Monday, May 31, 2010
I've been Straight Edge for twenty years. When I became Edge Tallica were touring for “And justice for all” with a new bass player. Gorilla Biscuits was still a band, and no one had ever heard of Bill Clinton outside of Arkansas. I don't say that to pat myself on the back, just to point out I've been around. I know something about Straight Edge.
Let me take a moment to explain what Straight Edge means to me. I am 100% drug, alcohol free and believe in sobriety as a political statement. It doesn't matter if you the reader or I the writer of this piece can be responsible while under the influence of mind altering product. There are millions who cannot. There is a world wide culture of consumption that requires more than just sobriety it requires individuals who live as examples of drug-free living. The drug culture and the alcohol and narco industrial complexs will only end if the demand ends one personal boycott at time. "One plus one is how it's won" the insted quote Karl from Earth Crisis reminded me of when they played in Portland last month.
When I first read that James Hetfield was edge - the front man of metallica who posed with jagermeister bottles with a version of the band's logo saying Alchollica painted over their heads was disbelief. Sure I knew he had been battling drugs and alcohol since he made the decision to have a family so I guess a dude who spent 20 years connecting drug and alcohol consumption to his macho metal lifestyle would need something like straight edge to latch on too.
I am a fan of Hetfield's work through “and justice for all” and owe a lot of my development as a free thinking young man to Tallica. I don't however have a lot of respect for Hetfield as a person. In a lot of behind the scenes videos over the years he howled while drunk, rode giant motorcyles, talked about being a sport hunter. In Metallica's strange documentary “Some kind of Monster” where we sat in with the band's counseling sessions Hetfield's macho-ness reached an all time low. In one scene when the band is supposed to be working on their album Hetfield takes off on a hunting trip to Siberia. Now, I think anyone who gets excitement and entertainment off of shooting innocent animals in the is a sicko but shooting hibernating bears is a whole different thing.
That is what he did. He shot sleeping bears. And they talked about how disgusting the meat is because they hibernating. What an asshole? Anyways Hetfield has a lot of issues to work through to do with his manhood. I am afraid that straight edge is nothing more than a macho stand-in for his tough guy imagine. How can Hetfield be drug free and maintain his man's man imagine? Straight edge maybe...
Certainly in the scene we have seen our share of tough guys co-opting straight edge. In crews like monster and courage crew, I once watched the courage crew beat-up a metal dude in pot leaf pantera shirt. His crime was the shirt in their eyes. Where do most of those guys end up. At the bar drinking with faded straight edge tattoos. Because when the popularity of edge dies out and macho social pressure to drink takes hold it's a harder they fall kinda thing.
Straight edge as an excuse to be macho and think your tougher and stronger than others fails all the time. I would hope Hetfield is not using Straight edge as another crutch. It's about thinking clearly and committing to that strength of mind.
Maybe Straight Edge can help him see clearly. That is what it is all about. The idea is simple it gives me an edge to be sober. I don't like to think it give me an edge over others because we are all born with thousand variables that make up or skills or take away ability. Being straight edge gives me an edge over the version of my myself who could use drugs and alcohol.
We are each our own universe, and I think it's rad that Hetfield has found straight edge. He obviously used drugs as a crutch for many years. If the label gives him strength to resist and he is dedicated to it then by all means he is straight edge. I have taken an oath to myself to never betray the promise to myself that is straight edge. That may sound corny on the outside but I have watched entire generations latch on to straight edge when it was cool, or it fit that moment in their lives.
I'll respect Hetfield's edge as long as he respect's mine. What I mean is it's more than a title at this point. It's more than a song by some DC band. It's another wedding ring for your finger and if you respect those who came before you'll see it's a lifetime commitment.
