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

 

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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.

Book of the Year 2017

 

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The year is coming to a close, and I wanted to reflect back on some of the best books I read in 2017. Plus, I figured I’d start an annual “Book of The Year” award. I mean, this is a blog after all, and blogs gotta have awards and lists.

Keep in mind, this lofty accolade is MY 2017 book, meaning it didn’t have to be published this year. I just had to have read it in the past 365 days.

Some highlights from this year included Birdbox by Josh Malerman, War of the Worlds plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies by HG Wells and Eric S. Brown, and Good as Gone by Amy Gentry.

One book eclipsed all of these however, and managed to land the prestigious award.

The winner is…

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BOOK REVIEW: “The King In Yellow” By Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow is a book of short stories by American writer Robert W. Chambers, first published by F. Tennyson Neely in 1895. The book is named after a play with the same title which recurs as a motif through some of the stories. The first half of the book features highly esteemed weird stories, and the book has been described by critics such as E. F. Bleiler, S. T. Joshi and T. E. D. Klein as a classic in the field of the supernatural. There are ten stories, the first four of which (“The Repairer of Reputations”, “The Mask”, “In the Court of the Dragon”, and “The Yellow Sign”) mention The King in Yellow, a forbidden play which induces despair or madness in those who read it.

I recently borrowed an audio book of The King in Yellow (support your local library!) as part of my Halloween reading list. I’d heard so much about it, and how it inspired many other works of horror I enjoy. I felt like Halloween season was the right time to check it out.

Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it.

king_aceI’ve never read (or listened to) a book that I was so conflicted about. I’m a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft and early weird fiction from the turn of the 20th century. I also enjoy hoity-toity literature with complex prose, so The King in Yellow should be right up my alley.

Here’s the thing: I loved the first half of the book. It was great! The stories weave semi-related tales of dread and supernatural menace, interspersing lines from the frightening play that is the common thread between them.

The second half of the book is what lost me. Chambers totally changes gears and spins tales about bourgeoisie life in wartime France. This portion of the book supposedly “evokes thematic feelings of dread”, but if they are in there, I couldn’t find them. There are few if any references to the King, and a thematic shift from horror to romance and longing. I kept waiting for something to tie the second half back to the first, but it never happened (the ending arguably has a call back to the first story, but its weak). The prose and language remains excellent, but begins to ramble and turn purple, eschewing story-telling for overly dramatic description. I was disappointed since I enjoyed the first half so much.

Can I recommend this book? Sort of.

If you’re a fan of “cosmic horror” (H.P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales) or video games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls then the first half of The King in Yellow is in your wheelhouse. “The Repairer of Reputations” up through “The Yellow Sign” along with “The Prophet’s Paradise” are must reads. Everything else can be ignored, especially the final three installments that begin with “The Street of the First Shell”. Fortunately, the nature of the book (short stories) allows it to be consumed this way.

I can see how portions of Chambers’ work inspired so many future writers and artists. The King in Yellow was certainly a groundbreaking work for its time, and portions of it still hold up today. If you’d like to see what all the fuss is about, you can buy a copy off Amazon (or read it for free on Kindle) using the affiliate link below.

The King in Yellow

WHAT I LIKED:

  • Initial quartet of stories are excellent works of classic horror
  • Fanciful, engaging prose
  • Themes of madness and existential dread

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  • Inconsistent themes in latter half of book
  • Latter stories are just American bohemians bemoaning their upper-middle class lifestyle while in Paris. Extremely boring.