Monday, March 31, 2014

Top notch. My review of FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON.

I'd like to say that I became familiar with Derrick Ferguson's stories by chance. I'm sure I would have discovered his work eventually, but sooner is better than later. I had picked up How the West Was Weird: Campfire Tales on a flier. It was on my recommendations on Amazon, and really, why not? Weird and West(ern)... sounded like my cup of tea. The collection, as a whole was great reading (Hint, hint. You should take a look!), but Derrick's Sebastian Red tale was a standout. An interesting and engrossing character, with plenty of action, and a mysterious background. So I did a bit of internet digging and came across his Dillon series, and picked up FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON, along with two more tales (Yes, I was that impressed by my first encounter with Derrick's writing. I knew I would enjoy them, so I got more than one.). I've been writing up reviews of other works that I had lined up, but I thought it was high time to review the character... but where to start? I figured, why not ask the man himself, and was recommended FOUR BULLETS... and what a ride it was! Anyhow, let's get to the meat, and start the review, prefaced with a bit of a synopsis, of course.

Dillon is a soldier of fortune, working the types of contracts that usually send his rivals heading for the exit doors. Don't pigeonhole him as common merc, he will (and has, quite frequently) open himself up to various global organization's wrath by eliminating a threat that they can't (or won't) touch. It's not about the money for him (although money is always appreciated). He's a professional, and a rising star in the field. A great number of people would like him dead, but he has so far disappointed them. Basically the type of guy I wouldn't mind buying a beer for (or in this case, a couple shots of Demerara rum).

First off, story-wise, we have 'Dillon and the Bad Ass Belt Buckle'. Dillon, and one of his mentors, Eli Creed, have been hired by a movie studio who's most recent leading lady has been kidnapped by a crew of thugs while in Cambodia for a movie shoot. That's the easy part, and the problem is sorted toot sweet! Except for the fact that they are traveling through Green Hell, have a number of pissed off mercs tracking them, and are dragging along (in Dillon's mind) a total hindrance to the plan, in the person of Jenise Casile, the object of their mission. Although she might surprise him (and you) with her hidden depths... Add to that encountering a thrown-together barter town in the middle of the jungle, ruled over by a warlord who is Jenise's biggest fan, and happens to own a Bad Ass Belt Buckle that's caught Dillon's eye... and you have the basic recipe for a FUBAR type scenario. Not to mention all those pissed off mercs creeping up our hero's backsides looking for retribution, and more importantly, their payday. What transpires? I'm not telling, so mum's the word.

Secondly, we have 'Dead Beat in La Esca', which Derrick co-writes with Joel Jenkins. Dillon happens to meet Joel's character Sly Gantlet, who is another operator in the whole black bag scene, except with a twist! Sly's cover story is that he is the lead guitarist in the world's most popular metal band, Gantlet (and yes, you should be reading Joel's Gantlet Brother series, or pretty much anything else by him). Two alpha males in one small venue, and of course the game of "I'm better than you" starts immediately... exactly as a shadowy outside source planned, who is looking to catch two very valuable birds with one stone, and has meticulously plotted out every variable involved... except for the fact that it's Dillon and Sly Gantlet they're dealing with. As they say "The best-laid plans of mice and men" especially when you're dealing with Dillon and Sly...

Next in line we have 'Dillon and the Escape from Tosegio'. We open with a quote from the Warmasters of Liguria, from when they trained Dillon. Wait, didn't I mention that? Dillon was raised away from contemporary society, and was groomed to be one of the Warlords mentioned. Might have a bit to do with his unerring skill of doing the right thing, even if it's the hardest possible road to follow. His ego is a bit of a problem, but what do you expect? He's top shelf... and never lets  it get in the way when it absolutely matters. As far as this caper goes, we start out with Dillon on the run, on a hidden island, running from those that should, rightfully, be his allies. You see, Dillon has fallen in love with the Princess of Tosegio, Sathrya, during the course of events. Said events include Dillon and his buddy, Awesome Times, getting contracted to stop a coup on Tosegio, and save the Princess. Along with turning her over into the waiting hands of her father, the King of Tosegio. Things, of course, go badly, which is why we open with Dillon on the run. Those closest can sometimes wound the most...

