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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind

DAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

“My name is Kvothe.” (pronounced like “quoth)

“I have stolen princesses back from the sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

“You may have heard of me.”

Indeed, the man called the Chronicler has heard of Kvothe, and has been trying to track him down to make some sense of the many and conflicting stories that are told about the man.

The last place he expected to find him, though some obscure signs did point him in that direction, was as the owner and barkeeper at the Waystone Inn, hiding in plain sight under the name of Kote.

We begin this tale at the inn, where locals are sitting around listening to the tales told by old men. Kote does his duty and seems unremarkable.

We move then to the road that leads to the village where the Chronicler has been set upon by thieves, who have robbed him of most of his worldly goods and his horse, thus making his journey more difficult. Not long after, one of those thieves, horribly mangled, staggers into the Waystone, followed by a type of metallic spider monster that needs killing and burning.

Later, Kote dispatches a number of these creatures out in the forest, saving the Chronicler in the process and more or less revealing himself to be something more than an innkeeper.

When the Chronicler, who seeks refuge at the inn, finally works up the nerve to demand his story, Kote, somewhat encouraged by his assistant, who turns out to be a alien, regardless of how he may appear, agrees to tell it to him. He stipulates that it must take three days, that the Chronicler must record it exactly as he speaks it, and nothing must be added or subtracted.

This book is the part of the tale that was told on the first day.

Kvothe was born to a troupe of travelling players, actors and musicians, and his life as such is recalled as being idyllic until the day that everyone except him is slaughtered by a group of beings called the Chandrian, about whom his father has made the mistake of collecting lore and weaving it into a song. During those early years Kvothe was tutored by a magician who instilled in him the desire to learn more of the arcane ways of the world, to attend the University, and to do things like learning the name of the wind.

Following the slaughter, Kvothe managed to stay alive, living first as a scavenger in the forest, and later in the city of Tarbean where he was one of the begging, thieving classes of children. In both cases, he acquired skills that would later serve him well.

Years passed, and he managed, by one means and another, to put together enough money to get him to Imre, the city where the University was. Here, his life moved from being one of Dickensian squalor to the narrative of a young man at magic school. It’s still a tough life, but nothing like his years living on the streets, and he has a series of small triumphs, not the least of which was bluffing his way into the University in the first place, displaying a breadth of knowledge and wit that he looked too young – was too young – to have acquired.

He made friends; he made some enemies; he pursued clandestine research into the nature of the beings who had killed his parents and extended family. He found the love of his life (that part, any way) and had an unusual relationship with her, one that eventually led to an adventure far from the University where, no matter how bad he felt about doing it, he had to kill a dragon.

Kvothe is not yet out of his teens at this point in the telling, and there is much left to be said, but the book does leave us in a comfortable place, anticipating more, but willing to wait.

The whole thing will be called The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the main narrative is supposed to take three books, one for each day of the telling.

Book one, the title of which refers to a type of magic, appeared in 2007 and is already considered special enough to have a deluxe, illustrated, 10 year anniversary edition. Book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, appeared in 2011. A small volume about one of the secondary characters, under 200 pages in length, called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, appeared in 2014. So far there’s no word on the progress of the third day’s narrative.

I have Day 2, but I’m reluctant to read it and then have to wait for the finale. George R.R. Martin has made us all reluctant to have to delay our gratification.

There is certainly an underlying base of fantasy in Rothfuss’ work, but it reminds me somewhat more of the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay, in which the fantasy elements are implied more often than they are explicit.

Rothfuss is, at any rate, the best new voice I have encountered for this sort of work in some time, and I look forward to reading more of his stories.

 

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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the WindDAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

“My name is Kvothe.” (pronounced like “quoth)

“I have stolen princesses back from the sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

“You may have heard of me.”

Indeed, the man called the Chronicler has heard of Kvothe, and has been trying to track him down to make some sense of the many and conflicting stories that are told about the man.

The last place he expected to find him, though some obscure signs did point him in that direction, was as the owner and barkeeper at the Waystone Inn, hiding in plain sight under the name of Kote.

We begin this tale at the inn, where locals are sitting around listening to the tales told by old men. Kote does his duty and seems unremarkable.

We move then to the road that leads to the village where the Chronicler has been set upon by thieves, who have robbed him of most of his worldly goods and his horse, thus making his journey more difficult. Not long after, one of those thieves, horribly mangled, staggers into the Waystone, followed by a type of metallic spider monster that needs killing and burning.

Later, Kote dispatches a number of these creatures out in the forest, saving the Chronicler in the process and more or less revealing himself to be something more than an innkeeper.

When the Chronicler, who seeks refuge at the inn, finally works up the nerve to demand his story, Kote, somewhat encouraged by his assistant, who turns out to be a alien, regardless of how he may appear, agrees to tell it to him. He stipulates that it must take three days, that the Chronicler must record it exactly as he speaks it, and nothing must be added or subtracted.

