ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Highwayman: A Longmire StoryThe Highwayman: A Longmire Story by Craig Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A genuinely spooky bit of modern Gothic, with twists all the way to the end. Familiarity with at least some of the other books -- or the TV adaptation -- might be helpful, though this tale doesn't appear to fit into a particular point in the series.

Johnson's evocation of northern Wyoming in the early spring is bone-chillingly accurate (I'm a native of the state), and his continuing cast of characters all feel like old friends. The plot justifies its novella length without overstaying its welcome. A must read for fans of the series -- though anyone interested in contemporary Western mysteries would probably enjoy it.



View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
It Can't Happen HereIt Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a dated (especially in some of the language relating to minorities) but still deeply disturbing piece of speculative fiction. First published in 1935, it does an excellent job of showing the life cycle of a "regime change" in a democratic society unable to sustain itself.

Lewis is more than occasionally dogmatic, but there are memorable ideas and phrases in nearly every chapter. The protagonist is flawed enough to be sympathetic, and the plot does move, though I felt the ending was a little rushed. As with most dystopias, some suspension of disbelief is required -- but I found the effort more than worthwhile.








View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
When it comes to reviews, glad tidings are always welcome!

Hippocampus Press publisher Derrick Hussey recently let me know about some very kind words re my 2015 fiction collection Dark Equinox & Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. In Wormwood #27, reviewer John Howard finds that


. . . Schwader unflinchingly shows the disintegration of the personal and the cosmic: and nothing is, or ever again can be, secure. (re 'When the Stars Run Away')

Intense and with a superb sense of place, each tale refers obliquely back to one or more stories or concepts from the Cthulhu Mythos, and runs with it in a refreshingly distinctive way. Lively and intriguing, they are utterly Lovecraftian in spirit. (re my five linked tales of Cassie Barrett)


Dark Equinox is available from the publisher, or from Amazon in both print and Kindle formats.
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Highway of Sleeping TownsHighway of Sleeping Towns by Deborah P Kolodji

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I nibbled through this one, a few at a time last thing in the evening. Haiku are concentrated things, & it seemed like the perfect way to consume this remarkable, very 21st century collection.

Although nature is not neglected in these pages, the overall tone is deeply personal & highly individual. There's a touch of the cosmic, as well -- Kolodji acknowledges science as a full part of nature, & the reader benefits.

Recommended for all haiku enthusiasts, or anyone interested in experiencing this form at a very high -- yet accessible -- level of quality.







View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The ElementalsThe Elementals by Michael McDowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A solidly crafted Southern Gothic take on the classic haunted house novel, with characters the reader actually comes to care about. (Which is unfortunate, given the body count!)

This one offers pretty much everything a reader might want in such a tale: a creepy Victorian summer home -- three, actually -- an increasingly menacing setting cut off from civilization, generations of family secrets, occult protections that don't work, and a memorably nasty ending with a twist. The writing is first-class, and most of the characters are very well drawn. McDowell knows how to make his descriptions visceral without being gratuitous, which is a real plus.

One caveat: this 1981 novel might feel slightly dated to some readers. Supernatural horror fans who appreciate a quieter, more literary approach won't be disappointed, though.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Nightmare Stacks (Laundry Files, #7)The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Charles Stross just keeps ringing new changes on his popular Laundry Files. This time around, he's added urban fantasy. Or rather, the Secret History behind it. As newly minted Laundry employee -- and PHANG -- Dr. Alex Schwartz discovers, elves are not only quite real, but remarkably unpleasant. At least, most of them are . . .

The Laundry, Leeds, and possibly the planet are all under attack in this one, as CASE NIGHTMARE RED (alien invasion) picks an otherwise ordinary weekend to manifest. The result is a bizarre but satisfying blend of military thriller, occult adventure, & just a touch of very strange romance.

Regular readers of this series won't be disappointed, though some may find Stross's worldbuilding into the fey realm a bit of a stretch. (I did not.)





View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was a reread for me, though I originally read it so long ago that little had stayed with me beyond a good dystopian chill. It still has that, of course – and, if anything, that chill has settled deeper.

