Cauldron Gristle

I’ve had this one for a while. Blackmore sent it to me in appreciation for my reviews of his first four Mountain Man books – and maybe for buying them all except the first one.

Actually, I read this right before The Majestic 311, but I thought it was no longer available for sale, so I wasn’t going to review it. However, I found out you can still buy it on Amazon.

Low Res Scan: Cauldron Gristle, Keith C. Blackmore, 2011.

Cover by Neil Jackson

Before he achieved indie author fame (and eventually getting a movie deal) for the Gus Berry aka Mountain Man saga, Blackmore was a writer of short horror fiction, and this anthology collects four of his early works.

The whole Mountain Man saga started in with the short story “The Hospital” which I’ve already reviewed.

Eat” is an interesting horror story about the world of championship eating. Our hero is Ricky “the Juggernaut” Mobera, and his agent brings him news of a way to make a name for himself among his fellow “gurgitators” and maybe earn $50,000. The mysterious Mr. McIntosh is putting on a major competition in front of a live audience with a tv broadcast later. It may even be a chance for Ricky to meet Amy, another competitor he’s sweet on. But, when he arrives for the match, Ricky finds there have been some rule changes.

The ending of this one was memorable and caught me by surprise. I don’t know too many stories on the horrors of eating too much. As an aside, no, the competitors aren’t all obese freaks which conforms to the one competitive eater, an amateur one, who was a slender-framed lawyer.

Expansion” shows a Blackmore’s early interest in apocalyptic stories. It starts with a university professor in Nova Scotia having his history lesson interrupted by a power outage. But things get much weirder after that. A giant wave starts sweeping over land and something huge emerges from the ground. The professor and students head for the hills. Is it an alien invasion? The revenge of nature? This story, however, is ruined by a joke ending which not only isn’t that funny but also is a joke used in one of science fiction’s most famous novels.

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“The Black Statue”

Review: “The Black Statue”, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, 1937.

This week’s bit of weird fiction being talked about at LibraryThing is unusually rational because it’s a piece of weird science fiction. It’s also very concerned with money which is also unusual.

And it’s another weird fiction story delving into the psychology of one of the occupations most featured in weird stories. Two of them are scientists and scholars.

Our narrator is in the third group. She’s an artist, specifically a sculptor.

The story is narrated by her though she never gives us her name. [Update: In a very bad bit of inattention, I thought the narrator was a woman. It is, in fact, a man — hence Kennicott later calling him “old man”.]

The story is told as a letter sent to the directors of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

And, right from the third paragraph, we get a sense of where this story is going:

In these days I have thought often of suicide as a way out – a coward’s way, leaving me the fame I do not deserve. But since receiving your cablegram, lauding me for what I am not and never could be, I am determined to write this letter for the world to read. It will explain everything. And having written it, I shall then atone for my sin in (to you, perhaps) a horribly ironic manner but (to me) one that is most fitting.

Her account begins in the hallway of the “filthy hovel” where she lives, a rented room in the house of Mrs. Bates’ rooming house. It’s a place for those like her who are “too proud to go on relief” even though it’s the middle of the Great Depression.

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The Majestic 311

For the last two or three years, I’ve hankered for weird westerns at the turn of the year. Don’t know why.

So, after finishing Make Me King and also wanting to read more Blackmore, I bought this book.

Review: The Majestic 311, Keith C. Blackmore, 2019. 

Cover by Karri Klawiter

As the subtitle says, this is a “very weird western”. 

It opens with a classic western motif: a train robbery.

Leland Baxter’s and his six men are sketched quickly with Blackmore’s typically skillful dialogue.

Baxter is a natural leader of men, opposed to unnecessary violence, and willing to let his men complain – even if he doesn’t do anything about their complaints. Former circus strongman “Shorty” Charlie Williams is his taciturn and loyal henchman. Another of his friends is James “Jimmy” Norquay, former buffalo hunter, who met Baxter in a residential school for Indians Norquay being a Metis. Mackenzie Cass is a cattle rustler possessed of surprising bits of learning. Gilbert Butler is a gunrunner from America. His partner is the volatile, profane, and frequently insolent Eli Gallant. The last is our protagonist, orphan Nathan Rhodes, who once sought a career as a lawman before killing a boy who resisted arrest.

It’s a cold, wintery night in the Canadian Rockies. There’s a train from Canada bound for western Canada with the payroll of a mining company. And, since it has to slow to start climbing the Spirals, a winding tunnel going through the Rockies, it’s the perfect place to hop on it.

That’s the plan. But when Nathan and Baxter find a literally skeletal engineer in the cab – who opens the throttle up before leaping over the side, and the rest of the gang find way too many cars and no passengers, things get strange.

