Category Archives: stephen king

Are You More Likely to Read a Stoker Award Winning Book?

Last weekend marked the 2010 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony. I only started paying attention to literary awards a few years ago. Since then, I’ve had pretty good luck using the lists of nominees as recommended reading. Heck, it was how I discovered Lisa Mannetti’s The Gentling Box, the 2008 winner for Superior Acheivement in a First Novel, which I consider an amazing piece of writing.

So what about you? Do these kinds of awards encourage you to seek out winning books, or do you dismiss the whole notion as arbitrary, rigged, or plain uninteresting? Me, I look at them as good reference material when searching out new authors and prospective book purchases.

Let’s have a gander at this year’s winners:

Superior Achievement in a Novel
Rot and Run by Jonathan Maberry
Dead Love by Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Apocalypse of the Dead by Joe McKinney
Dweller by Jeff Strand
A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (WINNER)

Straub’s novel is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Thoroughly entertained by Ghost Story and Shadowland, I figured it was about time I took a crack at one of his recent works. Funny though, as I’ve read some contentious blogger comments about how the novel is over-rated and Straub only won because of name recognition. Perhaps, or perhaps it was the best of the bunch. Maybe this year I should read all five and judge for myself.

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Black and Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (WINNER)

A Books of Tongues by Gemma Files
Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (WINNER)
Spellbent by Lucy Snyder

A tie, wouldn’t you know? And here’s the funniest bit for me: Of the four nominated books, those are the two I don’t own. Go figure. Well, I have Ethridge’s Black and Orange on my wish list, so I guess I’ll just have to add Lisa Morton’s novel as well.

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss
(WINNER)
The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman
Dissolution by Lisa Mannetti
Monsters Among Us by Kirstyn McDermott
The Samhanach
by Lisa Morton

Of the novellas listed here, I’ve only read The Painted Darkness and Dissolution. I was rooting for Mannetti’s Dissolution, but it was not to be. Oh well. I get the feeling the other three novellas, winner included, are stories to watch out for.

Some of the other winners of the night include: Haunted Legends by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas for Superior Achievement in an Anthology; Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King for Superior Achievement in a Collection; and “The Falling Man” by Joe R. Lansdale for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction.

Random Thoughts:

I’m actually reading Ellen Datlow’s anthology, Supernatural Noir, right now and wouldn’t be surprised to see that wind up on next year’s short list.

I periodically hear people bemon the state of the horror genre, but I gotta say that 2010 turned out to be a pretty great year for finding some entertaining and rivoting stuff, and 2011 is shaping up to be just as good.

What I find interesting is how the self-publishing craze is offering quite a few gems as well. And you simply will not see any self-published work getting a nomination.

While I keep an eye on the short lists for several awards, I am very much behind in reading those books–especially outside the horror genre.

Anyway, congratulations to all of the Stoker Award winners, and kudos to all the authors fortunate enough to be shortlisted. Keep up the good works.

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Filed under Bram Stoker Awards, Ellen Datlow, Lisa Mannetti, Peter Straub, reading list, stephen king, winners

Getting Graphic: "American Vampire" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Stephen King

