Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Okay, controversial opinion time:

  If  Revival was Stephen King's last work of fiction-- if he wrote no more-- I would be fine with that. 

                   I know he can't stop, I know he won't stop, and I know he's only going to stop when he's all out of stories, and it's a long way to then. But here's the thing: I see Revival as a perfect riff on Stephen King-- all the things I love about him, all the things I think could be a little tighter, and all the things in between. While it may not have been his intent, with Revival, King's written the perfect bookend to his early work in suburban gothic horror, something that ties its past to the traditional pastoral setting while exploring new ways to be disturbing. It's a look at the numerous strange ways someone's life can go, and how we meet the same people in vastly different circumstances throughout our lives. It's about how people can mean so much in one instant and drift off in the next. And it's also a great pastiche of the older titles in the "existential horror" or "cosmic horror" genre, but without much of the difficulty or sheer dryness of those older works. It's a twisted morality tale with a villain who isn't exactly evil and a hero who could never be described as good. 

  And it is brilliant.

Why? More, as always, below

Monday, December 22, 2014



                I've tried to write this intro properly multiple times, but I might as well just put this front and center so those of you who are reading this on the go can get it over with:

Light is one of my favorite books of the year, possibly one of my favorite books of all time

                             I know, I do a whole ton of positive reviews on here, and significantly less dissenting ones, so every book comes out looking really good, but there is no other way to say it. While good books pass constantly through these halls, Light is special even among them. When I was done, I sat there for a few moments, unsure of what to think now that it was over. Then, because seven hours had passed by unnoticed, I was immediately surprised that it was dark outside. It's an engrossing story, one that transcends the boundaries of a genre people feel unnervingly comfortable filing it under. It's a beautiful, well-designed world that seems immense but moves tautly through its places. 

At the very least, folks, reading that paragraph back, it's caused my language center to break down in joy as I revert to stock reviewer phrases normally seen on book blurbs.

                                Light is crazy, brilliant, and I wish I'd managed to finish it the first time I read it, instead of losing interest somewhere around chapter 2 and abandoning it for books I understood better. M. John Harrison is a unique writer and one who stands out even above such titans as Stephenson, Banks, and other more modern writers, and passing up a chance to read this book is a mistake on par with starting a land war in Asia. You may like it as much as I did. You may like it less. All I know is that it moved me, it's brilliantly written and constructed, and I must share this joy with as many of you out there as possible. 

More, as always, below

Monday, December 15, 2014

Across the Nightingale Floor


                          Planned trilogies are sometimes difficult to judge without reading the whole thing. How can someone judge a book that's just the first part of a larger work? Can it be criticized for not standing on its own merits when it's just the first third (or fourth, or eighth, or tenth, or whatever) of a larger story? After all, reading just the exposition chapters of a novel and then putting it down and saying "This is a bad book" is really poor form and something to be discouraged. But, at the same time, if you're going to write novels, you should strive to write complete ones, even if you have grand designs for the world at large. Stephen R. Donaldson, for example, wrote absolutely execrable fantasy novels in groups of three, but I could pick up any one of those books and read its absolutely atrocious contents without necessarily needing to go in order. 

                            So I suppose my criteria for this book would be that it is able to stand on its own, but also judging it as the introduction to a greater series of works, works that I might possibly want to read. far as that goes, it isn't a bad book? 

                              It's not a good book, and there are some serious issues with structural senses and the way characters are treated, but I would be lying if I said there weren't some cool scenes in there. In fact, I would love for this to be filmed or animated and for it to play out onscreen. It reads like it was meant to be adapted into something or to be played out in a visual medium. And while that is wonderful for screenplays and movies and the like, when applied to a medium like books, it...doesn't go nearly as well. 

                            That isn't to say it isn't an interesting book. But, well...

More, as always, below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Geek Initiative Needs Your Help - Signal Boost!


                            Hey, guys.

                            So, as I'm sure many of you constant readers know, occasionally I do work for other sites. I like it, and as cool as this is, it's nice to have things like editors and enforced deadlines and stuff like that. One of these sites is called The Geek Initiative. It's run by an awesome lady named Tara, and she is having an Indiegogo drive right now to raise some funds. I would really like their drive to succeed, as I dig writing stuff for them, and I dig a lot of their output, which is well-reasoned and fairly rationally put. Mr. Ellis works over there, too, and you can read his articles under the handle of Kung Fu Dave

Geek Initiative isn't asking for much, just eight hundred bucks to help out with some of the costs of being a badass geek journalism site. And every bit helps, guys. So I'm sending out a call to all you there in Constant Readerland to help these good people out. They deserve it, and it would be really cool if The Geek Initiative were able to reach further heights because of you awesome ladies and gentlemen. 


If you'd like to help us out, click on the link below and donate a little. Or donate a lot. It's up to you, but please, don't hesitate to support the awesome contributors on the site. You really can't go wrong. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It


          When I was but a confused and kind of frightened college freshman living in a dorm somewhere in the high desert of New Mexico without many friends or a frame of reference, I took solace in the internet. It was kind of a cautionary prelude to the near-complete agoraphobia I currently find myself dealing with on a semi-regular basis. Honestly...I probably shoulda seen this coming. But in my sort of self-imposed exile in my room, I kept seeing this weird banner with blue eye design. It would pop up on every webcomic, every horror review site, practically everywhere I went, I was followed by this thing like a stalker follows the popular kid at school. It was more annoying than intriguing, but finally it wore me down and I clicked on it. 

                                 The site,, contained a blackly comic novel so good that I had to spam the link as many places as I possibly could, and did so. It was a brilliant work. Not the most tightly-written thing under the sun, but hilarious, and most importantly for my impoverished ass, it was free. Later on, as kind of a "thank you", I actually bought a hardcover copy of the book. I haven't even lent my copy to anyone. And when I found the sequel This Book Is Full Of Spiders came out, I tried to pick up that. Unfortunately, it took me a few years to actually track down one I could pay for, and it wasn't until I randomly found it while looking for something else (Jack Womack's Going Going Gone) that I decided to pick it up and take it home for review. Immediately it promised a story of bizarre experiments, military intervention, and the good sort of weirdness and style that made me try to emulate it multiple times in my own work. 

