Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Emerald Burrito of Oz

The Emerald Burrito of OzThe Emerald Burrito of Oz by John Skipp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oz is real, the gateway is located near Salina, Kansas, and it's something of a tourist destination. Gene leaves LA for a vacation in Oz and stumbles upon a war. Will he get back to LA alive?

The Emerald Burrito of Oz, while a bizarro book, is actually pretty well thought out, more akin to Philip Jose Farmer's Oz book than any of the L. Frank Baum ones. Is Oz being a tourist attraction that hard to imagine? The Emerald Burrito of the title refers to the first Mexican restaurant in Emerald City, as well as a plot device introduced later.

The characters are pretty interesting and the story alternates from the POV of the two leads. Gene's pretty Arthur Dent-ish, at least at first. Aurora Quixote Jones is a warrior woman from earth and the story's other POV character. There's a lot more blood and guts in this than I thought there would be. Then again, how can you not expect an ax-wielding Tin Man and a lion not to spill their share of blood?

Many of the classic denizens of Oz are present, although in different forms. Dorothy is a warrior woman, Toto's getting old, The Scarecrow is the mayor of Oz. Extra points awarded for mention of Faruza Balk and the Return to Oz flick of the 80's.

The Hollow Man and his minions were suitable opponents, though I never really felt like anyone was in jeopardy. The thing that intrigued me the most about The Emerald Burrito of Oz was the traveling between worlds and its impact; American music in Oz, immigrant munchkins, machines that go wonky when they get to Oz, the herd of sentient hummers, things of that nature.

Another thing I liked: No one ever said "We're not in Kansas anymore."

About the only thing I can think of to bitch about is that there wasn't more of it. Since when is one burrito enough? I could go for two or three more Emerald Burritos of Oz.

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Blandings Castle

Blandings CastleBlandings Castle by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Custody of the Pumpkin: It seems Lord Emsworth was a pumpkin enthusiast before he acquired his pig fixation. He fires the groundskeeper because Freddie Threepwood's in love with a cousin of his. Soon Emsworth fears for his pumpkin's health and goes to London to re-hire McAllister. Hilarity ensues. The Earl is in all his absent-minded glory in this one. "Have that cats gotten at it?"

Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best: Freddie and his wife have a spat and Freddie ends up back in London. The ninth Earl initiall decides not to intervene but does so when it dawns on him that Freddie intends to return to Blandings if his marriage fails. Couple this with a Jeeves-eque side plot where Beach is thinking about quitting because Emsworth grew a beard and there you have it.

Pig Hoo-o-o-o-ey: The Empress of Blandings quits eating after her trainer ends up in the jug. Angela, Emsworth's niece, breaks off her engagement to cavort with Jimmy Belford. Jimmy's what brings the plots together. It seems he worked for two years on a farm...

Company for Gertrude: Gertrude, yet another niece, is staying at Blandngs because her mother doesn't want her marrying Beefy Bingham, a friend of Freddie's. Freddie gives Beefy the idea to go to Blandings under another name and ingratiate himself to the ninth Earl so Gertrude's mother will have to give consent, thus continuing the tradition of an imposter in Blandings.

The Go-Getter: Beefy and Gertrude are on the rocks. Gertrude's mooning over Orlo Watkin, a tenor. Freddie's trying to get them back together while also trying to sell Donaldson's Dog-Joy. Freddie's pretty Wooster-ish in this one.

Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend: Emsworth in a foul mood over August Bank Holiday and meets a little girl that is a kindred spirit.

Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure: Bobbie Wickham faces an unwanted engagement to Clifford Gandle until she manages to convince Gandle and J.H. Potter that one another are crazy. Classic Wodehouse.

Monkey Business: Montrose Mulliner's fiancee has him cowed and ditches him for a big game hunter until an ape goes on the rampage.

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Bill the Conqueror

Bill the ConquerorBill the Conqueror by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Felicia Sheridan is in love with Bill West but engaged to Roderick Pyke. Bill, meanwhile, is engaged to Alice Coker and is dragging her brother Judson to London to keep him out of trouble while he checks on his uncle's holdings. Bill's wealthy uncle Cooley Paradene has had the misfortune of adopting a young son who's in league with criminals intending to rob him. Let's see Wodehouse resolve all those plot threads and bring Bill and Felicia together...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is my favorite non-series Wodehouse book. It as all the Wodehouse trademarks: overbearing relatives, shiftless layabouts, imposters, engagements, alcohol, and dry British wit. This one is longish for a Wodehouse story and fills that extra bit with last minute plot twists. You get phony kidnappings, blackmail, swindles, and lots of witty banter, all crammed into less than 400 pages of hilarious prose.

The only recurring Wodehouse character, that slime ball Percy Pilbeam, is in fine form, though he doesn't do as much as he does in later appearances. Bill West is a typical Wodehouse hero; not too handsome or smart but able to get the job done. Felicia, or Flick, as she is sometimes called, is feisty and has more than her share of the funny lines, although my favorite comes from Judson Coker. "You look like a Sunday in Pittsburgh," or something to that affect.

If you like your books humorous, you can't go wrong with Wodehouse and this book would be a good intro to his work. Every romantic comedy every made could justifiably give P.G. 1% of the gross. He's still the master of the genre 35 years after his death.

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Something Fishy

Something FishySomething Fishy by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

J.J. Bunyan and his cronies each put $50,000 dollars in a fund just before the stock market crash and form a tontine. The last of their heirs to get married wins the whole pot, expected to be one million dollars when considering compound interest, etc. Years later, only two heirs remain...

Like all Wodehouses, this one delivers the laughs. Bill Hollister is the dashing leading man, Jane the fiery heroine, and Lord Uffenham is the much abused nobleman. The younger Bunyan keeps trying to get the million dollars while expending as little of his cash as possible. Augustus Keggs makes a return appearance and quickly becomes my third favorite Wodehouse butler. Without giving away too many details, how can you not love a Wodehouse story where someone paints a Roman beard on a giant statue?

