Book Review: Meddling Kids

Subgenre: Uptempo Eldritch Sleuthpunk

That cover made me check the prices of old Monster In My Pocket sets on Ebay. Then I balked at the starting bids, read the book, and got far more fun out of it than if I’d spent the same amount of money on stale plastic figurines. The only accurate description I can come up with is that it’s like if P.G. Wodehouse did a line of coke off of a Hot Fuzz DVD.

Continue reading Book Review: Meddling Kids

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Review – Molotov Hearts

Okay okay yes I read a rom-com and I’m not going to mince words with some “it’s a romantic comedy BUUUUT-” qualifying statements. Molotov Hearts by Chris Eng is an entertaining book whose plot centers on two people who catch feelings for each other. It isn’t solely about the love between the guy and the girl though, it’s also about the love for and within the punk scene. In the same sense that this review is about my love of minor spoilers.

Socially-maligned high schooler Jenn watches the punk kids loitering after school, particularly the cute guy always reading physics textbooks. After a fight with her abusive mother she sneaks off to join their punk house, dumpster dives, suffocates at basement shows, and gets to smash. But such a plot summary overlooks the hand-sewn details.

Molotov Hearts’ plot is propelled almost entirely by women’s agency. Jenn takes the initiative to goes over and talk to the punks and her dude, Becky bails her out at school after they break up, other punk girls front bands and lead the dumpster-diving excursion. There’s no synchronized shouting of “girl power” to oversell things, women getting shxt done is just the default state of the Molotov Hearts world. Jenn’s authoritarian mother is full of agency and fairly evil, but eh, representation isn’t always enough without class consciousness. And is this book ever conscious of its class! The life of the punk house isn’t a glamorized Lost Boys carefree adventure — the dumpster diving scene is as filthy and dangerous as it is calorie-dense, most of the punks dress themselves from piles on the floor (if they do dress themselves) and there’s an appropriate lack of headboards. It reads like it’s drawn from actual bummy quasi-commune experience rather than someone trying to piece together what dejected punk kids do based on Rancid and MxPx lyrics.

But that’s all window dressing, albeit window dressing that knows it should be old bedsheets instead of actual curtains. I wouldn’t have stuck with the book were it not for the characters. Jenn is smart and resourceful, but not tritely hypercompetent. She doesn’t get everything right; her friends straight-out tell her that her priorities are pretty screwed up at one point and there really aren’t enough books out there willing to let their protagonists be wrong about things. Or have friends that call them out on it and then actually talk about what’s going on. But even if fidelity to actual human behavior isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of fun and snark as the punks play off each other and pwn some posers. 

If I had a consistent rating system Molotov Hearts would get 4.5 out of 5 somethings. Let’s say 4.5 perfectly good wheels of cheese pulled out of the Safeway dumpster.
(I’m only marking it down because it doesn’t acknowledge that Blink-182’s first album was pretty legit and if we can’t have petty squabbles like that then what’s the point of a subculture anyways.)

Three Reviews

I don’t know how effective longer reviews on personal blogs really are, so I’m experimenting with shorter ones that’d fit on Goodreads since reviews on there seem to matter to industry people. However, my blog still craves content. So here’s three reviews of books that aren’t related aside from the fact that authors have signed them and I think more people need to know about ’em!

Part of me likes the idea of not really theming the reviews I group together here since a lot of books I’ve enjoyed were just blindly stumbled across while I was trying to find something else, so… here goes an attempt at recreating that.

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Stay Crazy, by Erica Satifka

I think a lot of portrayals of mental illness in media lack necessary nuance. In Stay Crazy, Emmeline struggles with the stigma of taking or not taking medication, worries over telling friends and family, and still manages to save the world from malicious interdimensional beings in the midst of all that.

The plot with Escodex and the potential invasion keeps the book moving at a steady pace, and the surreal elements have just enough deniability (at first) to put readers off-balance. Despite the alien provocateurs trying to contact Emmeline through RFID tags at her dead-end retail job, the book stays fairly grounded when dealing with her conditions, never stooping to basic “lol she just cra-ha-haaazy” jabs at her expense. There are plenty of jabs, though! They’re just all punching up.

