Friday, May 23, 2014

Reviewish: Deepest, Darkest Eden

Deepest, Darkest Eden - ed. Cody Goodfellow, Miskatonic River Press

I've been sitting on writing this review for a while, because what I've been trying to mentally do is form my thoughts into a quippy blurb that would really sell this collection to people who were looking to the reviews to help them decide. I finally realized though, that while I could probably do so, it is a disservice to the authors in the text and to readers for me to try to spin my opinion. (Reviews are opinions, no matter how well-backed.) It is far better that I just lay out my experience & thoughts plainly.

In short, this is a pretty tasty collection of stories that execute the art of pastiche perfectly. (I'm a fan of pastiche for several reasons; chief among them is that a pastiche is what brought me to a love of Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes.) 

Full Cover art for Deepest, Darkest Eden
Revolving around, inspired by, progeny from frothy, dark, eldritch literary spawn of Clark Ashton Smith, these stories put out. Which is to say, they deliver exactly what's promised. Overall, each story (and poem - there are a couple) nails the atmospheric feeling of an ol' CAS tale. Details are heavy & rich and doom lingers. This is a great anthology if you're looking for something with that CAS flair. Or, if you've never experienced it. Be prepared, though - these stories (and their origin) come in a very particular flavor.

While I enjoyed the whole collection overall, there are a few worth note - both good and bad. I'll start with my primary candidates of best/worst:

"Daughter of The Elk Goddess" - Probably my favorite. In a way, the story was fairly predictable (after a while of reading, most stories are, aren't they?) - but the execution was so lovely that I couldn't help but love it. I enjoyed reading it the most, no doubt. Though I knew where things were going, I still reacted as though I hadn't. That's a mark of a good story teller; it took me to a destination, but the journey was the more worthy part.

"In Old Commoriom" - I enjoyed this story for the most part, but there were aspects of it that took away from the overall narrative. In places it seemed to drone, and then the ending tries for something clever and it really broke the build-up for me. In a couple places, the carefully wrought language seemed to slip into more contemporary parlance and that was a bit jarring. Not a bad story by any means, but one that had some "fridge moments" that didn't wait for me to put the story down to interrupt my enjoyment and make me ask "Wait, what?" Your mileage may vary.

That said, even if I considered "In Old Commoriom" one of the weakest stories in the book - it's STILL a 3 star story by itself (1=skip it, 3=decent enough to read, and pretty interesting - not enough to bring down my estimation of the text by any means.

Honorable Mentions: "The Lost Archetype" and "The Door from Earth" and "Zolamin and the Mad God" (which I forgot to mention in my Amazon review). These three were great reads. "The Lost Archetype" was peculiarly fulfilling; the ending was suitable and there was a good bit of tension in the telling, but overall it was just /fun/. "The Door from Earth" tickled all of the places in me that require a particular sort of ending. I admit to giggling a little - though the story isn't "funny". Finally, "Zolamin and the Mad God" was another that just... satisfied. I can't put my finger on it, and maybe that's why it slipped my mind when I put up my Amazon review... but it was definitely satisfying. All three were solidly crafted and gave the sense of a completed tale. I imagine each of them could easily also be expanded into larger works - but there's no feel of a need for that.

Ultimately, I wouldn't feel the need to offer any caveats if I were to suggest this collection to a reader looking for something with that Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, or H. P. Lovecraft sort of feel. Similarly, if you've ever enjoyed anything in the sword & sorcery realm, I think there's plenty tot tickle your fancy in this collection. It was an enjoyable and engrossing read. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reviewish: No Lasting Burial (The Zombie Bible)

Reviews of the arts are always going to be a very personal thing. What makes the difference (as I've mentioned many times in my real life, but maybe not here) is if a person has the self-awareness and analytical wherewithal to be able to adequately and accurately describe the WHY of their assertions. (Technical reviews of function tend to be a little less subjective - did a thing do the job it was supposed to do in the method in which it was supposed to do so?) I hope I can hold up to my own standards.

I start off with this sort-of disclaimer because I recently finished reading a book that I consider to be a great read because of its impact on me on that personal level.

