Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: JLA: Earth 2

JLA: Earth 2 JLA: Earth 2 by Grant Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rocket crashes in the countryside and out climbs... Lex Luthor? Alexander Luthor hails from the anti-matter universe and implores the Justice League to help him overthrow their evil selves. Can the JLA stop their most powerful foes to date?

Remember the mirror universe episode of Star Trek where Spock had the goatee? Earth 2 is the super hero version of that, after a fashion. It reads a little like Squadron Supreme in that the evil versions of the JLA have set themselves up as the rules of the anti-matter Earth.

Superman becomes Ultraman, a tyrant empowered by Kryptonite
Batman becomes Owlman, Thomas Wayne Junior who starts a life of crime after seeing his mother and brother gunned down.
Wonder Woman becomes Superwoman, a sadistic sexy Amazon.
Flash becomes Johnny Quick, who gets his super powers from an addictive drug.
Green Lantern becomes Power Ring, a coward with a ring that controls him.

Aquaman and Martian Manhunter stay behind on Earth so they conveniently don't have counterparts.

The story is pretty standard super hero fare, although Morrison turns the dial up a few notches. While Green Lantern extraordinaire Kyle Rayner holds the Syndicate hostage, the rest of the JLA work to undo the evil the Syndicate has wrought. When the Syndicate escapes and makes its way to the JLA's Earth, the carnage goes off the chart.

For the most part, it's a lot of mindless superhero fun on a grand scale. While I thought the logic went off the rails at times, I loved when the main villain was revealed. The contrast between the Crime Syndicate and the Justice League was nicely done. I'd read an Owlman/Superwoman book.

While the logic of the story falls apart at the end, it was still entertaining for what it was. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 by Stan Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange contains the Doctor Strange stories from Strange Tales #110-111, 114-141 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Since there's a Doctor Strange movie in the works starring Benedict Cumberbatch, I decided it was time to read the original Doctor Strange stories, since most of my previous Doctor Strange exposure was from the 1990s Doctor Strange series and the various times he guest starred in other titles.

For those of us who don't know, Doctor Strange was an uncaring, egotistical surgeon until a car accident damaged the nerves in his hands, leaving him unable to perform further operations. A distraught Doctor Strange makes his way to the Himalayas and meets the Ancient One, his first step toward redemption and his role of Sorcerer Supreme.

Most of these stories are only 8-10 pages long and, by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, are they formulaic. The template goes as follows: A foe of Doctor Strange's, usually Baron Mordo, hatches a scheme. Doctor Strange assumes his ectoplasmic form and uses his amulet to save the day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The book really shines once Strange is given more pages and Ditko settles into his rhythm. It's very interesting to see Ditko's art evolve as the series progresses. The stories become more and more complex, spanning over a year of issues. The story that beings with the The Defeat of Doctor Strange and evolves into the quest for Eternity must have been something to read as the monthly installments trickled out.

A lot of key elements of the Doctor Strange mythos are introduced, namely Doctor Stephen Strange, Baron Mordo, The Ancient One, Dormammu, and Clea, although she doesn't yet have a name in this volume. This is a 50 year old comic so I'm unable to judge it by today's standards. Stan Lee's writing is pretty hokey, though I love his repeated mentions of Hoggoth, Raggador, Cyttorak, and Dormammu. The Dread Dormammu, in particular, because he eventually becomes Doctor Strange's main foe.

The art pretty sweet, though. Steve Ditko depicts the various realms is blazing, psychedelic form. I can totally see why these stories are so well-regarded art wise. The Mindless Ones and the Dread Dormammu are very cool and the otherworldly landscapes are truly something to behold, a crazy panorama of vivid colors and bizarre shapes.

