Zombiesque, the new DAW anthology that carries my story “The Confession,” got five out of five stars from reviewer (and zombie fiction fan) Kelly over at Daemon’s Books. Zip on over and take a look:

Zombiesque at AmazonI’m a huge fan of the Zombie genre in… well, anything really. When I got my copy of ZOMBIESQUE in the mail I think I may have squealed out loud and jumped up and down a few times. The zombie phenomenon wasn’t always around, but now that it’s here to stay it seems like everyone is just craving more of the undead. And you will find them with a vengeance in the pages of Zombiesque.

The book is a collection of 16 short stories from various authors. There are stories of zombies that we all know and love from the classic Romero stumblers, to zombies types that we’ve never seen. There are stories of people that purposely turn themselves into zombies for fun, and stories of zombie cheerleaders.

[ ….]

While those two were my favorites out of Zombiesque, there wasn’t a bad story in the book! Whether you like your zombies eating entrails and brains, or if you like to see a softer side of the undead, there’s a story for you in Zombiesque!

She makes special mention of Seanan McGuire’s “Gimme a Z!” and Tim Waggoner’s “Do No Harm,” both of which seem to be turning out to be crowd pleasers.

Thanks bunches to Kelly, and here’s hoping you agree with her!


February 23, 2011 · Posted in reviews  

Ya’ll let me know when you’ve seen “Inception” so we can discuss it in detail.

In the meanwhile, if you’ve found that you like discussions of how to know whether what you’re experiencing is real and whether it actually matters if it’s real or not, feel free to also watch “The Matrix”, “What Dreams May Come”, “Existenz”, “Naked Lunch”, and/or read Jeff Noon’s novel Vurt.

That’s by no means a comprehensive list, but those oeuvres stand out in my memory, for some reason.

Without raising any spoilers, I can say the following:

1) “Inception” is beautiful and you should go see it. DiCaprio’s acting couldn’t ruin this movie, visually stunning as it is and filled with other actors that deserved all the moments in the spotlight they got.

2) It’s really not as hard as all that to hack someone’s head. I’d do it for a living if I could get a steady list of clientele.

3) Dreams are quite a bit more flexible than the movie presents. If the director had cut 90% of the parts explaining the rigid physics of dreams, it would have been easier to swallow. Also, dream logic could have been exploited a bit more thoroughly — though possibly at the expense of turning out a linear, orderly, multilayer story.

Also, lucid dreaming is fun. I recommend it for everyone.


July 20, 2010 · Posted in reviews  

For the record, regarding the current busted-ass healthcare reform bill lurching its way through the ol’ “I’m Just a Bill” system, I’m tremendously relieved that it’s finally here. I look at the motherless Frankensteinian corpse that’s just barely twitching, with a face not even a Nancy Pelosi could love, with outright glee and pride.

I’ll tell you why, because I can see from here that you’re curious.

We’ve been arguing for damned near fifty years — from back in Nixon’s day, when he first suggested maybe we ought to do something about the upcoming healthcare crisis — about what to even put on the slab. Now that we have SOMETHING on the slab, we can get busy with the sculpting and the surgery. Before we’re done we may replace every arm and leg a couple of times, every critical organ a dozen times, add more fat, remove the fat, switch out the brain several times for something a little less “Abby Normal”, but at least there’s something on the slab now, and … it’s alive.

The most back-assward part of the bill is that we’ve made health insurance (mostly) mandatory without actually making it affordable — and that REALLY SUCKS for broke people like myself, who start the game with no business subsidizing my policy. More on that later.

Anyway, via (largely) this Huffington Post article, these are the top eighteen or so things we can expect out of our new experimental beast:

  • A ban on “pre-existing condition” clauses. ASAP for children (I don’t know whether this means dependents up to age 27 — see below — or tops out at 17 or 18) but won’t go into effect for us older folk until 2014, if we can hang on that long.
  • Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can expect a tax credit to subsidize 50% of the premiums for covered employees.
  • A rebate for seniors filling in 50% of that pesky donut-hole problem for Medicare prescription drug coverage. Expect 100% of these seniors to vote Democrat in the next election.
  • You can keep your dependent younguns on a parent’s plan until age 27.
  • No more lifetime caps on the amount of insurance payouts. Annual caps will be banned in 2014.
  • A temporary pool to cover “high-risk” pre-existing condition adults. Won’t be necessary after 2014. Odds are, your ‘rhoids and recurring migraines (and anxiety and depression) will have to wait.
  • New plans will have NO COPAYS for checkups and preventative care. Similar copays for existing plans will be phased out by 2018.
  • You will not have your coverage terminated if you fall expensively ill.
  • Insurers must now report regularly and publicly on how much of your premiums are wasted on company overhead.
  • Insurers must provide an appeals process for matters of coverage and claims denials.
  • Expanded Medicare services for rural areas  who typically have too few Medicare patients to make coverage cost effective to providers.
  • A 15% cap to overhead costs for nonprofit insurance orgs that wish to keep their tax benefits
  • Expanded nutrient (or lack thereof) disclosure regulations for our thriving crap-food industry
  • A subsidy to help cover ludicrously expensive early-retiree policies
  • A publicly funded website to help citizens and businesses shop for affordable insurance options
  • A $2 billion fund to encourage investment in researching new therapies for preventing and treating diseases

Funding will come from:

  • A 10%t tax on indoor tanning services (replaces a suggested tax on cosmetic procedures)
  • Cutting out subsidies to banks for proving guaranteed student loans. The government will simply provide these loans itself and cut out the middleman, saving a tidy sum. And pissing off bankers. We’re all for that.
  • New and improved screening procedures to cut down on insurance claim fraud and waste
  • Umm?

As far as the missing pieces to make insurance cheaper are concerned…. What gives?

The entire system is built around “other people’s money” syndrome. It’s worse than what Vegas does by changing your money for chips so it hurts less to throw it away. I mean, who cares? Order every expensive and experimental test in the books because it doesn’t come out of a real person’s pockets. Keep the patient coming back in for whatever old reason because we only get income when someone submits a claim through the works. Prescribe a metric #^@&ton of barely tested designer drugs with a huge swathes of barely tolerable side effects FOR WHICH YOU CAN TAKE MORE DRUGS because pushing pills is how drug companies make their money, and BESIDES, IT’S ALL PAID FOR WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY! Not REAL money, OUT OF YOUR OWN POCKET money….

Also, the medical industry organism, in the USA, in any case, is designed to operate as a parasitic infection. It must provide SOME symbiotic benefit to keep us from eradicating it completely, but it maximizes its own wealth and resources by KEEPING US AS SICK AS POSSIBLE FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT ACTUALLY KILLING US — and also encourages such bull$#!% as INVENTING NEW DISEASES TO CONVINCE US WE ARE SICK SO WE GO WASTE A DOCTOR’S VALUABLE TIME AND DEMAND SOME MEDICINE.

I’m looking at you, Latisse.

Until we fix that little design flaw — until the medical industry is redesigned to thrive ONLY WHEN WE OURSELVES DO, we will always be its prey instead of its beneficiary.

And yes, that means I think the current healthcare hoohah is simply rearranging deckchairs while the Titanic is sinking. But I am thrilled that people are beginning to realize that SOMETHING needs doing and are actively looking around for what to do — even if that means we’re going to be stuck with ol’ Frankenstein for a few years. He ought to be able to reorganize deckchairs like nobody’s business so we can get back to looking for a real fix.


March 23, 2010 · Posted in reviews  

The browser.

There, I’ve said it.

I don’t have  good mobile browser. I have a T-Mobile Wing. It gets the job done — right up until it’s supposed to ring when I get an incoming call, and I kind of consider this failure a bit of a feature. But most of my interaction with the outside world is, I kid you not, filtered through SMS. Both incoming and outgoing. I hit a hardware button or two, and there’s the list of everything that’s happened recently: news headlines (via RSS pipes sent to a Twitter account I follow), select Facebook and Twitter updates, and, of course, actual SMS messages from people who have my number. If the bluetooth headset is in my ear, then a robotified voice of Terry Gross (from NPR’s “Fresh Air”) on too much thorazine (not REALLY Terry Gross, but that’s REALLY what it sounds like) vocally transcribes the incoming messages in real-time into my ear. I also get the sender and subject lines of incoming e-mail on any of several accounts.

