Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Get Carter

Get Carter Get Carter by Ted Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his brother dies in a drunk driving accident, Jack Carter comes back to his home town for the funeral. Since his brother never drank, Jack is suspicious and digs into his brother's final days to figure out what happened.

Get Carter is a dark murder mystery. Set in 1960s England, it features a bad man in a world of other bad men, looking for his brother's murderers. It was adapted into a classic movie in 1971 starring Michael Caine and a lackluster movie starring Sylvester Stallone in 2000.

Jack Carter walks through a spider's web of shifty English gangsters, each one dirtier than the last, trying to figure out what exactly happened to his brother. What he finds isn't pretty. Jack's conflicted feelings about his brother give the book an added dimension, keeping it from feeling like a simple revenge book.

The novel is heavy on atmosphere and dialogue but short on action for most of the book. When the action finally does come, it's as brutal as a head-on collision. Pretty much everyone Jack encounters is a filthy, smegging, lying, smegging liar and it's pretty satisfying when the parties responsible for Frank's murder get their comeuppance.

As I said before, the book is high on atmosphere. I kept picturing Ewan MacGregor or Jason Statham circa 2000 in the title role. I'd be surprised if a remake wasn't at least considered as a Jason Statham vehicle at some point. It could easily be dumbed down for the crap he usually stars in and it would have to be better than the Sylvester Stallone version of the film.

It's easy to see why Get Carter was a big deal in Britain when it was released. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: The Boston Strangler

The Boston Strangler The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From 1962-1964, thirteen women were sexually assaulted and murdered, strangled to death by an unknown assailant. This book chronicles the resulting manhunt.

I'm mentioned several times that I'm not really into true crime. I prefer my murders to be fictitious. After enjoying the shit out of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, I decided to give true crime another chance.

Well, I still prefer my crimes to be the made up ones but this was a pretty engaging read. The writing was breezy and it did a good job of presenting each suspect as a believable candidate for being the Boston Strangler. One by one they were introduced and dismissed.

I found it interesting that psychics were consulted and police thought the strangler had to be more than one man. The descriptions of the murders wore on me. I can read about fictitious murders all day long but I feel a little squeamish when they're real. Maybe I'm too sensitive for true crime. It also made me a little paranoid. If I didn't have a dog, I probably would have made sure the back door was locked a couple times.

Since I spoiled the ending for myself by looking up the case on Wikipedia before opening the book, I eventually got kind of bored with it and started skimming but that was no fault of the book or the writing.

While it didn't make me a true crime convert, I did enjoy The Boston Strangler. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seinfeldia is the story of Seinfeld, the TV show that went from being watched by a handful of people to being a pop culture phenomenon.

Confession Time: There was a period of my life that Seinfeld was my favorite show. I watched it religiously in syndication and in prime time as new episodes aired. Actually, religiously probably isn't the right word since I never missed Seinfeld but ditched church at every opportunity, sometimes while reading Sein Language. To this day, I still watch episodes in syndication. When this popped up on Netgalley, I requested it immediately.

Seinfeldia chronicles Seinfeld from it's early days to it's prime to it's eventual conclusion, yadda yadda yadda. The behind the scenes stuff was really interesting. A lot of the material from the show was drawn from real life experiences of the writing staff, something suspected but was never quite sure about. I also learned that most writers only lasted a season, discarded once they'd been milked of all useful material, which kind of makes Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld seem like heartless dicks. Early tension between Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was something I'd never heard about before, as was Michael Richards' aloofness.

The show about nothing had some humble beginnings. Fear of cancellation was rampant, which was fine with Larry David, who thought he only had four or five episodes in him anyway. Good thing he was able to Curb that feeling eventually. Early landmark episodes include The Chinese Restaurant, which takes place entirely in a Chinese restaurant and doesn't feature Kramer, and The Contest, the infamous episode where the gang try to see who can go the longest without masturbating.

The book continues to chronicle the show, covering everything, including Larry David's exit to Jerry's rejection of $5 million per episode to keep the show going beyond the ninth season. After that, the lives of the cast post-Seinfeld are covered, as is the rise of Seinfeld fandom. I'd forgotten about Michael Richards' racist meltdown in 2006.

