Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Just For Fun

Horror-style haiku!

No body’s perfect
Certainly not mine – not now
Rot long past skin deep

Gristly old man bones
Unappetising dinner
Got stuck in my teeth

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Something Sinister Lurks…

In the Tall Grass...

In The Tall Grass is a Stephen King Joe Hill novella collaboration previously released as a two–parter within Esquire and recently released in e-book and audiobook format.  The story begins when a brother and sister pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy call for help from beyond the tall grass which forms the title to the story.  Within minutes they have somehow become separated, disoriented and unaccountably lost.  Gradually, they realise something is toying with them, blurring the lines of reality, so that they end up travelling in circles; close to one another and yet never able to reach one another, even when apparently within close proximity and able to converse. 

The premise of the situation is simple and touches upon themes previously addressed within King’s works (Firestarter and Children of the Corn come to mind in respect of the “tall grass”) and it works.  We, the reader, are taken into dark territory, here.  The narrative is disconcerting and, in places, physically and conceptually disturbing, without getting spoiler specific – so, not for the faint at heart.  Ultimately, both characters and situation turn full circle, adding to the sense of a complete narrative arc and claustrophobia of the scenario, from which, it seems, there is no escape.  This leaves a lingering sense of the inevitable on which to ponder as the story closes, as well as a possible need to clean up from the gore.  Chilling and bloody.

As an added bonus, the e-book format includes excerpts from the forthcoming Dr Sleep from King, sequel to The Shining and the beginning of Hill’s forthcoming NOS4R2.  Incidentally, NOS4R2 is already on my TBR’s mental listing…  

Monday, 29 October 2012

A Survivor’s Story (Graphic Illustrations Series)

The Walking Dead will need little introduction to many who have already seen the ABC series.  Having recently caught up on Season Two via DVD, I figured it was about time to avail myself of the graphic novel series from which the series originated.

“The continuing story of survival horror” referred to on the cover to the volume does a good job of summarising precisely what it is the covers conceal between them – the story of a group of survivors who are fighting against the odds for their lives in a post-apocalyptic world which has been overrun by zombies.  (If you opt for the hardcover volume, as opposed to the trade paperbacks, you get the first two volume trade paperbacks within the one hardcover format, here.) 

The story concentrates predominantly upon Rick Grimes, a cop in a former life, his wife, Lori, their son, Carl and the people whom the family have found themselves surrounded by during the course of their journey to date as they travel around America, seeking to stay alive and fight off the ever present danger to which they are forced to remain alert. 

We begin with Rick’s wakening from a coma in hospital, surrounded by the undead, travelling rapidly to Atlanta and beyond, as he searches for his family in amongst the chaos, confusion and walking dead or “walkers” as they subsequently become known.

Pushed to the limits as they are by the circumstances within which the group and the others they  encounter along the way are, the graphic novel series is a study in human psychology and the lengths to which individuals are willing (or otherwise) to go to survive.  Unsurprisingly, the necessity for unceasing vigilance drives some to lengths to which they had not possibly considered they were be willing to go.  There are those who do not survive, whether as a direct result of zombie attack or otherwise.  Similarly, characters are shown to clash over decisions and judgment calls – frequently.  Given the pressure they remain under at every stage, this is scarcely surprising.  No one individual is perfect or remains infallible in the face of danger; particularly given the high stakes.  In this kind of scenario there are no genuinely easy answers.  One wrong decision results in loss of life - possibly the decision-maker’s own.  Small wonder there is a tendency towards aggression once the immediate zombie-related threat has passed.   

The lack of certainty as to who will stay safe from one day to the next feels real and adds to the sense of threat under which the group travel.  Similarly, the geographic boundaries of the narrative switch rapidly, with the group changing location a number of times, given winding down too much could result in their premature death.  No one resting place remains secure for long, with the nomadic group forced to relocate, their RV being the only constant within the equation.  This keeps both characters and reader on their toes, as we are unsure from which direction the next threat to their existence may come.  In some instances, this stems from the individuals they encounter.  In others, the threat is more mundane; such as a lack of fuel for transportation, leaving them momentarily stranded.  Again, this builds upon the overall concept of survival horror.  Practicalities are a necessary evil; even in a world overrun by the undead.  Food is just as essential as shelter and Kirkman ensures we are aware of this along the way.

Further, the constant shadow of death is seen to have an impact in each instance on those who are left behind.  We see those who struggle to reconcile themselves with the fact that friends and family have passed beyond their aid and seeking to maintain compassion for those who have succumbed along the way, as well as the longer term effects of coming to terms with loss.  Whilst the narrative is violent and pulls no punches in terms of the manner in which the characters are dispatched, it never feels gratuitous. 

Ultimately, this is a gripping and pacey character driven tale of humanity, rendered beautifully in black and white (or grey) throughout.  The narrative zips past, leaving the reader wholly committed to following the future turmoil surrounding the group by its conclusion.  As you may have gathered, I will be back for more.    

