The Cage by Brian Keene

Brian Keene has a knack for writing some of the most powerful novella length fiction in the genre.  His no-nonsense style is well suited for format.  Most authors introduce us to the characters and then allow the plot to unfold around them but Keene is a completely different animal.  One of the strongest aspects of Keene’s writing is his ability to mesh character development with plot to form a fast paced, suffocating story that gets right to the action and rarely relents.  This delightfully streamlined style allows Keene to tell a novel length story over the span of a hundred pages.  With that in mind, I was absolutely delighted when I learned that Deadite Press would be releasing a paperback version of the long out-of-print novella, The Cage

From Amazon.com:

For the employees of Big Bill’s Home Electronics, it’s just the end of another workday – until a gunman bursts into the store and begins shooting. Now, with some of their co-workers dead, the hostages are being slaughtered one-by-one, and if they want to survive the night, they’ll have to escape… The Cage.

As described in the summary, the story follows a group of six electronics store employees who are at the mercy of a madman.  This man breaks into the store after-hours and locks the group up in the store room for very mysterious, yet surely sinister reasons.  The majority of the story takes place in the store room as we play voyeur to the interactions of the employees, all while the mysterious intruder is busy in the front of the store.  One-by-one the man brings the employees to the front of the store leaving the remaining hostages to wonder what exactly is happening on the other side of the warehouse doors.

The Cage is the perfect marriage of youthful hope, world-worn wisdom, nerve wracking tension and some gore soaked imagery that will leave your jaw hanging and your unmentionables soiled. What makes this story so damn engrossing is Keene’s ability to intertwine genuine supernatural terror with the everyday horrors that we all experience in our lives.  The villain in the story will get your blood pumping and your palms sweating but the reason this tale will resonate with readers is the trials and tribulations of the common man.  It is completely evident that Keene knows quite a bit about strife and pain.  The characters in The Cage discuss topics such as love lost, growing older and loneliness with such raw authenticity that the reader has no choice but to succumb to the story’s power. There is a certain power in prose that is born from a world of sweat and hardship. Keene wields that power with a reckless abandoned that only few in the genre can ever hope to harness.

It was also interesting to notice the subtle shift in style with the dichotomy between the real life fears and supernatural elements.  Keene wrote the conversations between the store employees with copious amounts pain and grit sprinkled in the interactions.  These are the conversations that we have had a thousand times yet they continue to be important because they are is the lifeblood of our daily routines and existence. Much like the author himself, there is no pretense with the characters and their interactions as the wear their hearts on their sleeves on every page. There is exchange that was particularly heart wrenching between Roy, the older warehouse employee and the younger store employees that I found to be especially heart wrenching :

“Your kids don’t know you, your wife barely tolerates you. You’re a stranger in your own house. And a stranger in the mirror, too. And when that happens, you look back on the last few decades and wonder where they went.”

These moments of gritty truth make the juxtaposition of the super natural so much more extreme. When Keene  isn’t describing the inner-turmoil of the Big Bill’s employees, his writing takes on a cinematic quality that would not be out of place in the world of Cronenberg or Lynch.  The main villain in The Cage is donned in black and sports an arsenal that would make Frank Castle giddy.  Keene creates one frightening villain who nonchalantly goes about his grisly business with the indifference of a T-1000.  I use the Teminator example because this dude is straight out of a late 80’s action film but still maintains a surreal presence that is common with Keene’s other works..  Keene himself seems to realize the cinematic leanings of his writing as the characters joke about the clichés of action films. There is a particularly humorous exchange when the trapped employees attempt to lighten the mood by discussing how their ideal action film would play out.

The Cage comes to a very satisfying finale with absolutely every element of the story getting heightened to extreme volumes (literally and figuratively). Blood flows, hearts break and evil is everywhere.  Much like some of my favorite Keene stories, everything ends as it should.  The ending is in keeping with the rest of the tale with no surprises.  It is always refreshing to read a story that does not stray from a previously established tone and plot in order to achieve a gimmicky twist.

This is a story that is perfect for those looking for a quick scare.  It is also a story that is MANDATORY reading for Keene fans that have an interest in his Labyrinth mythology.  Readers are treated to some added content as well. Included are three short stories that share the same themes and tone of The Cage, as well as accompanying ‘Author’s Notes’ which add a tremendous amount of insight.

Deadite Press is releasing The Cage in Trade Paperback which marks the first time that this amazing story can be enjoyed by the masses.  You will be able to pick up the book shortly from Amazon and check out all things Keene at his site.

In Laymon’s Terms Edited by Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach, and Richard Chizmar

From Cemetery Dance:

This massive, oversized tribute anthology for Richard Laymon features short fiction and personal remembrances from dozens and dozens of the biggest names in horror and Laymon’s biggest fans.

