Sunday, May 26, 2019

May Reads Part Two

While the Black Stars Burn by Lucy A. Snyder
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
Year's Best Weird Fiction Volume 2 edited by Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
The Expert System's Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I don't think I've read any pieces from Snyder previous to this collection, her second, called While the Black Stars Burn. But I have her Stoker Award-nominated third collection on order already as I liked this one a lot. Like so many compilations, not everything is a home run, but when Snyder is cooking, she's really cooking (if I might mix my metaphors). This collection runs the whole generic gamut, from dark fantasy, to science fiction, to horror and horror pastiches, all the way up to (a very pleasant surprise) a Seventh Doctor and Ace story at the end. There's a five story stretch in this 13 story collection where I thought Snyder had hit her stride. From the gruesome "Through Thy Bounty" all the way to the two-part Lovecraftian nightmare ("The Abomination of Fensmere" and "The Girl with the Star-Stained Soul"), Snyder completely astonished me. The five stories (the other two being "Cthylla" and the title story, a very knowing ode to Robert W. Chambers) range from science fiction to horror and back. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more.

I haven't felt much like writing recently, so here's one sentence reviews of the other books.

- The King in Yellow was like nothing I'd ever read before and was amazing.

- The highlights of Year's Best Weird Fiction Volume 2 were Nick Mamatas and Carmen Maria Machado

- The Marrow Thieves was one of the better written YA novels I've read but its science fictional elements were poorly integrated and its novum made no sense

- The Expert System's Brother works in one of my favourite subgenres: fantasy setting turns out to be science fictional.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

May Reads Part One

Batman Eternal by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman, Tim Seeley, and a whole host of artists including the completely atypical choice Ian Bertram (click here for an example)
Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt
Weird Tales of a Bangalorean by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

I don't normally review comic books for this blog anymore, despite them being the impetus for the blog's very creation, but Batman Eternal was a lot better than I was expecting and I thought I'd jot down some thoughts on it. First, I appreciate that the Joker wasn't part of the story at all. Too often, the Joker is ultimately revealed as the big baddie, and I'm tired of that. I've read my fair share of stories in which the Joker is posited as symbiotic with Batman, that the two feed off each other. Okay, great, but Batman is more than one character. Batman Eternal crafts a complex story over 52 weekly issues, with rotating script writers and artists, and thankfully, it never gets too big for its britches and tries to make sweeping artistic statements about what it means to be Batman. In fact, our eponymous hero shares much screentime, as it were, with his supporting cast, helping make the series feel fully rounded. I'm not suitably familiar enough with the New 52, or whichever continuity they're on now, so I wasn't sure where Dick Grayson or Damian Wayne were supposed to be in this series, but Stephanie Brown and Harper Row make great foils for each other and for Batman. The story never felt 52 issues long, a huge compliment I should think, and kept me on my toes for a bit. The reveal of the true mastermind was lost on me due to my lack of familiarity with the character but that's not the fault of the series. Most of the art was hideous but readable, something that could be said of almost every American superhero title. What tickled me was the inclusion of the aforementioned Ian Bertram, an artist working in the shadow of Frank Quitely, but still enthralling nonetheless. His use of Reubenesque women makes for a breath of fresh air considering how awful women are drawn normally. Anyway, I took Batman Eternal out from the library and it was worth every penny.

Greener Pastures wasn't the masterpiece I think I was expecting, but I definitely liked it. I suppose I was mentally prepared for horror and what Wehunt is doing here is more Weird than horror. It's also a lot less nasty than most other horror I've read. Many of the stories are flush with an all-encompassing sense of loss, either literally or figuratively. One great story has a man growing wings after his longtime wife has passed away. Another follows a father whose split-second lack of attention cause the disappearance of his daughter. The very last story features no supernatural effects at all! None of these things are negatives and I certainly liked my time with the book, but I wish it had been a smidge more horror. My favourite story is the only true horror story, the one with a haunted house, and boy does it fucking rule. I hope to read more from Wehunt. This came out in 2016 and I can't see any clue about a forthcoming collection—some chapbooks, but no collection. I liked this a lot but not enough to start buying his chapbooks.

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is a friend on Twitter. We became friends after S.J. Bagley introduced us. After knowing him for years, I realized I've never purchased any of his collections. I'd certainly read pieces by him in various anthologies here and there. Weird Tales of a Bangalorean seems to be the only available collection in print and it's from 2015. A slim book, with a handful of poems, and a subtle connection between a couple pieces, I quite liked this. Satyamurthy has a careful prose style, one focused on the cityscape, the passageways, the living breathing heart of the city. Most weird fiction I've read feels untethered from specific locales unless it's self-consciously Appalachian or Southern. Thus, it's a treat to be submerged into a entire city fully realized through short stories (as opposed to one of those State of the Nation city novels I used to be fond of). Where Satyamurthy loses me a smidge is his dialogue, which sounds a bit tinny to be honest. There isn't much dialogue, the author probably aware of his limits and plays to his strengths, but what little there is bangs with an out-of-tune drum. The true gem, sparkling and frightening, is "The Song Of The Eukarya," a relationship chamber piece which builds to an incredible ending. Of course, part of the appeal of this story is the use of fungi. Always a welcomed aspect of horror fiction, if you ask me. Weird Tales of a Bangalorean is great and I hope to read more. I gather it's difficult to make a living from writing little weird tales, so no pressure.

The Secret of Ventriloquism is fucking dooooope, as close to perfection as weird/horror short fiction comes. What I didn't know going into this was the connections between the pieces. I assumed this was just the previously published pieces put together. But no, there is an insidious and subtle through-line. Each story stands on its own, though, thankfully. Many of the pieces toy with form, such as one phenomenal story in the form of a how-to manual, in 20 steps to mastering ventriloquism. Another piece, perhaps my favourite of the shorter works, plays as if advertising material for a theme park ride. This story, “The Indoor Swamp,” completely sustains its doom-laden, can't-look-away atmosphere. Each part of the story feels like little random thoughts the author has had, but they're strung together coherently and effectively. Only one story was a mixed bag and not because of its horror elements. “The Infusorium” is kind of the centerpiece of the whole collection in that it provides lots of exposition and ties many of the other stories together. Its horror elements are top notch; the story is replete with all sorts of horrific and imaginative nightmares, but Padgett has tried to emulate a world-weary cop narrator which does not work. It stinks of fakery. Still, the rest of the collection is so good and even parts of the mixed bag story are so good I can't help but give the book the full five stars or whatever.

I'll review In Our Mad and Furious City in full in another post, I think. If I don't get around to it, suffice it to say I liked the prose a lot, the use of dialect, but found the central thesis a bit too "All Lives Matter" for my liking.