Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman


Rating: WARTY!

This was a quick fail for me. I listened to the first part of the audiobook which was read averagely by Todd Haberkorn, and the last part, and neither was remotely appealing, so this one was a speedy return to the library. I really don't know how you can make a novel about necromancy boring, but this was dead boring and I make no excuse for the pun!

It also contains some bad language right up front, and while I have no problem with that normally in a novel, it really stood out here starkly and appeared to be employed for no good purpose, so it just felt like one more bad choice on the part of the author.

The plot sounded interesting, but the execution of it was the death of it. Andrew Blankenship is the necromancer who has "a treasury of Russian magic stolen from the Soviet Union thirty years ago" so we're told, now also has a monster (so-called) from Russian folklore is coming for him. The "monster" is Baba Yaga, and I'm sorry but I simply can not Baby Yack-up seriously. The whole idea of this wicked witch of the forest who lives in a house that sits on chicken legs is so pathetic that it inspires belly-aching laighter and not one iota of terror in me whatsoever, so this was a huge fail. Admittedly I listened to only about third of this, but it felt more like a turd, and that was more than enough to make me dis-recommend it.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Harper, and Dennis Calero


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third of three graphic novels I got from the library recently, all three of which I was disappointed with. This one is not about super heroes, but is based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story published over a hundred seventy years ago wherein a man who, shall I say, doesn't have all his ravens in a row, takes exception to the disfigured eye of his friend, and ends up killing the guy and secreting the body under the floor of his dwelling. The novel is part of a graphic series, but I don't think i will read any more of these.

When a neighbor reports hearing a scream from the house and the police arrive to investigate, the psycho guy (who goes unnamed), invites them in, confident they will find nothing incriminating, only to incriminate himself when he believes he can hear the still-beating heart of his victim and ends up tearing up the floor with the police present to witness it.

I haven't read Poe's original, so I can't make a comparison. All I can say is that this was dissatisfying and the story was changed slightly - the body in the original was dismembered, but it is not, here. What bothered me though, was the lack of inventiveness of the illustration. It seemed to consist almost solely of close-ups of the faces of the characters, with very few more removed images, and while this artwork was not bad, it wasn't that great, either.

Admittedly some guy rambling on about how his friend's eye drives him nuts isn't really something you can make a lot of, so perhaps choosing to turn this particular short-story into a graphic novel was a bad decision. As I can testify, while it's a lot easier to tinker with someone else's story and (in my case) make a parody of it, than it is to come up with an original story, it's not impossible either. All-in-all, I was unhappy with this one, and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rats by Paul Zindel


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb made this novel sound like it was a young adult story but it really isn't. There's a level of gore in it which is obnoxious. I got the impression that the author was disturbingly in love with describing the demise of people rodently chewed, mouse-masticated, in a word: eaten by rats. And he wasn't anywhere near as entertaining as Eric Idle. After only one disk in this audio book on CD, I couldn't stand to listen to any more, and I refuse to recommend something this obsessive. The author knows quite literally nothing about rats and worse, he ascribes to them superhuman powers. His descriptions are not even consistent.

The plot begins around a landfill which is being paved-over to make way for development. Something - which may well be explained later in the novel, but which wasn't at the point I quit, makes the rats grow, swarm, and essentially turn into zombies. They immediately start attacking the residents of the nearby residential neighborhood. This story read like bad fanfic and it was laughable - and not in a good way.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Doll Bones by Holly Black


Rating: WORTHY!

These three twelve-year-old kids, Alice, Poppy, and Zach, have a healthy imagination and play together in an elaborate fantasy world they've created, featuring pirates and mermaids, and evil queens, based on their respective toys - action figures, Barbie dolls, and this one bone china doll in Poppy's mom's cabinet. The way Holly Black evokes these kids and their passion for this fantasy world is remarkable. The way it's read by Nick Podehl contributed greatly to the atmosphere and representation of the kids, too. I can only speculate uselessly how I would have found this novel had I read it first rather than listened to it. I would still have liked it, but would I have liked it as much? More? It's impossible to say, just as it's impossible to say if I would have disliked it had the narrator been rather nauseating. You pays your money and you takes your chance! Except that in this case it's "You borrows your audiobook ...."

Zach's dad thinks Zach is too old and too male to be playing with dolls, so he throws out all of Zach's figures one day while Zach is at school. The boy already resented his father for disappearing for some time before slowly sliding his way back into the family, but now Zach honestly hates him. For reasons which I didn't feel were well explained, Zach is too embarrassed to admit to the girls that his toys were thrown away, so he brusquely states that he's done playing these childish games. This begins a thread of discord which runs uncomfortably through this story like a out-of-the-way itch

The girls are crushed, but he's adamant about his decision, until late one night Alice and Poppy show up outside his bedroom window with a story that Poppy has been having night-time visitations from the ghost of the bone china doll, which she says is made from real bones of a dead girl who wants to be buried or she will curse them. Poppy has some actual ashes and bone fragments she says were inside the doll. They look like they came from someone's cremated remains.

Zach isn't sure that she's being honest, and he only half-way believes the ghost story, but he's impressed by Poppy's earnest demeanor, and by Alice's bravery at risking being grounded for life by her strict grandmother. Alice said she would only go with Poppy if Zach came, and Poppy was determined to go alone if she had to. Zach may have been skeptical, but impressed by the strength of conviction in his friends, and interested in one more adventure with the girls, the three of them hop on a bus to East Liverpool in the wee hours. it's a three hour ride to whence this dead girl supposedly hailed. Their plan is to bury her and lift the curse.

Thus begins their quest! The story is told well and has a lot of action and adventure, and some interesting conversations and shifting allegiances. There are some less than noble behaviors indulged in by these three kids, and I would have liked to have seen some sort of remorse or cost to the kids resulting from these, but there was none. I didn't like that. That aside, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I recommend it not only for age-appropriate readers (/listeners!), but for anyone who likes a good adventure story.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Camp Midnight by Steven T Seagle


Rating: WORTHY!

Having enjoyed Seagle's American Virgin series which I reviewed in August 2015, I was interested to see what he'd do with a children's story, and I wasn't disappointed.

Illustrated very nicely and appropriately by Jason Katzenstein, in really eye-catching bright and shifting colors, this children's novel tells a really good story about a feisty girl, Skye, who accidentally gets sent to a summer camp for monsters instead of one for children. I fell in love with Skye from the off. She's self-possessed, willful, motivated, thoughtful, and doesn't take crap from anyone. Why is it that so few female YA authors are able to create main characters like this?!

Maybe I had Halloween on the brain, but I swear I didn't plan on having three scare stories in my lap at the same time: not only an audiobook version of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes about two kids, but also two advance review copies of stories where a kid is bundled off for the summer away from a primary parent who is going to be wa-ay out of town, and the kid ends up surrounded by monsters! It will make for an interesting comparison of the latter two, though one is a graphic novel. and the other a chapter book.

In this graphic novel, Skye's mom is off to Rwanda for the summer, and isn't about to take Skye along (I'm guessing she doesn't want Skye coming down with Ebola or being recruited into a children's army, but heaven help any Ebola virus or psycho military commander who tries to mess with Skye!). The young daughter is sent to stay with her dad and step mom - a non-mom she despises. Evidently the feeling is mutual, since stepmom has convinced real dad to bundle Skye off to summer camp. Naturally Skye not only feels like crap about this, but is acting out over it, and doing a professional job.

Intentionally or not, Skye ends up on the bus to Camp Midnight, and if the bus trip isn't creepy enough, the camp itself is creepier. The only friend Skye makes is Mia, a spirited but wilting violet of a girl she meets on the back seat of the bus. Their relationship is amusingly thorny to begin with, but broadens and deepens as the story progresses. Skye is surprised to discover that life in the camp seems to start at midnight instead of daybreak, and she eventually discovers that all the other kids (even the hottie boy she encounters) are monsters of one hue or another, and the camp counsellor is a witch.

Skye is in a bit of a panic as to what to declare herself as, when her friend Mia declares she will reveal what she is at a time and place of her choosing, and not before. Skye likes this idea, and adopts this same posture herself. Contrary to expectations that this might make her into the very a pariah she's starting o feel she already is, it lends her a mystique, and people grow interested in her, including the hottie boy, who has a hair-raising story of his own.

But what exactly, is Mia, and why do some of the other campers seem to despise her? And what will Skye do when Mia comes out and everyone finds out? The joy of this story was in finding out exactly how Skye navigates her way through this morass of monstrous, this quagmire of queer (in the olde fashion'd sense). needless to say - but I;;l say it - she does a fine job and ends up deciding she wants to return to this camp next year - and the start of a series, presumably. But not everything pans out the way you might think it might. I recommend this as a truly worthy read.


Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


Rating: WARTY!

I can't tell you what this is about, not really, because I gave up on the audio book after two disks. Nothing really interesting had happened at that point. It started out great, with the mysterious man purveying lightning rods, who arrives just ahead of a thunderstorm and a carnival, and gives James Nightshade and William Halloway a rod to attached to one of their homes. That sounded great, but then I got the impression that Ray Bradbury is a guy who loved to hear himself talk. I never got that impression from his short stories, but let him run to a lengthier piece, and I guess he does love the sound of his voice! Anyway I couldn't stand to listen to any more and I can't recommend this based on what I heard.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Slade House by David Mitchell


Rating: WORTHY!

I’ve not been having much luck with advance review copies of late so it was a joy to get this one. At first it felt like reading a book of short stories, but as soon as I began on the second one, I realized this related back to the first in interesting ways. I confess I had skimmed the first, not finding it very engrossing, but I went right back re-read it properly, and then proceeded without a problem. The first part still struck me as less than thrilling, but it did help to read it properly.

The stories are set exactly nine years apart (no matter what your watch or our calendar might be telling you…) and there’s a disturbing reason for this. The snapshots all center around Slade House, which was destroyed during a World War Two bombing attack on London, but still manages, somehow, to appear every nine years. The only entrance is through a tiny door set in a wall in the claustrophobic confines of Slade Alley. That’s how you get in. You don’t get out.

Norah and Jonah Grayer are twins who discovered that they had a psychic link. When one of their acquaintances discovered this, he took them under his wing and traveled with them around the world, overseeing their training, and the perfection of their skills until they no longer had use for him. The only other problem they had was their mortality, and they discovered they could offset this by sucking the souls from certain people who had a compatible soul type. They need to do this every nine years….

The story was generally well written, and although it bogged down in a little too much detail in some parts, and the beginning was a bit off-putting, it had genuinely creepy and scary parts to offset this. It was also technically well-written with few errors that I noticed. One of them was the use of a quote instead of an apostrophe in two phrases/words: 'that’s what religion does, doesn” t it' and 'can”t'? Also this is another author who doesn't know that we stanch a blood flow, not staunch it, although by dint of usage, the wrong word is being slowly shanghaied into use.

Aside from that my biggest issue was that each story, thought told by different people, is in first person PoV, which I hate. it’s a very weak and limiting voice and it generally makes for a poor if not downright irritating story. In this case it wasn’t told too badly, but it made no sense, because if these people were dead then they couldn’t very well be relating their stories in first person, right up to their moment of death, could they? So were they really dead? In this instance, it made for an interesting question and an interesting use of voice.

I understand that in many ways, this is a companion to David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks which I haven’t read, but which some reviewers have indicated offers a nod and a wink to the earlier story, in much the same way, I imagine, my own novels do. As I said, I haven’t read the earlier work, so I can’t comment on what kind of links or connections may or may not exist between the two.

Overall I recommend this as a very worthy read.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


Rating: WORTHY!

Hill House had stood for eighty years and might have stood for eighty more, and whatever walked there, walked alone, we're told in this 1959 classic, as four people arrive to investigate this deserted and isolated house's reputation. It's haunted, even if only by a tragic history of a strict old man, three wives, and two daughters, one of whom committed suicide by hanging herself inside the gothic tower which the house boasts.

John Montague is the one who has rented the house for three summer months. He has invited two women who have had psychic experiences, Theodora - just Theodora - who is an artistic woman who had a fight with her roommate and took off without making up, and Eleanor Vance, a highly-strung woman who has recently been freed from the oppressive demands of her mother by the latter's death. The fourth in their party is Luke Sanderson, who stands to inherit the creepy house. Designed by original owner Hugh Crain, this residence has no regular angles: everything is very slightly off, and no door remains open, although the grounds are beautiful.

Shortly before the end of the story, and for reasons unknown, these four are joined by Montague's obnoxious high-maintenance wife and her companion Arthur, who is evidently a heavy-handed school principal. While I've seen people comment on Theodora's possible lesbian persuasion, I've never seen anyone else comment on the possible relationship between Mrs Montague and Arthur Parker until I read a review today. What's good for the loose is good for the propaganda!

Mrs Montague has no first name that we learn and Arthur no last (aside from one very brief mention). She's always Mrs Montague and he is always Arthur, and so they make a perfect couple. Neither of them experiences anything in the house except for a brief spell of automatic writing which she generates when hidden away in the library alone with Arthur playing with his planchette. This writing also mentions Eleanor, now calling her Nell, and a need for her to come home - but which is her home now?

Nothing happens on that first night with just the four of them, and Eleanor wakes up refreshed after the best night's sleep she's ever had, but slowly, over the next few days, they begin hearing noises in the house at night - things, maybe animals, moving along the hallways, banging on the doors, low murmurings, hysterical laughter, and children's voices. The odd thing is that it is always the two girls who hear noises, or the two guys who chase an unknown animal through the house and out of the front door. The guys didn't hear the noises, the girls didn't hear the animal. It's only later, as they bond as a team, that they start to share experiences.

Mrs Dudley is the housekeeper, a minor character who is almost robotic in her behavior and habits, and who provides some unintended comic relief. She refuses to stay there at night, and only visits during daylight to clean and prepare meals for the guests. Her husband is an obnoxious lecher, but appears only at the beginning of the story, as Eleanor arrives.

Eleanor slowly becomes unhinged (or more unhinged) as the nights pass. There appears chalked writing on the walls mentioning her by name one night and shortly after, writing in red paint or blood also referring to her and talking of home. Eleanor thinks that journeys end when lovers meet, and starts to see the house as her lover, as her journey's end, as home.

Despite all of the noise and disturbance, no one is injured, only scared. The worst scare Eleanor has is in the dark one night when she's sharing a room with Theo, and the lights go out and they hold hands in the darkness, but when the light comes back on, Theo is too far away and was sleeping, so Eleanor doesn't know whose bony hand she had held. In the night, In the dark./p>

After the other residents discover Eleanor climbing the dangerously decrepit iron helical staircase in the tower library, they decide she's becoming overwhelmed by the house, and bid her goodbye, but when she drives down the twisting lane to exit the house, she loses control of the car and has an accident. The novel curiously doesn't expressly say she died. Wikipedia has her crashing into an oak tree but the novel doesn't actually specify what tree it is, only that it's a large one.

I recommend this novel despite the fact that it's a bit too drawn-out and tedious in places, most notably at the beginning, because it is really well written (and very avant-garde, fifties-style in places) and masterfully done with regard to the creepy events. This is not your cheesy B picture horror story. It also leaves questions unanswered. Was there really a haunting? Wikipedia and others argue that maybe the events were caused by Eleanor, but this "explanation" fails to account for the fact that Hill House had a haunted reputation before Eleanor ever came onto the scene. I recommend this novel and both movies, the earlier one being much more faithful to the novel than the more recent one.

Look for an upcoming companion review to this one - a review of the graphic novel version of Hell House.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Tortured Life by D Watters, C Wijngaard, N Gibson, J Wijngaard


Rating: WARTY!

This graphic novel tells the story of a guy named Richard Carter who lives in the infamous Whitechapel region of London, and who is undergoing Hikikomori - a Japanese word describing someone who has withdrawn from society for six months or longer - sometimes years.

Because of this reference to a Japanese cultural phenomenon, I mistakenly began to think this was set in Japan, but as evidenced by the fact that character is Caucasian, as is his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends and colleagues, and even a passing priest, I was forced to conclude that this was merely a reference, and nothing to do with the story. It wasn't until later that his name and place of residence was conformed.

