Thursday, December 3, 2020

Book Review: Castle Faggot by Derek McCormack

I recall that when I was a child, a religious relative of mine was angry at Disney claiming that they hosted “Gay Days” at their parks. These were apparently days where large groups of gay men would come to the park and parade their, in the eyes of my religious relative, deviant lifestyle in front of families. It would only be until years later that I would learn that these were not something actually sanctioned by Disney, but events organized by gay rights groups and they simply consisted of visits to the park by these groups. Looking back, I wonder what they actually believed these events consisted of. I can only assume it would look a lot like Derek McCormack's Castle Faggot.

Funland's for fun, Futureland's for futures, Fantasticland's fantastic—Faggotland's for faggots.”

Castle Faggot consists of three parts. Part one is a fictional flyer/brochure for a theme park called Faggotland. The titular castle is the center of the park and is described as being full of the bodies of “faggots” who have committed suicide and every surface smeared with shit. The scatological examination of homophobia hits one immediately when you open the book. The visitors of the park are always described as “faggots.” The word is repeated so often, copying the repetition of real marketing materials, that it would lose meaning if McCormack's prose didn't maintain a sarcastic, angry energy throughout.

The bodies of suicide victim “faggots” as the decoration of the theme park attraction is an evocative image. There were many ways that LGBT+ people passed in the struggle for their rights, suicides due to being cast away by family and society among them. Today, many companies will use a display of sympathy towards gay right struggles as a means of marketing despite never giving any meaningful contribution. The bodies of victims become décor in the neoliberal theme park.

The mascots of Faggotland are also cereal mascots; parodies of Count Chocula, Boo Berry, and Frankenberry. The park, the castle, and the mascots are “shown” in a section with blank squares instead of pictures, leaving the actual images to the imagination of the reader. There's also an advertisement for a dollhouse of Castle Faggot, continuing the themes of satirizing homophobia, it declares that “faggots love dollhouses” and tells the ones who buy it to shove it up their asses.

For all the darkness and scatology in the book, it's still very funny. Parodies of French Decadent writers, such as “Stéphane Marshmallarmé,” make appearances. I wonder what it says about my sense of humor that the funniest part of the book to me was when they speak only the word “French” over and over again.

The second part of the book is a narrative called “Rue Du Doo.” This section is a surreal mix of cereal commercials, The Wizard of Oz, Disney films, Rankin/Bass films, and what is likely autobiography from McCormack which also has a surprisingly straightforward story. Count Choc-o-log, the ruler of Castle Faggot, is unable to see himself in the mirror because he's a vampire. However, because he's a stereotypical conceited gay man, he wants to be able to see himself and, believing him to be a wizard, brings Derek McCormack into Faggotland to create him a magic mirror. While McCormack struggles to fulfill the Count's wish so he can go back home, some of the Count's underlings oppose him as they want to keep the vampire dependent on them for compliments.

The narrative has a heavy sense of nostalgia marred by heartbreak and trauma. Films and TV shows are recalled with a sense of humor, but also with cynicism in recognizing their commercial purposes. The fictional Derek McCormack thinks little of his real life before Faggotland due to his sexuality causing severe bullying. There's even a love arc that ends very tragically and maintains that sense of tragedy despite the coprophagia and cartoonish scenes of bats flying into rectums. It speaks very well of McCormack the author that he's able to fit so many emotions into a story so ridiculous and with such a puerile sense of humor.

The final part of the book is an afterword consisting of a dialogue between author Dennis Cooper and director Zac Farley. It serves as a good summation of the themes of the book as well as giving some context surrounding the creation of it.

The day after I received this book in the mail, I was checking for reviews of it and noticed the book had been taken down from Amazon. As of writing this, it's still not up. Whether this is a mistake or whether this was taken down due to the title and the content remains to be seen. This was a book that was always going to push buttons, and it seems to be doing that already. The title alone will be incredibly off-putting to many, and I won't try to convince those who are. However, while a disturbing piece of work, I believe it's an important one. It's a hilarious and insightful look at the effects of homophobia, trauma, and the way sexual identity has become increasingly commodified in the wake of recent civil rights victories. 

