Metal(and other) Aquisitions and Commentary

Haven’t felt inspired to write up any full reviews recently, but here are some of my recent music purchases and some brief comments for those who might interested.

Protest the Hero (self-titled):  Solid progressive metalcore.  Some really interesting music on here occaisonally obscured by the typical metalcore screeching.  It’s good that the iTunes version of the album came with an all-instrumental version of the album.

36 Crazyfists, the Tide and It’s Taker:  Polished metal with great energy but a bit unoriginal.  I admit that the band’s name has thrown me in the past (it doesn’t sound very metal does it?) but their recent review in Metal Hammer straightened me out.  Of course Metal Reviews hated the album and is on the mark to a point, but I’m less inclined to be that harsh.

North Mississippi Allstars, Hernando:  Southern rock with influences from metal, hard rock, country, and even a little hip-hop.  These guys haven’t released a bad album yet, great summer tunes.

Rage, Speak with the Dead (2006):  My favorite discovery of 2008 (so far) and one of the hardest bands to find searching by name alone.  A great album but certainly not as groove heavy as Carved In Stone.  The album does have a more epic feel thanks to the backup orchestra.  I really dig lead singer/bassist Peter “Peavey” Wanger’s vocal style, I don’t know why exactly, I just do.

Powerwolf, Lupus Dei:  Horror themed power metal?  Sign me up!  Not as stunning as I’d hoped but a solid album that is a lot more fun than you would expect.  I liked it better than Maiden’s latest, take that however you may but there it is.

August Books

I already have my “must-read” picks for this month’s new books in Sly Mongoose, The Steel Remains (which I probably won’t get until September), and Return of the Crimson Guard but there is plenty of other good stuff coming out this month (and, as always, plenty of good stuff I missed in previous months/years/lifetimes).

Robert, aka The Fantasy Book Critic, does fantastic coverage of upcoming books with a lengthy post w/ synopsis and links of a huge number of books. I highly recommend you check out his list for a range of titles that are being released (a few UK only) in August.

I also found this book at Barnes and Noble yesterday:

I admit I bought it on cover alone, but any book description that mentions Jedi and Private Investigator in the same sentence is a bit hard to resist.  I doubt I’ll see the same level of awesome as the genre blending The Automatic Detective but it’s worth a shot.  I also haven’t read a Star Wars novel since R.A. Salvatore killed off Chewbacca, so I look forward to delving back into the Star Wars universe again.

I’m also waiting for my library’s copy of From Asgard to Valhalla: The Remarkable History of the Norse Myths to be cataloged.  I’m terrible at reading non-fiction so I make no promises, but it is up for the 2008 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies and I do love Norse mythology.

If you haven’t noticed, those of you that are actually regular visitors, I posted by first audiobook review over the weekend (not counting earlier thoughts on the Temeraire audiobooks).  I’d like to keep posting more audiobook stuff since I do listen to audiobooks quite frequently.

Review: Infected by Scott Sigler (Audiobook)

Infected
Scott Sigler
Random House Audio/Books On Tape, 2008.

Released several months ago by web phenom/author Scott Sigler, I felt that Infected was buried by the (somewhat) similarly themed The Host by Stephanie Meyer.  I won’t be drawing parallels between the two (I have not, and will not, read The Host) only to say that both involve microscopic organisms as the enemy.  Truth be told I didn’t actually “read” Infected either, but I did listen to the audiobook and it was a damned fun ride.

Rather than hire some smooth voiced professional narrator/voice actor Random House Audio (aka Books on Tape) allowed Sigler to the voicework here.  A good fact since it seems Sigler has been doing audio versions of his own work as weekly podcasts for some time now.  While he might lack the British finesse of Simon Vance, Sigler manages to inject his reading with (sorry) an infectious sense of fun, seeming to enjoy the reading almost as much as you (potentially) enjoy the listening.

The official synopses:

Perry Daswey is 6-foot-5, 265 pounds of angry ex-linebacker. He knows all too well that if he doesn’t control his quick temper, people get hurt. Through constant focus, he has locked his violent past away in the deep dungeons of his mind.

The infection changes everything.

Strange microscopic parasites tap into Perry’s bloodstream like tiny little vampires. They start as bright orange blisters, but soon take the shape of triangular growths just beneath his skin. The “Triangles,” as Perry calls them, try to control their host by manipulating hormone levels and flooding his body with neurotransmitters — imbalances of which cause paranoia, schizophrenia and excessive aggression. As Perry begins a desperate battle to cut the Triangles out of his body before it’s too late, his self-control dissolves into raging, murderous madness.
Infected, scottsigler.com

That summary is a bit misleading as it neglects to mention a number of other characters Dr. Margaret Montoya and CIA agent Dew Phillips, the two other major players in the novel. While both Dew and Montoya aren’t bad characters they do follow along familiar archetypes from a lot of other disaster/thriller/suspense fiction: the grizzled cynical veteran with a hidden heart, and the sassy, smart, and criminally underestimated doctor type.  But the Dawsey chapters are where the novel really shines.  So cringe inducing and viseral were these chapters that, were I not the attentive, skilled, drive that I am, I might have gotten into a car accident.  I would sit in my car with a white knuckled grip on my steering wheel and literally flinch and squirm as Dawsey fought the titular infection.  While it appears the novel was optioned by Rogue Pictures for a film adaptation I only hope that whoever helms that project doesn’t flinch from the rough and horrific scenes the dominate Dawsey’s story.

