Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Battle for Darracia, by Michael Phillip Cash - 4 Stars

Darracia, Darracia, Darracia, everything in this series happens in threes. This is a trilogy, with each book themed on the introduction of one of the essential corner stones of harmony (the balance of air, land and sea) and development of the main species associated with each. There are three elements, which take on glowing forms as conversing elementals, three colours which represent an individual’s inner intentions, three systems of social control and three main species (or so you’d think). The baddies come in ones: one evil goddess, one badly behaved race, one nasty organic drug.

Just as religions describe three aspects of something that can also be thought of as melded into a single concept or gestalt entity and tripartite governance involves an equal division of power between three chambers that are still one and the same government, the theme of this book is the reconciliation and unification of three competing sides into one movement that may provide direction, equality and justice for all, three cheers, or fail spectacularly. What a mouthful. On Earth, lots of people usually have to suffer very badly before any kind of improvement happens because vested interests don’t like it (Vesta = goddess of things on fire) and that also turns out to be the case in this story.

I mistook this series for science fiction before I started reading, which was entirely my mistake for judging a book by its cover image and typeface. Although it has extra-terrestrial species and interplanetary travel, there are almost no science fiction predictive ideas or mechanisms because it is not that angle of imagination the author is exploring here. There is magic (forces not appearing in the Newtonian model) that they tap into, so I would therefore classify this as a swords and sorcery fantasy story with an encouraging line in right-on social direction: emancipation, equality and racial bonding etc. The monarchy remains intact as an institution, although the story is quite rough on individuals, so I guess the author decided the chopping of the social order had to stop somewhere, i.e. while the reformers still held the moral ascendancy. The metaphors associated with our world and social change are never deeply disguised, so the audience can’t miss their free education.

I noticed there are no actual countries on the worlds that this author has created, just planets and their leading species, so these creations club together by genetic type rather than also by geographical similarities or which side of a border they birthed in (as we do). Life must be so much simpler for them. Although, they do form factions in power struggles, which is the truck engine that drives the plot. They can also breed across the species barrier, which (on Earth at least) indicates a common ancestor not too far back, which reinforces the idea that they could live collectively.

The author’s writing style is planned and professional rather than soulful and poetic or erratically unique, so all the little pay-offs I got came from the plot rather than the exquisite jam sandwiches of vocabulary. I keep wanting to tell authors that decimate affects only ten percent, but that’s picky.

Once you’ve got used to the fiery swords and treachery, seen the high brought to their knees, the unworthy elevated to untenable positions of despicability and travelled with the heroes as they’ve been dragged through and around the mulberry bush a few times to earn their scratches and let you know they’ve been altered by the experience, the story grips and swings you along through the alien trees, beneath the waves, past two good twists and then on to its predictable conclusion.

It’s quite an entertaining ride with a balanced range of characters and some atmospheric scenes, notably going along tubes within a hollow volcano and abseiling down the purple cliffs of Binna or whatever it was to harvest plants growing on the sheer rock face. The battle ending to each part was the standard resolution we’ve come to expect from these things, with reinforcements in the nick of time (Blücher at Waterloo, Gandalf at Helms Deep) but used sensibly enough to make us feel we might be reading web-footed salvation for the first time in fiction. Noticing the patterns of three, I rooted for the heroes, booed the bullies and had moments where I got entangled, so that’s my expectations fulfilled really.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Joy Cancer, by Lily Markova - 4.5 Stars

I tend to read Lily Markova books in one sitting because they’re so heart-wrenchingly cool. This one, the only one I hadn’t got to yet, took two sessions. Hmm. I guess that sets it below the level of The Loneliest Whale but a first book equalling the standard of a third would be expecting a lot. I didn’t pick this up and read it for a long while because I thought it was about someone dying of cancer, which it isn’t. Joy Cancer actually turns out to be the main character’s name, odd choice, so that’s one abysmal chasm of depression avoided.

Lily’s books up to this date have not been about everyday artificial candyfloss meaningless like dating, consumerism and cars; they’ve been oblique insights into the human condition, often first person philosophy from an observer with wide eyes for both the world of today and the shadowy internal that’s ubiquitous and timeless. Markova’s tales run through the Id (the now desires – I am thirsty) to the Ego (satisfying the desire in a socially responsible way) to the Superego (morality, right and wrong), then, amazingly, spin off into a new classification around the meaning of life and need for existence that disconnects from what an individual person might want. Some people think it’s about friendship, which it isn’t. Some think this is a writer caught in a spider’s web of her own mind and she can’t fathom it. Every one of her books exceeds Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, drifts up, finds rarefied air and loses sight of crowds on the ground who pace their lives by sales, news and their pointless meal times. Lily doesn’t seem to view the world like a human being looking up, she sees it in the way that an ethereal spirit looking down might, lost in time. How can she have this much life experience already? I want to hypnotically regress Lily to see what she was before – probably Buddha, possibly drunk.

This is not her best book, probably a four and a half stars job, but it’s unusual, original and timeless. This author is like a new instrument in the philharmonic, a new sound after all these hundreds of years, but wise and worthy at the same time. Can a library of the classics be complete without something by Lily Markova?

“I just – in order to write something worthy, I have to be unhappy, but when I start writing, it makes me feel so happy I can’t write anything worthy any more, and that makes me feel so unhappy, but not unhappy enough to write something worthy.” This sounds like a shallow and pretentious line that’s unrepresentative of the main body of the manuscript but I think it’s the author talking, not the character, which is why she hasn’t phrased it to her usual effortless high standard. The author says many of the characters hold views opposite to her own but the character Joy’s predilection for ending it all and her melancholy must be the author’s.

Do you know what this reminds me of?

We Real Cool, by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 – 2000

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Turtle Problem, by J.M. Harte - 3 Stars

This is an interesting short story, penned in a handful of pages. It explores the situation of someone suffering a senseless tragedy, having nothing to lose and then directing all that negativity into doing something amazing. What’s happened to the central character is italicised, so you can’t confuse it with the story that develops in response to that. Fair dinkum, it’s a good tale.

“Turtles all the way down” is from an anecdote where someone has drawn their own conclusion about evolution, i.e. it didn’t happen. They suggested instead that we stand on our ancestor who stands on their ancestor “all the way down”. To where? Well, this short story describes no point of origin if the two ends of the chain can be linked into a loop via time travel.

The author probably thinks that the second half of this story and twist is an original idea and deserves stars for imagination but I have to break the news that it isn’t. Sorry about that. I suggest they’ve independently thought of something but another writer had got there long before them. Douglas Adams wrote this same idea twice, with three endings, in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and even before that in the superbly contrived Doctor Who episode City of Death (1979; starring Tom Baker, recommended, and at 16 million viewers the most watched Doctor Who episode on first UK broadcast ever). In the Douglas Adams versions, either two or three people travel back in a time machine to the moment when life began on this planet and they inadvertently start it off themselves by discarding 1 x half eaten cheese sandwich and 2 x exploding space ships. Essentially, we or resident aliens go back to witness the origin of life on Earth and end up introducing DNA and starting it off ourselves, creating a “turtles all the way down” oroboros infinity loop. Three people going back in a time machine and releasing biological samples is more of the same.