For its place in comics history, the crazy concepts, and the psychedelic Ditko art, I'm giving this four out of five stars. The Stan Lee writing isn't without its charms in a Silver Age kind of way but has definitely not stood the test of time and I'd grade the collection much harder if I took that under consideration.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: Red Dwarf RPG

Red Dwarf RPG Red Dwarf RPG by Todd Downing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession Time: There was a point in my life when Red Dwarf was unquestionably my favorite show. I've seen every episodes, some at least ten times. Way back in 2003, I chanced upon this at the Fantasy Shop and snapped it up. After all, there isn't much Red Dwarf merchandise to be found on this side of the pond, especially in those days. However, I never read it from cover to cover until now. My gaming group was strictly Dungeons and Dragons and I couldn't get them interested.

This is a pretty slick little RPG. The system is very simple and I fairly confident I could run a game after just skimming the rules. As the book says several times, the system is there to support the setting, not vice versa. Add your skill number and the relevant attribute and roll under that number using 2d6. Easy peasy.

Beyond the streamlined rules, the book contains stats for damn near every character, device, and ship seen on the show, even Talky Toaster. There are Mad-Lib like tables for whipping up adventures and all sorts of random adventure aids. The player options are fairly broad. Besides human, you can play an evolved pet, wax droid, simulant, hologram, Kinatawawi, Pleasure GELF, and various mechanoids.

The writing is really clear, which is awesome since most RPGs read like stereo instructions written in an alien language. It's also peppered with quotes from the show and dry British wit, making it easily the funniest RPG manual ever written.

I still probably won't find a group to play Red Dwarf with but based on the manual, I'm giving it four out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Review: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is the story of Marvel Comics, from its beginnings in the late thirties until fairly recently, with all the highs and lows in between.

Confession Time: For most of my life, I've been a comic book fan. I've got around 2000 of them in boxes in my nerd cave and have numerous super hero shirts.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was a very gripping read for me. I read the sanitized version of some of the events in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics but I wasn't completely prepared for some of the things I learned.

The story starts with Martin Goodman cashing in on the comic book craze but really gets interesting when he hires his nephew, a kid named Stan Lee, to do some editing. Once Joe Simon and Jack Kirby create Captain America, things kick into high gear until the 50's, when Seduction of the Innocent nearly kills the industry. Things circle the drain until a fateful golf game with the head of DC comics prompts Goodman to order Lee to create a team of superheroes. The Fantastic Four is created and the Marvel Age of comics kicks into full swing.

The book covers a lot of behind the scenes info, like creators getting fucked out of royalties and original art. Anyone who's into comics has probably heard about that. The things I didn't know about, like a bunch of guys being into drugs, DC and Marvel negotiating for Marvel to license some DC characters, and what a tyrant Jim Shooter was, were much more interesting. It must have been maddening to work with Shooter after Secret Wars.

While it might be boring for some, I found the inner workings of Marvel when it was being bought and sold several times in rapid succession to be fascinating. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of The Death of WCW. How could people be handed the golden ticket only to wipe their asses with it?

Jim Shooter seemed like a dictator but I think Tom DeFalco's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks strategy played a bigger part to the near death experience the comics industry suffered in the 90's. Also, Stan Lee seems even more like a hack and a tool than he did before I read the book.

Speaking of the 1990s, Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefield come of as huge pieces of crap. I think we're all quite lucky Marvel survived the black hole of the 1990's comic market. It's crazy to think how many half-brain dead tyrants Marvel had at the helm before Quesada and Palmiotti finally turned things around.

For a lifelong comic nerd, this book was one hell of a read. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition by Paul Levitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Legion of Super-Heroes suffers a series of setbacks, leaving them vulnerable. When a mysterious manipulator sends his powerful servants to retrieve magical artifacts, the Legion heads for the fight of their lives...

Confession time: When I was in the second grade, one of my favorite comics was Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes. What kid wouldn't like a team of 50(!) super-powered teenagers from various planets in the 30th century. The Great Darkness Saga has been on my radar for years, as it is cited as one of the greatest super-hero comics of the 1980's. Did it live up to the hype?

