Dakiti is a rousing science-fiction action adventure yarn, far better crafted than today's average first novel. (I'm guessing that Transcendence PubliDakiti is a rousing science-fiction action adventure yarn, far better crafted than today's average first novel. (I'm guessing that Transcendence Publishing is a real small press, not simply a printing service for self-publishing authors; but in either case, Fisch has taken her craft seriously and given readers a polished work.) The premise appealed to my liking for action-oriented heroines, so I took the opportunity to try out the series by downloading this novel when it was offered free for a day. (I'll definitely be buying a print copy!) Through much of the read, I expected to rate the novel at four stars; and even now I'd say that, strictly speaking, it merits four and a half. But after being glued to the computer screen through the last chapters, I had to round it up, not down.
We have here a tale of interplanetary intrigue, set in a far-future galaxy widely colonized by humans, whose far-flung settlement has brought them into contact with various alien races. Our main series characters belong to one of these, the humanoid Haphezians. They're not really "super-human," as the Goodreads description asserts, but they are taller and more muscular than Earth humans, with strength and endurance to match; and with two stomachs, they only need to eat every few days. (Otherwise, they're physically much like humans, except for more vividness and variation in eye and hair color.) In this novel, we also meet another alien race, the reptilian Sardons. Characters from all three races will interact here, in a galaxy that's riven by tensions, and sometimes open warfare.
Much of human space is ruled by a powerful Federation. But some fringe human planets like Tantal maintain their independence; and as in the Star Wars universe, the Federation faces resistance from a guerrilla insurgency that has elite fighters, the Nosti, who have special telekinetic powers (unlike the Jedi, theirs are derived from injections every ten years with an illegal psi-enhancing drug). The Haphezian monarchy faces a terrorist insurgency of its own, called Solaris; and some years ago fought a war with the Sardons, who sought to end the Haphezian monopoly on the caura extract trade. Ziva and Aroska serve the Haphezian Crown as agents of the HSP, Haphezian Special Police; and Haphezians are much in demand from other, less combat-capable, peoples as allies or as mercenary soldiers. That's what's brought hereditary Tantali governor Enrike Saiffe and his son Jayden on a diplomatic mission to Haphez near the novel's beginning. (So, contrary to the Goodreads book description, Ziva and her team hardly "stumble on" the latter, and they don't discover an "age-old" plot --but there IS a plot to discover, and a nasty one.)
All of this political background is quickly sketched here in the process of narrating swiftly-moving events, without noticeable info-dumps (I expect it to be developed more in the succeeding books). Haphezian culture is suggested a bit more fully than that of the other two races involved here, but detailed world building isn't the author's strong point. Rather, her strong points are tight plotting, smooth and direct prose style that does what she wants it to, well-written action scenes (and a lot of them!), a conflict against a foe whose aims and methods are definitely evil, though that doesn't mean that we think the Haphezian regime necessarily resembles goodness incarnate; and above all, character development and interrelationships between characters. (We're not talking about romantic relationships here, but human relationships --and Haphezians are as "human" as you and I in those respects, regardless of how many stomachs they have.) Fisch throws some twists and turns into her plot (one of these I saw coming --but the satisfaction of guessing rightly is part of the fun!) and the last chapters especially are suspenseful right up to the end.
Ziva Payvan is a complex, round and dynamic character, embodying more than physical strength, good aim with a gun, and quick reflexes --though she's got all of those, in enough measure to make her a VERY formidable fighter in any combat situation; you definitely don't ever want her as an opponent! She's an intelligent, layered person with a capacity for strong feelings, an inner moral code, and a lot of loyalty; but she's not necessarily likeable. A product of a rough childhood and adolescence and of a dysfunctional family, she harbors some secrets and has made some bad choices, one of them really dark (view spoiler)[(as a teen, she murdered a drunken, but innocent, old homeless derelict, to prevent him from talking about something he saw her do that, under her planet's draconian laws, would get her executed) (hide spoiler)]. And her government has trained her, and used her, as a professional assassin for State-sanctioned killings, with attendant toll on her softer feelings. She's also abrasive, arrogant, and hot-tempered. But Fisch manages to make her a person you care about.
