Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Belief in the One True Power

So apparently I'm never going to write a book because I'm too busy writing plays about talking beers or whatever, but my friends are way cooler than me, actually taking the initiative and getting shit published.

Unquiet Slumbers of the Sleepers, by Alex Telander, is actoplasm's first short story collection!

"Blood Is the Life": A young boy craves blood. Why? Oh. The end. This piece is all mood and atmosphere, but it ends right when it gets interesting! B

"Hangman Syndrome": Like the first story, this story is mostly about setting the scene for an idea that isn't really developed. A man is hanged for being a witch, and it gets weird, but...that's pretty much all there is. B-/B

"Connecting...": A dire, unsettling message from the future...via AOL Instant Messenger! A clever concept, but a little hard to follow. While I wasn't entirely satisfied by the end, it was a good trip. B/B+

"Westville": While this story could also fall under the "Here is a supernatural conceit I am describing, the end" category, it's much more assured than the first two and it has a good construction. A nice Western with a supernatural twist and a strong narrative voice. B+

"Midnight": Easily the best story in the collection, like Stephen King meets Neil Gaiman. Frank Black, a loner outsider, crosses path with the Brood, a deadly alien race. Frank's an interesting, compelling character, which the other stories were lacking. B+/A-

"The Bad Place": Another story reminiscent of Stephen King (and I mean this as a compliment). A young boy investigates his neighbor's house when he thinks he might be dead, and it's very spooky inside, though not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect. While the descriptions are spooky enough, I found myself wanting something more to happen, though. B

"How to Commit Perfect Suicide": A bit of a departure, this story is exactly what it claims to be: a sly, slightly sarcastic guide on how to commit perfect suicide. It delivers what you expect it to, although I can't help but think there was room to stretch a bit, especially with that voice. B/B+

"Suspect in Interrogation Room One": A twisty little mini-thriller that jumps between the interrogator and suspect as we wonder what crimes have been committed and who will win this battle of wills and wits. B+

"The Monk and His Sword": The first half of this story is about the monk. The second half of this story is about his sword. I really couldn't get into the first part, but the second part is pretty badass. B/B+

"The Shadow in Black": A man encounters the Grim Reaper after an accident. Also, he likes Genesis. The band, not the Bible book. A decent tale, if a bit by-the-numbers for this sort of thing. B/B+

It's a solid collection of well written stories, and I was most impressed with the variety of ideas and writing styles, even if the stories themselves didn't always grab me. In fact, what made it really difficult for me to evaluate the stories is that they were so different! I wasn't able to pin down what made each one an Alex Telander story. It was fun to watch him experiment and then read the origins of each story.

In That Quiet Earth, by Alex Telander, is actoplasm's second short story collection!

"Final Destination": Like "Blood Is the Life" in Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers, this first story is more of a mood piece, just describing a man going through intense pain after an apparent bug bite. It would make a good cold open for The X-Files, but it doesn't really satisfy me as a short story. B-

"The Lonesome Road": An author picks up a hitchhiker. Hijinks ensue? I mean, this is a short story by a sci-fi/fantasy/horror writer, after all. I'm leaving that question mark there because I really liked the tension that's set up; I was unsure myself where the story was going to go. And the last sentence bumped it up a notch. B+

"Digging in the Dirt": A story with a simple premise: a man gets a metal detector to look for...well, who knows? When he starts digging, however, he finds more than he bargained for. It takes a neat idea and executes it fairly well without letting anything get in its way. B+/A-

"It's Never Too Late": Billy Preston is in Intermediate Algebra. The bell rings. And...time stops. What's going on? Is the reason sinister or sweet? I'm always a fan of time stopping, so I enjoyed the descriptions of Billy navigating the frozen world. The climax and resolution are a wee bit on-the-nose, however. B/B+

"H.G.W.": Hey, do you think this story is about H.G. Wells? Good job! Do you think this story is about H.G. Wells making a phone call to the future? Okay, I don't know how you guessed that part. This is a cute story that doesn't have too much to it, but the basic idea is enjoyable enough. B/B+

