Book review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

This is a classic that I should have read before now. It took me a while, both to actually start reading the book and to finish it once I had begun, and it was well worth it.

The book’s premise should be familiar to almost everyone. Count Dracula is a vampire. He terrorizes people. The people try to kill him. Van Helsing is involved. Vampires don’t like the light. Or garlic. Or crosses. They can’t get inside a home unless invited.

You get the picture.

I probably put off reading the book for so long because I’m irrationally wary of stilted, “old” language. The book didn’t deliver on that front, and was actually quite easy and enjoyable to read. One of my favorite passages:

The tomb in the daytime, and when wreathed with fresh flowers, had looked grim and gruesome enough, but now, some days afterwards, when the flowers hung lank and dead, their whites turning to rust and their greens to browns, when the spider and the beetle had resumed their accustomed dominance, when the time-discolored stone and dust-encrusted mortar and rusty, dank iron, and tarnished brass, and clouded silver-plating gave back the feeble glimmer of a candle, the effect was more miserable and sordid than could have been imagined. It conveyed irresistibly the idea that life, animal life, was not the only thing that could pass away.

I think the most enjoyment I found in the book came from all the wonderful vampire lore that ended up in more modern books. I love knowing that Stoker was breaking new ground with his ideas. And we’ve been using them ever since.

Dracula ranks 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy Dracula on Amazon if you want to support my reading habits.

Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’m going to tell you something important up front: I rated Ready Player One a measly 2 out of 5 stars. I normally don’t review books with such a low rating, but there’s a method to my madness. I think a lot of people should read and enjoy this book. I’m just not one of them.

Ready Player One is the debut novel from Ernest Cline, a fellow Austinite. The book is about Wade Watts, a teenager in the not-so-distant future year of 2044. Wade jacks into the OASIS, a virtual world where reality can be anything you want, on a daily basis. The OASIS is the brainchild of a man obsessed with 1980’s pop culture and video games, and he has hidden an “easter egg” inside the simulation. Whoever finds the egg will inherit the creator’s massive fortune. Wade is on a quest to find the egg, and the story unfolding on the pages of the book is his.

There are a couple of quotes that illustrate the story well:

OASIS — It’s the greatest videogame ever created and it only costs a quarter.

and

It was the dawn of a new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame.

I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first. The plot is not great. I’m not going to ruin it in case you want to read it – and I really think many people should. Suffice it to say that everything to do with plot and characters was shrouded in a certain clunkiness. It wasn’t terrible by any means. It was just bad enough that my mind kept pulling itself out of the story to think about how the book was failing.

Now to the good stuff. The strengths of the book are absolutely featured in the pop culture references. If you grew up in the 80s, love videogames or even just enjoy nostalgic descriptions you’re going to love this book. I enjoyed exactly two of the references: Blade Runner and Johnny Five from Short Circuit. Everything else was lost on me.

This is where I have to imagine the great divide between people who love the book and those who merely tolerate it is defined. If you “get” the majority of the references, you’ll like the book. If not, you’re out of luck. Apparently many people, including Steven Spielberg, like the references just fine. The movie is slated for sometime in the next couple of years, and I’ll likely go see it just because of Spielberg alone.

I hope all of you who fit into the “read it” category can identify yourselves and get the book. You can buy Ready Player One on Amazon if you want to take the plunge and find out for yourself.

Other books I read this week

I’m making my way through Dracula and am enjoying it so far.

Book review: American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis

I’m late to the American Psycho party. I’ve had intentions of reading it going back a decade (wow I feel old) but I just never got around to it. I started reading it on a plane to San Francisco and finished it that weekend.

Most people are probably familiar with the plot, either from the ridiculous amount of press it’s gotten over the years or from the film starring Christian Bale. If you’re one of the few that has no idea, it goes a little something like this:

Patrick Bateman (Pat Bateman when he’s introducing himself) is living the American Dream on Wall Street. He was born with money, and he makes more of it than he knows what to do with. He has a group of friends, colleagues, and lovers. Bateman is a serial killer. He knows every designer and piece of clothing on earth, and he’s happy to tell you everything you wanted to know about proper style. He dines at the finest restaurants and only snorts cocaine from the most exclusive nightclub bathrooms. Bateman is the 1980s, through and through.

In case you glossed over it in the previous paragraph, Bateman has a wicked side. Here’s a (very) tame example of what you’re in for when it comes to his madness:

I tried to make meat loaf out of the girl but it becomes too frustrating a task and instead I spend the afternoon smearing her meat all over the walls, chewing on strips of skin I ripped from her body.

As disturbing as that may seem to some, that is one of the tamest descriptions of Bateman’s violent habits. As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of horror fiction so I have plenty of experience with violent, scary and off putting stories. I still wasn’t prepared for the wanton violence on display throughout the book. It’s over the top and so, so masterfully told.

The book is a deep and cutting indictment of American culture. Bateman is the result of capitalism run wild, concerned with how much money his peers are making one second and treating women like goods to be enjoyed and discarded the next. I’ve never seen such a violent parody that’s still on point in its criticisms in my life. Bateman is the classic unreliable narrator, but you can’t help but wonder how in the hell he is getting away with everything without anyone treating him any differently.

The novel is incredibly graphic, so much so that it was dropped by the original publisher Simon & Schuster. Unsurprisingly it’s been banned and vilified in many areas of the world as well. Luckily, we don’t live in one of those areas and you can take my advice to read the book.

American Psycho rates an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars for me. You can buy American Psycho on Amazon if you’re interested. Thank you in advance if you purchase a book through one of the Amazon links on this site. It helps pay for my reading and movie watching habits.

