Laser House on the Prairie by David W. Barbee: Hard to Get Further from Walnut Grove, MN

Laser House on the Prairie

Laser House on the Prairie

by David W. Barbee

Kindle Edition, 164 pg.
Excession Press, 2019

Read: July 30, 2019

“I’m not trying to be a hero, man. I’m kinda the opposite, actually. Right now, I just have to do what’s right.”

In a not-so-distant past, Jeph was a solider, then a gunslinger for hire. And then he fell in love, got married and gave it up. Now all he wants is to live a quiet life at home. But, those best-laid plans have met up with an old comrade-in-arms (and crime) who wants to pull off one more heist before he dies of some horrible disease. Jeph’s not interested and tells them so definitively. But he’s cajoled, badgered and threatened into going along with them. We all know this story, having read/seen it more times than we can count. But you’ve never seen it told this way.

Their target? A weapon called The Red Orb. Not only is it unbelievably lethal, but its users become addicted to it—the power and the way it ingratiates itself with the user’s mind. A devastating weapon and users jonesing to wield it. There’s only a billion ways that could go wrong.

A lot of the science/gadgets/weapons in this science-fiction-y novel makes no sense, and that’s okay. It’s not supposed to, it’s just a plot device to get the characters and/or conflict to be where Barbee wants it. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t really understand the conventions (or lack thereof) of Bizarro fiction, but it seems to me that it’s just whatever strange and odd bit of sciency thing the author comes up with at the moment—the stranger the better—while telling his story. Feel free to correct me in the comments. The important thing is that the SF elements are cuckoo-bananas and the reader should just roll with it.

The Red Orb is in a city not that far away called Obscuria. Which is basically what would happen if you took San Diego Comic Con, transported it into a Ready Player One meets Blade Runner future and then turned it into a city. Jeph and the band have to learn how to play by the rules of Obscuria and hopefully to hijack these rules in order to find and secure the Orb. Making the book a thinly disguised critique of Geek/Internet culture but it’s done in such a way that you can tell that Barbee is steeped in the sub-culture he’s examining and commenting on. Jeph’s account may be scathing, but it’s not spiteful. Nor is it dour, and all negative—you typically can’t help but grin as you see what Barbee is commenting on (and, honestly, it’s hard to disagree with most of his commentary).

When I sat down to write, I had a very clear idea how I was going to express “What this book is about.” But the more I think about it, I’m not sure I can unpack it all. There’s a lot about self-determination, about choosing to make your present and future different from your past. About how the wounds of the past and our self-deception aren’t easily overcome to stop our self-destructive tendencies. About our own tendencies to be trapped by our perceptions. It’s about in the Internet/Geek culture how do we determine the worth of someone/an act/a thought? Is it the quality? Is it the rareness? How easily it can be licensed and commodified? Why do anything if it isn’t related to clicks, likes, influences? What about those who’ve rejected and/or not-embraced that kind of life? How can they make their way through a Geek culture? And I think I’m really just scratching the surface.

So, yeah, you’ve got a tried-and-true setup, morphed into a SF-ish reality as an excuse to talk about what’s worth pursuing in our contemporary culture. Told in a strange, generally amusing and sometimes funny way. You won’t get through this book easily (it’s not a difficult read, but sometimes the imagery takes longer than usual to conjure up), but you may come through it better.

While it shared many sensibilities with last year’s Jimbo Yojimbo, it was a bit more restrained and a lot more heartfelt. It’s probably a better book overall—I didn’t enjoy it as much personally, but it’s one of those times I remind myself that ratings are about my overall appreciation, not (necessarily) the merits of the novel. I’ve liked both works by Barbee that I’ve tried so far, I need to find more by him.


3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Advertisements

Opening Lines: Laser House on the Prairie by David W. Barbee

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Laser House on the Prairie by David W. Barbee:

Lasers everywhere. In the water. In the sky. They flashed and strobed and shined in every color of the spectrum. Lasers that sizzled beneath the ground and erupted through volcanic fissures. Lasers that saturated the clouds and struck the earth with bolts of perfectly straight lightning.

