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Bookends – There are no such things as vampires January 31, 2017

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Bookends – There are no such things as vampires

By Dan Davidson

September 28, 2016

rhesus-chart– 842 words –

 

The Rhesus Chart

By Charles Stross

Ace Books

372 pages

$10.49

 

In the fifth installment of the Laundry Files, Charles Stross takes on the subject of vampires, giving the supernatural his usual twist.

The Laundry is a secret organization somewhat in the vein of the MIO (Military Intelligence Other) that was featured in the ITV Jekyll and Hyde series that CBC ran last year. Every country has a similar organization and they all deal with things from other dimensions that would like to spend some time in our world. To do that they may burst across dimensional walls, or they may infect (read: possess) some of this world’s inhabitants.

Magic, in Stross’s rendering (much like that of L. Sprague de Camp and Jack Chalker), is actually connected to mathematics, and it is mathematicians and philosophers who seem most likely to discover it; mostly, it seems, by accident.

Bob Howard was an IT specialist and computer nerd who stumbled onto a spell that might have done a lot of damage to the world, and so he was immediately recruited into the Laundry – it was that or die, basically. Most of the Laundry’s agents joined up the same way.

Old style magic used to record spells in grimoires, but times have changed. When we first met Bob in The Atrocity Archive he was storing his emergency spells on a Palm Zire. He’s since upgraded to a smart phone.

His life has upgraded as well. When I last read one of these, Bob was single, but now he’s married to Mo, who is also an agent, one who is paired with a particularly vicious creature that looks, to the normal eye, pretty much like violin. It’s a weapon of incredible power and Mo’s a really good fiddler, but if she plays till her fingers bleed, bad things can happen.

In the current adventure, a group of banking nerds accidentally finds a combination of spells, while working of an accounting program, that links them to some extra dimensional parasites that basically turn them into vampires. There’s a twist. While they need the occasional drink of human blood to keep their new parasites from consuming them, their dining links them to their victims in a psychic manner and the parasites drain their victims of life force, leaving husks behind.

When the Laundry becomes aware of a sudden spate of suspicious deaths, they trace it to the bank. When Bob is sent in to “manage” the problem, he finds himself face to face with a former girlfriend, someone who once worked in the Laundry’s human resources office and knows how to game the system. She gets herself and her mates signed on as agents, thus avoiding death. The new vampires are classified as PHANG – short for Photogolic Hemophagic Anagathic Neurotropic, and no one knows what the G is for, but it works – persons and are about to be put to work somehow, when they started getting murdered.

It turns out that a group of PHANGS is a very unusual thing. By nature, they are territorial and loners (“there can be only one”, as the Highlanders used to say), and tend to work hard to keep their own numbers small so that they won’t be detected. It appears that there are already some very old members of the species in the area and they don’t like the attention the newbies are attracting, so they are dealing with it.

Or, at least, that’s what appears to be happening. On the other hand, there has to be some reason why nearly all the members of an organization devoted to the study and taming of occult threats are so absolutely convinced that vampires don’t exist. Solving that mystery becomes a side issue in the case file with the amusing name Opera Cape, until it turns out that this may actually be the main event.

I’ve said enough. The book is fun. It has some actual mysteries in it and quite a few plot twists. Enjoy it.

As I read this book, references to previous stories made it clear that I had missed some installments since reading The Jennifer Morgue, which was the last one I had seen. It turns out there are two books I’ve missed, which explains why Bob’s power levels are higher than I recalled them being. The current issue of Locus magazine has a long interview with Stross in which I learned that there are also two books after this one that I haven’t seen yet, as well as two Hugo Award winning short stories using the same setting. I’m looking forward to all of them.

I met and chatted with Stross at the Montreal Science Fiction Worldcon a few years back. He’s an interesting fellow who writes in a number of different styles. The Laundry books are basically H.P. Lovecraft meets John LeCarré, but he writes regular science fiction as well and has a variety of series on the go.

 

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Bookends: Body Shifting Suspects make for a Difficult Case January 31, 2017

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Bookends: Body Shifting Suspects make for a Difficult Case

By Dan Davidson

September 21, 2016        lock-in

– 870 words –
 

Lock In

By John Scalzi

TOR Books

336 pages

$10.99

 

The science fiction field has a long history of crossing over into the mystery field. One of the earliest obvious practitioners of crossover writing was Isaac Asimov, whose three novels featuring the detective Elijah Bailey took the murder mystery to outer space in an obvious way. Outside the field Asimov produced six volumes of short stories about a mystery discussion group he called the Black Widowers.

Other SF writers frequently “ghosted” in well-known series. “Ellery Queen” was already a pen name for two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, and several SF writers – Theodore Sturgeon and Jack Vance, among others – wrote some of the later entries in the series.

John Scalzi seems determined to write every sort of SF related book that he possibly can, and has done an excellent job of following in that tradition, creating a future world shaped by a pernicious disease, and a murder mystery that has everything to do with that disease.

