Book Review: “C.H.U.D. Lives! (A Tribute Anthology)”

image of a CHUD

Let’s talk about C.H.U.D.

C.annibalistic H.umanoid U.nderground D.wellers to some, C.ontamination H.azard U.rban D.isposal to others (who are buying into the government cover up!)

C.H.U.D. Lives! is a scifi-horror anthology that Crystal Lake Publishing released back in April of this year that expands on the universe of the original 1980’s cult classic film C.H.U.D., but thankfully not on its sequel C.H.U.D. II: Bud The Chud which was horrifying for all the wrong reasons.

The stories range from yarns that build upon key scenes from the movie (whatever happened to that little girl and her grandpa in the phone booth?) to more speculative tales that take us into the future and other locales outside of New York City. The common thread is always C.H.U.D.’s. People that have been exposed to toxic ooze and transform into violent, flesh-eating mutants with glowing yellow eyes.

Like most anthologies, the quality of story varies. I’m happy to report that almost all entries are well written and strong. My favorites were “The City Will Eat You Alive” by Ryan C. Thomas, and “Lost and Found” by Greg Mitchell, with a special mention of “That’s Entertainment!” by Mort Castle due to its timely humor and social satire. Most of these focused on people dealing with C.H.U.D.’s in different horrifying scenarios that called back to the film. The stories that didn’t hit home for me were the more action-oriented offerings. While I’m sure some readers would love them, I’m not really into the whole “military procedural” style of action fiction. If someone uses a sub-machine gun, I don’t care what model it is or how it sounds, specifically.

cover of CHUD Lives anthology book

Crystal Lake Publishing has been knocking it out of the park with the horror anthologies lately. I have been a massive fan of C.H.U.D. since I first saw the movie over two decades ago. In that time, the Internet has shown it’s love as well, but there has been very little in the way of new content for fans. This book fills a much needed gap, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the film.

If you’ve never seen C.H.U.D. and have even the slightest interest in horror movies, fix that! Grab some popcorn and treat yourself to one of the most beloved cult-schlock gems of the 1980’s. It’s gory, funny, and totally over-the-top. Plus it stars John Heard, and a young Daniel Stern.

Two horribly mutated, glowing, thumbs up!

WHAT I LIKED:

  • C.H.U.D.’s
  • World building that expanded upon key scenes from the film
  • Gross-out violence along with tongue-in-cheek humor

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  • It was over a little too soon, could have used a few more stories
  • A few entries bordered on “gun p*rn” which I’m not a fan of
  • A couple stories contained ‘howlers’ that the editor should’ve caught before it went to press
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Book Review: “Vyrmin” by Gene Lazuta

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Long-infected with the genes of the vyrmin–an evil, werewolf-type race–the townsfolk of Harpersville run wild when the Dark Time arrives, and the leadership of the menace will fall to one of the two Norris brothers.

Werewolf stories are dime-a-dozen.

Werewolves (and vampires, and zombies) are so overdone that most horror outlets specifically say “hey don’t send us anything with werewolves, vampires or zombies in it” when you look at their submission guidelines.

So what makes Vyrmin stand out in a sea of lycanthrope also-rans?

Simple. It’s weird.

Originally published in 1992, Gene Lazuta’s Vyrmin is the story of a small Ohio town that harbors a terrible curse. It’s the epicenter of an awakening. The awakening of a long-dormant cosmic evil.

Does this sound like H.P. Lovecraft? Good. Because that’s exactly what it is like.

At the center of this awakening are the Norris brothers, one of whom will inherit the title of “Blood Prince” and oversee the return of the “Dark Times”. These Dark Times are essentially a return to hell-on-Earth when a demonic force turns everyone into werewolf-like creatures that go bonkers and murder everything.

Vyrmin is a strange book. It’s definitely NOT the standard “bitten by a werewolf and the old gypsy said BEWARE” plot line. Lazuta mixes the aofrementioned ‘Lovecraftian’ elements in with the lycanthropes, and some absolutely surreal action.

Seriously, the action sequences are like batsh*t crazy fever dreams. They really shine with excellent description and prose, but are extremely jarring if you’re not ready for them, because they are written in a different tone than the rest of the story.

Insane action sequences aside, my major gripe with Vyrmin was its slow middle. The book starts off strong, ends strong, but like so many novels it has kind of a saggy middle where not a lot happens. There are sequences of action followed by long lulls of exposition. That said, it didn’t keep me from finishing the book.

While not for everyone, I could definitely recommend Vyrmin to any fans of werewolf horror who are looking for something outside of the same old plot lines.

Side note: This is the 2nd re-issue I’ve read from Bloodshot Books. The other, The Breeze Horror, will be an upcoming review. Editor Pete Kahle is doing the Lord’s work over there, resurrecting all these lesser-known but interesting horror novels from the 80’s and 90’s in ebook format with new cover art. It’s really cool to see someone making some more obscure horror stories available again in a convenient and affordable way.

