Milo

Milo Cover01001101 01101001 01101100 01101111 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 (Milo is Good). That’s my short review of fellow Seton Hill alumni Alexander Pyles’ excellent chapbook. It was published by Radix Media as part of their Science Fiction Futures Series. The company did a superb job of elevating the traditional chapbook into a more prestigious format. Aside from the stellar layout, the cover and interior art by Nico Roxe is stunningly original. So, what makes the story 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 (good)?

Spoilers Below

Well, I’ve already demonstrated one of my favorite elements. Pyles has his protagonist occasionally thinking in binary, which is rendered in the same manner I illustrated above. This is a uniquely cool idea, and it works perfectly in this tale. Milo, the namesake of the narrative, is a disabled man who decides to have his brain removed from his body and inserted into a robotic one. Things are great, at first.

There are two different elements at play in Milo that I really enjoyed. The first is the way the story reminded me of the horror inherent in the isolated brain trope, wherein a character has their brain removed from their body. My favorite example of this trope is in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, but Milo is not a horror tale. Pyles just renders Milo’s situation so well that readers will find themselves unnerved by the presentation of the character coming to grips with not having a body.

The second element is Milo’s slow loss of humanity in his robot form. At first, Milo only thinks in binary occasionally, but, by the end of the narrative, he only thinks in binary. This reminded me of moments in Paul Verhoeven’s classic, Robocop. Except, in this case, the robotic components consume the human, instead of the human transcending “literal” programming. The reader is left wondering what it means to be human, and I believe that is precisely the response the best science fiction should inspire in readers.

To conclude, Milo is an excellent story. It’s original, and it makes you think about fundamental questions we need to be discussing as a society. On top of that, you can pick up a copy without breaking your bank, and you’ll be getting a gorgeous piece of art to display on your bookshelf. You can also spring for a copy of the entire Science Fiction Futures collection from Radix Media and discover what the other entries in the series have to offer. I’m sure the quality is just as good as Milo. It’s a great time to be a reader when a chapbook can pack so much punch, but I’d certainly be interested in spending more time in Milo’s world if Pyles wanted to expand the tale further.

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Creatures of Will & Temper

Creatures of Will & Temper CoverIt was an absolute pleasure to re-discover the joy of book binging with Creatures of Will & Temper. My excitement levels were high when I discussed starting this novel in my post about coping with the world’s current COVID-19 situation. I am happy to report that my enthusiasm for the story carried through its entirety. I read it in only four sittings, and I finished the last 150 pages in a mad dash, the sure sign of a page-turner.

As an English Major, I was immediately captured by the Victorian setting and the elements derived from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. As a genre reader, I loved the short excerpts from the grimoire, On the Summoning of Demons, which start almost every chapter. As a writer, I was extremely impressed by Molly Tanzer’s pacing. She spends much of the tale’s first half developing the characters and adding layers to her world instead of rushing forward with heavy doses of plot, but the book’s momentum is never hindered. In fact, I think getting to know these characters and their world might have been my favorite part of the reading experience.

Minor Spoilers Below

There is young Dorina Grey, who is enamored with art and wooing attractive ladies. There is her older and more conservative sister, Evadne, who’s only true passion is fencing. And then there is the fantastic Lady Henry, the head of a demonic art appreciation society. She’s the David Bowie of this novel, and every story is vastly improved by a character who reminds me a little of Bowie. The villain reminded me quite a lot of Professor Rathe from Young Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I found that I was picturing him as the character before he was revealed as the tale’s primary antagonist. And since I love Young Sherlock Holmes, that only added to my enjoyment of this book.

One of the challenges of discussing a novel you really like is not rambling on forever, so I will try to keep my final thoughts brief. I loved Tanzer’s attention to detail. Minor things, like the fact that one character really likes ginger, becomes important later. I should add that the focus on ginger also made me crack open a bottle of Ginger Ale that I’d had in the fridge since February. It was delightful. About halfway through reading this, I started thinking about how fun a role-playing game set in the world of Creatures of Will & Temper would be. You could hunt down other demon worshipers or use your demonic powers for heroics. Finally, the story’s ending includes a thrilling bit of swordplay, but what I really loved about it was the profound cost of triumph for one of the heroes. It should go without saying, but a good ending needs to have characters suffer consequences and change. The Dorina and Evadne who begin their journey in Creatures of Will & Temper, aren’t the same ones who end it.

Lastly, Molly Tanzer just put out the third entry in The Diabolist Library Series, which started with Creatures of Will & Temper. While I usually wouldn’t urge someone to begin with the third tale in a series, you could actually do that with this series. The books are set in the same world but don’t follow the same characters. Think of the Diabolist’s Library series as the Castle Rock or Fargo of novels. So why not pick up the newest installment, Creatures of Charm & Hunger, and support a book baby during this continuing COVID-19 catastrophe? Based on Creatures of Will & Temper, I can assure you of an excellently structured, detail-rich, and fun read.

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The Rust Maidens

The Rust Maidens CoverBack in October, which feels like a million years ago, I did a short review of Gwendolyn Kiste’s And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait to find some time to read Kiste’s novel, The Rust Maidens. This past February, which also feels like a million years ago now that Spring is arriving, I finally got to devour it.

In summary, I adored many of the same things in Kiste’s novel that I did in her short fiction. There is a lyrical quality to her prose, and her narrative is filled with metaphors and subtexts for readers to digest. While I haven’t read a vast amount of Shirley Jackson, I have read enough to see parallels to Kiste’s work. So, if you are someone who enjoys Jackson, I think you’ll find The Rust Maidens to your taste.

Reading novels now that I have a graduate degree in writing, I often find myself looking at the structure of books. In The Rust Maidens, the story is told from a single protagonist, Phoebe, but Kiste foregoes a simple linear narrative in favor of one split over two different years, 2008 and 1980. The novel opens with a world-weary Phoebe returning to her hometown of Cleveland in 2008. Since the older Phoebe has already experienced the climax of the story, Kiste can build mysteries to intrigue the reader by teasing revelations to come with the inner monologue of the protagonist. At the end of the first chapter, Kiste leaves readers pondering the two primary questions at the heart of the novel. Who are the Rust Maidens, and what happened to them? These are the questions that will propel readers through the book, but in case that’s not enough to keep you reading, there is a healthy dose of juicy cliffhangers. These are effective in novels because you can always choose to flip to the next page, whereas in television, especially classic network fair, you’re stuck waiting for a period you have no control over.

While I won’t get into deep spoilers, as I feel the secrets of books are for readers to discover and not for reviewers to impart, I do have a few additional thoughts on this novel. I loved the fact that the older Phoebe’s story takes place in 2008, the year of the great recession, which perfectly parallels the economically challenged Cleveland presented in 1980. Kiste’s descriptions of both the settings and the Rust Maidens themselves leave you feeling like you’re covered in grime, in the best kind of way. While the community in which Phoebe grew up in 1980 has significant issues, I loved a moment near the novel’s climax where the reader gets to see that not everyone within that community is as heartless as they seem for a large portion of the tale. There is a tremendous grey quality to the morality of the characters at the heart of this story, and I live for that kind of complexity.

If you’re hesitant to jump into a novel by Kiste because you haven’t read her work yet, I’d advise you to check out her short story, The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary). It’s a fun addition to the mythology of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s got a lot of thought-provoking subtexts, and it’s nominated for a Stoker Award. If you’re already familiar with the works of Gwendolyn Kiste, there’s a world of other great horror writers to explore, a few of which I discuss in my Women in Horror Month article.

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Color Out of Space Review

I got the chance to see Richard Stanley’s 2019 adaptation of The Colour Out of Space (Yes, Lovecraft intentionally spelled color that way for his story) on Wednesday (January 22nd). It was a ton of fun seeing the film with fellow Lovecraft fans, and afterward, my friends and I even did a little movie discussion at an H.P. Lovecraft inspired bar near us, J.B. Lovedrafts. We even saw a special version of the film that included a Q &A with some of the cast and the director.

Since more people seem to watch videos over reading reviews these days, I thought this was a good opportunity to try my hand at a YouTube review. The experience was fun, but I have a lot to learn about presenting a spoken review in front of a camera. I forgot to mention two cool observations, and I didn’t feel I was always as coherent as possible, but I think I still got most of my points across. I also forgot to ask for people who saw the film that hadn’t read the original story to let me know how they felt the film was because I am interested in a non-Lovecraft fan’s perspective.

SPOILER WARNING FOR EVERYTHING BELOW!

If you’re interested, here are the two points I didn’t touch on in the spoiler section that I wanted to. I really liked how the color seemed to affect the members of the family differently. Cage’s character is haunted by a horrible smell, and I loved that particularly because I thought it was probably a reference to the Dunwich Horror, where there’s a line that goes, “as a foulness, ye shall know them,” referring to identifying evil, ancient entities. Also, as my friend Tom pointed out, Lavenia’s character spends most of the film trying to leave the Gardner farm, and at the end of the movie, the color may have granted her wish and teleported her to another world.

 

The Fisherman

The FishermanYesterday, I finished my third book of the new year. I enjoyed John Langan’s short story collection, The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, so much that I wasted almost no time reeling in his most recently published novel, The Fisherman. After consuming the work in under a week, I can safely say that it includes everything I enjoyed in his short fiction while adding new layers of horrifying goodness.

The narrative follows Abe, an extremely likable widower, as he recounts the haunting experiences and myths surrounding the mysterious Dutchman’s Creek. Here I must pause to deliver an amusing anecdote. While listening to The Fisherman via audible, en route to Philadelphia with my wife, I couldn’t help adding my own soundtrack of “Dun Dun DUN” to the story as Abe recounted the first time he heard about Dutchman’s Creek from his friend, Dan. Immediately after I finished my theme, the narration stated, “If this had been a movie, I guess this would’ve been the moment ominous music boomed on the soundtrack.” My wife and I had quite a laugh, but I think that perfectly illustrates how well Langan knows his own story.

While Abe is the primary protagonist, most of the story is relayed by a different character. He is a cook who bears a striking similarity to H.P. Lovecraft. Besides both people being named Howard, the cook is also described as having a lantern jaw, being a writer, and coming from Providence. Putting all those things together paints a very particular picture, and I loved it. Howard relays the spooky story about Dutchman’s Creek’s origin that he was told by a minister, who heard the story from one of his parishioners in a nursing home. Much like a real fishing story, this one comes via several degrees of separation from the teller. As for the origins of Dutchman’s Creek, you’ll have to read The Fisherman yourself to get all the horrifying details, but I can’t help telling you that the antagonist of the novel is a kind of supernatural Ahab set on capturing a sea creature that would put Moby-Dick to shame.

During the novel, there were at least two references to some of Langan’s short fiction that I loved. The first was a kind of magical right of passage that two characters must make to a city patrolled by bird-like figures who should be familiar to those who read Outside the House, Watching for the Crows in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. The second was when Abe passes by the headless statue of a pregnant woman, which readers of Mother of Stone, the closing tale in The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies should recognize. These connections deepened my reading experience and made me hoot with amusement when I came across them.

Alright, I better stop rambling about how much I liked this novel, or we’ll be here forever. In summary, The Fisherman is a great read. It has a protagonist you love (imagine if Pet Sematary was told from the perspective of the kindly neighbor instead of the doctor), a classic Weird narrative (with enough spooky fish to please a resident of Innsmouth), loads of intricately detailed references (to other horror works, Moby-Dick, and more), emotional resonance (anyone who’s ever lost someone will find themselves connecting with the novel’s portrayal of grief), and lastly, it will keep you turning pages toward its appropriately disconcerting ending. I can’t recommend this novel enough if, like me, you’re a horror reader who leans toward the Weird.

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