Unidentified Funny ObjectsUnidentified Funny Objects by Alex Shvartsman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. This anthology is nicely balanced. The humor ranges from puns with elaborate set-ups that are a great deal of fun to more subtle humor that doesn’t make you laugh out loud, but may make you chuckle. Evilly, even.

I think there’s definitely something in this collection for everyone, no matter what your sense of humor. The comics are a nice addition I wasn’t expecting, although my one complaint is that they’re awfully hard to read on the Kindle edition. Luckily, I have a print edition, as well, so I can see them there.

I was just looking at the table of contents to see if I could pick a favorite. Harder than I thought.

“El and Al vs. Himmler’s Horrendous Horde from Hell” by Mike Resnick is definitely in the top few. Resnick is one of the masters of short fiction, and this story kept me giggling throughout. Just imagine Albert Einstein as a wizard fighting Himmler . . . and you still don’t really come close. You need to read it.

I also really enjoyed “The Alien Invasion As Seen In The Twitter Stream of @dweebless” by Jake Kerr. If you’re on Twitter, you’ll doubly appreciate the humor.

“The Velveteen Golem” by David Sklar also satisfied by providing an entirely hilarious story that surprised me at the end with a deplorable (meaning really good, in this case) word pun that I should have seen coming but didn’t.

I think of all of them, Jody Lynn Nye’s “The Worm’s Eye View” and Ferrett Steinmetz’s “One-Hand Tantra” were my favorites. Nye’s story is a good hard sci-fi story that manages to weave humor into it in a way that doesn’t detract from the science fiction. Kudos to her for that.

Steinmetz’s story…ah, what I can say about this that won’t get me banned from Goodreads? :) “Hilarious!” That works. I mean, who knew masturbation could be a magical power?

You’ll definitely find something here to tickle your funny bone.

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Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter, Internationally Bestselling Thriller / Crime Fiction Author

Hey, everybody. Well, mostly to the everybodies who are in Atlanta, GA, and will be over the weekend after the 4th of July. That would be the 7th and 8th. Specifically, Saturday the 7th of July.

You see, that’s when Karin Slaughter, the author pictured to the right (or above, depending on how this gets formatted), will be kicking off her signing tour for her latest release, Criminal.

Now, I don’t make it a secret that I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. In fact, those are the genres I choose to write because those are the genres I cut my reading teeth on, and what I primarily like to read.

But I also read thrillers, historical novels, non-fiction . . . I just don’t talk about it a lot. I’m about to change that.

I am a member of a writers group — we call ourselves the Forum Writing Group — and have been for just a smidge over four years. The group has existed for very close to ten years, and we’ve always met in the Barnes & Noble at the Forum (hence our name) in Norcross, GA.

For seven of those years1 (as well as our fearless leader can recall), Karin Slaughter has been kicking off her tours with this Barnes & Noble. She’s local to Atlanta, and she could pick just about any store in the city and they’d be glad to have her. She comes to this store primarily because of our group.

The store sets aside a good-sized area, sets up chairs and a lectern for Karin, and she reads a selection from her latest book, then chats with us for a while, answering questions. Our group is generally well-represented, and we ask her questions about writing, publishing, plotting, characters, where she gets her ideas (Authors love this question. Really. No, really.), etc. She tells stories about her time spent researching for her novels by riding with the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), and other fun stuff. She answers the questions and tells the stories with wit and humor. She not only looks a tiny bit like Ellen DeGeneres, she has a similar sense of humor. I really enjoy her annual visits to the store, even if it usually does mean an evening of no critiques.

After the Q&A, she signs books until everyone gets their copy signed. And then she typically comes up to the coffee shop inside the store and sits with our writing group for at least a little while, and visits.

So, like, think of that thing you do that you really like to do, that you’re maybe not professional-level at, yet, but you want to be, and then you get the chance to sit and talk with someone who is internationally known for doing what that thing is. Even for 20 minutes.


I would be happy about just that aspect, but it just so happens that her books are actually really good, too! So, you know, it’s like a whole bonus kind of a thing! :)

My first time at one of her signings was in 2008, and the newly released book was Fractured, which is the second book in her series of stories involving GBI agent Will Trent. She read part of the first chapter . . . and had me hooked.

But it was the second book in a series, and she had another series. What else was I to do? I got the hardback signed, then went to get her other books. I read them all, one after another, enjoying each one fully. By the time I read Fractured, I knew I was a solid fan.

Her style is engaging, her pace just right, her characters believable, likable, and flawed.2 Her plots are logical and believable. Give her first book Blindsighted a read. It’s good stuff.

I could continue to gush — and under normal circumstances, I probably would — but the point of this post is to get people to come out to the store. Why? Well, it would be great if there are a lot of people there for Karin (there usually are enough that some end up standing and the children’s section of the store is full of adult fans of a thriller author), but also because Karin is also a huge — and I do mean huge3 — advocate for public libraries. Her appearance at the store on Saturday, July 7th is a joint event for the B&N store and the Gwinnett County Public Library System. The store will be donating a portion of their sales to the GCPL.

So, to sum up: Not only will you get a good book signed by the author, you will get to hear her speak and help the Gwinnett County Public Library at the same time.

So, what are you waiting for? Huh?

Oh! I should maybe give the time and address. That might help.

Saturday, July 7th at 3pm
Barnes & Noble with Gwinnett County Public Library
Talk & Signing
5141 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
Store #: (770) 209-4244

Come early to get a decent seat. Come prepared to ask questions. Come prepared to enjoy yourself and get a good book to read as well.

  1. Does it feel like this is one of those math word problems? A train leaves New York at 40 mph and a tomato in Kansas grows at the rate of 4cm every 3 days. When will the restaurant in Dubuque get the tomato to slice for sandwiches? There won’t be a quiz.
  2. I could just kick Lena for some of her bad choices!
  3. When you see Karin, you’ll understand why this is a complete scream. I mean, it’s really funny. Really.

Strange PerceptionsStrange Perceptions by Chuck Heintzelman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of fourteen of Chuck’s short stories, all of which have one thing in common: They’re strange. :)

I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way, either. What’s neat about these stories is that whether they be science fiction, fantasy, or straight-up horror, they’re all really strange. The world depicted in Chuck’s stories is just a little off-kilter. From “The Death Gerbil,” which has all the earmarks of a horror story, but with a quirky ending that brought a chuckle; “The Wizard Lottery,” which is a straight-up fantasy with all the earmarks of the genre; “Freshly Ghost,” which tantalizes the reader with a huge world of which we see only a tiny slice; “In the Closet,” which has a very creepy premise and a logical ending, something that most horror stories lack, in my humble opinion; to “Memory Fades,” which is a heartwarming, touching story with a supernatural twist.

I enjoyed all fourteen stories. I read about a third of them before on Chuck’s website, but seeing them all combined into one volume like this really brings that strangeness to light.

There’s something for everyone, here.

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Dead Mann Walking (Hessius Mann #1)Dead Mann Walking by Stefan Petrucha
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dead Mann Walking is an urban fantasy that manages to break free from the pack of most of the other urban fantasies I’ve read. Most of those others involve sexy vampires, sexy werewolves, wizards, or other…well, romantic figures. Ghosts. Fairies. Elves. That kind of thing.

Hessius Mann is a zombie. But they don’t call them that. They call them chakz, after the Spanish word for “jerky,” or “dried meat.”

Mann, who was a policeman in life, was accused of murdering his wife (for good reason), and found guilty. He was executed for the crime. And then exonerated. To give him a “second chance” of sorts, he was revived. The hell of it is, he doesn’t remember whether he actually did it or not. It’s all lost in a haze. Chakz’ memories aren’t what they were in life. Mann doesn’t like to think about it too much. What if he remembers…and it turns out he did kill her? Could he “live” with himself, knowing that?

Unlike most chakz, Mann is pretty lucky. He’s in one piece with few nicks and cuts, although the injuries he’s received since his raising are easy enough for his assistant Misty to fix with an exacto knife, needle, thread, and super glue.

He’s running a mostly unsuccessful private investigation business. Chakz are universally reviled. Not only are they outcast, they have to deal with the constant threat of harassment by Hakkers, gangs of young thugs who think it’s fun to torture and/or destroy the undead. And even though most chakz are able to hold things together pretty well, mentally…occasionally one slips and turns feral, becoming like those Romero-type zombies that mindlessly kill and eat any living humans–Livebloods–they come across. That doesn’t make chakz any more loved.

A lawyer visits Mann at his office one day to offer him a substantial sum of cash to find his client’s heir–who is a chak–and bring him home into the loving arms of his family so he can inherit the family fortune. Mann doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and takes the money–and the case. But then, several chakz are discovered in pieces. Minus their heads.

Mann soon realizes that the cases are related, and once he starts investigating it, he stirs up all kinds of trouble in the community, and uncovers a plot that will endanger his unlife several times over. But the police are no help–they all think he killed his wife, after all, and it’s just chakz who are being disposed of, not real people–and the only liveblood who’ll help is Misty, who has her own demons.

