Monday, July 30, 2012

A SHORT STAY IN HELL (Strange Violin), by Steven L. Peck

When I read the jacket blurb on this book, I must admit to no little excitement on my part. 
As a faithful Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones in an eternal hereafter. Then he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of his life.”

A great idea, right?

The answer is a resounding yes—it is a great idea. Unfortunately, it was an idea that, to me, really didn’t go anywhere after the initial “great idea” glow subsided.

In Peck’s novella, we discover that the only true religion (which, of course, nobody realized), is Zoroastrianism, and anyone not following this faith is given an express pass to Hell. The premise is fine, but it might have been nice if the author had given the reader more of a clue about what Zoroastrianism was about. We learn more about Mormonism than the “one true religion.” 
Once our hero finds himself in Hell’s library, he realizes that finding his life story isn’t going to be easy, or particularly pleasant. To those of us who are readers, spending hundreds of years in a library sounds more like Heaven than Hell; but most of the books in this library don’t make any sense. They are filled with gibberish, with only the occasional book containing even one readable phrase. Finding the book containing his life’s story is pretty much out of the question, and that is where the Hell comes in. The dimensions of the library are beyond imagining, and Peck does a good job conveying the vastness of the place.

The major problem with this novella is that it is monotonous—but existential philosophy, when applied to a work of fiction, usually is unless it is handled deftly. I realize that the author is attempting to convey the monotony as one of Hell’s many tortures, but making the reader suffer it is not the best way to do that and keep one’s readership. 
Additionally, the protagonist, Soren, does not change or grow, which makes the story somewhat pointless. There is little that is remotely interesting about him—certainly not enough for this reader to be pulling for him in his quest. Creating characters that bore us to the point where we care little about what happens to them is tantamount to opening up a femoral artery where exemplary fiction writing is concerned.

I wish I had more good things to say about A SHORT STAY IN HELL. I opened this book really wanting to like it and came away disappointed.

Carson Buckingham is a multi-published dark fiction author. She also writes a humor blog at: and has an editing service at: She can be reached at:

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Obsession", (Samhain Horror), by Ramsey Campbell

Continuing Samhain Horror's line of re-printed Ramsey Campbell novels is "Obsession", a novel hinging on one of the most classic of all cautionary themes, be careful what you wish may just get it.  In this novel, half-hearted, juvenile wishes are granted in horrible, unimaginable ways, but - as always in these tales - there's a price to pay.  A terrible one, which is visited years down the road, after the wishes have long been forgotten.

A group of friends are faced with a fantastic, impossible scenario: wishing away their adolescent problems.  Peter's grandmother has recently moved in, changing he and his family's way of life. Jimmy's father is forever throwing money away at the horse races, even as their little family-run cafe is failing. Steve - a budding communist - faces persecution at school from a teacher because of his beliefs. And Robin's single mother must constantly deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

These are problems of life. And like all problems, there are no easy answers. Or are there? Because one day, Peter receives in the mail a form and a very simple letter reading the following:
Whatever you most need, I do. The price is something that you do not value and which you may regain.
Thinking the whole matter a hoax, the four friends fill out their forms and make their wishes on a bluff overlooking the coast. However, at an inopportune - and eerie - moment, the forms are all torn from their grasps by the wind and blown out to sea, and they are quick to chalk the whole thing up to exactly what they'd imagined it to be: a prank.

But the wishes come true.  In some ways horrible, in others unexpected, but looming behind them all is the second stipulation of the letter: the price. But of course they are children, flexible and adaptable and very willing to forget, which is exactly what they do.  Forget, separate, grow up and live their own lives.  And, really - could the price be so bad? Especially considering that it would be something that they "do not value"?

However, twenty-five years later, they realize a terrifying truth: that what they value NOW very likely was something they did NOT value when they made the pact.  So what they'd have no fear of losing as adolescents...may now be the most important things to them. 

As always, Campbell mines feelings and emotions from the deep well of the human condition. And, especially in this work, his supernatural touch is very light.  It's there, in the letters and some hauntings, but so much of this novel is about the characters themselves: how their lives may or may not have turned out how they wanted, (Peter's dull, bland life), how they deal with tragedy, (Jimmy's wife's death), adversity, (Steve's marital problems) and illness (Robin's mother slipping deeper into dementia and Alzheimer's).  The real horror in this novel is life and mistakes and failure and desperation, which very much lift it above normal horror fare.

Visit  Buy the paperback or ebook today.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine, a blogger for The Midnight Diner, and a podcaster at Tales to Terrify. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Telling, (Realms Fiction), by Mike Duran

Mike Duran's second novel "The Telling" is an intelligent, well-written thriller about the consequences of ignoring one's calling in the midst of a struggle between good and evil. In some ways reminiscent of Robert McCammon's "Mystery Walk", Duran pens a much darker, more intriguing tale than his also well-written - but somewhat standard - debut novel, "The Resurrection." 

In his second outing, Duran serves up plentiful portions of the "weird" and "fantastic" with ancient prophecies, body-snatching demons, quantum physics, parallel dimensions, a burned-out prophet, covert government military experiments and a possibly immortal holy warrior.  All centered around a portal to hell, whose opening is imminent. 

