Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said Yes!

My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said Yes!My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said Yes! by Bradley Sands

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books are so easy that you can devour them in an evening after drinking four or five Pabst Blue Ribbons for dinner. This isn't one of them.

What do the following items have in common?
* Entries from the Encyclopedia Orangutannicus
* The Eiffel Tower wearing a feather boa
* A reference to King Kong Bundy, the rightful winner of the main event at Wrestlemania II
* A waitress dropping a tip jar, spilling such tips as "The clitoris is located between the labia and the top of the vulva"
* A Hollywood producer named Jared Bruckheiny
* Captain Koala
* The instructions for writing a short story

If you think it's just gibberish I made up, you're mostly wrong. All of these are just a sampling of the ideas jammed within the pages of My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said Yes!

Let's get down to brass tacks. I hate short story collections and I hate writing reviews for them even more. This one is a little different than most collections. Instead of a lot of teases with intriguing story ideas that peter out after a couple pages or two, MHSNBTCCS sandblasts you (Get it? the author's name is Bradley Sands? Sandblast? Get it?) with one absurd idea or situation after another.

Wordplay takes center stage in this collection and if you're not paying attention or slightly impaired, it'll go right by you. Where else are you going to see a scat burglar beebopping into a building to rob it or an enema that gets grandmothers? "Nowhere!" is the correct answer.

So, avoid this book if you can handle your neighbors laughing at you because they can handle it and you can't. Or pick it up now and show those jerks!

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Nobody Runs Forever

Nobody Runs Forever (Parker, #22)Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parker and six other hoods are planning a heist when they discover one of the guys is wearing a wire. The job falls apart and Parker gets a line on another job: an armored car robbery. But can Parker stay ahead of the people looking for the dead man who wore the wire?

Yeah, the deeper I get into the post-Butcher's Moon Parker books, I'm not so sure Richard Stark should have picked things up again. Some of Parker's capers go great until the wheels come off somewhere close to the end. In Nobody Runs Forever, it seems like the wheels were never completely on. The caper had a lot of hitches to it and depended on too many amateurs. If it was five or six book earlier in the series, I don't think Parker would have took the job. I bought that Parker's run of bad luck was what convinced him but would everyone still be eager to work with Parker?

Parker himself was the same character, although I still think he seems softer in the post-Butcher's Moon books. Sandra was a good nemesis and I suspect she'll be in the next book. Dalesia and McWhitney were okay but nothing to write home about. The whole caper just seemed like a bad idea from the start.

Not to say it was a bad book. Nobody Runs Forever still had its moments. I loved what happened at McWhitney's bar and I loved the ending. Parker was still his cool self when things started going south.

I enjoyed Nobody Runs Forever but, like most of the post-Butcher's Moon Parker stories, it didn't have the punch of the originals.

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My Name is Legion

My Name Is LegionMy Name Is Legion by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eve of RUMOKO: Someone is attempting to sabotage the RUMOKO project, a project that creates volcanoes on the ocean floor for the purpose of creating more land for an overpopulated Earth. Albert Schweitzer, an engineer, tips to what is happening. Only, Schweitzer's not an engineer and doesn't even exist at all...

For a story written forty years ago, the tone is pretty relevant today. The man with no name, the protagonist, is a former computer programmer that erased himself from a global database so he couldn't be tracked and goes around doing good deeds for exorbitant sums of money. Although the future of 2007 isn't quite accurate, the undersea domes, for example, the idea of a huge database containing ever bit of available data known to man seems spot on. Our nameless hero seems like he might be an inspiration for Repairman Jack. The story itself isn't fantastic but I'm a big fan of the ideas presented within, both the creation of artificial islands (didn't Stephenson do that in The Diamond Age?) and the man who doesn't officially exist.

Kjawlll'kje'k'koothai'lll'kjr'k: Two men are dead and it looks as if a dolphin is to blame. Our nameless hero begins poking around, leading him into a plot involving adultery, diamonds, and questions about dolphins and their culture...

I didn't enjoy the second story as much as the first but it was still good. While the plot wasn't spectacular, the conjectures about dolphins and their society and/or religion made up for it. I didn't expect Martha Millay to play such a prominent role when she was introduced.

Home is the Hangman:An artificially intelligent planet exploring robot, the Hangman, has returned to earth to exact vengeance on his creators. Or has he...

This was quite a yarn. For a novella, it sure had a lot of twists. Our nameless hero continues taking megarisks for his client, Don. The Hangman's creators were an interesting bunch and, as I said, it had enough twists to rise above its seemingly simple plot.

While My Name is Legion isn't my favorite Roger Zelazny book, it's also far from my least favorite. I'd recommend it to fans of spy novels, since the nameless protagonist is more of a spy than anything else. The man with no name reminds me of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee at times and Repairman Jack at others. He should be a well-received character by fans of either.

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This Immortal

This ImmortalThis Immortal by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you can tell from the title, This Immortal is about an immortal. The Earth is in bad shape after a three day nuclear exchange and most people have fled Earth for Vega where they are second class citizens. Conrad, the immortal of the title, is tasked with escorting a Vegan on a tour of various Earth ruins, accompanied by several other people, most of which want the Vegan dead and the Earthlings on Vega to come home.

Despite the length of time it took me to read this, I liked it a lot. The characters were interesting, especially Conrad and Hasan, the assassin tasked with killing the Vegan. The odd relationship beween Conrad and Hasan was probably my favorite part of the book. The ending was also a surprise, which is the highest honor I give a book these days.

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Doorways in the Sand

Doorways in the SandDoorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where do I start?

Fred Cassidy is a college student and has been for the past 17 years due to a loophole in his late uncle's will. Fred is a compulsive climber and a thorn in the side of the administration who would like nothing more than for him to graduate so they can get on with their lives. Long story short, an alien artifact goes missing and a lot of people think Fred has it. The rest of the book is the quest to find the star stone and stay alive. Thankfully, Fred has help in the form of a talking wombat and a talking kangaroo...

The plot is more complicated than I'm letting on but I don't want to give too much away. The plot isn't what drew me to the book, though. The grabber for me was the style that Zelazny chose to tell the story. Each chapter beings with the hero in a situation unrelated to where the previous chapter left off. Once the scene is established, then he backtracks and fills in the blanks. Other than that, what can I say? It's a Zelanzy story.

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The Osiris Ritual

The Osiris RitualThe Osiris Ritual by George Mann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Soon after Sir Maurice Newbury attends a mummy unwrapping, people connected to the expedition that recovered it turn up dead. Meanwhile, Veronica Hobbes is investigating the disappearances of young girls that seem to be connected to a traveling magician. How do their investiations intersect? What does it have to do with the mysterious agent who was supposed to meet Newbury at the train station? And who is behind the Osiris Ritual?

The Osiris Ritual is the second Newbury & Hobbes Investigation book and is a vast improvement on the first. The villains are more vile, the action more furious, and Newbury sinks further into the depths of opium addiction while Hobbes debates telling him the secret we all learned at the end of The Affinity Bridge, the previous volume. Knox and Ashford were both interesting characters. Knox had more dimension than most villains. The story itself had a lot of twists. I was sure I knew who the killer was until about two-thirds of the way through.

Any gripes? Yeah. Once again, Newbury seems a little obtuse for a Holmes-level detective. This time, it's the young reporter Purefoy that feeds him the necessary hints.

All in all, this was a good steampunk thriller and an improvement on the Affinity Bridge. I'll definitely be picking up the next Newbury & Hobbes adventure.

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The Affinity Bridge

The Affinity BridgeThe Affinity Bridge by George Mann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes investigate an airship crash in Victorian London. Why were all the victims lashed to their seats? Where was the pilot? And why is the Queen so intent on Newbury and Hobbes finding out what happened? The trail leads them to the airship manufacturers who also happen to make automatons. Can Newbury and Hobbes solve the mystery before the mysterious glowing policeman takes them?

The Affinity Bridge is a fast-moving steampunk mystery. Once it gets going, it's definitely a page turner. The action feels very much like a movie. Sir Maurice Newbury is a combination of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, complete with laudanum addiction, and Hobbes is like a Victorian Emma Peel. The setting was probably my favorite part of the book. A London with airships, automatons, Queen Victoria kept alive by machines, a zombie plague in the slums, what's not to like?