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Celebrations Ensue

Following on from my previous post related to Neil Gaiman's All Hallow's Read, I recently learnt that he has released a free audiobook download of a short story, Click-Clack the Rattle Bag, in conjunction with Audible in celebration of the festival.  Even better, each free download results in a donation to charity.  US and UK sites are accessible here (US) and here (UK), subject to which you’ll have access to a suitably spooky story for Hallowe'en.  It’s approximately 10 minutes long and sends a shiver down the spine by the conclusion.  Be quick, though, as the story will only be capable of download until Hallowe'en.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Being Human (Selective Shorts Series)

Nina Kiriki Hoffman is an author I was introduced to via a second hand copy of The Thread That Binds The Bones a while back.  Hence the fact that I was pleased to have the opportunity to read her recent contribution to the online magazine, Lightspeed, Monster, Finder, Shifter.  Effortless prose aside, this story about a family who have produced several generations of “monster-finders” is actually an examination of what it means to be human and the difficult choices it can be necessary to make in an ongoing quest for knowledge and self-realisation.  Thought provoking and capable of transporting one fully into the world it inhabits within just under 7000 words.

And another thing - it also reminds me to find time to take a look at her most recent collection of 16 examples of her short fiction, Permeable Borders when I get chance.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Worst Things Come In Small Packages...

“When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question what he was going to do.  It was perfect for his collection of the macabre and the grotesque: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie.  As an ageing death-metal-rock-God, buying a ghost almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts, Jude has been haunted for years…by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the girl he abandoned, who killed herself.  But this ghost is different.  Delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, the latest addition to Jude’s collection makes the house feel cold.  It makes the dogs bark.  And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life…"

It was the modern slant within the premise of this novel which reeled me in initially.  After all – why not someone seeking to sell a ghost on the internet?  Dante Knoxx famously sought to auction his soul to the highest bidder via ebay before he was banned for doing so for breaching one of the firm’s policies and the listing was pulled by the site.  (This also puts me in mind of the occasion upon which GameStation inserted an "immortal soul" clause into online contracts as an April Fool’s Day joke.)

Heart-Shaped Box, is however, much more than simply the promise of its premise and a powerful page-turner – although it is undoubtedly both of these too.  Joe Hill's debut novel is, ultimately, an examination of the human condition with psychological depth. 

At the outset of the novel, Jude Coyne, the main protagonist, is a man who has “worked his way through a collection of goth girlfriends” who have “stripped, or told fortunes, or stripped and told fortunes, pretty girls” adorned with “ankhs and black fingernail polish” who he names solely by their “state of origin”.  His present girlfriend, whom he has dubbed Georgia, is twenty-three to his fifty four years of age.  He appears to demonstrate little real regard for her, beyond an appreciation for her goth “adoration” and other adult-oriented benefits of her youth.  Indeed, his stall is set out early in the narrative when he notes that each of his girlfriends, Georgia included, want the “harshness” he provides for them – thus no-one goes away “disappointed”.  Even if at first the end of the relationship and necessity to leave isn’t appreciated by them, they “always” work it out “eventually”.

The clever aspect of the narrative is the manner in which Hill “strips back” the layers surrounding Coyne’s heart and provides us with a man seeking some form of redemption and forgiveness.  Gradually, we learn that the last of Jude’s former girlfriends, Georgia’s predecessor, so to speak, whom he had nicknamed Florida, fared badly as a result of his treatment, given she was predisposed to depression – something Jude had found himself unable to cope with once it spiralled out of control.  Now Craddock, the girl’s stepfather (and the ghost whose suit is proffered via the website in the heart-shaped box of the title) is out for revenge.  This affords us the opportunity to explore Jude’s disquiet over the manner in which he shipped Florida back to her family, particularly once he becomes aware that her background was considerably more complex that he had envisaged and the support he had presumed would be afforded her was lacking.  Via the gradual breaking down of barriers, we come to see that Jude is far removed from the unsympathetic character we are introduced to at the outset of the narrative.

Heart-Shaped Box is very much a novel centring upon haunted individuals in both the literal and figurative sense.  Jude, Florida and even Georgia, or Mary-Beth Kimball, as we come to know her during the course of the novel, are haunted by their past, whether as a result of their own previous actions or those of others in their interactions with them.  It is once these actions are confronted that they take on genuine resonance for the reader – once we come to know them fully, “warts and all”.  Broken and flawed, capable of mistakes, sometimes multiple, we feel for them nevertheless.  Confrontation leads to knowledge and acceptance and, in the case of Jude and Mary-Beth, becomes a dialogue of love against the odds.  Ultimately, this is a touching rumination on the possibility of redemption and human frailty in its various guises.  

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ahem! Announcements, ahoy! (All Hallow’s Read)

Autumn is upon us already and the nights are closing in, which makes it time to give a mention to Neil Gaiman's pet project for the month, All Hallow's Read.  The premise itself is simple – during the week of Hallowe’en or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book (interpretation of “scary” being at the whim of the giver).  There are even a number of suggestions concerning potentially suitable books on the relevant website, organised by age range.

Why not give it a try this year and spread the word?  Equally, feel free to add your recommendations for suitably scary books within the “comments” section below!

And another thing - reviews for “scary” books and short stories will follow throughout the month of October in the build up towards Hallowe’en!