This book is the part of the tale that was told on the first day.

Kvothe was born to a troupe of travelling players, actors and musicians, and his life as such is recalled as being idyllic until the day that everyone except him is slaughtered by a group of beings called the Chandrian, about whom his father has made the mistake of collecting lore and weaving it into a song. During those early years Kvothe was tutored by a magician who instilled in him the desire to learn more of the arcane ways of the world, to attend the University, and to do things like learning the name of the wind.

Following the slaughter, Kvothe managed to stay alive, living first as a scavenger in the forest, and later in the city of Tarbean where he was one of the begging, thieving classes of children. In both cases, he acquired skills that would later serve him well.

Years passed, and he managed, by one means and another, to put together enough money to get him to Imre, the city where the University was. Here, his life moved from being one of Dickensian squalor to the narrative of a young man at magic school. It’s still a tough life, but nothing like his years living on the streets, and he has a series of small triumphs, not the least of which was bluffing his way into the University in the first place, displaying a breadth of knowledge and wit that he looked too young – was too young – to have acquired.

He made friends; he made some enemies; he pursued clandestine research into the nature of the beings who had killed his parents and extended family. He found the love of his life (that part, any way) and had an unusual relationship with her, one that eventually led to an adventure far from the University where, no matter how bad he felt about doing it, he had to kill a dragon.

Kvothe is not yet out of his teens at this point in the telling, and there is much left to be said, but the book does leave us in a comfortable place, anticipating more, but willing to wait.

The whole thing will be called The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the main narrative is supposed to take three books, one for each day of the telling.

Book one, the title of which refers to a type of magic, appeared in 2007 and is already considered special enough to have a deluxe, illustrated, 10 year anniversary edition. Book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, appeared in 2011. A small volume about one of the secondary characters, under 200 pages in length, called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, appeared in 2014. So far there’s no word on the progress of the third day’s narrative.

I have Day 2, but I’m reluctant to read it and then have to wait for the finale. George R.R. Martin has made us all reluctant to have to delay our gratification.

There is certainly an underlying base of fantasy in Rothfuss’ work, but it reminds me somewhat more of the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay, in which the fantasy elements are implied more often than they are explicit.

Rothfuss is, at any rate, the best new voice I have encountered for this sort of work in some time, and I look forward to reading more of his stories.

 

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Bookends: The many ways to look at revival December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The many ways to look at revival

By Dan Davidson

May 23, 2018

– 959 words –

 

Revival

By Stephen KingRevival

480 pages

Pocket Books

$9.99

Kindle e-book

$7.98

 

Some of Stephen King’s novels take place in a matter of hours; some span years. Revivalcovers the best part of a life, beginning when our narrator, Jamie Morton, is just a small boy, on the day that he first meets the Reverend Charles Jacobs, whose shadow falls over him for the first time while he is playing with toy soldiers in the dirt

This is the beginning of the novel, and the first phase of two lives that will ebb and flow around each other for decades. Jamie refers to Jacobs as his Fifth Business, a reference to the novel of that name by Robertson Davies, a writer King has praised in his own work. I believe it was The Tommyknockerswhere he devoted what must have been five or six pages to what amounted to an enthusiastic review of one of Davies’ novels.

It’s a theatrical term, defined by Davies as “Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Businessin drama and opera companies …”

It’s uncertain just how to classify Charles Daniel Jacobs. If his wife and son had not been killed in that horrible accident at the end of the first part of the novel would he have continued to be the deeply religious man, with a bit of an obsessive interest in electricity, that he seemed to be in those early chapters. Or, was there always something about him that would have led him down what became a very dark path.

Fairly early in the book, Jacob cures Jamie’s brother, Con, from the inexplicable loss of his voice that follows a skiing accident. It is only after that, that the minister suffers the loss his family and his faith, and delivers the Terrible Sermon that sends him on his way to another life.

Life goes on for Jamie as well. There’s a delightful first love story that takes him all the way through high school while, at the same time, he falls in love with rock and roll and takes the first steps towards the life of a travelling musician. That turns sour after his own accident introduces him to the life of a drug addict, and it is only after he has hit rock bottom playing for country band that he meets Jacobs again.

By this time, Jacobs has revived himself as a carny act, and has furthered his interest in the “secret electricity”, which he uses to cure Jamie of both his pain and his addiction. So far he still seems to be a good Samaritan, if a bit of a con man.

Thanks to him, Jamie scores a job with the owner of a recording studio and revives (notice how much use King has made of his title?) his own life as a successful producer and sometime session player.

Jacobs’ next revival is as a faith healer, using his secret method, along with some placebo carny tricks, to build up a tent ministry and social media following, through which he becomes wealthy. But something’s wrong. Jamie has experienced some minor side effects from his cure and, while most of the cures seem to work out well, a bit of research proves to him that this is not always the case. Some have been disasters.

