Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Oh, and Mark and Nanci mention on the podcast that Nanci has only one fan. Make that two.
Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor, done in seclusion, often in the hours when everyone else is asleep, with little outside input. There are a few exceptions to this, and the most prominent in the horror genre was the pairing of John Skipp and Craig Spector, who combined to produce many of the 80s best horror stories. That collaboration dissolved a long time ago, and now Skipp has found a new partner in fear, rising author Cody Goodfellow. Judging by the evidence of their first mass market publication, Jake’s Wake, out now from Leisure, Skipp and Good fellow may do for the 21st century what Skipp and Spector did for the Reagan era.
I’m not giving away anything to reveal the protagonist of Jake’s Wake, evangelist Jake Connaway, is dead by the end of the epilogue. Jake is the embodiment of the excesses of televangelism, doing blow, drinking, and chasing skirts. This last hobby leads to his dénouement, and the book proper begins with a gathering of the women in his life (and their companions) to sort out the details of his legacy. The party is interrupted by an unexpected guest: Jake has returned from the dead, and is in a bad mood and ready to settle scores.
The story that follows is filled with gonzo violence and gore. Taking place in its entirety on the night of Jake’s resurrection, it rushes forward to a bloody and somewhat unexpected conclusion, when the story behind Jake’s return is partially revealed. Suffice it to say, any Skipp and Spector fans will be very happy with this.
I’ve griped about the length of books today so many times I’m starting to realize it’s my problem instead of the writers, but I do feel Jake’s Wake could have been shortened considerably. There is a Mad Max-esque sequence early in the second half that is entertaining, but does little to advance the story, and mostly serves as a distraction. But that is my only quibble, and I heartily recommend the book. It is an exciting, fast read.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
First of all, I’d like to say I know I have no one to blame but myself for this. I have a strong weakness for cheesy movies, and when you commit to watching something like The Hive, you don’t really expect great cinema. I watched it anyway.
According to the boxcover, the plot was about humans struggling against ants in the forests of Brazil. Ants creep my wife out, so we popped it in. We immediately received our first surprise. Brazil is in Southeast Asia! I really never knew that.
In the tiny, southeast Asian island country of Brazil, we see a bright light fall to earth, and soon the Brazilians are being overrun with ants and eaten, starting with a woman and her infant. Kudos to the makers of the film for showing a baby getting devoured, as most wouldn’t go there. Brazil is in grave danger, so a company is hired to stop the ant hordes. The name of this company is….wait for it…Thorax. Thorax is headed by a guy who used to be a professor studying ants, but discovered they are dangerous, and devoted the rest of his career to fighting them, which he does very effectively, since he’s invented a raygun which fires anti-ant chemicals. Seriously. Thorax has a dashing crew of ant-fighters, the only recognizable one being Tom Wopat, who used to be a Duke on the Dukes of Hazzard. They spring into battle with the valiant cry, “Let’s liquefy some endoskeletons!” Seriously. (Although ants don’t actually have endoskeletons, they have exoskeletons. They don’t swarm, either, though all the experts in the movie claim they do.) Meanwhile the head of the team supplies the romantic subplot, due to his romance with a female scientist who is something of a bug appeaser. The actress playing her also cannot keep her freaking head still, and bobs it until you want to scream.
Anyway, the Thorax crew launches a brilliant counter-assault against the mass of ants, which consists of blasting them with their anti-ant rayguns. This has limited success, and Tom Wopat ends up with an ant in his ear. There are indications the ant is controlling him, but this never makes any sense, since Wopat becomes the most aggressively antagonistic member of the team, which would seem to be against the ants’ best interest. Maybe the ear-ant was a rogue. Whatever. The counter-attack seems to be a success, and the team receives the thanks of the grateful Brazilians, in their thick Thai accents.
Before you can say “darn those crazy ants”, the ants return. And the team leader and his head-bobbing honey go to a small island in the Brazilian archipelago to rescue 50 natives trapped by the ants. Because these island dwellers don’t have any boats of their own. Bobbing head discovers the ants have become more intelligent due to the compound Thorax has been blasting them with, and soon they are negotiating with the collective ants, who want the island for their own. Leaving a Brazilian child behind as hostage, the duo, after some quick love-making, return to the Brazilian Prime Minister and lay out the offer.
“We do not negotiate with ANTS!” The PM blusters.
“How about offering them half the island?”
“OK,” says the PM.
The twosome return to the island, with an increasingly ear-ant deranged Tom Wopat, and quickly hash out a deal. It’s all for nought, as Wopat has a bomb strapped to his chest. The bomb goes off, which kills many, many ants, and reveals the source of all the trouble was a glowing alien ant that organized the earth ants. This completely negates the previous explanation, but hey.
This is a movie for people who like terrible CGI, laughable dialogue, and piss-poor acting.
People like me.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Bentley Little, as I’ve said before, is a writer whose books I always enjoy, but has never written anything that knocked me out. To use a sports metaphor, he’s the dependable singles hitter who doesn’t homer (or strikeout) the way the sluggers do.
One of the Little titles I’ve always missed is his debut, The Summoning. It won a Stoker award, but Little switched publishers and the PBO was a little hard to find, and once I had it, since it is the longest of Little’s books I have seen, it got pushed back in the stack. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, I have to revise my impression of Little, because I thought this was a home run.
The vampire is the most durable trope of horror fiction, and I’ve always felt that eventually, every horror writer has to take a shot at their own interpretation. This is Little’s version, and he does a much better job than most. The story is set in the fictitious Rio Verde,
Rather than the traditional western image of the vampire, in The Summoning, Chinese legend is used. Instead of garlic and crosses, this vampire is warded off by jade and willow, and in addition to feeding off humans, drawn the fluid (all fluids, not just blood) from animals and even plants. There are a number of grisly yet effective scenes, such as when the town sheriff discovers all the bodies at the cemetery have been dug up in order for the vampire to get at their bone marrow. Fortunately for the locals, the Chinese family who owns a local restaurant knows a little about Chinese mythology and is able to offer help.
A subplot involves religious hysteria/vampiric influence that is as big a menace to the town as the vampire itself, which is a familiar motif in Little’s work. It also plays well in this book.
One of the refreshing things about the story was how quickly everyone comes around to the idea their problems are the work of a vampire. Usually, half of one of these novels consists of the main characters coming to grips with the idea of the supernatural, so we’re spared that here.
If you haven’t read anything by Bentley Little, this is a good place to start. If you have read his work but not this one, you should check it out.
