Tales of the Macabre and Ordinary by Chris Mikul

Book: Tales of the Macabre and Ordinary

Author: Chris Mikul (longtime readers here may recognize his name – he is the publisher of the excellent ‘zine, Biblio-Curiosa)

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Mikul actually does manage to combine the macabre and the ordinary in each story.

Availability: Published by Ramble House in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: The book does what it says on the cover. It delivers macabre (and gross) tales that are also very ordinary in some manner. It’s a very interesting way to tell stories, to permit the narrative to fall flat in some manner, or to tell a story most people know and do it in such a creepy way you make it your own, or to tell a very simple story that seems like it is telling you everything but is really telling you just enough to ask more questions.  At times Mikul denies the reader the catharsis often expected at the end of a tense story because he doesn’t spell things out, and in other instances the narrative ends in a manner that is blunt and horrible. Sometimes the simplest subversions of the traditional story-telling method are the most effective, and each of these stories in some manner are indeed macabre and indeed very ordinary.

The collection has nine stories, and I want briefly to discuss each one. I’ll do my best not to spoil the endings but in a collection like this one, avoiding spoiling endings may well be impossible. Metaphorically, how do you spoil a door slamming in the middle of a sentence? Still, I’ll be careful.

First story, “Dead Spit,” is Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley dropped into the Outback. I don’t think I have spoiled it by describing it this way because, again, the ending will deprive you of the momentum you think the story is gathering. The best part of this story, for me at least, was when I realized that I had created a big mystery clue/red herring due to my own ignorance. I don’t use canola oil because the word canola disgusts me, so I was not aware it comes from plants that collectively are known as canola. I guess I thought canola oil was a mixture of crappier oils and that the trade name for such oil was “canola.” Who knew? Well, evidently everyone else on the planet knew, but that is a detail in this story – working in a canola field and it distracted me from what was really happening.

Jesus, “A Cut Above the Rest” is  Peter Jackson’s earlier films with a touch of “Evil Dead” thrown in. Gross, sort of dumb, quite funny and also gross because I need to emphasize how gross this story was. This story also brings to mind Richard Olen Butler’s Severance, which I should mention I have discussed on this very site. Quick synopsis: fat man tries to win maiden fair by losing weight the hard way.

“Meet Me at the Shot-Out Eye” is a great sort of gritty mystery. Too international for noir but still has that grimy, double-crossing dame feeling. Hero goes to Prague and meets up with a lovely Czech woman with a penchant for sketching people, even during the most inappropriate of moments. Given the length, it’s surprising how layered this story feels when finished. Excellent writing in this one.

Those who regret bitterly their goth years will despise “Blood Sport” but, if you just concentrate on the story instead of your own deep embarrassment at having worn the same Bauhaus t-shirt for years while denouncing Love and Rockets as total sellouts, you can find this story pretty funny at times. Heroine is a teenaged goth with a terrible home life who meets a self-proclaimed vampire (who does not shimmer or glimmer or whatever it was Edward Cullen did) who betrays her. She takes revenge in a very organized manner, killing two birds with one stone, as it were.

“Deddybones” is my favorite story in the collection and I don’t really know why. Les is hired to clear out a creepy old house after the owner dies. The owner had left the home as a sort of unclear monument to a life that never happened when his wife left him. The house is filled with small details that never knit together to form a coherent picture of what awaits Les, and that makes it all the more disturbing. Les falls victim to the house (and takes others down with him as he falls) in a sort of insanity that left me wondering exactly what it was that happened. I mean, we know what happens in a physical sense but never quite get what it is that makes Les go mad, what made the previous tenant go mad, and in turn, that made me feel unsteady, groping for a reason for why things happened as they did. It could be mystical, it could be that sometimes single men lose their bearings. This story is enjoyably frustrating and comfortably familiar in how Les handles the problems that come up as he deals with the fall out from his decisions. I was certain a search on “deddybones” would show me some aboriginal lore that would explain it all but to no avail. Ninety percent of all search results led to this story or to a freelancer in Indonesia. Nope, I am left to wonder what exactly drives Les mad, or if anything drove Les mad.

