Synchronized Chaos March 2014 – Processing Change

The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.
— Isaac Asimov

March 2014’s issue of Synchronized Chaos tackles change, in different aspects and forms.

As this month’s writers remind us, not all changes are positive, voluntary, or desired.

G.X. Chen’s novel Forget Me Not: A Love Story Of The East, reviewed here by Fran Laniado, illustrates the turmoil and repression of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Her novel poses the question of how and whether we can preserve our relationships and sense of self, as well as our lives, in the face of institutions determined to alter and redefine us.

The recent book and movie The Monuments Men, as reviewed by Bruce Roberts, showcases the work of a special crew tasked during World War II with the retrieval and protection of historical artifacts Hitler intended to destroy. National governments deemed culture important enough to risk lives to save, on behalf of future generations. Or because those instances of beauty, decency, and creative thought reminded them of what they were fighting to preserve.

Christopher Bernard points to the magnitude of the destruction greed and materialism can wreak on the planet and its inhabitants. In his poem, no species survives the violence we inflict, to relieve not our anger, but our boredom. This social critique itself becomes the means through which anything can be preserved.

In a much less serious vein, Kimi Little’s short story “The Three Billy Pigs Gruff” presents clever animals who outwit the larger forces threatening them, as ‘personified’ by a big, bad wolf. The pigs wish to improve their lives by building larger houses across the river, and so work together to be able to make this change.

Anita Cox’ sensual novel The Beginning, reviewed here by Sarah Melton, depicts a young woman figuring herself out after a divorce. No one would compare her to a genocide or eco-cide survivor, but she, also, takes action and makes choices when life confronts her with unplanned circumstances.

Tunisian writer Ali Znaidi offers up a study in contrasts, presenting a lively desert next to a depiction of nothingness. Unlike the common view of the desert as barren, he portrays a landscape full of all sorts of life, perhaps stronger due to their struggle to survive in the harsh environment.

Znaidi’s final poem reminds readers that people often carry within them a multitude of contradictions. When we, ourselves, are complex, it seems improbable to expect consistency and stability from the external environment.

Tony Longshanks le Tigre’s poem relates a childhood experience of visiting a natural history museum, and the wonder engendered by fossils and remnants of extinct animals. Life, in some form or another, has survived and adapted through so many cataclysmic events, so perhaps strength and resilience are part of our natures.

Ryan Hodge’s science fiction book Wounded Worlds: Nihil Novum, reviewed by Elizabeth Hughes in her monthly Book Periscope column, explores the various responses societies and individuals may have to the clash of interplanetary civilizations. Some choose to go to war against invading aliens, others simply become defeated, while others seek to adapt.

Changing oneself, or becoming flexible, in the face of new circumstances does not have to represent surrender or weakness. At times, the strategy may empower people to survive while preserving as much as possible of what they most value.

Walter Jack Savage contributes some colorful, complex artwork to this confluence of ruminations on revolution, survival, preservation and evolution.

While some changes are unpleasant and forced on us, others can be launching pads for creativity and new hope. We wish you a pleasant read through the thought and imagination reflected in this month’s issue.

Announcement: For those in or near the San Francisco Bay Area, our magazine’s spring reception will take place the evening of Thursday, March 6th, 6-9 pm at SF’s Cafe Boheme, 3318 24th st. in the Mission District. All welcome, please feel free to bring writing to share, books to sell, artwork to show off, or requests for partners, coauthors, volunteers, editors etc. We will hear book excerpts from guest readers Charles Ayres (Impossibly Glamorous), Joe Klingler (Mash Up and RATS), and Ryan Hodge (Wounded Worlds) as well as learn about how to virtually mentor writers in Afghanistan, from a guest speaker from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (

At First, No One ListenedWalter Savage’s At First, No One Listened

Poetry from Christopher Bernard


The Disappearance of the Flies

By Christopher Bernard


      “Did I ever tell why I no longer call myself a humanist?”
                          —Overheard at a climatology conference 

So, the word’s finally out:


I am the world’s Caesar,
and you are my Christians.


Not that I hate you absolutely—

on the contrary, for the most part

I enjoy you;


those of you I cannot eat

or flog into subservience,

to help me, or amuse me, or decorate my

upscale live-work high-end design space

now, or by no later than the end of next quarter,


are just in the way,


as I thrust ahead


to glory, to a sweet, psychotic power,

and a suffocating wealth

built on the dependable human delight

in the enchanted moment of acquisition.