Lastly, we have 'Dillon and the Judas Chalice'. Starting out with Dillon on the run from the police, you may think this par for the course. It's not. After finding out about a tid-bit of information, and getting no response from the powers that be, my man is on his way to take care of the situation personally, or so he hopes. In the meantime, he's leaving a pile of wrecked police cars behind that puts the chase scene in The Blues Brothers movie to shame. Seriously, lots of collateral damage, but worth it, because of the supposed endgame. Which is an end, but only to the first chapter. Needless to say, the authorities are a bit miffed with Dillon's escapade, despite the fact it actually benefits them in the end (cue the theme song Don't Let Me Be Understood), so to the hoosegow he goes. Despite the local D.A.'s wishes, he's a hot potato and gets handed off to... representatives of The Nine Unknown Men. Despite the action from before, here is where the actual adventure(!) starts. Contracted by a wealthy backer, after thorough vetting, Dillon agrees to recover the Judas Chalice, which represents everything opposite of the Grail. It will grant your every wish, as long as you betray someone close to you. This entry is longer than the other three stories, and the story is fascinating...

Derrick Ferguson's style of writing is not only entertaining, but well paced and has an element of mystery that is much appreciated. His characters come to life, and always have some history waiting in the wings, as we all do. A mix of some of the most entertaining action movies available, and some well worn tropes regarding the universal hero, we get the best of both worlds. His writing is very cinematic, and easily adaptable to the big, or little, screen. That's a hint, Hollywood, I'd rather be watching Dillon's adventures than 9/10's of what I see on the screen nowadays. He develops the characters as needed, plugging in much needed back-story as we go, and world-builds throughout. What it really comes down to, should you be reading this? Of course you should! What the heck, these stories should get your crank turning!

 Here's the product page for FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON. Here's Derrick's Amazon page. Why don't you head over and take a shuffle around? Keep reading, and happy discoveries!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Here's my review of Ron Fortier's THE WIND UP KID.

Well, I breezed through Ron Fortier's excellent, and downright entertaining release The Wind Up Kid last night. An eBook exclusive, it's fairly short (approximately forty three pages according to the info on Amazon), but it packs a well focused punch. Here's a synopsis, and what made me enjoy the story so much.

The Wind Up Kid introduces us to the citizens of Sandy Creek, a small town in northern Texas, and is set during the Old West. We meet Manuel Ramirez, who is the local blacksmith, and his son Cesar. As the story opens, Professor Phineas Proctor and his Traveling Show of Wonders has just arrived in town, and are looking to put on a performance to amaze. The entire town is excited, especially little Cesar. While having a fire eater, a strong woman, and acrobats, the piece de resistance is... the Wind Up Kid, of course, in all his shining, metallic glory. A clockwork automaton, Kid is a deadly accurate pistolero, which he handily demonstrates to the delight of the crowd. While the Professor's players are wowing the townsfolk, a much more sinister gang is using the show as a distraction. A band of outlaws has also arrived in town, and think it's a perfectly good time to rob the local bank. When the town sheriff attempts to intervene, the skunks gun him down. Unfortunately for them, the Kid steps in and shows that he can do more than just hit targets with his Colt .45 Peacemakers. The town celebrates, but the celebration is rather short lived. When Sheriff Hancock comes to, he quickly identifies the lone survivor of the raiding party as Billy Faro; brother to Butch Faro, the most bloodthirsty varmint in the territory. Come hell or high water, the sheriff knows that Butch is going to ride into town and demand a reckoning. Who will save the town? Well, there is that gleaming golden gunfighter, waiting in the wings...

I'll start by saying that once the story gets a head of steam, it doesn't let up. A rollicking adventure, once you start reading, you don't want to quit. Ron conjures up the spirit of old westerns perfectly, where the hero wears a white hat, and rides off into the sunset at the end of the film, triumphant. The principal characters and premise are interesting, with it's mix of Western and Steampunk genres. Fans of the series The Wild, Wild West will definitely find themselves enjoying this. While this is a short stand-alone story, I would be a liar if I didn't confess that I'd really be wowed by a collection of Kid stories, sometime in the future. This is downright (and I know I use this word a lot in my reviews, but it's really the highest compliment I can think to give) FUN, and an absolute pleasure to read. I'm a big fan of Ron's New Pulp adventures, and have been on board with his comic book tales from way back. The Wind Up Kid is an excellent addition to his list of tales, and if you love well written adventures, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not taking a look. It's available for 99 cents, so why don't you give it a try? Here's the Amazon page if you're interested in taking a look. Here's the publisher's page, Airship 27 Productions, if you would like to peruse their list of works (they've got some high quality authors involved, so stop by). Well, that's about all I have to say, other than I hope you'll take a look at the story. As usual, happy reading, all!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review of Ramsey Campbell's HOLES FOR FACES.

