Book Reviews by Ray Wallace

Exit Reality by Robert S. Wilson

Exit Reality cover

It almost becomes second nature, prying the vise-like grip of a dead man’s hands from his computer keyboard, once you’ve done it a couple hundred times…

So begins Robert S. Wilson’s Exit Reality, a novella set in a near future society in which people connect their brains directly to the internet via a piece of technology known as the HPDID (Human Perception Digital Interface Device) and experience new worlds and, yes, new realities limited only by the human imagination. Sounds pretty cool, huh? For the most part it is. Only one little problem though. Like the internet of today, viruses do their part to ruin the fun. And when said viruses can wreak their havoc not only upon a user’s computer but also his brain, well, the results can be rather…traumatic.

Enter Ray Garret. He’s an Antivii agent. His job? Do what he can to find those responsible for unleashing these potentially lethal viruses on the public. And it’s a job he’s pretty damn good at. That is until he comes up against a particularly nasty virus known in the media as “The Chair.” When the story opens, we find Ray investigating another potential crime scene. A man sits before his computer terminal, unmoving, hands tightly clutching the keyboard, the all too recognizable odor of burnt flesh emanating from his body. And there, on the computer screen, the two words Ray has seen far too many times in recent weeks: “Exit Reality.” Yes, The Chair has claimed another victim and Ray seems no closer now than at any other point in the investigation to putting a stop to it.

He catches a break after harassing a low level street punk named Koadie who tells him about a Necro-club called The Dead Retro. Now, Necro-clubs specialize in providing a very specific type of service for the HPDID user...

The Tent by Kealan Patrick Burke

As a fan of horror fiction, for my money nothing beats a good old fashioned monster story. Especially one involving a monster the likes of which we haven’t quite seen before. Of course, as the years go by and the number of books and movies continues to grow, creating a truly unique creature becomes more of a challenge. Not that this stops the more creative writers out there from trying. And it certainly did not stop Kealan Patrick Burke from giving it a go with his latest release, a novella titled The Tent.

When the story opens, we meet an old man named McCabe who lives an isolated existence in the mountains of Ohio with his dog Pepper. Night has fallen and something beyond the walls of McCabe’s humble abode has Pepper—a normally calm and even tempered animal—on edge. Her nervousness infects McCabe and, as much as he doesn’t like it, he knows he’s going to have to go outside and see what’s gotten his dog all wound up. So he grabs a flashlight then heads for the door and the darkness beyond with Pepper reluctantly following.

Next we meet Mike, his wife Emma, and their thirteen-year-old son Cody. Mike has decided it would be great if the three of them spent some quality time together camping. Everything goes all right until a brutal thunderstorm rolls in, destroying the tent serving as the only form of shelter they have. Now Mike has to lead his family to safety through torrential rain and darkness. Only one problem with this: He has no idea where the hell he’s going. When his wife confronts him on the issue, the two of them start to argue. Theirs has been a troubled relationship to begin with and the situation in which they now find themselves does little to help matters. The fighting stops, though, with the realization that Cody has gone missing....

Jimmy

In some ways, Jimmy Hawthorn is a lot like many other high school kids. He’s quiet. Kinda shy around girls. Gets pretty good grades. Likes to play video games. For a while there he had to deal with a bit of bullying until he hit a growth spurt and started lifting weights. He’s never found himself in any real trouble to speak of. No run-ins with the law. Gets along well with his parents and his brother. Yeah, just an average young man from an average family living in an average American town. There is one thing, though, that might not be considered quite so average about Jimmy Hawthorn. And that would be his rather unhealthy obsession with a certain type of hardcore pornography. The kind that involves leather masks and ball gags, handcuffs and various other restraining devices.

That’s right, ladies and gents, what we have here is a teenage bondage fanatic.

Ever since Jimmy was a kid, imagery involving women in certain, shall we say, compromising positions has fascinated him. For about as long as he can remember, he’s felt his blood start to pump a little faster while watching a movie or TV show depicting scenes in which women are tied up. At some point he started videotaping these scenes until eventually finding much more graphic material online. As he grew older, Jimmy fantasized more and more about acting out these scenes in real life. But where would he ever find a girl willing to submit to the sorts of degradations he had in mind? And, really, wouldn’t it be so much better if the girl was forced to submit, wasn’t actually willing to do it at all?

One day after school, Jimmy’s presented with a golden opportunity to turn his fantasies into reality. He encounters a classmate named Samantha King along a lonely stretch of road out near the Hood...