Once, Zephaniah Walker had a calling. The Voice of God spoke to him, giving him words of encouragement AND chastisement for the faithful.  Hundreds flocked to his gatherings, making him a near-celebrity on the revival circuit.  But eventually, the continual pressure of having to "perform" on a regular basis - whether he'd received God's Word or not - wears upon Zephaniah.  He's only a child, after all.  Driven by a zealous, perhaps slightly unbalanced mother determined to keep her gifted boy on his "chosen path".

But his mother dies.  His father remarries, they leave the revival circuit behind...and at the hands of his abusive, psychotic step-mother, Zephaniah loses what little faith he has left, loses his way, also.  He grows into Zeph Walker, a recluse living on the edge of the desert, near Death Valley, wanting nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten.

But ancient prophecies heed the wishes of no man, not even a burned-out former prophet.  Forces far above Zeph still have plans for him, for a rising evil - leaking out from the bowels of Hell itself - is slowly infiltrating the citizens of Endurance.  Dark magics, quantum physics, secret government projects collide in a foolhardy attempt to open a portal to Hell. According to an ancient prophecy, only one man can stop it - a man gifted with divine Speech - except there's one problem.

He's no longer talking.  Or listening.  And he just wants to be left alone.  But he finds that impossible, especially when the evil threatening him wears his face.

Consummate blogger and writer Mike Duran has crafted a rich tale tale that mixes and matches its elements, a true genre-blend. There's horror, quantum physics, folk-lore, allegory, secret-government projects, demonic invasion - you name it, it's in there.  Published in the Christian Bookseller Association, the story is faith-driven, but by no means agenda-driven, which makes all the difference in the world.  It's above-all an excellent, enjoyable story about a broken man coming to terms with himself and his destiny.  That, and an impending, demonic invasion from Hell, of course.

One of the most enjoyable characters, however, isn't necessarily the main character but Little Weaver.  Indian mystic, angel, immortal guardian of the portal to hell - his character is never fully explained, which is a good thing.  Excellent writers don't need to fill in all the blanks for us, not when a character has been so fleshed out and realized. Duran does this here, which only strengthens his tale.

Visit  Buy the ebook or paperback today. 

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine, a blogger for The Midnight Diner, and a podcaster at Tales to Terrify. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at

Thursday, July 5, 2012

BLACKOUT (Orbit ) by Mira Grant

***BLACKOUT is the third book in a trilogy that builds heavily upon itself. Because of that, there is no way that I can talk about this work without spoiling several key events of the previous books. It isn’t designed in a way that you would enjoy it without reading both of those first anyways, so start there. We’ve got reviews of both FEED and DEADLINE to check out in the meantime.***
Here it is people, the one you’ve been waiting for. Our oldest got us all excited, the middle kid left us agitated and confused and this one is supposed to wrap it all up. This is the point where Newsflesh will either be remembered as a great trilogy in a sea of limp, processed zombie crap or it will just leave us all pissed off for getting us so worked up. Does it satisfy?
Yes. Go buy it if you don’t already have a half-devoured copy on your bookshelf.
You want details before you blindly follow my orders? Fine. The conspiracy that overran the Ryman presidential campaign, leveled Oakland and left the team at After the End Times with too many corpses in their wake has only gotten broader. The heads of AtET are all hunted fugitives hiding out with a mad scientist. Florida has been lost completely, due to a surprise insect vector of Kellis-Amberlee, just in time to distract from the raid on the CDC. People with reservoir conditions are being killed off because they carry a possible immunity to the disease. And they’ve brought Georgia back as a clone?
That last bit had me worried, since it smacked of a cheap way to bring back a beloved character, but her resurrection is integral to the larger issue of criminal misuse of science for the purpose of maintaining control. Sure, we do get a nice comfy feeling having good old George back but we also know enough not to trust it in the hands of an author who has made it perfectly clear that she won’t treat us with kid gloves. Her presence, and the reason for it, alters the path of events in integral and powerful ways that certainly calmed my initial qualms.
Overall, the dangers compound, hope rises and gets smashed against the ground, the stakes escalate and the conspiracy we’ve been following deepens. Yet, through it all, Mira maintains the sense of regular people unwittingly and unwillingly thrust into desperate times and situations determined to do what’s right, even when they don’t necessarily know what the right thing to do is, or how to do it. They’re not special, just schleps who want the truth to be heard.
And damn do I love those schleps. I can’t gush enough over how comforting it was to settle back into this crew of crazy people. Shaun’s headlong rush for vengeance and crazy discussions with the dead sister living in his head. Becks’ anger and pure sincerity. Mahir’s dry and incredibly British sense of humor. Maggie’s energy. Aleric being an asshole. They feel like friends I never got to meet in person and I still enjoyed getting a chance to sit in their heads while the world crumbled around them.
Now, those expecting a denouement to the grand, global issues revolving around the Masons and their fellow newsies may find themselves a bit disappointed. Changes and resolutions are moved toward, but we don’t get to see the long term effect of them, so we don’t know how it truly works out. However, in my mind at least, this was never a story about those issues so much as how these people dealt with them. In that, we do reach a very satisfying conclusion that wrapped up their stories quite well. However, I am biting my tongue about a certain revelation that I didn’t think was necessary, except to give a romantic edge to the story that wasn’t really needed and made it a bit creepy.
All in all, this is a great last third to the Newsflesh story that manages to keep the focus clearly on the characters while still revealing incredible and frightening things about both their world and ours.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.