99 Coffins is the middle book in Wellington’s ongoing vampire trilogy, following 13 Bullets. It picks up a few months after the events of the first book.
Laura Caxton, the young State Trooper in the first book, is back on the job with a nice promotion after her actions in the first book. She has also become something of a minor celebrity, since a movie has been made of her previous exploits. Her mentor/partner/antagonist from the first book, Jameson Arkeley, has been forced into retirement due to the injuries he suffered in ending the previous vampire threat. He is still the custodian of the body of the oldest living vampire, Justinia Malvern.
With Arkeley out of commission, Laura is seen as the prime expert on all matters vampiric, so when a college archeological team makes a gruesome discovery at the site of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, she is called in. They have discovered 99 coffins with the bones of vampires – and the shattered remains of a 100th coffin. There is an obvious likelihood that there is a new vampire on the loose. Laura has to turn to the manipulative Malvern for assistance – with a price – to stop the outbreak of a new vampire epidemic.
The book is fast-paced, and steadily accelerates until the climax, a pitched battle between outmanned cops and National Guardsmen, and a vampire army. As with the previous novel, Laura is a very appealing character, with strengths and flaws, and you can’t help but feel involved in her quest. There is an unexpected twist near the end that left me eager for the third novel in the trilogy.
Wellington’s version of the vampire legend has soon fascinating variations. His vampires are almost animalistic, and nearly unstoppable if they have fed. In a unique twist, vampires I this universe need progressively more blood to remain mobile, and older vampires become near invalids, confined to their coffins. They can only be killed by the total destruction of their hearts.
If you are interested in this book, you should really read 13 Bullets first. 99 Coffins can be read as a stand-alone, but your enjoyment will be higher if you read them in sequence. I can’t recommend these books highly enough.
The author, David Wellington, has followed an unusual path to success. His earlier books, including the zombie trilogy Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet were first offered as serialized free downloads through his website. This is normally seen as a poor way to build a readership (most people regard free things as worth what they paid for them), but it has paid of for him. Visit his website at http://www.brokentype.com/davidwellington/.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
None of the actors from the original movie carry over to the sequel (although a newspaper clipping explains the fate of the lead). In the new flick, and eight year old girl and her eleven year old brother witness their parents slaughter at the hands of the Boogeyman. That’ll scar ya. And indeed it does, as ten years later both young adults are still having problems with night terrors. The brother has just completed a three month stint in a “fear clinic” run by Gabrielle from the old Xena series. It seems to work well for him, so sis signs up, too, ignoring the fact that Gabrielle’s boss is Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). Had she watched the Saw movies, she would have thought twice about committing herself. The other patients are young people (the clinic specializes in only the most attractive demographic) with fears of the dark, germs, etc.
The other patients are pretty unsympathetic to the young lady’s fear of the boogeyman (although Tobin Bell gets to deliver the great line “It’s called boogeyphobia” which may me break out laughing. Because I thought boogeyphobia was fear of K. C. & the Sunshine Band.). They soon get theirs when everyone finds themselves locked into the facility, and chased by the boogeyman, who preys on their individual fears. Not a great movie, but entertaining enough in its own way.
I didn’t really understand changing the menace faced to a non-supernatural cause. In that case, why make it a sequel to the supernatural-creature original? Also, if the boogeyman has otherworldly powers, it is easier to accept the things he does to torment the patients. When it turns out he is a fairly scrawny kid, you can’t believe he pulled it off.
Monday, December 8, 2008
I always knew if the world was going to be destroyed, it would all start in Ann Arbor, Michigan.*
Scott Sigler’s first published novel, Infected, is a horror novel with a bit of techno-thriller thrown in. In and around Ann Arbor, people are suddenly wigging out and going on a killing spree. The government has discovered that a strange sort of infection is responsible for this behavior, although they know little about it other than the victims/killers rave about “triangles” and their bodies undergo remarkably fast decomposition after their deaths. The authorities have kept this from the public, and only a small team is working on the problem, headed by Margaret Montoya, a doctor with the Center for Disease Control, and Dew Phillips, a CIA agent with a violent past.
In Ann Arbor, a former star linebacker for the University of Michigan, “Scary” Perry Dawsey, is the latest to be infected by what we soon learn are alien spores. What starts as a number of itchy spots soon grows into blue triangles, as alien organisms incubate inside him - and begin to communicate with him and try to control him. This is only the first step in an alien plan that will lead to the destruction of the human race.
Through the book, we flip back and forth between the investigating team and Perry’s solo struggle against the small invaders. It’s an interesting mixture, as the broader part of the book reads like a traditional race-against-time thriller, while Perry’s more intimate tale is reminiscent of some of Stephen King’s early short stories.
I found the book to be very entertaining. If there is a weakness to the book, it would be the imbalance between the two parallel storylines, as the portion with the team is somewhat less compelling than Perry’s problems. Still, it was a lot of fun, with a good amount of dark humor (the last of the aliens Perry has to deal with is growing in his scrotum, at once funny and extremely uncomfortable for a male reader). The book was originally a series of podcasts, still available for free at www.scottsigler.com. A sequel, Contagious, will be out at the end of the month, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes.
*Obligatory anti-University of Michigan remark.
One thing I don’t share with most horror fans is a great love of Dario Argento movies. Although I appreciate him as a visual stylist, I’ve always been left a little cold (or maybe confused is more accurate) by his movies’ adherence to form over substance. Thus, it took me a little while to get to the DVD of his latest movie, Mother of Tears. It didn’t really change my overall opinion of his work, although it did have some things going for it.
Mother of Tears is the third in Argento’s “Mothers” trilogy, after Suspiria and Inferno (I didn’t even realize the first two were connected, which shows I’m not a hard-core fan). It stars the director’s daughter Asia Argento, as well as his ex-wife. Featured in a too-small role is the always entertaining Udo Kier. I wish he’d lasted a little longer in this one.
