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

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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 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: Tracking Reality back to the Source April 16, 2018

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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source

By Dan Davidson

December 13, 2017

– 718 words –

Savior's Game

By Sean Chercover

Thomas & Mercer

272 pages

$10.49

There are lots of disadvantages to coming in on the third volume of a trilogy. From the clues in this book, it appears that in The Trinity Game andThe Devil’s Game, Daniel Byrne, a former investigator for a secret Branch of the Vatican, in charge of authenticating miracles, has undergone a crisis of faith. After debunking 721 such events over a ten-year period, case number 722 turned out to be something different.

It involved Daniel’s uncle, an ecclesiastical con man named Tim Trinity who called himself a Reverend, and who suddenly began to manifest actual precognitive powers. Eventually these seem to be accounted for by a mysterious mental virus, which causes people to have visions and eventually become mad and catatonic. They call it the Plague.

This problem continues into book two, which introduces a couple of secret organizations. Daniel is recruited by the Foundation to work against the Council, which seems to have plans for world domination, but eventually decides to take matters into his own hands and eliminate the Council’s chief agent. Along the way, he began experiencing some of the symptoms of the Plague, beginning with what he believes to be auditory hallucinations.

Along with the doctor who had assisted him in the second book he drops out of sight, changes his name, and seeks to understand what might be happening to him. By the time we join the story in book three, he and his partner have had to separate to remain hidden, and Daniel has begun to have visions to go with the voices he has been hearing.

He learns, from his previous allies in the Foundation, that the Plague, which they have renamed AIT (Anomalous Information Transfer) is spreading, and that thousands have been infected, more each week.

Gaining some level of control over his visions, he finds himself able to visit what seems to be an alternate reality, one in which things seem to be more real than the reality he has always known. He meets the woman who goes with the voice he has been hearing and learns that this other place had been experiencing a population growth that matches the spread of AIT.

Visitors refer to the place as the Source. This used to be a friendly place, but lately it has come to be dominated by one individual, who has a vast amount of the “magical” energies (teleportation, other mental abilities, manifestation of objects and food, among other things) that every one seems to possess to some degree in this place.

This individual has used his abilities to create a massive tower, and seems to have enslaved most of the other visitors to the place, using their – I almost want to write “worship”, though that’s not quite the right term. They are in an addictive, meditative state.

This man has come to think of himself as a god-like being, and he intends to harness the power of AIT to extend his control from the Source into the real world, which he considers to be just a pale facsimile of the world he controls.

Daniel has to come up with ways to survive in both worlds, stop the AIT plague which threatens to overtake most of humanity, and stop a plot to plunge the world into a devastating conflict which will further the plans of the being who calls himself Noah.

From what I’ve written you’ll get the impression that this is an oddly shaped book, one which partakes of some features of the action thriller genre, while other parts seem more akin with something out of Dr. Strange. To some degree there’s a touch of the Matrix here, or that Christopher Nolan film, Inception.

From the Amazon.ca descriptions of the first two books (which I admit to mining for this review), I would venture that they have far less of the mumbo-jumbo/alternate reality flavour than does this final volume. If this whole story line intrigues you, might want to pick up used or Kindle editions of the first two books (available for around $2 each). I got enough out of book three to be content without doing that.

 

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Bookends: Adventures in Alternate Realities March 17, 2018

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Bookends: Adventures in Alternate Realities

By Dan Davidson

October 25, 2017

– 786 words –

 

The Bloodline Feud: A Merchant Princes Omnibus

Bloodline Feud

 

By Charles Stross

Tor Books

Kindle edition

$10.99

576 pages in book form

 

Miriam Beckstein was an up and coming tech journalist with an eye for a story on the day she and her research assistant stumbled on something they shouldn’t have and both got fired. It was while she was sorting out what to do with her life that her adopted mother gave her a box of family keepsakes and totally changed her life in another way.

n the box was a locket with a strange engraved pattern on it, and when Miriam stared at it she suddenly found herself and her home office chair in the middle of a forest in a very different place.

The combination of the pattern and her genetic heritage had unlocked her ability to travel to another world, physically like ours, but with a very different history and social structure, where it turned out that she was a related to an extended family, some of whom were not happy to see her.

In addition to all this, she has to figure out how to survive when it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill her.

