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Review: “The Book Of Apex Volume IV,” Part 1

This post doubles as one of the “stops” on the Book Of Apex Blog Tour organized by the Little Red Reviewer, where we all read and discuss The Book Of Apex: Volume IV Of Apex Magazine (*****). This anthology collects all the stories published in Apex Magazine issues #30-44, the first fifteen issues since Lynne M. Thomas took over as editor for the magazine. In this post, I will be examining my personal favorite stories from the anthology. The great thing about Apex Magazine is that their stories are all available online, so if you are intrigued by a story you can just click the title and it will link you to that story on their website! I’d be interested to hear your opinions as well, so feel free to leave a comment telling what you thought of a particular story…..

    • The Bread We Eat In Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. (*****)
      The first story in the collection is a surprisingly haunting tale of a demon banished from Hell. Gemegishkirihallat, or Agnes, as she’s called these days, begins our story as an exile not only from Heaven but from the diabolical realms as well. In Hell she was the master baker, baking the bread for the nobles of the Underworld, bread that would be used to torment the famished souls of the damned with the sweet delicacies they would never be allowed to taste, the bread we eat in our dreams. In Hell she had camaraderie, friends, or as near to friends as a demon is capable, even lovers from time to time. In Hell, she wasn’t alone. Here on Earth, this is not the case. She is a demon alone, without the companionship she craves, and when people eventually come to this abandoned piece of land that will one day become New England she will be unable to resist their companionship. But when a demon lives among Puritans, the end result is nearly inevitable…. Agnes’ tale draws most of its impact from the way Ms. Valente spins her prose. She sucks you in from the first paragraph, painting an incredibly vivid and evocative picture that dares you to even try and look away. The conclusion is built slowly and gently, piece by piece from the beginning of the story, so gently that you don’t even consciously register until the end that this is the central question of the whole tale: what in the seven rings of Hell could a demon do to deserve banishment from that unholy place? This is certainly a different take on demons, and I’m not sure what to think of it theologically, but I am definitely intrigued. I urge you to give this story a try. CONTENT: Sexual content, non-explicit. Mild violence, not too disturbing. The main character is a demon, so there’s a bit of an occult flavor.
    • So Glad We Had This Time Together, by Cat Rambo. (*****)
      Another very strong story, this time told as the protagonist writes to tender her resignation from the TV network she works for. As she composes, we’re treated to her recollections of the past year or so. She has been one of the leads on a new show, Unreality Television, which is basically Big Brother with a vampire, a werewolf, a medium, a guy who’s demon possessed, and a couple normal humans to pull in audiences. Everyone knows they exist, somewhere in the shadows, but nobody has ever pulled them into the light….until Unreality Television, that is. The result? Ah, now that would be telling. I really liked this one–especially for the ending, true, but I was hooked long before that. I’m going to chalk it up to the writing, Ms. Rambo’s voice and the tiny hints she drops that everything is not as it seems. I’m not sure what else to attribute it to, since the story is most certainly a lot better than how I’ve described it…. CONTENT: References to violence and sexual content, but nothing explicit. Mild language.
    • The Second Card Of The Major Arcana, by Thoraiya Dyer. (*****)
      The Sphinx walks the streets of Beirut, searching for the one who awoke her from her millenia of slumber and asking riddles of all she interacts with. The penalty for failing to answer is a swift and sure death. To what purpose was she awoken? Read on and find out… Pointing out that this is a story about the Sphinx may be a minor spoiler, unless you either know your tarot deck and catch the reference in the title or you pick it up from the continued riddling, but I can’t really describe it otherwise and it’s a minor spoiler at worst. So why does this one make the list where others did not? I honestly can’t say, except that I really enjoyed it. CONTENT: Mild violence, in that people die when they fail to answer her riddles. No language or sexual content. Does the sphinx count as an occult figure?
    • Decomposition, by Rachel Swirsky. (*****)
      What can I say about this story without giving things away? It was incredibly disturbing, for one thing. The tale of a man driven by vengeance, and what form that vengeance takes…. Very well written, very disturbing. Be forewarned, there are even hints of necrophilia in this particular tale. Not for those with a weak stomach. CONTENT: Brief language. Mild violence. No overt sexual content, though there are some innuendos and a hint of necrophilia. Strong occult content.
    • The Silk Merchant, by Ken Liu. (*****)
      A young man sets out to redeem his father’s name and prove that the legendary Shimmersilk actually exists. Yet another disturbing tale that has made it into my favorites list…I must be a secretly twisted individual or something. I called the ending, but that doesn’t have to serve as a black mark. CONTENT: No language. No sexual content. Little overt violence, but several very disturbing ideas and revelations.
    • Ironheart, by Alec Austin. (*****)
      In a dark future, a dark past, or a dark parallel world humanity is at war with the Fae. This war has raged for years, fueling and fueled by dark magic and necromancy. With no more adults to feed to the war, children have been pressed into service. Fallen soldiers are revived with necromancy and sent back to the front to fight and die again. Usable parts are “Frankensteined” together and sent back out. The way the war was described, terms used and the dynamics of how the stalemate had cemented, I can’t imagine that the first World War was not an inspiration here. CONTENT: Strong violence, sometimes disturbing. Harsh language. Sexual innuendos, non-explicit.
    • Sexagesimal, by Katharine E.K. Duckett. (*****)
      In the afterlife, all you are is memory. It is your currency, your very existence, until you’ve used up all your memories and simply cease to exist. For Teskia and Julio, this is very dangerous because all of their memories are shared. And Julio has inexplicably fallen ill…. This story was…haunting, is I think the best word. I didn’t particularly like the ending, I prefer things to be more hopeful than that as a rule (don’t worry, no spoilers) but the story had grabbed me so tightly that it made my favorites list anyway. I’m not sure what the time stamps signify, I wasn’t able to puzzle them out. This could be the fact that I was reading a challenging story after a truly crazy day at work, but oh well. If you figured it out, please enlighten me! CONTENT: No profanity. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit. No real violence, but one scene is fairly disturbing for reasons I’ll leave unexplained because spoilers.

