Jun
04

“Frankenstein Lives Again” by Donald F. Glut – Horror Novel Review

cover of Frankenstein Lives Again by Donald F. GlutFormat: NookBook, Kindle, and other digital formats
Publisher: Pulp 2.0 Press
Publication Year: 197?

I sooooo wanted to like this one. While I’ve never been able to slog through Mary Shelly’s original novel, I’ve long been a fan of the many incarnations of Frankenstein. From the moody black and white of the Universal classics, through the Technicolor gore of the Hammer flicks, and into the pulpy four color goodness of the Dick Briefer comic series, Victor (or Henry) Frankenstein and his undying monster(s) have loomed hauntingly over a corner of my imagination for as long as I can remember.

Frankenstein Lives Again is the first novel in The New Adventures of Frankenstein, a series of 11 (soon to be 12) pulp horror/adventure books that originally saw print in the early 1970s. The idea of a pulp style Frankenstein series written with the Universal Monster flicks in mind appealed to me and I downloaded the book as soon as it became available in a Nook friendly format. Sadly, even with the highly attractive .99 NookBook price (and it’s equally affordable for the Kindle version), I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

Dr. Burt Winslow is the square-jawed hero of the piece. He’s ridiculously handsome, ludicrously rich, and impossibly good at everything he sets out to do. Unfortunately for the world at large, his latest project is to recover and revive the Frankenstein monster. Winslow has learned that Shelly’s novel was based on actual events. He has sunk his considerable resources into learning Victor Frankenstein’s formula for reviving the dead, purchasing the original Castle Frankenstein in Ingolstadt, Germany, and tracking the monster to the Arctic where he has been frozen solid for nearly a century-and-a-half. Winslow must fight his way through superstitious and murderous Eskimos who worship the monster’s frozen remains as a god, then sneak the monster past superstitious and murderous Germans, who fear that Winslow will bring back the horror of Frankenstein.

Make no mistake, the book barrels along like a freight train full of loose cadaver parts going downhill in an ice storm. The action rarely slows down long enough to establish characterization, and herein lies the book’s biggest flaw. The whole concept of “pulp style fiction” suggests action and entertainment taking precedent over literary value, which is fine within limits, but the novel is populated with one dimensional cyphers that it’s impossible to care about. Making matters worse is the fact that our bolt-necked hero isn’t resuscitated until two-thirds of the way through, and when he does finally get up off the laboratory table (sporting a very trendy-for-the-times black turtleneck I hasten to add) he is unable to speak. More often than not, the monster is usually mute in the movies, but having him able to speak here would have opened up a lot of possibilities. The final nail in the coffin, though, is that the book contains some of the clunkiest prose since Snoopy typed the immortal narrative hook “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Glut obviously has great love for the material. The character of Dartani for example, an evil mesmerist who travels the countryside with a house of horrors on wheels, is obviously inspired by the Dr. Niemann character from 1944′s House of Frankenstein. In fact, there’s a very interesting interview with the author over on the always entertaining Frankensteinia blog, where he discusses The New Adventures of Frankenstein series and the process of writing it. Glut does mention in the interview that Frankenstein Lives Again was his fist novel and he wasn’t happy with some of the writing. With that in mind, I may still give the other volumes in the series a chance once they are available for download, but sadly I can not recommend Frankenstein Lives Again.

 

 

May
18

Saga of the Swamp Thing, Volume 2: Horror Comic Review

Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 2When I recently re-read John Russo’s The Majorettes for the first time in decades, I realized that memory lane can be lined with broken glass, used syringes, and dog crap. In short, things aren’t always as good as you remember them. Fortunately, I’ve come across a creepy read from my past that has aged extremely well. I picked this hardbound collection up for 50% off the cover price as my local Border’s was breathing its last. It feels a bit like stealing the boots off a dead soldier but, well, he’s not using them.

Swamp Thing art

Zombies in comics before zombies in comics were cool.

Saga of the Swamp Thing, Volume 2 reprints 8 issues of the comic of the same name from 1984 and 1985. These groundbreaking horror comics are what first got Alan Moore noticed here in the states (Watchmen was still a few years off), but Moore’s writing along with Stephen Bissette’s pencils and John Tobleben’s inks combine to create a work whose whole greatly exceeds the sum of its parts. Bissette and Totleben don’t contribute to every story, but when all three of these creators come together it is pure freakin’ magic, my friends. Making the deal even sweeter for me is that I didn’t start reading the series until several issues after the stories presented here, so I’m getting Moore/Bissette/Totleben stories I’ve never seen before.

Swamp Thing

So, do we call you Swamp Thing? Man-Thing? The Heap perhaps?

In Volume I, Moore took an “everything you know about this character is wrong” approach while still leaving the previous continuity intact, an approach not unlike what he had done with Marvelman/Miracleman. Swamp Thing previously believed himself to be Dr. Alec Holland, a scientist whose experiments turned him into a sentient plant creature. Now, he has learned that he is in fact a plant creature that has inherited Holland’s memories. A subtle distinction you might say, but Swamp Thing’s driving force has always been to one day become human again, a goal rendered moot by the fact that he was never human to begin with.

Now, in Volume 2, Swampie continues to deal with his new status as a sentient plant by retrieving and laying to rest the mortal remains of Alec Holland. This first story is drawn by Shawn McManus, whose relatively cartoonish approach contrasts sharply with the Bissette/Totleben stories. It’s still a good read that includes a crucial part of the mythos, but it lacks the nightmarish tone of the volume’s best pieces.

The next four chapters, which are the heart and soul of the volume, detail the return of arch nemesis Anton Arcane, the battle that follows, and Swamp Thing’s descent into hell to retrieve the soul of Abby Cable, the woman he has loved from afar for many years.This has it all, including zombies (well before today’s plethora of zombie titles); a handful of DC’s classic supernatural characters including Deadman, The Phantom Stranger, and The Demon Etrigan; and a teaser crossover for that year’s company-spanning epic Crisis on Infinite Earths.

This story arc is followed by another Shawn McManus story called “Pog.” This tale, which details Swampie’s encounter with some extraterrestrials who are patterned after the characters in the comic strip Pogo, has received a lot of critical acclaim over the years, but I’m afraid it was lost on me, and I didn’t get the point Moore was trying to make at the climax.

The next story, which takes place almost entirely in Abby’s dream, does a brilliant job of tying together seemingly irreconcilable continuity strings, and laying some of the groundwork of Neil Gaiman’s brilliant Sandman series which was still several years off. In Abby’s dream she meets Caine and Abel, the narrators from DC’s mystery/horror anthology series House of Mystery and House of Secrets. Abel tells Abby the story of the previous Swamp Thing, which is actually related with the Len Wein/Berni Wrightson story that inspired the original Swamp Thing series and appeared in DC’s House of Secrets #92 in 1971.

The volume rounds out with “Rite of Spring,” the story in which Abby and Swamp Thing confess their love for one another. This is the one part of the book that has not aged well. Abby and Swampie join in a form of spiritual communion by having Abby eat one of the tubors that grow from Swamp Thing’s body. The resulting psychedelic experience is beautifully drawn, but runs several pages too long, leaving the reader aching to return to a more traditional narrative.

Even with the few glitches I’ve mentioned, these are some of the greatest horror comics ever written, and I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series.

Two page spread from Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 2

 

May
17

Author Joe Hill at Granite State Comicon

Joe Hill at Granite State ComiconI had the pleasure of meeting Joe Hill (real name: Joseph Hillstrom King) this past weekend at the Granite State Comicon in Manchester, NH (that’s him on the right and yours truly on the left). Hill is the author of the novels Horns and Heart Shaped Box, and in case you hadn’t already noticed the family resemblance, his father is Stephen King. I haven’t read any of Hill’s prose work yet, but I greatly enjoyed the first volume of his graphic novel series Locke and Keye from IDW Comics and I just read the first issue of The Cape from the same company. Hill autographed a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts for me, and I’m anxious to sink my teeth into it.

Joe Hill in Creepshow

10-year-old Joe Hill giving his onscreen Dad a voodoo comeuppance in 1982's Creepshow.

Of course, the author’s first major public exposure was at the age of 10 when he played Billy in the movie Creepshow, directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King. I mentioned this to him and he told me looking back he’s pretty sure he made the right choice going into writing instead of acting. Who am I to argue?

The rest of the convention was great fun as well. Granite State Comicon is put on by the guys who run Double Midnight Comics in Manchester, NH and they always put on a good show. It’s interesting how I only get this at comic book conventions, but my resemblance to George Lucas was pointed out a few times. That could be good or bad in a room full of Star Wars fans, depending on whether Return of the Jedi or Attack of the Clones is fresher in people’s minds at a given moment.

 

Apr
05

Down the Drain by Daniel Pyle – Horror Novelette Review

Down the Drain by Daniel PyleIf the author’s bio at the end of the book is to be believed, Daniel Pyle has not not bathed since writing this story. He must be a stinky man indeed by now, but this 60 odd page novelette about man vs. man-eating bath tub may well put you off personal hygiene yourself.

Bruce does not have an easy life. His wife left him years ago, his construction job leaves him exhausted at the end of each day, and his cat Selina (a joke Batman fans will likely get) is his only companion. One day Bruce forgets to leave water out for the cat, and Selina makes her way to the bathroom trying to find something to drink. Suddenly and inexplicably, Selina is savagely devoured by the newly sentient bathtub. Yes, strangeness is afoot chez Bruce. Things get even more bizarre, though, when our hero, needing a good soak for his aching muscles, heads off for the bath where he is… How shall I put this…?

He’s sexually assaulted by the bathtub. Needless to say that’s not something Bruce takes lightly.

It’s a brief tale but Pyle makes use of the pages he has. Down the Drain is fast paced, creepy, and downright bizarre. There’s some dark humor here, but he always takes the horror seriously, which I respect. The ebook is available for just $.99 at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Apr
04

Should We Judge This Book By Its Cover? – Part 3 – “Slob” by Rex Miller

Slob by Rex MillerRex Miller’s Slob has been on my “oh, I should read that one” list since the early 90s or so. The book was mentioned in Twilight Zone magazine a lot back in the day, and was often sited as a prime example of the then budding fad of splatterpunk fiction, which was basically over the top horror for the MTV generation. Slob tells the tale of a brutal yet brilliant serial killer who goes by the deceptively ordinary sounding name Chainsaw Chaingang. There were some comic books based on the book awhile ago, but the amateurish art was a turn-off for me, and that became one more reason for me to put off reading the book. I currently have the ebook sample on my Nook, but time will tell if I ever get around to it.

This time out, the new versus old debate seems like a no-brainer. Neither gives any specifics about the book, but the original Onyx paperback version on the left has a nice dark energy to it, and I love how the chain link works directly into the title. It’s a great bit of pre-Photoshop design work. That new one just does not entice me in the slightest. The layout is consistent with other Miller books in current release, but the imagery here is maddeningly bland. What does everyone else think?

Mar
31

Zombies: The Recent Dead, Edited by Paula Guran, ANTHOLOGY REVIEW Part 9

Zombies: The Recent DeadFormat: NOOKbook
Publisher: Prime Books
Publication Year: 2010

Every time I read something by David Schow I get the impression he is trying desperately to impress the reader with his flashy prose and vocabulary. In this case the very title of the story “Obsequy” (a funeral rite or ceremony) sent me scrambling for the dictionary. It’s an approach to word choice that would make hipsters proud (yeah, it’s a pretty obscure little word, you’ve probably never heard of it). Schow seems to spend $5 to $10 on a sentence when often a $1.50 will get the job done:

Their retinue of perception was so predictable  that it was almost comically dull.

Jacky’s tone suggested that he was one of those people with an almost canine empathy to discord.

Doug Walcott is a former middle school teacher who wants, no, needs to get out of the town of Triple Pines. His patience with the small town redneck burg he’s been living in is at an end and he’s got a hankering for greener pastures, a point Schow repeats ad nauseum. I think we’re supposed to empathize with Doug, but his attitude toward small town life, justified though it may be, comes off as self-righteous and condescending. We’re supposed to feel for him and his plight, but he’s being such a dick about it.

His current job is on a work crew, digging up the mortal remains of his fellow citizens so the cemetery can be relocated. Anyone who has seen Poltergeist will tell you this can not end well. Sure enough, the residence of the rifled graves make their way into town one night, aiming to add a few citizens to the necropolis. Some of the returned dead are in better shape than others, most notably Michelle, Doug’s late girlfriend. She seems whole and just as passionate as when they were together, but Michelle is out to steal Doug’s body heat one degree at a time.

“Obsequy” is an OK little story, though it seems to exist as an outlet for Schow’s cynicism about small town life and American burial customs. I think there’s too much writing and not enough storytelling going on here.

 

Mar
24

UR by Stephen King – Horror Novella Review

UR by Stephen KingFormat: Kindle
Publisher: Storyville, LLC via Amazon Digital Services
Publication Year: 2009

This was another first for me. Stephen King’s novella UR is available only as an ebook for the Kindle or an audio book. This makes sense, actually, because a Kindle is actually one of the main characters. I’m a Nook user, though, so what to do? Fortunately, I also have an iPhone in my electronic arsenal and the Kindle app is a free download. I often use the Nook app to read on my phone during lunch, waiting at the dentist, or whenever I have some time to kill, so it acts as a backup when I don’t have my Nook handy. UR is probably the longest piece I’ve read on the phone, but I’m happy to report the reading experience was quite comfortable despite the smaller back lit screen. Once I switched back to the Nook the bigger E Ink screen was very welcome, but the iPhone will definitely do in a pinch.