What it also has, however, is marvelously lyrical prose. Atwood is also a poet, and most of the book’s descriptive passages reflect this. It’s a bit odd to find yourself stopping in the middle of a truly bleak novel to admire the beauty of the writing, but I did this time and again.

Rereading this after at least a couple of decades also gave me an entirely different view of the main character. In a society obsessed with fertility, older women have few options and little worth aside from their husbands. Younger women have a different, if equally limited, set of options. Which side of the age divide the reader is on matters a lot! To be fair, there’s an age divide for the male characters in this novel, as well. Atwood may not draw it as clearly, but it is no less real – and I suspect male readers will experience it more fully than I did.

A recommended reread (as well as a first read) for fans of literary dystopias, or still-edgy feminist spec fiction.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was apparently Jane Austen’s first completed novel – a satire of the Gothic novels popular during her time. Though it lacks the subtlety of her later, longer works, this one offers a taste of Austen with her claws out. Her talent for making pithy observations about what really matters in polite society (generally, money) is already evident.

Austen also discusses her heroine as living up to -- or not living up to -- the Gothic heroine ideal in considerable detail throughout. Though it’s all part of the satire, it’s also an unusual and welcome glimpse into the writer’s thought processes.

I’ve read (and in most cases, reread ) all of Austen’s novels, finding different things to appreciate in each. This one felt a bit lightweight, but her sly observations about Gothic novels (and their readers!) plus her sharp-eyed account of society life in Bath made it well worth my time. YMMV, as ever.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Deed of Paksenarrion (The Deed of Paksenarrion, #1-3)The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An old-school, character-focused high / epic fantasy -- originally a trilogy (Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, (Divided Allegiance, and (Oath of Gold), now published in one volume. The trilogy originally came out in the late 1980s, which is when I think I may have encountered it. I recently reread it, over several months, as “comfort reading.”

And I’m glad that I did.

Many of the plot devices – and certainly the standard Northern European fantasy trappings – are a little dated now. Though gritty enough, the storyline would probably be considered YA. However – and it’s a big However – the notion of a Hero’s Journey for a heroine still resonates, and there are still far too few of them in modern fantasy.

Elizabeth Moon’s prose is tight and clear, her characters are fully worked out, and her knowledge of military subjects comes from actual experience. This is a well-crafted page-turner suitable for fantasy readers of any age, though younger female readers might appreciate it a bit more.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga, #16)Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It’s almost impossible to review this one without spoilers. Suffice it to say that this is what fans of the Vorkosigan universe have been waiting for since the ending of Cryoburn.

Set three years after those events, this is a lovely, strange, and mature romantic comedy with science-fiction packaging – some of that quite thought-provoking. It is also a Secret History of the Aral / Cordelia marriage, an advanced course in Betan vs. Barrayaran thinking, and a number of other delightful things, all delivered with style and wit.

What is isn’t is the sort of space opera Bujold does very well. It took me a few chapters to realize this wasn’t forthcoming, and I was slightly confused until I did. I also suspect that this book may resonate more with readers who are parents than with those of us who aren’t. However, it’s a must for all fans of this series – and very likely to result in frantic rereading of the earlier books.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Crimson Shore (Agent Pendergast, #15)Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I’m a long-time reader of this series, and a major fan of Constance Greene, but this latest installment of Special Agent Pendergast’s adventures left me a little cold. It was well-crafted, and seemed to have all the required elements of a really good Preston & Child thriller -- but those elements just weren’t coming together in a coherent plotline.

To begin with, the “mundane” mystery – dark historical secrets of a small New England town leading to multiple bizarre murders – went on a little too long (for me, anyhow) before the weird/possibly supernatural component kicked in. The pages definitely kept turning, but the two elements never quite meshed.

The relationship between Pendergast and Constance took some damage, too. I’ve been intrigued by their subtle, strange, almost-chemistry for the past few novels, but this one included a remarkably awkward scene I wasn’t prepared for. As a plot device, it did what it was probably meant to do (and I can’t say more without committing Spoiler); but as character development, it struck some false notes.

There is also the matter of the ending . . . again, without committing Spoiler, I can’t say why it didn’t work well for me. Though cliffhangers are nothing new for this series, this one felt unusually opaque. I was left wondering where the next few chapters were, rather than looking forward to resolution in the next novel.

