Tag Archives: review

Peer Review: “City of the Lost” by Stephen Blackmoore

I hadn’t planned to do another Peer Review post so soon after the last one, but this entire weekend was a lot of things taking much longer than anticipated and me being stuck with my iPhone (and the nook app), so I ended up reading City of the Lost in a weekend. And it was totally worth it.

On the surface, it’s got a lot in common with Double Dead. It’s a premiere novel. The protagonist is undead and generally disreputable, and part of the plot revolves around the character coming to terms with a new state of being. Also, both authors don’t shy away from bad language and splatterpunk gore. Oh, and zombies show up in both. But that’s where the similarities end.

City of the Lost is, essentially, a modern-day crime novel. The protagonist, Joe Sunday, is a hitman for a local mobster who, through a variety of mishaps, ends up turned into a zombie. Because that’s just what happens in L.A. And yet, the supernatural elements don’t end up overpowering the plot — the story slips in and out of the mystical parts effortlessly, making them feel like a natural part of a story that is really about one man’s attempt to get what’s owed him, and maybe a little payback if he can get it. In truth, while I starting thinking Chuck Wendig when I started the book, towards the middle the book felt more like Seth Harwood‘s Jack Palms novels, and by the end I found myself in love with Stephen’s unique voice. You can point to a lot of things it’s kind of like, but it’s not exactly like any of them.

I am eager to see what Stephen Blackmoore does next in this world.

Peer Review: Double Dead, by Chuck Wendig

One of the disadvantages of having lots of talented writers and designers as friends is that I end up with more books to read or games to play than I have time to read or play them. I know that one of the best ways to help a fellow writer out is to write a review, and I sometimes regret that I don’t always have the time to do that.

When I saw that I had a couple of dozen ebooks in my Kindle app on my iPad that I hadn’t read yet, I decided to try and do something about it. So I’m starting a new feature on my blog called “Peer Review.” These are highly biased reviews, because they’ll be of the work of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, but it’s a chance to help some friends out, and a chance to expose some great work to people who might not otherwise have heard of them.

Let me start off with a quick story. When I was visiting my mom a couple of weeks ago, I met my stepsister’s boyfriend for the first time for dinner, and we fell into talking about vampire and zombie movies. He pointed out that he didn’t know of any movie or book which featured both zombies and vampires. I pointed out that there is one book where this is true.

Thus: Double Dead.

Double Dead is Chuck Wendig‘s first published novel. That seems weird to me, since I’ve been working with Chuck for years, and I feel like he’s always been more prolific than the rest of reality considers him to be — something, I will note, that he’s been rapidly working to correct the past year or so. And this book showcases some of the best of Chuck’s technique and narrative voice. A number of people know Chuck for his intensely surreal and foul-mouthed patter, but I’ve always known Chuck as a very subtle storyteller. The profanity and scatological humor are like a magician’s flourish: a distraction to draw your attention away from the real magic, the engaging story that’s dragging you along and making you care about the characters and the world he’s creating.

A perfect example of this is the protagonist: Coburn the vampire. He wakes up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and is pissed off that blood has basically stopped falling into his mouth. He is, to put it mildly, the worst kind of self-entitled asshole. And yet, by the end, I was rooting for Coburn (and his dog), even during the worst parts of the zombie apocalypse. Sure, there’s a lot of pure fun in the story, the kind of enjoyable ass-kicking and crass humor that makes for a good action film. For 80% of the book I felt I knew exactly where the plot was going, and I was enjoying it like a good road trip — the journey meant more to me then the destination. And then, a number of twists hit me like rabbit punches to the gut, and it was all over. I was down for the count, staring at the words THE END and wondering how in the hell I ended up on the floor.

… I lost the metaphor a bit there. I’m still recovering from the end of the book.

Go get Double Dead.

Review of “Amortals” by Matt Forbeck

AmortalsDRAFT-front-72dpi-186x300Full disclosure: I’ve had a couple of drinks with Matt in the past. However, I paid for my own copy of this book.

(Yes, another review. What can I say? I had some time to get some reading done over vacation. And I picked up Amortals about the same time as In Hero Years…I’m Dead. So, naturally, I had to read them one right after the other as well.)

Amortals is about a Secret Service agent who is part of the Amortals Program. When he dies, his clone is activated with his last backed-up memories. This time, he’s sent to investigate his own murder, which is particularly gruesome and shocking. I found the premise similar to how clones work in the fiction of EVE Online, which is what initially interested me in the book, but I quickly got swept up in the action movie premise. Over time, the book throws you a few curves, and near the end there’s some good digging into the moral implications and concerns of a society that clones the rich and powerful on a regular basis.

