Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review - Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder



Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Mark Hodder

Pyr (2010)

Trade Paperback

373 pages

ISBN 1616142405 / 9781616142407

While not a true aficionado of steam-punk I can say that I’ve read a fair share of this genre lately and have yet to be disappointed. George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge (see review September 05, 2009), Drood by Dan Simmons (see review March 30, 2010), The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Perdido Street Station by China Meiville, and almost anything by Cherie Priest lead the pack in pure unadulterated Victorian Era steam-punk fun. Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack continues that tradition. Let it be known that I have scoured the four corners of the Internet looking for information and reviews concerning this book and the legend that spawned it. I have yet to find a single bad review of this book. Nor will you find one here.

Spring-Heeled Jack does not really set any new precedents but the concept of engaging real historical figures together to solve a series of crimes committed by a mythological creature/criminal is brilliant. The title character, trapped by his own folly, is a wonderfully written individual but a miserable human being. Complex but tortured we find that Spring Heeled Jack is simply a lost man searching for a way back home. In the end, you may be surprised to find yourself feeling sorry for him. Of course, Hodder’s work has that little extra punch that I, as a book reviewer, am always looking for. First, this is his debut novel (and I wish you a long and prosperous career, Mr. Hodder), secondly, the plot twists and turns through time in short vignettes that are creatively layered over the main story and then coalesces together to complete a tightly woven story that completes itself perfectly in a beautifully created epic, yet tragic, finale.

Hodder’s prose will lift you up and drop you down in the midst (and mists) of Victorian Era London. You’ll hear the clickety-clack of the steam driven coaches on the cobbled streets and the zzzzzz of overhead gondolas as they whizz by on compressed air. DNA altered animals will appear as second nature and the unlikely pairing of Sir Richard Burton, the adventurer, and Algernon Swinburne, the poet, will emerge to solve a number of crimes. From time travel, and automatons, Rakes, aero-copters, sword fights, Libertines, to genetic engineering on a bizarre scope, the underbelly of London, and characters whose brains have been removed Spring Heeled Jack never once failed to entertain.

4 out of 5 stars

+ add ½ star for being a debut novel

StarStarStarStar 1/2

Additional Reading:


Burton & Swinburne

1. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (2010)

2. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (2011)


Pyr’s webpage for Spring Heeled Jack

Literary Landscape’s Review

Well-written Review at “Mell’s Words on Words” blog

Mark Hodder on Sir Richard Francis Burton

Mark Hodder’s Sexton Blake tribute site

Pyr’s Blog site

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Classic Book Review – Gateway by Frederik Pohl



Frederik Pohl


Del Rey Books

278 pages

1977 Nebula Award Winner, 1978 Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Award Winner

What exactly is Gateway you ask? For those Science Fiction fans unfamiliar with this novel I will say this, “You will definitely want to read this masterpiece.” It is a classic SF work that even after a number of re-reads never fails to entertain me. Number 32 on the Top 100 SF Book list it has won the Nebula, Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Awards, the only book I’m aware of to do so. Now for those of you who have read Gateway I’d like to say a few words. Something about this book has always stood out for me but I’ve always had trouble defining and articulating what it was. Now that I’m a bit older I understand it better and hopefully will be able to help you do the same. Gateway is filled with nothing less than “The Pioneer Spirit” that helped to make the United States the country it is today. Let me explain. In 1845, my great-great-great-great grandfather moved, via wagon train, from New York to Wisconsin settling in the newly opened territory of Dodge County. When they left New York they knew they were leaving everything behind for good. Family, friends, homes, jobs, everything they knew was replaced by hard work and a completely new environment. So begins Gateway. Spacers head out in newly discovered alien spacecraft in search of riches and a better way of life. (Sound familiar?) Change the spacers to farmers and the exploration of space to unknown territory and you have what our ancestors faced when they began their treks west.

Obviously, I was not thinking about historical aspects or pioneers when originally reading Gateway, nor have I on additional readings. On the contrary, I am always totally immersed in the Science Fiction (the alien culture, the unknown destinations, spaceships, etc) of the book throughout my entire reading. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the correlation between the pioneers of America and the characters in this story. Be that as it may, I don’t think a better novel of the human condition has ever been written using SF as a backdrop. The frailty of the human psyche and the complexities of the heart are so well-written that you’ll feel sympathy for the main character knowing full well what a schmuck he truly is. And, the technology Pohl covers holds up – information concerning black holes, holographs, A.I. psychology software, and the characteristics of relativity described in the narrative continue to stand up under scrutinization.

Pohl’s Gateway, Joe Haldeman’s Mind Bridge, and Jack Chalker’s Midnight at the Well of Souls remain, to this day, my favorite novels from the year I graduated high school. What do they have in common? They all explore space and while doing so examine the human condition. All are worthy of five star ratings and all should be in your library.

Gateway has all the elements of great Science Fiction - fear of the unknown, underlining terror of an alien race (Xenophobia), some of the coolest settings in all of literature, alien heirlooms and collectibles, robotic A.I. psychotherapy, technically advanced civilizations, the exploration of far-off star systems, brain downloading, vaguely understood alien spacecraft, unknown destinations, and one of the best writers of our time pulling it all together into a tightly bound plot. Find it, devour it, and love it. You’ll revisit it again and again in the ensuing years ahead. Alternative guaranteed.

