Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: The King in Yellow

For years now I’ve been working through three books of “The 100 Best” book in the genres of Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction. Although my own tastes going into these lists leaned towards horror, I have to admit that reading the SF list has been a suprisingly rewarding experience, and as I’m working my way through that list in publication order as well, I think I may be getting more out of those reads as well.

The horror list has been a bit more hit and miss for me – unlike the other two books, the selections are not actually made by one person, but are instead books recommended by other horror authors – in the introduction It was stated that they each had to pick individual titles or it would simply be called “Why these 100 authors love Dracula”.

This month I read the book recommended by H.P. Lovecraft (who wrote of a review of the book well before this top 100 title, or even its editors existed), called The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers. The book, published in 1895, contains ten short stories, the first bunch of which are connected to a fictional play called “The King in Yellow”, a being called The King in Yellow, and mention of something called “The Yellow Sign”. These stories are both really readable, and pretty darn creepy, which was a delight for me after sludging my way through weeks of Melmoth the Wanderer last month.

The concepts of these stories, and especially a play which after being read or viewed drives its audience crazy, was used by H.P. Lovecraft in his Cthulhu-mythos based stories, as well as in the recent HBO series True Detective and in all sorts of games, stories, and music throughout the various genres I enjoy.

Although the book was a little tricky for me to track down, it was definitely worth the read (even the romance stories in the end were kind of fun), and will sit on my purchase list until I come across it in a used-bookstore run.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Random Finds: The Pick of Girls' Stories

This morning I went out with my wife to run a few errands (we're currently looking for some additional camping supplies), when she noticed a pretty neat little book in our local Goodwill store.

This 100-odd page hardcover book, published in 1935, is called The Pick of Girls' Stories, and if you look around on the internet for it, you can find it for sale at both Amazon and on eBay, but you actually can't find anyone saying anything about the book, other than the condition their current copy is in.

The book itself, a collection of twelve short stories and four poems, seems to be aimed at young women readers, and you can bet your bottom dollar I'm going to check it out, as a father of two daughters it may have some valuable insights into the interests of young ladies.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: The Conqueror’s Child

Part of what I like best about any type of fiction is the ability to play with time in regards to story; whether through the use of flashbacks, asides or (as is more common in genre stories), time machines and cryogenic sleep, characters, and through them, the readers, are able to examine aspects of time that are not easily seen in human experience except through historic recordings (written records, photographs, video, etc.) and living through time ourselves.

Suzy McKee Charnas published the first of her Holdfast Chronicles, Walk to the End of the World in 1974, and when the fourth and final novel in the series, The Conqueror’s Child was published in 1999, a quarter of a century of real time had gone by for the reader.

Now for me, someone who picked up the first book four months ago – I read the series at an accelerated pace and followed its story through two generations, but for people who read these books as they came out, the characters would have aged along with the readers, which made the focus of the final book, on the grandchild of the one of the first books protagonists, a pretty cool use of the medium of the novel.

As with the previous book in the series The Furies (1994), I found the writing style had significantly improved and I moved through the book much faster than I had the earlier two books. The story, focusing on a society of freed slaves who had overtaken their oppressors (the series examines a post-apocalyptic setting where men ruled and women were used as beasts of burden and the “necessary evil” of breeding), examines issues surrounding how a newly created society can work to make things better for the generations after them, and, like the rest of the series, focuses significantly on issues of survivor guilt, responsibility, and consequences for past behaviors.

I’m really glad I got to check this series out, as I had never even heard of it until I found David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books, a few years ago, and decided to work my way through the books reviewed there. This was powerful stuff and did what all the best SF gets me to do, Think about what I was reading.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: The Maze Runner

Having recently finished the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, my next YA series selection was kind of tricky; over the years my kids have read an awful lot of these series and so I have a pretty big backlog of "You gotta read this Dad" titles.

But an upcoming movie and an intriguing premise led me to a pretty easy selection, The Maze Runner, by James Dashner.

The book (the first of four) follows a young man named Thomas who awakens in an elevator lifting him into a wooded glade, populated by about 50 young men and surrounded by massive walls.

Each day four doors open in the walls and allow access to the Maze, a setting intriguing enough to read the book alone, but what Dashner has done here is to introduce a lot of great characters and show us the society they have created in this strange new world.

