Saturday, December 30, 2017

11 Amazing Books From 2017

2017 was mostly terrible, but as far as books go, it was actually pretty great. Here are eleven favorites among the ones I read this year. I've listed eleven because I hate even numbers. 

NOTE: All of these books were released during 2017, with the exception of a few that were right on the line and published at the tail end of 2016. 

11. Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke The title and cover of this graphic novel immediately caught my attention. They signaled something melancholy and bleak. In Imagine Wanting Only This, Kristen Radtke takes readers on an autobiographical journey that starts with the death of a beloved uncle. From there she develops a strange fascination with ruins—ancient, contemporary, etc. Her obsession takes her from Gary, Indiana, to Iceland to Angkor Wat and several other interesting locations as she tries to process what it means to exist and die on this miserable-magical planet. While Radtke sometimes comes off as grotesquely privileged (jet-setting around the world to heal emotional wounds and quench intellectual curiosities), the author ultimately serves up a work that, in my opinion, well overpowers the issue with its emotional and conceptual content.   

10. The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington Known foremost as a surrealist painterLeonora Carrington also authored many bizarre stories that long predated the unbridled weirdness of Tim and Eric and the dark absurdity of MP Johnson. In 2017, the Dorothy Project unveiled this amazing collection of Carrington's oft-overlooked fiction. The book opens with a story about a young girl convincing her hyena-friend (from the zoo, of course) to attend a debutante ball in her place. Hilarity and violence ensue. Keep in mind: Carrington was writing these fantastic tales between the 1930s and 1980s. Totally mind-blowing.

9. Charges (The Supplicants) by  Elfriede Jelinek

As a big fan of Jelinek's novel The Piano Teacher, I was eager to read her latest work Charges (The Supplicants), a grim rumination on the lives of refugees fleeing to Europe. While the book is ultimately a work of fiction (well-researched and realistic as it may be), it is nothing short of heartrending. Jelinek relays experiences and perspectives of those fleeing some of the most extreme violence and poverty on the planet (only to be demonized, turned away, maimed, and even killed by societies across the European continent). What's also striking about this work is the ambitious narration, which is essentially a first-person "chorus" of refugee voices that alternate and cycle from one to the next without clear demarcation. Honestly, I've never read anything like it. For as challenging as the book's style can be, it's ultimately very interesting and, more importantly, effective. The book is artistically bold as it is empathetic. 

8. The Rebellion's Last Traitor by Nik Korpon
This is essential reading for the Trump Era. The Rebellion's Last Traitor is a story of tyranny, dystopian squalor, environmental degradation, and—ultimately—resistance. In the book's fictional reality, Korpon seamlessly blends science fiction with political intrigue, suspense, and compelling drama. His meticulous world-building pairs perfectly with his myriad imaginative and disturbing speculative concepts. I see people on Amazon comparing this novel to JG Ballard's works, which seems pretty apt in the best possible way. Not at all derivative, just that good.   

7. Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi

Our Dead World is a stellar short-fiction collection from Bolivian journalist Liliana Colanzi. The stories are short as hell but pack some tremendous punches. Expect lots of grim weirdness and pessimistic drama (I mean, just look at the title). Colanzi takes readers all over, from a dismal near-future Mars colony, down to a run-of-the-mill movie theater (in which a young woman gives a potentially world-ending blowjob to her date). It's a unique and wild ride.

6. The Nightly Disease by Max Booth III

This is magnum opus material from the contemporary master of transgressive horror. Per usual with Booth's writing, this novel offers loads of terror, irreverence, and scatological antics—all in roughly equal measure. The protagonist, Isaac, is a hotel night auditor and semi-public masturbator whose grinding worklife takes a turn for the surreal. Violence and a creepy "parliament of owls" become the new normal for the loathsome-lovable antihero as he deals with dirtbag hotel guests and navigates the possibility of romance with a homeless bulimic woman.

5. A Tunnel to Another Place by Apolo Cacho

Holy shit. What an amazing graphic...zine? Story? I picked this one up on a whim at a small press expo. I knew nothing of Apolo Cacho or this zine before I shelled out ten dollars to own it. I just really liked the cover art, which struck me as uniquely hallucinatory and sinister. Story-wise, A Tunnel to Another Place is full of fleeting scenes of absurdist mayhem that play with topics like the drudgery of worklife, the horrors of modern capitalism, and humanoid cacti. All in all, Tunnel to Another place is a completely mind-bending and nightmarish experience. It's perfect for fans of Person 918, Gary J. Shipley, and Hieronymus Bosch.
4. Gravity by Michael Kazepis

Gravity is exactly how a story collection should be done: slim and grim with slick cover art and sharp interior aesthetics. Most importantly, the writing is spare and brilliant. I enjoyed every story in the collection, but my favorite was an unnerving and surreal Giallo-crime piece titled "Minerva." The ultraviolent "A Song for Our Fathers" also struck a chord, especially for offering a fresh, minimalist take on the dystopian genre.   

3. Into the Ocean by Stanton McCaffery
Full disclosure: Stanton is my friend. Yeah, go call the cops. Really though, I wouldn't have included Into the Ocean on this list if it didn't deserve to be here. It's awesome. It's a Jersey-based story of down-and-out desperation and brutality. Lots of complex, troubled characters: a violent fixer seeking redemption, corrupt cops, junkies, emotionally-devastated families. Rock-solid social commentaries and insights too. Into the Ocean is bleak as hell, but packed with loads of heart and authenticity. I double-recommend it to fans of George V. Higgins novels and The Wire.

