Wednesday, February 28, 2007

REVIEW: Chion by Darryl Sloan


The end of the world doesn't come with a bang. It sneaks up, as quiet and beautiful as the falling snow.

Seven-hundred students are trapped at Clounagh Junior High School. Among them are Jamie Metcalfe and Tara Morton, the girl Jamie secretly loves. No one is coming to rescue them. No one can.

Jamie has secrets of his own. But he's determined to do whatever it takes to save Tara. Even if it means venturing outside. Into the snow.


Good literature can captivate a reader of any age, and a young adult novel can fully entertain an adult audience. I didn't read Shade's Children by Garth Nix until well past my teen years, but, although labeled a "young adult" novel, it remains one of my favorite works of post-apocalyptic fiction. The Fire-Us Trilogy, set in a world where a plague has wiped out the entire adult population, also starts spectacularly, although it peters out at the end with a too-easy resolution.

I similarly enjoyed Chion, a young adult apocalyptic novel, for almost all of its length. The story starts strong and quick. The scenario is convincingly nightmarish and fiendishly clever. The narration is intimate and natural (although a shift in focus halfway through from one character to another jars a bit). The school setting is fresh even in the face of the standard apocalypse tropes (escalating panic, violence, and hopelessness), and Jamie's secret adds an intriguing twist. And Jamie's plan of escape is clever and plays fair, leaving the reader excited to follow wherever Sloan leads.

Unfortunately, Sloan doesn't lead as far as I wanted to go. Part of this is just wanting more. Chion is quite short, closer to a novella than a full length novel. The book and Sloan's writing are compelling enough that I hoped to spend more time with Jamie and Tara.

But even apart from its brevity, Chion's end is too abrupt. The story just kind of stops, as though Sloan couldn't think of anywhere else to go. Even worse, the conclusion seems to backpedal from much of what previously made the story compelling. I understand the character arc that Chion is trying for, and, in its modest way, it succeeds. But so much of the novel is so good, I wish Sloan could have carried his vision through to a grander place.


Chion is available through Darryl Sloan's website as a $7.99 paperback ($12.99 including shipping from the U.K.). Sloan's website also features an entertaining blog and free short films, while Darryl's Library (linked at right) provides book reviews (including some reviews of POD books).


Comics used to be considered a juvenile art form, although that perception has largely faded. As with novels, a good comic can captivate a reader of any age. One online comic that I enjoy is the Post-Nuke Comic, a harrowing series (divided into several online "issues" and still ongoing) about life in a post-nuclear winter. The most frustrating thing about the Post-Nuke Comic is the long gap between pages being posted; I'm constantly chomping at the bit for the next installment.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

FreeBooks #4: Geek Mafia by Rick Dakan

Paul Reynolds' business partners have just told him that his services are no longer required at the company he helped establish. A band of free-wheeling, high-tech scam artists, led by the beautiful Chloe, offer to help him obtain the severance package he feels he deserves. Now Paul is becoming ever more involved with Chloe and her crew, leading a more exciting -- and dangerous -- life than he ever imagined.

I first learned about Rick Dakan's Geek Mafia through an ad he placed on Boing Boing. Although certainly an expensive investment, it appears to have paid some dividends in terms of attracting readers (and Cory Doctorow's subsequent very positive review on Boing Boing undoubtedly helped as well). Whether he ever recouped this investment, I admire an author who is aggressive enough to put advertising money where his pen is.

And Geek Mafia deserves Dakan's vote of self-confidence. The novel reads like a fun Hollywood motion picture, filled with colorful characters, fast action and escalating double-crosses. Geek Mafia may also share some implausibilities with summer popcorn flicks -- how is it that beautiful women always fall so quickly and soundly for the nerdy nice guys in these stories -- but so what? The point here is simple enjoyment, and Geek Mafia delivers.

Geek Mafia is available as a free pdf download here. If you enjoy the book, consider buying the cheap $5 paperback here. Like any good cinema-style romp, a sequel is already well underway.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

FreeBooks #3: An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil by Jim Munroe

Kate's life is a bit unusual. Her roommate Lilith may (or may not) be an actual demoness. She certainly engages in bizarre rituals. Seeing an opportunity to break out of her rut, Kate talks Lilith into taking her act on the road as a performance art piece.

An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil by Jim Munroe is a slice-of-life novel in the form of a blog, following nine months of Kate's entries about her experiences with Lilith and on tour. Like many real bloggers who focus on their personal lives, Kate is likable if a bit too earnest, and her story convincingly captures a young person trying to find herself by adding some excitement to her life. Even so, Kate's story on its own could easily have become boring. However, the "is she or isn't she" questions floating around Lilith add just enough spice to hold the reader's interest without descending in silliness or fantasy. And in the end, Lilith's growth and self-discovery are the most compelling parts of the novel.

