Carmilla Reads

My name is Carmilla Voiez and I am a book addict. I write, mostly horror and urban fantasy, and I read across a wide spectrum of genres.

Neither comedy nor horror for the most part

Dead Funny - Robin Ince, Johnny Mains

I had very high hopes for this collection of horror stories by comedians. Sadly, my high expectations were largely unfulfilled. For example, Sara Pascoe's book "Animal" was enjoyable and I love her comic timing on screen. Stewart Lee has produced some of my favourite comedy sketches (after Rob Newman). With both of them listed as contributors, I was thrilled to find this book.

There are decent stories, but as a collection it doesn't tick either the great horror or comedy boxes for me.

My favourite story was "Filthy Night" by Charlie Higson, and it was also the most humorous. While it's a stretch to define it as horror, Stewart Lee's "A View from a Hill" was familiarly irreverent and entertaining. "A Spider Remember" by Sara Pascoe was weird and clever; she didn't let me down. "Dog" by Reece Shearmith was the most sinister of the lot. "For Everyone's Good", by Al Murray, held my interest. "Most out of Character" by Robert Ince was a self-aware and rather disgusting first person narrative about someone infected by a rage virus, however many of the images were repeated later in "All Warm Inside" by Neil Edmond, which marred the impact of both. Another satisfying read that wasn't horror was Katy Brands's "For Roger". I liked the circular form and enjoyed the style. I loved Tim Key's 56 word story "Halloween", definitely a highlight of the collection and hilarious horror.

I summary, if I had gone into the collection with lower expectations I might have enjoyed it more, but even so there were good stories in this anthology.

Gorgeous debut

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

I read the Vintage edition that included an afterword where Morrison discusses the problems she sees in her first novel, and while I enjoyed Beloved and Song of Solomon more, this book in spite of Morrison's complaints is an amazing debut.

 

We can see in the text the seeds of the author's immense talent and beautiful use of language that come to fruition in later works. Its a book full of heart, narrated by children who have not yet been crushed by the concepts of beauty and ugliness and connect the lack of marigolds with the tragedy of their friend.

 

"It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, 'You are ugly people.' They had looked about themselves saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance.

 

It rages at a standard of beauty that excludes blackness. A school system that elevates whiteness, and a society that accepts as normal male cruelty and dominance. The prose is rich and poetic and the characters are gritty and flawed.

String theory for dummies?

Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos - Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku’s “Parallel Worlds” is a non-fiction book that explains theories about the Big Bang, the properties and theories about our universe, and the likelihood that our universe is one of many worlds in a layered multiverse, nestled mere millimetres apart. I thought I would be free of mysticism and religion in pure science, but quickly realised that many physicists believe that the universe/multiverse was designed rather than created accidentally.

 

 

Although I rarely felt that I fully understood Kaku’s arguments, I did gain new insight into the workings of our universe and the point of investing in huge projects such as the Large Hadron Collider. Eventually, probably at the stage at which we develop into a peaceful, egalitarian and technologically superior species, the stars will go out and our universe will freeze. The LHC and other such experiments aim to understand our universe and move closer to being able to create an escape hatch to a parallel world or travel back in time, when that becomes necessary for our survival.

A tale of abuse and limited freedom

The Vet's Daughter: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC) - Barbara Comyns, Jane Gardam

My tutor recommended I read this when he read the proposal for my end of module assignment. My story is about losing a parent and reevaluating that and other relationships, but it has a magical realism slant. The reason for recommending this book, he said, was that this is a very straight story that suddenly becomes supernatural at the end. Having read it I suspect his memory of the tale is flawed. 

 

The Vet's Daughter is a tale of a young woman who is stuck in a very unhealthy situation, or rather a series of unhealthy situations, with no means to escape. Her father is abusive to the point that she fears he will one day kill her. Her mother becomes very ill and dies early in the book and her father brings a housekeeper/mistress into the house (home implies a safe place). The mistress is manipulative and frequently nasty to Alice (the first person narrator), but the most unforgivable thing she does is

when she attempts to sell the young woman's virginity. This isn't said explicitly, but it is the only explanation that makes sense.