Heechee Series

1. Gateway (1976) -- Nebula winner, 1977; Hugo, Campbell and Locus SF winner, 1978

2. Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980) - Nebula and British SF Awards nominee, 1980; Hugo and Locus Awards nominee, 1981

3. Heechee Rendezvous (1984) -- Locus SF Award nominee, 1985

4. Annals of the Heechee (1987)

5. The Gateway Trip: Tales and Vignettes of the Heechee (1990)

6. The Boy Who Would Live Forever: A Novel of Gateway (2004) -- Campbell Award nominee, 2005

5 out of 5 stars

Additional reading:

Gateway Article Interesting article (read the entire essay for full disclosure) 

Gateway Game Download (Note: Does not work with Windows 7 OS)

Frederik Pohl’s Blog

Author’s website

Frederik Pohl's Wikipedia Entry

Internet Science Fiction DataBase Bibliography

In-depth and Insightful interview With Pohl

Pohl on Writing the Gateway Story

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Graphic Novel Review - The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons


The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century

Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons

Publication Date: June 23, 2010

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Format: FC, 600 pages, TPB, 7" x10"
Price: $29.99
Age range: 16+
ISBN-10: 1-59582-482-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-59582-482-0

From Dark Horse:

A masterpiece nearly twenty years in the making, this archival volume contains the complete life story of Martha Washington, the twenty-first century freedom fighter created by comic-book megastars Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), now in a more affordable softcover edition.

Our story begins in the squalid corridors of a maximum-security housing project, where a young girl will rise from the war-torn streets of Chicago to battle injustice in a world insane with corruption. Her fight will take her far, from the frontlines of the second American Civil War, to the cold, unforgiving reaches of space. She will be called a hero, a traitor, and nearly everything in between, but all along the way, her courage, her integrity, and her unwavering commitment to that most valuable of rights-liberty-will inspire a movement that will never surrender.

* The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-first Century contains six hundred stunning pages of work from two of the top creators in comics!

* Collecting remastered versions of every Martha Washington story and featuring the same extensive behind-the-scenes section by Dave Gibbons and introduction by Frank Miller as the hardcover edition.

From the Alternative:

Okay, so I’m walking through the airport in New Orleans after The Voodoo Experience looking for something to read so I can eradicate a few hours before my plane takes off for Chicago. I see a rack of graphic novels and manga at the Hudson News as I pass so I decide to step in and browse. Now, I own my share of entertaining graphic novel’s including: Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Serenity, Maus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, 1492, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc. But The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century is different from the very start. The cover caught my eye and while I waffled over purchasing it, mainly because of the fairly steep price, it kept drawing my attention. I picked it up once, twice, flipped through the pages. I even walked away from the store. But something about the cover intrigued me. Simplistic but political in nature, an uncharacteristic hero, and the names Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons finally solidified my purchase. I needed to know what it was all about.

My review of this book (nee graphic novel) will now take a sideways step from the typical simply because it is in no way normal. Politics, conspiracy, science fiction, aliens, the apocalypse, deception, space wars, meteors, a militant A.I. software program bent on taking over the world, and an atypical hero The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century scans more like a written narrative than a graphic novel and that is the highest compliment I could ever pay it. Don’t get me wrong. A graphic novel is suppose to immerse you visually and make no mistake, this one does. But I also felt like I was physically transported to 2030 America in just a few short frames. Quite frankly, I found very little not to like about this book. Most graphic novels and comics drag you in with those cool, jaw dropping spreads of great art or, conversely, they have superb, intricately detailed stories (i.e. Maus). Rarely do they contain both. But that’s exactly what makes this one so different. It is the perfect combination of concisely written story and remarkable artwork that makes Martha Washington a near-masterpiece and stand out performance.

I read a lot of Science Fiction every year as you can probably tell from the litany of books of that particular genus that I’ve reviewed over the years. It is, in fact, my favorite genre. Sadly, I have to admit that I had never heard of Martha Washington before I picked up this omnibus edition at the airport. Shame on me. Hopefully this review will help those of you unfamiliar with Miss Washington and her exploits get acquainted. Believe me, it won’t take long and it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Highly recommended if you’re into Science Fiction, great art, tight story-lines, politics, alternative realities, the apocalypse, aliens, nuclear warfare, trips into space, the colonization of Mars, blood and gore, intrigue, suspense, murder, military Sci-Fi, more blood and brains, artificial intelligence, cults, precognition, evil antagonists, world destruction, back-stabbing, or mayhem and face it, who isn’t?

Great story. Great art. Great time to go out and purchase this.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

Additional Reading:

Boing Boing Review

Martha Washington Wiki page

Frank Miller Wiki page

Frank Miller Official site

Dave Gibbons Interview @ Comic Book Resources

Blog review by Horus Kemwer

Goodreads page


Dark Horse Comics page

The Art of Frank Miller

Dave Gibbons Wikipedia entry

Dave Gibbons Fansite.com


The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review - The Lucifer Code by Charles Brokow

The Lucifer Code

Charles Brokow

Forge Books



368 pages

ISBN: 0765320932 / 9780765320933

Note: Review copy received through LibraryThing.com Early Reviewers.


