Novel Review: Hell Dancer by Wol-vriey

Hell DancerHell Dancer by Wol-vriey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This novel is thinly plotted Torture Porn. All scenes involve either torture/ graphic murder, graphic sex of various kinky varieties, urination, defecation or a combination of any and all of these.

Most of the characters manage to be porn stars or serial killers, all of whom have sexually degrading episodes from their past that get used to fill the pages between almost plot-relevant scenes of equally degrading torture porn. The few other characters are not left likable either in that they have no backstory or development or no redeeming qualities. One’s meant to like the police officer who apparently thinks it was okay to punish her husband for masturbating by anally raping him with a nightstick in a non-consensual way. This, described graphically multiplied by all scenes of the book = Hell Dancer.

Lovecraftian elements are window dressing, ultimately not building any true sense of a multi-dimensional world of horror.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Abbreviated Epics Edited by Juliana Rew

Abbreviated EpicsAbbreviated Epics by Juliana Rew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This brief anthology of 20 extremely short pieces dubbed “epics” spans fantasy, various folklores, and sci-fi. Few of the tales are long enough for any truly satisfactory development. The standouts are either deeply moving are extraordinarily well grounded, or both.

My favorite tale, meriting 5 stars, is Deborah Walker’s “Beyond the Turning Orrery”. It’s a breathtaking work of beautiful prose in which a highly compromised narrator cannot fully comprehend the full extent to which his tiny steampunk world is contrived:

I picked a copper cricket out of the grass, and held it to my ears listening to the small tick of its tiny internal springs.

“If we’re wound, who winds us?” asked Dom.

I touched his chest. “How can you deny that?” I thumped his chest a little harder. I was afraid for him, and that made me scared.

My honorable mentions each receiving 4 stars are:
–Daniel Coble’s “Assault on the Summit” which extrapolates on the Lovecraftian mythos of Tibet’s Leng plateau. In the most remote locations, unknown and possibly alien cultures and beings preserve their sequestered way of life.
–Marissa James’ “The Blue Cup” confronts the uneasy relationship between a childhood fantasy and adult reality.
–Adria Laycraft’s “The Perfection of the Steam-Powered Armour”, set in a steampunk samurai society, this tale pits a tinkerer and his young son up against the powerful politics that undervalue his small family’s lives.

I rated and reviewed all of the component tales. Also included are:
Bondoni, Gustavo–“Rain Over Lesser Boso”–3 stars
Clark, Martin–“Through the Ocular, Darkly”–3 stars
Coate, Steve–“Fortunate Son”–3 stars
Gallagher, Siobhan–“Blade Between Oni and Hare”–3 stars
Harold, Elliotte Rusty–“Refusing the Call”–3 stars
McBain, Alison–“The Lost Children”–3 stars
Solomon, Ben–“Damfino Plays for Table Stakes”–3 stars
Teeny, Jake–“Toward the Back”–3 stars
Bowne, Patricia S.–“Great Light’s Daughters”–2 stars
Dunn, Robin Wyatt–“On a Train With a Coyote Ghost”–2 stars
Ishbel, Iain–HMS Invisible and the Halifax Slaver”–2 stars
Moore, Jordan Ashley–“A Wolf is Made”–2 stars
Rogers, Stephen D.–“Qinggong Ji”–2 stars
Tenser, Margarita–“The Committee”–2 stars
Walton, Jo–“Odin on the Tree”–2 stars
Royal, Manuel–“Heart-Shaped”–1 star
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Assault on the Summit” by Daniel Coble

4 of 5 stars.

Part of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, the fictional Leng region of Tibet or Nepal had its own esoteric beliefs and cultural practices, perhaps not of human origin. As other writers dive into the world of Lovecraft, Leng has appeared more often–usually a place where explorers, researchers and anthropologists disappear [see Marc Laidlaw’s “Leng”]. It’s often hinted that something alien, or perhaps a fungal-based lifeform dwells on the desolate high Himalayan plains.

While not mentioning Leng by name, this tale shares many key ingredients with Leng mythos. Like Jeff VanderMeer’s “Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist”, all that is found of the 19th Century adventurer is notes and letters. Professor Charles Polk disappears on the slopes of Mt. Nending in 1871. Letters detailing the probable last days of his life are not found for over 140 years.

