I didn't read nearly as much as I would've liked this year. Partly this is because I read and re-read my 800 page book In the Shadow of Extinction a few times over in preparation for its release. Partly it's because I was just distracted by movies, videogames, and a BREAKING NEWS world on fire.
But I did read some good stuff in the time that I put aside for ink and paper. Here are my favorites...
THE FORCE by Don Winslow
The Force feels so very much in the moment. It is a cop epic for a time when cops are viewed more cynically by more people than perhaps ever before. Police brutality and videos of cops killing unarmed black men are major subplots that make up a background (and eventually the foreground) of American justice on the edge of a knife. It is an angry piece of work, one that points an accusatory finger at police but also takes time to see the world from their point of view. It also points out the corruption and the hypocritical attitude found in the courts and D.A. offices. No one gets out looking super clean in The Force and the story is all the better for it.
I’m coming to learn that there are few real heroes in the works of Don Winslow and many bastards. The Force's Denny Malone is a complex antihero, a man who is hated, loved, feared, and honored. It’s impossible to approve of everything the man does, but one can’t help but end up rooting for him as the world closes in around him. Supporting characters on both sides of the law, of which there are many, are also well drawn. And the action is written in a blunt force manner which I really enjoyed.
The Force is a brilliant crime epic and I give it my strongest recommendation. Don Winslow is fast becoming one of my favorite authors writing today. Winslow's The Border, his sequel to the masterful The Cartel, is probably my most anticipated novel of 2019.
PET SEMATARY by Stephen King
In the introduction to the book, Stephen King says he kept Pet Sematary in a drawer for years because he was disturbed by the book and the conclusions it made. It's true, the book is dark as hell. One of the darkest, most uncompromising of King's long career of dark fiction. I decided to give the book a look because I never had before and I was excited for the new film adaptation (the original film is very, very good). I knew the story going in and as such probably wasn't as frightened by the twists King comes up with. But the novel is darker and sadder than I was expecting, even while I knew the original film to be dark and sad itself. This is one of King's very best.
WHOSE BOAT IS THIS BOAT? by Donald Trump (by accident)
Donald Trump visited hurricane victims and was enchanted by the arrival of a boat where it should not have been. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert then turned it into a kid's book complete with new artwork. All the lines are actual quotes from Donald Trump.
It is hilarious. It is sad. There is no moral.
ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer
VanderMeer's novel breaks so many rules and as such I am not surprised to see it receiving very mixed reviews among my Goodreads friends. It's purposefully paced, it's non-linear, it's distant and cold, and it's secretive almost to a fault. But it is also fascinating and very creepy. It takes a familiar set-up -- the expedition into the unknown -- and it wastes no time in establishing itself as something very different indeed.
The film adaptation, which is very different from the book but possesses the same spirit, is also one of my favorites of the year.
BROKEN SHELLS by Michael Patrick Hicks
Broken Shells is a nasty little book. It’s like a long lost Tales from the Crypt episode in the way that it starts as one thing, becomes something else, and only gets darker as it goes. Hicks fits in a bit of political commentary into the book as well. The main character is a poor African American man in Trump’s America and deals with open hostility long before a giant bug bites off his ear. There are moments that call to mind Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a horror movie ahead of its time with politics on its mind that also featured a black man as a hero.
But what Broken Shells will be remembered for is its gross monster horror brutality. Hicks does not shy away from the slimy details. If anything, the unflinching look at the gory details seems to be one of the author’s primary intentions in writing this story. The author’s style—blunt but squishy—makes for very readable prose. The protagonist Antoine is a likable, flawed hero fighting against the odds and even the villainous car salesman is written with unexpected depth.
The book is grim. Maybe too grim for some folks. But for those in the mood for hardcore monster horror, look no further. I’m gonna remember it for a while, especially for one bug birthing scene that I think would make Ridley Scott proud. And I’m gonna think twice before following the car salesman to his office to make a deal.
DAIKAIJU YUKI by Raffael Coronelli
One of the popular concepts of kaiju storytelling that isn’t often translated when the genre crosses the Pacific is the idea of a link between monster and man. You see this in Ultraman, the 90’s Gamera trilogy, and an assortment of other tokusatsu entertainment. The closest we get to some approximation of that in Western Kaiju is the link between man and machine as seen in Pacific Rim and (the Americanized) Power Rangers. Raffael Coronelli’s Daikaiju Yuki is one of the only examples I can recall of the man/monster concept in an American kaiju tale. It’s a refreshing new take on the kaiju novel with an old school twist.