However, the story is still okay and it also gives a light touch treatment to the way in which we think about our origins, which it handles by exploring the question with a cast representing the approaches we apply to the big questions of life: A scientist, a priest and an undirected human crushed by the sadness of existence. Two of the three think they know the answers and in the end all three find a way to reconcile to a shared understanding of reality. The big picture unfolds, life unfurls and the cheese sandwich of causality disperses its biological contamination that one day will become what we quite like to think of as J.M. Harte and Douglas Adams. Two great minds think alike, perhaps, but I would guess that if life on Earth started like this it wouldn’t be scientific or religious imagination that discovered it, it would be a writer of entertaining fiction.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Double Helix Tempest, by R Patricia Wayne - 3 Stars

This is a sci-fi saga rather than an ordinary novel. It’s very, very long (think LOTR, War and Peace) and it is intended to deliver a planet load of detail and characterization. The planet in question is Mars, in the future of course, after civilisation on Earth has been lost to an Armageddon and contact with its colonies on other planets in the solar system has been cut away.
The Martian colonists are managed by a government of scientists and the wealthy, factors which go hand in hand there, but that government is overseen by an aristocratic hereditary regent who is supposed to act as a check and balance to keep them grounded, to stop them oppressing the poor neighbourhoods. With ambition and a bit of killing, someone’s trying to buck the system and remove the safeguards on power. People are people, no matter where they are in the Solar System. Then again, maybe that’s what you’re supposed to think is happening. It’s time to begin the investigation.
A core theme in this book is that of the sex ratio. Following generations of genetic engineering, 95% of the population of Mars are female and only some of the 5% males are fertile. Nearly all of the population are slender blondes, so much so that they have no idea what the human race is supposed to look like, i.e. diverse genetic and racial variation. This story isn’t intended to be a comment on that issue but it does show us how BORING a life like that would be. Another subject it opens up is the lesbian life, which is normalised in this because there’s clearly very little alternative. There are sex clubs, naked people, lots of mentions of girl-girl crushes, plenty of panties and in the end that sounds a bit samey too.
On my mobile screen in the Kindle app, this ran to 1,464 pages (I think the paperback was about 882), so that took me a few long days and late evenings to finish. A lengthy book is fine if it has an equivalent amount of strong drama, action and complexity to pack in or at least plants solid islands of drama along a chain. My personal view was that this tale drifted in places and I do wonder if everyone who starts reading this genuinely completes it without skipping forward. I read every page, the only fair way if you’re going to comment on an author’s hard work, but even I was tempted. For example, there’s a good bit around page 1,200 where an assassinated woman leaves a message to her daughter, not quite “Obi-Wan, you are our only hope” but similarly full of trust, fear and tension. Could the same story could have been told faster than that, say in 450 pages? Would it have been more dramatic with less time for the steam to escape? That’s an opinion and there would be a range of views over this as some readers prefer an epic, so lucky them because there’s even some neo-Roman influences dropped in at the end which suggests there’s at least another fifty percent of this fantasy world yet to be developed (Part 2 pending).
The mistake count was very small, e.g. “would shoot” instead of “wouldn’t shoot” at one point, otherwise pretty clear. In case you don’t like it, there were a lot of women swearing, Cs and Fs, but I doubt anyone would be offended as it’s commonplace now and who can tell if this would be any different in the future? The Ranger characters are supposed to be common grunts and you’d expect their speech to reflect that but the characters of apparently higher social worth swear just as often. Spot the difference?
That’s it really, a heavy book and a light review. It was a reasonable story and explored an interesting angle of “What would it be like if…” but I think it would have been more engaging if it had been edited down a little, a lot, and in the next book in the series I hope the other colonies aren’t quite so un-diverse and girly. The Kill Bill-style rebel with the katana was fun though and I hope she gets a run in the next book to shake things up.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Revolting, by Mick Hulme - 5 Stars

