Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

Phantasm Japan Reviews

September 19th, 2014

I have a story, “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters,” in new anthology Phantasm Japan. People seem to like the book, and the story.

An early reader, Cecily Kane, called my story  “One of the best feminist stories ever in SFF. I am inarticulate with ‘!!!!!’ Like I cannot believe a dude wrote this. I am stunned.” That was nice to see.

Here’s a review from Skiffy and Fanty (and I’ve excerpted the flattering-to-me bit below):

My favorite story… It’s funny; I’d asked the editor for a review copy of this just as I’d uncovered an unconscious bias of mine, which is that I almost never read books set in Japan. It took about twenty seconds of critical self-analysis to realize that such a reflexive avoidance is probably because Japanese women are so frequently fetishized, particularly in the West. Tim Pratt’s “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters” addresses this objectification, in which a neckbearded “douchebro” is the antagonist. It’s a revenge tale that should be delightful for women who’ve had some grossly entitled dude become their problem. (Uh, I expect it’d be all of us that fit into that category.) It isn’t just entertaining from the intersectional feminist perspective, though; it’s funny and devastatingly sad at once.

(It’s a rave for the book as a whole too.) I am happy.

 

WhiskeyHorror: The Bay

September 18th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

We drank Bulleit rye manhattans, and sipped some Buffalo Trace bourbon. Also had a couple of delicious coffee milk stouts (which my friend Christy brought over to share last weekend and forgot to take home with her — I claimed salvage rights!).

The film was The Bay, which people said good things about on twitter, and you know, it was pretty good, though in the end I admired and respected it more than I liked it. (I feel the same way about The Lord of the Rings, so it’s in good company.)

It’s a found-footage horror movie (I like those) but done documentary style, putting together lots of footage from newscasts, personal cameras, video chats, security feeds, etc. surrounding the outbreak of a horrible disease/infection/infestation in a Maryland beach town one fourth of July.

Things I liked: some impressively gross effects, some really handwavy science that nevertheless made a valid point about just how fucked the environment is in so many ways, some CDC guys with reactions that amusingly ranged from deadpan to “Uhhh…. WHAT?”, the acting was mostly good, and they didn’t go the “parasites turn people into zombies!” route, which was a nice change.

Things I didn’t like: well, basically I like character-driven movies, and this one had a whole bunch of short snippets of characters we didn’t get to learn very much about at all, who mostly just died. (I like to care a lot about a character before they die!) So there’s that. I thought it was nicely put together, but I won’t be making it annual Fourth of July viewing or anything. (Whereas I make a point of watching Trick ‘r Treat, a less ambitious film that makes up for it by being charming and fast-moving, every Halloween. Speaking of, that’s coming up, maybe I’ll watch it early this year.)

I will say, watching a film about murderous isopods with someone who has a background in marine biology is pretty entertaining. It’s just like how I yell at the screen during movies that involve the publishing business when they get stuff wrong.

WhiskeyHorror: Sinister

September 11th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

Sazeracs with Bulleit rye (and I finally got some orange bitters in the house — sazeracs are fine with spiced cherry bitters, but so much more right with orange). Then we moved on to the Buffalo Trace bourbon, sipping some straight, though I had an old fashioned, too.

We watched Sinister, which is one of the more genuinely disturbing horror flicks I’ve seen, mostly because of all the children-in-jeopardy stuff, which never used to bother me much until (surprise) I became a parent myself. The snuff films were hard to watch, too, I think because they mostly looked so realistic: dirty, low-light, not impeccably staged. (The iconic hanging scene was an exception, perhaps because we saw it in slow-motion before the title — still disturbing, but so much better lit and composed than the other messy dirty shots. Which, to be clear, I found more effective because they looked so plausible.)

There were some early moments when the main character showed intelligence, like his first impulse to call the cops, which he did only moments after we started yelling, “Dude, call the cops!” at the screen — sure, he thought better of it and hung up, but at that point, such a reaction was reasonable. Later on, when he knew for a fact that a very bad person was occasionally entering his house — and had no reason to think it was inescapable supernatural shenanigans, but just a mortal murderer — I couldn’t believe he didn’t round up his obviously beloved family and get the hell out. I understand the justification the screenwriters had in mind, that he was obsessed and not sleeping and had tunnel vision about his project, but as a father myself I just couldn’t believe he wouldn’t flee sooner. (That could be more about Ethan Hawke’s performance than a failure in the script, which novelist C. Robert Cargill mostly wrote… or just a quirk about where my own suspension of disbelief fails to be suspended.)

