Spooklights #15 with Betty Rocksteady

Like jagged teeth

Horror and bizarro author Betty Rocksteady joins us this episode to talk about her work and her upcoming novel.

Listen here.

All episodes are also available on iTunes and YouTube.

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This is what it means to make it: A review of Rainbows Suck by Madeleine Swan

27255603Rainbows Suck by Madeleine Swan
Published by Eraserhead Press

Bizarro is a genre that allows for my favorite kind of social commentary: on-the-nose. Rainbows Suck by Madeleine Swan represents the strength of the genre: it manages to be funny and thought-provoking in a well, isn’t it obvious what it’s all about kind of way, and in so doing, delivers the sharpest kind of critique of social media, celebrity, and western civilization’s obsession with both.

It’s about a lot of other things, too, including the meaning of art, the self-destructive nature of its pursuit, the line between commercialism and integrity, cultural colonialism, rape, regret, mental health issues, sexuality, and the intersection of too many other serious issues to count. But it works precisely because of the freedom that bizarro fiction offers us: absurdity, literalism, break-neck humor, kaleidoscopic imagery.

If you’re into bizarro, this one is a no-brainer. It’s short, evocative, and doesn’t take itself too seriously about anything. If you need convincing, here’s the gist: our entertainment world (and, it’s implied, more than that, or, more than that because of entertainment’s power over our lives and culture) has been taken over by alien rainbows, who take lonely wannabes and American Idolize them to the nth degree: turning the attention-hungry and the desperate into living works of Art, some grotesque and some beautiful, with most somewhere in-between.

Our protagonist finds herself homeless and without hope, so she takes on indentured servitude as Art in a lesser rainbow entertainment house, where she is forced to act up for attention from the public, lest the button on her lower back cause her pain.

What follows is a drug-fueled love story, and a meditation on the confluence of media/public perception, reality, and internal self-worth. That sounds heady—and it is—but because of Swan’s stream-of-consciousness style and willingness to delve into the gonzo-absurd, such heavy topics are rendered in tasty, bite-sized morsels of gushing rainbow and glitter.

Behold the Vermin, Mine Own Heart: a review of Danger Slater’s I WILL ROT WITHOUT YOU

I Will Rot Without You by Danger Slater
Published by Fungasm Press/Eraserhead Press
Available February 8, 2016

Danger Slater wants to make you uncomfortable. And he’s damn good at it. I Will Rot Without You is not some metaphorical title. It very much describes what’s happening to its anxiety-ridden, sickly narrator. The rot in question is threefold: one, The City in which the story takes place is under threat from an apocalyptic storm. Two, the narrator’s crumbling apartment building is being overrun by a sentient hive-mind of malicious cockroaches and overgrown fungus. And three, the narrator has some sort of illness that starts in his hand and works its way up and out, until he’s literally falling apart.

The rot is also emotional, of course. Our narrator is a hot mess. Bills he can’t hope to pay are pouring out of his mailbox. His ex-girlfriend wants nothing to do with him. He’s a coward, penniless, and everything is collapsing around him. This book is profoundly humorous, horrifying, sad, and gross in equal measure. Not since Nick Cutter’s The Deep have I found a book so focused on body horror.

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This is the gross-out for the gross-out’s sake, so if bizarro body horror isn’t your cup of entrails, pass this one by. While I am not usually a fan of this type of writing, Slater’s sense of humor and on-the-nose characterization of both the narrator and his degenerate neighbors won me over. This is a book very much about slacker/urban anxiety. It’s all of your worst anxieties, fears, self-doubts, and sense of being overwhelmed externalized.

It’s also very, very funny. I found myself shaking my head or speaking out in protest at the gluttony of horrors described on each page. The plot is an upward curve of exponential degradation, heartbreak, and fungoid slime—but the story is fast-paced, the writing so vivid, and the humor so poignant and cutting that it never overstays its welcome. By the time the climax hits, you’ll be ready to watch it all drown. Cathartic, ridiculous, and emotionally satisfying, I Will Rot Without You is a funhouse ride through one man’s insecurities and broken heart.

Recommended for fans of bizarro, body horror, and for anybody who’s ever felt like they might fall apart. Literally.

I was provided an advance review copy, and the book will not be available until February 8th. Please check the author’s blog for information on when the book is available for purchase.

Phantom (Limb) Busters – A review of Scott Cole’s SuperGhost

SuperGhost by Scott Cole
Published by Eraserhead Press
Review by Billy Lyons

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Never has such a statement been as true as it is in Scott Cole’s quirky, humorous, and very fun novel, SuperGhost.

Darren Legend, like many amputees, has suffered from phantom limb pain ever since the day he lost his right arm in a tragic accident. The itching and tingling sensations he feels where his arm was once located is an almost constant source of pain and annoyance. His good friend Trina suggests that an amputee support group might help him find a solution to his pain. Darren is doubtful, but agrees to give it a try.

One night, as Darren and Trina are making their way to one of the meetings, they are approached by Doctor Griffin Rains. Dr. Rains claims that he has invented a cure for the phantom limb syndrome and offers to rid Darren of his pain once and for all. Darren accepts Rains’ business card, but only out of politeness. Both Darren and Trina find the good doctor to be more than a little bit odd.

Nevertheless, Dr. Rains shows up at Darren’s apartment a couple of days later and renders him unconscious before Darren can do anything to stop him. Once Darren is knocked out, Rains hooks what is left of Darren’s right arm to a contraption of his own creation that he calls the Phantom Zapper. When Darren comes to, the doctor is gone, and so is his phantom limb.

At first, Darren is pleased to be rid of the pain, but it isn’t long before he begins to experience another sort of discomfort in the form of a vague depression and anxiety. So, with Trina’s help, he tracks down another victim of Dr. Raines’ Phantom Zapper, a former Olympic athlete named Melissa. Melissa is experiencing the same negative side effects from Rains’ treatment as Darren, so she joins Darren and Trina in an investigation of the doctor. They soon discover that Rains has created a massive, extremely destructive spectre from the phantom limbs he has stolen from them and many other amputees. It also becomes clear that Rains intends to use his creation to exact bloody revenge on those he feels has wronged him, along with anyone else that happens to get in his way. Together, the three friends must race to stop the mad doctor before he can release his SuperGhost onto an unsuspecting world.

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One of SuperGhosts main strengths is its wry humor, which is ample throughout. The well-written badinage between the main characters provides some very welcome comic relief as the story grows tense and moves into its many scary moments. Combining chills and laughs is often attempted in speculative fiction, but unfortunately, it fails much more often than it succeeds. The humor in SuperGhost is a rare, but very welcome, exception to the rule.

Another strength to be found in SuperGhost is its rich, well-developed characterizations. I sympathized with Darren, Trina, and Melissa very early in the story, so I genuinely cared about how things would turn out for them in the end. At the same time, the story’s villain, Dr. Rains, was delightfully evil and easy for me to hate.

SuperGhost is a fun novel that combines a very original premise with well-developed characters and a fast-moving plot. I read it straight through in one sitting, which is something I almost never do unless the book hooks me from the beginning and doesn’t let go. As a debut novelist, Scott Cole shows a great deal of promise, and I look forward to reading more from him in the future.