by ROBERT EDMOND ALTER, c.1969
Alter's Swamp Sister of 1961 is consummate Hillbilly
Pulp, possibly the best swamp story out there. A good part of this
is not the plot, but how this menacing and creepy environment melds
seamlessly with the characters' interaction, battering them to
determined conclusions. Its disaffected undulations are far more
significant than any meek human endeavor in its presence. If you
fight the swamp, you lose.
Path to Savagery takes place two or three
decades past “the
Bombs and the Dust and the Pestilence and the Drought”(p.12). The
buckled and burnt landscape is void of most life, and, considering
its recent radioactivity, is without rain, which makes potable
water the end-all-be-all of every endeavor. More hostile than any
living eco system of the past, men fight against their most fearful
The seeker hero named Falk is a Loner. There are
two other groupings of humans: Flockers, who come together as community
usually around a defensible water source, and Neanderthals, who
brutalize and scavenge everything within their nomadic influence.
Both groups have no use for Loners, really. Falk has avoided death
by honing his survival skills and keeps most odds even with a Thompson
sub-machine gun that no one else on the planet seems to possess.
It's a bigger club, but demands a continual search for ammo as
almost paramount to finding water. But there's one more thing Falk
acknowledges as imperative “in the land of want and privation”(p.27):
The Special Girl.
While slipping through a Flocker encampment for
water, Falk spies a voluptuous woman dancing for her dinner. All
he says to her is, “I
have tobacco”, and Faina—“the primogenitor of all whores”(p.95)—is
dragging him to her shebang. Later, she bungles robbing him and
he ditches her. But Faina is a feisty opportunist with crude but
effective female wiles, and Falk reluctantly adds her company to
his continuing “one long monotonous prowl, with occasional moments
of violent action and unusual happenings”(p.32).
The bulk of the novel concerns their discovery of a bombed-out
city, half sunken in the ocean and leaving a labyrinth of forsaken
and barely-looted buildings like islands of former, 20 th Century
magnificence. But not quite abandoned, as the huge-roomed
department store they choose happens to conceal a group of Flockers,
despotically ruled by Rann and his queen, Lara.
The Special Girl.
This holocaustic Macy's has everything a scrounger
could need, if you don't mind the thick dust, scurrying rats, and
no water. It's the ultimate Keep for the times, and, like the feudal
fist of Rann, its politics are Machellivian as well. Instead of
the world of plants, minerals, and mud as adversarial entities,
author Alter leaves the devastated world outside to its inanimateness
and chooses the intrigues of the human theater this time, even
ending his saga with an epic-like battle between Falk and Rann “naked
and empty-handed” (p.146) in the enclosed 3 rd floor. The prize,
of course, is Lara.
This is not a subtle or particularly subtextual
read. Man is at his basic formula, that of hunter/gatherer, nomad/warrior.
Woman cannot exist without his protection, as he is her “strength and
courage and intelligence”(p.119). Lara assumes herself as the ultimate
prize, something no man could pass over. Falk fools himself by
thinking the Special Girl will hitch to his loop of wandering discovery,
or that he will submit to the primal pull of birthing society.
In the end, the dreamer in him opts for the paired companionship
with little fidelity as represented by the earthy Faina.
And author Alter, well, he's singing the Siren song of the proverbial
rebel, the victory of choice in 1969. Fortunately, the precepts
of civilization create a maturing responsibility that rises eventually.
You know, kinda like the wisdom that deters us from killing each
07/15/2011 by Larry Crawford
by RICHARD PRICE, c.2008
Author Price sets up his late-night street shooting
by starting with the players, guilty or not, creating an immediate
who-dun-it curiosity. We're on the Lower East Side , contrasting
its Bohemian makeover with its historic turned-to-ghetto roots,
blanketed with weary-eyed, police proceduralists. This is not the
Hill Street Bluesy bludgeoning of runaway crime and lost souls
overwhelming the gatekeepers. The anonymity of pressing city existence
becomes the product of the players as much as the creators, while
a meaningful life strived-for remains agelessly elusive. Living
in the here-and-now by taking over its dreamers in the starting
blocks, ambition based on acceptance is used by the selfish as
stepping stones for their own, imaginary meccas. The delusion is
worse than the crime in that its cancer is deeper, more attached,
and harder to throw on the examination gurney for what-it-is-what-it's-not
surgery. “Lives abruptly turned inside out by the arbitrary malice
of the world” (p.373) is author Price's entry into this labyrinth
of lantern shows and deadly gauntlets where the hawking of Atlantic
City gaudiness is truer than the reserved deuce at Le Bernardin.
Conduct can never manage intent because intent is hopelessly muddled
by the extraneousness within the intender. Duty, then, is reduced
to guarding the perimeters while the weasels in and about us all
fight and hide for brutal dominance and surreptitious control.
Because morality cannot administer without agreement, loyalty is
the only bond left standing.