Aroska Tarbic is also a well-developed character, a strong, tough male well able to handle himself in combat, and with no problems about fighting shoulder-to-shoulder alongside of a woman. (Commendably, Fisch shows both male and female characters routinely taking fighting responsibility, and handling it well.) Indeed, all of the important characters here come to life in the author's words. Many of the situations and scenes here are powerfully emotionally evocative.
One aspect of the premise here is problematical: Haphez is a highly-developed, tech-savvy planet with a culture that undoubtedly boasts centuries of development. It seems implausible that they wouldn't have developed a more efficient judicial system, and a more efficient way of carrying out capital punishment, than they apparently have here. We can say the same for a few key details of the plotting that don't stand strenuous examination too well. And hard-SF buffs will quibble about the impossibility of real-time interplanetary radio communication between planets that are light-years apart, given the relatively slow speed of sound waves. (In Ursula LeGuin's fictional Hainish universe, an invention called the "ansible" eliminates this problem --we're not told how, it just does!-- but as far as we know, Haphez doesn't have the ansible.) None of these factors kept me from really liking the book, though! I plan to continue with the series.
Note: As an added plus, bad language here (strictly of the d- and h-word sort) is minimal, and there's no sex, explicit or implied. Very romance-phobic readers can approach this tale without fear. :-)...more
May 15, 2015: I recently received a free review copy of this story collection from my Goodreads friend Andrew Seddon, who has a story included in it, aMay 15, 2015: I recently received a free review copy of this story collection from my Goodreads friend Andrew Seddon, who has a story included in it, and started it a couple of days ago, with the intention of reading it straight through (though not at one sitting, of course!). After reading five stories, that intention foundered on the rocks of four out of those five. My second intention was just to mark it as "started-not-finished" and write a note explaining why, while calling attention to Andrew's story as an exception, since his work is always eminently readable. But after already starting another book, I discovered that the story by Andrew here is not, as I'd assumed, one I'd already beta read. So, I decided to put it on my "being read intermittently" shelf, and dip into it when I'm between other reads. So this review will be written in installments, as I read sections of the book.
Editor Woods is a Goodreads author, but I know nothing else about him. The unifying thread of the stories he included is that all of them were previously submitted to another publishing venue, but were rejected at least once (hence the title). As the short introduction here states, there are many reasons stories get rejected by editors (or by their assistants), many of which have nothing to do with their quality. His motive behind the collection seems to be to convince writers, and readers, that an editorial rejection isn't an infallible measure of a story's worth. As far as it goes, that's true (though I'd have rejected the majority of the five I read so far myself). In all, 36 stories are included. While the name of the author is given with each story, the table of contents lists only the titles (which makes it impossible to get a quick overview of the contributors!), and no information is provided for any of them beyond the names.
Jo-Anne Russell's "Elements," the lead story, is a fantasy-type tale that suffers a bit from using unexplained "magic" as a Deus ex machina to effect the outcome the writer wants; but I found it a satisfying story otherwise. The next four stories, however, though very different in setting (ranging from a fantasy-type world --though there's no magic element in the story-- to small-town Kansas in the middle of the 20th century, with two others in nameless contemporary urban settings) and premises, have in common a strict adherence to the basic canons of modern "literary" short fiction: a heavy concentration on banal detail, a basic ethos of bleakness and despair, and above all an avoidance of anything like real plot. These are lengthy vignettes, artistically drawn character studies of protagonists on one sort of meaningless treadmill or another, but they never do or decide anything constructive; if something happens (one of them is diagnosed with a brain tumor at the beginning), it happens TO them, not through their own agency. These are most definitely not my literary cup of tea.
July 9, 2015: In this latest go-around, I read 21 of the stories, a few of them out of order. (I also deliberately skipped one that has a vulgarism in its title, as not being very promising.) These proved to be a more mixed bag, both in genre, tone and quality; and as it turns out, none of them conform to the modern "literary fiction" model. That doesn't mean that all of them are worthwhile, however --several of them aren't.
