Great storytelling has very little to do with the specifics of the story itself. And what I mean by that is that when you break down a story to its core elements, they is a fairly small variety of plot types. If there’s a story out there to be told, chances are that countless others have gotten there first.
Writing is about the prose, not the gimmicks. And this is the main reason why my skepticism alarm rages at full volume whenever I see books who claim to take convention and turn it on its head. When I hear about an author who is unlike anyone who has come before them. When writing, one shouldn’t obsess over whether or not they are providing a fresh perspective on a genre or concept. Instead, one should focus on whether or not the story is being crafted at the highest level possible.
And this brings us to the story of the hour, the Goblin Glass, by Mark West.
A story about a burglar who has returned to a life of crime might not be that jaw-dropping as just a concept. And given the context of the story, the reader would likely anticipate that the protagonist of the story will encounter something horrific.
But what Mark West does here and what he has done so brilliantly in the books I have read is to create atmosphere and tension, so fraught that you can’t help but read on. And on.
For being such a short story, West does an excellent job establishing character. Despite knowing very little about the protagonist, save for the fact that he has clearly done wrong things in his life, I felt like he quickly became sympathetic and relatable on the page. In a thousand or so words, West manages to craft a character who we care about and is thrust into a situation of extreme stress and pressure, all leading him down the path to where he is in the bulk of the story’s narrative.
According to West, this came about as part of a themed anthology around the subject of the Ten Commandments, this story obviously inspired by thou shalt not steal. I thought he ran with this concept and really made it sing, all set against the backdrop of a universe that was beautifully bleak in its construction.
One of my favorite movies is Dark City. I love the image of that grimy industrial setting, perpetually drowned out in shadows and despair. You feel the emotional weight of the setting, not just a physical place through which the characters walk. And for me, the house in Goblin Glass functions as a perfect set piece. For me, it almost makes the entire story. It just so happens that a burglary is in process here but I would take any excuse to read more about this house.
The descriptions are vivid, making me feel like I’m the one tromping through this darkened, vile structure. The look of the place as it is put down on the page makes me feel revolted to picture and yet I couldn’t turn away – something that isn’t easy to accomplish. I could smell the dirty dishes, hear the protests of the floorboards and I was disturbed by the mirrors throughout the house, reflecting light and amplifying your fears as our hero continues going up and up, into the upper reaches of this mysterious house. The origins of all this isn’t necessarily clear. But it’s sure is scary.
Horror doesn’t necessarily require extensive explanation. For me, it’s about the creation of the moment and seeing where it goes. It’s about evoking what you can on the visual canvas of the mind. I’ve always been impressed with the writing of Mark West and this story is the perfect example.
Just so you are aware.
I have not seen the most recent Halloween movie. There have been more than enough reactions to the film for you to seek out. This review represents my thoughts on the novelization.
To start on a positive note, one thing that set Halloween (the original Carpenter film) aside from the other two massive franchises of the decade was in its use of atmosphere and foreshadowing. Michael seems to be constantly on the fringe of the story, floating in and out as a vague presence in many scenes, lending a beautifully bleak feeling of what is coming. This all is aided of course by a fantastic score.
With that fact as a kind of marinade to my point here, in general I would say that I preferred the first half of the book and I felt like the use of similar tension and foreboding was done well. As the reader with extra insight I liked the feeling of hopelessness for these characters as they go about their lives, not knowing what’s coming for them. Michael is appropriately frightening in his silent implacability. And naturally, most of those in charge don’t seem to take him seriously as a threat. And as would be expected from this franchise, we all know he’s going to escape. Still, when that scene finally arrived I thought it was done well.
One big promotional aspect for the film has been the return of Jaime Lee Curtis to her iconic role although, to be fair I’m not really sure why. Not that she isn’t an outstanding actor (she is) but of the nine movies set in the original film’s continuity, she’s appeared in five. I can’t think of any other franchise where an actor, save for the monster has appeared in so many installments. And this isn’t even the first “return” she’s made to the franchise. Maybe they should have called this H40.
More relevant I think than just JLC’s presence is that this is essentially the establishment of a new iteration of the John Carpenter universe, seeing another possibility for how things could have ended up for Laurie Strode following the fateful events of that night.
And as such, I think some great potential is present at the start of this book in the relationship Laurie has with her family. On one hand you have her daughter who grows up traumatized herself, having to live with a mother who is constantly paranoid and emotionally unstable, sure that there are monsters poised to strike out at them. And in the middle of this estranged pair is the granddaughter, now of a similar age to Laurie in the first movie.
Unfortunately, this dynamic never really seems to go anywhere. The focus jumps from one to the next, so much that the book ends up not really being about any of them. You get some broad brush strokes every now and then but for the most part, everyone just felt flat for me.
And as for Laurie as a character, I was kind of let down. I’m normally a fan of sequels in which we see how damaged our main character really is and how just because the monster might be beaten, her torture still carries on. I’m appreciative when a writer is willing to show their heroes as being broken. Unfortunately, I thought that Laurie in this became a little bit too much Sarah Conners from T2. We start from quiet, unassuming Laurie in the first movie and now she’s somehow managed the resources and funds to amass a massive arsenal in her home, which is also outfitted with so many security features that it almost becomes cartoonish. And I’m not saying that’s it’s unbelievable that she could end up a fully loaded bad-ass. I’m more than willing to take that journey. It’s just that the transition felt wrong and unexplained to me.
Frankly, I think I would have been more intrigued by a story exploring the effect violence can have on a family. Laurie’s daughter has no memory of the first encounter with Michael. That’s always been theoretical for her. But it’s the reason why she’s raised with guns and knives and self-defense training, rather than birthday parties and toys. Instead of standard slasher-flick fare, this could have been a great aspect to the story but I think by adding both a daughter and a granddaughter, it became too complicated for any of them to get a good amount of focus.
And in my biggest complaint, because I guess they just had to have a Loomis type character, the doctor who is shoehorned into this role is a fail for me. Michael’s doctor has an arc in this story that has no narrative momentum to hold it up. And he ends up taking actions at the end that makes no sense to me. You can’t have a character whose only role is to act as a twist.
The book has some great, brutal scenes involving peripheral characters but once we get everyone to Laurie’s Bat Cave, much of the sense of peril kind of dwindled away for me.
After as many installments as this franchise has seen, I suppose it’s inevitable for the plot to feel a little on the bland side. Still, for me, this book mostly goes down as a case of lost potential.
Reviews in the Machine: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu : A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley
Seeing as we are getting into the Stoker award spirit of things, I thought I would share this oldie, my review of Stoker award winning author, Mercedes Yardley, a book with a title so massive, you won’t want to have to say it more than once. Reading it however, was a joy.
Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley is a fun take on several different genres and manages to take brush strokes from each in a brilliant effort to create a new, uniquely molded book.
The has two main characters. As the story opens, Montessa is on her way home from work when she is fallen upon and abducted by serial killer, Lu. He quickly figures out that Montessa isn’t like any other women he has killed before. She is captivating to him and surprisingly, as the story shifts over to Montessa’s point of view, we find that she is becoming just as taken with Lu. In each other, Montessa and Lu discover the holes in their lives they had never realized were there in the first place.
Soon, Montessa no longer travels along with Lu as his victim, but rather as his partner and his lover.
To start, there have been plenty of stories that deal with the situation where a seemingly innocent victim is lured in by the guile of their would-be killer or kidnapper and ends up becoming a part of that world, fundamentally changing themselves into the monster they had thought they were fleeing from. It isn’t what I would call un-trodden ground but in Yardley’s capable hands, the book doesn’t have even the most remote feelings of seeming stale or overdone. I think that fundamentally, there are two different types of stories. In the first, you settle down into the book, saying to yourself, “okay, I’m reading a western”. These are the books that fit into a certain convention of expectations and tradition.
The second type are the stories that feel like genres unto themselves. It doesn’t happen as often and it doesn’t always work. But in this case, I thought that it worked very well. There were moments where I might have been reminded of other stories or films or shows I had seen before but for the most part, this felt like a fully organic, original endeavor.
I think that one of my favorite aspects of this book was how Yardley chronicles Montessa’s journey in terms of how she feels about Lu from the start and how that progresses. Any author can tell you that a character feels or thinks a certain way but it’s another thing entirely to take the reader to the point of actually understanding what they are seeing. It is to the point where I found myself saying, well of course this is what Montessa is doing, that makes total sense. What else would she do?
