Monday, June 25, 2012

Double Book Review: Books With Weird Titles Edition: Wool and Draculas

Here are two books I've read recently, with not much in common other than having weird titles and being released directly to digital.

Wool, by Hugh Howey

Wool is the first in a long series of books about wool about people living in a mostly-underground silo after some sort of apocalypse makes the outside world inhabitable. Their only view of the outside world is through cameras that get dusty over time, until someone is sent out to clean them (with wool), then inevitably succumb to the poisonous atmosphere.

It's a small book with big ideas. It's small in its novella length, but also in its limited scope. It follows one character through an intimate story, never straying too far into the larger consequences of it. Yet the small story explores bigger themes of, among other things, truth and beauty.

There's nothing too new here, but it's nicely written, and balances emotional depth with hard sci-fi ideas. The second one was also good, but felt more like a tour of the setting to set up future instalments than a story where anything actually happens. Each instalment is only a few bucks and they are released frequently; it's definitely worth checking out the first one to decide if it's worth jumping into the rest of the series.

Draculas, by Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Kilborn, Blake Crouch, and J. A. Konrath

Yeah, four authors. Yeah, Draculas with an S.

When an elderly, dying millionaire buys a skull with sharp, stabby teeth, then proceeds to stab himself in the neck with it, it starts an outbreak of vampires with similar bitey stabby tendencies. That's the premise of Draculas, in which vampires are slobbering, near-mindless animals with rows of needle-sharp teeth that need blood like we need air. It's a refreshing take on the played-out vampire trend.

The violence in Draculas is over the top, managing to be both hilarious and disturbing. It's clear that all four authors had a hell of a lot of fun writing it, which makes it a hell of a lot of fun to read.

There's not much in the way of plot; this is a summer action movie in novel form. But having no idea who will live or die keeps it interesting enough, especially with the strong characters. I particularly liked Randall, the borderline-challenged lumberjack whose substitution of "vampires" with "draculas" spreads through the characters faster than the vampire epidemic itself. And I won't spoil anything, but Benny the Clown's story takes some of the greatest twists and turns.

Despite the police-lineup-sized list of authors, Draculas is one cohesive novel-length story. On top of that, the Kindle Edition of Draculas comes with a bunch of DVD-like extras in it, including short stories by the authors and deleted scenes. Of particular interest to me as a writer, they included the unedited string of emails between authors that got the project going and worked out the logistics of writing it. It's fascinating — maybe even more fascinating than the book itself — to get that raw look at the creative process.

Anyway, if you're into monsters with sharp teeth and their intersection with human flesh, give Draculas a try.

P.S. It was almost impossible to write that review without mentioning sparkly vampires.







Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Light and Dark in Daily Deals

Dealfind.com, one of those daily deal Groupon clones that everyone got sick of, often posts questionable deals. Some are only useless or frivilous (oh hi Justin Bieber tooth brush), but others are actively deceptive.

One such deal was for a "Crystal Bala Bracelet With Magnetic Hematite Beads." While careful to avoid specific health claims, they do claim that "in Buddhism, the pañca bala, or Five Strengths are critical to the achievement of enlightenment. Now you can keep them close to you every day with the Bala Bracelet."



How does a mere bracelet help you achieve enlightenment? Well:

"Crystals catch and refract the light every time you move [and] six beads of magnetic hematite polarize the effect of light and dark"

Sciencey yet spiritual! It must work. It's not quite the magnetic bracelets you see at summer festivals that claim to cure cancer, but still, manipulative and deceptive.

Luckily Dealifind has a forum to clear up any misconceptions about the products, so I dug a little deeper. Here's my conversation:

Mike (me)

Can you provide a link to the peer reviewed scientific articles supporting the claim "six beads of magnetic hematite polarize the effect of light and dark"? I'm sure they just got left off by accident. Thanks!

Amy (Dealfind Admin)

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your inquiry.
Our deal page states:

"In Buddhism, the pañca bala, or Five Strengths are critical to the achievement of enlightenment. Now you can keep them close to you every day with the Bala Bracelet. Each of the crystal-encrusted balls represents one of the bala: Faith, Energy, Mindfulness, Concentration and Wisdom. Six beads of smooth magnetic hematite provide the perfectly polarized color choice to offset the crystals."

For more of a scientific background, please contact Widget Love at 1.800.990.6771.

Thank you!


Mike

I have to call them just to have any idea about whether or not the bracelet does what it says it does? :(

Can you at least explain what "polarize the effect of light and dark" and "polarized color" even mean?

I want to know more about what I'm getting into before buying into this sca--...er...product. I'm afraid polarizing my dark could have serious medical effects.

Thx!


The above post was deleted shortly after posting it. Later:

Mike

Oh fiddlesticks, I think my follow-up post failed to go through so I'll post my question again:

Can you at least explain what "polarize the effect of light and dark" and "polarized color" mean?

Thanks!


Mesha (Dealfind Admin)

Hi Mike,

Thank you for your post.

In this sense polarized means that although the colours range from one extreme to another (both dark and light) they compliment each other and the crystals.

For more of a scientific background, please contact Widget Love at 1.800.990.6771.

I hope this helps! :)


Mike

Ah, so it's saying "there are black rocks and white rocks but they are both rocks."

Thanks! That clears up everything! I'll take 50!


That post was deleted too.

Yeah, I'm kind of just being a dick. But trying to sell people bullshit (bullshit capitalizing on the perfectly respectable religion of Buddhism) is also pretty dickish. So screw Dealfind and the dickshit company they promote. It's just a cheap bracelet, but every penny milked from gullible people through lies is a penny too much.


Monday, June 04, 2012

Snowmen

I've been going through my old Google documents as I organize my Google Drive, and came across the following CBC story contest that I entered a few years ago:
We are looking for you to send to us a brief story (100 – 250 words) using the following opening and closing lines.
Opening: “The snowman grinned malevolently as…”
Closing: “…buried alive.”
The rest is up to you. Fill in the middle with whatever you want. Make us laugh, make us scream, but definitely make us want to read on.
I never got a response (so I guess I didn't win), but in case you're curious, here's the story:


Snowmen

The Snowman grinned malevolently as he tugged the frozen carrot out of his fiancée’s eye socket. Her blood looked black by the light of the full moon, splattered all over his son’s snow sculpture.

He imagined the kid coming home from that freaky magic club of his, then running to the yard to find his mother motionless beside the three boulders of snow he’d stacked in the morning. The Snowman felt nothing when he pictured his son’s future melting away. Not even a trickle of regret. The nickname he’d just christened himself with was appropriate, what with the heart of ice.

Why should he feel bad? He told her not to snoop around in his tool shed.

He turned towards the shed and imagined a picture of his face in the newspaper. Latest Victim Was Snowman’s Own Fiancée, the headlines would read. Yes, famous enough for a nickname! The Snowman giggled. Right up there with Zodiac and Son of Sam! He moaned a puff of vapour into the air and tightened his grip on the carrot.

Snow crunched behind him. He swiveled around, and found himself making eye contact with two lumps of coal. His son’s sculpture wanted its nose back.

Only then did his frozen heart melt just a little, allowing tiny icicles of regret to stab at his insides. He dropped the carrot. Fists of snow thumpety-thumped him to the ground, and as quickly as his regret had been revived, it was buried alive.




See also: In Triumph