American Vampire
by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Vertigo Comics (2010)
ISBN 9781401228309
“Suck on this.” The title of Stephen King’s foreword seems to be a volley at Stephenie Meyer and all authors who seek to domesticate the revered bloodsuckers of literature. He, along with the story’s creator Scott Snyder, want vampires with sharp teeth, bad attitudes, and evil intentions. Well, they’ve offered a comic book that delivers on all fronts.
Stephen King tackles the origin story, while Scott Snyder offers a parallel storyline that occurs some decades later about vampires in America during the 19th century and early 20th century. The story starts in Los Angeles circa 1925, as Pearl Jones tries to climb her way to fame as an extra on a Hollywood movie lot. After catching the eye of a dashing leading man, she’s invited to a party where she is to meet with the big wigs–and a chance at the bright lights. There’s no happy ending for Pearl, however, when she winds up the main course for the vampire masters of the leading man and dumped in the California desert to die. But, she doesn’t die–thanks to Skinner Sweet.
Skinner Sweet is no hero, we quickly learn, though. Imagine a vicious and remorseless Billy the Kid during 1880, hunted down by lawmen and supposedly killed by the same vampire overlords out to exploit the American West. Instead, Sweet is turned and eventually hunts down the bloodsuckers who created him. And he is a bit different, evolved in a sense, and uses his adaptations to leave a brand new trail of blood on the ground. All the while, a no-nonsense lawman who initially brought Sweet to justice is tormented by his fiance’s murder at the hands of Sweet and vows to end him once and for all.
Rafael Albuquerque’s artistry on each page seems perfectly suited to capture the nostalgic glamor of the 1920s and the gritty western feel from the 1880s. And the ugliness of the vampires and their animalistic rage comes through in every scene they appear. All in all, it’s not an especially gory book, but when blood is spilled, it is in no small amount. The only way I can think to make the book look more authentic is if it was entirely sepia-toned.
I really got a kick out of this book. Yes, vampires are done to death. The same can be said for westerns. Heck, I probably wouldn’t have to look that hard to find a sub-genre of vampire westerns. American Vampire really strikes a chord though, and it feels like a new benchmark going forward. A kind of can-you-top-this dare to the rest of the comic book and literary world. With the onslaught of vampire fiction that refuses to die down, maybe someone will come along and offer something that will top this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If there’s a negative thing to say about this book, I think it would be the villains. Well, the villains other than Skinner Sweet. They felt a bit familiar and less fleshed out compared to other characters. Cliches? Maybe. With a character as iconic as Skinner Sweet, it’s a forgivable smudge on an otherwise spectacular story.

CymLowell

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Filed under American Vampire, comic book review, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, horror, Scott Snyder, stephen king, vampires, western

Book Blog Hop: Who Is Your Favorite Villain?

Book Blogger Hop
Crazy for Books has a weekly meme for book lovers and book bloggers. It’s a convenient and fun way to discover new blogs, just in case you didn’t already have a litany on your blog roll.


Each week there is a question asked for bloggers to answer, and this week’s question is:


“Who’s your all-time favorite book villain?”


For me, I believe I would choose Randall Flagg from Stephen King’s The Stand. The guy was evil personified, and when you take a look at the story, he really doesn’t do a whole helluva lot. He basically pulls everybody’s strings. Oh, he gets his hands dirty once in a while, but more often than not he just leads people astray and gives them just enough rope to hang themselves.

Plus, the TV movie adaptation featured Flagg with a surprisingly effective mullet and Canadian tuxedo (all denim attire). The guy on the left look familiar? I believe he was on Law & Order for quite a few years. How ’bout that?


The more you know.

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Filed under Book Blogger Hop, Randall Flagg, stephen king, The Stand, villains

Wish List Wednesday #81: Stephen King’s "Full Dark, No Stars"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July ’09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list–whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

It can be argued that Stephen King writes better short fiction than he does novels. I think I would agree with that sentiment for the simple fact that he has a better batting average with his collections, but he has so many novels published it’s only natural that there would be a few lemons in the bunch.

Full Dark, No Stars strikes me as another potential home run. Just After Sunset, a collection of short stories which I have on my shelf screaming at me to be read, received a fair amount of acclaim. While Under the Dome, an interminable epic novel that fell well short of the mark of his better novels, just didn’t win over the majority of fans and critics, as far as I know. But the early buzz for Full Dark, No Stars gives the impression that the four novellas included are another example of his prowess with shorter works.

What do you think? This something you’re looking out for? Are you a King fan, or have you basically written him off?

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Rabid Reads: "Under the Dome" by Stephen King

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Scribner (2009)
1074 pages
ISBN 978-1-4391-4850-1


Now that I’ve finally read through Under the Dome, I feel I can say with all honesty that I’m in the best shape of my life. Why? Because reading the hardcover edition of this book was a workout. Nearly 1,100 pages added up to be not only an epic read, but a hefty dumbbell by which to exercise.