First, some caveats. This is very much a 1980s comic. There is an over-abundance of cluttered word balloons, the writing is simplistic, and the characters are a bit on the thin side. Much like an X-Men trade I read a few years ago, the cover of this one spoils who the villain is, which I would have liked to have pieced together alongside Brainiac 5. Way to ruin the surprise, DC!

However, this is a pretty epic tale, especially for the time period. The mystery villain is gathering his strength after a thousand year sleep and has some big plans in the works. The Legion is in disarray after a series of setbacks, involving the return of Computo, Khunds, Legionnaires retiring, and a lot of other stuff and the when the apocalyptic scheme goes into place, it's a wonder anyone survives.

Since DC has gone to the "dark side" in recent years, I'm surprised they haven't scavenged the main villain's plot for one of their company-wide, momentum-killing crossovers yet. A planet full of pissed off Superman-level people under the thrall of an all-powerful menace threatening damn near everything seems like money in the bank to me.

All gripes aside, The Great Darkness Saga was a trip down memory lane, a reminder of innocent times and what made me like the Legion in the first place. All of my old favorites were in attendance: Wildfire, Mon-El, UltraBoy, Braniac 5, even Matter Eater Lad, whose super powers I appreciate much more as I approach 40. Did my brain conveniently forget UltraBoy always announcing which of his powers he was using? Note to those unfamiliar to the Legion: UltraBoy had all the powers of Superman but he could only use one at a time.

While it wasn't my favorite 1980s comic storyline and seems a little hokey by today's standards, it was damn good for its time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Review: 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects

21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects by Steve Stack
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the title indicates, 21st Century Dodos is a collection of common objects and concepts heading toward extinction.

This was a pretty short book and I don't have a whole lot to say about it. It contains humorous entries about VHS, Betamax, rotary telephones, pipes, typewriters, various extinct candies and countries, telegrams, and other subjects, most notably that white dog poop from the 1970s and 80s you don't see much of anymore.

21st Century Dodos is very much a British book. There were quite a few entries that I had no idea what was being discussed. That being said, I still found it pretty interesting and amusing. 3 out of 5 stars and well worth 99 cents.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review: Indian Country Noir

Indian Country Noir Indian Country Noir by Sarah Cortez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Indian Country Noir is a collection of noir tales focusing on Native Americans.

Helper: As two men are coming for him, Indian Charlie remembers the past deeds that brought them to him. This story starts the collection with some action and dirty deeds. Good stuff.

Osprey Lake: On the run after a hold up, Don and Heather hole up in a secluded cabin built on a sacred hill. I could feel the biting cold while reading this. I felt bad for Heather as the situation unfolded.

Dead Medicine Snake Woman: A former marine sees a woman thrown off a subway platform and tries to help. But does the woman really exist? This was an interesting tale but I'm not precisely sure what happened. Was it a tale of a man fighting a monster or fighting the monsters inside himself?

Indian Time: Fred, an Indian man, gets time with his kids for the first time in two years. He and his girlfriend teach them about their heritage. This was an emotional tale with a great ending.

On Drowning Pond: A homeless woman drowns in a pond under suspicious circumstances. In the years following, numerous men are found dead under similar conditions. This one was pretty spooky and illuminates the plight of Native American alcoholics.

Daddy's Girl: Daniel Carson is hired to track down a missing girl and retrieve some stolen money. Will he bring her back alive?

This one was a fairly standard PI tale with a Native American lead. The ending surprised the shit out of me.

The Raven and the Wolf: Detective John Raven Beau is hunting for the killer of a cop, a man calling himself The Wolf.

This one reminded me of the last one, only the Native American lead is a cop, not a PI. So far, The Raven and the Wolf is neck and neck with Daddy's Girl as the best story in the book.

Juracan: Papo goes to Puerto Rico for a wedding and gets entangled in sinister dealings involving the Taino, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico.

This one was long and convoluted. I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it. The Taino culture was interesting, though. A deposed drug dealer forces a PI to create a new identity for her in exchange for a list of meth dealers on all Indian reservations.

