S.P. SOMTOW, c.1989.
that win awards or critics' praises are usually creative variations
on the troupes of the genre they're bound to. These worn plots,
familiar personalities, and visited times and places are warm,
comfortable slippers for returning readers to ease into while
excited about the variations they'll encounter during a new
reading journey. A good author can re-fashion these clichés
so you don't even recognize them, yet retain a tacit acquaintance
so the reader doesn't feel completely lost or unceremoniously
confused. Even works like Abercrombie's sly Heroic Fantasy
trilogy of The First Law which gives most familiarities
a massive pinkbelly, succeed because of an antedated blueprint.
So where's the safe mooring in a work that starts, “this
is not the book I set out to write” (Tor, ISBN 0312932030,
c.1989, p.3) and ends with, “Eat my shit! Smell my piss!
I am the queen!” (p.564)?
Moon Dance is awash with its own clichés,
but they are not so easily stowed because this novel defies
clear categorization. It is a story told by a young woman who
sets out to write a bestseller exposé about a serial
killer called The Laramie Ripper currently being studied in
a private institute south of Dakota's Black Hills . Turns out
he's MPD and the bulk of Moon Dance tells his story
of coming into the American West from Europe with a conclave
of eccentrics led by Count von Bachl-Wolfing. They are werewolves
gathered in search of unmolested hunting grounds and are at
first elated with the prospect of abundant, un-tainted, aboriginal
flesh—until they realize they're in the territory of the Shungmanitu,
a tribe of Lakota Sioux who happen to also be werewolves. This
occurs a century before, with the backdrop of the Black Hills
gold rush fiasco, followed by the U.S. Army-Plains Indian War
massacres, and ending with the tragedy of Kicking Bear's version
of the Ghost Dance of 1890, essentially re-named in the book
as the Moon Dance. Along the way we meet Sigmund Freud, President
Chester Arthur, and Buffalo Bill Cody.
A lycanthropy novel chewing through the wooly West of Deadwood
and Sitting Bull is gonna have some problematic and perceptual
distortions, especially from a writer who is Thai by birth,
with an education from Eton and Cambridge. S.P. Somtow started
out as a controversial and progressive musician in Southeast
Asia society, burned out and turned to writing for a decade,
producing over 40 books spanning all genres. He then cycled
back to music as a neo-Romantic composer creating operas and
conducting the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Obviously driving at genius level, this man is an accomplished
original, and Moon Dance certainly reflects this
unique panorama. Considering the apparent fervor in which he
subjugates his goals combined with his ability to transform
with astonishing success from one difficult career path to
another, you could say this guy's a full bore werewolf himself.
And, maybe one day I'll finish this review.
STEEL REMAINS by
RICHARD MORGAN, c.2008.
excited about this guy. I'm trying to. I really am, but I thought The
Steel Remains had
an intriguing plot but a muddled execution. Backstory and
character history was withheld far too long. By the time
things start to fit into place, earlier, mystifying situations
were long forgotten and I was wasting my reading time backpedaling
instead of moving forward.
You see, the characters have this information as to
personal and cultural history. They grew up in this world.
I didn't. They know most of the who-is-what, where-is-that,
when-was-this? The plot forces current events to puzzle them.
In a 3rd-person omniscient viewpoint, I as the reader can
flit around learning various characters' perspectives, and
get a look from possibly a more vaulted position than any
one single character. Naturally, I want to utilize this viewpoint
to also solve the novel's conundrums. But author Morgan,
for almost 2/3rds of the book, forces me to play catch-up
with the vitals the characters have already experienced.
I know the technique is supposed to create and hold interest,
but we're not dealing with a mysterious and unrevealed
villain hiding among heroes and friends.
Character-wise, the dwenda is a marvelous villain;
it is so waggish to have a creature everybody's damn terrified
of be the homosexual lover of the very hero—if you can call Ringil
Eskiath, the petulant, privileged, jus'-slummin'-it gayster
a hero—vowed to kill him. I also wished to spend more time
with Archeth Indamaninarmal, the ‘breed with one foot in the
spotlighted, current culture and the other in the past, shadowed
technology of God knows what. And Egar the Dragonbane. All
he needed was a coupla paragraphs of intro, then toss ‘em until
the sequel arrives.
Okay, so before further dissing this withholding-of-info
technique of what, I suspect, is merely a factitious artstyle —he
pauses, combs his hair backwards with open, stiff fingers
as he slants his chin upwards, ah, roguishly—I'll hold out
my slim notes on Black Man—until number two of this
series—The Dark Commands —comes around next year.
