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Steel and Other Stories by Richard Matheson October 3, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 9:42 PM
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A book review by Alexander “Stigz” Castiglione

Richard Matheson is no stranger to having his written works adapted into movies.  I Am Legend starring Will Smith or The Box – which was an adaptation of Button, Button – starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden.  This new collection of stories which drops on September 27th 2011 is no different.  The first story in this collection, “Steel,” is what the new Hugh Jackman movie, Real Steel, is based on.

However, in this reader’s opinion, “Steel” is one of the weaker stories in this stellar collection of many yet unpublished Matheson short stories.  Several of them have an air of familiarity, and for good reason: One was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode, while another – “The Splendid Source” – appeared in a Family Guy episode.  That being said, Matheson’s story telling abilities are magnificent, even in the works that are only a few short pages.

Many of those contained in this collection are thinly veiled parables, warning the reader against anything and everything from mindless superstitions in “The Wedding” to a commentary on teenage impetuousness in “The Conqueror.”  Nearly every story in this collection has some deeper meaning, some allegorical point to make, and for that very reason, Matheson deserves his recent induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  While some stories are borderline comedic, others are vastly disturbing, echoing an almost Kubrick-ian pathos which will set your teeth on edge.

Despite the collection of short stories being over 300 pages, this reader finished the whole book in a few short hours, as the imagery, crafted storytelling, and ease of language makes you flip page after page.  From harrowing post-apocalyptic tales blanched in anguish and distaste to a prophetic dissertation warning us about nuclear war, Matheson plays every position in this collection of rare and unpublished work – showing us he is capable of comedy, sci-fi and even creating modern-day parables.

It’s relatively easy reading which veneers over hard to digest concepts.  Read it…

4/5 Slugs of Steel

 

Machine Man by Max Barry September 21, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 7:52 AM
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A book review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

It’s no secret that we are all slaves to technology in some respect, growing more and more subservient every day.  We rely on GPS to get us to and from places which really aren’t that hard to get to, we bank on our DVR’s to record shows that we don’t have time to watch when they air, and when we go anywhere without our phones, we feel naked.  Max Barry takes those notions and dissects them in his newest satire, Machine Man.

Set in the not-so distant future (or even right now, as it’s never really discussed), this book follows an introverted, socially inept scientist named Charles through a harrowing and at times disturbing adventure steeped in robotics and cybernetic attachments.  After an industrial accident, he replaces his lost limb with a robotic one, and then soon realizes how “inefficient” biological limbs are.  From there, our protagonist goes on to create, and inadvertently revolutionize, every part of human physiology.  From Z-Specs to better skin to biomechanical arms for combat, every part of the human physique is upgraded.

Within this paradigm, Barry proceeds to satirize and critique the use of technology and how it debilitates our very humanity, and subtly jabs at the worldwide corporate structure.  Paralleling corporations to god-like power struggles, he illustrates the corporate hierarchy and ulterior motives we see all too often in reality.  He even takes a jab at insurance companies, and how, from a financial point of view, individual parts are worth more than the whole; a disturbing and unsettling truth.

This wonderfully worded and splendidly crafted satire is also in the works for a movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky (director of The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi).  Considering how brilliant I feel Aronofsky’s movies are and how intricately crafted this book is, I personally cannot wait to catch the flick.  However, I do urge you to read the book!

An introverted scientist whose brilliant ideas are often misused by the higher-ups of the corporate food chain, through both his language and actions you feel as if you are talking to a mad scientist yourself.  The author’s grasp on biology and medicine is rock-steady, intertwining medical terminology, plot and character development with orchestral skill, while also creating round and dynamic characters throughout; not to mention his ability to capture the confusion and loss of time mad scientist Charles Neumann experiences.  The reader feels as if they are just as lost and confused: which is a good thing, since that is what Barry wants you to feel like.  At times months pass in pages, and at others, minutes pass in the course of a chapter.  In this respect, Max Barry is a master of setting the tempo of his story to whatever he sees fit, whether it’s a cybernetic doctor accidentally destroying a room or slowly losing his grasp on reality.

The book is a relatively easy read, and the choppy sentences may seem awkward at first, but the structure truly highlights how the narrator is: socially inept, brilliant and not very personable.  Once you get used to it you will be flying through the pages like a cyborg through the landscape, instead of being carried by mechanized legs though, you will be catapulted through the story by a commanding use of diction and plot.  Check out the book, read it before the movie comes out, and tell all your friends.