Some years from now a new, highly contagious virus appears. Like the zica virus, most people who catch it have just a few days of fever and misery, but it has other mysterious effects on some peoples’ brains. One per cent of its victims find themselves “locked in”, closed off from all voluntary motor functions and sensory inputs – fully awake but truly isolated from the world. They call it Haden’s Syndrome, mostly because the wife of President Haden is one of the victims.

Partly because of this connection, and because a good number of the victims come from wealth, an effort is made to find a way for these disconnected brains to access the world. The solution is to create robot surrogate bodies and implant in the brains hardware and software that allow people to interface with these bodies and “live” in the world again.

This is somewhat similar to the gimmick used in the Bruce Willis movie, “Surrogates”, except that most of the artificial bodies are not so cosmetically perfect.

One other, rare, side effect of the virus is that a very small percentage of Haden’s sufferers come out undamaged, but, with the installation of matching hardware and software in their craniums, are able to share their bodies with those who are locked in. They are called Integrators.

Chris Shane is Haden’s survivor from a wealthy family who has been locked in since he was a child. He was one of the first to use a surrogate, which are known as “threeps”, in honour of a very famous golden robot in an old movie. Tired of being the poster child for Haden-kind, he has taken up law enforcement as a career. He has been partnered with a difficult experienced cop named Leslie Vann, who has many secrets in her background.

Their first case together involves the murder of an Integrator, who may have been killed by another Integrator. The problem is that the apparent murderer doesn’t remember a thing about it. He was being “ridden”, as they call it, by someone else at the time, and while he’s supposed to be aware of everything his rider does, he has no memory of how he came to be in that hotel room with that dead man.

I spent some space on the social background of this story because it spoiled nothing to do that, and you need to understand that it’s entirely possible that some of the people you meet may not be who they seem to be at any given time in the book. All that is clear from the outset is that this is a Haden related crime, probably committed by a Haden person.

Means, motive and opportunity are much harder to pin down when your suspect might in any one of several threeps at any given time, or be integrated with another actual human some of the time.

In that sense the book reminded me very much of Asimov’s Bailey novels, in which the sociology and psychology of the places where the crimes occurred had so much to do with why and how they occurred.

Shane is the first person narrator of this story, and the fact that he is not moving about in a flesh and blood body didn’t come clear for me until I was a chapter or so into the story. There was certainly something odd about him, but I couldn’t pin it down until some of the expository dialogue made it clear. After that, I adjusted, and just sort of forgot about it, until he had an internal conversation with the caregiver looking after his body at home, or shifted bodies, or crossed the country in an eyeblink (more shifting) in order to follow up clues.

It’s not a simple mystery so it gives you lots to puzzle about and the future setting keeps you just off base enough to give the writer the edge in hiding some things from you along the way.

I continue to be impressed with Scalzi, who first came to my attention about six years ago and has yet to disappoint.

 

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Bookends: Investigators baffled by what lies beneath January 31, 2017

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Bookends: Investigators baffled by what lies beneath

By Dan Davidsonfirewalk

December 28, 2016

– 847 words –

 

Firewalk

By Chris Roberson

Night Shade Books

348 pages

$24.99

 

Zombies. They’re everywhere. The original horror flicks, back as far as the George Romero classic, were vague about what caused them, but the condition was infectious and the diet was human brains. I saw the original Night of the Living Dead back in college and have had no desire to see further renditions over the years.

The Resident Evil series introduced the idea that moved the plague away from the supernatural and made it into something humans might cause by means of evil science.

In other versions, the condition is caused by a virus or is some form of disease.

Stephen King’s Cell has the condition being triggered by a rogue cellphone signal that shuts down the brain’s higher functions.

Chris Roberson and artist Michael Allred created the comic book iZombie, in which an unfortunate combination of an energy drink and a designer drug triggers a zombie reaction. This can also be passed on by a bite or scratch. It can be controlled and the victims can only continue to function as normal humans by ingesting small quantities of human brain material. In zombie mode they possess unnatural strength and resilience.

After eating of another person’s brain they have access to that person’s memories and personality traits. The central character in the series, and in the television show now in its third season, is a victim named Olivia Moore (so, of course, Liv Moore). She is a former medical student who gets her require grey matter by working in the city morgue.

In Firewalk, Roberson, who writes fantasy novels as well as comic books, has come at the idea from a different angle, in what promises to be the first book in a new series. This is framed as a mystery/thriller, but it’s in familiar zombie territory and has echoes of iZombie.

Five years ago Izzie Lefevre, of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, and Detective Patrick Tevake, on the Recondito Police Force, were instrumental in tracking down and ending the career of a serial killer, a scientist named Nicholas Fuller, who had left a dozen sword decapitated bodies in his wake before they cornered him.

