Ancient Book Reviews Part Two

By | August 21, 2014 | 1 Comments
Darrell K. Sweet WAS the 1980s As Far As I was Concerned

Darrell K. Sweet WAS the 1980s as Far as I Was Concerned

Not too long ago I wrote about Lyndon Hardy’s “Five Magics” series with the intention of regularly returning to my ancient bookshelves to contemplate treasured cheap paperbacks from my youth. And then of course forgot all about it. Until today! Today for reasons beyond my ken I was moved to consider one of the most obscure books I’ve ever read, and one that I will frankly admit I do not remember at all: Dennis McCarty’s Flight to Thlassa Mey, published by Del Rey in 1986 and on my shelves ever since.

I remember nothing about this book, or the two sequels I also own.

This is what fascinates me about my book collection, these books I can’t remember. Dennis McCarty sold this book, no doubt promoted it, and published sequels and at least one other book I can identify – and yet no one remembers him or this book. Sure, someone does, but collectively he’s been burned out of the pattern. Since I always worry this will be my own fate, I’m drawn back to these obscure books.

And yet, nothing, literally nothing remains in my memory about this book. Sure, I read it 30 years ago and never again since – but you’d think something would remain, right? There are books on my shelves with similar stories – bought three decades ago by a younger man, read once, carted around the country ever since – but I recall at least a few slivers of detail and plot from them.

Flight to Thlassa Mey: Nothing.

The scant information on the Internet doesn’t help much; the book was a fairly standard fantasy from the 1980s (one glance at the cover tells you as much) and it was a time in my life when I was reading three books a week, just burning through cheap paperbacks like there was no tomorrow. I probably read this in three days and was on to the next thing immediately afterwards, all of its story elements lost in a swirl of swords and wizards and (based on the cover) princesses wearing ridiculous head gear.

But it is precisely this lack of information and memory that now fascinates me. Sure, I could read this again and maybe I should, but what really grabs me about this is the complete obscurity of it all. Try to find out something about the author or his books: I dare you. And that of course drives me to pour approximately six fingers of whiskey into a paper cup and slam it down, forgetting that I had just done that a few moments ago, and now here I am finishing this post from the hospital. Again.

Certainly the odds are good that I’ll be this guy in 20 years. While I’ve sold a few books and made a little money (and published more novels – 9 in October than most), I haven’t made any lasting cultural impact and don’t pretend that I have. If I stopped writing today, slowly I’d just sink beneath the waves of history, which will likely happen even if I continue to publish – there are books and authors that were best sellers in their day that are now totally forgotten, after all.

So, for a book review, this was shit. I can’t remember a thing about the book. You have learned nothing concerning whether or not you should read this book aside from the fact that no one remembers it which I guess is actually a pretty useful piece of data so this was, in fact, a great review and you are welcome.

The Inner Swine Guide to Ignorance Episode 8

By | August 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

(This originally appeared in Brutarian Quarterly #54; for a while I wrote a column there about ignorance in general and my ignorance in specific. It was a lot of fun and I figure I’ll post them here now and again.)

BROMANCE IS REAL

BROMANCE IS REAL

Episode Eight: Ignorance for the Win!

My wife teaches me things every day, alleviating the huge welter of my ignorance little by little. Admittedly, most of this education concerns my many, many failings, but hell, ignorance of something is ignorance, and through her violent and painful lessons I emerge a smarter—and slightly anemic—man.

Sometimes, though, these lessons are a little more general, if no less painful. Like, for example, the following recent example:

ME: Wha? Where am I?
THE DUCHESS: On the couch. Watching TV.
ME: Wha? What is. . .what is that?
THE DUCHESS: This is a television show called Bromance.
ME: . . .I wish now I could have remained ignorant of this show.
THE DUCHESS: Too late! HEY! Keep those eyes open or I break out the clamps.
ME: Yes’m.

Bromance was a show on MTV starring Brody Jenner, son of former Olympic star and current plastic surgery victim Bruce Jenner. The show was all about Brody trying to choose a new best friend. The reasons why he needs a new best friend and why we’re imagined to care are difficult to explain if you aren’t forced to watch this sort of terrible, terrible TV show in the first place, but, sadly, I now know all about Mr. Jenner and his awful show. I am, sadly, no longer ignorant about Bromance. Pray for me.

Of course, you never know—this unwanted knowledge of Bromance might come in handy. Bizarre and impossible as it might sound at first blush, you have to remember the fact that none of us know what’s coming—there are no spoilers in life. So who can say that Bromance might not someday save my life? No one can say, that’s who. As far as any of you can prove, knowledge of Bromance could certainly save my life someday.

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The Real Reason “Halt & Catch Fire” Sucked

By | August 15, 2014 | 1 Comments
This poster is much better than the actual show.

This poster is much better than the actual show.

So, if you were one of the very small number of people who watched Halt and Catch Fire on AMC this summer (possible reasons for your interest include being fascinated by 1980s-era computer technology and hacking [that would be my excuse] or possibly a fascination with bad television [also, strangely, me]), you likely share my reaction to the Season One Finale: A disgusted shrug. Put succinctly: This show was awful.

Also, the Whitest Show Ever Produced (and I watch Mad Men, y’all). But mainly: Awful.

It was, however, awful in a curious way. Yes, the writing was slipshod, the show reached for ridiculous dramatic moments far too often and failed to pull them off, and for some reason thought simply giving a character a “mysterious backstory” and then immediately revealing it to be a shallow and poorly conceived …. non-moment was somehow deconstructive or brilliant. Sure, stipulated.

The real reason this show sucked? It was too real. Halt and Catch Fire was the realest fucking show on television.

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The Age of Antagonism

By | August 13, 2014 | 3 Comments
Mr. Pratt Will See Himself Now

Mr. Pratt Will See Himself Now

Hey, have you heard about this new movie Guardians of the Galaxy and its breakout (human) star, Chris Pratt? Who’s getting a lot of press because he’s charming and funny and quite good in the film?

Someone out there wants you to know he’s a douche. Specifically, Tracy Clark-Flory over at Salon.com in this stunningly awful piece (do me a favor and don’t click on that link). In it, Tracy admonishes our praise for Pratt because he’s been “acting douchier than ever before.”

Now, I’m all for deflating Hollywood egos and frankly I don’t give a shit if anyone likes Chris Pratt or not, but this is a prime example of the new Age of Antagonism that our click-baiting culture has immersed us in. The way it works is simple: Take something simple and generally agreed upon in the sane world (e.g., Chris Pratt is charming and entertaining) and write something that walks up to that generally-accepted idea and shits all over it. For no other reason than to sop up the traffic that such ‘controversy’ will generate.

If you read Tracy’s piece on Salon, you’ll note her examples of “douchier” behavior are all based on the fact that he lost some weight, started working out, and seems proud and excited about his new physique and the acting opportunities it gives him. There’s also a vague and poorly-worded glance at sexism and how women are treated differently when they lose weight, but mainly her argument is that Chris Pratt posted a shirtless selfie and thus sucks.

Does Tracy really believe this? Who knows, or cares. I doubt Tracy knows, or cares. The point is simply to get a lot of Chris Pratt’s fans to share that article far and wide with disgusted and outraged commentary, and keep those sweet, sweet clicks coming in.

That Thing You Like Actually Sucks CLICK HERE TO SLAP ME IN THE FACE

This shit is becoming more and more common. How many times have you seen a headline that is so obviously wrong and stupid you couldn’t wait to give the author a piece of your mind? You just got used, friendo.

It’s all about the clicks, and if you can’t get those clicks by writing something interesting, why not get them by trolling everyone, because that’s what this shit is. If this was 1977 someone would be writing the STAR WARS IS SHIT AND YOU ARE FOOLS FOR LIKING IT post right now, dreaming of the explosion in their Google Analytics. It’s trolling, pure and simple, except on a slightly more sophisticated scale than simply posting something profane on a message board and running away. And instead of feeding the trolls with attention, we are literally feeding them with advertising money earned from the ad impressions they’re getting off the traffic.

