My reviews of Lake Lurkers by M.P. Johnson, Bacon Fried Bastard by David W. Barbee, Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal, The Terrible Thing That Happened by Carlton Mellick III, and Island of the Super-People by Kevin Shamel!
Title: Lake Lurkers
Author: M.P. Johnson
Publisher: Severed Press
Another to satisfy my eternal craving for toothy aquatic monsters! And this one, from the usually-wildly-outrageous M.P. Johnson, is even almost … dare I say? … on the restrained and sedate side. More like mainstream horror than full-on bizarro.
Which isn’t a bad thing, just came as a bit of a surprise. I still certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘normal’ by any stretch. The basic plot might seem like it — young couple moves into a huge new house on the lake, only to find out the hard way that the place has its own dark secrets — but the character of Tess gives the whole thing a unique and refreshing sideways twist.
See, Tess is in love, all right, but Tess is in love with the idea of finally owning her dream home. Years of scrimping and saving have led to this moment. Having her boyfriend go and suggest next-level relationship stuff, having him think of it as ‘their’ place … he just doesn’t get it.
The neighbors aren’t sure what to make of her, either, with her spartan lack of stuff to fill all those rooms. It doesn’t help that her first encounter with local law enforcement sets things off on the wrong foot, and there’s the rash of missing pets, and whatever that mess is the previous owners left in the basement …
Naturally, the things in the lake aren’t content to just keep snacking on the occasional lone swimmer or jogger. Halfway through the book, the chompy carnage kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up, as Tess finds herself in a desperate battle to not only stay alive, but to protect her property.
Title: Bacon Fried Bastard
Author: David W. Barbee
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Piggly Swiggly really is a bastard. Not in the literal sense, as far as we know, but certainly in the colloquial sense. A savage hedonist, driven purely on id and impulse, he does what he wants when he wants and never mind the consequences. He drinks (a LOT). He eats and spends like there’s no tomorrow. He kills without caring. He’s a violent brute quick to give in to any sort of base urge.
He’s also a large hulking pig-man, whose crime spree has not only just brought him to a fortified city where alcohol is illegal, it’s a city where the most addictive drug around is none other than bacon. To the addicts, Piggly is a walking slab of temptation, even after a few of them learn the hard way how strong, mean, and dangerous he is.
A real bastard, all right. Yet, somehow, one kind of can’t help feeling kind of sorry for him as his story unfolds. Evoking twisted shades of Jekyll and Hyde, Piggly NEEDS to drink, physically depends upon a vast and steady supply of alcohol, to keep himself from reverting to something so horrible even he can barely comprehend it.
Set in a wild jumble-world of humans, former humans, non-humans, and beings with detachable heads … where a main mode of transportation is gondolas slung beneath the bellies of giant floating crocodiles … where a pig-man can be pursued by renegade lawborgs and greasy bacon-junkies … it’s one long action-packed booze-fueled smoky-sizzling wild ride.
Title: Shit Luck
Author: Tiffany Scandal
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Second-person present-tense, why the heck not? It’s only about the most challenging approach as a writer, the most difficult sell to a reader. Even in short-story form, it’s risky; anything longer presents a daunting prospect.
But, Tiffany Scandal has got the knack for it, the chops, the right amount of skill and flair to get the job done. The story rolls right along, flowing smoothly, carrying itself. She makes it look effortless,
Take the worst day ever, the day where anything that could go wrong does, and make it worse. Keep making it worse. Make it worse until you end up dead. Guess what? That’s just the start.
This is weird upon weird, a journey along a steepening spiral of misfortune. Whole new worlds of worse are waiting beyond. XXXXXXX goes from a mugging and car troubles to a regrettable party … only to wake in what she’s told is the afterlife. Or, AN afterlife, one of many. Each has its own nightmarish peculiarities, its own rules.
Except, for XXXXXXX, something else is going on. As if the rest of it wasn’t enough. Someone’s following her from world to world, the same someone responsible for her initial death, killing her again and again.
Along the way, things continue to keep getting worse, while, thanks to that second-person present tense, the reader’s right there up close and personal along for the ride. All the immediacy, the inescapable empathy — we’ve all had crappy days, so, it’s easy enough to step into her shoes.
My only issue with the book (well, besides fretting about the fate of Cindy Clawford) was finishing a chapter, turning the page for more, seeing only blank paper, and realizing I’d reached the end a little more abruptly than anticipated. Like when you know you’re near the bottom of the staircase but think you’ve got another step or two before the landing.
Title: The Terrible Thing That Happened
Author: Carlton Mellick III
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
One of my favorite post-apocalyptic books of all time is Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. One of my favorite scenes in it is when a group of survivors find a big store with the power still inexplicably on. Their reactions to bright lights, cleanliness, and abundance are nothing short of wonderstruck. And that’s after only a few weeks of hardscrabble deprivation.
Throw that same kind of thing at someone years after? Generations after? At someone like Chocky, who grew up in a bunker with only movies from the old world to go on and is now trying to find his way alone across the ashen, irradiated rubble? Suffice to say, he can hardly believe it.
A grocery store, intact, perfect, fully stocked. Populated with shoppers and employees … none of whom seem able to see or hear him. All of whom seem to be going about an ordinary routine, oblivious to his presence.
It’s weird, all right, and for Chocky it’s about to get a whole lot weirder. The other aftermath survivors who come in, for one: freakish mutants who load up their own shopping carts like they’re in the final round of a game show. The gunmen, for another: masked maniacs who start slaughtering the oblivious before-people.
Chocky escapes with the mutants to their subterranean half-savage society, where he learns more about the mysterious Store that’s become almost a religion. They tell him he can stay, but on conditions not much to Chocky’s liking. Besides, he has a vested personal interest in returning to Store, one which could change his life … or get him killed.
Think Fallout with time-loop magic hauntings, Futurama whimsy mixed with violence and gore. All done, of course, with the unrivaled skill of Carlton Mellick III. The man is both genius and juggernaut, with boundless creativity as well as the workhorse determination to sit down and get the job done.
Also, his traditional bonus comic strip afterword is THE BEST EVER.
Title: Island of the Super-People
Author: Kevin Shamel
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
I’m not sure how I had missed this one until now. I love bizarro books, I love superhero fiction, I love cultural anthropology. And here, in glorious combination, I got all three!
Imagine if superheroes weren’t a hodge-podge of origin stories (aliens, magic, mad science, intense training, mutation, etc) but were instead their own indigenous race of beings. Who don’t wear costumes but are born with costume-like coloration, have their own modes of communication, their own societies, and aren’t really interested in the outside world.
Well, of course, some pesky humans would want to study them. Like Professor Topper and his latest batch of pupils, who arrive on the island and begin their observations. Each is assigned one hero and one villain to make notes on.
For Trent, that means the apparently powerless hero kid he dubs Squiggles, and the mega-powered villain outcast Death Killer. With one, he’s bored out of his mind. With the other, he’s in mortal fear for his life.
It turns out, though, that they aren’t the only humans poking around on the island. The military has its own reasons for wanting to monitor the supers. Or even exploit them, which threatens the existence of their very species, unless a super-alliance can be forged.
One of the greatest things about a superhero universe is how anything goes. But even then, even if you’ve read all the comics and novels, seen all the movies, binged all the Netflixes, watched all the cartoons … you’ve never seen supers done this way before. It’s both completely crazy and brilliantly thought-out.
It’s also pretty heavy on the graphic violence, not necessarily cinematic or cartoonish or kitschy with the BAMs and the KAPOWs. And if you thought bodily proportions were exaggerated before, well, brace yourself.