 

Between the harrowing nature of Alice's days she finds peace in moments of levitation, that she suspects everyone experiences but never talks about. This freedom is short lived and eventually leads to a tragic end. 

(show spoiler)

 

 

It's evocatively written and a powerful read. 

Is fiction the best way to learn complicated abstract concepts?

Anathem - Neal Stephenson

I struggled at first. In my defence it's the first book of its kind that I've sunk my cerebral teeth into. Initially (for the first 100 pages or so) it was like wading through molasses - slow and exhausting, but when I was able to stop for a moment and take a sip, sweet and stimulating.

Once the characters began to come alive in my mind, the concepts - maths and quantum mechanics, geometrodynamics, astrophysics, and more - gripped me and I found myself unable to put the book down and actually gaining at least a surface understanding of some very challenging subjects.

The first 100 pages took longer to read than the last 800. An amazing book that has left me with exciting thoughts and dreams. I will be reading more by this author.

Technology, spies and activism

Homeland - Cory Doctorow

The cover, of the edition I read, didn't make it clear that this was the second book in the series, and on occasion I wondered what events the narrator was referring to, they seemed too important to warrant no more than a brief mention. Now I have ordered book one and look forward to reading that soon.

Apart from the occasional confusion, the book is a complete story and worked perfectly as a standalone. A young hacker, Marcus, is entrusted with secrets about the operations of the US Homeland Security. He has to decide whether to risk his safety and expose the atrocities or stay safe. It's a YA book, however it is written in a way that it will appeal to people of all ages with an interest in civil liberties and activism.

Marcus and his friends are warm and idealistic, and the main story, the included short story based on the aftermath of the Seneca quake, and the articles by internet activists all made me want to go and learn code and get involved. In many ways it reminded me of Robert Newman's book "The Fountain at the Centre of the World" and its depiction of the Battle for Seattle.

A very useful reference book

Wordsmithery: The Writer's Craft and Practice - Jayne Steel

A slim volume packed with accessible advice from lecturers in Creative Writing. It covers novel writing, short stories and poetry. I especially enjoyed the articles about point of view, by Linda Anderson, and settings "Writing the Landscape", by Lee Martin. Whether you are studying Creative Writing at university or a writer wanting to improve their craft, I think this is a clear, concise and comprehensive reference book that you will return to again and again.

Upcoming Book Release
Upcoming Book Release

The Venus Virus is being released February 20th.

New London: 2067

Britain struggles to rebuild after the crushing devastation of the Great Flood.

Those in power have formed a new regime in the wake of the disaster. Whether it is a hard-won utopia or an oppressive nightmare depends entirely on gender. Unmarried women have no legal rights or protection, and their access to education and employment is limited to ensure their servitude. Yet a fire burns within them to prove they are far from the weaker sex, and their rebellion seeks to tear down the patriarchal rule.

Cerys and Gloria have very different dreams, but a common enemy. Joining an underground alliance, they discover a group of scientists in possession of a weapon powerful enough to change society forever.

Their radical solution is not without great risk. Failure means death or imprisonment. Success could land them in a seat of authority, over a society that loathes them, without the requisite skills to thrive.

If you play on Facebook, please join the party on Feb 27 at https://www.facebook.com/events/121428385749473/


Dreamlike and fragmented with brilliant insight.

Amerika - Franz Kafka

While Amerika was posthumously published from an incomplete manuscript, it still works. Perhaps this is due to the dream-like, fragmented narrative we expect from the author. There are some confusing moments, such as the reappearance of an old friend to whom the reader has never been introduced, but on the whole its holes do not upset the story.

Karl Rossman is a young German who has been sent to America after the family's maid seduces him and becomes pregnant. The logic behind this dismissal is that the family do not wish to have to pay child support. The story begins on an ocean liner.

Karl is naively confident throughout of his ability to find decent work and gradually move upwards in this land of the free. Ironically, both these ideas, while never deserting the protagonist, are proven false again and again. Instead he starts at the top of New York society when he encounters his uncle, then slides further and further down the social helterskelter. Any choices he makes are quickly thwarted, and instead of freedom, Karl is trapped in a sequence of prisons, each more miserable than the last. He is also increasingly aware that others are similarly trapped.

