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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: No Flesh Shall Be Spared

I wasn't sure about writing this review for two reasons: I don't usually dig zombie books, and the author, Thom Carnell, is a friend of mine.  I read this book a little more than a year ago, however, and loved it despite those very same reasons.  There's no reason, then, to not defy convention.

Carnell's debut novel, "No Flesh Shall Be Spared," places the reader in an interesting situation.  The Zombie Apocalypse happened. It's over and done with.  What happens next?  In this world, there's only one answer: Zombie Pit Fighting!  Contestants are placed in an arena with hordes of the dead, using the weapons at hand, their fighting skills, and their wits to survive.  Winning grants you money and fame.  Losing makes you hungry for flesh.

The story follows the rise of Cleese, the new face of zombie pit fighting, as he is recruited into this lucrative sport and trained in the fine arts of Zombie-killin' for sport.  Cleese is trained by Monk, who essentially plays Mickey to Cleese's Rocky, and sticks to his side as he kills his way to the top.  Along the way Cleese runs afoul of the league's corporate sponsorship and falls in love with a sexy she-slayer.  As the story progresses, we find out background on almost every character with a speaking part through the liberal use of well-placed and well-paced "Before..." chapters, which serve as a look into what it was like at the beginning of the Zombie uprising, a profile on certain characters, and a peek at the origins of America's newest pastime.

No Flesh Shall Be Spared is brash and ballsy, and a fresh take on the Walking Dead scenario we've seen time and time again since the remake of Dawn of the Dead in the last decade.  Take one part Gladiator, one part Night of the Living Dead, and one part Escape from New York, and you have this fun zombie action tale. The only complaints I have are a very slow start and an overuse of f-bombs, but these do nothing to detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.  I started out reading it because the author is a friend.  By the third chapter I was reading because my friend wrote a damn good book.

Noteworthy: Two words:  Zombie Mass.  That is all.

Rating: 9 of 10

Keep The Iron Hot

There's a certain satisfaction we get from doing something difficult.

I don't know if I can accurately explain it, so forgive me if I stumble over some of the words, but I think that as humans, we have a somewhat masochistc streak about us.  How else do we explain our drive to persevere, to push against long odds, to accomplish what some people find at the very least improbable?  And why else would we, after doing the improbable, convince ourselves there's more to do, higher to go?  Do we enjoy the pain?  Are we as a species in love with the physical soreness, the headache, or the emotional fatigue that accompanies perseverance in sport, academia, or any other human endeavor?

The song stuck in my head lately opens with "There's nothing you can do that can't be done."  When you look at the sentence by itself, it's a little hard to decipher what John Lennon is saying; either keep pushing because it's doable, or don't waste your energy because its not.  There's is a pain involved either way, from the intense pain of pushing past an obstacle to eventual success to the crushing heartache in giving up and relegating the effort already put in to waste.  I firmly believe that most of us, the best of us, believe the former and strive for excellence, even if sometimes we lack the strength of conviction to actually do it.

We've all had the moment, where we stood atop our world, at the summit of our own self-made mountains.  And as people, we do one of two things: either we climb back down so we can start over, or we seek the next, higher peak on the right.  There's nothing wrong with either act; as a matter of fact, those two paths are really not htat different from one another.  It's merely a matter of perception.  Do we want to climb to 3,000 feet to climb back down and ascend another day? Or do we stop at 3,000 feet for a while, survey the cloudscape, and ascend another 3,000 feet?

Maybe I've misread it, and I'm the only masochist out there who likes the climb.  If that were the case though, I would be the only one on the mountain.  The quote says "It's lonely at the top."  I find that to be incomplete.  The rest should say "But there's a lot of traffic in the middle."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mission statement.

"It is what it is."

I've heard those words a lot, especially lately, in regards to a situation that isn't to our favor, to something that's glaringly wrong, but we feel we can't do anything about.  A relationship going sour?  It is what it is.  A job we don't love, or barely like, or can barely will ourselves to show up for?  It is what it is.  Home situation sucky?  It is what it is.  I've used those words for each of those things, and more.  Until tonight.

I had something of an epiphany tonight.  While dealing with a situation I legitimately can't do very much about, a friend of mine told me about a situation that she has the power to fix, if she so chose.  The fix would be difficult, and benefit would not be shown in the near term, but it could be done.  Instead?  Shrug of the shoulder.  It is what it is.  I can't do that anymore.

There's a prayer from the days I used to be able to cross the threshold of a church that popped into my head:  God, grant me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I can't change, and the wisdom to know the difference.  I think that too often we are too stuck on the second part.  No more.  Not for me.

There is too much that I legitimately can't change, too much beyond my control, for me to not actively and frequently affect the things I can change. Too many times, I have been denied what I really want simply because I lacked the stones to go for it, instead chalking it up to one of those things I couldn't change.   I'm tired of painting myself the victim of circumstance.  No more excuses.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Public Service Announcement

This is a message in two parts.  Part one is positive.  Part two is a call to arms.

We are all possessed of something special.  We all have something that sets us apart.  It's not necessarily physical, although some of us are athletic, or tall, or beautiful.  It is not necessarily mental, even though some of us are intelligent or creative.  It is not necessarily social, although some of us are funny, charming or charismatic.  It may be all of these things or none.  But we all have the ability to change the world.

At the lowest common denominator, life is made of impact ripples.  One thing impacts another, which impacts another and more until we inexorably feel the impact, big or small in return.  It's a greasy frictionless pool table with no pockets.  And everyone -- EVERYONE -- is capable of setting something in motion.  Everyone is special.  Whether you impact one person or a thousand, you make an impact.  And because of your existence, your direct or indirect impact, someone's life has been altered.  We would all do well to keep this in mind when we question our place in the world.

Part two.

I am not alone in thinking that I am not meant to be simply a cog in the great machine.  I am not just a little part who keeps spinning until worn to nothing, then replaced and discarded.  I am not alone in this.

We have the power, you, me, all of us, to remove ourselves from the machine, to become more than just parts.  We have the ability to do it ourselves and/or with others.  We have passions that will elevate us from the machine, even if we are not entirely sure what they are or how to properly use them.

I encourage you, writers, thinkers, creators, artists, athletes... step outside the machine.  Let us create our own machine.  Let us fulfill our destinies.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Rest In Peace, Mr. Mayor (short post)

My hometown has lost an icon today.

Former mayor Ed Koch died of congestive heart failure late last night at the age of 88.  Mayor Koch was the mayor when I was really young, and I don't remember much about his time as mayor.  I do, however, remember the man's persona.  He was a New Yorker, for all that it implies.  Unabashed, unashamed love of the city.  An air of kindness with a little edge of... well, New York.  It's an undefinable quantity, and one that I always admired.  The man was worldly, likely from his time serving in World War II, as well as local, due to being a Bronx product.

The city at the time Mayor Koch presided was much different than it is now.  It was a grittier city in the 80s, defined by the excess on Wall Street on one end, and the crack-cocaine epidemic in the inner-city on the other.  It was a dirtier, more abrasive city, but it was also more real.  That city, that time, is what earned New York it's enduring reputation as being a take-no-shit city, as opposed to this barely recognizable, extremely overpriced tourist destination.  The old New York is a city that people could afford and live in, and that city is one i would never have left.

Mr. Mayor, rest in Peace.