Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review of The Condimental Op, by Andrez Bergen.

art courtesy of Cocoa Bergen
I know, I know! I just published a review of a wonderful project by Andrez, and here we have another entry by him. The explanation for this is that I had been reading both works concurrently, and finished both of them about a week apart from one another. The reviews would have been more spaced out, except for one thing; I happened to be working twelve hour shifts on a fourteen day run at my job. When I would get off, I usually had trouble reading, much less writing out a critical review that would do justice to the source material. So I decided to wait until I was off, and had a bit more brain power, before I gave it a go. Both reviews were in the pipe for a bit, and I fired them off, one after another. With that out of the way, let's get to the review...

I'll start out by saying that The Condimental Op, by Andrez Bergen is simply sprawling in nature. Included within are both fiction and non-fiction; short stories and graphic adaptations, plus alternate and reworked takes on some past fiction. It's got some great art, definitely including the cover, which is displayed above left. It comes to us courtesy of Andrez's daughter Cocoa, which shows that talent runs in the family. I'll be reviewing this in sections, and concentrating on my favorites, due to the large amount of material contained in this collection. So, on to part one.

The first section of the collection mainly contains stand alone short stories. The forewords by Andrez are worth the price of admission alone. That said, I'd recommend reading the stories first, and then coming back to the forewords. That way you get to have a fresh view of the stories. It's up to you, though. 'Sugar and Spice' tells the tale of two teenage delinquents planning a heist... of a comic book store. Needless to say, all does not go as planned. It may just be me, but I find the proceedings darkly humorous. I can't get the thought of the heist from Reservoir Dogs, via the comic shop from The Simpsons out of my head. Ha! I apologize. Very good story. Moving on, 'Victor Victoria' is my favorite from this section. An action-packed tale of aerial combat in WWI, it reminds me of the Biggles series by W.E. Johns. With a certain sly humor throughout, it definitely entertains. Plus, the ending is hilarious. Rounding out my trio of favorite tales, we have 'A Woman of Sense'. A tale of a female mercenary hired by a petty lord to be his bodyguard... at least that's what he says. Things go a bit off track from the jump, and a bit of carnage ensues. Once again, it's the humor that really wins me over. Apparently Andrez had a bit of trouble getting this published, which really boggles my mind. Very nice. While these are my three favorites, all the stories in this section are worth reading, and highly recommended.

The next section contains four stories dealing with the adventures of Roy Scherer and Suzie Miller. Partners in the detective agency of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane, they certainly live up to the agency's title. Through the course of the stories they deal with a zombie (but not really a zombie), a vampire, and a possessed typewriter. The fourth story is a bit longer, and doesn't feature Suzie. It's a prequel, with a much younger and less acerbic Roy, stumbling onto what will be his first case. While a bit hard to pick favorites, if pushed, I'll have to go with 'Lazarus Slept' and 'Revert to Type'. In 'Lazarus' our heroes investigate a possible case of a zombie running amok. Although things aren't quite kosher with the whole zombie identification, Roy's rather blunt approach handles business rather nicely. Things are a bit more complicated with 'Revert to Type'. Called on by a client who claims to have a possessed typewriter, Roy quickly classes the guy as a total nutter. Proved wrong, Roy's usual straight-ahead way of operating blows up in his face. This is really Suzie's moment to shine, and is a total joy. Really great. Half the fun in these tales are watching Roy go about business; the other half is Suzie annoying the hell out of him. Has a whole lot of "laugh out loud" moments throughout the various stories. I'm a big fan of the characters, and hopefully we will see more of them in the future. (Hint, hint Andrez.)

The third section revisits the dystopian world of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. Sci-fi filtered through the darkest noir, I'd highly recommend picking it up. The duo of Floyd Maquina and Laurel Canyon are feautured in the first two stories, 'Come Out Swinging' and 'Dread Fellow Churls'. Both stories revolve around a rescue attempt, although the latter is pulled off a bit more smoothly. 'Neck-Tied' features a fellow Seeker (a combination of detective/tracker, Floyd being one as well) in a rather desperate situation. 'In-Dreamed' is a story of Floyd's supposedly dead wife, Veronica; she is apparently alive, after all. The ending is a nice twist. She also features (In my mind, at least. Andrez leaves it up to the reader.) in my favorite of two graphic adaptations included in this section, 'Waiting For Sod All'. As I really enjoyed TSMG, these continuations and off-shoots are greatly appreciated, including the ones not mentioned. All in all, gritty, dark, and shot through with a touch of gallow's humor. Really, what's not to like?

The final section, fittingly entitled 'Ransacking the Archive', brings together a variety of materiel, most of it non-fiction articles. Starting out with a number of prose selections written in 1989, it moves through critiques of food, film, music, and culture. Setting down an account of the weeks leading up to the birth of his daughter, Cocoa, is the most personal of these entries. This may or may-not be your cup of tea, but I found them fascinating. Very glad they were included, since I believe they give a bit of insight on the events that helped shape the author's works. Plus, I just like reading reviews. Ta, Andrez!

Well, there it is. Overall, an excellent collection, which I would highly recommend. Goes without saying that the forewords and acknowledgements are required reading, as well. Here's where you can pick up a copy. If you'd like to know a bit more about the author, pop over to Andrez's Blog. With that, I believe I'll get back to what I love most, reading. TTFN...

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