Best Horror of the Year: Just Outside Our Windows…. by Brian Hodge

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

-At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

-Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

City of the Dog by John Langan

Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Doors by Brian Hodge

Horror fiction has often had a fascinating relationship with children.  Maybe it’s just me but I always feel that a lot of horror features children in a central role.  Novels like Stephen King’s It, Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, Dougless Clegg’s Neverland, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, and Richard Laymon’s Traveling Vampire Show all use children as our heroes.  It is always a fascinating to see the juxtaposition of childhood innocence with unflinching horror.  Hodges story is subtle in its exploration of that juxtaposition.  He uses several careful layers in the story’s opening to obscure where the horrific elements are coming from.

Similar in vein to Let the Right One In, Hodge’s story is at its heart a story about the friendship between two outcasts.  One of which is a product of human monsters and the other just part monster.  It is sad and chilling at the same time.  Hodge’s opening lines for the story set the tone wonderfully setting us on the path to horror when our narrator states “…once the bloom is off the earliest years of childhood, we stand revealed as something our parents are mortified to have created.”

Best Horror of the Year: City of the Dog by John Langan

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

-At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

-Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

City of the Dog by John Langan

City of the Dog represents a marked improvement over the previous story though I still thought it wasn’t quite what I was looking for in horror.   City of the Dog opens with a young couple on their way to a night out on the town when a chance encounter with what appears to be an injured stray dog shatters their lives. Langan does an adequate job in imbuing his characters with a sense of history.  Their problems feel real and constantly on the verge of bubbling over into something ugly.

It might be argued that the horrific events that unfold over the course of the story are manifestation and commentary on the anger and resentment that is left simmering beneath surface.  The tension between the characters is the most real aspect of the story and I felt that this aspect, welcome though it may be, left little room for the other elements of the story to really shine.  I never had a real sense of place for the story and the atmosphere while fraught with tension lacked the cloying sense of anxiety and darkness that I really look for in horror.

City of the Dog is an entertaining story that injects the threat of the supernatural into the already dangerous waters of a troubled relationship.

Best Horror of the Year: Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

-At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

This was a rather interesting story one part Goodfellas and one part Faust.  A Cambridge professor takes his two nephews to the funeral of their gangster uncle.  There he meets the mysterious Mr. Pigsny (who in my imagination looked an awful lot like Pip the Troll) who reveals a strange photograph of the deceased capering in a bizarre landscape.  From there our erstwhile professor has several run ins with the titular Mr. Pigsny and some increasingly supernatural events occur.

Truth be told this story didn’t really do much for me.  Structurally it’s sound and the premise is interesting but the disparate elements never really came together  into a cohesive whole.  The entire story lacks any kind of threat, whether physical or mental, lending the story a (perhaps appropriate) academic feel.  The language itself definitely feels like something a Cambridge professor would use.  While Mr. Pigsny is certainly a sinister figure he doesn’t really seem to do much.  I couldn’t help put imagine the Professor shrugging at the end of the story and moving on with his life as if nothing happened.  As far as I can see there was no meaningful impact on the main character’s life.  Mr. Pigsny is a far cry from the quality of the previous story.

Best Horror of the Year: At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

Given that this month has been a bit crazy I’m trying to stick with a short fiction for a bit.  As a result the remainder of this week, and likely next, will feature commentaries on the stories in The Best Horror of the Year (Volume 3) and maybe a bit of Supernatural Noir.   I’m always bad at reading short stories (which I’ve said time and time again) so this is one of my few attempts to really buckle down with some short fiction.which, after a lengthy introduction, begins with Cody Goodfellow’s At the Riding School. 

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

Awakened by a late night phone call a veterinarian is called in to a local private boarding/riding school to deal with an emergency.  She has dealt with emergencies there before, off the books, as it seems that the headmistress has some sort of dirt on her.  Goodfellow does a wondrous job at casting an air of anticipatory dread. Goodfellow has our lead lay out the fairly mundane details behind the history of the riding school and its headmistress in a fairly straightforward manner.   As stranger and more troubling elements are slowly introduced into the story that sense of foreboding coils like a spring in your gut.

