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___THE SUMMER READS_ _

 

Summer is for vacations. It's the time to slack off. So, in the spirit of Africa heat incinerating Tucson during these months, I'm taking hammock time, selecting for vacuousness, and short-stubbing my reviews accordingly. Natch, they're not all gonna be racetrack dogs, as some will have legs beyond the event, just as some will slip right in the starting blocks—anotherwords, it's the game as usual! Besides, I'm usually traveling up and down the West, so I don't have my research tools or a solid connection to the internet.

So, that'll do, Pig.

 

 
MUSE OF FIRE by DAN SIMMONS, c.2007

This is a subtle, subversive novella. The title is a space ship traveling around various systems performing old Shakespeare plays. Humanity has been enslaved by aliens a long time ago. Turns out there are Gods upon Gods upon Gods, and our merry crew of thespians perform the top tragedies—Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear—as they're shuttled up the Godchain. Genocide of humanity hangs on the excellence of their performance. The plot turns in ways you wouldn't expect, for author Simmons is a god himself among scribes; however, the read is pretty mundane and unmemorable. Simmons, I think, needs a bigger bag of words to really bring the presents home.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

DOGS by NANCY KRESS, c.2008

The leading curiosity is: what would you do if the Authorities—government & police, local or otherwise—threatened to take away your furry best friend? Yeah, there's a hinting parallel to the AIDS virus, especially since the very human Patient Zero gets infected by feral, African dogs, then deliberately bites other dogs to get the whole thing rollin'. Also, yeah, there's Islamic terrorists involved exploiting the situation, but that seems thrown in for current, topical spin. The real story is the various reactions to an out-of-control crisis situation by local yokels as honorable or despicable or a combo of the two. A fun idea, and certainly a serviceable read, but it ain't Beggars in Spain (novella version, not the expanded sinker).

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson, c.2011

This one sure got a lot of press, especially when Spielberg bought the rights. All I gotta say is that I trust Stevie to make better art in film than author Wilson did with prose. Yeah, the pages turn, so it's fine for this list of summer reading, but the composition layout alone regulates this one to scheduling a core dump. Hell, it reads more like and script anyway, with its lead-in quote from the highlighted character and introductory synopsis commencing every chapter. These dumbed-down tidbits are compiled by the possible protagonist and pretty much cement characters to surface-only development. The main plot is regurgitated boredom and atmosphere is purely serviceable, so the only hope is in the details, which I've already forgotten.

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

LADY OF MAZES by Karl Schroeder, c. 2005

Another very complex vision following on the heels of Permanence, defining the parameters of reality as what you participate in depends on your level of clearance. I doubt if the author knew of Facebook when he created the notion of a society of your friends' xxxxx always hovering around you like a holographic conference call. Reality is further segmented

 

Copyright 03/25/2011 by Larry Crawford

 

DEMONS by JOHN SHIRLEY, c. 2000-2

Boy, talk about a brain fart. I quit this book at 116 out of a 372 page length about a week ago and I can't remember one stinkin' detail about it. Shirley's written some rockin' short stories, but, for me, that appears to be about it. Concerning his longer works (see my review of Crawlers), he hasn't kept me on the seat long enough for that final flush.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

FLESH HELL: LOVE, SAVAGERY & TRANSCENDENCE by Kirsten Imani Kasai , c.2006

I decided to read this debut novel as a prequel to her next novel, Ice Song, which is in a more conventional arena. It is, as the author states in her “Notes”, an attempt “to portray the profound emotional & psychological changes the sex industry”—specifically on-stage and in-booth stripping—“effects on the women whose labor sustain it.” She includes a website for further information, but it's in an Asian language. The novel itself is not quite as unfathomable, but its pretentious prose and blatent saber-rattling against the men who run this industry, the men who participate in this industry, the men who don't see her for who she really is, the men . . .

Her venom is fun at times. Try running out of breath reciting this quote:

 

Catcalls, jeers, lewd and suggestive remarks heaped upon our sweetmeat like so much gravy until perfectly stewed to ripe perfection in her own incensed bile, she leaves those halls of injustice where the masculine wields the whip and rein, to walk again among the stone throwers, those sidewalk snakes. This is their Valhalla , those denizens of dark appetites, overlords of all heretofore undreamed. Hobbled in the box, alone between the shadows cast by muted stage lights and vivid blue TV screens, aglow in pink, wallowing in red, does their art find its expression. You can imagine what transpires.