One thing is for sure Hetfield is being a better role model for his fans now, devoting time to his family and being drug-free, and honestly if he X'd up and played Master of puppets, we'll that is something that would be cool to see.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Gleefully Macabre Tales
By Jeff Strand
Dark Regions Press
I have very mixed feelings about this review. Let me state at the beginning, I think this is a worthwhile short story collection that SHOULD be on the shelves of any library that is serious about having a horror inventory. Do you sense a a big BUT coming? I was not a huge fan of the book myself. That being said I understand clearly that Strand has put together a collection of stories will have appeal to a wide audience weather I like it or not.
Gleefully Macabre Tales features over 30 pieces of Jeff Strand's unique combination of Horror and comedy. This is not unheard of in the horror genre, most authors lighten up their collections with one or two entirely comedic tales. How about a book that is 95% comedic horror?
I should say that I have enjoyed Strand's work before. I liked his Bram Stoker award nominated novel Pressure and I really enjoyed The Haunted Forest Tour (a novel he co-wrote). I thought the idea of me liking this collection was kind of a stretch to begin with, in way that is why I choose it from list of books for review from monster librarian. I generally like very, very dark books. I wanted to see if Strand's style of Horror comedy could crack my black soul.
I can't say this book worked for me, I had two favorite stories that I thought were effective at being great horror fiction and making me laugh. Those stories were “Everything has a Purpose” and the brutal cringe inducing story of testicular horror “Mister Sensitive.” It was while reading the later than I had the biggest belly laugh and also cringed at the pain of the main character.
I enjoyed how short many of the stories were, Strand did a great job of doing many things in a short word count that takes serious skill. If you held me down and forced me to explain what I didn't like I would say two things bothered me. First, Strand often chooses mean spirited narrators for his stories, and after reading a dozen or so of these you begin to feel like your on a greyhound bus trip. After awhile it becomes unpleasant. No matter how dark a book is it is nice to get at least some light from characters you can root for.
Second, I don't find Strand's subject matter to be very creative. I enjoy reading stories when I am impressed by idea behind it being left field and interesting. Many of the ideas seem pedestrian, I don't sit back in my chair and marvel “How did he think of that?” I like to read a book and be astonished that his/her mind created this story and this universe. I really didn't get that from this book.
I think this book should be around for others to decide. Sure it was funny but I almost felt like I could see Strand typing and winking at us “I'm here all week folks.” I think it has a place in any library collection that is interested in having a compete horror collection, Strand is a effective writer and despite my personal criticism for the book I can still see it's appeal.
Written for Monster librarian.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
The Bridge by John Skipp and Craig Spector
Leisure books, 388 pages
This recently re-issued horror classic is a most easily described as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring if it was polluted by George Romero's the Crazies. Right up there with the eco-horror-science fiction classic the Sheep Look Up (John Brunner) or the more recent Demons by John Shirley for combining the reality of pollution and environmental destruction with a down right scary horror novel. If you don't know John Skipp and Craig Spector maybe I should back up. These two men were the ultimate splatterpunk writing team who wrote the most extreme horror novels to grace the New York times bestseller list in the 1980's. They also wrote a novelization for Fright night, wrote set reports for Fangoria and even wrote a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel (the fifth film).
The team long ago split both doing excellent solo work, and Skipp now working with one of my favorite writers Cody Goodfellow. Spector released the amazing novel Underground. The Bridge is set in Paradise Pennsylvania, a small town near a nuclear reactor. For years a a small salvage company has used the the same bridge to dump unwanted waste into the river that flows by the city. One night a barrel cracks open in the river and sets off a chain of events. At times the novel follows the news crew trying to follow the story, the family responsible for the waste, the CEO of the company who created it, the crew running 911, and the nuclear reactor. Terror creeps across the town and every single page is entertaining.
The Bridge is an amazing example of horror, it leaves little doubt what novel is Skipp and Spector's masterpiece. Less dated than The Scream or Light at the End (Both work as excellent novels of their era) The Bridge elevates the splatterpunk to the lofty some what fake arena of literary horror. (I know almost all of it is literary – I say that for the doubters). It's not that this writing duo had not written other fine works of horror, this one is just head and shoulders above the rest. It is one of the best horror novels of the 90's if you ask this humble reader.
