Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Drunken Exorcist (Necro), by K Trap Jones

I usually have some snarky lead in, but could not come up with one here that did not come across as completely dickish. Make up one of your own, then place it here in your mind.

The Drunken Exorcist is the incredibly short tale of Father Schnitt, an exorcist who is drunk. I know, who could have seen that coming, eh. He found out early in his career 1.) that gentle, talk-based exorcisms don't really work and 2.) that demons suffer much more under the touch of whiskey than they do holy water. Explains why I've been demon free since 2004. Give the man some firearms, his trusty machete and a bottle of amber delight and he's ready to tear some soulless freaks apart.

The premise here is fun enough. Remove all the prissy elements from exorcism stories and replace them with ass kicking and guns and liquor and anger and awesomeness. You had me at the bad pun on the back page description. I was expecting raucous rock n' gore with maybe a bit of religious background to give it heart. Hell, throw in a noirish broken and bitter main character and I could cream my pants just thinking about it.

Unfortunately, I couldn't maintain my excitement while reading. It became incredibly clear three chapters in that Jones was falling into the common trap (see what I did with the pun there?) of the journal format: a series of events that don't quite constitute a story. Too many of the chapters are simply a description of a demon the good father fought. Coming in at a scant 90 pages, it really could have been cut down by half with no one noticing the difference. Maybe this structure could have worked better if the demons were given more personality, but they were nothing more than one note jokes outlined in the title of the chapter (The Fat One is gluttonous, The Shitty One is fought in a bathroom, etc.). Even the main character is kept pretty thin, and you spend most of the time in his head. He comes across as nothing more than a guy who kills people to get demons out because demons are bad. We also aren't really given a reason to believe that last statement, besides the fact that they take over people who have no life beyond becoming possessed. The professor could have been interesting, but he spouted some rhetoric and was torn up too quickly to find out.

Then there are the more nit picky things. I usually don't gripe about editorial concerns but there were far too many downright weird choices in wording that turned the prose clunky and completely pulled me out of the tale. “I awoke by the sound of tapping on glass” may not be grammatically abhorrent, but it hits the ear all wrong. There are also a few factual problems. The one that killed everything for me pops up near the end, with the mention of “Father Christopher, leader of the church.” That's his title. We're all pretty comfortable in the knowledge that the Catholic church is the only one that has traditionally believed in exorcism. I'm sure we all know what the title of the head of the catholic church is, and it isn't “leader”. That proved too much for me.

Okay, so I skipped the usual intro because I usually try to find a relatively even slant to my reviews and everything I started with was just plain mean. Then I managed to say a bunch more mean things in the rest. If you look at it as a collection of tiny vignettes of a man who kicks ass for the lord (glory be to St Peter Jackson), then you'll probably have a decent time. I just couldn't find it for myself here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming (Alliteration Ink), by Alethea Kontis

Princesses are not meant to pickup slimy, spit covered things from an animal’s mouth, especially if that animal is a scary ghost-demon wearing a crown of smoldering napalm.

-“Diary of a Ghost’s Mistress”

Before anything else is said, please note that both the title and cover art are at best uninspired and are not particularly representative of the contents. Remember what momma said about books and covers, dearhearts.

Alethea Kontis is one of those authors whose name I’ve heard bandied about by almost everyone I know. I’ve been told of her prowess with fairy tales and manipulation of voice. I’ve seen more pictures of her at every convention I couldn’t afford to go to, hanging with people I would die to brush across the merest presence of, than I care to admit. Publishers, writers and readers seem to adore her. And yet, I’ve never read anything beyond a short story or two. Certainly not enough to get a sense of her as a writer. Then this collection finds its way across my desk.

Like any good collection, WWDD provides a solid view of the various facets of Alethea’s writing. And she does keep herself varied. I expected, largely due to the princess tiaras she is rarely seen without, a heavy focus on Disney level fantasy. I wasn’t expecting some rather dark existential horror. Or a bit of Bradbury style Sci-fi. Then there was the love letter to Willy Wonka. Who the hell expects that?

Let’s start with my dearest love, the horror. Oh, the horror. If you read Apex’s Dark Faith, then you know how mean “The God of Last Moments” is. Painfully harsh, but personally beautiful. Then there is the stark, creeping moroseness of “The Witch of Black Mountain.” Or the giddy joy of “The Monster & Mrs. Blake.” Or the heartache and dread of “Diary of a Ghost’s Mistress.” These aren’t gory tales, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this pixie holds back in any way.

On to the Sci-fi. “Savage Planet” is a particularly cheesy title, especially considering the tie to a character. Personally, I think that “There are spiders in the sun” (a castoff line from the story) would have made a better title for both the story and the collection. But it carries a very personable sensibility that far too much of its genre lacks. In fact, her sci-fi, as a whole, is so solidly anchored in the characters over the technology that I tended to forget that I was indeed reading science fiction. You can see why I compared her to Bradbury, I’m sure.

Fairy tales. Fairy tales. What can I say about her fairy tales? That sense of wonder and amazement, as well as abundant hope, swells and bursts in every tale here. She holds dear to the oral tradition they are born from. Her voice (and I do not mean this in a literary but a purely literal sense) pours from the page. I could picture each story here being read to me, bedside, by my mother in those lost days of shorter legs. I get the sense that every story is, to her, a tale of the fae in some way or another. How else could she work that line at the top of this review into a ghost story.

If you are a horror fan looking for gore... If you are a sci-fi fan looking for in depth critiques of social structure and mechanics... If you are a fantasy fan looking for epic confrontations of kings and queens and elves and dwarves... You’ll be disappointed here. There is no getting around that and there is no point beating around the bush.

But, if you want stories based in the small, individual struggles against the self. Tight, tiny delvings into conflicted minds. And a sense that, most of the time, there is some kind of light, dim as it may be, beckoning at the end of the tunnel. Well, then, you won’t go wrong here.