Later: On a side note, reading bits of a Wodehouse out loud to innocent bystanders increases the enjoyment level immensely.

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Cocktail Time

Cocktail TimeCocktail Time by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It all started when Uncle Fred pegged Beefy Bastable with a Brazil nut. Beefy, a prominent barrister with political aspirations, writes a scathing novel about the youth of today after Uncle Fred tells him he can't. Once completed, Beefy realizes that a man in his position can't be responsible for such a thing and convinces his shiftless nephew, Cosmo Wisdom, to take credit for it. Enter Oily Carlisle and his wife, who convince Cosmo that blackmail is the best course of action. Cosmo writes a letter that becomes the source of all sorts of trouble. Throw in the usual Wodehouse plot elements like impersonation, unrequited love, people short on money, and Uncle Fred weaving a tapestry of lies and you have a hilarious tale on your hands.

It never ceases to amaze me how Wodehouse manages to weave his tales together. You always know everything is going to work out in the end but getting there is never dull. The one-liners are fantastic and while Uncle Fred is a god among men, you are left feeling glad his wife doesn't let him go out in public very often.

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Big Money

Big MoneyBig Money by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Berry Conway falls in love at first sight with a girl named Ann Moon. Too bad she's already engaged to his best friend, "Biscuit" Biskerton. Fortunately, Biskerton is also engaged to a girl named Kitchie Valentine. Throw in a subplot about a penniless noble and a copper mine that may or may not be worthless and watch things come together...

For me, a P.G. Wodehouse novel is like a drive down a familiar road to a well-loved destination. You already know the way but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Big Money has all the usual Wodehouse plot elements, like broken engagements, misunderstandings, and mistaken identity, and still manages to craft a new and enjoyable tale. Even though I had a good ideal how things were going to go down, the plot twists kept me interested. I love good usage of a fake beard.

Even though he breaks most of the supposed rules of good writing, Wodehouse clearly knows how to put pen to paper. There are so many subtly hilarious throwaway lines in his books. Like these:

He looked at her like a cow examining a turnip.

So next year you'll turn 27 and, if my figures are correct, 28 the following year.

I haven't a bean. I only know what a pound is by here-say.

As with most Wodehouse's, I can't help but think that the entire genre of romantic comedy owes old P.G. a huge debt. Wodehouse was perfecting the art before television was even around. While this isn't one of my favorite P.G. Wodehouse books by any means, it's still a good read for people who enjoy dry British humor and stories resembling musical comedies without the music.

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Summer Moonshine

Summer MoonshineSummer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sir Buckstone Abbott is in dire financial straits and wants to unload his dilapidated country home as soon as possible. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is engaged to the son of the woman thinking of buying the house but enamored with another man, Joe Vanringham. Additionally, Mrs. Abbot's brother is lurking in the background and Tubby Varingham is secretly in love with Buckstone's secretary. Can Abbot sell his house and get out of his money woes without condemning his daughter to an unhappy life?

P.G. Wodehouse is like a master chess player and his characters are the pieces. While his plots are all very similar, they spin out of control and become unique tales in their own right. All the hallmarks are here: engagements, regrettable letters written in the heat of the moment, mistaken identity, etc, but they come together in delightful ways. You know things will end happily but Wodehouse puts you through the wringer getting there with his serpentine plot twists.

As always, the writing is top notch. Wodehouse peppers the dialogue with gems like "She informs me she can make a substance called fudge but no waffles" and "I regard her as sand in Civilization's spinach."

Joe Vanringham is the archetypical Wodehouse leading man, witty and quick thinking and his smoothness rivals that of Galahad Threepwood himself, a nice contrast to his brother Tubby. Jane Abbot is the typical Wodehouse heroine, strong and feisty. Miss Whitaker, the cold secretary with a knowledge of jiu jutsu, was an added bonus.

While it wasn't a Jeeves or Blandings Castle book, it was still pretty good. If you like British comedy, this should be able to fulfill your needs for a few hours.

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Service with a Smile

Service With a Smile (Blandings Castle)Service With a Smile by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bill Bailey's attempted marriage to Myra Schoonmaker doesn't go as planned and Myra is whisked away to Blandings Castle to prevent her from marrying him, a penniless curate. Meanwhile, the Duke of Dunstable's son has his eyes on Myra and the Duke himself wants to steal the Empress of Blandings and sell her to Lord Tilbury. Fortunately, Uncle Fred takes Bailey to Blandings under an alias and goes about spreading happiness and light as only he can...

Throwing Uncle Fred into the Blandings Castle is like throwing torches at an oil soaked Transylvanian house. Uncle Fred weaves an elaborate tapestry of lies, much like in his previous visit to Blandings, Uncle Fred in the Springtime. By the end of the story, the Duke gets what's coming to him and three couples are re-united.

Wodehouse fans, this is not one to be missed! All of the Blandings crew are in top form, as is the incomparable Uncle Fred.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter

Merkabah RiderMerkabah Rider by Edward M. Erdelac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Merkabah Rider: Tales of A High Planes Drifter is a collection of four tales about a Jewish mystic gunfighter.

The Blood Libel: Fate draws The Rider to Delirium Tremens, a mining town where hostility is brewing between the residents and the Jews of nearby Little Jerusalem, who've allegedly turned away from God and kidnapped the daughter of the local preacher. Can The Rider find the cause of the trouble before the Angels of Death wipe out everyone in Little Jerusalem?

The Blood Libel does a great job of introducing The Rider and his world. The Rider's continuing quest is to find his mentor and betrayer, another mystic calling himself Adon. The world building is surprisingly deep for a 70 page novella. Erdelac introduces the Sons of the Essenes, a Jewish mystical society with branches in all parts of the world, as well as revealing parts of the Rider's history.