This book tickled all of the nostalgia centers in my brain, a fun trip down memory lane peppered with speed bumps like the low talker, the close talker, man-hands, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

To sum things up, I enjoyed the hell out of this. Not that there's anything wrong with that. To wrap things up, here are ten of my favorite Seinfeld episodes in the order they aired.
1 - The Chinese Restaurant
2 - The Parking Garage
3 - The Contest
4 - The Bubble Boy
5 - The Junior Mint
6 - The Non-Fat Yogurt
7 - The Marine Biologist
8 - The Calzone
9 - The Sponge
10 - The Soup Nazi

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: Firestarter

Firestarter Firestarter by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When some cash-poor college students volunteer for an experiment, they have no idea of the Pandora's Box they are about to unleash. Years later, one of them, Andy McGee, is on the run from The Shop, with his daughter, Charlie. Can Andy and Charlie evade The Shop before their world goes up in flames?

First off, for years now, I cannot read the title without hearing the Prodigy song of the same name. Maybe he'll follow this one up with a book called Fuel my Fire or Smack My Bitch Up one of these days to continue along the same lines.

Firestarter is one of those Stephen King books you don't hear all that much about. A lot of people only know of it because of the movie starring Drew Barrymore in the 1980s. Well, more people should know about it because it's a corking good read.

A 1960s experiment gave Andy McGee and his wife psychic powers. It also altered their DNA enough to produce Charlie, their immensely powerful psychic daughter, whose abilities include pyrokinesis, hence the title.

For a good portion of the book, the suspense comes from Andy trying to stay one step ahead of The Shop. The rest of it is the two McGees trying to escape The Shop's clutches. The Shop, and John Rainbird, make fantastic villains because they aren't nearly as far outside the realm of possibility as evil cars and spider-clowns.

Like a lot of Stephen King books, the relationships between the characters keep the story going. John Rainbird proved to be more than the scene-chewing villain I originally pegged him as. Unlike the protagonists in Doctor Sleep, I feared for Charlie and Andy almost constantly.

I'd forgotten how brutal King was sometimes in his older books. There are some parts of this one I'll remember for a long time. Maybe Stephen King will revisit a character or two from this book before he goes to the clearing at the end of the path, maybe as part of a Dark Tower story.

As I said before, this is a very underrated King book. I don't really have anything bad to say about it. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

I'm The Professor!

I'm the Professor: Creating Doctor Who Analogues in Spelljammer

Ever have an idea you just can't shake?  Since writing a review for Spelljammer yesterday, I keep coming back to how I could create a Doctor Who analogue in a Spelljammer campaign.  Keep in mind, I haven't had an active gaming group in fifteen years and haven't played an RPG at all in ten years.  Still, Doctor Who + Spelljammer has been nagging at me.  Hopefully, writing my ideas down will help me focus on more productive things.  I'll be sticking to the AD&D 2e rules for this.

  1. The Professor:  In the classic (or infamous) comedy module Castle Greyhawk, there was a halfling Doctor Who analogue called Professor Why.  Since a halfling can't run a Spelljamming helm unless he's a priest, I'm going with a gnome thief-illusionist for The Professor.  As for his version of the TARDIS, it would be easy enough to make it a contraption with a helm inside and a lot of magical devices for creating extra-dimensional spaces, making it, in fact, bigger on the inside.  Woe to anyone entering the Phlogiston in this sort of TARDIS, though.
  2. a renegade Arcane on the run: One of the gems of the Spelljammer setting is the mysterious nature of the Arcane.  An Arcane rebelling against his race's cold, mercantile nature could make an interesting NPC, especially if he stole a new product the Arcane hadn't gotten around to marketing yet, or one they deemed too dangerous to use.  Perhaps a ship that has a revolutionary type of helm in it and is bigger on the inside?
  3. A rediscovered Juna artifact, flown by the elf that found it: The Juna are responsible (or possibly responsible) for a lot of unexplained things in the Spelljammer universe.  How hard is it to think they had Spelljamming technology far in advance of what is currently being used?
  4. Miscellaneous other ideas: Another apparatus created by Kwalish? Someone slapping a Spelljamming Helm in the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga?  There are a lot of possibilities.
Thanks for reading.  Hopefully, I can get back to more important things to ponder, like why males have nipples and things of that nature.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (AD&D 2nd Ed Fantasy Roleplaying, 2bks+4maps+cards+counters)Spelljammer: Adventures in Space by Jeff Grubb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way back in the early 1990s, I stumbled upon a used copy of Spelljammer in the local bookstore. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in space? How could I lose?