  • Weaving Dreams, by Mary Robinette Kowal. (*****)
    Eva is a witch. A witch with a doctorate, in fact, and her current project is assisting a local historian in attempting to learn all he can about the area’s past from the local population of Hidden People. She’s being careful, following all the rules…or so she thinks. As it turns out, she and Giancarlo have inadvertently upset some major players in the faerie realm, and they’ll have to think fast unless they want to pay the price…. I enjoyed this one. I usually do enjoy stories featuring different takes on the fae, especially after the wonderful things the Dresden Files has done. I found out in searching out the link that this is actually a revised version of the story–the first version had some serious accidental racism and reinforcement of negative tropes, which was exactly what the author did not want to do. If you’re interested, check out the link. It’ll get you to the author’s blog where she talks about the revision and the reasons behind it. CONTENT: No profanity. Mild sexual innuendos and flirting, nothing too explicit. No overt violence, as such, but some discussion of it.
  • Sprig, by Alex Bledsoe. (*****)
    At a renaissance faire in Bristol, a young boy misplaces his parents and begins talking to one of the fairies. The ending is perhaps a bit predictable, but I loved the story anyway. It was very cute. CONTENT: Mild sexual innuendo–very mild. No profanity or violence.

This is the first post in a series of reviews of individual stories from this anthology. The other posts can be found as follows:
-Part One (My personal favorites….)
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Apocrypha (The reprinted stories from the relevant issues, not included in the anthology)

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Review: “Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard” by Kim Newman

Title: Johnny Alucard
Author: Kim Newman (His site here.)
Series: Anno Dracula #4
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2013

At last! The long awaited final* novel in Kim Newman’s excellent vampire pastiche series is here! And it was superb, let me tell you. Only the original novel was better, in my humble opinion. Maybe it was because I got more of the references this time without resorting to Google, given that I’m not an expert on WWI literature and films or post-WWII Italian cinema whereas this time the action was mostly set in the USA and within the last forty years. Still not really my era (I wouldn’t even have been reading yet when the novel ends), but the setting was still much more familiar than the last couple have been. The format this time was a little different, instead of doing a straightforward novel Mr. Newman has been teasing his fans for the past decade with shorter novellas carrying the story forward. Now they’re finally gathered in one place, ostensibly edited a bit so they fit together better, and with the last couple finally seeing the light of day. Or night, if you’re nosferatu.