Buy Castle Faggot by Derek McCormack

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Book Review: Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel by Amy M. Vaughn


(Disclaimer: Amy Vaughn is one of my editors at Babout 691 and this book was published by the same outfit that published my first novel, The Story of the Y)

Conjoined twins Jackie and Maddie thought they finally found a place to fit in when they joined the Main Event Sideshow, a modern day traveling freak show. When a storm in the Southwest leaves the group stranded at an isolated desert motel, they find themselves under attack by the homicidal owners and discovering the dark secrets of the occupants staying in the other rooms.

Leslie enjoyed cleaning the rooms. She believed there was a certain way things should be and that keeping things tidy kept the chaos away. When Leslie cleaned a room, she was putting that one little part of the world back in order again.”

Freak Night... is a fast-paced bizarro horror story. It reminds me a lot of Joe R. Lansdale's forays into strange fiction, such as The Drive-In. There's a lot of chaos, vivid action scenes, and a whole lot of blood and guts. The “freaks” are a mix of realistic ones, such an incredibly obese woman and conjoined twins, and more fantastic ones, such as a man with four fully functional arms and a woman with no head. There's also an actual chupacabra. All of it blends well together.

Despite the short length of the story, it still manages to fit a good amount of backstory to many of the characters. The life of the violently bigoted owner of the hotel is especially believable for how they turned out that way. It also manages the flesh out the more minor characters, the other occupants of the hotel, as much as they need to be without stopping the story.

The action is bloody and incredibly entertaining, as is the often dark humor. One could read the book in a couple hours, as I did, like watching a movie. While a mostly satisfying read, the ending does rely on a couple difficult to buy contrivances. I also think it could have added more backstory to some of the other freaks in the Sideshow as well.

Despite that, Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel is a fun, well-paced slasher novel with a unique cast of characters. Fans of bizarro fiction will certainly enjoy this. Fans of horror fiction who want something off-kilter will want to pick this up too. 

Buy Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel by Amy M. Vaughn here. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Return of The Unreprinted

The Unreprinted has a new home at Babou 691! Thank you very much to the editors for picking up the column. 

The first entry is a look at The Forever Children by Eric Flanders, a diamond in the rough that was Zebra Books.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson


Ever since the biotech company IMTECH came to the small Oregon town of Turner Falls, strange, disturbing things have been happening. A few mysterious deaths followed by a student going berserk and killing a teacher and mutilating another student are only the beginning. Lucy, her best friend Bucket, and her crush Brewer find themselves caught right in the middle when things go completely awry. A night of partying immediately becomes a non-stop fight to stay alive for the three.

Someone must have the answers, right? Someone must know what we're supposed to do when reality breaks down.”

Those familiar with Jeremy Robert Johnson's work will recognize a lot of the tropes in this novel. It's full of body horror, visceral violence, bizarre imagery, and people losing their minds. One of the things that makes The Loop stand out is that it's almost a bait and switch. While the reader gets hints of what's to come, much of the beginning of the book reads almost like a young adult coming of age novel. It follows Lucy dealing with being something of an outsider in her small town, having been adopted from Peru. The trauma she deals with after witnessing the very first attack of the people-turned-berserkers that eventually overtake the town feels very realistic and is explored in depth. We see a lot of her relationship with her best friend Bucket and her burgeoning romance with Brewer. JRJ spends a lot of time crafting the kind of characters who you wouldn't want to see horrible things happen to.

Then he proceeds to do horrible, horrible things to them.

In general, the novel is a slow burn. Throughout the book, the violence and intensity is slowly dialed up further and further until until the ending, which is like a kaleidoscope of blood and guts. Don't let the silly “World War Z meets Stranger Things” tagline fool you. This is an extremely intense read.

The biggest theme in The Loop is the divide between haves and have-nots and the contempt the former often has for the latter. Lucy and Bucket are both minority immigrants, Lucy being an orphan from Peru and Bucket's family coming from Pakistan (his nickname being a play on his real name Bakhit) and Brewer is from a very poor family. Many of the well-off in the town work for IMTECH and they become the first victims of the experiment that gets loose from the labs of the company. It's strongly implied that the sociopathy of the rich kids in town is what causes the experimental technology to fall into the violent feedback loop which turns its victims into bloodthirsty monsters.

