Friday, September 30, 2016

Alternative Histories

Photo: National Telefilm Associates. But you knew this was Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and "Zuzu" from It's A Wonderful Life, right?

This is kind of a review of a book of eleven short stories in the alternative history genre, but it's also kinda not...

I started reading this book because I needed to learn the genre, in case I should need a touch of it for my current novel. I may, but if I do, I'll look to the likes of "A Christmas Carol," or It's A Wonderful Life, which are essentially of the same genre. The first is a story of what Scrooge's life would be like if he doesn't change. In essence, he creates an alternate history by changing, as his dream advises. In the latter, George Bailey witnesses an alternate history of his town if he hadn't been born. They're both inventive and useful (if not life-affirming) exercises, if nothing else. Maybe I'll write each of those some time, just as morning pages.

By the way, an excellent example of this is Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," which is the genesis of the phrase "the butterfly effect." In this one, a hunter goes back to the Jurassic--via a time machine and a company that brings you back, tracks a dinosaur that's about to die soon anyway, and puts a red mark on it so you know what to shoot. The catch: Do not step off a hovering path they lay out. If you do, you may step on a plant that was supposed to feed the animals that were a descendant of present-day buffalo, which supplied everything for many Native get the idea. (That was my example.) So of course the guy steps off the path and steps on a butterfly. They return to their present that is now very different...Very worth your time.

Anyway, the eleven stories here are largely unimpressive. Mostly they're not stories; they're an actual history--like from a dossier, or a history book--of what would've happened if Benjamin Franklin had created the steam engine (there'd be flying machines in the Civil War and Crazy Horse would've flown them for the different U.S.) or if the French Revolution had ended differently. You get the idea. The complaint here is that most of them weren't stories; they were inventive--and sometimes over-inflated--histories told too factually that seemed of interest to the writer, but weren't to me. There just wasn't story. Seven of them struck me this way--7 out of 11. That's too many. And they were so long that I just skimmed them.

The better ones had story. A plot. For example, Napoleon is your irritated, and irritating, next-door neighbor. You feel bad for him because he's dying, and because he's unhappy that he hadn't climbed to a higher position than lowly lieutenant in the French army: "The Curfew Tolls." Or, you're the bomber pilot who doesn't drop the bomb on Hiroshima. You get tried for treason. Can you convince them you did the right thing? That's the best one: "The Lucky Strike." Or, the South wins the Civil War. The North stays the same, but the south is taken over by the suddenly-free slaves. But they fight amongst themselves, can't agree on a universal language from Africa (because they came from so many different countries and tribes), and the south falls to shambles and is about to be attacked again by the north. And the story starts with a Silent so crazed with his life that he literally beats his head against the wall nine times before he dies. Now that's a story! The very good "Hush My Mouth." There are some good parts of one or two more, but...

So this one should mostly be a pass, though the ones I liked I liked so much that you may want to check this out of your library and peruse the ones I recommend. It's a different genre; but some of the stories in this book are better thought about than read. But the ones I liked were very good.

BTW, speaking of alternative histories, and this is truly a sign of the times: An anthology is in the works now of an alternative (and, by definition established by the genre, worse) America if Trump becomes President. The website says it's receiving a lot of good, horrifying stories. Think Back to the Future 2.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why You Shouldn't Vote for Trump 2

This is a continuation of a series of blogs that list reasons you shouldn't vote for Trump. The first of the series is here--just click on these words.

Now, following by far the worst performance I've ever seen in a debate, are a few more:

Photo: You don't have to have seen the movie Airplane to appreciate this, but it's a good point.

--He hasn't released his tax returns, the first political hopeful in over four decades to not do so. He said in the debate that the IRS suggests he not release them until their audit of him is done--long after the IRS had made it very clear that he can release his tax returns before they finish. During the debate, he said they've audited him for the past fifteen years--so it's clear that he thinks they'll be auditing him for eternity, and therefore he never has to release them. Why isn't he releasing them? He also said that his lawyers have told him not to release them--without ever saying why this is. If that's true--which I doubt--then why are they telling him not to release his tax returns? Why is his campaign manager telling him not to release his tax returns when she knows it's a major critical point, and that everyone else in recent memory has done so? Why does everyone who knows about his tax returns tell him not to release them? Why? Why? Why? Are there illegal things in there, such as how he's handled his 6 bankruptcies? How he's shipped many jobs overseas? How Trump University is a Ponzi scheme? Or has he not paid any taxes in recent years? (My guess: many, if not all, of these.)

Why hasn't he released his tax returns?!?

Photo: from the New York Times article, linked below.

--He doesn't know what he's talking about. This is true with every non-offensive word that comes out of his mouth, but is especially true when you look at his first 30 minutes or so of the debate. In what was considered the better part of a pathetic performance, he said absolutely nothing accurate at all--a big problem for him, since his core message is that he's a businessman who can fix the country's bad business. But don't take my word for it. Look at this piece at

I've said recently that the country's job market wasn't that bad. Someone screaming something at you relentlessly doesn't make that thing correct, just loud. (And never let someone control you with fear. Beware of those who try to win you over with your own worst fears.) The bottom line is: jobs have grown for 78 straight months, the longest streak in history. The job market is growing here--for now.

--He acts like a child. There are so many examples of this, I won't insult your intelligence by belaboring it. Do you want this guy representing you to the rest of the world? Don't you cringe every time he opens his mouth? Look at the cartoon above. This is but one of hundreds of examples.

--He has absolutely no political experience whatsoever, in any way. Not even in a city council, or a school committee, or anything. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

--Whenever he hints at Bill Clinton's infidelity, he seems to be forgetting his own. Or don't you remember the divorce from Ivana, when he fooled around with Marla Maples? How can you forget a name like Marla Maples?!?

--He's a liar. About a great many things, but to such an extent that even The New York Times, which goes out of its way to be fair, had this to say about why it officially calls him a liar.

--He mentions such irrelevant people as Rosie O'Donnell in a debate that the entire world is watching. Again, that's a bit immature, isn't it? Rosie O'Donnell has as much to do with the Presidency as Bill Maher did when Christine O'Donnell defended herself against his accusation that she was a witch. Just not somebody who should be holding an important political office.

--He's orange, and he acts like a buffoon. And he didn't answer a single question Lester Holt asked.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Very, Very Short Book Review -- Fatal Lies

Photo: the paperback book's cover, from Google images. Finally, an image of the edition I actually read. This is one of the five books I bought for $20, because I like the series so much. Can't find the sixth one I'm missing...

Done with Frank Tallis yet? I wouldn't blame you. I'm binge reading these, but they're worth it. Thank Stephen King for mentioning Tallis in an interview, when asked to name a recent, good mystery series.

Another successful Max Leibermann novel, #3 in the series. In this one, a young man has been murdered in a military school. Cadets and administrators are suspected, a la A Few Good Men. The guy in charge is named Eichmann, which Tallis had to do on purpose; the most violent cadet is named Wolf. There are clues galore, from hypnotism, from dream interpretation, from basic common sense and noticing when people very obviously lie. There's an unhappy beautiful woman, a rather psychotic master addicted to cocaine--which Freud says is definitely not used for headaches--and there's other assorted malcontents suffering around.

Depending on your tolerance for the weird and arcane, there's also a hillbilly mountain man who scavenges and lurks around. (He's responsible for an out-of-left-field circumstance at the end.) There's a witch he sells stolen things to. There's a beautiful gypsy who isn't who she seems. And, is Ms. Lydgate stepping out on the good doctor? (Why not? The good doctor steps out on her!) And there's a really, really catchy song by Schubert (based on a poem by Goethe) that you must YouTube. This is so necessary, in fact, that I'll do it for you.

Go to that link. I'm tellin' you. It'll stay with you.

It's sort of Rheinhardt's running thematic element, but not Leibermann's. This struck such a chord with me that I'm stealing it for one of my great many WIPs. Apparently this is a famous little ditty, and Schubert apparently wrote over 600 of these things, somehow, though he died at age 31. I Wikipedia-ed Schubert, as you should, too. I mean, the guy was productive, and famous, and apparently not a complete jerk. He did probably die of syphilis--he had mercury poisoning, too; mercury was used a lot to treat syphilis at the time--but, then, so many of the famous of 1900 or so died of that. Including Neitzsche, by the way, who also plays a small role in this book. His teachings of the Ubermensch (literally, Superman, but not the reporter with the cape) get misunderstood again!

