Review

14. CORPSES ‘N’ THINGS By Various Authors

Reading a book by an author based in the North East of England has been one of the things I’ve wanted to do since I moved country. I have a list of authors to go through, and this happened to be on the top, since it features more than one author (not North East based, mind, but still mostly in the UK) and also has a submission by a friend of mine.

Before I dissect each one of those stories individually, I have to mention a couple of things they all have in common, just to spare myself and whoever reads this the mundanity of repeating it under each submission:

The first thing is spelling and grammar. Now, I know that even the best selling books out there have a spelling error or two, but with the exception of Agony Host (I’m going to be saying that a lot) each page of each story has about three mistakes, be it spelling or punctuation. This is not something I’m going to blame the writers for, as all writers make mistakes (I’m sure there will be one or two mistakes in this review.) Besides, they could be dyslexic, typing fast, or whatever reason that wouldn’t undermine their brilliance as writers, this is the publisher’s duty to make sure their product looks as professional as possible.

Second thing I’d like to point out is that, again, with the exception of Agony Host, they all give off first draft vibes. Description is stiff and dialogue is stilted, and there’s a whole lot of telling and not showing, which makes me believe that not only are they first drafts but their first attempt at professional writing.
Now that we got that out of the way, I’ll go through them one by one:

1. AGONY HOST By Jason Green
Great way to start the book at a high point. This is my favourite and highest ranked story of all submissions, and possibly one of my favourite short stories of all. It starts with one of those paragraphs that gave me the this-is-gonna-be-good kind of tingle, and I had to go back and read it one more time. It didn’t disappoint, the story raised the bar and upheld that status until the end. Now, I’m not one to extrapolate or assume a metaphor, for all I know the writer could be telling a story about a quadriplegic man going through unlicensed experimental treatment, but I couldn’t help but notice the poignancy of the story and how much it made me think of depression and dissociation. I’m just throwing that out there, my guess is it wasn’t intentional but either way it appealed so much to my tendencies.

2. THE LAST MOMENT OF THE CONDEMNED By Mark Green
I love the narrative voice changing from first to third person and vice versa, that was cool. The twist was given away quite early which was disappointing, and some of the scenes could be described better but overall a good story and having a brazen killer with a dark past is always a winner.

3. ACID RAIN By Peta Alexander
The vivid, horrific description of something somewhat within the realms of possibility made this one stand out. An interesting take on what could happen if everything and everyone in the UK were to get wiped out of existence by 30 or so minutes of rain. No forewarnings, no preparations, nothing. It’s a frightening idea but, just like the rest of the stories in the anthology, it needed maybe two or three more drafts.

4. UNSAFE HOUSE By Josh Darling
OK, I loved and hated this one. It’s up there with Agony Host regarding presentation of the most unique ideas and on top of that, the best dialogue and most nuanced characters but my god was it all over the place. It infuriated me because clearly the author knows what he’s doing, he’s toying with gore while still keeping characters and events interesting, and I know it could have been so much better. The whole thing read like Tarantino directing a Palahniuk book —granting the latter wrote about zombies. If I knew Josh Darling wrote a film script, I’d be first to watch that.

5. RED ROOM By Peter J Mackie
A whole lot of gore for the sake of gore in this one. Personally can’t say I liked it, but I can see it appealing to those into Saw films.

6. A STORY WITH ZOMBIES By Peter Scott
A vibrant, light-hearted story that worked as great buffer, an interlude amongst all the gore porn, and the only one in this anthology which made me want to read more about the characters in their standalone book. It’s hard in this day and age to take something as overplayed as zombies and make something original out of it, so I like the way he decided to play with it and make something more comedy than it is horror, hence —I believe— the title.

7. THE WEDDING DEAD By Mark Green
Second submission by Green in this anthology. Hickson and Orcsan are respectively a human and a demon working together to exorcise the spirit of a bride in a town’s church. I found the dynamic between the two more interesting than the corpse bride, and personally enjoyed it more than THE LAST MOMENT OF THE CONDEMNED.

I’d like to end this on another collective note. Despite their flaws, these were all fun and easy to read, they were entertaining, and that’s almost all one wants out of a book. I understand that the whole idea behind this anthology is to get submissions by not-so-well-known authors and put it in print, and that’s a great thing to have, but the lack of editing and proofreading can severely undermine a good book.

3/5*

*After rating each one individually, that’s the average rating.

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Review

13. THE NIGHTLY DISEASE By Max Booth III

I knew I was going to love this book before I’d started reading it. Being slightly familiar with Max Booth III’s work and knowing that he had a book about a hotel night auditor in the works, I’ve anticipated this one so much and knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be up there with Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More as best book I’ve read this year.

The Nightly Disease tells the story of Isaac —a depressed, misanthropic hotel night auditor— as he powers through night after night working a soul crushing job and dealing with a myriad of unnecessarily irate customers, two of which are sadistic psychopaths who torment him. Isaac’s favourite pastime is pursuing an unhealthy relationship with an equally disturbed woman, chatting to a fellow night auditor enabling each other’s bad habits, masturbating on the hotel roof, and dreading the looming threat of owls.

