Short Story Review: “Notebook Concerning the Class Struggle in Dunwich, Found in the Ruins of a Construction Site” by Kevin Wetmore

3 of 5 stars.

The “found footage” trend in horror films works just as efficiently in written tales of horror in which unassuming witnesses jot their observations or feelings into fieldbooks, journals, or letters before not being able to tell their tale in person. The written documents tend to give immediate if not confused reaction to cryptic or terrifying experiences without the tempering of time. Here, Lovecraft’s universe receives the treatment again such as in Marc Laidlaw’s “Leng” and Jeff VanderMeer’s “Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist”.

Lovecraft’s Dunwich, MA on the rural side of Arkham, houses a horror in its marshes known only to the locals. Despite multiple warning to stay well enough away, Neil van Skloot proceeds with ill-conceived plans to build 6 houses for the needy in Dunwich on a century-vacant marshy lot next to nothing. The Miskatonic University student counters his guilt of privilege with unresearched plans to build a better, socialist America.

” . . . These scions of New England who, because their ancestor left Europe three centuries ago and came here and, after perpetuating genocide on the indigenous peoples, immediately set up an oppressive capitalist system to benefit themselves, think that they have the right to do whatever they want sickens me. Their money, their unquestioned privilege, their privileging of their own socio-ethnic heritage are all abominations.

However well-meaning his intentions, his myopia manifests in his lack of actually meeting with Habitat for Humanity whom he claims to be benefiting. Nor does he try to meet with people in the know from Dunwich. Or with people who design or build houses. What could go wrong? An architecture student draws up plans and 1 of his 3 helpers has built theater sets–this is where ideology trumps common sense.

Each slab was a 20 x 35 rectangle, arranged so that each home could follow the model laid out by the architect student: kitchen, bathroom, living room and two bedrooms. Nicole pointed out that we had not thought about the plumbing or how to connect the houses to a water supply.

The 2-dimensional portrayal of van Skloot is almost overdone, especially his obstinance in the face of warnings and then unsettling noises and more unsettling silences emanating from the marsh. However, the equation still works, especially in that the answer is spoiled in the title . . .

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through  
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Lucky Chuck Takes the Sunshine Express” by John Palisano

3 of 5 stars.

Aside from the ironic and pun-tastic title, this tale presents an abrupt experience with the trans-dimensional horror that is Cthulhu. The descriptions skirt direct confrontation, but give enough to paint the picture and filter it through the panic and confusion of a first-time witness.

52 y.o. Chuck, hasn’t done much since his days as a child star. Now he’s a lonely San Diego nobody that jumps at the attention of Sunny, a pretty and enthusiastic neo-hippie in her 20’s. She offers him a free seat on a spiritual trip into the desert for a night of song and dance and then on to a few days in Las Vegas. Despite his better judgment, he goes.

The trippy night in the desert culminates in a frenzy of feverish worship by the trip organizers, and a portal opening, allowing predatory tentacles to cross boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed . . .

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through  
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Writer Interview: Gabe Yocum of Double Take’s Remote #3

Double Take, a new comic book company based out of NYC, started publishing its first series, Night of the Living Dead Revival in September 2015. The series is comprised of 10 separate titles which to date have been released as 3 Super Packs: containing the 1st, 2nd and 3rd issues of each title.

Gabe Yocum, Double Take’s Sales and Marketing Coordinator and the primary writer for the title Remote #3, came to Chicago for a comic signing. We met up for dinner and this interview. The Remote title follows radio host Samantha Stanton as the lone surviving station employee during the early hours of a zombie pandemic. Noteably, the Remote title is the most LGBT-inclusive in the Double Take Universe with no less than 3 queer primary and secondary characters in a pre-Stonewall era. Other titles push the envelope for racial issues, including multi-racial relationships and the dynamics of police-minority interactions.

JAFFA: Gabe, you’ve been the Sales and Marketing Coordinator since 6 months prior to the publication of the first issues. How did your role evolve to become also primary writer for the Remote #3 issue?

GABE: Having worked in small market radio for 7 years, for issue #2, I consulted. I wrote the news copy. And anytime Samantha Stanton was on the air, she was saying my words.

In our preliminary story crafting session for Issue #3, i asked for the opportunity to take a shot at writing the script.

J: Those story crafting sessions sound rather interesting. A fan of the Night of the Living Dead Revival had a question as to “how publishers dole out information about the universe to the writers.” Are the story crafting sessions the short answer?

G: Yes and no, the story crafting sessions are very focused on the individual title in question. But as a publisher crafting an entire universe, we felt it was important to create a master document that defines the rules of our world–what can and can’t happen and the ultimate endgame of the stories we are telling.

J: Speaking of telling stories, woven throughout NotLDR are Moth-style stories independent of the larger arcs. These latest issues even contained bios for these secondary storytellers. Your issue included one such story with Michaela Murphy’s “You Can’t Trust a Pond.” Walk me through the process of writing a story that contains another written by someone else.

