Kali - Destroyer of Worlds by Mike Kuykendall
File Size: 1084 KB
Print Length: 386 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1501030469
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author's website: http://mike-kuykendall.blogspot.com
Several years ago I read an article in, as I recall, the New Yorker about the problem of suicides at San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. I've sailed under the bridge once or twice and have driven across it many times. The road surface of the Golden Gate is about 200 feet above the bay, a little more than two thirds of a football field. From the water, the bridge certainly looks high, but to a New Yorker, not that high.
The Golden Gate is the second most popular suicide spot in the world, ranking only behind China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. Third place is held by Japan's Aokigahara Forest. Since the bridge was finished in 1937, an estimated 1600 people have leaped to their death from the span. The precise number will never be known because many people are not spotted jumping and/or never recovered after they impact with the bay. If you are one of the very few who survive the fall, you're going to be hurt, the water is cold, the tides swift, and fish have to eat too.
The physics of the jump are grim. It will take you about four seconds to reach the water and you'll hit it at a speed of approximately 75 mph ( 120 km/h), then decelerate to zero in a fraction of a second. Your organs are going to want to keep going and thus your heart, lungs, spleen, etc will often rupture or tear free of your interior. Multiple bone fractures are a given. Most people die almost immediately, but about 5% of jumpers don't, drowning in the cold water or thrashing about as they bleed internally to death.
The article was mordant but interesting reading, but the part I found most compelling was the observation of a man who was one of the 34 people who are documented to have jumped and survived. He told the writer of the article that as he lept off the side of the bridge and the plunge became irrevocable, he realized nothing in his life was so bad as to justify the action he'd just taken.
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds, begins at just such a moment. The chief protagonist, 12 year old Rebecca Wilder (no, this is not a YA title), has walked almost an hour into the woods intent on cutting her wrists open and ending her life. Parentless, a temporary resident in a series of foster homes, and deeply disturbed, Rebecca succeeds in opening an artery and begins to bleed to death. Like the Golden Gate jumper, the hard reality of death makes her rethink her decision. Unlike the jumper, she's in a position to change the trajectory of her choice and scrambles to stop the flow of her life's blood.
As she does, all hell breaks loose.
Hell, in Destroyer of Worlds, are two nearby but undetected neutron stars, each approximately 13 km in diameter, that collide, releasing blasts of gamma, X-Rray and microwave radiation from each body's pole. A neutron star is what's left over when a star about two times our Sun's mass comes to the end of its life cycle and ejects its outer layers. (Ten times our mass and you end up with a blackhole. What's created by stars in between that range is unknown, but I bet there's a good Scif-Fi yarn in there somewhere.)
The resultant beams of pure destruction intersect with Earth in the vicinity of northern Virginia, incinerating Washington, DC and hundreds of miles of the eastern US. A follow up blast of microwaves then slowly roasts many of the exposed survivors, leaving the US in ruins and the rest of the world in chaos.
This vision of the apocalypse is not pure speculation. Over the years, several scientists have theorized that some of the mass extinctions that have taken place in prehistory were caused by events of this type. And you'll be happy to know that there are detectable neutron binary systems spinning in our section of the galaxy, with the closest estimated to be about 1,500 light years away. If/when the two stars finally collide, they could be trouble. (I know I've given some of you something new to worry about, but, after all, you don't read a book such as Kali if you think the universe is all lollipops and fluffy bunnies.) And I thank God and Mike that I didn't have to read more about global warming and the UN.
Paradoxically, the arrival of Armageddon on Earth saves Rebecca's life. Positioned literally in the eye of the radioactive storm, she survives as everything around her dies. The abrupt decapitation of a unfortunate bicyclist by a flying chunk of doomed airliner enables her to crudely stitch her mutilated wrist back together using a bike spoke as a makeshift needle and bit of yarn from her frayed sweater as thread. (One of many "makes you wince" moments you'll experience in Destroyer of Worlds.)
As the maelstrom continues to rage around her, Rebecca goes insane and is reborn as Kali, the Indian goddess or aspect of death, time and change. The exact details of this transformation are left ambiguous in the novel. Has Rebecca actually been possessed, or is her new persona simply a manifestation of mental illness, possibly schizophrenia? It is left to the reader to decide. But regardless, as Kali makes her way through the post-apocalyptic landscape, it quickly becomes apparent that ending up on her bad side is a ticket out of this plane of existence.
There are other survivors of the disaster whose fates we follow. A group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station who realize they are doomed but decide to remotely attempt to remove the fingers of America's surviving military commanders off their nuclear triggers. The first Hindu American sub commander (a nice juxtaposition with our eponymous heroine) who slaughters his own crew and waits alone beneath the waves in an Ohio-class boomer for the orders that will enable him to unleash his ICBM's against the enemy, any enemy. A drunk who finds himself transformed into a local sherrif caring for a group of dazed survivors. The inevitable religious fanatic.
One character's fate in particular stands out in the novel. It is Abe Renson, a cancer-riddled dump truck operator who is caught in the irradiation zone while eating lunch and paralyzed in place. Over the course of several days, Abe slowly transforms into...something while feeling every moment of the process. It's a powerful scene that's compelling but painful to read. A literary equivalent to a scene in one of those Saw movies where someone gets to watch a needle sloowwlly approach their eyeball or is required to partially dismember themselves to escape a trap.
And obviously, when the transformation is over, Abe rises to play his part in the fun and ruin taking place outside the diner.
I'm not going to reveal any spoilers in Kali - Destroyer of Worlds, but I will say the book ends on a note of hopefulness (and many less characters than when it started). I found Kuykendall's writing style compelling. After a while, you feel like you're living the story, not reading it. But if you like to start the day humming a tune from Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music, this is not the book for you. Unless you like to carry a chainsaw while singing a few lines of "The Hills Are Alive."
Kali - Destroyer of Worlds is a gruesome, grim, well-written apocalyptic tale that bores a bit into your soul. Professionally edited and written. Not exactly good fun but more like a roller coaster ride through Hell. If this genre is your thing, buy it.
Beyond Cloud Nine (Beyond Saga Book 1) by Greg Spry
File Size: 2486 KB
Print Length: 391 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0990822400
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Greg Spry; 1 edition (September 17, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author site: www.gregspry.com
When author Greg Spry submitted Beyond Cloud Nine to me for review and described the book's main character, who is of American/Japanese heritage, I immediately accepted.
I have always had an affection for Japan and the Japanese and think it's really too bad about that whole WW II thing. Why? Well, it's not because I have any close friends who are Japanese, though my buddy from my days at MicroPro, publisher of WordStar for you antiques out there, Todd Judge, lives in Japan with his Japanese wife and their extremely cute identical twin daughters.
I have never been to Japan. I speak no Japanese, though I've read extensively about the history of the country and its culture, and recently bought a used copy of The Yakuza from E-bay, a movie I saw when it was first released in the 70s and have never forgotten. And I have a ton of Japanese plane and ship models I one day intend to build if I can live long enough.
I also enjoy Japanese manga (I read it online mainly here) and and watch a fair amount of anime online (currently working through Vampire Knight, though the lachrymose sound track is really grating). Elements of manga and anime are tightly woven into my own novel, Rule-Set, another tribute to my interest in Japan.
