Thursday, August 29, 2013

Shaman, Healer, Heretic - M. Terry Green

    2011; 338 pages.  Book One in the “Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman” series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Urban Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Things are amok in the Multiverse.  Particularly in the Underworld, where Shamans normally ply their trade.  They are now being attacked there and in some cases killed.  In our dimension, this is of small interest, since ordinary people don’t consciously venture into the Multiverse, and shamans (shamen?) are not held in high regard.

    But for Livvy, a young and practicing techno-shaman, the perils in the Underworld impact her livelihood, as people pay her to travel there and bring souls back to the here-&-now.  But after one encounter with the creature wreaking the havoc “over there”, Livvy’s convinced that she’s no match for it.  For that matter, no shaman is.  What can be done?

What’s To Like...
    The core concept of “techno-shamanism” is original and fascinating.  Why not utilize 21st-century technology to navigate through the spirit realms?  The story is fast-paced, with no slow spots.  The chapters are short – think James Patterson length - which makes for an easy read.  The setting/premise will remind you of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, so if you like that series, you'll like this one too.

    There is one assault, plus some brief mentions of vodka and cigarettes; but Shaman, Healer, Heretic is still geared toward the YA market.  The book has some great points about teamwork, multiculturalism, religious prejudice, and girl-power (all the shamans here are female).  There is some budding romance, but nothing steamy or R-rated.

    The overall concept of shamanism is captured reasonably well, and when’s the last time Sumerian gods showed up in the book you were reading?  The breadth of techno-shamanism is rather narrow here; Livvy’s “jobs” seem to be mostly limited to pulling clients out of comas.  But I’m guessing the job description will get more complex as the series progresses.

    I also imagine the Multiverse – consisting of an Underworld, Middleworld, and Upperworld - will get fleshed out in the sequels.  For now, they are sufficiently detailed to allow for the story to proceed at a satisfyingly rapid clip.  But I was left wanting to "see" more of their terrain.

    A couple of the plot twists that M. Terry Green weaves into the story seem forced and abrupt.  But the ending ties the basic plotline up nicely, while leaving a bunch of secondary loose ends for fiction fodder in the subsequent books.

Kewlest New Word...
Cabochon (n.) : a gem shaped and polished, but not faceted, often in an ellipse shape.

    “Why didn’t somebody call me?” she asked, angry.
    The nurse went over to the monitors and started punching buttons, making the machine squeal occasionally.  Mitch grimaced at the noise.
    “Our shaman managed to do more than all of you people in this building put together,” said Diana.
    Oops, Livvy thought.  Time to go.
    “Shaman?” the nurse yelled, glaring at Livvy, who was stowing the water and other gear.  “If she touched him or gave him anything, we’re not responsible.”  (loc. 1144)

    “Tell me you are not serious,” he said.
    “It’s not really dying,” said Livvy.  “It’s just that your heart has to stop.”
    “Will you listen to yourself?  ‘Your heart has to stop.’  That’s insane!”
    “Insane?” asked the Nahual, turning around.  “Well, perhaps a little.”  (loc. 5316)

Kindle Details...
    Shaman, Healer, Heretic sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  The second and third books in the series are also available, both selling for the same price.

“Even for a techno-shaman, a kachina in the bedroom wasn’t exactly part of the drill.”  (loc. 43)
    I am certainly not the target audience of SHH, but I found it to be an delightful read.  Some questions did pop up in my mind though.

    Why did one of the gods have to be “summoned” before he could make an appearance?   Are there any male shamans?  By definition, can you really kill a deity?  Is the Middleworld necessary?  Do techno-shamans do anything besides coma-curing and dimension-hopping?

    I doubt YA readers will be bothered by such trivialities.  They’ll just sit back and enjoy the story.  Which is really the proper thing to do.

    8 Stars.  Oh yeah, a couple quibbles.  A “female god” is a.k.a. a goddess.  And Lapland does not extend all the way to Siberia. Just sayin’.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco

   1988; 533 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Fiction; Highbrow Literature.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Where’s the Holy Grail?  What are the Rosicrucians hiding?  Who can tell me what the big secret is that the 32nd level of the Masons are hiding?  Surely all of this is interconnected.  But how?

   Everybody and his brother are writing their theories about this, and submitting their manuscripts to Garamond Publishing.  It falls upon Casaubon and his two colleagues to read through all these submissions.

    To relieve their boredom, they decide for develop their own secret system, which they call “The Plan”.  It’s all a joke to begin with (Minnie Mouse is part of it), but with time they take their additions to it more seriously.

    Still, none of them loses sight that it’s all a hoax.  What harm could possibly come of their divertissement?

What’s To Like...
    It’s nice to read the work of a top-tier author every once in a while, just to be able to contrast it with “ordinary” storytelling.  The writing is smooth and complex, and the words that Umberto Eco chooses will have you scrambling repeatedly for a dictionary, even though the book was originally written in Italian.

    The main purpose of Foucault’s Pendulum is to extensively explore mystical experiences, arcane secrets, and clandestine societies.  Eco takes a refreshingly different approach - skepticism - and uses the protagonists to evaluate the subject in three separate lights.  He doesn’t give you any clear-cut answers at the end, but you will have lots to ponder, regardless of your spiritual persuasion.   

    There is some subtle humor – ghostwriting for Shakespeare and Cervantes, for instance.  There’s a lot of French (and a slew of other languages), but if you’re monolingual, you won’t be missing anything critical.  My Gnostics show up; that’s a personal plus.

    If there’s a lesson to take away from reading this book, it’s to beware of making a bunch of metaphysical sh*t up.  You might sell a few books and shill a few sheep, but if people start believing in your palaver and think you hold some super-duper secret, there’s no telling what lengths they’ll go to in order to pry it out of you.

Kewlest New Word...
Spagyric (n.) : an alchemist; esp. one who deals with the production of herbal medicines using alchemical procedures.  There were dozens of other kewl new words.  There are even a couple websites devoted solely to the big words in Foucault’s Pendulum.

    The gods of the underworld were protecting us.  At that very moment Lorenza Pellegrini came in, more solar than ever, making Belbo brighten.  She saw the fliers and was curious.
    When she heard about the project of the firm next door, she said, “Terrific!  I have this fantastic friend, an ex-Tupamaro from Uruguay, who works for a magazine called Picatrix.  He’s always taking me to séances. There, I met a fantastic ectoplasm; he asks for me now every time he materializes!”  (pg. 223)

    Ma gavte la nata.”
    Lorenza, still showing her pleasure at the invitation, asked Belbo what that meant.
    “It’s Turin dialect.  It means, literally, ‘Be so kind as to remove the cork.’  A pompous, self-important, overweening individual is thought to hold himself the way he does because of a cork stuck in his sphincter ani, which prevents his vaporific dignity from being dispersed.  The removal of the cork causes the individual to deflate, a process usually accompanied by a shrill whistle and the reduction of the outer envelope to a poor fleshless phantom of the former self.”
    “I didn’t know you could be so vulgar.”
    “Now you know.”  (pg. 418)

 “You three have been faking.  Beware of faking: people will believe you.”  (pg. 444)
    I read about one highbrow novel a year, so Foucault’s Pendulum meets my quota for 2013.  In 2012, it was Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (reviewed here); in 2011 it was Infinite Jest (reviewed here).

    They are all somewhat similar - the action is sparse; the emphasis is on the characters, the drama, and the philosophical musings.  They are slow reads, not something you want to try a skim through the night before a book report is due.

    But they are eminently worthwhile, primarily because they are so freaking well-written.  Highbrow literature may not keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will feed your literary soul.

     8 Stars.  I have Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose sitting on my TBR shelf, but don’t be surprised if it becomes my 2014 highbrow book.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pride and Prejudice and Vampires - P.J. Jones

    2012; 113 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Paranormal Parody; Classic Literature Spoof.  Overall Rating : 6½*/10.

    The title pretty much says it all – P.J. Jones takes the mega-classic Jane Austen tale and mixes in a tale of vampires.  But it’s all tongue-in-cheek.  Or rather, fang-in-neck.

What’s To Like...
    Disclaimer : I have never read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and have absolutely no desire to do so.  Everything I know about it comes from a quick perusal of the Wikipedia article on it.  That being said, it appears Pride and Prejudice and Vampires stays fairly true to the salient points of the novel.  But be forewarned, if you’re an ardent admirer of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, (and if so, you have my condolences), and sensitive to any criticism or mockery of them, then you might want to pass on this book.  Just sayin’.

    This is my second P.J. Jones book (the other one is reviewed here), and the tone and structure are the same.  The humor is bawdy, and adult themes and language abound.  If quips about vibrators, douchebags, and dog shit pudding are too racy for you tastes, then you too might want to pass on this book.  Still just sayin'.

   There is some good humor here – such as Jane being a “vegetarian vampire” and only drinking the blood of ugly animals.  Two of the Bennet sisters have been written out, ditto for the father.  But most of the other main characters, including Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingle, Charlotte Lucas, etc. are here, either alive or undead.  The gags can get repetitive after a while, but that often is the case with spoofs.

    Jane’s pale brow drew into a deep frown while her rosy lips turned a pout.  “I’m a vegetarian vampire.  Why can’t you get it right?”
    “Jane, dear,” Elizabeth heaved a sigh, “I don’t even think vegetarianism exists in the Regency period.”
    Jane straightened her shoulders and turned up her chin.  “Laugh all you want, but one day all vampires will be just like me and only feast off the blood of ugly animals.”
    Elizabeth dismissed her sister with a flick of the wrist.  “Three legged dogs and goats don’t taste as good as humans, Jane.”  (loc. 48)

    He was truly a handsome sight to behold, especially since he was rich.  Actually, if he hadn’t been rich, perhaps Elizabeth wouldn’t have thought him quite so handsome.  Maybe, it was because his face was draped in a permanent scowl of condescension while his narrowed gaze judged every person in the room.  Actually, Elizabeth thought Mr. Darcy was a bit of an ugly prig.  But money has a way of making even the most rancid, pretentious, douchenozzles look attractive.  (loc. 773)

Kindle Details...
    Pride and Prejudice and Vampires sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  P.J. Jones has authored a half-dozen or so other books with a similar motif, generally in the price range of $0.99- $2.99.  She is also a regular contributor to the excellent anthologies periodically put together by a group of indie authors who call themselves The Eclective.

“How many times must I tell you that we do not rip out the jugulars of the gentry?”  (loc. 41)
    My main problem with P&P&V is its brevity.  Amazon estimates the download to be 113 pages; but you’ll be surprised when it ends abruptly at 50%.  P.J. Jones then treats you to a bevy of her short stories; but these end at 75%.  The rest is a preview, via the first couple chapters, of another one of her books.

    That means Pride and Prejudice and Vampires, the primary reason you downloaded this, isn’t even of novella-length.  Therefore the story can’t have any depth to it.  This is fine when spoofing fairytales, cuz they’re shallow too.  But it comes across really flat when spoofing classical literature.

    P.J. Jones’ writing style is inherently R-rated, and that doesn’t bother me.  I recognize it isn’t meant to be deep; it’s meant to be entertaining.  But it may be better suited to a 10-20 page short story than to lengthier works.

    The alternative is for the author to write stories that are more complex, have some unforeseen plot twists, and have greater depth.  The bawdiness can remain, it is the essence of P.J. Jones; but give the reader something that is also thought-provoking.

    Overall, this is a fun read.  But much too short for my tastes.
     6½ Stars.  Add another one-half star if you’ve haven’t read a P.J. Jones story before; add one more star if you prefer Beavis and Butthead to War and Peace.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code - Robert Rankin

    2007; 318 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Fiction; Humor.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Jonny Hooker is a winner!  Which is rather atypical of his life so far.  Technically, all he’s won is the opportunity to solve the Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code.  Whatever that is.

    But hey, once he solves the code before anyone else does – and Jonny is resolved to do just that – then there’s got to be some sort of fabulous prize or a ton of cash waiting for him, amiright?  And with his imaginary friend, Mr. Giggles the Monkey Boy to help him, what could possibly go wrong?

What’s To Like...
    The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code is vintage Robert Rankin absurdity, replete with running gags, some of them confined to this story; some of them spilling over from other Rankin novels.  If you’re a fan of the secret lethal martial art of Dimac and/or the Lady in the Straw Hat, you’ll feel quite at home here.  The sun went behind a cloud and a dog howled in the distance.

     The plotline is semi-coherent, which is about par for the course.  At the start, it seems we are going to be treated to a spoof of The Da Vinci Code, but that rapidly gets subsumed in a plethora of vexing-but-delightful tangents.  Mayhem ensues, but as always, things come together just in time for a unconvincing-yet-satisfying ending.

    Jonny is a musician and plays in a genre-varying band called Dry Rot.  Thus music is a prominent theme here, with both Elvis and Robert Johnson playing a part.  Apparently the hardback version comes with a bonus CD, but I read the $15 paperback version.  It promised a free download of the CD, but all I could do was play the songs.  Perhaps the free-CD offer expired; otherwise I am too dense to figure out how to download it. 

Kewlest New Word...
Sarnie (n.) : A sandwich  (Britishism)

    “And what is Mister Giggles having, then?”
    “Mister Giggles is buying his own.”
    “Cheap shot,” said Mr. Giggles.  “A tot of rum and a bag of nuts will see me fine.”
    “A bag of nuts,” said Jonny.
    “Dry-roasted, honey-roasted, salted, plain or fancy?”
    “Fancy nuts?” said Jonny.
    “Not really,” said O’Fagin.  “I prefer crisps.”  (pg. 16)

    Black indeed as the yawning grave itself, the long, dark night of the soul and the bum of the sweeper who chimneys doth sweep was the interior of Paul’s abode.  If it stood still and could be painted black, then Paul had painted it so.  With two coats.  (pg. 130)

“I get these flashes.  In my head.  It’s my holy guardian angel, I believe, that or Barry the Time Sprout.”  (pg. 97)
   If you have never read a Robert Rankin novel before, this is probably not the one to start with.  I’ve read six so far (there are a bunch more), and I’m thinking Knees Up Mother Earth (reviewed here) or The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (reviewed here) provide a more coherent introduction to Rankin mania. 

    Veteran Rankin readers know better than to expect a story-driven novel.  And for those, TDDDDDC will not disappoint.  It is witty, captivating, and pleasantly nonsensical.

    8 Stars.  I can’t see this being anyone’s favorite Robert Rankin book, but it made me laugh and kept me entertained.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

TimeSplash - Graham Storrs

    2013; 280 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Action-Adventure; Time-Travel.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Let’s do a Timesplash!  This involves being “lobbed” back to another time (but in the same place) where we “bricks” can wreak havoc on history and then watch the Time/Space continuum get all wibbly-wobbly as it self-corrects our mayhem.  Our little jaunt will only last an hour, after which we will experience a “yankback” to our original time.

    That’s okay though, cuz when the “backwash” from our actions - and the Time/Space’s reactions - hits the present time, we’ll get to experience more wibbly-wobblies.

    Ah, but the farther back we get lobbed, and the more ruckus we create, the stronger the backwash.  It's possible that things could get out of hand.

What’s To Like...
    The reader gets to go along on two timesplashes.  The first one is somewhat short (both page-wise and time-jumping-wise), but gets you familiar with the mechanics of the lob.  The second one is more extensive, and takes you back to the early 1900’s.  In addition, the book’s "natural" time-setting is 2047-2050, so Graham Storrs has to develop a futuristic-yet-believable world.  It’s all well-done and satisfyingly detailed.

    What really sets this book apart is its treatment of the Time Travel paradoxes.  Whereas most stories in this genre try to avoid the “what if I kill my own mother before she has me” situations, TimeSplash revels in them.  It’s an ambitious undertaking, and succeeds admirably.

    TimeSplash is also a tale of adventure, with the thrills-&-spills starting from the get-go and never letting up.  There really aren’t any slow spots.  Everything builds to an exciting climax.  There is a sequel, but this is a standalone novel.  There’s even a budding Romance for the ladies, and methinks that will be more fully-developed in the sequel.

Kewlest New Words (all Britishisms) ...
Prat (noun)  :  An arsehole; a fool.
Titfer (noun)  :  Cockney for “hat”.
Dobbed in (verb)  :  Ratted on
Mug’s Lark (phrase)  :  (I couldn’t find a meaning for this anywhere)

    The Institute was a low-security establishment and its patients were allowed many freedoms and comforts.  Sandra, for instance, had her own small room, with a bed, chest of drawers, wardrobe, and tiny en suite bathroom.  It was a humane and well-run establishment and Sandra had been planning to escape from it since the day two prison officers had brought her there from the juvenile remand centre in Plymouth.  (loc. 1072)

    “It is important to stop the bricks from launching more attacks,” Bauchet said.  “It is the most important matter facing humankind at the moment.  Do you not agree?”
    Jay tried to weigh it against curing cancer or stopping poverty, ending the Sino-Indian war or beating the latest flu pandemic, but quickly gave up.  It was well up there with the rest, wherever its exact place in the running order was.  So he said, “I suppose.”  (loc. 2317)

Kindle Details...
    TimeSplash sells for $3.69 at Amazon.  Its sequel, True Path, sells for $4.99.  Graham Storrs also has a half-dozen or so short stories available for the Kindle, priced mostly at $0.99.

“Nice punch, beanpole.”  “Thanks, strumpet.”  (loc. 4320)
    Prude Alert!  This book contains violence, bloodshed, torture, molestation, and even a little cussing.  Religious Prude Alert!  You may be upset by the identities and motivations of some of the baddies.

    For the rest of us, TimeSplash is a well-written, well-structured book, where the violence fits in nicely with the overall theme.  Recommended for lovers of both Action and Time-Travel stories.  8 Stars.  Add a half-star if you like tales that are written in English (as opposed to American) and set in the UK.  For whatever reason, I seem to be drawn to British authors.