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Michael Arnzen "" RSS Feed (Pittsburgh, PA USA)

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The Vampire Bridegroom
The Vampire Bridegroom
by Chad Helder
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.00
3 used & new from $8.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So great...and so much more than you expect!, August 14, 2011
This review is from: The Vampire Bridegroom (Paperback)
Do NOT let the title of this collection fool you: for one thing, there is far more in this thick collection of poetry than just a vampire, and for another, the vampire bridegroom is NOT what you think it will be. I don't want to ruin the surprise. Get this book and you'll be surprised on every page. It's rife with hilarious retakes on classic tropes of the genre -- from queerings of canonical creatures to masterful mash-ups of fairy tales. Helder has a vivid imagination and the rare capacity to make you feel differently about the world...and a wicked sense of humor. If you enjoy this sort of thing, be sure to look for his other book -- the Pop-Up Book of Death! Neither of these works are for children -- this is not their's ours and it's a blast.

The Devil and Preston Black (Murder Ballads and Whiskey Book 1)
The Devil and Preston Black (Murder Ballads and Whiskey Book 1)
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appalachian Gothic!, March 27, 2011
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With this new book, Jason Jack Miller has single-handedly cornered the market on Appalachian Noir fiction, and deservedly so. The Devil and Preston Black is a page-turner laced with an audiophile's longing for the days when music was genuine, and the storytelling reminded me of a strange array of similar stories -- High Fidelity, Crossroads, Justified... -- yet it stood out from the pack as fresh, thanks to Miller's authentic Appalachian voice. Any lover of guitar music or the history of the blues will instantly see themselves reflected in the story, filtered through a noir fuzz pedal, amped up with the electricity of dark fantasy. Miller's flair for words is evident even in the title alone: I can't think of a more appropriate name than "Preston Black"! With just the right touch of magical realism, this hip take on the 'deal with the devil' story conjures up a tale that's vastly enthralling and compulsively readable. Highly recommended.

Boneyard Babies
Boneyard Babies
by Alan Clark
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.95
34 used & new from $6.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brazenly Brainy and Bizarro Book!, February 5, 2011
This review is from: Boneyard Babies (Paperback)
You must know that Alan M. Clark is one of the premiere dark fantasy artists of our current time. If you have not seen his art, you can visit his website for a sampler, but chances are good that if you are already a reader of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or bizarro fiction, you have seen his art and it has changed you.

You can also see it on the cover of Alan's latest book of the bizarre -- Boneyard Babies -- along with its many b/w interiors. The front cover alone is filled with freaks, mutants and monstrosity, featuring 13-18 figures on it (depending on how you count the many-headed death giant in the background).

But you don't buy a book like this for its cover art (and it's true that the black-and-white interiors don't quite do justice to the original paintings, either). You buy it because it is a one-of-a-kind short-story collection. If you've read the description and other reviews here, you already know that this book is distinguished by featuring literary experiments -- employing a technique similar to the "exquisite corpse" surrealist experiments of the dada movement -- in order to generate some unimaginable and bizarro premises. While there are a handful of new works and almost straightforward stories in the book, most of the title is comprised of the very weird (but refined and clearly well-crafted) results of some wacky literary games that lead to inventive and fresh concepts, loosely chained together by a semblance of narrative logic. I have seen Alan Clark describe his own painting processes in a similar way, as he often finds inspiration through accident, drawing images out of background smears into foregrounded figures. Likewise, the writing in this book stews with playful exchanges between dreamy surrealist concepts and flowing storytelling. The book makes you trip over the feet of your own linguistic assumptions in every sentence, generating a disturbingly wonderful and antic experience that is simply impossible to describe. Like good art, it speaks for itself.

Take this passage, for example, from a scene in the bizarro story called "Her Name," which takes place shortly after a husband and wife having engaged in an 'argument for orgasm':

"Why must your rattle sneakers vomit on my housecoat?" she screamed. Without waiting for an answer, Wife cocked her jaw with a collapsible goat's meat sausage she stored in an enlarged pore in her forehead, then proceeded to shout the dirt right off the walls. To chase Florence [the husband] from the house, she used her twelve tiny children as ammunition. Even their fragile see-through daughter was hurled at him..."

The narrative of an argument and chase is familiar enough, but rendered strange by chaining together so many unfamiliar and original ideas that -- for me, anyway -- it generates laughter and amazement. This is a joy to read, but it also makes you realize just how unimaginative so many other stories really are. Alan doesn't care: he goes for it.

And in Boneyard Babies, he has brought a number of friends along for the ride. This is fitting, given the introductory description of the collaborative processes that went into Clark's early creative writing, and continue to inspire his present-day work in bizarro and fantasy. His co-authors in this book include fellow art greats and talented authors. There are collaborations with the likes of Elizabeth Massie, Bruce Holland Rogers and Jeremy Robert Johnson, as well as Jill Bauman, Eric Witchey and Kevin Ward...and more. Most of the stories are reprints from surrealist magazines (like the classic, The Silver Web) and excellent genre anthologies (like "More Phobias" from 1995) and several of the books Alan has been associated with.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I think this book will surprise all readers, and inspire anyone with an artistic sensibility. Any group of writers could borrow the experiment described in the introduction and try it themselves -- I'm sure they'd have an uproarious time. But the book is a joy to read on its own: Boneyard Babies had me gasping with amazement and vomiting from my rattle sneakers the whole time.