Well, I've been a bit under the weather, which is why I haven't posted anything lately. I have been reading though, and I'm feeling a bit better, so here's a review of Ramsey Campbell's Holes For Faces. For those of you not familiar with Mr. Campbell's work, he is one of the grandmasters of horror fiction. With everything from classic horror stories to delving into the Cthulhu Mythos, his stories are walks through madness. This excellent collection presents a mix of previously published short stories and tales presented here for the first time. They deal with ordinary people in seemingly ordinary situations, that slowly become off-kilter. I'll be focusing on my three favorites, and with that, here's the review.

First off is "Peep", in which we find the unnamed protagonist watching his grandchildren play. Slowly he begins to realize that they are playing a game from far back in his past, that they have no business knowing of. When he asks who taught them the game, they simply reply "The old woman". Knowing that said old woman is long dead, he begins to question the reality around him. As his dread begins to build, odd sightings feed his growing fear. Are these just hallucinations? Is he going mad? Or has something come back, out of the past, to fulfill a promise made long ago? An excellent story, very much a slow burn. The protagonist, and the reader, question everything that is going on, and answers are lacking for all. The pressure steadily builds, and when the explosion comes, it is almost a relief. Masterful storytelling, to say the least.

Next up we have the titular story, "Holes For Faces". Charlie and his parents are on vacation in Naples. There is a sense of tension present from the beginning of the story, which is multiplied when the family visits the catacombs. There are hints in the conversation, directly preceding the trip, that point to something bad lurking in the wings. After witnessing the headless dead, down in the dark, and hearing a rather thoughtless comment, a seed is planted in Charlie's mind. From that point onward, he is aware of things lurking just out of sight, trying to get in. Is this just a case of paranoia, or is there something really trying to get at Charlie? No definite answer is given, and the reality of things are left up to the individual reader to decide for themselves. You are left with a real feeling for Charlie, and his one sided battle with things that no one else are able to see. An extremely haunting story.

Last up is "Chucky Comes to Liverpool", and yes, we are talking about the killer doll from the movies. Robbie is a fairly average teenage boy, who's mother spends most of her free time crusading against "Video Nasties". Here's a link with background if you've never heard of a "video nasty". This, of course, is how the character of Chucky comes into play. Robbie's mom is currently campaigning against the Child's Play movies, and Robbie becomes drawn to the movie. Add a friend who scores weed for himself and Robbie, and has access to the movie, and the ball starts rolling. Top that off with an urban legend that whoever watches the movie becomes a puppet of Chucky, (or, alternately brings him into our reality) and you have the beginning of another good story. Once the boys watch the video, terrible things start to happen. Is Chucky on the prowl? Has one of the boys been taken over? Or, is it all a terrible coincidence? Once again we have an instance of a seed being planted. Did the idea of the urban legend create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or is there a darker presence manipulating events? Another topflight trip through madness.

Well, there it is. While these are my favorite stories, all included in this excellent collection are well worth reading. Most deal with the same theme of a rather dodgy reality, or at least the character's sense of such. The author leaves this, for the most part, up to the reader's interpretation. I'd just like to say that Ramsey Campbell is one of the main reasons why I became interested in horror, and why I still enjoy it. Holes For Faces is highly recommended, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Here's a link to the publisher, Dark Regions Press. Pop over and take a gander. They've got a lot of good releases by top authors to be had. Here's the Amazon page for Holes For Faces. Finally, here's the wikipedia page for Ramsey, if you want to know more about him. Happy reading, all!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review of The Condimental Op, by Andrez Bergen.

art courtesy of Cocoa Bergen
I know, I know! I just published a review of a wonderful project by Andrez, and here we have another entry by him. The explanation for this is that I had been reading both works concurrently, and finished both of them about a week apart from one another. The reviews would have been more spaced out, except for one thing; I happened to be working twelve hour shifts on a fourteen day run at my job. When I would get off, I usually had trouble reading, much less writing out a critical review that would do justice to the source material. So I decided to wait until I was off, and had a bit more brain power, before I gave it a go. Both reviews were in the pipe for a bit, and I fired them off, one after another. With that out of the way, let's get to the review...

