Imagine if you will, a bicep-bulging, long-haired, spandex-clad wrestler leaping into frame at the end of an 80s toy commercial. Now, before we get toImagine if you will, a bicep-bulging, long-haired, spandex-clad wrestler leaping into frame at the end of an 80s toy commercial. Now, before we get to the catchphrase, put him in drag (most 80s wrestlers weren't far away as it is), stick an alien on top of his head, wrap a monster caterpillar around his leg, and stick a sentient zombie-bashing board in his perfectly manicured hand. Now, as he leaps into frame, get ready to scream along with the sound of his explosive landing.
"Berzerkoids! Gotta catch read 'em all!"
M.P. Johnson's first short story collection embodies that sense of cheesy nostalgia, and wraps it up in contemporary bizarro horror. These are strange little slices of fiction, ranging from the merely surreal to the truly bizarre, that entertain from beginning to end. Honestly, there wasn't a single story that didn't get at least an appreciative nod or chuckle, and more than a few that had me grinning from ear-to-ear.
BERZERKOIDS ARE HERE and RISE OF THE BERZERKOIDS book-end the collection, giving us two very different takes on our childish obsessions. The first seems incredibly dark and unnecessarily cruel, until you get to the final twist, while the last is a tad predictable, but an amusing twist on the theme.
LOVING ARMS was a definite favorite, as a long-neglected stuffed bear finds himself caught between a desire for revenge against the boy who tortured him, and twisted desire for the drag queen that boy has become. HEARTS AND CATERPILLARS takes an unorthodox look at love and obsession, complete with monstrous caterpillars, horny old men, cheating girlfriends, and kinky cartoon mascots. KILLER NAILS, on the other hand (pun intended), taunts you and teases you with threats of the bizarre, before exploding in a grotesque fury.
I THINK I’LL DONATE THIS SEVERED HEAD TO THE SALVATION ARMY may be the best titles I've ever come across, capturing the essence of a story that's deceptively simple. THROUGH TIME, KNUCKLES FIRST was another favorite, with a man dragged through time by a half-rotten alien head in search of a drag queen who just may be the daughter he doesn't yet have. THE FINAL FAILURE OF A PROFESSIONAL SMALL ANIMAL INSIDE-OUTER is probably the second best title I've come across, leading off another story that's simple, straightforward, and somewhat sadistic.
As much as I enjoyed the teddy bears, time travel, and drag queens, STORY OF A BOARD was the highlight of the collection for me. Zombie apocalypse stories may be a dime a dozen nowadays, but how many of them are told from the perspective of the wooden board that, between instances of being tossed to the curb, is used to bash their skulls in (and save the world)?
Bizarro stories often work best on a small scale, in stories that can explore the twisted concepts without overstaying their welcome, and that makes Berzerkoids the perfect read. Yes, it's often disgustingly amusing, and sometimes even horrifyingly arousing, but it's always original, and consistently entertaining.
Last summer I indulged myself in a WTF Friday read of Triangulum Stain by Moctezuma Johnson. It was pure b-grade schlock, a literary science fiction cLast summer I indulged myself in a WTF Friday read of Triangulum Stain by Moctezuma Johnson. It was pure b-grade schlock, a literary science fiction cheese-fest (with a sexually subversive spin) that played with all the alien invasion tropes. I enjoyed it, but lamented that the story really just stopped, with only a suggestion of an end, and left me with a lot of questions.
Fortunately, Johnson has since reopened the case (and provided some answers), introducing The Battle for Alien Relish as the second book of the Triangulum Stain series. Basically, without spoiling too much of either book, the ladies of the Five Hive were a tad too successful in stopping Dildoggeddon, and now the entire universe is dying, robbed of the lust and the passions that drive us as a species.
There is a lot going on in this second book, but the breathless sort of reading experience is entirely suited to the story being told. It's a bold, busy, and bewildering, but somehow the convergence of sci-fi schlock, monster erotica, and ribald humor really works. Johnson opens up the world here, taking us outside the confines of the original Andromeda Strain homage, and lets his imagination run wild, this time using the Cthulhu mythos (and celebrity pop culture) as his inspiration.
The absurdity of The Battle for Alien Relish simultaneously amuses and arouses, making it not just for mature readers only, but also for intelligent (and open minded) ones.
Triangulum Stain is pure b-grade schlock, a literary science fiction cheese-fest about an interstellar Attack of the Replicating Alien Dildos. MoctezuTriangulum Stain is pure b-grade schlock, a literary science fiction cheese-fest about an interstellar Attack of the Replicating Alien Dildos. Moctezuma Johnson really plays with the tropes of alien invasion, Area 51, government conspiracies, and the Men in Black, giving it all a sexually subversive spin.
The plot here is pretty straightforward, without any attempt to explain the 'how' or 'why' behind it all. Aliens have infected a small town with a bizarre new STD that drives everyone mad with lust and breeds sentient dildos from the seeds of men. It's silly and completely over-the-top, but it's fun. We get to see the captive action inside an Area 51 type secret lab, along with the wide-scale chaos of a town overcome by alien dildos, with the Women in Black coming to wrestle those alien toys into submission.
There are a few flaws here. A few too many scenes are quickly explained away with the equivalent of a narrator bridging commercial breaks, we don't get those 'how' and 'why' questions answered, and the whole thing just sort of stops with only a suggestion of an end, but it's a read that manages to be both funny and sexy, often at the same time, with tongue planted firmly in cheek (not to mention other places).
I Married a Galaxy-Conquering Alien Space Monstrosity is actually a far more enjoyable book than the b-movie title and cover would have you believe. YI Married a Galaxy-Conquering Alien Space Monstrosity is actually a far more enjoyable book than the b-movie title and cover would have you believe. Yes, its erotic and bizarre, but it's also amusingly self-aware, and it embodies Ian Saul Whitcomb's sincere love for the sci-fi genre.
This is a parody of multiple science fiction tropes, most notably those involving alien abductions and unnecessary probing. There's a touch of Star Trek here, along with some perversions of the Alien chest-busters, but it's the level of detail invested in the four-breasted, hermaphroditic Xh'stuk'tes'shei that really puts it over the top.
Here, sex is an act of war . . . a means towards a genocidal end . . . but it does seem like a stellar way to go. Vicky is very much the kind of ageless, godlike alien villainess you'd expect to see in Star Trek, kind of a very NSFW 'Q' released from her prison, and Cale is the lucky man who gets to carry on something of the human race. The sex is extremely inventive and deliberately confusing, but there's a sense of romance and a theme of love that underpins it all.
Steve Alten's Vostok is an odd book, a science fiction themed adventure that dabbles in several different genres, teasing the reader with multiple sceSteve Alten's Vostok is an odd book, a science fiction themed adventure that dabbles in several different genres, teasing the reader with multiple scenarios and plot lines, before making a major leap in theme that demands a little patience and trust on the part of the reader. It pays off, if you stick through to the end, but there's no doubt that the transition is a little jarring.
Really, this is a book that has it all - good old fashioned monster horror, Jurrasic Park style science fiction, Lost World underwater adventure, cold war style espionage, and the most paranoid of conspiracy theories involving crashed UFOs and the origin of human life. Fun stuff, no doubt about it - a bit cheesy, to be sure, and it does stretch the willing suspension of disbelief, but it never loses it sense of fun and adventure.
Our hero, Zachary Wallace, is a disgraced marine biologist who has exhausted his 5 minutes of fame. Having proven the existence of the Loch Ness Monster by killing the same mythical beastie, he's become a pariah to his family, friends, and neighbors. He initially turns down the offer of spending 6 months in Antarctica to save his marriage, but a series of clever plots, betrayals, and double crosses ultimately put him in a position where even his wife insists he take it on. It's all a bit cruel, and you feel bad for the poor guy, but it's great fun.
Once in Antarctica, the story gets even crazier. What was initially only supposed to be a deep-sea submersible exploration of microscopic Mesozoic life forms turns into a frantic, desperate battle for survival against prehistoric sharks, whales, and more. To make matters worse, he discovers he can't trust either of his two crew-mates, and can trust the government agents back on the surface even less. There's a massive magnetic anomaly deep beneath the ice, and as much as Zachary wants to believe its some remnant of an asteroid impact, he can't shake his crew-mate's insistence that it's a crashed UFO.
The other characters are a bit stereotypical, and the action is pure bubble-gum action adventure, but there's also some interesting science and politics behind it all. I can't speak for how accurate it all is, but Alten does a good job of selling the story, making it all sound authentic. Like I said, that late-stage shift in the story is jarring, and it completely changes the tone of the story, but it works. I wasn't sure how he'd resolve everything, especially with the introduction of the final theme of the novel, but so long as you have an open mind, and can enjoy a little fantasy mixed in with your science, it's all makes for an interesting journey to Vostok and beyond.
Equal parts satiric, philosophical, nostalgic, and humorous, The Madonna and the Starship is an irreverent look at what happens when any belief systemEqual parts satiric, philosophical, nostalgic, and humorous, The Madonna and the Starship is an irreverent look at what happens when any belief system - whether it be based in faith or rationalism - is taken to the extremes. James K. Morrow clearly had a lot of fun writing this, and that blasphemous joy is something I shared through every page.
It all begins with a 1950s children's TV show called Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers. The stories are pure pulp sci-fi cheese, complete with in-character advertisements for Kellogg’s Sugar Corn Pops (remember, kids, it’s got the sweetenin’ already on it!), but they're framed by an educational bit where Uncle Wonder demonstrates a science experiment related to the show. It's so educational, in fact, that a pair of aliens who picked up on the transmission announce their plans to bestow upon Under Wonder the Zorningorg Prize.
Pretty impressive stuff, until you discover the aliens are still calibrating their equipment, and the only other shows they've seen are Texaco Star Theater (hosted by a boisterous comedian who dresses in women’s clothes!) and Howdy Doody (featuring a mentally defective child!). Kurt Jastrow, who both writes Brock Barton and plays Uncle Wonder, is understandably skeptical, but he's well-and-truly convinced when the 2 crustacean-like aliens actually do arrive with a wondrous kaleidoscopic trophy. Unfortunately, they caught a rehearsal for Not By Bread Alone on their way in, and they're so very displeased by the Easter Sunday reenactment. So, next Sunday, they plan to broadcast their death-ray through the TV and cleanse the planet of its secret cult of two million irrationalists. Faced with danger the likes of which not even Brock Barton himself has ever faced, Kurt must join forces with Connie, his would-be girlfriend, to hijack the show and broadcast an over-the-top, ridiculously satirical take on the resurrection of Jesus to convince the aliens that Not By Bread Alone is really not purveying metaphysical drivel.
Most of the story revolves around the desperate race to come up with the perfect script, convince the god-fearing actors to betray their audience for the good of the world, and deal with the logistics of keeping the aliens occupied while they do it. It makes for some very funny, yet also very deep, stuff. On the one hand, you have a pulp sci-fi magazine editor who hides under his desk with a pair of rubber love dolls (fully inflated, life-size, all pink flesh and voluptuous parabolas) to stave off agoraphobia and, on the other hand, you have Kurt and Connie engaging in rather spirited debates about irrationality, logical positivism, and nihilism. Then, of course, you have the two crustacean like aliens, disguised by nothing more than old fashioned sandwich boards for a made-up seafood restaurant, playing poker (Seven-card stud, I daresay, is a universal constant, rather like electron mass and the speed of light) and studying the the New York subway system (the most impressive sculpture on the planet).
It's the actual broadcast that really steals the show, however. It's really quite brilliant the way Morrow brings it all together, with each scene and each line of dialogue topping the last for blasphemous irrelevance. Mary no sooner laments Jesus' childhood (As a little boy, you were quite a handful, especially compared to your two brothers) when Brock Barton arrives, having traveled an entire light year to prevent yet another religion from contaminating the Milky Way. Due to contractual requirements for the actors, Morrow even works the commercials into the satire, with Jesus offering up a kid-friendly Eucharist (Eat these measures of Sugar Corn Pops, for they are my body), and commenting to Brock Barton that "four out of five elementary school teachers recommend Ovaltine." The best part of the book - which I won't spoil - is the final twist that Morrow throws at the reader, with a typical 50s sitcom blunder threatening to negate everything Kurt and Connie have worked to accomplish.
The Madonna and the Starship is a very funny, very clever look at philosophy and faith, couched in a comfortable, loving homage to nostalgia for a simpler time. It's ridiculously blasphemous and completely absurd . . . and that's entirely the point.
Interesting and thoughtful, but fundamentally flawed, Yesterday's Kin is a book that ultimately fell flat for me. There's no question that Nancy KressInteresting and thoughtful, but fundamentally flawed, Yesterday's Kin is a book that ultimately fell flat for me. There's no question that Nancy Kress is a woman of ideas, it's just that I don't necessarily agree with (or appreciate) all of them.
