Monthly Archives: October 2013

Book Review: You Are Sloth

You Are Sloth!You Are Sloth! by Steve Lowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sloth: An odd tree-dwelling animal, the most commonly referred to species of which has three toes and a permanent smile on its face.

The spammer: An internet-based douchebag who sends unsolicited email in bulk.

How are these two related? In You Are Sloth by Steve Lowe, a criminal simply known as the Spammer has begun sending out emails that turn people into their power animal. When you (yes, you) are turned into a sloth, you must join with your neighbors Cross the Asshole and Randy the Retard (named so by Cross the Asshole), you must track down the Spammer, discover his dastardly plot, and reap some three-toed vengeance.

So, the first thing you’ll notice is how I referred to “you” as the main character. That’s because this book is written in a second-person perspective (for those not familiar with literary terms, first person is “I,” second person is “you,” and third person is “he/she/it,” to put it quickly). The second-person perspective is usually used in things like those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. This is not one of those. It’s simply an experimental way of telling the story, and it works. I have to give Lowe a lot of credit for risking this kind of perspective. It’s odd at first, but you get used to it very quickly.

The second thing is that this book is funny. It is really funny. The humor is gross, inappropriate, and yet given the characters this book deals with, it couldn’t be any other way. These are very low-brow characters. If you don’t like lots of feces or mature themes in your story, especially death by bukkake, this might not be the best book for you. For me, it works perfectly in the context of this story.

The story flows, the characters develop, and it’s a fun journey along the way as you discover how to be a sloth. If anything, this book actually reminds me a little of Lowe’s earlier book Muscle Memory. In both books, characters find themselves in different bodies and have to come to terms with themselves, what they’ve done, and how they’ve lived their lives. This similarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I liked “Muscle Memory,” and while it’s a similar theme, the story itself is completely different.

I can’t really find a fault with this book. It’s hysterically funny, thoughtful, experimental, and really just an outright fun book to read. You really can’t go wrong here. Steve Lowe has written what is arguably one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that.

You Are Sloth by Steve Lowe earns 5 three-toes out of 5.

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Book Review: The Haunted Vagina

The Haunted VaginaThe Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Cue music from “The Exorcist.”

Okay, I’ll give you a moment to clean your screen off after you just read the title and spit out what you were drinking.

So, what is The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III about? Really, you’re going to ask that? Okay. Imagine if your girlfriend’s vagina was the portal to another world with strange creatures inhabiting it. That’s the situation that Steve finds himself in. And…that’s pretty much it.

The really odd thing about this is that the simple concept actually works. Through Steve’s exploring this strange new world, it gives Mellick a chance to perform an almost straight-up world-building exercise. It’s a strangely interesting world with a mysterious history.

Steve himself goes through an interesting if very quick character evolution. The character is believable, switching between a coward and pretending to be brave because his girlfriend tells him to do something he really doesn’t want to do (who hasn’t been in that situation?). At the same time, the character evolution seems a little too quick and convenient. While it fits with the story, it also feels like the story itself could have been changed a little to slow down the character development.

One thing, which should be obvious, is that this book will not be for people who are squeamish around sexual situations. At least I really, really hope that’s obvious. Mellick doesn’t shy away from being fairly descriptive in these scenes, nor does he mince words. But, then again, if you’re going to pick this book up, you’re already expecting this, so I’m not sure why I’m even mentioning it.

The prose and editing are clean, which is a huge plus. Again, it’s a pet peeve of mine, so I’m glad this one was a smooth read, and I could stay in the book very easily without my inner editor distracting me.

While The Haunted Vagina is actually a decent book (quality-wise), and Mellick seems to have put a disturbing amount of thought into how a miniature world inside a woman’s womb would actually work. While the story is short and works in its own way, sometimes things feel a little convenient for pushing the plot along towards its conclusion a little too quickly. It ultimately feels more like an exercise in building an interesting world, but sacrifices a more involved story in the process.