My fourteen year old brain had no idea of the Pandora's Box I was about to open in our gaming group. In addition to the usual humans, gnomes, halfings, and such, Spelljammer threw a lot of new races and concepts into the vanilla fantasy mix. Wooden ships sailing in space? Planetary systems housed in crystal spheres? The Phlogiston? Lizard men as a PC race? Hippo-like mercenaries? Giant Space Hamsters?

It was a hard sell for my players but we eventually placed a six month campaign after a few false stars. As teenagers, we had some problems with it, noteably in the vast travel times between crystal spheres and the length of time it took to play out a battle between ships. It wouldn't have been so bad if we wouldn't have Thunderdomed every battle.

The ship designs ranged from ordinary sailing ships to butterfly-like Elven vessels to the spider-themed ships of the Neogi. Also, one can't forget the Mind Flayer Nautiloid, the most iconic ship in the game. Gaze upon it's majesty!

As an adult, I see that the setting had some strikes against it right out of the gate. For most of the product line's life, it was used as a transitional setting, a way to get characters from one of TSR's campaign worlds to another and didn't have a setting of its own until the Astromundi Cluster, the final Spelljammer product, was released. It also was a little too strange for gamers used to the vanilla Tolkien-inspired fantasy of the day, what with air envelopes, insectile PC races, and the odd tone. It's hard to take a setting seriously once you discover the Giant Space Hamsters.

I think the setting had/has great untapped potential, though. I still catch myself thinking about it in odd moments. If time and location weren't obstacles, I'd love to get the old gang together for one last campaign. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Run

Run Run by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Burdon Lane works for a legal gun dealer who also dabbles in some illcit side deals. When a gun deal goes south and a political figure winds up assassinated, Burdon's friends turn on him and he goes on the run. But who can he trust?

During our third booze-soaked meeting, Kemper gave me two books: Seveneves and this one.

The book started slow. The first 35% was setup, introducing all the players and getting them into position. The remaining 65% was an orgy of violence and betrayal.

Run could have easily been a no-brain thriller but raises a lot of questions on race, identity, and gun violence. Burdon Lane struggles with who he is over the course of the novel. His feelings over the deaths and betrayals set him apart from other anti-heroes, making him more than the Parker ripoff I thought he might wind up being.

While Douglas E. Winter writes great action, the relationship between Burdon and Jinx was my favorite part of the book. Jinx could have easily been a stereotype gang member but wound up being one of the better written characters in the tale.

The never-ending betrayals and brutal violence wore on me after a while. Still, I loved the showdown at the end. The aftermath was a little soft, though.

That's about all I have to say. Run is better experienced than read about anyway. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World is a collection of short stories by Harlan Ellison. I mostly picked it up to read A Boy and His Dog, to experience the post-apocalyptic story as it was originally intended and to see if this version was as rapey as the movie starring Don Johnson. Here are my thoughts on some of the stories contained within.

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World: I have no idea how to summarize this story. I'm not sure what it was actually about. Something something time travel, releasing insanity across the multiverse, possibly an allegory of Lucifer's fall. I'm still trying to digest this one.

Along the Scenic Route: When another motorist insults him on The Freeway, George challenges him to a duel. Which of the drivers and his tricked out vehicles will come out of the confrontation the winner?

This dystopian death race was a pretty cool story, two men and their weaponized cars battling it out.

Phoenix: Travelers cross a red desert, searching for a lost city that has risen from the sands.

This one was interesting with a Twilight Zone ending. The concepts were a little out there but it was a pretty satisfying read.

Asleep: With Still Hands: Deep beneath the Sargasso Sea, a team of men go to slay The Sleeper...

This was a bizarre tale of the dead and dreaming Sleeper and the world he protected. Ellison sure knows how to do endings, even if I thought this story wasn't that great.

Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.: Kris Kringle, greatest secret agent in the world, battles the forces of S.P.I.D.E.R. Can he stop their insidious eight-point plan in time to do his Christmas duties?

This was a cheesy, fun, spy spoof. At least it was, until a rapey moment near the end. 90% enjoyable, though.

A Boy and His Dog: Vic and his telepathic dog Blood wander a post-apocalyptic wasteland, looking to get fed and get laid.

Yeah, the novella version was just as rape-oriented as the 1970's movie.

