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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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Bookends: Stories with Animals for Kids February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, fantasy, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Stories with Animals for Kids

By Dan Davidson

March 8, 2017

Sleeping gypsy

 

– 802 words –

The Sleeping Gypsy

By Mordecai Gerstein

Holiday House’

32 pages

$16.95

 

The Sleeping Gypsy is one of Henri Rousseu’s most famous paintings.

Mordecai Gerstein first saw a photograph of this painting when he was 8 or 9 years old, and it left him full of questions.

Who is the girl? Why is she sleeping under a full moon in the desert? What is that instrument lying next to her? Will she play it, or did she? What will the lion standing over her do?

He says this book is an attempt to answer these and other questions.

In his story, Rousseau falls asleep and is soon deep into a dream in which he follows the girl across the desert, watches her stop for lunch near a river, play and sing a song to the night and stars, and finally go to sleep.

The moon comes up and the animals come out to investigate this human who made the strange sounds. Then the painter, with his equipment in hand, enters the dream and begins to compose the painting, trying to get the snake, the ostrich, the baboon, the turtle, the rabbit and the lizard to be still and stop looking over his shoulder. Only the lion cooperates, and so only the lion gets to be in the dream sketch.

 

The dream comes to an end and, waking up in Paris, Rousseau completes the painting he has just dreamed.

 

One of the neat things about this little fantasy is that Gerstein has done it in an approximation of Rousseau’s style, which he writes about in a short author’s note at the end. It’s a delightful book.

 

I Am So Bored

I am so bored

By Henrike Wilson

Sky Pony Press

32 pages

 

$16.99

If you’ve had kids, you’ve had bored kids, and this book is very much for them, only its main character is a bear, a soft focussed little bear in a somewhat soft focussed forest.

No one want to do anything with him, Everyone is busy doing things they want to do, none of which seems to catch his interest, so he wanders in the woods, feeling sorry for himself, and finally flops down in what starts out to be a determined sulk, “and did nothing, Absolutely nothing at all.”

And all around him, things start happening. The clouds make interesting shapes in the sky. A mole pops out of the ground. A bird flies by, and he decides to

 

pretend to be a bird and “flies” back to be with his family.

In the end he understands that there’s no need to be bored. If he simply does nothing, he can “just wait to see what happens, because something always will.”

 

The Lost Kitten

By Lee & Komako SakaiLost Kitten Gecko Press

32 pages

$22.95

 

 

The writer’s full name is not given for this book, but the illustrator is apparently one of Japan’s most famous names in this field.

The story begins when a mother cat and two kittens arrive at the door of Hina’s house. When she and her mother see it there, the mother cat seems to be telling them to look after one of the kittens, and she walks off with the larger, less scruffy, one.

At first, Hina thinks it would be nicer to get a healthier looking kitten from the pet store, but after they have washed and brushed it, revealing its startlingly blue eyes, and after it has begun to purr when she strokes its fur, she begins to change her mind.

They make it a little box and comfy bed, and then mother goes out to get some cat food, leaving Hina in charge of the kitten. But when Hina goes to find the kitten, which had been sleeping under a cupboard, it’s gone, vanished; she can’t find it anywhere.

This reminds her of the time she got lost in a big store and couldn’t find her mother, and how frightened she had been. Did the kitten feel the same way?

Maybe it got out the door when mother left, so she pokes around outside. But it’s chilly, so she goes back in to get a coat – and that’s when she finds the kitten, snuggled under her sweater on the floor in the closet.

And that’s how the kitten came to be named Sleepy.

 

+++++++++++++

 

The only annoying thing about these books is the lack of technical information. The stories are clever and the artwork is enchanting in different ways, but something is missing.

It used to be standard practice to have some note about how the images were created. Three quite different media were used to make the illustrations in these books, but no information is provided, and the websites that connect to these names didn’t provide it either.

 

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Bookends: A Quintet of Really Dark Stories from Stephen King February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Full Dark, No Stars, Klondike Sun, Stephen KIng, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Quintet of Really Dark Stories from Stephen Kingfull dark

By Dan Davidson

March 1, 2017

– 907 words –

 

Full Dark, No Stars

By Stephen King

Pocket Books

560 pages

$18.99

or e-book

$10.99

 

Every few years Stephen King drops another big book of short stories on us. The one prior to this was Just After Sunset, and contained 14 tales that one could actually classify as short stories within its 539 pages. I say this because none of them were more than 80 pages long and most were way less. Some were as short as 10.

