Sunday, June 25. 2017

I've made a terrible mistake. About two years ago I read Malfi's excellent novel, Floating Staircase, and for some reason I didn't immediately seek out his other books. If you haven't read him, don't make the same mistake that I did.

In the Acknowlegements section of the book, Malfi states, "Any writer worth their salt has inside them at least one good book about their childhood."

The plot of this one concerns a close knit group of young boys who live in a small town plagued by a serial killer. What follows is a beautifully written story about the power of friendship and the trials of growing up.

I'm a connoisseur of coming-of-age novels, so believe me when I tell you that December Park will not be out of place on your bookshelf next to King's IT, McCammon's Boy's Life, Simmon's Summer of Night, or even Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.

5 stars! highly recommended

Review by Jason Cavallaro
Sunday, June 18. 2017

I've been having this pleasant daydream: George R.R. Martin, mega-famous writer of the Game of Thrones industry, didn't write all of that epic fantasy stuff. I realize that the idea sounds horrible to a lot of people, but not me. I'm sure that the books are beautifully written, but my love affair with fantasy began and ended with Tolkien. Yeah, I tried some Brooks, some Donaldson, but they weren't for me.

No, imagine with me, horror fans, that GRRM followed The Armageddon Rag with another horror novel. And another. And another after that. And so on.

Imagine if you will that Martin wrote and published big, fat, wonderfully-written horror novels ever after, to this day and beyond. Perhaps even overtaking Stephen King as the biggest writer in our dark little literary genre.

It could have happened. Really, it could have.

Before Armageddon Rag, Martin did Fevre Dream. Horror was hot and getting hotter by the day. And these two novels are as good as anything ever written in the horror field, in my slightly humble opinion. However...

While the fabled horror boom of the 80's was barrelling in, Martin kind of got left behind. The Armageddon Rag was a complete disaster. Not so much critically, but commercially. It simply did not sell.

I bought it. I distinctly remember being attracted to the cover of the paperback while I was in a grocery store. I knew GRRM's name from the Science Fiction field, where he had been working in for a decade or so beforehand. I had read some short stories, which were good. Like some others at the time, like Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Charles L. Grant, George R.R. Martin was shifting toward the lucrative horror genre.

The boom, as I said, was underway, and for my own journey from SF fan to Horror lover, Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag were both important and influential books. I devoured The Armageddon Rag over the course of a weekend, and then I located a used copy of Fevre Dream the following week, and I read it withing a couple of days.

Fevre Dream is a historical novel that sort of combines the steamboat setting of Mark Twain with Bram Stoker. It's certainly one of the greatest vampire novels ever published, and it came long before the thought of a vampire story served well as an ipecac to discerning horror readers.

I think I might like The Armageddon Rag a bit more. Rag was ahead of the curve and it beat the Splatterpunks to the rock and roll horror punch by a few years. The novel serves as a taut and scary supernatural suspense story with a hard rock backdrop, but also as a lament to the optimism and hope of the Sixties and the hippie generation.

I've read quite a few books twice, but there are precious few that I have done so more than that. I recently found the two pictured trade paperbacks at a thrift store, and I bought them. I am reading The Armageddon Rag for the third time in my life, and I think I am enjoying it more now than I did the other two times.

Why does one good book sell like gangbusters, and another tanks? If that were an answerable question, every publisher would be as flush as Fort Knox.

It makes me sad, but I doubt that George R.R. Martin, or his agent, are losing any tears over his departure from the horror genre. Still, I can dream, can't I?

And, yes, I can read these books again. As well as his novella, The Skin Game, or his nerve-jangling horror-SF short story, Sandkings. You can, and should, as well.
Kyle Lybeck's Literary Lair
Sunday, June 11. 2017

In the future universe, where you can travel through wormholes into other galaxies, the rules have changed. In these new times, there are those called FixIts. They are sent by The Company to take care of problems that may arise. These problems could be anything from discrepancies, to terraforming a planet, to outright destroying the planet entirely if it was called for. These FixIts have total control, wherever they go. Their clearance goes beyond anything else set forth, but it's that clearance that can also get them into undesirable situations.

One of these men goes by the name of Gerrold. The toll that the job as a FixIt has taken on him is unlike many others. His wife begs for him to stay with his family, to not go out on any more jobs when he's called. The problem is he has to go, there is no saying "no" to The Company. That's when Gerrold finds out something else is going on with his wife, something that will tear them apart from the inside. Then his child comes down with an extremely rare illness, and Gerrold has no other choice but to take one final unknown job, a job that could get him killed, a job that could save his child's life. In the end, a man is brought to his final reserves, pushed to his limits, and taken to hell and back for the life he has chosen.

In this latest novel by Michaelbrent Collings, it takes quite the turn from previous novels I have read and reviewed for him at The Horror Drive-In. Normally the books I read from him are fast paced, horror and thriller based. This one went in a much different direction, leaning much more towards sci-fi/thriller, with a few little tidbits of horror thrown in. I'm not going to lie, I'm not really a sci-fi fan, but the story intrigued me, so I went ahead and volunteered my time to read and review this one. The pacing is a little slower than what I had been used to from his other novels, but it still packed the same style of emotional punch I'm used to getting from Michaelbrent, with characters that make you care about who you're reading about.