Miriam is actually Countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, missing since the disappearance of her mother, decades earlier. That she is not dead inconveniences a number of the members of her clan family, who are involved in what amounts to an interdimensional smuggling ring. Family members with the talent for world walking are able to flit back and forth between our world and the technologically and socially backward earth (think Medieval level) that is their home, and have enriched themselves in bot wealth and power by so doing.

Miriam has to learn a whole new social order and a new language, master the mechanics of her new position in life and try to survive attempts by two different groups to end her life. It is while accomplishing the latter task that she learns something no one else seems to know, that there is another group of travellers who originate on a third alternative earth, one that is sort of a 19th century version of North America called New Britain.

The six families of the Clan are the power behind the throne in Gruinmarkt, the world that Miriam was conceived in, but there is a seventh family, lost to the others sometime in the past, that is waging a clandestine war of revenge. They live in the third earth.

Miriam’s adventures take place in all three dimensions, and involve, unusually for a science fiction novel, a lot of discussion about how to run businesses and economies. I know how that sounds, but Stross makes it interesting. Further, his work of fictional economics is admired by no less than renowned economist Paul Krugman. I watched the two of them in discussion at a World Con in Montreal a few years back, and their mutual admiration was obvious.

This volume is a omnibus edition of The Family Trade (2004) and

The Hidden Family (2005). It’s been revised slightly with once necessary recaps and reviews removed and some material added. The new edition is seamless and I really couldn’t tell where the first book ended and the second began.

The “stranger in a strange land” story is one of the effective ways of easing a reader from the world we know into stranger places. This story begins as a kind of “lost princess” tale, and we identify with Miriam as she struggles to both adjust and get the upper hand in her new circumstances.

She is very much a 21st century woman, and in Gruinmarkt, which has a sort of Germanic/Dutch feel to it, the status of women is very low, their lives controlled by their fathers and husbands, or, in Miriam’s case, her uncle. The clan hierarchy have absolute power over the areas they control. They live in comparative luxury whole ordinary folks live like serfs in the Middle Ages. The gap between the 1% and the 99% is that incredible.

Miriam sets herself the task of transforming the societies of both alternate realities by importing old technology from the world she grew up in, and changing the business model of Gruinmarkt, which has devolved to profiting from interdimensional drug smuggling, to one based on trade in ideas.

It’s an uphill battle and one that’s just beginning as this book comes to an end.

In his author’s note at the end, Stross credits a couple of SF giants of the past with influencing some of his choices in this series. I’m going to deal with one of them next week.

 

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Bookends: Some Adventures on the Road to Glory March 1, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Robert Heinlein, Science Fiction, Uncategorized.
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Bookends: Some Adventures on the Road to GloryGlory Road 1

By Dan Davidson

September 20, 2017

– 945 words

 

Glory Road

Written by: Robert A. Heinlein

Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot

Length: 9 hrs and 34 mins

Blackstone Audio, Inc.

$23.07

320 pages in paperback or hard cover

available in 43 different formats, including e-books

 

As the 1950s rolled over into the 60s, Robert Heinlein produced three quite different novels, each of which shared some common themes. Starship Troopers seemed to glorify the military life. Stranger in a Strange Land suggested that making love was better than making war, and became a kind of hippie bible for some of my friends. Then there was Glory Road, which was the SF grandmaster’s earliest approach to a fantasy novel. There were fantasy elements, and even horror, in some of his earlier short stories, but he tended to stick to straight science fiction until his last half dozen books.

In common with Troopers, it has a soldier as its protagonist, but he has none of the gung-ho enthusiasm of that novel. E.C. “Scar” Gordon served his time in Viet Nam for the express purpose of being able to use the GI Bill to finance his education later on, only to discover, when he was discharged, that this war had never been officially declared so that option didn’t apply. It did, later on, but by then Gordon had left the planet.

It is while he is living in France, using up some of his accumulated leave before going home to the USA, that he meets the woman he would come to call Star, and finds himself recruited for a mission that is literally out of this world. He is hired to be her champion. The first 56 pages of the book lead up to the moment that he and Star, along with a strange little fellow name Rufo, leave the Earth.

The next 150 pages are the adventurous portion of the novel, involving a number of battles, Oscar’s difficulties in dealing with otherworldly customs and morays, some monsters and a clutch of dragons. Some of this is quite funny. Some of it seemed quite risqué when I first read it back in 1966, but seems extremely tame now. RAH would get to be much more explicit 20 years or so later.