—p.37

 

This is Aghast Prose—as in OMG!—with quasi-clever phraseology tying together plot points which have nothing else to ground them down so they don't disappear. See? Her style of writing is insidiously infectious. Bound away! Now!

Dead at page 38 out of 188, but picked it up and finished it out of sheer spite. Or was it curiosity? No, ah, just like 50 Shades of Gray , the sex scenes keep on churnin' and the pages keep on turnin'.

And, yeah, I've been on the other side of the glass from author Kasai 's autobiographical character, Joely. I've been to the Condor Club and watched famed stripper What's-her-name float down from the ceiling. And I confess. It was never that alluring for me, really, just a sleazy, base spectacle of misplaced desires. I won't put this criticism on Flesh Hell, because, by the end of the novel, Joely has reached a catharsis of sorts concerning carnality, but these days denouncements are always suspect because of the prurience in the very acts they are denouncing. Kasai 's penultimate outrage takes a scummy back seat to quirky tidbits like the fatboy who holds up an album of himself shooting cum at the camera. It's the literary equivalent to Babelwood's technicolor peep shows with an hour-and-a-half of cleavage and glistening sweat ending with five minutes of glib repentance. But that's my own rant.

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

THE FIVE by ROBERT McCAMMON, c.2011

No matter what you think about this author—see my assessment of his first four novels—he writes best-seller, beach-read prose. To me, the most interesting thing about this odyssey of a bar band's travails on the road in a beater van with no money and no drugs is the subtle way he slips in the supernatural element. It's a mainstream story, really, with a touching homage to rock-‘n-roll via loyalty and love. And when things get bogged down—he backstories, repeats plot points, sidebars into all sorts of things that a good editing would trashcan—an action scene emerges that glues you to the pages. A verbose read does simmer the characters into a fine stew; however, even when the main one—a lead guitar, co-songwriting man-child—is quite unlikable. The numinous ingredient turns out to be bible-thumpin', tent preachin', Christian deevill verses the Big Guy in de Sky. Okay, that's overstated—probably ‘cause of my disappointment—but somehow it feels Born Again. I mean, come on, the psycho-dog badguy climaxing the novel by fallin' in the dirt with tears streaking his face, cryin' “forgive me”? What does that say to you?

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

BLINDSIGHT by PETER WATTS, c. 2006

For some reason, I had a lot of hope for this novel themed for first contact/alien invasion fun. Unfortunately, it sinks quickly into incomprehensible withholds and an overabundance of techno-babble. Fortunately, for those diehards out there, there's a website thrown up—I suspect posthumously—to guide you through this in medias res, poorly-visualized confusion. An ally reviewer calls it “idea storms”(backcover blurb from WA Post). I just don't have the patience to skim along the surface, looking for a sinkhole into characterization and plot, and meaning.

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

THE SILENT LAND by GRAHAM JOYCE, c. 2010

Okay, I'll admit it right now: I cried at the end of My Dog Skip. Hell, I wouldn't even go see Marley and Me. Call me sentimental, but sometimes combining the themes of love and death just sink me. Sometimes it's easier to externalize these feelings on animals.

This ups the ante by being one of those books about humans.

I'm not going to rattle on about plot points. I'm not even sure what kind of genre shirt to put on this novel. Mystery? Romance? Horror with Heart? It's about a middle-aged married couple who get caught in an avalanche, survive it, then find out nobody else did. That, or they all booked. A page-turner for sure, but it is not a harrowing story of survival. It's about loyalty, loss, and love “in a place where a horse shits rainbows”(p.211).

This isn't Steinbeck, but then, this isn't the 1950s, either. It's nice to get deeply, imaginatively touched every now and then by the only things that really, truly matter.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

THE GIFT OF FIRE/ON THE HEAD OF A PIN by Walter Mosley, c. 2012

It would stand to reason that a novella entitled The Gift of Fire would be thematically inspired or at least weave around the myth of Prometheus. So the Prologue seemed appropriate. But, the story continues about Prometheus' further adventures, like, the God himself coming down to Earth amidst us mortals, like, now.

 

“What happened to your clothes, buddy?” the other man, police man, asked.

. . .”I bring you the gift of fire,” he said, still speaking the old tongue, the language of sand and sea.

--p.18

 

I mean, come on, does anybody else see Arnold standin' there naked at Griffith Observatory on Mount Hollywood back in 1984?

By page 42 the image had changed to Hemsworth's flexing pecs in the cartoonish film Thor. Absurdist parable? Who cares. Goodbye.

