Sunday, May 27, 2007

FreeBooks #7: A Dancing Bear by Mark Osher

Poor Fenton Bland. His life at college is rapidly spiraling out of control. It's bad enough that he's stuck in the class of Professor Ivan Lego, whose theory of socioliterology -- the concept that any writing is wrongfully oppressive because "it owes its very existence to a foundational act of suppression, namely, the suppression of non-language" -- is taking the academic world by storm. It's even worse that he's inadvertently given Pamela, a student activist with whom Fenton shares a deep, dark shame, the idea to strike a blow for the disenfranchised by campaigning for the release of a notorious serial killer. Still worse, Fenton's relationship with his lesbian faux-vegetarian deadbeat housemates is worse than ever (not least because of the dead cat). But worst of all is that the student Maoist group that Fenton joined solely for the purpose of getting close to the beautiful Charmaine is singularly focused on announcing itself by assassinating someone, and Fenton is stuck right in the middle of the plot.

Don't worry if you don't have a good sense of what "Maoists" are. Neither do I. Nor, for that matter, do the members of the Maoist group. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes Mark Osher's delightful A Dancing Bear such a spot-on primer to the college experience. It's all there: the students whose big plans and grand statements are undermined by their own lack of understanding (and ability). The academics whose outré theories are driven by self-promotion rather than genuine relevance. The everyman stuck in the middle, trying to do what is right but restrained by his own passivity. And, of course, the university public bathrooms:

No gent in his right mind had ever employed this door more than twice, in very quick succession: once on his uninformed way in; and once more, about two seconds after that, to effect an appalled and lifelong departure. For behind this door lay the most deplorable block of toilets on campus. Clearly, something had gone badly wrong in there. It was as though at some point the facility had been officially forgotten, had slipped outside the purview of whatever body or agency was meant to stand between such places and anarchy. Maybe during an administrative restructure it had vanished into the grey area between two spheres of responsibility. Maybe every cleaner in the university just assumed some other cleaner was cleaning it. In any case, it was beyond redemption now. The cubicle doors swung crookedly from busted hinges, like wounded soldiers being helped along a trail. The lights buzzed and flickered like dying flies. . . .

And the stench … the stench was the stench of the jungle. No man who smelled it could possibly retain any of those frayed illusions concerning the supremacy, or even the adequacy, of his gender. But the really alarming thing about this reek was this: it kept getting worse. Which could only mean one thing. People kept contributing to it. Somewhere on campus there existed men who were still prepared to use this facility – men who thought it a fit venue in which to bare the most intimate parts of their flesh. Who were they, these men? Chillingly, they had to be out there in the general population, blending in, walking past you every day without your knowing it. Maybe they were your friends, your tutors. The guy with the mysterious grin who ran the bakery. The shuffling first-year with the bad skin and the walkman. Elderly professors who wore sneakers with their slacks and accused your essays of being “prolix,” hardy old campaigners who probably took broadsheet newspapers in there and settled in for the long haul. The insane. The incontinent. Fugitives from justice. The damned.

A Dancing Bear is consistently hilarious, combining effective satire of academic, political and individual pomposity with regular moments of slapstick, laugh-out-loud humor. However, equally impressive is the novel's philosophical heart. For all of its worthwhile silliness, A Dancing Bear also is concerned with deeper questions that confront all collegians, and, for that matter, all thinking people. Can I steer my life where I want it to go? Or am I locked in to a path set by outside forces or simple inertia? What would it take to change my life? A Dancing Bear seamlessly works these weighty themes into its rollicking tale, ultimately proving satisfying on many levels.

All told, A Dancing Bear is a brilliant success and is highly recommended. It is available for free at the official website (which is very amusing in its own right), either as chapter-by-chapter webpages or as a printer-friendly RTF file of the complete novel. The novel is also available as a free downloadable audiobook. As the website notes, "the world is fast running out of excuses not to read this book."

Monday, May 21, 2007

REVIEW: Noah, Penny by David Skinner


Thirteen year old Penny knows that she is not beautiful. But she also knows that she loves Noah, and only wants him to love her back.

Unfortunately, Noah is awkward and unreadable. Does he feel the same way? They've been friends for years, but this is new terrain.

And the sudden appearance of Fyfe, an ancient elfin creature who's interested mainly in spying on the affairs of humans, is not making Penny's life any easier.


David Skinner's Noah, Penny is a contemplative, touching novella that, though brief, has a lot to say about how we relate to each other.

I first discovered Skinner over a decade ago, when I was wowed by his The Wrecker (Simon & Schuster 1995). That novel explores questions of good, evil and free will in a manner that, if infinitely more restrained in its imagery than Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, is no less effective for its subtlety. Whereas The Wrecker can be seen as a rumination on hate and violence, Noah, Penny, by contrast, is a charming meditation of first love. Although both novels are formally works for the Young Adult market, both offer tremendous rewards for the adult reader as well.

Quiet and a bit melancholy, Noah, Penny doesn't rely upon a formal plot. Rather, it explores Penny's situation -- and, ultimately, the nature of love and acceptance -- through a series of generally understated vignettes that follow her halting, uncertain relationship with Noah. Skinner demonstrates a deep, sympathetic understanding that matters of the heart are, ultimately, beyond rational explanation. Penny's story is sad and sweet and real in all the right places. And far from being a jarring intrusion in this otherwise naturalistic tale, the age-old Fyfe instead adds a perfect touch of magical realism, ultimately teaching that the questions Penny faces are not new, but are, indeed, eternal.


