Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: The Rising and City of the Dead by Brian Keene

Before these two novels, I had read Keene's novels Gathering of Crows and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Both were enjoyable and made it obvious that Keen had a thing for mass havoc and the destroying the world. It's no surprise that his first novel was a zombie apocalypse novel. Quick disclaimers: The version of The Rising that I read is the original version from the now-defunct Dorchester Publishing. The version currently imprint from Deadite Press has a lot of extra material. Also, one of Deadite's editors sent me a review copy of City of the Dead. Now that that's out of the way...

The Rising

Jim Thurmond has managed to stave off the zombies that have taken over the Earth and hole himself up in a shelter. What he misses most is his son Danny, who is several states away with his ex-wife. When he gets a call from Danny and realizes he's still alive, he sets off to save his son. Along the way, he meets a preacher struggling to keep the faith, an ex-prostitute and junkie,a guilt-ridden scientist who had a hand in bringing the zombies to life, and a demented military officer.

The Rising is just a fun read. It's not hard to see why it won a Bram Stoker award for first novel. This is the kind first novel that signals the beginning of a long and fruitful career in horror writing.

In addition to being fun to read, Keene has a unique take on zombies. As well as being fast, the zombies are also intelligent enough to speak, use weapons, and organize. It's not just humans that come back as zombies either. Birds, dogs, bats, rats, and cats all come back from the dead as well. To make things worse for the human race, a body doesn't have to be bitten to become a zombie. Any corpse that dies comes back as a zombie. With all of these advantages on the zombies' side, it's very easy to believe they would quickly overwhelm humanity and cause societal collapse.

One of the stronger parts of The Rising is how well he balances the world at large with the lives of the individual characters. Given the unique zombies it would have been easy to get lost in the complexities of them and lose the human element altogether. Keene doesn't do that. There's enough back story to most of the characters to make them feel like more than pawns in the grand scheme of things. From the preacher Martin's attempts to figure out how zombies fit in with his concept of the divine, to Frankie the ex-whore kicking her heroin addiction, and of course Jim's determination to reach his son, The Rising is driven just as much by its characters. This said, one of the biggest flaws of the book (or at least the version I read) is that there are enough characters that they could have stood to be fleshed out a little a more. The sadistic Colonel Schow is almost kind of cartoony in how evil he acts.

The plot is actually fairly simple. In fact, the way Jim and the companions he meets on his journey go about, it feels rather episodic. This isn't a bad thing really. It gives us a chance to see this world of Keene's zombies from different perspectives, and it still manages to culminate in a fun climax. A lot of people were pissed off by the ending (which I won't spoil) when this first came out, but I personally think it was a ballsy move on Keene's part to give us this kind of ending. Either way, there was enough demand for a sequel that he eventually wrote one.

Buy The Rising Here

City of the Dead
(Warning: Spoilers for The Rising ahead)


Built to withstand almost anything, Ramsey Tower in the heart of New York City is humanity's last stronghold against the zombie forces. Ramsey, the corporate executive who owns the tower, is doing everything he can to round up survivors and bring them into the tower. Among one of the several rescued is Jim Thurmond, his son Danny, Danny's neighbor Don, and Frankie. Reunited with this son and his story of traveling across the zombie infested country to save him an inspiration to the other survivors, it seems like we've got our happy Hollywood ending. That is, until the zombies start to become more and more organized and double their efforts on attacking the Tower.

Like The Rising, City of the Dead is a fun page turner. In contrast to the previous book which had Jim and his friends running all over the ravaged countrysides and small towns of the east coast, this book takes place almost entirely in New York City. Specifically in the Ramsey tower. The atmosphere here is incredibly claustrophobic as a result. This doesn't make the book feel any smaller though. Keene gives enough detail to how the rest of the world is falling down to remind us we're in the middle of an apocalypse.

Like with The Rising, Keene introduces so many characters, he doesn't get a chance to properly flesh them all out. Don, the new member of Jim's crew, feels especially generic and like he doesn't get much to do. Also, while the moments between the reunited Jim and Danny are usually touching, there are a few times where it slips into bathos.

None of this detracts from the book too much. City of the Dead manages to continue Keene's zombie apocalypse story without succumbing to simply repeating the first book. In fact, City of the Dead could very well be read on its own.

I would highly recommend both The Rising and City of the Dead to fans of zombies and to fans of horror in general.

Buy City of the Dead here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III

Desdemona is the only girl on the cheerleading squad with a mohawk.
How can a novel with that opening line not be worth reading?

As Mellick himself says in the introduction, Apeshit is a love letter to B-grade horror films, especially slashers. The plot of the book self-consciously uses the extremely cliché set up of six teenagers going out to party in the woods. Bad shit happens. This being a Carlton Mellick novel, it's not the kind of bad shit you'd expect. 

It's kind of hard to talk about the plot in detail without going into too many spoilers. Mellick takes all of the tropes of slasher films and turns them on their heads. For one thing, the killer in Apeshit isn't even the one that draws first blood. That honor goes to one of the teenagers attempting suicide. In fact, most of the book is more about the teens dealing with their bizarre problems than with a killer after them. Problems like vagina dentana, abortion fetishism, AIDS, and sexually confused three-ways. 
Stephanie is in the van brushing her teeth. She always brushes her teeth whenever she's nervous. She has brushed her teeth five times today already. White foam is drooling out of her mouth onto her knees her mind is in another place.
Mellick's simple and straightforward prose makes this read almost like a script (appropriate given the main influences) and adds a layer of dead pan humor through the whole affair. As fucked up and gorey as the proceedings get, Apeshit never takes itself too seriously. The result is a great balance of humor, gore, melodrama, and even a little bit of pathos.
Jason's father wasn't afraid of anything. Not a single thing. It was his goal in life to make sure Jason was not afraid of anything, either. Whenever he learned of something Jason was afraid of, he would make him face that fear.
The biggest flaw I see in this is that people going in expecting a plot driven horror story are going to be disappointed. The plot is dead simple with all of the entertainment value coming from the characters and the fucked up shit that happens to them. And that they do. 

