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The Hero of the Bay of Tampa

I’ve just spent half the day on the most popular beach in Tampa with the most advanced metal detector on the market. I haven’t failed to find anything of value – I have succeeded in confirming that there were no landmines or live artillery rounds buried in the sand!

People of the Bay of Tampa, you may sleep safely. I am not the hero you need, but I am the hero you deserve.

*stares stoically into the distance*

Florida,
The frontier of fun,
Where the fluffiest clouds,
Like fairy tale refugees,
Fill up the sky.

Impressions of Texas

My wanderlust is calling me once more… This time, the call is amplified by the logistical difficulties of the local dating scene and the large transfer bonus from my employer. I’ll depart for Tampa in only 83 hours and hopefully never return to this small rural Texan town that I’ve called home last year.

When I first moved to the outskirts of Fort Worth, I’d thought my Texan experience would be filled with wacky shenanigans the likes of which can only be experienced in the South. I thought I’d document them in great and hilarious detail and publish a bestseller titled “The Adventures of a Siberian in Texas: Yeehaw, Comrade!”

Alas, that wasn’t meant to be. There were no cacti, no armadillos, no wacky accents… Hell, I haven’t even managed to convince any locals to go cow-tipping, even though there’s a cow pasture just a mile away from my house. As much fun as it was to observe cheeseburgers in their natural habitat, it’s time to move on now.

I’ve had no great and noteworthy adventures in Texas, but just for the sake of posterity, here are some impressions of the Lone Star State from yours truly: cowboy-themed districts filled with Chinese goods; terrible dog owners; snow in San Antonio; Siberia-like landscapes; roads designed by M.C.Escher; cops who don’t understand laws of physics; trains… so many trains; a giant rat devouring roadkill in the middle of the night in the middle of the highway in the middle of nowhere; trading fireflies for broken unicorns; children with too much time and too many eggs; sector F8; lectures on theology; going to Church on Sundays; sushilessness.

So it goes.

One of the sadder things about the science fiction and fantasy genre is that readers often overlook older stories and novels, choosing to chase new releases instead. This anthology, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, seeks to right that wrong by reprinting stories that were originally published between 1956-2011. (For the most part, they’re closer to 1956.)

Some of the stories are hilarious, some are great, some aren’t. This anthology is an excellent way to get to know great authors from the decades past, but a few of the stories leave a lot to be desired, which is why I’m giving it only 4 stars instead of 5.

Brief story synopses:

“The Third Level” by Jack Finney: an average Joe time-travels when he discovers a hidden third level of the Grand Central Station. A fun story that shows not all time travel fiction needs to be complicated.

“The Cosmic Charge Account” by C. M. Kornbluth: a little old lady with latent psychic abilities reads a self-help book and decides to change her universe. Literally. The book’s pompous writer and a young publisher head out to stop the disaster in this hilarious, quirky and surreal story that has many genuinely “laugh out loud” moments.

“The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight: the world’s last sociopath is all alone in the futuristic utopia. An unusual, sad and tragic short story.

“The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson: a teacher gets curious when one of her first-graders spends all her time playing with an invisible magic box. A “soft” sci-fi story that explores the human nature instead of science or technology.

“The Prize of Peril” by Robert Sheckley: in a world where new laws make it legal for reality TV shows to kill their contestants for the promise of prize money, one man is on the run from a gang of murderers while the country cheers on. An excellent story that combines “The running man” and “Hunger games.”

“—All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein: A man in charge of resolving temporal paradoxes gets assigned a particularly challenging case… This story gets better each time you read it – the time travel paradox it describes is one of the best I’ve seen yet!

“A Kind of Artistry” by Brian W. Aldiss: In the strange distant future with its matriarchal society, genetic engineering and space exploration, one man is trying to do his best. A fairly long and disturbing story that features the mother of all Oedipus complexes. Probably my least favorite in this anthology.

“Green Magic” by Jack Vance: In a world where magic is commonplace and anyone can study it, one man wants even more as he follows his great uncle’s research on a new type of magic. A well written cautionary tale that reminds us all to be careful what we wish for.

“Narrow Valley” by R. A. Lafferty: a Native American enchants his tiny plot of land to make it inaccessible by just about anybody – as an enterprising 20th-century family is about to find out. A goofy story that makes fun of just about everything under the sun.

“Sundance” by Robert Silverberg: a human scientist that’s supposed to eradicate an entire species of cute little creatures to terraform a new planet begins to have his doubts… An unusually written, deep and truly intelligent short story about the morality of terraforming and the dangers of the human-centered worldview.

“The Attack of the Giant Baby” by Kit Reed: A baby starts to grow bigger and bigger after its scientist father screws up. A goofy story that’s a lot like the movie “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

“The Hundredth Dove” by Jane Yolen: A story about a fowl keeper, a king and his enchanted bride. To me, this seems more like an old-fashioned fairy tale than a fantasy story, but to each their own, I suppose…

“Jeffty Is Five” by Harlan Ellison: What happens to a child that stops aging (both physically and mentally) at the age of five? A very serious (and somewhat sad) take on this very strange concept from the point of view of a childhood friend who grows up.

“Salvador” by Lucius Shepard: American soldiers fighting in El Salvador are given drugs that make them stronger, faster, meaner – at the cost of their sanity. A very bloody, disturbing but well written story that was doubtlessly inspired by the horrors of the Vietnam War.

“The Aliens Who Knew, I mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger: A not-too-bright U.S. President describes the planet’s first contact with friendly but insufferably pedantic aliens. A hilarious take on the usually scary “first contact” trope.

“Rat” by J. P. Kelly: In a dark cyberpunk world of the future, a super-intelligent rat is dealing drugs and staying one step ahead of the authorities. Definitely an unusual premise and very well written with more action than most other stories in this anthology.

“The Friendship Light” by Gene Wolfe: A handyman uses his skills to destroy the lives of his sister and her husband. A fairly complex horror story that features low-tech mischief instead of high-tech space-age devices usually found in science fiction.

“The Bone Woman” by Charles de Lint: What if creatures from Native American myths were real and still roamed the earth? The protagonist follows a strange homeless woman who collects bones for some mysterious purpose. A very interesting story that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”

“The Lincoln Train” by Maureen F. McHugh: In this alternate universe, Lincoln barely survives the assassination attempt and his administration strikes back by forcibly relocating former slaveholders. The protagonist is a young woman that’s about to be relocated with her elderly mother. A great story that would make an amazing novel.

“Maneki Neko” by Bruce Sterling: In a futuristic Japan where a self-aware computer network operates a complex system based on gifts and favors from millions of people, an American FBI agent gets in a world of trouble when she tries to play by the book. A quirky and satirical story with an unusual premise.

“Winemaster” by Robert Reed: When people learn to transmute their minds into nanobots and code, the physical world loses its greatest minds, as well as most of its population. A prototypical “hard” sci-fi story that features everything from the nature of consciousness to corrupt genocidal governments to visitors from other worlds.

“Suicide Coast” by M. John Harrison: In a world with highly addictive virtual reality games, the protagonist is stuck in a love triangle with his daredevil friend and the friend’s wife. Or is he? A definitely unusual story that’s very meta, if you like big plot twists.

“Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman: A story of a fashion designer who lives in the last village in the world to go online. A human interest story about life in the middle of nowhere and the stereotypical plucky provincial characters who are about to have their lives changed forever.

“The People of Sand & Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi: When the world becomes a toxic dump, what should genetically modified creatures (who can eat trash and plastic, among other things) do when they find a bona fide biological dog on the loose? An immensely interesting (if slightly disturbing) story set in a dysfunctional world. (Just like all of Bacigalupi’s fiction, really.)

“Echo” by Liz Hand: After an unknown disaster destroys the world as we know it, a woman waits for her lover on an uninhabited island, with only her dog as her company. A sad tale that provides the human angle that’s so often missing from “end of the world” stories.

“The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” by Stephen King: A man killed in a plane crash finds a way to call his wife. Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction, you’re guaranteed to like this story.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: The son of a Chinese mail-order bride turns his back on his heritage and his mother’s magic origami toys. If you like human interest stories with just a touch of science fiction, you’ll love this one.

Score: 4 stars

Buy it now on Amazon

“double cheeseburger” – 1,250,000 search results on Google
“triple cheeseburger” – 63,200 search results
“quadruple cheeseburger” – 7,290 search results
“quintuple cheeseburger” – 1,580 search results
“sextuple cheeseburger” – 58 search results
“septuple cheeseburger” – 22 search results
“octuple cheeseburger” – 30 search results
“nonuple cheeseburger” – 9 search results (heh)
“decuple cheeseburger” – zero search results

(Are you thinking what I’m thinking? We have the technology!)

Have you ever wondered how to become a supervillain? Jim Bernheimer might be a few steps ahead of you: his new novel, “Origins of a D-List Supervillain,” is a unique and hilarious tale of a budding supervillain.