Interestingly enough, I didn't much care for the animes of the 60s and 70s, especially Speed Racer with that stupid monkey, though Tobor the X-Man was a bit more palatable. I knew the Warshawsky brothers had made a mistake when they announced they were doing a live action version of Speed Racer. Any comic that features a monkey wearing a hat is trouble.
The reason for my soft spot for the Japanese is Mrs. Narita, my third grade teacher at PS 86 in the Bronx. Mrs. Narita was Japanese American and, as I recall, very cute. Even better was the fact that Mrs. Narita appreciated my compulsive desire to read. By third grade, the phrase that probably most defined my early childhood was "Ricky, get your nose out of that book." During a parent/teacher conference, Mrs. Narita informed my mother and father that my vocabulary had become so extensive that she found herself reaching for the dictionary when talking with me. (No, I wasn't a boy genius. My math skills were as horrid as my reading skills were good.)
I really was a very good reader, but I've always wondered if Mrs. Narita had not come to the strategic conclusion that while I had my head pointed towards my lap as I ignored my other lessons on history, math, spelling and so on, I was less likely to trouble her and the rest of the class. Regardless, my parents were quite pleased with that aspect of the meeting and the entire incident was the high point of my elementary school career. My affection for Japan was set in my heart.
But enough reminiscing. Let's move onto the review.
The primary protagonist of Beyond Cloud Nine is Brooke Davis, the daughter of an American father and Japanese mother. The story kicks off in the year 2247 and homo sapiens has spread into the solar system as far as the moons of Jupiter. A political crisis is underway as different colonies begin the process of breaking away from Mother Earth and their nations of origin. Compounding the problem is that humanity is on the brink of finally mastering faster than light (FTL) technology, bringing travel to the stars within reach. Who will first have access to the technology, and when, has become a flash point in the gathering crisis.
When we first meet our heroine, she's been deployed on a UN (sigh. Yes, the UN. If you read my review of Second Chance, you know what I think of the UN. To see what I think about the UN, go rent Idiocracy. Oh well. It's convenient) space carrier assigned to protect the FTL project, named Luminosity, from terrorist attacks. Brooke is a serious badass in the tradition of Starbuck in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica and demonstrates it by taking a wrench to the face of her wingman after they have a disagreement about battle tactics. Gotta love the girl.
The action kicks off with a battle between Brooke's fighter squadron and a group of terrorists who we later find out are much more than they seem. One of the best aspects of Cloud Nine is that author Spry works to make the science feel real, something I also strove for in my novel. Here's his description of Brooke preparing to launch in her "SF-522 Starthroat" and intercept a group of baddies:
She fastened her helmet to her armor and sealed her face shield, feeling like a futuristic knight. After the safety harness clamped down around her shoulders, locking her in place, the canopy closed. Gravity gel rose up above her boots, legs, torso, and helmet until it filled the cockpit. The gel buoyed up her body, soothing her as if she’d crawled back into the womb.
What's fun about this passage is that it's scientifically feasible. One of the problems with most descriptions of space battles is they're always a bit ludicrous if you know anything about Newtonian physics. On Earth, the limits of human anatomy generally restrict us to Gs between the 5 to 15 range for any extended period. At speeds that can generate those Gs, ship-to-ship combat in space is a slow, tedious affair. I'm not sure how many Gs Star Trek's warp drive theoretically generates, but it's enough to rename the ship the USS Strawberry Jam. (Yes, I know they have "inertial dampening systems" on board the Enterprise, but no one ever attempts to explain how they work.)
By contrast, Greg's gel system could indeed enable a pilot to endure hundreds of Gs, turning space based fighter-to-fighter combat into something that wouldn't put you to sleep. Of course, I'm hoping in the future mankind will be as one and no one will be shooting at each other. But if we are, let's not be boring about it.
The rest of the book also strives for a feeling of reality and creates a world of the future you can believe in. His description of how an FTL-driven spaceship might handle and operate appears to be based on the Alcubierre drive and feels solid. Cityscapes set in a future Chicago were also enjoyable and had a nice hard edge.
The author is also good at building interesting, sympathetic characters. Some of the best writing in Beyond deals with the interaction of Brooke with her identical twin Marie and her niece Maya. In fact, if I have any criticism of the novel, it's that author Spry concentrates on providing slam bang action and perhaps needs to focus on the human factor a bit more in Beyond's sequel. For example, I thought the relationship between Brooke and Kevin Sommerfield, the scientist responsible for the Luminosty project, could have been built out further.
To sum up, a blast to read. Professionally copyedited and composed. Scientifically well constructed. If you enjoy strong feminine leads, definitely your cup of tea. If you're ethnically Asian or share an Asian background, a must read. Go buy it.
And Mrs. Narita, wherever you are, I still love you.
The Orb of Chaos Vol.1: No Rest for the Wicked by M. Ray Allen
File Size: 2752 KB
Print Length: 558 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0615874029
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Lucky Duck Publishing (January 19, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
I first read the Lord of the Rings in the original "unauthorized" US Ace editions ( the ones that really annoyed J.R.R. Tolkien and inspired him to write his famous note about courtesy to living authors in the early, authorized Ballantine versions of TLOR). It is ironic that the whole kerfuffle was sparked by Tolkien's belief that his epic fantasy would be harmed by appearing in:
“ ‘degenerate a form’ as the paperback book.'”
Ace's book were not pirated edition of the series BTW, as the interpretations of US law at the time seemed to support the position that Tolkien had mishandled his copyrights. (I'm not going to go into this as trying to explain copyright laws and IP licensing gives me the hives. I do have a friend whose legal specialty is IP and I notice that he seems to scratch himself a lot.)
While I don't think he ever appreciated it, those degenerate Ace editions spread Tolkien's fame far and wide among the beatniks, hipsters and flower people of the 50s, 60s and 70s. From there, the series moved up and out and eventually filled his and his family's coffers with enough loot to fill up a reasonably sized room in Smaug's Ereborian pied a terre.
Now, I know I'm going to catch a great deal of heat for this observation, but I think Tolkien overrated himself (I know, I know. I have a lot of nerve. How many mega-best seller have I written? But give me time). I don't think TLOR is great literature. I think it's a very good yarn and a stunning achievement in popular culture as is Dracula and The Wizard of Oz, two other books that don't quite scale the literary peaks high enough to reach that ultimate summit we call "literature."
Perhaps the problem lies in the character of Sauron. We never learn much about him or his personal motivations for wanting to conquer Middle-Earth. When we first “meet” him, he’s faceless and remains so for the length of the trilogy. I’ve always wondered why TLOR didn’t provide Sauron with a richer backstory. Tolkien was, after all, a master of creating detailed, three dimensional imaginary worlds. Perhaps something like the below would have helped:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mirkwood,
I’m writing you per our agreement to update you on Little Sauron’s progress at Middle-Earth Elementary School. While everyone is sure your son is a bright and inquisitive child, the current state of his peer interactions remains a concern (though, in his defence, many of the senior staff find Little Sauron enchanting and predict he has a bright future. Still, I must report on what I see).
