4Q 2011 Book Reviews

Candle in the Attic Window

Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles

Innsmouth Free Press

Would I review a book of Gothic fiction? Well,  one of the few types of romances I enjoy are Gothic romances – and I love Gothic mysteries. It’s horror supposedly,  but its Gothic horror,  or things inspired by it,  and while I am not a horror fan when they referenced Hitchcock’s Rebecca in the intro,  I thought sure,  why not?

I was therefore graced with a copy of Candle in the Attic Window. This short story and poetry collection is at times whimsical,  and at other times quite disturbing. It reads like an online magazine come to life as an ebook,  not a traditionally published book due to things added and missing from the formatting. It was professionally designed and had a very slick look and feel,  but there are very online-looking bios at the end of each piece (so why not give the ebook functioning links?) and it couldn’t decide whether the page numbers go at the top or bottom of the page.

Such quibbles quickly became unimportant due to the quality of the prose.

Where do I start? For this collection of gothic-inspired stories was at times not to my taste,  but often had me wishing for more by some of the writers. I was not so attracted to the poems,  except for Amada Davis’ wry “Fixer-Upper”  – but most of the fiction resonated with me. Some of the protagonists are,  impossibly,  “dead narrators”  and the book gives you glimpses into their heads before they die,  but it this particular subgenre that’s not as much of an issue.

When they call this “gothic”  that is not to say it was all things that happened in castles or on windswept moors – far from it. The introduction told me it would be stories with a gothic feel,  and that the settings would range around the world,  and from medieval times up through today. Indeed,  I was treated to tales from the Russian front in the war against Hitler,  a side trip to the Holy Land with a Templar knight,  a tale of tarot and betrayal from 15th century Italy,  and a frozen modern high-school plunked into another dimension. There was a surprisingly gentle visit from the ghosts of the Donner party,  and less friendly sojourn dealing with the ghosts of the Khremer Rouge,  land mines,  and the limits of modern medicine. Oh,  there were windswept moors and secrets in the attic…but there was also cursed golden age Hollywood film and  haunted foundry where the melted iron seemed to demand human sacrifice.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The few “dark for the sake of being dark”  missteps might appeal to a true horror fan,  but mostly it was a great collection of well-written stories.

RECOMMENDED

 

Jesus and the Eightfold Path

by Lavie Tidhar

Immersion Press

Look and see with your own eyes.

If you hesitate, 

you miss the mark forever.

What happens when Lavie Tidhar,  an Israeli and Jewish author,  visits the story of Jesus with Zen koans and a Kung-fu movie sensibility? What happens is a romp.

Another reviewer called this book,  Kick-A** for the Lord,  and I’d have to agree.  Jesus and the Eightfold path is a mash-up of the story of Christ and martial arts movies. The Monkey King becomes one of the Three Wise Men. Each chapter starts with a familiar Biblical quote from the Christmas and Easter stories,  and sort of goes downhill from there – but in a good way. It is fitting that the cover looks like a seventies Kung Fu movie poster,  and it all leads up to The Big Fight Scene where the Chosen One throws the money changers out of the Jewish temple. Everything after that is simply the denouement.

Add a star if you’re a fan of martial arts movies,  and add another one (believe it or not) if you’re a Christian. As Gardner Dozois remarked,  it’s great fun.

Virtuoso and Other Stories

by Gustavo Bondoni

Dark Quest Books

This was my first exposure to the writing talents of Gustavo Bondoni. On the whole I enjoyed his short story collection and hope to read more of his work.

One thing I loved was some of the incredibly believable alien points of view in this collection. For example the title story,  “Virtuoso,”  has an alien  worrying if an artist’s creation will venture into the erotic ultraviolet.  Low-gee lifeforms worry about high-gee planets,  signaling to each other with dexterous tentacles,  and void-spanning electromagnetic beings toy with uploaded human personalities. First contact problems with aliens that seem to speak in flashes of light jockey for position in my mind with mysterious beings who want to buy whole asteroids and pay in uranium.

There are interesting flashes of  military science fiction,  too,  and extremely well-built and well-thought-out alien economies . . .  even glimpses into well-crafted far-future religions and politics. Characters are well-drawn and believable; even across subgenres,  like in the one fantasy offering where magic is used in a war. And character motives make sense,  which is not easy to do. But on the whole,  the author often has trouble with the concluding paragraphs – and this is all the harder to bear considering the quality of the stories before their sometimes faltering last lines.

On one hand I have to admire how some of the tales in this collection natter at your brain,  making you wonder how the characters resolved some crisis. Good stories can do that: linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading them. The aftertaste is very positive,  for example,   in “Interplanetary Bicycles”  and “Evasion.”  But many of these stories,  like the otherwise flawless ”  Ménage à Trois”  or “Duality,”  have a problem with endings: a lack of closure that goes beyond the simple fact that a couple of them feel like parts of uncompleted novels. Many don’t suffer from potential novel syndrome. In their case it’s not a simple lack of enough epilog: there is not enough resolved to make some of these short stories feel finished.

But that’s not a problem in half the stories and will no doubt dissipate as Bondoni improves in his craft. This is a writer to watch.

Earthdoom

by David Langford and John Grant

Dark Quest Books

Humor is subjective. Reviewers,  when confronted with novels that do not align themselves with their personal idea of humor,  are allowed to complain a little. So let me simply state that I’ve enjoyed David Langford’s work before,  like his collection Different Kinds of Darkness,  which got a Hugo nomination. And I was therefore singularly unprepared for the intentional farce that is Earthdoom.

Earthdoom is not Different Kinds of Darkness. It tries,  and mostly succeeds,  in parodying every single sort of disaster movie and story ever written or made,  all at once,  in one slim volume. It’s a bit much. It’s like someone tried to cram too much in there,  and then forgot their safe word. Yes – words fail.

The running gag where Death,  who can see what is probably coming and succumbs to repeated giggle fits feels overdone the first couple of times. Not to mention the sex-obsessed characters—male and female. Then there is the time-travelling Hitler who wants to clone himself into an army,  the Cornish-language enthusiast-cum-terrorist,  the lemming-obsessed scientist,  the anti-matter comet,  the obvious but ignored super-caldera . . . I might run out of room to list all the improbable disasters.

But the most representative disaster can be found on a doomed space station,  soon to crash into the Earth,  with its lecherous male American astronaut who has turned the only way to warn the world into an alcohol still. His pursuit of the female cosmonaut halts as he realizes they will soon die,  but he is not sure if this has caused him to lose his erection,  since,  as he has repeatedly noted,  “. . . there is no up or down in space.”  Similarly,  I can neither make up nor down,  nor heads nor tails (giant,  Galactic lemming tails),  of this over-the-top novel.

Read it at your own risk. Who knows? You’re not me and the humor might actually appeal to you.

 

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