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Bookends: Remembering the late, great Harlan Ellison May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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SlippageBookends: Remembering the late, great Harlan Ellison

By Dan Davidson

July 18, 2018

– 900 words –

 

Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories

By Harlan Ellison

Open Road Media

E-book

$9.99

Houghton Mifflin hardcover

299 pages

 

Harlan Ellison died in his sleep in late June at the age of 84. He’d been suffering with heart problems since before the publication of this collection of material, which came out in 1997, so between age and illness It wasn’t a surprise. Based on the notes that introduced the stories in most of the 15 or so volumes on my shelves, it’s kind of surprising that he went out quietly.

Ellison was science-fiction’s original angry young man. Her was kicked out of college for hitting an English prof who told him he had no ability as a writer, and he took his revenge by sending the man a copy of everything he published over the near couple of decades. I assume he stopped eventually, though he was known to hold a grudge for a long, long time.

I assume he stopped because Wikipedia has one entry for him and an entirely separate entry for his bibliography.. I’m going to quote the former article here just to give you a sense of his output,

 “His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. Some of his best-known work includes the Star Trekepisode “The City on the Edge of Forever“,A Boy and His Dog, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream“, and ” ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman“, and as editor and anthologistfor Dangerous Visions(1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions(1972). Ellison won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.”

He came up with the idea for a late 1970s Canadian television (CTV I think it was) show called The Starlost, which turned out so poorly that he insisted the studio take his name off the credits and list him as Cordwainer Bird, his trademark ways of “flipping the bird” on any script of his he felt had been ruined,

On the other hand, he was the creative consultant for the entire run of one of the best SF series ever produced, Babylon Five, and even appeared on it in one episode. He also played himself in an episode of The Simpsons.

Ellison was famously litigious when it came to what he considered to be his intellectual property. James Cameron gave avoided a potential legal fight and gave him screen credit for being the source of the ideas (in scripts for the Outer Limitsthat led to the creation of The Terminator movies. If you look up “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand” on the web, you can find that story,

I hadn’t seen anything new by Ellison for years, He had a dry spell as a writer following some of the events he chronicles in “The Fault in My Lines”, the introductory essay in this book. There was an earthquake which damaged his house and nearly killed him in 1994. Then there was the heart attack, the first intimations of which hit him in 1992, and kept knocking at his ventricles until he got the big one in 1996. Since he survived another 22 years after that, you know the operations and transplants worked out for him, just as the same operation saved my uncle for decades a few years earlier.

These experiences gave him the title for this book, which has the theme prompted by nervousness, because he wasn’t sure there would be any more; “nervousness of the ticking of the clock, of the unreliability of the earth beneath our feet and the dear beating heart within our chest. The theme is: do it while you can. Slippage rules. Gravity ain’t forgiving. The theme is: you never know when it’s the last of the last. The theme is: PAY ATTENTION.”

Of the 27 items in the book, most appeared in various places between 1986 and 1997.  There is something called an Interstitial story which appears in eight segments in between other items. There is a horror story called “Nackles” by Donald E, Westlake, which Ellison succeeded in transforming into what would have been a good episode of the the revived Twilight Zone TV show, except that the network chickened out. We have the original, the story of how it didn’t get filmed, and Ellison’s teleplay, including alternate scenes to satisfy the network folks.

The rest of the stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, the latter leaning in the direction of horror. Ellison’s material is often somewhat downbeat, but generally insightful. He is considered significant enough that his hardcover publisher splurged on a signature line called The Harlan Ellison Collection, of which this is one volume.

There is a webpage on the man and his works called Ellison Webderland, but it hasn’t been kept current for some time. Ellison produced some nine collections of material after this book. Most are retrospectives, including two volumes of his very early magazine work, titled Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word, a reference the word rate when he started out. Much of this material is only available in actual book form, which is perhaps not surprising. IN 1997, Ellison was still using manual typewriters for most of his work.

