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Bookends: What Happens After Happily Ever After? January 19, 2017

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Bookends: What Happens After Happily Ever After?

By Dan Davidson

August 17, 2016

– 783 words –

 

nobodys-sonNobody’s Son

By Sean Stewart

Ace Books (1995)

219 pages in print

e-Book available a Kindle, Kobo or IBook

Average price: $3.95

 
First off, let me say that it is a mystery why this Aurora Award (for Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy) winning fantasy book is not currently available between physical covers. My second thought would be that its current existence is another argument in favour of e-books.

The author is very happy about this second life for the book, and said so on his web page last September after it was first re-released.

It is a coming-of-age novel and was moved into the Young Adult category by a canny editor at Ace Books, even though Stewart, who was 24 when he wrote it, was still reacting to the fairly recent birth of his first child (a daughter) and hadn’t thought of that.

Shielder’s Mark (commoners in this fantasy world seem to have names that place them in categories) is a young man who has spent his life trying to live up to his feelings of inadequacy, feelings caused by the fact that his father abandoned mother and child shortly after his birth. Mark had a hard time growing up, but he was always determined to push himself to the limit.

For him, the ultimate limit was to break the curse that had held sway over the fabled Ghost Wood for many thousands of years. As best as he could, he trained himself to become a knight, and when he felt ready he entered the wood, beat off the ghosts that lived there, broke the spell and escaped with his life and a magic sward and a dagger.

Lots of fantasy novels would have spent the whole book getting to this point – but this is chapter one.

Mark heads off to the royal city, carrying the proofs of his success, and claims the prize that was offered by another king centuries earlier, a prize that must be honoured by the current monarch: any prize he choses to claim. Mark claims the king’s youngest daughter, Gail, and the king has to agree.

It is an inspired choice. Royalty cannot marry a commoner, and so the king must provide Mark with a title and lands commensurate with his achievement.

So at this point we begin the real story of this book, which is “what happens after happily ever after?”

Well, the princess likes him, and is willing to go through with the marriage, so that works, but she doesn’t want to be a mother for few years and. since they don’t seem to know about any sort of birth control other than the withdrawal method, that means no sex until she’s ready to take that chance.

Mark, of course, is a total fish out of water at the court, and keeps saying a doing the wrong things all the time, leaving him is a constant state of embarrassment. Fortunately a learned young man named Val, who is deeply interested in the young noble woman, Lissa, who is Gail’s constant companion, is available to help him navigate the shark infested waters.

There is much fun in all of this, but just when you might think that the book is going to be that sort of comedy, we find that that breaking the spell has invoked the Law of Unintended Consequences and freed all sorts of magic which had been bottled up in a delineated geographical area where the same day had been repeating itself endlessly for thousands of years.

The magic, and some of the good and bad things associated with it, is now leaking out into the rest of the world, and it is impossible to say what the consequences of that may be.

This means that, after having been relatively successful at finding his way through the intricacies of his new position in life, Mark has to reenter the Ghost Wood, going to a place that it appears only he can see, and figuring out what he needs to do to prevent the impending catastrophe of the Ghost King’s return. He accomplishes this in a denouement that is unexpected and quite satisfying, after which there is still a bit more court intrigue to be overcome. This, also, is handled in a surprisingly appropriate manner.

Stewart is a American born author who grew up in Canada and earned his university degree here. He has since returned to the USA, but has said, in an interview, that his Canadian upbringing has left him eternally puzzled as to why his American neighbours who collect guns can’t simply collect stamps.

 

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Bookends: This sequel doesn’t need the original book to work February 11, 2016

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Bookends: This sequel doesn’t need the original book to work

By Dan Davidson

December 2, 2015

– 914 words –

Doctor Sleep: A NovelDr. Sleep

By Stephen King

Pocket Books

626 pages

$11.56

Kindle edition

$24.99

While this has been marketed as the sequel to The Shining, which most people probably know from the Kubrick movie rather than the original book, you really don’t need to have read that book to enjoy this one.

The Shining was written by a Stephen King who was just developing his own drug and alcohol dependency, and really didn’t understand it very well. Doctor Sleep, written over 30 years later, is the product of a man who hit his own rock bottom, was forced to face his demons and who, with the help of family and friends, overcame them.

What ties it to the earlier book is the question of what happened to young Danny Torrance, whose psychic “shine” gave that book its title, after he grew up. Let’s suppose that Danny found his gift a burden in spite of Dick Halloran’s tutelage and, that while he always swore he would never succumb to his father’s weakness, he eventually discovered that alcohol dimmed the talent that gave him nightmares, and became a drunk. It took awhile, but he did hit rock bottom.