In Anno Dracula, that vampire prince forcibly pulled the nosferatu out of the shadows of the world forever when he seduced and married Queen Victoria. London became a veritable safe haven for the undead, and they flocked there from the far corners of the world. Newborn nosferatu swelled in numbers, spurred not only by Dracula himself but by countless other literary and film vampires, from Orlok to Lestat and everyone in between. Eventually Dracula’s reign was ended, and he was forced to flee the country, landing in the Austro-Hungarian Empire where he became a close adviser to the Kaiser. During WWI he engineered a program to transform The Bloody Red Baron and other German flying aces into an unbeatable vampiric air force before being thwarted by the Allies and once again fleeing his pursuers. During Hitler’s purge of all nosferatu whose bloodlines he deemed “tainted,” Dracula forged an uneasy alliance with his former enemies and fomented revolution in Transylvania in order to open up another front against the Axis. For his services, he was given a castle in Italy after the war and forced to quietly accept his exile. In Dracula Cha Cha Cha (1959) Dracula was destroyed on the eve of his wedding, seemingly ending the epic saga of his life and leaving the world to wonder who if anyone would assume his mantle as unofficial (yet undisputed) leader of vampire-kind. Many have tried, and thus far all have failed. Johnny Alucard (as he will come to be known) intends to succeed…but not quite how anyone expects.

Whereas previous entries to the series have focused in tightly on one event or short period of time, Johnny Alucard covers a broad range, tracking the course of Johnny Alucard from 1976 in Transylvania to 1991 in Hollywood. Observe with Kate Reed Francis Ford Coppola’s seemingly-cursed attempts to forge a big-budget Dracula film in a third-world country!** Catch up with Genvieve as she assists Philip Marlowe in rescuing a young girl from the cult of Scientology Immortology! Revisit Penny in New York as she serves as assistant to the infamous artist and vampire Andy Warhol! Watch with the world as Kate Reed enters the besieged Transylvanian embassy, overtaken by terrorists/freedom fighters who want to see Transylvania become a dedicated homeland for the undead! See Orson Welles’ doomed attempts to make his own Dracula film! See the US military’s vampire corps unseat the Ceausescu regime! See the climax of Johnny Alucard’s machinations as the world watches events transpiring at the Concert For Transylvania! Featuring cameos (as well as more substantial roles) from such historical personages as Coppola, Warhol, Welles, and countless Hollywood folk, as well as literary and film characters from “The Dude” to Blade and Hellboy. Like I said above, I really enjoyed this entry in the series, more than any of the two previous sequels. To explain further would be to spoil the overarching plot (all that above was mostly backdrop), and I’ll firmly resist that urge. Just ask yourself, how does Dracula constantly keep coming back in the movies despite being destroyed at the end of each?

CONTENT: R-rated language. Strong violence, vampiric and otherwise. Quite a bit of sexual innuendo (not usually explicit), including prostitution. Drug content, if that offends you. Also…vampires. Some would consider that occultic, although Newman’s vampires have very little magic about them aside from some telepathy and an inexplicable lack of reflection.

*So far, anyway…I’m not convinced we’re done. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking….
**Yes, this replaces Apocalypse Now, complete with all the attendant disasters on set.

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Review: “Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron” by Kim Newman

Title: The Bloody Red Baron
Author: Kim Newman
Series: Anno Dracula #2
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2012

This is a shorter review I did a while back on Goodreads, before I really found my footing on this reviewing thing. I’d like to think I could do better now, but it’s in that awkward spot where I’ve read it too recently to want to reread it, but too long ago to review it properly.

This second book wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but that’s to be expected. I thought Genvieve should actually appear as a character instead of remaining absent, a change the author himself apparently wishes he had made based on his commentary. Still, it was most definitely worth reading if you liked the first book, and I am a devoted fan of this series. In fact, I’m reaching the conclusion that I’m a great fan of Kim Newman’s writing across the board….

Here we have the world we left in at the end of Anno Dracula, twenty-odd years later and embroiled in a world war with vampires serving on both sides. New technologies are being tested, from chemical warfare to the newfangled aeroplane. Dracula serves as the Kaiser’s right hand, some say ruling from behind the throne. Charles Beauregard is back again to oppose the designs of the chief vampire, joined once more by stubborn war correspondant Kate Reed as well as the Diogenes Club’s newest addition, the young operative Edwin Winthrop. Will these intrepid heroes be able to discover Dracula’s designs in time to foil them? Or will Dracula and his vampire flyers led by the Bloody Red Baron himself, Baron Richtofen, triumph over the Allies?

CONTENT: Violence, including vampirism. Mild sexual content, not too explicit I don’t believe. Mild language.

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