Closing Thoughts: I have mixed feelings on The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. In a technical sense, Harlan Ellison is a very good writer. However, most of the stories within were a product of their time. Were the 1970's as rapey a time period as some of the fiction of the period leads me to believe. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: Taken by the Tetris Blocks: An Erotic Short Story

Taken by the Tetris Blocks: An Erotic Short Story Taken by the Tetris Blocks: An Erotic Short Story by Leonard Delaney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a world where sentient Tetris blocks are commonplace, Christie Aackerlund works for a clickbait website until the day she storms out. Fortunately, there were a few Russian Tetris blocks waiting to give her solace...

I was reading the reviews for Motherfucking Wizards: An Erotic Novella About Sexual Wizards on Amazon and this popped up. It was free, so what the hell.

First off, I must confess that I've never been attracted to Tetris blocks, although the L-shaped piece is definitely the most bangable.

This was a quick read with very little in the way of plot. The writing isn't great but still a notch above most monster porn. The world is interesting, although I'm curious about how the sentient Tetris blocks fit into society in situations other than interspecies intercourse. Maybe that will be covered in a sequel at some point. Anyway, the sex was as hot as sex between a woman and three talking Tetris blocks could be.

By monster porn standards, this was pretty good. Three out of five stars.

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Dantastic Thoughts: What Constitutes Spoilers

I've been rating and reviewing books on Dangerous Dan's Book BlogDantastic ComicsShelf Inflicted, and my Goodreads account for the past eight years.  I'm pretty careful about not giving away more than what's on the dust jacket and when I do, I hide content inside spoiler tags.  Despite my efforts, every once in a while, someone leaves me a comment saying I spoiled something for them, which brings me to my point.  What constitutes a spoiler?

I've been told a couple times that I shouldn't mention what happens in the book.  What is a review without context?  Should I just leave a smiley face or a frowny face and call it a day?  How the hell does that tell anyone anything about my reading experience?

Is telling someone Moby Dick is about a man's obsession with a white whale considered a spoiler?  Is writing a three line teaser that gives away less than the dust jacket a spoiler?  And what if you mark the review as containing spoilers but someone reads it anyway?

What I'm getting at is that ultimately, the internet is a Pandora's Box of spoilers and if you google a book or movie, it's on your head if you release a swarm of flying monkeys into the world.  Telling someone Moby Dick is about a whale isn't the same as blabbing the twist ending of Empire Strikes Back.  At some point, people have to shoulder the responsibility for keeping themselves free of spoilers on the internet.

My rant is concluded.  Go about your business.

The Beard is Back!: 10 more questions with Eric Hendrixson

It's been a while but Eric Hendixson has joined the illustrious two-timers club.  He's been busy since his last visit.

What's been going on since Bucket of Face?
I wrote Giving the Finger for the Bizarro Starter Kit Red and Drunk Driving Champion, as well as another novel that is in editing stages right now. In the middle of that, I switched jobs and moved to Chicago, which has improved my pizza, pierogi, and hot dog situation but ruined my winter situation. I took Krav Maga classes, visited the House on the Rock, and read an obscene short story at the AWP in Minnesota. I've also been editing flash fiction for Bizarro Central.

What possessed you to write a drunken version of Cannonball Run or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?
What surprised me was that nobody else had already written this novel. When I came up with the idea, it had that sort of “of course” feel to it. I've always liked road trips and road trip stories, and this was a way of making a racing story more interesting.

My first experience with drunk driving was a cross-country trip. When I was eight or nine and my family was moving back to the United States, my father had to drop our van off at the Navy port at Rota, Spain. On the way back to the Air Force base at Torrejon, we drove the new chaplain's car, which had just been shipped in. He had an older car that had bench seats, and between me and my father, there was a huge ice chest. When I reached in for a soda, my father had forgotten to buy any. It was all beer. From Rota to Torrejon is a seven-hour drive. That's a lot of beer, but we made it home without creating an international incident. It was a very wholesome experience: a father and son taking a trip in the priest's car, only we were drinking beer all the way. At the time, this did not seem unusual. What really stood out in my mind about the trip was that the Navy base had a Baskin-Robbins. I'd never had someone ask me what flavor of ice cream I wanted before. It was amazing. When I got home, the story I told everyone was about ice cream, not beer. That trip might have something to with where the idea came from.

