Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review of "Blood Contender"

We now take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to discuss a different offering by Nicky - his short story “Blood Contender”, from the brain-numbingly bad Dirty Black Winter.

Nicky has stated that “Blood Contender” is a paranormal romance and “a man’s version of Twilight” (from the intro to Dirty Black Winter). It’s neither. It contains no romance, and the only resemblance to Twilight is that it has a vampire in it. And not even a sparkly one. Just a stupid one. What I do find interesting is that Nicky has chosen to show the main character, Vito, as dumb, lazy, and unethical. And a Gary Stu. I’m not sure if that is remarkable self-awareness from our favorite troll or simply an amusing display of karmic irony.

BTW, for extra fun and horrible hangover, take a sip of your favorite alcohol every time “(Gary Stu!)” appears below.

The story opens with the following Nicky-ese: “They don't know what I am, nor do I really know what I am myself these years. It was almost 80 years since I really knew what happened to me...” “I” is Vito. In 1919, when he was 22 years old, he was wandering around the European countryside after WW1. Despite joining the Army with “health issues” (Gary Stu!), Vito was a good shot with a pistol and had killed several men and one werewolf. The werewolf had Gypsy kin, one of whom put a curse on Vito, forcing him to “to wander the earth for [his] eternity” and “to live off the blood of the living without killing them.”

He was so disoriented that he couldn’t remember his own name. Although, he could remember his Army nickname. Go figure. In 1920 or 1921 (the story is unclear...go figure), Vito, being the upstanding and honorable guy that is, decides to take his supernatural speed and strength into the boxing ring (Gary Stu! for cheating) in the Netherlands. Vito “didn't have a name for [him]self at that time, but they've called [him] Vito Diablo.”

Vito’s unethical entry into boxing has predictable results: “The referees stood there in fear because the person would get up in a bloodied mess, staring at me in sheer horror because of the damage I caused. I could hear the crowd saying, “That figher, is not natural”

Then the reader is treated to a depiction of a boxing match. Vito has a physical before the match, and even though the doctors can find no pulse and think Vito feels “dead and cold to the touch”, they clear him to fight. Vito’s then-wife shows up to watch the bout “wearing a black dress and red lipstick.” (Gary Stu!) as all good Danish Goth wives do. When the referee introduces Vito, we find out he is from Chicago, Illinois (Gary Stu!)

Vito and his opponent, Igor,  exchange a bit of wimpy trash-talk and the bout begins. Vito, being inexperienced, leaves his hands down and Igor belts hits him a number of times with right crosses and/or left upper cuts (Vigo is too stunned to figure out which). Igor even hits Vito right on the fang, hard enough to break the bone if Vito were mortal. Since Vito apparently didn’t wear a mouth guard, it’s a good thing he’s immortal.

But then - oh wait, Vito does have a mouth guard - Vito hisses through it, “I’m going to get you my pretty,” “My turn,” and finally fights back, landing a few punches, breaking ribs each and every time because Vito is such a stud. And a cheater. (Gary Stu!) Tsk, tsk. Concealing his supernatural strength in a contest that relies heavily on strength.

Vito hisses again and punches some more. Then...ding, ding, ding, the round is over. Vito retreats to his corner, drinks a little blood to recharge, and then back to the center for round two.

This round is even more brutal. (that was sarcasm in case you missed it). Presumably Vito is still breaking bones with every strike, but Igor is stands fast. He’s almost as much of a stud as Vito. Igor gets bloodied. The referee, who is either a complete novice or a complete wuss and deserves to be fired, freaks out about the blood. The spectators are even worse; they’ve come to sports event known to get bloody and then faint at the sight of blood (at this point I’m waiting for EMTs to show up, but alas, that is another story with specters and exiles and such).

When the second round is over, Vito is thinking he’s pretty hot shit, just like “if a Great White Shark went in and grabbed a seal out of the water then putting all its weight in the air...” (Sharks!) The fight continues two more rounds, and Vito The Cheater is declared the winner.

Now the reader gets more backstory. Vito, clearly not the shiniest Christmas ornament on the tree, thinks that boxing “was the only way [he] could really disguise [his] age years after becoming a vampire.” His reasoning has something to do with being sick all the time before joining the Army (Gary Stu!) and after he became a vampire, he got better but he still need to test himself or stay fresh or some such bullshit. Vito and logic...they do not go together.

Vito’s father was in the U.S. Army, and Vito still keeps his (Vito’s) uniform under glass. He lifts weights to stay in shape, cheats at boxing boxes to put money on the table, moves to the Netherlands after WWI, gets married, moves back to the U.S in the 1950s to...guess where … anyone … Bueller ... anyone … Yes, you got it, the Chicago area. (Gary Stu!)