                             And sadly, it isn't as good. While still unique, and head and shoulders above most of what passes for mainstream works in the bizarro genre these days (lookin' at you, Zombies and Shit), it's a little too polished. A little too safe. The biases are worn a little more clearly on the book's sleeve. So while it's entirely readable, and rightfully so, I'm a little conflicted on this one. I'd say get it from the library or borrow it if you're curious, and then buy it if you really like it. It's certainly weird, and a good read, but the magic just wasn't there for me has much. Especially where it falls apart for me at the end. 

More, as always, below

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Month of Long Books Announcement

Hey, guys. 

So, as the holidays are coming up, and I have some longer books I'd like to read (Robert Jackson Bennett's American Elsewhere being one), and some books I'd like to read that don't fit the format (Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm, among others), I'm having another Month of Long Books, where I can get back into the swing of reading things without having to worry about if it fits or if I need to spend enough time on it. 

So: See you guys in December with an armload of new reviews! I did this last year, and it really helped, so I figured I'd do it again.

Have a good Thanksgiving


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Talisman


             I really was going to review The Orange Eats Creeps, I promise. It's actually a pretty cool book from what I've read of it. But I realized something: This past Friday was Halloween, marking my fourth year writing for Geek Rage/Strange Library. And this past month? Stephen King month. And these two things led me to remember something I've said again and again, something I should have scheduled into the month, and something on which I should finally deliver. I've been saying "I'll get around to it" for years. Four years, to be exact. I think anyone would want me to, well, finally get around to talking about it. So I decided, emergency executive decision, first to do a video review of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon because I have an awesome collector's-edition pop-up book of that, and then, after that, on the spur of the moment, to finally talk about the book that gave Stephen King and Peter Straub my undying respect. The book that made me a King fan to begin with. A book that has stayed with me for a little under an entire decade now. 

I think it's finally time, dear readers (all two of you) to talk about The Talisman.

                      I think it's brilliant. It's a book I've read more than Harry Potter, topping out somewhere around the mid-double digits. Even though I know the plot, even though every twist and turn in the novel is one I've already experienced, even though I know how the story's going to end. It's lurid at points, yeah. It's really dark at points. There's one section that still really disturbs me, and a section that grossed out my dad when he read it to make sure it was okay for me. The villains are despicable, the heroes are severely underpowered, and the plot-- while a little formulaic-- seems fresh and insane enough to be well worth the read.  It's a book that has affected my life in a great number of ways, and it's a book I couldn't see my life being the same without. While not particularly complex and while the individual elements aren't particularly impressive, this book has affected me in a way that few books have managed to. And I know, it sounds like I'm overselling it here, and maybe I am. But if I wanted to talk about books that have affected me (and I do), I would have to talk about The Talisman, and it would be high on the list. 


Well, more, as always, below.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

From A Buick 8


                    Length is a hard thing to gauge when writing. I've written several short stories that spun wildly out of control and made me want to see how they'd be in book length, but unfortunately couldn't be due to space requirements. I've also written several book ideas that would be better as single stories, but didn't know how to compress the initial idea. I will say this: Constantly failing at fiction writing has done nothing but teach me how to be a better writer, and if I could ever find a way to make that knowledge useful, believe me, I would. It's also made me great at pointing out where others could be better writers, though I wouldn't be so presumptuous to believe that anyone would actually listen to the ramblings of some idiot with a blog. But length is a difficult thing to figure out.

                          Stephen King is someone who does not particularly believe that the writer is in control of their work, and while I agree with him on principle-- you can't make a work do what you want, even if (as internet media critics constantly complain) everything is stuff you make up-- it doesn't happen that way. Writing is not a completely conscious process. However, while this is true, sometimes it means he writes a short story that is somehow three hundred and fifty pages long because he wants everything to get out of his head just right, and it's rumored that his work has become a lot looser over the past several years (I don't completely see it, but that's me). Which brings us to From A Buick 8.

                      From A Buick 8 is an interesting book, and it has several scenes that are very vivid and frightening. But I feel like it could have been a short story or a novella rather than a full blown-out novel. Maybe something to go through the small press circuit or put into a story collection than something to actually become a whole novel. It feels a little elongated, a little too slow-burning, and while the point might not be the supernatural events that happen around these men, the idea could have been conveyed in a short story. King did just that several times over, and while the King of now might not be the King who wrote "It Grows On You" or "Jerusalem's Lot" or "Dedication", I know Big Steve can still write a good story. So get this one from the library if you want, but I'd suggest if you want a good, slow-burning story, you go to the short collections or find another book

More, as always, below. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Eyes of the Dragon


   I've tried and failed to write this review multiple times over the course of several days, and I suppose that alone is a testament to exactly how this book impacted me. It's further proof that moments after finishing the book, I was affected by the ending, but looking back on it, I don't feel as strongly as I did about, say, The Talisman or It or the bleak and depressing throes of 'Salem's Lot. Sometimes, all a good book needs to be is just that: A good book. Things can just be good without being earth-shattering. And, while The Eyes of the Dragon isn't an earth-shattering book, or something that made me weep openly, or something like "Clockwork Girl" that I will never be able to read again that just rips me up inside, it doesn't need to be anything earth-shattering. 

                          The story is a fairly typical adventure story with some very cool narrative flourishes. While there are some definite pacing issues, most of these are explained by one simple fact, one I learned long ago: Stephen King wrote this book for his children and the children of Peter Straub. He may have very well edited and rewritten it for publication, or possibly added bits that addressed his own road to recovery (as that seems to be a theme around the eighties and nineties, even if he didn't necessarily put it in there himself) in places here and there. I've always admired Stephen King for his ability to simply tell a good story, and that is all he ever needed to do. And that's all the book does.

                         I would spend more time bashing the terribly silly paperback copy or the pacing issues, but these things don't really enter into it. You might like this book more, as I admit my imagination has been stunted these past four-ish years. You might like it less, expecting something tighter than an adventure story about captured princes and secret passageways and the importance of always having a napkin, Either way, it's definitely worth a read. 