Richard has undergone this withdrawal because of something awful which has overwhelmed him, and today he decides he's going to kill himself. He had a Schrödinger experience one day which precipitated all this and in it, he saw a cat lying in the street, at first dead, then alive, then dead. After a while he let the horror of it go, but then he has the same experience with a bird, and the visions become worse and start showing up with people that he sees. He's predictably saved by a young woman who dresses, shall I say, less than conservatively, and who is named Alice McNelly.

Shortly after Alice's arrival, Richard finds himself pursued by a beast from hell which only looks, vaguely, like it was once human. The beast's speech was awfully hard to read. Too small and blurry, red on black so I pretty much skipped reading those parts, especially when I realized what a juvenile mentality this chraracter had. He's also amused by bathroom humor. There's a weird part around page 65 and 66, where the image frames seem out of order. First the bad guy is in the toilets kicking open the doors one by one, then he's heading for the toilets, then he's back in there again kicking open the doors.

Richard's a slim guy, but he curiously appears to put on weight at the bottom of page 70. Maybe the bottom of page seventy just makes characters appear overweight?! Does this panel make me look fat?! I got to about page 140 of this 160-some page novel and could stand to read it no longer. It made some kind of sense to begin with, but then it took the road to weirdsville and never looked back.

It ceased making any sense, it became disjointed and unintelligible (this doesn't even include the illegible ramblings of the red skeleton man), and it persisted in endless gore, which never appeals to me. If you like all of that, then this is for you, but I cannot in good faith recommend this as a worthy read.


Friday, May 15, 2015

The October Faction Volume 1 by Steve Niles


Title:
Author: Steve Niles
Publisher: IDW
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Damien Worm.

This is another advance review copy of a comic book which arrived without a cover or any material listing the writers, artists, and so on. The first page is the first page of the story. You know I could understand ARC books coming out in the past without a cover if it wasn't ready yet, but there really is no excuse whatsoever in this electronic age for having no cover. Even if the cover art isn't yet done (and I'd have to wonder why, especially for a genre which places great stock in cover art), it's perfectly simple thing to put a blank cover with a note on it explaining the problem.

Normally, I'd also wonder if creators spent less time self-indulgently creating myriad cover variants, they might have one to spare for the actual cover, but in this case, even that doesn't apply since there is no back cover or variant art in the back either! That works for me, but it still doesn't excuse a lack of any sort of cover.

Having said that, the art work was interesting, if tending towards muddy earth tones too much. It used the full page, so no wasted trees here in the print version. It looks almost like it was done in water colors, which was a cool idea - or at least was done in a computerized mimic of water colors. For my taste, though, it was way too dark, and the text, once again, was really hard to read in the iPad in Bluefire Reader.

I think graphic novel creators still think nostalgically in terms of print books and that's a mistake. Reading it in Adobe Digital reader on a 19" monitor, which renders the image roughly the same size as a print comic, still gave some problems but was a lot more legible than the iPad view.

The story felt really hard to get into - and this is volume one! It felt like I came into something in progress, or had started reading volume two by mistake. There was very little given to guide the reader to what was happening or why. The first part of it which started making any sense was page fourteen where "Miss Vivian" comes home from her last day of high school, disgusted with all the frivolous behavior. On that score I can relate to her, and her description of the events as a "selfie apocalypse" was funny to me. She's so disillusioned with school hat she flatly refuses to go to the graduations ceremony.

The large house in which she lives - with a servant yet! - is reputed to be haunted. The dark deep-hued coloring now seemed to work a lot better. I like the way the artist brought reds into it, suggestive of blood, perhaps? Vivian's brother Geoff has finally managed to trap a spirit - in the closet! It's bound magically, so Vivian gets to open the closet door to see it, which was amusing. Shades of Harry Potter in the dark Arts class in Prisoner of Azkaban. They plan on letting it go. I'm not sure I would, given how the spirit looks, but this is just a proof of concept thing for them. They have some deal going for which they need their father's approval, and Geoff now believes they can get it, given his success here.

That part was winning back my favor, but then we abruptly quit the story for a few pages to go off elsewhere and I was lost again, and just beginning to become annoyed when we switched right back to Geoff and Vivian and the arrival of their father. I'm getting whiplash here! The demon which is supposedly trapped attacks their father and the only way they can scare it off is to show it its own reflection in a hand mirror, which causes it to flee, but Geoff and Vivian think their father's behavior is weird, not the fact that they had a pet demon! That was funny.

So, a bunch of mixed feelings about this, especially towards the negative need of the spectrum when I began it, but I grew increasingly favorable towards it as I read through it. This felt like an extended prologue more than anything else and I despise prologue sin regular novels. This one did introduce us to the family, but we learned very little about them and what's going on in their world. Volume two needs to come through with a lot more solid explanation about exactly what this world is and how it works. That said, I feel fine rating this as a worthy read with the caveats I've mentioned borne firmly in mind.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

House of the Last Man on Earth by Robert B Marcus Jr and Ryan B Marcus


Title: House of the Last Man on Earth
Author: Robert B Marcus Jr and Ryan B Marcus
Publisher: Mockingbird Lane Press
Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"Not only does he steal my bike but he flaunts me with it." Doesn't make sense. Should either be "Not only does he steal my bike but he taunts me with it." Or, "Not only does he steal my bike but he flaunts it right in front of me." Or words to that effect.

This novel was a bit of an oddity. The blurb looked interesting, so it suckered me in and I started in on it hoping the story would be up to the promise, but in the end the promise was squandered and I grew bored. The first thing which struck me was the huge amount of white space on the page at the start of chapter one, and on every page afterwards - 318 pages, with roughly 65% of the page as white space! I noted this in both the Adobe Digital Editions version and on the iPad in the Bluefire Reader version (that latter you can see a sample of on my blog). I sincerely hope it doesn't go to print form in this manner - it would be a shameful slaughter of trees is it ever sold in volume. And here I thought that a physician's commitment was to first "do no harm". I guess that dictum doesn't include trees!

The novel is also first person PoV, the most detestable of voices, but as it happened, that wasn't so bad. The real problem here was the tedious repetitiveness of the events, with the story going nowhere. I had to put it down to attend to another commitment, but when it came to pick it back up just a few days later, I could not bring myself to do it. I really couldn't. I had no interest in pursuing it when there are other, exciting possibilities between the covers with another author - so to speak!

The story is that main character Richard is an ex-Marine (he played in the band) and is now in college pursing something - he has no idea what. So despite the fact that being inducted into the Marines speaks well of him, overall, he's pretty much a loser, and he doesn't make any effort to improve himself. His main problem, other than his girlfriend dumping him and his hots for his math teacher, Mrs Lynch, is a chronic lack of cash - or a chronic inability to budget the cash he has. Why he's so short of cash I do not know. As ex-military, he should be able to get assistance to attend school, but maybe that doesn't cover living expenses.

The thing is that I really didn't like him at all. He was not a likable person. He lied for no good reason. He abused his ex girlfriend's good will for no good reason. He was really just a jerk. I saw no reason to root for him at all.

One of his tasks in his lodging house is to walk the landlady's dog, I think to skim a little off his rent. I found myself skimming some of the huge info dump we get as this novel gets into gear. The dog has a habit of going into the room of a rather odd lodger known as the ghoul. Chasing the dog up there one day, Richard ends up passing through some sort of portal in this room, and suddenly he's still in Boulder, Colorado, but there is no city there, only grass, trees, a sheer mountain range, and oddly, a house on a ledge, some five hundred feet up the rock face, with a taxing switchback stone staircase to get up there. There's no one in the house and no people visible anywhere. I find it impossible to believe that the aging dog he was walking would take off hell for leather for the stone stairs carved into the cliff face, and run all the way up to the house, but this is what we're expected to believe.

When Richard finally manages to find his way back home, he uses this as an excuse to talk to the young and disapproving math teaching assistant (Mrs lynch) about time travel - without, of course telling her that he's apparently undertaken just such an adventure. He has no evidence and would sound like a madman, but the problem with that is that later he gets physical evidence that something warped is going on here, and yet he fails to avail himself of it. I guess Richard ain't too smart, which begs the question: why would someone like Mrs Lynch be even remotely interested in him - because that's painfully obviously where this was headed? A tedious trope "love" interest did not help my interest. Quite the contrary.