Overall, I'd say if you're looking for a little change of pace from your horror novels, check this one out. It might just pique your interest and give you a nice break from the usual. I'm giving this one a solid B rating, and want to thank Michaelbrent for lending me an ARC review copy so I could write this review for you guys.

Review by Kyle Lybeck
Sunday, June 4. 2017

It probably sounds like Hell to younger horror movie lovers, but it really wasn't. I loved the VHS era, and the joy of discovering editions of classic horror movies has been without parallel in my life.

You have to understand: Having movies at hand and being able to start and stop them at will was still a new and miraculous thing. It seemed too good to be true, and we loved it all. Yes, even the atrocious cropped pictures, the hideous pan-and-scan releases, the grotesque dubbing on Eurohorror opuses, unscrupulous distributors releases cut TV prints on tape, faded bootleg copies of movies. We endured movie retitlings, completely different movies than advertised on tape boxes, you name it.

The number one place to search for tapes was video stores. There was a time when rental shops were on damned near every corner, and serious movie fans belonged to as many as reasonably possible. You would rent something, and the cost was minimal, and if it turned out that you had landed on a gold mine, you'd make an illegal duplication. Heck, you probably would burn a copy anyway, just to have it. Shh...but then I guess the statute of limitations has long passed.

Then there were music shops, department stores, discount retailers. You could usually find videotapes there. Goodtimes Home Video, Video Treasures, International Home Video, Simitar Entertainment, and others specialized in Public Domain titles. Some good stuff was to be found there. And a whole lot of crap as well.

How could you keep track of it? Blowing ten or twenty bucks on a lousy or cut movie print hurt, and it was easy to go broke doing so. Well, there were places to help.

There was The Video Eye of Dr. Cyclops, from Fangoria Magazine. Chas Balun's Deep Red covered the gore scene. There were quite a few independently produced fanzines being published at any given time, and you could find ads for them in the bigger magazines.

None were as good as Video Watchdog. Tim Lucas began this venture as a column, which first began appearing in Video Times Magazine. This was back in a prehistoric time when Tim was actually reviewing Betamax tapes. I never saw any of those when they were new, but VW eventually found a home in Gorezone, which was a sister publication of Fangoria.

Lucas had a unique approach to reviewing. While he often did review the movie itself, he seemed to be more interested in discussing their home video releases. Video Watchdog became an invaluable guide to what to spend those hard-won dollars on, and what to avoid. Tim Lucas wrote with wit, knowledge, and passion for his subjects.

The success of the column led to the inception of Video Watchdog Magazine, a beautifully-constructed and informative showcase for every aspect of genre filmmaking, with particular emphasis on home video releases.

I was a VW subscriber, and when I couldn't afford to do that anymore, I would buy copies at a local comic shop. I always enjoyed reading it, and yet I eventually stopped. Why?

Well, raising a family made money scarce in some years. Then there was the abundance of information available for free on the internet. I became jaded, and I felt that I had all movie detail and trivia I could handle.

Too much of a good thing generally leads to ambivalence.

The fun, for me, was in the hunt. The thrill of entering a new video store and wondering what may lie on its shelves. The excitement of finding a cache of buck-ninety-nine tapes in a department store. It was fun and it kept me motivated.

Sure, it's great to land a copy of the latest pristine Steelbook release, or to get a new Blu of a beloved classic. On the other hand, as far as I am concerned a lot of these movies already had perfectly fine releases on Anchor Bay or Blue Underground DVDs.

Streaming really took the fun out of it for me, and I miss the collecting aspect of being a genre movie fanatic. I still collect, but on a very limited basis these days. I mostly do so with old DVDs that I find for a dollar or so in thrift stores.

Yesterday I dusted off my old copy of The Video Watchdog Book, and it took me back to those halcyon days of yore. It was a time of more innocence, if not really in the world, then in my own heart. It was so exciting to read the reviews by Tim Lucas, and I would make checklists of releases I would watch for.

Now all those tapes are gone. Probably buried in some lonely landfill, polluting the ground. Dreams and nightmares that brought so many thrills and so much joy...

Our most precious possessions are our memories, and I try to keep the joyful innocence alive in my heart. The Video Watchdog book is very helpful in that regard.

Sadly, Tim Lucas was forced to cease Video Watchdog publication in 2016. The Perfectionist's Guide To Fantastic Video no longer seemed to have a place in a world that has mostly turned to insubstantial electronic media.
Wednesday, May 31. 2017

I’m glad to now have the time to review works of fiction again, here on the Horror Drive-In. I’d like to start back with a bang, too, by reviewing not just a collection of ‘Horror Stories by Richard Matheson’ (the byline of the book, can you beat that?), but a single short story from within the collection. The story that gave this collection its name: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

This review is going to be different. I’m not going to try to convince you to buy the collection nor am I going to try to convince you that Matheson was a great writer (or that he was not a great writer)—any of these attempts, in my mind, is a waste of space. Instead, I’m going to focus on one short story in a way that suits my own interests: the writing. In this case, I’m going to take a look at the sub-text—something that writers overlook way more often than they should, just to entertain and make the proverbial ‘fast buck’. This is different from layering and is different even from theme. Check it out:

In a short story, word count is critical. It’s an irony that writers claim to ignore poetry, when precise diction is needed in the short form. Matheson understands this need for sharpened words (from his constant short-fiction writing; I have found no evidence that he wrote poetry). He wastes no time. In the opening page, you meet the stewardess—a secondary character. You meet Wilson, the main character (it was odd, reading about a man with my last name). And, you meet the plane. You meet them in that order. The wording surrounding each is to the point; each word is selected for a reason, but what is most interesting is that Matheson characterizes his main character, Wilson, in only one sentence:

“Drawing a deep lungful, Wilson exhaled it in bursts, then pressed the cigarette into the armrest tray with irritable stabbing motions.”