At least On the Head of a Pin is readable. But unless you consider pseudo-myths like Superman's origin story to be gospel, I wouldn't waste the two hours to read this histrionic babble. Plot is old SF trope about the God machine. Way too much time is spent explaining everything. The action is all flash grenades because there's no depth in the barely-fleshed characters. Author Mosley has written way too much outside of Science Fiction to be taken seriously here. Stay over there in the mean streets, dude.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

2312 by KIM STANLEY ROBINSON, c. 2012

Now this is Science Fiction. This is also one of the most incredible novels I've read in the science-heavy side of this genre. Confining himself to human expansion throughout the solar system projected 300 years into the future, author Robinson finds a literary technique to give us the mega-gobs of information we need while telling a tale of many tentacles. This is a mystery, a science paper, a quest, and a mature love story, and a lot of other things I've probably missed. Fascinating scenes abound like pearls on a string as he follows a group of characters surprisingly small for the immense size of this telling, yet he keeps his focus tight on the main protagonist, Swan Er Hong, an exuberant, 130-year-old, artist, society and political mainplayer, with a quantum computer in her head along with birdsong and wolf empathy implants, and some sort of alien bug in her stomach. She also has a penis and testicles along with the regular female plumbing, but that's probably TMI at this point.

The mainplot is concerned with the anti-social, anti-survival use of qube computers behavior, bringing out the age-old conflict against outsiders, as extended in the tension between Earthers and Spacers. Sabatoge develops, causing Swan to lead us through the human universe, from a city on rails on Mercury to the moons of Saturn, including numerous visits to a ravaged Earth. We are introduced to political, social, economic, and philosophical manifestations of our current ideologies and practices as projected by the scientists and experts of today. Sure, there's a lot missing, but the concepts and artifacts presented are so wondrous you don't care.

This book deserves a full review, and maybe I'll tackle it later on, as Robinson's deftly-painted images linger in my head. For instance, modes of transportation are quite varied from conventional spaceships and un-conventional sexships, to atmosphere-blasting elevators, to the terrariums—worlds with breathable envelopes and workable gravity cored out of an asteroid and propelled like a trolley between worlds. There are about 20,000 of them in the system, formed for all sorts of purposes, but mainly for food-growth, animal populations, and the preseverance of complete eco systems no longer intact on an Earth that, because of melted icecaps, has its ocean shores raised 30- 40 feet . NYC is now the new Venice , and, although the technology exists to drain the Hudson , the crowded inhabitants like its reorientation. There's also a project to raise Florida , as the whole state is underwater. Overall, the Earth is “a very disturbing place”(p.306).

One of the many highlights of the novel is when the Spacers coordinate a “rewilding” by dropping hundreds of thousands of animals in bubble-parachute gizmos “floating down like seeds in the sun”(p.399) onto a critter-decimated Earth. And, creating a scene just as riveting but opposite in active excitement, author Robinson plunks his two main characters—Swan the Mercurian and Wahram a Saturnian—into a “utilidor” underground tunnel to survive the terrorist attack on Terminator, Mercury's city on rails. They are looking at a 32-day walkout. It is just two characters walking and whistling Beethoven's symphonies, with the emphasis directed inward for about 50 unstoppable pages.

Wow.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

ENORMOUS by TIM DANIEL, ill. by MEDHI CHEGGOUR, c.2012

This is a giant-size comic telling a story in post-apocalyptic Arizona . Backstory has the world sinking from over-population, and good, ol' ‘Merican industrial ingenuity taking the reins with fast-food agriculture to feed the populace. But, just like what a sour Egg McMuffin will do to your insides, AlChem Corp.'s fertilized accelerator creates a mutant evolution that makes monsters, swirls eco systems into new and bizarre arrangements, and causes devastation to civilization as we know it. Now, approximately 2 decades later, surviving humans live among the rubble of Phoenix and an abandoned Titan missile silo in the Sonoran Desert. A Red Dawn-type of hero band missions the saving of children and leading them to safety, which is quite a chore considering the landscape is full of a gigantic, cross-pollinated collection of transmogrified predators. Fortunately, it doesn't turn into just a Big Bug Throwdown, or another Rumble in the Rubble via Battle Los Angeles, as the real enemy is a bunch of Blackwater types led by a madman who is a little more than human.