The problem for me was that this magical portal only led downhill - at least that's how the story went: back and forth, back and forth. Richard goes through the portal. He comes back. He's attacked by something. He goes through the portal. He comes back. He's attacked by something. Wash, lather, rinse, and repeat. All this travel, yet the story is really going nowhere. I had no interest in that and I cannot recommend this novel.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Twisted Dark by Neil Gibson


Title: Twisted Dark
Author: Neil Gibson (multiple illustrators)
Publisher:
Rating: WORTHY!

The first story, Suicide is very short, but it has a sting. The second, Routine is a father's relationship with his son, Koll, which is first abusive, then loving, then revelatory. After this we get a longer story about slavery and power titled A Lighter Note, which features an Indian guy (that's Indian, not Native American), named Rajeev who bemoans his marriage prospects given that he is so poor, and looks to improve his lot by working construction jobs in Dubai. The job isn't what he had hoped for - it's a lot worse, but what's a guy to do about it?

The fourth story, Windowpaynes is about Rodrigo and his new invention: windowpaynes. This is a window right out of sci-fi. One which transmits images and video like a giant monitor or TV. Rodrigo has a rather dangerous secret, though. Talking of images, the comic images don't always match the text in this story! For example, when we're shown the window sporting an image of the pyramids at Giza, the text refers to the Hong Kong skyline. When the text tells us that the screen can display Bondi Beach, the image shows us Venice. These are not views that can be readily confused! Evidently there was some miscommunication between artist and writer here. Either that or they just like messing with the reader.

The fifth story, The Game is set in a psychiatric hospital where at least one patient thinks nearly everyone is faking it and this is all a game. Is he right? I have to say the patients in this hospital seem to have extraordinarily large rooms and crampingly small beds! The sixth story is titled Blame, and is very short, but nicely-worded revenge story.

Next up is a sequel to Rajeev's story. This is titled A Heavenly Note and was frankly a bit of a bust. Following this, Cocaína is a story of drug dealers which held no interest for me. I started reading it but it was so boring that I couldn't stand to finish it.

The Pushman is a story about a guy who works on the Tokyo subway - he literally pushes people into the coach to make them fit and make room for more. I have to credit this graphic novel for being cosmopolitan. It's not confined solely to the US and to American stories, which is a big plus, but the guy in this story, Yoshi Higuchi, looks more Chinese than ever he does Japanese. He wanted to be an architect, but was, he believes, robbed of the opportunity, and now he gets his revenge on society in his own petty way. This story was not that great.

Münchausen's Little Proxy becomes more and more interesting as you read it, and being to realize that this story doesn't stand alone. I have worked in a hospital where a case of this actually showed up. It's one of the most lethal child abuse manifestations and can be hard to even recognize. Named after the fictional Baron Münchausen (who was based on a real life character), Münchausen's by Proxy is when the person in charge of the child fakes (or creates real) symptoms in a child. The basis of this, when done to one's self or to another, is primarily to garner attention of one sort or another.

I do have some complaints about this graphic novel. Once again the text is so small and poorly emphasized that even on a nineteen inch monitor (I read this in the Adobe Digital Editions reader), it was really quite hard to read it at times. Having to stop and squint periodically truly detracted from my enjoyment of the story. Naturally, in a graphic novel, you don't want the text obliterating the images, but there is a happy medium. This comic failed to find it. A graphic novel isn't just images (although it can be!), Usually it's also text, and if the text fails, it's just as bad as the images failing.

Some of the chapters have quotes preceding them, for example from Henry van Dyke, Marilyn Monroe, and Oscar Wilde, but the quotes are not sourced and I think they're more "folk quotes" than actual quotes from the people named. Some I know where accurate, but I was unable to confirm that any of those three people actually said what has been attributed to them.

The Oscar Wilde quote doesn't sound like him at all, and it was Darrin Weinberg who said, "It matters not whether you win or lose; what matters is whether I win or lose." Which is very close to what's quoted as coming from Wilde. You can tell how reliable a quote is by googling it and seeing what kind of web sites repeat it. In the first three pages of Google results for the Monroe quote for example, there wasn't one which stood out as a sterling or reliable source! Far too many purported "quotes" garner currency for themselves by repetition, not by accuracy.

That said, I recommend this graphic novel. While the graphics are pretty basic, they're not bad at all; only line drawings and gray scale, but not bad. The stories are sly in that some of them sneak around behind you and resurface in unexpected ways where you don't expect them. Some are interconnected. It's a worthy read.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Monster Motors by Brian Lynch


Title: Monster Motors
Author: Brian Lynch
Publisher: Idea & Design Works, LLC
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Nick Roche.

There was no front cover on this - the comic opened right at page one! Hopefully that will be fixed in the actual published version. This graphic novel takes the term "Monster Trucks" literally! The story here is that Vic Frankenstein has come to Transylvania because in his opinion, it badly needs a motor mechanic. He has an assistant, IGOR - an acronym for Interactive Garage Operations Robot. Vic bought a garage/junkyard on the Internet. There was only one condition - never take down the "big, scary fence". Uh-huh.

He cleans up the garage and then heads out to drum-up business in town. He doesn't mind the drudge work or starting small. He has a saying "Michelangelo had to paint a few motels before they offered him that chapel." The problem is that as soon as he's fixed-up a few cars, he discovers the very next morning that those same vehicles are trashed. The only clue to the perp is two puncture wounds near the gas tank. Vic decides to lie in wait with IGOR to see what's going on and sure enough, he discovers a vampire car by the name of Cadillacula.

I loved this idea. I was almost willing to give it five stars based on the idea alone, but lots of people have great ideas for stories; the challenge is to deliver, and actually turn that idea into an entertaining novel. We have to see if this can be done, and in my opinion it was. You see, this series not only explores the twin stalwarts of Gothic horror, Dracula and Frankenstein, but also many other characters from the sci-fi and horror genres. I mean, surely you've heard of Minivan Helsing? The Lagoon Buggy? Wheelwolf?

Meanwhile, back at the garage, Vic's problems are taking a turn for the worst. Cadillacula returns and takes a bite out of his custom-made super-truck. Now, not only has he unleashed a monster, he has inadvertently given it super-powers! Naturally the only response to this is to build a Frankenstein monster of a truck from the parts of dead vehicles, but even this has unexpected consequences, as Vic is about to discover.

I really liked this story. It was fun, playful, inventive, beautifully illustrated and moved apace. I do confess I had to wonder initially, why there were so many skimpily-dressed females in Transylvania, but even that rather paled against the question of why there were so many American vehicles in Transylvania. I had thought that perhaps both questions could be answered when we understand that if there is one vehicle that the USA is really good at producing, it's a steamroller that goes by the name of Hollywood. Then later in the story I discovered that this was supposedly Transylvania, Kentucky, which actually no longer exists, just as the European Transylvania no longer exists.

In terms of complaints, I'd have to say there were almost none. One problem I did notice was that the inking was way too light. I liked that this writer doesn't feel the need to randomly bold odd words here and there, like comic book writers do way-the-hell too often, but the penmanship here was very faint-hearted making it a bit difficult to read at times. Other than that, I recommend this whole-heartedly.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Madame Frankenstein by Jamie S Rich


Title: Madame Frankenstein
Author: Jamie S Rich
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Megan Levens.


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I'm not sure what this has to do with the name 'Frankenstein' as such, since there's no one in this novel who goes by that name, but it is another retelling of the Frankenstein story. Set in 1932, it tells of Vincent Krall, mentally abused by the alpha male in his adoptive family, and run out of his college, sets out to prove his worth as a physician. His inspiration comes when the love of his life - a woman who really cares very little for him - is killed in a fiery motoring accident.

He takes her corpse and reanimates it, filling in the most badly damaged bits with spare body parts - the sources of which he has no qualms over. I mean, if someone's at death's door, you may as well hurry them through, right, if someone needs their organs?

His new woman looks very much like his old love, and he teaches her everything she needs to know about passing for human and being a woman, but for some reason, she's never quite enough for him. You know what they say about a woman scorned, right? On that same score, Vincent's "step-brother" is also onto him. He despises Vincent and knows he's up to something, but this simply makes him one more task which Vincent has to take care of, doesn't it?

Vincent fails to grasp just how much Henry knows and exactly who he's told about it, but that's the least of his troubles. What's he going to do when the woman in his life and starts getting it together? Is something going to start falling apart?