G: What we’ve found in creating a new universe and, thus, many new characters is the importance of imbuing them with a backstory or some context from which the reader can draw conclusions about the characters. The stories we’ve collected have allowed us to give our brand new characters new dimensions and to flesh them out into much more well-rounded personalities.

For fan meet-and-greets and signings, Gabe will be appearing:
Feb 26th, 2016 at Aw Yeah Comics in Skokie, IL [5-7pm]
March 5th, 2016 at 4th World Comics in Smithtown, NY [2-4pm]
March 17-20 at C2E2 in Chicago holding down the Double Take booth.

As of this writing, Gabe has sent the script for Remote #4 to editing and is in the process of writing Remote #5, both due out by mid-summer.

Short Story Review: “Strident Caller” by Laird Barron

3 of 5 stars.

Horror that flirts with the occult if not supernatural, Lovecraftian mythos is bolstered by the unreliable narrator. That which cannot be known or recognized holds an overly generous grip on the psyche. This tale tracks a vagabond full of outlandish stories and questionable life-choices, ie someone not to be taken at face value.

Jesse Craven has wandered from remote Alaska to New York whoring himself out for pocket change and a roof. His latest notch is as the kept gigolo for a 75 y.o. widowed socialite, Deborah. At 8 months, this is his longest gig and he’s feeling antsy. Her moments of delusion don’t help. His rescue pitbull, Artemis, does.

Amid a blackout and storm, Craven secures the house and gathers candles for nyctophobic Deborah. She pulls out an occult musical instrument named Strident Caller and plays. Soon, angry voices emerge from the depth of the house calling for Craven. Even Artemis, whom Craven hand-fed as a pup, growls and bares her teeth at him . . .

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through I’ve previously reviewed Barron’s “(Little Miss) Queen of Darkness”, “Mysterium Tremendum”, and “Proboscis”, all of which flirt with the outre.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Genesis III by Double Take incorporates Moth Storytellers

Double Take launches the third issues of its 10 interrelated titles February 24th, 2016. Together, the 10 titles are known as the Genesis pack. Genesis I and Genesis II released in September and November of 2015. The Double Take universe ground its original mythos in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but has quickly diverged from any known zombie canon despite all 10 threads staying confined to the first 48 hours of the pandemic and not leaving Evans Co., Pennsylvania. A couple, notably Rise #3 and Soul, still center on characters from the original movie.

What really separates this collection from other comics is their incorporation of Moth-style stories and storytellers. Various characters throughout the issues will launch into a tale that has nothing to do with zombies, nor the issue’s plot. The effect adds humor, human interest and a randomness into the universe. Two such tales are what originally drew me to Spring #1 before it got all trippy in #2.

Spring #3 starts to redefine the laws of physics, and along with Slab #3, hints at the deus ex machina of this universe–possibly extraterrestrial. Mysterious beings have caused this pandemic and are monitoring the human response. They have also infiltrated the hospitals and are impersonating key characters that appear in many of the titles. Especially fun is noticing shadows without corresponding bodies that linger in the backgrounds of many scenes like DVD Easter eggs.

Three of the titles serve to propel the series forward. Medic shows what the human scientists know and when as they search for answers. Honor highlights the local and county reactions by the authorities. And, Z-Men, which got movie-optioned, shows the federal reaction from LBJ and the FBI.

Finally, Remote , under new writer for the series Gabe Yocum, stands as the thread tying together the various locations across Evans Co. This tale chronicles Samantha Stanton, the last survivor at radio KBRF, keeping the airwaves full with info and entertainment. Though we learn in this issue that a couple other radio stations have managed to stay on the air, most characters from the various titles seem tuned into Sam’s channel. At 20+ hours of continual coverage, she’s starting to get punchy–she humorously hosts a zombie themed Dating Game and even starts flirting with her undead guests. I will sit down and interview Gabe Yocum later this week on working with Moth stories, established canon, and other related topics. Feel free to offer your own questions for him to answer.

Novel Review: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chicago wizard-detective Harry Dresden returns in this third installment of The Dresden Files a year after the events of the earlier volumes. The tale opens unassumingly in medias res with ample references to events that seemingly “resolved” between Books 2 & 3. Harry still works as a consultant for the Chicago Police, especially the spunky and heroic Karrin Murphy, and has continued his relationship with persistent reporter-of-the-supernatural, Susan Rodriguez. [This volume could have been subtitled, Harry Learns to Say ‘I Love You’.] Also holding true is Harry’s help from spirit-trapped-in-a-skull, Bob, who continues to get less schtick-y, thankfully.

What’s new is Harry’s partnership with Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross [or Sword]. Together they brought down a black magic wielding demon-summoner before this tale opens. Michael is a welcome addition of a character in his earnest faith of mission. Harry, too, has earnestness–that’s what makes him so likable–but Harry also has wit, sarcasm, sexuality and self-doubt. Michael has devout surety, almost naively so.