Apeshit is just a bloody good read and hard to put down even as gross and over the top as it gets. I'd highly recommend this to fans of horror fiction and to anyone wanting to dive head first into the Bizarro genre. Personally, I'm also looking forward to reading its just released sequel Clusterfuck.

Buy Apeshit here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: Son of a Bitch by Andre Duza and Wrath James White

It's October! Time to read some horror books.

First up, let's take a look at a brief but fun collaboration from Deadite Press. (Disclaimer: One of Deadite's editors sent me a review copy of this.)

Andre Duza and Wrath James White have so much common, both in their style (horror that tends towards the extreme and bizarre, often with elements of urban fiction) and in their personal lives (both are family men and have a background in martial arts), that a collaboration between the two seems almost too obvious. It's actually kind of surprising how short and straight-forward the end result turned out.

Demetrius is an underground breeder who breeds attack and fighting dogs. After he finds out one of his dogs is being used in Voodoo sex rituals, his conscience gets the better of him.
As soon as he heard what they were up to, he knew he had to get her back. He’d have never sold them the dog in the first place, no matter how much money they offered, if he’d known they were going to gang rape the damned thing.
When he gets the bitch back, he finds that she's pregnant. Soon, she gives birth to what is clearly not a normal puppy. The fact it tears apart and eats its mother being a pretty clear sign.
“Man, this shit can’t be happening. This mutherfucker can’t be real. I must have smoked some bad shit. Shit like this ain’t supposed to be!” His mind kept screaming at him. Yet there it sat, splashing around in the blood and entrails of its mother, purring and cooing contentedly.  
To make matters even worse, the dog demon ends up eating the heart of a sadistic hitman named Warlock. This causes Warlock's soul to be bound into the demon's body. Demetrius and Warlock set out to find a way to free his soul from the creature's body, but everything seems to go wrong along the way.

Son of a Bitch proves to be a real page turner. It's a sex and violence filled thrill ride with some very funny moments.
“I’m nasty? Yo, have you looked in the mirror lately? Your face looks like a Sloppy Joe.”

“That’s it. I’m killing your ass right now. I don’t care if I have to drive this mutherfucker with my damn paws!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll chill. Damn, don’t be so sensitive.”
Other than that, there's not much to say about it. It's a brief (less than 90 pages) but fun and satisfying read, but given what I had read from both authors before, I expected a little more. I feel like Duza and White could come up with something really brilliant if they did another collaboration and really aimed high. My other complaint with this book is the editing (though this just may be my review copy). While not egregiously bad, there is still a high ratio of errors to the length.

Still, if you want an entertaining book that reads like an urban Dead Alive-esque horror comedy, you should definitely pick up Son of a Bitch.

Buy Son of a Bitch here.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, edited by Davis Schneiderman

I really have mixed feelings on this one. Any anthology is inevitably going to be uneven (even if it's just due to subjective taste), especially when the category is as broad as "experimental" writing. So it is with The &Now Awards 2.

Just a couple disclaimers. I haven't read the first &Now Awards and this was sent to me as a review copy (thanks Lori!).

So let's start off with what I didn't like. One was pretty much all of the concrete poems in the book. Some, like Jack Collum's work, were okay. But the rest were just flat out uninteresting to me. Most of the ones in this book especially are more about art made from letters than poems with unusual typography. None even really worth a second glance.

Then there are the pieces in the work that were frankly just boring. For example, Joe Atkin's "BOXXY FOAR 4DD1@!!!!1!!" is nothing more than a transcript of a vlog by the internet celebrity Boxxy. The reasons behind the piece don't make it any better. Yes, I think we were all aware that Boxxy's appeal came from the fact that she was cute and energetic than from having anything of substance to say. We didn't need this pointless experiment to show how vapid internet culture can be.

Another is example is Gretchen E. Henderson's "Prelude from On Marvellous Things Heard". I can't really name anything immediately "wrong" with it. It just does nothing for me.

Henderson's piece also falls into the categories of pieces I simply didn't "get". Pieces like that one, the contribution of a group of writers called the Black Took Collective, and works based on math and computer programming like Nick Montfort's Letterformed Terrain? Just over my head. Were I less charitable reader, I'd be inclined to label them as academic masturbation.

Okay, I've bashed this book enough. Time to talk about the stuff I liked.

My favorite pieces in this book were Brian Evenson's two contributions. "Windeye" is a short but straight forward horror tale about two children discovering a mysterious window on the outside of their house that doesn't seem to be anywhere inside. "A History of the Human Voice" is a humorous story in which a scientist discovers the connection between the human voice and bees.
Indeed, as recently as the 1860s, certain elite circles on the continent are said to have augmented their speech with bees. 
Another favorite of mine was Roxane Gay's "I'm Going to Cook Our Dinner in My Easy Bake Oven and You're Going to Like It". This funny yet romantic piece is a breath of fresh air in an anthology which has too many writers that take themselves too seriously.
That's right. I'm going to cook dinner for us in my Easy Bake Oven. It's going to be delicious and fucking romantic. You're going to eat my Easy Bake Oven dinner and you're going to say it's the most amazing thing you've ever put in your mouth other than, perhaps, me.
A piece that surprised me in it's effectiveness was Kate Durdin's "Anna Nicole Show". Like Atkin's piece, this is also a transcript of a video. Specifically, the Anna Nicole Smith "clown" video. Each of the people in the video has their parts broken into their own page, removing the context of the exchange. This forces the reader to imagine the exchange on their own. The effect makes a disturbing video seem all the more disturbing.
MECHANICAL BABY: Mama. Mama. Waaah. Waaah. Waaah. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama
Chilling.

