Original Poetry: Café

I tap a new pack and unsheathe a Camel Light.
I fumble with the matches, disposing duds on ice
cubes in my cup. Embarrassed, I avoid your look
until I find a dry match and breathe bitter smoke.
Exhaling, I glance up expecting our eyes to meet.
Your gray eyes rest elsewhere reflecting a misty pool
of thoughts.
                    Our Bailey’s Café just was—no bar, no pool
tables—so we entered escaping rain and street light.
A few loners were scattered. A waitress came to meet
us. “Wheat toast and coffee for both. A glass of ice
water, too, please.” She left and passed through blue-gray smoke
to the kitchen. No one had even moved to sneak a look
in our direction.
                              Now you finally turn and look
at me only to shift and play in the water pool
on the table where the cup had been. “You want a smoke?”
“If it’s no trouble.” I find a dry match to light
my offer.
                    “Here’s your wheat toast, coffee and glass of ice
water. And yes, you may smoke here,” as if to meet
a question posed. She then asked, “Will you be meet-
ing anyone?” “No, it’s just us. Thank you.”
                                                                                “You look
awful.” You attempt a smile and grab a piece of ice
to play with. “If you want to go, we can pool
our money for a cab.” You glance around lightly
and grab my hand, “Let me finish my smoke.
It’s late though,” you shrug, “My father will meet
me at the door any-which-way.” You start to light
another Camel Light and give a desperate look
in my direction. Your saddened eyes pool
with tears.
                    “More coffee or water or even ice?
I’m off duty. The coffee’s there. The sink and ice
are back there. Help yourself. May I—bum a smoke?”

“I hate him.”
                    “Who?” I butt my cigarette in the pool
of water. You glance down, “My father. He’ll meet
me everywhere. He—it’s just that—“ You stop, but your look
tells so much more. “Just forget it.” You feign a light
laugh and blow gray smoke, but you see my look.
You toss the piece of ice and stand. Our hands meet.
“I’ll get you out.” Our pooled shadows block the harsh light.
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Graphic Novel Heaven

C2E2 has come to Chicago again bringing some of my favorite graphic novels and graphic novel artists and writers back to the Windy City. This is especially good since some major publishers seemed to have skipped out this year. [Tor, I’m looking at you]. The third major element to the convention is cosplay, and it’s not my thing . . . unless it happens to be a character from my favorite graphic series of the last few years. This cosplayer really sold it:
Saga, Volume 3 (Saga #13-18)

This is Gwendolyn from the Saga series written by Brain K Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples. The series covers a range of subjects: war, race, racism, sacrifice, class. All set against a galactic backdrop of diverse aliens. And it’s brilliant. Highly, highly recommended.
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

It was also nice to reconnect with the creation teams behind Liberty: Deception who put out some stunning images in their dystopian space series in which humans are making a mess of themselves and each other without need of aliens.
Liberty page 35 colors jpgP1_LIBERTY_ZERO_sample_01

The great news from them is that their next issue is ready to go to print and they’ve prepared a Histories book for their world.
     [w/ Casey Bailey] Liberty: Deception, Issue 0–4 stars
     [w/ Raymund Bermudez] Liberty: Deception, Volume 1–4 stars
     Liberty: Fringe Iconography Guide–4 stars

Finally, the creative team behind Twisted Dark, Volume 1 is here. They’ve really been productive and have 6 volumes out.
Twisted Dark, Volume 1Twisted Dark, Volume 1

Now, I’m looking forward to discovering new stories and art as I wander back down to C2E2 again tomorrow.

Novel Review: The Apostates, Book 3: Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney

Lake of Fire (The Apostates #3)Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Apostates trilogy [plus 1 prequel short story] concludes with this installment. The grammatical errors and editorial missteps that plagued the trilogy opener pick back up here creating a confused if not painful read.

Taking place in North America, a dystopian government has come and gone after a nuclear apocalypse and environmental breakdown ended the United States. While speculative, the series tweaks history, too, creating a parallel universe to ours. The dystopian government, a cyber-backed theocracy under the long-lived rule of President Shrubb, and its ultimate undoing were the plot of the early books. But it makes reappearances here in scattered scenes throughout the book that usually lack indicators clarifying the chronology. They do little to aid this installment and much to pull the reader from the current storyline.

President Shrubb is a clear reference to President George W Bush and his anti-science, religiously inspired leadership. But from there, previous installments took an Orwellian development in layering society with acronyms of a doublespeak nature. It was clever and effective–then. Now in the wake of the theocracy, new governments have emerged in city-states across the continent to try to undo the damage. However, they’re still using the former system’s acronyms which places them out of context. The series also doubles down on the references to current politics veering the tale toward a Mad Magazine style spoof. Haliburton becomes Halibut. Google becomes Boooogie!. Rahm Emmanuel [current mayor of Chicago] becomes Ram Manual. It’s too much. And unnecessary. And all taking place in the throwback scenes not aiding the plot.