I'll start out by saying that The Condimental Op, by Andrez Bergen is simply sprawling in nature. Included within are both fiction and non-fiction; short stories and graphic adaptations, plus alternate and reworked takes on some past fiction. It's got some great art, definitely including the cover, which is displayed above left. It comes to us courtesy of Andrez's daughter Cocoa, which shows that talent runs in the family. I'll be reviewing this in sections, and concentrating on my favorites, due to the large amount of material contained in this collection. So, on to part one.

The first section of the collection mainly contains stand alone short stories. The forewords by Andrez are worth the price of admission alone. That said, I'd recommend reading the stories first, and then coming back to the forewords. That way you get to have a fresh view of the stories. It's up to you, though. 'Sugar and Spice' tells the tale of two teenage delinquents planning a heist... of a comic book store. Needless to say, all does not go as planned. It may just be me, but I find the proceedings darkly humorous. I can't get the thought of the heist from Reservoir Dogs, via the comic shop from The Simpsons out of my head. Ha! I apologize. Very good story. Moving on, 'Victor Victoria' is my favorite from this section. An action-packed tale of aerial combat in WWI, it reminds me of the Biggles series by W.E. Johns. With a certain sly humor throughout, it definitely entertains. Plus, the ending is hilarious. Rounding out my trio of favorite tales, we have 'A Woman of Sense'. A tale of a female mercenary hired by a petty lord to be his bodyguard... at least that's what he says. Things go a bit off track from the jump, and a bit of carnage ensues. Once again, it's the humor that really wins me over. Apparently Andrez had a bit of trouble getting this published, which really boggles my mind. Very nice. While these are my three favorites, all the stories in this section are worth reading, and highly recommended.

The next section contains four stories dealing with the adventures of Roy Scherer and Suzie Miller. Partners in the detective agency of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane, they certainly live up to the agency's title. Through the course of the stories they deal with a zombie (but not really a zombie), a vampire, and a possessed typewriter. The fourth story is a bit longer, and doesn't feature Suzie. It's a prequel, with a much younger and less acerbic Roy, stumbling onto what will be his first case. While a bit hard to pick favorites, if pushed, I'll have to go with 'Lazarus Slept' and 'Revert to Type'. In 'Lazarus' our heroes investigate a possible case of a zombie running amok. Although things aren't quite kosher with the whole zombie identification, Roy's rather blunt approach handles business rather nicely. Things are a bit more complicated with 'Revert to Type'. Called on by a client who claims to have a possessed typewriter, Roy quickly classes the guy as a total nutter. Proved wrong, Roy's usual straight-ahead way of operating blows up in his face. This is really Suzie's moment to shine, and is a total joy. Really great. Half the fun in these tales are watching Roy go about business; the other half is Suzie annoying the hell out of him. Has a whole lot of "laugh out loud" moments throughout the various stories. I'm a big fan of the characters, and hopefully we will see more of them in the future. (Hint, hint Andrez.)

The third section revisits the dystopian world of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. Sci-fi filtered through the darkest noir, I'd highly recommend picking it up. The duo of Floyd Maquina and Laurel Canyon are feautured in the first two stories, 'Come Out Swinging' and 'Dread Fellow Churls'. Both stories revolve around a rescue attempt, although the latter is pulled off a bit more smoothly. 'Neck-Tied' features a fellow Seeker (a combination of detective/tracker, Floyd being one as well) in a rather desperate situation. 'In-Dreamed' is a story of Floyd's supposedly dead wife, Veronica; she is apparently alive, after all. The ending is a nice twist. She also features (In my mind, at least. Andrez leaves it up to the reader.) in my favorite of two graphic adaptations included in this section, 'Waiting For Sod All'. As I really enjoyed TSMG, these continuations and off-shoots are greatly appreciated, including the ones not mentioned. All in all, gritty, dark, and shot through with a touch of gallow's humor. Really, what's not to like?

The final section, fittingly entitled 'Ransacking the Archive', brings together a variety of materiel, most of it non-fiction articles. Starting out with a number of prose selections written in 1989, it moves through critiques of food, film, music, and culture. Setting down an account of the weeks leading up to the birth of his daughter, Cocoa, is the most personal of these entries. This may or may-not be your cup of tea, but I found them fascinating. Very glad they were included, since I believe they give a bit of insight on the events that helped shape the author's works. Plus, I just like reading reviews. Ta, Andrez!