Enormous has, well, enormous appeal. The graphics are tremendous; both scary and off-balance to give the feeling of extreme precariousness. Stretched horizontal cells contain a tilt-a-whirl, devastated world, as if gravity was suddenly working at right angles. There are a fair number of story arcs and the breakaway transitions can throw you backward as well as forward, but interest is never lost. The story is original yet familiar, relying on undaunted human instincts and emotions in grounding its sympathetic characters and their actions.

The only bad thing happening here is that even though the mainline plot reaches a satisfying plateau, you want the sequel, like, now.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

THE CRONING by LAIRD BARRON, c. 2012

Boy, is this guy's nickname Coyote? ‘Cause he certainly likes tricks, the tongue-in-cheek variety. His short story collections abound with wily interweavings of meaning and cliché slinking through genre setpieces. In The Croning , his debut novel, he mixes it all up into a sly stew.

Let's start with a fairy tale. A patsy—The Spy—sets out after a warlock—The Dwarf—for the sake and continuance of his sister—The Queen. He encounters scared and reluctant Villagers, a dangerous foreign landscape, runes and ruins. He elicits help from The Peddler to enter a supernatural staging area, commonly known as The Castle, where “no confluence of malign events could logically occur in a sane universe”(p.19). There's a Sacrifice. The Spy disappears during the night. Even the Bros Grimm wouldn't leave a tale with such a calamitous ending.

Next up is a thriller, visioned as a parody of the Mexican filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The set is Mexico City, 1958. The story is the same: a dupe sets out to save his missing wife, ends up with the wrong people, is apparently sacrificed, yet escapes during the night, losing all memory of the event. The stereotypical vatos are hilarious and the bar scene is straight out of From Dusk Till Dawn , minus the vampires and Salma Hayek's snake dance (sniff, sniff).

Then there's a tiny insert with two “agents” at a murder/suicide scene that's decidedly spy-game stuff. Later, it fits into the main flashback of 1980 and a “hideously strange weekend” funeral party at an estate outside Wenatchee in eastern Washington, filled with bizarre weirdoes, unsettling conversations, and a “monstrous museum display” (p.187).

Finally, the meat approaches in present time and we have a feast of creepiness involving a professional couple with a generations-old farmhouse in the Washington woods. This is where author Barron really forks himself in a sacrifice against all brevity and digresses into lengthy detail which yawns out his audience without providing dessert. Also, and presumably following his outline to rip through all the genres he can, his prose continues to swagger deeper and deeper into gothic melodrama, choosing to describe his gathering of characters instead of engaging them in dialogue, and taunt with puzzling occurrences impossible to identify without more information. Instead of saying, “it was her habit to do so,” this author will say, “it was endemic of her pathology”(p.192). Worse, it seems character depth is shallower because of this word-strutting, as it puts a verbose diaper between us and them.

Personally, I would recommend bailing the first three-quarters of this read and start with Chapter Seven, titled “The Backyard Expedition”. The characters' personalities are pretty obvious and don't get in the way of this run-screaming adventure. The pulse and timing works with the verbiage and it is stereotypical enough to thoroughly enjoy the ride. Chapter Eight, titled “Mystery Mountain Stomp”, which drops back to 1980 again, could be considered a side bar story necessary for explanation to connect back to present-time reality.

Because—and I must deeply bow to the author's hidden cabal(1)—the final reveal packs one hell of a wallop, as Chapter Nine, titled “The Croning”, puts the cap on the gush. The abyss is opened and the metaphysical duplicities of these “maggoty abominations possessed of incalculable and vile intellect”(p.229) becomes truly all-encompassing. Author Barron even ties up his strangles of the Rumpelstiltskin -esque Chapter One & Chapter Two's ill-advised burlesque, although I still feel somewhat uneasy about their inclusion. It is already sufficiently scary, but with some no-nonsense editing The Croning could have become a better novella.

1) although I probably would've figured the betrayals if I'd only looked up what a “croning” was.

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

 

READY PLAYER ONE by ERNEST CLINE, c. 2011

I heard this was originally a screenplay jobbed around Hollywood but never picked up. And now, of course, it is one of the most anticipated properties to be developed to the IMAX, 3-D multiplexes. This is one reason why Ready Player One plots to a real basic and reliable appeal structure, just like most blockbuster scripts. Another is that it is un-put-downable. When was the last time you walked out on a movie? Well, this book screams to be read in one sitting—preferably in a haptic chair and suit, holding a Habashaw 9400 immersion console ready to log into OASIS, the VR world where three-quarters of this novel takes place.