“The Petrol Run” is an effective story with an abrupt ending. A cult leader goes to prison for child molestation and the cult member left in charge stages a disturbing public reaction to the sentence. This one was probably more effective to me because I had been reading The SCP creepypasta just before reading this story, most notably the notorious SCP-231. Sometimes the external influences are what make a story disturbing, and that was certainly the case for me with “The Petrol Run.”

“Mountain Devils” is close to “Deddybones” in terms of excellence. An older widow paints children’s faces at a local fair, and one boy asks to be painted as a devil. That boy is later a victim of a terrible crime, and the crime doesn’t end with the perpetrator’s death. This is a relatively disturbing story, and the heroine’s end seems abrupt, but when you consider what happens in the story, it actually makes perfect sense when you realize the only person who was affected by the criminal and who did not die was a man in the throws of dementia.

“Barbecue at Nev’s” is some heavy stuff, gentle reader. This one has a pretty solid ending, but one that left me asking all kinds of questions. Family and friends gather for a cook-out and mete justice to one of their own who has stepped outside the boundaries of moral behavior. There are some pretty loathsome details in this one – putting cigarette butts out on cockroaches, for instance. And I don’t think I am giving too much away when I say this story isn’t told in third person, despite all initial appearances that it is. This story is really disturbing in its implications and was skillfully written.

The last story in the collection is “The Wonders of Modern Medicine” and it’s also pretty disturbing. A young woman sleeps through the last stop on her train and finds herself with a dead cell phone and attacked by strange men. And it just gets worse for her from there. This story borrows heavily from urban legend and what is happening is telegraphed pretty clearly but at the same time it’s a nasty little story.

All in all, this was a solid short story collection. Mikul tells you exactly what he plans to do from the outset – he mixes very obvious and at times pedestrian story-telling with extraordinary details, plots and characters. The result is generally that even as you think you know what is coming, you really don’t. And when you do manage to guess, you end up second-guessing yourself. This is a maddening, interesting, entertaining, at times gross and at other times even grosser collection. I liked it a lot. Highly recommended.

Published in: fiction, Horror, Short Story Collections | on July 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Hibernation

I think by now all readers here know I am subject to periods of cyclical depression and torpor wherein this site goes silent. I’ve been struggling this year with various issues that have made it hard to concentrate but one of those issues is clearing up (passing a website I ran on to another person) and the fog is lifting. Perhaps it is a sign that my depressions aren’t as terrible as those others face because, lately, when they happen, I don’t really feel hopeless because I remember that wonderful feeling that comes when the depression fades. It feels like Spring. It feels like a small rebirth, a shedding of old, psychic skin. I just have to hold on until my brain chemistry relents.

As a result of my current Spring-time zeal, I have some discussions of interesting books in queue, among them books by Chris Mikul, Dennis Cooper, Peter Sotos, Bradley R. Smith, David Paulides, Alissa Nutting, Hollister Koop, Gabrielle Wittkop, Andy Nowicki, Karen Russell and Michel Faber. (edited because I borked Alissa Nutting first go around, and then edited again because I messed up Bradley R. Smith’s name because the suck is strong with me this entry…)

I’m currently dealing with a minor obsession with mutualism and have been struggling through Kropotkin, which I don’t really recommend to anyone who doesn’t have intractable insomnia. I’ve also found myself spending way too much time reading Brandon Darby’s Twitter feed and his articles over on Breitbart’s site and wondering exactly how much the human sphincter can stretch. I’m not linking to them because I also cannot recommend reading them to anyone except those who really like the taste of vomit in the backs of their mouths. So Google with caution.

What have you guys been reading, investigating, or doing. Share it all, no detail too small. See you Tuesday-ish.

Song of my week, and god bless Laura Jane Grace!

Published in: Uncategorized | on July 19th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

This Is Not an Odd Book Review – What the Hell Is Going on in France?