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bunnymen: Uplifted!, October 29, 2009
This review is from: Fountain (Audio CD)
I ordered this CD from the UK because I was eager to hear what the band was up to now. Right when it arrived in the mail, I popped it into my CD player on my daily drive and found myself grinning and even -- laughably (and I shouldn't admit this) -- singing along on the first listen! I don't know what the heck they did differently this time around, but the sound is much more upbeat, a little more raw around the edges, and yet ultimately more uplifting and joyful than these guys have EVER been before.

I typically associate Echo with a sort of sardonic sense of ominous gloom. Ian McCullough is one of the best singers in the world because he can dance on the low notes, and croon on the high. Here he just sounds happy to be alive. The happiness here is not the same we might have gotten with the nostalgic glee of songs like "Parthenon Drive" from the last CD (Siberia); here it sounds like U2 singing halleluja. (In fact, you can hear the U2 influence here prominently in the song structure and the bass lines). And though I am MUCH more into the "dark" EATB, I can tell that they have somehow managed to both keep their sense of irony while also lifting their spirits above the emo sensibilities of their post-punk days (which I long for, but understand are long gone).

The tracks all feel genuine to me. This is not "faux" happiness or a reach into pop for the sake of cashing-in. The band just feels happy where they are. I can tell they've been listening to a wider range of music, because the influences are all in the backboard of the tracks. And I do think they mic'd the cymbals more than ever before: there's a "brightness" to the sound, and a crispness, that I hadn't heard before. You can hear the crackle in Ian's voice and the wah-wah drone of Will's guitar and appreciate what they are up to. An A+ effort.

As to the songs, the first one out of the box -- "I Think I Need It Too" -- is so catchy it will kill you. It's anthemic. "The Fountain" is touching. I like "Drive" a lot for it's new Britpop sort of feel. The dark side is not entirely neglected, and you get a strong sense of it in "The Idolness of Gods" which closes out the CD...very similar in emotional impact to their previous song, "Nothing Ever Lasts Forever" but maybe grinning on the sly with a shot of bourbon behind it. I love these guys. This is not the 80s. Their back catalogue is huge and satisfying. Now my palate has been expanded. This is Bunnymen rebooted and I am not disappointed at all.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2010 2:36 PM PDT

The Dedalus Book of French Horror: The 19th Century
The Dedalus Book of French Horror: The 19th Century
by Terry Hale
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from $11.33

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horror Fans Should Not Overlook This Period of Literature, October 23, 2009
If there is any element of the horror genre that seems to be most overlooked by American fans of horror and dark fantasy, it's the French Decadents. I don't know why this is: there would be no Clive Barker, no Poppy Z. Brite, no Chuck Palahniuk...and perhaps no over-the-top horror films as we know them today 100 years later.

There are a lot of entry points into French Decadence -- the first NC17 genre of its kind, and in many ways still the most over-the-top writing ever put to the page. The most convenient starting place might be via Oscar Wilde or Baudelaire. Or you might seek out books like "The Torture Garden" or "Against the Grain". You could also buy "The Decadent Reader" or virtually any of the "Dedalus Book of..." series of anthologies. But I recommend THIS BOOK.

The cover alone should convince you.

Hale's anthology is a great starter set for those looking for writers willing to go into vastly uncomfortable territory. It includes a lot of the famous French writers; and many not so famous. And, to be fully biased, it includes one of my all-time favorite works of over-the-top insanity: "The Prisoner of His Own Masterpiece" by Edmund Haraucourt. [SPOILER FOLLOWS] In this tale, a man tries to poison his haughty lover by secreting a vial of poison in his mouth when he kisses her...and ends up stunned by the poison himself when he tries to do the deed...winding up immobile and virtually paralyzed while laying on top of her dead body for several days. This corpse is his 'masterpiece' and it's a wild experience. Read it!

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer
Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer
by Jeff VanderMeer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.45
62 used & new from $3.38

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking Outside the Book, October 22, 2009
BOOKLIFE serves as a much-needed corrective to the sad "market your book like a carnival huckster" approach too often found in books of advice for writers these days. Instead, it challenges you to treat the long view of your career with reverence, to write AND market with honesty, and to commit yourself to the literary culture (whether in genre fiction or beyond) in which you hope to exist. The book is savvy about Web2.0 marketing and the way that the book business and freelancers need to understand all things in the trade as well as online, true -- and that may very well be its selling point as a "survival guide" -- but even more, it's a testimony to the commitment that Vandermeer has to what he has been doing for over twenty years as an author: writing with conviction and refusing to dumb down for the sake of the lowest common denominator that sometimes, unfortunately, drives the mass market. No matter what genre you write for, if you are a freelance writer who is in it for the long haul -- rather than putting all your eggs into a one-book-wonder-basket -- then this book belongs on your shelf, nestled between Bruce Holland Rogers' WORD WORK and David Morrell's LESSONS IN A LIFETIME OF WRITING. And make sure that shelf is an arm's length away from your keyboard. For life.

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