What I really liked about this novel is that not only does it have the requisite Mystery That Must Be Solved™, there’s quite a few things in there that hold a bright light up to how society tends to treat those it values least. The people it chooses not to notice. The people it wishes would just go away. A chakz’ existence is pretty bleak, and most of them didn’t ask for it. It’s not really life they’re living so much as it is mere existence. They don’t have any of the animal drives of the living–sleep, food, water, air, sex–and they aren’t welcome anywhere. What’s left to them?

The book doesn’t shy away from these questions, either. It addresses them head on. At the end of the book, the legal status of chakz comes under scrutiny and undergoes a drastic change, which should provide a very interesting backdrop for subsequent books in the series.

Make no doubt about it: In many ways, this is a bleak story. With bleak characters. Living in a bleak world. It is not light-hearted and fluffy. It is probably not going to uplift your soul or make you shed tears of happiness and joy. There are no wise-cracking heroes who always get the girl, here. In fact, even the good guys aren’t always so great. But I think that makes them more interesting to read.

And it is a very good read. The plot makes sense. The pacing is good. The characters are not just flat caricatures of movie monsters, but have some actual depth. There are some very interesting secondary characters that I look forward to seeing come back in later volumes. There are a few places where you’ll laugh, and there are a few places where you’ll squirm. And there’s at least one scene that should give you the heebie-jeebies. (Heh-heh!)

But you’ll keep turning the page because you want to know what happens next.

And isn’t that the hallmark of a good book?

I’ll definitely be looking for the subsequent volumes.

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Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Fuzzy Nation
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy in the early 80s while I was in high school. I loved the Fuzzies and I wanted more. I found the second book of the trilogy (Fuzzy Sapiens), but got very frustrated with my book store when they did not have the third book available.

It was at this point that I discovered that Piper had died before publishing the third volume of the trilogy. GAH! I wanted to know how it ended!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Shortly after I read the first two, I discovered that author William Tuning had published his version of the final volume, called Fuzzy Bones. I read it. Then, yet another author—this time Ardath Mayhar—published yet another version of the final volume, called Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey. I read it.

I liked both of the non-Piper versions. But then, in 1984, Piper’s widow discovered the completed manuscript of the third novel in her husband’s effects. It was published as Fuzzies and Other People. Finally, at long last, the trilogy had not one, not two, but three complete, slightly different, third volumes.

I was skeptical when I heard Scalzi was rebooting the story. It reminded me of the silly attempts to remake “Planet of the Apes” and “Revenge of the Nerds”: Why tamper with something that’s already great as it is? Isn’t three endings enough?

I heard him interviewed on a couple of podcasts. He explained that the reboot was a labor of love and that it had been endorsed by the Piper estate. He said all he was trying to do was to update the story with more modern sensibilities, but that he tried to preserve the essence of the original.

I snapped up the novel the day it hit the book store. But before I could get a chance to start reading, a friend reminded me of something I had forgotten: Wil Wheaton had recorded the audio version of the novel.

Well. That clenched that. I’ve been a fan of Wheaton for a long time. I bought the audio version as well. (Hey, it would be hard for Scalzi to autograph the audio version if I ever meet him at Dragon*Con. I like to think of it as “planning ahead.”)

Not to mince words: I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Scalzi did exactly as he promised. The book is, in essence, the same story that Piper told nearly five decades ago, but updated to appeal to a more modern audience. This is the first Scalzi book I’ve read, so I can’t say much about his usual style, but if they’re all anything like this, I’ll be reading more, rest assured.

The character of Jack Holloway was deeply flawed, but also, at the core, a decent man. Maybe his motives weren’t noble, maybe his irreverent, sarcastic, f**k-you attitude toward everything made him come across as unlikable at some level. But you can’t help but pull for him. After all, he did have the Fuzzies’ best interest at heart. And so what if it benefitted him, as well? As flawed as the good guys were, the bad guys were truly evil. It wasn’t hard at all to dislike Wheaton Aubrey, Joe Delise, and the entirety of Zarathustra Corporation. But it also wasn’t at all difficult to believe that such people exist, because we all know people like them. Well, hopefully not just like them…

I loved Carl the dog. I don’t remember Piper’s characterization of Carl, but I think Scalzi did a great job of using Carl to make Jack come across as more human and less mercenary. It was just the right mix.