Apparently, the original publishers would have liked to have had the book end at the point where the quest (for it was that sort of story) came to an end, but Heinlein had other ideas: thoughts about relationships; an examination of duty and human nature, an expansion of Arthur Clarke’s dictum that any sufficiently advanced technology might as well be called magic; and a running commentary about all the things that he really didn’t like about the society he had grown up in.

So the last 80 pages or so mark, for me, anyway, the beginning of the “Heinlein as philosopher” part of his career, where there were a lot of conversations about this and that, and there was usually some “wise old man” character on hand to puncture everyone else’s illusions. Much to my surprise, this turns out to be Rufo in this book.

Glory Road foreshadows those later books, and introduces the notion of the multi-verse which is key in his last novels. Indeed, the character of Star, who turns out to be someone even more impressive than our narrator, Scar, thought she was, would go on to make a cameo appearance in RAH’s next to last novel, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

The last chapter bookends the novel, taking Oscar back to Earth, where he tries very hard to fit in, finds, ultimately, that he cannot, and embarks on some other version of the Glory Road, returning to his happiest identity as a knight-errant.

One of the reasons why this last section of the book matters is that it is made clear just exactly how long and to what degree, the young E.C. Gordon was groomed, almost from birth, to become the man who would answer the strange newspaper and magazine ad that sent him on his way. That it would describe him perfectly turns out to be no accident.

“Are you a coward? This is not for you. We badly need a brave man. He must be 23 to 25 years old, in perfect health, at least six feet tall, weigh about 190 pounds, fluent English with some French, proficient with all weapons, some knowledge of engineering and mathematics essential, willing to travel, no family or emotional ties, indomitably courageous and handsome of face and figure. Permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger. You must apply in person, 17 rue Dante, Nice, 2me étage, apt. D.”

Scar, or “Os-car”, as Star calls him, cannot be anything but the man described in that paragraph, and he is no longer suited for the quiet life once the adventure is over.

This book is wonderfully narrated by an actor named Bronson Pinchot, who captures perfectly the voices of our narrator, Oscar, and the two other central characters, while still having vocal space for the others who are less important. All the way through the book Rufo refers to Star as H-h-her and Sh-sh-she, and I wondered why until I dug out my 1966 paperback edition and discovered that her pronouns were almost always in italics when he said them.

Finally, the book is full of witty little aphorisms, and this one probably says a lot about the ideas behind the story: “The person who says smugly that good manners are the same everywhere and people are just people hasn’t been farther out of Podunk than the next whistle stop.”
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Bookends: Beating back against the Apocalypse March 1, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Beating back against the Apocalypse

By Dan Davidson

Fuller MemorandumSeptember 11, 2017

– 749 words –

 

The Fuller Memorandum

By Charles Stross

Ace

320 pages

Kindle edition: $8.99

 

 

This is how Bob Howard warns us not to read this book.

“This is the story of how I lost my atheism, and why I wish I could regain it. This is the story of the people who lost their lives in an alien desert bathed by the hideous radiance of a dead sun, and the love that was lost and the terror that wakes me up in a cold sweat about once a week, clawing at the sheets with cramping fingers and drool on my chin. It’s why Mo and I aren’t living together right now, why my right arm doesn’t work properly, and why I’m toiling late into the night, trying to bury the smoking wreckage of my life beneath a heap of work.”

Bob, an agent name picked for its resemblance to the writer Robert E, Howard, creator of Conan, and member of the Lovecraft circle of American fantasy writers, is an agent in an arcane branch of the British Secret Service which is known as The Laundry. It deals in sorcery and magic or, as Bob prefers to term it, a branch of applied mathematics.

You don’t apply to join the Laundry; you get drafted (or killed) after you’ve accidentally almost done something very dangerous with numbers, generally (these days) involving the use of a computer, although such things have been done in the past without them.

Stross’s Laundry novels are what happens when eldritch fantasy of the Cthulhu type gets dumped into a literary blender with various sorts of spy/thriller fiction. Each one is a little different than the one before it, with the ghosts of assorted spy master authors from Green to Fleming and others lurking between the lines. In addition there’s always a healthy dose of bureaucratic spoofing of the “Yes Minister” or Farley Mowat (the first chapters of Never Cry Wolf) variety.

As a 21st century sort of magician, Bob carries a loaded PDA around with him instead of a grimoire, with incantations pre-inscribed and ready to cast at the push of a button. About midway through he has to replace it and trades up for a tremendously amusing spoof of a certain Apple product. At the office, he’s sort of the local IT expert, but he’s also a field agent, as is his wife, Mo.

