Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coming soon….

… to a Blog near you (including this one.) On tour, a new YA novel by Jeff Strand, A Bad Day For Voodoo.  I’ll be reviewing this book in the very near future and, as with anything by Jeff Strand, I expect a very special story. Here’s a sneak peak.


A Bad Day For Voodoo

Promo by Jeff Strand

I'm Tyler Churchill. Not too long ago I had this insane adventure, with car chases and body parts coming off and everything, which I wrote about in the book A Bad Day For Voodoo. It's not my job to say that it's the best book ever written, but I will say that if you don't read it, the following conversation will definitely take place:

[You're walking down the sidewalk, whistling the merry tune of your choice. Up ahead you see a friend.]

YOU: Hi, friend!

YOUR FRIEND: Hi, you! Crazy party last night, huh? I've never seen anybody eat that many pretzels without getting a drink of water!

YOU: And who brought the rhinoceros? I kept thinking "Whoa, somebody is gonna get tusked!" but nobody did, which is good because it would have been funny at the moment of impact, but not so funny once we got into the screaming and bleeding and ambulances.

YOUR FRIEND: Were you there for the ritual?

YOU: What ritual?

YOUR FRIEND: You'll find out. [His or her expression darkens, and he/she gives you a wicked smile.] Oh, yes, you'll find out.

YOU: Seriously, what ritual? There was a ritual? Where was I?

YOUR FRIEND: When the time is right, all will be revealed.

YOU: C'mon, tell me what the ritual was! You can't just throw something like that out into the conversation and then not give answers! Tell me! I need resolution! Resolution!

YOUR FRIEND: I was just kidding. We were all sitting around playing Words With Friends on our phones. Somebody played "rhinoceros" on a triple-word score, which was pretty ironic. Actually, I played "rhino" first and they added "ceros." So what did you think of A Bad Day For Voodoo?

YOU: That new book? I didn't read it.

[Several onlookers gasp.]

YOUR FRIEND: Excuse me?

YOU: I said I haven't read it.

YOUR FRIEND: haven't read A Bad Day For Voodoo?

YOU: No. That's okay, isn't it?

YOUR FRIEND: Okay? Okay? Don't you understand what this means? It means that you're not cool!

YOU: But that's not possible! I do cool things all the time!

YOUR FRIEND: It doesn't matter! This is the book that will define our generation! If you're ever on a game show and the host says "For twenty thousand dollars, please give us the definition of your generation," you could hold up A Bad Day For Voodoo and win the twenty thousand dollars!

YOU: But...but...but...but...but...but...but...I thought it was just a silly book!

[Your friend shakes his or her head and sighs.]

YOUR FRIEND: No. It is not.

SOME GUY WHO ALSO HAPPENS TO BE IN THE AREA AND IS EAVESDROPPING ON THE CONVERSATION: You really haven't read A Bad Day For Voodoo? Wow. I heard that those people existed, but I never thought I'd see one outside of a zoo.

YOU: You don't have to be a jerk about it.

YOUR FRIEND: Yes, he does.

YOU: Oh.

YOUR FRIEND: I never knew you were so uncool. It's like our whole friendship was a lie.

YOU: You're making too big of a deal out of this.

YOUR FRIEND: Do you see all of those weird-looking colorful waves that are coming out of people's eyes?

YOU: Ack! Yes! What are those?

YOUR FRIEND: Those are waves of judgment. Everybody is judging you. This will follow you around for the rest of your life.

YOU: No! I don't believe you!

[You get hit by a car.]

YOU: Ow! Ow!

YOUR FRIEND: That's what happens when you don't read A Bad Day For Voodoo. Bad luck follows you everywhere. Watch out for that circular saw blade.

YOU [quickly ducking]: Aaah! That circular saw blade almost took my head off!

YOUR FRIEND: And you'll need your head to read A Bad Day For Voodoo! Do you understand now?

[A monkey jumps out of a tree and starts punching you in the neck.]

YOU: I understand! I understand!

YOUR FRIEND: Your coolness meter is running out quickly, but there is still time to replenish it! Run to a bookstore or an internet and buy A Bad Day For Voodoo! Hurry, before it's too--

[The earth begins to crumble around your feet.]

YOUR FRIEND: Oh no! It's too late! The world needed your coolness! It's the only thing that kept us from being all dystopian and stuff!

[Zombies--fast or slow, your choice--show up and start eating people.]


YOU: What have I done? What have I--

[Suddenly you wake up screaming.]

YOU: It was all a dream! Only a terrible, terrible dream! In fact, the book A Bad Day For Voodoo doesn't even really exist!

SOMEBODY (YOU'RE NOT SURE WHO): Yes, it does. It's just not out yet. But it will be in June 2012. And you'd better buy it, or the next time you wake up screaming, Effie Trinket will be drawing your name for tribute.

YOU: Then I shall mark my calendar, or better yet, pre-order a copy of A Bad Day For Voodoo right now!

See? You may think I made all of that up, but I assure you that my only concern is for the safety of the world. And even if you don't care about the world, you should read about the time that my history teacher Mr. Click falsely accused me of cheating on a test, and my friend Adam got a voodoo doll of him, and I jabbed it with a pin during class, and things went wrong, wrong, wrong!

My girlfriend Kelley, who is smarter than both of us combined, also got caught up in the whole thing, and you will not believe the kind of stuff that happened. It's crazy! I mean, we ran into this one family who...well, you don't want spoilers, but it was one messed-up family.

Oh, the book is my completely true story, but the publisher put the name "Jeff Strand" on the cover, because of some sort of ransom demand. Just ignore that.

Okay, so, you know what to do, right? Awesome. See you in June.

JEFF STRAND is a three-time nominee for the Bram Stoker Award, lives in Tampa, Florida, and doesn’t believe in voodoo.  But he thinks you should carry a doll around, go up to people you don’t like, and chuckle while you jab at it with pins, just to make them squirm.  Poke around his gleefully macabre website.

My previous review of Strand’s “Out of Whack” can be found here: Book Review - Out of Whack by Jeff Strand

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Book Review The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
Trade Paperback ARC
288 pages
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: June 26, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0812992977


     The Age of Miracles, the debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker, is, in my opinion, a significant and important contribution to literature. And, not because of the publishing tug-of-war that preceded it, but in spite of it. Before its publication the book received a lot of attention when a bidding war for the rights broke out between rival publishing houses. However, the details concerning the purchase are not what makes it such an important work of fiction. For me, it’s the extraordinary story itself that steals the show. Not only does the author possess an amazing writing style, a unique flair for descriptive imagery, and a faultless command of the language but she tells a gripping and engrossing story of world-changing events as they occur. Ms. Walker is a talented writer with a gift for creating succinct and evocative prose, a skill that benefits both the story and every reader fortunate enough to encounter it. What impresses me the most is the masterfully concise and poetic phrasing which, coming from a first-time author, I find remarkably mature. (While I was reading this book I caught myself time and again wishing I could write like that.)

     Some might call The Age of Miracles a coming-of-age story and on the surface they’d be right. It is, in fact, the most melancholy teenage transformation I think I’ve ever read. That’s because Ms. Walker’s prose mainlines us straight into the head and heart of the teenage protagonist and we experience and empathize with every agonizing moment of her transition. But this is not a simple “becoming” tale. It is an evolution of age under complex and exceedingly trying times. The theme of maturation is intensified and made more poignant when it occurs during an epic natural disaster. Unusual changes in the environment, a sense of future survival, the unraveling of civilization, and a family in rift serve to compound the main character’s transition into adulthood. But the most compelling theme is that of the subtle changes that affect mankind as the length of days and nights become distorted as a result of that disaster.

     A powerful earthquake has slightly shifted the earth off its axis causing the rotation of the planet to slow. On the surface, this is not the apocalyptic event it might seem. At first, things appear fairly normal. But scientists have discovered that the world clock is now six minutes longer then it was yesterday. A few days later it is 12 minutes longer, then 24, until an exponential and unpredictable change in the length of each day occurs. Then birds begin to die, plants shrivel, and trees dry-rot and, when the world’s food sources become jeopardized by the climate shift, a world-wide panic builds. What truly affects the population though is not the massive earthquake or the dwindling growing season but the physical and psychological effects of the increasing length of days without night and nights without day. Forty-eight hours elapse without night. Darkness returns and lasts sixty hours. It becomes too dangerous to go outdoors during the daylight hours and those that do suffer quickly from radiation burns. Through all the hardships and panic facing the planet one teenage girl must learn to find her place in a world on the brink of destruction. The Age of Miracles then is not only a coming-of-age story in the midst of calamity but a superb example of the subtle effects a natural disaster can have on the human psyche.

     The Age of Miracles also contains two very distinct levels of pacing which I believe merit mentioning. First, the changes each character experiences and those that physically occur to the planet begin slowly, building exponentially as the story develops. While the alterations are significant they occur at a naturally fluid pace within the narrative. Though they depict unusual circumstances the catastrophic events are so well-written that they “feel” real, which, in afterthought, is alarming in its plausibility. The second level of pacing involves the reading flow of the book. The Age of Miracles is a fast read. So much so that I finished it cover to cover in one sitting. In my experience, a quick read usually means one of four things. Either the author has an exceptional grasp of the language; or clearly and concisely conveys every concept, character, and setting; or wastes no words; or has written such an engrossing and compelling story that the reader just can’t put it down. In rare instances a story will meet two of my “fast-read” criteria. The Age of Miracles qualifies for all four.

     This is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year and I give it high marks in every category. It contains evolving settings, a unique and creative plot, empathetic and interesting characters, a beautiful mix of cadence and pace, prose that’s both poetic and touching, mastery of language, and an emotional kick you’ll feel down in the depths of your soul. For these, and many other reasons, The Age of Miracles deserves to become a break-out sensation. I, for one, hope that it does and believe that it will.

     If you’re going to read only one book this year – make sure this is the one. (If you’re going to read one-hundred books this year – this is still the one.)

     Recommended for young adult readers, fans of coming-of-age stories, apocalyptic events, strong character portrayals, descriptive and concise language, and those looking to be entertained by a wonderfully written, fast-paced story.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Age of Miracles Official Site

The Age of Miracles Video Trailer

The Age of Miracles Amazon Page

The Age of Miracles Publishers Auction Article

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Book Review Tales from Super-Science Fiction by Robert Silverberg (Editor)

Tales from Super-Science Fiction
Robert Silverberg (Editor)
Haffner Press
Publication Date: May 28, 2012
Trade Paperback (ARC)
400 pages
ISBN13: 978-1893887480
Cover art by Frank Kelly Freas and Ed Emshwiller


     Tales From Super-Science Fiction was a short-lived popular men’s magazine published between December 1955 and October 1959 and featured stories written by some of the most well-known names in Science Fiction, including Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, James E. Gunn, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, and Donald Westlake, among others. It’s short life, only 18 issues, reflected the changing trends in pulp literature during a period when no less than fifty different men’s magazines published stories from genres as diverse as adventure, noir, mystery, sex, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. With names like Men’s Life, Stag, True War, and Real Men the Science Fiction pulps, like Tales From Super-Science Fiction, were created to cater to the tastes of men who enjoyed stories about space exploration, strange new worlds, ray-guns, and alien monsters.

