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Bookends: A thriller series that uses many different genre styles May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A thriller series that u
ses many different genre styles

by Dan Davidson

July 4, 2018

– 981 words –

 

The John Milton Series

by Mark Dawson

self published

 

Back in the days of the pulp magazines, writers like Walter Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant, author of most of The Shadow stories) and Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson, author of most of the Doc Savage stories) would sit at their typewriters and pound out dozens of short (average 120 pages) novels each year to feed the magazines that housed them. When the paperback book came along a few decades later, some, like John D. MacDonald, whom I wrote about here a few weeks back, jumped to the paperback original market. Gibson and Dent would later find their books reprinted as paperbacks, though they probably didn’t make a lot of money on them, as they were writers-for-hire and didn’t own the characters.

Writers have been pretty much at the mercy of the publishing houses for well over a century, and the flurry of mergers over the last several decades has left them with even fewer options for creative control.

Recently we have entered the era of self-publishing, and that’s changing the game. I receive a few of those actual books for consideration in this column. Others come from distribution houses that handle dozens of different imprints. Still others are pitched on Facebook and other platforms, often with an offer of some free material, sometimes in omnibus format.

That’s how I met Mark Dawson, Let’s face it; with that last name I had to give him a try. The advertising pitch he’s been using, along with a number of other thriller writers, compares his material to Lee Child’s successful Jack Reacher novels. In interviews, Dawson himself admits that this is not an accurate comparison; it’s what might be called an “elevator pitch”, something to catch your attention.

 

John Milton is a former assassin, who used to do wet work for the Group, a black ops branch of MI6, with possible connections to MI5. He was recruited by Control after a career in the military, including several tours on behalf of Her Majesty in some nasty places. He rose through the ranks to become Number 1 in the Group.

All of the following books arrived in one omnibus volume from Amazon, which provides the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on which they were produced. All have since also appeared as actual physical books. Dawson has been busy, churning out 13 of these between 2013 and this year.

In the first book, The Cleaner (314 pages), Milton final

The Cleaner

ly faces a situation that is the tipping point for his conscience. Long sin

ce driven to drink to deal with his guilt complex, he resigns from the Group and sets out of a path of redeeming himself by helping others. Rather, he tries to resign. Control doesn’t take it well and sends one of the lower numbers to decommission him permanently. It doesn’t go well, either for the agent, or for Milton’s attempts to be a white knight. He has to flee.

 

Book two, Saint Death (290 pages) , finds him

Saint Death

working as a short order cook in a small Mexican city, keeping a low profile andstaying out of trouble. As often as possible, he attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, and this helps to keep him away from the booze. Quite by accident, he ends sup saving the life of young female reporter who has

Ghosts

been annoying the local drug cartel’s leader by writing about their influence over the local authorities, and things just get more complicated. Once again, a squad from the Group comes to find him, and so he has to cope with danger from several sides. This book actually does feel a little bit like a Reacher story.

I dipped into the third book after a few months of heavier reading, just needing a bit of a break, and found myself pleasantly surprised. In The Driver(330 pages), Milton has been living in San Francisco or several months, working two jobs, attending lots of AA meetings, actually making some friends, and keeping out of trouble. One of his fares turns out to be an escort, and when something goes terribly wrong at the party she’s been hired to attend, it begins to look like she’s been killed. After the bodies of several other call girls turn up, the police start looking for suspects. Milton ends up helping his fare’s boyfriend, at least partly because both of them have become prime suspects.

There’s politics involved here, and the presidential candidate in question could actually be the source for much of Donald J, Trump’s campaign rhetoric; this is fairly prophetic for a book written two years before that campaign.

This one blends the thriller genre with a fairly straightforward mystery feel. Be warned though, there’s an epilogue which acts as a nearly irresistible teaser for the next book. I found myself turning the electronic page.

