Uzumaki / Junji Ito
It took me way too long to realize that as much as I might like the idea of horror I don’t really care for it much in practice. This is largely because many of the people I hung out with in college really liked horror movies. As a result, I watched a lot of horror movies. Even after college I still tried to convince myself that I liked the genre. It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to realize that I didn’t have to force myself to sit through media I didn’t enjoy because I thought that was what I was supposed to like.
I still like the genre in theory. It competes with science fiction for the “genre best suited for social commentary” award. It’s a genre where imagination is allowed to operate more freely than in other genres, where there are deeply entrenched tropes that tend to limit one to either following them or deconstructing them. Not to say that horror doesn’t have its own set of clichés (see the interesting but not exactly thought-provoking Cabin in the woods) but that in many cases there’s more room for experimentation. Theoretically this is also true of science fiction, fantasy, and graphic fiction in general but in practice the Golden Age problem shows up frequently.
I also like horror because on a fundamental basis it tends towards stories about people trying to survive in a universe that is at best wholly indifferent to them. There’s a sense that slasher films are like mystery novels in that they fundamentally serve to uphold social norms as those who are visibly or behaviorally different are murdered in creative ways (once again, see Cabin in the woods, as it serves a useful function as ur-text for the slasher genre). I’m more tempted to read them as an indictment of the way society as a whole punishes difference and enforces conformity and adherence to “appropriate” social norms (where being a visible minority or sexually active gets you killed first).
So in general I don’t really watch many horror movies. Living with someone with a low threshold for terror means I don’t have many opportunities anyways (not that I’d seek out opportunities at this point). I’ll check one out once or twice a year but in general Doctor Who is as scary as things get at home. I’ve also found that the more I’m exposed to real-life horrors the lower my tolerance is for fictional ones.
Which brings me to the actual subject of this post, Uzumaki. Originally published in 1998-1999, Uzumaki is the story of a small town plagued by spirals.
A small town in Japan experiences a series of strange events involving spirals. From snails to hair to smoke, spirals plague the town and its inhabitants. Kirie Goshima* and her boyfriend Shuichi Sato* appear, at least initially, to be the only people in town to realize that something very wrong is happening.
*Yes, purists I’m using the Anglicized name order. The English translation does it that way so I’m just reporting the names as presented in the book itself.
Continue reading Uzumaki
Ghost of a chance / Simon R. Green
And now we go from a series I enjoyed to a book that I find it really hard to say anything positive about.
Simon R. Green is apparently more well known for his Nightside series, which I’ve never read. I picked up this one instead of the first Nightside book because the fact that Ghost of a chance was the first in the series was printed on the cover. Urban fantasy publishers: PLEASE do this. More than once I’ve started halfway through a series because it was nigh-impossible to tell which book was first so I grabbed the one in the worst condition. Historical romance books are even worse, as I’ve seen some authors (Laura Lee Guhrke, for example) where the books in the series are listed in a different order in each book.
Please quit doing this, publishers. My public library occasionally numbers things in-series on their spines, but they aren’t particularly consistent about it and it appears to be more common with hardcovers and or/trades than it does mass market paperbacks. The least you could do is list the series in order on the fly-leaf.
Back to this book in particular.
Brief plot summary
JC Chance, Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer are a team of paranormal investigators working for the Carnacki Institute. Tasked with investigating an apparently simple haunting in the London Underground, things become more complicated when a team from their arch-rivals, the Crowley Project, arrives.
Continue reading Ghost of a chance (Ghost finders)
Krampus: the Yule lord / Brom
Krampus : the Yule lord is another work by artist turned author Brom. Along the same lines as The child thief, Brom takes a well known story, adds the “lost” pagan version, and infuses it with a degree of moral ambiguity.
So, here’s a Christmas season post that’s actually about “Christmas”. Sort of.
Brief plot summary
Musician Jesse is miserable. After failing to get his daughter the Christmas present she wanted, Jesse witnesses what appears to be a fight between Santa Claus and a small group of mysterious attackers. Discovering that the battle sent Santa’s sack through the roof if his trailer, Jesse soon becomes embroiled in a centuries long conflict between Krampus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas.
Continue reading Krampus : the Yule lord
Annihilation / Jeff VanderMeer. First published 2014.
Here’s the next in my “slightly more demanding sf” series. Annihilation is the first book of the Southern reach trilogy by weird fiction author Jeff VanderMeer. It’s a little bit different than the other ones on the list, as it’s an expedition novel with touches of Lovecraft and Cronenberg.
Brief plot summary
Area X is a mysterious part of what is probably the North American continent. For years it has been completely cut off from the rest of the world. The first expedition reported that Area X was a veritable Garden of Eden. The second expedition ended in mass suicide. Every expedition since has met with an unhappy end. Annihilation follows the members of the twelth expedition (all unnamed): an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and a biologist. Narrated by the biologist, the book tracks the twelfth expedition as they make a series of terrifying discoveries about Area X and the previous expeditions.
Continue reading Annihilation
The thief of always / Clive Barker. First published 1992.
The thief of always is somewhat difficult to classify in that “unabridged fairy tale” kind of way. It’s a horror novel that features a ten year old protagonist, but it’s not exactly an “adult” book, nor is it really a children’s book. Originally published in 1992 and illustrated by the author, there was a graphic novel adaptation by IDW in the early 2000s. It’s one of the more well known books in a genre that’s surprisingly underpopulated. I’d guess that authors are hesitant to write straight-up horror geared towards both children are adults. It would be astoundly easy to write a book that is too “adult”, making it difficult to publish and market as well as inviting the outrage of upset parents, but it would be just as easy to write a book that’s not adult enough, that ends up too elementary for older readers. The thief of always walks that line very well.
Harvey Swick is the 10 year old spiritual descendent of Milo of The phantom tollbooth. Dissatisfied with his life, he dreams of being whisked away to somewhere more interesting. To his surprise, this happens when a thin man with an improbably large grin arrives to take him to Mr. Hood’s Holiday House, a paradise for children where Christmas happens every night. Harvey quickly realizes that all is not as it seems, and when he starts to become homesick discovers that returning home is harder than he expected.
Continue reading The thief of always
The child thief / Brom.
I realize that I’ve kind of been on a contemporary fantasy kick this month, so I figured I’d switch things up by doing another contemporary fantasy review.
In all seriousness, I’ll take a break from the contemporary fantasy after this one. Probably.
It’s not like you can stop me if I choose not to. Pardon me while I let all this power go to my head.
BACK TO THE CHILD THIEF!
The child thief is Brom’s contemporary take on Peter Pan, coupled with a healthy dose of celtic mythology. It’s not-too-dissimilar (in a good way) from Clive Barker’s The thief of always (the subject of a future post. Probably).
Peter Pan is the titular child thief, who travels between the human world and Avalon, kidnapping abused children to use as cannon fodder in a never-ending war against Captain Hook. It’s a dark fairy tale without clear heroes and villains.
Continue reading The child thief
Dead harvest / Chris F. Holm
The wrong goodbye / Chris F. Holm
Why do I keep reading Angry Robot books again?
I’m doing these two books as a two-fer ’cause that’s how I feel like doing them today.
Dead harvest and The wrong goodbye are a pair of contemporary fantasy novels about a noir-style hardboiled grim reaper. It’s an interesting premise, and the cover art is certainly eye-catching in that it evokes that old-school pulp style. Apparently there’s a third one now (The big wreap) but I haven’t read it and don’t really plan on reading it unless somebody asks me to do so for this blog.
Some background on the publisher
I’m going to end up reviewing more than a few books from Angry Robot and I feel like it’s worth mentioning something about them as a publishing house. Angry Robot is a relatively small UK-based publisher of weird fiction. They are supported by an extensive guerrilla marketing apparatus, and the library where I worked at the time seemed to acquire pretty much their entire catalog.
I’ve read close to a dozen books published by Angry Robot so far, and to be honest I haven’t generally been “wowed” by them. Still, their marketing is incredibly effective on me and I find myself continuously picking up books by this publisher. The only other publisher that markets to me as effectively is Orbit. Tor and Baen are probably tied for third but that’s chiefly because that’s where many of my favorite authors are.
Back to the books in question: plot
If you recognize the source of the titles (Red harvest and The long goodbye), it’s pretty close to what you’d expect.
Sam Thornton was once a living human who sold his soul. Now he is a collector, a disembodied spirit that possesses the recently deceased in order to collect the souls of the damned and send them to Hell. Upon being tasked with collecting the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent, Thornton decides to rebel against his masters in an act that threatens the balance between Heaven and Hell.
Continue reading Dead harvest/The wrong goodbye
Sandman Slim / Richard Kadrey. Originally published 2007.
If one were to create a spectrum of contemporary horror/fantasy/whatever, with John dies at the end on one end and the Dresden files at the other end, Sandman Slim would end up somehwere in the middle. It’s the first novel of a series that now includes five novels and at least one short story.
Brief plot description
Stark is a punk rock magician/car thief who has just escaped from Hell ten years after being betrayed by his circle of magical collaborators. Stalking the streets of L.A., Stark attempts to hunt down his former allies one by one, seeking revenge for his long imprisonment and the murder of his girlfriend.
Continue reading Sandman Slim
John dies at the end / David Wong. Originally published 2007.
John dies at the end is one of those books I randomly picked up because the Kindle version was on sale and I was looking for something new. It’s an irreverent horror novel and was adapted into a moderately well received film.
Brief plot description
David Wong is a 20-something slacker living in an anonymous midwestern college town (implied by the film version to be Champaign-Urbana, but more ambiguous in the book). After a bizarre experience at a party involving a mysterious drug called “Soy Sauce”, he and his friends end up on a wild adventure involving talking meat products, celebrity exorcists, and a demon-like creature known as “Shitload”.
Continue reading John dies at the end