Book Review: The Spherical Trust by Mjke Wood

Image result for the spherical trust by Mjke Wood
The Sphere of Influence, Book III. The Spherical Trust

Genre: Sci-fi
Pub Date: 2018
Publisher: Copperbird Press
Length: 421
pages
Kindle Edition:
£2.99

Synopsis

Bob Slicker is back, with stature. But being King of the Sphere of Influence isn’t everything he imagined. He’s convinced someone’s out to get him.
Elton D Philpotts has never been away, and he also has new-found status. But being a Finance Director isn’t everything he imagined. Is someone out to get Elton, too?
Only one man has an ego big enough to carry two such massive grudges, but Martin Levison is gone, lost in deep space with no route home. So who else wants Philpotts and Slicker dead?
The threat is bigger than one man. This time there’s more to save than a lost planet or a ragtag band of mercenaries. This time the future of the whole Sphere of Influence is in play.

The final chapter in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, feels like it’s been a long time coming; but worth the wait!

In Deep Space Accountant, the hero came in the unlikely form of Elton D Philpotts; the titular accountant, who has little confidence and an obsession with numbers bordering on OCD.

With The Lollipop of Influence, the previously odious, and sweaty, Bob Slicker had to team up with navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, to escape the planet they had been abandoned on.

The Spherical Trust brings the whole cast together – including the re-emergence of arch enemy, Martin Levison. We get to meet Elton’s parents; albeit briefly in his father’s case, but Polina Philpotts is a woman to be reckoned with, I really liked her. She is one of those practical, common-sense women who knows politics, isn’t intimidated by it and will chain herself to a rock to save a beauty spot – we could do with more like her in the real world. (And this is where the title comes from – think National Trust!)

This third book ties together the previous two in directions I had not imagined would be the case. It has nearly all of the characters racing across known and unknown space; bouncing from planet to planet in the Sphere of Influence, in a dizzying race that accelerates not in a machine-gun blazing, cinematic, all-American heroic manner, but in that bumbling British style that has many comic moments.

There’s a lot about how we, as a species, take our environment for granted; without being preachy – if there’s one thing Mjke Wood does not do, it’s preach. Like when Elton discovers where all the waste goes:

Elton pondered on it. He looked at the size of the pipe, vibrating with the onrushing surge of excrement. He thought of the volumes he’d seen gushing in from all corners. He thought about the time frame, one hundred and sixty years. Out there, somewhere in space, was a place where you would not want to crack open your spacesuit helmet for a nanosecond, because there was one mighty bad smell.

I could not see how Wood was going to tie everything together; especially when he incorporated the Teddy’s – child-minding teddy bears, introduced killer bees and a whole section of a planet devoted to Norwegians who loved to sing at all hours of the day. I could not envision how certain events could be addressed in a single book; such as how to save a planet, how the bad guy gets his comeuppance (if he does), and what do all those numbers mean?!

But he does it. And he does it well.

There is a quintessential Britishness to Wood’s writing, like Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Wood has lovingly crafted characters who are appealing; for the most part, silly; a lot of the time, and prone to making mistakes like the rest of us. We follow the multiple viewpoints through interstellar blunderings, cringing board meetings, ripped pants, assassination attempts, and waste management. Wood has a, seemingly, effortless style that can be deceptive, his work is very easy to read, but it is not light on the science in science-fiction. He does not shy away from dealing with scientific terms, there’s mathematical problems he has evidently had to solve, such as the time differentiation between planetary travel and enough technicalities to keep readers of hard sci-fi happy.

If there was a criticism I would make, it would be that I think it could have been longer. There was a lot of information to compact into a novel this size – though I can understand the author wanting to keep all books in a trilogy of similar length. I would, for instance, have liked more about Russ Kurosov the muscle-bound Commando who had a special ‘Jim’. A the end of the trilogy, a note from the author reads, I have ideas for stand-alone novels set in the Sphere, with new characters, new problems and new insanity. I can only hope that Kurosov is one of those selected for further investigation!

Oh, a little addendum – there’s an Easter Egg throughout the story. I had one of those hang on a minute moments. Copperbird, the huge corporation that runs all sorts from prisons to heated boots, is the imprint the books are published under!

I’m giving The Spherical Trust

4 Stars

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Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date:
2008
Publisher:
Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group
Length:
536 pages
Paperback:
£12.99

Publisher’s Synopsis

The end is coming.

Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but its going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. Its past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

https://firstlaw.fandom.com/wiki/Last_Argument_of_Kings

Back in January 2017, I wrote a review of The Blade Itself. I ‘won’ it in a book swap. Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a three-year journey for me into the world of Logan Ninefingers and his motley band of Northmen.

What to say about a trilogy that got mixed reviews and a massive following that led to a well visited wiki Fandom, that I was, on and off, submerged into for three years?

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie – he writes amazing characters.

Logan Ninefingers is Still alive. Continues fighting, and is drawn into, not only personal conflict in the North, but the greatest battle in the Union. Last Argument of Kings finds him questioning himself more and more – is he a good man, or an evil man? Is he fit to lead his band, or best serving as a follower? Should he allow his barbarian, mindless, other self; The Bloody Nine, to take control in battle, or give up and welcome death?

Ninefingers has been our prime MC throughout the trilogy; as it is him who begins the first book and ends the third, and as he matures, so his view on his own lifestyle is called into question – can a man so steeped in blood and violence opt for a peaceful life – does he even deserve it?

Abercrombie has given us a (anti)hero who could easily have been a pedestrian D&D style character, but despite what some critics say, I do believe he develops. He may not stop fighting, but he lets us know, via internal dialogue, that he wishes the whole bloody affair over and done with. His is a cerebral development; strangely, given that he’s a mercenary, a killer – a murderer. I say it’s cerebral because Ninefingers thinks about what he has done and how he came to be where he is. He thinks about how it might be if he changed, and realises that because he has so much history of violence and a reputation for it, then the chances are pretty slim. This is a melancholic chapter in his, and the reader’s, journey.

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Logan Ninefingers.
Image from
comicvine.gamespot.com

Jezel Dan Luther returns to Adua, his home city. Physically scarred from his journey to the West (Book II: Before They Are Hanged). He is still a young man with dreams to match, yet changed by his experiences. He is a little less brash, a lot less selfish – and in for a terrible time. He thinks to marry the woman he loves; Ardee West. He thinks to settle down into some well-paid post of Captain. Jezel, unlike Ninefingers, gets little chance to think, he must do as he is told; because of the position he finds himself thrust into. His choices become shockingly limited; despite his new-found role, and he can only react to situations. Jezel does his damnedest to be a decent man and feels thwarted at every turn. In the first book, I reacted to Jezel as, I’m sure Abercrombie meant me to, with contempt. He was a superficial, selfish little shit. In this final book, I desperately wanted it all to work out for him.

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Jezel Dan Luther.
Image from GeeklyInc

Superior of the Inquisition, Sand Dan Glokta, is still in the secrets trade. We still get that oppositional internal dialogue when he speaks with others; A shame to leave such lovely company…but when duty calls. He thinks after a short interview with Arch Lector Sult. Glokta probably changes least of all. This could be attributed to the fact that a man so crippled and steeped in politics and up to his elbows in others blood and bile hardly has much choice. He cannot run; literally, he would not be able to hide for sure, and he knows that at any point his bloated corpse might end up floating down the river. But Glokta still held my interest, why? Simply because he sticks to what he knows best, which is staying alive. There are, however, two very touching scenes. One involves his old fencing friend from his youth, Collem West, the other involves West’s sister, Ardee. It is interesting to watch Glokta in the face of helplessness, he always expects the worst outcome – but for two instances, he hopes, not for himself, but for Collem and Ardee.

I have to admit to having a lump in my throat when Glokta encounters his old friend who has been struck down with a hideous disease.

Of course there are many, many other characters who deserve mention – The Last of the Magi; Bayez, The Dogman, Black Dow, Ferro Maljinn, Severard, but I couldn’t do them all justice in a simple blog post.

There are few men with more blood on their hands than me.

Logan Ninefingers knows all about fighting and death, and there is a tonne of it in this book. The battles are hideously well written. The fight on Crummock i’Phail’s hill fort is astonishingly violent and immersive. It was like being behind the wobbly wooden barricade with them, as they waited in the dawn mist watching Bethod’s army waiting to move. Fingers, limbs, heads, every possible body part is pierced and sliced and skewed and bludgeoned. How on earth Abercrombie found so many words and phrases to describe death in battle is beyond me. It isn’t a huge cinematic blockbuster of a war, it’s one of those horrible localised battles; sure there’s hundreds of men involved, but we are exposed to the horror of hand-to-hand fighting, the smells and the grunting, the feel of steel sliding on bone. We see our ‘hero’, Logan Ninefingers do a truly horrible thing. In previous books we have seen skirmishes and battles, we have seen blood and guts, but this battle is truly mayhem. How can the reader possibly relate to the character after committing such an atrocious act? But here’s the thing, I did!