I also can’t really think of a way to replace this audio ticker service with anything browser-based until mobile internet accommodations for the visually impaired become more widely implemented and available.

I understand Google’s love of the browser-based application. BIOS + HAL + your selection of OS + your selection of browser + HTML/Javascript/Flash/Air/Silverlight application environment = an eventual platform-independent application space (and prepares the way for cutting out a couple of those really inefficient layers for the mobile market: BIOS/HAL/Browser-based application environment, for instance) that’s based upon agreed-on app-implementation standards. Kinda.

Whatever. It doesn’t bug me in the slightest that they REALLY want to filter all the messaging on earth (now including video/audio streams in chat and Google Voice) through their servers, weight the importance of each nugget by seeing who is paying attention to it and for how long, and finish summoning The Demon That Knows What Is Current And Relevant and will be able to insert context-relevant bilboards into the video chat streams, accompanied by catchy jingles. Really doesn’t bug me, sorry. I have personal uses for that demon and I can’t wait for it to get here.

It’s just the browser thing. And that audio-ticker service thing I depend on. That’s all. Other than that I would probably actually use G-Mail and Google Docs and Wave and Buzz. But their API (what API?) doesn’t really lend itself to I/O via SMS. Because how could they show me ads if it did?

So there.


February 11, 2010 · Posted in reviews  

I just read the State of the Union address. I prefer to read rather than watch because I get more out of reading — if I didn’t get something, I can go back and try again. If something sounds inconsistent, I can flip backwards and forwards and see if something is really out of kilter.

As with much that passes for public speaking, I had to separate everything into facts and appeals. I don’t have a full team of researchers to dig data for me, but frankly I think the actual state of the union is a worse picture than the one Obama painted with the facts he presented. Yes, we’re in two wars and one of them is ending. Yes, we still have torture-prisons where people who haven’t been convicted of anything are incarcerated, but we’re closing one of them and scaled way back on that torture thing.

Our educational system is still a wreck and nothing has happened with healthcare except a lot of screaming, and not much of that screaming has been about the actual problem: the feedback loop of insurance companies charging doctors high malpractice premiums — which then push the costs of those premiums back to patients, who then have to pay higher coverage premiums TO THE SAME COMPANIES. It’s as if they’ve found a secret tap for draining money out of everyone’s wallet and think if they only crank it open 10-15% more each year, they won’t get caught. The only way to stay out of that loop is to not buy insurance and not get sick. The only arguing I’ve heard about so far is the argument to make it illegal to not buy the insurance. That’s the wrong order, you twerps. Fix it first THEN make me buy it.

Unemployment is not depicted to be as bad as it actually is. Obama says one in ten people can’t find work. Technically true. Demographically it’s worse than that. Seventeen out of a hundred black males can’t find any work here in Georgia. But it’s worse than THAT, even, because that one-in-ten figure is just people who are still looking and haven’t given up. Also it doesn’t count people who have sucky jobs that don’t cover all the bills and who are still being dragged by spiraling debt towards default and foreclosure and bankruptcy. And God help them if they get sick.

So let’s say that REAL unemployment figure is a lot closer to one in five. If not, by now, one in four.

Obama discusses the broken, partisan nature of the House and Senate. He does say that some seem to be acting like it will take a clear sixty votes in Senate to get any bill through both houses. So he’s pretty accurate there. This is largely due to the unprecedented polarizations of the propaganda networks. The tea/douche-bagging phenomenon continues at an unslowed pace, for instance. This is unsurprising. Pardon me for some nearly unforgivable profiling here, but the stereotypical FOX News viewer is a bigoted white Christian fundamentalist who is frightened to the core of living in unprotected among people who are not much like them and, by now, nearly justified in setting fire to their backwards little enclaves simply because the smell of burning flesh and hair is better then the stench of unbridled fear.