Last year on Houdini’s Revenge, I wrote about how the media worldwide completely mishandled the details of the arrest of Varg Vikernes in the summer of 2013.  Seriously, it was a complete mess, and the hearing that occurred on June 3rd of this year was chilling in what it revealed and the implications for anyone in France who may espouse ideas that are contrary to a particular party line.

Before I begin to discuss the situation with Varg, I need to make a couple of statements, one for clarity and the other just because it always comes up and it’s tiresome.  First, let me tell you how I know Varg.  I met him when I was working on a project I started before 9/11 that eventually fell apart because I am sort of chaotic and was even more so back then.  I consider him a friend, and I assume he considers me one, too, though we frequently butt heads.  Second, despite considering Varg a friend, I don’t share all of his beliefs.  I mention this because I get shade from both sides of the fence and it’s annoying, when it isn’t amusing.  Some people assume I am an anti-Semite because I like Varg and that makes them angry.  Interestingly, some remain angry when I explain I don’t hate Jews because they think I should revile Varg for being an anti-Semite.  But then some people who agree with antisemitic ideas find out that I like Varg and that I am not an anti-Semite, and they get angry.  Not long ago some dude who thinks he’s like Charles Martel because being anonymous on the Internet is evidently pretty empowering was so annoyed by me that he social media snarked me with, “Oh, you are a multicultural white genocide supporter?”

Isn’t that how journalists used to know they were on to something – when everyone was pissed off at them?  That’s what I tell myself these days.  So please know I don’t want to hear your opinion about my beliefs, unless you feel that freedom of speech is a bad thing and then I will totally be willing to throw down with you in comments.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Man Who Saw His Own Liver by Bradley R. Smith

Book: The Man Who Saw His Own Liver

Author: Bradley R. Smith

Type of Book: Short story collection, semi-autobiographical

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Smith, as a writer, has an interesting writing style and Smith, as a man, is a polarizing figure.

Availability: Published by Nine Banded Books in 2007, you can get a copy here:

You can also buy it directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments: Bradley R. Smith may be the only Holocaust revisionist who writes about topics that have nothing to do with the Holocaust.  And that’s good because while I know just enough about the Holocaust to hold my own in such conversations, I also am not invested in the topic enough to want to read books along the lines of what one expects from David Irving and Ernst Zündel. Admittedly, I haven’t read Smith’s book about his journey into Holocaust criticism, so perhaps then he concentrated exclusively on revisionism to the point of minutia, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’ll see when I read it.

Perhaps he has more to write about because Smith has led a far more interesting life than Irving or Zündel, once you remove the legal drama.  But then again, Smith has had his own share of law troubles, and not the kind you might think.  In 1962, Bradley R. Smith was convicted under California’s obscenity laws for selling a copy of Tropic of Cancer.  In 1963, he appealed the verdict and the higher court sent the case back down to the lower courts in light of the California Supreme Court having determined Tropic of Cancer was not, in fact, obscene. Taking this anti-censorship stance bankrupted Smith.  Regardless of how you feel about Holocaust revisionism, it’s impossible to deny that Smith is more than the one-topic obsessives who are often attracted to Holocaust studies because such topics feed their antisemitism and loathing for institutional intellectual authority.  Smith has suffered financially and socially supporting freedom of speech – even speech liberals respect.  He has gone on record as saying:

I do not believe in thought crimes, in taboos against intellectual freedom.

Perhaps that is what makes this book so odd – Bradley R. Smith is a living intersection of ideas that, on their surface, may seem mutually exclusive.  But people and ideas are never wholly black or white.  This played out vividly for me in terms of Smith’s personal politics because I generally have little patience for most libertarian ideas yet could see at times where Smith was coming from and could sympathize with his point of view.  I think that was because Smith didn’t cloak himself in Randian-superiority.  He mostly just wanted to be done with intrusive influences in his life.  I can respect that.