This one had some twists and turns. The ending was pretty sweet.

Lame Elk: After a beating during a drunken bender, a man offers Lame Elk a chance to turn his life around.

This was a touching, depressing tale about an alcoholic not really being given a chance to make things right.

Another Role: Washed up Indian actor Harry Garson gets tapped to play the role of a lifetime. But is it too good to be true?

Yes, yes it was. Another Role was a tale of double and triple crosses. Pretty good.

Getting Lucky: Lucretia "Lucky" Eagle Feather meets a gambler in an Indian reservation casino in Michigan. Will he get Lucky?

Lawrence Block penned this tale and it's one of the stars of the show. There's some kink and a great twist ending, as befits the master.

Prowling Wolves: Ira Hayes struggles with drink and flashbacks after Iwo Jima.

This was a pretty powerful tale.

Quilt like a Night Sky: Boone Lone Rider finally comes home.

Geez, this was a dark note to end the anthology on. Another story of a Native American laid low by substance abuse.

End Thoughts: I thought this collection was much better than the last Akashic Noir book I read, Prison Noir. The best stories of the collection, in my opinion, were Getting Lucky, Daddy's Girl, and The Raven and the Wolf. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Review: The Bohemian Guide to Monogamy

The Bohemian Guide to Monogamy The Bohemian Guide to Monogamy by Andrew Armacost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Bohemian Guide to Monogamy is a collection of short stories, linked together by the frame story of a writer typing away while ignoring his pregnant wife in a cafe. All the stories deal with lust being replaced with commitment in some way. Here are a couple.

Superman Finds His Smile: After Lois and Superman break up, Aquaman talks the man of steel into going to Thailand to forget his troubles. Will Superman be able to escape the web of sex and alcohol, with Chai Lai, a sexy waitress, at the center of the web?

When a story involves Superman and hookers, you know it's going to be hilarious. That's pretty much all I need to say.

Another Lame Hospital Drama from the 90's: Police Officer Brad Pitt's wife, Brittney, goes into labor and they rush to the hospital. Can Doctor Clooney and Nurse Leonardo DiCaprio deliver the baby and save Brittney's life after she experiences complications?

This tale was just as funny as the first, involving comically gruesome child birth and some uncomfortable moments between Clooney and DiCaprio.

Some of the other stories are hard to take. Some of them are nested within each other like Matryoshka doll. They were all fairly interesting, though I didn't care for portions that were written like plays, passed notes, or emails. Three out of five stars.

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Review: Great White House 2: Billary Bites Back

Great White House 2: Billary Bites Back Great White House 2: Billary Bites Back by Christoph Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genetically modified great white sharks have decimated Congress and Hillary Clinton is now the president. Can even DMX help her get to Trump Island and stop the sharks once and for all?

Arthur Graham said this book was easily three times as crazy as Great White House and he was speaking the truth. Great White House 2 features billionaires hunting people for sport, cyborg sharks of the singularity, and Alexis Texas, among other things.

Chaos would be a great way to describe this book. There aren't a lot of books featuring Larry David that also contain references to the Predator movies and Hellraiser, not to mention human on shark sex.

As with the previous book, Graham and Paul do a good job capturing the voices of the politicians and celebrities they are lampooning. I did miss their Obama but Trump and the rest of the baddies made up for it. Things got really crazy near the end, kind of like witnessing a train wreck, a plane crash, and some kind of eating contest simultaneously.

3.5 out of five stars. I could really go for one of those pastrami-cream cheese omelets right now.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Miracleman, by Gaiman & Buckingham, Book One: The Golden Age

Miracleman, by Gaiman & Buckingham, Book One: The Golden AgeMiracleman, by Gaiman & Buckingham, Book One: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

People struggle to live in the utopia Miracleman and Miraclewoman have created.

The Golden Age is a collection of single issue stories, slice of life tales set in the world Miracleman and Miraclewoman have created. While well-written, not a hell of a lot actually happens.