What makes The Bridge such an essential horror novel? First Skipp and Spector shred the rules, these are tired and true rules the teachers and wise sages in our genre have set up to help us young writers. The thing is Skipp and Spector have the skills to violate some of these rules and get away with it. They create lots of characters and shift the readers point of view all over the place. Often using this technique with a razor sharp punchlines that end chapters or transition the action from one location to another. They speak directly to the reader often in this novel and some times just slightly break down the fourth wall. Some readers might find this preachy but considering the topic of the novel that doesn't bother me, it excited me that the authors were boldly telling it like it is.
Another aspect that sets The Bridge apart is the obvious heavy lifting the duo did in research. This novel came out in 1991, Al Gore had not created the internet. This book has detailed information on toxic waste, pollution, the operation of 911, Hazmat clean-up, on and on. It breathes a realism into this novel.
The characters are rich, their motivations believable and the horror climbs a ladder of suspense. As British petroleum creates the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history (40 days in at the time of this writing) The Bridge could not be more relevant for re-issue. This is more than just another horror novel it is a entertaining thrill ride that happens also to be a warning with incredible foresight.
It's a mass market paperback, and I am afraid that libraries avoid these books. A trade paperback or pretty looking hardcover might do a better job of conveying the importance of this novel, but it should be in every collection. It's that good.
I like the old cover better.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Neverland by Douglas Clegg
There is a fine tradition in the classic horror novel to tell the coming of age story. Stories like Robert McCammon's Boy's life or Stephen King's The Body are period pieces clearly inspired by the authors childhood and the era they grew up in. The late 50's or 60's coming of age horror novel is almost a sub-genre itself. We are just seeing my generation of horror writer start to do this with a the 80's, a great example is James Newman's Midnight Rain. Neverland is soon to be a classic that stands up quite strongly next to the classic works in this sub-genre. A coming of age horror novel so rooted in the 60's it's like holding a 288 page time machine in your hands.
The strongest element at play in these novels is the almost magical reverence paid to being a child in those times. I have a hard time imagining the youth of today writing poetic novels about this age where they play video games, talk by text message and hang out online. Neverland is a story that exists because the children who make up the character's greatest entertainment is not a computer or a phone but their imagination.
This leads the cousins Beau and Summter who have gathered at their grandmother's island home off the coast of Georgia each summer to create 'Neverland.' An odd shed mysteriously placed in the middle of the woods becomes their clubhouse. The narrator's cousin Sumter has created a childish fantasy that this shed is like a beacon to communicate with a god he calls Lucy. According to Summter they must worship and sacrifice animals to Lucy, the novel really starts to take off when our narrator begins to hear the voice of Lucy himself.
Is Lucy an angel? A devil? Or is Lucy something different? Clegg does an amazing job of building and maintaining family drama while the mystery and terror surrounding Lucy's identity grows. As you can imagine the price of the sacrifices continue to get higher as the short and effective novel builds to the exciting conclusion.
Douglas Clegg who is a long time veteran of horror and dark fantasy has great reason to be proud of this novel. There is no doubt it is one of his best and most solid novels. Considering the power of several of his past novels that is no small praise. This is Stoker quality horror. But that is not all, the book looks amazing. Vanguard Press did an amazing job of designing a beautifully packaged trade paperback, which old school looking rough paper and amazing illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne who recently made waves adapting Stephen King Short stories in the Secretary of Dreams black and white comics.
Neverland is a horror novel that reads will eat up, and fellow writers will read green with envy. This is how it is done.
