Monthly Archives: October 2012

Book Review: The Crud Masters

The Crud MastersThe Crud Masters by Justin Grimbol
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me get something out of the way before I go into the main review. The Crud Masters by Justin Grimbol is based on The Outsiders, a classic novel many were forced to read during school. I, however, was not. I have never read it. I have never seen the movie. So I went into reading this novel cold, without any prior knowledge of the material that it parodies. That being said, take this review with a grain of salt.

The Crud Masters are a poor gang that lives in a Hamptons-like seaside town and is menaced by the rich kids of NOLA. However, the world’s shorelines are also being menaced by Dagoons, giant mutant creatures that come up from the ocean to attack coastal communities. No one knows where they have come from or why they are so aggressive.

Our main character, Boogers, suffers from a chronic case of nasal congestion after he was addicted to nasal spray and gave it up. The other Crud Masters include a cuddler, a brash loudmouth, a young girl, an old man, an aging blue sexbot, and a moddy (someone who has modified their body extensively, in this case to look like a bear). During a night about town, a couple of them encounter the NOLA kids who attack them with their Transformer. No, seriously, his car turns into a giant fighting robot. This leads to some bad blood and the demands for a rumble. But how can the Crud Masters hope to beat the NOLA kids when they have an unbeatable robot?

I’m not sure if it was just me or the fact that I haven’t read The Outsiders, but I had a bit of a hard time getting into this one. Don’t get me wrong. It’s an easy read, and the final climactic scene is certainly fun and satisfying, but for some reason the overall novel just didn’t quite click with me. The characters are well developed, to the point that I did feel a bit sad about the tragic end of one of them. The plot makes sense, or at least as much sense as a bizarro novel can.

I guess that my biggest problem is the pacing. The pace at which the plot flows feels uneven and jerky. Then again, the original could be the same way and I just don’t know it. I’m judging this book on its own merits.

The Crud Masters is part of the 2011-2012 New Bizarro Authors Series, which means that this is Justin Grimbol’s first published novel. It’s a respectable effort and I did enjoy it, but probably not as much I thought I would, especially based on the awesome cover art. Again, I may not be giving this novel a fair shake, but I have to give The Crud Masters by Justing Grimbol only 3 out of 5 rampaging monsters.

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Book Review: Placenta of Love

Placenta of LovePlacenta of Love by Spike Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Captain Carl is a Robo-pirate who develops and falls in love with an artificial intelligence that he has implanted into a placenta. This all takes place in an amusement park that covers the entire planet Venus. Don’t worry. It’s a lot to take in, and probably oversimplifies it a bit.

This is the basic plot behind Placenta of Love by Spike Marlowe, part of the 2011-2012 line in the New Bizarro Authors Series, which means that this is Marlowe’s first published novel. Each chapter begins with the description of a particular attraction around the park and how it works. It’s actually quite creative. It makes one wonder if the author may have been a Disney Imagineer in a previous incarnation.

The plot is decent. There’s some odd characters to be had, but nothing that’s really out of the realm of a bizarro novel. You have a Robo-cat that shows up and requests that Captain Carl gives it “spankies.” You have Pope Natzo Innocent of…okay, I’m not going into that because it would spoil the plot, and because this review would become an entire tome in and of itself were I to go into it.

It’s actually an interesting exploration into the how a childlike A.I. would potentially learn about its surrounding, decide it doesn’t want to do what it was designed to do, but then discovers that it may be necessary to address its true nature. In an amusement park. On the planet Venus. Well, it’s certainly a better exploration of this than that God-awful movie “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” for which I still haven’t forgiven Steven Spielberg and quite possibly never will.

The writing and the story line are good, if a bit far-fetched physically, which when dealing with a bizarro novel is saying something. My biggest complaint is probably the characters. Captain Carl and even Natzo Innocent are written well, with Carl as a developing and learning A.I., while Natzo is an experienced A.I. and has learned more about the ways of the world. But a lot of the other characters felt a little flat. Even Helen, Captain Carl’s love interest and titular placenta, comes off a bit two-dimensional, only pushing the boundaries of a third-dimension and not quite taking shape. Still, strip out the bizarro elements and it’s a classic, tragic love story. And I have to give the author credit for her creativity in actually thinking about how such an amusement park and each ride would work. That kind of attention to detail is surprising for a short novella, but helps bring the location to life.

