Book Review: SANTA CLAUS SAVES THE WORLD by Robert Devereaux

Santa

I’ve been reviewing and plugging Robert Devereaux’s work since I reviewed his masterful Santa Steps Out way back in 2000. I’ve given his books books as Christmas gifts to I don’t know how many folks, and pointed folks toward them during that season nearly every year on my blog. I even read all of Santa Steps Out out loud to my girlfriend. There are good reasons for all that attention, and those reasons are definitely on display in Devereaux’s latest, Santa Claus Saves The World.

I need to point out that these books are a series and follow a definite chronology. Those new to Devereaux’s Santa should definitely read Santa Steps Out (which I reviewed here) and Santa Claus Conquers The Homophobes (reviewed here) before reading this one. In the first book, Santa steps out on his beloved wife, having a torrid affair with the Tooth Fairy, and all sorts of mayhem and wonder result. In the second book, Santa becomes concerned about all the hatred in the world leveled at gay people and takes definitive action to put an end to it. Santa Claus Saves The World is a much shorter book (a novella, actually), and serves as an open-ended coda of sorts to the earlier works.

It does, of course, tell its own tale. This time, Santa and his flock (and allies ranging from Aphrodite to God himself) take it upon themselves to fix humanity itself, to banish all the horrible and nagging imperfections in our basic psyches and make the world the place of wonder it has the potential to be. This involves a lot of hard work by Santa and his elves, and a lot of hardcore fucking. Folks already familiar with the series know very well by now that Devereaux’s stories are violent and profane, in your face, and brilliantly written. They also elevate the carnal to a wonderful spiritual level, a celebration of love and of  life itself. If you’re easily offended, stay the hell away from his work, but if you can enjoy (or at least tolerate) seeing beloved childhood mythical figures engaging in the wildest, most pornographic sexual activities imaginable (and some stark, inventive violence), you’ll be rewarded with some incredible, thought-provoking fiction. As he puts it in his author’s bio, “…as long as one’s writing illuminates characters in all their kinks, quirks, kindnesses, and extremes, the imagination must be free to explore nasty places as well as nice, or what’s the point?” Robert Devereaux’s imagination explores a lot.

I enjoyed this book, but it’s definitely a pleasure for folks who’ve visited this North Pole before. The beloved characters from the earlier books are here, but the full development of their personalities already occurred in the first two books, and the narrative velocity of this shorter tale doesn’t allow much backpedaling to explain who they are or what happened to them before this new adventure. Reading this book alone will spoil the previous tales in a big way. But if you read the trilogy in order, this won’t be an issue; you’ll know these people very well by the time you crack this book’s cover.

Read Robert Devereaux’s Santa tales, they will entertain and challenge you, and may even make you open your eyes a bit more.

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Down on Kinglet Road (ABC Wednesday, 3/26/14)

Kinglet

I was seven or so when we moved to Kinglet Road.

Our new house was a single story brick suburban box, one of many such in the new development named “Bonanza” because, apparently, of how much it didn’t resemble the Cartwright ranch on TV. The whole development was built on top of a landfill, and when I dug in the back yard for dinosaur bones I would find rotting trash instead.

This was sort of a workable metaphor for Bonanza in general, and for Kinglet Road especially.

Though it is now a loathed place of painful memories and anti-nostalgia, Kinglet Road had potential. When we arrived there, our backyard ended on deep pine forest, and that forest became a refuge for me through my childhood. I spent many days exploring alone, getting away from my various cruel stepmothers and my vicious drunk of an old man. I developed my woods sense there, a sensibility that made me very comfortable leading wilderness trips as an adult. I remember streaking nude along the paths like some pint-sized Tarzan, clambering into the trees to spy on people, howling like a wolf when I was the only one around.

My memories of the old homestead are dank and sharp-edged. All the dark struggles I fight still were launched there in abuse and neurosis and simmering parental rage. Childhood at Kinglet Road was no gilded dream.

As Thomas Wolfe has been quoted so often it’s a terrible cliche, you can’t go home again. Not that I would want to. Home may be where the heart is, but my heart is not in that suburban box on Kinglet Road. For me, home isn’t a place you come from, it’s a place you’re going to, a place you build yourself. Just like family.

Now, Kinglet Road is surrounded by development, and to live there is to know stripmall paradise intimately. All the wild beauty I enjoyed and escaped to is gone.

And, thank the gods, so am I.

K

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter L. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, feel free try to check out my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIt’s been very well reviewed (KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.”) and is great for action-adventure lovers of all ages.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

The Joker’s Cold, Cold Heart (ABC Wednesday & Song of the Week, 3/21/14)

The JokerThis week’s ABC Wednesday comes on Friday due to indecision and scheduling conflicts, and I’m combining it with the Song of the Week for efficiency’s sake.

I just completed the video game Batman: Arkham Origins. I’d gone into it with lowered expectations because, unlike the earlier Arkham games, this wasn’t written by the great Paul Dini, and it wasn’t developed by the original outfit, Rocksteady, but by a new developer using Rocksteady’s technical assets. I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised, I was blown away. The writing is probably the best in the games, with a strong storyline and some deeper insight into the characters’ minds; this is a grittier Arkham game (if that’s possible), with a more mature outlook. It operates on a more street-level scale than even Arkham City did, and does wondrous things with a full roster of Batman villains. And it has, by far, the best (and least video-gamey) boss fights in the series.

Most notable was the Joker. Now, for years Mark Hamill has owned this part both in animated and game forms. The fact that he wasn’t doing the vocals here was another point of trepidation. But let me tell you, Troy Baker is a phenomenal new Joker, playing the role with a similar manic energy but imbuing it with a subtle raspy cruelty that, I think, actually suits the character better. This Joker is genuinely creepy, and you get to play through Batman’s very first encounter with him. It’s really astonishing stuff. And if you play, just wait until you get to the Joker’s lair…it’s epic.

So, in celebration of Jokers past and present, I offer up this dark little number for song of the week.

“Cold Cold Heart” by The Joker (Troy Baker)

J

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter K. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, feel free try to check out my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIt’s been very well reviewed (KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.”) and is great for action-adventure lovers of all ages.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Music From Mars (Song of the Week, 3/14/14)

Veronica-Mars-Season-2

I was always a huge fan of Veronica MarsRecently I started re-watching it with Nydia, who’d never seen it. We’re about a third of the way into the second season. Also, today the Veronica Mars movie hit theaters. So what the hell, here’s the theme song from the show as our song of the week.

“We Used To Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols

Book Review: CRYPTOZOICA by Mark Ellis

Cryptozoica

“This whole thing sounds like the plot for a lot of B movies.”

Thus speaks one of the main characters in Mark Ellis’s dinosaur adventure, Cryptozoica, and the statement reflects what I expected going in with this novel. I had reservations based on a handful of factors. The cover was brightly colored and a tad cheesy. I knew that Mr. Ellis had been a writer for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle line of macho testosterone-and-explosions books, and frankly my limited exposure to Gold Eagle books over the years hadn’t impressed me (though I never read any of the ones written pseudonymously by Ellis). And from the blurb describing the book, this seemed squarely in the pulp tradition of lost worlds, dinosaurs, beautiful women, and heroes named Jack.

That formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I happen to love pulp, as anyone reading my own work knows. But I can’t stand bad writing, and a good bit of pulp, both original and modern, is pretty awful.

By the time I finished the prologue — which dramatically ties the novel’s background to Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle — any reservations I had were chased away and I knew I was in good hands. Ellis’s writing is strong and vivid, as any good adventure writer’s should be, and he has an adept sense of story.

To go into much detail would be to spoil some of the book’s many pleasures, but I will say that it is both pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of tale and a lot more. The characters are all interesting and layered, the setting vividly painted, and the action swift and smart and full of cliffhangers. There is science, both real and weird, and Ellis’s excellent research adds interesting detail throughout. There’s a Dragon Lady, Chinese gangsters, secret societies, shifting loyalties, the requisite cool (and hungry) dinosaurs, and a few ancient mysteries. There are also some ever-topical themes relating to science and faith that are very pertinent in our current culture.

The book is nicely illustrated by the cover artist, Jeff Slemons, but I read it on my iPad and the images all loaded at a resolution just low enough to be annoying. It would be nice to see them more clearly (and I know it’s possible, as we managed to do it with my own illustrated novel, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom).