This is where what has seemed to be a mundane but interesting novel about a life begins to go dark, leading to a terrifying conclusion which is the result of Jacobs’ experiments, the side effects of his cures, and the Lovecraftian horrors to which he almost manages to open the dimensional doors. He wanted to find out what was in store for people after they died.The answer, if it really is the answer, is not at all satisfactory.

Stephen King often works bits of his own life into his work. After his confessions in his book about writing, he has often included the theme of addiction. Since the hit and run incident that nearly left him crippled, a number of his characters have suffered injuries as a result of accidents.

That said, I think that Revivalis the first time that he’s made use of his love of music to this extent. He has, at various times over a two decade period, been a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of writers who also like to dabble in classic rock and roll. Their name is a bookstore pun. Its members have included Dave Barry, Amy TanCynthia HeimelSam BarryRidley PearsonScott TurowJoel SelvinJames McBrideMitch AlbomRoy Blount, Jr.Barbara KingsolverRobert FulghumMatt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles. They’ve played a lot of charity gigs and have been joined on stage by such real musicians as Al Cooper, Roger McGuinn, Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen.

As far as Wikipedia knows, the group’s last performance was in 2015. Where Revivalgets kind of personal is when Jamie Morton tells us about the set lists that his various cover bands tend to follow. It contains a lot of the material that the Remainders use. Jamie himself is a fair to middlin’ rhythm guitarist, which has been King’s position in the band.

I did not like the ending of this book. Revival’speek into the afterlife is even more bleak and nasty than the one Philip Pullman gave us in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Despite that, I enjoyed the book as a whole and can recommend it.

 

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Bookends: A Protégé of Sherlock Strikes Out on his Own December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Protégé of Sherlock Strikes Out on his Own

By Dan Davidson

May 9, 2018

–  886 words –

The Irregular

The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy

By H.B Lyle

Kindle Edition

$15.49

Print Length: 301 pages

Hodder & Stoughton

 

Sherlock Homes remains one of the most durable literary creation of the 19th century, his continuing popularity evidenced by what seems to be the annual appearance of yet another collection of pastiche short stories by dozens of different authors and a list of novels and collections that ran to several pages the last time I tried to pin it down.

Then, of course, there is the BBC series of TV mini-movies featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and set in our time. How odd that in both the original and the upgrade it is still possible for Doctor Watson to have received his war wound in Afghanistan.

Then there are the fairly bohemian period piece films featuring Robert Downie Junior, of which there is to be a third; and the television show Elementary (now in its sixth season) which has brought a fellow named Holmes into the 21st century and moved him to New York.

Continuing the character is one way to work with the formula. Pitting Holmes against the Invisible Man, Mr., Hyde, Dracula, the Martian Invasion and other tricks have been tried. He was even teamed up with Tarzan in one pastiche novel.

Another way is to take secondary characters from the Holmes canon and work with them. The late John Gardener wrote several novels from the point of view of Professor Moriarity, Holmes’ great enemy.

H.B. Lyle has begun a series using yet another secondary character, one who was first introduced to us in the very first novel, when there is a thundering of many footsteps on the stairs leading up to the apartment at 221-B Baker Street. Watson announces his bewilderment.

“’What on earth is this?’ I cried, for at this moment there came the pattering of many steps in the hall and on the stairs, accompanied by audible expressions of disgust upon the part of our landlady.

“’It’s the Baker Street division of the detective police force,’ said my companion gravely; and as he spoke there rushed into the room half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever I clapped eyes on.” From A Study in Scarletby Arthur Conan Doyle.

Their leader is the oldest one of them, a young teenager named Wiggins. Both he and others, most of whom are nameless, appear in several other stories and novels, and the device has been considered worthy of inclusion in some version in each of the current media incarnations of Holmes. They are called the Baker Street Irregulars, or just the Irregulars.

And now you know why Lyle’s novel has that title.

It’s 1909 and Wiggins is in his 30s, having grown up and spent a long stint in the army, a very basic career choice for lower class young men as the 19th century drew to a close. Britain pretty much dominates the world at this point, but there are revolutionary winds blowing in Russia; there’s an arms race with Germany; and the world is beginning to lurch towards that conflict which will initially be called The Great War.

Lower class Wiggins hasn’t been able to do well for himself since being demobbed. He’s been reduced to being a collection agent for a loan shark, which pretty much means strong-arming  and shaking down people who haven’t made their payments, people with who he would naturally be in sympathy.

He is approached by a friend of Holmes named Vernon Kell, who wants to set up a secret service to help protect the Empire. He needs men (mostly) who are smart, capable of fighting, and who can blend in with the lower classes. Holmes, who appears only briefly in this book, has recommended Wiggins as a prime candidate.

Kell is anxious to prove to his arrogant political masters that such a force is actually needed. They can’t begin to see why there could possibly be any threat to the Empire. He needs capable people who can establish that such threats exist.