In addition, there are more than one hundred pages of “Rarities and Fan Favorites” from Richard Laymon’s personal files — stories, interviews, and more, including a 17 page photo album personally selected by Ann Laymon. Several of these rare pieces were scanned directly from Laymon’s original manuscripts and contain his handwritten corrections.

Featuring more than 600 pages of fiction and essays written in honor of the man, author, and friend, In Laymon’s Terms is personal, moving, and wildly entertaining. This is a unique hardcover that would have made Richard Laymon proud.

Richard Laymon is the most respected author in the genre.  This is a very simple and a very bold statement but it is also a statement that I believe to be completely accurate.  Listening to authors talk about Laymon is like listening to veterans talk about a sergeant who saved his entire platoon because of his selfless devotion to the cause.  The love they have for Richard Laymon is genuine and boundless.  I’ve even spoken to authors who may not necessarily care for his style but they are quick to add that, as a person, Dick was in a league of his own.  His love for the genre and his peers was unparelled and the man never took his success for granted.  Simply put, he was a class act.

Cemetery Dance did a fantastic job with this book.  The look and  feel of the book is absolutely breathtaking and it does the memory of Richard Laymon supreme justice.  The amount of material presented within the covers is staggering and every word of it drips with the love and adoration for a man who was criminally underrated by a few and insanely loved by many.

The beauty of this wonderful Cemetery Dance release is that it will appeal to Laymon devotees, as well as non-fans equally.  Sure there are stories here that could have easily come directly from Laymon’s pen (Keene’s Castaways and Smith’s Pizza Face) but there are a great abundance of tales that channel the spirit of Laymon without bearing much resemblance to his style (Ed Lee’s Chef).  A great deal of credit should be given to Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach and Richard Chizmar.  These are the editors who realized that there are genre fans out there that may not care for the Laymon style but are very curious about his impact on the genre and they did a wonderful job putting that on display in this collection. The stories range from despicable in the case of Torres’ Bestiality, to humorous in Piccirilli’s New York Comes to the Desert, to flat-out brilliant with Little’s Meeting Joanne. Every story really seems to take a theme present in Laymon’s work and exploit it to the fullest.  The quality of work in this collection is amazing, as every story is memorable and executed impeccably.  This is one of those rare collections where there really isn’t a weak spot to speak of.

Then there are the remembrances.  Ah yes, the remembrances. There is no way I can adequately explain the emotion evoked in these heartfelt essays.  For many of these writers, this was the opportunity to formally say goodbye to a friend that was taken from them too early. The magnitude of emotions displayed here will have your heart in your throat and tears streaming from your eyes.  There is no way around it. The recollections range in tone but all are a testament to the fact that Richard Laymon was a great mentor and friend to many. The reader will feel slightly voyeuristic as these authors lay their souls on the paper.  These essays are really that powerful.

As a complete Laymon nut, the real highlight for me was the inclusion of actual Laymon works that I have never read.  Reading Laymon’s dedication to pipe smoking in his short lived zine, ‘Smokers Blend’, was an absolute treat, while dissecting some poems from a college aged Laymon was more fun than I’ve had in awhile.  These are the real draw for the Laymon fan and make this collection well worth the price.  It adds a certain sense of validity to those years of clamoring about in used bookstores trying to find the Headline edition of In The Dark or selling various organs to afford that copy of A Writer’s Tale on eBay. This collection proves that we weren’t the only ones going crazy over the writings of Richard Laymon.

This is a most fitting farewell to a man who deserves to be appreciated in the same way that people appreciate names like King, Barker and Bloch.  His writing was mean and gritty with a subtle undercurrent of brutal humor which made his style so damn unique.  More than any other writer, Richard Laymon sucked me into the world of genre fiction and, based on the brilliant display of emotion in this gorgeous collection, I am not the only one.

Free Fiction Friday

I guess this may be the strangest entry of Free Fiction Friday to date because neither of the offerings are fiction (in fact, one has nothing to do with reading at all).  I think the pairing of suggestions complement each other in such an obvious and profound way that I couldn’t help but share them with you.  On one hand we have a man (or a God or Satan, depends on who you ask) who seems to be in the “Autumn” of his life as he grapples with his own mortality in a very real and genuine way.  Conversely, we have a 16 year old who is just discovering love and angst and is turning that into some amazing music.  Together these two pieces can be strung together to illustrate the sheer beauty of possibilities that life has to offer.  I don’t want to get too dramatic, so I’ll stop now and present to you this week’s installment of Free Fiction Friday.

First off we have a piece by Brian Keene.  This is a throwback to an old blog that Brian used to keep called Hail Saten.  Hail Saten was an amazing place to read about the inner working of the industry and Brian masterfully scoured his foes and celebrated his comrades.  It was written with a take-no-prisoners attitude that few could ever hope to pull off.  Today, Brian is posting a piece that is very similar in style to the Hail Saten stuff.  It is very personal but even non-Keene fans will appreciate the heart and soul found in every word.  Take a moment to check it out.