Ever have a GPS take you through unsavory areas?
I have an innate distrust of GPS units. I don't like their voices, and voice really matters to me, so I try not to rely on them. However, I once had to go to the Prince George's County jail in Maryland. I've never been good at navigating Maryland. The whole state seems upside-down and poorly thought out. This morning, I was covering for a coworker who'd called in sick, so I was already running late. I hate being late for things, so I was already nervous when my GPS took me to the corner of Marlboro Pike and Marlboro Pike. That's where the adventure began. The GPS had me turn off Marlboro Pike onto Marlboro Pike. This other Marlboro Pike was an older road, faded, broken, and wooded, but I figured the jail might be in the middle of nowhere, like prisons and nuclear power plants. The grass got really high, and the road kept getting worse. There were shacks and abandoned trailers by the side of the road. Faint banjo music played in the distance. It turns out that Marlboro Pike intersects with Marlboro Pike about five times, and the GPS had me going from the modern road to the old road pretty much at random. So I was trying to get to an unsavory place, but the unit kept leading me to the wrong unsavory places. When I finally made it to jail, I was late for the meeting and the guards didn't want to let me in. I was probably the only person in PG County that morning trying this hard to get into jail.

What did you drink for research purposes while writing Drunk Driving Champion?
I dedicated the book to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Evan Williams, since the book would have been impossible without either of them.

Did you learn anything while writing Drunk Driving Champion?
I learned a few stylistic things. When you write a race story, it has to read fast, and I found ways to do that. It was all about distillation. I've visited a few breweries and distilleries, and the first stage of making whiskey is like making beer—bad beer but essentially beer. The distillation process is both the difference between good writing and bad writing and the difference between beer and whiskey. I found as I rewrote the story, it kept getting shorter even though I was adding more story. In the later stage of editing Drunk Driving Champion, I did a pass in which I added a new chapter and still finished with fewer words than I started with. I considered that a victory, since I had distilled more of the water out and produced a higher proof of story.

In the dedication of Drunk Driving Champion, you mentioned people not wanting you to write this book.  Care to elaborate?
I've worked a table at the Printer's Row festival for the past two years with some other Midwest bizarro writers. One of our favorite things is meeting new people who see the book covers, read the descriptions, and immediately get it. Those people were already bizarro fans. They just didn't know the genre existed yet. It's a great experience.

But our real favorite thing is seeing the people who look at our books and walk away clutching their pearls or holding their purses tighter. This year, we actually had a woman sneer at us in disgust. She looked like a cat that can't quite smell something. I got a little bit of that from people when I was writing the book. For the most part, those people weren't my audience anyway. This genre is not for everybody. It's oftentimes a love it or hate it situation.

Most bizarro fiction is pretty transgressive to begin with. In Bucket of Face, I have organ harvesting, a man having sex with a kiwi fruit, and a tomato cutting open a woman's chest so he can fist her ribcage and shoot her heart out from the inside. In Giving the Finger, I have a child whose body parts are used to repair a dike. However, a few people who were fine with that just noped out at the idea of drunk driving. It wouldn't really be bizarro if it was the kind of story everyone agrees on. Squeamishness is the basis of a lot of comedy. It's usually very specific, and we all have different things that can set us off. It's fun to see where different people draw the line.

Do you ever plan to revisit the world of Bucket of Face?
That story is grounded in the geography of the DC area, and a lot has changed since I lived there. If I ever moved back to DC, I might, but a lot of what I'm writing these days is based in Chicago. The two cities have very different personalities. I do plan on revisiting the bizarro noir style, but that story will take place in Chicago.

What is the best car movie of the 1970s and 80s?
I watched a lot of car movies while writing the novel. I started with the 1965 classic The Great Race, which has the patently absurd premise of an auto race from New York to Paris. You don't need a GPS to tell you the problem. This led to Wacky Racers cartoons, which took a lot from that movie.

My favorites of the 1970s were both made in 1971: the original Vanishing Point and Two Lane Blacktop, which may have inspired the actual Cannonball Runs. Back in the 70s, people just didn't care whether or not their movies made sense, and a lot goes unexplained. You finish watching the movies, and you're really not sure what just happened or what it meant. I borrowed a scene from Vanishing Point, where the Soviet sleeper agents, high on amphetamines, face a police roadblock made of bulldozers. Drunk Driving Champion was like the opposite of Two Lane Blacktop, a race away from DC instead of toward it. Of course, Deathrace 2000 was a huge influence.