Other missteps doom the immersive quality of this tale. 1) Too many chapters starting with a couple long paragraphs that refuse to name the subject character, instead repeating “he/she” as if the subject should be a mystery. 2) Repeatedly defining terms which have been established. [“Pinging” is communicating via neural implant. So, always saying “pinging via neural implant” is redundant.] 3) Repeatedly comparing landmarks to current American ones, thereby not believing in its own overlay. ie Saying what a city or park used to be called. 4) The throwaway, sexist handling of crowd scenes with sweeping general terms. [The men did “x.” Women screamed. Children cried. Over and over again.]

Finally, the book has an epilogue. And shouldn’t. The scene has no bearing and I suggest not reading it. It’s akin to the final episode of the television series “Lost”, reveling in itself but opening new, unexplained topics.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed the other books in this series:
     New Megiddo Rising (Apostates, #0)–4 stars
     The Apostates (Apostates, #1)–2 stars
     The Apostates: Remnants (Apostates, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Deal Breaker” by Justin Gustainis

2 of 5 stars.

The mark of a good detective is agile thinking and an ability to elicit the proper response, whether action or words, from others. Not every case requires the flatfoot to hoof it–the investigator just needs to understand the situation differently from the client perplexed by it.

This tale sits between a vignette and a parable [much shorter and shallower than a short story] as the detective never leaves his office to solve/resolve the client’s dilemma. It’s the sort of thing that might happen between the pages of a longer story and then complement the bigger cases. Here, it’s left hanging on its own: a well-to-do client comes in hours before his ten-year deal with the devil comes due. He wants to avoid the hell-hounds despite his demon-contract.

The detective merely parses out the details of the contract and gathers intel on the supernatural deal-maker to sort things out. Throw in a bottle of bourbon and the noir scenario is complete. While this vignette logics out fine, the ending begs for more of the world of the detective than this gives. Sometimes one wants to see more of the detective than his sheltered office . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Case of the Stalking Shadows” by Joe R. Lansdale

The Case of the Stalking ShadowThe Case of the Stalking Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite the title of the tale and its inclusion in a supernatural detective anthology, this isn’t a detective story. It’s a supernatural ghost story with elements of Lovecraft in its default to unspeakable horror at its heart. I tend not to be moved by “unspeakable horror” since little tends to make it to the page to suggest horror. I find it akin to someone opening a box without letting you peek and then saying, “It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t you agree?” I wouldn’t know, you aren’t showing me what’s in the box . . .

Horror works best with immediacy–something at stake with an unsure outcome. The stakes are raised if the hero might possibly not make it out of the situation. The horror is diffused a level if the narrator is telling the story after the fact. [Let me guess, you survived the room full of knife-wielding clowns long enough to tell me this story . . .] It’s diffused even more when the tale is not even told by the person who experienced it. [So, your neighbor went on vacation and saw a shark . . . ok.] This tale follows option 3.

An allegedly ghost-skeptical narrator was at a book club where a person recounted a spirit encounter from decades earlier. This is multiple degrees from immediacy. And despite the narrator’s affirmation that the tale he heard made him a believer, little to the story is compelling in the re-retelling of a vague unspeakable horror.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program”–4 stars
     “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
     “Torn Away”–2 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Necromancer’s Apprentice” by Lillian Stewart Carl

2 of 5 stars.

While Victorian era detective stories aren’t rare–think: Sherlock Holmes, much less common are Elizabethan era detective tales. And yet here, the Virgin Queen herself makes a royal appearance.

Early in Elizabeth’s reign while Spain is still employing nefarious machinations to usurp the Protestant throne of England to deliver it back to the Pope, a lord rumored to have affections and possibly even relations with the queen loses his wife to an untimely tumble down a flight of stairs.

To stop the tongues from wagging about his own possible involvement, the lord orders a necromancer to obtain better evidence and insight into the death of his wife, to see if anybody was indeed responsible for the death. Was it murder? Or even shameful suicide?

The tale is rather light on the actual detecting aspect as it’s more of a mage’s tale. The necromancer really just sets about talking to ghosts, not hunting clues.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

SnapshotSnapshot by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like a blend between Minority Report and Inception this tale has police detectives enter highly detailed simulated scenes from the past to unravel crimes. These scenes are called snapshots, and only the investigators know that they are real as the simulations of everyone else only thinks they’re real unless proven otherwise.

Twists happen, as the investigators decide to step outside of the crimes they’re sent to investigate, in favor of some they aren’t . . .

While comparisons can be made to other tales, what’s really interesting in this tale is what it doesn’t explain. The actions are taking place essentially currently, except the world is not the Earth we know it to be. The United States is not what it was in this divergent timeline in which city-states populate North America. Also merely dangled off-page is the process by which “snapshots” are created. Intriguingly, some sort of biological element or cryptozoological creature is involved. This world begs for another tale to be set here.

I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Dreamer”–4 stars
     Skin Deep (Legion, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]