That’s not the case with Full Dark, No Stars. Only the bonus story not listed in the table of contents is actually a short story, a mere 25 pages, which is really short for King.[

There are five other items. Just five. Don’t worry. Years ago King wrote that he didn’t consider himself a literary superstar, but he always gave good weight. Most of these would fall into the novella category. Some of them might be a little longer that they needed to be, but they are never boring.

He opens up with 1922 (p. 3 to 191), a tale named for the year that Wilfred Leland Jones began the journey that led to his writing his confession just before his death. Fans of the genre will probably recognize this as a long-winded homage to Poe’s “A Telltale Heart”, a story in which a man’s guilt tortures him so that he eventually goes mad. Jones went mad well before his end in 1930. This is a tale of a marriage gone bad, of a son corrupted by his father’s foul deeds and of karma raining down hell on all the major players, including some who were basically innocent when we first met them.

When Wilfred killed his wife fairly early in the story, he set in motion a chain of events that doomed more than her. He’s not a reliable narrator, so we are free to assume that a lot of what he later perceives is guilt driven insanity. It’s a powerful story.

Next up is “Big Driver” (pages 195 to 357), a story which owes something to the Jodie Foster movie The Brave One, which is referenced in the telling. King likes to write about writers. Tess (last name?) writes cozy mysteries about the Willow Grove Knitting Society, and it never occurred to her that she would be involved a Charles Bronson Death Wish style revenge thriller.

When the big truck driver who stopped to help her with her flat tire rapes her, beats her and leaves her for dead in a drainage ditch along with several other bodies, Tess survives instead, manages to get home and in a more than slightly altered state of mind, applies herself to finding and dealing with the people who were responsible for what had just happened to her.

It’s a dark story, but it ends well.

“Fair Extension” (pages 359 to 405) is a twist on the deal with the devil story. Mr. David Streeter was dying of cancer when he met George Elvrid (figure it out), who offered him a life extension with a whole lot of options. The trick was that for everything good that happened to him, something bad had to happen to someone else – or maybe to the world at large; that’s sort of hinted at. What we do know is that the lives of his best friend and every member of that man’s poor family suffer horribly over the ensuing years.

What we also know is that the end result of this story, told to us cheerfully from Dave’s point of view, is that Dave becomes an utter rotter of a human being and is happy that way. This is a full dark story.

“A Good Marriage” (pages 407 to 526) is the tale of Darcy Anderson who, after 25 years of happy marriage, suddenly discovers that her husband, Bob, is an insane serial killer. She’s in no danger, as he explains to her the night she figures it out. It’s another side of his personality, a side that roamed freely before they got married, stopped entirely for 15 years, and has recently become active again. But, for her, he can stop, and apparently does. But this is another kind of devil’s deal, and one she has to decide how she will live with, or not.

There’s a Constant Reader afterword to this book, in which King explains (because he’s happy to do that) where the ideas for these stories came from, and his own theories about the importance of stories that are “both propulsive and assaultive”, stories about “ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

Then there’s the really short story called “Under The Weather” about the advertising agency man who manages to convince himself, though we know better, that his wife has not died in their bedroom several days ago. This is an EC Comix kind of horror story, so it’s funny in a very dark way.

Looking at this entire book, what I notice is that the really downer stories are the ones in which the viewpoint characters are male, while the stories focussing on women are ultimately uplifting, even when they feature terrible events.

I’ve had this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. It is still available, about 18 different formats, two of which I’ve listed above.

 

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

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

By Dan Davidson

February 22, 2017

– 791 words –

 

Gateway

By Frederick Pohl

Narrated by Oliver Wyman

Introduction by Robert J. Sawyer

8 hrs and 37 mins

Audible Studios

288 pages in hard copy

$21.95

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life. February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, literature, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life.

By Dan DavidsonFirst Blast

February 8, 2017

– 797 words –

 

 

First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

By Eric McCormack

Penguin Books

272 pages

$14.99

 

Perhaps the first thing to get out of the way is the identity of the author. This is not the Canadian actor Eric McCormack of television fame, star of the western, Lonesome Dove, the comedy series, Will and Grace, , the mystery series, Perception and, most recently, the time travel adventure, Travellers (which has been renewed, by the way).