We follow Dan for a number of years until he settles in a small town and becomes a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s not a simple transition, and it is fueled by shame and a need to sort himself out. After a stint as a worker at a local theme park he becomes an orderly in an elder’s hospice for palliative care patients who are on their way out of this world. It turns out that his talent allows him to be of great assistance to the dying, helps them ease their passage to the other side in relative peace. He becomes known as Doctor Sleep.

Years pass. There are ways in which this story might have been a book by itself, but don’t worry, this is Stephen King.

It turns out that there is a “family” of what I suppose you would have to call psychic vampires. They call themselves the True Knot, and they feed on psychic emanations of human pain and suffering. They feasted in New York on 9/11 and in New Orleans when Katrina struck. They are functionally immortal as long as they feed regularly, and their favorite meal is the shining (they call it “steam”) of people who are talented like Dan Torrance.

Some of the talented can be turned to become members of the True Knot. Others die in he process and feed the clan, who travel the United States in RV caravans and look pretty much like ordinary folks. They look human, but part of the change and living the way they do means that they no longer are. They do age physically, but are rejuvenated by feeding. Some of them were around when cave people were drawing on their walls.

The thing about the shining is that, unless you make some kind of peace with it and use it regularly the way Dan Torrance does, it fades with age. So the favorite meals of the members of the True Knot come packaged in very young bodies. The young body we get to know best belongs to a girl named Abra Stone, who has a prodigious amount of the shining, enough that she senses the events of 9/11 when she is a baby. She has a wide range of talents, one of which allows her to mentally seek out and contact Dan when she is still a young girl of about two. At the time neither of them know what she is reacting to. Later, she senses the death of a talented youngster she calls the “baseball boy”, when he is taken by the Knot and devoured. In his death throes he reaches out for help and she receives his cry. She passes it on to Dan, writing a message on the blackboard he keeps in his rooms at the hospice.

The Knot’s leader, known as Rose the Hat, detects Abra at a time when her clan is in danger. The baseball boy had measles, and the clan members picked it up when they fed on his essence. Measles is quite deadly for adults and Rose’s hope is that acquiring Abra’s steam will cure them. When her early attempts to approach the girl telepathically result in a complete rout, Rose becomes obsessed with taking the girl’s life and power.

By this time Abra and Dan are in regular communication, have actually met, and have begun to plan ways to defend her from a probable assault by the Knot. Rose’s attempts have actually enabled Abra to find out a lot about them, how they work, what some of them look like. In addition, she is able to follow the movements of some of those who participated directly in the death of the boy

The second half of the book is about how the good guy
s totally ruin the bad guys. There’s a triumphal feeling about this story. You know very well that getting to the final solution is not going to be without struggle and turmoil but you read on feeling completely confident that Dan and Abra, and the others they recruit into the battle, will, in fact, succeed.

But it’s quite a ride, and there are lots of surprises.

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Bookends: How to Avert an Apocalypse February 7, 2016

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Bookends: How to Avert an Apocalypse

By Dan Davidson

September 29, 2015

– 745 words

 

The Unwritten, volume 11: Apocalypse

Story by Mike CareyApocalypse

Art by Peter Gross

Vertigo Books

176 pages

$19.99

 

Last weekend the Sunday Edition celebrated the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the first of two works about Alice written by Lewis Carroll. Inspired by Carroll’s friendship with young Alice Liddell, the book became a bit of a nightmare for her great-granddaughter, Vanessa Tait, who happened to look like Alice and was often forced to dress like her for photographs when she was a child.

Tait made her peace with the book when she got older, but her story is a bit like that of poor Christopher Robin, who grew up with people asking him what it was really like to grow up with Pooh Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood.

So it was with Tom Taylor, whose father, Wilson, made him, as “Tommy Taylor” the titular central character in a series of books that became known the world round. As Tom grew up he was determined not to be Tommy, but the 12 collected volumes of this series have made it quite clear that there were many ways in which he was just that.

Wilson had programmed his son and at least one of his companions, Lizzie, to be able to tap into the power of story, as personified by Leviathan, the mythical whale.

Wilson was once the agent of a mysterious Unwritten Cabal bent on ruling the world indirectly, by influencing what people think about and value through the medium of stories. Once he turned against them, he began the Tommy books as a way of fighting back and more importantly, of laying the groundwork for his real assault on the cabal, which would be launched through the person of his son.

Then, after making publishing history with 13 bestsellers, Wilson vanished, leaving Tom with little but doing appearances in memory of his father’s legacy to make a living with. There must have been money, but there’s no trace of it. Tom doesn’t even know who his mother was.

The series began with Lizzie Hexam standing up at a fantasy con and asking Tom who he was, because she says he’s a fake.

After that, through the next 11 volumes (and one prequel graphic novel) Tom and his two companions, one of whom turns out to be Lizzie, and the other an ambitious blogger, end up down more rabbit holes and into stranger adventures than Harry Potter or Alice ever dreamed of.