Wiggins turns down the job at first, saying he “don’t do official”, but when a policeman friend of his is murdered by Russian anarchists, leaving that man’s family destitute, Wiggins signs up as a way to work on finding his friend’s killers. While his official assignment has him working undercover at a munitions factory that seems to be leaking information to the Germans, he is able to use his position to build up a string of informants and allies that help him to solve more than just his official case.

He’s an irregular sort of agent who creates his own group of irregulars, following in the footsteps, and using the methods of, his mentor, the Great Detective. Not that he doesn’t have all sorts of problems with his upper class superiors, but he does get the job done.

Interviews with Lyle indicate that he used quite a few real people (Kell being one) in the book and did a lot of research to get the period right. There’s a second book under way and the first has been optioned to be produced as a mini-series.

 

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Bookends: Who really killed Alicia Hutchins? December 30, 2018

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Bookends: Who really killed Alicia Hutchins?

By Dan Davidson

May 1, 2018

– 731 words –

 

Snap Judgment

By Marcia ClarkSnap

Thomas an Mercer

447 pages

 

 

Snap Judgment is the third novel in Marcia Clark’s series about lawyer Samantha Brinkman. Brinkman’s small firm, Brinkman and Associates, includes her receptionist and organizer Michelle Fusco and her investigator and computer whiz, Alex Medrano. One of her closest friends is her father, Detective Dale Pearson, whom she did not know as her father when she took him on as a client a few years earlier.

From what I have read, Brinkman undertakes a variety of cases, but the main plots in the novels seem to involve her defending professional people.

In this case, her possible client is prominent civil litigator Graham Hutchins, whose daughter, Alicia, was recently found murdered in her off-campus apartment.

It seems that her boyfriend, Roan, with whom she about to break up, is the most obvious suspect. Certainly Alicia’s diary entry, which opens this book, points us in that direction. But Roan turns up dead shortly after, an apparent suicide. Was it remorse for the death of Alicia or was it actually revenge by someone else?

If the latter, then the needle might swing round to point at Hutchins, the grieving father. He views Sam as a friend and colleague and admires her tenacity on other cases enough to think that she would do well by him, should the police decide he is a person of interest.

It’s a bit of a Perry Mason style trope for the lawyer to decide that the best way to keep her client safe is to find the real killer, but that device can still work if it is deftly done, and Clark carries it off fairly well.

All murder mysteries have to have red herrings dragged across their plot lines, and there are lots of those here. Sam’s not entirely sure she trusts Hutchins to give her all the information she needs to work with. There are, in fact, various surprises that she uncovers along the way, surprises about Alicia and surprises about her client.

Books are picking up the idea of multiple plot lines from television, where the average show will have A, B, and sometimes C, plots weaving in and out of each other. Some will be event driven; others will have more to do with relationships.

The B plot here involves Sam’s obligations to a rather serious and nasty underworld type named Cabazon, who insists that she be of service to him in a matter unrelated to the main story. This involves some complicated family relationships, and has a ticking timeline attached to it. Solutions here involve some tricky maneuvering and careful crossing of legal lines.

Springing from that plot, but tangential to it, is a third problem involving domestic abuse. Again it requires a bit of tricky, not entirely legal, business to solve that problem.

The author is, herself, a famous (or infamous) lawyer, having started out as a defense attorney before moving to the prosecution, and having become most famous for her failure to convict O.J. Simpson. Following that debacle, she left the courts, co-wrote a book about the case, and became a frequent commentator on a variety of shows and networks, including Today, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and MSNBC, as well as a legal correspondent for Entertainment Tonight.

More recently she turned to crime fiction, producing a series of novels about a prosecutor, Rachel Knight, before moving to the other side of the courtroom with Brinkman. This series has already been optioned for a television show.

It’s not unusual for legal eagles to turn their hand at crime fiction. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the aforementioned Perry Mason novels, written one or two a year from 1933 to 1973 (some published after his death in 1970), was also a lawyer. B.C. author William Deverell, who attended the Yukon Writers Festival and Young Authors’ Conference some years ago, was also a criminal lawyer and a prosecutor. His best known novels are probably the satirically humorous ones featuring Arthur Beauchamp, QC, but much earlier in his career, he wrote the pilot for CBC’s Street Legal series, which is about to be revived.

Our recently retired Supreme Court Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, apparently wiled away her spare time dabbling in crime fiction, and her first legal thriller, Full Disclosure, hit the bookstores earlier this week.

 

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Bookends: Lawrence Hill Delves Deep into the Subject of Blood December 30, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, current events, Matt Taibbi, News, personal, Science, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Lawrence Hill Delves Deep into the Subject of Blood

By Dan Davidson

April 25, 2018

– 964 words –

 

Blood

Blood: The Stuff of Life 

By

 

384 pages

House of Anansi Press

$14.80

eBook edition

$9.99

 

Lawrence Hill’s fascination with blood stems from an incident when he was very young and cut himself on a broken beer bottle. He splashed blood of the sidewalk all the way home – 10 houses away –hoping that he would need enough stitches to have bragging rights. It didn’t work out for him. Four were not enough. But he was impressed by how long it took for the blood to be washed away.

