Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie

It’s been a while since I’ve read a good ghost story, and there’s a reason for that. The genre has become so defined by its tropes that it’s formed its own subgenre of reality TV, which itself has tropes. Genres evolve, but between evolutions, they fall out of favor, the proverbial haunted house going inactive during the daylight hours.

Now, I’m loving what Mike Flanagan is doing with ghost stories on film. He seems to be progressing the genre into character-driven territory in which the horror is driven by environment instead of gorey thrills. As above, so below, what Flanagan brings to film, Craig DiLouie is bringing to literature.

His latest, Episode Thirteen is a further evolution to the ghost story genre, taking a ghost hunting reality TV show and fictionalizing one particular hunt where the show maybe gets a little too real.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

This one wasn’t for me, so I had to put it down. It’s very well written, a joy to read, and easy to sink into. For readers looking to escape into a book with allure, this one might scratch that itch.

Where it fell short for me was in the very justification for why I was reading it. I generally don’t like books that appear to take my interest for granted, and one of the ways a writer can avoid tripping that particular wire is to pay heed to the inciting incident. In other words, answer the question, “why does this story begin today?” While this one is a braided structure with dueling narratives of Addie in 2014 New York and 1700s France, the former is seemingly a way for us to tour the city and the latter is a decent origin story that then mirrors the 2014 story in its wandering. I understood why Schwab told me the story of Addie first being cursed, and that arm of the braid was compelling to me until it wasn’t. I grew too frustrated with the other arm of the braid (2014), which seemed hyperfocused on demonstrating how Addie survives in contemporary New York. That isn’t enough story for me, personally, though others may find it fascinating to ponder.

The other, perhaps more substantial, trouble for me was I felt Addie was little more than the product of her curse. It’s interesting to look at her in each braid and see how she’s changed over the centuries, but from our point of view, it is only the curse that has done that to her, not the decisions she’s had to make and the external pressures applied to her, which are generally more interesting in a character development sense. Moreover, two-hundred-year-old Addie isn’t really all that surprising. She’s about what you’d expect of a person afflicted with such a curse. Though the first hundred pages make a point of mentioning some kind of defining, traumatic event that shaped her, I felt the author’s hand here, holding me at bay, denying me something compelling for reasons that weren’t clear to me. If that traumatic was so character-defining, why not tell me that story instead of the literary equivalent of a tour through New York City? If the book does contain that story, I didn’t understand why I was being taken through the mundane instead. An argument could be made that the boredom and monotony was precisely what Schwab intended me to feel, but here’s the thing: we humans already get enough of that, so if that is, indeed, the point, it shouldn’t take 100+ pages to get a reader there.

I just wasn’t convinced Schwab knew, herself, why she was telling me this story, and I felt her trying to figure that out. At this point in my life, I just don’t have the patience for that anymore. There are too many compelling books out there, and I feel my time here growing shorter. It’s okay to put down books that just aren’t doing it for you.

The silver lining here is I’d never read Schwab before and her prose was enough to intrigue me to read more of her work. I didn’t like this one but hope to pick one up with more apparent narrative purpose. If you like books you can sink into and wander without too much narrative drive, you might like it. It’s clear from the ratings on Goodreads that many others have enjoyed the book quite a bit.

‘Fairy Tale’ by Stephen King, A Review With a Long, Self-Serving Preamble

Stephen King was fundamental to my formative years in storytelling, and I know I’m far from alone in that. His writing has touched millions, and his reputation has preceded him for many more than that. You know all of this.

(If you really just want the review, scroll down to the subheading. You can’t miss it.)

When I was discovering fiction writing as a central part of my life, I found myself connecting with and inspired by his stories more than many other writers’. Like the literary elite, who might still puzzle over what it is about King’s work that people like so much, I’ve spent much of my studies thinking about why his work resonates with me. Is it the fascination with the dark and macabre? Is it some deep-seated psychological need for me to gaze into the unknown? Do I ironically find delight in terror? Wait, is there something wrong with me? I think if it were any of these things, any horror author would do, and that’s at least not how I work. 

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Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

It seems A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is a love-it-or-hate-it book, but I feel mixed. My visceral reaction was pretty strongly negative, but there are some things worth appreciating, such as an I-am-very-smart character portrayal that was 50 years ahead of its time. Ignatius can be read as the embodiment of everything that is awful about intellectuals and literary types, and he is relevant today to the extent that many of us could probably benefit from some self awareness and humility when we find ourselves pulling out that soap box. There’s also an undeniable eloquence to Toole’s writing, especially with regard to the often cartoonishly grandiose dialogue.

However, counterpoints: A Confederacy of Dunces would be a far more heartbreaking story if the main character (any of the characters, really) were at all sympathetic. Ignatius J. Reilly is kind of like J. Wellington Wimpy from Popeye if he were a villain. What makes Wimpy endearing is he’s harmless to our hero. However, time after time, Ignatius legitimately hurts people, and his only true motivation seems to be he delights in asserting his intellectual dominance.

Instead of taking Ignatius through a journey toward growth and change, Toole tries to convince the reader Ignatius is a victim, but I just couldn’t buy it. He’s a bad person because he makes bad choices, not because his mom was a bad mom and people made fun of him for being fat. Toole also tries to convince the reader he’s some kind of hero because, as it happens, his lies and cowardice yield solutions to the problems his lies and cowardice create. There is no property by which Ignatius’ actions or behavior are dismissed or forgivable. He’s awful, and it’s hard to spend 400 pages with him and feel anything but repulsion and maybe a touch of pity.

As the dialogue goes, it often reads like stage actors delivering monologues, a treatment that just doesn’t age well. Ignatius’ speeches often aren’t too far removed from Shakespeare, but they’re of the hateful variety. There’s no beauty in the character at all.

A Confederacy of Dunces is billed as a comedy, but I just didn’t find it funny. Ignatius clearly has some undiagnosed mental conditions, a point the novel is disturbingly casual with. I found much of the intended comedy to be offensive, cultural progression after the times notwithstanding. Considering the eccentricity of the characters, I might describe it as Arrested Development 50 years too soon, but the situational comedy just isn’t laughable at even the base level. Strangely for a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, there are many attempts to elicit laughs with Ignatius’ gastric distress, but the book is shy about it. Ignatius burps all over the place and at really unfortunate times, but he never once farts. I guess that would have been crossing a line into obscenity?

What I’m saying is it’s basically fart jokes, which is strange to see in such a highly regarded novel. The novel also attempts to make light of other taboo-at-the-time, dirty-humor topics, such as masturbation. Again, it’s just not funny.

Furthermore, the novel showcases a bunch of technical deficiencies, which would be fine in a novel that didn’t win a Pulitzer. For instance, perspective changes are abrupt and jarring. Dialogue runs on for pages without any kind of break from the talking heads. Nobody really changes by the end, and throughout, nobody really makes any kind of decision to affect the outcome of the story. There isn’t really a discernible point to the narrative.

I think part of my problem with this book is it’s just not my thing, but I also think it has very significant problems. It certainly offers some value, but I can’t understand why it’s so highly regarded. There’s nothing very meaningful, it wasn’t funny, and I didn’t enjoy it. However, many people clearly find meaning, comedy, and enjoyment. I just found too many liabilities to regard it as anything more than mediocre.

Review: Delusions of the Dead by T. C. Armstrong

When I read Notes From a Necrophobe, I discovered a story that was gruesome and dark yet engaging and fun. I found a book that was surprisingly fresh in well-trodden territory. Many writers sit down at the computer and hope to create a unique zombie apocalypse story. T.C. Armstrong did that with her first one. This one turns all the right screws, becomes something different, and manages to be even better.

Those aren’t empty reviewer words you expect to read from someone hoping to get a blurb on a banner ad somewhere. I really mean it, and I’ll prove it.

There’s an interesting dismantling in the first act of this story. In a sense, the book deconstructs much of what the first book established and reinvents itself. The product is an adventurous romp that’s something like the Goonies meets Zombieland.

At its core, this is a story about the ingenuity and resourcefulness of kids, and I feel like it’s the story the author wanted to tell with the first book but couldn’t quite get there because she had to do all of the world building and rule establishing and conflict setting and yada yada yada that goes with beginning a series. Delusions of the Dead dispenses with the burdens of having to set things up and just dives right in. And rather than falling into the trap so many storytellers do of using a sequel to just continue a story or give us more of the same, I feel like this one immediately glared at me, slapped me across the face, and said, “nah, I don’t wanna do that. I wanna do something else.”

The result is a bit jarring at first, but it’s for the reader’s own good.

Now I get it. If you hear a sequel is different, you get a bit cagey. When you like something, some part of you that likes satisfaction wants the same thing again but this time a little different. But the same. You want it both nostalgic and fresh. You want it both familiar and new. You want the chicken stew your mom used to make in the dead of winter, but also you’re an adult now and it would be nice if she could spice it up a bit, k? Thanks.

This is why writers shy away from sequels.

Yes, things are a bit different now, but much of what I liked about the first book hasn’t changed. There’s still a sense of glee and infatuation with morbidity in the storytelling. There are still hilarious jokes from snarky characters, many of which are returning from the first book. There’s still a sense of disillusionment with the world and wonderful allusions and references to pop culture.

It’s the same storyteller, but the story is refined, and she’s playing with some new ideas, which all means Delusions of the Dead stands on its own but also is a must-read if you enjoyed Notes From a Necrophobe like I did.

‘The Will To Survive’ Is Available Now, Proceeds To Charity

If you’re friends with me on social media (or you’re that damned stalker I almost caught in the tree outside my office that one time when my wife said, “it probably was just a couple of squirrels making that rustling sound,” and I said, “I know what I saw,” and she said never you mind what my wife said), you may have seen me mention this anthology, “The Will To Survive.”

If you’re not friends with me on social media, that’s fine, I guess. *kicks rocks

But this isn’t about us, friends, non-friends, and frenemies. This is about an anthology for hurricane relief.

I know last fall seems like ages ago, but it was, in fact, mere months, and if you recall, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria pounded the Southeastern United States, Virgin Islands, and Caribbean in rapid succession. Damage estimates are in the billions of dollars, and still, five months later, parts of Puerto Rico’s electric grid remain down.

In case you need a translation on that, those are U.S. citizens who don’t have basic utilities five months after a hurricane.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Before I picked up Neverwhere, I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

I went for Neverwhere because American Gods seemed like too much of a commitment (but I’ll get to it), and it intrigued me as an archetypal urban fantasy novel, a genre I’m trying to get more into.

Everyone seems to love Neverwhere. It seems to occupy a space of underground reverence (no, that’s not a pun). All of my friends on Goodreads have given it five stars, and nobody will dare utter a bad word about it.

So I will. I’m sorry to say I thought Neverwhere was just okay.

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Artemis by Andy Weir

I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.

There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.

Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.

In many ways, The Martian is an inferior story. It’s clearly a premise intended for Weir to play with survival scenarios on Mars. Those are fascinating in their own right, but they are not a narrative.

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The Pillars of Dawn Is Live

Today is launch day, and The Pillars of Dawn is now available to purchase on Amazon.

This thing has been a long time coming. Through many rewrites and revisions, the throes of misfortune that is the publishing industry, and the existential crises, the one constant has been that this story was mine, and it lived only in my head. And now it doesn’t. Now, it’s ours, and I hope you consider venturing into the wilds of Lumen with me.

It’s far from perfect, but I’m proud of it and think it’s something special. I hope you do, too.

Catch up with me on Facebook and Twitter, and let me know what you think.

The Girl With All The Gifts Film And Book Review (The Book Is Better)

Generally speaking, whenever someone says, “the book was better,” about a book-to-film adaptation, I feel the need to punch them in the throat. I could go on a long digression here about my feelings of film adaptations, the different camps of people wanting them to be faithful, and creative freedoms of artists as well as the nature of truth, but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, The Girl With All The Gifts film adaptation gets it both wrong and right in really fascinating ways.

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