While the cabal takes the part of the central villain through much of this, Tom is haunted by their chief henchman, a man who calls himself Pullman, but whose real name is lost in prehistory. He became part of one of the first stories very early on in the way of the world, and his wooden artificial hand has the power to turn people into fiction, a terrifying power.

Tom has the ability to link himself to existing stories as if they were other dimensions, and as his quest to find out his own truth continues, he spends time in the story of Moby Dick, is companioned by Frankenstein’s Monster, and, in this final volume, lives through a fractured version of the Grail Quest from Arthurian legend.

In this volume, Tom and Tommy, along with their real life and fictional companions, join forces to combat Pullman and his allies, and Tom makes a discovery that leads to a surprising conclusion for him. He has won – sort of – but there’s a terrific cost.

In a bit of a coda, we learn how some of the secondary characters are getting on with their lives now that Tom has averted an apocalypse in which all manner of stories would have run roughshod over reality.

It is perhaps the end that Wilson trained him for, but that doesn’t make the old man feel any less guilty about the ways in which he had manipulated his son’s life. We leave Wilson descended the impossibly long stairway to the under realm, seeking to find Tom and try to make amends. As this is a comic book reality, there is always the chance that some other combination of writer and artist might take up the material – especially when it sells well and wins awards – but it feels very much as if Carey and Gross are finished, just as it says on the cover.

 

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Bookends: A young woman is forced to deal with a hairy situation February 7, 2016

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Bookends: A young woman is forced to deal with a hairy situation

By Dan Davidson

September 16, 2015

– 858 words –

 

Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl

by Emily Pohl-WearyWolfgirl

Published by Razorbill Canada

304 pages

$15.00

eBook version, various platforms – $6.99

 

Sam Lee isn’t your normal 18 year old. She’s bi-racial and was raised by her feminist mom after her Chinese dad decamped. She’s really smart in a lot of ways, and is a talented lyricist and musician. She is the heart and soul of her wildly successful all-girl trio, the Cream Puffs. Jules may be the singer and front girl, and Malika may be a talented drummer, but the songs and the drive are Sam’s, worked out on Janis, her beloved bass guitar.

But, while she loves the music, the band and the performing, Sam doesn’t like the fame. She’s more of a loner by nature. She has what she calls a Clark Kent life that she tries to keep from being smothered by the fact of being a wealthy rock star. She has her own place, part of which she rents out to some folks that we don’t really meet, but we hear a lot about, and when she’s not on stage, she tends to avoid all the nonsense that could overwhelm her.

One of her joys is riding her bicycle on the paths in New York and it is on one of these night rides through the park that she is attacked by a couple of large dogs, one of which bites her.

If a lot of Young Adult fiction is about coping with bodily changes, Sam is soon in for a doozy of an adaptation. The title of the book had to tell you that she’s been bitten by a werewolf, so I’m not spoiling anything here.

Sam’s changes begin that night, as the vegetarian quickly develops an intense craving for meat, and when she actually has a chance to score with a guy she’s been crushing on for ages, she finds herself tempted to actually eat him up – and not in any good way.

There are dreams, odd things with canine overtones. There’s Marlon, who seems to know just what’s happening to her, but won’t come right out and tell her, until she actually sprouts hair and claws and makes part of the transition. There’s Owen, his brother, who seems to be something of a fan stalker, until it turns out that there’s more of a problem than that.

Marlon’s parents are wealthy and respected academics, and both of them are lycans. The curse, as they call it, began with Pierre Lebrun, and he gave it to his first son and his wife in the usual manner, during times when his inner wolf took control. Owen was born after Francoise had turned, so his case is a bit different, and he has a lot more control issues.

Owen has been looking for a mate for some time, and the only way he could get one was to turn a number of girls and hope one of them didn’t end up dead or deformed. Most females apparently don’t make the change well, something Pohl-Weary’s lycans share with those in Kelly Armstrong’s version of this mythology.

While there are more than a few tense moments in this book and no lack of physical tension, a good deal of it is about Sam trying to cope. The changes are triggered by emotion, particularly fear and anxiety, and she is full of that, not really wanting to have to deal with this new reality at all. At first, there are none of her old peers she can share her problems with, and that makes everything worse.

Her new senses and abilities alter her musical abilities to a degree as her reflexes amp up. There are issues with her bandmates at first. There are inquisitive fans, one of whom snaps pix of her gobbling down some chicken under a tree. There’s a video shoot that goes sideways and a torturous television interview.

But mostly there’s a battle for her attention between the Lebrun boys and the need, once she is aware of it, to do something about the mess that Owen has left in his furry wake all over the city.

For all the serious issues that come up, the book is very funny, with scenes like Sam scarfing down garlic ribs in the a stall in the women’s washroom at a restaurant, or the sophisticated Lebrun parents diving for the meat during a meal at their mansion.

