

A poetic homage to the threat of cockroaches? A series of surreally humorous observations? A New Jersey blood brother of Dostoyevsky’s underground man? 

The encounter with a neighbor (Dee) in the hall, offers a haunted glimpse into what is surely a major theme in this book: morbid devotion. And then we get a weird blend of Basket Case 80s horror and Notes from the Underground when she reveals amputated pieces of her boyfriend sewn to her chest. 

Between scenes that could be straight out of the end of Psycho, we hop on the wings of an eerie butterfly to discover a fantastical plane amidst all the vermin and devotion, a different plane of existence so fierce and ignited by poesy that it’s immune to rot or decay.

Fingers of a boyfriend crawl about, stitched to a neck–or sometimes legs become tree trunks when we dream of pus bubbling in boils. 

A line of a 100 cockroaches pass mold spores (“little white and pink bulbs in their palpi”) from the bathroom to our sleeping hero’s mouth which are “held like torches.” 

I loved the following passage: 

“Like a specter she stands. She is the poltergeist of doorframes. She peeks into the apartment, unsure if she should step out of the purgatory of the vestibule and back into this graveyard she used to call her home.” 

Another line I adored: “Her flowers suffocate the garden of my heart.” 

Nightmarish Twilight Zone moments intertwine with a Remedios Varos painting. 

Sitting on a throne of human skulls, we gaze down on the festering city. 

A pile of bills resembles Ernie as he hobbles about decaying and with new wooden mop legs.

Your face may be rearranged by this book; your soul may become disfigured. 

Ernie discovers a ghastly surprise about Dee when the lights are low–a surprise that rivals what Jack Torrance finds on room 237.

This novel shares moments in a beautiful realm of the ineffable while making love feel tragic and ephemeral: 

“These are the people who I need to continue to carry around with me. I just–need to remind myself that I used to be a person before we poisoned each other.”


“Our time together, it was like smoke. You filled my lungs, briefly, and then I breathed you out and you were gone.” 

I read the book over the course of a single morning. This definitely has the humor of previous works I’ve read by Danger Slater, but this one has darker themes and a more poetic conclusion. 

Read I Will Rot Without You by Danger Slater

Review: Sapient Farm by Querus Abuttu (Scary Dairy Press; 2014)

14 Nov

A well-structure speculative suspense novel with human and pig-blended imagery. This novel also feels vaguely post-apocalyptic, although the exact reasons for the doom are left hazily in the background; we are, more or less, plonked down beside these human and pig hybrids in media res.

We get to go on mad adventures through sleazy Las Vegas and murders in a desolate forest.

Then we ride with giggling pig children in the backseat, their foreheads barely reaching he bottom of a car window down country roads. 

An intense scene in the barn between Ben and Binah–one the pig people–jacks up the stakes in the plot considerably, and my attention focused like the head of an arrow. 

The rest of Sapient Farm doles out heavy doses of shocks and thrills and offers bizarre yet potent imagery. As in any grand post-apocalyptic yarn, the plot weaves off in multiple threads–later to reconnect. 

Gevu–the other pig person–get mistaken for the Chinese pig God (Zhu Bajie) from Journey to The West and is featured in a few scenes worthy of De Sade. 

I particularly liked the surreal feel and imagery of the epilogue. I sort of wish this mutation had occurred earlier but hope there’s a speculative bio-horror sequel to Sapient Farm from the perspective of Binah! 

Read Sapient Farm 

Review: The Four Gentlemen of the Apocalypse (The Strange Edge; 2015)

24 Jul


Four Gentlemen of the Apocalypse

“The Ballad of Terror Tiny Tim” by Douglas Hackle

This one has a hilarious and shocking twist in tone and content about midway through the first chapter. I won’t spoil the exact shift, but I will say that the narrator’s desire seems particularly at odds with the fate of his handicapped son during a Little League game. I empathized with the son at first, having, at one time, been the worst player on a Little League team as well back in the late 1980s.

During chapter 2, I thought about the difference between Comedy and Bizarro; the difference is: darkness. Yet it is an absurd darkness, not necessarily a pure and unrelenting darkness with sick humor as in the film Heathers. So we have dark absurdism grounded in a palpable American experience, at least in this one; the literary movement contains practitioners from other countries as well. The dungeon scene was unforgettable and offers a new meaning to the concept of portion control.

In a Bluebeard-style room, we meet a surprise guest. The satirical rap sessions caused me to chuckle and wonder if that genre of music would ever cease dominating the charts and the radio. Yes, there are current gems (Run the Jewels comes to mind), but in most rap the lyrics often plummet in at least one of the following four annoying directions: misogyny, narcissism, materialism, or sentimentality. This is parodied effectively in this ghoulish tale by Douglas Hackle.

“The Canal” by Dustin Reade

Bizarre waterways and a fridge full of frozen cats greet the reader like an invitation to an alternate dimension at the beginning of this tale.

Bathing cat corpses is routine as is sitting next to a cockroach smoking a cigarette on the commuter train homeward. Once back in our vicious narrator’s humble abode, we witness a bizarre and sadistic ritual replete with the skinning of discoveries from the local canal. This lurid passage is certainly not for the squeamish; nor are the after-effects resulting from wearing the skins, although the disgruntled neighborhood is undoubtably aware of his presence afterwards.

The chapter entitled “Cat People” was my favorite, featuring hairless cats lumbering about on two legs while wearing robes. One might feel as if she’d jumped off a diving board into a sea of psychedelic nightmares by this point.

Further fun adventures lay in store with a visit to the library with a cat lady and various other men in cat suits who also abide by Bartleby’s famous mantra. I particularly liked the moment when, on the verge of getting fixed, Russell witnesses a nurse torn apart to reveal stethoscopes and surgical instruments as her internal organs.

