Friday, December 16, 2011

TC Book Review: By The Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends, a Novel by J. David Osborne

J. David Osborne is a thief, a liar, and a drug addict.  And, he's almost certainly insane.

I say this not because I want to disparage a fellow writer, or get dragged through libel proceedings, but because there is no other rational explanation for how Osborne wrote By the Time we Leave Here, We'll Be Friends (Swallowdown Press, 2010), a brutal, sometimes surreal tale set within a Soviet gulag, with such an unsettling incisiveness and an insider's verve.  It's as if he's trudged the Siberian wastes of plasticine snow, and lived behind that black widow's web of barbed wire.  He's tasted the chemicals and smelled the stink of trapped death, while facing down unending damnation inside a drape of junked out veins and tattooed skin.

He must have.  There's no other explanation otherwise.

Maybe he's Alek Karriker, a Muscovite con turned camp employee, who courts daily death for being a traitor to his kind - a scabrous collection of petty thieves, rapists, murderers, and muscle for the Russian mafia - while contemplating the strange writing that appears on his walls through a hazy veil of opium smoke. The man with a secret inside of his neck.

Or maybe he's Ilya Bogrov, the socially challenged sociopath and bathing enthusiast, who floats through the gulag barracks, weaving through pockets of startling violence and camp politics like a deadly ghost, hiding his forehead from the world while biding his time, looking for a trail over the tundra. 

Or he could be the hapless Pole Hipolit, passed around like a powergrab fucktoy, looking for a heart that had been removed long before he was sentenced to a living death inside a frozen prison melting under the weight of the monsters who inhabit it.

Or, perhaps he's old Anton Nikitin, the kindly guard, who only pines for time to read his paperbacks and to marvel at the wonder of the canine mind.

Or maybe he's Tatyana, Nikitin's German Shepherd, obsessed with digging a hole into the permafrost to find what lies beneath.

Or, in the end, maybe he's the calf, or the wolf that walks beside it, keeping its burning eyes on the prize... Maybe we're all calves, waiting for our invite to dinner...

It's hard to know who or what Osborne is, to craft such characters doing such things from so far away; or who we become as readers, when the cold and the drugs and the violence and chewingchewingchewing of sharpened teeth through masticated bread begin to spit-scatter our memories of a warm, free life like the blowing ash of burning, meatless skeletons.  Snowflakes of atrocity, mixing with the ice, digging down into the earth.

We'll never know who he really is, or was, as J. David Osborne tells us that he's a twentysomething living in Norman, Oklahoma, rapidly building a career as one of the finest Bizarro writers of his generation.  Hiding in plain sight, like a Soviet spy.   A Cold War never thaws, no matter how much heat is applied...
Whoever he is, Osborne writes with the restrained punch of a barroom brawler adept in secretive martial arts.  Garrulous haymakers peppered with quick, damaging blows, economically targeting the organs, taking out a joint, locking up a victim just long enough to smile in his face before flicking his cigarette and delivering a head butt.

His prose is like a 12 gauge blast of icy rock salt, flecked with gravel and forgotten bones, unloaded into your grill at point blank range. It won't kill you, but it'll cut you down, tear off that first layer of skin, letting you remember how it felt.  As you lay on the ground, tasting your own blood and wondering just what the fuck just hit you, you feel a hand on your shoulder, helping you up and leading you back to the card game inside.  Back into the warmth and the sweat and the stink and the glaring eyes.  It's not time to die alone in the cold.  There will be plenty of time for that later.  Right now, we drink and burn opium.  Plenty of time...

Chapters in the book are broken down into mini-scenes, almost vignettes, adding to the claustrophobia of the read and characters, suffocating amid the wide open tundra under prison gray skies.

Stand out sections among these are "Dead Cow Eye" and "Whale," which serve as sizzling plates of some of the best modern Weird fiction I've read in quite some time.

Osborne has a gift that he doesn't present like a preening peacock.  He measures his poetry, leafing it in amongst the grit and grime like a patient painter.  It's a strong, confident style, made all the more amazing by the fact that By The Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends is his debut novel.  This bodes well for writer and us readers alike, as he is currently working on his follow-up.  One can only wonder what he has in store for us next time; where he'll take us, and who won't be coming back.

