Read-Alikes: Carnivorous Lunar Activities

We got a new batch of read-alike bookmarks at work and they were obviously made by someone who doesn’t read much. We’re talking “If you like BRAD THOR then try OTHER DAD-THRILLER” level of recommendations. Could I recommend you a book that you’d find on the best-seller list? Sure, but… you can just look at the best-seller list if you want to read that. There are plenty of books in the library without nationwide marketing campaigns — what’s the point of a librarian if they can only rec the same books you’d see commercials for on daytime TV?

 

I’ve always liked the idea of werewolves, but they get stuck with the worst media. There are maybe three good werewolf movies, the World of Darkness Werewolf RPG had clunky rules and even weirder players than Vampire, and I don’t think there were any decent novels about them. But there have been a few titles that broke the curse over the last couple years.

The most recent surprisingly good werewolf novel is Carnivorous Lunar Activities, by Max Booth III. Most of the book is a conversation between two former high school buds over the course of an evening, and Booth wrings an impressive amount of tension out of two down-on-their-luck guys and a dingy basement. His characters and dialogue have enough pathos and humor to easily carry the story until things come to a head in act three.

The book is a frickin’ romp, and you probably tore through it faster than a lycanthrope through an unsuspecting police deputy. What particular element of Carnivorous Lunar Activities has left you hungry for more?

Give me another character who’s in waaay over their head when dealing with the supernatural. Red Sky Blues, by Matthew Davis. 
Red Sky Blues follows Thomas Gray, an errand-boy to otherworldly beings who winds up foiling world-ending plots nobody else can be bothered to piece together, and it doesn’t help that magic is severely physically exhausting for mortals. Both novels feature protagonists who are dedicated, though a bit burned-out and mouthier than a professional would be, but they’re still gonna get the job done. Or get some other folks killed trying.

I just like a flawed protagonist being bad at things, supernaturality be damned. Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, by Wayne Gladstone. 
Gladstone is just your average Very Online guy trying to navigate meatspace and figure out why the entire Internet just stopped working. Nothing paranormal, the people trying to form little in-person Something Awful communes completely obey the laws of physics. While it’s riddled with humorous observation and caricatures, it’s as much a study of the quasi-Nice-Guy narrator as it is the Internet at large. Gladstone ain’t a bad guy, but he isn’t any better of a detective than Ted is a hunter, so pratfalls abound!

If werewolves can have a decent turn in fiction, what’s next? A zombie novel that isn’t tedious? The Last Weekend, Nick Mamatas
There’s more to werewolves than platitudes about ‘the beast within,’ and there’s more to zombies than the warmed-over fantasies of guys who are really into EDC. The Last Weekend follows an alcoholic writer who won’t let the fact that society is crumbling around him stop him from making excuses to not write his great American novel — It’s tough to sit down and write when you spent a day working for what’s left of the city drilling holes into corpses’ heads. If you dug the unique self-deprecating human spin that Booth put on the werewolf formula, Mamatas’ literary-zombie-satire will probably start gnawing at your cranium just as easily.

BONUS FORMAL DIGRESSION: The poem “Unlimited Teenage Werewolves” by Zachary Evans in Pulpmouth Issue 1.

Six More Weeks of Halloween, plz

I had to work on Halloween and the morning after, so I feel kind of robbed and we don’t have any more costume-mandatory days until Mardi Gras season starts. Join me in keeping the spirit alive by reading horror novels and novellas straight through to Epiphany and ignoring all those other costumeless holidays standing in the way. Here are some of the best horror books I’ve read this past year if you need to know where to start. They weren’t all published in 2018, but they’re at least close enough for government work.

Ecstatic Inferno, by Autumn Christian
It feels like comparing writers to Philip K Dick is becoming kind of meaningless due to overuse, but I genuinely can’t come up with a better comparison for a short story collection that features God’s body washing up in a trash bag on the beach. There’s a story with a needle-toothed incubus where THAT ISN’T EVEN THE MOST UNSETTLING PART OF THE STORY. Most of the stories have a dreamlike lack of structure without feeling disorganized, with vivid surreal imagery and the sort of language use that you can’t quite explain why it works but fuck if you won’t be turning certain phrases over in your head for days afterward.

iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy, by Olivia Hill
iHunt features several vampires and a werewolf, but the economy manages to be the bloodthirsty creature in the book and it doesn’t even have to exaggerate anything. The cast of characters are well-drawn and relatable to any millennial, and the quippy comedic action should satisfy any Buffy fan while presenting none of the weird Nice Guy hangups that series had.


Come Back to the Swamp, by Laura Morrison
It’s difficult to balance dramatic weight with quippy characters, but Laura Morrison always manages to do so without either feeling out of place. In addition to being both fun and ominous at points, Come Back to the Swamp makes great use of the novella format by leaving the nature of the swamp a mystery. Sure there’s probably interesting detail to what the swamp is up to and how it’s really operating, but that’s not strictly necessary for Bernice’s story and the decisions she has to make. The narrative is delivered with such an engaging voice that you won’t even have time to miss the exposition.

All Hail the House Gods, by Andrew J Stone
This novella has an amount of narrative tension that might seem a little unwarranted going in to a book about sentient houses, and I can’t quite quantify WHY it actually works, but it seriously does. It builds a great atmosphere of desperate pathos and near-hopelessness for the little human colony, the houses and the mystery surrounding them are genuinely foreboding, and it feels like it’s a metaphor for so much that’s been wrong with society but it never reads as moralizing or didactic.

Polymer, by Caleb Wilson
Take one of those hour long “Glitchwave/Retrocore MEGAMIX” videos from Youtube, pour it into a form fitting yet breathable jumpsuit, and make it the protagonist in a side-scrolling beat ’em up arcade game. There’s some clever and really well-executed literary trickery going on in this book: the first-person-collective narration, playing with ideas of spectacle and celebrity culture, the gleeful magic-techno-horror aesthetic mashup of the castle. But don’t let all the postmodern stuff throw you off, watching a rockstar monster hunter fight his way through a multidimensional deathtrap with a synth-powered sword is awesome enough on a surface level.

Read-Alikes: Scruffians

One of the most sheerly fun things I’ve read in recent years has been Hal Duncan’s series of Scruffian stories, which are a unique variation on stray child fantasies like the Lost Boys or the Borribles. They incorporate clever twists to history and mythology, a cheeky-but-probably-reliable-enough narrative voice, and a rambunctious spirit that’s as punk and D.I.Y. as any fold-over ‘zine you’ve ever rattled off on your day job’s Xerox machine.

The Scruffian stories come in the form of a Lethe Press collection (above) and a handful of chapbooks available in print, epub, and e-audio formats through the author’s Bandcamp page. There’s a new one coming out in a couple weeks, so if you’re a fan you might need some recommendations to tide you over. Or, if you like the books I’m reccing but haven’t read any Scruffians yet, that means now is a great time to get in to it!
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Read-Alikes: Leech Girl Lives

One of my favorite books from last year was Leech Girl Lives, by Rick Claypool.  It’s a wonderfully satirical and decidedly leftist novel about a safety inspector in the far-future who gets exiled from her bubble-city after being framed in a plot to create an unsafe environment. While in the wilderness, two symbiotic leeches devour her arms and latch on to her shoulders, and things only get stranger from that point. There’s a LOT going on with this book, the ideas it tangles up, and the surreal world it presents. Which means there’s a lot of possible angles from which it looks a little like other books.

So you enjoyed this bizarre romp of a book and are still hungry for more. If…

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