Saturday, March 7, 2015

No Punchline

Jeff Suwak is featured in a few anthologies and is the author of the novella: Beyond the Tempest Gate. He's done it all from writing, editing, to being an Army Ranger, and competing in full contact kickboxing. One of his favorite writers happens to be one of my all time favorite authors as well: Jack London. Today, I'm going to be covering his short story: No Punchline: Or, The Night Chale Thayer Blew his Head off at the Punch Drunk Comedy Club. (Yeah, that mouthful.)

Ebook copy

We cannot envision the glory of God, but we know exactly what our demons look like. 
Today, comedian Chale Thayer is going to kill himself onstage in front of all his fans. He has given up all hope that there is any greater purpose to life and is giving God, the universe, or whatever else might be out there one last chance to prove him wrong.

He will tempt fate at the end of a gun barrel, and only time will tell who gets the last laugh.


I enjoyed this little short for many reasons. I will start with the blunt and quick delivery. This story does not waste time introducing the world and giving it an air of a gritty, cut throat atmosphere. And anyone that knows me knows that I love anything noir. No words are wasted and everything has meaning. Right off the bet you get hit with this piece of information:
"A comedian is someone who doesn't think that anything in the world is funny, not a single damn thing, so he's got to joke about it all or else he'll kill himself."
Chale Thayer is tired. He's tired of it all. And it shows with everything he utters. Sure, there is good about the world. The people who he cares about and that in turn care about him, but mostly the world is an ugly place with ugly people and he can't shake that feeling off.
"Takes a sicker man than me to laugh at the world we live in."
He has decided to take a gun to the comedy club and off himself. No spoiler here. The title already tells you that. Along the way he makes a few quick pit stops to visit some of the people who have meant a great deal to him. The seedy city he lives in and the common folks are all portrayed very well and are a few of the reasons this story is entertaining. They all offer their own kind of wisdom. Often times, people have a way of being insightful even when they're not trying to be.

Chale is not a failed comedian. He actually reminded me of the late George Carlin. His dry humor is more fact based than haha funny. He is an up and comer who refuses to be bought and sold. He refuses to sell out. He refuses to be made into a hero:
"If you feel the need to coronate people as heroes, go find a nurse or a shelter volunteer, and coronate them." 
True words right there. He just wants to understand the point of it all. His worth. His contribution to  society. How unfair it all is. The mystery of himself. He raises a lot of questions that we as individuals face at points in our lives. Yes, Chale can be quite cynical. But life has given him enough reasons to come to his conclusions. He was an interestingly insightful character, frustrated, yes, but through his lenses it all comes together. It makes sense.

I won't reveal more than I have or the ending. A lot of it is left to interpretation. And so, here's mine: The joke is not just on Chale but on the reader as well. There is a plot expectation and the story mounts and ebbs and leads up to the expected climax and so when the end is nigh, I also laugh.

No Punchline is a good story to check out. Its well worth the time.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Genesis Code

Jamie Metzl is not just a successful author, but he is also a very accomplished business man. From being a senior adviser at an investment firm to a human rights officer for the United Nations in Cambodia. He has published several books, but this one is the first I've personally read. So, here we go, Genesis Code:


Hardback copy
Blue Magic, the latest designer drug linked to a rash of overdoses, might explain the needle mark on the arm of a young woman found dead in her Kansas City apartment. But when Star reporter Rich Azadian digs deeper, the clues point to a far more explosive story: MaryLee Stock was a special protégée of evangelical megapastor and power broker Cobalt Becker, who is poised to deliver his followers and the presidency to a firebrand right-wing senator in the next election. When Azadian sets out to prove that MaryLee’s death was no accident and she may have been carrying Becker’s genetically enhanced baby, the stakes become life itself.

In 2023 America—bankrupt, violently divided by the culture wars, and beholden to archrival China—the rules of the game are complicated. With the danger mounting, the dead bodies of young women piling up, Chinese agents circling, and the US Department of National Competitiveness moving in to quash his investigation, Azadian’s only option is to go rogue, assemble a team of brilliant misfits like himself, and begin the fight of his life to find out who is killing these women and why, and if any others like them may still be alive.


I loved the start of this novel a whole lot, enough that half way through I had already decided to give it a high rating. The first half is very strong. But the last act is a tad of a let down. Rich Azadian is a reporter with commitment issues and a tragic past. In fact, his past is part of the reason he obsesses with the dead girl, wanting to find out what happened to her. His sister was killed years before, and he hasn't really dealt the senselessness of it all.

When MaryLee Stock dies, he goes through great lengths to find out if it was murder. I was on board with him and Joseph, his Indian assistant, as they, little by little, piece together who and what was involved. His suspicion lead him to politicians, the government, radicals, and religious leaders. It was all very intriguing.

The writing itself was a charm. The author did not waste any words. The story goes from one scene to another, one great plot point to another, one day to another. No dull moments. The MC questioned the same things I did, and he got the questions or figured it out around the same time I did. The writer takes you on a fun journey while at the same time not letting you get restless or anxious about where the plot is going.

The main character was interesting in that he not only questioned his job, the loss of his sister, and MaryLee, he also questioned life. He wanted more out of it. I could understand why he didn't want to commit to anyone. He didn't understand himself enough to want to pretend he understood someone else, and so when his ex walks back into his life--he needs her to solve the puzzle--his hesitation made perfect sense to me. Even the conclusion at the end of the story made sense because by that time a lot had happened to him and all the characters involved. I did not have a problem with Rich. But I did have major issues with everyone else in his life.

All the secondary characters were too eager to please Rich. They all sacrificed a lot and risked even more to help him figure out a puzzle that at first didn't make much sense. I could understand why his girlfriend, who still had feelings for him, would go along with it all, but  the other helpers, including his editor and the detective on the job, who were supposed to have strong personalities, were all quickly swayed by Rich. They at times seemed like plot devices. The tough but helpful editor at his newspaper, the tough but more than willing to hear him out detective, the tech guy, the scientist...everyone had a profession and a role that the story ultimately needed for all of it to come together at the end. There is more to this, but I don't want to reveal too much. No spoilers here.

Now, the dreaded last act. My problem with it was that I started figuring out the main plot a lot faster than Rich, and everything worked out perfectly and exactly how Rich needed it to. No casualties. No consequences. They all lived happily ever after. The good guy won. I don't have a problem with this thought process, but in this story it all worked out too well. Every one believed Rich and took his advice on almost everything. Everyone ended up yielding. The high stakes didn't seem so high once it was all nicely wrapped up in a fantastical bow.

However, the one part that I did like about the ending was how this near future exposes the world to how genetic engineering can be used for terrible things that lead to devastating results. How science and religion can be both helpful and destructive. How trying to get ahead could lead everyone back. I loved the world of Genesis Code. It was a very realistic place, not too different from the near future we might all have. The science is compelling. The ideas inventive. The plot was fun. And so I still recommend it because of all the good.