2. Cartoons in the Suicide Forest by Leza Cantoral

This collection is completely unhinged. Somehow, it's at once emotionally devastating and wildly fun. Cantoral shreds genre lines, offering up deranged takes on classic fairy tales, beast-portions of speculative designer drugs, and lots of anal penetration. This book truly has something for everyone. And the writing is as lyrical as the stories are shocking and imaginative. 

1. Warewolff! by Gary J. Shipley

As always, Gary J. Shipley is taking big risks and rearranging the concept of literature at the molecular level. He never looks back while doing so—not even for a second. For as much as I appreciate most of Shipley's boundary-ripping work (especially Dreams of Amputation), Warewolff! marks an entirely new form of warped iconoclasm. Here's the core concept: Some unnamed terrible thing has befallen life on Earth (imagine a mysterious slow-motion atrocity of global proportions); Warewolff! is an archive-in-vignettes of the event's impact on the planet and its inhabitants. Shipley writes in the "Prologue/Prodrome" section of the book: "It’s an attempt to see something while having access only to its effects." Dogs devouring each other whole. Pornstar worship. Mind-altering astral phenomena. Horrific and confounding violence. So horrific. So  confounding. So violent. So unique and amazing. All of it. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Eyes Bright Dead" Live at FLULAND

I couldn't be more excited to see my story "Eyes Bright Dead" live over at FLULAND. It's one of the absolute best lit sites around. Seriously, check out FLULAND even if you don't read my story.

But uhhhhhh please read my story.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Highly Recommended: Into the Ocean by Stanton McCaffery

So here's a rad novel by my friend, Stanton McCaffery. I had the pleasure of reading an early draft. The published version is even better. Just finished it. Kicked my ass even harder than the first time around.
Into the Ocean is a Jersey-based story of down-and-out desperation and brutality. Lots of complex, troubled characters: a violent fixer seeking redemption, corrupt cops, junkies, emotionally-devastated families.
Rock-solid commentaries and insights too.

Into the Ocean is grim as hell, but packed with loads of heart and authenticity.

Check it out. You won't be sorry.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dread City: 5 Works of Dystopian Fiction for This Miserable Human Moment

Everything is going to shit.

Things were already terrible, but Jesus H. Christ.

New border walls, attacks on journalists, persecution of refugees, a growing neo-Nazi movement, policies for full-on ecocide.

Less than a week into the Trump Years, and already we find our faces bloodied and disfigured under Orwell's metaphorical stamping jackboot.

Fascist-types are quick like that. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not suggesting that anyone embrace this terrible moment, but some of you have made 1984 a best-seller again. Clearly, you've already got dystopia on the brain, so why not venture into some less-charted dystopian territories? Sure, it'll be grim and sobering, but it could also be useful at this time—maybe?

So, uh, welcome to the fucken Terrordome...

1. The Running Man by Stephen King

If you've seen the bullshit film adaptation, don't fret. The book is nothing like it. I promise.

Originally one of the Bachman Books, The Running Man showcases some of Stephen King's most bleak and brutal writing.

Meet protagonist Ben Richards. He's a poor city-dweller. He agrees to be hunted down like a dog by the entirety of the US police-state as part of a reality television program so he can get medicine for his dying baby daughter. And so his wife doesn't have to turn tricks anymore.


The story takes readers on a panoramic tour of a near-future dystopian US that may strike them as uncomfortably relevant. Strap in for the ending, it's a magnum-opus symphony of violence. King at his absolute best, in my opinion

2. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Ah, the dystopian borderland. Violent racist ranchers, desolate terrain, and seedy underworld operatives make up Herrera's unique hellscape. The protagonist, a young woman named Makina, is thrown into a situation where she must navigate this deadly madness.

Herrera's writing is both spare and rich. 
Signs Preceding the End of the World  is haunting and politically potent. Certainly one of the best books I've read this year.

3. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer 

If you haven't already read this one, I don't know if there's anything that can be done to help you.

But seriously, it's an amazing book. VanderMeer brings readers on a journey across Area X, a natural landscape (seemingly in Florida) undergoing some really fucked up global weirding. Iridescent spores and humanoid animals face off against the personnel of a shadowy government agency. It's something like Roadside Picnic meets Lovecraft. It's actually even better than that though. Really.

Also, FYI, Annihilation is the first installment of an entire trilogy.

4. Zazen by Vanessa Vaselka

Stark and raw, Vaselka's Zazen offers a unique take on the concept of dystopian literature. The industrial and cultural squalor of the novel seems entirely true to the present for the most part. The protagonist, Della, feels all too relatable. She works as a waitress despite being qualified and credentialed to work as a paleontologist. And the bomb-centric violence that pervades the story—well, it's often in the periphery, just out of view, or sometimes it is whispering in the background like a television turned to harsh static. The novel's characters are trapped a crumbling society, a tanking economy. It's Dread City, dystopian subtlety at its finest.

5. Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler

I always tell people that this book is the work of dystopian fiction to end all dystopian fiction. Its stories and vignettes are emotionally devastating and painfully raw. It's at once hopeless and brimming with humanity.

The writing is without comparison. It's the rich narrative poetry of a world dying off, succumbing to an incomprehensible ecological sickness. It's the song of humanity as it languishes in toxic floodwaters, as it's devoured by insects and battered under the truncheons of a brutal police state.

No joke: this book is not for the faint of heart. If you think you can handle it, here's one of my favorite slices from the collection, a story titled "The Disappeared."

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Some Other Notably Awesome Works of Dystopian Fiction

The Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs

by Lauren Beukes

Dreams of Amputation by Gary J. Shipley
Age of Blight by Kristine Ong Muslim

Novi Sad 
by Jeff Jackson
Burning Chrome by William Gibson
Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker
Channel Zero by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

Your Cities, Your Tombs by Jordan Krall
The Best Short Stories of JG Ballard