What is unusual about both partners is that their family backgrounds, which they both try to ignore, have exposed them to lore and legend which allows them to see what might be supernatural significance in events which have begun to occur in the city again.

Izzie’s grandmother was a voodoo priestess. Patrick’s Polynesian great-uncle believed that there were special places on earth where the walls between worlds were thin.

There is a new street drug called Ink, so-called because prolonged use of it causes its addicts to break out in ink-like blotches on their skin. It also causes them to want to avoid sunlight and, when gathered in groups, to behave in a herd-like manner, as if being controlled by a single intelligence.

When violent individuals in the final stages of this addiction are killed by decapitation, autopsies reveal that there are large empty spots in their brains, much like what happens to victims of variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, sometimes called Mad Cow Disease. The condition is identical to that found in the brains of Fuller’s victims from five years earlier. It is this coincidence that causes Tevake to request that Lefevre return to Recondito to compare notes with him.

The final straw for them both is the death of an Ink pusher who continues to rise from the ground and try to assault them after nearly every bone in his body has been broken by a fall and he has been shot enough times to take down a horse. Only after his neck has been broken so thoroughly that it is barely attached to his body, does he stop moving, and the Ink blotches fade from his skin.

They begin to wonder if Fuller hadn’t been killing the people he did for a specific, and perhaps very good, reason. His victims were all participants in a series of experiments that took place in an abandoned mine shaft, as part of a project called Undersight.

“Gravity leaks into other spaces, but doors swing both ways. They went down into the dark,” Fuller said of his victims before they died, “and the dark came back with them. Ridden. Passengers. I saw it, even if no one else did.”

He’d killed 12 people in horrible ways, but there was a number 13, someone he called the student, and five years later that man was continuing the work Fuller had tried to stop.

Before the book ends the two investigators, and a couple of other people who get roped into the case, find the true source of Ink, are chased by a zombie horde, find sanctuary in a light house, and realize they have a lot more work to do, The story will continue in the next book, Firewalkers. I’ll be looking for it. This one was fun.

 

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Bookends: A Black Family’s Occult Adventures in Nineteen-Fifties America January 31, 2017

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Bookends: A Black Family’s Occult Adventures in Nineteen-Fifties America

By Dan Davidson

lovecraft-couuntrySeptember 9, 2016

– 810 words –

 

Lovecraft Country

By Matt Ruff

Harper

384 pages

$29.49

e-book editions: $15.99

 

Given that Lovecraft Country is unrelentingly about the African-American experience in the United States during the 1950s, it surprised me to discover that Matt Ruff is not a Black man. This does not mean that he has committed a misappropriation of culture, but rather that he has produced a careful reflection on the problems faced by another race, using the framework of the science-fiction /horror adventure tales to do the job.

Maybe I need to explain the title of the novel and the way it’s structured. Howard Phillips Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror story writers in the history of the genre. No one who works in this genre can avoid having been influenced by him or by one of his contemporaries: Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E, Howard and, in some cases, Ray Bradbury.

“The Call of Cthulhu” introduced the idea that Earth was once ruled by demonic elder gods, who were somehow banished from the planet, but are just itching to find a way back. Lovecraft piled on the tension and the atmosphere in a manner similar to E. A. Poe, and was deliberately old fashioned in his use of language, at least when he wasn’t ghost-writing things for other people.

He was also a notorious racist and white supremacist in his personal views, and often worked those ideas into his stories in fictional form. So, “Lovecraft country” is a place where eldritch magic and racism come together, something that is made very clear in the first story/chapter in the book, when Atticus Turner is carded by a racist highway patrol officer while on his way home between Florida and Chicago.

I wrote “story/chapter” because of the way this book is set up. The cover resembles an old pulp magazine illustration, and it was common, once upon a time, for writers to tell a series of stories with a common protagonist, or background, and when they had enough of them to make up a book, they created what is called a “fix-up” novel, with some bridging material to string it all together. One of the most famous of these would be Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.

Ruff has created a novel which resembles this pattern, but is actually much more tightly plotted that that. Atticus, his relatives, and other people who are connected to the family, are the central characters in nine independent short stories which are, nevertheless, a novel when taken together.

In the first story, Atticus, his father, his uncle George, the publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, and a young woman named Letitia, are tricked into travelling to Ardham Lodge (a clear reference to Lovecraft’s fictional town of Arkham) where the membership of the Order of the Ancient Dawn intend to use him as the catalyst (and sacrifice) to open a dimensional door and let the Elder Gods come back. Their plan fails, due to the intervention of young Caleb Braithwhite, a powerful sorcerer who will turn up in several other stories before the novel reaches its conclusion. Just because he helps the Turners out few times does not make him a good man.

This is perhaps the most Lovecraftian part of the book. The other sections are generally written as homages to other pulp fiction horror/science fiction tropes. There’s a haunted house story, with a nice twist to it. There’s a kind of treasure hunt/caper story. There’s an adventure in another dark dimension, a distinctly different take on the ideas behind Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, a ghost story, a tale of demonic possession, a showdown that gathers all the plot threads together, and a tidy epilogue that gives us a time frame. The various events in the book take about a year to play out.

As I noted, much of this book is a homage to the works of various writers, many of whom are name-checked in the narratives, who were big names in the pulp magazines of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. What’s unusual about each of the stories is that the central character in each case is a black man or (even more unlikely at that time) a black woman. In each case this racial identity creates some problems that would not have been faced by the mostly white protagonists that populated the pulps during those years.

So, while Ruff has given us a fascinating series of adventure stories that add up to more than the sum of their parts, he has also given us a commentary on a specific era in American history. The combination is very effective. He discusses some of his intentions in several interviews that are worth a look on his website.

 

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Bookends: The Little Prince Pops Up and Malcolm gets Muddy January 18, 2017

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Bookends: The Little Prince Pops Up and Malcolm gets Muddy

By Dan Davidson

little-princeJune 22, 2016

– 844 words

 

The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Translation by Richard Howard

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

61 pages

$35.00

 

I hardly need to say very much about the story told in this little book. A downed French airman, stranded in the desert, comes across a small person who demands that he draw him a sheep. We know the airman really can’t draw, because we’ve seen his earlier efforts, the ones that made everyone tell him to find another profession when he was just a child. But he’s clever and manages to satisfy the little person.

The small person comes to be known as the Prince of the title, and he hails from a little planet the size of a house, possibly a body best thought of as an asteroid.

The Little Prince relates a great many strange adventures to our nameless narrator, telling of the six planets he visited on his way to Earth and the strange inhabitants he met on his journey. Each of the solitary beings on these other small planets exhibit certain bizarre behaviors which are really a commentary on human fallibility, but that’s not clear to the Prince.

In the end he returns to his nameless planet, and to the obligations he feels he has there, propelled by the somewhat gruesome method of being bitten by a snake. It looks a lot like dying, but it is not.

Now, this is not the same book as the one I gave my wife as a gift back in the 1970s. For one thing, it’s a new translation, with a somewhat different linguistic sensibility. Comparing the two texts, I find the present one to be less stuffy and formal, but I don’t know that it changes much.

For another, it’s a shorter book. Our copy, having substantially larger print than this edition, is 113 pages; this one has 64 much larger pages with a lot more words on them in much smaller print.

The print size chosen for this book bothers me for the very simple reason that this is an oversized pop-up book, many times the size of our little paperback edition and filled with what must be dozens of pop-up sections and folding flaps. These are created by a process called paper engineering and are all based on the clever two dimensional drawings that grace the original.

Pop-up books don’t have to be just for children of course, but this is a story that lends itself to the age group, even if it is actually a satire about the human condition. The print size is going to make this one difficult for young eyes to follow.

Summing up then, this is a beautiful edition of this book. I like the text and I’m extremely impressed with the pop-up art. What I’m not at all sure about is who it was aimed at. If it’s for adults, and at that price this seems likely, then it’s the same sort of audience that made Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine trilogy so popular bank in the 1990s.

It looks more like a children’s book, but the current translator feels that his work is closer to the “radical outrage” of the original French text, which he suggests can be read between the lines. That makes it more of an adult book, and the packaging now sends very mixed messages about that.

 

And Then it Rained on Malcolmand-then-it-rained

Written by Paige Feurer
Illustrated by Rich Farr

Sky Pony Press

40 pages

$23.99

 

There’s no question what age group this is aimed at. It’s the age 3 to 6 crowd and this is one that is meant to be shared, adult to child.

Malcolm is having a great time building a castle in his sandbox when the rain comes and dissolves his efforts. He’s furious at first, but then he decides he is not going to let the weather spoil his fun. So he gets dressed for it, goes back outside, and does every rainy day thing he can possibly think of. This is a delightful sequence of pictures.

That is all fine until he flops in a big puddle full of worms. The worms get into his boots, and his clothes and his hair and just everywhere really. It isn’t that he is afraid of the worms; but it is that they tickle terribly, and that drives him back into the house, where he makes a very serious muddy wet mess while trying to escape them. Of course. it all gets cleaned up by the end of the story.

This is a very energetic book. The artwork is colourful and expressive and full of action. The worms are cuter than any worms have a right to be.

The text is very simple, and it probably won’t take more than a few readings before a young mind will have in memorized. As this is one good way to get kids started in reading for themselves, I certainly have to recommend this book.

 

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Bookends: Sometimes the Heroes Need a Helping Hand January 18, 2017

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Bookends: Sometimes the Heroes Need a Helping Hand

By Dan Davidson

June 15, 2016

– 846 words –

 

Steelheart

By Brandon Sandersonsteelheart

Narrated by MacLeod Andrews

Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins

Brilliance Audio

$24.95

400 pages in book format

Delacorte Press

 

Brandon Sanderson is probably best known as a fantasy novelist, and that primarily for taking on the task of wrapping up Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series, using the latter’s notes and outlines, after that author died suddenly. Jordan’s publisher had intended on one book, but it took three.