Emily Pohl-Weary is the granddaughter of science fiction icons Frederik Pohl and Judith Merrill and won a Hugo Award herself for her biography of Merrill. Like her grandparents, she has been an editor, a novelist, with a bent towards the fantastic. She has also worked in writing groups with troubled youth in Toronto and at a First Nations, Metis and Inuit transition home there. She has written several YA novels, graphic novels and, most recently, Ghost Sick, a book of poetry inspired by tales of inner city violence.

She has just ended a summer residency at Berton House.

 

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Bookends: All good fables must come to an end January 28, 2016

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Bookends: All good fables must come to an end

By Dan Davidson

August 16, 2015

– 843 words –

Fables 150: FarewellFables 150

written by Bill Willingham

art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green and 26 others

Vertigo

160 pages

$21.99

 

Fables, the comic book series, began with a mystery. Issues 1 to 5 were collected in book form as Legends in Exile, and developed the idea that a vast number of the characters who inspired our legends and folktales have been living, for some time, in a New York enclave that they call Fabletown. Only the human seeming fables could live there, and we later learned that there was an upstate Animal Farm where non-human fables resided.

Through 150 issues, published individually and in 22 collected volumes since 2002, the fables have been dealing with the problems created by a number of fearsome foes, as well as internal issues.

They had been driven from their homelands, which can be found in other dimensions, by a world conquering tyrant known as the Adversary. He intended to extend his conquest to Earth, known to the Fables as the Mundy (for Mundane) World. Roughly the first half of the series involves the story arc in which the problem of the Adversary is slowly revealed and brought to a resolution.

The next big problem comes from the fact that a very evil being called Mr. Dark, who had been captured by the Adversary during his conquests, is freed from his imprisonment and is able to wreak a considerable amount of havoc through many worlds before coming to Earth and affecting Fabletown.

As each problem’s solution tends to create a newer problem, so the resolution of the Dark threat exacerbates what have always been issues between the sisters Snow White and Rose Red, and the series moves towards its end by examining their family history and how those issues might be resolved.

Working with public domain characters, Willingham has felt free to reinterpret and put his own spin on their lives. Jack, for instance, is an avatar of all the fables named Jack, and his story became complicated enough to spin off into its own 50 issue series, also collected in a set of volumes.

Jack, like all the fables, is more or less immortal, his lifespan and general health determined by the number of people who have read about him and enjoyed his adventures. When Goldilocks becomes a psychotic anarchist and raises a revolt at the Farm, it becomes impossible to kill her because her story is so well known.

The first Sheriff of Fabletown is a fellow named Bigby (which is short for Big Bad), who is actually the Big Bad Wolf of many legends. Turns out he is a shapeshifter and can assume human form. He has reformed, largely due to having fallen in love with Snow White, and they eventually marry and have a litter of shapeshifting kids. Snow is the administrator of Fabletown working under King Cole, who is the elected mayor, until he is defeated by a certain Prince Charming, who has, at some point, been involved with most of the major fable females in a number of stories.

Willingham decided that these fables princesses had interesting stories that could be told, and that developed into another series called The Fairest. Other writers have been called in to flesh out these stories.

Willingham has used a wide range of story types to spin out this series. It began with a noir style detective story, and moved on to explore various genre types, including the conspiracy thriller and the caper story. It came to include romances, high fantasy, war stories, adventure tales and sheer comedy. There are long story arcs that run for five or six issues and then there are short items, perhaps not more than a page or two, that deal with small incidents and tie off some loose plot threads. Finally, of course there is this one, single, 160 page issue which devotes about half its space to wrapping up the Snow vs. Rose conflict.

The rest of the book is a series of “The Last…” stories, vignettes tying off the story arcs of some of the lesser characters in the list. This is where those 26 other artists that I mentioned come into play. Apparently a lot of creative folks wanted to contribute to this final volume, which culminates in a family gathering set in the Bigby/Snow compound (called Wolfholm, of course) about 1000 years in the future.

As we near the end of the series, we learn that the nearly everything we’ve read has actually been written by Ambrose, one of Bigby and Snow’s children.

Fables has been a positive pleasure for the last 13 years, and I shall miss it. It’s one of the few comics that I continued to buy (in collected editions) in hard copy format after I largely moved over to reading digital editions (I know – but it solved a storage problem). Fortunately, I can still read the whole series again, at my leisure.

 

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Bookends: Short form Books are exploding January 28, 2016

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Bookends: Short form Books are exploding

By Dan Davidson

July 15, 2015

– 867 words –
While we have about 16 bookcases (not shelves – bookCASES) at Chateau Davidson, most of them organized by genre and filled to the brim, we also enjoy e-books, especially for light reading that we don’t necessarily want to find shelf room for.

One of the advantages of the e-book format is that it allows works by a particular author, or in a particular series, to remain “in print” (so to speak) due to the “just in time and as needed” nature of e-publishing.