Then, he moves on to a mixture of main character and his interaction with another character in the story: the plane. This isn’t a popular assessment. Most will call to the hills for the hordes to come down on me with their fire and pitchforks. They will claim that the plane is not a character—it’s not a human—and that Matheson is simply working on mood and setting. I won’t argue with that. The setting is, broadly, the plane—both inside and out. The mood is one of malice, or malice as perceived by the main character. But Matheson is doing something else here, under the skin of the story. He’s using a technique, Magical Realism.

If you read the paragraph closely, you’ll notice verb clusters (as well as some adverbs), and most (not all) are related to a human action. This isn’t just metaphor. There is something at work here, for can a plane do these things: cough monstrously, spew out exhaust, and roar?

The short answer is no, it can’t. It can jet out flame, sure, and it can throb—I guess. But, a plane’s exhaust can’t give off a thundering blast; an engine can’t produce thunder. This literal interpretation has a point. Magical Realism is used to give animation to objects that are not, in reality, animated. This is an effect that is often used to heighten the characters place in our minds once they begin to move within the story, and it also slips us into the story where, without knowing it (especially if you’re reading for pleasure), we’ve already accepted things that are not true and could not happen as facts. The plane is alive.

I’ll come back to this in a second.

The rest of the story follows a classic short story structure. There is rising action (in the form a mysterious man landing on the wing of plane, midflight), following by falling action (the falling action, in this case, is internal reaction: disbelief vs. self-reassurance—physiological, emotional, and intellectual responses). The conflict comes from this disbelief; not only Wilson’s disbelief, but the stewardess and the Captain of the plane, as well. No one believes that there is a man there.

That ‘man’, too, is a source of conflict that presses Wilson to follow a character arc on two levels I’ll mention—going from an existential, suicidal state, to becoming self-important enough to make the decision that forms the climax. The other arc is that of disbelief to belief (certainty, in Wilson’s case). The man, outside, is toying with the plane, risking a crash that would obviously end in the death of all onboard (and you can see the character arc here, right? Wilson, existential, seemingly on the brink of suicide at any time, really, grows to care about staying alive. Sure, he cares about the other passengers, but he also cares about himself!). The man is threatening the plane.

He threatens the plane, and that’s an interesting idea that is skipped over in the course of the story’s reading. You take it for face value. A threatened plane is a threatened plane, and all those in said plane ought to worry. But, that plane is animated from the beginning, so we know that it has taken on animalistic properties (the roaring, for instance). Here is the idea that sparked the story, as well as the link to this living plane:

“Suddenly, Wilson thought about the war, about the newspaper stories which recounted the alleged existence of creatures in the sky who plagued the Allied pilots in their duties. They called them Gremlins, he remembered. Where there, actually, such beings? Did they, truly, exist up here, never falling, riding on the wind, apparently of bulk and weight, yet impervious to gravity?”

When you think about the World War Two, and the way Allied forces flew planes into battle, you think about the single pilot prop-planes—until, of course, you consider the B-52’s and the crews that flew them. But, in either case, these planes were made to be more by their pilots. They were not just planes. They were a mixture of both human and animal—a second skin, almost like a snakes skin, once in air, but on the ground, they were given female qualities. Pilots (even now) refer to planes as ‘she’, and of course the B-52’s that dropped the bombs were named after women.
In thinking about these Gremlins, any who attacked or tried to screw with a pilot and his plane was an affront to not only the human inside, but the plane itself, as a living being. The pilot and his plane had a certain symbiotic quality; the live together, die together mentality. Those gremlins (not really existing, of course, but let’s suspend that thought) are attacking a living unit. And, considering this angle, what is most interesting to me is that psychological effect that this has on the story.

Wilson sees this Gremlin Man fussing with the motor of the plane. The Gremlin is threatening those inside the plane—if the motor is taken out, the plane will crash. The Gremlin is also threatening—attacking—the plane, which is alive and a character in itself. And, if you consider that there is a historical connection placed inside the text, that those pilots who treated their aircraft as though they were living also faced these Gremlins (to what end, we are not told—Matheson is a smart guy), you find an undercurrent of suspense. For, if there is the mere suggestion of a symbiotic relationship between man and machine made to be alive, then one affected is not just dangerous, but much the same as if a close relationship ended in the brutal murder of one of the partners—and the suspect is at large, and coming after you!

What I’ve described heightens the effect of suspense and horror. It does it in a subtle way. If you read through the text and take it for face value, you’ll enjoy it. The story on the surface is entertaining (and the ending is great, be glad I left that out). But, if you dig a little deeper into it, there is more at play. Matheson isn’t just messing with our fears, stuff like fear of flying or fear of heights, falling, burning, claustrophobia. He is taking dread and basing it on the history and the nature of the relationship man has with the machines that we use to transport us from place to place; the machines we entrust with our lives.

Or, maybe the guys and gals with the pitchforks are right. Maybe a plane is just a plane. As for me? I like a little magic in my reality. And, if you don’t feel the same, then I urge you to consider this review as you sit in your seat, strapped down with tray tables up, preparing to reach speeds of 180 mph so that your plane can take off. I wonder if you’ll begin to feel or to hope that the plane, in some way, relies on you just as much as you rely on … it?

Review by David M. Wilson
Sunday, May 28. 2017

It's like something out of a John Irving or Anne Tyler novel. A domineering mother raises a large family in which two sons become writers. One, the elder, is the epitome of the pretentiously academic snob, deriving perverse satisfaction from reports of how difficult his books are to read. This elder is a poet, a painter, a scathing satirist.

A younger brother is a prolific novelist and travel writer. One of the most respected in the field. He's been all over the world, going to remote and difficult places, writing successful travel books. He also writes novels and short stories set in the exotic locales he has visited.

Two respected writers from the same parents. One might assume that this was from a happy and nurturing family.

If Paul Theroux's Mother Land is to be believed, nothing could be further from the truth.

The bothers are Alexander and Paul Theroux. Alexander being the more scholarly older sibling, and Paul is the traveler and (sometimes) bestselling writer. Reportedly these two have such animosity toward one another that they have either barely spoken or have not spoken at all in many years.

Not only that, Alexander scathingly reviewed Paul's semi-autobiographical 1996 novel, My Other Life, calling his more successful brother's novels "beach reads", and claiming that his work was just a notch above Danielle Steele. He goes on to not only trash the book, but to to assail Paul, claiming (among other things) that he eats prunes for breakfast and has bowel troubles.

It's all a very curious matter, and interested parties have speculated about the reasons behind the feud.

Some answers, though veiled in fiction, can be found in Paul Theroux's astonishing new novel, Mother Land.

Mother Land is a long, confounding, hilarious, horrifying story of a family held under the spell of a scheming mother. Eshewing conventional plot, Paul Theroux examines in painful detail the obssessive hold that his mother held upon her children. While ostensibly a work of fiction, there are too many parallels with the facts of the Theroux family to consider the book to be entirely untrue.

Paul Theroux is a shrewd observer of minute character detail and the keenest sense of atmosphere and place of any writer I know of. In sickening but blackly funny detail, often repeating himself time and again, Paul takes readers deep into the madness of these siblings. It had to be a painful yet exorcising experience.

Mother Land isn't a book I can recommend to just anyone. It's dense, maddening at times, but it's also powerful and moving. The book is also scarier than most horror novels I've read.

I've always said that horror is a genre about confrontation rather than escape, and being faced with how parts of my life and family resemble the dysfunctional family in Mother Land was not easy.

Equally hilarious and horrifying, I loved Mother Land without reservation. I can say with utter confidence that I will not read a better novel this year. Probably not this entire decade.
Saturday, May 27. 2017

In 2016, Paul Tremblay had the unenviable task of following up 2015's A Head Full of Ghosts, aka "one of the best books I've ever read." Tremblay won the Stoker award for that novel, and also won my hard-won respect and excitement for his next move: Disappearance at Devil's Rock.

I will admit that I picked this book up with some amount of trepidation. I've always thought that the second book that you read from a particular author is a make-or-break moment. The novelty of a writer's original style has less impact on a second read, making it more difficult to impress. And....I was definitely impressed.

Disappearance at Devil's Rock is more of a mystery novel than a horror novel, if you care about that sort of thing (which I do not). Tremblay's book has a slow steady pace and keeps the reader involved throughout. This is where Tremblay's originality shines. In both books I've read by him, he inserts a major sense of ambiguity into the plot. He basically allows the reader to use his/her own imagination to process major plot points; he seems to be fully aware of doing this because he doesn't seem to be interested in beating you over the head with his story...he wants it to be your story too.

4.5 out of 5

Review by Jason Cavallaro
Wednesday, May 24. 2017

It was somewhere around the mid-late nineteen seventies. Me and a few friends used to spend weekends at one guy's house. We'd stay up late, gorge on snacks, watch TV, and talk shit. I was barely in my teen years.

One night we watched Night of the Living Dead. It was on an off UHF (Ultra High Frequency, to those who don't remember) station. I guess the movie was always in public domain. Anyway, you know the story. Ghouls (a far better description than zombie, wouldn't you say?) had stormed an abandoned farmhouse, terrorizing bickering live people within.

The movie scared the hell out of us. None of us would admit it, but I know for damned sure it scared me. There hadn't really been anything like it at that time. The snowy reception of the channel only enhanced the newsreel feel of Night of the Living Dead, and helped its verité factor.

The director was George Romero, and he and his team managed to make a horror milestone. On a minuscule budget, no less. Romero followed it with two sequels, Dawn and Day, respectively. I love all three movies roughly the same. They all have their own subtext and flavor. Some were disappointed in Day of the Dead, but I always thought it was fantastic.

George Romero created the zombie movie genre, and I can't even allow myself to blame him for it. Until...