No, this is the Eric McCormack who was born in Scotland, taught school there, immigrated to Canada for get his Ph.D. and spent decades on staff at the University of Waterloo before retiring to live in Kingston.

They’re about 25 years apart in age.

The McCormack in this column has written a short story collection and five strange but compelling novels. This is the third novel, published in 1997 and winner of the Governor General’s Award for that year.

I had been hoping for another book like his mystery novel, The Mysterium (1993), when I picked this one up a few years ago, and it has languished on my shelves for several years.

The title is a play on a 1558 polemic by the Scottish reformer John Knox, entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Knox believed that it was unnatural (monstrous) for women to rule (regiment) a country. He had in mind a succession of Marys who held power in England, as well as Elizabeth I.

In this book, the title refers mostly to the frightening parade of cloaked women who haunt the nightmares of Andrew Halfnight, a Scots orphan who has taken to writing this memoir at the behest of his wife, in order to sort out the emotions and events that have troubled him through much of his life.

Andrew was one of a pair of twins, whose sister was accidentally killed by their father in a bizarre christening event in the back yard of their home. This led almost immediately to the strange suicide of his father, who was discovered at the bottom of a nearby cliff with one arm missing.

It would be years before Andrew learned about that arm, where it came from, and how it came to be the death of his sister.

Long before that his mother died of a mysterious wasting disease during which he, then a schoolboy, was her main caregiver, assisting Doctor Giffen, who would later take on the role of guardian for a brief period until Andrew was sent to live with an aunt he had never met on the strange island of St. Jude.

In a life full of strange and often terrible events, Andrew endured a long sea voyage with the aid of Harry Greene, the Steward and Medic on the Comnock. The pair formed a life long friendship on that trip and Andrew learned much from the bookish sailor, but he also learned about Knox’s book, and its title became a trigger for his dreams.

St, Jude eventually turns out to be a place where Andrew witnesses murder (twice tried) and the incredible violence of nature. As if to balance all this, it is also be the place where he meets the girl who many years later, becomes his wife.

The narrative moves from tropical storms to Ontario, and place called Camberloo (which seems to be an amalgam of Cambridge and Waterloo University), where Andrew might have lived an unremarkable middle age were it not that he is afflicted with bad dreams and a recurring black spot that threatened at times to occlude his vision.

He has an unfortunate prolonged sexual dalliance with a mad woman and is driven almost to madness himself before a winter vehicular mishap that puts him in the hospital for a time, and which he can not, for several years after, recall in any detail.

It is, in fact, the writing of this memoir that brings back all his blocked memories and allows him, in conversation with Maria, his wife, to bring what had been a disturbing narrative to a happy conclusion.

This is, by any assessment, a weird tale full of strange events and even stranger individuals. Andrew, troubled by events and people, and uncertain of his place in the world, is a likeable but frustrating narrator.

The 51 chapters is divided into six sections, and I found that I paused after each of them for at least a day before moving on to the next. I needed to stop and absorb what had just happened to Andrew. I’m not particularly fond of this fictional life story variety of novel, but this on was quote worthwhile.

 

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Bookends: Game of Thrones Goes off the Main Track February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Uncategorized.
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A Feast For Crows

Bookends: Game of Thrones Goes off the Main Track

By Dan Davidson

February 1, 2017

– 916 words –

 

A Feast for Crows

(A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

by George R,R, Martin

Random House of Canada

947 pages

$10.99

 

In a postscript for A Feast for Crows, George Martin admits quite frankly that the story got away from him and he probably became a bit too intrigued with some of the secondary characters in his expanding cast. So he and his publisher, knowing they could count on scads of sales any way, broke the book in half. This book and number 5, A Dance with Dragons, take place within the same time frame, and deal with different members of the cast.

If you want to know how Jon Snow is making out back at the Wall, you’ll have to wait until you get to book 5, because Samwell Tarly is about the only member of the Night’s Watch you will follow in this book, and he’s on a quest that takes him away from that place. Jon is mentioned only in terms of his early interaction with Sam.

We do follow two other members of the Stark family, Sansa and Arya, but they spend a lot of their time being other people. Sansa has been taken in hand by Littlefinger (Lord Petyr Baelish), perhaps to save her from the machinations of Queen Cersei, or perhaps for Littlefinger’s own devious ends. She is not using her own name and pretends to be his daughter. We do see that she is becoming more of a person and less of a Barbie doll princess as she copes with her various problems, but her destiny remains uncertain.