The story itself is a nice melding of western standards and Jewish mystacism. I'm looking forward to when The Rider goes up against The Great Old Ones.

The Dust Devils: An unending dust storm grips the town of Polvo Arrido as The Rider rolls into town. Can The Rider find clues to Adon's whereabouts and save the residents of Polvo Arrido from the bandits that have them under thumb?

While I didn't like this one as much as The Blood Libel, it was still pretty good. It reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom more than anything else. The Rider's past was fleshed out a little bit more and, once again, he took a pretty good beating and still came out on top. The one complaint I have is that he walked into an ambush a little too easily when he visited Scarchilli.

Hell's Hired Gun: The Merkabah Rider encounters an old preacher, who recounts the tale of Medgar Tooms, a gunfighter that killed an entire town after the death of his family and now stalks the prairie dragging chains and leading a pack of ravenous pigs. Can the Merkabah Rider put an end to his reign of terror?

Hell's Hired Gun was pretty good but didn't involve much in the way of magic from the Rider. The violence was well done and the subplot of the Hour of Incursion by the Elder Gods mention in the first story was elaborated on.

The Nightjar Women: The Merkabah Rider finds himself in a town where no children are born and three prostitutes seem to be in league with a dark power...

At last, The Rider gets a hint of Adon's whereabouts. More of The Rider's past is revealed, and more about the Hour of Incursion. Lots of Talmudic stuff in this one and The Rider seems more human than ever. The Merkabah Rider continues his transformation into one of my favorite weird western characters. That's about all I'm going to reveal for fear of spoilage.

For fans of weird western, look no farther than the adventures of the Merkabah Rider. I'll be tracking down the second volume very soon.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bradley Sands is a Dick

Bradley Sands is a DickBradley Sands is a Dick by Andersen Prunty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Apparently so many people think that Bradley Sands is a Dick that a spite-themed anthology was put together. Every story in it is entitled "Bradley Sands is a Dick." You can download it here.

Is Bradley Sands a Dick? Well, if half of the deeds attributed to him in the anthology are true, then yes.

Seriously, though, there is some hilarious shit in here. Don't try to read it in your cube unless you're good at stifling laughter. I'd say my favorite stories were Jordan Krall's story about Bradley Sands doing a William Burroughs impression, Mykle Hansen's list of Bradley Sands' possessions, and Katy Wimhurst's tale about Bradley Sands' thirteenth arrest that reads like a Monty Python sketch.

So, give it a try and judge whether or not Bradley Sands is the biggest dick who ever lived or just your average run-of-the-mill dick.

Note: You can read my short interview with Bradley Sands here.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bizarro Starter Kit (Orange)

The Bizarro Starter Kit  (Orange)The Bizarro Starter Kit by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Bizarro Starter Kits are designed to introduce people to the Bizarro genre. I, on the other hand, bought it so I could read The Baby Jesus Butt Plug in public without people harassing me. Here are some of the wonders contained within the Bizarro Starter Kit (Orange):
The collection starts with a collection of D. Harlan Wilson short stories. Cops & Bodybuilders was my favorite. What would you do if a bodybuilder showed up in your living room and started posing and wouldn't leave?

The Baby Jesus Butt Plug by Carlton Mellick III In a bizarre future, babies are kept as pets and baby jesuses are the most popular, though some people use them for nefarious sexual purposes. Mary and her husband are such a couple until their baby jesus has ideas of its own...

Yeah, this was pretty damn bizarre. Ever have your significant other ask you what you're laughing about and not daring to tell him or her? There's a lot of that in this one.

Extinction Journals by Jeremy Robert Johnson After a nuclear exchange, Dean wanders the ruins of the US in his suit made of cockroaches. Will he find any other survivors?

Aside from mentioning how disgusting/awesome the suit made out of cockroaches was, I can't say much else about this one without spoiling the plot. "Great post apocalypic tale with the added bonus of prominently featuring suit-forming symbiotic insects" is about the only thing I have to add.

The Greatest Fucking Moment in Sports by Kevin Donihe: Oscar Legba, insect enthusiast and America's big hope in the Tour de Saucisse-Dommages bicycle race, suffers the death of his coach the night before the big day. Can Legba prevail?

The Greatest Fucking Moment in Sports nicely illustrates the exaggerated importance America puts on sports and is hilarious. I almost died laughing when Legba was decapitated but his corpse continued with the race!

The collection also includes several other novellas and short stories. All things considered, it's a good Bizarro collection but I preferred Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple).

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bradley Sands will Fucking Kill You!

Today, I'll be questioning Bradley Sands, author of Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, which, coincidentally, is available for free download until the end of the month.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?

A few years before the term was coined, I stumbled across a couple of books by Carlton Mellick and one by Kevin Donihe on Amazon. They seemed interesting. I bought the e-book versions because they were cheaper than print (this was long before the existence of Kindle so I read them on my computer). I liked the books and noticed they were all published by Eraserhead Press. I went to their website and read online excerpts from all of their other books. I also read a few stories here and there on The New Absurdist website. A few of those authors were published by Eraserhead Press.

Soon after, I was looking through the zine section in Salt Lake City’s library and a man convinced me to buy the first issue of his zine. It was called Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens. The majority of the issue’s contributors were either Eraserhead Press authors or writers who posted on The New Absurdist. A few weeks later, the man asked me if I wanted to take over as his zine’s editor. I accepted, and through it I met a lot of people online who would later be involved in the bizarro movement.

About a year later, I had finished a novel called It Came from Below the Belt and was ready to submit it. I thought Eraserhead Press would have been an appropriate place, but they weren’t accepting submissions at the time. But I noticed that a new press called Afterbirth Books had recently published one of Carlton’s books (The Menstruating Mall). So I submitted by book. It was accepted and published. Unfortunately, Afterbirth Books closed last year and the book went out-of-print.

