The concept of a Generation Ship has circulated in science and science fiction probably since the latThis was original posted at fantasyliterature.com
The concept of a Generation Ship has circulated in science and science fiction probably since the late 20s and certainly since the 1940’s. The idea is based on an assumption that light speed is a space travel barrier that won’t be overcome and so travel to even the nearest stars will be a journey of multiple generations. The ships that make such a journey will need to be large and need to solve problems of self-sustenance.
Allen Steele delves into this space travel theme with his aptly titled Arkwright, so named after fictional sci-fi scion Nathan Arkwright, whom Steele positions alongside Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke as one of the ‘big four’ science fiction writers. Arkwright’s long career was anchored to his series, Galaxy Patrol that spawned both TV series and movies. Arkwright’s peak was during the heyday of science fiction, and he built a small fortune on the back of that genre’s growth. Mostly avoiding the modern phenomenon of sci-fi conventions in his twilight, Arkwright grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of real space travel and science. Instead of reaching for the stars, people were reaching for their phones … their devices … looking inward instead of up and outward. Arkwright commits his legacy to the development of a spacecraft that can travel across the universe. He leaves his money to a non-profit science-based organization whose purpose is to build and launch a generation ship that will carry the genes of humanity and find a new home across the galaxy.
Arkwright - get it? His name is ARKWRIGHT … ARK = big boat; WRIGHT = maker; ARK+WRIGHT. GET IT?!
Following the early scene-setting chapters where we meet Nathan Arkwright, his estranged daughter and granddaughter, Steele provides snippets of the lives of Arkwrights’ progeny as they embark on the development of Galactique. They progressively launch pieces of the starship into space while battling each other, politicians who squabble over money, and protesters quibbling over the ethics of sending unfertilized eggs and sperm across the galaxy.
Arkwright’s final third focuses on life on Eos, a cold hard rock 50+ years away from Earth, several hundred years in the future, and the target of Galactique, Arkwright’s vision manifested into a hundreds of millions of dollars of steel and plastic. These final chapters are the finest of the novel, as Steele concludes the tale of the Arkwright family having been delivered to Eos as genetic cargo on Arkwright’s generation ship. We are provided only a glimpse of a future society, built upon a vision of human evolution, that develops it’s own myth and language and society … all different, but very recognizable in their genesis. Equally as recognizable are themes found in other recent sci-fi work published by some of the giants in the field. Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is an absolute gorgeous novel, that doesn’t focus on a generation ship, per se, but does ask the question of what would happen to humanity if forced to live in orbit for several thousand years. The wonderful final chapters of Arkwright paint a similar picture, by connecting the dots between the early days of the Arkwright family following the launch of Galactique, and the components of humanity that find a way to survive and thrive millions of miles away. Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent Aurora does focus specifically on a generation ship. While it’s far less compelling than Seveneves, one can draw comparisons between Robinson and Steele’s portraits of the politics played by humans when isolated from Earth through many miles and years.
Arkwright contains some engaging and compelling science fiction, however the story is uneven. The characters are mildly interesting; some slightly more so than others, but none particularly memorable, and the relationships that develop overtime feel a bit forced. Some of the characters are simply unlikable, and while Steele wrote them purposefully so, I found them a turn off. I wish Steele had spent more time on Eos, developing the future society and finding more creative ways to connect the Earth-bound Arkwrights with their far removed descendants. ...more
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A homeless man sleeps fitfully in a park in New York City. He’s startled awake when an object crusheThis was originaly posted at fantasyliterature.com
A homeless man sleeps fitfully in a park in New York City. He’s startled awake when an object crushes the box that affords him only a modicum of protection for the elements. He clambers out of the box and gapes at a: black sphere at a center of a pit, half-buried in the mud. It looked like a bowling ball but slightly bigger, about a foot across. Its top half shone in the moonlight … it was as black as coal and yet its surface gleamed as if it were polished … it seemed to be glowing. Joe’s a broken man … an alcoholic, divorced and separated from his family and now forced from his latest home, however transient it may have been.
Several members of a local Latino gang, led by Emilio, hear the crash and descend on the same location where Joe’s rotting around the object that crashed from the heavens.
Several hours later, an old woman drops off groceries to the homeless in the same park … in the same location where Joe was sleeping.
Joe, Emilio and Dorothy are drawn to the same extraterrestrial object as Sarah, an astronomer who tracks asteroids on potential intercept courses with Earth. Four people connected by a rock that falls from the sky. But it’s not just a rock, of course.
Mark Alpert has been creeping into the authorial space made viable by the works of Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston and James Rollins – the pseudo high-tech thrill rides that are ready-made for film and paperback sales. The Orion Plan plays in the well-mowed space of First Contact stories: an object hurtles through space, crashes outside of New York City and connects four otherwise disconnected souls in a search for the truth about the aliens and their reasons for coming to Earth.
The Orion Plan comes from the title of the document that details how the U.S. military should respond to the discovery of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In this case, the alien life comes in the form of sentient programmed nanotech tasked with establishing contact with intelligent life on Earth. It names itself The Emissary. The Emissary embeds itself in Joe, Emilio and Dorothy with three very different motivations. Joe is the mouthpiece; Emilio is the brawn, and Dorothy is tabbed to carry the alien race’s genetic makeup. It’s not until approximately mid-way through the 336-page novel that the true alien-nature of the story is reveled, though it’s doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to figure it out. The story was interesting but only really resonates in the last third as the alien motives and backstory were revealed.
Alpert writes cleanly, and the characters will be familiar from any over-the-counter scifi novel or film. Alpert’s promoted as a successor to Michael Crichton and he writes a similar story but without the intensity or smart simplicity in form and characters. I won’t reveal the alien backstory here, but suffice it to say it was compelling and likely warranted another hundred pages or so to of more thorough exploration.
