Monday, January 30, 2012

Crawlin' Chaos Blues

Crawlin' Chaos BluesCrawlin' Chaos Blues by Edward M. Erdelac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bluesmen Harpoon Elkins and King Yeller pay a visit to the crossroads where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil...

Add Edward M. Erdelac to the official list of Authors Who Aren't Jerks. When I recommended Southern Gods to him, he fired back with his eBook that explores similar themes. Good guy, that Erdelac.

Crawlin' Chaos Blues is a short story about two bluesmen, one of which gains unearthly ability from a cosmic horror the two of them meet at the crossroads. The Crawlin' Chaos Blues of the title is a song learned at the crossroads that must never be played. That's probably all I can say without revealing the entire plot. It is a short story after all.

Like I mentioned, Crawlin' Chaos Blues explores similar themes as Southern Gods but other than that, the only similarities are that they both occur in the south and both feature musicians whose music makes the audience to terrible things.

The writing in CCB really worked for me. The story is written in the first person in a southern black dialect, something which would have gotten on my nerves in a sentence or two if it wasn't done properly. Fortunately, Erdelac knocked the story out of the park in that aspect. Unlike his Merkabah Rider series, the writing in this tale reminds me of Joe Lansdale quite a bit.

If you have an affinity for the blues and the Cthulhu mythos, this ebook will be well-worth your time.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012


Swag Swag by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When used car salesman Frank Ryan catches Ernest Stickley stealing a car off his lot, ideas start going through his head. Soon, Ryan and Stickley are armed robbers and damn good ones. Things go smoothly until someone offers them a crack at even bigger money...

Like many Elmore Leonard books, Swag is a fast-moving crime story. The two main characters, Ryan and Stick, are cast from one of Leonard' standard molds: the criminals who aren't as smart as they think they are. They're a bit of an odd couple. Stick's nervous and not all that confident while Ryan is overconfident and thinks he knows everything. They were pretty likeable as far as armed robbers go but I kept thinking about how Richard Stark's Parker would mop the floor with them.

The bad guys were suitably bad, both Sportree and the cops. As he does a lot of the time, Leonard makes the antagonists almost as interesting as the protagonists. Once complications start surfacing, they come in droves, from Arlene witnessing one of their early robberies, to Stick having to shoot two men, to Billy Ruiz. The ending was surprising but was also perfect.

Leonard's smooth-flowing dialogue and twisting plot were the stars of the show, as they normally are in one of his books. I loved that Frank Ryan had his rules of robbery, just like Elmore Leonard has his rules of writing.

It wasn't perfect but I liked it quite a bit. It was a good way to spend a Sunday evening.

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Southern Gods

Southern GodsSouthern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bull Ingram is hired by Helios records head Scott Phelps to find two men: Earl Freeman, a missing employee, and Ramblin' John Hastur, a mysterious bluesman whose music can drive men mad. But what does Bull's job have to do with Sarah Williams, a woman who just fled her husband and fled back to Gethsemane, Arkansas with her daughter?

Sometimes, you read a first novel and pray the writer doesn't try for a second. This is not one of those novels. Southern Gods is a whole other animal. It's actually hard to describe. The closest comparison I could make would be to say it's like H.P. Lovecraft tried writing Gone with the Wind. It's mythos fiction but written in a more literary style with a Southern flair.

Bull Ingram is a brute of a man, a WWII vet who saw more than he wanted to overseas. He's a heavy for a small time mobster when he gets the call from Phelps. Sarah Williams is a woman tired of watching her husband drinking himself to death. I knew from the parallel nature of the story that they would eventually meet but the way they did wasn't something I would have guessed.

The Southern flavor is what makes the novel for me. Scott Phelps and Helios records seems to be a direct analogue of Scott Phillips and Sun Records, right down to the logo and the Memphis headquarters. JHJ makes good use of the 1951 Arkansas setting, from the peafowl to the segregation.

