Reviewing the Pages: Wild Cards I

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The first volume of George R. R. Martin’s WILD CARDS shared-world series, back in print after a decade—and expanded with new, original material.

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

This is my second read-through of this story collection, and I have to say, my rating will not change. There are some stories in here that are masterful in their creation, and there are some others that are really lacking in their execution. The whole world is creative, and while the characters are actually flawed in one way or another, there is a lot that this world has to offer that we just don’t get. Yes, the epilogue and appendix serve as a way of getting some explanation as to the details of the Wild Card Virus (including a well-thought out speech (lecture) on how the Wild Card Virus is primarily PSI in nature). However, don’t shy away from this read. For all of it’s flaws, it sets up a world that has survived and thrived going on four decades now. I recommend those who like tales that are both dystopian and alternative-history in nature. You never know, you just might find this to be an Ace.

Well, as stated above, I’ve read this book before.  But, it had been pretty much two years since I last read this book, so it’s been an interesting journey to dive right back into the Wild Cards universe.  And I have to say, there were some short stories that I did enjoy, and some that I downright despised.  Why? Because some of the stories were too disjointed; way too all over the place to be coherent.  Granted, I like some of the characters within those stories, but their stories just didn’t do it for me.  There are also some character that I wasn’t huge fans of, like Fortunato and Puppetman.  In Puppetman’s case, it’s because his involvement in the story was confusing (even though that he’s pulling strings like a puppet master, and the end reveal was good, it just gave me that weird feeling).  For Fortunato, it’s just his powers in general.  There are some characters in here that I’m not sure are Aces or Deuces.

There are a lot of real-world events that come across in this story, and a lot of real-world themes like discrimination (putting Jokers in the shoes of those in the minority during the Civil Rights era).  There are also a lot of very heavy themes, with violence and various themes of a sexual nature (including rape), so a fair warning to those who are ready to dive into this collection, be careful.

One of the good things that I like about this read is that, while we have several different authors writing for this book, we get a lot of interconnected characters.  Multiple characters get brought through different stories, whether it’s the Sleeper and his ever-changing faces; The Great and Powerful Turtle in his armored body; or other characters like Fortunato and Gimli.

Don’t let my review give you second thoughts about picking this one up.  It may not be that great, but it’s the first in what appears to be a very large series.  There are going to be some hiccups along the way.  Dive right into this series folks, and enjoy questioning everything you once knew.

Reviewing the Pages: Night Shift

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More than twenty-five stories of horror and nightmarish fantasy transform everyday situations into experiences of compelling terror in the worlds of the living, the dying, and the nonliving.

“Jerusalem’s Lot” Previously unpublished
“Graveyard Shift” October 1970 issue of Cavalier
“Night Surf” Spring 1969 issue of Ubris
“I Am the Doorway” March 1971 issue of Cavalier
“The Mangler” December 1972 issue of Cavalier
“The Boogeyman” March 1973 issue of Cavalier
“Gray Matter” October 1973 issue of Cavalier
“Battleground” September 1972 issue of Cavalier
“Trucks” June 1973 issue of Cavalier
“Sometimes They Come Back” March 1974 issue of Cavalier
“Strawberry Spring” Fall 1968 issue of Ubris
“The Ledge” July 1976 issue of Penthouse
“The Lawnmower Man” May 1975 issue of Cavalier
“Quitters, Inc.” Previously unpublished
“I Know What You Need” September 1976 issue of Cosmopolitan
“Children of the Corn” March 1977 issue of Penthouse
“The Last Rung on the Ladder” Previously unpublished
“The Man Who Loved Flowers” August 1977 issue of Gallery
“One for the Road” March/April 1977 issue of Maine
“The Woman in the Room” Previously unpublished

Night Shift is a collection of twenty short stories that are all designed to fill you with terror and dread. And it does a very good job of that. Whether it’s continuing on with some of the stories in his already extensive library; or creating new stories that will become a part of horror culture, in both good and bad ways. There are a lot of stories here that have become either big screen or made-for-TV movies, or either TV shows or mini-series. Each one of these short stories contain the right amount of horror for the length that the story was. Which is good. Sometimes there’s too much horror in a short piece, and not enough time within the pages to dissipate it. For those of you who like short horror, and haven’t read many from Stephen King, then this read is one worth checking out.

