Sunday, December 9, 2012
Book Review: Mastodon Farm by Mike Kleine
Mastodon Farm is written in the second person. The main character is rich and famous, implied to be a movie star (though this is never explicitly stated), hangs out with celebrities and listens to music all the time.
The constant music is one of the more interesting details. The main character rarely goes anywhere without some music playing on a stereo somewhere. In one of the few moments of silence, it is described as being like electricity. It's ambiguous to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
In spite of the bare bones writing style, this book is full of detail. Celebrities are constantly name dropped. Names of books, movies and bands are meticulously listed. Brand names are always pointed out.
One of the things I like about this book is how many of the details are just ...off. There are brief moments of full blown surrealism, like when the sky turns purple and rains cum. But for the most part, Kleine describes the world of Mastodon Farm in subtly weird ways. New York City and Los Angeles are apparently the same city. Seattle and Miami can be reached in a few hours by car. It seems to take place in modern day, yet VHS tapes are still the format movies are watched on.
There isn't really a plot here to describe. The main character goes to parties, drives around in a red Ferrari, watches movies and listens to music. As the novel progresses, the main character seems to take less of an interest in brand names and buying expensive things. They seem to realize how empty their life is and how shallow their relationships with all these other celebrities are. In the end, they can't figure out how to be happy, but at least they seem to know they need to try something different.
Have you ever woken up and gotten out of bed then went about your day, not really noticing you just passed a cartoon character on the street and the dollar store next to your apartment building is now a military base and then woke up? That kind of dream is how I would describe the experience of reading Mastodon Farm.
I highly recommend this book. Mike Kleine's debut is a strong one.
Buy Mastodon Farm by Mike Kleine here.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
New Story at The Mustache Factor
Click here to read it.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Action, Figure Giveaway
I found she was working on her first novel Action, Figure. An excerpt was posted on Metazen a few months ago that made the book a must buy for me. Unfortunately, I have so many books in that category that it got lost in the shuffle and the fact it had some delays in getting published didn't help.
Today, I found that THIS PERSON is doing a giveaway of the book. I'm not going to bullshit you. I'm writing this mostly to help my chances of winning of this book. But if this helped make some people aware of Hinton's work, then that's a good bonus. So go read those links I posted, then check out that post and read the rules for the giveaway.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The Wound (Short Story)
- New world.
- The gray world. The body is in this one.
- New world.
- A vacuum.
- Back to 1.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Alex Watches Television (Short Story)
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Book Review: Like Porno for Psychos by Wrath James White
I'll let you determine what that says about me.
Like Porno for Psychos is a collection of ten stories book ended by two poems. I'll start off with what I enjoyed the most. I'll be avoiding spoilers for the most part.
The book opens with a poem titled "Sex and Slaughter". In this poem, a sadistic psychopath insists that his desire to inflict pain is the purest expression of love. It's a pretty good piece that sets the tone of the rest of the book perfectly.
"Feeding Time" is a gloriously over the top story about a woman with a fetish for lions. There are a lot of porn story tropes on display here, and every single one is turned up to 11. And it is fucking awesome. I had a lot of fun reading this one.
"Rottweiler" is a very short one. It's about a boy and the lengths that his dog will go to protect him from his perverted babysitter. A very satisfying revenge story.
"House Cleaning" is another very short one. This one is more of a vignette than a story. Here, we meet a woman who takes cleaning seriously. Very seriously. I love the build up Wrath creates in such a small space and ends it with a great pay off.
"Fatter" is another one that's more of a vignette. This is a very tragic one about a woman desperate to lose her excess weight. I couldn't help but feel for this poor woman.
"After the Cure" is probably the one that reads the most like a porno. Up until the ending that is. In this story, a cure for not only AIDS but for every single STD has been discovered. After it's administered to several people, an unexpected side effect begins to manifest. This story was actually very erotic and that made the ending even more of a punch in the balls.
Now for the ones I didn't like.
"Like Peyote for Pimps" is a story about a pimp who sets out to deal with the serial killer who's been murdering his girls. This story had some interesting ideas, but just didn't work as a whole for me.
"Make Love to Me" is the poem that ends this collection. A role reversal from the first poem, this is about a masochistic expression of desire. While not terrible, it wasn't as good as the first poem and felt like a weak way to end the book.
I should note that I enjoyed the rest of the stories, so this book comes out with ten hits and only two misses.
On another note, this book has several copy editing errors. Not enough to ruin the book, but enough to be pretty noticeable. I hope these get fixed if it has another printing.
This is a very short book at 87 pages, so the weak stuff works against it harder than usual. That said, I think the strong points were strong enough that this book is worth the $8 price tag if you're looking for horror that goes all out. I know I'll be checking out more of Wrath's work. The extreme violence and explicit, perverted sex will be off-putting for many, but what the hell do you expect with a book called Like Porno for Psychos?
Buy Like Porno for Psychos by Wrath James White here.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Last Night I Dreamt of Hell and High Waters (Short Story)
Sunday, October 7, 2012
There Goes the Neighborhood (Short Story)
Except that one night.
I still wonder what the hell happened. What made my parents act like that? Where did they all go? Did something take them? Why didn't it take me too? Did it leave me behind on purpose, or was it a mistake?