I have to admit, I wasn't completely sold on Southern Gods at first. It seemed to be moving too slowly for the first 40 or 50 pages. Then Ingram started getting closer to Ramblin' John Hastur and things kicked into high gear.

Much like Edward M. Erdelac's Merkabah Rider series, JHJ tries to fit H.P. Lovecraft's mythos into the same cosmology as the Judeo-Christian God, as well as many other pagan gods. I'd say he does a great job.

This is the point of the review where I justify not giving Southern Gods a five. Aside from the slow start I mentioned, it felt like the book had an identity crisis at times. While it was all tied together nicely at the end, I sometimes felt like JHJ wasn't sure what kind of story he wanted to tell. Is it Southern Gothic? Is it Mythos fiction? The end result was an inside the park home run for me but didn't quite mention to clear the fences.

The fact that he is able to tell an effective story about Hastur in 1951 Arkansas leads me to believe he's the real deal. I'll be ready when his next book hits the stands.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Clockwork Girl

Clockwork GirlClockwork Girl by Athena Villaverde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caterpillar Girl: A caterpillar girl named Cat is secretly in love with her best friend, a spider girl named Lilith. With their relationship survive her eventual metamorphosis?

As I've said in other reviews, risking my man-card in the process, my favorite bizarro stories are usually the love stories. This is one of the best bizarro love stories I've yet read. It struck a chord with this reader. Who hasn't been in love with someone but unable to even talk to them? The ending was surprising but has an eery beauty to it.

Clockwork Girl:
The Clockwork Girl tells the story of a toy clockwork girl named Pichi who first falls in love with her owner and then is discarded when her owner gets too old. That's about all I can say of the plot without giving too much away.

The Clockwork Girl is like something Peter S. Beagle might write if he was into Bizarro fiction. Pichi's innocence made the story for me. It would make a great Pixar movie if they'd let Tim Burton anywhere near the building.

Beehive Girl:
When you dance the tango with the Beehive Girl, you're dancing with death!

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. The Beehive Girl is a tale of the tango scene, where Maya, the beehive girl, is queen. If she chooses you as her partner, she's as sweet as honey until you screw up. Then you get stung.

Even though the title is Beehive Girl and the plot seemed to be leading in that direction, I wasn't sure the main character was going to end up dancing with Maya. The ending, much like the ending of Catepillar Girl, wasn't quite what I expected but was quite good none the less. Much like P.G. Wodehouse did with gold in The Clicking of Cuthbert, Athena Villaverde has made me care about the tango in Beehive Girl.

This is an easy four star collection from Athena Villaverde. Much like Starfish Girl, it's Bizarro fiction under a veneer of cuteness.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

The Quantum Thief

The Quantum Thief (The Quantum Thief Trilogy #1)The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After being busted out of the Dilemma Prison by an Oortian warrior named Mieli, legendary master thief Jean Le Flambeur is taken to the Oubliette, one of the Moving Cities of Mars, and is tasked with the ultimate heist. Opposing him is a brilliant young detective named Isidore Beautrelet. But there is more to each man's quest than meets the eye...

My summary doesn't do the book justice. There are so many ideas crammed in it's slim 331 pages. Before Le Flambeur can even get started on his quest, he has to steal back his old memories. Isidore, on the other hand, has a lot of issues of his own, like his odd relationship with one of the tzaddikim, powerful vigiliantes who work to keep the Martians safe from unseen enemies, and an equally odd relationship with his girlfriend.

Before I get any deeper into this review, I have a few things to mention. I bought this book the day it became available and then let it sit on my shelves for almost nine months. The reason was pretty simple: all the reviews I read mentioned that Hannu Rajaniemi throws the reader into the deep end of the pool. He doesn't explain a lot of his concepts, leading the reader to decipher the meaning of words like 'blink, gevulot, quplink, exomemory, and many others, soley by context. Having read both John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun in 2011, I was a little apprehensive. Should I have been?