Placenta of Love by Spike Marlowe earns 4 out of 5 glowing orange fingers.

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Book Review: Party Wolves in my Skull

Party Wolves in my SkullParty Wolves in my Skull by Michael Allen Rose
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Party Wolves in my Skull by Michael Allen Rose is troubling, but probably not in any conventional sense. I’ll have to explain that in a moment. But first…

Norman wakes up as his eyes are pushing their way out of his head to free themselves from his oppression. They’ve gained sentience and decided to free themselves and run off to get married. It’s a little more complicated than this, involving freedom of the proletariat and such, but it’s ultimately flavor without being that important to the plot. Anyway, Norman places a vacancy sign on his head, so the party wolves move into his skull, and they go with Norman to pursue his fleeing eyeballs. But the party wolves have a secret of their own. Along the way, they meet Zoe, a woman with a secret of her own who is being pursued by Walter, a giant talking walrus. Are you still with me?

Now for the troubling part: I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read too much bizarro fiction up to this point, but this novel makes a weird kind of sense. No, seriously! As I’m reading this book, I found myself stopping periodically and saying, “Yeah, I get that. It makes sense.” Or I just seriously need medication. I’ll have to figure that one out at a later date and not while working on a book review that involves a man with a wolf pack living in his head falling in love with a woman who previously engaged in human-walrus relations.

At the end, though, what I walk away from Party Wolves in my Skull thinking is that this book was just plain fun. It’s brain candy. It’s short, sweet, and fun. And the reveals of the characters’ secrets are themselves rather fun and add to the story and characters rather than detract from them. They don’t disappoint and add a couple of nice twists to the story and to the character development. Yes, the author manages to get some significant and believable character development here.

Party Wolves in my Skull by Michael Allen Rose earns 4.5 random pills out of 5.

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Book Review: Trashland A Go-Go

Trashland A Go-GoTrashland A Go-Go by Constance Ann Fitzgerald
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When an “accident” takes out Coco the stripper in the club where she works, the club manager and the DJ dump her body in the dumpster. This is no ordinary dumpster, but rather a doorway to the magical land of Narn…oh, wait, not quite.

Instead, Coco wakes up in Trashland, a land made entirely of rubbish. She is joined by a talking fly, Rudy, on her journey to find a way home. She meets the Oracle, who reads her fortune using a bag of discarded body parts, and then travels to the palace to meet the Queen, who seems to be a walking mold who gives off spores to dominate her subjects. Confused yet? Don’t be. Believe it or not, this is surprisingly normal compared to some of the bizarro fiction out there.

Trashland A Go-Go is part of the 2011 line of the New Bizarro Authors Series, meaning that this is Constance Ann Fitzgerald’s first published novel. And it’s a very respectable effort for a first time genre novelist. In fact, it’s quite good. There are just a couple of things that need to be nitpicked.

First, I felt like I was missing a large chunk of the story. Literally, it felt like this started out as a larger story and got cut down, but that some of the sections cut may have been significant to the story. In fact, this makes it feel skeletal with chunks of meat hanging from the bones, rather than a complete, fully-formed story.

This ties into the second problem, which is that some of the secondary characters seem superfluous. They really don’t serve much of a purpose. The case that stood out to me was how the club’s DJ also ends up in Trashland. But this doesn’t seem to serve a purpose other than to show that Trashland is real and not some kind of weird afterlife for Coco. But then the DJ serves no other purpose other than as cannon fodder later on. A common complaint I tend to have with bizarro books is that they feel like there should be more, but in the case of “Trashland A Go-Go,” this is a glaring problem and I wish the book were longer and more fleshed out.

However, the prose is very smooth, and the editing is actually quite sublime. This book does not suffer from another common complaint, which is that it needs more editing or careful prose. Fitzgerald is quite good and clearly practiced at writing, and this book definitely peaked my curiosity. I hope she continues to write and publish, because I am genuinely curious about what she will be capable of, especially if she gets the chance and chooses to write a longer story. I really want to give this novella a higher score because, don’t get me wrong, the writing is very, very good (and I don’t give that kind of praise lightly), but the chopped up story and superfluous characters were just too big of a problem for me and left too many questions.

Trashland A Go-Go by Constance Ann Fitzgerald earns 3.5 mold spores out of 5.

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Thanks For Dropping By: In Loving Memory of Ralph Nylander

Note: This is a little late, and while I probably should have had this available weeks ago, for obvious reasons it’s been extremely difficult to write anything, let alone this. Despite the delay, I’ve decide to put this up because I told myself I would and for my grandfather, but don’t feel any obligation to read it.

I want to tell you about my grandfather. No, I’m not going to give you a biography, or tell you stories about his time in the Navy in World War II, or things like that. There are other people who were closer to those stories who could tell them better than I could. Instead, I want to tell you about the man I personally knew during my life.

The first thing you would probably notice is that he was a quiet man. He wasn’t the most talkative, and I can’t recall one incident where I ever heard him raise his voice. He was always calm in the face of adversity, almost Zen-like.

My grandfather worked. A lot. As an electrician, he was always working on different properties and on the move. But even then, he always had some project he was working on, building something, fixing something, renovating something. He was always happiest with something to do. I think when he finally retired, more out of necessity because his body just wouldn’t take it anymore than an actual desire to retire, it was one of the hardest things he had to do.

Partly because of all his work, we always knew that if we ever needed anything, any piece of equipment, any tool, he probably had it. My grandfather was a packrat, something that both my father and I have inherited, although not on the level my grandfather showed. About ten years ago, when my grandparents were moving after having been in their house for more than 20 years, we had to help them clean the house out of things they weren’t going to take with them. Ultimately, we had to haul off two 40-foot dumpsters, something that, just by looking at him, he wasn’t happy about in the least. It was a kind of emotional pain that was difficult to see on such a kind man.

And my grandfather was a very kind and polite man. Another thing that people would notice after visiting with him for a while was…well, it’s really hard to describe. It was as though he always had a smile in his eyes, a twinkle that never left.

Despite his penchant for work (and work he did; right before going in for knee replacement surgery, he was up on the roof of their house installing a satellite dish), he always had time for his family. At the house I grew up in in my earlier years, he had a shop attached to the garage, and he came by often to get tools and equipment, make phone calls, and other stuff. But he always made time for me if I was there and never turned me away. He was a family man, and even as his health was failing, you could see in his eyes that he loved having his family around and was very protective of us.

And through everything, my grandfather was one of the most polite men I’ve ever known. Always kind and gentle, even in the hospital when he was the most uncomfortable, he would thanks the nurses for their help. As the Alzheimer’s Disease did its work and his body was failing, who a person is at their core really comes through. And this was who he was. That kindness and politeness never left him the whole time. He even seemed uncomfortable, not just because of the physical pain, but because people were making such a fuss over him. He was always self-effacing, never wanting accolades or fusses made over him. I remember that during my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, while he loved having his family around, he felt embarrassed and mostly tolerated the fact people were there to celebrate him and my grandmother. He never felt he needed to be praised for simply doing the right thing, because you’re supposed to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

My grandfather loved visitors, though, up until the end. When people were leaving, he always said “Thanks for dropping by.” And even near the end, if we were just getting up to go to another part of the room, he would always be sure to say “Thanks for dropping by.”

On July 29, 2012, my grandfather, Ralph Nylander, passed away after complications from Alzheimer’s disease. There are some who say that we’re only passing through this life, that it’s temporary no matter what you do. I consider myself very lucky to be his grandson and to have had him pass through my life. I’ve always said that people should be treated politely, but shouldn’t get genuine respect by default. That kind of respect needs to be earned and deserved. And my grandfather was most deserving of that respect. He would probably be incredibly embarrassed to be reading this as he hated this kind of fuss over him, but it needs to be said nonetheless. He was a kind, gentle, hard-working man who just did the right thing and led a good life. Someone that others could look up to and respect. I guess what I really want to say is this:

Thanks for dropping by, Grandpa.

We miss you…