I’ve got you,


I’ve got the world.


It is no longer God’s or nature’s;


it is mine,


I own you,


I who hate to have and love to get.


There was once a despot

whose footsteps bloodied his time.

After he had conquered the world,

bored with his possessions,

he decided to destroy them:

slaughtered his slaves, his women, his sycophants,

sent his soldiers to the ends of his empire

to pillage and sack it, out of boredom and rage

that he had no more worlds to conquer.

He burned his own palaces to the ground.


In a crazy drunk one night,

he broke his neck in a ditch.

The peasants crept up to his small, pale body,

the body that had conquered the world,

and watched the flies flickering above it.


Today there were no peasants.

There were no flies.



Christopher Bernard is a poet, novelist, essayist, photographer and filmmaker living in San Francisco. He is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins,The Rose Shipwreck: Poems and Photographs, and a collection of stories, In the American Night. He is also co-editor of the webzine Caveat Lector. 

Fran Laniado reviews G.X. Chen’s Forget Me Not: A Love Story of the East

Fran Laniado

Forget Me Not by Grace Chen


 I have to admit to knowing very little about twentieth-century Chinese history . Before I read G.X.Chen’s novel Forget Me Not, set in the second half of the twentieth century (during and after China’s Cultural Revolution ) I knew even less. Am I more knowledgeable about it now? Perhaps a bit. But the knowledge is more on an individual level, than on a national or global scale. Forget Me Not deals with the political events of the time, as seen though the eyes of its main character, Li Ling and his friends.

The novel opens in California, where the adult Li Ling seems to be living comfortably with his wife. However, a letter from his native China, distresses him with news that his childhood friend, and first love has died. His wife sees him crying, and he tells her the story that he never told her before. The narrative moves to back in time to Hong Kong, where a nine-year old Li Ling is living with his grandparents, while his parents are working in Shanghai. However, with the Cultural Revolution taking hold, it looks suspicious for Li Ling’s parents to have a son living in Hong Kong, which is not considered a part of China proper. So Li Ling leaves the only home that he can remember, and his loving grandparents behind, and travels to Shanghai to live with parents, who are little more than strangers to him. Fortunately, he quickly comes to love them, and makes several important friends in Shanghai. One is the beautiful Lily Zhang- his classmate and protector in his early days at school. The other is Big Head (yes, that is a nickname, but it is one used throughout the book!) whom he meets at violin lessons.

Lily’s father is a history professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, and is considered an enemy of the new regime, based on some historical books and articles that he’d written during his career. Li Ling and Big Head come up with a daring plan to help Lily break her father out of prison, and smuggle him out of Shanghai to the countryside. Their plan is successful, at least, for a while, but it separates Li Ling from his beloved Lily. He’s soon separated from Big Head as well, when Big Head is sent to the countryside to do farm work, while Li Ling is permitted to remain in Shanghai since he is his parent’s only child. Looking for companionship, Li Ling joins the Communist Youth League, an action that gets him into more trouble than he ever anticipated. With Mao’s death, more changes come to China, and Li Ling is able to attend university, where as coincidence would have it, he is reunited with Lily. After some hesitation on her part, the two resume their friendship, Now, both in their twenties, it quickly becomes romantic.

Li Ling narrates his daily life under the various regime changes and his adjustment to each. What he doesn’t experience first-hand, his friends recount. But while the uninformed reader can understand the experiences of the individual, the novel never really goes into the reason for these experiences on a larger level. For example, why is it believed that school children need “re-education”? Why is Big Head sent to do farm work? Why is Li Ling allowed to stay in the city because he is an only child? Why are jobs assigned arbitrarily for that matter, rather than based on skill? I might have appreciated more information regarding some of these questions.

However, it is both fascinating and horrifying to hear about some of the things that these characters endure. Some of it almost defies belief! But as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction!” When Li Ling’s father, a surgeon, loses his job as a medical doctor, he is forced to be a hospital janitor. I felt bad for him. It also seemed like a tremendous waste of a valuable skill. When we learn that surgery is now being performed by Red Guards who “practice” their new skills on patients, I cringed!

People living under these circumstances are forced to take desperate actions at times, in order to survive. Li Ling experiences the time period from a somewhat sheltered vantage point. He faces danger, but nowhere near the terror experienced by his friends, who have to fight to survive. Both Big Head and Lily face the possibility of death from starvation at some point. During her time away from Li Ling, a starving, desperate Lily was forced to make a decision that will shape both of their futures. When they are reunited, she shelters him from this truth- for a time. Here the reader knows that something is wrong, but not what. While Li Ling dismisses Lily’s hesitation, the reader is waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it does. Eventually she becomes unable to keep her secret. It is a secret for which Li Ling resents her for at first, but comes to understand many years later.

Forget Me Not is a fairly short book at 246 pages. Yet it covers nearly thirty years of Chinese history from the point of view of several different characters. It also creates a love story in which the reader becomes invested. Li Ling is a fully drawn character with many strengths and many flaws. Lily is a harder character to know, but that is because we see her through Li Ling’s eyes. As much as he loves her, she always retains an air of mystery. Readers looking for a novel with the scope of an epic but without the length, need look no further than Forget Me Not. It transports the reader to a country of beauty and violence. Cultural values and traditions may be different from what is familiar, but the feelings of love, friendship, hurt, betrayal and hope that the characters experience should be very easy for western readers to understand and identify with.

Poetry from Ali Znaidi

A Desert Dream
Whenever I go to the desert I find myself
astounded by its depth and extension.
I have nothing to do but inhale its grandeur.
The more sand piled up on this waterless sea
the more desert creatures resist.
How wonderfully little creatures maintain
symbols of life!
What an astounding story of survival!
Little worms become jubilant when they find
prickly pears debris to feast on.
Birds peck the succulent stems of cacti,
& dig beneath searching for water springs.
All creatures are wrapped up in a quilt
made up of survival, dreams, & love for life.
Living in the desert is but a grand narrative
of intense dreams.
Life is beautiful when (your) dreams work well
in a vast place.

Nothingness is a gluttonous king disguised
in an octopus.
Nothing can satisfy his gluttony.
He always feasts on souls and cocoons them
in vicious circles of emptiness.
His only foe is Time. So, he disables the clocks
and devours the hands.
He is never satiated. He is very fat
in every direction.
Even when he eats a soul, he wants more & more.
He wants to grow inside souls.
He wants to show them around his darkness.
He likes the empty souls to dwell in his temple,
& devoutly worship him not as a king,
but as the God of Nihil.

Complexes Inside Us
Complexes are inside us all.
We are all but bags of complexes
put on a hump of a three-legged camel
whose legs are sinking into
the abysmal thick sand.
Our perception of straightness & linearity
is in fact demolished by that image of
the staggering camel w/ uneven gaits.
Our psyches are contaminated in one way
or another. Our psyches are not pure.
Our psyches are not singular.
They are plural, indeed.
They are not only present,
but past and future, too.
Our psyches go back and forth.
They are sometimes as crystal as pure water.
Other times, they are filthy gutters.
We are humans because our skins have pores.
We are humans because our psyches have holes.
We are humans because we have
a bag of complexes that burdens our backs,
& every morning we welcome a new day
searching for newer ways to hide that bag.

 Ali Znaidi (b.1977) lives in Redeyef, Tunisia where he teaches English. His work has appeared in Mad Swirl, Stride Magazine, Red Fez, BlazeVox, Otoliths, streetcake, & elsewhere. His debut poetry chapbook Experimental Ruminations was published in September 2012 by Fowlpox Press (Canada). From time to time he blogs at – and tweets at @AliZnaidi.

Short fiction from Kimi Little

The Three Billy Pigs Gruff

by Kimi Little

Once upon a time there were three Billy Pigs Gruff – Ferdie- the youngest, Joe- the middle one, and Artie- the oldest. They all longed to build a house across the river in a lovely field. Unfortunately, there was Bob, a large, hungry troll, who lived under the bridge. The pigs packed up their supplies and hoped they would not be eaten when they crossed the river.

Fritz, the Big Bad Wolf, was looking for a snack, and saw the three pigs. He strolled over to them.

“Hello, my good pigs!” Fritz said. “Can I be of some help?”

The three pigs eyeballed him nervously.

Artie, the oldest Billy Pig Gruff, said, “No, thank you, sir, we’d prefer not to be eaten.”

Fritz laughed. “Of course I won’t eat you! That would be rude.”

“Hmmm,” said Artie, “No thanks, but thank you anyway.”

“I’ll just take a nap, instead,” said Fritz. The big bad wolf laid down under a large tree and pretended to fall asleep.

The pigs looked at him suspiciously and headed out to the river.

Ferdie, the youngest Billy Pig Gruff, wanted a house built out of straws. He stuffed his backpack with boxes of bendy straws and rolls of tape, and he trotted up to the bridge.

From under the bridge, up popped Bob the Troll.

“Who’s that walking across my bridge?”

“It’s I, Ferdie, the little Billy Pig Gruff.”

“Well, I’m going to eat you up!” said Bob.

“Oh no, I’m much too small to be tasty,” said Ferdie. “Wait for my older brother – he’s much tastier than I am.”

“Well, all right then,” said Bob the Troll, “off you go.”

Ferdie picked up his backpack and headed over the bridge.

Pretty soon, Joe, the second Billy Pig Gruff, was ready to go. He wanted to build a tree house. He rolled his little wheelie suitcase loaded with sticks, glitter glue, and door knobs, and he trotted up to the bridge.

From under the bridge, up popped Bob the troll.

“Who’s that walking across my bridge?” he asked.

“It’s I, Joe, the middle Billy Pig Gruff.”

“Well, I’m going to eat you up!” said Bob.

“Oh no!” said Joe. “My big brother is coming this way soon, and he is really delicious. I’d wait for him, if I were you.”

“Well, alright then,” said Bob the Troll, “off you go.”

Joe pulled his suitcase and headed over the bridge.

Artie, the eldest Billy Pig Gruff, was heading to the bridge next. He wanted a strong house, just in case the wolf came by. He loaded up his cart with bricks, cement and shiny new windows, and he trotted up to the bridge.

From under the bridge, up popped Bob the Troll.

“Who’s that walking across my bridge?” asked Bob.

“It’s I, Artie, the oldest Billy Pig Gruff.”

“Well, I’m going to eat you up!” said Bob.

“Oh no, you wouldn’t want to do that,” said Artie. “There’s a very juicy wolf following us. If you ate him, you would have a tasty dinner and a lovely pair of fuzzy mittens for winter!”

“Well, alright then,” said Bob the Troll, “off you go.”

Artie pushed his cart and headed over the bridge.

Pretty soon, the Big Bad Wolf snuck up to the bridge.

From under the bridge, up popped Bob the Troll.

“Who’s that walking across my bridge?” asked Bob.

“It is I, Fritz, the Big Bad Wolf.”

“Well, I’m going to eat you up!” roared Bob.

“Oh no you’re not!” said Fritz. “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow you into the river!”

Fritz huffed, and he puffed, and…Bob ate him.

So the Three Billy Pigs Gruff built their houses and were very happy.

Bob the Troll had a lovely set of fuzzy mittens for winter.

Sarah Melton reviews Anita Cox’ novel The Beginning

Book Review – The Beginning by Anita Cox

  • Review by Sarah Melton

**This is a review of an adult/erotica book. Review itself is PG-13 but the book mentioned is graphic, so make an informed choice about reading.**


The Beginning” is a short and spicy erotica novel whose title reveals a lot about the unfolding events. It begins, as many stories do, at the end of a horrible relationship, and Candy, the novel’s protagonist, is left like a deer in the headlights of life, from spending the whole of her adult life in a sheltered and uncompromising marriage. It is one that was doomed to fail, as her husband’s willingness to reciprocate any affection towards her seems to be as rare as a troupe of tap dancing unicorns. She is left frustrated and alone, rejected and lost…but wait! There is hope for this poor woman, in the form of a vivacious and well-meaning best friend-a friend who is willing to tell her the hard truth, which is that she is in need of some serious boundary-stretching…as well as a really good sex therapist.

It doesn’t take much coaxing on behalf of her friend, her therapist, and a few other key characters in the story to bring out the “naughty” (or is it just liberated?) woman that Candy has wanted to be all along. The sex scenes are done well, in a simple and direct style that doesn’t overpower the erotica with unnecessary flowery prose or Harlequin-romance-era romanticism. This story isn’t about romance, after all, but about freeing inhibitions, one giant step after another. In between the erotic adventures, Candy manages to achieve other small victories in her life. Her confidence increases, as does her openness with others. She learns to be more direct with her feelings, and to take control of a situation (like a co-worker taking advantage of her) rather than just accepting indignities as a part of the “way things are”. It also touches briefly on the potential complications of sexual explorations, such as jealousy from partners in open relationships, the fine line of coaxing versus coercion when exploring new territory with others, or the labels that people, especially other women, seem to put on themselves when it comes to their own sensuality. She wonders on one page if she’s been a “prude” as her friends insist she is, and yet in just a mere few pages later the word “whore” becomes a label she fears to be stuck with.

Since this book is the beginning of an ongoing series, I would like to see her in future novels eventually learn to come to terms with those labels and to find more security in who she is, despite the labels that others might try to pin on her. I’d also like to see more of an emotional intimacy gained with her new or current partners, perhaps sharing the kind of mindset she was in to carry on such a loveless marriage with her ex for so long, and why so much has changed since then. Since this book is just “The Beginning”, however, it’s a pretty good place to start. I’d recommend it to newcomers to erotica in general as well, since the scenes are pretty mild in comparison to some of the more hardcore novels out there.

This book will be available online, starting on 2/17/14 through Liquid Silver Books, at:



Bruce Roberts reviews the Monuments Men (book and movie)

Monuments Men


Fidel Castro, long-time dictator of Cuba, once said that he really wanted to be a baseball player. That if only he could have mastered throwing a curve ball, his life story might have been very different.

Similarly, Adolf Hitler, as a young man, wanted to be an artist. Had he not been rejected by the purportedly Jewish board of a prestigious Viennese art school, his life too, and thus the world’s, might have been very different.

Monuments Men, both the movie and the book, concerns Hitler’s later notorious life as Der Führer, when besides attempting to conquer the world, he also maintained his affinity for art by engineering one of the greatest cultural thefts in history.

The movie, starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, gets the essential story out to the public. With about two hours time, and a little popcorn, moviegoers find that Hitler was obsessed with collecting the world’s art. All major museums were looted, and boxcar after boxcar, truck after truck left Poland and Paris and Brussels and Amsterdam crammed with the greatest paintings and sculptures mankind could create. In addition, France especially, was home to many private collectors who, because they were Jewish, became prime targets for Hitler’s henchmen.

The goal here was to be the world’s greatest art museum, built post-war in Linz, Austria, Hitler’s hometown. For this future fantasy, the Nazis took the world’s greatest art, which was so carefully preserved for years in museums, and hid it, stored it, crammed it away in mineshafts throughout the conquered territory.

The Monuments Men were the British and American artists, architects, art scholars, and museum curators assigned to recover these masterpieces in the middle of all-out bombing, savage back-and-forth fighting, and the withering destruction of war. Older than the average soldier, they left good jobs and their families behind, risking their lives to convince soldiers trying to survive that extra effort must be made to find and preserve these priceless symbols of European culture. Needless to say, they weren’t always well-received.

As in so many instances of book versions versus movie versions, the movie comes off second to the book. “Monuments Men” the movie, while commendably getting the story out, just scratches the surface of the book’s reality. All the names have been changed, for example, thus keeping the real heroes out of the public’s consciousness. There are many dramatic moments in the movie, but they are nearly all Hollywood inventions, and not in the book. Plus some of the main actors in the movie are comedians—Bill Murray and John Goodman, for example–which detracts from the seriousness of the tale.

For in-depth intensity, read the book, The Monuments Men, by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter. Here, for example, readers not only know the real names of the heroes, but they know them in depth through excerpts from their letters to their families. Readers learn the sacrifices they made in this endeavor, in addition to how their post-war lives turned out.

The movie gives viewers sad glimpses of the concentration camps. But in the book, the horrors of the camps are so strong, that even General Patton, the toughest of the tough, turns aside and throws up at the human suffering they encountered.

The movie takes viewers down into a mine to discover Hitler’s underground treasure houses. The book develops the detective work needed merely to figure out where the art is concealed, and then gives a much more visceral trip into mine after mine, risking flooding in some, cave-ins in others, and even devastating explosions in still others as Hitler, knowing defeat was near, ordered total destruction of anything the allies might value.

Knowing the magnitude of Hitler’s obsession in looting the symbols of mankind’s artistic achievement is important. Knowing the courage and determination of these unsung heroes, “The Monuments Men” is, in the face of such insane widespread conquest, inspiring.

Short on time? See the movie. Want to know more? Read the book.


Bruce Roberts, 2014