While Bob is more of a traditional magic user, Mo is bonded to a particularly powerful demon that appears in our reality as a bone white violin. When she plays it, with bleeding fingers, spells are cast and, generally, nasty people die.

This book is partly about what happens when Mo’s work follows her home. She’s been on an assignment. Imagine something like Israel taking out an Iranian nuclear facility, only make it an attempt to breach the protective walls that are keeping some proto-nasty beings from crossing over into our dimension. They used to rule here, and they’d like to come back. Mo put an end to that, but the human agency working with them decides to take its revenge back in London.

It doesn’t work, but the implications are bad. To get to Bob and Mo and pass the wards around their home implies inside knowledge, which means the Laundry has been infiltrated – again. On top of this, Angleton, Bob’s top boss and the head of the agency, vanishes, after sending Bob off on a routine sounding investigation that turns out to be anything but.

As a result, an apparently innocent human being is killed in an eldritch burst of power. Bob is held responsible for this and placed on kind of administrative leave, pending a review of his actions – kind of like a police officer being investigated for having discharged a firearm.

This leads Bob to the question of the existence of a document called the Fuller Memorandum, which outlines how a extremely powerful entity, with the lovely name of The Eater of Souls, was bound into symbiosis with a human agent, and how, if the bad guys in this story manage to gain control of this being, they could invite all the elder gods to come and sample the buffet on planet earth.

Bob’s job – on leave pending an Audit or not – is to figure out just what the ungodly have in mind and prevent it from happening. It is a tale with many twists and turns, no small amount of sarcastic humour, and moments of both sheer terror and tenderness. I highly recommend the series.

 

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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End

By Dan DavidsonEnd of wATCH

July 10, 2017

– 888 words.

 

End of Watch

By Stephen King

Scribner

$14.16 (paperback)

$10.99 (Kindle)

448 pages

 

In at least one previous book, Rage, first published under his nom de plume, Richard Bachman, Stephen King described a high school shooting spree. He wrote it in the early 1970s and it was published in 1977, before such things became nearly annual horror shows. Not surprisingly, there were people, who want to blame this sort of behaviour on anything other than the vast American home arsenals just waiting to be misused, who blamed the book for inspiring such atrocities. In response, King allowed the novel to go out of print.

I have to hope that the Bill Hodges trilogy won’t meet the same fate. End of Watch brings the Hodges saga to a satisfying conclusion, but adds a touch of the paranormal that was not present in Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers, both of which were pretty much mundane mysteries with a touch of the thriller genre mixed in.

It’s the set-up sequence in each novel that might give the books a bad reputation. In each of the books, people are dealing the ramifications of Brady Hartsfield’s decision to steal a lonely woman’s Mercedes automobile and drive it into the midst of a large group of victims waiting in line for a chance at a job fair.

We have recently had a spate of these activities in England, France and other European countries, but I don’t think you can blame them on King. He didn’t invent the idea. There were such cases in he USA, and at least one in Canada, before he wrote the first book.

The killings in the book were inspired by an actual event which had taken place at a McDonald’s restaurant. King ramped up the body count and spent quite a bit of the book guiding us through the mad mind of the killer, who followed up his original evil deed by taunting the poor woman whose car he had used until she killed herself.

His big mistake was going on to taunt former homicide detective Hodges, who had been unable to solve the case before he retired. Energized by the attack conducted by telephone and e-mail trickery, Hodges, along with some young associates, does solve the case, and Hartsfield is institutionalized with brain damage as a result.

The book won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award in 2015.

Finders Keepers ,which is the name of Hodges’ private eye practice, goes off in an entirely different direction, but still deals with people whose lives were impacted (sorry, couldn’t resist) by the original crime, which is recapped from a different point of view in the opening chapter.

End of Watch returns to the villain of the first book, whose brain has been altered by the events of his capture, and by some very unethical experiments that one of the doctors tending him has been conducting. Hartsfield slowly discovers he has the ability to project his consciousness into the mind of a person who has been slightly hypnotized by a certain frequency of flashing lights. Eventually he is able to control such persons – first a slow witted hospital orderly, and eventually the doctor – and walk around using them as his meat puppets.