More, as always, below.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rose Madder


        During the Nineties, there was a phase Stephen King went through. It might have been a convergence of various factors, it could have just been that certain dangerous habits were instead replaced by a certain amount of mysticism and an interest in telling stories about abused women after he'd essentially put his wife through the emotional wringer with said dangerous habits. Either way, it resulted in a series of loosely-connected novels involving abusive and just asshole husbands known colloquially as "The Abused Wife Trilogy". The first two of these books were more closely connected, with Gerald's Game having a strange empathic link with Dolores Claiborne. The third, Rose Madder, is more closely linked in theme than in any other way, and doesn't appear to have anything to do with the solar eclipse. At best, it's a Lifetime movie someone devised whilst on hallucinogens,

Rose Madder is also Stephen King's weakest book, barring maybe The Tommyknockers

                             Certainly one of the weakest I've ever read. This may be under bias, as I had the damn thing for well over nine years without reading it (I picked it up with a few others, including Christine, the fate of which is still left merely to my imagination. I think I gave it away)

                         Now, this is not to say it's a bad book. King can still tell a good story even on a bad day. Needful Things proved that just last week. But it's weak. Compared to the literary canon of King, including books that made me think more about the world I lived in and the interconnectedness of everything in the universe (Yes, The Dark Tower is what first got me interested in Taoism. Shut up.), made me afraid of bathrooms for the duration of my reading (It), and swear off reading any of his short stories ever again (Night Shift, and it didn't last, because Skeleton Crew and Nightmares and Dreamscapes are full of awesome shorts), Rose Madder comes up surprisingly short. If this is your introduction to King, it might be worth a read. If it's something you get out of the library on a whim, sure. Go ahead. If you want my copy of the book, and have something to trade, I might consider it, though I'd feel like you were being robbed. But honestly? Borrow this. Please don't buy it. It's a good book, but there are better out there.

More, as always, below.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Needful Things


            We, all of us, have some crap in our lives. I could refer to it as something stronger or something weaker, but no. Crap is the word for it, crap is what it is, crap is what we say to ourselves when we realize that we've lucked into more of it. It is, was, and will be, crap. Worse yet, this crap takes a long time to work through. And crap has many different varieties. There's simple crap, complex crap, mental crap, emotional crap, physical crap...all different kinds. Because it takes a long time to work through, and because that time is a horrible slog filled with diversions as we try to make ourselves happy enough to balance out the crap, we find ourselves in some small moments going "Oh, if only there were some way to clear away the crap, some kind of quick fix that would instantly make our lives that much better and give us the security and stability we so need." There isn't, sometimes it'll take years, I'm still plagued by the crap from almost three years ago, and there's crap going back even further than that, crap I'll probably never be over. But still. If only there were a way to clear the crap. If only there were something to remove the clouds, to get the fog to clear...wouldn't you give anything to take the shortcut?

And this, dear reader, brings us to this week's selection and the start of Stephen King Month, Needful Things

                               Because Needful Things is about a town that's offered a chance to get rid of their crap with a little help from a friendly shopkeeper. The easy way out. All for the price of whatever they think it's worth, plus a little extra "good deed" for Mr. Leland Gaunt. It's a book about doing recovery the hard way, and how easy it is to take the quick solutions out. It's a small-town morality play narrated by a deranged version of the Stage Manager from Our Town who has decided that the people of his tiny small town need to learn some important lessons and also burn down. 

                              And...well, it's not brilliant, or great, or even something I'd describe as good. But despite its numerous flaws, when Needful Things is on, it is very, very on. If nothing else, it's a curiosity with some interesting characters and a cool central premise and some interesting meditations, but not something I could wholly recommend picking up. Give it a read if you're curious, but it's entirely nonessential. 

More, as always, below. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Stars My Destination


             Before this book, I didn't have a high opinion of Alfred Bester. The one book I'd read by him, The Demolished Man, came highly-lauded, but failed to capture my attention, and between a plot I was sure I'd already read before and a narrative structure that fell apart with the protagonist, I just couldn't get into it. It had some great ideas, don't get me wrong, people have been using that "earworm beats telepathy" gimmick for well over the fifty years since the book initially came out. But other than some fantastic ideas, Bester was kind of just one of those people I didn't get. 

                        That was, of course, until I was suckered in again by two things. First, that Bester is one of the originators of the "New Wave" science fiction movement, a movement that tried to merge lit-fic with genre fiction with a lot of great success*. Second, that out of all the people who have told me about this book, only Ellis has ever told me anything bad about it, and even then, it was a matter of taste. We'll get to that matter further down the page. So, because I found a free full-text version (sadly without the weird typographical experimentation) and it had been recommended to me enough times, as well as being (along with Gravity's Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49, and The Space Merchants among others) a kind of proto-cyberpunk book that kickstarted several genres and conventions now used today**. So, with nothing better to do, I sat down to read it, since it was easy enough to get my hands on and keep coming back to. 

                          And my verdict is, we need more books like The Stars My Destination. It's a whirlwind of science fiction, some interesting ideas about obsolete technology, and more than that, it's a fable about human potential the likes of which no one's managed to replicate. Buy this book. Buy it for your friends. Buy it for your neighbors. Buy it for your enemies, who knows, maybe they'll start to appreciate you more. Not reading The Stars My Destination, this strange cyberpunk/horror/soft-SF novel, is a great disservice. Even if you hate it, it at least deserves your attention for the time you'd take to read it. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wolf in White Van


        Occasionally, a book will hit you right where you live, and this one did. I can't tell you how or why, because that would give the book away and I really want you all to read this. But I need to tell you why and how. So...okay. Back when I was around fourteen or fifteen, I very nearly had an accident. It was small, and it was something I didn't have to go to the hospital for, but I very nearly had an accident. I wasn't being very careful, and I didn't pay attention because I was angry at my parents, and I almost had an accident. I wish I could tell you more about the whys and wherefores of what was going on, but overall, this book hit me where I lived. And hard. Very hard. 

                   But back around the time I almost had an accident, another thing also happened. This was around the time that play by email games were really taking off all over the place. A lot of homes had high-speed internet for the first time, and this was just starting to become widespread. And I, isolated for the most part as I was save for a few interactions with friends and a school that partly hated my guts because I had no way of explaining what the hell was wrong with me and refused to grow up all the way, found a new outlet. A new safe space. A refuge. And, at the time, though I was driven out of my refuge by the simple fact that, as Depeche Mode said, "people are people" (and I had issues with social stuff. And grammar.), the idea of a refuge from reality stayed with me. But I could always disengage. Go back to being in the real world. Even if I didn't want to sometimes. 

