PAX AMERICANA | A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

by Kurt Baumeister

A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

Any fan of weird, parallel-world fiction and political intrigue needs to read this book right now. What a goddamn roller coaster ride.

Baumeister’s debut novel begins smack dab in the gooey center of a world dominated by US right-wing politics, which is itself stapled to the bleached-white bones of a good ol’ fashioned evangelical infrastructure. For those falling in lockstep, life is good in America. Some might say it’s even great. Regardless, special agents still have to be special agents, even when they’re required to rescue a bleeding-heart wetware engineer who may have just created the AI alternative to God.

PAX is rife with saccharinistic pseudo patriotism, delivered through the shiny, gritted teeth of one of America’s most dyed-in-the-wool secret agents, Tuck Squires. Tuck and his less-than-sinless associate Ken Clarion endeavor to track down the whereabouts of Dr. Diana Scorsi, the developer of the savioresque Symmetra, even as a looming war with Iran threatens to yank back the curtain on everything.

Baumeister is a master of the English language, comedic timing and wit. Fans of crispy sarcasm and snark will not be disappointed, as won’t connoisseurs of the weird. I don’t think the weird aspect of this novel is being talked about nearly enough. It’s truly transcendent. I’ll even go as far as to compare it to the likes of the great Kris Saknussemm. Yeah, I said that.

With impeccable pacing, bone-whittling wit, flash and glamour, intrigue, and just overall balls-out style, PAX AMERICANA ranks high on one of my favorite dystopian+alternate-universe+weird+political reads.

THE INVISIBLE | A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

by Seb Doubinsky

A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

Fans of the French poet and writer Sebastien Doubinsky will not be disappointed by his return to New Babylon city. This fast-paced and intriguing dystopian noir novel is the next installment in the city-states series. It follows a familiar and reluctant hero, one Georg Ratner, now city commissioner, who becomes entangled in a murderous plot to sway the next presidential election. To complicate matters, the drug Synth makes another appearance, leading Ratner down a rabbit hole that draws him one step closer to discovering its true source. This time, however, he has some help from a secret society known as the Egregorians .

Doubinsky’s city-states series is ominous and dreary, as any good dystopian noir story should be. This installment builds on the mystique, adding an additional layer of smoky allure. Trust me, you’ll need a cigarette and a stiff whisky by the end.

Impeccably packaged by Meerkat Press, each section of the book is prefaced with beautifully rendered tarot card woodcuts. This thoughtful addition enhances the dark seasoning of the novel, amplifying its otherworldly influence.

What I found especially appealing was the use of the dramatic theme of what exactly the invisible is. Without giving anything away, pay attention. There’s more than one definition, each carrying an equal amount of worth and weight.

In the typical cut-up style Doubinsky has become known for, each scene is short and precise, like stabs from a knife. They puncture and poison, allowing you to rapidly digest the narrative while filling your veins with the stuff your brain requires to be treated to a trip into the weird and mind-bending worlds Doubinsky is so powerfully capable of producing. A very satisfying read with an ending that leaves you salivating for more.

If this book is not on your to-read list, put it there. And maybe bump it up a few notches.

THE INVISIBLE will be available May 19th of 2020 from Meerkat Press

INTO BONES LIKE OIL | A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

by Kaaron Warren

A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

There’s a reason Kaaron Warren won the Shirley Jackson award. And several others.

INTO BONES LIKE OIL is a chilling tale of guilt and regret, salted by the true horror of the sea. You feel dirty reading this novelette, and you should.

Warren has a way of knocking you down a few pegs, stripping you bare. She wastes no time, tossing you straight into a weather-beaten, ramshackle boarding house where the ghosts of both the dead and the living dwell. These are the broken people. The pariahs. The sinful and unforgiven. And together they’ve built a home.

The story follows Dora, a woman tainted by a foul memory she cannot escape, bent and broken under the weight of guilt. How she came to be at The Angelsea is not important. The old house has become a place where the dead speak through stormy dreams. And Dora desperately needs answers.

“You can’t do damage, when you’re asleep,” Roy, the proprietor says. “You can’t think about your own guilt.”

I really enjoyed the way the name of each chapter ticks off the days. Reminds me of The Shining. Each one is brief. Brought to a sharp point that digs deeper with every turn of a page. The tension builds slowly but steadily, like a clock wound too tightly.

This is my first book by Karron Warren. I look forward to consuming everything else she’s written.


“Needles” | A short story review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster


“Needles” by Joshua Viola and Dean Wyant

A short story review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

This twisted little anthology from Hex Publishing is a real keeper, a genuinely well-produced and edited little tome of horror shorts. Lots of good reads in here. Today, I’m going to be focusing on one little ditty called “Needles”. 

This short piece of fiction is from horror authors Joshua Viola and Dean Wyant, and it does not disappoint. Needles tells the story of a drug addict and her symbiotic relationship with the needles she uses to inject her poison. It’s a pretty straightforward read, but sometimes this is the only way to go. 

Modern horror fiction can get pretty dicey, often pushing the envelope in extremes. This can feel like pandering. Needles has none of this. 

Viola and Wyant employ a utilitarian approach to this short, choosing instead to state things plainly. The story is horrible enough, terrifying to encounter. Why mess it up with too much gore? At least this is what I suspect the authors must have been thinking when they penned this little piece. 

I have to say, I’m a BIG fan of the old Creepshow films from Stephen King and George Romero, and this certainly feels like something that would fit right in. In a way, this little piece carries a strong sense of nostalgia while also managing to be quite modern in its presentation. At times, it gets downright… creepy! 

There’s a whole lot more to this anthology that I’ll have to dig into, and I can’t wait! 


SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY | A book review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

by Gary Shteyngart

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

By reading this review you are denying its existence and complying consent

The third novel from Russian-American satirist Gary Shteyngart is a refreshing dystopian, absurdist, slipstream, near-future political romp that stands up exceptionally well to the times. Given our current political situation, this book just might be what America needs to be reading right now.

Told through the detailed and quite expressive diary entries of one Lenny Abramov (a hilariously neurotic and naive life extension salesman living in New York), and the electronic messages of Eunice Park (his would-be Korean-American girlfriend more than a decade younger), the book fluctuates between these two very different POVs, serving up two halves of an unbalanced and possibly doomed whole. This is the love story. But the illusory and elusive promise of everlasting bliss often blinds us from the harsh realities of the world.

For me to fall in love with Eunice Park just as the world fell apart would be a tragedy beyond the Greeks.

As far as our dear narrator is concerned, truer words might never have been spoken.

Shteyngart’s satirical wizardry propels this novel along at a breakneck pace while simultaneously offering plenty of opportunities for reflection. Think the world is fucked up now? Just give this little book a read.

Where to start…

A good drop-in point might be the fact that China is about to call in all its loans to a consumerist United States now so far up its own ass that every citizen might need a window installed in their stomach just to see where they are going. Not that that would help. Everyone with a pulse has their nose buried in their apparats (the future’s even more annoying equivalent to a smart phone), even as the grip of a totalitarian police state keeps tightening, even as a war with Venezuela keeps pressing uncomfortably close to home, throwing a (possibly much-needed) wrench into the whole vapid mess.

At its true center, this book explores the widening divide between the haves and the half-nots, fueled by an out-of-control generational chasm distancing the newer, younger world obsessed with image and technology, constantly rating themselves and each other, and the geriatric regime spinning its wheels to keep up.

What was especially appealing for me is the way Shteyngart brilliantly sets you up. At times, the narrative seems obvious, drawing you toward conclusions that are inevitably shattered. What were you expecting? Once you begin to feel comfortable with this strange new world, everything takes a sudden and unexpected turn.

If you’re looking for a flashy, depressing futuristic read you might want to pass. This really is a love story, not just between two oddly paired individuals, but between mankind’s obsession with defeating the ultimate bummer, death itself.

Eternal life is the only life that matters, All else is just a moth circling a light.


HOUSE OF WINDOWS | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster


by John Langan

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

I’m a sucker for a good haunted house story.


Here’s the thing: if you’re looking for a quick, jump-scare read then you can pass on this one. The language in this book is slow and syrupy, like sipping an artisanal whiskey cocktail before a lazily rolling Victorian fireplace, Labrador on the rug, snow falling gently outside the windowpane and everything. This is a book best enjoyed in sessions, which is exactly how I digested it.

The writing has a pleasingly potent literary style. It is intentionally measured but not slow. Langan quite effectively takes on the voice of widow Veronica Croydon, whose marriage to a lauded professor forty years her senior was in itself something of a scandal. When her husband goes missing following the death of his son, Veronica is immediately suspected.

We learn all of this in a most unique way. Veronica bumps into another English professor at a dinner party who also happens to be a horror novelist. Unable to evade a discussion, he becomes the unexpected co-narrator of a ghost story told by a haunted widow through the filter of an unassuming yet transfixed author. And so the tale begins.

HOUSE OF WINDOWS drips with drama and intrigue, both of which build so exquisitely slowly it is at times almost unbearable. But that’s what a good writer does: leaves you wanting more. It becomes clear very early on that we’re not going to get spooked just yet, because Langan is the variety of writer who believes in the haunted landscape of the human spirit, centering it front-stage for us to examine in minute detail, before delivering the goods. This, in my humble opinion, is what makes all the subsequent scares so goddamn satisfying!

To read this book is to understand the ghosts that can haunt not only one relationship but several generations. It is a study of the degeneration of family, of things best unstated, of the ineptitude of the human mind to truly comprehend the damage one human being can do to another until it is far too late.

You’ll get your scares. Just be prepared to sit down by the fire and hear the whole story first.


THE WEIGHT OF MEMORIES | A short story review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

“The Weight of Memories”
by Cixin Liu

A review by weird speculative fiction writer Ted Fauster

This is a piece of short speculative fiction by Liu Cixin, whose name is also shown in publications as Cixin Liu. The original piece was written in Chinese and translated into English by Ken Liu.

The Weight of Memories begins as a conversation between a mother and her unborn child. What it evolves into becomes something so much more potent.

Liu provides a soft backdrop against which he paints a very clear picture that is both bold and brilliant. What begins as something sacred and dreamy, almost magical, slowly transforms into an unspeakable act so shocking it’s nearly impossible to imagine.

What I felt was shame, near the end. The shame of pretending to know the outcome of such a fantastical experiment. And I believe that’s Liu’s point. In our endless quest for knowledge and new achievements, are we losing bits and pieces of our humanity along the way? When does a human being stop being human? More importantly, will we ever be able to predict the outcomes of our endless thirst to improve?

The Weight of Memories is a brilliant and tragic piece of short speculative fiction that will open your eyes and make you question even the best of intentions. A shocking glimpse into the future.

ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

by D. Foy

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

It’s the summer of 1973. No cellphones. No Internet. No worries.

And no clothes…

ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN follows the slow but steady cosmic awakening of Rachel, a mousy, middle-aged schoolteacher who, years after the numbing death of her husband, has allowed herself to be drawn into the parasitic orbit of obnoxious hedonist, Jack, a disgustingly charming character written so perfectly by Foy I could not divorce myself from the thought of Jeff Bridges carrying its weight. A bit of a stick in the mud, Rachel agrees to attend Camp Freedom Lake, a nudist colony in Northern California with Jack, and his ecdysiast “cousin” Jenny.

For me, Sharon Tate took on the persona of this demure woman turned radiant folk hero. Understandably apprehensive but emboldened, Rachel begins her journey by dying her hair a magnificent shade of gold. Little does she know, her entire world is about to be transformed.

This book shines, capturing the Magnavox gleam of the early ’70s in all its daft and sometimes dippy grandeur. Up at camp, a quirky cast of comedic perfection appears from out of the woodwork, plying for the attention of the radiant new goddess that is Rachel. Still uncomfortable in this new role, but willing to try it on, Rachel finds herself growing and transforming into an entirely different creature, while coming to grips with some stark realities hidden beneath the crusted veneer of her previous life.

It becomes clear, early on, that Rachel herself feels invisible, pushed along by tidal forces beyond her control and slowly drifting out to sea. All she wants is to be wanted. And, for once in her life, to be truly seen:

[…This went on, like some diabolical Mobius strip, until one Oakland night–one very hollow West Oakland night, I might add–a man in a bar walked right through me, the way ghosts are said to walk through walls. Finally, I understood….]

ABSOLUTELY GOLDEN is a Shakespearean odyssey, gifted with a bounteous amount of Dickensian dialogue and inner monologue that drips like honey:

[…”There was once a man,” he said, “whose love went unrequited for years. He’d tried everything to win his beloved, from serenading her in the moony light to sending her gifts of silver and gold and other shiny things….”]

It also has its fair share of pulp ’70s denim chic:

[…”And that’s cool, too, man, he’s pretty funky for an old jive-ass cat like that you know, duck, I mean, what with his going around without any pants and that….”]

This book is heavily dosed with all sorts of off-the-wall good humor, as well. And it would be a crime to take it too seriously. But maybe, like, that’s whole point, man!

For what’s its worth, this is one righteous read, and I am down, Charlie Brown. And I do mean, I can really dig it.

BEYOND THE GREAT, BLOODY, BRUISED, SILENT VEIL OF THIS WORLD | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

by Jordan Krall

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

This was my first Jordan Krall, and it definitely will not be my last. More of an epic cosmic poem than a novella, this short read very quickly grabs your attention in the most improbable way–in the form of a swelling, disjointed narrative.

Told not only through an unreliable narrator, but almost entirely void of any guideposts whatsoever, the reader is cast into the emptiness of space (somewhere between Mars and Earth) and fed bits and pieces of a sprawling saga told via numerous viewpoints by characters who are all very likely suffering from what is revealed to be Barrington’s Syndrome (go ahead and google it; there’s nothing out there), an affliction similar to Asperger’s that is affiliated with interstellar travel .

The short version: If Syd Barrett and Stanislaw Lem were stirred together in a Petri dish, the result would be this novel.

There’s much more at work here than can be adequately vocalized, including the channeling of Vonnegut and Burroughs. It stands to reason I simply have to read this book again. And again. I very enthusiastically plan to.

The narrative is so overwhelmingly powerful and addictive. I literally absorbed the entire story in less than two hours. Upon finishing, I felt the same sensation I did after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. In a weird way, I also felt like I had somehow just sold my soul to the devil.

[…We are losing our sight, anyway. We are losing nearly everything. Generation after generation, the information becomes watered down and distorted and then watered down again and again and again until nothing remains but a ghost behind a veil….]

Krall bends time and reality. His wordcraft is nothing short of stellar, and his timing is impeccable. This is a writer who wields words and cadence like weaponry, punching you in the face along the way, grabbing hold of you like an angry vagrant with a wild but very important, pretzeled story to tell.

The tumbling narrative pulls you relentlessly forward in a truly splendorous almost gravitational way that compounds and confounds the further it is allowed to go, which is to the very end.

It’s a short read. One I promise you will not soon forget.