This is a study of tradition gone nouveau,
as perceived by its inmates. Its digestion has left a mixed scattering
of responses as multi-layered and unfathomable as the imbibing
personalities at hand. Hardly any of the reactions to this merit
applause. The confrontation—the vic's step-up, “not tonight, my
its study through a myriad of characters clinging to all levels
of society. This is heart-felt stuff, because it barnstorms through
denial and challenges the easy, thrown-up excuses of externalization
and/or inheritance. When someone without malice or defense is murdered,
the universal tree of life is shaken to its roots. Then all things
must be questioned, searched, pondered. Again, author Price has
taken a genre-bound focus into the soul of Literature.
Everyone should read a Richard Price novel once in their life.
I read Clockers 40 or so books back and am still trying
to bury it. Now, I hafta start all over again.
07/15/2011 by Larry Crawford
RED WOLF CONSPIRACY by
ROBERT V.S. REDICK, c.2008
Silly Wabbit, Trix are for kids.
If you recognize this line from an old TV commercial, you are
probably too old to enjoy this novel. This is certainly the calorie-coated
cereal floating in the traditional high fantasy saga. You've got
your petulant, sassy-mouthed youngsters, teenaged, would-be lovers
fighting all odds, old wizards from other worlds, potions and spells,
scheming inamoratas, monsters, pirates, lotta weird names for things,
places and characters, caste and feudal social systems, woken animals
of all sizes and shapes, and . . .
A six-hundred year old wooden square-rigger of massive
size containing a population worthy of a Renassiance-era Italian duchy surrounded
in a hull instead of a moat. As far as I can tell, this seems to
be The Red Wolf Conspiracy's only exclusive creation.
What initially struck me in my half-read was the
overabundance of treachery. With the exception of the class-crossed
lovers tarboy Pazel and ambassador's daughter Thasha—well, okay,
there's the Sam Gamgee-like loyalty of fellow tarboy Neeps—no one's
to be trusted, engendering an atmosphere of numbing uncertainty
in any pursued endeavor or line of reasoning. In this sense, it
feels very modern, but contextually it is not long until these
traps and contrivances lead to plot devices set up with startlingly
inept deus ex
machina moments that sneeze up the read like pepper spray.
Anotherwords, any truly diabolical stratagems of a Machiavellian
mindset becomes glossed with Orwellian aspersion, making
it all just words.
Dead at page 271 out of 450, this being the first volume in a
series of three at the moment.
08/10/2011 by Larry Crawford
KILLING KIND by JOHN CONNOLLY, c.2001
This is gumshoeing with slightly different eyes, as our
1st person hero can sometimes see through to what he calls the “honeycomb” (Hodder & Stoughton
UK, ISBN 0340771208, c.2001, p.3) of the world. There are plenty
of supernatural sleuths out there—my mind keeps looping the theme
song from Ghostbusters while I'm trying
to think of examples—but not many with such a believable cosmology
attached to the common detective procedural. Charlie Parker's
ordinary world collapsed when his wife and daughter were murdered
in author Connolly's first novel, Every
Dead Thing (1999). The search and eventual slaughter of
the Traveling Man opened the grid for Charlie to see the “interconnectedness
to all things, a link between what lies buried and what lives
above” (p.272) in our supposed, mundane reality.
The Killing Kind —the
third in this series—opens
with Charlie called in to investigate an apparent suicide—a young
woman with the appropriate name of Grace—by a seemingly-concerned
friend of her father, and, just like hornets swarm out of their
nest when you bat it, the case rapidly leads to a clandestine
and malevolent religious blind called The Fellowship. Links to
the past form when the mass grave of the Aroostook Baptists—a
commune-like retreat centered on a despotic brimstone preacher
named Faulkner that disappeared entirely forty years hence—is
unearthed from a washed-out hillside. From the below-world, Charlie
hears the voice of one of its child victims cryptically leading
him onward, while, in the above-world, there appears a fiendish
killer named Mr. Pudd who posts a trail of torturous killings,
using scalpels, epee-like knives, or a congregation of recluse
and black widow spiders. These two plot threads weave with ghastly
pertinence a hangman's noose around pietistic fanaticism using
the knots of damnation and salvation as strangleholds. And further,
as the battle rages into the ecclesiastical circles of Judaist
thaumaturgy, a Golem enters the field.
Charlie, of course,
is vulnerable beyond his own mortality. In the above-world, he
is in love with Rachael, a psychologist who's about to share
his old family home in Scarborough, Maine. Then there's the gay
couple, Angel and Louis, who are moral law abiders while being
deadly criminals. Beyond the gallows humor and Angel's inappropriate
dress code, they are Charlie's reliable backup, and important
societal antidotes along the rope of baneful events. That they
will face peril because of Charlie's involvement is a no-brainer.
But the driving force
is, without a doubt, the anguish, the despair, the sorrow of
the narrative voice. Charlie Parker is the noir equivalent to
us all; a Just Joe who finds himself with only the wrong choices
left, choices that will damn him but choices that his honor and
faithfulness will not allow him to debate. He is compelled to
act on a higher code of Justice
not to undo the past but, by acting further down the
line of time, to restore some measure of harmony, some possibility
of equilibrium, so that lives may continue with their burden
eased and the dead may find peace in a world beyond this one.