I highly recommend this one. Jamie Rich's story is credible and sensible (if a little crazy around the edges!). The artwork by Megan Levens is outstanding - clean, sharp line drawings, beautifully done and remarkably expressive. The whole comes together to make a great story with an ending which is, I have to say in the particular, even better than the sum of its parts....


Friday, February 20, 2015

Bleeding Earth by Kaitlin Ward


Title: Bleeding Earth
Author: Kaitlin Ward
Publisher: Egmont
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I had problems with this novel right from the off. There were so many of them that it's hard to know where to start. It’s written in first person PoV which I detest because few writers can do it and make it readable without inducing nausea. There’s nothing more fingernails-on-a-chalk-board than someone constantly admonishing a reader to “Lookit ME! Lissen to ME! Nothing’s more important than what’s happening to MEEEEE!” Why so many writers choose this form is a mystery. I generally adore writers who do not and it seems so much more annoying in YA novels, probably because YA stories are all-too-often far more petty and frivolous than is literature aimed at a more mature readership, for reasons unknown.

This one begins with the narrator, Lea, trying to induce her friend Hillary to come into the graveyard with her, when it’s Hillary’s idea to go there in the first place! Hillary evidently has an irrational fear of graveyards which makes it problematic for her to do tracings of the gravestones for her family history project. Why she chose to trace rather than simply photograph was unexplained. Maybe her fear has grown because she’s lived directly across the street from the graveyard all her life? Familiarity breeds terror?

Lea sounds like a really needy person. She was responsible for Hillary’s breaking-up with her boyfriend because of this sorry neediness. What if Hillary’s boyfriend’s name had been Bill? Maybe history would be different?!

Anyway, as they’re leaving the cemetery, they walk right over a grave which is leaking blood – that’s how oblivious they are of their surroundings – and this is despite Lea’s ragging on Hillary, and despite Hillary’s supposed phobia. Neither of them notices until they step in it. Worse than this, they’re too stupid to grasp that a corpse isn’t going to leak blood, and even if it did, the blood isn’t going to come flooding up to the surface of the grave from six feet below. This creeping 'dumb-assery' problem becomes worse as the story goes on.

On the positive side, this isn’t your usual trope YA – Lea is lesbian, so there’s no bad-boy boyfriend around, and fortunately, Aracely (Lea’s girlfriend whose parents are French) isn't a “bad boy” who has hair falling into her eyes, and has gold flecks in her eyes, and is ripped, so it's not all bad! Lea is ‘out’ at school and at home, yet her best friend’s mother doesn’t know and apparently wouldn’t approve, so they keep her in the dark. Hmm! I wonder what the future of this relationship is going to be?

Well, on top of all that, Aracely isn’t out yet which is another inexplicable issue since…FRENCH! I know all French aren’t alike, but it seems to me there’d be a lot less judgment and opposition in French parents (actually one parent – her dad. Mom is not in the picture) than ever there would be with US parents, who tend to be much more conservative than Europeans.

The problem with Aracely is that Lea’s only attraction to her is that “She’s so, so pretty.” Seriously? Can you not think of a single thing to recommend her other than her skin? I don’t get why female writers so persistently do this to female characters. I don’t get why they don’t get that regardless of how the rest of the world objectively sees a person, they’re always beautiful to the person who loves them.

Hillary’s boyfriend is named after a brand of jeans and has “…the standard blond-haired, blue-eyed thing going on…”? What on Earth does that mean? That only Aryans are acceptable or that this is a standard because it’s the most common appearance? Both are so wrong that they couldn’t be more wrong without going around the other side and starting back towards right again. I don’t know what that phrase means, but blue-eyed boys are a common trope in YA written by white authors.

As she walks home, Lea passes “…an LED display with bright pink bulbs.” LEDs are not bulbs, so I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but we're conveniently distracted from that conundrum, because it’s right at that point that the earth starts bleeding – there is blood coming up from the side-walk, and for some reason this causes mass hysteria! Lea just goes home and watches TV like it’s any other day. Apparently the event is world-wide.

This blood “…doesn’t just drown the grass - it suffocates it.” I fail to see any real distinction here, but we can put that down to artistic license! The problem with the blood is that it’s rising everywhere and we’re told that it’s causing floods. It’s supposedly running down the streets like rain in a heavy rainstorm, but it’s not draining away, either, so it makes no sense.

Although it appears exactly like blood right down to the smell, apparently it’s not congealing like blood! How this welling of blood is causing society to break down is unexplained. We’re told that places like NYC have power outages, and that coastal areas are flooding, but there’s nothing offered to explain how, exactly, these things are actually occurring.

There seems to be this big deal about scientists not knowing whether it’s blood! Seriously? It would be the easiest thing in the world to identify whether it is or not, yet this is like a big mystery? It made no sense. Worse than this, after Lea informs us that Aracely wants to be a scientist, the latter remarks (after it starts raining blood) that blood is too thick to evaporate! Nonsense. The solid particles in blood won’t evaporate, of course, but the liquid – which is water (duhh!) will. But that’s not how it’s raining blood – it’s not like the blood is developing its own hydro-cycle! Once you have a story where blood is unaccountably welling-up from the earth itself, there’s no reason why it can’t magically precipitate from the sky, too.

At one point Aracely indicates that no one has yet determined what this red substance truly is, but only two pages later (and in the same time frame), Lea is saying that it’s been specifically identified as human blood, so there’s a big disconnect there (and Aracely’s scientific credentials take another hit!).

We read at one point: “…she smiles at me - I can tell by the crinkles at the corner of her eyes.” That's the only way to tall that someone is smiling?! I guess Aracely's so, so pretty lips don't do the trick? Or maybe the narrator, Lea, isn't very smart? There's a good case to be made for that. At one point, these idiot girls go out for a drive – in blood that’s a foot deep! Of course the car breaks down.

This blood flood is completely unrealistic - even within its own fictional framework. Despite this up-welling and raining of blood, life goes on pretty much as normal: everyone goes off to work, kids go off to school. What? There’s absolutely zero police presence. There is no national guard. There is no fire department. There's apparently no emergency! Worse than this, there's no fly problem! Flies swarm all over a bloody road-kill corpse yet here, when the entire world is covered in blood, there are no flies?

Lea’s mom is described as “firmly atheist”, but she’s later described as avidly reading the Bible? No, it's not going to happen! Not if she's an actual atheist as opposed to a fence sitter.<.p>

The blood is the only character that changes in this story! Or at least, it changes its character. First it’s not toxic, then it is, but only if drunk. It’s not airborne, then respirators are being handed out, but you have to go out in the blood to the courthouse to pick up your respirator? Despite there being shuttle buses to transport people around, Lea and Aracely choose to walk back home! In blood. A foot deep. That’s now supposedly toxic.

Later they go to a party in the park, in the toxic blood. That's a foot deep. That’s when I quit reading this nonsense. I will not recommend something as juvenile as this, not even to an undiscriminating YA audience.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Outcast by Robert Kirkman


Title: Outcast
Author: Robert Kirkman
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated by Paul Azaceta and Elizabeth Breitweiser


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I didn’t like this graphic novel. There was really nothing here for me to like. The story is by the same author who wrote the Walking Dead, so it’s hardly surprising that he came up with what amounts to the walking demonized. It’s really the same story. People, evidently randomly, are possessed by demons and turn into flesh-eating, bloody-mouthed zombies (for all practical purposes). Kyle Barnes is able to exorcise these demons. He teams up with a pastor and they set about doing the work that their god really ought to be doing if he existed.

It’s never made sense to me that it’s always up to us – no god has ever stepped in to lend a hand. It’s the same in this story. And the same, and the same again, since every time someone is possessed, we get the same story of Kyle and Pastor Pal tossing the demon out. Over and over with really no variation. The artwork was pretty decent if you like your artwork bloody and with a side of garden-fresh gore, but the story was really non-existent, which probably means it has what it takes to get made into a TV show….

Kyle’s wife left him and took their child, and won’t let Kyle get a look in. The police suspect him of abusing children because he forces demons out of them (which can leave a burn mark), but they can’t prosecute because no one will turn him in – not when he’s freed their loved one of an evil spirit. Kyle is depressed and the writer depresses us in turn by telling us just how depressingly depressed he is. I grew tired of reading same ol’ same ol’ over and over with very little variety.