No! While it takes a little getting used to, I felt The Quantum Thief was easier to understand than either of the earlier works I mentioned. It's written in a breezy style remniscent of Maurice LeBlanc's Arsene Lupin, a work that this one owes a great debt to. Not only is Jean Le Flambeur based on Lupin, Lupin is even mentioned in the text.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The world Rajanieme creates is a very interesting one. While the author used the Lupin tales as a blueprint, it feels like he fleshed out his creation with bits pilfered from books like Hyperion, The Golden Age, Neuromancer, and many others, welding them all together with his background in quantum physics. This is one of those books that has so many big ideas flying around you can hardly keep track of all of them. Hell, I'm already forgetting things I wanted to mention. Maybe I'll just list them.

1. Time is used as a currency. When you run out of time, you die and the Resurrection Men come for you. After a period of time with your consciousness inhabiting a robot body and doing routine maintenance on the City, you get a new body.
2. Tzaddikim patrol the streets, keeping the general population safe.
3. By 'blinking, you can recall anything that happened anywhere in the Oubliette using the exomemory. It's like the internet, only better and with slightly less pornography.
4. Privacy is a big deal. By using a gevulot, you control the flow of information to other people.
5. There's a glossary of terms used in The Quantum Thief on Wikipedia. It would have helped immensely if I'd had it when I started but probably would have made the read a less rewarding experience:

The principle characters are an interesting bunch. I'd say the book approaches a number of ideas per page ratio comparable to one of China Mieville's works. It's primarily a heist tale but there's plenty of action. I sure wouldn't want to be in Miele's way. There's a point where sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Quantum Thief comes pretty close to that point on many occasions.

The ending met all my expectations, both in regard to actions and revelations about the overall setting. If I hadn't already known The Quantum Thief was the first in a trilogy (boo!), I would have been slightly disappointed.

While the Quantum Thief looks like a science fiction novel, it's really a heist story about a criminal and the man tasked with catching him. If you can handle being in the dark for part of the time, this is one hell of a read. I wouldn't say I like it as much as Hyperion but it's definitely WAAAAAAAY up there in my science fiction hierarchy.

Additional thought:
Hannu Rajaniemi looks a lot like Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame. Look them up and see for yourself.

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Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief!

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-ThiefArsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice Leblanc

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of short stories featuring Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief.

The Arrest of Arsene Lupin: A trans-Atlantic cruise ship gets a message saying that Arsene Lupin is on board, with a recent forearm wound and going by the name R-. The message gets cut off and hysteria grips the ship. Everyone whose name begins with R is suspected of being Lupin.

The writing is good and there are only slight hints that it's been translated from French. The story was well done and I'm a little ashamed that I didn't see the reveal coming.

Arsene Lupin in Prison: Baron Cahorn gets a letter from Arsene Lupin saying that either he should box up some of his prize paintings for Lupin or Lupin will collect them himself in one week's time. But Lupin's in prison, isn't he?

Lupin in Prison was even better than the first story. Lupin's way of robbing Cahorn from within prison walls is both innovative and plausible. The relationship between Lupin and his nemesis, Detective Ganamard, looks to be the best part of future stories.

The Escape of Arsene Lupin: Lupin, still in the clink, continuously tells people he won't be attending his trial. The authorities intercept a message from an accomplice of his and try to catch him in a trap. Little do they know, Lupin has more than one trick up his sleeve.

As of this story, I am officially a Lupin fan. He's the anti-Holmes, a criminal genius who's still a likeable character. Speaking of Holmes...

Sherlock Holmes arrives too late Lupin's casing a castle under a false identity. He has to be quick with his burglary, however. Sherlock Holmes is on his way...

Usually, crossovers don't live up to expectations. I'd say this one is different. Both Lupin and Holmes are given their due and neither is made to look markedly inferior to the other. The mutual respect between the two is well done.

These are just a sampling of the Lupin adventures contained within. I recommend them to mystery fans, especially those who like their protagonists brash and witty. Arsene Lupin is clearly influenced by Sherlock Holmes but has things in common with P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith character, as well as superheroes like Batman. He plans for every eventuality. Where Holmes uses his intelligence for good, Lupin uses it for personal gain, governed by a somewhat noble code of ethics.