                    Wolf in White Van is about the people who couldn't disengage. The people who went a little too far, the people for whom their refuge is all they have. The people who aren't as lucky to have that disengagement, the way I don't seem to some days. It's a novel about people with a hyperactive fantasy life, because reality is just far enough out of reach. And even more than that, it's about the irrational acts people commit sometimes because the world doesn't understand them, it's about the grief felt when these things happen. 

And it is brilliant.

More, as always, below.

Monday, September 15, 2014


John Barleycorn must die...

                           Allow me to discuss the nature of a series of books. A series is a very careful thing. Especially when escalation is involved. It's fine to do sequels for the books, or even have to break up one book into a trilogy. But when writing a volume that is something of the conclusion to the whole mess, there are two very specific guidelines: First, that the book actually make some kind of sense, and second, that it actually concludes things in proper order, not some incredibly hallucinatory sequences that make the whole thing feel like some kind of horrid sideshow where the main plot isn't ever involved. 

                             Now, as Pollen stands alone, it doesn't necessarily have to follow these two guidelines. In fact, it's entirely free from these two guidelines, because it takes an entirely new story in the same universe, with entirely new characters. But in following the escalation patterns on from Vurt and presenting a world where the bleed-through between reality and Vurtuality has reached critical mass, Pollen's job would be to explore the bleed-through and conclude with some kind of cohesion. Instead, in telling its story, it gets too into the hallucinatory nature of the events, completely ignoring a cohesive story at certain points for an abstract and kind of aggressive surreality, culminating in a game of hot-potato with a black beetle representing groundedness in reality, and something of an anticlimax. 

But there's more than enough rope Pollen is giving me. Why am I having trouble? 

More, as always, below.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


"A young boy puts a feather in his mouth..."

                      I found this book at random, which, for some reason, makes sense. It just feels right that my first introduction to Jeff Noon would be at completely random, a completely accidental collision with the insane genius behind...well, Jeff Noon books, as Noon lacks a genre he can be pigeonholed into other than maybe, say, science fiction. And since at its core Vurt is about a bizarre, sometimes macabre, often tragic series of accidents, it makes sense that while looking for another book whose name was lost to me I somehow stumbled upon a brightly colored book. The book's spine read, in descending order, "JEFF NOON - VURT - Crown", and at first I thought it had to be a pen name. I also hadn't seen a book this brightly colored before. Intrigued, I took it to the desk, figuring if I was about to read something tawdry or mundane, at least it was tawdry, mundane, and trying to be interesting in some respect. 

                          By the time I was walking home, I'd opened the book and found...well, a bizarre mix of abstract visuals, Irvine Welsh-style grit, well-disguised gnosticism, slang, and the feeling that one has left an electronic dub soundtrack on and one does not know where. The first chapter alone whiplashed between mood, tone, and sometimes even genre at dizzying speeds. After that, the book swirled into a rabbit hole of horror, black comedy, and what's best described as "post-cyberpunk" if it could be pigeonholed into a genre at all. By a third of the way through the book, I found it weird but engaging. By two-thirds, bizarre and a little uncomfortable. And by the end? Well, I'll leave that up to you. Suffice it to say, the book may be ten shades of cracked-out-- and it is-- but it's well worth a read, and one of those books that I've wanted to own for years but simply haven't gotten the chance. I heartily recommend you own this book. In fact, if you don't have another tab open to Amazon looking for a good edition of this right now, I strongly suggest you do.

Why? Well, read on...

Monday, September 1, 2014


                        It astonishes me that Jeff Noon has flown under the radar in this country for this long. His bizarre mix of post-cyberpunk, bio-punk, and hallucinatory fantasy is certainly unconventional in places, but in a genre fiction market where we've obsessed over victorian fantasy, zombies, vampires, and gritty medieval political fantasy for far too long, a voice like Noon's could be a breath of fresh air. If, that was, it wasn't drowned out by louder, more well-known voices. With his work, Jeff Noon creates brightly-colored and unsettlingly dark worlds that just border on assaulting the senses with colors, smells, sounds, and tastes. He layers these on top of bizarre crime stories about things that don't exist yet, like an illegal trade in hallucinogenic dimension-bending feathers or trying to hack a national lottery using black magic and unorthodox math. The result is a disorienting mix of weird visuals, strange plotlines, and despicable characters that comes together in something incredibly readable. 

                      And Nymphomation is easily the most accessible of his books, barring his tripped-out short story collection Pixel Juice, a strange mix of experimental stories. Its lack of jargon, more sympathetic cast, focused plot, and a more conventional, grounded approach to plotting than his free-associative works like Vurt and Pollen. But more than being just "most accessible", it's a well-written introduction to one of genre fiction's most criminally underrated authors. It's an odd look at cyber-culture that barely sets foot online. And, above all else, it is brilliant. It's twisted, unsettling in places, and flat-out wrong at times, but I've never read nothing else like it. 

More, as always, below.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

100 Bullets


          As many of you may have guessed, I'm a huge fan of crime epics. Most of my consumption is in the form of TV-- I'm a huge fan of The Wire due to its tight writing and its handling of characters, for example, and Boardwalk Empire for the same reason-- but I like the books and comics that deal with the form as well. A good, gritty crime story with a lot of characters and conflicting motivations slamming together at high speeds over a longer period of time than usual and I am hooked. Similarly, a good mystery with a slight edge that could be weirder than normal is another thing I'm a sucker for. 

             And a crime epic, as a form, is a much different animal than its mythological cousin. Where a mythological epic follows a group of people or a single faction in the overall events, a crime epic is a lot more overarching. The characters involved can be criminals, police officers, independent operators, or just about anywhere on the spectrum. Similarly, the crime epic's events don't always have to be as closely related. The idea in a crime epic is to show that everything has ripples and effects that move outward from the central premise, a series of wide-ranging and often tiny events that have huge consequences later on. While it can sometimes follow a central group, it prefers to examine all the elements of crime in various ways until it leads to a climax that, more often than not, is a question rather than a conclusive answer. 