But wait, there's more. Romero made another horror masterpiece in Martin, a terrifying and brilliantly executed vampire movie. He created something truly special with Knightriders, a movie about a modern group of Arthurian motorcycle performers and the obsession of the group's leader. Romero hit all the right notes with Creepshow, a fun homage to the horror comics of days gone by.

I wasn't exactly nuts about Monkey Shines, Bruiser, or The Dark Half but none were out-and-out disasters.

Hey, I was on board with Land of the Dead, despite its shortcomings. I even saw it in the theater twice. Not only that, I didn't completely hate Diary of the Dead. Loyalty is a tenacious thing to some.

I drew the line with Survival of the Dead, which I absolutely hated. I found it to be tacky and an embarrassment to the legacy that came before it.

I kind of hoped Survival would be the end of the line with Romero and zombies. But no. Now we have learned that there will be a Road of the Dead, which will feature, yes Zombie Race Car drivers. George is co-writing it and allowing his collaborator to direct.

Maybe Road of the Dead will be a searing satire of the NASCAR set. One can hope. I'm afraid that I can't get my hopes very high with this one. It's literally one of the worst ideas I've ever heard.
Wednesday, May 10. 2017

James Beach has been a busy man. He is the founder of Dark Discoveries Magazine, he has organized conventions and record shows, he co-owns a music label, and now he is editing a series of deluxe Richard Laymon hardcovers for Dark Regions Press. He generously took time out of his frantic schedule to answer some questions about his work with the Laymon books.

Horror Drive-In: Hi James, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

James Beach: Thanks Mark. Happy to chat a bit about it!

HD-I: I take it you are a Richard Laymon fan?

JB: For sure! I discovered Laymon in about the mid-80s with The Cellar, his first novel. Loved it and started looking around for whatever I could find of his after that.

When I was publishing Dark Discoveries magazine many years later one of my goals was to publish a Richard Laymon story and in issue 19 I was very fortunate to do just that. It was going to be a reprint Ann Laymon was going to let me use, but I lucked out and ended up with a previously unpublished story instead.

HD-I: I stumbled upon The Cellar back then, too. There wasn't a lot of hype surrounding him at that point. Then, shortly after, his books became difficult to obtain in the States. Were you able to get British editions of his work?

JB: You're right there wasn't much really. I found Dark Of The Woods a while later and then Flesh, Funland, and some others as time went on. Even the British stuff didn't get a huge amount of distribution over here except for some specialty shops. I found some of those much later on at places like Wrigley Cross, Dark Delicacies, etc.

HD-I: I began ordering Headline paperbacks from The Overlook Connection.

So, how did you progress from fan to editing a line of deluxe Richard Laymon hardcovers?

JB: Well I published that story in Dark Discoveries and had the idea to do something on a larger scale. After I sold the magazine, I started working part time for Chris Morey at Dark Regions Press. He was very interested in doing a Laymon book. My initial idea was for a collection, but Kelly Laymon had some plans for a collection with some unpublished stories. So I decided to pursue doing deluxe editions of novels that never had such treatment. And include intros and afterwards from Richard Laymon's contemporaries. And some bonus materials as well. We pitched Ann Laymon at World Horror in Portland in 2014 and she had interest in actually letting us do three books so we made a deal.

HD-I: Was there any discussion of doing A Writer's Tale?

JB: Not really. Although both Chris Morey and I certainly would be interested in reprinting it if we could. I had a list of a few titles I knew hadn't had a deluxe signed limited treatment and that was what I pitched Ann Laymon. She did say that Kelly had been working on a reprint of Writer's Tale with the original guys that published it back then. And that there was some new material Dick had written towards a follow up that was never completed. So hopefully that will come out someday. A Writer's Tale is hands down one of the best books ever done on writing in my opinion and deserves a wider audience then the 500 or so people who saw the original one.

HD-I: You've done Night Show so far, and Funland comes next month. After that will be Midnight's Lair. There's a lot of Laymon titles to choose from. What stood out about these books that made you choose them?

JB: I had a list of a few titles that I thought never had a limited edition done and some that never even had a US hardcover. Night Show and Funland are two favorites of mine and I always liked Midnight's Lair as well. The first two only had paperbacks done in the states. Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Night Show never even had a U.K. Hardcover. Midnight's Lair was just a mass market PB and HC from St. Martin's. So it made sense for those three and Chris Morey and Ann Laymon felt the same. And so far fans have seemed to agree.

HD-I: I like these three, too. Funland especially.

Sales have been good, right? Will there be more Laymon to come from Dark Regions?

JB: Yeah I believe that Night Show is pretty much sold out. Possibly a handful of the numbered edition still left. The preorder for Funland starts in June and a lot of anticipation for it. And Midnight's Lair as well.

At this point no plans for more than the three but who knows. I think we'd like to see how it goes with these next two books.

HD-I: Can you tell me more about the supplementary materials?

