Thursday, September 29, 2011


SteppenwolfSteppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Haller fights a battle ever day against his animalistic nature, the Steppenwolf, the thing keeping him from fitting in with society. Will he conquer the Steppenwolf before it drives him to suicide?

I'd toyed with the idea of paraphrasing the opening of the 1970's Incredible Hulk TV show but it felt disrespectful to a book of this power. Steppenwolf is one of the more thought-provoking books I've ever read. I lost count of the number of times I stopped and pondered my own Steppenwolfishness.

Harry Haller is approaching 50, has few friends, and is contemplating suicide on his 50th birthday. For the most part, his friends are books and music. Seeing as how I'm writing this review on a website devoted to reading, I think more than a few of us can relate to Haller on some level. Who among us hasn't been at a party and thought "Man, I could be reading right now."

Haller's life starts spinning out of control when a strange man gives him a book entitled The Treatise of the Steppenwolf, in which he is mentioned by name. From there, Haller meets Hermine, a woman who guides him on a journey of self discovery (with sex and drugs.) The book takes a bizarre turn near the end.

The writing style is fairly accessible, even though it's been translated from German. Hesse throws a lot of big ideas around, like don't be afraid of life, don't let time get away from you, etc. I caught some references to Eastern religions, which makes sense since Hesse also wrote Siddhartha.

I don't think I'm doing a great job of conveying what I thought about this book. It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye at some moments and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday at others. I'm also struggling with how to rate it. I thought it was powerful and full of lots of interesting ideas but I'm not sure I actually liked it.

That's about all I have at the moment. I'm giving it a 4 with the caveat that I'll probably have to re-read it again sometime down the line to fully absorb it.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Bizarro Ray Bradbury - My Interview with Tony Rauch

Today's interview is with Tony Rauch, author of Laredo and Eyeballs are Growing All Over Me ...Again.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?
I always liked arty, absurdist writing, DaDa, abstract, experimental fic, adventures, etc. My first collection of shorts was published by Spout Press (Mpls) and the people at Eraserhead Press (Portland, OR) caught wind of it several years later and contacted me wondering if I had anything else. I sent them several groups of stories that they liked, so I began working with them. They published my last 2 collections. So I kind of got sucked into it, thinking that, after my first book I’d be on small, obscure, arty presses forever. Bizarro seems to be growing, but I feel very remote and removed from things living in Mpls, so I don’t know what others think about it.

Tell us about Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again.
Well, I think it’s best for people to look at the synopsis and samples on my wordpress site and decide for themselves. But basically it’s a 140 page story collection of whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal, fantasy, sci fi, and fairy tale adventures. These fables will make great story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. Some of the pieces are absurdist or surreal adventures that hearken back to imaginative absurdism, sci-fi, and fantasy of the 1950s. With themes of longing, discovery, escape, eeriness and strange happenings in everyday life, readers will delight in these brief but wondrous adventures.  Basically, that’s the pitch.

Is there one story you've written that you'd say is your favorite?
One that is on my wordpress web site (under: books: despite our best efforts - will be in an upcoming collection) - a story called “I became a different person” in which someone wakes up and is a totally different person, but looks similar to his old self. So a take-off on a common ‘twilight zone’ paradigm. I didn’t invent this trope, but thought I’d borrow it to express my dissatisfaction with other people constantly trying to define you and use that invented definition for their gain and to keep you down. So in the story a man wakes in a strange bed with 2 strange women. They don’t believe him when he says he’s lost and all that, they merely agree with him in general (“well, everyone feels ‘lost’ at times”) in a polite and supportive manner, but which does not alleviate his distress. This continues through the story, as they take him about his day where he finds out he’s this fantastic partier who throws wild parties. He’s arrested and taken to jail while he meets another who knows and admires him who also just agrees with what he says. The next day he wakes up in a completely different environment, but this time he’s a criminal on the run. Hopefully it’s a story about identity, the limits of labels, getting stuck in things, etc.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Several. I always liked short stories because they got to the point quickly without bogging you down in unneeded exposition and background filler. I saw some stories in various anthologies when I was in college which really set my mind reeling and opened doors in my mind. I then checked out the author’s books -

Most notably -
- Steve Martin – “Cruel shoes” – read it in 5th grade and thought it magnificent. It reminded me of the Saturday Night Live sketches I loved at the time – brief, absurd, thoughtful, and yet revealing underlying currents within ourselves and society. I’d never read anything that concise and powerful at that age. There is a power in brevity.