Also new to the scene is the larger politics of the unseen Chicago and the Fae world of Nevernever. The White Counsel appeared mostly in the first volume as the paroling force that kept Harry on a leash. Now he maintains good standing and represents the White Counsel. Enter the all-but-warring White, Red and Black Courts of the vampires and their uneasy alliance with the White Counsel of Wizards and to each other and we have the makings of a powder keg with Harry flicking his BIC. The less than smooth encounter with top Chicago brothel madame, Bianca, comes back to bite Harry in the neck when she’s honored with a Barony of the Red Court.

Meanwhile, someone’s torturing ghosts and making it easier for them to cross the veil from Nevernever. Harry has his own problems in Nevernever as his powerful Godmother is a powerful Fae always willing to enslave him . . .

This complicated confluence of events, characters and politics take a long while to sort through, but makes it worthwhile ultimately. I’ve previously read Books 1 [Storm Front] and 2 [Fool Moon], which are consistently very good and recommended. One doesn’t need to read them in order.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Winter by Dan Grace

WinterWinter by Dan Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the near future, England’s rocked by protests, riots, social breakdown, and war. A small party of young revolutionaries makes to escape across the Scottish border seeking refuge for the winter at a remote cabin that lacks plumbing and electricity. Two guys don’t survive the journey, one killed in the city, another by border guards. Adam and the two girls make it to his parents’ cabin, but one of the girls is in a catatonic state, and the cabin’s not empty . . .

This tale of a desperate, harsh winter unspools in alternating timelines of the damaged revolutionaries trekking and then adapting to the new pace of their lives, and a later timeline within the same winter after the surviving party of 3 have gotten to know the 2 foreigners that were squatting there before they arrived.

Secrecy and a growing sense of horror cannot be brushed away any easier than the continuously falling snow, despite a growing closeness between May and Mikhail. Adam, the former leader and only one with a legal claim to the property, feels increasingly alone–especially with Leila still catatonic and getting worse. Mikhail has the key to unlocking Leila, but it invokes beliefs and creatures beyond the understanding of the rest . . .

I received my copy of this novel directly from the publisher, Unsung Stories, through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Nyarlathotep’s Way” by Tom Pinchuk

3 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft’s “old ones” remove the humanity of modern religions, often to explore horror or baser drives. These gods act as modern titans with an uneasy relationship to human society. This tale explores the rationale, or way, of one of these gods–Nyarlathotep, the transient god.

Serge, a Russian-born homeless musician in California, considers himself transient. In seeking something he can relate to and worship, he turns away from the standard religions of the society that has done little for him, and instead seeks the ancient god who might appreciate his service. After finding his way to a temple hidden among abandoned buildings, Serge entreats the indifferent surfer-dude clerk at the temple to intervene on his behalf. Serge seeks success, and is willing to sacrifice.

Tired of souls, the god accepts a ratty pair of sneakers and the worn socks of the indigent . . .

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Crazy Mary by Michael Colbert [w/ JK Woodward]

Crazy MaryCrazy Mary by Michael Colbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A failed experiment in a military attempt to make super soldiers underlies the plot as titular character Mary is a discharged soldier with the residual ability to see radio waves among other ghostly phenomenon. The full range of her ability and why it manifests as guidance from three characters–Roswell, Loki and Hoax–isn’t explained. Outside of the army, she works as a freelancing bounty hunter with back-up support by Tweek on cyber detail and Glimmer doing who-knows-what. The six of them [3 possibly being no more than imaginary ravings of an insane mind] do everything from rescuing abducted individuals to thwarting acts of terrorism.

This sci-fi graphic novel has been written piecemeal and then shaped together. That provides for an uneven and non-linear experience made all the more apparent by the widely different styles employed by the numerous artists responsible for different chapters. No obvious effort is made to align the styles and tone. JK Woodward receives primary artistic credit.

I received my copy of this graphic novel directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Baby Rhyme Time: Youngsters Enjoy Initiation at Innsmouth Public Library” by Deborah Walker

4 of 5 stars.

This very short story hilariously mimics a small town newspaper’s local item–or possibly a folksy public newsletter–right down to the cringe-worthy, colon-inclusive title. Equally impressive is the gumption to use a light tone when building in the Lovecraft universe.

Innsmouth, MA is best known as the location of the dysmorphic fishing community in the which the residents start to resemble eels, to speak in ancient unknown tongues and to worship Cthulhu, an ancient horror of a god from the oceanic depths with a trademark squid-head. The locals slough off their humanity as easily as they do their melanin-deprived human skin.

The article [story] documents the first gathering of the under-2 reading group, in which the storytellers introduce locally-specific folktales and chants which the toddlers take to immediately despite not being in English. The translated rhyme is subtly chilling in its implications. Same, too, with the use of the word Initiation in the title of the piece:

Peek-a-boo, Ancient One
Great Old One of the sea.
In R’yleh
Deep and silent.
Awaken me. Awaken me. Awaken me.
Hiding still.
You see me. You see me. You see me.

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through I’ve previously reviewed this author’s brilliant “Beyond the Turning Orrery”, a speculative steampunk tale unlike anything I’ve ever read but reminiscent of a Miyazaki film in imagery.
[Check out my other reviews here.]