This book is for people who are looking for answers and understanding about how we are controlled today and what decisions we can still take to influence what happens to us, after a long trend toward public disempowerment. You may wonder why is it that the institution of the European Union is beyond any possible doubt the most hated organisation in the world from a British perspective and has been every single day since 1993. What did they do that was so bad? Why is it that every Prime Minister of the UK from 1993 until 2016 has sided with EU domination and set themselves against the majority will of their own population? Although its first fan Ted Heath (paedophile) predated membership of the EU and Tony Blair (alleged war criminal) wasn’t squeaky clean either, why would an act like signing the Maastricht Treaty by John Major, exactly replicating the action of Quisling, seem to be rational, common sense and for the good of the people to an educated national leader? I think that why leaders and political parties believed this course was right and the public were wrong can be answered, as can the question of why they ignored majority public opinion for so long. I think it can also be understood why it was reacted against so decisively by the population when they got their only chance to be heard in their 23 years of membership.
An important issue to consider is that of revolt itself. What does it look like? We have modern systems such as democracy and the law so our disagreements can be solved without any violence. When an institution like the EU overrules your law and cancels democratic decision making, leaving no lawful way to oppose it, do you really think that’s safe? Does anyone want the situation where the only way for your country to become a democracy and for the majority to be listened to is over dead bodies? Seriously? We need a civilised way to protest safely and lawfully, which was what the referendum was. If the referendum is overruled or staged again until they get a different result, a very serious and dangerous problem will exist, which I hope no one thinks is a good idea.
Over the last few years I’d come to most of the same conclusions as the author without any guidance, so Revolting was always going to be an easy sell as I understood most of the problems already, from a UK perspective, although the concern should be common to all EU populations. An author told me that a Conservative candidate and niece of a former well known cabinet minister in conversation with them had said to their face “What’s so special about democracy anyway?” – and they wished they’d taped it. As I come from what should be a traditional conservative background, it troubles me to know the professional party has diverged so far from what I thought were conservative core values. I am confident that people from traditional Labour backgrounds think the same. What has happened to these politicians? Why did they stop representing us and go to work for a foreign regime? This dangerous thought, “What’s so special about democracy anyway?”, isn’t confined to one party, as Labour, Liberal and Conservative policy since 1993 has been identical: The UK must be ruled by a government that no one has ever voted for, based in a different country. This must be imposed, against the will of the population. Indeed Hillary Clinton said the United Kingdom cannot be a democracy because our choices are different [to those of the US]. Bitch.
I hope you don’t mind but I’m in a mood to hijack this book review and add to what the author has said. I would define democracy as when the members of your highest law making government have been elected, voted for by someone, anyone at all. By this definition, all EU member countries cancelled democracy in 1993, as the European Commission proposes and makes our laws. Their directives pass into national law without even being debated, which is totalitarian.
The questions the people face became: Is that a problem or is it ok, if it’s more efficient? Have we been left with any lawful options to stop unelected government if it gets bad? If cancelling democracy is a problem for you and all democratic and legal methods of reversing it have also been blocked, IF the majority of the population feel the same about this, should they succumb quietly or should they take an opportunity to revolt? When you’re not a Marxist and you’re asking questions like that, isn’t it a sign you’ve been pushed too far?
This is a powerful book, whether you are aware of this stuff or not, written by a fair-minded journalist and composed in a very readable and accessible way. It is a balanced assessment but because it has been written about a problem that disgusts the public, it will naturally look bad for the established order of politicians. This book logs the institution of the European Union’s systemic bypass and nullification of democratic representation for the people of Europe everywhere except at the state/local level. National law is over-ruled automatically by EU legislation as it is superior. It’s all true. The unification of the continent under a single unelected body has been the goal of dictators through the ages and, in the institution of the EU, this has finally been achieved. Hurrah?
Here’s how I understand what’s going on, i.e. the reason why national leaders and the European Union thought it was right to do, what went wrong and why becoming democracies instead is the correct solution.
The EU was designed to bring the benefits of Group Theory and to provide the most efficient political form of population control (the path of least resistance to getting things done).
In Group Theory, what’s best for the individual (originally survival etc.) is not necessarily what’s best for the average member of the group. People might prioritise their own needs and think that being an individual is their optimal strategy (seen by others as selfish, ignorant and backward) or they can submit themselves to a group/society (optimal strategy for the average member of the group, which is seen as enlightened and progressive). “The good of the many outweighs the good of the one” (Spock), the collective economy (Marx). This is reasonable and makes good sense. With the EU so far?
Too many selfish individuals will crash the group, so that’s a threat and these people have to be stigmatised as uneducated and backward, to encourage compliance, which is a catch-all to be used even when the group’s opponents are clever and selfishness was not their motivation. Stigmatising people unfairly is like doing a bad thing for the right reason, to make the group cohesive. The idea of allegiance to nation and culture has to be painted as similarly negative, associated with racial prejudice, because when people have been conditioned to believe in something alternative to the supra-national group, they have to understand this is no longer available. The old flags must go in the bin or people won’t believe in the need for a skin graft over the top of their healthy skin. Preferably, they apply it and don’t even ask. It’s all about means to an end, optimal strategy for the new group over the individual. Still supporting the EU?
However, the leaders of the group (a sub-set) soon realise their own optimal strategy is to run the group for their personal benefit (exploit the mindlessly submissive followers and keep the group going, so they can keep unelected power and loot more for themselves over a longer period). Being a group member but not simultaneously being a member of the leadership set is no longer optimal at all, as the population only work to ensure the leadership set are enriched, retain unchallenged power and aren’t required to pay any taxes on their income. The population of Europe have then become the only threat to the leadership set’s lifestyle and taking the necessary action to exclude the public from decision making and remove their influence on appointments and retentions becomes the leadership of the group’s priority. Still supportive, or are you wavering?
Ordinary members of a group who realise they are being exploited under undisguised parasitical leadership (the intelligent members will notice first) naturally end their support for the group because the system is broken and again believe the selfish strategy is optimal, which it now is for the majority of the public. The leadership set stigmatize them with illogical connections (anyone who believes in elected government, equality and freedom must be a racist, fascist and ignorant – does that sound familiar?). This only works for a while because it’s unconvincing and people see through it, the group then crashes. That’s independence. The leadership set then moan and blame the rebellion for being ignorant and selfish, which is exactly what they themselves were doing on a larger scale. The leadership set has made group strategy sub-optimal to individual strategy for the average member by their own greed (you are a victim of the EU, unless you're one of them). This is what the EU has become today as it and most of the Western world has entered the final stage of decline and fall according to Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb’s classic book The Fate of Empires: Decadence and Corruption.
In summary, for group theory to work across the EU, it is essential to remove representative democracy in Europe. The public must be disconnected from decision making.
To institute the most efficient political form of population control (least resistance to getting things done), you can imagine it would be difficult to agree on anything unanimously and take all countries down the same path if at the individual or national level anyone had any say in what happened and could oppose it. For supra-national decision making to work efficiently and quickly across many regions without exceptions, decisions must be imposed without the possibility of opposition. To put this system in place, again done for the good of the group, it was essential for the EU design to remove representative democracy from Europe.
Have you changed your perception? Can you understand why the public think they’ve lost something?
In the UK, elitist politics is where a small minority of people, who usually define themselves as intellectual liberals, come to the conclusion that their beliefs are right. They then impose their decisions on everyone and treat the general population's opinion (the majority contrary view) as irrelevant, primitive and to be ignored. They see the public having the vote as the main problem in society, so work to disempower millions and millions of people, for their own good. The political elitists started with a liberal and enlightened intention but have moved full circle and become oppressive, anti-democratic and dictatorial. Anti-human-rights, from open minded to narrow minded and then just plain wrong. They wonder, amazed, why anyone would disagree and resist as they and their small circle of the blessed are ideologically faultless. To do so would be (insert stigmatizing insult word here), as words are soon all they'll have left to use in their epic fight against the humans.
The 500,000,000 citizens of the EU have no way at all to appoint or remove any member of their senior government, the European Commission. In contrast, the European Parliament does not propose or enact laws and is simply intended to be a distraction from where the power of law creation is held and allowing people think they’ve voted for something.
This book describes “implied approval”, the way the organisation takes away our freedom in stages under their self-serving assumption that you agree to give up your rights unless you openly state otherwise – and then they allow no possible opportunity, democratic or legal, for you to make that contrary statement.
There is a positive conclusion that I reached after finishing this book which has given me real hope for the future. The thing is, I’m pretty sure I don’t share the author’s political affiliation and might even be his diametric opposite as I quite like capitalism and think incentive to try harder works, yet I found I agree with almost every point he’s made about democracy, the EU’s actions and the public rejection of their control in this book. Think about this: If the Left and Right, who previously accused each other spitefully of being Marxists and Thatcherites, can completely agree on this most essential of all political issues, the importance of being a Democracy, and unite against a common enemy to demand its return, doesn’t that suggest they are correct? The struggle between Left and Right or between social classes has been put on hold to save something more essential: Freedom. There are just two sides now, today, those who want to live in a democracy vs those who don’t.
Tony Benn advised that when you meet the powerful, ask these five questions to see if they are right for you. Here they are, with answers added for the role of a member of the European Commission:
Absolute power. I can make any law I like over you and apply it without fear of opposition. If I make a law, it over-rules the law of your country. My court will consider your objection and will always rule in favour of me.
I took it without your approval. I was not elected and your population were never asked if they wanted to convert to this system. I am not answerable to any national leader.
In the interests of the leadership set of the EU. I do not represent the people or nations of the EU.
No one. There is no electorate. I have the same powers as a king and rule by royal prerogative.
Ha ha. You can’t. There is no legal or democratic way to remove me from power. You can only try to remove me by breaking the law; and then you will be arrested. Terrorists are always wrong, so we will all call you that if you take this course. What a good idea! If a single person ever tries anything violent, even if they have been left with no other recourse, any future member of the public who gets caught saying they think that politicians should be elected to their jobs can be arrested as a terrorist sympathiser. If you want to replace a European Union Commissioner, you can forget it now.
Then in 2016, when the EU had never been as popular in the UK, the Prime Minister permitted a referendum to ask for the very first time (after 33 years inside) whether people wanted to be part of it. He only did that because he was sure the answer would be Yes, if he threatened people enough with consequences. The answer was ‘No’. The establishment thought that asking the question had been an expensive mistake, rather than joining the EU itself being the expensive mistake, and, as in Ireland (2009), they began looking for ways to reverse it.
The EU believes that the scourge of populism must be removed by design from Europe. Unfortunately, democracy and populism are the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the Left, Right or the Middle, if you want to live in a democracy, in the EU’s and the political establishment’s eyes, that’s utterly REVOLTING.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Wormholes, by Dennis Meredith - 4 Stars

This is a solidly compiled adventure that explores an old theoretical physics model (then science fiction concept) in an entertaining way, with medium paced storytelling, and it then presents a good twist that the reader almost certainly wouldn’t have thought of on their own. I wouldn’t say this book was extraordinary throughout or the only source you ever need to learn about wormholes but I would strongly recommend the author send it to several the main sci-fi archive collections in the world because this may be the first time anyone has put the next step of concept development included here into fiction (I might be incorrect but this isn’t something I can check quickly, so add a comment if you’ve seen the following before). Specifically, this book presents passing through a wormhole, disengaging the Earth end and then steering it from the other end to potentially explore previously inaccessible reaches of our own galaxy. With no inertia, the limits of physical speed would melt and travel distance would no longer be governed by the human life span because you’d only begin travelling through after the wormhole had got there. Count me in please (packs towel and satchel).