Both of the characters in this book are woven extremely well and there is a strong sense of them being individually defined while at the same time pieces of the same puzzle. And built into their characters is the existence of a magic of sorts, something that makes the both of them unique. I loved that Yardley resisted the urge to rush in and over-explain everything in the story. Sometimes one of the most difficult things as a writer is to sit back and just let things be what they are, without giving narrative justification. Why does magic exist in the universe of this story?
Because it does.
How is it that Montessa and Lu have their unique abilities? I’m not really sure, they just have them. I don’t think the story suffers from a lack of explanation and I also don’t think it would be enhanced by adding more backstory. It’s the perfect situation as a writer that we all strive for.
If I had one minor issue, I think it would be in how quickly Montessa and Lu’s language towards each other becomes a sort of lovers’ shorthand. The flowery nicknames for each other you would expect to hear from the characters deeply in love with each other. As the book moved on and their bond intensified, it felt more natural but as early as it started, it felt a little forced to me. But as I said, this is just one extremely minor point, in no way did it take anything away from the story.
It’s a normal phenomenon in our culture. I see it all the time so it was no surprise to me that in the wake of the massive success of The Blair Witch Project, the time would come that after many repeated iterations and knock-offs that the genre and narrative device would become a target for mocking and satire. So much so that I think even Blair Witch isn’t taken that seriously anymore.
Still, I’ve got to be honest and admit my love for found footage films. I know they’re silly and stretch all reasonable bounds of logic. I can’t help myself. I’m old enough to have seen Blair Witch in the theaters and I still love it.
In the modern era there have been two found footage films that I have particularly loved. The first would be Cloverfield, a fantastic monster movie told from the perspective of the panicked crowd.
The other is Paranormal Activity. Continue Reading
I look back over the various times of my life as well as the things that marked those particular periods and I have to say that one thing I still really love are the cheesy VHS videotape covers you would come across on the sale rack at the store or at your video rental venue of choice. I think the eighties was a great time for fun, gruesome and gritty horror flicks. These weren’t films that were made on a huge budget with an A-list cast. These were meant to be fun diversions. The kind of film where you rented or bought two more like it, invited your friends over and ordered a ton of pizzas. And I think it was this spirit, more than anything that I felt captured by Thomas S. Flowers in his upcoming book, Island of the Flesh Eaters. If Flowers has proven anything to me over the last year or so, it would be his aptitude for spinning a good zombie yarn, already demonstrated in his equally great Planet of the Dead series. I think that as a fan of zombie films, he seems to have a similar path to the one I took, paved the entire way by the greatness that was George Romero. This isn’t intended as a dig against more contemporary offerings but the zombies I grew to love early on were like this. They didn’t run. They weren’t smart. They shambled. They stumbled. And while one or two of them didn’t necessarily present much of a threat, if you found yourself trapped in a mob of the things, you were pretty much experiencing your final moments.
Zombies were brutal and extreme. An implacable force that was disturbing and scary. The premise for this book is equally simple. Mark has just found out that his sister has gone missing while vacationing at the exclusive island resort owned by the rich parents of her boyfriend. Any attempts to contact the island have failed and Mark convinces the father to let him accompany a highly-trained private security force that he has dispatched to the island. Alongside this, Rachel Hawkins is a female reporter who is determined to prove to her mostly male coworkers that she is just as capable at landing the big story. Getting a whiff of a possible scandal in the works, she has also determined to sneak aboard the boat headed for the island, in hopes of digging up some dirt and material. And as would be suggested by the awesome cover art for this book, what is waiting for them on the island is terrifying. And Flowers definitely does not fail to deliver on that implied promise.
This is not a book that drags or takes too long to get to the point. He manages to craft just the right level of suspense and dread before plunging into the frantic desperation of the second half of the book. And when I say it gets brutal, I mean BRUTAL. Characters are taken down in a blur of chapters that is a pleasure to keep up with. And this is how it should be. For me, the biggest trait of those classic zombie films was the sense of inevitable tragedy from the outset, tragedy that is never really explained. We have entered into a period of somewhat zombie saturation by this point, as the Walking Dead has exploded into our culture. Even Disney has offered up their own tenderized version of the zombie. In the light of all this, it gets harder for me to get excited with various iterations of zombie lore. Books like Eaters of the Dead give me a spark of a reminder of what it was about the thing I loved in the first place. I don’t disparage those who write and film zombie books and movies now. Things change. That’s a part of life. But I love it when artists offer up a throwback to the days when the party started.