- Richard Brautigan – “Revenge of the lawn” – stories do not have to be long, or have a formal beginning or ending to be interesting. Fluid writing. Strange connections, metaphors, and descriptions.

- Donald Barthelme - story “A shower of gold” - stories can be abstract, absurd, minimal, etc. and yet you can still figure out the meaning or symbolism without having it all spelled out. Strange juxtapositions are interesting and set objects in new contexts.

- Leanard Micheals - story “Murderers” - stories don’t have to be long and meandering or have an assigned meaning - just the situation itself and the way it was told was compelling.

- Mark Layner – “My cousin, my gastroenterologist” – taught me stories could be brief, abstract, interesting, and not bogged down in meaning or contrived soap-opera histrionics and gimmicks. This was the one that to me said: “There are no rules. You can do anything. A story can be anything.” It was the one that knocked down all the restrictions.

- Stephen-Paul Martin – “The gothic twilight” and “Fear and philosophy” – for the same as all the above, but that abstract, collage, and arty could be very interesting and deep if kept brief.

- Barry Yourgrau – “A man jumps out of an airplane” and “Wearing dad’s head” – brief modern fairytales that sound ancient and new at the same time, sublime, ethereal, and yet part of our DNA, as if I knew these stories were a part of my history and was now being reminded of them.

Anyway, these were the books and stories that showed me that fiction can be wide open, that you can make your own rules and explore.

As I read Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again, I kept thinking of Ray Bradbury.  Is he one of your influences?
Yes. Very much so. All sci fi from the 40s through the 60s, but especially the 50s. Bradbury is a great, underrated and undervalued writer. He has one of the greatest absurdist pieces I’ve ever read – “The watchful poker chip of H. Matise.”

Sci fi stories expound on ideas, and those ideas helped shape the space age – space ships, consumer appliances, computers, aliens, technology, ecology, ethics, morality, etc. with a sense of discovery, wonder, awe. Those stories open your mind to possibilities, they get you thinking.

After reading the New Kid, I have to ask: Did you have an electric football game as a kid?
Ha! No, but several neighbor’s did, and I thought they were really cool.

(originally I was going to have the figures be basketball players as that sport is more universal and thus maybe more common or relatable. I can’t remember why I switched them to football. Maybe because you’d need 2 basketball hoops and that would be harder to integrate into the story or make the game harder to play anywhere, where the footballers could just play anywhere. Also Basketball is more fluid, with few breaks – where football has a break every play, with substitutions, so the kids would be forced to ‘coach’ and interact with the players)

Was the writing experience for Eyeballs different than writing the stories that comprise Laredo?
Yes, actually. I wanted less abstract, less arty, and more focused stories than Laredo. I was going for more of a commercial vibe with the ‘eyeballs’ collection, with a nod to sci fi, the twilight zone, strange adventures, and all that. The stories are less open-ended in that they seem to mostly lead you somewhere specific. I wanted story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. I thought these vibes would be easier to market, easier for people to get their heads around.

With Laredo it was more like paintings, only written down. So each story was like a painting or collage that set up a vibe or feeling. Also I wanted a fairytale vibe.

So both books have similarities, but are also different.

I was never big on magical realism or fantasy, but thought I’d give them a try to gain more metal ammo, which ended up working out well. So some of the stories in both collections were more like experiments - to get me out of my comfort zone, get me thinking in new ways. I think they seem fresh because of that experimental leap.

Who are some of your influences?
That would be a long list, mostly short story writers -
Older writers:
Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Franz Kafka, Leonard Michaels (murderers), Antoine de Saint Exupery (the little prince), Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), W.P. Kinsella (the alligator report), Jim Heynen (the man who kept cigars in his cap)

Contemporary writers:
Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Adrienne Clasky (from the floodlands), Lydia Davis (Samuel Johnson is indignant), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, George Singleton, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Thom Jones, Italo Calvino, Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo, D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty

Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s:
Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Aurthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc.

