Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review - Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End by Manel Loureiro

Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End
Manel Loureiro
Trade Paperback
333 pages
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1612184340
Advance Reader’s Copy – Uncorrected Proof


     More zombie goodness…

     Normally I keep extensive notes when reading so that I can use those notes to develop my review of the book based on my “in-read” impressions. In the case of Manel Loureiro’s Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End there just wasn’t time. I became so engrossed in the story, so entertained, that I neglected (plain forgot) to keep a single note on the story. Here’s why that’s a good thing: 1) The story grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go until the last word. 2) In a word, Realism – The story, characters, and scenes are very realistic in every sense of the word. Yes, we are talking about zombies here but insert “ambulatory plague victim” and it still works on every level. 3) Very Fast Read – Apocalypse Z is an extremely fast paced story and therefore a very quick read. I think I read it in just under eight hours. 4) Settings – All the action is set in Spain and on boats off the coast and that lends an unusual European feel to the zombie situation. I thoroughly enjoyed the locales that were so very different than those found in most of the zombie stories I’ve read. 5) Zombies – It’s another freaking zombie story! (Period.) 6) The main character could be you or I – Mr. Loureiro’s zombie apocalypse survivor is an everyman. Not a hero, not a macho, over-the-top caricature of a survivor but the embodiment of the normal man attempting to survive in a harsh and dangerous environment. He makes mistakes and he pays for those mistakes and that’s what makes this character and the entire story so compelling.

      The book begins as a blog from a lonely man in Spain who’s just recently lost his wife and is looking for something to keep his mind occupied. But some very strange stories are coming out of Russia. Little by little the story unfolds that something has escaped a government facility and a pandemic is spreading. What would you do under the circumstances? Where would you go? For one man, the search for a “safe” place is not only a quest but an inward journey for survival.

     If there’s any negative criticism I can make it’s that the story touched very little on the fall of civilization and the wake of societal disorder. Obviously, the story is about the personal journey of one man but by making him a blogger reporting on the fall of mankind I thought the concept could have been better developed and carried through more in the story.

     File with: All the other good zombie books you’ve ever read!

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End Amazon Page

Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End Audiobook

Manel Loureiro Wiki Page

About The Author: Manel Loureiro (Spain, 1975) has a degree in Law from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). Combining his studies in this historical city with some television projects, he was an anchorman for various television programs. From writing screenplays he discovered his interest for writing. His first novel Apocalypse Z has been an immediate success and cult phenomenon on the internet. It has had hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide. Apocalypse Z, Dark days, the sequel with the same heroes and their fight to survive in a world dominated by the Undead, has won Manel Loureiro the title of the first author of terror zombie novels set in Spain.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review - Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate by David Erik Nelson

Genre: Steampunk
Title: Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate (Novella)
Author: David Erik Nelson
Publisher/Label: Ars Architeuthis Press; 2 edition (December 30, 2011)
Advance Reader’s Copy – Uncorrected Proof


     I’ve written previously regarding the flexibility of Steampunk in genre fiction and how its themes can appear in almost any type of literature. Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate by David Erik Nelson is a superb example of how Steampunk can be written, and skillfully crafted, I might add, into any category of speculative fiction. It’s not often I’m introduced to a work of fiction that is remarkable in style and content, is exceptionally engrossing, and contains a message. Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate is such a story. In this case, Mr. Nelson has incorporated clock-work men, the American Civil War, sex, alcoholism, humor, an ex-Confederate Soldier, exclusionism, and racism into a condensed novella about mechanical men that have outlived their usefulness as soldiers and make efforts to fit into society. It is Steampunk, to be sure, but above all it is a story that brings to the forefront the principles of equality and the human condition, even if only in emulation. Don’t be fooled by the title, either. While there are elements of the ribald scattered throughout the story what Mr. Nelson shows us is a displaced group of “people,” albeit mechanical, that simply wish to “become” as human as possible. What they’ll do to meet those ends, while comical in execution, is often moving and surprisingly tragic.

     Although Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate contains elements of post-Civil War era living it centers on the displaced nation of mechanical men, known as Clockies, residing near a small, frontier town in Utah. Mr. Kawazoe, the narrator, a Japanese veterinarian (or perhaps, a medical doctor, his profession somewhat ambiguous) is a respected member of the community but still considered untrustworthy and an outsider because of his nationality. He is motivated to spy on Dickie Tucker and his ill-conceived methods of teaching the clockies the fundamentals of frontier life more in the name of science than voyeurism. The story is poignant, human-driven, and well-crafted but the antics of the clockwork men really steal the show. Dickie Tucker teaching clockies to climb a ladder, dance, or make stew is guaranteed to make you chuckle but teaching them farm-related chores has to be the funniest scene I’ve read in a very long time. So much so that I’m obligated to share an excerpt of it.

     “Dickie’s attempts to teach the mechanoman to shoe horses had led to one shod horse, three-quarters of a shod horse (the fourth leg having been broken entirely off; this was swiftly tourniqueted by Sy Everett’s boy, Seth, who happened to be in his father’s neighbors’ barn for purposes never fully explained, and heard the injured animal’s unearthly screeching), four shod cows, a shod sow, and three shod ducks. A similar training session on milking led to 16 gallons of milk (which spoiled well before it was discovered that the clockies had taken the notion to warehouse the milk in the chicken coop), one calloused cow, and one clockie kicked to bits by a bull uninterested in the clockies ministrations to his “single udder.”

     While teaching the Clockies to learn mundane farming skills is fun for the reader it’s when Dickie Tucker teaches the Clockies to copulate that the real story begins and we learn a lesson or two about what it means to be human. Some folks will do almost anything to fit in and the Clockies are no exception.

     It’s not surprising then that Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate was a Nebula Award nominee in 2008 and although he didn’t win, or make the finalists list, he certainly could have. In my opinion, what the world could use more of is additional entertainment like this. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I feel this story needs to be expanded into an entire world of many Clockie books; the more the better. I hope Mr. Nelson is listening.

     Recommended for Steampunk fanatics, western lovers, those interested in the human endeavor, anyone seeking a story with humor, fans of clock-work men, and those looking to get lost in a compelling story.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

 Tucker teaches the Clockies to Copulate Amazon Page

David Erik Nelson Official Website

Please note: This review was originally published in Steampunk Magazine January 2013.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Book Review - Mark Z. Danielewski - The Fifty Year Sword

The Fifty Year Sword
Mark Z. Danielewski
Pantheon, Random House
285 pages
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
ISBN: 978-0-307-90772-1


     Mark Z. Danielewski does not write novels. He creates experimental visual art that morphs into and weaves through each of his brilliant stories. The playful and unique way he approaches every one of his books is remarkably inventive and what he creates is unlike any other writer working today. His other works, House of Leaves and Only Revolutions, have been characterized as visual writing or Ergodic literature and The Fifty Year Sword is no exception. Yet, if we strip away the word play, the colored words, quotes, and paragraphs, the book flipping, side-bars, stitchery, typography, and marginalia what we find at the core of every one of those books is an entertaining tale. And isn’t that what we, as readers, ultimately crave?

     Experiencing, or participating in, one of his stories (notice I did not say “reading”) is a unique entertainment. This is the third distinctive “piece of art” of his that I've read in the past few years and still, all I can think to say is that this is another totally amazing piece of creative genius. The Fifty Year Sword is not so much a linear novel as a patchwork piece of poetic dialogue that when stitched together creates a dark, unnatural, and malevolent story. Mr. Danielewski plays with words like a master poet and some of his creations are brilliant - "a sudden blue jay avirarity," "gratefullyaccepatating," "consecawence," "sputstuttersobbed," and “s/word.”  These are only a few of the more mischievous phrases you’ll find here yet, in context, they flow into the story and feel as if they’ve always been part of the English language.

     In addition to the manipulation of language and the compelling story the book is filled with colored line stitching, needle punching, embroidery, and fabric art - the main character is a seamstress - making The Fifty Year Sword not only a pleasure to read but visually pleasing to touch, view, and experience, as well.

     The first twenty pages or so set the tone, describe the scene, and introduce the main characters but when a mysterious Story Teller arrives at a Halloween Party and begins to weave his cunning tale The Fifty Year Sword comes to life. Five children and two adults assemble to hear the entertainment provided by the host. The Story Teller speaks of his search for an uncommon weapon, though he never tells us why. No knife, rope, explosive, or gun will do. The weapon he needs has to be extraordinary. One day he meets a homeless man who tells him of a weapon maker of unusual skill who sells curious tools of destruction but “never for money.” The Story Teller begins his quest to find this mysterious artisan of arms because he knows this man has exactly what he seeks.

     The Story Teller travels from the Valley of Salt, to the Forest of Falling Notes, to the Mountain of Manyone Paths, hunting for the uncommon weapon he so desperately covets. And when he finds the weapon maker, a man with no arms (pun intended?), he barters "A memory you have which would have outlived you" for a Fifty Year Sword which causes no physical damage until the last second of the fiftieth year to whoever is struck.