So why did I only give it a 3? The characters are a little on the thin side. In fact, I was ready to blast this book in one of the early chapters. Newbury, although supposedly a great detective, misses some really obvious things only to have Hobbes suggest them. Not very Sherlockian if you ask me.

Still, this is a quick and enjoyable read. It's not the best steampunk book ever written by any means but it's fun and fairly accessible. It's actually a little light on the steampunk side. I'd recommend it to fans of steampunk in general, as well of those of The Domino Men and The Somnambulist.

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Whitechapel Gods

Whitechapel GodsWhitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whitechapel has been cut off from the rest of London and is ruled by two mechanical alien gods, for the lack of a better description, Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine. John Scared schemes to usurp Grandfather Clock's power while Oliver Sumner and other revolutionaries look to overthrow both gods. Who will reign supreme?

First of all, there were lots of things to like about this book. The hyper-industrialized pseudo-Victorian hell Whitechapel has become under the rule of Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine is a well-described place. The Boilermen and the Cloaks are both interesting antagonists, as are John Scared and Giselle. The clacks, a disease that causes people to slowly grow gears and wiring beneath their skin, is also quite innovative. The story had a lot of twists and turns.

Things I don't like? I hate to admit that few of the characters really grabbed me. It took me forever to figure out that Oliver was the central character in the story. Too much was made of events that little to nothing was revealed about, such as the rise of Baron Hume and the creation of Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine. In my opinion, the story would have been better had it focused more on Oliver and revealed more backstory.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy Whitechapel Gods. I'd recommend it to new weird, steampunk and horror fans. Officially, I'm giving this 3.5 stars. It might be upgraded to a 4 on a re-read.

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Wizard and Glass

Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, Book 4)Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a riddle contest with Blaine the Mono, Roland and his ka-tet continue on their quest for the Dark Tower. While camping, Roland reveals the story of his youth and his first love.

The best part of this was Roland's backstory. You see that he wasn't always the killing machine he's become and learn a lot more of the backstory of the series as well. Astute Stephen King readers will appreciate the world they go through after entering the thinny.

The only complaint I have about this one is that I could have done without all the Wizard of Oz business. It seemed like he just slapped that on to wrap things up.

The 2011 re-read:
My opinion of Wizard and Glass has been colored somewhat by the passage of time. While I enjoyed the tale of Roland's first love and the confrontation with the Big Coffin Hunters, the flashback seemed about a hundred pages too long, like maybe Stephen King wasn't sure where he wanted the story to go next and decided to do some stalling.

That's not to say I don't like Wizard and Glass. It's just my least favorite of the first four Dark Tower books. It's still pretty good, though. The tension mounts as Roland and his young ka-tet head toward their inevitable conflict with the Big Coffin Hunters. It reminds me a lot of the battle between the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone.

The middle book of the Dark Tower is still a satisfying read, no matter what your opinion of the extended Flashback. Roland's back story makes him an even more tragic figure than before.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Piecemeal June

Piecemeal JunePiecemeal June by Jordan Krall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Kevin's cat starts bringing parts of a sex doll into his apartment above the porno store, things start getting strange. Kevin assembled the parts and the doll comes to life. But who did the doll belong to before she came into Kevin's possession?

After reading and enjoying Jordan Krall's Squid Pulp Blues and Fistful of Feet, I decided to give his debut novel a try. Piecemeal June is an odd little book that's chock full of fetishes, bizarre sex acts, and lots of fecal matter. It wasn't quite what I expected after reading two other Jordan Krall books but it was still enjoyable.

The characters were pretty memorable. Kevin and his foot fetish, Mushy and his concussion-induced delirium, the crab men assassins, Max the porn shop owner. I don't think I'll forget Latrina the oracle for a very long time. I thought the connection between Piecemeal June and June St. Eclair could have been explored a little more but Krall had already crammed so much into 72 pages it's understandable that it wasn't.

For a book about a sex doll that has suddenly come to life, Piecemeal June is surprisingly deep. The nature of reality is explored. I liked how Simon, God of Whores, and his hellish dimension overlapped with ours.

So, Piecemeal June is fun in a disgusting way but not quite as good as the other two Krall books I've read. If you decide to give it a try, make sure you have a high tolerance for weird sex and feces.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Merkabah Writer: An interview with Edward Erdelac

Today's guest is Edward Erdelac, writer of the two Merkabah Rider books, Tales of a High Planes Drifter and The Mensch with No Name.

What was the inspiration behind the Merkabah Rider?
I can trace the Rider back to three definite sources. The first is Robert E. Howard, particularly his weird western stories ‘Old Garfield’s Heart,'‘The Horror From The Mound,’ and his Solomon Kane stories, a great weird adventure series about a grim Puritan swordsman battling evil wherever he finds it. As a nod to that, the Rod of Aaron which appears in Merkabah Rider is meant to be the same Staff of Solomon given to Kane by N’Longa, the African witch doctor. The second is the original Kung Fu television series, which featured a butt kicking fish out of water character (in this case a half-Chinese Shaolin monk) passing through the American West. The imagery of the series stuck in my head as a kid, and I always wanted to explore that sort of clash of cultures. Finally I would cite The Frisco Kid, a comedy western starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford, about a Polish Rabbi traveling across the west to San Francisco. Merkabah Rider isn’t a comedy of course, but I think the various mikvah rules Wilder’s character was forced to abide by in his travels and the look of an Orthodox rabbi in the west (and the various reactions of stock western characters to him, including at one point mistaking him for a Dutch Reformed) come from that. I tried to write weird western stories as a high schooler and could never make an interesting enough protagonist. The ideas sat shelved for many years. I was reading an angelology book and came across the term ‘merkabah rider.’ The character just sort of sprang up in my mind, all in black with the beard and curls, riding a fiery horse. I was able to revisit the old weird western concepts then and plug in this more interesting character. It just clicked after that.

How did you research the mythology? Do you have a background in religious studies?
I grew up Catholic, and I always had an appreciation for ritual and hagiographies and the like, what saint was patron of what and all that. I think I wanted to be a priest when I was in first or second grade. The character of Abraham Van Helsing in all his incarnations always appealed to me too – I think especially seeing Peter Cushing in the Hammer movies employing all these religious artifacts and odd techniques to battle vampires (like lining the vamp’s resting place with consecrated hosts in the shape of a cross in one movie). I developed an appetite for folklore and obscure mythology. No formal training, I just read a lot. For Merkabah Rider I first approached books on basic Judaic practices, then started studying Hasidism and Jewish folklore, which is extremely rich and nearly untapped in fiction so far as I know. Geoffrey Dennis’ The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism is a book I can’t recommend enough. It’s a wonderful starting point. He runs a great blog too. I tapped a good deal of John Milton and Dante Allighieri. Lots of paintings of their works for visual inspiration. Gustave Dore, William Blake, etc, and of course Lovecraft. The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia by Daniel Harms was very helpful in chasing down Mythos info.

What was the catalyst for combining the HPL mythos with Biblical myths and stories?
I knew I wanted to incorporate the Mythos as it’s such a great and pervading concept in genre fiction. Then, in the course of my reading into Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, I started coming across references to the primordial dimension that existed prior to proper Creation, how it was a forbidden area of study. I started feeling echoes of Lovecraftian tropes. Forbidden study?! There are instances in mystic biblical and pagan thought of God as being the force that brings chaos to heel, wills order upon it, defeats a personification of it (usually a dragon) to enact Creation. Marduk vs. Tiamat, Zeus vs. Typhon, etc. Then, in Dennis, I came across the entry for Rahav –

‘A cosmic seas monster first mentioned in the biblical book of Isaiah….Talmud called him Prince of the Sea, echoing the Canaanite name or their sea god, “Prince River.” God slew him when he refused to help in creating the earth.’

Sounded like Cthulhu to me…I don’t know if Dennis has ever read HPL, or likewise, if HPL ever read Talmud, but the connection seemed neat, and that’s where fitting biblical and Mythos cosmologies together began.