I did enjoy the read – most of the time – savored the character details, and certainly haven’t given up on the series. Fellow Pendergastlies will of course want to read it in order to keep up, but I suspect I’m not the only one feeling a bit let down. YMMV.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
<Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This very odd, very well-written, and intermittently spooky short novel was my first read of 2016. It was also my first experience with David Mitchell’s writing, which might have been part of the problem I had with it.

I’ve read elsewhere that this author (of The Bone Clocks, Cloud Atlas, and other works, some of which can be described as speculative) tends to interweave the elements of his novels. If so, that might explain why I had so much trouble waiting for certain concepts to be explained – in vain – or why the middle of the book seemed so slow.

It’s entirely possible that I was missing something important. Perhaps having essentially the same series of disquieting events happen to three separate victims of Slade House (and I’m not going to add any spoilers!) was intentional. Perhaps I was meant to know, or care, more about these first three individuals than I did. Unfortunately, I barely made it through the first three sections of this novel before getting caught up in its two-section conclusion – which did deliver a pretty nasty plot twist.

There’s nothing wrong with Mitchell’s prose here, or his skill in building creepy atmosphere. Fans of quiet horror will likely find much to admire. All in all, I suspect I’m being unfair by only awarding this one three stars rather than four, but I’ve got to report my own experience.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Penric's Demon (World of the Five Gods, #3.5)Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Set within the Chalion / Five Gods portion of Bujold’s works, this novella is a must-read for her fans (I’m one of them) – and recommended for other fantasy enthusiasts who enjoy world-building and complex characterization without massive doses of graphic violence. Though there’s plenty of action & convincing darkness, the narrative would work for both YA and adult readers.

As always with Bujold, relationships take precedence here. When a young lord whose family has seen better days accidently becomes the newest host of a “demon” (a supernatural being linked to religious magic), he reacts by trying to make friends with the entity. This unusual choice – demons are generally treated as unwilling servants of the sorcerers they inhabit -- drives the rest of the narrative at a brisk pace. Readers of Bujold’s Chalion novels will discover small but tasty additions to that lore. Readers new to the series are unlikely to find themselves lost, but may not appreciate this adventure quite as much.

This novella is a fine example of a fantasy written to its proper length, and no further. I was fully satisfied with the tale when it ended, though (of course!) I wished there were a few more waiting in the wings.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)

The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First published in 1969, Le Guin’s classic novel of gender, diplomacy, friendship, adventure, and heartbreaking choices on an Ice Age planet is as fresh as ever. SF readers who prefer a “full immersion” experience -- or anyone who appreciates hard questions combined with jaw-droppingly lovely prose – should not miss it.

This was my second reading. I suspect it would reward several more.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I love SF. I love Mars, and the whole idea of going to Mars.

But somehow I just couldn’t quite love The Martian.

I suspect this is due to my own limited tolerance for very hard SF, or the level of geekery required to rescue Mark Watney after he gets stranded. Certainly Andy Weir does his best to make Mark likeable and quotable, on subjects ranging from duct tape to Martian agriculture. I had no trouble believing that the science was at least feasible. And I did enjoy experiencing (as closely as anyone would probably want to) life in the Hab.

Unfortunately, every exciting turn of events seemed to be followed by several pages of technical detail. I skimmed what I could, understood not much of it, and felt a bit frustrated by the time the problem was solved and the plot continued. Though I cared enough about all the characters to want them to succeed, it was a relief in more ways than one when they finally did.





View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Bloody Chamber and Other StoriesThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Although this short but incredibly concentrated collection is apparently a modern classic, I’d never run into it until now. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the more elegant bits of darkness I’ve read in some time.

In these ten tales, Angela Carter doesn’t so much retell various fairy tales & legends as rip them apart and rebuild them entirely. Her style is elaborate, poetic, and measured. Her viewpoint is unabashedly feminist, yet critical to the point of cynicism. Her obsessions – and she seems to have had quite a few – are worked out over & over again, reflections in a series of precisely warped mirrors.