There was laser energy in the plants and flowers, flowing through the blood of animals, and it would be beautiful if everybody wasn’t killing each other for it.

Anything as powerful as lasers would be fought over, and so there was a war, started long before anyone could remember, and probably still being waged to this day.

Nightfall by Matt Cowper: The Stunning Conclusion to the Elites Trilogy

NightfallNightfall

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #3

Kindle Edition, 412 pg.
2019
Read: July 24 – 26, 2019

With The World Savers, I pictured an ongoing series about The Elites, after Rogue Superheroes, I wondered how he could keep it going after raising the stakes so much. Nightfall answers that question (while ruining my hopes for an ongoing series). Cowper brings this trilogy to a close with a conclusion wraps up the storylines well, provides some closure and moves the characters on to the next step in their lives, all while telling an exciting super-hero story.

As we join the book, things are still influx after Rogue Superheroes, Nightstriker doesn’t trust Blaze the way he should (and the rest of his team do), Gillespie is serving as Interim President (and not liking it), and the possible romantic relationship between Gillespie and Nightstriker hasn’t gone anywhere since that initial conversation, and Blaze is still grieving and dealing with everything he did. But after the first chapter or so, progress is made along these lines and it looks like things might be cooling off for the Elites for a while. There’s still a lot of road to go, but positive and realistic steps are being taken.

Which means, of course, it’s time for their newest nemesis to show up. His name is Black Knight and he comes from the future (or so he says). His purpose in coming back in time is to stop one of the Elites before they become too powerful to be stopped, supposedly the damage he’s wrought on civilization in the future is so great that it can’t be allowed to get to the point where they aren’t bound by any kind of ethical cord. But he’s just one man, what can he do against this super team?

Quite a lot, it seems. Between power, reflexes, strategy and a kind of determination usually reserved for Batman and Nightstriker, Black Knight almost accomplishes his goal in the first battle against the team. Coming up with a way to stop him—for everyone’s sake—the team is going to have to lean on a new friend and ally and follow her to a planet light-years away. The Elites in space and on a planet no one has heard of, battling one of the greatest foes they can imagine. A great way to conclude this trilogy! There were several times when I “knew” how it all was going, and the hard choices that Cowper would have to make about some of his characters—and I was wrong every single time. There were a lot of zigs where I expected zags, and I loved every one of them.

As compelling as all that is, the core of this novel has to do with the reaction of the team to hearing that someone in their midst will become a mass murderer. It puts a strain on all relationships (platonic or otherwise) the team is involved with. There’s some horror, some rebellion, but mostly it’s a resolve to back their teammate and help them avoid the solution. There’s some great fodder for thought about choice, determinism, and morality there—Cowper deftly deals with these ideas while not losing the pace of his story.

It’s pretty exciting, and a great way to approach the book, taking these heroes on an interplanetary adventure. After things die down, The Elites return home to start again and some of the heroes are recognized for the forces of good they’d been. Then we get glimpses of where everyone is going forward to start over—some are taking a path far less traveled others are continuing along similar paths, but with renewed focus.. The emotional arcs are great and just what the fans want to read. I was really impressed with the way that Cowper resolved things and yet planted things to harvest later.

This is the third in a series, and I strongly recommend it be read after books 1 and 2, or you won’t get a lot of it. My appreciation for the series has built with each successive novel and it’s hard to find a lot to fault with this one. Some great emotional beats, great characters and a whole lot of fun and excitement as the Elites try to weed the criminals out of society. I’ve enjoyed this trilogy as a whole, but Cowper pulled out all the stops with this conclusion and really blew me away.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine: A Captivating MG Mix of Science and Magic