Monday, October 1, 2012
I love a good horror story. It's October. So why not do a Horror Month?
Every Sunday this month I'll have a horror story up. I'll leave it up to you to determine whether they're good or not. Plus, I'll have at least one review of a horror book. Possibly more.
So, until this Sunday let this tide you over.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Book Review: The Chupacabra: A Borderline Crazy Tale of Coyotes, Cash & Cartels by Stephen Randel
No, that's not what this book is about. This is a story about Kip, a New York investment banker returning to his hometown of Austin, Texas to visit his family. Avery is his stepbrother, a computer nerd obsessed with conspiracy theories. His father is Bennett, a grouchy retired doctor. His Aunt Polly is a crazy old lady whose bingo friends are even crazier. Wacky hijinks ensue.
No, that's not it either. This book is a satire of the Mexico-America border situation. A bumbling civilian militia is doing its best, in their own stupid way, to stop illegal immigrants and drug cartels from coming across the border. Much to the chagrin of a pair of border patrol agents.
No, it's not about that either. Well, I don't know what the hell this book is about. But I had fun reading it.
As you can tell there is a lot going on in this book. It's difficult to summarize the overall plot without spoilers. I will say however, that Stephen Randel ties together the various plot threads in a mostly satisfying way. I say mostly, because it's clear that Randel intends this to be the first part of a series. I'm very interested in seeing where he takes the story from here.
As the title suggests, wackiness is the order of the day. Most of the book is focused on introducing the characters and displaying the craziness of their everyday lives. Before pulling them into even crazier situations.
This book is by no means perfect. As a comedy, there are some jokes that simply fall flat. As a crime story, there are few somewhat obvious contrivances. Though the general cartoony feeling of the book keeps these contrivances from feeling too out of place.
In spite of these flaws, I definitely recommend this if you're looking for something different and fun. Personally, I'm looking forward to part two.
Buy The Chupacabra by Stephen Randel here.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Book Review: The Complete Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau
I read it. It's pretty fucking gay. By that, I mean I liked it. Also, homosexuality is the main theme in both stories.
Lockpick Pornography is a story about a group of queer pranksters/terrorists who steal from people, beat up straight people and kidnap children. All in the name of fighting heteronormativity of course. Or maybe that's just their excuse. The main character is conflicted on whether his actions are in any way ethical or if they will accomplish anything. As well as his own motivations. Does he want to stop the bullying he feels a heteronormative society imposes on him? Or does he simply want to become a bully himself?
We All Got It Coming takes the opposite perspective. The main character here is an average gay man who doesn't want to give in to his anger and lash out at others. Even when he is a victim of violence himself. He simply wants to find happiness in his personal life in spite of the crap thrown at him by his homophobic boss.
Like A Softer world, Joey Comeau swings between bleak depression and childlike glee in seamless ways and combines both with humor that had people looking at me funny in public because I was laughing so hard. Also like the comic, Joey does all this in very simple sentences. Such as this memorable bit from the opening paragraph of the first story
It feels good to smash the TV, though. I feel like I'm participating in the political system.Joey manages to keep the main character of Lockpick Pornography sympathetic in spite of doing some awful things and the development of the protagonist of We All Got It Coming is masterfully subtle. Both stories end on ambiguous notes that left me wanting answers. But I'm sure Comeau wants me to come up with my own.
I definitely recommend this book, especially if you're already a fan of A Softer World. I'm eager to read more of Joey's books.
Buy The Complete Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau here.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Just a moment ago I put another poem up on Let People Poems. It's a silly piece called comb.
Sometime in the next few days I will have a review of The Complete Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau up. Those of you familiar with webcomics should know who that is.
I've been working on an e-book called If today the sun should set on all my hopes and cares. It will be a novella that will serialized and posted up on a separate blogger page. Not sure when the first chapter will be up yet. But I'll let you all know.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Top Ten People That Irk Me
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Brief Thoughts Part 2
My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper
This was my introduction to Dennis Cooper, an author who I had heard many good things about but never got the chance to read until recently. The story is about a disturbed teenager named Larry. He's hired by a classmate to kill another boy in his class. After he murders the boy, he reads the notebook the boy wrote in all the time. It reveals a lot of things that Larry finds fascinating, disturbing and confusing about everyone around him.
The prose in this book is often rather awkward and I can see what Dennis Cooper was doing here. For the most part, I did feel like I was reading the thoughts of a disturbed teenage boy. This didn't always work for the dialogue, though. There were some conversations that felt awkward in completely unconvincing ways. There was also least one part involving Larry's psychiatrist that felt like contrived stupidity.
This said, I can see why this Dennis Cooper is as highly regarded as he is. I immediately forgave all of this book's faults upon reading the ending. A genuinely haunting moment that took me by surprise in how simple yet visceral it was. This book has me excited to read more of Cooper's work. I have his latest novel, The Marbled Swarm, on my shelf and I'm hoping to do a full review of that once I've read it.
Buy it here.
Crying Freeman story by Kazuo Koike, art by Ryoichi Ikegami
This manga was written by same person who wrote the story to the classic manga Lone Wolf and Cub. He also wrote Mad Bull 34, a classic of "so bad it's awesome" manga and anime. While I've only read parts of both manga, I'd still say this is something of a halfway point between the two extremes.
