‘Cage Your Sloth!’

I issued a challenge on Facebook yesterday. I wanted to give away a copy of my first book, Muscle Memory, so I proposed this:

“A signed & personalized paperback copy of my first book will go to the first person who writes a NEW Amazon review of one of my other books. The review must be at least 243 words long, be partially written in a foreign language (different from your own normal language, that is), contain the chorus from your current favorite song, and it MUST utilize the following words in any sequence: CONSTABULARY, SLOTH, PORTICO, TOOLBELT, JEFF, PACZKI.”

I figured no one would take the time and the post would quickly be forgotten. Sometimes, I throw little giveaways out like this without much fanfare or buildup, mostly because I’m bored at work and need to do something to keep my brain from slowly oozing out my ear. But I figured wrong. Within an hour, Scott Pratt responded with this masterpiece, which I would like to reproduce here, with a couple added images.

I present to you, an amazing impromptu review of my book, Samurai vs. ROBO-DICK:

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read! Cage your sloth!, April 24, 2013

Scott L. Pratt

This review is from: Samurai Vs. Robo-Dick (Paperback)

sloth and copAs I was reading “samurai Vs. Robo-Dick I looked over to my friend, Jeff the Sloth and smiled gently. He was eating a pazki and jelly had dropped from his mouth onto his toolbelt. I was sitting on the Portico, as the Constabulary walked by. Jeff seemed upset at their presence, and yelled out to them, “Carry on my wayward son There’ll be peace when you are done Lay your weary head to rest Don’t you cry no more”. The constabulary lead halted and stared for a brief second before saying, “Sobald ich stieg über den Lärm und Verwirrung Nur um einen Einblick jenseits dieser Illusion Ich wurde immer höher steigenden Aber ich flog zu hoch Obwohl meine Augen sehen konnte, war ich noch ein Blinder Obwohl mein Verstand denken konnte ich noch ein wütender Mann Ich höre die Stimmen, wenn ich trauma Ich kann hören, wie sie sagen”

I was upset that Jeff confronted the non-military police officers, and told him to tighten his toolbelt and go inside. He obliged, and I continued to read. I was upset that he was being such a robo-dick and distracted me from reading. As I read, I realized that I was wearing a brown shirt and had a stack of junk food at my side. Was the author writing about me? I was more intrigued. Did I mention that my wife is a redhead? Anyway. All was silent after Jeff disappeared into the house. I was able to finish the magnificent book. I highly recommend it to anyone that loves the bizarre. The book is really well thought out, and amazing. Just make sure your talking pet sloth is locked in his cage when the constabulary walks by.

sloth cage

* * * * * * *

I loved this so much, I decided to offer up two more copies of Muscle Memory to anyone willing take on this challenge. If you can match what Scott did, I’ll send out a personalized copy of Muscle Memory to YOU. Tag me on Facebook, or email (lowe435@gmail.com) me the link to the review when it’s posted on Amazon.

And as luck would have it, to aid you in this task, my collection Mio Padre, il Tumore is free for the Kindle until Friday, April 26th.

Book Review: “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk

DamnedDamned by Chuck Palahniuk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was… you know… eh. Don’t get me wrong, well written, with some solid Palahniukian things to say about… things and stuff. But overall? Shit, I don’t know.

I didn’t really go into this book with any kind of expectation. It seems two camps have emerged in the Chuck Palahniuk fandom world – the group that’s tired of that “Chuck” voice that every main character seems to have and wishes he’d branch out, and the group that’s tired of Chuck trying to branch out and do something that doesn’t read like a Chuck book. I fall in between I suppose. I liked PYGMY until the end, but my problem with that book didn’t have to do with the voice or the “Chuckitutde” of it, more with the copout of an ending.

I guess this is Chuck’s curse, to have all of his work forever compared to his first, great breakthrough. Either it’s not enough like it, or it’s too much like it. I think my problem with DAMNED is, Chuck’s heart just doesn’t seem to be into it. To put it another way, this felt like book writing instead of story telling. Felt like fiction manufacturing instead of yarn spinning. By the time I got to the TO BE CONTINUED… at the end, I really didn’t even have the energy to be annoyed. I laughed a few times, kind of got to like the Madison character, wondered why all the candy in Hell didn’t melt, but mostly just felt really noncommittal by the end.

All I really want is to read a good, entertaining story. That’s all I’m looking for at this point. If I get something more out of it, then that’s just the unexpected gravy atop the mashed potato. (The yellow kind they served with school lunch, that seems so delicious and magical now that I haven’t had it for 20 years.) It’s not you, Chuck, it’s me. Will I read the sequel(s)? Yeah, most likely. But, again, I won’t go into it with any kind of expectations. I grew up rooting for the Chicago Cubs. I’ve learned not to have expectations. I am broken.

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Book review: Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, by Bradley Sands

Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill YouRico Slade Will Fucking Kill You by Bradley Sands

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bradley Sands will fucking entertain you. Because that’s what Bradley Sands does. He writes funny books about disturbed movie stars who think they are the action heroes they portray in their movies. He writes about these guys doing things like back-flipping, and throat-ripping, and catch-phrasing, and face-kicking, and other good shit like that.

Bradley Sands doesn’t care if you laugh or not. Bradley Sands doesn’t give a shit about entertaining you. He just does it because he’s Bradley Fucking Sands, and that’s what happens when he writes a book. It entertains you, and you laugh.

Bradley Sands clearly watched a lot of action movies to prepare for writing this book. Bradley Sands has definitely seen “Roadhouse” and “The Last Action Hero” and possibly “Action Jackson” though maybe not, because that was a more obscure Carl Weathers vehicle that came out right around the time “Predator” was made. Carl Weathers wasn’t the star of “Predator” but he definitely parlayed his presence in that movie and his turns as Apollo Creed in Rocky I, II, III, and IV into his own headlining role.

The star of “Predator” was Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover of Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, which is Bradley Sands’s book. Arnold’s hair in the cover shot is on fire, which is also how Bradley Sands’s hair was while he was writing this book. That’s why Bradley Sands is bald now. Perhaps he should have called the book Rico Slade Will Fucking Bald You, but probably not because that’s not as funny and too much of an inside joke to be the title of a book. But his hair was on fire while he wrote it. And he was going Mach 2.

That’s another reference to an 80s action movie. That was from “Top Gun”. That movie starred Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer and it was about Navy pilots repressing their homosexual desires for each other by wearing hair gel and sweating a lot and playing volleyball together. Neither Arnold Schwarzenegger nor Carl Weathers were in that movie. No one as manly as those two, or Rico Slade for that matter, was in that movie. Rico Slade would fucking kill everyone that starred in “Top Gun”. Chip Johnson, the actor who plays Rico Slade, would have loved to be in “Top Gun”, but not Rico Slade. He would have the flight deck of that Navy aircraft carrier covered with the blood and ripped-out throats of “Top Gun” actors, because that’s what he does, and that’s why you need to read this fucking book.

Why the fuck are you still reading this review and not Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You? That book is way better than this review. Go on now. Let Bradley Sands fucking entertain you, already.

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Book review: Embedded, by Dan Abnett

During my most recent Amazon book-buying binge, I decided to check out some straight-up science fiction, not something I normally read. I wasn’t really interested in any space opera type stuff, but rather a little more hardcore military sci-fi. As I looked around to see what the most popular/widely read/commonly talked about books of that sub-genre are, one title continually came up – Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

So, I got that one, but I also noticed the cover for another book that kept popping up as well. It was a new release by a writer I hadn’t heard of. The cover featured a washed out image of a solider, from behind, looking a little wobbly on his feet and loaded down with some badass hardware. That was, of course, Dan Abnett’s Embedded. Being your somewhat typical male who digs action and won’t turn down a good war flick, this cover had me pretty much sold on buying the book. But the description cinched it for me: a salty journalist on a distant planet gets “chipped” into the mind of a solider so he can get the skinny on some shady military operations? Fuck yeah, I wanna read that!

But then I was faced with a quandary. Which book should I read first, Embedded or Old Man’s War? Scalzi’s book came universally recommended and, I assumed, would end up being the better of the two, but Embedded just kept calling to me. So I came up with the following rationale: I would read Embedded first, then follow it with what was sure to be the better of the two, Old Man’s War. By reading Embedded first, I can still enjoy it without constantly (and unfairly) comparing it with OMW. Makes perfect sense, right?

So, based on that line of thinking, Old Man’s War is going to have to be some kind of amazing, because I enjoyed the shit out of Embedded.

The book takes about 100 of its 430 pages to set the scene and the main character, journalist Lex Falk. He’s a bit of an asshole who has lived hard and is now beginning to break down, both physically and otherwise. He’s not the same go-getter he once was before countless hours of zero-gravity travel and gallons of scotch-effect (apparently real scotch or sugar or anything else exists anymore) took a big toll on him. But he still wants to break one more story, especially after the military bigwigs (known as the Settlement Office, or SO) on planet Eighty-Six decide to jerk him around and pretend that nothing special is happening there. Falk knows otherwise and jumps at the chance to embed with a unit about to see some action. But the embedding is not the normal kind, it’s a chance to be chipped into the mind of an actual soldier in a mildly explained and Avatar-like process that includes a sloshing tank and wires and so on.

As you might expect, the book really takes off once Falk shows up in the mind of Private Nestor Bloom. Bloom is in charge of a unit, but right from the start, Falk’s presence causes problems, and eventually contributes to Bloom’s death when an insurgent shoots him in the face. The mind-meld and after effects are very well done – at times dizzying, but never difficult to follow and appropriately muddled to give the reader the sense of experiencing things through another person’s body, especially when that other person is still there, providing thoughts and memories and muscle control, etc. Bravo to Mr. Abnett for capturing this so well.

My only real complaints are some of the usual stuff that’s always been a detractor for me with hardcore science fiction. Too many made up words (blurds instead of birds, and United Status instead of United States, for instance) that got more annoying with repetition, not less. Also, an abundance of acronyms (SO, GEO, SOMD) is a bit tough to keep straight at first, but once the embedding goes down, it’s pretty balls-to-the-wall action and excitement from there on. The tech is really cool, though for a novice sci-fi guy like me, it took some time before I realized that a “piper” and a “hardbeam” were shorthand or slang for fancy-schmancy laser rifles. The troopers also carried weapons that fired bullets (hardrounds they’re called) and a thumper was pretty easy to figure out (grenade launcher), so that made me feel oike less of a dumbass. The cover art is also very important as well, and I found myself referring to it continually to understand the device attached to the soldiers that helped them control such high-powered weaponry. Again, well done there, to both Mr. Abnett and the art department at Angry Robot books for creating an image that not only helps sell the book, but also helps tell the story.

Interspersed with the action is some backstory about Bloom, some political intrigue and some investigative journalism as Falk tries to uncover the reasons behind the war. The ending is a bit vague, only hinting very generally at the what and why, but it doesn’t feel like a cheat or a cop-out. If anything, it leaves me wanting to know more. What I was left scratching my head about was the fact that Falk never really feels any remorse toward Bloom for causing him to be shot. Falk’s failing health and military inexperience actually contribute to Bloom’s troubles, but Falk never acknowledges this. I would have thought there would be a little guilt on Falk’s part as he realizes that his presence in Bloom’s head caused a professional badass to suddenly struggle with his ability to fight and do his job.

But those are minor gripes. Embedded far exceeded my expectations, which were little more than a readable piece of sci-fi with some action and excitement. I got that and much more, and I hope Scalzi brings it with Old Man’s War, because Abnett was a hell of a first act.