     One of the difficulties reviewing and rating an anthology of fifty-year-old stories is that there are a number of stumbling blocks that need to be overcome to provide a meaningful review. The fourteen stories collected from Tales From Super-Science Fiction provide an eclectic representation of the pulp Science Fiction short-stories written during the late-fifties, so there’s really nothing new here. However, it should be noted that, at the time, similar stories were in high demand and many Science Fiction, Horror, Adventure, and Western pulps were published to fill a niche for men’s fiction. This anthology contains stories by known and established Science Fiction authors, many of whom have, sadly, passed. It is important to remember that several of these same authors wrote some of the most entertaining Science Fiction novels of the sixties and seventies (Asimov’s Foundation Series (1966 Hugo Winner) and Fantastic Voyage; Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog; Vance’s The Dragon Masters (1963 Hugo Winner); and Silverberg’s Thorns (1967 Hugo and 1968 Nebula nominated), to name a few.) Tales From Super-Science Fiction was not the most popular Science Fiction magazine of the times and the majority of the author’s represented here admit to cranking out voluminous stacks of short fiction simply to pay the bills. And, Tales From Super-Science Fiction paid double (2 cents per word!) the average going rate at that time. These early practitioners obviously loved writing their stories and they’d be the first tell you today that they had a great deal of fun exploring the genre and submitting their stories for publication while getting paid so handsomely. The Introduction by Robert Silverberg is an important, historic snap-shot of the mentality and publishing accounts of the magazine and its editor, Scott Harlan, and is worth the cover price simply for its historical significance. In my opinion, it’s important that these stories were assembled and published in anthology format, if nothing more than for the sake of preservation. Obviously, fifty-year-old space-monster stories will not appeal to everyone but it should be known that they helped pave the way for many of the popular monster (read vampire/ werewolf/ supernatural) stories that are wildly popular today.

     So, how does one go about reviewing an omnibus of older stories? Should Tales of Super-Science Fiction be reviewed and rated individually by story or as a single anthology of short stories? Hard call, that. Should the book be rated by the significance of the stories in their respective place in history or by more contemporary standards? Should it be reviewed based on the quality (or lack thereof) of the stories which were admittedly written for the quick cash to meet the rent each month?

     In the end I decided to review the book as a single entity keeping in mind the times and circumstances in which the individual stories were written and published. To do otherwise would be unfair to the authors and to the genre as it existed then. Adventure, war, mystery, westerns, space exploration, monsters, and aliens were the subjects that interested men in the late-fifties and were tremendously popular. (Things really haven’t changed that much, have they?) Tales From Super-Science Fiction was published a decade after the Golden Age of Science Fiction and the close of the Second World War to fill the burgeoning need for stories of the fantastic. Technology was beginning to bloom in unexpected ways in the United States and newly imagined gadgets and the race for dominance in space began fueling many of the stories found within the pages of men’s magazines. That the themes and memes found in these stories were not new or inventive, even in the late-fifties, really doesn’t matter all that much. What’s meaningful is that the writers understood their audience and provided exactly what they asked for, frequently in record time. That the stories themselves were sometimes silly, occasionally illogical, and often far-fetched means very little. To me Tales From Super-Science Fiction and it’s stories represent a microcosm of the American Dream. The writers developed a product, marketed it, sold it, were asked for more, and delivered in kind.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Robert Silverberg

"Catch 'Em All Alive" by Robert Silverberg

"Who Am I?" by Henry Slesar

"Every Day is Christmas" by James E. Gunn

"I'll Take Over" by A.Bertram Chandler

"Song of the Axe" by Don Berry

"Broomstick Ride" by Robert Bloch

"Worlds of Origin" by Jack Vance

"The Tool of Creation" by J.F. Bone

"I Want to Go Home" by Robert Moore Williams

"Hostile Life-Form" by Daniel L. Galouye

"The Gift of Numbers" by Alan E. Nourse

"First Man in a Satellite" by Charles W. Runyon

"A Place Beyond the Stars" by Tom Godwin

"The Loathsome Beasts" by Dan Malcolm (aka Silverberg)

     File with: Classic Science Fiction, aliens, monsters, pulp fiction, adventure, and space exploration and exploitation.

3 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

 Tales From Super-Science Fiction Haffner Press Page

Tales From Super-Science Fiction Amazon Page

Quasi-Official Robert Silverberg Website

Robert Silverberg Wiki Page

Free (and Legal) Short Story Downloads from the Guttenberg Project:

Robert Silverberg

Henry Slesar

James E. Gunn

Don Berry

Robert Bloch

Jack Vance

J. F. Bone

Robert Moore Williams

Tom Godwin