Some books are just a fail with me. In general, I hesitate to give a book a low review just because I did not enjoy it, I mean 80% of a review is in the reader’s perspective. We have all reread a book we once loved and on a second read couldn’t help but wonder what kind of crack we were smoking to have enjoyed the book so much the first time, and visa-versa. But in the case of She Who Watches, by Anthony Pryor I really do not feel much guilt for this review.
The characters were one dimensional. The female characters were particularly offensive to me. There were only two female leads, the first Trish, is apparently the group pump. Her main and only characteristic is sleeping with all the members of the group, well most of them anyways. She is possessed by the demon before she gets through all of them. Her one main scene in the book is the obligatory sex scene with the main character. I’m not sure why the author felt he needed to cut and paste a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey into his book, but he did. Trish boils down to little more than a trampoline for the main character.
The other female lead Kay, was mousy and weak. When she steps up to fight the demon, the main character is surprised, even though in the previous two paragraphs the author goes into details about how one of the male main characters, and even the dog have become more powerful and more committed to destroying the demon after having an experience of seeing a goddess. My only thought while reading this description was, why would he be shocked that she was moved, he wasn’t surprised when the rest of the group was moved and motivated by meeting a goddess!
The rest of the characters were equally one dimensional. I felt no vested interest in their wellbeing and by the end of the book was counting how many pages I had left before I could read something else.
But because of who I am, I am going to leave this review on a positive note. At least the author didn’t kill the dog.
I would like to thank Permuted Press, for providing this book for an honest review.
Horror books come in two basic types, there is the “grab-you-by-your-throat” and the “slow burn.” Done well, both novels can be terrifying, and if a novel is able to give the reader both in the same book, that author should be dubbed a master of their field. Well I say hat’s off to “Master” Thomas Olde Heuvelt for the American debut of his novel HEX. I was hooked by this glorious piece of work from the very start. I finished it in 4 days, and probably would have finished it sooner if pesky things like work, food, and sleep had not gotten in my way!
This novel brings to mind Stephen King. Not so much in writing style but in his ability to strip away the picturesque façade of Small-Town “America.” Black Springs is a typical Up-State New York town. If you read the book jacket you go into this novel knowing that the town is hiding a secret from the rest of the world. Katherine, The Black Rock Witch, has been haunting the village for over 300 years. She appears randomly anywhere in the town, and when I say anywhere I mean in the townspeople’s living room while enjoying a movie, or in their bedroom while making love. The residents of the town have learned to cope with her appearances. There is an entire quasi-military organization called “HEX” to deal with her, and deal with her they do.
HEX grabbed my attention for the very beginning. The best way to describe this novel is like frying food. I know, bear with me. When a cook first puts the oil on the heat, there really is not much to see. I mean, they know the oil is heating up, but there is no real action. Then the cook will start to see the occasional bubble lift to the surface or a wisp of smoke, but add the food and all that energy and force that has been hiding below the surface flares up in a riot of bubbles and foam. The reader knows there is a terrible problem forming in Black Springs, heck the characters know it also, but like the reader, they are powerless to stop it.
What drew me to this story was the dichotomy of small town life and modern technology. HEX had established a high-speed internet service for the entire town and all residents were issued a smartphone so they could have access to an app, documenting the location of the witch. The entire town is complicit in keeping the secret of the witch from the larger world. Because this novel is set in present day, the reader is able to watch the members of the community, and HEX specifically, deal with the possibility of the witch’s discovery through technology.
Why is it so important to keep this witch secret? Because the curse is more than the witch. People who are born in the town and people who move into the town can never leave. If they try to leave, even for an extended vacation, they become suicidal until they return to the town. At some point in the history of the town, the elders managed to sew-up the witches’ eyes and mouth, and bind her hands in chains. This was because listening to her causes the residents to also become suicidal. The couple of times residents tried to remove the bindings, there were deaths in the town.
In the end it is technology and misunderstandings that is the downfall of this community. As a reader, I spent most of this novel alternating between horror and sadness for the residents of Black Springs, all the residents, the living and the dead.
Now this is a translation of the 2013 Dutch original, and the author chose to “Americanize” it as opposed to a direct translation. This version of the novel is set in an American village. I don’t speak Dutch, so I have no way of telling how close this comes to the original, but this was a version of the novel written by the author himself, so I am going to go out on a limb and say that the spirit of the original is going to be included in this translation.
The English translation of this novel is being released on April 26, 2016. Run — do not walk — to get this book. I promise you will not be sorry.