The plot, such that it is, is about the last of the three “mothers‘, the three great witches who have existed since the dawn of time to bedevil mankind. The other two were destroyed in the two previous movies, and now it’s time for the Mother of Tears to have her turn, which starts when an excavation uncovers a box containing her magic camisole. She returns to bring in a new age of black witches (black in magic, not skin color) who will take over the world. The only person who can stop her is Ms. Argento, who is the daughter of a white witch who fought one of the other mothers, and who has the power to fight the MoT. Let’s hope she knows about the significance of that camisole…
There were some things I learned from the film. To wit:
1. You can always tell a witch by their over-use of eye-shadow
2. Even immortal, powerful witches can be so insecure about their appearance as to need breast implants
3. Bad guys carry around a tool designed to gouge out eyes, even if they don’t really need it.
Most of my previous feelings about Argento hold true here. The film does look very good, with rich colors, and a “deep” design style that almost looked 3-D. For those who like gore, there’s quite a lot here, as well as a great deal of female nudity. The plot is on the very slight side, with quite a few inconsistencies (how is a witch strong enough to kill a large policeman with one hand, but not enough to withstand an attack by a strong woman?). The acting is also on the slim side. I’ve enjoyed some of Ms. Argento’s previous work (such as in La Reine Margot), but she’s pretty much terrible here, and the actress playing the Mother of Tears is worse (although quite hot). Final decision: if you’re an Argento fan, you should love it. If not, you might want to give it a miss.
On a final note, I’m certainly not a prude (I don’t think) and I certainly appreciate gratuitous nudity as much as the next guy, but there is something about directing an unnecessary shower scene featuring your own daughter that seems a bit out there. But maybe that’s just the American in me.
Some horror writers subtly build a structure of dread in their work. Others come at you strong from the beginning. Wrath James White smacks you in the head with his work, sending you reeling through his stories. Until recently, White was well-known only among those of us who read small press releases, but he has now burst out to a wider audience, with the publication of his novel Succulent Prey by Leisure Books.
Succulent Prey blends the serial killer genre with werewolf legend, suggesting that being a serial killer is something that can be caught like a disease and passed on to subsequent victims. Joseph Miles, the protagonist of the book, was kidnapped by a serial killer as a boy, and was the only victim to survive the killer. Now grown into a (very large and powerful) adult, he is now losing his struggle to suppress the same sort of urges in himself. When he begins to fail at this, he seizes on the only hope he has to break the chain - to track down and kill the one who gave it to him. Along with one of his female victims to whom he is attracted, he journeys to his home town in search of the one who molested him.
Wrath James White certainly fits into the category of transgressive authors. Succulent Prey is not for the squeamish, filled with sexual assault and as much cannibalism as I’ve ever seen in a book, but for those who can handle it, this is quite a book. White, whose earlier work Orgy of Souls was also reviewed here, is definitely a writer to watch. I also salute Leisure, which in the past seemed a bit reluctant to go too far, for publishing this.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
I grew up a fan of monster movies, monster books, and the like. For those of us of a certain age who enjoyed such things, there was only one magazine that approached horror movies the same way we felt. It was Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, who idolized Boris Karloff, and has been one of the biggest science fiction fans since the 1930s. With its wonderfully lurid Basil Gogos covers, FM made us creepy kids experts on monster flicks good and bad.
Therefore, it was a blow when I read that Ackerman ("Uncle Forry" to the fans) had died last Thursday of a heart attack. You can read about it here. Forry was well known for his generosity and kindness, and his magazine has been cited as inspiration by Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon, among others.
R.I.P., Uncle Forry. You changed our lives, and you will be missed.
At the end of Keene's previous book, Dark Hollow, the evil that had tried to break through in Lehorn's Hollow had been defeated, at a price. Ghost Walk directly continues the events of Dark Hollow, although it would work just fine as a stand-alone novel. Some spoilers for Dark Hollow are probably inevitable here, so read forewarned.
A couple of years have passed, and most of the characters from Dark Hollow are dead or gone. Adam Senft, the protagonist of the previous book, has been institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane. Halloween is approaching, and a local businessman is preparing to open a "ghost walk" (something of an outdoor haunted house) through the Hollow. Nodens, the evil from the first book, uses this opportunity to sieze those who can aid in breaking the spell.
Standing in Nodens' way is a (formerly) Amish wizard named Levi Stoltzfus, and a reporter named Maria Nasr. To help them, they release the haunted Adam Senft from his cell. But Nodens is even stronger this time, and for him to be stopped, a terrible sacrifice must be made...
Brian Keene became famous as a horror writer due to the success of his zombie novels, but I've always preferred the non-zombie horrors he's written, and Ghost Walk is no exception. It is quickly paced, and the characters are well developed, which gives emotional impact to the horrors that befall them. Ghost Walk is a great book to read for Halloween, or anytime.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Against my better instincts, I was looking forward to Rise: Blood Hunter (It is rare that a vampire movie is worth seeing). I should have listened to those instincts.
Rise: Blood Hunter was written and directed by Sebastian Guttierez, who I’ve thought promising in his past work. (I liked The Judas Kiss, although it seems I may be the only one). The cast was also good, with Michael Chiklis, Carla Gugino (Gutierrez real-life significant other, and a favorite of mine) and Lucy Liu. It almost works, but not quite.
First thing of note is the title. It sounds like a video game, although it isn’t based on one. I guess Gutierrez wanted to tap into some of the Uwe Boll fanbase. It is the story of a reporter (Liu) following a story of some disappearances. As you can probably guess, she learns that vampires are behind them, and she is attacked and turned herself. For no good reason, instead of turning into an evil bloodsucker, Liu devotes herself to hunting down the vampires and killing them. In this, she is helped/hindered by Michael Chiklis’ character, a police detective whose daughter was also a victim. She is also helped by another vampire leader, who wants his rival eliminated for reasons never made completely clear.
I knew the movie was in trouble when we met the lead vampire, and he started to expound on the philosophy of being a vampire. I hate a lot of things, but emo vampires are near the top of the list. He is supposed to be tremendously powerful, but we only know he is because he says he is. He actually comes across as a lightweight. If I ever ever get attacked by a vamp, I would hope he would viciously rip out my throat, rather than recite bad poetry. Once the action starts, the other vamps are ridiculously easy to kill. Liu can’t seem to decide if she wants her character to be cold, merciless and capable, or a fragile wreck, and the character veers from one to the other from scene to scene. The story is told in the now-common alternating present/flashback form. Since the flashbacks concern Liu discovering she is a vampire (which we already know), they serve only to kill any momentum the second half of the story builds.