No Lasting Burial, by Stant Litore (The Kindle edition is on sale for $2 - if you don't have a Kindle, you can still read it through the PC Cloud Reader or through the Kindle App on other devices - and the paperback is just under $9. I recently won a hard copy in a contest and it is really a well-printed book.)

I'm going to endeavor to avoid spoilers.

I'll try to start with the more technical aspects:

The writing is lovely. While the bulk of textual entertainment can be referred to as "prose", I tend to save this word for particularly well-wrought and beautiful language. This is not experimental or high-brow stunting; Litore's prose is direct and 'simple' (but not simplistic) while also being complex and, at times, layering in more meaning.

The story is engaging and moves along at a very steady clip. I was surprised at the size of the print-copy of the text. (I read the Kindle version.) It is a hefty book! Originally released in episodes on Amazon, it does have pacing that allows you to step away at the end of each episode, but I found that I didn't really want to. Still, it was convenient when I needed to. In total, I finished reading the book in less than 6 hours total. (Despite its 360+ page length - in electronic and in print format.)

Good word use, great story crafting - there's not much more I can ask for in a text.

Here's where things get tricky, though - at least, as I've encountered in talking to people who've never heard of this book. This is part of a series called "The Zombie Bible". I know that for most people, this immediately summons up ideas of zombie-insertion fiction and a certain level of cheese, camp, and/or gore. While there is some gore (none I found gratuitous - and I have used that word to apply to blood/violence in a Tarantino film, for some context of my use of the word), this book was not cheesy or campy. The zombies, though, are not just zombies. These are The Dead; they are/were people and they have something to say to the reader, just as much as any of the other characters.

Then there's the matter of this being a story about Christ and his invitation to Shimon (Peter) (and others) to follow him. My relationship with religion and faith have always been fairly distant, if not strained or estranged. I came up through churches with a lot of conflicting views, a tendency to take all the wrong things literally, and a drive to snuff out questions. These experiences did not cultivate a lot of faith or trust in me. However, this portrayal of a figure I've known since childhood was (to continue to overuse a word) beautiful.

If you are of a particular mindset, this book will probably challenge you in some ways. I hope, if you choose to read this, you'll be open to that challenge to think and examine what you think and why. I did not, however, find anything about the rendering of this story to conflict with the broader message I've since extracted about Christianity (love one another, be excellent to each other, God will take care of the sorting - not my job).

I tried, just now, while talking to a friend and trying to figure out how to "sell" someone on the idea of a text that is called "The Zombie Bible", to read a passage to him and explain just why and how it moved me. I couldn't read it out loud. As soon as I tried, I started to sob.

 "My mother ... she told me once that our father did not promise a life without pain. ... Not without pain. Only that he would weep with us. Only that his heart would break. Only that he would take each moment of suffering, each death, each, and hold it in his hands, and ... and bring from it something, something even more beautiful than what was lost."

This book was a really personal experience for me and that's all manner of odd to admit "out loud" when you're talking about a book that includes zombies. But they aren't just zombies, and no other threat (packs of wild dogs, Romans, or tribbles) could replace them. The Dead are so much more than that. They are a symbol and a metaphor. They are a binding and a sundering. And Litore's treatment of Christ did not threaten or scare or offend me. (I'm not very easy to offend.) If anything, it brought a little spark of faith and hope back to my life. It brought some humanity to a figure that so much of my experience has painted as pretty flat. If THIS were the Jesus I experienced in my youth, if THESE were the words given to me from that pulpit-of-authority when I needed them? I think things would've been different. Maybe I'd be different. Those words, that quote, are something that could've soothed some hurts when I was younger. Far better than any attempts at therapy or self-medication to sort through hurt and anger.

I cannot and will not apologize for works that touch me.

I am not, however, trying to convince anyone else to read this book for that experience. What books touch us is a unique experience for every individual. We all have our own special texts that impact, brand, mark us for life.

What I am saying, though, is that this is an honestly good read if one can set aside assumptions and take it in on its own terms; a 'second world' retelling of a familiar tale, with some hungry Dead.

If you're even a little curious, I encourage you to give it a read. And, at $2 (at the time of this posting), what can it hurt?