Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Clockwork Girl (mini-fic reviews part 2)


         This book hit me where I live. I think it'd hit most people where they live. It's a very, very good book. I can't recommend it to anyone, but it's amazing. 

          Allow me to explain: This small novella affected me almost more than anything else I've read. It was disturbing, incredibly disturbing. There are few books that can actually shake and unsettle me as much as this has, and at the same time, in its own way, it's bittersweet. It wormed its way into my brain and tugged at some very deep feelings, the feelings that I don't usually allow to come to the surface or even let out at all. And, considering I'd read this right after "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead", it's no wonder that I stayed up until almost six in the morning and didn't fall asleep until almost seven with all these thoughts whirling around in my brain. 

I'm drifting again. Allow me to get to the point.

           "Clockwork Girl" is a novella by Athena Villaverde. Villaverde is a fairly recent addition to the Bizarro literary scene. Her work appears in The Bizarro Starter Kit: Purple, she's written one novel titled Starfish Girl (canny readers may notice a naming trend), and wrote a collection with "Clockwork Girl" as the titular story. The novella follows a sentient clockwork girl named Pichi from her first memories on Christmas Day all the way through her life. Pichi is given as a present to Marisol, the young girl of a rich family. At first, Marisol is reluctant to receive such a gift, as Pichi was formerly a poor child whose body was replaced with clockwork and turned into a sentient toy, but eventually she comes around and introduces Pichi to her toyroom. The early parts of the story detail Marisol and Pichi as they play hide-and-seek, paint the walls of the playroom, play with Marisol's clockwork dog named Maki, and do other wonderful childhood activities. As the story goes on, Pichi develops a deep and abiding love for Marisol.

But here's the thing. Children grow up. Toys do not. And when children grow up, some of them outgrow their toys. 

               So from Pichi's point of view, we see Marisol grow more distant, and drift away from her and away from the playroom. And if the story ended there, it would be absolutely heartbreaking. But it gets worse. All from Pichi's point of view. As she tries to desperately hold on until Marisol comes home from college. As she has to find someone to wind her so she won't die. As she endures the family, who all treat her not as a little girl, not as a playmate, but as a toy to be played with and thrown away. It's the emotional equivalent of torture porn. 

              What makes it wrenching is that it's easy to understand, but hard to fight. Everyone grows out of their childhood affectations at some point or another, and it's something we accept. It's a part of life. But from this point of view, it's horrifying to think of such a thing. And Villaverde makes it very vivid and packs every parargaph full of enough detail to have made me feel like I've been punched. What makes this book good, what makes it dangerous, is the way it plays with your empathy. The opening passages are lyrical and sweet, sort of like a twisted version of Winnie-the-Pooh. The dark hints creep in slowly, and before you know it, the rug's been pulled out from under you, and all that's left until the last two or three chapters is a long tunnel of despair with only the briefest light. I am incapable of tears*, but trying to empathize with Pichi made me hurt. I wanted to rescue her, but I realized everyone does the same thing,

             We all grow up. We get older. Some of us manage to hold on to the accouterments of childhood, and others of us shed them without a second thought. The toys we discard we give no second thought to, importance of them notwithstanding. Athena Villaverde has basically taken this and weaponized it. With her vivid descriptions and brutally optimistic internal monologue, she made me feel sad for growing up.

              I suppose I should tell you at the end of this all that there's a happy ending. By that point, you've been so violated in your sense of empathy it's like watching a train wreck and then finding a buck on the sidewalk-- it's nice, but it doesn't erase the horror that came before it. 

               So in the end, I can't recommend this. It's like "The Little Match Girl" on steroids. This is the most remarkable and amazing thing I've read this year, but it left me disturbed and upset and practically hollowed out. So I can't recommend it. But if you find it, if you read it, I will tell you this: It's very, very good. I just don't want to ever read it again. 

The Geek Rage/Strange Library Book of the Year is revealed

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Monday, December 30, 2013

Twittering from the Circus of the Dead (mini-fiction reviews part 1)

                   In an effort to communicate my feelings and issues over two of the works I've read, I have decided to do two mini-reviews, as befits the short story and novella I've decided to cover. If this should prove fruitful, I may continue in this manner. In any case, it beats just sitting on them or not talking about them, right?

         I want to know who the hell ruined Joe Hill's day. I don't know who it was, but he's started mining some very dark, depressive, disturbing veins with his craft. It's still brilliant writing. Don't get me wrong, NOS4A2 is a book I hold in high regard and everything I've read from him has been top shelf work. But in taking Hill's body of work as one cohesive whole, even at his most brutal in Heart Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts didn't achieve the twisted depths his more current work calls home. And while I may still prefer the earlier work to the later strains, I still find the story an incredible work. 

         I read "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" at ten in the evening on a rather dull night. Despite having several other tabs open at the time*, I sat there, eagerly turning the page, reading more and more as the story unfolded. By the end, I wasn't sure if I were able to go to sleep at the end of the night. And as each new line of the story progressed, I felt a lovely sense of dread growing bit by bit.  It's an unsettling story, and that it takes such a short time (I read it in one sitting) only adds to the unnerving nature. It's a more concentrated dose, and Hill's always been a master of delivering quick punches in a narrative. In short, this is a brilliant short story, and well worth the meager price of admission. 