            100 Bullets is, in this mode, fairly by-the-numbers. It examines criminals, cops, the upper class, the lower class, and everywhere in between. But the book's brilliant execution, bizarre underground-comics art style, and tight-as-a-drum writing push it above and beyond the usual crime books, a slowly-unfolding and sometimes grisly story of power and responsibility that is so markedly American and darkly, scathingly funny at points that it's well worth a read, and even a re-read. It's a story of what happens when power corrupts, and it deserves your attention*.

Monday, August 18, 2014



       I'm going to be honest, the first time I ever heard of Mike Carey was through his Felix Castor series of supernatural procedurals. Even then, I heard about the novels through an Amazon review that (like all Amazon reivews) vanished up its own ass in disparaging Richard Kadrey's exquisite Sandman Slim while singing his praises. It didn't give me a good impression of the Felix Castor books or their fans. I hadn't even heard that he'd written comics until two years later, when I suddenly discovered that in the vast recesses of my various collections, I happened to have a copy of the critically-acclaimed Hellblazer story All His Engines*, which, despite being bleak and nihilistic (and if you have a problem with bleak nihilism, don't read Hellblazer because unless it's written by Neil Gaiman and thus drunk and stoned off its ass**, this is all Hellblazer is.) was optimistic and very well-written. And then I'd heard he'd written an entire series about Lucifer, one of my favorite characters in Sandman due to his immensely sympathetic nature and status not as a villain, not as a hero, but as a character who could easily be each.

                            And, well, it was brilliant. The characters, even the villains, have at least some kind of motivation that's understandable. It weaves together several stories, and actually surprised me when I thought they were going to end poorly. Which isn't to say that there's a lot of winning-- it's a series about Satan, after all, his winning would mean some very odd things about existence and God-- but there are enough wins that it doesn't wind up in crushing despair. The series structures itself as a very odd epic poem, with the start of the arc being the creation of a new world, and the end being, well, I'm not going to spoil that in the opening paragraphs. Rest assured, you should read Lucifer. But why? Well, read on...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Sandman


       When I decided I was going to review The Sandman, I realized that I'd kind of set myself up for a fall. 

                          It's an incredibly well-known series. You can't really get past that. Every time Neil Gaiman, the book's head writer and creator, even mentions the words "Sandman" and "movie" in the same sentence, the internet blows up with eighty thinkpieces and articles on speculation* about it because it is that well known and that beloved. This is the series that put Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, among others, on the mainstream map. It's the series that gave DC Comics both their depiction of Death and one of the better sex-ed PSAs I've ever read. It is the only comic book ever to win the World Fantasy Award for "Best Short Story" (They changed the rules after "A Midsummer Night's Dream", a standalone about Morpheus and Shakespeare, won. The dicks). Most of the things that could be said about Sandman have already been said in countless introductions, essays, reviews, and of course college essays that people wrote purely for the purpose of being able to read graphic novels to up their grades in English courses**.

                          It's also a work with a huge fanbase, so if I get anything wrong, I feel like I'm under the gun a little. It's kind of the reviewer's curse-- if you love something they love or hate something they hate, then they applaud you for it and say you're doing the right thing. If it's the other way around, well...

Heaven help you.

                          So I suppose I'll start out with this: The Sandman, conceived by Neil Gaiman, isn't one of the best graphic novels I've read, or one of the best works of fantasy I've read, but it's one of the best mythological tragedies I have ever read, and I'll give it that accolade willingly and with great fervor. With The Sandman, Gaiman and his team of writers proved that where most were able to play with existing mythologies and build off of them, they could create new ones. Complex ones. Ones that then spun, as all good mythologies and epics do, into other works and whose elements popped up in regular comics. While this was mainly in the form of Death as a breakout character that now happily occupies most DC Comics universes, and The Dreaming (the land everyone visits when they go to sleep, ruled by Morpheus, the titular Sandman) making it into more "mainstream" comics, it's still significant. On top of that, it's well worth the read. Why? Read on...

Sunday, August 3, 2014


                           The first time I'd ever heard of Preacher, I didn't know what to think. It was described to me as "A preacher, his gun-toting ex-girlfriend, and an alcoholic Irish vampire set out to find an absent God". That didn't exactly light a fire under me to read it, no matter how highly it was praised by The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for that year, nor how it was doing in the numerous comics publications that got the word out about Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's lurid and highly mature American heroic epic (very well, despite the backlash Garth Ennis now enjoys for writing lurid and highly mature works). It just sounded kind of...well, not quite my thing. So I let it go until two years later the brilliant minds of Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum brought it up in their well worth the read webcomic Unshelved. Then, because I'd had multiple sources confirm that yes, this was worth reading, I fired up the Inter-Library Loan client at Maplewood Library, and...

                          ...promptly looked at the sheer number of books and trades and side-stories, and promptly ordered Sandman, because at least I knew where to begin with that. It wasn't until years later where, jaded into apathy by Joss Whedon's utterly depressing run on Astonishing X-Men, I wandered into a comic book store looking for a pre-screening ticket to Grindhouse and decided (being completely flat-out skint) to talk comics with the guy at the counter while my friends browsed around the store. When he mentioned Preacher, I said something dismissive about that I didn't really feel like reading about a minister, only for him to jump in with "with the Voice Of God! He's a preacher with the voice of God!" And now that I knew that, the comic became intriguing. I wondered how anyone could get sixty-eight issues out of a preacher with the voice of God travelling around to find his creator when He abandoned the throne. So I looked into it, and what I found...

                  What I found blew me away. I have yet to encounter something like Preacher before or since-- a loud, brazen assault on the senses; a tale of a world gone mad in the absence of its creator, and the bluntest solution to the problem of theodicy I have ever seen. And yet...there's a softness to it. A humanity. These are people trying their hardest to put the world back together in spite of forces literally beyond their control. And for this reason-- as well as others-- it is one of the best comics I've ever read before or since. And I will defend it beyond reason and sense, tooth and nail, because of this. It's nasty, insane, brutal, lurid, and at the same time incredibly touching in its own way. It's vulgar, but with a heart. And I love it. Read this. Or try to. It'll probably be too graphic and sick for most people, but if you can see past this, there is a book with a lot of heart and a lot of heavy subjects in here. 

