Friday, January 19, 2007

REVIEW: Bass Desires by DJ Lufkin


Jude Barnes is nearing forty. His music career has gone nowhere, his trust fund is almost depleted, and Rachel, his wife, thinks that it's time for him to get a "real" job.

But Jude has just met Nerfertiti. Nefertiti can sing. Her talent could even push Jude's little bar band into the big leagues. If Jude can convince her to stay with the band. And if Jude wants to stay himself.


Jude Barnes is kind of a jerk. And that's what makes Bass Desires interesting.

DJ Lufkin is a proficient writer, and Bass Desires is an enjoyable read with a brisk narrative flow. The problem is that the reader can predict the entire plot from the back cover blurb. A beleaguered hero, searching for that one last chance to fulfill his dreams, will overcome both his materialistic wife and a soul-numbing white-collar career opportunity to find musical, spiritual and maybe even romantic fulfillment with a new muse. And so the novel goes. Indeed, Jude and Nefertiti's relationship, while well written, is the least involving part of the tale.

However, Lufkin has an uncommon and welcome perspective on Jude's relationship with Rachel. Jude is not a wholly sympathetic hero: he has cheated on his wife in the past, and seems a bit too willing to do it again. Nor is Rachel wholly unsympathetic: Lufkin displays some empathy, or at least understanding, for her desire to live a more comfortable life after struggling through years of Jude's pursuit of a music career (and other women).

Perhaps most interesting is Jude's response when Rachel forces him to attend a motivational seminar. The speaker advises that sometimes one has to place one's own dreams above all else, even if it means leaving other people behind. Jude is disdainful of this trite aphorism, recognizing that it justifies both Rachel's desire to move into middle-class respectability and his own desire to continue to pursue his musical goals. In other words, it solves absolutely nothing. But at the same time, Jude seems to understand that his desires are not better than Rachel's, just different. He has sympathy for Rachel even as he chooses to pursue his own wants and objectives and their relationship teeters on collapse, a tension that persists to the end of the novel.

Or rather, I think that tension exists. To be honest, the shadings are subtle. I wonder if I'm seeing things that aren't there. Despite what I've said, Lufkin still portrays Rachel as a bit too shrewish. And he stacks the deck against Jude's potential new career as an investment advisor by not only making his workplace stressful and boring but also outright corrupt, which makes Jude's choice to reject that lifestyle much less interesting. Moreover, Lufkin doesn't really explore the difficult question of whether, at some point as the years fly past, it becomes unreasonable to continue to devote all of one's time to pursuing an artistic dream.

To the extent I'm correct about Lufkin's intent, I appreciate his efforts at giving his characters depth and balance. But I wish he had gone a little bit further in that direction.


Bass Desires is available in paperback for $14.95 from iUniverse or Amazon, or as an Adobe eBook (a restricted-use format that I adamantly oppose) for $6.00. DJ Lufkin has both a dedicated website and a MySpace page for the novel; however, neither provides any substantive content beyond advertising the book's existence.


Dreams don't always come true. Genuinely talented artists give up every day without achieving any recognition or success in their chosen field. I mourn the passing of Cubic Feet, a splendid powerpop band that never garnered much attention and, as far as I can tell, called it quits by 2002. Although the band is no more, all four of their albums remain available on CDBaby, including the exemplary Passenger in Time. Should CDBaby ever sell out its stock, three of the four albums (including Passenger in Time) are also available at iTunes, albeit encrusted with iTunes DRM (which, as I've mentioned before, drives me crazy). Unfortunately, Cubic Feet's albums are not available for download at either of the non-DRM legal download sites I frequent (eMusic and MP3tunes).

Monday, January 08, 2007

REVIEW: Continuity Slip by Till Noever


Ray Shannon is an ordinary guy, driving home on an ordinary day.

But then Ray saves a stranger named Alyssa Weaver from certain death, pulling her from her burning car in the midst of a massive freeway pile-up.

Now Ray's entire world has changed. Literally.

The highway on-ramp that used to have one lane now has two. Ray's colleagues at work have been replaced by new faces. Ray's wife suddenly hates him.

Even worse, the cops suspect Ray of murder.

And worst of all, the evidence points to one conclusion: they're right.

Now Ray and Alyssa need to work together to figure out what's going on, before everything they know slips away forever.


Continuity Slip reads like an archetypal summer Hollywood movie. The writing is clean and polished. The narrative pushes forward relentlessly. Parallel universes are always fun, and the philosophical conceit at the heart of the novel -- the way little changes in experience might cumulatively impact a person's entire nature -- is intriguing. Ray and Alyssa are a likable couple, and their romance is not only part of the plot, but cleverly explains the plot (and yes, I know that sounds rather cryptic).

However, also like many big-studio films, Continuity Slip feels a little shallow. Although the novel raises interesting concepts, it never explores them. All of the recondite discussion about alternate realities ends up serving only as background color for a standard murder mystery that could just as well have happened in this reality. The two plot threads never significantly mesh. Indeed, once the mystery is resolved, the shifting realities thread is wrapped-up very quickly, almost as an afterthought.

I look forward to reading more works by Till Noever. He plainly is very talented, and Continuity Slip is nothing if not professionally written. The strength of Noever's style and the affability of his characters easily carried me through the novel. I only wish that the journey had lived up to its full potential.


Continuity Slip is available as a pdf download from Lulu ($1.45) or in paperback from either Lulu ($9.99) or Amazon ($13.00). Till Noever also has a website which provides details on his other novels (and which, annoyingly, auto-shrinks my browser window).


Clubbo Records' website claims that "[f]or more than 40 years Clubbo Records has epitomized the maverick spirit of the old-school independent record labels." It speaks proudly of the label's history of issuing "bold, if sometimes ill-advised music," and includes detailed biographies of some of Clubbo's biggest hitmakers over the years.

However, Clubbo Records does not really exist. The website is a big, elaborate joke. So elaborate that the site includes dozens of song pastiches representing Clubbo's hits over the decades. These songs perfectly capture the sound and feel of their (supposed) eras. More than that, they're really good pop songs as well. There are many highlights, including the brilliant progression of one song ("Yeah Yeah No No No") from mournful 60s ballad through 70s folk-rock remake and 80s dance hit to cat food jingle. (Indeed, Clubbo's songs are not only available for streaming on the website, but are deservedly available for purchase in two compilation volumes available on iTunes, CDBaby, and eMusic).

Personally, I get nostalgic over Clubbo's early 80s band Bleep. Bleep may be best known for "Rubber Lover" (their paean to inflatable sex toys). But who could forget (if it had ever existed) Bleep's thought-provoking masterpiece "Space Doors," with its profound ruminations upon the manifold nature of reality ("There are doors in space / leading somewhere else / where you're face to face / with your other self")?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

REVIEW: Every Sigh, The End by Jason S. Hornsby


Ross Orringer is bored with it all: his job, his friends, his family.

But if his life is so pointless, why are cameramen recording his every move?

Then the zombies show up. And the world turns out to be much more complicated than Ross ever suspected.


I enjoy encountering the profound: that rush of thought, that churning of the imagination and gut, that feeling, if only for an instant, of connecting with something grander than oneself. There is no single type of narrative that can move me in this way. A poignant moment in the simplest of narratives can reveal great truths.

At the same time, even stories that I don't fully understand can give me this rush. I have my limits: I lose interest if a novel is too abstract, abstruse or surreal. But a little mystery and uncertainty can be exceedingly powerful. Perhaps I'm just fooling myself in these instances; perhaps the author has only dazzled me with style, and there is no substance hidden underneath. But such concerns are largely irrelevant. Awe, like fear and mirth, is an emotion. It is real if I feel it to be real. Perhaps I am shallow, but sometimes I don't care whether I've actually learned anything, so long as an author makes me feel like he is saying something important. That feeling can itself be a worthwhile experience.

With that understanding, Jason Hornsby's Every Sigh, The End may be the best zombie novel I have read. And no, I don't mean to damn with faint praise. So let me rephrase that: Every Sigh is a fine novel, period.

To be sure, Every Sigh is well-written. The atmosphere is tense. The characters are real. Ross Orringer may be an annoyingly passive and obnoxious protagonist at the start of the novel, but we come to understand him as he faces situations way beyond his (and our) experience. The build-up to the zombies -- just one element of a much broader horror -- is slow, but compelling. When the zombies actually appear, they have context, and that makes them all the scarier.

However, what makes Every Sigh stand out is the impression of significance. It feels like a grand truth is peeking through the enigmatic and conspiratorial fog that suffuses the novel. It all seems to mean something.

Now, to be honest, I'm not really sure what that "something" is. Every Sigh's secrets are never fully revealed. Where I see glimmers of profundity, others, perhaps rightly, may see empty posturing. But I think Hornsby handles his enigmatic narrative just right. The story feels epic. The ending feels satisfying. And I like that the mysteries underlying the novel are never fully explained. Too much exposition can transform the mysterious and compelling into the mundane and silly. Hornsby answers enough questions to sate the reader. But he knows when to step back and let the reader's imagination finish the job.


Every Sigh, The End is available through iUniverse and Amazon. Jason Hornsby presently does not have a personal website, although I suspect that, as often is the case with POD zombie novels, Every Sigh's audience will find it regardless.


Greg Stones paints watercolors. Some of his paintings depict surreal juxtapositions of fanciful characters; others are more contemplative. While I like them all, I have a particular soft spot for Stones' zombie paintings. I proudly display this fine piece in my home:

And best of all, the print only cost $20. I encourage you to check out Stones' website for yourself; in addition to this print, there are several other worthwhile zombie (and non-zombie) paintings and prints available for purchase.