Check this book out. You’ll be glad you did.
There are a certain amount of concepts for stories that, you have to screw it up pretty hard-core for me to not end up enjoying it. Everyone has their sweet spot when it comes to the kinds of books and movies they like to read or watch and for me, Event Horizon is right smack in the middle of the biggest sweet spot I have available.
The set up is perfect for me. An experimental, deep space exploration craft has returned, after disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The designer of the ship, played by the iconic Sam Neill is departing with a crew, captained by none other than legendary Lawrence Fishburne, for the purposes of finding out where the ship has been and what happened to the crew.
Seriously, you had me at hello. Continue Reading
The names Matt Shaw and Michael Bray should come as no surprise to anyone. The both of them have certainly been putting fiction of a high quality into the world for some time now. But at some point, the desire to spread out into new mediums clearly took hold and the two authors grabbed the steering wheel to embark on a journey. To shoot a film based on their own work. And what we have before us is the result I was finally able to watch on this side of the Atlantic.
I’ll be totally honest and admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I watched in real time as Matt and Michael departed on this endeavor, watching the various fund drives and updates that were posted to the project. I had no doubt in either their passion or their creative drive but making the jump from one medium to the other isn’t just something you do. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to shoot a movie instead of writing a book. Continue Reading
Mad Dog is the 2017 release from JR Park. I went into this unprepared and blind, save for the knowledge of the general quality of work put out by the Sinister Horror Company as being top shelf.
To start off with, I’ll be honest and admit that I was generally skeptical of the style of delivery of the narrative. Mad Dog details the events surrounding a prison riot. And the book is a direct recalling of events from the characters involved, in the form of snippets from interviews, intercut with each other. I often listen to books at work in the morning, using the text-to-speech feature on my phone. But I quickly realized this would not be a good idea with this book as the voices of the characters transition very quickly.
Despite my misgivings, the voice of the story ended up working quite well. Where I thought it was going to be messy it ended up being a perfect way to really build the tension in the pacing and made me want to read on to find out what had ultimately happened that these people are talking about retrospectively. It reminded me quite a bit of the foreshadowing that Stephen King layered into his novel, Carrie.
The physicality of the text moves quickly, jumping from person to person and it really augments the flow of the book, lending momentum to what could have been a dry recitation of historical events. Were I to have read all these interviews separately, I don’t think the book would have had the same impact.
It’s a tough decision to make and even harder to execute. When I see stories that are structurally designed in such a unique way, you can get something that’s really cool or a narrative that feels overly gimmicky. In this case I felt like this was a fantastic way to present the plot. It takes a lot of game to deliver a story of this length in expository fashion and Park pulls it off brilliantly.
This is an appropriately brutal story but there was no point where I felt it was crossing a line or was just going for shock value. This is a quality story, told with care. The plot and twists are such that aren’t completely new, but the way the story is told and the depth of the characters make it feel fresh and unique.
Mad Dog himself is enigmatic as a character. His presence is felt all over the story and the mystery of what he is or could be provides a ton of emotional drive to the plot. The viciousness of his crimes are disturbing and the air of possibility of something paranormal makes him highly effective as a character.
And in the end, we build up to a twist that is satisfying to the overall story. And again, as with the mechanics of the plot, Park takes an oft overused device and makes it work. It’s one thing to throw in a twist for the sake of it. Park does as it should be done. The turn taken by the narrative is a surprise but as it is laid out before you, and after looking back over the story, you can see how you could have come to this conclusion if you had properly put the pieces together.
Mostly what I can say is that I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to this one. I have also read Park’s book, Punch, and enjoyed that as well. And taking the two books together I can see what we have here is a fresh author who lends a unique voice to his projects. I’ll be curious to see what other offerings we get from him, either in his existing catalog or from titles yet to come.