Review for AMOK!

Some people get offended when authors write book reviews, especially of books wherein they have stories. In a sense, it seems like cannibalism. Personally, I’d love to read other people’s opinions about this collection rather than deal with platitudes about how I should be acting. Take this with a grain of salt or trust it as the gospel, but this is the account of my five favorite stories from this collection, and mine was not one of them.

Truth be told, my deeper point of writing this review is to hopefully start discussions either here or on Goodreads, and maybe on Amazon.

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click to travel to Amazon

 

 I enjoyed this twisted anthology. It is quite dark and diabolical. I expected 26 tales of cold-blooded murder and psychotic rampage, but didn’t expect to find the huge diversity of vision and the balanced array of talent. Reading the author profiles in the back pages revealed a host of experienced authors with several publications under their belts.

 This book is so much more than just expertly written tales of murder. There are ‘braindead zombies’ and there are sex-crazed zombies. You’ll also find military robots and time machines, demon possessions and angry ghosts, wandering barbarians and panicked wizards, astral travelers, drug addicts, and you will even experience being poisoned once. Way out from left field come sentient centipedes, genetically-modified pigs, and natural disasters. AMOK!!—the name fits it all.

 Picking five favorite stories out of this collection was insanely difficult. My favorites won’t be yours, so read this book and tell the world which ones you liked best—this collection is worth reading. Seriously, there are so many great stories in here. These were my five favorites.

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Review of Queen, written by Lincoln Crisler

A little background, I’d read Lincoln’s short story, Queen’s Blood in Manifesto UF earlier in the year. Enjoying the story, I soon after had an opportunity to tell Lincoln. He in turn asked if I’d be willing to read his short story collection, Queen. Queen’s Blood is in this collection, but it is not the reason for this book’s title. The last story in this collection is a novella titled Queen. These are my thoughts.

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This is going to come off as negative, but bear with me, it’ll make sense in the end. The first story, titled D.T.F., was a little clunky and I had difficulty finding its voice. Once I found Lincoln’s voice, the story rolled easier. The characters were interesting, but I felt the story ended a little abruptly. However, with knowing this anthology told a chronological build beginning with Lincoln’s first professional publication, I found this approach both daring and uniquely interesting. Designing a collection of short stories starting with the earliest story first is a bold move because by doing so the collection begins on its weakest note. Most collections would merge the early (and generally weaker) stories somewhere into the middle.

Progressively, I enjoyed each story more than the first, but the themes in the first few stories felt a little common to other stories I’ve read. That is not completely true, I got to witness the development of Lincoln’s strong natural ability with writing speech dialects. I also saw his willingness to try common themes, yet add a new blend or twist, even if the first couple stories didn’t fully satisfy my reading needs. (Exception, Flaying Around in the Sun was a good vampire story putting a cool spin on vampire relationships within their family, and a unique punishment for insubordination.)

The first story that ‘wowed’ me was a flash-fiction piece called Three Blind Dice, a story about a bad gamble with a heavy price. The first story I loved in this collection was The Columbus Ghost Caper, a well-rounded story about the ghost of a bank robber obsessed with posthumously robbing the vaults he haunted. He had big plans for the rat bastards who’d set him up. Common to the preceding stories, this tale was rich with dialect, but the characterization, plotting, and pace had all merged impeccably. All the elements of a professional writer showed themselves in this very cool tale. Although this was a unique gem in this anthology, there are still several great stories to follow.

In a three way tie with The Columbus Ghost Caper, I’d add Seymour’s Descent and Kettletop’s Revisionary Plot for my favorites. I hadn’t expected to find a sci-fi edge in this collection, but here it is. Seymour’s Descent is a story about an advanced research robot forced to find a loophole in its programming to complete a disastrous mission—a loophole that had grim consequences. Kettletop’s Revisionary Plot was a clever time-travel tale with a scientist and his trusty Warbot coming back in time to save the world from a zombie outbreak. There is a lot of going on in Kettletop’s Revisionary Plot for a story less than 5,000-words.

Although not my favorite story in the collection, a true victory is Queen. Queen is a novella about a woman over 40 and watching her body succumb to the punishment of time, and seeking an acceptable aversion to aging. Queen was Lincoln’s most mature story in this collection. Even though the story kept its POV centered on protagonist Rita, I could sense more happening outside her scope. The subtlety of the writing made this story worthy of being a proud centerpiece.