4/5 Mechanized Parts

 

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk September 11, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 5:16 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Ever wonder what it was like to be in Hell? Or ever wonder what it’s like to be a 13 year-old fat girl who dies from a marijuana overdose? Well, you need not muse any longer, because Palahliuk’s newest novel gives you both viewpoints, as only Chuck can deliver: mired in unpalatable truths and tethered in the places between reason and reality.
His newest piece, which hits the shelves tentatively on October 18 2011, is your standard Chuck satire, an allegorical piece truly assaulting the notions of what is moral and what is not. It looks at our entire paradigm of “moral behavior” and what is a damning offense, and fleshes out the idiosyncrasies in our cultural logic. If you honk the horn more than 500 times in your life, say “fuck” more than 300 times, or throw more than a dozen cigarette butts in the street, you better be ready for warmer climes, according to the narrator.

Almost the negative image to his portrayal in Haunted, this book focuses not on Heaven, but on Hell, and what the author thinks it would be like. Complete with nauseating landscapes of the Ocean of Wasted Sperm, the Dandruff Desert, and the Sea of Aborted Fetuses, the narrator paints a vivid and equally revolting picture of what you heathens can expect in the afterlife.

Operating under a character paradigm loosely based on the cult classic The Breakfast Club, we follow a disillusioned preteen and her unlikely cohorts through the hellish landscape and brimstone background. With a new take on the rebel, the jock, the girly girl, and the dork, little miss Madison Spencer, our protagonist, takes on a twisted form of the Ally Sheedy character in this allegorical foray into the underworld. As always, expect people to kick the proverbial bucket in the most twisted of ways, interlaced with a plot that coalesces, creating a story which is truly symphonic literature. Some Palahniuk fiends may think they have it all figured out halfway into the book, but trust this Chuck-junkie, you won’t, not until the last 20 or so pages at least.

As always, expect metaphors and seemingly useless facts to delineate what the author is trying to convey, like demons named Zaebos, Succorbenoth, and Kabol. Get ready for Hitler to get an ass-whooping, Caligula to lose his manhood, and to meet some of our collective favorites, like Sinatra and Cobain, spending eternity in Hades. Also, expect some cunnilingus performed on an ancient, giant demon named Psezpolnica by a severed head. Yes, it gets that twisted, but what else have you come to expect from Chuck Palahniuk? And by the way, all those phone calls from market research companies you get right before you sit down to enjoy your dinner, well, those are done by demons and damned souls. Think about that next time somebody calls and asks you about your chewing gum preference while your Lean Cuisine is getting cold.

Besides the wonderfully repelling locales and characters, it shows in the subtext how we constantly, throughout human history, turn old idols into new demons; and we continue to do it today – just not as flagrantly. Complete with plot twists, perfectly timed flashbacks, and hyperbole-enriched characters like Maddy Spencer’s eco-obsessed, egocentric, billionaire, movie star parents who toss the 13 year old Xanax like Ju-Ju Bees and force her to watch porn; get ready for a bitch slap to the face of us – Americans. Obviously a furtive jab at the over-medicating of our children, and how we shield them from pornography and sex – one of the few things that binds us all as a species, as usual, nothing is safe from the reach of Chuck’s pen, nothing is sacred from the indelible swipe of his sword made of words.

In closing, if you are a Palahniuk fan, get a first edition of this book the day it comes out – it takes the sordid descriptions, ubiquitous hopelessness and the extensive degradation we expect and creates a wonderfully crafted metaphor and gilded allegory for our times. If you’re looking for a leisurely read, grab the book anyway, Palahniuk’s storytelling abilities are unparalleled.

4.5/5 Pitchforks

P.S. I’d like to thank the people at Doubleday for presenting me with an advanced copy of the book 6 weeks before it hit the shelves so that I could complete this review. Thank you.

 

Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson by Jann Wenner & Corey Seymour October 8, 2010

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A Review by Alexander Stigz CastiglioneDriving around South America with a spider monkey in his pocket, stinking up the car with rum-drenched monkey vomit…Nailing a pig heart to Jack Nicholson’s front door while blaring a recording of animals dying from a boom-box in the woods…Throwing an IBM Selectric typewriter out the window and firing a few .44 caliber rounds in it.

Off color?  Definitely.  Madness?  Maybe.  Hunter S. Thompson doing all of this?  Absolutely.

And those stories are only the beginning of a life steeped in booze, sex, drugs, and the American Dream.  Gonzo takes these stories, climactic and wild as they are, and presents them in such a way that you close the book, actually feeling like you knew Gonzo himself.

Thompson fired literary bullets with fury and precision, much like the machine gun of the same name; belt fed on a diet of drug and a menu of madness, Hunter Thompson “shot out of the womb angry, and left in exactly the same way.”  This biography written by two of his colleagues at Rolling Stone magazine truly illustrates the eccentricity and enigmatically magnetic man who Hunter S. Thompson was.  In the form of an oral biography, they talked to hundreds of his friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.  From his wife, to actors Johnny Depp and Jack Nicholson, all the way to his fellow writers at Rolling Stone, the book tells a story from every conceivable angle.  Some thought he was a genius, others thought he was a prick; the beauty is that the book let’s you decide.