Thank you, Tor Books, for providing this book for an honest review.
David Sarella works with a trusted crew. His accomplice Nadia is a gorgeous redhead dressed in black leather. Jorgo may be a bit simple-headed, but he is an excellent driver. They plan to break into an upscale jewelry store in an exclusive shopping district and empty the safe. Their immediate problem is that the sleek, black automobile they have chosen for this escapade is transforming into a shark. The metal frame has become slimy and the fish smell is unbearable. These are “stability issues,” and Nadia’s job is to monitor David, to see that he takes the proper maintenance drugs. The team is operating at a depth of 3300 feet, but they are already rising. David must complete the theft before he is forced to surface.
David is a master thief but a professional dreamer. In Serge Brussolo’s near-future Paris, mediums like David enter their dream worlds, perpetrate their crimes, and bring back their takes to the waking world. David’s dreams are informed by the pulp fiction he’s read since childhood, and the dreaming process is, as for most mediums, experienced as a plunge into ocean depths. He absconds with jewels that on the surface manifest themselves as mounds of ectoplasm, that white sticky stuff nineteenth century mediums supposedly exuded from their mouths, noses, and other orifices during séances.
But David and his fellow dreamers are not fakes. Their ectoplasmic creations, delicate a newborns, get whisked away for quarantine and testing. Once they are stable they go onto the art market, a market they have destroyed and transformed. Museums have sold off their collections of old art to junk dealers and replaced paintings and sculptures with ectolplasmic abstractions, the most accomplished of which sell in auction for millions. Our hero is not in that league. He makes a living as a minor artist whose works end up in museum gift shops. He’s more or less made his peace with that, but he is facing a crisis. Recently he’s come up empty handed after his dives, and some of what he has brought back is too feeble to make it past quarantine. His is the uncertain future of a failed artist.
Readers are left wondering for the first half of the story just what is the deal with this new art form? The descriptions of the objects are vague and not particularly appealing, but we learn that these creations make people feel good. They can make them feel really good. Even David’s tchotchkes lighten the spirits of those who collect them. A major work, like the monumental creations of Soler Mahus, can transform lives. David goes to revisit Soler’s magnum opus in its permanent public installation.
The great dream that had stopped the war had sat enthroned on Bliss Plaza for five years…It’s presence had driven up the apartment prices in the neighborhood, everyone wanting to live close to the work to benefit from its soothing emanations…residents in buildings overlooking Bliss Plaze were totally free of psychosomatic complaints. Better still: incurable diseases had completely vanished in a three hundred yard radius of the oneiric object. The lucky few lived with their windows open, naked most of the time…Those without the means to rent apartments nearby made pilgrimages to Bliss Plaza…a silent, naked crowd sprawled on the steps and grass.
As a practicing dreamer, David also knows the downside of ectoplasmic art. The objects have a shorter shelf life that of the old art. When they begin to decompose they not only stink, they become sticky and toxic. Art disposal is a growth industry, but there is a “finger in the dike” element to its struggle against a growing mountain of fetid art. And then there are the health problems faced by its creators. All that ectoplasm can never be fully expelled, and build up over time causes esophageal and pulmonary issues.
On one level, Brussolo’s novel is a satire on the distinctly Parisian vision of the starving artist in his garret, the failed genius in feverish pursuit of a vision that remains beyond his grasp. Despite his lessening powers and declining health, David cannot forsake his dream world, which is admittedly more vivid than the drab life he lives between dives. He will be willing to risk all for a final plunge to a greater depth than any dreamer has either ever attempted or lived to tell about.
The publishers describe The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome as a “visionary neo noir thriller.” There is a trace of marketing legerdemain here. David may be a trapped man in a system that once supported him and that now has little use for him, but Brussolo doesn’t employ the mounting tensions of David’s predicament to build suspense or a sense of panic. He creates an inventive progression of scenes that illustrate aspects of this bizarre world. The novel might better be described as “entertaining and very cerebral science fiction,” which admittedly doesn’t have the ring of ”visionary neo noir thriller.”
The good news for readers who find they like Brussolo’s technique and vision is that in France he has published somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 novels. The bad news is that this is his only work to have made its way into English, and there are no plans in place for future translations.
