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Book Notes: Dead Reckonings, No. 1

Dead Reckonings isn't technically a book; it's a horror review journal, and this is the first issue. However, it's formatted like a book, softcover with non-glossy pages, so I'm pretending it is one.

Edited by Jack M. Haringa (mssrcrankypants) and S. T. Joshi.
Hippocampus Press, Spring 2007
Started & finished: Monday, January 7, 2008

Jack is a heckuva nice guy with inexhaustible knowledge of and well-informed opinions about the horror genre. I met him randomly at Boskone 44 last February, and had an entertaining and enlightening chat with him, Adam Golaski, and John Langan (whose writing appears in this book) about the subject. I'm a horror newbie; while I've read a fair amount of Lovecraft and Poe, that's about as far into the horror genre as I've ever ventured. These guys talked about so much stuff that sounded fascinating and intriguing that I've been trying to make more of an effort to read horror. When I saw Jack briefly at Readercon last June, I bought a copy of the newly-printed first issue of Dead Reckonings, which I then added to my ever growing "to read" pile and haven't looked at since. I figured before I ran into Jack at Boskone this year (assuming he's going—are you, Jack?) I'd try to read this issue of DR and post my thoughts. Then maybe if I end up in a conversation about horror, I can have a clue about what's being talked about, even if I don't yet have any opinions about the subject matter.

The second review in the book, written by Tony Fonseca, is largely well-written but ends with what I read as a rather snooty dismissal of personal narratives versus archetypal stories:
Certainly, both types of writing have their strengths. However, dear reader, I ask you, which style has survived thousands of years, and in almost every culture, passed down from generation to generation?
My immediate reaction to this (albeit rhetorical) question was, "Uh, both?" I can't help feeling that I'm missing something in what Fonseca's trying to say, and the feeling I got from the above passage left a bad taste in my mouth. However, Fonseca's later review (in this book) of Jack Ketchum's Weed Species is very well-done, and does a great job conveying the stomach-churningness of Ketchum's book.

Joshi's review of Ramsey Campbell's Secret Stories and Paula Guran's review of David J. Schow's Havoc Swims Jaded and Glen Hirshberg's American Morons, as well as a few reviews later in the book, make use of an outmoded feature of media reviews: extensive plot overviews. I know this is a traditional part of reviewing, since in the past, unless you were standing in a bookstore with a copy of the book in your hand, it was difficult to find out what the book was about, so it was important to convey that in the review, but nowadays I can easily get that information by glancing at Amazon. When I read a review, I want critical analysis, exploration of themes and styles, literary comparison, and the reviewer's (preferably informed) opinions—not a thousand words telling me the plot of the book but carefully leaving out the major spoilers. I tried to make sure I did this in the book reviews I wrote for UberReview (Getting to Know You by David Marusek and Overclocked by Cory Doctorow) and I think I pulled it off.

Michael Marano's review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and James Newman's The Wicked is absolutely fantastic. Full of vivid, hilarious imagery and top-notch cultural references, it's a quick and entertaining read, and by the end I knew exactly how Marano felt about the two books, and why. This is primo review material, seriously.

Overall, DR provided a good read and a handful of promising recommendations for future horror reads, if I ever get caught up on my giant pile.

Pg 10, ¶ 2: "Alan Quartermain" should be Allan Quatermain.

Pg 15, ¶ 5: "it seems to come out of right field, blindsiding the reader". Reading "right field" instead of the usual "left field" here gave me a bit of a jolt. While it's a perfectly normal turn of phrase, I wonder why the writer chose to make the turn. "Left" is usually used because, traditionally, the concept of "left" has a sinister, gauche connotation—that of wrongness—and the phrase is supposed to indicate that something is weird or unexpected. Flipping the phrase over to "right" seems to negate that somewhat, instead indicating that something came from the correct or good place, something we understand. That's not what the whole passage in the review is indicating, so I disagree with the choice.

Pg 39, ¶ 1: "rather, the killer is part a malicious diety's divine plan." should be "part of a malicious...".

Pg 42, ¶ 3: "regret-table"?

Pg 48, ¶ 2: "I would not longer use the term" should be "I would no longer use the term...".

Pg 56, ¶ 4: "immediate" should be "immediately".

Pg 80, ¶ 2: "Wag-goner"?