2012 Note: I'm reading The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. It's partly an sf homage to Lupin and brought back fond memories of reading this.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The High Window

The High WindowThe High Window by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Philip Marlowe is hired to find the Brasher doubloon, a valuable gold coin stolen from its owner. Marlowe trails the owner's daughter in law, thinking she stole the coin. Marlowe's path leads him into a web of murder and black mail. Will Marlowe be able to find who stole the doubloon without winding up on the pile of corpses left in its wake?

As I continuously mention, noir fiction of this type agrees with me like a bottle of Mad Dog does a homeless man. The High Window, Raymond Chandler's third Philip Marlowe book, is no exception.

A wise man once said "No one reads Raymond Chandler for the plot." I agree with whomever that wizzened old sage was. Chandler never met a plot he couldn't overly complicate but The High Window is one of his more coherent ones. The search for a stolen doubloon sees multiple men dead and a wealthy family's secrets pulled out of the basement and thrown on the front lawn for all the neighbors to see.

Marlowe is Marlowe. As usual, much of the supporting cast exists mostly for Marlowe to bounce great lines off of and/or have sapping or shooting at him. The Bright family is a bunch of rotten apples one and all.

As I said before, this is one of Chandler's simpler plots but it's still a bit of a mess. It took me a little while to tip to the connection between the dentist and the missing coin. The black mail angle was well done. Chandler played his cards close to the vest, like always. "It just made me want to climb up the wall and gnaw my way across the ceiling." Marlowe used that line to describe a drink he took. That's how I felt about the plot sometimes.

It's no surprise by now that Chandler's prose is the star of the show. I mentioned in my review of Farewell, My Lovely, that Chandler's prose sometimes reminded me of a gritty P.G. Wodehouse. I've since learned that Chandler spent a lot of his early life in England so that's a little easier to understand now.

While it's my least favorite of the three Chandler books I've read so far, The High Window is still a great read, if for no other reason than to experience Raymond Chandler's prose. Not quite a four but it's an overflowing three star read.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My LovelyFarewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Philip Marlowe is looking for a woman's missing husband when he encounters Moose Malloy, a brute fresh out of prison, looking for his lost love Velma. Moose kills a man and Marlowe gets corralled into looking for the missing Velma. In the mean time, Marlowe gets another gig as a bodyguard and soon winds up with a corpse for a client. Will Marlowe find Velma and get to the bottom of things?

As I've said before, noir fiction and I go together like chronic constipation and heroin addiction. Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe's sophmore adventure, is one of the better noir tales I've ever read.

I wasn't completely sold on Farewell, My Lovely at first. It seemed like it took a little longer to get started than the Big Sleep. Once Marlowe got warmed up and I forgave it for not being The Big Sleep, I was completely absorbed by the writing. Chandler's poetic prose only got better in the gap between the Big Sleep and this book. There were even more quotable lines in this one. Chandler's similes reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse's at times, maybe the kind old Plum would write if he was in the grips of a powerful hangover.

"I lit a cigarette. It tasted like a plumber's handkerchief."

As for the plot, it's only slightly less convoluted than the Big Sleep. The two cases didn't intersect much until the end and I only guessed the big twist a paragraph or two before it happened. As with the previous book, the prose was the star of the show. Marlowe took so many blows to the head in this one that I had sympathy pains while reading it.

While I wouldn't say it's as good as The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely is a classic and not to be missed by noir fans. Four easy stars.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Babylon Steel

Babylon SteelBabylon Steel by Gaie Sebold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brothel owner and operator and former mercenary Babylon Steel has religious zealots, the Vessels of Purity, driving off her business, tax problems, and a secret past she'd rather keep hidden when casino owner Darask Fain pays her to find a missing girl. Only every step she takes brings her a little closer to her secret past. Can Steel find the missing girl before her past finally catches up to her?