When he took on this homage, Sanderson had already completed a fantasy trilogy of his own, as well as a trilogy of young adult fantasy novels.

If you’re looking for high fantasy, this is not a book for you, and it seems to be quite different from most of Sanderson’s output. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it, but some readers expect their favorite authors to keep hitting the same notes all the time. Some people didn’t enjoy J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mystery series after years of Harry Potter.

Steelheart is science fiction, a young adult novel of the dystopian persuasion that has become so popular since the Hunger Games first appeared. It’s the opening shot in a trilogy called The Reckoners.

Some 12 years before this novel opens, an artifact that came to be known as Calamity appeared in orbit around the Earth, Was it a natural or artificial satellite? No one knew. What they did know was that very shortly all sorts of people began to develop some very comic booky type powers, and were suddenly able to do things that clearly defied the laws of physics and chemistry. Sadly, unlike what happens in the comic books, nearly all of these Epics, as they came to be known, turned out to be sadistic, megalomaniacal individuals with a penchant for setting themselves up as feudal lordlings.

The United States quickly became the Fractured States as the legitimate governments gave up all pretense of being able to deal with the new super beings.

Steelheart rules Newcago, having claimed it for his own ten years earlier, the same year that he killed the Epic called Deathpoint (these names all sound like the Epics have been reading too many old Image comics) and also David Charleston’s father. It was during a bank heist, and in that brief encounter David saw Steelheart bleed when a bullet aimed at Deathpoint by his father creased his cheek.

This was inexplicable. Steelheart was invulnerable, possessed of superhuman strength and endurance, able to fire blasts of energy from his hands and, strangest power of all, able to transform any type of matter, except that of living human beings, into steel. As a result of this, much of Newcago is made of steel and a lot of the residents live in tunnels carved into the mass by beings known as the DIggers.

But David had seen Steelheart bleed, was the only survivor of that day at the bank, and meant to see him bleed again.

Ten years later, David is in his late teens, having spent his youth in one of the comparatively benign youth workhouses where he was fed, housed, educated and learned a great deal about weapons by assembling them. He was also able to pursue his obsession with the Epics by compiling research about them and learning about the human resistance group known as the Reckoners.

When we meet David, he is out to observe the Reckoners at work, and hopes to persuade them to let him join their struggle. They specialize in killing Epics, finding out their secret weaknesses – for each of them has some kryptonite-like nemesis that leaves them vulnerable – and whittling away at the power structure, hoping to give the world back to normal people.

David does link with the Reckoners, a quintet of quirky specialists led by a man they call the Professor, and convinces them that his years of research are of value to their cause. He even has a plan for killing Steelheart, knowing that he has a weakness, knowing under what circumstances he had been hurt, but not knowing exactly what did the trick.

David has some mixed feelings about his life’s goal, for he knows that Steelheart, though a tyrant, is probably the most benevolent of all the Epic rulers in cities across the continent. What chaos will ensue if he is removed?

Much of the rest of the book is a series of adventures in which they tackle some of Steelheart’s Epic henchmen and work towards the final confrontation with the ruler of Newcago. There are a number of surprises and plot twists along the way, but never a clue as to what Calamity really is why it arrived, and what purpose it was intended to serve.

I found this book to be a little slow at the beginning, which is odd in a book that starts with a pair of action sequences, but it picked up nicely as the society began to take shape.

MacLeod Andrews read the first person narrative in a suitable young man’s voice, but was able to convey the older men and the women as well. I look forward to hearing the other two volumes on subsequent road trips.

 

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Bookends: Is there a biological basis for evil? January 17, 2017

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Bookends: Is there a biological basis for evil?

By Dan Davidson

quantum-nightMay 22, 2016

– 1058 words –

 

Quantum Night

By Robert J. Sawyer

Viking

351 pages

$30.00

 

When experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk develops a foolproof method for detecting whether or not a person is a psychopath, it never occurs to him that there might actually be more to it than he suspects. Initially, he is surprised to be blindsided while testifying in a court case in Atlanta. He is there to demonstrate that a prisoner should be incarcerated rather than executed because his psychopathic tendencies meant there were times when he could not keep from being violent.

Under cross examination, Marchuk discovers that he himself has no memory of about 6 months of his life, a time when he would have learned certain revelations about his grandfather, and destroyed what might have become a lifetime partnership with a woman he had been dating at the time.

Seeking to uncover the reason for his apparent amnesia, Marchuk goes to his university mentor, Menno Warkentin, at the University of Manitoba, where they both are professors. Theirs is a complicated relationship; in fact Marchuk literally has no idea how complicated it actually is.