Anyway, I digress. (Big-time.) Though a couple of books in this series purposely closed the main plotline before the novel's end, this one closed it a long time before the end, about 85 pages. This sat less well with me, as it may with you, but it wasn't a complete breaker. The subplots, including the bit with the gypsy and the mystery surrounding Ms. Lydgate's mysterious man, plus tying up a few loose ends at the military school, take up those 85 pages. You may be most interested in whether a cadet will get caught for the murder of another cadet, as I did. Don't. You'll be disappointed. More than anything else, the tying up of that loose end, with the aloof woodsman and the body of that cadet--that's something I wish Tallis had handled differently.

Overall the book is worth your time. Not one of my favorites from the series--that's Vienna Twilight--but it's still a lot better than most of the stuff in this genre. Another plus, as usual, is that you'll want to YouTube stuff to listen to, and Wikipedia stuff to learn about, and by now that kind of thing goes with these books as much as Leibermann and Rheinhardt do. For me, anyway.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Very, Very Short Book Review -- The Sleep Room

Photo: from the Washington Post's review of the book

Very good, pleasant read that will make you feel you are there, and maybe make you feel a little smarter, without taking that much out of you. As usual with Tallis, he excels at place and time, is a little short on female characters, is heavy on the psychology and philosophy, maybe mentions Freud a little too much, and adds a wrinkle that you should see coming but that you appreciate nonetheless. Such has been the case with the Leibermann series set in Vienna--actually with Freud--and the two non-mysteries I've read. The end result is a pleasant excursion that leaves you with something to think about. Especially interesting is the Cartesian confusion of reality versus dreams. Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, but how do you know you're not dreaming of thinking that? What if, in fact, what we think are our dreams are actually our reality, and our reality is nothing but slumber?

The book is set in a supposedly haunted mental health facility, which is run by a well-known and well-connected guy who believes in putting his patients to sleep for many months for therapuetic reasons. (This is all supposedly based on a real guy and a real place, according to Tallis's notes at the end.) But the discerning reader is a little wary right away, especially this one, who has seen The Others and such films, and is ready to be psychologically waylaid. When the patient reports start coming, and one of them refers to a report (one of two) that isn't presented with it, you should know what to expect at the end, in the last report.

When it comes, though, you're not dissatisfied, exactly. I think this is because Tallis doesn't seem to think that he's pulling a fast one on us. He knows we know what's coming, but it's in the getting there that matters. Tallis treats the reader intelligently, and writes intelligent stories that never become highbrow or condescending, so for that we're willing to go along for the ride, even if we know how the ride will end. It's a pleasant enough journey, and the ideas presented are interesting. It's not as depressing an ending as it could've been, either, because you saw it coming miles away.

For the record, I disagree with the "extreme paranoia" mentioned at the end, as I don't think the character's misgivings go too far, but that's perhaps the point in this made-up world of his. I think it would've perhaps been a little more interesting and convincing to have one of the other characters in that situation at the end, which would've led to more interesting world-building. But this could've also been messed-up big-time by Tallis, at which point the whole book would've perhaps felt like a waste, or maybe it would've seemed like it had a condescending tone, like it was over-reaching. Read it, and decide, and leave me a message if you'd like. Makes me want to write my own take on this whole thing in my own story or novel, and end it the way I say. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Blog Features

Hello, everyone! Once again, thanks for reading my blog, for commenting, for emailing, and, well, for just showing me a little bit of attention! Isn't that really what all writers want--besides money, and maybe expressing some thoughts and themes so we can sleep?

Anyway, there are a few new tidbits to the blog, so here we go:

--I've been reviewing books for a long time now, both here and at Goodreads. I also review short stories and short story collections, so if you write those, please feel free to send one along for review. Writers, agents and publicists have been sending me emails--through this blog and through the Horror Writers Association--to review their books for years. At least 75% of the time I accept the book for review (in fact, I say Yes a great percentage of the time), but sometimes I can't.  There are reasons for this:

1. If I'm swamped at work (which I always am, but some swampings are more bearable than others), I sometimes feel that I can't guarantee a punctual review post. If the writer / agent / publicist asks for a quick turnaround, I often cannot oblige. This is only fair to them. Sometimes they say for me to take my time, that a positive review will benefit them even a week or two after the release--but sometimes they don't. If it's a demand I feel I can't definitely honor, I say No.

2. At my job, I have to read and write a lot, so I often don't have any words left in the tank for anyone else, especially if I'm neglecting my own writing as well. So, again, if time is an issue for the writer / agent / publicist or for me, I have to decline.

3. Though I much prefer physical copies, I sometimes accept an e-book for review. But, because of all the computer screen time I put in for my job, and for my own writing (especially the business side of it), I sometimes insist that I recieve a printed copy to review. If this is not possible, I sometimes have to decline. This is especially true on those days when my screen seems brighter than I know it to be--like right now. That's eye strain, which leads to headaches, and...Please, everyone: Send physical copies if you can.

4. Physical copies are also great because I tend to give them away (when permitted) to blog readers, or to someone at my job, etc. So the word of mouth is better with printed copies. Because of copyright laws, internet and email courtesy, etc., I always delete the e-book after I've reviewed it, so I can't pass it along.

5. If the book in question is not appropriate for whatever reason, I have to decline. One of those reasons, besides the obvious of content, is if the book is a in a genre I simply never read. This is only fair to the writer, as I won't be able to give a quality review. Examples of genres I never read include Romance and Westerns. I'm iffy about sci-fi and fantasy, but I've read LotR and Game of Thrones, and I like sci-fi movies--movies by Ridley Scott, or those based on stories by Philip K. Dick, like Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall (the original, of course), etc.

6. Some self-published authors are professional authors, but most are not. I say Yes to authors who have been published by the major houses in the past, and who are now doing it on their own. Their quality of writing hasn't changed; they've just decided that the economics are better for them if they take charge of their own publishing. (Steven Pressfield, who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance and Turning Pro, is an example.) I also say Yes to professional authors who have always self-published, but whom have a track record of quality writing and / or sales. But most self-published authors simply don't fit either category. I know, because I've reviewed a great many God-awful books that were beyond amateurish. If I feel that there is no way at all that I could give a positive review--or say anything positive at all--I decline.

Having said all that, I actually say Yes at least 75% of the time, so please consider me for a book review if you (or your writer) fit the criteria above. Please send me an email (off to the side of this blog somewhere) or send it to me at NetGalley--or, better yet, sending it to me at NetGalley and then send me an email saying you've done so! And I think only once in my reviewing career did I publish a scathing review--and that's because I was working for a website at the time, and I was told to review the work no matter what. So I did. Yikes! Frankly, I weed out requests of books that I feel I'd slam, so when I agree to review a book, I'm basically saying I'll almost definitely say something very favorable. If I can't, I simply don't post the review at all. (This is common amongst most bloggers.)

So, please read some of the book reviews posted here, and if you feel like sending one along to me, please do so. Thanks! And, again, as always, thanks for reading!

P.S.--As you can see on the right of the blog, I'm available for book review tours. Also, I moved my Blogger Friends icon up to the top, and I've offered an option for you to recieve new posts in your email (Don't know why I never had that before here), so please join up! I also put the NetGalley icon at the very top for your book- or story-sending convenience.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Death and the Maiden -- A Very, Very Short Review

Photo: From the book's Goodreads page. Not my exact edition, but this one has the same number of pages, and the one on Goodreads that looked like mine had more pages. Weird. And I didn't want my stats to show that I've read more pages than I actually have. I take my Goodreads stats very seriously!

Very satisfying 6th--and perhaps final--Max Liebermann mystery, written by Frank Tallis. Published in 2012, and followed by okay horror novels in the last few years, all published as F.R. Tallis, for some reason, this is perhaps Liebermann's last go. If so, it's a shame, as this series is clearly Tallis's best writing, and is what he's known for--if he's known in the U.S. at all; he's more popular, I think, in Europe. At any rate, he said in an interview that he was worried of his characters and plots becoming stale, and that he'd become tired of the series. So be it, I suppose.

This one has all of the good stuff you expect in this series: the locales, the detail of 1903 Vienna; Freud; a beautiful woman murdered (though let the record show that literally every woman worthy of mention in the series has been beautiful, especially the murdered ones); Amelia, who has been underwritten and under-represented; and of course Rheinhardt. The extra touch of this one is the appearance of Gustav Mahler, famous composer and conductor, often referenced in the series but never seen. We see Clara again, too; I have begun to feel quite badly for her now. Not a bad person, and probably deservant of more happiness than she's allowed. Her reason for wanting to be with Liebermann again was a little depressing, as was the reason for her final departure. She'll end up with that soldier, and she'll never be wanting, but you get the feeling she'll never be happy, either.

The book ends on a note that rings true, though not one that will give closure to every reader. Like the characters, you have to sometimes shrug your shoulders in life and accept the path that lays before you. Stray from that path at your peril--or, at the peril of your family. See: No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. The movie lives up to the grueling realism of the book. Overall a very good book, but hopefully not the end to the series. Again, we'll have to shrug and move on if that's the case, but let's hope it's not.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Voices -- A Very Short Book Review

Photo: The hardcover's cover

This one's a bit of a downer at the end, but you won't be surprised at the conclusion. It didn't really have any other place to go. The main character is a guy who creates movie scores, who gets told that a movie in production, Star Wars, is a sure bomb and not one he wants to score. (That was a rare amusing moment in this book.) Anyway, he's fallen on hard times in a Victorian home, and when he suddenly gets voices (some sinister) on his tape, he sees it as a cash cow--voices from the dead as part of a movie score! That either sits okay with you, or it doesn't, and that will mandate how much of this book you can take.

It's written well enough, by Frank Tallis, better known for his Liebermann Papers books, which take place in Freud's Vienna of 1902 or so. This one takes place in the 1970s in England, where Tallis actually lives. The atmosphere is okay, and the creeps are okay, though you may need a little imagination to get the full effect.

It's better than the film White Noise, which was really terrible, actually. Parts of it also reminded me a little of The Shining (which was better than this book), especially when Jack Torrance accuses his wife of being hysterical and purposely trying to ruin his creative career. Also similar is that it all takes place in a house that is obviously haunted, and obviously a danger to everyone, especially the child. Unlike The Shining, this one ends, well...I won't spoil it, I guess. But if you rejoiced when Danny lived in The Shining, you'll be disappointed here. Consider yourself warned.

That's my biggest problem with this book, and it's not really Tallis's fault, I guess. But I was also watching the latest (and worst) Paranormal film last night, and they both had the same huge problem: Freekin' stupid and careless parents who ignore the obvious danger to their child because of their own ignorance and selfishness. The film was so bad that I wanted to openly strike the stupid, self-centered, self-obsessed parents, and I almost felt as strongly with the parents in this book: the husband selfishly put everyone in obvious danger, especially his infant. And the wife was too weak and self-obsessed to pick up the daughter and get the hell out of there.

As I said, the latest Paranormal movie was much worse, and even included a priest who said that 6 a.m. on June 6th was an obvious 666 mark of Satan (6th hour of the 6th day of the 6th month--Get it?!?), which is possibly the worst writing I've ever seen in any movie of any kind, ever, and an insult to priests everywhere. (Your avergae priest knows that the 666 of Revelations is an obscure symbology that certainly doesn't mean anything like this movie says, especially since a completely different calendar was used by the writer, era and part of the world of The New Testament's origins.) And I'd already harbored extreme ill-resentment towards the parents in this movie.

Anyway, this book's parents are more realistically drawn, but still came under my ire. And the ending...Well, I saw it coming, and you probably will too, so it didn't effect me as much as it could have. If you can handle that kind of an ending--and there's no judgment on my part if you can't, but this ending represents the tragedy of human self-centeredness and weakness, see?--then this will be an effectively creepy book for you. If you can't, if headlines of that sort bother you too much, then that's certainly understandable and you should skip this.