Note: After I finished this review, I went to find a picture of the cover and found the image at the bottom. An old old tattered copy of the Neverland. since I had believed it was brand spanking new novel this shocked me. As an avid horror/ Clegg reader somehow i had missed this novel. and never once noticed the copyright in the front that said 1991/2009. I decided to leave my review as is.Thank Vanguard press for putting this back in print.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall
Jordan Krall and I have very similar tastes in movies. Horror sure, but we also share a love for brainless 80's action movies and spaghetti schlock, not just Westerns, but Italian zombie and post apocalyptic mad max rip offs. There is a certain vibe you get from watching a a brilliant filmmaker with modest means do the best they can without enough resources. There is a charm to bad but ballsy films, the Italian filmmaker of 60's, 70's and 80's don't give a shit about looking silly that is why they produced some the weirdest movies of the era. (Look up trailers for Raiders of Atlantis, Deep Red, the Beyond, Django movies, After the fall of New York).
Krall has no limitations, certainly he has powerful imagination drips off every page of this short and effective novel. Fistful of Fist is many novels in one, a horror novel, a bizarro novel and most of all it's a spaghetti western. Sure this novel has Cthulhu cult native Americans, sexually transmitted tattoos, pistols that burp when fired and mutants mad from syphilis. It's a bizarro novel no doubt, but the greatest strength of Fistful of feet is that is feels 100% like a western.
There are pages that pass that feel like a straight western novel and I would forget about the bizarro elements. This was really effective because I would get comfortable with the western vibe and some kind of bizarro crazy-ness would come out of nowhere and shock me.
This is rare thing in a bizarro novel, when you crack open a genre novel, doesn't matter the genre it is an absolute pleasure to be tricked consistently throughout the pages. That more than anything else impressed me about this novel. The weird elements managed to still weird me out, thwe balance with a western sorta “realism” was impressive.
The story is about a man named Calamaro walking across the old west pulling his wooden donkey. He happens about Screwhorse Nevada which is the weirdest town in the history of westerns, that is no small feet. It has the corrupt mayor, the town gang led by the town thug, the weird brothel and a saloon and hotel named after Charles Bronson. Krall gets many points for naming the guy running the place Kersey, if you don't get you are not watching enough Bronson.
I dog eared a page (80) because the scene so captured the spirit of the western for me. I cast Lance Hendrickson (Bishop from Aliens) as sheriff in my mind. If there is any weakness in this novel it is not the authors fault but the fault of the genre. Towards the end the novel takes part in the stereotype of the “western movie Indian” when a battle erupts between the townspeople and the savages. Considering the level of tribute Krall could hardly avoid this, it is sadly a trope of the genre.
Fistful of Feet is a excellent western that just happens to be amazingly weird as well. It is also one of the best written works to come out of the bizarro genre, Krall demands attention and I think if he keeps up his Italian genre capture and release program he will go far.
Yeah read Fisftul of Feet is must read for spaghetti western fans. Get it!
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Cody on the left, Skipp on the right.
Cody is a force of nature, much like massive storm that destroys everything in his path Cody is the horror writer of my generation that stands tall above the competition. John Skipp is a splatterpunk legend who has had his hand in some of the most legendary novels of the 80's horror boom and it just made sense that they would become a team. After hanging out with the two of them at the world Science fiction convention a few years back I see it was horror match made in heaven.
I met Cody when we were both living in San Diego. I had read two amazing reviews of his debut novel Radiant Dawn. I read it and was blown away by the over the top insanity, inventiveness and most of all the mojo and confidence he wrote with. We formed a short lived but very helpful group of local writers who held prose-potlucks. Each of the writers would share a story. Cody's readings were often disturbing and hilarious at the same time. He read with a Harlan Ellison style bravdo.
He is a super funny person but Cody also has a soft side, and writer's wisdom he seemed to be born with. I did this interview shortly after reading Cody's latest novel “Prefect Union.” His solo works include Radiant Dawn, Ravenous Dusk and Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars. He has also co-written two books with John Skipp, The Day Before and Jake's Wake.
Check out Cody and other modern Lovecraftian goodness at:
Some kids find sports or music you found a love for Horror fiction. How did that happen?
I loved a lot of the same things as other kids, but they generally didn't love me back.
