S.G. Browne

What I Read On My Summer Vacation

Okay. So I didn’t really have a summer vacation. And the list of books that follows includes everything I’ve read in 2009, but it’s just what came into my head first.

The idea to blog about this came about from a comment on one of my posts that suggested I include a link on my web site about what I’m reading. Well, I looked into placing a flash widget from Goodreads on my site, but it turns out WordPress, on which my web site is based, doesn’t accept flash widgets. Seems kind of discriminatory, if you ask me. What’s wrong with flash widgets? What did they ever do to WordPress? Does the ACLU know about this?

So until I figure out the best way to include some kind of link to what I’m reading, I figured I’d just blog about it.

First up is what I’m currently reading, which is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

I’m glad I didn’t know about this book before as at first glance it seems to be at least a cousin to Fated, my next novel, in that God and Death and a number of other immortal entities are characters. Not sure if that’s where the similarities end, but I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.

Although I try to devour a couple of books a month, I’m a little behind, but so far in 2009 I’ve consumed:

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
World War Z by Max Brooks
Fool by Christopher Moore
Jailbait Zombie by Mario Acevedo
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard
In the Woods by Tana French

The reads I enjoyed the most were Water for Elephants, Beat the Reaper, and Fool, though both In the Woods and Sharp Objects had such believable characters and page-turning plots that they have to be included in the top five.

The most disappointing reads were Something Missing and Pygmy – the first because I just couldn’t seem to get caught up in the story or the character and the second because, well, the broken English of the protagonist used throughout the entire novel prevented me from enjoying the narrative. I appreciate what Palahniuk was trying to do and applaud the message of the novel, but if it had been any other author, I would have put it down before the fifty-page mark.

If I had to pick a favorite so far this year, it would be Water for Elephants. Great narrative and style, compelling story, wonderful characters and setting, and a protagonist you genuinely cared about.

Favorite book of all time? There’s a handful that would be in the running:

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
The Stand by Stephen King
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

But if I had to choose one book to read over and over, my desert island novel would be, ironically, Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

So long as I had the conch.

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Filed under: Just Blogging,The Writing Life — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 8:10 pm

Zombies Don’t Care About the Economy

People are always asking me about zombies:

Have you always loved zombies?
Do you think you’ll survive the zombie apocalypse?
Is it necrophilia if you’re both dead?

In case you’re curious, the answers are:

Yes.
No.
Probably not.

Truth is, I’m not an authority on zombie sex. However, I do know a lot about sloughage, frothy purge, and cadaver impact testing.

For some reason, this troubles my parents.

But the one question that seems to come up most often is:

Why do you think zombies are so popular right now?

I hear a lot of people saying that the current mainstream popularity of zombies is a direct reflection of global fears regarding the economy and terrorism. Horror as catharsis for the fears and anxiety of a society making commentary on itself. They contend that zombies are the proletarians of the monster hierarchy and in troubled economic times, they become the poster child for the financial ills of a nation.  An allegory for the end of the world as we know it.

Me?  I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid.  I don’t believe the current surge in zombie popularity has anything to do with a reflection of global or economic fears.  And I sure as hell didn’t write Breathers because I was concerned about terrorists or my IRA.

Truth is, I think people have a tendency to apply social context where it doesn’t exist.

After all, where was the zombie mania during other major crises or catastrophes of the 20th century?  Like the Vietnam War? Or Watergate? How about the Iranian Hostage Crisis? The Stock Market crash of 1987? The Persian Gulf War? The election of George W. Bush?

It didn’t exist. Not on this scale.

So what happened to make them so popular today?  I’ll tell you what happened.  Zombies were taken out of their proverbial archetypal box.  No longer are they just the shambling, mindless, flesh-eating ghouls we’ve known and loved for most of the part four decades. They’ve expanded their range, become more versatile. More well-rounded. And who doesn’t enjoy a well-rounded zombie?

28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake made them faster.  Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland made them funnier. Fido made them domesticated.

Meanwhile, zombie fiction developed into a solid sub-genre, getting its start in 1990 with the publication of the John Skipp and Craig Spector anthology Book of the Dead.  Prior to that, zombie literature didn’t really exist and it didn’t really explode until this decade.

The new millennium brought with it a surge of zombie fiction, including, among others, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z (Max Brooks), The Rising (Brian Keene),  Monster Island (David Wellington), Cell (Stephen King), Patient Zero (Jonathan Maberry), Day By Day Armageddon (J.L. Bourne), Happy Hour of the Damned (Mark Henry), Breathers, and of course, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith).

Not to mention all of the YA titles, like The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan), Generation Dead (Daniel Waters), Zombie Queen of Newbury High (Amanda Ashby), and You Are So Undead To Me (Stacey Jay).

Young adult readers aren’t eating these up because they’re afraid of what’s happening to their 401k’s or if some terrorist is going to board their plane.  They’re reading about zombies because they’re fun and scary and entertaining.

Truth is, today’s zombies are faster.  Funnier.  Sentient.

In addition to running like Olympic sprinters, being domesticated as pets, and fighting for their civil rights, modern zombies write haiku, perform household chores, and are used as terrorist weapons. They can also be found on the Internet going to marriage counseling, falling in love, and singing to their former co-workers about how they want to eat their brains.

That’s why zombies are so popular today.  To misquote Bill Clinton, it’s not the economy, stupid.  It’s the fact that they’re branching out and discovering that undeath isn’t just about decomposing and eating brains anymore.

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Filed under: Just Blogging,Zombies — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 8:41 am

What Would George Carlin Think?

I have to admit, I don’t watch a lot of television.  I used to.  As a kid, that was all I would do.

My friends playing outside?
Television.
My mom going to the toy store?
Television.
Ice cream man coming down the street?
Television.

Now, I don’t even have basic cable.  I have basic LIMITED cable, which means I don’t get TNT, TBS, USA, ESPN, ESPN2, Comedy Central, a surplus of 24-hour news channels regurgitating the same crap, or the option to do Pay-Per-View.  However, I do get F/X, TV Land, the Travel Channel, the Discovery Channel, and all of the major networks, which is important since the only program I regularly watch is LOST.  And all for the low, low monthly price of $21 and change.

Why is this important?  I don’t know.  But I do know that if I had ESPN, I’d be watching SportsCenter right now instead of writing this blog.

However, I watch enough television to realize how much more you can get away with today than you could when I was a kid.  In addition to the increase in sex and violence, you can call someone a bitch, a whore, an asshole, and a butt pirate, among other names.  You can say someone has balls, has big balls, or needs to grow some balls.  You can even call someone a dick.

“He’s a dick.”
“Don’t be a dick.”
“You’re such a dickwad.”

This never would have made it on network television in the 1970’s.  Probably not in the 1980’s, either.  Maybe the 1990’s, but I think South Park has helped with that.  And just to be clear, I Iove South Park, though I don’t get to watch it on TV anymore because I don’t get Comedy Central.  I think it’s on the WB, but edited, and that’s like watching Goodfellas on TBS.

Anyway, apparently “dick” and “balls” are okay now, though neither one is on the list of seven dirty words George Carlin mentioned in his famous bit about what you can’t say on television, which he originally mentioned in 1972.  Of course, this list doesn’t hold up for pay television.  But for the most part, the words Carlin listed remain taboo today for broadcast television, even if they aren’t officially listed by the FCC, which takes context into account when determining whether use of a word is vulgar or inappropriate.

What I’ve found interesting, however, is that while “dick” and “balls” have appeared with more regularity and acceptance over the past few years, “pussy” and “tits” aren’t given the same leeway. I’ve even seen numerous instances where the words have been bleeped out.

“Don’t be a pussy.”
“He’s such a pussy.”
And pretty much any instance where the word “tits” is used instead of “breasts” or “bosom” or “mammary glands.” (Of course, “tits” is one of Carlin’s seven words.)

In most cases, these words aren’t used in conversations with overtly sexual connotations, so the censorship seems unwarranted.  After all, why is it okay to call someone a dick on network television but not a pussy?  Or to say that someone needs to grow some balls but not that they’re planning to get a new set of tits?  And really, what’s so wrong with saying “tits?” If you can say “ass” instead of “butt,” then why can’t you say “tits” instead of “breasts?”

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I don’t watch enough television to comment on the FCC’s apparent acceptance of the pejorative use of male genitalia in network television conversation while prohibiting the same usage of the female anatomy.

No big deal?  A double standard?  Female sexuality being made taboo?  Do I need to watch more television?

What do you think?

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 8:09 am

Poe and The Big 4-0: The Raven Reprised

PoeEdgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849)

To commemorate the anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe, I thought it appropriate to share the following abridged retelling of his poem, “The Raven,” which I originally penned for a friend on the occasion of his 40th birthday.

The friend, like many others at the end of their fourth decade of existence, was dreading turning the big 4-0.

It seems doubly fitting considering Poe died at the same age…

Ode to Poe: The Raven Reprised
Once upon a birthday dreary, as I pondered, weak and weary,
Over thirty nine years of curious memories I’d forgotten long before.
Feeling spent, I started napping, when there came a subtle tapping,
The sound of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘Tis some solicitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember how I once was young and limber,
And my hard, athletic body made women’s jaws drop to the floor.
Drowsily I wished for slumber, for an age of lesser number,
To remove, to unencumber, what the years had brought before.
To fit into the button fly blue jeans which I often wore
In mothballs now, for evermore.

Presently my sleep grew troubled, so out of bed I on-the-doubled,
And pulled a muscle in my back that I had injured years before.
With Icy Hot I started wrapping, but still there came a gentle tapping,
The sound of an insistent tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
“All right, all right,” I mumbled softly and opened wide the door;
Darkness there, and nothing more.

For a moment I stood fearing, that age had finally claimed my hearing,
When in there stepped a stately raven, uninvited, through my door.
Not the least respect he paid me; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But like an old, incontinent lady, shat upon my hardwood floor —
Then perched upon a lamp from Macy’s just inside my chamber door —
Shat, and sat, and nothing more.

While this brazen bird sat mocking, I, mouth open, stood there gawking
Until I found my voice and questioned what the bird had come here for.
“With thy crest so shorn and shaven, why choose here to take up haven
Ghastly grim and ancient raven who tapped upon my chamber door?
Tell me why your black butt wandered in and shat upon my floor.”
Quoth the raven “Nevermore.”

How I marveled this ungainly, ill-mannered fowl had spoken plainly
Though its answer seemed bizarre and enigmatic to its core;
Not another word he uttered; not a single feather fluttered–
So with aching back I muttered and cleaned the bird shit off the floor:
“Stupid raven, quit the stained glass lamp inside my chamber door.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Ignoring his reply so spoken, as I wiped up the bird’s fresh token
I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the shiny hardwood floor.
My waistline had become my master, and my hair was a disaster
Thinning fast and thinning faster until it covered less than more.
Till I wondered if I’d even look appealing to a whore.
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, sitting lonely on the stained glass lamp spoke only
That single word and shat again upon my pristine hardwood floor.
“Asshole,” said I, patience shrinking, back and neck tight and kinking
And I betook myself to thinking what this stupid bird of yore —
What this rude, obnoxious, one-note, defecating bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but my mind it kept digressing
To thoughts of Rogaine and Viagra, to how my youth I could restore.
This and more I sat divining, the fantasy I kept refining
Until I once more started pining for the years that came before
For the thirty-nine years of youth and vigor I had known before
Years recaptured, nevermore!

Then, it seemed, the air grew thicker, and my breath a little quicker,
As perception dawned like sunlight on a shadowed, misty shore.
“Wretch!” I cried, “Oh beast of treason, cursed bird I know the reason
Why you’ve shown up at this season — to mock the past that I adore.
Please grant respite, and diversion, from what forty has in store.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Villain!” said I, “dark intruder.” Then I called him something cruder.
“Have you no compassion for the life that I once knew before?
Youth and muscles once I flaunted, now by excess years are taunted
And my face by wrinkles haunted — tell me truly, I implore —
Is there — is there life past forty? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

On the lamp the bird did linger, so I, with grace, gave him the finger
And called him vulgar names that would shame my mother to the core
“Tell this soul with sex drive waning and with old age quickly gaining
Is there nothing else remaining? Is this to be the final score?
Will I have another chance to once more spread my wings and soar?”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, stupid bird!” I yelled, upstarting —
“Get the hell out of my house and speak to me of this no more.
Leave no black plume as a token of the gloom thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my vanity unbroken! — quit the lamp inside my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy black butt out my door!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the stained glass lamp from Macy’s just inside my chamber door.
And he quotes with constant nagging to remind me how I’m flagging,
How my flabby ass is sagging almost to the hardwood floor.
To remind me how my waistline and the hair that I adore
Shall see my thirties — nevermore!

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Filed under: Just Blogging,Random Fiction — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 7:24 am

Super Sized Comfort Food

Big Mac > noun (pl. Big Macs) 1 Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun
-DERIVATIVES Mega Mac, Monster Mac, Mini Mac
-ORIGIN Latin Biggus Maccus

Okay.  I admit it.  I like McDonald’s.  Not their corporate practices or their environmental heresies, but their burgers and fries and shakes are comfort food for me.  I grew up on them in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, before the golden arches became obscenely ubiquitous.  McDonald’s was a treat for me.  A reward for good behavior.  Or, when I was sick, the treat I received for my suffering.

This became apparent to me during college.  On those rare (cough) occasions when I’d consumed too much alcohol and couldn’t fathom putting any food into my mouth that my stomach wouldn’t reject, McDonald’s was there to comfort me.  When I couldn’t manage to choke down a banana or a peanut butter sandwich or a glass of milk, a cheeseburger, small fries, and vanilla shake from McDonald’s would come to my rescue, nourish me back to health, and make me think that another night of a complete disregard for my liver was entirely possible.

Obviously, there was some kind of conditioned response to McDonald’s that allowed me to be comforted by their frozen hamburgers thrown on a grill and frozen french fries boiled in saturated fat, but you don’t question these things during college, when three meals at Jack in the Box on a Saturday wasn’t uncommon.

Now, I tend to stay away from fast food – partly because I can afford other options but mostly because I’m twenty years older than I was in college and my body tends to let me know about halfway through a QuarterPounder with Cheese that this wasn’t a good idea.

Still, when I’m driving down Highway 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles or Interstate 5 between San Francisco and San Diego, growing hungry and wishing I’d packed aTofurkey sandwich with Parmesan cheese and fresh spinach and tomatoes on whole wheat bread, I find the siren song of McDonald’s difficult to ignore.  It’s like someone has struck a tuning fork and the frequency is resonating in my brain, invading my common sense, creating a Pavlovian response.  And I start salivating.   Well, not literally.  But it’s so much easier to pull off the road, get a fast food fix and a milkshake IV, then jump on the road again so that I can get to my destination as soon as possible.

This happened to me this last weekend on my way back from Los Angeles.  But instead of caving in to the craving, I stopped at a gas station convenience store, bought an Odwalla protein drink and a peanut butter Cliff Bar, and gave the golden arches the finger.

Now if only I could stop buying Hawaiian Kettle Cooked Maui Onion potato chips.

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Filed under: Just Blogging — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 4:39 pm