As a fictional work on wormholes, this story includes everything the layperson would look for to cover that subject and, importantly, it doesn’t ape other wormhole influences (Pratchett’s The Long Earth, the TV show Sliders, Stargate, Deep Space 9 etc) so the reader is getting something fresh and dare I say it more realistic with this. There are things which are necessarily alike, such as casting two well educated scientist characters: a radical thinker man (similar roles were Dr Fox Mulder in X-Files and Professor Daniel Jackson in Stargate) and a bright, independent woman (e.g. Dr Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park) but I can’t imagine dim or unscientific people would be the first humans to bring such a phenomenon as this under control, so of course it would be people of this type. Dimensionally, I’ve just looked at myself out of the corner of my eye but it probably won’t happen.

In this, the arrival of the wormholes is made as realistic as possible, the leading characters then being drawn together and pulled in, if you’ll forgive a pun. There’s nothing supernatural about this story as it is all published and accepted physics, with the possible exception of magnetic containment working but more on that quibble below. Although the events are arguably US-centred, the author develops the idea at a global level and I think avoids the trap of whenever anything visits Earth it always lands in Central Park and wants to meet the same person (not my leader, thanks).

The author also has a good line in non-terrestrial animal design, avoiding the childish trap of imagining aliens as fitting the standard terrestrial vertebrate pattern (head on top, four limbs, rib cage, central spinal axis), which exists because Earthlings all share a common ancestor – which would not be in common with non-terrestrial life. The author is also correct when he says that any astrophysicist or physicist you ask can tell you there are other dimensions that the ones we see. Mathematically, that’s correct and we can model multi-dimensional shapes with data visualization to get our heads around the idea; add a length scale, add breadth, add height and then add another at a right angle to those. Easier that going around Hyde Park Corner on a moped.

The writing flaws were fairly marginal. I think I just spotted one spelling mistake (it’s/its) in this long book, so that’s pretty amazing by modern standards, i.e. to have a smooth read.

On the mechanical side my flow of consciousness travels into deep, intangible places and I might be badly wrong and tripping over my own brain stem but I don’t think that in our four dimensional reality (length, breadth, height and time) within the two standard physical models, that we could influence a wormhole’s geographical boundary/horizon position using magnetism (or the strong or weak nuclear force) unless it did not involve a separate universe dimension. In other words, yes I’m a nerd, but to use the author’s method of describing dimensions at right angles to our own: If you label our dimensions a, b, c and d and a wormhole opens to another dimension of e, f, g and h, the physical laws are only compatible if it is in another part of our own Universe (folded space) and the Newtonian and quantum settings match exactly (the same settings for physical conditions in separate universes is billions to one). Then again, the settings which allow life to exist in this universe are also fine-tuned to an improbability of a similar magnitude (don’t use the word design, don’t go there). If I’m correct (I could knock on a door at this university to find out if that’s possible, but I owe too many favours already) the scientist characters should conclude that if you can move the diameter of the aperture or the hole’s location with anything, showing the same physical settings across the boundary – even if you’re only testing magnetism, that indicates an immensely high probability that the wormhole must exist within the same universe as us (the other end is far away?). So, why go to the other end to steer it within our Universe if you can do the same thing from this end? If the wormhole is connected from ours to an alternative pocket universe or unique set of dimensions, the framework should collapse instantly (revert to one side, mutual exclusivity). Even if it didn’t collapse, the odds say life there would be impossible (too hot, too cold, matter too dispersed, atoms not holding together, elements not existing…) and any matter coming through would change state because the forces pushing and pulling it have changed.

I know I'm asking for trouble here because I sense the author has a scientific background but I can't help myself when the ball is rolling. I guess what I mean is, is this an extra dimensional wormhole structure which connects two areas of the same universe in which the same laws apply (I think so) or is it an extra dimensional wormhole structure that connects our universe to different universes where different laws apply (I don’t think that works)?

A related problem (okay, same problem, different application) is the rescue mission: A second wormhole is used to reach people stranded by the first. I can’t see any reason why the second wormhole would open in the same universe at all, let alone in any realistic proximity to the end of the first wormhole. Even if it formed comparatively very close, e.g. one solar system away, without a map of the other side it would be hard to bring the two together. If their dimensions are somehow linked to ours, geographical point position in 3D won’t obey quantum superposition rules over in dimension number 2, I think, although that assumes the small scale and large scale will obey the same laws over there (when they don’t here). If it works, in proximal space, this also suggests that the Earth system is rubbing up at right angles against (the same) other area of our own Universe, i.e. that the three dimensional topographic plane has folded and we’re meeting the same place on the other side, two close points here, two close points there – which would explain the rescue hole appearing nearby although I think I’ve said the same thing in four different ways. Congratulations me. So, the author is right, I don’t have to snog a beardy postgrad physicist and I’m free to cool my aching head down in this bucket of water. Whoosh, slosh, splosh and on to the next book.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Summertime and the giving is easy - courtesy of Jean Lowe Carlson

Jean Carlson would like everyone to know: "There are two really fantastic giveaways going on, ending 31st May and 31st July, that you might be interested in. One is a summer reading medley of all genres and that will have 4 big winners for a ton of fun prizes as well as audiobooks. The other is a sci-fi/fantasy promotion that will last halfway through the summer, where the reader will get 52 great SFF paperbacks from new and established authors."

Here are the details Jean has sent about both:

http://www.colbyrrice.com/giveaways/kindle-echo-kindle-fire-hd-audiobook-e-book-lot-summer-giveaway/- "Win a Kindle Fire, an Amazon Echo, free Audiobooks and tons of great ebooks! Not only are there 4 big winners, but everyone will win an ebook. Plus, share it on social media and earn up to 20 extra entries to win. Ends May 31st.

e Kindles? Love paperbacks? Then this is the giveaway for you! 52 great fantasy and sci-fi reads - one for each week of the entire year! Includes both indie titles and famous authors like Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and more! Only one heaping big winner. Ends July 31st.

Become a part of the magic! Join my Launch Team and get advance free copies!"

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs, by Andrew Kozma - 3 Stars

When Eugene Ionesco invented the Theatre of the Absurd (a Romanian/French seedling), he could never have envisioned all the memes it would lead to: Surrealism in art, Monty Python in humour, Woody Allen in cinema (“My brother thinks he’s a chicken” “Why don’t you get him to a good psychiatrist?” “I would, but we need the eggs”). A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs is only the latest in that tradition. I say memes rather than projects because it’s the moments you remember, quirky images and quotes to make you smile, not the format that binds it.

It’s a short book of short stories and the first story has the best images. Even the name of the prison camp makes an enjoyable sound as it rumbles from the mouth: Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager 76. The Germanic system of extending compound words is absurd, although you have to be an outsider to appreciate it. In this story, it’s never explained to the inmate why he’s there or even what the historical or ideological backdrop might be, so that’s dreamlike. There’s a perimeter circle of bleached bones that mark the final resting place of people who’ve tried to escape previously and there’s a man making a ladder to help him escape who goes to hide it in a shed and finds it’s filled with the ladders of those who’ve had the same idea before him. The problem was it wasn’t funny enough and had no resolution. Why was I expecting a punchline? Maybe it was because the prison camp reminded me of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns episode "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B" (4th October 1977), which was funny and had a punchline, and the ladder scene and inmates in this version had a hint of Monty Python’s Seduced Milkman Sketch, a milkman who is shown to the cellar by a bored housewife to wait, turns and sees it’s filled with the dozens of snowhead milkmen who’ve been captured through the years before him. The story “Stammlager 76” isn’t a copy of these things – I’m just suggesting that the established pattern is rooted in surreal comedy and I recognised that style and expected a giggle which sadly never came. Would Monty Python’s images work with most of the comedy lines missing?