Add to this the discovery that a certain brand of defective hand-held video games can emit this frequency, lure victims to log on to a special website, and thus extend his reach beyond his sick room, and Hartsfield is ready to take his revenge on the people who stopped him when he attempted to be a suicide at a boy band rock concert several years earlier. He arranges to buy up a stock of the units and us them to target people who are connected to Hodges and his young friends, people who were his immediate targets at that concert. There is a sudden spate of suicides and it takes a while for Hodges to make the connection.

Hodge is distracted by the fact that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While he does not want to die, having found fulfillment in his new career, he is more worried about his autistic partner, Holly, who has blossomed so much while working with him.

He has always suspected that there was more to Hartsfield than the seeming vegetable in that hospital bed, but getting anyone else to think seriously about his suspicions is an uphill battle. Finally his old partner does offer some encouragement, but even that is limited. By this time Hartsfield has left his original body, which dies, and is fully in the mind and body of the neurosurgeon whose unethical use of drugs has boosted his powers of telepathy and telekinesis.

Hartsfield’s attempts to draws Hodges into his plot so he can mind control him as he has done his other victims backfire in the same way as in the first book, but with far more terminal results.

The title has a number of possible meanings, and most of the ones I can think of fit the story well. So, I do hope the books don’t do out of print, and this is a trilogy that make a good set of movies.

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Bookends: The Great Lorenzo’s Role of a Lifetime February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Double Star audiobookBookends: The Great Lorenzo’s Role of a Lifetime

By Dan Davidson

June 28, 2017

– 821 words –

 

Double Star

Written by Robert A. Heinlein

Narrated by Tom Weiner

Unabridged Audiobook

5 hrs and 31 mins

Blackstone Audio Inc.

$20.97

 

Print version: 240 pages

Gollancz

$15.99

 

Imagine a world and time when a ham actor of dubious morals could become the leader of an interplanetary government, elected supreme minister to the Emperor of this system.

Oh well, given the current state of affairs south of our border, maybe it’s not such a fantastic idea any more, but it was in the mid 1950s, when Double Star was being serialized as a novel in Astounding Science Fiction, and later published between hard covers and finally in paperback, where small print squeezed 240 pages into the 128 pages that I read back in 1969 and still have on my shelves.

Science fiction fandom was impressed, and voted the book the Hugo Award as best Novel of the year for 1956. It remains a classic and its most recent paperback incarnation was as part of Gollancz’s “SF Masterworks” series.

When we meet Larry Smith (aka the Great Lorenzo) he is on his uppers on Earth, with hardly the price of a cup of coffee to his name. He is engaged by a spacer named Dak Broadbent to serve as a body double for an important man who is indisposed, for mysterious reasons.

As it turns out, the mysterious reason is that John Joseph Bonforte, the former Supreme Minister and leader of the opposition in the Imperial government, has been kidnapped. There is an important ceremony – a nest adoption – on Mars, that Bonforte absolutely has to attend, even if they can’t locate and free him before then.

By the time he knows all of this, Smith is on his way to Mars, having been smuggled off planet, and it’s too late to back out. It’s by appealing to his vanity as an actor that Bonforte’s aides get him to continue, but a funny thing happens.

The more he absorbs his subject, the more he watches videos of him and listens to his speeches, the more he reads about him and tries to copy him, the more he becomes Bonforte.

The Martian ceremony is a success, and not long after that they manage to find the missing man, but the Bonforte they find has been horribly abused and shot full of mind altering drugs. Larry is persuaded to carry on until the great man can recover his wits and health. He continues out of a sense of obligation (a new thing for him) and applies himself to the task by continually asking himself “what would Bonforte do?”

Weiner’s reading of the text was important to my understanding of what was happening to Lorenzo/Larry. When I first heard this first person narrator I didn’t like his voice. It wasn’t my memory of the book which, granted, was 48 years old. Interestingly, the voice changed as Larry did.

Larry learns how to be Bonforte so well that he starts improving on the speeches he’s being handed by his scriptwriters, applying his actor’s sensibility to his increasing knowledge of his subject and model. He does so well in this department that one of his broadcast speeches causes the incumbent government to call for an election and resign, forcing Bonforte’s party to form an interim caretaker government.

As Bonforte has still not recovered – has had a stroke, in fact – Larry is forced to continue with masquerade and does so by being true to his “what would Bonforte do?” dictum.

This leads to some friction within the group and the departure of one member. That man, Bill, becomes a dangerous loose cannon who could expose the entire substitution plot, which had been his idea in the first place. He had expected Larry to continue to be a ventriloquist’s dummy, and when it doesn’t work out that way, when Larry starts questioning his interpretations of the Bonforte legacy, he decides to scuttle the operation. The tension is delicious.