My biggest quibble with the tale is how overwhelmingly pessimistic it is. Really, it offers a very dim view of humanity throughout, continually harps on our fears and prejudices, and then wraps it all up with an extraordinarily heavy-handed reminder of how violent and spiteful we can be. While many other authors have used their science fiction to explore our darker side, there's usually a redeeming quality there, a glimmer of hope that at least some of might succeed despite ourselves. Still others throw out that pessimism at the end, as an ultimate sort of twist, but there's no such twist here, just the acknowledgement of the inevitable conclusion.
My secondary quibble - and this one, I admit, may be deliberate - is that there's no sense of wonder or awe to the story. We start it in medias res, with the aliens already here, and their ship already in orbit, denying us that all-important glimpse of first contact. The aliens themselves are very human (that is, in fact, the point of the novel), so there's little sense of wonder there, and we don't really get to see much of their technology (beyond the energy shield, which fields so much of the pessimism). Like I said, I understand that much of that is likely deliberate, in that it help feed the suspicions the characters have as to the aliens' true motivations, but I would have taken a different approach.
My final quibble is that, for a story that's so much about family and relationships, I didn't care for a single character. Seriously, I found them all odd, cold, distant, and unlikable. There wasn't much personality to any of them, and there's so little context to their relationships outside the alien crisis, I found it impossible to connect to them or really care about their dilemmas.
Having said all that, the idea of the aliens is interesting, and there are some nice cultural flourishes towards the end. The story does move at a decent pace, and there is some real tension to several aspects of the story. None of that is enough, however, to redeem the flaws or to endear me at all to Yesterday's Kin. It's not altogether a bad novel, but there's really little to distinguish it.
Okay, so let me put this one into context for you. I don't read nearly as much science fiction as I used to, and military science fiction is a sub genOkay, so let me put this one into context for you. I don't read nearly as much science fiction as I used to, and military science fiction is a sub genre I've really only dabbled in. However, I do appreciate a good alien invasion story, and I was already curious about Weston Ochse's Seal Team 666 series, so I decided to give Grunt Life: Task Force Ombra a read.
While I likely didn't enjoy it as much as a fan of the genre might, it was still a good, solid read with some elements that surprised me. The story has an interesting start, with a well-foiled suicide attempt atop a bridge that includes a pop-culture Lethal Weapon reference. It's an important connection, in that both are action-packed stories, with moments of sorrow and darkness, and elements of dark humor to alleviate that darkness.
In fact, the idea of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not just elements of the story, but the driving force behind Task Force Ombra. By taking a hard look at where such dark thoughts come from and what they can do to a human being, Ochse sets up an interesting sort of evolutionary defense against the overwhelming psychic influence of the alien invaders.
As for those invaders, I like the fact that Ochse allowed to be so . . . well, alien. Although insect-like in their appearance and behavior, there's more to his aliens that just that easy sort of comparison. Their mental/emotional abilities dwarf anything humanity can imagine, and their motives are incomprehensible. In fact, while there is some debate about who they are and what drives the alien Cray, understanding that motivation simply isn't important to a grunt - understanding how to stop them, hurt them, and kill them is.
The opening arc of the story was, by far, the most interesting to me. Getting to meet the suicidal men and women recruited for Task Force Ombra, seeing how they're trained/conditioned in prison-like conditions, and watching as they engage one another in a confessional sort of catharsis is fascinating. Ochse devotes a considerable amount of time to setting the stage for his grunts, and I liked that. The explosion of all-out hostilities and actual war against the Cray, lacks quite the same depth, although it never forgets where it (or its grunts) came from. Having said that, there are still some interesting elements to the war, with experimental guns, swords, and well-armored mecha providing a very sci-fi contrast to the very human (and haunting) idea of massive airliners being used in suicidal attacks.
A fast-paced story with some daring ideas, Grunt Life: Task Force Ombra is a must-read for fans of the military science fiction genre, and definitely worth a read for sci-fi fans in general.
I was excited about this, and really wanted to like it, but it just fell flat for me. The characters were bland and simplistic, almost like they sidesI was excited about this, and really wanted to like it, but it just fell flat for me. The characters were bland and simplistic, almost like they sidestepped not from another time/universe, but from another genre altogether. Even though it's been done before, the whole question of whether aliens are interfering to save us or doom us is one I usually enjoy, but I didn't feel this added anything new or unique to the theme. As for the writing itself, it was average - not nearly as smart or as polished as I've found his previous work to be - and the plotting was straightforward to the point of being predictable.
Ultimately, I just couldn't maintain enough interest to keep reading....more