I thought the story “The Man in the Dark Chocolate Suit” was a one minute idea, another unexplained nemesis, but what’s the point? The story “We of the Future are the Ghosts of the Past” is a brief exercise in dimensional flippage, where you can murder your grandfather and explore the consequences or marry your love in the shared knowledge of it ending in a killing. Running with these ideas is fine but an editor might suggest more development before presenting these stories in a publication.

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs is the final short story in this collection and that’s alright for imagination and originality too but, again, it wasn’t humorous enough. Absurd, yes, but I found it all set up and not enough meme, needed to become as memorable as it could be. The main image at the end is also found in Men in Black, so I was expecting a killer line or something to settle the bill and was disappointed. Communicating animals (non-human) on Earth only really works if you don’t take it seriously, which the author understands, but I think the idea needs to be stretched out as far as the elastic band of absurdity will stretch to and then it needs to be a comment on something we, in our reality, give too much importance to – to puncture a pompous balloon that is asking for it with the pin of shared laughter. The slugs could turn out to be a metaphor for something we do. Guess what? The author doesn’t knock the idea high enough to ping the bell.

In summary, I liked the images coming out of left field but thought the stories could have been pushed further into Theatre of the Absurd fantasy and then resolved with an unexpectedly surreal twist that you could live for a million ordinary lifetimes and never see, which is what people who love this stuff look out for. It’s not fair to comment on something which isn’t in the book or to lay it at someone else’s door when I think a project should have been something else but when I get the impression I’m walking into circus tent format and there’s no clown, or a standup comedy gig and it’s a singer, I come away analysing my expectations. I wanted so much to trip away from this with a great quote, a new image in my head, a moment of wonder, an enigmatic smile from a comic tweak and the feeling of a bell that went ding. I did come away from this with some new images in my head and the book cover is superb, so I'm glad I read this and it was okay.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Atmosphere: We don't orbit but fall the same, by Garth Bunse - 4 Stars

Colour is a major player in this tale and that has seeped into everything. It describes the disconnected imagery and wandering language of dreaming, through alien minds, along with the disintegration of sleep deprivation too. The blurb claimed this was a unique book and I tend to be suspicious of directions like that, but having now read it I can tell you that it is undeniably true. If you’re used to describing novels by lazy association, saying “This is a bit like… on acid”, you’ll come unstuck with this one because any link to anything else would be tenuous.

The journey of this novel can be patchwork-confusing early on but perseverance gives the reader a better hold on things, only ever a one handed grip though on the dreaming smooth skins and prehensile tails but it’s enough to enjoy the story, until you find you’re relishing the white water rush of this author’s vision not for the plot but for the style.

Of a character pulling a plough: “Soon he started spinning in circles, having grown bored of straight lines.”

There are no human characters at all in this story, so that’s always a risk but after a page or two of acclimatisation all the creatures become people in your mind so it works and rumbles along, that different angle adding extra interest. I guessed completely wrong at the start, misunderstood what was being presented, not because I was deliberately misled but as the predictable result of being hit with a wall of alternate reality, all worked out into an explicable pattern but then delivered in a chunk too wide to comprehend easily. I thought it was supposed to portray the language of voices living in plural dimensions, represented as the aurora or the spectrum (many of the entities were named after colours and shades). It wasn’t. This lack of comprehension on the part of the reader helps the reader to view the world from the perspective of the species that has moved into it and doesn’t understand what is going on either, so has to find out. Not knowing things is okay, it’s the first accepted step in understanding the Universe.

In perspective, the tale inclines to a primate species from an arboreal planet who go foraging in a space ship to a distant solar system and then curve off course. They are looking for flowers and roots, what else? Plus a few pretty crystals, but it’s unclear what they use them for. We learn from the leading characters there’s a protocol of formal tail positions to indicate states of deference or salutation, which they’d clearly need but no creature without a tail would ever think of. The again, when Japanese gardeners want to plant a tree, they sometimes assume the position of the tree, raise their arms like branches and consider the path of the sun and runoff of the water before deciding whether the tree would be happy to live there. Seeing reality from someone else’s angle is always good and I have to say that if you could slip through Garth Bunse’s ear, elbow aside his squashy brain and look through his eyes, the view might be slightly different to the one you’re used to, if his vocabulary selections in the Chorus sequences are any clue. 4D glasses?

Sometimes it’s hard to relay a reader’s experience in phrases that aren’t in the book but here’s a writer who has dispensed with the regular black and white font of everyday description, our drudging shopping lists of the mind, and swept up and across us with a sort of technicolour Jackson Pollock of visual impressions. Peake did this sort of thing but he was an artist verging on madness, as were William Blake and Richard Dadd, in the latter’s least salvageable coracle of the mind. I think Bunse has consciously chosen this style though because it conveys the minds and priorities of his characters, not himself, which is the difference – planning. Do you have to be an artist (Ang Lee, Van Gogh) to use luminescent colour in your work and express your ideas in that way? Of course not, but it does help. Psychedelic dream state. Sound and movement. Gradients of light. This book has all of that and more and I wish I had time to go through counting all the different shades and colours he brings into this because there must be hundreds, then he attempts the same again with sounds. He’s consciously aware of the word palette because he uses it and I have just realised that I’ve used a lot of his words again in this review, evidence of their impact. Technicolour was a necessary word but the fact the author wheels it out himself suggests he intended to build a multicolour perspective, simulating the way another species would navigate the forests of their home environment, where seasons are flagged by flower colour and the ripeness of fruit is announced by the very turn of the leaves.

A shaft of light from the canopy picks out a victim back home and the rainforest lives in its cloak of seasons but when in a faraway system, the rainforest creatures from this story merrily blast, strip-mine and pillage someone else’s natural resources, a direct inversion of the reality we understand on our own planet. Narcolepsy is another important theme in the book, because it represents and unnatural dimming and greying of these primates’ life force, a way of hurting them back which separates them mentally from the colour and life of the forest.

The Chorus is a working character in this and, although it still has Greek lamentation and Macbeth (witches) predictive stylization, it portrays itself here by the use of rhyme and meter a sort of enthusiastic gangland element, chipping in its poetic support for disposing of people. I thought it was ethereal too, a representation of mood never taking a physical form, but yet again I was wrong. I like experimental writing, in style and topics, as my brain has to work harder for its rewards. If you stare at anything for long enough you eventually understand it, so the payoff has a special link to less predictable form of delivery and sometimes that’s an indication that the payoff will be greater.

“And there, there’s that rhyme, that meter, the sing-song words running in my head.”

The other characters that adopt the playwright style of the Hellenistic Greeks are the alien entities labelled by colour which fulfil the above-stage role that gods might in a theatre but because they have no common frame of reference to us and converse in a melodic and dreamy kind of language, not grounded like ours but a loosely governed free association of thought. In this case, the magnetic field which protects the planet jigs in synchronicity to their group thought, just as our own magnetic field on Earth (I assume you are reading this from Earth; do get in touch with me if you aren’t. I have cookies), protects us. This cast of colours is self-aware in the same way you have knowledge you’re real in an unconscious dream, although they have to remind dreamers “don’t forget to breathe”. There’s a kind of environmental activist feel to this at one stage when these dream voices do more than bounce stray cosmic particles like an aurora and intervene directly instead, lethally. It turns out to me more for their own protection than the planet’s (another wrong assumption by me) but, even so, imagine if our environmental campaigns weren’t necessary because the goddess Gaia made a habit of visiting the guilty executives’ lavish parties and personally crushing their nuts. Awesome. Canapé anyone?

