Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Quakes and Storms" Reviewed

Disclaimer: JENNY is me (Horrogal) Todd Hollins is used under the fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law. For the search engines, Nicky is Nickolaus Pacione. Todd's goat is a running joke that started here and continued here.

JENNY: So here we are again, Todd. Another review. I’m glad you could join me. Why don’t you introduce yourself for any new readers.

Todd: My name is Todd Hollins. I was one of the main characters in Nicky’s "House of Spiders" as well as House of Spiders 3. I am extremely happy that Nicky is done writing about me. I was getting sick of the horrible dialogue and being made to do things for no reason – or for reasons that make me look callous.

JENNY: I know you’re not callous. I enjoy having you here.

Todd: Thanks.

JENNY: Today we are discussing Nicky’s anthology Quakes and Storms. Nicky didn’t include a title page with publication info in the book, but based on the introduction, I’m guessing that this book came out in 2005.

Todd: You mean the rambling, incoherent, ungrammatical introduction?

JENNY: Heh. Yes, that one. The back cover copy is even worse. It has lines like, "Do not photocopy...the contents of this publication unless given kind permission is given by the authors or editors involed with the project" and, "Proceeds of this anthology goes..."

Todd: Nicky never was very good at subject-verb agreement.

JENNY: The first version of this cover also used a copyrighted image of a tornado. Nicky didn't check out the source of his photo—

Todd: An amateur publishing error

JENNY: – and has since blamed everyone but himself for the mistake.

Todd: Typical Nicky. But let’s talk about the stories.

JENNY: There is quite a range of quality, but by far the worst "story" -- and I use that term loosely -- is "Utica, Illinois", written by Nicky himself.

Todd: Rambling, incoherent, and ungrammatical?

JENNY: Yeah. All of Nicky’s typical writing problems show up here. The story lacks in any semblance of a plot. He also writes about "horrors" without actually describing them and makes references to what movie the situation is like.

Todd: Doing reviews of his stories has actually become quite easy. We could just cut and paste our last two comments and be done. And just for fun, we could also say that the stories have homoerotic content. Watching Nicky throw tantrums and try to deny that he is gay is pretty entertaining…and I need some entertainment since I gave up Larry.

JENNY: Larry?

Todd: My goat. He’s screwing female goats now, not…well…

JENNY: TMI, Todd. "Any Port in a Storm" was also a very poorly written story. The story takes place on a cruise ship at a never-specified time in a never-specified place. It’s a story without any background or context.

Todd: And without any characterization. Lovecraft would roll over in his grave if he knew that people were writing such bad stuff and calling it a Cthulhu Mythos story.

JENNY: I thought three stood out as better than the rest -- "Half the Storm", "Just Passing Through" and "Peas in a Pod".

Todd: Well just like Publishamerica, Nicky can scrape up a few good submissions. I liked “Peas in a Pod” the best. In that story, a father and son battle a drought that has all but destroyed their farm, while the son tries to reconnect with his father.

JENNY: In “Half the Storm”, two girls explore the bounds of their friendship before, during, and after a hurricane – with tragic consequences. I thought that the author did a good job capturing the fickleness of kids’ friendships. The only major flaw in this story – and it was almost enough for me to not include it in the top three – is that the girls were described as being nine years old, which was about three years too young for the thoughts and actions ascribed to them.

Todd: And “Just Passing Through” had a nice twist at the end and clean writing.

JENNY: But that’s it for the stories that I thought were successful. Other stories had major problems.

Todd: You mean maybe they could have used some editing?

JENNY: Three of the stories fall victim to bad science. In "Element of Surprise", an asteroid strikes the Eastern Seaboard with almost no warning. "The Way Things Were" has both the unexpected eruption of an active volcano AND an unexpected tidal wave hitting -- again -- the Eastern Seaboard. While these events make for good drama, an asteroid can't sneak up on the Earth with our modern capability to monitor the space around us. Likewise, we have systems in place to watch for tsunamis, and active volcanoes tend to have geologists running all over them.

Todd: You know there’s a difference between making stuff up and getting stuff wrong.

JENNY: Exactly. The bad science that occurs in "The Avalanche of St. Aspin" is of a different kind. The author clearly has some knowledge of what makes snow conditions ripe for an avalanche, but she doesn't know what the FCC does, and she seems to have a limited knowledge of airplanes. She also mentions a victim who had third-degree burns over 95% of her body, but who was given a "good chance of survival". Third-degree burns of that extent would be fatal, probably within hours.

Todd: That story would also have benefited from editing. There were a number of misspelled words and grammatical problems, but the author still has a better has a better grasp of English than Nicky.

JENNY: Yes, Nicky is completely ineffective as an editor. You and I could put together a better anthology.

Todd: Now there’s an idea…

JENNY: Many of the stories, however, fell into that middle ground where the writing is neither good nor horrible, but where there are crucial plot problems or the writing just doesn’t grab one’s attention.

Todd: “Feline Intuition” is a good example of that. During a series of earthquakes, a reporter goes to talk to a man who tells him that because all of the cats have left the city, “the big one is coming.” OK, but if the man knows the big one is coming, WHY is he still sitting in his apartment right in the middle of the action? Why isn’t he five hundred miles down the road to safety?

JENNY: Another story in this category is “Earthquake Forces”. In that story, a massive earthquake hits Vancouver and within 30 minutes, the main character can turn on the TV and learn that Vancouver Island is breaking to bits, that the estimated number of dead was 30,000 and climbing, etc. In thirty minutes.

Todd: The non-fiction confused me the most. Nicky says in the intro that there are three non-fiction pieces. However, only one story is labeled – in the sub-title – as non-fiction. That was Macy Wuesthoff’s “As Lost as a Northwest Alabamian in a Snowstorm”. We’re left to guess about the others.

JENNY: I know that Nicky’s “Flood Memoir” is also non-fiction because he’s said elsewhere that it’s true.

Todd: Truly horrible, you mean.

JENNY: Yep. For a review, see our comments above. I think that two other stories are also non-fiction – “Surviving the Palm Sunday Tornado” and “Fire”.

Todd; So Nicky can’t count.

JENNY: Most likely. And I have to say I liked Macy’s story. It was a bit over-written, but I like her sense of humor, and that kept me reading.

Todd: Agreed.

JENNY: So let’s have some final thoughts on the anthology.

Todd: Nicky’s writing and lack of editing bring down the overall quality of anthology. Larry would have done a better job. Maybe Larry and I should co-edit an anthology. Put the submission call up on Ralan and see what happens.

JENNY: Let me know if you do. Unfortunately, I have a hard time recommending this anthology. The few good stories don’t make up for the weaker ones. Most of these authors – Nicky not included – may have potential, but they need time and practice for their writing to mature to the level where the average reader will feel satisfied paying to read their work. Nicky’s writing just plain sucks big hairy donkey balls.

Todd: Don’t say that. You’re getting me hot…

Coming soon to Lulu: A slightly different version of this review -- one without the dialogue.

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