Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review - Zombie Autopsies by Steven C. Schlozman, M.D.

Zombie Autopsies (Secret Notebooks From the Apocalypse)
Steven C. Schlozman, M.D.
Illustrated by Andrea Sparacio
208 pages
Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: March 25, 2011
ISBN: 978-0446564663


We've seen our share of zombie survival narratives, zombie war tales, zombie diaries , and even zombie romances, as well as various guides, manuals, and required weapons lists for combating the shambling-dead. Zombie Autopsies (Secret Notebooks From the Apocalypse), on the other hand, is a story that focuses on the clinical aspects of the coming zombie apocalypse. Drawn heavily on medical, scientific, and forensic jargon, exposition, and illustrations Zombie Autopsies relies too much on the quantifiable and too little on the speculative. By that I mean that this book fails to deliver a memorable piece of fiction beneath too much scientific research and medical rationalization.

At the onset I thought the premise of zombie forensics intriguing. It was, for instance, the first time I’d seen this particular living-dead trope and thought, if handled correctly, could be a unique and entertaining story. Most of you already know that I truly do enjoy a good post-apocalyptic zombie yarn but I really had difficulty with Zombie Autopsies. Mixed in with the analytical descriptions, autopsy reports, medical illustrations, and scientific journals is an interesting fictional account of the walking-dead but the plot gets overwhelmed by too much scientific exposition. This story would have been significantly better had the percentages of technical explanation and plot-driven narrative been reversed. In all honesty, the zombie tale itself, when it does surface, is really a pretty good one and the illustrations are interesting and quite graphic but, in my opinion, the story should have guided the medical reporting rather than the other way around. Mr. Schlozman would have had a much better story had he done so.

If you enjoy all the bloody, gory details of actual autopsies, like to view cross-sectioned diagrams of cancerous or diseased organs, or are curious about the anatomical changes that might occur during the process of zombification then this book is for you. Otherwise, I’d look for other, more narrative- and less clinical- driven zombie tales to read.

2 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

List of Zombie Novels

Ten Best Zombie Books

The Essential Zombie Book List

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review - Exile’s Blade - Book One - Clearwater Dawn by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Exile’s Blade - Book One – Clearwater Dawn
Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Kindle Edition
Publisher: Insane Angel Studios
Publication Date: May 8, 2011
358 Pages (eBook version)
ASIN: B005007GHA


          Due to review commitments I do not get to read as much fantasy as I used to, which is really a shame. As a matter of fact the last true “fantasy” review I did was over a year ago. But, thanks to Clearwater Dawn by Scott Fitzgerald Gray I know that I’ll be picking up more in the near future, especially since this is the first book in a planned series. I recall how much fun Raymond E. Feist’s Magician was the first time I read it. That true joy of finding a well-written, creative, and stirring piece of fantasy fiction is hard to replicate. I remember being spellbound by the depth of the characters, the unique and unusual use of magic, the truly original plot, and the new worlds fully created out of nothing more than the imaginations of the author and his audience. Clearwater Dawn had much the same effect on me and, in my opinion, is every bit as good as the stories of the Riftwar series. I cannot pay more of a compliment to Mr. Gray’s work than to compare it with that classic series. The Riftwar books remain one of my all time favorite fantasy series and one of the few that I’ve read more than once. The Exile’s Blade series will be my next.

          Clearwater Dawn falls into that category of near-classic fantasy simply waiting for an audience to find it. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that this book is self-published and selling for only .99 in the Kindle store at Amazon and the Nook store at B&N. The story is clearly written by someone well-versed in the world of fantasy creation and a search of Mr. Gray’s past achievements will confirm that he is a long time author of Dungeons & Dragons manuals, campaigns, and narratives. As luck would have it, that previous experience carries over nicely into this novel. The locations are elaborate but not verbosely so and the characters are both believable and down-to-earth (including the princess who should be haughty but isn’t.) There is murder, and court intrigue, and secrets, and quests, and magic, and secret doors, and arranged marriages, and war and all the things you’d expect to find in a first-class fantasy adventure. With that said, the story is, of course, not perfect and the minor clichéd plot of a noble fugitive is trope-worthy but all-in-all the story is written well enough for that insignificant point to go relatively unnoticed. If you’re anything like me the “what’s going to happen on the next page” factor will have you turning pages furiously and the various character relationships will keep you interested until the very end. This was an enjoyable read and I’m happy to say that I’d recommend it to any and all fantasy fans (no matter age, fealty, or coat-of-arms.)

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

About the Author (From

Scott Fitzgerald Gray is a specially constructed biogenetic simulacrum built around an array of experimental consciousness-sharing techniques -- a product of the finest minds of Canadian science until the grant money ran out. Accidentally set loose during an unauthorized midnight rave at the lab, the S.F. Gray entity is currently at large amongst an unsuspecting populace, where his work as an author, screenwriter, editor, RPG designer, and story editor for feature film keeps him off the streets.

More info on Scott and his work (some of it even occasionally truthful) can be found by reading between the lines at


Clearwater Dawn Excerpt

Publisher Page - Insane Angel

Impressive list of D&D Credits

Kindle Store Link

Barnes & Noble Nook Store Link

FYI (File under “Getting to Know the Blogger”)

Some of my favorite Fantasy books include (in no particular order):

The Riftwar series by Raymond E. Feist
Riftwar Cycle
1. Magician: Apprentice & Magician (1985)
2. Silverthorn (1985)
3. A Darkness at Sethanon (1986)

Mithgar series by Dennis L. McKiernan
The Iron Tower
1. The Dark Tide (1984)
2. Shadows of Doom (1984)
3. The Darkest Day (1984)
The Silver Call
1. Trek to Kraggen-Cor (1986)
2. The Brega Path (1986)

The Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks
The Original Shannara Trilogy
1. The Sword of Shannara (1977)
2. The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)
3. The Wishsong of Shannara (1985)

Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever
1. Lord Foul's Bane (1977)
2. The Illearth War (1978)
3. The Power that Preserves (1979)

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
The Dark Tower
1. The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (1982)
2. The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987)
3. The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991)
4. The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997)
5. The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)
6. The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004)
7. The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)

There are others, of course, and these are all works I read as a young adult but I remember them making an impact on me as some of the best books (not just fantasies) that I’d ever read. To be fair, there are many great fantasy works that are much newer than those listed above and are just as entertaining but these I recall making an impression on me as exciting and stimulating works of fiction when I was a young man. For exceptional works of memorable, newer fantasy look for anything by Emma Bull, Cherie Priest, Jacqueline Carey, Stephen Lawhead, George R. R. Martin, Harry Turtledove, S. M. Stirling, Joe Abercrombie, Markus Heitz, Stan Nicholls, Patrick Rothfuss, or China Mieville, to name a few.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Graphic Novel Review – Falling Skies Vols. 1 - 4 by Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra

Writer: Paul Tobin
Artist: Juan Ferreyra
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Cover Artist: Steve Morris
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action/Adventure
Electronic Version (Dark Horse for iPad)


Falling Skies, the graphic novel created from the upcoming T.V. series, is the seminal aliens-invade-earth and human-resistance-retaliates story*. Boston - present day. A global alien invasion has destroyed every world government and major city on earth. But a handful of inexperienced freedom- fighters take up arms to combat the invaders and their powerful mechanized robots. College history professor Tom Mason and his sons are just trying to get by, to survive the devastating invasion, when they meet up with the 2nd Massachusetts Militia, a paramilitary faction determined to wipe out the aliens that have caused so much planetary death and destruction. But the militia’s supplies are running low and the unarmed population continues to grow as stragglers make their way into Boston. Tom must locate an old friend to help equip his team with the guns and ammunition needed to guarantee the survival of the human race. In the mean time, Tom’s young son is missing and disturbing word is out that the aliens are abducting children and outfitting them with strange spinal braces that are either controlling them or turning them into something non-human. Tom and the 2nd Massachusetts are in a race to both eliminate the alien threat and locate and free the imprisoned children.

In my opinion, what really makes this graphic novel an exceptional effort is the remarkable artwork. While Paul Tobin definitely has a handle on this tried-but-true story arc and knows when to be serious and when to joke around Juan Ferreyra’s art truly makes the story in this particular medium something special. The artwork is both realistic and believable and the characters, human and alien alike, come to life under his very competent hand. What I truly love about Ferreyra’s work is his infinite attention to detail. Every panel contains one or two back- or fore-ground detail drawings (flowers in windowsills, trees losing their leaves, debris and trash scattered in the roads, cracks in walls and sidewalks, etc.) that give the overall image a true sense of realism. Where other artist might wash the background Ferreyra populates his with realism. If you’re the type that’s into comics or graphic novels, appreciates exceptional artwork, and loves Science Fiction then you’ll most certainly enjoy this one.

Story - 3 stars out of 5
Art work – 5 out of 5 stars
Total – 4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading

Falling Skies

Falling Skies Webcomics (1)

Falling Skies Webcomics (2)

Falling Skies TV Series Preview

Falling Skies TV Series Wiki Page

Falling Skies TV Series IMDB Page

The Creators

Juan Ferreyra Art

Paul Tobin Interview

Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse Comics

Alien Invasion Examples *

The War of the World (H.G. Wells) Free download

The War of the Worlds Radio Drama Wiki Page

Independence Day

Battle: Los Angeles IMDb Page

The Puppet Masters (Robert A. Heinlein)

Invasion From Mars IMDb Page

(John Carpenter’s) They Live!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review - Burn Down the Sky by James Jaros

Burn Down the Sky
James Jaros*
Harper Voyager
Mass Market Paperback
336 pages
Advance Uncorrected Proof


A recent incident has forced the world into post-apocalyptic regression. Most of the planet is now a vast, barren, and burnt-out wasteland. We are never told the specifics of this event though it’s implied that global warming is, for the most part, at fault. Acts of barbarism are at an all-time high. Civilized humans struggle to survive but fight a losing battle. Cults, cannibals, and crazies roam this harsh, lawless environment. The civilized build protective walls around pockets of attainable water, tend wilted crops, and scrape out the most basic existence imaginable. The uncivilized simply take whatever they want; take what others have worked so hard to keep. The continued survival of the human race appears bleak and the back-breaking work of day-to-day subsistence is the only future anyone has to look forward to. Amidst all this turmoil, and to add insult to planetary injury, a sexually-transmitted virus one thousand times deadlier and faster than AIDS has turned sex into a painful, gruesome death-sentence. However, girls who have experienced their first menstrual period in the past twelve months are immune from the plague and are therefore highly desirable to marauders and other men of ill-repute. Rather than protected as saviors of the human race they are abducted from their homes and traded to the most powerful as playthings or as simple vessels of progeny. The stakes grow when a small, struggling community comes under attack by raiders and a group of young, pre-menstrual girls is kidnapped. The mother and sister of one of the abducted girls will stop at nothing to follow the kidnappers and secure her safe return.

To be honest, when I first read the premise in the opening chapter of Burn Down the Sky I thought, That’s a very weak assertion to base a novel on. Biology just doesn’t work that way, does it? Sex deadly? Well, yes, it can be, so wear protection. Oh yeah, the world has stopped production of everything. No more condoms. Wait, what about all those in grocery and convenience stores? Oh, the cities have all been burned to the ground during the food riots. However weak the original plot device might have felt in my mind it was long-forgotten before I was half-way through chapter two. The story became so immediately interesting to me that my questions were quickly forgotten. And then, to my surprise, all my objections were logically addressed and promptly answered in the course of the next few chapters. In some ways I felt the author knew these objections were obvious and that they would quickly occur to the audience. That Mr. Jaros recognized and addressed them early made my reading of the story that much more enjoyable.

You should know up-front that this story is not for the weak or faint of heart. There are quite a few gruesome, shocking, even grotesque moments in the pages of this book and there’s a lot of action and many scenes of intense violence. There’s death by fire and by explosion, there’s dismemberment, torture, death by gun shot and by beheading. Worse, there is life after rape, life after disfigurement, and life filled with unmitigated fear. Parents with young girls are strongly cautioned. Really bad things happen to some of the children in this story. (Some good things happen, as well, but telling you more would spoil things.) In a genre that is usually top-heavy with male characters I enjoyed seeing the woman’s perspective here and Jaros does a great job of creating strong, believable women role-models with real emotions. But, I also must say that combined with the violence and despair there are some very well-written scenes of redemption, perseverance and, of course, love. The atmosphere of Burn Down the Sky is somewhat reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but only in the sense that each of the worlds have been turned into wastelands and scenes from Mad Max are also recognizable in that the marauders are mostly viscous, cruel, violent, and a bit “touched in the head.” In the end I really could not put this book down. Fortunately for me, since I otherwise would have suffered a few more sleepless nights, it’s a rather quick read. Burn Down the Sky is a fun, well-written, post-apocalyptic quest story that entertains and I strongly recommended it for fans of Stephen King’s The Stand, the Mad Max films, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Author Interview – Burn Down the Sky

Burn Down the Sky Sample

Official Author Site

Author Blog Page

A Word From the Author

* James Jaros is the pen name used by journalist and author Mark Nykanen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Website Review –

Website Review
Fiction Writing Help Guide
(and so much more)


Want to write good fiction? Want to write, research your subject, and be entertained while doing so? Then head on over to and get lost for a week or two browsing the immense catalog of available tropes. What is, you ask? Simply put it’s an encyclopedic index of the “tricks of the trade” for writing fiction. It’s a guide for “what not to do, what to do, what to look out for, and what to avoid” when you’re writing and researching your work of fiction. (Note, according to the site: “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations.”) All will become very clear once you start delving into this amazing site. And, don’t be put off by the name either, while it’s called “TV Tropes” the site covers and lists examples from every branch of entertainment you could possibly name, including: anime and manga, comic books, fan fic, literature, film, live-action TV, music, webcomics, video games, Western animation, and even Real Life. Want to know about the clichés concerning ammunition or weapons, the worst plot devices, gods or deities, specific apocalypse types, alien classes, or any other subject under the sun? Then this is the place for you. I really can’t remember ever finding such a useful, humorous, intelligent, and complete writing tool as this website. And, this is by no means an exaggeration!

Specifically, I suggest you check out the “Speculative Fiction category of the site (left-hand sidebar near the bottom). You’ll find hundreds of subjects including tropes on Area 51, Alien Autopsy, Benevolent Alien Invasion, Captain's Log, Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu? , and  The End of the World as We Know It, to name just a few. This single list alone will keep you busy for many, many days. Not only will you become educated in the myriad ways Area 51 has been used in entertainment but you’ll also learn why Every Bullet is a Tracer and why All Myths Are True. There’s even an entire catalog of Discovery Channel Mythbusters tropes found here.

Some of my favorite Speculative Fiction topics include: The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés , The Turkey City Lexicon , Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy , Did Not Do the Research  (which includes hundreds of sub-tropes), and Apocalypse How (which defines the various categories of apocalyptic devastation.)

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you’ll know that in the five years I’ve been posting to Blogger I’ve never reviewed a website before. That alone makes very special. I spend a lot of time reading and writing book reviews, my true passion, that I sometimes forget to note some of the more interesting things I’ve found. Not this time! When I found this site I knew I had  share it with you. So, here’s me telling you with complete confidence that I have never, ever run across a subject-dedicated website as entertaining, fascinating, and informative as this. is a fantastic tool for fiction writers and an entertaining place for anyone interested in the written word. There truly is something for everyone here. Trust me, you’ll get lost in its pages for days and thank me for it later. After visiting I dare you to come back here and not post something positive about TV Tropes in the comments…

6 freakin’ awesome stars out of 6

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The website can be found here:

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Book Review - The Graduate Student by James Polster

James Polster
The Graduate Student
Publication Date: June 21, 2011
Trade Paperback
360 pages
ISBN: 9781935597537
Advance Reader’s Copy – Uncorrected Proof


When the rainforest slams head-first into Hollywood and neuro-robotics take over where anthropology ends… well, you know something unusual is bound to happen. And, in this case, what happens is not only outlandish but amusing as well. The Graduate Student follows the chaotic antics of Blackwell James as his life takes an unexpected and improbable twist. From near-destitute, almost unemployable, jungle-trekking grad student to overnight Hollywood movie producer and director of a scientific project Blackwell is thrust into two worlds totally beyond his experience. But Blackwell has an uncanny knack of landing on his feet and then stumbling his way into success. Or so it would seem. James Polster navigates through the machinations of Hollyweird and the tricky business of advanced academics and in the process treats us to a comical view of the bizarre worlds of movie producing and graduate studies. Indeed, his main character manages to inadvertently meet Sylvester Stallone, Steven Spielberg, and Henry Winkler and green-light a movie script penned by a UCLA-based computer using cheap software and a database of action movies that have previously made boat-loads of cash. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel is broken down into three fast-paced, near-equal parts. The first section, Blackwell, introduces the reader to the main character. Loosely based on the author’s own experiences this segment reveals a detailed glimpse of the life of the highly unusual and very funny gypsy-like character, Blackwell James. The second element, aptly named Odyssey, is the recounting of a hallucinogenic ménage-a-traipsing through the mind of one of the characters - a psychopath, no less. It recounts, after ingestion of a concoction made from two sacred Amazonian vines, the trip one character takes to find a lost soul who has wandered too deep into the mind of an unstable and impatient movie producer/scientist who’s crimes have been uncovered by the trespass. In part three, Hogeye, the antagonist comes to understand that his crimes (identity theft, larceny, and multiple murders) have been uncovered and he and his wife scheme to destroy the one man who can reveal his unlawful activities to the authorities.

James Polster has, in my opinion, a home-spun blue-collar humor that reminds me of some throw-back Kurt Vonnegut/Hunter Thompson/Carl Hiaasen construct. He takes turns at being subtly and blatantly humorous with both high-brow twists and guttural turns - sometimes, in the same scene. Once you read his bio page you’ll ask yourself if art, in this case, isn’t imitating life. (It is, BTW since Polster actually travelled the Amazon River basin, lived the life of a grad student, and worked for a major television station.) I found a certain underlying level of comfort in Polster’s writing style. By that I mean he creates an intelligent story that is easy to read, contains fast-paced language, and is both clever and humorous. However, The Graduate Student is not a laugh-out-loud belly romp but rather is filled with delightful servings of understated, intelligent, thinking-man humor.