     And the Story Teller, a “bad man with a black heart” has come to this party to kill....

     Of course, I'll not spoil the best part of the story except to say that the circuitous ending which is somewhat expected happens in a completely unpredictable and surprising manner to an unsuspecting character.

     File with: E. E. Cummings, blood and gore, word-play, Stephen King, experimental textile art, poetry, The Brothers Grimm, visual writing, and stitchery. (Did I really just say stitchery?)

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Mark Z. Danielewski's Official Website

The Fifty Year Sword Wiki Page

The Fifty Year Sword NYTimes Review

The Fifty Year Sword Amazon Page

The Fifty Year Sword Deluxe Edition

The Fifty Year Sword eBook Article

Monday, January 07, 2013

Book Review - A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science

A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science
Robert McCracken Peck (Author)
Patricia Tyson Stroud (Author)
Rosamond Purcell (Photographer)
464 pages
Genre: Natural History
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0812243802

Glorious Enterprise (2)

     This beautifully constructed non-fiction work retells the complete history of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia through some of the most stunning articles, photographs, and paintings ever assembled. There is something new and fascinating to learn on every page. With stories about the founders, contributors (Lewis and Clark's collection is a stand out), and the millions of collected and contributed natural science pieces A Glorious Enterprise is sure to please everyone fortunate enough to open its cover. From start to finish this book is entertaining and educational and a "must have" for anyone even remotely interested in the natural sciences.

     The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia is the oldest natural history museum in the Western hemisphere and continues to play an integral part in the forming of American Natural Sciences. Many of the most famous names in American history are associated with the academy/museum including: Lewis and Clark, Thomas Jefferson, John James Audubon, and Robert Peary, to name but a few.

     A Glorious Enterprise is opulently illustrated with hundreds of striking archival images and gorgeous original photographs that brings some of the earliest American specimens from the Academy's collections into new perspective while entertaining and educating readers of all ages.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

A Glorious Enterprise Amazon Page

University of Pennsylvania Press Image Gallery

A Glorious Enterprise Audubon Magazine Page

The Academy of Natural Sciences


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Book Review - John Dies @ the End by David Wong

John Dies @ the End
David Wong (Jason Pargin)
Trade Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
480 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0312659141


     John Dies @ the End is an amalgam of H. P. Lovecraft meets Richard Prior, Videodrome, Stephen King, the Matrix, Dane Cook, Cthulhu, Terry Pratchett, penis jokes, William S. Burroughs, men made out of cockroaches, Shaun of the Dead, flamethrowers, and Douglas Adams.
Dark comedy?
Comedic horror?
True story?
You be the judge…

     In various descriptions of John Dies @ the End I’ve heard it described as a mash up of various genres and different works by diverse artists, including some of those listed above. The reason for that is while the story is somewhat familiar reviewers have found it difficult to define or pigeonhole. It’s part Burroughs-esque, part Lovecraftian, part Stephen King-like, and part John Carpenter-ish with plenty of gore, some very funny scenes, a lot of sarcastic dialogue, and is peppered with irreverent, but hilarious, banter. Not to mention the fact that it contains elements of all my favorite genres. Plus, it has a bunch of penis jokes. And it’s been made into a movie by the same guy who brought us Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep. I really hope the motion picture translates as well as the novel. If it can then we’re in for one hell-hound, maggot-demon, man-made-out –of-cockroaches, exploding ride.

     An unusual drug with the street name “soy sauce” results in a very “bad” trip every time it’s ingested. It does all the normal, I mean bad, things hard narcotics do but the sauce also causes disorienting moments of delirium, shocking visions of clairvoyance, uncontrollable bouts of time-travel and time-loss, and eventually the splattering of blood, gore, and body parts across most of the pages of the book. Not to mention a whole lot of cussing. With John Dies @ the End David Wong, a pseudonym for Jason Pargin, has created a horror / science  fiction / mystery / alternate universe / time travel mash-up like none I’ve ever read before. Lovecraftian creatures from the “other” side are leaking out into our world and they’re not afraid to make it known that they intend to take over the world. By the way, humans will become slaves and will eventually be fed to their leader, a demon-insect-god named Korrok. David Wong and his friend John, an unlikely pair of heroes, are the few humans that can not only see and track the shadowy fiends crossing over into our world but are uniquely qualified to face them in battle – neither one has had a decent job in years which allows them a lot of free time and both know how to wield a baseball bat and a homemade flamethrower.

