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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.

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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

Book Review: Cripple Wolf

Cripple WolfCripple Wolf by Jeff Burk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cripple Wolf by Jeff Burk is a series of short stories, all in the bizarro subgenre. I don’t know how I would characterize them, which is probably one of my problems with it. The stories are as follows.

Cripple Wolf: The title story. Basically werewolves on a plane.

Frosty and the Full Monty: I read this one before in Christmas on Crack edited by Carlton Mellick. A dark, more modern take on the Frosty the Snowman tale. Sort of.

Cook For Your Life: A tribute to Iron Chef. And Soylent Green.

House of Cats: A homeless man builds a house of live cats. But is it up to code?

Adrift with Space Badgers: Kind of like the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” but with badgers. And space whales.

Punk Rock Nursing Home: What happens to punk rockers when they get old?

Just Another Day in the Park: This one is weird, and honestly, I’m not really sure what to make of it.

It’s kind of funny and somewhat clever the way Burk peppers some advertisements for his other books or other bizarro authors’ works within the stories. And, strangely, it’s not jarring. It actually fits with the tone of each story. I have to give kudos to Burk for that one. He’s missed his calling as a product placement specialist.

The stories are generally good. The title story and Cook For Your Life were my personal favorites among the bunch. But there’s a couple nagging problems here.

The first and foremost is the editing. I’m sorry, and I know that I nitpick this a lot, but clean editing is really essential to me, and there’s enough grammar problems throughout that didn’t get caught that they pulled me out of the story. It one of those things that really sticks in my craw.

The problem is that, while the stories are enjoyable, there’s not a whole lot that really stands out. It’s that I didn’t like the stories. I did, but if you asked me for many details now, I would be hard pressed to come up with many, although you will be hard pressed to find another book that contains the line “I think a baby werewolf just stole our coke.” They’re not bad at all, but they also don’t really stand out much for me. Combine that with the editing problems, and I’m forced to give this book a middle of the road review.

Cripple Wolf by Jeff Burk earns 3 coked-up baby werewolves out of 5.