JB: First off they have intros and afterwords by some of Dick's peers and mentorees like Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Bentley Little, Steve Gerlach and J.F. Gonzalez. Everybody except Gonzalez is signing/has signed the sheets as well. There is also material we are reprinting from A Writer's Tale, Mystery Scene, etc. that I collected together of essays by Laymon on the books and I created timelines from the book to show the original progress of the novels along the way to publication. Kelly Laymon has also dug around and found some very cool stuff that has never been published before for each book. Night Show has twenty pages of the handwritten and hand corrected manuscript of Night Show, under its original name Chill Master, and includes a little sketch of the theater by Laymon. Funland has some neat stuff as well with a few pages of plot and character development, story notes, ideas, etc. to accompany the timelines and "Laymon on Laymon" stuff. Midnight's Lair also will have some bonus stuff along the same lines as Funland.

HD-I: I came into serious horror fiction fandom around the time that Richard Laymon passed away, so I never got to meet the man. Did you, James?

JB: Sadly, I never did. I was going to go to the World Horror in Seattle in 2001, where he was to be the guest of honor, but he passed away before it happened. And then I didn't end up being able to make it up for that one anyway as I had to work (That sucked. Was still really looking forward to meeting Ray Bradbury. But later on did meet him and even had him in Dark Discoveries a couple times!). But I respect what Dick Laymon did for the HWA and I know a lot of people look fondly back upon when he was president. He died too young but I'm glad his work lives on and has continued to gain popularity. His books are still in print and easier to find nowadays. And the ebook line has gone well too. There's even a big group on Facebook devoted to Laymon. That's pretty cool.

And I'm honored to be able to help bring these neat limited editions out for people of three of his books I've always liked.

HD-I: Thanks, James, and I wish you the best of luck with the Richard Laymon books, and all of your future endeavors.

Please visit Dark Regions for information on ordering these books, as well as numerous other fine publications.

The late, great Richard Laymon
Monday, May 8. 2017

This 5-time Bram Stoker award winning author doesn't need an introduction. I, for one, am a big fan. His Rot and Ruin series has insured my devotion for life. In my opinion, Rot and Ruin is both superior young adult fiction, AND some of the best zombie fiction I've ever come across (and I've read a lot of both). I also love his ongoing action/adventure series featuring special forces hero, Joe Ledger.

I've read the vast majority of his books and the reason that I haven't read all of them is HIS fault, not mine: The guy is just too prolific. It seems he always have a multitude of new books dropping on my que.

Enter: his new collection, Wind Through the Fence.

Wind Through the Fence is a collection of 12 anthologized stories spanning Maberry's entire career. His very first short story, "Pegleg and Paddy Save the World", is here along with a brand new story for this collection entitled "Faces." As with any short story collection, there are highlights and low-lights here. My favorites were "The Cobbler of Oz", which is an insanely charming story about a winged monkey looking for magic in the land of Oz and "Spellcaster 2.0", which is about a group of college students creating a magic computer program. My least favorite was "The Vanishing Assassin"; an homage to Edgar Allan Poe and his Auguste Dupin character. I feel that Maberry's attempt to recreate Poe's world does him a disservice here, as his own voice is drowned out.

I need to point out something about the book's format: I love the inclusion of story notes BEFORE the story appears in the collection. I feel that it created additional anticipation to read each story. It has always bothered me that story anecdotes regularly appear at the end of short story collections.

3.5 out of 5

Although this is a solid collection, I'd only recommend it to dedicated Maberry fans. The stories vary so much in theme and style that they may not give an accurate view of the writer's style. However, to someone familiar with Maberry's novels it serves as a showcase of this writer's expansive talent.

Review by Jason Cavallaro

Saturday, April 22. 2017

Firstly, the format of the book is unique: It is a re-telling of the real life story of the Torso Killer, who terrorized Cleveland in the 1930's, and was labeled "America's first serial killer." The book includes real life photographs of crime scenes and newspaper headlines from the infamous case and is told fully in black-and-white.

Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spiderman, Secret War, Age of Ultron) chose to focus the story on the police procedural and political aspects of the Torso Killer case. Fans of Fincher's ZODIAC film could find some enjoyment here, as I feel that there are many parallels between the two. Incidentally, Fincher was actually involved in potentially bringing Torso to the big screen in 2006 for Miramax. The project was eventually canceled.

Torso was released in 1999 to instant critical acclaim. Image comics was still riding high with the success of Spawn comics/HBO cartoon/feature film, so of course Todd McFarlane was prominent in his support of this graphic novel. He wasn't alone. Torso was nominated for an International Horror Guild award (whatever happened to IHG?) and won the 1999 Eisner award for comic book excellence.

So, my lukewarm feeling about this book seems to put me in the minority. I've read a lot of graphic novels, and one thing I've always enjoyed about them is that the story moves along FAST. I felt that Torso had many overly verbose passages. Now, I'm not fond of the true crime genre to begin with, so this probably accounts for some of my distaste of the book. My feeling for Torso is similar to my feeling about Danielewski's House of Leaves: The uniqueness of the book was greater than my ability to enjoy it. (and I also realize that I'm in the minority opinion about House of Leaves as well)

In conclusion, I think Torso is a well made true crime/graphic novel that just isn't for me.

2.5 stars

Review by Jason Cavallaro

Tuesday, April 11. 2017

Sarah Pinborough is an English writer who seems adamant about not pigeonholing herself in a genre. She has written horror, young adult fantasy, mysteries, fantasy, and even fairy tales, all in equal measure. She was mostly known to American horror readers through multiple horror novels published through Leisure books in the 2000's. In 2015, she published The Death House (my favorite book of that year) of which Stephen King said he "couldn't put it down." The Death House was good enough to put Pinborough on everyone's "I-must-read-everything-by-this-author" list, and then...she drops Behind Her Eyes on us.