Arya is simply trying to survive, as she has been pretty much since her father was executed back in book 1, and to do that she takes on a number of personas in several different locales. The youngest of the Stark girls, she is a long way from making her mark in the world, yet she continues to seem to have a lot of promise.

Brienne of Tarth, the mannish woman who would be a soldier, has pledged to Jamie Lannister that she will find and protect Sansa Stark – but she doesn’t know where to find her and ends up having many adventures on her way to a very nasty cliffhanger that I’ll just bet doesn’t get resolved until book 6, if it does at all. Martin has a habit of actually terminating characters that he’s made us grow fond of, so who knows.

Jamie, meanwhile, is on his own quest, happy to be away from his sister, wishing he could rescue their remaining son from the madness that he can see enveloping her, coping with the loss of his sword hand, and actually doing quite a bit of good in the world.

Our first impressions of this man were supposed to have been set by that scene back in book 1 where he caused young Bran Stark to fall from a great height and lose the use of his legs. Between that and the incest that produced both of his sons, there seemed nothing to like about this man. Over two books, Martin has succeeded in shining light into the better parts of his nature.

Cersei seems to have been driven further round the bend by brother Tyrion (aka – “the Imp”) murdering their father and the loss of her eldest son, Joffrey to poison by persons unknown, both events in the previous book. Determined to be a female version of her father, Tywin, she engages in a multiplicity of plots, while serving as regent for her very young son, Tommen, who is now the king. Most of these schemes simply serve to isolate her more and leave her in a dreadful mess at the end of this book.

If these weren’t enough characters to have to juggle, Martin introduced a whole new subplot of characters from the Iron Islands, who will, apparently, play a big role in the next several volumes, of which there are supposed to be three.

If you only know this story from HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation, be aware that these books are just as violent, but not nearly as sexy as the TV series. In fact, this book is notably less prurient than the earlier three. HBO has insisted in showing us highly detailed scenes that are generally more lightly sketched in print.

If you’re dying to know what happened to Jon Stark and the Night Watch, Bran Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons, Varys the Spider, or Melisandre (the Red Priestess), you’ll have to wait.

I’ve been reading this series as part of a four volume e-book version that I acquired during a KOBO sale a few years ago. This works pretty well on a pad, but referring to the material in the appendices at the end of each volume is a nuisance, and I’ve found it easier to check on family details in one of the numerous Wikipedia pages devoted to this series.

Martin is a novelist and short-story writer in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres, as well as being a television producer and screenwriter. The other large project he’s involved in as editor and writer is the Wild Cards shared universe anthology series about people with super powers, which currently totals about 21 volumes, the earliest of which have recently been reissued with additional material added.

 

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Bookends: Advice on Writing from a Master February 17, 2017

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Bookends: Advice on Writing from a Master

By Dan Davidson

November 16, 2016

– 730 words –

 

Startle and Illuminate: startle-and-illuminate on Writing

Edited by Anne Giardini and Nicholas Giardini

Random House Canada

204 pages

$29.95

 

“I’ve never been able to separate my reading and my writing life.” Carol Shields wrote in an essay entitled “Writers are Readers First”. I think that’s something that has been true of every writer I’ve had the opportunity to interview over the last 35 years or so. Over 70 scribblers of various genres and disciplines have passed through Berton House since it opened, and there have been 120 or so as part of my long association with the Department of Education’s annual Young Authors Conference.

One thing always comes up. You can’t write if you don’t read.

I met Carol Shields on the printed page rather than in person, joining the conversation that one has with the author of any piece of writing during her last three or four novels.

Some authors do make an attempt to write about the process, maybe in fiction or in essay form, in much the same way as bands seem to inevitably write songs about performance or about life on the road.

Pierre Berton wrote a book on writing late in his career, dissecting the process by which he had produced volume after volume of entertaining historical writing.

Stephen King tackled the issue in a couple or three novels about the lives of writers, but also in a valuable memoir on the craft.

This compilation by Carol Shields, collected together by her daughter and her grandson, is not quite that kind of book, and is perhaps not something that she had intended to issue herself, though the essays and letters of which it is comprised work the same way.

The concept was Anne’s, but much of the legwork, the digging into the material in the archived papers, was done by Nicholas, who notes that he learned a lot about the woman he had previously related to mostly as “grandmother” along the way.