What's your favorite book?
- Richard Brautigan – “Revenge of the lawn”
- Donald Barthelme - “Come back, Dr. Caligari”

These are adventures that just open my mind. They connect previously unconnected ideas in my head, which then form new ideas and new connections. These stories are often set in everyday environs – school classrooms, work office, backyard – but there are hidden discoveries to be made in the everyday. The writing is crisp, brief, fluid, and inventive.

Who's your favorite author?
Richard Brautigan. His style is so interesting and fluid. He connects and describes things in previously un-thought of ways.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I re-read “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” again. This to me is an amazing adventure of a man who went through a lot of loss and lived to tell about it. His journey is operatic in scale, an odyssey of loss and perseverance. It’s very inspiring. He seemed to try to be neutral and see both sides of an issue, instead of letting his emotions get the better of him or letting others do his thinking for him. He wasn’t out to hurt anyone for his own gain. He was his own man.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Write all the time. Write what you want, what interests you. Send your writing out to get published all the time as this may attract publishers. Figure out why you are writing. Set goals. Work to those goals. Stay focused, don’t get distracted by what others want you to be. Find a good editor to review your work before you send it out. Read a lot. I get inspiration from music, art, and other authors. Experiment and play around with ideas, language, form. Have a good work ethic, get efficient, but have a good life balance in order to draw ideas from other areas.

What's next for Tony Rauch?
I just finished three new collections – one absurdist, and two that are similar to my last short story collection, ‘eyeballs’, which are imaginative, whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairytale action adventures.

You can visit my website for samples of the stories and updates on new releases.

After those are released, I will continue to work on marketing and promotion for them. It’s tough to get the word out about the books.

But I don’t know what’s next after the new books are published and marketed. I have several other collections of shorts started, but they need a lot of work. I suppose that’s the sense of discovery in it all though – in finding out what’s next.

That brings up a question that I struggle with – what is success? To be an artist you can’t just coast on technique or comfortable formula, you have to go out there and explore the unknown in order to grow. You need to reach beyond what you already know in order to stay fresh.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Getting Off

Getting Off: A Novel of Sex and Violence (Hard Case Crime #69)Getting Off: A Novel of Sex and Violence by Lawrence Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate Tolliver's life has been a never-ending cycle of sex, murder, and robbery since she was a teenager. Only five of the men have lived to tell the tale and that's something Kate means to remedy in the only way she knows how...

After a long hiatus, the Hard Case Crime series returns with a bang. Or, more appropriately, a long series of bangs. What better way to mark the return of the line than a tale from the man who kicked it off in the first place, the esteemed Lawrence Block.

Right off the bat, I have to say this is my favorite cover yet in the Hard Case line and possibly my favorite cover of all time. Take a few seconds to give it a closer look. I'll wait...

As the subtitle indicates, Getting Off is indeed a novel of sex and violence. Lots of sex, lots of violence. The thing that keeps it from straying into Cinemax territory is the ability of Lawrence Block. The man can spin a yarn, that's for sure.

Even though Kate's a psychopath, Block had me rooting for her the entire time, hoping that's she'd be able to cross the five guys off her list. While her back story is dark, Block doesn't play it up for sympathy. It's the character of Kate Tolliver that got me in her corner. She's foul-mouthed, violent, and sometimes hilarious. Also scary, primarily because she's so believable. 

Any complaints? Not really. There was a spot that I thought dragged near the end but I think that may have been due to me really wanting to see the last name get his hash settled. While this isn't a complaint for me, there's a lot more sex and profanity in Getting Off than all of the other Hard Case books not written by Christa Faust put together. I had no problem with any of it but I could see how some people would find it off-putting. Then again, people who look at the cover have some idea what they're getting into.

Welcome back, Hard Case! Don't be a stranger.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

This Song is You

The Song Is You : A NovelThe Song Is You : A Novel by Megan Abbott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In October, 1949, actress Jean Spangler disappeared, leaving behind a daughter in the care of her cousin, a broken-strapped purse, and lots of dark rumors. Two years later, PR man Gil "Hop" Hopkins tries to piece together what happened to the rising star. Can Hop navigate the web of sex, drugs, and blackmail and find her killer or killers and still retain his sanity?

Kemper and I met Megan Abbott at BoucherCon 2011. Aside from a funny series of events that led to her signing my copy of this book Megan "The Bitch" Abbott, the main thing I remember from he experience was Kemper saying "That's Megan Abbott? She's tiny!" Tiny she may be but Megan Abbott can noir it up with the big dogs any old day of the week.

The Song Is You is a bleak tale of murder, sex, drugs, and blackmail behind the scenes of the motion picture industry of the early 50's. Hop is as in dark about Jean Spangler's true fate as the reader for most of the book. For a slim 250-ish pages, the plot is surprisingly intricate with more than its share of twists and turns. I had no idea what I was getting into when I first cracked it open.

Gil "Hop" Hopkins is a pretty good noir lead. He's a womanizing PR man for a film studio, a former reporter who still has a knack for ferreting out information. He's far from a golden boy and his slide toward madness as he tries to figure out what happened after Jean Spangler disappeared was very believable. The supporting cast is just as good. Iolene, Jean's best friend, Franny, the reporter gunning for a story, and Jerry, Hop's best friend and the man his wife Midge left him for. The apparent villains of the piece, a musical comedy duo, seem like degenerate bastards but still quite believable.

As I mentioned before, the twists kept on coming. I have to confess that I quit trying to figure out what happened about halfway through and just leaned back and let Megan Abbott drag me through the muck of Hollywood along with Hop. The ending was pretty satisfying. Even though it was a pretty slim book, I had the same worn out feeling I had after reading The Black Dahlia by the time it was over.

It's an easy four star read for noir fans. I'm not sure if I like it more than the other Megan Abbott book I've read, Queenpin, or not. It's damn sure worth a read, though.

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Eyeballs Growing All Over Me...Again

Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...AgainEyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again by Tony Rauch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man comes home to find a smelly bigfoot in his living room. A paperboy's curiosity gets the better of him and investigates an odd neighbor's house. A giant robot tears the roof off a couple's house. A man goes to a parallel dimension to hook up with an ex-girlfriend (nice Philadelphia Experiment reference!). A new kid starts school. All of these tales and more can be found inside Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again!

Normally, I subscribe to Johnny's Law when it comes to short story collections. “Short stories are like lap dances—short and unlikely to engage you emotionally.” Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again makes me think of changing Johnny's Law into Johnny's Guideline.

Tony Rauch presents a wide variety of tales in this slim volume. Aside from the ones I already mentioned, there's a sexy robot, a man who's head grows to gigantic size, a girl who gets sick and has her head replaced by a goat's, and all kinds of other oddities. You get a good dose of humor and a near overdose of strangeness. The writing style is very accessible and somehow makes the absurd assault that much more effective.

None of the tales wear out their welcome. In fact, the opposite is true. Rauch has a knack for ending his stories in such a way that you continue thinking about them after you're finished. Some stories end with a question, others just before something horrendous is about to happen. Yeah, Rauch's kind of a tease that way.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Plugged: A NovelPlugged: A Novel by Eoin Colfer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bouncer Daniel McEvoy's life spins out of control when the girl he loves winds up dead, his friend turns up missing, thugs all over town are gunning for him, and his crazy neighbor may be in love with him. Worse yet, he's going bald...

I heard Eoin Colfer speak at BoucherCon 2011 and he was so hilarious I had to immediately snap this one up. I was not disappointed.

Plugged is a damn fine adult novel from Colfer, much better than the Hitchhiker's Guide sequel he wrote a couple years ago. Daniel McEvoy is a great lead character; funny without being a smart ass, not particularly handsome or bright, and more than a little worried about going bald, hence his hair transplant. See, the title has more than one meaning. Plugged as in shot or as in hair transplant. Get it? Nevermind.

The characters other than McEvoy aren't as well developed but are still an interesting bunch. There's Zeb, the unlicensed doctor, Mrs. Delano, Daniel's crazy neighbor, Detective Deacon, Vic, Irish Mike, the list goes on and on. For most of the book, the reader is as much in the dark as Daniel.

