Latest Brews

Sweatpants & Books | Shelf Care | Books That Make You Shout “Aw, HELL Yeah!”

By Alex Doyle

Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme.  These aren’t necessarily the latest releases but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: Aw, hell yeah!

If you’re up for over the top narratives with a dose of “I don’t believe it, but I could see that happening,” if you’re looking for books that take things right up to the edge of credibility and dance on it, and if you’re looking for that scene that makes the audience shout “AW, HELL YEAH!”  then you’ve come to the right place.

So, if you like:

  • Urban fantasy, where magic and modern technology coexist
  • Tricksters, who, as good as they are at getting into trouble, are somehow better at getting out of it
  • Hilarious interconnected short stories that make for quick reading
  • That tiny dot on the Venn diagram where Terry Pratchett and Hunter S. Thompson intersect

You might like:

A City Dreaming, by Daniel Polansky.


Set in a modern New York City where magic lies just below ( and occasionally leaks out of ) the surface, M is a magician of questionable skill and morality who is continuously getting in and out of scrapes as he tries to avoid any personal responsibility. This usually doesn’t work out too well, but fortunately for M the only thing he’s better at than getting into trouble is getting out of it. He’s that guy you want to hear telling the short story, but you never want to be part of the story when it’s happening.

Sample passage

“In the end, M figured there was one of two ways this situation would play out. The first was that the pirates would flog Boy with a cat-o’-nine-tails or keelhaul her or make her walk the plank or some other sort of nonsense. M didn’t think this was very probable, but he wasn’t mad about the possibility. It seemed far more likely that, despite her rather desperate text, Boy would find some way to break free of her captors, murder them all in a fashion at once brutal and novel, and then come knocking on M’s door, prepared to do the same thing to him.

M liked this possibility even less.”


A City Dreaming is not a book for the easily offended, but damn is it funny. Polansky has a talent for mining humor out of bizarre situations that had me busting a gut while reading it. With each chapter reading as a short story in M’s year in the city, the book goes by pretty quick. I should add that insofar as I can tell, the rest of Polansky’s books are not nearly as off the wall as this one, so not all of his stuff is laughs.

Or, if you like:

  • Near future cyberpunk semi-dystopias
  • Bizarre but somehow plausible characters
  • Or thought Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash wasn’t ‘out there’ enough

You might like:

Futuristic Violence And Fancy Suits, by David Wong.


This near-future cyberpunk thriller revolves around Zoey, who has inherited a criminal empire from her absent father, and has to quickly come up to speed on the family business while figuring out what happened to her dad and avoiding a parade of assassins.

Sample passage

Andre said, “There were weird rumors, over the last couple of months. Dead bodies with freaky injuries, or their brains fried. Couple guys spontaneously combusted. One guy managed to get himself lodged into the engine of an airliner at thirty thousand feet, somehow. At first it came off like a viral Blink hoax, but … yeah. It turns out some of the shady characters in this city now have … powers.”

Zoey grabbed her hair and growled in frustration. “Okay, just how much more information are you people withholding from me? Because every new layer of this thing is more terrifying than the last.”

Will said, “So now you understand the state of mind we were in when you arrived.”

“Oh, yeah, you’ve convinced me. I want no part of this nonsense. This whole city is a butt that farts horror.”


It’s no surprise that Wong, being a writer for, would be able to seamlessly integrate humor into his work, especially when the premise starts out this side of the edge of believable. The bizarre characters and plot twists may be barely credible, but they’re still credible, and the whole thing pulls off that balancing act of being funny and serious at the same time.

Or, if you like:

  • Honest reactions when confronting the supernatural
  • The genre of men’s adventure fiction
  • Using modern technology to kick ass on the undead

You might like

Vampire$ by John Steakley


Restraint isn’t a virtue for a modern day vampire hunter. When one has the option of using harpoons and steel cables to winch vampires out into the sun, hitting the undead with anything less than everything you’ve got would be considered a once in a lifetime mistake.

Jack Crow has no restraint.

However, when the professional vampire hunter becomes the hunted, he has to rebuild his team and fight back.

Sample Passage

Jack smiled slyly. “So what else — for just a few seconds, mind you — takes their minds off feeding?”

Of course, no one knew. Not for sure. But everyone — even Felix — had an idea or three. But it was Carl Joplin who really brought it home.

“I read somewhere,” he offered calmly, “that a pig’s blood is a lot like a man’s.”

Thirty minutes later, they had a serious list of goodies.


From a distance, Vampire$ looks like a men’s adventure fiction novel, and it does tip its hat in that direction, but it’s taken way above the level of  dime store pulp novel by clever characters and excellent writing.

Vampire$ is one of my all-time favorite books, it’s and one of those rare ones where everybody I’ve recommended it to has liked it. It’s a ride, start to finish, and would probably make a better* movie someday, but if you’re wondering what the intersection of the undead, technology and a real bad case of revenge would look like, this is it.

* John Carpenter adapted it in 1998, but for various reasons, the movie kept the setting but didn’t match the plot of the book.






Facebook Comments


About Alex Doyle (41 Articles)
Alex Doyle is a father, programmer, smartass and a fan of anything that wastes no time to getting to the point. When he's not trying to be clever on the Internet, or irritating his kids with dad jokes, he can be found looking for the next great story that everyone has to read.

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Shelf Care | The Tip of the Iceberg

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.