The flash fiction pieces by some of the more recognizable names in the book (Alissa Nutting, Amelia Gray) also work very well. Jennifer Karmin's aaaaaaaaaaalice is a fascinating libretto/score that I would love to see performed. The sample chapter of Elizabeth Gentry's forthcoming Housebound has me wanting to read the rest. JA Tyler's "The Gone Children They Said Tell Us a Story" is a sharp series of mini-fables. 

Given what I liked and didn't like about this book, I guess I'm more of a traditionalist than I thought. 

Overall, while I didn't like this collection as much as I thought I would the good stuff is still good enough to give this a recommendation. Just beware, you will come across work in this book you will not like. Even if you're the most adventurous reader out there.  

Buy The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review: eyeballs growing all over me ...again by Tony Rauch

The experience of reading the stories in Rauch's eyeballs growing all over me ...again is a lot like watching a "lighter" episode of The Twilight Zone. That's not to say they're all fluff. The stories play with a lot of science fiction tropes. Robots, time travel, things shrinking or growing by various means, and so forth are some of the fixations throughout the book. But almost all of them make an attempt at using these tropes to examine the human condition. Throughout these stories, there is a sense of longing, alienation, and being overwhelmed by the weight of the world.

For example, in "send krupac through the portal", the titular Krupac finds himself dumped by the woman he's in love with. When he can't win her back and he can't get over her, he turns to extreme means. With the help of some friends at a local science lab, he plans to send himself into an alternate dimension where he can still be with her.
I try everything in the book, and for the most part Margo puts up with it politely, telling me that maybe in another time, another place, we were meant to be together, but she just doesn’t feel it in the here and now. Not now. She just needs time, she says. Maybe in a little while. Maybe in the future. Maybe.
A sad story that combines both a child-like sense of wonder reminiscent of early science fiction works and the feelings of longing and heartache that are unfortunately far more familiar to many people.

Rauch seems to enjoy having children as his protagonists. Some stories, like "the sandbox", read almost like whimsical bedtime stories. Though not the strongest story in the collection, this isn't a bad thing. Rauch isn't afraid to put the children through some profound pain as well, such as in "the procedure". A young boy is woken up and informed by his mother that his sister had to be rushed to the hospital. They bring her home, and the boy discovers that she's had her head replaced with a goat's head. This seems to have robbed the girl of most of her humanity.
He leans in and tries to see into one of those little black garble eyes, but there is nothing behind them. There is nothing there at all. He only finds his dim little reflection floating as if lost in there, as if some tiny little someone is trapped way deep down inside there, trapped and struggling to get out.
Like many other Bizarro writers, Rauch is not without a sense of humor. "giant chicken menacing me from above" is exactly what the title says it is. A man finds himself being stalked by a giant chicken, never finding out where and when it came from or what it wants with him. He soon comes to believe the chicken is a manifestation of all his fears and anxiety. 
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, about all the missed opportunities adding up, about being afraid to act, unable or unwilling to move forward, about hiding in my own life, about hiding it all away, about creeping low in the shadows. I’ve been thinking of stepping from the safety of the shadows of doubt and indecision, into the enlightenment of action and response. But instead of drawing me out of the shadows, all that thought and consternation only seems to bring a giant chicken, fierce and mean.
Rauch also has a knack for coming up with some very short but excellent dream-like vignettes such as "the run", where a man is woken up by tiny stampeding elephants in his house. Another example is "welcome home", a second-person story wherein "you" meet some interesting people while out on a camping trip.

There are, however, some stories which felt pointless and meandering. "activate the mathias (when in doubt)" is a story about a man with device that can slow down time. It's so heavy on technobabble explanations that it drowned out the point the story was trying make. While most of the stories benefit from their brevity, "little giants (behind the barn)" just seems to end far too soon. A boy meets a very tiny man who makes him all sorts of promises. Then it just ends  It reads like the first chapter of an unfinished novel.

eyeballs growing all over me ...again is overall a pretty good collection of short stories and flash fiction. It would be one I would especially recommend to science fiction fans or to people who want to read a lighter kind of Bizarro fiction.

Buy eyeballs growing all over me ...again here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Updates

I've had three poems accepted for publication at Twenty Something Press and I've also had two poems accepted for publication in the anthology Radical Dislocations from Chupa Cabra House. I thank the editors of both for accepting these.

Also, for those you not in the Des Moines area, the first volume of Spoilage is online. It contains my story "The Country Musician", and I'm very flattered to have had my story be the one to kick off this local zine.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1

The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1 collects Noah Cicero's first three books The Human War, The Condemned, and Burning Babies as well as some other short stories. The first book review I did for this blog was The Human War, so it seems appropriate I cover this as well.