The worst story of the bunch is "The Skin Crawler" by Glen Damien Campbell, which is a sick celebration of particularly sadistic serial killing and misogyny, with no redeeming element at all. A close second is Stuart Conover's "Saving the Flock," one of two "zombie apocalypse" tales here. Basically, I don't care for that sub-genre, because of the typical nihilistic and despairing themes. Those are here in spades, blended with a ham-handed anti-theistic and anti-Christian message. (Conover takes obvious glee in portraying a church as an ineffective sanctuary, and caricaturing the preacher as a self-serving, treacherous and delusional lout.) And in third place (and contending for second) is the repulsive, totally predictable vampire story "Labyrinth of the Undead" by Carl Thomas Fox, which substitutes the splatter-punk-style gory demises of its undeveloped and cardboard characters for anything resembling suspense or psychological depth. Sadism is a common note in all three, and all three authors palpably take pleasure in graphically depicting it for its own sake. These exercises in dreck should have stayed "Rejected."
While none of the rest are this bad, some of the rest of the stories here don't really succeed, either. "Eli's Coming" by David Perlmutter is heavily dependent on pop culture references for its whole conceit; if you don't recognize or aren't familiar with most of these (and I didn't, and wasn't) it loses its crucial element. While it has a real moral vision, Judi Calhoun's "The Crystal Blue Feather" is hard to get into and follow because it has an addled viewpoint character, and it uses intervention by a space alien as an unconvincing Deus ex machina to create the ending the author wants. "Hellfire" by D. L. Turpin had possibilities, but they're mostly unrealized because the story stays at a spiritually shallow level, and too much surrealism confuses the storyline and muddles the symbolism. Joseph J. Patchen attempts cultural satire of American materialism in "American Death," but his treatment is too over the top for most readers to be apt to take very seriously, and much of his "humor" isn't as funny as he thinks it is (especially the crude and sexist humor, and the ridicule of overweight females and hoarders).
A number of the selections here, however, are actually enjoyable. In "Life, Death and Resurrect," Naching T. Kassa creates a zombie apocalypse story that actually isn't nihilistic and hopeless; and while his female protagonist denies that she's "tough," she's a lot more so than she gives herself credit for. "Glass Beads" and "The Blind Watchman" (by Emily Martha Sorensen and Paul Williams, respectively) are very different SF yarns of alien/human interaction, but both solid and thought provoking. Several other stories are basically morality tales in their own way, character studies of the kinds of persons we shouldn't let ourselves become, and descriptions of their comeuppances (sometimes not by the most ethical means, but in a way that we still recognize as well deserved). Benjamin Sperduto's "Homecoming" is a powerful, well-crafted piece of weird fiction, and "Grandma Hartley's Angel Earring" by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd deserves mention as an original and effective supernatural fiction yarn.
IMO, the best stories in this batch were Andrew Seddon's Christmas-themed "The Christmas Shepherd" --the title character is a German Shepherd (of the four-footed sort)-- which illustrates many of the typical strong points of his fiction, as well as his abiding love for dogs; "And He Bought a Crooked Cat" by Fraser Sherman; and "New York's All Right (If You Like Saxophones)" by Marie Michaels. Though the former is set in 1957 and the latter in a future time perhaps 20-30 years from ours, both of the last two stories share more than the New York City geographical setting. Despite surface dissimilarities, they're thematically similar, in that they both successfully use surreal and uncanny, supernaturally-tinged events as metaphors for the need for freedom and spontaneity in human life.
This doesn't comment on every story I read this time around, but it does touch on the ones that are the most memorable (positively or negatively). Now, I'll be putting the book aside for awhile; but I'll return to it later!
July 24, 2015 The nine stories I read in the last few days finished up the book. In terms of quality, they were (again) very much a mixed bag.
"With the Wind" by Kevin Bannigan Jr. is the worst selection in this batch, a miserable piece of trash in which we get to follow the saga of a carelessly dropped, wind-blown paper towel as it causes all sorts of tragic death and mayhem for dozens of humans (and one squirrel). For the author, it's an obvious exercise in vicarious sadism and a pulpit for preaching ultimate meaninglessness and pessimism, but it quickly becomes boring and predictable (especially because all of the characters are essentially "Red Shirts" with whom we have no emotional investment whatsoever). A close second is T. Fox Dunham's "Your Old Life the Dream," which is yet another zombie apocalypse tale, making three (count 'em, three!) in one general anthology --what are the odds? This one is a classic example of why I dislike the sub-genre.
Several of the stories are flawed, but manage to entertain or create a connection with the reader. Gwen Veazey, in "Zyka's Last Escape," evokes a future Earth ravaged by global warming and economic collapse, and expecting a collision with asteroid fragments; those who can afford to are evacuating to Mars. Our protagonist (who can't afford to leave) is a computer-game addicted slacker who's beginning to try to take some responsibility for himself. We do become emotionally invested in him and engaged in his dystopian world; but ultimately this is a story that, in typical postmodernist fashion, doesn't go anywhere. Thomas Van Boening's "The Vines" is a passable sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but it begins in medias res and never lets us have much clue as to the broader story's beginning, which hurts its effectiveness some. The opposite problem affects Adam Zaleski's supernatural fiction yarn "Threefold" --it's highly original, with a likeable protagonist, and Jenna (to me, at least) is a wonderfully intriguing character, but we're left wanting to know a great deal more; it reads like the beginning of a story cycle, but we're not given the rest of the cycle here. :-( In "Three Prom Dresses," Priya Sridhar makes good use of Japanese folklore, but none of her characters are really well developed.
There are, though, three excellent stories in this mix. "To the Winners Go the Spoils," by Tim McDaniel, is top-drawer humorous fantasy, laugh-aloud funny in places, with a scenario that's probably taken from the world of video games (it also reminds me of the board game Dungeon, with its assortment of treasure-hunting heroes vs. varied monsters). Franklin Charles Murdock's "Two Shades of White," set in a small Iowa town, begins at a funeral after a car accident has tragically claimed the life of a fifth-grade schoolboy. Not a very promising premise --but this one will stand your expectations on their head. Finally, "A Warrior's Second Chance" by Ramsey Lundock, focusing on a wheelchair-bound single mom who's a former competitive karate contender, is a classic example of what general fiction in the great tradition can be. It's about many things: the mother-daughter relationship, the responsibilities of a parent, what strength and self-reliance really mean and what their limitations are. Any of the early 20th-century short fiction masters would have been proud to have written it; it stands in direct continuity with the kind of work they created.
In summary, my rating is an overall one; there are gems here that deserve five (or more!) stars, but you have to wade through a LOT of garbage to find them. It's also a poorly edited collection; the unevenness of the proofreading suggests that each author was expected to do his/her own, with no editorial assistance. The lack of any information at all about the contributors shortchanges the reader, and there's no good reason why they aren't named in the table of contents. Overall, the impression that's created is that Woods simply slapped the book together by combining whatever stories were submitted to him and dashing off a two-page preface. That's a poor parody of the work of a real editor, and a disservice to both the writers and the readers....more
In 1908, a British boy of about 14, George Archer Shee [a double last name, and pronounced "Shay"], from a respectable but not rich family, was expellIn 1908, a British boy of about 14, George Archer Shee [a double last name, and pronounced "Shay"], from a respectable but not rich family, was expelled from the Osborne Naval College after being falsely accused of stealing a five-shilling postal money order from a fellow cadet. (The administrators assumed his guilt and made no real attempt to investigate.) He and his family maintained his innocence, convinced one of England's leading lawyers to take the case, and brought suit against the Admiralty for redress (an uphill battle from the start, since agencies of the British government could not be sued in British courts without their own consent!). Four days into what became a high-profile trial, the Crown counsel conceded George's innocence. (Sadly, young George lived to be only 19, dying in World War I at the first battle of Ypres.)
Acclaimed 20th-century British playwright Terence Rattigan took this real-life incident as the basis for this play, changing the names of the people involved (George Archer Shee becomes Ronnie Winslow, for instance), and changing some details, some character's ages, etc., and fictionalizing some plot lines, but keeping the essential premise intact. The result is a very powerful and engrossing drama, set against the background of the Edwardian era with its strict social conventions and its almost-vanished codes of personal integrity and honor. It's a David vs. Goliath tale, with messages about the value of truth and defending one's good name, about justice and fairness in the way people are treated by those in power, about family loyalty, moral courage, and willingness to sacrifice in a good cause. Rattigan doesn't give us the courtroom scenes here, focusing instead on the family relationships and interpersonal dynamics of the characters. Two of the latter who stand out the most are Ronnie's older sister Catherine, a suffragette and social rule-breaker with a heart for justice, and staid conservative legal titan (and opponent of women's suffrage, from his seat in Parliament) Sir Robert Morton. (view spoiler)[Except for a mutual dedication to justice, they're opposites from the get-go (and you know the old saying about opposites.... :-) ). (hide spoiler)]
This was required reading in my English class in the spring semester of my sophomore year in high school, and it's stayed with me ever since (though I'd forgotten the author's name and title until recently). It's been filmed several times; I've never been fortunate enough to see any of those productions (nor any live one), but I'd really like to see the 1990 TV movie version with Emma Thompson as Catherine!
Since I haven't read or watched any of Rattigan's other plays, I can't say how typical this one is of his output. On the strength of this work alone, though, I'd say he deserves a place in the history of the English theater of the 20th century. This is a work that stands out, especially in its beacon-like moral clarity, in contrast to the bleak nihilism of so much English-language drama in the later 20th century. To my chagrin, I've discovered that Rattigan is largely (or maybe completely!) unrepresented in Bluefield College's library collection. That's a gap I'm definitely going to remedy!)...more
A recent discussion in one of my groups rekindled my interest in the several plays I studied in high school, all of which made enough of an impressionA recent discussion in one of my groups rekindled my interest in the several plays I studied in high school, all of which made enough of an impression on me that I haven't forgotten them to this day. This was one of those, written by the author of Peter Pan (which I've never read; but like virtually everyone else, I'm familiar enough with the pop culture figure!) --but this is a very different, and more adult, sort of play than the more famous one.
Here, our setting is the real world: the staid and stately "civilized" world of Edwardian upper-crust London, and the rough, challenging natural world of an uncharted Pacific island. We might describe it as Downton Abbey meets Gilligan's Island; but though this is a comedy (and much of it actually is downright hilarious), it's much more realistic and serious in its ultimate intent than the latter, and its humor is a lot more mordant and caustic than anything offered on either of those shows. The above description is basically spoilerish; but it's hard to discuss or review this play without some spoilers.
The England of 1902 was a profoundly class-conscious society, with a hereditary aristocracy and gentry who saw their traditional position of power and privilege as a natural order that rewarded their superior merit, supported and waited on by a lower class born into servitude and socialized to accept it. For over 100 years, this social order had been increasingly challenged, within and without, by a philosophy of egalitarianism, of social leveling and equality. Barrie sets the two mindsets in conscious opposition to each other --and finds both of them wanting. His message is, in part, that humans aren't equal in their abilities or moral qualities; that some people really ARE superior to their fellows, and naturally better fitted for leadership. BUT, this has nothing essentially to do with hereditary social position; natural aristocrats are such because of who they are as people, not because of what rank their parents happened to have. So, a butler may be an intelligent born leader with genuine character; a peer or a "gentleman" may be a worthless, self-serving lout. It's not necessarily insignificant that Barrie was Sir James Barrie, baronet (baronetcy being the only hereditary form of knighthood in England) --but the first baronet of his line, being the son of a humble weaver.
Barrie delivers this message through an original, well-crafted plot with wonderfully drawn, compelling characters, realized with a very fine discernment of all types of human personalities and a bitingly satirical sense of humor. And like all writers of really great literature, he calls on his title character to make a serious and costly moral decision.
Not long after reading this play, I was privileged to watch a well done performance of it on PBS. It's well worth seeing performed; and like most plays, it gains something from being experienced that way. But unlike most, it also loses something significant; where stage directions and setting notes are usually brief and strictly functional, there to guide the director and cast without being read by the audience, Barrie's are often long, extremely witty, and contain a good deal of worthwhile information that's not imparted in the actual performance. This can be said to be a play that's actually better appreciated by being read than being seen, if you have to choose!...more