 

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Bookends: Another Gem from the Berton House residency program May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, literature, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Another Gem from the Berton House residency program

by Dan Davidson

July 11, 2018

– 885 words –

 

All of Us In Our Own Lives

by Manjushree ThapaAll of Us in Our Own Lives

Freehand Books

322 pages

$21.95

 

All of Us In Our Own Lives is a novel about the personal growth of four individuals. Two of them are related, but have quite different life experiences. The other two eventually connect through their work, but it takes some time for all this to happen.

It is also a book that is told from multiple points of view. Sometimes the shifts of POV are a bit abrupt and you have to wait for someone to use a person’s name to figure out just who you’re following now.

Some of this is due to the book’s layout. The version I read was supplied by the author and ran to 213 pages. You’ll note that the version referenced at the head of this column, which won’t be available in Canada until September, is 100+ pages longer. I suspect it has somewhat larger print and perhaps something other that ALL CAPPS IN the first two or three words to indicate chapter divisions.

Ava Berriden, a Canadian lawyer, was the easiest character for me to relate to. She was born in Nepal, and in an orphanage as an infant before being adopted by a Canadian family and raised here. She has quit her job and moved to Nepal, partly in search of her roots, and partly out of an altruistic need to help others. She is the prototypical stranger in a strange land, but she has a good heart, and when she finally connects with the others, she does a lot to help each of them.

Ava is working for an international aid agency, and it is through this work that she becomes acquainted with Indira Sharma, who has ambitions of becoming the first Nepali woman director of a non-governmental organization. She specializes in working to improve the gender balance in society and within the world of NGOs, most of which seem to be run by domineering men.

The book does not give a very flattering view of such NGOs. They seem to be floundering and appear to have a lot of trouble thinking outside the cultural boxes in which they are trapped. They mean well, but are not as effective as they should be. Thapa’s bio indicates that she did work for some NGOs in the past, and this may be a gentle critique. Certainly, she has Ava cutting through some of the assumptions and causing changes to occur.

The two other central characters are a brother and sister, Gyanu and Sapana.

If this were just his story, it would be about having come home from his job in Dubai to settle the family’s affairs and set things up so that his sister can prosper and he can return to his foreign job and get married to his sweetheart. He means well, but often manages to convince himself that his sister’s path to independence is also the one that works out best for him. For him, not staying in Nepal is a priority.

Sapana, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily want what her brother is trying to provide for her. She is hedged about by both a patriarchy and a matriarchy, with elders of both genders trying to define her life’s choices. Hers is the least settled of any of the outcomes; aspirations rather than a clear direction.

This was a tricky book to read, and there were times when I set it aside for lighter, or just different, material. Part of the difficulty was simply my lack of familiarity with Nepali names and social conventions. There were times when I wished for clarifying footnotes.

By about halfway through the book some of the more puzzling things began to become clear, and that was probably the way the author intended it to happen. Up to that point, when the lives of the major characters finally began to intersect, I had been dipping in and out of the book for a couple of months, trying to integrate what seemed to be several disconnected stories, After that, it moved more quickly.

Manjushree Thapa has been quite prolific, producing one previous novel and two volumes of short stories, as well as four non-fiction books, mostly set in Nepal. She has produced three translations of Nepali literature.

In addition she has had articles and essays in the New York Times, London Review of Books, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, Walrus, Globe and Mail, Outlook, Hindustan Times, Tehelka, Nepali Times, The Kathmandu Post, Himal Southasian, Himal, Studies in Nepali History and Society and elsewhere.

Manju, as we came to know her in Dawson, has a lot of personal background that feeds into this story. She was born in Kathmandu, and raised in Nepal, Canada and the United States. Her family also lived in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Switzerland and India at various periods. She now lives in Toronto, but visits Nepal frequently.

She was writer-in-residence at Berton House for part of 2011 and completed the initial draft of this novel, the first that she has completed since relocating to Canada, while she was here. She and her partner, Daniel Lak, have returned to the Klondike several times since then.