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Of All Possible Worlds; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

The posts on William Tenn continue while I work on new posts.

Science Fiction Ruminations gives the parallax on this.

Cover by Bob Blanchard

Raw Feed (1998): Of All Possible Worlds, William Tenn, 1955.

Introduction: On the Fiction in Science Fiction” is William Tenn’s defense of science fiction. First, he argues that, contrary to critics, sf is about people as individuals or representatives of a “collective community”.  Second, popular art, which sf is, is helpful in attaining aspirations of artistic immortality. He argues that “a scientific error or two” would not mar classic sf. He explicitly mentions Robert A. Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon, Frederik Pohl’s and Cyril Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants, Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee, and Isaac Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky as classics.  Responding to the old charge of sf as escapism, Tenn notes that new literary genres, be they novels or Elizabethan plays are always denounced as dangerous by an intellectual elite invested in the old forms. Tenn doubts that people read any fiction to learn more about their “unfulfilled” lives or gain a moral perspective. He thinks that people read fiction for escape, believable escape. Responding to the old and still present charge that sf has produced no Shakespeare, Cervantes, or Fielding, Tenn notes that Elizabethan dramatists produced nothing equivalent to Aeschylus either though it was the standard they were aiming for.  Good popular art has a certain primitive vitality and vulgarity, Tenn argues, which causes it to endure longer than boring art polished to the point of perfection.

Down Among the Dead Men” — This story, like Alfred Bester’s “Disappearing Act” published a year earlier in 1953, is a satire about the Cold War. Essentially both stories depict a society totally mobilized for war – and the qualities of those societies being destroyed in the act of defending them. I use to regard these stories as somewhat liberal whining about fighting the Cold War, but, in learning more about the total mobilization of America in WWII (which, of course, Tenn and Bester would have known first hand) and the encroachments of the government on liberty during that war and since, I appreciate these stories now. Here a decades long war with the alien Eoti has radically changed Earth’s society. Not only are millions dead and all of Earth mobilized, but, in a satirical point derived from the recycling drives of WWII, human soldiers, dead soldiers, are revived as ever increasingly sophisticated “soldier surrogates” or, in popular parlance, zombies. Sexual mores have changed drastically since Earth’s women need to pump out as many babies as possible. The narrator, his reproductive organs wounded – and the wound one of the few that are irreparable, is excluded from these couplings. I’m unsure whether to be glad, at the end, the protagonist as found a purpose and family (albeit a surrogate one) or horrified that familial and human sensibilities have been so distorted or wonder that humans are so adaptable.

Continue reading “Of All Possible Worlds; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

Of Men and Monsters; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Over at Science Fiction Ruminations, Joachim Boaz mentioned William Tenn.

I like Tenn but see I’ve never posted about any of his titles. So, since I’m still catching on reviewing my reading of the past few months, I thought I’d give you this. The parallax is, of course, provided by Boaz.

Raw Feed (1998): Of Men and Monsters, William Tenn, 1968.

Cover by Boris Vallejo

I enjoyed this famous Tenn novel about men living in the walls of the “Monster” alien race that conquered Earth. (I have not read Tenn’s “The Men in the Walls” which the novel expanded.)

Tenn’s story is humorous and almost savage in parts. 

The title comes from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, but the inspiration and structure of the novel seems to come from the Brobdingnag section of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

The plot starts as a variation on that favored by many stories and films featuring primitive or post-holocaust primitives:  a young man finds himself on the wrong side of tribal politics and questioning a religious taboo

Here the heresy is man’s Ancestor-Science is not as efficacious in battling the Monsters as advertised. After all, as the uncle who initiates hero Eric the Only into the heresy points out, it didn’t do humanity much good in resisting the Monsters. 

But Alien-Science turns out to be, in part, a scheme by Eric’s uncle to become Chief, a scheme that leads to a brutally suppressed uprising. 

Eric takes up with the more advanced “back burrowers” only to find their technology and knowledge of Monsters impressive but their military skills lacking. Eventually, he meets, marries, and mates with a woman of the Aaron People (after a funny scene where he tries to act dignified while assessing his mate’s physical wiles). 

In a way, this is one of those conceptual breakthrough stories. Eric learns that the tribal society he was born in was based partly on fraud: rigged visions used in naming initiate warriors and “enemy” chiefs who will band together to quell heretic Alien Sciencers. 

Continue reading “Of Men and Monsters; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

“The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”

This week’s piece of weird fiction is a vigorous story from Robert E. Howard and illustrate’s Howard’s belief that barbaric virtues are better than civilized ones.