This is a martial arts/crime manga about an assassin codenamed Crying Freeman who is known for weeping for his murdered targets. Originally a humble Japanese potter, Yo was kidnapped by the Chinese mafia after witnessing one of their crimes. Instead of murdering him, they saw a lot of potential for a great assassin and brainwashed him into working for them. However, once he meets a woman he finds himself unable to kill, things start to turn in his favor.
Now, despite the dramatic set up in the beginning arcs, the stories become increasingly overblown and reliant on paranormal and science fiction elements in the latter parts. This was a little disappointing, it remained entertaining and engrossing throughout the entire series, but it became sillier towards the end and even more overloaded with sex and over the top fight scenes. It was fun, but it seemed like what could have been a good psychological story was traded for an entertaining kung fu series.
The art is excellent and remains so throughout the series. Hell, I'd say the art alone is worth the price of admission. If you're a manga fan, check this out.
Buy it here.
Friday, May 25, 2012
New Story Up at Keep This Bag Away From Children
READ IT HERE
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Book Review: Cows by Matthew Stokoe
I don't mean that in a disparaging way. You can smell this book. It's an unpleasant mixture of rot, shit and blood. You can feel the slimy viscera as you turn the pages. It stains your hands.
The story of Cows revolves around Steven. A man who has lived under the reign of terror of his abusive mother, who he rightly refers to as the Hagbeast. He pines for the woman who lives upstairs, he bears the mental and physical abuse the Hagbeast heaps upon him and he begins doing grunt work at a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of the city. At the job he meets Cripps, the profoundly disturbed foreman. However, Cripps turns out to be the catalyst Steven needs to rid himself of the Hagbeast and start a normal life. A normal, happy life like the families on TV.
There is a lot going on in this 180+ page book. Its story is bizarre and nightmarish. It deals with themes of alienation, 'release', the oppressed becoming oppressors and the effects of media on the everyday life. As previously stated, this is not a pleasant read. Cows is relentless in its violence and perversion. The only book I can think to compare it to is Hubert Selby Jr's The Room. It's no surprise that Stokoe names Selby as a major influence. Like Selby, Stokoe creates very human characters. Even as they engage is behavior that should be unbelievable and unlikable, their hellish circumstances make them feel sympathetic and their reactions understandable.
At times, the novel seems uneven in its tone. The book reads as the darkest of dark comedy, but some of the funny moments feel they were unintentional. Attempts at shock that just ended up being too silly. However, this is a case of stumbling without ever falling. Stokoe is a skilled enough writer, that he absorbed me into moments and plot turns that, if described by me, would seem absolutely ridiculous. Ridiculous in ways that would take one out of the story, that is. The moments are still ridiculous in an 'absurdist' way.
This is a harrowing read. However, if you like strange stories and are looking for a read that challenges the mind and the stomach, I highly recommend this. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Stokoe's work.
Buy Cows by Matthew Stokoe here.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Fairy Story (Short Story)
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf
This is the novel that the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was based on. It's very different from the movie. The movie was a family-friendly film that had a hard-boiled detective as the main character, this is a hard-boiled novel with comic characters. More specifically, it's a send-up of the hard-boiled detective genre. There are several references to The Maltese Falcon and Mickey Spillane's work. Instead of cartoons, the "toons" are comic strip characters. There are appearances by Dick Tracey, Hagar the Horrible, The Dagwoods and several others.
I had a lot of fun reading this. I enjoy a good hard-boiled story and this does well at poking fun at the genre in a loving way. There are some very funny moments, my favorite of which is when someone tries to kill Roger by smothering him with a pie to the face. I thought it made some very clever use of comic tropes. For example, toons speak with word balloons that fall to the ground once they've been spoken. These left behind word balloons are used as clues by Eddie Valiant.
I can't guarantee you'll like this novel if you liked the movie, but I still recommend it.
Buy it here.
Eat When You Feel Sad by Zachary German
I absolutely loved this book, but I really couldn't explain why. It's 115 pages of an average young man describing his life in simple declarative sentences. This should be the most boring book ever written. What the hell do I find so compelling about it?
Maybe it's because I feel like I know where Robert (the protagonist) is coming from. He has trouble relating to others, he's often bored and he tries to fill the void in his life with food, literature and music. But the fact I "relate" to the main character alone shouldn't make this any good, should it?
I really wanted to do a full review of this book. But it seems I'll have to mull it over and probably re-read it before I do that.
Buy it here.
Flatland by Edwin Abbott
I first heard of this book by finding out that The Dot and the Line, one of my absolute favorite cartoons, was an adaptation of a book that was inspired by this one. I finally got around to reading it. Strangely, my local library places this book in the non-fiction section among all the basic texts on math. It revolves around math, yes. But it's still basically a fairytale.
The story takes place in a two dimensional world where everyone is a geometric shape. The shape of the person determines their place in the social ladder. Women are straight lines, squares and pentagons are the professional class, circles are priests and so forth.
The first half of the fairytale sets down the mechanics of Flatland, explaining the classes, how they function, how buildings work and so forth.
