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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Review: Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams

October 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

If I were to ask you what Catholicism, theoretical cosmology and licking asses have in common, there’s a possibility that the jokes would write themselves, and yet many would remain confused, wracking their brains and softly punching their genitals in consternation, trying to find the elusive connective material between the three. When a solution began to present itself, I would introduce mutant bees that sting with the power of a hundred aphrodisiacs, and then, just to put the cherry on top of the metaphorical anus of meaning, and to continue to defy the agile tongue of understanding, I would tell you that you can’t transubstantiate into a living pig without some complications. Then, I would tickle you until you peed your pants. The look on your face at that exact moment would be the same look you would have during your reading of Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams. Like me, you also wouldn’t be able to put the book down until you had completely devoured this smart, hilarious, and completely bizarre story.

Writing with a wit and wisdom that defies the seemingly crass subject matter, Adams brilliantly executes one of the best satirical novellas I’ve seen in a long time. The universe is filled with planets that cater to very specific sexual acts, all run by a bureaucratic Catholic Church from their headquarters on the sun. There are legends of an old era, an existence that wasn’t ruled by the church and not every waking moment was dedicated to sexual fetishism and debauchery (outside of Lent, of course). Nobody knows what happened to make things the way they are, and Adams deftly works this central idea into an epic mystery that underlies the entirety of the book. His prose sings with a combination of perfectly crafted comedy and dire science fiction, with a great witty edge that cuts to the heart of religion, sex, class and any number of other subjects central to the status quo. This is a manuscript that doesn’t mind wondering aloud “Does love exist? What is the nature of existence?” while throwing a poop joke and a load of raunchy sex acts at the reader without batting an eye.

The characters are fun, and easy to identify with, especially the titular hero, Jack. When Jack, the only person on the planet, left to clean up the mess during Lent, finds that he is not alone, things begin to go absolutely insane. Nimue, the unnaturally speedy and strange woman from the water, Jack’s boss Bishop Eichmann, who appears from the ground as a pile of holy debris and Virgil, a dangerous man working for a mysterious behind-the-scenes power structure add so much colorful character to the cast, it’s almost criminal. The shifting alliances and over-the-top comedy of these characters propel the action of this book, and somehow Adams is able to keep everything consistent and driven, despite the madness. There are some obvious parallels here as well between Janitor of Planet Anilingus and other works. Like Dante’s Virgil of the Inferno, Jack’s Virgil leads him through a sort of hell. Toward the end of the book, tropes from the Alien films and other sci-fi classics are turned inside out and exploded. There are plenty of the usual bizarro genre gross-out moments (such as the symptoms from what might or might not be an STD) but they’re written so hilariously that the reader can’t wait to see what’s next, scatologically speaking. I can not say enough about how much fun I had reading this book, and would suggest that anyone who wants to laugh until they poop themselves pick this up post-haste.

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Review: Her Fingers by Tamara Romero

October 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

According to ancient Yimlan tradition, you need to say your three names at the beginning of an encounter with someone who has saved, or is going to, save your life. With this simple piece of imagined folklore as its base, Tamara Romero weaves an intricate and fragile tale that mixes witches and technology, druidism and drug addiction, bionics and magic in Her Fingers. The book is peppered throughout with little aphorisms like this, bits and pieces of legend from the world of the story. Romero uses the three-names idea to brilliantly set up some wonderfully revealing twists and strangle beautiful storytelling.

Chapters alternate between two protagonists: Volatile, a mysterious man hiding in an isolated cabin in the woods with his robotic doll Shades, and Misadora, a young witch who finds herself drug-addled, persecuted by the government, and trying to understand the nature of her scared ring and the tree-bound women who call to her in her lucid moments. As the story progresses, identities are fleshed out and surprises abound, both for the individual characters and for their relationships to one another. This is something that Romero does magnificently, writing relationships that feel vibrant and ever-shifting, dreamlike and engaging.

