IN THE FLESH by CLIVE BARKER

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As a writer myself, if I had to name the most major influence on my own style of work, Clive Barker would be the one to jump directly into mind. When I first read him, I said to myself, “That’s how I want to write.”

 

I’ve bounced all around genres trying to find a way to get published, and Barker’s style of internal dialogue is always there; his deep, vivid descriptions of the landscape prevails. I’m not saying I pull it off as well as he does, but I certainly try. Once I went with horror writing, I realized where my home is, and it is due largely in part to the influence of Clive Barker.

 

Everything that I love about Mr. Barker is contained within the short stories of In the Flesh: the nightmarish horror that bends the very air around it; the surreal mythos that seek no apologies for being morbid and disturbing; the unabashed propensity towards violence and the grotesque; the living breathing characters of both good and evil; the seedy urban backdrops detailed into life by the author; and the entrancing tales of struggles against insurmountable situations written in the prose of someone who sees beauty in agony and poetry in pain. When it comes to horror storytelling, there is no author as masterful as he.

 

With that said, I loved all four tales in this book. I will offer here a review of each:

 

“In the Flesh”: Darkness confined to a space no larger than a closet, yet Barker expands it beyond the limits of imagination by creating a harrowing, dream-like city for the damned and the depraved. Here he creates fright on a whole new level with a chilling backdrop to paint his visions of pain and suffering. I wish he would give us more stories from this City of Killers because it is fascinating enough to warrant its own legends and chronicles.

 

“The Forbidden: This is the origin of the infamous 90’s Hollywood slasher known as the Candyman. Set in the dregs of a rundown London slum, this tale shows Barker’s appreciation for the downtrodden and the decomposing icons of man’s mighty failures, seen through the eyes of a curious woman fixated on the graffiti murals sprayed across the crumbling architecture of a forgotten and partially-abandoned area of town. I find the setting to be one of gorgeous misery and almost folkloric squalor worthy of a horrifying urban epic. It is an ideal place for the supernatural madman with a knack for eviscerating his victims and removing bits of them to leave behind hacked-up husks of their former selves. Although no back-story of the Candyman is offered, it adds a spicy mystique to his being, making him both frightening and fascinating. I certainly wish Barker would have expanded on the character. But, I am happy with the tiny piece of deadly sweetness that he gave us.

 

“The Madonna”: Undoubtedly my favorite of the collection. The concept contained in the tale’s central narrative is one that is personal to me and my beliefs. It almost makes me feel connected to the author as it appears we may share similar views on such things. The world he creates in this magical tale of fearsome fantasy carries so much depth and potential that I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to read an entire 600-1000+ page novel on the world and the characters and the myths. What he gives to us is a thought-provoking, enticing scenario of creation and mankind’s role in it. The lure of Feminine Superiority and dominance is a theme that appeals greatly to me, and the play on the fantastical stories about mermaids or Succubae or angels gives an air of classic fairytales, but only told from the shadows: the parts of the stories parents leave out to keep their children from becoming captives to nightmares. I loved this story and was dying to read further.

 

“Babel’s Children”: This short-fiction stands out from the rest in the sense that it doesn’t delve into the twisted and agonized, or the Hellish or wicked. But, it doesn’t fall short on the bizarre meter as it is actually quite a what-if scenario that is excruciatingly horrifying, but also very plausible. Sometimes, if you really take a look at what goes on in the world, you could honestly see the plot of this story not being far from reality. But, this story begins as more of a suspense-thriller and ends under the guise of government-conspiracy-action novel. Either way, I felt this was a satisfying end to the book considering it ended on a note that felt very satiating and didn’t make the reader pine for the rest of the tale.

 

 

So, I continue to thoroughly enjoy Barker’s work, and even more see why he is my favorite author. I look forward to reading more of his stuff as time goes on.

WEREWOLF ALLEYWAY

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WEREWOLF ALLEYWAY

It began as a tapping moving slowly through the night. I walked down the empty alleys and thought nothing of it. There’s always something going on out here. But, soon the noise turned into a long, amplified scratching on the walls around me. I had ventured into an area with no streetlights, so it was becoming increasingly hard to see if anyone was near. If there was, I could just hope they didn’t know these streets as well as I.

Behind me, the ragged sound of heavy breathing began to creep up, as if being carried on the light nightly breeze that swirled up these tight alleyways. The long, grating scratches had ceased, but there was an ominous rapid clacking that seemed to be gaining ground.

I turned and saw movement in the dark–a shadowy glimpse beneath this sky of clouded starlight. The fat, blazing moon was far to the east, but it served well in the absence of operating light poles in this part of town. Something was bouncing quickly towards me, hunched over, moving side to side. I saw long points on top of its head and shiny orbs beneath them that danced along the dim path. As my pursuer drew closer, I thought that the ragged breathing sounded almost hungry as it morphed into an eager growl.