Review: “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”, Robert E. Howard, 1931.

Cover by Stephen Fabian

Our protagonist is Turlogh Dubh, “once a chief of Clan na O’Brien”.

This being Howard, the action starts right away.

Turlogh was on a French ship blown off course and taken by Vikings. The last thing he remembers seeing was a familiar face and then loses consciousness after an axe blow. He wakes up to find himself lashed to the mast of a Viking ship, the sole survivor of the battle with the Vikings.

The Viking ship isn’t doing too well either. It’s riding heavy in the water.

And then we meet our other hero, Athelstane, a Saxon outlaw who has thrown his lot in with the Vikings.

The two have a complicated history. The two have battled each other before, but Turlogh saved the wounded Athelstane from the Picts.

Athelstane returned the favor and asked the Vikings to spare Turlogh. He even unties Turlogh’s hands so he can eat.

In the night, the ship founders on the reefs of an unknown island. Athelstane cuts Turlogh loose, and Turlogh pulls the Saxon out of the water before his armor can pull him down.

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Make Me King

This is going to be it for right now for my reviews of the Mountain Man series.

Blackmore did put out another book in the series after I read this one. I hope to get to it soon.

Cover by James T. Egan

Review: Make Me King, Keith C. Blackmore, 2019.

It’s been a few years since the zombie plague changed the world, but the zombies themselves have become little more than forces of nature. Oh, you can find pockets of them like the zombie heads kept alive for torture unsuspecting travelers that we saw in Well Fed. Or, for that matter, the swarm of them that emerged from the government bunker under Whitecap when Shovel’s gang freed them in the same novel. Mostly, though, they’ve ground their legs to stumps and finally even they died.

And, if the world is going to be rebuilt, people have to be gathered. Maybe not in the brutal way that Shovel did before his brother, the Mountain Man, Gus, took him out with a giant dump truck.

This novel takes place a few months after Well Fed, and the surviving characters of the previous books have settled on Big Tancook Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Collie Jones, the JF2 soldier from that novel, proposes a mission to gather people up or, at least, open trade with them.

First, though, she wants to take a party back to Whitecap and retrieve the weapons that Shovel’s gang didn’t get to. Best not to let them fall into the wrong hands.

So, she takes off with a small party that includes Gus who she has grown close to her after the death of her husband Wallace. They’re even more battered now after their encounter with Shovel.

Gus and Collie aren’t the only ones looking for people.

Another group of survivors, settled around an old camping resort, is on a quest to reclaim one of their own, Carson, an auto mechanic and electrician too cantankerous to know what’s good for him.

And it’s here that Blackmore wrings some very dark elaborations on the previous novels in the series.

That ancient institution of slavery has returned as those other searchers find out when captured by Jolly Jake’s gang. Its chief enforcer is O’Leary, a mad dog, shotgun-toting plastic surgeon. Or, at least, so he says. Jake’s willing to humor this former used bookstore clerk. His homicidal ferocity is useful.

The scenes with Jake’s gang are horrifyingly humorous, and we also meet “meat puppet” Top Gun, an ex-gym teacher who threw in with the gang. But Top Gun’s a military trained sniper too, and he and Collie will find themselves exchanging shots more than once.

Both Carson and Top Gun provide depressingly realistic portrayals of how good people can be broken to collaborate.

And whom do they collaborate with?

All throughout the series, we’ve been hearing about horrifyingly brutal the gangs are out in western Canada. We heard it from the bikers who assaulted Gus’s mountain lair in Mountain Man. The Norsemen said it in Hellifax. Shovel said he was the lesser of two evils compared to them.

And they were right.

The gang is the Leather. They want their own meat puppets. And, unlike Shovel, they aren’t offering gratitude or comfort in exchange for obedience. Obey the Leather or your flesh will feel its hammers, tongs, and knives.

But they also want a girl, Monica, that Collie’s group rescues.

The Leather may dress and act like a Mad Max gang. They favor bows and arrows and catapults over gunplay, but they’ve done something no one else has. They’ve created zombie soldiers.

And, in the climax inside Whitecap, we’ll learn some more about how zombies came to be – and why there’s more than one kind.

There’s even more gunplay here than Well Fed, but indispensable Gus finds himself wielding a baseball bat again to save the day.

There’s plenty to like in this novel – if you accept supersoldier Collie. Her story becomes more poignant in this novel. As usual, Blackmore is very good at detailed action scenes, and with Top Gun and Collie squaring off, some of it takes on a conventional military flavor.

I’m continually impressed by how well Blackmore uses an old idea, the zombie apocalypse, and keeps bringing something new to it. There’s horror a plenty here  as well as disgust and fear, but there’s also humor and tenderness.

