A review of Red by Rachel Donald

When I started reading this book back in May, there weren’t yet any reviews and I was prepared to dig deep to write a detailed review. Since then, though, fellow Goodreader Brandon has aptly summed up the story and its strong points to a degree where I feel I’d only retread his insights. Still, I’d like to talk about some of the things I thought about this finely wrought, though occasionally frustrating debut novel by Ms. Donald. [note: this review was originally published on Goodreads]

The light sci-fi dystopia of near-future London is like looking through a funhouse mirror where things are mildly distorted but recognizable. The worst, most dehumanizing aspects of Capitalism have been repurposed here as the Death Value, in which the best and brightest are automatically pushed forward to the best schools and fast tracked to start producing big bucks in order to spend big bucks. It’s a feedback loop of self-imposed slavery, where people are located in residential Zones according to their Death Value, which fluctuate depending on a number of factors such as purchasing power, social media activity, and excessive spending on whatever for the sake of national pride.

As Brandon mentioned in his review,

Our lead character lacks the modification that allows everyone else to have a value-added user experience. With it, clothes, art, the (artificial) sky exist in new and incredible colors, all over, always. In consequence the world around and outside, the trees and the sea and the everything else not yet painted over or packaged, has become grey and threatening. This is because the modifications only permit licensed content to be seen—and the embryonic modification doesn’t let anyone opt-out. 

Our main character is like a superhero. By day, she works as a stock broker in a soulless corporation filled with frat bros and the arch-typical sexist boss from hell. By night, she locks herself away in a secret room in her apartment and paints with a single color, a color only she could make. One day, she spots a Zero, so-called because they live outside the framework the government regulates and promotes. She might not have noticed him, except for an eye-catching yellow scarf tossed around his neck. Thus begins the call to adventure, but this is a subversion of a hero’s journey. Or perhaps a diversion altogether.

The first half of the book sets up key relationships between the main character and her best friend and colleague, Kathy; her former professor, who encouraged critical thinking and subversion through her art; her mother, a doctor; a romantic interest, Robert, and Robert’s transgendered friend, Adrienne. A haze of alcoholism blunts real connection with these people. Our hero resorts to sarcastic quips and dry wit to survive the sinking feeling that people are sheeple. There’s a tawdry, almost tabloid feeling to this fictional reality. The casual superficiality of most human interaction is brought to the forefront and it stings the eyes to read. No one seems to say what they actually mean or mean what they say.

When our hero has her revelation, we’re thrusted into part two, in which the narration shifts from a third person perspective to her voice. This worked…less well for me. It reminded me of Jonathan Lethem’s change of narration in The Fortress of Solitude, even though these books have little else in common. I’m all for experimenting with voice, but there has to be a reason to switch halfway through the book, and I didn’t get quite enough interior insight to make this as successful a transition as it could have been.

Generally speaking, the second half has some brilliant moments that are marred by uneven pacing and what seems like a rush to get to the denouement at the end. Conveniences and contrivances for plot purposes are a bit too tidy. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but the main character’s automatic acceptance into the burgeoning underground group, or resistance, comes across as way too easy. I got strong Mary Sue vibes in that our hero is brilliant, but damaged. A victim who is the only one who can get people to open their eyes. Of course, something has to be special about her, otherwise we have no reason to follow her story.

Still, it’s maddening when she is the only character who isn’t color-blind and is the only artist, and of course her art must be brilliant, like Banksy, but a potent symbol for revolution. She’s intelligent and witty and apparently attractive with a strong sense of justice and a disdain for the injustice of the system in which they all live and a definitive drinking problem and a well-spring of feelings so strong that every strong emotion she has is almost inevitably described as almost bursting through her chest. Aliens, this is not. A 3-dimensional character is there, strong and true, but there isn’t much room for growth or change on an interior plane. Shaving one’s head and going by a different name and confronting addiction come across as placeholders for real, deeper change.

