Sunday, April 21, 2019

Book Review: Scum of the Earth by Cody Goodfellow + Podcast interview

Scum of the Earth by Cody Goodfellow

Paperback,158 pages

Eraserhead Press

Advanced copy, Due summer 2019

This is a good month two new Cody Goodfellow books in one month. I admit this is a time when I have great privilege being published by the same press I accidentally got my hardcopy before Mister Goodfellow. I have not been shy in my opinion of Cody's work, as a writer I think he is the most underrated genre voice of my generation. one of the aspects that makes Goodfellow such as fun voice as he is important as he is not afraid to just have fun. This is the writer who already showed early in his career how he could go from a genius work political body horror like A Perfect Union to at times Satirical Kaiju action in the collection All-Monster-Action that you can still pick-up from Kingshot Press.

Close fans of Cody's Career have read novellas and short stories that have gone into full satire most notably The Last Goddamn Hollywood Movie about a crew trying to take advantage of the end of the world to make their movie. That book has a tongue in cheek crazy-ness that not every author can pull off. Scum of the Earth is like an artifact of late 50's or early 60's pulp sci-fi spit out of a wormhole into 2019 complete with Monty Python level of snark and Goodfellow's hyper-intelligent meets gonzo style of insanity. This book could only be written by Cody Goodfellow because it requires someone with the writing chops, the wit, and most importantly someone well read in the classic genre not afraid to play and poke fun at the conventions.

The back cover does a good job of selling all the weird elements from brain stealing drug-dealing gray aliens to space Vikings. All seen through the eyes of an ex-stripper turned starship and her shapeshifting first officer. Everybody fucks everyone on the ship as they are bored traveling through space inside a giant fish who they have to get drunk and trick into going to warp speed. The earth is dead and humans are scattered trying to not have their brains stolen...look you are better off reading this on your own.

There are twists that are smarter than anyone who didn't know Goodfellow's work before might not be ready for. Goodfellow speaks directly to the reader many times letting you know when he is conveniently using certain tropes. My favorite was part when he was describing a race of barbarians called Monitors with FTL ships and he described them as "the monitors are that rare exception that proves those optimistic nerds read entirely too much Asimov and not enough Ellison."

There is also a funny scene that despite my years being straight edge made me laugh. A character is trying to figure out if their ship is a time machine and another responds "Fuck Science," She snarled. "science is for people who can't handle Drugs."

Scum of the Earth is a fun read, people looking for more humor in their science fiction can't go wrong. Codiacs whose numbers are growing rejoice because this is a fun one to add to the collection.

Book Review: The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin: Edited by Lisa Yaszek

The Future Is Female!

25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin: Edited by Lisa Yaszek

Hardcover, 531 pages

Published September 2018 by Library of America

This is yet another case of a project I read/reviewed after hearing it featured on Geek's Guide to the Galaxy. First and foremost the editor Lisa Yaszek being a scholar of Science Fiction had me interested in having her as a guest on Dickheads to talk about the history of the genre. Second I knew I wanted to read this book.

The concept is simple starting with Claire Winger Harris and a story called 'The Miracle of the Lilly' and ending with A Ursala K Leguin Story Called 'Nine Lives'. That takes the reader through the evolution of the pulp era from 1928 to 1969. In the subtext of this anthology is the journey the women writing in the genre took from the great depression to the year humans landed on the moon. You might expect some Flash Gordan like space opera with lots of laser guns but I was struck by the high concept of many of the ideas stretching back so long ago.

CL Moore's 'The Black Kiss' read a bit like a high fantasy story to me, and Joanna Russ's 'The Barbarian' that was I believe a tribute to the former author's work. That style is fine, but it was the more groundbreaking and ahead of their time stories that really sold me. My favorite stories were the opening story 'The Miracle of The Lilly' and 'Contagion' by Katherine Maclean. I enjoyed the majority of the 25 stories but those two were the ones that had the biggest impact of me. I had never heard of those women, and I am ashamed to stay as a student of the genre I had only read previous works by six of the twenty-five featured authors. The book has done its job as I currently reading CL Moore's novel Doomsday Morning.