The Merkabah Rider is clearly a love letter to all things pulp. Who are some of your favorite pulp authors and characters?
Like I mentioned, Solomon Kane. Howard is my favorite of the pulp writers. When I need to get in a writing mood, I pick up anything by Howard. He had a great imagination, a great knack for infusing the weird into unlikely settings. If Joe R. Lansdale is the father of the weird western, Robert E. Howard is the grandfather. As a writer of visceral action I really believe he's unequaled. Robert J. Hogan’s weird World War One stories featuring G-8 and His Battle Aces are tops. E. Hoffman Price wrote some great "Oriental" fantasy stories, like The Devil Wives of Li Fong. I like a lot of crimefighter pulps. The Avenger by Paul Ernst is my favorite. A very progressive cast of characters for it’s time, including a pair of highly educated African Americans and a petite, female jujutsu expert, with a wonderfully strange hero to lead them. Norvell Page’s The Spider is fantastic. Somebody described it as Robert E. Howard writing The Shadow. That’s a good way of putting it. The Spider is a madman. He sometimes lets criminal’s schemes play out longer just to make their end more spectacular – how great is that? Of course the prolific Walter Gibson’s The Shadow. I recently got into Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars/Barsoom novels featuring John Carter. I admit that I like Lovecraft’s concepts a little more than his actual writing, though I really like The Music of Eric Zann. It was a big influence on my Lovecraftian blues short story The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues. Going back even further, Ambrose Bierce (particularly his Civil War stuff which is harrowingly real and yet at times supernatural) is responsible for some of the best weird stories ever written.

Will there be more Merkabah Rider in the future? A full length novel, perhaps?
The third installment, Have Glyphs Will Travel, should be out by the end of this year. This’ll be another episodic novel, meaning it’s like a novella collection, same as the other two. I try to invoke the old Zebra Conan paperbacks, but they’re really sequential, like novels with extra-long chapters. However, I intend to complete the series sometime next year with a full length traditionally structured novel, yeah. I wanted to end it that way, like how Conan’s career unofficially ends with The Hour of The Dragon. The Rider’s also going to appear in a one-off short story called The Shomer Express in Pill Hill Press’ forthcoming monster hunter anthology, The Trigger Reflex. That should be out this year. I’ve been kicking around the idea of a collection of Civil War-era stories, featuring the Rider’s weird war adventures, and some of his travels in the west immediately after his discharge. That’d be down the road though, after the proper series ends.

If there was going to be a Merkabah Rider movie, who would you want playing The Rider?
Adrien Brody’s who I picture when I write him, mostly unrecognizable beneath the beard and payot. I was impressed with him in Hollywoodland.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
It’s gonna sound weird, but the first book that made me want to write was Simon Hawke’s novelization of Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives… I had never seen the movie (I don’t think I have seen it all the way through yet), but I bought it off the rack when I was in seventh grade and read the thing cover to cover in the same day. It was the first non-comic book, the first non-illustrated book I ever read and I was amazed at how intense and graphic it was. I don’t know if it was a good book (I lost my copy), but it fired up my imagination I guess. To bring me out of the gutter a bit, the second book was Jack London’s Call of The Wild, which Sister Marie read to our class the same year.

Who are some of your non-pulp influences?
J.R.R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy. He taps into a darkness that’s hypnotic. I’ll read anything by him. Richard Matheson is great. He’s done the Twilight Zone, I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man, but he’s also written these great westerns like By The Gun and The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickock. Larry McMurtry, Stephen King of course, especially his short stories and novellas. Mickey Spillane, Mishima Yukio. Moby Dick has always been a favorite of mine. Peter Pan and Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In comics Alan Moore (especially From Hell) Kazuo Koike and Frank Miller. I like John Ford films, Sergio Leone, Walter Hill, George Romero, Sergio Corbucci, Michael Mann, Peter Weir, Anthony Mann…the screenwriters Paul Schaefer and David Mamet. Frank Frazetta’s art. Norman Rockwell. John Martin. Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash.

What's your favorite book?
Blood Meridian or, An Evening’s Redness In The West by Cormac McCarthy.

Who's your favorite author?
I can’t seem to stop mentioning Robert E. Howard! Probably McCarthy would be my favorite living author.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The Fortunes of War by Patrick O’Brien. One of the Aubrey-Maturin sea adventures. He was a great, clever writer. The characters are realistic and occasionally very funny. Good action, and though you wouldn’t expect it, all the maritime stuff never feels repetitious or too daunting.

What's your favorite western?
Winchester ’73 starring Jimmy Stewart, Millard Mithell, and Shelly Winters. directed by Anthony Mann. Jimmy Stewart is hunting Stephen McNally, who stole his prize Winchester rifle. The rifle changes various hands, and we follow it as if it were a character. Jimmy Stewart is great in it. Dan Duryea has a nice turn too as badman Waco Johnny Dean.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Don’t get discouraged. It’s very hard getting started and even then it’s still a big uphill battle the whole way. Don’t take criticism too hard, but be open to it when it’s constructive. Don’t try to write something you hope somebody will like. Be your own audience. Write the kind of thing you’d like to read. Write what you know you love.

What's next for Edward M. Erdelac?
I’ve got a straight, no-ghoulies historical western novel coming out in print and probably Kindle from Texas Review Press this year called Buff Tea. It’s a coming of age story about a kid from Chicago who joins a buffalo hunting outfit in 1874. I think it’s due out in September. I'll announce it on my blog (emerdelac.wordpress.com). Before that, my son August Victoriano Erdelac is set to make his debut in July.

Merkabah Rider: The Mensch with No Name

Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No NameMerkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name by Edward M. Erdelac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Merkabah Rider is a Hasidic gunfighter well versed in Jewish mystacism, on a journey across the Old West in search of his mentor and betrayer, Adon. This is the second collection of his tales.

The Infernal Napoleon: The Rider is pursued by the minions of Lilith and they catch up with him in the tiny town of Varuga tanks. Can the Rider overcome half-breed demons and a cannon that was used in the war between angels to continue his search for Adon?

The Merkabah Rider's question resumes with a bang. The Infernal Napoleon was a great plot device. Both biblical and Lovecratian mythologies are references, most notably the story of Samson. By the time it's over, the Rider has been through the wringer yet again.

The Damned Dingus: The Rider is on a train that is robbed and looses his gun to the robbers. With Doc Holiday and Mysterious Dave Mather in tow, The Rider goes to reclaim his Volcanic pistol and gets a lot more than he bargained for...

Wow. The Damned Dingus was damned good. The Lovecraftian overtones get even stronger and the invisible creature was straight out of a Lovecraft tale. I geeked pretty hard when the stone bearing the Elder Sign made an appearance, as well as the mention of Hyperborea, The Necronomicon, and Al-Hazred. It appears The Hour of Incursion is growing near...

The Outlaw Gods: The Rider's travels pit him against serpent men, monstrous trees, and the Black Goat Man. Can even his allience with a Hindi mystic and a host of spirits help him defeat the Black Goat Man and his consort?

Astute Lovecraft readers will guess the identity of the Black Goat Man's consort but that doesn't make it have any less impact. The Rider's palaver with Chaksusa and Chaksusa's revelations about the nature of the universe or universes reminded me of Roland and the Man in Black in the Gunslinger. The scope of the Merkabah Rider's quest even reminds me of The Dark Tower. The same sense of urgency is building. If I didn't already know there are two more volumes planned, I'd be wondering how Erdelac was planning on wrapping things up in the next sixty pages.

The Pandaemonium Ride: With a new ally at his side, the Rider goes to hell to get some answers from Lucifer. He won't like what the ultimate betrayer has to say...

You know how some books are so good you can't talk about them without cursing?  Sweet. F#cking. Christ. The full scope of the Hour of Incursion is revealed in this tale and it's a f#cking whopper. I knew the saga of the Merkabah Rider was going to be huge in scope but this is even bigger than I was prepared for. I've never read anything that explained the relationships between the Lovecraft mythos and that of the Judeo-Christian one. Heave and hell united against the Great Old Ones? It's f#cking mind-boggling. Also, I really liked that the staff Solomon Kane uses is in the hands of Kadebe.