And that sums up my primary complaint about this novel: it’s too long.

I understand how crafting a story with dozens of characters requires a fair amount of space in order to establish them in such a way that they feel reasonably genuine and sympathetic. But, let’s be honest, the events of the novel do not carry over a great passage of time–and the events depicted in the novel are at times drawn out to an interminable level. I’m not likely to be accused anytime soon of being an editor, but despite the purported cutting down of this book from an even greater length to its existing size, I think there is plenty of fluff left in the novel to whittle it down to a healthy–and relatively trim–eight hundred pages. I can think of a couple of superfluous scenes involving the points of view of animals which would not be missed.

As for the story, it’s an interesting one that’s for sure. On an uneventful October morning, the bucolic little Maine town of Chester Mills is unceremoniously trapped within an invisible forcefield. Not even the water from the brooks can penetrate the barrier beyond a miniscule trickle. The town essentially becomes the world’s largest snowglobe.

Trapped inside is Dale Barbara, a retired soldier and vagabond hash slinger, looking to vacate the town after a violent altercation with Junior Rennie and a few others. Barbie doesn’t want to hang around since Junior’s dad is on the town council and is the unofficial mayor, and that’s a headache Barbie can do without. Unfortunately for him, he reaches the outskirts of town just in time to see birds, a woodchuck, and even a small-engine plane crash into the newly formed barrier.

From there, civilization breaks down in record time. And that might be the other issue I have with this novel. With an event so extraordinary as an invisible forcefield, I would have expected a more mundane setting to greet it within its walls. You know, put plain folks in the situation and see how things play out. What Kind does, however, is introduce a sensational villain into the mix who defies belief–Junior Rennie’s father, Big Jim. Where nearly everyone in Chester Mills feels pretty regular and believable, Big Jim comes off as a nearly cartoonish antagonist. And if there are enough Big Jims in America to count him as regular too, then I weep for that nation.

The novel is by no means a bad book. All things considered it’s a good read with some inventive twists and turns. It is a novel that requires an investment of time and of patience, though. As a Stephen King, I am left mildly disappointed. Not because I foolishly compared this novel to The Stand, but because King has–in my opinion at any rate–a recent string of very good stories that make up a second win to his longstanding career. And King is at his best when he’s longstanding rather than longwinded.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, horror, Rabid Reads, sci-fi, science fiction, stephen king, Under The Dome

Rabid Rewind: The Mist

The Mist
starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Samuel Witwer
directed by Frank Darabont
screenplay by Frank Darabont
based on a Stephen King novella
Dimension Films (2008)

Out of all the movies based on Stephen King stories, I think The Mist is probably the best suited to be included in the Monster Movie Marathon. A small town under siege by macabre insect-like creatures? Yes, please. Not all King novels translate well to the screen, but I think they hit this one out of the park.

Thomas Jane plays an artist, mostly for movie posters and the like, living on the outskirts of a small Maine town with his wife and young son. There’s a nice nod to The Dark Tower in one of the opening scenes, as Jane’s character is designing a poster for a film adaptation to that King novel–oh, how I wish. A big storm rolls through and a fallen tree crashes through the house, requiring him to head into town the next morning for supplies. He and his son go and while at the grocery store a wall of mist rolls down from the hills, into town, and within it an unseen army of creatures that are killing anything that gets caught up in the rolling mist. Folks are basically trapped in whatever building in which they can find shelter.

Now, there’s a bit of a hangup in my view concerning the mist, as it doesn’t seem to penetrate any cracks in windows or doorways. In fact, there are scenes when the doors to the grocery store are open and the mist doesn’t move beyond the doorways. Meh, I digress.

