Book Review: MY LIFE WITH DETH

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my life with 'dethDavid Ellefson / Joel McIver
Howard Books
2013

I really shouldn’t need to point this out, but in the interest of this blog post’s subject matter, I am a big Megadeth fan. Ever since getting my face sand-blasted off after purchasing Rust In Peace at the tender age of 17 — my first proper taste of the band, and it was a doozy — they’ve been very consistent with continually doing so, even during their low periods, more so than the Venom that spawned Megadeth’s Carnage, Metallica, ever did.

I think I popped something reaching for that mixed metaphor. Yeah, I’ll be feeling that for a few days.

Anyway, of the two Daves associated with the band, I’ve already read the biography for main man Dave Mustaine, and reviewed it quite a few years ago on my previous blog (it’s been moved here on this one, in case you were morbidly curious). A few months ago, while perusing the ebook selection on my Google Plus account, I came across the autobiography of the other Dave in the group, bassist and co-founder David Ellefson. I was rather jazzed to read this one; finally, we get the viewpoint of someone who had been with Megadeth and all the wackiness involved since the very beginning, save for a stretch where he wasn’t part of the band for…reasons.

Right at the start, Dave Ellefson writes in My Life With Deth that this was a book he really didn’t want to write. As he points out early on, these kind of biographies are a dime a dozen, and all contain the same tragic story. You read one, you’ve read them all. It’s the same kind of pattern you get with the VH1 Behind The Music series, really. Fine, understood. But, this book itself is only 256 pages long; 188 if you discount the final pages being a discography, an index (?) and the obligatory thanks section. That’s not a lot of pages to go into detail on a career that spanned three decades not only founding and playing in one of the legendary Big Four of thrash metal bands, inspiring generations to pick up the bass, but also the in-between times where he was broke and had to get a 9-5 type job just to get by. Mind you, this was with Peavey, so he didn’t exactly go back to slinging fries at a burger joint after he was first booted out of Megadeth. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here…

In My Life With Deth, Ellefson takes us through his upbringing in rural Minnesota, first getting interested in music, and working up to playing gigs in and around the surrounding Midwest area; moving to LA and befriending some guy named Dave Mustaine, forming Megadeth, getting into drugs and the struggle to break free from his addictions, his career with Megadeth to his leaving the band, his post-Megadeth ventures and careers, his resulting fued with Mustaine and eventual patching up of the relationship. Oh, he also touches on his Christian faith.

Oh, yeah. Dave Ellefson’s a professing Christian. As such, not only does he talk about this, but each chapter ends with a brief “what I’ve learned from all this” takeaway. It’s definitely not something yo see in your standard rock n’ roll biography, here.

Overall, My Life With ‘Deth is rather brief, and quite frankly seems to be missing a bit of meat. This may be Ellefson’s design, as he tells his tale less as an excuse to dish dirt and cause controversy, and as more of a “these were the mistakes I’ve made, let’s learn from this” kind of story. If you’re looking for something like Motley Crue’s biography The Dirt, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, I’m afraid. If you’re looking for a rather detailed, point-by-point analysis of one of the greatest metal bands to ever have existed…well, again, you may be less than satisfied with this. But, if you’re looking for some light reading and have some time to kill, My Life With ‘Deth is a good way to fill the time.

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Book Review: BRIEF CASES (The Dresden Files)

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brief cases dresden filesJim Butcher
ACE
2018

It’s been three years since the last book in the Dresden Files series was released. Three long years without our favorite Chicago-based wizard detective to experience exciting supernatural wackiness vicariously through. Fortunately, there’s been a recent publication of another short story collection by Jim Butcher, something that will tide me over until the next book in the series comes out. Loves me some Dresden Files.

Anyway, yeah, Brief Cases was recently released through ACE Books, collecting several short stories that Butcher wrote for other publications, plus one that was only released on this collection, if I have my information correct. Let’s dive in and see what we got, shall we?

  • “A Fistful Of Warlocks”

We take a trip back to the Wild West of the 1800s, where the warden Anastasia Luccio rides into the town of Dodge City, hot on the heels of a warlock, and teams up with a deputy sherif named Wyatt Erp to take on the warlock’s posse and their zombie horde.

