Category: Entertainment

Book Reviews (September) for older Horror Novels

 

September Book Reviews are of older Horror Novels (15 years or more). Each of the following books may be purchased through www.amazon.com.

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Swan SongREVIEWED: Swan Song
WRITTEN BY: Robert R. McCammon
PUBLISHED: June, 1987

Another successful novel by author, Robert R. McCammon. Swan Song is a post-apocalyptic horror story following the survivors of a nuclear Armageddon. The characters are diverse and engaging, though many border on the stereotypical “too-good” vs. “too-evil.” However, I appreciated the variety of characters’ “Points of Views” by chapter, similar to Stephen King’s own post-apocalyptic novel, “The Stand.” The desolation and misery created by McCammon is emotional; you can feel the pain and weariness of the survivors as they trek across the ruined country. But that’s also offset by the perpetual hope and innocence of the girl, Swan, as well as the life lessons learned and perseverance by Sister and Josh and the others. The ending is very satisfying, even somewhat beautiful. Swan Song is a classic and recommended reading for anyone who enjoys dark fiction.

Five out of Five stars

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MadmenREVIEWED: Among Madmen
WRITTEN BY: Jim Starlin and illustrated by Daina Graziunas
PUBLISHED: April, 1990

Easy read, fast-paced, violent, and gripping = highly recommended for fans of pulp action stories. Consider this similar to a zombie plague, only instead of fighting off the undead, the protagonists must battle “Berserkers” which are people who have contracted an incurable mental condition that drives them to sadistically murder anyone they can (consider a similarity in this to the movie, “28 Days Later”). Another level to this story, which makes the plot successful, is that anyone may contract the illness at anytime. So survivors are constantly suspicious of their friends, wondering if they’re about to turn berserker. The main character, Tom Laker, is an ex-vet and sheriff of a town of survivors. He’s a well-rounded hero with flaws and tragic circumstances. Most of the other characters are rather flat, however, and represent bland stereotypes. The author forces a great deal of emotion into the book, some of which is advantageous and some which is not. He cares for a wounded dog, which then runs away, leaving the audience to wonder at its purpose, or if it was an analogous device for Tom himself. Overall, if you’re not expecting too much, this is a great “read-something-fun” book. Also illustrated by the author’s wife, Daina, although I question the placement of the images, as they always came before a plot point, thus giving away what was going to happen.
Four-and-a-half out of Five stars

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KaliREVIEWED: Song of Kali
WRITTEN BY: Dan Simmons
PUBLISHED: January, 1998

Song of Kali is a well written novel of dark fiction, though hardly “the most frightening book ever written” as heralded across reviews and its book cover. There are actually very few scenes that seemed particularly scary at all. The plot is fair and emotionally-driven, compelling and sad, with good pacing, conflict, etc. And, man!, can this author write! The technical ability of Dan Simmons is extraordinary. However, the book just felt barely “above-average,” rather than fantastic, after closing the final page. The ending is anticlimactic, i.e. dreadful (in terms of boredom)… this story had so much potential to have been greater. The backdrop and circumstances Simmons established could have led to many, many more frightening scenes than he used. All-in-all, a fine read, especially as this is the first novel he ever wrote. Note to reader: His books get much better.

Four out of Five stars

 

Midnight cheers,

Eric

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Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. Assorted stories and articles that bear his byline may be found in the disreputable publications reserved for back alley bazaars. As an editor, Eric’s produced the anthologies, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award®. Read his novella, Baggage of Eternal Night (a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award), and watch for many more forthcoming books, including Chestnut ’Bo (TBP 2016). Outside of the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. He’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Of America, and the International Thriller Writers. Visit Eric at: www.ericjguignard.com, his blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com, or Twitter: @ericjguignard.

 

 

The Sub-Genres of HORROR – PART I

 

In the great and storied realm of Literature, what constitutes that particular niche known as “Horror”? We seem to recognize it when we see it, but it’s not entirely easy to categorize into one lump genre.

First, by “Horror,” I mean that spirit relating to FICTION, primarily in literature and movies, which is intended, or has the capacity, to frighten or cause a sense of dread or alarm.

(See further on this in my blog discussion, “The Horror Genre” here:
http://mensconfidence.com/2013/01/29/the-horror-genre/#more-2442)

Consider Horror like a city, one if which all manner of ominous denizens dwell. It’s a great place to sightsee, but most people may not want to live there. Within this City, there are further divisions—neighborhoods—if you will. Some of the horror neighborhoods are gory and some are psychological and some are geared even toward children. These neighborhoods are the “sub-genres.”

Now, if you take a step back, you realize that the city of Horror is also part of a larger County, and there are neighboring cities which—although not intended to be horror—share those same neighborhoods which dip into Horror’s boundaries. Consider the neighboring cities as other genres, and the neighborhoods which are sub-genres may cross many of their limits.