I could count exactly one time in the entire novel in which I disagreed with an action taken by a character - I'm not saying I liked every choice everyone made, just that they all seemed to follow the logical conclusions given the character and the situation.  For YA fiction, this is a pretty great score, as I've had some less than stellar responses from other series I've read over the last few years.

I haven't yet read the other three books in the series, but if they follow the speed and concepts in the first novel, I'm pretty sure I will have an entertaining few months ahead of me.

Well worth checking out.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sickly Bookmonkey!

Hi All,

Just wanted to drop a quick note that I haven't forgotten you, I've just been feeling pretty under the weather this weekend (hospital visit included!), and should have my next post up tomorrow!

Your Pal,

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Mulengro

My Charles de Lint book for June was actually a little bit of a departure from the first three; although I would still consider Mulengro: A Romany Tale a fantasy novel, it was much darker in tone than his previous books, almost moving in thriller territory in some scenes. The book follows a series of murders involving Gypsy (Romany) culture, and moves in and out of a look at the subculture itself and then the more magical aspects as well.

Like his previous book Moonheart, Mulengro has an ensemble of characters rather than one protagonist, and at this point I found all of the characters quite engaging and interesting. Adding to that the darker elements of the story and it could almost be considered dark fantasy (one of my favourite sub-genres of both Horror and Fantasy), so the book definitely worked for me.

Well worth the read, and I finally feel that I’m getting into the rhythm of his writing style, really glad I decided to give his works a try.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My October is starting to shape up!

One of my favourite horror writers right now is Joe Hill, writer of Herat-Shaped Box, NOS4A2, and the comic book series Locke & Key, but my personal favourite of his novels is the 2009 title Horns.

Although I've known about the film adaptation for a while now, today I came across the trailer, and you've definitely got to check it out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

First Impressions: The Strain

When it first arrived as a book back in 2009, I was pretty intrigued, and incredibly lucky.  I actually came across the novel The Strain in my local grocery story while doing my weekly shopping.  Even through I tend to be pretty good about keeping track of the various authors I enjoy reading, sometimes things fall through the cracks and if I hadn't have been interested in the bin of books I probably wouldn't have come across the title for months after the fact.

The original book was pretty great - having read a lot of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, I'm pretty familiar with the tropes, but The Strain almost immediately goes its own way, the story works as a medical thriller, a supernatural thriller, and a monster book all at once, and the entire trilogy (followed by The Fall in 2010 and The Night Eternal in 2011) is well worth the read.

Yesterday, FX premiered the new television series, The Strain, and it was pretty amazing; I watched it with my wife and youngest daughter (aged 17) and the entire story built up a nice level of suspense throughout and then really just went for the jugular.  If you haven't seen it yet, give it a try - the story is intense, but with good casting and a great sense of theatre, I had a a lot of fun watching it.

A quick side note - my daughter, who normally enjoys a lot of horror-themed stories, decided to leave the room ten minutes before the end of the episode as it simply got a little too intense for her (also more than a little graphic), so it may not be fore the faint of heart, or even people who normally enjoy scary movies - I have it admit it definitely got my heart racing.

Looking forward to episode two next week.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Yesterday I took the day off from work and hung out with my oldest daughter at our local mall for the day.  I actually do this with both of my kids every year on the day before their birthday as it's my last chance to hang out with them before they get another year older.

Anyway, after snacking on a lot of tasty food and enjoying a great lunch, we decided to check out the new film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  The movie was fantastic, and other than a jerk using his cell phone two rows in front of me, we had a pretty great time.

Like the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes this film is a reboot of the classic '60s series and both films were really fascinating.

The second film takes place ten-years after the first, and the apes (led by the first film's protagonist, Caesar), have created a society of their own while humanity has largely been decimated (actually much higher than 1 in 10) due to a virus which was contracted shortly after the first film, leaving civilization behind and forcing humanity to live in small settlements again, cut off from each other and striving to survive as their world shuts down against them.

The best part of the film for me was the apes, both in terms of special effects and in terms of story, seeing how they have changed since the first film was fascinating and many of the films emotional high points happened to the apes, rather than the humans.

A great film, and well worth the watch.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Marathon with Melmoth

For the last few years I've been working my way through editors Kim Newman and Stephen Jones 1988 reading guide, Horror: the 100 Best Books.