Futuristically, Earth is about what you'd expect: both eco and econ systems are crapped out, crime is a way of life, and corporate totalitarianism turns the small, working populace into indentured slaves. People who are not imprisoned in the villainous corporate complex Innovative Online Industries (IOI) working off their never-ending debt are living in the “Stacks”—the familiar trashed trailer lifestyle hovel—except now they are piled ten-high, block to block. Life is so miserable, the only relief is OASIS, a free-boot simulation of such complexity—well, think GTA 3 expanded to universe-size proportion.

The plot engine is a quester, as this virtual utopia's creator Steve Jobs—err, I mean James Halliday—has up and died, leaving his bazillions to the winner of a VR scavenger hunt he's created throughout OASIS. And, since it seems most of OASIS was spawned in the blueprint of video games, the search is structured as such, with the players known as “gunters” feverishly studying up on Halliday's main obsession: 1980's pop culture.

So, break out your acid-washed jeans and Star Wars T-shirts, plug in Rush, or Oingo Bongo or Prince into your boombox, load up the VCR with Wargames, Pretty in Pink, Spinal Tap, Ninja Assassins, Ladyhawke, Monty Python, or sitcoms like Family Ties, Alf, Dallas, 21 Jump Street, Cheers , and don't forget to fire up your IBM5150 or Commodore64 or Tandy TRS-80, along with the Atari2600 or Sega SG-1000 playing games like Mortal Kombat, Super Mario , along with the arcaders like Asteroids, PacMan, Galaga, Space Invaders. And never forget Pong and the incomparable Mist . Or, Dungeons and Dragons , for that matter. See? It's a real Back to the Future blast in your DeLorean.

Sure, the gaming fixation fashions the plot all the way along its rocket-ride, but, more importantly, Ready Player One stays true to its social binders and blinders as well. There's the main band of geeks with their avatars voraciously masking their true identities and physical appearance, while pining for recognition and that significant other. But, above it all, there's this vintage comic-book moral vision and kinda feel-good assumption to the novel that climaxes the Big Boss battle so you won't forget the world is still black and white and Good will always prevail. The whole book feels like you're in a Richard Donner or John Hughes film.

So, if you're lookin' to raise up your nostalgic bile with the likes of Reaganomics , Iran -Contra, S&L scandal, or Vanessa Williams' dethroning, read something else.

I mean, come on, this is a geek novel, through and through, so, please, leave your hip gloominess on the bookshelf and don't let it spoil your read. This is also more in the YA category than middle-line Science Fiction anyway, but don't let that stop you, either. And it is also a love story, or, more accurately, a longing story, ‘cause ‘80s pimplefaces ugh-ugh-ugh off their Farah Fawcett posters and don't leave their cave to actually meet girls.

See? Its firing up all your dork dreams, isn't it, Mork from Ork.

(make as an addendum or postscript)

I don't want to bum this fun fluff fantasy, but, just because my social and artistic conscious makes me, what if Art3mis—the avatar of the heroine—instead of pushing her whirled peas solution to stop hunger, well, what if they destroyed this global VR hidey-hole and used their moola to make the world face its fucking problems instead of going Ostrich on-ur-ass? I mean, come on, if the Earth dies, so do we.

Now that would shake the target audience—all us thumb-sore gamey geeks in our cozy, tilt-back theater chairs—while fitting nicely into Hollywood's 90% gratuitous titillation-vs.-10% moral lesson repudiation, wouldn't it?

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

NIGHTINGALE SONGS by Simon Strantzas, c. 2011

 

My friends up in Sedona talk about portals. You know, those New Agey “inter-dimensional doorways, two-way tunnels, curtains of light”(1) that give us an Alice-in-Wonderland access point to all sorts of groovy things like the suspension of time. Well, that's what “Out of Touch”, the leader in this author's third short story collection, gives us. Except this entrance is not a crack in some desert rock formation, but resting within the familiar haunted house phenomenon. The 11-year-old protagonist sees a young girl in the window of an always-abandoned house in his neighborhood. He's got a friend that can rarely leave his home because of some physical malady. These two elements mix to disastrous results when The Reaper forms an appearance as a swarm of butterflies. The ponderance becomes that age-old conflict: is an extended life worth living if it's regulated to a locked room? And, once you know it is possible, will this knowledge haunt you, ruin you, beset you for the rest of your natural life?

Since the author leaves it deliciously ambiguous, that is the interpretation I choose to brood upon.

And, unfortunately, I left this book at my friend's house in Lake Chelan. However, I'd read two more stories without much interest tethering the pages. So, who knows? Lost in the Void.

 

1)  http://www.sedonanewagecenter.com/newsletter/html/2005/cnanewsletter5-11.htm

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

EXISTENCE by DAVID BRIN, c. 2012

Existence. Hmmm. Certainly a ruminative topic fit for a lifetime of study. How cavalier of author Brin to attempt it in a mere 556 pages? But, hold on a minute, we're talking a PhuD in Physics just as starter kudos for this Elite among SF fans. He should not be so easily dismissed.

Existence is categorized and billed as a novel, but it is more essay than narrative, more astrophysical envisages than story. In fiction, dialogue moves plot points and exposes character facets while expositating (1) atmosphere; here, it is primarily a discussion or debate of ideas and tactics. Further, lots of characters talk to themselves. Lots. Quite a few of them run out of things to say and just disappear, like Hacker, a silver-spoonfed hotdog who crashes his one-man rocket in the ocean and posses up with some intelligence-bred dolphins. Or Peng Xiang Bin, a “shoresteader” scavenging the undersea, ruined mansions along the coast of New Shanghai , who discovers a crystal full of vocalized alien smartypants that disagree with the other cryptically-blabbering, crystal-imprisoned aliens swiped out of orbit by a scrounging astronaut at the beginning of the novel. Admittedly, the novel jumps time in groups of decades, but that doesn't seem to stop four of the main characters, most of them of which end up as millions of software copies in space. Moreover, there are actual essays stuck in-between the bouncing plot arcs as asides for the various notions being discussed at the time. Then, there's the brow-furrowing nonsense like the high-functionals and aspergers preach us deep-auties oughta adapt!/+ use techwonders to escape the prisons of our minds!/- (p.50), that's found in un-chaptered, randomly-placed sections. Yeah, I know, they're supposed to add personalization and empathy to the outsider, non-characters, but, luckily, author Brin abandons this technique before breaching is achieved.

So, you see, this is not a typical science fiction novel of apocalypse—coming or going—or of light sabers and starships. It demands a re-positioning of our literary boundaries to include, ugh, research in all its myriad forms. And author Brin is on board to help you with that: http://www.davidbrin.com/existence.html

Admittedly, I don't have much interest beyond the cursory facts of this physical world. My curiosities lie in the social, psychological, philosophical, and environmental aspects of animal life. To me, the brilliance of hard science fiction—as opposed to worldbuilding SF like Dune —is the vaulting imagination that sweeps by extenuation through the ideas, problems, musings of humanity's continuingly-changing directions, conduct, and propositions relevant to its present timeframe.

So, the main curiosity of this novel—the Fermi Paradox (p.22)—pushed me through it, because, the book's mainspring is the discovery of one, then two, then a bunch of interstellar ET software personalities cuddling in a crystal propelling around since the dawning of our Earth. Their purpose? Well, one character says, “it's a goddamned chain letter!”(p.329), another calls them “infectious memes”(p.405), but the best description is that it is an extremely cunning, viral plague of cosmic magnitude.

But that doesn't mean it isn't propitious, or, even better, contributive.

Brin even lists the possible reasons the universe has been silent to us:

 

•  You're afraid of the rash or vicious behavior you see depicted in our media (p.442).

•  You see us as competitors (p.443).

•  you are waiting for us to pass some milestone of development (p.448).

•  You are studying us and have a noninterference policy (p.456).

•  In order to spare us—and our culture—from some harm that might come from contact (p.463).

•  You are already in contact with one or more Earthling groups (p.471).

•  You enjoy watching (p.477).

. . . 10. The universe is dangerous (p.489)

 

There's more, but this is a good place to stop, since it's closest to the heart of this excursion.

Besides, there's a lot more here beyond First Contact, like reality augmentation, AI cyborgs' integration (we raise them like children), plus a whole history of intelligent life that's past through our solar system since time immemorial. Unfortunately, from a prose point of view, it is quite sluggish—and overbearing.

So here's my suggestion: start the novel at Part Seven (p.421) which starts by jumping the continuing action 25 years ahead. Don't worry about catching up. The characters are sketched in to begin with, and most of their backstory is given out through the ongoing read. There's even a synopsis around page 428. Speculation-wise, just about all the fun musings come forward, and, for all those Star Wars/Trek geeks out there, the last quarter of the novel contains the only real battle action setpiece—and it's a white-knuckled doozey between machines, part-machines, and the most interesting and curious character of the bunch.