Thanks to TV and movies from the 80s, I grew up thinking car chases would play a much larger role in my life than they have so far. Gumball Rally and Cannonball Run are very similar movies, but Cannonball Run has the edge. The Smokey and the Bandit movies have the problem of Burt Reynolds. The guy is too charming, so it comes off as a romantic comedy instead of a car movie.

I would give honorable mentions to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, Mad Max, Christine, and Deathproof, but they're off topic.

What are you reading these days?
In the month, I've been reading a lot of Jim Thomson, an anthology called Chicago Noir, another edited by Chuck Palahniuk called Burning Tongues, Punkland, a comic book series called C.O.W.L., Texas Chainsaw Mantis, and an anthology of 20th Century noir. I also like to browse the Chicago Municipal Code when I don't have a book with me. Laws, what they tell you not to do, tell you a lot about society. For example, it's illegal in this city to dye birds artificial colors and give them away as gifts or prizes. That tells us that at one time, this was a big enough problem in Chicago that some legislator said, “I've had it with all the pink ducks in this city.” I like to think that, at one time, there were hordes of men guy wandering through Chicago distributing colorized waterfowl and shouting, “You win a duck, you win a duck, and you win a duck!”

What's are you writing next?
I want to go back to the bizarro noir style for for a detective story set in the South Side. I've also started a fairy tale set in Appalachia. Right now, though, I'm editing my first Chicago novel, which will either be called Precious Blood of the Lamb or All Our Future Thursdays. It's about the meatpacking industry, Last Thursdayism, tacos, and sheeple—not metaphorical sheep/people but people who turn into sheep and go on a rampage.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: Just After Sunset

Just After Sunset Just After Sunset by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Willa: After a train derails leaving its passengers stranded, David Sanderson's wife wanders away from the station and he goes looking for her.

On the surface, this was a tale of people who don't realize that they're ghosts dealing with their fate. Beneath, I think it's about how time slips away and the deeper the rut you get into, the harder it is to get out and do something new. His Kingship picked a good tale to start the collection with.

Gingerbread Girl: After leaving her husband, Emily takes up running on the beach. Her life is turning around until she runs afoul of killer!

This was a pretty gripping tale about a woman running for her life from a serial killer. Serial killers have been done to death but King makes a good tale out of it.

Harvey's Dream: A woman in a boring marriage is surprised when her husband wants to share a dream of his with her.

This one felt like a well-written Twilight Zone episode to me. The characters felt very real to me.

Rest Stop: A writer on the way home stops at a rest area to pee and interrupts a man beating his wife.

This one was okay. It dealt a little with identity but was mostly a writer gathering up the courage to do something about a bad situation.

Stationary Bike: An overweight commercial artist gets a stationary bike. Twilight Zone style weirdness ensues.

Yeah, I kind of liked this but it was a little long for what it was. Stationary bike takes guy into his drawing, guys working inside his body to keep his body healthy, it was a strange ride that ultimately went nowhere. See what I did there?

The Things They Left Behind: Mysterious objects appear in a 9/11 survivor's apartment, objects belonging to his deceased co-workers.

Another Twilight Zone-ish story that should have been a lot shorter.

Graduation Afternoon: A young woman knows she's attending one of her boyfriend's family's gatherings for the last time. It turns out being the last in more ways than one.


N: A psychiatrist commits suicide and his sister reads the file on his last patient, an OCD man named N.

Holy shit! I enjoyed the hell out of this one. An OCD guy's rituals keeping a world devouring monster straight out of H.P. Lovecraft at bay? Loved it!

The Cat From Hell: A pharmaceutical millionaire hires a hitman to kill... a cat?

Pretty brutal. You can tell this one was early King, especially compared to the writing style of the other stories. No wonder it was featured in Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates: A woman gets an unexpected phone call from her dead husband.

Yawn. Another plane crash-related tale. King's getting soft in his old age.

Mute: After finding out his wife has been having an affair, a man picks up a deaf-mute hitchhiker and bares his soul. But was the man really deaf?

This confessional tale was pretty good. King likes his shorts Twilight Zone-ish, doesn't he?

Ayana: This was a tale about miracles. It was a little Hallmark-y for my taste.

A Very Tight Place: A guy gets trapped inside a Johnny-On-The-Spot by his vindictive neighbor.