The Loop is an excellently crafted science fiction horror novel and proof that Jeremy Robert Johnson moving from the small press scene into the mainstream has not neutered the intensity of his writing. Both fans of JRJ's prior work and horror fans in general will enjoy this one very much. Highly recommended. 

Buy The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson here. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Now at Babou 691



For those who haven't seen yet, the new webzine, Babout 691 has taken me on for essays and reviews. I'm very happy to be a part of it!

My first essay, The Surreality of Liminal Spaces, explores the "Backrooms" phenomenon, liminal spaces, and surrealist art. More reviews and essays will be coming soon. 

Thank you to editors Amy Vaughn and Zé Burns for having me.

Monday, September 28, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld


When 10-year-old Jas's brother Matthies passes away in an ice-skating accident, she and her family fall into despair. They all begin coping with it in increasingly bizarre and self-destructive ways. Her father becomes more distant and aggressive, her mother stops eating, and her siblings start engaging in unusual rituals. Jas herself starts refusing to ever take her red coat off to the point it starts to smell and refuses to defecate until her stomach bulges. To make matters worse, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease threatens to kill all of their cattle, the source of their livelihood.

...according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort, we are real.”

This debut novel from Dutch author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a character study of a young sheltered girl dealing with grief. Because of her lack of experiences, living on a farm most of her life with little media exposure, and her religious upbringing, she finds herself unable to properly express her feelings. To make it worse, she feels a deep sense of guilt because on the day her brother passed, she had prayed for something to happen to him instead of to her pet rabbit.

The repression of her feelings is represented by her refusal to take off her coat and her refusal to go to the bathroom. Both of these build to the point where the idea of being forced to take her coat off itself causes her to nearly have a breakdown and even when she begins to try to defecate, she finds herself unable to. Her repression runs so deep, that she no longer has the tools to let her emotions out.

Jas also begins to lose herself in various fantasies. One of them, that she shares with her sister, is that someone will eventually come along and “rescue” her. She doesn't even seem to really know what this means, but she imagines it in vague terms involving being swept off her feet, fairy tale style, and being taken away from her farm. She also gets the idea, from studying World War II in school, that her mother is hiding Jews in the basement, despite the fact that she never sees any and may not even really under what a Jewish person is.

Because of the strain that their son's death put on their marriage, Jas's mother and father seem unable to console her or dissuade her from any of her odd fantasies. If anything, they make these worse in their attempts. Her father tries to help what he believes to be her severe constipation by forcing soap into her anus. This does nothing except cause her to feel a deep sense of shame. In addition, sexual games by her friends and siblings going through puberty causes her to have an even more dysfunctional relationship with her own body.

This book reminded me a lot of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden. While in that novel, it shows children whose lives disintegrate because of the passing of a parental figure, this one is about a child whose parental figures are corrupt (the vet), stultified by their own issues (her mother and father), or too distant (her pastor). As such, she's left mostly on her own to figure out her confused emotions and the results are just as ugly.

The Discomfort of Evening is a creepy, visceral, disturbing, beautifully crafted, and incredibly engaging debut novel. Because of its incredibly bleak nature it likely will alienate a lot of readers, but I believe it's one of the best representations of repressed grief and childhood without proper guidance that I've read recently. I very highly recommend this. I look forward to what Rijneveld will come out with in the future. 

Buy The Discomfort of Evening in paperback.

Buy The Discomfort of Evening on Kindle.

Friday, September 11, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible by Seb Doubinsky


Georg Ratner has recently been appointed the new City Commissioner of the city-state of New Babylon in the midst of an election with the incumbent president, the liberal Maggie Delgado, running against conservative populist Ted Rust. His main focus is to try keep the mysterious, powerful hallucinogenic drug Synth off the streets. However, his former partner, recently appointed head of the city finance department and well-loved poet Jesse Valentino is murdered. Ratner's investigations leads him down a political, metaphysical, and artistic rabbit hole.