Sigh. Nothing illegal about this of course. I guess what offends me really is the insincerity. Which – me complaining about insincerity – is ironic in many, many ways. I’d like to starve this particular breed of troll, though, because, frankly, it wastes my time.

Categories: Bullshit

My GISHWHES Entry

By | August 11, 2014 | 2 Comments
Elopus

Elopus

As you may be aware, there was a Scavenger Hunt last week in which the participants were tasked, in part, with getting a published Sci Fi author to write them a story of no more than 140 words and including the Queen of England, Misha Collins (actor), and the GISHWHES mascot the Elopus (shown here).

Strangely, I’ve read there was some controversy over this as authors complained that they were being harassed about writing free things, when everyone knows that authors must demand pennies per word for every single thing they write because we are professionals, damn it. Huh. I was asked by one team, and was happy to do it. If I’d been asked by dozens, maybe I would have balked.

Anyways, here’s my entry, which was kind of fun to bang out in ten minutes and send via Facebook to the PearatroopersLovesBuccaneers team.

You Could Not Have Been More Wrong

by Jeff Somers

Dmitri, I am sorry.”

Call me Misha.”

The fat old man in his too-tight vest was sweating. Misha thought back: Blue light, shattered glass. His Great-Great Grandfather, Dorr, in a brass and velvet time machine, controlled by a Comptograph.

Come,” the old man had shouted, punching keys. “Let me show you something wonderful! First, we must pick up my friend Victoria.”

Now they hovered in a void. Upon their arrival in this nothingness the Queen had let out a Scream and died.

Floating: An elephant’s head, tentacles sprouting from it, huge. The tentacles reaching towards them, the mouth open and so dark.

It was to be beautiful,” the old man wept.

Misha noted that his tanner had stained the fluffy white hotel bathrobe. “You could not have been more wrong.”

THE END

Thursday is Guitar Day

By | August 7, 2014 | 1 Comments

Epiphone Les Paul CustomThe fact that my guitar playing is like 34th on Jeff’s List of Mighty Skills and that some of the skills listed, like #13, Comprehending the Plots of Long-Running Prestige Television Dramas, aren’t all that impressive, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to these compositions, which are heartfelt expressions of whatever scales and chord progressions I could make my hands form at that particular moment.

Here, songs:

Song644
Song651
Song653
Song655
Song656
Song659

You’re welcome.

The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.

Categories: gee-tar

“Dollhouse” and The Problem with U.S.-Style TV

By | August 6, 2014 | 4 Comments

DollhouseIf you fear spoilers on 5-year old TV shows, boy are you in the wrong place.

About five years late to the party, I started watching Dollhouse on Netflix recently out of curiosity. I remember the show, vaguely, from it’s run on broadcast TV, recalled the slight buzz about the unaired season 1 finale, so I tuned in. I often watch stuff out of morbid curiosity: Canceled shows, films with record low Tomatometer rankings, that sort of thing.

Dollhouse, for those who don’t share my morbid curiosity about failed pop culture, is a Joss Whedon show developed around the concept of “imprinting” personalities on people. The titular “dolls” are volunteers (mostly) who sign a 5-year contract, have their own personalities removed, and spend their time being imprinted with whatever the clients need them to be. Sometimes it’s a security expert. Sometimes a secret agent. Usually, the show implies very heavily, it’s a sex toy.

The show starts off a little rough with some really, really bad stories involving reasons to get Eliza Dushku into skimpy outfits. Slowly, the over-arching story arc asserts itself: The “doll” technology is getting out of hand, and that unaired final episode of season 1 makes it very clear: The “doll” technology is going to end the world as we know it.

Dollhouse as it ended up – 26 episodes – is a hot mess. But there’s a really, really great story in there that would have worked incredibly well in a British-style short-run of maybe 10-12 episodes.

The American Model  = Doom

To be fair, you can almost see (and Whedon has said as much) how Dollhouse got sold: Eliza Dushku in hot outfits, engaged in a new Charlie’s Angel-esque adventure every week, but with a Sci-Fi glamour about it. The first few episodes are pretty much this, and they’re awful. Whedon actually started to say publicly that people should stick around for episode 6 of the first season because that’s where he thought he began to assert the type of show he really wanted to make – and it shows.

A lot of Dollhouse is this awful filler, with the “dolls” instantly transformed into spies, backup dancers, fancy prostitutes, and other fairly dull ideas. The true joy of this series is in the back story and the arc, which details how the technology became mobile and broadcastable – meaning you could “imprint” someone over the phone, essentially – and how that basically allowed the rich and powerful to live forever by snatching other bodies, and how that basically led to the total breakdown of society and the end of civilization.

That story is pretty damn good.

The other aspects of the show that work are where the basic premise of imprinting someone is explored in more interesting ways. When a Doll is imprinted with a recently murdered woman who then investigates her own murder. When a major character on the show is revealed to have been a Doll who wasn’t aware of her status – who thought she was real, and her reaction to this knowledge is explored.

But mainly, it’s the end-of-the-world stuff that grabbed me. Cut away about 50% of the episodes, and you’d have a pretty tight British-style show that told an interesting Sci-Fi story. And you’d still have plenty of opportunities to put Dushku into miniskirts and have her shake her ass a little.

That’s the problem with American-style TV: The goal is always infinite episodes, or at least 100 episodes and syndication. This automatically lends itself to padding, filler, and awful plot decisions. In fact, I’d say that the fact that Dollhouse was pretty much always in danger of being cancelled at any time is likely why so much of it actually works – because Whedon was forced to always be thinking hard about getting his story goals accomplished. I can picture him madly typing away in some smoke-filled office, trying desperately to get to a denouement before FOX canceled his ass.

Is Dollhouse great TV? Not really. But it might have been, if they weren’t shooting for infinite episodes. Now that we’re moving into an era when a show like Dollhouse, with its traditionally puny 26 episodes – along with popular British fare like Sherlock, Luther, and The Fall – can be successful on Netflix, or Amazon, or Hulu, maybe we’ll see more experimentation this way, and more shows modeled on a shorter run, with less filler. And that would be awesome.

 

American Wedding Confidential: Will The Real Best Man Please Stand Up?

By | August 5, 2014 | 0 Comments
Out Now. BUY IT.

Out Now. BUY IT.

Celebrating the publication of my darkly humorous novella The Ruiner (out now from Damnation Books at Amazon and B&N), I thought I’d repost this essay I once wrote for the zine.

In which I learn the explosive force of love.

About year ago this Thursday my old friend Emil got married and asked me to be his best man. Emil’s a good friend of The Inner Swine Inner Circle (TISIC) in general, and there was some resentment, jealousy, and harsh words concerning my elevation to Best Man status. There were also isolated incidents of violence. Eventually, Emil managed to cool tempers and remind the rest of TISIC that they were, above all else, contractually obligated to me in perpetuity. After that impassioned speech the members of TISIC retreated to their various abodes to scan the fine print of their contracts, only to return in much more manageable moods.

The Best Man has a lot of duties in the modern wedding. Whereas in the good old days he was merely a responsible member of the groom’s clan who vouched for the groom’s sanity, financial solvency, and lack of venereal diseases, these days the Best Man has lots to do: organize a bachelor party (I’m told it was a humdinger; personally I don’t remember much after that fifth body shot off of Lola the Stripper’s washboard stomach), deliver the viciously hungover groom to the actual wedding the next day (Emil still had his Emergency Room ID bracelet on), manage not to vomit during the ceremony, and then, finally, and most importantly, make a speech at the reception.