It pains me to rate something Neil Gaiman wrote less than a four but The Golden Age is pretty boring. Parts of it read like a trial run for things he later made magical with The Sandman. Buckingham's art also feels like a prelude to greater things. I will say that The Golden Age feels a lot more polished and less dated than in places than Alan Moore's take on things earlier in the series.

I respect The Golden Age's place in the Miracleman pantheon but I can't muster a whole lot of enthusiasm for ever reading it again. Three out of five stars but it really had to work for them.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Review: Rear Window

Rear Window Rear Window by Cornell Woolrich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A man with a broken leg notices a neighbor's wife seems to have gone missing. Is she in the hospital, out of town, or dead?

When a man ain’t got nothing to do but just sit all day, he sure can
think up the blamest things—

Most of us know the basic plot of Rear Window, even if we haven't seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie. The plot has been parodied on The Simpsons, ALF, Family Guy, and probably a hundred other places. Some peeping Tom sees something and jumps to all sorts of conclusions.

Hal Jeffries can't seem to keep his nose out of his neighbors' business and things start to unravel. Why won't anyone believe him? Is he going crazy? Woolrich keeps you guessing right up until the end.

It's a quick read and pretty suspenseful, if a little dated. 3.5 out of five stars. It can be read for free here:

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Review: Prison Noir

Prison Noir Prison Noir by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prison Noir is a collection of tales written by people who are or were prison inmates.

Shuffle: Shuffle is a short tale about a man in a segregated unit who unexpectedly gets a new cellmate. It's a tale of isolation, both forced and by choice.

I Saw An Angel: A woman with only six days until parole struggles to make the right decisions. Also, there's some smuggling of LSD into the prison via an orifice.

Bardos: When an old man dies just months shy of his release, another inmate ponders the nature of time and the Tibetan book of the dead. Of the first 20%, this one was easily my favorite. It's an interesting slice of prison life.

Trap: A first time inmate experiences jail and likens himself to a mouse on a glue trap. This one had some insight but I'm still waiting for a story with a little action in it.

A Message in the Breath of Allah: When he's convinced Allah isn't hearing his prayers, a prisoner finds another way to send Him his message. This story was pretty chilling and one of my favorites in the collection.

Tune-Up: An inmate tries to form a band with other inmates while avoiding the usual pitfalls of prison life. Another good story with a great ending.

Foxhole: An inmate learns that nothing is free in prison and winds up in the hole. This one was another of the good stories.

There will be seeds for next year: After a failed suicide attempt, an inmate returns to his usual routine. Shit, this was one powerful tale of hopelessness and broken dreams.

Immigrant Song: An illiterate immigrant flees trouble in Mexico, only to wind up in prison in Michigan. Another slice of prison life, this one with casual violence.

Rat's Ass: An inmate gets busted making prison wine and begs another inmate to help him get out of it. This was an interesting tale of eventually coming of age in prison.

Milk and Tea: A female inmate recounts the abusive relationship that led her to prison while talking about what prison does to a person. This was the best story in the collection so far.

Angel Eyes: A good-looking new fish gets targeted by Gorilla Black, a prison rapist. Things don't go as expected. This is the kind of story I've been waiting for since I bought the collection. Dark and brutal.

How eBay Nearly Killed Gary Bridgway: Mike's wife is nearly broke after he winds up in jail. Fortunately, the serial killer in the next cell's autograph goes for $400 on eBay. I didn't think there would be any funny stories in this collection but this one was fairly humorous.

3 Block From Hell: This is the tale of a prisoner who feels he's doing the world a favor when he kills other prisoners. It was one of the top stories in the book but contained an error. It was Violet who became a blueberry in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, not Veruca Salt.

The Investigation: Five inmates have to come clean about a murder. This one was a good note to end the collection on with it's talk of being a snitch and how no one sets out to spend decades of their life in prison.

End Thoughts: I picked this up for a buck ninety-nine and it was worth it. It wasn't quite like I thought. With the word 'noir' in the title, I expected more criminal acts and violence. It was still good, though. 3 Block From Hell, Milk and Tea, and Angeleyes were the best.

3.5 out of 5. I may have to give some of the other Akashic Noir books a look.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

14 Questions with Great White House Correspondent Arthur Graham!

Today's guest is Arthur Graham, co-author Great White House!

How did you get to this point? When I first heard your name, you were part of Bizarro Press and now you've got your name on the best book to feature sharks biting politicians in half.
By accident, really. When my old college buddy and I started publishing books six or seven years ago (first as Bizarro Press and later as Rooster Republic), it wasn't entirely clear what we were getting ourselves into — we just wanted to publish really weird shit and get paid for it if possible. Over the years we went from no-names to underdogs to real contenders in that scene, going on to publish Clown Tear Junkies and DangerRAMA, both of which made the final ballot for the Wonderland Book Award at BizarroCon 2014. That was the same convention where I met Christoph Paul, my coauthor on Great White House and its sequel, Billary Bites Back.

These days, I'm only peripherally involved with the Bizarro movement, Rooster Republic and its imprints (StrangeHouse and New Kink), but I still read, review, and edit a lot of Bizarro books, and I still submit things to those presses on occasion. All that said, I'm much happier as a free agent now.

What led to the collaboration between you and Christoph Paul?
As mentioned, we were at an industry event together. I was drunkenly chatting with Leza Cantoral (author of Planet Mermaid) when suddenly I felt this presence hovering nearby. I turned and there was Christoph. I think he might've been worried I was hitting on his girlfriend or something. Maybe I was; that whole weekend was kind of a blur...

Fast forward a year, and after I'd reviewed his Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks, we decided to work on a project together. That project wound up being a revised and expanded edition of the original Great White House, one of his earlier releases.

Christoph provides most of the raw materials (he's more of a Romantic in that sense) whereas I apply much of the fine tuning (taking more of a Classical approach). We seem to balance out our strengths and weaknesses in this way, just complementing the fuck out of each other's work. We forged the same kind of alliance on Billary Bites Back, which is easily three times more insane than the first book.

Is the 2016 election the biggest shit show you've ever seen?
To be honest, I don't follow the debates that close, and I absolutely refuse to engage with any media that might result in significant exposure to campaign ads. Also, I'm not on Facebook, so this spares me the reverberations of that whole echo chamber.

As I understand it, the country's in rough shape right now. People are angry all around and hardly anyone seems to have any good, workable solutions. We've sunk to some new lows as a nation in recent times, and our current political climate reflects this fact.

At the end of the day, people just need to relax and remind themselves that the Presidency isn't the most important office in the land. You don't get to be a serious contender on that level of American politics unless you've already been bought and paid for by the powers that be. It's much more important to vote for your state representatives, because these are the people who make your laws, and if enough states abolish slavery, legalize gay marriage, decriminalize drugs, etc, historically the federal government eventually follows suit.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm gonna vote for the guy or anything, but there's a perverse part of me that kinda-sorta REALLY wants to see Trump as President. If he actually does wind up being our Hitler, like SO many people are saying he will, then I guess the upshot is that we might have something resembling a modern democracy (à la Germany) before the close of the century. Sometimes, things can't get better until they get worse. Much, MUCH worse.

What was the genesis of Great White House?
Speaking for myself (Christoph might tell you something different), I have this love/hate relationship with the political sphere, which is equal parts fascinating and frustrating for me. Politically I'm very liberal, but leaning more toward the social libertarian side of things. I willingly pay my taxes, but wish more of that money was spent on things like infrastructure and social services than bank bailouts and never-ending wars. I support responsible gun ownership, but not out of some fanatical fetishization of the 2nd Amendment or anything like that. In other words, I'm neither liberal enough for the Liberals nor conservative enough for the Conservatives, and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seem to be doing much of anything to significantly improve the lives of average Americans. Quite to the contrary, in fact. Therefore, as a writer, feeding career politicians from both sides of the aisle to giant, ravenous sharks only seemed like the natural thing to do.

