Franklin Marsh’s Computer Wild

Worlds of StrangeneSS No. 2 coverWorlds of StrangeneSS No. 2 review part three:

Franklin Marsh knows enough about gaming to give his story, “Computer Wild,” an authentic feel. The opening scene inside a game shop sets the tone of this horror yarn.

Curt paused and frowned, pulling a game from the rack.
“Andy? ANDY!!!”
“You ever heard of . . . Kill ‘Em All?”
Andy snorted.
Kill ‘Em All. It looks shit, but I thought I knew everything we stocked . . . This don’t ring any bells.”

By the time Inspector Dalton appears, things have turned nasty and it’s up to local law enforcement to get things sorted. Dalton mixes his skills of detection, good fortune, and bad luck to get to the bottom of this techno-terror tale.

This review continues on May 28 . . .

Weird Menace Vol. 1

Weird Menace Vol. 1 coverMuch of my reading is in support of my series, The Digest Enthusiast—for articles, reviews, or interviews. When I take a break and pick up something purely for its own sake, I often turn to pulp fiction. For me, these stories are akin to comfort food, perhaps not entirely nutrition-rich, but delicious and satisfying all the same.

I’ve never actually read a shudder pulp, but I have to believe the stories in Weird Menace Vol. 1 from Rough Edges Press, are authentic. They’re set in right era and their creators are highly qualified to crank out new stories crafted in the rapid-fire, tension-packed style that inspired them.

I zeroed in on Vol. 2 because it contained a story by Michael Bracken that I wanted to read as prep for my interview with him for TDE8. But when I noticed Bill Crider had a story in Vol. 1, well, I had to have that one too. When I wrapped up design and production on TDE8, I was ready for a comfort read and sat down to read Bill’s story. I liked it so much, I decided to try another, and flew through the whole of volume one before I knew it.

Weird Menace Vol. 1 back coverWhat’s more, I’d be hard pressed to name a favorite. Each story was just plain fun to read; and despite their similarities, there’s enough variation in the setups, threats, and narrow escapes, so the action never slows. In fact, the trouble only escalates. What a harrowing, pleasurable read!

Adrian Cole’s Mirrorman

Story page 1From Weirdbook No. 34:

“A Kiss for the Mirrorman” by Adrian Cole is a terrific fast-paced battle of wits and advanced weaponry. Set in the gritty streets of a future metropolis, an unnamed assassin tracks the Mirrorman and plunges him into a deadly trap. One for the issue’s best adventures.

Andy Boot’s Pulped!

Worlds of StrangeneSS No. 2 review part two:

Andy Boot brings an impressive resume to his story “Pulped!” As James Axler he’s written 18 “Deathlands” novels; as Don Pendleton, ten “The Executioners”; two more novels as Andy Boot; as well as four nonfiction books.

Worlds of Strangeness No. 1 cover“Pulped!” begins in WoS No. 1, and concludes in No. 2. Although the ending, which squares the immediate conflicts, leaves the larger ones unresolved and feels very much like a satisfying segment of a much longer epic. Part one is not required reading to enjoy part two, but one certainly informs the other, and the thrill-packed vignettes of “Pulped!” are an integral part of its overall pleasure.

In 1930’s New York, Frank Nugent employs a stable of writers and artists to document the exploits of five two-fisted heroes for his line of pulp magazines. The public believes these accounts are pure fiction, when in fact, the heroes’ death-denying adventures are real.

Much of part one rotates through the exploits of its heroes: Ray “Crash” Flanagan, Pete “The Red Admiral” MacLean, Jenny “The Black Pearl,” Montague “Quarterstaff of the Jungle” John Summers, and occultist Joss Likely. Inevitably, each opposing villain is in league with forces from beyond. Forces that control their minions from an alternate plane, plotting to cross over and conquer our world. Nugent’s pulp imprint seeks to inform the public, avoiding widespread panic, slowing building awareness of the threat.

Boot captures the feel of classic pulp heroics, layering his story within a more contemporary plot, albeit one steeped in mystics and incantations. Action-packed, and great, great fun.

This review continues on May 24 . . .