With Anne it was a little different. She was also a novelist and she and Carol had traded ideas back and forth and given each other bits of advice over the years, This was part of how Anne was sure that there was a treasure trove of material out there, if it could just be pulled together.

Shields was a teacher of writing as well as a writer, and the last chapter of the book is taken directly from snippets of letters that she wrote to critique and advise students on what they were doing right or wrong with their submissions to her. These are kind of repetitive, comments about tightening up or expanding certain passages, getting the pacing of scenes right, what to say outright and what to imply, and an often repeated comment that “writing lives and dies at the sentence level.”

In one of the complete essays, the one I quoted at the beginning, she also notes of herself, “I saw that I could become a writer is I paid attention, if I was careful, if I observed the rules, and then, just as carefully, broke them.”

The 14 complete essays that make up the bulk of this book each concentrate on a particular area of writing. There is some overlap, as there is bound to be, but Shields spends time dismissing the myths that keep people from writing, the myths (as she sees them) about writing, talks about organizational structures to help move the work along, advises about raiding the work of others or of one’s own life, for ideas, discusses about what personal things need to be protected, and what may be exposed safely.

Each chapter is followed by a point form summary of its main points, as an “in brief” section, and sometimes as a list of writing assignments.

This is not a quick read. Both of the books I mentioned earlier had a degree of narrative flow to them that made them easy to follow. This is a more academic sounding work, good in a different way. I read it over a period of a few weeks, a chapter at a sitting, with some time in between to reflect on what she had to say. It was very worthwhile, but it did require one to pay attention.

 

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Bookends: Across the country in a dozen fun-filled days February 11, 2016

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Bookends: Across the country in a dozen fun-filled days

By Dan Davidson

December 21, 2015

– 706 words –

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Canada

Written by Ellen Warwick

Illustrated by 12 days

Sterling Children’s Books

36 pages

$12.95

 

The notion behind this little book is that we are asked to see it as the diary of an English girl who is spending the 12 days of Christmas exploring a good deal of the lower slice of our country, mostly the part where the majority of the people live. She has been gifted this trip by her Canadian cousin, Theo. His letter to her opens the text portion of the book. He warns her to bring her woolies, the mittens and hat (on which they missed a bet by not calling it a toque) because Canada, aside from being cool, is also “c-c-c-cold at Christmastime”.

On her vacation trip she manages to hit all 10 provinces, but the territories just get what amounts to footnote glimpses.

Part of this omission is no doubt due to the page limitations of the standard children’s picture book. This one has 36 pages, and has managed to make full use of its end papers, bumping it up to 40. There’s a big map at the front showing the route of Juliette’s excursion and the various ways in which she travels: plane, boat, train, car.

She touches down in Charlottetown, St. John’s, Halifax, Peggy’s Cove, Saint John, Fredericton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Drumheller, Vancouver, and Victoria. At each location she pens a letter to one of her parents. This takes up the left page, while the right is full of vibrant computer generated artwork.

The Victoria segment is followed by a double splash page, providing a visual summary of the events and sights in the book.

A three page “Canada: From Sea to Sea” section provides lists of interesting facts about the country: cities, people, inventions, records, landmarks, history and nature.

The back end-paper spread, “Canada from ‘Eh’ to Zed”, is a huge bulletin board covered with mementos of the trip, including a lot of references to places Juliette didn’t visit. As a brief glance at our territory, there’s a flier from the Northern Lights Centre and the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, and a ticket stub from the Dawson City Music Festival. There are a couple of Inuksuk related items from Nunavut and a blue ribbon log-sawing prize that shouts out to the NWT.

Now a book with that title has to be referencing the original “12 Days of Christmas” and so this one has its own cumulative rhyme, beginning “On the first day of Christmas, my cousin gave to me … a loon in a maple tree.”

Now, you might wonder what a loon, called Maple, of course, is doing up in a tree instead of on a lake, but that crazy loon follows Juliette and her cousin, Theo, across the country and is an amusing part of their continuing adventures.

These involve 2 mummers’ masks, 3 lobsters, 4 fiddles wild, 5 golden bagels, 6 Mounties marching, 7 streetcars ringing, 8 bears a-swimming, 9 sled dogs howling, 10 players skating, 11 snowboards shredding and 12 orcas breaching.

All of this is a good bit of fun and quite exciting stuff, but I do have to register a few complaints.

There’s nothing for the North in here. The polar bears are in a zoo in Winnipeg, and the sled dogs are somewhere near Saskatoon. The bulletin board references really aren’t enough.