          "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead" is the story of Blake. Blake is a teenage girl from California who has been dragged on a trip to Colorado with her family. As the story unfolds in quick 140-character tweets, we learn about Blake's annoying little brother, her overbearing mother, and her beleaguered father. We get tiny snapshots of Blake's life and what she thinks of everything as her family gets up at six in the morning to take the long drive back to their home. For a while, it's easy to identify with Blake. Her annoyances, some small moments of bonding, and her disbelief at her brother's antics. It's an enjoyable family-bonding kind of thing.

But then.

         But then Blake's family pulls in at a roadside attraction called The Circus of the Dead. But then her dad buys tickets to the show from a man who looks plague-stricken. The ticket taker wears a hazmat suit "so he doesn't get bitten." The show involves a stilt-wearing ringmaster clad in only her underwear who tells the audience that the circus took her prisoner and forced her to perform. And that's only the start of the strange and disturbing things in store for Blake and her family. Because when they thought they would be entertained for an afternoon, they found something with very, very sharp teeth. 

           The compressed length makes the story disturbing, and the idea of Twitter as a platform for telling this kind of story, while perhaps not as new as others, gives it a certain level of immersion. Were this told in the conventional style, there would not be much to define it from a thousand other teen horror stories. But it's the medium that makes it terrifying, mainly due to the economy of language. It's what we don't see that's just as terrifying as what we do. Those little 140-character bursts allow the reader to fill in all kinds of unnerving blanks, as the breathless messages grow more anxious and disturbed. Joe Hill handles that economy quite well, and it shows in that he's just as terrifying in this format as any other. Hill's voice is also strong. I can easily believe that this is a teenage girl. The issues come in when occasionally that voice stretches credibility, but there aren't too many of those places, and in the end, it's a fascinating read. 

        Find this. Read this. You can read it on your computer just as easily as anywhere. It's definitely worth the ninety-nine cents, and it delivers a ride that few can in this format. 

UP NEXT: "Clockwork Girl" by Athena Villaverde

*I read most of my ebooks on my computer. My Kindle has sadly died a queenly death and Amazon steadfastly refuses to replace or repair it with anything but a newer and sadly inferior model. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


       Okay, the rundown is as follows. This is a brilliant, beautiful work. It's also really huge, but Clive Barker manages to fill each page with something while perhaps not compelling, at least interesting to read. The story is of John Furie "Gentle" Zacharias, a con man with mysterious powers; and his friend, guide, and eventual lover Pie'oh'Pah. It is also about the various people in their lives, and how they may be affected by an event known as "the Reconciliation", the time for which is quickly approaching. The good are the brilliant imagery, lavish descriptions, complex characters, and dense, epic plot. The bad is that this is a slow read at first until it eventually gets going. And the pacing is still weird after that.

                But in the end, this is a book well worth your time. And your money. Buy this, read it, and enjoy a hallucinatory fantasy epic with some genuine surreality and darkness to it.

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom

            Okay, so the rundown is as follows. Chung Kuo is a future history on an epic, operatic scale. The book traces the start of the "War of Two Directions", a conflict between the Confucianist stasis of the ruling Chinese empire and the upper-class Europeans who wish for progress, change, and to take back their birthright. The book features a huge cast of characters and a scope that, for the first book in a seven-book series, shows remarkable restraint and control while still spanning slightly over a decade in time. 

               The good points are that it takes next to no time at all to get off the ground and manages to cover the massive amount of territory despite a small lull in the action after the prologue, that it follows a huge cast of complex characters without ever once feeling like it's repeating itself or reusing characters, and that it keeps up a level of tension without having to resort too much to excessive vulgarity. It also keeps just enough uncertainty in the plot to make it interesting. The good guys are never on the verge of winning, and neither are the bad guys. And both sides are complex enough not to be "good" or "bad", but to be driven by their own motivations. Except one.

             The bad parts are an ending that seems to arbitrarily set up the cliffhanger for the next book just so one side doesn't seem to be in too much of a position of strength, and a single character, Major Howard deVore. de Vore seems to be an unrepentant monster, manipulating both sides of the conflict for little more than his own gratification. He appears to derive pleasure from human suffering and sick power games, and thus stands out against the rest of the cast. Also, there are two or three scenes that get really brutal and nasty, so I feel like I should warn that they're there.

More, as always, below.

Monday, December 9, 2013


           Okay, so the rundown is as follows*: Lexicon is not a great book, far from the best book of the year, but it's a solid read. The characters are fairly interesting, the darkly humorous tone carries the book a lot, and the pace keeps the reader moving even in the parts when the book flags. The bad bits come in with a mystery solved in cop-out, some confusing flashbacks that are not told in any conceivable order, and a surplus of plot elements that, while touched upon, are never fully discussed. 

                 In the end, while it's a dynamite book on its own terms and when put up against most of the literary canon to date, it's a disappointment from the man who wrote Syrup, Company, Man Machine, and Jennifer Government. Get this one from the library, enjoy it in the three or four days it'll take to read it, and then move on to better things. It's enjoyable, but I wouldn't buy it. More, as always, below.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hiatus Announcement

Hi, guys.