Nightworld

It's the end of the world as we know it … Repairman Jack's world, that is. After fifteen books in F. Paul Wilson's popular and long running series, which began with The Tomb, we have finally reached the end with a revised edition of Nightworld. An extensively revised edition of Nightworld, according to a forward by the book's author. As I never read the original version, published in the early nineties, I have no idea as to the true extent of the changes the story has undergone. Apparently, Jack's role within the book has been greatly increased, which would only make sense as it is being marketed as a Repairman Jack novel. The final Repairman Jack novel. The one that longtime fans of the series (such as myself) have been waiting for. So, the question would be, does this revised and updated Nightworld serve as a satisfying conclusion to Jack's story?

First, a little about the story itself …

(And, yes, for those of you who have not read the series up to this point there will be a few spoilers. You have been warned.)

The book begins a couple of months after The Dark at the End. Rasalom, the main bad guy throughout the series, has managed to kill a woman known as the Lady who has appeared to Jack in various guises throughout his life and, at one point in time, seemed to be immortal. More importantly, the Lady served a key role—as far as humanity was concerned—in the eons old battle between two vast and ancient entities known as the Ally and the Otherness. Apparently, living worlds are considered the spoils in this conflict with each side collecting as many as it can. The Earth belongs to the Ally, a being indifferent to the plight of humanity, which is, however, a far cry better than the Otherness's active hostility. As...

Horror for Good: a Charitable Anthology Vol. 1

In the mood to read a good horror anthology? Like to see your money go toward a worthwhile cause? Then do yourself a favour and purchase a copy of Horror For Good. All profits go to amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. If that's not reason enough, a quick glimpse through the table of contents should seal the deal. It includes stories from a number of authors with whom any fan of horror fiction is sure to be familiar: Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, and Laird Barron, just to name a few. And while the stories by these “name” authors are enjoyable enough, I was happy to discover that writers with whom I was considerably less familiar penned some of the real standouts. As there are more than thirty stories collected here, it would be a bit of a lengthy review to discuss them all. So I'll just stick to some of my favourites:

“Mouth,” by Nate Southard is quite possibly my favourite story in the entire book. It depicts a truly horrifying scenario in which the residents of an apartment complex have been enslaved by a creature known as The Mouth. Apparently, all The Mouth lives for is to eat. And it is always hungry. People are forced to bring dead things to The Mouth by a single word spoken repeatedly and continuously louder within their minds—More. As bad as it all seems, this is one of those stories that reminds us that things can always get worse. A lot worse.

In Ian Harding’s “The Long Hunt” we have the tale of a man named McNichols who has grown old while chasing the monster that destroyed his life decades earlier, a monster that looks just like a young boy who hasn't aged at all, still, after all these years. This monster, this boy, has performed all manner of grisly and unthinkable crimes....

The Red Empire and Other Stories

A violent thunderstorm, a cop killer on the loose, and an army of genetically modified, giant fire ants; put them all together and what do you have? The Red Empire, the titular tale of Joe McKinney’s short story collection, The Red Empire and Other Stories. Here we follow a number of different characters including a recently widowed young mother and her daughter, the latter temporarily blinded after undergoing a cornea transplant. There’s the aforementioned cop killer who, while being transported to prison, is set free due to a set of very fortunate circumstances. And there’s also the local doctor who, after experiencing a recent tragedy of his own, becomes obsessed with the idea of rescuing the blind girl from the marauding army of killer ants. All in all, The Red Empire is an entertaining tale with plenty of action and enough horror elements to fill a number of smaller tales.

Next up is Blemish, a dark and emotional story that centers around an ex-cop who is haunted by the ghost of a young woman he failed to protect years earlier, leaving him incapable of having any sort of real relationship with the woman he loves. Cold Case is the true story of a police officer killed in the line of duty during his second day on the job back in 1900, an interesting piece of investigative reporting by Mr. McKinney although it does feel a little out of place here. The Old Man Under the Sea is a fun foray into historical fiction involving Ernest Hemingway, who falls in love with the beautiful daughter of a powerful Cuban businessman and helps in the search for her missing cousin. A search that takes him beneath the waters surrounding the island and far beyond to a place he could have never imagined.

The Millstone relates the tale of a woman whose life spins out...

Zombie Bake-Off

Stephen Graham Jones is one of those writers I’ve been meaning to read for a while now but haven’t for one reason or another. I guess it comes back to that whole too many books (and authors), too little time thing. So when I was offered a chance to read his latest, Zombie Bake-Off, for review I jumped at it. Was this the book that would put Mr. Jones on my not-to-be-missed list? Only one way to find out...

Zombie Bake-Off opens with a teenage kid out partying and joyriding with his friends in his dad’s bakery truck. It’s all fun and games until a particularly disheveled looking fellow walks out into the road and gets seriously pulverized as the truck runs him down. After this terrible incident, the teens do the only sensible thing―well, sensible as far as a group of minors who’ve been out drinking and smoking weed and driving around in a vehicle they’ve stolen from one of their parents are concerned―and stash the guy’s body in the back of the truck until they can figure out a way to dispose of it. It turns out, however, that the teens really have nothing to worry about, because by morning the body is gone, almost like it just got up on its own, opened the back door of the truck and walked away. Unfortunately, what no one has noticed is that the guy’s left index finger has found its way into a box of donuts where its been leaking maggots.