And the Fuzzies! Scalzi put so much depth of character into those little guys, you couldn’t help but love them. Just like the original books. Their wide-eyed, innocent cuteness hiding intelligent, feeling, sentient persons. When Papa Fuzzy testified in court…I admit, I not only laughed out loud, I pumped my fist in a “YES!” motion a few times, and shed a few tears, as well. On a plane. My seatmate edged away from me.

As good as Scalzi’s writing is, and as wonderful as I thought his characters were, I think Wil Wheaton’s performance really pushed my appreciation over the edge. He has just the right tone of voice for Holloway. And when he read that court scene where Papa Fuzzy testified…well, as I said above, it moved me in more than one way. With just his voice, Wheaton was able to turn in a fantastic performance that added so much depth to the story.

I do hope that this book does well enough to allow Scalzi to continue the trilogy, or even to turn it into a series. I look forward to reading more from him, and not just in the Fuzzy universe. I highly recommend the book—audio or otherwise—to anyone who likes science fiction with a twist of courtroom drama; cute, sentient aliens; intelligent dogs; or characters who know how to dish out just desserts.

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A NovelHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel by Charles Yu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By all rights, I should not have enjoyed this book. Sure, it’s a book about time travel, and I do love those. But it’s the oddest book about time travel that I think I’ve ever read.

The protagonist is a man in his early 30s who has spent the last 10 years living in a box the size of a phone booth. With his non-existent dog, Ed. He sleeps, eats, and, one presumes, does everything else a person needs to do inside the walls of his time machine.

(Spoilers follow…)

Down and Out in the Magic KingdomDown and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this to be an easy read. The story kept me entertained, turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. I enjoyed the Bitchun Society, and how seamlessly Doctorow blended both the high-tech narrative and the deep Disneymania into the story in a supportive way. The plot depended on it, but didn’t get overwhelmed by it. So the exposition was handled well, I thought.

Setting the story as a conflict between two teams of hereditary Disney employees bent on making the park a better experience for all involved made the story simultaneously more approachable and more obscure. By setting the action against a backdrop that is essentially the same in whatever far-flung future Doctorow has imagined as it is today, it gives him a familiar anchor point to highlight how different things are. At the same time, however, for those of us who haven’t been to Disney in a long time or who are unfamiliar with the various rides featured in the story (I have never seen the Hall of Presidents or the Haunted Mansion because both have always been closed for maintenance during my visits to both Disneyworld and Disneyland.), it is more than a little frustrating.

The problem I had with the book at the beginning was that nothing was really at stake. For anyone. The park was not going anywhere (as in “static”), and all the changes being made were done to preserve the experience for the visiting public. So no matter how it came out, nothing would truly change. Sure, maybe some of the characters would be inconvenienced, but it would be just that–an inconvenience.

Julius, the main character, goes on and on at some length about how death–even his own murder–is not that big a deal. Serious, debilitating health problems–such as, say, murder–are easily fixable: just clone a new body, make a backup, and restore into the new body, better than the previous one. With multiple lifetimes to live, humans tend to lose the urgency that makes every minute of our lives precious, and this is nicely portrayed throughout.

When Julius loses all of that about halfway through the book, this is when it “picked up” for me. Now we have a character who genuinely has something to lose. His every moment becomes precious because he can’t back up, so if he renews, he’ll lose a large chunk of his life, including the last year of the life of one of his best friends. This underlying story was what kept me turning the page, wondering how it was going to be resolved.

I didn’t really expect the revelation at the end (the Whodunnit), but it made sense within the framework of the story, and didn’t betray the characters’ personalities. I thought Doctorow handled it well.

The reason I gave this three stars instead of four (I did really enjoy it while I was reading it) is that the ending…just sort of petered out. Again, nothing was really at stake. Once Julius agreed to be restored if anything happened to him and forgave his murderers, there just wasn’t any reason to care anymore what happened to him. Which may be exactly what Doctorow had in mind. Julius moved on, Disneyworld went back to whatever passes for “normal” in the Bitchun Society, and the story ends. What eventually happens to everyone other than Julius is left unrevealed, and as a reader, that didn’t bother me.

Because nothing is at stake for any of them.

My main dilemma right now is trying to decide whether this story was Utopian or dystopian. I could go either way.

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The Alchemy of StoneThe Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story engaged me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last. It sucked me in, and I found myself wanting to read more.

I liked the main character, the automaton Mattie, but from the get-go, I either disliked or was ambivalent toward most of the other characters with the exception of Niobe and the soul-smoker.

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