A few years later, he managed to crash through the glass door of a cottage and cut his upper arm.

He recounts these personal stories in chapter one, “Go Careful with That Blood of Mine: Blood Counts” of the 2013 Massey Lectures. Getting the contract for this chore took him away from writing The Illegalfor about a year, he says, but he found it worth while as it caused him to organize and formalize a theme which he had already noticed was prominent in his other fiction and non-fiction writing.

The resulting research is indicated by the footnotes, acknowledgements, and bibliography at the end of this book.

That first chapter is a short history of the study of blood, as well as a personal account of his own experience, first as a runner, and after, in his mid-forties, as a man with the same diabetes that seems to afflict all the male members of his family, going back several generations.

“Blood,” he concludes at the end of that chapter, ”is truly the stuff of life: a bold and enduring determinant of identity, race, gender, culture, citizenship, belonging, privilege, deprivation, athletic superiority and nationhood. It is so vital to our sense of ourselves, our abilities and our possibilities for survival that we have invested money, time, and energy in learning how to manipulate its very composition.”

There was a time in his life when Hill badly wanted to be a champion runner, and it took him some time to realize that he had pushed himself to the peak of his ability in that sport. It turned out that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen into his bloodstream. He was fit and thin, and remains so today, but at age 16 he “had the lung capacity of a forty year old smoker.”

His track coach at the time was David Steen, a reporter and gold medal athlete, who recommended he take up the study of English literature, for which we can all be grateful.

“We Want it Safe and We Want it Clean: Blood, Truth and Honour” examines what we have traditionally done with blood, how it has been used for sacrifice, offered to the nation, and used in medicine. In particular he dissects the issues related to stem cell research, blood donation policies, and the tainted blood scandals of the 1980s, which have affected the lives of a couple of families I know.

There is a revealing section on the scandalous career of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

“Comes by it Honestly: Blood and Belonging” begins by telling about his own quest as a man of mixed blood to define himself, and how this nearly led to his death while serving with Crossroads International in Niger in 1979. This chapter deals with matters of blood, personal identity and international affairs.

“From Humans to Cockroaches: Blood in the Veins of Power and Spectacle” deals with how blood in involved with violence, power and spectacle.

“Violence and power need blood,” he writes. “They feed on it as cars feed on gasoline. When we want to hurt people, entertain ourselves at their expense, or capitulate to our most base instincts, we lust for blood.”

This chapter cites works as diverse as the Bible,The Wizard of Oz, The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter novels, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“Of Presidential Mistresses, Holocaust Survivors, and Long-Lost Ancestors: Secrets in Our Blood” ranges through literature and history. The presidential mistress was Sally Hemings and the president was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote strongly against miscegenation (the mixing of races) and yet had a son with this woman.

In science and home economics we know that blood stains are among the hardest to remove from anything, and it is a trope in television mysteries that it becomes visible with the use of certain chemicals and types of light even after it seems to have been removed.

Lady Macbeth knew the staying power of blood stains (“Out, damn’d spot! Out I say. What, will these hands ne’re be clean?”) ”as did the murderer Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who cannot seem to get the blood from his hands, his axe, his boots, and certainly not from his imagination.

The Massey Lectures are broadcast annually by the CBC as part of its Ideas series. The original recordings, in the fall, take place live in five different cities. Last year’s series, with Payam Akhaven, had one of its sessions at the Yukon Arts Centre. The lectures are generally repeated sometime in the spring, often with some additional material.

Most of them are available in book form and as audio productions from Anansi Press. The books are either expanded versions of the talks or the talks are condensed versions of the chapters. Hill told me it as a bit like doing different essays on the same subject.

When I covered the Akhaven lectures, In Search of a Better World, I had the book open beside me and read the parts he wasn’t saying, so I could see how that worked. Some of the earlier lectures are available for free listening on the CBC Radio Ap, but Hill’s lectures not there any longer.

 

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Bookends: The Death Tour of the Band called The Five December 30, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Death Tour of the Band called The Five

By Dan Davidson

April 18, 2018

– 955 words –

 

The Five

The Five

By Robert McCammon

TOR Books

500 pages

$10.99

 

The Five are a travelling rock band, a lower echelon group with a name as unimaginative as the name of the folk group I was a member of in high school. We used to practice in a Grade 5 classroom and there were five of us, so guess what we called ourselves. When we added a sixth member, we became the Grade 5 +1.

This band is fronted by lead singer and guitarist John Charles, stage name Nomad, a veteran of many touring bands ever since his high school days, following in the footsteps, or perhaps frets, of his father, who had a similar career.

