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February 2011
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April 2011

Underground Reading: His Own Man by Martha Gellhorn

His Own ManHis Own Man (expressively written as His OWN Man on the cover) is a 1962 novel set in beautiful, cosmopolitan Paris. Billed as a "hilarious" comedy, this is actually one of the more depressing novels I've read recently - a short tale of ruthless comeuppance disguised as a sex farce.

American Ben Eckhardt is determined not to leave Paris. He's in his early 30s and, despite being completely broke, he's having the time of his life. Ben's getting his graduate degree in Sinology, a process he's managed to drag out for years and years - doing just well enough to keep his scholarship, but avoiding anything that might lead to completing his work. He spends his days wandering around the museums, his weekends exploring the parks and his nights mooching beer and wine from parties. Ben has two traits that make this life possible: he's astoundingly easy-going and he's extraordinarily handsome. Everyone loves a pleasant hottie.

Ben's routine is disrupted by a hot cup of coffee. Jessica de Camberges is a willowy blonde who gets over her guilt of being born (filthy) rich by spending every waking hour volunteering at a charity for refugees. Her parents are continually baffled by her, but accept that she's just a little insane. An early marriage (and subsequent divorce) has made Jessica especially awkward around men. However, when she spills Ben's coffee, Jessica is wracked by a sort of liberal guilt that overpowers even her reclusive nature. He's poor, she's rich - she owes him for the cup of coffee and he won't take her money. 

What follows is a sort of semi-benign stalking, as Jessica follows Ben around meekly trying to please him. He's initially a little annoyed by her, but Jessica's relentless and they wind up becoming friends... and later, lovers. Oddly, they never really like one another. Jessica is dazzled that someone is paying attention to her and Ben is satisfied with having an undemanding weekend companion.

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PK Interview: Fred Venturini (Part 2)

In the first half of our interview with author Fred Venturini, we got him to confess to his reality tv experience and to talk about the American high school experience. He's recently finished a "virtual tour" for The Samaritan, so we put on our marketing hats (they look like this) and asked a few loaded questions about the experience.

The Samaritan


PK: We know you've had quite a busy month of virtual "touring" with over a dozen different blogs around the world. We're the last stop on the tour, so we wanted to give you a chance to share the experience from your perspective.

FV: It’s great, and sort of exhausting. Trying to keep up with all the comments and be engaged, trying to share the reviews and guest posts with people, all while trying to balance work on another master’s degree, a new house, a full time job, you know, a non-writerly lifestyle, it feels like a lot of work. It’s all worth it when you get that one email or friend request from someone you don’t know—you start making those peripheral connections, and that’s when it gets really exciting.

PK: Which is more nerve-wracking: waiting for reviews from professional reviewers or from the scarily-enthusiastic amateurs of the blogging world?

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Rattle & Boom: Gloom

GloomGloom is a straightforward, delightfully morbid card game. Published by Atlas Games in 2004, it picked up an Origins Award in 2005 for "Best Traditional Card Game".

And, despite the stylistic trappings, Gloom is a very traditional game - and that's part of its appeal. It has an easily-mastered mechanic that makes it quick to learn. When this is coupled with the entertaining, shamelessly Gorey-styled artwork, Gloom is the sort of game that you can bring on vacation to play with your geekery-averse older sister.

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8 Great Fantasy Cities

Our Facebook competition on fantasy cities comes to a close this evening, so we thought we'd provide a bit of last-minute inspiration with a few of our own favorites.

City-of-ruin-by-mark-charan-newtonVilliren: The setting of Mark Charan Newton's appropriately-named City of Ruin, Villiren is a roguish city on the edge of a crumbling empire. Gangs, politicians and cults maintain the peace through a delicate balance of power. When the end of the world approaches (by snow & crab-monster alike), the people of Villiren take the opportunity to settle their own scores first. But, on the plus side? Trilobites.

New Crobuzon: The twisted spires and dark alleys of Mr. Miéville's metropolis are populated by a hodge-podge population of artists, scholars, Remade, soldiers, Cactacae and the occasional Slake Moth. New Weird, Steampunk & Urban Fantasy enthusiasts all try to claim this city as one of their own but, like all of Mr. Miéville's creations, New Crobuzon defies classification. The riots make life a little dangerous, but what other cities have an embassy to Hell?

The City: As the only city of any size on the continent, the capital of the Republic of Mezentia is simply known as The City. Mezentia is ruthlessly well-organized and takes bureaucracy to the extreme. Still, however bizarre the committee system is (or fascistic the Mezentine standards), the City works. The streets are clean, the food is good and Mezentia dominates the continent. KJ Parker's protagonist, Ziani Vaatzes travels the world, but can't help but contrast everything with the beauty of his home. There is The City, and then there is the chaos of everyplace else.

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Underground Reading: The Gray Flannel Shroud by Henry Slesar

The Gray Flannel ShroudThe Gray Flannel Shroud, by Henry Slesar, is a 1957 murder mystery set in an advertising agency. The title is topical for 1957 - a twist on the familiar concept of the "man in the gray flannel suit" (a slightly derogatory reference to the expensive-garbed armies of Madison Avenue marketeers).

The title also hints at a transient wittiness; a book that's willing to poke fun at the here & now and not weigh itself down with concerns about lasting relevance. Similarly, as the cover art indicates, this is a book more invested in titillation than suspense.

Just to be clear, I've got no problem with any of that. A humorous, cheesecake-laden murder mystery set in an advertising agency? It might have well been written for me.

Our hero, Dave Robbins, is a handsome young account manager at a small Madison Avenue agency. His adventures begin with his Monday morning commute. Coming in to the city after a weekend with his photographer friend, he's rudely shoved in front of an oncoming train. Fortunately, he's quick on his feet, so Dave scrambles back onto the platform and avoids becoming a permanent part of the 7.58 to Grand Central.

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PK Interview: Fred Venturini (Part 1)

On Friday, we reviewed Fred Venturini's mind-boggling debut novel, The Samaritan. To top it off, we've managed to score a few words with the man himself. In the first part of the interview, we talked high school bullying, being on reality TV, and - of course - the dreaded influences question.


The Samaritan PK: A large part of The Samaritan takes place during middle school and high school. Or whatever they call those ages over here in the UK. Do you see that as the defining time in a person's life?

FV: Absolutely. Because everything is your “first” during these years, they have an intensity that puts a fossil in your memory. Your first love is the love of your life, your first heartbreak is the end of the world, your first varsity basketball game might as well be an NBA finals game, that first broken bone is the worst pain in the history of the planet. These events and how we react, overcome, fail, or shape ourselves around them helps create who we’re going to be when the concrete finally firms up and we’re stuck as adults.

PK: Just judging by a cryptic note in your author profile, it sounds like you had a pretty interesting (and not in a positive way) experience in your own youth. Was Dale Sampson's school experience inspired by your own?

FV: Maybe not so much the school experience, because honestly, I went to school with the kindest, warmest people in a small town high school. I think I connect with Dale when it comes to the healing process, and that's where my experiences come in.

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Mad Zeppelin

Mad Zeppelin Mad Zeppelin is a 2009 release from Dust and Alderac Entertainment.

The game is set in a steampunk-styled 1890. The "Great Empire" is using a zeppelin to ferry raw materials from the colonies. Although security is tight, there are a number of spies and saboteurs on board. The players each take on the role of a nameless foreign power, using the agents at hand to destroy the Empire's resources.

Or, more simply put: You take turns chucking things off a zeppelin. Everything is worth a certain amount of points (Wood = 1, Diamonds = 7) - the first person to chuck 20 or 30 points-worth off the zeppelin wins. We had a lot of fun imagining the humble sheep farmer underneath the zeppelin, steadily losing his flock to falling crates of iron ore.

The game is based around a deck of 14 Traitors, each with their own special power or trait. In each turn, players get two Traitors - one randomly dealt, one secretly selected. Players go around in a circle activating one of their Traitors, then then go around again activating the second one. Each Traitor earns a bit of gold, draws some cards and (possibly) chucks stuff over the side. They do this by bribing the invisible, omnipresent guards and playing a cargo card. At the end of both rounds, the turn is over, and all the Traitors go back into the deck. Repeat until someone wins.

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The Week that Was

What happened this week on Pornokitsch? Reviews, reviews, reviews!

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New Releases: The Samaritan by Fred Venturini

The Samaritan - hardback cover The Samaritan, by Fred Venturini, is a new publication from Blank Slate Press, a young publisher from the American Midwest. The book tells the story of Dale Sampson and his best friend, Mack. Dale is an extremely ordinary boy from a small Illinois town. He's smart but sad, badly-socialized and a little pathetic. When Mack, the cool baseball-playing hotshot, takes Dale under his wing, it changes his life. He's still a smart, badly-socialized, pathetic loser, but he's no longer sad - Dale has a friend, and that changes his outlook on everything.

This Disney delight comes to an abrupt end in high school.

While Mack is gleefully leaping on every girl in school, Dale's attention is focused on just one: Regina. It isn't love, it is that gut-wrenching, harmless-yet-terrifying obsession of which only adolescents are truly capable of achieving. Mr. Venturini shows the reader many horrors during the course of The Samaritan, but none of them might be as painful as Dale's unreciprocated crush on Regina.

Dale does get some attention in return - mostly from Regina's boyfriend, Clint. The thuggish bully puts Dale in the hospital. While there, Dale discovers something new - he heals. And by that, I mean heals.

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James Bond 007, Role Playing in Her Majesty's Secret Service

James Bond 007 James Bond 007, Role Playing In Her Majesty's Secret Service was produced by Victory Games (an offshoot of Avalon Hill) in 1983. Espionage and mystery-based games are always a complicated mileu - demanding of both the GM and the players. They're more open-ended and improvisional for the players and insist that the GM is always one step ahead, something that can be quite difficult to do on the fly. When it comes to enjoying a game, the only thing worse than an impossible mystery is an obvious one.

Much to my surprise, this vintage game made it work -  stylistically, mechanically and, most importantly, philosophically.

The latter point is perhaps the most significant. In the opening pages, James Bond flags up its important distinction: "This game is designed in the favor of the players. After all, what good is being James Bond if the game says you will fail rather than succeed".

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