Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: This Is the End by Eric Pollarine

Jeff Sorbenstein has everything, thanks to creating the most important app on the market, one found in every smart phone, computer and almost every technological gadget in the world. The app even helped him earn Time Magazine's "Man of the Year". All that fame and fortune -- and a cigarette habit -- also snags him a fairly aggressive case of cancer, according to his doctor. So Jeff does what anyone in his position would do: decides to use cryogenics, to freeze himself until a cure for his type of cancer is found. Only he also plans to let the public in on a few secrets before disappearing into his cold sleep.

When he wakes from his cryo sleep, he slowly realizes something must have gone wrong. No one is around -- no techs, no lab coats, no security guards. The room is empty, everything covered in a thick layer of dust. He stumbles to the door, gathering all his strength to carry him to his office upstairs. But he's not prepared for what awaits him behind the stairwell door and it takes all his failing strength to fight his way past the misshapen creature, missing an arm and bent on sinking its teeth into Jeff. Things get worse when he finally reaches his office only to come face to face with two soldiers, both of whom blame him for the destruction of the world outside his office.

This Is the End provides a nice twist from the standard zombie tale. Instead of focusing on the gore, the biting, the infecting that is normally associated with zombie tales, this tale uses the zombies more as a backdrop to a story of one man wanting to exact revenge on the person who did him wrong. What makes it even better is the character of Jeff Sorbenstein. At first, you hate him. He's arrogant, elitist, and an all-around asshole. But after waking up and realizing that he'd been lied to, manipulated, made a scapegoat, you reluctantly being to feel for him, and as the story nears its conclusion, you're rooting for him.

I found the cause for the zombification very interesting and unique in its own way. It's biological and based on real facts from the animal kingdom, making it a very believable catalyst for the demise of the human population. (I just hope no one reading the story gets any ideas.)

And the story still provides all the zombie goodness a fan expects: hordes of the re-animated mindlessly trying to spread their infection to every last living human on the planet; a small group of people trying to make their escape from the city; buckets of gore as the zombies battle against the humans in the parking garage -- GREAT scene, too!

I highly recommend Eric Pollarine's This Is the End, a great addition to the zombie genre.

This Is the End
by Eric Pollarine
May December Publications
ebook, 166 pgs.

ebook and image received directly from author

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our friend Chris visited from Las Vegas this weekend to celebrate his birthday. So we decided to treat him to dinner and a show in Los Angeles, followed by the requisite tour of gay bars in Long Beach.
For dinner, we stopped a hipster burger joint in Los Feliz called Fred 62. I call it hipster one, because of the 50s d├ęcor with the seats upholstered in car seat leather and sporting headrests, and two, because the serve American classic food but spruce it up to make it look fancy. Like the chicken pot pie that Chris ordered: a high-walled bowl of pastry at the center of the plate, surrounded by a thick green pesto, inside the bowl was a layer of buttery mashed potatoes smothered in gravy then covered in steamed vegetables, with two whole grilled chicken breasts lying atop those. It resembled a sculpture rather than a food dish, but Chris said it was delicious.
After dinner, we headed over to Melrose to catch the early show from The Groundlings. This little comedy/improv group has brought the likes of Will Farrell and Sheri Oteri to public consciousness. And even though neither of them performed last night, it was still a good show. They opened with a sketch set aboard the Death Star, where two crewmen worked away at the controls while Darth Vader discussed plans with an officer. When Vder's back is turned, the two crewmen gossip away like two little queens. It was hysterical! The rest of the show had its moments, both good and not-so-good, and the Birthday Boy unwillingly became involved in one of the sketches. So it turned out to be quite a bit of fun.
Back in Long Beach, we stopped at a few of the bars, people watching, unexpectedly meeting some friends, and generally rousing rabble until last call.
The next morning, we woke late and hurried off for brunch. The first place had a wait of 35-45 minutes so we decided to pass. The next place was far worse: 1h45m to 2 hours. Holy Heck! We finally chose Hof's Hut for a mere 15 minute wait.
We had a dinner that evening for our friend Clark who also happened to be celebrating his birthday so in order to kill some time before then, we caught a screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A great movie, both story and special effects-wise. The CGI apes, chimps and orangutans were amazing, and I believe Andy Serkis deserves some kind of award for his work as Caesar.
Clark joined us for dinner around 7 at The Yard House and a bit of walking around Shoreline Village. The food at the restaurant was very good if very overpriced. But the churro sundae from the Funnel House was worth the price: two fresh churros covered with a mound of ice cream and whipped cream -- plenty for all four of us. We ended the night at the Silver Fox, listening to some karaoke and trying to hold conversations above the loud music.
Hopefully tonight, I can catch up on some sleep . . . .

