And I've a few more books to add to this year's roster...
13) Infernal Machine: the machinery of torture and execution by Erik Ruling (November 2007, Disinformation Press, 90 pages).
A nonfiction work presenting almost three dozen devices historically used by human beings to torment or kill other human beings. Nothing so simplistic as weapons, the devices on display in this volume range from simple torment to outright murderous. Each device is presented in both prose and photograph, and while those photos are rather simplistic (sort of a catalog shot, the item against a color neutral background), they are indeed quite chilling. There is little that horrifies me more than what ee cumings called "this busy monster, manunkind". Here is a collection of humanity at its most perverse, utilizing its vast imagination and knowledge for the simple act of inhumanity... Fascinating and disturbing.
14) Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott (February 2008, Wizards of the Coast Discoveries, 390 pages).
An ARC I received, this is a dark novel set in a fantasy world, written in a rather unique style so as to emulate the nonlinearity of memory. The gimmick (for lack of a better word) is that the protagonist is writing a series of letters, wherein she recollects the major events of her past (something of a coming of age), wherein she was called home from her training as an elite warrior to help her uncle track down their grandfather, who had gone mad and committed murder. This of course is only the beginning, and the events cycle up to earth shaking import. However, the plot (which starts strong and then goes someplace disappointingly familiar) is the least interesting part of the narrative. These "letters" (ranging from a paragraph to several pages) are separate scenes, which build off tangentially from one another. Thus, memory is not presented as a historical time line, but something much more complex. A bit of a challenging read, at first, but delightful. The fact that the author has a rather lyrical style (and evokes plenty of compelling images) is quite nice, too. A slow, complex, but invigorating read... I'll have to revisit it some day.
15) The Man on the Ceiling by Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem (March 2008, Wizards of the Coast Discoveries, 370 pages).
A rather unique volume, this is one part memoir, one part dream book, one part short story collection, one part meditation upon the craft of writing, one part meditation upon the importance and power of story, one part meditation upon the meaning of family... In short, it's a difficult to pigeon hole volume, but it's an engaging, informative, sad, ebulent, and insightful read, which offers the one that that straight ahead fiction offers better than most nonfiction: verisimilitude. A truth from beyond the simple literal. There are parts of this work that will appeal to just about everyone -- writers and readers, alike.
16) No Quarter by Everette Bell (2006, Creative Guy Publishing, 52 pages).
A splatter/dark crime novella, this story finds the bloody aftermath of a bank robbery gone awry. Three criminals hole up in a tattoo parlor while the police converge outside. The plot is a total Hong Kong cinema roller coaster, aspiring to be among the fiction of Stephen Hunter and David J. Schow. Unfortunately, the writing is a tad amateurish (this reader, the son of a police officer, grew irritated by poor research; this reader, also a physicist, rolled his eyes at the cartoon physics found only in films). Still, there's an undeniable energy underlying things here. Too bad the lackluster writing steals much of the work's thunder. Verb choices are uninspired (settling, instead, on Swifties... he winced painfully), the dialogue is that wooden variety found in the worst Hemingway knock offs, and the characters are given only a glaze of depth. While this novella would provide the seed crystal to an invigorating crime/action film -- sort of what would happen if John Woo (in his Hard Boiled/The Killer days) remade Dog Day Afternoon -- as a story, it needed to cook a little longer. It's only half baked.
Longer reviews for all of these will be up on Horror Reader, soon...