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Posts tagged “reviews

Jason Voorheesberg’s Horror Reviews

Jason Voorheesberg takes a break from murdering Vermont hippies to review some terrifying horror books! On his list are Now That We’re Alone by Nicholas Day, White Trash Gothic by Edward Lee, and Spermjackers from Hell by Christine Morgan. What a mensch.


A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson

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review by G. Arthur Brown

I’ve been a Brian Evenson fan for almost eight years now and I’m happy to say this fact has improved my life. It can improve your life as well with the small investment that is A Collapse of Horses, Evenson’s latest story collection. On the surface it’s much the same as his other short story collections. People variously label this work as horror, or literary fiction, or literary horror (and the publishers include a quirky page after the final story that says “LITERATURE is not the same thing as PUBLISHING”, which comes off as odd in a collection such as this). To be sure, there is horror here—the literary effect. But there is also something else going on that perhaps people are mistaking for horror, and that’s cognitive dissonance. That’s one of Evenson’s true strengths and it shines in stories like “Click,” my personal favorite in the collection, a tale of a recovering (or dying) man who cannot keep his environment straight. He has either been accused of a horrible crime or he has not. He’s either being visited by police and his lawyer or he’s not. What makes Evenson among the greats of this technique is that the success of the story does not rely on the resolution of the “is he or isn’t he” question, but in the ability to make the story work without conscious resolution. And this, my friends, is why I’ve been consistently recommending Evenson’s works to fans of Bizarro fiction. His writing is weird. Not capital W weird, at least not always. He’s doing weird things above and beyond literary horror. He’s doing things that are sometimes weirder than self-described Bizarros.

As a whole, A Collapse of Horses is definitely a good introduction to Evenson’s short fiction. It contains a number of very accessible stories. “BearHeart™” begins as a cute, quirky relationship story and gradually devolves into psychosis. “Torpor,” another relationship story, revolves around the physical pains of a woman whose significant other loses an arm. “Cult” examines the mind of man who is contemplating joining a cult to escape an unhealthy relationship. In fact, there really are more relationship stories in this collection than horror stories. Sure, some of them involve horrific elements, but they really focus on loss, sadness, and alienation. There’s no real name for this genre, so let’s call it Sadcore and black our eyes.

If I’m not mistaken, this collection includes the first Evenson short that is stated to be set on an alien world—“The Dust,” a story of a failed mining expedition awaiting rescue when the crew begins to be murdered brutally, one by one. This one is a horror story, though the space setting probably has people calling it science-fiction because people always love to recategorize things into whatever niche they enjoy. I just call it awesome because I speak plainly.

There’s madness in many of these stories and Evenson has a great grasp of how to play with it. “A Collapse of Horses,” the title track, examines both dementia and obsession in a manner that is loosely reminiscent of his earlier stories “The Polygamy of Language” and “The Wavering Knife” but far more personal. After a head trauma, a man is convinced that some days he has three children, other days four, and this number can only be established by counting beds. The uncertainty, the disconnection from reality, of a man who has three children one day and four the next, is a complicated kind of terror that most writers have a hard time getting to the heart of, but this is a feeling he has been able to produce in me many, many times throughout his oeuvre. The titular story is great example of his masterful craft, but it is not even as powerful as some of his prior excursions into this territory.

I could probably obsess over the nuances of this collection for several thousand words, but I’m not sure that would be good for my soul right now. Instead I’ll just move on to the highlights: the wrap-arounders, the first and last stories, “Black Bark” and “The Blood Drip.”

“Black Bark” is a story I recognized. It took a shape very similar to that of “The Second Boy,” which appeared in Evenson’s previous collection, Windeye. This is a story of two men escaping into the wilderness, one injured, who have to make camp in a less than ideal locale. The injured man tells an esoteric story that troubles the other man. Upon awaking the next morning, the injured man is nowhere to be found. The other searches for the man and for salvation, but unable to find either, retires to the same campsite where the other man shows up unexpectedly and menacingly repeats the story he told earlier while the other man is powerless to do anything about it. This is a description that could be applied to either of the stories I just mentioned. The similarities struck me and I wondered if this could be accidental. It seemed impossible. And while the stories have many similarities, they are both excellent and worth a read, so there was no complaint that “Evenson is repeating himself” in my mind. It’s like when Chuck Berry or The Ramones re-wrote one of their own hits. Still an enjoyable treat.