Let's start where the book did with 'The Miracle of the Lilly' which has the most vast scope of any of the stories which and what makes this striking since it is the oldest. This story that goes into a future where humans have wiped out insects, an act with horrifying unintended consequences is pretty much Cli-fi 90 years before the subgenre was invented. I am sure the science is wildly out of date but epic nature of the idea is pure speculative gee-whiz in the best ways.

'Contagion' by Katherine Maclean has a little bit of an Alien or Prometheus feel despite being from 1950, I really enjoyed this trip to another world that played with the idea of going to another planet. This story felt pulpy and wise beyond it's time which is a trick many of the stories pulled off but this one just worked for me.

A few others that stood out to me were Leigh Brackett's 'All the Colors of the Rainbow' that was written about racism in 1957. The saddest part is the message is still valid today. That is impressive and depressing at the same time. I also enjoyed Kate Wilham send-up of Hollywood and pre-VR technology in 'Baby You Were great.' The closers by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) and Ursula K Leguin showcase by they are gold standards in the genre.

As much as I loved the stories, the highlight for sure was the introduction by Yaszek and the biographical notes at the back. As a fan of the genre and a writer myself, I was interested in their stories. I found myself saying to myself I need a book of that history. I was glad to find out that Yaszek has written that book Galatic Suburbia. I will read that one as soon as I can. the biographical notes provided such valuable insights in the writers. On a personal note discovering a pulp-era writer, CL Moore was from my home state of Indiana and published her first stories in the student paper of my hometown university made me so interested in her story.

Anyone interested in the classic pulp era and the history of women in it should read this book. The way it follows the progressive of the genre gives it an interesting edge. This book is more than just another anthology, it is an important historical document that happens to have more than 20 stand-out works of bold science fiction. It should be taught in MFA programs but sadly I think it will be overlooked just like the contribution of the many women in the genre.

The good news is we have this book and can read it, review it and promote it to others. The Future is Female is a must read for serious fans of the genre.

Check out my interview with Lisa about this book from the Dickheads podcast:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Review: The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

Paperback, 448 pages

Published March 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark

Look if you had told me the pitch for this book, or giving me the cross "It's like A Dog's Purpose meets The Road," I likely would have passed as that sounds kinda dumb. In the end, I am glad I read this book which I did base entirely on the strength of the author's last book "End of the World Running Club," which I learned about the same way most did on its way to becoming an international bestseller. I heard about it in a Stephen King tweet.

Running club was a powerful novel that hit a couple of my sweet spots. End of the World novels are my absolute favorite subgenre of fiction that crosses science and horror fiction at times. I don't entirely now why the darkest of dark stories set in the most awful of times appeal to me but they do.

I am also a dog person. I love dogs, certainly more than people. I miss my doggie Barney all day long when I am away from him and I am far more likely to say hi to a dog than I am a person by a long shot. So in some senses, this book was somewhat calibrated to hit me emotionally. That said there was one major road block for me but we'll chat about that later.

It is the story of a London writer named Reg and his dog Lineker who survive a small nuke attack on London that is never really explained. I actually like that the details of the disaster were kinda unimportant. They have been surviving for three years in solitude in a London high rise when they find mute survivor named Ashley. Reg doesn't want to help her at first but of course, events send them in a different direction. This becomes a tale of survival and one that packs quite a few emotional touches that are predictable but well executed. I am not going to spoil the end but if you were wanting to go in 100% cold this is a good place to stop.

Reg and Lineker both grow attached to the young girl they rescue, and of course the dog and his person get separated, nothing about this story is surprising, but I will Walker makes it all work. I felt Reg's pain at losing his dog, I felt Lineker's pain at losing his people and I felt both their concerns for Ashely the young girl. Walker shows again that he can make the post-apocalypse environment one you can emotionally invest in. This is the best strength of this book.

