Short Story Review: “Wolverton Station” by Joe Hill

WolvertonI’ve never traveled abroad, but I think I’d be able to relate somewhat to Saunders, the main character of Joe Hill‘s short story “Wolverton Station.” He’s in a strange place, unsure of some of the things he’s seeing, and getting more overwhelmed by the minute. Of course, I imagine my feelings would stem from things like the strange food or the language barrier rather than, you know, wolves who walk upright, wear business suits and casually slaughter my fellow passengers.

Hill’s story, previously published in the 2011 Subterranean Press anthology Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy and recently released as an ebook single, mixes a little Twilight Zone with a little Tales From the Darkside and a substantial dash of
sociopolitical commentary to produce a solid if unspectacular horror tale. Saunders is an executive for a restaurant chain that specializes in coffee, and he’s come to England to oversee the chain’s first steps in expansion. This means finding locations that are near mom ‘n pop type operations and crowding his way into the market. Saunders makes no bones about his methods, and Hill does little to try and paint the man in a sympathetic light. So really, it’s no big deal when a wolf in a nice suit sits next to him on the train – we’re pretty sure Saunders is going to die, and we really don’t care.

Hey, not all horror stories have to be about the hero that gets away – sometimes they can be about the scumbag who gets what he deserves. Saunders is the kind of guy who went to a monastary and came away with the revelation that a burger joint across the street would have made a killing. While he’s adept at making great business decisions he’s made some poor life choices in his time, and he makes a couple here that seal his fate.

“Wolverton Station” is a minor note in Hill’s overall (brilliant) catalog, a fun, quick piece that would be right at home in a pulp magazine. It doesn’t hold a candle to the stories in his collection 20th Century Ghosts, his novels, or his work on the series Locke and Key, but for a buck it’s definitely worth a download and a half hour of your time.

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Review: ‘You’d Better Watch Out’ by Tom Piccirilli

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it’s still expected to provide some satisfaction – otherwise, what’s the point? That’s one of the questions I found myself pondering as I read the last chilling words of Tom Piccirilli’s idea of a Christmas story, You’d Better Watch Out.

Written in engaging first-person style, Watch Out takes us along the tortured ride of a narrator whose life is following two distinct and usually incompatible paths. On one hand he’s a cold, calculating killer, a “torpedo” (hit man) for a mid-level mobster. On the other hand he’s a family man, husband to his childhood sweetheart and father to twins. The paths were chosen for him on a Christmas morning when his father, a corrupt cop with a hellacious temper, killed his mother in gruesome fashion for having an affair. Our “hero” meets his love in foster care, and grows up to work alongside the man his mother was having an affair with.

While everyone around him waits for the ticking time bomb to explode, the young man fools them all by going about his work in solemn, efficient fashion. It’s a smart move, enabling him to build a semblance of a normal life for his growing family while keeping him close to one of the men he wants to kill. The other man, his father, is enjoying a king’s life in his prison cell, but the narrator knows that his time there is limited, and that sooner or later they’ll have a chance to reunite.

Piccirilli uses a cheerless, matter-of-fact voice for the narrator, underscoring just how much of his humanity was scooped away on the morning he saw his father kill his mother. He’s kind and tender toward his wife, his wife’s family and, eventually, their children, but inside he’s hollow, going through the motions in convincing but empty fashion. It’s haunting character work, and it makes you think about the empty-eyed people we pass on the street sometimes, those who seem to be carrying on with their normal lives but may just be waiting for the right cue to rampage.

As Piccirilli continues to evolve from gothic horror writer to crime writer, I’m amazed at how his voice keeps changing while still remaining distinct. Some of the lush poetry of works like A Choir of Ill Children may be gone, but it’s been replaced with a bare knuckle style that sings in its own way, and is absolutely note perfect for the subject matter at hand. You’d Better Watch Out has echoes of some of the great crime fiction being written today, and yet it’s still recognizably his own.

I chose this novella to christen the new Kindle I got for Christmas, feeling sure it wouldn’t disappoint. I was right. And it’s exciting to note that Piccirilli has really embraced digital publishing over the last year or so, and there’s a lot of good material of his just waiting in the wings.

Cemetery Dance opens eBooks store

'Shades' by Brian Keene and Geoff Cooper is just one of the hard-to-find titles now available through the Cemetery Dance eBooks store.

Small press publisher Cemetery Dance joined the digital publishing party in a big way this week, debuting their own eBooks store with 20 hard-to-find titles on display and many more coming.

CD is in a unique position to make this move a successful one because of the high quality of their back catalog. They’ve worked with virtually every heavy hitter in the horror industry, from Stephen King to Peter Straub to Jack Ketchum to Brian Keene. They’re established enough in the marketplace that their digital line complements their main business, which is quality crafted limited editions, instead of replacing it. And, they have a lot of exclusive material which isn’t already available at a cheaper price point somewhere else.

For example, one of the books now available (in multiple formats, including for Nooks and Kindles) is Shades, the long-out-of-print collaboration between Keene and Geoff Cooper. The original hardcover incarnation is difficult to find, and someone who simply wants to read it would likely pay more than the digital price of $7.99 to get their hands on one. For collectors, the hardcover is still out there; for readers and more casual fans, it’s available for perhaps the first time ever.

I think this move is a great one for CD, and although I’ll be a proponent of the good old-fashioned physical book for the rest of my life, I can’t deny the new possibilities digital publishing is opening up. For authors, it offers exposure to a new audience that can’t risk $40 or more for an unknown quantity, but may be willing to part with less than $10 to give something new a try. More readers = more revenue = better likelihood that we’ll see more work from those writers.

It’s good for CD because it brings them new customers and more exposure, yet it doesn’t hurt their core audience, which buys books as collectibles. In fact, I’m betting that many CD customers will buy the physical book as a collectible, and the electronic version to read so they don’t have to take the collectible out of its shrinkwrap.

Finally, it’s good for readers. We get new, affordable editions of books that we otherwise may not get to read; we get the opportunity to discover new authors while risking less cash; and we still have access to CD’s physical books with their great aesthetic values.

It’s also a (small) victory for Amazon, as this looks like the final push I needed to jump on the Kindle bandwagon. After all, it’s my duty as someone who writes about books to stay on top of these things, right? Works for me….