A Time Traveler's Theory of RelativityA Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity

by Nicole Valentine

eARC, 352 pg.
Carolrhoda Books, 2019

Read: August 27, 2019

Finn Firth is on the verge of turning 13, and is convinced his father will forget his birthday. Which is troubling to him, but really, it’s the least of his troubles. When they were three, his twin sister drowned (and he’s always felt this absence, and is sure everyone around him does, too). He’s not that close with his father, and his mother left home a few months ago, with no warning and no one has heard from her since. Also, his best (only?) friend, Gabi, has been spending less time with him and more time with new friends—the kind that would bully him. He’s also a huge science nerd, the kind of twelve-year-old who reads (and re-reads) Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan for entertainment. The fact that he’s an outsider, that he’s not like the other kids at school is what drives him (like so many) to science, to something he can make sense of and put himself/his trouble in perspective.

So imagine his surprise when his grandmother informs him that she’s a time traveler, actually, all the women in his family have been and are. It’s not just his family, there are people throughout the world capable of this. Some in his family are more powerful than others, most can only travel to the past—one could only travel to the past but during her lifetime—his grandmother and mother are among the few that can travel forward in time. His mother, he’s told, didn’t leave his father and him. Finn’s dad has been reassuring him that “she just needs some time,” and well, that seems to be the case after all. She’s stuck somewhere, unable to come back—but she’s created a way for Finn to come and get her (despite being a boy).

Time travel is impossible, Finn knows—and even if it weren’t, the kind of travel his grandmother describes sounds more magical than scientific. He tells his grandmother this, in fact. But—I won’t get into how, it should be read in context—he’s given some pretty convincing proof.

Now there are those who don’t think Finn should be doing anything regarding time travel, and that no one should be tracking down his mother. And they’re seemingly willing to take some extreme measures to stop him. He and Gabi set out on an adventure to evade these others and get to his mother’s portal. Finn’s ill-prepared for what lies ahead, but he doesn’t care. Between brains and sheer determination (and largely it’s the latter), he’s going to find his mom.

What he never stops to ask is: what else will he find?

This is a fun little read—Finn and Gabi are well-developed characters, his various family members are interestingly and distinctively drawn, the writing is crisp and brisk—once things get going, they stay going, and it’s easy to get swept up in it The best is the mix of science and . . . however you end up describing the time travel. For a book directed toward the 9-14 set, the science (time travel, chaos theory, multi-world theory, etc.) is presented plainly and without condescension. That last point, in particular, resonated with me.

The heart of this book is found in two concepts—the power of individual choice, and the importance of kindness in spite of everything. Lessons good to be absorbed by the target audience, as well as the rest of us.

I really enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it. One thing, though, kept running through my mind as I read it. As much as I enjoyed A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, when I was 8-13, I would’ve loved it (probably when I was 14 and 15, too—I just wouldn’t admit to liking a book written for younger people at that time). It’s the kind of book that I would’ve been checking out of the library every two or three months. Get this for yourself and enjoy it, get this for your kid for them to obsess over.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Carolrhoda Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this opportunity.

—–

3.5 Stars

Dark Age by Pierce Brown: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed… / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #5

Hardcover, 800 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2019

Read: August 9 – 16, 2019

From a distance, death seems the end of a story. But when you are near, when you can smell the burning skin, see the entrails, you see death for what it is. A traumatic cauterization of a life thread. No purpose. No conclusion. Just snip.

I knew war was dreadful, but I did not expect to fear it.

How can anyone not, when death is just a blind giant with scissors?

This will not end well

Lysander au Lune has a few thoughts along those lines pages after falling in an Iron Rain on Mercury, but this was one of the more striking examples. For a “bad guy,” he’s awfully easy to identify with. He’s trying to establish an alliance between the remnants of the Society and the Outer Planets to crush the Rising once and for all, and so has to curry favor with Atalantia by joining in the counter-attack on Mercury. This attack does not go well for anyone—both armies and the civilian population on Mercury took on incalculable losses, provoking a lot of thoughts like this on both sides, I’d imagine. And that’s just how this novel starts

It’s been almost a week since I finished Dark Age and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it—plot, characters, and ramifications of the events of the novel—and I don’t think I will anytime soon. I’ve joked (online and IRL) that I’ve used “brutal” in every post I’ve written about this series (at least once) and I was going to have to get a new thesaurus to help me come up with alternatives before I wrote this—not just so I’d add a little variety to the posts, but primarily because it just doesn’t seem to be descriptive enough about what happens here.