Kyle’s endless flashbacks didn’t help at all (unless they’re done really well – and are truly necessary to the story – flashbacks as such are worthless for all intents and purposes), but they did provide some relief from the monotony of yet another exorcism. Plus Kyle was abused by his mother rather than his father, so that was a bit different, I admit, and I loved the double meaning in the title.

The story is set in West Virginia (that’s the largely virgin territory just west of Virginia…), so you’d think there would be something better to possess people with – how about coal creatures? Anthracite attacks? Some bitchin’ bitumen? No, it’s just demons. Why they’re doing it? Unexplained. How they’re doing it? Unexplained. What they hope to achieve? Unexplained. What Satan gets out of all this? Unexplained. Why God is asleep at the wheel here? Unexplained. So, not a lot of substance or plot. Maybe that comes in volume two?


Friday, February 13, 2015

Doll Face by Tim Curran


Title: Doll Face
Author: Tim Curran
Publisher: Dark Fuse
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Erratum:
Page 133 "Roach Hotel" should be "Roach Motel"

With this novel, page one is the front cover, and the cover is better than the novel - but as usual, the cover doesn't honestly represent anything that happens between the covers. I've been seeing this (the cover is page one) a lot in books I've reviewed lately. This means that the novel doesn't start until page six, and runs to page 268, so roughly 260 pages all told. Some of them were really good!

This is my first experience of this author, Tim Curran, and of this publisher, Dark Fuse, and I have to say that my initial impression was that the first thirty pages were what makes it worth trudging through the really bad stuff to find a novel like this. It’s like working a month in a crappy factory job just so you save enough for that decent pair of pants you need. It’s like sweating on a treadmill every day for a week so you can enjoy that little piece of cheesecake you promised yourself. It’s like seeing your kids, fresh-faced, energetic and vital, after a lousy day at work. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last.

Chazz Akely, Creep Rodgers, Danielle LeCarr, Lex Fontaine, Ramona Lake and Soo-Lee Chang are driving home after a night out. Chazz is drunk as a skunk on junk, but he flatly refused Ramona's sober offer to drive. He was that kind of a dick. He missed the turn-off and ended up in a pissant village named Stokes. A village that hasn’t existed for half a century. As they careered into town, a figure steps out in front of the van which naturally rolled right over it. When Ramona finally convinced Chazz to go look at what they'd just hit, he agreed only because the van had stalled and wouldn’t start, so he couldn't drive away.

What the six of them hit in that van was so bizarre that none of them could believe it. I don’t want to give any more details - which will make it hard to write a review! - because the story is creepy and to this point it was good. It was one of those which makes you want to turn one page after another without stopping until you get to the end, but after around page 100, it made me want to turn pages simply to get it over with. The characters are alive and full of life, but for how long?

What’s chasing them around crazy town is also alive, but really it’s not. And no, it’s not zombies, although those of you who like zombie stories will likely feel right at home here. I don’t like zombie stories, but this one engrossed me. Who wouldn’t feel it for six young people who are trapped in a nightmarish world which seems to defy not only the laws of logic, but even those of physics? Their world now is one from which there seems to be no exit and which seems to change its nature even as they stand watching in stark, terrified disbelief.

There were some instances of bad grammar, such as "So when do we started acting?" on page 79, but in general, at first, the writing was good, dramatic, and inviting to read. it started out like this was no dumb-ass bunch of teens running round doing stupid, thoughtless stuff in the face of a psycho killer. But they deteriorated quickly. Around page 100, the whole novel went into a slump from which it never recovered. It was, at that point through to the end, nothing but rehashed "horrific" situations - the same thing that had happened before - changed slightly - but essentially repeated over and over again, and it was outright boring.

Indeed, it was so bad that it became a comedy rather than horror, with characters being killed off one-by-one in a manner just like your standard teen horror B-grade movie. That was when I checked out. I found myself skimming paragraphs, then pages, then chapters because it was no longer interesting to me. Eventually, I said, "The hell with it!" and I skipped to the last twenty pages just to see if the ending was any good. It was predictable, if you want to call that good, but predictable in the way the teen B horror movies are predictable - with the same kind of twist ending. I can't recommend this unless you just want to read the just first 100 pages or so!


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King


Title: The Shining
Author/Editor: Stephen King
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Rating: WORTHY!

It’s time for a pair of creepies for Halloween! Stephen King's third published novel is the only one of his that I really like. I've read several and never found another one which matches this one. My problem with King is that he reached a point shortly after this novel where he couldn't tell a story without telling the entire history of every character in the story, and it’s quite simply b-o-r-i-n-g! This novel wasn't. It was a bit long, but it had enough weirdness and action in it to keep it cooking beautifully. The way the hotel slowly absorbs King like a paper towel sucking up spilled tomato juice is delicious.

The first time I ever read this was when I was working night shift at a place where I wasn't required to do a whole heck of a lot besides keep an eye on things, so it was a great time and place to read it, too.

The novel begins with Jack Torrance, who has anger management issues and who is living on the edge, glad to finally get a job where he can get paid and also write. Which of us doesn’t dream of that?! The problem is that the job is caretaking the Overlook Hotel, which is a great place to stay in the summer, but which is totally cut off in the Colorado Rockies in winter, with no hope for outside help if anything goes wrong. Yeah - this is Stephen King, so you know everything is going to go wrong.

So while it begins with Jack (yeah, I know, yet another novel with a character named Jack. Just grin and bear it. Sooner or later writers are going to tire of that name, and then we'll get some respite.), it’s really about his young son Danny. Danny is the one who shines - meaning, in King's bizarre and obscure lexicon, that he has telepathic and clairvoyant powers and sees spirits which, frankly, terrify him. The third character is Jack's wife, Wendy.

Finally there's Dick Hallorann, the chef at the Overlook, who's headed for warmer climes for the winter. He discovers that Danny shines, and connects with him - telling him that if there's any trouble, Danny should just mentally call him, and he would come and help. Dick warns Danny not to go into a certain room, and to just ignore any spirits he might see here.

Oh, there is one other character: Delbert Grady, a former caretaker who went beyond "lost it" one winter and killed his entire family, including himself. He never actually left the hotel, however, and now Danny is here, he's working inadvertently as a sort of amplifier for the evil that lurks within it’s very fabric and structure.

The hotel wants to absorb Danny, but it can’t get him, so it turns attention upon the weakest link: Jack. Jack slowly starts losing it, especially when he has a fight with his wife and subsequently discovers that the hotel bar is fully stocked where it had previously been empty. Or it just his imagination?

The more he's sucked in by the oppressive and all-pervasive evil atmosphere of the hotel, the more he feels pressure to do to his own family what Grady did to his. It’s not long before all-out hostilities break-out, with Jack getting locked in a pantry because he's downright dangerous, and Wendy locking herself in a room into which Jack tries to break before she cuts him with a knife.

It’s at this point, where the whole hotel is coming alive and the creepiness factor is rapidly being dialed to eleven, that Danny lets out a massive mental shout for Dick, who gets it so hard that he almost collapses. He immediately sets off for the Overlook, not knowing how he will ever get there, but determined to do so.

One thing Jack neglects in his single-minded pursuit of Danny - so that he can turn him over to the hotel, is the hotel boiler, which 'creeps', and which will explode if not frequently attended to. This is what eventually takes out Jack, as Wendy and Danny escape with Dick.

This novel is nothing short of brilliant and I highly recommend it if by chance you haven't read it yet.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley





Title: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Publisher: InAudio (now apparently out of business)
Rating: WARTY

This is read by Ralph Cosham, who does the absolute most deadened and boring narration job of any audio production I've ever heard in any context anywhere! It's awful.

This is a movie/novel tie-in. The Movie: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is reviewed here. The Dracula novel by Bram Stoker is reviewed here. The Francis Ford Coppola produced movie based quite closely on this novel is reviewed in my movie review section.

The problem with reviewing this novel today is that it was written two hundred years ago; yet I've seen many negative reviews that regard it and treat it no differently than they would a new YA novel. It isn't. The crucial thing which these rather blind reviewers are missing is that this novel is a time machine directly into the mind of an educated and capable young adult writer and avid reader, an 18-year-old girl who was a rebel and radical even for modern times, let alone for 1816. How rare and precious is it then? How many opportunities do we have to pick the mind even of a young man from two centuries ago, let alone a teen-aged girl?