"All cities were tombs, after all, and New Babylon maybe even more so than others."
Doubinsky's The Invisible is a mix of noir mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. It takes place in an universe that was built in his other books, however, it stands on its own as well. Doubinsky works the world-building into the story very well, avoiding info dumps and keeping the story moving at a good pace. It also leaves just enough untold to leave one wanting to pick up more of his work to learn more about this world. 

One of the major themes of the book is the impact of art. Valentino's murder is at first seen as a random one, despite Ratner's suspicions. His suspicions are confirmed when he learns that other poets in other city-states have also been murdered as well as the publisher of Valentino's newest collection of poetry. Ratner's investigations into the drug Synth also reveal it has rich subculture of artists and musicians, and even finds himself a fan of some it, despite the threat to the establishment that the drug has been labeled as. 

I've seen this novel labeled as a "dystopia" in some places, however, I don't find that accurate at all. While New Babylon is filled with corporate and political corruptions, it seems no worse off than the real world. In some ways, it seems a preferable place to live than the United States in the year 2020. The story is very prescient with its election storyline and the mass protests that happen as it picks up steam. There's a sense of optimism to it that many would find refreshing in these times. 

The novel is divided into short chapters, some only a paragraph long, and into sections labeled with a tarot card. The first chapter of each section is a tarot card "reading," at least that's what I believe it is. I'm unfamiliar with tarot readings, so I can't say I know what the significance of them is. 

The Invisible is an engaging mystery in a fascinating setting. I had a lot of fun reading this and I look forward to reading more of Doubinsky's work. If nothing else, to learn more about the city-state universe.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Brief Thoughts 29

Invisibility: A Manifesto by Audrey Szasz

This chapbook from publisher of transgressive and experimental books Amphetamine Sulphate is a fragmented novelette that's a bit hard to describe, even by the standards of a press as radical as AS.

The plot, if it could be said to have one, follows two characters. Nina is a young girl regularly abused by her Mother and prostituted to older men. Audrey Szasz is a "girl detective," whose story is told through a series of diary entries and documents, that falls in with a group of serial killer cannibals. These two girls may or may not be the same person.

For only being about about 50 pages, this novelette chops up, distorts, and incorporates numerous genres; crime, coming of age tale, horror, erotica, meta-fiction and mystery. The result is a series of stories that are horrifying, engaging, and very funny. Szasz (the author, not the character) has a great dark sense of humor.

The closest things I can compare to this book is Naked Lunch era William S. Burroughs and Atrocity Exhibition era JG Ballard. Both seem to be obvious influences here, especially since one of her other books is about Ballard, but Szasz has a unique voice that stands all on its own.

I highly recommend this book and after finishing this I'm picking up more of her work right away.

Buy Invisibility: A Manifesto by Audrey Szasz here.

Blood on the Moon by James Ellroy 

Lloyd Hopkins is a sergeant in the LAPD  who despises music and can't stop cheating on his wife. When a case involving a man murdering women in a brutal manner comes his way, he dives head first into it between trying to keep his family together, keeping his own fragile mental state together and keeping Internal Affairs off his case for his philandering.

This is one of Ellroy's earlier books. I couldn't help but compare it to his latter ones. For one thing, the prose here is more straightforward rather than the bare bones, telegrammatic sentences of his more recent works. It's also much shorter.

One of the biggest differences is the fact that Lloyd Hopkins is pretty unambiguously the "good guy." In most of his books I've read, even the so-called "good guys" are completely awful people and gleefully corrupt. Here, Hopkins is very flawed, but is without a doubt the hero working to catch a clear villain.

It lacks the dense historical explorations, though the beginning follows Hopkins's response to the Watts Riot. For the most part, however, it takes place in then contemporary early-80's LA. There also isn't much explicit political commentary.

Despite the differences between Ellroy's latter books, it remains a thrilling and engaging crime novel.

Buy Blood on the Moon by James Ellroy here.  
The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy
An old man who lives besides a rotting apple orchard, Arthur Ownby, finds himself caught between a young boy named John Rattner and a bootlegger named Marion Slyder, who had killed John's father unbeknownst to him. 
This was Cormac McCarthy's first novel. While it does have many of the themes of his latter books such as crime, biblical references, social outcasts, and decay, it reads as if McCarthy is still developing the voice that he would perfect in his next book, Outer Dark. The prose is far more consistently ornate, where his later ones only occasionally had such passages for emphasis, and the narrative is far more fragmented. 