Well, there’s not much more that I want to elaborate on.  I will add in my thoughts on the individual short stories as I had posted them during the course of my reading through this book.

“Jerusalem’s Lot”–King dipped into Lovecraftian horror with this one, which ties in to ‘Salem’s Lot in a way.

“Graveyard Shift”–What is it with rats and horror? In this case…the rats ARE the horror.

“Night Surf”–A precursor, or prequel-in-idea story to The Stand, the horror isn’t in the horror of catching A6, it’s the human fear of dying.

“I Am the Doorway”–not even space can escape King’s touch of horror. Couldn’t imagine having that happen to me.

“The Mangler”: almost by pure chance, a demon possesses a powerful machine and causes havoc.

“The Boogeyman”–a very…unique take on talking to the monster. Lots of in-depth analysis to be had here.

“Grey Matter”–not much I can explain about this one. Man drinks a foul beer and becomes a giant grey blob that is starting to divide.

“Battleground”–I love this story! Such a fun concept.

“Trucks”–What happens when an unexplained event causes machines (in this case, tractor-trailers) gain a mind of their own? This short story gives us an idea.

“Sometimes They Come Back”–Ghosts and demons, a perfect horror mix with childhood trauma as the catalyst event for it.

“Strawberry Spring”–Interesting premise for this tale. Weather phenomenon causing one person to get…murderous? Ending leaves the story in ambiguity.

“The Ledge”–Well, what would you expect when you try to run away with the wife of a criminal syndicate boss that has known to be a little sadistic? With the crime boss’ penchant to lie, the ending is a little ambiguous.

“The Lawnmower Man”–This is what happens when you let a Greek god start a lawn service.

“Quitters Inc.”–Interesting short story. Unlikely to happen in today’s society, but still, interesting concept.

“I Know What You Need”–A little bit of black magic to gain love? Don’t you know that any sort of magic won’t get you love?

“Children of the Corn”–Religion and horror don’t mix very often, but it can certainly be scary.

“The Last Rung on the Ladder”–A story, which while the premise is more suspenseful than terrifying; it’s the underlying terror of drifting apart and the guilt of not contacting loved ones before they leave our plane of existence. A theme that hits to close to home this week.

“The Man Who Loved Flowers”–This story almost didn’t seem like it was going to have a tinge of darkness in it, until the very end.

“One for the Road”–So, we got a prequel for ‘Salem’s Lot, and now we get a sequel…of sorts. More like a small continuation of the story that falls a few years after the ending.

“The Woman in the Room”–Horror based in reality can always be the scariest, and watching a loved one wither away can be downright terrifying.

Reviewing the Pages: I Died Yesterday

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Revenge. Respect. Regret.

Sometimes doing the ‘right’ thing brings out the wrong in people.

I Died Yesterday – A evening with an old friend becomes a morning after that lasts for ever.
Chopper – A young man’s pursuit of his dream unearths a nightmare.
A Decision at Dusk – If you could bring someone back from the dead, would you use the power to help or hurt?
Sunflower – When the establishment fights back, they break more than the rules.
A View – Some noises are best left uninvestigated.

These stories are not happy, but they leave their mark. Some are set in our world; some are set in an alternate world (that of the Lords of Misrule series). This anthology combines dark humour, psychological terror, horror, and a splash of brightly coloured gore. It packs an emotional punch made even more harrowing by the paper-thin divide between reality and fiction.

Five uniquely individual short stories; each one uniquely crafted to bring a different sort of horror to the reader. As the author mentions, two of the short stories are not of our world, and I felt that those are the “weakest” of these five stories. I only say that they are the “weakest” because I don’t know the world that they are based in. However, they are not bad stories at all. Some of the references and things in those stories are lost on this reader, which I may have to remedy one of these days. But, other than that, the three stories based in this world are incredibly horrifying. Sometimes you can see the twist coming; but other times you won’t see it until it’s right on top of you. And it’s exciting. I would highly recommend this short story collection. Borrowing this from R.L. Stine: “Reader beware, you’re in for a scare.”

Wow.  That first story man.  That was BRUTAL.  At the very beginning of “I Died Yesterday”, you would have thought that the MC of the story was the one that died.  But then, it changes.  Quickly.  The MC is very unreliable, and even though you can figure out the ending, it’s the way that Graham gets to it is suspenseful.