What was the inspiration behind Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You?
The first chapter of the book was originally a short story. It was an action hero scenario inspired by the movie, Passenger 57. For a workshop during BizarroCon (a convention for readers and writers of bizarro), I participated in a workshop where we had to create a conceptual book. I used the short story to come up with the book’s concept, which ended up being similar to my final concept. I have no idea how I thought of the concept of an action film star suffering a nervous breakdown and believing he’s the character that he portrays in his movies. Also, the book’s plot structure was based on the movie, Falling Down. Kind of like how Ulysses is based on The Odyssey. The movie, Road House, was also a huge influence.

Which celebrity would you like to karate chop in the vagina the most ala Rico Slade?
Will Ferrell. Unless director/writer Adam McKay is within a 500 yard radius. His presence makes Will Ferrell godlike.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t remember what it was called, but it was about a cooking contest. It was awesome. I think the winner conquered his enemies by eating them.

Who are some of your influences?
Carlton Mellick (because he worked with me as a mentor while I was writing the novella, Cheesequake Smash-up, which appeared in the second/blue version of The Bizarro Starter Kit), Tao Lin (because he is a virus), Russell Edson, Raymond Chandler, Richard Brautigan, Ron Loewinsohn (although I have only read one book of his: Magnetic Field(s)), The Zucker Brothers (except not so much when it comes to the movies, Ghost and First Knight), Roald Dahl, L. Frank Baum, Lemony Snicket.

I just finished writing a children’s book (although it still needs more editing), hence the children’s authors.

What's your favorite book?
It Came from Below the Belt

But if you want me to be less specific: Steve Aylett’s The Complete Accomplice, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, Thomas Ligotti’s The Nightmare Factory, Russell Edson’s The Tunnel, Ron Loewinsohn’s Magnetic Field(s), Mark Leyner’s The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Daniel Pinkwater’s Lizard Music, Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar.

Who's your favorite author?

But if you want me to be less specific, all of the authors who I mentioned in your last question, along with Steve Erickson and Stephen Dixon and every female author who has ever written a book.

What's the story behind the Bradley Sands is a Dick anthology?
I was talking to Andersen Prunty at the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City a bunch of years ago. I think maybe I was drunk or he was drunk or we were both drunk. But I made a comment about how probably everyone in the room had submitted stories to Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens and I had rejected all of them. And he said I was a dick. And then one of us said that we should edit an online anthology called Bradley Sands is a Dick. Then one of us said that every story in the anthology should be titled “Bradley Sands is a Dick.” At least something like that happened. Then we put out a call for submissions and received significantly more stories a stupid idea like that deserved. And Andersen did some sort of contest where people voted for their favorite story in the anthology and the winner received $100. So after the anthology came out, the future winner of the contest voted for himself hundreds of times by clearing his “cookies” over and over again or something and received Andersen’s hard-earned money because of it. It’s weird referring to him as Andersen. Ordinarily, I never do. He’s “Andy.” But I thought people might get confused.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
Daniel Pinkwater’s Lizard Music

Which of the following Arnold movies is your favorite: Hercules in New York, the Last Action Hero, or Junior?
I haven’t seen Hercules in New York, although I prefer its alternate title, Hercules Goes Bananas! There’s not actually supposed to be an exclamation mark at the end of the title, but I believe it’s necessary. So anyway, Hercules is out of the running. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Junior, but I can’t remember it at all (I believe it was a traumatic experience that induced memory loss). And I love The Last Action Hero, so definitely that one. It might be my favorite Schwarzenegger movie overall. Either that or Jingle All the Way.

If the 2010-2011 New Bizarro Authors got into a seven-way gunfight, who would come out on top?
Nicole Cushing, but only if she wears her bionic cow costume. It’s seriously so creepy that anyone holding a gun in its presence will shoot themselves in the face.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
I’ve been asked the same question in my last two interviews and I gave the same sensible response. And I’m tired of being sensible. So my advice for aspiring writers is that they shouldn’t read any books. Reading books will cause your writing to be completely unoriginal. You will never find your unique “voice.” If you’re a reader, the best thing you can hope for is to be a second rate copycat of all the authors you read. So instead of reading, I suggest you play video games, become a backyard wrestler, and join a fantasy football league.

What's next for Bradley Sands?
A novella collection called Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face: A Novel. It won’t actually be a novel, but collections don’t sell very well and traditional NYC presses often market story collections as novels because they’re aware of this fact. So I might as well take advantage of this manipulative practice instead of leaving it to the big dogs.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Elric Saga, part II

The Elric Saga Part II (Elric Saga, #4-6)The Elric Saga Part II by Michael Moorcock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2011 re-read:
The Vanishing Tower: Elric and Moonglum continues their quest to destroy the sorcerer Theleb K'aarna, visiting Myshella's castle, Nadsokor, the city of beggars, Tanelorn, and the Forest of Troos...

The saga of Elric continues moving toward its conclusion. Elric meets up with Myshella, flying her magic eagle thing around, takes on all kinds of demons, and meets up with Erekose, Corum, and Jhary-a-Conel. More of his destiny is revealed, Rackhir and Brut make return appearances, and Elric spends a bit of time in Tanelorn. I think that about covers it.

The Bane of the Black Sword: Elric and Theleb K'aarna have their reckoning and Elric foresakes Stormbringer for a life with Zarozinia. Can he leave the Black Sword behind?

While I was glad Theleb K'aarna got what was coming to him and Elric and Zarozinia started their relationship, this volume largely felt like filler to me, although that might be because I'm licking my chops in anticipation for the Armageddon shit-storm that is Stormbringer.

Stormbringer: Elric's retirement with Zarozinia at Karklaak near the Weeping Wastes is cut short when Jagree Lern, Theocrat of Pan Tag, summons the Dukes of Hell to Earth. Can Elric slay the Theocrat before the forces of Chaos devour the world?