More, as always, below.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Prelude to Epics Month

              When I came up with the idea of devoting an entire month to comics holding true to the epic form, as with any major project that would allow a person of distinction to read comics at work, I had to set out certain rules for myself. Not just any comic can count as an epic. In fact, many don't. And while some of the longer titles are certainly operatic and massive in scope (Hi, DC), I chose not to do them because the open-ended nature of many comics leaves a lot up in the air. While I could review stories in each comic, and explore the form that way, I'd feel like I was just doing a single chapter of The Iliad and calling it a day. No, I wanted to get deep. Comprehensive. Get some dirt under my fingernails (figuratively). 

               So as part of the project, I did some research. I had to make sure I was using the word "epic" right, and not in another wrong way, especially as these days there have been some fast and loose uses of the word "epic" to mean "something that is awesome or imbued with powers beyond the regular forms". So I had two criteria I had to come up with to judge if these comics fit the mold I was looking for, and if they counted as an epic. And also to determine what series I would use or even be able to use. This may sound like overthinking a little, but I wanted this to be special, since I'm essentially devoting three to four weeks to me reading graphic novels as opposed to doing more with books. I know that this is sort of my "soapbox", mostly for lack of outside input, but I am the kind of cultured man-about-town who believes that even on the internet, one should have standards*.  More, as always, below.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gravity's Rainbow

"A Screaming comes across the sky..."
- First line

- Richard M. Nixon

           It has been an age that I have been locked in mortal combat with this book. I first discovered it when my dad told me about it, and that if I could read it and understand it, I would be able to prove myself in most intellectual arenas against people who do the New York Times crossword in pen. Because he spoke so highly of the book, I took it out of the library one summer in my precocious youth and sat down on the back porch (because in those days we still had a back porch, before sad and upsetting circumstances forced us to do without) and began to read.

           Moments later, and about fifty pages in, I stopped and went, "Why this is simply a World War II novel written in dense and confusing language!" And closed the book, resolving never to pick it up again. This, combined with my earlier attempts to read V. at the local public pool (an attempt which may have been sadly colored by sitting in gum as I read at the local public pool), convinced me Thomas Pynchon was a complete waste of time. I believed I'd tried, seen through him, and that was all there was to it. I didn't need to read any more. I didn't need to know any more. I could safely write him off and never have to read any more ever again. 

               Except...then, on the advice of the usually sage and slightly whacked Steve Jackson Games, who listed The Crying of Lot 49 in their influences in the back of the manual for Illuminati*, I checked out Lot 49, and it was amazing. I still didn't think I was ready for Gravity's Rainbow, and maybe it was just the time that I read it, which was around the same time I'd read Naked Lunch and several other books of conspiracy lit written on drugs, but it was enough to make me turn around. I actually tried reading Gravity's Rainbow again in 2011, but sadly between looming overdue fees and the schedule for my then-budding book blog, I was unable to actually get very far. 

               But finally, after years of false starts and bizarre interruptions, I can finally say that I have read Gravity's Rainbow. And it is one of the greatest, if not the greatest work of American literature, and an all-time favorite of mine. While I cannot recommend this book to everyone, I believe that everyone should at least give it a try, as there is literally nothing else like it. It's a huge, dense, bizarre musical comedy-fantasy-science fiction-thriller that in the end is about absolutely everything, while not actually being about absolutely everything. As I have said twice before with books this month, literally the only thing you have to lose is time, so do yourself a favor. At the very least, it'll be interesting. At the most, it might open you up to some interesting thoughts that you may not have had. But either way, all you'll waste is your time.

More, as always, below.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Death Warmed Over

"You can rot in hell!"
"I'd prefer not to rot anywhere."
- Straight Edge member and Dan Chambeaux
     I have something of a checkered history with the books of Kevin J. Anderson. He first appeared on my radar with his New Jedi Academy trilogy of Star Wars books, a series of books that, while competently written enough, were incredibly silly and involved a new superweapon called the Sun Crusher. New Jedi Academy was, perhaps, not the weapons-grade atrocity that R.A. Salvatore and Michael Stackpole would later unleash unto the expanded universe, but Anderson's book is full of weird narrative choices and introducing a new character who winds up riding the Sun Crusher around and declaring open war on the remainder of the Empire, all of which gives one pause. His other major track record, also focused on ruining my teenage years, is the expanded Dune series, an expansion of a series that should have stopped at book one, maybe book two the first time. In short, recoiling at his name and finding a nice Stephen Hunt book to curl up in has always seemed like the best option. 

                                But, as I have said repeatedly, the only thing you have to lose when you pick up a book-- even by an author you don't like-- is the time you spend reading it*. So when my dad handed me a copy of Death Warmed Over, the first entry in Kevin J. Anderson's Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series, at first I looked upon it with mild apprehension, but then decided to give it a shot. After all, I had nothing to lose, and it would either give me another gleefully dissenting review, or a surprising success to write for all of you guys. And I was at least interested in the novel, considering it started out with the hero being stalked by a werewolf hitman so he could rescue a kitschy painting of zombie dogs for a ghost who seems modeled slightly off of Andy Warhol.

And, well, guys, I think it's "Caius Admits He's Wrong" month. Because while no one would ever think that Death Warmed Over is great literature, it's a tremendously fun read, and if this is what Kevin J. Anderson wants to do with himself, then I welcome it with open arms and I'll admit that I might be wrong about him being as horrible as the other expanded universe authors I mentioned above. It's a delightful, light book that reminds me of law-procedural dramedies, only with a heavily supernatural twist. And it's a great summer read, if nothing else.

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dreams and Shadows

"You always assume we must have fallen, that we were thrown out of heaven. Some of us just jumped."
- Bertrand
                       I admit that going into this book, I didn't have a lot of high hopes. It was recommended to me by sources who also really dug perennial Geek Rage/Strange Library whipping boy The Magicians*; the writer's bio points out that he wrote the screenplay for Sinister, a film with an awesome premise and not a whole lot else going on; and the sources I used to look up the book had a lot to say about its rich setting and not much to say about the plot or the characters. Everything about Dreams and Shadows sent up a red flag that, after being burned on such "classics" of modern literature as City of Dark Magic, The Night Circus** and (again) The Magicians among others, made me hesitate to pick it up and give it a read. 