When the rain stops and the sun comes out,
the police and news reporters will mull over the bodies, assign
blame, and declare the case solved with denouncements of man's
inhumanity to man. But Charlie knows there are “some deeds beyond
even the potential of human beings to commit; that there are
creatures both more and less than human that prey upon us” (p.65).
In his narrative, there is no discernible demonic evidence—like
in the movies when evil spirits are killed, they burst into sparks
his adversaries were dybbuk, or that
the Golem was a specter summoned. But Charlie knows that “the
truth is revealed by a misstep and the fleeting sense that something
beneath our feet rings false” (p.4), because “this is a honeycomb
world” (p.14) and “it hides a hollow heart” (p.3).
08/26/2011 by Larry Crawford
by JOHN CONNOLLY, c.2002
Well, pull that "demonic evidence" back in through
the window, 'cause Hellspawn's Honeycomb is wide open in this,
author Connolly's 4th installment of Charlie Parker's weary road
to any dusty Justice. For starters, Angel's pissed at him for not
cacking Rev. Faulkner at the end of The Killing Kind,
and rightly so, considering the amount of skin and blood lost to
the Good Rev's torturous ways. Louis, on the other hand, is just
anxious to get down South and blow away some crackers, while Rachael
blesses the trip between bouts of morning sickness.
Charlie, well, Charlie's resigned to pay it forward with an old
attorney friend in South Carolina who's in trouble with a pesky
case defending a Black rapist with a dead White girl noosing his
neck. Innocent, of course, but it tips the worm can of Klu-Kluxers
and Southern powermongers, attracting a school of sharks from the
lowest, most-virulent depths of the Honeycomb. More subplots abound,
creating the inevitable pattern:
a strange joining of disparate occurrences, a
series of links between seemingly unconnected events stretching
back into the past . . . dragging innocent and guilty alike
down beneath the earth, drowning them in brackish water, [and] tearing
—Hodder & Stoughton
UK, ISBN 0340821183, p.101
This makes for lumbering sections, and
its backstory excesses seem to be more fulfilling to a global
need in this series' history. Not that the deprived childhoods
of Louis and Angel aren't interesting, but the momentum of
the plot is sacrificed, like a rattlesnake bulked with a pack
rat meal. However, I do admire author Connolly's ability to
move from 1st person to 3rd person in such a seamless manner.
Minor characters such as militant racist Roger Bowen and his
inhuman henchman Kittim are introduced away from Charlie's perception,
then stumble back into the plot flow when needed. This is not as
disjointed a technique as expected, but it does trip a growing
concern that author Connolly is working in a larger landscape than
he's usually comfortable with, especially when establishing intimacy
with new characters.
As the plot veers away from its starting position
and goes to the darkside, author Connolly plants badguys
like spike strips through the unfolding chapters, making for quite
a Big Bang cleanup at the end. Unfortunately, it feels affective
rather than effective, because there's not enough time spent to
twist up with terror in their presence. The plot is quite convoluted
anyway, with different factions rolling for different bones: Rev.
Faulkner is working humpbacked serial killer Cyrus on the girlfriends,
the grown-up frat brats keep Mobley as a brutal procurer
for anything illicit, Bowen's got Kittim, and Melia's got Tereus.
Any one of these could step into a Lecktor-like spotlight, especially
Kittim with his shimmering into "something else, something
dark and winged" (p.129). He's the only killer to escape and
the only one labeled "not human" (p.130). But they all
seem to droop in the melodramatic soup while the reader tries to
hold onto the strips of plot strings.
In fiction, the fever is always more compelling
than the instruments used to combat it, and the balance between
off-stage and center stage--the withholds engendering mystery
verses the mechanics of solution--needs to be a precisely-timed
juggling act with just the right amount of balls moving through
the air. Too many balls attempted and it collapses in bafflement
Charlie needs to get back to Maine where the dread
is bone cold and leave the steamy pathologies to the goth
gumshoes who know those fetid waters better.
08/30/2011 by Larry Crawford
BLACK ANGEL by JOHN CONNOLLY, c. 2005
As I've stated a number of times in past reviews,
I always have trouble writing about novels I really admire. Here's
another example. So, until I can find the inspiration to say something,
follow the below link to John's page and read Suzy McKee Charnas'
thoughts. She's an author I admire, and she's on my Best
SF & Fantasy Works list, which John Connolly is as of now.
The Charnas Review
And here's John's article on Sedlec in
Czech Republic. Plus click on bookcover for more graphics.
09/18/2011 by Larry Crawford
by CHINA MIEVILLE,
the imagination encountered spouts with such an intensity as
to be almost incomprehensible. Words jump off the page in wild
into nouns, adjectives dangling, sentences that challenge grammar
in their singularity. It is a whirlpool of wordsmithing, oddly
gelled and cohesive only by its ferocious creativity. As the
plot evokes more and more Dali-esque imagery, unfolding sceneries
jolt like pouncing leopards on crack cocaine. It is a Wild Child's
journey into Disneyland as seen through a fractulated kaleidoscope.