The final battle in Adua is equally violent, with a dash of Bayez’ magic thrown in for good measure. Sometimes, battles in films and books can be so expansive, so huge that we cannot really get a feel for what is going on. Abercrombie gives us snapshots of the city through the eyes of each character as he, or she, struggles to survive. This way we see what it is like to be a refugee from one’s own home, the starving peasant, the soldier who actually is scared, ruination where once stood beauty.

It’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s depressing. And so it should be. War is no fun for anyone; even those who signed up for it in the first place – because it is fucking dangerous, and we can feel this in the people fleeing, in Jezel’s desperation to lend a hand, in Ninefingers mad rush into a row of pikemen, in West’s hasty assault with his cavalry and infantrymen. And I was totally engaged.

I have read reviews that said the writing is ‘clunky’. I have read that people found it boring, or everyone dies (everyone doesn’t die by the way). I thought the writing was succinct, none of that Tolkeinesque, flowery stuff, just your good, solid writing that I feel fits the style of narrative. I still like that Abercrombie kept the chapters as seen from different points of view, and the internal dialogue is wonderful. It isn’t fantastic writing – but then again, I’m not sure what that means – a thoroughly academic command of the written word AND the ability to create an amazing story AND engaging characters AND…whatever else?

But it’s a fantastic tale well told.

Boring? Boring?! I can’t imagine what they were reading. This is not a boring book. It keeps the pace of the previous two, action, violence and intrigue, interspersed with quieter moments to alter the pace. Abercrombie manages to avoid clichés very well, the whole thing could easily have tipped into another fighting fantasy book with swords and sorcery and blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t. I’ve picked up loads of books in the fantasy genre and then tossed them aside after a couple of chapters (and that was being generous in some instances).

Not to spoil it, but everyone doesn’t die. Some do – I’m not saying who – some survive in the same way they always have; by their wits or by violence, and some survive because they bend with the times.

We don’t always get what we want – could be the moral of the story (if there has to be one). Or, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

You see, like real life, sometimes good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Is there a ‘happy ending’? I’m not sure, but I was not expecting that.

I always have a little sad moment when I complete a book, and this was no exception. I’m going to miss drinking wine with Ardee, struggling down dank staircases with Glokta, and wrestling with my conscience with Logan Ninefingers. I’m not sure I can leave it all behind, I might have to go after other titles by Joe Abercrombie – and that for me is what makes a good, if not great, storyteller.

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Cover of first volume of The First Law comic book covering The Blade Itself.
Image from GeeklyInc

I’m giving Last Argument of Kings (and The First Law trilogy)

5 stars

Book Review: The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

Genre: Fantasy Noir
Pub First Date: 4th April 2019
Publisher:Kyanite Publishing
Length: 350 pages
Paperback: ARC copy from author for review purposes

Titan City, 1933

The wizard Anson Walker’s cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother. Her kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a cosmic event every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. As Anson dives into the criminal underworld of Titan City, he uncovers an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and dredges up feelings he thought long gone. Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the sinister forces arrayed against him?

Some readers may not have heard of the Fantasy Noir genre before. It is one of those sub-sub-genres that is becoming popular; like Diesel, Stitch and Elf have emerged from the genre of Steampunk. From Fantasy has emerged Alternative, Dying Earth and Futuristic. Also Dark, or Noir, and if you are familiar with the term from cinema, then you will have an idea where Alexander Thomas is coming from.

The Magician’s Sin has, as it’s lead, Anson Walker; ‘Exterminator’, who shares more than a few characteristics of the hard-boiled PI about him – though he does, in one scene, make protestations to the contrary. He’s mature (don’t know how old), intelligent to a degree, cynical and has a smart mouth. He swears and spits and smokes, I like him. I have a weakness for Marlowesque characters with snappy lines and a quick delivery – Anson Walker has a few snappy lines, I would have liked more.

He is ’employed’ – I use the term loosly as she doesn’t pay him, by Caroline Dupree, a young woman not only growing and finding herself, but along the way finds what or who she is and what she is capable of. She develops very nicely as a character, though some of her early growth happens a wee bit too quickly for my liking; she seems to accept the remarkable with remarkable ease.

