Friday, June 18, 2010

Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow By Richard Wright

Well, ye olde boyles and ghouls, this is it. The last chapter of the first volume, the last episode of the first season of Shroud’s flagship franchise: Hiram Grange. You know what you know by this point and your opinion of the series is likely already set (God knows I’ve made my own clear enough). The main question at this point is a simple one: Does Nymphs live up to the reputation? Of course it does, this is Hiram we’re talking about.

This isn’t the first time Hiram has found himself in a strange city, beaten near to death and standing between the clueless masses and some hideous force that wants nothing more than to devour them. The problem is that he was sent there to kill someone else. Someone he was told wasn’t a person at all. Someone who has information that will completely shatter his view of the work he does. Oh, and the streets are teeming with legions of hot, naked nymphs who want to kill him with sex…

Where 12 Little Hitlers was driven by Hiram’s chemical addictions, Nymphs is driven by his more carnal proclivities. This presents us with a very creepy, in the old-guy-in-a-van-giving-out-free-candy sort of way, view of him. His usual obsession with Jodie Foster, in Richard Wright’s hands, becomes something filthy and diseased. In general, even when dealing with the life-sucking spirits of penile destruction, he comes across as nothing so much as a smutty letch. Exactly what we’ve come to adore about the slimy little bastard.

What makes this tale particularly interesting is the struggle with his other, less obvious compulsion: his tendency to follow orders without thinking on his own. We’ve already seen, in Hitlers and, to a certain degree, Chosen, the ruin that can come of abject obedience in Hiram’s world, but now he has to make a choice that will decide the direction of his life. In a realm of already murky morality, Wright has dumped him into fog shrouded mire where once-pure intentions are taking on a sinister tinge. He has done a marvelous job of ramping up the consequences here and it makes for a riveting read.

In past reviews, I’ve raved and drooled all over the artwork of Macolm McClinton and the case is certainly no different here. His visions of Dickens and Lovecraft filtered through the lens of David Fincher have become an inextricable part of Hiram lore and the ecstatic writhing of our friend on the cover is gorgeous. Still, there isn’t much more to say about that. However, it is worth mentioning the growing place of the woodcuts by Danny Evarts. Elegant and unobtrusive as they are, they add a subtle level to the effect of the books that is often over looked. The man deserves his due!

If there is any problem with this book, it’s the lack of personality that the others possessed. For good or ill, each previous iteration has come across as integrally tied to the heart and soul of the person who wrote it, melding their own world view and writing quirks into the character and world of Hiram Grange. Nymphs, effortlessly entertaining as it is, doesn’t carry the sense that it could not have been written by anyone other than this specific guy. But, hell, the story should always come before the author and this story is a damn fine one.

In the end, Nymphs of Krakow is precisely what we have come to expect from a Hiram Grange story: snappy, punchy and unafraid to be a bit rough in the sack. I wouldn’t recommend it as a first read for the series, but fans would have no reason to turn away from it.

This book has not yet been officially released, but you will soon be able to buy it here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dark Faith, Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

Many people believe that faith and horror do not mix, but I would be among the first to argue that point. The experience of terror is an intensely spiritual one and spiritual experiences can often be quite terrifying.

Dark Faith is an anthology that focuses on that experience of terror in the spiritual realm, an exploration of faith through horror. If anyone is qualified to put something like this together, then the sinister minister, Maurice Broaddus, certainly has to be that man. The result is something that resembles a conversation, in allegorical terms, that is at turns harrowing, hilarious, thought provoking and confounding.

Something that specifically impressed me with this collection was the variety of faiths represented. There is the rage fueled, self-directed atheist manifesto, “He Who Would Not Bow” by Wrath James White rubbing elbows with Douglas Warrick’s bhuddist lesson for a Christian God, “Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation.” Later on you’ll get to see a story of old gods of the Americas (“Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes”, by Jay Lake) bumping uglies with self-determinism of Levy/Randian proportions via arrogant birds (Richard Dansky’s “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King”). Mary Kowal’s “Ring Road” even features Baldur.

The inclusion of poetry (scarce as it is), further expands this sense of variety. The wondrous Linda D. Addison sets the tone of complexity and confounding intricacy for the book with “The Story of Belief-Non”. Meanwhile, Jennifer Baungartner managed to fit possession, murder and a total loss of the self into 4 stanzas with “C{her}ry Carvings” and Kurt Dinan serves up a tasty platter of “Paranoia” that’ll have you looking over your shoulder for weeks.

Similarly, the tone is just as varied between stories. From the unmitigated rage of Brian Keene’s “I Sing a New Psalm” and Lucy Snyder’s “Miz Ruthie Pays Her Respects” to the inner strength found in the lost past of “The Unremembered” (Chesya Burke) and the unexpected hope of “The Ghosts of New York” (Jennifer Pelland). There is not an emotional palette left undappled here.

But, without a doubt, my favorite tale here is Piccirilli the almighty’s “Scrawl”. A not so simple story of a nondescript middle aged man getting some strange. Maybe I'm a moron, but I have no idea what the hell this has to do with faith. Perhaps it is about a renewed faith in oneself? A power hidden in weak folds of pudgy flesh? Whatever the hell it is, it certainly isn't horror! But you know what? I don't care. It left me tittering in my cubicle like a little schoolgirl, but I wanted to howl. Also, to another pudgy, middle aged nondescript guy, it was quite empowering. Fuckin Pic, man. Fuckin Pic.

That said, devil his due and all…While there wasn’t anything particularly bad on display, there was a fair share of meh. “The Crater” and “Hush” are great examples of stories I forgot immediately after reading. They just didn’t have the emotional or psychological oomph I need. Then there is “For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer” by Gary Braunbeck, which was basically a lesson in the essential mythos to his Cedar Creek Cycle wrapped in a paper thin afterthought of a story. I’m a huge fan of the big B, but this was a rare disappointment. Richard Wright’s “Sandboys” accomplished the same thing this one seemed to be reaching for with much more grace.

Dark Faith is a gutsy anthology of a type that you will rarely have to opportunity to peruse. Regardless of your own faith, it will be tested within these pages and you will not leave unscathed.

Consume here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hiram Grange and the Chosen One by Kevin Lucia

Several reviews of Hiram Grange and the Village of the Damned mentioned how tough it is to start a series, but I disagree. The person who starts it gets to set all the rules, they’re the one who sets the stage for everyone else that follows. With no expectations, they have free reign with the material, characters and their approach to dealing with them. Even the person writing the second one has a fair amount of wiggle room, since no type of pattern has been established. The worst they can do is fail to get people’s attention. Writing after that is when it gets tough. People have expectations and, if you do not meet them, there will be some highly pissed off people. Us fanboys can be brutal little bastards.

So here comes Kevin Lucia, someone whose short fiction I have quite enjoyed, stepping up to the world of Hiram Grange, a series I have unequivocally adored so far. The result is a book that would stand quite well on its own, but doesn’t quite feel like Hiram to me.

We all know by now that the cuddly little jackhole, Hiram, makes his own way. He blazes it with his own sweat, blood and the expended cartridges of his trusty Webley (except the one, of course). But now, a swarm of squirming, tentacled nasties are bursting their way out of people, bend on devouring a poor young lady of unfortunate heritage. And here comes Mab, queen of Faerie, telling him that he has to help them destroy her, to avoid the fate she will bring upon the world. Do you honestly think he’s going to agree with that haughty bitch?

On its own, this would make for a great story. Lucia has proven himself time and time again to be a master of the morality tale and here is an opportunity to twist a seemingly simple decision on its ass. One life for that of the world should be no question at all, but he doesn’t make it that easy. Especially to someone who has already sacrificed more innocent lives than he can handle. Hiram’s desperation, his need to find some semblance of hope in a crumbling world, practically sings off of the page. The pacing is marvelous, the story lean and one of the big bads is Yog Sothoth, the gate and the way himself. I was reading this at work and got quite miffed at people who had the nerve to call and disturb me. This is a heck of a tale.

But, to me, it isn’t a Hiram Grange tale.

Jake Burrows and Scott Christian Carr established a singular tone to HG: a sense of balls-out absurdity and insanity stared down with dead seriousness and personal dissolution. In my opinion, that is where the heart of this series lies and this book missed the mark. As good as it is, the story here is fairly straight forward and lacks the sense that damn near anything could occur that is carried so well through those earlier excursions. We know right from the start which decision Hiram will make because it is the decision he should make. Worse, Hiram has, for some unknown reason, switched from sullen and withdrawn to an incredibly chatty soapbox philosopher.

If you can put aside the other HG tales, Hiram Grange and The Chosen One is a good read, one of the Loooooosh’s better works. But I can’t help looking at it as a chapter in a larger narrative and the change in tone makes it hard for this drooling fanboy to accept.

Buy it direct or from Amazon