I'm going to be taking November off. I'm doing this so I can do some reading for pleasure, and because there are a couple of longer books I just haven't been able to get through with my schedule. Things like Imajica. And It. And Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom among others. It'll also give me time to build up a good buffer again so I can get you the reviews on a better schedule.

So once again: I'm going to be gone for November for some personal time, but will be back after that. I hope to see you all when I'm done. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Doctor Sleep

                     Okay, so the rundown is as follows: While Doctor Sleep is among the better written books I have read this year, that does not make it one of the better books I have read this year. While intriguing in places, overall the book falters as it is of two minds and comes up the better for neither of them. It's a book with a lot of heart about an older man and a young woman and their attempts to stand on their own but with help from others, and for that it gets some of my praise. But the way the book weighs itself down and seems unable to make up its mind about which story it wants to tell until the very last page make it one to take out of the library rather than buying it. Read it if you must, but I won't tell you you must read it. More, as always, below.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Bone Season


               Okay, so the rundown is as follows: This is not a good book. It is well-written, but it is a bad book. The characters aren't really that compelling, the world isn't strong, the only thing that seems to work for it is the worldbuilding, which is both plot and character-agnostic. Stay away from this one, though watch Samantha Shannon, because she could very easily become an author of some renown if she fixes her issues with pacing, characterization, and all the rest. 

                   Don't believe the hype, don't buy into the curiosity, just leave this one where you found it, and maybe look for Shannon's next book. She's got seven books planned and this is the first one, so hopefully she'll get better. More, as always, below

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy

               Okay, the rundown is as follows. This is a sprawling, crazy work about a great white shark, homicidal robots, eco terrorists, and overstuffed with insane twists and turns. The good is that there's a rich world full of colorful characters and a very "comic book" kind of feel to the overall proceedings that works in its favor. 

                 The bad is that there is almost too much here, and definitely too much going on. That's really the only flaw with the book. Sorry to disappoint you, guys, but a) I'm the least caustic critic on the internet, and b) I actually really like this one. It's disturbing in places, but it's wholly recommendable.

                   In the end, this is a "by any means necessary" kind of book. Read it. It's a good, light read despite being four hundred pages, it's a lot of fun, and it goes by quicker than almost any other book of its type. Its worldbuilding is tight, its writing is spot-on, and more people need to know this book. So read it already. More as always below. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Night Film

              Okay, so the rundown is as follows. Night Film is an amazing book, one with more dark twists and turns and odd imagery than the staircase in House of Leaves. I heartily recommend buying it, it being a good "art mystery" with some fantastic elements and a plot that will stay with you long after the book closes. The plotline follows investigative journalist Scott McGrath as he tries to unravel the mysterious suicide of a reclusive film director's daughter with the help of two strangers who find themselves connected to the mystery and indeed the victim. The pros are that it's well-plotted, the dialogue sounds natural, and the world is fleshed out to the degree that you want to know more about Cordova's work.

               The bad bits are that the world of Cordova distracts from the plot in places, that the book itself isn't interested as much in the death that incites the plot events, and the whole mess ends with a "thud" rather than a decisive close. A fifty-page thud that offers some questions about the nature of obsession, but seems to be disinterested with answering any of the numerous questions it poses. 

               But in total, I completely recommend this book, I'm looking forward to what Marisha Pessl may do next, and I definitely enjoyed reading it.

More, as always, below. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Tetherballs of Bougainville

     Okay, so the rundown is as follows. This is a Mark Leyner book, and like the previous book I reviewed by him (The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack), it's a strange and difficult read for anyone not looking for off-the-wall absurdity. While not as difficult a read as some of his other works, it's still not particularly easy. 

       This is, however, a good absurd "memoir" about adolescent life living with a father on the run in an insane world, and I must say that it's more accessible than some and I have never read anything like it in my life. Leyner treats the absurd as commonplace, and it works wonders despite the book's inaccessibility. 

      The good bits are a vivid, vibrant world full of grotesque and blackly comic touches that make up a sort of "commonplace absurdity" allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the insanity, even to luxuriate in it.

      The bad bits are that the book is a holy terror to read, and the simple fact that it is very hard to access and get into for anyone not used to Leyner and his particular brand of weird. However, should you be able to get beyond this particular setback, the book is worth a read.

More, as always, below.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Half-Made World

    Okay, the rundown is as follows. Felix Gilman has written an amazing book here that is dragged down at the end of its length by characters that don't completely matter and a plotline that stops instead of ends. While a "no ending" ending can be pulled off well, this one isn't, and makes me question how many of the reviewers read the book to the end.

              However, it is brilliantly written (if disappointing in places), and if you can enjoy the journey more than the destination, I'd recommend this to anyone with a love of weird fiction and steampunk/dieselpunk narratives. Take it out from the library and give it a whirl, maybe you'll find more here that's cool than I did in the end. 