The second short story, “Chopper” was much more confusing, and wasn’t as…enjoyable…as the first (not that the first story’s subject material was enjoyable, but it was a good story).  Our narrator here is not as unreliable as the first one, but isn’t all there with his imagination running wild.  I was excited about the twist that I wasn’t expecting to come out of this, which made the ending that much more interesting.

“A Decision at Dusk” gives us a unique perspective into necromancy, even if the story doesn’t flat out say it.  I like the premise that this druid is battling with resurrecting her brother vs the happiness of her niece, while also flaunting that she does this again and again to the man that killed her brother.  Though, the jaunt down to the village at the end gave me something to think about.  One little line made me pause…and think.  Is there more to Mia than we thought? Is that why the rumor about arms most prevalent? Another excellent story here.

“Sunflowers” is another horrifying tale.  This time, I’m unsure on just who to blame here.  The MC seems to have gotten herself into this mess by sticking her nose into business that doesn’t belong.  That leads her to getting kidnapped, tortured, and maybe even raped? I’m not sure about that last bit.  But, the unspeakable horror comes at the very end.  I was wondering where all this was going with the mentions about her brother.  Another hair raising story.  Just don’t take this one lightly.

“A View” is a read that reminds me of something that I think about constantly, and talk to people about on a regular basis.  If a character doesn’t do this particular action, would we actually have a story? This is one of those cases.  If our MC, with a very distinctive body…modification, wouldn’t have tried to satisfy his curiosity, would the ending of the story be different.  There are so many questions that I have that I want answered, and I’m not going to find them in these pages.

Reviewing the Pages: Horror Girls

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Get ready for a non-stop thrill-ride through the forgotten, lonely places of the world: Cemeteries, Swamps, Forests, and Haunted Houses… perhaps even your house! Meet the monsters who dwell within: Demons, Ghosts, Mutants, Psychos, and Vampires. All the hungry beasts who lurk just out of sight, waiting to devour and destroy.

You get 8 great stories, including an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu Mythos shocker, plus grisly poems like, “These Teeth Will Love You,” and “Black Gloves, Sharp Knife.”

If you love horror, you don’t dare miss these demented stories of Demons, Ghosts, Vampires and more…

Ok. Now, I’m a horror fan. I love me some scares. And this book…doesn’t quite scratch that itch. Well, I should say collection of short stories. Some of them are rather short, while others aren’t nearly as short. Now, while I don’t mind the use of teenagers as protagonist, I also felt like there needed to be something…different about some of the characters. All of them, save one, had a severe lack of depth to them. These girls have some sort of problem, whether it’s with a boy, or because their lives aren’t what they want them to be. I don’t know. Except for the last story, I wasn’t very thrilled with this as a whole. If you enjoy brief snippets of horror, then this read is for you.

Alright fans of the horror genre, this is a very tame foray into the spooky.  There’s just not enough here to grasp my insides and chill them with fear and dread.  The only two stories I liked were about the house doing the possessing, which is something that you don’t necessarily see all that often in stories.  The other was a tale that skirts the very outer edges of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I can actually see fitting in a little bit (since I’m only really familiar with some of Lovecraft’s major works, I’m not sure what sort of powers the other Older Gods have).

Other than that, I just wasn’t thrilled that the primary character type was teenage girl that had some sort of issue, and ended up getting taken with the supernatural to solve it.  Whether it took getting turned into a vampire, or getting possessed by the devil, they just didn’t work for me.   Yes, there isn’t much room for plot development for some of these characters, but they could be so much more motivation and drive for these characters if the author didn’t also focus on a very specific character typing.  One story in particular really bugged me because the “horror” aspect of it was a last second addition that seemed very hokey.

The other thing that bugged me about this is that some of these stories are a bit too short.  Just when I got into them, they ended.  But, don’t let my hatred of certain aspects of this collection deter you from reading it.  If you are a fan of horror, and want to have a quick read, then you should check out this collection.

