Sunday, January 27, 2008


By F. Paul Wison
Tor Books
403 pages

One of my favorite horror movies of all times is Bela Lugosi’s DRACULA and it’s sequel, DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. While growing up I was always fascinated and scared silly by the idea of undead creatures ruling the night and drinking the blood of others. When Hammer Films came along in the 60s with Christopher Lee inheriting the role of the Transylvanian Count, there was a distinct erotic element added to the tradition which I didn’t mind as long as the vile nature of the monster remained. Oh, sure, he could gloss himself over to ensnare unsuspecting humans who were his prey, but in the end he was still that same disgusting, horrible creature with absolutely no mercy within his cold, dead heart.

Thus it is no surprise that I fell in love with Stephen King’s modern take on the entire vampire myth in his absolutely marvelous epic, SALEM’S LOT. That an entire small New England town, like the one I grew up in, could be taken over systematically by the undead totally awed and scared me at the same time. Then came Robert McCammon’s THEY THIRST and he took this same conceit up a notch when he had the vampires overwhelm Los Angeles and rule over it with their unquenchable blood lust.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I was not all that happy with the advent of Anne Rice and her sissified version of the undead. No offense, but these things she modeled after 19th Century Romance novels were not the cruel, decadent, rotting monsters I’d come to know and relish. It seemed for a while, thanks to the popularity of her work, that we would never see the true horror of vampires again. Was I ever wrong, and gratefully so.

MIDNIGHT MASS by F. Paul Wilson is a glorious, gory return to the nightmares of King and McMcCammon in a rather logic progression of their masterpieces. In this grim and dark thriller, the undead have not only captured mere villages or cities, but most of the known world. They have swept over and conquered all of Europe, Asia and England.

When the book opens they have crossed the Atlantic and begun their assault on America, quickly winning most of the East Coast to include their new headquarters, New York City. With this foothold established, it is only a matter of time, something they have an endless supply of, before they completely subjugate the entire continent.

Into this world devoid of any hope, Wilson introduces us to a determined Rabbi, a vigilante, bomb-making nun, a lesbian revolutionist and a gung ho Catholic priest named Joe Cahill. Together they form the nucleus of the first real opposition to this new Vampire Nation. Against all odds, with faith, courage and good healthy dose of righteous anger, these four set about reclaiming their desecrated church from the foul hands of the devil’s minions. From this one battle, which Father Cahill appropriately likens to the Alamo, these four dare all in hopes of igniting a spark among those humans still alive but afraid to stand up and fight. That they succeed and what happens next when the vampire overlords retaliate had me turning pages late into the night. MIDNIGHT MASS is an awesome experience and now takes its place on my library shelf beside SALEM’S LOT and THEY THIRST as one of the finest vampire thrillers ever written. Thanks, F. Paul Wilson for restoring my faith in monsters.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


By William C. Dietz
Ace Books
342 pages

Several pages into this sci-fi military adventure, I found myself comparing the plot two of my favorite war movies; The Bridge on the River Kwai, and the recently made, The Great Raid. Elements from both are borrowed in this tale of futuristic warfare, heroism and self-sacrifice. The book is part of a series labeled The Legion of the Damned, but none of the previous chapters are needed to appreciate and enjoy this one.

In this future, mankind is part of union known as the Confederacy of Sentient Beings and is at war with a bug-like race known as the Ramanthians. Good sci-fi military books require traditional set pieces to be effective, among these are large scale outer space battles. When All Seems Lost opens with a dandy. The Ramanthians have managed to deploy an ambush around a known hyper-space exit point and when Confederacy warships begin appearing, they brutally decimate them one after the other. Aboard the flagship of this doomed fleet is none other than the President of the Confederacy and as his ship comes under fire, it looks like he will either be killed or captured by bugs; the latter course much more damaging to the Confederacy. As a high level prisoner, the President could be used by the enemy to extort certain concessions from the administration, concessions that would prove extremely harmful to the war effort.

Then, at the last minute, a savvy diplomatic assistant suggest disguising the President’s identity from their captors. This would allow him to go undetected among the other POWs until a hopeful rescue mission could be launched. The President agrees to the subterfuge and orders the captain of the ship to surrender. Thus begins the ordeal of the Confederate survivors. They soon find themselves on a harsh, hot and humid jungle planet and put to work aiding the Ramanthians in building a space elevator. Which is where the similarities to the Bridge on the River Kwai come into play.

Back in the 1980s, comic book writer Chuck Dixon wrote a sci-fi war series for Marvel comics called, Alien Legion. The idea was to imagine an organization created on the model of the French Foreign Legion, which was made up of rogues and villains from all nationalities and became one of the most fearsome fighting forces the world has ever known. Dietz works that same idea in this series and the primary hero of this mission is Legionnaire Captain Antonio Santana, who is asked to lead a suicide rescue made up of inmates from a Confederate military prison. So you can say he even throws in a little bit of the Dirty Dozen for good measure.

To say this book has it all would be a gross understatement. Good and evil cyborg warriors, alien politics on a grand Machiavellian scale, and episodes of gut wrench bravery as the POWs fight with their hearts and minds to protect their leader and at the same time sabotage the enemy’s goals. The pacing is brisk and never lets up and the characters so wonderfully etched that I came to care for them and their fates. The battle sequences are powerful and effective and the book races its way to a completely satisfying climax. This was my first meeting with Dietz’s Legion of the Damned, but you’d better believe, it won’t be my last. Hooyah!!