While Plugged is a good mystery with plenty of twists and turns, the humor is by far the draw. It's chock full of dark Irish wit and self-deprecating humor. I could easily see it being optioned for a movie starring Simon Pegg.

Plugged is an easy four star book. However, it wasn't without some rocky patches. The who killed Connie subplot seemed forgotten and the bit with Irish Mike wasn't quite firing on all cylinders. I also have an issue with a floppy disk being able to hold an entire video of a hair transplant operation. It seems like Colfer should have used a thumb drive or similar device to serve as the McGuffin.

Like I said, Plugged is an easy four. I'll be watching for more novels by Colfer in the future.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not Comin' Home to You

Not Comin' Home to You (Block, Lawrence)Not Comin' Home to You by Lawrence Block

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jimmie John Hall was a no good drifter and irresistible to Betty Dienhardt, friendless high school girl. It was just too bad about the killing spree...

First off, Lawrence Block is the man. His Matthew Scudder series is in my crime series top three, along with Richard Stark's Parker books and Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard series. When I stumbled upon this, a book of his I'd never heard of, I snapped it up.

Not Comin' Home to You, named after a line in a Waylon Jennings song, was inspired by the true story of Charles Starkweather, one of the first spree killers. From what I've gathered, Starkweather was also one of the inspirations for Natural Born Killers, if anyone still remembers that flick.

The tale is a pretty simple one. A sociopath that takes a hell of a lot of speed meets up with a lonely girl and does a lot of driving and killing. The thing that raises this above lesser killing spree books and movies is the way Block tells the story. While the chapters are pretty straightforward, they are separated by one or two page accounts by people who were involved with the events years after they occurred. Most are of the "He seemed like such a nice boy, always kept to himself" variety but they do a good job of foreshadowing of the coming shitstorm.

There isn't much else I can say. It's a slim book about a killing spree. Not that complicated. Lawrence Block's talent is what keeps it from being a two star book. Not my favorite Block but it's definitely worth a rainy evening's reading time.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Voice of the Whirlwind

Voice of the Whirlwind (Hardwired, #2)Voice of the Whirlwind by Walter Jon Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The clone of a mercenary named Steward wakes up and is tasked with finding out who killed the original. The only problem is his memories are fifteen years out of date. The Beta Steward wanders through his Alpha's former life, piecing together the last fifteen years in an effort to solve his murder. His search takes him from the earth to far flung colonies. Can Steward find his own murderer without being killed himself?

Voice of the Whirlwind, while on the surface is a combination of cyberpunk and space opera, is really a layered murder mystery. Steward wanders through the wreckage of his Alpha's former life and gradually pieces things together. Twists and turns abound. Since this wasn't my first invite to a detective party, I had a lot of the angles figured out by the end but not nearly all of them. This thing has as many angles as a dodecahedron. It's a real word. Look it up!

The world Walter Jon Williams has created is a step beyond the other cyberpunk stories written in that bygone age of 1987. While Steward is a fairly typical cyberpunk protagonist in most respects, most of the story takes place on space stations.

The best part of the book is the background Williams serves up, namely the Alpha Steward's stint with the Icehawks, a mercenary army, during a conflict called the Artifact War, a war over caches of alien artifacts littering other planets, notably a fateful ball of ice called Sheol. The aliens, simply called The Powers, aren't just humans with rubber masks. They're sort of centaur-amoeba things that I have difficulty describing. Needless to say, they are very alien aliens.

The tech level was pretty standard cyberpunk stuff: mirror shades, leather, monofilament, exotic firearms, cybernetics. Actually, Williams threw in a lot of gene splicing and his science regarding living in space and space travel was actually harder than I thought it would be.

I'm nearing the end of my book report here and can't decide how to rate Voice of the Whirlwind. I enjoyed it quite a bit but I wouldn't say I thought it was amazing. I will say that it has aged a lot better than many of its contemporaries. While I smiled when Steward had to use phone booths, Williams manages to keep most of the computer details pretty high level, unlike William Gibson in Neuromancer. Hell, I'll give it a 4 but that's in and of itself, not a reflection on the rest of the books on my shelf.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jobless, Toru Okada spends most of his days searching for his missing cat. Until his wife goes missing as well. Why did she leave? Did she ever love him? And can Toru navigate an ocean of strangeness to get her back?

Back when I first joined Goodreads, one of the first things I noticed was how a novel I'd never heard of, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, got so much praise from Goodreaders. Was it hype? Or worse, was it just hipster bullshit? You know what I'm talking about. "I only read novels that have been translated from foreign languages. Now let's go watch a foreign film and pretend to understand it."

At the insistence of a Goodreads compadre who seems to have deleted his account since I bought this, I decided to plunk down my money and give it a shot. What did I think? I dug it but don't start fitting me for skinny jeans and a distressed faux-vintage t-shirt quite yet.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a very breezy read, surprisingly so since it was translated from Japanese. It tells the story of Toru Okada's disintegrating life, from his quitting his job at the law firm, to the family cat, Noboru Wataya, named after his wife's brother, going missing, to his wife Kumiko disappearing one morning. From there, things get stranger by the minute. Toru gets entangled with a sort of psychic therapist, Malta Kano, and her sister Creta, as well as striking up an unusual friendship with the unusual girl next door, May Kasahara. And that's before the really weird things start happening.

Weird books are my bread and butter so the weirdness didn't impede my enjoyment one iota. A lot of crazy things happened and the book held my interest the entire time. The writing is wonderful. I felt Toru's emotions as he felt them and I found his reactions to be really believable. When I read Kumiko's letter about why she left, I felt as betrayed as Toru must have felt.

Like I said, I dug it but I didn't love it. There were a lot of weird things happening and a lot of it was never resolved. While I enjoyed the WWII digressions, they felt unnecessary to me. I guess my main beef was that I didn't understand what all the hype was about. Sure, it's very well written but it doesn't have a lot of substance to it, not for being 600 pages long. It reminds me of Douglas Coupland and/or Neal Stephenson once they had achieved the editorial freedom to write whatever they wanted to. Not once did I contemplate taking days off work just to read it, nor did I feel like it was a life changing event.

That's about all I can articulate about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle at this time. Good, not great. Not as pants-shittingly awesome as I've been lead to believe. Definitely still worth a read, though.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jack Cloudie

Jack Cloudie (Jackelian #5)Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

War brews between the Kingdom of Jackals and Cassarabia. A young thief named Jack Keats is pressed into service on an experimental airship, the Iron Patridge after a botched bank job. A Cassarabian slave named Omar learns of his true parentage, only to have it stolen from him. As Jack and Omar learn what it means to be men, will war be averted or will the two world powers engage in a conflict that will destroy them both?

Jack Cloudie fleshes out two aspects of Stephen Hunt's Jackalian saga that have been repeatedly mentioned but never really explored: the airship navy and the womb mages of Cassarabia. It tells the story of Jack Keats gaining acceptance among the crew of the Iron Patridge and Omar becoming a guardsman and learning to not be a lazy ass all the time. The threads are united by a vizier's attempts to wrest the rulership of Cassaraba away from the Eternal Caliph.

Stephen Hunt's steampunk series continues to move forward, although it seems to get more wobbly as it goes. This was not my favorite of his books. Aside from a returning character, most of the cast didn't really engage me. In fact, I found some of them bland and some of them irritating. There wasn't a whole lot going on, either, not compared to his other books. There wasn't a whole lot of excitement to be had, a pity since I've been waiting forever for him to do an airship novel. Both plot threads were fairly standard coming of age tales.

So why did I give it a 3 after I just shat all over it? Well, three reasons.
1 - Commodore Black is the man! I missed Old Blackie. He's easily my favorite character in the entire series.
2 - The womb mages of Cassarabia had been talked about for four books prior to this one. Hunt built them up quite a bit but they were even more horrifying than I imagined. The Cassarabian culture wound up being my favorite part of the book.
3 - While I thought it was a tad predictable, I loved that the Iron Partridge wound up being sentient.

So, Jack Cloudie isn't a bad book. It's just not the action-packed adventure I was hoping for from Stephen Hunt. It's a solid three.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Copeland Valley Sampler

Copeland Valley SamplerCopeland Valley Sampler by Chuck Copeland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Copeland Valley Sampler is a collection of strange and unusual short stories, written by the strange and unusual, for the strange and unusual.