(And if my last paragraph sounded coherent, believe me, it took several readings of Nicky’s convoluted prose to extract those details.)

Now Vito is Vito Dioverde. Vito believes he has citizenship from back when he lived in the States in the 1910’s, but fortunately he doesn’t stress any employer’s credulity by doing something responsible and manly like trying to get a job to support his family. Instead he sends his wife out to get a factory job. She’s got a green card, so she’s good to go. He lifts weights, sleeps on the couch, drinks beer, belches, and occasionally fights.

He hooks up with an old friend, Frank, who now works at a blood bank and talks Frank  into stealing blood for him. Vito is such a wuss, though, about the whole vampire thing - despite the fact that he can cheat at boxing and win - that he mixes the blood with alcohol to disguise the taste of it. Frank, who is far nicer to Vito than he should be, sterilizes used beer bottles in bleach water before filling them even though germs can no longer harm Vito and fills them with the blood/beer or blood/vodka.  Vito doesn’t even provide his own booze; he just shows up at the blood bank and asks for more of the mixture. Poor Frank, he deserves better.

But it is not to be. Frank, who is “a guinus in the territory of medicine” and who specializes in “things that will keep a vampire going in sports such as wrestling or boxing” (Gary Stu!) becomes Vito’s personal doctor and then Vito’s manager. I’m unclear on the timeline of all this because Nicky’s writing rambles all over the place.

More backstory from the 1950’s follows. Poor dumb Vito changes his name to Vito Deadfall because he thinks this will keep people from getting suspicious about his age. Vito, despite his lack of brains, is a stallion in the ring. In practice sparring, he can last four hours! Although he originally fought with a shaved head, he now wears his hair longer (Gary Stu!) and in a ponytail.

Vito also has a son during these 10-14 years that he is “training”, couch surfing and living on his wife’s income. Vito laments that his son does not, upon the instant of his birth, realize Daddy is a vampire, but he thinks fondly that his son will figure it out as soon as the boy gets into a couple of fights. Daddy of the Year, he is not.

Finally, Vito gets back into boxing when his son is 14. In 1957. Or wait, that’s not 14 years... but... oh fuck it, I have no idea how long Vito was a lazy-ass, but now he’s back for his first fight in the U.S. He’s announced as Vito Dioverde and his European record is listed. 30-0.

Vito, still trying to conceal his true age and identity, is mortified at this horrendous slip. He turns to  Frank, who is still standing by his side, and rips out his throat . He is exposed! A riot ensues, and he fights his way through the crowd, killing at will, ripping off arms and heads, and... Strike that, that whole paragraph never happened. Wishful thinking.

He’s announced as Vito Dioverde and his European record is listed. 30-0. Vito doesn’t bat an eye. He swaggers into the ring to meet his opponent, an ex-Army dude (Gary Stu!) from Rockford, Illinois (Gary Stu!) The fight begins.

Vito takes a blow from his opponent that felt like “it was enough to dent a few bones.” Dented bones? Ah Vito, you big dumb ox. Then said ox punches his opponent in the kidneys even though this was a no-no in previous matches. He also knock the guy down a couple of times, but the guy gets back up before the eight-count expires. Ding, ding, ding. End of round.

Vito swills down some pig’s blood on the break. I guess with Frank being his manager now, Frank has no more access to human blood at the blood bank. His opponent, meanwhile, is far from stupid. He looks at Vito and says, ““Jesus Christ, that guy isn't human.” You got it, dude. You’re fighting a slimy cheater.

Vito gets all puffed up. He thinks about he is a GLADIATOR, just without a sword and a shield; he is most definitely not “that kind of vampire portayed in what's her faces books.” (LOL!) He thinks that the Chinese and Japanese invented all the martial arts, but forgets about the styles originating in Brazil, Israel, Korea, and the United States, just to name a few. He knows that the media knows “[he] was an undefeated boxer who fought over in Europe professionally in the 1920s” but he’s not worried. No, he’s a GLADIATOR!

He’s so lost in his self-aggrandizing thoughts that...we never learn about the end of the bout with the military dude.

Instead we get another mass of “telling” text. Show, Nicky, don’t tell.

Vito’s proud of his son as he grows up. Vito Jr. starts getting into fights in night clubs, but he wins every single time (Gary Stu!). In Vito’s words: “Yeah I am proud of the little bastard, beating people up just like his dad does.” (Gary Stu!)

Vito continues to limit his boxing because he’s still worried that someone - besides the media, that is, who already know about his European record - will find out what he really is. He hides his vampirism from his brother and sister by telling them he works the night shift and can’t attend family functions. His brother and sister apparently accept this and never visit him or plan functions on his days off.

Frank eventually dies and he leaves Vito “the details how to make the blood drink that he made from beer”. Find bottle, pour in some beer, pour in some blood until full. Duh.

And now it’s 1997. Vito knows his boxing days are over since “the boxing organization would be aski ng why I haven't aged one bit – then it would be all over. The tabloids and the journalists would be all over it.” So one night, Vito is sitting around, feeling lonely and sorry for himself, maybe a little drunk on blood or something, and he...

calls “a local hard rock station in the 1990's to tell [his] story – figured it wouldn't hurt.”

WTF? The tabloids, journalists, and boxing commission being all over it wouldn’t hurt?

And that is where the story ends.

Poor Vito. Poor dumb, clueless, cheating Vito.

I’ll leave you all with Nicky’s words in the intro to Dirty Black Winter: “Dave Summers loved the idea of the story but wanted me to do more with it, so did Misty of Withersin...” Yeah, I’ll bet they did.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"A Library of Unknown Horrors" Initial Impressions

I’ve just begun to look at “A Library of Unknown Horrors”, and I wanted to share my initial impressions.

One of the first things that grabs anyone’s attention when looking at a book is, of course, the cover. The cover of ALoUH is atrocious. It’s a bad line drawing of some kind of animal dressed up in human clothes. What this has to do with horror, I’m not sure. The back cover is only moderately better, but the text is mostly illegible scrawl. At least, the editor managed to spell his name and website address correctly on this back cover (unlike the recent “Ethereal Gazette 13” / "Lossil Fossil Press" debacle).

The next page inside is a badly Photoshopped photograph of someone’s face – perhaps the editor’s? Again, not a professional look by any means.

Following a surprisingly coherent, although still ungrammatical and self-centered, “Special Acknowledgements” section, we come to the Table of Contents.

Of the 28 stories included in the anthology, 12 are public domain and, presumably, on the Internet for free. Four of the non-public-domain stories – “A Night in the Unlife of Roger Sparks”, “Scarlet Frost”, "Bathtime”, and “The Eve of All Shadows” – are also available for free on the Internet where they were posted by their authors. That leaves only 12 stories in the anthology that are (possibly) exclusive content.

The TOC also contains a number of errors. In reviewing Lake Fossil Press anthologies in the past, I have assumed that the story title and author name that appear in the body of the anthology are correct, i.e. what the author sent to the editor, who then simply copied and pasted the story into the master document. Where the TOC and the body of the anthology differ, I assume the TOC is incorrect.

In this TOC, the editor misspells Scot J. Savage’s name, Douglas Araujo’s name, and Ken Kupstis’s name. He also misspells words in the titles of “Scarlet Frost”, “The Great Morgan Family Reunion and Snipe Hunt”, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. At least he got the page numbers right this time.

Overall, my initial impression is of sloppy editing and bad artwork. I hope that the stories show more promise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time for More Reviews

Our favorite little troll has come off "hitatus" and is back annoying the Internet with his ungrammatical rants and generally whiny-ness. And that means it's time for more reviews. What should I do first:

Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Five stories left to go. I've read all but one of them and have started writing up the review, but it's been almost 10 months so my memory is a little fuzzy

Ethereal Gazette Issue 11 - The latest edition of the EG, with surprisingly decent artwork by a naive young artist on Vampirefreaks who provided him with the art work from her DeviantArt account. This issue contains eight fiction stories - two of which are by Nicky - three public domain stories, and one true-life story (I think). The preview contains some amusing typos, including three different spellings of "portrait". In a lovely deja-vu moment, Nicky has also misspelled Lloyd Phillip Campbell's middle name in the TOC; it's missing the second "i" (and this is Lloyd Phillip Campbell-Nicky's alias, not Lloyd Phillip Campbell-the gay poet). I'm curious to see what the body of the anthology contains.

A Rural Weird Tale - Nicky's "cult exclusive" post in the H.P Lovecraft cult on vampirefreaks.com, from back in April (IIRC). I think it's supposed to be non-fiction...

Dirty Black Winter - Nicky's latest collection of ungrammatical hash which shares its title with a wonderful poem by the above-mentioned up-and-coming gay poet, Lloyd Phillip Campbell. Is Nicky trying to tell the world something?

A Library of Unknown Horrors - The book that Nicky managed to foist off on the Poe Museum in Virgina. Because of this foisting, Nicky was the subject of two puff pieces on slow news days in a couple of small local newspapers.

I should mention that Nano is starting up in three weeks, and I'm participating again this year. That means my time in November will be limited but I'll do the best I can.