The novel is compared a lot to Faulkner, and it's easy to see why. He uses a lot of similar devices, such as Ownby constantly going between the past and the present due to his senility. This threw me off some, as I'm far more used to McCarthy being pretty straightforward, and I had a little trouble following the story. I also found the characters far less memorable than his other books, which is saying something, given he often creates great characters who don't even have names. 

I only really recommend this if you're a huge Cormac McCarthy fan who's read his other books. His other books from his Southern Gothic period (Outer Dark, Child of God and Suttree) are much better. It's interesting to see where McCarthy started, but this novel shows he's a writer who came into his own in his later works. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Brief Thoughts 28

It's been awhile since I've done one of these.

Bash Bash Revolution by Douglas Lain

Matthew Munson is a high school dropout and slacker who spends all his time playing the video game Bash Bash Revolution, a stand-in for Super Smash Brothers, who has no real goals outside of lukewarm attempts to play the game professionally and hanging out with his fundamentalist Christian girlfriend Sally. Around him, a popular movement is taking place wherein people plug themselves permanently into a sentient AI, known as Bucky, which is working to gamify the economy completely. Matthew, knowing his estranged father was one of the scientists responsible for the creation of Bucky, finds himself rebelling against this new system, refusing to plug in as he attempts to learn to true nature of the AI.

BBR is told as a mixture of posts and messages through Matthew's Facebook and, in some chapters, of transcripts of Bucky conversing with itself as it tries to learn more. The two bounce off each other well. Matthew's posts and messages are essentially conversations with himself. No one seems to be responding to them, outside of the occasional bot, and Bucky is essentially trapped within itself, able to learn and grow but unable to have any profound experiences. As all Matthew can do is react to what is going on around him, Bucky can only follow what it believes to be the logical ends of its programming.

Besides the theme of alienation, the novel is also heavy on political commentary. There are observations of the current political situation, the book was published in 2018, on Donald Trump and the United States' rocky relationship with the rest of the world. One of the funniest passages is where the AI is debating with itself on how it can avoid nuclear war. It proposes working to increase Trump's intelligence, but its analysis finds that doing so would increase the probability of nuclear war by 95%.

It also looks beyond the immediate, examining alternatives to the current economy. Bucky's gamification of everything is essentially a Marxist accelerationist scheme. Despite Lain being a Marxist himself, this is not at all a preachy book or an Iron Heel style pushing of an agenda. The story frames Bucky's takeover neutrally, suggesting that the results of it may be horrible. There's a genuinely tragic, if somewhat comic, scene where Matthew's mom plugs into one of Bucky's games and, as a result, she takes off and Matthew never sees her again. It also causes Sally to have a severe crisis of faith. However, there are also indications that Bucky's work is the only thing preventing the apocalypse and that it will make people happier in the long run.

Bash Bash Revolution is a good mix of political satire, a melancholy coming of age story, and a science fiction exploration of artificial intelligence. This is a book well-worth reading, especially if you're a fan of sci-fi or videogames. I look forward to reading more from Lain.

Buy Bash Bash Revolution by Douglas Lain here.

The Lockdown Trade-Off by Sam West 

A pub owner in Cornwall, England trades his unfaithful wife Cat and her lover to a creepy, eccentric millionaire in exchange for a huge sum of money to save his business, which has been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This had a decent story that moved at a good pace, but the characters are one dimensional, the prose makes some very poor word choices at times (describing a person as "delectable" is impossible to take seriously), and the "climax" was kind of goofy for as serious as it tried to play it. Also, for a book that touts itself as "extreme," there really isn't much gore or torture. I appreciate it tried to be more "psychological" in its horror, but it's hard to do that with characters that lack depth. You could do worse for 99 cents, but I'm not exactly eager to pick up any more of Sam West's works. 

Buy The Lockdown Trade-Off by Sam West here.