"Even he, strong giant as he was, could not take a step of his own free will, and it was out of the question to think of influencing the crowd..."

The novel is a celebration of absurdity. A satire on the idea of this utopian Capitalist society where everyone has the opportunity to become a millionaire if they work hard enough. Perhaps due to Karl's unwavering optimism, it reminds me of Voltaire's Candide - the best of all possible worlds - a curse rather than a blessing. The characters (excluding the passive and kindhearted Karl) are over the top monstrosities. Our hero is swept along with the narrative, subject to the whims of others.

The final chapter is Karl's redemption, a place where all are accepted, reached via the underground train after you pay the toll (of course) where you are greeted by heralding angels with trumpets, although the noise is a cacophany. The arrivals, seekers, are all given roles despite the fearsome beaurocracy of the various employment offices, then they feast together, before racing for the train and heading to Oklahoma to join the theatre as artists. It is hard not to see a heavenly allegory in all of this.

Elements of Horror: Water

Reblogged from Lora's Rants and Reviews :
Water - P.J. Blakey-Novis

Edited by P.J. Blakely-Novis

 

This is the fourth of a four book series of anthologies with stories based on the elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

 

Although Fire is still my favourite, I think this one showed the most variety of ways in which to use the Water element in the stories. Out of the twelve stories, I would say seven of them were outstanding; Final Demand, which is about a sacrifice to a beast that lives beneath an island, High Tide, about a woman who inherits her aunt's seaside cottage but the real horror is her controlling mother, Water Goblins, about some seriously scary creatures that come out of the river when survivors of an apocalypse fish for food, Forsaken, based on an actual legend and delves into the world of madness, Home, about a ghostly girl murdered in a well, The Wreck of the Cartegena, a shipwreck story that leads to a real feeling of hopelessness and Test AIB4.1 Iteration 82345, about a scientific experiment that threatens to drown the subjects of the tests.

 

The series as a whole has been way above average and I'm glad I've got them in paperback because I think I'll be reading several of these stories again! Highly recommended for any Horror fan.

Powerfully moving and honest.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

I honestly didn't expect to enjoy this half as much as I did. The voice of Scout is perfect and her observations of the people around town are astute and frequently witty. At the centre of the story is the unforgivable injustice against Tom Robinson and the ability of white people on the jury and commenting on the trial to judge a man solely on the colour of his skin. While this is set almost 100 years ago, the theme remains depressingly relevant. At times it seems as though Scout and her brother are alone among the whites in their despair at the condemned man's death, both are forced to grow up quickly and face violence and hatred because of their father's work. 

An unexpected friend comes to Scout's rescue twice, and prevents a second tragic death from occurring.

(show spoiler)

There are outstanding passages throughout, but I will quote just a couple.

"it drew him as the moon draws water."
And the age old question, asked by a child, "how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?"

Slow at first, but very tense by the end.

The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty

The first thing that struck me is that the film follows the novel pretty accurately. The second thing was that point of view jumps around a bit too quickly for my liking, although the shifts are signposted pretty well and I didn’t get lost for long.

 

I enjoyed the ongoing discussion about whether Regan was possessed or mentally ill. This wasn’t resolved until the final chapters and I thought it worked well. The desperation of the people who loved this little girl, who changed so dramatically as she hit her teens, was rather soothing to a mother of “normal” teen daughters. Of course this book was part of the Satanic Panic that hit the States in the 70s and reflected the fear of the time for children meddling in the occult. Regan played with a Ouija board and invoked a demon as the result. The privileged white family, the atheist mother who was forced to put her trust in Jesuit priests, and the sacrilegious vandalism at the church, was all part of reinforcing the fear. It was a dangerous time to be different in America, but I guess it still is.

 

In the central story, the priest, Karras, full of doubt and guilt, became the hero, and Regan’s purity was saved. The subplot of the murder and the detective who decided to “let it go” at the end required a suspension of disbelief. His desperate need for male friendship might have been developed further. Karl and Willie’s daughter was an undeveloped addition that could have led somewhere interesting, but didn’t, and Regan’s father’s continued absence might have been handled differently to provide additional conflict and interest, but at 320 pages, perhaps the novel was complicated enough.