Can we expect the carnage level to get bumped up a couple notches in Great White House 2: Billary Bites Back?
Oh yes. Bet your ass.

Did you have to do much research on the politicians involved for the Great White House books? Also, you guys write a great Obama. 
What's fun about lampooning these public figures is that, for many of them, we didn't even have to try. Just put them in hypothetical situations, and the walking caricatures they've already created for themselves practically write the scenes for us. Sure, it pays to know a thing or two about policy and voting records, scandals and gaffes, things of that sort, but between Christoph and myself, we already had pretty much all the material we needed.

Thank you for the compliment on our Obama, but just wait until you read our Trump.

Who would win if Hillary Clinton fought Sarah Palin in a mud-wrestling match?
Tough to say. Clinton's got some height/weight and reach on her, but Palin would probably feel more comfortable wrestling in a bikini. Hillary's a bit older, but that might only make her more wily.

Who is your favorite author?
Charles Bukowski used to tell a story about this time he'd been invited to speak to a class of freshmen English students, and he got asked who his top three authors were.

"Charles Bukowski, Charles Bukowski, and Charles Bukowski" was his answer.

Of course, I'm no Charles Bukowski, but while he IS one of my own favorites, people tend to assume things about grown men who still idolize the guy, so I should probably think of some better alternatives.

Maybe some other time.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
I would say that both Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and the Red Night trilogy by William S. Burroughs were pretty instrumental in getting me to write my first published book, Editorial. You can definitely see the influences of both in there.

What is your favorite book of all time?
If I really had to pick just one book (or one series), I would have to say The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Never before and never since have I read anything so rich in humor and horror, myth and realism, spanning these and many other seeming opposites to create a staggering work of, well, just about everything. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but The Sandman really changed my life, and I'm not ashamed to brag that I was reading Gaiman BEFORE he went all mainstream. Not that he's bad now, or that there's anything wrong with all his YA stuff, but kids really gotta read The Sandman. That series is a fucking education on the meaning of life and the very nature of existence.

What are you reading now?
I'm catching up on my Pynchon and enjoying the underexposed/appreciated works of various indie/small press authors, including folks like Brian Alan Ellis, G. Arthur Brown, Leo X. Robertson, and Harry Whitewolf. Impatiently waiting for Jon Konrath and Douglas Hackle to put out something new.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
It is better to simply do than aspire too hard to be anything. When you "aspire" to be a writer instead of seriously just writing, you run the risk of becoming one of those writers who's more in love with the idea of being a writer than in actually finding your voice, honing your craft, etc. The best writers I've found are those who genuinely do it out of a sense of compulsion, not their aspirations for things like fame, fortune, etc.

What's next for Arthur Graham?
Now that Billary Bites Back has finally made it over the wall, it's back to the half-dozen or so stalled projects I always seem to have simmering on the back burner. Finishing up another one of my Japanese tanuki tales, the first of which was recently featured in Strange Sex 3. Beyond writing, the next big thing on the horizon for me is Days of the Dead Los Angeles (April 1-3), where Christoph and I will be promoting our Great White House series of comedy-horror novellas.

How do they cram all that Graham?
With a little patience, prep work, and lube as needed.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Review: Great White House

Great White House Great White House by Christoph Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The water level is rising in Washington DC and the Chinese are to blame. Meanwhile, PETA has released genetically modified great white sharks into the Potomac river and they're heading for the White House! Can President Obama and the rest of Congress find a way to pay off America's debt to the Chinese before they all become shark chow?

Great White House is Jaws meets C-Span and is just ridiculous as that elevator pitch sounds. The Chinese are holding Washington DC for ransom with a weather controlling matching and ravenous great whites that can live in fresh water. Can Obama set aside his differences with the conservative Senate and his paralyzing fear of sharks?

