Month: October 2022


UzumakiI read Uzumaki as my next October “Scary.” Uzumaki is a manga by Junji Ito (b. 1963) – I read the 3-in-1 hardback collection. I happily paid full price for it and took my time reading through it starting the day I bought it. It is a large book, well over 620 pages of artwork and story. I do own Junji Ito’s Remina, but I have not read it yet. Reading something classified as horror manga was a new one for me and, overall, I enjoyed the experience. I think horror does work as a genre for manga format. I think Junji Ito has a decent understanding of horror/horrific. So, I am glad I read Uzumaki since it is probably his most famous work.  In any case, now I have a referent for all of the spiral-talk regarding this work.

The gruesome parts are very gruesome. I mean, even in black & white drawing the images and the situations depicted are often just beyond sanity. Really. I mean, if any of this was even remotely real, I do not think there would be anyone writing/drawing/reading anymore. Its kind of precisely what horror is about – pushing boundaries and “confronting” (as per Alan Baxter).

The most gruesome part, in my opinion, is Chapter 11 “The Umbilical Cord.”  There is so much gruesome, gory, horrific, awful in this chapter – honestly, it was a little difficult to read through and I did skim a little bit, because yikes. I cannot honestly say those are images I want to “eye-digest.”

For the first bunch of chapters the book reads as collected, related, but independent stories.  Like any good episodic television.  I really liked how the book started with serene frames/pages of the narrator/main character Kirie. I really like Kirie as a character. She was loyal, brave, but had that deadpan honesty that was a bit strange, too. I think, maybe, we could have been given a few more scenes and storyline regarding her and her boyfriend. We are just told Shuichi is her friend and then a few frames later he is asking her to leave their town – the town they grew up in. It seems sudden and kind of extreme at that time.  It takes a few chapters and I think then for the rest of the book I was lamenting the fact that Shuichi and Kirie did not leave town that very frame. Just pop home to grab a backpack and then leave. I mean it – every dang page afterwards:  aw, why didn’t they follow Shuichi’s suggestion?!

There are some good spiral segments – The Firing Effect, The Black Lighthouse – that show how the “spiral” presents in a variety of ways. It is not all snails and whirlwinds.  When, finally, the episodes start to carry over into other chapters, let’s say, that is when the reader sees the full effect all of these variations of spirals have on the town.

Chapter 6 – Medusa is somewhat light-hearted in a ridiculous high-schooler sort of way. Its probably the most amusing/ridiculous of the chapters. Granted, I mean, calling anything in this work “light-hearted” is very relative and strained.  Medusa touches on storylines about those competitive high-school girls for whom popularity is everything. By the way, Shuichi is the hero!

The problem is, and I am sure Kirie would agree, no matter how super, really, massively bizarre an event is the townspeople seem to be on a totally wrong level of reaction.  Oh look – that old man turned into a long coiled spiral-y thing. Huh. Weird.  Instead of:  what kinda diabolical, twisted, alien, Lovecraft, madness is dis stuff?! While I would expect the townspeople to be running, not walking, to their nearest exit, life just kind of goes on.  The chapter that highlights this the most, for me, is Chapter 8 – The Snail.  So, high school students turn into snails. Really large snails. And I guess everyone just puts them in a cage outside like its a normal snail farm. No, they should not have classes or continue doing homework or slipping notes to each other in class. Are you kidding me? Where is the reaction that is appropriate to the fact that your classmates are now in a fenced in area out back with the mud? Yeah, but did you finish your math homework? C’mon!

So, it is my opinion, that this is the “out” that Junji Ito gives readers. He is allowing us to say its all a dream. Its all just a horrific stupid nightmare. We can say this because just like in the best dreams, everyone just is not reacting in the way we deep down know that they should.

Anyway, from Chapter 16 to the end, the storyline is all connected and it details the final story arc of the whole book.  There are some mighty gross parts here, please do not think that the gruesome level has let up at all. For example, when the “creatures” in the row houses tell Kirie and friends that there is no room inside, but could they please dispose of the dead creatures – yikes. All of the frames in this section are just… mind-hurtingly gruesome. But it is horrific, for sure. Even if some of the gruesome is hidden from view or just given brief glances.

The ending was nothing for me. I did not care for it – I am not even sure it suited all the stories and mania that came before that. Finally, yes, I was still sad for Kirie and Shuichi – they should have left town. It was a sad moment when Kirie found her parents. (Also, whatever happened with her brother? I mean, he went down that mountainside and then, I guess, he’s off doing spiral things?)

I do not know the Japanese word that was used, but there is a line in the story that the town is contaminated with spirals. I like that phrasing in English – contaminated with spirals. Its not the same as overrun or overwhelmed or controlled by or any other word. Its contaminated – and it fits the story perfectly.

This is good for horror fans who enjoy different, varied takes on the genre. Its got some gruesome gory scenes for those persons who like (??) to collect such imagery. I am very glad I read this – it is a different read, sometimes shockingly horrific. I like that it is also a slow burn. I miss Kirie already – 600+ pages and I was content to run around the town and find spirals with her. This is not a book for children or people who are squeamish or non-horror fans.

4 stars

Savage Island

Savage IslandIts October, time for horror novels. (Or, horror novels as “horror” as I can stand, let’s say.) However, sometimes there are just horrible novels. Savage Island by Brian Moreland was published in 2021 by the now defunct Silver Shamrock Publishing. I feel I ought to mention that the publisher did not cease because of Moreland’s book here. Anyway, I do own (unread) another novel by Moreland and published by Flame Tree Press: Tomb of the Gods (2020).  Savage Island is only 144 pages – I am not sure if that is a novelette/novella, etc. It is not a typical “full-length” novel.

It takes a bit more effort for me to decide to pick up a “horror genre” novel. The reason that I thought I might give this one by Moreland a try is because I am okay with the concept of survival on a wild, bizarre island.  The blurb on the back has this line: “On an isolated island in the Philippines, it patiently waits.  A mysterious terror lurks in the shadows, stalking the poor stranded souls who visit the island.”   In other words a mysterious terror in an isolated “exotic” location, which to me sounds a lot better than some religious-oriented horror in a dank old house with creepy dolls. (My concept of horror is astounding, I know!)

Boy, was I disappointed in this turd. I went and looked at reviews here and there online and it makes me wonder if something shady is going on with the ratings. I mean, this was a pretty big stinker. So, if an author has about 145 pages to work with – every page counts. But the first half of the book (through page 62) was really super awful and had very, very nothing to do with the “savage island.” To make matters worse, these 62 pages are filled with the most hideous tripe of tropes ever to be trapped on a page. I mean, just awful – truly nasty and stupid. If, and this is a huge question, the author was attempting to make the characters seem likeable or relatable, he absolutely fails completely.

Not to mention, sex and vulgarity and depravity. One character in particular is especially nasty – he has four ex-wives and a weird Oedipus complex. He also is all about rape or whatever. Its awful. You would think, though, that he is that one character. But in this little fiction with very few characters – no more than a dozen, for sure – he is not EVEN the worst criminal creep in the thing! The other nasti-character is discussed in past tense – he was a weirdo pedophile who abused one of the female characters and is, implicature here, the reason she is a wanton wild person with hideous taste in boyfriends. I throw my hands in the air with this crap – yes, its a horror novel, but not because of the sentient savage island.

No one wants to read this crap. Really. Its super trash. In for a penny, in for a pound – I read to the end. The tone of the novel kind of changes (though not completely) after chapter eleven. Still the horror of a remote mysterious island is absent. It falls completely flat and is dull and pointless. Any potential at all is wasted and lost. The rest of the book amounts to wasted paper.

I do not want to be terrified. I do, however, want to be engaged in and enthusiastic about what I am reading. I was hoping for a scary island. I got a stupid trope-y vulgarity with a few plants and vines thrown in at the end. Not recommended.

1 star


damnedIts October so I have decided to read “horror” novels. Well, it is not as simple as that, but that is close enough. I do not read a lot of horror, so I halfway dedicated October to reading horror genre items – or things that are close-enough to horror, I suppose. It is, again, an effort to clear books from shelves and to make myself read things other than I normally read. I wanted to start off the month kind of “light” (i.e. no absolutely terrorizing horrific fiction) and so I pulled Damned by Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) off of the shelf.  Damned was published in 2011 and is Palahniuk’s eleventh novel (I think, maybe twelfth). I think most people on the planet recognize him as the author of Fight Club (1996).

Damned is a strange read. According to Wikipedia, its structure is based upon Judy Blume’s novels for young women. I have no referent for Judy Blume other than you see books compared to her books once in awhile. So I will have to take Wikipedia’s word for these facts. I suspect it is because the main character/narrator of Damned is a 13 year old girl.

The best thing about the narrator is her deadpan (seriously, no pun intended) delivery of her story. I mean, even in the most heinous scenes, the most excitement the book can offer, she remains fairly deadpan, practical, and level-headed. I mean, as she relates the story of her (short) life on earth, she maintains a healthy honesty and skepticism that makes her seem a reliable narrator. The fact that she “wakes up” in a cell in hell and is able to quickly assess her situation and be mindful of keeping her attire clean is a remarkable achievement for a thirteen year old, I think.

I am unsure to whom she is narrating. The novel has little headings at the start of the chapter in which the girl addresses Satan – but yet, she has not met this creature so it seems like a placeholder. Many times during her narrative she directly addresses the reader – as the living, of course, and counsels or goads them regarding their continuing to live while she is, of course, deceased. Madison, which is her name, is not even sure how she came to be dead. Her memory of the event is rather unclear and when this is explained later, it is reasonable to see how she can be so confused. However, she very naturally assumes that there is a logic of some sort to all of this and that she ought to be glad she died wearing solid, relatively durable footwear.

For the most part it is a coming of age novel – a super strange fact considering, well, the main character is dead and the setting is hell. Through Madison’s retrospective narration, the reader joins the character as she considers her life, short as it was. So, we learn about her parents (extremely rich, popular individuals), and her schooling (a boarding school in Switzerland), and her opinions regarding clothing, friends, boyfriends, and religion. I think it is a key fact for prospective readers to know:  Madison is quite intelligent and she knows it, but she is really not at all an arrogant character. Somehow Palahniuk was able to pull off designing a character that is full of  wit and erudition, but who remains matter-of-fact and not annoyingly arrogant.   I am not sure many readers can necessarily “bond” with Madison or find similarities, but I think it should be fairly easy to sympathize for the girl.

Palahniuk is a sharp writer in that while he makes his character intelligent and witty, he also knows when to have her make small “errors” or slip-ups, as it were. As bizarre as it sounds, he makes a thirteen year old girl who exists in hell seem quite genuine and realistic.

For the first four chapters, I think Madison’s wit is very much on display and there are definitely some amusing phrases and statements. Also, here is where the setup is for the entire novel. It is in chapter six that the rest of the storyline changes – she is released from her cell. During the first four chapters I admit that I was a little worried that the novel was going to continue in that same fashion – moving from witty and interesting into the range of tedious and repetitive. There is a lot of repetition in this novel that, for the most part works itself out, but not all readers are patient.

Palahniuk’s hell in this novel is very gross. The geography of the place is very repugnant. There are lakes of not-great-things, rivers of not-pleasant-things, and mountains of wow-that-is-disgusting. But it is hell. Still, even knowing this is a fantastical-humorous coming-of-age novel, there are some horrific sights in hell that I think maybe would prevent me from wanting to read a true horror novel by Palahniuk. Because this is definitely horrific – by a number of definitions, surely… but maybe not exactly a horror novel. Depends on perspective. Madison will share her opinion on these matters – you know, getting a manicure with her mother or some of her birthday “parties” might compete with most folks’ concept of hell. I read this for October, but some might say it certainly is not a horror novel. Well, chapter ten has some obscene, graphic, truly outrageous moments in it. Scenes that I am really sure the majority of readers would cringe or pause or something at. (If you’ve read it, this is the Jonathan Swift allusion with the Psezpolnica creature. Yikes.)