I'm still mulling over the ending, as it threw me for a loop (and judging from the Afterword by Swallowdown Press head honcho Jeremy Robert Johnson, I wasn't the only one).  Perhaps I'll read the book again, running from the sun and back to Siberia.  The first soul in history who willingly returned to the gulag, filled with the the zeks and vors, the urkis and the sukas, all gathering around a battered furnace like shark-toothed moths, eying the history on each others' skin, looking for clues, looking for a weakness, looking for a way to pass the time before they die.

I don't know if By the Time we Leave Here, We'll Be Friends is Bizarro, The New Weird, speculative fiction, or what.  I'm not that intelligent or well versed in the minutiae of genre labels to make this sort of determination.  Nor do I care.  What I do know is that this book, Osborne's first, is easily one of the best I've read this year, if not the last several. 

So, in the end, perhaps J. David Osborne isn't a thief, a liar, or a drug addict, as all three pursuits are terribly time consuming, allowing little free time to write exceptional books.  And perhaps he is totally sane, allowing him to contemplate insanity in a way that can be terrifying, because HE is terrified by what he sees and what can be.  What has already been.  Crazy don't scare, you see... I don't know.  It's just a theory.  I'm still working over that ending...

What I do know is that J. David Osborne is on the come - or hell, maybe even already arrived.  A young Titan poised to stand at full height and cast his shadow over the muttering landscape that none will be able to ignore.  He's a force, and I can't wait to see where he takes us next, and what friends and corpses will be waiting for us when we get there.
JDO - Moonlighting as an Abercrombie model when not gashing his name into the annals of the Weird fiction canon
(By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends features an amazing cover by renowned artist Alex Pardee, is published by Jeremy Robert Johnson's Swallowdown Press, and is available all over the innerwebs, including at Goodreads here, as well as Amazon a little to the left, meaning right here.  You can find J. David's blog roundabout here).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Friends of The Cosmicomicon: Strange Aeons Wins Best Small Press Anthology of 2011

"Rise of Cthulhu" (c) by Tim Vigil
We appreciate our friends here at The Cosmicomicon, and none have been nearer or dearer in this last year than Strange Aeons Magazine, which was the first (and hopefully not the last) print publication to cover this slice of swirling ether, featuring a write-up on The Cosmicomicon in Strange Aeons Issue 5 (giddily discussed by yours truly on the verge of a rhapsodic fit right here).

Tonight, I'm happy to report that this week Strange Aeons was named the Best Small Press Anthology of 2011 by From The Tomb Magazine, through their annual Decapitated Dan's Best of 2011, a coveted prize for devoted horrorheads and comic book nuts.

Witness and let loose your laurels (and possibly your morals):
Best Small Press Anthology: Strange Aeons Magazine

If you are a Lovecraft fan you had better have this magazine on your list of things to check out in 2012. No wait, why do you not know about this magazine yet? Strange Aeons is a quarterly title that deserves more recognition and needs to be on any horror comic fans radar. Combining the large monsters you expect with original stories on Lovecraftian themes this one is a can’t miss.
Honorable Mentions:  Blokes Tomb of Horror Annual 2011, Strange Kids Club, ZombieBomb
So, please join me in raising your glass, and sounding out a hearty round of congratulatory gibberings and celebratory howls for natty gadfly K.L. Young, the mysterious Rick Tillman, the leggy and lascivious Nick "The Hat" Gucker, and all the rest of the Strange Aeons crew up Seattle way, who roll out the Weird and beautifully disturbing through pictures and words four times a year in ways that no one else can match.  

I've said it before and I write it here again - Strange Aeons seems like a classic already, a prizefighter who burst from the womb full mature and swinging for your neck.  It's a fiction, art, news, and dark animation magazine that feels like its always been around, and always will be.  It's the New Pulp of the X, Y, Z, and Pie generation, currently clearing a bit of room on the mantle for the first of what will be many accolades to come.
Strange Aeons, Issue 7, cover art (c) by Mike Dubisch

Saturday, December 10, 2011

'Tis The Season To Be Culty: Red Wasp Design Unveils Two Digital Cthulhuvian Releases Just in Time for the Holidays

Ah, kids these days... Just nutty about the smart phone apps and the video games.  And the hippity hop.  But mostly the smart phone apps and video games... set to a soundtrack of the hippity hop.

Understanding this, and endeavoring to give "the kids" - meaning, well, EVERYONE with a mobile phone and a jones for electronic gaming - exactly what they want, Red Wasp Design, the critically acclaimed, proudly indie games development studio based in Bristol, England (home of the semi-mythical yet somehow still fully vicious Chicken of Bristol), has just released a brand new holiday-themed calendar app, and will be launching an anticipated video game in the coming months.  What both share, aside from a digital womb nestled deep inside Red Wasp Design studios, is a celebration of the God(s)father of Cosmic Horror, one Howard Philips Lovecraft, and his beloved Golden (Greenish Gray?) Boy, Cthulhu.