Conclusion: Ever since I read the Dark Tower, I've been looking for a weird western quest story to fill the void. If the first two volumes of the Merkabah Rider's tale are any indication, the Dark Tower is going to get a run for its money.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Maxx - Volume 6

The Maxx (Volume 6)The Maxx by Sam Kieth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Volume six collects the Friends of Maxx miniseries. The first issue tells the story of Dude and Mickey's relationship woes while the next two tell about Ira's release from prison and his uncle trying to teach him how to be a man.

While I dug these stories, they just weren't the same. There was very little connection to the Maxx I know and love. Aside from that, the stories were really good. The relationships depicted within were very realistic and relatable, and, honestly, probably the best writing in the entire series. Just not what I was looking for.

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The Maxx - Volume 5

The Maxx (Volume 5)The Maxx by Sam Kieth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the fifth volume, things come to a head. Sara goes to her outback with Mr. Gone as her guide in an effort to fix it. Dave becomes The Maxx again and Julie and her son help Gone in the aftermath of Sara's trip to the Outback. The saga of The Maxx finally comes to a conclusion.

The last volume of the regular Maxx series ties up all the loose ends. Finding out the connection between all the characters is both a revelation and a forehead slapping moment. While to the casual reader, The Maxx is just a super hero book, it's acutally so much more. While there are fantasy and super hero trappings, it's actually the story of people dealing with mental and physical abuse. The monsters and costumes are just set dressing.

The ending to the saga is satisfying. There's a sense of finality to it but also a sense of hope.

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The Maxx - Volume 4

The Maxx (Volume 4)The Maxx by Sam Kieth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten years after the conclusion of Julie Winters's saga, Sara struggles with her relationship with her father, Artemis Pender, aka Mr. Gone. Dave, the former Maxx, is a plumber, while Sara's Maxx is a homeless guy named Norbert. Julie Winters is missing and there's a giant banana slug named Iago looking for her. Did I mention the past 20 issues might have been a dream and Mr. Gone might not be as much of a villain as we previouosly thought?

Volume 4 begins a voyage into Sara's (formerly Sarah) world and past, as well as the past of her father. Her roommate Steve thinks he's psychic. Her dad lives in a trailer park and runs a shelter for battered women.

By far the best part of this volume is the origin of Mr. Gone. Gone has a painful history of abuse which almost makes him a sympathetic character. Some poignant writing, especially for a comic book where one of the main characters is a humanoid horse in a makeshift super hero costume with a patchwork quilt for a cape.

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The Maxx - Volume 3

The Maxx (Volume 3)The Maxx by Sam Kieth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third volume of The Maxx starts with Maxx wandering around in a strange Outback that's composed of makeshift tents and giant aluminum poles, where he meets another Maxx, this one with the head of a horse. He wakes to find himself in bed with Sarah and reallizes it was her Outback, not Julie's. Meanwhile, Julie bursts in and is nine months pregnant. From there, The Maxx and The Leopard Queen go on an odessey in the Outback and get to the bottom of things. All the big questions in the series so far are answered. Who was the Maxx before he put on the mask and costume? What's the deal with The Outback and the Leopard Queen anyway? And how is Mr. Gone REALLY tied up into things?

The third volume brings the first Maxx arc to a satisfying conclusion. The overall plot of the first twenty issues is rooted in both psychology and the Australian belief in the Dreaming. Pretty heavy stuff, especially considering it was published by a company specializing in big breasts and big guns. This volume leads nicely into the fourth, which picks up ten years later.

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The Maxx - Volume 2

The Maxx (Volume 2)The Maxx by Sam Kieth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the second collected Maxx volume, Maxx and Julie venture across the Outback and meet Pitt, another Hulk inspired character from the 90's. Meanwhile, in the real world, Julie is locked in the bathroom while Pitt and Maxx, both at four inches tall, fight an Isz in her apartment. After that, things get weird as Sarah James, a minor character in the last volume, finds out her true parentage and goes searching for her spirit animal...

The second volume of The Maxx is where things really get going, both in terms of weirdness and the overall plot. It is in this volume that you reallize that the central character of the title isn't The Maxx at all, but Julie Winters. I don't think a series titled The Julie would sell as well...

Sarah James's role in the series greatly increases in this volume, partly due to fan support. She was the mouthpiece of weird awkward teens everywhere. Has it really been 16 years since this came out?

Anyway, things really take off in this volume. Sam Kieth seems more confident and relaxed in his style and the weirdness factor is dialed up to eleven. Not to be missed if you liked the first volume.

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The Maxx - Volume 1

The Maxx (Volume 1)The Maxx by Sam Kieth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Maxx is a homeless man who wears a purple superhero outfit and lives off the kindless of Julie Winters, a freelance social worker. But he's also king of the wildplaces, a super-strong barbarian who fights monsters in a world resembling the Australian Outback while protecting the Leopard Queen, who bears a striking resemblance to Julie Winters. Which of those identities is true? What is the deeper connection between Julie and The Maxx? And how does Mr. Gone, dark sorcerer and serial rapist, figure into things?

First, a little history. For years, my comic reading trailed off until this was the only one I read on a regular basis? Why, you ask? Because of several factors. First of all, I dig Sam Kieth's art. Secondly, the characters are relatable. As you read further into this volume, as well as subsequent ones, you see behind the characters' exteriors and peer at the self doubt within. Thirdly, nothing is explained outright. Much of what happens is open to interpretation. The Maxx is definitely a thinker, not as Incredible Hulk-like as it first appears.

I've said it in reviews for other comics and I'll say it again here. The really good comics are always about something. The Sandman is about stories and how they shape us. Starman is about stepping into your parents' shoes and trying to live up to their expectations. The Maxx is about dealing with your baggage, something that's only hinted at in this volume.

As for presentation, the volume is great. The only minor complaint I have is that the letter pages weren't included. It was always great fun to read other Maxx-Heads's interpretation of events. Do comics even have letter pages anymore?

I'd recommend this to people who like their comics to have a different flavor than just capes and fisticuffs, specifically fans of indie books like Strangers in Paradise or Vertigo stuff like The Sandman. In fact, Sam Kieth was the first Sandman artist.

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Umbrella Academy - Volume 2

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 2: DallasThe Umbrella Academy, Vol. 2: Dallas by Gerard Way

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this, the second Umbrella Academy collection, Spaceman has eaten himself into obesity, Kraken has gotten a bit more obsessive, White Violin is in the hospital and paralzyed since the previous volume, and Number Five, after some shenanigans at the dog track, goes back in time to prevent himself from preventing the Kennedy assassination...

The Umbrella Academy is a fun read, like Tim Burton doing the X-Men. Where else would you see a character travelling back in time to prevent his older self from protecting Kennedy? There are laughs but also thought provoking moments. The Umbrella Academy is a slightly more sophisticated rendition of the X-Men. Picture the X-Men being three times as dysfunctional and wearing domino masks and British schoolboy outfits and there you go.

I recommend The Umbrella Academy: Dallas to fans of the X-Men, X-Files, and things that don't begin with the letter X, such as Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol run.

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Umbrella Academy - Volume 1

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse SuiteThe Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago, an unrevealed number of children were spontaneously born to women who weren't pregnant. Reginald Hargreeves, aka The Monocle, gathered all of them he could find, 47 of them, and formed the Umbrella Academy. Why? To save the world!

I picked this up because people said it's a lot like Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol. While I thought it was, it reminded me more of The Royal Tenenbaums. There are sequences were the academy members were youngsters but the series is mostly about them as adults and coping with their relationship with the now deceased Monocle. And they take on an old foe and deal with one of their own but that's secondary in my view.

The writing was delightfully weird and the art suited it perfectly. I enjoyed the characters even though I'm still not clear on some of their powers. Number 5 is easily my favorite though I love that Spaceboy's head is on a gorilla's body.

I recommend this to anyone that likes something different from their comics. I could see this appealing to fans of the Doom Patrol easily, as well as Madman and the early issues of Generation X. It's a quick read but very interesting.