Right off the bat, I'd like to say this book is a super nova of pure entertainment. Don't come in expecting to discover a lost work of Shakespeare.

Babylon Steel tells two stories, one of a brothel owner, the other of an orphan girl who eventually becomes the avatar of a goddess. I'm not going to come right out and say it but you can see where the tales will intersect. The story is largely a mystery. Without giving too much of the plot away, I like what Sebold has done with certain fantasy cliches like prophecies, chosen ones, and gods in this book.

Babylon is a fairly well-rounded character. She's tough but feminine. The fact that she's a prostitute that runs a brothel seems almost secondary. Actually, I didn't quite buy her as a prostitute until she had sex with the lizard man who had two penises. The supporting cast is fairly well done, from her staff at the Red Lantern to her uneasy relationship with Chief Bitternut, the head of the city watch. Scalentine, the setting, is one of the more interesting fantasy cities I've read about in recent years. It's located at the conjunction of multiple planar portals. It's no Bas Lag but few fantasy cities are.

Both the city and the writing style remind me of Simon Green's Nightside series quite a bit, only with less tedium and more smut. I'd say the writing is better than Green's.

Any complaints? Not really. Like I said earlier, this is a brain candy book. You probably won't find yourself quoting the prose to your friends while you're reading it. That being said, I think this will be a big hit with fantasy readers who also enjoy a bit of paranormal romance. Based on entertainment value alone, I'm caving in and giving it four stars. It was a lot of fun and I couldn't seem to put it down for long.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wolf's Hour

The Wolf's HourThe Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Gallatin is a master spy during World War II. He also happens to be a werewolf. He comes out of retirement for one last mission: to stop a secret Nazi operation called Iron Fist. Can Michael stop Iron Fist and retain his humanity?

The Wolf's Hour is what would happen if Captain America was a werewolf instead of a super-hero. Yes, I remember the atrocious CapWolf storyline from the 1990's. That doesn't count since it didn't happen during World War II.

Wolf's Hour tells two parallel stories: one of Michael Gallatin in World War II and another of young Mikhail Gallatinov, a Russian boy who becomes a werewolf when his family is killed. While both branches of the story had a good amount of action, I was far more interested in the Mikhail storyline. The WWII storyline had far too little werewolf action for my taste.

McCammon's writing is workmanlike. He's not going to win awards on prose alone. However, I do enjoy what he writes. The action sequences are well done and the bits involving werewolves are suitably gory. I thought Michael Gallatin was a good character for what he was meant to be: James Bond as a werewolf. None of the other characters really did much for me.

I thought it was a little long for what it was. If it had been cut down to 400-450 pages, it would have easily gotten another star.

One last thought: Did you know werewolves pee on one another? I did not.

All in all, this is a good pulpy action story starring a werewolf. If that's all you're expecting, you won't be disappointed.

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52 Pickup

52 Pickup52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blackmailers have factory owner Harry Mitchell over a barrel. Either he pays them $105,000 a year or they turn over an incriminating film to the police and press, and more, if he doesn't pay up. Too bad Harry Mitchell has ideas of his own...

Elmore Leonard sure knows how to weave a serpentine tale, doesn't he? He takes a story that seems simple on the surface, that of some blackmailers hitting up a pigeon for money, and turns it into something else all together. It was written in 1974 but has a certain timelessness to it.

Harry Mitchell is the usual Leonard protagonist: cool, capable, and not entirely spotless. The way he handles the blackmailers set the stage for later Leonard protagonists like Chili Palmer and Raylan Givens. I like that Leonard made Barbara's behavior toward Harry believable after she found out he had an affair. About my only complaint with the story is that I wish Barbara would ahve gotten a crack at getting some payback on Alan.

The bad guys are an unsavory crew, as to be expected. I didn't expect some of them to go out the way they did, though. That's one of the reasons I mean to read more Elmore Leonard in 2012. He manages to surprise me in each outing. As usual with Leonard, the dialogue is as smooth as fine Scotch.