SS Death Simulation by Michael Faun  

When the locals of a small village in Sweden in the midst of WWII discover a local woman is using her home as a brothel to service German SS officers, they devise a plan to infiltrate it and bring the Nazi officials down. 

Now this is how you do exploitation.

This little novella has it all; a Nazi midget, deviant sex of every kind, spies undercover as prostitutes, an exciting climax, and an appropriately bittersweet ending. I had a lot of fun with this one. It's one of the best examples of Faun's "b-movie in book form" style, maybe the best I've read so far.

Highly recommended.

(This book is currently out of print.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

NEW PODCAST - Bandcamp Massacre

I recently started a new podcast with Paul Bingham wherein, with guests, we comb through the depths of

You listen to the pilot episode at

Friday, July 10, 2020

dr. sodom and mrs. gomorrah OUT NOW


If you're interested in a signed copy, message or email me. I'll have copies to sell directly soon.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Out Now: The Dying Nun Debut Album

I'd been wanting to get back into making music for a while now. I finally just went and did it and made a short album. It's the debut of my dark ambient/noise project, The Dying Nun

Download it for pay as you wish or for free at

Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Review: From the Belly of the Goat by Donald Armfield

(Disclaimer: Donald Armfield has previously published some of my poems in an anthology he edited.)

From the Belly of the Goat is a collection of five horror stories with a bonus one in the paperback. Donald Armfield's style here is heavily reminiscent of pulp horror and adventure stories. Lovecraft is an obvious reference, but many of the stories are also two-fisted tales of explorers exploring mountains and deep oceans, fighting monster with swords, and journal logs of horrific discoveries.

“Ancient Giraffe Experiment,” the first story, is a bit of a standout in that it's more bizarro horror than the rest. In a series of documents and logs, it recounts a story of the discovery of a giraffe skeleton on the moon. When astronauts attempt bring the bones back to Earth, it unleashes a gas that has a horrific effect on the crew. This is an entertaining bizarro horror story that reads almost like a creepypasta. It's one of the best stories in the book

“Guardians of Cedar Hills” is probably the most Lovecraftian story in the book. A man named Mazin travels to northern Lebanon to explore a forest slowly being lost to deforestation. It's a simple, but effective story of making a horrible discovery in a mysterious place.

“Golem Sanctuary” is a pulp story of a cargo liner captain and his crew gathering parts of a statue from the ocean for a woman with a plan for causing Armageddon. This is a fun story that creates some great apocalyptic imagery. However, it wraps up a little too easily and quickly at the end.

“A Womb for Her Baby” is a pitch black horror comedy about two dumb brothers accidentally releasing a pair of trolls, who go on a rampage in their small Alaskan town. The female troll wants nothing more than a baby, and is trying to find a human baby to eat and give birth to. That sounds a little weird, so read the story if you want an explanation. This is a pretty fun splattery story that maintains the pulp feeling of the prior stories. However, this one has the weakest writing with some very awkward dialogue.

“From the Belly of the Goat” is another Lovecraftian tale. A man recalls his encounter with a strange tribe who create a sickness that emerges from goat bellies and destroys an entire town. This one is close to bizarro horror, but is more surreal with its nonlinearity and unreliable narrator. It's a solid tale for the title.

The paperback version, which I read, also includes the bonus story “The New Albino Race.” A trio of brothers exploring a mountain for artifacts stumble upon an underground race of albinos bent on world domination. This is yet another pulp-inspired, two-fisted tale that's a lot of fun to read and makes a nice addition for those picking up the paperback.

From the Belly of the Goat is a very entertaining collection of tales that mix a little bit of bizarro and splatter horror with nostalgic, pulpy horror, fantasy, and adventure. I definitely recommend this collection for horror fans and people who want some fun, breezy reads with a little edge to them.

(Update: An earlier version of this review mentioned multiple copyediting errors, however, these have since been corrected.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Book Review: Pax Americana by Kurt Baumeister

In the year 2034, Dr. Diana Scorsi has developed a powerful AI called Symmetra, which causes all who experience it to believe that it's god. She soon finds herself kidnapped by Ravelton Parley, founder the of the incredibly successful Righteous Burger fast food chain who wants the technology for his own purposes. With Symmetra at the center of a potential international incident with various nations fighting for the technology, government agents Tuck Squires and Ken Clarion set out to rescue Dr. Scorsi before it's too late.