But when I reached the end of the collection, I started to see yet another story that followed this very similar pattern. And in “The Blood Drip” the campfire story told is loosely “Black Bark.” That’s some pleasingly meta stuff right there. It works so well it made me smile despite the bleak nature of the story. So there’s a really sophisticated commentary going on here, and an exploration of how to achieve similar literary effects with different stories. Evenson is creating his own tropes to play with and it couldn’t be more awesome (that’s the clickbait title for this review, by the way). He’s reinvented the ghost story (that’s the tagline).

Definitely a solid four star collection with enough 5 star stories to cause me to recommend it to everyone I know. Are you someone I know? Then you should read this, pronto. Then pick up The Wavering Knife and/or Last Days. Your life will become measurably better.

 


Stop whining and write that review already: A guide to painless book reviewing

By Gabino Iglesias

So you read and book and now you want to review it. You’ve read plenty of reviews, but somehow doing one seems like a daunting task. Or maybe you’ve done a few but wonder if there’s a better way to get it done. Well, I write a few reviews every week, so it’s gotten to the point where I don’t freak out about it. Below I’ll share some of my hard-earned knowledge with you. Hopefully that’ll make life easier. After all, remember that every review you write is a little help you’re giving the indie lit community. Anyway, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Know why you’re reviewing a book.

You can recommend or bash Wuthering Heights all you want, but I don’t think Emily Bronte’s corpse gives a shit. Likewise, folks like James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King don’t need your help to sell a few copies this month. If you’re going to spend time writing a review, do it for a book from a small press that you really enjoyed. Believe it or not, some folks buy their next read based on reviews. Also, those reviews you leave on Amazon apparently have an effect on the magical algorithms, which means authors benefit from them.

2. If possible, keep it positive.

There are too many haters, trolls, and assholes in the world already: don’t be one. If you hate Dan Brown, do what I do: don’t spend time reading his work or writing about it. Reviews should be a way of supporting authors you like. If you happen to write for places that send you books, you’re screwed. I’ve written my share of negative and lukewarm reviews, but they’re never personal attacks. However, if you read whatever you want and then write about it, you don’t have to say anything about the ones you dislike. That leads to another important point. If a writer offers you a review copy, review the damn book. If you don’t have great things to say about it, just write your thoughts down with honesty as your goal and call it day, but don’t leave authors hanging. There are too many idiots out there getting free books and then selling them or not coming through with a review after they asked an author for a free copy of their work. They deserve to be killed via a thousand paper cuts.

3. A simple structure will suffice.

I love unique reviews and try to write one when a book calls for it, but you don’t have to give yourself a headache trying to reinvent them. If you’re working on a review for a site or magazine, try to have a relevant intro, give a synopsis of the book (in your own words, please don’t copy stuff from the back of the book), and then have a couple of paragraphs telling readers why you liked the book, what elements worked for you, etc. Discuss elements that matter: pacing, character development, and structure. If you want to use a quote, go ahead, but keep it short and sweet. If you received an ARC, be careful and ask before quoting. The number of paragraphs is up to you, but make sure that you gave readers a reason to spend their moolah on a book. “This book is awesome!” is not an effective review. If your review will only go on Amazon or Goodreads and you want to keep it simple, come up with a few lines that highlight some of the book’s qualities.

4. Write about the book you read, not the one you wish you had read.

Carlton Mellick is one of my favorite bizarro writers, but he sucks at writing cheesy sparkling vampire trilogies. When you read noir, don’t bitch about the lack of a happy ending. When you read extreme horror, don’t tell me it was a bit too much and you wished there was less gore and more witty dialogue. Know your genres and review books accordingly.

5. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

Anyone who thinks genres like horror, noir, and bizarro are less intelligent than literary fiction and 500-page novels that could bore Dostoyevsky to death can kiss my literate ass. If you’re reading Cody Goodfellow, D. Harlan Wilson, or Molly Tanzer, you know weird literature can be as brilliant as anything else out there, and infinitely more entertaining. Don’t be afraid to get creative or apply a little smart criticism to your review. The indie lit scene is brimming with brilliant people who won’t frown when they find a little deconstruction here and there.