Ever since reading Stormbringer for the first time, it is the measuring stick against which all endings of epic sagas are measured. Even after multiple readings, it still holds up. Elric slays gods, reawakens the dragons of Melnibone, banishes the Lord of Hell, and brings about the end of the world with the Horn of Fate. Tragedy upon tragedy befalls him, because of his hellblade Stormbringer, in part, but he keeps taking the fight to the overwhelming odds opposing him. It's crazy that by the end of the saga, Elric, Moonglum, and Dyvim Slorm are the only forces of Law left kicking against an unbelievably vast horde of the minions of Chaos. As I said before, even after more than a decade after I first read it, Stormbringer is still the measuring stick.

Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rotten Little Animals

Rotten Little AnimalsRotten Little Animals by Kevin Shamel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a human boy named Cage stumbles across a group of talking animals filming a movie, he uncovers a vast conspiracy, a conspiracy that he cannot be allowed to reveal... until the animals decide to make a fictomentary about his kidnapping. Will Cage ever escape and return to normal life?

Rotten Little Animals is my first foray into the 2009-2010 New Bizarro Author series and I was fairly pleased with it. The core concept, that animals are secretly intelligent and can talk, reminded me of Anonymous Rex a bit. Stinkin' Rat and Dirty Bird were by far my favorite animal characters. Cage was okay, a fairly standard teenage boy character. I cackled with glee when Cage and his father massacred the audience at the Animal Academy Awards with shotguns and 9millimeters.

So why did I only give Rotten Little Animals a three? While I liked it, it felt like it went a little long, like it should have been over around page 60. The retaliation that came after could have easily been another book, though Cage's tutelage under Aargh was hilarious.

All in all, Rotten Little Animals was a satisfying bizarro experience. 3.25 out of 5.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden

Shark Hunting in Paradise GardenShark Hunting in Paradise Garden by Cameron Pierce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A group of priests from the Dawn of Yahweh sect goes back in time to hunt sharks in paradise garden with Adam and Eve, only to have their ship crash, killing most of the people on board. Exploring a hostile landscape populated by flying sharks, jellyfish whiskey addicted robots, and wheeled wild boars, can Ernest and the rest of the survivors find Adam and Eve and find their way back home?

Maybe it's a lifetime of being interested in weird things but some bizarro books don't seem all that weird to me, like I've been desensitized. Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden managed to tear free the calluses from the weirdness sensors in my brain and poke at them for 120 pages.

This is one crazy book. From Ernest's abilities to change into a frogman and turn living things into mannequins to a bible with razor sharp pages to a man who's a wizard's head with legs, it starts out weird and the weirdness level climbs until the karate fight between the Tree of Knowledge and the giant shark son of God. Just when you think it can't get any stranger, it does. By the end, I completely stopped trying to predict what was going to happen.

With the amount of weird things going on, it would have been easy to lose track of the plot by Pierce never does. The weirdness moves the story along rather than obscuring or confusing it. While it may be fifteen varieties of bizarre, it still makes sense.

If you're looking for a mind-blowing bizarro tale, this is it. Go get it!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Starfish Girl

Starfish GirlStarfish Girl by Athena Villaverde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inside of an underwater dome in a post-apocalyptic world, Ohime, a young girl with a starfish growing out of her head, meets up with an assassin with sea anemone hair named Timbre. Together, they wander their undersea world, pursued by the fiendish Dr. Ichii, in search of a ship Ohime's deceased parents helped develop, a ship that will take them to the fabled world above the waves. Can Ohime and Timbre reach the ship before Dr. Ichii?

I have to admit, I had my doubts when I first saw the cover but Athena Villaverde's story in the Bizarro Starter Kit made me eager to give Starfish Girl a try. Am I glad I did? Yes. Yes, I am. Starfish Girl is part fairy tale, part cyberpunk, part anime, and all bizarro.

The setting was pretty unique. Even though post-apocalyptic tales are getting more and more common these days, the undersea setting choked by yellow algae is something you don't see very often. The villains were suitably vile, especially the villainous Dr. Ichii and his goons. A shark man with sawblades on his back? A swordfish man with a giant honkin' blade on his head? The barnacle-encrusted Dr. Ichii? Good stuff.

The innocence of Ohime is nicely offset by the violent worldliness of Timbre, the assassin with sea anemone hair. I could understand Timbre growing fond of Ohime despite her rough exterior. I found myself getting attached to Ohime by the end. I thought for sure I knew how the end was going to go down but I was pleasantly surprised.

Even though I described it as a fairy tale, some really weird shit goes on. It turns out the Starfish Girl has some starfish-like abilities. As for Timbre... let's just say you shouldn't make a woman with sea anemone hair do anything against her will. I won't forget the eel-man's fate for quite a long time.

That about wraps it up. I think this would make the perfect first bizarro book for readers who are a little intimidated by the genre as a whole.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011


Hespira: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn (Book 3)Hespira: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn by Matthew Hughes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While acting as a middleman on a ransom case, Henghis Hapthorn runs into an amnesiac woman calling herself Hespira. Hapthorn's attempts to restore her memory take them all over the Spray. Meanwhile, the ransomer and the ransomee both have Hapthorn in their sights. Can Hapthorn restore Hespira's memory before he becomes just a memory himself?

As always, Hughes' love for Jack Vance takes center stage. The Age of Magic draws ever nearer and Henghis Hapthorn ponders his place in the impending Age. Oh, and he attempts to solve the mystery of Hespira's memory loss while having a lot of humorous lines.

Osk Rievor continues his development as a character independent of Henghis. I was pleased that the death of Tabanooch in the previous novel wasn't swept under the rug and I was also delighted to see another Grinnet show up.

You wouldn't think a mystery set in a Jack Vance-like setting would be as complex as the ones Hughes puts forth but this one takes the taco. How many mysteries have you read where the origin of an expensive dessert is an integral clue? The setting is nearly a character in itself, what with the multiple worlds, odd cultures, and the whimsies.