Every person that happens to cross paths with Isaac is fucked up in their own special way, and the poor kid can’t get a break as disasters pile up one after the other causing him to slowly lose his mind in different hilarious ways. Despite being likeable and relatable, Isaac is aggravating. He’s the kind of person that deserves a slap and a hug at the same time. Still, you can’t hate Isaac as much as he hates himself and everyone in the hotel.

Whatever Tom Spanbauer can do with love and pain, Max Booth III did with a thriller/comedy. I learned early on that reading this book in public was a bad idea as I looked quite daft laughing in the middle of a café. Max Booth III is a graceful writer who not only created the Bible for anyone who has ever worked in customer service, but he’s done it so well you can hear the protagonist’s voice deadpanning throughout, occasionally ending sentences with a shock punchline without you knowing there was a joke.

5/5
I’m going to recommend this one to everyone I know. Looking forward to reading How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers which I’d been planning to read before this one came out but there we are.

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12. THE STRANGER By Albert Camus

This is one of those books which I finished only in two sittings (mostly on a plane). It’s simple and to the point, fast paced, and being quite short also helped.

It starts with Meursault learning about the death of his mother, uncertain of when it happened, and follows as he goes to her funeral. He describes the funeral in a way that is bleak and eerily dissociated, and then that bleakness continues throughout, as he gratuitously kills a guy, right until his death sentence.

Other than a couple of paragraphs, Meursault is apathetic and blasé. The way he was described dealing with his mother’s death, possibly the worst thing anyone could ever go through, is corporeal rather than emotional, using sentences that are monotonous, business-like, and robotic. Whether Meursault is a sociopath or a psychopath, or whether he was battling depression, it’s never mentioned nor is it at all relevant.

What we’re dealing with here is a person who realised that nothing matters, and therefore to have emotions at all e.g. mourning his mother, remorse for murder, love for his girlfriend, it’s all futile. When he was certain he couldn’t take care of his mother, he sent her to a home. It was not the best option in a lot of people’s eyes but having her with him would have ended up being worse for her. He didn’t cry at her funeral, he didn’t fear death, and couldn’t justify killing the guy. The reasons he had for doing anything, and the reasons people have are completely different, because people tend to put meaning to things they didn’t understand in order to feel better — or feel something. 

The book didn’t make sense to me until I finished reading it and thought for a while, and I’m sure once I revisit it years or so from now it would make even more sense. I believe that nihilism as a state of mind is something everyone eventually reaches as they advance through life.

4/5

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11. STARSHIP TROOPERS By Robert A. Heinlein

Buckle up because this is the worst book I’ve read this year.

Although I watched the film years ago, this was my first introduction to Heinlein, and I have to say I was pretty confused at first. Right off the bat, there were soldiers killing aliens on their home planet, and something about that rubbed me the wrong way, almost reading as satire.

Being anti-war, and anti-military myself, I couldn’t have an unbiased opinion. I wanted to stop reading early on when I found out it’s not satire, but I thought I shall give it a try. It was difficult for me to figure out what Heilein wanted to say. His opinions were often contradictory and obscure. Whether he glorified war or only thought of it as means to an end, I had no idea. Reading up on Heilein himself I found out he was just as confused as I was.

The book tells the story of Juan Rico*, a young man who joins the Mobile Infantry, protecting Terra from alien invasion by some unspecified arachnid-like, and human-like aliens in an intergalactic war, the circumstances of which are never disclosed. There is no beginning or end to this war and the focus is not at all on the war itself. The war was merely foundation on which Heinlein builds his militaristic utopia.

With insipid prose, palpable military arrogance, he threw in platitudes like “freedom isn’t free,” and “infantry is for men,” and delineated with tedious details a perfectly brainwashed individual in a cultish clique. There was very little about the aliens and far too much about military ranks, training, flogging, court martials, and what the percentage is of Lieutenants compared to Sergeants, so much that I had to say “I don’t give a shit” out loud quite a lot.

I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I came out of it with my opinion on the military unchanged. In fact maybe I detest it a little more. Although I have to say, I can understand. Military personnel do the dirtiest of jobs, and in order to do it with your head held high, you have to have those beliefs instilled indelibly within your core. It’s the same reason why doctors like to say they’re saving lives, when in fact they’re surrounded by death day in day out —only their feeling of self righteousness can keep them alive.

2/5
I’m going to watch the film again. Also apparently Stranger in a Strange Land is a better book.

*Juan, for the better part of the book, has been referred to as Johnnie, his physical features and the tone of his skin never mentioned. Only later in the book we find out he’s Juan Rico from The Philippines. I think this is the best thing Heinlein has done, introducing a non-white character as well as a racially integrated army (judging by their surnames) must have been a breakthrough at the time.

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10. THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE AND OTHER STORIES By R. L. Stevenson*

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

Vintage books from the 19th century have a special allure to them. I find them linguistically fascinating. Even though it takes me a while to get through one page, there’s still a part of me that wishes people still talked like that.

I read this book years ago when I used to read in Arabic. It was a brief translation which somehow left me under the impression that it was about dissociative identity disorder. That probably had to do with every film adaptation of the novel, and every usage of the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” in popular culture implying the same thing.