6. Be honest. No, really, don’t lie to people.

Some books are outstanding, but saying a book is the best thing you’ve ever read only tells me you need to read more. Don’t tell readers a book will change their life forever. You don’t know that. They might actually hate the book. Maybe they really hate it and they were looking for a life-changing book that would give them a reason to keep on living and now they feel betrayed and want to kill you. It could happen. Anyway, refrain from using clichéd terms like tour-de-force, absolutely “unputdownable,” or mind-blowing. Don’t tell me an author is the best thing to happen to literature since Shakespeare. First, there’s no way you’ve read everything that’s been published in the world since 1616. Second, some of us don’t enjoy Shakespeare that much. Last but not least, keep in mind that, just like there will never be a new Michael Jordan, there will never be another Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Flannery O’Connor, or whoever your favorite author happens to be.

7. You are a subjective beast.

I like what I like and you like what you like. You know what? That’s fine! I don’t read paranormal romance or self-help books. Maybe you do. Hell, we live in a world where the music industry is a depressing joke and millions of people consider Dane Cook funny and care about reality television. The point is that folks have different tastes, but you should only pay attention to yours. Write whatever you want and forget about molding your review a certain way (you know, unless you’re writing for a publication that imposes their style on you).

8. Just write the damn thing.

You won’t finish a review if you never start it. If you don’t know where to begin, simply start writing a synopsis or jutting down your thoughts on the books. Write about what you felt as you read. Tell readers about the stuff that made you laugh, cry, or cringe. Tell them anything about the book, but tell it to them in your voice. Now sit down and get the damn thing done already!

If you need some examples, here are links to some recent reviews:

Steve Lowe’s You Are Sloth! at ManArchy

Nick Antosca’s The Girlfriend Game at Word Riot

Mark SaFranko’s Lounge Lizard at Verbicide

Ross E. Lockhart’s Chick Bassist at Verbicide

Andersen Prunty’s The Warm Glow of Happy Homes at Verbicide

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias


Biomega – It Ain’t Your Grandfather’s Cyberpunk

by Karl Fischer

Over the years, I’ve tried to get my peers into manga and I often run up against the same critique: “It just doesn’t interest me.” What I think they mean to say is that they’re not interested in saccharine love triangles with bubble-breasted schoolgirls fighting tentacle demons from Beyond the Veil. Fair enough. My go-to cure for that stereotype is artist-writer Tsutomu Nihei.

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You may have seen this image in an internet meme, such as Bears with Guns. Thing is, it’s not photoshopped, it’s lifted directly from Biomega, a six volume sci-fi/horror set one thousand years into the future. It’s the story of a mysterious virus called the NS5, which can turn humans into mindless, biomechanical drones (read: cyborg zombies) and of the warring mega-corporations that are attempting to either stop or propagate the virus. It’s one half cyberpunk, one half zombie apocalypse, ultraviolent, and grittier than a gravel yard in hell.

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One thing that sets Nihei’s work apart from other manga is the focus on physical space. Nihei originally studied to be an architect and it’s an aspect that comes shining through in his art.

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Between lightning fast action scenes, the reader’s POV will zoom out to encompass vast and intimately detailed spaces. Characters go zipping along on roads that span the sea, plummet down buildings that reach thousands of stories, and fight in rooms that could house cathedrals.

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By the second half of the series, events are taking place on an interstellar object that’s nearly 5,000,000,000km in length. The story is intensely visual, forgoing dialogue in favor of movement almost every chance it gets. Everything has a sense of grandeur, and yet, is mercilessly bleak. The pace only increases by leaps and bounds.

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When the dust has settled, there’s something disquieting about Biomega. Our main protagonists are biomechanical androids fighting viciously on humanity’s behalf. One gets the impression that they do this only because they were designed to. Technology has outstripped its creators, in true cyberpunk fashion, yet that technology never “rebels.” In Nihei’s conception, our most powerful weapons will serve us faithfully and eternally, even as we drag one another screaming into the Void.

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