I was a very angry little kid. My parents split up when I was three, and my father and his mother died when I was seven. My world was a mean and meaningless place far removed from where everybody else seemed to live, and misery loves company. But I couldn't make it as a bully, so I started making up stories... both to make sense of the place I came from, and to shake others out of their complacency. It's a hard, ugly place because we let it stay that way, because we're wired to treat it like a zero-sum game. Horror taught me how to see the beauty in the empty machine we inhabit, to accept the randomly awful, while wondering at the weird. In the absence of God, everything is a miracle.
Now, I'm a very lucky, very happy adult, but I can't stop looking into that place, can't stop wondering who I've stolen my happiness from.
Your spin on horror fiction is on the more bizarro end of the scale what influences on your writing do think had the biggest effect on your unusual style?
If it seems weird or original, it's because my style has been assembled out of many disparate parts. I never sit down and try to scare myself, or fish for what scares others. I write about what fascinates me, and the things that fascinate me tend to freak other people out. I think that's a major unexamined element in the Bizarro movement: the obsessive, embracing quality that makes even the resolutely non-horrific stuff scary. The proportions of horror are inverted: the fascination has almost overtaken the repulsion, as the outsider in our world finds a home in the unacceptable. My own stuff is far less absurd than the bulk of Bizarro fiction, but I'm a lot closer to them than to the conventional horror small press.
A Cody Goodfellow novel is different from anything else out there what sets you apart?
Obsession. I have a fairly strong work ethic, but I'm powerless not to write, and I can't finish a story until it's stacked higher than everything that came before it. My favorite frequently recurring complaint about my stuff is that I try to cram too many ideas into each piece, because that's exactly what I think a story should do... I borrow the conceptual fetishism from science fiction, but with the intent to disturb, rather than to dazzle of inspire optimism about the future or humanity's prospects in it.
in what ways has collaborating with John skipp forced you out of your writing comfort zone?
Well, working with anyone puts me outside my comfort zone... My favorite thing about writing is the solitude. But working with Skipp is so much fun and the ideas flow so fast and fluidly, that I've had to start writing my solo stuff with a blow-up doll, or I get lonely. We both have to fall in love with a project to collaborate on it, so with each one, we find new ways to compartmentalize ourselves, so we can each do what we love, and weld it together into something neither of us could've conceived of, alone. It's not such a deviation from my own modus operandi, which has always been to entertain myself. When I can get a good one over on Skipp, he always fires it back with a new spin and features, so if anything, it takes much of the willful effort out of it.
One big difference: Skipp writes much more sparely and informally than I do. He leads with his heart and wants to party with his characters, while I'd rather stalk them through a telescope.
Your first novel Radiant Dawn has been called a Lovecraftian epic, It takes a different modern spin the mythos, was that the intention from the beginning?
Definitely. I had burned out very early on trying to crack short story markets, and I just wanted to throw down everything I had, pay back all my influences and see if it amounted to more than I'd taken in. I wanted to do a vast modern epic like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Lovecraft's Mythos seemed like the perfect modern analogue to the Greek pantheon. Amoral, utterly inscrutable spirits that reify the lowest of nature's creations, giving the lie to all the stories we told ourselves about where we came from and where we're going.
I think the Mythos gets a bad rap as being a gloomy anachronism, and most of the recent attempts to modernize it seem to miss the point. The Great Old Ones are not another new canon of bad things from outside that must be stopped. It's their world, already; always was, always will be. So it's a very different kind of fear from most conventional horror, which poses a test that the pure of heart may pass and save the human world, and is thus almost a kind of fantasy. It distills the bad things that happen to good people into a material form, and lets good people kick its ass. Lovecraft led a movement that reflected in pulp what Sartre and Camus had done to "high" literature and philosophy, and declared that all meaning and anthropocentric beliefs are a human illusion. With Radiant Dawn and Ravenous Dusk, I wanted to do something that pushed that philosophy into a medium that rendered it exciting and current, again. And maybe scary. Nothing scares the great mass of people worse than the fear that we evolved in a spiritual vacuum, and nothing scares athiests worse than the notion that there really is a God. Balanced properly, the Cthulhu Mythos is the embodiment of both of those fears. There is a God, but his chosen ones are the frogs and the fishes in the sea, and you don't ever want to meet Him.
