Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural, Gothic Western
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
After his well-received debut novel, Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show Fischl has returned to the world he created. Set in Butte Montana in the early part of the 20th century the reader is introduced to Solomon Parker, a miner. Parker is a wreck of a man. Deep in debt to the vicious Sean Harrity and plagued by memories of dead mining comrades he moves through life as if in a daze. Every decision that he makes in order to better his status in life ends up doing the opposite, and those around him inevitably pay the price. But there is something waiting for Parker around the corner. Something that he did not expect and it might just change the trajectory of his miserable life.
Similar to his debut novel Eric Scott Fischl invites the reader to follow the lives of some very broken people. It was what endeared that book to the public. It is the strength of the follow up as well. Solomon Parker is the perennial down on his luck character. Like so many others in the book he mostly has himself to blame. Part the victim of circumstance, but also his own vices. The other figures the reader is introduced to suffer in most the same way, only that they react in different fashion. Fischl is a master at weaved a tangled web of misery and alienation in a cold and unforgiving world. It feels as colorless and gray as the cover of the book. Like Dr. Potter this story comes with a dose of the supernatural, this time represented by gods and their servant Marked Face.The tale is told from multiple perspectives, not only Parker’s own. The reader gets to hear the voice of several cast members and that is nice. Fischl moves effortlessly between them, giving each of them a distinct voice and worldview. It adds to the already monochrome and bleak world that they are placed in. Happiness seems to be just out of reach for them.
With The Trials of Solomon Parker Fischl firmly cements himself as the premier writer of the Gothic Western, equal parts Lovecraft and Cooper.
-C. Marry Hultman
Publisher: Dreaming Big Publications
Books based on role playing games are not unheard of, they might be less common today, or less of an intricate part of the fantasy genre as they were in the heyday of Forgotten Realms or DragonLance, but one does come across the odd Warhammer 40k books and for what its worth they are fairly decent. Plushinomicon is one such book, a collection of short tales set in the fantastical world of Teddy Bear Island. Teddy Bear Island is an RPG created by Orcs Unlimited and was created through a Kickstarter campaign. The world of Teddy Bear Island is very much like any old fantasy world, filled with the same old creatures one might encounter in Dungeons and Dragons like elfs, dwarfs or orcs. It is also filled with something different, something very different; stuffed animal zombies and they all live on the island, once created by a Fluffomancer. As a role playing game this concept does open up to several interesting possibilities and certainly hilarious problem solving scenarios.
Plushinomicon is in short a collection of ten short stories by a variety of authors and among them even the editor herself. The stories all center around Teddy Bear Island, it might be about getting there for one reason or another and adventures on the very isle itself. There is a wide variety of characters all typical heroes that are easily recognizable to those familiar with the fantasy genre.
It is futile to try to recap the short stories within the pages of Plushinomicon and they might just be directed to those who have played the game or who may be interested in doing so. Most of the stories are structured the same way and with a minimal amount of intrigue, in short, they are very quick reads that don’t challenge the reader at all and it comes across more like a collection of adventures that the authors have played through themselves and found funny enough to share. Unfortunately the authors aren’t given enough space to create compelling tales to excite and scare the reader and that is one of the big downfalls of this collection. Of course there is some understanding that this is all based in a strange world that maybe isn’t supposed to be taken so seriously, but there is still an overwhelming feeling that more could have been done.
Though the prospect of villainous zombie plushies sound like an entertaining way to spend some time these stories are not close to other RPG based counter parts and one would most likely be served better to pick up a DragonLance or Forgotten Realms.
The Dark Screams series have been able to boast some truly big names in horror since the first book was published. Among those authors one can note Stephen King, Peter Straub and Richard Matheson and now once again Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar have compiled a small collection of stories, this time with names like Clive Barker and Heather Graham.
Here follows a short summary from the publisher:
THE DEPARTED by Clive Barker
On All Hallows’ Eve, a dead and disembodied mother yearns to touch her young son one last time. But will making contact destroy them both?