Even if the Bible is correct, and it’s easier to push caramels through the eye of a needle than get to Heaven, well, Hell doesn’t totally suck. Sure, you’re menaced by demons and the landscape is rather appalling, but she’ll meet new people. I can tell from her 410 area code that she lives in Baltimore, so even if she dies and goes straight to Hell and gets immediately dismembered and gobbled by Psezpolniza or Yum Cimil, it won’t be a huge culture shock.  She might not even notice the difference. Not at first. – pg. 110, chapter 14

Throughout the book, Madison references things like Jane Austen, the movie The Breakfast Club, and a few other items that remind us that Madison is not actually an adult and her worldview remains that of a child. Its strange to say, but I have never been even vaguely interested in such a worldview, so I suspect Palahniuk is a good writer to present such a view so entertainingly.

Still somewhere beyond halfway in the novel, Madison’s narrative becomes more focused on her introspective – efforts to make sense of her life and her death. Her insights and remembrances are sometimes serious, sometimes confused.  While Palahniuk can be called transgressive and nihilistic, I did not get that feeling whatsoever from Damned. This is a book full of honesty and hope, especially the latter. Again, I recognize the weirdness of calling a novel narrated by a dead thirteen year old in hell hope-centric, but there it is.

Pity the poor demon with but its single strategy to win.  In the same handicapped way Jane Eyre must remain meek and stoic, this demonic Baal knows only one way to exist:  by being fearsome.  While I exist plastic to change and adapt, tailoring my battle plan to each new moment, Baal can never dissolve an enemy into helpless laughter, nor charm a foe by using extraordinary beauty.  Therefore, when we neglect to fear such a brittle monstrosity, we render it powerless. – pg. 203, chapter 30

This is probably my favorite line from the book. This is because it is also one of the few takeaways from the novel. My main issue with the book, though it has some repetition and some unnecessary obscenity, is that there is not really a takeaway – not for the reader and not for Madison. Nothing. The ending is abrupt and nearly stupid. There is nothing after all of these pages of ruminating and assessing and considering. No takeaway at all. Now, I am not looking for some grand moral of the story or some incredible epiphany, but any novel should have something more than the nothing the reader gets here. Even if it is a resounding nihilism being asserted. The book ends with a “to be continued…” and that is all. Imagine a sort of coming-of-age novel without any coming-of-age. Well, what can be expected in the permanent status of hell? Thirteen forever, I suppose.

The best part of the novel is the character’s voice. There is some wit, some creativity. However, after finishing this one I felt like it was a reasonably entertaining diversion, but pointless read. Nothing much to takeaway, a novelty. I am glad I read it – because it has sections of really skilled writing. The last third seemed to be rushed and random. I do not think Palahniuk knew what to do with this? Overall, its fine, but nothing to hand awards to.

2 stars

Dark Matter

Dark MatterIf you, as I did, decide to “pseudo-hurricane evac,” you cannot bring every book on your tbr-mountain. As distressing as this is, it is possible to just take one single book along with you. And mainly, this is for space constraints. To be honest, I did not evac for safety reasons, but for sanity reasons. So, I was not really worried about the destruction some locations had, but sitting around in power outages while 50-mph wind whips nature at you is not exactly relaxing. So, what book did I grab? Well, I grabbed Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Mainly because I figured it would last a day or two and I really had been meaning to knock it off of the tbr list for awhile.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (b. 1978) was first published in 2016. I am aware that it has been a popular read since then, but I have never gotten around to reading it. For the most part, the reviews and ratings that I have seen for this novel have been positive.

The novel is a very speedy read – its very obvious that the author is comfortable with screenplays. I think he writes line-by-line, especially dialogue. The author never really turns this into a novel. Maybe someday, if it has not already, it will be picked up by a film company and it will be easy to turn into a TV show/movie. I do not watch much TV and I never read screenplays, so this sort of writing did not grip me and pull me in.