The prose is vivid and cunning throughout. Occasionally so many metaphors are in play that they collectively lose their potency. Careful attention to individual lines and phrasings give off the whiff of purple prose, and the profligacy of adverbs will work for some people, but I felt some light editing would clean these sections up. Dialogue zings, but rings less true in part two when it devolves into shapeless banter. Like the switching of POV, these stylistic choices will work for some and won’t for others.

It’s not a “difficult” book, but I personally didn’t find it conducive to reading straight through in one sitting. Like Brandon, I had to confront this book piecemeal, sometimes leaving it alone for days at a time. There are sharp edges here and it can cut you. It’s unapologetic reimagining of our own fictional existence. It’s asking you to open your eyes and to see, to really see what life can be.


I also recommend reading Rachel’s great blog @ https://rachelfdonald.wordpress.com


Pictures of the Computerspielemuseum in Berlin

Pictures of the Computerspielemuseum in Berlin

I relegated these pictures to the tail end of my story about the Computerspielemuseum in Berlin. Here they are by themselves, for your viewing pleasure.

Who the fuck is voting Tory? — Rachel Donald

My friend Rachel has written a book! You can buy it here. She also has a stellar blog filled with great writing. Check it out!


You were proud to wake up and march to the polling station To cast a vote to try and salvage our nation Determined the results that we’d be facin’ Would be faces of fair representation Faces like yours and mine and all the others That ain’t ashamed of their blue collars Rooted in the pride […]

via Who the fuck is voting Tory? — Rachel Donald

Rating rejection letters!

Rating rejection letters!


I thought it would be fun to rate the various rejection letters I’m bound to receive from my most recent submission jamboree. I first got the idea from The Brunching Shuttlecocks, a comedy website I read religiously when I was in high school. There are already a few that have come in.

Here’s one from Antioch University’s Lunch Ticket.

Dear Stephen,

Lunch Ticket receives a number of excellent submissions each reading period, and while yours is one of them, it was not chosen for the upcoming issue. This is not a reflection on your work or on your worth as a writer. Our direction for the next issue of Lunch Ticket was simply different than the vision of your work.

Rejections are never easy—for you the writer, or for us, the editors. But as we both know, they are part of being a writer. We are sorry that we weren’t the right market for Cats & Birds, but we know that there is another market waiting for you, and to them, this piece is exactly perfect. We hope you know that this letter doesn’t mean “no forever”, and we hope you will submit to Lunch Ticket again.

Best of luck, and take good care,

The Editors of Lunch Ticket

That’s pretty nice, isn’t it? Let’s call it the soft letdown. The old shoulder rub. They make it appear as if rejecting your story hurts them too, almost as much as it does you.

Maybe it actually does hurt them, but I’m sure by the time this letter has been sent they’re already knee deep into the next story. I know from having submitted to them last fall that this is a form rejection, so that’s something to take into consideration for the final grade.

Rating: B+

Reaching the Beginning

Reaching the Beginning

By Stephen M. Tomic


The casket had been closed for nearly an hour when a faint, wheezing oboe rendition of The Beatles “I Should Have Known Better” penetrated the thick summer air. Accompanying birds chirped from the perches of surrounding oak tree branches and tombstones. A modest group of people gathered around the casket of Sylvie Rosenthal, dabbing at droplets of sweat, while Otto Rosenthal concluded his musical tribute to his deceased wife. Reverend John Becker made a wry comment about the irony of a drought at a funeral before he began the Rite of Committal.

The crumbling hulk of Otto then sat down next to his two young boys, Levin and Horace. Levin rolled up the sleeves of his over-starched brown button up shirt, not yet quite the age of seven, and stared at the lacquered coffin that sat in front of him. Horace, his blonde haired brother, three years his junior, tugged at the pant leg of Levin and whispered “Lee! Lee! How come daddy is crying?” Levin knew and didn’t say. What he didn’t know was why.

A few weeks later, heavy rainfall finally swept through the land. It seemed God was giving the world a reprieve; a chance to make amends. Otto saw the rain as a glorious sign from his wife. He kissed his children goodnight and dialed 911. After the call had been made, he went outside to sit down upon a chilled stone bench, his polished shoes in fresh puddles. He smiled, whispering lines of a sonnet to his beloved Sylvie. Then, Otto looked skyward at the falling mesh of rain and shot himself in the head. Continue reading “Reaching the Beginning”

The Book of Isms: Part 8, Nos. 351-400

The Book of Isms: Part 8, Nos. 351-400

The Isms continue!

These are the thoughts and quotes of me and other people at a much younger time in life. They’re irreverent and silly, and it’s like stepping into a time portal to the past.

  • I don’t give a fuck!
  • I like giving people the finger.
  • It would be great if a movie was made where the main protagonist dies midway through the second movie. Or maybe not.
  • Loneliness, in my opinion, is a very subtle emotion…often confused with depression.
  • I may sound self-centered because of these Isms, but that’s only because I’m writing them.
  • Fuck you. Life is vulgar.
  • I heard I can be annoying to people I happen to dislike.
  • The lack of an opposable thumb would humble me more than a lack of thriving testicles.
  • We did some hippie voodoo bullshit to it.
  • It’s no good when you find that totally hot girl that is 1000% underage.
  • Children! You can find porn by typing just about any number!
  • I’ll never forget my grade school buddy, Rick, who thought that black people crapped white.
  • Idiots abound!
  • Alcohol, for the most part, is fantastic. Just be weary of those morning after ass dumplings.
  • Merit does not equal reward.
  • I’m glad I’m not a crack baby.
  • If this were all poetry, it would still probably be the type to piss of Jerry Falwell.
  • Basketball would be more entertaining if there was a height restriction of 6 feet.
  • If you’re going to do drugs, do them for the right reasons.
  • Ranch dressing can go with just about anything.
  • We need no more children named Sunflower.
  • There is no reason for anyone to be addicted to anything.
  • I like the words indulgence and debacle.
  • Sane people rejoiced when the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync stopped making music.
  • I am convinced Arnold’s Commando is the greatest bad movie of all time.
  • They better not make out…OH GOD don’t let them make out.
  • Not everyday you come across a man you are immediately aware is probably telling you 70-90% bullshit.
  • I bet Bleedin’ Gums Murphy totally nailed Lisa Simpson.
  • I bet Jesus was a Mason.
  • I’m teaching my kids to speak Frenglish. (Editorial amendment: This is definitely called “Franglais” in France.
  • Asian Assortment sounds like something you would find in a Magic deck.
  • How bout you make me I should fuck you?
  • In all likelihood, people help support the economy by buying drugs.
  • And when they tell you drugs fund terrorist activities, they’re referring to the United States Government.
  • “Okay, rest well.” “Dress well?” “Breast swell?”
  • I might as well be dead since I just pissed and shat myself.”
  • Does Janet Reno have sex with anyone?
  • I’ve noticed I rag on celebrities a lot. Probably because they deserve it.
  • Someone was offended one time when I said I wouldn’t mind people pissing on my ashes.
  • Don’t worry, you can too.
  • This has been rated ‘R’ for depicting human existence.
  • Having to dust your Grandmother’s sewing room with her underwear must be life altering.
  • Rambo just keeps not dying.
  • Does anyone else think it’s scary that I’ve seen some movies so many times I can play them in my head?
  • Phil can really suck my balls.
  • Chin nuts sounds like something you can buy at Wal-Mart.
  • I’m slowly filling in the mosaic of my existence.
  • Who would have guessed Canada would be the country to make socialism practical?
  • The “writing” that’s used for infomercials makes me want to stab myself, repeatedly.
  • I do the Acadamus approach to school – blind guessing.

A list of places I’ve submitted stories to in the last 12 hours


They’re magically motivating things. I spent most of my Saturday in a whirlwind state of rewriting, revising, and seeking out literary magazines, reviews, and journals to submit to before the end of the day. I’m saving The New Yorker for when I’ve had some sleep.

37 places, though! That’s a personal record!