"Outside the Chamber": Unexpected story about Nazis gassing Jews is unexpected! Heinrich is having a moral dilemma, and if he doesn't act fast, it may be the last dilemma he ever has, moral or otherwise. I found it a little hard to follow, but the central issue was compelling. B/B+

"A Hallowe'en Story": A classic ghost story. I liked the narrative voice here, as he describes one very creepy Halloween. There's nothing particularly original about it (classic ghost story, as I said), but I found it very evocative nonetheless. B+

"The Lights at the End of the Tunnel": A man dies and discovers that, as the title suggests, you can't just "go into the light," because...there are two of them. It's a neat, original spin on the afterlife with an amusing character. B+

"The Adventure of Lem, Odo and Tom": This is a cute, Lord of the Rings-esque tale of three friends on a quest to save the kingdom. I liked all the fantasy trappings and general worldbuilding (especially in a short story), but the quest itself seemed...kind of easy? There weren't enough obstacles, and there's no real climax. B/B+

"Motion in Motion": What might be my favorite story in the collection isn't really a story at all but a creative and amusing thought experiment. We begin with an amoeba propelling itself through the ocean, and Telander follows this initial motion through causes and effects, essentially tracking the butterfly effect (I had to smile when he hit an actual butterfly). The descriptions are detailed and cute and sometimes ludicrous, but I enjoyed following the causality. B+/A-

Overall, I found this to be a stronger collection than Unquiet Slumbers, and just as varied. It's funny, whenever Telander does something I haven't seen before, I almost always like it, but when he treads familiar territory, I'm more likely to be unsatisfied. Or maybe that's just natural. The occasional awkward phrasing and typos are distracting, however. I like that he doesn't restrict himself to one narrative voice, although...wait a second, all the stories are about dudes! And so were the ones in the last collection. I call shenanigans. In conclusion, it's clear Telander loves telling stories, and I look forward to hearing more of them.

You may remember when I pimped my friend Amanda's hilarious blog last year or when I hung out with her after Comic-Con. We've been friends since Ann Arbor, and she is a funny gal.

Lily and the Golden Lute, by Amanda Steinhoff, is a delightful romp of female piracy starring Lord Lily Washington, the eccentric millionaire. Lily and the crew of the Revenge are after the dastardly, lecherous villain, Reginald Doxweather, who possesses a magical golden lute that can make any woman fall under its amorous spell. To defeat him, they will have to fight their way through tree-monsters, cannibals, and—sacre bleu!—the French.

Lily reminded me a bit of Alexia Tarabotti of the Parasol Protectorate series in her complete unflappability, and, just like in that series, this unflappability left me unable to truly feel that anything was at stake. Lily is almost aggressively unflappable, and she delivers aside after absurd aside to support this fact. Some of the humor is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams (there are some very creative similes), and I laughed out loud several times (the defense of lying is GOLD). But I found the sheer excess of jokes a bit overpowering, many of them falling flat (the rest getting chuckles, at least). It made Lily less believable of a character, and I wondered whether the book would have been better with a wry, omniscient third-person narrator, so we could see Lily as a person and not a joke machine. And even though the precautionary preface did warn us so-called academics and intellectuals against looking for historical inaccuracies, I did find the anachronistic, modern dialogue mixed in with the more period talk confusing and distracting. The book has a strange tone that I couldn't quite put my finger on; it had the feel of an animated series.

The book is undeniably fun, however, a fluffy adventure that's never boring. There is a sort of anarchist, take-no-guff spirit that pervades the book, as if Amanda Steinhoff is going to take all your notions of female piracy and spit on them gleefully, molding piratical stereotypes into her own comic vision. Lord Lily Washington is here, everyone. Yes, Lord. She may be a female pirate, but she is certainly no lady.

So, check it: you can download Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers and In That Quiet Earth for FREE and buy Lily and the Golden Lute for MONEY. Go, support my friends, forthwith!
Tags: books, making the grade, pimpings, real life friends
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