  • “B Is For Bigfoot”

Harry Dresden takes a case from a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders (River Shoulders for short) to check up on his son, who goes to school in Chicago. The kid might be being picked on by bullies; only, it turns out to be more than that.

  • “AAAA Wizardry”

Dresden regales a class of young wardens in training with a tale of when he took on a case involving a boogeyman to illustrate the five “A”s of wizardly investigation.

  • “I Was A Teenage Bigfoot”

Once again, Dresden takes a case from River Shoulders, this time to check up on his son — who is now a teenager and attending a private school — and find out why he’s sick. On account of, the son of Bigfoot shouldn’t be getting sick, let alone lain¬†out in the infirmary. It might be black magic afoot…but you’d never guess for what ends.

  • “Curses”

Dresden is hired to try and get a curse put on Wrigley Field in 1945 lifted so the Cubs can actually win for once, darn it. This takes him deep in the realm of the Tylwyth Teg, to speak to the caster of the curse. Who knew the creatures of folklore were big baseball fans?

  • “Even Hand”

A story told from the point of view of John Marcone, the Chicago crime lord that’s a perpetual thorn in Dresden’s side. Here, Marcone is best upon by a rather nasty member of the Fomor — Cantrev Lord Mag — who’s there to collect a baby that was stolen by the White Court’s human servant Justine. Things go boom.

  • “Bigfoot On Campus”

One last case from River Shoulders, and this time he wants Dresden to check in on his now college-age son due to a premonition of danger. Which may hold some water, as Dresden discovers that the kid is dating the daughter of a White Court vampire.

  • “Bombshells

Told from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, from her post-wizard apprentice days, due to Dresden still being considered dead at this point; she takes a mission to infiltrate a Swartves stronghold to rescue Dresden’s half-brother Thomas Raith; only, she discovers things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. To be fair, they never are.

  • “Cold Case”

Another one from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, this time as the newly-minted Lady of the Winter Court. She is charged with collecting a long-overdue tribute from the Miksani. After arriving at the small Alaskan seaport, she discovers the reason why they’ve been so tardy, and teams up with the young Warden Ramirez to get things back in order.

  • “Jury Duty”

Harry Dresden is summoned to jury duty in the case of a former bodyguard for a crime boss accused of the murder of a man one year prior. It seems fairly cut and dried only Dresden has that inkling that something’s not quite right. So he goes investigating, along with one of his werewolf friends. Wackiness ensues.

  • “Day One”

A story told from the perspective of everyone’s favorite polka-loving, Sword of Faith-wielding mortician, Waldo Butters; this one concerns Butters’ first case as a newly-minted Knight of the Cross, which involves a rogue baku that’s feeding off the fear of the children in a hospital ward.

  • “Zoo Day”

The final story in this collection has Dresden taking his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his dog (and current guardian of Maggie) Mouse on a daddy/daughter/doggie day at the zoo to look at some animals. This one takes turns with the point of views, starting with Dresden, who encounters a young warlock; Maggie, where she faces off with some nasty haunts that are possessing other kids at the zoo; and finally Mouse, where he meets a dark figure from his past. Also, there’s french fries.

Of the stories in this collection, I believe I enjoyed “A Fistful Of Warlocks”, the three involving Bigfoot and his half-human, half-bigfoot son (especially the “Bigfoot On Campus”, as things really go boom there), and “Zoo Day”, as we not only get a good story involving Dresden trying to be something he’s not accustomed to — being a father — but also the three points of view, one being the ironically named Mouse. That was great, there.

Mind you, all the rest of the stories contained are all top-notch, containing the quality type of action, mystery and humor that comes with this series, only contained in easily digestible bite-sized pieces. I’m afraid I went through my Kindle edition of this a bit too fast, as per usual. It was that kind of engrossing. Recommended.

Book Review: STRANGE WEATHER

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joe hill strange weatherJoe Hill
William Morrow
2017

Joe Hill’s follow-up to his fantastic novel The Fireman is a collection of four novellas, titled Strange Weather. Of course, being a fan of Joe Hill, I purchased my copy of Strange Weather the same week it was released. But, in kind of a first, I got my copy as an e-book through Google Play. Not that this will become the future standard for my literary indulgences, mind you. Just went with this format for kicks and giggles.

