Tag Archives: thriller

Review of X3 by Bloody Good Horror Books

Review of X3 by Renier Palland at Bloody Good Horror Books:

“X3” by author Christian aka C.M. Saunders is a short collection of short horror stories he had published over the years. He begins his anthology with a piece called “Introduction: The Final Curtain” where he muses over death and mortality, and how it permeates everything, including literature. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “Death Drive”. Oddly enough, this rather obtuse opening led to some rather interesting short stories. The first story, “‘Til Death Do Us Part” is zombie fiction without the zombies. It’s primal, brutal and asks us what we’d do to survive for one more second on this godforsaken planet. Saunders brought the point home with this valiant line: “They were fighting and fucking everywhere like animals”. This matter-of-fact method of writing immediately piqued my interest. I knew I was onto something good.

Throughout the good short stories – not the bad ones – Saunders weaves a tapestry of horrifically fun humour and below-the-belt madness. There’s even a short story about a troll, with a sequel to the short story about the troll! As with all short story writing, each piece has to end in a solipsistic finale, a final twist to end all twists. I liken it to twisting the knife in a piece of meat. It’s an extremely difficult, well-documented feat. There are essays written about how a short story should be structured, compiled and created. If a writer lingers on a paragraph for too long, the short story is ruined and ends up in the tried-and-failed dustbin. Aside from poetry, short story writing is the most difficult literary art form. When an author gets it right, he or she really gets it right. But a short story can also turn into a bizarre, self-indulgent and experimental freak show. My point being, Saunders’ short story anthology has a touch of Bipolar, with extreme lows (“Gwraig Annwn” and “Slots-a-Pain”) and manic, thrilling highs (“The Delectable Hearts”, “Switchblade Sunday” and “The Elementals and I”).

He is an extremely friendly guy who wrote exactly what was needed to get our attention for an immediate review. He is also an excellent writer, but I don’t agree with putting all of your eggs into one basket, i.e. Putting short stories together from over the years into one volume. He should have been much more careful with his choices. I understand what it feels like to have that specific short story you wrote, the one which didn’t get the recognition it deserved, finally published. I’m also an author and I understand that inherent need. However, as a reviewer I have to follow extremely harsh guidelines in order for my review to have any merit or credibility in the real world.

Saunders failed with some of his short stories. I wanted more. I needed more. But there was nothing except an experimental foray into death literature. The stories which did work were extremely well done, brilliant even. I can easily say that “‘Til Death Do Us Part” will stick with me (no pun intended – look out for the ending) for a very long time. It was interesting, tragically beautiful and filled with a post-apocalyptic essence akin to “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. “The Delectable Hearts” was a curious and interesting meta-commentary on the entertainment industry. I used to be a writer and reviewer for a worldwide entertainment media group, so I understood the character’s journalistic instincts to get the scoop on a new music band. The ending, as with the former, was both unsettling and optimistic – an awkward, albeit exciting paradox. I enjoyed every second of the better short stories in the anthology, but much like a music album, an anthology has to be structured in a specific way to maximise the audience’s interest. This was not the case with “X3”. It felt haphazard and loose, as I went from a high to a low. Perhaps Saunders intended for the anthology to read like a rollercoaster? It’s possible, not wise in my opinion, but possible.

The anthology was fun to read. I think Saunders’ dark humour played a role here and he managed to save several of the shorts by using the gallows’ humour literary mechanism. Technically, some of the shorts were ravaged by editorial oversights, e.g. “twist in the tail” instead of “twist in the tale”. Malapropisms shouldn’t be left untreated as they can easily infect a literary wound. However, for the sake of this review, I am willing to overlook the technicalities because everything else was written perfectly. Saunders didn’t make many mistakes. His tempo was fluid, his narrative structure was constrained enough to allow the short stories to develop on their own, and his literary mechanisms were used correctly.

Saunders is definitely a great writer with unparalleled potential. His shorts were good enough to make me seek him out when I’m looking for my next read-of-the-day. Imperfection is sometimes more beautiful than perfection. This is true in Saunders’ case.