Behind Her Eyes is billed as a "suspenseful psychological thriller." No argument there I guess, but I always thought that label was a copout for un-savvy readers to say they aren't actually reading the dreaded HORROR genre. Anyhow, the plot involves a love triangle....and know what? I'm not giving away any of it. It's too good.

All of the hype surrounding the book deals with the twist ending. Is the ending great? Yes. Is it also one of the best endings I've ever read? Yes again. But what impressed me most about the book is how steadily she slow-builds the tension. As you progress through the story, you just know that something is wrong here.

I've read 38 books so far this year and this may be the best I've read so far (either this or Ketchum/McKee's The Secret Life of Souls).

Do you remember how it felt when Bloch pulled the rug out from under you as you read Psycho? Don't you want to feel that again?!

5 Stars

Review by Jason Cavallaro
Sunday, April 9. 2017

I'm in a long, slow process of moving. It's slow because I have been working a lot. A big emergency rush job at work that constituted a lot of overtime for a month. It's why I haven't updated this site much lately, too.

I've been going through stuff in the attic. There are tons of things up there. A lot of junk that was toted up there for no good reason. Misguided packrat mentality. But then there was also a lot of books, magazines, correspondences, etc.

I didn't mean to leave that stuff up there for so long. It's the kind of thing where you intend to do something about it, but there never seems to be enough time, or enough room for the stuff downstairs. Months go by. Years. A decade. More. Close to two decades for a lot of it. Nearly twenty years of intense heat, cold, dust, neglect.

It's heartbreaking. A lot of the stuff doesn't matter to me, but some of it does. Some of it meant the very world to me in times past. Books that I paid for and loved with all my heart. Magazines that were my lifeline to the genre in those pre-internet days. Videotapes. Letters, pictures, gifts from children.

Much of it is unsalvageable. Browned, brittle pages, irreparable dust damage, etc. So much isn't worth donating or anything.

I've gotten really emotional going through it all. In some ways it's a good thing. You have to move on here and there in your life. Excessive possessions slow us down, become burdens rather than bringing us joy.

I see the science fiction items from my youth. I worshiped that genre when I was in my teens and very early twenties. It hurts to have to trash that stuff, but that isn't what bothers me the most. Well, other than the personal, family, items.

For me the most vital years of the horror genre were from 1985-1990. I was a reader and viewer of it well before then, and I have been ever since those days. But it was that period that I was the most passionate about horror.

It was the birth of modern horror fiction, in my opinion. The era when chills and thrill met hard rock and roll midnight movies. A new breed of writer who grew up on Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The so-called Splatterpunk guys dragged the genre out of rural areas, away from leather arm patches, and the upper middle class, and plunked it down in the hard streets. Punk and heavy metal sensibilities conjoined with gore movie outrageousness.

It was an amazing time to be a reader. So exciting and so many new things to discover. The Golden Age of Horror Fiction.

Great things came before and after, to be sure. And it's a good time right now. The whole Kindle/e-book thing is leveling out now, and new writers are bringing outrageously inventive scares to the table.

But back then? It felt new and anarchic.

By the mid-eighties nearly everyone could afford a VCR and horror fans were rejoicing in the discoveries of past gems on tape. I have old tapes, and magazines that celebrated the phenomenon.

So much of it is gone, gone.

Sure, it's better today, right? We have pristine editions of horror movies, good and bad, on Blu Ray. We can watch trailers and behind the scenes footage till we're blue in the face. Interviews and retrospectives and reviews abound on the internet.

And, yeah, my life is better than it ever has been. I have a respectable job, I can afford books (even if I can't buy the expensive collector's items that are available), and I have a happier home life than I ever dreamed I would have.

Still, I sometimes long for the days when my love of horror was more innocent and unspoilt. I'm a lot more cynical about it now. Too much product coming out, and I find the quality of too much of it to be lacking.

Digital photography and editing in modern movies looks phony and unappealing to me.

Having everything at my fingertips takes a lot of the fun out of it for me.

But then I think of newish writers like Daniel Kraus, Caroline Kepnes, Jonathan Janz, Riley Sager, Grady Hendrix, and I smile. I'm going back to reread beloved books of my past with more mature eyes, and I find many of them to be even better than I remembered. I think of the upcoming Scares That Care Convention, and I anticipate hanging out with horror fiction fans. I rejoice that, despite losing so many important figures in the genre, so many are still with us, and still producing wonderful work.

Moving on. It's important to our growth as human beings. We hold on to some of the past, and we let a lot of it go. It hurts, but it also feels good.

I also anticipate the future of the genre. It seems like I have spent a lifetime delving into horror, but I'm not that old yet. I think I have two or three more decades to go at this stuff. I don't plan to stop. I won't like all the new trends, and I won't like all the new writers, but I bet that I'll love a lot of it. A love of the fantastic, the horrific, the imaginative, keeps us young at heart, and that's what we get back from the financial and emotional investment longtime fans like myself have put into it.
Sunday, March 19. 2017

Being a reader can be painful. We've all been there. You look so forward to a book, and then it arrives and...