Wesley Smith is a book-loving professor of English Literature who initially bristles at the idea of a digital ebook reader. “There will always be books,” he tells one of his students who has brought a Kindle to class. “Which means there will always be paper and binding. Books are real objects. Books are friends.” Soon, though, in the wake of a messy breakup with his girlfriend Ellen, Wesley orders a Kindle through Amazon.com. “Why can’t you read off the computer like everyone else,” Ellen had said to him, so the purchase is made mostly out of spite. The package arrives suspiciously soon, and the unit is pink, although Wesley is pretty sure it only comes in white. Soon, though, he’s enthralled with not just the quick and easy downloads, but the intriguing experimental features. The pink Kindle can pull in books from countless parallel universes, worlds in which, for example, Hemingway lived several years longer than he did here and used that extra time to add a few more volumes to his bibliography. He also soon learns the unit can download newspaper headlines from these other worlds. Some of the news pieces show terrifying things happening in these parallel worlds, while one foretells a tragedy that is about to happen right here at home, and Wesley must do everything in his power to prevent it.

I was a bit surprised by the blatant product placement, but I imagine it has more to do with King wanting to write about a new piece of technology that fascinates him than turning a quick buck. In a lot of ways this is a modern followup to his short story “Word Processor of the Gods,” which  was just called “The Word Processor” when I first read it in the January 1983 issue of Playboy (see, sometimes the naked ladies aren’t the only reason to pick up an issue). In that story King’s character uses a home made word processor built by his nephew that has some features that never made it into the standard model from Hewlett Packard or Smith Carona. Things he writes immediately come true, and things he deletes instantly vanish. At the time, the term “word processor” was so new that I actually remember having to ask someone what it meant. UR puts a similar spin on ebook readers, imbuing supernatural abilities upon a piece of technology so new that it already seems kind of magical to begin with.

It’s also a damn entertaining read. I’ve always liked how King seems equally adept at writing short and long pieces of fiction, and he doesn’t disappoint. Wesley is a likabley unremarkable man thrown into something beyond mortal understanding. There’s some welcome humor too, but once the story turns dark it’s classic King all the way. Amazon sells UR for a mere $3.19 and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Mar
21

Winds of Change by Jason Brannon – Horror Novella Review

Winds of Change by Jason BrannonFormat: Nook Book
Publisher: Permuted Press
Publication Year: 2011

Yes, I’m having a love affair with my Nook. Some would say it’s a relationship that borders on the unnatural, but that’s a tale for another day. But what’s not to love? Online book shopping with instant gratification, prices ranging from reasonable to crazy cheap, and no cumbersome stacks of books building up around the house. Oh, baby baby baby.

Well, I’ve found yet another reason to love my Nook: the novella. Hovering in that nether realm between novel and short story, it used to be that the only way to market a novella was in a magazine, as part of a collection, or sometimes in a stand alone small press publication (which had the unpleasant habit of being kind of pricey). Now I’m seeing tons of novellas and short stories being sold as stand alone ebooks and at some pretty irresistible prices. Jason Brannon’s Winds of Change, 60 pages of end of the world style creep-out, is going for just $1.99 for the NookBook version, the Amazon Kindle version, and several other digital formats if you go to Smashwords.com.

The staff and customers of a small town hardware store find that the power failure they’re experiencing is the very least of their worries. In the streets outside people are suddenly and horrifically disintegrating into piles of what appears to be salt. Anyone who sets foot out the door suffers the same fate, and our characters find themselves trapped in the midst of either a chemical warfare attack or the judgment of The Almighty.

Brannon’s book is fun little time killer, and with only 60 pages to play with he makes every one of them count, but don’t expect something that hasn’t been done before. If you’ve read Stephen King’s The Mist or seen the movie version you’ll definitely get a sense of deja vu. There’s also a resemblance to the 2010 film Legion (though I believe Winds of Change was written first) and there’s a bit near the novella’s climax that will have you saying “didn’t they do that in The Omen?” The fast pace of the story seems to have left a few inconsistencies in its wake too. One character improbably starts wondering about a terrorist attack the moment the store’s backup generator doesn’t kick in and for some reason no one ever tries using a telephone to contact the outside world. Still the story manages to stand up on its own, and Brannon turns in an enjoyable read that keeps you wondering all the way through whether or not the catastrophe is supernatural in origin. This one is well worth your time.

Mar
18

Should We Judge This Book By Its Cover? Part 2

Brian Keene's Take the Long Way HomeBrian Keene has announced that his long out of print novella of apocalyptic horror Take the Long Way Home will be made available again soon through Deadite Press. As I did with Deadite’s re-release of Keene’s novel Urban Gothic, I thought it would be fun to show the book’s original cover side by side with the new one. The original is somber and eerie whereas the Deadite cover is OH MY GOD! MY FACE! MY FACE! Once again, two very different ways of selling the same book. Actually, the above shot doesn’t do justice to the new one, so click on over to Keene’s site for a better view.

Mar
16

A Lovecraft Knot? Oh R’lyeh?

Shamelessly swiped from Collegehumor.com, I’m looking forward to my next formal affair so I can give this a try. Click on the image for a closer look.

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