As he continues to explore the notion of consciousness in a series of classroom scenes that are intercut with the developing story, he is contacted by Kayla Huron, that former girlfriend, who happens to be working in some of the same areas that he is – the nature of consciousness – but from a totally different area of science. He’s been examining observable physical behavior. She’s been looking at quantum state measurements of brain activity.

She’s discovered that there are three quantum states of mental awareness. Without going into too much detail, there are people who have one quantum node activated. These are people who are easily led and influenced and don’t seem to have the internal monologue that characterizes a lot of human mental activity. Here they are referred to as philosophical zombies, or p-zeds, and this state of mind becomes an explanation for why ordinary people sometimes do extraordinarily horrible things.

Another subset of humanity has two nodes activated. These people are referred to as psychopaths. Not all of them are vicious killers, but they are extremely competitive, subject to emotional outbursts and potentially dangerous as they don’t really have much in the way of a conscience. They are able to dominate and influence p-zeds.

The third mental state features a three node activation that has both the internal monologue and a conscience. This minority group has produced the best versions of humanity over the ages.

For the sake of narrative convenience, these three states are mostly referred to a Q1, Q2 and Q3. As the story moves on we discover that Marchuk has been in all three states at various times and that the three variants form long term memories in different ways, which is why some of his are missing and others are altered. We also find that the natural human tendency to make our lives into coherent narratives has caused him to manufacture some events that didn’t actually happen to him.

This is one of those books where there’s quite a bit of what would be called “talking heads” material in a TV show. I suspect that following some of it in detail would require you to read a lot of the nine pages of reference material that Sawyer has listed at the back of the book. For one reason or another – mostly due to family loses – the author, who usually produces a book a year, has been three years between books and has apparently been doing a lot of research.

The book gets internationally complicated when it moves beyond the personal to world affairs. Completed before the last federal election, Sawyer predicted the Liberal win with Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister, and predicted one or two follow-up wins, but a final non-confidence vote defeat of an minority government further down the line. The NDP finally come to power under the leadership of Prime Minister Naheed Nenshi.

This proves to be a real problem for the current President of the United States, a Trump-like character named Quinton Carroway, who constantly refers to the new Prime Minister as a Socialist and a Muslim.

About this time, the kinds of tensions that have led to massive sports related riots in various parts of the world and even in Canada begin to ramp up. Just what causes this increase in street riots, mayhem and civil unrest is not entirely clear but Marchuk, Huron and another scientist begin to theorize that it is partially connected with the fact that the leaders of the world’s two most powerful nations are Q2 individuals and that their example is influencing the p-zeds that make up the bulk of the word’s population.

As the situation in Canada deteriorates, Carroway uses this as an excuse to send in the troops and annex what he considers to be the northern territories of America. Vladimir Putin (another Q2, of course) objects to this and we end up with a kind of northern version of the Cuban Missile Crisis, one which can only be averted by causing these two Q2 leaders to change their minds.

There is a way that this can be done, but I’ll leave it for you to read the book and find out what happens.

This is a novel that works of several different levels, and if some of it is a bit didactic, those passages seem to me to be necessary to advance the character development and the plots. I think I enjoyed Marchuk’s personal development (this is largely a first-person narrative) over the social and international crisis plotlines, but it all worked together.

Sawyer has been writing books dealing with identity and intelligence for some time now, Elements of this one reminded me a little of Triggers, while Rollback, Mindscan, parts of Red Planet Blues and some of the themes in the WWW Trilogy examined these ideas in different ways.

I teased this original Star Trek devotee that he gave his hero that first name just so he could have people (doctors, for the most part) argue with him by saying “Damn it, Jim” a few times. He denies it, but I like my theory.

 

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Bookends: Warfare among the Spire Cities January 17, 2017

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Bookends: Warfare among the Spire Cities

By Dan Davidson

April 27, 2016windlass-copy

– 996 words –

 

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

By Jim Butcher

ROC (Penguin Group)

630 pages

$35.95

 

Jim Butcher is certainly best known for the 16 volumes chronicling the adventures of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only publically advertised full time wizard. That one’s got four or five volumes still to go, and is narrated as a hard-boiled private eye first person story.

Along the way he wrote the five volume Codex Alera. Each volume contained the word, beings that bonded with the various groups of humans, and some other beings, who had somehow ended up on this strange, almost sentient, planet. Codex had a clear beginning and end, and was primarily the story of the boy who grew up to become the ruler of the human dominated portion of the world.

It was told in an entirely different style, from many different points of view, and had much more in common with high fantasy and myth structures.

Now we have a new series, The Cinder Spires, of which The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first volume. This is an entirely different narrative stew, bringing together elements of steampunk science fiction, fantasy and old style swashbuckling adventure fiction. I had not gone far into this Christmas present when the name Rafael Sabatini popped into my head. Sabatini produced titles like The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood over a half-century between 1902 and 1949 and I once had half a dozen of his books on my shelves.

