A Darkling Sea

adarklingseaThis may be his first novel, but A DARKLING SEA has such confidence in the telling that most readers will assume James L. Cambias is a seasoned pro. The novel is smart, tense, often funny and written with a simple clarity that belies the big ideas and the tricky tonal juggling act the author manages without breaking a sweat.

A classic story of contact — and misunderstanding — between species, SEA depicts a human scientific base deep beneath the ocean planet of Ilmatar. Terrans are examining — at a carefully-monitored distance, avoiding any interaction — the biology and culture of the large, vaguely-crustacean creatures who farm the nutrient-rich rifts on the ocean floor.

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Phone Call from Hell and Other Tales of the Damned

phonecallhellI’m always up for a collection of short stories, and the new collection from Jonathan Woods, PHONE CALL FROM HELL AND OTHER TALES OF DAMNED, is not disappointing one iota. Take the title to heart, folks, because for the bulk of the contents, someone usually winds up dead or at least shot.

To kick things off, we are treated to a history of a gun from the weapon’s perspective, “The Handgun’s Tale.” The gun talks of his owners and their peculiarities. “Phone Call from Hell” deals with a man who helps out prisoners in a special way: leaving his phone on as he was being satisfied. The caller in question is none other then Charlie Manson. Woods also inserts real-life characters into “Writers Block,” where we find Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene on the hunt for spies and adventure in Havana.

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It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls / Raise Some Shell: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

itdoesntsuckBefore it went belly up, Soft Skull Press produced a series of small-size film books under the DEEP FOCUS banner. Each paperback found a different noteworthy author (i.e. Jonathan Lethem, Christopher Sorrentino) delivering an anything-goes essay on the movie at hand (i.e John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, Michael Winner’s DEATH WISH). It was a nifty idea, mostly brought to its full creative potential, but only lasted five titles.

Now, ECW Press embarked on a similar (and similar-sized) project, POP CLASSICS, but has expanded the scope beyond just cinema to encompass all of popular culture. First out of the gate are Adam Nayman’s IT DOESN’T SUCK: SHOWGIRLS and Richard Rosenbaum’s RAISE SOME SHELL: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.

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Wake of the Perdido Star

wakeperdidoIn 1805, a young American family is hounded out of Hamden, Connecticut, for a variety of reasons. The mother is of Cuban stock; their religion is Catholicism; and the father, while displaying the egalitarianism of the Founding Fathers, matches it with a rough temper and the inability to make peace.

His bristling at the elitism of the town’s elders breaks their hold on the community, and so they decide to make their way south to Habana. Father Ethan, mother Pilar and their son Jack wind their way to Salem and seek to board the Perdido Star to find their new home in Cuba.

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Watching You

watchingyouClinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin returns in WATCHING YOU, Michael Robotham’s ninth thriller. It adds new viewpoints to what seems at first like a standard stalker-themed story. While intriguing, the narrative comes close to losing itself in the midst of these new departures.

Marnie Logan’s husband mysteriously disappeared a little over a year ago, and she is finding it hard to hold herself and her family together. Without proof that her husband is dead, Marnie cannot access his funds, claim his life insurance, nor halt the automatic payment transactions he long ago instituted. So she takes desparate and dangerous steps to make sure she can pay the rent and feed her two needy children.

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Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films of Robert L. Lippert

talkscheapI’m guessing if film buffs know the name Robert L. Lippert, it’s through LOST CONTINENT and ROCKETSHIP X-M, the cheap science-fiction pictures of his that appeared on — and, thus, were skewered by — the TV series MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.

There’s more to the late producer than dreck, of course, which is why Mark Thomas McGee stands up to give the guy his due in a biography, TALK’S CHEAP, ACTION’S EXPENSIVE: THE FILMS OF ROBERT L. LIPPERT. As with McGee’s recent book on 1950 B-cinema, YOU WON’T BELIEVE YOUR EYES, it’s published by Bear Manor Media.

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> Victim or the Crime

amanlaydeadbullets broads blackmail and bombsDetectives of all sorts make up this column — two new to it, even though I reviewed a later book in one of the series. You’ll also note two familiar faces who have been missing from my reading too long. Kicking things off is the first entry from the prolific Ngaio Marsh and her creation of Inspector Alleyn.

A MAN LAY DEAD by Ngaio Marsh — Marsh was always one of those authors who, whenever I would go to used bookstores, had a row or stack of her books, all with some truly cool covers. I just never had a clue to where to start. Then, of course, it would slip my mind when I got home to look it up. Well, now all that’s changed.

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Dream of the Serpent

dreamserpentSome horror introduces a fantastic element into everyday life, producing shock and terror out of the intrusion. Some horror, however, simply peels back the skin to expose how close we are to terror at any given moment. Alan Ryker’s DREAM OF THE SERPENT ultimately introduces the possibility of supernatural shenanigans — an inscrutable force from beyond, a secret society behind the veneer of civilization — but its most visceral impact comes from the author’s initial compelling depiction of the consequences of an all-too-recognizable accident.

Cody is a driven business student on the cusp of major changes: He’s the first in his working-class family to be getting a degree; he’s a couple months from marrying his sweetheart; and that marriage opens the door to a big paycheck with the new in-laws’ high-stakes investment firm.

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Code Zero

codezeroFor all the thrills and inventiveness Jonathan Maberry brings to his Joe Ledger series, nothing compares to the unanticipated kick-in-the-head of PATIENT ZERO, the 2009 novel that introduced the character. No doubt that’s why CODE ZERO, this sixth title in the series, proclaims itself “The Sequel.”
 
But CODE ZERO is not a sequel in the strictest sense of the term. That is, it does not take place immediately or even shortly after that book’s events. The setting is the present day and many of the events of the previous novels are acknowledged. It’s the medically produced monsters from the first novel that reappear and are among the reasons why this latest is the strongest Ledger entry to date.

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Sleeping Bear / A Clockwork Army

sleepingbearSamhain Publishing has developed a nifty strategy for a small outfit: With a strong focus on developing or lesser-known writers, it produces short e-books that give authors a platform to build a fan base and give the audience an economical way to find (and support) new talent. Horror tapas, if you will.

I applaud the effort, and my reaction to two recent works is tempered by the stakes and objectives: It would be worth your time to track these down and sample, even if only to give the house room to keep playing with its experiment. And you are likely to find some degree of satisfaction, although — like any sampler plate — some tastes will be more to your liking than others.

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