The narrator is a square who has a vision of a one dimensional world one night in a dream as the second half begins. Afterwards, he meets a sphere who reveals to him the existence of a three dimensional world.
While I probably would have enjoyed this more if I were a math geek, it's a very good social satire. The satire is somewhat dated, as this was based on Victorian mores. That said, it's message about the fallibility of societal dictates and the importance of questioning them is pretty much timeless. Give this a read if you get the chance.
Buy it here.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Book Review: Person by Sam Pink
I live in Chicago and I don't get along with a lot of people and the reasons are always new and wonderful.
There is not much going on in the way of plot here. In fact, a good chunk of this is book is the main character doing nothing and his thoughts on doing nothing. I think the mind of the protagonist reflects the screaming, vaguely vaginal face on the cover art (done by Sam Pink himself) very well. His mind is strange, disturbed and somewhat perverted.
The main character is unemployed, aimless and is constantly thinking of death and suicide. The man is in deep despair, and this is one of the funniest downward spirals I've ever seen. Sam Pink has a wonderfully dark sense of humor that makes this such an enjoyable read. One of the first things we see the main character doing is contemplating accosting a homeless man dressed like him. It's a funny moment that sets the tone for the rest of the book very well.
One "trick" that Sam Pink does in this novella is have certain chapters as "alternative versions" to the previous chapter. However, few of chapters feel like true alternatives. Many of them feel like they could simply be a similar events happening at different times. I like this, it makes it feel like the novella is ambiguous about whether the main character is progressing in any way or is simply stuck in routines.
A fault with a couple of the alternative version chapters is that they feel unnecessary. One of them, for example, simply reads like it is filling in details excluded from the previous chapter.
A small nitpick I have with this book is the lack of question marks. I'm honestly not sure whether this is a stylistic choice or just something overlooked in editing. Given that there are uses of exclamation points, I'm somewhat inclined to think the latter.
In spite of these minor flaws, this was a very fun read. I highly recommend it and I am looking forward to reading more of Sam Pink's work.
Buy Person by Sam Pink here.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Excerpt from Zombieman
Alex arrives at his grandparents' house. He uses his key to enter the house. He walks into the living room. Eleanor is sitting at the computer playing a slot game. Alex walks up quietly and puts his hand on her shoulder. She jumps and turns to face him. Alex grins.
“Jesus! Don't do that,” Eleanor says.
“Sorry, where's Grandpa?” Alex says.
“He's in the office. He's messing with his radio stuff again.”
Alex goes to the office. He opens the door and sees his grandfather sitting in front of a radio setup. His grandfather turns to him.
“Hey buddy!” his grandfather says.
“Hey Grandpa. What are you up to?” Alex says.
“Oh, just messing around.”
“Find anything interesting? Last time I sat with you on this thing, all we found were guys telling dirty jokes.”
“Well, we did get some laughs,” Alex's grandfather says. “What were you hoping to hear?”
“I don't know,” Alex says. “Some interesting stories maybe?”
“Weren't you hoping we'd find some number stations?”
“Yeah. But you know, I've read more about number stations,” Alex says. “That kind of made me lose interest. I mean, I recall reading about one number station translation that was taken from some spies that got arrested. I think they were from Cuba. One of the messages was just them wishing everyone a happy International Women's Day. That kind of ruins the mystique, you know? Knowing that the creepy number reading might just be saying shit like that.”
“Hmm,” Alex's grandfather says. “I found one I think you might be interested in.” He reaches for a dial and turns it. “I found it about a month ago. Here it is.” He turns up the volume.
There is a brief crackling and then a voice comes through. It is low and distorted and repeats the same word over and over. “Ocho, ocho, ocho, ocho.” Alex makes a confused face at the radio. The voice continues. “Ocho, ocho, ocho ocho.” Alex looks at his grandfather who shrugs. “Ocho, ocho, ocho, ocho.” Alex mouths the word 'what' as he shakes his head. The voice keeps going. “Ocho, ocho, ocho, ocho.”
Alex's grandfather turns the volume down. Alex scratches his head.
“Was it like that when you found that station?” Alex says.
“Yeah. Just kept saying the same thing over and over again,” Alex's grandfather says.
“Doesn't say anything else? No jingle or anything like other number stations have?”
“Didn't hear anything like that whenever I tuned in to it. Just the world 'ocho' over and over again.”
“Christ, that's fucking creepy.”
“Yeah, don't know what to make of it myself.”
“I'm going to go use the bathroom.”
Alex exits the office and goes into the bathroom. He takes off his glasses and splashes water on his face. He rubs his eyes. He looks at himself in the mirror. “Jesus, that's just … “ he says to his reflection. He shudders and exits the bathroom.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Why I Want to Fuck Rick Santorum (Short Story)
Castration: Anxiety or Paraphilia?
A number of studies have found that the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 has led to a wave of castration anxiety in American males. These researchers argue that this is the main factor in a resurgence of a conservative outlook on sexuality in the United States. However, this conclusion ignores the existence of the castration paraphilia. While this may seem like an esoteric fetish, our research suggests otherwise. In a study of a random sample of 2,000 college-age males, 5% who were shown a video of a castration of an adult male showed both physical arousal and self-reported a high arousal level while watching. Of the 89% that self-reported no arousal during the video, all of them showed physical arousal. This seems to suggest that the sexual appeal of castration largely exists within the subconscious.