Ghosts (273 pages) changes the format entirely, delving back almost a decade in its opening chapters to Milton’s first major hit with the Group, led by the then Number One, Beatrix Rose, and told from her point of view. Dawson is canny, and this book served as what television producers would call a “back door pilot” for a second series, now up to six books, featuring this deadly lady,

Milton is rescued from the predicament that ended the previous book and is spirited off to Moscow, to be enlisted in a revenge plot that serves his own needs as well as those of the rogue Russian general whom he had failed to kill eight years earlier. Once again Dawson has switched genres for his story, bouncing the reader from Texas to Moscow, to Hong Kong, to London, to Moscow and back to London in the end. He has called his character “James Bond with a conscience” and that pretty much fits this particular story.

 

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

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

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the WindDAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

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

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

“You may have heard of me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Bookends: About the Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, Childen's, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: About the Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack

By Dan Davidson

February 21, 2018

– 638 words –

 

 

Wenjack

Wenjack

By Joseph Boyden

Hamish Hamilton

102 pages

$12.00

 

It may not be possible to discuss Joseph Boyden’s 2016 novelette on the sad death of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack without having the reader’s mind immediately switch to the 2017 dethroning of Boyden as a marginally indigenous author of books which very definitely mine native heritage for their storylines and themes.

Just over a year ago, Boyden came under attack for his admitedly fuzzy account of his own First Nation’s roots and was “outed” as a pretender using up all the available oxygen as the “go to” person for commentary on natïve literary matters.

It seems that some of this opprobrium was stirred up by his assertion (along with numerous other writers like Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel) that Canlit superstar Steven Galloway had been unfairly treated by the powers that be at UBC when he was accused of sexual impropriety in a pre-#metoo case at that university.

Their complaint, as I recall it, was not that Galloway was necessarily innocent, but that UBC had not followed the tradition of due process in dealing with the matter. The evidence against Galloway was eventually found to be unsubstantiated in Justice Boyd’s investigation, except for a professor/student affair, but by then he had already been fired.

For this book, some will take the position that wannabe Native Joseph Boyden had no business writing about the Wenjack case. But, if that is so, neither did the late Gord Downie, whose Secret Path(a graphic novel and a record) has generally been lauded.

The question for this book is not one of Boyden’s personal history, but whether he did justice to the story, which was generally well received at the time it first appeared, but has been tarnished by his later controversies.

In this short book, an Ojibwe boy runs away from a residential school in Northern Ontario, thinking he can find his way back to his family by following the railway tracks, and not realizing that he is actually hundreds of miles away.

Both Boyden’s and Downie’s stories are based on an article called “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack”, published by Ian Adams in MacLean’smagazine in 1967, one of the first serious pieces of journalism to deal with this issue. I haven’t read The Secret Pathyet, but I did see the animated CBC special show based on the book and Downie’s songs, and both versions of the story take some literary llberties with the tale as told by Adams in his 3300 word article.

You can find that online at http://www.macleans.ca/society/the-lonely-death-of-chanie-wenjack/,and I highly recommend reading it. It is a straightforward tale, but very gripping in its intensity.

Boyden decided on a dual narrative structure for his version of the story, with chapters alternating between Chanie’s first person account, and third person accounts by a series of spirit beings (Manitous) who follow him and watch over him as he makes his arduous journey along the railbed, eventually succumbing to the cold, the hunger and the distance.

The chapters are named for the various creatures, drawn by artist Kent Monkman, that the Manitous inhabit along the way: sucker fish, crow, hummingbird, owl, mouse skull, pike, spider, wood tick, beaver, snow goose, rabbit, and lynx. These can all be seen on the book’s cover.

Boyden concludes the book with an author’s note on the facts of the story, crediting Adams as a source, and giving his reasons for writing it.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding his indigeneity (a relatively new word) I think Boyden has made a respectful attempt to tell a story and highlight an issue in this little book. It’s more than worth the short time it takes to read it.

 

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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody

By Dan Davidson

February 7, 2018

– 838 words –

 

The Professionals

By Professionals copy

Putnam

372 pages

$27.50 hardcover

$12.99 paperback

 

 

Owen Laukkanen has been very busy over the last five years. There have been six books in his Stevens and Windemere series of mysteries. He’s been nominated for a slew of awards, won a couple and has graduated to full time writing after spending a number of years covering international poker games for a website called PokerListings.com.

In a way, his life story up to that point was a bit similar to that of the likeable villains in his first novel. His degree in creative writing from UBC wasn’t getting him anywhere in the world and he lucked onto the job writing about poker, a game about which he knew almost nothing when he started.

The merry band of kidnappers in this book started out in much the same place. They had degrees and debt and no hope of employment beyond being baristas at franchise coffee joints. They weren’t lucky enough to land a job writing about poker tournaments and travelling all over the world on the company dime.

Then one of them had a bright idea. Why not use the research skills they had to pick safe low level targets, kidnap them without actually ever hurting anyone, and operate so far below the radar that no one ever notices.

They saw themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, which just happened to be themselves. It would work out fine if they just remained professional about it.

For two years it did work out fine, and the four accumulated quite a bank account. They were slick, moved from state to state, picked mid-level wealthy marks who could afford a moderate ransom, and never hurt anybody.

Then, one of their carefully selected targets fell through, and since they had their plan for the area all set up, they went to the alternate choice, and it turned out that, although he looked pretty safe, they hadn’t looked deep enough. His wife was connected to organized crime.

Then, the mark heard one of their names, and their strong-arm man, who’d been getting little too much into the role of being a bad guy, shot him.

To back up just a little, the caper just before that hadn’t gone quite as planned, Usually, the marks were totally embarrassed and kept quiet about what had happened. That victim went to the police after he was freed. The case landed on the desk of state police investigator Kirk Stevens, whose instincts told him that this crime had been just a little too slick to be the first one.

Looking for others that might resemble it took him across state lines and involved the FBI, who gave the case to Carla Windermere.

About that time, the gang killed their latest victim, in yet another state, and the game was afoot.

Stevens is a family man with a wife and kids. She supports his police work, but she has a career of her own to nurture. Up to now, he hasn’t had to travel a lot. This case puts some strain on the dynamic of their marriage.

Windermere has an underemployed partner in a common-law relationship, which is pretty much coming apart at the seams.

The two agents are quite different people, something underlined by him being white and her black. What they do have in common is a love of the chase. Both have been feeling under appreciated in their respective jobs. There is a definite attraction between them, but neither one of them gives into it, at least, not in this first book.

We spend as much time with the kidnappers as we do with the authorities, Of the four – Pender (the planner), Sawyer (the muscle), “Mouse” (the hacker) and Marie (good on details) – we get to know Pender and Marie the most. They are presented quite sympathetically and we like them, but we feel for them as we watch them skip down that well known road to hell that is paved with good intentions.

We know this is not going to end well, and yet we wish it somehow could.

There is a third perspective on all of this, which makes it possible for us to spend some energy rooting for the kidnappers. They didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but the mob hired hit man who is sent to get them, in an investigation that parallels the official one, really is a bad guy, and means to misbehave is serious ways.

It’s acceptable for us to prefer the kidnappers to him and his cohort of killers.

If you’re trying to figure out just where this Vancouver based writer might fit in your library, he has impressive list of cover blurbs from other people who work this genre, including Steve Berry, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lescroart, John Sandford and Lee Child. There aren’t often that many for a first novel.

 

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Bookends: Is Canada a Warrior Nation? December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, current events, News, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Is Canada a Warrior Nation?

By Dan Davidson

January 9, 2018

What we Talk about

 

 

– 946 words –

 

What We Talk About When We Talk About War

By

Goose Lane Editions

370 pages

$24.95

 

The rather cumbersome title of Noah Richler’s fairly strident polemic on the nature of our national character when it comes to conflict might be more succinctly summed up by the title I’ve given to this week’s column, for Richler’s thesis really is that blunt a question: Is Canada a warrior nation?

