Archive for July, 2012


Something is seriously not right.

Attic Clowns — Jeremy Shipp

These are stories told from dreams that became nightmares, then became dreams again. The author’s nightmare is quirky and humorous and kinda’ scary all at the same time.

 

It’s a collection of wildly imaginative stories, currently in four volumes, that revolve around a single premise. Well, a single premise in two parts. One, there’s always an attic and two, there’s always a clown.

 

You can just imagine what a clown is doing is in an attic, and you’d be wrong. You see, not only does it involve clowns and attics, there are angels and demons, and somewhere in there you’re going to find hell.

 

Hell. Gehenna. Hades, Purgatory, the Underworld. Whatever you want to call it. It’s there. In the attic. With the clown.  Sometimes you might be well into the story before you realize there’s a clown, and an attic. But Hell? It pretty much jumps right out at you.

This is not really science fiction, nor really horror, although an argument could be made for a little of both. Tortured souls can be devils, demons, angels and the occasional human, being tortured by devils and demons and angels.

 

These are well-developed stories that stick in your head long after you read them (if you’re paying attention).  Is there absolute good? Absolute evil? Will the demon give up the camera for the toe jam? Really? Can the angel be redeemed, does he even realize the evil in his actions? And what did the little guy do to him anyway? Oh, and that pony.

 

There’s not a lot of guessing the outcome in most of these stories, simply because the story itself is so…utterly not right. As you read, you realize something else is not right, not right, in such a not right sort of way.

 

You want to understand, you want to figure it out in advance.  Then, you get to the end of the story, and you think: well, I didn’t see THAT coming. Then you think: what kind of freak…? No, where did this guy come up with this? And THEN you think: what kind of freak am I that I find this turn of events so ..so.. satisfying? It’s because there’s a clown…and an attic.

Bialy Pimps by Johnny B. Truant

The Bialy Pimps — Johnny B. Truant
(caveat: Adult Language and Content: I warned you.)

Everyone has worked fast food at some point in their lives. Everyone knows how aggravating, annoying and disgusting customers can be. How badly you want to smack some of them upside the head when they’re stupid. This book is about that.

If you knew you were going to lose your minimum wage, thankless job, how far would you go to make those last days memorable? What if everyone you worked with were going to lose their job as well? How memorable would you make those last days? This book is about that.

What starts out as a simple act of civil disobedience by the staff of a bagel shop and deli, goes from rebellion to ridiculous to outrageousness. Ever more elaborate methods of humiliation are employed and the customers keep coming back for more. Not only are the regular customers returning, they’re bring their friends to be insulted and assaulted as well. Soon the deli becomes The Place to Be Seen in Columbus, OH and the tourists start coming to see, and BE, the show.

The deli has a regular clientele of street people, all well developed characters that aren’t just for color but add to the depth and complexity of the plot. As the book progresses, the villain evolves from customer to the more difficult problem of actually getting fired. Which somehow, never happens.The book contains several sub-plots (including The Rat) that keep the action flowing. It’s difficult to put down, particularly in the later chapters. Chapter endings aren’t cliffhangers and they aren’t open-ended, but when you get to the end of the chapter, its finger simply points to what’s happening next. You just want to keep going.

In the midst of all of this craziness is an underlying examination of why we desire to hold onto the present sometimes at the expense of the future, and how we deal with the fear of loss when change becomes inevitable. The book also examines the meaning of fame, how fame can sneak up on you and how quickly it can cease being fun. This is a rare mixture of hilarious and philosophical. Of course you might just find it’s a really funny story.

If you want to know the meaning of the phrase “Bialy Pimps” you’ll just have to read the book. Watch out for Army Ted and Roger, too.  Be sure to read the afterword to get a larger understanding of the philosophical subtext.
(caveat: Adult Language and Content: I already warned you.)

21 Tales — Dave Zeltserman

This is a collection of short stories and before you think I’m just bashing it unmercifully, let me say there are a couple of very good stories in here.  The first story in the collection is an example of flash fiction.  It consists of 247 (or 248, not sure) words, it has all the elements of a longer story, and it has an ending that you really don’t see coming.

I think the primary audience for this anthology would be the YA market, or even ‘tweens who are just getting into the horror/noir fiction genre.  For those of us who are older, a little more jaded, a little more cynical and world-weary, there’s not really anything new.

The author has made use of the timeless themes, the devil is in the details, which sociopath is which and a couple of others.  These stories are definitely print-worthy and they have been seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Sci-Fi, both monthly anthology publications.  The problem is to a certain extent you can always see it coming.  It’s like the punch line to a joke you’ve heard many times before in many different incarnations, an elaborate build up to a somewhat trite ending.

Each story has an introduction of some form, usually just a couple of sentences, explaining the author’s motivation, or that the story had been published somewhere along the way.  But in several cases his intro is simply to say, “This isn’t an autobiographical story, and really, my wife is just fine… in case you’re wondering.”  I don’t wonder about such things, unless it comes up.  Fiction is…. fiction, and separating the actor from the action or the author from the characters is one of the first requirements of reading fiction (and watching reality TV).

At best this is pulp fiction in the original sense of the phrase.  Many, many years ago the collection would have been referred to as a nickle book or a dime book, since that’s what you could get it for in the drugstore.  (Seriously, way back in the day.) What it boils down to is that the stories are good, but not that good, original but not that original.  It’s a book you read in the background.  You read it when you forget your current book on the desk, or on the nightstand.  You pick it up read a couple of the stories, and then, since you’ve finished your coffee, you go back to what you were doing without a second thought.  If you did have a second thought, it wouldn’t be about these stories.