Read Brian Keene’s “The Apathy of Autumn” here

Now for something a little more unorthodox – I stumbled upon a musician who goes by the name of Zoo Kid.  Zoo Kid is a 17 year old from London who is making some of the most interesting music I’ve heard in a long time.  He combines some the lo-fi sounds, blips and glitches commonly associated with New Wave to create one of the most unique sounds I’ve heard in a while.  Now, I’m sure you’re asking why I would even bring this up in a literature review site, right? Well, Zoo Kid’s lyrics and music lend themselves very well to reading.  In fact, the last two books that I’ve read have had Zoo Kid as their soundtrack.  I encourage all of you to take a listen and hear for yourself.

It still blows my mind that this EP was released when he was only 16!

Check out zookid.bandcamp.com for more.

Free Fiction Friday

Time for another round of Free Fiction Friday.  For those of you not in the know, Free Fiction Friday is a feature where we search the internet in an attempt to bring you the very best free genre fiction available.  Today we have three of the biggest names in the genre including some free stuff from Stephen freakin’ King so let’s have at it!

First up we have some free fiction from Stephen King.  In anticipation if King’s new release, 11/22/63, Simon and Schuster will be releasing seven audiobook samples every Monday and Friday through October 24th.  The first is up and, I have to be honest,  Craig Wasson (FULL DARK, NO STARS & BLOCKADE BILLY)  sounds awesome!  Check it out!      

Our next piece of free fiction comes from one of the biggest names in the genre, Brian Keene.  Brian has been offering a serial novel called DELUGE on his site for months now.  This is a thank you to fans that have fallen on hard times and can’t afford to pick up new books.  DELUGE is available every Friday on Brian’s site.  On a side note, Brian has announced that once DELUGE is over he will be giving away a second free serial novel called DEAD AIR.  Rock!

James Newman has posted his entry into Shock Totem’s Flash Challenge for free on his site.  This is important for two reasons: 1)James Newman is one of the best authors working in the genre today and 2) Shock Totem is a criminally slept-on publication that should be read by every genre fan out there. Here is the story and here is the Shock Totem site.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

To Fight With Monsters by Michael Oliveri and Brian Keene

A one-shot comic based on a short story that appeared in 4×4 by Mike Oliveri and Brian Keene? Drawn by American Manga artist Ben Dunn?

YES PLEASE!

When humanity rapidly devolves into a monstrous state, teenager Rick Donovan joins his fellow townspeople in makeshift trenches to defend their homes. However, the monsters may already be among them…

This story reeks of modern horror in its themes and intense, unbridled sense of… wrongness… if I may use that word. The subject matter at hand is brutal, and so far from what one would automatically thing this little story is about. It is, in fact, about monsters – but who and what the monsters are is left completely to the reader to find out. In fact, I’d say that that there are more monsters present in this than the average reader would admit. It’s just a matter of opinion as to how you would define the word.

As for the storytelling aspect of this comic, the line is completely blurred as to who wrote what part, and whose idea was whose. Oliveri and Keene are both experts in the field of spinning an intense yarn, and yet both have their own immediate voice. These differences are blended brilliantly in the short story, and even more fully realized in the comic book format.

As stated above, the subject matter in quite strong. Even I had to take a moment to wonder how these two authors could bring themselves to “go there”. It’s no wonder that these two are so well respected in the horror genre. They’re ballsy, daring, and unafraid to bring the story to a level that will make the reader uncomfortable, if only to make him look inside his mind, and try to figure out where exactly he stands.

The art in this issue is incredible. Ben Dunn really does a killer job with the inks, bringing every squirm worthy moment to the front. The reader absolutely no choice but to confront the horrors within, right there on the page. In all, I’m really impressed with the whole thing.

As for where to get it, you can grab yourself a copy from Antarctic Press, online retailers like Things From Another World, and your local comic book store. Or, y’know, you could just ask me. I have 3 extra copies.

——————————————————————

So here’s how we’re going to do this. There are two ways to win:

– First, I want you to go grab yourself a copy of Mike Oliveri’s The Pack: Winter Kill at Amazon. Do that, and I’ll send you a copy of To Fight With Monsters for free! (You’re going to have to email me proof of purchase in the form of a receipt or Screenshot of your finalized purchase). Remember, there are only 3 copies… so act fast.

– Second, well… you’re going to have to fight it out with the Facebook fiends. That’s right. “like” our facebook pages, and you could win a copy of this badass comic.

Again, there are only 3 copies to give away. So act fast. The first choice will automatically get you a copy. The second…we’ll, like I said, you’ll have to fight it out.

Winners will be announced when the copies are gone. The entire Dreadful Tales Staff will be gone until August 3rd, so hold tight. Send us an email, and we’ll get back to you when we return.

C.