 

It isn’t a perfect novel, but it’s a thrilling story once it gets going. I’m glad I read it at last.

Down for a few days and I missed you, Booklikes

I've caught up now. Wow, I was scared we had lost this place forever. 

Horror is my comfort blanket

I have lived with depression since my teens. I don’t fit comfortably in this world of ours. Isolation and loneliness are my companions. I am also a horror addict. Horror is supposed to make people uncomfortable. Claiming the genre is my comfort blanket is counter-intuitive, is it not?

 

We are pummelled daily by the sounds of suffering. Together, we await a wrath of hurricanes on the other side of the world. Our stomachs cramp as we witness starvation. Photographs of bruised and beaten victims of violence haunt us. A car slams into a crowd and we shudder at the hatred that drives it. We cower under a barrage of death threats on social media when we dare to speak our minds.

 

Unless we are wilfully blind we must watch these horrors with a certain level of culpability. The lifestyle of the West that we enjoy is sustained through exploitation, and we feel both guilty and powerless. Depression only magnifies this empathy and sense of powerlessness.

 

Horror reveals to us the depth and the root of this evil.

 

The sinister, the terrible never deceive: the state in which they leave us is always one of enlightenment. And only this condition of vicious insight allows us a full grasp of the world, all things considered, just as a frigid melancholy grants us full possession of ourselves. We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror.” Thomas Ligotti.

 

In horror, we can hide.

 

Horror fiction doesn’t point at us, accusingly. It soothes us. It tells us we are not the only ones who feel that being alive is to suffer. In the words of Clive Barker, “[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”

 

Horror fiction shows us that we survive against the odds and there is honour in that, not guilt.

Horror teaches us survival techniques. Don’t run up the stairs; don’t answer the door; don’t read from that book. It assuages the guilt of our inaction, and reminds us we are only responsible for our own conduct. What we choose to do is then left up to us. Do we leap towards danger and fight dragons or demons, or do we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and insulated – wrapped in a blanket?

 

Horror as a genre is built around one truth: that the world is full of fearful things. But the best horror tells us more. It tells us how to live with being afraid. It tells us how to distinguish real evil from harmless shadows. It tells us how to fight back.” Ruthanna Emrys.

 

Carmilla Voiez

Website and blog at www.carmillavoiez.com

Everybody knows life isn't worth living

The Outsider - Albert Camus

My first thought, while reading the short, simple, almost choppy, sentences of the earlier chapters, was that it must be a translation issue (it was originally written in French), and that surely a novelist as highly regarded as Albert Camus would write sophisticated, eloquent prose. However, by the time the narrator is imprisoned, awaiting execution, the language becomes philosophical and the sentences longer and more diverse in structure. My conclusion is that it was written this way to achieve a particular effect, to show a man who neither thinks nor feels deeply – he is unaffected by his mother’s death, and agrees to marry Marie if she wants, but admits he doesn’t think he loves her, but also doesn’t believe that matters.

 

He murders a man as if in a dream, blames the sun (as much as anything else) for his actions. He is either not capable of lying, or not willing to lie, and he is unable to show remorse at his trial or during the investigation, convincing the court that he is soulless. Camus explains in the afterword that it is, at least in part, “the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions, agrees to die for the truth.”

 

But when he has no future to distract him from the present, he is transformed, and the eloquence of the prose reflects this.

 

“[E]verybody knows that life isn’t worth living. And when it came down to it, I wasn’t unaware of the fact that it doesn’t matter very much whether you die at thirty or at seventy since, in either case, other men and women will naturally go on living, for thousands of years even. Nothing was plainer, in fact. It was still only me who was dying, whether it was now or in twenty years’ time.”

 

I love that this is such an unusual tale with an anti-hero at its center, but one who I can relate to very easily and suffer and discover truths alongside. A simple yet complex being who doesn’t express deep emotions but feels more comfortable with logic as his guide.

The Venus Virus

My dystopian novel comes out next month. I made a page on my website to showcase it. 

 

The Venus Virus, by Carmilla Voiez - out Feb 20, 2020. 

 

 

Currently reading

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb