Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Winston Graham's THE FOUR SWANS

I've got to admit, dear readers, that with this sixth Poldark novel, Winston Graham almost lost me, because The Four Swans -- we'll talk a bit about that title in a moment -- has a whole lot of ugly going on, especially for the women.

Oh, there is plenty of the usual struggling for social justice and reform, striving to keep a mining concern going, wrangling with friends, relatives and frenemies, and lush Cornish scenery porn -- it's a Poldark novel. And Ross Poldark is still very much the main character here, even as the story broadens still more to encompass more of the world of Cornwall in the late 18th century.

But there are so many more characters -- George Warleggan, Ross's rival since school days, now married to Ross' first love; Sam and Drake Carne, his worthy but lower-class brothers-in-law; Dr. Dwight Enys, his best friend and co-conspirator, whom he daringly rescued from a French prison in the climax of the previous Poldark novel, The Black Moon; assorted members of the local gentry some of them friends and admirers, others of the sort who still haven't forgiven Ross for marrying his kitchen maid; assorted other miners and laborers and churchmen and crooks, all of them with fully-realized personalities and circumstances and lives of their own outside of their roles in Ross'.

And also, and ostensibly most importantly for this novel that is sort of named for them, there are four women whose lives are very much intertwined with Ross' own: his wife Demelza, his first love Elizabeth (once married to his cousin, now married to the hated Warleggan), Caroline (wealthy sweetheart and then wife of Dr. Enys), and Morwenna (Elizabeth's cousin, who last novel had a love affair with Demelza's brother Drake but was forced to marry an odious churchman who was deemed a more "suitable" match for her by, yep, George Warleggan). Alas, a bit, here. I'd had hopes that this novel would perhaps turn more on them as individuals and characters in their own right, but, well, the title again says it all, though the scene explaining it occurs near the story's end, as Ross takes a nature break and sees four swans floating by on the water and decides they represent these four women, but only insofar as said women relate to him.

That's not to say they don't get story arcs, these Cornish ladies. It's just that, with the kind-of exception of Caroline, who finally gets to marry her man (though she has to share him with his medical practice and the lingering after-effects of his imprisonment and harsh treatment in France), their story arcs are terribly, terribly dark and ugly and highlight in all the most unpleasant ways that it sucked a whole to be a woman back then. Cousins Elizabeth and Morwenna, especially, suffer through the novel, the one subject to suspicion and jealousy at the hands of her increasingly powerful and important husband and with the continuing fallout from an encounter with Ross two novels ago that still has me very angry at Ross; the other married against her will to a thoroughly unpleasant but well-connected and socially acceptable creep who just gets creepier as the novel progresses, while Morwenna still pines for her hard-working and deserving but low-class true love. Elizabeth's and Morwenna's scenes with their men are hard to read, icky, unpleasant and angry-making. I don't think they quite merit trigger warnings, but they probably come pretty close. I came very close to just tossing this book aside after a scene between Elizabeth and Ross that left me in about as dark a mood as I can recall ever experiencing from a work of fiction, and I'm still pretty angry about it.

Too, there are of course more than four women in Cornwall, and two of them have significant stories of their own in this book, but since it's Ross' point of view governing the title, this book isn't The Six Swans. But new characters Rowella (Morwenna's sister) and Emma, carry a more than a bit of this novel's narrative and are some of the most interesting characters (apart from Demelza, which, you've just got to love Demelza) Graham has yet given us. Rowella is Morwenna's little sister, and I'd go farther into spoiler territory than even I like to if I said much more about her; Emma is a lower-class woman whose good -- but not overwhelmingly beautiful -- looks, relative poverty and strong independent streak serve to earn her a reputation as a village Jezebel, and who comes to Sam Carne's notice in a story that kind of unpleasantly parallel's Rowella's but has a less icky overtone because Sam Carne is a better person than the jerk Rowella gets to deal with -- though it is pretty annoying to watch the dude hanker to save Emma's soul over her own protests. And oh, yeah, Sam & Emma are this novel's courtship story. Every Poldark novel has a courtship story. Eyeball roll.

But you know what? I wouldn't be feeling all of this if Winston Graham hadn't been such a tremendous writer. Though the narrative voice is definitely of the patriarchy, and keeps yanking the reader's attention away from the women's plights and stories and back to the More Important (man's) world of politics and trade, both sides are compellingly depicted. Six novels in, I'm more than invested in these characters, and even after what this book put me through, I still am, and not just as a hangover from the prior five books.

Developments late in The Four Swans promise to bring a yet grander scope to subsequent Poldark novels, too, which excites me. I reckon the rest of England is going to matter more, to say nothing of the rest of Europe; it's 1797 in the closing pages, and a little guy named Napoleon is becoming a big deal across the channel and beyond.

Bring it, Mr. Graham.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Doctor, Doctor: Terrance Dicks' CATASTROPHEA

After not liking Byzantium! too much and thus becoming just a leetle bit discouraged by what I'd taken on in setting out to read as much Doctor Who prose fiction as I could find, I needed something that I was reasonably sure I could trust that I would enjoy, while still kind of following the notion that I've had that I'd read these in numerical order by Doctor*, and boom: Catastrophea, by none other than Terrance Dicks!**

And Terrance Dicks wrote a story in which the Third Doctor and Jo travel in time and space, to the far future and another planet! The last time this happened for me was, well, when Alastair Reynolds took the Third Doctor out for a spin in Harvest of Time, which was brilliant. So, whoa. I mean, I had to sit down and catch my breath before even starting this.

Marvelously, that was the perfect frame of mind for me to be in as the action of Catastrophea (the title being an in-universe joke playing on the name of the planet on which this story takes place, properly named Kastopheria) as The Third Doctor and Jo are just coming away from their adventures on Spiridon, which means Jo's time with the Doctor is almost over and she's going to meet her husband very soon and so immediately there are ALL THE FEELS, which the Doctor experiences right along with us because Terrance Dicks knows his audience...

And BOOM. Right in the middle of the White Man's Human's Burden: a colony with all the problems that entails, including an enslaved-but-possibly-gonna-revolt race simply known as The People (who don't look anything like Cthulhu, thank you very much, but yeah, hard not to think of the Ood now, but this book was written in 1998 and I don't think the Ood were even a spark in Russell T. Davies' brain***) and a rival power, and the rival power is the Draconians! So much hooray! I kind of love the Draconians, especially after having fairly recently enjoyed the Sixth Doctor/Charley Pollard Big Finish romp Paper Cuts!

Not that we get to them immediately, of course. No, first we have the colonists, straight out of the reign of Queen Victoria (except, of course, not) fretting over what to do about a myriad of problems, including a resurgent John Company-type exploitation firm, a host of meddling bleeding hearts who want to protect the natives from said Company, various flavors of evil mercenary scum and smugglers, and a growing tendency among the docile natives for individuals to go berserk and kill everything in sight -- and enter the Doctor and Jo, who were making a beeline back to good old 1970s Britain until the Doctor was overwhelmed by the projected psychic pain of a whole planetful of beings that he couldn't ignore.

Now, you don't think it's the human colonizers' pain he responded to, do you?

The resulting tangle of competing interests and big blustery personalities has a very predictable and familiar feel, but contains just enough twists to stay fun, helped along by a cast of well-developed and engaging supporting characters, and just enough Venusian Aikido to keep things moving right along. The Third Doctor is elegant and active; Jo is cute, spunky and insightful. It all hangs together beautifully and one can almost convince herself it's the novelization of a late tenth season serial that she just kept missing on television. Which only makes sense, because Terrance Dicks!

And so now, just for fun and maybe to be a bit of a crank, in addition to my A&MDR, I'm going to start an A&MAR, too (A for Author, dur). So far, including Harvest of Time, I've read five, count them, five Doctor Who novels, by five different authors, and I'm going to read lots more because Terrance Dicks did his job and re-ignited my excitement for this project, but here they stand for now:

Alastair Reynolds
Mark Gatiss
Terrance Dicks
Justin Richards
Keith Topping

I'll just tell you right now, though, that Reynolds is going to be very hard to beat, because he is one of my favorite authors, full stop, and so anyone who's going to challenge him for the crown is going to have to really really bring it -- especially if, as I dearly hope will happen someday, Al writes another Doctor Who novel. I'd love to see what he could do with, say, the Ninth Doctor. Or, OMG, the War Doctor!!!!

Speaking of the War Doctor, you totally owe it to yourself to pony up for Big Finish's amazing and splendid and damned near perfect Only the Monstrous, which is a full-cast War Doctor adventure and yes of course it's John Hurt as the War Doctor. I'm pretty sure that this thing could make a believer of even the crankiest foot-stampy old school fanboi (I know there are some out there who think the whole Time War/War Doctor thing is a load of hooey). I'd blog about it as its own entry but it would pretty much just be a series of exclamation points, and that's boring to look at. So just go! If you've ever trusted me about anything (and, of course, you like Doctor Who), go!

So with these things in mind, my Arbitrary and Mercurial Doctor Ranking after Catastrophea and Only the Monstrous:

And while like I said last time there are too many companions for me to rank, I'll at least play with the ones that have recently occupied my brainpan in various media. So Evelyn Smythe is still my favorite, with Donna probably tied with Jo for second, and then Jamie, then *everybody else*, Peri and Mel, and Ian still at the bottom.

On to a Fourth Doctor novel!

*Though yes, I started with a Second Doctor novel, but that's because lots of people screamed I was underrating that Doctor and they were right!

**Who wrote for the original show, served as script editor for the show, wrote a whole lot of novelizations of TV episodes, and is the author of a whole lot of original Doctor Who prose fiction as well. As in WOO-HOO TERRANCE DICKS!

***Though the double-episode that introduced us to the Ood, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, owes a very, very great deal to this book in oh, so many ways. As in all of the good stuff in those episodes is more or less lifted from Catastrophea, but none of the bad except for, you know, the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Doctor, Doctor: Keith Topping's DOCTOR WHO: BYZANTIUM!

I feel more like I've read a really long homily on the trials and tribulations of the early Christians than like I've read a Doctor Who novel this time around, you guys. Indeed, I half-suspect that Byzantium! started out life as a religiously proselytizing historical novel, complete with portentous/pretentious chapter titles AND a Bible quote at the beginning of each chapter, and just got the TARDIS crew (in this case, the First Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Vicki) shoehorned in when it got no takers for its original market.

And no, I have no idea why the exclamation mark is there in the title.

But so, anyway, Byzantium. The city that will be called Constantinople during the rule of the Byzantine Empire, and Istanbul when the Turks take over, started out life as a strategically placed dump of a Greek town when the Romans muscled in, and is still kind of a dump (according to its inhabitants) by the time the TARDIS has one of its messier landings there near the start of our story (I say "near" because we get quite a lot of background detail before the TARDIS shows up, including a pretty graphically described crucifixion of another one of those pesky Christians that are starting to be such a nuisance ca. 64 A.D.). A dump we shall explore in exhausting and somewhat repetitive detail as our four heroes... all pretty much enact the same plot four times over after they get separated by the Team Separating Crisis du Jour.

But so, the Doctor winds up hiding among a small but ultimately very important and influential band of early Christians (as in they're friends at just one or two removes from some of the original Disciples as well as of Saul/Paul etc -- and are in the process, as the Doctor encounters them, of writing what will become the Gospel of Mark); Barbara winds up in the home of a high-ranking Jewish priest, more or less at whose bidding a horde of violent Zealots occasionally raise hell at public events in Byzantium and at whose orders any Christians (er, sorry, Followers of the Nazarene; call them Christians in Barbara's host's presence and he gets psychotically angry) get crucified; Vicki winds up sheltering with a kindly but strict Greek family who is all about teaching her to behave like a properly meek and obedient first century teenager, even if they have to beat it into her; and as for Ian...

Oh, Ian. Ian lies his way into the household of the Prefect of the city, where he is constantly and unsubtly hit on by every female who lays eyes on him (and "hit on" is really too soft a term; it's practically sexual assault), leading him to participate a little too gladly in round after round of "who can make the most misogynist joke" with the men of the house, over and over and over again. But eventually he sort of gets sucked into a slightly more interesting plot, involving a conspiracy against the Prefect and a popular general. Anyway, by about halfway through the story I was pretty much hating Ian, though I knew that it was author Keith Topping that was really horking me off because he portrayed all the women Ian encountered as single-minded, one-dimensional narcissists who would fail the Bechdel test so hard that they'd spill over and wipe out the passing scores of 20 other novels and thus seeming like they justified the treatment they got. Ugh.

The book is not without virtues, however. It manages a very good portrait of the First Doctor, crotchety, old, tired, fragile, impatient, compassionate in only the gruffest of ways, and ticking all of the boxes that made him unique among the Doctors: He has pretty much no sense of humor. He has gadgets with the word "Year" in their names. He has unexplainable and detailed foreknowledge of the ultimate fate of one of his companions. He takes none of his companions' crap. He is super-unimpressed with the efforts of the dudes writing the Bible and basically calls them hacks.* He changes into period appropriate clothing. No, for reals. Dude dons a toga before leaving the TARDIS, yo.

Another thing this novel did well is something I've really got to admire. I mock "Doctor Who jeopardy"** quite a lot on this blog, with good reason, and, again with good reason, tend to extend that mockery to situations that seem to threaten his Companions. Somehow in Byzantium!, though, I found myself empathizing with the burden of unknowing with which all four members of the TARDIS crew were struggling following their split-up. Barbara's worries that her friends were all dead were especially moving (though I can't say the same for Vicki's; she got pretty much the same treatment that all the bitchy Roman and Jewish ladies did, though instead of being depicted as vain and rapacious or violently controlling, Vicki was just whiny. So whiny. The major turning point in her story is when she gets to sit down with a nice old man and whine out loud to him instead of internally to us. Sigh.). And hey, while I'm on Barbara again, yay Barbara, the only one of the four who extricates herself from her (icky) situation and actually goes looking for the others! Even though by that point in the story almost every one of them has received some kind of intelligence as to where the others can be found!

But so, this book is a bit of a hot mess, and I can certainly see why a lot of people have hated on it. It's not a gripping read, for all that it's weirdly full of sex and violence (yes, there are sex scenes in a Doctor Who story! Umm?), the TARDIS crew are all stuck in iterations of the "outsider has to try to gain the acceptance of a mistrustful and insular tribe" plot, and Ian's whole story will turn many stomachs and could make people come to hate Ian. But it's a great portrait of the First Doctor, contains some pretty good writing, and handles one of Doctor Who fiction's greatest difficulties -- overcoming Doctor Who jeopardy -- very well. It's no Roundheads, but as I knew going into this project, very few of these will be.


As for what this has done for my Arbitrary and Mercurial Doctor Rankings, well, it actually made me like the First Doctor a bit less, for all that it was slightly amusing watching him chew out the scribes compiling the Bible. He displays no sense of humor in this story (at least all the other Bastard Doctors who rank highly on my list are funny when they insult people), makes zero effort to find his lost companions when they're separated (yes, yes, concussion, he's suffering from a concussion, but ZERO EFFORT PEOPLE. If [REDACTED] hadn't fortuitously turned out to know pretty much everyone in Byzantium and put two and two together and said "hey, you know this chick?" the First Doctor might still be in a Byzantine cave to this day, arguing with the distant descendants of those poor scribes over their translations of St. Mark's terrible grammar and handwriting and the other three would have died by the turn of the second century) and, well it doesn't help that I'm not a huge fan of these companions of his, either. Especially not after Ian's Roman Romp.

So the A&MDR after Byzantium! is as follows:


A final note: I've been dared to rank the Companions as I've done the Doctors, but damn, there are so, so many of them (especially if you throw in the Big Finish Companions, which I would have to because I love me some Big Finish), some I haven't seen enough of to even remember if I've liked them or not. I will say, though, that for right now I do indeed have a least favorite Companion to balance out my for-sure favorite Companion (Evelyn Smythe), and until he somehow redeems himself, Ian, you're it. I hate you even more than Peri and Mel, right now. Dude, you suck.

*And no, I couldn't help thinking about River Tam grabbing Shepherd Book's Bible and "fixing" it for him, here. Was she fixing what the Doctor broke? Probably not, but it's an amusing thought, no?

**Simply put, the absurdity of any cliffhanger or other moment of danger in which the Doctor's life appears threatened, which absurdity is the result of the viewer/reader/listener knowing full well that the Doctor has had/will have/is in the midst of 13 lives (and counting) and so the question of his survival is not ever a question at all, especially not in NuWho, when we know exactly when a regeneration is coming, and even know what the next Doctor is going to look like months in advance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Doctor, Doctor: Mark Gatiss' DOCTOR WHO: THE ROUNDHEADS

A historical that feels like it could have been ripped right out of Patrick Troughton's run as the Second Doctor in the 1960s, Mark Gatiss' The Roundheads would make a perfectly fine introduction to this incarnation of The Doctor and companions Jamie, Ben and Polly -- or would even work as a nice stand-alone read for someone who was just looking for a fun time travel story.

The Doctor and the gang, still coping with a whimsically unreliable TARDIS, are still trying to get back to Ben & Polly's native London of the Swinging Sixties. Every time the door creaks open, these two are hoping to be back in 1966. Someday, kids, but not yet. But hey, at least it's London...

In the mid-1600s... At the close of the English Civil War... Right before King Charles I is to be beheaded... Which Polly kind of concludes must have already happened, Ben doesn't find too interesting, and Jamie might be expected to remember (he's from only about 100 years later, after all) but doesn't and needs some help from the Doctor and a children's book explaining the War and the Protectorship that followed it.* Which it takes the Doctor a while to find because it's not in the TARDIS library and of course he gets lost in there anyway and meanwhile...

Well, of course everyone gets split up. I mean, come on. That's a lot of people to manipulate through a single plot, and Gatiss has far more interesting plans for each. Sailor Ben gets shanghai'd onto a mysterious ship for a mysterious voyage full of madcap nautical derring-do, Polly gets overheard blathering about the Big Beheading in a pub and gets nabbed by some plotters who want to know how in the world that's even going to happen and can they maybe prevent it with her help, and as for the Doctor and Jamie, well, it's hardly a Doctor Who historical in England without someone getting imprisoned in the Tower of London, is it?

Mark Gatiss has written some of the most interesting episodes of the TV show, and his talent with the genre-unto-itself that is Doctor Who is wonderfully displayed here. Everybody's sub-plot is interesting, every plot well-paced and timed, and it all fits beautifully into, you know, actual historical events, without really changing any of them.

All that and a setting/period which is in itself perfectly fascinating, especially if, as I have, you've recently spent a big chunk of time re-enjoying something like Neal Stephenson's fantastic Baroque Cycle. I would not have been shocked at all if, say, Polly, happened to meet Drake, if not Daniel, Waterhouse in her adventure, or if the Doctor had maybe managed to pop in on Robert Hooke. Has he met Robert Hooke at some point? Or (though this is a bit later in time) Samuel Pepys? I'm not a walking Doctor Who encyclopedia and I'm too lazy right now to research that, but my gut says no. Man, that would be awesome. Maybe Mr. Gatiss will send the Twelfth Doctor out to Epsom during the Plague to dissect dogs with the Royal Society, or something. He could turn out to be the real identity of Enoch Root! Wouldn't that be a hoot. Hey, BBC, call me if Mark isn't interested...

But I digress. Surprise. At any rate, this book is a blast, and very nicely rooted in the essential natures of this particular Doctor (and not just because he toots on his recorder in his prison cell) and these companions. The Doctor is especially well served here as he drags Jamie around sampling the delights of the 1648 Frost Fair, his wonder almost but not quite childlike in that way that only Troughton (and maybe Matt Smith) had at one moment, and then "practically hopping with frustration" when the state of affairs deteriorates. Jamie the Jacobite, too, has a unique set of challenges in Roundhead England, as he's still none too good at explaining himself. He can almost get away with his slip that he was guarding Prince Charlie... but then he has to go and admit that it was not the future Charles II he's talking about. And Bonnie Prince Charlie hasn't even been born yet...

Their escape from this predicament -- and this is not a spoiler because, duh, Doctor Who jeopardy -- is a real thigh-slapper, by the way.

But there is far more going on here than just a lark through Revolutionary London. Real people of every station, with deftly sketched in back stories and everything at stake, are sharing the snowy streets and dreary corridors and cheerful taverns with the TARDIS crew. Even Charles I gets a turn as a surprisingly sympathetic character, both in his own right and in the reminiscences of Oliver Cromwell, who met the king when they were children, and found him sad. Mark Gatiss could have a nice career of writing straight-up historical fiction if he wanted.

I know not all of the Doctor Who novels I've piled onto Mount TBR are going to be as good as this one, but knowing that at least one of them might be has me very jazzed for this new project.

So now, dear readers, Who's next. Of which Doctor shall I read an adventure now? Hit me up on social media or in the comments!

And because certain crotchety fangirls are going to ask, yes, thiis reading has altered my highly arbitrary and utterly mercurial Doctor Rankings as follows, mostly because I'd forgotten just what a lovely blend of goofy/cranky Patrick Houghton brought to the role:


*Which book becomes, of course, a plot device when it falls into the wrong hands, which is both hilarious and a bit sad (the guy who finds the book gets his feelers hurt). This is also very, very Second Doctor; it's just the sort of mishap that he eventually got punished for by the Time Lords (who, of course, forced him to regenerate into the earthbound Third Doctor, who, at least, finally had some time to find clothes that fit.).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Doctor, Doctor

I've had a wild hair to make 2016 my year of reading a crap-load of Doctor Who prose fiction (those who follow me on GoodReads know I've been bingeing on Big Finish Audio plays this year already, so, big surprise). To date, I've only read two: Harvest of Time (by my favorite space opera maestro, Alastair Reynolds), and Gareth Roberts' Only Human. I loved them both, for different reasons. I'm curious and hungry for more.

Also, just for silliness, I'm  going to track how my Doctor Rankings change over time. Last time I shared them, it went: Ninth, Third, Eleventh, Sixth, Fourth, First, Eighth, Seventh, Second, Tenth, Fifth. Since then we've had two seasons (one pretty ok and one jaw droppingly wonderful) with a new Doctor, the Twelfth-or-Thirteenth (depending on how we count the War Doctor, oh and then there's that stupid half-regeneration that Ten did, and...), played to crotchety Scottish punk perfection by Peter Capaldi, and I've been bingeing on early and mid-range Big Finish, which dramas have made Sixie into the wonderful Doctor he always should have been, and so as of today my current rankings are:


Yes, a few Big Finish stories have made me like the Fifth Doctor better than I did from his TV run (tainted by JNT and the horror that was the 80s). But things can change, there at the bottom. New audio plays featuring Ten and my favorite TV companion*, Donna Noble, are coming soon, and my Donna love could conquer my Ten hate. So we'll see!

BY THE WAY, I have a dumb idea about podcasting this, but only if MY WhoHos get involved. They know who they are. Trowels up, kiddies.

*She was my favorite companion, full stop, until I encountered that sublime chocoholic, Evelyn Smythe, in Big Finish's Sixth Doctor stories. And no, I haven't encountered Bernice yet. So all is in flux. But Evelyn, Evelyn is my GIRL.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Michael Moorcock's BYZANTIUM ENDURES

Mention Michael "Eternal Champion" Moorcock in pretty much any crowd you'd care to and I'm 100% sure that no one is going to mention mundane historical fiction. Or social fiction. Or Russian fiction.

But he wrote some, and it was damned convincing. Someone I'm too lazy to look up again has called Byzantium Endures the best 19th century Russian novel written by a 20th century Englishman there is. And so maybe there's not so much competition in this category, and so maybe this is damning the book with faint praise, but look, this is still quite possibly the weirdest thing Moorcock has written, for all that it lacks soul-sucking swords and beast-masked warriors and six-fingered prosthetic hands that can summon monsters.*

How it manages to be weird without these kinds of things comes down to, of course, its narrator. For this is the first of four volumes, what is called the Colonel Pyat Quartet, and it's told in Pyat's own voice.**

Pyat was, or claims to have been -- yes, another unreliable narrator -- born with the 20th century and so has seen and experienced an awful lot on his journey from genteel poverty in Ukraine to the seat next to you at the English pub where he holds forth at great obnoxious and pompous length every exhausting night about what he's seen and done in his eventful life, living through two world wars, revolutions, etc. and what have you done with your life, loser?

For quite the Renaissance polymath wunderkind secret author of everything is Pyat.*** The only reason you don't know his name is conspiracy has denied him credit for his great inventions, his strategic brilliance, his general thwarted awesomeness. Most of which he blames on the Jews, even though he is himself probably Jewish, a fact which he rantingly denies at every opportunity, often (unintentionally) hilariously. He is, in short, the last guy you want to be trapped having to listen to for any length of time, and here he's gone and "written" four volumes of autobiography, apparently, all of it loaded with his overblown claims. I know a hundred guys like this one. They're in every dive bar in the land. It's never their fault they're not ruling the world. Nor that lesser men are ruling it, and letting it go to pot because they have no standards. Democracy and socialism have teamed up to turn all to kipple. No, he never uses Philip K Dick's awesome word for the deteriorated detritus of civilization, but yes, one can imagine him doing so if only he'd gotten to learn of the word.

But so why on earth should one read these things? Because, if this first volume is anything to go on, they're brilliant, and not just because of the character(s) they so vividly realize. They are absolutely convincing works of pseudo-Russian literature, full of period detail and gorgeous descriptive passages and vivid evocations of the whole lotta history through which our man has lived.

And yes, obliquely they tie into the Eternal Champion stuff, despite their complete lack of fantastic elements, for Pyat is a close friend of Mrs. Cornelius, mother of Moorcock's swinging 60s version of the Champion, Jerry Cornelius, whose adventures I have not yet read because the last time I had them handy I was too young and teenagery to want to read anything of Moorcock's that didn't involve moody sword-swinging albino sorcerors or hunted one-eyed princes or guys with big black jewels embedded in their skulls. I'm going to rectify this soon, though it's going to take me a while since I'm going to have to mess with a dead tree book to do so, and I still have big trouble manipulating dead tree books due to chronic medical conditions that have left me not very dextrous. But I'm gonna.

But there's more than just that obvious link going on, here. Check out the title: Byzantium Endures. Here, Byzantium refers to the cultural heritage of Greece as preserved and transmitted via the Eastern Roman empire, aka Byzantium, and the Orthodox church it spawned, a church that dominated the cultural and spiritual life of Russia until the Revolution. Pyat spends a lot of time rhapsodizing about this, and bemoaning the culture's decline, a decline he helped, at least in a small way, to set in motion. He had to, to survive.

An ancient and sophisticated culture that degenerated until it was finally all but destroyed by its scions. How Melniboné. How Elric.

But this is the real world, where the forces of chaos and law are lower case and lack any supernatural force. Humans did it. Humans can undo it. Byzantium endures. Sort of.

*And it seems that no one in my circle has read it. When I was debating giving this book a try, I asked a few times on Twitter if anyone had an opinion and got nothing but cricket sounds. Which is a shame!

**There's a whole lot of faux preface and appendix material dealing with how Moorcock had to stitch the narrative together from a lifetime's accumulation of notebooks and scraps on which his narrator composed his memoirs, his manifestos, etc. The effect of reading this "material" is kind of like slogging through a Christopher Tolkien hodge-podge of J.R.R. Tolkien's ephemera. I got impatient with it and finally just skipped to the story proper. The stuff at the end, proported to be raw snippets from Pyat's notes, is somewhat more engaging but it's a tough slog, in many languages and next to no complete sentences. I found it blurring, then interesting, and finally tiresome. Your mileage may vary.

***See also Philip K. Dick's CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Margaret Atwood's MADDADDAM

As my readers are aware, I've had decidedly mixed reactions to Margaret Atwood's idiocratic MaddAddam trilogy so far, and I was annoyed enough with the second volume to be at best lukewarm about taking up the third, MaddAddam.

But then I got my hands on the audiobook (bit of a mistake, although with the importance the oral storytelling tradition plays in this series, an audiobook version seemed like a naturally good fit, except, well, the narrators. Oh, the narrators*) and decided this would be good enough for pre-sleepytime ingestion and finally gave it a go.

But so I... I don't know where to begin with this one. Atwood has been crippling what should be a fascinating double-dystopia with soap opera melodrama from the start, but in this closing volume... well, it's almost all soap opera, right down to a major character spending most of the narrative unconscious/comatose. Yep. Oh, and the badass heroine of the prior novel, Toby, gets all her teeth pulled and instead of being smart and resourceful and tough, spends most of her time simmering with jealousy of the younger, prettier women whom she suspects of having designs on her man (who is admittedly a bit of a tomcat but whatever). Seriously. Did I miss a bodysnatching?

So yeah, I mostly wound up just glad it was over. It didn't help that the audio book featured two very annoying narrators, but even had I been reading the text myself I'm pretty sure I'd have felt that way.

I will say this, though: The narrative voices are distinct and masterful, the world-building is still great, and all of the narrative threads were pulled tight. Atwood is a total pro.

Just, someone take her TV away during the daylight hours? Please? Because DAMN.

*The narrators seriously drove me nuts on this one. Narrators, plural, because there is a female narrator for the Toby-centric bits (which also include most of the Crakker dialogue), and a male for Toby's boyfriend Zeb's bits-as-told-to-Toby. The female sounds like she's voicing cartoon characters most of the time (but especially so when she has Crakker dialogue); the male is an annoying cross between Dramatic Action Movie Trailer Guy and William Shatner, though he is funny on the songs. There is a third male narrator voicing a whole new character in the last few chapters of the books that's just fine, though. Why not just let him tell the whole story? Certainly it would also have made the production a lot less gimmicky, as well.


So, here's me, tucking into the third volume of Ian Tregillis' Milkweed Triptych after having thought for two volumes that I was reading a trilogy of cool Lovecraft-flavored alternative history where bio-mechanically engineered Nazi uberpeople were pitted against heroic British warlocks, only to finally, finally penetrate the fact that what I've really been reading this whole time is the ultimate Phildickian exploration of what it would really mean to the world as a whole if an actual honest-to-Yog pre-cognitive had surfaced in our midst, by whatever means, ca the early 20th Century. Well, that and a little time travel thrown in, so said pre-cog can correct some things she missed the first pre-time pre-around. As it were.

Gretel, Gretel, Gretel. The Romany girl who was warped into being able to see all of time, but was so warped by the very people who were busily exterminating entire races of people, including her own, so developed an extreme instinct for self-protection and so searched every possibility in all of World War II for the best possible outcome for her except WHOOPS there was one WORLD ENDING WHOOPS end result that she hadn't really seen (or hadn't really taken seriously) and so for her last trick she manipulates another of our main characters, poor old Raybould Marsh, into making HIS last trick a trip into a whole new universe that... Look, I'm spoiling bits of the first two books here, but like the warning on the very top of this blog says, WARE SPOILERS.

Anyway, suffice it to say that in this new universe, it is World War II all over again, and, in this universe, there are now two Marshes, the one "born" in this universe and the much older, spectacularly scarred, embittered, sad, lonely and really kind of hopeless Marsh that survived Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War. To assist the reader, sad old Marsh's passages are told in the first person, while era-approriate Marsh stays in the third person. But to further twist the reader's brain, we get long passages from Gretel's multiplied points of view -- a difficult narrative feat that Tregillis pulls off very well, which is good because otherwise this book would just be a hot mess instead of a satisfying conclusion to this series.

What really sells me on this last book is that this brave new world is pretty much exactly our world, as far as historical events go. In Gretel's and Old Marsh's world, for instance, the Little Ships never happened, and Britain lost an entire army at and around Dunkirk. Which means that we really are seeing that the world Gretel couldn't mess with is the "real" world*. I dig this. I dig this right to the hot melty bits.

*Except there are still warlocks and Enochian and Eidolons and stuff in it. They've just been circumvented by, uh, [REDACTED]. He.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Paolo Bacigalupi's THE WATER KNIFE

This is maybe going to sound funny, but it was with a queer sense of relief that I learned the existence of, and then quickly read, The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi's dystopian look at the future of the American West when the water crisis its been denying for centuries finally can't be ignored anymore. I was relieved because this is a book I've long thought I was going to have to write (for reasons I'll get into in a bit) but wasn't sure I was ever going to be emotionally ready to write, or publish, or become known for having written it, etc. So I'm very glad Bacigalupi did. And hey, he probably did a better job than I would, anyway.

But so, I'm a fifth generation Wyomingite and a former elected official, yo. I've spent half my life dealing with the Western United States' deeply weird relationship with its most scarce and precious resource in one way or another. I've grown up canoeing and failing to water ski on gigantic reservoirs formed by dams meant to divert mighty rivers to feed thirsty cities states away. I've struggled to meet the needs of a small town whose water rights on the North Platte River are a cobbled-together mess, some senior to, some junior to those of surrounding ranches, and some of the "town's" rights were actually borrowed from an impossibly swanky nearby country club that currently owns more water than it needs but has the right to yank back that water at any time. Sometime after my tenure in office, the town decided to, as we say, take its hose out of the North Platte River (which joins up with the South Platte River to form the Platte, which flows into the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that actually I'm not on the watershed affected by the strife of this story, but we've got our own problems, I assure you. Read up on Nebraska vs Wyoming sometime. Hoo dogie.). I read Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water at least once a year, if not twice, just to keep the knowledge and history it imparts ever-fresh in my mind. Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting. Etc.

What I'm saying is, this story is pretty much a telling of half of the recurring nightmares that have plagued my life since the first time I asked the wrong guy why he hated Jimmy Carter so much in the 1970s (hint: nothing at all to do with the Iran hostage crisis). You don't want to know about the other half. But anyway.

The book's title refers to one of its main characters, as well as to a general way of life that has come to prevail in the American West of the not too distant future, a West that is destroying itself not because of any sudden cataclysm that abruptly undermined its grip on civilization, but because nobody ever took warnings like Cadillac Desert (a book referenced more than a few times in this novel) seriously. Meanwhile, every problem it detailed or predicted has come to pass. Aquifers that were being mined at the rate of five feet a year but nature could only recharge at the rate of maybe a half-inch a year have run dry. Dams are silting up. Cyclical drought and climate change have stricken the land HARD. And water has started to follow money, as it ever has, but now at an aggressive and highly accelerated rate, and usually at gunpoint.

Las Vegas is holding on no matter what, largely thanks to the efforts of an omnicompetent ice queen, one Catherine Case, the Queen of the Colorado, a warlord disguised as a water commissioner, who directs armies of engineers, lawyers, politicians, various flavors of military and paramilitary groups, and any other resource she needs, really, all in service of keeping the Belagio fountains foaming. Water that can't be bought or stolen by bureaucratic methods is taken by force even unto, as our story opens, a full-scale apache helicopter-and-missile attack on a municipal water treatment plant in Arizona.

The guy in charge of that operation, Angel, is her number one Water Knife, a guy who goes wherever she bids cutting off other people's water supplies with ruthless efficiency, by any means necessary. Coming off the success of the water plant destruction, he's sent to, where else, Phoenix, in this book a scene of disaster porn that exceeds even our own decade's weird fixation on the urban decay of Detroit. Phoenix should never have been there in the first place. This was known before it was established and allowed to grow. And grow. And grow. And now, aside from California, which is in a water war league of its very own, it is the last rival to Las Vegas, but it has no Catherine Case to run its show. It is thus doomed even if Case and Angel do not succeed in hastening its destruction.

Enter the novel's second protagonist, muckracking journalist Lucy, who has "gone native" in Phoenix despite being a daughter of the water-rich East Coast. A source of hers indicated to her that he was onto something that was going to change everything for Phoenix. An original and impossibly senior water right that couldn't be denied? An untapped aquifer? Who knows? Certainly not Lucy, because of course somebody tortures her contact to death.

A third strand in the novel's braid is a young girl, Maria, living a desperate life in a madman's walled fiefdom in what's left of suburban Phoenix. She, too, has had an encounter with someone suggesting that things are about to change in a big, big way. But what can she do about it? She's just a little water seller who is under constant pressure to give everything up for a career as a "bangbang girl" and earn her living on her back like all the other desperate refugees from Texas do. At least while they're young and pretty. I don't even want to think about the options left to middle aged or elderly women in this world. Especially since, of course, that is left to my imagination.

Maria, despite her status as cliche plucky survivor-victim, actually winds up being the most interesting character in the book, because she is the only one who is truly looking forward (well, except maybe Case, but she's not a character so much as a figurant or force, the power looming in the background). She has vivid memories of her father and his delusions that somehow, somewhere, matters can be returned to "normal", meaning to how they were (or how he believed they were, but of course Maria's present gives lie to a lot of her father's -- and our -- delusions about his past), has seen such fixations as detrimental to her survival, and so is focused every moment on adapting to what is. Angel is the title character, but he's the tool of people trying to preserve the old world for a new 1% at the expense of the new 99% (geographical rather than economic). Lucy is documenting what she can only see as collapse, and trying to make the rest of the world care enough to try to stop it. But Maria, Maria sees that change has already done changed stuff, is still changing stuff, and we'd best just get used to that since it's always been that way.

And thank goodness for that, because otherwise the message of this book is even more hopeless than that of Reisner's, for all of its having cloaked that message in big showy ACKSHUN scenes and large scale disaster porn. Conspiracy theorists and fighters of The Power have it all wrong. The people on top of the pyramid cracking the whips have no more idea of what they're doing than the rest of us. They can't be relied on to fix what's broken anymore than they could have been relief on to maintain it when it wasn't. Hierarchy is not the answer.

Random little people running around having ideas and sharing them probably is. The good ideas get copied and spread. Sometimes the bad ones do, too, but eventually we stop spreading magic salve on the blade that cut us and start spreading bread mold on the wound instead.

Maybe eventually we won't need Queens either.

Meanwhile, this novel. it's exciting enough not to feel like just a thinly disguised think piece. It's not too preachy. It's full of surprises. And it's got great characters. So I think even if you couldn't care less about its premise, you're going to enjoy the book. Warren Ellis is right to compare it to John Brunner. I'd throw in more than a few nods to J.G. Ballard, too. It'll make a great movie in a few years, if it stays out of certain hands.

Meanwhile, well, I'm thirsty. Time for a nice cold glass of slightly radioactive groundwater as filtered through my brand name pitcher. My dog could use some, too. Slurp.