While there’s a thriller aspect to this book, and there is also a political drama, the real story is about a man learning to improve himself more than he ever thought he could, or, as Theodore Sturgeon, Heinlein’s SF contemporary liked to phrase it, this is a story about “a man who learns better.”

The book has a coda, written a quarter century later by the man who lived most of his existence wearing another man’s life, and becoming more like that man with every year. He is unsparing in his assessment of the Great Lorenzo, though he does recognize that without the talents of “that seedy actor” he could never have managed to live up to the task he set himself.

Larry Smith was improved by his elevation to high office and his understanding of what behavior was required to be worthy of it. We could only wish that this would be true of a certain American president.

 

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Bookends: Considering Free Will in a Murder Investigation February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Considering Free Will in a Murder Investigation

By Dan DavidsonRule 34

May 16, 2017

– 923 words –

 

Rule 34

By Charles Stross

Ace Books,

336 pages

$8.99

Rule 34 is set in the same futuristic Scotland (a more or less independent nation) that Stross used for Halting State, the first book set in this milieu, but about five years later and with a different cast of characters.

It uses the same narrative structure. There are half a dozen second-person present-tense viewpoints that rotate the story around a series of murders.

Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is one of these characters, and the one initially most concerned with the killings. She is the first to realize that, unconnected as the victims may be, there is a thread, a very obscure thread, in the means that ties them all together. The two or three she views, have all been killed by malfunctioning appliances that contain computer chips.

When it turns out that there are more of these, some in other countries, and that the body count is well over a dozen within a few days, she concludes, and manages to persuade her superiors, that some sort of coordinated murder spree is under way.

We are some time putting all this together, because we have to cycle through several other narratives, several times, before we hear enough of Liz’s thoughts (these are very internal narratives) to see the pattern.

Like many a Scots detective (Rebus is cited several times), Liz’s personal life is s total mess and her thought processes are disrupted several times by the arrival in town of an old lover, Dorothy, who has her own problems to share.

In the meantime we meet Anwar, a small time crook on probation who is trying to make ends meet and stay out of trouble. Anwar is that oddity, a married Muslim with a straight family (wife and kids) who carries on a number of homosexual liaisons in seedy bars, and imbibes quite often in spite of the Islamic laws about drinking alcohol. He becomes the onsite diplomatic attaché for a small, breakaway Slavic nation that is involved in some sort of financial scam, of which he is unaware. He is the comic relief in this book.

We meet the Toymaker, a multi-identitied agent of some sort who is in Scotland for nefarious purposes. He is somewhat psychotic when off his meds, and frustrated in accomplishing his task in that it seems that all the people he has been supposed to do business with are being murdered before he can work with them.

Ah-hah, we say to ourselves. A connection, though it’s uncertain as to what.

Not quite half-way through the book we encounter some other viewpoints, including one which is that of the organization (the Operation) which employs the Toymaker. There is also Felix, the chief aid of the president of the quasi-nation that employs Anwar. Another is Kemal, the European “spam-cop” who specializes in computer fraud and is assigned to travel to Scotland to assist in what has become an international murder case.

There’s an Internet meme that runs this way: “Rule 34—If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions.”

In this case we might substitute “corruption” for “porn”. Given what we have learned about Internet monitoring, government snooping and electronic surveillance, it might not seem as surprising today as it did when Stross published the hardcover edition of this book back in 2011, that something might go wrong.

In this case it seems that an advanced spam filter program might have gone off the rails and started organizing the deaths of people who might, perhaps, be involved in some sort of nefarious activity. It’s using an advanced form of the algorithms that Amazon and Facebook use to decide what ads to show us and what things we might like to buy.

Philip K. Dick wrote a short story decades ago in which psychic precognitives were used to do much the same sort of thing. It became the movie called “Minority Report” and the short-lived television spin-off of the same name.

This book delves into some of the same territory, while raising the possibility that an evolving artificial intelligence code named ATHENA might not hesitate to manipulate individuals in order to bring about what it considers to be a satisfactory solution to a problem that only it has resources enough to analyze.

This is likely the last of the Halting State series, unfortunately. Stross has written about why in an essay on his blog, Charlie’s Diary.

“I really wanted to make it a trilogy, you know? I mean, what could be cooler than a trilogy of near-future Scottish police procedurals about crimes that don’t exist yet, written in multi-viewpoint second person?