This book wasn’t perfect in all areas, so I should explain why I think that. Using the same tense throughout might be normal enough but unless you tinker and vary your language a little, some words can be used too often to the point where the reader becomes aware of them, which is distracting and can cause the lulled audience to wake up and disconnect from the vision you’ve laid down so carefully. In this book (of 106,222 words), the word is ‘he’ occurs 2,825 times. That’s when you search for space he space, so the total doesn’t include it being part of another word like ‘the’ (which is another 6,232 but the conscious mind always accepts that one so it isn’t problematic). Normally I wouldn’t notice this word reoccurring because it’s only 16 per page on average but there’s a particularly heavy outbreak of ‘he’ on page 69 (x40), 70 (x35) and 71 (x31). Seriously, 106 instances of the same word in 3 pages? It isn’t a tragedy because I love this guy’s writing style but he he he should reduce the problem. I found no spelling errors and there were only a couple of misused words, like routing/rooting, so that’s pretty clean for a full novel. Back to the good stuff then.

Colours. That’s the innermost soul of this really. He’s typing thoughts much as cinema directors do, where the studio writer’s delivered “the cat sat on the mat” and the director has taken that and indulged the moment, drenching the scene in gorgeous colour and texture, to fix it in the mind forever like a collectors’ card of other people’s dreams. When immersed for long enough, the impression comes through of what it would be like to see reality as these lemurs do, with their awareness of a wider range of colour and materials than we register, an amplified spectrum – or maybe the message is that ours has grown muted. Do we still wonder at the world? Do we do it often enough to appreciate it? One book written like this is a good departure but if every book was written like this it could become a drag.

“Ff-lox, where are you? Dream for me your fragrant forests.” So vivid, such drift. The indigenous species have invaded his dreams just as the reader has invaded the author’s.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar - 5 Stars

This is a book with a sense of durable quality to it, memorable for the right reasons and written with the hallmarks of literature in mind, a world away from the cheesy pulp of “Take me to your leader” and “What is this Earth thing called kissing?” Czech readers are going to be irritated by this review, pompous appraisal from a faraway land, but I hear the music and I can fully imagine the students of Bohemia and Moravia being assigned this novel to study at school, as it documents the historical influences and identities imposed on one life-stream through a deluge of unopposable cultural change, followed by unopposable reversal and reinvention. It also explores how the astronaut (and Jan Hus as his historical parallel) started as a mere mortal who made human choices and then transformed into an idea, a thing, an abstract shape of salvation, pride, sausages, a symbol of nationhood or any of a string of misty constructs on which we rely to motivate us, make us less afraid and prop up our imaginary world. The real person and the perfect symbolic form they have been enshrined into don’t have much in common when they stand face to face, then the human realises that the people need the ideal of the principled hero more than the man, so the martyr’s idol would fall if the original returned, alive, well and flawed. How dare he!

Jaroslav Kalfar has perhaps attempted to write “The Great Czech Novel” and aspired to join the highest standard of his nation’s literature. I think he’s almost, but not quite, achieved it. “Truths must not be feared”, he writes, and this slim shortfall isn’t a surprise when to walk amongst the likes of Karel Čapek, Jaroslav Hašek, Franz Kafka and Bohumil Hrabal would be even more remarkable given the flood of life experience and sheer natural ability for expressing the twists and crumples of everyday humanity those stately writers had. So, it’s good, but it isn’t the most poetic literature I’ve read from a newbie this year. The fact that I’ve been forced to consider where to place Jaroslav Kalfar in the eternal structure, the pyramid of greatness or hall of fame, speaks volumes. Jealously whispers in my ear that as there’s no “Great British Novel” to speak of, so it would rub the insult in if the Czechs extended their lead to about fourteen works. Then again, all Czech novels are about the Czech’s favourite subject, the Czechs, so the best of them would automatically qualify as great Czech novels, wouldn’t they? It stands to reason.

In a country where everyone knows a collaborator and everyone is related to a dissident, this isn’t the first writer to have explored both sides of the ideological fence. If you Google Milan Kundera reporting a fellow student, the denial, the evidence, that’s another idol falling.

However, there’s a second tier of literature set apart from these four headline names, a jumble of lesser saints behind the front line of literary apostles: Ota Pavel, Milan Kundera and Jan Neruda etc. (Some will claim Stefan Zweig, but he was Austrian). These are the near misses of the immortality game, the worthy fellows who were brave enough to dive from the very highest plank but the judges thought they clipped the edge of the pool. Some writers dive and miss the planet entirely. Some, like Svěrák and Smoljak, played with language for the sake of fun and never even considered the stuffy business of applying for membership and taking themselves seriously to be a justified aim. Images, feelings, metaphors, emotional impact and historical melancholy, it’s all here, in this book, so what have I got to fuss about? Nothing really, apart from the first third reading like a prolonged product-placement advert for Nutella. I don’t think it’s a failure in any sense if I tell you that this author is establishing a place in that second line because the second line of Czech writers are better than many countries’ finest.

What’s good? This book does what science fiction was born to do – show us our own world from a different perspective, through a lens that we haven’t used to see it before. The author understands and applies this principle perfectly, as a method to inspect the narrator’s identity in the context of the sins of the fathers. He does, after all, come from the nation that gave us contact lenses, Semtex and finger prints. Was his (the character’s) father inducted or induced to follow a conquering ideology? The subtlety lies in a different use of the verb. Would his parent, a simple citizen who followed a trail of communist sweeties into his job at a torture chamber, have followed ANY ideology that happened to be winning at the time? Is bowing down to conquerors what people do in this place, an inbuilt national imperfection? Were Václav Havel and Charter 77 so revered because their defiance was such a clear exception to hundreds of years of supplication? Hus was a martyr for religion and that poor student who set himself alight was a martyr against Soviet takeover, but when a free Czech President faced the seminal test of national character, the choice between the country itself falling as a martyr under a Germanic monster’s boots or submission to save lives and property, that’s what happened. I’m referring to the rest, not the areas in the Munich betrayal. More of that later.

After you reduce this story to its component chemicals, it’s really an exploration of the sorrow and euphoria of the Czech condition through the medium of science fiction. What is it to be Czech? Is it a national cry after so much injustice to simply be noticed and respected as a worthy and equivalent nation? Is that really the secret, the stressed violin note that all Czechs carry within them? Is that the elephant in the room, the blue faced Fantomas in the crowd at the Ice Hockey World Championships?

“…now with true desperation, as the rodent beat at the world to convince it of its worth, not a plea but a demand: Hear me! Let me out! I am here!”

If Czech literature is to be indivisible from the Czech condition and the history of the Czech lands, non-Czechs probably need a quick introduction: The Czech Republic is in Central Europe, not Eastern. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist in 1993 when Slovakia became a separate country, so don’t call it that or you’ll just upset people. It was never part of the USSR or CCCP but was in the Soviet Bloc until freedom in 1989. Charles IV was the Holy Roman Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The Republic is at “the crossroads of empires”, so called because it has assumed the unfortunate geographical position of being somewhere that’s on everyone’s way to conquering anything else. The lands have thus been over-run by many different ideological expansions, the leaders of which have demanded that the Czechs serve them, as a vassal territory. The Czech lands were terrorised by the Catholic church, then conquered and ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a couple of hundred years. The Golden Age of the First Republic followed, independence under the scholarly President Tomáš Massaryk, 1918, which became the high point of Czech culture and confidence relative to other countries at the same time, when this was the world’s 5th largest economy. After that came the Munich Accord, when, to their countries’ eternal and unforgiveable shame, the weasel leaders of the US, Germany and the UK met without the Czechs in the room and agreed that Hitler could have sections of their country (Sudetenland) in exchange for peace. A short while later, the Germans took and occupied the rest of the country as well, which was the time when the Czech leader had to choose between a doomed defence of his nation and preserving lives and the architecture of medieval Prague by approving German “protection”, a polite word for slavery. After WWII, the Czech lands stood free again until a socialist government colluded with the Russians to stage an invasion to “protect them against a coup” (which never existed), giving the Russians a pretext to invade and take ownership of the country. This situation lasted for decades and the rule was brutal, with cheap beer or party privileges to bring some into compliance and fear to control the rest. In 1989 the nation became a free and independent country again, which lasted until in 2003 when the Czech people voted to cancel independence and give up the right to vote for their rulers, becoming owned and looted by another foreign conqueror which makes its own laws uncontested, the European Commission. Czechs, it seems, find comfort in being told what to do under someone else’s empire.