DEAD THING by
JOHN CONNOLLY, c.1999.
is the author's first novel. It is a very gritty hard-boiled
detective/police procedural ignited by the cop protagonist
coming home drunk to his wife and daughter slaughtered by “a
sexual sadist who obtains gratification from excessive physical
and . . . mental torture” (Pocket Books PB, ISBN 1416595988,
p.25). This is the defining moment
for the author's Charles “the Bird” Parker series, which, to
date, encompasses an octet of entries. This, naturally, is
a major plot course of the crime genre, re-tooled hundreds
of times. But John Connolly—not to be confused with the widely-popular,
mystery writer Michael Connolly—has a unique perspective:
He believes enough in the sylphian world to drop bold hints
of it into this genre.
He's my kinda guy.
I quit this book at page 43 out of 467 for personal reasons:
I do not want reality tainting my current melancholy. If it's
an affectation, you see, I can delude myself as to its veracity.
But when fantasy painstakingly documents the abominably real,
my own misgivings are overwhelmed, leaving a withdrawal into
Hope and inspiration are fragile things.
Especially if reality is tractable.
STEPHEN KING, c.1975.
Look and see me, puny man. Look upon Barlow, who has passed
the centuries as you have passed hours before a fireplace with
a book . . . I have written in human lives, and blood has been
my ink. Look upon me and despair!
--Plume “Collector's” TPB edition of 1991,
ISBN 0452267218, c.1975, p.367
Young readers, be warned: this is not your vampire. This is
your Grandfather's vampire.
Yes, he is old. Older than the Cross that burns him
or the consecrated Holy Water that tears through his minions'
flesh like napalm. He came to Maine 35 years ago and moved
into Shirley Jackson's haunted house* on the “hill overlooking
the village . . . like some kind of dark idol” (p.106). And
as sure as the ones Barlow bites rise again, a Stoker-divined
small band of Fearless Vampire Killers** form in opposition.
But the barely-concealed metaphoric power of Dracula,
that fixation that titillates while shuddering through almost
all vampire maintenances down through the ages is curiously
absent from this exploration.
There is no saliciousness to ‘Salem's Lot.***
Blood is not a sexual fluid.
It is more important to King to warn us with the Evil
among us now as harbinger to a far more persuasive evil—note the small
caps—that is appearing. Maybe it's best summed up by the police
chief of the Lot, Parkins Gillespie, when he says, “Vampire,
ain't he? Just like in all the comic books . . . Whole country's
goin' the same way . . . Went to a drive-in show . . . a couple
of weeks ago . . . I seen more blood and killin's in that first
Western than I seen both years in Korea. Kids was eatin' popcorn
and cheerin' ‘em on . . . They prob'ly like bein' vampires” (p.358).
In 1972, when King was blocking in the novel, the shroud
of dire world events was surprisingly similar to the current,
post-911 decade. The Kent State Massacre was 2 years moldering
while President Nixon, re-elected this year by a public that
would realize Watergate 2 years later, removed the final US
ground troops from Vietnam, although the bombing of Hanoi,
Cambodia, and Laos was still sanctioned. Jet airline hi-jacking
was at a peak as the last man in human history stepped on the
surface of the Moon. Nascent terrorist acts included 26 dead
in the Tel Aviv airport, 11 athletes slaughtered at the Munich
Olympics, and Bloody Friday along with Bloody Sunday in Ireland.
Idi Amin rampaged over Uganda while Gov. George Wallace was
shot in Alabama. It was also the year that e-mail was invented,
the first video game Pong was sold, and HBO was launched as subscription
TV. 1969's Woodstock was a faded dream, disheartened by the rising
malignancy evident at the
Altamont concert 4 months later. The world felt beset upon
by a “mindless, moronic evil from which there was no mercy or
Since then, the spirit of Aquarius or the Summer of
Love has never revived even close to its apex in the late 1960s.
What Father Donald Callahan refers to as the dullness of evil
has overwhelmed even our loftiest presences, our finest
thinkers, and has so riveted public attention with its big, special-effects
explosions of shamefully-lurid pettiness that any battle between
Good and Evil waged by God and Satan has less impact than the
latest installment of the X-Men.
Welcome to the Modern Era. And, while this novel can
appear, ah, dull, next to today's gorrorfests trumpeted with
stylisticly-screaming prose, consider ‘Salem's Lot one
of the first requiems to life among the Vampires.
*He quoted softly, "'And what ever walked there, walked
alone.' You asked what my book was about. Essentially, it's about
the recurrent power of evil." (p.99)
**Ben Mears as Jonathan Harker/Arthur Holmwood
Matt Burke, referred to as such on p.289 as Dr. Van Helsing
Susan Norton as Mina Harker/Lucy Westenra
Dr. Jimmy Cody as Dr. John Seward
Mark Petrie as Stephen King
Maybe all the sex scenes were tossed with the original title of the novel, Second
Cumming [spelling mine]
WORD FOR WORLD IS FOREST by
URSULA K. LE GUIN, c.1972.
If the [h]umans are men they are men unfit or untaught to
dream and to act as men. Therefore they go about in torment
killing and destroying, driven by the gods within, whom they
will not set free but try to uproot and deny. If they are men
they are evil men, having denied their own gods, afraid to
see their own faces in the dark.
--p.55, TWFWIF, from Again, Dangerous Visions,
edited by Harlan Ellison, Doubleday BCE, c.1972
First published in Harlan Ellison's Again, Dangerous
this novella went on to win the Hugo and was shortlisted for
the Nebula. Even though her original title—“The Little Green
Men”—was a political firecracker exploding allusions to the Vietnam
War playground, Harlan wisely convinced her to wax a little poetic
for a more refined and lyrical effect. The title change was a
saving net because the underlying nuances bonding the natives
and the forest is far more original, penetrating, and timeless
than merely linking it to the overt exploitation of an indigenous
people and their land by warring political and social ideologies.
He then placed it in lead-off position, essentially underscoring
the fact that Le Guin is very much a writer's writer. It was
published in a novel version in 1976.
Today, a middle-aged lifetime since The Word for
World is Forest was published, the holocaust
of the world's forests is still a hot topic, albeit a debilitated
one. About 1/2 of the world's mature tropical forests have
already been felled. It is estimated that, at the present rate,
80% will be gone in another 2 decades, equaling the percentage
of lost rain forest in the Philippine archipelago right now.
Do you think James Cameron read this novella before writing Avatar?
But this story is far
greater than merely adding modern irony to Tacitus' ubi
solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant .
Beyond challenging our world view—“we're here, now; and so
this world's going to go our way . . . and turn this tree jumble
into clean sawn planks” (p.34-5)—it exposes Man's essential
The planet Athshe—called “New Tahiti Colony” by Earthmen—is a sane society because
the “Cheechies”—the human invaders' term for the natives—is in harmonic balance
with the environment. They practice a sort of dream awareness
that demystifies their subconscious from fallacious urges and
misdirected rationalizations, thereby allowing “the fine balance,
of reason and dream” (p.82), melding empiricism and intuition
into a perfect thesis. The world-forest therefore becomes metaphoric
for a collective consciousness, not sentient per se,
but its paths, branches, trunks, leaves, roots are
neural networks, connecting everything to everything.
By contrast, “Terran man is clay, red dust” (p.77). He carves
images of himself out of cold, dead stone. He feels “oppressed
and uneasy in the forest, stifled by its endless crowd and incoherence” and
its “total vegetable indifference to the presence of mind” (p.76-7).
Threatened to the primal level, the self-absorbed humans are
fearfully compelled to impose their descending order of “woodland-prairie-plowland” (p.68),
making the economic purpose of satisfying Earth's “necessary
luxury” (p.35) seem an excuse. For humans, the goal is not to
live in the dream—that's what drugs are for, after all—but to
state it, achieve it, exploit it, then discard it for the next
dream. Or, to use 21st Century vernacular, the next bubble.
Trouble comes when an Athshean named Selver, influenced by humanity's
siege, brings a new thing over from the dream-time and into world-time.
By this act, he is deemed a God.
The new thing is called murder.
“A realist is a man who knows both the world and his
own dreams. You're not sane: there's not one man in a thousand
of you who knows how to dream,” Selver tells the Earthmen. “That's
why we had to kill you, before you drove us mad” (p.95).
With each new work of hers I read, I am coming to the conclusion
that Ursula K. Le Guin is the greatest fantasist writing today.
 "They make desolation and they call it peace," from
EXECUTION CHANNEL by
KEN MACLEOD, c.2007.
must have a mental block implanted by the sworn enemies of this
writer. I probably dumped this read too soon, but every time
I picked up the book, a coupla paragraphs in, and the words started
to jumbllleekjwkelkrj fjk nckwoei.
It seems to be a kinda in-the-trenches approach to escalating
terrorist attacks, where abstrusities engender hysteria fueled
by speculation leading to more confusion and chaos. A nuclear
device ignites on a US airbase in Scotland; there's an explosion
at an oil refinery; something about suspicious airplane activities
in Newcastle and the blowing up of Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham
rapidly fracture English social and economic structures. We're
given eyes at ground level through Roisin Travis, peace activist,
and her computer expert and international spy father, James Travis.
The plot starts building up a huge cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek
I don't know the British Isles at all and the author has other
interests than to make me familiar with these surroundings. Unfortunately,
those interests don't include introducing me to new and interesting
people, because I'm standing on the sidelines as the characters
whiz by, clandestining with the question marks of the aggrandized
I have a real dislike of espionage novels.
Dead at probably around chapter two or three.
07/10/2009 by Larry Crawford