In letters to fellow academics and to his wife all back in England, the pompous British adventurer notes his troubles in securing Sherpa guides for his ascent up a mountain rumored to have a temple at the summit. Then two Sherpas stroll into the Sherpa village and offer to take him up. Strangely, the villagers fear the two newcomers and deny that they are Sherpas. Polk starts to witness odd behaviors by his guides. They seem to talk and listen to shiny stone orbs when they think the Brit is out of sight range. Also, food, ropes and other supplies start to vanish in the night . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Mother by Philip Fracassi

MOTHERMOTHER by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The emotional nuances of a relationship falling apart condense first into an eeriness before solidifying into a full blown horror fest. A relationship going bad follows the illogical, meandering paths of the participants’ imaginations. First, it’s the little irritations and angers that one can barely put one’s finger on. On the flip side, as things go sour, there are the little excuses one tells oneself trying to take an optimistic stand. The contradiction is compellingly depicted here.

From the start, Howard narrates with honesty and foreboding:

I know Julie loved me once. I know it as fact, like the warmth of sunshine on my skin.

. . . We married the day after graduation, exchanging vows in the campus church . . . All of our friends attended. It is a day I will never forget, because it was the happiest we ever were. The happiest we would ever be.

The demise of the marriage of Howard and Julie tilts and careens recklessly from silent truce to grating bitterness. Howard’s obvious obliviousness to his own antiquated sexism erodes Julie’s respect for him despite his successful career. Her own lack of success fuels her insecurities.

Despite the clear breakdown, the couple decide to have a baby in an effort to mend the family. Because that never goes wrong . . .

Not that this is an “American Beauty” style domestic horror. It’s not, despite Howard’s affair. No, when the horror comes, it’s Lovecraftian or Kafkaesque in nature. Transformative, irreversible horror.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’d previously read his excellent horror novella, Altar.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Altar by Philip Fracassi

ALTARALTAR by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mundanity of suburbia with its micro-dramas beneath the surface strikes a realistic if not nostalgic look at the rite of passage that is the summertime visit to the community swimming pool. Then, horror descends upon the scene–true, unfathomable, Lovecraftian horror. The contrast, without warning nor transition makes the ensuing insanity all the more horrible in the true sense of the word.

This tale follows three POV characters in their typical summer day trip to the local pool. 12 y.o. Gary, accompanied by his single-mother-with-a-drinking-problem and his 15 y.o. sister whom he idolizes, has all of the pubescent insecurities expected for one his age. His mother provides a second POV providing a bit more depth into her side of the contentious divorce her cheating husband is putting her through. Her urges to smoke and drink are every bit what Gary imagines.

A third POV is provided by Tyler, unrelated to and unknown by the other 2 narrators. Young Tyler navigates the pool by himself without his mother paying any attention and with just the water wings she provided to keep him safe. He’s the first to notice the large crack split the pool from side to side . . .

Containing the narration to the character POVs and very “in-the-moment” experiences is particularly effective and shocking as normalcy descends into an apocalyptic chaos. This tale is highly recommended for horror and Lovecraft fans.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Hairwork” by Gemma Files

3 of 5 stars.

America’s sordid history of slavery and the thousands of untold stories therein come to life in this horror mash-up–two parts Obeah voodoo and one part Lovecraft.

Alternating between equally unsettling first and second person narration, the tale weaves together a centuries-old curse. The first person narrator is a dead former slave that created a second life for herself as a medium and as an agent of revenge for the sake of her ancestors. The second person you is an art dealer hunting for the dark history of the deceased medium and a famous painting of her that’s rumored to be within the decrepit plantation house. [In a nod to Lovecraft, the “painter” of said painting is Innsmouth artist Frank Marsh of Lovecraft mythos.]

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read her “Blood Makes Noise”, “The Jacaranda Smile”, and “A Wish from a Bone”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Windows Underwater” by John Shirley

3 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft’s modern day myth of the dysmorphic and transmorphic denizens of Innsmouth, MA has seen many iterations. Broadly, a fishing village comes under the influence of an Old One, akin to a titan, residing in the deep sea. The human followers start to morph into a gilled, webbed fish-people more ghastly eel than Disney mermaid.

This variant follows 2 friends over 3 get-togethers spread over 3 decades. They start in their village just outside of Innsmouth at 21 y.o. with Gilberto wanting to get away from his dad and brother’s fishing vessel and make it in Hollywood. Lymon is resigned to staying local.

The 2nd get together, 14 years later, sees Gilberto returning from life in California and reconnecting with Lymon who shows Gil the effect of rapidly rising sea levels to the coastal town of Innsmouth. While there, they see literally fishy people swimming beneath the waves among the drowned buildings. Lymon lures Gil into the water . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Aftertaste”, “Ash”, “At Home With Azathoth”, “Just Beyond the Trailer Park”, and his excellent “Isolation Point, California”.

 

 

 

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