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Review: Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard October 22, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard

So, I liked Carter and Lovecraft a lot, and learned that Howard wrote another Lovecrafty novel, so I bought the ebook. You wouldn’t necessarily expect two Lovecraftian novels by the same author to be damn near polar opposites in pretty much every respect (except quality), but that’s the case.

I haven’t read any of the Johannes Cabal books before now. This is the third one. Where Howard captures a hard-edged, noir, American style for Carter and Lovecraft, here he uses a very different style, dry, witty, and cruel, like Cabal himself. There is a lot of humour in the book, frequently very dark humour at the expense of supporting characters, who don’t appear to have any reasonable expectation of a long life or a peaceful, painless death.

I really enjoyed the style. For example: “For the first time, he truly understood what Nietzsche had meant when he had yammered about looking into abysses. Not only had the abyss looked into him, it had noted his name, address and shoe size.”

As for the story: the sinister necromancer is approached by a trio who represent the Fear Institute, a group who intend to improve the world by eliminating the emotion of fear. And (here’s where Lovecraft comes in) they’ve determined that the source of fear is in the Dreamlands, another world that can be reached through dreams or physical visits, as portrayed in stories like “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”

The book becomes a quest through the Dreamlands for the Phobic Animus. Some things are not as they seem. The rules of the Dreamlands take some figuring out, too. And the somewhat protracted ending goes through a few steps with some interesting revelations and a setup for the next volume.

Howard’s style and tone are as right for a Dreamlands adventure here as they are in Carter and Lovecraft for a very different type of tale. Both are definitely recommended for fans of fresh takes on Lovecraftian fiction, but they should both work quite well for relative newcomers to HPL, too.

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Review: Carter and Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard October 18, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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Carter and Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard

Another review written in exchange for a free advance ereading copy through Netgalley and the good people of St Martin’s Press.

This is how it’s done. Many writers have tried to mesh the hardboiled crime story with Lovecraftian horror and failed to pull it off. Jonathan Howard makes it work here, and that’s largely down to minimizing the Lovecraftian elements. The story certainly is Lovecraftian by the end, but it’s not about references to every bit of mythos lore. It starts with the capture of a serial killer that goes strange, and then there are other crimes that seem all but inexplicable, Meanwhile, the title protagonists are given time to become real and interesting characters.

Howard did this book as work for hire; it’s been optioned for TV. I’m hopeful that the TV version is not simply planned as an adaptation of the novel, because I want to see what happens next. The book’s resolution introduces a whole new world of possibilities that I’d like to see explored. I’d also like to see more of the characters Carter and Lovecraft. There’s a lot of character and relationship development waiting to be explored there, too. I hope it’s Howard who gets to do that in another novel, TV series or no, because he did a great job bringing these characters and their world to life. I really want to see more Carter and Lovecraft from him.

Expanding on what I posted at Netgalley…

Howard wrote about the book for Tor.com. He also wrote a previous novel with Lovecraftian elements and wrote about that one at Tor, too. I’m going to have to check it out.

There’s a novel that gets a lot of praise from Lovecraftians across the Internet: Nightmare’s Disciple by Joseph Pulver. It’s about a serial killer driven by his belief in Lovecraft’s mythos and the detective trying to track him down. I was surprised by the praise, because that book does everything wrong that Howard’s gets right: an unbelievable villain, hopelessly clunky dialogue, and way, way, way too many references to every bit of Lovecraftian lore Pulver could squeeze in, along with other references and in-jokes. Howard has a character named Lovecraft, yes, and she’s a descendant of HP (it’s a work of fiction, so why not), and Carter turns out to be related to Randolph Carter, a fictional creation of HPL in our reality; there are references to the Dreamlands and the films Re-Animator and From Beyond, but there’s not a single “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!” to be found here. The chapter titles will draw the eye of the knowledgeable reader, though.

And then there’s C.J. Henderson’s pulpy mythos/hardboiled detective stories, which are, well, pulpy mythos tales of interest to the hardcore. Howard’s book has the potential to appeal to people who don’t know names like Chaosium, Robert Price, or S.T. Joshi. It’s accessible while still telling a story that will appeal to longtime Lovecraft/mythos readers like me. That’s no small accomplishment.

Reviews: The Comic Book Story of Beer and The Beer Bible October 6, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Beer, Book reviews.
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More from Netgalley.

First, The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith. This is a breezy read that takes an American look at the history of beer. It’s a good starting point for anyone who might want an introduction to the history of beer, the development and characteristics of key types, and the growth of the craft beer industry. (It doesn’t look only at American beer history, but the later chapters do tend to focus much more on the USA than other areas.)

The art is generally workable, with occasional little swipes from other cartoonists’ styles. It looks more like a graphic novel than the old line of “… for Beginners” books a few years back did, though there are occasional one-page infodumps looking at the key beer types. Ideally, readers will start here and get interested enough to go search out better beer experiences. It doesn’t tell you everything you may want to know, but it’s not trying to. It’s trying to bring you quickly up to speed on the big picture and get you interested enough to find out more. It should do reasonably well at that.

And now, The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth.

There’s a lot of information packed into these 650 cleanly laid out, well illustrated pages. History of beer in general, history of craft brewing, breakdown of the key types of beer, the history of each, and suggested examples… the great frustration for many readers will be the difficulty in tracking down some of the beers mentioned.

Unsurprisingly, this is a US-centric book. The only references to Canada, which is undergoing a considerable craft brewing phase at the moment, are a few to a long-established Quebec brewery. But that means there’s another book to be written by someone else one of these days. Americans and visitors to the USA who find well-stocked stores will likely have many suggestions they’ll want to investigate. I’ve only tried one of the seven suggested porters; I’ve never even seen any of the others. But the information may still come in handy, and the tip about letting imperial stouts age may prove useful.

Beer lovers and beer neophytes can both benefit from this guide. IPA-loving hopheads may be intrigued by other styles; newbies can learn just how broad a range of possibilities there are in the world of beer. It’s a good book for dipping in and out of but it holds up to more sustained reading as well. Definitely a handy book to have around.

If you get both, you won’t necessarily regret it, despite some duplication of information. You may find one works better as a cover-to-cover read while the other makes a good reference to dip into occasionally.