Other books I read this week:

Book Review: Borderlands edited by Thomas F. Monteleone

Borderlands

According to my Goodreads account I’ve owned Borderlands since December 7, 2013. Somehow I just got around to reading it. I say “somehow” as if the hundreds of books I own but haven’t read are just going to sit up and turn the pages themselves.

I regret waiting this long to read this wonderful horror anthology. I revel in the enjoyment I still feel when I think about the collection, even a week later.

I was lucky enough to come across an entire set of the Borderlands series in a used book store. This book sets the tone as the first in a “horror anthology series not concerned with traditional elements of horror fiction.” Each story includes an introduction from Monteleone that’s just as much about the story as the authors themselves.

The collection is chock full of great writers, from Harlan Ellison to Poppy Z. Brite. My favorite out of the collection was Delia and the Dinner Party by John Shirley. It tells the story of a little girl, her parents and how the terrifying reality of life can be exposed during a dinner party.

I don’t think there was a terrible story in the anthology, which is unusual. One of my favorite lines from the book came out of Suicide Note by Lee Moler:

There may be a man over the age of thirty-five somewhere who isn’t aroused by a garter belt and stockings on a pair of high-flow legs, but don’t trust him because he’s a liar.

Another great quote came out of His Frozen Heart by Jack Hunter Davies Jr:

Old people stayed awake watching Johnny Carson because they were afraid they’d die in their sleep in the long hours before dawn.

The anthology certainly achieves its stated goal of bringing atypical horror to the forefront. I love typical horror, and I’m happy to report I also love the atypical side of things. I think, in the end, it all comes down to great writing and plot. Borderlands has both in spades.

Borderlands rates 5 out of 5 stars. If you can find a decent copy, you can buy Borderlands on Amazon. They are hard to find, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the book if you’re a fan of horror, and likely if you’re not. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits (yes, I always need more books), so thanks in advance if you decide to make the right choice and pick up Borderlands.

Other books I read this week:

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves

If you’re looking for something to read, love science fiction and have any interest in the end of the world then you need to pick up Seveneves immediately. I love this book, and Stephenson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This is my second dip into his work after I read Cryptonomicon last year.

I’m only going to tell you two things about the plot of this book. If you’re interested in either, or the interplay between the two, then you just need to get the book and enjoy it. The first is the very first line of the book:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

If you’re keeping track mark that down in the scorebook as one of the greatest first lines ever. Who wouldn’t want to keep reading the next 860 pages of this mammoth book? I definitely did. The only other plot point I’ll tell you about came in the title of the first chapter form part three of the book:

Five Thousand Years Later

So with a dozen words you know it’s going to be an apocalyptic epic. If you need more than that you’re going to have to go read another review to help you decide.

I gravitate towards Stephenson’s writing because he weaves incredibly detailed hard science into wonderfully constructed narrative arcs that keep me hooked the entire time. I don’t know about you, but I love reading about the minutia of orbital mechanics in the context of a great tale. This is Stephenson’s superpower when it comes to readers like me.

For those of you who are distracted or inept at recognizing gushing praise: Seveneves rates 5 out of 5 stars. You can buy Seveneves on Amazon if you’re interested in picking up this doorstop of a book and spending a few hours in complete bliss. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits, so thanks in advance if you decide to read Seveneves.

Other books I read this week:

  • Are you kidding? Did you not see the part about how this book is 860+ pages long? I’ll be back next week with more.

Book review: Cthulhu 2000 edited by Jim Turner

Editor’s note: This is the first post in Fiction Friday (which will also sometimes be Nonfiction Friday). Check out this post for more about my daily writing schedule.

Cthulhu 2000

Cthulhu 2000 is an anthology of “Lovecraftian” stories edited by Jim Turner. I snagged this book from Recycled Reads, which is one of my favorite used book stores in Austin. I generally have a problem with libraries (long story) so it’s refreshing to enjoy a library-ian (get it? Lovecraftian….) place for once.

The premise of the anthology, according to the editor’s foreword, is to gather together “great stories in some way inspired by Lovecraft.” For those of you who don’t read horror: Lovecraft is considered by many to be one of the most important authors of horror (and just plain weird) fiction in the 20th century.

I have a confession. I haven’t read much Lovecraft. I absolutely adore the horror genre, and I feel remiss in my duties as a horror fan for failing to read his work up to this point. After reading Cthulhu 2000 I will definitely be picking up more of his work in the future. If the captivating stories I read are inspired by Lovecraft I definitely need to partake straight from the source.

The anthology comprises 28 short stories, most of which are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed “The Barrens” by F. Paul Wilson and “24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” by Roger Zelazny, which happen to form the bookends of the collection as the first and last entries.

“The Barrens” is set in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and is written in a first-person narrative from the protagonist’s point of view. The evil lurking around the next copse of pines slowly reveals itself as the protagonist tells you about her unexpected adventures with an old flame from a previous life. The horror revealed at the culmination of the story touches you even deeper as a result of the masterful build-up from Wilson.

“24 Views” tells the story of a widow on an excursion to Mt. Fuji in Japan. The plot is wonderfully woven, so I won’t give too much away here. Suffice it to say that Zelazny definitely deserved the 1986 Hugo Award he won for the work in my opinion.

Cthulhu 2000 rates 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy Cthulhu 2000 on Amazon if you’re interested in reading the anthology. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits, so thanks in advance if you decide to read Cthulhu 2000.

Other books I read this week: