Tag Archives: eraserhead press

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.

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Book Review: There’s No Happy Ending

There's No Happy EndingThere’s No Happy Ending by Tiffany Scandal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gee, nice title. Spoilers…

As an entry in this year’s New Bizarro Author Series, Tiffany Scandal gives us something very different with the standout There’s No Happy Ending. This series is something I’ve looked forward to every year since its inception because it gives us new authors and new voices in fiction that we haven’t read before, and the results are often unique and in some ways challenging.

This is the case with There’s No Happy Ending. The story revolves around Isobel and Dresden, and couple who plan to get married. However, Dresden comes from money and his mother does not approve of his plans to wed Isobel. In addition, the entire world, buildings and people included, are literally falling apart for reasons unknown.

To start off, the book is bleak. It doesn’t let you down with its title or description. This is not a book I would recommend for the seriously depressed. Or maybe I would, and say “Remember, at least the world isn’t falling apart.” Yet there’s still something that grabs the reader. One thing that makes this book so different from the other entries is the lack of humor. That’s not say that there aren’t a couple of funny moments to be had. But the humor is used sparingly, and it’s a far more serious book than the others in this year’s series.

It’s a love story in its purest form, as Isobel tries to find Dresden and Dresden tries to escape the clutches of his mother to reunite with Isobel. Even as the world is falling apart, the characters never lose sight of their desire to find one another. And, despite how it may sound, this central character trait comes off as endearing rather than annoying, something that isn’t always easy to accomplish. You find yourself rooting for the main characters and wanting them to find each other before the end of the world. And it’s not a cheesy love story by any means. This is probably why this otherwise bleak book is so tolerable: In a world suffering from the worst case of entropy imaginable, the author gives the reader something to hope for, to watch two likable characters do everything they can just to be with one another, even as the world ends around them.

The prose flows beautifully. While not lyrical, it’s clean with few errors and the words roll over your eyes and mind smoothly with no discomfort. It makes it very easy to read and enjoy the book. As I’ve stated in other reviews, technical errors really bug me, but there are very few to break the flow of the prose and keeps the reader trapped in the book.

That’s not to say that everything is hunky dory. There is an unanswered question or two that leave the reader at a bit of a loss. It’s probably supposed to be left up to interpretation, but it still becomes an annoyance. An oddity and a minor blemish on an otherwise great first novel.

If you’re looking for a book that, while part of the bizarro genre, is rather bleak and yet manages to inspire the reader to hope in its own way, this is the book for you. Simply keep in mind the usual bizarro humor is kept at a minimum and remember that, of course, there’ no happy ending.

There’s No Happy Ending by Tiffany Scandal earned 4 entropic zombies out of 5.

Book Review: Grambo

GramboGrambo by Dustin Reade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The New Bizarro Authors Series is always interesting. It provides a testing ground for new voices in fiction and new styles that we may not have seen before. It’s often a breath of fresh air in the world of fiction writing.

Grambo by Dustin Reade is one such entry in this year’s NBAS. By the title and the cover, most will probably already know what the main theme of the book is, but there are enough unique elements that make this book worth a read.

The book starts with Martha covered in the blood of her enemies, then we flashback to how she got there. Yes, the entire book is one long flashback sequence. After Martha’s grandson costs his school their chance to go to the championship basketball game and a trip to the Supermall, the school’s faculty violently takes out their frustration on the entire family, but mistakenly leave Martha alive. After she is rescued by a mascot (that takes more explaining than I’m going to go into here), she begins recovering and train in martial arts and weapons to take her revenge on the faculty that killed her family.

The book is funny in a very self-aware kind of way. While it is very bloody and violent, it’s also done in a strange tongue-in-cheek kind of way. This is especially apparent when we get a training montage in the middle of the book. Yes, an actually movie style montage in writing. The author never loses site of the humor, even if it turns dark at times, and keeps the book self-aware that what we’re reading is rather silly, and that makes it work in a special way.

Now, being a fan of action movies and having seen all the “Rambo” films, I could be an internet troll and nitpick here that there isn’t that much in common with the actually films. But that’s unfair. It’s probably got more in common with “Death Wish” or even “Kill Bill,” but you try and find a punny title that works with those. Martha is not a Vietnam vet who’s being run out of town or on a rescue mission or in isolation and bitter at the world. It’s pure revenge fantasy.

The plot is not the steadiest thing in the world. It does feel at times like it has a bit of a stop and start motion to it. It’s not necessarily bad, as a breather from bloody, violent action is needed at times, but at the same time it’s occasionally a little unsteady, and the ending is almost diabetically sweet in contrast to the rest of the book, but it needed a good end for a main character that, despite the arguably justifiable violence she perpetrated in her quest for revenge, still remains likable and endearing.

From a technical standpoint, the book is well edited, with very few flaws. I hate to point this out in a lot of my reviews, but it’s a sticking point for me, and I feel it’s worth noting. So I’m pleased to say that there’s very little in the way of writing or editing flaws to pull the reader off the page. A plus for the author and the editor.

Grambo is a loving tongue-in-cheek tribute to action and revenge films, with well-drawn, focused characters. While the violence is extreme and over-the-top, it’s never inappropriately so. That sounds kind of strange, but when reading the book, you understand that the violence fits the theme perfectly. While the plot is occasionally a little jerky, it’s never overly so, and on the whole, this book makes for a fun read.

Grambo by Dustin Reade earns 4 ninja throwing stars out of 5.

Book Review: Babes in Gangland

Babes in GanglandBabes in Gangland by Bix Skahill

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I always enjoy the New Bizarro Authors Series. It’s something I look forward to every year. With this series, I get to read new voices in fiction, and often it’s a refreshing change to the norm, even within the bizarro genre.

Babes in Gangland by Bix Skahill introduces us to one of the seediest, most crime-ridden cities in the world, whose major industry is slaughterhouses. Kid Phoenix is a gangster who is shot behind his favorite strip joint slash educational facility, Stripping Through History. But in the hospital, an accident causes his soul to be transfer to a newborn baby. Nine months later, with the help of enormous henchman Ram Bountybar (great name, by the way), Kid Phoenix, now Baby Jaydon, begins a rampage as he tries to find out who had the guts to shoot him and exact his revenge. He is pursued by by a 100-year old cop and his 13-year-old partner with progeria.

First of all, this book is flat-out funny. Skahill never manages to lose the humor through the course of the novel. Actually, the two cops were funnier than Kid Phoenix/Baby Jaydon managed to be. He comes of as cute and funny for a little while, but by the end of the novel, he starts to wear a little thin. This might have more to do with shock-funny value of a little baby cussing and saying the kind of stuff that would make Tony Soprano blush, but it wears off after a little while. That’s probably why Baby Herman remained more of a secondary character in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

At the same time, I think Skahill realized this, which is why the chapters get broken up and part of the story gets told from the viewpoint of the two cops as the book progress. It provides some relief and a bit of a mental refresh.

Switching off the viewpoints actually comes very naturally and is not jarring at all. Skahill manages to provide a unique voice for all of his characters to the point where I could practically hear their voices in my head with little trouble (don’t worry, I’m still taking my medication). I have to give kudos to the author for that as that’s not always an easy feat, especially with the way characters come and go from within this story as quickly as they do.

While the story is a fun and funny journey, I have to admit that the destination was disappointing. The entire plot basically raps up in two pages with an ending that almost comes completely out of the blue. There were hints to one mystery throughout this book that made the answer a bit obvious, but the other one comes out of nowhere, and frankly, it kind of pissed me off a little. It felt almost like the author just rolled the dice and let random chance decide the solution to the mystery with no hints to go back and say, “Oh yeah! I see it now!” and completely spoils one of the more endearing characters. Now, when you think about it and the motives given are explained, you can accept them halfway. But the fact that there weren’t enough or really any clues throughout the book makes it blindside the reader, and not in a good or satisfying way that makes one say “Yeah, that makes sense.” Instead, it leaves the reader saying “What the…?”

Still, as I mentioned, it’s a fun journey with lots of humor and great characters (and great character pairings), but it would have left me a lot more satisfied with more build-up or hints as the end approached. It’s like enjoying the taste of a fine steak as you chew it, but then being forced to spit it out right as you’re about to swallow.

Babes in Gangland by Bix Skahill earns 3.5 tommy guns out of 5.

Book Review: The Cheat Code for God Mode

The Cheat Code for God ModeThe Cheat Code for God Mode by Andy de Fonseca

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every year, I look forward to the New Bizarro Authors Series, when I get to read new and untested voices in fiction. This series is all new authors, who have not previously had a published book, to test the waters for one year and see how well they are accepted by a wider audience.

I began this year by reading The Cheat Code for God Mode by Andy de Fonseca, which proved to be troubling. Not bad, just troubling, primarily because this book’s greatest strength is also its biggest weakness which is what makes writing and scoring this review so difficult.

Margy Plum and Victor Vance live in an odd world, where portals and wormholes are everyday modes of transportation and 8-bit pets are programmed to their owners’ needs. But something is amiss. First, Margy is having what she can only describe as psychotic episodes where she thinks she’s someone else. Then the two of them discover a game that, after entering a special code, allows them to change and control the world around them. This catches the attention of some rather special people who have been trying to track this game down for a long time. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away too much. This is part of the mystery of the book which I don’t want to spoil.

The characters are well written and even sympathetic. As far as a bizarro book goes, it’s also relatively tame, with any sexual references toned down or only implied. The editing is also very good, with few or no errors to pull the reader off the page. Which is good, because the plot is so involving.

Okay, those are the basics. To get more complicated, the book is just the right length. I know that sounds weird to say, but this is one of those instances where it fits. Sometimes I complain that these bizarro books are too short, and they feel like there is a lot more story left to tell. With The Cheat Code for God Mode, this is not the case. The author crams a lot of story into a fairly short space, and makes it work. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a complete story that doesn’t feel rushed. You get a full, satisfying tale that doesn’t leave many loose ends in a short space.

So, what’s the problem? That takes some explaining. This book is a nerd’s dream. It has tons of references to pop culture, science, and everything in nerdom. This made it a lot of fun as I read through it and could pick apart all the little things I recognized. Even a large chunk of the book is based on an actual scientific hypothesis of parallel universes.

This is where the problem comes in. When I review a book, I try to see it from more than one perspective when it comes to recommending it. I can tell if I enjoy a book, but I also try to imagine if it will be enjoyed by, well, not-me. And there’s the rub. It ‘s actually very hard to tell if this would be enjoyed by not-me. While it calls out lots of things that will make a nerd giggle with glee, I can see not only the jokes going over the heads of those who aren’t familiar with the subject, but possibly missing the point altogether. The book easily feels like it could have been a heavily hyperlinked ebook, or a heavily footnoted book like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, just so that people who aren’t familiar with the little nuances or the main subject could understand what they are and why they’re there, although the humor might still be lost on them.

It makes a great start to this year’s New Bizarro Authors Series. While this book has compelling and sympathetic characters, a great and full story, and lots of little references and jokes that fit well in the context and aren’t simply shoe-horned in, The Cheat God for God Mode gets a high recommendation but with grave reservations. If you’re a nerd who’s familiar with science and pop culture, you’ll get a lot out of this. But if you don’t, then you may end up feeling very lost in this strange universe.

The Cheat Code for God Mode by Andy de Fonseca earns 4 8-bit chickens out of 5.