Thursday, August 22, 2013

Zombie Spotlight on Tonia Brown

Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Undead gnomes! Sex! Violence! Sexy Violence!

Pack up your dice and character sheets and join us for the release of the goriest, goofiest, gnomeiest novel to ever hit your Kindle.Gnomaggeddon has all of the elements of a traditional fantasy with just enough filthy humor and bloody conquest to make you want to wash your hands when you're done reading it.

Malgaria is a land of wonder, beauty and enchantment, as well as loads and loads of undead gnomes. Thanks to a widespread plague that is turning not only the little folks of the land into undead monsters, but everyone they come in contact with, no race is safe and Malgaria needs a hero fast. With none in sight, Betty the elf and her team of adventuring miscreants are talked into taking the job. This ragtag crew struggles to find the cause of the plague only to uncover the truth about magic's biggest secret ... the unholy world of science!

Author Tonia Brown

Tonia Brown is an avid role player and dice chucker. She lives in the backwoods of North Carolina with her genius husband and an ever fluctuating number of cats. She likes fudgesicles and coffee, though not always together. When not writing she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names Dr. Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut.

The use of irony is what makes Gnomageddon by Tonia Brown work as well as it does. Perhaps we should begin with a definition of irony, as I understand its use in the literature of satire and dark humor. For this we turn to Soren Kierkegaard. In his work, On the Concept of Irony, he asserts that irony is employed to gather the truth via a form of dialogue that weeds out falsehoods, or fallacies, until all that is left is the truth. In essence, this method in stories and plays is called Socratic Method or “dramatic irony”.  

Dramatic irony:

A plot device according to which (a) the spectators know more than the protagonist; (b) the character reacts in a way contrary to that which is appropriate or wise; (c) characters or situations are compared or contrasted for ironic effects, such as parody; or (d) there is a marked contrast between what the character understands about his acts and what the play demonstrates about them.

A disparity of awareness between actor and observer: when words and actions possess significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not; for example when a character says to another "I'll see you tomorrow!" when the audience (but not the character) knows that the character will die before morning. It is most often used when the author causes a character to speak or act erroneously, out of ignorance of some portion of the truth of which the audience is aware (Wiki). 

Employing dramatic irony, Tonia Brown removes layers of fiction within fiction. What we have here is a fantasy story of gnomes and a story of a zombie apocalypse, science vs. magic, and seriousness vs. parody. This is a popular concept in literature today called a mash-up, combining two diverse forms to create a new third form, in essence, the ironic drama. The structure of the story is serious, but the dialogue and names are non-serious. Even the illustrations by Denise Lhamon lend themselves to an ironic form, mimetic of the role-playing games which often employ such magical characters or avatars in fantasy settings.

The book title is a mash-up of gnome and Armageddon; it is called a “Horrible” Fantasy, a play on words, the narrator referring to the book as “bad” (the meaning of horrible) rather than the grammatically proper “horrific”, which means scary. So, right out of the starting gate, our narrator becomes questionable, much like the narrator in Greek comedies who often stepped out of character to comment on the play at hand, a device called parabasis (think Bob Hope when he addresses the movie audience about something happening during the movie). The names of the main characters are ribald, as in Chaucer’s stories or in Restoration Comedy (think Lady Wishfort—wish for it [sex]—from the play, “Way of the World” [1700] by William Congreve). My favorite from Gnome is “Thimblecock Dickerstock”; I don’t think I have to explain this one.

The quest revolves around the “Cave of Tits”, (as do most male quests), but Tonia makes the journey more literal (I don’t think I have to explain what a cave is symbolic for, right?). Half the fun is watching the characters keep a straight face during these proceedings or when using these outrageous names. That’s what makes this form of irony work so well: The jokes bounce off the straight-up story (think Airplane! [1980]); for that matter, Gnomageddon is the Airplane! of Zombie novels. And just as the parody movie mocked our fear of flying through puns, sight gags, non sequiturs, and litotes, Gnomageddon pokes fun at our fanaticism with role playing games, fantasy novels, and our love of zombie apocalypses using the same tools of irony.

Tonia Brown sent me a PM, “I hope Gnomaggedon didn't make you think too much. It was really just supposed to make ya laugh.” And laugh I did. But what I've written about is how it was funny, how the use of irony makes me chuckle and guffaw. Had Kierkegaard read the book, even he would have definitely slapped his knee raw. A mash-up of Epic proportions, Gnomaggedon is a must-read for fans of all genres, but zombie freaks and RPG geeks will love it all the more.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Roger Hodgson in Concert, Costa Mesa, 8/11/13
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Breakfast in Orange County

The Roger Hodgson show at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, Orange County Fairgrounds, was a night of energy and momentum, but above all else it was the perfect ensemble piece. With Hodgson in the lead, every band member shone as a individual musician adding his talent to the magic of the music. Bryan Head on drums was in command of percussion on “Death and a Zoo”, from Roger’s Open the Door CD. Kevin Adamson on keyboards masterfully played piano during “Child of Vision”, an old Supertramp favorite, while Hodgson played back-up keyboards. David J. Carpenter on bass not only led the crowd on clap-alongs but joined in percussion and back-up vocals, most notable on “Lady” from Hodgson’s Supertramp library. But the star of the night was virtuoso instrumentalist Aaron Macdonald, who was team captain on virtually every song, bringing to life the nuances of the songs as played in the studio, from whistles, bells, bonks on the head, flute and fife, saxophone, you name it, he played it, all to great effect. When he was introduced by Roger to the crowd, he received a standing ovation and rightly so.

Left to right: David J. Carpenter (bass, backing vocals), Bryan Head (drums), Roger Hodgson (grand piano, keyboards, 12-string guitar, lead vocals), Aaron Macdonald (saxophones, keyboards, harmonica, melodica, backing vocals), and Kevin Adamson (keyboards, backing vocals).

The Amphitheater is an outdoor venue and has a strict curfew, as Hodgson warn us during the introduction, so he dived right into the music, opening with “Take the Long Way Home”, a Supertramp favorite to end the night; Roger used as a ‘welcome home’ to his Orange County fans and fans who had traveled from afar to be with an old, dear friend and his music. And the faithful who came got two solid hours of Roger Hodgson compositions, from his solo masterpieces to his Supertramp hit songs.

Costa Mesa

After the concert, your writer here went backstage to meet with our music host for the evening and to take a photo with him. I asked him about playing more solo material, songs like “For Every Man”, “Puppet Dance”, or “Had a Dream”, and he said that he works in more solo material each show. As much as I love the Supertramp music, there’s so many Hodgson songs out there that it’s a shame to leave them collecting dust. When we consider that “Death and a Zoo”, a solo work, received a standing ovation, we must consider that fans are dying to hear “new” Hodgson music, even if it’s from his solo work. But I speak as a fan that can’t get enough of the Roger Hodgson oeuvre.

The Legendary Roger Hodgson

As usual, it was night of magic with Hodgson waving the magic wand of a maestro. There were fans of all ages, shapes and sizes. There was one goal: to Breakfast in American with Roger Hodgson. And, of course, band members Aaron Macdonald (instrumentalist), Bryan Head (drums), Kevin Adamson (keyboards) and David J Carpenter (bass). Visit Roger at and join Roger on his Breakfast in America Tour (dates can be found on his website). 

The setlist is below for fans to compare to their concert’s list.
All songs solely written and composed by Roger Hodgson. 

1. Take the Long Way Home
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

2. School
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

3. In Jeopardy
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

4. Lovers in the Wind
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

5. Hide in Your Shell
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

6. Sister Moonshine
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

7. Breakfast in America
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

8. Lady
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

9. Rosie Had Everything Planned
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

10. The Logical Song
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

11. Death And A Zoo
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

12. If Everyone Was Listening
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

13. Child of Vision
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

14. Lord Is It Mine
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

15. Dreamer
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

16. Fool's Overture
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

17. Give a Little Bit
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

18. It's Raining Again
(Composer Roger Hodgson)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Zombie Spotlight on David Moody.

HATER by David Moody
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Book Summary:
REMAIN CALM DO NOT PANIC TAKE SHELTER WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS THE SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL Society is rocked by a sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals. Christened 'Haters' by the media, the attackers strike without warning, killing all who cross their path. The assaults are brutal, remorseless and extreme: within seconds, normally rational, self-controlled people become frenzied, vicious killers. There are no apparent links as a hundred random attacks become a thousand, then hundreds of thousands. Everyone, irrespective of gender, age, race or any other difference, has the potential to become a victim - or a Hater. People are afraid to go to work, afraid to leave their homes and, increasingly, afraid that at any moment their friends, even their closest family, could turn on them with ultra violent intent. Waking up each morning, no matter how well defended, everyone must now consider the fact that by the end of the day, they might be dead. Or perhaps worse, become a killer themselves. As the status quo shifts, ATTACK FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER becomes the order of the day... only, the answers might be much different than what you expect....

In the tradition of H. G. Wells and Richard Matheson, Hater is one man’s story of his place in a world gone mad— a world infected with fear, violence, and HATE.

David Moody

Author Biography:
David Moody grew up on a diet of trashy horror and pulp science fiction. He worked as a bank manager before giving up the day job to write about the end of the world for a living. He has written a number of horror novels, including AUTUMN, which has been downloaded more than half a million times since publication in 2001 and spawned a series of sequels and a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Film rights to HATER were snapped up by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) and Mark Johnson (producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films). Moody lives with his wife and a houseful of daughters and stepdaughters, which may explain his pre-occupation with Armageddon. His latest novel, TRUST, is currently available free online at Visit Moody at

Hey, Anthony, you may exclaim, Hater is not a zombie novel. Well, I disagree. In my article Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods Part One (, we learn that zombies were not always the George Romeo-esque walking dead; they were social aberrants (white zombies, for instance) based on Voodoo religions. As such, these creatures were grotesque reflections of civilized man—man as worker, societal business cog, a target for satirists (such as Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times) to refer to as mindless robots for the wealthy. The rich and the poor divided into the haves and have-nots. Thus, we can look to Romero’s zombies as he depicts them in Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, as consumers and workers who even in death maintain their place in a consumer-based capitalism. (In Dawn, the mall represents the core of consumerism, and in Day, the government tries to turn the zombies into productive parts of said capitalism).

Now let's see where Hater fits in this conglomeration.

The story begins with a business man who fixes on an old woman, who then attacks her, and then realizes that he is surrounded by thousands just like the woman he focused on. The man is one of us until he breaks the law; then he becomes one of them. Soon more of them mount more attacks and are killed themselves, arrested, or join others like themselves. Eventually, there are two groups, us and them; they want to annihilate us, and we them, for they are the haters, the outlaws, the social outcast—the white zombies.

In Moody’s words: Hater is “simply a story of a divided humanity - us versus them, with no prospect of reconciliation. Only one side will survive. I think that's a characteristic all zombie stories share.” But as Daffy Duck once said, “Pronoun trouble.” Just who is “us’ and who is “them”? Simply, it is the unknown factor. Take, for example, the idea of the government. Note this example: The government has raised taxes again; they are always doing that. Who is “they” in that last sentence? The government? No. Government is singular. Here is the correct version: The government has raised taxes again; it is always doing that. Here’s another: The school wants us to wear uniforms; they always change the rules. Correction: Not “they”, but “it”. School is singular. And it’s not just pronoun problems; we believe that there is a “they” out there messing with our lives. "They" can be anyone who we perceive as a threat or danger or annoyance. "They" are the muggers, the people who bully you, the corporations that siphon your paycheck. They fired me from my job. They kicked me out of the bar last night. They arrested me. What Moody has done is concretize the “they” and “us” into two real groups, because in the case of Hater, “they” are killing “us”. 

In this sense, they who control the infrastructure win. In Dawn, it was about who would control the mall (the law-abiders—the national guard; the outlaws—the bikers; or the undead—local shoppers in life?). In Hater, it is about who will survive to rebuild society.

One of the options for this division in humanity is that evolution is activated in the DNA of “them”, the haters. To the haters, it is “us” who are the haters, those who wish to kill them for whatever reason. Such hatred is innate in animals; it is a survival impulse. It protects this generation and guarantees the next generation. Kill now, ask questions later, for only the survivors will be around to ask anything. We, on the other hand, are systematically eliminating them: soldiers are rounding up citizens, and with the use of a “hater” detector, can identify them from us. We still maintain the machines and semblance of society, while they try to overthrow us by anarchic means.

Let’s discuss the storyline. There is a rise in violent assaults. People are randomly turning into “haters”, killing strangers and loved ones with equal viciousness. Danny McCoyne, the narrator and focus of the story, walks us through this anarchy. People stop going to work, looters take to the streets, and families hide out at home, barricading themselves into a “safe room”. The television goes from newsworthy to worthless as the unpredictability of the attacks render all facets of media unreliable. Danny shows the readers the breakdown of law and order and the rise in the number of haters as he risks going out to find food for his family and to rescue his father-in-law. These societal breakdowns are the parallels common to the zombie apocalypse. First we try to defeat the undead; then we merely try to survive them. Eventually, we turn on each other till we can’t distinguish blind zombie feeding frenzies from human greed and civil disintegration. (Think The Governor in The Walking Dead).

But David Moody is not interested in the undead here in Hater (he will be later in his Autumn series); what he seeks here for the reader is to witness a new origin of a species. First, level the infrastructure, then, let the strongest survive, and finally, allow the survivors to rebuild the infrastructure in the old or new way, depending on who wins, us or them. As such, Moody’s zombie is not unlike the X-Men, the next evolutionary link to the future; even as society rejects these new mutant men, the mutants unite to survive, some to overthrow the inferior men, others to live alongside these men who would destroy them. “They” in essence could be called X-Haters, if one were so inclined.

Moody has written a story rich in the paranoia of man’s fears of being replaced. We worry about outer space creatures wiping out man, fear the zombie apocalypse shifting the population to undead over living, and wonder if that new neighbor might take over our community. Hater taps into these fears and forces us to consider: Are we them or are they us? One could easily point to McCarthyism, the Red Scare of the 1950s, to compare Hater, but that would be too easy. Moody is going for something a bit more subtle. There never was a Communist threat in the US of A in the 50s. It was just paranoia. "They" were the imaginary communists trying to overthrow us. With Hater, the threat is real, and the moment will come when YOU realize you are either one of them or us, and have been all along. It's this realization that makes Hater both terrifying and compelling.  
Too Late to Call Texas by Trent Zelazny
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Book summary
If only he hadn't found the hat. Or the dead guy. Or the steamer trunk. Or the rag doll. If only he hadn't found any of these things, everything might have been okay. But he had found them. All of them.

Now Carson Halliday is on the run, trying his damnedest to keep one step ahead of a dangerous gang of outlaws and mad men. A run leading him from town to town in the dry wasteland of the southern New Mexico desert, over dark hills and dangerous plains, through shantytowns and city streets, and, most frightening of all, into the mysterious depths of the human heart.

Trent Zelazny

Author Biography
Trent Zelazny is the Nightmare Award-winning author of To Sleep Gently, Destination Unknown, Fractal Despondency, Shadowboxer, The Day the Leash Gave Way and Other Stories, A Crack in Melancholy Time, Butterfly Potion, and his latest, Too Late to Call Texas. He is also an international playwright, as well as the editor of the anthologies Mirages: Tales From Authors of the Macabre, and Dames, Booze, Guns & Gumshoes.

He was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has lived in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Florida. He currently resides back in Santa Fe.

Existentialism. How’s that for a big word?! Wiki defines it as “a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.” Crime Noir, in the hands of Trent Zelazny, is purely existential. Big questions are asked and, sadly, answered, even if the answer is no answer at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

It all begins with a hat by the road with indications that its wearer was shot in the head. For no particular reason, our hero Carson Halliday follows the trail of the hat to dangerous encounters and strange locations. Let's take a look at his name. Halliday inplies "Holiday" or holy day, but this is a misperception, as the name means "[that he can] feel and sense much that one does not fully understand, and can be deeply influenced through the thoughts of others without realizing just how he is being affected." Also, the name implies that "You attract success and money, but will either be very wealthy or very poor because your good judgment fails at times." Thus, Carson can be construed as a malleable man with poor judgment. True so far. 

With this tragic flaw, Carson undertakes a journey based on poor decisions and though he may not be aware of it (as the reader often suspects) his decisions are tainted by others whom he encounters along the way. The only meaning for him at this point of his journey is to reach an old friend in Texas where he might unload the drugs he found with the money at the end of the trail of the hat. What little there was of his world begins to unravel. Everyone he meets on this journey adds a piece to the puzzle of his existential path, ultimately leading to the answer to life itself.

Carson encounters Dana, our requisite femme fetale, when he has barely survived an attack by unknown assailants. She summarizes this journey he is on with a line of questioning that Carson is pulled into more by curiosity than philosophy. She asks him if he believes in God and Fate. Just as his curiosity about the hat put him on his journey, Dana questions whether or not she is on a similar journey, which is a “fated” life leading to a pre-determined death. Carson answers her that whether or not there is a God, our journey is inevitable, and that Fate is greater than God. Little does he realize that he has just sealed his own fate with these words.

Which brings us to Albert Camus. Death by suicide is an existential belief expounded by Camus; that is, if life is meaningless, death too is meaningless. Zelazny has fated Carson with a journey that is drenched in meaninglessness but which seems to have a point (thus the ironic title of the book). As readers we, too, are drenched in death as we follow Carson’s exploits (and those of his wife Brittany). This is a spider-web of predetermined demises and gunplay. The journey leads to a meeting with the spider, even as Carson helps the spider build the web: Suicide by life, per se.

This is cold-hearted Crime Noir. The words on the book’s cover “Not everything happens for a reason” are not to be ignored. This is existential territory in the hands of a master web-builder, Trent Zelazny. For those of you expecting a traditional tale of Noir, prepare to be bitch-slapped by the ending. There’s no avoiding it. We are all doomed to the Fate awaiting both character and reader. Carson picked up the hat; we picked up the novel. At his best, Trent Zelazny is Albert Camus meets Raymond Chandler. And Too Late to Call Texas is Trent at his finest.