Blood: A Southern Fantasy – A Review

Blood: A Southern Fantasy
by Michael Moorcock
Read by Chet Williamson

Published by Crossroad Press and Springbrook Audio

(Disclosure Notice: I received a free copy of the audio book version of Blood: A Southern Fantasy from Crossroad Press for review purposes.)

I’m just going to come out and say it. I didn’t particular like Blood: A Southern Fantasy (which I will refer to as Blood for the remainder of this review). It was very dense and written in strange and mostly telling style. It has a strange sub-story that appears like an old movie serial between major sections of the book. The sub-story is related to the main story, but that is not apparent until later in the book. In fact, Blood feels more like a collection of memoirs than a novel. I had a hard time getting into the story.

That all being said, what is Blood about? Blood is set in a world like ours and yet very unlike ours. It is set in an America like ours yet very unlike ours. And most of it takes place in the south. There is a civil war going on between the North and the South. In this world the south is ruled, for the most part, by the black man and the white man is relegated to the north and west. Technology is powered by the energy given off by dimensional rifts. Order and chaos sit side by side, not at peace, but not at war either. It is a strange place, and at times strangely familiar.

The story itself follows the journey of Jack Karaquazian, a gentleman and gambler; his lover, Colinda Devero; and his friends and allies Sam Oakenhurst (Sam is my favorite character in the story), another gambler, and The Rose, a half plant half animal being from a different dimension. Through their various adventures, our heroes, are drawn in the great multi-verse to play the ultimate game.

The story is deep and philosophical delving in the nature of the universe, man, and even God in places. The world is both dark and bright, disturbing and horrific, and yet beautiful. In reminded me of the Moorcock’s Elric tales in some respects.

As far as the audio goes, the reader, Chet Williamson, did a good job. The reading was clean and clear. A bit flat in places, but I think that was function of the style of writing more than the narrator. And he did a nice job marking the transition to the sub-story of the multi-verse and the Chaos Engineers with melodramatic flare and style.

In the end, as I have said, I didn’t like Blood. It just didn’t hook me. It isn’t a bad story. There are things I liked in it: The way and type of games the gambler’s played, the strange cults, the strange mix of technology, the overall dark atmosphere of the story’s setting, and the river boats. (I love river boats.) But I just couldn’t get immersed in the story. I believe if I could have I would have enjoyed it more.

I am going to give Blood an overall score of three out of five snark bites. It isn’t bad. It just wasn’t my thing.

The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature: A Review

The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature
by David Niall Wilson
Narrated by Joe Geoffrey

Published by Crossroad Press and Springbrook Audio

(Disclosure notice: I received a free copy of The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature from Crossroad Press for review purposes. I really need to write a generic disclosure notice.)

You know, in the end, I really have only one complaint about this book, its title is way too long: The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature. It’s fifteen words long! Come on. But that being said, I am starting this review by saying the only thing there is to say about it, “go buy a copy.” Buy it now. Right now. You will not be disappointed. It is the most fun I have had reading/listening to a horror novel in years.

The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature (which I will refer to as CletusJ. Diggs for the rest of this review) is the story of good ol’ boys, perversion of science, and ancient religion. It is set in Old Mill, a small town in North Carolina. It stars, as you’d guess from the title, the Reverend Cletus J. Diggs (who is also a common law attorney, private investigator, tabloid journalist, and anything else he can learn via a correspondence course). Cletus is drawn into the strange going-ons in the back wood of North Carolina when his friend Jasper enlists his help in removing a dead man from his “secret” fishing hole. Things for Cletus, Jasper and Sheriff Bob go down hill from there.

Now I lived in South Carolina for a couple of years, and I currently live in small town Minnesota. I am sure I have met some of the people in this story, or at least there distant cousins. Although the characters depicted in Cletus J. Diggs are humorous, many of them are as real as the guys who live in the trailer park on the other side of town.