And it does this by being filled with wonderful little nuggets of information that most people in my generation wouldn’t know.  Did you know Thompson ran for Sheriff of Denver?  He actually got pretty close to winning.  How about how the writer of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas spent his free time?  Yes, that’s right, shooting at gas cans and propane tanks at Owl Farm when he wasn’t writing insane and incisive contemporary literature.  What was a “Hunter Breakfast”?  A six-pack of Heineken, half a grapefruit, a hard-boiled egg, and a few joints of some primo Thai stick.  For lunch?  A little LSD here, some burgers there, and some booze everywhere.

There are extremely too many stories in the piece to even begin to touch upon all of them, and several times, I was laughing so hard, people were looking at me like I was tripping on acid myself.  From the Christmas cards he sent out to friends and family that said “Ho!Ho!Ho!  I shit down your chimney! – Hunter” to his sexual conquests, all the way to his prolific and infamous drug use, it is the understatement of the century to say Gonzo lived “an interesting life.”  But it doesn’t key in on these things specifically.  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think the Fear and Loathing author possessed, as one story-teller put it, “the keenest political mind” he had ever encountered.  He rubbed elbows with Presidential candidates, actors, musicians, drug dealers, and bikers alike, something extremely rare for an artist/writer in any period in history.

Some parts of the book drag on, while others you’re flying through, reading fifty or sixty pages before you realize it.  Overall, the wildly outlandish stories outweigh the mundane little tidbits about his home life/work ethic/family.  Stick with it, and you will be laughing your ass off.

One thing is for sure: Still waters may run deep, but the raging rapids of Thompson’s life are vastly more interesting.  Read the book.

4/5 Tabs of Acid

 

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis October 2, 2010

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 2:55 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Biographies are a tricky thing.  Autobiographies are even trickier.  And most Rock Star autobiographies, are the trickiest.  They are either ghost written by another writer or have hundreds of pages of drivel and self boasting.  Scar Tissue does not subscribe to these tenets.

Penned by the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman himself, this book is extraordinarily entertaining, infinitely insightful, and surprisingly heartfelt.  In addition, this book delves into almost everything, from his childhood, to his addictions, to the rise of the Chili Peppers from shady Hollywood clubs to the international stage.  It leaves no stone unturned, nor any addiction or sexual conquest left out.

I knew I had to read this book because as soon as I opened it in the store, out of the 461 pages, I landed on one with a passage that resonated with me, played certain notes in my own philosophical symphony.  This would be a recurring theme.  From the way he described his recreational endeavors, to the spiritual way Kiedis viewed music, I felt very connected with the writer.  Not uncommon in the world of literature, but very uncommon in Rock and Roll autobiographies.

The piece is quite unique in the respect that it takes us through his life, and at the same time, inserts lyrics from songs, most of which were inspired by the events just read.  “Under the Bridge,” for instance, was written by Kiedis during a three day heroin binge under the East LA overpasses while he shot up with gangbangers.  “Under the Bridge downtown/Is where I drew my blood/Under the bridge downtown/I could not get enough” ring any bells?  This continues throughout the book, giving you insight into a very dynamic life and even more dynamic writing process. I was a fan before I read the book, and an even bigger one after I finished.  Their composition style of music was something remarkable, as most of their songs stemmed from jamming out and seeing where it went.  This is something most bands lost since the hay day of expressive rock and roll with bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Rolling Stones.

Pictures of his childhood, adolescence and adult life are even included, which contain photos of him getting high for the first time: 12 years old with his father in his kitchen.  He even recounts how he lost his virginity: to his father’s girlfriend.  He talks about love lost, spirituality, addiction and music.   And it doesn’t end there.  There are far too many insights into his life, delineated so artistically and poignantly, that I can’t even begin to tell you.

All I can tell you is that you need to read this book.  It is a vivid telling of a story that needs to be told, a recount of a life lived in the fast lane, with lessons learned, diseases contracted, women loved and lost, and tragedies trumped.  Read it, you won’t be let down, and you maybe, just maybe, will look at the world a little different afterwards.  And as Kiedis says on the last page, “I may still have some scar tissue, but that’s all right, I’m still making progress.”

We all have scars.  It’s what story they tell to us and what we learn from them that matters.

5/5 Scars

 

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson August 18, 2010

A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Hunter S. Thompson’s first novel, and consequently a New York Times best seller, was penned by the cult-classic writer when he was only twenty-two years of age.  Although this book isn’t nearly as rampantly repugnant or psychedelically serious as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, arguably his most famous and prolific work, it still has some of the elements that make Gonzo who he is.