You see, the Horror Genre is formally a subset of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Genre, which in turn falls under the larger umbrella of “Speculative Fiction.” Speculative Fiction is contrasted against literary fiction by “Including a supernatural element.” Whereas literary fiction involves fictional characters and/or events in an everyday world in which we could theoretically share the same experiences as those characters. Speculative Fiction, in my example, is the County, and thus Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, etc. are all the cities.

Confused? You’re not alone. Try categorizing your favorite author into one sub-genre. Typically it’s impossible, as writers enjoy challenging themselves and exploring new “neighborhoods.” Even Stephen King, the literal “King of Horror” has written in numerous genres and sub-genres.

So all that is well and good, but with the names of neighborhoods often bandied about, and no road map of how they relate to each other, it is often a perplexing place to visit. I thought I would investigate a bit and attempt to map out the sub-genres of Horror.

By no means is my list inclusive, but here are some of the more common categories you may encounter (in alphabetic order):

Apocalyptic/ Post-Apocalyptic Horror

Apocalyptic fiction deals with the catastrophic end of civilization, and Post-Apocalyptic fiction deals with its aftermath. Generally both elements may be infused into the same story, as for it to truly be considered “apocalyptic,” the catastrophe must occur, and not simply be a grave threat which is overcome. The catastrophic end may be for any reason relating to scientifically-possible or to supernatural imaginings, such as nuclear war, plague, alien invasion, monsters, celestial judgment, etc.

Book Examples:

The Stand by Stephen King
Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Bizarro Fiction

A relatively new subgenre, Bizarro fiction is a contemporary classification, which is not entirely easy to define. It encompasses elements of satire, absurdism, and the grotesque, along with pop-surrealism and genre fiction staples, in order to create subversive works that are as strange and entertaining as possible. Not all Bizarro has horror references, but similar themes may be often found, including those of fear, confusion, monsters, supernatural elements, etc. Bizarro sometimes may be compared to “Weird Fiction,” though Weird Fiction seems to have subtler oddities, and not the brutally outlandish which is found in Bizarro.

Book Examples:

The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III
Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk
The Bizarro Starter Kit (Volumes Orange and Blue) edited by Eraserhead Press

Body Horror (AKA: Biological Horror)

Body horror, biological horror, organic horror, or venereal horror are associated names of a genre in which the human body itself is used as the primary device by which the audience is confronted with the horrific. The horror in these stories is principally derived from the graphic destruction or degeneration of the body and can include transformation or mutilation to the body as a way to reflect an innate fear of death or loss of control. Besides mutilation, other ideas may deal with disease, decay, parasitism, or mutation. Another type of body horror includes unnatural movements, or the anatomically incorrect placement of limbs to create ‘monsters’ out of human body parts.

Book Examples:

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
Who Goes These? by John W. Campbell
A Splendid Chaos by John Shirley

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MORE TO COME IN MY NEXT BLOG POST! Stay tuned soon for The Sub-Genres of HORROR – PART II

Part I Describes: Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic Horror, Bizarro Fiction, Body Horror (Biological Horror)

Part II describes: Dark Fantasy (AKA:Fantasy Horror), Environmental Horror, Erotic Horror, Fairy Tales and Dark Fables

Part III describes: Gothic Horror, Historical Horror, Humor (AKA: Horror Comedy), and Killer Animals

Part IV describes: Lovecraftian Horror (Cthulhu Mythos), Lovecraftian Horror(Cthulhu Mythos), Monster Horror, and Paranormal

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Thanks to notes on this topic accumulated from the following websites:

http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/Hsubgenres.html

http://www.goldenagestories.com/news/2013/01/04/the-dark-the-dark-the-history-of-horror-fiction/2602

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_fiction

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-different-horror-genres.htm

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Thanks ALSO to this blog’s sponsor: www.grammarly.com

Midnight cheers,

Eric

_________________________________

Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. Assorted stories and articles that bear his byline may be found in the disreputable publications reserved for back alley bazaars. As an editor, Eric’s produced the anthologies, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award®. Read his novella, Baggage of Eternal Night (a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award), and watch for many more forthcoming books, including Chestnut ’Bo (TBP 2016). Outside of the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. He’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Of America, and the International Thriller Writers. Visit Eric at: www.ericjguignard.com, his blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com, or Twitter: @ericjguignard.