So, four short novels collected in one binding. Let’s dive in and see what came out of Joe Hill’s brain droppings, shall we?

  • “Snapshot”

A successful middle-aged man reminisces back to the summer of 1988, where he runs into a creepy guy with a camera you really don’t want to have your picture taken with.

This was a pretty taught thriller with an object that seems to call back to the Stephen King novella “The Sun Dog” from the Four Past Midnight collection. But, “Snapshot” is far from a rip of that story. The two feature instant cameras that do weird stuff, and that’s where the similarities end. The camera in “Snapshot” is far more sinister. The story also manages to be emotionally wrenching, with the theme of losing your identity and saying goodbye to your past. I also found myself empathizing with the main protagonist, as I too was the fat young teenager back in ’88. What a year. No creepy gangly old men with cameras, though. That I know of.

  • “Loaded”

A disgraced mall security guard shoots and kills the jilted mistress of another mall store manager, a Muslim woman and her infant son shee was carrying, and a young man who witnessed the incident, thinking it was all a terrorist attack. He’s hailed as a hero of the community, everyone praising him, including his estranged wife and young son. Until a reporter from the local paper starts digging for the truth, and the “hero” finally snaps under all the pressure.

“Loaded” is one of those super tense thrillers where the real life terror depicted in the story is only amplified by the real life horror that plays out on the news at home, with shootings seemingly on the rise. Hill did a rather good job with making the antagonist¬†nunced and sympathetic to a point; though in no way do you really side with him, as what they’re doing is despicable, but you can kinda see where he’s coming from. Overall, a very good story that rather pissed me off with the ending, there. Well done, sir. Well done.

  • “Aloft”

A young man’s first attempt at skydiving, to honor the wishes of a friend that died of cancer, results in him getting stuck on a cloud that’s not really a cloud (at least, it doesn’t act like actual clouds do…which is an understatement), and he’s stuck trying to figure out how to get down, and the cloud doesn’t seem to want to let him go.

The fun thing about speculative fantasy fiction is the taking of an otherwise absurd-sounding concept, and spinning it into a yarn that makes it work. “Aloft” does just that, with a concept that sounds more like a comic strip gag — a guy skydives and gets stuck on a cloud. Joe Hill takes this and makes it right engrossing, giving things a nice mystery surrounding his situation, as well as working out some relationship issues.

  • “Rain”

One afternoon in Boulder, Colorado, it begins raining razor-sharp crystalline shards that kills or seriously wounds anyone caught outside in it. This includes the girlfriend of our story’s protagonist, who, soon after the first freak storm, sets out on foot to Denver to try and find her girlfriend’s father to inform him of his wife and daughter’s tragic demise from the freak storm, and try to make heads or tails of what’s going on, and try to survive.

In a note in the afterwards portion of this book, Joe Hill admits to writing “Rain” as kind of a satire of his own post-apocalyptic novel The Fireman. Maybe I’m not smart enough to get the satire part; it’s probably too subtle for a meathead like myself to notice the first time reading. I do, however, recall reading a story in a collection of youth-oriented science fiction stories back in grade school, one that involved a kid playing outside on a planet his human family have settled on, and almost getting caught in a flash storm that rained sharp crystals from the clouds, much like in this one. Only, that story wasn’t as nuanced or, you know, set on Earth as “Rain” is. A lot more plot, a lot more character development, and…well, let’s just say this is probably the best kind of kooky cult types you want to be stuck next to. Give or take singing Genesis songs in the middle of the night.

Once again, Strange Weather manages to solidify Joe Hill as one of my top favorite genre writers in the past ten years. He has one of the most fertile imaginations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, and this collection is further proof of that. Highly engrossing, time seems to just fly by as I read this. Highly recommended, this.