The Orion Plan is an interesting diversion. It won’t be memorable, but it’ll be familiar.
This was originally posted at fantasyliterature.com
I truly enjoyed Planetfall, my first Emma Newman story, and found many of the issues Kat had with tThis was originally posted at fantasyliterature.com
I truly enjoyed Planetfall, my first Emma Newman story, and found many of the issues Kat had with the tale particularly successful in my reading. Perhaps this highlights the fact every reader brings his or her own unique perspectives, tastes and sensibilities to the “journey of the read”.
Newman does a terrific job of building characters through dramatic tension in the plot and dialogue including spare, but strong use of flashbacks. We learn in an unobtrusive and well blended way, that Renata, our lead character, was a daddy’s girl who had mommy issues. We learn early in the story, and I don’t think it’s a tremendous spoiler, that Ren lost a child when she was still very young; and she still harbors a lot of pain for having left her father in choosing to join this cross-galaxy expedition.
As Kat points out, Ren is not the most upbeat nor optimistic of individuals. I don’t consider her unlikable, though. I was actually drawn to her inner pain, the crusty outer shell that she portrayed as a shield against her vulnerability. Maybe that’s just me and I can relate in ways, and perhaps even have some great need to ‘save’ someone myself.
Newman’s language in Planetfall is suggestive of some secret, of some underlying mystery that’s not just on a grand scale, but something internal as well. We know also that Ren was in love with Suh, The Pathfinder, the one who’s become goddess-like to the survivors of the long interspace journey that’s now a generation past.
Key themes include the unbalanced act of man creating godhood, and the lengths the human mind will go to deceive itself. The central plot elements include the well-worn scifi trope of myth creation and the curation required to keep it alive and self-sustaining. Humanity is, after all, forever searching for greater meaning…
Religious allusions pervade, and were the driving force in the expedition in the first place. We learn that Suh inhaled a strange seed spore… only she, the ‘chosen one’, was able to imbibe/eat and survive and thrive. She emerged from the inhalation with a unique site and vision and it was she that was the driving force of this expedition. Even through to the end sequence, the notion of the ‘chosen one’ persists and we learn that not all of this notional godhood was ballyhoo.
Ren is a broken figure, at times nasty and reactive, but clearly vulnerable. She’s the groups ‘visengineer’, responsible for colony maintenance with focus on the 3D printing machines which are the lifeblood to everything they do and their absolute survival. She’s a necessity, and the colony literally would not be able to survive without her. She uses that knowledge to her own advantage… never in a vindictive or hateful way, though much of the mystery surrounding Ren herself orbits this need to be needed. Ren pulls discarded objects from the ‘masher’… the device used to recycle all materials and prep for reuse. Nothing is truly thrown away. She finds an imperfect pot… then an unfinished wool doll… she thinks “abandoned, unfinished. I’ll finish you.” Of course, she’s talking to more than just the objects she finds, but herself, the colony, and the God-like entity that pulled this colony off of Earth and onto this planet in the first place. All around her things are unfinished, broken, destroyed. Her child died young, she was unable to fix her. Her role as visengineer is the initial clue. She’s the fixer. The go-to colonist to deal with broken things. And mechanically she can fix just about anything. Except herself. And she knows it. A good third of Newman’s story delves into Ren’s psychoses which ultimate plays perhaps too large of a role relative to the length of the novel itself.
While Newman’s ideas around smart and self-sustaining buildings and 3D printing are not unique, I thought they created a nice mystique around the setting of the story and played a subtle but important role in the series of mysteries that lie at the core of Newman’s story. I found the mysteries of the story compelling: - What happened to the rest of the crew after the initial planetfall; - What happened to Suh, The Pathfinder – it’s repeated that something awful occurred with the first landing party; - What’s behind the annual ritual of the ‘seed ceremony’ that Ren calls “the central pole that keeps the circus tent up”; - Are there any secrets of the new comer, who claims to be the grandson of Suh, The Pathfinder? There’s something odd and unique that rests just under the surface of almost every interaction with him; - What’s hidden in the upper most levels of the God’s city; - And what are the driving forces that keep Ren closed off tighter than a spacesuit? I’m torn about Planetfall’s ending. It will appeal to people in different ways… in some regards conclusive, though clearly open to interpretation. one won’t be able to help but make some analogies to Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series, or Ridley Scott’s recent Prometheus. The core mysteries, however, are wrapped up rather nicely (although that’s not to say they’re all pleasant). ...more
Fort Moxie lent itself to timelessness. There were no major renovation projects, no vast cultural shifts impOriginally posted at fantasyliterature.com
Fort Moxie lent itself to timelessness. There were no major renovation projects, no vast cultural shifts imposed by changing technology, no influxes of strangers, no social engineering. The town and the broad prairie in which it rested were caught in a kind of time warp.
A farmer works his land in the far reaches of North Dakota – just a few miles away from the Canadian border. Something pokes from the flat lands that he calls home. He lives in a large basin of prairie-land, farms and flat as far as the eye can see. The plain stretched out forever. It’s manmade. Clearly not of the land. The farmer digs it up and finds that the cylinder is just the beginning. It’s connected to something even larger… a mast. Underneath is the rest of the sailboat. Buried in ground that’s been a prairie for millions of years.
The discovery of the sailboat is the launching point for Jack McDevitt’s short novel of first-contact, Ancient Shores, originally published in 1996. It’s a complex tale of humanity’s discovery that we’re not alone.
The cover of many newer copies of Ancient Shores and other McDevitt fare includes a quote from Stephen King referencing that McDevitt is the logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. I’m not sure if King’s quote planted the seed, but I see much of Clarke in Ancient Shores. McDevitt’s language is straightforward, spare in its characterizations and sparse in its exposition. It’s a complex tale told in simple terms. His themes are common (first contact, mysterious alien artifacts, the cultural and political reactions to alien discoveries), but not all are dealt with in the most common nor expected of ways.
Word of the farmer’s discovery spreads beyond the small towns of North Dakota and speculation broadens around the aliens and their advanced technologies. Scientists are unable to determine what the boat is made of, however it’s beyond human ability to manufacture. And as word leaks out, rumors of a super-material starts hitting the boardrooms of leading manufacturers…leading to a broader theme whole of economic impact and industrial collapse. Two individuals orbit McDevitt’s plot, though I found them thin and largely unmemorable. Max Collingwood restores and sells military warplanes, and rather than developing Max’s internally driven motivations through action, McDevitt lays out his personality very clearly. Max… had no taste for military life or for the prospect of getting shot at. His father, Colonel Maxwell E. Collingwood, USAF (retired), to his credit, tried to hide his disappointment in his only son. But it was there nonetheless, and Max had, on more than one occasion, overheard him wondering aloud.
April Cannon is a chemical scientist who first establishes that the material used to manufacture the boat didn’t come from any known process or chemical makeup. She’s single, Max is single and there’s a smidgen of a love connection, but like much of the characters that float around McDevitt’s story, it’s background hum to the ongoing alien mystery.
The Plains on which North Dakota sits had been the basin for Lake Agassiz, the inland sea whose surface area had been broader than that of the modern Great Lakes combined. Agassiz. Long gone now.
April and Max theorize that, whomever left the boat must’ve been cruising Lake Agassiz. And who cruises without having a dock? So they search and dig and find a structure buried close to the edge of the ancient lake. The location is on the reservation of a Sioux tribe, which drives a key theme to the story… the inherent conflict and contradictions between the ancient world and the modern. And the rather clear analogy between the ‘discovered’ becoming the ‘discoverer’.
Buried deep beneath the Sioux reservation, positioned precisely to have served as a dock for a sailing ship the size of what was discovered just a few miles away, sits The Roundhouse. The Roundhouse is actually a portal, or a stargate. With the proper pressure place on one of a few symbols carved into the walls, a person or object is transferred (not unlike a Star Trek transporter) to a seemingly distant location. At first it’s a Cupola in and Eden-like jungle on the edge of a lake. Another symbol takes the traveler to a seemingly endless maze, confusing, unbalanced and with more than a hint of the travelers not being alone.
The mystery deepens when a ghost-like entity follows the travelers into our world, from somewhere through the Roundhouse. It affects people in different ways. Some turn angry, some feel an incredible ‘otherness’ of being. The invisible force makes the rounds in North Dakota. Some people hear voices…hear their name being called.
Ancient Shores made me reflect on Carl Sagan’s Contact. The discovery of other beings is just the core of the story, around which its’ impact is explored to greater and lesser degrees. McDevitt prods into the societal, religious and economic impacts of the discovery. He delves more deeply into the political impact of the alien discovery, and the military and religious factors that drive a face off at the Roundhouse between the Sioux guardians and U.S. Government heavies. He incorporates interludes of how people are affected, and how the discovery is treated in the media. A scientist is interviewed on TV: A long time ago somebody with advanced technology went sailing on Lake Agassiz. They tied up at least once to a tree or a pier. I think if we accept the results of the analysis, we are forced to one of two conclusions. Either there were people living here at the end of the last ice ago who were technologically more advanced that we are… Or we have had visitors.
The story ends. Rather abruptly. The conclusion, within the context of this single volume, is satisfying enough. But there are no answers, no sweeping consequence that addresses the key questions: who are the intellectual beings that created the stargate and where have they gone. Ancient Shores is ripe for a sequel that has just arrived… fortunately for you reading this at a minimum of 19 years after Ancient Shores was originally published. Thunderbird was published just this month, and yes, it delves into the unanswered questions left on McDevitt’s ancient shores. As a short preface to many chapters in the book, McDevitt quotes a poem from the fictional Walter Asquith, aptly named Ancient Shores. I made a note to review all of the appropriate chapter headings after I completed the book and compiled the poem for this review. I found it a solid conclusion and framework for McDevitt’s story. …Glides through misty seas With its cargo of time and space… The distant roar of receding time… This antique coast, Washed by time… For the moonlit places where men once laughed Are now but bones in the earth… Shopkeepers, students, government officials, farmers, Ordinary men and women, they came, And were forever changed… In all that vast midnight sea, The light only drew us on… The true power centers are not in the earth. But in ourselves.
When we last left Jack McDevitt’s North Dakota in 1996’s Ancient Shores, the U.S. Government had failed miseOriginally posted at fantasyliterature.com
When we last left Jack McDevitt’s North Dakota in 1996’s Ancient Shores, the U.S. Government had failed miserably and embarrassingly to wrest control of an alien stargate from the Spirit Lake Sioux, rightful owners of the land on which the alien artifact was found. Thunderbird, a sequel Ancient Shores, picks up several months after the showdown, which also saw fictional poet Walter Asquith shot dead.
The world of Grand Forks, North Dakota, with its brutal winters and routine working days, had been replaced by a cosmos that was suddenly accessible.
The story in McDevitt’s Ancient Shores orbits the discovery of seemingly alien artifacts – a futuristic sailboat buried deep within the plains of North Dakota, a stargate transports explorers across vast distances to an Eden-like world, a malfunctioning space station, and a maze; a telepathic ghost-like being followed some of those explorers back to North America. But none of those mysteries were explained. McDevitt left us semi-satisfied with the ending in Shores, but he sure did leave a lot of story left to tell. McDevitt never explained the reason and motivation behind these discoveries, and almost 20 full years later, fans of the Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel will have a chance at those answers.