This was a revenge story that wasn't shitty despite the setting.

Closing Thoughts: Not a bad short story collection. N and the Cat from Hell were my favorites. I wouldn't say any of the stories were duds but this wasn't my favorite King collection. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds

Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds Atlantis: And Other Lost Worlds by Frank Joseph
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Way back in the day, I was into all the fringe science stuff: UFOs, cryptids, ghosts, and lost civilizations like Atlantis. When you're young, the world is a magical place with plenty of room for relict populations of mammoths in Siberia, dinosaurs in Africa, and some kind of dimensional nexus in the Bermuda triangle. As you get older, it's hard to ignore the nagging voice in your head pointing out all the holes in the logic of such things.

With the passage of time, I've acquired a thick skin of cynicism beneath a carapace of skepticism. I was hoping this book would be a study of possible origins of the Atlantis story of Plato. It wasn't.

First off, for what it is, this is a good book. Frank Joseph is a good writer and is clearly passionate about the subject. I fact-checked a lot of the examples he cites and found them to be real places at the very least.

My problem was with the tone of the book. Atlantis is presented as an indisputable fact from the first few pages. I kept reading and kept debating on not continuing as the depths of crack-pottery deepened. Poseidon creating Atlantis? The Egyptians having a war with the Atlanteans in 1200 BC? The story of the creation from the Bible being a corruption of the original Atlantean creation story? It sure seemed like Frank Joseph was using Atlantis to tie together every creation myth, every great flood myth, and every unexplained ruin or structure in the world.

While I don't doubt the Atlantis story has some basis in fact, I have a hard time believing in a world empire that there's no trace off. Further more, I also have a hard time believing in an entire continent that sank beneath the waves. The thing about continents is that they're quite large. Plate tectonic theory doesn't allow for Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria, or any other legendary sunken land.

On a site note, I have to wonder if Plato's story of Atlantis had some influence on Michael Moorcock when he created the city of Melnibone on the island of Imryr in the Elric book. The sea maze and some aspects of the Melniboneans seemed lifted from Atlantis.

As a work of fiction, this book could have been great. Presented as fact, I find it kind of sad, though interesting and well-researched. Two out of five stars.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Review: The Poison Artist

The Poison Artist The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After having a fight with his girlfriend, toxicologist Caleb Maddox meets an alluring, mysterious woman in a bar and becomes obsessed with her. As he tracks the woman down, he gets entangled in a case involving people being poisoned and dumped in San Francisco bay. But what was his fight with his girlfriend about and what dark secret is he hiding? Will his obsession get in the way of solving the case or will he find himself trapped in something a thousand times as sinister?

I got this book from the publisher and sat on it for about a month. Honestly, ARCs feel like homework a lot of the time and I'm getting to be more choosy with my reading time. However, Kemper said it was good so I finally knuckled under and gave it a read.

Well, that hoople head was right again. I should have cracked this open as soon as it arrived on my doorstep. The Poison Artist is a creepy thriller that wrapped around my brain stem as soon as I read a few pages.

Caleb Maddox is a man running from a dark and damaged past. It seemed he had everything together until a fight with his girlfriend. While trying to wash himself down the drain with alcohol, he meets a sexy stranger and becomes entranced. Couple that with a serial killer and a lot of absinthe, and there are a lot of balls in the air.

As I said before, this was one gripping read. As Caleb went further off the rails trying to find Emmeline, I couldn't set the book aside. The Poison Artist was my absinthe.

The tales of Caleb's break-up, his obsession with Emmeline, and his mysterious past converge in a horrifying fashion. I thought I had a pretty good idea how things would go after the initial setup but I was wrong. Turns out Jonathan Moore can weave a pretty fucked up web. He had me second-guessing myself quite a few times.

Jonathan Moore manages to weave obsession, hard science, murder and into an absinthe-fueled thriller. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: Gator Bait

Gator Bait Gator Bait by Adam Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh from an altercation with a woman's husband that left him missing a couple fingers, "John Smith" scores a job playing piano at a redneck bar, the Grinning Gator, named after a monstrous alligator in a pond out back. But the alligator isn't as dangerous to "John Smith" as the owner's wife...

Gator Bait is a fun little morsel of redneck noir. You've got the abusive husband, the long-suffering wife that wants to be rid of him, and the new guy who just can't keep his penis in his pants. Throw in an alligator pit and you've got something special on your hands.

I've never read an Adam Howe story before but I think I'll be reading them all now. His writing reminds me of Joe Lansdale with a taste of Gil Brewer. My favorite line in the book was when Smitty described a stripper as "Being built for beef or dairy."

Gator Bait felt like an old pulp story that was rediscovered, not something written recently. I mean that as a compliment. It's raw, bloody, and has some great twists. Now that I know what Adam Howe can do with a short story, I'll have to give one of his novels a shot. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment

Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment by Josh Gross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1976, Japanese professional wrestler and all-round bad ass Antonio Inoki battled the Greatest of All Time, boxer Muhammed Ali in a wrestler vs. boxer match. This book explores the lead-up to the match and the seedy underbellies of both the boxing and wrestling businesses.

I first learned of this fight while sifting through my dad's box of old wrestling magazines, probably looking for smut ads. When this book popped up on Netgalley, I figured I'd give it a shot.

The book covers the early days of the setup for Ali vs. Inoki, then backtracks to the days of yore, when Farmer Burns took on boxers, the failed Strangler Lewis vs. Jack Dempsey wrestler vs. boxer match, and "Judo" Gene LeBelle taking out a boxer whose name escapes me at the moment.

There's actually more wrestling history in this than I expected. It covers the early days of both American and Japanese pro-wrestling, from Strangler Lewis to Rikidozan. One interesting tidbit was a chance meeting between young Cassius Clay and wrestling superstar Gorgeous George that went a long way toward turning an Olympic boxer into The Greatest of All Time.

A lot of time was devoted to the setup of Ali vs. Inoki. Once the fight happened, Josh Gross showed his writing chops and made a fight that was boring to watch by most accounts into an exciting, dramatic affair. From there, the rise of mixed martial arts is covered and the rest of Ali and Inoki's careers are summarized until they both retire.

Ali vs. Inoki was an interesting book. As a wrestling fan, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5. Someone into MMA would probably rate it higher.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: Birds of Missouri Field Guide

Birds of Missouri Field Guide Birds of Missouri Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since hanging a couple bird feeders outside, identifying the birds that show up has become something of a nagging obsession of mine.

A couple days ago, while struggling to identify a bird that turned out to be a white breasted Nuthatch, my girlfriend said "Honey, do you want one of your birthday presents early?"
"Is it a book about birds?" I asked.
"It might be," she said.

It was, in fact, this very book. For my uses, Birds of Missouri is a really good bird book. The pages are color coded by the primary color of the avian in question. Pretty soon, I could tell the difference between the red-headed woodpecker, the tufted-titmouse, and the bushtit.

Silliness aside, I found this book really easy to use. It could have used a few more photos of each bird but it's small enough to fit in my back pocket so that more than makes up for it. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Review: Drunk Driving Champion

Drunk Driving Champion Drunk Driving Champion by Eric Hendrixson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A hundred drunken drivers gather in Washington DC for a cross country race. With a million dollars and a new liver hanging in the balance, who will claim the prize? Will it be Will, the wine enthusiast with a daughter in the hospital? Or two second string racers looking to make names for themselves? Or a couple of Russian suits? Or those darn frat boys looking to save their frat house?

In that far gone year 2010, Eric Hendrixson wrote Bucket of Face as part of the New Bizarro Author Series. When he told me he had a new book ready, I was all revved up and ready to go.

Drunk Driving Champion is a spoof/homage to car movies like Cannonball Run and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. True to the Bizarro genre, it also features cars that can only be started while the driver is drunk, a recently unfrozen 1930's starlet named Dottie and the equally-thawed 1930's super hero, Captain Video. Hey, super heroes were dropping into the North Atlantic all the time in the 30's and 40's.

The diverse group of contestants that survived the initial 60+ car pileup kept the book moving. The time and space-warping GPS units were a nice touch. You never can trust those assholes when you need them.

While I was pretty sure I knew how the race was going to turn out, Hendrixson had me doubting myself a few times, that magnificent bearded bastard! It's hard to sustain humor, especially that of the Bizarro flavor, for an entire book but Eric Hendrixson did a great job of it. There were many quotable lines but I was too busy to write them down and not drunk as some people would allege.

If you only read one book featuring a drunken cross country race in 2016, make sure it's Drunk Driving Champion by Eric Hendrixson. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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