Whether families or neighbors or armies, the reasons people kept fighting were so often mysterious, so far beyond the realms of ethics or reason, that they might easily seem like the province of otherworldly powers.”

Pax Americana is a satirical sci-fi spy thriller in the vein of Pynchon and Vonnegut. There are numerous absurdities within the world, such as an extended run of Republicans in the White House leading to a ideology known as Christian Consumerism taking hold in America. This results in Christian-theme products and businesses, such as the Righteous Burger, taking over the mainstream. The anti-hero of the book, Tuck Squires, is the opposite of a suave, smooth-talking secret agent. He's a prudish WASP from a rich family who failed upwards into his position. Through most of the book, he's carried by Ken Clarion, a grizzled veteran of the field.

In spite of the many humorous elements, Baumeister plays the spy plot mostly straight. It's full of intrigue, action, backstabbing, and lots of things blowing up. He balances these elements well, creating an entertaining read without losing the satirical looks at religion, American hegemony, and capitalism. This would make for a great film.

The book is incredibly evocative of the Bush administration era. Within the world of Pax Americana, the Iraq invasion was successful and resulted in a series of Republican presidents up until 2034. American hegemony is all but assured (hence the title), but is beginning to unravel due to a failed invasion of Syria. The development of Symmetra is causing even more problems, with every country desperately wanting the technology that would completely upend everyone's understanding of religion.

Religion is often the center of mockery in this novel. Both the anti-hero Tuck Squires and the villain Ravelton Parley are self-righteous Christians who are obsessed with loyalty to American and capitalism, and use both to justify morally questionable things. One scene that stands out in particular is when Parley is pretending to be a Muslim while speaking with an associate from an Islamic theocracy and the result is both a mockery of the Othering of Islam by Americans and of the religion itself. Symmetra itself is essentially a brainwashing program that is able to convince all who interact with it that it's a sort of machine god, which gives the people fighting over it various theological motivations to get a hold of it.

Pax Americana is a funny and entertaining read with a lot to say about the place of religion in society today. It can be enjoyed both for its plot and action as well as it themes. I highly recommend this and I look forward to reading what Baumeister puts out in the future. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review: Lonely Men Club by Mike Kleine

Created a cipher and sent it to the Vallejo Times Herald. Zodiac = 18, SFPD: 0. Wrote a poem about Delaware. Mailed it to Dave Toschi. Received a bill for $337.41. It was from the government. It had been a long day. Wrote my thoughts concerninggeodisc philosophies in a little book. I feel better when the sky is white.”

To say that Lonely Men Club has a plot is a bit of a stretch. To call it a character study is more accurate, but it looks at the character in the strangest way possible. That's not even just because the character is a time-traveling Zodiac Killer with magic powers who prays, writes, and travels in between committing murders and assaults and taunting the press and police. If I had to describe this book to someone, I'd say it's like a mix between American Psycho and House of Leaves.

Kleine wrote this book, which is over 700 pages and 100,000 words, in five days with the help of various computer programs, making the text partially procedurally generated. As radically different as this is from his other work, even the very experimental Arafat Mountain, there are still a lot of recognizable themes that Kleine comes back to. Travel, pop culture, and empty consumerism drowning out higher truths all run through the book.

I read this book from the beginning of it to the end. That seems like it should go without saying, but as Kleine points out in the introduction and the publisher points out in the afterword, this is not really a book to be read that way. The publisher even states it's the kind of book you never finish reading.

There's a lot of repetition in the book. I had to pace myself reading it to keep from getting annoyed by it, which I think was the right move. It's not so repetitive it kept me from coming back, though. Every few pages there will be something unexpected like a page blank but for a period or text over other text, making it unreadable. It's like the Zodiac Killer's time-traveling and powers are destroying the book itself.