The main character, Cal Stringel, is a talented engineer who gets blacklisted from the high-tech industry when he tries to switch jobs. His boss, who moonlights as Ultraweapon (think Tony Stark, only more arrogant) in his state-of-the-art powersuit, makes sure Cal’s future is ruined. What’s a guy to do? Become a supervillain, of course!

And so begins one of the most entertaining supervillain stories I’ve ever read. The protagonist, who was based on Randall from Clerks, is in it for all the usual reasons: make some money, get some revenge, make a name for himself. He take the reader along on his journey from a small-timer newbie criminal (robbing jewelry stores in his homemade armor), to a supplier for more successful villains, to finally becoming a bona fide villain himself, all the while plotting vengeance against his former boss.

Along the way, he gets in every sort of trouble you can imagine (and some that you can’t), ends up in quite a few brawls with superheroes (which Bernheimer describes in great, amazing detail), makes some villain friends, meets the girl of his dreams and, of course, engages in random acts of villainy.

This book is the prequel to the bestselling “Confessions of a D-List Supervillain,” which starts exactly where “Origins” ends. The two books blend together perfectly – if you’ve never read either of them, I highly recommend starting with “Origins” and moving on to “Confessions,” which has even more superpowered shenanigans and misadventures of everyone’s favorite underdog supervillain.

The book’s diverse cast features many unusual characters with peculiar superpowers (snot that turns into cement, the ability to make monsters out of plants, etc), which is something a lot of books about superheroes/villains seem to lack. As the plot unfolds, we learn more about these secondary characters, the world they live in and even the romantic lives of several superpowered characters.

If you enjoy superhero movies, if you find yourself occasionally rooting for villains, if you think Joker might be a more interesting character than Batman, or if you just want a fun and entertaining book to read during your flight, you’ll probably love the “Origins of a D-List Supervillain” as well as its sequel.

Score: five stars

Amazon link

My new author photo

Behold!

hoarse

The 27th century is a sausagefest.

Every proper mad scientist needs a cow in his lab.

Bad guys suck at shooting.

Good guys never miss.

The dystopian future will have badass leather jackets.

If at first you don’t succeed, drop some acid and repeat.

Bulletproof vests are for chickens – skintight white shirts and cool-looking coats are obviously more functional. (Except when they’re not.)

If you shoot somebody with a tranquilizer gun, they’ll pass out that very instant.

Ditto for bullets.

And blows to the head.

Your whole world’s timeline got reset and the mentally unstable people with superpowers whom you’ve apprehended in the past are still free? Meh.

When needed, bad guys can knock out good guys and switch clothes with them in less than a minute.

Mentally unstable old people with bad memory may not be the best secret-keepers, especially if the secret is key to saving the world.

No matter what happens, there will always be just enough time for a heartfelt 3-minute discussion about feelings.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. (And bald people in black suits.)

Nobody will ever recognize you if you put on a hoodie.

Facial recognition on omnipresent cameras: 60% of the time, it works every time.

You can’t have a resistance movement without a rugged-looking Irishman.

“a moment of silence” – 43,700,000 search results on Google
“a day of silence” – 1,500,000 results
“a minute of silence” – 527,000 results
“a second of silence” – 366,000 results
“a year of silence” – 344,000 results
“a century of silence” – 334,000 results
“a decade of silence” – 234,000 results
“an hour of silence” – 226,000 results
“a month of silence” – 120,000 results
“an era of silence” – 96 results
“a quarter of silence” – 80 results
“a fortnight of silence” – 70 results
“a millennium of silence” – 57 results
“an eon of silence” – 39 results
“an epoch of silence” – 31 results
“a score of silence” – 23 results
“a Planck time unit of silence” – zero results

For all you stalkers, biographers, NSA operatives and/or assorted bored web denizens. In no particular order:

“Blackout” by Breathe Carolina
“Angel Main Theme – the Sanctuary Extended Remix” by Darling Violetta
“Lights” by Ellie Goulding
“Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters
“Happy Together” by The Fortunes
“Love Me Again” by John Newman
“I Feel Fantastic” by Jonathan Coulton
“Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5
“Liberi Fatali” by Nobuo Uematsu
“Can’t Stop” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Drops of Jupiter” by Train
“Storm” by Vanessa Mae
“Nymphetamine Fix” by Cradle of Filth
“Carol of the Bells (Acapella Mix)” by BarlowGirl

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