More, as always, below. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sloughing Off The Rot


         Okay, so the rundown is as follows: This is a profane, hilarious, and at times grotesque book about a man's journey of self-discovery with some references to godhood. It's definitely part of the more modern trend of bizarre literature, and while this is enough to tell people that it might not be the book for them, if one should enjoy a scatological take on the Bible, Castaneda, Jodorowsky's Westerns, and other various mystical and acid-western style works, I can only wholeheartedly recommend the book to all.

          The things that keep this from being a complete recommendation are that it is very profane in places, and in others the references seem a bit too clever, which while not a knock against the book, is still something that gives me enough pause to say this may not be a book for everyone, though those who believe they would be in the target audience are probably going to find a book worthy of their time. 

           In total, I would say Sloughing Off The Rot is worth a read, and definitely worth the time it takes to track it down. If you get into it, there's a wealth of dense story, and if you don't, there's nothing really lost. More as always below.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

King City

             Okay, so the rundown is as follows: This is a well-written graphic novel about a man and his amazing multi-purpose cat as they attempt to figure out what's going on in the titular city. The story hovers around surreal urban science fiction-fantasy with the usual Lovecraftian overtones, with some Asian influences tossed in for good measure. Where it shines is the writing, plotting, art, and world design, creating an insane journey through a megalopolis full of freelancers, spies, creepy corporate executives, and aliens. Brandon Graham clearly knows what he's doing, and I'd like to read more of his own work, as someone with this much of a handle on things is clearly worth a read.

                    The bad comes in when the story ends on an anticlimax, and some of the swearing gets to be a bit much. But both of these are minor nitpicks in a very awesome work, and it deserves your attention, whether you're a graphic novel fan, or just a fan of some very weird, sort of absurd work.

More, as always, below.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane


            Okay, so the rundown is as follows: This is my book of 2013. The year isn't over, but I'm feeling pretty good about this one. The good parts are that it's an amazing book, though a little depressing (especially in my current state), a fantasy that mixes fairy tale with childhood memory in a way that's both familiar and entirely unique. The descriptions are fantastic, the dark bits are frightening, and it goes everywhere it can in the relatively short page length it does. 

                The bad parts are that it can sometimes be too on the nose, and when it telegraphs the bad things that happen to its heroes later, it does so in a little of an overwrought fashion. But neither of these are particularly strong reasons. Read the book already. It deserves it and so do you. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Leviathan Wakes


         Okay, so the rundown is as follows: Leviathan Wakes is a space opera somewhere between Consider Phlebas and a Cronenberg flick, the story of a group of desperate and damned people who have to figure out what's going on and why before the human race brings itself to extinction by playing with toys it doesn't really understand.  It has some incredibly gruesome imagery, some of the tightest writing in a space opera since the late Iain M. Banks left the field. The plot weaves its way between sci-fi noir and gritty starfaring, finally letting the two collide and showing just how out of place each genre is in the other's story. Jim Holden and Detective Miller are two very strong protagonists, and watching them bounce off one another is wonderful.
            The bad is that there is no unified story here, but two stories that manage to fit together. There's also a very lopsided way of going about the whole antagonist thing, at one point having them be a faceless group of high-powered ship breakers and in the last act having them be incredibly un-threatening, to the point that the reveal in the third section of the book is decidedly underwhelming, even with the stakes being raised in each successive chapter. 
              But in total, this is a book well worth reading and buying. James S.A. Corey is a pair of authors to watch, and you should give them your undivided attention.

Saturday, July 20, 2013



     Okay, so the rundown is as follows: Whatever mojo Chuck Palahniuk had, it's gone now. Long gone. Damned is an ugly book, but not an entertainingly ugly book in the same way Choke or my personal favorite, Invisible Monsters was. The social pariahs encountered within these pages aren't half as interesting as the ones in Rant, and the cynicism is more choreographed than natural. In short, this reads like a book written by someone poorly imitating Chuck Palahniuk, and the last person in the world you should ever want to be a poor imitation of is Chuck Palahniuk. The descriptions are gross but seem kind of superfluous, the characters are one-dimensional except for Madison, who serves to alternately call every woman who isn't her "Slutty McVanderslut" and needlessly regurgitate the author's views. The plot is entirely beside the point, and the ranting interludes where Palahniuk rages against modern culture just seem like a list of things the author doesn't like.

            On the off-chance that I missed the point of the book, it does do a pretty good job of moderning up The Divine Comedy, and there are some genuinely funny moments (like being chauffeured to Hell in a town car, or a demon asking "Are you familiar with the William Morris Agency?") here and there. But sifting through these is an exercise in torture itself, and even an ending where it turns out that most of the book is the angry rant of a dead teenager who was simply put in a bad circumstance can't really save this from being a complete miss. If you feel like reading Palahniuk, find his earlier novels when he still had something to say. It's pretty much all downhill from here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Popular Hits of the Showa Era

      Okay, the rundown is as follows: This is a wonderful satire of two groups of disaffected people who somehow find their way in the world through karaoke and murdering each other. While this is well-written, it's more about the relationships between the two groups, whose dwindling members are experiencing life and bringing each other closer by slowly picking off the other side. The murders are a very small part of it. The characters are overly-cartoonish and sociopathic, but if you can get beyond that, then there's a rich, very twisted comedy hiding between these covers, and one I suggest people read.