What I Liked:

  • Weird werewolves with human-skin belts
  • Whacked out, almost psychedelic, action sequences
  • Sheriff Conway

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Saggy middle
  • Peaks and valleys of action versus massive expository dialogue
  • Some of those cool action sequences felt like they were from another book/story

 

Book Review: “The Cipher” by Kathe Koja

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Nicholas is a would-be poet and video-store clerk with a weeping hole in his hand – weeping not blood, but a plasma of tears…

Books like The Cipher come along rarely.

One of the strangest, most existentially disturbing horror? novels I’ve read in a while, it’s a gem that is certainly not for everyone.

When video store clerk Nicholas and his sometimes-girlfriend Nakota stumble across a strange hole (The Funhole!) in an abandoned supply closet in his apartment building, they don’t really know what to make of it. Over time, Nakota begins to perform “experiments” by putting things in or near the hole, with frightening results. This includes a camcorder that creates video so intense it beguiles anyone who sees it.  As tension builds, it comes to a head when Nicholas’ hand accidentally goes in the The Funhole and comes out with a bizarre negative stigmata. A “mini Funhole” that begins to grow.

From there, the conflict between Nicholas and Nakota grows, as she assembles an almost cult-like following of artsy weirdos on the fringes of society, who she tempts by showing them the video which them eerily obsessed with the mysteries of The Funhole…and Nicholas.

Koja’s work is a phenomenal piece of writing. It eschews taking us into the Funhole itself, and rather deals with the psychological aspects of how gross, down-and-out people deal with an unknown (and revelatory) situation. The Funhole’s interactions are on the periphery of the story, but it’s presence is at the heart of what drives this horrible group.

And I do mean horrible. This book is full of really unlikable people. Nakota is an effective antagonist because she is a real-world monster. Selfish, arrogant, uncaring and narcissistic. She preys on weakness; the kind Nicholas has in spades. Reader beware if you need “likable characters” to finish a book.

The Cipher is also a technical tour de force. If you want a book that “breaks the rules”, look no further. Written in stream of consciousness narration, it is full of sentence fragments, interjections, collapsing paragraphs, and 4th wall asides. Her prose is beautifully poetic while simultaneously grimy and disgusting.  I’m sure Koja’s editor had a field day with it.

Again, to those interested in challenging writing styles, you’ll love it, but anyone who wants an easy straightforward read may shy away.

Ultimately, I’m not even sure if I’d classify The Cipher as a horror novel, although that’s what Dell Books called it back in the early 1990’s. It’s certainly weird alt-horror, if not an exercise in existential dread and the human condition.

5 awful, disjointed thumbs up.

What I Liked:

  • The Funhole.
  • The slimy sheen of Koja’s characters and prose. Nothing is nice or clean or off limits.
  • Nakota is a monster and a wonderfully realistic villain.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Sometimes the stream of consciousness was too much.
  • The middle sags, just a tiny bit, but it does.
  • It’s long out-of-print and paperback editions are EXPENSIVE.

Vintage HOBBIT

Dug up this old copy of THE HOBBIT while cleaning. Bilbo is still kickin’ after all these years.

Book Review: “ARTEMIS” by Andy Weir

image of book cover artemis by andy weir

Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN was a breakout hit. The originally self-published book went on to sell millions of copies and become a popular motion picture. His follow up ARTEMIS, while having sold well, really doesn’t live up to the quality of its predecessor

Artemis holds the unsavory distinction of the first DNF (Did Not Finish) book on my 2018 reading list.

An action-packed science fiction tale of smuggler “Jazz” Bashara who lives in a space station on the moon, it is much more deeply rooted in fantastical science fiction than The Martian was.

I enjoyed The Martian, with all it’s clever Macguyver-on-Mars moments, and the tension it built around primarily one character.

Artemis, on the other hand, fell flat. Getting to the point, it’s just not a well written book. It’s a successful book, but not a well written one. The dialogue is stilted, the pacing is inconsistent, and while the protagonist is enjoyable enough, Weir cannot help himself from inserting pseudo-science (or non-pseudo-science) lectures into the narrative roughly every three minutes. Even during action scenes. It just feels completely unnatural that someone in high-tension, life or death situations would stop to deliver a lesson on altered gravity. It worked well in the context of The Martian, but not here.

The other issue that stuck out to me (and this one is debatable) is the books “diversity”. It had a diverse cast which is great, but Weir’s references and description to physical appearance, clothing, and culture are extremely shallow and don’t really serve to enhance any of the characters or their stories beyond face-value. It felt pandering and that Weir didn’t particularly care outside of completing a checklist that included “don’t make your MC another white dude in space”. I’m not an expert in genre novel diversity, and while I applaud the attempt, something about the execution felt off.

I listened to this one on audio book, and made it about halfway through. That’s why the review ends here.

What I Liked:

  • The main character “Jazz” was snarky and fun.
  • Rosario Dawson did an excellent job reading on the audio book edition.
  • The first two chapters worth of scientific description.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Uncontrolled outbursts of scientific lecturing.
  • Cringe-worthy dialogue, including overuse of profanity.
  • Mediocre writing (description, pacing, character development)