This audiobook is humorous, but its humor masks a deep seated dark horror that, in the end, made me squirm. The characters are fun and odd, but they are real. They may act odd, but they feel the same horror and the same fears we do when faced with perversion and evil and “the things that man was not meant to know”. The characters reactions to these are real and not just played for laughs.

And yes, Cletus J. Diggs is laugh out loud funny in places. But it is also dark and disturbing others. Very disturbing. In fact this story reminded me of what made Lovecraft’s work so brilliant.

I am impressed by David Wilson’s ability to keep the humor alive without dispelling the underlying sense of dread. I wish I could write this well.

In fact, it is the end of this novel (which I will not spoil for you) when Cletus comes face to face with the truth, that stuck with me. How Cletus reacted to that truth made me love the story all the more. The ending was disturbing and left me with a true sense of dread. And I think that dread felt by both Cletus and myself is well described by my favorite quote from Lovecraft’s work:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” – Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft

The narration by Joe Geoffrey definitely enhances and compliments the story. The voices he did for each character are unique. He captures the pace and style of life of a small town well in his inflections and accents and easy going style. It is pleasure the listen to.

I give The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs and the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature five out of five snark bites overall (four out of five snark bites for the audio and six out of five snark bites for the story). Go pick up a copy right now.

50 Books For Geeks

As most of you don’t know, I currently pay the bills by working as a software developer. (Who I do that for is irrelevant to this post.) And as a software developer, I am subscribed to a variety of Tech blogs and email newsletters. One of those is InsideTech (well, I think I got subscribed to it when I signed up for Monster.com anyway), and few weeks back they published an article titled “50 Books Every Geek Should Read”. I found the list of books interesting and decided to see how many of them I had read and pick five to read in the next year. I’m not going to give you the whole list from the original article here as I think it is worth a read, but I will list the ones I have read and those I plan to read in the next year.

The books I have read listed in 50 Books Every Geek Should Read are:

Neuromancer by William Gibson
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
1984 by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction by Steve McConnell
Getting Things Done by David Allen

The five books I plan to read in the next year or so, that are listed in 50 Books Every Geek Should Read are:

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
iCon by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon
Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond

So, how many books have you read from the list in 50 Books Every Geek Should Read are there any you think you might like to read?

Resident Evil: Afterlife – A Review

I will freely admit I am a fan of the Resident Evil series of movies, games, novels, and comics. I have seen all of the films in theaters on opening weekend with the exception of the original, Resident Evil. I’ve played some of the games including the original (including the original Japanese version of the first game Biohazard.) I’ve read about half of the novels. And I am following the comic series being put out by Wildstorm. So I’m kinda into the whole franchise. (In fact, I would love to write a novel for the series once my writing gets a bit better.)

Needless to say, I saw ResidentEvil: Afterlife the weekend it opened, and since I review a lot of stuff I figured I would give my thoughts on it here. (Note: I do not intend to give out any spoilers for Resident Evil: Afterlife, but in talking about it I might end up giving out details about the earlier films that might spoil them if you have not seen them.)

Resident Evil: Afterlife is a direct follow up to Resident Evil: Extinction, and begins with an army of Alice clones kicking some serious ass at a secret Umbrella base in Japan. (There is a nice nod to the franchises original title in Japan during this.) During which the original Alice (played by Milla Jovovich) is stripped of all her “super powers”. After the destruction of the Umbrella’s “final” base, Alice goes on a journey to find her companions with whom she parted company at the end of Resident Evil: Extinction.

The film get’s pretty introspective at this point, but retreats back in the zombie and monster killing action fairly quickly as our hero, newly reunited with Clarie Redfield (played by Ali Larter), find her way to a group of survivor trapped in a prison in Los Angles. And it is a bloody and violent, yet predictable, toboggan ride through the end.

Don’t worry ladies there is some eye candy for you as well in this film. Wentworth Miller plays Clarie Redfield long lost brother, Chris, and Brois Kodjoe plays the athletic and handsome Luther. I think they do a nice job of balancing out the sexy between both the male and female characters.