Mystery writer Dana Stabenow (the Kate Shugak series) told me recently that the only way to get the first half-dozen volumes in her series these days is in e-book form. With many other writers this is also true.

Aside from that, e-books make possible the publication of volumes that are not quite long enough to be actual books, unless they happen to be published by specialty

The novella (or short novel) used to be a popular form, and such classic works as Animal Farm, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Time Machine and The Pearl are all examples of this type. These have all been published many times over in book form, but most novels these days seem to be well over 300 pages in length and many simple genre works run even longer.

 

Jacaranda: A Novella of the Clockwork Century

By Cherie PriestJacaranda

Subterranean Press

181 pages

$32.00

 

Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series about an alternate America where history is quite different and the supernatural is a real element of everyday life, has a number of novels connected to it. Jacaranda is set in this world, but it is short and has previously been available only in the above referenced high quality press edition for really serious fans, put out by Subterranean Press.

This is a dense and fairly complicated haunted hotel story in which the central character is a former robber and gunslinger turned priest. There’s a hurricane, ghosts, guilty secrets (a slight touch of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians) and enough tension to go around.

I hadn’t read anything by Priest prior to picking up this volume during one of the Humble Bundle promotions, but I think I will be looking for more.

 

Another advantage of the e-book is the promotion of long form journalism outside the boundaries of the newspapers or magazines in which the pieces first appeared. This week I’ll mention the memoirs of two writers who have been Berton House writers-in-residence.

 

Blindsided: How Twenty Years of Writing About Booze, Drugs and Sex Ended in the Blink of an Eye

By Russell Smith

Blindsided

Kindle Edition

21 pages

$2.99

 

Russell Smith was our first resident, nearly twenty years ago now, and has gone on to write a number of novels and short story collections. These drew upon his experiences and the adventures he had during his day job as a lifestyle columnist for the Globe and Mail and contributor to a number of national magazines.

The full title of Blindsided, narrated in Smith’s usual somewhat ironic style, gives you the notion, justified in the story, that his sampling of the various substances imbibed as part of his regular “research” led to the loss of sight in first one eye and then the other.

Smith isn’t moralizing in this book, but he makes no excuses for what he ultimately describes as self-destructive, and somewhat dumb, behaviour. Even after the first eye went, he hardly slowed down his pace. It took the near loss of the second eye to make him change his lifestyle.

 

My Never-Ending Acid Trip: Why I Still Hallucinate Years After Taking LSDNever-ending acid trip

By Jacob Scheier

Toronto Star e-book

About 56 pages, with photographs

$2.99

Jacob Scheier was this year’s early spring Berton House resident. He is best known as a Governor General’s Award winning poet, but he has lately taken to developing the prose side of his talents.

This long form memoir began as an exercise at a writers’ workshop retreat and developed into a series published in the Toronto Star.

Scheier is completely candid about the fact that his experimentation with drugs during his teenage and young adult years – he specifies 200 hits of acid and more than 60 tablets of ecstasy – opened some relays in his brain that interacted with medication he was taking five years later for depression and anxiety.

He began to have intense visual hallucinations, thought he was going mad, and eventually checked himself into a psych ward, where things got worse. The profession’s reliance on an array of pharmacological interventions did nothing for him.

Interestingly, it was the out of fashion “talking cure”, the same experienced by another Berton House alumnus, James FitzGerald (What Disturbs our Blood). that eventually gave him some relief and enabled him to develop his award winning craft.

 

As noted above, none of these three books would have been available unless I had either paid the high price for the specialty volume, or had seen the memoirs in the magazine and newspapers where they were originally printed.

That’s enough to make a good case of the usefulness of e-books to the devotee of the printed word.

 

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Bookends: Two books about revolutionary change January 27, 2016

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Bookends: Two books about revolutionary change

By Dan

June 10, 2015

– 875 words -Davidson

 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

By Robert HeinleinMoon is Harsh

Orb Books

384 pages

$13.71

 

Blackstone Audiobooks

Unabridged reading by Lloyd James

14 hours and 12 minute

$29.95

 

Science fiction writers of the mid 1960s missed a lot of things, like personal computers and cell phones, for instance, but they also assumed we’d be a lot further ahead when it comes to space exploration. Writing several years before the moon landing, Robert Heinlein assumed that by 2076 we’d have colonies on the moon and that, given the biological adjustments to one-sixth earth normal gravity that would take place after an extended residence, it would tend to be a one way trip.

To him, that suggested that the moon might well become a penal colony: Australia in space, home of political and criminal exiles from the mother planet.

Now the date, ending in 76 as it does, is a strong suggestion as to what kind of book this is likely to be. It’s about the various lunar colonies banding together and shaking off the chains of Earth. In this future, Luna (as the locals like to call it) is a major supplier of grain for the crowded Earth, but the resources that make this possible are finite and a group of people realize that this cannot go on.

