Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast

Review by Joey Madia

If you are looking for a weird but fun ride this summer, this novella might just be for you. But a quick word of warning. Know what you’re getting into. As you’ll notice, this is published by Bizarro Pulp Press. So let’s get some definitions from Wikipedia:

Bizarro fiction: a contemporary literary genre, which often uses elements of absurdism, satire, and the grotesque, along with pop-surrealism and genre fiction staples, in order to create subversive, weird, and entertaining works.

Pulp fiction: lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter
So, Bizarro Pulp… you can only imagine. And you should.

But this label has nothing to do with quality. Although it is in many ways the ink-on-paper analog of Slasher Films, complete with lots of violence, sex, and, well… bizarreness, it can also be just as fine and releasing as a Rob Zombie film.

If that’s your sort of thing. If it is, read on. I don’t read a lot of Bizarro, but I have read and reviewed some anthologies and stand-alones. Knowing what I am getting when I am going in, I adjust my mindset and just enjoy, if the author’s talent allows.

Because all the same standards apply. You need interesting characters with an arc, and an at least semi-cohesive narrative and an interesting problem to solve.

Although, in Bizarro, the characters are often deeper in the shit at the end than when they started. And this is truly its appeal. Continue reading

FOR BLOOD OR JUSTICE, Stormkind: Episode 1

Review by Joey Madia

As I opened with in my review of Chuck Regan’s short story collection six months ago, I have known him and his work for a long time. Thirty-three years. And, in that time, I have witnessed his growth from a talented sketch artist and budding graphic novel writer and graphic artist to a novelist, graphic novelist, and short story writer whose immense world-building and attention to detail conspire to create expansive, immersive story-scapes that combine science fiction, fantasy, pop culture, and a deft mix of comedy and darkness.

For Blood or Justice represents the next level in Regan’s world-building and his in progress and planned meta-verse. The book opens with a Prologue taking us back to 1890, when a meteor brought vast changes to Earth. So many changes, in fact, that historical timelines were shifted from what we know them to be. Rather than bogging down the narrative, Regan uses footnotes to define, contextualize, and, in some cases, point the reader to other works and facts about his alternative history timeline (such as a longer life for Tesla and a much worse ending for Nixon than resigning).

Although I like very little about the twenty-first century and where it’s taken technology, as a writer of meta-verse stories, I appreciate what our capabilities are to package and distribute parts and pieces of our large stories in this way. I especially liked the alt-origin of the Philly Phanatic. Continue reading

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

Review by K.P. Ambroziak

There’s an intelligent and exquisite beauty to Daniel Mendelsohn’s writing. He’s clearly an educator, a deep thinker, a keen critic, and a writer in tune with an effective mode of conversation. I was taken with AN ODYSSEY from the start—once I had gotten used to his writing style, which emulates ring composition with miniature strokes that are amusing as the read goes on.

I was moved to tears by the end of the work, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. It’s part memoir, part self-exploration, part lesson in all things Homer (if you’ve never read Homer, what the *heck* are you waiting for?), but its strength lies with the gentle hand he uses to show how similar we are to the ancients. If you appreciate Homer’s “Odyssey,” you will certainly enjoy this read, and I’d wager take away a trove of antique treasures.

I’ve taught the epic to college students, and found many parallels to my own journey. It requires a certain amount of stamina and patience to lead students to discover the epic’s textual tapestry on their own. Despite how well one may know a text, there are always new things to uncover. Teaching a text seems to teach us this if anything.

But there’s so much to be learned here from Mendelsohn’s curated brilliance. He teaches us about recognition, and the patterns in our own relationships, the ways we do not see those in front of us, the ways others see them better, if less honestly. We are strangers to those who know us best—or should know us best. And yet recognition may come in the most simplest of moments, when memory and forgetfulness collide. We take people for granted. We think we know and yet we are strangers on a ship, passing each other in the ink of our cosmos. How does a son not know his father? How does a father not know his son? Are we tricked by the gods, disguised in plain sight for some higher purpose, some bigger plan? These are notions we grapple with in the epic, but also in our very un-heroic and un-epic daily lives. To live estranged seems far more reasonable than to share the deepest parts of ourselves. Continue reading

Ransom

Review by K.P. Ambroziak

**highly recommend**
***but read The Iliad, too!!***

I read this a year ago and just re-read it. It’s amazing how much of a difference a year makes. I loved it the first time I read it. (What’s not to love?) But this time I admired it. There’s a beauty to it that I can’t quite describe. Maybe it’s a little like Somax’s beast, Beauty. You’re immediately drawn into the tale, forced to notice it. The prose it subtly poetic and there’s a meditative quality to the story. This almost feels like a bedtime story, if that makes sense. Malouf takes a snippet of time in a gargantuan lapse, zooms in, and somehow makes it overflow.

Okay, I’m a HUGE fan of Homer. I know both the epics inside and out. I’ve read them, I’ve heard them, I’ve taught them, but Malouf gets at something here I never sensed in the source material. Perhaps it’s a matter of leveling it. I mean bringing it down low, almost like the way Priam removes his crown and becomes “an ordinary man” for this task. There’s something run-of-the-mill here that works. It’s not dramatic. It’s touching. Achilles, too, is razed. Malouf does this lovely job of hinting at his brutish and violent behavior while making him broken and empathetic. One of the more touching moments is the exchange at the gates as Priam leaves. “Call on me, Priam, when the walls of Troy are falling around you, and I will come to your aid,” Achilles tells him. Priam’s answer chills him, and the two share a godly moment. The future is already sewn. They both seem to know the truth of the matter. Continue reading

Different Drummers

Review by Joey Madia

You never know where the connections you make in life will lead. Simply saying yes to opportunity, out of curiosity or even as a courtesy, can open doors to whole new worlds, whole new places, that you never knew existed.

In the twenty-first century, where everything is divided into Us and Them and the Other might as well live in another solar system where their rituals and culture are uber-alienated by some shadowy cabal that has engineered itself to make such decisions, feeding them down through indoctrinal water-drips to the TV-zombied hamster-people, it is imperative to learn about other places, other sub-sets of society. And to learn about and from what occupies the time of the thinkers and artists that reside there.

For this reason alone, Different Drummers is a primer on Thailand and an invaluable read.

So… that saying yes I mentioned. It happened a decade ago, when I received John Gartland’s Gravity’s Fool in the mail for review. His poetry moved me. Still does. I can’t swear to it, but I believe John and I connected on Facebook, which is an admittedly unusual benefit to an otherwise stinking/sinking cesspool of Big Data content and insidious mood manipulation. I had been doing reviews for about five years, which is an invaluable exercise for a writer and content creator (and, should you need more proof, Different Drummers is full to the brim with Cummings’s and others’ reviews of the books of some of the expats he interviews). Continue reading