Then there’s Ariel, a somewhat ethereal second on lead vocals and guitar. With Nomad, she writes most of the songs. She’s unsure of herself, but thinks of the group as her family.

Terry is a whiz on every sort of keyboard. Mike is a super bassist, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but a solid player. Berke is a bit of an oddball, a lesbian drummer with a touch of genius.

Then there’s George, their manager, and often the driver of their van, the Scumbucket, which is actually his van. He’s a hard worker.

Their latest single, and video, is an anti-war commentary called “When the Storm Breaks”. It’s getting some airplay, stimulating some interviews and social media attention, and getting them some sales of their latest CD.

The first 70 or so pages of this book are about the rather depressing life of the band, and I have to admit that I really wasn’t getting into this story, having expected it to be a bit more like George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag. McCammon is, after all, known for his horror/fantasy writing.

I put it aside, read about 20 other books, and picked it up again one evening. I had to flip through the first chapter to remind myself who was who, but then I got to chapter two.

Chapter two introduced another character, Jeremy Pett, a former US Special Forces sniper who is on the verge of committing a PTSD fueled suicide when he has a vision. The Five’s video in on his crappy television when he is called out of his bloodstained bathtub by a compelling voice that offers him a mission, something that he has been sadly lacking since his honourable discharge.

His mission: stalk and kill the members of The Five.

It’s never clear just where that mission came from, but later in the book we are told of at least two other guys who get the same message by different means and make their own attempts on the band. Can’t just be an association of music critics, but one has to wonder what’s going on.

By that time, George has announced that this is his last go round and he’s heading home to join the family business. Terry also plans to quit. His love is keyboards and he plans to open a vintage keyboard repair and creation shop, while doing some music on the side. Basically, they’re burned out on the touring life.

Nomad suggests they should all collaborate on one last song to be sung at their last gig together in a few weeks. Berke derides this as a Kumbaya maneuver, but Mike, who has never written anything, is inspired by a migrant worker girl they meet and writes down some of the positive words she spoke to them. He hands them to Berke at their next gas stop, and then dies in front of her when a high powered slug explodes his head.

He is the first. Days later Berke thinks she feels a bullet whiz by her head while she’s jogging. She’s not quite sure, so she doesn’t tell anyone, but when George takes two in the chest a day or so later, after an evening’s performance, everyone, including the FBI, knows there’s a killer on the road (to borrow a phrase from the Doors).

While Nomad is the character whose point of view we follow the most, all of the other members of the group, as well as their nemesis, get their pages.

We also spend time with fiftyish FBI Agent Truitt Allen, who is put in charge of the group assigned to guard the group as they finish their tour in the hope that having them out there as live bait will enable the FBI to capture Pett.

Allen, usually called True from that point on, becomes the group’s acting manager and usual driver (George is recovering in a hospital), while also coordinating their defense with his team of four other agents, at least until head office decides that this whole operation is costing too much money and forces him to scale back.

You can probably tell that my interest in the book increased a lot after Pett entered the plot, and that’s kind of ironic because the group’s sales and reputation skyrocket as it becomes clear to the media that this is a most unusual tour.

McCammon was a big name in the horror genre until the early 1990s, when he retired from the mainstream for 10 years over a dispute with his publisher. The Five marked his return to the shelves with a modern day setting in 2011. Most of his other work since the early 2000s has been horror fiction set in the 17th to 19th centuries, much of it featuring a character named Matthew Corbett.

He has been a winner of the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker (3 times) awards, and nominated for others.

 

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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material

By Dan Davidson

April 11, 2018

Dreadful Young Ladies

– 615 words –

 

Dreadful Young Ladies and other stories

By Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Books

304 pages

$34.95

 

Kelly Barnhill ended this collection of eight short stories and one novella (115 pages) with an acknowledgements section that had one of the most heartfelt appreciations of the act of reading that I have seen in a long time.  Here it is.

“It should be noted that I am, always and forever, in a state of awe and gratitude for the fact that there are readers in the world. There is, at its center, something immutably miraculous about the substance and process of reading stories. We read because we hunger to know, to empathize, to feel, to connect, to laugh, to fear, to wonder, and to become, with each page, more than ourselves. To become creatures with souls.

“We read because it allows us, through force of mind, to hold hands, touch lives, speak as another speaks, listen as another listens, and feel as another feels. We read because we wish to journey forth together. There is, despite everything, a place for empathy and compassion and rumination, and just knowing that fact, for me, is an occasion for joy.

“That we still, in this frenetic and bombastic and self-centered age, have legions of people who can and do return to the quietness of the page, opening their minds and hearts, again and again, to the wild world and stuff of life, pinned into scenes and characters, sharp images and pretty sentences – well. It sure feels like a miracle doesn’t it? I thank you, readers, and I salute you. With an open heart and a curious mind, I, too, return to the page. Let us hold hands and journey forth.”