You know how some cyber-space experts say that what you post on the Internet remains forever? What that probably means to me in this case is that I’m eventually going to regret what follows. Be that as it may, herein lies one of my very few, very bad reviews. (Not that I’ve written a bad review…although that too may be the case. What I mean is that the book in question is on the receiving end of a bad review.)

In my opinion, The Lucifer Code is a disappointing read for many different small reasons and for one glaringly large one (more on this later). Is the book self-indulgent? Perhaps a little. Misogynistic? Probably. Waste of time? For most of us, unfortunately, I’d have to say yes. It seems to me that the first thirty pages or so simply drone on needlessly about how the main character, Thomas Lourds, is such a ladies man (and not in a good way). Oh, a lot of action takes place, to be sure, but it’s hard to feel involved or become immersed in it through all the sexism and objectifying. I might not have taken such extreme umbrage had Lourds been more charming and polished, like James Bond, for instance, or had that cool factor, like Cotton Malone. Unfortunately, he is neither. In fact, Lourds is so full of himself  that if you look closely enough you can almost see his ego leaking out of his ears onto the page. At one point I remember thinking, Yeah, yeah we get it. Age old story. Horny old man, wants to jump bones of every nubile, young thing he sees. Now, get on with the story, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, Brokow never does. On the surface, this book seems to have everything a good mystery needs to be successful. It contains a conspiracy, a kidnapping, random, gratuitous gunfire, a car chase, and a covert operation carried out by a remote, unemotional CIA operative. And that’s all in the first few chapters. But for me the story never truly coalesces, never really comes together. Most likely because I had to wade through all the skirt-chasing and womanizing to get to any real substance. Shot at, flipped upside down in a car wreck, and running for his life and that’s when the main character decides to get aroused? Look, I can root for the libido of an aging character, even connect somewhat with the ribald, lonely old man, but this level of philandering is too much even for a dirty old man like me. I can suspend belief for a lot of different reasons but there’s no way to downplay this character’s personality and he isn’t written well enough for me to overlook this huge personality flaw.

My advice, good reader? Don’t waste your time. And take with a mountainous grain of salt the reviews that loved this book. Do yourself a favor and move on. There’s actually good literature to be read out there. Spend the time otherwise wasted on this one searching for it.

1 ½ stars out of 5

Twenty minutes later… After re-reading my heavy-handed review it appears that I’ve assumed a truly harsh posture towards this book which is odd since I  completely understand how difficult it is to write a novel. However, in comparison and defense of my review, I’d like to add that just this morning I picked up Mark Hodder’s debut novel Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack and simply couldn’t put it down. Now, I can’t wait to get back to it. I guess what turned me off almost immediately about The Lucifer Code was the lasciviousness of that main character. Without a doubt, both books contain characters of similar cut but Hodder’s Richard Burton is refined and likeable while Brokow’s Thomas Lourds has never matured from that annoying, sophomoric frat boy who’s sole purpose in life is to score and move on. The difference between the two is, like I said earlier, glaring.

In truth, I was somewhat ambivalent about The Lucifer Code until I actually started writing my review. Something changed as I began to put my feelings into words. Perhaps, it was because I started to think how my wife or daughters might view this if they were reading it. I can’t say for sure but I suspect most women readers will find the attitude of the main character offensive and disrespectful. I know I did.

Thirty minutes after that… I don’t normally give up easily when it comes to reading new material. Especially when I feel obligated to provide a review but in this case I had to quit reading after only 70 pages. A much younger me would have plodded through this book to find the payoff at the end, which I’m sure it has. The older me realizes that my reading time is finite and getting shorter each day. Time to find something I might truly enjoy reading rather than something I have to simply because I promised to review it.

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Voodoo Experience - Alternative Music Festival


     Back in June my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the very first Verge Alternative Music Festival held at the SummerFest Grounds in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We had the opportunity on that Saturday to attend concerts performed by Weezer, Geri X, Cold War Kids, Locksley, The Ravonettes, AFI, Invade Rome, and Rogue Wave. We had a great time and decided to branch out. This month we’re taking our concert-going adventures to new levels. We will be attending the Voodoo Experience in New Orleans, LA. the weekend of October 29th, 2010. Four days and nights of music, southern food, and sightseeing will do for me what the peace movement did for Woodstock. I’m really looking forward to this vacation and, since we’ve never been to “Nawlins,” hope to take pleasure in a unique and new experience. Below is a listing of our anticipated agenda (schedule to change at any time) as delivered by the Voodoo Experience iPhone app. Group details are from the Voodoo site. Click on a band name to visit their website.

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 1:30 PM

AM -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge)at 2:30 PM

Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 3:30 PM

Dead Confederate -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 4:30 PM

     Dead Confederate is an alternative rock band which formed in Athens, Georgia, United States in 2006. The band consists of Hardy Morris (vocals, guitars), Walker Howle (guitar), John Watkins (keyboards), Brantley Senn (bass) and Jason Scarboro (drums). The band released their debut album, "Wrecking Ball" on September 16, 2008 on Razor & Tie and The Artists Organization. The album includes the single "The Rat". Though the band is pinned as producing the same kind of indie rock aesthetic à la My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses, Dead Confederate dabbles in darker shades than their compared predecessors. From the raspy, unrestrained shrieks of "The Rat" and the psychedelic guitar wail on the vivid "Tortured Artist Saint" to the intimate acoustic layers of "Memorial Day Night," Dead Confederate echo the Drive-By Truckers' bittersweet southern rock angst with the smoke-heavy swagger of the Black Angels. Although southern Civil War soldiers may remain six feet under, Dead Confederate's sincere versatility drives home that Rock'n'roll is damn well alive and kicking.

Metric -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 6:30 PM

Weezer -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 7:45 PM

     Weezer was founded in Los Angeles on February 14, 1992 by Rivers Cuomo, Jason Cropper, Matt Sharp, and Pat Wilson. The band began writing music and playing local clubs. Despite not having much success at first, the band pressed forward. After 16 months together, playing shows and recording demos in Los Angeles, DGC records (Geffen) signed Weezer. The band moved to New York to record at the famed electric lady studios under producer Ric Ocasek (of Cars fame). During the recording of Weezer, Jason left the band to take care of his future wife, who was pregnant with their first child. Jason was replaced by Brian Bell, a then bassist from a band called Carnival Art.

Muse -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 9:00 PM

Raphael Saadiq -- Bingo! Stage at 9:15 PM

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Michael Tolcher -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 12:00 PM

Mia Borders -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 1:00 PM

     Mia Borders is one of those rare young talents that can sing about life, love, and loss and make listeners feel it. With lyrics so personal, so mature, and so direct, she has recently captured both local and national audiences with her energetic blend of funk, soul, and contemporary songwriting. As Offbeat Magazine's Alex Rawls writes, "Note to self: Pay more attention to Mia Borders." USA today named Mia one of the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's “hidden surprises,” and Where Y'at Magazine named Mia "New Orleans' hottest buzz band." The April 2010 release of "Magnolia Blue” garnered her a nomination for “Best Emerging Artist” at the Big Easy Music Awards and a nationally broadcast performance at N.O. Jazz Fest '10 by WWOZ. Mia Borders hit the road in support of "Magnolia Blue" with notable performances at the Mount Helena Music Festival, Taos Mountain Music Festival, San Jose Jazz Festival, and Bonnaroo (VIP pre-party with Big Sam's Funky Nation.) When Borders recently opened for Corinne Bailey Rae at the House of Blues, NewOrleans.com noted that "Borders drew the crowd in and had them cheering for more by the time she announced the last song of her 30-minute set." Mia Borders has secured her role as one of the fastest rising artists in the city and has established herself as an artist to watch.

The Whigs -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 4:00 PM

Cage the Elephant -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 5:00 PM

     Music critics who have witnessed the eye-popping spectacle that is Cage the Elephant live performance have likened the band’s singer to many things, among them “a demented Bible Belt preacher,” “a Tasmanian devil whooping and jumping up and down like a frenzied gibbon.” And that’s just frontman Matt Shultz. The verdict? “Exhilarating, 100 mph stuff,” raved British indie music live show — which made this red-hot Kentucky-bred band the talk of this year’s South-by-Southwest music festival, and led USA Today to single them out as a band not to miss at 2009’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — is the perfect showcase for their buzzed-about self-titled debut album for Jive Records. Recorded over 10 days with Grammy Award-winning producer Jay Joyce, and a Top 40 hit when it was released on British indie label Relentless the U.K. last June, the album is a genre-defying blend of rock n roll and raw youthful punk energy all propelled by Matt’s taunting, Dylan-esque rhythmic vocal delivery, Brad Shultz and Lincoln Parish’s furious twin guitar assault, and bassist Daniel Tichenor and drummer Jared Champion’s rock-funk groves. “The music comes from a pure place,” Matt says. We really like the energy of music that feels passionate, raw, unplanned emotion. That’s what we were really trying to capture.

Florence And The Machine Florance And The Machine -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 6:00 PM

     Let’s talk about magic. Because music, at its best, is a kind of magic that lifts you up and take's you somewhere else. “I want my music to sound like throwing yourself out of a tree, or off a tall building, or as if you’re being sucked down into the ocean and you can’t breathe,” says Florence Welch. “It’s something overwhelming and all-encompassing that fills you up, and you’re either going to explode with it, or you’re just going to disappear.” Florence writes her best songs when she’s drunk or has a hangover, because that’s when the freedom, the feral music comes, creating itself wildly from the fragments gathered in her notebooks and in her head. “You’re lucid,” she explains, “but you’re not really there. You’re floating through your own thoughts, and you can pick out what you need. I like those weird connections in the universe. I feel that life’s like a consistent acid trip, those times when things keep coming back.” Florence herself is a mass of contradictions: she’s tough yet she’s terrified, a bundle of nerves and passion, of darkness and pure joy. “I feel things quite intensely, which is why the music has to be so intense. I’m either really sad or really happy; I’m tired or completely manic. That’s when I’m at my most creative, but it’s also dangerous for me. I feel I could write some good songs, or break some hearts, or tables, or glasses.” As a performer she can seem fearless, but she’s also far too quick to pass judgment on herself. This is the woman, after all who got into Camberwell Art College by making a huge floral sign telling herself ‘You are a twat.’ She says she’s a geek, who loses all control when in love. She’s also something increasingly rare and precious in a time of karaoke pop: an artist who has found her own, authentic voice.

Buckwheat Zydeco -- Soco/WWOZ Stage at 6:45 PM

Jakob Dylan and Three Legs -- Soco/WWOZ Stage at 8:30 PM


Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 11:15 AM

White Rabbits -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 12:15 PM

Minus the Bear -- Voodoo (LOA Lounge) at 2:15 PM

The Airborne Toxic Event -- Sony Make.Believe Stage at 3:15 PM

     Literary allusions are hardly new territory in rock and roll. The Fall named their sixth record Bend Sinister after Nabokov's infamously dark novel. The Velvet Underground got its name from a certain cult book on sex and bondage given to Lou Reed at a party one night. "Killing an Arab" by the Cure is a reference to the Stranger by Camus -- Robert Smith's favorite book, in fact. The Airborne Toxic Event borrows its name from the novel White Noise by Don Delillo. Published in 1984, the book foresaw a world consumed by media -- radio waves, billboards, television, advertisements -- all crowding waking hours, finding their way into dreams, subconscious thoughts, incoherent bits of static about Toyotas, Pepsi, manic depression, and the president. The Airborne Toxic Event is an enormous dark cloud, created by an explosion at a nearby chemical plant. In addition to the crowded airwaves, the cloud portends death, lingering at the edges of life, giving it meaning, urgency, something to fear. The music press has compared them to the Cure, Modest Mouse, the Smiths, Franz Ferdinand, the Clash and the Arcade Fire. Rolling Stone named them one of the top 25 bands on MySpace. Their live show, in addition to viola, organ, guitars and trumpet, includes the hood of a 1969 Alfa Romeo found at a junkyard one afternoon. It's been a heady few months. And what began with a literary allusion, with a couple of boys alone in a warehouse, has become a kind of sweeping plea - to dance, to sing, to cry, to live - to find something alive and kicking among all the static, death, and white noise.

Paul Oakenfold -- Le Plur Stage presented by Billboard.com at 4:15 PM

JP. Chrissie and The Fairground Boys -- Bingo! Stage at 5:45 PM

Macy Gray -- Soco/WWOZ Stage at 5:45 PM

My Morning Jacket -- Voodoo Stage (LOA Lounge) at 7:00 PM

     There’s a theme of moral confusion that runs through the whole record,” says Jim James, frontman of My Morning Jacket, explaining the title of the band’s new album, Evil Urges. “The world today is such a confused place. Things that people think are good values are obviously twisted, but there are other things considered evil that obviously aren’t. There is real evil out there, but Evil Urges is about how all of these things that you’ve been told are evil really aren’t, unless they’re actually hurting something or somebody.”

     It’s ambitious territory for the group’s fifth full-length studio album, and it’s matched by the most far-ranging, surprising, and satisfying sounds of their career. From the freak-funk electro-slam of “Highly Suspicious” to the contemplative “Sec Walkin’,” which could almost be a Nashville standard, on Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket display the scope and fearlessness that demonstrates their growth into one of the world’s great rock & roll bands.


Voodoo Experience Agenda

My agenda was emailed from the official iPhone app of the Voodoo Experience 2010, available here: (Voodoo Experience 2010 iPhone app)

Brought to you by Applitite LLC - Applitite LLC

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review – Out of Whack by Jeff Strand

Out of Whack

Jeff Strand

ISBN 0759945020


Book Review - Out of Whack by Jeff Strand cover

Note: For those of you with a PG-13 mindset please look away now.

I’ll say this once, and only once. Gratuitous sex. Okay, now that that’s out of the way I can begin my review of Jeff Strand’s Out of Whack. But wait, before you accuse me of stealing Strand’s idea of opening up a work with a sex scene know this – I don’t care if you accuse me of stealing his idea. You see, as far as I’m concerned, gratuitous sex is in the public domain and belongs to everyone. Or, should, at any rate.

Note: For those with a PG-13 mindset who looked away earlier you may now read the remainder of my review without bumping repeatedly into anything R-Rated.

Irreverent by nature Out of Whack can only be described as a semi-autobiographical kick-in-the-pants, coming-of-age, laugh-fest (with lots of words/phrases hyphenated together to sound cooler). No, seriously, I squirted milk out of my nose while reading this. Twice! I guffawed in my sleep dreaming about the humor contained therein. I chuckled uproariously at the oddball antics of the characters and I peed my pants during one hilariously feeble sex scene. And that was just in the first few chapters!

Seriously folks, Out of Whack is a terribly funny read that successfully manages to tap into the raw emotion just about everyone’s felt during those awkward growing up years. The story is truly about friendship and love and humor and doing whatever it takes to attain your goals. It also manages to entertain with both humor and aplomb. I recommend it to anyone that a) likes to laugh, b) is interested in starting a comedy troupe, or c) wants to be entertained but can’t afford that certain magazine wrapped in plain brown paper. Out of Whack is a witty book by a certifiably comical author and well worth your time.

“But don’t read it for the laughs.  And don’t read it for the heartfelt parts.  Read it for the sex scene, which proves that even if you’re filled with ravenous animal passion, trying to dramatically tear off somebody’s underwear can only lead to wedgies.”

This is the first book of Strand’s that I’ve read but I can assure you it won’t be the last.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

  1. Author's Blog
  2. Google Books Excerpt
  3. Jeff Strand Interview
  4. Strand's Fantastic Fiction Page

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review – Orphanage by Robert Buettner


Robert Buettner

Book Review - Orphanage by Robert Buettner cover

By the author’s own admission Orphanage is a conscious homage to Robert A. Heinlein's classic science-fiction shoot-em-up, Starship Troopers, but it is also much more than that. It is a modern telling of a style that I thought almost gone. Thankfully, the Golden Age of Science Fiction is revived in Buettner’s capable hands. Reminiscent of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Mindbridge, Fred Pohl’s Gateway, and Robert H. Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, as well as the above-mention Starship Troopers Buettner certainly reveals his mastery of the military aspect of his stories. The action scenes and sequences are choreographed superbly and the battle scenes compelling and poignant. In addition, Orphanage, as well as all the other books in this series, contains everything that is good about excellent military science fiction. No, let me amend that. Orphanage contains everything that is good about excellent fiction, period. Buettner writes characters that you will care about, plots that are tight, dialogue that flows, and he has a grasp for spinning a tale that is always entertaining. Spending time with these brilliantly written works of mankind at war with a devious alien entity will not disappoint.

Buettner should be honored to be mentioned with the likes of Haldeman, Pohl, and Heinlein. I know I’m privileged to add him to my list of favorites.

Jason Wander Series

1. Orphanage (2004)

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative’s Nutshell Recap: Evil aliens throw rocks at the Earth vaporizing many large cities. The world relies on one counterstrike in space led by soldiers left as orphans by the attack. Using outdated space craft and weapons the Orphans are ordered to invade the enemy on Ganymede.

2. Orphan's Destiny (2005)

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative’s Nutshell Recap: Foot-soldier made General by losses in the Slug War Jason Wander returns home only to find that the real war has just begun. A full armada-sized invasion must be stopped by a single, ancient space craft and a suicide squad led by recently promoted General Wander.

3. Orphan's Journey (2008)

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative’s Nutshell Recap: Sent to the resort planet of New Moon Jason and crew are propelled into deep space when the test of a space ship goes wrong. Stranded on an alien planet Jason must save not only his friends but everyone else on the planet.

4. Orphan's Alliance (2008)

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative’s Nutshell Recap: Humans have been found in space. Jason Wander is sent as an emissary but finds that politics can be harder than leading men into battle. When mankind battles the Slugs for a strategic pieces of space Jason discovers that the most dangerous enemy is not always the one you expect.

5. Orphan's Triumph (2009)

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative’s Nutshell Recap: General Wander prepares for the final conflict as Earth and her allied forces organize to employ a doomsday weapon that can end the war. When a strategic reversal threatens mankind Jason Wander must confront the demons that turned him to the military in the first place and stripped away the innocence of his youth.

Additional Reading:

Orphanage Artwork

Author Site

Author's Blog

 Internet Speculative Fiction Database

SF World Review

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin


Book Review - Orphanage by Robert Buettner end art

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Review - Jesse James' Secret by Ron Pastore and John O'Melveny Woods


  • Jesse James' Secret
  • Ron Pastore and John O'Melveny Woods
  • Intellect Publishing, 2010, Trade Paperback
  • ISBN: 0972976167

I have to admit that I felt a certain piqued interest in this book when I first saw it offered for review. New evidence of historical value concerning Jesse James presented with a compelling argument and firm historical research was an exciting thought. The reality, however, was far from the promise I imagined. After reading through the first six or seven chapters my interest gave way to incredulousness and yes, a bit of annoyance. The term Genealogy bug, or the passion for family tree research, came to my mind as I continued reading. Pastore, while quite enthusiastic about the subject and invested in ways ill-defined, provides very little solid evidence to prove his hypothesis which is exactly the trap that many novice genealogist fall into. In plain terms, I don’t think there’s anything new or relevant presented here to change anyone’s mind. As such I’d have to categorize Jesse James’ Secret as pseudo-history at best with an emphasis on the word “pseudo.”

Historical research aside the book itself suffers on many other levels, as well. There is an obvious overuse of idiom and cliché. While I would probably be quite happy to find my way out of a cave after hours of being lost I certainly wouldn’t “kiss the ground” when I did. This was the most blatant and tedious cliché that I found but there are many others and they distracted from the message. That alone made me close this book well before I reached the halfway point. I remember thinking that the author presented the information in this book not so much as to illuminate the reader on a new theory or hypothesis but to win an argument with someone who disagreed with his notions. And while there may have been new information here, in the end, it was presented in such a way as to leave me confused over the point.

Did Jesse James fake his own death? Possibly. Did Jesse James and gang hide treasure in the caves of Missouri and Kansas? Probably. But this book does not present any clear evidence to support either theory.