The story is told to us in a somewhat stilted, Russian influenced dialect by Manuel Garcia O’Kelly Davis, a computer tech who has stumbled onto a secret that no one else knows. The main computer that runs much of the tech on the moon has reached that tipping point of circuits, processing and memory capacity where it has developed sentience, has become an artificial intelligence. As it is a HOLMES IV computer, Manny decides to call it Mike (short for Mycroft) and has spent a fair amount of time teaching it about being human (they exchange jokes) before he becomes involved with the lunar resistance movement.

Other key characters are the typical Heinlein “wise old man” character, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, and would be revolutionary Wyoming Knott. Manny becomes involved with the resistance and, with the assistance of Mike, the three of them build the sort of organization needed to pry Luna free.

The book breaks down into three sections: the building of the resistance; the Earth-side negotiations; the actual revolution.

There’s a lot of Heinleinish rhetoric about different kinds of family structures. Manny is part of a line family with multiple husbands and wives. There’s lots of There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch (tanstaafl) conversation, with action vignettes to prove the point. The book is at times a bit of a “talking heads” production, but the conversations are interesting.

Since there are 41 extant editions and formats of this book, you can choose the version you like. The one on my bookshelf is the 1968 Berkley/Putnam edition, which I read in 1969 when I was in grade 12. I don’t reread novels often, but I have taken to listening to old favourites while travelling, and this is one I can definitely recommend. It got me through 27 bags of leaves while cleaning up the lawn, as well as most of the way to Skagway on a recent road trip. Lloyd James did an excellent job with the first person narration as well as the numerous voices needed to make the story come to life.

While I read all five of the novels that came after this one, RAH did become more and more obsessed with sex and with being preachy about lifestyles and politics as he got older, and this is the book that marks for me the end of his strongest period as a writer.

 

 

Rupert’s Parchment: Story of Magna Carta

Story by Eileen Cameron

Illustrations by Doris EttlingerRupert's Parchment

Mascott Books

36 pages

$19.95

 

As our current government nibbles away at the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s interesting to take a look at the document that started the notion that there should be limits to the power of the state over the lives of its people.

Within our English tradition, the document is the Magna Carta (or Great Charter), which celebrates its 800th anniversary on June 15 this year.

Rupert is the son of a local parchment maker. His village has been ransacked by the king’s men on a number of occasions, so when the family learns of a great gathering at Runnymede – a thing that may either be a negotiation or a great battle – Rupert is fascinated.

It turns out to be a negotiation, and Rupert’s father is asked to provide the parchment on which the solemn agreement between King John and the disaffected nobles will be written and signed.

One of the key phrases, one we may need to remember in light of Bill C-51, is “No free man shall be imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions … except by lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

The text is appropriate for young readers. There is a story as well as some factual material and the illustrations are effective.

 

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Bookends: Adventures in the spy trade and in a bookstore November 5, 2015

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Bookends: Adventures in the spy trade and in a bookstore

By Dan DavidsonMorgue

May 6, 2015

– 792 words –

The Jennifer Morgue

By Charles Stross

Ace Books

401 pages

$9.99

Once there was a writer from Texas named Robert E. Howard. He specialized in a form of fantasy called sword and sorcery and, though he was far from the only writer in the genre, his tales of Conan the barbarian have probably rendered him the best known name of the tribe.

He was an associate of another genre writer named H.P. Lovecraft, whose tales of eldritch monsters from other dimensions, that used to rule the Earth, have inspired many a horror fantasy writer.

Then there was Ian Fleming, a one time spy, stockbroker, banker and foreign correspondent, who turned his wish-fulfillment dreams into James Bond and left that mark on the world. You can read more about him and his creation in the afterword to this novel, “The Golden Age of Spying.”

The book at hand is the second in Charles Stross’s tales of the Laundry, which is what he’s calling his magic driven version of the British secret service. Magic is a form of applied mathematics in this world, a compendium of useful spells at stored on PDAs for easy retrieval.

Bob Howard (the reference should be obvious from how I started this column) is a top agent of the Laundry, and his business is keeping mystical mishaps and alien incursions from happening.

In this reality we are sharing the planet with some rather nasty creatures, and there are various protocols in place that allow us to coexist without being wiped out by them. Some live deep in the Earth, so we must not tunnel too deeply. Fracking would be a no-no. others are in the deepest reaches of the oceans and so there are other boundaries we must observe.

Some of them are at war with each other and would be creating planetary havoc if not for certain fail safes that have been put in place.

A billionaire named Ellis Billington believes that by commandeering one of these, code named the Jennifer Morgue, he can achieve ultimate power in the human world. In order to do this he needs some unwitting agents to act out the basic patterns that can be found in the works of Ian Fleming. He arranges to impose a geas (compulsion spell) on Bob to cause him to assume the role of Bond, and lines up a suitable woman (sort of – it’s complicated) to play the part of the somewhat dubious female lead. Bound by this spell, and linked psychically in ways no Fleming couple ever could have been, they are to become the unwitting agents of his success.