 

 

“Hannibal” – Reawakening the Public’s Psychopathic Appetite

One of the more interesting and comparatively difficult series of books to adapt remains Thomas Harris’s Hannibal series. Now the film adaptation of Silence of the Lambs was and remains a remarkable masterpiece and a personal close-held favorite. However, by the time of Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, the Hopkins incarnation (which still remains one of the best on-screen performances) had run its course. And with the lackluster book and movie release of Hannibal Rising was the signaling of the death of the character. Which was proper. The original books of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs were focused on the agents working the specific cases. They were very well seasoned pulp stories that had many very significant elements apart from the novels Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. The main point was that Hannibal Lector was not the main character of the first two novels. He was the part of the novels (and later the films) originally as a very eccentric psychopathic genius that loved to toy with people’s minds as if they were his puppets. But the emphasis was placed more on the killer that Hannibal was helping them catch. Read more

Book Reviews (June)

 

Book Reviews! Each of the following books may be purchased through any large book store or online through www.amazon.com.

REVIEWED: Redshirts
WRITTEN BY: John Scalzi
PUBLISHED: January, 2012

On its face, Redshirts, by John Scalzi, is a successful story. Mirroring the Star Trek show, Redshirts creates an alternative explanation as to why crewmembers aboard the “Intrepid” regularly seem to die off for no reason. Geeky science fiction which is part comedic satire, part adventure, and part existential philosophy. The majority of the book (comprising about the first 85%) is a quick read, fun and fast-paced. Then Scalzi adds in three codas or “P.S.”s, afterwards, each which builds another level to the story. It’s really a unique structure which I’ve not seen commonly done, but he pulls it off and the book is increasingly better with the advancement of each of the codas. Great ending that tied everything together.

Five out of Five stars

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REVIEWED: Finders Keepers: The Story of a Man Who Found $1 Million
WRITTEN BY: Mark Bowden
PUBLISHED: October, 2002

This is a journalistic account of the true story of Joey Coyle, an out-of-work and drug-addicted 28 year old man, who finds $1.2 million which had fallen from an armored truck. It’s a riveting drama which at turns takes twists into humor and suspense but ends, unfortunately, as a tragedy. Coyle is portrayed as an amiable man who essentially blows through much of the money in two weeks, simply by giving it away to homeless, using it on drugs, “forgetting” where he put it, and sharing it with shady businessmen and friends who find out about his fortune and begin to confront him for a piece of the loot. Add to all this, Joey increasingly uses methamphetamine (speed) which causes him paranoid delusions and crippling anxiety. Finders Keepers is sharp and well-written; a fascinating tale of an ordinary man faced with a moral dilemma, and the ensuing reactions of family, friends, neighbors, and police who become a part of his misadventures.

Five out of Five stars

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REVIEWED: Sunset and Sawdust
WRITTEN BY: Joe R. Lansdale
PUBLISHED: January, 2005

This is classic Lansdale: Well-written, gripping, and at times poignantly funny. Sunset Jones kills her abusive husband in self-defense in the middle of a cyclone. It’s really quite symbolic as not only her home and husband are gone, but her entire life is torn apart. From the very beginning, it’s a story of her reconstructing everything around her, including her own world views. Through the assistance of her wealthy mother-in-law, Sunset becomes Sheriff of the town, a small logging camp in the 1930’s depression. One of her first orders of business is to solve a brutal double murder that her late-husband (the former Sheriff) buried. The book effortlessly cuts across genres of mystery and thriller, horror, western and humor. Lansdale, as common for him, deals with race and gender issues and takes a progressive stance against commonly held clichés. Great read overall. The only complaint was that Lansdale built up such a pair of clever and creepy villains, but then rarely used them. He needs to write a prologue story stat, just about McBride and his half-brother, Two!

Four out of Five stars

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REVIEWED: Boy’s Life
EDITED BY: Robert R. McCammon
PUBLISHED: May, 1992

I don’t know how this book has escaped me for so long, as it was written back in 1991. This is the kind of story I wish I would have read as a teenager. Although, of course, it may not have meant as much to me then as it does now, as a father, watching my son begin his own adventures, and remembering that sense of magic and excitement that I’ve somehow lost over the years. People frequently throw the phrase around that they’ve read something that’s “one of the best things ever,” but I can truly affirm that “Boy’s Life” by Robert McCammon is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The publisher’s description doesn’t do the book justice. It says that a young boy and his father witness a murdered man being driven into a lake, and their lives are shaken by the realization the idyllic town they live in must contain an evil person. The boy goes on to investigate the mystery and has magical adventures with his friends.

I read that and thought it sounded pretty “ho-hum,” perhaps like a glorified Hardy Boys tale. Though the murder mystery is a part of the book, it’s really just one small thread woven through an immense tapestry of gorgeous narrative. The book description doesn’t exhort the prospective reader with the amazing beauty contained within and the author’s ability for spit-shined storytelling… of course it can’t, as every book description makes such claims. The difference with this novel, is that it delivers.

“Boy’s Life” takes place in 1964 and follows the coming-of-age years of Cory Mackenson, a 12-year old in the small town of Zephyr, Alabama, who lives life as all of us once did. He plays with his friends, struggles in school, and does what his parents tell him to do. He’s at odds with the neighborhood bullies, loves his dog, and is filled to brimming with hopes and dreams and fears. He knows the world by what is taught him in a town peopled with all types of personalities; from small-minded bigots to superstitious elders to neighbors who harbor dark and strange secrets. But he’s also at the age where he’s beginning to make his own decisions about the things around him.

Through it all, Cory, like all boys, can see the magic of the world that adults cannot. There are ghosts in town, some of whom mourn their untimely passing, while others just want to play with the living. Wishes can come true if wished hard enough. Dinosaurs still live, a boy’s bicycle isn’t just an inanimate thing, and monsters appear from the shadows if you’re not careful. Death and life pass by hand-in-hand, and Cory navigates it all amongst gun-toting moonshiners, natural disasters, and an ancient woman who helps interpret the dreams he and his father have late at night.

This book is simply a priceless gem of sparkling prose. Each of Cory’s multiple adventures brought me back to the years when I experienced these things first-hand. The author has an incredible command, not only of the language of writing, but also of the heart strings of emotion. Suffice it to say, tears fell from my eyes more than once.

For example, here’s an excerpt: “I glance at her and my eyes are blessed. She wears sunlight in her blond hair like a spill of golden flowers… we smile at each other. Her hand finds mine. They were meant to be clasped together, just like this.”

Anyway, to sum it up, I absolutely loved this book. It won the World Fantasy Award when it came out, so other people loved it, too. Of course, there’s no book written that’s going to please everyone, so before picking up a copy, ask yourself this: Did you like “Stand By Me” by Stephen King? If the answer is yes, consider “Boy’s Life” as a wilder adventure, longer in page count (over 800) and filled with a bit more imagination and a lot more depth.

SIX out of Five stars (yes, that is the equivalent of 120% – it deserves it)

Midnight cheers,

Eric

_________________________________

Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. Assorted stories and articles that bear his byline may be found in the disreputable publications reserved for back alley bazaars. As an editor, Eric’s produced the anthologies, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award®. Read his novella, Baggage of Eternal Night (a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award), and watch for many more forthcoming books, including Chestnut ’Bo (TBP 2016). Outside of the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. He’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Of America, and the International Thriller Writers. Visit Eric at: www.ericjguignard.com, his blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com, or Twitter: @ericjguignard.

 

 

‘This is the End’ is Comedic Gold

Personally, there were reasonable expectations when approaching the new Seth Rogan-helmed comedy, This is the End. Co-written by Evan Goldberg (whose claim to fame was co-writing Superbad and Pineapple Express with Rogan) as well as taking the director’s chair for the first time, the comedic possibilities about an end-of-the-world scenario are actually limitless when done right. Read more

Review: Bailey Ryan and Mindy Robinson Team Up for Veronique Von Venom

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It’s official!  Our very own Bailey Ryan has been cast in season 2 of the internet sensation Veronique von Venom: Horror Hostess Hottie, starring Mindy Robinson. Read more

The Great Gatsby

Personally, Baz Luhrmann is one of the more eccentric visionary directors working in the film medium. His productions of Moulin Rouge! and Strictly Ballroom were workings of masterful story-telling fused with an over-ripe visual and editing style which audiences have come to love about Luhrmann films. However, does this interesting mixture provide a base for the long-lasting story by F. Scott Fitzgerald? It could have. Read more

Fifty Shades of Fire

In the altruistic sense, denying perspectives can prevent one from being led, willing or not, down a path to self or peer destruction. However, with every action, with every choice, there is a consequence. That point, leads me to this; I have never been, nor will ever be a fan of the novel 50 Shades of Grey. Read more

HORROR BOOK Reviews (April)

 

Book Reviews of (fairly) recent publications. Each of the following books may be purchased through any large book store or online through www.amazon.com.

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Evil Dead: Then and Now

'The Evil Dead' 1981 Theatrical Poster

‘The Evil Dead’ 1981 Theatrical Poster

The Evil Dead franchise is one of the most popular, influential and beloved series of horror films in existence. During the early transition into what can be considered the modern horror film, there were three films that altered film language when approaching American horror that all came in relative short succession to each other. The first and decidedly the most influential was The Exorcist in 1973, where the approach to supernatural elements was taken from the baroque and overly fantastical worlds to that of a stark and utterly unforgiving perspective on the definition of evil, also beginning to test on-screen violence to that of mainstream audiences not usually journeying to the drive-ins for Roger Corman films or to grindhouses for the latest Roger Earl flick. This was during a time in which films bent on a more realistic perspective and tone were continuously flooding the market and influencing audiences while grandiose old displays of gothic horror were pushed to the wayside. However, this altered again in 1980 with the release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Read more