I’ve got to start with a misconception that people who don’t know artists or other creative people often have. Many people think that the creative process starts and ends in the space between the artist and the work. That is, in that space between the blank page and the writer, the blank canvas and the painter, or the raw stone and the sculptor. This is only partially true and this partial truth gives rise to the myth, yes Myth, of the writer in a lonely garret, the Eiffel Tower in the background, out the window. Yes, in that space is where everything collides in the struggle right then and there to create, but any artist will tell you that this point is only 50% of the process. (Some say more, some say less.) There is a wholly different side to the creative process which those who don’t know artists, know nothing about.
That is Bandersnatch: the other side where creativity is forged in the crucible of fellowship.
In terms of the 20th century, the Inklings, this select group of men, who met, talked, and critiqued each others work, has now become The Example for how a fellowship is supposed to work. Even Paris of Hemingway’s lost generation, with their salons, and creative minds from far more disciples, seems now a pale second place.
Bandersnatch takes us into this crucible, trying to reconstruct from a fly-on-the-wall perspective this extraordinary time and place. Glyer is concerned with two fundamental questions: What did they talk about when they discussed the various works in progress? and What difference did it make within the books they were writing?
These are simple but seemingly unanswerable questions. Until now, of course. It is positively amazing what a determined scholar can find, especially going into a headwind of opinion from friends, mentors, teachers, that these questions Can Not be answered, so one shouldn’t waste one’s time trying.
Thank goodness she didn’t listen to those little minds. The end result was the book The Company They Keep: Lewis, Tolkien as Writers in Community. Bandersnatch then is not the Good Parts version, the dumbed down for a general audience version, nor a more intimate treatment with the author as narrator version, although all three facets do come into play. Think of Bandersnatch as a distillation with an eye on bringing the practice, that is, the wisdom of The Inklings, into our own lives as creative people.
What did they talk about? What difference did it make? The answer is everything and the other answer is that it made a huge difference. You’ll have to get the details from the book!
For me, the book highlighted not just the critique part of fellowship, but also the resonating aspect, that is, someone who gets it like you get it. If, say, two anime Otaku (obsessed fans of Japanese animation) get together and one of them says “SAO” that’s all they need to engage in a 40 minute conversation concerning the minutia of “SAO” that is as incomprehensible to an outsider as if the outsider was listening to two astrophysicists. From what Glyer has gleamed from The Inklings and from a lot of current research and thought on the subject, this resonating aspect by itself is huge, in terms of creativity.
Glyer goes on to illuminate a half dozen other forms of feedback within the fellowship and what effect it had on the individual writers and their work. She also, fortunately or unfortunately, illuminates what ultimately sunk their ship: what went wrong and why it was their undoing. This, of course, should be a lesson for our own creative process.
If you are a Lewis or Tolkien fan, what are you waiting for? Go and get this book. If you don’t care for those two but the issues surrounding creativity, or writers in general are of interest, this book offers plenty for you as well.
Vendetta is Gail Z. Martin’s follow-up to Deadly Curiosities. Written December of 2015 and published by Solaris, it is the second book in the “Deadly Curiosities” urban fantasy series set in modern day Charleston, South Carolina. This series just keeps getting better. Many of the complaints I had when reading the first novel, which I loved, have been rectified in this second book in this new promising series.
The ghosts in Charleston are getting very riled up, manifesting in more and more violent manners, and it is up to Cassidy Kincaide and gang to figure out why and solve the problem before someone gets hurt. In addition, people are disappearing across the city while walking down stairs. That’s right they just disappear mid-stride.
As in the first book, Vendetta is filled with action. Starting from page one, there are ghostly battles filling every one of its 459 pages. Cassidy is getting more proficient in controlling her powers and this makes for tighter plotting throughout this novel. I did not have to wonder if the reader was going to be treated to yet another “Cassidy collapse” each time she walks into a new room.
Charleston the city is definitely more of a character in this second novel, specifically the “Angel Oak” on Johns Island. I looked this up and it is a real tree. The author is doing a fine job of making me curious to learn more about Charleston. This had been one of my gripes about the last book, I thought Ms. Martin should have written more about the city itself, and I think she vastly improved upon this with this second book.
I was also relieved to see that the characters were making fewer nonsensical moves in this book, or they were still making them but admitted that they were bad ideas. I’m OK with making dumb moves when the characters feel they have no choice, and acknowledge that the move is not the smart one. In this case, because time was becoming an issue and the evil at work in Charleston was so powerful Cassidy and friends needed to pull out all the big guns including Sorren, who had a much larger part in this book than the last.