I really enjoyed the opening scenes, where we are introduced to Walker – and his skills as a wizard. I became quite attached to the Dupree family in their little domestic, after work setting. There are some pretty neat descriptions of characters and places – of the MC: ‘Anson was lanky like a shadow at sunset.’ Of a group of Russian gangster types: ‘Their grim, flat faces were slate tiles.’

I found some of the dialogue stilted, in that it did not flow in a manner conducive to helping move the scene forwards, or it felt unnatural, or innappropriate for the scene. I can’t, for example, imagine discussing much at all whilst in the middle of a three-way fight with an Amazon.

Yes, I did say Amazon, as in mighty female warriors. This was another sticking point for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, I love noir, I love horror, and superheroes, and mythology – you see where I’m going with this? Thomas has included all, and more, of these beings into one story, and for me, the scene outside the nightclub lost all psychological realism – simply too many varieties of beast; vampires, werewolves, Japanese demons, medusa-like women and ogres. This nightclub also has the strange ability, I don’t understand how, it’s not explained, to have people from different eras in the one place – from Roman Legionnaires to Mark Twain. Again, my suspension of disbelief was suspended a little too high.

I think Thomas has come up with an interesting idea, with a great main character and supporting cast – one called Chevron grew on me, and Thomas piqued my curiosity with this guy. The Aberration is a great concept about when the magical energies will be weaker, or at least in flux and it has an exciting finale.

It’s a crazy mix of 1930s detective noir, comic novel, superheroes and mythology, that I’m not 100% convinced Thomas has pulled off. I feel he could have had one story thread, a single arc and one or two fantastical beasts, and it would have been just as good. Sometimes it feels as though the author got over-excited and wanted to fit in as much as possible, and in parts, smacks a little of a D and D game – the amazing devices, shining orbs and jewels, and very powerful magic. I don’t believe I am the target audience for this novel – though I do like all the elements, it’s too ‘noisy’ for my tastes, but if you like your fantasy stuffed with humanoids, feisty women and a snarky lead, then this will be just your thing.

But despite my reservations…

I am curious to know what happens with the two characters in the end scene…will they be back for a second outing? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Magician’s Sin is Coming to E-book, Paperback, and Hardcover 04/04/2019, courtesy of Kyanite Publishing.

I’m giving The Magician’s Sin

3 Stars

Film Review – I Think We’re Alone Now

Official Movie Poster

Genre: Drama/Sci-fi

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning

Released: 21 January 2018

Director: Reed Morano

Production: Automatik Entertainment, Exhibit Entertainment et al.

**SPOILER ALERT**

Synopsis

Del is alone in the world. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in his small, empty town, content in his solitude and the utopia he’s methodically created for himself — until he is discovered by Grace, an interloper whose history and motives are obscure. And to make matters worse, she wants to stay.

Google. https://g.co/kgs/sCh7zM

I watched this on Netflix (UK)

I came to know Peter Dinklage’s work, as so many other have, through Game of Thrones. Then I saw him in Death At A Funeral and Elf, both roles which I thoroughly enjoyed him in. I hadn’t heard of I Think We’re Alone Now; just found it whilst surfing through Netflix.

After watching, I looked up a couple of reviews; they weren’t very positive, and I wondered what critics were expecting when they saw Dinklage was starring in a post-apocalyptic drama. I went in with no expectations.

**SPOILERS**

It’s post-apocalypse America and Del is alone in a small town; believing himself the last man alive after some unspecified event that has caused everyone to die – quite quickly it seems, and some months prior to these events. Del has settled into a routine in the library where he works, still collecting and cataloguing books, as well as cleaning up the deceased and their homes. We see a man who has respect for the dead – or do we? – who quietly enters homes, tidies up, empties fridges of their rotten contents, disinfects around, and then wraps the bodies he finds and takes them on his truck to be buried outside of town.

Del in the homes of the dead

It appears to be a peaceful existence; even in his solitude. He lives in the library and maintains a routine of cooking, eating, washing (he even brushes his teeth), fishing, maintaining the library (for whom?), and burying the dead. It’s a semblance of normalcy, we understand that this is how a man alone can stay sane.

Then Grace arrives. She is young, brash and upsets the routine that Del has built. When Grace accompanies Del on one of his ‘corpse clean-ups’, she watches how he dumps the bodies in the ground and tells him that her father was a preacher, that when she passed bodies on her way here she held her breath. They begin a routine of silence and breath-holding from then on.