2 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Music Review – Carney – Mr. Green Volume 1

Carney 1

     Once in a great while a superb record crosses my path and I have to share my find. This year I’ve found two. Last month it was Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown. This month I present, Carney’s Mr. Green Volume 1. I have to admit, this album has it all; great vocals, wonderful guitar work, haunting harmonies, and excellent lyrics. The title track Mr. Green is Beatlesque in both feel and sound and isn’t even the best track on the disc. I’ll leave that choice to you. The rockabilly Amelie has great licks and Reeve Carney’s voice is an instrument in and of itself. There She Goes has a Queen-like feel to the harmonies and vocals. Think of You will appeal to the spiritual side of most listeners but can also instantly take you back to those melancholy days when you lost your first love (whether 4 or 40 years ago.) In the tradition of the Delta Blues Testify will stir your blood. You’ll be bobbing your head and tapping your toes right up until the time it spins down into a psychedelic swirl of guitars and vocals. I’ve enjoyed every song on this album and that is a rare thing indeed these days. Listen to Carney on iTunes and see if I’m not right. Then come back here and tell me how you feel about my pick for a breakout band. Mark my words, and I’ve said it here for the first time… Carney will be around for a very long time to come.

P.S. Reeve Carney is performing the lead role in U2’s Broadway musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.

Track List

✓ Love Me Chase Me 4:55

✓ Tomorrow's Another Day 3:43

✓ Mr. Green 5:51

✓ Amelie 3:02

✓ There She Goes 3:05

✓ Nothing Without You 3:41

✓ Think of You 4:47

✓ Testify 7:55

✓ Lavender 3:06


Carney 2

Official Website: www.carneyband.com/

Myspace Website: www.myspace.com/carneytheband

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 Hugo Award Nominees and Winners (with hyperlinks)


Best Fan Artist
Presented by Gina Goddard

Best Fanzine
Presented by James Shields

Best Fan Writer
Presented by John Hertz

Best Semiprozine
Presented by Bruce Gillespie

  • Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan (winner)
  • Ansible edited by David Langford
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
  • Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Professional Artist
Presented by Nick Stathopoulos

Best Editor, Short Form
Presented by Lucy Sussex

Best Editor, Long Form
Presented by Robert Silverberg

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Presented by Paul Cornell

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Presented by George R. R. Martin

Best Graphic Story
Presented by Shaun Tan

Best Related Book
Presented by Cheryl Morgan

Best Short Story
Presented by Sean Williams

Best Novelette
Presented by Terry Dowling

Best Novella
Presented by Sean McMullen

Best Novel
Presented by Kim Stanley Robinson

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Presented by John Scalzi and Jay Lake

This year’s Hugo Awards trophy was designed by Nick Stathopoulos. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

Complete List of Hugo Awards

Complete List of Nebula Awards

List of Science Fiction Awards

(I’ve been blogging here for a number of years and can honestly say that this post has more links than any year’s worth of prior posts. Almost every name, magazine, story, or novel has a corresponding link. Feel free to visit the other sites. Oh, and please report any broken links.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Review - The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry

The Emperor’s Tomb
Steve Berry
Ballantine Books
464 pages
ISBN: 0345505492


First a word about the main character - Cotton Malone will go down in history as one of the great action characters in literature (Yes, you heard it here first, parenthetically. They say that everything you put out on the Internet is permanent. If that's so then look me up in 20 years so I can tell you that I told you so.) Malone is a thinking man's James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mack Bolan all rolled into one. Read the entire series just to acquaint yourself with the character. You won't be disappointed.

With that said, The Emperor's Tomb is the sixth book in the series and while not the strongest of the six Berry does not fail to entertain once again. His history (even when slightly exaggerated and stretched) is believable and he has a knack for choosing some great off-beat topics and little-known historical events to conjure with. Fast paced, fun, full of adventure and with the occasional gun-fight Berry's Cotton Malone is sure to entertain for years to come. The series was written, I suspect, for the adrenaline junkie hidden in us all. Thank you, Mr. Berry for filling that need.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Cotton Malone Series
1. The Templar Legacy (2006)
2. The Alexandria Link (2007)
3. The Venetian Betrayal (2007)
4. The Charlemagne Pursuit (2008)
5. The Paris Vendetta (2009)
6. The Emperor's Tomb (2010)

Steve Berry Author Site

Random House Site

Fantastic Fiction Site

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Music Review - Anais Mitchell - Hadestown

Fabulous Record – 5 out of 5 stars

New Orleans/Jazz/Blues/Rock/Pop Opera – Hadestown is a fantastic merge of lyrics, vocals and music while telling a story and is the best concept album I’ve heard in years. With contributions from the likes of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), The Haden Triplets, Greg Brown, Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem), and Ani DiFranco Hadestown is nothing short of awe inspiring.

Hadestown PLAY LIST:

Wedding Song - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon 3:18

Epic (Part I) - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon 2:22

Way Down Hadestown - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon, Ani DiFranco 3:33

Songbird Intro 0:24

Hey, Little Songbird - Anais Mitchell feat. Greg Brown 3:09

Gone, I’m Gone - Anais Mitchell feat. The Haden Triplets 1:09

When The Chips Are Down - Anais Mitchell feat. The Haden Triplets 2:14

Wait For Me - Anais Mitchell feat. Ben Knox Miller and Justin Vernon   3:06

Why We Build The Wall - Anais Mitchell feat. Greg Brown 4:18

Our Lady Of The Underground - Anais Mitchell feat. Ani DiFranco 4:40

Flowers (Eurydice’s Song) 3:33

Nothing Changes - Anais Mitchell feat. The Haden Triplets 0:52

If It’s True - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon 3:03

Papers (Hades Finds Out) 1:24 Anais

How Long? - Anais Mitchell feat. Ani DiFranco and Greg Brown 3:36

Epic (Part II) - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon 2:55

Lover’s Desire 2:05 Anais

His Kiss, The Riot - Anais Mitchell feat. Greg Brown 4:03

Doubt Comes In - Anais Mitchell feat. Justin Vernon 5:32

I Raise My Cup To Him - Anais Mitchell feat. Ani DiFranco 2:10

Anais Mitchell Home Page

Myspace Hadestown Page

Preview some of the songs by clicking on “The Music” on the Anais Mitchell home page.

My favorites from the album: Why We Build The Wall, Way Down Hadestown, and Our Lady Of The Underground.

Book Review - The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien

The Inheritance
Simon Tolkien
Minotaur Books, 2010
336 pages


How can you review a book by Simon Tolkien without comparing him to his more famous grandfather, J.R.R. Tolkien? You can’t. So I won’t. And now that I’ve got the obligatory reference out of the way and you know of the relationship I can get on with my review.

The Inheritance is, in my estimation, a very good murder mystery. The World War II back story is intriguing and interesting and the characters are, for the most part, believable and worth investing time in. While the mystery, which borders on being a locked-room-murder, is similar to others of the genre and is well-executed Tolkien really shines when he gets into the politics, intrigue, and tension of the court room. The story is a complex mystery filled with courtroom drama and believable well-researched history and I found every aspects of the story truly enjoyable. From the quest for the missing religious artifact to the massacre of an entire village during World War II to the mechanics of corporal punishment in England in 1959 and by combining elements of the classic whodunit with those of the court room thriller I found The Inheritance an entertaining and interesting read.

3 stars out of 5

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Author Page http://www.simontolkien.com/

BookReporter http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews2/9780312539078.asp

Onyx Reviews http://www.bevvincent.com/onyx/tolkien-inheritance.html

Barnes and Nobel http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Inheritance/Simon-Tolkien/e/9780312539078

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book Review – The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage
Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books
784 pages
ISBN 0345504968 / 9780345504968


In my humble estimation Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” qualifies as an Instant Classic. It has all the elements of a great work – brilliantly written characters that are flawed but oh, so very real, a twisting mystery that will keep you immersed in the narrative and engaged by the characters, the promise of a good scare right around the corner, viral vampires, unwitting heroes, and a huge, early following of fans. Do not be swayed by the occasional naysayers who proclaim the book too long or too wordy (whatever that means). It is worthy of your attention and a worthwhile read. The characters are real people, the narrative descriptive, and in some cases bloody, gory, and disturbing. The premise, which is not your average vampire story, is reminiscent of earlier post-apocalyptic literature but with a twist and it has something many of the others do not, a grand epic, fantasy feel to it and not because of its heft but of its engrossing content.

Sweeping across almost one-hundred years in the post-apocalyptic vampire-infested plains of western America “The Passage” is an engrossing and epic tale which begins when a government experiment creates twelve different strains of vampire-zombies that escape and infect the entire world. However, small pockets of humans have survived and while the “virals” stalk the landscape some communities have managed to survive and even thrive in a world swarming with flesh-eaters. “The Passage” is an end-of-the-world road-trip filled with discovery, mystery, pain, and loss. But buried deep underneath all that is the promise of love, new life, and happiness. It’s ours to find.

One of the most compelling elements of this book is that I could sense pieces of similar earlier works buried in the canon. There is, of course, the obvious good versus evil and a government strain that gets loose killing millions of people much like Stephen Kings’ “The Stand.” There are survivors that live on the brink of extinction and could be annihilated at any moment as found in Larry Niven’s “Lucifer’s Hammer” (among many others.) There is an epic battle between surviving factions, although one of them is not quite human, as in David Brin’s “The Postman.” Also, which I found very interesting, were the military factions fighting in the wasted lands of a broken America which is reminiscent of James Axler’s Deathlands series. An element of technology, in both cases, electricity, is isolated for many years like in Jeanne DuPrau’s “The City of Ember.” I am not implying that Cronin borrowed from these works only that he used elements found in all of them. And, since I’m a huge fan of every one of those works it goes without saying that I’d rate this high. And I have.

I heard the other day that this book was the first in a trilogy. One can only hope that Cronin types 5,000 words a minute and that the other two books will be published before the end of the month. I know, he doesn’t and they won’t, but one can wish. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. After a brief Google search it appears that the next two books in the series are “The Twelve” to be published in 2012 and “The City of Mirrors” to be published in 2014. There is also talk of a full-length motion picture based on the novel. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that.

P.S. I love great, sprawling, epic novels. Here’s hoping volumes two and three are as lengthy and well written.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

More on “The Passage”:

The Passage” Website (includes excerpts, videos, downloads and more)

Huffington Post Review

Laura Miller Book Review

Author’s Wikipedia Page