So my new complaint about this book, and it is a small one, is that the true nature of Cassidy and Sorren’s shop, Trifles and Folly, is supposed to be a secret, but by the time this book ends it is apparent that it is the worst kept secret in the history of secret keeping! Everyone who has ever been introduced in either of the books apparently already knew all about it.
I’m giving Vendetta 4 enthusiastic stars. There is so much potential in this series. I hope the author introduces a multi-book plot in the next one, to keep the series from becoming too formulaic. Maybe more about “The Family” and “The Alliance” the two secret organizations only briefly mentioned in the books so far.
Note: This novel was given to the reviewer by the publisher for a fair and honest review.
Whenever I review of a foreign language work of speculative fiction, I find myself including a statement reflecting my certainty that readers of the work in its original language – Russian, Spanish, Estonian, whatever – have a fuller experience of its subtleties, humor, and imagery than I. That statement usually comes towards the end of the review, but with Vladimir Sorokin’s The Blizzard, I have decided to put it up front. I feel certain that his Russian readers have a – well, as I said.
It helps to learn that Russian readers, by the time they reach adulthood, have received a steady diet of “lost in the snow” narratives. The motif appears in fiction, verse, and folklore, and the stories almost always end poorly for their protagonists. The Blizzard opens with Dr. Garin, who is desperate to find transportation for himself and his serum to the plague-struck village of Delgoye, learning that snow has shut down the railway. It’s a set-up that will prompt Russian readers to think, “Here we go again.”
The forested, rural setting seems nineteenth century, and the frantic Dr. Garin, with his pince-nez and mustache, steps out of a Chekov story. That atmosphere continues when Dr. Garin learns that Crouper, the peasant who handles local bread deliveries, may have horses and a sleigh available. He approaches the man, who does indeed have horses. He has fifty of them. This is a reasonable number, since they are the size of partridges, and they propel his sleigh by running inside a drum. The doctor convinces Crouper to undertake the journey, which in normal circumstances would take only a few hours. The village will be saved from what we learn about this time is an outbreak of zombies caused by a virus brought back from Colombia. The dead are tunneling through the village, breaking into homes, and infecting the living. Dr. Garin does not approve of foreign travel.
Sorokin is one of the most popular contemporary novelists in Russia. His work employs fantastic elements in narratives that range from traditional science fiction to the sort of weird environment he builds in The Blizzard. It is never clear if he has set this tale in an alternate nineteenth century or some future that has devolved into a combination of new technology crippled by a collapsed infrastructure. (Thanks to another review, I learned that there are internal clues that place the story in our own present day.) One development running throughout the story is the twin phenomena of biological miniaturization and gigantism. Crouper’s tiny horses are distantly related to horses the size of small apartment blocks. These are used to haul trains that no longer have a power source. On their journey, Garin and Crouper take refuge in the home of a miller the size of a samovar. Garin has a sexual encounter with his full-sized and delectable wife. One of the men’s many road accidents occurs when a runner of their sleigh crashes into and breaks off in the nostril of a dead giant.
The details of all this are enjoyable and expertly drawn, even if their import remains vague. Dr. Garin becomes increasingly unsympathetic, his humanitarian zeal a cover for his temper, condescension, and poor impulse control. My sympathies all went to Crouper and his tender concern for his hard-working horses. You don’t have to be Russian to guess that this trip into the snow will end badly. But again I find myself wondering if a Russian reader finds all this more than a mildly entertaining curiosity.
Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin is the first novel in the series by the same name. This is a modern day urban fantasy set in Charleston, North Carolina. Trifles & Folly is an antique shop that has been in Cassidy Kincaide’s family for generations. This shop is a front to cover Cassidy and her business partner, Sorren’s other occupation, finding cursed and haunted object and destroying or neutralizing them. For all you fans of cult TV series, if this premise sounds familiar, well you are probably thinking of the 1987 to 1990 series, Friday the 13th: The Series. But don’t get too worried, there are plenty of differences. Oh, did I mention that Cassidy can psychically “feel” an object’s history and Sorren is a vampire?
Although I am not a fan of fantasy novels in general, I do enjoy urban fantasies if they can catch my attention — and this one did, right away. For one thing Charleston is a wonderful and unique setting for the novels. One would expect a novel with haunted houses and vampires to be set in New Orleans, or in a more urban setting like New York or Chicago. I do wish the city had been more of a focal point. I think that Ms. Martin missed an opportunity, by not making the city more of a character.