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Mysteries of Wii
When it comes to video games, I'm not a fan of the ultra violent, shoot-'em-up or war titles such as Call of Duty or Halo. I prefer thinking games, like Myst or Rhem which require the player to solve puzzles that mesh with the environment and move the game forward. (Okay, and anything with zombies. We all have our weaknesses. . . .)
Monday night while browsing through the Wii games, wondering what to buy with my gift card, I walked by the Wii demo unit. The game on display was The Malgrave Incident, one that I'd passed up many times but always returned to because it sounded interesting -- trying to figure out why everyone deserted small Malgrave Island. The main reason for passing it up had to do with some of the gameplay. It's a "hidden object" game -- different scenes of mountains or jungles or rooms, overflowing with bizarre objects. The game provides a list of specific objects to find in order to move to the next scene. I've played a few similar games and found them to be quite boring. But seeing this title in the demo unit piqued my curiosity. So I picked up the Wii controller . . . .
15 minutes later, Caesar was tapping on my shoulder. I'd become so engrossed in what was happening on the display screen that I'd zoned out everything else. The game involved much more than simple "hidden object" screens -- and even those are devilishly tricky -- and I quickly grabbed the last copy on the shelf and bought it.
I spent an hour and a half last night playing the game, with Caesar helping to find some of the hidden objects. So far, it's turned out to be a worthwhile purchase. But you may not hear from me again until it's finished. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In a Flash

I received an email this morning that a second flash fiction story of mine has been accepted for a monster anthology. So far this year, I'm two-for-four, with two of those still pending word from the publishers.

Earlier this week, I wrote a quick three-page outline for a story that popped into my head. I need to do that more often -- or at least note something in Evernote -- before I lose the idea completely. I also pulled out another story from college that I hope to touch up, re-work and submit.

And, in honor of what's happened so far, here's a little ditty from Elvis Costello:

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Gift To Each Other

Yesterday marked our 6-year anniversary. So we stayed home and cleaned the carpet. I know -- we're living on the edge. The edge, I tell you!

But that balances out with what we bought a few months ago as a kind of anniversary gift to each other. We found a large collection of original prints from illustrator David Weidman for sale at one of the vintage shops on 4th Street. After poring through them, we agreed on a print of a young boy, probably 11 or 12 years old, carrying a rather large cat. It was a black outline filled in with blocks of green color, very reminiscent of the 1970s, and we both liked it. And after a small conference, we bought it.