Mary was not Shelley in 1816. She was Mary Godwin, who had the year before lost her prematurely born daughter less than two weeks after she was born. She was 'living in sin' with poet Percy Shelley, whom she was shortly to marry and who himself had only six more years to live. They were on vacation with him and their newborn son (who was to die before he turned four), along with poet Lord Byron (who had only eight years more to live) in a cottage called Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Also there were Byron's personal physician, John Polidori (who was to die before he turned 26), and Claire Clairmont, Mary's stepsister and the only one of the group who lived to a ripe old age. It was June, 1816, 'the year without a summer' and the climate was proving wet and miserable, so when it wasn't fine enough to go boating on the lake, these people were confined to the cottage, talking long into the night, their time spent wholly in conversation and immersion in literature.

There were no phones, let alone cell phones. There was no television, no moving pictures. Photography as we know it (or as we knew it before digitization!) was still a decade away. There was no email, nor even the concept of it. Computing wasn't even in the air, nor would it be until Byron's daughter, commonly referred to as Ada Lovelace, got together with the brilliant Charles Babbage, and offered some assistance to him in his creation of what has come to be recognized as the world's first real computer. Ada is commonly viewed as the first programmer, but it would be probably more accurate to see her as the world's first computer hacker.

The cottage in which the group of friends resided had no running water, no central heating, no air conditioning. They had no servants. In some ways a bit reminiscent of the Bonnie and Clyde gang of the 1930s, with Mary and Percy on the run with 'their gang', but in their case running from family and Percy's creditors. Byron was on the run from slanderous accusations of incest which he denied vehemently. It was he who, after they'd read ghost stories to each other, suggested that they each write one in competition. Mary had no ideas, but she was able to dream up one. Bryon wrote a fragment of a story which Polidori later turned into the first vampire story to be published in English. Percy started one and gave up.

Mary was the only one to finish hers, and what began as a short story turned into one of the most famous novels ever written. Nothing had come to her at all until she had a 'waking nightmare' in the early hours of the morning, when she envisioned the creation of a creature, re-animated from a dead state by a man with delusions of divinity. Mary herself was horrified by it and this reaction was imprinted upon her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, who was by all accounts quite heavily modeled on Percy Shelley.

Of all people, he had indulged in scientific experiments in Galvanism as a student! Some critics have argued that Shelley wrote this novel in part at least to work through the grief she felt at the loss of her child, but that doesn't seem to me to be the case. She'd had another child by then, a child who was with her when she created Frankenstein, and I suspect she was rather more focused on her new baby than on the one she lost. I'm not saying she wasn't moved by her loss - a loss she was to see repeated uncomfortably often - just that she seemed to be much more self-possessed than was her famous fictional character Victor Frankenstein. Victor's middle name was never given, but I can reveal it to you here for the first time ever in print; it was: "Irresponsible". And did I mention that Cosham's narration sucks green wieners?

Having said all that, I have to agree with some critics on the tedious factor inherent in this story! The most monstrous thing about Frankenstein's monster is how god-awfully verbose he is! He drones on and on and frickstein on! At one point he actually says, "You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being". I guess no one jumped anybody's bones in those days when the term 'making love' quite literally meant talking each other into delirium. If Victor wanted revenge on the "Fiend", all he had to do was to create him a woman who was, like, totally tedious the the max. None of this is helped by the monotonous, and thoroughly unimaginative and uninventive tone employed by narrator Cosham in the audio book. His narration is unspeakably boring in the extreme. He could completely ruin the most exciting novel ever written. He's awful. And did I mention how nauseatingly bad he was? It's no wonder the audio company went out of business.

The story begins as a series of letters written by the rather delusional Captain Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton's life is miserable and he believes his only salvation is to create fame for himself. He selects as his goal, the task of discovering a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. One indicator of his cluelessness is that he fails to launch his expedition until winter is just around the corner... As he becomes ever more pressed in and surrounded by the northern ice floes, he espies a very tall man racing across the frozen ocean on a sled in the far distance. Note here how distinctive the figure is, because this is vitally important later. The next day his crew discovers another man, sickly and wasted, who turns out to be Victor Frankenstein. He's in pursuit of the first man they saw. As Frankenstein recovers his health, he sees something of his own blind, misguided ambition in Walton, and as a caution, he relates his story.

It starts with a somewhat unnecessary history of Victor's parents, but a lot of the text is somewhat unnecessary. It would seem that Shelley fleshed out her short story by the simple expedient of filling it with every detail of the city in which all the main protagonists grew up: verbosity. Victor is the first-born, and rather confused even then, it would seem, describing himself as "Genovese by birth" and then as being born in Napoli, Italy! Evidently he's talking rather loosely of his heritage in the former, and his actual birth in the latter. And the afterbirth is Cosham's narration.

During a time when he was at the age of four and traveling with his parents, they came across an orphan, Elizabeth Lavenza, who was well-born, but who had been left with a family for nursing after her mother died in childbirth. Her father also died, and now that family had many children and few resources, Victor's parents moved to adopt Elizabeth. Her importance is that she's to become Victor's love-interest later in life and an ill-fated pawn in the battle between Victor and the demon he creates. This brings me to the creature's name. Shelley uses the term "dæmon" to describe over twenty times, monster over thirty times, and "fiend" nearly forty times, so I'll go with the latter. Fiendish, aren't i?

She writes of Victor's losses in his life, and of his determination, once his mother dies, to find a way to beat death. He spends his college career single-mindedly pursuing his goal, forsaking his friends and family, and even his beloved Elizabeth. Victor is very selfish. Over the length of a year he makes himself almost ill, blinded by his psychosis. In the end, he succeeds in imbuing life into this savagely stitched-together corpse, but even in his moment of triumph, he's so far gone down his lonely road to hellish insanity that he's repulsed by his creation and takes to his bed, ill with fatigue and from an overworked mind. When he recovers, he discovers that the Fiend he created has gone, and he foolishly decides to leave it at that, turning back to family and friends and generally behaving like nothing has happened! As Hermione Granger would put it: "What an idiot!" She could also have been describing Cosham's atrocious narration.

When he returns to his home four months after his creation and subsequent illness, he learns that his younger brother William has been murdered. Even though he strongly suspects that his creation is responsible, he fails to bring this to the attention of the magistrates, although even that probably would not have changed the single-minded bloody determination of this kangaroo court to take the life of the child's nanny. The Fiend corners Victor and they have a long discussion. All he wants is to be loved, yet he's failed to find it in anyone he has met. He tells Victor that what he wants is a bride, and if Vic will grant this one thing, the Fiend and his bride will quit Europe and head into the wilds of South America, never been seen or heard from again.

Mary Shelley was never to know of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" which stood the science of biology on its end and which would have given her a solid scientific idea of how life in all its variety arose and spread. She did know, however, along with the work of many other scientists, the work of Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus, inventor of the rocket engine. In particular she mentioned his experiments with vermicelli which Lord Byron and Percy Shelley had discussed within her attentive earshot. She dealt rather cavalierly with death in her fiction, not having anything even remotely approaching our modern understanding that death is a process, not an event. She could not know how cells function, nor how rapidly that function deteriorates irreversibly once life has left a body. There is no way in which several day old corpses - or even fresh ones, for that matter, since no corpse is ever fresh once death has took hold of it - can ever be "reanimated" as she portrays Frankenstein doing.

Victor initially agrees to his creation's request that he create a bride (after swearing flatly that he would never accede!), but this vacillating spineless wastrel reneges on his solemn promise. You know, none of the Fiend's victims deserved what they got, but Vic earned every whimper of his punishment. It's ironic in the extreme that the one who lost everything was named Victor, isn't it? For the flimsiest of reasons, he retreats this time to the Orkneys, just off the north east coast of Scotland, to embark upon this new creation, but Victor is still sick, and is still infected by the horror and regret of his previous escapade. He cannot complete his work, and one day he destroys the woman he was in process of creating. Incensed by this, the Fiend vows that he will see Victor on his wedding night. Victor, moron that he is, essentially blows off this threat with all the passion of an audio-book narrated by Ralph Cosham. Did I ever mention how much the name 'Ralph' sounds like the noise made when someone throws up?