The entire text of An Opening Act . . . can be read in blog format for free at (the URL of Kate's blog in the novel). If you want a more convenient paperback, one can be purchased directly from Munroe or on Amazon. Munroe also has some great t-shirts available for sale (and has made the design available for free if you want to make your own).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Review: Rexroi by Steve Sommers


Poor Gary "Little Kid Guy" Gates. He's short, so no one in his frat respects him. His girlfriend is withholding her charms, forcing Gary to sneak around on the side. And Gary's fraternity brothers insist on humoring Alex, a local short-order cook who proclaims that he's the "King of the World" (and that Gary is his "General Monkey Dance"), even though anyone can plainly see that Alex is just a fat oaf.

Now things are getting even worse. Gary is experiencing blackouts and disturbing dreams, not to mention being blackmailed after an indiscreet fling with one of the nurse/stylists at the local blood bank/hair salon. Alex is becoming more and more popular at the frat. Soon Gary finds himself caught between mysterious forces in an epic battle to determine the fate of the world.

It can only end with exploding cows.


There is no reason to assume that Steve Sommers was a self-important twerp in college. After all, this is fiction. From the other goings-on in the novel, I doubt that this is a reality-based roman à clef. But I have to give credit: Gary Gates is an all too believable obnoxious frat boy protagonist.

Happily, the results are consistently entertaining. Gary may be insufferable, but his egocentric narration perfectly complements the bizarre scenario. On the one hand, we never care much about Gary as a person. He often causes his own problems, and at times crosses the line from obnoxious to outright loathsome. But on the other, his tart recital lends the proper bitterness to a tale that otherwise would deflate under the weight of its own essential silliness. Indeed, reading Rexroi is a bit like watching an inebriated frat boy perform a monkey dance on a ledge: a bit uncomfortable for the audience, but also quite amusing if you're in the right mood, and, perhaps against your better judgment, impossible to turn away from.


Rexroi is available through Lulu as a pdf download ($1.81) or a paperback ($11.95). Steve Sommers appears to have had a number of websites over the years, including here (a blog about Sommers' various Lulu books) and here (a site about Sommers' first novel, Breakfast with the Antichrist). However, I am unclear as to whether either of these (or some other site) is still active.


Los Angeles-based Channel 101 and its New York offshoot Channel 102 present monthly five minute DIY "television episodes" that are submitted by members of the general public and voted on by fans at monthly live screenings. Shows that score in the top five are given the honor of returning the following month; below that cutoff, the show is cancelled. All shows are archived on the respective websites and freely available for perpetual viewing pleasure.

One of my favorite Channel 102 series (on which its producers voluntarily pulled the plug) is Shutterbugs, a hilarious series about two self-important jackasses who run a talent agency for child stars. Check it out, along with the rest of the oft-outstanding lineup (Channel 101's Time Belt is particularly great).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

FreeBooks #2: Memories of Home by Derek M. Koch

In honor of Valentine's Day, I present Memories of Home by Derek M. Koch (available for free download on Lulu). After growing up together, Max and Lisa have only been dating for a few hours. Unfortunately, they're now trapped by a sinister (if ill-defined) force in the Jefferson Theatre, an old-time movie house where Max once accidentally killed a man. As if this first date weren't already bad enough, Max's previous girlfriend also shows up, apparently possessed by the same nebulous evil and out for blood.

I know it's unfair of me to criticize Memories of Home. The novel was written in only 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). Koch readily admits in his introduction that the novel needs further work, which is why he is giving it away for free.

And Koch is not being modest when he says that Memories of Home is still rough. He does a credible job of setting up an aura of dread and mystery. However, once Max's friend (under the influence of the aforementioned evil) pulls a gun to force Max and Lisa to accompany him to the Jefferson, the story starts spinning in hamster-wheel circles. Various characters sporadically get possessed by the something, and then come to their senses. A variety of menacing, if somewhat haphazard, nasties chase our heroes around. Everyone runs several laps around the Jefferson, but no one ever arrives anywhere. Then the evil and the novel both just stop (when, I suspect, the 30 day NaNoWriMo window ended). I don't require everything to be explained in a horror novel -- indeed, I often think a novel works better when substantial mystery remains -- but here, the menace is not so much mysterious as arbitrary.

What's amazing -- and at times frustrating -- is how clearly Koch's talent shines through despite these problems. Even when the novel starts treading water, it does it with panache. The writing remains polished and effective, and many individual scenes are truly unnerving. The novel may have significant structural problems, but I nonetheless enjoyed reading it for the power of the discrete moments.