Step into China Mievelle's orbit, possibly the greatest fantasist
since Lewis Carroll and certainly the most audacious one writing
In London, Heresiopolis, that was always
the draw. Some midnight-of-all or other was predicted every
few days or nights . . . Believers tried to talk the universe
into giving their versions a go . . . The most dramatic of
had had to grow used to such arcane plural forms—were events
in a kind of society. Spectator sports. To miss one would be
a realtheologikal faux pas.
Word of the locus had spread among
the cognoscenti . . . as if the ends-of-the-world were
an illegal rave. [The] space
between concrete sweeps of flyovers . . . was turpe-industrial.
Scree of rejectamenta. Workshops writing car epitaphs
in rust; warehouses staffed in the day by tired teenagers;
superstores and self-storage depots of bright colours and
cartoon fonts amid bleaching trash. London is an endless
skirmish between angles and emptiness . . . an arena of
scrubland, overlooked by suspended roads.
Kraken evolves around the disappearance
of a giant squid nicknamed “Archie”—for Architeuthis—floating
in its preservative at the British Natural History Museum's Darwin
Center in London. To think how anyone could steal such a massive
thing including its glass tank is madness. Soon, a man's body
is found stuffed in a shortnecked apothecary jar, bewildering
as a model of the HMS Golden Hind inside
Old Pulteney scotch
bottle. Ever see a time-lapse film of a complex-petaled
English peony go from bud to full, majestic bloom? Well, you
are about to be overwhelmed in the necromantic underside of a
metropolis containing 8 million human beings.
Notice I said human beings,
not souls or spirits or devils or angels, or even intelligent
protoplasm and ever-morphing dermis, as well as buildings with
faces, statues that talk, even dogs, cats, birds and mice working
picket lines together. You're gonna meet gobs of non-humans and
transformed humans alike. And accept them into your existence
as easy as new family members. It seems like Aboveside London
is merely a billboard for Baedeker's, while Underside London
is, well, hold on, because like sliding into the cockpit of a
McLaren F-1, it's gonna take some getting used to all the gadgetry.
But the propulsion through this unique space is worth every mach-second
of the ride.
Your driver is Billy Harrow, a taxonomiser
who lovingly laid to rest Archie in its new home. Now, he's this
specimen's tour guide and the discoverer of the plotspring's
squidnapping. A young Tom Hanks-like Everyguy, he's baffled,
then inquisitive, then heroic. He's immediately joined by a speargun-carrying
warrior/soldier named Dane Parnell, newly excommunicated from
the Church of God Kraken, in the search for this missing leviathan.
The Underside's aether is buzzing that it's a god and that Billy's
been enamoured with arcane powers by the Museum's memory angel.
But, most cataclysmically, it has a pivotal role in the oncoming
Armageddon By Fire.
Their first and most ruthless adversary
is Tattoo, a powerful consciousness trapped in the ink on some
guy named Paul's back, yet able to command peerless assassin
teams like Goss and Subby who can just drink you up in one
gulp quick as a finger snap. Fanning out the list of puzzle-addicted
seekers is a trio team from the bobby squad's FSRC—the
Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit—with frontrunner “police
witch” (MacMillian UK, ISBN 9780333989500, c.2010,
p.212) Kath Collingswood
whose arsenal includes “knacks”, a potpourri of low-level but
effective spells and charms, and a mouthful of highly-inventive
obscenities directed at just about everybody(1). Then
there's Marge, lover of Billy's best friend Leon who gets disappeared
early on. She represents the no-clue but resolute tyro. She ends
up with a spelltrapper I-Pod to keep her defended on the understreets
and a reluctant sponsor for the Tattoo-carrying Paul, who's escaped
and added to the Most Wanted List.
Along the way, an aquatic cosmology is fundamentalized
where the kraken is a god of this world, where mollusk has rebutted
molten rock as the core of the earth, and Noah has been translated
into guiding a submarine instead of an ark. ”But those chosen
for the watered paradise had failed, and God had been wrathful
and withdrawn the seas. That landscape of punishment was where
we lived, exiled from the ocean” (p.271). It's all Underworld,
Underbelly, Underwater Creationsim.
Humping this growing pandemonium clock-ticking
an apocalypto to end this “thuggish millennium” (p.286) in probably
the next chapter or so, Our Heroes strap on the adjective "Action"
and brev down to strip balloons like “we
have to go” or “what are you talking about?” or “what do we do?” By
the time they face an even bigger archenemy, Grisamentum, who,
to beat a fatal disease, has pyroed himself to ash then defronted
into ink, Billy and Dane are driving around in
a lorry with the sloshing Archie in the back and the seats fulla
I know, I know, any synopsis sounds like
YA, comicbook babble. But this is Through
the Looking Glass gone nova, resonating with confections
furtively glimpsed by your rational mind, while ringing you like
a gong with ecclesiastical brain fucks. But, admittedly, as Mr.
Toad's Wild Ride(2) continues,
it leaves the conventional tracks for the feverishly-outrageous
until the inevitable happens: a leap from the wondermentally
bizarre into the smirking absurd. So, if your sustainability
seatbelt is not firmly fastened, Kraken can
disbelieve rapidly from its surreal stopovers in uncharted territory
to deflating dirigibles of Dadaistic nonsense when pie-eyed intellections
like rough-up boys with closed fists for heads called Knuckleheads
or the staging of two, competing Apocalypses, rumble the night
streets of London. Then there's Gunfarmers, whose bullets germinate
in ruined flesh to create more, well, guns. And don't forget
gangs of Chaos Nazis, Broodists, Sisters of the Noose, and Jason
Smyle, the “proletarian
chameleon” (p.304), who can hex anyone into thinking they vaguely
know and like him.