Unfortunately, Resident Evil: Afterlife really bring nothing new to the table except 3D, which adds nothing special to the film, and a new breed of T-Virus mutants. And as my wife pointed out, this one felt more like a video game, that any of the other films in the series: solve a puzzle, fights some monsters, reveal a plot point, defeat a boss, move on to the next level, and repeat.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it. Milla Jovovich is hot. I love Alice’s “over the top” bad assery. And some of stunts and fight scenes were pretty impressive. But, in the end, it still felt like the sequel to a sequel to a sequel. I’m only going to give it three out of five snark bites.

So should you see it, well, if you a fan of the Resident Evil franchise, then yes. Otherwise, this might not be the film for you. If you do go remember stay through the first part of the credit for a glimpse into what’s instore in the next Resident Evil film.

The Holy Terror: A Review

The Holy Terror
by Wayne Allen Sallee
Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer

Published by Crossroad Press and SpringBrook Audio

(Disclosure Notice: I paid for this book myself, but I have received other audio books from Crossroad Press at no charge for review purposes.)

The Holy Terror is a hard book. It depicts the hard lives those trapped in the rolling prisons known as wheelchair being stalked and killed by a serial killer who believes he is following the will of his dead “father” and helping his victims enter Heaven. It depicts those stricken by disease or injury or metal illness or all three trying to make their way in late 80’s Chicago. It depicts people heroic and horrible in an era that is in our past, but that we haven’t really progressed beyond in many ways.

The base story of The Holy Terror revolves around Frank Haid. Frank Haid, dubbed the Pain Killer by the press, kills crippled men and women living in downtown Chicago. He believes he is commanded to do so by his dead “father”. He kills through a supernatural method of unknown origin that actually draws his victims bodies into his own. Frank is pitted against the residents of the Marclinn, a residence hotel for the handicapped, who have lost many of there number to Frank’s killing spree. These men and women are led by The American Dream, Evan Shustak, a self-styled superhero suffering from both mental and physical illness. The American Dream, with the help of his friends, has sworn to bring the Pain Killer to justice, and hunts for him on the unforgiving streets of Chicago.

As I said above, The Holy Terror, is a hard book. It is gritty and bleak. I felt sympathy for all of the characters, including the villain, in one way or another even though many of them were repulsive as well. Seeing the character’s day to day struggle to live even the semblance of a normal life stirred me emotionally and nearly brought me to tears at times. Yet at other times I laughed out loud (earning me strange looks at the gym a couple of times) or chuckled silently to myself at their antics. Yet the end of the story left me unsatisfied and vaguely depressed.

This book brought into conflict my compassion for those who are suffering and my horror at seeing them hunted and killed. One moment, I am cheering on The Pain Killer, the next I am praying for his capture. Sallee is masterful in handling that juxtaposition.

Sallee’s descriptive prose (and attention to detail concerning the era and location The Holy Terror is set in) and Kafer’s “just the facts” style narration worked to bring The Holy Terror to life for me in a way few audio books have. I was there on the streets and in the subways with The American Dream. I was in the back alleys with Frank Haid. I was there at the pool table in the Marclinn. I was there freezing on the bridge by the empty wheelchair.

And I applaud Jeffery Kafer for making all the Polish terms sound like Polish and the Spanish like Spanish. I don’t know if they were all pronounced properly, but they sounded great to me.

The audio edition contains two introductions along with the unabridged story. One of the introductions was written and read by the author himself. Those introductions give some background on Wayne Allen Sallee, the author, and the story. I suspect based on them that there is a lot of Salle’s own life wrapped up in The Holy Terror.

All that being said, I give the audio for The Holy Terror five out of five snark bites, and the story itself four out of five snark bites. This give The Holy Terror an overall score of five out of five snark bites (the story might deserve more than four snark bites but something about the end still nags at the back of my mind), and I recommend it with these cautionary words, “this book is not for the faint of heart.”