Reviewing a short story collection is tough, especially since I normally hate reading them. This one has its fair share of gems, though. You've got Chuck Copeland's tale of a slap bracelet landing him in the psych ward, William Pauley's tale of a man being reincarnated as part of a Japanese game show, Magen Toole's tale of reality unraveling, and many others, including one Jordan Krall story that doesn't mention foot fetishes at all and another one that does. Garret Cook's tale, the Driller Killer, is up to his usual standards, and the Matthew Revert tales make me want to track down more of his stuff. Heck, I wouldn't say there's a dud in the entire collection.

However, one story tickled my innards like none other. The story was Nyuck, Nyuck by Eric Mays. "What was the story about?" you ask. Well, it's a western set in Bethlehem, Texas. After William Burroughs is left in Bethlehem to kick his smack habit by his pals Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg, three outlaws show up. The outlaws are Howard, Fine, and Howard, otherwise known as the Three Stooges. Ultraviolent hilarity ensues.

The Copeland Valley Sampler was well worth my time and an entertaining way to spend a couple afternoons. If you're in the mood for a sampling of quirky stories, give it a try.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future PastThe Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a dystopian future, Kate Pryde is sent back in time, switching consciousness with the Kitty Pryde of 1980, to prevent the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly. Will she be able to prevent her timeline from happening or will the Senator be killed, setting off a shock wave of anti-mutant hysteria?

First off, there are a ton of X-Men trades called Days of Future Past. This one is the 48 pager.

I stumbled upon it in a used bookstore that I hate and figured I was winning one back for the good guys considering it's low price. I've been wanting to read this story for a couple decades and never got around to it. Was it worth the wait? I'll let you know in a bit.

The story itself is pretty cool. The future version of Kate Pride goes back in time to rally the X-Men against the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and save a Senator's life. Cyclops is gone after the events of the Dark Phoenix Saga and Storm is leading the X-Men for the first time. Angel is back and the rest of the lineup is pretty much the standard Byrne-Claremont lineup.

The dystopian future was my favorite part of the story. I liked seeing Franklin Richards, Rachel Summers, and a wheelchair-bound Magneto, as well as both Wolverine and Colossus with white at the temples. Do comic characters never go gray in a pattern other than the Reed Richards look? Speaking of Reed Richards, the graveyard with all the superhero headstones in it really sold how bad the future had become after Robert Kelly's death. As for the present day part of the story, it's pretty much standard superhero fare for the time. I did like that they hinted about a connection between Mystique and Nightcrawler way back then.

One observation I had was that Wolverine's healing factor wasn't so ridiculous in either branch of the story. In the present, he's brought to his knees by Pyro's attack and, in the future, he's roasted and killed by a Sentinel. Wolverine goes through more crap than that in two or three issues of his current comic without missing a beat.

Claremont and Byrne raised the bar for other comics with their X-Men run. Byrne's art was at the head of the pack in its day and people still use what Claremont did as a model.

So, Was it worth the wait? Let's just say my 14 year old self would have enjoyed it a lot more than my 34 year old self. It's still definitely worth a read and was revolutionary for its time but it's a little on the dated side.

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The Old Gods Waken

The Old Gods WakenThe Old Gods Waken by Manly Wade Wellman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Silver John is staying with his friend Creed Forshay and Creed's son Luke, odd things start happening, odd things that seem to center on Forshay's new neighbors, two Englishmen named Brummitt and Hooper Voth. Can Silver John stop the Voth's from using Druidic magic to release an ancient evil?

Silver John is back in a full length novel. If you've read Who Fears the Devil, you know what to expect. The Old Gods Waken reads like an expanded version of a Silver John short story. All the things I liked about the Silver John short stories were here: Silver John himself, his bits of lore, and ancient evils lurking just around the corners of the Appalachian mountains.

The supporting cast was a little ahead of its time. Reuben Manco could have easily been a stereotypical Indian character and it was nice to see him mocking such stereotypes. Holly was a much stronger character than most female characters of the period, back when women in pulp stories were either victims or bate. The Voth brothers were suitably creepy and I loved how Wellman wove the Raven Mockers of Indian mythology into a story about druids.