Book review: Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

In support of the special  promotion I’m running for the month of May, I thought I would go back and re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. It’s the story of a man (the narrator) who sets out to write a story about the “father” of the atomic bomb, and instead becomes entangled in the odd man’s dysfunctional family. Besides the A-bomb, Felix Hoenikker also invented something called ice-nine, which leads to the destruction of the world by instantly freezing every liquid on the planet that it comes into contact with. It’s a story of religion, the end of the world and the futility of it all.

I’ve read Cat’s Cradle about four or five times now, but it’s been several years, so I felt it was time for a refresher. It’s still one of my favorites of Vonnegut’s, and I took something new from it this time. This was from early in his career, so he’s not completely jaded yet (or at least this story doesn’t read like he is). He’s got some clear thoughts on religion and both its usefulness and uselessness. Bokononism defines itself as a “pack of lies” but then goes into great detail to describe those lies, many of which contain certain truths about both the futility and beauty of life, and it features the venerable words of an island-bound religious guru called Bokonon.

I won’t claim to know if God exists or not. When I first read this book in my early 20s, I had an arrogant opinion that He absolutely doesn’t. But now that I’m older, and much less sure of myself or anything else, I don’t read this book and grin knowingly at the parts that make fun of Christianity and organized religion in general. Instead, I find more humor and truth in the realization that, even if it is all lies, it’s the best some folks have. Despite the fact that Bokononism is a completely made up religion, it’s still the best thing in the lives of its impoverished, hopeless, futureless followers.

We delude ourselves about so much on a daily basis, why not a religion as well? If being a follower of Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, or Bokonon brings enlightenment to a person and brightens their lives, fills it with hope and peace and love, who cares if it’s all a sham? Good fiction is supposed to make you think, right?

Book review: The Sorrow King, by Andersen Prunty

To those who might read this review,

To make matters worse, Mr. Prunty is selling this for just $0.99 on the Kindle right now, cheaply spreading his madness across the globe!

This is not Steve, this is his widow. Yes, that is correct. Steve is dead. His last wish, which he pinned to himself before he took his own life, was for me to post this review for him. I do so begrudgingly.

And I lay the blame for my beloved husband’s death at your feet, Mr. Prunty. It was your book, The Sorrow King which drove him to this madness. Your skillfulness in capturing the mindset of downcast, suicidal teens and their daily angst so thoroughly depressed my husband that it sent him over the edge.

The depth given to your down-in-the-mouth main character, who I might also point out was named STEVEN, was so complete, and the sadness and depression of being a teenager again, experienced vicariously through this story, so intense, it was too much for my poor husband. Being from a smallish Midwestern town himself, he was intoxicated by your portrayal of a dying Gethsemane, Ohio, where the body count mounts as teens are driven to what appears to be a number of suicides. But then you piled on the awful, sinister truth of what was truly behind all of that sorrow and grief.

You, Mr. Prunty, you are the Sorrow King. I hope you feel the shame of a murderer, because that is what you are. You’ll be hearing from my attorney soon.

The Grieving Widow of Steve Lowe

Book review: Crab Town, by Carlton Mellick III

Some writers, you can just tell, are brimming with ideas and creativity. Prolific bizarro veteran Carlton Mellick III is one of those writers, and his long short story Crab Town is evidence of this. After writing a couple 300+ page novels (veritable epics in the bizarro genre), he put out this 85-page novella earlier this year. It’s a short, entertaining ride through the weird world of Freedom City, and its adjoining slum, known as Crab Town.

This is the story of a bank heist gone bad, in a world where two nuclear wars have left the city in shambles and the economy in a mess. In Freedom City, if you lose your job and can’t pay your bills, your only choice is to move to Crab Town. Once you’re in Crab Town, you’re stuck, because no one will hire you again, no landlord will rent to you again, and you’re essentially a social pariah. It reminds me in a lot of ways of our national welfare system, where once you’re in, it’s difficult to get back out. Some denizens of Crab Town form the House of Cards, a group dedicated to improving life in Crab Town and getting a fair shake from the folks in charge of Freedom City. They don’t want a handout, they simply want equal opportunity for jobs and such – a little life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, yeah, I like the message behind this story.