A slow read at first, the book is an obvious tip of the hat to some of Thompson’s contemporaries and literary icons, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, with his short, punchy sentences and occasionally deeply, insightful paragraphs that border on poetry, much like the end of many Fitzgerald chapters.  It also has a hint of Hemingway, with quick, jab-like sentences, ranging from ultra-descriptive to borderline innocuous.  Literary style aside, the book picks up slowly; be warned.

However, by halfway through if you stick with it; you start to get the taste of Thompson we all know: A tinge of disdain after the shots of rum and short explosions of literary fury.  The book, without giving too much away, builds up, only to come crashing down – a tired tragedy of the under-worked, over-drinking journalist in the tropics.  At this point, the story starts to burn like a shot of cheap whiskey with no chaser – much like Gonzo’s writing and very much like his lifestyle.  Truth be told, the story, much like other American literature coming out of the mid 20th century, is almost entirely character based with the plot being driven completely by the actions of the round and dynamic players in the novel, like the scheming editor Lotterman, or the beautiful boozehound Chenault.  If you’re looking for an easy read, this may not be it, as you have to form these detailed mental images from the pages of the brawling drunks, shady cantinas, and blistering tropical sun on your own, and keep those images held tight.  He consistently references characters whom the reader hasn’t met in the past twenty or thirty pages; therefore, you have to stay on your toes when reading.  This is not for the Dan Brown crowd – yearning for a page turner to pass the subway ride.

In short, I can’t tell you much about the story without giving away the good parts but I can tell you that unless you are a fan of Gonzo journalism, written accounts of drunken debauchery and rum-soaked lust, you may not like this.  However, for all you fans of underground classics like J.G. Ballard’s Cocaine Nights and F. Scott Fitzgerald fiends alike, you’ll pound this book back like a cold shot of rum.  After all, this is just the diary to read for that.

Overall: 3/5 Shots

 

Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk May 27, 2010

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 7:55 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Anyone that knows Chuck knows what to expect when they crack the spine of one of his gritty novels.  They know that they are about to get hit with a hyperbole-soaked, loathing-enriched story that’s high in distaste for the human condition and low in moral fiber.  This piece is no different, and its disturbing qualities are only exceeded by its truthfulness, no matter how hard it is to accept.

For the rabid Palahniuk punks, this book is a synthesis of earlier works, like Diary, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, and a few nuances of one of his most offensive pieces (as if everything Chuck writes is not omnisciently offensive and equally unnerving), Snuff. The story is simple: It follows a washed up Hollywood starlet and her personal assistant/savior/guide/maid/confidant.

From a literary standpoint, it is equal with all his other works when it comes to storyline and plot points, however, voracious fans of the nihilistic writer (like myself) will most likely have the whole story figured out by page 70.  However, this book, unlike other pieces by Palahniuk, is unusually short – only weighing in at around 170 pages.  Don’t be mistaken though, it’s dripping with disdain and laced with equally lovable and loathsome characters throughout.

With this particular book, I cannot really say much without giving away the plot, but do yourself a favor and read it!  It’s not a hard read like Pygmy, his previous release, and film buffs will love the name dropping that he subtly ties into the subtext.  He comments on film legends like John Ford and DeMille, but also draws light on the lesser known tragedies of the silver-screen starlets in true Chuck fashion.  Like every other book, you will be full of useless knowledge and disturbing factoids about the world’s most timeless and well known faces and behind-the-scenes geniuses. From Bogart to Hitchcock to Minelli, no name is safe and no star in the sky of Old Hollywood is given refuge.  He bares his literary teeth, and bites the ass of America’s favorite past-time: Sitting back and watching someone else live their ideal life.  Like I said, this is pure Chuck, however brief the novel and nobody is safe.

Like his other work, he continues to find new and interesting narrative devices to separate him from the rest of the post-modern, post-anything writers that live on the shelves of bookstores worldwide.  Just like his journalist in Lullaby using the newspaper ads to tell us something or via the false medical diagnosis in Choke, he writes through the eyes of Hazie, who is writing her screenplay as we read the book.  In this particular piece, he indirectly calls out the cancer of name-dropping and brand name subservience that, more and more in today’s fast paced world, everybody is contracting.  I don’t want to ruin it, but by page six, you will have heard enough about this actor or that director, this face cream or that designer purse.  And he lays it on thick, as always, to really have you thinking outside of the standard framework of modern decadence and look at the absurdity of it all.

Rabid Chuck fans: Go out now and get a first edition!  Newcomers to the poet Palahniuk: read his earlier stuff and then devour this: you will not be disappointed.