Candace Nola’s Bishop takes us to the wilderness of Alaska, on and off the beaten path in Tongass National Forest, where Troy Spencer is about to begin a desperate search for his sister and niece. Erin and Casey have been missing for a couple of days, and they’ve been alone in the wilds for nearly a week by the time Troy arrives in Ketchikan to begin the search. Venturing deep into the mountainous wilderness, racing against the clock, he’ll settle for nothing less than the best guide he can find. Unfortunately, the most knowledgable guide for those parts of Alaska is a gruff, solitary indigenous man who goes by the name of Bishop, and Bishop is a man of few words and many secrets. Troy knows he’s running out of time, but he has no idea how much danger his family is in, as an ancient and terrible presence exists in the forest, stalking and terrorizing Erin and Casey. Bishop knows it’s there, but Troy’s proximity limits his ability to do anything about it, and nothing will stop the evil from taking what it wants unless Bishop can free the beast inside of himself. Candace Nola brings the cold Alaskan wilderness to life, immersing us in the damp, chilly environment from which there might be no escape. Bringing her fascination with survivalism and the tools necessary for survival to bear, Nola brings Casey, Troy, and Bishop to life in vivid detail and three-dimensional depth, forcing us to experience the same tense, disquieting struggle as her characters. Jamison Walker does a decent job of providing the characters with voices of their own, distinctly separating them.
Just as the nightmarish and unfathomable events of Abhorrent Siren are reaching their feverish conclusion in San Antonio, the events of Abhorrent Faith begin. An inclusive, interfaith potluck hosted by a local Rabbi is interrupted by a hideously transformed–and transforming–monstrosity and the rabidly bigoted evangelical preacher seemingly controlling it. As the world outside the synagogue devolves into chaos and madness, a different sort of madness is on display in the defiled sanctuary. Baltisberger packs this follow-up to his previous novella with just as much perversity and horror but a different brand of social commentary. The scathing indictment of the opioid epidemic is still present, but that takes the backseat as he focuses his ire on bigotry, nationalism, and the anti-semitism embedded in altogether too much of society–and human history as a whole. Calling out the inherent hypocrisy, scriptural ignorance, and mental gymnastics embedded within right-wing Christianity, one can’t help but feel a thrill each time Ari stands up to Adrian King. At the same time, one can’t help but feel the almost tearful frustration and anger at Ari–or anyone–having to contend with the level of ignorance and hate given unworthy life in the story’s antagonist. It doesn’t take long for the reader to recognize that the monsters aren’t all outside, and I’m not talking about the infected, mutating members of Ari’s interfaith circle. Altogether too much of this narrative is non-fiction, in the sense that these abhorrent acolytes of intolerance and acrimony are everywhere one looks, and the anti-semitic sentiments are alive and thriving wherever people like that are platformed and given attention. Baltisberger is angry over this, and that anger seethes beneath the surface of his spectacular storytelling in this follow-up to Abhorrent Siren. The discerning eye might recognize a certain similarity between the cover art and a certain evangelical nut known for unhinged rants and barely suppressed bigotry. This is not an accident.
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Things haven’t been going well for Ross Lowry. He’s lost his engineering job and struggled to find a new source of income. His troubles are essentially ignored by members of his family, many of whom had no difficulty accepting his assistance when he was in the position to offer it. All of that begins to change when his cousin, Lita, and her husband, Dave, invite Ross to spend some time at their ranch in the isolated, small town of Magdelena, AZ. There’s something about the peace of being there that makes him feel like he can take them up on their offer of staying for an extended period. It seems like an excellent opportunity. Ross figures that he can sublet his place in California while assisting Dave and Lita around the ranch and continuing his online job search. Everything seems fine at first. But during the New Years’ celebration at Cameron Holtz’s ranch, when the celebrants fire their guns into the sky, something other than spent ammunition comes falling down. From that point on, everything begins to change. Animals begin dying. Those that don’t die, begin undergoing strange and unsettling transformations, both physical and behavioral. It isn’t just the animals, though, as the residents of Magdelena change as well. The status quo shifts in unpredictable manners as fortunes and positions within the community go topsy turvy. Will Ross and his small group of friends and family be able to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late for them to avoid a fate similar to seemingly everyone else? What is the monstrous thing being worshipped on Cameron Holtz’s ranch, and is it something worthy of adoration? While this isn’t the best of Bentley Little’s work, it is as deeply unsettling and imaginative as anything else he’s written. Elements of body horror and psychological horror meld perfectly with supernatural and spiritual elements to create a narrative that demands the reader/listener not turn away. Joe Barrett’s narration captures the confusion and desperation Ross and the others experience as the story grows progressively more disturbing and unreal. The characters are distinctly voiced and three-dimensional.
This review was originally written in July of 2016.
War Factory by Neal Asher took what he started in Dark Intelligence and amplified essentially every captivating element. This series within the Polity universe (the fictional future in which most of his novels take place) is actually becoming my favorite of his work, and I never expected anything to outshine the fantastic and far reaching story that started in Gridlinked. Numerous, at first seemingly loosely related, narratives weave together in a puzzle being fabricated and assembled by Penny Royal–a rogue AI with nearly godlike abilities and the associated detachment from conceptions of right and wrong–and when those stories come together it is in as intense a climax as anything else Asher has written, but on a more intimate scale than a lot of the previous novels. It’s interesting how the relatively small scale events of this series can potentially have far more widespread and profound consequences than the massive events of many of his other novels, but it is definitely intriguing to watch it play out on the pages. Asher happens to be one of those authors who simply becomes better as he continues writing, and I personally hope he never stops. The future that he envisions in these novels that take place within or ancillary to the Polity universe is a future I would be happy to witness for myself. Thankfully, the quality of the author’s writing is such that I am able to experience it in a more visceral way than I would with anyone else at the helm, I suspect.