For instance, today at Lunch Recess, your son attempted to transform several members of the First Grade into Uruk-hai, frightening several of his classmates terribly and even causing one little Elvish girl to wet herself. Little Sauron has also volunteered to take care of the class bunny, something that I initially thought was a hopeful sign, but now I am not so sure. When I went over to Bombadil to check on his well-being, I noticed his incisors were abnormally sharp and he nipped at me. Also, I do not believe bunnies normally salivate much.
Another issue has arisen that must be discussed. As you know, Middle-Earth Elementary School serves a diverse educational audience that includes Humans, Hobbits, Elves, Ents, etc. Recently, your son has taken to shouting out “Hey, Get Shorty” anytime he spies a Dwarvish child, behavior that does not contribute to the atmosphere of tolerance and community we constantly seek to build at this establishment.
On a more positive note, Little Sauron continues to show a positive flair for penmanship, though his practice note pads do have an unfortunate tendency to burst into flames when he has finished with them.
Miss Fenmarch, Kindergarten Second Class, Middle-Earth Elementary School
I feel this adds a bit of depth and perspective to the story. Or maybe not.
Ah, you ask, which modern books in the genre, or close to it, do I regard as literature? I nominate two. T.H. White's The Once and Future King and Arthur Rex by Thomas Berger (also the author of Little Big Man). If you haven’t read Arthur Rex, pick up a copy. You are in for a treat). Why are they better than Tolkien? Because they create worlds in which humor and tragedy both exist and intermix, something that Tolkien's work lacks.
Regardless of your particular opinion on Tolkien’s literary ranking, the astounding success of TLOR has provide subsequent authors with a solid template on which literally thousands of novels, novellas and short stories rely on (not to mentions hundreds of game and virtual worlds). If you want to create a fantasy epic, you can pull from a laundry list of different plot elements and characters such as:
And so on.
Grab your chosen ingredients, mix, spin, write your yarn, complete, and begin again.
The Orb of Chaos is a Tolkienesque tale built from the basic template above and fits firmly in that class of fantasy novel I refer to as ”Shaggy Orc.” Exemplars of the genre are Robert Asprin’s Myth series, Craig Gardner’s Wuntvor line and just about anything published by Terry Pratchett. Normally, the “heroes” of these stories are nebbishes, ne'er do wells, magical nerds and generally people who are unlikely to be dating on Friday night or borrowing twenty dollars they promise to pay back next week but don’t. Or both.
Orb takes place in the magical realm of, well, actually, I’m not sure. It’s a fairly generic magical realm with knights, elves, goblins, wizards and the other usual suspects. Most of the early action centers around an inn named “The Lucy Duck,” inhabited by two of our protagonists, Soliere Forrester, a rogue suffering from a congenital cash shortage who is catnip to the various serving wenches and members of the lower middle class who inhabit the environs in and around the Duck and Oather, a large Barbarian of unknown origins. Soon to be thrown into the mix is Halistan, a young cleric, Serieve, a paladin in training, and Andrea, a young and beautiful assassin who would just as soon shove a dagger in your ribs as look at you. Let’s not forget Zorath, a querulous wizard.
As the plot moves along, more elements are added to mix, including a sadistic emperor who likes to toy with his employees before dispatching them in various horrible ways (I kind of liked him. He reminds me of Steve Jobs in his heyday), an evil demon king with an attitude and the ability to raise the dead in unholy quantities (I know, that’s redundant, but it’s my review), court schemers, and more characters drawn from the standard stocks.
And yes, there is a dungeon quest, a battle with two kinda-dragon-like creatures, and at the end, an epic battle against an undying army of the skeletal dead. That section was very well done and provides some enjoyable shivers. All the bases are pretty much covered.
Now, the secret to making a book like this work is the characters. They must be interesting and their interactions intriguing enough to freshen up the fairly standardized backdrop on which they perform. Otherwise, it’s pretty much been there, seen that.So, how does Orb do in this respect? Pretty well, especially as the story moves into the latter half. I will say that in the next book of the series, author Allen should mix it up some more and build out the main characters while letting others drop into the background. Also, slightly sharper copy editing is also recommended. (Indies, make sure you get this right and don’t skimp.)
To sum up, a bright, well-written Tolkienesque tale that will keep you entertained for an afternoon. The characters don’t break new ground, but the rogue is roguish, the paladin noble, the assassin winsome and deadly and there’s something going on between her and the cleric and I want to know more.
The Fall: Fall in Love with Death by Stephen Cost
File Size: 3014 KB
Print Length: 298 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1500910325
Publisher: Stephen Cost (September 16, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author website: www.stephencost.com
The three exports Ireland's primarily known for are sweaters, Guinness, and...uh...Irish. (Don't start. My mother's original maiden name was Duffy.) This represents a tragic, lost financial opportunity for the Emerald Isle. Because Ireland's most important export should be...vampires. For Ireland is the spiritual home of every bloodsucker tale, movie, TV show, comic, manga, anime, and probably a dozen other literary and video categories I'm missing. Ireland is also, may the good lord forgive us, the true progenitor of Kristen Stewart and the entire awful Twilight series. (Ireland is also indirectly responsible for those godawful Leprechaun movies, though any film series that features Jennifer Aniston being menaced by Warwick Davis can't be all bad.)
Bram Stoker, you see, was Irish (a Protestant, but in favor of home rule). If only the country had attempted to copyright the entire fanged meme a la the Greek attempt to trademark "feta cheese." Generations of poverty might have been avoided. As the royalties flowed in, Ireland might have been diverted from its favorite pastimes of Catholics shooting Protestants, Protestants shooting Catholics pub bombing (both sides), both sides shooting at the British and just being bloody minded about life in general.
During his life, Stoker's daytime job consisted of managing the career and theater of the great but largely forgotten British actor Henry Irving, who is widely believed to have been the physical model for Dracula. (Take a look at his portrait and you'll understand the speculation.) On his off hours, Stoker was a prolific writer who wrote at least a dozen novels, including Dracula, and several collections of short stories. His oeuvre is regarded as uneven, but it hardly matters. His tale of the undying Hungarian predator and Ottoman foe is the genre's masterpiece and Stoker's literary heirs prolific almost to a fault. And when it came to horror, Stoker was no one hit wonder, as anyone who has read his unforgettable short story, The Squaw, will attest to.
Dracula is perhaps the most famous example of the epistolary style of novel. The narrative of the book is carried by diaries and letters, which leads to some inadvertently funny scenes if you stop to think about. Like this one:
"The air seems full of specks, floating and circling in the draught from the window, and the lights burn blue and dim. What am I to do? God shield me from harm this night! I shall hide this paper in my breast, where they shall find it when they come to lay me out."
Dracula, Bram Stoker
The above leads a logical person to ask "Hey lady. If you've got the strength to write elaborate descriptive prose while the vampire's trying to get into your room, why don't you just get the hell out of the room?"
But this is carping. Dracula's blend of repressed Victorian psycho-sexual desire, blood letting, and dread claustrophobia is irresistible. And if Stephen King had written the above, he'd have found a reason to throw in some projectile vomiting or something similar, so I should be grateful to Bram. And I am. Though to be fair to The Master, Salem's Lot was pretty damn scary.
