Monthly Archives: December 2013

Reflection on 2013 and Goals for 2014

ThumbnailWell, 2013 is nearly wrapped up with a nice little bow, in the bag, and on its way out the door. It’s been a mixed year. 2012 was a year that sucked pretty hard. I can’t say that about 2013. It’s been a year of ups and downs, some really good moments and some really bad moments.

I got married this year. That’s a big plus. I never managed to write my reflections on the wedding as I’d intended. I think the whole thing was so big that it got a little overwhelming when I sat down to try and write about it (yes, I did actually try to write about it, but never finished it; some photos and eventually video posted to my Facebook page will probably need to suffice; no, I haven’t posted any video yet, that’s forthcoming). It’s been a year of change. Our marriage has provided some ups and downs, but that’s mostly due to us adjusting to living life together rather than alone, which is something that we’ve both been used to. But the future stretches out before us, and walking that path together will in no way be bad.

On the negative side, I’ve continued to struggle to find regular work again. I’ve also lost some family and friends along the way. I didn’t achieve some of the resolutions I had set out for myself at the beginning of the year, such as my writing or fitness resolutions. And that’s why I’m taking a different approach to 2014. In intend to make 2014 a year full of positive changes and self-improvement, because if I don’t work to make myself better, who will? In that vein, I have decided on only one resolution:

I will not be setting resolutions for 2014.

In my mind, when we say we have New Year’s resolutions, they are things like “watch less television” or “eat healthier.” I’ve never felt that things like this need to wait for an arbitrary date. If you want to do it, then why not start now? There’s no reason to wait.

While I feel the same way about goals, I’ve been thinking a lot about them over the last couple of days, so by coincidence, I will be doing something a little different for the new year. Instead of general resolutions, I have decided to set specific goals to meet for 2014, using actual numbers and dates to meet wherever I can. My New Year’s Goals for 2014 are as follows, along with subgoals to help reach the major goals:

  1. Lose 50 pounds, with the first 30 pounds lost by my birthday in March; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Walk at least 30 minutes every day;
    • Drink at least two juices made with our juicer every day as a meal replacement;
    • Stop eating out and make as much food as possible at home from scratch;
    • Bring my blood pressure down so that my diastolic pressure is below 80.
  2. Have something that I feel ready to edit or send out for consideration by July, even if it’s just a short story; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Write a minimum of one hour every day, with a goal of 1500 words per day, but more if I can;
    • Continue the book reviews on this blog, but expand into movie and television reviews (open up a little);
    • Write a non-review blog post at least once per week, if nothing else than to keep the writing wheels greased.
  3. Have regular work again by the end of January.
  4. Read 52 books during the year (that’s one book per week).
  5. Complete my backlog of review books and write reviews, even short review, for all books which I have already provided ratings for by the end of 2014.
  6. Start clearing out my storage unit and admit what I’m not actually going to use or keep; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Donate old furniture that we won’t be using ever by the end of January;
    • Begin clearing out and selling old video games which I genuinely won’t ever play; have it sorted and some sold before my birthday.
  7. Practice handling my personal anxieties better; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Don’t be afraid to be an asshole; in other words, be more assertive and don’t be so concerned about feelings and opinions in business dealings if I know I’m right.

And because not all goals should be serious and we need to have a little fun:

  • Have watched, rated and/or reviewed a total of 2000 movies on my Flixster account by the end of the year (the current number is at 1825).
  • Due the same Oscar project I did in 2013, which is to watch and write mini-reviews of every Oscar-nominated movie in every category, then write a summary blog post of my personal picks before the actual awards ceremony.

By creating goals instead of resolutions, it feels that I am actually setting measurable and achievable changes to accomplish, and it feels more solid and less nebulous. Still, it’s still entirely up to me and there’s not much in the way of consequences if I don’t achieve them other than heavy self-criticism, but I still feel that setting these goals at least feels more concrete and creates a way that I can measure my progress.

I’ll probably check back in during the course of the year, especially with my goal of a regular blog post per week. In the meantime, goodbye and good night to 2013, and welcome to the future of 2014, which will soon be the present and then the past.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Book Review: The Last Christmas

The Last ChristmasThe Last Christmas by Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, Rick Remender (Illustrator)

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It’s the end of the world. Actually, it’s after the end of the world. World War III has been fought, natural disasters have ravaged the earth. Roving gangs and mutant zombies roam the earth, seeking out the last of humanity. It’s “The Walking Dead” and “Mad Max” rolled into one. The North Pole is attacked by marauders, killing Mrs. Claus and leaving Santa for dead. Depressed, he makes numerous attempts at suicide before realizing he can’t die as long as one child still believes in him. So, Santa sets out to correct this…

This is the basic premise for The Last Christmas, a graphic (and gory) novel written by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, and illustrated by Rick Remender, supposedly conceived while the writers were playing Halo, according to the notes. I believe it. The whole book reads and looks like the thought train of smoking too much pot while staring at a box of Christmas decorations and imagining all their potential violent uses other than for their intended purpose.