This book of vignettes was initially conceived as a one-act play.  When you read it as a dramatic piece, it feels much more powerful than a series of remembrances, but the book still carries a lot of power as a series of short stories.  Through a proxy narrator called A.K Swift, Smith discusses his life and his ideas in a manner that is confessional, almost Beat-like in style.  Though Smith does have this proxy narrator, the details in this book closely mirror his own life enough that I am just going to refer to the narrator as Smith, but that choice is also just to make things easier for me because I tried to refer to the narrator as “Swift” initially and ended up calling him “Smith” so often that I just gave up and switched to Smith.  Read the rest of this entry »

Stupid Children by Lenore Zion

Book:  Stupid Children

Author:  Lenore Zion

Type of Book:  Literary novel

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Children are tortured with nasal balloons and animal entrails.

Availability:  Published by Emergency Press in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: The cover of this book drew me in.  A white little girl – white skin, white underwear, long blonde hair – is standing behind a rope in a ragged backyard in late fall, or early winter.  The look on her face is unfathomable to me, but the confrontation is undeniable.  She is standing there, in her socks and underwear, unprotected in the wind, literally holding on by a string, and staring at you, the reader.  Her expression could be anything from veiled disgust to melancholy to vague interest in the camera as a break in the bleak boredom of the landscape.

This book, at turns neurotic and gross, touching and funny, is grounded by this cover.  This book has a strange, over-the-top cult that engages in really nasty rituals.  The heroine of the book is hilarious and neurotic.  The plot-line gets loose at times and the wackiness of the book can occasionally make the reader forget that at its heart this is still a book about a little girl whose mother is dead, whose father is in a mental institution, who ends up in foster care in the home of cultists who marry her off to an old man in a scenario reminiscent of so many stories that came out of the FLDS sects.  Zion handles all of this heaviness with a humor and open-minded acceptance of the bizarre, but the cover ensures you remember a smart little girl in a forsaken place is at the center of the story.  Outside of House of Leaves, I can can’t recall a time when a book’s cover ensures you don’t miss some of the most important details of the book.  The girl on the cover helps you remember that this is a very upsetting book, even as you find the prose quite amusing at times.

Quick synopsis:  Jane’s mother is dead and her father had a breakdown.  He attempted suicide and becomes  a long-term resident in a mental hospital.  Jane is sent to live in foster care and ends up living with a family indoctrinated into the fictional Second Day Believers, a strange cult that merges properties of Scientology (weird ideas about mental illness and its treatment), FLDS (marrying young girls off to older men powerful in the cult) and a very gross, borderline pagan attraction to animal entrails.  Jane becomes close to her foster brother, Isaac, and their relationship takes a dark turn as Isaac becomes rather unhinged himself, a young proxy in Jane’s affection for her unbalanced father.  Jane eventually becomes far more valuable to the cult than the cult is to her but her love of Isaac keeps her from leaving the madness until Isaac forces the issue in an act of numb but horrifying violence.

Let me get the hard criticism out of the way before I sing this book’s praises.  The ending was rushed and, in a way, a bit contrived.  It all happened too fast.  The reader doesn’t get to see what happens and because it is so rushed, we miss out on some catharsis. The reader needs that catharsis because this book, as funny and sarcastic as it can be at times, also has some hard and upsetting content.  We need to have that BAM! moment and it gets lost in the rush.  Not entirely – you won’t be left feeling like doors were left open, but you also don’t get the satisfaction of hearing those doors slam shut.

With my main criticism out of the way, let’s dissect why this book is worth reading. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Cults, Depictions of madness, fiction | on May 27th, 2014 | No Comments »

Thirteen Girls by Mikita Brottman

Book: Thirteen Girls

Author: Mikita Brottman

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it made me feel a bit less odd about my own obsessions.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:

You can also buy the book directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments: This book is deceptively simple:  Brottman wrote short stories about the deaths of thirteen young women, some killed by famous serial killers, some picked off like ducks in a row, casual victims in an ugly world.  While this is a work of fiction, the stories in this collection are based on real women and real crimes.  The stories are told from varied perspectives:  police report, perp interview, anguished mother, dieting co-worker, angry boyfriend, sole survivor.  There was a game-like element for me as I read, wondering if I could guess who the girl was and who killed her before I reached the end of the story.  Given my prior interest in serial murderers as well as just murderers in general, it was surprising I only really knew five, though several more rang some bells that didn’t ring clearly until I got to the end of the book.  One I missed was a victim of serial killer Bill Suff.  I should have known that one.  I became obsessed with trying to track down the whole text of a cookbook Suff wrote, all the more interesting because he evidently ate body parts from a few of his victims, going so far as to use a breast from a prostitute he killed in his “famous” chili recipe.  I’m not sure why I wanted a cookbook written by a serial killer cannibal – the late 90s was a weird time in my life (but I still sort of would like to have a copy…).