This new series takes place on what must be an alien world where humanity lives well above (miles above) the deadly green surface of the planet on massive towers, called spires, made time-out-of-mind ago by some powerful beings who don’t seem to be around any more – though it’s early days yet, and they may turn up. Spire material is basically indestructible, though that can’t be said of the human created additions to the basic pattern.

The surface of the planet is very hostile to spire dwellers, filled with numerous deadly creatures, especially some large spider-like beasts. Yet humans must go there, because wood does not grow on the spires, and wood is needed for so many things, particularly the crafting of the ships that ply the skies for trade and for battle.

It’s a very class stratified society where social and work roles seem to be pre-determined. Living beside the humans there are the cats, very intelligent cats, who have their own clans and their own priorities. Most humans are not really aware of these things, though they are aware that some members of the warrior class share a certain amount of feline DNA and have cat-like attributes. Some others can actually speak cat and communicate with their companions.

And don’t ever think of that relationship as having anything to do with pets, not unless you reverse the ownership status.

Much of the technology of the world is powered by crystals. By means of these they use airships, that look very much like nautical vessels. They lift, have motion, rise and fall in the sky, by means of these specialized crystals, which also act as the power source for portable blaster weapons called gauntlets, and well as the larger force cannons with which the ships may do arial combat. They also provide force shields, without which arial battles would end rather quickly.

In addition, there is magic, exercised by etherialists, who pay a stiff price in some form of mental, physical or social functioning as they use their power. Old Ferus hauls around a collection of odds and ends that makes one think of a homeless person with a shopping cart. For some reason, he can longer use doorknobs properly. His apprentice, Folly, cannot speak directly to other people, but must address her comments to the bag of crystals she carries.

As the story progresses, we do meet one other etherialist, a particularly evil woman who seems to be Darth Vader to Ferus’ Obi Wan Kenobi. We also learn that there may be sentience, besides that of cats, in other places we might not have thought to find it.

The individual spires may be at peace sometimes, like rival city-states, but this book opens in the middle of the beginning of an attempted invasion of Spire Albion by another spire, and this conflict rages throughout the book, never really letting up.

There are a number of viewpoints here. We begin with Gwen of House Lancaster, who, it seems, is defying her noble mother by choosing to serve in the spire’s military. Next up is Captain Grimm, of the airship Predator. He was cashiered from the spire‘s navy for reasons we learn later, and his ship is what we would call a privateer. Soon we meet Bridget, daughter of another family of note, but one that has fallen on hard times. She, too, is bound for the military life, along with her inseparable companion cat, Rowl. That he calls her Littlemouse gives you a clear sense of who he thinks is in charge.

We spend most of the book seeing the action through the eyes of these four, including the cat, though there are other viewpoints along the way, including some from those we would have to call the enemy, one of which is Grimm’s former wife.

This was a book that was a lot of fun to read, so I spun out its 69 chapters by only reading one of two of them a day. This was difficult, as it is Butcher’s practice to deliver a lot of cliffhanger chapter endings, and the next page usually takes you to a different set of characters.

In an interview, the author says he’s planned this series in trilogies. He’s got a three book contract and can pull off an ending there if need be, but he’s also got a general outline for either six or nine books. I hope he gets to write them.

 

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Bookends: Watch out for those butterflies January 17, 2017

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Bookends: Watch out for those butterflies

By Dan Davidsonweighing-shadows

March 16, 2016

– 676 words –

Weighing Shadows

By Lisa Goldstein

Night Shade Books

317 pages

$15.99 (more in Canada)

In Ray Bradbury’s nasty little short story, “A Sound of Thunder”, a time travelling tourist ignores all warnings, steps off the elevated pathway that keeps them from damaging anything that wasn’t already going to die. They are a hunting party, and somehow they get to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex which prior investigation has shown was going to die anyway. That would have been fine, but when Eckels steps off the path he kills a butterfly, setting off a chain of events that results in a subtly changed future when they get back home.

The butterfly reference is sort of the time traveller’s version of the Chaos Theory meme that says the fluttering of wings in China night result in a hurricane in Texas.

The people who work for Transformations Inc. are aware of the concept and refer to it frequently, though one suspects this is part of an elaborate deception.

Ann Decker is living a thoroughly uneventful life, working in a computer repair shop, when she is approached with a job offer by this mysterious company. Intrigued, she decides to at least take the company tour, and it turns out that the deal being offered is too good to turn down.

It’s some time, and quite a bit of training, before she learns that the company really does send its agents travelling in time. The story is that they have been approached by people from a future where things have gone badly wrong in terms of the climate and ecology.

Transformations has bought into the idea that if certain very small changes are made in the past timeline, this future can be avoided.

If you watched the full run of the TV show Continuum, it operated on much the same premise, with several sets of time agents dueling to see which could accomplish the best possible future about a century down (or is it up?) the line.