Any complaints? Not really. It was quite an enjoyable tale. 3.5 out of 5.

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Sex and Death in Television Town

Sex And Death in Television TownSex And Death in Television Town by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The remaining citizens of Jackson flee their dying town with the survivors of a gang of gunslinging hermaphodites, a female samurai with stegosaurus spikes and fins, and a gunslinger named Jesus Christ to escape a plague. This ragtag group boards a living train resembling a caterpillar and makes for the town of Telos. But what will they find there besides more death?

When a story starts with a woman masturbating using a living millipede dildo, you know you're in for a wild ride and Sex and Death in Television Town is wild, that's for sure. There's a ton of gore and even more strangeness.

Cry (aka Sex of the title) is by far the most interesting character in the book. Every time she has an orgasm, she gets a glimpse into the future. Since she seems to have orgasms quite a bit, she pretty much dictates where the group goes. The others were a mixed bag. I didn't care for Random, the most ordinary member of the group. Beyond being hermaphrodites, I didn't find the three hermaphrodites in the group very interesting, although Oxy's fate in Telos was good. Jesus Christ was the best gunslinger in the group but didn't do much else.

I'd say the strangest parts of the book happened once the gang got to Telos. The shifting landscape and the color factory were weird but the weirdest part was that the citizens of Telos had televisions for heads and communicated by changing channels.

Any complaints? Aside from it being too short, I think the millipede dildo in the opening chapter desensitized me a bit. A furry gun and a living train don't seem so strange after that.

If you're looking for a weird western, they don't get much weirder than this.

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The Elric Saga, part 1

The Elric Saga Part I (Elric Saga, #1-3)The Elric Saga Part I by Michael Moorcock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2011 Re-read:
Elric of Melnibone: Elric, the sickly albino emperor of Melnibone, combats his cousin Yrkoon's machinations for his throne and winds up on a quest across dimensions for a pair of magical black swords.

In the long, long, long, long wait between volumes four and five of The Dark Tower, a friend of mine told me about Elric, an albino with a soul-sucking sword that kept him alive. Intrigued, I took advantage of my Science Fiction Book Club membership and bought the two collected volumes they had. I was not disappointed.

Elric was created by Michael Moorcock to be the anti-Conan. Where Conan is strong, Elric is sickly. Conan distrusts magic where Elric embraced it. Conan is noble while Elric is... less than noble some of the time.

The first book in this collection deals with Elric and Yrkoon battling for the Ruby Throne. Moorcock builds his multiverse world by world, taking Elric across planes and into encounters with elementals and Lords of Chaos in his quest to foil Yrkoon.

Moorcock manages an epic feel despite the small size of the individual books. Not only was it influential when it first appeared, it's still a damn good story. The dying culture of the Melniboneans and the magical system were both really interesting to me, both during the initial reading and in the subsequent re-reads.

Blood and souls for Arioch!

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate: After leaving Melnibone behind, Elric ventures into the Young Kingdoms. While exhausted on a lonely shingle, Elric boards a mysterious ship. What will he encounter on his voyage before he returns to Melnibone?

Sailor on the Seas of Fate is what hooked me and made me a permanent Moorcock fan. Moorcock introduces the concept of the Eternal Champion and introduces three of them: Erekose, Corum, and Hawkmoon, and does some foreshadowing of things to come. Smiorgan Baldhead is introduced and Elric and Arioch become further entwined. Elric travels to even more planes and explores the ancestral home island of the Melniboneans. Good stuff!

Weird of the White Wolf: Elric leads the Sea Lords of the Purple Towns against his own homeland, Melnibone, seeks The Dead God's Book, and braves the Singing Citadel.

The tragedy and the cosmic scope of the Elric saga become even more apparent with the Weird of the White Wolf. Elric accidentally slays Cymoril, betrays his Sea Lord allies, and abandons his new lover to roam the world with his new friend Moonglum. The Cosmic Balance is introduced, Elric does more plane-hopping, and tangles with more entities beyond the mortal ken. By the end, he's apparently settled down with Yishana... until the next volume!

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple)

The Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple)The Bizarro Starter Kit by Cameron Pierce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bizarro Starter Kits are meant to ease people into the Bizarro genre. Me, I bought them because I'm a cheap ass and want to stretch my Bizarro dollars a bit. Here are just some of the wonders Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple) contains:

The Clockwork Girl by Athena Villaverde: The Clockwork Girl tells the story of a toy clockwork girl named Puchi 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. Puchi's innocence made the story for me. It would make a great Pixar movie if they'd let Tim Burton anywhere near the building. I'm hoping for more of the same from Starfish Girl.

Punkupine Moshers of the Apocalypse by David Agranoff: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland created by the nuclear war of 1987, the people of Dischargia have embraced the punk lifestyle to survive. When the river runs dry, Dressica and her friends venture up the river, beyond the edge of the world.

While I didn't like Punkupines as much as The Clockwork Girl, it was still really cool. Cyborg punks from a community based around punk music going up against the shriveling political icons of the 1980's? What's not to like?

Cripple Wolf by Jeff Burk: A wheelchair-bound man boards an airplane crammed full of fetishists on the night of a full moon and becomes a werewolf. Awesomeness ensues.

Cripple Wolf was a hilarious gorefest, like a bizarro version of Snakes on a Plane.

Re-Mancipator by Garret Cook: Abraham Lincoln is on a rampage and it's up to Musashi, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Booth, and others to stop him.

Re-Mancipator is delightfully bizarre. If Abraham Lincoln bites you, you become a zombie Abraham Lincoln. This also works on dogs, gorillas, and other animals. While it sounds like a zombie romp, Re-Mancipator also plays with the concepts of time and history. Good stuff.