The Silmarillion: The Lord of the Rings was my favorite book when I was young, and I waited and waited for the new book by J.R.R. Tolkien. The day finally came, and I rode my ten speed to a little bookstore and plunked down the money for a hardcover. Feverishly excited, I couldn't even wait to get home. I pedaled to a nearby patch of woods, and started to read. Oh my God, this wasn't really a novel. It was like a history book. Dismayed, I read on, and I slogged through the whole damned thing. Did I like it? No, not at all.

The Number of the Beast: I also loved the work of Robert A. Heinlein when I was a boy. His books thrilled, taught, enlightened me. Plus, many of them had a lot of sex in them. It was heady stuff for a lad of my tender years. Health problems prevented Heinlein from publishing from 1973's Time Enough For Love to 1980's The Number of the Beast. Perhaps the publisher, Fawcett, knew of the novel's gaping shortcomings, and published it as a trade paperback. I was trembling with excitement when I bought it, and then I was astonished (and not in any John W. Campbell-inspired way) at how sloppy and embarrassing it was. Old Heinlein did some interesting things after The Number of the Beast, but that was truly the beginning of the end for me.

Palm Sunday: I loved Kurt Vonnegut when I was a teenager. His work doesn't much appeal to me today, but then I was a huge fan. I once more paid for a hardback when I certainly couldn't afford to do so. It was Palm Sunday, a collection of autobiographical essays. I was appalled at how boring, pointless, and self-indulgent it was.

Son of Rosemary: Ah God, I loved the early Ira Levin books. The guy wrote suspense with exquisite precision. He was insidious, and all of them are classics: A Kiss Before Dying, Rosemary's Baby, This Perfect Day, The Stepford Wives, and especially The Boys From Brazil. I even read some of the plays. So what if Sliver wasn't up to the incredibly high standards Levin had set for himself. He was doing a sequel to Rosemary's Baby! How could it be a disappointment? Uh, easy. Son of Rosemary is so bad, so ingeniously awful, so maddening. It's like Ira Levin sold a title and then crapped out something that resembled a novel, then took the money and ran. Never to be heard from again.

These four books top my list. And I read them all. Every wretched page of them. I do not possess the patience to do that nowaways. Then, I mostly finished what I started. These days if I hate something half as much as I did these books, they are gone out of my life. Note that all of these were published decades ago.

Friday, February 24. 2017

I was thinking about ol' Spider Robinson this morning. Too much rest from food poisoning these past few days, and I was wide awake at two AM. I was looking at a Mystery sale at Downpour Audio and I saw that Spider's Very Bad Deaths was for sale, so I bought it. I read Very Bad Deaths when it came out, and I liked it a hell of a lot. It's sort of a serial killer story, with a SF twist.

I always liked Spider. Though I have never met the man, I have enjoyed his fiction and his essays. He has been a strong presence in the science fiction field for decades.

Spider and his wife Jeannie hit the big time with their 1979 collaboration, Stardance. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula, as well as landing the annual Locus poll that year. Honestly, it wasn't a favorite of mine, but the story of interplanetary communication through use of dance struck a chord with many, many readers.

Spider Robinson had been publishing for quite a while before the success of Stardance. One of my favorites came out a few years earlier, an SF thriller called Telempath. Robinson also wrote numerous short stories, many of which centered around an interplanetary tavern called Callahan's. Spider won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974.

Yeah, you could say that Spider Robinson was a born writer. Conceived and bred for the science fiction genre. He was also a fiercely devoted Heinlein fan, which always earned him huge admiration from me.

As with 'most any writer, I have my favorite Spider Robinson books, and ones that didn't work as well for me. Telempath, which I mentioned earlier, is a big favorite. As is Mindkiller. Night of Power is a damned good one, and then there are the short stories.

Did I neglect to mention that Spider Robinson was granted the formidable task of completing an unfinished Robert A. Heinlein novel? Yes, he did. Regretfully, I started Veritable Star, but never finished reading it. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe I was too caught up in my endless horror reading back in 2006.

Spider Robinson. The name always carried enormous weight for me as a reader. Yet I've kind of grown away from the work. It makes me sad. I've dedicated too much of my reading life to horror. Oh, I love the horror genre, and I expect that I always will, but there's a big world of books out there. Too damned big to spend the majority of one's time in a single generic pool.

Spider was a hippie, and I guess I was kind of one too back in the day. Life has brought profound changes upon everyone over the past forty or fifty years. I understand that Spider Robinson has had his share of tragedy in recent years. He always struck me as a genuinely good guy, and few would deny that he is one hell of a writer.

So, yeah, I plan to visit with Spider Robinson. Starting with his chilling Very Bad Deaths on audiobook, and I just ordered his nonfiction essay collection, The Crazy Years (catch the Heinlein reference?) from B& Then, though I no longer sling the booze, perhaps a return to Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, where time travelers strictly pay cash.

I don't know how serious people take my recommendations, but I urge everyone to give Spider Robinson a chance. If horror is your main gig, try Very Bad Deaths. If action-adventure with a futuristic twist sounds good, Telempath is a great bet. If lyrical, poetic, visionary science fiction is what you need to cleanse your palette in these crazy years, you might be profoundly rewarded by reading Stardance.