Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Splatter Punks II Review

Splatter Punks II Over the Edge: softcover, 416 pages. TOR 1995, edited by Paul M. Sammon.

This book came out in 1995, toward the end of the first generation of Splatterpunk. I wrote a few stories in that movement back in the day, Razor White (which appeared in Dark Voices 4 The Pan Book of Horror), Splatter of Black (which appeared in Dark Terrors), and Wall of Love (which appeared in Agony in Black). I haven’t done anything like those stories since, and I haven’t read a lot of this kind of material since then either. Even at age sixty-four, though, in 2023, I found myself wincing emotionally and viscerally at a few of these tales. There’s still power in these older stories. Below is the TOC, with a little description. My primary comments follow. 

Personal Acknowledgments, by Paul M. Sammon

Introduction, Essay by Paul M. Sammon

Accident d'Amour, story by Wildy Petoud, Translated from French

Impermanent Mercies, story by Kathe Koja

One Flesh: A Cautionary Tale, story by Robert Devereaux

Rant, story by Nancy A Collins

Lacunae, story by Karl Edward Wagner

Heels, story by Lucy Taylor

Brian De Palma: The Movie Brute, essay by Martin Amis

I Walk Alone, story by Roberta Lannes

Scape-Goats, story by Clive Barker

Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight, story by Nancy Holder

All Flesh is Clay, story by John J Ordover

Imprint, story by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Twenty-two and Absolutely Free, story by John Piwarski

Hooked on Buzzer, story by Elizabeth Massie

Pig, story by Gorman Bechard

Rockin' the Midnight Hour, essay by Anya Martin 

Embers, story by Brian Hodge

Headturner, story by Kevin Andrew Murphy and Thomas S. Roche

Nothing But Enemies, story by Debbie Goad

Boxer, story by Steve Rasnic Tem

Xenophobia, story by Poppy Z. Brite

Dripping Crackers, story by Michael Ryan Zimmerman

Intimates, story by Melanie Tem

For You, the Living, long story by Wayne Allen Sallee

Calling Dr Satan, interview with Anton Szandor Lavey by Jim Goad

Red Shift, story by Shira Daemon

Within You, Without You, story by Paul M. Sammon

Epiphany, story by Christa Faust

Note on the Splat II Soundtrack, essay by Paul M. Sammon

This is a big book with a lot of material. I didn’t read it quickly but typically read a story or two each day, depending on length. Some of these tales are long enough to be called Novellettes. None of them are weak tales. All are professional, although some resonated with me more than others for various personal reasons. 

I bought the collection primarily for the works of certain authors whose careers I’ve followed. These would be Karl Edward Wagner, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite (here), and Wayne Allen Sallee. I’ve actually met all four of these authors at various cons, though could only consider Sallee to be a friend. Wagner, of course, is gone now, a great tragedy.  

I love the Kane stories by Karl Edward Wagner, most of which are set in a primitive Sword & Sorcery/Dark Gothic type of universe (ancient Earth). This is a rarity in that it’s set in the modern world. Not one of my favorite Kane stories but it still has that touch and I enjoyed it. 

Clive Barker wrote some of the best horror stories in history in his Books of Blood. This one, “Scape-Goats,” fits right into that legacy. Very compelling and one of the strongest stories in the collection.

Poppy Z. Brite’s entry here is Xenophobia. Brite definitely had a finger on the pulse of a generation with the excellent novel, “Lost Souls.” This tale has many of those same kinds of touches. 

Wayne Allen Sallee is in my top five favorite horror authors. He’s really created a unique and oftentimes grotesque body of work. I’d read this tale, “For You, The Living,” in another setting so it was no surprise for me. It still had the power to make me both viscerally and emotionally uncomfortable, and embodies (For me) a lot of what the Splatterpunk movement was about. Do yourself a favor if you like horror and give Sallee's work a read.

Like I said, I’m enjoyed all these tales. I’m only going to mention a couple more that hit me particularly hard. “Boxer,” by Steve Rasnic Tem was absolutely brutal. Nancy Holder’s “Cannibal Cats Come Out Tonight” was very well written. 

My favorite story in the collection was the last one, by Christa Faust, “Epiphany.” Beautiful prose and a distinctly discomfiting subject matter for me. This one inspired some ideas for tales of my own. 

As for the nonfiction, interesting material. I rather enjoyed the interview with Anton Lavey. I’ve not paid much attention to his philosophical thoughts previously but he had some interesting things to say, and not what one might typically expect. 

All in all, I’m happy to add this anthology to my burgeoning collection. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Woods are Dark

Not my favorite Laymon. His works are always readable, although I can generally find what seem like flaws to me. This is a quick paced novel in which some tourists make a "wrong turn" into a small community with a big secret. There's something in the woods. I might describe the work as The Last of the Mohicans means Heart of Darkness as channeled through Apocalypse Now.

It is a "restoration" version of a novel that was published originally in 1981. Apparently, from the opening notes by Richard Laymon's daughter, Kelly, this was the original submitted version of the novel, which had many changes forced upon it by the publisher before it was printed. As a result it certainly has some historical interest to folks interested in Laymon's career and development. 

This is not a flaw, but I didn't personally find it scary. I don't find most things that are described as horror to be frightening. I certainly found it gory and brutal. There is also, as is a signature with Laymon, a lot of sex and sexual descriptions of body parts. I'd say it reaches the level of pornography in that regard, although the sex is so mixed with gore that it is certainly not a turn-on. 

I also see where several reviewers refer to this as a "comic" horror novel. Some of the descriptions are so over the top as to evoke an eye-roll, but I don't really think of that as humor. Any humor you found here would be very dark indeed. 

My main critique of the book would be that the characters don't seem quite real to me in their reactions to the events, although never having (thank goodness) experienced anything like this I don't really know how I'd react either. 

So, as is my want, I've nitpicked some things here, which I typically do in reviews because I enjoy it. But I can certainly say I was entertained. As always, every reader has to decide for themselves how the story works or does not work for them. 

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Wyoming Thunder: A Larry & Streak Western


Wyoming Thunder: A Larry & Streak Western, by Marshall McCoy, Bantam, 86 pages, 1968.

So, Marshall McCoy is Marshall Grover is Leonard Meares. Leonard Meares (1921-1993) was an Australian writer who is listed as the author of 700 + novels, although—to be clear—most of these are generally of novella length. As you can see, Wyoming Thunder clocked in at 86 pages. In addition to McCoy and Grover, Meares also used the names Ward Brennan and Glenn Murrell, and occasionally Brett Waring and Shad Denver, as well as writing works under his own name. He apparently wrote over 400 in the Larry & Stretch series. It looks like many were written for a western magazine, thus explaining the shorter length. He also wrote about 60 in another series called Big Jim, although there could be more. He also did standalones. To add to the confusion, his books have been reprinted in other countries and languages, and sometimes with different author names and even character names.

So why is the title of this particular book called “Larry & Streak” instead of Larry and Stretch? Therein lies a short tale. In Australia, the original characters were Larry Valentine and Stretch Emerson. When some of these books were reprinted by Bantam in the United States, the names were changed to Larry Vance and Streak Everett. I don’t know why, although it might possibly have to do with different copyright laws and publishing house rules in the two countries. (In Sweden, the character names were Bill and Ben.)

Under any names, Larry and Stretch are a couple of charming rogues. They are variously referred to as the Texas Hellions and the Tornado Twins. They stumble into trouble despite their best intentions, which they then generally handle with aplomb. They make a good team.

How did I like the book? Well, I’m giving it 3 stars, which is not a bad rating. I enjoyed the book. It was leisurely paced by today’s standards, without a whole lot of action except at the beginning and end. Larry and Streak take on the job of finding a doctor for a woman about to have a baby, and they end up having to break said doctor out of jail where he’s being held on a murder charge. Definitely an interesting plot.

I’d previously read another book by Meares, one of his Big Jim books. I liked the Larry and Streak characters better and the overall package was more fun for me. I’ve also discovered that there are some very dedicated fans out there for Meares work and there’s a facebook page dedicated to his Larry and Stretch series. His books are not easy to find, and the copies of the ones I have are beaten up pretty badly from time and reading. I’m hearing that there aren’t any digital copies available. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

Overall, I can see the charm in this series and am glad I gave one a try.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Swords & Heroes


Swords & Heroes. Edited by Lyndon Perry. Tule Fog Press, 2023. 201 pages.

Tule Fog Press is a relative newcomer in the publishing field. A small press that is primarily the work of author and editor Lyndon Perry. Perry is a fan of heroic fantasy and has written a fair amount of it himself, most notably his The Sword of Otrim. Perry is positioned nicely for what currently seems to be a small renaissance in heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery publishing. This anthology brings together twelve short heroic fantasy stories and a couple of interesting nonfiction pieces. One of the stories is mine, but I’ll only briefly mention it and focus mainly on the other pieces in the book.

The foreword is by Jason M. Waltz, a publisher in his own right. He focuses primarily on  “sword and sorcery,” which is a subfield in the greater field of heroic fantasy. He offers a couple of surprising insights, including an evaluation of Batman as a sword & sorcery character.

Next up is a preface by Lyndon Perry, which I found interesting because it discussed the origins of the anthology. If you’re in it for the stories alone you can leap over this directly to the first tale. I like this sort of thing, though.

Next up is “Keeper of Souls” by me. As Perry points out, it’s a sort of a buddy tale, but with a twist that I thought was pretty unusual. I won’t say more about it here.

Story two is “The Path One Doesn’t Choose” by Gustavo Bondoni. Bondoni has been tearing it up recently. I’ve seen numerous short story publications by him in all kinds of genres. His character is Yella, who has to deal with a tribe of villains called the “Wanderers,” with some interesting traits. Enjoyable tale.

Story three is “Lord of the Blood” by Michael T. Burk. Ahanu is the hero here, and his opponent is a demon. But there’s a neat twist to this and it has a strong ending. I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Burk before but this was engrossingly written.

Story four is by Teel James Glenn, a name quite a few will likely recognize. I’m familiar with his work and I believe we’ve shared a TOC before. He is also a fellow member of the Horror Writers Association. Glenn’s story is “The Price of Rescue.” It’s a buddy story with Ada (warrior) and Donal (Bard). After helping to defend a traveling coach against attackers, they are the only survivors and are tasked with taking a young girl to a local government official. Things are not what they seem, however. The characters have some nice interactions here.

Story five is “The Vault of Bezalel” by Tom Doolan. I’m also familiar with Doolan’s work and we’ve shared a TOC before as well. I’ve reviewed several of his stories and always find them enjoyable. Here, a young but deposed king named Liam must now make his way in the world. He runs into a childhood friend who offers him a quick quest with a potentially large reward at the end. Doolan is an action writer and there’s quite a bit of action in this interesting story.

Story six is “On Neutral Ground” by Nancy Hansen.” Serilda is the hero here, a chieftain of her people who are at war with the “Ivari,” a race that strikes me as similar to the concept of Frost Giants. The human war with the Ivari is a battle to the death, with extinction the fate of the loser. There are elements here of the mythic human war in ancient times against the “fey,” which was mined so beautifully by Poul Anderson in his “Broken Sword.” Very well written.

Story seven is by Tim Hanlon, another name I recognize, although I don’t believe he’s been writing very long. The title here is “The Swordsman and the Sea Witch.” Harkan the Swordsman takes passage aboard a ship, which is soon attacked by pirates. The pirates win the battle but their ship is sunk, and now the wind dies way, leaving the survivors becalmed,  including Harkan. Death soon comes slithering from the waves. The Sea Witch of the story is not the monster, however, but the pirate captain, and she and Harkan must work together to find a way to survive. A very fine tale.

Frank Sawielijew is the author of story eight, which has the longish title of “The Necromancer and the Long-Dead King.” This is certainly a candidate for my favorite story in the collection. It features an unusual main character and pairs her with a combination hero/villain against a true evil. Well written and intriguing.

Story nine is “Lady in Stone” by Cliff Hamrick. I’ve known Cliff a while but this is the first story I’ve read by him. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Jarek is another unusual hero, and the story has touches of mystery to season the action and sorcerous horror. A well done piece.

Story ten is by J. Thomas Howard and is called “O Sapphire, O Kambria.” The setting here is pretty unique and I’m curious to learn more about this world, which seems to be a kind of future earth in which dinosaurs have been brought back and taken over. Shades of Jurassic World, perhaps. Great setting for plenty of interesting tales, I should think. Enjoyed this one.

Story eleven is by David A. Riley and is called “Welgar the Cursed.” Riley is a professional editor and publisher who has done much to revitalize heroic fantasy with his “Sword & Sorceries” series of anthologies. He has also produced plenty of good tales himself. Welgar is “god-ridden,” a trope that has been used to great effect by several writers, including Janet Morris with her Tempus tales. I’ll definitely be seeking out more Welgar tales.

Adrian Cole closes the anthology with his “Ride the Fire Steed.” I remember reading Cole’s awesome Dream Lord trilogy published in the 1970s so to share a TOC with him is a pleasure and an honor. (It’s the second time it’s happened.) And Cole is still knocking stories out of the park. This is an exciting and action filled piece to end the anthology on.

But wait, there’s more: There are some brief bios of the authors, and a really interesting round table discussion about Sword & Sorcery, moderated by Lyndon Perry and involving Adrian Cole, Cora Buhlert, Curtis Ellet, D. M. Ritzlin, an old pal from REHupa named Morgan Holmes, P. Alexander, Richard Fisher, and William Miller. Some fun discussion.

In closing, I much enjoyed this anthology and believe it makes an important contribution to the revival of the heroic fantasy genre that we’ve been experiencing of late. See if you don’t feel the same.