As far as this story goes, the back of the novel is a bit misleading. Although it sounds like the novel is going to be about Cassidy and Sorren solving mysteries and fighting evil, the truth is Sorren is hardly in the novel at all. Most of the time Cassidy is “fighting the evil” with her assistant and friend Teag, and at times his boyfriend Andrew.
I would like to talk about what there is not in Deadly Curiosities. There is no sex in this book, not even passionate kissing, or possessed make out sessions. And for this I am eternally happy. There are also no erotic blood sucking scenes, at one point Teag allows Sorren to take a sip from him, but it is quite possibly the least erotic vampire scene in the history of the written word. There is also almost no blood in this novel which, given the fact that a demon is stalking the streets of Charleston flaying and dismembering homeless men, is a pretty impressive feat. As a side note, this is quite a difference from the last book I read: The Women by Jack Ketchum. This novel is more like anti-splatterpunk.
There were some things that annoyed me about this story and some of the characters’ actions make absolutely no sense. Cassidy is able to see and experience psychically what the people who have owned objects experienced. She has had this skill her entire life, but she seems to have little or no control over her skill, talent, I don’t know what you want to call it. Now Teag and Cassidy have been having a really tough time with objects going all darkly evil and attacking them, so why oh why after they were attacked at the B&B and then again at the shop, and then again at the historical society, why in all that was holy and good would they proceed to go to a museum. Now this is a museum that was already established as a place where Cassidy has had trouble in the past, even before the big evil starts its terror campaign in Charleston. It made no sense!
For all the things this novel lacks, what it does not lack is a sense of entertainment. Deadly Curiosities is probably not going to win any awards, but it was a good distraction from some of the “heavy” sci-fi I have in my plate. I am going to recommend this novel as a perfect “beach read.” At 456 pages, it is a little longer than the normal summer read, but it reads fast and would be well worth it. (This novel was given to the reviewer by the publisher for a fair and honest review.)
4 of 5 stars
Mary was a teenage girl engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. An angel came to Mary and told her that even though she was a virgin and a good Jewish girl, the angel was going to impregnate her with the spirit of God, you know, literally.
Well Joseph still married her even though she was “damaged goods” because Joseph also had a little visit from God. When Mary was “great with child” Rome, which Judea was under the rule of, called for a census to be taken. All males and their families were required to travel to the city of their birth and register. Joseph packed up his VERY pregnant wife (AMA I’m guessing) and traveled from Nazareth to his home town of Bethlehem. When he got there, every inn and tavern was full because of the census. An innkeeper felt sorry for the young couple and allowed them to stay in his barn. And Mary gave birth to Jesus there. Three wise men “from the east” are drawn to the stable by the “Christmas star.” They recognize Jesus as their King and give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This is the story most people are spoon fed every Christmas. Only people who actually study the bible or have a truly brutal religious leader know that this is only half the story.
After Jesus was born Herod, the King of Judea, learns from his mages that the “Real King” has been born and his leadership is in jeopardy. To protect his rule, he ordered all male children born in and around Bethlehem 2 years and younger killed. This is called the “Slaughter of the Innocent.” Joseph is warned by an angel to get Jesus into Egypt and keep him there until Herod is no longer in power.
The entire story of Jesus’ birth and escape into Egypt is less than one page in the bible. But in Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith manages to expand the story into 300 pages. I picked up this audiobook as some light Christmas reading. I mean we are talking about the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and How to Survive a Horror Movie. I figured I was in for a little tongue in cheek humor at Christianity’s expense. Although I am a Christian, I’m ok with poking a bit at the faith.
Imagine my utter shock when I realized Mr. Smith wrote this book straight. This is the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the Three Wise Men, specifically Balthazar. Almost nothing is known about these three men, except for what I have listed above. This allowed Mr. Smith to weave a gripping tale about these men, who were actually three criminals who met in a Roman jail and were together by chance.
I have to say, that I loved this book, after I got over the shocks contained in it. This story is violent. I mean “Passion of the Christ,” “Reservoir Dogs” violent. If this story is ever made into a movie, I hope Quentin Tarantino directs it. But the thing is, the bible is full of violence and because Seth Grahame-Smith wrote a story that does not try to change what is to many Christians one of the most sacred stories in the bible, it works for me.
This is not a Christmas story per say, Balthazar and the other wise men do not become true Christians at the end of the book, although Balthazar is fundamentally and forever changed by his contact with the Christ Child. He does find a sense of peace and grows as a person by the end of the novel, and in this it is a glorious story of redemption in the grand tradition of Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol. All and all, I have to say that I was blown away by this book. I did not expect something so moving from this author.