His answer is that we are not, but that the decade during which Stephen Harper ruled the roost in Ottawa was one during which the war hawks among us, who had been building up their arguments for some years earlier, got a chance to shift the national image in ways that were more congenial to their way of thinking.

Much of Richler’s argument is outlined in his lengthy introduction, the 36 pages of “Achilles’ Choice”. That nearly invulnerable Greek hero, you may recall, did his level best to avoid going off to the Trojan War, even to the extent of disguising himself as one of a number of nuns. It was the trickster, Odysseus (or Ulysses – take your pick), who outed him and made him face up to his responsibility.

It didn’t work out well for him.

Part of Richler’s argument in this book is that war and conflict are narrated in the epic style, and are therefor more appealing to the masses. Most of ordinary life, however, is better summed up by the type of narrative used in novels.

The epic style requires a sense that sacrifice is necessary to achieve some greater goal, that there are heroes every where if we but have the wit to see them, and that it is essential that their efforts on our behalf be seen not to have been in vain.

If, as Thomas King and many others have observed, all we are is stories, then it matters very much what kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about others.

Richler rightly notes that Canada’s history is mostly shaped by negotiation rather than conflict – and there are some who find that boring, who feel that the fires of revolution and conflict are missing from our national heritage.

Pierre Berton, in Marching As to War, rightly pointed out that most of our martial adventures prior to 1945, were at the behest of the call to arms from the British Empire, and most of the ones after that related in some ways to our ties to the United States.

Richler more or less agrees with this, but feels that the moral vision of Lester B. Pearson in the years after WWII, the vision that led Canada to take on a major role in the peacekeeping activities of the United Nations, best exemplified our national character.

Richler is happy that we stayed out of Viet Nam, and that we refused to be officially involved in George Bush II’s disaster in Iraq, but he is less happy about our decision to participate in events in Afghanistan, and feels that several governments – both Liberal and Conservative – have done our national narrative harm but altering it in order to make that decision fit.

“The Canadian commitment to that war required a full-scale eradication of the country’s foundation myths as they had been told for half a century. The face that Canada now presents to the world has been profoundly transformed. Much of the change was managed at a banal, mundane level of stories and clichés that were nevertheless so powerful that a previously peaceful society, one in which the respect for the individual distinction of views was paramount, quickly conceded the ground to a more monolithic, one fervently embarking on the most destructive of paths and calling such a route ‘heroic’.”

I quoted that much text to give you a sense of Richler’s style in this book, which is often dense, full of even longer sentences than I usually write, and crowded with paragraphs of Dickensian length.

Chapter one, “The Vimy Effect” talks primarily about how some of our martial history is overblown. For Richler, it is wrong to say, as we so often hear on November 11, that Canada “came of age” during this battle. Indeed, he feels that the original purpose of our acts of Remembrance has been subtly altered over the decades to promote the theme of a “Warrior Nation” which is his title for chapter two.

Chapter three goes on to chronicle how the phrase “Building Schools for Girls” was used to denigrate earlier peacekeeping activities; that is until in chapter four “The War Becomes a Mission (Impossible)” and it was necessary for the powers that be to retitle the war as a mission and start talking about reconstruction and human rights again in order to appeal to the need for public support.

In the final chapter, “What is to be Done?”, Richler urges us to recognize that the warrior nation sales pitch has been a bill of goods and that we need to reclaim what he feels is our better nature in our international relations. While he would be happy with the current government’s stated direction in this regard, compared with what he criticizes in this 2012 argument, he would be annoyed at the actual lack of real progress.

The single most annoying thing about this book is that nobody took the time to give it an index. There is software that makes this job easier than it used to be, and indexes are invaluable when someone like me wants to check a certain reference in a book like this one.

 

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Bookends: The killer acts out of love December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The killer acts out of love

By Dan Davidson

January 2, 2018

The Calling 2

– 834 words-

The Calling

By Inger Ash Wolfe

(Michael Redhill)

Kindle Edition

$9.99

 

400 pages in hard copy

The Calling is the first of the Hazel Micallef mysteries, which is what Michael Redhill has been writing on the side when he isn’t writing Giller Prize winning literary fiction such as Bellevue Square, the book I reviewed last week.

Micallef is the middle-aged detective inspector, and default acting chief of police in an Ontario town called Port Dundas. She has been acting for a few years simply because the make hierarchy in the system doesn’t want

 

to promote her. On the other hand, her immediate superior doesn’t want to put anyone else in the post permanently because he would like to close the detachment down and have the whole area covered regionally.

Micallef is divorced from her husband, with whom she still as a cordial relationship as a friend, much to the annoyance of his current wife. It was the job, more than anything else, that separated them. Hazel lives with her mother, a retired former justice.

Port Dundas doesn’t have much in the way of major crime, until a rather unique twist on the serial killer theme sweeps into town and cancer patient Delia Chandler, a woman who once had an affair with Hazel’s father.

It’s a strange case, from the point of view of the police. Della’s body was severely mutilated, but there’s no sign of a struggle and the post-mortem reveals that she died before all the damage was done. It was apparently a peaceful death, pretty much the sort of thing that one might hope for if one opted for euthanasia. Also, it was clear that Della was dying a slow and painful death. Oh, and the corpse has been exsanguinated. .

Of course, we knew this already, because we where there w

 

hen the killer arrived – by appointment – and went through the whole process with him and his victim, who was expecting him and had requested his services.

Had there just been one death in that jurisdiction, the police might never have caught on, but a few days later, and close enough that the local officers there call for help to Port Dundas, the mutilated body of an MS sufferer is found, liberally painted in blood, thought it, too, has been drained of its own, and forensic examination reveals the blood to be Della’s.

Someone is killing terminally ill people, and deliberately making it look like some sort of ritual serial spree.

We move back and forth between the killer and Hazel as this deadly game plays itself out. The man has been moving across the country> She realizes there must have been other bizarre deaths, all appearing to be slightly different, manages to work her way back to the beginning, figure out what’s going on – at least somewhat – and interrupt his pattern.

All of this does not happen without resistance from her superiors, who take quite some time to realize she is on to something. There is also d

issention within the ranks of her detachment that has to be dealt with.

And finally, with all kinds of twists as the book ramps up to its climax, we learn that things are not quite the complex mess we and Hazel had come to believe in. It’s weirder than that.

We spend enough time with the killer to feel certain sympathy for him. His motivation is a twisted kind of love, although not what it appears to be, and he is not quite who he seems to be, though its quite possible he no longer knows that.

The kind of narrative deceptions “Wolfe” uses in this book, the first of four released between 2008 and 2015, are very similar to those Redhill uses in Bellevue Park. There’s domestic turmoil, lots of interpersonal tension, and one of the points of view is clearly from an unreliable source.

That said, the mystery format, as L.R. Wright discovered many years ago in her Sunshine Coast series, does allow for space to create memorable characters while, as the same time, being somewhat more direct in the way a narrative reaches a conclusion.

Bellevue Parkis a jigsaw puzzle of a thriller, which seemed to me to leave some holes in the finished picture. Of course, Redhill says it is to be the first book in a trilogy, so there may be more closure to come.

The Callingwraps up its main story line, but leaves secondary narrative arcs that will probably send me to the next book in a month or so.

I picked this one up because Inger Ash Wolfe is one of the characters in Bellevue Park, a mystery writer who seems to have produced the Hazel Micallef series. I really haven’t figured out what the point of that was, yet, but I hope to find out eventually.