I can nitpick some of the procedural elements (a true crime writer wouldn’t be a little more careful handling previously undiscovered evidence?), but the writing-related bits about the main character mostly rang true (again, novelist scriptwriter), there were some effective scares, no more idiot plotting than you see in most movies,  a convincing and wrenching husband-and-wife argument, lots of powerful creepy imagery with the kids, a couple of “I can’t watch this because it’s too horrible” moments (which is not a bad thing in a horror movie, necessarily), no sexual violence (a real dealbreaker for me in movies involving kids — I just can’t handle it as the parent of a first grader), very few stupid jump scares, just enough occult nonsense to make it all stick together, and an ending that you see coming from some distance away, but with mounting dread, not boredom. I’d recommend it, if you can stand stories about awful things happening to children.

Dark Fantasy Story Bundle

September 9th, 2014

My novel Bone Shop is one of nine (9!) books you can get from the Dark Fantasy Story Bundle, a collection of DRM-free e-books available on a pay-what-you-want basis (minimum $3).  It’s got books by Steven Savile, Marie Hall, Craig Schaeffer, Harry Connolly, Susan Illene, and our impresario Joseph Nassise. You can choose to give a portion of your payment to charity, too.

Basically it is a great thing and if you people buy a bunch of them I’ll be able to take my kid to Disneyland and/or buy a lot of alcohol. It’s available until September 17, so get clickin’.

 

WhiskeyHorror: Triangle

September 4th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

Manhattans with spiced cherry bitters, and later we had gimlets (not whiskey, I know, but it was warm in my house and we wanted refreshing). 

The film was Triangle (2009), and it was good! There are enough axe attacks, point-blank shotgun blasts, scary burlap sack murder hoods, environmental terror, contained nightmare, existential crises, and literally PILES of corpses (human and avian) that I think it’s unquestionably a horror film, but it’s not all that *scary* so much as it’s twisty psychological stuff, with some very good time-loop underpinnings. I might quibble a tiny bit with some of the time-loop mechanism but mostly it’s logical and self-consistent and satisfying. Starring Thor’s buff younger brother Liam Hemsworth and Melissa George (who was so familiar it drove me crazy and I finally remembered, she’s the gubernatorial ethics enforcer on The Good Wife) and I’m assuming a bunch of other Australians pretending to be from Florida.

Flytrap 12

August 28th, 2014

We’re doing a Kickstarter for issue #12 of our ‘zine Flytrap! The funds will go to paying artists and writers and printing and so on. Prizes include print copies (so pretty) and postcards and prints by our issue #11 artist Aislinn Quicksilver Harvey. If we get funded, we’ll open to fiction submissions in October. (We tend  to solicit non-fiction, poetry, and art.)

The issue is about one-sixth funded with 19 days to go, a rather slower start than we had last time; perhaps our potential backers are wearing body paint and feathers and tripping balls on the playa at Burning Man? If you can help spread the word, or donate, we’d appreciate it. You can read issue #11 online here.

WhiskeyHorror: Devil’s Pass

August 7th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

I made this, basically: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/bourbon-and-peach-sweet-tea-punch/

Only it was extra-fruity because I used mango ceylon tea. Oh, and brown sugar simple syrup as sweetener, because the brown sugar goes well with bourbon. There are THREE CUPS of bourbon in that stuff, out of nine total cups of liquid. I had a glass, and Heather had a glass, and we were in the backyard going all WHOOOO. It is subtle but powerful. Katrina had some catching up to do when she arrived. (Even after drinking all night, I’ve got a couple cups of the stuff left in the pitcher. That’s an afternoon nap in liquid form.)

The film was Devil’s Pass (2013), a found-footage movie inspired by the Dyatlov Pass Incident (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident), which has always interested me as a student of the inexplicable and the weird and the Fortean. It was a great improvement over Wrong Turn 2.

Pretty snowy mountainous locations, and a clever plot, even if it doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny. I am happiest when a story does something I don’t expect, but the unexpected thing has to reasonably grow from the premise and arise organically from what came before in terms of character, milieu, etc. — random incomprehensible non-sequiturs are surprising but not satisfying. This one, for me, went in directions that were unexpected but made sense, and so I was a happy horror viewer. The acting was pretty uneven, but you can get away with some of that with a found-footage cast of twenty-somethings. The special effects, when they arrived, were not fantastic, but there was good use of scuttling in the darkness, always a favorite of mine, and lots of creepy tunnels. And mysterious doors. I’m a sucker for mysterious doors.

We also watched the antepenultimate and penultimate episodes of American Horror Story season 2 — I’d forgotten how much time they devote to falling action/tying up loose ends/resolving the frame story, but I rather like it.

Next week: I dunno. Maybe The Last Exorcism? And I was thinking of buying some single malt…

WhiskeyHorror: Wrong Turn 2

August 1st, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report! (Why am I doing a WhiskeyHorror report, when I usually don’t? I don’t know. I feel like it.)

We drank bourbon and cherry vanilla cokes, and manhattans.