Barnhill, who is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award (for The Unlicensed Magician, the long piece in this collection) and the Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon). is probably better known for her books for younger readers. On her website she posts she is “a former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player.”

A lot of the stories in this collection are about relationships. There’s the widow who marries a sasquatch; a series of letters linking a narrative about a failed marriage; the story of a girl who fell in love with poetry; a tale of four dreadful young ladies; an adventure in taxidermy; an elegy to a persecuted and marvellous young woman; a fractured fairy tale with transformations; a debate between two scientists, neither of them quite normal; finally, the story of the magical girl that almost no one can see.

These are an odd bunch of stories. I’m left with the impression that the writer is playing with forms of story telling and trying different things to see how they work out. I found the longer works the most satisfying and liked the novella best of all.

Various reviewers have compared her work to that of Neil Gaiman and, reaching quite a ways back, to the late Ray Bradbury. I think both references are apt, as both writers, in their times and in different ways, tinker with the stuff of fantasy and faerie and make it their own, as she does. She doesn’t make references to any particular source material, but it lurks under the surface of all these works.

Her website, https://kellybarnhill.wordpress.com, is full of interesting musings not unlike the bit that I quoted so extensively at the beginning of this essay. Browsing among her blog posts makes me want to read more of her books, so I probably will.

 

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Bookends: One Woman’s Personal Struggle to save the Arctic’s Snow and Ice December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, current events, News, personal, politics, Science, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Woman’s Personal Struggle to save the Arctic’s Snow and Ice

By Dan Davidson

April 4, 2018

-1025 words –

 

The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet

By Sheila Watt-CloutierThe Right to Be Cold

Penguin Canada

368 pages

$22.00

eBook edition, KOBO or Kindle: $11.99

 

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was a keynote speaker at last fall’s Tourism Association of Yukon conference, held in Dawson City. Much of her presentation was drawn from this book, with its provocative and surprising title.  This book was one of the finalists in the 2016 Canada Reads contest, as well as being nominated for a number of non-fiction awards.

A few passages from its introduction will serve to give you the flavour of her argument.

“For the first ten years of my life, I travelled only by dog team. As the youngest child of four on our family hunting and ice fishing trips, I would be snuggled into warm blankets and fur in a box tied safely on top of the qamutiik, the dogsled.

“The Arctic may seem cold and dark to those who don’t know it well, but for us a day of hunting or fishing brought the most succulent, nutritious food. Then there would be the intense joy as we gathered together as family and friends, sharing and partaking of the same animal in a communal meal. To live in a boundless landscape and a close-knit culture in which everything matters and everything is connected is a kind of magic. Like generations of Inuit, I bonded with the ice and snow.”

That bond is being broken as the reliability and predictability of the climate changes. A culture dependent on its relationship to the land, the snow and the ice, is becoming collateral damage to the global warming which is having she writes, its most dramatic impact on the region which is the “cooling system for the planet.”

“The Arctic ice and snow, the frozen terrain that Inuit life has depended on for millennia, is now diminishing in front of our eyes.”

This book is a blend of personal memoir and a history of her struggle, n her various roles, to come to terms with those changes and get others to take responsibility to reduce the toxins that natural forces tend to filter into the North.

This has happened to such as extent that at one time mother’s milk was found to be contaminated with industrial toxins due them being ingested as a component in the country foods that are a natural part of the Inuit diet.

Traditional education on the land was about more than just teaching children how to survive, the hunt, to master the technical skills, she writes. These lessons were also exercises in character building.

“It’s a very wholistic approach. The technical skills and the character building are not separate at all. Technical skills are about how the world works; character skills are about how you work. This wholistic approach to learning is the hallmark of Inuit culture, and this wisdom, which is sourced from the ice and the cold and the snow, is equally now at stake.

“It is being lost, just as the ice itself is being lost.”

Paradoxically, Watt-Cloutier’s time in a couple of residential school settings during her teenage years is something she remembers as being quite positive for herself and her classmates, even though it did divorce them from their culture. She seems to feel that more damage was done when she was finishing her high school and living with a well-meaning, but non-native, family in Nova Scotia.

She would spend many years trying to reclaim her fluency in her native tongue. She would have liked to reclaim as much as possible of her native culture but she found that, during her absences for school, the life she remembered so fondly had decayed and diminished. Some of this was due to the changing climate limiting traditional choices; some was due to nomadic people being herded into settlements by government policies and social assistance financing; some of it was due to the curse of alcohol, a problem she herself experienced at one point.

Watt-Cloutier has travelled extensively during her working life, beginning with jobs in the health care and education fields before moving into the political arena. She has been a political representative for Inuit at the regional, national and international levels, most recently as International Chair for the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents the interests of Inuit people in Canada, Alaska, Russia and Greenland.