“I wanted what every human wants. For someone to tell me what to choose.”

A village called Wednesday, that’s very Czech, and so is SuperZub (super tooth) the toothpaste sponsor and the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square of Prague, an image engraved on every Czech’s consciousness. Changing the clock equates to changing the nation because it’s presided over the whole of a shared history. We are shown a capital city full of colourful school backpacks where tatty tee shirts (tourist souvenirs) hang from shops and wave in the wind like the nation’s flag, acknowledging that Prague was shabby for a while with its unpainted walls and souvenir soviet tourist tat sold by Russian shop keepers who still had leases, until the city reversed decades of communist neglect and flowered again into something beautiful. This is a nation founded not on abstracts, the book tells us, but on pictures. It’s also built on the wrecks of history and the philosophy of lives that were lived in its walkways. Will the astronaut be taken by death and see his birthright disappear? Losing your cultural birthright is like death to Czechs because it forms an existential oneness with them. Rusalka is in there, the proud home-grown opera about the green haired water sprite and his spurned daughter. This waterman lives beneath the surface of a pond and keeps the souls of the drowned in a collection of little pots, an image set to music and a tide of song. No mention of mushrooms in this book is amazing. I thought Czech writers were bound by law to talk about mushrooms?

The wise President knows that his job involves feeding the people’s souls as well as their bellies and, for that purpose alone, he flies a Czech into space.

“Even if he returns, what kind of man will he be?”

We meet Hanus (a civilised alien) and the Gorompeds (conquering aliens), which act as deep focus lenses for the author to explore the realm of identity and tease apart beliefs. The journey is harsh, both physically and psychologically, but the central character emerges refreshed and shaking off his baggage of guilt and those shackles of inherited history. The bad beliefs become abstract images, then paper tigers of ancient fear, we should now fear nothing, but equally the “good” side fall off their perch into the glamourous traps of corruption and cease to be the ideal pictures of nationhood that once they were.

“People don’t think of dead men as physical bodies, he said, but as glorified concepts.”

In summary, you probably need to read this. It has complexities and subtle jolts that will fill your mind and return in your idle thoughts. It isn’t the best thing in Czech literature but it is pretty impressive for a first novel. Maybe the best things in Czech writing are no longer books but have transformed into symbolic images and taken their place above, a dominance impossible to challenge by any living writer. If a living writer can do it, this might be the one. 

Angel of Death, by Adrian Ferrer - 5 Stars

Identifying one of the two original religious figures is a leap I’ve never heard of before, a nuclear bomb of an idea.

I'm giving a star rating for the value of the idea rather than the fictional story it has been set within, so that’s a first for me. Therefore, this review concentrates on the really important message set within this mysterious crime thriller and the implications of publishing it, which I think outweighs the need for the quality of the detective story alongside it to carry the book. The crime story is fine and appropriately creepy in a Dan Brown sort of sense, so this book can be read for that content alone, but when you’re visiting the Crown Jewels not much attention gets spent on the display cabinet, does it?

Reinforcing the book’s central claim with unadulterated biblical records adds a touch of debating elegance, a check-mate, because the evidence used to support the accusation of who the entity really is are taken from within the very text that Christian critics refer to as the cornerstone of their belief. That’s a beautiful catch. The riposte cannot say “This has been taken out of context” because the context is the book of God’s supposed contact with humanity and each section is quoted in full, so it is the perfect context, none better (for the relevant deity) and if you look each up and read more surrounding text it doesn’t change the meaning. For a Christian to contest this author’s line of thought, they must contest significant sections of The Old Testament itself (and Torah) as fantasy, i.e. deny the faith they are defending, so they can either put their fingers in their ears and start chanting and burning books or they can accept the evidence trail, but to accept the obvious conclusion… Ouch. This will be painful for tens of millions of people across the world to open their minds to.

An objective, non-religious jury would probably decide that if the recordings in the Bible’s Old Testament are to be accepted as not fictional, that’s if, the conclusion is probably correct. The problem is the ‘If’. If the words of the first book of the Bible represent the half-remembered mythology of a nomadic tribe, passed down originally verbally since the Bronze Age, some of the account is surely imperfectly remembered and much of it is designed metaphorically, to illustrate a point. Did it all happen? Does it matter? The importance is generally the message to obey authority and not disrupt social harmony (God and His laws etc), so the supposed original event and all that smiting might just be intended to scare a simple tribe into compliance. If though, as a huge number of people believe, the God of The Old Testament was a real entity… this book will nuke his PR Department.

Most men of the cloth would accept that there is a strong contrast between the character, style and actions of the deity described in The Old Testament and the more enlightened ethos of Jesus and God in The New Testament, so I doubt there will be wide-spread resistance to assessing them separately. Did Jesus express his opinion of the god of the Old Testament directly, indirectly or could it have either been edited out of the record; or was voicing disapproval impossible as it invited cruel backlash from the orthodoxy around him?

The explanation of the character rift between God and God in the books of the Bible is that primitive tribes in the early Bronze Age might have only responded to fear and threat, with threat from God being an even stronger motivation (“It’s not me telling you, it’s Him telling you”), whereas larger and more structured societies in the late Bronze Age had more education and reason, so it would be possible to take a more compassionate approach when teaching them to behave, i.e. Jesus’s approach took them to a new level of awareness because they were developmentally ready for that upgrade. So, even people who don’t believe this stuff can accept that two strategies were needed for policing society in these two stages (barbarism to civilisation) and that’s what religion provided.

There are three things that can happen to Adrian Ferrer after publishing this book:

1) Believers can see his big idea as a threat and reject it completely without even reading it or thinking. The majority of Christians and Jews might secretly want him silenced, but it seems likely the law of the modern world will protect him.
2) People can accept the core idea, think the implications don’t apply to them and then the world moves on, which it usually does.
3) Believers may feel they have to take up the cause and launch some kind of counter-publicity attack to encourage people to label this is just another religious or anti-religious lunatic who writes fantasy, hoping the book doesn’t sell and very few people ever read the argument or understand it.
4) No one notices it anyway because it’s an independent publication with no marketing behind it.

This has to be and indie book because no mainstream publisher would take the risk of signing this author because, even though the book would sell and make a profit, groups of militant Christians and Jews could close their business down. Jerry Springer the Opera was closed by a Christian protest, importantly, gathering people to bang on the doors who had not watched the show and who had objected to content they knew of only through hearsay. I predict that most of the protest against this book will come from people who have no intention of buying or reading a single page of the argument. Closed minds. The argument itself and this counter-behaviour are both very hard forces to oppose but at least one of them has logical structure.

This is not an attempt to persuade Christians to stop worshipping God (conflating two entities from two histories into one title again). Committed Christians and Jews who do read the book might hit the first excerpt and then fear that the Devil is trying to turn them with this book, misunderstanding it as an instrument of new deceit, rather than an exercise in exposing old deceit.