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Monday, June 20, 2011


FlashbackFlashback by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a former United States devasted by economic and political collapse, former police officer Nick Bottom, a Flashback addict like much of the country, is pulled from the ruins of his former life and hired by a Japanese businessman to solve the six year old murder of his son. But what does the murder have to do with the car accident that killed his wife and sent him into Flashback's warm embrace?

When I saw that Dan Simmons' next book was going to be called Flashback, I pre-ordered it immediately. Flashback is a drug that allows the user to relive memories and was first introduced by Simmons in the wonderful Hyperion Cantos, one of my all-time favorite books. Did it live up to the standard set by Hyperion? I'll tell you in a little while...

There were a lot of things I liked about Flashback. Flashback and the culture surrounding it made a great plot device. I thought that using Nick Bottom's Flashback addiction to explore his own memories to help investigate who killed Nakamura's son was a pretty novel idea. I liked the converging plotlines with Nick's estranged son Val and his father-in-law Leonard. I liked the relationship with Nick and Sato, Nakamura's watchdog. I loved the references to other Simmons books like Hardcase and Hyperion and the references to Shakepeare and Keats. Most of all, I loved the serpentine nature of the mystery and how it had to do with Dara's death. The world was very well constructed and was a bit of a throwback to the cyberpunk dystopias of the 80's.

That's a lot of likes but the dislike was very hard to ignore. The tone of the book was so conservative that it made Rush Limbaugh seem like Hilary Clinton by comparison. While I can understand that since the setting is a dystopia ruled by a Caliphate of militant Muslim there was going to be some anti-Muslim sentiments, the anti-Muslim venom Simmons spewed liberally throughout the text got harder and harder to ignore. Simmons also goes on to bash health care reform, global warming, green technology, and a lot of other things. While I'm all for people thinking for themselves and having their own political beliefs and even found myself agreeing with Simmons on a few points. But I don't think a novel is the right place to showcase those beliefs. I didn't like it when Heinlein did it, I hated it when Brad Thor did it, and I sure don't like Simmons doing it now. He took a great premise and went all Sean Penn with it.

So did Flashback live up to the standard set by Hyperion? It did not but not for lack of trying. If Simmons wouldn't have been so ham-fisted with the political stuff, I would have rated it much higher. Even still, I found it to be a pretty enjoyable read once I learned to avoid the political diatribes. I guess the final verdict will have to be a 3.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Bizarro Starter Kit  (blue)The Bizarro Starter Kit by Steve Aylett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bizarro Starter Kits are designed to give newcomers a nice sampling of the bizarro genre. Here are just a few of the wonders The Bizarro Starer Kit (blue) contains:

The Longheads - Jordan Krall: Tommy Pingpong and his partner Jake are looking to buy some guns for a heist, all the while evade their former partner, a diaper wearing bastard named Peachy Keen. But why are the Longheads buying up all the guns?

The Longheads, insane and deformed war veterans, go on a homicidal rampage on the streets of Thompson, New Jersey, in this story but it's mostly in the background. The main part of the story is the pursuit of Tommy and Jake by Peachy. Throw in an image of Barbara Stanswick in the sky and a serial killer that draws comic strips on the backs of his victims and you have quite a tasty morsel of bizarro noir on your hands.

Monster Cocks! - Mykle Hansen: An inadequate IT professional takes male enhancement too far and his mutant penis takes on a mind of its own...

Wow. I had a feeling the lead's penis would grow out of control but I had no idea as to what extent. Holy crap. On a non-Bizarro note, the depiction of IT workers was spot-on.

The Devastated Insides of Hollow City - Andersen Prunty:
Shell, a detective, is hired to find Pearl, Queen of the Hollow City. Can he survive the slag plague long enough to find her and bring her back to the Rotting Man and collect his fee?

This story was a bit of bizarro noir, a grotesque journey through a plague-ridden city to find the queen, a diminutive girl named Pearl. I should have guessed where Pearl was but I didn't. I need to track me down some more Andersen Prunty soon. I like his style.

Cheesequake Smashup - Bradley Sands: In a battle for fast food dominance, McDonalds, Burger King, White Castle, and scores of other chains enter a building demolition derby. Gunning for a promotion, office worker Monty Catsin enters his employer, NGA, into the derby as well. Who will emerge as the sole provider of fast food in America?

Cheesequake Smashup is mother-whoopieing hilarious. Combine an absurd office, complete with an octogenerian sexpot, a giant goldfish, a gorilla, and lots of mobile buildings smashing into one another, and a heaping helping of absurd humor and you've got a winner on your hands. I'd say Cheesquake Smashup was worth the price of admission on its own.

All this awesomeness and more can be found in Bizarro Starter Kit (Blue.) Get out your credit card and head over to Amazon.com today!

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Friday, June 17, 2011

New X-Men, Volume 1

New X-Men, Vol. 1New X-Men, Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

E is for Extinction: Convinced that humanity is doomed to be wiped out in three or four generations and replaced by mutants, telepath Cassandra Nova unleashes the Master Mold sentinels on Genosha. Can the X-Men stop her?

I have a confession to make. The last issue of the X-Men I bought before this had Jim Lee doing the art so I was slightly out of the loop. Never the less, I enjoyed the first arc in this collection. The scope and the dialogue are vintage Grant Morrison, as is the shaking up of the status quo a bit by wiping out most of Genosha. Cassandra Nova was a pretty vile villain and I doubt I've seen the last of her. Professor X showed he has testicles like grapefruits in the conclusion of the story.

The Man From Room X: The X-Men got to China to stop a mutant organ trafficking ring, only to run afoul of the U-Men, humans getting grafts from mutants to take their powers.

The second story in the collection had two things going against it for me. It was sideways and Frank Quitley didn't do the art. Other than that, I enjoyed the interplay between Cyclops and Emma Frost. Xorn seemed more like a Doom Patrol character than an X-Man. On a related note, I always thought it was weird when Marvel wooed Vertigo writers away from DC and stuck them on superhero titles.

The third story in the book is untitled as far as I can tell. A bird-faced mutant called Adrien Brody, I mean The Beak, is introduced, Logan and Jean Grey share a moment, and Xavier leaves to spend some time with Llandra and the Shi'ar. It's an okay issue but has some chilling implications at the end. Damn that Cassandra Nova is sinister!

Germ Free Generation: The conflict with John Sublime and the U-Men comes to a conclusion. Emma and Cyclops are captured, Wolverine recruits a bug-winged girl named Angel, and Sublime's forces storm a certain school for gifted youngsters...

This story was well worth the read. The background plot with Cassandra Nova advanced quite a bit, and the John Sublime plot came to conclusion of sorts.

Silence: Psychic Rescue in Progress: Jean Grey and Emma Frost enter Cassandra Nova's mind. What will they find?

This story was fairly brief. There was very little text but what little there was was powerful. The origin of Cassandra Nova was revealed!

Imperial: In the aftermath of learning what transpired between Cassandra Nova, the X-Men prepare for the Shi'ar's arrival on Earth...

Imperial was mostly setup but I have a feeling the payoff is going to be huge. I'm a little surprised that The Gladiator hasn't made an appearance yet.

Testament: Just as the Beast figures out the origin of the flu that's plaguing the school, the Shi'ar Imperial Guard arrive...

Yep. Gladiator showed up. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Xorn are held captive aboard the Shi'ar flagship. Carnage ensues.

Losers: Cyclops and Xorn escape Shi'ar captivity and Jean Grey prepares for the inevitable...

The thing about Grant Morrison that always sparks my interest is how he uses the powers of characters in new ways. In Batman RIP, he infected a bunch of ninjas with the Man-Bat serum. In this book...

I'm excited for the final issue of this collection. With the combined might of the X-Men and the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, I can't see how Cassandra Nova can survive...

All Hell: The story of Cassandra Nova comes to its conclusion...
Yeah, the ending was worthwhile and the trip getting there was completely worth it.