In all fairness, critics have given this novel many starred reviews. But I'd hafta go with Kirkus Review and say “a verbose, unwieldy, frustrating, nugget-strewn mess.”(2)

But maybe this isn't really a novel, but an essay disguised as a novel. And maybe, just maybe, we fiction reader types should re-position our literary boundaries for this thoughtful tome. And yet, therein lies the problem: to consider it an outline for ideas worthy of a scientific treatise, it demands research of its perusers.

Beach read begone! Load up Wiki and get ready to dig in.

 

1) if Brin gets to make words, so do I.

2)https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/david-brin/existence/#review

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

ARCADIA by Lauren Groff , c.2012

Looking back on it, the 60s seems like such an adolescent dream. I remember stepping over a couple making love in the grass of Golden Gate Park while Country Joe and the Fish played a freebie. Under the trees, the Diggers were spooning out free food. I remember thinking, wow, this is the way it's going to be from now on, forever!

Dogs and butterflies.

And, one of the most radical social thoughts at the time was to break down the nuclear family into communal living, preferably in a naturalized landscape where it was possible to divorce mainstream lifestyles and become self-sustaining. It's called “off the grid” these days.

So, it seems entirely appropriate that in Arcadia, author Groff starts the journey of her East Coast, 70s commune through the eyes of a 5-year old child, rendering each discovery in the marvelous, sweet prose of innocent sensation and wide-eyed wonderment.

Ridley Sorrel Stone was born in the caravan to what was to become their home: a 650-acre plot with a crumbling, abandoned mansion in New York State known as Arcadia House. Diminutive, like the “size of an itty-bitty butternut squash”(p.15), he was named Bit, shortened from the joyous proclamation at his birth as “Our Littlest Bit of a Hippie”(p.16).

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

AVAILABLE DARK by ELIZABETH HAND, c. 2012

Since Mortal Love is one of my all-time fantasy novels, and with Generation Loss introducing an itchingly-fascinating loser heroine, I was very excited to read another adventure in the company of the incomparable Cassandra Neary. I mean, what's not to love about a middle-ager who dresses like a cowboy biker chick, snorts heroin and crystal meth as if it's Elmer's glue, has dektol running in her veins and still shoots with an uber-nerd's Konica film camera, yet still possesses a flashy, impressive memory with a leather-pants swaggering aesthetic re-garbled from Alan Copeland. Take this personality package and drop it into the deadly-real and symbolic iceland of Scandinavian/Finnish/Norse and Viking lore re-channeled through Aleister Crowley, then dash it with an unseen, lurking, serial killer presence and Available Dark enters Avernus with the promise of viewing some murderporn festooned in compelling photographic art.

But this ain't no picture book and Ms. Hand is way too scrappy to merely lay out a lasciviously-dressed pig fest. Motives lose sway when the whole Jungle Jim is shaking with unknown force. I don't think Cassie ever gets outside of herself long enough to solve anything in this one. And that's why this book goes straight to the re-read shelf.

Do not read this if you're slavering for a Stieg Larsson fix. Notice the title is not Available Lite. This is threshold, cutting edge stuff, for the ones slicing through Thompson, Fredric Brown, Vachss, John Connolly, Crumley . . .

 

Copyright 06/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

THE BALLAD OF BALLARD AND SANDRINE by PETER STRAUB, c. 2011

At only 93 pages, this a small chew of a read. Yet, the insidious and subtle depravities are too tempting to pass up on only a first reading. For this is one of those that, after you close the cover, the brow furrows, the mind itches, and there's an unidentified flavor to your mouth.

I'm reading this one again after the summer's over.

Right after Available Dark, that is .

 

Copyright 08/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

THE ADAMANTINE PALACE by STEPHEN DEAS, c.2009

This is the lead-off to a trilogy called "The Memory of Flames", although a 4th novel published this year entitled The Black Mausoleum is ripe with further dragon stink. The webpagehttp://www.stephendeas.com/designates it as the start of a new trilogy, but we'll see. Personally, I hope it doesn't go the way of another very-promising dragon extravaganza, Dragonriders/Renegades of Pern, by Grand Master Anne McCaffrey, which had a re-entry that decelerated the initial rocket-ride blast-off of Dragonflight with its redundancies.

If you haven't guessed by now, this one's about dragons. Ah, one of the finest embellishments to come out of High Fantasysorry, Gollumhas always been this fire-breathing reptile/bird/dinosaur monster. The antithesis of the fuzzywuzzy unicorn and mythical stand-in for the King Kong in us all.

