Esther J. Hamori – God’s Monsters (2023)

Review by Justin Tate

Found this book on the short-list for a Bram Stoker award. The premise of closely reading the Bible’s monstrous sections, and specifically the numerous occasions where God acts like a monster, intrigued me.

Even as a child, I found the religious interpretation of God as “Holy, Holy, Holy” inconsistent with the same dude who murders all of Job’s family on a gamble with the devil. It’s also God who sends multitudes to Hell, not the devil. It’s God who “hardens” Pharaoh’s heart and then punishes him for it. King Herod is the one who kills a bunch of firstborn children, the vile beast! But oh wait, God did the same thing. What’s up with all the murder and manipulation? Is Christianity nothing but mass Stockholm syndrome?

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Raymond A. Palmer – The Real UFO Invasion (1967)

Review by Justin Tate

With alleged revelations that the US Government has, for decades, been secretly reverse-engineering actual alien spacecraft and is even in possession of non-Earthly “biologics,” it seemed worthwhile to revisit UFO conspiracies from yesteryear.

Few were more prominent in the field during the 1940s-1960s than Raymond A. Palmer. He was quick to ask tough questions on the front line of famous sightings. To be fair, however, many of these UFO encounters became famous only because of his effective sensationalism. As editor of the popular sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories and then Flying Saucers, a periodical devoted to the documenting, researching, and reporting of “factual” unexplainable encounters with flying objects, he had a megaphone (and conflict of interest) to assure public obsession with UFOs remained high.

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Vincent Virga – Gaywyck (1980)

Review by Justin Tate

Gaywyck was a sensation when it appeared in 1980. Critics across the US and Canada heralded its excellent prose and landmark existence as the “first gay Gothic.” Though the peer-reviewed journal Gothic Studies recently debunked this claim, having unearthed an earlier (and better) Gothic novel with unambiguous queer characters from the Stonewall era, there are still these forty years where Gaywyck held onto the title.

More important than Gaywyck’s claim of being first, however, was its mainstream appeal. It was popular in the gay community, but also a favorite among women and straight men who enjoyed the genre. The first edition ran 45,000 copies and sold out quickly, as did the second printing of 55,000.

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Belle Bruck – Women Work, Men Weep (1942)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1942, mid-WWII and the same year “Rosie the Riveter” was launched, this newsprint novel seemed certain to explore male anxieties around women arriving in the workplace. Based on the delicious title, I had hopes of fierce female characters trampling upon the pathetic squabbles of men who simply cannot handle co-ed colleagues and bosses. Might this be a lost masterpiece of early feminism?

My expectations were too high, but the story does illustrate the dizzying lengths a 1940s man might go to avoid having a female superior. Sadly she falls for the scheme and, in the end, gives up her entrepreneurial dreams to become a wife. The plot is a nauseating cringe-fest for modern audiences, but that’s not to say the writing is bad or it’s not intriguing from an historical perspective.

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Clara Coleman – Nightmare in July (1965)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1965 and written by the mysterious (and possibly pseudonymous) Clara Coleman. Archival resources and Gothic bibliographies delivered no information on the author except that they are responsible for at least two additional novels, The Scent of Sandalwood (1966) and Timbalier (1969).

Timbalier was published under the name “Clayton Coleman” and while it is not 100% clear that Clara and Clayton are the same person, it seems likely. There are no copyright listings for the Clara Coleman novels in the Library of Congress, but Timbalier is credited to Clayton W. Coleman. Perhaps the “W” will be helpful if future researchers become interested in this author.

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Chuck Tingle – Straight (2021)

Review by Justin Tate

Move over Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, there’s a new king of satire! Chuck Tingle has been tackling all manner of societal issues over the last several years. Usually this involves mimicking erotica tropes to reveal the absurdity of news headlines and other pop culture conundrums. With brief stories and endless creativity, Tingle often adapts our world into the Tingleverse in real time.

Straight is his first venture into horror tropes for social commentary, and it’s also his longest work yet. The result is an absolute delight.

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Billy Farout – Man, It Must Be Heaven (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Gay afterlife meets John Lennon utopia in this fantastical pulp novel. Murder, vengeful ghosts and tongue-in-cheek religious commentary are thrown in for good measure. As a literary artifact it offers a delightfully campy lens into the fantasies and fears of queer existence during the early 1970s.

The novel opens with Reggie Poppov waking up in the “Gay Wing of Purgatory.” He’s disoriented and wearing a big poofy wedding dress. Leaning over him is a “half nude angel” whose rippling physique makes him “more handsome” than Michelangelo’s David. The angel asks what happened to him. Reggie gradually recalls that he had dressed in wedding drag so he could legally marry his boyfriend, Bob. While posing for pictures on the Golden Gate Bridge, however, Bob pushed him over the edge so he could inherit Reggie’s family fortune.

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Johann Kreig – Pyro-Sex: The Erotic Response to Fire and Flame (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

“It was a pleasure to burn” famously wrote Ray Bradbury—but I doubt he was thinking about the kinds of fiery lust found in Pyro-Sex. Seemingly unhinged in its presentation of clearly fictionalized case studies, the book validates itself by arguing that the “sexual root of pyromania has been entirely overlooked by almost all criminologists” (8). With the aid of allegedly real criminal confessions, the book claims it will leave readers with a new understanding of sexuality’s role in the “impulse to pyromania” (166).

In these pages we meet such disturbed characters as Steven, the “runt” whose reduced stature makes him appear significantly younger than he is. Worse yet, his dick is also diminutive. After ridicule in gym class and traumatic dates where girls laugh at his little pecker, he begins to have pyromaniac fantasies.

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Jeff Strand – Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: The Novelization (2023)

Review by Justin Tate

A new novelization of an old film? Genius! There’s never been anything like this. The book is a genre all unto itself—part novelization, part expansion of the original premise, part close reading and part spoof of a spoof.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes premiered in 1978 and wears its status as one of the worst films ever made like a badge of honor. The jokes are lame, the budget is next to nothing, and the premise is absurd beyond comprehension. Yet somehow it continues to satisfy as a parody of B-movies and societal failures.

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Louisa Bronte – Lord Satan (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

“Oh—it is so huge—so very big,” she whispered, aghast.

Thus spoken is Adrienne’s deliciously Freudian description of Castle Caudill, home to her cousin Lord Vincent Stanton. Vincent is known as “Lord Satan” among the locals because of his ferocious temper and cruelty. Also he performs black masses in the cellar and is on friendly terms with Lucifer. But Adrienne finds all that out later, after marrying her cousin unwittingly in a demonic ceremony. “Unwittingly” is a bit of an understatement, she was drugged and unconscious at the time.

Adrienne does love Vincent, though, so she’s in a terrible pickle. It’s that classic situation of trying to domesticate your husband’s embarrassingly diabolical behavior—only in this case, he literally is a demon. Can the tender heart of a woman soothe the blackened soul of a fiend, or will Adrienne succumb to temptation and willingly join the satanic rituals?

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