It wasn't all roses and sunshine, though. I felt like parts of the story were a little on the convenient side and I didn't think the writing was as good as it was in the short stories in Who Fears the Devil.

Really, no big complaints. It was nice to read about Silver John again. I'd give it a 3.5 if I could.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011


Peckinpah: an Ultraviolent RomancePeckinpah: an Ultraviolent Romance by D. Harlan Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a psychopath named Samson Thataway and his gang, the Fuming Garcias, ride into Dreamfield, Indiana, it means trouble for the small town. During an orgy of rape and murder, they made two mistakes: they raped and murdered Felix Soandso's wife, and they left Felix alive...

Peckinpah is an absurdist tribute to the films of Sam Peckinpah. While my summary makes it seem like a fairly standard revenge tale, it's not. It's so weird that even though it was less than 110 pages, I couldn't have taken much more.

Peckinpah seems to take place in the same world as DHW's SciKungFi trilogy. Amerika was mentioned a few times, as were the goat-headed men. Since the book was a tribute to Peckinpah films, I knew how it would end but it was still fun getting there.

That's about all I can articulate about Peckinpah right now. It's slightly less weird than Dr. Identity and way less weird than Codename Prague. It's an enjoyable little book and a good way to spend a couple hours.

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The Sorrow King

The Sorrow KingThe Sorrow King by Andersen Prunty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The town of Gethsemane, Ohio, is rocked by a string of suicides that some are calling The Suicide Virus. Meanwhile, troubled young teenager Steven Wrigley meets the girl of his dreams. But does his new lady love have some sort of connection to the suicide plague?

Some people seem to be afraid of the bizarro genre, thinking it's full of things like talking penises running for president, super heroes wielding magical dildos, people having sex with fruit, and pieces of furniture having sex with one another. While this is certainly true in some cases, it is not always the case. I like to think of the bizarro as writers writing what they feel like without the constraints of a conventional publisher. This book is a perfect example.

The Sorrow King is a chilling tale of a demon-like creature, the Sorrow King, that drives teenagers to commit suicide so that it can feed on their misery and the misery their deaths cause. Andersen Prunty does a great job maintaining a creepy mood throughout as the Sorrow King tempts his victims. Up until a huge twist near the end, I could easily see the Sorrow King coming from a major publishing house. Then came the twist, which I couldn't see any major publishing house putting out.

The characters of Steven and his father are very well done. I liked the interplay between them as it nicely summed up their relationship, more like friends than father and son. The character of Elise could have used a bit more developing but I bought Steven falling for her so fast. After all, I was a hormone-driven teenage boy once.

Andersen Prunty's writing continues to impress me. I enjoyed Zerostrata quite a bit and, while it's a completely different kind of book, I enjoyed The Sorrow King even more. I almost wish I would have saved it until Halloween.

To sum things up, The Sorrow King is one the best bizarro books I've read so far and I recommend it to all the Bizarro-curious (or Bi-curious, as Steve Lowe calls them) readers out there.

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Sunset at Blandings

Sunset At BlandingsSunset At Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After falling in love with a man her mother deemed unsuitable, Victoria is whisked away to Blandings Castle until she "comes to her senses." Meanwhile, her uncle Sir James Piper has to take her to Blandings and finds that an old flame of his is staying there. How can these hearts ever be mended? Uncle Galahad to the rescue!

Here we have the unfinished novel P.G. Wodehouse was working on at his hospital bed at age 93. Even though it's a fragment, all the Wodehouse trademarks are there: lost love, imposters, and misunderstandings abound. Uncle Galahad uses his smooth pimpery in order to make things right. A Wodehouse novel is like running into an old friend and picking up right where you left off.

Aside from the novel fragment that takes up half of this book, there are also Wodehouse's semi-coherent notes on how the book was to end, speculations on the real life location of Blandings Castle based on travel times mentioned in the text, and end notes galore. While I would have preferred a complete novel to end the Blandings Saga, there wasn't much to complain about here, as long as the reader is aware it's a fragment coming in and not a complete novel.

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