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___MINI-VIEWS #2___

EXTREMELY INADEQUATE THUMBNAILERS OF BOOKS I'M TOO LAZY OR TROUBLED TO ACTUALLY REVIEW, OR, TOO BORED, DISTRACTED, MADDENED TO EVEN FINISH READING.

 

MOON DANCE by S.P. SOMTOW, c.1989.

Novels 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. 8/3/09

 

 

THE STEEL REMAINS by RICHARD MORGAN, c.2008.

Everybody's 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 judgment again—see my slim notes on Black Man—until number two of this series—The Dark Commands —comes around next year.

 

 

EVERY DEAD THING by JOHN CONNOLLY, c.1999.

This 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, c.1999, 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's Irish.

He's introspective.

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 lassitudinal depression.

Hope and inspiration are fragile things.

Especially if reality is tractable.

 

'SALEM'S LOT by 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 Stones' Altamont concert 4 months later. The world felt beset upon by a “mindless, moronic evil from which there was no mercy or reprieve” (p.134).

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 ecclesiastical 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]

09/02/2009

 

 

THE 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 Visions, 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 [1]. 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 psychic dysfunction. 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.

 

[1] "They make desolation and they call it peace," from the Agricola.

02/04/10

 

 

THE EXECUTION CHANNEL by KEN MACLEOD, c.2007.

I 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 cliché path.

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 plot.

I have a real dislike of espionage novels.

Dead at probably around chapter two or three.

 

Copyright 07/10/2009 by Larry Crawford

 

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