The Homewreckers by Cody Goodfellow: In a city where the sexes are segregated on opposite sides of a Wall, Floyd Mundy has to go across the wall to solve an apparent murder-suicide. What will he uncover?

Goodfellow knows how to craft a noir tale, that's for sure. The world he's created is both horrifying and horriyingly plausible. Grotesque creatures abound. It's a contender for the best story in the collection.

The Destroyed Room by Cameron Pierce: In a city with plastic grass and trees, Simon accidentally kills his wife (and their unborn child) by cutting strings coming out of her that only he can see. From there, things get a little weird...

The Destroyed Room is by far the strangest story in the collection. It has a dreamlike quality and is very well-written. That's about all I can say without blowing more of the plot. Extra points for the use of sloths and tiny elephants.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pteradactyl Samurai: 13 Questions with Kirsten Alene

The missing piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.  Here is my interview with Kirsten Alene, author of Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?

I met Cameron Pierce last year and ended up writing the book for him as a birthday present. When he read it he told me to send it to Kevin Donihe (the editor of the NBAS) immediately.

Other than Jurassic Park and Anonymous Rex, there's a noticeable lack of dinosaur fiction on bookshelves everywhere. What made you go with a human-dinosaur love story?
I love dinosaurs. When I was nine I discovered that it would be impossible to grow up to be a golden retriever and decided on a Pterodactyl instead. Dinosaurs are really outrageously terrifying. I couldn't think of a better enemy. The love story evolved very organically as I was writing the book. I intended Dinos to be a story about war and destruction. I guess I'm a big softy.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I decided I wanted to be a poet when I was seven for no real reason. It sounded like a really good idea at the time. The book that made me realize I COULD be a writer was Andersen Prunty's Zerostrata.

Who are some of your influences?
Everything I read goes into a big spaghetti-noodle maker in my mind. It all gets ground up and reused so I really have no idea.

What's your favorite book?
100 Years of Solitude. Or In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. The former is my favorite novel, the latter is my favorite 'thing.'

Who's your favorite author?
My first literary love was Arthur Rimbaud. I love L. Ron Hubbard's classic sci-fi western genre explosion works (like Mission Earth and Buckskin Brigade). My favorite literary author is probably Marquez - no matter what else delights me, I always come back to him.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I re-read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton recently. I love Edith Wharton in a girl-ish way. The best new book I've read in the last six months was probably Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes. It was all of the awesome suspense and action of Michael Crichton without all of the over-researched, analytical bull. And there was a giant squid.

Favorite Kung fu movie?
They're not EXACTLY Kung-fu movies but, Sukiyaki Western Django and Ran.

Favorite dinosaur?
Trachodon. Duh (Although, if Pterodacytls were dinosaurs, it would be the pterodactyl, but they are Pterosaurs, not Dinosaurs).

If you could punch one celebrity in the face, who would it be?
Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire. Then I would fall into his arms and marry him.

What's the strangest thing you've ever ordered at a restaurant?
I don't know. But I do know that I peel the onion out of onion rings and leave it on my plate. People probably think that's weird.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Don't expect to publish a short story collection in which none of the short stories have been published elsewhere. Listen to editors and take their advice. Even if they are not smarter than you, their perspective is better than yours. No one can judge his own work.

What's next for Kirsten Alene?
Grad school. But for right now, I'm working on selecting and editing short stories for the websites Unicorn Knife Fight and Bizarro Central. I have a short story in the new issue of Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens (edited by Bradley Sands) and I'm working on another novel now, a little longer than Dinos about a city of skyscrapers surrounded by water and a group of vigilantes who ride genetically altered bionic unicorns.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The City & The City

The City & The CityThe City & The City by China MiƩville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tyador Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad is assigned to the murder case of an unknown woman. To find her killer, Borlu must go to the neighboring city of Ul Qoma and team with Qussim Dhatt of the Murder Squad. Can the two detectives from different cultures figure out who the victim is and why she was killed?

Wow. The core premise of The City & The City requires some explaining but I think I'm up to the task. Remember those perceptual illusions you were so enamored with when you were a kid? Like the old woman/young girl:

Okay. Instead of images of an old woman and a young girl, picture instead two cities that overlap. People from one city are trained from birth to unsee/unsense people and buildings in the other city. Still with me? Now picture a murder mystery set in one of the intersections between the two cities. Yeah, it was one mindbender of a read.

While The City & The City is firmly in the new weird genre, it's also a gritty crime story, which makes it substantially more accessible than many of Mieville's works. Tyador Borlu and Qussim Dhatt are the bickering cops that secretly grow to respect one another as they unravel a mystery than snakes back and forth between the two neighboring cities. Kind of like Jim Belushi and Arnold in Red Heat, except good.

The thing that makes The City & The City work is that the cities are quite different from one another. While Ul Qoma and Beszel aren't as detailed as New Crobuzon, they are both distinct entities. While the idea of being in one city or the other is really odd, Mieville does a good job of explaining it and making it seem plausible. How often do you actually remember what homeless people look like, for example.

The concept of the Breach is also part of the glue that holds the story together. Part police force, part bogey man, the Breach enforce the unseeing/unsensing of the other city, keeping people from going back and forth between cities with impunity.

There's not a lot else I can say without ruining key plot points. If they were to make a movie of one of China Mieville's books, this would be the one. I kept seeing Ewan MacGregor and Jason Statham as the cops. It reminds me of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles at times, Neverwhere at others, and Jeff Vandermeer's Finch at still other times. I didn't like it quite as much as Finch but it was still spectacular. For fans of both detective fiction and the new weird, it's definitely a must-read. 4.5 out of 5.