 

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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: When the drug problem hits close to home May 12, 2019

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Bookends: When the drug problem hits close to home

By Dan Davidson

June 19, 2018

– 754 words –

 

Close to Home

By Robert DugoniClose to Home

Thomas and Mercer

368 pages

$13.60

 

While this is billed as book number 5 in the Tracy Crosswhite series, there are at least three major characters whose stories we follow.

Tracy is a Seattle homicide detective. She’s married to a lawyer named Dan. They are trying very hard to conceive a child, and coping with the possibility that this may not be possible.

Tracy and her detective partner are assigned to what appears to be a simple hit and run case. A teenage boy has been killed by a vehicle while on his way home from an evening playing basketball. When they find the vehicle, it has been hidden, and thoroughly wiped down. They do tie it to an owner, Lazlo Trejo, but he claims it was stolen, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to break his story.

He works for the US Navy, which decides to take jurisdiction over the case, assigning both a prosecutor and a defense attorney from its Judge Advocate General branch. The defense lawyer is an ambitious woman named Leah Battles. We spend quire a bit of time with her.

The other major narrative is that of Detective Delmo (Del) Castigliano. Del is spending lot of time looking after his sister, who has recently lost her daughter to a drug overdose. She’s not dealing with her grief well and Del is taking it upon himself to look after her twin 9 year old boys.

It takes a while for us to find how these three strands of story fit together.

The first two are easy. Tracy and her team locate videotape evidence from a convenience that demolishes Trejo’s alibi, but then the case is taken out of their hands by the Navy, and this crucial piece of evidence vanishes before the preliminary Navy hearing.

Someone at the JAG office must have done this, and fingers point at Battles. Surveillance video at the base shows no one near the office where the evidence box was stored, and she was the last person known to have had it. We know she didn’t take the old VHS tape, but she is considered a prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Tracy has been pursuing leads in the case in the event that the Navy hands it back to Seattle PD, and is nearly on the scene when Trejo is murdered. It’s made to look like a suicide, but the gun is by the wrong hand. Tracy has always been suspicious as to the details of the hit and run, and Trejo’s death looks like someone tidying up loose ends.

Del has enough to do with his regular assignments and looking after his sister, but he has been spending quite a bit of spare time trying to track down the source of the extremely potent heroin that his niece died using. This is where all the diverse strands start to come together, even though some of these people never seem to meet each other.

I’m not spoiling any plot surprises if I tell you that Battles is being framed, and that the complications related to the Trejo case are all part of an effort to hide an illegal drug dealing operation that is related to the death of Del’s niece.

Just how Battles is being framed is an important part of the puzzle.

Del’s search for his niece’s dealer is an important part of the puzzle.

Tracy’s careful examination of the evidence surrounding the vanishing videotape is equally important.

The combination of these things leads to the tense climax of that part of the story with just a couple of chapters left to go,

But it’s not the only resolution in the book. There are personal stories for both Del and Tracy that get tidied up before we get to the author’s note at the back of the book.

This is a book with a message alongside with its story, Dugoni wanted to shine a light on the drug problem that has moved into middle class America, and gave us examples of three families that have suffered from it.  One of the secondary characters, a civilian prosecutor, makes a strong case for supervised injection sites and argues that the “war on drugs” approach just isn’t working.

Sometimes embedding a message in a story can get in the way of the book, but in this case it seems to be a good fit.

 

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Bookends: Finding the Plot Behind the Pink Nightmare May 9, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Finding the Plot Behind the Pink Nightmare

By Dan Davidson

The Whitehorse Star

June 13, 2018Nightmare in Pink

– 946 words –

 

Nightmare in Pink

By John D. MacDonald

Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Audible Studios

5 hrs and 42 mins

$14.99

 

Paperback reprint

224 pages

Random House Trade Paperbacks;

$18.80

Original copyright 1964

 

Back in the late 1960s, when I spent my high school summers working in a pulp mill, one of the perks of an otherwise terrible, back-breaking job was the opportunity to paw through the bales of discarded front coverless paperbacks that were destined for the very scary blades in the pulping vat that I sometimes had to clean out. That’s where I found my first Travis McGee novels and developed a taste for them.