           On the other hand, the characters are all cartoonish sociopaths with no real moral compass, the novel doesn't give us anyone to root for on either side, and the whole thing seems a little too over-the-top for its own good. It's like a roadrunner cartoon disguised as social satire. When the devastating consequences of the actions taken in the book finally come to a head in the final chapters, it comes as something of a shock-- no one's really been chastised for their behavior before now, they've merely existed in a cartoon, and to suddenly have psychological and physical consequences reached at that point kind of seems needlessly cruel. Even for characters as unsympathetic as this.

            But in the end, I enjoyed it. As nasty and twisted as it was, it's an interesting way of looking at the social issues in an urban environment, and a good satire of those "life-affirming" books where the heroes are brought closer together by some kind of event. Also, I didn't quite see the ending coming, and that's always a plus as far as I'm concerned. More as always, this time with spoilers, below.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Go, Mutants!

           Okay, so, the rundown is as follows: This is a book that is at times funny, and at times very clever. It's a good look at being a teenager and at the same time being a monster, and while the metaphor for puberty and understanding one's body is a little heavy-handed, I can't say it's exactly un-clever, either. The book's a teen comedy that turns very weird, and I can't say I don't get behind that, especially with the kind of stuff I read, and my love of retro-future and B-movies. It's clear that Larry Doyle has a clear interest in a lot of the culture, and he loves both his audience and the world he's created. Add to this some very good narrative voice and some incredible imagery, and you have a book well worth the read. 

              The problem is, this is a book for a very specific audience, and when it misses, it misses pretty badly. The tone gets really in-jokey at times, bringing famous monsters and concepts in with nary a thought, and while most of them actually work, occasionally they wind up being more "Really? You put that in there?" Apart from the self-conscious referencing, I felt there were a few gags that needed to have a payoff but...didn't (The one involving The Brain Who Wouldn't Die as a reference in particular). Overall, though, this is a great book, one I'd suggest reading as soon as you can get it out of the library.

More, as always, below.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In The Miso Soup

             Okay, the rundown is as follows. This is a good, atmospheric book that explores a large number of themes in a very strange way. It's at once a meditation on violence, a discussion of buddhism and redemption, a possible metaphor for cultural invasion of Japan from the West, and even a minor commentary on the culture surrounding the sex industry. That it juggles so many concepts in under two hundred pages is a feat in and of itself, but the fact that it does it with enough style and atmosphere to keep me interested makes it a great novel in my terms, and one that makes me wish it got into more people's hands. The descriptions are excellent, and the mounting dread leading into the single cathartic moment in the book is handled very, very well.

           However, the downside is that this is a novel more concerned with its underpinnings than the actual plot. Divided into three acts, one for each day during the New Year's celebration in Tokyo, the first act leads up to a catharsis in the second that starts to meander by the third. While the book's unnerving atmosphere continues, and in fact takes the book stranger places in the second and third sections, the lack of a definite ending and the partial abandonment of the plot halfway through could be jarring for some. It's best to think of the book not as a thriller, but as a kind of bizarre meditative piece involving violence, discussion of food, some Buddhism, and sex. That said, if you're looking for a thriller, this isn't the book for you. It's more American Psycho than Psycho, delving into the philosophical and psychological rather than aiming for flat-out horror.  

More, as always, below.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Extra

                 Okay, the rundown is as follows: This is a book that moves. It's not a slow book, or a book that gives much time to settle down and take a breather, it just shouts "go" and runs off without you, hoping you catch up. It's a book written like an action movie, and it delivers on that premise. If anything's too illogical or silly, all one has to do is go "It's just a show, I should really just relax." and enjoy the ride as is. The characters are colorful, the dialogue is good, but where the book really shines are the cinematic action sequences that run throughout, from running down a skyscraper in the opening sentences to the tense fight through the corridors of an office building at the end. 

                  The problems set in when the whole world feels way too safe. Safety is a good thing sometimes (see last' week's review), but the issue I have with the book is that I never thought the characters were in any danger. It's the kind of action that you never feel hits the point where the heroes are ever out of options, in fact, they handle themselves amazingly well. The book's biggest sin is that it feels cozy and predictable, and by feeling cozy and predictable, it does itself a disservice. You should never completely feel the heroes are out of danger, just that whatever it is, they will eventually overcome it. Also, I am worried as this is supposedly the first book of a trilogy, yet it came out three years ago and is pretty much wrapped up in a single volume. There are also some character arcs I question, but more, as always (with spoilers) below. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013


                Okay, so, the rundown is as follows: Upon opening this book and reading the first two chapters, I immediately thought "Oh, this is Joe Hill doing a sort of Stephen King thing." By two or three hundred pages in, I thought he'd gone soft, gotten kindly in his success. Then his story proceeded to bite me when I was unawares and hang on with razor-sharp teeth. There have been a lot of books that approached the idea of "stolen childhood" and the nature of innocence when it comes to monsters. Few have been as gleefully and delightfully nasty about it as this. This book subverts the usual plotline of childhood magic winning out against adult monsters, turns it inside out, and makes it a hand puppet. And it does it with style and grotesquerie to spare. 