Noah, Penny is available as a paperback from Lulu, as are several other of Skinner's self-published books. (The Wrecker is available used on Amazon.) Skinner's website is located here.


The animated zombie movie City of Rott is not quiet or subtle. It is the extraordinarily violent tale of an old man seeking to survive -- and to find new shoes -- in a post-apocalyptic world populated primarily by the undead (or, more specifically, dead corpses controlled by alien space-worm-parasites). The violence is graphic and never-ending, if somewhat charming in its cheerful excessiveness.

I suspect that the audiences for City of Rott and Noah, Penny overlap very little. Moreover, Noah, Penny is far more successful and involving than the oft-monotonous City of Rott. Nonetheless, the two works are similar in at least two respects. Both focus primarily on mood and individual moments rather than a detailed plot. And both end on a note of grace that, each in its own way, celebrates the human spirit.

And as a special added bonus recommendation, check out this panel from the increasingly popular xkcd webcomic.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

An Abashed Return

So I've been gone for two months. But I'm back now. For good, I think.

Basically, I had a minor existential crisis. Really very minor, in the scheme of things: I’m perfectly happy with family, friends, health, and all the important things in life. My crisis was limited solely to the value of my reviews. In mid-March, I happened to read an article about how most books even from big-name publishers with real marketing campaigns only sell one or two thousand copies if they’re lucky.

I already knew this, but it drove home many of my doubts. Why, I wondered, do I bother writing reviews when I doubt that I will ever be able to persuade an appreciable number of people to buy these books that I enjoy so much. No author is going to sell thousands -- or hundreds -- or dozens -- or necessarily even a single copy due to a positive recommendation from me.

Then, just like in a poorly written, melodramatic novel (whether POD or otherwise), I had my epiphany. The friend of an author I’d previously reviewed happened to write to say that the author had happened to find my review (I always try to e-mail authors who I’ve reviewed, but this was one I hadn’t been able to contact) and that my review had “made his day.”

Now, I know that my positive comments were more a minor bright spot in this author’s day than a moment of unparalleled rapture. But still, this reminded me why I started my reviews: to let those POD artists (who, let's be frank, likely will never reach a big audience regardless of their talent) know that they’ve touched at least one person. I know that this is an exceedingly minor prize, but I hope it's worth something, and, I have to say, I think (hope) it may be enough to make this all worthwhile.

So I've neglected this site for a couple of months. But no more. I know I've been impolite, ignoring my fellow POD reviewers and, indeed, all of the e-mail I've received. But I have been reading, lots and lots of books, as well as checking out new movies and music. So I'm going to start answering my backlog of e-mail (if anyone still cares). I'm going to start posting reviews of all the great stuff I've read, seen and heard in the last few months. Because if I don't, who will? (Well, except for all of the excellent sites listed at right, plus all the new ones that have probably sprung up recently. Check them out too. But don't give up on me yet. The best, hopefully, is yet to come.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Freebooks #6: How and Why Lisa's Dad Got To Be Famous by Michael Allen

How and Why Lisa's Dad Got To Be Famous by Michael Allen (aka the Grumpy Old Bookman) is a quiet little book with a salacious-sounding plot: a reality show producer stages a show wherein Harry, the eponymous dad and an HIV positive man, must find a woman willing to sleep with him notwithstanding his condition. Despite a frank attitude towards sex and some rather explicit images (the climactic moment of the show is to be captured from within the woman on a pre-inserted miniature camera), the story is actually rather low-key and the satire rather benign (if only because the reality of reality television these days is already so extreme). If the novel (like the almost too salt-of-the earth, plainspoken Harry) lacks something in conflict and excitement, Allen nonetheless maintains a consistently congenial atmosphere that keeps the reader pleasantly interested and involved throughout the tale.

Lisa's Dad . . . is available as a pdf download here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

FreeBooks #5: The Flesh Remembers & Dark Terrains by Richard Wright

In late 2005, Richard Wright released The Flesh Remembers as a free pdf on his website. (A paperback is also available through Lulu or Amazon.) The Flesh Remembers is a terrific, genuinely creepy novella about Dexter Lomax, a tabloid reporter who, investigating a series of small, mysterious craters, stumbles across a nasty secret involving flayed bodies (living and dead), an unconventional videotape, and some rather unpleasant Lovecraftian things. Lomax's first-person narration builds perfectly to capture both Lomax's terror and his pity as he doggedly uncovers the truth, rendering The Flesh Remembers worthwhile for any horror fan.

In late 2006, Wright released Dark Terrains, a collection of short stories, also as a free pdf on his website. (And again, a paperback is available through Lulu or Amazon for those who so prefer.) Although the compilation as a whole was released a year after The Flesh Remembers, the collected stories reflect some of Wright's earlier work, and most if not all of the individual tales predate the novel. As a result, Dark Terrains unsurprisingly is somewhat inconsistent, and does not reach the heights of The Flesh Remembers. Nonetheless, many of the stories are quite compelling, including "The Jealous Dead," which perfectly lampoons (in a very serious way) the attention lavished on Princess Diana's passing; "Feedback," a quirky story about an unfortunate day in the life of a man who doesn't realize that he's an empath; and "The Ghosts of Christmas Presents," a story about love and murdered kittens that is almost heartwarming. Almost.

More information on both of the above works is available at Wright's website, along with information on some of Wright's other books that are available for purchase.

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.

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.