The narrative is interrupted a number of times by internal company memos that tell us, long before Ann figures it out, that all is not as it seems.

Ann is the perfect candidate for their work, not simply because she is intelligent and tech savvy, but also because she has no family, no friends, and no real prospects. She was an orphan raised in foster care, doesn’t have a high level of academic achievement and has tended to avoid attracting attention as much as possible. If something happens to her, no one will miss her. That appears to the case with all the other recruits.

Ann and her team are sent on several missions into the past, notably to ancient Crete, which is a matriarchy that her team is supposed to subvert, and them to the Library of Alexandria, in Egypt, where they are supposed to make sure that the fire that destroys it burns in particular way.

On the first mission one of their team dies mysteriously. On the second, Ann has an unplanned solo time displacement during which she learns a number of things that disturb her greatly.

The company’s secret agenda is to skew the timeline so that the present and the future become more right wing, authoritarian, and bigoted.

Back in the present Ann notes that the world she knew has changed. Women are treated dismissively and all sorts of new rules seem to be cropping up. The world is more restrictive, more repressive, there are more shortages, and even more rudeness.

A third mission takes her to medieval Carcassonne, France, where she learns things that cause her to try to find ways to undo some of the changes she feels responsible for.

She is somewhat successful. The ending is a bit indeterminate, and I haven’t decided whether this is a sign that there will be a sequel or a simple admission that there are no simple answers when it comes to time travel.

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January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A First Peek into he World of the Expanse

By Dan Davidsonleviathan-wakes

February 17, 2016

– 785 words –

Leviathan Wakes

By James A. Corey

Kindle Edition

$9.99

583 pages in print form
Orbit

Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.

 

Every so often a television series will send me off to look at the written work that inspired it. Such was the case with The Expanse, a ten episode series which aired on Space- the Imagination Station this winter. The series was extremely well done and the world creation that had clearly gone into it impressed me.

It turns out that those 10 episodes have not actually finished with the entire story told in Leviathan Wakes and, indeed, that story has been substantially altered in the transition to the small screen. Most of this in in the addition of a third strand to the already complex plotlines of the book. The changes work and, as far as I can see, most of the main plot points will have been handled well by the time they fish the work in the second 13 episode season, which has already been green lit.

The world created by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who are the brains behind the pseudonym James A. Corey, humanity has spread out into much of the solar system, burrowing into uninhabitable moons and some large asteroids to make living spaces in the void. There are colonies on both the Moon and Mars as well, and the Martians really don’t get along with the overcrowded home planet, Earth.

There’s a further faction out beyond Mars which styles itself the Outer Planets Alliance, or OPA for short, so there are three sources of tension and conflict to deal with.

For the outer planets, finding bodies made of ice is a major economic engine, Everyone out there needs water, after all. Much of this is harvested from Saturn’s rings. One of the plot strands has us following the lives of the members of an ice-mining ship, whose mother ship is destroyed when someone apparently sets a trap for them in deep space. When they send out a scout craft to come to the aid of an apparently marooned ship, they find it abandoned and strange stealth suddenly appear out of nowhere and destroy their base ship. The same things happens to them when they are rescued by a Mars based military cruiser, and they barely make it to a high tech space shipyard asteroid and safety.

James Holden, a former space marine, is the Executive Officer of the ice trawler Canterbury. When he broadcasts that the technology that destroyed his base ship seems to have been Martian in origin, the video goes viral throughout the system and raises the tension level between Mars and the OPA. He is left with a small, dedicated crew, a powerful little military vessel and a burning desire to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Meanwhile, on the planetoid Ceres, a private corporation police detective named Josephus Miller is tasked with the job of tracking down the errant daughter of the extremely wealthy Mao family. Julie Andromeda has gone off the rails, so to speak, and the family wants her back, She’s of age and a free citizen, and Miller protests that he is essentially being assigned to orchestrate a kidnapping, but he follows his orders, well beyond what his bosses actually want him to do.

These sections read very much like a noir style detective story, while the other ones are rather dark space opera, somewhat informed by the tone of the Alien films and TV shows like Space, Above and Beyond.

It’s some time before it becomes clear that there is any connection between these two story lines, but there is. It’s a plot that is extra-terrestrial in nature and one that probably began about the time that humanity was still living in caves.

The origin of this novel is interesting. Franck as working on the design for a multiplayer online role-playing game and did a prodigious amount o planning and research. By the time he had refined his plan to make it a tabletop RPG, he had met Abraham, already a novelist, who persuaded him to take his worlds for a spin in book form.

This book, the first of a series which now numbers six volumes, and includes three novellas and a couple of short stories that either expand on smaller sub-plots or provide background, was nominated for a Hugo award when in came out in 2011. At least three more books are known to be planned.

The authors have created a fascinating set of connected worlds and I’ll be interested to see what else they have done with it.

 

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