Which, ultimately, prompted this FreeBooks entry. I want to encourage Koch to keep up his efforts. I want him know that someone (someone he doesn't even know) is reading is work, and that I truly look forward to his next book. Because even horror authors need love on Valentine's Day (although I'm sure Koch will understand -- and, indeed, be grateful -- if I leave the heavy lifting in this regard to his wife).

For more information on Koch, check out his website and blog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

FreeBooks #1: Saints Visible by Justin Gil

Saints Visible by Justin Gil (available for free download on Lulu) is a charming, folksy tale about what happens when a fundamentalist preacher arrives in small, easy-going Brahmton and his influence begins to grow. The town librarian's narration is funny and relaxed, and even the rather abrupt, too-easy resolution is tonally consistent with the novel's laid-back charms. All in all, Saints Visible is a quick, satisfying read for a low-key evening.

Unfortunately, Gil appears neither to have his own website nor to have written anything else to date.

FreeBooks #0: An Introduction

In order to make everyone's work week a little bit brighter, every Wednesday night I'm going to post a link to a free downloadable e-book. Because the proper way to celebrate the coming weekend isn't with a beer or a new episode of Beauty and the Geek (as much as I love that show), but with a new POD novel!

These are not going to be full-length reviews (not that my normal reviews even really rise to the level of "full-length"). Rather, where I've read the whole book, I'll post a short capsule review. Other times, I'll write about a book that looks intriguing after the first few chapters, but that I haven't yet had the chance to finish.

One thing I want to make perfectly clear: the fact that I write about a book on "FreeBook Wednesday" rather than in a standard review is not an implicit assertion that the book isn't up to par or that it in any way is not worthy of my (and your) time and attention. I most definitely do not mean to punish any book for having the decency to be free. The very first book I reviewed on this blog, Soren Narnia's outstanding Roll! They Cried, which I tremendously enjoyed, is available for free on Narnia's website. Rather, this is just another way of trying to get word of worthwhile books out there, to my vast readership.

By the same token, finding a meritorious free e-book every week is going to be a challenge. I encourage (i.e., beg) you to let me know about any interesting free finds you've stumbled across.

And now, on with the FreeBook show . . .

Monday, February 05, 2007

REVIEW: Fake Girls by Matthew Sloan


Molloy might pass as a real private investigator if he had a bit more class. But as things stand he's a scavenger. People who are desperate somehow find him. For a fee, he helps.

Nada Klone is the internet's hottest adult personality. And she's missing. Two powerful opposing factions have each commanded Molloy to find her, or else. Now Molloy is trapped in a nightmare, caught between these mysterious forces and his own equally murky passions in his quest for a woman who is as elusive as the internet itself.


Fake Girls does many things well. It is wonderfully written: the sleaze that permeates Molloy's life oozes off the page, and Molloy is a likable narrator whose sardonic sense of humor enlivens the story without undercutting the situation's menace. The mystery, although more philosophic than literal, is compelling. And, unusually for so metaphysical a story, the ending is terrific, with a satisfying conclusion that neatly both encompasses and builds upon all that has gone before.

Fake Girls has many interesting points to make about the nature of reality and personality in the digital age. However, the most intriguing -- and touching -- part of the novel is its exploration of who and why we love (kind of like a grindhouse version of Enola's Wedding). Molloy has a genuinely tender relationship with a transsexual prostitute, and then a more lustful affair with a woman he meets during his investigation. A husband loves the wife who cheats on him constantly. A man searches for his online lover, with no prejudice about who that may turn out to be. In all of these instances, Fake Girls quietly but firmly imparts its message: love is where we find it, and we simply have to adapt.


Fake Girls is presented by the Afterhuman Press and published through Lulu. Until recently, it was available for purchase as a paperback or a pdf ebook directly from Lulu; however, the Lulu link appears not to be working at the moment. Hopefully it will revive shortly; until then, the novel is available as a Lulu-printed paperback on Amazon ($15.96). Matthew Sloan appears not to have his own website.


Spray is a great synth duo who produce outrageously fun pop music. Not only do their songs consistently impel me to dance (and I am rather hard to get in motion), but, surprisingly for the genre, the lyrics are witty and just as worthwhile as the music. Spray has just released a splendid new album, Children of a Laser God. Among the highlights are several songs about the illusory and mysterious nature of relationships, including "He Came With The Frame," about the merits of treating the guy pictured in a new photo frame's marketing insert as your significant other; and "Pretend Girlfriend," about the advantages of paying someone to pretend to be your partner in front of your friends.

Children of a Laser God is available for download on eMusic, as is Spray's equally outstanding first album, Living in Neon. (If you can tolerate buying music encumbered with DRM, both albums are also available on iTunes). Living in Neon is also presently available as a physical CD from CDBaby; hopefully Children of a Laser God will soon be as well.