The novel is a little on the short side this appears to be by design. A sequel and a spinoff are already available. In a time when kaiju fiction is going through a surprise boom of popularity, many authors (myself included) have used the opportunity to tell dark tales that mainstream kaiju entertainment was reluctant to give us. Coronelli goes the other direction and embraces the fun and fantasy of kaiju spectacle. I dig it.
REDMAN VOL. 1: THE KAIJU HUNTER by Matt Frank
Matt Frank is one of the friendliest kaiju geeks in town. Pairing him with Redman, the most bloodthirsty kaiju killer Tsuburaya ever created, did not seem to me to be an automatic yes-this-makes-perfect-sense combo. But I was wrong. Of course I was. You never doubt Matt Frank, gang. How foolish I was to forget this.
Redman is like a cousin of Ultraman except he goes around like Jason Voorhees stabbing kaiju to death whether they're good or bad. Absolute maniac. He kind of returned to relevance in the last few years after episodes of the largely forgotten/rarely seen 1970s tv series were officially uploaded to YouTube.
The comic, printed in a darker, pulpier fashion than most Frank art, is a loving tribute to the character that just ten years ago would've been inconceivable to see published in America. It is not just the best Redman story I've seen, it's also maybe Matt Frank's best work (Godzilla: Rulers of Earth is hard to beat, though!). I believe Vol. 2 is not far away and I can't wait to get my hands on it.
FASCISM: A WARNING by Madeleine Albright
Hell yes, I'm following up a kaiju comic with a nonfiction book written by a former Secretary of State about the history of fascism and its dangerous return. That's who I am.
This is a good book. And, sadly, an important one for where we are today. In it, Albright details the historic rise of fascist states, how she dealt with fascist leaders during her time in politics, and how to recognize its ugly stench as it comes slithering out of the shadows today. She comes this close to calling Trump a fascist and leaves the reader to make their own conclusions (guess what I concluded). Today, when leaders with fascistic tendencies wield power all across the world, and free elections continue to vote these guys into office (WTF WHY), books like this one and Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny are worthwhile reads for recognizing the warning signs. There is good cause for worry.
After failed attempts to get into the works of H.P. Lovecraft in years past, in 2018 I gave it another go and much to my surprise... I really dig some of these stories. Yes, the man and some of the intentions of his text are problematic to say the very fucking least. I am not forgiving those things. But these are mega creepy, very enjoyable stories. I understand their draw now where I hadn't before. The Dunwich Horror, Dagon, and The Hound are wonderfully crafted horror tales.
Writing can be a lonely task in the day-to-day but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have some sort of backup helping or cheering you along. Today at Scriptophobic, I offer some Dos and Don'ts for building your writer support group.
Loved this. Every character is so full of life, right on down to the speaking roles with only one scene. Also a great Chicago film, which finds some beauty in the city while also pointing out the corrupt heart. One of the best crime dramas in recent memory.
PADDINGTON 2 is the most cheerful, uplifting, good-natured prison movie ever. Just delightful. I want to give this movie a hug.
MIKEY AND NICKY
Holy shit. This movie. I don't believe I'd heard of MIKEY AND NICKY just a couple months ago. Well, anyway, it's great. Falk and Cassavetes are superb. Clenched teeth, frothing mad, strangely funny script. Great film. Kind of floored me. Not sure exactly what I was expecting but it delivered more. Will be picking up the new Criterion disc next year. (Farewell, FilmStruck.)
THE TALE is excellent. Hard to watch at times but excellent. Makes some interesting narrative choices, all of which work. The storyteller wrestles with her past, searching for truth in memory, and casts actors in her place so we can follow along. Fascinating and raw.
OVERLORD is very good. Works as a war film, a 'men on a mission' movie, and a horror movie. Make the special serum green and it could've easily been called WAR OF RE-ANIMATOR. It's in touch with its B-movie concept but takes itself seriously, which is for the best in this case.
One almost wishes they'd kept the horror stuff out of the trailers and marketed it as a war film only. Would've been a fun surprise, like vampires showing up in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. In any case, it's a good war/horror mashup, and one of my favorite such films since OUTPOST.
Wonderful film. Funny, sweet, and horrifically uncomfortable. So depressingly relatable it hurts sometimes.
Some of the best use of music you'll see in a 2018 movie, making one laugh and experience dread in equal measure.
One of the year's best films.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
Blog notice: mostly this blog is for sharing my thoughts and talking about my books. From time to time I will also comment on books, films, music, sports, and/or videogames. During these times I may use images of the creative works under discussion. I'm posting the images under the "fair use" allowance, for purposes such as criticism, comments, reporting, teaching, and research. If you have any issue with images used on this blog, please contact me and the images will be removed.
I am not paid for my reviews and I do not take book review requests at this time.