It might have all worked as planned if Bob and Ramona hadn’t managed to work out just what was going on and managed to jam a few sticks through the bicycle wheels of his plot.

This is the second Laundry Files book, the first having been a collection of stories called The Atrocity Archives. The present book actually contains the mystical Fleming homage I’ve been describing, which is a full novel on its own. Then there is a short story that is more the usual sort of Laundry adventure, something involving computer role playing games. Finally there is the informative and entertaining essay about Fleming and his hero to which I referred you back in paragraph 3.

The whole package is full of adventure and no small amount of humour. Give it a try.

Curious George Goes to a BookstoreGeorge

Story by Julie M. Bartynski

Illustrations by Mary O’Keefe Young

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

32 pages

$17.95

Margret and H.A. Rey are no longer with us, but Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat live on. I don’t think the original books ever got quite the posh treatment that this one has received: hardcover, full colour, slick paper, end papers. This is a far cry from those Scholastic Press paperbacks that have filled the children’s sections of so many libraries.

This follows the standard outline. The Man (no longer capitalized for some reason) takes George somewhere. George wanders off and gets into a bit of mischief that doesn’t actually hurt anyone and is rescued from the situation by the man.

George meets his favourite author, had some banana bread, finds boxes full of the newest book in his favourite series of books, sets up an unauthorized but very inventive book display that everyone likes, and gets to meet his favourite author.

There’s a nice touch at the end, a page that gives a brief section on how to write a story and three story starters, which it invites young readers to try for themselves.

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Bookends – How the tales of Tommy Taylor began February 18, 2015

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Bookends – How the tales of Tommy Taylor beganUnwritten - Ship

By Dan Davidson

November 26, 2014

– 938 words –

 

The Unwritten:

Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice

Story by Mike Carey

Art layouts by Peter Gross

Finishes and colours by various artists

 

160 pages

$12.30

 

There have been 10 volumes collecting the ongoing story Carey and Gross have created in the Unwritten. If Thomas King is correct in his assertion that “all we are is stories” this series is the graphic adventure that deals with that concept directly. Volumes 1 to 9 collected the first 54 issues of the book, and a new sequence began with volume 10, containing the next five issues.

Tom Taylor is the real life son of Wilson Taylor, who has created and published 14 volumes in the saga of the boy wizard Tommy Taylor. The real Tom has Christopher Robin’s problem in relation to his fictional alter-ego. Like Christopher Milne, Tom grows up to hate the connection between himself and the fictional Tommy.

What we have been slowly coming to understand is that the connection in stronger than anyone might readily believe. Wilson was once an agent of a nameless cabal that attempts, quite successfully, to influence the way of the world by promoting the stories that influence how we, the public, think about things. This is all accomplished through the manipulation of something the cabal calls the Grid.

As Wilson became more aware of how the Grid worked he became repulsed by their machinations and decided to fight back. To that end he deliberately linked his son to a fictional creation and wrote a series of adventures which promoted belief in the character in ways that make “Frodo Lives” graffiti and earth-bound Quidditch matches seem quite tame by comparison.

He also programmed his son, using all manner of learning styles, including listening to stories while in a sensory deprivation tank, to be linked to the power of stories, so that the power of the Grid could be harnessed by him and focused to manifest itself as magic. Tom was unaware of this until years later, after his father had disappeared, leaving everyone waiting for the next installment of the Tommy books. It hasn’t been said yet, but one expects that this anticipation was part of Wilson’s grand plan.

Just after the break provided at the end of volume 9, Carey and Gross decided to provide us with a two strand graphic novel that did not appear as part of the regular monthly book. One strand of the story is the tale of how Wilson planned and wrote the first of the Tommy Taylor books, Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice. The other strand is a graphic novel presentation of that book.

In the Wilson sections we get a close look at his creative process, showing early drafts of the first book’s opening as he picks his way through the various fantasy tropes and decides which ones to use. At the same time we get a look at his domestic life; how Tom was conceived, how Wilson timed his release of the first book to coincide with Tom’s birth; how an entirely fictional mother was grafted into his life’s story while his real mother was cut out.

In Tommy’s story we learn of an orphan boy whose parents were two of the most powerful wizards in all the land, and of how they sacrificed their lives in order to keep a great evil from coming back into the world. This sacrifice also entailed taking from their baby son the legacy of the spark, his naturally inherited ability to channel magic, for they needed more power than the two of them had to stop the vampiric Count Ambrosio from returning to the mundane world. They did manage to save Tom’s life by causing him to be cast ashore when they deliberately scuttled the ship they were travelling on.