It’s pretty much customary these days to refer to Canada as stretching from sea to sea to sea rather than as headed in the text pages, but this book doesn’t go there.

Finally, the reference to a “ceilidh” (kay-lee), as a type of Acadian party, will be something of a shock to all those of Celtic background. I’m sure the Acadian French have a word that means much the same thing, but that word is Gaelic, not Gallic.

Those exceptions aside, this is a clever little book and one that i am sure its target audience will appreciate. Oh, and you can sing the poem. I gave it a try.

 

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Bookends: A love of science brings two disparate lives together February 11, 2016

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Bookends: A love of science brings two disparate lives together

By Dan Davidson

December 9, 2015

– 865 words –

 

CuriousityCuriosity

By Joan Thomas

McClelland & Stewart

416 pages

$15.99

Kobo edition – $13.99

 

Curiosity is that odd species of historical novel, the one that begins with the lives of actual people, and explores what connections there might have been between them.

The cover I’ve picked to show you here just has the words “a novel” as a subtitle, but other editions make Thomas’ intention clear by using the words “a love story”.

This fictional biography of two mismatched people is set in early 19th century Britain, at a time when social class conventions were set pretty hard and fast, and the roles allowed to be played by women were just as fixed.

The real Mary Anning was the daughter of a poor family who, without much in the way of a formal education, transcended many boundaries to become one of the pioneers in the study of fossils.

Her first teacher is her father, who digs up fossils and sells them to rich collectors for more money that he can ever earn making cabinets and coffins. After his death, teenage Mary turns to the sale of these curiosities as a way of supporting her ailing mother and the other children.

A gifted paleontologist, Mary unearths from the sea cliffs of Lyme Regis, a coastal village in West Dorset, many of the finds for which the men to whom she sells them take credit in the scientific world. Only later in life is she recognized as the treasure that she is.

The other central character in this story is Henry de la Beche, who we first meet when he is running away from military college. Henry is the son of a plantation owner from Jamaica. His income derives from the slave-operated farm there. He is rooted in the poor upper classes, and has all sorts of expectations of life, many of which he must rely on the resources of others to attain. Henry means well much of the time, but he is as trapped by his station in life as is Mary.

The “love story” sub-title has two meanings. The obvious one, the romance, is something that both of them feel not long after they meet, but one which is mostly denied them by birth and station. They spend a lot of time together, but only once does this lead to a physical relationship. Mostly they talk and share their fascination for the new science of paleontology. Henry uses his artistic talents to render on paper the bones and fossils that she finds, as well as mapping the geology of the sea cliffs for her.

Henry is trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who seems to have set out to catch him at an early age and then regrets her choice. Their engagement, which begins in their teens, stretches on for what seems to be years and she is eventually unfaithful to him in ways that go far beyond the mostly platonic meetings he has with Mary.

There is much tragedy and hardship in both of their lives. Henry is held in disdain by most of the members of his family and his in-laws, tolerated rather than valued for the talents he has. He buries himself in the study of science to compensate for this.

Mary simply has a hard life, one of poverty from which she is occasionally rescued by well meaning upper class benefactors. In addition, in this age before Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species loosened up some of the preconceived notions of how creatures have developed, the kinds of creatures Mary is unearthing are held by many people to be evil in some way. This work is her calling and her only financial security, and yet she feels guilty about it.

The popular explanation for how the fossils got where they are being found is that they were creatures not rescued during Noah’s flood, and that their remains have been turned to stone as some sort of divine punishment.

Both Mary and Henry struggle with conflicting theories of how such creatures came to be, and why they no longer exist in the world.

The lives of these two are not always entwined. Henry travels while Mary does not. The alternating chapters of their lives are told is quite different voices, reflective of their differing personal styles, educational backgrounds and experiences.

Mary’s narrative is more matter of fact than Henry’s, while his shows a somewhat bookish and romanticized outlook on life.

One of the problems with e-books is that they don’t sit around reminding you that you haven’t read them yet. I picked up a Kobo edition of this one when Joan Thomas was a Berton House writer-in-residence here in 2012. It’s been sitting out in the “cloud”, not yet loaded onto any of the three devices that I have the Kobo (acronym for “book”) software on.

Published two years earlier, in 2010, the book was her second novel. It was named a Quill and Quire Book of the Year and was nominated for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize and the International IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award.

 

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