               The bad parts are a tendency to lose itself in its own language a little, some nods and name-checks that I didn't really think fit well, and the way it sort of feels too loose. Like it's trying to cover too much ground, or trying too hard to be like something else. But these are very minor nitpicks, and the book is a relentless, nasty, but still fantastic read. 

           This is a book people should be recommending, and if they are, this is a book people should recommend for many years. It'll stay with the people who read it, I guarantee.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Summer Hours Announcement

Starting this week, due to some increased RL issues and things picking up in meatspace, as well as a feeling that I'm trying to "grind" through books instead of reading them, I'm going back on summer hours. What this basically means is that I read books, I'll finish them, and the schedule will be much more relaxed. Hopefully you'll all join me as I transition back to this for a bit. Sorry for the delays. Next up will be Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter

-- Caius.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


        SO! I have been gnawing on an idea for a little while now, and finally I decided "why the hell not"? 

The basic gist is, I have a lot of stories about the places I've been. Some of you know these stories, others of you have never heard them, and there are a few I've said I was going to tell but didn't.


So welcome, one and all, to Pictures At An Exhibition! The place where I put my hazy, half-remembered and embellished recollections of things I have done and things I have seen done. Some of these are true. Some of these have parts which are true. Occasionally, there are things I have made up. Never things in anyone's detriment. And if there is a glaring error, I'll try my best to correct it. But please, look. Indulge. Stuff like that.

If there are any stories anyone wants to hear, leave them in the comments or tell me. Lord only knows I can't run out of material as long as I'm alive*.

*If this new blog is an affront in some way to you, please don't kill me in the hopes I'll stop. Just ask/tell me.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

LA Confidential

         So the rundown is as follows: I love this book. I think it's one of the best crime novels I've ever read, and that James Ellroy, along with Raymond Chandler, is one of the few people who actually gets noir. The characters and dialogue are definitely the high points of the work, as well as a plot that twists and turns in just the right way, so each new revelation drives home the point that everyone involved is in over their heads. It's a very dark, beautiful book about flawed characters trying to find a way to take out the worse people before they themselves are consumed. Ellroy has a good handle on the "shades of grey" areas, and while his heroes are not particularly sympathetic, they are compelling enough to care what happens to them and part of the fun of the book is how they grapple with their personal demons. Not that a book like LA Confidential should ever be considered "fun".

            The downside is, the book is very dark and more than a little brutal. There's a lot of racist slurs bandied about, and some homophobic insults. All of this is presented without flinching or restraint, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The book is about a case involving a brutal sextuple homicide, pornographic books, and stolen drugs. It handles it in the most direct and unflinching way possible, with all the language and graphic content that entails. That they had to rework a few sections of the plot to keep the film at an R rating says more than enough. While the language and content works for the time period and the atmosphere Ellroy wanted to evoke, it's still gonna be too much for some people.

More, as always, below.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Down Town


        The rundown is as follows: Down Town is one of the strangest and messiest books I have ever read. That judgement takes into account that I read, reviewed, and own copies of both House of Leaves and Naked Lunch. I could throw around a lot of words like "singular" and "unique", and they'd be taken mostly as a cliche. Mainly because a lot of book critics beat them into the ground. But here's the thing: Down Town is actually pretty unique. It's a hodgepodge of New York City historical in-jokes, children's fantasy, fairy tale, clean-earth allegory, and mythology all rolled into one rather bizarre but entirely endearing kludge of a book. Having read it, I'm still not completely sure I read everything I just read, and yet it's perfectly coherent. It's a beautiful, flawed mess.

          And it's those flaws that keep me from writing this off as a complete success. For all the endearing passages and beautiful descriptions, for all the moments it's a wonderful exciting story, there are parts that come out of left field. Characters act in occasionally random patterns. The book swings back and forth between being breathless and describing everything in lavish and lurid detail. Its rhythm is hard to follow, its characters are cyphers save for the main character and his parents, and the ending, when taken as a whole, is as much of a glorious mess as the book that precedes it. 

          BUT! In all of this, once I pushed aside the cynical detachment and actually sort of got behind what Down Town actually was, I learned to love it. It's a beautiful, insane mess with occasional illustrations that get somewhat more unhinged as the book goes along. It's charming, and has such a sense of wonder about itself that it's hard to ignore. It's worth the time to get lost in their world for a while, and I heartily recommend finding it any way you can. More, as always, below.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

No One's Been Poisoned and Nothing's On Fire: Strange Tales from the Road (ZenKaiKon 2013) Conclusion!

          Sunday began and after a brief scene, I was locked in combat with a Sudoku puzzle for the fate of Johan's story. Quite literally. Upon entering the room, I explained to the GMs what had happened the previous night and that Johan's plan simply refused to work. After a brief scene with the main villain where Johan snarked at him for losing control of the story ("Well then you should have thought of that before giving your villain a soul", I believe was the line), the following exchange occurred:

"So, Caius, how much do you like puzzles?"
"I...like 'em enough..."