St. George tells us the dragon always gets the girl first, then comes the sworded hero for seconds. Well, in this one, the dragon-queens have subjected their deadly Dinos to a mind-altering substance that makes them docile and malleable to the point of being humans' pimp ride. The plot, of course, has them wake up and get, ah, enflamed, but the real fun of this trilogy is the medieval reek to the atmosphere populated by one-percenters wafting the action with gleeful, Machiavellian alacrity. Yeah, it's sword 'n soap opera, but thankfully it doesn't mope around too much, and the ladies are so gussied up it's hard to tell who's got the "villainess" slap-tag on their back at any given time. As an aside, I think it can be seen as a universal label.

I'll probably read the series, so hold on to your cod piece as the reviews might take awhile.

 

Copyright 09/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

THE KING OF THE CRAGS by STEPHEN DEAS, c. 2010

What if we're fished for?

This is ultimately the unvoiced terror of every inhabitant from the wilderness of Worldspine to the illustrious City of Dragons concerning these flying behemoths the size of strip malls. Today, the similar capper for humanity would be: what if, in the consideration of our self-imposed role as Nature's custodian, the short-sighted direction we exploit our environment leads to the irreversibility of cataclysmic toxicity for us all? Beyond the huge cultural ego bruise of not being Top Dog, there's the embarrassing acknowledgement of that pink elephant-like thing in the living room. I mean, everyone knows if you destroy Nature—or cause it enough unhealthy harm—it will lead to humanity's demise, or, at least some major crashing in terms of life quality.

This, I surmise, is what author Deas is pinning on his dragons in the symbolic sense. And, it's a screw-tight match. The Earth as an entity has a pretty strong relationship with man through his myths. The Greek poet Hesiod of Homeric times identifies Gaea—the first sentient being to be born of Chaos—as the personification of our Earth and the mother of us all, even including those Imax-certified Western gods from Cronos and the Titans to present. That the dragons are transmigratory and therefore immortal is a big checkmark toward Godhead.

The dragon is the only mythical creation that gathers the main animal groups under its wing. It can fly like a bird, has scales like a lizard and the bulk of a blue whale. It is also comfortable in any milieu from ice caps to deep-water trenches. How else can Snow survive five days at the bottom of a freezing lake?

But, most importantly, it breathes out napalm. Fire—the most destructive force for land-based mammals in Nature. Combine this with a healthy appetite for human flesh—which is, sadly, Nature's most threatening adversary(1)—and you have a skyscraper-sized Godzilla cashing in the chits.

All under the banner of that intense, inarguable American right of life: Freedom from the debilitating exercises of those self-regarded Masters of the Universe.

Did I mention there's not a sympathetic character—human or dragon—in this whole cast? Pitiable, but the reasons are grudgingly clear.

1) humans, not appetite, are the foe. Appetite is why we're the foe.

Copyright 09/2012 by Larry Crawford

 

THE ORDER OF THE SCALES by STEPHEN DEAS, c.2011

 

"The trouble with dragons," Jehal mused . . . "always comes from the people who ride on the back of them."

"The trouble with dragons, Jehal, is that they exist."

[But] put us on a dragon and none of that matters. What matters is that the monster obeys. When that happens, we become gods.

--p.315-18

 

Although dragons in this series have personal names and can communicate telepathically, this is not a book about them. It is fueled on Human Nature, first and foremost. This is a wonderful, myopic vision of what most would consider a great achievement of humanity's lofty strivance—Empire building—that falls as inevitably as if the keystone was suddenly removed from its structure.

I'm surprised author Deas didn't name one of the dragons Spartacus. But then, this monster would have to feel compassion, wouldn't it? Instead, their deadly sin is Wrath. That's about the only personality Snow--the Moby Dick-like albino dragon that leads the charge of self-determination—has; at best, humans to her are "useful food". Characters are destroyed by blindly following the narrow-sighted beliefs of their ancestors, yet it is unquestionable the dragons acheive afterlife through endless cycles of re-birth. Masters become slaves, appearance never reflects back reality, and the moral judgment of any discrimination is based upon how much power and control it achieves. This is the story of how man, infinitely smug in his superior intelligence, unwittingly cycles himself back to savagery.

High Fantasy Noir with lances, dragon-scale armour, and crossbow scorpion bolts.

Wow.

Copyright 09/2012 by Larry Crawford

 
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