Saturday, October 31, 2015

Author Interview: Stephen Zimmer

Continuing my contribution to the Hellscapes Vol. 2 Blog Tour, I present an interview with the award winning author Stephen Zimmer! 




SW: First, I want to thank you, Mr. Zimmer, for having me as part of your blog tour! You are one of my favorite local Kentucky authors and it has been a pleasure to enjoy your fiction.

SZ: Thank you and very honored you like my work, that means a lot to me.  I really appreciate you being on the blog tour!

SW: I want to jump right into Hellscapes II since this book has stayed with me after every story. 
Entering Hell
From the first story onward, you have characters who have forgotten their past and struggle to survive nightmarish horrors only to reveal why they ended up in the worst place imaginable. Did you establish a moral code that would land them in the depths of hell before you began writing this? What influenced you in coming up with this code?

SZ: Ultimately, the Hellscapes collection is an exploration of evil in all of its forms, both the simple forms and the complex.  The characters and their stories serve a function in illustrating the kinds of evils depicted, things that cause great harm and suffering in our world. 

The code really boils down to the “do unto others as you would have them do to you” idea, as in this case the characters are made to face the things they did to others and suffer the consequences.  Accountability is the governing rule in terms of these characters.  They do not get away with the lives they destroyed and the great harm they did, by conscious choice, to others in their physical lives. 


SW: Continuing with these characters, you set it up so that each one began with amnesia making them slightly more accepting of their bizarre surroundings and also slowly aware of their past as the torture progressed. Was it difficult to start each character from scratch or did you already have an idea of what each person would have done to deserve their fate? What brought you around to some of the political issues you brought up?

SZ: The amnesia and the slow cognizance is part of the horror and builds up toward the climax of each story.  It is part of the punishment of these characters, in having the clarity of the nightmare unveil before them. 

Each story and character, as I had mentioned before, involves an exploration of a different kind of evil that I observe in our world.  The kinds of evil are extensive, the challenge is in how to represent it in the dark, intense, and sometimes fantastical sense that they appear in these various tales.

The more complicated kinds of evil, such as the characters who had great political and economic power in their daily lives, are, in my view, among some of the worst evils in terms of the sheer numbers of people that are affected and the levels of suffering and harm that are caused, and become seeds for even more evils (such as in an economically devastated community, which often gives rise to all kinds of crime, substance abuse, domestic abuse, broken homes, and other evils arising abundantly in poverty-stricken areas).  In the hell settings I have all kinds of ways to represent the complex kinds of evils, including those deriving from political power, and I think a good case is made as to why I view these evils as being among the worst. 


SW: As these men and women stumble along, they come across some of the most haunting beings in modern fiction, the Crusher and Weaver for example. What is your inspiration for such monsters? How do you go about imagining them so that you can describe them?

SZ: I haven't gone into the origins of some of the inhabitants of Hell such a the Crusher and the Weaver, but I think it is obvious to the reader that both are demons, whereas there are hints that characters like The Stranger (In Hellscapes, Volume I,  “The Smallest Fish”) and the Hustler (in “The Club” of Volume II) have human origins and now serve a role in Hell dealing with the incoming condemned souls.

All of these special characters just might reappear in other Hellscapes tales in the future, you just never know. ;)  

But they do serve a very important role in many of these stories, a little bit like a chorus in a way, and a little bit of the support structure for the connectivity running between all of the Hellscapes stories. 


SW: One thing that really sticks out to me was the modernization of hell, the great city of Malizia and the nightclub therein. Do you see hell advancing with our technology, demons with smartphones, ghouls driving hybrid cars, unseemly beasts snapchatting or do you think hell will stop bringing all the modern conveniences just to torture the younger generation? 

SZ: The presence of the modern world is reflected in hell, but if you notice it is most often portrayed with a decaying and broken-down vibe.  In the city of Malizia, you do not see any cars actually moving in the streets, and what order there is exists in pockets, nothing overarching like a police force for the whole city.  The modern elements are a shadow of what is in our world, meant to be a backdrop for the characters as they slowly come to awareness of their fate and the fact that they earned that fate. 

As I want this to be a serious exploration of evil, I don't want it to ever get “campy”, so the use of any technology would have a definite purpose, such as in the story “The Riot” where there are moving vehicles and other technological devices.  It has to hit the plot.  But in the right context, I can make use of certain things from our time for sure.


SW: You spend a lot of time down under but can we hope to see a glimpse of the other side in future books? What draws you more to the darker side?

SZ: The Hellscapes tales are a dedicated exploration of the forms of evil that exist in our world, so it is not likely there will be a glimpse of Heaven in these particular collections.  But that does not rule out other collections or kinds of stories, even Dante ventured beyond Hell, right? :)

SW: Moving on from Hellscapes, I would like all my readers to know about your awesome urban-fantasy collection the Rising Dawn Saga. These were the first books I ever read of yours and they are some of my favorite. What can you tell us about this amazing series?

SZ: The Rising Dawn Saga is a unique series, true cross-genre, ensemble cast storytelling on an epic scale.  Dystopian and apocalyptic, the Rising Dawn Saga draws in elements of all kinds of genres, from the paranormal to the military thriller, from science fiction to fantasy, from horror to the mythical. 

It tells the story of a cast of characters who are brought into resistance against an emerging shadow government that has been developing for literally centuries, a movement called the Convergence, that is leading toward a global system of government.  These elite powers are in league with dark supernatural forces that form one side of a cosmic war against the things of light. 

This series draws in cultural elements, mythical traditions, and elements from all around the world, making it a very internationally flavored story.  At the moment there are four books out in the series with plans for seven and I really enjoy hearing from the different kinds of readers who embrace it, as the readers come from a wide range of favorite genres themselves.  I've had those who love science fiction the most, fantasy the most and horror the most come to love the Rising Dawn Saga, and I love to see this cross-appeal. 

SW: I also picked up the first book in your fantasy series, Crown of Vengeance. What can I expect when I start reading this fantasy saga?

SZ: You can expect epic fantasy with an ensemble cast set in a very rich and diverse world that is explored extensively over the course of the full series.  It starts with some modern day characters, but once the characters find themselves in the world of Ave, the action stays in Ave.  It doesn't go back and forth between the modern day and then. 

As the story progresses and you begin to meet the characters in Ave,  new story threads develop following some of these characters, giving the reader a number of perspectives on the full story being told in the book.  

With the variety of lands and cultures, including many non-human ones, and the diverse ensemble of principle characters, I feel this series has a lot to offer the epic fantasy reader and I hope you enjoy it!


SW: I've heard that you've written in the steampunk genre as well. How do you go about switching your mindset for each new genre you take on? Can we hope to see a Stephen Zimmer Romance in the future?

SZ: Not sure just yet about a full blown Stephen Zimmer Romance, though I'd welcome a great one right now in my personal world, haha!  However, I have been bringing more romantic elements into my storytelling, such as in one short story in Chronicles of Ave, Volume I (“Moonlight's Grace”) .   I do have a very supernatural story with a strong romantic core sketched out, but haven't fleshed it out just yet.

I enjoy the challenge of writing in different genres.  Each of them has certain characteristics that define the genre, but at the core of all of them are the same things that drive any story, characters and plots.  In other words, the engine in all of the stories have a commonality in how it works while the body style might be very different in nature between one thing to the next.

I find at this point that writing in different genres keeps the mind and creativity very refreshed, as when I return to a given genre I am usually very enthusiastic and recharged to dive into it.

SW: My favorite book of yours is Heart of a Lion, the story of Rayden Valkyrie. What can you tell the readers about this instant classic?

SZ: Heart of a Lion kicks off the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy, and is hard-hitting, dark-edged sword and sorcery.  Rayden Valkyrie is the central character, and this particular book finds her on a journey that takes a big detour that brings her into conflict with an entire empire, ultimately.  It is very action-intensive, but I also feel that it shows Rayden's many dimensions and strengths that go beyond the physical fighting aspects (though she is a great warrior and wields both sword and axe in a very lethal manner). 

SW: What's next for Stephen Zimmer? How do you decide which storyline you're going to pursue?

SZ: Right now I'm working on the followup to Heart of a Lion, as well as the fourth book in the Fires in Eden Series.  I am always developing some short stories, some of which might be Hellscapes tales, some of which might be in a Chronicles of Ave volume, or even a new Harvey and Solomon steampunk tale.  But those are the two main book projects I am focusing on right now.

SW: As a fellow Lexington writer, I wanted to ask what inspires you in Lexington and around the state of Kentucky to write such imaginative fiction?

SZ: Kentucky is a great state to live in with a variety of beautiful scenery.  Forests, mountains, rivers and more abound in this state, and there are some wonderful things surrounding the horse industry here that offer a lot to inspire.  This state also has a rich literary tradition in a variety of areas from poetry, to novels, to short story-telling, and hopefully I can do my part to add to that in the area of speculative fiction. 

SW: The first time I met you was at a signing event at the awesome bookstore, Joseph-Beth Booksellers. How has Lexington's and Kentucky's in general rich literary culture influenced you?

SZ: Interesting you asked that, as I just mentioned that in my last answer! But the rich literary culture of this state is something I have a deep respect for and it demands that I always give my best.  I am very inspired by the literary history and writers present in this state, and don't forget that Kentucky was a source of inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's hobbits, in terms of the people of Appalachia!

SW: This year was the second, and my first, year of the Imaginarium convention in Louisville. What inspired you to put on such an enlightening event and how do you find the time to manage all these aspects of your career and still remain a Krav Maga master?

SZ: You are too kind, but I am no master of Krav Maga.  I love the system, advocate it, train very hard in it and it has been at the core of my physical journey these past eighteen months (I had training in other styles of martial arts when younger, but when I decided to make a dedicated physical commitment just over 18 months ago, I chose Krav Maga for a number of reasons and have found that it fits me very well all around). 

Now, as far as Imaginarium, I just simply saw the need for an accessible convention centered around creative writing, something that would balance a convention-style atmosphere with all the content of a major writing conference.  I wanted something much more affordable than the writing conferences that can range in the hundreds of dollars for a registration.  I also wanted something inclusive of all genres and different kinds of creative writing, including screenwriting, comics/graphic novels, poetry, and more.  With Imaginarium, you have that and we are taking the next step in 2016 on October 7-9.  I invite folks to visit www.entertheimaginarium.com to find out all about it. 

Time management with all that I have going on can be tricky at times, but I have my approach and system and can handle it. 

SW: Lastly, I wanted to shout out my fellow members of the Lexington fiction writers group, they have helped me so much in my writing and understanding my voice and they also told me about you for the first time. How have fellow authors, readers, editors, publishers, and others helped you on your journey to becoming the prolific writer you are today?


SZ: From helping you hone your craft, to learning aspects of the industry, to helping you network, to helping you promote, to watching your back (in the case of an editor), to supporting your work and believing in you (my readers do this in a big way), all of the kinds of folks you mention have been major parts of my journey as a writer.  I am taught, inspired, and guided by so many that I have come to know, from all of the groups you mention.  All have had their mark and are reasons why I've been able to get to the release of my eleventh book this past week.  

Write: National Novel Writing Month Preview

November 2015 will be my second year participating in National Novel Writing Month also known as NaNoWriMo. In the month of November writers across the world all try to write a novel of 50,000 words or more. I find this time of year very fun because it is nice to have a community of writers that are all writing at the same time and share in their experience. The Lexington, Kentucky area is very active and there are a lot good writers that participate to make all the events a lot of fun.




This year, I hope to write the sequel to the book I wrote in November 2014. I write a paranormal thriller series set in different fictional locations across the United States of America, all with the same paranormal investigator and a unifying plot that I hope will come to fruition much later down the line several years from now. I focus it around one haunted house and this year I am setting it in Florida and a haunted boathouse serves as the central location. I am switching up the style from last year when I only had two character switching perspectives to three. I always like to narrate from the first person when I am writing from my main characters perspective interspersed with limited third person chapters that follow a particular character, or characters, that a pivotal to the plot. I managed to get just over 80,000 words last year. I am challenging myself to do more this year.

The only distraction will be that for some reason the old leaders of the Lexington area thought it would be a good idea to ask me to lead the group and I thought it would be a good idea to say yes. It is convenient that I can set up all the write-ins at locations that work for me but I'm not sure if I will be able to manage the time of setting up and attending events with writing. Work and life and entertainment will also not help me to stay focused on the task at hand.

Overall I think it will be an enjoyable time and at the end of it I will have a rough, and I mean ROUGH, draft of a novel that I can spend the next decade or so editing into something that can get rejected by literary agents for another ten years. The clock ticks towards midnight and in less than half an hour I'll begin to write!

If you want to sign up go to nanowrimo.org

Book Review: Hellscapes Vol. 2 by Stephen Zimmer

Special Halloween edition of my blog! I am reviewing the horror short story collection Hellscapes Vol. 2 as part of a virtual blog tour.




For all my avid readers (hi mom!), you may already know about Stephen Zimmer from my review of the first collection of his bone-chilling short stories set in the awful environment of hell itself.

Volume Two does not let up on the action and we can see Mr. Zimmer stretch his wings and soar with the fiction. He throws us right in and pummels us with horror after horror and torturing the literal hell out of each of his poor characters. I never felt sorry for any of them because there are ample hints that they all sucked in life and deserve everything that is coming to them. Finding out what they did is half the fun of going along with this journey.

The author hits his stride early and never lets up. There are characters and creatures in here that will send you jolting awake because they will creep into your mind and infest in your nightmares. The Crusher is one of my favorites but it's hard to pick amongst the grotesque beings since they all leave you with a chill down your spine. 

The settings are so eery and the writing does a wonderful job giving the tools necessary to throw you into harrowing environments, whether it's a rocky cliff shore or a dense jungle infested with a more terrifying version of spiders. 

The political and moral messages are back and more socially aware than ever. Let's just say that rogue cop that takes out his rage on innocent protestors is not going to get off as easily as he might in our troubled times. One of the cool things about this collection is you never know what to expect from one story to the next. Even after reading a whole volume previously, each new horror in this one took me totally off guard and I found myself flipping pages mesmerized much like the characters. It was also really haunting because some of the transgressions were even for lack of making a positive difference and there are plenty of things I can do better. There is a common thread throughout giving a diligent reader the opportunity to spot easter eggs Stephen leaves embedded in the stories. 

This book makes a reader think and scares the hell out them at the same time. What more could you ask for in a work of fiction? I have been a fan of Stephen Zimmer's writing since my first Rising Dawn Saga book and really look forward to reading everything else he has to offer. If you are in for a fright on Halloween night or something to keep you entertained during the cold months ahead, I would highly recommend Hellscapes Volume II. Go ahead and pick up the first one as well though you won't have to read it to understand what is happening in this latest edition. 

Stay tuned, I should posting an author interview soon!
Book Synopsis for Hellscapes, Volume II: Return to the nightmarish, shadowy realms of Hell in the latest installment of the Hellscapes series by Stephen Zimmer. Six brand new, macabre tales of the infernal await you … but be that you only visit these realms, you do not want to share the fates of the inhabitants you will encounter!

Included in the pages of Hellscapes, Volume II:
In “The Cavern”, a man finds his way into a nightmare, subterranean world that leads to an even greater, and more devastating, revelation.

A police officer takes pleasure in violently executing his duties and it appears to be open season in “The Riot” when he is part of an operation sent to crack down on a gathering of people protesting an economic summit nearby.  But this is an operation that is going to take a very different kind of turn, one that opens his eyes to a new reality.

A woman finds herself stranded on a high, rocky ledge, along with many other men and women, surrounded by a frothing sea in “Above as Below”.  Shadows glide beneath the surface and soon she will discover what lurks within the depths.

“Spots Do Not Change” tells the story of a man who has never had any qualms lying, cheating, or deceiving the women in his life.  A reckoning day looms as he comes to understand that his actions have harmed the lives of many others, actions that in the realms of Hell take on forms of their own.
Having spun webs of intrigue and personal destruction at the heights of national politics throughout his life, a man finds webs of another sort to present grave danger when he finds himself lost within a strange wilderness in “Weaving Webs”.

Many are drawn to “The Club” in the heart of the decaying, shadow-filled city of Malizia, hoping for some entertainment and release, or even safety from the monstrous dangers lurking in the darkness. One man struggling against amnesia finds his way to the seemingly popular establishment and its confines give him momentary hope; until he discovers the nature of this night club and those who run it.

About the author: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Sawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk tales and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections. 




Author Links:
Website: http://www.stephenzimmer.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stephenzimmer7
Twitter: @sgzimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7


Tour Schedule and Activities
10/26 Anasazi Dreams Review
10/26 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
10/26 Shells Interviews Guest Post
10/26 Sinister Scribblings Guest Post
10/26 Kentucky Geek Girl Author Interview
10/27 Pulp Reports Review
10/28 Creatives Help Board. How may I direct your call? Guest Post
10/29 Bee's Knees Reviews Review
10/29 Sheila's Blog Guest Post
10/30 L. Andrew Cooper's Horrific Scribblings Review
10/31 SwillBlog Review/Interview
11/1 I Smell Sheep Review
11/1 Sapphyria's Book Reviews Top-Tens List
11/1 Armand Rosamilia, Horror Author Guest Post

Tour Page URL: http://www.tomorrowcomesmedia.com/stephen-zimmers-hellscapes-volume-ii-virtual-tour/
Tour Badge URL: http://www.tomorrowcomesmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/HellscapesIITourBadge.jpg

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Politics: Republican Presidential Debate #3

Politics fatigue is setting in a bit early this election cycle. But we have a third Republican Party debate to write about so let's get to it. Disclaimer I didn't watch the whole thing and only tuned into the final third of the first "vice president" debate for lack of a better term. I spent the last part switching between American Horror Story, South Park, and the World Series as well. 

First, let's talk about the "vice president" debate. Rick Santorum seemed to be the winner because talking about beer in Colorado was the producer of that awful swill Coors. I mean I would drink it if I ate something really spicy and felt like my mouth was burning. I thought Bobby Jindal would do better  but he still seems to be hanging around the bottom. These candidates are showing how disillusioned their message is by not progressing up further. Lindsey Graham is just trying to push more war and Pataki should drop out soon. 

The Democrats are smart with two candidates already admitting they have no chance while the Republican party is still divided though they are rallying behind Paul Ryan for speaker of the House.

For the main event, Trump went subtle, which is  a struggle but his daughter or someone must be telling him to hold back and let Carson self-destruct. Ben will reveal more and more flaws the more he is forced into the spotlight. I can hardly see the soft-spoken brain surgeon going up against the likes of Hilary. He's not a career politician and with obvious weaknesses like foreign policy and irreconcilable right-wing social stances, he could hardly hope to win a general election. Carson is the front runner but if you check the calendar, we Americans still have over a year to go until the actual decision. 

Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul should probably give up at this point but Huck still thinks he can win in Iowa and Rand is still waiting for his daddy's following to blossom into something akin to what Bernie Sanders is doing.

Ted Cruz is hanging around with Texas money behind him and his ability to appeal to the base but Cruz is competing for a VP pick. Chris Christie can't win with bridgegate behind him but he could pick up a bulldog righthand man vote if he stays tough. Not likely though, Christie will still be in New Jersey next year. Do I even need to mention Kasich?

Marco Rubio has the greatest chance of any of the establishment candidates and if he can keep strong while Bush falls off, he should be able to make a big push come primary season. He just doesn't seem strong enough to take on Trump or the democratic nominee. 

I have a hard time seeing any of these candidates eventually becoming president in this election cycle but that just might be my prejudice. Excited to see what happens when we get some substantive results at the beginning of February. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beer Review: Red Hook Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter

Keeping with the pumpkin theme of October beer reviews, I picked up a Red Hook brewery porter. The guy at the liquor store said his wife liked it.

The Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter is dark with a very subtle taste of pumpkin and spices. The dark porter is the strongest taste here and the pumpkin comes later without any bitter aftertaste. The maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger adds a sweetness that allows this beer to go down smoothly. There is almost a chocolate taste to this. For those looking for a strong pumpkin taste, I would check out the other pumpkin beers I've reviewed earlier but if you are a fan of a sweet porter with a hint of pumpkin then this is quite a choice. 

With a 5.8% alcohol volume, this is the least alcoholic pumpkin beer I've encountered this month. I'd say three will get you going. 

I don't have a specific memory of any other Red Hook beer but with the quality of this pumpkin beer, I would try another Red Hook Brew and look forward to it.



Monday, October 26, 2015

Movie Review: Steve Jobs


The biopic Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels, and directed by Danny Boyle is a fast-paced snapshot of three different presentation made by Apple founder and CEO.

The performance by Fassbender is easily one of the best of the year. He captures the neurotic, commanding nature of the revolutionary minded Jobs. He had the demeanor and accent down and carried the film throughout.

Kate Winslet provided the support as Steve Jobs's advisor, Joanna Hoffman. Winslet delivers another powerful performance and balanced Fassbender's oddness with some down-to-earth no nonsense trying desperately to keep him in line. She had the most emotional parts of the film.


Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels shared the screen momentarily but it all felt too quick to make much of an impression.


Though I like the direction, overall I thought Boyle's film felt a bit too rushed and since I've heard some of the production woes, this may have been result of a forced film. The box office does not look positive though it may stick around if it continues to get good word of mouth. I'm not even sure this will make it in my top ten this year though. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Movie Review: Beasts of No Nation


I guess it's time to start talking about awards season with this new amazing film Beasts of No Nation directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga starring Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah, the powerful child lead.  

Though I am glad Netflix is entering the arena of producing major motion pictures, I wish there was a theater near me that was brave enough to show this film because this movie deserves viewing on a large screen. As it was on Netflix, I often paused it and did other things before coming back to it because life is busy, not because this film ever lost my interest. The Revenant is going to have to be one amazing film to compete with this masterpiece.

This story needs to be told and I applaud Netflix for taking this brave step, not only in cinema distribution but in the topic at hand. Abraham Attah plays the young boy Agu and almost immediately reveals himself to be a talented, charismatic young actor. I am curious to see the behind-the-scenes to see how he handled such complicated shots and intense sets. I've heard some amazing stories about the filming but that the film fell heavily on this young man's shoulders and he pulled it off so well is really a credit to everyone involved and should signal a bright future for Mr. Attah as actor if that is his pursuit. His voiceover pleas to God throughout are chilling.

Idris Elba delivered another powerful performance, something we've all come to expect and possibly take for granted. At this point, it's his supporting actor award to lose and I'm not sure what other performance has generated as near enough buzz to compete. Surely not Seth Rogen but I should catch Steve Jobs later this week so we'll see. As the Commandanat, Mr. Elba has the opportunity for powerful speeches and intensely personal scenes and he plays them all like a true professional. I am rooting for him to go all the way with this one.

As for the plot, this movie is so harsh and unrelenting and Fukunaga's camera style captures every detail with his signature tracking shots and tragically powerful images that give you no place to hide from the violence that plays out on screen. This was a great follow up choice to True Detective for this director. 

I don't know what the reception will be for this film over time as it has taken such an unorthodox way to be distributed but I do believe this is the future of cinema and theaters will have to adjust. It is really telling that such a powerful film serves as the pioneer for the popular streaming service. I hope it does receive the recognition and accolades it deserves. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sports: ALCS

Looks like we will see the Kansas City Royals return to the World Series for the second time in two years. The Royals got there by doing what they do best, small ball and a strong bullpen. 

It will be difficult to pull off a win against the Mets when they have such strong hitting and a solid starting rotation but they lost such a heartbreaker last year that it will be tough to see them lose again. Hopefully the previous experience of the last year in the big series will propel them to win. 

The Toronto Blue Jay should be proud of their season even though it obviously sucks to end on elimination but in the end there can be only one, to quote the great immortal beheading series. Their defense could not hold back the red hot Royals. It's going to be a hell of a World Series and in the future the Blue Jays should be a force to reckon with in the AL East if they can keep the team together for years to come.

Now all we can do is sit back and watch this clash between the best teams in both leagues. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Beer Review: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

The Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is not subtle on the pumpkin taste and since that is what I usually look for in a seasonal flavored beer, I was pleased. I've tried the Oatmeal stout and Pale Ale before and would drink them again. Maybe I'll write a review the next time I pick up a six-pack.

As for the Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, the alcohol content is not too high at 8% so I can still see the screen after two but it's a bit sweet so three may push the palate too far. It's delicious so I would have a third and will definitely entertain the idea of getting another six-pack before these seasonal brews go away. This is not a beer to get drunk with quickly and I appreciate that. Sometimes I like to have a beer and do stuff afterward, sometimes. 

The Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is an ideal pumpkin spiced beer with a smooth, sweet taste that does not disappoint when it hits my tongue. I would recommend this beer to fans of the pumpkin spiced ales and would recommend this brewery's other products to beer drinkers with a craving for taste. 


Sports: NLCS

The Mets sweep the Cubs to go to the World Series against a soon to be determined opponent. Pitching looked solid for New York and that may pay off in being the final team left this season but they have also have had some great hitting with Daniel Murphy's homerun streak.

With such a great lineup and rotation, my prediction of the Royals will have a hard time beating them but that is why you play the game. 

It is too bad that the Cubs went out so sorely as this both proved Back to the Future wrong and continued the heartbreak of a franchise. The last time I remember the Mets in the playoffs was for the Subway series back in 2000. So long ago, now that I think about it. I personally don't like the Mets as they are in the same division as my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. 

I guess I'll be rooting for the American League team on October 27. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Video Game Review: Call of Duty: Advance Warfare


I've been playing this game for just under a year now and I thought I would right a review since I've now had a chance to play all of the expansion packs and the new COD: BlackOps 3 is coming out in about a month. 

I played this game on Xbox One. 

The campaign uses all the new advancements in advanced warfare from drone hovering up to exo-suits turning your character invisible or allowing you to hop around higher than humanely possible. Kevin Spacey's villain, spoiler but you should've seen it coming, provided an interesting storyline to follow along with as the levels progress. Some of the visuals are stunning and with the great graphics it is easy to be mesmerized. The only problem I had with the campaign were too many stealth missions. This game does have some great invisibility but with all the weaponry, it is tough to keep quiet when I wanted to just blow things up.

The multiplayer is the most addictive thing about this game and one of the most addictive parts of any video game I've ever played. The levels were great bouncing around all the world that is suffering from a new type of warfare. All the new tech works well within the chaotic battlefield, though I wasn't good enough to earn the streak weapons often. The new levels showed the capability of these graphics and some of my notable favorite were the Kremlin and the battleship on the river in London. I still play this addictive multiplayer after a year and it will only decline if players move on to the next version.

The co-op survival hardly was worth a few hours of play. I think I played it five times total.

The exo-zombies brought me back to the old World at War though I think there has been a zombie version since then. The four main actors were John Malkovich, Jon Bernthal, Rose McGowan, and Bill Paxton. This playable all-star cast voices their excitement and concerns as the player shoot through zombies using all the awesome futuristic weapons. I wish there were easier ways to get the weapons but it is still a lot of fun and the levels are cool. The storyline doesn't really fit together and I wish there was some sort of campaign mode to this but overall it is amazing. Ash, Bruce Campbell, shows up in the later levels and the competition gets more intense. I played this mode until my thumbs hurt!

My first video game review and if I ever have time to play some of these awesome new releases, I will write reviews for them too!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sports: NFL Week 6

Blogging like crazy tonight but a lot is going on. 

So Monday night wraps up another week of football, the sixth week. On Thursday, the Falcons tragically lost their undefeated season, in an inter-division game against the Saints no less. A bad loss and I hope it will inspire them to come back stronger in the upcoming weeks. They should beat the Titans next week or they are really in trouble. 

This reduced the undefeated teams to five, three of which have bye weeks. None of the games were much of a challenge that I really wanted to watch beyond the Panthers at Seahawks. I thought for sure the Seahawks would win at home but now I doubt if they will make it to the playoffs. 

The Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills with only a small challenge early but then they took it away. The Broncos were challenged by the Browns and it went to overtime but eventually Peyton Manning and Denver pulled it out. 

The divisions spread out into winners and losers. The biggest toss-ups are the NFC East with the Eagles and Giants tied after New York's Monday night loss and the AFC South with the Colts Sunday night loss against New England, a rematch of Deflate Gate. 

Looking forward, I don't see any exceptional matchups. I'd like to see the Eagles continue their rise against the Panthers, the Giants and Cowboys game is big in the aforementioned NFC East if Dallas still wants to have a chance. Jets and Patriots could be interesting as well. That's my assessment of the National Football League. 

New Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer!

I'm going to jump on this Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype with a little trailer analysis. 

The first shot shows Rey, played by newcomer Daisy Ridley, who will be the equivalent of Luke for this new series opener. She is hopping around damaged ships with some skill. I think this is taking place on the new planet Jakku, which I heard will also be a level on the new Star Wars: Battlefront. This level will explain the battle that leaves all the wreckage on this planet because it will be a big fight between the Empires and I guess the New Republic. I think they are calling the Empire the New Order or First Order or something. I'll have to find out.

A voiceover asks who Rey is and she channels her inner Arya and says no one. This, to me, hints that she will be a descendant of one of the major characters and possibly have some force powers. These few shots establish Rey's life on this planet. Then we get the iconic Lucasfilm banner. 

The second group of shots establish the new villains and what I think will be my favorite storyline, Finn deserting a position as a stormtrooper from a crashed Tie Fighter to become a Jedi. 

The next character introduction is Adam Driver's Kylo Ren who follows in the path of Darth Vader. He will be an awesome villain and I think that new lightsaber looks cool. He is standing over Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron, who screams in pain. 

Then Harrison Ford appears and we get a ton of awesome action shots: lightsaber fights, X-wings, Tie Fighters chasing the Millennium Falcon, various characters and stormtroopers firing blasters. It will be an action-pack thrill ride no doubt. I am hotly anticipating this new movie and will be there at its release on December 18 or whenever I can get tickets. 

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies


I prepared myself for the slow and steady spycraft of Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies and got to watch another strong performance from Tom Hanks.

I was not familiar with this piece of history but apparently this insurance lawyer, James B. Donovan, had quite an effect on U.S. foreign negotiations during the Cold War. I can't help thinking there were some other stories to tell and should do some research on why Spielberg chose this particular story to adapt into a motion picture. There was certainly historical significance to the events depicted and I alway like to be made to think and to learn. 

It looked beautiful, shots, scenery, costumes, but I did notice it was just a bunch of white guys for the most part and a few minor roles for woman. I have been reading Hollywood has a problem with that but it's not like this movie set out to change that and I guess they were just displaying the times. 


There were also some great supporting performances by Mark Rylance, as Russian spy Rudolf Abel, and Amy Ryan, who played Donovan's wife and was also the mother in the recent Goosebumps movie. Someone should give her a leading role. I liked her all the way back in The Wire. Scott Shepherd was also good as a CIA agent.

This movie hinges on Hanks performance and I had no doubt he would deliver. He especially excels in the final climactic scenes. I liked this movie but it was also a bit slow and doesn't necessarily need to be seen in theaters. This is the fourth collaboration between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg after Saving Private Ryan (one of the greatest war movies ever), The Terminal (forgettable), and Catch Me If You Can (another great movie).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Magazine Review: Apex Magazine Issue 77


I've been faithfully reading each monthly issue of Apex Magazine since issue 71, so not that long, but long enough to know that I enjoy the stories published in this magazine.

This issue is a special treat to Apex readers. 

Starting with the cover, one of the most beautiful covers I've seen on the magazine. All of the covers are amazing for each issue but this one is especially eye-catching and I could stare at it for hours, really tells a story. I would encourage any reader to look up the old covers of Apex Magazine because they are all gorgeous. 


For the fiction, the first story is "When the Fall is All That's Left" by Arkady Martine. This space tale shows what science fiction can do, a life and death situation with the surreal twist that is familiar to Apex stories. It's not a long story, I read it first at a bus stop but it stuck with me for a while. Also this one can be listened to while driving on the great Apex podcast. 

"All Things to All People" by D.K. Thompson didn't quite stick with me but if you are a fan of body art, this takes an interesting twist. The barebones method made me feel a bit detached from the stakes but from the interview I learned this was intentional by the author. I may have to read this one again but not my favorite. 

"Super Duper Fly" by Maurice Broaddus does an excellent job subverting a racial trope and this story made me think. I've read one co-authored novel by Mr. Broaddus but it didn't contain the humor like this story. "Super Duper Fly" is really funny in surprising ways. The characters were unique and really helped me to...nevermind just read it, it's good.

"Me and Jasper, Down by the Meth Shack" by Aaron Saylor was also a twist on a classic horror trope and has a rich setting of Appalachia delivered with the dialect of an interesting first person narrator. A lot goes on in this story and it contains some surprises. 

"The Atlas of Hell" novelette by Nathan Ballingrud was another great tale. Really this issue just keeps bringing it with great stories. This was a reprint and a reader of horror will quickly see why this story has been put in a year's best collection. It is a story that drew me and kept me reading on the edge of my seat all the way through, great writing with vivid description and an interesting plot. 

The two novel excerpts from Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley and The Pickpocket's Tale by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart were both interesting chapters of fantasy tales. Both of these stories gave just enough plot that I will be adding both of these books to my Goodread to-read list. I like when writers take their fictional worlds seriously and I think that is necessary to draw a reader like me in to these bizarre new settings. 

Reading Apex Magazine also helps its readers improve in their writing. The nonfiction about unreliable narrators was informative as many of the nonfiction pieces in the issues are. I will also check out the books described in this essay. 

Last but not least, I always feel the poetry is an extra bonus at the end of the issue and find myself coming back to read poems from older issues on my phone when I have spare time. "The Underworld" by Laurel Dixon is a haunting depiction of, like it says, the underworld. "Ten Little Zombies" by Gregg Chamberlain is a great children's rhyme about the undead. "Hello, Wild Things, and Good Luck" by Sara Hollowell take the reader to a transformative new world where everything doesn't suck. "Minotaur" by Zachary Riddle is the most chilling and creepy one. Great poetry all around, as usual.  

The stories will be doled out each week but I would encourage everyone to subscribe so they can get each new issue on the first Tuesday of every month, it is worth it!
Here is the link to the latest issue:
http://www.apex-magazine.com/issue-77-october-2015/

Movie Review: The Walk


Robert Zemeckis's The Walk is a fun and entertaining film. The low box office does not do it justice, this movie could make it in my top ten for the year. 

I was not familiar with the story and had not seen the documentary Man on Wire, but I figured the act would be completed or this wouldn't have inspired so many. I don't know the accuracy of the details but the story was not clouded by over-explanation. Despite my foreknowledge and the voiceover, I thought the tension was compelling. 

I wanted to see this in the theater and in 3D because I figured the visuals would be breathtaking and I was not disappointed. I would recommend seeing this on a big screen but even if not, this movie is great as a story. 

The biggest flaw, and not that big of one, was the French accent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It could have been a lot worse and wasn't grating but I often think they should hire an actual French actor so the accent doesn't feel so forced. As I mentioned, there was a voiceover so this accent kept popping up in the most intense moments when it might have been better to leave it to the visuals. 

One thing that struck me from this movie was how inspirational the Twin Towers were when they were first built and throughout their existence. They were not just a symbol for New York or America but a symbol for humanity and though the tragedy can not be any more terrible, watching this feat play out was a grim reminder of the tragic past. 

College Football Week 7

An interesting week of football so I'll jump right to the most exciting stuff. 

The Michigan vs. Michigan State battle was a contest between evenly matched teams that came down to the final bad snap that the Michigan punter fumbled. Michigan State ran it back down the field for a game-winning touchdown and the Spartans remain undefeated. This Big Ten conference will be decided by the late November games of these two team with the reigning champs, the Ohio State Buckeyes, who also are still undefeated. 

The top Big 12 teams are still powering forward. Both Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State have not yet lost. These battles will also take place later in November as the season nears the end. One team may come out on top or they will all defeat each other and miss out on the playoffs again.

Utah keeps cruising forward atop the Pac-12 and they could represent the West in the playoffs.

In the ACC either FSU or Clemson will win and that will be decided in their meeting on November 7. 

Finally, the exciting SEC had some major developments. Alabama defeated Texas A&M for the Aggies first loss. LSU beat UF to continue the Tigers dominance of the conference. The LSU vs. Alabama game in Tuscaloosa also on November 7 will decide the SEC West and if an SEC team even makes it into the playoffs. The Gators will have a chance at redemption if they can win out, this includes beating FSU, and then they will have to win the SEC Championship. 

As ever, college football remains highly entertaining but they should find some way to compensate these athletes beyond tuition.