Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review - Shadow Show - Edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury
Sam Weller and Mort Castle, Editors
Trade Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Publication Date: July 2012
464 pages
Advance Readers Copy – Uncorrected Proof


Table of Contents
Sam Weller and Mort Castle - Introduction
Ray Bradbury - Second Homecoming
*Neil Gaiman - The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury
*Margaret Atwood - Headlife
Jay Bonansinga - Heavy
*Sam Weller - The Girl In The Funeral Parlor
David Morrell - The Companions
Thomas F. Monteleone - The Exchange
Lee Martin - Cat on a Bad Couch
*Joe Hill - By The Silver Water Of Lake Champlain
*Dan Chaon - Little America
John McNally - The Phone Call
Joe Meno - Young Pilgrims
Robert McCammon - Children Of The Bedtime Machine
*Ramsey Campbell - The Page
Mort Castle - Light
Alice Hoffman - Conjure
John Maclay - Max
Jacqueline Mitchard - Two Of A Kind
Gary Braunbeck - Fat Man And Little Boy
*Bonnie Jo Campbell - The Tattoo
Audrey Niffenegger - Backwards In Seville
* Charles Yu - Earth: (A Gift Shop)
Julia Keller - Hayleigh's Dad
Dave Eggers - Who Knocks?
Bayo Ojikutu - Reservation 2020
Kelly Link - Two Houses
Harlan Ellison - Weariness

One of the most important contributions to literature that Ray Bradbury gave us was NOT his Science Fiction stories. If you’re surprised by that statement then you obviously haven’t read much Bradbury. While he was mostly a Science Fiction author (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man) every one of his stories (short or long) is steeped in the emotional values and humanism of his characters. Ray Bradbury was an evocative writer who posed the “What if?” question better than most and provided provocative answers to those same questions through his characters. Shadow Show, the tribute anthology to celebrate the career of Ray Bradbury, if nothing else, tells us how Ray Bradbury affected his audience. To bring together some of the biggest names in speculative fiction to celebrate the man is a great indication of his affect on some of the most creative writers in the industry.

When paying homage to a literary legend it is common for editors to become overly maudlin or include patronizingly syrupy content. Shadow Show, a tribute to Ray Bradbury, does not fall into the trap of over-sentimentalism and while not all the stories here emulate Mr. Bradbury’s style they all were obviously inspired by his writings. In Shadow Show, editors Sam Weller and Mort Castle have assembled short stories from a number of the world’s most gifted authors to honor Ray Bradbury and his contribution to the literary world of fiction. Also included is an Introduction in the form of a personal essay "Second Homecoming", written by Ray Bradbury, specifically for the book. Best stories in the anthology: Headlife by Margaret Atwood, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury by Neil Gaiman, Little America by Dan Chaon, Earth: (A Gift Shop) by Charles Yu, and By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill. A special nod to the Campbell’s here, as well. Ramsey Campbell for The Page and Bonnie Jo Campbell for The Tattoo titles that evoke Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man, respectively.

* Denotes my favorite stories in the anthology.

** Advance Readers Copy – Uncorrected Proof from LibraryThing.com Early Readers Program

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Ray Bradbury Official Site

Ray Bradbury Wiki Page

Harper Collins Sam Weller Page

Shadow Show Amazon Page

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Book Review - 21st Century Dead (A Zombie Anthology) Edited by Christopher Golden

21st Century Dead (A Zombie Anthology)
Editor: Christopher Golden
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: July 2012
Trade Paperback
352 pages
Advance Readers Copy – Uncorrected Proof


Short fiction has always been problematic for me. Even the best anthologies sometimes fail to hold my interest for very long. In addition, there’s the long-argued dilemma of how to review an anthology. Should the book be reviewed as a single entity or should each story be reviewed separately?  What makes matters infinitely worse for me is that five of the last seven books I’ve received for review are short story anthologies.  Guess it’s time to make up my mind… or not.

So, zombies, right? What could possibly be wrong with a short story anthology featuring zombies? In the case of 21st Century Dead? Absolutely nothing! Infinitely better is that Chris Golden has brought together some of the most unusual and interesting “zombie” stories ever written. This is not your usual faire of shambling undead but a strange mixture of victims, weirdoes, and the most maladjusted walkers and non-zombie zombies in the history of all lifeless, ambling brain-eaters.

The first three stories, for instance, do not fit any “normal” zombie mold. Chelsea Cain’s Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television is a lesson in why zombie babies should be allowed to watch TV. In Carousel by Orson Scott Card we are given a new perspective by a post-living person. (“It’s all poop!”) And when the dead are suddenly resurrected a discussion with God at the Carousel puts an end to all the suffering. In Reality Bites by S. G. Browne we see Reality TV with a twist. The Zombie Jersey Shore. The Amazing Zombie Race. American Zombie Idol. What if a TV exec discovered a rationalizing, lucid, talking zombie? Now that would be quite the Reality Bite…

Given the unique and constructive names given to the zombies in the various stories here (Infects, NODS, and Dead Ones, among others) and how zombie-ism is spread (a virus, drugs, and the apocalypse) we begin to see that the 21st Century Dead is not your typical shambling zombie anthology.  I should also mention that the stories are overloaded with social media, TV, Hollywood, and advertising. In that sense alone this anthology truly represents the 21st Century Dead.

Table of Contents:

Biters by Mark Morris
Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story by Chelsea Cain
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
*Reality Bites by S.G. Browne
The Drop by Stephen Susco
**Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson
How We Escaped Our Certain Fate by Dan Chaon
A Mother's Love by John McIlveen
*Down and Out in Dead Town by Simon R. Green
*Devil Dust by Caitlin Kittredge
The Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen
All the Comforts of Home: A Beacon Story by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow
Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay by Thomas E. Sniegoiski
*Tic Boom, a Love Story by Kurt Sutter
*Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry
Tender as Teeth by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski
Couch Potato by Brian Keene
*The Happy Bird and Other Tales by Rio Youers
Parasite by Daniel H. Wilson

* Denotes the stories I felt were the strongest in the anthology.

** Note to Amber Benson: Antiparallelogram needs to be written into novel. It’s too good a story to languish as a short zombie story. Everyone I know that has read it wants to know what happens next.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

21st Century Dead Amazon Page

21st Century Dead MacMillan Page

21st Century Dead Facebook Page

Official Christopher Golden Page

Christopher Golden Wiki Page

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Review - The Prankster by James Polster

The Prankster
James Polster
Trade Paperback
122 pages
Publisher: 47North
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1612183633
Advance Readers Copy – Uncorrected Proof


With a skewed take on game shows, slick advertising, televised practical jokes, and the very human need to be entertained James Polster’s The Prankster holds a mirror to our singular obsession with vanity and our excessive need for constant diversion and distraction.

In a far off galaxy on an alien world, The Prankster, the most popular reality game show in the universe, suffers a slip in time and the host and his assistant become trapped in the very place they’ve spoofed on live television for many years. Pom Trager has become accustomed to using the Earth, and many of its most famous people and places, for his show’s pranks and practical jokes to boost ratings. But a system glitch traps him on Earth and an ever-closing window of time gives him less than 48 hours to get from New Mexico to San Francisco. Since air travel will mess with the time/spatial continuum an old fashioned road trip is the only way they can travel.  A mistrustful Earth woman accompanies them on their journey as a relentless and suspicious sheriff follows their trail. With only one chance at rescue the two time travelers must either make it to their destination in time or become forever trapped on an Earth lost in the past.

Recommended for Science Fiction fans, time travel freaks, talk show activists and anyone interested in a fast-paced, character-driven story that pokes fun at the human need to be constantly immersed in entertainment.

Recommended Reading – He Walked Among Us by Norman Spinrad, Year Zero by Rob Reid, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Wrack & Roll by Bradley Denton and My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek.

Back in June of 2011 I reviewed Polster’s The Graduate Student for this book review blog. This is what I had to say about the author then:

“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.”

It’s no less true with The Prankster.

3 ¾ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Prankster Amazon Page

James Polster Wiki Page

About the Author (from Amazon.com):

Equal parts novelist, journalist, explorer, and movie producer, James Polster draws on his rich cultural experiences to craft highly entertaining stories with social significance. From profiling Indira Gandhi and Donald Trump, to covering the World Championship of Elephant Polo in Nepal, to navigating the Amazon River and living among jungle cannibals, Polster’s adventures have given him a unique perspective on life that infuses his work with witty depth.

A graduate of Harvard and Columbia universities, Polster has written A Guest in the Jungle, The Graduate Student, and Brown, which received the Critics’ Choice Award and was named by Publishers Weekly as a Best Book of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles.

Disclaimer - Received via the Amazon Vine program for review.

Puzzle Review - KRYPT Silver 654 Piece Blank Puzzle Challenge

Finished Puzzle Size: 27" x 20"
Origin: Germany
Manufacturer: Ravenburger Company
Item model number: 15964
Manufacturer recommended age: 12 - 15 year
Difficulty: Expert+


The KRYPT Silver 654 Piece Blank Puzzle is an infuriatingly fun and difficult challenge for every puzzle fan. Tired of creating puzzles by the printed image? Well, then the KRYPT was made for you. Instead of building the puzzle by using the image printed on the box the KRYPT is built using the individual shapes of the puzzle pieces. And is an incredibly taxing and infuriatingly fun way to while away those rainy summer vacation days. Be forewarned that this “blank” puzzle (a spiral that tightens the further from the center you get) is amazingly tough and unlike any other puzzle you’ve ever attempted.

5 out of 5 (really hard to find) puzzle pieces

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Ravensburger Amazon page

Ravensburger Home page

Ravensburger Company Amazon Blurb for this puzzle:

Since 1891 we've been making the finest puzzles in Ravensburg, Germany. It's our attention to detail which makes Ravensburger the world's greatest puzzle brand. We use an exclusively developed, extra-thick cardboard and combine this with our fine, linen-structured paper to create a glare-free puzzle image for a quality you can feel. Our steel cutting tools are designed and crafted by hand. This ensures that no two pieces are alike and guarantees a perfect interlocking fit.

Disclaimer - Received via the Amazon Vine program for review.