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.


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.

THE GREEN KANGAROOS | A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

by Jessica McHugh

A book review by weird speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

What if junkies really are speaking to ghosts?

What if being an addict isn’t nearly as horrible as we often make it out to be? What if true happiness is something that can’t ever be forced upon a person?

In McHugh’s twisted speculative fiction tale of addiction and loss, the drug-addled Perry Samson lives and breathes for atlys, a drug so rich in its addictive properties it is served up laced into the very flesh of its donors at the Kum Den Smokehouse, an old whorehouse turned five-star restaurant in the futuristic Patterson Park of Baltimore. With an older brother already dead from drug use, atlys has destroyed not only Samson’s life but the lives of all remaining family members.

But… has it?

There’s a surprising amount of heart in this novel that really begins to radiate toward the end. The pacing is masterful, with an at-first jolting but expediently tuned shift not only in perspective but point of view that works to drag you deep into depravity, kicking and screaming, straight down the hell chute into Perry’s repulsive world. It’s necessary. This works perfectly to cement the mind of the reader in a location where it truly needs to be to digest what is about to come.

Ribbons of Burroughs and Dick are blended into the base flavor of this novel, with no punches pulled. Those faint of heart or weak in the gut may want to give this one a pass. You won’t find any apologies here. Even hardcore aficionados of weird speculative fiction will find themselves tenting their eyebrows from time to time. Perry’s world is a very dark and dangerous place. But it’s nothing compared to the dysfunction within his family.

Therein lies the dark heart of this tale, deeply woven within the woolen fabric of addiction. Whose fault is it? And to what lengths should we go to “help cure” someone clearly not interested in being rescued?

I became immersed in the language, reveled in being led down dark alleyways and through one destitute setting after another, peeling back the scabs. This is especially powerful when told via the vantage point of Perry.

[…God, the state of him. His body is skeletal, full of scarred divots, but his face is the worst. His chin is less prominent, and his cheeks are completely gone. Without fat in his face, it’s no more than sallow bone. I consider the possibility that he’s dead. After all, it wouldn’t be my first corpse conversation of the day….]

But it’s the heartfelt moments that ground you in the harsh reality of our hero’s predicament, that really make you question what you’ve been told and taught, the narrative forced down all our throats.

[…The good things before my addiction have either been erased by drug use or were never there in the first place. There were no family trips, no school functions she chaperoned. She made no costumes and baked no cookies. She never helped me learn my lines for school plays….]

In particular, Perry’s sister (Nadine), who is still friends with his ex, seems to have the deepest hold.

[…”I don’t want to see you anymore, Perry. Neither do Mom, Dad or Serena. We’re ready to write you off as another loss….]

Such is the coarse psychology of this book. Viewed from both sides, the path to a “cure” becomes a rapidly forking network of heavily weighted decisions.

The most refreshing aspect to THE GREEN KANGAROOS (I won’t give away the meaning) is the way McHugh unapologetically turns the table on who’s to blame. Is it the addict causing all the suffering in the world? Or should the ones who supposedly love them shoulder more of the responsibility?

Hell, is anyone to blame?

This book will keep you turning the pages. It’s also full of fiendish twists, and plenty of appropriately developed sci-fi and tech to get your weird glands salivating. Looking forward to the sequel.

AMERICAN MONSTER | A book review by weird fantasy & speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

by J.S. Breukelaar

A review by weird fantasy & speculative fiction author Ted Fauster

In Breukelaar’s first novel, those who “fall” are transformed into sentient planets known as brain worlds. AMERICAN MONSTER follows the disjointed (sometimes comical, often grotesque) efforts of one such celestial consciousness (KALI I8) as it struggles to free itself from its eternal prison by willing into existence as a kind of hunter/breeder known as Norma.

In effect, Norma is a demon. Although she doesn’t quite grasp this. She exists in a near-future devastated southern California region known as The Spill. Lots of otherworldly elements are folded (not blended) with very subtle hints of demonic possession and a kind of Matrix/Blade Runner universe gone rotten, resulting in a ripe, gooey slime that is so fun to squish between your fingers. This book hits the ground running and never stops.

From the very beginning, it’s made very clear what Norma is after. A horn. Driven on by the insatiable desire programmed into her celestial code by Mommy (Norma’s only connection to what she is, where she came from and why she exists), her only purpose is to combine with The Guy, which will somehow set off some sort of divine code that will free Kali I8. Mommy communicates with Norma via broken bits of discarded tech, berating, punishing and encouraging her along the way. Mommy is inescapable and always watching.

What Breukelaar has done is broken the mold of the traditional “man on a mission” novel. If this dark angel had been the one with the horn, I’m not sure the story would have been as satisfying. In fact, it might have been downright horrible to behold. To experience this techno tale of a fallen something-or-other, whose only purpose is to fornicate her way into oblivion, is incredibly refreshing. Norma is big, powerful and perfectly capable of bashing her way toward the end goal. This isn’t to say she is without fault, or that her crooked quest is simply a hack-and-slash walk in the park. Norma gets her ass handed to her. Several times.

In a way, Norma commits a cardinal sin. It’s not the sex, the killing, the stealing, the murderous rampages. Norma’s sin is something even more devastating, and it is one Mommy finds very hard to overlook.

For me, the most beautiful aspect of this story is how Norma consistently picks herself up and keeps going. She’s doomed to deal with her curse. But it is her eventual discovery of the ability to love that truly sets this book apart. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me, but women just seem to have a much better understanding of love and loss.

The language flows, while still retaining a satisfying visceral grit:

…He misfired his second round partly into pappy’s ass, so that the old man had begun to buckle, screaming, by the time she stove in the boy’s throat with her gel-armor elbow, rammed her fist into his face….

…The sun had gotten too big for Mommy, gave it a swollen head, or was it the other way around? Who had killed who? What had killed the First Beings?

I absolutely adored the thin veil drawn between the fierce aroma of the real world, the true America, and the ethereal transcendence of the astral spirit plane. I share a similar respect for the elegance deeply coded within not only the constructs of the universe but the way life perceives life, and in doing so imagines itself, warts and all, sinners and saints.

AMERICAN MONSTER is a masterfully coded techno/terror tale of cosmic horror and familial dysfunction.

Incidentally, Kali is the Hindu “mortal demon” and the source of all evil.