Saturday, April 04, 2015

Dark Corners (Spring 2015 issue) edited by CT McNeely, Emily J. McNeely and Steve Gallagher

(pb; pulp fiction magazine/anthology: Spring 2015, Vol. 1 Issue 3)

Overall review:

The third issue of this beating-heart-of-pulpiness magazine is just as exciting as its first two issues. Many of the fiction pieces have a nasty crime and borderline psychopathic feel to them and there are some intriguing speculative fiction and horror-ish works. These works are rounded out by a few book reviews and one striking, excellent poem (see the "Standout pieces" section below).

If you're a fan of pulp, this is a worthwhile magazine to support. This issue can be purchased here.

Standout pieces:

1.) "Long Time Gone" - Chris Leek: An ex-con's bad timing complicates his relationship with his daughter and their freedom. Especially good tale that is pulp-interesting and emotional, without being bathetic about it.

2.) "People Bug Me" - Will Viharo: An on-the-lam reporter interviews a small town shrink for an article after the shrink has been attacked by one his patients -- a teenage "lycanthrope," according to the doctor. Then things get really weird. . . this quick-blast, fun and excellent story has a Fifties film feel, appropriate since two Fifties films inspired it: The Sweet Smell of Success and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (both were released in 1957). One of my favorite stories in this issue.

(This story was originally published in the fifth issue of Nightmare Illustrated magazine in March 2014.)

3.) "The Bounty Hunter" - J. David Osbourne: Carnal and memorable piece about a tracker who encounters a criminal whose bizarre predilections unsettle the tracker. Funny finish to this one.

4.) "Sinner's Holiday" - Mark Krajnak: No-words-wasted, boiled-to-its-pulpy-core versework about the elements of a losing situation. Excellent, perfect, one of my favorite pieces in this issue.

5.) "Family Matters" - Bruce Harris: Two ex-cons (one a pro, the other crime-dumb) take on a closer-to-home job to avenge a misdeed. Quick plot-pretzel, gains-acceleration-as-it-progresses work, with a nasty, satisfying ending.

6.) "Twice Dead" - Gabino Iglesias: A P.I. (Maschietti), hired by a wealthy, drug-cognizant zombie (Areola Armstrong), tracks down the mysterious murderer of her famous scientist father. This clever story hits most of the expected Chinatown-esque marks, but knowing Iglesias' references adds to the fun (in this instance).

7.) "The Last Blue Sky: Starflight" - J.J. Sinisi: Jet packs, Japanese demons and Nazis highlight this America-has-been-invaded speculative fiction tale. "Last" is a chock-full-of-action, imaginative read, with an open-to-a-sequel ending.

8.) "Man's Gotta Eat" - Warren Moore: Brutal stream-of-consciousness story about a low-life, interesting in an intense and morally void way.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

(1997: fourth novel in the Space Odyssey quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

"It began four million years ago with a gleaming black monolith - an inexplicable apparition that ignited the spark of human consciousness, transforming ape into man.

"It continued at the dawn of the twenty-first century when an identical black monolith was excavated on the moon -- beginning the adventures of Dave Bowman, his deputy (Frank Poole) and the supercomputer HAL.

"Only Dave Bowman would survive to encounter a third, and far more massive, monolith on Jupiter's moon, Europa -- and be forever transformed into the star child.

"It is the world of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And now, the odyssey enters its perilous, ultimate stage. In 3001, the human race, incredibly, has survived, fearful of the trio of monoliths that dominate the solar system. Then a single hope flickers. The body of Frank Poole, believed dead for a thousand years, is recovered from the frozen reaches of the galaxy. Poole is restored to conscious life, and readied to resume the voyage that HAL abruptly terminated a thousand years ago. He knows he can't proceed without David Bowman. But first he must fathom the terrifying truth of what Bowman -- and HAL -- have become inside the monolith."


3001 is an excellent, tone-, character- and science-consistent conclusion to the Space Odyssey quadrilogy. It seamlessly dovetails the storylines and characters from the previous three books into a satisfactory, if quiet, wrap-up. Like the other Space Odyssey books, it is worth owning.


The Syfy Channel is scheduled to air the resulting miniseries in 2017. I will update this post when I receive more information regarding the details of this television project.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spider-man: The Birth of Venom by various authors and writers

(oversized pb; 2007: graphic novel)

From the back cover:

"The origin of Venom!

"The Beyonder's Battleworld might seem a stranger place to get new threads, but it's Spiderman who becomes unraveled when his shape-changing costume attempts to darken his life as well as his fashion sense! But ridding himself of his riotous rainment proves an even greater mistake when its alien enmity bonds with mortal madness to form our hero's most dedicated decimator! Plus: the first appearance of Puma and the Rose! Mary Jane Watson's startling secret! And the debut of the battling. . . . Bag-Man!? Guest-starring the Black Cat, the Fantastic Four and more!

"Collecting Secret Wars #8; Amazing Spider-man #252 - 259, #298 - 300,  #315 - 317 and Annual #25; Fantastic Four #274; and Web of Spider-Man #1 -- written by Jim Shooter, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, Louis Simonson and David Michelinie; and illustrated by Mike Zeck, Ron Frenz, Rick Leonardi, John Byrne, Greg Larocque and Todd McFarlane."


Venom is an exciting, chock-full-of-action-and-personal-drama read that I burned through in two hours. Being older and being a writer, I prefer the earlier issues in this collection, whose publication dates span from 1984 to the early nineties. While nostalgia no doubt plays a part in my preference, it is ultimately that the older issues have more interesting takes on the characters, as well as stronger and more complex writing. Not only that, the artwork is more consistently excellent.

Later storylines are simplified and seem to favor Todd McFarlane's ultra-splashy artwork, which give the characters, their motivations and their actions a paper-thin feel. The characters are too cartoonish. This cartoonishness dominates the writing, as well. Bear in mind, I am not saying that McFarlane is not talented; I admire his work a lot. What I am saying is he should have reined in his page-splashes to allow for more nuance, complexity and consistency in his Venom work.

Having written that, this was a mostly-excellent, fun collection, one worth owning (for cheap) for three-quarters of its content. If you can check it out from your local library, even better.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke

(hb; 1987: third novel in the Space Odyssey quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

". . . Heywood Floyd, survivor of two previous encounters with the mysterious monoliths, must again confront David Bowman -- or whatever Bowman has become -- a newly independent HAL, and the power of an alien race that has decided that Humanity is to play a part in the evolution of the galaxy whether it wishes to or not."


While exploring Halley's Comet, Heywood Floyd and his shipmates on the Universe receive the message that the crew of the Galaxy -- one of them Heywood's grandson Chris -- has crashed on Europa, an evolving, unstable planet circling the minisun Lucifer (once known as the planet Jupiter). Their danger is exacerbated by the monolith makers' explicit warning that men should not land on Europa, an experimental satellite under the monolith makers' control.

Politics, greed and (once again) curiosity highlight this third entry in the Space Odyssey series, which is just as exciting and optimistic -- on scientific  and storytelling levels -- as its predecessor novels, 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two.

2061 is not only worth reading, it is worth owning. Followed by 3001: The Final Odyssey.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke

(hb; 1982: second novel in the Space Odyssey quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

"When 2001: A Space Odyssey [was first published, it] was recognized as a classic. . . [It spawned] a host of questions. . .

"Who or what transformed Dave Bowman into the Star Child? What purpose lay behind the transformation? What would become of the Star Child?

"What alien purpose lay behind the monoliths on the Moon and out in space?

"What could drive HAL, a stable, intelligent computer, to kill the crew? Was HAL really insane? What happened to HAL and the spaceship Discovery after Dave Bowman disappeared?

". . . Now all those questions and many more have been answered. . . in this. . . sequel [to 2001: A Space Odyssey.]"


Writing a sequel to a widely-loved, landmark book can be a thankless task, as expectations  are often high for said continuations. No doubt, Clarke had some sense of this when he set to work on 2010.

Thankfully, this second entry in the Space Odyssey quadrilogy is a worthy continuation of 2001.

2010, while not as initially dramatic as the first book, has many of the same characters who were in, or mentioned in, 2001. Not only that, it has that slow-build, well-foreshadowed sense of menace, mystery and urgency that made the first book such a compelling read -- and it has enough updated real-life science to keep it interesting for "hard" science fiction readers, as well. The ending (intense and intriguing in its hair-raising action) is a satisfactory progression of the first book, and -- without pandering to the must-have-a-sequel urge -- sports a natural finish that inherently welcomes another book, as the mystery of this Odyssey (as well as its stakes) have been raised to an entirely new level.

Like 2001, 2010 is worth owning. Followed by 2061: Odyssey Three.


The film version, 2010, was released stateside on December 7, 1984. Peter Hyams, the film's director, also wrote its screenplay.

Roy Scheider played Dr. Heywood Floyd. John Lithgow played Dr. Walter Curnow. Helen Mirren played Tanya Kirbuk. Bob Balaban played R. Chandra. Elya Baskin played Maxim Brajlovsky.

Keir Dullea reprised his role as Dave Bowman. Douglas Rain once again voiced  HAL 9000.

Mary Jo Deschanel played "Betty Fernandez, Bowman's Wife". Dana Elcar played Dimitri Moisevitch. Madelyn Smith Osborne, billed as Madelyn Smith, played Caroline Floyd. Taliesin Jaffe played Christopher Floyd.  

Candice Bergen, billed as Olga Mallsnerd, voiced SAL 9000.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pitcher of Moon by Jane Kohut-Bartels

(pb; 2014: poetry anthology)

From the back cover:

"If there is a singular theme that informs and underlies the diverse poems in this book, it is compassion. An expansive emotive range is traversed here, from heart-rending tragedy and despair to the sunny light of humour and optimism, and through it all flows a deep river of compassion for humanity, the world, nature and its wondrous creatures. . ."

Overall review:

Pitcher is an excellent and mood-effective collection of theme-tight and -mingled verseworks. These themes, recurrent in Kohut-Bartel's evolving, increasingly masterful collections, include: relationships -- with family, spouses and Nature; the moment-to-moment vagaries of life and change, with their infinite permutatons and surprises.

This is a great anthology from a great poet (and all-around writer). It can be purchased here.

Standout poems:

1.) "O Absalom!": Desire and nature are one in this proclamatory, healing versework. (A different, less streamlined version of this appeared in Kohut-Bartels' first poetry anthology A Seasoning of Lust.)

2.) "High Road": A traveler makes a choice between divergent paths, with the help of an old man. This, with its poetry-familiar echoes of Robert Frost, breathes new life into a known metaphor.

3.) "A Dish of Skylarks": Excellent poem with especially sharp writing and a laugh-out-loud finish. This is one of my favorite entries in this collection. Here's a taste of it:

"A dish of skylarks
fell into my lap,
and I, ravenous with
a multitude of hungers,
ate them.

"Between burps
one did escape,
shook himself,
and offered a feather. . ."

4.) "Imaginary Friends": Straightforward and effective poem about a boy's inner life and his physical reality.

5.) "Night Fire Road": Stanza'd, vivid musing about a mysterious backroad.

6.) "Night Poem": Excellent, aurally-rich versework. One of my favorites in this collection.

7.) "Poem For My Husband": Tender, disturbing (for its veracities) work about the underlying nature and fragility of intimacy. This is an exemplary, nailed-it piece. One of my favorites in this anthology.

8.) "The Apple Tree": Sad, warm and strangely hopeful poem about its titular object and the memory of illness. (This is an alternate version of a same-titled piece in Kohut-Bartels' first anthology A Seasoning of Lust.)

9.) "Nippon Tsuki": Beautiful, three-part Japanese-themed poem.

10.) "Autumn Coming": This one is about a seasonal, possibly cosmic shift, as experienced in a moonlit pond.

11.) "Rude Spring": Stark, excellent and effective take on the transition between winter and spring.

12.) "Turkey Vultures": Interesting take on the titular bird.

13.) "The Thaw": A woman's new openness to love is equated with the warming of a creek. Excellent metaphorical work.

14.) "Autumn Poem of Mid-November": Beautiful, superb poem.

15.) "Dusk": Soothing, beautiful versepiece. One of my favorites in this collection.

16.) "Original Blessing": The true nature of birth and divinity is poetically, effectively illustrated.

17.) "Snakes in the 'Hood": Gentle, loving stanza-work about the wrongly maligned snake (in the present) and its celebration in the distant past. One of my favorites in this anthology.

18.) "Attending to the Spirit in Spring": Beautiful poem about its titular season.

19.) "Viva Negativa": Stark-toned, excellent piece about the cyclic and inherent nature of winter.

20.) and 21.) "I Remember" and "I Wonder": This companion-themed poems are two separate, progressive parts of a verse-story. The first poem, "I Remember," shows a woman recalling her father's death and how it affected her. The second, "I Wonder," once again delves into the themes of darkness and parent-child relationships, this time in a different way.

22.) "Coppermine Road": Vivid tale-verse about a Jersey copper mine and strange nature. One of my favorites in this collection.

23.) "The Homecoming": American history, memory and ambivalence shape the tone of this one. Especially good work.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon

(hb; 2015: rock 'n' roll memoir)

From the inside flap:

"For many, Kim Gordon, vocalist, bassist and founding member of Sonic Youth, has always been the epitome of cool.

"Sonic Youth is one of the most influential and successful bands to emerge from the post-punk New York scene, and their legacy continues to loom large over the landscape of indie rock and American pop culture. Almost as celebrated as the band's defiantly dissonant sound was the marriage between Gordon and her husband, fellow Sonic Youth found and lead guitarist Thurston Moore. So when Matador Records released a statement in the fall of 2011 announcing that -- after twenty-seven years -- the two were splitting, fans were devastated. In the middle of a crazy world, they'd seemed so solid.

"What did this mean? What comes next? What came before?

"In Girl in a Band, the famously reserved superstar speaks candidly about her past and the future. From her childhood in the sunbaked suburbs of Southern California, growing up with a mentally ill sibling who often sapped her family of emotional capital, to New York's downtown art and music scene in the eighties and nineties and the birth of a band that would pave the way for bands like Nirvana, as well as help inspire the Riot Grrl generation, here is an edgy and evocative portrait of a life in art."


Girl is a standout, thoughtful and atypical music memoir in that it doesn't read like a VH-1 Behind the Music episode with its usual drug-addled rise-and-fall-of-a-band arcs. Instead, Gordon's nonfiction book is smart, precise and effective in its quick-sketch, warm mentions of her emotions and experiences as a woman, artist, musician, wife and mother. There is -- for this reader, at least -- enough details about Sonic Youth's music and songs that were particularly moving for her, though bass guitarist geeks might be disappointed at how little she writes about her instrument tunings (which varied over the course of the band's thirty-year period).

This is an excellent rock 'n' roll and art memoir, one worth owning.