Closed on Mondays and other news

I have decided that I am closed, at least to social networking and social media, on Mondays. This means on Mondays I will be ignoring Twitter, Facebook (which is true most of the time anyway), the various forums I am a member on, and the email lists on am a part of. I might even ignore instant messenger but that is unlikely. I will also not be posting to this blog or posting new podcasts on Mondays with rare exception and during the month of October (see details below about Snark Infested Waters’ 30 days of Halloween.) So if you are looking for me at any of these online venues on Mondays with rare exceptions (like this post), you will not find me.

In other news…

Snark Tank Radio is on indefinite hiatus. I decided to put the show on hiatus after the finish of the Summer Serial so I can focus on other things.

For Halloween this year, I have decided to release at least 31 shows (one for each day of the month). Some of them will be interview with horror authors and audio producers, most of them will be some of my favorite Halloween or horror themed OTR episodes. I hope you enjoy all the shows. I am calling it Snark Infested Waters’ 30 days of Halloween. (It would be the 31 days of Halloween, but I wasn’t thinking when I recorded the intro.) And related to this I will not be putting out any new podcasts in the November and December of 2010.

And finally, I will being trying a bit harder to get a post up here at least once at week. I have lot of reviews to write and a few ideas for regular features. And considering the popularity of my article title “Freedom of Religion?“, you might get more opinion pieces as well.

The Phantastic and Wondrous Adventures of Mr. Jonathan Darby: A Review

The Phantastic and Wondrous Adventures of Mr. Jonathan Darby
Writing and Direction by Austin Sirkin
Narration and Audio Production by Matt Weller

(Disclosure Notice: I payed five dollars of my hard earned money for this that I wish I could have back.)

Now, I will freely admit, I normally give “for the love of it” audio producers a bit of a pass on things when I review there work. Which is what The Phantastic and Wondrous Adventures of Mr. Jonathan Darby (which I will refer to as PWAMJD for the remainder of this review) should have been. Unfortunately, the creators of PWAMJD decided to charge for it, and, therefore, I will not be overlooking some production problems I might have otherwise.

So in a nutshell, PWAMJD is the story of Jonathan Darby a Victorian (or maybe Edwardian, I aways get those mixed up) clerk who finds himself through no fault of his own drawn into a time travel adventure as he and his companions, Henry Furnace, a thug from his own time, and Key, a woman from the future, chase the evil genius Nichols. This adventure was released in eight audio episodes done in standard audio book style, and the whole thing can be your’s for the small fee of five dollars.

First the story. There is not much I can say here. The first episode made me curious enough to buy the whole set, but as a whole I was bored. (Your can listen to the first episode free at the PWAMJD website.) The writing seemed to get worse as the story when on. All the interesting characters, outside of Henry Furnace, disappeared after the first couple of chapters, and rest felt flat and stereo-typical. The plot was hackney and has been done time and time again.The dialog was stiff and annoying in places. And the title of the whole piece is too long as are all of the chapter titles. (I suspect the chapter titles in many cases where intended to be funny, but they came across as lame.) On the plus side, I think all historical stuff was accurate.

I give PWAMJD zero out of five snark bites for story and writing.

Now the audio. The audio for PWAMJD was actually pretty good for the most part. It was clean. The narrator did a nice job with the actual text, and it was fairly easy to tell the characters apart by voice. But in episode three and eight, there are dialog errors that were not clean up during the editing process: In both cases, it was lines that were miss-read and read again. These errors should not have been in the final cut of a product that is charged for. I also did not like the theme song chosen for the work, but I will not hold that against the author and/or narrator.

I give PWAMJD three out of five snark bites for audio.

In the end, I just can’t recommend PWAMJD, at least not as a piece you have to pay for. (Although with the story issues, free is still a pretty high price for this piece.) The flat characters and predictable plot lead to an experience I wished I had passed on. I did listen to the whole thing in the hope that it would get better, but it didn’t. So I give The Phantastic and Wondrous Adventures of Mr. Jonathan Darby one out of five snark bites wholly for the quality of the audio production.