‘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.