It culminates in a tidal wave of pataphysical
confrontation, confusion, and unbridled egregiousness at the
Embassy of the Sea, where Grisamentum's ink-driven paper monsterherds
re-animate the dead kraken to meld with its now-zombie ink into
persuading a re-write of reality. But this opens to another agenda,
an assemblage of history involving “time-fire” (p.468) and Charles
Darwin. And, oh yeah, Billy dies, but not really.
Is China Mieville a literary god? And this
merely one book of his bible? Well, as far as I'm concerned,
there's no jury yet formed to tell if Kraken is
genius afloat or blubber below.
don'cha get it, you shitfoxing little cuntwasp muching wanktoast?
1955 attraction is still operational in the Magic Castle in Anaheim.
09/18/2011 by Larry Crawford
THINGS by THOMAS TESSIER,
This is a small book containing an even smaller story
because it splits its 233 pages with "Scramburg, USA"—a
brief novelette that I didn't read—for
its 2011 reimagining by horror boutique publisher, Cemetery Dance.
This is the familiar formula of registering a detective quest with
a fantasy finale, not as intricate as John Connolly's genre fusions,
nor as immersed as Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt's vampire shamus series,
but then again, author Tessier is a Horror guy, if that's any
But then again, excuses are like peyote trips: you have to swallow
something regurgitatingly-awful to even get in the game.
You know, like a 1st-person point man who is an investigator for
the insurance cartels and scores with the only hot women in this
Jack Carlson gets the call on some policy-bending happening
furtive agent in question eats lead, followed closely by his
Cops call it a LSMS—lover's spat murder/suicide—but
Big Jack probes deeper, especially into a local pole dancer named
Kelly. This is not Shakespeare, but something's rotten everywhere,
encompassing the "postcard bright and tidy"(Cemetery
Dance, ISBN 1587671743, c.2011,
under the malevolent umbrella of the Order of Saint Michael, an
ancient stain brought over by Mayflower-era persecutees. Apparently,
this country burg is like Sedona, Arizona, "where the veil
between this world and the next . . . is very thin"(p.129)
and Storm Constantine's Fan Club can hang out and compare Lucifer
to his brother Jesus, because "they are both the way to God"(p.128).
Yeah, some more Fallen Angel stuff about all mankind losing its
wings when we hit this Earth called Hell. Do you care about the
obligatory, tie-'em-nekkid-'an-eagle-spread, exsanguinated sacrifice,
or reach-for-it-Indie(3) "unpredictable" conclusion?
Well then, don't read this footnote(4).
this means somewhere Back East that's not Big Apple or Jersey Shore,
that has, like, creepy woods isolated enough for hangin' up human
intestines like last week's laundry.
2) yeah, she takes first-date,
un-safe, dick-tation from Jack. It must be the pocket protector & pen
gift set that makes him so irresistible.
3) I know, geekedly obscure,
but I got a hotflash from the ending of The Last Crusade (1989): "I
can almost reach it, Dad" . . . "Indiana, let it go"
. . .
4) SPOILER! so who wrote
all this down if the 1st-P protagonist is certainly whacked in
the story's last scene? At least there's no pro/epilogue bullshit
framing. Have we softened our boundaries of practiced believability
since Susanna Moore's damn-the-rules-I-wanna-be-a-famous-person!
un-needed mistep ending In
The Cut from
1995? Or, are we to conclude that atheist Jack Carlson is "saved"
and harping at us from some other-dimensional cloud?
10/10/2011 by Larry Crawford
CITY by LAUREN BEUKES,
Let me see if I've got this straight: you
commit murder, you get an animal. And if you're carryin' an animal
around Jozi-town, you're forced to live in a kinda District
9 ghetto called Zoo
City. I doubt anybody has pets anymore, ‘cause citizens
wouldn't want the veil of criminality shrouding their upstandin'
reputations. Africa is
a continent of many rare and important things, especially the way
indigenous people concoct a spirit world bonding
them with the Earth, plants, the elements, and, ah, animals.
I guess I never thought much about the travail needed for such
vaulting imagination to florish next door to a modern, clockwork
Because, coming from a 21st Century, techno
urban industrial, babbled-by-humans infoverse in a metalstamped
landscape held together by computer glue, I had a tough time
reading through this fuzzy mystery setup
constantly being prodded by its major withhold of getting “animalled”.
