Archive for July, 2011

Review: Spider Pie by Alyssa Sturgill

Posted in Bizarro Brigade, Writing with tags , , , , , , on July 14, 2011 by Scott Emerson

(Review for Bizarro Brigade.)

One of my earliest introductions to the weird and wonderful realm that is bizarro fiction, Alyssa Sturgill’s SPIDER PIE assembles 24 “salacious selections” of unabashed oddity. Steeped in pop culture and infused with a manic, almost whimsical, sense of humor, Sturgill dishes out these snippets of the strange with breezy deftness.

Though the stories in SPIDER PIE are really sketches or vignettes (most span a few hundred words; even with two dozen tales and illustrations the book runs less than a hundred pages), Sturgill packs in plenty of bizarre imagery and keen insight. Standouts include “Leviathan” (a coming-of-age story in which a shy young boy learns life lessons from his pet squid), “Beware of Kittens” (a teenage girl’s broken curfew results in her mother’s spontaneous birth of a litter of kittens), and “We Twins” (Siamese twins meet an inevitable fate in a rogue magician’s stage act).

Featuring a skin-swapping Abe Lincoln, a woman who gives birth to a television, a dinner date with Countess Bathory, and Jon Lovitz’s disembodied ear, SPIDER PIE presents a wide array of the weird in its abbreviated page count. Fans of cult humor will want to check out this collection.

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My Top 5 Short Stories

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2011 by Scott Emerson

Like the previous list of my five favorite novels, I should probably qualify this as “Top 5 Horror Short Stories,” as each falls under the genre. These happen to be the stories that have affected me most as a reader–and in many cases, as a writer–and nothing gets me going more than a finely crafted horror tale.

This was a tough list to compile, since a countdown of favorite short stories (even limiting myself to just horror) could easily include dozens of works. By sticking to five I had to exclude many by Stephen King (whose “The Monkey” was my gateway drug, and almost made the cut on nostalgia alone), Edward Bryant’s “Dark Angel” (a fairly simple tale of witchcraft and revenge with an ending that blew my prepubescent mind), Jack Ketchum’s “The Rifle,” and many more.

But force me to name only five, and here’s what you get:

1. “The Night They Missed the Horror Show,” Joe R. Lansdale

Quite simply, the most horrifying story I’ve ever read. Two rednecks in 1968 Texas looking for something to do (they’ve opted out of seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, as they hear there’s a black man in the leading role) find themselves in an escalating nightmare when they “rescue” a black youth from a pair of goons. This shocking rejection of racism kicks like a mule, and illustrates a principle often found in the best of Jack Ketchum’s work; that no matter how wretched a human being might be, there are still some things a person shouldn’t have to go through.

I first encountered the story in Paul Sammon’s excellent anthology SPLATTERPUNKS, but it can also be found in Lansdale’s collection BY BIZARRE HANDS. There’s an audio version available from Audible.com as well. Definitely worth checking out.

2. “The River Styx Flows Upstream,” Dan Simmons

Simmons’ debut story (which put its author on the map when it beat out thousands of other entries in Twilight Zone Magazine’s first short story contest) works beautifully, a melancholy tale about a young boy whose recently deceased mother returns thanks to a mysterious deal made by his father. Simmons uses detail to breathtaking effect in what is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read, but it’s immensely rewarding.

Available in Simmons’ collection PRAYERS TO BROKEN STONES.

3. “Need,” Gary A. Braunbeck

In his excellent memoir/genre deconstruction TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS, Braunbeck discusses the literary technique of the “After the Fact” story (in which the main storyline occurs after the story’s significant events, leaving the reader to infer the major plot beats), using Jack Ketchum’s phenomenal “Gone” as an example. He then offers, for further rumination and study, his own variation on the subject, “Need.”

Like the best of Braunbeck’s work, it’s a heart-rending look at domestic dysfunction and its non-linear format carefully doles out clues before the big reveal. And what a reveal–I literally gasped, as if the air had been sucked out of my lungs. Braunbeck is one of the greatest writers working in the horror genre or any other, and “Need” is stunning proof.

4. “Red,” Richard Christian Matheson

I almost didn’t include this one, as it sort-of-but-not-quite works on the same “after the fact” level as Braunbeck’s piece. Yet the ultimate effect is unforgettable, a seemingly mundane story that becomes devastating when all the pieces are put in place. Short, swift, and brutal, it’s the literary equivalent of a drive-by shooting.

This one can also be found in the SPLATTERPUNKS anthology by Paul Sammon.

5. “Obictionary,” Michael A. Arnzen

Here’s a fun one to close things out. A literary homage to Edward Gorey, Arnzen recounts the grisly fates of children (it’s not explicitly stated they’re children, but c’mon, consider the inspiration) in alphabetical fashion. What makes this one a favorite is the wickedly clever wordplay, coupled with a deceptively cheerful tone, but it’s the sinister closing note that really does it for me.

“Obictionary” can be found in Arnzen’s excellent flash fiction collection 100 JOLTS, and as a very cool spoken-word performance on his CD AUDIOVILE.

Happy reading!

Happy 4th of July!

Posted in Movies with tags , , , on July 4, 2011 by Scott Emerson

I can’t say I enjoyed INDEPENDENCE DAY (because it was a loud, idiotic mess), but I will admit the 1996 blockbuster had a great teaser.

For more patriotic horror check out William Lustig’s UNCLE SAM (also 1996) . . .

. . . and the MASTERS OF HORROR adaptation of Bentley Little’s George Washington-was-a-cannibal-story “The Washingtonians.”

Attack of the Giant Leeches

Posted in Movies, Writing with tags , , , , on July 4, 2011 by Scott Emerson

Review: Urban Gothic by Brian Keene

Posted in Bizarro Brigade, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2011 by Scott Emerson

(Deadite Press edition review for Bizarro Brigade.)

THE HILLS HAVE EYES in an abandoned Philadelphia row house. If that premise gets your heart pumping, then this book is for you.

A series of misfortunes on the way home from a hip-hop concert lands a group of friends in the aforementioned row house, where a clan of mutant cannibals dwell in the cellar. I won’t spoil any of the plot developments, but rest assured no one’s invited in for tea.

Keene wrote URBAN GOTHIC as an homage to hardcore-horror legend Edward Lee, and it shows in the glee with which he spills various bodily fluids. (And while there’s no shortage of grotesquerie, the book plays as a bigger homage to the late Richard Laymon than Keene’s own Laymon tribute CASTAWAYS. This is not a bad thing.) The book’s plotline follows close to the formula of 80’s splatter films, but Keene keeps the proceedings fresh with well-drawn characters, creative kills, and a few genuine surprises. There’s also a subplot involving race relations in the new dawn of the Obama administration and a subtle lesson in “doing the right thing” that Spike Lee never imagined.

URBAN GOTHIC will please fans of classic splatterpunk fiction and low-budget gore flicks. The Deadite Press edition even comes with wicked cover art.