Wrong Turn 2 was… well. The writing wasn’t as good as in Wrong Turn, which is saying something. Everyone’s favorite mutant cannibal hillbilly, Three-Finger, doesn’t even hoot in this one, and his hooting was the best thing about the original. (He was played by a new actor in this one; perhaps that actor lacks the original’s hooting prowess.)

There were far too many very clear shots of the cannibal mutants (wait, are they cannibals if they eat non-mutated humans? I guess so, I don’t think their differences amount to a difference in species), in very clear light, rather than brief shots in shadow, so they looked less menacing and more like…. people in prosthetics and make-up. (Mostly, they looked like The Saddest Possible Ferengi.)

I don’t think there was a single plot development that either I or Heather or Katrina didn’t call in advance. I mean, we’re all pretty good plot predictors, but I like there to be something that’s not totally foreseeable.

The mutant baby was pretty impressively disturbing. Henry Rollins was fine, though he mostly seemed to be inhabiting an entirely different movie. (I kinda would’ve preferred to see that movie.) Making fun of it had entertainment value. But generally I prefer a movie that’s less entirely mockable. I don’t think I’ll be chasing down future installments in the franchise.

Neoyuckicon

July 13th, 2014

You know, I really like Alan Moore’s comics, and I really like the Cthulhu mythos (hell, just yesterday I bought the quite pricy boardgame The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, mostly because of the lovely resin figurines of the Great Old Ones, though I look forward to playing it, too). So when I saw Moore’s police procedural Lovecraft graphic novel Neonomicon at the library on Thursday I thought, “Oooh, been meaning to read this,” and eagerly picked it up.

Then I read it, and I kinda wish I could excise large portions of it from my brain. I liked the overall concept, actually — taken as a Mythos short story, it has a clever twist at the end and some cool moments, and I like Johnny Carcosa and the bits with the mural and the banter between the FBI agents.

But… it’s a four-issue miniseries, and the bulk of one of those issues involves graphic depiction of a woman being repeatedly raped by a Deep One (this is after she was raped by cultists in the previous issue). I just… I could have done without the graphic fish-monster rape, is what I’m saying. For purposes of plot, some fish-monster/human sex had to happen, but pages and pages of monster fish cock terror… I think “gratuitous” as a criticism is generally overused, but yeah, that shit was gratuitous. It just went on and on. The art, by Jacen Burrows, is pretty good — which makes it that much worse, honestly. It’s meticulously-drawn nightmare fuel.

I get that Moore was trying to make the “sex is gross and vaginas are scary” subtext inherent in Lovecraft’s work into over-the-top text, and he definitely did that, but I barely made it through the comic. (Let me calibrate this for you: I actually like Garth Ennis’s ultra-gratuitous, grimmer-than-grim, circus-of-depravity, all-kinds-of-violence-including-sexual superhero series The Boys – and those issues of Neonomicon made that series seem tame.)

Jay Lake

June 1st, 2014

Jay Lake is gone.

Jay wasn’t one of my closest friends in the SF field — a lot of people are feeling his loss today much more keenly than I am, and have lost a much larger part of their hearts. Jay and I were friendly enough to make a point of hanging out and getting a bite if we were in the same place, and talked on the phone occasionally, but I think the reason his entirely expected death has hit me harder than I would have anticipated this morning is because he’s been part of my life in science fiction since almost the very beginning.

He reviewed some of my very first publications, back in 2001. He went to a workshop with my wife when she was still just my girlfriend, and she came back with all sorts of stories about him. He was in the first issue of Flytrap (and a couple more, and last year after we had dinner with him and a bunch of other folks at the Nebulas I told him I hoped we’d see something from him for the Flytrap revival, but he was too sick to write soon after). He published me in his anthologies. We fought a three-way duel with pool noodles at Wiscon. He beat me soundly when we were both up for the Campbell Award. We stayed up late and talked in hallways at conventions. We wrote stories for each other. He was bigger than life, a man who loved to perform and did well in big groups, but I always valued the smaller moments — his visits to the Locus offices, and those smaller dinners where we could really talk about craft and inspiration and romance. He could always write circles around me — I used to think I was prolific, until I met Jay, who back in the day wrote a story a week, many of them marvelous. I reviewed his first novel. I watched him write a story live in a bookstore (and it was a good story, too). As recently as last year we were talking about collaborating on a project, and I’m incredibly sad that didn’t work out.

And this morning when I saw he’d died, all those memories cascaded through my brain in a rush, and I had to sit there crying for a few minutes.

But now, I’ve got a novel to finish, so I need to get to work. I knew Jay well enough to know he’d approve.

Here’s an MP3 of Jay reading story “The Lizard of Ooze,” from Flytrap #4. It was good to hear his voice.