And the fact that he knows how to truly imbed subtle humour into his work – something most writers are completely unable to do.

RATING: 4 out of 5

X3 is available now. Check out more from Bloody Good Horror Books HERE.

X3

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X3 is out now!

X3, my third collection of short fiction, is available now, featuring stories plucked from the pages of The Literary Hatchet, Siren’s Call, Morpheus Tales, Gore Magazine and several anthologies. It also includes two previously unpublished stories, extensive notes, and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.

X3

Meet the airline passenger who makes an alarming discovery, the boy who takes on an evil troll, an ageing couple facing the apocalypse, a jaded music hack on the trail of the Next Big Thing, the gambler taking one last spin, and many more.

Full Contents: 

Introduction: The Final Curtain

Til Death do us Part

Gwraig Annwn

The Delectable Hearts

The Answer in Darkness

What Happened to Huw Silverthorne

What Happened Next

Altitude Sickness

Switchblade Sunday

Slots-a-Pain

The Elementals & I

Afterword

X3 is available exclusively in electronic formats NOW


X for Sale!

Yes, I said X. To help give X3, my third collection of short fiction, a little boost, the first two volumes are 0.99 each for a limited time. That’s less than half price. Or you could say they are two for the price of one. Whichever way you slice it, they are cheap. Links below.

X by CM Saunders (2) - High Res

This is what happens when you ‘wake up’ inside a dream, when the urban myth you heard turns out to be so much more, and when that hottie you pick up in a bar springs a terrible surprise. But what do you do when your wife gives birth to something not entirely human? When your past discretions come back to haunt you? Or when a serial killer moves in next door?

The first collection of horror and dark fiction from the critically acclaimed writer C.M. Saunders, including three previously unpublished stories, plus an introduction and extensive notes. Also features exclusive artwork by Greg Chapman.

US LINK

UK LINK

X2 by CM Saunders

The sequel to 2014’s successful X: A Collection of Horror features ten more slices of dark fiction from the blood-soaked pages of Fantastic Horror, Unspoken Water, Dark Valentine and several anthologies. Also includes two previously unpublished stories, extensive notes, and original artwork by Greg Chapman.

Meet the teacher who sees dead pupils, the ambulance crew who pick up a casualty who won’t die, and the childhood friends who spend the night in a haunted pub. Along the way you can meet a man who refuses to accept his wife’s death and goes to extreme lengths to keep the flame of love alive, the boy who just likes to watch you sleep, and maybe even pay a visit to an antique shop with a deadly secret. If you dare.

US LINK

UK LINK

I should mention that X SAMPLE is also 0.99. But that was 0.99 anyway, so there’s no big story there.

Finally, don’t forget the latest installment, X3 is available for pre-order now. And it’s 0.99 until release day on Friday 13th April. Then it goes up to £12.5 million.

X3

 


X3 – Cover Reveal

X3, my third collection of short fiction, is coming out next month. The first volume gathered together my early stories, most of which were published in the small press explosion of the late nineties, while the second covered the noughties. More info on those can be found here.

This third volume mainly includes stories which were published in various magazines, ezines and anthologies in 2012-2014, plus a couple of surprises. More details, and ToC to follow. In the meantime, I wanted to share the cover with you, designed once again by Greg Chapman who recently won a big HWA award. Congratulations, Greg!

And here it is:

X3

Impressive, eh?

X3 is available for pre-order now and is half-price for a very limited time, so get yours early. 😉


RetView #4 – Phantoms

Title: Phantoms

Year of Release: 1998

Director: Joe Chappelle

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Rose McGowan, Ben Affleck, Liev Schreiber

Phantoms-movie-poster

Dean Koontz film adaptations generally fair slightly better than those of Stephen King. Not commercially, of course. In that department King will always have the upper hand. This is why even his weakest short stories are deemed suitable for the Hollywood treatment. Dean Koontz adaptations usually have a bit more substance, possibly because the name alone won’t sell. They don’t come around so often, either. This is only the second adaptation in 13 years (the other being 2013’s quite brilliant Odd Thomas). The exact circumstances surrounding Koontz’s acrimonious departure from Martin Scorcese’s made-for-TV Frankenstein project in 2004 are shrouded with mystery, but evidently left scars.