Shortly, I am going to discuss the two stories I liked best, but before I do, I want to discuss the overall nature of this book.  I enjoyed reading it but, at the end, I found myself feeling like the collection hit a discordant note in some of the stories.  I felt empty after I read them and felt that Brottman had missed the point somehow, that the stories were flawed because I felt flat after reading them, yet felt so engaged with some of the others.  The reason I felt that way was because I was the one who had missed the point.

If some of these stories don’t evoke emotion, it’s because they aren’t supposed to because Brottman is showing us the different windows through which we can observe brutality.  While I appreciate this collection for attempting to give the back or parallel stories associated with these murders, the casual memory of death Brottman showed in several of these stories is what makes this collection mean something more than standing as a mawkish look at dead young women.  It’s a sad reality that not all deaths are memorable and that all murders do not change those who knew, however fleetingly, the person who was killed.  The hell of it is, in terms of media and social awareness of victims, it can often seem like particular victims do not matter at all.   Sometimes the lack of interest plays out in the form of a phenomenon called “Missing White Woman” syndrome – black female abductees and murder victims don’t get the media time afforded to white female abductees and murder victims.  But on a more personal level, sometimes a murder means little to those left behind.  There is a sentimental viewpoint in some of these stories, but these stories are anything but sentimental. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Serial Killers, Short Story Collections | on March 5th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

Grudgepunk by John McNee

Book:  Grudgepunk

Author:  John McNee

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection, noir, transhumanism with a smidge of steampunk, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it is the first book that contains steampunk elements that didn’t make me want to throw the book at the wall.  And he didn’t screw up the transhumanist elements of his stories.  Believe me, that’s all very odd.

Availability: Published by Bizarro Press in 2012, you can get a copy here:

 

Comments: I first encountered John McNee in 2011 when I read a relatively mediocre extreme horror short story collection.  His story was the best in the book, a dystopian, transhumanist nightmare that made the rest of the stories in the collection seem almost amateurish in comparison.  I wondered how McNee would do in longer form, if he could take the amazing world-building and characterization and keep the intensity of his monstrous characters outside of the limits of a short story length.  Turns out he can.  If I had been in a position to have a “Best of” list in 2013, this book would have been at the top of the list.  I can say with no equivocation that this is an excellent book.

Though this book is released by a bizarro imprint, I hesitate to call it bizarro.  It’s noir.  It’s trans-humanist.  It’s extreme horror.  It’s brutal and intense and at times strangely touching.  It defies classification because it is a perfect synthesis of so many different influences without becoming a pastiche.  This is not an imitation – it’s a creation.  Because I am not a person much given to steampunk or noir, I should not have liked this book as much as I do but it speaks to McNee’s skills that he mixed subgenres I don’t much care for and I still couldn’t put the book down.

Quick synopsis of the book:  In the city of Grudgehaven, we are presented with a place much like Gotham late at night combined with Sin City at all hours, with some side steps into Blade Runner and Repo: The Genetic Opera as run through a Cherie Priest novel.  Criminal syndicates are at war, wreaking havoc.  A gorgeous dame sings at a club and forms a strange friendship with a taxi driver.  A man fights to keep his ailing wife alive during a riot.  A sentient severed hand is on a mission.  Human motels, in that they are motels made of human skin, have relationships with real humans.  A writer finds herself in a sticky situation when she is hired to write the autobiography of a very bad man.  The daughter of a preacher makes a deal with a devil of sorts.  A boy made of clockworks longs to be real.  And all of these single threads weave the tapestry of The Grudge, a town without pity but with plenty of malice.