Your most recent novel A Perfect Union is one of the weirdest horror novels I have ever read. It has a surreal and dangerous vibe that contrasts the literary feel of the prose. It is also a dark and disturbing statement on hive mentality Was the political elements a by-product or an early theme of the idea?
I didn't set out to write a political novel, but just as my fascination with evolution led to Radiant Dawn, my fascination with the darker side of human nature led to Perfect Union's premise. People, particularly Americans, are terrified of any semblance of a maternalistic state, just as they're afraid of being abandoned by God if they accept evolution. What so utterly revolts them about communism is being trapped in state-imposed childhood, apparently, since most of the tenets of communism––strong central control, equal shares for equal work, self-sacrifice––are the hallmarks of an effective nuclear family.
Just under the veneer of rugged American individuality, it seems, lies an almost infantile rage at any attempt by the state to actually make the world a better place, which is derided as an effeminate "nanny state." Far better, in their eyes, a distant yet authoritarian patriarch who gets out of his chair only to punish. So the roots of political belief go far deeper than rational concerns about taxation and laws. Like evolution, politics is something almost nobody can really overcome their toilet training to discuss rationally.
The set-up of Perfect Union lays the foundation of a haunted house novel but morphs into a body horror freak-out. Did you want this novel to be a Goodfellow spin on a classic horror troupe?
I did set out to write a seemingly conventional horror novel, with all the familiar tropes––young people lost in the woods, a haunted house, lurking monsters––but those things have long since stopped being frightening by themselves, and the reasons why they once worked have atrophied into a bitter kind of comfort food. You don't have to go out into the woods to find chaos and disorder. It perpetuates a dangerous illusion to suppose that evil and chaos come from outside, and dispelling that (however temporarily) was the real gift of the Splatterpunks. We're soaking in it all the time. So, to go out into the forest primeval and instead find deliverance from the pain and failures of modern society... that seemed like something many people would want... but being people, they'd surely fuck it up.
You've had dozens of short stroires that you've unleashed on the horror scene like a fragment bomb. Can you tell me about the process you used to choose the stories for Silent weapons for Quiet wars? What can we expect from future collections?
I wanted to shape the first collection into more than just a repository of my early work, so I left out a lot of stuff. My model for a perfect collection would have to be Deathbird Stories. Silent Weapons had a guiding theme, of how nature and the world shape individuals into weapons for its little battles. Between species and systems of belief and ways of surviving, wherever there is friction, it wears the combatants into tools that, in spite of their personal desires, change the world. Alan Clark's brilliant cover art depicts the characters in my stories before they're written. Gestating in little sacs in my brain, waiting to be born fully grown and already in deep trouble.
My next collection will be more free-wheeling, with more science fiction and period pieces, and I've got plans for a collection of my Mythos work in the works, though it's hard to say when it'll happen, because most of the books the stories are slated to appear in keep getting delayed.
What horror novels past or more recently most warped your mind?
Wetbones(John Shirley), The Bridge(Skipp and Spector), Blood Music are three that shaped what I thought a horror novel should really be. The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein is a perfect example of the kind of awe and dislocation that true cosmic horror should deliver.
You are also well read in the most out there of Science Fiction. Any recommendations for psycho Sci-fi?
Spinrad's Iron Dream. Dick's Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch. Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard. Dream Baby by Bruce McAllister. A Colder War by Charlie Stross.
If you were transplanted at the moment of your death back in time to be roadie for any band in history who would it be and how would use that ability to change history?
Interesting question... Just for myself, I would work Ministry's The MInd Is A Terrible Thing To Taste tour or Skinny Puppy's Too Dark Park tour, both in 1990. But if I were to try to fix broken history, I would go on the European Master Of Puppets tour and be the bus driver who DIDN'T kill Cliff Burton... thus saving Metallica from sucking the bell-end of banality for the next two decades.