Blood Verse is Patrick James Ryan’s first published work and is an anthology of horror tales interspersed with poems. Each poem follows the same format of rhyming couplets-there is no free verse poems in the mix.
As is usually the case with most anthologies, you reach into the goody bag and aren’t sure what you will get each time, especially when there is no set theme. That is the case here. Certainly, each tale has a horror bent to it, but they range from the supernatural to the more ‘regular’ every day type tales of serial killers and grim misfortune. Kudos to the author for giving the reader a diverse set of shorts and poems with some unexpected and entertaining twists.
The good: the author does a solid job of backing up his stories with decent research that allows him to provide us with a book rich in diverse locales and plotlines. It’s clear that effort was put forth to give each tale some heft and a solid background that makes them feel more real. Though not every story has that ‘blink with surprise’ type ending that readers often expect, when they do happen here many were quite satisfying and enjoyable. There are some genuinely entertaining stories on these pages that I enjoyed a great deal. I know the term ‘fun’ is not always associated with horror, but I had fun reading them.
The challenging: I’m not going to say the ‘bad’ because that wouldn’t be fair to the author, because while some of the shorts found here didn’t resonate with me, they were still solidly crafted. I could see the potential in most of them and I admire the author for putting together a very diverse compendium of tales and taking some risks here and there. They just didn’t all hit the mark for me. One of the reasons is that there is a healthy dose of tell vs. show mixed into several of the stories. It is a challenge all authors face-attempting to avoid making the yarn they are spinning feel more like a newspaper account of what is happening. They instead want to give the reader a feeling of immersion, as if they are experiencing everything alongside the characters. The author does accomplish that immersion in many cases, but in some instances it wasn’t there. There were also some typos throughout, noticeable but not a major distraction.
While some stories just didn’t click for me (Pain and the Boxer, Desert Death, Hair as examples) others were very entertaining (Bus Stop, Road Rage Bigot, Walking the Dog, Elevator…among others) and that is what reading an anthology is all about: finding those gold nuggets that make reading a mix of different tales well worth the time, which Blood Verse succeeded in doing for me. Chances are, if you are a horror fan, you will find a few solid nuggets in this book as well.
Blood Verse can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0988659034/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Nightmare of the Dead introduces us to a young woman who wakes up on a train during the civil war, her memory lost, but her sense of what she is capable of with a gun still intact. As a strange green mist appears in another one of the train cars and seeps into hers, she discovers that some sort of horrific transformation is taking place among the men that surround her. Not all are affected by the gas. At least one other boy-a soldier for the confederacy-does not transform into a creature that dead yet still living like the others, and neither does she. These creatures are violent, deadly monsters that lust for flesh and must be killed with a bullet through the head. For all intents and purposes, they are zombies, and their introduction comes as quite a shock to her.
While seeking to discover her identity as faint traces of her past seep into her mind, the woman is pursued by a group of outlaws who know about her past and have plans for her. At the same time, we are introduced to a mad scientist who is the creator of the toxic gas she was exposed to on the train. He has been employed by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, in an effort to turn the tide of the war with his new invention, but the scientist’s main goal is to gain membership into a dark, underworld organization that is intrigued by what he has wrought. The story slowly reveals his relationship with the amnesiac woman and how she is valuable to both him and the “Nightmare Collective.”
Nightmare of the Dead is a zombie tale, though the zombies here are more mutations than anything-it does not appear that they infect you through their bites, but by the exposure to the gas, or other variations of the ingredients the scientist has mixed to cause the zombification.
The story has a different take on the zombie genre in some ways, and the undead play a very secondary role to the main characters and their quests to both understand more themselves and gain revenge upon one another for a very complicated past. I’ve read historical zombie tales-those of the old west included-but this one foregoes many of the traditional elements found in most and carves out its own path. Fans of the genre will get their fair share of zombie gore and action, and both the main character and villain are well developed, especially when the story dives deeper and deeper into their shared history, but don’t go in expecting a traditional tale of the apocalypse. Both the main characters are vile in different ways, but the author is able to give us at least a reason or two to feel sympathy not only for the obvious one of the two, but the other as well.
I think it only fair to share concerns that come to mind with any book I review, and with Nightmare of the Dead it came down to some overly descriptive verse and stiff dialog. This wasn’t something that was pervasive throughout, but came up enough to serve as a distraction. By no means did it wreck the story for me, but it did make some characters feel a bit more forced and awkward than others. The flow isn’t always natural with how they speak. Again, this served as more of a distraction than a major issue, but it was noticeable and I feel compelled to point it out.
Outside of this issue, the story is solid, enjoyable, and I liked discovering and learning about these characters. It is clear that a sequel must be forthcoming, and I look forward to checking that out as well.