Conclusion: I was eager to see what Grant Morrison would do with the X-Men and I wasn't disappointed. Despite my last exposure to the X-Men being sometime in the mid-90's, I had no trouble following the story. Morrison brought his sense of scope to the title and elevated a bit in my estimation. How many other writers have had a run that included the destruction of Genosha, Xavier's unborn twin, and attempted mutant genocide by the Shi'ar? I give this an easy four and urge fans of both the X-Men and Grant Morrison to seek it out. It's damn good.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day of the Triffids

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything seemed fine with the domesticated Triffids until the Earth passed through the tail of a comet, blinding much of the world's population. It was then the Triffids struck!

I love the proto-sf of the first half of the 20th century, when the lines between sf and horror were more blurred than they are now. Day of the Triffids is one of those books that many things that came later owe a debt to. The roots of the survival horror genre can be found within its pages, in my opinion. Many zombie flicks owe a debt of gratitude to this book. Heck, 28 Days Later lifted the beginning directly. Guy wakes up in hospital to find the whole world has changed while he was asleep. Sound familiar?

The Triffids themselves are a little ridiculous but still scary. A walking plant with a venomous sting is nothing to laugh at.

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StingerStinger by Robert R. McCammon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The town of Inferno has been slowly dying since the copper mine went bust. The school is closing for good in two days. Most people are leaving town and the two gangs, The Rattlesnakes and the Renegades, are like vultures on Inferno's corpse. Everything gets turned upside down the day an alien ship crashes and the alien takes over the body of a little girl. It's a picnic, however, compared to the second alien that shows up...

Stinger is the story of a dying town turned upside down by two aliens. Just as he did in Swan Song, McCammon creates an ensemble cast that grips the imagination. Cody Lockett and Rick Jurado, leaders of the Renegades and the Rattlesnakes, were both three dimensional characters and neither were scene-chewing villains. The rest of the cast was also well done, the Hammond family in particular. Even Vance, the douche bag sheriff, and Curt Lockett, Cody's alcoholic father, ended up not being all bad.

The aliens were pretty interesting. Daufin was an artificial intelligence contained in a black sphere and Stinger, well, Stinger was complicated, parts man, scorpion, and other components.

The story was fast-paced, especially after Stinger showed up, and reminded me of the movies The Predator and Tremors at times. No one knows when Stinger will strike but he always comes from below ground. One thing I found funny was that Stinger's ship surrounded the town with an impenetrable dome seven miles in diameter, cutting off the power and supplies. McCammon gets a lot of flack for being a Stephen King wannabee but he beat old Steve to the punch by over twenty years with the dome concept.

The ending was believable and done well. Not everyone survived and you got the idea that Inferno would never be the same.

Stinger was a page-turner and shouldn't be missed by horror fans. It's gory and really intense at times.

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Three Kingdoms

Three Kingdoms: Chinese Classics (Classic Novel in 4-Volumes)Three Kingdoms: Chinese Classics by Moss Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Around the time the earth cooled and life spread across the continents, I was a huge fan of the game Destiny of an Emperor for the NES. Chinese generals with names I couldn't pronounce duking it out for the fate of China enthralled me.

Years later, I was thinking fondly of the game and decided to investigate the source, Three Kingdoms. Three Kingdoms is one of the four great classics of Chinese literature.

Imagine my surprise while on my 2300+ page journey that the story of the game wasn't very much like. While the game depicts the rise of Liu Bei, the book depicts his rise and fall, as well as fleshing out the stories of his companions and enemies.

At 2300 pages, you can imagine the amount of characters to absorb. Still, it was very satisfying to read years after playing the game. The writing was a little rough getting used to but to be fair, it was written centuries ago in Chinese! The stories of Liu Bei, Lord Guan, Zhang Fei, Pang Tong, and the rest were very interesting. I was glad LuBu met his fate at the hands of Cao Cao. When he left my party, he had a lot of good equipment the rest of them could have used!

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Breakout (Parker, #21)Breakout by Richard Stark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The robbery of a pharmaceutical wholesaler goes south and Parker winds up in the clink. The cops have his prints and link him to the killing he did as Ronald Kasper when he escaped the work camp ages ago. Can Parker bust out of the hoosegow? And what's waiting in the wings when he does?

I've been complaining about the post-Butcher's Moon Parker books not being as good as the early ones for quite some time. They're too long and don't have the punch of the earlier books. So, is Breakout more of the same?

Well, it's still a little long but I thought it was an improvement over the last couple Parker books I've read. Parker having to survive in jail for a period of time was a nice change of pace, and the caper he had to participate in with Marcantoni (who I kept calling Macaroni) was both an interesting idea and a bad idea from the start. A tunnel into a former armory to rob a jewelry wholesaler?

The supporting cast other than Ed Mackey and Williams, Parker's cellmate, weren't much to speak of. I was surprised when Brenda got pinched. Parker seemed a little softer in The Breakout but he seems that way in most of the post-hiatus Parker books. The writing lacked some of the punch of the earlier books but seemed less Westlake-ish than the previous couple books.

In conclusion, the Breakout is almost a return to Stark's earlier form and my favorite of the post-Butcher's Moon books so far.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Deadly Edge

Deadly Edge: A Parker Novel (Parker, #13)Deadly Edge: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Parker and three other crooks steal the take from an arena rock concert. Soon afterwords, persons unknown begin killing the people involved in the caper. Can Parker stop them before he, or Claire, becomes another victim?

Deadly Edge was one of the best Parkers yet. While the heist was well written, as always, it was the cat and mouse game with Parker and his cronies that sold the story. Without spoiling too much, the penultimate confrontation in the dark near the end was intense! The villains were a little too close to reality, drug-addled psychopaths that they were. Claire rose in my esteem and was more than just a way to get at Parker, as she was in the Black Ice Score. As always Parker is Parker, the consummate professional.

Parker keeps rolling right along. If you liked the previous volumes, you'll be getting this no matter how I rate it. If you only get three or four Parker books, this would be one of the must-gets.

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Secrets of the Fire Sea

Secrets of the Fire Sea (Jackelian #4)Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jethro Daunt, the premeire consulting detective of his age, along with Boxiron, his robot Watson, go to the Isle of Jago to solve the murder of the Archbishop, a woman to whom Daunt was betrothed to before he left the clergy. The Archbishop's ward, Hannah Conquest, has been conscripted to the Guild of Valvemen in the wake of her death. But what was the Archbishop murdered to protect?

Secrets of the Firesea was worth the wait. The plot has a lot more twists and turns than I originally thought, as it seemed very cut and dry at the beginning. Commodore Black continues to be my favorite of the Hunt supporting cast. Hannah Conquest was a little bland for my tastes but Black and Jethro Daunt made up for it. The writing had a taste of Wodehouse, much like the earlier books. I smiled every time Ortin urs Ortin called someone "old fruit." Jago was a well-realized setting and I liked how the Ursine faith was tied to what actually happened on Jago in the past. The ab-locks and ursks were interesting, as Hunt's monsters usually are. The revelation of what actually happened and the ordeal that ensues were awesome.

Why only four stars? While I liked Secrets of the Firesea, it wasn't my favorite of the Hunt books. The pace was slower and everything took place in one locale and I thought too much focused on code breaking and aspects of the Circlist religion. Other than that, I thought it was great.

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The Rise of the Iron Moon

The Rise of the Iron Moon (Jackelian #3)The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Purity Drake escapes the Royal Breeding House with a strange escaped slave. Molly Templar receives a strange message from the Hexmachina just before Earth is invaded! Can Purity Drake, last queen of Jackals, stop the invaders from the Iron Moon? Can Molly Templar, Commodore Black, Coppertracks, and a motley crew reach Kaliban to cut off the invasion at its source after being shot out of a giant cannon with riding an intelligent spacecraft?

Stephen Hunt does it again. When I picked up The Court of the Air, I never thought I was also picking up a new favorite author. Hunt once again shows his love for proto-sf in this yarn. The Rise of the Iron Moon is part War of the Worlds, part First Men on the Moon, a little of John Carter of Mars, with a dash of King Arthur thrown in. The invaders, the slats and their overseers, are disgusting and appropriately fearsome. You know things are going to be bad when The Court of the Air gets their collective asses handed to them.

It was good to see all the old favorites in action again, both from Kingdom Beyond the Waves and The Court of the Air. Molly, Oliver, and of course Old Blackie. Purity Drake was a bit of a cliche but you can't fault Hunt too much for that, not when the story is a page-turner brimming with ideas. The story takes a few unexpected turns, especially when everything goes horribly pear-shaped about 2/3rds of the way through.

This one is brimming with intresting ideas. Steampunk space travel, space elevators, bioengineered servants, a time singularity, all wrapped in a grand adventure straight out of H.G. Welles or Jules Verne.

There's so many good things I want to share about this book. The plot is top notch, revelations about the world of Jackals are well done, and the usual steampunkery is in fine form. Highly recommended but you would be best served to read the previous two volumes first.

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The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air (Jackelian #1)The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oliver Brooks, a boy altered by the feymist, has his life turned upside down when his uncle is killed and he's framed for murder. Molly Templar escapes murder at the brothel where she was being trained, only to find her orphanage home the scene of a massacre and quickly figures out she was the real target. What bonds these two orphans together and what does the mysterious Court of the Air have to do with things?

Court of the Air was definitely worth my seven bucks. It's full of action and twists. Steampulp would be a good word for it. The world is by far the best part. The Kingdom of Jakals is a steampunk version of London patrolled by a navy of aerostats and policed by the worldsingers, a wizard-ish army that has penny-dreadfuls depicting

their adventures. The people that police the police are the Court of the Air and their Wolftakers. Cool concepts, right? How about the feymist, a cloud of gas that mutates people? Or the steammen, intelligent steam-powered robots? Or a sleeping race of insectile gods? The final battle was one of my favorites since Stormbringer and the Hood o'the marsh made me smile.

I liked this book but I really wanted to love it. Why didn't I? Too much going on. It was like being at the best buffet in the world and not being able to sample everything. A glossary would have been a big help. There was almost too much action and not enough exposition. While I hate that all fantasy stories seem to be trilogies these days, I would have really liked this one to be expanded and the pace slowed down just a bit. The story jumped from viewpoint to viewpoint so often it was disorienting.

All that being said, The Court of the Air has quite a bit going for it. It's suspenseful and jam packed with interesting concepts. It just overflows a bit at times.

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The Starman Omnibus, Volume 6

The Starman Omnibus, Vol. 6The Starman Omnibus, Vol. 6 by James Dale Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jack Knight returns from his space voyage to find most of his friends missing, all clues pointing toward the Shade. A shadowy dome locks Opal City in perpetual darkness and Starman's rogues gallery is ready to destroy Opal. Can Jack stop them and save his friends?

First off, this is my third trip through the Starman saga and it's just as powerful as it was the first time. One of the comics contained within is the only comic that every jerked a tear out of me. As I say every time I talk about Starman, this isn't your average superhero comic. It's about the Starman legacy, stepping into your father's shoes and doing your best to fill them, and about giving your parents their respect. This volume is chock full of touching moments, between Jack and his father, the O'Dares, and others. It's really emotional considering superhero comics usually just feature guys in spandex punching each other.

Robinson dragged back nearly every villain and supporting cast member for this outing, even adding some new ones in the process. The O'Dares, Bobo Benetti, Sadie, Mikaal, the Black Pirate, the original Mist, the current Mist, they're all in, as well as Elongated Man and his wife, Adam Strange, Hamilton Drew, Black Condor, Phantom Lady, Superman, and most of the Justice Society. What can I say? The end of the Starman saga reads like James Robinson thought it might be his last hurrah as well and he pulled out all the stops.

There's not a hell of a lot I can say about the story except that most of the loose ends get tied up, even Jack's tryst with the Mist and the much heralded tale of the Starman of 1951. Characters die, others change irrevocably. When the dust settles, you know it's the end, and quite a satisfying end at that.

Before I wrap this up, I'll go into what this book contains that wasn't in the original trades. There are Times Past issues that didn't make the cut, as well as The Blackest Night issue of Starman published last year, which can easily be ignored.

I'd better wrap this up so I can read the afterword again before I shelf the Starman saga for now. For my money, Starman was THE superhero comic to read in the 1990's and the series of six omnibuses is the best way to enjoy it. I can't recommend the series enough.

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Doom Patrol, Book 3: Down Paradise Way

Doom Patrol, Book 3: Down Paradise WayDoom Patrol, Book 3: Down Paradise Way by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., a sort of normalcy police, are guided by the most normal man in the world on a quest to destroy Danny the Street, a travelling sentient piece of road who is also a transvestite. Can the Doom Patrol stop them? Where does Flex Mentallo fit into things and where has he been since 1958? And in the second half, Rhea finally wakes from her coma and the Doom Patrol goes to another world to end a war between two alien races. Robotman gets ripped in half and ends up with a spidery lower half. Can the Doom Patrol get the job done and get back home?

In my review for volume two, I said the weirdness knob must have broken off and rolled under the fridge. Well, the broken stem of the knob must still be able to be turned because volume three is even stranger. Rebis has more lines in this one and actually provides a lot of the humor. Robotman continues to feel out of his comfort zone where the weirdness is concerned and provides a little normalcy. Comparatively speaking, of course.

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Doom Patrol, Book 2: The Painting That Ate Paris

Doom Patrol, Book 2: The Painting That Ate ParisDoom Patrol, Book 2: The Painting That Ate Paris by Grant Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second volume of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol run is when the weirdness gets dialed up to eleven and then the knob breaks off and rolls under the fridge. First up are Mr. Nobody and the Brotherhood of Dada on their mad quest for the Painting that Ate Paris, a recursive structure that traps people within. After that, Robotman goes on a journey into Crazy Jane's psyche. The Cult of the unread book are next and finally, Robotman gets a new body, only to have the body gain a consciousness of its own before being attacked by The Brain and Mallah.

I'll say this, Morrison can ladle out the weirdness. I love that Robotman is the most normal member of the Doom Patrol. The villains introduced in this volume are very surreal but would still be right at home in the Doom Patrol's silver age run. While lots of interesting things happened, my favorite would have to be the kiss between Monsieur Mallah and The Brain. Out of curiousity, is it gay if a talking male gorilla kisses a robot that houses a man's brain?

Great stuff from Morrison. I'm looking forward to the next volume.

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Doom Patrol, Book 1: Crawling From the Wreckage

Doom Patrol, Book 1: Crawling From the WreckageDoom Patrol, Book 1: Crawling From the Wreckage by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I've reviewed Showcase

Presents Doom Patrol Volume 1
and Umbrella Academy Volume 1 recently, I thought I'd give the series that fills the gap (of sorts) between them a try, Grant Morrison's renowned Doom Patrol run.

The book starts with Robotman in a mental institution after the Patrol's recent hardships. Robotman meets Crazy Jane, a woman with 64 personalities, each with a different super power. Meanwhile, Negative Man undergoes a bizarre transformation when the Negative Spirit merges with his body and with that of his doctor, an African American female doctor, to form Rebis. As Caulder rebuilds the Doom Patrol, chaos ensues when a fictional reality encroaches on ours and the Scissormen invade. The second story is much stranger than the first. The Doom Patrol encounters Red Jack, a psychotic butterfly torturer that lives in an unescapable house with no windows. He proceeds to hand the Doom Patrol's asses to them.

The weirdness starts as a trickle and quickly becomes a torrent. While this first volume certainly isn't the weirdest of Morrison's run, it's definitly up there with the silver age series. Rebis is one of the more original characters in comics, though I do miss Negative Man a bit. The thing I like most is that while it's a strange book, it's not that much different than the first series. The Doom Patrol are fairly dysfunctional but still act as a family. It's odd that Robotman is the Patrol's most normal member. And why does Robotman wear clothes anyway?

I'd recommend this to fans of odd comics and also fans of the new weird. The Doom Patrol's surreal enemies and the bizarre locales they inhabit should appeal to them.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Showcase Presents: Doom Patrol, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Doom Patrol, Vol. 1 (Showcase Presents)Showcase Presents: Doom Patrol, Vol. 1 by Arnold Drake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first encounters with the Doom Patrol were years after they had a title and Robotman was guest starring in New Teen Titans. From there, I jumped on Grant Morrison's run on their new series but I never bothered to track down any of the original material. Until now.

The Doom Patrol is comprised of Robotman, a human brain inside a robot body, Elasti-Girl, a former actress who can grow and shrink at will, and Negative Man, a former pilot who can project a body composed of radio waves from his body. Their leader is The Chief, a wheelchair bound scientist from another world.

The first thing I noticed was that the Doom Patrol has to be the Marvel-iest DC series produced during the silver age. Instead of straight up super heroes, the Doom Patrol are a team of bickering misfits whose identities are publicly known. Their dynamic is a bit Fantastic Four-ish. Robotman fills the role The Thing does in the FF, Negative Man the Human Torch, and Elasti-Girl is the peacemaker, ala the Invisible Woman. The weirdest part of their dynamic is the bizarre love(?) triangle between Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, and Robotman.

I was a little surprised that weirdness was with the Doom Patrol even in its younger days. The Chief had the world's largest set of goggles and an air tank built for Elasti-Girl. One of the Doom Patrol's enemies is a brain in a jar called The Brain. Another is Monseur Mallah, a french speaking ape. Crazy stuff.

The art is a notch above other books produced at the time. I'm surprised more people don't talk about Bruno Premiani as a gem of the Silver Age. The only person I've seen mention him is Michael Allred of Madman fame. The stories are less cheesy than a lot of stuff DC and Marvel were putting out at the same time.

Showcase Presents the Doom Patrol is a must have for fans of the Doom Patrol and it will fit comfortable in any budget due to the affordability of the Showcase line.

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Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds

Final Crisis: Legion of Three WorldsFinal Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds by Geoff Johns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superboy-Prime arrives in the 31st century and quickly continues his vendetta against Superman and his legacy, busting the hundreds of villains out of Takron Galtos, and storming Earth with the Legion of Super-Villians. Superman arrives in the 31st century to join the Legion of Super Heroes in their time of need. Will even the help of two parallel universe Legions be enough to stop Superboy-Prime?

As I said in my review of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion was one of my favorites 25 or so years ago when I started reading comics so this one was a no-brainer for me. It has a lot of good things going for it. George Perez's art is fanastic. The man keeps getting better with age. Sure, the stroke he had a few years ago slowed him down but the quality is still there. Geoff Johns's writing is also a positive, although it's a bit more fanboy-ish than it normally is. Superboy-Prime is the villain you love to hate and the body count is high.

What didn't I like about it? For one thing, I didn't care about the alternate Legionaires very much so their deaths didn't have much of an impact on me. Superman was in the background for a great portion of the story. There was so much going on it was a little hard to keep track of.

Aside from those minor gripes, this is the Legion of Super Heroes book to get. The art is great, the story is good, and I got fanboy goosebumps when the Green Lantern oath was uttered by the last GL. If you liked Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes, you'll like this.

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Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Superman and the Legion of Super-HeroesSuperman and the Legion of Super-Heroes by Geoff Johns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Way back in the day, the only place I ever got comics was right off the rack in the drug store. A chance purchase in the second grade made me switch my super hero loyalties from Batman & Robin to the Legion of Super Heroes. I don't remember the number of the issue, but it was somewhere in the 320's or 330's of Tales, the one where they find out the Dark Circle is really a crap ton of clones. How could a kid not like a super hero team composed of kids in the future? From there, I grabbed the Legion where ever I could find it, up until the last issue of Tales of the Legion.

Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes brings back fond memories of that time. Superman takes a Time Sphere to the 31st century where Earth has become xenophobic, the Legion are outlaws, and Superman's legend has been perverted by Earth-Man. To top it off, the sun has gone red. Superman teams with what's left of the Legion and goes about setting things right, all with the prospect of an intergalactic war looming in the background.

Geoff Johns shows why he's the most consistently good writer in comics today in this one. There are nods to the past without wallowing in it, the characters are consistent with their past incarnations (ie the Levitz/Giffen era Legion), and the story goes pretty smoothly. When the sun went back to yellow and Superman regained his powers and took the fight to Earth-Man, I felt like a kid again. I must have been grinning like a jackass. Gary Frank's art suited the story perfectly, detailed but not overwhelmingly so.

For fans of the silver age of DC comics, this is one not to miss.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Crime Studio

The Crime StudioThe Crime Studio by Steve Aylett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Crime Studio is a collection of absurd and hilarious crime stories set in the city of Beerlight.

How does one go about reviewing a collection of short stories, most of which are four pages long or less? Should I talk about Brute Parker, the owner of an all night gun shop? Or Billy Panacea, ace burglar? Or Tony Endless, the pet thief? Or the mayor, Charlie Hiatus? Or the rotund police chief, Henry Blince? Or sleazy lawyer, Harpoon Spector? Eh, I'll just compare it to P.G. Wodehouse and be on my way.

The Crime Studio is a riotous collection of crime tales. If P.G. Wodehouse wrote about hardened criminals in a cesspool like Beerlight instead of the idle rich, this would be the book he would write. It's full of hilarious puns, sarcasm, and absurd situations. The language is by far the star of the show. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:

When Billy came by the next morning to dispose of the head he was as happy as a dog in a sidecar.

"But I'm innocent you nasty man!" shouted Mrs. Devlin.
"Where? On candy planet?"

The first person to call her Sally the Gat was shot at such close range the cops drew a chalk body-outline on the ceiling.

There are plenty more hilarious bits where that came from. The Crime Studio should appeal to crime fans, Wodehouse fans, and bizarro fans alike. If you're in the mood for something hilarious, you can't go wrong with The Crime Studio.

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Questions I asked Lawrence Block on Goodreads.

Lawrence Block, one of my literary heroes, recently did a Q&A on Goodreads.  Here are the Questions I asked him and their answers.  Traffic was fairly light so I got to ask quite a few.

Hey Mr. Block. A Drop of the Hard Stuff was great. Any chance Mick Ballou will tell Matt a story during one of their late nights? 

Ha! An interesting thought, Dan. Very interesting indeed. 

Was the relationship between Keller and Dot influenced by the relationship between P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster? 

No, not at all. 

I've read Telling Lies for Fun and Profit and Spin me a Web, Spider, and enjoyed both, not only for the writing tips but the anecdotes as well. Any chance of an autobiography in the future? 

Yes, in a way, and in the very near future. I recently readied 40+ books for a new life as Open Road ebooks, and for each of them I wrote an afterword of 1000-2500 words, sometimes about the book, often more about the circumstances in my own life when the book was written. I got very candid in some of those pieces, wrote about things I never expected to share with the world. By the time I was done, I realized I'd written a piecemeal memoir of my life as a writer. I talked to the folks at Open Road, and we're putting all those afterwords together, along with some other intros I'd done---for the Tanner series and the Ehrengraf stories, etc. And the result is a pretty hefty book, which we'll call AFTERTHOUGHTS, and which we'll make available soon at a bargain-basement price, probably 99¢. 

What was the best book you've read in the past six months? 

Oh dear. Much as I hate to say anything good about the work of another living writer, I have to say it's THE INFORMANT, by Thomas Perry. And that, I must say, is the very last who-do-i-like-what-have-i-read-what-do-i-think-of question I will respond to. Period.

Which of the Lou Largo books did you have a hand in writing?  

I completed one for which William Ard wrote a couple of chapters and an outline. I recall the title as Babes in the Woods, but online sources show it as Babe in the Woods. Doesn't matter. It wasn't any good.

When you write a Matthew Scudder book, do you skim the older books as needed to keep the details of Matt's past consistent or do you have some sort of Scudder cheat sheet?  

In TV series they call it a bible—a record for everything established for the various characters, etc. I don't have anything like that. I check when I need to. My memory for what I've written is usually pretty good.

In regard to the Hard Case Crime series, who chose which of your books to reprint, you or the fine folks at Hard Case? On a side note, I think Deadly Honeymoon would make a fine Hard Case novel.
Dan, the decisions were arrived at mutually. I agree with you about Deadly Honeymoon; After the First Death would also fit their list nicely. We held back those books that had been in paperback fairly recently, but someday Hard Case may see fit to do them.