Monthly Archives: May 2012

We’re Off to Camp NaNoWriMo

WritingDespite the number of book reviews that I’ve been posting lately (this was really never intended to be a review blog, but I like to help out other writers and small publishers), I have been spending a fair bit of time writing other stuff. I’ve made some progress in “Payroll” but it’s slowed down a bit, and I’m feeling like I need a short break from it to refresh my brain.

Since I’ve been getting a lot of ideas for short stories lately, and I want to develop them, I’ve decided to participate in the spinoff from the National Novel Writing Month, Camp NaNoWriMo this year. Given that it’s not the real NaNoWriMo (okay, it kind of is, but I consider the real one to be in November), I don’t feel too bad about setting my own goal for it. For those not familiar, NaNoWriMo occurs every November, and the goal is to write a fifty-thousand-word or more novel in 30 days. Camp NaNoWriMo is similar, but it occurs in June and August.

Anyway, I’ll be making June my short-story month. My goal is to write ten stories that are five thousand words or longer in length. It will amount to a full story every three days. So I will still have a fifty thousand word goal, just not as a single story. The stories will likely not be interconnected, at least not on the first run through.

My goal is two-fold. First, I want to branch out a little and not be so focused on writing my one novel at this moment. Secondly, it will give me more to work with, stories to submit to publications, magazines, etc. I may even throw a story or two up here for sample purposes if I feel comfortable enough with what I produce. Which is the tallest order of all, since I know that I’m my own worst critic. And it may give me ideas for other stories or expand to full novellas or novels at a later date.

I’m not sure what I will be writing these stories on. I’ve got a few ideas, but if anyone has any thoughts or has calls for submissions, I would be happy to incorporate it into my little collection to be written during the month of June.

Book Review: A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space

A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space
A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space by S.D. Foster
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

If you follow my reviews, you may have noticed that I review a lot of what’s classified as Bizarro fiction. A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space by S.D. Foster is part of the New Bizarro Authors Series, which tests the waters with new writers. This one is a collection of short stories. Very short stories. And being from a new writer, this can sometimes be problematic. Fortunately, this collection works for the most part.

Among the stories are the life of an orange, a retiring giant monster, reflections on life by the dead, and a rat trying to work his way up in the world. One of the things that makes this collection so different is how surprisingly thoughtful these stories can be, especially when Foster takes something that’s so mundane and tries to paint it in a special light, or takes the extraordinary and makes it ordinary. Sometimes it works. Occasionally it doesn’t. But these stories are all generally pretty good.

The form and the voice work for the author, although the incredibly short length of these stories makes it difficult to become truly invested in any of them. It would be interesting to see Foster write in longer form, but not in the same voice. Still, it’s easy to recommend this book, and could make a good Bizarro introduction to new readers, or to readers with ADHD.

A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space by S.D. Foster earns 3.5 plastic princesses out of 5.

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Book Review: Probability Angels

Probability Angels
Probability Angels by Joseph Devon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Have you ever read one of those books that you wanted to like so much, that starts out great, but then becomes a major disappointment later on, and leaves you feeling hollow and unsatisfied, worse than it had started out bad?

I’m really sorry to say that Probability Angels by Joseph Devon was one of those books for me.

The first half of the book is really quite interesting. In Probability Angels people are sometimes given a choice when they die, a choice that will change destiny (or probability). If they make this choice they become a newbie. Matthew is one such newbie, having made the choice to die in place of his wife during a mugging. He has become a being made of energy, yet bound to this world, and can’t be seen unless he wants to be seen. Newbies cause most of the problems in the world, from people who start random brawls to inspiring people to cheat on their significant others, and they get money in return for their work. Well, it’s not really money. They receive energy which is represented by money. However, these newbies later get a second choice, when their first choice dies, If they choose to detach from their second choice, they become testers. Testers are responsible for all great achievements in history, as they “push” their targets to inspire them. Pushing is rough and can destroy a tester if done wrong or too hard, but the rewards are enormous amounts of energy. Epp is one such tester, who has been doing this for thousands of years, and is Matthew’s mentor.

Most of the book’s first half is spent setting up the world of the testers and how it works. The above is only a quick summary. We see the history of some of these characters, such as when Epp pushed Isaac Newton, which was, in my opinion, one of the most interesting parts of the book. It almost feels like it could have been an insightful story on the nature of death, inspiration, and the universe itself. In fact, the first half reminded me a lot of Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Unfortunately, at about the halfway point, the book takes a hard turn, and not for the better. You see, some tester can’t make that second choice, and instead follow their choice to the grave, becoming too attached and lying on those graves, unable to remove themselves. They loose energy and essentially become zombies, needing to feed off the energy of other testers. And it’s at this halfway point that the book becomes little more than an afterlife-based zombie apocalypse novel, and not a terribly good one either.

That felt weird to write. It’s about the undead dead. Hmmm…

Here’s the problem: If the book had started out making it clear that it was going to be this way, I might have been able to handle it much better, or I’d at least have been more accepting. Instead, the author caused me to develop inflated expectations only to watch it crash and burn.