For all the Christian readers, have a “Tender Tennessee Christmas” and to everyone have a happy and glorious New Year filled with great food, great friends and great books!!
Is there anything better in this world than good zombie novel. With the dramatization of Max Brook’s amazing novel World War Z, and AMC’s mega hit “The Walking Dead,” itself a dramatization of Robert Kirkman’s amazing graphic novels, zombies have become “hip” again. Many authors have jumped on the band wagon with greater or lesser success. 1897: Aliens! Vampires! Zombies! is author Sean Michael Welch’s contribution to the genre.
The year is 1897 and aliens while observing the Earth, accidentally unleash a zombie plague on the northern hemisphere. Now these are not completely “inhumane” aliens, when they realize their mistake, they do their best to correct their error, this involves the help of revived figures from history and several 1897 contemporaries.
Zombie novels come in three general types. The first, are the true horror stories, these are the run, scream, bleed, run novels examples include “The Dead World” series by Joe McKinney, and of course World War Z by Max Brooks. When they are well written, zombie books of this type are a true horror story. They win awards and are touted as proof that the genre is more than mindless junk for the masses.
The second type is the zombie as the misunderstood monster. This is a relatively new route for this genre. Examples of this are Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey. Zombies in these novels are blessed (or cursed) with human emotions and motivations.
Mr. Welch’s novel falls firmly in the third category, zombie comedy. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith is a prime example of this type of novel. These novels should be read with tongue firmly placed in cheek, and when well written are probably the most entertaining of the books in the zombie genre.
No one wants to feel like they are being made fun of, especially readers of a genre, such as the zombie genre, who do not get much respect even among other genre readers. Authors who write zombie comedy have to thread a very slim needle, making sure the reader feels they are in on the joke and not part of it. Go too far one way or the other and an author risks alienating their reader. 1897 threads that needle with flair and finesse.
When I first started reading this novel, my mind instantly went to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. This novel contains that kind of humor, smart and funny with just a hint of snark that all really good humor contains. Add in late 19th century manors of speech and dress and you have the making of a funny novel. But like Pratchett and Adams, the humor is dispersed with telling and serious moments.
After finishing this novel I felt my ribs were sore from laughing, but I was also a bit sad. I truly love zombie fiction in all its many forms. Zombie fiction can be a platform to express social issues in a way that can be easily accepted by the masses. I want good zombie fiction, although I have read and enjoyed my share of zombie books of questionable skill. When comedic zombie novels, even good ones like 1897, are released I worry about the genre being taken “seriously.” Let me be completely frank about that last statement. I know the difference between what is fiction and what is true. Climate change is a real concern; zombies are a fun diversion. I just want there to be well written diversions.
As for the story itself, Mr. Welch fills the novel with every science fiction, and fantasy character under the sun. Besides the aliens, vampires, zombies in the title, there are elves, robots, flying horses. About half way through the novel I asked myself well “where are the werewolves,” and the next page had them (sort of). In the hands of a less talented writer, this could have been an overly busy novel, but Mr. Welch was able to give the reader that wink and nod needed. The story ends in a cliff hanger, and this reader for one is looking forward to reading the next installment of the rousing comedic novel. (This book was given to this reviewer by the publisher, Permuted Press, for an honest review.)
3.5 of 5 stars
A Futurist, a UFO researcher and a SF guy all walk into a bar carrying read copies of Solar Express. They sit down and get their drinks.
SF: Well, what do you think?
They look at each other. No one says a thing for a few moments.
SF: That bad?
F: Well… I’m trying to think of something nice to say.
UFO: Don’t bother.
F: The man knows hard science but he knows jack about Futures.
SF: Is he supposed to? Would it help the story?
F: It would be nice if a major SF author knew a little bit of Future Studies. Just the basics, mind. I don’t think that’s to much to ask. But this, hell, this is the worse kind of SF. The stuff I can’t stand.
UFO: Here, here.
F: He simply runs a few of today’s trends out, establishes his baseline and then that’s it. A few trends do not a future make. What about all the other trends and how they interact with the trends he’s using? Nothing. Besides, it’s never the baseline.
SF: Is that a Futures’ secret?
F: No it isn’t. It’s what they teach first day. When you run today’s trends out, you get the baseline, but the answer you’re looking for is never the baseline. I’d be shocked if it was.
SF: So you don’t like his world construction.