I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Get yourself to Cryptozoica for some good old fashioned adventure with modern smarts.

Imp Propriety (ABC Wednesday, 3/12/14)

imp

“Knock knock,” the imp said.

“Who’s there?” I responded.

“LET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” he screamed at me. His leathery wings spread wide as if to emphasize his words, or to make him seem larger in order to intimidate me. But he was only three inches tall, so it was going to take a great deal more to make him seem large enough to be a physical threat.

I poured another couple fingers of gin into my glass, tossed it all down my throat in a burning wash. I was already feeling wobbly and a bit too hot, but booze seemed appropriate.

“You know I’m not going to do that,” I told him.

He glared at me with eyes like shadows moving on glass. He looked ridiculous, tiny and naked and roughly scaled like a bearded lizard. Batwings of course, with curved talons at all the tips. He was what would be called anatomically correct if he were a doll, his outsized penis erect and bouncing with each step as he paced from point to point within the pentagram I’d painted on the table with my own blood.

“And how in all the sweet hells do you expect me to do your bidding and help your sorry ass out if I’m stuck in this thing?”

The old book had seemed pretty clear on all this, but once I’d done the ritual, and little boner imp appeared, I realized the specifics of getting my way hadn’t been covered sufficiently.

“Can’t you just grant me a wish? Then I’ll banish you and we’ll be done with each other.”

“I can’t grant wishes, bozo. That’s way stronger mojo than I’ve got. I can only help through direct action.” He stopped pacing and glared at me again. “And how do you intend to banish me? I know that mad Arab didn’t put detail like that in that book, ’cause I’ve read it.”

He was right. The ritual was all about getting him here. What to do with him hadn’t been covered at all, other than to say something about dominating the small fiend and using its power.

“Never mind that,” I said. “I’ll banish you, all right? That book isn’t the only source of info I have access to. And if it comes to it, I’ll get a priest in here to deal with you.”

Pssh. A priest. You don’t want to tell one of those guys you’ve been summoning demons; they’ll burn you at the stake.”

“They don’t do that any more.”

“Yeah, right. Buddy, they always do that. Maybe they’re just more subtle about it these days.”

“I don’t think so. They have enough scandals to deal with without getting caught burning people.”

“Never mind the fucking priests,” he snarled. “You need to let out of here so I can help you. If you don’t, you’re just gonna have this bloody star on your table and I’m going to be stuck in it from now on. You really want me living here with you, chatting up your friends? Not to mention I got no place to shit in here, and I feel a big one coming on.”

“What will you do if I let you out?”

“I’ll do all I can to get that bitch to take you back–“

“Don’t call her a bitch.”

He cocked his head at me. “Jesus twitchin’ on the cross, I get all the twits,” he muttered. “Look, moron, you didn’t expect a demon to act all proper didja? I can, mind you…but if I do, that’ll count as your ‘one desire’ I’m supposed to fulfill.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “So I let you out, you help me get Cindy back, then you return to Hell or wherever it is you came from, right?”

“Damn straight.”

“And you won’t pull any tricks on me or hurt me or anything like that, right? Because I am your master.”

“Good grief. Right, right, right. Now let’s do this; the sooner I can get off this dismal plane, the happier I’m gonna be.”

“Okay…” I said. This still seemed a bad idea, but I was at a loss. And what he said seemed to be in accord with the rules implied in the book.

I reached toward the pentagram, paused with my fingers just above one of its bloody lines. “You promise, no tricks?”

He shook his head. “You really gonna trust a promise from me? I’m a demonic imp from the dark beyonds, I don’t make promises. But I do my goddamned job.”

“Okay.” I rubbed my fingers in the blood, breaking the line.

I

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter J. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, feel free try to check out my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIt’s been very well reviewed (KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.”) and is great for action-adventure lovers of all ages.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

When I Was Younger… (Song of the Week, 3/7/14)

Friends

…so much younger than today…

Since I referenced this song earlier in my post about depression and suicide, it only makes sense to have it as our Song of the Week. Enjoy.

(And help them.)

“HELP!” by the Beatles