Incredibly enough, the original manuscript of Dracula, thought lost after Stoker's death in 1912, was found intact in the 1980s in a farm house in western Pennsylvania. I'm sure there's a horror story in there somewhere. Someone out there go out and write it. I'll give you a review.
The Fall thus represents a noble, and in my view, long overdue effort by the Sons of Erin (author Cost grew up in Ireland) to regain some portion of the Stoker Franchise. Let's see how well he does.
The protagonist of the story, Giles, is technically not a vampire but a reaper, an immortal (though not invulnerable) energy and blood sucking monster. Reapers periodically manifest themselves among us naked, in fresh graves, a fascinating leitmotif. (I suspect the writer may have seen Wings of Desire at one time or another.) After this grim birth, reapers are compelled to snack on the occasional human, though they can make the moral choice to sustain from their grisly diet and thus forego immortality. Giles has not given up his human-protein approach to caloric intake, but has made the decision to dine on only the evil and morally depraved (think of him as a toothy type of Charles Bronson a la the Death Wish movies). When we first meet him, he's a relatively young three centuries old, of Irish...err...extraction (at least that's where his grave was located) and is living in Seattle. Why Seattle? Good god man, have you ever eaten Irish cuisine?
Not unreasonably, Giles thinks of himself as our society's apex predator. Then one night, when out for supper, he finds to his great shock that he just may not be at the top of the food chain any longer. From this point on, the book commences a cat and mouse hunt and struggle between our hero and a creature nasty and powerful enough to make the reaper fear him.
While the battle between the monsters rages, Giles takes time out to fall in love with Emma, the daughter of his greatest friend Gallus, an old reaper who's gone vegan, so to speak, married a mortal, and settled down to the bloodsucker version of domesticity. Emma is equally drawn to our Giles, but he is justifiably wary of becoming too involved with her lest Galllus, in our reaper's words, use "his head as a hockey puck." As the father of an only daughter, I call tell you Giles' speculations on fatherly sentiments are accurate. I certainly did consider using the bodily parts of my daughter's boyfriends for fun and amusement if I thought them not up to snuff and wasn't afraid to share my thoughts on the topic, and the particular parts I'd be using, with them. You may think I'm old fashioned but I can report the tactic is effective.
One thing I particularly liked about The Fall is that the book returns us to the elegant vampire, something I think is long overdue. Over the years, we've had gothic vampires (the Blade films and comics), yuppie vampires (the Fright Night franchise), hooker vampires (Dusk to Dawn and siblings) and most recently Starbucks vampires (the never ending Twilight series). I guess Tom Cruise was on the elegant side in Interview With the Vampire but boy was Brad Pitt morose.
But I'm old fashioned. I've always felt that every vampire should have a little "Goot evening" in them and The Fall upholds that glorious tradition. Giles drives a Porsche, wears Prada and Gucci, and is an oenophile who makes a living writing a wine column for an upscale magazine. He's also a java snob who owns a Jura Impressa coffee maker and while I was reading the novel, discovered it's possible to order a cup of coffee that costs $70 dollars. In short, Giles is my type of vampire and I'd love to be invited to his place for dinner if I could be sure I wasn't on the menu.
To sum up, The Fall is a fun, exciting read in the honorable bloodsucker genre featuring a dashing but undying hero, a luscious heroine concealing intriguing mysteries, much supernatural double dealing, lots of death, and a climax that ends with Giles setting out to redeem his life and retrieve his woman. What more can you ask from a vampire book?
Erin go blood.
create esquelle new_book as select [ * |very, very cool ]: My Review of Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol
Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol, Book I by Joe Dacy
File Size: 3067 KB
Print Length: 580 pages
Publisher: Joe Dacy II (June 24, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
OK, before I even start this review, I have a few questions I'd like to ask you, the reader. Here goes:
If you can answer YES to any of the above, then stop reading this review right now and go buy Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol by Joe Dacy. To help you grasp the point, go back to the top of this page and look at the cover. Closely.
All done? I'm sure that after reexamining the cover, you understood precisely why you should buy this book. And you know that I've just brought a little extra sunshine and joy to your life and you'll be thanking me years from now. No need to weep for gratitude or send gifts. I did this just because I'm that type of guy.
And you figured out that "Esquelle" is a Franconization of "SQL," right? I mean, how cool is that! (To make it all even better, the chapter headings are numbered in binary.)
And if you can't answer in the affirmative, you should still buy the book because it's an exciting and very cool read. And after you're done, you will have picked up just enough nerd cred to impress people at parties with your deep grasp of technology. Just don't push it when you're around a true nerd. You still don't know what query by example is and how it works so you run the risk of being found out. Otherwise, you'll do just fine.
By the way, in honor of this great book and topic, I'm running a little contest. During the 80s, many software companies released desktop RDBMS software packages for the IBM PC and some of the other competing systems. However, it was well known among the geek/RDBMS cognoscenti that "Ted" Codd was known to favor one product in particular.
What was the product and the name of the company?
The first five people to send me an E-mail with the answer will receive a free copy of my book, Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future. Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winners will be inscribed on this site as Geek DBMS Supremos for all time.
BTW, yes, I am familiar with database programs and programming and have coded and worked with dBase II, III (if you want to know what happened to IV, pick up a copy of my book, In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters), InfoStar, and Ansa/Borland Paradox up to version 3.5.
Databases rule the world. You don't see them and may not understand much about them, but all those computers maintaining your private financial transaction information that's periodically stolen by Russian mobsters and all those smartphones running all those apps that collect traffic data and restaurant reviews while storing nude pictures of your favorite celebrities that are also periodically stolen by both Russian mobsters and pimply teens who do understand databases run on a technology conceived of and described in a seminal paper released in 1969 by a British computer scientist you've probably not heard of but who changed the world in as fundamental a way as ever did Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Al Gore, who invented the Internet. Fortunately for Dr. Codd, he's deceased and doesn't have to worry about Jennifer Lawrence getting up into his grill about those pictures which you haven't seen. Right. Uh, huh. No, seriously, I believe you.
But if you had seen them, you could thank Dr. Codd, the father of relational database technology.
I'm not going to describe how relational database management systems (RDBMS) systems work. If you want to learn the basics, go buy Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol and you can learn at the hands of a hot French chick who kicks the snot out of terrorists via savate. (What better introduction to technology can there be?) Suffice it to say that some people become very passionate about the issue. During the 80s, when relational databases were sweeping through technology and dispatching the older hierarchical systems like Huns picking off Romans, ferocious geek wars broke out periodically over the topic of which database adhered most closely to the True Relational Faith. Fortunately, database programmers are poor fighters and no one was usually hurt.
OK, enough geeking out. Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol takes place in a world twenty five years in the future. Our heroine, Esquelle, is a database query master (ladies, take note of author Dacy's belief that you can kick ass via high tech just as well as any guy) who has a chip implant in her skull that enables her to tap into the world's databases. When we first meet Esquelle, she is sitting outside a French bistro enjoying a cappuccino while being closely observed by two Arab terrorists and two American spies from the NSA.