This is worth seeing only if you have a desire to see Lucy Liu naked (and haven't already), or you are really desperate for a vampire movie.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a 2004 novel by Jeff Lindsey. On first glance, it seems the same tired setup for a mystery series: our protagonist is a blood splatter technician for the Miami Police Department, who uses his wits to track down killers in his spare time. The twist is Dexter is a serial killer himself. As a way to better fit into society, he only murders those who “deserve” it, using inside knowledge of how a killer’s mind works to uncover them, capture them, and kill them (by dismembering them while still alive). He doesn’t due this out of any altruistic feelings, as he is incapable of almost any feelings, but out of obligation to the foster father who trained him to escape detection. He has been doing this for many years when a new serial killer hits
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
About a year ago, my wife bought me a year’s subscription to the Cemetery Dance Book Club. It’s a very good deal; for $199 you receive 13 CD releases, one a month or so. Even though they’re running about six months behind, this remains a good deal. One of the things everyone was excited about upon sign-up was the inclusion of an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of a forthcoming book. These books, modestly bound, are sent out months in advance of publication so reviewers will be able to publish their reviews at the time of publication. This had people quivering with anticipation. We were going to get a new book from Stephen King or Brian Keene or another mega-famous author before everyone else, and we would be too cool for school. The ARC was one of the first books to be received, and it was by … Norman Prentiss. The initial reaction was intense. We wouldn’t be able to read a Stephen King novel before everyone else. We wouldn’t get rich selling it on ebay.
We didn’t know how lucky we were.
Norman Prentiss isn’t as well known as King or Keene, which means we wouldn’t have rushed to purchase his short novel Invisible Fences. And we would have missed a real gem. I started Invisible Fences one morning when I had a little extra time before work. I intended to read a chapter or so, but if there is a criticism I have of the story, it is there is no stopping point. I was late to work that day.
The story starts in
The second part of the book takes place in
The story most closely reminded me of the work of the late Charles L. Grant, who was the dean of the school of so-called “quiet horror”, although I liked Invisible Fences better than Grant’s work. Although it is short, Prentiss brings his characters to vivid life, and makes you feel some of their angst and turmoil, like good writers do. This could be the beginning of a great career, and I’m eager to see what Prentiss does next.
The book is scheduled for publication in December of 2008 (now, basically), but has not yet appeared for pre-order on Cemetery Dance’s website. I’ll post an ordering link when it does.
So, over on my latest time-waster, twitter, David Niall Wilson came up with an idea for everyone to blog about “who and why they follow” on December 2d. Since today is December 2d, and this will save me from coming up with an idea of my own, here comes a selection of a few of the folks I follow. I am am nothing if not a sheep.
– Jim is my Scot brutha from another mutha. I’ve traded jibes with Jim on about three message boards. Plus, he’s the one who invited me to Twitter, and thus responsible for another alarming decline in productivity. Also, when I thought I was dying last year, he was the only one who didn’t seem happy about it.
Matt Staggs – Matt is a man of very discerning tastes, which you should check out at his Enter the Octopus website. Matt was the proprietor of the old Skullring website, probably the best website for reviews of genre books and films. He also invited me to contribute to said website, and shortly after I began, it shut down. A coincidence? I think not.
– Kent is another message board friend, who I’ve come to reply on for recommendations about books and movies (not counting that disco thing).
– He started this. Also, David is a very fine writer. His novel This Is My Blood and novella Roll Them Bones are on my favorites lists. I’ve also had the opportunity to read some of David’s work in advance of publication, and it is a privilege.
– John Hornor Jacobs hasn’t had much of his work published yet, but when he does, he’ll make a splash. His unpublished novel Southern Gods is a great read, and is going to make a lot of top lists one day. Although John has recently agreed to a collaboration that might wreck his career.
One of the best writers working in the horror business has launched a new blog. You can read Bryan Smith’s The Blog That Dripped Blood by clicking on the title. (Why am I the only one who can’t think of a cool name for a website?).
Monday, December 1, 2008
A key element in much of horror is a sense of isolation for the characters. In the modern world, with cell phones, the internet, and rapid means of travel, this has become difficult to achieve. Among the settings still useful for this are the frozen reaches near the poles. John Carpenter's 1982 masterpiece The Thing used the Antarctic to great effect, and now Larry Fessenden locates his environmental horror The Last Winter in the Arctic, with uneven results.
In northern Alaska, a team of oil company workers are preparing to reopen an abandoned drilling site. There is the standard tension between the oilmen, led by the always great Ron Perlman, and an environmentalist, played by James LeGros. (The cast also includes two actors from Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton and Zach Gilford, which gave me the amusing impression that a really bad season for the Dillon Panthers results in Arctic banishment) As an added concern, some members of the team are starting to experience hallucinations on the barren wastes. Soon, the crew members begin to die, and the survivors realize they are not alone.
SPOILER WARNING: I will reveal the end of the movie next, so stop reading if you don't want to know.
As long as what is going on remains a mystery, the movie works just fine. As is often the case, when the menace is unknown, your imagination fills in the blanks in terrifying fashion, and when the danger is revealed, there is a letdown. And, brother, is the big reveal in The Last Winter a letdown. You see, what has been terrorizing and killing the drillers is...ghost moose.
Apparently, nature has reacted to the danger posed by man by dispatching a crack squad of killer ghost moose (mooses? meece?) to kill, well, everybody at the end of the movie. This strained credulity a bit.
Up until this point, the movie worked well. It would have been a better ending if what was going on had never been explained, but there came the moose. Mooses.
The movie is well shot and well acted, and there is a truly creepy air to the first two-thirds of the movie, so it isn't a complete washout. But the ending misses the mark by too much to be a thumbs up.
The most recent release of a Simon Clark title from Leisure’s horror imprint is This Rage of Echoes. I’ve previously read Blood Crazy, Darker, and Nailed by the Heart by Clark, and enjoyed them.
The new book has one of the more interesting premises of anything I’ve read recently. The central character, Mason Kantner, is on the run from Echomen, who, if they get close enough to someone, begin to become them. Once they have duplicated them, the new “Echo” turns violent, murders the original, and frequently goes on a rampage. Mason has fallen in with a group dedicated to killing the Echomen, whose existence is unknown to the general population. It is a gripping read, particularly once you start wondering whether the group is really killing Echomen or just ordinary people. Mason himself has his doubts. Some problems I had with the novel, with spoilers contained within, follow:
Mason exhibits some of the traits of a bad horror movie character. Twice, he leaves the group despite knowing better, with disastrous results. This is the equivalent of when movie teens are trapped in an old house with a serial killer, and one decides to wander off to be alone.
It is established later that only certain people can be duplicated, and Mason himself has the strongest ability to convert someone into an Echo. So why is it so easy to make copies of his sister and mother as well?
After being taken to the compound, the group leader tells Mason how vitally important he is, then leaves him alone, with no questioning and only a mentally-impaired man as protection.
The resolution at the end seems a little too contrived, a little too deus ex machina for me.