The first story in the book, "I Clean in Silence", stands out in that it's one of only two pieces in the book that's written in traditional paragraphs, rather than in the style of each sentence as a paragraph like most of the book. It certainly has all the other markings of a Noah Cicero story with its crude humor, its neurotic narrator, and its existential pondering that is never pretentious. As the title suggests, the story is about a woman's thoughts as she quietly cleans the house. She thinks about her boyfriend, her body, her self-loathing, and how hopeless everything seems.
I want the beauty of the west, the mountains, rocky coasts, sea urchins, long strips of highway, endless fields and clear rivers. But all I have are these dishes. Dirty dishes that must be cleaned. Everything must be cleaned.
"Bedroom Scene" is the other story in the book that uses traditional paragraphs. A story about pillow talk between two people with no feelings for each other. This story could be a play with very little re-writing. Not that that's a bad thing.
"No one does anything for themselves. People do it for their parents, to make other people think they're great, to get laid or make money, but they don't do anything for themselves. I don't have anyone to impress and there's nothing I want. I don't care if I'm happy.  People can go fuck themselves. And that includes you and me."
"That's a good attitude. You'll get far in life acting like total bitch."
Speaking of sex, there's a lot in this book. The story "Gratutious Kink" from The Condemned is the stand out in this area. The narrator recounts his sexual encounters from losing his virginity in a church, sleeping with a shemale hooker, sucking dick in an adult theater, to pissing on his girlfriend and watching her fuck other men.
The impact of an orgasm on the human body and mind is the only experience that can remotely relieve the existence of all the bleak shittiness of human reality.
Wise words. And believe me Noah Cicero is full of them. Take this aphorism from my favorite part of this book Burning Babies.
There is no reason to care what people think about you. Because seeing how this world is, it is obvious humans are not good thinkers
Noah Cicero knows how to boil a sentence down to its bare essence for maximum impact. His stories are funny, cruel, insightful, and just a joy to read. I highly recommend you pick up Collected Works. It is well worth a read.

Buy The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. 1 here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Tool. by Peter Sotos

This is not going to be an easy book to review. At least part of that is because of who the author is. Peter Sotos was the first US citizen to be convicted of possession of child pornography. That alone will be enough to get most people to write this off. I'm not going to try convince you otherwise if you feel that way. If there's one thing Sotos makes it obvious he hates in Tool., it's apologists.

Tool. was first published by Jim Goad in the compilation Total Abuse in 1995, which collected this novella as well as the zines Sotos published Pure and Parasite. It was again published in another compilation called Proxy: Peter Sotos Pornography 1991-2000 in 2005, which collected five of the books Sotos had published up until then. Just this year, Nine Banded Books published Tool. as a standalone volume.

While Tool. is billed as a novella, it's tempting to see it as more of a short story collection, because the chapters stand by themselves as narratives. Though they are connected by theme.

The first chapter relates the kidnapping and abuse of a ten-year-old girl from the perspective of the abuser.
You're such a pretty girl. You shouldn't cry. Such a dear. Those tears aren't pretty, are they?
Needless to say, it's a very unpleasant read. Between this and his conviction (which is recounted in chapter five of the book), it's easy to think Sotos is simply a violent pedophile. I don't think he is. Sotos seems far more interested in the suffering and loss of the parents of the victimized children than the actual act of abusing children. Much of the first chapter is spent ruminating on the pain the girl's parents will feel from finding that she's been raped and murdered.
Your parents are going to miss you for the rest of their ridiculous lives. They're going to be hurt and be miserable human wastes from this day forward. They are going to grow to hate the very thought of you.
This is even more obvious in chapters four and eight, which are written as letters to the parents of children who have been murdered. Chapter four is a letter from a man who murdered a woman's son. He recounts to the mother how her son was a drug addict and a prostitute and tells the mother that she needs to admit this to herself. As cruel as this is, it shows a deep concern for the humanity of the victim.
Well, I know I've taken up too much of your time, and if I might be so bold, one last time, I suspect your time with Danny was always a mite strained and difficult for you. Hopefully, next time you talk to the press or the parole board, you might mention less about what a great kid gone awry he was and more about how he was pretty much dead before I even got near him.
I think that would be the honest thing to do and more in keeping with a real love for Danny. No use in tarnishing your personal photo book even more than it already is.
Sotos refuses to canonize the young man as a saint because he was a victim of a murder. He demands that the young man's flaws not be swept under the rug simply because of the crime inflicted on them.

Chapter eight is probably the most fascinating, because compared with the previous chapters, it is far less angry and violent and explicit. Yet it is by far the bleakest. It's written as a letter from a stranger to a woman whose child was the victim of a high profile kidnapping, rape, and murder. The letter begins sympathetically enough, but soon he begins to pry into uncomfortable details.
Are your thoughts entirely controlled by this heinous crime and terrific loss? Are even the most menial, knee-jerk tasks now subject to uncontrollable recollections of Lisa? Are all your memories harsh and painful and ugly?
He ends this letter by essentially telling this woman that the best way to cope with her loss is to give up all belief in hope, love, and empathy.
Those things you thought were real before are now too cumbersome and ungainly. Those feelings have to be changed. The lines in your face, the stretch marks on your belly, and the grey in your hair all must attest to something new. Something unplanned and unprepared for. Something that reflects how life truly is.
It seems like in this book of raped children, crack whores, AIDS victims, and gloryhole vistors, you could have no other ending. It also brings us full circle with Chip Smith's statement in the preface of the book that Sotos is best viewed with (in Thomas Ligotti's words) the idea that "the Universe is malignantly useless" as a starting point.

I can't pretend I completely "understand" this book, nor that I read it for reasons beyond a fascination with the subject matter. I don't think Sotos completely understands why he writes what he writes either. He makes this clear in the essay that ends this book called "Mine/Kept".
I need to explain myself and, I swear, I already have.
Though one could argue that there's really nothing to "understand".
I don't think art is a conversation between the reader and the creator. It's an intensely selfish obsession and a personal, internal dialogue. Just exactly like experience.
This is a very difficult book to recommend. Sotos is a powerful writer with a lot of talent, but reading him makes one feel like you've had someone take a shit on your soul. Here is a sample chapter. If you believe it has worth, then you should certainly pick up Tool. If it simply disgusts you and you see no value in it, then skip it.

Buy Tool. by Peter Sotos here. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Bride of Brief Thoughts

Yup. We're doing this again.

Sick City by Tony O'Neill

Now this was a fun read. In this neo-noir thriller, a junkie named Jeffrey comes into possession of a sex tape featuring Sharon Tate after his lover dies. Knowing that this tape could be worth millions, he sets about to get himself clean so he can cash in. While in rehab, he meets Randal, another junkie from a rich family with connections in Hollywood. They team up to find a buyer for the tape. All the while being trailed by someone who has it out for Jeffrey.

