Reading Update 31/10/2020

Updates

Hey bookwyrms, it’s been a few weeks since a good reading update cos I’ve been playing through The Last Of Us parts one and two for a good chunk of October and that had me utterly hooked and absorbed for a good week and a half. Very much back into the reading rhythm now though and this update straddles the gap between the end of Halloween and the beginning of SciFi month.



Recently Finished: THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN by Michael Clark
I read most of my horror in September this year, starting off strong with Mexican Gothic and The Year Of The Witching. I really loved those books so was disappointed to end on such a low note with THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN. This messy, ill-conceived and poorly-executed haunted house horror didn’t impress despite a few spooky scenes that weren’t enough to redeem the rest of the book. I reviewed it yesterday, and while it’s def not gonna be a glowing recommendation if you’re looking for your next horror read, it will at least make you appreciate the things we can often take for granted in the books we do enjoy.

Currently Reading: REPO VIRTUAL by Corey J. White
SciFi month is on the horizon and I’m making the transition from horror to my true love of science fiction in REPO VIRTUAL. I’m specifically focussing on reading a lot of cyberpunk this November. Some of you may be aware that Neuromancer is one of my all time favourite books but I’ve never managed to find another cyberpunk novel that managed to hit the same heights. I find a lot of more recent cyberpunk has abandoned the grimy, high-tech-meets-low-life grittiness in favour of empty aesthetics. Corporate skyscrapers and neon-lit back alleys without the class politics which, despite its flaws in 80s cyberpunk, was still present. Sorry, I have a lot of opinions about cyberpunk and the representation of class struggle, but I’ll park them for now. Suffice to say, I’m only three chapters into REPO VIRTUAL at the mo, but I’m glad to say I think this story about a virtual thief and his contract to steal the world’s first sentient AI is gonna be a good ‘un.

Next Read: GLITCH RAIN by Alex Livingston
You guessed it, more cyberpunk! There’s gonna be a theme this month, gang. GLITCH RAIN is a few years old now, published by Apex back in 2016. It’s a novella about Akuba, a low-level hacker for the wealthy elite, making just enough to keep the bills paid and the booze flowing. Her job is to scrub the social feeds for faces who don’t want to be seen, hanging out at parties to guard the elite from errant social media statuses and incriminating photo posts. But when an old debt comes due early, suddenly she’s the one who needs to keep her face out of the omnipresent eyes of the drones. Thrown into the high-stakes world of international cybercrime, Akuba has to outmanoeuvre unlimited surveillance, high-tech con artists, and an international hacker kingpin if she wants to survive. I’ve not read anything by Alex Livingston before and actually only found this because I was specifically looking through Apex’s backlist for cyberpunk titles because I’ve been so consistently impressed with the fiction they put out and think they deserve a lot more recognition as a small press publisher. Plus this story sounds like it kicks ass.


Let me know in the comments what you’re reading at the mo, I love to chat about the books we’re all reading. And hey, if you enjoyed this update why not follow the blog for more reviews and bookish chat.

Review: THE GRAND TOUR (A JACKSON’S UNREAL CIRCUS & MOBILE MARMALADE COLLECTION) by E. Catherine Tobler

Book Reviews

One of my New Years Reading Resolutions was to read more small press fiction. The vast majority of the small press stuff I’ve read has been from Apex, a small press publisher of weird science fiction, fantasy and horror. This collection of short stories falls pretty firmly into the horror category, though there’s smatterings of science fiction thrown in there for good measure. THE GRAND TOUR tells the stories of the performers and hangers-on of a travelling circus seemingly not bound by the laws of time and space. Each story takes place in a different time and location, from silver rush Colorado, 1880 and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, 2001, all the way to ‘your hometown’, 1946. While some of the participants come and go with the times, others don’t seem to age or change much at all, ever-present fixtures of Jackson’s Unreal Circus & Mobile Marmalade.



This is a pretty great book. I can’t say I’ve read a lot of short story collections, but my experience so far has been that some stories definitely shine more than others, and while that was definitely the case with THE GRAND TOUR, every story was, at a bare minimum, a good, enjoyable read and some were actually pretty incredible. I will say it took me a couple of stories to feel like I’d really settled in, possibly because the first story (Vanishing Act) set some expectations that weren’t consistent with the rest of the book. Vanishing Act is the story of Rabi, Vanisher and Vanquisher Extraordinaire, who can make coins and the past vanish before your very eyes. This story was good, though not one of the better stories and I think the collection should perhaps have opened with one of the stronger entries, especially as this is more of a supernatural science fiction story and the rest of the book is very much horror, or horror-adjacent.

The next few stories follow two conjoined twins, who are part of the carnival, tracing their story from life into something not quite life and beyond. These stories are really quite fascinating, as we get to follow them on this journey, feeling very differently about them at different points along the way. I ran the whole gamut from compassion, to pity, all the way to downright abhorrence and back again. These are the stories where I started to really settle in, and by the time I got to Blow The Moon Out I was fully invested, but still not quite ready for this incredible story, following the journey of four young friends braving the horrors of the forest at night in order to visit Jackson’s Unreal Circus.

This story was matched by Lady Marmalade. Beth’s famous marmalade is referenced in many of the stories preceding this one, and while hints are dropped about its strange, memory-inducing qualities, this is the part where the titular Mobile Marmalade element begins to make sense. And while there’s still an element of horror to this story, I honestly just found it very wistfully emotional and teared up a couple of times during this one. A beautiful story that highlights the literary range Tobler is clearly capable of. There was a large element of this to the story Every Season as well, which tells the tale of a man long drawn to the idea of the circus as somewhere he feels he can truly express who he is without judgement or reproach.

