Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book Review: BLOOD RIVER DOWN by Charles L. Grant (as Lionel Fenn)

As a huge fan of writer Charles L. Grant, but not a huge fan of fantasy, I opened my copy of Blood River Down with trepidation, fearing that this would be the one bum book that would tarnish my unblemished memory of Grant as a writer who just doesn't miss (which, in itself, is a pretty stupid notion, since there has not been a writer in history who never wrote a bad book. But I digress).

The first few chapters of Blood River Down took some heavy lifting on my part, as it was hard for me to get into the spirit and tone of the book. The goofy sense of humor and slow pace took me by surprise, since my idea of a Charles L. Grant book was shaped by such horror classics as The Orchard and the Black Oak series, solid horror/thrillers written in mesmerizing prose and filled to the brim with deliciously creepy atmospherics. Blood River Down is something entirely different.

It tells the story of Gideon Sunday, a retired football player down on his luck, who spends his days drinking, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the phone to ring, and trying to overcome his memories of his much beloved but recently departed sister. Then, suddenly, a magical door materializes in his pantry, which leads him into another world full of warriors and deadly creatures, and towards a quest to find a very special duck that can save or destroy the world.

What happens next is a series of mostly hit, and sometimes miss, series of incidents, adventures, and battles, some of which are hilarious, most of which are fun, and a few of which are downright boring. But it is obvious that Grant is having tons of fun with his tale and characters, delivering an array of puns, lame jokes, and some laugh-out-loud one-liners. And by the end of the book, I found myself smiling and feeling modestly rewarded for sticking with Gideon and company till the end (or the beginning, since this is the first part of a trilogy) of their quest.

For newcomers to Grant's work this is not the best place to start, as it lacks his mastery of atmosphere and his silky smooth prose, which is understandable, since Grant here is writing outside of the horror genre, the field he excelled at and in which he produced some of the most haunting stories ever put to paper. But if you are a die-hard fan like myself, or looking for an easy, fun fantasy read, then I'm sure you'll find much to enjoy.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON

With the departure of Frank Darabont at the end of the first season, and Glen Mazzara at the end of the third, writer/executive producer Scott Gimple took over The Walking Dead, and turned it into something, well, different.

Fans of Robert Kirkman's original comic books on which the series is based, will be very pleased by how things turn out, as, reportedly, one of the main reasons Mazzara was ousted from the show was his lack of reverence for the source material and his insistence on tinkering with it to create a dramatic landscape better suited for televised storytelling. Not anymore, as Gimple and Kirkman steer the show back, rather abruptly, I might add, to its comic book roots, with varying results.

On the plus side, the show now has more of an episodic feel, with arcs being introduced and resolved within a few episodes, and a stronger emphasis on stand-alones, which works for those just tuning in to the show, and those who are merely casual fans who dip in a few times per season to keep up with a show that is more than trendy. On the minus side, long-time fans of the show, like myself, are subjected to a rude awakening, where, suddenly, characters start acting in ways not wholly consistent with what we know and love about these characters, while the mythic, serialized approach that made the show such a ground-breaking, timeless, and haunting storytelling endeavor, is mostly gone.

The show is still very good, don't get me wrong. But it's not an incomparable, perfectionist masterpiece anymore, as Gimple is a great writer (as evidenced by his episode "The Grove", one of the finest hours ever to air on television), but only an adequate showrunner, as under his guidance the show's technical merits take a blow, losing the tightly cinematic style of the previous three seasons. And Gimple also seems to have a penchant for sentimentality, as this is the first season to have a mawkish, almost unbearably saccharine bent, which is most notable in the episode "Still", one of the worst and most sentimental episodes of the series up to that point.

By the end of the season, things even out a little bit, and we begin to get used to this new but not improved Walking Dead, taking the good with the bad, the brilliant with the average. I, for one, will continue to watch the show, hoping for the best, waiting for Gimple and co. to surprise, shock, and inspire me. And if they don't, well, there's always the first three season to watch again and again.

Only time will tell...

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017