Jackson: The Iron Willed Commander

“Old Hickory”

Review by Joey Madia

If all you know about the seventh president of the United States is his long, chiseled face and mass of white hair on the twenty-dollar bill, you’ve been missing out.

This excellent biography begins with a prologue covering the rabble-rousing ruckus that was Jackson’s inauguration on March 4, 1829. Jackson was a new kind of candidate—unlike his six predecessors in this still-new nation, he was a “man of the people.” In no way an insider, this rugged frontiersman who broke the mold of presidents coming from Massachusetts or Virginia had strong beliefs and was never afraid to defend or act on them. John Quincy Adams, the outgoing president, refused to attend.

Not unlike Alexander Hamilton, Jackson was a “willful boy with a chip on his shoulder” (6) and a mess of contradictions—a daily lifelong reader of scripture, he was also known for his ability to swear with the best of them. He and his brothers fought in the American Revolution, starting Jackson’s complex relationship with death and loss and his ability to carry on despite being wounded. Also like Hamilton, he had a penchant for duels. He had at least three, the second of which resulted in his being wounded in the torso and his killing his opponent, and the third resulting in his carrying a bullet in his body for years after. While taking his law degree, Jackson solidified his reputation as a “roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow” (15).

A great deal of Jackson’s controversy stems from an innocent clerical error. The love of his life, Rachel, had been in a terrible marriage. Leaving her abusive husband she fell in love with and married Jackson, although she was technically not divorced. Jackson’s enemies—and they were considerable—would use this against him, raising his ire as they portrayed the innocent Rachel as a bigamist and unwholesome woman. Continue reading

Witness in the Convex Mirror

“An Innovator, Always”

Review by Joey Madia

It is always a special day when a new work by this innovative and energetic writer arrives in my mailbox. Over the past 10 years, I’ve reviewed about 20 percent of Tabios’ over fifty published works, at times being inspired to be as innovative as the poet and the particular work in how I did so.

Part of her ability to be so prolific is the way she reworks, recycles, and reimagines her own writings and the writings of others—in this case, as the Author’s Note indicates: “Each poem begins with 1 or 1–2 lines from ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ by John Ashbery.” In many of my previous Tabios reviews I talk at length about her various means of working with existing pieces to create something new, so I won’t belabor it here. Instead, I’ll say that ALL work a writer or other artist produces is linked to and derivative of something—many things—that have come before.

Tabios simply has the self-awareness to be up front about it, even when it is more ephemeral than repurposing lines from another poet’s already existing poem.

Although Tabios has always been to some extent political, be it the Filipino diaspora, 9/11 and the world ever since, or the complexities of gender or adoption for adopter and adoptee, I found Witness in the Convex Mirror to take it to a new level. And the clue is in the substitution of Witness for Self-Portrait. As many a wise and wizened soul has told us, to Witness is to be responsible to Speak. And speak Tabios does, on a variety of pressing subjects in a hurting and hurtful world. So this review will be less about the technical achievement and more about the content of the poems and the responses they evoke. Continue reading

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

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