About a week later, we took the print to a local artist for framing, and now the gift to each other hangs proudly on a wall in our apartment. It joins the three prints and a poster from artist Joe Monroe and the autographed poster of the First Time Dead 2 book cover.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: A Man of Letters by Eric Pollarine
Paul works at a dead-end job in a call center, half-heartedly listening to customers blabber on and on about their problems and holding out long enough for the next cigarette break. To make matters worse, his most recent manuscript was rejected and sits in a big pile on his desk. Thankfully, he can rely on his girlfriend Lori and their menagerie of pets to calm him down.
One this one particular night, his attempt to de-stress after an incredibly awful day is interrupted by a news story which captured Lori's attention. A short video seems to be in constant reply on all the news channels -- a woman standing on a subway platform suddenly jumps in front of an oncoming train. It's not the woman that holds both his and Lori's interest; it's the hooded figure that mysteriously appears for a fraction of a moment when the video slows down.
Who is the hooded figure? Where did he come from? Those questions weigh on Paul's mind the next day at the call center, and come back to haunt him when he has a run in with one of the hooded figures in the men's room, changing his life forever.
I like the character of Paul, the struggling writer in a dead-end job. He's equal parts bitter and sarcastic. But his attempt to find a way back to the way things were before the incident in the bathroom ultimately shows that deep down, he's human like everyone else. What really makes this a great story, though, are they mysterious hooded figures. An intriguing concept, one that makes me whack my forehead and want to scream, Why didn't I think of that?!
My one gripe: the story could have benefited from a proofreader. Too many misplaced or missing commas and periods. Not to mention a few misspelled or incorrect words. Not that this inhibited my enjoyment of the story, but I do know some who would consider those a deal breaker.
In the end, A Man of Letters tells a great story and introduces a whole new set of horrific characters. I hope to see more of Paul and his struggle in the future. Nice work!

A Man of Letters
by Eric Pollarine
May December Publications

received as ebook from the author

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Waiting Game
As of today, two of my short stories are out there in the ether, awaiting either acceptance for publication or total rejection. My fingers are crossed that the former is the case, but should the latter happen, I'm already scouting more potential publishers. Wish me luck!

And don't forget to check out my review of Kwaidan over at The G.A.S.P. Factor.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Since graduating from college all those many, many . . . many years ago, I've started reading many of the books that were suggested as required reading. Like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch from Aleksander Solzhenistyn and Billy Budd from Herman Melville. You know, light reading. In school, it always felt like a chore to read such books, but I've since realized that these books really are quite good.
I found a 1958 edition of The Grapes of Wrath from John Steinbeck while skimming through the shelves of books at the Long Beach AIDS Thrift Store. All the pages were intact, but penciled scribblings and notes filled the margins of the first 15 or so chapters, along with pink highlighter covering sentences and passages every so often. The title page listed a handwritten cost of 50¢, and since I had always wanted to read it, I promptly paid, returned home and set it atop of my much-too-big pile of books. That was, perhaps, two years ago.
I finally picked up the book to read a few months ago.
The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family, long-time farmers from Oklahoma, forced to leave their beloved patch of earth due to drought and the Great Depression. Banks foreclose on the land, sell it to big businesses who push the families out. Like many other families in the state, the Joads hear of jobs out West, in California -- fields of cotton and orchards of peaches, ripe and waiting for the picking. The family gathers together -- Ma and Pa, Granma and Grampa, Uncle John, Noah, the pregnant Rosasharn and her husband Connie, little Ruthie and Winfield, and the recently-paroled Tom Joad -- and fills a beat up truck with their lives and heads West. Along the way, they battle against hunger, death, and the desert, eventually making it to the Golden State of California, only to find their lives are going to be much worse.
The novel provides a fantastic glimpse into what life was like during the Great Depression, especially in California. Those incoming migrants, toting large families while looking for any kind of work, created a fear within the locals -- fear of them organizing, fear of them becoming just like the other Californians. They did whatever they could to keep families like the Joads -- the Okies -- at poverty level. Steinbeck didn't rely simply on the story of the Joads themselves, but interspersed chapters showing what was happening to everyone. They struck me as a Greek chorus of sorts, focusing on the generic while watching those stories play out among the Joads and the people they meet on the way across country.
It truly is an amazing novel. I only wish I hadn't waited so long to read it.

purchased book

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Ultimate 3D Experience (circa 1986)
Earlier this year, Disneyland brought back one of it's more popular attractions from the 80s: the 3D film Captain EO starring Michael Jackson. I remember watching it all those years ago, sitting in the theater oohing and aahing at the 3D effects and at Michael Jackson's incredible music and dancing. But what thrilled me the most, and kept me going back, was the use of the entire theater to create an immersive experience: flashing lights throughout the room, Hooter sneezing and then feeling the air rush past my face, all the seats shaking bouncing jumping as the dancers pounded across the screen. I loved it back then, and watching it last night brought everything back.
So my video pick for this week is Michael Jackson's We Are Here To Change the World:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I find this the worst thing about writing: the fear of receiving a rejection letter. I think it's the one thing that holds me back when it comes to my short stories and the novel I'm working on. (Yes, I'm working on a novel. I liked what I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year and decided to give a whirl with editing and seeing what happens. Anything's possible.)