F: Exactly. There’s no change. His politicians are jackasses, the politics are so brazenly normal it’s shocking. Post-docs as wage slaves, on the back side of the moon. (Disgust noise.) At least the background glimpses of the society we got in Clarke’s Rama were different.
SF: That’s hardly being fair.
UFO: That’s life.
F: Let’s just say you were reading something from a hundred years ago or so, something Victorian. And they made a big deal about a woman not being a virgin….
SF: Isn’t that a plot point in Tess… something…
UFO: D’Urbervilles. Yeah, it was.
F: Fast forward a hundred years or so to us, and that doesn’t mean a thing. Victorian lit’ is quaint. Human, certainly, but quaint, and concerned with things we don’t care about. And we’re supposed to believe that there’s been no changes like that in the hundred years out to the time of the novel? I think it makes for very uneven reading.
SF: But that really wasn’t the point.
F: Point or not, the fact it’s not there, not even really considered, is important. The society in which this novel is set, is an important point, but he is either not interested in talking about it or does not have the talent to talk about it. What we get is a blasé “they’re just like us” and he moves on to com’ chatter between a shuttle and station control.
SF: That did get a little repetitive, didn’t it? That and the intricacies of station repair. Life and science in space can be quit tedious. So… what else?
UFO: From my perspective, the whole thing was based on a faulty premise. They’re here. The best minds in the field think they’ve always been here. And it’s only Human arrogance, stupidity and lies that we believe otherwise.
F: Now who’s being harsh?
UFO: He’s in a cul-de-sac. Especially a technological one. The way he talks about space travel is quaint.
F: His expression of space travel is a projection forward from the Now, but if the Now is based on a lie or faulty data, then the projection forward is useless. It can’t be a useful baseline if it’s based on faulty data. It’s gibberish.
SF: What’s the lie you mentioned?
UFO: We’ve known since the 50’s that you can go into a lab and break all three of the so-called Newtonian laws. Period. This mean they’re not laws of any sort just approximations of reality under certain conditions. Change those conditions enough and these so called laws stop working.
UFO: Since the government has know that for close to 70 years, space travel as we know it from NASA is a dog ‘n pony show for the rubes. The lie is, that’s the way it has to be.
SF: And we’re the rubes.
UFO: Exactly. The lie covers the existence of what can be called the technology of the gods. We barely survived the nuclear era with that level of technology. Do you really think we could survive “the death star has cleared the planet” levels of technology?
F: The lie is a good thing then?
UFO: Hell no.
SF: So, we’ve got faulty premises and a background society that’s just like us…
F: And M.A.D. too.
SF: Mutual Assured Destruction. Tediousness at times. What else? I’ll add that there were passages that I got bogged down in with all the science and techno babble.
UFO: I thought the arc of the story itself was really obvious. I kept waiting for something to pop up that wasn’t what I expected. I wasn’t expecting monsters or any dribble like that but… you know… observation, mission, solve some problems, get back safely, win the girl and a medal. No surprises.
F: I thought the relationship between those two was… quaint. Almost like something out of the 19th century. They wrote long letters of encouragement to each other. How nice and romantic. That just strikes me as unrealistic. We’re a hundred years out. Moore’s law for computation power seems to have stalled or slowed precipitously. Hell, IBM’s Watson is practically on the level of the COFAR M.I. today. And everyone seemed to have skimped on bandwidth for reasons which seemed either lame or nonexistent.
SF: We’re back to world construction from the trends.
UFO: And those Hotnews! summaries. They reminded me of Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element.
F: Yeah. Him. If that’s where Humanity gets it’s news, no wonder that society was M.A.D.
SF: That’s scarcely a criticism since the same can be said of our own.
F: I actually thought that stuff was quite tame. Compared to what one might get if you ran today’s crap that passes for news forward by a century.
SF: I liked the quotes.
F: But they’re so applicable to our own society as well.
UFO: That can’t be much of a criticism since one can read the political musing of Cicero and they’re equally valid.
SF: Do we know if he made those quotes up, like Herbert did all the time, or did he get them from somewhere? I assumed he did the Herbert thing. It’s a writing technique I’ve always liked.
F: No idea.
UFO: I assumed it was the author speaking to us through the quotes.
The conversation stalls for a moment as another round of drinks is brought over.
SF: I think we’re being a bit harsh. Isn’t there anything to like in this book?
F: That, I think, is the real problem. It’s solid work, if you just read it and that’s it.