Nightmare of the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1479129496/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Railroad! is a hard book to categorize. Certainly, it would be easy to say that it is a steampunk tale of the old west, but that seems like a limiting description. I am the first to admit that I haven’t read a tremendous amount of steampunk literature, but I would venture to say that this book has elements that make it somewhat unique in that genre, combining fantastical elements along with the technological, turning this story into something utterly unique.
Tonia Brown, the author, wrote this tale as a serialized adventure, releasing a chapter at a time online, and then releasing each of the three different volumes separately. This book has all three volumes thus far: Rodger Dodger, The Dogs of War, and The Trouble with Waxford. The story is told from the viewpoint of Rodger Dodger, a man curious about an ad posted that is looking for a hired gun to work aboard a steam locomotive. The setting is the old west of the 1870s, and while Rodger has a mysterious past as a gunman, everything else about him seems rather normal. So when he meets up with Professor Dittmeyer, Ched, and the rest of the crew of the Sleipnir, a steam powered locomotive that requires no tracks to run on, he is as baffled as we are. And things just get stranger from there for the man with a mysterious past but a far more intriguing future as the hired gun for an wild band of adventurers.
Of course, the wondrous technology that the author describes with great delight is quite fascinating, and gave me pleasant reminders of my youth, when I used to watch repeats of ‘The Wild, Wild West.’ I do, of course, mean the classic television show starring Robert Conrad and not the atrocious movie starring Will Smith. You will find gadgets galore here, including guns that fire multiple rounds at the same time, horseless carriages that allow one to travel at speeds near a hundred miles per hour across the desert, and trains that need no tracks to make their way from place to place. But that is only the beginning. The author allows us, alongside Rodger Dodger, to enter a world filled with the fantastic-with ghosts, vampires, and genetic mutants filling its pages. As it is described within this tale, the strange, cursed, and fantastic seems to follow Professor Dittmeyer, owner and inventor of the Sleipnir Steam Locomotive, everywhere he goes. After all, he hasn’t been banned from 90 different countries for nothing.
The characters are colorful, detailed, and fun getting to know. And when it comes down to it, this story may be best described as a weird western steampunk story, but it is the characters that keep things interesting, and kept me glued to each page. A well-crafted, entertaining story that is a lot of fun, Railroad! is a trippy ride.
I’m pretty excited about a newly release anthology that one of my short stories appears in. I had the opportunity to write a story that was a bit different for me, though at the same time, still shared a bit of DNA with many of the other stories I’ve written over the years. This particular one was originally intended for another anthology, and fit the it to a T. Unfortunately, before that particular anthology got very far, it was cancelled by the publisher. I was ‘stuck’ with this story at that point, which was unfortunate, because I thought it was one of my better tales. It was my effort at writing a war story set in the future, but having some very traditional horror elements to it-a particular menace that I had never written a story about before, and was a new challenge for me. So when I heard about Static Movement producing an anthology entitled Dark Dispatches, which wanted tales of war, real or imagined, here on Earth or elsewhere, in any time period–past, present or future, I knew my story might have a second life. So I submitted my tale, entitled “One Shot, One Kill”, and George Wilhite, the editor, responded within a couple of days, snatching it up.
And now this tale has been released to Amazon, and I am asking you to check it out. I’m not sure how Static Movement works on ebooks, but the paperback version is now available. Keep an eye on the link for further information on the kindle release, and probably over on smashwords for other ebook releases.
I would ask that you consider getting a copy of this book in paperback-a slew of war stories that contain supernatural, alien, and plain old human warriors-all with compelling story lines. I have had the privilege of reading one of the other tales in this book already, by Richard Marsden, and I can tell you that it is excellent. Well worth the price of admission for these two tales alone…but there are many, many more!
So go ahead: click the picture, and head on over to Amazon to pick up your copy of Dark Dispatches. Thanks!
The Drifter takes place less than a century in the future, and is a story about a hired gun who begins the tale taking us through his latest job, while memories of a past that was more sane and more appealing (both to him and to the reader) floats through his head. Mace is the man’s name, and he is obligated to a crime boss by the name of Cap Leto, who has put him on what amounts to a suicide mission. Not that the anti-hero main character seems to care much, because his soul feels as if it has rotted away inside of him. Bitter and dispassionate, he goes forward with his job with little remorse, though with many regrets that began long before this story takes place, and are only compounded by what he is forced to do.