The lovingly crafted relationships are the most engaging thing about Her Fingers. The plot is enjoyable, and follows a well-crafted arc with few diversions from the main storyline, however it is those moments where we see characters interact that truly shine. Without ruining anything, there is a moment toward the end of the book in which we get to see a flashback through the eyes of Misadora where we are witness to the moment she lost a very important ring. We are led along without knowing the origin of this loss for most of the book, and then suddenly everything is revealed. It’s not the reveal of the “how” though, so much as the “whom.” We are shown wanton cruelty, beautiful kindness and everything in between in these simple interactions, and what’s better, this all becomes yet another setup for more puzzled solved only a few pages later. Her Fingers is a very short book, but there is a ton of magic packed between the pages.

Her Fingers was written in Spanish, initially, and translated by the author for its publication in English. Some of the sentences seem to hold odd word choices or construction, possibly due to the translation process. That said, however, the poesy of the language and the specificity with which Romero chose each word rings with a melody that is unlike most other debut books. The concepts are spelled out with carefully chosen language that just sings. Consider the way the prostitution of witches is described, an ugly concept made beautiful by prose: “And many a man would pay extra to lay with a witch, watching her colored hair become wild, since at night a witch has not only a naked body, but a naked condition. In those chambers converged heaven and hell, ecstasy and darkness.” A magical, tragic and personal tale of the strange and wonderful worth picking up for anyone who likes their genre tropes mixed, blended, and served with a side of mist and fog.

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Review: Avoiding Mortimer by J. W. Wargo

June 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I finished J. W. Wargo’s delightful debut Avoiding Mortimer a few days ago, but I’ve been avoiding writing this review. I could have sat down immediately after finishing it, in one sitting, but I wasn’t sure I’d be impartial, having just traversed Wargo’s world, and maybe I’d be projecting. The next day, I almost wrote it, but then I worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find the words, and then I’d get mad at myself, and maybe even become suicidal or something, because I’d feel like a failure as a reviewer. So I decided to continue avoiding the task before me, and yet, Avoiding Mortimer stayed bouncing around in my brain. Relentlessly. I realized: I was doing the same thing Mortimer tried to do. I was avoiding life. So I sat down and let my experience pour out here on the page, and do I feel better? You bet. You will too when you crack the spine and dive into the pages of Avoiding Mortimer.

Poor Mortimer. Growing up in a household where his entire family was terrified of everything (until they decide to go undead to try to avoid death, at least) obviously had quite an impact on him. As an “adult,” he tries his best to avoid everything: doing things, feeling things, talking to people, being outside, living, dying. What’s that? You can’t avoid dying? Mortimer does. Sort of. And this kind of avoidance of everything not only provides wonderful comical and philosophical fodder for Wargo to explore, but also makes for a perfect bizarro premise due to its impossibility. How can one avoid everything when everything is something, even nothing?

I admit, I have a certain fondness for afterlife comedy, especially when its weird. Avoiding Mortimer joins such stories as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens and Gina Ranalli’s Suicide Girls in the Afterlife on the list of unique and fascinating treatments of what happens to us after we die. Being a bizarro book, of course there are strange flourishes here and there. Supporting characters such as a sentient wig made of dreadlocks and a soul-sucking blob of half-digested ants add to the chaos while giving Mortimer other beings to interact with – despite his avoidance issues. Even God makes an appearance, although he’s certainly not what you might expect. Or maybe he is, if like myself, you’re a fan of existentialist and absurdist lit. The combination of these elements is where Avoiding Mortimer truly thrives. Wargo has a talent for layering strange, wild and funny storytelling over top of a psychologically exploratory and philosophically deep treatise on how he sees the universe. Those readers who follow his blogs and online writing will be familiar with Wargo’s fascination with the id, the ego and the super-ego, all of which are utilized to their utmost both as concepts and as quasi-characters. All of these elements together are entertaining and incredibly explosive. Don’t avoid picking this one up, as its a rare combination of thoughtful and silly that will appeal to any and all fans of weird fiction.

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