Anyway, onward and upward.

The basic plot of Phantoms involves Dr Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) who, in the aftermath of some indiscretion, takes her younger, more precocious sister Lisa (Rose McGowan) to the small ski resort of Snowfield, where she works. When they arrive they find the town deserted, and matters come to a head (when you see the film you’ll get the reference) when they find a grisly collection of body parts in an oven. And other places. Along with mysterious piles of watches and pacemakers. Just when you find yourself in need a bit of help and guidance, in steps a post-Good Will Hunting Ben Affleck to save the day. Or not. He certainly isn’t able to save his deputies, who **spoiler alert** are taken out by some unseen supernatural force in double quick time. Well, actually, one of them gets murdered by a giant moth-like creature with a large protruding snout which is definitely not ‘unseen,’ but you know what I mean. Thoroughly spooked, the survivors decamp to an abandoned hotel where they come across a reference to a British academic by the name of Flyte (Peter O’Toole) scrawled on a mirror in a locked room. They eventually manage to find an old radio, which they use to contact the outside world and put out a panicky SOS. The next thing you know, the FBI roll up in force, backed up by the army, some scientists, and a reluctant Flyte. Then, carnage ensues as a plethora of dark, slimy creatures, all part of a considerably bigger whole, rampage through the town in search of flesh.

Dean Koontz novels are impeccably researched, and usually contain enough hard science to at least provide the illusion of plausibility. There are government experiments, conspiracies and serial killers galore. Phantoms focuses on an ‘Ancient Enemy’ being responsible for various mass disappearances throughout history, like Roanoke, the Mayans, and a group of 3,000 Chinese soldiers who supposedly went missing in Nanjing in 1939. In Phantoms, this ancient enemy is revealed to be some kind of shape-shifting, amoeba-like life form, which dwells in the deepest recesses of the earth and comes up, presumably, to feed. It does this by absorbing huge swathes of humanity, thereby explaining the mysterious mass disappearances. One of it’s favourite tricks is to mimic past victims to procure new ones, and when it absorbs people it also absorbs their knowledge. This is an interesting concept, linked to the theory of the collective unconscious. In the film a discussion takes place about the famed experiments in the 1950’s which found that if flat worms are taught to navigate a maze, then ground up and fed to other flat worms, the new worms would also know how to navigate a maze.

As a result of all the knowledge and information it absorbs, the ancient enemy begins to think of itself as a god, and tries to enlist Flyte as a mechanism to tell the world of its existence. Ultimately, this God complex proves its downfall. Theology (often boiled down to the good old-fashioned battle between good and evil) is a common theme in Koontz’s work. As he is a practising Catholic, that’s understandable and not entirely unexpected. The interesting thing is, as evidenced in Phantoms, he often approaches the topic from an angle, instead of ramming the same old fundamental shit down your throat. Ultimately, even though the Ancient Enemy is beaten by the ingenuity of man, it does achieve its objective as when Flyte leaves Snowfield the first thing he does is write a book about the episode, thereby telling the world about the Ancient Enemy.

I really like this film. It is atmospheric, the script is tight, and there’s enough in the plot to keep things interesting right up to the suitably satisfying climax. With such a solid cast you would expect the acting to at least be serviceable, and it is. The MVP award, perhaps surprisingly, goes to Liev Schreiber (of the Scream franchise) who plays Deputy Stu Wargle with a convincing dash of psycho. The special effects are also worth a mention, as they are born of an age (just) before CGI, and call to mind the classic creature features of the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s a pity I seem to be the only person who likes it, because it only scores a 13% rating on Totten Tomatoes and the critic Roger Ebert gave it one star (out of four) stating, “If only we could learn to think more kindly of those who digest us, this movie could have ended happily.”