Tapping into the whole "cute Cthulhu" craze that is morphing tiny, bright eyed children into unwitting fans of HPL's eternally grumpy and chronically sociopathic Great Old Ones, Red Wasp has conjured up a fun advent calendar app titled "Cthulhu Christmas Calendar" that is rooted in enough sanity-sucking horror to appeal to both hardcore Lovecraftians who eagerly snap up anything remotely Outer Goddish, and also those uninitiated few who appreciate cuddly monsters bent on cosmic destruction set in the cheery key of pastel and holly.

"Cthulhu Christmas Calendar" is now available for your iPhone, iPad, and Android phone (the latter of which is also easily purloined through this link to
The "secret ingredient" to a successful fruitcake is finally revealed
Please note the official Red Wasp Design press release below, generously provided for The Cosmicomicon by Red Wasp's own Debbie Connor:
Press Release

Cthulhu's Crazy Nightmare Before Christmas (for immediate release)

Fans of the meme-monster Cthulhu and other creations of cult horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft can get a little extra help in counting down to Christmas, thanks to a new mobile advent calendar app. Titled 'Cthulhu Christmas Calendar', it features 25 original pieces of artwork - one for each day in December until Christmas Day. Each image presents a fun mashup of festive icons like Santa into the Cyclopean world of the great Cthulhu, the malevolent Mi-Go and the dark god Nyarlathotep.
Indie developer Red Wasp Design today released the Cthulhu Christmas Calendar for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. As well as featuring a new and original creation of art for each day, it also features quiz questions related to the images. Fans will find out their 'Mythos rating' on the 25th when their scores are revealed along with the final festive- horror image.

The app is available now from the App Store for iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone. It is also available for Android from the Android Market. It is priced at:
  • iPhone & iPod Touch ($0.99/£0.69/€0.79) iPad 1 & 2 ($1.99/£1.49;/€1.59) Android Store ($0.99/£0.69/€0.79) Amazon App Store (coming soon!)
There is more information on the Cthulhu Christmas Calendar page and you can chat about it with fellow cultists on its own Facebook page.
The Great Priest - The only Being sorta' alive who is impervious to the unbridled joy of party hats

And now the electric lights dim and the candle smoke billows, as we turn our heads from the glittering holiday trappings and gaiety, and delve back a bit deeper, looking into our past for a glimpse into our future.

A dystopian land, wrecked by cosmic forces beyond human comprehension, but somehow distantly remembered.  Monsters roaming the blasted hilltops.  A handful of .30 caliber shells in your calloused palm.  The sunlight dims... Figures dance behind the cover of smoking corpses.  The battle begins anew.  You are the last hope for us all....

This is "Call of Cthulhu: Wasted Land."  This is what you've been waiting for, Lovecraftians.  Check these badass sneak peek screen shots below:

Press Release First 'Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land' Screenshots Released (for immediate release)

Indie developer Red Wasp Design today released the first screenshots from their anticipated upcoming game, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land'. These screenshots are taken from the Standard Definition (SD) iPhone version of the game and are, the developer says, a work in progress. A High Definition (HD) version will follow. They show characters from the game under attack by the undead, and the Dark Young. As the characters fight these legions of horror they will have their sanity eroded away as the game's designer Tomas Rawlings noted, “Lovecraft and his peers created really iconic monsters that tap into our deepest fears. As huge fans of his stories, we've worked really hard to transfer the essence of these alien horrors into a game form. We're blending the core ideas of the classic role-playing game along with our experience of gameplay design all wrapped in our new 3D engine to craft what we hope is a gaming experience of malignant evil!”
Announced in May this year and set to launch initially on iPhone and iPod (both SD and HD versions), Red Wasp Design plan to infect other platforms such as iPad, Android, PC and consoles with their World War One themed turn-based strategy horror. The game has been developed in co-operation with Chaosium, the purveyors of the cult horror role playing game based on Lovecraft's work, Call of Cthulhu. The much loved RPG marks it's 30th year of publication this year, which Chaosium has been celebrating with the launch of a limited edition release of Call of Cthulhu. Dustin Wright from Chaosium said, "We're very excited to be working with Red Wasp Design to bring the Call of Cthulhu world to gaming devices. It's a great time to be a fan of H.P. Lovecraft gaming."
A final release date, pricing and other information has yet to be announced by Red Wasp Design, but you can be kept in the loop via Facebook (, Twitter (@redwaspdesign) and on their site (