That is one of the best and most enjoyable aspects of horror, though it seems weird to say so, the expectation of dread and the foreknowledge that something terrible lies just around the corner is what pulls you forward while simultaneously urging you to stop reading.  The tension between those two elements (I’m sure it has a German name or something) is one of those things that I look forward to most in horror and the element whose absence I always find the most distressing.  Thankfully, Goodfellow’s story is one of the best examples I’ve seen in handling that dawning sense of horror.  However, I also found that the inevitable payoff did not quite match the exquisite nature of the journey.  That isn’t so much a comment on Goodfellow’s talent as it is the nature of horror itself.  Revelation and truth have always been, in my eyes, the enemy of horror fiction everywhere.

Quick Shot: Stephen King’s N.

Stephen King's N.
Stephen King's N.

Stephen King’s N
Adapted by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Alex Maleev

I picked up a read the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s N. some time ago and after digesting the work several diverging thoughts crossed my mine. The first was “this is awesome,” followed shortly by “if this was awesome was the short story awesomer”, and lastly concluded with “this would make a really neat short film or single episode of an anthology show.” N., published by Marvel as a four issue mini-series is adapated from the short story of the same name seen in Just After Sunset.

The story uses the classic horror mode of the confessional. Or rather several nested confessionals. This narrative device in which the author (or a fictional author constructed for the story) presents the fiction as truth goes as far back Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (based on an “italian manuscript”) and employed authors like Edgar Allan Poe (The Narrative of Arthur Gordan Pyn of Nantucket) and H. P. Lovecraft (At the Mountains of Madness). This is the same narrative framework that, for better or for worse, has given birth to found footage horror films The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Apollo 18. I am rather a fan of this narrative device, no matter what genre it is used in (though I think it is at its best in horror), and N. cleverly nests several narratives within one another.

The titlular N. is an OCD patient of Dr. John Bonstraint whose encounter with a strange formation of rocks exposes either deeper levels of neurosis or some rather horrific truths about the nature of the universe. Apparently N. is heavily influenced by Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan (which also inspired Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror) and, particularly in comic form, does a fantastic job of evoking an atmosphere of anxiety and terror. Maleev’s realistic pencils do not in any way hinder his ability to conjure truly horrific monsters and the heavy inks and muted colors used lend the images a palpable weight that really serves to enhance the atmosphere.

N. is complete but doesn’t provide answers to all the questions the narrative asks. Instead N. leaves just enough room to let the imagination of readers extrapolate the horror as far as their twisted minds will allow. If you are a fan of horror I highly recommend going out a grabbing a copy of N. or giving the 25-part motion comic a try.

SW: Ascension and some vague thoughts

Star Wars: Ascension by Christie Golden
Star Wars: Ascension by Christie Golden

I finally finished listening to the penultimate volume in the Fate of the Jedi series, Ascension by Christie Golden.  On the whole the story and pacing feels about even with the rest of the series.  How you taken that statement is entirely dependent on how you’ve felt about the series to date.  Ascension isn’t going to win people already against the series over and, in many aspect, it might drive some who were on the fence away.  I think the larger problems with Ascension, and with the entire Fate of the Jedi series, rests squarely on the shoulders of the editorial team.  From the start I have been baffled by the release schedule and the seeming lack of progress volume to volume on many of the plot points.  There are moments over the series, and particularly in Ascension, where the whole narrative threatens to come apart at the seams.

Be warned, BIG spoilers abound!

Continue reading “SW: Ascension and some vague thoughts”

Review: How Firm a Foundation by David Weber

How Firm a Foundation by David Weber
How Firm a Foundation by David Weber

How Firm a Foundation (Safehold Book 5)
David Weber
MacMillan Audio, 2011

I missed out on reviewing David Weber’s fourth Safehold novel A Mighy Fortress. The audiobook just got lost in the shuffle at the time. However, when the fine folks MacMillan Audio offered me a review copy of How Firm a Foundation I jumped at the chance and am I glad I did. My initial feelings towards the first few volumes of David Weber’s Safehold novels were typically positive with some reservations. My major complaints for By Schism Rent Asunder were outlined primarily as follows:

 Weber’s perimise, conceptually a pre-industrial Earth set about reclaiming and rediscovering technology is both a fascinating exercise in science fiction and a frequent narrative trap. The latter occurs through often lengthy dialogue, or worse internal monologue, passages where characters are forced to come up with or reconceive (sic) object, tools, and theories in a way slightly different, or wholly new, from what we the reader might be familiar with. At the same time these rediscoveries must deal with as yet undefined scriptures of the church that prevent certain undefined technologies. Weber frequently gets bogged down in these explanations which despite being interesting reduce the novel’s pace to a crawl.

With How Firm a Foundation (hereafter HFF) that quibble has by and large disappeared. As Merlin’s secret has been outed to more and more people over the course of the series the narrative has been able to open up and include more detail on the characters and political maneuverings across the surface of Safehold. HFF is for me the first time this series has moved beyond being good into being something great.

Note:  Having listened to the audio and only listened to the audio I can guarantee that I have spelled some if not all the character’s names wrong.  Weber’s decision to spell things oddly (Caleb as Cayleb, Merlin as Merlyn, etc.) doesn’t help at all either.

Continue reading “Review: How Firm a Foundation by David Weber”

Review: The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer
The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

The Whitefire Crossing
Courtney Schafer
Night Shade, 2011

The Whitefire Crossing, the debut novel of Courtney Schafer, is an exciting adventure fantasy in a unique world. On its surface the plot is a simple one: Dev, a smuggler and talented climber, is in desperate need of cash and so takes on a dangerous mission to smuggle a person out of the city of Ninavel and into the country of Alathia. What makes the tale interesting are the complications surrounding that job and the rich sense of history behind each character.

Continue reading “Review: The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer”

Review: Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Low Town by Daniel Polansky
Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Low Town
Daniel Polansky
Doubleday, 2011

I’ve actually put off reviewing Daniel Polansky’s Low Town. Mainly so that my warm fuzzy feelings would fade some and I wouldn’t right some kind of crazy super glowing review. First off I should start by saying the UK title, The Straight Razor Cure, is way cooler than the US title. Low Town is a boring and nondescript title while The Straight Razor Cure is far more evocative of the tone Polansky is going for in the novel. You see Low Town is fantasy noir and in theme, tone, and plot is more reminiscent of a crime novel with a touch of magic. What sounds more noir to you: Low Town? Or The Straight Razor Cure?

The city of Rigus, jewel of the Thirteen Lands, is not the setting of this novel. Crouched at the feet of Rigus is the place known only as Low Town and there a man known only as The Warden makes his living selling drugs. The Warden wasn’t always a drug dealer. Once The Warden was a soldier, then he was an intelligence agent working for the shadowy Black House. Now though he walks a different path, at least right up until children start getting murdered on his turf. Dredging up unwelcome memories and unwelcome attention from his former masters the trail of bodies leads The Warden into dangerous, though familiar territories.

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Aug/Sep 2011 Summary

Things are a bit busy at work since we are down one staffer and prepping for our annual booksale not to mention the fact that my allergies (not helped by the move to fall nor the handling of moldy old books) make me want to curl up and sleep the mucus away.  So, while I slowly plink away at my excessive backlog of reviews here is a summary of what I reviewed in August and September.

August

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

The Ghosts of Watt of Hugh by Steven S. Drachman

Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

September

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriquez

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdsdottir

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Since it is now October I’m also scouring the “shelves” (or internet) for some horror to read. I’ve actually had a better time of it this year and I’ve started reading Southern Gods (Blues + Lovecraft = Win) by John Horner Jacobs and I’m particularly looking to giving Black Light a shot, despite the fact that it is written by the guys who did Saw.