For those who enjoy long, sprawling narratives that take hours to read and unravel be warned. There’s none of that here. In fact, some of the chapters are less than two pages in length. But Polster uses lean, impactful chapters to tell his story and spread a little humor, as well. There’s something to be said about concise, crisp writing – like, “I wish I’d written that!” And Polster has developed the incredibly rare skill of succinctly putting down what he means and then quickly moving on to the next comical scene. You don’t read this story as much as become immersed in it. It’s hard to explain how truly difficult a feat it is to fully draw a reader in but I can tell you this, The Graduate Student is a highly accessible and amusing story that both entrances and amuses the audience. We don’t just get to tag along but are jerked by the shirt collar on this remarkable ride. This one is a no-brainer, folks. Buy it, read it, be entertained by it and then come back here so I can tell you that I told you so…

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:
James Polster Wiki Page
James Polster Interview
The Graduate Student Amazon Page
James Polster News Story

Friday, June 03, 2011

Book Review - The Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

The Meowmorphosis
Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook
Quirk Publishing
Trade Paperback
208 Pages
Published Date: 05.10.2011
ISBN: 9781594745034


The Meowmorphosis is a literary mash-up* or blend similar in technique to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and is produced by the same publishing house, Quirk. This story, however, does not embrace vampires or zombies or even sea monsters or robots. Instead, it re-vamps Franz Kafka’s dark classic The Metamorphosis and replaces the insects with cats. For the most part, large portions of this book are word-for-word redrafts of the original text, modified slightly with the words “kitten/cat” substituted for “insect/beetle” and references to meowing, pawing, and playful kitten antics replacing all things insect-like. And that’s the real problem with this rewritten mash-up. There’s really nothing new or creative or disturbing or frightening about this work and the substitution of the cats for insects diminishes greatly from the dark and foreboding nature of the original. It suffers under this conversion and all its Kafkaesque is lost. While on the outside a substitution mash-up of The Metamorphosis might appear to be a winning combination this narrative is nowhere near as strong as the other works mentioned above. Franz Kafka sometimes wrote absurd, distorted, often sinister stories and those peculiarities do not carry over well in this type of mash-up. I think the romantic period comedies are better suited for this style. Zombies in Victorian England? Well, that just makes all kinds of sense. But supplanting kittens for cockroaches? To me that’s just plain weird. Seriously though, waking up as an unclean, much-maligned, and disease-ridden insect can never compare to the same transformation as a cuddly, soft, warm kitty. The ramifications are nowhere near as astonishing or fear-inducing. The entire “creep factor” is lost when this replacement is made. And believe me when I tell you that the underlying dreadfulness of the morphed insect is the best thing about The Metamorphosis. In Kafka’s original story transforming into an insect becomes a social commentary on alienation, about being set apart from humanity. By substituting a cat for an insect the important distinction of fear and estrangement is less impactful in my mind’s eye. The Meowmorphosis comes off considerably more adorable than creepy, more charming than dark, and more familiar than alienating. On the surface, transforming The Metamorphosis into a mash-up probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it just doesn’t work and probably should have been left alone.

3 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

More mash-ups I’d like to see (or maybe not):
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Cthulhu
A Connecticut Werewolf in King Arthur’s Court
Jane Eyre Vampire Slayer
Little Women of the Apocalypse
War and Pieces – A Zombie Tale
Alice’s Adventures in Flatland
Oliver Twist and the Cannibals
Westward Lo!
The Merchant of Hades
The Wonderful Wizard of Claws
Romeo and Dracula – A Modern Love Story
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Fever
Much Ado About Zombies
Orcs and Crake
(Anyone have any other suggestions?)

Additional Reading:

Quirk’s The Meowmorphosis Page

The Meowmorphosis Book Trailer

Take Five with Coleridge Cook

Note: For a better mash-up of The Metamorphosis (and to see where this idea probably came from) I recommend Peter Capaldi’s Oscar-winning short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The plot of the film has the author trying to write the opening line of The Metamorphosis and experimenting with various things that Gregor might turn into, such as a banana or a kangaroo. The film is also notable for a number of Kafkaesque moments.

* The literary mash-up is basically, a classic work of literature (e.g., War and Peace ), with added elements of current pop culture (zombies or  vampires or robots ) with the resulting work an updated version of the original literary classic (War and Pieces – A Zombie Tale.)