Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review of Prime Directive Press's Anthology: Make It So, a collection of poetry inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation

Make It So, a collection of poetry inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation, edited by Margaret Bashaar. Prime Directive Press, an imprint of Hyacinth Girl Press, 2011.

*Note: I'm not going to bother giving detailed backgrounds of each character. My apologies, but it would take up the bulk of this review.

In Bashaar's introduction, she stresses that she wanted to compile a collection of poems by serious poets, "that was not just poems with Star Trek as a topic, but rather poetry that I felt had artistic merit beyond simple fan writing. Too often, I think, it is presumed that while fan art can be beautiful and, well, art, fan writing must all be poorly written smutty slashfic." And I believe she's succeeded. The anthology opens with an untitled poem by Jessica Dyer that places certain key characters from the show within the context of the Tarot: Tasha Yar* as The Star, Data as The Hanged Man. Many of the poems act as character studies in which the authors compare themselves to one of the popular characters from the show. "The Uncanny Valley or Data Explains," is a monologue by Data, probably the most popular character represented in the anthology. "Ready Room," by J. Bradley stands out, not only as one of the shorter poems, but I happen to be a fan of Bradley. It begins: If I was as suave as Commander Riker,
I could convince you to slow dance
to anything.

It I was as suave as Commander Riker,
we would also be at the clinic
praying for curable results.

Many of the poems focus on key incidents from the series, "Holodeck Piscopo" lampoons the appearance of Joe Piscopo on the show as a representative of "comedy."  There's even a poem about the sole cat on the ship, Spot.

Even though the focus of this anthology is very specific, there is a feeling, in these poems, not of the exclusivity of a 'club' but of a group of people celebrating something they love. There are references one wouldn't get without a decent familiarity with the show, for example, "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot," by Sarah Reck, which touches on a well-known line from Captain Picard:
When ordering tea, I like to say
"Tea. Earl Grey. Hot."
to see if the barista cracks a smile
or not.

As for myself, I admit that I've probably seen every episode of Next Generation. I watched them when they aired, and probably haven't seen them since. I was a fan back then, but probably wouldn't watch the show now. Having said that, I very much enjoyed this collection. The poems are funny, smart, accessible, and well-written. Clearly, they were written by talented poets writing about something they love. The anthology, itself, was a great idea, and I recommend reading it. On a side note, I'd just like to point out how difficult it has been not making Star Trek puns while writing this. Of course, I've narrated the entire thing in Captain Picard's voice in my head.

-CL Bledsoe

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Have Surely Lived a Life of Joy Somewhere with You

I wasn't always rich and famous. Once upon a time, I was just damned good looking. This was in the days when all the ladies would line up for blocks to throw rose petals at me as I walked by. I never had the heart to tell them I was allergic. Producers would option my naps. Time apologized for all the noise it made as it passed, and I'd politely suggest it wear only cotton. For this, the cotton farmers of America put my likeness on all their hats. I've got a closet full. I'll show you some time. For breakfast, people drank my thoughts. I became the only word that rhymed with orange. They said my eyes were the color of something they'd forgotten until just that moment. And they'd thank me, for hours, they'd thank me.

But that was before we forgot to eat in all the rush, and our stomachs devoured themselves through to our hearts. Back when we had time to drop dead. Now, we're nothing but smell. Now, there's too much work to do to ever do any work. We're so busy yelling we can't hear everyone else yelling. Now, we're all pushing each other in every which a way, none of us making the slightest progress, all of us hating our own inertia.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review of David James Keaton's Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats for the Dead)

Zee Bee and Bee (a.k.a Propeller Hats for the Dead) by David James Keaton. Open Casket press, 2011.

The premise of this novella is that certain Honeymooners might want a different kind of experience than going to Maui or Paris, namely (hopefully) surviving a zombie apocalypse. The narrator explains that this came about because of the owners' desire for their B and B to be last in the phone book, which led to them naming the place Zee Bee & Bee. And once they had the name, the rest followed. Two couples (called Camels--"strangers" a la Camut, which became Camels) are booked to share one cabin, complete with Plants (people who work for the B and B) hidden in various places (a closet, the basement, etc.). Unfortunately for the couples, there's only one real bed, which they have to squabble over, and before they can work that out, the zombies attack. But this particular session, something is wrong. Things aren't following the usual timeline. There's heightened tension among the ranks, leading to more and fiercer fights than usual, and there's something off about one of the guests. As the story progresses, Keaten manages to recreate this world we thought we were reading about and turn everything on its severed head.