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Carson of Venus, volume 1

Carson of Venus, Vol. 1 (Venus, #1-2)Carson of Venus, Vol. 1 by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pirates of Venus: Carson Napier, scientist and adventurer, lands on Venus after a rocket-powered voyage to Mars takes a hugely wrong turn. It turns out that Venus is a jungle world shrouded in clouds. Carson meets the Vepajans, and Duare, daughter of the jong (ruler), whom he immediately falls in love with in typical Burroughsian fashion. From there, we have giant spiders, bird men, piracy, and a series of misfortunes leading into the second book, Lost on Venus.

I like Burroughs's stories but I'm of the opinion that he tries to explain too much. I don't really care about the method Vepajan's calculate their world's circumference or how their T-Ray guns work. Other than that, I'm enjoying the story. Though capable, Carson Napier isn't the demigod John Carter is.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the references to Pellucidar, Tarzan, and David Innes on the first page. It's a shame Burroughs didn't write a crossover novel featuring all of his heroes.

Lost on Venus: Lost on Venus picks up where Pirates of Venus left off. Carson is captured and subjected to the horrors of the Room with Seven Doors. After that, he and Duare are captured by Skor, jong of a land of undead. He escapes, but with a different girl, Nalte. Carson and Nalte end up at Havatoo, a city where the laws of eugenics govern everything across the river from the city of the dead. Carson builds an airplane and eventually escapes Havatoo with Duare.

Lost on Venus was probably a little better than Pirates of Venus but that was probably because Burroughs already over-explained everything in the first story. It moved quickly and I liked the double cities of Havatoo and Kormor.

The Final Verdict: While I found these entertaining, I didn't enjoy them as much as I did the first three Mars books. It felt like John Carter of Mars with a change of scenery.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Drop of the Hard Stuff

A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matthew Scudder #17)A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend of Matt Scudder's from AA winds up dead and it looks as if someone he named in his eight step is the murderer. Scudder takes the case for a cool grand and begins working the people on the list. Only the killer isn't take things lying down. Will Matt make it to one year sobriety?

You know, every time I read one of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder books, I feel as if I've entered a metaphorical genital measuring contest. I unzip my pants to reveal that I've read the entire Scudder series and a couple hundred other mystery books besides and have a pretty good head for sleuthing and Block takes his out and shames me with 50 years of misdirecting guys like me. Like a lot of the Scudder books, Block hides the killer in plain sight and dares you to figure out the mystery before Matt. Yeah, old Lawrence got me again.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a flashback tale akin to When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes. Matt and Mick Ballou are talking late into the night and Matt brings up a case from the early days. Block did a good job with his references, from the double-bladed disposable razor to the mysterious disease afflicting gay men. It was fantastic seeing old supporting cast members like Jan, Jim, and Danny Boy Bell. The case itself was vintage Scudder. Block crafted a nice cast of losers and douche bags for Matt to interact with. Like I said before, I had no idea who the killer was until Matt figured it out. I'd say that's the mark of an exceptional mystery.

Any gripes? Yeah, I wasn't that thrilled with the ending. I didn't like how things were resolved between Matt and the killer. Other than that, I don't have a single complaint.

For Scudder fans of old, this is a must read. It lives up to its predecessors and you won't be disappointed.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, #3)The Waste Lands by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the events of the Drawing of the Three, Roland the Gunslinger has two people from our world along side him in his quest for the Dark Tower. However, he's also going mad because of a strange double set of memories in his head, memories of a boy he crossed the desert with...

The Waste Lands is probably my favorite Dark Tower book and epitomizes what I like about the series. It's got the lost technology, lots of action, more bits about Roland's world, and makes Roland's ka-tet complete. The story of Jake in New York was well done. I even liked Oy the Billy-Bumbler. All the stuff that goes down in Lud had me dying to read the next book in the series. The ending would have made me furious had I been reading the Dark Tower books as they were published.

Notes from the 2011 re-read:
The Waste Lands drives home the notion that Roland's world is coming apart at the seams. It also gives us hints about what Roland was like before the world moved on, hints that will be further explored in Wizard and Glass.

Even though I knew the whole deal with the key, this being my fifth or sixth read, it was still a tense moment when the key didn't turn and the creature was loose in the haunted mansion in New York. I felt a single man tear threaten to roll down my cheek when Roland and Jake were reunited.

I also liked the Robert Howard reference, this being the first re-read since I read all the Howard Conan stuff.

As I said after my re-read of The Gunslinger, it's a testament to Stephen King's skill that I was still a little worried about Jake in Lud, even though I've read the book a few times before.

Blaine is a pain and that's the truth.

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The Metamorphosis

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover he's been transformed into a giant beetle-like creature. Can he and his family adjust to his new form?

The Metamorphosis is one of those books that a lot of people get dragooned into reading during high school and therefore are predisposed to loath. I managed to escape this fate and I'm glad. The Metamorphosis is quite a strange little book.

Transated from German, The Metamorphosis is the story of how Gregor Samsa's transformation tears his family apart. There are hidden meanings that are just beyond my grasp. I suspect it's a commentary about how capitalism devour its workers when they're unable to work or possibly about how the people who deviate from the norm are isolated. However, I mostly notice how Samsa's a big frickin' beetle and his family pretends he doesn't exist.

There's some absurdist humor at the beginning. Samsa's first thoughts upon finding out he's a beetle is how he's going to miss work. Now, I'm as dedicated to my job as most people but if I woke up to find myself a giant beetle, I don't think I'd have to mull over the decision to take a personal day or two.

Aside from that, the main thing that sticks out is what a bunch of bastards Samsa's family is. He's been supporting all of them for years in his soul-crushing traveling salesman job and now they're pissed that they have to carry the workload. Poor things. It's not like Gregor's sitting on the couch drinking beer while they're working. He's a giant damn beetle! Cut him some slack.

All kidding aside, the ending is pretty sad. I'll bed Mr. Samsa felt like a prick later. The Metamorphosis gets four stars, primarily for being so strange and also because it's the ancestor of many weird or bizarro tales that came afterwords. It's definitely worth an hour or two of your time.

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