Another issue is that Matthew is clearly set up as the protagonist early on and we watch him as he learns about this world and the history of it. But upon the drastic switch in tone, we almost completely lose sight of Matthew and he’s rarely that significant during the second half, if he appears at all. It feels like the author forgot what and about who he was writing and just went for an all out brain dump. Or he got bored with Matthew and his exploration of the testers and started going off in a different, not to mention random, direction.

The ending was, frankly, terrible. It ends far too quickly and with little in the way of satisfaction or answers. I understand that Joseph Devon has written a sequel which many reviewers seem to like much more. I may give it a shot, but I have to judge this book on its own merits. It gets an extra star just because the first half of the book is interesting, but in the end, I can’t give this one a high score.

Probability Angels by Joseph Devon earns 2 pushes out of 5.

Note: A free copy of this book was sent to this reviewer through a Goodreads First Read giveaway. This did not affect this review in any way.

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Book Review: The Cannibals of Candyland

The Cannibals of Candyland
The Cannibals of Candyland by Carlton Mellick III
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being a clown made of candy is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Franklin is a man with an obsession. He watched his siblings die at the hand of a woman made of candy when he was very young. Since then, he has been obsessed with finding these candy people and proving to the world that they exist. He should have been careful what he wished for.

The Cannibals of Candyland by Carlton Mellick III is a dark fantasy that’s bittersweet. After reading a couple of other books by Mellick, I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. At the same time, it turned out to be a much darker story than the other books I’ve read. Dark, but full of candy.

I have to admit that the author has put a lot of thought into how different type of candy could form people, structures, landscapes, etc. Maybe a little too much thought to be healthy, not to mention risking Type II Diabetes. In short, I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to think about having sex with a marshmallow the same way again.

As always, Mellick’s prose is pristine and has a very easy and readable flow to it. But there are a couple of flaws with this book, mostly stylistic in nature. First of all, the characters aren’t particularly likable, especially Jujy. I’m not sure if we’re actually supposed to like her at any point, but she just quite evil the whole way through. Misguided, yes, but still evil. Franklin himself is really rather pathetic and tends to be extremely passive, having more things happen to him than things that he makes happen. It becomes extremely frustrating for a protagonist to be so pathetic, and it becomes very wearing. And there’s not much character development. There are physical changes, yes, but not real personal development, other than going in a full circle. Also, the book is a lot darker than I was really prepared for.

Unfortunately, these flaws are enough to lower my score a bit. I still enjoy Carlton Mellick’s work and I plan to continue reading the rest of his repertoire, but The Cannibals of Candyland simply didn’t satisfy my Bizarro sweet tooth, especially when compared to his other work.

The Cannibals of Candyland by Carlton Mellick III earns 3 red licorice whips out of 5.

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Book Review: FISH TANK: A Fable for Our Times

FISH TANK:  A Fable for Our Times
FISH TANK: A Fable for Our Times by Scott Bischke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first thing I see when opening the cover of Fish Tank by Scott Bischke are blurbs from other reviews, several of which compare the book to Orwell’s Animal Farm. While it’s a valid point, it feels like a cross between Animal Farm, The Lorax, and “Finding Nemo.” In fact, the connection to “Finding Nemo” felt so strong that it was hard picture the characters and events in the book as anything other than cute computer-animated fish.

This is very unfortunate because the message contained in the novel is so important. When Professor Brown leaves his aquarium in the care of Augustus for a year, Augustus decides to cut corners and places a year’s worth of fish food in the automatic feeder so that he doesn’t have to come back to tend to it. However, Augustus grossly underestimates the amount of food which the fish need, a fact that quickly becomes aparent to a few of the more intelligent denizens of the fish tank. As they call for conservation of the important resource, they are met by heavy opposition from the crabs, who continually ensure everyone that there is plenty for everyone.

I won’t go much further into the plot, but suffice to say that this is a not-so-subtle allegory to the current plight humanity is facing inside our own fish tank. The book focuses on the limits and sharing of resources, eventually global warming, the selfish actions of a few who make things worse while assuring everyone that all is well, and the skewed facts they rely on to prove these points. The metaphor is not subtle, which becomes part of the problem with this book.

While Animal Farm may not have been subtle with its allegory of the Russian Revolution and the events that followed, there was an artistry to it that makes the book more translatable. There’s an underlying social complexity that requires the reader to work a bit more but provides a significant reward. But with Fish Tank, there’s not much under the surface (no pun intended). While containing an important message and using a similar device of using animals to represent different parts of society, the message is so heavy-handed that it feels as thought the entire novel is potentially unnecessary or, at worst, might be considered by some to be condescending. Everything is quite blatantly obvious, and little to no work is required on the part of the reader.

Again, it’s unfortunate given the message’s importance, and until the very end, it’s almost difficult to take the fishes’ dire situation that seriously because of the cute imagery. Really, the problem there is simply bad timing. If the cultural significance of “Finding Nemo” wasn’t so prominent, this would probably not be an issue.

I would still recommend this novel for its message, and maybe others will get more out of it than I could, especially because I’ve been so immersed in the subject for a while now (which probably makes me identify with Doc Hansom, the goatfish), but I failed to take as much away from this novel as I probably should have.

Also, I probably should not be writing this review while hungry, because now I want seafood.

As such, Fish Tank by Scott Bischke earns 3 out of 5 starfish.

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