This book is a fun page-turner, and even throws some entertaining barbs at the Hollywood system and the rehab industry. Easy targets, I'll admit. But some things you never get tired of seeing beat up on. If you're a fan of thrillers or neo-noir in general this is definitely worth a read.

Buy Sick City by Tony O'Neill here.

The Kid by Sapphire

The Kid is the sequel to Sapphire's first novel Push, which is probably better known by the movie Precious.

I think Push showed that Sapphire is a talented writer. However, she has a tendency to pile it on a little too thick. I can take a retarded baby conceived through incestuous rape seriously, but when you name it "Mongo", you start to lose me.

Sapphire works in a similar vein as Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, in that she paints a nasty and vivid picture of the life of poor urban blacks. Unlike Slim and like Goines, she has the unfortunate tendency to engage in a certain degree of preaching. She ended Push on a "hopeful" note, with Precious learning how to read and her second child, Abdul, being born healthy. Reading the reviews of The Kid was interesting, because that hope is shattered at the beginning of this book when Precious succumbs to complications from AIDS. This upset a lot of people.

Another thing that bothered a lot of people is the stream of consciousness style the book is written in. This book is about Precious's son Abdul and his life from childhood to young adulthood. Unlike his mother, Abdul is intelligent but also plagued by a lot of mental problems. This results in him doing things like blurring the line between his dreams and what actually happens, engaging in mantras to keep himself steady, and jumping between his memories and the present. Especially in the final chapter, it begins to border on Faulkner levels of confusing. That said, it makes for a highly visceral read.

Like Push, Sapphire piles it on way too thick. I'm beginning to wonder if she's capable of writing a character who hasn't experienced childhood sexual abuse. The scene where Abdul is attacked by an older boy is disturbing, but loses it's impact from the boy attacking him being called "Batty Boy". Seriously.

The fact Sapphire tries to cover so much results in things going nowhere. For example, there is a scene where one of Abdul's friends comes out as transgender to him. You think this will lead to something. It doesn't.

In the end, if you liked Push, then The Kid is worth a read. If not, skip it. Personally, I think Sapphire's command of language is strong enough that I'll probably check out her poetry at some point.

Buy The Kid by Sapphire here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: Mad by Jonathan Bowden

We are all failures because we all die.
About a year ago, Jonathan Bowden died of a heart attack. He was 49, just a few weeks shy of turning 50.
Politics is a matter of life and death.
Bowden is probably best known for his involvement in various British right-wing movements. At one point, he was the Cultural Officer for the British National Party. He gave several speeches over his political career and was regarded as a master orator by his peers.
Art hates ideologies because it is the one that encompasses all the others.
Bowden's other great passion was in the arts. Many of the speeches he delivered were in regards to the relation of art to right-wing politics. He was also an artist, a writer, and an actor. He acted in two films (which he also wrote), produced several drawings and paintings, and wrote several books. His first book was Mad. Apparently written when he was 18, and originally released in 1989, it was re-released in 2009 by Nine Banded Books.

In spite of his conservative political beliefs, Bowden's artworks have a very modernist sensibility to them. This is very apparent in Mad.

It's difficult to say exactly what Mad is. It's too scattershot to call it a proper essay, and it's too experimental in form to call a polemic. As vague the description is, it would probably make the most sense to call it a prose poem. Though even that may not be accurate.
In short, this is an attempt to understand the Marquis de Sade. A man who was destroyed by the revolution he created. There was something bad in him. Baudelaire was right: when you want to discuss cruelty we must always go back to de Sade.
Mad has three major themes running through it. The first is the inherent cruelty of humanity that civilization is based on. The second is the fact of human mortality. The third is human sexuality.

The first theme is best summed up by the first two sentences in the book.
Terror is the chief motivation of civil behavior. No other explanation does as well.
He bangs on this particular drum very often in this book. However, it's never boring. The phrases and associations he draws from this are amazing. A particular favorite of mine is near the end when Bowden discusses fascism. The part is too long to quote here, but it's essentially about how Peter Brueghel's The Triumph of Death foreshadowed the fascism of the mid-20th century.

The final part of the book is especially fascinating in general, given Bowden's later activities. He engages in a dismissal of almost every major political doctrine. Fascism is "the moral equivalent of venereal disease in the politicals of the body", liberalism is "bourgeois guilt", conservatism "has no ideology except self-preservation" and communism "commits plastic surgery on a face which had not been damaged". His critical view of the state itself even seems to indicate anarchist sympathies.
States are built on mountains of skulls. A state is a revolution against nature; enacted in alliance with nature. States represent nature in so far as no-one rebels against their moral squalor.
It would be interesting to hear how Bowden went from this view to being involved with right-wing party politics.

The third theme was, for me, the most difficult to get a handle on. On the one hand, I admire that the views on gender and sexuality presented would piss off traditionalists and feminist/queer activists at the same time. On the other, this is where Bowden makes the most ludicrous statements in the book. The worst of this is where he characterizes masturbation as a "homosexual act". Yeah, okay.

Something that may be a sticking point for others is the use of punctuation in this book. It's used in obviously "wrong" ways several times. This is coming from a guy who constantly needs to look up rules regarding commas. Yet I don't think they were mistakes. I get the impression he was attempting to create a unique cadence with the way he abuses commas, semi-colons, dashes, and colons.

Even if they are actual mistakes, they don't detract from the book for me. That is the key attraction of this book for me. The complete fury I sense coming from the work. Reading this, it seems like something Bowden wrote in a complete fugue. I can picture him sitting at a typewriter. Eyes wide, teeth clenched, and breathing heavily. Pounding furiously at the keys. Tearing away the filled up paper and slamming it on the table next to the typewriter. Annoyed by the time it takes to load a new page to abuse.

The result is completely enthralling and often very thought-provoking. Because of that, I highly recommend Mad.

Oh and that second theme? I think Bowden is all too familiar with that now.
Sadly, though, moments of ecstasy are rare. Most human-beings are on a treadmill of sorrow. They know they’re going to die, and they have repressed it. They have not taken responsibility for it. They have not realized the truth. They have not understood that men are born screaming; and when they stop; they die.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Book Review: Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams

Don't let the title fool you, this isn't science fiction porn. Technically. I think.

Andrew Wayne Adams' debut novella is about a janitor named Jack who lives on the planet Anilingus. With me so far?

Anilingus is a sort of resort planet run by the Catholic Church where people come year round to engage in non-stop ass-licking. Except during Lent. Lent is Jack's favorite time of the year, because he has the entire planet all to himself, and he can clean the place without being surrounded by butt-lickers. However, he's not alone this year. While out cleaning, he meets a woman named Nimue who has been stuck on the planet because someone is trying to kill her.

Jack and Nimue soon run into the man after her. After narrowly escaping, Jack goes back to work the next day to find he's been fired and is going to be replaced by a man-child who is one of the boss's relatives. Then things start to get weird.
Do I have Satan in my rectum?
The story in Janitor of Planet Anilingus is absurd and hilarious.The ridiculous world Adams creates is fascinating and fun to inhabit for the duration of the book. The way Adams twists science fiction tropes kept me enthralled through the whole thing. It even manages to make some commentary on religion and belief without sounding pompous or pretentious.

The cast of characters is limited but well developed. None of them went in the direction that I expected them to.

It isn't perfect. There are times where the prose felt a little clunky. There are also some attempts to explain the metaphysics of the world that just made me kind of space out. Uninteresting technobabble.

That said, if you want a completely insane science fiction adventure story, pick this is up. It's a short but highly enjoyable read. I see a lot of potential in Adams as a writer. He sent this to me for a review, and I plan to check out his future work.

As for you, pull your tongue out of that ass, and buy this to support a new writer.

Buy Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: The Talkative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger

The protagonist of Ann Sterzinger's The Talkative Corpse calls himself Johnny Jaggo. That's not his real name. Whatever his real name was is lost, because he's dead. Long dead. Everyone he knew is dead. He lived in Chicago, but whatever is left of that is buried under rubble. Jaggo had enough foresight to know that would probably happen and took it into consideration while he wrote his message for the future.
I will print it all out on the highest-quality paper I can find, and then cover it with plastic laminate. I got a great deal on the laminating machine. And plastic? Plastic might even outlive nuclear waste. So what if none of the current weasels pay me no nevermind, not even enough to give me a job at a decent wage; in this gob of hopefully unmelted plastic I hope that part of me will outlive them all. From here on in I’m all about you, anthropologists of the new dawn!
Jaggo decided to document his present time to preserve information about it for future generations. Specifically a few months from 2011 to 2012. He's more interested in venting his spleen than doing any documenting though. One could argue that's a far better way to capture the basic essence of American life in the 2010s. I'd be inclined to agree.

Jaggo attacks everyone in his diary/time-capsule. His asshole bosses, his asshole neighbors, the privileged, the poor, and his ex-girlfriend. Eventually his rage builds to the point he accidentally summons a demon during a drunken blackout. Don't you hate when that happens? Worse, the demon Bertram will only leave after he's killed one person Jaggo hates and one he loves. Fortunately for him, he doesn't love anyone. Yet.

Anyone who's had the displeasure of looking for a fucking job within the last few years will probably know where Jaggo is coming from in his rants against the people who do the hiring.
Who’s working in HR these days? Burned-out kindergarten teachers?  Planet of the assholes… at least I can enjoy thinking about the wonderful relationships they’re setting themselves up for, with ruddy financiers who love only whiskey and employees who lie on their resumes and everywhere else…
Of course, anyone who's ever had a job at all won't have trouble seeing where so much of Jaggo's bile comes from.
And the way things are going, I might as well have stayed a medieval serf. I’m writing for you, Future, because you’re the only people I can talk toward, but really, I want to go back in time, way back in time, to back when people didn’t fucking hallucinate that oi polloi could somehow be “free.” We’ve always been serfs for life, but we used to call a spade a spade. So I hate you, America. You sneeringly frozen plutocracy, with your false promises of a fair shot for the best of the lackeys. You’ve convinced the morons that you’re a democracy when you’ve got too many citizens to even make a decent empire.  
The blurb on Sterzinger's previous novel NVSQVAM (nowhere) compares her to Knut Hamsun. That's appropriate, because I was reminded a lot of Hunger while I read The Talkative Corpse. Especially in how hope and some relief from his suffering will constantly be provided to the protagonist, only to have it immediately yanked away so that life can shit down his throat some more.

Jaggo is full of hatred and anger, and all of it feels completely justified. Well, his fantasies of murdering his ex-girlfriend are a little excessive. But hey, he quotes Magnetic Fields lyrics while he imagines beating the shit out her, so that's got to count in his favor. Right?

Once things take a magic realist turn and the demon Bertram shows up, it becomes pretty clear there's absolutely no way this will end without blood spilling. I won't spoil it, but the ending delivered while still being somewhat surprising.

Occasionally, Jaggo's rants begin to feel a little repetitive, but Sterzinger's violent and funny prose keeps things interesting enough that they were never boring.

In The Talkative Corpse, Ann Sterzinger tears into the bullshit of contemporary American life with a mixture of venom, humor, and even a little empathy. Sterzinger was kind enough to send me the text in advance for a review and I'm glad she did. I recommend you pick this one up once it's released. I have Sterzinger's NVSQVAM (nowhere) on my shelf and I'm looking forward to reading that as well. Unfortunately for assholes like me who fetishize physical books, The Talkative Corpse is only going to be released as an e-book as of this writing.