              Some background: The previous night, a team had led an assault on the clock tower and the bath house where the villains of the setting had their bases of operations. I can't speak for the bath house, though from what I saw it was a combination of Betrayal at House on the Hill and a dungeon crawl. The clock tower dungeon was a bit different, being a series of puzzles one had to get through to get to the top and confront the eccentric man who built the thing in the first place. Having been closer to where the puzzle dungeon was run the previous night, I had heard horror stories of the kind of things they faced. But the one I'd heard the most ranting about was a Sudoku puzzle in the final room. 

             "Long as it isn't Sudoku." I added hastily.

No One's Been Poisoned and Nothing's On Fire: Strange Tales on the Road (ZenKaiKon 2013) Pt. 2

When we last left our hero, he was trapped in the mind of a soul-eating sociopath and tweaking like there was no tomorrow...

                    Saturday began with another scramble for me to set up plans. I scrambled a lot during this, partially because Johan is an active character, not a reactive one. When you're the one setting up the plans, it's a lot harder to keep them all spinning, especially with about thirty or forty other people running their plans both concurrently and counter to your own. Despite the conversation of the previous night, I had found out that Abby had once again been flung headlong into a plot with me, one more sign that someone, be it GMs or the universe or whatever it is has a sense of humor. So now Abby's character, Kallen, who had been thrown into the same fairy tale as I/Johan was and cast as the Princess, now had a creepy sociopath looming over her and offering his "help" to finish the story she hadn't wanted to be part of in the first place. I'd say I didn't have fun stalking Abby and the players in her plot around. I would really like to. 

I would be lying straight through my teeth. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

No One's Been Poisoned and Nothing's On Fire: Strange Tales On The Road (ZenKaiKon 2013) Part 1

               Start of play begins and I have no idea what the hell I am doing. Normally this is a good thing. Time to pull a few threads, tease a few things out, see what happens. But that's not coming this time, for one big reason: I am scared of the Drop. I am fighting it every chance I get. Silently, I curse my ambition, but I'm not about to back down. I will either do the best damn job I can, or I will lose both sanity and identity in the attempt. No going back now, just forward towards whatever the hell is at the end of this. And for the first time, I'm actually frightened of what I do during roleplay. Walking around in this guy's head would be like hanging out in the hospital from Jacob's Ladder. But at this point, there's nothing else to be done. So I take a deep breath, and go find someone I can traumatize.

Post over at Study of Anime

                 So occasionally I do write for other places than here. A friend on the con circuit, Charles Dunbar, has a site he writes for over at Study of Anime and asked me to do a post on fandom and identity for his project. Being that most of what I do kind of falls under some kind of fandom, both he and his site are awesome, and it's cool that my work would get other places, I jumped at the chance and wrote up an essay about my very strange relationship with fandoms and their dark sides. The post is here, and please do check out the rest of his site and work. He's well worth the time. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Last Call

     Okay, so the rundown is as follows: I love this book. I love it unabashedly, I love it with all my heart and soul, it is hands down one of the best books I have read. The characters, dialogue, and the way history and actual mysticism and mathematics are woven into the fiction all work, and even anyone who isn't well-versed in crazy historical minutiae can enjoy the story of a man storming Las Vegas to claim back his soul and his birthright with no difficulty. Add to this the descriptions, some genuine moments of dread and well-conveyed paranoia from the characters, and a sense of danger that never really lets up, and you have a book well worth reading.

       The downside is, there are a few sequences that never really pay off, and sometimes there is just too much going on sometimes on even one page to keep up with. Also, the main character spends a whole section-- possibly two-- of the book doing some really stupid things against the advice of people who clearly know more about this stuff than he does. But it serves as some good character development, and helps create a line between Scott's self-destructive urges and his need to finish his quest. All in all, the book is worth a read, possibly a buy, and a ride you won't regret taking.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Top Five Books

                 Normally I would eschew these kinds of lists, as it's kind of hard to distill what I like about books into a simple five-point list or something, but I realize I've talked about the books I love and these five in particular without really naming them. So, since I'm getting a year older today, and this is technically my hundredth post (minus the one about my internet going down), I decided maybe I'd be a little self-indulgent and talk about the five books that, while my tastes may change a lot, have stayed my all-time favorites and will probably remain so for the rest of my life. I certainly hope so. Full list after the jump.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Connection conniptions

So! Over the course of the last few days, I moved into a house in another undisclosed location. This house is creepy and the internet sucks. Until I can solve the connection issues and get the books back on the shelf where they belong, I'm goin' on break. It won't be too much longer...I should actually see you guys next week, and if I manage to get the internet up before then, then I'll put something up to tide everyone over. But in two days, I've had a lot of pages crash on me, I can't load Google or imagesearch, and downloading anything is completely out of the question. Blogger seems to have minor problems, too. 

So see you then! Shouldn't be long.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Consider Phlebas

     So the rundown is as follows: This is an amazing book with great setpieces and tight writing, and cements the tone of the Culture series rather well. Iain M. Banks is a writer whom you all should have read by now, and if not, then here isn't a bad place to start. Consider Phlebas is a semi-affectionate satire of "space adventure" stories with a tone that ranges somewhere around pitch black comedy. The pace is breakneck, the heroes are interesting, if not the usual "good guys" one would expect from the genre, and the overall tone allows for moments that are both horrifyingly violent, and yet still humorous. This is a book that is well worth the price of admission, and one that should be read at any cost.