There’s also a cliffhanger ending, but I’m confident Blackmore’s next installment in this series will come up with a compelling finale.

Mountain Man: Prequel

It was extra cold outside of my new home in February. Normally, that would mean breaking out some reading on polar exploration reading. But I didn’t see any Kindle appropriate titles on Amazon, and most of the books were still back in the old place.

So, in the sort of association that, to be honest, guides much of my reading, I thought of Mountain Man’s snowy cover and that reminded me there were some installments in Blackmore’s zombie series that I hadn’t read.

Review: Mountain Man: Prequel, Keith C. Blackmore, 2017.

Cover by James T. Egan

By the time he finished Well Fed, Blackmore was burned out on writing zombie stories. But fans are going to be fans, and they wanted an origin story for series hero Gus. So, Blackmore wrote this book.

As we’ll see, though, Blackmore did find more Mountain Man stories to write.

Being an origin story, we learn how Gus came to have his van, the “Beast”, wield a baseball bat in his zombie slaughtering sprees, and gets his mountain top lair well stocked with his friends Uncle Jack and Captain Morgan.

All this means, necessarily, the plot has no broad surprises, and the characters, besides Gus, aren’t going to be seen again in the series. However, they don’t all die and those that do don’t always get by zombie chompers.

Blackmore is skilled at his action scenes, but his strongest point is his characters and often humorous banter

Here most of that is between Gus and his employee Toby. Gus is co-owner of a painting business, and the story opens ominously enough when a client’s wife comes home early and vomits her insides out.

But it’s days end, and Gus is looking forward to spend the night with his girlfriend Tammy.

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Well Fed

It’s the last of the retro review of Blackmore’s zombie series — but not the last review of them.

Review: Well Fed (Mountain Man Book 4)

October 28, 2015 IFP

By Randy Stafford

Blackmore, Keith C. Well Fed (Mountain Man Book 4). Amazon Digital Services Inc.: 2014. Kindle USD $4.99. Paperback USD $14.39, 545 pages. ASIN: B00PY8IA78.

It’s been about four years since the zombie plague struck Newfoundland and, presumably, the rest of the world. Now, a new day is dawning.

Oh, there still are wild zombies around – pathetic crawlers because they’ve worn their legs down to stumps. But mostly, zombies have become weaponized, tools for sadistic pleasure. And the tool wielder is, of course, that old apex predator returning to his post: humanity.

But, as the Romans used to say, “Man is wolf to man.” There were elements of this in the early Mountain Man novels, particularly the preceding novel Hellifax with its Norsemen gang and serial killer Tenner. But this novel takes it to a new level. This novel is about the two most basic political questions: Who obeys whom and why?

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And yet another retro review . . .

Review: Hellifax (Mountain Man Book 3)

March 26, 2013 IFP

Blackmore, Keith C. Hellifax (Mountain Man Book 3). Amazon Digital Services Inc, 2012. USD $3.99 Kindle; USD $14.99 paperback. ISBN 1481875876.

As the cover blurb says, “There are worse things than the dead.”

Cover by Athanasios of Covers for Hire

Here, that would be the first two batches of characters we meet. The first are the Norsemen: “…born killers, once unaware of their true potential, which had been unleashed after the fall of civilization.” This hairy, tattooed crew is completely unfazed by the undead. They relish meeting them, fanning out in a line and unleashing their fury on them with a barrage of bullets and chains and knives and clubs and brass knuckles. They’re traveling across eastern Canada on a recon mission for some shadowy, even scarier group in the west. And when they’re not on the road or killing zombies, they’re raping, torturing, killing, and eating the few human survivors they come across. And woe unto the gang member who is insubordinate to their leader, Fist.

The second party is the gun-toting Tenner, a man whom the bland FBI term “serial killer” just doesn’t quite fit. He’s a good old-fashioned psycho killer. We first met him in Mountain Man. (Now would be a good time for you to avert your eyes from the rest of this review if you can’t handle spoilers for the earlier books.)

They’re all heading for Halifax, Nova Scotia, which just also happens to be the destination for Scott, who barely escaped death at the hands of Tenner. Scott also wants to avenge his friends, whom Tenner killed. You just know that before the book is done, they are all going to meet up. The only questions are which killer will best the other and will Scott live through it somehow?

As usual, Blackmore does an excellent job cranking up the tension and staging his action. He both builds on previous novels and adds to his zombie lore. So, the zombie rats of Safari (Mountain Man Book 2) are here, but Halifax is so packed with the undead, compared to the other places we’ve seen, that they behave differently. To his credit, Scott comes up with a new anti-zombie defense.

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