In another study of 4,300 randomly sampled self-identified gay men of various ages, the subjects were asked to describe their most common sexual dreams. A surprisingly common dream had them frotting with a partner while being menaced by a public figure with a knife. The dream would end with the public figure severing their penises, their partner first and then them. Mostly the castration happened during orgasm but occasionally right before it. The figure varied widely from person to person. The most common two were Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Other figures included Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell, Bob Vander Plaats and Rick Santorum. In a follow-up study with the same subjects, Rick Santorum had become the most common figure in the dream. Of interest to note is that almost all the subject described the penises of them and their partners as “standing together like twins” just before the castration. The castrations were almost always described as resulting in “explosions” of blood and semen.
The increasingly more common phenomenon of women experiencing orgasms during abortions has only recently become the subject of research. It is tempting to dismiss this as a mere physical reaction. However, the rate of orgasm was found to be the same in women who were given a local anesthetic as compared to women given none. This is only possible if intense psychological arousal is present. Some psychologists speculated that this arousal was due to sadism and their orgasms were the result of taking part in ending what they perceived to be a human life. However, the limited research at present suggests that while sadism is a factor, and the primary one in a minority of cases, the majority of women were primarily masochists.
In a currently on-going study, women were asked to speculate why they felt aroused during their abortions in preliminary interviews. Some answers included feeling helpless and out of control during the process, being “invaded” by a stranger and the cold, “medical” feeling of the intimate procedure. 53% responded 'yes' when asked if they ever had any dreams relating to abortion in a sexual context. When asked to describe them, a common pattern emerged. The dream often began with the woman being thrown on a crib mattress or a pile of baby toys by a man famous for their opposition to abortion. Rick Santorum was the most common, with Scott Roeder and Rush Limbaugh also appearing very often. The man would then shove a bent coat hanger inside their vagina while screaming misogynistic epithets at them. Sometimes, the man would simply punch their abdomen. The dream would usually ended when the man shoved the remains of a fetus in their face and told them to “kiss their baby”. The final results of this study should prove insightful as to the nature of the apparent surge in paraphilia for abortion.
The Psychosexual Appeal of Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum is a common thread in not just the previously mentioned studies, but in many other studies concerned with the impact of politics on sexuality in the United States. This may suggest that his recent increase in popularity, so much so that he is the front-runner for the Republican Party presidential candidate as of this writing, is due to a psychosexual appeal that should be examined. So far, one lone study has been completed on this subject. The results prove inconclusive. The study of 1,300 randomly selected men and women (equally represented) showed a positive view of Santorum was strongly correlated with a high rating of paraphilia for castration, abortion, erotic sexual denial, infantilism and fecal matter. However, these subjects were a small minority. Participants that did not rate particularly high on any paraphilia tended toward a more ambivalent to negative view. Gay and lesbian participants with no high rating on any paraphilia gave almost universally negative ratings as did participants who rated highly for pictophilia and navel fetishism. A major flaw in this study is that it did not control for any possible subconscious paraphilia in the participants. Further and more rigorous studies are necessary.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Book Review: The Human War by Noah Cicero
I really enjoyed it.
I could write the whole review in the same style as the book.
But I won't.
That would be lame.
The first of Noah Cicero's works I read were the e-books he had on bearparade.com. I like them a lot so I decided to get one of this books.
I ordered The Human War from a local book store. When I picked it up, the woman at the counter was really amused by the "about the author" on the back. She also said she really liked the cover art. The cover art is pretty cool.
The Human War is a novella plus two short stories, "The Doomed" and "Little Flowers". The titular novella is about a 22 year old man in Youngstown on the day the Iraq War began. He has sex, hangs out at Denny's, goes to a strip club and gets drunk. It's interesting to read about this day from this perspective. I was in middle school when that war started. Mark, the protagonist, is trying to cope with his own feelings of powerlessness and his inability to make sense of the things far beyond his control. He talks with several people. Most either against or ambivalent about the war, though at least one unambiguously for it. It doesn't matter though. Nothing they say or do will have any effect.
Both the short stories continue on similar themes. Feeling powerless and insignificant, misanthropy and the things people do to cope with these feelings.
The style of the writing makes the novella and stories look like long poems. They all feel very frantic and fast paced, despite little actually happening. There were some very funny moments in them too. My personal favorite parts were probably the opening and closing lines of The Human War.
I will be picking up more of Noah Cicero's work in the near future.
Buy The Human War by Noah Cicero here.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Now at Let People Poems
i hate when old people complain
Monday, March 5, 2012
The Electric Tree (Short Story/Film Treatment)
This is a short story/film treatment that I wrote for a class in college. I recently re-read it, and I actually like it quite a bit. Enough to post it here, anyway. I hope you enjoy it too.
