Review – Pax Titanus by Tom Lucas

August 11, 2015 at 5:26 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , , , , )

The first thing you need to know about Pax Titanus is that Veritassian shlongs are huge. Veritassians also have four arms, can only speak the truth, and tend to be pretty tough. The second thing you need to know is that the universe is vast and uncaring, and kind of filled with jerks, like intergalactic kidnappers, slutty swords, betrayers and of course the biggest jerk of all, the emperor of space. When you read Pax Titanus, you’ll see these forces come head to head, following lovable protagonist Titanus (a Veritassian) as he battles through an alien gladiatorial gauntlet to save his son from dream the machinations of the aforementioned jerks and some dream leeches. That’s that first thing indicating author Tom Lucas knows his way around storytelling. Lucas tells a warm, grounded and hilarious story of love and revenge. Even with all the insanity described above firmly in place, he somehow manages to cling to a fastidious sense of internal logic that makes reading Pax Titanus an absolute joy.

Often times in a novella, the story feels squeezed into a smaller package than it deserves due to length restrictions. This is not the case with Pax Titanus. Lucas has wisely steered clear of a lot of extraneous complexities of plot and stuck with a clear and concise story arc. We see Titanus with his family, get forced into the tournament, grow as a fighter, get a coach, accolades from the crowd, and training, all of which leads from battle to battle until the climactic fight to win it all. The simplicity of story serves the book well, and allows moments of humor and character to gleam. One moment I particularly loved was when our hero is in trouble in one of the final matches and a message comes from his wife that gives him hope. The twist? His wife is a squid, who oozes various emotional secretions. I won’t spoil the moment here, but it’s bits like these that show the range of Lucas’s sense of humor and allow the style to come through the simple story, simply told.

This book comes recommended for any sci-fi fan, video game junkie or bizarro book lover. The sheer variety of the alien races, the bizarre and captivating descriptions of their quirks, and the imaginative fights are well worth the price of admission. Are you ready to crush some skulls? Tom Lucas is, and he’s been kind enough to share a knockout sledgehammer blow with his readers.

It's time to GET BIG!

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Review: The Church of TV as God by Daniel Vlasaty

August 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm (Bizarro, Review, Uncategorized, Writing) (, , , , , )

Jeremy is turning into a TV. This isn’t a metaphor, much to his chagrin. It’s something that runs in the family. Unfortunately, his father turned into a TV and walked out of Jeremy’s life before the guy could really give his son much advice about his own impending transformation, so he spends most of his days working at the appliance graveyard and wondering about his future. Turns out, his future has been well planned out already, at least in the eyes of the cult that believes he’s their savior. And so, it is into this world that author Daniel Vlasaty takes us for a slice of poor Jeremy’s life.

Vlasaty wisely introduces his weirdness up front and then keeps the story tight and focused. It may be a strange world, but this novella rarely strays down tangential paths. The core story arc is solid. We follow Jeremy from his mundane day-to-day life to an inciting incident where the cult learns of his existence. From there we’re already most of the way to his forced coupling with the artificial TV woman, Eve, and his final, inevitable showdown with the cultists and their mysterious leader. There’s violence, humor and a few sprinklings of sex (up to and including a creepy cult leader lasciviously licking a screen over and over again). These themes are sort of the bizarro fiction triumvirate, but everything utilized here feels natural to the story without veering all over the place just for the sake of strangeness. It moves fast and smooth, and it’s a pleasure to read.

Some of the book feels rushed, which is often the case with the new bizarro author series, as the writers are subject to a strict word limit. Because of that, some of the character relationships are forced to develop really quickly. The romance between Jeremy and Eve, and his deep friendship with Benjamin the grumpy talking dog are examples of this, where our hero has very strong feelings about these characters he barely knows for the sake of the story. However, Vlasaty tells a good yarn, and he handles this problem by actually playing with the passage of time and speeding everything up within the narrative itself – a clever fix. This also leads to some explosive but efficient action writing in the places its needed, including a massive orgy of violence triggered by the birth of the “savior.” Of course, you’re going to have to read it to find out what I mean by that, which you should. Daniel Vlasaty’s The Church of TV As God is a fun and crazy debut novella, and fans of bizarro fiction would do well to tune in.

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Review: The Cheat Code For God Mode by Andy de Fonseca

April 30, 2014 at 10:11 am (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Cheat Code For God Mode is what Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One SHOULD have been, but wasn’t. Whereas Cline’s book was content to play on our sense of nostalgia and use fond memories to cover up lazy writing, de Fonseca invokes the same rich tapestry of pop cultural memories by creating its own unique mythology. The tropes and references in Cheat Code are just far enough removed from our reality to be sharply satirical. Andy could have gone the lazy route and dropped in the ostriches from Joust but instead we get a delightful 8-bit chicken named Mort. It’s touches like this that make the book sing.

At the same time, The Cheat Code For God Mode is also what The Matrix COULD have been, if that trilogy had a sense of humor about itself and didn’t end up disappearing up its own butt as it hobbled along. Instead of Keanu spouting neologisms about the internet, we get an interesting science-minded protagonist, her hilarious best friend, and an amazing barking chicken. We get roaming herds of LOLcats. We get All Your Base memes and turtle bacon. We get originality and a razor sharp ear for witty dialogue.

The story goes like this: Victor and Margy find an old video game system with a scribbled on disc that controls their universe. Needless to say, figuring this out is half the problem, as they cut a Grand Theft Auto style swath of destruction through their town. They need to travel to the old internet to find answers, and there they meet Tyson, a gunslinger type who has his own mysterious connections to the game. Of course there are also shadowy, dangerous people looking for the game and the people who are wielding it. From there on out, the story is anything but typical, however. Through clever use of this basic premise, de Fonseca ends up exploring the idea of who and what her protagonists are in the world and the very nature of reality.

There is one section of the book that gets a bit heady, when de Fonseca turns to some real talk about the singularity, quantum mechanics and many worlds theory. She keeps the densest parts of the topic brief, however, and is in and out leaving behind just enough information to set up further action in the narrative. It could have been difficult or off-putting, but thanks to some skillful and well-paced storytelling, it’s a lot like Neil deGrasse Tyson is sitting on the couch playing video games with you while you’re both stoned. It’s through this clever writing that the story really comes to life.

This book is part of the New Bizarro Author Series, and as such is subject to a word limit, but the pacing is perfect and the story never feels rushed or like it’s out of the author’s control. There are moments of hilarity, laughing out loud on the bus stuff, especially when Victor and Margy get into their fugues of scrappy wordplay. There are also moments of genuine emotion. I have never felt so strongly the fate of an 8-bit chicken. Trust me when I say you don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming culture, the internet, or quantum physics to enjoy this. It’s a delightful tale well told, which makes it perfect for any reader who wants to think, laugh and maybe even learn something about invincibility.

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