It doesn't help that author Beukes wants to write fantasy instead
of science fiction. It's “magick”,
you see, no explanation needed, although there is a hasty insert
about a film student turned Afghan warlord fighting with a penquin
in a bulletproof vest who is labeled “Patient
Zero” of the breakout Zoo Plague (Angry Robot, ISBN 9780857660558,
p.79). But this is absurdist
legendry, isn't it? The allusion is cynical but not informative,
The facts are vague, but our heroine, Zinzi
December, apparently killed her brother by default, but it was
enough to raise up the Undertow to present her with a lifetime
Sloth.This opens a lot of user/re-hab issues for Zinzi,
as if it's a bona-fide Rite of Passage these days. You know, Birth,
Puberty, Addiction, Adulthood, Marriage & Procreation, Death,
in any order you choose. There's
this druggie guide to guilt, atonement, and resurrection in the
symbolism, I think, maybe. I'll
limp around the obvious
AIDS virus parallel with being under the "zoodar"(p.308)
while pointing out some well-placed landmines associated
to addicts' behavior, like externalizing the blame so us junkies
can think we're “just
meat with faulty programming” (p.183). I like
to call this the Jessica Rabbit defense: “I'm not bad, I was
just drawn that way.” Anyway, Sloth doesn't help
Zinzi like Mr. Ed braying out answers and solutions, or Blood
findin' cooze for Vic in Ellison's A
Boy And His Dog (1969).
Sloth pretty much stops at Burden,
however cuddley. Too bad, too, ‘cause there's not a lot of sharper
tools in the workshop than Sloth. Even Boyfriend—that'd be Benoit
supporting Mongoose—seems more of a shadow from the rough draft,
and only around to add to the personal betrayals and help with
the final Big Boss Battle. The villains, also, are straight out
of Casting, led by the Corrupt and Evil Talent Producer—that'd
be Odi Huron with Crocodile—who
hornswaggles Zinzi into locating his runaway Lindsay Lohan-like
teen talent, who is guaranteed to go platinum with her next ringtone
release. See, gettin' animalled also gets you a magical ability,
hence Zinzi sees empyreal strings to lost things so there's something—like
a plot—to hang visions-an'-ideas onto while we stumble around
looking for somewhere to drop anchor.
And after mainspring and characterization,
what's left? Well, there's atmosphere, I guess. But I never got
a sense of placement other than the junkie hovel tour of any
major urban slumsite meltdown. Is this
in South friggin' Africa
or USA Newark?
The writing, however, is smart enough to
think this is social satire. Author Beukes has a smug way with
sound-byte phrasing, like "mutually assured desperation"(p.57),
"relentlessly modern"(p.107), "consumerist sanctity"(p.257),
or even "more manicured than a porn star's topiary"(p.87). First-person
mouthpiece Zinzi adds just enough weary bitterness to her sass
to be endearing, and her flirty brass makes you wanna
know more about her “dirty
419 scam habit” (back
cover blurb). So, don't get me wrong: I enjoyed reading this
book. It was fun. It was, well, like a savory wedge of Swiss
cheese where the holes are an important part of its personal
identification, but they're still, ah, holes.
10/25/2011 by Larry Crawford
SOULS by POPPY Z. BRITE, c.1992
The voice crested into laughter, lewd and
savage. Ghost thought of a blank soul, a being with no
morals and no passions except those that could be gratified
at a moment's notice, a mad child allowed to rage out of
—Delacorte Press (ISBN 0385308752), p.188
Lost Souls is a runaway train ride through
the ill-chosen but embraced sub-culture of disenfranchised youth.
In every generation there's this lost and dangerous set of tracks
spurring off from the race to maturity. Most of us chance the
posted warnings but don't travel much further than we can rationalize.
We all have friends who did and never came back. In almost all
cases, buried in that continuous warp of immature ego and id
battling to smooth out the push-pulls of desire, accomplishment,
curiosity, obsession, ambition, enjoyment, et al., along the pleasure
and pain of life's directions, there's an emerald-eyed ogre called “excess” just
itching to bloat past those safety signposts and drive you straight
vampires in Lost Souls are perilously
close to people you know or at least have heard about living right
now in this perfumed and profane world. They are a fascinating
combination of Goth Metal heads, Peter Pan's Lost Boys, streetwise
junkie thugs and a pack of fearless jackals, as dreamed by a young
Brett Easton Ellis channeling a never-old Hunter S. Thompson. This
is wanton disaffection engendered from pre-adulthood angst, fantasized
into petulant defilement, open mockery, and sheer butchery.
Since there's no plot—well, not much of one, anyway—the
strength is on the shoulders of the characters. As to their
importance, well, the victim-hero is named Nothing and the seeker-hero
is called Ghost, with the oldest, sage-like vampire known as Christian.
Atmospherics shine brilliantly in scenes of steamy and seedy
New Orleans, the unbridled capital of vampirism a la Anne Rice's
theatrical influence. However, Lost
Souls is anarchy, not history; it is debauchery, not refinement.
This is the celebration of sheer indulgence, and it is coveted
in this novel as much as the freedom needed to embrace it. There
is also the balancing hope and stubbornness of charity incorporated
in the non-vamp but spectral seer, Ghost. The bonds of true friendship
stand throughout as the only redeeming force in Souls'
ramped-up reality of blood mayhem, omnivoristic sexuality, and
brain-bludgeoning intoxication. The characters spend a lot of time
picking at scabs or finger painting in fresh blood. They don't
take showers and find sleeping in a sweaty pile inside a beater
van pleasurable. Their sense of humor is definitely of the graveyard
Yet these vampires are not much different from the
human herd. Sunlight doesn't bother them, they don't have straw-like
fangs, and blood is not their main dish. They are, however, immortal
and quite rare, which are the dissemblances author Brite is emphasizing.
Fitting into the vulgarity of their exploits, procreation is not
achieved by the neckbiter's blood, but by semen, further black-tarred
because the newborn eats its way out of Mommy's womb. And as for
chewing, these pre-millennium suckers are all about the sensation
of the impetuous kill, not its sustenance.
Beyond the fancied control and entitlement whinings so
cliché with modern youth,
there's a lot of subliminal
anger in this imagining, seething around the proverbial target:
societal authority figures, especially parental. They file their
own teeth, these tween-aged vamps—the pack's average age is 100 years—making
for a rather gruesomely-feral savoring on their nightly, nihilistic
The strength of the novel is told in its title, Lost
Souls. There's this Jim Morrison-esque longing for fulfillment
in rejecting main-street values, then substituting impossible dreams
for new meaning to things yet to be found. It is lost, fuzzy thinking,
but, while waiting for Word, excessive stimulation substitutes
for focused direction. There is really no perception of time past
Now to the initiated. It is a refreshing reminder that predatory,
legendary monsters should be anything but admired, yet there remains
that vicarious tingle to the moral outrage of embracing savagery
against humanity. As a result, Lost Souls is easily the
most hedonistic, the most ethically corrupt novel you'll read this
year, as long as you stay away from Littell's The
Kindly Ones, that is.
I don't view Lost Souls as a poorly-written
book or a bad read. Quite the contrary. It's contending—in a degenerating
sort of way—to join that category I'll call The Schindler's List.
You know, those things formed of exquisite energy, emotion and
insight, destined for places of importance and influence, but contain
such disagreeable yet poignant subject matter that they are difficult,
troublesome, and painful to visit, grudging admiration be damned.
Throw in Steinbeck's Of
Mice and Men, Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago,
Plath's The Bell Jar, and Shute's On the Beach, but
leave me off the reading group list. As far as Lost Souls go,
I just don't want to ever know or meet any of these people ever
again, and that includes even you, Ghost.
11/15/2011 by Larry Crawford
COLD THE RIVER by MICHAEL
Lots of times, reading choices are based on circumstances.
alarmingly dismal or just the opposite—like carelessly audacious—probably Alive! is
not your pick for
a plane ride over the Andes. I needed a book to spend a weekend
with in the Los Angeles area. To me, Southern California is like
an aging resort in such constant renovation and
expansion as to be unrecognizable. If you eliminate a century
of greedy, dream-seeking immigrants and their feverish terraforming,
underneath the L.A. basin buildup is Eden. There's magic in the
ground. Disneyland and Hollywood are just two examples of genuine,
pervasive visions that have flourished from this portal.
So Cold The River was the perfect pick.
We have a failed filmmaker for a protagonist, a William Hearst/Bugsy
Siegal wannabe/willbe comboed clone for an antagonist with a
BooBoo-like sidekick, a beautiful, caring Nursie-poo for a not-so-estranged
wife, and a gym-fit, pug-fisted, Porsche-driving (it's a Cayenne), smart-ass
back-up buddy who just happens to be Black. Throw this character
list into a quest story that quickly stinks up supernatural,
and you've got a Laguna Beach book.
There's even magic in the ground, called Pluto
Taking a bio-pic job after performance anxiety
has wiped out his film career, Eric Shaw sees a comeback in
his grasp after he samples some 80-year old mineral water from
an eclectic resort in Indiana. This bottled spirit hits him
like Stanley's first batch of Owsley Purple, intimately acquainting
him with a long-dead thug named Campbell Bradford. Only problem
is, it's Campbell who intends on coming back.
The critics compare to Stephen King in reviews--maybe
for the slight similarity in spooky mainsets between the Overlook
Hotel and the West Baden Springs Resort--but this's bait tasting
worse than the sulphuric seltzer from Lost River's Wesley Chapel
Gulf. Author Koryta is certainly a skilled storyteller and might
even be as verbose as King, but he's nowhere near as twisted,
daunting, and captivating while turning your hair white. They're
both good, but it's like preferring bread toasted or soaked in
milk. I say this because my reading experience with these two
authors is damn near antipodal: King's horror thrillers gain
with intensity until they're impossible to put down, while Koryta's
bursts out of the gate like a bird dog, points the way, then
settles in while you ramble amicably along to conclusion. It's
an attentive read, but not a particularly scary one.
And for no reason,
I left this book in Rancho Cucamonga at page 390 out of 508
and just let it bleed out.
11/17/2011 by Larry Crawford
BOOK by CONNIE WILLIS, c.1992
After leering a year at 50's Pulp covers, you'd think
I wouldn't be swayed by cheesy, inappropriate cover art, but even
though everyone told me this is a benchmark work,
I couldn't face reading some Courtly Romance
like some girly-man, eh?(4) Then, my consternation got worse when
I realized there was no crime theme . . . hey, NO crime theme!
I know, you Mainstreamers are shrugging your shoulders, but do
you realize how many stories out there in current Cultureville
are crime themed? Like, all of them, dude. How unusual to ponder
a 600-page novel that finds something more important than criminal
Yeah, it's called The
Black Death of 1348 AD.
The novel is really two stories starting together,
splitting into dual timeframes, then regrouping. Somewhat
loquacious yet cohesive, it fires off about 50 years ahead of us.
Oxford is still oh so ‘90s while strangling in pedantic nonsense,
bureaucratic haboobs, squeezed goods and services, and an over-populated
blend of protesters, victims, and under-appreciated, scholarly
brilliance. Somehow, some way they've discovered time travel,
you betcha. A young, female historian named Kivrin is sent back
to 1320 for study of agrarian life just prior to the most devastating
catastrophe in recorded history, which swiped off about 150 million
people—that's 1/2 of Europe—out of a world population base of
The drop is totally bollixed. Kivrin becomes ill
immediately, mushing up her introduction to rural, medieval society
with hallucinations and false expectations to the point where she
has to plead insomnia to be accepted into the gentry's country
The Lord of the manor is not present, so Kivrin is befriended by Lady Eliwys
and her two daughters—one a child and the other a tween—and her crone mother-in-law
who mistrusts Kivrin from the beginning.
Beyond the subterfuge, Kivrin's biggest anxiety is finding
the drop zone so she can return in 2 weeks.
Meanwhile, back in modern Oxford, what Kivrin has
caught ends up the start of a localized viral epidemic that puts
the citizenry near death and into utter, disaster-level chaos.
With time-net technicians fever babbling and administrators rushing
to cover their own, vulnerable backsides, the major bumble of the
time transference is missed: Kivrin didn't go to 1320, she's in
1348 amidst the Christmas holidays that brought humanity its worst
present of all. The bulk of the novel innercuts these
time frames, contrasting lifestyles and belief systems under the
threat of a runaway pandemic separated by 700 years of knowledge
This middle section swallows
up about 2/3s of the oscillating narrative. And, let's face it,
to modern sensibilities, the Middle Ages were brutal, tedious,
stultifying, and just downright dour. Kivrin smacks into braying
ignorance, asinine prejudice, and familiar petty power games beyond
the crushing hardships of living without effective medicines, sanitation,
or even a working fireplace.(1) It
quickly becomes obvious why the Church claimed so much of peasant
life: the hope of salvation meant a respite from blistering toil
and spirit-crushing despair. All the familiar bullet points are
here, from a January/May contract marriage, through odoriferous
overwhelm with “excrement
and bad meat and decomposition” (Bantam, ISBN 0553081314, BCE,
c.1992, p.8), to a decimated population terrorized and perplexed
why their god would destroy them in such hateful wrath.
In the current timeframe, the viral spread is deemed
less dangerous yet barely contained due to poor planning, inept
bureaucracy, vacant leadership, and general denial. Fortunately,
dedicated individuals overstep the floundering institutions and
its blustering functionaries for successful closure. In contrast,
hardly anyone dies before an antidote can be produced. With tongue
firmly in cheek, author Willis injects far more humor into these
sections: acting head of the History Dept Gilchrist(2) is
channeling cartoon Dilbert 's
devil-horned boss; teenaged pro tem adjunct Colin grosses out everybody
by nonchalantly inspecting his “gobstopper” and substituting “apocalyptic” for “bitchin'” in
every exclamatory sentence; the custodian decrying “we're nearly
out of . . .” every time he's encountered. And Mrs. Gladdon, the
over-bearing mother—her son manages to remain mostly offstage and
under the stairway with every girl he can get his hands on—heeding
the call from the clouds to feverishly read Scripture to patients
too sick to avoid her. Although it falls short of looking like The
Marx Bros. at the Apocalypse, the mockery in the current
cycle does well to underscore the deadly seriousness of Kivrin's
With this, the biggest snarls bring perspective:
any modern disaster—whether
it be AIDS, Katrina, or 911—fades like the latest Adam Sandler
comedy when compared to The Black Death. The Dark Ages didn't have
a chance against it, and Doomsday Book slyly points out
that, even though we now have the medical technology, our own regulatory
entanglements and the short-sighted, company-men who manage these
corpulent institutions could be just as impotent. This, of course,
was contemplated before the 21st Century highlighted the car bomb,
suitcase nukes, and the C-4 terrorist vest as further means to
mass destruction. Connie Willis has shown us nobility, terror,
incompetence, strength and courage of humanity when facing runaway
disaster. Let's hope we're prepared for the future, and don't have
to resort to blaming China this time.(3)
were not introduced into English homes until much later.
If there's a human villain, this is him. Even his name is ironic,
as “gil” comes
from the Irish meaning “devotee”, and Gilchrist's decisions make him as intractable,
incompetent, and ineffective as the largest social organization—The Church—was
during the Plague.
3) It is theorized that the
Black Plague started around 1342 when a flea hopped on a rat in
China on its way down the Silk Road via the Crimea to Europe.
4) Talk about Swallowin' Back Dem
Words, I loved Lorna Doone! (see review here).
12/31/2011 by Larry Crawford