“And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself.” —p.64

What is dealt with here is the normal incongruity of a single man, rather than two separate identities. Dr. Jekyll’s lust for Evil, his desire to break free from the steadfast life forced upon him by the uptight Victorian society and inherent shame have led him to create Hyde. Originally he’d meant to separate his Evil side from within him in order to live as the honourable man, as was expected of him, but his plan didn’t work quite well.

He began to enjoy living as the ape-like, appalling man with all the freedom it came with, delving in every sin imaginable and imbibing the pleasure of which he was made to deprive himself as Jekyll. Jekyll and Hyde, therefore, aren’t two different beings, and the question that is being asked here is how far will a person go, what kind of crimes would they commit, if impunity were to be guaranteed.

The theme could apply to many concepts, however I found striking similarities to substance abuse e.g. change in personality, compulsion, longing, adaptation, etc. This might be only a fancy of mine as I’ve found no evidence of this being the author’s intention so don’t hold it against me.

Duality is a topic that’s overdone in many genres, and Stevenson set the framework. This is a book that should be read by everyone.

4/5

OTHER STORIES

The Body Snatcher

Creepy story of medical students robbing graves for science. Gave me the chills as I remember the days when I used to be surrounded by cadavers. It’s an entertaining horror novella, perfect for a night time read. The ending was a let down —unimpressive attempt at a plot twist.

3/5

A Lodging for the Night

Markheim

Thrawn Janet

The Misadventures of John Nicholson

*Mainly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Other stories will be updated as I go along, if at all.

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9. BRAVE NEW WORLD By Aldous Huxley

Futuristic dystopian novels have been knocking about since the dawn of civilisation, and some even brilliantly foretold the future decades ahead of time, notably Orwell, Alan Moore, Bradbury, and of course Huxley.

Brave New World tells a story of a futuristic world set in 2500 where genetic engineering is the only way humans are created. Meticulously, humans are conditioned to fit into certain social classes without aspiring for more or contemplating change. Entertainment, sex, and recreational drugs are advertised through hypnopaedic methods to fill in their spare time and eradicate from the root any hint of dread they might feel. Humans don’t age, they don’t get sick, they don’t get emotionally attached to one another in a way that could become —by their understanding— dysfunctional. There are no families, no gods, and no need for anything artistic or beautiful. The way the world is so diligently controlled to maintain order gets the social outcast, Brandon Marx (I’m not entirely sure if Marx is a coincidence) frustrated. He visits a savage reservation and so the story begins.

I’ve made a joke when I started reading it, saying I was reading the Tory manifesto, and to be honest, it does seem like a Tory wet dream —the slogan used in the book even has the word stability in it. Maintaining stability, getting everything and everyone under control, keeping the “savages” closed off in a reservation, implementing and reinforcing social strata, institutionalised racism, and media propaganda, and so on.

Technology has been directed towards creating a perfect world, and the methods used, while ostensibly inhumane, the overall contentment of the community has rendered such abstract concepts as immorality or oppression redundant. Nonsensical.

The flawlessness of this book, however in my opinion, is exactly where it has fallen short. The author has opted for perfection over beauty, substance over style, so much that I found the book to be painfully tedious and even soporific —no exaggeration, I fell asleep reading it so many times. It started off with a spark that slowly dwindled after the end of the first couple of chapters because nothing really goes on. There’s hardly any character development, no conflict, even the rebellious characters are restricted by their own conditioning, they fade out one after the other and the only thing left is the community.

It’s not your average entertaining book. If you’re reading this for entertainment, stop reading after Chapter II because there’s all you need to know about how. Beyond that, it’s all about why. That’s where it gets controversial and thought provoking. The question of whether civilisation really is the best thing for humanity —something I’ve often wondered myself, having been raised in a developing country. Drawing a parallel, I often see the Western world the way one would view the New World, with everything readily available and all the problems either solved or compensated for. I sigh in frustration and say, “everything’s so easy!” to which I’m often met with a scoff and a “you say that like it’s a bad thing.”

3/5
Recommended, definitely.

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8. MOTHER NIGHT By Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is a master of wit, and of the best authors to have ever existed. There are many aspects of his style that are singular, but what fascinates me the most is his perfect timing. While most writers know what to say, he knows when to say it.

Through his minimalistic prose, introduction of unforgettable characters and events imbued by the trademark Vonnegutesque bleakness, nihilistic pessimism with the occasional glimpse of hope and dark humour, he’s captured the woes of war, love, and subsequent despair of the two in the roller-coaster of emotions that is Mother Night.

The story is told as the confessions of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a Nazi war criminal, or so he was told. As the mockery of something as serious as Nazi propaganda plays out, the lines are blurred, and the only thing made abundantly clear much as it is often a recurring theme in Vonnegut’s books is that WWII was a fucking bonkers era in history.

Mother Night is a book to read in one sitting*. It is short and simple, but will challenge the reader, change the way one views the dichotomy of good and evil, and the helplessness of man. It is a book that will stay with you forever.

5/5 for sure.

*I didn’t read it in one sitting, personal reasons, although I wish I had.

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