            The downside comes in that while this is a good science fiction novel, it is perhaps not the best entry into the Culture series...anyone who reads any of the other books first will have the eventual outcome of Consider Phlebas spoiled for them, dropping a lot of the tension the book creates. While this is not entirely important, it is something that should be addressed for budding readers of the series. Also, there are several sequences that feel like padding, though they do illustrate the nature of the books they are trying to satirize-- the author will try to pack as many interesting set pieces between the protagonist and the end of their journey so that at the end, it feels like they've accomplished much. Which Banks then cruelly stabs in the gut.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Fifty Year Sword

     The rundown is as follows: While The Fifty Year Sword is a great book and a good example of Mark Z. Danielewski's unique way of telling a story while turning it inside out, the gimmick of five separate narrators overlapping with different-colored quotation marks actually takes away from the story. By cluttering the relatively-short book with an unneeded visual gimmick, Danielewski does himself a disservice and creates a minor turn-off for people who would normally be into this kind of book. In its favor is the fact that it's essentially a children's book for adults, and hiding under the simplistic language is a genuinely creepy story that even when you guess the eventual ending manages to hold its tone and deliver something chilling. Despite the gimmick, the childlike language coupled with the eerie imagery creates a horror story that is at once instantly engaging and easy to understand. 

           The bad bit of course is the gimmick, which obscures a really cool book by having five people talk in nested quotation marks to tell a story. Please, once and future authors who read this blog, don't ever do this. Don't ever have your narrators narrate nested like this. More, as always, below.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


    So the rundown is as follows: Lunatics is a funny if profane and sometimes excessively juvenile book. The dialogue and characters shine through, and when the book hits its comic rhythm, the beats come faster than anything I've read. It's hilarious in the right places, and even when the notes don't hit, it keeps up the pace fast enough that it doesn't really matter that the joke flopped. The book's already on to the next one. While Dave Barry has always been weaker in his fiction as opposed to his nonfiction, Alan Zweibel manages to shore him up just enough to carry the day. 

                The drawbacks are that the book occasionally moves too fast, which left me mulling over previous details before I had time to process the next ones, and a lack of enough sympathetic characters to go around. Where both characters attempt being unsympathetic, only one of them actually pulls it off, leaving one feeling a little lopsided, since Philip Horkman (one of the two point-of-view protagonists) is actually kind of a nice person having a successive series of bad days, while Jeffrey Peckerman (the other protagonist) openly uses racist and offensive language the way I use commas and footnotes. Still, in the end, the alternating points of view provide an interesting look at the story of two men continually in over their head. More, as always, below.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Translation Issue

I find myself in an odd humor this week. I hope you'll humor me as I go on this exploration of what about the book I was supposed to read disappointed me. Regular reviews will come back next week. Diatribe below.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gun Machine

      So the rundown is as follows: They don't make books like this any more. Or they don't often. But once in a blue moon a really good procedural, one with the proper amount of grit and some intelligence, finds its way to shelves. And it's amazing. The hero is flawed, the characters are colorful, every line is interesting and unfolds the mystery properly, and the dialogue is fantastic. This is definitely one of the books I recommend picking up, even if you don't really dig police procedurals. Warren Ellis has long been a writer to watch, and this, while not his magnum opus, is definitely a book high up in the canon. More, as always, after the jump.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story

          The rundown is as follows: This is the vampire novel that makes me not hate vampire novels. In a world populated with melancholy pale people bemoaning immortality and sometimes reveling in treating humans like cattle, this book at least turns the tropes on their ear and does them well. It's sweet, sad, a little cute, and manages both some horror and romantic comedy in a lovely style. The worst weakness the book has are that its male protagonist is a bit of a wimp, and that it is followed by two sequels that are regrettably canon. But of Christopher Moore's books, this is the one I believe should be the high-water mark, and the fact that I've read it five times without getting bored of it once means that no matter what, it has a place in my permanent collection, and should at least be attempted by you guys. Unless, you know, you hate fun* or aren't big on romantic comedies or something.

*If you hate fun, why do you even read these reviews?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chasing Dragons

           So the rundown is as follows: There is a good book here, but it's in desperate need of an editor to bring it out of its shell. While the characters are colorful, they tend to be dependent on the two somewhat-weaker protagonists, and overall the feeling is that Douglas Jaffe tells us more than shows us about these people. Ultimately, the book gets caught up in its own setting and mythology, and while that would be a strength for a nonfiction book, it only detracts from the story here. Chasing Dragons does come together into a very good ending, but by that point, the journey causes it to lose its impact. The book is not poorly-written, it could just benefit from a stronger editorial control, and perhaps a rewrite of the initial few chapters. While I cannot recommend Chasing Dragons to all but the most persistent, I am impressed with Mr. Jaffe as an author and hope to see more from him.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Health Issues

So I decided to turn over a new leaf and start out the New Year sick. I can't quite get my brain into writing mode while trying to figure out why my body hates me, so I'm gonna be putting this on hold while I recover. I know, sadly I'm no Peter Watts (Link not safe for work or mealtimes), but I promise that when I'm up, you guys are my first priority.

See you when I'm well!