All in all, this collection definitely has that dark overtone that I’ve come to expect from a lot of the stuff Apex publishes but there really is a lot of heart to this collection as well. As my first foray into E. Catherine Tobler’s fiction, I was very impressed and will definitely read more from her. This is a strong recommend from me.


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Review: COIL by Ren Warom

Book Reviews

One of my reading goals this year is to read more noir. Another is to read more small press releases. And COIL by Ren Warom is a science fiction detective thriller that satisfies both these needs. A gritty, futuristic murder mystery spattered with copious amounts of biopunk body horror, Coil isn’t a book for the squeamish, but if you like stories with gritty characters and settings featuring criminal gangs warring with corrupt and bureaucratic law enforcement agencies then BOY do I have a recommendation for you!

What I loved about Coil was Warom’s ability to take a simple, yet solid, foundation of noir tropes and build a rich and complex world on top of it. The whole story takes place in The Spires, a mega-city that has emerged from the ruins of Detroit following some kind of cataclysmic event in the history of the book’s world. In the Spires, numerous criminal gangs have taken control of sectors of the city and largely operate with the tacit approval of a police force which is powerless to confront them. With drastic technological change and the inevitable culture shift that accompanied it, this is a world where humans have merged with machines and body modification is ubiquitous, to the extent that to be a human without body mods is considered altogether weird – abnormal.

And in this world we meet Bone Adams. Bone is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. In Warom’s world, morticians have become much more than simple undertakers. In a world littered with the bodies of gangland murders, where large sections of the population seek out illegal body modifications and technological implants from surgeons who owe allegiance to criminal gangs, often the only way to identify a corpse is through tracing the modification trail. Morticians are detectives and diplomats required to have one foot in the shady criminal underworld without falling foul of either the gangs or the police.

We get to follow Bone as he navigates the seedy underbelly of the Spires, as he and City Officer Stark attempt to unravel the clues they uncover about the mysterious killer. These are our two main viewpoint characters and Warom does a great job of taking the grizzled, alcoholic rogues of pulp noir and fleshing them out into characters you can really root for, even if they are difficult, frustrating SOB’s sometimes. And what is pulp noir without a femme fatale? Coil has such a good femme fatale. I can’t expand much without getting into spoiler territory but holy shit I need you to read this book, if not for the sole reason I need someone to talk about this with!

I’m not very practised at reading mysteries and thrillers where you can follow the clues and work out what’s going on yourself if you’re clever, so I never saw the ending coming, but in retrospect there’s some really top notch foreshadowing. Coil is one of those books where I kind of want to read it again just so I can pick up on all the hints and clues Warom drops throughout the story. I recently saw the film Knives Out, and so much of the joy of that film (and there was much joy to be had about it) was trying to pick up on the clues as the story progressed. Coil is much the same and I’m absolutely hankering for more mystery fiction right now.

All told, Coil is a great book and has me interested in reading Ren Warom’s back catalogue, which features some very interesting-sounding stories, including some good ol’ cyberpunk in ESCAPOLOGY about a data thief hired to hack into a corporate databank – absolutely my jam all over.

Go read Coil. Definite recommend from me.

Hey! Watcha Readin’: Apex Special

Updates

Happy Sunday booklings! Welcome back for another weekly update. I’m still reading my way through the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and continuing with the DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT readalong, so this week I’m gonna shift focus a bit and talk about some books I’m really excited to read from small press Apex Publications.

This post was prompted by Jason Sizemore, the owner of Apex, who tweeted that one of my favourite books of the year was originally published by Apex, but didn’t really garner much attention until it was picked up by a major publisher. That book was ROSEWATER by Tade Thompson (read my glowing review here), a novel I loved for really pushing the boundaries of what modern SFF could look like. This got me looking into some of the other books Apex are putting out and a lot of their stuff sounds just as Out There and boundary-pushing as Rosewater. So here are a few books by Apex that I’m very excited to read.

PIMP MY AIRSHIP by Maurice Broaddus

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protester known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be. When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.

COIL by Ren Warom

Bone Adams is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. As more victims are discovered, Bone and Stark get drawn deeper into a world where pain and personal statement blend and blur, and finally end up hunting for a semi-mythical, man-machine named Burneo deep within the labyrinth of the sewers. But things aren’t what they seem, and while searching for Burneo, Bone and Stark discover a hidden lab full of evidence of horrific abuses of science and experimentation. Meanwhile, the killer is still on the loose, and, as Stark becomes more and more obsessed with the case, Bone is forced to a shattering realisation. Everything is connected, the killings, the gang activity, the labs, and his own past, and unless he can figure out how, he’s not going to survive.

SNOW OVER UTOPIA by Rudolfo A. Serna

In an age of savage science powered by black-mass, and thrown away bio-matter leaked into an underground sea lit by the heart of the great tree, a girl named Eden loses her rare blue eyes. Escaping her fanatical and sadistic slave masters with her eyes in a jar, she runs away with a murderer named Miner. After fleeing for their lives deep within the forest, they are found by the Librarian and his daughter Delilah, and sheltered in their mountain-top sanctuary. But she cannot stop there. If Eden wants to restore her eyes, then she must go on through time and space in a necrotronic stream generated by the living computer program called Witch Mother. While mutantoid priests in underground bunkers monitor transmissions from the great tree, Eden and Miner must face the horrors of the factories and the coliseum run by the Robot Queen in the city of Utopia.

Looking into these less mainstream books has made me much more appreciative of the work small presses like Apex do to bring some of the more experimental and ‘out there’ SFF into the world. I’m looking forward to diving into these books and I’ll be paying much more active attention to the work of small presses in the future!

Do you have any small press recommendations? Let me know what you’re reading this week and make sure to follow the blog to never miss a post!