As our killer manages to make it through his mission still breathing, though bloodied and bruised, he decides that the opportunity to start over with a program offered by one of the mega-corporations that have off world colonies is his best bet. They offer a memory wipe and a chance to scrub the dirt off your hands and your soul. Unfortunately, Mace doesn’t appear to get the full treatment, and on top of that, the colony he ends up somewhere uptime is in a state of disarray. Bombs have been dropped, mutants are running wild, and gangs of marauders are running the place. On top of that, it seems that plenty of people know who Mace is, and are very interested in taking advantage of his unique talents as a hardened killer. But Mace has other ideas in mind, especially when he meets up with a woman on the run who he decides is worth protecting and fighting for, no matter how difficult it may be to keep her safe and alive.
The Drifter is a faced paced, present tense tale about a man who is part futuristic cowboy and part knight errant. Mace lives by his own code, even in a universe that seems determined that he get sucked back into the dark world he used to inhabit time and time again. The story is hard to pin down, since it has a noir-ish flavor to it, with a touch of Blade Runner thrown in. In addition to that, it has an apocalyptic edge as well. Mace travels a world that has been turned upside down by massive destruction and it has an almost wild west feel to it. It almost seems that there is always something more, something hidden from his vision, just around the corner, and it is hard to guess at who he can and should trust at any given moment. The character is fun, ballsy, and brash, and it was easy for me to grow attached to him as he tries to come to grips with memories that have faded alongside those that haven’t, which include most of the ones related to his dark past.
A fun, rock ‘em, sock ‘em tale, North has created a character that I hope to see again…and again. Mace is a hard case on a mission, and God help anyone who stands in his way.
The Drifter can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Drifter-Stephen-North/dp/1466312807/ref=sr_1_59?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1317608443&sr=1-59
David Dunwoody has written some fine zombie fiction, and I was curious about this combination novella and short story compendium he’d written, since it steers clear of the rotting folk completely. There isn’t one story about zombies in this book, although the dead do pop up in a couple of different instances. Unbound, which carries the bulk of the pages in this offering, is a story about Emil Sharpe, a man with albino white features dressed entirely in black. He is supposed to be a character in a series of books, but for reasons unknown, he has come to life, and is terrorizing the people who live and drive up and down I-15 out west as he takes his 18 wheeler, the Yankee Rose, and carries cargo for some darkly mysterious people. Several folks are after him, including the author of the novels he appears in, because Sharpe has made their lives nightmares as he has demands that his story, his real story, be told through the author’s pages. The story starts out with a bang, and the intensity doesn’t let up throughout. Emil Sharpe acts like a demon and yet at the same time, there is something distinctly human and vulnerable about him, though he most assuredly is neither. It isn’t until the very end of this tale that we discover the truth, and there will be hell to pay when we do.
The rest of this book is made up of eight short stories, more than one of which ties into Unbound in one form or fashion. They provide the reader with a nice creep factor, with odd characters, dark magic, and other elements of a good, jarring nightmare. I particularly enjoyed “Clowns”, knowing that anyone who has ever been afraid of these painted devils will probably feel at least a tad bit uncomfortable while reading that tale.
It is Unbound that holds sway here, overshadowing the rest of the stories, though I found them enjoyable and certainly devious. It is just that Unbound could be expanded or contracted into a full length novel or be turned short story and would likely leave its taste in your mouth long after you’re done with it. It has the flavor of Peckinpah with just a dash of Lovecraft and larger helpings of Stephen King. There were perhaps echoes of The Dark Half, by Stephen King, in my head as I read this tale, but Dunwoody takes the concept of a character come to life off the pages of a book and molds and shapes it like clay (in more ways than one) to make it his own. Emil Sharpe is just one of those characters that starts out fascinatingly scary and grows on you from there.
Unbound and Other Tales can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/UNBOUND-Other-Tales-David-Dunwoody/dp/1451511582/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297787359&sr=1-1
Not to long ago, fellow writer Jamie Eyberg passed away with his wife in a tragic accident near their family home in Iowa. Jamie and Ann left behind two young children. Jamie had been a staple over at The Library of the Living Dead Press message boards, and I had the privilege of appearing with him in The Zombist, an anthology of old west zombie tales. His works have appeared in several other anthologies from the Library and elsewhere. It is always heartbreaking when someone’s life gets cut short, but it is a small comfort when we can do something to remember that person, and help those around them who have suffered the greatest by their loss.
Kody Boye, another one of the members of the Library forums, has put together a list of auctions over on ebay whose proceeds will go to benefit the Eyberg children. One of the auction bundles has my book, Comes The Dark, in it. There are several auctions, so I would encourage everyone out there to consider bidding on one of them. You will get some terrific reading material with any of them you choose, and the proceeds will go to a tremendous cause.
Hit the link here: http://shop.ebay.com/kboye/m.html?_nkw&_armrs=1&_from&_ipg=25
Please consider bidding. Thanks!