Like In Hero Years, there’s an afterword in which Matt talks about the process of writing the novel. He says he’s shopped around a draft of this in various forms for fifteen years, and I think that shows in the book. Whereas Mike’s book was a fountain of exploratory writing that focused on character emotion, this is a manuscript that has been revised and polished and tweaked for maximum effect, and the plot is highly tuned as a result. I don’t think one style is better than the other, but reading them back to back did give me an appreciation of how each approach creates a different style of narrative.

Matt is at the top of his game in creating a fun and engaging story. If you like action thrillers, this is a good book to pick up.

Review of “In Hero Years…I’m Dead”

IHY512Full Disclosure: I have met Mike Stackpole professionally a couple of times. I paid for this book myself, and wasn’t compensated in any way for it.

I’ve been a fan of Mike Stackpole’s since I read his Fiddleback trilogy of novels. When I saw him post on his Twitter that he was releasing a new digital direct-to-reader novel, I was interested. When I discovered he called it “superhero noir,” I purchased it right away — the first time I made an impulse purchase on an ebook novel. I was in the middle of reading a collection of the Carnacki stories, but as soon as I was done, I got my trusty nook and opened up In Hero Years…I’m Dead.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book starts on a number of solid noir tropes, moves on to hit a number of superhero tropes, and then proceeds to keep sending the main character (and the reader) in a number of different directions before its all over. A couple of times I thought I saw where it was heading, only to be proven wrong. The story is about an unnamed protagonist who has been out of the superhero business for twenty years. He comes back to town to try to pick up the pieces of his life. From there, he’s drawn into a fast-paced collection of lies, deceit, optimism, hope, and sacrifice. The whole story is driven on emotion and feeling rather than logic, and I got swept up into the whole strange, wonderful world of it all. I spent the extra dollar to get the deluxe edition with his lengthy afterword discussing the creation of the book, and I was pleased to find that a lot of the details and feeling I noticed in the book were all intended.

The only downside is that there were a few more typos than I would have hoped for. I would get wrapped up in the story, and some missing word or errant punctuation would draw me out and slap my editor’s cap on my head. There were also a couple of times that I caught myself trying to figure out which heroes and villains were analogs of which popular comic book characters, which also distracted me. But I found myself taking any opportunity I could to sneak in a few more pages, so clearly these things didn’t distract me too terribly much.

Overall, if you want to support a writer trying a new business model, if you have an ebook reader (or are comfortable reading on a computer), and if you like gritty superhero stories packed with emotion and character, do yourself a favor and pick up In Hero Years.

Review of Killer Thriller

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Full disclosure: I worked with Tony Lee on the Know Your Role RPG, and we’ve been acquaintances through the gaming industry for years. I also got a free copy of the game from Tony.

Horror games are awesome. The psychological conflicts can be engaging, and the tense cat-and-mouse between mortal and monster can be tense and exciting. But sometimes, you just want to rack up the highest body count as quickly as possible in the tradition of B-movie slasher flicks.

Welcome to Killer Thriller.

The game only uses six-sided dice. When you start reading the game, you realize that this is a satirical beer-and-pretzel game. The player characters are known as “Victims,” and the players need to make three of them before the game starts. Each character has three Inabilities: Unwise (roll to make a sensible decision), Unluck (roll to avoid unfortunate coincidence), and Undone (roll to keep your character’s cool). The player rolls 2d6, and tries to fail against their Inability in order to do something smart, lucky, or sane. Damage comes off of a character’s Unharm. Each character also has a stereotype, which is… well, stereotypical. Once per game, they can automatically succeed in one thing that relates to their stereotype. There are advantages and disadvantages, but that’s only for “advanced” characters.

In an interesting twist, whenever a Victim dies, that character’s max Unharm gets added to the next Victim’s Unharm. When the player gets to the last character with the collective Unharm of all the previous Victims, that Victim is considered to be the Last Survivor. On the other hand, Monsters don’t roll their own Inabilities against Victims except when the player has a Last Survivor, reflecting that Monsters are terrifyingly efficient until the final few victims are left, when they suddenly become bumbling idiots.

The rest of the book covers different kinds of Monsters you can create, some GM advice, two quick adventures, character cards, and an afterword.

It’s less than 30 pages, but the game is only three bucks. For a fast-paced night of light-hearted murder, it can be a lot of fun. Check it out.