We see what would have once been called the skyline of the city. However, instead of the gray buildings contrasting themselves against a blue sky, they are against a sheet of pure white. It's like an unfinished sketch. The brightness of the large lights which hang from the dome encasing the city obscure its dark, opaque glass divided into honeycomb sections by the white beams which run across it. Shifting attention to the city itself, we see that each of its buildings look identical except for width and height, which seems to vary haphazardly like blocks placed by a child. Past the other gray blocks, towards a particular building, through one particular window, into one particular apartment we see a man opening the door and stepping in.
This is Cory, age 28. He is pale and thin with a face that does not immediately indicate his sex. Faint traces of black surround his dull eyes that appear to struggle to look anywhere but down. His brown, mid-length hair is pushed back, which seems to flaunt the beads of sweat that cover his forehead. Panning down, we can see that his gray tunic is marked with the number '1663' in black thread on the right side of his chest. In his left hand he carries a black duffel bag, which he tosses to the corner of his one room abode. Closing the door behind him he steps over and opens the one immediately to the right, a tiny bathroom which is nothing a shower stall with mirror under the shower head and a toilet mounted on the opposite wall. He turns the shower handle slightly and catches the trickle of lukewarm water in his hands, splashing it on his face.
After coming out and wiping his wet face on a towel hanging on the narrow wall between the front and bathroom door, he checks the clock sitting on the large, brown box that is his desk. The blue digits read 1450. He decides that he must leave now if he is to be there on time. He turns around and exits the apartment.
Cory walks down the sidewalk. We can see him passing by identical entrances that are distinguished by signs which differ only by the words on them. Apartment Building 9-6, Office Building 9-3. The street is almost empty. Cory walks several blocks before seeing another person, the one he sees every time he takes this particular route. Standing at a head taller than him, the police officer wears a tunic nearly identical to Cory's but emblazoned with the word 'POL 9 ICE' in yellow thread and around the waist is a belt with a holster on each side. He steps in front of Cory, stopping him.
“Out for a walk again, eh?” the officer remarks.
Cory brings his head up slowly, as if a weight were tied to his chin, his face meeting the officer's. The mouth on the policeman's square face is frozen in a smirk worthy of the most stoic of poker players, and his gray eyes seem to pat him down without the aid of his hands.
“Do we have to do this again, Kim? You know who I am,” Cory drones.
“Hey, I didn't make the rules. And it's, Officer Kim,” the policeman replies.
A groan crawls from Cory's throat as he reaches up and pulls down the zipper that runs up his left sleeve, revealing a bar code branded on the side of his upper arm. Officer Kim reaches in his left holster and pulls out a gray instrument. He points it at the bar code and pulls the trigger on it. A red beam flashes across Cory's arm. The officer reads the green text that scrolls up the small screen on the top of the instrument.
Citizen Number: 1663
Criminal Record: Attempted to publish research
findings in violation of the Safe Science Act.
Served 1 year in prison.
“The Bureau still hasn't assigned any work to you, huh?” Officer Kim notes.
“Not since I got out. They shut down the Research Facility,” Cory responds.
“That's the problem with smart guys like you. You never know when to keep your mouth shut.”
“May I go now?” The boredom in Cory's voice is obvious.
The officer steps aside and allows him to go on his way. Cory only takes a few steps before Officer Kim calls to him. “Hey, just a sec.”
Cory looks back at him.
“If you're going to be walking in Section 7, watch out. The new guys assigned to patrol there aren't as friendly as I am.”
Cory nods to Officer Kim and then turns and walks away.
It is an hour later. It is darker and the sidewalk that Cory is walking on is cracked and dug up in places. The buildings begin to show individuality. He passes a building made of red brick with most of its windows broken out, an empty doorway and a sign that has long faded away. Looking up we can see that several lights on the interior of the dome in this area are shattered and the glass on the dome is broken out in several places, allowing natural light in and revealing a green sky. Cory finally comes to the edge of the city where the dome meets the ground. He climbs through a honeycomb section that is missing its glass.
Cory sets foot on the red soil outside the dome. He examines the hill in the near distance, covered with occasional patches of brown grass and then looks up at the green sky punctured by a white sun that is settled just above the top of the hill. He trudges up the hill and stands on the top. Looking back towards the city, he can see most of the dome, plus the traces of other domes near the horizon. He turns around and peers out over to the other side. We see over his shoulder. In the distance, where the green sky meets the red ground, he sees a figure come nearer and nearer at a rapid pace.
Zooming in on this figure, we see that it's moving at an inhuman speed. Its boots kick up a cloud of red dust. Its brown camouflage raincoat sways behind it. The hood is pulled over it's head, hiding it's eyes but still showing a silver jaw with an unmoving mouth. The figure comes to an abrupt stop at the bottom of the hill where Cory stands then lightly jogs up to him.
“Sam,” Cory says, nodding to the figure standing before him.
“Cory,” the figure replies in a distinctly female voice with a metallic reverb. “Has your hand been working well?”
Cory holds up his right hand. “Yes, I've been able to hide it and I've had no problems with it so far”
Sam takes Cory's hand and pinches the skin at the wrist. She pulls it forward and the epidermis peels off like a glove, revealing a robotic hand in a shade of silver that matches Sam's unmoving mouth.
“Good” Sam says. “We'll do the lower arm today. This may take a little longer. Remove your tunic and lay on the ground.”