Because of that pesky second X-chromosome I have, the story of Louie, his wife, Marianne, and the lounge singer Dolores, was the price of admission part of this book, though the stories of Cynthia, the woman tasked with writing a book about the worst man in The Grudge, and Alesa, the preacher’s daughter, are both excellent.  The tale of Louie is such a great story that I am going to discuss it in depth, and mostly spoil it in the process.  I don’t like doing that but if I don’t keep myself focused on one story, I would want to write about every story in the book and this discussion would be about 40 pages long.  But I also must spoil it because spoiling it is the only way to show how excellent it is.

Louie is a cab driver who is down on his luck.  He has a sick wife and he has a lot of trouble making ends meet.  He meets a gorgeous club singer named Dolores, who gets him caught up in a surprising double-cross.  This is a story that has been told so many times that it hardly seems remarkable enough, on its face, to be one of the best stories in the collection.  The delight (and sadness) is in the details.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Horror, Noir, Short Story Collections, Transhumanism | on February 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Sleep Has No Master by Jon Konrath

Book: Sleep Has No Master

Author:  Jon Konrath

Type of Book:  Fiction, themed short story collection, lunacy

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  I don’t even know how to tell you all the ways this book is odd.  I am mostly reminded of this Hunter S. Thompson quote:

Weird heroes and mold-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ‘the rat race’ is not yet final.

Availability:  Published by Paragraph Line Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  This book gave me the fear.  Like I was going to go full Gonzo-paranoid and end up locking myself in the backyard shed with a gallon of whiskey and a loaded gun.  As I read parts of the book, I thought, “I wrote this.  I wrote this book and I forgot and Konrath sent it to me in some passive aggressive ruse in order to show me he has access to my thoughts and computer and probably even my medicine cabinet.”  I read the title chapter out loud to Mr. Oddbooks, who peered at me nervously from his side of the bed, no doubt wondering if I had had (another) psychotic break (there was a… problem when I read a particular Zippy the Pinhead cartoon that referenced the Oscar Meyer Wiener-mobile, but that was years ago).

A quick summary of the book is likely in order:  this is a short story collection that tells the tales of a dude who does stuff, sometimes alone, sometimes with his loser friends.   Through these dudes, Konrath hits on too many details of my life for this book to be legal.  Some of the topics that include details far too specific for my comfort: insomnia, unlikely car customizations, Varg Vikernes, specific conspiracy theories, a complete inability to use eye drops as a child, over-the-counter sleep aids, corpulent Asians friends, microsleep, the bizarre belief that one’s eyelashes are inverting back into one’s eyelid (mine grow sideways, toward my nose, and it’s a problem), spending most of one’s work days searching eBay listings, self-torture via medical sites, Crispin Glover, gg allin, disgust for how badly movies tended to represent computer capabilities in the 80s, the Voynich Manuscript, fear of what diet sodas may be doing to my brain, and so much more.  This book is, when I can tamp down the paranoia, deeply funny, verging on hilarious at times, but the paranoia lurks because who really could have so many weird idiosyncrasies in common unless something nefarious is happening?

The story “Sleep Has No Master” contains a paragraph that pretty much confirmed for me that Konrath needs to go to jail, the fucker, because I know I wrote this at some point:

I started researching sleep disorders online, the usual death spiral of fanatical WebMD queries, and stumbled upon something called fatal familial insomnia.  It’s an incredibly rare four-stage inherited prion disease that starts with progressively-worsening insomnia and panic attacks.  Then you dive into a wonderful world of Nixon-esque paranoia and vivid hallucinations.  By the third stage, you cannot sleep at all, and your body starts breaking down with rapid weight loss.  It all leads up to a crippling dementia, before you finally buy the farm.  Barbiturates and induced comas, which you’d think would knock you out, actually speed up the disease.  In one famous case, the doctors completely nuked the patient with heavy sedatives, but his brain would not shut down.  This is the exact kind of thing you don’t want to read at 3 AM when you’ve been awake for 40 hours straight and you’re trying  to find some homeopathic bullshit to turn off your brain for the evening.