Tom is raised as an anonymous orphan child at a magic academy, his true identity known only to its headmaster, Professor Tulkinghorn, who keeps that secret until Tom is about to become a teenager. Tom, though sparkless, is an excellent student with a retentive memory, learns much of the lore taught at the academy, can call more of it to mind than most of the other students and, lacking power, is forced to develop his wits.

The problem comes when the ill informed and arrogant members of the Conclave, the magical governing body, decide to raise the sunken ship, thinking that it contains the ancient magicks of Lyonesse, which the Taylors had sailed to that mythic land to obtain. It does, but it also contains the ancient evil of Ambrosio, and that is unleashed on the land, corrupting most of the people of Eastbrooke in preparation for an assault on the rest of the world.

Bouncing back and forth as we do, we can see the struggle in the book as a mirror of Wilson’s struggle against the cabal. The blending of the two is complete when one of Wilson’s creations crosses over into our world while Tom is still just a toddler. Tom forgets this as he grows up, passing through his rebellious teems and nearly wasted youth but, as we have seen, it all comes together and has been revealing itself monthly since 2010.

This book ties up a lot of loose ends and makes a number of things clearer. I do hope the creators do this again with another of the Tommy books, taking us through another phase of Wilson’s planning. This was a lot of fun.

 

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Bookends: How they saved the world one Victorian Hallowe’en February 18, 2015

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Bookends: How they saved the world one Victorian Hallowe’enLonesome October

By Dan Davidson

November 5, 2014

– 780 words –

 

A Night in the Lonesome October

By Roger Zelazny

Illustrations by Gahan Wilson

Chicago Review Press

280 pages

$18.95

 

Apparently Jack the Ripper had a reason for all those grisly murders. He needed those body parts as his contribution to a ritual that had to be enacted on All Hallows Eve in order to keep the Great Old Ones from entering our reality and snuffing out all life on the Earth from which they had been banished millennia earlier.

Jack is one of the Closers who strive against the Openers, those who would open an interdimensional gateway at one of the thin places on the planet and let the Great Evil Ones in. This can only happen (and it never has – but it could) when there is a full moon on Hallowe’en, which only occurs every few decades.

That’s the story that Jack’s dog, Snuff, would like us to believe, at any rate, and since he’s the narrator of this, Roger Zelazny’s final novel, we’ll just have to decide if he’s reliable. Oh – wait – Cthulhu has not risen, and we have not come to the sad end shown to us in the recent movie, The Cabin in the Woods, which draws on the same source material, so perhaps Snuff was right.

Anyway, isn’t it appropriate that Jack the Ripper’s dog should be named Snuff?

Snuff is a dog of near human intelligence who can actually speak to his human master in English during certain hours of the day. The rest of the time he can only speak to the various animals who are the familiars of the other players in what they all call the Great Game. Some of these players are Dracula, Victor Frankenstein, Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), the Great Detective (you know who), a Mad Monk, a Satanic Clergyman, a Witch and a number of others. Each has a mentally enhanced creature that works with him or her: a snake, an owl, a cat, etc. This applies to all of the players except Talbot, whose dual nature allows him to be his own familiar, except during full moon periods, when the potions he uses to control his condition fail to suppress the wolf mentality.

The book has 32 chapters, one for each day in October and one introductory chapter in which we learn about Snuff and Jack and the fact that they are the keepers of a number of strange and deadly creatures they have imprisoned in their house. One of Snuff’s jobs is to ride herd on these critters and keep them from escaping into the world. At one point the creatures manage to get out, aided by one of the Closers. Snuff and Jack have a terrible time getting them back under control.

The book is made up of the present tense entries in Snuff’s journal. Since Snuff would always know exactly what the Game is all about and has no need to record exposition for its own sake, we only learn about the Game in disjointed bits and pieces as he interacts and chats with the familiars of the other Players.

You couldn’t say that the Players represent good and evil, since both groups engage in what would have to be called criminal activities in pursuit of their goals. On the other hand, you’ve certainly got to root for the people who are doing things intended to keep the real monsters from taking over the world.

I mentioned the film Cabin in the Woods, in which a group of sleazy scientists (so it appears) put a group of young people through every horror cliché imaginable. You hate them and root for the young people, only to find out they are doing it to keep the monsters from breaking through. Zelazny used the same “necessary sacrifices” idea in this book two decades ago.

Zelazny was in the vanguard of the second wave of great SF writers in the mid-1960s, famous for his poetic use of language (he also published books of poetry) and his linking of SF and Fantasy by reinterpretations of classic myths and legends. During his career he picked up six Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards and two Locus Awards, among others.

This was his last book, first published in 1993. It was a Nebula nominee for that year. This edition is a reissue from Chicago Review Press, which specializes in high quality paperback editions in its “rediscovered classics series”.

Gahan Wilson is one of the great cartoonists of the grotesque, and his 33 full page illustrations certainly add to the flavour of the book.

 

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