Despite those complaints, I did enjoy the book immensely, starting and finishing it the same day. I would recommend it, as well as
One other observation: There is a jacket blurb from another author saying that
Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
A good long while ago, I announced I would be entering the world of podcasting, which was going to make me so rich and famous that strippers would be snorting blow off my ass. I know you’ve be dying to hear me talk (just play along, I have self-esteem issues), so here’s an update.
My partner and I recorded the first episode of One Good Scare (get the reference?) about six weeks ago. We discussed the movies Call of Cthulhu (yay!), In The Mouth of Madness (yay!) and Alone In The Dark (my eyes!) for a Lovecraft-themed episode. It seemed to go okay, and was a lot of fun. But on playback, a few problems emerged:
- We used a twin mike system, and my mike was apparently overly sensitive, picking up a lot of background noise. Winston filtered it out, but the los of signal left me sounding like I was down in a well yelling up at Lassie. Winston is the tech guy, he’s figuring it out.
- Apparently, I have a verbal tic of saying “uh” after every other word. This was as annoying as hell. Since I did 70% of the talking, this would drive someone to suicide. I will work on that.
- Back in my teaching days, I did a lot of lecturing. Many students claimed I talked too fast, and I try to be conscious of that. So when preparing for the podcast, I kept telling my self “talk slowly…talk slowly”. The result was in the first segment, I sound like I’ve just taken the world’s largest dose of Quaaludes. It did get better in the later segments, but the damage was done.
- Winston tells me my wit is the dry kind that doesn’t come across well on radio. (I asked him if it worked better in person. He said, “All that’s important is it doesn’t work on radio.”) I probably can’t fix that.
With these problems, we decided after much discussion, to shelve the first episode. After all, as many as ten people might here it, if we left it up forever, and we have reputations to protect. Winston does, anyway.
But I promise you, One Good Scare is not truly dead, and one day you will get to hear me talking about Tara Reid playing a scientist. Good things come to those who wait. One Good Scare will, too.
Copied over from the other site, here is a list of movies that I feel are somewhat overlooked, yet deserving of a look. This reflects only my own opinion, of course. The movies are in no particular order.
Stir Of Echoes (1999) – This came out a month after The Sixth Sense, and suffered at the box office due to its similar theme, but I think it is better. Kevin Bacon is especially good.
From Beyond (1986) – The true follow-up to Re-Animator, this features most of the same cast and crew. Recently available on DVD.
Frailty (2001) – Really creepy movie that turns out not to be what you expected.
The Uninvited (1944) – Nice ghost story set in
Anatomie (2000) – German movie with Franke Potente about fiendish goings-on in a medical school. One inferior sequel.
Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, 1994) – A very odd Italian zombie movie with Rupert Everett. The zombies are more of a plot device to examine the human condition.
Ginger Snaps (2000) - A Canadian film using lycanthropy as a metaphor for female puberty (It’s much better than that description sounds). A sequel and a prequel.
The Thing (1982) – Probably not really overlooked any more, included here because it was such an enormous box-office bomb on its release. My favorite horror film, I saw it when it came out at the theater as a double-bill with Annie, possibly the strangest double bill in history.
Ravenous (1999) – Guy Pearce deals with cannibalism in the Old West.
The Ninth Configuration (1980) - Directed by William Peter Blatty from his novel Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane, this is one of the all-time great American movies, even though few have seen it. A surrealistic drama set in a Vietnam-era military insane asylum. Considered by the author to be the sequel to The Exorcist.
Deep Rising (1998) – A lot of people hate this because they hate Stephen Sommers, but how can a movie about sea monsters be bad?
I have finally given in and started a Twitter account to express my individuality like everyone else. If you would like to know what I’m doing, you may follow me through the sidebar. Here’s a hint: Ten messages a day saying “I’m sitting in a meeting, bored”. How can you resist? Or, at least, that’s what you’ll get whenever I figure out how to use this damn thing. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to visit the 200 sites where I posted “anyone who uses Twitter is a douche” and erase it.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Of all the standard set-ups of the horror film, the zombie holocaust is probably the most used in recent years. Scarcely a week goes by without a new zombie-centric release. This is because the faithful horror fan such as yours truly snaps them up as soon as they are released. Despite the overall negative tone of our entertainment of choice, the horror fan is relentlessly optimistic that the next zombie movie will be a good one, even if the last 43 sucked. Having just seen The Zombie Diaries, I can tell you that you will have to wait at least another week to break the streak.
The concept is interesting enough, I suppose. A number of “found” videos document the infection-caused zombie outbreak in Great Britain. Instead of following one single camera POV throughout the film, as with Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project and the like, the story here is seen from several different cameras, following different characters, until all the threads converge in the end. In the hands of capable filmmakers, this might work, but the crew here just can’t pull it off.
The first concern in any of these movies filmed with a “handheld camcorder” is the quality of the footage, which has been a big source of complaint in other movies of this type. If Cloverfield’s camera work made you seasick, this one should make you puke blood. The camera relentlessly bobs, and there are frequent scenes where the character holding the camera runs away, giving a jolting views of the ground during the run. The night scenes are so chaotically shot, it is difficult to tell just what the hell is going on.
There also seems to be a rule that in each of the separate groups we follow, one person is a completely useless dick, including one where an Englishman taunts the groups American (who has the only gun) about America’s lax gun laws. Please. No matter where you stand on the gun control issue, when the dead rise to eat the living, you’ll want to be armed.
There is also a bewildering change of focus in the third act, when the movie suddenly stops being about zombies and becomes a standard psycho-killer story, which I suppose is intended to be a plot twist, but comes off as confusing.
Most of the characters are poorly fleshed out (ha ha – zombie movie poorly fleshed. Well, I thought it was funny) and hard to distinguish from one another, although I give one credit for continuing to film even while he is being eaten.
One criticism of the film which seems unfair is that it is a rip-off of George Romero’s most recent release, Diary of the Dead. Actually, The Zombie Diaries began production first. It isn’t as good as Diary of the Dead (which had its moments) but it doesn’t rip it off (although all zombie movies rip off Romero in some way).
If you’re the sort of person who takes quotes on the internet and the boxcover about movies at face value, this might leave you disgruntled. It has quotes around such as “The best zombie movie ever made!” and “Better than Diary of the Dead!” Allegedly, the filmmakers conducted a stealth campaign to fill the web with glowing reviews under false identities. That seems the only rational explanation for positive comments about this mess.
I’ve been a fan of Brian Keene since reading The Rising, and continuing through The Conqueror Worms, Cities of the Dead, and Dead Sea. He has a splatterpunk sensibility, although I think he is a smoother writer than most of them, and a wonderful refusal to look away from the unpleasantness of the situations he creates. I finally got around to Ghoul (an earlier effort to read it was ended when my dog ate my copy, took a while to get back to it) and it is my favorite of his books so far.
Ghoul is something of a coming-of-age novel, in the manner of Simmons’ Summer of Night, King’s It, or McCammon’s Boy’s Life. Three twelve-year-old friends have their summer off from school interrupted by the discovery the nearby cemetery is being plagued with a recently freed ghoul, who is eating the dead and kidnapping woman to breed others of his race. The three kids ultimately have to be the ones to stop him, while dealing with some serious childhood issues of their own.
In Keene’s universe, there is true tension since you have no idea if any of the sympathetic characters will make it, or that Good will defeat Evil (Most of horror fiction is a type of morality play, where you know Good will triumph in the end). And the horror works on two levels. There is the supernatural threat of the title creature, and the human horror of how the damage we receive as children scar our lives. The epilogue, which does not concern the supernatural, is heartbreaking (This is not a criticism, but truly happy endings seem to be anathema to Keene. One of these days, he will write one just to shock his long time fans.).
It was also nice to see a horror novel written around a seldom used beastie, an actual corpse-eating ghoul. I can’t think off-hand of too many other novels to use this.
I would heartily recommend this to those who are already Keene fans, and those who haven’t tried him yet. My dog enjoyed her copy also.
I’ve been a fan of horror and crime fiction since I was a kid. This has made me fairly jaded as far as depictions of violence go. A lifetime of reading about the extremes of human behavior will do that to you.
So I was surprised when, a third of the way through J. F. Gonzalez’ excellent novel Survivor, I contemplated chucking it aside. This had nothing to do with the quality of the book, but it was so harrowing, I was leery of what I knew was to come. Reality based horror, as opposed to the supernatural kind, is usually a bit more intimidating, since you are dealing with something at least theoretically possible. With trepidation, I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did.
Brad and Lisa are two young married lawyers, off for a weekend getaway, when they are stopped by a police officer. It seems another motorist, Caleb Smith, has filed a complaint for a citizen’s arrest against Brad, and he gets to spend the weekend in jail. But the Smith’s real motive is to separate Brad and Lisa in order to kidnap her. It seems that Smith has been commissioned by clients to provide a victim for a snuff film. Lisa is to be raped, tortured, and murdered, for the pleasure of a network of hardcore perverts. But that isn’t even the worst part. That’s what Lisa is willing to do to survive…
My only previous experience with Gonzalez’ work was in reading the enjoyable, B-movie-esque Clickers and Clickers II. Here his work takes a much darker turn. Like at the scene of a highway accident, I found I could not look away. If you can handle it, this is a must-read.
I have a couple of quibbles with the book. It could have used a good proof-reader (this has become the standard in American publishing, I’m afraid), and I felt it could have done with some editing, especially during the last segment of the book, which seemed to meander a bit. But this is not enough to keep this from being a very significant book in the field of non-supernatural horror.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Norman Partridge has been touted as one of the rising stars of the horror field, and now that I’ve read Dark Harvest, I have to disagree. He is not rising; he has already risen. Dark Harvest is a wonderful, mature work of horror fiction that places Partridge among the elite of the profession.
This is a lean, spare story, clocking in at just over 160 pages, and readers should be warned: It won’t take that long to read, but you can’t stop once you start. It is set in a small town in 1963, where every year, a pumpkin-headed October Boy rises in a field just outside of town. A resident is there to carve a face in his head, he is stuffed full of candy, and given a butcher knife. He then takes off, with the goal of reaching the church in the center of town. Standing in his way is every boy in town between sixteen and eighteen, armed with clubs and knives, and determined to kill him before he reaches his goal. Each of the boys has been starved for five days to make them “hungry” for the kill. The boy who kills the October Boy gets to leave town (the only way out) and his family receives rewards.
There are many secrets about this ritual, and they are revealed one by one. This is one of the great works of dark fantasy, and the perfect book for Halloween. There are a few anachronisms in the 1963 setting, but that is a very minor quibble. The novel is available as an inexpensive Tor trade paperback.
You should also check out Norman Patridge’s website. Essays there reveal he is one of the few people to share my love of the Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I have a long, if not particularly notable, association with Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. It was the first "adult" book I ever read, completed when I was seven. It had been given to me by the teenage girl next door (I like to imagine she thought "it would be perfect for the little creep") and took awhile to finish, partly because I may have been a little precocious but wasn't yet a speed-reader, and partly because my mother kept finding it and ineffectually hiding it, convinced it would give me nightmares (it did). I was entranced by it then, and have loved the novel ever since. I have watched Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Jack Palance and others portray the saturnine Count with enjoyment, while lamenting that no one ever attempted to make an adaptation that was true to the book.
So I was pretty stoked back in 1992 when Francis Ford Coppola announced he would be making a huge budget, star-laden adaptation. Since he was calling it Bram Stoker's Dracula, surely he would stick closer to the novel. Else why bother? Obviously, I underestimated Hollywood's willingness to "improve" books. Although I remember being very disappointed, I recently picked up the latest DVD edition and decided to give it another try.
First off, the good stuff: The movie looks great. Coppola has always had a good eye, and also done well in hiring cinematographers, and the movie looks great, although Vlad's armor in the beginning makes him look a little like the Crimson Dynamo. Coppola also makes good use of mostly practical special effects, and uses a very stylized approach to the movie which is very pleasing to the eye.
But it still doesn't work. Although Coppola still calls this a faithful adaptation, his Dracula has been transformed from the monster of the original into a tragic romantic figure. So what if he tortured thousands of people to death, and has spent centuries not only killing humans but destroying their souls? The dude's wife died. This has an ick factor to me. I'm sure Ted Bundy had some sort of heartbreak in his life, the world would still have been better off if he'd been stillborn. Since the years since the movie have seen an explosion of cultural entertainment with vampires as romantic characters, maybe I'm out of touch. The middle of the film, where Dracula romances Mina, also slows the pace of the film to a crawl.
The movie also inserts historical information showing Dracula as the real ruler Vlad Tepes, an inspiration to Stoker for the Dracula character, which Coppola claims to make his version even more "real" than Stoker's. Which would be true if Dracula was a non-fiction account of Vlad the Impaler, but since the title character is a fictional creation of Stoker, that doesn't really hold up. Actually, tying Dracula closer to Vlad makes him less sympathetic rather than more, since Vlad was one of history's true SOBs.
One of the most criticized aspects of the movie at the time of its release was casting Keanu Reeves as Jonathon Harker, but I think this is more of an example of Keanu-hate than anything else. True, he struggles with his fake accent (everyone in the film seems to, even those who are using their native ones), but I truly think he acquits himself well, or at least as well as most of the rest of the wooden cast. To me, the one awful acting performance comes from the usually wonderful Anthony Hopkins, who portrays Abraham van Helsing as sort of a deranged vaudeville performance. He is so over-the-top that he warps every scene he is in, with the most egregious example coming when he dry-humps Quincy Morris like a dog humping your leg, while giving him instructions to guard Lucy. Just too bizarre.
For all his claims of originality, Coppola steals from other films a little too liberally (although they are often his own earlier films). He juxtapositions the sacred and profane when cutting back and forth from the wedding of Jonathon and Mina to the murder of Lucy by Dracula, but it is basically the same as the baptism/settling of scores scene in The Godfather. And when vampiric Lucy vomits blood over her antagonists, it looks like it was taken directly from The Exorcist.
In the end, it would have been more appropriate for the movie to be named Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, and we are still waiting for a version that will be true to the book, a masterpiece of Victorian fiction.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
The big announcement is a new (free) story is up at Kent Gowran’s Chop Shop Horror Show. It is “Best Friend’s Girlfriend” by J.F. Gonzalez, and like the Bryan Smith story which preceded it, is of the highest quality. The Chop Shop Horror Show has become a can’t miss destination for horror fans, and you’ll hate yourself if you miss this story. So go there. Now.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
We all have "guilty pleasures" - movies or books that we know we probably shouldn't like, but we do. One of the movies that fits into this category for me is Paul W. S. Anderson's 1997 sci-fi horror flick Event Horizon. Although I know it has flaws, I've seen it several times, and love it. It is two-thirds of a great movie (more on that later).
In the year 2047, man has moved out into the solar system, exploring and exploiting the resources of Earth's fellow solar orbiters. The ship Lewis and Clark operates as a sort of deep space Coast Guard. Commanded by the conscientious Captain Miller (Lawrence Fishburne), they are sent on a mysterious mission to the limits of explored space, the orbit of Neptune. With the crew, which represents all the English-speaking countries, travels a scientist, Doctor Weir (Sam Neill), who holds the key to the mission.
Seven years earlier, a deep space explorer called the Event Horizon was lost when its engine exploded. Weir reveals to the cynical crew that this was a lie, the Event Horizon was designed to be the first ship from earth to travel to another star. In the requisite mumbo-jumbo exposition sequence, Weir explains how the Event Horizon's "gravity drive" was designed to create a controlled black hole, to enable the ship to almost instantaneously reach across immense distances. Instead of the accident that was the official story, after the gravity drive was engaged, the ship disappeared, and was never heard from again. Until now, when the ship has reappeared near Neptune. The Lewis and Clark's mission is to investigate the Event Horizon and find out what happened.
Once they reach their destination, they find that none of the original crew has survived, and the ship itself has brought back something from the void outside our dimension. What ensues is a classic haunted house story in space, with the Event Horizon serving as the haunted house. This is much the same story structure used in Alien. Each crew member is visited with a sin from their past that still haunts them. Captain Miller sees a crew member who died under his command, Doctor Weir an apparition of his dead wife, etc.
As is usual in this sort of movie, it is creepier when the crew is trying to figure out what is going on. After a tremendous first two acts, it devolves a bit in the third act, when the story falls back on traditional movie devices ("when in doubt, blow shit up"). The cast, which includes Jason Isaacs and Sean Pertwee in addition to Fishburne and Neill, is superb. The basic idea is wonderful, the payoff doesn't quite live up to it. Still, as I said, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
It's a pretty simple format ranging from fact ("The Top Six Grossing Horror Films in the United States") to opinion ("The Twenty Best Opening Lines"). The opinion lists invite challenge and dissent, but that's what they're there to do (see my sidebar for examples). There's something here to interest anyone interested in horror, and the format encourages reading in short bursts. Many of the individual contributors will be familiar to fans of horror movie or horror fiction. My one quibble with the book is I wish it were better indexed. If you want to refer to a remembered list, you have to thumb through the book to find it. Still, for $14.95, it will probably find its way to the bookshelves of most horror fans.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I’ve been a huge fan of Robert R. McCammon since early in his career. He was one of the stars of the horror surge of the 80s, and it is our loss that he no longer writes in the genre. At one point, he was probably second only to Stephen King among horror fans, and he was pushing King for the top spot when he abruptly took an extended sabbatical from writing, after a disagreement with his publisher. (On an irrelevant note, I’ve met McCammon a couple of times, since we lived in the same city for a while, and he is a genuinely nice guy. As I have found writers generally to be, although Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a definite exception to that. But I digress.) The Night Boat was one of his first four novels, which he semi-disowned after a while, thinking he did not come into his own as an author until Mystery Walk. As a result, this book and the other three (Baal, Bethany’s Sin, and They Thirst) have been mostly out of print for a while. I would agree that McCammon’s writing took a great leap upward with Mystery Walk, becoming much more polished and assured, and delving deeper into his characters. However, I still feel the early books are well worth seeking out, and while they may be lesser McCammons, are still better than mostwriters.
The Night Boat is the story of a man named David Moore. After a boating accident killed his wife and child, he fled to the fictional Caribbean Island of Coquina, where he runs an inn. One day, while scuba diving in the waters just off the island, he dislodges a WWII-era depth charge, which explodes. The explosion dislodges a Nazi submarine buried throughout the years under the silt, and it rises to the surface, where it drifts toward the island, eventually beaching itself in the harbor. Unfortunately for the residents of the island, the crew of the submarine was placed under a gypsy curse after shelling the boat docks of the island during the war, and its crew has been condemned to exist as the living dead. Now released, the zombified Nazis wreak havoc on the island. Don't ya just hate when that happens?
This is not an overly deep book. It won’t change your life or make you re-evaluate your existence. But, c’mon. Nazi zombies attacking from a haunted submarine? Who can resist that? Although some of the characters are a little bit cardboard, it is still pretty well written. If Mr. McCammon doesn’t wish to claim it, I sure wish I could.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Few authors are as revered to horror fans as H. P. Lovecraft. Although his stories were not overly popular during his lifetime, his influence has carried down through the years, and his accomplishment in liberating the genre from the traditional tropes of horror literature weighs heavy on all writers working today. He is certainly the most name-checked among authors today (Stephen King is his only real competition). His stories are required reading.
But he has not fared so well when it comes to translating his stories to the screen. Imdb lists 75 adaptations of his work, and with few exceptions, they are dreck. Although there are gems like Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator sprinkled in, the average quality is closer to abominations like H.P. Lovecraft’s The Tomb.
Part of the blame lies with the stories themselves, I think. The typical protagonist of a Lovecraft opus was a passive narrator, who observes what is going on (often with great confusion) and rarely interacts with events. We want our movie heroes to be more aggressive, and to watch Mel Gibson grab his sword and go forth to battle the evil Jews, or whatever he’s against. If Lovecraft’s POV characters see something too scary, they often faint. So for this reason, and because most movies tend to be terrible, anyway, Lovecraft adaptations have been something to be feared more than Cthulhu himself.
A group of Lovecraft enthusiasts have decided to take matters in their own hands. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) raised a small amount of money, and decided to film Lovecraft’s seminal work, The Call of Cthulhu. The biggest problem was in the budget constraints. The story calls for several elaborate dream-sequences, and a gigantic special effects piece where great Cthulhu rises from R’lyeh and attacks a ship. Clearly they couldn’t afford this.
The budget shortfall was dealt with in an ingenious fashion. The movie was filmed as it would have been when the story was published in 1928 – which meant a silent film (except for score) in black & white, with crude practical effects. I hope the idea of a Black & White silent flick hasn’t turned you off to The Call of Cthulhu, because this is the best Lovecraft adaptation I have ever seen.
The movie, which clocks in at just under 47 minutes, is faithful to the original story, and its convoluted narrative structure, a flashback within a flashback with a flashback. The stark, impressionistic lighting and artificial aging of the film adds eeriness to the production. The dream sequences owe a lot to the silent classic The Cabinet of Caligari, and the stop motion animation of the Cthulhu scene, rather than detracting from the story, adds a sense of otherworldliness. The actors do a good job, and the direction is bold. They have overcome the limitations of their budget through creativity.
I urge everyone to order The Call of Cthulhu from the HPLHS by clicking here. The package is well worth the dough, and the HPLHS is planning to have their second production, The Whisperer In Darkness, ready next year. I can’t wait.
The plot is simple. The movie is set in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun sets for 30 days at once (hence the title). As the long night begins, a wave of vampires arrive, to take advantage of the long period without the sun. These vampires are the ugly sort, with blue-white skin, black eyes, and unnaturally distending jaws lined with sharp teeth. They wreak havoc, while a small band of survivors tries to last until the next sunrise.
I loved the fact that the vampires in this are hideous and repellent, and don’t just lounge about in ruffled shirts, spouting junior high-level poetry. The cast was also quite good. I have never been a Josh Hartnett fan, but his laconic personality works here. Melissa George is good, and the star is the great character actor Danny Huston as the lead vampire. Huston is always great, you should check out The Proposition for another fine example of his work.
There were things I didn’t like. Northern Alaska is a place that most of us are unfamiliar with, with an inhospitable climate. Little use is made of that. It was cold, it snowed, but other than that, it could have been anywhere. There was also no explanation for why the vampires had gathered to do this, except for a desire to Fuck Shit Up.
Overall, though, I think they did a good job of adapting the look of the book, and I would give it a thumbs-up. If you’re looking for a horror movie for Halloween, this should fill the bill.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Every year, I try to read as much Halloween-themed horror as I can, to milk the season for all it's worth. Here's a list of some of the horror novels I have which feature the holiday:
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (Recommended)
Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree
Al Sarrantonio, Halloweenland (On the shelf, I'll read it this month)
Al Sarrantonio, Horrorween
Al Sarrantonio, Hallow's Eve
Brian Keene, Ghost Walk (Just read - review to follow. Recommended)
Norman Partridge, Dark Harvest (Highly recommended. Probably the best Halloween-related book I've ever read)
David Nial Wilson, Roll Them Bones (Highly recommended. Along with Dark Harvest, I'll be re-reading this one for Halloween, and probably for years to come)
James A. Moore, Harvest Moon (I've been saving this one for months, waiting until closer to Halloween.
I'm sure I've overlooked some obvious ones. If you have any suggestions/corrections, please let me know.
I recently read Ночной дозор (Night Watch) by Sergei Lukyanenko. I’m not usually into fantasy – cute dwarves, elves and fairies just don’t do it for me – but this grabbed me. It is definitely written for adults, not children.
The book is set in present day Moscow (I read an English translation – when I was in college I probably would have given the original Russian a try, but at my current speed of comprehension, I would have run out of space on the actuarial table before I finished). Moscow is the grimy, run-down, post-Soviet metropolis as it is today, but in this Moscow, magic exists. Among the human inhabitants there also reside magicians, vampires, shape-shifters and the like. The supernatural beings have divided into two camps: The Light and The Dark. After gaining powers, one must choose which of the two groups to which he or she will belong. It is not as simple as Good and Evil, although that is the underlying conflict. Although The Light is devoted to being selfless and acting for the greater good, and The Dark acts in its own self interest, The Light can do bad things, and The Dark can do good. This moral ambiguity adds a great deal of depth to the books. For centuries the two sides fought a war, but a thousand years prior, a treaty was signed, ending open conflict. Since the two sides don’t trust each other, each side keeps an eye on the other for treaty violations. The Light calls their group the Night Watch, and The Dark calls theirs the Day Watch.
The main character of Night Watch is Anton Gorodetsky, a low-level mage who is something of a bureaucrat thrust into doing field work. (If you have read much Russian literature, you know The Bureaucrat is the basic stock character of fiction). He ends up fighting both sides in a struggle for a young boy who may be the key to resolving the ancient struggle. Along the way, he begins to discover some truths about himself, and about the organization t which he belongs. His internal conflict over whether he's following the right path adds a lot to the book
The book is full of metaphor, which is typical of the better Russian authors. I guess if you live for over seventy years under a repressive, censoring regime you become expert at that. Check back here in 2070.
Night Watch is the first of four books in a series. The others are: Дневной дозор (Day Watch), Сумеречный дозор (Twilight Watch), and Последний дозор (Final Watch). All but the last are available in English translations. For those so inclined, an outstanding film version of Night Watch (based on the first section of the book) is available on DVD, dubbed or subtitled, as is the slightly lesser Day Watch.