For those who still need some convincing, you can read the first three chapters at Fine, I'll start a goddamn blog.

Buy The Talktative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: Perversity Think Tank by Supervert

Supervert (I think it's safe to assume that's not his real name) is man who has had his hands in several projects over the years. One of those was the website PervScan (a site I wish I had known about in high school) which cataloged stories about perversity in the news from its inception in 2003 until 2010, when it culminated in the publication of the book Perversity Think Tank.

To Supervert's own consternation, PervScan did not inform this seminar on the nature of sexual aberration very much. As he points out:
Many of the acts I covered on PervScan — like the three middle-aged brothers who sexually assaulted their bedridden mother while she lay suffering amid lice, roaches, and fecal matter — struck me less as perverse than as ignorant, heedless, cruel. There were days when I thought my compendium of deviant doings was nothing more than a catalogue of errors in judgement and lapses in common sense.
And so Supervert is forced to go back to square one by answering a basic question. Just what is perversity? He sets about to attempt to answer this question with the help of thinkers like Freud and Schopenhauer and de Sade, artists and authors like Joel-Peter Witkin and Charles Baudelaire, as well as his own personal experiences. 

The book itself is divided into three parts. The "main" essay is a philosophic examination of the nature of perversity.

An interesting part of this essay is where Supervert examines and ultimately rejects the "traditional" definition of perversity. That is, any form of sexuality that hinders reproduction. He points out that by this definition, heterosexual sex in the missionary position where one of the partners has been sterilized is "perverse." Surely that can't be right?

Of interest to note is that Schopenhauer subscribed to this school of thought.
Schopenhauer argues that the dependence of reproduction on sex implies a “metaphysics of sexuality.” The purpose of sex, he thinks, is the constitution of a new generation of beings. Everything that seems instinctual is a matter of duping the individual into propagating his species. Conversely, non-reproductive acts and proclivities have the purpose of preventing the individual from perpetuating his presumably defective characteristics.
In addition to this, Schopenhauer also believed that giving birth was ultimately negative on the ground that suffering always outweighs pleasure in life.

In the essay, Supervert argues that for an act to be perverse, it has to have intentionality of wrongdoing on the part of at least one the participants in the perverse act. As an example, he contrasts the stereotype of the hillbilly who has sex with his daughter with one of de Sade's libertines. The hillbilly has sex with his daughter because out in the sticks, she's one of the few girls there. The libertine, on the other hand, desires to have sex with his daughter precisely because she is his daughter. The hillbilly is satisfying an urge with his limited options. The libertine has an urge to commit an act considered wrong by most because it is considered wrong.

To bring this back to Schopenhauer, let's consider a heterosexual couple who accepts that giving birth is ultimately negative and has a child anyway. Could this couple be considered "perverse" in their actions? They certainly are if we accept Supervert's argument.

The second part of this book is a more "personal" essay. In this essay, Supervert uses examples of his friends and girlfriends (among other experiences) to aid in his examination of the nature of perversity.

One of the more interesting examples is a girl he knew who lived in Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village is known for its unusual characters, but this girl?
She seemed — dare I say it? — the most "normal" person I ever met. 
The fact that the girl was so "normal" made her all the more fascinating to Supervert. Especially in contrast to the people she was surrounded by. This leads Supervert to realize "the pervier the masses, the normaler the perv."

Homosexuality is increasingly socially accepted, premarital sex is hardly taboo anymore at all, BDSM erotica is bestselling material and weird fetish porn is a Google search away. As Supervert himself asks, does this mean that "prudes" who wait until marriage to have sex or who only have sex to have babies will eventually become the new "perverts?" One can't say for certain. I doubt my grandfather would have thought gay marriage would ever be legal in Iowa when he was my age. But it should prove interesting to contrast what I think of as "normal" now with what is considered "normal" several years from now.

The third part of the book is the "pictures." There are no actual pictures in the book. Only black boxes accompanied by descriptions of what "should" be there, as well as Supervert's reaction to the pictures. All but a couple of the pictures are easy enough to find with a Google search. I would personally recommend reading the whole book before you go looking for them, though.

None of the three parts stand on their own. Each one is required to fully understand the other two, yet none of them are ever confusing. He will briefly touch on a subject in one part, then more fully explore it in one of the others. I think it could be said that Supervert set out to create a "perversely" structured book. I think he pulled it off rather well.

I have to give a lot of praise to Supervert's writing in this book. It is highly readable. He discusses philosophical issues without sounding dry or pretentious. He has a great sense of humor. He keeps you enthralled even when discussing repulsive subjects.

Perversity Think Tank is not for everyone. If frank discussions of incest, rape, pedophilia and bestiality are beyond the pale for you, it's best you skip it. For everyone else, I can not recommend this book enough. It is fascinating, entertaining and an all around great read. I've purchased Supervert's other two books, and I very much look forward to reading them.

Unfortunately, the physical book just went out of print a few weeks ago. Used copies are also ridiculously expensive and Supervert apparently has no plans for another print run. I can only hope he'll change his mind and put out a second run for latecomers like me. Until then, Perversity Think Tank is available as a free PDF on Supervert's website. So go over and read that. While you're there, check out the rest of what Supervert has to offer. The website and its affiliates are full of great content.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Poem and Coming Soon

I've posted a new poem at Let People Poems called "Unsent E-mail to a Right-Wing Friend". I hope you enjoy it.

I apologize for the lack of updates lately. I've been juggling a lot of writing projects, none that I want to give away here. I do have another review I hope to have up soon. The book is Perversity Think Tank by Supervert. I'm a bit reluctant to discuss it for a few reasons. One is that it just went out of print last week and used copies are ridiculously expensive, so I had to read the PDF on Supervert's site. I was so enthralled with the book that I feel the need to get my thoughts down here. I just want to wait another day or so. I'm worried my review would just end up coming across as mindless gushing otherwise.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brief Thoughts Part 3

Yup. More brief thoughts on what I've read recently.

Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama

Now this is an unusual manga. Considering some of the manga out there, that's really saying something.  It's probably best to approach this as more of a conceptual art book than a comic telling a story.

The plot is very simple. A group of friends go to visit the eponymous garden only to find it's closed, so they go around the side and sneak in over the fence. The rest of the book follows them as they explore the garden.

The characters are basically a hive mind cipher. They all have a unique look, but no personalities to speak of. Their dialogue has a lot of annoying "no shit" moments. Things like a book falling followed by a character saying, "The book fell."

That said, it would miss the point to talk about the plot and characters. The garden itself is the real focus of the comic and makes it worth reading. The garden is a surreal landscape with things like cars used for planters, a river made of rubber balls, buildings on wheels and seemingly pointless but fascinating Rube Goldberg contraptions. The complexity of the garden as well as the artwork makes the book almost overwhelming at times.

If you want a pleasant mindfuck, this manga is worth a read.

Buy it here.

Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas

Ever read a book you know was written by a good author, but the book was just not their best work? That's how I feel about this novel.

The premise is intriguing, but at the same time a little fanficish. Jack Kerouac and the Beat generation versus Cthulhu. The book is written as a pastiche of Kerouac's prose and does a pretty good job at imitating his voice. I think this is probably part of my problem with this book. I'm just not that big on Kerouac. That may seem hypocritical considering I have a couple works on this site that are directly inspired by On the Road, but I wrote those both while and directly after I read it. Frankly, once I finished that book it didn't stick with me for long. Compared to the other major Beat works, Naked Lunch and "Howl", I'd rank it as the one that had the least effect on me.

Move Under Ground has some very hilarious and inspired moments. One of my favorites is when William S. Burroughs and Kerouac are trying to hop on a train, but Burroughs is too out of shape. This results in Kerouac trying to throw him on a train car, and throwing him against the side of one on accident.  The epilogue (which I won't describe in order to avoid spoilers) was also a great way to end the novel.

All that said, this book just wasn't as interesting to me as the premise would imply. For the most part, it just read as a pulpy, though somewhat weird, adventure novel. I'm sure Mamatas has done better than this, so I'm still willing to check out his other works.

This one? It's available for free online, so if the premise sounds interesting to you, read it here: MoveUnderGround.org or you can buy it here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Die You Doughnut Bastards by Cameron Pierce

I read a large chunk of Cameron Pierce's collection, Die You Doughnut Bastards, while feeling sick. After reading the title story and then trying to take a nap, I had a fever dream of being attacked by evil breakfast pastries.

I'm glad I let myself recuperate a little before I finished it.

The title story is funny and enjoyable in its own right but it isn't as fucked up, nor does it have the punch, as most of the other stories and poems in this collection.

My favorite story in this collection is probably "Disappear". A pregnant woman wakes up to find that she is no longer pregnant and her husband doesn't take this news any better than she does.
They had prepared for anything, but not for this.
Soon they find that they are not the only ones whose baby has gone missing. Once they learn who the culprit is, they set out to get they set out to get their baby back.

I think this story really shows how well Pierce balances his absurd humor with genuine emotion. This story remains absurd throughout yet doesn't hold back in showing how the situation affects the couple. They are sad, angry and confused and so is everyone else who lost their baby. The resolution is both funny and touching in the extremes the couple will go to retrieve their child.

"Lantern Jaws" is another favorite from this collection. This Lovecraft meets coming-of-age tale doesn't have the absurd humor of many of the other pieces but probably has the best fleshed out characters. In this story, a young man meets his first girlfriend who has the strange quirk of always wearing a surgical mask. Over time, he learns the secrets that she and her family are keeping. Like Lovecraft, the story ends with a sense of futility, but Pierce's story here is sad rather than horrifying.

"Mitchell Farnsworth" has the least "weird" elements in it and is also one of the funniest. It's a simple story of a woman recounting her days with an ex-boyfriend but the descriptions of their antics are hilarious.

"The Human Centipede 2 (UFSI Sequence) by Tao Lin: A Novel" is another very funny piece. As the title suggests, the story is a riff on both The Human Centipede 2 and on the writing of Tao Lin. Besides the obvious humor in juxtaposing the two, Pierce has some great lines here.
Martin stares at the bleeding foot of the boy as if it is a Gmail message from someone he doesn't like. Martin doesn't like a lot of people. That's why he wants to build a human centipede.
Of the poems in this collection, I'd say my favorites were "Strawberry Airplane" and "The Happiest Place on Earth". It's interesting to contrast the two. The former has Pierce using traditionally "beautiful" imagery while the latter has Pierce finding beauty in some very ugly imagery.

The only piece in this collection I would say I didn't like is a poem entitled "The Honesty of Marsupials is a Marvelous Thing", which I found to be an uninteresting word game.

This is an excellent collection and I highly recommend it, especially to fans of bizarre and surreal fiction.

Buy Die You Doughnut Bastards by Cameron Pierce here.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Have Some Links

Interested in the Bizarro genre or weird fiction in general? Check out this writing workshop. Hurry though, enrollment closes this Monday.

This Des Moines based lit mag is seeking submissions. Hit them up if you're looking for a place to submit a story.

The world didn't end in December, of course. That is a shame. Why are we sitting around with our thumbs up our asses waiting for the end of the world? Why don't we take some initiative?

Take a hit of LSD.

Does modern pop music sound a bit samey to you?

A leftist explains his distaste for liberals.

This is what other guys named Ben were doing with the internet back in the 90s. 

A critique of Islam from a different standpoint.