Iron Gold shows us what can go wrong as a society throws off the shackles of tyranny, but is still learning how to act with a replacement for that system. And it wasn’t pretty. Dark Age is all about what happened right after Iron Gold how does Darrow follow-up his dramatic act on Mercury? How do the remnants of the Society react to that? Can Virginia maintain control of the government (and should she?), and what’s going on with the kidnapped children and the kidnappers?

None of the answers to those questions are easy, and it’s hard to like any of the answers you might find. But man, what a book. Brown surprised me time after time after time and I have no idea what to expect for the next volume. You find yourself hoping that Character X will survive whatever dire situation they’re in, but you almost hope they fall now, because whatever is coming up next for them is going to be worse, much worse.

For a change, this isn’t primarily Darrow’s story. But even as I say that I want to object. The opening chapters are full of him, but after the first 100 pages or so (I’m estimating because I had to take it back to the Library already), other characters—primarily on the Moon and Mars—get the majority of the space. At the same time, there’s not one page—not one paragraph, really— that isn’t in the shadow of Darrow. His acts, his movement, his intentions, his affects on various individuals and/or society at large. Even if the Red Rising is put down and the demokracy is defeated, it will be generations before Darrow’s impact is forgotten. So, yes, he’s sidelined for most of this novel, but ultimately, it’s still all about Darrow.

I can’t take the time to talk about everything that I want to, but if anyone’s going to defeat Darrow/the Rising, I wouldn’t mind if it was Lysander. Sadly, Lysander wouldn’t be alone, and his allies aren’t as honorable or noble (actual nobility, not hereditary titles) as he is—so I hope he goes down in flames.

Yes, I didn’t think Iron Gold was necessary—or as good as the initial trilogy (while I did enjoy it)—but as it paved the way for Dark Age (and whatever comes next) I’m not complaining. This was probably the best thing since Red Rising (in many ways, probably superior), and I’m once again invested in this series.

Brown’s writing has never been better—this is his biggest book to date in terms of size and scope. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but not one that’s impossible to surmount (and is totally worth it). It’s a longer book, with more characters, more perspectives and more potential to surprise the reader (both in this book and what comes next). It’s like he took Yeat’s “The Second Coming” and said, I wonder what verse 1 would look like in the Red Rising Universe?

I can’t do justice to this book, I just can’t. There’s not an ongoing SF series that I can recommend as highly as this, and whatever flaws there might be are dwarfed by the strengths to the extent that I can’t even enumerate them. If your interest post-Morning Star has waned, I encourage you to give this a shot. If you’ve never tried this series, do not jump on board here. Go back to Red Rising, and after you’ve endured (and loved) the emotional battering that follows, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

“What does Mars mean to you, Nakamura?” I ask.

The Terran hesitates. “Hope. And you, my liege?”

“War.”

Virginia says a lot in that last syllable (even ignoring the pun). It sounds ominous there, and I think it tells us everything we need to know about the rest of this series.

—–

5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

A Few Quick Questions With…Richard Steele

So, yeah, Richard Steele’s book wasn’t my kind of thing, but like I said, Steele’s been great throughout. I appreciate his answers here and it helps me get what he was going for. I know there are people out there who’ll dig his stuff, and hope they find it.

I’ve never been given a warning before from an author after agreeing to read their book—what was behind that? Would you warn all your readers?
                     I’d probably best describe this decision as “Debut Author Jitters”.

I wrote Time Travel + Brain Stealing… by the seat of my pants (a big no-no for many writers), with almost no outlining and all spontaneity. It was quite a ride! Because of this, I labeled it’s genre Dark Humor from what I subjectively believed it to be, rather than the roller coaster of insanity it turned out to be.

It was only until I received my first review from a reader who was taken aback by the gore and vulgarity that I realized I may have misplaced the genre of my book, and therefore the pending reviewers who were currently reading it in good faith were also under that same false impression.

I researched and researched and found its home in Bizarro Fiction, albeit a rather vanilla version when compared to others, and felt it was my duty as an Author to let those who dedicated their time voluntarily to read my book know there was a potential for some to be offended by my writing and give them an opportunity to decide if this new genre was best suited to their reading taste.

Would I warn everyone now? No, I believe my honest blurb and preface should suffice. It was more time, place and circumstance. With my previous warning and I’ve learnt very quickly that my audience is out there, but so too are my critics and I can’t control that if I want to write how I want to write.

I’ve not come across anything that describes itself as “Bizarro Fiction,” for the myself and the rest of the uninitiated, could you describe that genre?
                     Join the club! It is a great genre I literally stumbled into, and I’m sure those who are fanatic Bizarro readers may even argue that my book is too vanilla for it. However, I would deem Bizarro to be that line you cross in Dark Humor where you incorporate gore, over the top violence, toilet humor and gross-out comedy with a blend of satire and wit.

It goes beyond what the average person would deem comfortable and forces them to laugh or contemplate laughing at situations they ordinarily wouldn’t or shouldn’t.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
                     I did what a lot of first time foolish authors do and sent it to the big publishers, thinking I cracked a niche and had the perfect new formula.

A few nice rejections later and a small press independent publisher in Tenth Street Press found me and loved the boundaries I was pushing. They gave me a chance I believe I may have never found elsewhere to write pure and free.

I actually drafted this book as a set of small short stories when I was twelve, albeit a diluted and less Bizarro-esque version. I always remembered that feeling of making others laugh or cry or run away in horror at my writing and although I have a serious full-time occupation, that urge to write bizarre comedy never left me and only grew stronger the older I got.

In saying that, I’m still relatively young to publish (unless you believe my Author Bio then I’m almost retired), and I’m hoping this is the first of many books.

Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
                     Ah, well I can’t go past the late and great Leslie Nielsen who whilst he wasn’t an author, his style of satire and slap-stick comedy in the likes of ‘The Naked Gun’, ‘Spy Hard’ and my favorite ‘Wrongfully Accused’ have stuck with me for decades.

I always wanted to take what they could do on screen, that randomness and insanity but with such strict seriousness and splash it onto paper.

As far as other authors go, I can’t go past Andy Griffiths and his Bum Trilogy books, such as ‘Zombie Bums from Uranus’. Whilst written for a younger audience than mine, his ability to take the ridiculous and toilet humor and make it serious and funny at the same time was a large influence.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
                     It may be older than 5 years but I can’t go past ‘Hot Rod’. That was absolute genius. Along with others (older also, sorry) like ‘Kung Pow: Enter the Fist’ and ‘Black Dynamite’. It’s again due to the random nature of their satirical and slap-stick humor that sometimes makes me think if they syphoned my thoughts while I slept.
What’s next for Richard Steele, author?
                     I’ve planned out 3 more books to the Good Times series, all standalone with a very minor entanglement between them. These will be splices of different genres each, just like ‘Time Travel + Brain Stealing…’ is Science Fiction and Horror etc, so the humor in each pulls on different elements from the differing genres.
However, a recent reviewee challenged me to write serious books instead and put my talent to good use. And to that I say touché!
I also have a trilogy of Science Fiction Adventure underway also aimed at Middle Grade level, a re-invented ‘Redwall’ of sorts. Under a different name of course…can you imagine parents and priests checking my name to see if my writing is appropriate? Ha!
I’ll wait to see if my legions of non-existent Bizarro fans enjoy my debut novella first before I dive back into that cesspool style of writing. So until then, Richard Steele salutes you.
Thanks for your time! I hope Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times finds its audience and that you have plenty of success with the book.

Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times by Richard Steele is a Thing that I Read

Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good TimesTime Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times

by Richard Steele
Kindle Edition, 141 pg.
Tenth Street Press, 2019
Read: July 15, 2019

A few weeks back, I received a request to read/review this book, this is what Steele entered under “Tell me about the book”:

Time Travel + Brain stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times

Following the death of his parents, who died in a cliché’ [sic] and completely unimportant way, young Joe Brown is about to find out that living in a town conveniently named Doomsville, does have its draw backs [sic].

For reasons unknown, Joe now must face the demonic creations of a stereotypically bad villain known only as ‘The Master’, who has a penchant for pickled brains and poor puns.

Dumpsters of Doom, Toasters of Terror and the occasional Cheese Sandwich of Carnage all set out to hunt poor Joe and retrieve his brain to fulfil The Master’s destiny.

With the help of his best friend, a disturbingly gross Godmother and some random stalker he just met, Joe Brown is about to learn that what’s between his gunk ridden ears could be the key to saving the world and time itself.

Come and embark on an epic mind-bending, time-travelling quest full of confusing sub-plots, poorly constructed characters, science fiction that only a Flat Earther would believe, and every inappropriate joke you’ve ever thought of but couldn’t say out loud at your Grandmother’s funeral.

I take full responsibility for not reading that as closely as I should have. For example, that first line isn’t a tag line, or a quick synopsis as I assumed. That’s the title. I’ll tell you now if I’d realized that I would’ve stopped reading there. But no, I took it as a tag line and moved on. I ignored the inability to correctly use accent marks on “cliché” (that sounds persnickety, but there’s a pretty high correlation to typo-ridden submissions and bad books in my experience). This seemed just goofy enough that it might be a good way to spend a day or so, I could use some light-hearted fun.

I didn’t realize that “disturbingly gross”, “poorly constructed characters,” “inappropriate”, and “stereotypically bad” weren’t modest descriptions, but selling points in Steele’s mind. Then when he sent me the file, he ended it with, “Good luck, you’re a brave soul indeed…” This should’ve been a warning sign. I took it to be a little self-deprecating humor. Now I don’t think that’s the case, he really meant that this is a book not-for-the-faint-of-heart.

Now, throughout the process, Steele has been a pleasure to work with, and very accommodating—I want to be clear that this isn’t personal. It’s all about my reaction to his novella, not him.

The novella itself? “Self-indulgent twaddle” shows up in my notes at one point, and I think that pretty well sums it up. Juvenile. Vulgar (and not in an interesting way). Enough scatological humor to make a 13-year-old boy say, “Stop!” The plot seems unnecessarily convoluted, yet pretty simple. Although, plot isn’t what this novella’s about—it’s about the telling. They way that Steele tells the story, the voice, the manner, the attitude. That’s the star of the story.

And it didn’t work for me. At all. I couldn’t connect with the story, the characters, the narrator, the style, the voice, the vocabulary. Anything.

Steele clearly worked hard. You could feel on every page the effort to shock, disgust, and be stranger than he had been previously. Mark Leyner can do that kind of thing and make it seem interesting, effortless, engaging and fun. Steele just makes me want to find a new hobby.

The very chatty and fourth-wall ignoring narrator warns in the third paragraph of the Prologue,

Things are going to get stranger than having your sister accidently [sic] kiss you at a county fair kissing booth, only for her to line up for seconds.

Right there, I should’ve stopped and called it a day. Instead, I rolled my eyes and plowed on, little realizing that was going to be the high-point of the book’s figurative language.

I’ve already cited everything you need to know about the plot and characters in the first citation. I’m just going to leave it there…I try to find something positive to say about every book. But I just can’t here beyond saying that I can tell that Steele put a lot of effort into this. I just don’t understand why anyone would.

Your mileage may vary, obviously. If you find something redeeming/entertaining about this novella? Good on you. I’m curious about what you liked, but I won’t argue with you. But there’s just no way I can recommend this to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my opinion and this post. Clearly, this didn’t keep me from speaking my mind.

—–

2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Humor Reading Challenge 2019