                                   So I went with my gut, and turned it aside. I read other things. I tried time and again to batter through the literary Great Wall that is Gravity's Rainbow. I read an interesting biography of National Lampoon. But finally, when I saw a sequel had come out to Dreams and Shadows, and said sequel was on the shelf at the local library, and it seemed like it was actually a series worth reading. "Okay," said I, "We'll give this Cargill guy a proper shot, then." And while I could not get Queen of the Dark Things because the new books section at my libraries exist solely to taunt me with the option of books I cannot check out due to living so impossibly far away from the libraries that even if I were allowed I could not check them out, they did have a copy of Dreams and Shadows. I'd done it. I'd decided to go against my gut in the service of possibly picking up something that was at least in part still part of the zeitgeist. 

                                      My lesson for you today is this: DO NOT trust your fucking gut. Because your gut is good, but when you have nothing to risk but time and another book you have to read because it's due back to the library, you can't afford not to take a chance on a book. And while you may be dragged through your Catherynne M. Valentes, your Max Freis, your Lev Grossmans and the like, there's a chance you're passing up a heartbreaking work, a work that could damn well be a favorite. Read everything and discard the stuff you didn't like as much, because that's how your taste stays killer. But never tell yourself "I won't like this book", because screw you, you have no freaking clue whether you'll like it or not until you try. Experimentation. Discovery. Risk. It's what makes life fun.

                                      And Dreams and Shadows is the perfect argument for why not to do this. It's a beautiful book, packed full of characters and setting and interesting dialogue and some odd interludes about anthropology and existentialism. While you may not enjoy it as much as I did, C. Robert Cargill's first novel is a book that does not simply grab your attention, but then shakes it back and forth while shouting at it. I need to buy this. I'm surprised I haven't yet. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Long Books Month 2

                   Hi, guys. 

                   Since the spring started, I've been having trouble. Part of this is because I've been sick, and busy, and at cons, and running around trying to find a job so I can make money and continue to make this blog. Part of this is simply because I've been trying to fit meaty, dense, long books in on a deadline of one per week. 

                    So since I'm having difficulty, rather than continue to punish myself and you, I've decided that perhaps I'm going to do what I did back in November and have another Month of Long Books. During this month, I'm going to just read. Some of what I review will make it here. Some of it won't. Some of it is just stuff I've wanted to devote my full attention to and haven't had the chance.

                     Starting on Saturday and going for a month, I'm gonna be reading. And when the subjects come to me, I may write up a bunch of stuff. So I'll see you all in July when I get back, and I'm looking forward to seeing you all then


Minifiction Reviews: The Night Whiskey


           I've had a lot of trouble with Jeffrey Ford in the past. I think part of it was his writing style. The best way I can describe his writing is "doom-laden, melancholic magical-realism" which is just using a lot of stupid labels to say this: The man writes dark. In fact, because of the strange surrealist-painting quality of his work, it's actually easy to mistake his work for a lighter work, only to suddenly realize you've made a terrible mistake. But, for whatever reason, I've never been able to get into Jeffrey Ford. And, given that every time I talk about him people go "...who?" and finding a copy of his fiction debut The Physiognomy is like trying to find a sewing needle in a haystack used as a stash by heroin junkies, not many other people have, either. I get the impression Ford is a "writer's writer", someone who writes their books and is lauded by all the 'heads in the know, but doesn't see nearly as much mainstream recognition. Similar to Ford in this aspect is another fantastic short story writer, Kelly Link, whom I cannot recommend enough, but who does not seem to get read half as much as she should.

                   Getting back to the subject of Jeffrey Ford, though, I recently picked up a collection of his, The Drowned Life. I didn't quite know what to expect from the collection, I'd just picked it up because I'd gotten the itch for Ford's work lately, having forgotten my previous attempts to read The Shadow Year (six of those), and The Physiognomy (two, maybe three). And, as luck would have it, my library had The Drowned Life and The Girl in the Glass right there on the shelf. So I picked them both up and took them home. Because I didn't feel like reading any of the things I'd taken out of the library right away, I sat down and started looking through The Drowned Life. Three stories later, I was hooked.

                     But while all the stories in The Drowned Life are good, one stands out above all the rest, and that one is "The Night Whiskey". Seriously, I recommend the book as a buy just for this story and "Ariadne's Mother" alone. Why? Well, read on...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Insane City

"And then everybody got arrested."  

        I've been struggling a little with this review, and I couldn't figure out why. Insane City is a book that's a lot of fun, the dialogue is great, though it's beyond loose, and the characters are colorful and exist in more than one dimension, which is rare in certain genres these days. And it's by Dave Barry, one of my favorite authors and one of the few people in the Florida crime genre not to have fallen into the rut of formulaic writing. But trying to quantify the book got harder and harder, and every time I looked at what I'd written, I just got more and more pissed off. And finally, something clicked and locked into place earlier this morning, something that finally made everything make perfect sense:

       I couldn't review the book the way I did every other book for one fundamental reason: There's not actually much there to review. Which isn't to say that there isn't a book there, there's definitely a book, but there isn't actually too much to it. It's a series of vignettes and character sketches that eventually coalesce into a beautiful chase sequence at the end of the novel, but I just can't dissect this one the way I usually do. How do you pick apart a book that works well as a whole, but falls apart under closer scrutiny? 

        Well, you don't, obviously, because the whole thing falls apart that way. The entire insane mess whirls around these characters and scenes, never slowing down.  When it finally reaches its ending and collapses, exhausted, on the ground for the epilogue, then you're left with the feeling that you've read something enjoyable. Lacking in substance, full of snarky asides to issues with Florida, and with the usual complaints about twenty-first century air travel, but definitely enjoyable.

But if I just ended the review there, you guys would feel cheated. Well-- since this is two days behind deadline, more cheated than you already are*. 

So, as I attempt to make some sense of this...

More, as always, below.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ready Player One

 "I'm seeing flying ostriches now in my sleep!"