There is however a huge Elephant in this room we have to talk about. It ultimately is the reason you will either be able to be in or out on The Last Dog on Earth. My wife Cari has the hardest time with a suspension of disbelief and normally I get annoyed with her about that. Anything in space or giant monsters she just has no interest in. Normally I have a very healthy relationship with fantasy and almost nothing is a no-go for me. This novel tested my suspension of disbelief when a good part of the narrative is told the first person through the dog's eyes.

I already am not a huge fan of the first-person narrative as it takes me out of the story and often causes me to look to close at the prose. Why is this character writing this story? Why would they say this or that? Why be nervous I mean this character is clearly around to write this story down? In this novel, the POV switches back and forth between Reg and his dog telling the story. Reg's part is a journal and for the most part, I was able to get past the first person and just sink into the narrative. All the reg parts worked for me.

Now all the Lineker parts really tested me. There were several funny parts, and Walker does fun stuff with dog humor. It is quite a tonal shift from the Reg chapters. Lineker does have a really good arc. Walker did as good a job as he could do with these chapters. I just spent too much time nitpicking if a dog would be thinking about this or that, would a dog know these words? any words? OK, this is user error on the reader. So the real question is this - Is the first-person narrative by a dog a deal breaker?

Over all I enjoyed this book, I got major feels in certain moments but I could have easily skipped the Dog POV and maybe it would have been a better experience for me. That said I think Walker delivered on his concept. Thumbs up on this book.

Book Review/Podcast: Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

Paperback, SF Masterworks, 226 pages

Published July 1999 by Gollancz (first published April 1964)

Re-read for the Dickheads podcast. This was my second time. Really if you want my thoughts listen to the episode.

Gubble gubble fellow DickHeads. It's about to get gubbish up in here. Philip K. Dick's 11th published novel Martian Time-Slip is an exploration of schizophrenia and autism as they affect the lives of colonists on Mars. And in this episode, the DickHeads explore, among other things, the vastly different understanding of mental illness we have today. Plus: Dirt & school & space trucks. Guy Pearce & Michael Shannon in Buddy Cops. And The BeeGee's School of Special Children.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Book Review: Sexy Leper by Chad Stroup

Sexy Leper by Chad Stroup

Paperback, 180 pages

Published February 2019 by Bizarro Pulp Press/JournalStone

I have to say at the opening that Chad is a local homey. But as we are both straight edge hardcore kids I have no problem busting his balls, and if I didn't like his novel I would tell him. His first novel Secrets of The Weird shocked me. I expected to like his first book but it blew me away how amazing it was. I truly deeply thought it was an incredible novel.

At the time it was one of my top ten reads of the year "Secrets of the Weird is a fantastic read. This novel paints an erotic and dangerous picture of a city that you would only want to visit in the safety of a novel. I hope you'll take the trip and check it out."

That book was a fantastic Cliver barker-ish dark fantasy with a punk edge, A very sexy a weird vision of a fantasy world that had vivid characters and setting that was so Good I wondered what did he do to follow up. In Sexy Leper he went in a different direction. This is is a bizarro dark comedy that feels like one of the more tongue in cheek episodes of the twilight zone in tone. This is not your "Menstruating mall or "Insert dick here in title" style bizarro. It is horror but in the more surreal style that at times feels more in vein with a Swallowdown style of Bizarro lit.

The story has a Breakfast Club type of set wear a variety of Hollywood types (LA residents not industry) end up stuck together and trapped in their Halloween costumes. The store where they buy the costumes is kind of a perfect clique annoyed me and made me laugh at the same time. The humor is mostly subtle with a few knee slappers but it is creepy tone mixed in that gives this book a special feel.

Chad is a great writer and I will get everything he puts out. Personally, I think you should read Secrets of the Weird first but Sexy Leper is a different and bold follow-up.