Something was out there, and I was being hunted!

I’m not one to hang around and validate my fears. If I think danger is eminent, I take flight. My feet kicked up and I fled down the alley. The menacing grunts grew more urgent and the wind that blew in carried a wretched aroma of blood and decay to me; mingling with the stench was the pungent smell of unwashed hair and body odor, like a massive wet dog pulled from the mud. Anyone–or anything–that smelled like that and chased people through dark alleys was not someone I wanted to try and reason with. So, I put my feet in faster motion.

Down at the end of this alley, there is a broken door on the side of an old produce building. I have known of it for a long time. I pass this way quite often and, for some reason, I’ve always looked at that door wondering if the proprietor of the place–if there was one–would fix it. They never did, and I was hoping that would avail me.

Before I reached the door, something black flew over top of me, at least fifteen feet in the air, hit the wall of the building to my left, then bounced against the wall of the building to my right, hit the pavement about twenty-feet from me and rolled my way. From the flying black bundle of stink rose this unearthly snarl. When the creature sprung back to its feet, I stopped in horror, gazing into the eyes of a monster.

What I saw before me was nothing short of an embodied nightmare: black, wrinkled face; shiny white sabre-like teeth dripping blood and saliva; and, eyes that were cruel and hungry. The animal stood at least three-feet taller than me and probably weighed several hundred pounds, covered in coarse fur and displaying talons that could tear skin from bone with one swipe.

The door to the building stood between me and the monster. Even if I possessed the speed to beat it there, I didn’t think it would protect me. I had no doubt this abomination could crash down the door like it was made of paper. Nevertheless, I had to try. Standing there, I was sure to be obliterated inside and out.

When I made my move, the beast howled so loud that I thought I saw the moon shiver. I fell back and held my ears, swearing I felt flecks of concrete rain down from the buildings around me. The creature had its long, imposing snout thrust upwards while it leaned its head back and wailed beneath the moonlight. I took this moment to get up and run, with all my strength.

I was almost to the door when the beast stopped howling and made its move….

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THE BLACK ARTS by RICHARD CAVENDISH

A very informative collection of brief histories and ideologies based upon different aspects of Occult practices, this book serves as a good guide for beginning Left-Hand enthusiasts. A lot of the categories discussed are concisely summarized with specific lore, practices, and histories contained therein. For someone just getting into Occult philosophy, it can serve as a nudge in the direction of what topics may interest you most.

 On the downside, though, I found the book in parts to be somewhat monotonous and repetitive. There was also less objectivity from the author than I like, as he often times inserted demeaning words on ideas he didn’t particularly buy into, a fad that a lot of Left-Hand Path veterans sadly seem to partake in, which I find funny because the path is supposed to be about finding knowledge on your own and opened-mindedness, yet we have a crowd of people who theorize about a belief system which carries a ton of theories and very little proof. The arrogance makes one shake their head, especially when it comes from the author of a book speckled with a lot of improper grammar and missing words. It’s a bad example to set for someone about to embark on an alleged path to knowledge and enlightenment.

 I did enjoy the read, though, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of astrology and the influence of cosmic energy, which was a practice I used to scoff at; and though I am not a full supporter of the practice as a whole, I do believe there is a lot to be learned from it and it’s not quite the hoax people believe it to be. I also found some of the information about the Black Mass and Devil Worship fascinating, too. There is definitely a lot to consider when you take into perspective the amount of fear-mongering religious fanatics used to utilize in order to stamp out ideas that were different from theirs, and then compare those legends to the mindsets we have today. The writing on the wall is almost too bold to ignore, yet people do, in my opinion.

 If you’re looking for a Grimoire of spells, you won’t find it here. But, if you’re looking for a short account of different aspects of the black Occult practices, and a fair reference guide for some of the better known authors and practitioners, this book is a good place to begin your journey on the Left-Hand Path.

 3.50 out of 5.

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ACROSS THE FACE OF THE WORLD

Kirkpatrick spent a lot of time developing this world from coast to coast and kingdom to kingdom, and he can describe everything he imagines in such beautifully vivid detail that, at times, it was breathtaking and I could imagine myself surrounded by his gorgeous and grim landscapes. Unfortunately, that’s about where the excitement ends.

The pacing of the story is sluggish and the characters are immature and unlikeable. The plot is derivative of Lord of the Rings, the method of storytelling is reminiscent of the Wheel of Time, and the mythology is taken right from the Bible without even an attempt to add a little something original to it. Throughout most of the novel it felt like the story was just going on and on and on and…

There are moments of excitement and adventure scattered throughout, though, and when they happen they make you actually want to keep reading. The conclusion is pretty intense and it does what any good series should do: leave you wanting to know what happens next. The only thing I worry about is that whatever happens next won’t pay off and I’ll have to battle to keep my eyes open through another 600 pages where barely anything of consequence transpires.

Russell Kirkpatrick is a sound writer with a great vocabulary; I just hope he improves upon his storytelling abilities in the next book. The good news is that I do still plan to read it.

2 out of 5.

BOOKS READ IN 2015

Sadly, 2015 was not a good year for my reading. Life got in the way, as it usually does, interfering with the better things, like writing and reading and enjoying being alive–HA! But, I did manage to squeeze out a few novels, most of which, unfortunately, just didn’t really do much for me.

So, here’s a quick rundown:

  1. The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore: I mostly felt this book was derivative of other high fantasy and mythology-based works. While Icewind Dale is a gorgeous land that I really enjoyed reading about, everything but the battle with the dragon appeared as pale as the tundra’s rolling hills of blizzards when compared with the tales from the Dark Elf Trilogy.
  2. The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker: As a crime fiction enthusiast, I felt it was time to dive into the catalogue of one of the genre’s biggest names. I had always heard he was among the all-time greats, so when I found myself incredibly bored with the slow-pace and painfully over-detailed descriptions of unnecessary people during the first part of the novel, I chalked it up to the fact that Parker was a pioneer of the modern portion of this timeless genre and that the novel was showing its age. As it wore on, I did find that I enjoyed the novel and definitely planned to look past the archaic style and remember that the clichés I was seeing were actually created by this writer. It is a decent novel, though not timeless, and I will be reading more of Parker.
  3. Vampire$ by John Steakley: Hands down the absolute worst atrocity I have ever seen penned. This book is both sad and laughable and I cannot see how anyone could enjoy it. Not only is it adolescent, it is riddled with plot holes, bad grammar and poor character development. There is nothing enjoyable about this pile of trash. I will never read anything by Steakley, again.
  4. A Time to Kill by John Grisham: Maybe my favorite book of the year. This one made me a John Grisham fan right out the chute. He managed to entwine political drama, excitement, romance, mystery, and legal-suspense-thriller all into one perfectly written, well-informed modern masterpiece that had me never wanting to put the book down. Grisham does not hold back with expressing his disdain for the politics of his initial profession as, through the eyes of small-town lawyer, Jake Brigance, he explores the injustices of the spinning wheel of the law that only favors those who grease it up, while fighting an uphill battle against big-time corporate opposition and manipulated media frenzy. It’s one man’s struggling conscious against a whirlwind of anger and hate, and it definitely makes for an unforgettable read. I think this book is a modern classic.
  5. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan: Part three of the Wheel of Time series. I found it to be slightly better than the second installment but quite inferior to the first novel. Though it carried the tale forward better than the second and seemed to have less filler, it still doesn’t recapture the magic and adventure of the first. The development of the Left-Hand Path mythology Jordan uses, splicing it with LOTR elements and components that are familiar with late-80s/early-90s RPG video games, garnered more interest from me than The Great Hunt. But, if the next volume isn’t more engrossing, I may find my relationship with this series standing above the same precipice as my relationship with The Sword of Truth series: about to take that last plunge.
  6. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: Rowling spends a lot of time creating a tangled web of characters (none of whom are very likeable) to cover up for a lack of any real reason to even write this book beyond trying to prove her literary skills can reach beyond low-fantasy writing. My opinion is that even though she does, at times, manage to capture a Dickens-esque quality as far as satirical observations of humanity, she is a very far cry from being even in Dickens’s league and should probably go ahead and write more Harry Potter-related tales. Although she was able to showcase a very sharp and clean literary prose mostly absent during much of the Potter series, the book climaxes in typical bleak Rowling fashion and I felt pretty empty for having wasted my time.
  7. The Lost Book of Enki by Zecharia Sitchin: The last couple of years have seen my outlook on faith and religion undergo some drastic alterations, mostly due to finally embracing that which was always there but I was too afraid to explore. This book, for that, was an interesting read. I don’t know how much of it is accurate, but I find that the possibilities discussed make a lot more sense than some more widely accepted ideas. I’ve read Sitchin’s critics and I’ve read his supporters, and still don’t feel anyone really answered the questions as to whether or not we should take any faith in the alleged revelations contained within this work. I don’t know if any of his detractors are any more credible than he, so their opinions really don’t mean much to me.
  8. A Case of Need by Michael Crichton: I don’t know if this was supposed to be a medical drama or mystery suspense novel, and I don’t think Crichton ever quite figured it out, either. There were too many underdeveloped characters to really distinguish who was who and too much dialogue between them to keep a comprehensive flow of the tale’s unravelling. I liked the ending, but that was about it. It was a very bland read written in a seemingly rushed and unfocused fashion.
  9. A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane: This was among the best books I read all year. It’s tough, compelling and a real page-turner. Lehane went a little bit too deep into the subplots, but created a very solid duo of protagonists with quite a powerful punch at the end. The surroundings were seedy and gritty and Kenzie and Gennaro fit right in as the underdog warriors caught in a political crossfire. A lot of good characters, some serious intrigue, and the right amount of bullets to make this novel a sure shot on the bullseye.
  10. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky: I possess a slight affinity towards Russian literature. This one is among the best in that arena. The way that a seemingly idiotic man has the knack to dig passed the falsehoods people put up, and the pointless customs of certain supercilious circles, and see people and circumstances for what they truly are, and to be able to articulate the observations in simplistic but profound manners, while tearing the truth of logic and illogic from these facades, is a testament to the opinion that one has to be either base or mad to venture through life without a masked ultimatum. I think the author really attempts to call shenanigans on the established ideas that prevail by painting a man with no pretentions as the hero who seeks to unveil the inaccuracies behind the preconceived notions of the ruling class. The Prince, in the end, symbolically suffers the breakdown as, in my interpretation, one who sees with eyes not so muddled by pride and prejudices cannot bear the weight as the lone genuine individual in a society rife with frivolous deceit and disingenuous, egotistical folderol. Perhaps, on the surface, this may seem as an insult to myself, but I quite connected with Myshkin as I, too, often view societal customs as trivial and unnecessary. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it resonated greatly with me. A definite strong point to close out the year.