I’ll just sit here for a minute while you go back and sort out the syntax of that last sentence. I know it’s a bit twisted, but it’s too close to exactly how I feel for me to try to rewrite it for simplicity’s sake.

These people are actually in favor of Armageddon, secretly rooting for it, even, because they think they’re still in charge somehow, or, if not, that their networks are tight enough to allow them to be the only survivors when shit comes down, that when Mad Max rolls into town, they’ll be the only ones with gasoline. To this I can only answer, I really hope you can survive on drinking gasoline.

I’ll skip the evaluation of the appeals. Those are easy to spot. More interesting are the tone of the appeals, backhanded as often as straightforward, revealing an immense amount of exasperation and frustration on the part of the President. This is unsurprising. Not meaning to talk bad about Obama here — I truly believe he’s enormously competent and even awe-inspiring — but he won an election that, in reality, could have been won by a deranged goat if it had stepped onto the Democrat party ticket. And considering the shape the nation was in after eight years of GWB, the only people who could have actually wanted the Presidency at that point would have had to be similarly deranged. There was nothing on the plate to be served to the President BUT exasperation and frustration and whatever it takes to get people to stop pointing their damn fingers and just clean up the mess before we all choke on it.

My principal worry about who to vote for in the Democratic primary was weighing the sanity of the person volunteering to jump on the grenade rolling around on the floor. The fear that we would get another crushing couple of years of GWB policies never really crossed my mind. McCain would have been a breath of fresh air even, but his sanity was even worse in doubt after conceding to the showboating that selected the big bucket of insanity that was Palin for a running mate. THAT, friends and neighbors, was an act of desperation that deserved to fail. TO THIS DAY Palin is right off the set of some SNL-inspired mockumentary and seems to be the only one who doesn’t get the joke.

I slipped a little bit off topic there.

Anyway, Obama’s exasperation is not surprising. The fact that there are no real rumors of him losing his temper is surprising. I don’t really have more I feel I need to say about that.

I would like to see what progress his appeals inspire. I saw a lot of pledged support for traditional situations, for the middle class that has absolutely taken a couple of shots below the waterline, for families and households with children. I’m not going to see it purely in terms of what he’s pledged for people like myself — no children in the household that would could toward the tax credits, living in the hinterlands that are handfuls of 1099s instead of a W2 or two per household and tax forms that have to be shipped to the IRS in a box because envelopes aren’t big enough.

There are plenty of people scheduled to fall between the gaps in the appeals due to nonstandard employment and nonstandard family life, and that’s all unfortunately because it’s prettier, and more emotionally appealing, to talk in terms of supporting jobs and families than in terms of basic human rights that apply to everyone, regardless of age or race or situation, that we’re afraid to admit we’re on the wrong side of the curve on.

In any case, that was an excellent speech, Mr. President. It covered all the emotional bases and many of the factual ones. It offered a carefully described majority some hope that change was still in progress. The rest of us will continue to hope that someone will get around to us eventually.


January 28, 2010 · Posted in reviews  

Received my copy of Finch from Jeff VanderMeer’s own hands at his reading at Manuel’s Tavern(‘s beer storage closet — a story in itself) Friday evening and read it in as close to one sitting as is possible in a house full of kids and livestock and snap-together model emergencies and such.

It’s the third (and likely final, at least chronologically) book in the Ambergris Cycle, set in a town (named after essence of whale vomit) whose complete history we get to traverse through the stories in this cycle. It should be noted that I haven’t had a chance to read the middle volume, Shriek: An Afterword, but I have read City of Saints and Madmen more than a couple of times.

Each volume is quite a bit different in the map it draws. The first is quite playfully historical in its approach, creating a wealth of interlocking characters and companies and elements that would be passive furniture in anyone else’s hands. The second I won’t comment much on, not having read it yet, but is a matched set of dueling narratives from a brother and sister team, somewhat at cross purposes. The third is blatantly mid-40s noir, set in an occupied echo of Paris, complete with Vichyesque collaborators — except the occupying force is a colony of sentient fungi. More on that in a moment.