While it may be slightly less polished than some of his later works, all of the Leonard hallmarks are there: double crosses, slick dialogue, and fairly believable situations. I couldn't wait for the blackmailers to get what was coming to them and Leonard did not disappoint. Very highly recommended.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

13 Questions with S.D. Foster

And we're back.  That break was much longer than I thought.  Today's guest is S.D. Foster, author of A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?
My introduction to Bizarro was a few years ago via the chance discovery of The Overwhelming Urge by Andersen Prunty and The Kafka Effekt by D. Harlan Wilson. In 2010, I (unsuccessfully) submitted a longer version of A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space to the excellent Ohio-based small press, Atlatl, which has published fiction by both Wilson and Prunty. Then, in August 2011, I sent a shorter version to Eraserhead’s New Bizarro Author Series editor, Kevin L. Donihe, which marked the beginning of my involvement in the movement. It’s all been very sudden, and it still feels odd to be in regular contact with people who, it turns out, are not just names on book spines.

Tell us about A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space.
I would describe it as a collection of mini-bizarro-biographies, conventionally structured narratives (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) about unconventional, often tragicomic characters: a passionate girl made of wood, a stoic teddy bear, a socially inept snowman, etc. These characters are very important to me. I’m interested in their histories, I’m sympathetic to their struggles, I’m appalled by their vices—and I hope that readers will be, too.

Is there one story you've written that you'd say is your favorite?
Not really. Several of the stories deal with my favorite theme, frustrated ambition.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but don’t remember being inspired by any one book. As an adult, Raymond Carver’s short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, was revelatory. This may seem strange, given that Carver was a dirty realist; but his style was one I believed I could aspire to. I consider myself a dirty irrealist.

What made you decide to go with a collection of short stories rather than a novella for the New Bizarro Author Series?
A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space wasn’t written with the NBAS specifically in mind. I write short stories because that’s what I most love to read, and because the form is well-suited to my prose. I agonize over every word, have nightmares about sentence construction.

Who would you say your influences are?
The living: Russell Edson, James Tate, D. Harlan Wilson, Lemony Snicket. The dead: Daniil Kharms, Flann O’Brien, Frank L. Baum. The decayed: Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Aesop. And, like most Bizarros, I have a taste for and am influenced by cult horror and exploitation movies. This list is by no means exhaustive, though.

King Kong or Godzilla?
In solidarity with my fellow primate, I vote Kong. I have a Kong-themed story appearing soon in Garrett Cook’s ezine, Nuckelavee.

What's your favorite book?
For nostalgic reasons, probably something from childhood, like Alice Through the Looking Glass or In the Night Kitchen.
Who's your favorite author?
Narrowing it down to one is impossible. My influences are my favorites.

What's your favorite short story?
Again, it’s impossible to narrow down. A few that spring immediately to mind are Daniil Kharms’ “The Old Woman,” Roald Dahl’s “Pig,” Richard Matheson’s “Blood Son,” Spencer Holst’s “The Zebra Storyteller,” and Edward Lear’s “The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round the World.”

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The best prose I’ve read is Kevin L. Donihe’s zombie parody, Night of the Assholes. It includes more uses of the word “asshole” than the subtitles to Korean war-horror movie R-Point. The best poetry is Luke Kennard’s The Migraine Hotel, which is, like all my favorite books, equally profound and ridiculous.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Sleep deprivation, depression and Dr. Pepper are invaluable creative aids. Yes, it’s true, the first draft is awful; so is the second; the third is hardly an improvement; and so on. Find the right publisher. And once published, the work has only just begun.

What's next for S.D. Foster?
At the moment I’m so busy promoting A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space that I can’t imagine ever writing again! But when I do, more of the same, only longer—a collection of around fifty stories, each featuring a memorable character with an alliterative name, is my aim. I wouldn’t rule out something longer, though…

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thank You, Jeeves

Thank You, Jeeves  Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeeves and Wooster break up after Jeeves lays down an ultimatum and Bertie chooses his banjolele over his manservant. Hilarity ensues.