Characters are enablers in this world of Jack McDevitt…not in the psychoanalytical way (although I’m sure some are of that ilk as well), but in a literary sense. Characters facilitate the story McDevitt wants to tell, which is not exactly hard scifi, but I’d characterize it as exploratory science fiction. McDevitt’s most interested in poking and probing at a future of world of discovery, how it influences today’s society and what it means to come into contact with something new. And it was the same way in Ancient Shores. Characters exist to further plot, and to advance McDevitt’s thematic notions.
The government was forced to back down after their failed attack and left the reservation and the Roundhouse in the charge of James Walker, Chairman of the Sioux tribe. Walker is left in full care of the Roundhouse and the stargate within it. He plans and coordinates all missions agendas and attendees.
April Cannon returns as the scientist-turned-explorer, leading missions to several of the worlds discovered in Ancient Shores, and a few news ones as well. Brad Hollister, Grand Forks morning radio talk show host is a fringe character in the first book gets more of a spotlight in Thunderbird, and rounds out the characters of note.
Several key narratives drive Thunderbird. The first is the further exploration of the world named “Eden”. The first world discovered by the users of the stargate consists of jungle and beach nestled on the shores of a large lake. On one journey, the scientists come across a man-man bridge. They follow a path that connects to a house, and April has humanity’s first otherworldly sentient contact:
Three wooden steps led up onto the porch. She climbed them and faced the door. It had a lever. She paused and listened. Something was moving around inside. The branches moved in the wind. She knocked. Softly.
The human-alien relationship develops throughout the book, but I fear describing too much further without drifting into ‘spoiler-land’.
The second key plot narrative is one which started in Ancient Shores – the political overtones of the existence of aliens and superior alien technology. The President of the United States, who ultimately approved the disastrous attack on the Sioux site at the end of Ancient Shores, builds his relationship with Chairman Walker and continually pushes for the complete shutdown of the site. He’s worried about alien attack, economic collapse driven by the new technologies, and the unyielding pressure from pretty much everywhere for the government to take over control of the Roundhouse. The President becomes a bit of Walker’s ‘devil-on-his-shoulder’ while continuously in his ear with caution after caution.
The political and economic influences aside, a friend of Walker highlights the cultural impact of the alien discoveries:
I'm not just talking about the potential for invaders. Or the possibility of economic collapse, which I’m sure you’ve thought of. But, as a result of what you find out there we may experience a total cultural shift… Historically, anytime a technology-advanced culture has connected with a relatively primitive one, a lot of things change. Values, for example. Perception. We could encounter an advanced society that laughs at religion. Or whose individuals have IQs at around two hundred. Or who live for centuries.
This exemplifies what McDevitt does well… cover the ground of the issues that surround the discovery while continually teasing us with incremental revelation. The societal issues are always humming in the background, while the scientists continue to plug away at exploring the different worlds: Eden, The Maze, A malfunctioning space station, a high-tech advanced city, and a world beaten down by a blazing sun, barely survivable by the explorers, but inhabited by other beings.
The clues continue to mount but the answer to the key question of where these places are and who provided this technology remain always just out of reach. Tantalizing hints drive Walkers’ internal debate around the Sioux’s opportunity to influence the future with their stewardship of the Roundhouse. The most enticing clue – a flag found, frozen stiff in the deep vacuum of a malfunctioning space station. Emblazoned is the stylized design of a Thunderbird… sky sprit of Sioux legend.
One of the most interesting plot elements also stems from an unfinished plotline of Ancient Shores – the alien ‘ghost’ that crossed over into the Roundhouse from the Maze world. The ‘ghost’ continues to haunt Fort Dixie and the surrounding areas. It seems to pull people’s consciousness out from within. It’s benign and often helpful: A old man falls in the snow in a frigid cold evening and the ‘ghost’ projects an image of the helpless man to a neighbor. A severely mentally handicapped girl has her first moments of full lucidity when in the presence of the being.
The fun of this book is the journey of exploration… McDevitt’s exploration of what the discovery of alien existence means to individuals, and humanity as a whole. His journey takes readers on a fun mystery ride of who these aliens are and what motivation and purpose they had for leaving the Roundhouse. And yes, we do find out who created the technology… and we mostly learn why.
The Shards of Heaven is not author Michael Livingston’s first work. In fact, he’s already a prolific award-wOriginally posted at FantasyLiterature.com
The Shards of Heaven is not author Michael Livingston’s first work. In fact, he’s already a prolific award-winning writer, though mostly focused in his world of academia. Livingston is a Professor of Medieval Literature at The Citadel in South Carolina. The Shards of Heaven is his first novel and he taps into his significant historical knowledge. He liberally expands his knowledge base with strong fantasy elements, though, not unlike George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, it’s heavy on history-laden fiction and lighter on the fantasy… at least in this first offering of what’s expected to be a trilogy.
Impending war bubbles across the Roman Empire as Livingston’s story starts. Julius Caesar has been assassinated and after failed attempts at co-ruling the empire, Caesar’s general Marc Antony and his adopted son Octavian jockey for position, allies, and support within their strongholds in the east and west: Antony in Alexandria, Egypt, and Octavian in Rome.
Octavian comes into the knowledge and possession of a mighty weapon — the Trident of Neptune. Only Octavian’s adopted-step-brother Juba can even moderately control it, and while Octavian has designs to use it to secure his victory over Antony, Juba has his own eye on avenging his father’s defeat at the hands of Caesar 15 years earlier. The Trident has Force-like powers in its ability to boil a human’s blood or create a ship-crushing wave in the sea.
The Shards of Heaven is like an over-produced but undeniably delectable feast. (For the purposes of this metaphor, please note that these dishes are not necessarily served in the following order.)
The main course: Roman Empire historical fiction is the dish du jour, specifically focused on the years immediately following the assassination of Julius Caesar and what became a civil war between Octavian (the future Augustus) versus Marc Antony and his (and Caesar’s) lover Cleopatra. In Livingston’s novel, Octavian is bad, Antony is sort of good but mostly boring, and Cleopatra serves her traditional role of behind-the-scenes manipulator. Added to the fray is Juba, a Numidian prince who Caesar adopted following the victory over his father in 46 BCE. Juba and Octavian are step-adopted-brothers. On the surface there’s love, but underneath there’s hate, and one of the driving threads of Livingston’s plot is Juba’s drive for revenge. The story and plot threads of The Shards of Heaven are steeped in real history but sprinkled with a smidgen of fantasy.
The appetizer: Characters are tasty going down, but ultimately not very filling. Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo are the grizzled legionnaire veterans protecting the Antony/Cleopatra household. They’re smart, strong and buddies that go back to Julius Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul. They’re also the same true-to-history characters that HBO served up in their ROME series. Didymus is the chief librarian in Alexandria, but also responsible for the education of Cleopatra’s children: Caesarion, son of Cleo and Julius; and Cleo’s children with Antony — Selene, young ingénue and troublemaker; her twin Helios; and the youngest, Philadelphus. Most characters are indelicately drawn with perhaps the exception of Vorenus and Juba, and the later portions of Selene’s narrative.
The side dish: An Indiana Jones-like hunt for mysterious objects runs parallel to the main structural elements surrounding the war between Octavian and Antony’s forces. Driven by Juba’s thirst for revenge and Octavian’s drive for power, Antony’s clan gets caught up in a search for the shards and, naturally, a race against time. And yes, the key shard is actually embedded within Indy’s own Ark of the Covenant.
The dessert: Good ol’ fashioned fantasy — sorta. In my desire to throw no undue spoilers your way, I’ll summarize the fantasy element: the ancient one-ruling-god’s throne was broken into several magical pieces (or shards, if you will). They’re extremely powerful and each more-or-less representative of different elements. Poseidon’s Trident is the most-used weapon in the story and has power over water and liquid. Another shard is hidden within (REDACTED AS A SPOILER ALERT) and has the power over land. The aforementioned Ark has the all-compassing super shard.
Livingston uses The Shards of Heaven to explore the nature of religion in a world where empires span thousands of miles and effective rulers must find ways to incorporate and blend a multitude of religions. Egyptian gods become analogies of Roman gods. Sometimes gods from different nations stand side-by-side. And sometimes, new gods are invented to cover a host of multi-regional religious needs.
Livingston writes solid prose, and seems to enjoy crafting a vibrant battle scene. The fantasy elements play a strong role in the establishment of the story and in its conclusion, but fade in the middle third of the book. This may not be a bad thing, but for those looking for persistent magical happenings, you’ll have to burrow through the Roman battles that wind their way more thoroughly throughout the novel. For a debut offering, The Shards of Heaven is a fun, though inconsistent, read....more
Detectives Dan Carter and Charlie Hammond have finally tracked down and cornered the perverse serial killerOriginally posted at fantasyliterature.com
Detectives Dan Carter and Charlie Hammond have finally tracked down and cornered the perverse serial killer known as The Child-Catcher. Found in his own home, the detectives move in, focused on a speedy capture, before the Child-Catcher performs his bizarre version of open-brain surgery.
Charlie takes the lead, turns up a flight of stairs and Carter hears a shot ring out. He follows, and sees the Child-Catcher sitting against a wall, a pool of blood in his lap, and a seemingly serene smile on his lips. “Suicide by cop”. On the wall: a string-connected ‘psycho wall’.
Further down the hall, Carter’s partner is crying and laughing, Charlie put his S&W Model 5946 between his teeth, squeezed the trigger, and excused himself from life.
Jonathan L. Howard is no stranger to the authorial weird. His resume, after all, includes the Johannes Cabal series — some genetic hybrid of horror, humor, gothic and, well, weird. Carter & Lovecraft contains elements of all of those, but is decidedly dark and heavy. And he writes a powerful opening. The child killer is seemingly caught by Hammond and Carter. He's shot and while dying, the senior officer places a pistol in his mouth and pulls the trigger. No reason why.
Carter leaves the police and ventures off into the world of private investigation. While chasing cheating husbands, a lawyer appears in his office (rather mysteriously and… quietly), informing him that he’s been named the sole in inheritor of a home in Providence, Rhode Island. He’s never heard of his benefactor, one Alfred Hill, gone missing seven years ago.
Howard writes wonderful prose. He’s noir without being clichéd or overdone. The narrative flows without seeming wordy, and is imbued with a subtle sense of humor: "I'm sorry," said Carter. "I didn't hear you come in." "I came in," said the man, as if to reassure him. Carter didn't need the reassurance on that point, but it was kind of the man to offer it, all the same.
Hill’s ‘home’ is actually a bookstore: "Hill's Books -- Antiquarian & Secondhand”. Emily Lovecraft is Hill’s niece and has been managing the store since Hill’s disappearance. It will surprise no one that Emily is related to the Lovecraft of Providence fame, ol H.P. And yes, she’s the last in the Lovecraft lineage.
More weird happenings orbit Carter and Lovecraft, and they find themselves pulled by the gravity of a series of deadly events. A mathematician magician has an uncanny ability to ‘influence chance’, and while taking advantage of casinos also seems to defy physics in several apparent murders.
It’s clear that the events in and around Providence are not mere magic, nor are they of the natural world. This is, after all, the home turf of H.P. Lovecraft and his dramatically interwoven tales of cosmic horror. Emily is a reluctant expert of her ancestor’s writings and history and is able to tease out from the clues of the recent murders to connect the dots with her own family history. Providence isn’t normal… nor has it ever been.
"Everything… is kind of fucked up. And by ‘everything,’ I mean everything. Nothing is right, nothing is as it appears. I don’t just mean in some nihilistic, conspiratorial, paranoid kind of way. I mean fundamentally. And the joke is, it used to be worse. Then, back in the twenties, a group of guys figured out what was wrong, and how they could fix it. "
The world seems to becoming UN-fixed. And it’s no accident that former Det. Carter is involved. I’ll stay away from any further plot description/spoilers, but suffice it to say, there’s a whole lot of Lovecraftian weirdness, including disjointed cities, immortal creatures of the sea, and horrors that cause insanity with just a mere glimpse.
My biggest frustration with the pantheon of Lovecraftian writing is the lack of high quality long-form fiction. The space is awash with short stories, novellas and anthologies (I recently reviewed a Cthulhu-Roman Empire mash up anthology on FanLit). Howard’s entrant is a terrific mystery, wrapped up in a detective tale, enveloped in the cosmic weird of Lovecraft. And it succeeds. Carter & Lovecraft concludes with a terrific plot twist. And while Howard has written a solid and definitive ending in its own right, there’s a plethora of potential for a sequel. Additionally, Warner Brothers has acquired the television rights for the series. ...more
Steven Saylor has built his authorial reputation on modern historical fiction, particularly in the genre of historical myOriginally posted at UNRV.com
Steven Saylor has built his authorial reputation on modern historical fiction, particularly in the genre of historical mysteries. His “Roma Sub Rosa” series has seen 14 books published beginning in 1991 and continuing through 2015 with his 15th entrant in the series, “Wrath of the Furies: A Novel of the Ancient World”. This story is written primarily from the perspective of a young Gordianus, who grows up to become Gordianus the Finder, the Roman sleuth whose mysteries are set across the Roman Empire in Saylor’s Roma series. "Wrath of the Furies" is the third book of a trio of prequels to the Roma Sub Rosa series, this one set in Alexandria and Ephesus.
And who are these Furies and why do they have wrath? Antipater explains to Mithridates:
" The winged sisters are three in number: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. They are older than Zeus and the other Olympian gods, having been born from the blood of Uranus when his son Kronos castrated him. They dwell among the dead in Tartarus, but are sometimes drawn to eat and to punish certain kinds of wickedness. Once they find the mortal culprit, they hound him relentlessly, circling him and shrieking, sting him with brass-studded scourges…They have snouts like dogs, bulging, bloodshot eyes, and snakes for hair. Their bodies are as black as coal, and they flit through the air on batlike wings."
Mithridates has the Roman Empire shuddering due to the destructive force of his moving army. He has vowed to kill every Roman he can, but needs to ensure that he has raised the support, rather than ire, of the Furies. All good ancient commanders must heed their mighty gods. Gordianus has accidentally found himself smack in the middle of this Mithridates plot to pay obeisance to the Furies through human sacrifice.
Saylor's narrative style is clean and straightforward. Like his character Antipater, he's not poetic, but the story is entertaining and, I suspect, will be of greatest interest to readers familiar with his characters and the Roma Sub Rosa storylines. Saylor continuously updates the reader as to the Roma Sub Rosa context of returning characters and plot elements. You can absolutely read “Wrath” independently from the rest of the series, but the experience will not be as satisfying. “Wrath of the Furies” is an enjoyable historical mystery and contains 320 pages.
A second narrative perspective comes from Gordianus’ mentor, Antipater of Sidon, Greek poet of great renown who has been acting (mostly) as unwitting undercover spy working for Mithridates, scourge of the Roman empire and hero of Greeks across the Mediterranean. Antipater’s contribution to the story comes in the form of fragments from his diary. He reflects on his current status, and provides a view into the goings on of Mithridates who’s systematically bulldozing his way across the Empire destroying towns and cities and claiming the role of eastern avenger against the Roman Empire.
The story circles a number of mysteries, plots and subplots that run concurrently throughout the narrative: 1) A portion of the aforementioned diary arrives mysteriously at the home where Gordianus is staying in Alexandria. Gordianus travels east, into the thicket of Mithridates violence and hatred, to find his old mentor Antipater who seems to be in a desperate and dire situation in Ephesus. 2) Gordianus is cooling his heels in Alexandria which, for the moment, is not a target for Mithridates and so is a relative safe haven for Romans in the outskirts of the Empire. Gordianus must uncover, and perhaps eliminate, the plot of the great Mithradites to destroy all Romans residing in the outer territories of the Empire. 3) Pushed into a role of spy himself, Gordianus must also determine the fate and location of several secondary characters of varying levels of interest.
Antipater provides the more interesting elements of the plot as he writes in his diary from within Mithridates coterie. At times, he’s relegated to dining tables with the jugglers and entertainers who are available at the King’s beck and call, and sometimes called into consultation with the great king.
Antipater describes in great detail the environment of life from the edges of the King’s court, including the horrifically grim death of a Roman general bound with his mouth forced open and fed molten gold. And yes, this is all too familiar for fans of “Game of Thrones” who read (or saw) Khal Drogo kill the despicable Viserys Targaryen in a very similar manner, however Saylor’s retelling is completely based in fact.
What’s less factual is the storytelling tone and language. Everyone speaks in a fairly modern manner, replete with terms that were clearly originated well after the time frame in which this story is placed. Antipater describes himself acting like an ‘automaton’, using a term that wasn’t first spoken until the early 17th century (so sayeth Websters, at least). Considering Saylor’s reputation for historical authenticity, I was disappointed in the contemporary stylings of dialogue and narration; though do acknowledge that it may be purposeful as he targets his appropriate reading audience.
Considering that Antipater reminds us (every few pages) that he’s a poet of only the highest caliber, his diary fragments are rather less than poetic. They move the story well, and provide the most interesting elements of the narrative, but the language used is merely descriptive and mundane. I would’ve preferred to see Antipater's character and personality developed through the language within the diary. His profession is certainly not apparent outside of his own braggadocio....more
For the full review, please visit fantasyliterature.com
New York Review Books Classics has just packaged two novels by renowned author, editor and teacFor the full review, please visit fantasyliterature.com
New York Review Books Classics has just packaged two novels by renowned author, editor and teacher William Sloane into a single offering, The Rim of the Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror. Sloane is not an author I’d previously known, probably due to the fact that these stories are two of only three novels that he ever published. Stephen King contributes a short but impeccable introduction, providing a tight analysis of the stories and windows into Sloane’s background and style. Sloane wrote and edited primarily supernatural mystery/scifi, but is known in literary worlds as a writing teacher.
The first of these novels, To Walk the Night, is a Lovecraftian tale of the investigation into an apparent murder and suicide. This is the much stronger of these two stories. It’s a heavy, moody, genre-bending mystery that drips with molasses-dread and alone is worth the full price of the book. The second is The Edge of Running Water, also mystery-based — the tale of an obsessed professor determined to find a way to communicate with his recently departed wife. Each story is about 200 pages long. I’ve reviewed them separately below.
To Walk the Night A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep – From Endymion (A Thing of Beauty) by John Keats
The first story is a weighty and serious scifi/mystery, with Greek tragedy in its tone from the outset. Sloane borrows generously from the myth of Selene, goddess of the moon, who asks Zeus to keep her beautiful human lover, Prince Endymion, forever young. To Walk the Night is suggestive of this myth, though, and not too literal, but it’s fun to catch Sloane’s references to the ancient story sprinkled liberally throughout this novel. The story opens as our primary narrator, Berkeley (called Bark), journeys to bring his best friend’s ashes home following his suicide. Jerry Lister’s death weighs heavily on Bark, and forms the narrative momentum for the initiation of the story. In many ways, this is a 1930s CSI, as Bark must work back through recent events, piece by piece, to uncover all the details and identify what’s pertinent and relevant to Jerry’s suicide. Through Bark, Sloane dramatically builds the density and importance of the full backstory and makes clear the dread and imperative nature of the need to find the true reason why Jerry shot himself. Bark reflects on the complexity of events leading up to the suicide and remembers an “atmosphere of strangeness, even of terror, which was so much a part of my life while these events were in progress.”
To Walk the Night feels very gothic: there is a dark and deep polished walnut-tone vibe to Bark’s narration and exposition. The mythological themes are set early, though I only caught the first Selene clue in retrospect, upon reviewing my notes. Not all references are directly related to the story of Selena and Endymion, but the suggestion is always there… sometimes a little deeper under the surface than other times.
Bark dissects his recent trauma as part of a late-night discussion with his informally-adoptive father, Dr. Lister – also Jerry’s father. Bark ponders: Nothing in life, I think, ordinarily happens in great, thunderous episodes of obvious and romantic force. Life is a series of small things, and most of them mean much or little depending on how the observer thinks of them.
It’s these small things, combined with some larger clues, that feed the narrative and drive the plot.
Bark tells of a visit that he and Jerry made to a former professor — a misunderstood, antisocial, introverted and clearly obsessed scientist (Sloane seems to have been enamored with this character-type). The young men found Professor LeNormand, who had been working late and alone at the campus observatory, on fire and apparently murdered. This is the core mystery around which the remaining narrative revolves.
And it’s at this point that we meet our goddess of the moon: Selena. Selena LeNormand is the professor’s widow and she’s just downright bizarre. In no way does she behave like a normal human, let alone someone who just lost the love of her life. She’s tall, lithe but strong, and thought by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Selena’s repeatedly thought of as more than statuesque, but statue-like. Her age is indeterminate, but she’s compared to the “Greek girls in the frieze of the Parthenon.”
Sloane’s writing weeps with loaded language. Language that’s very purposeful in its dramatic flair, while implying things beyond the range of normal human activity: In the silences that lay between us I heard the bumbling of an insect against the glass of the lamp and the faint slither of water moving on the beach below us. Instead of doors, he refers to ‘portals’.
There are suggestions of ghosts and that something horrible laying just out of sight. A shooting star “plummets down like a tear of light and vanished in the dark above the Sound.” Tables are described as altars. Likewise, the vocabulary reeks of symbolism and weighted meaning. The names, for example: Bark is the strength of the story, and like his namesake, his role is uber-protector of his friend and of that which is normal and sane. Jerry’s actual name is Jeremiah… and like his namesake, the prophet, his role is as a revealer, working to expose the truth of his former mentor. LeNormand was a French tarot reader famous during the reign of Napoleon, and like their namesake, both the professor and Selena are, in their own respects, seers beyond normal human perception. This is a dark any enjoyable read, with enough literary and narrative weight to stick with the reader days after its completion. ...more
Stephen King tends to get hammered in the press and by literati. He’s pulp, they say. He’s popular, they sayOriginally posted on FantasyLiterature.com
Stephen King tends to get hammered in the press and by literati. He’s pulp, they say. He’s popular, they say. Nobody can be as productive (he publishes an average of two books per year) and still write quality, they say. I remember starting college in Boston in 1988, shortly after U2 released their huge Joshua Tree album. The established U2 fans rejected it outright as a ’sell out’. They couldn’t believe that their heroes sold out to ‘the man’ and became… popular. I think King gets painted with a similar brush.
But the truth is, much of his writing resonates quite deeply. His work can be touching. It’s relatable, and has as much symbolism and depth as one chooses to see. Is everything he touches great? No. But as a rule, is it schlock? Absolutely not.
I only discovered Stephen King as an adult. And over the last few years, I’ve been working through his catalog, kicking myself for not having given him a chance sooner. Fortunately, I have a whole lot to look forward to.
From a Buick 8 was published in 2002. The actual writing took place in 1999 and was finished shortly before it was published, bracketing King’s well-publicized auto accident, which almost took his life. The story’s emotional focal point centers on the accidental death of a police officer, Curt Wilcox, who was killed by a drunk driver while investigating a truck’s mechanical problem on the side of the road. The exposition surrounding the officer’s death is detailed and pain-laden, and I couldn’t help but view my analysis of the story through the lens of King’s accident until I got to the author’s notes where King is swift to point out that the scenes of the accident were written before his own and were only moderately edited after. It was just coincidence, which brings us to the crux of King’s story. How much in life has a natural beginning and end? How many of the threads of our existence have a natural continuance or succession? How much happens that is explainable or simple coincidence?
From a Buick 8 is equal parts science fiction, horror and Lovecraftian ode. Many readers anticipate that the eponymous Buick is a sort of “son of” Christine — the evil car gone amok in his 1983 novel (and movie), but this is not the case. Stephen King’s 1953 Buick Roadmaster has nothing to do with Stephen Kings’s 1958 Plymouth Fury.
When the story begins, it’s 1979 and a stranger in a black jacket pulls into a gas station in rural PA. He asks for a fill up, indicates he needs no oil and heads to the john. 30 minutes pass, the strange man never returns, and leaves his Buick 8 behind. Local Police Troop D is brought in and the mystery is off and running. The car is like nothing anyone’s seen. It has no functional parts, sucks the heat out of the shed in which it sits, and belches horrible creatures from its trunk.
From a Buick 8’s narrative thread focuses on Officer Wilcox’s son, Ned, several months after his father’s death in 2001. The story is a journey taken together by two characters: Ned, and the current Chief Commanding of Troop D, Sandy Dearborn. The journey is one that covers time rather than space as vignettes connect the past and present of Troop D’s interactions and investigations of the Buick over the years. It’s Ned’s journey of understanding and acceptance. It’s Sandy’s story of reconciliation with what the Buick means and the role it’s played in the collective past of Troop D.
Sandy’s journey started years ago but doesn’t end until the present. Ned’s is happening in the narrative real time.
There’s much sitting around and talking… telling stories, drinking and eating. One might make a symbolic connection to the Last Supper: Jesus (who is probably Sandy, but could also be Ned at times), surrounded by disciples (the other officers and caretakers), mostly younger but some the same age, who sit at his feet while he tells tales and waxes poetic. King even references that the storytelling group appears to look like a “little council of elders… surrounding the young fellow, singing him our warrior-songs of the past.”
The real theme of From a Buick 8 is about learning how to let go. Let go of the past… Let go of blame… Let go of finding fault and reason and answers. Chief Sandy uses the imagery of a chain when discussing cause and effect. And his idea of a chain surrounds, ties, and binds the story and characters. For example, the gas station attendant who witnesses the man in the black coat leave the Buick is the same person who, years later, hits and kills Curtis Wilcox.
" I didn’t know about reasons, only about chains — how they form themselves, link by link, out of nothing; how they knit themselves into the world. Sometimes you can grab a chain and use it to pull yourself out of a dark place. Mostly, though, I think you get wrapped up in them. Just caught, if you’re lucky. Fucking strangled, if you’re not.
Is there simply cause and effect? Ned’s father’s death is suggestive of nothing beyond coincidence. The book sets the tone with the following quote from Sandy regarding Curtis’ death:
If there was a God, there’d be a reason. If there was a God, there’d be some kind of thread running through it. But there isn’t. Not that I can see."
This story didn’t have the emotional depth that makes King’s memorable work… well, memorable. Despite the incorporation of a dog who senses evil and a teenager whose father just died in a violent accident, it just didn’t touch me.
The elements of horror are definitely creepy. There are some gross-out moments, but nothing flat-out scary. Lovecraftian ‘cosmic horror’ is a place King loves to go. But Lovecraft, for all of his bombast and grandeur, had a certain subtlety about his pacing and finales. Lovecraft is all about the glimpse… the merest horrified glimmer of ‘eldritch horrors’ that one sees in the periphery. King, for all of his own vivid visualizations, is not beyond that Lovecraftian subtlety.
Sandy thinks back on the first time he entered the shed where Troop D kept the Buick:
" In the twenty-odd years that followed that day, he would go inside Shed B dozens of times, but never without the rest of that dark mental wave, never without the intuition of almost-glimpsed horrors, of abominations in the corner of the eye.
And King always works one or two Lovecraft code words into his work. In this case, I didn’t catch a reference to ‘cyclopean’ structures, but I did see something that was “lit up a pallid, somehow eldritch yellow.”
From a Buick 8 ends in very Lovecraftian fashion, which will disappoint people who desire a very conclusive and explosive finish. If you’ve read later-era Stephen King, you’ll relate the ending in From a Buick 8 to the big finale in Revival. It’s pretty dramatic, but King doesn’t give it to you: he leads you to the water and you have to drink it in. But he does this with a very clear purpose. Some things end and have a clear conclusion. And sometimes things just don’t. Ned searches for an answer to his father’s accidental death. Of course, there is no answer. Things happen. Sometimes bad things. Sandy, our own personal Pennsylvania Jesus, tells Ned at one point:
"Sometimes there’s nothing to learn, or no way to learn it, or no reason to even try. I saw a movie once where this fellow explained why he lit a candle in church even though he wasn’t a very good Catholic anymore. “You don’t f*** around with the infinite,” he said. Maybe that was the lesson…"
This is a good book. Not one of my favorites from King, but enjoyable and uncharacteristically short. If you’re a King fan you’ll enjoy it, though it may not be tremendously memorable. If you’re a Lovecraft fan, you’ll enjoy it as well....more