The early ones had some pretty lurid and suggestive covers, so I was just as happy not to have to explain those to my mother. Mind you, the same thing was true of those quite conservative Perry Mason mysteries that I was reading about the same time.

It was only much later that I discovered how influential John D. MacDonald was in the mystery/thriller genre world. The first four McGee novels, of which Nightmare in Pinkis the second, appeared in 1964. There would be another 17 in all before The Lonely Silver Rainin 1985 brought down the curtain. In addition there were 43 other standalone thriller/mysteries, three science fiction novels, and several collections of short stories.

There could have been many short story collections, since MacDonald got his start writing for the pulp magazines before he was one of the first to cash in on the paperback original boom. He churned out 500 short stories for detective, mystery, adventure, sports, western, and science fiction magazines, using a variety of pen names, including Peter Reed, John Farrell (sometimes John Wade Farrell), Scott O’Hara, Robert Henry, Harry Reiser, and John Lane.

He was a full time writer from 1945 until he died in 1986. The last McGee book came out the year before, and there was one additional novel in that final year. He was a good friend of the comic Dan Rowan, of Laugh In fame, and a volume of their letters to each other, called A Friendship, also came out then.

Unlike nearly all the other books in the series, most of this one takes place in and around New York City, and we only get back to the his base on the Busted Flushin Florida when Travis and Nina are recuperating from the mess they found in New York.

Travis has a friend named Mike, a very badly damaged war vet who he visits at least once a year because he credits him with having saved his life when they were both enlisted and fighting for their country. Mike has a sister whose fiancée was recently killed in a botched mugging. She’s not coping with it well, especially since she found stash of cash – $10,000 was a lot of money in1964 – while she was clearing his things out of her closets.

Why did he have it? Where did it come from? Did it mean that he had not been the man she had thought he was?

Mike asks Travis of find out. Now Travis isn’t exactly a detective. He describes himself as a freelance recovery agent. If you’ve lost something and he can find it for you, he’ll charge you half of its value, and since you wouldn’t have it back except that he found it for you, you consider that fair.

This case, however, is pro bono, a good deed for an old friend. It turns out to be a pretty raw deal, but it’s likely that, even if he had known about the pink nightmare, Travis would still have taken it on.

Nina comes across as a hard case at first.

“The fabulous Travis McGee,” she says. “Fabulous means something about fables. I don’t need any fables. Thank you so much.”

Travis is dubious about helping her.

“I didn’t want to be within fifteen hundred miles of this ‘darling girl’. I didn’t want to be in this October city. I wanted to be back aboard my Busted Flushmoored in Slip F‑18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale, my 52 feet of custom houseboat…

“But Miss Nina looked at me out of her brother Mike’s true blue eyes, and he had never asked me for anything else.”

It turns out that Nina’s Howard had been on to something; that there was something terribly wrong with his employer; that the $10,000 was important; and that Travis was going to find out way more than he ever wanted to know about the pink nightmare before the story was over.

It’s quite a story; a bit dated after all these years, but significant enough to have been reprinted lately and for best selling author Lee Child to have written a lovely essay about MacDonald for the 2013 trade paperback reissue editions. I found those 12 pages at Amazon.ca while doing some research. They weren’t included in the audio book version, but I recommend that anyway. It kept me alert on a recent trip from Dawson to Whitehorse.

Lee Child wonders about what made MacDonald decide on the writing life.

“Why? Why did a middle-class Harvard MBA with extensive corporate connections and a gold-plated recommendation from the army (he finished as a Lieut. Colonel) turn his back on everything apparently predestined, to sit at a battered table and type, with an anxious wife at his side? No one knows. He never explained. It’s a mystery.”

He concludes that we can’t possibly know, but that he, and writers as varied as Spider Robinson, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Lawrence Block, Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard, are all on the record as being glad that he did.

Listening to Robert Petkoff’s excellent narration, I found myself catching little stylistic hints that reminded me of a number of other writers I enjoy reading.