THE NEW WAR by Lisa Morton
Mike Carson is a war hero and a decorated vet. He doesn’t deserve to be trapped in a hospital with some black thing sitting on his chest as patients die all around him. His only hope is to take out the nurse—before it’s his turn.
SAMMY COMES HOME by Ray Garton
It’s what every family prays for: a lost pet returning home. But when Sammy, the Hale family sheepdog, appears on their doorstep, he brings back something no parent would ever wish upon his or her child.
CREATURE FEATURE by Heather Graham
What could be better publicity for a horror convention than an honest-to-goodness curse? It’s only after lights out that the hype—and the Jack the Ripper mannequin—starts to feel a little too real.
THE BRASHER GIRL by Ed Gorman
Cindy Marie Brasher is the prettiest girl in the Valley, and Spence just has to have her. Unfortunately, Cindy has a “friend” . . . a friend who tells her to do things . . . bad things.
If one goes into the collection with the hopes of being frightened, horrified or kept in suspense then Dark Screams volume four is going to be disappointed. Even though the storytelling in itself is flawless, it is quite obvious that these writers know their trade; the stories are far from engaging. There is no common ground between them either something that would be preferred in a collection like this, a similar theme at least.
Even Barker’s story feels as if he wrote it with his left hand, sure there was room for quite an emotional tale here, but being far too short and brief it falls flat. This is the story of all the tales here; there is something that doesn’t click. Graham’s story is far from original and has more of Scooby-Doo than a true tale of terror. Morton and Garton’s fiction it trite and derivative, far from suspenseful in the least.
In the end the best story is the one produced by Ed Gorman. It is far from unique, but his storytelling ability keeps the reader quite uncomfortable. It is not a surprise that Gorman thanks Stephen King in his afterword; his tale contains all of King’s elements. Small town, youngsters and a hidden evil unknown to others it is all there.
Alas Gorman’s story isn’t enough to make the collection in itself worth reading, if one has the ability to find Brasher Girl through other venues then one should take the opportunity to read it.
The earlier installments of the Dark Screams series have been well received and boasts fine reviews and it seems as if number four grinds it all to a halt. If one is interested in well written fiction from a wide spectrum of authors than this collection may be of interest, but if you are looking for horror and thrills, than this is not for you.
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Author: Adam Cesare
When Don and Nikki decide to bring the elderly Harriet to Mercy House, an old folk’s home, they do it thinking it is the right thing to do. Harriet herself isn’t as convinced and the trip to the otherwise so tranquil facility turns out to be more than any of them bargained for.
At the introductory dinner for the new guest, one which busies most of the staff leaving a skeleton crew on the rest of the home, something comes over the elderly residents. What starts out as a minor disagreement quickly turns into a blood bath, where the residents attack and kill the staff. The residents seem to have transformed, their broken and diseased bodies becoming stronger, healthier, but also driven by desire. This event, which most of the elderly refer to as The Healing, brings them all back to life, but jumbles their brains, making the majority of them unable to speak coherently. It also affects everyone differently, seemingly depending on what they most desired in their infirmed state.
After the initial bloodbath in the dining room the residents split into factions, all with their own turf and agenda. Amongst them one driven by sexual desire and one led by old army veterans, though most seem to be mindless drones driven by the lust for blood. At the same time only a few of the staff and Nikki survive, trying to stay alive and trying to find a way out. To do so they must traverse the dangers and lethal twists and turns that is Mercy House.
Adam Cesare’s elderly antagonists are not zombies, a fact that is very astutely seen by one of the characters, who tries to defeat them with a modified nail gun, but are more akin to Garth Ennis’ Crossed. Driven by bloodlust, desire or power and with little to no cognitive power, they take pleasure in killing staff and at times each other. To some these horrific old timers might be an original idea and age wise they are, but the type of monster is not new and can in some way be compared to the rage driven figures in 28 Days Later, but more to the previously mentioned Crossed of comic book fame. The unique part when it comes to these figures is that the reader gets an insight into the mind of them. This drives the story along in a very interesting way and gives much needed motivation for the characters.
Mercy House is also very aware of its heritage, something very common amongst some of the best in Horror, frequently referencing earlier works in the fiction and even dealing with clichés. This is evidence that Cesare isn’t unaware of those who came before him in the genre and tries to build on it. His style of writing is easy to follow and though initially slow the book picks up the pace and becomes a page-turner by the end, making the reader truly interested in what is going to happen to both the survivors and the residents.
The downside is that other than desire, whatever it might be, the reader is never treated too much of a backstory when it comes to the different characters. Cesare dips into it at times, but leaves too large holes at times to truly satisfy us. There is a part of horror, especially this type, which often deals with a form of karmic retribution and this is hinted at within various players, but never to the extent that is needed for us to truly care for any one of them.
The language is very visual and those who are well acquainted with horror movies will have no problem picturing the events of Mercy House, in fact it would be quite surprising if this book wasn’t turned into a movie, it has all the characteristics of quite the sleeper blockbuster.
All in all Cesare has managed to write an exciting tale of horror. It is not completely original as it pertains to the monsters chasing various staffers, but the setting of a nursing home and the elderly residents as antagonists gives the readers a fresh take on an otherwise saturated genre. Cesare’s style of writing will please anyone looking for a quick read, yet will not leave readers with that truly scary feeling. Although the imagery is quite brutal and the things that befall some of the staff one never becomes affected by it. That is why Mercy House would lend itself better as a movie and hopefully that is where it will end up, because it deserves to be seen.
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Cast: Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Angela Basset, Kathy Bates et al.
It is once again time to delve into the dark recesses of horror that is American Horror Story, a show that really has pushed the envelope when it comes to what you can expect from a TV show. At least that was expected when the third season, titled Coven, rolled around. Where season one, these days known as Murder House, and Asylum did everything it could to shock and disgust the third installment fell tragically short. This would seemingly put the expectations of season four, Freakshow, quite low.
Murder House and Asylum felt fresh and sent shivers down the viewers spine whereas Coven promised to do so initially, but couldn’t keep it up. Maybe it was the modern setting, maybe it was the fact that there were several different parallel story lines going on that just seemed to go nowhere, or maybe it was that one got the feeling that the show just didn’t take the narrative very seriously. Granted, Asylum has its flaws as well, suffering from unexplained alien phenomena that also just petered out.
One gets the feeling that American Horror Story is somewhat at a crossroads; they continue on the path begun at the end of Asylum and fully followed through Coven or they go back around to follow Murder House and get back on track.
The idea of a Freak show in the American Heartland in the sixties is a great beginning, there is a lot of mystery and macabre things that can happen and anything set in the sixties or earlier is long enough ago to make everything a bit eery, it just something with that time, as if it the border between old superstition and modern science.
In the sleepy town of Jupiter the murder of an elderly farm woman is discovered, at the same time it is also revealed that she has been hiding a set of grown Siamese twins Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson) who also seems to be injured. At the hospital the twins are approached by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) a German immigrant who runs a carnival on the outskirts of Jupiter. Seeing an opportunity to save her failing business and claiming to know that Dot and Bette murdered their mother Mars convinces them to join her freak show.
At the same time a hideous looking clown is murdering innocent people all over the town, making folks believe that whoever killed Bette and Dot’s mother is also behind the other killings, causing a detective to seek out the carnival looking for the twins.
The Freak show is inhabited by colorful oddities, played by the same cast as always; a bearded lady (Kathy Bates), flipper boy (Evan Peters) who also moonlights as some form of sex toy for lonely housewives and so on.
Much like the other American Horror Story seasons Freakshow jumps to shock directly and hopefully it can keep that momentum and keep the horror going until the end of the season. There is much to use in this story and hopefully the creators of the show have looked in the direction of Carnivale to get some inspiration. Whatever relation the murder clown has to the show it must be fairly creepy.
As always AHS sets the season up great and hopefully this time it will pan out and become really scary. The season premier makes big promises and a recommended watch.