Cory follows her instructions. When he strips off his tunic it reveals his pale, almost skeletal physique. He lays down and Sam reaches into her coat and pulls out a syringe. She looks for a vein in Cory's arm and then injects a clear liquid into it. Cory lays staring up at the green sky. It begins to become foggy and then all goes black.
A field of tall, lush green grass sways in the light breeze. A blue sky that seems to go on forever hangs over and a bright yellow sun is the only thing that interrupts it. The wind begins to pick up and the color of this scene fades away as if an eraser is passing over it. The blades of grass become a metallic silver and bend with the wind by hinges that go across them. The sky is now black and the sun has been replaced by a giant white halogen bulb. A sharp pain and a loud crack as the bulb burns out and bursts. All goes black.
Cory awakes to an intense jolt of pain running through his arm and pulls it away from the source, yelping loudly. He sits up and sees Sam standing over him with a tool similar to a soldering iron in her hand.
“Hmm, I guess I didn't use as much anesthesia as I should have,” she says, “Thankfully, that was the last nerve I just connected. I see that you can move it properly.”
Cory looks down at his new lower arm that matches his hand. He moves it around, able to control it as well as he could the old arm. Glancing next to him, he sees a blood stained sheet and the stump of bone and muscle that was once his lower arm. A slight movement of revulsion turns in his stomach.
Sam takes the glove of artificial skin and puts it back over Cory's hand. This time, she stretches it beyond his wrist and to his elbow. It seems to melt against his real skin as she presses the flesh glove against it. His arm looks as if nothing has changed.
“Remember, keep it hidden,” Sam says, “we don't want anyone to get suspicious.”
“Sam, this is the most inefficient way possible to go about this,” Cory says with a tone of annoyance in his voice, “why can't you just replace it all at once? Why do I have to keep going back to the city?”
“If you're away for too long, the police will notice,” Sam replies, “and they will come looking for you. We can't afford the possibility that they'll find us before we're ready.”
“Still speaking in the vaguest terms possible. You and this group of yours claim to have this rebellion all mapped out, but you won't tell me anything. I'm beginning to wonder if you're just jerking me around like the people who run that place.” Cory gestures towards the dome.
Sam's unmoving mouth frowns. “Look, I apologize but I must follow the plan …”
Cory interrupts her. “Which phase of this plan involves explaining the plan to me?”
“Enough complaining. If you think I'm going about this the wrong way, you needn't come back.” She picks up the stump, wraps it in the sheet and tucks it under her coat.
As Cory puts his tunic back on, he says, “Is it the right way to go about it though? Changing ourselves this way?”
Sam sighs and puts her head down. “Humans can only prosper under the right conditions. The possibility of achieving those conditions was destroyed a long time ago. The only way we can hope for a future is to rid ourselves of our humanity,” She turns around. “You better hurry back. It'll be night soon.”
She takes off into the green to yellow gradient of the falling sun. Cory turns and heads in the opposite direction, walking back to the dome. “Rid ourselves of our humanity,” he mumbles to himself.
It's the next day. The lights on the inside of the dome are dimmed to the point that they resemble artificial stars aligned in a grid that could form no constellations except basic geometric shapes. We watch them gradually brighten and flood the city with light. Inside Cory's room, we see him sprawled across his cot asleep. As the light pours into the apartment and across his face, he stirs and awakens. He rubs his eyes and stretches, gets up and walks straight to the duffel bag in the corner of his room.
He unzips a pouch on the bag and pulls out a screwdriver. He then walks over to his desk, and takes out four screws on the side. The panel comes off, revealing that the desk has been hollowed out and there are two shelves inside full of tools and papers. He takes the clock, which reads 0604, off his desk and sets it on the floor. He takes a large white sheet of paper from the inside of the desk and lays it across the top. Next, he takes out a blueprint and pins it up on the wall. It shows a round object with a slice removed, reveling the inside. The layers of the object are labeled in messy scribbles. Cory takes several of the various tools and lines them on the desk. Next to this, he sets a stack of papers.
Cory briefly looks over the first paper in the stack. He walks back over to the duffel bag and pulls out two small, corked jars filled with cloudy yellow and blood red liquids. After setting these on the desk he goes back again and pulls out a small chunk of scrap metal. Finally, he sits down at the desk and begins to work.
The clock on the floor reads 1338. Papers are littered around it. Cory is still at his desk peering down through a standing magnifying glass. The sheet on the desk is torn in places and stained with black spots. Droppers rest inside the jars of red and yellow liquids. We finally see what Cory has been working on and it resembles a small ball bearing with tiny holes. He sets this aside then places his wrist under the magnifying glass. He takes a small blade and makes a slit in the artificial skin, exposing a section of his robotic limb. He removes a small section of the silver plating and exposes the wires and circuits underneath it. Holding the incision open with a surgical retractor, he uses a tiny pair of scissors to snip some of the wires. The contortions in his face make it apparent to us that this is a painful process. He takes the ball bearing, and with a pair of tweezers guides the wires into the holes. The wires seem to heal inside of the ball bearing which has become part of the robotic limb's system. He replaces the small section of plating and closes the slit in the artificial skin. It fuses together and we see no sign of the wound left.
