How is my blog like a pina colada?

Up here in the north of Middleland it’s cold and dark – very dark. So I thought I’d lighten your winter with some bright sunshine and flavours from a tropical beach.

In answer to the question in the title, a blog is like a cocktail when it’s a mix of cool flavours, exotically mixed to ensure that the resulting elixir is greater than the sum of its parts. So, with that theme in mind, this week’s post features a cocktail of snippets to put you in the mood for the weekend.

Speaking of cocktails, my nephew is an expert in the business. Going by the monicker of ‘Fitz’, he is the red-haired Tom Cruise of Newport and runs a zarjaz cocktail bar called 29 Park Place. If you’re passing over the border to Wales, his establishment is well worth a drop in. You can find details and a selection of the world class cocktails they produce at www.29parkplace.com .

Here’s a picture of him serving up a cocktail that could double up as fuel for an afterburner:

Fitz

So, it’s a pina colada you want? Well, first up, we need some white rum provided by Syd Barret:

  • Remember that story I started a couple of weeks ago? Well, I haven’t forgotten about it. In case you’ve never heard of Syd Barret, or wondered what the fuss is all about, there’s an up to date article at Classic Rock this week giving a background to the tortured genius. I’m working on the second part for delivery before Christmas, so watch this space.
  • Next, we need some coconut cream. This is in the form of an update on ‘The Psychonaut’. I’m on the home run now. Three more chapters to write and I’m there. I think it’s fair to say that the tale is taking on epic proportions and I’m going to be indebted to my beta-readers for taking a roller-coaster ride through what promises to be a hefty tome.
  • Finally, we need a wedge of pineapple as garnish. This will be provided by Jason Werbeloff as he delivers his latest book, ‘Obsidian Worlds.’
Obs 2

I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy, which I devoured in just a few days. It’s released on the 30th November at a very reasonable price, and will be available at all good online bookstores including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here’s my review:

Jason Werbeloff came to my attention with his novel, ‘The Solace Pill’. I had read a few self-published e-books up to this point and was generally underwhelmed by the experience due to poor formatting and, quite frankly, dull story-telling. The Solace Pill was a refreshing change. Here was a tale with an incredible storyline, great hooks, amazing characters and juicy descriptions that draw you into Werbeloff’s surreal world. So when I heard that he was bringing together a collection of his short stories, I was quick to jump on board and obtain a copy.

The title ‘Obsidian worlds’ provides a unifying theme through the tales, binding them together in such a way as to make you think that the different universes Werbeloff has built are actually related to one another. The word ‘obsidian’ appears in all the stories except one (unless I missed it) and the contexts range from a substituted piece of blue cheese in one story to the colour of dust in another. I won’t spoil it for you by naming all of them, but it adds a puzzling element to the collection, and I found myself  joyfully anticipating where the author was going to drop them into each story.

If there is a flavour to these sci-fi shorts, I would say it is a blend of speculative vanilla with mind-warping strawberry. When you start the story, Werbeloff quickly establishes the setting then leads you off on a journey to the unknown like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn.

I’ll give a quick summary of each story. But don’t worry, there are no spoilers as such

‘Average Joe’ – The story hinges on the idea that every time we make a decision, another doppelganger is created. After reading it, I got to thinking about it (a lot). This, to me, is the sign of a great author. One of my thoughts was: once a body knows they are one of many millions, do they care as much about life, knowing that countless clones of themselves will live on?

‘Cryo-killer’– This has a clever plot. There are places where it stretches the reader’s credulity thinly, but Werbeloff’s narration – especially the descriptions – help paper over these sparse patches. The characterisation works well and the author shows that he can push the right buttons of literary satisfaction.

In ‘Falling for Q46F’, Werbeloff  builds a dramatic story where the tension mounts in every paragraph. One of my favourite scenes is where the robot, Q46F charges like a horseman of the Light Brigade towards a crowd of  the undead. I haven’t felt such empathy with a robot since C3PO and R2D2.

‘Visiting Grandpa’s brain’ is another vision of the future where multitudes of people’s brains are used for the common good. Again, there’s some masterful building of tension as the protagonist contemplates the execution of a shocking act. This story had the weakest ending of the lot in that it wasn’t immensely gratifying – like all the others were, so if this is a criticism it’s simply that it’s one jewel in the crown that doesn’t shine quite as brightly as the others.

One of the most surreal titles is ‘The photons in the cheese are lost.’ It makes you want to read the story just to find out where the hell this one is going to go.  Suffice it to say, if you’re wondering what happens if you check the mail in your spam folder, then it might turn out to be Pandora’s box. There’s some technical stuff in the narration, but you don’t need a degree in physics to get the storyline.

‘The time travelling chicken sexer’ is a real treat. Werbeloff has a way of drawing you straight in to a story’s opening line: “It was difficult to choose the worst quality of Agatha Wretched.” Werbeloff paints a picture of a future earth but doesn’t bore you with backstory e.g. when one character asks where South Africa is, the reply comes back: “A country on the southern tip of Africa, sir – before the floods enveloped it.” This tells us about the extent of global warming in a simple phrase. There’s some amusing passages where the author takes a current technological trend and  extrapolates it e.g. “Chicken,” said Hibiscus. “Ancient livestock we used to eat before printed food.” The year 2146 is perhaps a bit early for some of the tech advances described, but that’s a minor quibble. This, to me, was the best story yet.

‘The man with two legs’ This is a post apocalyptic story set in Jerusalem. Six to twelve limbed individuals, sometimes with multiple personalities are the norm. The narrator has fifteen! So how do they react to a man with only two legs? I’ll leave you in suspense on that one.

The provocatively titled “F**king Through the Apocalypse” features Harold, an old timer who misses his deceased wife intensely. The backdrop , however, is a rapidly approaching asteroid destined to obliterate all of mankind. In flashbacks, the routine of Harry and his deceased wife, Fanny is lovingly captured in skilfully crafted, succinct paragraphs. The short story format is used effectively to deliver a pastiche that reminds me of Stephen King’s novel ‘Lisey’s story.’ The contrast between impending apocalypse and Harold’s efforts to preserve his domestic routine give the tale a rich tension, and the way in which he exorcises the ghost of estrangement from his gay son provides a marvelous hinge upon which the story turns.

FTTA contains one of my favourite paragraphs in the whole book:

“Harold had seen that look decades ago. In the eyes of the boys who’d served with him under Uncle Sam’s banner. But they weren’t boys when the war was done with them. They weren’t men either.”

In ‘Bleed me silicone’, things get really bizarre – I’ll not say much about this story as I don’t want to spoil your journey, but I’ll simply drop in the teaser: Obsidian is the smell of musk.

‘Dinner with Flexi’ reads at first like it could be a sequel to the previous tale. Welcome to a world where women are used for milking or meat. This is noir in the extreme – the life of a sexbot. Werbeloff even makes you feel sympathy for them! I loved the nod to Phillip K. Dick, an author who has clearly influenced Werbeloff. ‘Flexi’ presents a chilling extrapolation of misogyny and, again, gets you thinking about the seeds that exist for this already in our own world.

In my view, Werbeloff saves the best until last. ‘The Experience machine contains some magnificent descriptions of the MC’s surreal experiences when dancing on the arms of a galaxy. The author makes you believe in the unbelievable. The story is narrated from the PoV of a trans-sexual; a difficult thing to achieve as a writer (I know – I’ve tried). As such, the story brings the collection to a satisfying close, but whets the appetite for one of Werbeloff’s other works – ‘Hedon.’ Apparently this final story is a prequel.

In summary, Werbeloff has the art of short story sussed. He initiates a a brief dalliance with the bizarre and ends with a twist or the reader asking ‘what if … ?’ As I finished each story, I found myself saying this is the best one yet.

 So, grab yourself a copy of this speculative masterpiece and treat yourself to the delights of an author that has truly found his voice.

That just about rounds it up, Connosseurs of Chaos. Leave your comments at the bottom of this post and, if you have friends who you think might be in to this sort of stuff, then please refer them to this website.

Excelsior!

 

Tom

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