As Mellick writes in the book’s introduction, this story started with the cover image. Mellick liked it so much, he decided to write a story around the picture of the babe on the bomb, basically working backwards with the actual writing of the story being the last part of the process. In other words, he didn’t begin with a premise and a set of characters, he saw a picture, came up with a title and a cover blurb, then wrote the story from there. What results is almost too much for such a short story.

We’re introduced to no less than six different characters who all play a role in the heist. There are other peripheral characters as well, and over the course of the story, sandwiched between the events of one day, we learn a little bit about each character. We’re stilling learning about these main players in the heist, right up until and during the final act. This could have easily been filled out into another 300-page epic if he had the time and desire. So many ideas and so much creativity pack each page that there’s scarcely enough space to mention it all.

But such is the issue with the novella. Often times, they leave you wanting more, which I think is a good thing. And at $7.95, you get a good story with some very cool artwork. To be honest, I’ve been trying to decide for a long time which Mellick book I would read next, and the cover art from this one sold me from the beginning. Like Mellick, I was intrigued to learn about the babe on the bomb and what made her tick (yes, terrible pun, but I don’t care!). I came away wanting more of what was here, and not just a little bit jealous of how much creatvity this guy’s got bursting out of every story he writes.

Book review: The Big Short, by Michael Lewis

I never did really come to like anyone in this book. Why? Because every person written about here was in essense a dirtball. The Big Short tells the story of the financial collapse of 2007-08, specifically the spectacular implosion of the subprime mortgage lending market.

On one side, you have the completely repellent folks dealing in the packaging and selling of subprime mortgages in a number of various forms. Subprime mortgages are loans made to people with very little chance of paying them back. The loans were pieces of shit from the start, with low “teaser” interest rates at the beginning of the loan that readjusted to ridiculously high interest rates in a couple years. They were more or less designed to do this in order to force the homeowner, who suddenly realized they couldn’t afford their mortgage at such a high rate, to refinance. In many ways, they were bait-and-switch deals, given to people like a Las Veags stripper who had not one, but FIVE subprime loans on houses, or a Bakersfield immigrant strawberry picker who made $14,000 a year, but was allowed to take on a home loan of $750,000.

In the middle, and only vaguely mentioned in the book, but important nonetheless, are those homeowners who were given these shit loans. Yes, I’m sure many of them were snookered and lied to, but a great many of them had to know they would never be able to pay back their loans. Ever. Especially the ones who couldn’t even document a source of income and were still given a loan. The idiocy went both ways here.

And then on the other side, you’ve got a handful of guys who saw this oncoming mess for what it was. They figured out what they were looking at: hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of loans that were certain to default, wrapped up together in ridiculous, fabricated “bonds” – essentially pieces of paper with no real worth or value except what Wall Street decided they should be worth, extremely high-risk investments that were rated as low-risk by the two rating agencies who completely stepped on their dicks (and were snookered as well, but they still stepped on their dicks). These subprime timebombs were just waiting for the first round of interest rate resets to go off, and these guys knew what was coming.

So what did they do? They placed their bets against the economy and waited for the bomb to go off. While Wall Street shit the bed in late 2007 through 2008, these guys became insanely rich. By buying what essentially amounted to insurance policies against these bad loans, they got paid because folks were losing their homes and defaulting on their loans. They got rich while the rest of the ships, basically a who’s-who of Wall Street, sank around them. Several were bailed out by the federal govt. (TARP anyone?), an even more perverse result of a ridiculous clusterfuck. Many of the men who oversaw this collapse, CEOs of places like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the shitheads responsible for creating the fucking made-up market for these things in the first place, ended up getting taxpayer money to save themsleves and were even asked to help fix the problem. To which I ask,

I don’t really blame the guys who shorted this mess, they were playing within the rules of a bullshit game, but I can’t say I like them either. Instead of trying to alert someone, anyone to the impending disaster, they instead figured they would get rich off it. Some of them tried, but not very hard. Some of them even feared the problem would be fixed or averted before their gamble paid off. Yes, they would have lost all their money if that happened, but you know what? Fuck them and their money and their gamble. OK, you were right. You got filthy stinking rich because of it. Now go fuck yourselves, please.

Despite my bitching, this book gets 4 stars because Michael Lewis can flat tell a damn story. Yes, much of this book is about very dry subjects that I only partially grasped at first, but I got a much clearer understanding of because of Lewis’s undeniable talent to not only report a story, but to write a narrative that is completely absorbing. If you have ever wondered just what happened three years ago, and why we’re still struggling through this mess of an economy, start with this book. The subprime collapse was not the only issue that caused our national and global financial woes, but it’s probably 90% of it.

Book review: The Brothers Crunk, by William Pauley III

(This review was originally written in Japanese, but was hastily [and poorly] translated for the sake of rushing it to English speaking markets to capitalize on the explosion in popularity of hastily- [and poorly-] translated book reviews.)

Corpulent populations of kudos regard to the constructor of the published book materials nomenclatured THE BROTHERS CRUNK assmbled by letter arranger William Pauley the 3. Containment of emotion regards to material found upon perusal most extraneous of aforementioned word groupings, eyeballers of book this most difficult will find. Excessive celebration penalties abounding.

Of familiarity to fantastical old-timey gaming contol systematics, recommendations gush forth, plus double good excitablility for literary genre “bizarro” suggested from this reviewer. Please for to extend the thankful yous upon letter arranger William Pauley the 3 for most estimable and honorable calculations toward enjoyable leisure hours laid on doorstep of handsomely presented masterpiece bearing moniker THE BROTHERS CRUNK. (Also, making of special notations, purchasing of this book story tale for the Amazon Kindle rates small monetary increments of $0.99!! Super fantastic sale for short duration!! Inquire swiftly!!)

Book is this receiving of heartiness “Two opposable thumbs thrust upward!”

(To unlock original Japanese version of this review, please key in the following: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start)

Book review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I don’t watch much TV, and I especially don’t watch any reality TV. I find it distasteful for all of the obvious reasons – the non-sensical use of “reality” to describe something that is little more than loosely scripted “entertainment” ridiculously acted out by people who are hyper aware of their roles and work for peanuts (which is to say, a shot at 15 minutes of hollow fame). For me, this was one of the most intriguing aspects of The Hunger Games.

Even in as close to a real-life scenario as one could conceive, a fight to the death Battle Royale pitting teens and tweens against each other, the ugly head of false-reality TV has its limitations. In the Games, which are put on by an oppressive Captiol set in a futuristic dystopia to keep its satellite Districts in line and remind them of a long-ago failed rebellion, the idea is to titillate the out of touch elite of the Haves and punish the District Have-not rubes by constantly reminding them under whose thumb they exist. But the Games are the ultimate deus ex machina as the Capitol’s Gamemakers ensure the action never lacks by manipulating everything from the environment to players’ own emotions.

So while the threat of death is constant and the danger is very real, there’s the element of unreality that pervades the whole scene. The way the main character, Katniss, tries to juggle real emotion with the manufactured kind that comes with “playing the game” was very well done.

The fact that the Gamemakers could at any time manipulate the game to their will basically meant that the author could at any time manipulate the plot to her will, and that unfortunately gave the entire story a deflated or muted intensity. Just as the Gamemakers can force the action, the author can save the day just in the nick of time with surprise gifts from sponsors who are watching the games and decide they want to pony up some cash and buy their favorite competitors some assistance. This provided more than one anti-climactic moment and broke what was otherwise great tension throughout the novel.

But for a YA novel, this is very well written and explores many themes that you may not expect to find in youth fiction. And really, I’m probably just over-analyzing this whole thing, because the book is simply a great, absorbing read. The love triangle it sets up for the next book doesn’t exactly entice me, but then it wasn’t written with me, a middle aged dude, in mind. I get that and I’m cool with it, and I’ll definitely move on to Catching Fire.