“I Took One Apple to the Grave” by G. Arthur Brown

This is the most dreamlike piece in the book so far, despite there being less fantastical elements than in the others; Brown’s wicked sense of humor is more subdued than in other works I’ve read of his. This one has passages that alternate between a fairy tale mood and a bleak Dostoevsky scene.

I wanted to hear more about the three brass dwarves swimming until they found a black swan. The image of a tiny hand emerging from a lanced boil is not one I’ll soon forget.

Angel Hair: five golden cigars. I wonder where this whimsical but dark tale will lead.

Two men wait for a diamond ship to rescue them while talking to a snowman who may very well benefit their conditions by stabbing them.

An island of wild ponies who can swim but also bite and kick, spoiling dreams. Or a girl writing in code about her grandmother before being pecked to death by geese. Such nightmarish stories lie almost buried within this transfixing tale.

The mysterious wolves, talked about frequently in this tale’s first section, do eventually emerge; yet I refuse to spoil the details of their grotesque entrance.

The scene with the Winter Witch will certainly cause your toenails to curl and your eyeballs to explode. Either that, or Brown’s deranged imagery will haunt your dreams forever.

Horses flicker in and out of existence and wolves float into a child’s coffin. Characters are deemed redundant and then, in a rather aggressive metafictional act, are whisked from the story retroactively.

I did laugh out loud during this one when the conversation took place about the significance of certain characters with hilarious names like Glasscock, Bracgirdle, and Bonebrake.

I loved the sophistication of this story’s odd but cohesive structure; it sort of resembles an experimental film made by a ghoulish Monty Python team. It’s my favorite of the quartet on display here.

“Wizard and Robot in the World of Sand and Bones” by S.T. Cartledge

Girl Robot and The Wizard Made of Glass must fight against the influence of sand during their otherworldly but love-fueled journey.

They search for dragons in the sky as they discover dragon bones in the ruined sandcastles of former homes.

This one has a more lyrical flow than the other three.

The odd reality created herein fuses corporeal diffusion with sailing trips through sandcastle skies alongside dragons and a wizard who ages more quickly based on the level of strenuousness contained in each of his magical tasks. Yet, luckily, a dragon bone heart may await his resurrection.

Read The Four Gentlemen of the Apocalypse

Review: Pax Titanus by Tom Lucas (Eraserhead Press; 2014)

9 Feb


Contains Spoilers

This action-packed, surreal, and humorous science fiction novella will challenge your science fiction genre expectations and confound your worldview.

Meet Pax: a four-armed intergalactic beefcake. Join him as he battles an array of imaginative beasts and contenders for the title at the demand of an egotistical Emperor.

Often, Pax Titanus reads like a dark adult cartoon. I wish there were bizarro novellas like this one when I was growing up. I would have devoured them with the gusto I spent lapping up every last b horror and drive-in classic from those long-forgotten video rental shelves.

The opening had a great hook (eventually, the two best friends would put their hands on each other’s cocks, ha, ha). Their conversations are refreshingly crass for a sci fi novel. Most sci fi I’ve read lacks the sense of humor of this one (except for PKD, who is the best IMO). Craxx’s sensual obsession with his sister is also funny and irreverent.

Here’s a memorable scene: Pax enlarging himself while saving Craxx with his monstrous member as they landed on the planet’s wailing diva and splattered the crowd with his love juices. Crude yet imaginative as the best of bizarro always seems to manage.

I read in the intro that this book was originally a short story. I asked Tom Lucas about the story’s genesis; he told me it was produced in a Litreactor writing class with Rose O’Keefe.

A vivid and mysterious call to adventure commences, along with a well-argued refusal of the call; however, the adventure must be undertaken: it means saving Pax’s family. The destruction of the journalists is funny scene. Pax’s relations with his squid wife and her secretions a bit eerie as she must’ve smelled his musk through her beak.

I would say Tom’s strength is definitely in writing imaginative action sequences with a sense of spectacle. His talents really shined in the first fight sequence with the…Mugworth (sp?). It was a nail-biting scene, which must have been difficult to accomplish given the odd nature of both the opponents’ bodies, but since we learned of Tits’ growth abilities earlier, it was a sound fight that did not tax the plausibility detector in this reader, even as his overweight fly trainer hovered in the corner.

The beaver with the hair caught in his throat was pretty hilarious–I got the sense of an ominous presence, but then when he coughed up the hair he became rather goofy. The second fight left me wanting for a bit more obstacles and passed too rapidly. The mana-pot and the fireballs made for RPG-esque imagery.

The scene with the dead Craxx and his “ninja handler” provided another PKD-esque horror moment. I love when horror blends with sci-fi and honestly wish their more of this sort of stuff out there.

The fight with the brain squealer was memorable. The mixture of cuddliness and terror reminded me of one of my favorite bizarro novels: The Cannibals of Candyland.

The final fight sequence did not disappoint. The inter-dimensional time-shifting device created quite the final adversary. The ending balanced humor with pathos ingeniously. Overall, a wild and fun ride. Sort of a bizarro Rocky mixed with Farscape.

Prepare to be disgusted, shocked, surprised, and awed at the magnificently grotesque set pieces this novel conjures up with a slightly satirical tone; that being said, this novella is not strictly a satire. It plays by the rules of the pulpy bizarro playbook: it delivers in equal doses of fun, entertaining storytelling, crisp and direct prose, unexpected plot twists, and bizarre and original imagery that somehow mocks and reshapes science fiction tropes while celebrating them.

Read Pax Titanus.