The townsfolk inside are essentially trapped as anyone who ventures out disappears into that thick fog and screams bloody murder when an alien silhouette attacks and kills them. No one can exactly see what’s out there, and few are in a hurry to find out, so they all hunker down and gawk out the windows waiting for help to come. Good plan, I guess. But as time rolls on, tensions mount and and the fear and paranoia escalate to a point where those inside start turning on each other as much as they band together against whatever is out there.

And there’s some crazy stuff out there. The storage room scene early on where a giant tentacle reaches inside through the gap in the bay door is phenomenal. I also really enjoyed the scene where they tether a character with a rope, to act as a lifeline, when he insists on leaving with a small group. That scene is palpable with suspense, and if you haven’t seen it then you ought to check out the movie just for that.

What holds the movie together is the conflicts inside the store, among the various townsfolks, with the scared but composed folks unofficially led by Thomas Jane, while the panicked and paranoid folks gather round to Marcia Gay Harden’s Bible-thumping malcontent who preaches that the mist and its creatures are a punishment from God. Harden has played some abrasive characters before, but she throws it into high gear for this movie and barely manages to avoid becoming a cartoon.

The creature design is very cool and very creepy, once they start coming out of the mist to appear on screen, and seem to hold up well. Sometimes when the unseen threat in a film is finally seen, there can be disappointment, but that didn’t happen for me in this movie. They don’t reinvent the wheel, but I can put myself in those people’s shoes and imagine how I’d lose my composure with any one of those critters.

And while I’d love to talk about the end of the movie, I just can’t spoil it. I can only suggest you watch this movie if you want to see a scary creature feature and get ready for a very contentious ending.

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Filed under adaptation, horror movies, monster movie marathon, Rabid Rewind, stephen king, The Mist, Thomas Jane

Rabid Reads: "Blockade Billy" by Stephen King

Blockade Billy (with the bonus novelette, “Morality”)
by Stephen King
Scribner (2010)
originally published by Cemetery Dance (2010)
132 pages
ISBN 978-1-4516-0821-2

I am not a baseball fan. At all. I played a little softball back in high school during gym class, but even then I was just into it for the sake of getting out of the building. And watching baseball on television is just interminable to me. It’s about as exciting as golf … or synchronized swimming. Why America hasn’t made football their official national sport yet, I’ll never know. But, the sport seems to capture the imagination of many, including Stephen King–so maybe I shouldn’t judge.

The novella seems to be written for baseball fans, as there is a ton of baseball jargon throughout. The story, presented as a narrated tale by a elderly major league coach to Stephen King, is saturated in the lingo. With that in mind, I don’t doubt anyone who reads this without at least a vicarious familiarity with the sport will be lost. There were a couple of terms that had me scratch my head for a minute and stop reading until I pieced together what was being said, that’s for sure.
Other than a thick baseball drawl, the story is very accessible and a quick, engrossing read. It’s about a forgotten catcher named William Blakely (aka Blockade Billy) and how he became notorious for a brief time on the field before being wiped from baseball’s history books. The narrator, George “Granny” Grantham is a great character too to tell the tale. Reading the story, it kind of reminded me of when my paternal grandfather used to sit down and tell me stories–though grampy’s tales had that sour cynicism to them the longer they went.
On top of Blockade Billy, the book included the bonus story “Morality”, which dealt with a kind of indecent proposal that is not openly stated until about halfway through. You get the idea that Nora has to do something quite awful in order to make a hefty bit of coin from her employer, but it’s the aftermath that really sets the stage for this story. It appeared in Esquire magazine previously, but I don’t read many mags–never have–so it was nice to have a chance to read this story too.
All in all, the book makes for a fast read that you could enjoy on a sunny afternoon. Maybe even out to the park while your kids are playing ball. I’m sure the story of Blockade Billy would certainly make you look at a couple of those little boys in a different light. But if you’re clueless about baseball, I’m not sure how well you’ll like it.

CymLowell

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Filed under baseball, Blockade Billy, horror, indecent proposal, Morality, Rabid Reads, stephen king