No one likes rejection. This article from Kathryn Stockett -- about her best-selling novel The Help being rejected 60 times before finding an agent -- gives me hope. So I'll keep plugging away. Some stories will make it; others won't. But I need to keep trying.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Only Thing Better Than Hairspray...
...was seeing it at the Hollywood Bowl last night, with Tony winners and original leads Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur in the cast. This was kind of monumental for those of us not living near the Great White Way. Over here on the Left Coast, the closest to experiencing the original players in anything theatrical is usually plugging in earphones and listening to the CD spinning or the tracks flowing on an iPod. So when we learned of this concert-styled performance of Hairspray, how could we say no?
It was well worth it. Harvey and Marissa were just as incredible as on the album. And seeing Harvey burst through the doors as Edna that fist time -- we joined the crowd with the thunderous applause. The supporting cast shined as well, including Nick Jonas (all the girls screamed every time he stepped onto the stage) as Link Larkin, Corbin Bleu as Seaweed, Diana Degarmo as the ditzy but well-meaning Penny Pingleton, Drew Carey as Wilbur Turnbladt, and Darlene Love as Motormouth Maybelle.
The only downsides for me: the length -- two of the best songs were cut, for time constraints, I think; and John Stamos as Corny Collins. I went in thinking he would be a shoo-in as the host of the TV dance show, especially after his stint on Glee, but he came across like a bored Las Vegas lounge singer.
So now, it's back to listening to the soundtrack over and over. I promise not to sing along. At least, not with the car windows open.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book Review: One Buck Horror: Volume One
It had to happen eventually: my first review of an ebook. And what a better way to start than with a horror anthology.
I've always been a fan of short fiction, especially anything that falls within the horror genre. Being able to draw a reader in, to connect with the characters, and to send chills up and down my spine in a short amount of space requires much skill and talent, and I'm always in awe of those writers who do it well. The stories included in the first volume of tales from One Buck Horror manage to do all of the above.
In Jenny's House by Ada Hoffman, a young child's enthusiasm for Show and Tell takes a twisted turn when he tells about how his doll became covered with green slime and what happened over at a little girl's house.
A Lullaby for Caliban by Mark Onspaugh follows three young boys sent to a carnival sideshow on a club initiation dare to bring home a "pickled punk" -- a club name for a fetus in a jar of formaldehyde. But when the glass jar with the punk falls and breaks, two of the boys run off leaving their friend Kirby to face the consequences.
With the help of a young street urchin, trapped spirits take their revenge upon the "Uncle" who forced them into servitude in Elizabeth Twist's The Last Nephew.
A young boy's darkest fears come to life as he tries to escape a monster while crossing The Cornfield, in a story by Mike Trier.
Georgie's mother is trying a new gingerbread recipe thanks to a special ingredient from one of her neighbors, something she says will help his ailing father. When Georgie accidentally discovers what the special ingredient does, will he be able to help his father, or will he be next? Read Julie Jansen's story The Gingerbread Men to find out.
I enjoyed all the stories, especially The Last Nephew. The story revealed itself slowly, allowing the shocks to gradually sink in so that the ending packs a heck of a punch. The Cornfield left me a little confused about the young protagonist's older brother, but it's still a creepy tale filled with a fantastic monster and enough gore to keep me happy.
This is a great collection of tales, each one immediately grabbing you with horrific visions and worse, just enough details to allow your imagination to fill in the rest. Definitely a collection for any and all horror fans to enjoy.
And yes, I already purchased Volume Two.
One Buck Horror: Volume One
Edited by Christopher Hawkins and Kris M.Hawkins
Coronis Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-937346-00-3
e-format, 82 pgs.

purchased ebook

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Verdict

After a week of toying with my new little toy, I made the right decision. Big thumbs up for the Nook. I've already downloaded 6 or 7 free books -- from Barnes & Noble, Project Gutenberg, and a few directly from authors. My library account is all set to check out eBooks. With a flick of the finger, I can turn a page or look up the meaning of a word. I can set bookmarks and even upload my own images to use as screensavers.