Given the city of Ambergris and the twisted story of its timeline, I’ve no choice but to be reminded of Tanith Lee’s Secret Books of Paradys series. Lee writes consistently darker myths surrounding her fabled city in a more consistent style, but all of the tales in this series also tangle around a single city and it’s tangled histories and parallels. She lacks VanderMeer’s flair for the absurd and (overaccused to the point I suspect he’s truly tired of it) kink for squid and mushrooms. Lee takes the path of fantasy/horror more often while VanderMeer stays true to a form of historically flavored SF with the fungus creatures having their own alien biologically based technology — but I argue that kind of distinction really isn’t any kind of important distinction these days. The bookstores have been shelving the speculative stuff all in one lump for a couple of decades now, with occasional escapees from the genre ghetto to “true literature”.

The only criteria I’ve used in my own book-buying has ever been, “Is the story worth the money?” And the answer here is, yes, yes, VanderMeer’s stories are worth the money.

VanderMeer nails noir in Finch. The characters are gripping and variably textured and intriguingly flawed. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked. Women are perilous and have their own goals. Bullets and booze are readily available and never solve anything. Grim determination and endurance is way more useful a trait than Holmesian problem-solving ability, and everybody who can help is playing for a different team which would, for preference, crush a snoop like a cockroach. But this is set in Ambergris, a city long torn apart by warring merchant princes and, because this is just that kind of world, suffering from a soon-to-be-fatal sentient Cordyceps infection.

The absurdity is greeted head-on, without flinching, and no snickers out of the corner of the mouth. You get the dreamlike feel of Cronenberg directing a film adaptation of a William S. Burroughs novel. It can be funny, but you can only laugh when you come up for air and break out of the mindset, cowering in the safety of the real world. But then you have to consider, this is a real world where Cordyceps exists. And Toxoplasma gondii. And Wolbachia. And Spinochordodes tellinii. It’s really just not that infeasible that we may eventually run across some spore in a jungle somewhere that changes everything for us forever. Someday.

Evil domineering squid might seem a bit more of a stretch, but the oceans are really really large and very deep, and we haven’t explored a tenth of the volume yet.

Finch covers a huge amount of territory, story- and flavor-wise. The crossovers in genre produce a novel favorable to the union of the sets, not the intersection. If you like noir, you’ll like Finch. If you like absurdist stories taken seriously, you’ll like Finch. If you like your SF historical and culturally rich, you’ll like Finch. It’s not like if you just like one you’ll have to put up with the rest. The flavors mix and blend to make a brilliant, meaty stew that is anything but your usual comfort chow.

I will probably be reading it again tomorrow.


December 13, 2009 · Posted in reviews  

In no particular order:

  • Nothing keeps you from unzipping the chest of a stranger and shoving your hands inside for a good rummage.
  • Burlap may start out dirty but never gets any dirtier than it already is.
  • When people go to all-out war with one another, what you really have to watch out for is runaway technology that has it in for everybody.
  • It is very important to ignore the voices of authority, reason, and experience and take all your advice from the crazy artist guy. And people will follow your lead in this if you tell them they need to with a very earnest expression on your face.
  • It really really sucks when people die but it’s all better as long as you see their ghosts escape to the stars, which, for some reason, is way way better than keeping them in a convenient box where you might be able to put them to use again later, even when it’s pretty well established throughout the rest of the movie that parts is parts.
  • I seriously need to create my own small army of burlap-wrapped-spare-parts homonculi. I’d be running this place in no time.


September 14, 2009 · Posted in reviews  
September 30, 2008 · Posted in reviews  


I think, rather than some sort of nummy living treat on an aluminum stick, ready for you to take a bite out of it, it should be a jacket, protecting your own precious skin with it’s worthless hide. Or, even better, it should be a hoodie. And you should be able to train it with vicious electric shocks to sing softly, directly into your ears. And you can reward it for good service by having perfect strangers lick it in its special place.

Imagine feeling deliciously warm while feeling your jacket itself shiver with the chill. Or the thrill.

This implementation? Maybe four out of ten. Oh, but such potential….


September 18, 2008 · Posted in reviews  
September 9, 2008 · Posted in reviews  

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