The Best Man’s Speech is supposed to accomplish a few minor but cherished conventions: it’s supposed to compliment the groom, his choice of bride, and form a verbal bridge between the carefree days of the groom’s prior friendships and the more complex but equally rewarding years of mature friendship to come. In other words, the Best Man’s job is to reassure the groom’s buddies that they will indeed see him from time to time despite the nag he’s chaining himself to, and to reassure the groom that his buddies will always be there to say mean things about his wife in private if he needs them to.

I worked very hard on my speech in the ambulance, riding with Emil to the ER after the bachelor party had taken a dramatic turn. The transcript which follows is taken from the wedding video, and more accurately reflects what was actually said than the scrawled speech written on cocktail napkins in the ambulance. I think I accomplished the goals of the Best Man’s Speech admirably:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and family, I’ve known Emil for sixteen years. When we met back in prison we didn’t like each other very much; he always wanted to pitch and I never let him. Being cellmates gave us time to get to know each other and by the time our parole hearing came up I was proud to stand next to him, hold his hand, and testify that we had each found Jesus and would dedicate our lives to upholding the laws of the land if we were released.

“In short, I’ve known Emil long and well. And in many ways, most of which I don’t wish to discuss here.
Over the years Emil and I have gone through a great many things and we’ve always supported each other: when my dog Skippy died, Emil was there to help me through it, tenderly digging a grave for poor Skippy and getting me drunk later that night before we traced the plate number of the car that hit Skippy and set it on fire, in revenge.

“When I became addicted to Internet Porn a few years ago, alienating my friends and family, losing my job, ending up at one point getting busted for public lewdness in The @ Café in New York City, Emil was the one who came to my apartment one July evening, knocked me cold and kidnapped me. Emil kept me in a cold, dark basement for six months, deprogramming me. To this day whenever I see a computer keyboard I shake and vomit helplessly. While this has caused me difficulty and unpopularity at work, it saved me: if not for Emil and the vicious torture he put me through in that basement, I would be in some asylum somewhere, trying to log onto from a pay phone.

“Emil has always been there for me, and I am pleased to be here for him today, the day he marries Petra.

“In the four and a half days I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Petra, I’ve realized that Emil’s life was but an empty and meaningless melange of sex, drugs, and progressive jazz music. In less than a week, she has become not only a dear friend of mine, but a dear friend of all the members of The Inner Swine Inner Circle, The Inner Swine being the magazine I publish which I really think you all ought to read and purchase subscriptions, because you see that large black guy in the back standing with several dozen men in fatigues? That’s Ken [REDACTED] and he’s going to be waiting for you after the reception, and all I can say is that he’s much nicer to people who have subscriptions than to anyone else, and I can also say that I have less and less influence over him every day.

“What? All right, all right, Emil, Jesus, calm the fuck down, okay?

“Anyway, as I was saying, Petra has not only redeemed Emil from his obvious descent into damnation and syphilitic degeneration, but she has entered and improved the lives of all of us. She’s a rare and delicate flower of womanhood, she’s a compassionate and beautiful creature who’s….energy and….emotion….and….and….ladies and gentlemen, I love her. Petra, I love you.

“I cannot stand here and pretend that everything is okay, while I am dying inside! Petra, I’ve been dying inside all these past few days! Ever since Tuesday night I’ve been tortured by my love for you, while you marry this troll, this monster, this syphilitic mistake masquerading as a man! Oh, the stories I could tell you! Emil, the whoremonger! Emil the petty thief! The man he killed in Mexico! The drugs he dealt to little kids while on work release! The Kiddie Porn! Oh, Petra, you’re making a mistake!

“Ladies and gentlemen, keep that madman away from me! Excuse me….pardon me….Ken! Help! Ladies and gentlemen, I beseech you! Petra! Petra!”