Seriously, I am rethinking the microwave brain readers that Gloria Naylor insisted were used to read her thoughts.  You know how when your cats freak out and run frantically into the other room, only to stop immediately and then stare, wild-eyed at the wall?  I think that’s when Konrath is warming up the brain-microwave.   Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Short Story Collections | on January 29th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

This Is Not an Odd Book Review: Biblio-Curiosa, No. 4 by Chris Mikul

Title: Bibilo-Curiosa, No. 4

Author and Editor: Chris Mikul

Availability: You need to contact Chris directly at cathob@zip.com.au. The ‘zine itself is $5 Australian, so those outside of Australia need to get a quote from him directly. For Americans, if I recall correctly, it is $8 USD an issue, shipping included.

Comments: Last year was a complete waste for me. Dozens of books were left unread, dozens of discussions never happened here. Truly pitiful. But in the spirit of not dwelling on the past and various failures, I want to begin 2014 with a discussion that is long overdue and about a writer whose work inspires me. I’ve said several times that I really envy Chris Mikul’s writing style and research expertise, and his fourth issue of Biblio-Curiosa further cements my opinion of him (I also have two books of his I really want to read and discuss this year – fingers crossed).

For those unfamiliar with Biblio-Curiosa, Mikul’s ‘zine is part book review, part in-depth research. He reads genuinely strange and obscure books and writes about them, but he also engages in deep research into the lives of various writers, sometimes trying to track down authors whose names are very nearly lost to history. Every issue is a fascinating read.

Issue 4 has four articles, and begins with a look at what can only be called a lunatic book. The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman doesn’t sound that loony on its face – just sort of pulpy. Written by Arthur N. Scarm (yes, Scarm, though it is spelled “Scram” on the title page) in 1972, it is a novelization of a Spanish film called La Noche de Walpurgis, released in the USA as The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman or Werewolf Shadow. The movies, going by title, sound cheesy enough, but as Mikul notes, the novelization is… not entirely true to its source:

…the book bears only the most passing resemblance to the film. Instead, it takes off on innumerable mad tangents of its own, and brims with cartoonish sex and violence, ludicrous dialogue and scenes that border on the surreal.

The book changes the protagonist’s name from Waldemar to Waldo, changes his personality from a shaggy, animalistic creature into an urbane, sophisticated wolf-dude, and introduces all sorts of previously unknown and probably created on-the-spot werewolf lore. It is here I feel I should mention that Waldo can do all sorts of nefarious and odd things, like shrink boobs with his mind. Montague Summers would weep if he read this book.

Waldo ends up with a vampire woman, as described in the title, but before he does he engages in all kinds of strange seduction. Take this snippet Mikul shares from the book:

Handling the girls like toys, he planted them on their backs, one on top of the other, and with Elvira on top, got on top of her. Ruth was on the bottom and he made love to her through Genevieve and Elvira, with all three girls screaming because it was so uncomfortable.

Yeah. This hilarity aside, this article gets even more interesting when Mikul looks into who “Scarm” really was.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: 'zines | on January 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

2013: The Year I Mostly Lost

I can’t even think about doing all the end of year stuff that everyone who writes about books engages in come around mid-December. Because of Houdini’s Revenge and that site I launched looking into that way-weird woman who scams everyone online, I barely even read this year. Like I am embarrassed by the paltry number of books I managed to finish. It’s pretty shameful.

I intend to remedy this because I miss being able to read. All the research into the weird woman is wearing me down. I really miss this site. I will work on my other sites, to be sure, but IROB has always been my first love and I hate that I have neglected her so.

But I have no idea when business as usual will resume. I am typing this entry at 4:00 in the morning in the dark as my mother sleeps in her hospital bed. Some people could work in this situation, but I can’t. I’m popping acid reducer pills and thinking about re-reading the Harry Potter books because my brain is too tired for much else.

But life settles down. It always does. So I will be back when I can be back. Just keep me in your readers or bookmark me or whatever. I will be back, hopefully soon.

Published in: Uncategorized | on December 18th, 2013 | 3 Comments »