The book has several places where words aren't spaced, creating strange neologisms such as “destroyedomlette” and “fuckedprayer.” Most of the prose is mundane and staccato, with the occasional burst of a strange question or a poetic phrase. Tying into the Zodiac Killer mythos, he's often praying for power and slaves in the afterlife. Despite the fact he aspires for such things, all that he can do with the power he already possesses is kill people, taunt the cops, and wander aimlessly. The book does throw curve balls at some points, in a book that is a curve ball itself, that does end up making very close reading of the text rewarding, despite the fact it the way its written encourages skimming.

Lonely Men Club is a radical book, even by the standards of experimental fiction. A lot of people will be very quickly turned off by it. However, Kleine has created an unquestionably unique book and a piece of text that works as piece of visual art as well. As of writing this, the publisher has this available for free as an e-book on their website. However, I very much encourage anyone interested in this to get the physical book as it loses something without being an object one can hold and flip through. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Unrepublished: 10 A Boot Stomping 20 A Human Face 30 Goto 10 by Jess Gulbranson

The Unrepublished is a look at books which are out of print and not available new, even as e-books. What lurks in the depths of these forgotten books?

Eric is a relatively normal music-loving hipster. He works a day job in a record shop, he eats pizza almost everyday, and his only major quirk is that he hates computers. However, he soon discovers that he has an unusual talent and finds himself roped into a conspiracy that results in a fight for human freedom, and for reality itself.

Could you break your brain by thinking too much about the wrong things? I suppose so.”

Generally, when I take a look at books, I try to keep my reviewer hat, which is my penis, separate from my writer hat. The problem is, my writer hat is also my penis, so this tends to cause a big overlap. I couldn't help but notice there were a lot of theme overlaps with my own first novel, The Story of the Y. The main character is a record collection hipster, there are a lot of ghosts and magic, there's a hatred and fear of authority running throughout, and there's a lot of cosmic mystery. I bought this eight years ago, but never got around to reading it until this year. I can't help but feel like if I had read this right after I first bought it, I would have either never written The Story of the Y or it would have been a much better novel. Either way, it's clear that Gulbranson and I are functioning on a very similar wavelength.

The title is both a reference to the famous quote from 1984, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human faceforever,” and to the computer language BASIC. It's not immediately obvious what relevance it has, the story seems to just be about a hipster who discovers he has psychic powers. However, when Gulbranson drops the title in the book, it's certainly earned and doesn't feel forced or cheesy at all.

One of my favorite parts of this book is its sense of humor. I've laughed at few books harder. The funniest chapter is when Eric comes home to his apartment to find that someone has broken in. Nothing has been taken, but someone took a shit on his kitchen floor. After cleaning up, he asks his landlord about it who says he saw someone lurking around the building who resembled “that person in the videos smashing the pumpkins.” When Eric asks if he means Gallagher, the landlord clarifies that he meant music videos. Eric takes this to mean either Billy Corrigan or someone who resembles him is responsible.

It isn't a big surprise to learn that original manuscript for this book was written for the Three Day Novel contest, though it wasn't the winner for that year. It moves along at a very fast pace and one could easily read this in a day or so. I've heard this book considered bizarro, as it was published through Legumeman Books. It could easily be filed under Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, or Horror without seeming out of place in the least, so bizarro seems as good a classification if any. It has a unique voice written in a manner that feels as natural as the way it mixes genre conventions.

This is an excellent book and it's a shame that it's not only, but that used copies are so difficult to find. The cheapest I could find were copies that are at least $50. Not only that, but Gulbranson hasn't written anything since this book, though he does have scattered stories in anthologies and wrote two other novels before this that are even harder to find. If you can find this book in a used book store, I highly recommend picking this up and I hope this will find a reprinting eventually.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Now Available on Bookshop

For people who want to minimize Amazon use during their worker strike, I've created a Bookshop storefront. All of my books in paperback are available on the website. You'll be directing support away from Amazon and to independent book stores by buying there. I also have some copies available directly from me if you want to get some autographed. E-mail me for details.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Elaine - Now Available

Elaine is now available from Atlatl Press. You can buy the paperback here, or the Kindle version here.

I'll have signed copies available directly from myself within the coming weeks. For those of you in the Des Moines area, I'll be selling copies at the Des Moines Book Festival on March 28 from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM.