Release The Virgins

TITLE: RELEASE THE VIRGINS
BY: MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA, EDITOR
PUBLISHED BY: FANTASTIC BOOKS
ISBN: 1-5151-2384-0/978-1-5154—2384-3
REVIEW COPY SENT BY PUBLISHER
REVIEW BY IDA VEGA-LANDOW

This is the second best book I’ve ever read that was written on a dare. The first was “Frankenstein” by 18-year-old Mary Shelley, after she and her future husband, the poet Percy Shelley, spent a wet summer at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland with their friend Lord Byron, where it wouldn’t stop raining. They spent most of their time reading ghost stories in front of the fireplace during all those dark and stormy nights, which inspired Byron to suggest that they all write a ghost story of their own. Poor Mary spent many sleepless nights wracking her brain to come up with a scary story, until she had a nightmare about “a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the novel’s story.”[Wikipedia, “Frankenstein”]. I think we all agree that Mary Shelley won that competition.

Michael Ventrella agreed to edit this collection of twisted tales after spending a weekend at an unnamed fan con, while he and a group of literary friends were sitting at a table in the bar on the third night of this four-day convention. One of them caught a fruit fly, which led to a discussion about biology, during which Thomas Nackid, who became the book’s cover artist, told them about his time in college when he was taking a genetics class and had to get up in the middle of the night to “release the virgins” from the fruit fly cultures. This catchy phrase so inspired the other authors that an idea was born; a challenge to write a story which included the phrase “Release the virgins”.

After agreeing to collect stories for the anthology, Ventrella decided to throw open the submissions process to everyone. In the book’s introduction, he admits that he was “worried that we would not get a large enough variety of stories to make this worthwhile”. But after a week, he was forced to announce, “No more unicorns!” As a longtime unicorn lover, I for one would have enjoyed reading more than the one unicorn story he included in this anthology; “Valedictory” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, which is about a girl who, along with a group of other village maidens, acts as bait to lure the unicorns at the local preserve every year so their horns can be harvested for medicinal purposes.

But despite the dearth of unicorn stories, the rest of the stories he selected, by such well-known and eminent authors of sci-fi and fantasy as David Gerrold, Keith R.A. DeCandido, even my homeboy Patrick Thomas of “Murphy’s Lore” fame, all contain the required phrase, “Release the virgins”, a small pearl hidden within a tasty oyster of prose. Some of those oysters are tastier than others, at least from my point of view. Stories such as “Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” by Beth W. Patterson, about a teenage Cthulhu worshipper at summer camp, and “Coming Attractions” by Daniel M. Kimmel, about an alien who becomes a successful Hollywood scriptwriter/producer, could have used a bit of cocktail sauce. Though I do like the way that Ms. Patterson managed to smuggle the phrase “Release the virgins” into her story. (The teenaged protagonist listens to her iPod while she’s riding horses; among her musical favorites is a group called The Virgins. She remarks to one of her friends, “I wish that some label would release The Virgins as a box set”.)

Among my favorites is “Sidekicked” by Hildy Silverman about an alternate universe Earth divided into Heroics and Villains by a godlike alien called the Architect, “with a smattering of ordinary folks to save or torment”, in which a teenage girl villain called Teen Devil accidently kills a hero’s sidekick and tries to make it up to him by replacing the boy, for her own nefarious purposes of course. There’s also “Innocence Lost” by Gail Z. Martin, where a witchy woman who’s a psychometric (able to read the history and magic of objects by touching them) finds an antique statue of the Virgin Mary stolen by the man who just bumped into her and uses it to find out that the man in question has been stealing statures of the Blessed Virgin from Catholic Churches, along with other holy images known for healing and warding off evil, to protect himself from a demon he accidently conjured up and can’t get rid of. All those statues of the Virgin Mary naturally lead to the required phrase, as in “…we need to get him to release the Virgins so they can go back to the churches where they belong.” The book is filled with better and worse ways of using the phrase, so be prepared to laugh or groan accordingly.

Patrick Thomas’s “The Running of the Drones” and David Gerrold’s “Dangerous Virgins”, which end the book, are neck and neck for sheer audacity. I can’t decide which story I liked better; Patrick’s is about a private investigator on a Terran colony world trying to find the lost virgin queen of a hive of Wornets, whose inexperienced drones, all eager to mate with her, hold a yearly race similar to the running of the bulls in Pamplona to determine who gets to her first. David’s story is about fan fiction and the weirdos who love it, writers and readers alike. (Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Space Cadets, I’m one of you and I include myself in the weirdo category.) One fanfic writer in particular and the know-it-all Trekker determined to bring him down for daring to satirize Star Trek and write dirty porn versions of all the sacred original Series episodes we adore (A Private Little Whore, Charle-SeX, The Naked Slime, I could go on and on but I’m both repulsed and fascinated by this nonsense, like a Vulcan on the verge of her seven-year itch). You’ll have to wait till the end of David’s story to see how he used the phrase, but Patrick comes right out with it at the beginning of the drones’ race to mate with their virgin queen.

All in all, I found “Release The Virgins” to be a very satisfying read. Some of the stories were more satisfying than others, but even the worse ones I had to give an A for effort. Get a copy of your own and spend some time releasing the virgins while pondering whether to imprison or release the writers responsible for all these virgin efforts. (But I still think it could have used more unicorn stories!)

Book Review: Peggy Pinch – Policeman’s Wife

Peggy Pinch Policeman’s Wife
Written by Malcolm Noble
Published by Matador
ISBN: 978-1848767-867
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Jane Seaton

We all love an idyllic 1920’s English village, lightly peppered with a few tasteful murders, all of which are solved in calm and timely fashion by an elderly spinster, or titled gentleman.

So get real. In 1926, an English village too far from the nearest main road to merit a reliable bus service is already nervously aware that the threatened General Strike will bring real hunger. The policeman’s wife senses that the local Police Inspector is going to take out his frustration over this crime on her husband. That’ll mean humiliation, unemployment and loss of their police house home.

As the gentry talk up the possibility of full scale, communist-led revolution, the feudal certainties of village life are degenerating into a kaleidoscope of scandal. Peggy Pinch can’t even bring herself to say ‘arse’ but that doesn’t protect her from the village scolds. The only thing she can do now is solve the mystery, by Thursday.

Book review: Mystic Investigators: Bullets & Brimstone

Mystic Investigators: Bullets & Brimstone
By Patrick Thomas & John L. French
Published by Dark Quest Books
ISBN: 978-0-9826197-3-5
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Fresh from my review of Stefan Kanfer’s bio of Humphrey Bogart, here’s my review of another Bogie fan created by New York homeboy Patrick Thomas. Those of you familiar with the world of Murphy’s Lore will welcome the return of Negral, the forgotten fire god of Sumeria who became the Devil’s Detective to avoid fading away. Fresh from his triumph in Patrick’s previous publication, “Lore and Dysorder”, which this book keeps referring to (or was it this book that preceded “Lore and Dysorder”? Let’s do the Time Warp again!), Negral joins forces with a mortal cop, a police detective named Bianca Jones, to track down one of the Devil’s lost souls. That’s someone who signed a contract with the Devil and tries to get out of it.
Continue reading “Book review: Mystic Investigators: Bullets & Brimstone”

Book review: Lore and Dysorder: The Hell’s Detective Mysteries

Lore and Dysorder: The Hell’s Detective Mysteries
By Patrick Thomas
Padwolf Publishing 2011
Book purchased by Reviewer

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Sure, and if it isn’t another fine book by that fine Irish laddie, Patrick Thomas! This one is about another of the regulars at Bullfinch’s Bar, a forgotten Sumerian fire god who goes by the name Negral. He’s the chief of Hell’s secret police, 666th Precinct, who channels Humphrey Bogart. I kid you not; Negral is such a big Bogie fan that he manifests himself as a tall, dark man in a suit wearing a trench coat and a fedora. He talks tough like Bogie too, and doesn’t bother to tell his suspects their Miranda Rights. That’s because most of them are the damned souls who inhabit Hell, or the demons who own them. Satan thinks so highly of him that he gave him the right to investigate and interrogate any resident of Hell, answering only to His Satanic Majesty.
Continue reading “Book review: Lore and Dysorder: The Hell’s Detective Mysteries”

Book review: Night of the Living Trekkies

Night of the Living Trekkies
By Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall
Published by Quirk Books
ISBN: 1594744637
Review copy provided by Quirk Books

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Horror and sci-fi have been combined in an unholy and hilarious alliance by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall, both admitted “lifelong science fiction geeks and proud of it”. Inspired by George Romero and Gene Roddenberry, these fanboys have created the ultimate no-win scenario, one that makes the Kobayashi Maru look like deciding between Coke and Pepsi.
Continue reading “Book review: Night of the Living Trekkies”

Book review: Boleyn: Tudor Vampire

Boleyn: Tudor Vampire
by Cinsearae S.
Published 2010
ISBN: 1451559496
Review copy provided by the author

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This book has everything for the reader who loves horror, romance and historic fiction. It’s about Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, for whom he created a whole new church just so he could divorce his faithful first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to marry her. The author supposes that when Henry got tired of Anne and had her convicted on a slew of made-up charges, among them witchcraft, she was not beheaded like a noblewoman, but hanged like a commoner. Or, as the blurb on the back cover of this fascinating book states, “The slightest tweak in history makes all the difference in the outcome…”
Continue reading “Book review: Boleyn: Tudor Vampire”

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
By Jane Austin and Ben H. Winters
Published by Quirk Books, Philadelphia, PA 2009
Distributed in North America by Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781594744426
Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow,

Once again we are entertained, or afflicted, by a smartass who has decided to “improve” Jane Austin by adding an element of horror to one of her classic romance novels. As if “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith wasn’t bad enough (and by that I mean good enough to be skewered on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, if it were still on the air, and if anybody brave enough to film PP&Z could be found), we now have “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”, in which the course of true love not only seldom runs smooth, but frequently has blood-stained water. You see, in this alternate version of Miss Austin’s novel, dear old England has been afflicted by “The Alteration; which had turned the creatures of the ocean against the people of the earth; which made even the tiniest darting minnow and the gentlest dolphin into aggressive, blood-thirsty predators, hardened and hateful towards our bipedal race”.
Continue reading “Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”

Book Review: The Never-Ending Sacrifice

The Never-Ending Sacrifice
By Una McCormack
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2009
ISBN: 1439109613
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Kathryn Ramage

“The author is supposed to be chronicling seven generations of a single family, but he tells the same story over and over again. All the characters live lives of selfless duty to the state, get old and die–and then the next generation comes along and does it all over again!”

“That’s the whole point, Doctor. The repetitive epic is the most elegant form of Cardassian literature, and The Never-Ending Sacrifice is its greatest achievement.”

–Dr. Julian Bashir and Elim Garak, in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, The Wire

The classic Cardassian novel, The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Ulan Corac, opens with a dedication “For Cardassia,” and exemplifies the Cardassian ideal of unwavering dedication to the homeworld and placing the needs of the State above personal considerations. As noted by Dr. Bashir’s and Garak’s discussion above, the plot is extremely repetitive and some readers, particularly human ones, might find it a dreadful bore. Fortunately, Una McCormack’s novel of the same name is neither.
Continue reading “Book Review: The Never-Ending Sacrifice”

Book review: Roanoke, A Novel of Elizabethan Intrigue

Roanoke, A Novel of Elizabethan Intrigue
By Margaret Lawrence
Published by Delacorte Press, February 2009
Copy supplied by the publisher
ISBN: 0385342373

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

If you’re looking for a good mystery to read during this Season of the Witch, I recommend “Roanoke”, which is about the first, failed English colony in America. Nobody really knows the ultimate fate of the little group of Englishmen and women who settled on Roanoke Island back in 1585. It’s now a thriving city in the state of Virginia, but back then it was a backwater island up the windswept coast of the Carolinas, past Cape Feare, inhabited by the Secota Indians.
Continue reading “Book review: Roanoke, A Novel of Elizabethan Intrigue”

Book review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith
Published by Quirk Books, Philadelphia, PA 2009
Distributed in North America by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA
ISBN 10: 1594743347

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

As a longtime lover of Regency Romance, I thought I would hate reading this satirical version of “Pride and Prejudice”, after Seth Grahame-Smith finished adding his touch of Gothic Horror to the well-loved romantic classic. Surprisingly enough, it turned out to be readable; not only romantic, but funny! Especially in parts where Grahame-Smith expands upon Austin’s sometimes overblown prose to the point where you suspect him of having watched one too many episodes of “Month Python’s Flying Circus”. Continue reading “Book review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”