Overall, though, this novel was disappointing. I enjoy science fiction and everyone who says that phrase also has a special little part of their heart reserved for parallel universes, time travel, quantum physics, and alternate realities. Even if they brush you off and deny this fact, ignore them – it is just that they are scared you know a secret.  Unfortunately, because this is a common fact among all science fiction fans, there are a great number of works that have attempted to, in some way, provide an exciting story within these themes. Another unfortunate fact is that these themes are particularly high-level science. Traditionally, it has been difficult to write very engaging/entertaining novels that are also filled with accurate and technically brilliant high-level “hard” science. I am not a quantum physicist, so I am not going to judge Crouch’s effort here from that angle. It seems to me that Crouch did not totally flub the science here. In fact, in several parts, he does a decent job of explaining to a reader what is going on, what is happening to the characters. Its not hard science that would block most readers who are not scientifically inclined, let us say.

However, the whole story is nearly like Quantum Leap (1989-1993).  Crouch, being born in 1978, should know about this show and maybe should have realized he was a little too close to it. The influence and proximity comes from the fugitive aspect of the storyline. Do not get me wrong, this is also where any action and excitement come from.  Yes, some of these segments are kind of thrilling and interesting.  Unfortunately, I remember watching Quantum Leap on TV back when it was originally on and I cannot say skipping through the realities is not fun – but its not super new for me.

Secondly, though this book really should be hard science fiction all the way, the book is mainly a love story. The love story (the main character is focused on his wife and teenage son), is his sole motivation for all that he endures. Like any good writer, Crouch knows that he needs to give his characters reasons. Jason Dessen’s “reason” is his family.  So when the main character has to find the motivation, he finds it in the “need” to return to and protect his family. Also, whenever the main character is feeling any sort of way, it is related to his relationship and emotions regarding his family.  This is a logical and reasonable motivation – but danged if this did not start to really annoy me. It definitely makes me sound like a cold-blooded, heartless reader, but I got pretty tired of hearing Jason go on and on about how his family makes him feel, etc.  In a sense, the storyline had me feeling some compassion and worry toward him. However the constant pounding on this theme made me actually start to dislike the characters and it turned my sympathy for him right around.

Choosing Well cover

my paperback 1982 edition

Further, the novel is actually not about the multiverse/parallel realities.  This novel is, at its very core, a question about ethics. Now, I am not an ethicist. I am, by training and trade, a metaphysician. Ostensive and defensive, if you please, along the Aristotelian lines. However, I know that most fiction writers are not very aware of what goes on in academia and think they have hit upon a new and unique vantage point or question or what have you. Rarely is this the case. Original thought and ideas are so incredibly rare…. ANYWAY, Crouch, whether he knew it or not, was literally writing very closely to the ideas put forth by Germain G. Grisez (1929 – 2018) and Russell B. Shaw in his Choosing Well (1982). Choosing Well is such an infamous book in my household because it routinely wins ugliest book ever. Its a decently academic read, short and very readable; printed by University of Notre Dame and organized logically. But it has the ugliest cover in the galaxy…. reminiscent of some 1960s self-help manual or something. There is actually a household rule that if you use/read this book you have to always have cover down (like on a table or whatever) so others don’t puke looking at it.  I suppose I could also mention John Finnis (b. 1940) here (not that I expect anyone to have followed this far down the rabbit trail of ethics texts, but I like being thorough).

Choosing Well backBecause at the end of the day, Crouch has his main character working on a problem – and it is not the problem of quantum physics or how to return to a specific universe. It is actually:  what is happiness? how does one have a happy life? of what does a happy life consist – and how do our choices determine this?

Sometimes it is really tough to be a philosopher, because you often get books spoiled because even if you want to read a new and exciting novel, the author hands you retread tires. It is difficult to keep any feeling of wonder or curiosity or excitement when its old news.

Dark Matter is a modernized Quantum Leap full of GGG-Shaw-Finnis ethics.  Now, I suppose, even such a work could be interesting because those items, on their own, are relatively interesting, of course. But – written in this screenplay manner with the limited number of characters, the endless droning about the main character’s wife, and the inevitable repetitive nature of the story – any wonder and thrill is quickly lost.

I tried to imagine this book being read by a reader who has no background in physics (or Quantum Leap) or academic ethics and maybe they would enjoy the very emotive, fast-paced plot. I am not sure. Sadly, I could not grant this thing more than two stars, though I honestly wanted it to be better. After all, it was the only book I had with me.

2 stars