Carrie – Stephen King

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The first novel by the master of the macabre himself. We’ve all heard the story of how Carrie almost never saw the light of day until his wife pulled it out of the trash and told her husband that it was good and that he should finish it. Low and behold, a star is born. Carrie is told through a somewhat different kind of format that has been used with varying degrees of success by other authors. King actually lets us know what happens in the end long before the last few pages through “interviews” and “testimonials published from the Carrie White hearing papers”. Many times this format of storytelling can be chunky and plodding, slowing the story down. This isn’t the case in Carrie.

Carrrie White is the awkward odd ball character that all of us knew back in high school. Although Carrie takes place long before I was in high school, some things never change. No matter what generation, there is always a hidden rule that many high schoolers follow and that is “Eat or Be Eaten”. You either follow what the group you hang out with does or they’ll turn on you. This is what happens one day while Carrie White is taking a shower in gym class. Due to her crazy mother’s strict religious raising, Carrie is caught unaware when her first period starts while in the middle of the shower. Not knowing what is happening to her, she begins to freak out. Thats when the other girls, led by the classic bitch of all bitches, Chris Hargensen, begin teasing and taunting her in a most vicious way. To say this comes back to bite the girls is an understatement. Another girl that was involved, Sue Snell, feels guilty about the way she blindly followed her group in their prank and decides that the way she can make ammends and feel better about herself is to get her wildly popular boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom. When Chris gets suspended over the little incident, she begins plotting her revenge on Carrie. The problem is Carrie isn’t like that awkward lump of flesh we all knew in high school. Carrie has an ace up her sleeve that has been held dormant for many years and now that she’s entered womanhood, it won’t stay dormant any longer.

Carrie has many great things going for it and you can’t ask for a much better freshman effort. King’s description of the over the top prank in the shower scene will evoke memories of being bullied in high school by virtually all the readers. Religion gone wrong in her mother will also leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth. With so many school shootings in the past handful of years, the ending scene makes you cringe. Even though Carrie doesn’t have an AK-47, it still leaves you feeling hollow watching innocent high schoolers bite the dust for being at the wrong place and the wrong time.

King rides many emotions that drag you kicking and screaming back to your high school days and makes you ask yourself “what if?” and thats where Carrie shines. You’ll also see a pattern King uses in his later writings where he compares reading someone’s mind to taking books off the shelves of a large library and reading them.

4 out of 5 stars
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Scream Angel – Douglas Smith

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My introduction to Douglas Smith has been a very rewarding one. I stumbled upon his work in a compilation called Best New Werewolf Tales. The story was Out of the Light and it was excellent. This caused me to dig deeper. Who was this mysterious author that I hadn’t heard of before, did he write anything else, and was it as good as Out of the Light? Well I now have two of those three questions answered. I can’t say that I know him, but I did find more of his stories on Amazon and after reading Scream Angel, I can tell you that answer is yes for the final question. While Scream Angel isn’t horror, Douglas Smith writes some incredible horror stories. So, I’m blurring the lines here because many of my favorite horror authors also delve into Sci-fi/fantasy. Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dan Simmons, and William Meikle immediately come to mind. Also, the world needs great story tellers and I feel that Smith deserves to be recognized as such.

Scream Angel is a sci-fi/fantasy tale of a human soldier named Jason Trelayne that is given a drug called Scream. Scream causes your nervous system to process pain and sadness into euphoria. The worse the pain, the more euphoria you feel. The governent uses this to create super soldiers to do their dirty work while smiling and laughing the whole time. Scream also creates heavy drug addiction and eventually burns the soldiers out. Jason falls in love with one of the creatures that actually produces Scream and makes a run for it. Oh but the evil empire doesn’t like dissenters and doesn’t tolerate stealing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

In a wildly inventive and imagnative story, human emotions of loss, desparation, and love bubble to the surface. I’m usually not a huge fan of heavy sci-fi/fantasy. Most of the time, it requires such a bloated set up to be able to explain everything, I tend to tire of it because many authors have a hard time getting the balance right. Some will fail to explain things sufficiently which causes the reader to get lost in a world that only makes sense to the author. Others will inflate the story to the point where reading it becomes tedious and tiresome wallowing through all the untrimmed fat. I can honestly say that Smith does an excellent job in balancing the story and makes for an extremely enjoyable read. I loved the unique characters and premise of the drug, Scream. The other thing that I found enjoyable is the brief explanation at the end of the story on how he came up with the idea of Scream Angel. It lent a personal touch to the whole thing and allowed the reader to have a glimpse into the creation of it all. I may not know the author, but i’m enjoying getting to know his work.

5 out of 5 stars
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Out of the Light – Douglas Smith

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It’s Friday the 13th and I discovered a new author today through his fantastic short story, Out of the Light. Douglas Smith’s gem was buried in a compilation called Best New Werewolf Tales, Volume One. You can also download it on it’s own through Amazon. Either way, it’s worth way more than they charge.

Jan was a hunter of shapeshifters from the old country. After a terrible mistake killed the woman he loved, Jan decides to move to Toronto and get away from the beasts that destroyed his life. You see, the big city is full of bustling people and bright lights. The complete opposite of their dark rural habitat that they thrive in. Less people and lights equals less chance of getting caught. All seems safe until a series of murders in the city ring familiar to the past that Jan tried so hard to run away from. Apparently, all things evolve.

Such a wonderful and fresh take on the whole werewolf/shapeshifter legend. The storytelling is crisp with vibrant colorful characters that easily appear in your mind. Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith. We’ll be seeing each other again…soon.

5 out of 5 stars
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Mr. Hands – Gary A. Braunbeck

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Reading Mr. Hands reminds me of the title of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. This book has all three and it reads pretty much in that order. Lets start with the good. This is my first read of Braunbeck’s material. Haing lived in central Ohio for fifteen years of my life and also hearing good reviews of his work, I was excited to dive into Mr. Hands. It starts off well enough. A strange man sitting at the end of the bar has a story to tell to the bartender, the sherriff, and a reverend. OK. It kind of reminds me of Straub’s Ghost Story meets the Twilight Zone. You’ve got my interest, Braunbeck. Where do we go from here? Well, from there, he unwinds a story about Ronald James Williamson. a young boy who may be a little slow but has the unique gift of being able to predict a child’s future on whether it will be filled with happiness or misery. Based on what he detects, ala shades of The Dead Zone, determines what course of action Ronnie takes. Happiness equals smiling and moving on. But if Ronnie detects a future fulfilled with misery and abuse for the child, he becomes judge, jury and executioner. Nobody expects the slow kid, right?
Braunbeck’s writing style is fast paced and enjoyable. I’m buying into all of it up to this point. Then, at somewere around the 2/3 mark, he shifts gears and does a hard turn. He introduces us to Mr. Hands, brings back a character from the beginning of the book, and gives us a scene almost directly out of the movie Pumpkinhead. My suspension of disbelief was thrown into a headlock and beat up pretty good. I tried to get back on track to a story I was enjoying and wanted to enjoy again. I was hoping that this sudden shift would make sense and tie it all together in an A HA moment. No dice. This was the bad. Now for the ugly.
For the last 1/3 of the book, Braunbeck tells a tale of revenge that becomes more and more unbelievable with every turn of the page. He introduces us to characters and kills them off not pages later, but paragraphs later. Every character introduced is paper thin. There is no development to either like or dispise them before they are offed. Add that to the fact that the story is getting more and more hokey as we race to the finish line. At this point, I’m only turning pages out of obligation to see if there’s a rhyme or reason to this mess, not because I’m enjoying it anymore. No such luck. The character of the six-year old boy is so unbelievable that I’m scoffing at every page. I have a son around his age and there is no way him or any of his peers would say or do 90% of what Braunbeck’s character is doing in this one. That, my friends, is the ugly.
Its been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in a book and my disappointment isn’t because its a bad story. I’ve read plenty of stories that were worse than this one that I’ve rated higher and it’s because they were consistently weak all the way through. This one seemed like it was going somewhere and then it completely derailed and crashed down a mountain ravine. At one point, I thought Braunbeck suffered a stroke while he was writing this and the last 1/3 was post stroke. Sigh. So disappointed. I will read another Braunbeck in the future. I haven’t sworn him off. I really want to read something of his that is at the level that I think he’s capable of. I’m rooting for Mr. Hands to be an anomoly and not the rule.

2 stars out of 5

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