Monthly Archives: April 2013

Book Review: Shatnerquest

ShatnerquestShatnerquest by Jeff Burk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t usually do this, but I need to warn about spoilers for this one, because it’s pretty much impossible to write a review for this book without revealing certain things. You’ve been warned.

Shatnerquest by Jeff Burk is odd to review. Not necessarily difficult, just odd. There’s something about it that works. It’s silly. It’s violent. It’s plain weird. But somehow, the stars aligned for this one, and it works…mostly. It’s also odd in that it wasn’t actually supposed to happen. When Jeff Burk published Shatnerquake, he listed among his works Shatnerquest and Shatnerpocalypse. At the time, this was supposed to be a joke. These books didn’t actually exist. So, Shatnerquest is a satire born out of another joke. Jeff Burk needs to be careful or else he’s going to create a satirical black hole that will swallow all comedy as we know it.

The first thing you may ask is how this book relates to Shatnerquake, given the way that one ended. Well, it does and it doesn’t. That one’s hard to explain. Starting out during a Magic: The Gathering tournament at SuperCoolCon, the apocalypse occurs. Again. And this one is both a bad one and awesome at the same time. Every being from science fiction and fantasy becomes real and lays waste to civilization. Godzilla, zombie Borg, etc. There’s even a Dalek that is an actual exterminator of tribbles. Benny, Janice, and Gary, along with Benny’s cat Squishy, all wearing Starfleet uniforms (including Squishy in a red shirt) decided that the thing to do during this apocalypse is to go save William Shatner. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, even during Armageddon. On their cross-country trip to Los Angeles, they are pursued by Koloth, another nerd who’s dressed as a Klingon and leads a white supremacist biker gang who all wear Klingon forehead ridges. Yep, you read that right.

While Shatnerquake was a satirical tribute to William Shatner, Shatnerquest is a satirical tribute to all things nerdy. Even as passing mentions, just about everything nerdy appears in this book. It’s like one gigantic ComicCon, all the way up to the final confrontation with Shatzilla and the Takei (who’s portrayed as a parody of Mothra; guess what his battle cry is; go on, I dare you!). How does this story relate to Shatnerquake? Well, again, it does and it doesn’t. It makes reference to the events of that book, but that’s all. So you should be safe in reading this book if you haven’t read the other one.

As for Jeff Burk’s writing style, you can tell how much he’s matured since writing Shatnerquake. Well, matured in a relative sense. His prose is a lot cleaner and he can get the ideas across much better. Not that he was bad to begin with, but his experience since writing Shatnerquake shows. He even dares to break the fourth wall a couple of times, as the characters state at one point that some things aren’t how they’re portrayed in the source material and that they’re firmly in parody territory now. It was rather striking when he did that, but funny all the same.

There are still some editing issues, which has always been a sticking point for me. They’re not as bad in Shatnerquest though, especially given that this book is twice as long as Shatnerquake, so they’re spaced out a little better. Granted that they still add up, but it’s not as much of an issue here. Yes, this is a much longer novel than Shatnerquake, and it works in that form very well, although by the end I was ready for it to stop. Burk does push it right up to the line of tolerance. Still, it shows that Burk can writing a longer-form novel, and I’d actually like to see what else he can write in that form.

A good tribute all things nerdy, Shatnerquest by Jeff Burk earns 4 redshirted cats out of 5.

Book Review: Shatnerquake

ShatnerquakeShatnerquake by Jeff Burk

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Do you remember that scene in “Being John Malkovich” where Malkovich steps into his own head and winds up in a world where everyone is John Malkovich and says nothing but “Malkovich” repeatedly? Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk is kind of like that.

While it’s a satire/parody, it’s also a loving tribute to William Shatner. Taking place at Shatnercon. the Campellians (cultish followers of Bruce Campbell) plant a fiction bomb in the theaters where they’re showing Shatner’s past works. But something goes wrong, and instead of erasing Shatner’s work from everyone’s memory like it’s supposed to do, it brings all of Shatner’s characters to life. All of them!

I have to give Burk credit to bringing not only Shatner’s most famous roles like Captain Kirk or Denny Crane to life, but also some of the characters most people have likely forgotten, like the Star Trek Animated Series version of Kirk or his hosting duties on “Rescue 911” (who appears fairly often because, let’s face it, it’s a Jeff Burk bizarro novel, so there’s going to be a lot of violence). Some people will probably be in a state of nerd euphoria or nerd rage over the scene with a psychotic Captain Kirk wielding a working lightsaber. I personally blame Jeff Burk putting that idea out there which may have inspired the hiring of J.J. Abrams to direct the new Star Wars movie. Now let’s go tear down the observatory so this never happens again!

As a story it works. No really, it does. It definitely follows a pretty standard story structure. The literary depiction of Shatner and his characters is okay, although there’s clearly a reason these work better on screen than on the page. There are a couple of places where Burk breaks from the standard story, which at least leaves the reader guessing and prevents it from being completely predictable. There were some areas that I felt were lost opportunities, but then again those would have been what we expected him to do. One complaint I have is that Bob could have been much better developed and could have been a bigger part of the story. There was a lot of potential there.

And, I really hate to have to nitpick here, but again, editing mistakes get stuck in my craw. Mispellings, grammar errors, etc. I know I’m a stickler for this, but it’s important, and adds to the professional level of the work. While the editing errors in “Shatnerquake” aren’t as excessive as I’ve seen in some other books, there are enough and they start to add up.

All in all, Shatnerquake is amounts to an amusing tribute to William Shatner. It’s pretty clear how much of a fan Burk is to have payed that much attention to different parts of Shatner’s career. I mean, Hell, he actually mentions Tekwar, which I’m sure most people have forgotten by now. A solid story, and certainly entertaining, and despite the violence and such, I’d generally call it one of the “safer” bizarro novels and would be a decent entry point into the genre, assuming you can deal with that much Shatner. I say give it a whirl. It’s a fun ride.

Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk earns 3.5 phaser kills out of 5.

Oddly enough, to be continued in Shatnerquest

To Sum Things Up…

ThumbnailI think I know why I haven’t been making many personal blog posts lately. When I get behind, I feel I have to talk about too much, so a blog post with personal thoughts or a life update becomes a daunting task. And as more time slips by, it becomes ever more daunting. Kind of like how you can be given a deadline, which is easily met if you start right away with little effort, but you procrastinate constantly until the deadline comes up, and then it’s extremely difficult to get everything done quickly.

So, I’m going to do a very quick summary about things of late or that I’ve wanted to talk about in order to catch up, and hopefully “clear the table,” as it were, so that I can handle everything else as it comes up instead of just keeping this as a review blog.

To start, things with the wedding are now progressing at a breakneck pace. We’re in the final month, which means that bills are coming due, meetings are happening, and stress levels are high. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fiancé and want to marry her, but I’ll admit that the stresses of having a fairly large wedding are getting to me. Honestly, I think I’m going to be glad when it’s done. It’s helped that we’ve had family and friends helping us with various aspects of it, and my fiancé was just thrown a lovely bridal shower last Saturday, which was wonderful (I showed up at the very end to help her with the gifts; you know, the important stuff). That’s all I’m going to say on that at the moment.

Unfortunately, with the stresses of the wedding, I haven’t been eating very well, which I openly admit. So I haven’t been losing weight, but instead gaining. I need to get this under control. At least lately I seem to have stopped gaining weight, so the chart is no longer going up. Now I need to refocus on actually losing weight.

Both my fiancé and I are looking at going to grad school, although for vastly different things. I’m looking to finally apply this year and make the deadlines for school to start next year. She’s looking to push hers up to this year. Wish us luck!

My mother had to go back in for neck surgery again. Although, this wasn’t related to here previous surgery exactly. It sounded like it was a similar problem as what made the previous surgery necessary, but in a different area of her spine (above where the last one was). While she’s still recovering, she is saying that she’s feeling a lot better than she was before the surgery. Hopefully she’ll be okay by the wedding.

On the death of Roger Ebert: Yes, I do want to say something here, especially given my own penchant for critiquing movies and books. His death is a huge loss to the world of criticism. Ebert was brilliant in how he could say things, and his review of “North” was easily one of my favorite of all time. While I did disagree with him, not only on his opinions of some movies but on his ideas about story, such as how video games could never tell a truly compelling story, I could at least respect him for his opinions because he would give well-thought-out reasons for those opinions. So, it’s not just a loss to movies and criticism but to reasoned argument as well, and it seems that there’s no real heir apparent to fill the void.

As for my writing projects, there’s not much movement. I’ve been having some trouble focusing for a while now. Okay, a lot of trouble, which is not helping me much in any aspect. I don’t know if it’s full-on writer’s block, but it is in some form. I’ll say more on this later, because it deserves it’s own post.

Opinions of world event:

The panic over North Korea makes me laugh. It’s the exact same crap they’ve pulled before, and it’s meaningless. It’s nothing but the new leader Kim Jong-un, trying to establish himself as a strong leader, but his inexperience is showing in that he’s pushing the joke too far.

Margaret Thatcher died. Mixed feeling there, but many others have explained those mixed reasons better than I have, so I don’t feel the need to repeat them.

A pope resigned, and there’s a new pope who seems like an interesting person. I’m taking a wait and see approach on this one.

On gay marriage, I’m for it, and I honestly don’t understand the arguments against it. The surprise on this was Bill O’Reilly, who said on his program (paraphrasing here) that all the arguments against gay marriage amount to little more than Bible-thumping. I couldn’t have said it better.

I think that will cover it for now. Hopefully, this catches me up and I can blog regularly and not just review stuff. Wish me luck on that, too!

‘Til next time…

Book Review: Diegeses

DiegesesDiegeses by D. Harlan Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

diegeses: noun, pl. di·e·ge·ses [dahy-uh-jee-seez]
1. the telling of a story by a narrator who summarizes events in the plot and comments on the conversations, thoughts, etc., of the characters.
2. the sphere or world in which these narrated events and other elements occur.

“What the…?” is probably the first thing most people will say to themselves while reading Diegeses by D. Harlan Wilson. It’s the first book published by Anti-Oedipus Press and is currently only available as an e-book, with a paperback version scheduled to come out sometime in the summer of 2013. This is also my first introduction to Wilson’s work, so I had no previous experience on which to found expectations. What I got was a violent, surreal bizarro novella that’s probably going to stick with me for a while.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, “The Bureau of Me,” follows Mr. Curd…er, sorry, that’s just Curd, as he is invited to a mysterious group called the Bureau of Me. What is the titular bureau? Well, even if I didn’t want to spoil it, I’m not entirely sure that I could tell you. Curd himself seems to be a drunk violence magnet. Weird happenings and violent attacks are drawn to him. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if everything is just going on inside his head, although my opinion is that it’s not. I’ll go into that a little more later.

The second part, “The Idaho Reality,” still involves Curd, but he’s not necessarily the center of the story anymore. Or is he? Okay, not really. It follows the production of a hyper-violent and pornographic futuristic soap opera, of which Curd is a part. Is he a character or one of the actors? Again, it’s hard to say as the line between what’s real and what’s just production gets a bit fuzzy here. This one shifts the point of view a lot more through a series of interrelated flash fiction pieces.

It’s an odd little book that covers character and storytelling, is about both, but not in the way you might think. It’s something that’s very difficult to explain without spoiling anything, or writing an analysis that could dwarf the book itself. The whole book is written as a stream of consciousness, involving a lot of weird, violent imagery. It doesn’t take much effort to conjure the images in your own head. That being said, despite that and the fact that it’s a fairly short book, I wouldn’t recommend blowing through the whole thing very quickly. It’s not the easiest of reads, and you may need a little more time chew on that last bite before you swallow it and take the next bite. In fact, this is one of those books that I’m probably going to have to go back and reread later to see if I can get anymore out of it or view it from a different perspective. Rarely has a book compelled me to do so.

Despite some of the issues I have with it, such as that the violent imagery may be a little too over-the-top without really adding to the story, the weird looping story arc, or the fact that none of the character are really likeable, I still liked this book in a weird sense. The way Wilson can conjure images into the readers’ head without much effort takes talent and is worth the experience. He gives the reader credit for being intelligent without needing to be spoon-fed every last bit. Again, it’s not going to be for everyone, what with the violent imagery, or just the stream-of-consciousness style of writing which can be jarring to some readers, and some might even hate this style. But if you give the book a chance, you’ll find that it’s more thought-provoking than you might have expected.

Diegeses by D. Harlan Wilson earns 4 broken beer bottles out of 5.