     The most important film critic of our generation, a Mr. Roger Ebert, once said that when he reviewed movies, he tried to look at each film from a specific viewpoint. He said the first thing he would always do is ask "Who is this movie for?" That he couldn't review a movie until he knew who the filmmaker was trying to reach, and that he would then work forward from there and review the movie on the merits it had from that perspective.

                  I have had my mild disagreements with Mr. Ebert in the past, but I'm reminded of Lewis Carroll's maxim about the broken clock being right at least twice a day. And in this statement, he outlines something kind of important to remember about criticism. Especially with Ready Player One. You see, Ernest Cline is pretty clearly writing for a specific audience with this book. And if you're not in the specific audience, well, it can kind of get annoying when the unending spiel of anime, TV, movie, and music references fills up the page like brand names in American Psycho...though perhaps that might be the point, a self-reflective look at "geek culture" and internet culture and all of the numerous things that go along with that. It's hard to exactly say whether it's a culture-geek power fantasy, or making fun of it, but if it's as earnest as it seems in the book, I hope Mr. Cline got all the pop-culture references out of his bloodstream before he decides to write another one. 

              That isn't to say it's a bad book. Cline knows his way around a sentence, clearly, and he has some sequences that definitely work. While it's a deeply flawed book, it's an amazing first novel and when Cline works all the kinks out of his writing, I'd definitely like to read more of what he wrote. And I admit that there were some moments that definitely surprised me. And, at its core, it's got a really human message about growing up and learning to live in the world, or at least to make a place somewhere for yourself and your friends and your loved ones. But in the end, the sheer crushing weight of pop-culture eventually drowns out any message or heart or humanity the book has in its noise which, satirical or not, is still noise. And while at times it's worth the slog, most of the time it isn't really.

But how can it be all those things? Well, read on...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Riptide Ultra-Glide

"Wear sunscreen. Don't do heroin."
- Coleman

            There's a problem we writers sometimes have. We get bored. Most of the time, at least with me, that boredom stays off the page. It's a very small, contained boredom. This is mainly because this blog is the most I have ever been published. However, with someone like Tim Dorsey, boredom can become a much bigger, more unfocused beast. A beast that threatens sometimes to engulf certain books. Now, Dorsey's no stranger to a slump, of course, but when Tim Dorsey gets bored and his mind starts wandering, especially when Tim Dorsey's mind starts wandering and gets published, the situation is, of course, a bit more dire than when my mind starts wandering. Dorsey's mind results in things like The Riptide Ultra-Glide

             The book is a mishmash of things, never following one character for long, in what I assume was an attempt to get back to the early days of books like Florida Roadkill, where there was no main character and several different plots all together, with no single plot being central. In recent years, Dorsey's grown away from that format (I think the last book was the unofficial first conclusion to the series, Stingray Shuffle), preferring to stick with Serge and Coleman (or sometimes Serge and Lenny, Coleman's replacement) while various things happen around them, all of it coming together in a central thread. It says something that his strongest book in the past four years has been Gator-A-Go-Go, a book where there was a singular plot that held all the attention. 

             But while it's a perfectly serviceable beach read for the several hours it'll take to read it, I can't recommend The Riptide Ultra-Glide to many people. Readers who wish to experience Dorsey should try any of the numerous other works in his collection. It's readable, but I suggest that only the die-hard actually try reading it, since it seems to have been written for them.

Why? Well, read on...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One of Us

"Sorry. Ambient light projector." 
- God

                     I should have known a book by Michael Marshall Smith wouldn't play straight with its own premise. Walking into this, I was ready to talk about a book that was just some kind of dark, twisted Noir story about a man who deals in memories and dreams for a living. I was ready to tell you that this was a slow, brutal burner about things going slowly wrong for Hap Thompson as he tried to dig himself further and further out of a slowly-tightening net. And I was actually surprised. But the words of a friend of mine, one I'll call Greg for the time being, came to me. And while they're not exactly the way they're supposed to be, I'll paraphrase them here:

"What part of 'written by (Michael Marshall Smith) didn't you understand?*"

              It's honestly a mistake I've made before. I made it with Darren Shan when I read Hell's Horizon, a book that started as kind of straightforward (if there can be such a thing) noir and then plunged into sacrifice rituals, blind priests, torture, and lesbian sex. I made it with Joe Hill when NOS4A2 seemed like it was just going to be a Stephen King book written by Joe Hill, not a book by the same mad scientist who brought us Heart Shaped Box and Horns. And I made it again with One of Us. Because halfway through the book, most of the major mysteries are connected and explained. But their answers just lead to a bigger mystery. 

               And it is in this bigger mystery that One of Us finds its most compelling cases. And quite compelling it is. It's not as brutal and twisted as Spares, but it exists in a space all its own, a space where what's going on is never quite what's going on, and it's well worth the time and effort of tracking it down to read it.

Why? Well, read on...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014



"You're an idiot, Jack."
-Numerous characters throughout the work          

         The first time I read Spares, I felt like I'd been punched. I'd read what I thought was future noir before. Oh, yeah, I'd been down that road with the usual series of detective and cop novels, I'd read Neuromancer about three or four times at that point, and I proudly owned one of the few copies of Burning Chrome that seem to actually be in existence. But K.W. Jeter was right. It ain't noir unless someone-- possibly everyone-- is getting screwed over. The best ending any of these people can hope for is bittersweet, the best outcome they have is knowing that maybe-- maybe they did the right thing. And there have been a multitude of books that have tried to do what Spares accomplishes. But none have the viscera, the twisted nature, the just absolute sense of wrong that Michael Marshall Smith manages to hit with every single page, every single note, everything he could possibly think of. I've read extreme horror that's less gut-wrenching than Spares was.


                           Because much in the way last month's author, Peter Straub, got it, Michael Marshall Smith gets it. There's an air of uncertainty in Spares that isn't present in a lot of other works. It's one of the few books that actually makes it unsure if anyone wins. Even after the climax, I was left wondering exactly who'd come out ahead. But while it's bleak, there are small glimmers of good things here and there, and it's those few glimmers that kept me reading. It's not a ride I can recommend all the time, but it's a brilliantly-written book and deserves to be spoken of in the same tones we reserve for grandmasters of the genre. Especially because about a quarter of those men and women are more important than good. This is a book that's well worth the ride, and I hope people read it one of these days.

More, as always, below.