At this point I've read roughly 75% of the novels and short story collections covered, which stretch back as far as Christopher Marlowe's 1592 play Doctor Faustus and as recently as Ramsey Campbell's short story collection Dark Feasts (1987).

Over the years I've read a lot of older horror novels and plays, and some of them still work as frightening reads for me today, even after multiple rereads (hello Frankenstein).

But one novel on the list ended up taking two attempts and nearly three weeks to finally get through.

Charles Robert Maturin's 1820 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer, took me an awful lot of time to get through - in my first pass at the novel a few years back I didn't even manage to finish, and I'm pretty proud of the fact that I usually finish the books I've started.

I had it listed as my Horror read for June, and three weeks ago I took a deep breath and dug in.

The problem was I found myself slogging through an uphill trail of slightly outdated language that seemed to bog me down as I attempted to move through it.  Now I'll be the first to admit, my University degree is in Communications (i.e. Film, Radio & Television) studies, not English literature, so perhaps I was not grounded enough in the stories of the era to appreciate it - at the same time I've read and enjoyed Frankenstein (written two years earlier), Northanger Abbey (three years earlier) and Wuthering Heights  (27 years later), so I don't necessarily think I can simply say the writing style of the time is difficult.

What I can say I liked about the novel (sorry for the 196-year-old spoilers here), was the nesting structure of the story, wherein different aspects of the story are told in a story-within-a-story format, the imagery of many of the set pieces throughout - including one of the most negative views on monasteries I've ever come across, and the overall concept, wherein an immortal being attempts to offer his immortality to others for a simple deal that no one seems comfortable taking.

In the end, I'm glad I read the book, it had a lot of eerie imagery and some concepts that won't be leaving my mind anytime soon.  But for right now I think I'm going to be taking a break from horror novels written in the early 1800s; next up for me is Robert W. Chambers 1895 short story collection, The King in Yellow.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review: The Furies

A few months ago I read Suzy McKee Charnas' 1974 novel, Walk to the End of the World which featured a strange and harrowing dystopian future wherein society was split along gender lines, with men ruling the world and women being used as beasts of burden and a necessary evil in terms of breeding.  Obviously things in this world did not work out very well for anyone. 

Last month I read the 1978 followup Motherlines, which focesd on the lone female survivor of the first book (sorry for the 40-year-old spoiler, but reviewing the third book in a series is tricky without referring to the earlier books), and her experiences in the all-female societies beyond the male-dominated holdfast.

The third book in the series, published 11 years after Motherlines, is The Furies, which finally brings the women from beyond the Holdfast back to this bizarre slaved-based society to free the women trapped there.  This book is filled with a lot of pain and anger; yes there are many other elements in it, but as I read my way through the very logical events that happened as an invading force moves against a society in collapse, I kept thinking of the introduction to Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places in which he stresses that more than any of the countries he covers in his book, the most dangerous places in the world are actually anywhere where democracy has been given to a society in the last six months, as blanket pardons have not only released political prisoners, but also hardened criminals who may have perhaps strongly deserved to remain in the prisons where they had been kept.

In many ways The Furies was heartbreaking, as stories of people setting others free should work out well for all, but the author shows through strong emotion and character that pain doesn't simply go away if someone wishes it gone, and consequences can remain for generations.

An excellent read.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Movie Review: Robocop (2013)

Having rewatched the original a few weeks ago with my wife and kids, this week we decided to check out the 2014 remake, so here you go, Robocop.

For the most part the film follows the original, with a few key differences (sorry, some spoilers here).

1) No focus on the corporate culture as in the first film

2) A reverse of the original concept (first film focused on a machine learning to become a man, the remake focuses on a man learning to become a more effective machine)

3) The film is pretty clearly influenced by the recent Batman trilogy, in everything from shots to the fact that Robocop is now dressed as Batman from the neck down.

4) A surprisingly low level of blood and violence - as the first film was incredibly graphic in its representation of the effects of violence, bodies were mangled, blood splattered across the screen, etc., the remake is a much more standard action film - yes there was a high kill count, but almost all of the violence was bloodless and no one who had been shot was shown as much of anything other than alive, dead, or "taking it like a man"

In the end the film was ok - there were performances that were pretty great, but I missed the stop-motion animation of the original, and having just watched it recently, I'm not sure why a remake was needed at all.

If you have the option, skip the remake and rematch the original, because it is awesome.