Whether this approach works or not depends upon the individual reader. It certainly worked for me – once I slowed down enough to absorb these stories as the near prose-poems they are. My personal favorites were “The Bloody Chamber,” “The Tiger’s Bride,” and “The Lady in the House of Love,” but YMMV – and it’s almost sure to. Do yourself a favor, though, and read this collection in order. Many of the tales play off previous ones, and skipping around may dilute the effect.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Searchers After Horror: New Tales of the Weird and FantasticSearchers After Horror: New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic by S.T. Joshi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


[Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology. I won’t be discussing it here.]

Taking its inspiration from a quote by H.P. Lovecraft (in “The Picture in the House”), this anthology focuses on weird places and disturbing locales – from a variety of perspectives. Not all are Lovecraftian, though a goodly number are.

Although the stories do have some flow between them – assuming they are read in sequence – this is a remarkably diverse assortment. Straight-up Lovecraftian adventure? It’s here. Haunted house tales? Also here. Ditto for dark SF, literary weirdness, at least one bit of graphic violence, and many approaches in between. The quality in general is quite high, though these tales skew toward “disturbing” rather than “blatantly horrific.”

My personal favorites in this one were by John Shirley, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Simon Strantzas, Brian Stableford, and Nancy Kilpatrick.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Annihilation Score (Laundry Files, #6)The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Bob Howard’s wife – and fellow Laundry agent – Dr. Dominique “Mo” O’Brien finally gets her own adventure in this highly entertaining sixth volume of the Laundry Files. Recruited to help combat a growing plague of superheroes (yes, you read that right), Mo and her soul-devouring bone violin must assemble their own team of heroes while dealing with eldritch horrors, The King in Yellow, and British institutional bureaucracy.

Guess which one creates the most havoc?

As with all the Laundry novels, this one offers a satisfying mixture of tongue-in-cheek humor and genuinely chilling moments. Character depth seemed a bit better than usual, and female fans of the Laundry will probably find Mo’s “voice” convincing. Some familiarity with Robert W. Chambers might help this time around, though.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Emperors of Dreams: Some Notes on Weird PoetryEmperors of Dreams: Some Notes on Weird Poetry by S.T. Joshi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


[Disclaimer: I have a small mention in this book. I won’t be discussing it in this review.]

This slim collection of essays on six major weird poets – George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Samuel Loveman, Donald Wandrei, & Frank Belknap Long – reprints five of those essays from previous collections edited by Joshi. In addition, there is a very useful introduction (a brief summary of weird poetry & poets leading up to the modern era), and a final chapter entitled “Some Contemporaries.” Since the book itself came out in 2008, this chapter is slightly dated, though notable for including mention of both American & Australian poets. Special mention is also given to Californian weird poets past & present.

The essays themselves vary widely in scope, although Joshi’s personal approach to literary criticism prevails throughout. Generous samples of each subject’s work are provided, along with endnotes. Those seeking an accessible yet scholarly overview of these six poets won’t be disappointed, though the book may be somewhat difficult to find.




View all my reviews
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Whom the Gods Would DestroyWhom the Gods Would Destroy by Brian Hodge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This well-crafted bit of cosmic horror is a fine example of why the novella is an ideal length for the dark stuff. There’s no flab here to get in the way of Brian Hodge’s storytelling, though there is – and needs to be – a considerable amount of scientific information and theoretical speculation. (Have you ever heard of a von Neumann probe? I hadn’t, either.)

Although I wouldn’t call this story strictly Lovecraftian (it names no Names, & certainly doesn’t commit pastiche), I caught echoes of several of HPL’s more famous tales. An unwanted, uncanny heritage? Check. A creepy mother in league with something Not of This World? Check. Hypotheses that would make Fox Mulder roll his eyes turning out to be hideously true? Check . . .

All the same, there’s nothing warmed-over about the plot here. It’s an investigative thriller, a decent piece of SF, & an increasingly chilling horror tale all in one, with an ending I honestly don’t think I’ve seen before. Lovecraftians might enjoy this a little more than other horror readers, but it’s a solid two hours of entertainment either way – and the prose, though not flashy, never detracts. Recommended.




View all my reviews

October 2017

S M T W T F S
1 234567
891011121314
15 161718192021
22232425262728
293031    

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 20th, 2017 07:34 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios