Saturday, March 23, 2013

My review of VOICES FROM HADES by Jeffrey Thomas.

(Originally published at

Welcome to Hades. Again.

Author Jeffrey Thomas is back with a short story collection set in the mythical, nefarious realm previously explored in his novel, LETTERS FROM HADES. Ever wanted to experience the many torments and terrors of Hell without actually dying and going there? Well, here's your chance. And you need not have read the novel that came before to enjoy—if you're the twisted sort of individual who actually enjoys this sort of stuff—the stories presented in this collection.

After two different introductions, we come to the first story entitled "The Abandoned." Here we meet Maria, a beautiful woman who, upon finding herself resurrected in Hell where she will spend all of eternity for the Earthly sin of "forsaking the Father," finds herself for a time within "the Demon city of Tartarus." There she is forced to work in a factory where demonic creatures are actually assembled like biological robots. These creatures will then, in turn, torture Maria and the other workers who are directly responsible for bringing them into existence. After one interminably long shift on the assembly line, Maria returns to her sleeping chambers to find a baby demon, one of the kinds that is actually birthed and grown much as a human child would be. How it could have gotten there she is not entirely sure. What she does know is that she is faced with a decision: protect it or have it destroyed. A decision which will ultimately have a profound effect upon the remainder of her days in Hades.

In "Black Wings" we meet Xaphan and Vjeshitza, a pair of demons residing within the looming, red-orange palace called Urian where angels on vacation from Heaven come to stay. And what do these angels do with their time in Hell? Why, they go out with rifles and hunt damned souls, of course. Now, Xaphan—a male demon—and Vjeshitza—a female—are lovers. When an angel couple arrives at castle Urian, the husband there to partake in the local sport, Xaphan finds himself summoned by the wife to help with some menial task. This leads to an affair between the demon and the angel woman, an affair from which no good can come. No good at all.

Next up is "Siren." In this cheery little tale we meet an angel named Stephen who finds himself far from enjoying any sort of Heavenly bliss, mainly due to the fact that he must face eternity within a replica of the less-than-attractive body which he inhabited as a mortal soul on Earth. In other words, he's not having much luck getting laid. So he, too, decides to spend some quality R&R time in Hades. While on a cruise across one of the underworld's vast oceans of blood, he visits an island where three beautiful damned women are forced to endure a cruel and agonizing punishment day after day after day... Stephen becomes obsessed with witnessing the endless torment of these three souls in distress, of one in particular. An obsession which leads to a torment all its own.

In "Sweet Oblivion," the collection's shortest tale, a damned soul named Patrick finds a stray cat while out working in a field where food is grown for a particular race of demons known as Buddhas. Patrick is told by a fellow worker that it is impossible for the cat to be there, as no terrestrial animals have ever been found in Hades. So how did the cat get there? Is it possible that the pathway it followed to get there might also lead back the other way? Out of Hades entirely?

A damned soul, an artist named Wanda, is brought to Heaven to work on a painting for an angel in "The Secret Gallery." The time spent away from the torments endured by Wanda throughout her time in Hades comes as a welcome reprieve. Although, this unexpected blessing has a dark side, of course, for as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end...

"The Burning House"—a story also presented in the author's excellent collection, Thirteen Specimens—takes the reader inside The Skull, one of Hell's roaming torture factories. Here, we follow the exploits of an unlikely pair, a damned soul and a young angel, as they gain entrance into The Skull and set about the rather desperate task of freeing a young boy who was abducted by demons to be tortured there.

The book's final story, "Piece of Mind," tells the tale of Leon Brown, a man who was a reporter while still alive back on Earth. He would travel the world—Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia—taking in firsthand the scenes of some of the worst examples of human rights violations on the planet. Really no wonder that he ended up losing whatever faith he had in God to begin with. A sin that landed him in Hades, suffering for all eternity. One day, Leon discovers that there is talk of a rebellion, that a group of damned souls has decided to fight back against their demonic captors. Swept up in the cause, Leon finds himself in the middle of a rebel uprising. Along the way, he bears witness to an unfolding situation which may lead to another form of human rights violation. But this time, he has the power to do something about it.

Fans of LETTERS FROM HADES will undoubtedly enjoy revisiting the Hell of Jeffrey Thomas's imagination. And, as mentioned earlier, you needn't have read the former book to follow the stories presented here as they all stand quite well on their own. While it's interesting to discover how the characters maintain their humanity in the face of the horrors visited upon them, the real star of the show here is the world itself. With its black skies, sprawling cities, and vast seas of blood, Hades is a dark wonderland of the imagination. Needless to say, if you like your fiction filled with otherworldly horrors, you'd do well to pick up a copy of VOICES FROM HADES.

You can purchase VOICES FROM HADES here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My review of THE STRAIN: BOOK ONE OF THE STRAIN TRILOGY by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

(Originally published at

Guillermo Del Toro (yes, that Guillermo Del Toro) and author Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves, Standoff, The Killing Moon) have come together to create The Strain: Book One of the Strain Trilogy. Beforehand, one might think that the book would resonate with otherworldly, fantastic themes as one of its co-authors is the director of such films as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, not to mention the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. There are no elves here, though, no magical spells or friendly demons. What we have here is—wait for it—


It seems that with his literary debut, Del Toro is more comfortable channeling his Blade 2 side than with creating some dark yet whimsical fairy tale. And with vampires being all the rage these days, it is undoubtedly a sound decision from the standpoint of actually selling books. The question is, with all of the recent undead material out there—TwilightTrue BloodLet the Right One In, etc.—were co-authors Del Toro and Hogan able to come up with something captivating and at least a little bit original? As your trusted reviewer, I have to say that I went into this book with at least a little bit of trepidation, but was happy to discover that I was hooked early and found myself more than adequately entertained throughout the novel’s four hundred pages.

After a brief prologue, The Strain opens with a jetliner coming in for a landing at JFK International Airport in New York City which then goes completely dead on the runway. There are no lights working inside or outside the aircraft and no response from the cockpit. Tension builds as time passes and it is feared that all of the passengers and crew inside the plane may be dead. Enter Ephraim Goodweather, head of a local “Canary team” for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a “rapid-response team of field epidemiologists organized to detect and identify incipient biological threats.” Fearing some sort of pathogen may be responsible for what is occurring within the quiet Boeing 777, Eph’s weekend with his son—who spends most of his time with Eph’s ex-wife—is brought to an abrupt end as he is called in to assess the situation at the airport. And that’s when things start to get weird. Only four comatose survivors are found among the hundreds of dead people onboard the plane. And when they are eventually revived, these survivors have no recollection of what was done to them and their fellow passengers. Oh, and there’s the large wooden box in the cargo hold that resembles some sort of coffin, filled with dirt, which suddenly and quite inexplicably goes missing.

It’s all downhill from there.

At its heart—no pun intended—The Strain is an undead-creature-as-carrier-for-an-infectious-and-transformative-disease story. Certainly, not the most original of concepts but one that is pulled off quite effectively. There is no shortage of action here and plenty of creepy little moments usually involving people faced with infected family members who have come home, guided there by some mindless need for sanctuary. Eph finds that he must undergo his own transformation from doctor-as-healer to a man who must destroy. For, you see, the only known way to treat the unfortunately infected individuals is through decapitation, a reality that Eph finds, quite understandably, more than a bit difficult to face. He is not alone, however, in his fight against the threat facing the city and possibly all of humankind. Aiding him is Nora Martinez, a co-worker and a woman with whom Eph has had an occasional fling. There is also Vasiliy Fet, a New York City exterminator who first realizes that something strange is going on when all of the rats seem to be fleeing their homes beneath the city streets. And there is also an old man named Setrakian who has encountered this sort of outbreak before and has been dreading the time when a similar situation would inevitably occur again. As the powers that be use the media to downplay the severity of the situation, these four people are the only ones aware of the true threat only just beginning to mount against the city. Except for a handful of powerful, ancient, supernatural entities, that is, and an unimaginably wealthy and physically debilitated man who plays a key role in the spreading of the infection for his own secretive and selfish purposes.

The Strain, for the most part, is a lot of fun. Horror fans, by and large, should find themselves suitably entertained by its creepier moments not to mention its suitably gruesome action sequences. Even those who may be, quite understandably, sick to death of the recent onslaught of vampire books, TV shows, and movies. I, for one, however, have no trouble admitting that I am looking forward to the next installment of Del Toro and Hogan’s “Strain trilogy.” I guess I just have a soft spot for tales involving the threat of humanity’s demise. Go figure.