Books, Films, Radio etc

Murder at the Veteran's Club

Murder at the veterans club

IF community member, author and reviewer Chris Huang, is publishing a book called "Murder at the Veteran's Club" that looks to be a classic "golden age" detective novel in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, P.D. James, Agatha Christie and others. 

His award winning "An Act of Murder" remains one of my favorite IF games and helped rekindle my interest in the genre. If you haven't played it, you really should. And if you like it half as much as I did, you'll jump over to Inkshares to pre-order a copy of "Murder at the Veteran's Club" right now! Chris has been a huge contributor to the IF community and I'm sure he'll appreciate the vote of confidence. 

The book is published via InkShares and so if there aren't enough pre-orders, the book doesn't get published. (And perhaps worse things though, I'm not sure.)  If everyone pitched in, I'm sure we could put this book over the threshold this week. And I really want to read it.

You can also get regular updates at Chris's blog.

Underground Radio - An Open Source Rock Opera

Zack and rob studio 4x3 with titles

My buddy Rob and I are almost finished with our epic '70s homage rock opera Underground Radio. It's been nearly two years in the making. It includes 20 original songs, 4 vocalists, a slew of vintage amp simulations, guitar effects, hammond b3 organ, handclaps, cowbells, backwards guitars and more. Also we even got a 30 piece symphony orchestra!

Underground Radio is inspired by music of The Pretty Things, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers, Television, Pink Floyd and others. It's set in a dystopian future under an evil surveillance government, 50 years of winter, rock music is illegal. But these two guys try to jam the government's systems with rock and roll, yada yada yada.

All of the songs will be published under a Creative Commons license so they can be used royalty free by anyone in their own creative projects, like films, games, you name it.

We've posted the project on Kickstarter to raise funds for the final mixing and mastering. Any contribution, even $5-6 is greatly appreciated. (If you want to splurge, we'll write a song for you or take you out for lunch!)  If you can help spread the word on social media, that's much appreciated.

Once this is done, I'll get back to my other creative project: The Z-Machine Matter.

Update: The music and Libretto are now available for free download at



Lights Out Old Time Radio


I recently ran across the Lights Out old time radio (OTR) show from the '30s and '40s. I've always been a fan of the old Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar radio shows. Lights Out predates these and has a uniquely gripping, if occasionally gruesome, style. These stories have a fascinating noir feel to them, not unlike some of the 1950's EC Comics' Weird Fantasy or Crime Suspense Stories or later Twilight Zone. As the shows were originally broadcast after midnight and without advertising, they went well beyond the usual "family friendly" radio dramas that most people are familiar with.

Perhaps the most famous from this series is the "Chicken Heart" episode. But I can also recommend "Oxychloride X," "Man in the Middle," "They Met at Dorset," "Author and the Thing," and "Christmas Story." Actually, they're all pretty good if you don't mind the occasional second-rate acting.

LightsOut -- ChickenHeart

If you're interested, check them out on the Internet Archive where you can download many of the shows made in the '40s by Arch Oboler. Oboler built on the work by series originator Wyllis Cooper, and added an interesting anti-fascist political style to some of the shows. 

Hard Case Crime Sale

Hard Case Crime Sale

Hardcase Crime's publisher Titan Books has put on a summer sale with more than 30 ebooks available for $2 or less at Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. The sale includes classic pulp authors Mickey Spillane, E. Howard Hunt, Brett Halliday, Robert Bloch, Robert B. Parker as well as more recent works by Max Alan Collins, Jason Starr, Ken Bruen and editor Charles Ardai.

This is a great opportunity to stock up on some classic noir fiction to inspire your own writing. 

Two Books on Writing Mysteries


Frey mystery

I attended a writing workshop recently and started re-reading two books on mystery writing that I picked up a while back. While there are a ton of books out there for the would be novel writer, many are cliché filled ("write what you know") from writers who seem to specialize in how to books rather than novels anyone would want to read.  These two stand out as being tailored to mystery writers and are written by successful novelists.

James N Frey wrote several popular novels in years gone by, but then began focusing more on the craft of story telling.  He has written a slew of books on how to write a "damn good" novel.  While they are all good, you really only need one of his books, whether it's this one or the original in the series.  Frey focuses on the story behind the story to help you uncover the motivations of the characters.

Similarly, Robert Ray wrote a book called "The Weekend Novelist" and then later a more specialized one on mystery writing.  Note that if you buy the original book, the first edition with a yellow cover and no co-author gets much better reviews than subsequent editions. One nice thing in this book is that they dissect two popular books in the genre, one by Agatha Christie and one by Martin Cruz Smith. Even if you have not read these book, it provides practical examples of the techniques. Ray also provides a 52 week schedule which enables you to, at least in theory, complete your opus in a year.

Both books are available from Amazon in print and in Kindle editions. If you have other recommended books on fiction writing, please let me know by adding a comment below.


John Gardner's Secret Generations $0.00 on Kindle

Secret generations

Not sure if this is a mistake or a clever marketing ploy at Amazon, but the first volume of John Gardner's famous espionage trilogy "The Secret Generations" is now priced at $0.00 on kindle.  Jump on it now, this could be a 24 hour sale.  You can thank me later.

Update: Ok, the price went back up to $2.99 after a couple of days.  But it's still a bargain.

Questionable Bluetooth ZX Spectrum Funded

Zx ipad 2

I was just looking at an old ZX Spectrum on my desk and thinking that it would be pretty funny to connect it up as a keyboard to my iPad. Then I made the colossal mistake of searching for that on Twitter.  You know a weird idea is really an epic idea when someone has already launched a Kickstarter project to make it happen.  I kid you not, the ZX Spectrum is going to be a Bluetooth keyboard for iOS and Android.

Zx spectrumThe Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched in 1982 and sold an estimated 5 million units over 10 years to make it one of the best-selling computers of its time.  And now it's being recast as rubber-keyed Bluetooth keyboard for iOS / Android for use with Spectrum emulator games.  

Elite Systems, a UK Spectrum software company that's been in business for 26 years (which sort of begs a different question), is seeking to raise £60,000 to manufacture the first 1,000 units.  The price to get in on this retro action is £50 plus another £10 to ship outside the UK.  

This fancy 21st century Speccy has been getting a ton of news coverage in support of the Kickstarter project.  For anyone with an interest in retro-gaming, this is definitely worth checking out.  If you don't go in for the whole nostalgia thing, then, please, do it for the kids... 

The project has now hit it's goal of £60,000 and has set a stretch goal of £67,500 to cover any shortfalls.  If you were on the fence about this, you've got until end of day Friday to sign up. 

Another Update:
In the final hours of the funding for this project, reports started surfacing that Elite had not been paying royalties to developers of several Spectrum games they were distributing.  A number of backers (myself included) dropped their support level down to £1 to wait until the matter was cleared up. Elite also appears to be about £81,000 in dept to creditors. The project was still funded, but it definitely casts a shadow over this project. I've posted several new links on this story below under Bad News.

The Mysterious Affair At Somerton

Somerton man 1
Somehow I fell down the rabbit hole the last few days as I learned about "the mystery of the Somerton Man."  It's a crazy convoluted mystery straight out of Agatha Christie that has remained unsolved for 65 years.  

The story begins on the morning of December 1, 1948, when a well-dressed gentleman is discovered lying dead perched against a sea wall at Somerton beach in Glenelg, a suberb of Adelaide, South Australia.  He had been seen earlier that evening at the same location where passersby assumed he was asleep or drunk.  He had no wallet, no identification and there are no tags on any of his clothing.  In his pockets were a bus ticket to Glenelg, an unused train ticket from Adelaide, some gum, a box of matches, an American aluminum comb, and an "Army club" cigarette pack containing a more expensive brand.  

An autopsy indicated poisoning, though there were no traces found, suggesting digitalis.  The police were unable to identify the body and fingerprints matched no records in Australia.  

Six weeks later, the police discovered an unclaimed suitcase at the Adelaide train station, presumably left when Somerton Man took a bus out to the beach where he was found.  His jacket appeared to have been made in the United States.  Most of the tags had been removed from the clothing except a few that said "Keane" or "Kean" which seemed to be a red herring intended to hide the Somerton Man's identity.

Tamam shudSome six months later, the police found a fob pocket in the man's pants which contained a tightly rolled scrap of paper with the printed Persion words "Tamám Shud."  These were identified as the final words from a book of Persian poetry "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyamwith" with the meaning "it is ended."  Was this some kind of suicide note?  

A local Glenelg man, Ronald Francis, heard a news report that referenced the Rubaiyat and reported that someone had placed a copy of the book in the back seat of his brother-in-law's car on the evening of November 30th when it was parked one block from Somerton beach on Moseley Street.  On the last page of this book, the words "Tamám Shud" had been torn out, matching what had been found in Somerton Man's pocket.  The book also contained an unlisted phone number to a nurse, Jessica Thomson (also known as Teresa Powell and by the nickname "Jestyn") who lived on Moseley Street, not far from where the body was found.  Even more intriguing were letters written faintly on the back of the book which appeared to be some kind of code. 

Tamam codeDespite numerous attempts to crack the code there has been no success.  It is possible that the Roubaiyat was used as a one-time pad to encrypt messages.  Oddly enough, no one has ever found a copy of the Rubaiyat that exactly matches the one Somerton Man had.  Or perhaps the letters were not a standard encryption, but represent the first-letters of words that make a phrase or a list of words that were important to the Somerton Man.

At her interview with the police, Jestyn denied knowing the Somerton man, though she was completely taken aback when viewing Somerton Man.  She asked the police to keep her name out of the proceedings, which they did.  Jestyn passed away in 2007, but her daughter says she confessed to her that she did in fact know the Somerton Man.  There is evidence to suggest that Jestyn had a son fathered by Somerton Man.  Jetsyn also knew Russian and her daughter believes she may have been a Russian spy.  

Operation Venona, a joint UK / US Signals Intelligence Service operation started in 1943 which decrypted Russian diplomatic cables, uncovered the existence of a Russian spy ring operating out of the Soviet Embassy in Australia around this time.  Was the Somerton Man a Russian spy?  Or was he just another jilted lover who died of a broken heart?  

Two other possibly related cases are worth considering.  Harry Dexter White of the US Treasury Department was identified as an informant to the Russians in Venona cables and died of a digitalis overdose just a few months earlier in August 1948.  White had a series of heart attacks and digitalis is often used in such cases, so perhaps this is just an interesting coincidence.   

Unknown Man coverThree years earlier, in June 1945, Singaporean Joseph "George" Haim Marshall, brother of Singapore Chief Minister David Haim Marhsall, was found dead in a Sydney park poisoned in apparent suicide with an open copy of the Rubaiyat on his chest.  Oddly enough, this was identified as the 7th edition by Methuen, when in fact only 5 such editions were published.  

For those who want more information, there is an extensive book, "The Unknown Man" by retired South Australia Police Detective GM Feltus.  You can also read more about the mystery of the Somerton man at Wikipedia and at the links below.  

But be warned, it's a long and deep rabbit hole.  The story of the Somerton Man also inspired Stephen King's quirky 2005 Hard Case Crime original "The Colorado Kid," which, like the original story, is left unresolved.

If any Aussies have familiarity with this case, please feel free to add your perspective in the comments below.

New JJ Abrams, Doug Dorst Book Inspired by Dennis Wheatley

S page

Acclaimed television and film director JJ Abrams' latest project is a distinctly analog book called "S." written by Doug Dorst.  The book is built on a mythic turn of the century novel "The Ship of Theseus" by a mysterious VM Straka.  More importantly, the book, which is made to look like an old library volume, includes margin comments from two college students, old letters, post cards, photographs, newspaper clippings and other assorted items that provide the reader with all the clues necessary to unravel a larger mystery.  Sound familiar?  

In an LA Times story, Abrams acknowledged his childhood fascination with the crime dossiers of bestelling English author Dennis Wheatley:

He hit upon the idea of “S.” after discovering a novel that had been left behind by another traveler, and he drew inspiration from the murder mysteries of British author Dennis Wheatley, who included dossiers of evidence in his books.

“There was one I remember called ‘Who Killed Robert Prentice?’” Abrams said. “It had a torn-up photograph in these little wax paper envelopes. As a child, I remember seeing those. That always stayed with me, that idea of getting a book, a packet, that was not just like any other book.”

"S" Looks like a fascinating old-school approach to meta-level fiction and the production appears to be top notch.  Here's a video from Mullholland Books that shows more details:

There's also an electronic version of "S." available for iPad. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the print version is the way to go. 

Update: I've added a few more links to related reviews and articles. 

Who Killed John F. Kennedy?


Ever thought about a mashup of Chose Your Own Adventures and Despair Inc's Demotivator posters?  Me neither.  But luckily Justin Sewell, head honcho over at Despair has done just that.  In fact, he's gone one better and tackled one of the greatest conspiracies in modern history with "Who Killed John F. Kennedy?"  It's a modern day parody of those childhood CYOA books complete with feather-haired precocious crime-solving teenagers.  But rather than play it for laughs, Sewell is using his keen wit to question the entire JFK conspiracy and it's theorists.  

In some sense Sewell's book is more like a short-hand version of Oliver Stone's "JFK" film, which was itself largely based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs.  If that's tough to follow, then you ain't seen nothing yet.  "Who Killed John F. Kennedy?" will have you jumping between conspiracy theories faster than attendees at an X-Files Lone Gunmen reunion.  Luckily Sewell includes several pages of endnotes which provide details on many of the most glaring aspects of the JFK investigation.  I got the feel the endnotes could have easily been another twenty pages longer had the project gone on much longer.  Sewell has obviously researched the topic thoroughly, perhaps even obsessively.  And given the number of choices that you can make in the book, you'll find yourself captivated for hours as you go down the rabbit hole of grand conspiracy theories.  Sewell doesn't take things too seriously though (Sgt Fanucci anyone?) and some of the theories go beyond over-the-top, if that's possible, involving the CIA, the mob and, of course, Area 51.  

It's a great concept and the retro design style transforms it into a work of art, especially with the larger format "Deluxe-Sized" edition.  For anyone interested in CYOA, conspiracy theories or pushing the boundaries of art and literature "Who Killed John F. Kennedy?" is worth taking a serious look at.  

For those who question whether someone who writes the sarcastic "Demotivator" posters can really step up to a more serious level of work, consider Art Spiegelman's genesis from "Wacky Packages" to "Maus."  It's an apt comparison.  

Note that Despair will also be launching a Kickstarter campaign in September November for the second volume in their "Lose Your Own Adventure" Series called "The Glass Ceiling."