 

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Bookends: A space ship seeks justice in the empire May 9, 2019

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Bookends: A space ship seeks justice in the empire

By Dan Davidson

June 6, 2018

– 1055 words –

Ancillary Justice

by Ann Leckie

Orbit

416 pages

Ancillary Justice$19.42

Kindle edition

$12.99

 

“The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it.”

Breq doesn’t know exactly why she stops to check for signs of life, why she turns the body over, or why, when she recognizes the person, she decides to save her life.

She had not liked Seivarden Vendaai when she had known her as an officer in her earlier life, 1,000 years earlier, when Breq was not the mere fragment of her larger, infinitely more capable self than she now was as an individual.

But she does save her, and the pair eventually, after much trial and tribulation, become quite inseparable in a way neither of them could have foreseen. In a way they have something in common, since both are strangers to the world in which they now live.

Seivarden is a stranger because she has spent the better part of the last 1000 years in suspended animation and is a person out of her time, not to mention being an addict and an insufferable classist snob when first we meet her.

Breq, the individual, is an even stranger case. As an entity, she is many thousands of years old, and most of those years were spent as the AI (artificial intelligence) in control of the starship Justice of Toren, which was how she thought of herself. In that capacity she ran the ship, had access to vast stores of knowledge, and interfaced with the organic world through the medium of ancillary bodies, at least hundreds of them, which were neurally linked such that she could survey any scene or any encounter with another entity from multiple points of view.

She (all members of the Radchaai use the female pronoun) is the sole remaining ancillary, following the destruction of the ship and all her other bodies 19 years earlier. Adjusting to being so very singular has been a struggle. Knowing that she used to know and be capable of so much more weighs on her. As an ancillary to her primary, she was not entirely human, her body equipped with all manner of biomechanical and digital extra bits, including a very handy force shield, or armor, which she can extend past her body to protect herself.

She knows who killed her larger self and all the crew that were her responsibility. It was the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, the equivalent of a galaxy spanning emperor, who did the deed. Well, it was and it wasn’t. The Lord ruled by means of a host of synchronized bodies of her own, scattered throughout the Radch Empire, using not quite the same technology as Breq had access to when she was Justice of Toren, but with much the same effect. The Lord has developed a fragmented personality, and some of her bodies and minds have been working against the more official parts, while seeking to hide that fact from herself.

Sounds confusing? Well, it is, and it was when Breq uncovered the self-deception 19 years earlier that the Lord quite literally blew her brains out.

We enter the story from Breq’s singular viewpoint at the end of those 19 years, when she has accumulated enough capital to fund her revenge on the Lord. In alternating chapters, she drops back to her last days as a super AI, when the Justice of Torenwas in orbit around the planet of Shis’urna, which was being formally brought into the Radchaai empire, the last planet to be so acquired and forced to join.

There are some other memories that go back even further, but these are the two main strands up to the end of chapter 16, when Justice of Toren was ordered to kill her human captain and the Lord tried to cover it all up by destroying the ship, apparently unaware that one ancillary, that which became Breq, was not destroyed.

Past that point, we race to a complex conclusion in which Breq and Seivarden are forced to chose which side of the Lord they will follow.  The set up for the sequel is obvious, but this feels like a good place to stop this part of the story.

Ancillary Justiceis the first novel in a trilogy, which includes the sequels Ancillary Swordand Ancillary Mercy; the second word in each case denoting a class of star ship. The books appeared between 2013 and 2015. Since it’s reported that Leckie took six years to finish the first volume, either the next two came faster or she was well ahead of her publisher by the time they were needed.

Some books beg you to figure out just how the author decided to put them together. In the case of this book, I imagine that Leckie wrote the whole thing in chronological order and later decided to structure it as a braided novel with different time lines, perhaps deciding in the process that a few other time frames were needed just to fill in the back stories for some of the characters.

The other interesting feature of this book is that the main character, Breq, comes from a race called the Radchaai, which has not organized its people in gender identities. It’s unclear to me whether there are actual genders, or whether these shift depending on procreative requirements, as was the case with the ambisexual beings in the late Ursula K. Leguin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Alternatively, procreation may be accomplished by artificial means, or even cloning.