The story is quite good and flows like smooth egg nog. Mostly. It can occasionally flows very quickly at times, almost too quickly, which gives it a jerky motion, but not overly so. Most of the time it ramps up appropriately rather than going from zero to sixty in a half second. The plot is also fairly entertaining, with some subtle twists, although it starts out a lot more interesting than it ends. While it starts out quickly with the apocalypse (it’s always a good idea to begin with the end of the world) and the rampages and the murder, it turns into a fairly conventional rescue and destroy story. It would have been nice to see some more risks taken as the story went on, but we can’t hope for everything. Plus, the very end felt like it was tacked on and unnecessary, and seemed like the creators were just saying “Hey, look what we’re doing,” and felt like it served no real purpose and wasn’t that funny.

While the characters are generally well drawn (in a literary sense, not artwise; I’ll discuss the art in a moment), occasionally motivations seem strange. Santa is clearly depressed over the apocalypse and the death of Mrs. Claus, but somehow the elves seem simplistic. They are supposed to be happy and helpful, so they are happy and helpful, no matter the circumstance. Well, they do become violent a little later, but it felt like they could have used some more fleshing out. Also, the motivations for some of the villains seem lacking. One of the main villains is a mutant who wears a judge’s robe, but this is never really explained or even capitalized on. It had a lot of potential that was never brought forth. At the same time, they serve their purpose for the plot, so it’s not a huge drag.

The art is quite pleasing to the eye. The drawings are quite beautifully done, and the ink is colorful and vibrant. It’s quite an interesting juxtaposition having a much darker story taking place in a bright and colorful world, but it’s one that helps maintain the humor. It is supposed to be funny, after all. A lot of the drawings also include subtle details that make you want to take your time and fully enjoy them, rather than just blow through them.

The Last Christmas is a good read, even if it falls far short of perfection. Even taking some time to enjoy the art, it’s a very fast read and gives a darkly funny Christmas story full of blood and guts and mutilations, just as Christmas should be.

The Last Christmas earns 3.5 slay bells out of 5.

Note: A review copy of this title was provided to this reviewer without charge through NetGalley. This has in no way affected to content of this review.

Book Review: 8-Bit Apocalypse

8-Bit Apocalypse8-Bit Apocalypse by Amanda Billings

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Jimmy is a loser. Stuck in a dead-end job at Chuck E. Cheese, he constantly listens to whisper videos on his phone to soothe his crippling social anxiety while he cleans vomit out of the play tubes. Then the apocalypse happens. A giant mutated Atari cartridge begins attacking Denver by bringing classic games to life, such as Centipede, Frogger, and Space Invaders (although “E.T.” is absent because that game was so horrible that the cartridge would likely self-destruct; seriously, it’s a cancer!). Now it’s up to Jimmy, who is the only one who has figured out what’s going on and knows how to play the games in order to stop the apocalypse.

This is the story behind 8-Bit Apocalypse by Amanda Billings, part of this year’s New Bizarro Authors Series. This is always a fun series and I look forward to it every year because it brings us new and experimental voices in fiction, and it’s always interesting to see what stories new authors can come up with and how they choose to tell those stories.

In 8-Bit Apocalypse, Jimmy is a very flawed but identifiable character. The reader can easily feel sorry for him and can root for him, although at times one might feel like they want to reach into the page and slap some sense into him. In that case, the novella length of this book is probably a good thing, as a character like Jimmy would have a very difficult time carrying a full-length novel. Most of the other characters are fairly two-dimensional and tend to simply stand there taking video of the events with their phones, but they don’t need more characterization for the purposes of the story. This is Jimmy’s story, and the other characters are there merely to give something for Jimmy to play off of.

The story is decent, if a a bit inconsistent. The action tends to get a little jerky and doesn’t have the smoothest of flows, but then again most of the action takes place within living Atari games, so this smoothness is relative. The ending seems very anticlimactic at first glance. But when one thinks about it (and it’s also explained within the text), it’s actually the most appropriate ending one can be given with this kind of a story and its theme.

I know that 8-bit anything is trendy right now, but it has a soft spot in my heart because I grew up in the age of Atari. Those games were simple yet had a certain elegance that stuck with the players and are remembered fondly to this day. 8-Bit Apocalypse is similar. The characters aren’t complicated, and neither is the plot (there’s not really any mystery or anything unanswered), and even seems a little by-the-book. At the same time, this gives the book a simple elegance that manages to stick with the reader for a while after they finish. Whether this will still be remembered fondly 30 years from now like the Atari games referenced within remains to be seen. But the book is simple yet satisfying in its own way, providing a solid story and characters that provide a modern literary look down an electronic memory lane.

8-Bit Apocalypse earns 3.5 whisper videos out of 5.

Book Review: The Mondo Vixen Massacre

The Mondo Vixen MassacreThe Mondo Vixen Massacre by Jamie Grefe

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Okay, I’m just going to say it: Jamie Grefe needs to lay off the caffeine, or cocaine, or whatever he’s on.