Christoph Paul and the mighty Arthur Graham do a great job melding political satire and wholesale carnage. Many politicos are bitten in half, or worse, in the process of staying above the rising water and figuring out which programs to cut in order to pay off America's debt to the Chinese.

The cliffhanger ending hits like a bullet to a tank of compressed air lodged in the mouth of a great white shark. Fortunately, the sequel, Great White House 2: Billary Bites Back, is already available. 3.5 out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review: The Ballad of Black Tom

The Ballad of Black Tom The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tommy Tester is a hustler, doing what he has to to make ends meet and support his ailing father. When he meets Robert Suydam, things will never be the same...

I've always been a bigger fan of things inspired by H.P. Lovecraft than the man's actual work. It's certainly been a good few months for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fiction for me. First, there was Carter & Lovecraft, then Lovecraft Country, and now this novella, the Ballad of Black Tom.

Victor LaValle has taken The Horror at Red Hook, called Lovecraft's most racist book by some, and turned it inside out.

Tommy Tester delivers a magical tome to an old woman, runs afoul of two detectives, and meets up with an old man bent on waking The Sleeping King from his dead and dreaming slumber. Needless to say, a lot happens in this slim book.

There was a viewpoint shift about halfway through. While I didn't think Malone was as interesting as Black Tom, the story couldn't have been told without him. LaValle does a fantastic job of capturing the Lovecraftian flavor of The Horror at Red Hook and makes it his own. I loved the ending of this book. Hell, I devoured the whole thing in one sitting.

4.5 out of 5 stars. I'll be watching Victor LaValle with great interest.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lovecraft Country is a collection of inter-connected stories about an extended African American family in the mid to late 1940's and their encounters with things not of this world, notably sorcerers, a gateway to another world, and a haunted house.

Holy. Shit. Lovecraft Country is an early front-runner for the best book I've read in 2016. Here's how it all went down.

Lovecraft Country is the story of the Green/Turner family, an African American family trying to make ends meet in the Jim Crow era. Matt Ruff does a great job of contrasting the cosmic horror of the Lovecraft mythos with the everyday horrors of racism and ignorance. I loved how each story used Lovecraft staples as a starting point and interjected a member or two of the Turner family.

The ages-long connection between the Turners and the Braithwaites was very well done. For an evil mastermind, Caleb Braithwaite was a well-drawn character, far from the scene chewing villain he could have been. The magic system was well done and true to the tale's Lovecraftian roots. The Turners were capable but not superhuman by any means.

Honestly, I can't think of anything bad to say about this book. It hit all the right buttons for me. It has the momentum of a collection of pulp yarns but the writing is far superior to most stories of this kind and the Jim Crow era setting and the well drawn characters set it several notches above most books of this type.

Five out of five stars. Good luck impressing me after this, next book.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Review: Entry Island

Entry Island Entry Island by Peter May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective Sime Mackenzie finds himself on a murder case on Entry Island, a tiny isle in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The suspect, a newly-widowed woman named Kirsty, seems oddly familiar to Sime. What is their connection? And can Sime survive in the same unit as his ex-wife long enough to find out?

I got this from Netgalley.

Entry Island was my first Peter May book and won't be the last. The book started a little slow for me at first but several things gripped me. I really liked Sime as a lead character. An insomniac cop whose life is falling apart? Sign me up! I also really liked the Entry Island setting. The thing that really grabbed me, however, was the book's structure. I loved the way things in Sime's ancestor's journal paralleled events in the main story.

The mystery wasn't all that mysterious but it wasn't the main focus anyway. Entry Island is very much a character driven book rather than a straight up mystery. The setting does a lot to set the tone, as does Sime's slowly disintegrating mental state.

It was nearly orgasmic when the connections starting coming together at the end. The last 30% was very hard to put down. Peter May has some serious writing chops. Even though I need another series to follow like I need a hole in my head, I'd read more stories about Sime Mackenzie.

So which Peter May book should I try next? Four out of five stars.

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