Marrero, by Kataalyst Alcindor

Being in the audience of a good poetry slam is a better experience than having sex on the moon and I’m not gonna brook any complaints from more academic poets on that subject. Kataalyst is one of the best slam poets I’ve gotten to see here in New Orleans and, while the whole experience can’t be conveyed in print form, the words alone still hit like a pallet of cinderblocks.

There are some excellent indictments of America’s failings featured in Marrero, but the poem I found most interesting was “When Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor.” When it comes to men addressing sexual assault in writing, it feels like the default mode is to speak aggressively about the perpetrators. Kataalyst takes a different route and speaks with eloquent sympathy for the victimized and cautious optimism for those they let in to their lives. It’s fucking potent. Watch it here on Write About Now, then time your next New Orleans vacation to coincide with one of his readings because goddamn.

The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again, by A.C. Wise

With a stylized cover like that, I wasn’t really expecting anything more than fun camp with a nod towards representation. How glad I was to have underestimated this book.

Yeah, the Glitter Squadron’s adventures are full of 70s scifi action facing off against gribbly aliens and ancient mummies. But the Squadron members themselves are all well developed outside of their monster-fighting capacity. Before we see Bunny fight a sea monster, for example, we know why she became Bunny. But it shouldn’t be surprising that a confident, self-possessed character with healthy social support fares better against Lovecraftian horror than Lovecraft protagonists do. Wise’s thoughtful characterization even comes through in the themed cocktail recipes interspersed throughout the collection!

Book Review: The Apocalypse Reader

Being bogged down with a final semester means it’s time to just gank something from my bookshelf and reminisce instead of finding something new, and I’ve found something from way back in the black-and-white rabbit-ear-antenna days of 2007!

The Apocalypse Reader was an anthology edited by Justin Taylor from Thunder’s Mouth Press. I grabbed this book off of a new releases shelf at Barnes & Noble during college because I’d had an assignment that required reviewing a book published in the last six months which I hadn’t already read. And it did have a pretty neat cover.

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The mix of classic and contemporary authors in this anthology, at that point in my literary development, was a big step in introducing me to interesting genre fiction. Lovecraft and Poe’s names in the table of contents sold me on it, but the rest of the collection introduced me to names like Carol Emshwiller, Brian Evenson, and Theodora Goss. I think I actually have this book to thank for leading me to The Mount. Overall it’s a solid collection with great variety in the style and approach the stories take to the post-apocalypse, but two of my favorite stories here weren’t, as far as I can tell, published anywhere else.

“These Zombies are Not a Metaphor” by Jeff Goldberg is a delightfully dry flash fiction set during a zombie outbreak, following the one person who’s more concerned about actually surviving than about what the zombies may represent.

“I’m not letting you in,” I said.
“Come on, I want to eat your brains.”
“No.”
“What about Jennine?”
“No.”
“Manny?”
I said, “No,” but he sensed my hesitation.
“Just give me Manny,” he said, “Please.”
“I’m going to activate the electric perimeter now.”

“Fraise, Menthe, et Poivre 1978” by Jared Hohl is a darker story, though much funnier for it. A group of survivors scavenge what food they can after society has broken down, staging (poorly-remembered) plays in an abandoned theatre to commemorate whenever one of them dies. It’s a wry twist on typical survivor stories — which tend to overlook things like nutrition and boredom when it comes to eking out an existence — and its moments of absurdity feel poignant without any it’s-a-story-about-the-healing-power-of-stories sentimentality, which has always been a personal peeve of mine.

Coming back to it several years after publication, it’s a shame to see the stories’ authors haven’t done much outside of this collection. Thunder’s Mouth Press also seems to have dissolved shortly after this anthology was published, so you’ll only be able to find this through used booksellers. But if you need just one more item to put your order over the free shipping threshold, it’s definitely an overlooked gem among the glut of post-apocalyptic fiction. Hell, if you know me in person just ask and I’ll photocopy those two stories for you.

Since stars are kind of played out, I’ll give the Apocalypse Reader four tildes out of five! ~~~~_