Book Review: WHEN WE WERE ON FIRE

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41S+K+dTvML._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Addie Zierman
Convergent Books
2013

To the general outsider, American Evangelical Christianity (TM) can seem, at best, rather odd. As someone who has spent the better part of a decade within this, shall we say, unique bunch of bright-eyed believers, I can attest that we can, at times, seem like an altogether alien sub-culture. That was a lot of alteration that I just used, there.Anyway, we have our own language (Christianese), our own music genre, our own movies and art, and so many stylized varieties of ministries and outreaches it’s a wonder why most of the world hasn’t been converted yet. Well, it’s not really that much of a wonder, but since this is a book review and not one of my annoying blog rants, I shall digress.

When We Were On Fire was the second book I purchased from Google Play, after testing the e-reader waters to see if it would be a good fit for this old-school bibliophile. I’m always interested to hear and read about other people’s’ experiences with American Evangelical Christianity (TM), and how it impacted their faith, for better or worse. And this title seemed intriguing, to say the very least.

Here, author Addie Zierman goes through her experiences growing up as an Evangelical teenager, an on-fire adolescent spearheading and getting involved with various student and youth endeavors in the name of Jesus evangelism, and traces her journey through college, when everything faith-related seem to fall apart, through to her finally rebuilding from the resulting debris, reforming her faith as an adult.

I absolutely adore When We Were On Fire. It has an inviting laid back conversational style, but is also unflinchingly honest with the narrative. Meaning, this isn’t an easy book to read, yet at the same time you won’t be able to put it down. For some, reading When We Were On Fire will be a look into a side of American Christianity they’ve never experienced; for many others–like myself–reading this memoir will trigger many flashbacks to our own experiences of a time that we remember as “The 90s”. Specifically, two things really stuck out at me while reading this: One was her recounting her first boyfriend in high school, which turned out to be rather toxic in that he would use God as a means of manipulation (I cringe, because I recognized my old self in the boyfriend, really), and her experiences with Youth With A Mission, aka YWAM, one of the many evangelical youth outreaches that have had their fair share of controversy come out of the woodwork. I remember specifically, I once went to a YWAM-affiliated event called Aquire The Fire, where I very narrowly avoided getting signed up with YWAM. Reading this (plus the stories of other former YWAM workers), it’s rather evident what kind of a bullet I managed to dodge, there.

Overall, reading When We Were On Fire, you not only grow to appreciate Mz. Zierman’s honesty with her journey, but also how she managed to maintain her sense of humor with all of this. I highly recommend this book, not only for those who’ve been through these things, but also for those who haven’t, to gain a perspective that can be lost with all of the hype. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Book Review: PSYCHOSPHERE

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brian lumley psychosphereBrian Lumley
Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
1984

A machine, Psychomech, granted Richard Garrison great and terrible mental powers–strength enough to restore his dead love and vanquish his enemies. Through Psychomech, too, Garrison learned of the Psychosphere, another plane where mental powers ruled supreme–and where Garrison was sole tenant. Now a new mind has entered the Psychosphere, a mind twisted and evil and bent on controling the Earth. Richard Garrison must discover the owner of that mind–and destroy it!

The second book in Lumley’s Psychomech trilogy, continuing with the goings on with former Army Corporal turned demigod Richard Garrison, his zombie wife and the dog who loves him.

I had to pause for a few minutes to take in what I just wrote, there. Anyway, the plot of this book…

Ever since the events in Psychomech, Richard Garrison has been rendered, not really a full-on god, but at least powerful enough to give Gozer a run for his/her/it’s money, with two other consciences dwelling within his…head? Is that right? Anyway, with all of this PHENOMINAL COSMIC POWER!, he spends his free time gambling and making enemies with the mob. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. There is a problem, though–Garrison is slowly leaking the power he has, mostly due to wrecking the Psychomech pretty badly in the previous novel, and the other two consciences are coming out to play more often than not. Also, Vicki is beginning to think that she no longer loves Garrison like she thought. Oh, and there’s an obese albino hermaphrodite psychic in an underground fortress attempting to take over the world in there, somewhere.