Cory moves his wrist around to ensure it still works properly. Seeing that it does, he takes a rag and wipes away the sweat from his brow. He looks out the window at the white sky and the gray buildings.
“Well, Sam,” he says to the empty space, “if you don't have a contingency plan, I do.” He looks at his wrist. “It's not that I don't trust you, really. I just can't stand leaving someone else in complete control.”
It is a week later. Cory is running up a stairwell and cursing to himself.
“Shit! Shit! I should have paid more attention to the news! I should have known they would be renovating that section! I should have found another way! That fucking construction worker blew the whistle on me!”
He runs through a door exiting the stairwell and down the hall to his apartment. He throws open the door then slams it shut and locks it. He grabs the duffel bag and tears the panel off the side of his desk, throwing the tools and papers into the bag.
“There's still a chance! I still have time to find another route out of the city and meet Sam. She won't be happy but,” He pauses and throws the last of the contents of the hollowed out desk into the bag, “If I can just avoid the police. It won't be easy, but there's still a ch...”
He's interrupted by a bang on the door, which dashes his hopes of escaping. He looks out the window and briefly contemplates jumping before the door bursts open. Officer Kim stands there with his pistol drawn. Their eyes meet.
“You were caught trying to leave the city without authorization. Sorry, Cory, but I've been ordered to shoot you on sight.” Officer Kim says, his voice showing that his 'sorry' is, indeed, sincere.
“They always told us that we couldn't leave because, the air was poison outside. That's how it always works, isn't it?” Cory attempts to hide the fear in his voice, but it remains apparent, “Every new law is passed with our safety as the reason. But the Bureau can't outlaw the real threats, because they are the real threat.”
“Look, it's like I always told you, I don't make the rules.”
“No, you just follow them. It's only because you follow them, that they mean anything. Without people like you, they're nothing but impotent declarations. Without complacency, the power hungry starve.” Cory is on the verge of crying.
“I …. look. I really am sorry about this.” Kim's voice wavers.
He fires and the bullet goes straight into Cory's stomach. He clutches the bloody hole in his gut and then collapses in a heap on the floor. Kim's head drops and he rubs his eyes, attempting to hold back tears. Suddenly, a soft grinding sound comes from Cory's body. Kim walks towards him to investigate the sound.
As quickly as Kim blinks, Cory's body seems to become drained of all its fluids before collapsing into a single spot in his right wrist like a dying star. Out of this spot, a long metal appendage shoots. This robotic tentacle impales Kim through the chest. Before his face is able to register surprise or pain, he seems to mummify before our eyes and is absorbed into the appendage.
One floor down, in an apartment almost identical to Cory's, a man is taking a nap on his cot. He briefly snaps awake to a flash of silver bursting into his gut. In the basement, a janitor in the boiler room falls back in shock as the appendage barely misses him and continues to dig down into the floor. Outside, at the entrance of the building, a congress of policemen have gathered.
“The records say this is where he lives,” One of them shouts. “We have orders to shoot him immediately. Do not attempt an arrest!”
“Hey, what's the noise?” Another one says.
Another appendage, much wider in size, shoots out through the side of the building. It comes down on the policemen and the ones who are not crushed are thrown back by the force of the tentacle and the concrete rumbling and breaking. One building over, in an apartment larger than Cory's, a father places a sleeping infant into a crib as the mother sits on the cot. He turns to her and is impaled by another metal tentacle. She gasps in shock as her husband disappears, absorbed by the silver thing. She tries to run to her child but the object expands in size and blocks her path. She pounds on it, crying as she hears the baby wail on the other side. Two floors below this, a man is taking a shower when he hears the loud rumbling noise, like an earthquake, of the floors breaking he outside. He tries to open the bathroom door to investigate the noise, but the robotic tentacle has grown too large and has blocked the door. He is trapped inside.
Back in the building where this began, 5 floors up from Cory's apartment, a man is looking out his window. A column of silver bursts through his floor which pushes him out and sends him falling to the sidewalk below. Panning back, we see the metal column burst through the roof of the building, having expanded to become wide enough to completely obliterate the top two floors. It continues upward.
On top of the hill outside of the city dome, we see Sam pacing back and forth. She comes to a stop after a moment and puts her hand on her chin. “I guess he decided not to come back. A shame, he would have been a valuable asset to our cause.” Just as she finishes saying this, there is a small earthquake which catches her off-guard followed by a loud rumbling sound.
Turning her attention to the dome, she hears an ear-drum shattering crack as a giant silver column bursts through it. The column folds down into a shape resembling the top of a tree and yellow lights running up and down it crackle on. In shock, she is unable to do anything but stare at this giant mechanical tree until she receives a signal from the tree, like hearing a voice in her head.
“Cory? Is that you? But how...” She is dumbstruck, “What the hell have you done!?”
The lights on the tree blink, indicating it is giving a response.
“Your 'contingency plan'? But what is this? How is this useful!? How can this possibly help us at all!?”
The lights blink.
Sam freezes, she raises her arms as if some great truth as been revealed to her. “Of course! Yes! There's no way we can lose now! Please, go on.”
The lights blink in response and Sam stands there listening. Her unmoving mouth smiles.
End Credits Roll.