They, obviously, are all up to no good and when Esquelle spots the Arab operatives eyeing her a little too closely, their doom is sealed when she uses her implant to uncover their identity via her mastery of SQL and ability to data mine the planet. Forewarned, she foils their kidnap attempt via a savate slam down, not really needing the assistance her "Uncle Robbie," a top French security head, sends along to her aid. Still, it's good to know you can count on your family in a pinch and "Uncle" Robbie will prove useful in the future.
After this high-stress interlude, Esquelle heads off to the US to enjoy some much needed R&R. She's followed every step of the way by a bevy of shadowy spies, terrorists, and a handsome French operative who's interest in discussing the topic of access privileges with Esquelle clearly transcends just the topic of database tables. The reason for this spook frenzy is not Esquelle herself, but her brother, Bernard, whom the crowd hopes Esquelle will eventually lead them to.
Bernard is an eccentric genius who lives in the South Bronx (138th Street, not a neighborhood currently attracting a lot of quantum physicists these days, though the area is slowly gentrifying and Esquelle does take place 25 years from now.) Everyone's interested in Bernard because while living in the Bronx, he's apparently figured out a way to use tachyons (theoretical and, to date, unobserved quantum particles) to send messages both into the future and the past. This will revolutionize text messaging, obviously, and everyone wants in on the action.
One of the interesting techniques author Dacy employs is a high level of detail when discussing the fast moving events taking place in the book. A second kidnapping attempt on Esquelle that occurs on the Seattle waterfront is backed up with maps. Hotels and locations are shown via eye in the sky photography. There are numerous charts and tables. Esquelle's data queries use proper SQL syntax. As you read through the story, you begin to almost feel as if you're attending a briefing, not reading a novel. The effect is to draw you in to the story and make Esquelle more realistic and immediate, an atmosphere I try to create in my own novel, Rule-Set.
Joe Dacy is a natural heir of Tom Clancy and if you're looking for someone to fill the void left by the departure of the man who gave us The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games (my two favorites from his oeuvre), then the hour and the book are met. (You geeks have already bought Esquelle and are busy scanning the pages for any mistakes in the SQL.)
As for moi, Joe had me at SELECT * FROM.
Oh, I'm sorry. What's the "Tesla Protocol?" I'm not telling you. But Nikolas Tesla was the man who spanked Thomas Edison in the high stakes electricity shootout between DC vs AC and before his untimely death, announced he'd designed a deployable particle beam cannon. To this day, no one is sure if he was kidding or not.
Indomitable (The Push Chronicles Book 1) by J.B. Garner
File Size: 1296 KB
Print Length: 177 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: J. B. Garner; 2 edition (August 31, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
I have a long and complicated relationship with comic books. I grew up in the era of Fredric Wertham, who convinced my mother and father and many other people's mothers and fathers that comic books Rot Your Brain. Subsequently, I was, formally, forbidden to own comic books during my childhood. (By the way, those of you who want to relive those glorious days of brain rotting fun should go visit www.superdickery.com. You will love it.)
Of course, this wasn't going to stick. Every other kid I knew or played with read comic books (usually Marvel). Bronx neighborhoods, from the standpoint of comic aficionados, were broken into Marvel and DC nations. My block stood with Stan Lee, and we scorned DC, particularly Batman, who in the 60s was not particularly grim nor angst ridden. Everyone felt more was going on there with Robin than a simple adoptive arrangement and we didn't approve.
Girls read Archie and those disgusting romance comics. If a guy was caught reading those, you were normally treated as if you were infected with hair lice.
Thus, I grew up in an atmosphere of deception and duplicity. I would buy comics regularly from the local lunch and candy stores, read them outside, hide them under my shirt when entering my apartment, and secret them under the toy chest in the bedroom my sister and I shared when we were small. Eventually, the space would become crowded and a new purchase would edge out from its sanctuary like a flat, colored, Judas goat and tip off Mom. She would then rake the stash out and throw it down the incinerator. The cycle would then begin again. I guess we were both making a point.
(Also, because of comics, I learned a painful lesson in personal family betrayal. But that's a tale for another day.)
When I hit my teens, the strictures against comics were relaxed and I continued reading them. However, I have to admit that as I grew older, I realized that the old trouble maker Wertham had a point about comics. Like soap operas, they didn't end nor truly progress in time. Fifty one years after he first swung across the New York skyline, Peter Parker is still a young man. As a kid I could identify with him, but now he's just an annoying millennial who won't get off the sofa and get a real job. It may be hard for him, though. Peter once made a living as a freelance photographer for a newspaper, but that job doesn't exist anymore. How does he earn money these days? I don't know. Maybe he drives for Uber or Lyft?
It's just as bad with the other super folk. Batman and Robin are still creepy and should just come out of the closet and get married already. It's time for Wonder Woman to fess up to being a dominatrix, tie up Superman, and stomp on him with her stiletto heels. I don't have much to say about Aquaman. He was lame then and he's lame now, so I'll just leave him alone.
Yes, yes, I know. Reboots, alternate universes, different timelines. But how many times can you pull that stunt before it gets older than the life spans of some of these super folk? I mean, aren't Batman and Superman closing in on 100 by now? At a certain point, their super powers should consist of being able to throw used Depends at super villains at super speed. Crime would drop to almost zero in no time.
And have you ever actually worn a spandex costume? I suggest you never do. Even if you think you're in good shape, your self-esteem may not survive that first glimpse in the mirror. If I ever become a super hero, I want the super power of being able to make super heroes look good in tasteful cotton clothing. I'd be dating Supergirl in no time. (Not that I'd want to as I'm happily married. I'm just saying that she'd want to date me and I'd have to gently let her down.)
"But what about Maus?," I hear you saying. Yes, Maus is a piece of comic literature (oh, sorry, I mean "visual novel.") But World War II was real and tragic. When Superman died at the hands of Doomsday, did anyone think he was really dead? Of course not. Did you feel a sense of real loss? No. Everyone knew we were just being set up to buy the collectible issue where he comes back to life. The bastards wouldn't even let the poor sweet body of Gwen Stacy rest in peace. They cloned her, the savages.
(And no, Watchmen wasn't art. It was pretentious and if you didn't figure out the plot well before the end of the series you're dumber than The Rhino.)
The above is a very long winded way of saying that I realized comics are silly.
So why did I agree to review Indomitable, a novel about men and women grokking the spandex? Because no one who has ever loved comics ever really stops loving them. We just put away childish things and become adults. But, at my age, I'm heading back down the road to childish so maybe it's time to give silly a bit of a break.
Indomitable by J.B Garner kicks off with an origins tale. You see, our heroine, Indomitable, who starts life off as plain old Irene, has a boyfriend named Eric. Eric's parents died in a car crash. Eric misses Mom and Dad an awful lot and uses a mysterious quantum atomic particle combined with Irene's bio feedback machine to create a worldwide phenomena called "The Whiteout." The Whiteout in turn creates the "Pushed," ordinary people with super powers! When it's all over, Irene becomes Indomitable and she's joined by The Extinguisher, The Human Tank, Mind's Eye, Hexagon, Medusa, et al and their evil counterparts. (I'll let you decide if you want to lower yourself to some Mystery Men jokes at this point and give you time to get it out of your system.)
Eric is transformed into Epic. He's kind of a Superman, but with a will to power. Wouldn't you know it, Indomitable and Epic do not agree about the future of mankind in this new era and begin a tangled love/hate relationship which dominates the ongoing narrative of the book.
There's also an incredibly Evil Super Villainess. This unique character has the ability to destroy computer components with just the power of thought, erase all traces of her dastardly deeds, bring thousands of innocents to the brink of ultimate despair and with just a single phrase paralyze the forces of justice and goodness. Her name is "Lois Lerner."
OK, I just made that last part up, but you have to admit Lerner certainly looks like an evil super villainess. But there is a really evil super villain. Well, sort of. Part of the dramatic tension of Indomitable is maybe Eric is the real villain. Or maybe he's just misunderstood. Time, and the sequels to Indomitable, will tell!.
What's that I hear you saying? None of this sounds very likely? Oh, yeah, right. Like it makes perfect sense that a radioactive spider bite would give you super strength and the ability to crawl up walls. Or that being caught at ground zero during a nuclear test would turn you green and enable you to jump miles into the air. Or that a guy with mercury for skin rides around the galaxy in outer space where there's no water on a surfboard. So just shut up and let the review continue without any further carping. You want real science, go watch Bill Nye or something.
One of the great things about comics is the fun you can have renaming the super characters you read about with names you feel are more appropriate to their powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. For instance, there's a girl turned into crystallized carbon early in the book. I have a feeling we may see her again. What should her super name be? Diamond Lass? Crystalline? I vote for Madonna Woman! Epic I've renamed "Superego." Indomitable, our heroine, spends a lot of time nagging Supere...oops, Epic about the big mess he's made of things (not that you can blame her), so from time to time I think of her as Kvetching Woman.
Now, how does Indomitable read? It's great silly fun. The action is slam bang, the characters, within the limitations of the genre, are well realized, and at the end of the first book, I really wanted to know if Epic and Indomitable are going to one day work it out. It's a tale that will take you back to those rainy Saturday afternoons when you'd curl up in your room with the latest releases of Green Lantern, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and maybe a couple of annuals and rot your brain.
And dream, for just a moment, that you too could fly.
SanClare Black (The Prince of Sorrows) by Jenna Waterford
File Size: 4639 KB
Print Length: 362 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Perhaps the greatest novelist of all time is Charles Dickens. I read Dickens extensively as a boy and recently have come back to him as I realized how archetypal his work is and how much fantasy writers owe him. As a recent example, the last episode of season "five" of the reconstituted Dr. Who was a retelling of A Christmas Carol. This makes perfect sense, as Dickens is the father of all time travel stories.
SanClare Black descends from another great novel of Dickens, Oliver Twist, with Mark Twain sharing progenitor rights via The Prince and the Pauper. Twist was the first major novel featuring a child as the chief protagonist and blends Gothic horror with a fairy tale meme, all of it overlaid with strong homoerotic elements in the relationship between Fagin and the band of pick pockets he both cares for and manipulates. The arc of the novel takes Oliver from poverty and despair to relative comfort and salvation, then plunges him back to the depths. At the end of the story, as befits a fairy tale, Oliver is finally restored to the safety and comfort of his adoptive family while those who have abused and kidnapped him receive their just punishment.
SanClare Black follows the basic template created by Dickens in Oliver Twist, but this is the 21st century and the novel is able to reach into dark corners of the human condition Dickens could only hint at. You may question whether some aspects of the tale are an appropriate fit to the fantasy genre, but the characters author Waterford can create because of her narrative choices are far more complex and varied than those found in most fantasy novels.
The novel begins with a warder, Jarlyth Denara, rushing to attend the labor of the Queen of Serathon. He is a "sensitive," (a combination of telepath and empath) and already psychically linked to the baby boy about to be brought into the world, Prince Nylan. After the child is born, Jarlyth and the infant immediately head for Tanara Priory, a place where the very psychically active Prince will be educated and sheltered while he learns to toughen his mind and spirit against the constant bombardment of other people's thoughts and feelings. Up till his eighth year, our hero lives a life of comfort and privilege.
Things can't go on this way, of course, and Nylan is kidnapped by mysterious forces and eventually finds himself abandoned sans memory in the rather grotty kingdom of Camarat. At first, Nylan (now renamed "Michael") seems to have enjoyed the luck of a soft landing, but he is the "Prince of Sorrows" after all and at ten years things go to hell and our hero is thrown into the streets of Camarat with no food, money, or guidance. All the while, in a running subplot his mentor Jarlyth is searching for the child, guilt stricken by his failure to protect him.
At this point in most fantasy novels, a kindly wizard, troll, elf, rogue et al typically shows up and things move along the heroic path trod by so many other stories. SanClare Black goes down a darker, and far more realistic, path. As happens to children worldwide when they are pried out their familial cocoon, Nylan falls victim to child abuse and rape, and eventually must make a living as a boy prostitute. The prose and passages describing his victimization and degradation are not overly explicit, but they do make for some tough reading. You have been warned. (If you're the sort of person who buys the book precisely because of the aforementioned, please keep that to yourself and don't ever contact me.)
In addition to a compelling story, one of the best things about SanClare Black is the writer's smooth, professional writing. The novel is not marred by the cracked prose and clunky descriptions that afflict too many of the indie books that have been submitted to me for review. This is professional wordsmithing and I appreciated the experience. I also enjoyed watching the character of Nylan being created and realizing that his ordeals and traumas will enable the story to explore a persona who will face memories and choices not normally touched by fantasy.
One teeny tiny point. If you're a regular fantasy reader, you're familiar with those little maps many books sport that provide you with a visual guide post of their make believe world. I've always thought those maps were a bit silly, but after reading SanClare Black, I cared enough about the universe it creates to want one. A tribute to the author's imagination.
SanClare Black is a strong, fascinating first release in a projected series. I look forward to reading the next book.
The Far Bank of the Rubicon by Erik Wecks (The Pax Imperium Wars: Volume 1)
Length: 309 pages (Contains Real Page Numbers)
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1499619820
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
The Father of Space Opera is E.E. "Doc" Smith, a writer who I devoured as a child but is not widely read today. I've often thought that the Skylark and Lensman series were naturals for the big screen (especially the Lensman books), but I also devoured Edgar Rice Burroughs, particularly the John Carter of Mars books. I couldn't understand why no one hadn't made a great movie based on the series when you could work with a hot Martian chick named Deejah Thoris who ran around the surface of the Red Planet planet in a bikini and gave birth by laying eggs. (No, I'm not kidding.)
And then they did do the movie and just look how that turned out. So I'm out of the recommending- media-properties-for-production business. Except for my book, of course.
The modern space opera has evolved in a framework consistent with the rules laid down by E.E. In a space opera, thou shalt have:
So, given these time honored traditions, how does The Far Bank of the Rubicon do?
Very well, thank you. The mark of a good space opera is that if you step into it in the middle, as I did with Rubicon, you want to circle back and pick up the first book in the series to ensure you're caught up. I did and I'm caught up. The space battles are fun, the technology interesting, and the characters get under your skin. By the end of Rubicon, you've developed that pleasing compulsion to immediately buy the next book in the series to find out what happens next.
The plot of Rubicon is as follows. Our hero, Jonas, is the Prince Harry Windsor of Athena, a star state ruled over by the beneficent King Nicholas, who's caught and toasted with his royal trousers down when the evil Unity unleashes a dastardly sneak attack on the Athenan kingdom. Unity is a corporate state that feel like a cross between Stalinism and maybe the boardroom of GM in the 1950s and soon overruns most of Athena. Along the way, Jonas and his friends manage to launch a few good counterpunches, a series of compelling space battles that are an exciting hoot to read.
Despite the valiant efforts of our Prince, it becomes apparent that all will soon be lost. Jonas's older brother, King Stephen, will have to surrender his kingdom to Unity and endure a prison regimen of cold tea and soggy scones before the inevitable midnight smothering carried out by masked henchmen holding those convenient wool blankets. In the meantime, Jonas and the last surviving Athenan fleet depart their home stars and head out into the void in search of supplies, allies, and ultimately, revenge.
I do have one bone to pick with Rubicon, and that's an early sex scene between Jonas and his paramour Sophia, the daughter of Athena's treacherous Duke Malek. The writing in this passage is awkward and at points unintentionally funny (Space Opera guys, watch "Gone with the Wind" to learn the best way to handle the naughty scenes. Yeah, I know. But believe me, it works out better nine out of ten times):
"He wrapped his arms around her and ran his hands over her butt, while he kissed her belly."
First of all, that sounds like a difficult position to get into. But worse, did he say "butt?!" Hey, we're talking a space princess here. They don't have "butts." They may have smoldering curves, stormy eyes, mysterious nooks, luscious crannies and shapely bottoms but never a butt!
In New Jersey, they have "butts."
This quibble aside, if you're a fan of Weber's Honor Harriman series, The Uplift Saga, or similar tales of galactic swashbuckling, you'll greatly enjoy The Far Side of the Rubicon.
Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn
Publisher: Wet Feet Publishing; 4 edition (January 22, 2014)
Form Factor: Kindle
Because seen through these eyes
We lead a double life
No one will know
So check it out steppin' out here I go
Are we, are we, are we ourselves?
Are we ourselves and do we really know?
Lyrics excerpted from "Are We Ourselves," The Fixx
For the last twenty years of so, I've been following guys like Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy, prophets of the singularity and the melding of machine and mind. Ray Kurzweil thinks we'll be uploading our brains into boxes in the 2040s and is all over YouTube pushing the idea. He doesn't actually tell us how we're going to do it, but that's OK. That's what the imagination is for. One semi-serious concept I have read about involves removing your grey matter, slicing it up into sashimi layers, mapping your exposed neuronic net, and transferring it into a virtual mind. I can just imagine the title of a book based around that approach. "The Baklava Conspiracy." Yuck.
The movie and TV industry has also been fascinated by the concept, but the quality of the work dedicated to the topic varies widely. Mind/machine melding inspired the writers of Star Trek to write the worst episode of the series, Spock's Brain. (Don't start. The Omega Glory was NOT worse than Spock's Brain.) On the the other hand, two Arnold Schwarzenegger movies on the topic, Total Recall and particularly The Sixth Day, were intriguing.
Regardless of how we (theoretically) get there, the mind in a machine concept is pure catnip fo Sci-Fi writers. I know because my own book, Rule-Set, uses mind uploading as a major plot point and target for dispute. I have to admit, I'm a bit skeptical about the idea. In the 80s I used to do hobbyist programming in languages such as Lisp and Turbo Prolog and watched the AI Winter descend over technology. You didn't have to be a genius coder to realize that you weren't going to build HAL 9000 with Lisp machines. By chance, I'd also read Hubert Dreyfus's What Computers Can't Do and the sequel, What Computers Still Can't Do and though at the time I thought the man lacked imagination, the fact is he nailed it. It was sad. Every geek and dope smoker went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, and while no one could figure out the last twenty minutes of the movie, we all agreed that HAL and his friends would be around and barking out orders to us meat bags by the beginning of the next millennium.
But HAL never showed up. (But we're all still hoping that he does. And maybe stars in a better movie than the "meh" 2010 sequel.)
I've thought a great deal over the years about why we've failed to build sentient AIs and have come to the conclusion that it's not just a matter of bits, bytes and switch connection density. I also think there's a context problem. I describe the issue this way in Rule-Set.
"Let’s go back to the rose and thorns. We feel pain because our bodies have evolved in concert with those thorns to warn our brains we are experiencing physical damage. This is important because we if we lack that warning, our bodies may be destroyed. But how do you model pain and feed it to a neural net in a way that’s relevant to the software? Never mind distinguishing pain from the sensation of tickling vs tingling vs burning and so on? How does a stream of electrons moving through wires or superpositioned in a qubit ever ‘feel’ pain or find it relevant in any way? AI has spent the last forty years or so discovering that Bishop Berkeley was wrong. It’s not all about what’s in your head. It’s all about what’s in your head and what’s outside it.” Myrdin pointed to his temple, then waved at the interior of the control room. “It’s a unity.”
Thus, when the opportunity to review Second Chance by Dylan Hearn appeared, I took it. Dylan's another writer who can't stay away from mind/machine catnip and I wanted to see how he played with the meme.
Second Chance, the first book in a projected series, is set in a future, post-dystopian world where a mysterious corporation, Re-Life, has perfected the technique of transferring your mind to a computer-based brain simulation, then copying the stored entity into a clone. From a scientific standpoint, this is quite plausible when you study such efforts as the French Blue Brain project, work being done at IBM and other efforts to model our brains in software. (Though no one is quite ready to discuss the actual transfer process.)
Second Chance uses a third party narrative and shifts its viewpoint among several key characters. The main dramatis personae are Stephanie, a newly elected "Delegate" to the British legislature, Randall, an "information cleanser" whose job is to monitor the datasphere (an Internet replacement) and remove and obfuscate data, Nico, a private/public crime investigator who gets a cut of every malfeasance he solves, and the Technician, a shadowy figure connected to Re-Life's past who's constantly running about doing fishy things with body parts, clones, and very advanced computers.
The lives of these characters intersect when Jennica, a young Re-Life researcher, goes missing after discovering that there's something not quite right about how the Re-Live process works. The problem has something to do with data. Something to do with what happens to the mind when we bid adieu to one body and say hello to another. Perhaps something is not...quite...right?
And off we go.
Now, I need to get a couple of things out of the way. The first is that the first 10% of the book is a bit slow going to an American audience. Author Hearn is British and brings a Euro sensibility to the book. Said sensibility encompasses:
Another problem with Second Chance is that the post-dystopic future sometimes sounds too much like the present hot mess we all live in. For example, in this new and better tomorrow (the result of a seminal socio/political upheaval referred to in the book as "The Miracle") politicians are obsessed with polls, are constantly checking the Internet -- errr datasphere -- to read what people are saying about them, break their promises on key positions when it's in their interests to do so, take sexual advantage of their employees, and stab each other in the back with a vigor and regularity that would make Titus Andronicus proud.
And what's changed is?
OK, enough quibbling. Ignore the speed bumps at the beginning of story and you'll be rewarded. At its core, Second Chance is a twisty, fascinating story that draws you further in as its narrative unfolds. The plot links together puzzle box fashion so read carefully. One of the most intriguing concepts the author introduces is the promise of true physical immortality for the entire populus, not just the elites, who are already enjoying its benefits (but at what cost)? It's the Jehovah's Witness version of heaven, a vision of absolute eternal comfort paid for by absolute eternal control.
Just as interesting is the speculation in the novel that begins to swirl around the Re-Life process. The arguments about mind vs soul have raged since Descartes kicked off the era of modern philosophy. Advances in quantum physics have raised even further questions as the possibility of quantum teleportation, however unlikely now, looms as a physical possibility in the future. When/if we succeed in cutting the bonds between our physical bodies and the various electronic afterlives and simulated heavens waiting to debut in the future, will anything be left behind when the ghost leaves the shell?
Second Chance begins to probe these questions in the first book and promises to explore further in the sequels. I'm looking forward to reading them.
The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley
Publisher: Unsung Stories
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange...
Shakespeare, The Tempest
Closely related to the man vs. woman Sci-Fi genre I discussed in my review of Space Games is the other-side-of-the-species bows out sub-genre. I've read several novels of this type and they have, at least to me, a peculiar power to stick in the mind. Over time, the collective consciousness of the writing community has dispensed gender extinction fairly evenly. The girls go down in Frank Herbert's The White Plague. A bereaved scientist develops a virus to wipe out the world's women in retaliation for an IRA terrorist attack that kills his wife and daughters. During the 60's, I read a British novel, whose name for the life of me I cannot remember, in which an evil corporation eliminates the guys via distribution of a drug with a very unexpected side effect. In the New Outer Limits episode "Lithia," the guys take the long count because of war and our inability to get along with women. (It's too bad the author of this episode didn't have the chance to watch some episodes of one of those "Real Housewives" shows. It might have changed his/her perception on the issue of female cooperative instincts.)
Now, the girls are up again for the big sleep in The Beauty
The novel (really a novella) is set in a near-time dystopian future in which all the Earth's women have died, victims of a slow-acting fungal infection that eventually overwhelms them. We are never told the origin of the plague nor the precise timeline in which it appears. The Beauty is not a techno-thriller but rather a parable about the relationship between the sexes and our inability to remain whole in the absence of our natural partners.
As they succumb one by one, the wives, sisters, and mothers of mankind are buried in communal graveyards in which eukaryotic strands and garlands wrap themselves around the corpses in their unquiet resting places. Soon, soon, something will be coming back. Something always does.
The novel's narrative is told in the first person by Nathan, a young survivor of this XX holocaust. Nathan lives with other male survivors in a place called simply the Valley, the location of a commune that sought to move its members away from the ills of modern life but didn't move far enough. Nathan's job in the story is to act as a sighted Tiresias and as a speaker for the dead. In the evenings, the men of the Valley gather around a fire and listen to Nathan tell stories of their lost companions, recreating them in memory and feeling as best he can. His tales are meant to bring comfort to the group, but the reality is that all its members are insane or slowly losing their grip on reality. One example is Nathan's Uncle Ted, who confesses to killing three lost women in cold blood because he could not stand to watch them die.
Author Whiteley is a prose stylist. Her sentences often have a smoky, psychotropic quality and they can wrap themselves around the base of your brain:
It is sunset. The sieved light has taken on a dusky, pinkish cast and I can picture the others waiting at the fireside, ear attuned to the pops and crackles of flames, hoping for a story that will not come. Or is someone else to tell them tales of the dead? I try to picture Thomas conjuring the peachy skin and red lips of women for their listening enjoyment, and it makes me smile. He would do a grander job of describing an onion and goat's cheese tart.
You can imagine Toulouse-Lautrec's mistress writing something like this after a night of absinthe and laudanum.
Part of the normal arc of for this type of tale is discovering how life will reassert itself and some sort of balance restored to our species. The Beauty does not fail in this regard, but its restoration path is both unexpected and grim. But I suspect any woman who has given birth will find it peculiarly just. You men will shudder a bit.
I was musing for a while after I'd finished reading The Beauty and my thoughts turned to a little girl I'd seen with her Mom the other day while visiting my local YMCA for a workout.The child, about six, was Asian, probably Chinese, the woman, white. I see this combination quite frequently in Connecticut. Over time, I've come to think of the state as the Land of Little Asian Girls. They're everywhere, chattering with their parents, playing with their siblings, who are sometimes Asian and sometimes of the same biological stock as their parents, getting off the school buses with their backpacks, etc. At the Conservative temple I attend during the High Holy Days, I'm assigned the same seat every year in the building's balcony section. Across the open space, for close to a decade, have sat opposite me a couple with two little girls. They're twins, Chinese, their parents Jews, probably of Ashkenazi origin. The little girls are always wearing skullcaps when I see them and I've heard they're due to be bat mitzvahed soon (the ceremony is the female version of the bar mitzvah). Perhaps one day they'll be married in the temple; their parents are observant and it wouldn't be surprising.
A few months ago, I read an article in, I think, The New York Times about Chinese mothers who are going to public places handing out flyers on behalf of their sons. The flyers proclaim their desirability as husbands. The mothers do this because there are no local wives for the sons to marry. China, like India, is one of those countries that has slaughtered and abandoned their daughters in mass numbers, the killings and adoptions driven by social mores and political policies, not a plague or techno-conspiracy. I wondered when I read the piece if any of the mothers carrying the flyers ever aborted a girl or gave up their daughter to a couple from the US.
The beauties of China are all around me in Connecticut and I suspect the mothers of China would like them back. But they won't be returning.
The Beauty is eerie, elegiac and haunting. You will never forget it.
Review Submission Guidellines
Want me to review your book? You must join the Rule-Set mailing list and contact me at email@example.com. Do NOT use the contact form for a review request; for press and publishers only. Your book can be a proof but ready for sale within 60 days.
Scifi/-fantasy only at this time. Make sure it's been professionally copyedited. If it's not, I'll know in about five pages and will reject the book. I don't mean to be a hump about it, but approximately 40% to 50% of the books I've received have had far too many typos, comma splices, misuse of dependent clauses, etc. (No, it doesn't have to be perfect. Most books have a few typos, including ones coming out of "traditional" publishing.) Your book cannot succeed in the market with such flaws and it's not fair to ask reviewers to read it in such a state.
I'll take a look at YA, but I'm not the best fit to that audience. PDF, Mobi, print all fine. If you have an author website you wish me to link to, please provide the URL. I don't charge and I also don't guarantee a good review!
Please note comments on blog posts are limited to 5K characters. System limitation.
Dead Reckoning: My Review of "Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here" by Mark S. Rounds
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Not Your Average Bears: My Review of "Camille and the Bears of Beisa-Drafnel" by Simone Salmon
The Cerulean's Secret
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Bela's Last Name Was Really O' Lugosi: My Review of "The Fall" by Stephen Cost
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