Sigler’s voice work is enthusiastic but weakest when dealing with his female characters.  I think I giggled a little with his high pitched attempt at a faint spanish accent for Montoya but it wasn’t enough to ruin the book for me.  Digital voice modulation during later sections of the book provided a good creepy feeling, especially the first time you hear it, and an occaisonal bit of music and other ambient sound makes for an atmospheric twist.  Complaints asside I couldn’t really imagine anyone else reading this.

A blend of sci-fi and horror Infected was an entertaining, cringe inducing listen that a highly recommend to anyone looked for a little distraction during their daily commute.  The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger and the climax, much to its credit, has a bit a Lovecraftian twist to it that has me anticipating a sequel.  The book isn’t perfect, thanks to some weak supporting characters (that likely were supposed be more central), but makes up for it in visceral, intense action.  According to Sigler’s site the sequel Contagious is due out December 30.

Links:

Amazon page w/video of Sigler talking about the book.

Sigler’s homepage.

Trailer for Infected (book)

Review: The Missing by Sarah Langan

The Missing

Sarah Langan

Harper, 2007

This is Langan’s second novel, and somehwhat sequel to The Keeper (which I haven’t read) but The Missing seems to stand on its own and I never felt like I was missing something.  The Bram Stoker winning Missing could ostensibly be called a zombie novel, or even a disaster novel, but the quality of the prose shines and it’s easy to see why it won.  The main premise of the books is about a malicious, sentient contagion that spreads throughout a sleepy New England town (poor New England always seems the victim of horror novels).  The plot may sound familiar but through the power of her writing and willingness to stay steadfast when describing horrific scenes Langan has crafted an interesting and unique story all her own.

The novel pulls you in from the opening lines of the Prologue, easily conjuring an air of suspense with the first sentence alone, “In winter the dark creeps up on you.”  But that suspense, so masterfully written that prologue, is dispelled (to a degree at least) when the novel switches into the lengthy flashback that dominates the majority of the novel.  That itself wouldn’t be a problem but the intimate, dark and lonely first person narrative of the prologue is exchanged for the third person omniscient starting with the first chapter.  While the tone of the narrative changes to a degree, depending on the character whose head we are in, none of the third person narrative ever really achieves that same level of dark desperation as either the prologue or the epilogue.

At the same time the more frank, straight forward narrative style of the bulk of the novel seems to be designed to throw the more horrific aspects of the novel into the limelight.  It forces the reader to view them with no visible out, to witness but not to question.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the early glimpse inside the head of James Walker as he remembers how he killed a bunny:

Gimpy didn’t screech.  He didn’t shout for James to stop….Gimpy’s eyes got all bug like they were going to pop out, which was kind of funny.  James had wanted to let go, but instead held on tighter.  Squeezed harder.  The reaction was all wrong, even though he’d wanted it to be right.  He couldn’t help it! Sometimes he forgot the right thing.

This cringe worthy scene goes on and is endemic of Langan’s stark portrayal of horror, both human born and otherwise.  Which, while managing to engender a sense of disgust and horror, at the same time reveals each character in the novel in their entirety; washing away any sense of mystery.  In turn this makes the human drama of the novel feel too contrived and, as the horrific infection spreads the human responses, both to the disease itself and to each other, feel telegraphed.

Regardless of this I was still entertained by the majority of the novel.  I particularly enjoyed Fenstad’s reaction to the disease towards the final third of the novel.  I don’t want to ruin it for future readers but I will say that it is completely in character; his reaction is really the most rational response to the events he witnesses.  Even amidst the supernatural horror of the novel Langan goes out of her way to highlight the potential monstrosity of human action.  Fenstad, mentioned above, is a good example but even better, and even more heart wrenching is a short chapter (almost like an interlude) about a young high school freshman girl who, after experiencing a bit of high school trauma, is walking along a road having run off.  Cold and shivering she sees her (drunken) father’s car approaching:

But it was cold out and the sun had set.  She wasn’t wearing a coat.  Just a flimsy dress.  There were no street lamps along this road.  Best to look on the bright side.  At least she had a ride.  She slumped her shoulders like somebody who’s so accustomed to defeat that being sad about it is a formality, and headed for the passenger-side door….She shivered as she walked.  The shit-eating grin spread across her father’s boozy red face.  He gunned the accelerator.  The door handle tore loose from her fingers, and before she knew what was happening, he was driving away.

Heartbreaking, but has the interesting effect of making one uncertain if her final fate is more horrific or less horrific than what she has already experienced.  Great stuff.

The clarity of Langan’s fiction makes the book easy to read while, on the other hand makes the book hard to read at the same time.  Despite my several misgivings about the change in tone from the prologue to the bulk of the novel the crystal clear narrative has almost the same effect as the Ludovico technique allowing the reader no corner to turn to for solace.  In the end I’d recommend this to horror fans looking for a good macabre read featuring a strong, direct narrative with occasionally poetic leanings.