 

Lincoln is a (Master?) Sergeant in the U.S. Army, deployed where fashionable masks are in.

Lincoln is a (Master?) Sergeant in the U.S. Army, often deployed where fashionable masks are ‘in.’

 

All in all, I would recommend Queen to anyone who enjoys short stories with a touch of horror. Few of the stories (save two) were overtly gruesome, but all the tales explored darker themes of the human condition.

More so, I would highly recommend this book to any aspiring writers. Not only were the stories enjoyable, but Queen showed a beautiful scale of the evolution writers make along this grueling journey from being “a talented writer,” to achieving the role of professional author. I’ve never before seen such proof of the over-stated expression ‘just keep on writing’ like Lincoln Crisler has bravely exhibited for all of us to read, learn from, and compare.

I deeply appreciated seeing proof of this lesson from Mr. Crisler.

 

Seven Questions with Zachary Jernigan

Today’s guest is Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return, Published by Night Shade Books, released in March 2013. I had the opportunity to meet Zachary at the 2013 71st World SciFi Convention held in San Antonio Texas, and I’m honored that he has bravely challenged seven of my deadly questions.

 

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Hi Zachary, welcome.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (Anything you choose, where you went to school, what awards you  may have won, or more interesting still, tell us how you were raised by a maternal Polar Bear who taught you how to catch arctic char with your teeth…)

I realize you were joking around, but I was actually raised by a maternal Polar Bear. Her name is Skittles, and she works in health care. I think being raised by her taught me a few things. One, I can tear off a man’s arm and beat him to death with it pretty easily. Two, eating out of trash cans is very cool. Three, I don’t like global warming, as I need sea-ice to float on to visit her every year at the North Pole.

Oh! I’m also a writer. I listen to a lot of rock music. My favorite color is brown. (No, seriously. Brown. How boring is that?)

You name appears on the cover of the novel No Return, what genre is it and what is it about? How do we know you really wrote it?

Oh, good grief, it does! I’ll answer these questions in reverse order, because I’m a jerk who pays no attention to rules.

My picture is in the freaking book, dude. I can show you the signed contract. Those two things seem like proof to me. The more important bit of proof is this, though: I tried to get someone else to pretend they’d written it, and there were no takers. If you can find someone unwise enough to claim my violent sexfest of a book (more on the sex in just a moment!) as their own, then maybe we can have a real argument about it.

The genre? It’s basically a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. I’ve called it space opera that reads like epic fantasy, and I think that’s pretty close. Quite a few people have labeled it New Weird, and I can see that even though that wasn’t exactly what I was shooting for. To me, I’m just a big fan of a lot of science fiction from the late 60s — New Wave stuff, like Roger Zelazny and Samuel Delany — and writing fan fiction as a result.

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What other projects have you completed or are in the works? Anything you dare to share with us?

Well, right now I’m working on the sequel to No Return. It’s called Shower of Stones, and it’s totally kicking my butt. I’m not one of those folks who’s in love with what he’s writing. I usually think it’s crap, which is nice, because when it’s not crap it’s a great surprise. It also stinks sometimes, because often it actually is crap, confirming all of my fears.

Thanks for bringing it up, Jake. Jerk.

I also have other projects kind of, vaguely, in process, though I only do one at a time — and rather poorly, at that. The excerpt I included for this interview is from an unfinished novel of mine, History of the Defeated, which is about the most bad-ass woman in history transporting a psychopathic little boy across a post-steampunk wasteland. It may be what I pick up after finishing Shower of Stones, or it may not. Some of that depends on whether or not I think I can sell it.

I’ve read your short story, I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal Too. As an author, you seem very at ease writing about sexuality which seems challenging for many writers. Do you have any advice or insights as to how to write believable, stimulating, yet tasteful sexuality?

Hmm. That’s a really good question. First off, thanks for reading the story — really, that means a lot to me. I suppose writing about sex just doesn’t seem like too big a deal. That sounds dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way: I simply mean that sex, like any other active scene, should be written in the spirit you want to convey. Sometimes, I’m shocked by the way the tone changes when people start banging.

I mean, seriously? Why’d it suddenly get all goofy? (There are a lot of goofy sex scenes out there. Some people think mine are goofy, too.)

Sex occurs, all the time. It’s something we’re all interested in, so my advice? Just write about it without attaching any huge stigma to it. Use it like any other tool in your toolbox to move the story forward in whatever manner you see fit.

Lastly, don’t get discouraged when people tell you it’s not necessary. Realize that they prioritize different things in fiction. (To them, perhaps, a two-page description of a sword being forged is not gratuitous — where, for another reader, that two pages were just as masturbatory as, um, an actual masturbation scene.)

Do you specifically read your same genre, or do you branch out into arenas other than what you write? 

I’m one of those goofballs who reads almost nothing outside science fiction and fantasy. I do read pretty widely within that realm, though. Honestly, I just don’t get excited by fiction that doesn’t have a speculative element of some kind. The thing that always strikes me about reading, however, is that anything you read should make you curious about the world around you. Fiction (and nonfiction, of course) should, I think, be a gateway to reading about so many other topics, even if you only do casual research on Wikipedia, as I do.

What scares you?

The fact that my parents will die someday. I honestly don’t know how anyone copes with this when they love their parents as much as I do mine. Maybe other people are stronger than me. (Okay. Shouldn’t say maybe. Obviously, most people are stronger than me.) It drives home how important it is to express love, and not run away from it simply because you know the object of your love might one day be gone. This realization has helped me cope with the fear of losing my parents and others close to me, and I fully believe it has made my fiction better in ways I only slowly comprehend.

What are your thoughts on the future? Will we make it, or will…(aliens invade, super-flu kill us, Jesus take his followers surfing…)

I misread this question as What are your thoughts on the future? Will we make out, or will…

That’s the question I’m choosing to answer, because, again, I laugh at rules! Hahahahaaaaaa!

I think we’ll make out. It’ll be really gross for both of us.

Thanks for interviewing me, Jake!

 Website: http://zacharyjernigan.com/

Twitter: @jerniganzachary

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Here is my excerpt:

Beyond Tannerton, the city gave way to the ruinland known as the Byre. The immense plateau on which the abandoned cityscape rested was tilted ever so slightly downward, causing westerly travelers to feel as if they were always on the verge of toppling forward. The fact that every street ran perfectly straight exacerbated this sensation, forcing the mind into a near trance where it became easy to misjudge distances. Fortunately, the monotony was not entire: time had eaten away the harsh edges of the ancient stone and grey-bricked buildings, and toppled them into the street and onto each other.

By the time Teres and the boy had descended ten miles into the Byre, the horizon already occluded any sign of Fallot at their backs, making it seem as though they had passed out of the reach of civilization. The ruinland stretched before them in geometric patterns, surrounded them in its derelict embrace.

Men no longer lived here, in these squat two- and three-storey edifices. No one remembered a time when they had.

Inevitably, others had moved in. Spotted deer and collared peccary families scattered at Teres and the boy’s approach. Half-feral dog packs—mottled groups of mutts and pedigrees, castoffs from the city—followed for a time, moving parallel to the two travelers through abandoned buildings. Now and then, a calico monkey screeched from a rooftop. The ironwood cypress, which grew twisted and small throughout Fallot, was here a gigantic thing, thrusting up through concrete foundations, punching through roofs and walls. Crows cawed, Mockingbirds mocked, and the call of hatchlings filled the air.

Teres had traveled through the Byre on several occasions, and never enjoyed it. She would never admit as much aloud, but the ancient city spooked her in a way the continent’s other ruinlands did not. Most places had the decency to decay naturally, from the ground up. Their lanes and alleys cracked. Their paving stones were shoved aside by trees and shrubs eager for light.

In the Byre, however, the roads did not crack. They did not tarnish or scuff.

But for the rubble and dust of toppling buildings that partially covered it, the main avenue on which they progressed was as smooth as glass, as flawlessly white as unveined marble, yet it did not reflect the sun back into their eyes. In some places, it formed a bridge over land that had collapsed underneath it. Teres had crossed such bridges before, though she would rarely do so again after seeing that the road was no deeper than the thickness of her forearm.

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