Not all beings in this story follow non-binary structures, and Breg is often confused when dealing with other races as to how she should address them.

The cover notes that the book won both the Hugo (fan) and Nebula (fellow writers) awards for its year, but fails to mention that it scored a trifecta by also winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award, making it the first novel to take all three. It wasn’t finished. Other awards included the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, the British Kitchies Golden Tentacle for Best Debut Novel and the Japanese Seiun Award for Best Translated Novel.

 

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Bookends: Adventures with the Alphabet May 9, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Adventures with the Alphabet

By Dan Davidson

May 30, 2018

717 words –

 

There are lots of alphabet books out there, but I do believe that the two I’m looking at this week have come up with something different in terms of their presentation of the material.

 

Yesterday I Found an A

Written by Maggie Blossom

Illustrated by Marco Furlotti

Yesterday I found an A

Flowerpot Press

32 pages

$22.82

 

In this book, our nameless narrator, a small androgynous person, is all alone at home when he or she hears a strange noise somewhere in the house.

“I went to my closet and opened it wide, / curious to see what was hiding inside.”

What was inside was a letter A, and with it rolled out some “apples, an accordion, and airplane zipping by … zoom!”

“And that made me nervous that things might go wrong./ What if the rest of the letters had all tagged along?

That “what if” is the clue to how the rest of the book is going to go. Those A items were pretty normal things that might roll out of a closet. Just about everything else our narrator imagines, running from B through to Z, is the product of an overheated imagination.

By the end we are left to imagine that our small person has simply emptied every toy from every cupboard and storage place in the room, though it certainly didn’t look that way while it was happening.

The explanation given when someone else pokes a head in the door later on is that “they made a great big mess in here and it had nothing to do with me!”

The rhyming text is a bit uneven, but that adds to the idea that this is a child talking. The story is sheer nonsense, but that works well. The art is delightfully busy and cheerfully cartoonish. Our narrator may have expressed some trepidation at the beginning, but nothing bad is happening here.

 

How I Did It!How I did it

Story by Linda Ragsdale

Illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Flowerpot Press

32 pages

$21.99

 

The I in this story is actually the letter I, and we meet it when it’s still trapped on the page with the other 25 letters, bound in an open book which is sitting on a classroom desk.

I’d have to say that it would be important never to lose the cover of this book, because the story actually begins on the opening flap. It will be interesting to see how they solve this problem if there is ever a paperback edition.

“One day I had an idea. So I took that idea and turned it into an adventure. I tried new things, I went new places, and I saw the world with a new point of view. And here’s how I did it!”

“I” looked to left and right, and noticed that with a bit of twisting it could manage to look like an H or a J. It twisted and wrangled so much that it popped right out of its spot on the page and began to wander around. This action prompted a lot of letter appropriate comments and actions from the letters that had remained in their proper places, and each had something to say about the situation.

“I” got more adventurous and managed to stand up. At this point it had left the page and was wandering around on the top of the desk. Not realizing that its freedom had limits, it walked off the edge and ended up a crumpled letter on the floor, feeling, for a few moments, like nothing but a scribble. It curled up in a ball, thinking that its days or adventuring were done, period. And then it realized that periods were well-rounded, that it could straighten itself out and see what else it might manage to accomplish.

And it didn’t have to do all that by itself. There was another letter, “U” that was also full of possibilities if it could just get free of its place between the lines on the page. In fact, it appears that “I” has been talking to “U” all along.

The characters in this story are all somewhat anthropomorphic letter forms with googiy, expressive eyes. Backgrounds are very basic, but the whole effect is bright and lively.

 

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

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

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind

DAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

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

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

“You may have heard of me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the WindDAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

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

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

“You may have heard of me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

By Dan Davidson

May 23, 2018

– 959 words –

 

Revival

By Stephen KingRevival

480 pages

Pocket Books

$9.99

Kindle e-book

$7.98

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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