Nigel Taylor’s Worlds of StrangeneSS No. 2

Worlds of StrangeneSS No. 2 coverNigel Taylor’s World of StrangeneSS is an annual, self-published digest that has appeared round about Halloween since it began in 2016. Its first two issues were printed traditionally, but fellow Brit Justin Marriott’s successful switch to POD with the Paperback Fanatic line of zines has not gone unnoticed at WOS HQ.

Taylor is a frequent contributor to Marriott’s Fanatic and the author of three short story collections: Hellfire Cinders (2011), Collective Invention (2001), and Prodigies and Effigies (1993). Under guise as “The Stranger,” he introduces the issue with a clipped account of mankind’s fascination with decapitation, the subject of the cover art for both issues No. 1 and 2, citing Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson (2014) for readers’ consideration. It’s followed by his own (uncredited) faux cover story, “The Lost World Lost,” in which a fatally injured explorer drags himself back to civilization to warn the world of a prehistoric danger, his labors cut short by The Stranger who gives him a final jab. Like any good two-pager, it’s the payoff that makes the set-up worthwhile.

Worlds of StrangeneSS website

This review continues on May 20 . . .

Bret McCormick’s Demon

Weirdbook No. 34 coverWeirdbook began life as a fantasy and horror fanzine in 1968. The creation of Paul Ganley, it ran for 30 issues, ending in 1997. In 2015, Doug Draa asked Paul for permission to relaunch the title. With publishing help from John Betancourt, Weirdbook was reborn in September 2015. With issue 34 the magazine went quarterly.

Bret McCormick opens Weirdbook No. 34 with a light-hearted look at reality, and triggers a more serious question about belief in “The Demon in the Doughnut Shop.” Is seeing believing? The lead character is left with doubts, even after a shape-shifting demon from hell gives him a personal demonstration. The facts are indisputable, but emotion and past experience still imprint his perceived reality.

Joseph Goodrich’s 10¢ Murder

EQMM Aug. 2016 coverThe final story of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, also wraps up the Potpourri section:

Joseph Goodrich’s “The Ten-Cent Murder,” from EQMM Aug. 2016, brings the collection to a satisfying close. Queen’s methods and his trio of leading suspects are strongly in evidence in this murder mystery presided over by a fictitious Dash Hammett and Fred Dannay. The dialog between the two famed writers alone is worth the price of admission.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or new to the Ellery Queen character or magazine, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is a terrific collection, long overdue.

My review of Nigel Taylor’s Worlds of StrangeneSS No. 2 begins on May 16.

Arthur Vidro’s EQMM #1

EQMM No. 1 coverFrom the Potpourri section of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews:

Arthur Vidro’s tale “The Ransom of EQMM #1” leverages a bit of “The World’s Best Selling Mystery Magazine” history to build a case that should delight collectors and engage readers who enjoy a good puzzle. The story first appeared on the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s website to help celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2011.

This review concludes on May 12 . . .

Lawrence Block’s Death of Mallory Queen

Futures Mystery Jan/Feb 2006 coverFrom the Potpourri section of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews:

Grand Master Lawrence Block provides “The Death of Mallory Queen,” which first appeared in Futures Mystery Jan/Feb 2006. Publisher Mavis Mallory urges Leo Haig, a detective second only to Nero Wolfe, and his assistant Chip Harrison, to save her from what she firmly believes is her impending murder. When and where? At the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of Mallory’s Mystery Magazine. Who and how? She provides an impressive list of frienemies; all with good reason to want her dead. And it’s no surprise when she dies, but the fun here is in both the telling and the solution to the crime. Block’s tale is witty, light, and highly entertaining.

Cover image from Galactic Central.

This review continues on May 8 . . .

Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse

F&SF Feb. 1961 coverExcerpt from Joe Wehrle, Jr.’s review of the Hothouse series by Brian Aldiss, from The Digest Enthusiast book six:

“I have a most vivid recollection of receiving my February subscription copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction with Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse novelette. The Ed Emshwiller cover grabbed me at once with its near-abstract depiction of figures caught in a mad tangle of vegetative color. The story lived up to the illustration’s promise. And then some. And the series won a Hugo Award.”

“Hothouse begins by directly immersing us in a steaming forest habitat where humans of a greatly diminished size (one-fifth our height) struggle endlessly against semi-sentient vegetable life, and one side of Earth forever faces an aging Sun.”