Keaton has populated the story with dead-head zombie buffs who not only play the parts of zombies but know every bit of zombie lore one could imagine. The story is FULL of inside jokes and references to zombie movies (and a few books) actors, directors, etc. Think Kevin Smith but talking about zombies instead of dicks. It's a clever take on the "working stiff" story, also; these folks are so obsessed with zombies, it's easy to see how their jobs (and each other) become their lifelines. Much of their time is focused on their own squabbles and issues; some of them seem to take the job more seriously than others. Some seek a kind of stardom through their performance. Some seek connections (call it Zombie Love).

There are rules to consider, of course. Don't go in the basement is a good one; the basement always equals death, usually after being trapped, in zombie movies. The roof, of course, is the opposite. Never trust authority figures because they always get you killed. There are many more -- so many that Keaton actually includes a zombie movie drinking game after the story.

In certain ways, this book has the feel more of a love-letter to the genre than a scary story, though it takes many deserved shots at the genre as well. Many of the squabbles and fights that break out among the characters are triggered by one or the other's lack of respect for a certain movie or actor. But there's definately gore, especially in the last half of the story. Keaton manages to make some pretty disturbing, even iconic, images (which I won't spoil). Keaton's writing is sharp and clear and clever. His characters are totally believable -- he hasn't cut-and-pasted 'types' to move his plot forward, instead, he lets things happen as they should. There's love and loss and baked chicken, what more could you ask? Oh yeah, zombies, which ithas.

-CL Bledsoe

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Review of Matthew Revert's The Tumours Made Me Interesting

The Tumours Made Me Interesting, by Matthew Revert. Australia: Legumeman Books, 2011.

I’ve been a big fan of Revert since his scrotum-filled short story collection A Million Versions of Right came out in 2009. Labeled a “Bizarro” writer alongside such luminaries as Carlton Mellick III and D. Harlan Wilson, among others, Revert’s work is strange, grotesque, deeply symbolic, and hilarious. But I’m not doing it justice. There’s a saying that ‘one has to know the rules to break the rule,’ and Revert knows them well and breaks them beautifully.

The Tumours Made Me Interesting is at once parody but also strangely sincere. If life is a joke, Revert is laughing the loudest, and why not? The story follows Bruce Miles, a milquetoast who works for Nipple Blamers, a company that “makes its profit by abusing a legal loophole that allows the blame for certain criminal charges to be transferred to nipples” (26). When he was 12, a falcon carried away his father. His mother is slowly turning into a giant hand. And he is nothing. But Bruce achieves a kind of fame when he contracts cancer and begins to be pursued by a group of disease-fetishists who promise to take care of his mother if only he will let them do as they will with him.

There are many layers of humor in this onion of a novel, from the doctor who first examines Bruce exclaiming, “Yuck!” and “This is some sick shit!” as he performs a colonoscopy, to Bruce’s coworkers chipping in and getting him some bark as a condolence, to start off with. But isn’t there a kind of truth to these moments? Mustn’t a doctor actually think, at some point, that it is ‘some sick shit’ to stick his hand up somebody’s rectum and feel around? And wouldn’t any gifts sent by coworkers in this situation be about as useful as a bouquet of bark? Revert is getting at something in the absurdity of life, here. But he doesn’t take himself seriously enough to do more than poke fun at the whole idea of “meaning.”

And yet, Revert manages to be oddly touching at certain moments. Bruce’s relationship with his mother, for example, which is really the biggest part of his life, is touching, at times, and manages to feel real despite (or maybe because of) its absurdity. Later, as Bruce begins to understand his cancer and communicate with it, the cancer tumors become some of the more likeable characters in the book, saving him from jams at several points. Bruce’s motivations are clearly spelled out; he’s a believable and understandable character who exists in a crazy world, as are we all.

Revert comments on pop culture ruthlessly. After he’s diagnosed with cancer, Bruce goes out to a bar with a coworker whose waitresses are forced to wear tents in order to be trendy. The drinks served, also, include fermented bacon. Of course, the cancer admirers who ‘make Bruce interesting’ are really not so far removed from some of today’s reality TV fans.

But these are all just elements of the story, and it’s obvious that Revert’s true intention here is to simply tell an entertaining story, weird as it may be. He’s a talented writer who crafts pleasing lines just as easily as he crafts surreal imagery. He balances gross-out images with humor to make a very pleasing story. Revert’s debut rivals the masters of the genre, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

-CL Bledsoe