Book review: “Xom-B” by Jeremy Robinson (2014)


XOM-BXOM-B by Jeremy Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Xom-B” is one of Jeremy Robinson’s best novels to date. It takes a simplified approach to science fiction by being relatively plain spoken but incredibly deep by diving into the ramification and potential of humanity. It isn’t simplified in the derogatory sense, but much the opposite. It uses a specific style to accentuate the plot and subsequently, hard-hitting questions. It poses a myriad of inquiries that invoke his audiences into pondering their own existence and what it means to truly be a human.

Is it our characteristics? Our equal propensity for love and hate? Can we be something greater than we are now? All of these questions are touched upon inside the pages of “Xom-B”— Some more thoroughly than others but always touched upon. The depth at which Robinson explores these lofty topics seems to depend upon the narrative structure, or probably more intimately so…his own thoughts upon the questions themselves.

“Xom-B” begins by focusing on the near feature. Humans have advanced far enough where we have created life-like servants that provide us our every need, however, this leads to a grave injustice. Essentially, humans have created a new sect of society to subjugate and exploit. Decent people treat the artificial servants as one of their own, but there are just as many who do not. Some are sexually exploited, verbally and physically abused, while others are required to serve without question no matter the task. A tangible, ethical debate and rallying cry arises in the form of organized, peaceful protests from the aforementioned servants; the humans balk, and war ensues.

The plot then flashes forward to follow the most recent life of the new world order, Freeman; Freeman is fresh-faced, young, inquisitive, and intelligent. He questions authority and he seeks answers— The very mentality that could topple a fledgling empire and spark a new one…a better one. Audiences follow Freeman as he meets and allies himself with a wide cast of characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Robinson does a masterful job developing his characters. Each main character presented is given a proper backstory and motivation for their actions. The characters that strive to change (or at the least have the propensity to change) end up doing so with all pains present and included. The growth is logical and straightforward. This aids in the narrative and then culminates into near-perfect synergy…something much more than itself. The plot could be considered hard sci-fi, but because of how it is written it focuses so much more on character growth than the overall setting, atmosphere, and futuristic aspects of the framework. This results in a reminiscence of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night,” especially in its careful crafting to draw the reader’s focus to the overarching theme rather than the minutia. It may be classified science fiction in the strictest sense, but it poses big questions by following the journey of an individual trying to simultaneously escape, embrace, and find humanity.

An author’s style is an important facet to their career and writings, and some authors are fairly rigid in their methodology. Some stay well within their wheelhouse and constantly improve that particular style as they write throughout the years, others (like Jeremy Robinson) vary their style. They challenge themselves by matching a diverse cast of styles to the content, and in the case of “Xom-B” it pays off wonderfully. That being said, some longtime readers of Robinson may be put off because they prefer a singular style, while Robinson is delivering a different flavor. It would be hard to argue the validity of that point because in all honesty every reader reads differently.

“Xom-B” is a fantastic work of fiction. “Xom-B” is character driven, it provides insight and asks important questions in terms of what is means to be human, and it does so brilliantly in a straightforward plot that includes a great twist and conclusion. I highly recommend any reader who enjoys a quick-paced novel, science fiction, and/or the writings of Jeremy Robinson. He out does himself with “Xom-B” and I personally look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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A Rough Draft of the Introduction of “At the Top”


“At the Top” is an idea that I originally had centering around the concept of a serial killer pyramid scheme.  I wanted to write a story about a hierarchy of serial killers, however, I ran into a speed bump almost immediately.  Pyramid schemes only exist and work because the lower layer always give something to the layer above them, some sort of commodity like currency.  What commodity do serial killers possess to be able to provide that would make an interesting and believable story?

Nothing.

Coincidentally enough, the next day I ran into my writing partner Josh Bartylla at work and I posed him my conundrum.  After  several minutes of conversation we came up with a solution.  What if instead of a serial killer pyramid scheme it was an assassin’s pyramid scheme?  That way the incentive would exist, and we could nuance it.  From there we started adding layers to it, and now the project (which has been named “At the Top”) includes a poignant look at our memories, aging, and the importance of friendship all framed out by Frank Sinatra’s album, “September of  my Years.”

Check out these opening pages to “At the Top,” which will one day soon be a complete manuscript that Josh and I plan on adapting into a screenplay to submit to Amazon Studios.  Cheers.

“At the Top”

Prologue

The plantation was settled deep within the confines of a Cajun bog in one of the most remote regions of the Louisiana wetland.  At one point the white pillared beacon of the old world aristocracy had sat dead center in one of the largest production lands of the South, but as the decades had waned, the land had turned against the ones who had spent generations taming it.  The family had perished or fled once the house had practically burned to the ground in the latter part of the 19th century.  The rest of the outlying buildings slowly rotted from the outside in as the once profitable lands began to slowly turn to mush and the swampland turned against the rich soils.

The first half of the next century was just as unkind to the manor as it was the surrounding area.  At the conclusion of the Civil War economic turmoil after economic turmoil plagued the region, and thus the Lebeau family plot was never purchased or truly lost to the family.  However, it wasn’t till 1970 that the sole heir of the decrepit mansion returned, and returned to rebuild it.  By the time the long, lost scion came into possession of the house that was no longer a home, it was near collapse, but that didn’t dissuade Remi from buying the land and the manor in an effort to refurbish it to its former glory.

Now, almost thirty-years later, Remi sat contemplating in his office overlooking the same marshlands that had encroached upon the Lebeau lands a century prior.  He sat alone.  He cradled a Brandy in his palm knocking the ice cubes back in forth in a repeated riposte and parry.  In his other hand he held, masked by shadows save for the ember tip, a rare cigar to match his drink and mood.  He was in a large overstuffed chair with his feet upon his Oak desk.

Thinking.  Always thinking.

Papers and books laid askew, and the steeping bookshelves on either side of the room were just as disheveled.  He blew a single waft of smoke up into the air and let it catch the moonlight from the recessed, latticed windows.  Below, his glass ensconced pool reflected and refracted the softly lapping waters’ light, resulting in a dance of shimmering waves across the ceiling of his study.  Between the smoke, the moonlight, and the mirrors Remi was overcome with introspection.  This meditation allowed him to remember.  It allowed him to recall, but more-importantly, it allowed him providence.

Memories

Memories are fiendish.  They have far-reaching, burnished talons that can stab into the cerebrum with fervency and lust.  They are malignant because all memories are apocryphal.

For those individuals with poor memories their ignorance is as the saying goes, ‘blissful.’  The beast still lurks within, but instead it has evolved.  These memories exist in the wretched.  The lonely thugs who play with children and drive nails into coffins.  They are brutish to say the least, but on the whole they are as weak and fleshy as is anything without a spine.  However, these ingrates are protected by their own lies.  The falsities that have secretly roosted into their thoughts.  These birds of prey live and breath in the shadows.  They blend when searched for and are always finding there way into the folds and tears of the remaining gray matter, entrenching itself like a solider in the darkest days of the Great War, except with memories there is no neutral zone, there are no shared Christmases, just fear and nerve gas.

Those with eidetic memories can recall the past immediately, however, it is always in sepia.  No matter how much the Polaroid is flicked back-and-forth it never achieves focus.  It’s blurred, hazy.  It exists.  It can be put in box, lost under the bed, pulled out to reminisce, and shoved back under to be forgotten by the unfaithful.  The photo is a lie though.  It was always a lie.  It exists in a separate, fabricated reality, guarded by the ego, but by most it is irrevocably regarded as the truth.  It is never quite right, nor will it ever be right.  These individuals are dangerous, and here is why: with upmost conviction they believe that they remember the truth.  They believe so wholeheartedly that their past is grounded and accurate that it borders on religious faith.  They rely on it, they believe it, and they adhere to it.  It is always right, and therefore no questions are ever asked.  It is has divine as the Lord, and just as intangible.

Faith is a powerful beast, and it has a way with ambitious men.  It forces them to do things with unwavering judgement and persecution.  Nothing is off limits, and no one will ever present an argument that will dissuade them from their path.  It forces men like Remi to contemplate their past…to remember the stings and the horrors, first kisses and Sinatra songs.

Lloyd

His cheek stung and he could taste the blood dripping from his left nostril into his swollen lips.  It was salty.  Tangy.

“Fuck you,” he spat.

He took another smack.  This time he fell back upon the stained carpet and his left wrist twisted awkwardly.  He screamed and received another backhand for the noise.  He laid whimpering, holding his arm upon his back.  The fucker stood over him like he owned him, and unbeknownst to the boy there was some truth to that.

Lloyd was a brute.  In and out.  He always wore the same wife-beater, a dusted cowboy hat, and a pair of carpenter jeans.  Remi surmised that those were the only clothes that Lloyd owned, but the one time he had cracked that joke within Lloyd’s earshot his other arm had been broken.  A long time ago, Lloyd had worked for Tony Slates crackin’ skulls for pennies, but one drunken night, Lloyd broke the nose of Tony’s nephew; Slate cut him and then cut him loose.  Lloyd still sported the deep scar across his left cheek like a badge of honor.  Once a Scout always a Scout.

He stood over the eight-year, reeking of moonshine and piss.  He scowled, sauntered off, and collapsed into the most prominent lawn chair of the living room.  His pants around his ankles, loudly snoring off whatever booze and drugs Lloyd had consumed before striking Remi.  Quickly violent, and quickly asleep.  The women loved Lloyd.

Still nursing his arm, Remi scuttled out on his back, trying to make sure he held his cries.  As-soon-as he hit the backdoor of the sprawling ranch-styled house, Remi ran for it.  He hit the alley hard and kept running.  He didn’t make a sound, but tears were streaming down his face.

Remi ran almost two miles straight before he made it to Miss Rose’s farmhouse.  As always, she was sitting upon her porch softly rocking and reading on of her famous novels with her big Basset Hound, George, at her side.  She was young in a way that her beauty was true and her years were low, but she was old in the same way Remi was.  She understood him, and during all the years that Remi was with Lloyd Miss Rose was there as well.  She never ratted on him, and she never caused him trouble.  She only helped him.  Rose was the first and last person to ever do that for Remi.  The rest of his life was hard, but Rose never was.  As Remi aged he thought about Rose more often and that small farm town.  Winston, MI was a hard place for Remi to forget, but in his age he realized that, that is how it would always remain and that there was nothing wrong with that.

As he ran holding his ruined forearm, he let the wheat part and the burrs catch in his dirtied hair.  He didn’t care or notice.  He just ran.  He ran with a heavy heart and a purpose.  Miss Rose would help him.  She was his savior.  She would make everything better.

Rose saw Remi break the field, she was up in a shot and came running down the creaky steps to meet Remi before he even made it halfway to the porch.  She held him as he cried.  They didn’t exchange words, nor did they need to.  On that hot afternoon, she clutched the son that was never hers as he sobbed into her shoulder.  She cried to a God that didn’t seem to care.

This was Remi’s first memory.

The only sepia that remained from this particular memory was the part that existed between the breaking of Remi’ arm and the removal of Lloyd’s jeans.  If prison had taught Lloyd anything it was that he liked boys, and like a gift from God he had been given one from the man in the cocked Bowler.

 

“Rory Winters” in the “Independent Author Index Short Story Compilation, Volume 1.”


A while back I got to know a fantastic writer, publisher, web designer/developer, editor and all around entrepreneur via Twitter by the name of Faydra D. Fields.  She is an amazingly talented individual, and I have had the pleasure of working with her off and on for about a year or so now.

She has an impressive resume, that recently expanded, with her production of the “Independent Author Index Short Compilation.”  Faydra is the creator of the Independent Author Index website and network, and recently furthered this endeavor with a regularly published anthology of short stories.  I was lucky enough to submit and be featured in the first volume with my short dubbed, “Rory Winters.”

“Rory Winter” is a tale of rival treasure hunters stalking the same mysterious artifact. Their fates are intertwined at a level that they cannot even imagine, but how far will the rabbit hole take them before it finally releases its grip?

This, essentially, was a homage to all of the wonderful action/adventure stories set in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  The very same ones that George Lucas pulled from to create the “Indiana” Jones” tetralogy.  This project was particularly close to my heart because it plays into several past times of mine, and if you are grabbed by these genres just as I am, don’t fret–I have plans to serialize Rory and Ashe’s adventures into a long running series that will (hopefully) develop into an anthology of novellas.

You can purchase the “Independent Author Index Short Story Compilation, Volume 1” via Amazon by clicking the cover image below, or you can visit my short story’s page on the Independent Author Index’s website by clicking the “Rory Winters” cover.

If anything, check out this collection of short stories to get a feel for all of the wonderful material that indie authors are producing today.

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The Preface To My Short Story Collection, “Human.”


I’ve been toying with the idea of compiling a collection of nonfiction and fiction shorts for a bit now, but -at first- I didn’t have enough content and then I was in school, which was eating up any of my free time.  However, I finally have the time and opportunity to compile, write, and submit such an endeavor, and last night I began.  I was able to sit down and start the preface to my aforementioned collection, and ladies and gents you get to read it in the raw.  It hasn’t been edited, it’s horribly askew, and the grammar is atrocious, but hopefully it peaks your interest.  Without further ado:

Preface

I am writing this on the cusp of dropping out of college.  This was a decision that I did not make lightly or hastily.  For me, this is the second time that I have dropped out of school.  The first time I left, my fiancee had just cheated on me; she left me for a halfway houser.  I remember fighting with her in my parent’s basement.  Threatening suicide and failure to keep a failed relationship afloat.  She told me I was too reliable and intelligent.  I was a middle class white guy with too much arrogance to spare and was too favored to make money, so I was automatically “safe” and thus not worthy of a chubby, middle class white gal.  My naivety believed it.  I left school and focused on work.  I didn’t write.

I’ve met some truly talented and intelligent individuals.  Grocers who will clearly and concisely discuss that certain kind of cadence of Hunter S. Thompson’s work and Metal drummers who wash dishes.  You have to make the rent somehow.  On the flip side of that, I’ve met people who have run headlong with a stolen television into a glass wall and men who have thrown deli meats while drunkenly stumbling backwards into a cart corral shrieking, “You don’t know me!?”  Sadly enough, both of these groups go to school, and many from both camps receive degrees.  This tells me that degrees don’t equate to intelligence, but rather money and time.  Passion and intelligence are not required.  Check your coats and wallets at the door, because that is where the university rep will be pickpocketing your parents while they stare, frothing at the shiny ball.

Nevertheless, I digress.  I lacked focus when I was in school.  Even before my fiancee cheated on me I had checked out.  I was going through the high school rigamarole.  The proverbial motions but nothing more, and inevitably–I got fed up with the bullshit.  Principally, I couldn’t deal with irritated professors who let out their insecurities upon their students, students who receive degrees with no interest in them, parents who flit their kids’ bill so that they don’t have to work while going to school, and a system built like a business.  When did universities and unions become businesses?  It would make our forefathers sick.

My mantra is simple: if you love the art you’ll succeed, no matter what.  I’m taking this sentiment and my new found opportunity, and running with it.  Essentially, I’ll be testing my self-worth, while putting my money where my mouth is.  I’ve played it safe, so now I’m going balls to the wall.  This collection is me.  At times, it may seem erratic, disturbed, and misguided, but that is because we’re all human, which means we’re all erratic, disturbed, and misguided.  This collection represents the many different versions of me.  At moments I’m witty.  Am I witty all the time?  No.  Am I depressed at others?  Absolutely.  Am I a deviant at others.  You betcha.  This collection is exactly that.  It is the many versions of me, and hopefully the many versions of us.

We are all human.  We are a broken and lost people, but we try.  We always try.  We all look for love, we all strive for success, we want our name and legacy to persevere emboldened by the lights.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  We hit ‘wrong’ territory when we begin to judge others, and we strike vile when we plaster it across the media, when we vote on it, when we challenge basic rights to avoid death, war, torture, and human rights.  When we trick ourselves into thinking we’re better than someone else is the moment we lose a piece of ourselves.  The moment we sneer and bedaub ‘aghast’ across our grease smeared faces at the sound or sight of something different is the moment we trade our humanity for Skittles.  Homosexuality is not wrong, and neither is transsexuality.  Being a Republican or an immigrant isn’t wrong.  Enjoying sex, a cigarette, and a drink isn’t wrong.  Loving to paint, to rap, or to teach isn’t wrong.  Birth control…not wrong.  Blacks, Latinos, women, veterans, and the handicapped…still not wrong.  None of these things are evil.  None of these things challenge our personal rights and well-being, and more-importantly, none of these things challenge our happiness.  We’re all different, but we’re all human.

And, this is why I have named this collection “Human.”  We are all unique, but we are all human.  We all have versions of ourselves.  A version that we show coworkers, a version that we show our spouse, a version that we show our family, a version that we show strangers, a version that we show friends–we’re not lying or keeping secrets we’re being honest with ourselves.  All of these versions are us. We are chaotic, complex creatures always grappling with emotion and thought.  Being acutely aware of time is a gift and a curse.  It makes us do things in the heat of the moment, and it makes us meticulously plan for a future that may never come.  I named my collection “Human,” because these are the many versions of me.  These pieces are a fraction of my chaotic complexity.  This is my soul bared.  This is my love of pop culture.  These are my one night stands.  This is my love of literature and women.  This is me broken and witty.  This is me,

Our lives are confessional nonfiction.  I like vodka, women, writing, and sex.  I know, and now you know.  I tell you this in the hopes that you’ll tell yourself your own secrets and accept your versions for what they are: You.  Take each tale you read in this collection as a moment in my life, a ‘version,’ a thread that I decided to pull, a rabbit hole I decided to travel down.  At the time of writing this I am twenty-four years old.  I have lived many lives–lives with lovers, lives with strangers, lives with others…and I know absolutely nothing.

Cheers,

A.R. Schultz

Review: Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver


Carte Blanche (James Bond)Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Ian Fleming’s death in 1964 numerous writers have taken up the task of penning James Bond novels in an effort to keep the Fleming and Bond legacy alive and well. Some of these authors have had lengthy runs that have allowed them to frame out their version of the titular character with years of careful growth, however, others have had only a mere moment to make their mark on the famous character. Suffice it to say, some of these authors have been more successful than others, because of their respective opportunities.

In particular, I enjoyed John Gardner’s James Bond series, which primarily spanned the 1980’s, as well as Raymond Benson’s more-American take on the most-British of spies.
Recently, the popular fiction author, Jeffrey Deaver, was plucked from the ranks to write the latest 007 novel and on the whole I think he does the series justice. He does not take any chances, but he does hold true to the character and the universe which I think will appease fans but in the end deny them poignancy and relevance.

Deaver begins by taking Bond and bumping him into the twenty-first Century. By doing this, Deaver effectively alters the rules and the environment to create a new stomping ground for Bond to partake in, and because of this drastic change small facets of Bond’s backstory were changed but nothing that compromises the character. Besides these few details Deaver doesn’t really change anything else about the James Bond universe. He stays fairly grounded in the lore, and merely uses the revised setting to make a contemporary tale. As far as research is concerned it probably relieved some potential stress for Deaver as well. All things considering, it is an intelligent decision.

Interestingly enough the plot takes places over the course of a single week. It is quick and seamless. Each scene transitions smoothly to the next and it rarely has slow points because of its rapidity. Also, like most (if not all) James Bond plots, it trots the globe. The introduction takes place in Serbia and finally ends in Sudan with stops in Dubai and of course the United Kingdom.

The first several chapters follow James Bond as he thwarts an Irish hit man from derailing a train and polluting the Danube. This seemingly secluded incident then traces back to the villainous Severan Hydt and a much deeper plot that Bond must unravel before the death toll mounts. Hydt has an affinity for death. He enjoys it so much that he photographs it in order to get off on it privately. Severan is truly a villainous character that fits in to Bond’s wheelhouse of world dominators to a ‘T.’

The plot takes countless twists and turns and introduces various faces; some are familiar, while others are fresh takes on espionage archetypes. In the end and in traditional Jeffrey Deaver fashion, the conclusion is not so neatly sewn up as it may seem. There are numerous twists in the last fifty pages or so, but all-in-all, the good guys win the day and Bond has something left to ponder.

Carte Blanche” is not the best James Bond book ever written, nor is it the worst. It fires on all necessary cylinders to function accordingly, but it does not go above and beyond. It doesn’t push the boundaries, and unfortunately I think it will be easily forgettable a couple years down the line. With this in mind “Carte Blanche” receives three-and-a-half stars out of five.

“Carte Blanche” is not as in depth as a John le Carré or Joseph Kanon’s novels, but it gets the job done. It is a quick read, and the characters (whether new or not) seem familiar to the reader. Deaver pays homage to Fleming, while simultaneously holding true to his own form.

(SOURCE: Review: Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver)

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