There are three possible realities for the author to consider after publishing this:

1) There is no God, in which case the only problem is human reaction to the book.
2) There is a God and the conclusion is wrong (divine retribution).
3) There is a God and the conclusion is right (gosh, well done).

If someone reviews this book favourably, the writer can expect unfair tactics like requests to take the review down, a swarm of counter reviews and requests to the server owner for removal, the usual spectrum of intimidation when someone’s come close to a truth that threatens vested interests. Can a Christian read it, accept the findings and remain a devout Christian at the end? Yes, absolutely.

That just leaves a problem for me. Should a reviewer rate this based on the message being correct or not (which isn’t a literature review) or do they rate it based on the quality of the story (which doesn’t include any marks for the huge implication)? I am choosing to rate the explosiveness of the message, which isn’t my consistent approach to reviewing at all but this isn’t a normal book.

In summary, ideas this big don’t come along often and the author has set aside his own safety by publishing it. That’s the hardnosed reality. The more spiritual of you in the audience might consider this: Did it occur to Adrian Ferrer that he might have been chosen to deliver this idea at this stage of our development, that it might be His message?

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Revenants Awake, by Adam J. Simpson - 4 Stars

Revenants Awake, by Adam J. Simpson, is a good example of science fiction within the quasi-military subgenre. Although I’m not the best audience for rebellious citizen/fighter sagas, I feel I can assess it as an example of a type with a proven trail of popularity across book and film over the last thirty years. Some of the absolute classics are from this subgenre.

The story follows a missing tribe of humans who have travelled across space to escape a cataclysmic disaster on their home world (Earth?). They’ve arrived on a new world, striven to set up a better society, done well at first, then the whole thing’s crumbled as tyrants have seized control and bent it to their will. The baddies don’t just have control of the population, they own the research and development side too so keep everyone subordinate through advanced technology, which usually means weapons.

Every theatrical tyranny needs its trappings and apparatus of state (fear, towers, sociopath henchmen, long black coats, squaddies, snarling dogs) because the good side wouldn’t be heroes if there’s nothing much to beat and you can only measure their triumph by the strength of the thing they’ve overcome, so the author does the right thing in the first book of a series by laying that opposition out clearly. The feeling the reader gets that in the face of these numbers and neurotoxins is that the freedom fighters should give in and comply as they’ve got no chance, which helps to underline that these characters either have a better mental focus on the value of freedom than does the reader or don’t care if they die. How far do you have to be pushed to not care what happens to you? The atmosphere becomes heady.

The other trick the author uses is to complicate the plot by placing secret rebel sleepers into the regime’s camp and secret government agents amongst the rebels. Not knowing whether you can trust your own side enough to risk going to sleep without being stabbed in the back is a rare sensation for most but one I recognise (evil cowfreak step-sister). This plot device isn’t over-used but it does provide a strong foundation of intrigue that spins the story into new depths that can even touch a reviewer’s psyche. Look down, no further, past the snapped ladder that drops off the edge, right down there in the gloom, in a circle of hell from which there’s no escape. Yep. That’s me, waving.

As I suggested earlier, the militia content of blood, bullets, blades and scouting platoons is heavily represented throughout and that’s usually there to add vigour to the twin causes of manoeuvring the ‘Sons of Karrick’ rebellion [sounds a bit Klingon] around the government strikes and rescuing the ‘princess’ figure who has a genetic mutation that makes her the one pawn in the game that both sides need to capture. She receives the able support of a strong man (proletariat hero) and his enormous dog, or perhaps that’s back to front, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when she’s attacked (or swap that around as well, as it’s the right place at the perfect time from her perspective). I liked the monstrous dog as a character but I would be scared of it because ‘gentle giant’ it ain’t.

The visual aspect of the tale is worth adding to the news, from a doomed space ship ploughing through a wilderness of snow to metamaterials that defy chemistry and contrived beings that can summon shattered debris from the floor to form into moving scales of clothes; or instant weapons. The beautiful being who slithers out of a sarcophagus and has irresistible powers of destruction reminds me of a very old sci-fi film called Lifeforce (1985, about space vampires), although there’s no further similarity. I was left wondering whether she was on either side in particular or if her role was to guard and kill without needing to do any intellectual processing. The character was portrayed as a thing in a woman’s shape, not a person, so if ‘she’ appeared to be fighting on your team’s side, that should be considered a temporary, illusionary allegiance. The only motivations I could gather from her were fear (an animal emotion) and to protect (duty and reasoning), so perhaps ‘she’ isn’t an ‘it’ after all and we only need to get to know her better. Why though? Inventing a new being is a lot of trouble to go to if you only need to perform a function. More slither magic in book 2?

My nit-picking bitch comments are all fairly superficial but here they are anyway: I suggest it could have covered the same ground in fewer pages, i.e. a good editor might have condensed it from 592 pages in the ebook to perhaps under 500 by looking again at the length of descriptive passages. Some of my favourite authors write longer descriptive passages than in this but their soup is thicker, with meaningful metaphorical observations and more quirky imagery that stands out. This has got some memorable pictures, with loping hounds and ominously red lenses, but I think it’s all too spaced out. Secondly, I spotted about ten instances of missing possessive apostrophes, e.g. the objects fall or the ships programming instead of the object’s or ship’s, which are no big deal in the glorious and rebellious scheme of things but it’s pretty straightforward to remove that unnecessary irritation that hiccups the flow with a read through. Thirdly, as with all the military sci-fi I’ve ever seen, we see a high proportion of fit, adult, 20 to 30 y/o people (which is ok) but this is partly set in a wider active social structure and I’d like to see a few more characters who fit a different shape or demographic occasionally, or think and talk as if they’ve grown up with a markedly different experience and see the same world from an independent angle. Frail people don’t have to be too boring to mention, although please don’t give them any ninja abilities. Just make them thinkers or people who’ve been sheltered from the truth, with proper experiences and opinions, so if the rebels can persuade these independent minds to come around to their point of view, the readers will come on board right behind them. Just to disprove what I’ve said, a couple of children pop up near the end but their characters aren’t developed yet, so I assume that will happen in the next book (this is the opening of a series).

Well then. This is a decent read in the ever-growing rebellion sci-fi tradition and appears as if it’s paced for a much longer run. The world has been built and layers of development are going in, with key characters for the continuation of the series finding their feet and thriving. Like in soap opera format, as the book ends, the readers are left wondering what will happen next, where the story is going and what the explanation could be for the thing on the space ship, the children, the controller and the rebellion, more questions than answers, so I can imagine people buying the next book when they finish this one and then seeing this series through to the end.

Four stars is what I assign when the book is good, competent, reads well, has believable characters, tells a strong and adventurous story and adds to the genre but doesn’t quite have that abundant philosophy, effortless charm, revelation of a stunning idea, lyrical language, cult style or other magical and unusual factor that would make it an outright sensation. Apart from voice and writing style, in a series it’s always hard to know if one of those factors is just around the corner. Perhaps then this should not be assessed in isolation from the series, but I can only rate what I see. Sure, it’s a good adventure with no shortage of movement and variety in which people are brave and get hurt frequently – You could become very rich selling bandages in this world. Sure, there’s an air of oppression and hopelessness which the rebels can push against to prove themselves but I think the soldierly shooting and pain have mostly been covered now, so I’m looking forward to some killer lines to quote instead, a pantomime villain that we love to hate, original humanities of thought from lesser characters and occasional moments of irony (or even fun) as the clouds clear the dazzling rim of the sun through the rest of the series to add additional dimensions and perspectives. That would be good, if the author wants to put a classic series to his name. This writer has done the hard building work, installed characters, tech and imagination, owns this new world he’s created and looks ready to take the next step, into flights of inspiration.