Grace

We know next to nothing about Del’s and Grace’s previous lives, only what they choose reveal to each other. Del seems self-contained and content in contrast to Grace’s head-banging restlessness, and I think that’s how it should be; we are watching them through each other’s eyes. However, a tiny glimpse into Del’s previous existence comes in the poignant reply to when Grace asks if Del ever gets lonely, he replies, “You know what? I’ll tell you when I felt lonely. I felt lonely when it was me and 1,600 other people in this town. I was pretty fucking lonely.”

The main oddity is when Grace is sorting her hair looking in a mirror – she has a recent scar on the back of her neck.

And then Grace’s parents turn up. Del, unhappy at the initial intrusion, now exhibits signs of agitation. Grace had told him there was no-one else alive. Grace had told him her parents were dead – Grace lied. Her father finds Del, in his quiet solitude, in the library, and tells him he should join them out on the West Coast, they have doctors who are doing things with the human mind, cutting edge stuff, the loneliness of being outside ‘the fold’. They whisk Grace off,; but not before Grace desperately tell him these people are not really her parents, and Del is alone again.

Peter Dinklage as Del

Predictably, Grace has touched a part of Del that remembers/needs human contact. He sets out to find/rescue her. There is no-one as he drives for days across the country. He swaps his vehicle at each road blockage; where bodies lie desiccating inside cars, in dust-blown towns, until he finally drives over a rise and sees the lights of a large town. Stunned, he locates the house (Grace’s ‘father’ wrote it inside one of the library books) and Grace, who is wired up to some monitor device, filled with tubes and stuff, which Del releases her from.

Downstairs, they are met by the ‘father’, who does little to stop them, but tells Del that in the same way Del is keeping his town clean, they are doing the same here – but with the citizens! “They don’t have to remember what happened before. They don’t have to live in the past. There’s no before. There’s only from now on. Isn’t that beautiful? To not have to remember anything?”

It’s kind of creepy; as is he, so it’s a delight when Grace kills him. As Del and Grace drive off, we get a Stepford Wives moment – slo-mo citizens going about their beautiful lives, in beautiful sunshine; jogging, gardening, drinking beer on the lawn, smiling and content.

I know some people felt cheated that this film turned out to NOT be a last man in the world scenario. But we have seen lots of post-apocalypse stuff, and lots of man/woman alone against the odds and I think this film makes us adjust our attitude to togetherness – it’s not about survival after a disaster, its about connectedness and that, now cliché quote of John Donne’s, ‘No man is an island’. Despite Del thinking he can cope, and has made a lovely little routine, and thinks he is happy – he isn’t really, and Grace reminds him that man cannot live alone.

There were a couple of aspects of the film that didn’t quite ring true for me, but nothing that disrupted the narrative. The dialogue is quite sparse, only the ‘father’ has a chunk of dialogue, and by the time he arrives, I felt settled into Del and Grace’s routine and wanted him to go away. In fact, at the beginning, I did feel like Del when he and Grace went ‘shopping’ in the supermarket, and she asked him what he missed the most, and he replied ‘Quiet.’ He had become so used to his isolation that he was reclusive – and I could relate to that.

Is there an underlying meaning in I Think We’re Alone Now? I think so. It isn’t an action film, there isn’t much dialogue – it’s contemplative. And not only are we being asked to contemplate isolation; initially, but the sharing of our lives with others; even another who is not necessarily, or initially compatible. Grace and Del are dealing with loss in very different ways; he through routine and solitude, she through having her memory wiped. There is a wide gap in their ages, but a little romance does blossom, which is also the reality that bites when Del decides to save her.

The ending, I feel, is almost portrayed like an invitation to join ‘the fold’. You could; like so many people do, choose the easy option and live a life of ‘apparent’ bliss, have a house, a car, a job, hobbies, friendly neighbours, sunshine and lollipops. The film’s ending is the most brightly lit section – throughout it has been blue-tinted greys and dark shadows. Now, as they leave what I presume is meant to be California, we get clear blue skies, palm trees, colourful bicycles and clothing; perfect America? All intensified with an eerie score of suggested discordance. It begins to ‘wind up’ in tension as Del slows the car – is he wishing he could join them? Is life too hard to go on back up North? Does he imagine it would be easier to be one of the herd? His thoughts are interrupted by Grace and the single pronouncement of his name, and they’re moving again. The music rises in pitch and blossoms into a beautiful conclusion as they drive off.

You can take the red pill or the blue pill. Live in a David Lynch-like world of white picket fences and lies – or get on with reality. Utopia is what we make it.

Lonely Days For Del

I’m giving I Think We’re Alone Now

4 stars

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Book Review: Mind in the Gap by C.R. Dudley

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Mind in the Gap by C.R.Dudley

Genre: Science Fiction, Metaphysical, Philosophy.
Pub First Date: September, 2018
Publisher: Orchid’s Lantern
Length: 242 pages
Paperback : £7.99 (Copy from author for review purposes)

We all need a bit of chaos. “The body likes continuity. It’s part of the deal. But the truth is, there are gaps everywhere. Gaps only the mind can slip through…” Follow M – a strange and chaotic being who professes to be the outcast of a black hole – on a journey like no other. Flowing freely through the back streets of hidden realms, she drives her companion to meet commuters who cross dimensions, embody future technology, and peek behind the scenes at consciousness: all with one purpose in mind.

Mind in the Gap (back cover blurb)

Mind in the Gap is a quick and easy read.

Mind in the Gap is a difficult read.

Contradiction? Well, kind of, but not really. Bear with me, it’s a hell of a ride!

Dudley has presented us with an anthology of 14 short stories which can be read individually – but – are actually interconnected; which is one of the themes running through this book.

On a superficial level, one could read these as sci-fi stories. The author’s understanding of science terminology is clear, and so we experience Artificial Intelligence (A.I), quantum physics, immersive technology, black holes, futuristic drugs, and insect sized cameras. There’s a whole world of technology on this level.

On another level, it is about human connectedness, the unconscious mind and our place, not only within the world of technology, but the world, nay, universe as a whole.

At times, reading Mind in the Gap was a vertiginous experience – as though standing with one’s back to a precipice and craning to look up into a high tree – dizzying.

Image result for what is quantum

On a technical level, the writing is competent, there is no purple prose, Dudley never gets carried away with irrelevant description, it’s clean and concise. The author evidently has an extremely broad set of interests, that are admittedly, all interconnected – including art, science, philosophy, and I feel there might be too much pressed into service here.

Admittedly, I don’t have a great grasp on modern technology, let alone potential/future tech, but it wasn’t a problem, the author does not create anything overly complicated in her future worlds. But I did have to plunge into a dictionary every now and then.

What, I wondered, is Hermetic Philosophy? (A religion/philosophy based on the esoteric writings of Hermes Trismegistus). What is qualia? (Individual, subjective, conscious experience). The first thing I had to look up was The Kybalion, I’d never heard of it and I would say that this might be the one thing that could potentially let the book down. I’m not sure readers should have to look up the meaning of words, names or phrases so much that it interrupts the flow of the storytelling. I’m not overly intelligent, but neither am I unintelligent, I discuss psychology, philosophy, Freud and Jung with partner and friends – but when so many ‘foreign’ concepts are presented in such a small format, ie; short stories, then I worry that the author is deliberately overloading the reader, baffling the senses to keep one off-balance, using terminology that we don’t encounter in everyday situations. I struggled to explain to myself why the writer had used so many concepts.

However –

It works. And this is the point – we are all interconnected – we are all parts of a greater whole (even if that happens to be a black hole!) – we share the need to see patterns, we all have a shared set of symbols; Jungian archetypes – we all dream. And we are all, on a daily basis, off-balance, some of us just don’t know it!

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Dudley presents us with this: – we are all linear creatures living in a non-linear universe that we can only vaguely comprehend/connect to when we allow ourselves to access the unconscious. What would happen if technology became somehow entangled with, by choice or otherwise, our unconscious minds? Could technology, or drugs, be used to assist us in accessing the greater truth? Does technology interfere with our unconscious receptors?

How does one feel any attachment for a mechanoid? But I did. ZXXX84 makes a discovery that propels us into intrigue. We shift, paragraph, by paragraph into alternate reality as we ride the bus with Alex. How much do we put up with to NOT have the truth revealed to us? Have we surrounded ourselves with so much technology that we cannot ‘hear’ the universe?

I found ‘Winter Triangle’ heartbreaking. I identified with Nav in ‘Mapmakers’; I felt I had to navigate the stories. I recognised the protagonist in Frankie. The final story, ‘The Last Man’, is poignancy wrapped in hope – or the other way round.

The stories are not random, nor are they randomly organised, you do need to read from beginning to end. The author has nothing in the book that does not, I believe, have some kind of resonance for her – therefore, I felt obliged to discover the relationship between the question mark at the opening – ? “Ready!” and the exclamation mark at the ending – ! “Ready?” And I’m not telling, you will have to discover for yourselves!

I have never read anything like Mind in the Gap before. It is interesting, well-crafted, entertaining and informative – as well as being extremely thought provoking. My mind is still boggling with this extract of dialogue –

‘I’m immanentising the Eschaton!’ Demari in ‘The Fold’

 

I am giving Mind in the Gap

4 stars

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Book Review: Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler

 

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“I slapped a strip of duct tape over his mouth.” C.S 

Genre: Humorous Crime Fiction
Pub First Date: 2001
Publisher: UglyTown Publishing/Dell Books
Length: 274 pages
Paperback : Orion Tech on Amazon5.87)

Charlie Swift just pumped three .38-caliber [sic] bullets into a dead polar bear in his taxidermist girlfriend’s garage. But he’s a gun monkey, and no one can blame him for having an itchy trigger finger. Ever since he drove down the Florida Turnpike with a headless body in the trunk of a Chrysler, then took down four cops, Charlie’s been running hard through the sprawling sleaze of central Florida. And to make matters worse, he’s holding on to some crooked paperwork that a lot of people would like to take off his hands. Now, with his boss disappeared and his friends dropping like flies, Charlie has got his work cut out just to survive. If he wants to keep the money and get the girl too, he’s really going to have to go ape…

Gun Monkeys(Back Cover Book Blurb)

That little scene was enough to make me pay out some cash for this title. Gangsters and polar bears? I thought, I gotta have me some of this.

I came to read Gun Monkeys via Twitter of all places. I ‘Follow’ the author, Victor Gischler simply because I find his Tweets amusing. He has a slight acerbic tone laced with humour, writer rants (don’t we all) and glimpses into his family life (such as which film he will be watching with his young son). I’m late to the show – as you can see by the publishing date – but better late than never.

Gun Monkeys has been called by some, a Florida comic crime caper, and Gishler’s love of Noir, crime, gangsters and history of comic writing comes through in this novel.

I usually take longer than most people I talk to, to read a book these days (weeks), I seem to be slowing down as I get older, but the pace of writing and regular action kept me moving along, so I completed it in three days (a record for me!)

Charlie Swift is one of the gun monkeys of the title, he works for crime boss Stan as an enforcer. He is a stereotypical anti-hero – bad guy with redeeming qualities. Many of the characters fit the expected Film Noir tropes – gangster with a heart and a ‘Ma’ he loves, a sassy, intelligent female, Marcie, whom Charlie falls for because, like Charlie, she can she the necessity for plastic sheeting and the multiple uses of duct tape, I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.” A lumbering, huge muscle guy, Lou, and sleek-suited mob boss, Mercury. Despite being set in the present day, the lingo used often sounds a little like that spoken by gangsters in the 40’s and 50’s movies – BUT – it doesn’t feel dated, or clichéd. Instead, it moves along at a cracking speed, as Charlie attempts to help his boss, track down the ‘other’ bad guys and deal with consequences that keep springing up.

Charlie is a crack shot with a gun we are told, yet he doesn’t have it all his own way. To be honest, Charlie has a hell of a time. I don’t know if I’d ever want to be friends with Charlie Swift, but I didn’t dislike him, ever, even when he pumps a bullet into some guys knee (and worse).

I found Gishler’s writing and characterisation to be solid, and although the territory – Noir Gangster-land – is very familiar to me, I found a freshness to this writing, which I reckon is pretty difficult to do without slipping on the cliché banana. 

There are some nice comic touches, although as the story progresses the comic elements lessen. There is a lot of violence, but nothing stomach churning. There’s a high body count, but meh, isn’t that the world of gangsters? It’s pulp fiction, it’s fun- despite the violence, it’s overflowing with swearing, it’s contemporary hard-boiled, it’s not Raymond Chandler, but it was an enjoyable read, enough so that I will be taking a further delve into the work of Victor Gischler.

I’m giving Gun Monkeys

4 stars

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Book Review – Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell

Image result for hot lead, cold iron book
Hot Lead, Cold Iron Book Cover

Genre: Crime Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dark fantasy, Urban fantasy
Pub First Date: 2014
Publisher: Titan Books
Length: 305 pages
Paperback : Bookdonors on Amazon (£3.72)

” Mick Oberon may look like just another 1930s private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he’s got pointy ears and he’s packing a wand. Among the last in a line of aristocratic Fae, Mick turned his back on his kind and their Court a long time ago. But when he’s hired to find a gangster’s daughter sixteen years after she was replaced with a changeling, the trail leads Mick from Chicago’s criminal underworld to the hidden Otherworld, where he’ll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper and solve the case.”

Hot Lead, Cold Iron (Back-book cover blurb)

First off, I have a confession to make – I’m one of those people who rolls their eyes when others mention certain themes of TV/Film/Book whatever, that I deem ‘stupid’ or ‘unbelievable’, you know what I mean? Conspiracy theorists, fantastical creatures roaming modern cities, and so on – except, I do read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, so where do I draw the line? Hard to say.

So, when I read that Ari Marmell‘s book was about a Private Investigator who is a Fae, I almost turned tail.

I discovered this book through entering the world of Dieselpunk/Decopunk writing, researching some titles. I read the opening 5 pages and… ordered it!

I think I have mentioned before that I enjoy crime writing, all kinds and in all forms (I have a huge collection of magazines about serial killers – yeah, publishers, you might want to bear that in mind next time you refuse my submissions!!) And this, I would say, is first and foremost a detective story. The protagonist, Mick Oberon is, as I mentioned, a Fae, living and working in 1930s Chicago. But the thing that hooked me is Marmell’s use of language, particularly the language of America, in that time period. The lingo is not only relevant to the time period, but has the humorous yet threatening quality of such well-known characters as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade –

One, I don’t chisel my clients, Archie. Ain’t good for business…And two, get your hand off me before I make you eat it.”. M.O.

This isn’t just a detective story, it’s Noir, one of my favourite film genres.

Mick Oberon explains that he is obliged to speak in this manner in order to function in his present day. I love this style of speech. Watching the old Humphrey Bogart films I didn’t always understand what was being said, but I sure as hell got the inference. Gangster speak is used throughout ‘Hot Lead, Cold Iron’, but not so as you don’t know what characters are talking about.

The story is written in first person – Mick Oberon’s – and so we get a pretty thorough explanation of Fae. Marmell has actually given some thought to magic and how it is used; Oberon’s magic is not the same as another type of Fae’s magic for instance. The world of the Fae – the Seelie Court (and it’s darker counter-side, the Unseelie Court) are almost copies of the real world, brilliantly explained by Marmell, as a result of Fae lacking creativity but being excellent mimics.

No matter how unusual some of the plot-line or characters or environs may seem, Marmell has written with psychological realism, thereby ensuring the story does not fall apart due to some random shit he wants in there. Though I did struggle somewhat to visualise some of the setting of the Seelie Court in Elphame, my impression of size kept shifting, so I was unable to get a clear understanding of the size of structures or beings. And I did enjoy the time spent in our world more than in Oberon’s home world.

Oberon is a likeable, milk-drinking, wand-toting good guy with a hard-boiled attitude that he wears like his coat. We don’t, in all honesty, know too much about his background – he’d tell you to mind your own business. And this is another aspect of the writing I enjoyed, Oberon often directly speaks to the reader, he gives you enough to understand the world you are entering, but also enough to pique the interest for further reading – “My name is Mick Oberon, or at least it is now.” He says things like – “You Joe’s.” Referring to humans and the reader alike, he doesn’t always reveal the whys and wherefores of his actions, you are being introduced a bit at a time to his way of living – “And if you think it all went easy for me, you ain’t been paying attention.”

This kind of story, with these kinds of fantasy elements, could easily have fallen flat – or worse. It’s success rests on the main character’s voice; as much as the plot and setting need a certain amount of historical accuracy, it is how Marmell has written Oberon’s voice that makes it work well. And it’s not just (if you like this kind of language) the gangster speak, Oberon is an intriguing character and charismatic too.

If you get gangster speak and understand a little about the world of faeries, you get the title – Lead as in bullets – Iron as in faeries hate it.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron is action-packed fun, well-written with wisecracks enough to satisfy Raymond Chandler fans, it is the first in a new series by Ari Marmell – ‘A Mick Oberon Job’ or Mick Oberon #1.

And I will be purchasing the second book – Hallow Point.

I’m giving Hot Lead, Cold Iron

4 Stars

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