Psychospere was…interesting. It starts off as a pretty intriguing thriller, then gets weird as the story progresses. This may be due to the obese albino hermaphrodite psychic character. I just like writing all of that out. This character is about as powerful as (apologies for mixing geek references, here) Professor Xavier, if not moreso, and really has a thing for hedonistic orgies that would make Caligula blush. Like with the first book, the parts that seemed to drag more in the story were the parts where Garrison is in his head reality, dreamstate kinda place (the psychospere? it’s never really explained fully what that titular thing is), dragging around the remains of the psychomech and slowly losing power. The big ending conflict was decent, and the way Garrison resets everything was interesting. Overall, I would say Psychospere, like the first entry in the trilogy, was a bit overlong but interesting enough to finish. Is that considered damning with faint praise? I could never get a grasp on that concept…

Book Review: PSYCHOMECH

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psychomechBrian Lumley
Tor
1983

The terrorist bomb blast ‘introduced’ two very different men: multimillionaire Thomas Schroeder and British Army Corporal Richard Garrison. The industrialist welcomed the army man to his mountain retreat, endowed him with wealth, and introduced him to the one woman he would always love. Blinded in the inferno, Garrison at first though that Schroeder’s kindness sprang from gratitude and guilt. But when Schroeder revealed the unique mental abilities he and Garrison shared and his plan to cheat death, Garrison began to wonder about Schroeder’s true motivations. Was he Thomas Schroeder’s friend or the test subject for Schroeder’s dreams of reincarnation?

So, in my on-going quest to try and read everything that Brian Lumley has written that is not in some way tied in with his Necroscope series, I began this first book in what is known as the Psychomech Trilogy. And after reading the titular first novel, my first thought after closing the book was, “There are two more of these to get through.” It wasn’t that it was a tedious slog to get through, it’s just that Lumley does have a talent for turning what could be a 250 page story into 400+ pages. The man is big on purple prose and exposition, he is. And I typed out that last bit in a cheesy Cockney accent in my head.

Bit of a backstory here, before we proceed: I first came across the second book in this trilogy at a now-defunct small used book store over fifteen or so years ago. Since I have this kind of OCD about reading series books out of order, I decided to hold onto this one until I could find the other two. That was easier said than done, as I didn’t come across those in physical mass market paperback form until I spotted them both at (say it with me) Half Price Books. Goodie for me. Only, there was already a bit of a reading que, so getting around to actually reading them took another couple of years (yeah, I may have an addiction, here). But finally, I was able to get to them, and now, if you haven’t given up and moved on to something more exciting on the Internet, here is the first of the three.

Thomas Schroeder is a very rich and powerful German industrialist who is in Ireland at the beginning of the story on business with the IRA, who have kidnapped his wife. He manages to get the best of them, but then he learns of a bomb they planted in his hotel room, of which he’s saved from by the brave actions of one Corporal Richard Garrison of the Royal Military Police, which results in the loss of Corporal Garrison’s vision. Not to worry, as Schroeder feels rather indebted to him for saving not only his life, but also the lives of his wife and infant son, that he brings Garrison to his rather swanky digs in Germany, to try and help him see again. Of course, there’s more to Shroeder’s intentions than just that, and while Garrison doesn’t seem to mind, it is hard to get a bead on whether things are a bit more sinister or not. It involves ESP and a bit of the old advanced horoscope drowsing made all sciency and stuff. Meanwhile, in Plot B, there’s this former Nazi officer who once tried to build a machine to create supermen for Hitler during World War II. Of course, now that he’s in hiding under an assumed name and life, he’s once again trying to build the machine, along with a psychiatrist who’s employing the Nazi as a gardener, under the guise of building a psychiatric machine to help alleviate one’s fears, called the Psychomech. Mech-mech-mech. Anyway, Schroeder dies, leaving all of his wealth and land to Garrison, along with Schroeder’s life long companion and bodyguard, named Willy Koenig. Not too long after that, Garrison marries a woman who just so happens to be having an affair with the psychiatrist that has built Psychomech, and after a couple of years of marriage, decides to dissolve their marriage by way of an overdose on the Psychomech itself. Only, instead of killing him, Garrison turns into a god, resurrects his long-dead-of-cancer first love, and absorbs Willy Koening into his being, along with Thomas Schroeder. The end.

