Monday, April 30, 2012

The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, by Matthew Bowman


(hb; 2012: non-fiction)


From the inside flap:

"With Mormonism on the verge of an unprecedented cultural and political breakthrough, an eminent scholar of American evangelicalism explores the history and reflects on the future of this native-born American faith and its connection to the life of a nation.

"In 1830, a young seer and sometime treasure hunter named Joseph Smith began organizing adherents into a new religious community that would come to be called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (and known informally as the Mormons). One of the nascent faith's early initiates was a twenty-three-year-old Ohio farmer named Parley Pratt, a distant grandfather of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In The Mormon People, religious historian Matthew Bowman peels back the curtain on more than 180 years of Mormon history and doctrine. He recounts the church's origin and development, explains how Mormonism came to be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world by the turn of the twenty-first century, and ably sets the scene for a 2012 presidential election that has the potential to mark a major turning point in the way this 'all-American' faith is perceived by the wider American public - and internationally.

"Mormonism started as a radical movement, with a profoundly transformative vision of American society that was rooted in a form of Christian socialism. Over the ensuing centuries, Bowman demonstrates, that vision has evolved - and with it the esteem with which Mormons have been held in the eyes of their countrymen. Admired on one hand as hardworking paragons of family values, Mormons have been also been derided as oddballs and persecuted as polygamists, heretics, and zealots clad in 'magic underwear.' Even today, the place in Mormonism in public life continues to generate heated debate on both sides of the political divide. Polls show widespread unease at the prospect of a Mormon president. Yet the faith has never been more popular. Today there are about 14 million Mormons in the world, fewer than half of whom live inside the United States. It is a church with a powerful sense of its own identity and an uneasy sense of its relationship with the main line of American culture."


Review:

Informative, engaging and history-based read from a non-Mormon author that zips along nicely, without getting too thick with theology, but cutting to the root of the problems, raptures and mindsets of those of the Mormon faith. 

Prior to reading this, I was hostile to the Mormon church - I mean, seriously, knocking on strangers' doors to tell them their worldview is wrong (a.k.a., "sharing the good news"), how arrogant/invasive is that? - but now, I just consider them (aside from their Prop 8 proponent members) to be well-intentioned, tax-cheating (as a collective church) and must-make-babies-machine people* whom I strongly disagree with, in matters of politics and religion (which should always be kept separate).  As one meme reads: "Religion had its chance to run the world - it's called the Dark Ages."

[*Note that in this regard, I refer to the church as a whole, not its individual members.]

The Mormon People is worth owning, particularly if you're a non-Mormon who wants to (try to) understand the Mormon mindset and or why Mitt Romney is so willing to his flip-flop on key political issues - elements Bowman's non-judgmental, just-the-facts writing focuses on. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dead Man's Hand, by Nancy A. Collins


(hb; 2004: horror/western anthology)

From the back cover:

"Have you seen the dark, strange corners of this big ol' stretch' a land called the West? Sure, you've heard the stories of gunfights and gold rushes, but that ain't the half of it. Not by far.

"Have you met Dr. Mirablis and his miraculous elixir re-vitae? Or heard the real story of the Ghost Dance and the man they call Walking Wolf? How about Sam Hell, the Dark Ranger with a taste for blood?

"Looks like you need yourself an education, and there ain't no teacher better than Nancy A. Collins. Dead Man's Hand collects her acclaimed novellas 'Walking Wolf' and 'Lynch,' the short stories 'Calaverada' and 'The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride,' and completes the five-card draw with an all-new vampire Western novella 'Hell Comes Sundown.'

"The West has never been wilder. . . or weirder."


Overall review:

Dead Man's Hand is an exemplary anthology that seamlessly, with fresh visions and voices, brings together familiar-yet-new horror and the Old West elements; her writing is damn near impossible to set down, with its darkish wry twisty humor, relatable (or hiss-worthy) characters, as well as pitch-perfect, genre-veracious action, gore and horror elements.
Worth owning, this.


Story/novella descriptions:

1.) "Hell Comes Sundown": Sam Hell, an ex-Texas Ranger and vampire, and his companion, a squaw named Pretty Face, track a pestiferous conquistador bloodsucker (Sangre), who's traveling town to town and decimating them with his undead army.

2.) "Lynch": A resurrected gunman (Johnny Pearl), seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and unborn child, discovers that his brutal mission may be part of a larger design.

3.) "Walking Wolf": Walking Wolf, a raised-by-Comanche white man (and vargr - i.e., werewolf) recounts his violent, rollercoaster life that touches on noted historical events, and effective emotional points.

4.) "The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride": A dime novel-inspired leprechaun (Little Red) joins a second-rate gang of bank robbers with wild and life-changing results.

5.) "Calverada": Killers crashing a Day of the Dead festival learn a harsh lesson.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

**One of my older poems, kicking the wrecker bent, was published on the Primalzine site

One of my older poems, kicking the wrecker bent, was published in Primalzine's Spring 2012 issue.

It’s one of my suckier poems (it was a write-and-immediately-submit piece), but it got published anyway, with a misspelled by-line. Such is life. =)

Wrecker bent is still worth checking out, in a relic-from-a-ways-back way.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

**Alvin Burstein has published a novella, The Owl, on Lulu

Alvin Burstein, whose work, The crawfish boil, graced the Microstory A Week site last January, has published a novella, The Owl – “a riveting account of an academic swept up in divine war" – on Lulu.

Support an independent author/publisher, and check his novella out!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

**MorningAJ's Invention was republished on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

MorningAJ penned this week's story, Invention, about a machine whose importance may be outweighed by other factors.

Check this story out!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

**Kate Alexander-Kirk has had three new stories published!

Kate Alexander-Kirk, whose Hit and run graced the Microstory A Week site last month, has had several other pieces published recently:

Family Portraiture, about a troubling family photograph, on Mouse Tales Press

Say What You Mean, Please, a whimsical take on - well, read it and find out - on Winamop

Tea with Aunty, about a young girl's dream-downing relative, on Pure Slush

Check these stories out!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Punisher: P.O.V., by Jim Starlin, Bernie Wrightson & Bill Wray








(pb; 1991: four-issue comic book mini-series)

Review:

Engaging, action-packed tale, chock full of bad guys, anti-heroes and lots of twists, many of them expected (and character-true), some of them surprising - these latter plot-pretzels also add new wrinkles to well-established, iconic characters (e.g., Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher).

The plot: The Punisher, while seeking vigilante justice on an arms dealer, is, unexpectedly, swept up into larger, more complicated ventures - not only is he hunting a recently-released convict revolutionary-turned-mutated-vampire killer (Derrick "Deke" Wainscroft), but he's doing so (indirectly) with his his criminal arch-enemy, William Fisk (a.k.a. The Kingpin), along with Nick Fury ("Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D."), who all want Deke for different reasons.

Factor in divergent personalities, military and industrial conspiracies, morality and justice (or the lack thereof), and a seemingly-unstoppable killer, and you've got Punisher: P.O.V. - a hard-to-set-down, blast of a read that's more than just another shoot-'em-up, between Wrightson's trademark horrific illustrations, Wray's coloring and Starlin's character-centric writing.

This is one of the best Punisher mini-series I've read - one worth owning.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories by Harold Jaffe


(pb; 2010: microstory anthology. Cover image by Brandon Duncan)

From the back cover:

"These 50-word stories are based on 'found' texts from mainstream news sources and other public sites. Jaffe sculpts them to reveal their inner core, all niceties stripped away. Now the true motives, fears and sins of our age are on display for all who care to see.

"Amidst an internet-driven content boom, meaning has virtually disappeared. Anti-Twitter's extreme brevity demonstrates by example that brief need not = dumbed down. Though the stories describe a wide arc: high and pop culture, intimate and public, sordid and exalted, all subjects are equally laid bare by Jaffe. . ."

Review:

Excellent, cut-to-it-no-filler work that will have maximalists who still think Stephen King is a good writer grumbling and those of us - often called minimalists - who truly appreciate no-bullsh*t writing, celebrating.

Not all of Jaffe's 50-word microstories wowed me (some read like too-vague or inconclusive offerings), but most of them worked: trimming some of these from the book would have been wise, but even those few, flawed microstories are clearly reaching for something not normally reached for by most writers, so the mere fact of Jaffe attempting to do so makes these flawed works interesting, for the most part, rather than complete failures.

The forty-three microstories that wowed or intrigued me were pointed, funny, seething, ironic, playful and often disturbing in their blunt or wry assessments, e.g.:


Revolt

"A resident of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, trapped a mouse in his house.

"It was Fall, he was burning leaves outside, he tossed the alive mouse in the fire.

"But the mouse, inflamed, darted from the fire back into the house.

"The house and everything in it were incinerated.
"


This is one of my all-time favorite stories. I wish I had written this, one of the highest compliments I can pay any piece of writing.

Anti-Twitter is a smart, timely and great anthology - worth owning and re-reading.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The New Dead, edited by Christopher Golden


(pb; 2010: zombie anthology)


Overall review:

Above average zombie anthology, worth owning - most of the stories are good, at least slightly different than the others.

The only stories I didn't like were: Stephen R. Bissette's "Copper" (a good idea ruined by choppy and overlong writing), Mike Carey's "Second Wind" (too chatty, rambling) and Max Brooks' "Closure, Limited: A Story of World War Z" (Brooks' use of the present tense reads too much like stage directions - it's a failed Night of the Living Dead rehash/mini-play, at best).


Standout stories:

1.) "What Maisie Knew" - David Liss: A man (Walter Molton) purchases and houses a female Reanimate, an illegally resurrected (and preserved) zombie named Maisie, for reasons that aren't entirely beneficent.

A familiar but imaginative concept highlights this solid story.


2.) "In the Dust" - Tim Lebbon: Three survivors of a zombie plague find that a military barricade trapping them in their hometown might not be a bad fate: a good read that adeptly avoids clichés even as it stays genre true, with characters worth caring about.


3.) "Life Sentence" - Kelley Armstrong: Fun creepshow of a morality tale about a dying rich man (Daniel Boyd) whose ruthless bid for a "cure" takes darker-than-expected turns.


4.) "Delice" - Holly Newstein: A voudou priestess gets revenge on a rich deviant couple: mood-effective, all-around excellent story.


5.) "The Wind Cries Mary" - Brian Keene: Wonderful, emotive genre-blender story about a man and his zombie wife. Distinctive work.


6.) "Family Business" - Jonathan Maberry: An angry teenager (Benny Imura) seeks suitable employment in a undead-impacted world, even as his older brother, Tom, tries to guide him toward certain life-changing truths.

Superb, humane and well thought-out slant on the familiar shambler-human drama.


7.) "The Zombie Who Fell From the Sky" - M.B. Homler: Hilarious, satirical story about a sudden plague, poetry and the American military. Fans of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb may especially appreciate this one.


8.) "Among Us" - Aimee Bender: Uneven but off-beat and timely (given how the meat industry packages and sells it product) - "Among Us" is also amusing, in a Douglas Adams way.


9.) "Ghost Trap" - Rick Hautala: A fisherman-diver (Jeff Stewart) discovers an especially unsettling corpse, one that may herald further, familiar tragedies.

Solid, mood-effective, with a great use of title (given its plot-based elements).


10.) "The Storm Door" - Tad Williams: Nathan Nightingale, a paranormal investigator, finds that the returning, corpse-possessing dead he's been hunting are more dangerous than he initially thought.

Good read, notably different slant on the undead theme, especially when contrasted with those seen in this collection.


11.) "Weaponized" - David Wellington: Good, interesting, reads-like-real-life (if zombies were real) tale about the war dead being used to defend our country.



Other stories:

"Lazarus" - John Connolly; "My Dolly" - Derek Nikitas; "Kids and Their Toys" - James A. Moore; "Shooting Pool" - Joe R. Lansdale; "Twittering From The Circus Of The Dead" - Joe Hill.

**dani harris' Sinnerman was republished on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

dani harris penned this week's story, Sinnerman, about musically-structured damnation.

Check this story out. =)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

**Microfiction writers: I will be guest-editing the Leodegraunce site in April 2012. Submit a story or three!

I am the guest co-editor of Leodegraunce’s May 2012 issue – normally that honor is Jolie Du Pre’s – and the theme for that issue is cinema. I will be co-editing with my good friend and Leodegraunce associate editor, Gary Russell.

The deadline is April 30, 2012.

If you’re interested in submitting a 200-word-or-less story, and want to get an easy pay $5 (as well as get your work anthologized next year), check out the guidelines. Get your entries in as soon as possible, as this site receives a lot of submissions, but only publishes three or four.

Here, again, are the guidelines. I look forward to reading your work!

Spacial Delivery, by Gordon R. Dickson


(pb; 1961, 1979)

From the back cover:

"John Tardy didn't volunteer to do battle for maiden fair; he didn't know about the battle until he was in it. And no suit of armor either - on Dilbia, it's bare hands even when your opponent has the size, strength and temperament of a hungry Kodiak bear. John Tardy, a very competent Earth man figured all that could have been worked out, if only he could have arrived at the fight aboard a magnificent charger, or on his own two feet, or any way other than the way he was sent: as a packaged labelled Spacial Delivery."


Review:

Spacial Delivery is a light-hearted romp of a science fiction novel - the equivalent of a beach read, with more brains, imagination and exotic settings. Though it's not a landmark read, it's a well-written and engaging one: that is, it's worth checking out from the library, or purchasing for a few bucks.

**One of my poems, Rain day, was published in the latest issue of Apollo's Lyre

One of my older, mainstream poems, Rain day, was published in the Spring 2012 issue of Apollo’s Lyre.

Rain day also appears, in altered form, in my poetry anthology, Almost there: poems (available at Lulu.com).

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

**Sandra Davies' Assembly was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Sandra Davies penned this week's story, Assembly, about a leader seeking to inspire hope in his people.


Check this story out. =)