Reviewing the Pages: Defiled Earth and other tales

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Defiled Earth is a collection of dark tales for fans of Stephen King and Clive Barker. The title story tracks the grim acts of a small-time Newcastle thug and his efforts to bury bodies resulting from his executions. Special Pupil introduces Ken, not exactly your average student. But events move off the scale when the voice in his head tells him to exact vengeance on a community that despises him. In The wardrobe, a prospective political candidate is selected by his local party to run for office. Would party members be so keen to vote for him if they knew about the skeleton in his closet?
The fourth story is a tale of possession, but not by your standard run-of-the-mill demon, however. Deirdre has a special talent, and her skin art is a conduit to a living hell. Head tracks the final thirty minutes of a condemned man. He is sentenced to death by guillotine for performing illegal genetic experiments. But he has one last experiment to perform before he says goodbuy to those watching.
Lusus naturae is the longest story in the book. It’s Beauty and the beast in reverse. An aristocrat purchases a monster, never realising that his obsession with her leads him on a path to ruin.
Finally, Prophecy and pork chops lands the reader in Death Valley, where four spectral individuals wait to meet the Devil’s right hand man. Hex is his name, and he doesn’t tolerate failure when trying to orchestrate the end of the world.
This is Tom G.H. Adams’ debut, but it’s only the start of a chain of tales to issue from his dark pen.

Middle of the road for me, for there were some stories in this collection that are hits, and some of them are misses. Some of these stories were a little wonky, but only because I’m not fully versed in the region in which a lot of the stories take place. While the more native slang and dialect can be a put off to a lot of readers, it doesn’t take away from the overall tale. There are some tales that I would love to see expanded upon, and some of the tales could have been much shorter. If you enjoy short tales of horror, then this read is for you!

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Alright, this is my first short story collection to review on this blog, so I’m going to break down my thoughts on each of the stories, one by one.  Let’s dive right on in!

Starting off with “Defiled Earth”, this short story take the whole haunted burial ground idea and gives it life in a English moor.  I felt like the story could have been stronger, with some spots where there could have been more explanation.  But, the story is pretty good as it is, even if I personally didn’t find it all that terrifying.  Just my taste apparently.

“Special pupil” is next up in the batting order, and it serves a dual purpose as not only a very odd short story, but also to serve as a taste for Adams’ then-upcoming work.  I had so many questions, which, to the author’s credit, he addresses in the author’s note after the story ends.  Which makes me actually want to pick up Mycophoria.  I do kinda want to know what the goop coming out of our character’s ears is made out of, and what about this goop makes characters go homicidal?

“The wardrobe” makes this hit home in a way.  Sure, this is focused on the 2015 elections in Britain, it could very well be applied to a certain recent event that a lot of people are up in arms about (which some people need to grow up, but that’s a topic I’m not going to touch…EVER).  The story itself left me a little confused at times, but that may be due to my lack of familiarity with the source material.  That, or finishing this read at 1:30 or so in the morning on my lunch break while working a graveyard shift may have done something to my enjoyment of this read.

“Possession at 3,000 perforations a minute” is a lovely little tale that I wish would have much, much more detail into it.  I want to know more about where the possessions started, if the ink that our tattoo artist used was more in fact, her blood.  That, and so much more.

“Head” is a thought-experiment that all creative-brain types that dabble in science fiction thinks about.  The whole idea of subconsciousness and what the brain thinks about after death is fascinating, and until science evolves like it has here, we may never know just how much one can do before the brain finally hits the light switch as it goes out the door for the last time.

Lusus naturae” is probably the least favorite of mine out of the entire collection.  It just drug on and on.  And there were just so many things about the plot that, at least to me, made it unreadable.  Seriously? We know the only reason why he bought the monster is to get his rocks off (since she appears as a beautiful woman to those men(?) who see her), but what I don’t get is her whole character trait is ignored for the entire second half of the story.  I think it would have been a much better tale if the author went in that direction instead of going where he did.

“Prophecies and pork chops” ends out the book, and it’s a nice little story that gives us a different take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their bossman.  I kinda want to know about these characters a bit more.  Then again, I was spoiled by Good Omens and the portrayal of the Horsemen there.  But, it’s  a fun little read.

Overall, if you like horror, in all of its shapes and forms, then you should check this out.  Some of the stories or subject matter may not be to your liking, but you will find something that you’ll like, and maybe will lead you to checking out other horror in short form.