Happy Holidays, fellow Lovecraftians, Weirdlings, video gamers, hippity hopists, and smartphonists.  Red Wasp Design has everything you need... possibly sans the hippity hop, but give those folks time...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Publishing News: 'Horror For The Holidays' Now Available For Pre-Order from Miskatonic River Press, Just in Time for the... Well, You Know

Greetings once again, gentle readers.  I come to you inside the cozy bunker, deeply and happily entrenched in the wonderful womb of the holiday season, which at Grau Haus stretches from All Hallows Eve until the bleary dawn of New Years Day.

The holidays are a special time, aren't they?

Easter.  Armenian Christmas.  Hallowmas.  All Souls Day.  Lantern Festival.  Tomb Sweeping Day.  Children's Day.  Ascension Day.  Ash Wednesday.  Pentecost.  Boxing Day.   (yes, I've done my hasty goddamn research)

Holidays, these.  Sacred, all...

In a normal, well ordered universe, holidays are a lovely event.  A time for celebration, mirth, warmth.  Laughter and breathless anecdotes weaving through the pleasant tinkling of tiny glasses and clanking brown bottles.  A lighted hearth, a backyard barbeque, a laden table surrounded by family, friends, and other loved ones.  Shared times of collective goodness, all bound up in that all-important element of stolid TRADITION.
These are our holidays.  They bring us a sense of stability and security.  A normalcy in an increasingly confusing world.

But, to be frank, in the realm of The Weird, this won't do.  Won't do at all. 

Much like Hitchcock sought to bring horror to the mundane and everyday occurrences (such as innocuous flock of birds, or an innocent shower), so too do the writers of The Weird seek to undermine even the most blessed and innocent holiday.  We want to bring Horror to your Holidays.  And I think we have.

As we approach the Christmas, Hanuka, Kwanza, and a variety of other Christ/Santa/Father Christmas/Winter Grandfather holiday celebrations, it only seems fitting that Miskatonic River Press release their long await anthology, Horror for the Holidays, edited by renowned editor/writer and caretaker of The House of Secrets Scott David Aniolowski, which is now available for pre-order here.  MRP Head Tentacle Tom Lynch just shared that print runs start early next week. So let's move those appendages, okay squids?

Take a gander at this impressive, recently released table of contents, and shudder at the collection of award winning and critically acclaimed scribes who have chosen to thumb their noses and other pointy bits at holiday conventions:
Horror for the Holidays
Table of Contents
Introduction by Scott David Aniolowski

The Tomb of Oscar Wilde by W.H. Pugmire

Love and Darkness by Oscar Rios
Be Mine by Brian Sammons

Cthulhu Mhy’os by Lois H. Gresh

And the Angels Sing by Cody Goodfellow
The Last Communion of Allyn Hill by Pete Rawlik
Mrs. Spriggs’ Easter Attire by Joseph S. Pulver Sr. and Tara VanFlower
Seasons of Sacrifice and Resurrection by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mother’s Night by Ann K. Schwader

Free Fireworks by T.E. Grau
Doc Corman’s Haunted Palace One Fourth of July by Don Webb

Translator by James Robert Smith

Hallowe’en in a Suburb by H.P. Lovecraft
Moonday by Will Murray
The Trick by Ramsey Campbell

El Dia De Los Muertos by Kevin Ross

Treason and Plot by William Meikle

The Dreaming Dead by Joshua Reynolds

Entrée by Donald R. Burleson

Keeping Festival by Mollie Burleson
Wassail by Tom Lynch

Krampusnacht by Joshua Reynolds
The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise by Thomas Ligotti
Letters to Santa by Scott David Aniolowski
Keeping Christmas by Michael G. Szymanski
The Nativity of the Avatar by Robert M. Price
As noted above, my humble contribution centers around the 4th of July, and gives what I hope is a new take on Independence Day.  I'd love to provide more detail, but I fear it would give something away.  Instead, pick up the tome, and dive in head first.  Trust that it'll be suitably Odd and hopefully more than a bit shocking.  It's what We do, you see...
In "Free Fireworks," I imagine it will look something like the above, and possibly the below, with a little added twist...
Happy Holidays, Weirdlings.  Make it a bit brighter by bringing home some sacred Darkness, as it's all about the Balance.