SF: In the moment, it’s fine. But once you start picking at what he’s doing and why, it comes apart.
UFO: You’d have to discount fundamental scientific advancement being in a cul-de-sac since Einstein.
F: And discount the inconsistent use of the trends in your world building…
SF: Nothing memorable about the characters either…
UFO and F glance at each other, knowingly.
F: You’re not going to bring Gally into this are you?
SF: I was not. That’s really not fair. But a fairer comparison would be there’s no Paul Maud’Dib, no Sylia Stingray, no Hal 9000, no Major Motoko Kusanagi, no Deckard. There’s no one here I’m going to remember beyond next Tuesday. No one unforgettable.
F: What’s the name of the captain who leads the team onto the ship in Clarke’s original Rama book? Don’t…
F points at UFO who was about to answer.
SF: I don’t remember.
F: What’s the plot for that book?
SF: Space ship comes cruising in to use the Sun for a gravitational turn. An Earth ship can intercept, so it does, dead silence and alien stuff. Happy endings for first contact; no fatalities. Ship leaves them in the stellar dust.
UFO: The humans in that story seemed saner? more intelligent? less fracked up? than this story.
F: Less petty. But the point was, you don’t remember the fine details of Rama, so you won’t remember the fine details of this either. But a one sentence summery in 20 years? Probably. Like I said, it’s solid work, if you don’t think about it.
UFO: Safe too.
F: Very safe. It’s works on the assumption that we’re just going to teeter along, creating and solving our problems, just getting by, muddling through like we’ve always done. That is a highly dubious assumption.
UFO: And there’s that bullheaded drum beat about how far away other civilizations are, and not going faster than light speed, and why would aliens bother with this backwater. Hideously stupid.
F: Those three things are all assumptions.
SF: And if all three are wrong…can one write great SF?
F: I don’t think so. You can write solid and safe but not great.
SF: Because greatness usually breaks molds, upsets apple carts, and goes places never gone before.
UFO: Can’t accuse this book of that. (Laughs.)
They grow quiet for a moment, finishing the current round of drinks.
SF: We’ve not even skirted around the big lie which sets the book in motion.
UFO: You cannot militarize space. Bull.
SF: The minute I read that statement, which was right after the back cover of the book, I thought we were already in trouble. Another quaint idea.
F: Another assumption about how the world works which, unfortunately, isn’t true.
SF: We’re all adults here. We know N.A.S.A. was incorporated under the D.O.D. which mean anything they do…
UFO: Or find…
SF: …can be classified under national security concerns. That’s how it always starts.
UFO: The Snowdons of the world aside…
F: The exceptions which prove the rule…
UFO: …you can keep secrets. And there are many many secrets in this country.
SF: It seems to me you can militarize space all you want, you just can’t tell anyone, publicly acknowledge that you’re doing it.
UFO: Plausible deniability. Exactly. You need secrets being kept, black projects up and running, with compartmentalization of those projects.
F: Oh my, none of that around here.
UFO: And boatloads of money.
SF: How many times has a D.O.D. head made the trek up the hill in the last 30 years and said…(In a passable Goofy voice) Garsh, hyuk, we seem to have misplaced several trillion dollars. Hyuk.
UFO: More than once.
F: If we have secret space stations…
UFO: Or bases on the moon…
F: Who’s going to know it in the civilian population…? And spill the beans…? And be believed…?
SF: Still, it’s a nice idea.
UFO: I’m too old for nice ideas. Democracy is a nice idea too.
SF: Let’s definitely not go there. That certainly wasn’t part of the novel. I’m really bothered by a feeling that for all our harping, I think you’re right. It’s a solid novel.
F: Except for…
SF: Except for everything which we don’t like about it. I finished. Does that count?
UFO: Do you want a reward? Milk and cookies, perhaps?
F: I see no contradiction in the idea that a solid work can also be complete B.S. Yes, it is forgettable, isn’t it?
SF: Only a handful of books published each year, or maybe each decade, have any staying power at all as the generations pass.
UFO: This isn’t one of them.
SF: So, are we agreed? Solid, Safe and Forgettable.
After a pause, they all nod. They get up to leave.
SF: I’m off to sell my copy.
F: I’m just going to donate mine to the YWCA’s used book sale.
UFO: I have a plant stand that needs a support under one leg….
SF: I thought you’d give it to one of your friends upstairs.
UFO: That’s were I got mine originally. Some of them read a lot.
They all laugh before dispersing into the night…