(At this point the audio becomes garbled as many voices intrude and the action on-screen gets a little hectic. Occasionally you can here me shouting “Not the face!” but I don’t think technically that’s part of the speech. At this point I felt the explosive power of love, and it certainly beat the shit out of me)

I often wonder what became of Emil and Petra. I suspect he still communicates with other members of TISIC, but none of the bastards will admit it, and the court order prevents me from finding out for myself. If anyone has heard of Emil and Petra’s whereabouts, please contact me. There’s money in it for you.

WDC14: Achievement Unlocked

By | August 4, 2014 | 4 Comments
Me Smart.

Me Smart.

SO, I was a speaker and panelist at the Writer’s Digest Conference over the weekend, which was a blast. I went in assuming what I always assume: That no one knows who I am and the entire experience would be one of richer, better-selling authors pelting me with refuse and chanting hurtful things until I finally broke down into tears, at which point someone would film me blubbering, post it to YouTube, and it would get 5,000,000 views within moments.

That’s what I always assume.

But, it went well! First, I was on a panel with fellow authors Joe Nelms, Julia Fierro, Kristopher Jansma, Sean Ellis, and Kelly Braffet where we discussed our experiences getting published and getting agents, which I think was eye-opening and educational for all involved and where I managed to avoid doing something embarrassing by using the Pro Tip of keeping my hands in my lap the whole time so as to avoid knocking things over and accidentally picking my nose.

I'm the psycho-killer looking one in the middle.

I’m the psycho-killer looking one in the middle.

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Prank to Work It In

By | July 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

I handed my license over to the pretty young receptionist with a flirtatious but mild grin, despite my guess that she could be my granddaughter.

“My HDPT number is—”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hemming,” she interrupted perkily, “but we have a new policy. I’m afraid you must submit to a Pin Test. We no longer accept HDPT as proof of coverage.” She smiled prettily, eyes twinkling.

I frowned. “I’ve always used my HDPT number. I’ve been a patient here for six years.”

She smiled again, nodding. But I could see her grin grow just slightly brittle. “I know, sir, and all the doctors apologize. But we experienced some security concerns recently, and for the time being we are forced to employ stringent security. We do apologize for the inconvenience.”

I considered. I knew I seemed like a typical whining rich asshole, and she—being at best a Class II or IIA employee—probably hated me. But I disliked DNA traces. The government had enough information on me as it was, and I paid plenty to keep it that way. As far as I knew their last update on me was seventeen years old—but that would change in seconds if I submitted to a Pin Test.

Then again, I had a rattle in my chest that made me nervous.

“Oh, all right. Sorry to be a bother. I know you’re just doing your job.” I held out my hand.

She softened a little. “You’re no bother, at all, really. Some of our patients are real horrors, you know.”

She said this in a mock-conspiratorial tone that made me think she didn’t hate me after all. “That makes me feel better. Maybe you’d care to tell me some stories? Over dinner, perhaps?”

Not pausing in her swabbing and pricking one finger, she glanced up at me. “I’m not supposed to be overly friendly with the patients.”

“I see.” I didn’t want to push things, it was so easy to be misinterpreted when your credit rating outclassed everyone in the room. “Well,” I winced as she quite professionally drew blood from one finger, “I’ll consider that my loss.”

She smiled again as she inserted the samples into her desk workstation. It chimed pleasantly almost immediately. “Very well, Mr.—” she glanced at the screen unnecessarily “—Hemming, you can go right in.”

I nodded and turned for the door.

“Oh, Mr. Hemming?”

I paused and turned back to her.

“Happy birthday! One hundred thirty; that’s impressive!” There was nothing nice in her eyes.

I glanced around the room in a reflexive shame reaction. “Thank you.” I managed, hating her. I hesitated, watching her cheerful smile slowly turn quizzical. “Do you know who I am? Why I get to be here?”

Her smile was carefully plastic. “No,” she admitted.

Nor, I could see, did she care. I turned back to the entrance, hating her. just as she was undoubtedly hating me, for still being alive.

(more…)

Categories: Free Short Stories

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