As mentioned previously, Lumley does do a lot of exposition, quite a bit of dialog in his stories. Fortunately, he’s good at it, otherwise this would have been a slog to get through. Instead, Psychomech was decent, engaging with some slow parts, yes, but overall really creating a good sci-fi yarn that wasn’t really what I was expecting. I didn’t go into excessive detail with the story recap, as there is a lot of scenes involving a subconscious dream state that, while I understand it’s there to establish what the Psychomech machine is all about, was probably the least favorite parts of the book for me. And the ending is one of those abrupt kinds that made me go, “Well, that happened” when it got to the last page.

The Psychomech trilogy is probably Lumley’s more obscure series of novels, and judging by this first book, I can see why. Worth a look-see.

Book Review: 3001 The Final Odyssey

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Book Review 3001 The Final OdyssyArthur C. Clarke
Del Rey
1997

Perhaps it is better to be un-sane and happy, than sane and un-happy. But it is the best of all to be sane and happy. Whether our descendants can achieve that goal will be the greatest challenge of the future. Indeed, it may well decide whether we have any future.

One thousand years after the Jupiter mission to explore the mysterious Monolith had been destroyed, after Dave Bowman was transformed into the Star Child, Frank Poole drifted in space, frozen and forgotten, leaving the supercomputer HAL inoperable. But now Poole has returned to life, awakening in a world far different from the one he left behind–and just as the Monolith may be stirring once again . . .

Here it is, the final book in the so-called Space Odyssey Series of books. I remember wandering into a Walden Books that was inside one of the malls in Omaha (this was back before Barnes & Noble forced the smaller book stores in the area to cease when it opened up nearby) and running into the display of this new publication, thinking, “huh…he wrote another one?” Followed immediately with, “wait, Clarke is still alive? Good for him.” And then wandering off to see if there was anything good in the Faith and Christianity section. This was the later part of the 1990s, you see. This was before I rekindled my love of horror and sci fi literature.

Regardless, 3001 The Final Odyssey was, if you recall from the previous reviews I’ve posted, included along with all of the other titles in the Space Odyssey series when I got them all in one shot from Half Price Books. Not a bad deal, considering the original cover prices for books that are, for the most part, less than three hundred pages in length, and contain a considerable amount of rehash from the other books. Anyway, on to the story plot…

After a bit covering the entities that created the Monoliths that started all this wackiness, the body of one Frank Poole–the ill-fated member of the original expedition to the Saturn Jupiter Monolith all the way back in 2001–is found frozen and meandering about in zero gravity around the Kuiper belt by a space tug in the year 3001. After being revived (because this is THE FUTURE! and all that), he is taken back to Earth, where he begins learning about the wondrous…wonders of THE FUTURE! he suddenly finds himself in. Also, he becomes something of a curiosity for the citizenry, and especially for the person assigned to be his guide through all that. I can imagine how amusing the whole “Back in my day…” spiel would be at this point. Meanwhile, it seems that the Jovian Monolith has received some orders from the Big Giant Monolith several light years away, essentially saying that humans had a good run, and to wipe ’em out. So the Monolith starts multiplying again to block out the sun; fortunately, the Bowman/HAL hybrid thingie that calls itself Halman now, has infected the Monolith with a virus that disintegrates them. Humanity saved, and future looks pretty bright. The end…for good now.

So, here we are, finally. The final book of the four in the Space Odyssey series, and…really, the majority of the time it’s a futuristic fish-out-of-water kind of book, with a revived Frank Poole suddenly finding himself the Philip J. Fry in this Futurama situation. Like his other books, Clarke seems to have more fun with the technical wonders of speculative future tech, with the actual plot being kind of a secondary thing. It was the way of the old school Science Fiction writers, keep in mind. I do have to admit, though, with the revelation of the Monoliths being constructs that were more or less breaking down a bit, and taking them out with a virus from within kind of takes the awe and mystery out of the sails, but really. By now there should be some kind of explanation for those things. I did like the history of the alien beings that started the whole thing. Gives a bit of overall scope of how long this has been going on.

Overall, 3001: The Final Odyssey was a decent cap of a decent science fiction series. Sure, the book raises more questions than it answers, but I was rather satisfied with how things ended. As to the questions this leaves…well, I’m going to just have to speculate and use my imagination for those. Sadly, Clarke died eleven years after this book was published. But, if you get the chance, check out the entire Space Odyssey series, maybe not like I did, but it’s worth checking out.

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