The Haunted Vagina earns 3.5 tubes of lube out of 5.

Book Review: Time Pimp

Time PimpTime Pimp by Garrett Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when you mix pimps, time travel, pandas, and leather nuns inside the brain of a deranged bizarro author? You get Time Pimp by Garrett Cook.

Now, I have to admit something: The only book by Garrett Cook I’ve read until now was Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective, which I was not the biggest fan of. It was okay, but even accounting for its noir feel, it still felt very bleak and seemed to be missing a lot the fun that such a situation should have had. Or at least that was my take. So when I started reading “Time Pimp,” it wasn’t without some apprehension.

I’m happy to say that Time Pimp came off completely differently and captures the joy that Jimmy Plush seemed to miss. Time Pimp is a fun, wild ride through time and space, from biblical times to the end of time itself and bizarre worlds with elements that seem random, and yet these random elements fit together perfectly in ways that you can’t even imagine.

The story is bright and colorful. Well, about as bright and colorful as black and white printing can be, but it gives the feeling that everything is bright and colorful. Time Pimp is a pimp (well, duh!). Actually, he’s not just any pimp. He is a pimp whose stable of hos are from every time and planet and can cater to every desire. His client list includes some of the most influential people in history. He is a master of alchemy, can turn basic water into cognac, and drives a giant purple time-traveling Cadillac. But, like the reader, he has no idea how time travel works. It just does.

This is not a difficult thing to overcome for the reader, however. No one (almost) knows how time travel works in this universe, but no one needs to. It’s not important and doesn’t distract from the story at all.

Time Pimp himself is not a caricature, despite what the description sounds like. There are four closely related stories that blend into one. Over the course of these stories, we learn that Time Pimp is actually very flawed and has a history that has led him to the point where the book starts. Time Pimp evolves, learns, and changes in excellent ways, along with other characters. We learn about his archenemy, Death Pimp, and what their relationship is. And we learn about the true nature of the psychic octopi that swim inside the absinthe in his platform shows. If I say much more, I’m afraid that I’ll give too much away.

Yes, all of this fits together, and fits together beautifully in a way that surprisingly doesn’t stretch the imagination. In fact, the evolution of Time Pimp and the other characters goes from being fun and funny to almost touching and thought-provoking, and not in a jarring way, either. In other words, Time Pimp doesn’t jerk you around with a bunch of random and weird stuff. It evolves and actually has a grand and satisfying climax. It’s more than a simple slice in the life of Time Pimp.

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s the editing, which is a real shame. Cook has some really great writing and a great way of phrasing things, not to mention keeping the characters in character so that their dialogue stays consistent. But there are errors throughout the book that bug me. Like in other reviews I’ve written, editing errors are a pet peeve of mine, and tear the reader out of an otherwise sublime story. And there’s enough in this book that I have to detract from the overall score.

If you’re looking a fun read that is still definitely bizarre with good, strangely believable characters that evolve with a story that has a satisfying payoff, then Time Pimp will work nicely for you. Unless you’re a little bitch. You’re not a little bitch, are you?

Time Pimp by Garrett Cook earns 4 fine scotches out of 5.

Book Review: The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island

The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake IslandThe Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can see some people looking at the cover for The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce and saying, “Aw! That’s so cute. What could be more innocent than a pickle and a pancake falling in love?” To those people I say, “You haven’t read Cameron Pierce before, have you?”

This story is what I would imagine someone would come up with if they had an acid flashback while staring into their refrigerator. It involves a pickle named Gaston Glew from the Pickled Planet, a planet who people and very environment exist in an eternal briny sadness. Gaston Glew is not satisfied being stuck in sadness and believes that happiness, or at least not-sadness, must exist somewhere in the universe. So he leaves his planet and crashes on Pancake Island, a world where everyone is eternally happy and is the last happy place in the universe. While Gaston Glew falls in love with Fanny Fod, a beautiful pancake who is responsible for the world’s happiness, things end up going from bad to worse for our heroes.

As one would expect from Cameron Pierce, there’s sex and violence without apology in this book, although it is toned down a little from some of his other works I’ve read. The prose is excellent and flows like rich maple syrup. The character are likeable if tragic in a way, and even though Gaston Glew can occasionally come off as a bit of a phallus (word changed to get through censorship scanners; you know what I mean), he’s still identifiably flawed.

Some might focus on the book’s commentary on social norms as they relate to depression and happiness, and, yes, I can see this. It could easily be argued the Pierce is putting an almost childish veneer on a story about being trapped in sadness and depression, but how those in persistent states of happiness can act like complete idiots, and a search for a happy medium. After all, the only characters who actually achieve anything in this story are those who suffer from at least some sadness, while the characters who are eternally happy do nothing but dance and act like idiots. It’s simple, but in its own way it works.

Occasionally, logic needs to get thrown out the window for the sake of the story, such has how Gaston Glew’s rocket boosters actually work. However, if you’ve read Pierce before, you’ll expect him to play with physical rules a little bit. I mean, this is a book about living pickles and pancakes, so how realistic can it actually get? Still, it does stretch the limits in suspending disbelief a few times, even for a story that runs on cartoon physics.

Overall, it’s a good story with bizarro elements that’s comparatively tame but definitely not innocent. With serious flawed but identifiable characters and easy, smooth prose, I feel comfortable giving this one a recommendation.

The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce earns 4 pints of maple syrup out of 5.

Book Review: Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy

Sorry I Ruined Your OrgySorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flash fiction is a weird animal in literature. It can be so short that it doesn’t allow meaning to enter into anything unless the author knows what they’re doing. Still, in the right hands flash fiction can be a brilliant vehicle to get the point across quickly.

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands is a collection of flash fiction and prose poetry that engages in a lot of experimentation and pushes the boundaries with how far an author can play with the rules before the narrative, even a very brief narrative, falls apart.

To start, you’ll notice something right away: Most of these stories are very brief, in some cases being only a short paragraph long. Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy is kind of like Robot Chicken: The Novel (which doesn’t exist; it’s just a personal dream of mine). You get quick cuts of things that seem to be completely random with an occasional longer story, although nothing that’s really that long. From the Pope getting sued to a war that breaks out over greeting cards, this covers everything that has nothing to do with each other and somehow makes them relate. Some stories even have some touching commentary on real-world perspectives, like how a child can see their parent as invincible.

You might notice how above I said that it pushes the boundaries before a narrative falls apart. In this book, Sands walks that line very carefully, and the way he describes everything as though it’s the most normal stuff in the world adds to that effect. I found myself almost hearing these stories read to me in a deadpan fashion. While a few of the stories were a little off, none of them actually crosses that lines into total collapse. Some of these stories straight-up shine. It was a really fascinating experience to read this book. There are a lot more gems than stinkers here.

As far as bizarro fiction goes, it definitely qualifies. Believe me, nothing about any of these stories qualify as normal. In fact, that might be a bit of a sticking point for some. While collections of short pieces could be a good introduction for someone into the bizarro genre, I can’t recommend this for newbies. Some of this is so bizarre that it would likely leave the uninitiated confused, if not send them straight to the looney bin babbling about Tao Lin with golden eyebrows.

A volume worth your time, this book is recommended but only for those that already have a little bizarro under their belt or might already be unhinged enough the get Sands’ special brand of madness, and if you do then please seek help. The small size of the stories make it easy to read and take a break whenever you need to, but the stories may still be too surreal for the uninitiated. And even for the initiated, it’s not perfect and not every story will be for everyone. While good, this book is completely non-traditional and experimental, so be warned. Personally, I happen to like more experimental fiction, and even when it doesn’t always work, I still respect the author for trying something new.

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands earns 4 ape smoothies out of 5.