She became a sort of human rights activist for the North. In 2007, Watt-Cloutier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in showing the impact global climate change has on human rights, especially in the Arctic, where it is felt more immediately and more dramatically than anywhere else in the world.She did not win the prize, but the nomination highlighted her work.

She does not see herself as an environmentalist, though they have some causes in common. Protests over seal hunting have done serious damage to the Inuit economy, led by people who don’t understand that seals are both food and raw materials for the Inuit.

“We Inuit simply cannot have personal freedom, we cannot have choice, if we don’t have the right to be cold, if our homeland and culture are destroyed by climate change.”

In addition to her Nobel nomination, Watt-Cloutier has been awarded the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the UN Champion of the Earth Award, and the prestigious Norwegian Sophie Prize. She is also an officer of the Order of Canada. From 1995 to 2002, she served as the elected Canadian president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). In 2002, she was elected international chair of the council. Under her leadership, the world’s first international legal action on climate change was launched with a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This is an engaging book, most interesting in the pages where it is most personal. The drier aspects of bureaucratic struggle do drag on a bit, but it is a worthwhile read for all that, and those details do matter.

 

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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story

By Dan Davidson

March 27, 2018Medicine Road

– 836 words –

 

Medicine Road

By Charles de Lint

Illustrations by Charles Vess

Tachyon Publications

186 pages

$21.95

 

Since Ottawa based de Lint is himself a poet, songwriter, performer and folklorist as well as being the author of over 65 books, and the winner of the World Fantasy Award (among others), it’s no surprise that two of the central characters in this fantasy novel would be travelling musicians.

The Dillard twin sisters, Laurel and Bess, were introduced to readers in a book called Seven Wild Sisters, which, being a de Lint book, is not at all what the title sounds like it might be. It happens that this was their introduction to the world of faerie, so when some strange things happen in the present book, they’re not totally in shock, even though this series of events is quite different.

The story actually begins with two unhappy Native American spirits, Jim Changing Dog and Alice Corn Hair, who were originally a red dog and a jackalope. In some versions of Native mythology individuals can have both human and animal characteristics, with the ability to shift back and forth between forms.

Red Dog and Jackalope do not have this ability until it is granted to them by Coyote Woman (whose human, or “five fingered” form, is known as Corinna). She gives them a 100-year deadline to find their true loves, or have their shapeshifting ability revoked.

For Alice, this is not a problem. Years ago she found a human artist named Thomas and they have had a fine life together, though there is the strain of knowing that he is subject to mortal aging while she is not.

Jim, on the other hand, has never had a problem connecting with females. It’s just that nothing ever hit him like a ton of bricks until he met Laurel, and he only has a couple of weeks to establish a relationship, tell her who (or what) he really is, and see if she can accept him on those terms.

We already know, from the experience of a snake/woman named Ramona, that such acceptance can be difficult, and perhaps disappointing. Ramona, embittered by that failed relationship in her life, does her best to spoil the bonding between Jim and Laurel. But there are actually are no villains in this novel, which is essentially a love story; it’s just that sometimes people (and other beings) make mistakes and don’t behave as well as they should. Ideally, they learn better.

De Lint has used a lot of these ideas before, most especially in his urban fantasy books set in the city of Newford (which is a North American city that bears some resemblance to Ottawa). It’s also pretty common for him to move characters around from book to book, and some of the Newford people are referenced here, even though they don’t appear.

The Dillard sisters originate in the northern part of Appalachia but here they are touring as a bluegrass/traditional folk duo, doing a series of small pub and home routes style concert gigs in the American southwest. It is during one of these that they meet Jim, Alice and Corinna, and strange things begin to happen.

De Lint likes to use multiple points of view in his work. Bess’s and Laurel’s chapter segments are given to us as first person narratives, while all the other major characters (Alice, Jim and Ramona) are given to us in the third person. We see Corinna only though the eyes of the others.

In de Lint’s mystical cosmography there is a closer association between the various orders of creation than we are perhaps used to. Animals have a touch of humanity and people have links to the animals. It is Corinna’s special gift to be able to enhance that connection if there are certain qualities and a willingness to find that link in the individual.

A century ago she had seen that Red Dog and Jackalope could be more than predator and prey. With the Dillard twins she senses a connection to another form that would certainly never be revealed by checking Ancestry.com, or any of those DNA testing services. There is a need to bring out the deer in the girls if she is to be able to play cupid the way she intends to.

Accessing these changes involves a bit of interdimensional travel. There are realities beyond ours that shape shifters can visit, and various parts of this book take place in two of those higher planes.

In addition to the amount of detailed description in this book, it is graced with 16 illustrations by World Fantasy and Eisner Award winning artist Charles Vess.

Earlier editions of the author’s book bios mention that he spent some of his time in the Yukon when he was very young, as his father worked for a survey firm and they moved around a lot. More current versions just refer to Western Canada.

 

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