After this, the vast majority of the book takes place at the local convention center where the titular “bake-off” is taking place. The event has attracted scores of grandmothers and soccer moms who wish to show off their cooking skills and maybe learn a new recipe or two. In charge of all of this is a young mom named Terry who, after dropping her children off at school, heads to the convention center to make sure...

Shining in Crimson by Robert S. Wilson

When reviewing a vampire novel, it would be all too easy—and rather tempting—to begin with a lengthy diatribe railing against the current state of vampire fiction, how that damned Stephenie Meyer and her sparkling blood suckers have dragged the genre down from the rather elevated status it once enjoyed. Fun, yes, but not entirely true. The genre had, in fact, found itself riddled with cliches long before The Twilight Saga came along. Pouting pretty boys had been all the rage for several decades due, no doubt, to the success of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles of which, I have to admit, I was a fan—the first three or four books, at least—and still am in spite of the wave of copycats that came in its wake. Among those copycats, I am sure there are a few worthy of comparison to the originals that inspired them, a smaller number that may have even surpassed them. Be that as it may, there reaches a point when enough is definitely more than enough. When discerning readers demand a bit more originality. Fortunately, there are always writers willing to push the limits of established boundaries. To create something outside the status quo. Something original. When I first sat down to read Robert S. Wilson’s Shining in Crimson, I couldn’t help but wonder at the narrative in which I would soon immerse myself. Copycat or something altogether different? Something original? There was only one way to find out . . . .

In the book’s first chapter we meet Hank Evans, a man who is having a particularly bad day and a night that’s about to get even worse. He and a group of fellow Penitents, criminals who have violated one or more of the American Empire’s morality laws, are being trucked out to the city of Necropolis, a place where no Penitent has ever survived...

Horns by Joe Hill

News flash! Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Yes, that Stephen King. Although, if you’re reading this review, chances are that this isn’t news to you. The secret has been out on Mr. Hill’s real identity for a while now. I guess you have to credit the guy for not coming out of the gate riding his immensely famous father’s coattails. Talk about an in! The truth is that he didn’t need to ride his father’s coattails, nor anybody else’s for that matter. Because this guy can write as he so aptly demonstrated with his debut novel, Heart Shaped Box, and his excellent and much lauded short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Now he’s back with another novel, this one called Horns. And the obvious question would be: Does it live up to the standards of the first two outings?

Horns open with a rather intriguing first line:

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.

It seems that our protagonist, Ig—as he is known to family and friends—was so drunk that he can’t recall just what, exactly, those terrible things might have been. All he knows is that he has a world class hangover. Oh, yeah, and that he now has a pair of knobby little horns growing out of his head.

It isn’t long before Ig discovers that along with the horns he has developed some rather extraordinary powers which can only be of supernatural origin. The first of these powers to present itself is not one that overly thrills him and over which he seems to have very little control. It seems that anyone he now comes across feels the need to tell him some very bad things about themselves, dark secrets they would never share with those close to them let alone with a complete stranger. And the things revealed to him by his live-in sort of...

They Had Goat Heads by D. Harlan Wilson

Ah, the wonderful world of bizarro fiction. A place where anything is possible. Anything at all. Located in a universe where the laws of physics and the rules of logic have little if any influence. For the uninitiated, an intimidating and often overwhelming place, to be sure. A place where the inexperienced traveler would do well to follow the lead of a tested and sure footed guide. And who better to the lead the way through such a strange and, on occasion, inhospitable land than one who has been there many times before and has returned each time to tell the tale? Who better than the author of such books as The Kafka Effekt, Stranger on the Loose, and Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria? Who better than D. Harlan Wilson?

To give you an idea of what you're in for when you crack open a copy of the author's latest collection of bizarro fiction, They Had Goat Heads, I will reproduce for you here the first story in its entirety. It's entitled "6 Word Scifi." And it goes like this:

Mechanical flaneurs goosestep across the prairie.

That's it. And now we move on to the next one.

"The Movie That Wasn't There" is less than two pages long and starts out with the following paragraph:

I go to a movie and notice I'm starring in it. I don't remember shooting the movie, let alone auditioning for the part. I am not an actor.

And, hey, guess what? After that, it gets really weird. And stays that way throughout the entirety of the collection.

"Monster Truck" is a one page tale that centers around a man who wants to be - - yep, you guessed it - - a monster truck. One night he welded giant wheels onto his elbows and knees...

In "Quality of Life," a man visits a number of different doctors in order to get his nose to stop leaking....

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