I even purchased a Jonathan Adler carrying case for it, resembling a book so that I can hide it amongst my paper ones.

The only downside was the required WiFi access to register it; I couldn't access any of the books until I did. Luckily, I remedied that by visiting a Barnes & Noble for their free WiFi. And buying a book for 99¢.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Like a Bird

Last evening, as one of the parades was scheduled to start, we wanted to bypass the crush of a crowd crammed near Main Street to watch it so my friend Clark and I cut behind the Matterhorn, rounding one of the gardens to use a side entrance to Sleeping Beauty's Castle. This little shortcut took us by the wishing well at Snow White's Grotto, and to our surprise, we both noticed an odd bird cleaning itself in the green-tinted waters nearby. Blackish-brown with its wings held aloft as if drying them, about the size of a goose but with a long yellow beak that curved at the end into a sharp point, and yellowish eyes that paid close attention to wherever we stood. Neither of us could place it, and even one of the park employees asked if we recognized what type of bird it was.

As of this morning, the mystery has been solved (I hope)! If my search is correct, we spied a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant. In Disneyland. Will wonders never cease?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Book Review: Three Worlds To Conquer by Poul Anderson
I love used bookstores. Rummaging through the old paperbacks, you never know what gems you might find -- like the copy of Three Worlds To Conquer from Poul Anderson that I discovered a few years ago. Even though I don't read much science fiction -- though horror does play into it very well -- I bought it after reading the first few pages. Then, let it settle somewhere in my stacks of books at home until a few weeks ago when a short book was in order after all the three- to four-hundred pagers I'd recently finished.

Mark Fraser returns to Ganymede after a long side trip to take care of a mining issue on Io. Upon his approach to Ganymede, he notices the USS Vega docked within the moon's airspace and wonders what a battleship is doing this far away from Earth. He learns from a friend at Space Traffic Control that some insurgents back on Earth have overthrown the government with the hope of restoring order and that the Vega is here supposedly on a peace-keeping mission. The ship's presence concerns him, and while taking some time to ponder the ship's true intentions, he contacts his friend Theor, a Nyaraan on the planet Jupiter who's culture is going through a trying time of its own.

For Theor, his people are facing the threat of war from the Ulunt-Khazul, a combative tribe filled with the desire to expand their own territory no matter the cost. It's up to Theor to try to negotiate with the Ulunt-Khazul, and his one hope is The Oracle, as his people like to call Mark Fraser. A bodyless voice coming from a small box might instill terror or awe in Theor's enemies, but things go awry when Mark fails to keep an appointed call, and all-out invasion begins in Theor's homeland.

I enjoyed both intertwined stories of Three Worlds To Conquer, though I enjoyed Fraser's battle with the the Vega a more intriguing story for my tastes. it's almost non-stop action as he battles his way against the so-called peacekeepers from the Vega. Theor's tale was good, especially when painting a picture of the Jovian landscapes, ammonia-filled seas and wondrous and frightening creatures inhabiting Jupiter. I became somewhat bored, though, reading through the dialogues of Theor and the others on Jupiter; it seemed almost too formal, too colonial British and not terribly exciting. But following Theor across the planet as he escapes a deadly skirmish with the Ulunt-Khazul makes for some good reading.

Fans of science fiction tinged with a bit of fantasy will definitely enjoy this one.

Three Worlds To Conquer
by Poul Anderson
Pyramid Books
paperback, 143 pgs.

purchased book