“At this point, I’m clutching my head. ‘Halting State’ wasn’t intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven’t happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption (and there’s a big fat question mark over the latter—what else are the NSA up to?).

“The science fictional universe of Halting State and Rule 34 is teetering on the edge of turning into reality. Meanwhile, the financial crisis of 2007 forced me back to the drawing board for Rule 34; the Snowden revelations have systematically trashed all my ideas for the third book.”

So there it is. Enjoy this one until he figures out some why to get beyond our rapidly evolving digital reality.

 

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Bookends: Coming to Terms With a Moral Dilemma February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Frederik Pohl, Science Fiction, Uncategorized.
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Bookends: Coming to Terms With a Moral DilemmaGateway

By Dan Davidson

February 22, 2017

– 791 words –

 

Gateway

By Frederick Pohl

Narrated by Oliver Wyman

Introduction by Robert J. Sawyer

8 hrs and 37 mins

Audible Studios

288 pages in hard copy

$21.95

 

 

I don’t re-read too many books, but with the advent of audio books and lots of long distance driving, I’ve taken to re-hearing books that I first read years ago.

Gateway is a tour de force by the late Frederick Pohl. It won all the major best novel awards in the science fiction world: the Hugo Award (basically a peoples’ choice award); the Nebula Award (voted on by writers in the field); and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, which is more than fitting since Pohl was also a great editor in his day.

In his enthusiastic introduction to this audio book, former Berton House Writer Robert J. Sawyer (who has also won all these awards) explains the importance of these accolades and tells you why Gateway is his all time favorite SF novel.

After nearly 40 years my memory of the story wasn’t sharp, and so there were a lot of pleasant surprises.

At novel length Pohl first made his mark as a sort of SF satirist, and some of that shows up in one of the two strands of this first person narrative. Robinette Broadhead (who insists he is a man, in spite of what his mother named him) is a troubled individual. We know this because we first meet him when he is deep in a psychotherapy session with a very patient and somewhat drool artificial intelligence whom he calls Sigfrid Von Shrink.

Bob, Rob, or Robbie (he gets all of these), grew up on a very impoverished, very crowded planet Earth, where he worked in the shale mines, extracting hydrocarbons from rock (impressive forecasting here), not to burn as fuel, but to turn into nutrients for a hungry planet.

Planet Earth hasn’t done too well in terms of getting people into space, and might not have been able to do anything if they had not discovered leftover traces of a long vanished alien race they call the Heechee. They left habitable tunnels on Venus and Mars and, more importantly, the Gateway asteroid, filled with hundreds of self-guiding spaceships in a variety of sizes.

When Rob wins a lottery, he uses the money to travel to Gateway in hopes of becoming one of the successful prospectors. These men and women ride those ships out and back, and sometimes find Heechee artifacts that can be reverse engineered for human use, even if humanity has so far been unable to figure out how the ships work. One such device is called a p-phone, something that reads very much like today’s smartphones, only more so.

Much of the book is taken up with life on Gateway and with Rob trying to work up the courage to actually join a launch crew and take a trip. The odds are not that good, he learns. Some ships never return; some come back with bodies; some come back with crazy people; some come back alive, but without any profit gained.

Alternate chapters take us through Rob’s time on the asteroid and on three trips that he finally does make on the unpredictable Heechee ships. We also spend a lot of time on his interactions with others, especially on his growing love affair with Klara, a woman who grew up on Venus.

Now, we know from the sessions with Sigfrid that Rob ultimately survives all these hardships, and ends up fabulously wealthy as a result of his final trip. The therapy sessions are years later, when he is still trying to cope with the emotional fallout of some catastrophic event that occurred when he was younger. We have a clear sense that he’s been chasing sensation and temporary liaisons ever since in an effort to numb his conscience – but we don’t know why.

So the tension in the book comes from our need to know about Rob’s emotional and spiritual damage rather than his physical jeopardy. However, Pohl tells both parts of the story so well that you sometimes forget not to worry.

When the story starts there is tendency to view the Sigrid sessions as a bit of comic relief from Rob’s grim life story, but as the book progresses, the two strands take on equal weight and, in the end, the final climax comes in the therapy room.

This was intended as a standalone novel, but ended up being the first of four books. There were some possibilities for more work in this universe and Pohl was persuaded to spin them out.

The reading, by Oliver Wyman, was extremely well done.

 

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