The Mondo Vixen Massacre is Jamie Grefe’s entry into this year’s New Bizarro Authors Series, a series I look forward to every year as it brings new and experimental voices in fiction. Grefe’s entry is…unique, to say the least.

The book begins with Tom Clay being graphically tortured in every way you can possibly imagine and then some. Vixens of every type have broken into his house, murdered his son, kidnapped his wife, tortured Tom, and left him for dead. But he’s not dead. Thus begins a bloody tale of rescue and revenge as he attempts to recover his wife from the vixens’ clutches and maybe find out why they targeted him and his family to begin with.

The first thing that you’ll notice is the writing style. Aside from just being graphically violent (Grefe shies away from nothing), the book is told in a stream-of-consciousness with constant action. Actually, it’s more like reading the transcript for a high-energy pitch for an action movie, music cues and camera shots included. This is where things get interesting, both potentially good and bad, like a Schrödinger’s novel. Before I get into that, I need to explain about the plot and characters.

The characters are there. They’re well-drawn for their purpose, but not much beyond that and can be a bit shallow and two-dimensional. As for the plot, it’s there although without a whole lot of mystery that isn’t easy to solve. Now, I need to go back to my point in the last paragraph, because again this is not necessarily bad, depending on your point of view.

The way the plot and characters serve about as much purpose as in a porn movie. They’re there mostly because the audience expects them to be, and they provide a reason to drive the action. But it’s really the action that takes center stage. Grefe seems to have taken a similar approach in having the plot and characters there to drive the action, which is his main focus and clearly what he had enormous fun writing.

And there’s the rub: If you’re looking for non-stop action (the massacre really is nonstop from page one all the way to the end) and don’t mind the plot and characters being more like decoration, figuratively and literally, then you will have a lot of fun reading this book. But if you require an in-depth plot, you will probably be disappointed. That being said, if you’re looking for non-stop action, be careful what you wish for. You’re going to need a lot of energy to keep up with Grefe.

The Mondo Vixen Massacre by Jamie Grefe earns 3.5 robo-vixens out of 5.

Book Review: The Church of TV as God

The Church of TV as GodThe Church of TV as God by Daniel Vlasaty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate television. Well, I should actually say that I hate most television. There is very little that I like to watch, and I find the whole thing rather mind-numbing.

So, when I saw The Church of TV as God by Daniel Vlasaty was a part of this year’s New Bizarro Authors Series, it caught my attention. This series is one I look forward to every year as it brings us new voices in fiction to delight and challenge us.

Right away, the title grabs you, or at least it grabs me given how much I dislike television and really do feel like many people have turned their homes into TV shrines…okay, okay, I’ll stop with my own social commentary. The cover is brilliant, and it vaguely reminds me of the cover of Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Jeremy is a security guard at the Appliance Cemetery, a place where people go to bury their appliances that no longer work (yeah, Jeremy doesn’t really get it, either; I think someone just found a niche and filled it). Jeremy is befriended by a talking dog named Benjamin (yes, he’s just as confused by that as you are). Jeremy’s head is also turning into a TV. It’s a family thing, as it happened to his father before him. It’s because of this that he has drawn the attention of the man in white, the leader of a cult called the Church of TV as God. They think Jeremy is the chosen one whose destiny is to father their savior, the living embodiment of their deity, the Great TV in the Sky. Got it?

Okay, that’s a lot to take in, but it all ties together, I swear.

The characters are well-drawn. Jeremy is sort of a slacker. He doesn’t have any real goals in life other than existing, so when he is thrust into this situation, he has to break out of his character mold and take action. Benjamin is hysterical. While somewhat foul-mouthed, you can easily picture dogs saying the things he says. The cult followers are about as cultish as you can get, with a fanatical leader who believes his own doctrine. The most dangerous kind of cult leader. Overall, the characters work and play off of each other quite well.

The plot can be a little slow to get started. It takes a little while for things to really start happening. The action ramps up, but it does so in spurts. When it ramps up, it stays that way, but the pace doesn’t change slowly. It’s like slamming your foot on the gas pedal while you’re at a full stop. It feels a little jerky at time, but oddly not inappropriately so. The ending is…unexpected. Things don’t completely wrap up in a nice, neat little package. At the same time, it’s not necessarily the ending you want but it’s definitely the “ending” the book and the characters need once you give yourself some time to think about it.

As for the editing, well, I wish I could say it worked well, but there are enough grammatical and punctuation issues to be a problem. Technical errors bother me, as they are great for ripping the reader off the page. There are enough in here to interrupt the flow and be a problem for me, and I have to take the book down a notch for it.

Overall, The Church of TV as God is a good book with a well-drawn characters (and character development), a satisfying if occasionally jerky plot, and social commentary well-seeded into the story, which I have to give some prop for as seeding heavy social commentary into bizarro fiction in an appropriate way is not that easy. At the same time the occasional jerkiness of the plot may throw some readers off, and the technical errors are something you’ll have to be aware of and overlook to get your full enjoyment out of this book.

The Church of TV as God by Daniel Vlasaty earns 4 orange extension cords out of 5.