     The title John Dies @ the End is, at first glance, an epic spoiler but there are a lot of twists and turns here and because the setting involves an alternate universe, some wonky missing time, AND time travel anything can (and does) happen, so be careful not to take the title too literally. If you like a good penis joke (or even a bad one), splattering gore, half-shaved exploding dogs, flawed characters, hilarious dialogue, and the occasional demonic possession then this book is for you!

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

John Dies @ the End Web Page

John Dies @ the End IMDB Movie Page

John Dies @ the End Official Trailer

John Dies @ the End Wiki Page

David Wong @

David Wong Wiki Page

 John Dies @ the End Sequel “This Book Is Full of Spiders”

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Online Serial Novel Review – SteampunX by Benjamin Jacobson

Note: This review was first published in Steampunk Magazine January 2013

Genre: New World Steampunk
Media: Online Serial Novel
Title: SteampunX
Author: Benjamin Jacobson
Publisher/Label: Self-published

     "In the grand tradition of Charles Dickens and Johnny Rotten, this serialized tale comes both to celebrate the past and bury it."
     - Benjamin Jacobson


      Steampunk is one of the fastest growing genres in literature today. Simply employing the word to describe a work evokes images of the Victorian era, and gears, and corsets, and goggles. It can be written in an array of different stylistic forms and unique voices. For example, I’ve read a series of novels where a dirigible acts as a main character and another where swashbuckling air-pirates drive the plot. Others center on a mystery or a murder and still others that are motivated by suspense or political intrigue. Some are mech-centric or filled with fantasy, romance, or time-travel and, well, I think you get the idea – elements of Steampunk can be applied to almost any genre. And that’s what makes it so compelling to me as a reader. Because of Steampunk’s flexibility fans of every genre of literature will become exposed to it and that will only help it to grow in popularity and thrive in the marketplace.

     SteampunX, an online serial novel by Benjamin Jacobson, is an example of the elastic qualities of Steampunk and is a unique and distinctive variation of the genre in its own right. I prefer to call it “New World Steampunk” but that alone does not give it the weight it deserves nor is it a precise enough label to fully explain its uniqueness. While most Steampunk focuses on the Victorian point of view SteampunX takes a much different approach. In a true reversal of sides this story is told from the perspectives of members of a peaceful tribe of Native Americans forced to the brink of war by conquering invaders. While unique in both its approach and world-view I found SteampunX entertaining, ably-conceived, expertly-crafted, and as alive as any published work I’ve ever read. SteampunX is an incredibly engrossing story that is, in essence, a cautionary folk tale of the spreading stains of technology across an innocent nation.

     To date, Mr. Jacobson has produced three complete episodes as well as supporting and apocryphal anecdotes to complement the serialized novel. In Episode One, Funk and Puck, the fore-named teenage protagonists, and Thunder, a powerful wizard, deflect an attack by invaders determined to steal the secrets of Thunder’s steam-work mechanisms. But the assailants have broken a long-standing truce that may force an entire continent to war. In Episode Two, SteamDisco Destruction, the band of Native Americans journey to the nearby Kingdom of Neufrancaise to seek audience with the Marquis de Chartres but get caught up in a slave rebellion. In Episode Three, The Railroad Underground, the band attempts to garner support from the freed slaves of New Liberia only to be cast away. The group then sets off for Aztexico, a land of “strange spirits and fantastic pyramids,” where they hope to win military support for the inevitable war to come. Mr. Jacobson’s world-building is nostalgic and intelligent and is slowly revealed to the reader in a number of clever sub-plot twists. Not only does he craft a creation story but he takes us to an unusual slave-powered house party, teases us with a glimpse of a mechanical zombie soldier, and thrusts a main character into the lair of a mad scientist that takes great pleasure in surgically altering people into steam-borgs.

     With cover art evocative of turn-of-the-century Scientific American Magazines and Victorian-era serialized novels you are quickly swept back to a time before the advent of modern technology when steam-power ruled the land and wizards created clockwork contrivances. After each episode Mr. Jacobson includes a few pages of authentic-appearing Victorian-style advertisements. Some, while completely fictitious, are none-the-less decidedly entertaining and depict the precise style and nuance of a by-gone age, while others are actual advertisements for Steampunk-centric merchandise, paraphernalia, clothing, jewelry, and objects d’art.