Friday, January 18, 2008


By Chris Roberson
Pyr Books
393 pages

Hold on to your hats! When you open this book you are in for a rip-roaring, old fashion adventure in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burrough’s planet stories. Like John Carter of Mars, Soviet Cosmonaut, Akilina (Leena) Mikhailovna Chirikova finds herself deposited on the strange world of Paragaea after being sent through a worm hole. No sooner does she arrive then she is captured by mutated jaguar men and then just as quickly rescued by an Englishman named Heironymous Bonaventure of the Royal Navy. He served during the Napoleonic Wars and is also a refugee from Earth. He is accompanied by powerful black jaguar man named Balam, a deposed prince seeking to regain his crown.

Under Bonaventure’s guidance and tutelage, Leena reluctantly accepts her fate but is determined to find another inter-dimensional gateway that will take her back to her own world and time.

The three begin a danger filled journey across Paragaea where they encounter all kinds of creatures, travel in a magnificent aiship and ally themselves with an immortal android named Benu who may have the answers they seek. Their quest is a lively action filled romp that I enjoyed to the max and was sorry to reach the end all too quickly. It does end with several unresolved plots that I hope will be handled in forthcoming sequels. Heironymous, Leena and Balam are three of the best adventure heroes ever created and I’m so happy to have made their acquaintance. It’s an experience I’d like to repeat and soon. So will you.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


By Jeremy C. Shipp
Raw Dog Screaming Press
158 pages

Beware of books that make you think too much. The end result being a headache. VACATION by Jeremy Shipp supposedly has a plot but calling it that is like saying the trail through the woods behind your house is a really a super highway. The so called story here is really a gimmick to play with your mind. And that it does in every conceivable way possible.

When I came home from Vietnam in 1968 I was shoved into college by an adult friend who wanted me to get an education. The cultural shock of college life following immediately on the heels of Army life was mind-boggling to say the least and somehow I ended up a philosophy major. Ha. Until I got in my Volkswagon Beetle two years later, drove off campus and never looked back.

So what’s all this have to do with Shipp’s book. Nothing, except every now and then the mind can become constipated. Consider the million bits of data that bombard it daily and the task it has to filter through all of that to shape reality. When giving blood at local Red Cross Drives, I was made to believe that depleting the body’s blood by a pint was a positive thing as it forced it to make more, newer cells. Likewise books like VACATION are very much a strong enema that sweeps through the attic of one’s mind like a strong, fresh and clean wind. Bringing it with a much needed sweeping out of the old.

This is a book about ideas and it is not for everyone. Believe me, if you enjoy traditional stories that have a clear and lucid beginning, middle and end, avoid VACATION like the very plague. It truly is not for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy having your intellect stimulated, shaken up and toyed with in a deft, literate fashion (Shipp can write, make no mistake on that front), then I urge you to find this little gem and have at it. You may be just as confused when you’ve finished it as I was. But you also may be tickled pink with the mental adventure of it all.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


By David Morrell
CDS Books
356 pages

As a child, the street I lived on had an abandoned railroad spur that cut across the border of an old factory yard and came to an end next to deserted concrete block building. Now, as an old thinking back on its shape and design, I’d guess it had once functioned as some kind of transformer power station, controlling the various tracks. But by the time I was ten, it was nothing but an empty structure, its guts long ago ripped out leaving behind a bizarre concrete shell that was a irresistible magnate to every kind within a two block radius.

Situated at the bottom of a hillside depression, the raise railroad platform virtually hid the blockhouse from view to those people in the big factory or on the street passing by. Once I, and my brothers, and pals discovered it, we spent many summer hours in, around and stop that place. Sometimes I would have most of the gang meet me there after dinner, just as twilight was falling and we’d climb ten foot ladder, enter the dusty, junk cluttered interior, with its open portals, the glass having long been smashed and obliterated, and there, with a single flash-light in hand, I would sit and tell them ghost stories. That was almost fifty years ago and to this day, whenever I cross paths with one of the old gang still around, they will invariably mention our adventures in that old, abandoned power station.

I mention all this because I too was once a Creeper; the slang name given to today’s urban explorer. Urban explorers are people from all walks of life who are obsessed with investigating abandoned buildings, structures, tunnels and other architectural landmarks created by our fast moving societies. They imagine themselves time-travelers when exploring these long forgotten edifices. Today there are thousands of Creepers in all parts of the world and their adventures formed the idea behind this David Morrell thriller.

The grand Paragon Hotel, which for many years towered over the boardwalk of Ashbury Park, New Jersey, is scheduled to be demolished in two weeks. Having been bordered up over twenty years ago, the hotel, built in the shape of a pyramid, was the home of an eccentric, hermit millionaire. University Professor, Robert Conklin, has assembled a team of three former students and one tag-along reporter, to explore the darkened halls and rooms of this once luxurious resort and see what remains of its former glory. But once they managed to gain access to the building’s convoluted interior, they soon discover that there is a grotesque evil still residing amidst the silent corridors of the Paragon. It is a monstrous evil that does not welcome intruders and within only a few hours of their entry, Conklin and his team are in a frantic, desperate struggle for their very lives.

David Morrell is the finest thriller writer alive today and CREEPERS continues to support that claim. It is a flawless thriller that is so well written, the reader becomes mesmerized within the first few pages and then captured completely. Once you’ve reached the black heart of the Paragon Hotel, you’ll find yourself wanting to escape it as desperately Morrell’s characters and the climax can’t come fast enough. CREEPERS is a delicious experience and having enjoyed it, I doubt I will ever look at another abandoned building in quite the same way ever again.