Novel Review: Recreance by H. G. Chambers

Recreance (The Aeternum Chronicles, #1)Recreance by H.G. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More than a few fantasy series can be described as: a future dystopian society on the verge of social apocalypse with 1 or 2 teenagers stepping up to overcome terrible odds for the sake of all. It’s in the differences between this epic and others that makes it special and in the parts that it does particularly well. As the opening installment of a series, the potential is also worth. But the series also owes some explanations left unanswered in this volume.

Humankind long ago overcame aging and natural death, but that led to an unexpected new discovery. Like the changes of puberty in teenagers making them adults, humans undergo a second major change [or third if one counts menopause] in which after the age of 150 individuals gain a physics-bending, if not magical ability. Interestingly, the magical process taps into and opens portals and potentials in parallel universes. Some of these are quite different and deadly–and tantalizingly left for future volumes.

What matters here is that the truly ancient Patriarch wishes to keep others from the final change by culling them at 150 years of age. He also uses his abilities to enslave the citizens of the only known true city on the planet. His plans are of demonic, Lovecraftian proportions.

Two teens, Oren and Clementine, each lost their respective families. Cast aside by society, they are the city’s only hope.

Some things are handled particularly well by this series. 1) The development and yet understatement of exobiological species. 2) The individual development arc of the two teens. Each follows a very different path. Especially strong is the relationship between Oren and his mentor. 3) Speculative technologies and Clem’s manipulation of them.

Left unanswered is the atypical development of Clem and Oren to their species. Similar and shared experiences hopefully explain it, as otherwise the kids don’t represent the potential in us all. Lastly, the overly Millennial colloquial euphemisms and dialogue between the teens makes little sense in a world and time so different from ours.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (Paper Girls, #1)Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the writer of the brilliant Saga graphic series comes a new series that upon first introduction seems the lovechild of a feminist Stand By Me and Lovecraft. Four 12-y.o. girls newly break into the “Boys Only” club of newspaper delivery. One has also become the first local female altar “boy.” Tough as these preteens may be, they’re still suburban Cleveland 12 y.o. females armed only with their newspapers and bicycles. For safety’s sake, they pair up to avoid harassment and worse to get through Halloween pre-dawn as roving teen boys are still out pranking.

Set in 1988, the nostalgia factor is high for me from music and movie references to the levels of technology and video games. [My brother turned 13 within a week of this story setting.] It’s also accompanied by 1980s homophobia and AIDS-phobia, but not without getting called out by a couple more enlightened characters. This is no mere nostalgia ride, it’s divergent history and urban fantasy with most people seemingly disappeared or raptured away while the girls are on their routes. Also, massive pterodactyl-like beasts fill the air with riders no less, and alien-speaking mutant or mutilated teen boys lurk in the shadows. It’s almost Lovecraftian in its WTF-is-going-on approach, but then information starts to roll. Multi-dimensional time and space jumping pawns in a future[?] battle between teens and old-timers–this is metaphor in the extreme.

Artist Cliff Chiang makes good use of his material. The story sits in the “High Potential” box for this volume with the expectation that more answers and greater world-building will play out soon in subsequent volumes.

I’ve previously read Vaughan’s:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Book of the Dead ed. by John Skipp and Craig Spector

Book of the DeadBook of the Dead by John Skipp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This zombie-themed anthology came out in the 1980s and shows it. At the very least, it makes obvious the more complex view of zombie lit as a genre. These tales stem from an era when zombies had not broken out of B horror films. Many cliches plague the narratives. And often times the zombies don’t move and act in a consistent way which takes seriously the defining situational characteristics they’ve been assigned. That’s a problem. Zombies, by cultural definition, are humans deprived of free will and acting the animal or the manipulations of another [such as a necromancer or obeah/voodoo priest].

There are of course exceptions in a zombie sub-genre where the zombie retains thoughts and memories and must deal with their “condition” as if it were akin to chronic disease. All zombie detectives fall into this category.

Two of the sixteen short stories and novellas rose above the rest for me, meriting 4 stars:
–Glen Vasey’s Choices follows a young man’s journal of the first months of a zombie apocalypse under the looming cloud of knowing that the journal is “found evidence” not accompanied by the writer. His fate resides within the pages. The journal mostly explores the variety of reactions found in the other survivors he meets along his journey.
–Nicholas Royle’s “Saxophone” depicts self-aware zombies living the chronically hampered and deprived life of those behind the iron curtain. The Berlin Wall separates the free from the zombie in this well developed tale of alternate history.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the anthology’s component tales. Also included are:
Boyett, Steven R.–Like Pavlov’s Dogs–3 stars
King, Stephen–“Home Delivery”–3 stars
McCammon, Robert R.–“Eat Me”–3 stars
McConnell, Chan–“Blossom”–3 stars
Nutman, Philip–“Wet Work”–3 stars
Winter, Douglas E.–“Less Than Zombie”–3 stars
Campbell, Ramsey–“It Helps If You Sing”–2 stars
Daniels, Les–“The Good Parts”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
Tem, Steve Rasnic–“Bodies and Heads”–2 stars
Bryant, Edward–“A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned”–1 star
Hodge, Brian–“Dead Giveaway”–1 star
Layman, Richard–“Mess Hall”–1 star
Schow, David J.–“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”–1 star
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Bodies and Heads” by Steve Rasnic Tem

2 of 5 stars.

This tale presents a unique form of zombie expanding the definition toward the breaking point. These “zombies” seem alien, if not Lovecraftian, compared to most forms in that they arrange their body parts disassociating from some parts as if they suffered from the very real neurological condition of Alien Limb Syndrome in which a limb [usually an arm] acts independently of the person conscious mind.

What is unclear is how these rearranged bodies are supposed to work. The rearrangement is highly sexualized with genitals playing new roles [think: penises as tongues and vaginas as monstrous mouths]. Metaphorically, the horror lies in repressed sexuality and sexual hangups. But there remains an inconsistency in the “zombie” representation with a newsreel scene depicting a zombie dismemberment in which some of these new vital parts are cleaved without ill-effect to the creature.

The tale’s akin to a fever-dream, not adding up once one wakes up.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read Tem’s “The Cabinet Child” and “The Still, Cold Air”, both of which I rated 4 of 5 stars.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned” by Edward Bryant

Sad Last Love at the Diner of the DamnedSad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned by Edward Bryant
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Graphic descriptions of rape should not be thrown around lightly. There are certainly stories where rape figures into the plot if not standing central to the entire story. When it is written about, all of the characters from the perpetrators and witnesses to the victims must feel real even in the unreal world of urban fantasy. This tale doesn’t pass the test. An analogy can be made between the extreme violation of rape and the live cannibalism of zombies, even to the extent of showing an acquaintance or relative turn zombie or rapist. Perhaps the unreal, palatable violence of fantastical zombie predation is made real and shocking by the analogy to rape. However, characters acting as caricatures and inconsistent treatment of the zombies lessens any analogy to be made here. Needless to say–spoiler alert–this tale includes graphic rape.

Martha works at the Diner in her small rural Southern Colorado town. She harbors a crush on the deputy sheriff, Bobby Mack, seemingly the only person in town [woman or man, priest or layman] not coming on to her. On the morning the zombie apocalypse becomes real for this small community, the men are surprisingly ready. Hernandez flippantly remarks that one of the 6 old women clawing at the front glass of the Diner is his mother. He then proceeds to go outside and shoot her in the head before turning the gun on the other undead. Considering that these are the first zombies he’s ever seen, that’s pretty fast adjusting to the new reality. Or he’s just that psychopathic . . .

In this small town, both the living and the undead are predators.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This debut novel beautifully , and at times disgustingly, deconstructs social notions of gender and gender roles along with the idea of “the individual” and what it means to be human. With descriptive language ranging from the visceral and pungent to the passionate and poetic, folkloric monsters are brought to life on the page ultimately pushing the subject of what separates the “monsters” from the “humans.”

The creatures in question are shape-shifters incorporating the lores of the Norse kveldulf, the French loup-garou, the Greek lycanthrope, the Romanian vampire, the Middle Eastern djinn, and the Hindu rakshasa. All are one and the same filtered through centuries of culture and lore. And they’re real. They disguise themselves as human. Transform into monsters. And then devour humans. When they devour humans they take on all of the memories of their victims such that memories of the beast and the various victims become indistinguishable.

Through the accumulation of memories and the horrific acts the creatures enact upon their victims, one experiences the roles of both the raped and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer, the devoured and the cannibal, the child killing a parent and the parent being killed by the child.

The novel takes the reader places they may not wish to go. But it could not do so more beautifully:

The full moon watches through the clouds, eager for massacre. With a bark of exhaled air, the clatter of tusk and fang, we spring. The bauls’ song is loud, and beautiful in its imperfection. It is their last. I run with my pack. My tribe. The bauls are surrounded. They sing till the very last moment.

The first kill is silent as our running, a glistening whisper of crimson in the air. The last is louder than the baying of a wolf, and rings like the bauls’ mad song across the marshes of what is not yet Kolkata. I can hear the howl as I run with this human in my arms, into the darkness, away from the shadows of slaughter. The howl curdles into a roar, enveloping the scream of the last dying minstrel.

But she is alive, against me, shivering against my dew-dappled fur. She is alive.

This tale is recommended.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Home Delivery” by Stephen King

Home DeliveryHome Delivery by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like Night of the Living Dead, something alien from outerspace is to blame for a sudden zombie apocalypse on Earth. Beyond that, there’s little sense to the movements and motivations of the zombies and somehow the nefarious alien cause makes that okay because this tale is not about aliens nor zombies. It’s about one sheltered and indecisive woman living off the coast of Maine finding herself and her true motivations.

Maddie had been obediently following her father’s dictates for as long as she can remember. She couldn’t make a decision without him. And then he died. Some enough, she finds Jack and marries him because he treats her the same way that her father did. For better or for worse.

Then in quick succession, Maddie finds out she’s pregnant and then Jack is killed at sea in a freak accident on his lobster boat. Either she needs to find another man to boss her around or Maddie needs to find strength within herself. Enter: zombie apocalypse and a kicking baby waiting to be born . . .

Zombie tales are rarely about the zombies. They’re about the extreme shake up to the civilized routine and the reactions to that shake up. While ridiculous on the zombie front, this tale delivers on the more important second front.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve read many Stephen King novels and short stories. But since decades have passed since I’ve done so, I’ve written no reviews for them.
 
 
 
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