Well, there it is. Overall, an excellent collection, which I would highly recommend. Goes without saying that the forewords and acknowledgements are required reading, as well. Here's where you can pick up a copy. If you'd like to know a bit more about the author, pop over to Andrez's Blog. With that, I believe I'll get back to what I love most, reading. TTFN...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Review of the graphic anthology BLACK/WHITE, from Andrez Bergen and friends.

      Well, I recently finished the rather excellent graphic collection Black/White, offered up by writer Andrez Bergen, and a host of talented artists namely: Matt Kyme (cover); Drezz Rodriguez (art for 'Zig Zag'); Marcos Vergara ('Get Busy'); Michael Grills ('Linoleum Actress'); Nathan St. John ('The Writing on the Wall'); Andrez himself ('Waiting For Sod All.'); and last, but not least, Andrew Chiu ('Come Out Swinging'). If you want to learn a little more about the individual artists, click here.

Drezz Rodriguez
First off, we have 'Zig Zag'. A story that is steeped in noir, to the point of drowning. The story, along with Drezz Rodriguez's excellent art, is so dark that only hints of light manage to break through. The story opens with a man whistling a Cole Porter tune while cleaning a certain Webley-Fosbery revolver (an item that makes appearances in many of Andrez's works). Despite having a visitor that is heard commenting in the background, the nameless man concentrates on the task at hand. Eventually finishing his task, he earns a couple of compliments from his visitor. Loads the gun, passes it into waiting hands, and then the last of the light goes out of the story. With a quick ending that you won't see coming, this is a good story to start off the collection. Drezz's stark black and white etchings perfectly compliment the mood of the piece. Impressive, to say the least...

Marcos Vergara

Next up we have 'Get Busy', a look at the local night life through the eyes of a jaded bartender. A quick hit where we witness a few players from Andrez's novels sweep through the landscape, and once again, are confronted with a rather familiar revolver... This seems to function quite like an intermezzo, in my opinion. It ties together a number of pieces from other works, while the party goes on in the background, the bit players oblivious. Marcos Vergara's art is unique, and definitely fits the story. It reminds me a bit of some of the underground comic greats from the 60's and 70's that I love. Very nice...

Michael Grills

Third story up is 'Linoleum Actress', and what an actress she is, indeed... Definitely playing up her turn on the stage, you may want to look up "captive audience" for this one. With excellent art, from Michael Grills, Andrez's quick hit shows how low some will sink in this dystopian future... What's your poison, and do you love real butter? If you're confused, buy the book, 'cause I'm saying no more, except that your money will be well spent. Trust me!

Nathan St. John
With 'The Writing on the Wall', we have a brief encounter between a Seeker and two hapless souls. After a bit of sage advice offered to the two, and a quick critique of their attempt at a political statement, she sends them on their way. Lucky for them, for there are a few unsavory blokes headed the Seeker's way... I have a feeling the Seeker will be fine, though. The art is very unique, and quite striking.

Andrez Bergen
'Waiting For Sod All', is probably my favorite of the collection. With story and art courtesy of Andrez, it is definitely a poignant tale. A tale of the gradual erosion of hope, it is masterfully executed, especially in so brief a format. Absolutely striking. Although it may seem to be the end of a story, in my opinion, it is actually a beginning. For more info, track down Tobbaco-Stained Mountain Goat.

Andrew Chiu

The collection is rounded out by 'Come Out Swinging'. An action filled finale, it's a nifty tale of a rescue that gets a bit complicated.The art by Andrew Chiu hits all the right notes, perfectly fitting this hard-boiled short. A great ending to a very entertaining collection.

To sum up, this is a great collection of short fiction, perfectly complimented by some wonderful graphics. The stories are tied into Andrez's fictional world as a whole; this selection can be read on it's own, but also functions as a great companion piece to previous releases. Highly recommended, so why don't you run out a pick up a copy? Stop by Black/White and If? Commix for more info. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Great site for horror fans... The Ginger Nuts of Horror!

This is a really great place for all things horror! Some really great reviews, interviews, and news in general can be had, all in one central site. Why don't you head over and take a look at The Ginger Nuts of Horror? Click the link, explore the archives, read and have fun... You won't be disappointed!