Several people who have reviewed this novel negatively have mentioned Frankenstein's spinelessness, and I agree whole-heartedly on that. Not only was he spineless, he was of the most absurdly fragile constitution of any character in any novel anywhere if we're to note how frequently he's overcome by almost paralyzing fevers in this caper. This is a huge mistake by Shelley, because it flies completely in the face of the massive Europe-wide manhunt which Victor pursues at the end of the novel. If he was as weak as Shelley portrays him, how did he ever grow to manhood, let alone manage to chase the Fiend for months all over Europe before his death in the frozen north at the end of the story?

Hopefully those critics I mentioned are not the same people who complain that Shelley was writing about how a woman copes with adversity, rather than a man! Unlike Shelley herself, Frankenstein is a self-obsessed, cowardly loser, short-sighted and moronic despite his supposed brilliance in biochemistry. He was pretty much willing to sacrifice any thing and any one to his own purposes, but his critics have done him a disservice with regard to Justine's hanging for the death of his brother William. That isn’t on Frankenstein, but on the incompetence and intransigence of the magistrates who found her guilty. Having said that, in the final analysis, the real monster in this story is Victor Frankenstein, with his creation coming in a close second.

Frankenstein's only failure in that regard was his irrational protection of the Fiend, and this was done from pure cowardice on his part. When he learns of his younger brother's death and returns home, he visits the place where the body was discovered (although how he knew where that was, since he hadn't, at that time, yet been home is a mystery). There, he catches sight of the Fiend, yet he fails to alert anyone to its presence. Indeed, contrary to the traditional movie portrayal, the Fiend is never harried by a howling hoard armed with pitchforks. He's protected by his creator, and he acts in secret, stealthily manipulating events behind the scenes. In this regard, Frankenstein's creation was indeed a "monster"; he was a Moriarty before Doyle ever dreamed one up! If Frankenstein had done even that small thing - reporting his suspicion that a rogue and vagabond was guilty of that first murder - it would have at least cast some doubt upon Justine's culpability. The problem, as I said, was that no one would have believed him. He had no evidence to implicate the Fiend.

Here's one thing which too many negative reviewers have rather dishonestly excluded: Justine confessed to the crime! She didn’t do it, but she fogged the air with her confession, and made things far worse for herself than she should have. Shelley did her job here. I think that Branagh (or rather, the writers, Steph Lady and Frank Darabont) did this better in the movie version, but Shelley got it done in her own way. She did not fail. In the novel, both Victor and Elizabeth petition for Justine's release, but their pleas are stubbornly ignored by magistrates who are dead-set upon seeing her - and no one else - punished capitally for this murder, and thus she dies. So yes, he's guilty in that he didn’t do everything he could, but nowhere near as guilty as his critics have portrayed him.

The worst aspect of his conduct here is his self-obsession. He truly believes, self-centered as he is, that he's suffering more than Justine! How sick is that? But this is not an indictment of the author! On the contrary: this is completely in keeping with Shelley's story. She's telling a warning tale of the pitfalls of obsession and blind addiction to a course of action even when it becomes increasingly apparent that the course is a doomed one. In this Shelley stays true to her aim, unlike Cosham the narrator, who is all over the place save where he should be.

Eventually, inevitably, Frankenstein and the Fiend meet in the mountains and finally have the talk they should have had immediately after life was imbued into this creature. It becomes clear that lack of parental love set the creation upon a road which could lead to the monstrous, but there is more to it than that. This is where Frankenstein's culpability truly lies. How many times have we seen that a serial killer's childhood was ruined by abusive parenting? Frankenstein abandoned his "child" and even though the child tried to learn and to integrate, he was denied and rejected at every turn. This does not excuse his psychopathic behavior, however. At this point, before he had ever met young William, the Fiend had been given the opportunity to learn how to conduct itself in society. While he learned of literature and poetry, music and family, he made a conscious choice not to take the high road. He chose the path of vicious vendetta instead. For this the Fiend is entirely responsible, because he is indeed the one with his hands on the reins. At one point, he tells Frankenstein "You are my creator, but I am your master."

It’s at this point that Frankenstein's culpability morphs. It’s not at his door that the Fiend has become a killer. It is his fault as well as his problem that the killing continues unabated. Where he fails now is in his continued blinkered focus on himself, to the exclusion of all others. It’s in his repeated failure to grasp the true nature of the Fiend's vendetta that results in death after death, and it’s in his failure to keep his promise to this creation that Elizabeth dies. In the end, it all rests on selfishness and stupid short-sightedness, which were the very traits which got Frankenstein to this sorry impasse in the first place! It's an interesting parallel that the novel is titled in part, "Or, the Modern Prometheus" and here we have Frankenstein, like Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods (in Frankenstein's case, his mature and respected professors) and creating a man.

Don't let's get into the sheer improbability of Frankenstein's (unintended) voyage around Scotland's north coast to Ireland, and the unlikelihood of his being mistaken for his eight-foot tall creation who has, inanely absurd though it is, somehow managed to go from the Orkneys to the Scots mainland, all the hell the way down to Perth, locate Henry Clerval in the city, strangle him, drag his dead body all the way across Scotland to Glasgow, sail to Ireland, and dump the rotting corpse at very nearly the exact spot where Frankenstein lands a day later. Recall how easily the Fiend was identified as being of super-human size by Walton and his crew, and contrast that with the villagers comprehensive inability to discern that Victor and the Fiend were not one and the same! Is Shelley saying here that the Irish are stupid?! And after that let's definitely not get into the contrast of the injustice of the magistrates here taking an amazingly benign attitude towards Frankenstein (even before he's proven innocent) and with somewhat more reason to suspect him, with the blood-thirsty attitude of the magistrates in Justine's case!

Let's not dwell on the fact that Victor shows no anger at his wife's death in the novel. Le;ts not ponder why only now does he report the Fiend to the authorities, never once grasping that he could have reported him long ago without saying a word about how the Fiend came to be! Even when his wife is dead Victor cannot think of anything save himself. That's how big of a jerk he is.

The bottom line is that this novel isn't well written. For example, Victor is supposed to be pretty much on his deathbed, yet he launches into this endless monologue. So long is it that Shelley forgets exactly what her fiction is and she has Victor quote a letter, verbatim, from his wife as though he has it in his hands and reads it to us! That one event alone kicks a reader right out of suspension of disbelief. This is the fatal weakness of first person PoV stories. No one's memory is that good, and Victor is no eidetic. On a more humorous note, I can credit Mary Shelley with authorship of the first novel to allude to zombies! At one point she writes of Elizabeth's body as being "Lifeless and inanimate" - why specify both if she did not believe it possible to have the one without the other?!

More seriously, this reveals another weakness in the story-telling. Frankenstein has already animated a corpse made from body parts long, long dead. In the novel, unlike in Branagh's movie, it never even crosses his mind to reanimate his wife, killed right there and then, although he had both the equipment and the expertise to do it. You can argue that he was too distraught or too revolted by his experiments to consider doing it, but you cannot call upon Mary Shelley to support you in your conjecture, because she does not even mention the possibility. Either it never occurred to her when she wrote this and later revised it, or it never occurred to her to expressly eliminate that option and so clear the air in the matter.

This novel is not great literature; it's monotonous even without Cosham's vile narration. Shelley herself seems to have realized its limitations: she revised the novel more than once. For example, in the original version, Elizabeth was not an adoptee, but a cousin of Frankenstein's. The term 'cousin' is employed some thirty times in the novel not because it was merely an endearment but because Shelley never removed her original explicit references when she made Elizabeth unrelated (a move she undertook, it's suspected, in response to the calumny haunting Byron over his relationship with his step-sister Augusta Leigh - who actually did marry a cousin!).

In the end, Shelley's novel is quite simply bloated and tedious, and it's florid in the extreme. Perhaps that is entirely in keeping with the period and the romantic movement, but in modern times the word 'movement' has more than one meaning and the other isn't even remotely romantic. Shelley's writing is interesting for the reasons I mentioned when I began this essay, but it's far from brilliant and it certainly does not merit the approbation it's received. By all means let us credit her for producing a novel at such a young age which contained some brilliant ideas, but let's not pretend that those ideas were executed by a literary great. They were merely executed. Read that how you will.

Now on to Dracula!