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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 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: Books about Bees, Barbarians and Bullies February 15, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, Uncategorized.
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Bookends: Books about Bees, Barbarians and Bullies

By Dan Davidson

June 12, 2017

– 821 words –

Please, Please the Bees

Please Please the Bees 

By Gerald Kelley

Albert Whitman & Company

32 pages

$16.99

Benedict Bear led a simple, ordered life, a life in which honey played a very large part. The bees from his hive left him three jars every morning, and between his toast, tea and honey breakfast, baking honey cake, and a bedtime cup o

f tea with honey, he managed to live a sweet life. During the day he practiced his music, knitted, baked, and ran errands.

It all came apart in a hurry the day that the bees’ morning delivery did not arrive. Outside his front door there were bees flying around carrying tiny signs that read “On Strike!”

Benedict found that his whole routine just didn’t work at all when it was not sweetly lubricated. He just didn’t understand what had gone awry with his life. Fortunately, a spokesbee clued him in, took him on a tour of his unkempt yard, showed him the shabby condition of the hive and made it pretty clear that for over a thousand jars of honey every year, Benedict was going to have to make some kind

 

of contribution to the operation.

This was something to which Benedict had never given any serious thought, but he was a smart enough bruin to take the hint.

“I’ve never thought about what the bees need,” he said to himself. “But how am I going to make things right?”

So, he did some research, did some shopping, and did quite a bit of yard work and building. He even learned about how to harvest honey, so that he would be more involved in the process if he could entice the bees to come back.

Well, they did, and as a result, Benedict found that his ordered life was even sweeter than it had been before – for both him and the bees.

Gerald Kelley has illustrated a number of children’s books for other writers, but this appears to be his first solo effort. He has a pleasing artistic style that can almost make you believe a bear could be playing a fiddle and that bees might need umbrellas in their decrepit hive.

 

Brobarians 

Brobarians

By Lindsay Ward

Two Lions

40 pages

$17.99

Lindsay Ward says that she came up with the idea for this book one night after having watched the movie “Conan the Barbarian”. She doesn’t say whether it was the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger or the 2011 version with Jason Momoa, but the result might very well have been about the same.

“IN the beginning, a great warrior laid claim to the land, Feared by all, his reign was steadfast. But soon another arrived, and his influence spread quickly. This fierce rival challenged the great warrior. Two seekers of high adventure, their strength and courage became that of legend.”

Otto the Big Brobarian was the first to rule the backyard, but his supremacy is challenged by Iggy the Brobarian, who seems to be taking over.

 

There is a struggle, a confrontation, an epic battle brought to a conclusion only by the intervention of a higher power: Mamabarian.

Ward has produced a very colourful, action filled book contrasting the imagination of the brothers’ conflict with the reality around them. The baby barbarians are truly enthusiastic warriors and make the most of the materials around them to stage this game.

The art is splendidly child-like and the text is over the top, tongue-in-cheek.

 

Raech for the Moon

Reach for the Moon, Little Lion 

By Hildegard Muller

Holiday House

32 pages

$24.95

 

This cute little story emphasizes the idea that size is just a matter of perspective. Little Lion was very little, so little that he was the butt of a lot of size jokes from the larger creatures. The leopard, the hippopotamus and the crocodile were particularly hard on him, constantly chanting “Are you a lion or a mouse?” whenever they saw him.

He was depressed, and it didn’t help when they challenged him to prove he was really a lion by doing something they said a real lion could do.

“Lions are so very big that they can touch the moon with a paw,” they said.

Little Lion knew he could not do that, but the raven knew of a way to make it seem to happen, and he didn’t like how those larger animals had been bullying Little Lion, so he decided to help him.

So Raven set up the time and the place and announced to all the other animals that something important was going to happen, He led them to a place where they could see Little Lion on top of a hill, could see him reach up, and from that angle, appear to touch the moon.

“The next day, the leopard, the hippopotamus and the crocodile were very quiet.” And Little Lion walked away from them with a smile on his face.

 

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