WAITING ON FATE TO CHANGE DIRECTIONS

Not to be one to dance in shadowy corridors with unwanted strangers, Millie looked at her watch and saw that the hand was next to midnight and the mysterious visitor who handed her that letter was still nowhere to be found.

In the east wing, far corner passed the room with the broken vending machines, out where the lights always seem to flicker. Be there around midnight.

The note was pretty clear in its request (or demand), even if it was completely devoid of any reason as to why he requested her presence in such a seedy place.

Could be a rapist, or a killer! her mind said. But, she didn’t agree,

“He don’t look like no killer,” she said to her thoughts. “Not a rapist, neither.”

But, as her cousin had learned, violent offenders of any variety didn’t exactly come with a stamp. They were bred in all forms, molded in the muck of the most malevolent mires imaginable to man. And her cousin was the only reason she was here. The pictures that she had received had nearly ripped her heart out. To see the innocence beaten out of that poor child by some evil unknown who just happened into her life made her want to weep and smash testicles at the same time.

This swarthy, inexplicable individual who had handed her this note that day in the crowd of those disembarking from the scuzzy shuttle-bus looked at her with sorrowful eyes, like he knew her pain. He thrust the paper at her and said, “Take this. You must.” After taking it involuntarily, she watched him vanish into the alleys, holding his black fedora down in the wind.

Now here she was, waiting on fate to change directions.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: ANIMAL FARM by GEORGE ORWELL

I’m going to start by saying that I understand this was supposed to be about Communism. But, novels are, a lot of the time, what you take away from them. Here is what I saw, or what it made me think of:

First off, I really liked the end where Orwell basically calls man a greedy pig, in so many words. I know it’s a bit deeper than that; I know there’s a message that, because of greed, “people” are doomed to repeat history by giving in to their own self-centered temptation.

Also, I see the book more as a portrait of how Communism was corrupted by greed and lust for power. I get that it is supposed to be a comparison to Russia, but that’s what Russia did: corrupt a good idea with vengeance and lust. The beginning ideas for the rebellion were socialist and Communist and they were good ideas. But, it shows how clever beings recognize their advantage and manipulate that for their own purposes, thus continuing the cycle.

I don’t know if Orwell might have seen it coming and was making a prediction, or if the similarities are purely coincidental, but what transpires on Animal Farm very much reminds me of the current state of America. By that, I mean that the animals who talked all this stuff about togetherness and industry for the sake of better lives and allowing animals to work to their abilities (a Communist idea) saw a money-making opportunity and allowed the entire concept and goodness of their rebellion to be bastardized for the sake of profit, luxury and control. To me, that is the United States right now more so than a corrupted Communist state. To modernize the tale, it would seem that, due to the deal made at the end between the pigs and the humans, this is very much a reflection of Corporatism, too–which has, in my opinion, taken the place of Russia’s corrupt Communism as the most crippling economic state in the history of the free world. The allegory of Animal Farm is obviously that of the Russian Revolution, but in many ways it resembles American Corporatism.

I also love the satirical absurdity of how the animals run the farm by learning to read, learning to write, operate the machines, and strike deals of commerce. I love how the pigs get drunk and also learn to walk upright. This truly is a great book that makes you mad, makes you laugh and really makes you recognize the problems with political history and present.

We’re all just animals in the end.

5 out of 5.