     I recommend Benjamin Jacobson’s SteampunX to fans, young and old, of Steampunk and its many variations, those who take pleasure in alternate universe stories, and anyone interested in New World folklore, shamanism, steam-powered contraptions, and gears (all sizes). SteampunX is available to read online and as a free download in various formats at Smashwords.

     File with: Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker novels, Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay series, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century cycle, and Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinburne books.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

SteampunX Episode 1 Kindle Edition (Free)

SteampunX Serial Novelization Page

Steampunk Magazine

My Review of SteampunX @ Steampunk Magazine

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Book Review - Time of Useful Consciousness by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Time of Useful Consciousness
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Hard Cover
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: October 24, 2012
88 pages
ISBN: 9780811220316

Time of Useful Consciousness

     Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Time of Useful Consciousness is a stream-of-conscious poem documenting the conflicted times, inspirational places, and larger-than-life personalities with which Lawrence Ferlinghetti lived and interacted. This is not a Ferlinghetti auto-biography. It is, however, an auto-biographical snap-shot that critiques an enigmatic yet dysfunctional America.

     The term “Time of Useful Consciousness” refers to the aeronautical idiom that identifies the length of time between when a pilot loses oxygen and when he passes out; that very short interval of time when the action to recover can be taken. Naming the work after this phenomenon seemed to me at first glance a bit unrelated to the content but Ferlinghetti’s belief that we are now, as a culture, living within such a moment brings it all into perspective. He delivers here a concise, cautionary tale of our increasingly gadget-, media-, and tech-obsessed culture, our self-indulgent mentality, and our arrogant outlook toward the rest of the world. With this work he adds to the distinctive saga which he began in Americus.

     When I read I generally record my first impressions and feelings of the work so that I have a starting point that I might use in my review. When I began Time of Useful Consciousness my first note was this: “Makes me want to grab a pencil and start documenting all the people, places, and events mentioned here. In fact, re-read it just for that purpose.” For me, Lawrence Ferlinghetti always creates entertaining and worthwhile poetry. He’s one of the few living poets that I seek out every time I go into a book store and for good reason – He’s an excellent poet of unnatural ability. Sometimes lost in the haze of the Beat movement Ferlinghetti is, in my opinion, one of the world’s most underrated (or perhaps, under the radar) poets and deserves serious study. Time of Useful Consciousness is a work that every aspiring poet should study and a must-read for anyone that cares about evocative poetry.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Black Heart Magazine Review

San Francisco Chronicle Review

 Ferlinghetti Discusses Time of Useful Consciousness

New Directions Page

Signed Limited Editions

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Wiki Page

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore Page

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Book Review - Revision 7: DNA by Terry Person

Revision 7: DNA
Terry Persun
Trade Paperback
262 pages
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Publication Date: September 10, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1935961871


     Terry Persun’s Revision 7: DNA is an exciting ride through such Science Fiction themes as the advent of early robotic invention (and how simple robots become more complex), time travel, artificial intelligence vs. sentience, megalomania, unconventional crime detecting, and new mind mapping techniques, all surrounded by a compelling, and quite entertaining, kidnap-mystery story.

     Neil Altman, a man whose parents severed the halves of his brain when he was a child and trained him to use each half independently and who happens to be a missing “things” finder, is called to a private think-tank to investigate a missing time machine. But Neil doesn’t believe in time travel and is more than a bit skeptical concerning the motives and actions of the scientists concerning the missing equipment. Expecting to discover a simple cover-up Neil begins his investigation with skepticism. Little does he know that what he uncovers will test his beliefs about the existence of time travel, the meaning of artificial intelligence, psychics that assist in solving crimes, private scientific experimentation, and robots. As the investigation unfolds Neil soon uncovers a ring of illegal time-shifting, humanoid robots that have kidnapped his wife, placing her life in jeopardy.

     Not far away an extremely curious, and very likeable, robot named Fenny is about to boot up the Revision 7 software which will change everything, allowing him insight into his unique gifts as he contemplates the meaning of sentience. As the robot struggles with its newly developing humanity Neil begins to understand how truly unique he is and how the two share a number of considerably important common traits.

     With the intelligent elements of Isaac Asimov’s Robot detective stories, the most endearing parts of Pixar’s Wall*E, the components of an exciting chase sequence, and a good murder mystery plot Terry Persun has, with Revision 7: DNA spun a unique robot/time travel/sentience story that delves into uncharted, yet believable, scientific realms.

     File with robots, artificial intelligence, and time travel.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Revision 7: DNA Amazon Page

Revision 7: DNA Excerpt

Terry Persun Official Site

Terry Persun Interview