I fail to see how, but there ya go.

Trivia Corner:

According to IMBD, This film has a helluva lot of continuity errors and general fuck-up’s, which may be one reason why it isn’t very highly thought of.


Echoes & Bones

My group (of writers), The Deviant Dolls, have released our first anthology, Echoes & Bones. And it’s not your usual collection of short stories. I know. That’s what they all say, right? But I, ahem, mean it. What we did was decide on a theme, then each of us wrote a story adhering to said theme.

The results were… interesting.

Some of us kept things civil, others toed the line. Then, as always, there were a couple who said “Fuck the line,” and took the extreme route. Suffice to say, if this book was a movie it would probably be one of those weird, dark, Eastern European snuff films. Still, at least we can say there’s probably something for everyone.

Here’s comes the blurb, followed by the splendid cover art (shout out to Renee Miller) and finally the hard sell. That’s the best bit.

The Florida Keys, a psychic, and a chipped teacup; not very interesting on their own, but together, they weave dark, sometimes twisted tales of secrets, death, mystery and fantastic discovery. Join us as we listen to the echoes and wade through the bones, to unearth the treasures hidden in our deviant minds.

DDP Antho

Including:

CONSTRUCTIVE DISMISSAL – Michael Keyton
Cheating a houngan is bad news. A classroom won’t save you.

THE LAST READING OF MADAME SHAHRAZAD – Steve Wetherell
Stacey James makes a comfortable living pretending to talk to the dead, but a dangerous stranger is about to put her talents to the ultimate test.

THE PAST ENTOMBED – C.M. Saunders
Amanda has a tragic past. She also has a gift. Or maybe it’s a curse. Psychometry. The art of ‘reading’ inanimate objects. It’s something she has struggled with her entire life, but learned to accept. Until one morning, when she stumbles across an object at a market which brings the past and the future crashing together.

WASHER WOMAN SHOALS – Liam McNalley
Between her part time job mixing drinks at her landlord’s bar and deceiving tourists as Madame Ezora, Belle earns enough money to allow for a simple new life in Key West. A strange object found on the beach, though, turns her world upside down. Now, the only way to avoid certain death is for Belle to actually contact a spirit from the other side.

MISBEGOTTEN – Frank E. Bittinger
Haunted by a memory or haunted by an actual spirit, that is the question. Even in paradise, it seems you cannot outrun the past. Will turning to one who communicates with those who have passed beyond the Veil provide answers or will it only lead to a dead end?

THIS ONE IS MINE – Katrina Monroe
Patty will look into a stranger’s past for a small fee. Now, it’s time to confront her own.

KEEPER – Renee Miller
Ford’s dusty pawn shop in the Florida Keys is full of both trash and treasure. The items he hides in the room behind the store, though, are his most prized possessions, and definitely not for sale. Rare beauty, exquisite gifts; each worth a price only Ford comprehends.

Echoes & Bones is available for a limited time at a reduced price on ebook and paperback.


The Paperbacks are Here!

The environment won’t be happy about it, but I’ve finally bowed to pressure and released my indie titles which were previously only available as ebooks on paperback. Benefiting from the treatment and now ready for purchase are Out of Time, Sker House, No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches and my latest offering, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut).

The links will take you to the UK Amazon site, but you should be given the option there to click off it and go to whichever Amazon store is most appropriate to your location.

Take it from me, getting these paperbacks to market wasn’t an easy task. Formatting and getting the covers to fit properly represents a whole new level of fuckery. As you can see, I didn’t succeed every time, and the paperback of Apartment 14F (Uncut) now sports a completely new minimalist look. Ho-hum.

My X Book collections won’t be issued in paperback in their current form. I am still a huge ebook advocate and want to have some e-exclusive stuff in my repertoire. Besides, the plan is to put out book 3 early next year, then combine all three into one bumper volume at some point thereafter. That will represent a much meatier proposition, and better value for money.

paperback-book-day1-e1434969006247


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