The 2011-2012 re-read...
After Jeeves and Wooster have a spat over a banjolele, Jeeves leaves Wooster for Lord Chuffnel, who is enamored with Bertie's ex-fiancee, Pauline Stoker. Complicating matters are Stoker's dad, a millionaire who wants to buy Chuffnel's mansion, and Chuffy's, who is being pursued by Wooster's old nemesis, Sir Roderick Glossop. When Bertie winds up engaged to Pauline instead of Chuffy, can even Jeeves set things right?

After so many books, I'm almost at a loss at trying to convey the awesomeness of P.G. Wodehouse in words. He moves the characters through the various scenes like a puppet master. While this is the first Jeeves novel, it's by no means the genius butler's first outing. I'd forgotten how much history there was between Bertie and Sir Roderick Glossop, renowned nerve specialist, prior to this book. The supporting cast did a good job driving the story, from the Stokers to the Chuffnels to Brinkley, the replacement Jeeves. Little Seabury and his protection racket cracked me up.

Things are not as perfect as they would later become in the Jeeves books. Today's readers may find Bertie and Glossop being in blackface for a good portion of the story and the casual use of the n-word is sure to offend. Since this was the first full length Jeeves outing, it feels like old Plum was still working some of the bugs out.

Still, it's still a great story. So many lines of quotable dialogue and hilarious situations. Even though you can see a lot of them coming, it doesn't lessen the impact. As usual, it was a joy to watch Wodehouse do what he does best.

I enjoyed revisiting Thank You, Jeeves, with the Wodehouse Cracks Me Up group and am excited about reading the other eight this year.

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The Big Sleep

The Big SleepThe Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 2011-2012 re-read...

A paralyzed millionaire, General Sternwood, hires Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe to have a talk with a blackmailer with his hooks in his daughter. But what does his daughter's missing husband, Rusty Regan, have to do with it? Marlowe's case will get him entangled in a web of pornography and gambling from which he may never escape...

For the last few years, me and noir detective fiction have gone together as well as strippers and c-section scars. When the Pulp Fiction group announced this as it's January group read, I figured it was time to get reacquainted with one of the books that started the genre.

I'd forgotten most of the book in the past ten years so it was like a completely new one. One of the things that grabbed me right away was how poetic Raymond Chandler's prose seems at times. I'd intended on writing down some of the more clever bits but I quickly dropped that idea in favor of letting myself get taken along for the ride.

For a lot of today's readers, the plot and Philip Marlowe himself might not seem that original. That's because people have been ripping off Raymond Chandler for decades! Marlowe is the real deal. Now that I've read a few hundred more detective books since my original reading, I can appreciate how influential Marlowe is as a character.

The plot is a lot more complex than it originally seemed. I almost wish I didn't know the plot of the Big Leibowski was partly lifted from the Big Sleep. I kept picturing characters from the movie while I was reading. Hell, the plot is almost inconsequential. The atmosphere and language are the real stars of the show.

Five stars. If you're a fan of noir and haven't read this, drop what you're doing and get started!

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space

A Hollow Cube is a Lonely SpaceA Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space by S. D. Foster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space is a collection of Bizarro short stories by S.D. Foster.

A book of short stories, especially those written by a new author, is always a dicey proposition. Fortunately, S.D. Foster has a good grasp of the form. The stories within range from just a page to eight pages.

The 24 stories within cover quite a bit of ground. Some are a funny, some sad, and some thought provoking. All are more than a little strange. Standouts for me include Slothra, the story of an aging giant monster, Snowman, the tale of a man accidentally befriending an obnoxious snowman and waiting for winter to end, and The Course of Clementine, the story of a fruit's life.

Even though their writing styles are different, A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space reminded me of Bradley Sands' collection, Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy. I'd like to see what S.D. Foster can do in a novel length tale, though.

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