Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Odd Men Out (Dog Star) by Matt Betts

“Look around you. You’re on a military vehicle. They said it themselves- they fight people. That seems to run counter to keeping you safe and my blood inside of my body.”

I’m not a good cook. It took me far too long to learn that, no matter how awesome chorizo, oregano, cabbage and mangos are, they shouldn’t go in my French toast. The tastes will fight each other for attention, not allowing me to taste any of them and the result will be confusing to my pallet, at best. That ‘s kind of how I feel about my experience with Odd Men Out. It has a whole bunch of awesome, but there was a bit too much going on to keep track of what was supposed to matter.

The story has a simple enough basis: An unlikely and disparate group of misfits (heretofore referred to as the O.M.O.) bands together to stop a plot by the big bad guys. Okay, there is a bit more than that going on: Mid Civil War, the fighting on both sides has stopped because zombies. A group called the Sons of Grant is rather peeved that they didn’t get to run rampant over those filthy rebs and has found a secret weapon that they think might wipe the Confederate government out completely. There is also some stuff about a circus magnate (perhaps a PT Barnum stand-in) and a giant lizard that may or may not be of oriental origin. And the leavings of a genius/mad scientist. 

The core story, about  a single minded individual driven by powerlust and an unwillingness to let go of his bitterness in the face of a much larger problem and the humble men and women who find they have no choice but to try to stop him, is a great one. I wanted to dive into that and drown. I liked the members of the O.M.O. and the idea of regular people stepping up in the face of general buttheadedness. I was concerned once the previously mentioned single minded man got ahold of a WMD. I was invested in that conflict.

However, the narrative was a bit too scattered for my taste. Yes, there were zombies, but they didn’t seem to matter much besides providing a threat worth setting the Civil War aside for. Even then, I had a hard time taking them seriously since they barely made any appearances and were usually dealt with quickly. Yes, there was a giant lizard, but I failed to see where it mattered in the plot. That sublplot was so ancillary that I didn’t even notice when it was resolved. I had to go back at the end to find out what happened to the giant lizard that had been destroying a major city. Also, the characters were too spread out and I had a hard time parsing who was where doing what. Maybe it‘s because I’m a shitty reader, but it still created a problem for me.

The biggest issue, though, was how much I adore Matt Betts. I know him from poetry and short fiction where he shines and dances like a shimmery bit of fetchlight. His voice is distinctive, confident and always means that a good time is about to be had. That’s why I was sad to be left wondering where that voice went while reading Odd Men Out. Every once and awhile a line or a paragraph or a moment of unbridled Matt Betts-iness would appear (like the quote at the top of this review) and there would be much rejoicing, until it faded away again. That made me sad because I missed his voice.

There’s a solid heart to the Odd Men and I wanted to enjoy this story. All the same, I had a hard time cutting through so much of everything and it made it hard for me to enjoy the experience.

buy it soon from Dog Star Books.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Installing Linux on a Dead Badger (Creative Guy), by Lucy Snyder

***again, I have Laura Langford guest reviewing for me. This time it is purely because her review of this book is much more entertaining than mine was***

First, wow.  Just wow.  

You'll have to forgive me (or not).  I only just read this.  The book has been out for some time (publishing date of 2007 per the page that covers that sort of thing.  I live under a rock, so it took some time for it to reach me) but, having just been introduced, I must say I am in love. If it were possible to stalk a book until it agreed to marry me, I would stalk this book.  Until it agreed to marry me.  Or got a restraining order.

The opening sequence, "Installing Linux on a Dead Badger" felt familiar.  Where had I...yes...the endless online "it's stupid simple: install Ubuntu on your old ancient Commodore 64" stuff I had fallen for and tried, over and over, until ready to scream Bill Gates' name in the heat of passion. The story read, tongue firmly in cheek, like a tech manual that left me laughing until the distro actually worked and the badger functioned with full video and audio.  I mean, come on!  No Linux distro works out of the box without having to install the proprietary video card drivers, and forget sound...you will NEVER achieve sound!

But I digress...

This story is beyond awesome, written with real wit and tech savvy. Enough to actually make one forget it is, after all, not truly instructions to install yet another Linux distro (I would kill for a version of Red Hat that actually came with the VuDu package, though. Maybe that's why the sound works out of the box).  The author moves on from a seemingly dry installation how-to to various articles about the aftereffects of this new technological breakthrough.  Who needs Windows indeed?  Surely Windows never utilized alternate dimension Aethernet networking.

The slow, brilliant build up of effect shines like good science fiction should.  It should give one pause. First Teen Linux gangs, then corporate networking to the nth degree.  The evolution of installation on a dead badger to the perfect unskilled undead laborer and middle-management vampire overseers...the social commentary doesn't bang you over the head like a hammer but makes it's point firmly.  Succinctly.

So, read it damn you!  It's well written, entertaining, and I finished it in one long night (so I stayed up until 4am on a work night - read it on a weekend, I'm not your babysitter!). 

reviewed by Laura Langford

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Life Rage (Nightscape Press) by LL Soares

“I hear all this bullshit about road rage, air rage, black rage, white rage, male rage, female rage, kid rage. Fuck, man, I got fucking life rage. Just being alive makes me pissed off all the fucking time.”

Modern Society seems to leave many of us just plain pissed off most of the time. Maybe it has to do with the lack of much honest to goodness fighting or flighting, resulting in too much adrenaline built up wand nothing to do with it. Maybe we just haven’t physically adjusted to the changes in types of strain associated with living in city environments and working with stresses that aren’t directly related to something trying to kill you. Maybe the world really is filled with stupid assholes. Regardless, we’re angry. 

To a certain extent, that anger seems to be part of what Soares is dealing with in Life Rage. But that isn’t it completely. We do spend much of the time in the head of a rage counselor, Sam Wayne, who appears to be absorbing the anger of his patients. While this cures them, it builds up in him and explodes in violent outbursts of blood and sundered limbs. So, there’s that. But then there is Colleen, who has unsuccessfully attempted to fill the emptiness of her life with sex and Vivian, who kills people by unlocking their pain during some particularly vigorous fucking. By the end, these threads kind of merge while the order world dissolves around them.

Over the years, I have enjoyed LL’s short fiction. Lean, harsh, always seems to take a different tack than expected with a great sense of developing characters as people. In Sickness, his collection with Laura Cooney, kicked my butt. That’s why I’m a bit perplexed here.

Life Rage comes across as a bit of a mess. It scrambles to find its footing and direction and never seems to quite succeed. Characters and plot threads are built up only to be tossed aside without a glance. I like the idea of setting a back story and providing context to a character to make them more than a bloodbag on a stick, but even when we spend a large amount of time with them here, they never quite seem to coalesce as valid beings. In the end, when they died, I didn’t find myself caring anymore for them.

Even after finishing it, I’m not certain where the important plot lines were. Was it all about the fruitless attempts to find happiness and peace through sex? Was it about the infective nature of our anger and the ways we spread it to other people? I very much would’ve liked it to be a tragedy of lives consumed by the vices we just can’t seem to will out of our systems. But, alas, I’m not sure where the focus was because it is all over the place.

I think the potential for a kick ass tale is there. Maybe with some brutally tight editing and some time backed away and considering what matters most in this. Maybe it could be broken up into some smaller stories to deal with each idea. I don’t know. All I know is that, as much as I really wanted to like this novel, I couldn’t get into it.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters we have and the situations they are in are interesting enough that I never completely gave up on it. I wanted to see what they would do and what would happen as a result. At several key moments, he had me by the balls. That stands for something.

Ultimately, Life Rage is chock full of potential that didn’t pan out for me. If you have the patience, there are some interesting characters, broken in their own interesting ways. Lots of blood and sex, for those looking for that. But without direction and focus, it left me feeling flat.

buy it from Nightscape Press Here.