George Warleggan finished the last novel of the original Poldark Quartet, Warleggan, feeling very much like his star was on the ascendant. He's married the girl of his lustful dreams, taken over the ancestral home of the nemesis of his dreams, and has a baby on the way. Er, well, his new wife, the former Elizabeth Poldark* has a baby on the way, anyway. But (mild spoilers for that novel ahoy!), while his book was called Warleggan, the baby coming is probably one who should have (cough) quite another, but very familiar, surname. Cough.

Whether or not there's a cuckoo in George's nest -- said maybe-cuckoo being born in the first chapter during a lunar eclipse, giving this novel, The Black Moon, its title -- he's got some trouble on his hands in this one, as his lively little Poldark stepson has discovered a delightfully hilarious way to irritate George (at least, by proxy) and just cannot stop doing so, even though it gets everyone else in trouble until someone gets caught in the act. D'oh!

And then there's the governess George has engaged for his wife's older son, Elizabeth's cousin Morwenna, who is nowhere near as pretty as Elizabeth (who is still considered a classic beauty nonpareil even after years of marriage and motherhood and household management) but still catches the eye of a man or two, one highly suitable by George's standards, one less so. Very less so. Because this is still a Poldark novel, and Ross is still part of the picture, and so is his wife Demelza, and Demelza comes from a poor family of miners, and her brothers have grown up to be big strapping handsome men, and her little brother Drake is the strappingest and handsomest of all.

Hey, it wouldn't be a Poldark novel without a pair of star-crossed lovers, would it? Verity and Andrew. Caroline and Dwight (though their course of not-smooth true love still hasn't gotten them to the altar as of this book; Dwight went for sailoring last novel, remember,  and in this one has gotten himself both shipwrecked and captured by some very cranky villagers in the middle of Revolutionary France. Oops), meet Morwenna and Drake. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Meanwhile, Ross Poldark, now happily married through four novels and then some, with a growing son and a new baby daughter and a wife he loves dearly, with a prospering mine and money to spend on fixing up his house, can't stand contentment. When he learns of Dwight's plight in France, and that Caroline has managed to persuade the government to do something about it (sort of), well of course Ross has to get involved. Even though it's dangerous. Or perhaps because it's dangerous. Because Ross Poldark. Duh.

And then there is one more Poldark, who until this volume has barely been a figurant but roars forward for key moments in this book: Agatha. Agatha is Ross' great-aunt, an old maid who has seen six generations of her family living out their lives in the house that is now George's. She's been good for an excuse for Ross to visit and for moments of comic relief here and there, but now she's finally a character. And what a character she is. And her little cat, too. Vale, Miss Poldark. Your last barb hit home.

Interestingly, The Black Moon was written a good 20+ years after the previous book. Winston Graham apparently got tired of his career as a highly successful and beloved author of historical fiction and turned his hand to mainstream work for a while. Of course he was good at this too (Marnie, anyone?), but he was eventually persuaded to return to this beloved world of miners and fishermen and barely-making-it-landed gentry in 18th Century Cornwall. I would say he didn't miss a beat, but really, I do detect slight differences in his prose in this later Poldark book. The quality is still first rate, but it's a bit more economical, more precise, less wild. He's grown as a writer, we see, but sometimes miss his excesses. Or at least I do.

But still, it's a Poldark novel, a novel of Cornwall, full of scenery porn, resource drama, borderline class warfare, and ROMANCE. One can't help but love it, and be glad there are still several more to go.

*First love of Ross Poldark, wife of the late Francis Poldark, mother of Geoffrey Charles Poldark, etc.

Friday, July 3, 2015


It's not in any way a secret that Dreams of Shreds & Tatters is meant as author Amanda Downum's extension of the Yellow King/Carcosa mythos developed by Robert W. Chambers and played with by the likes of Machen and Lovecraft. Just look at the cover. Indeed, I entered into this worried that it might all be a bit too on-the-nose and in-your-ribs. But I trusted the people who recommended this to me and kept going, and found it all no more unsubtle than the first season of True Detective in that regard.

I won't say that Downum has achieved a perfect modernization of Chambers weird oeuvre, for all its concern with artists and galleries and the new Europe of Canada, but rather that Downum has achieved something I find actually quite more satisfying; she's tackled the Yellow King as Tim Powers would, bringing the weird and the uncanny and the unholy and the numinous squarely into a plausible modern setting, peopled with sympathetically sketched modern characters who are themselves dealing with modern issues. All while extending the touchstone mythos just enough, and blending it beautifully with "real" mythology, chiefly the stories of Orpheus and the Maenads.

Downham's King is thoroughly part of the Yellow Book tradition. As one of the other archetypal figures we encounter describes him: "The King fancies himself a patron of the arts but he'll take anyone he can, anyone talented and foolish enough to find this place. He offers them visions. If they survive that he gives them power. In exchange for service."

The first to succumb to the King in Yellow's blandishments is Blake, a promising young artist who followed a lover and the prospect of greater recognition for his talents to Vancouver, where he has fallen in with a gallery owner, Rainer, who is more than he seems. But it's only when Liz, the best friend he left behind, follows her nightmares as to his fate across the continent to that city that we even begin to see Blake's true predicament: under Rainer's guidance, he has created a work of art that bridges the gap between the world of the King in Yellow and our own. By the time Liz catches up with Blake, his lover is dead and he's in a coma. And Rainer and girlfriend Antje are not being super forthcoming about all that.

Then there's Rae, sort of this book's Dondi Snayheever, a young goth-ish woman who has gotten hooked on it substance called Mania, which brings its users to the parallel and horrible world of Carcosa, here imagined as a city on a doomed planet orbiting the red giant star Aldebaran. It's in describing Rae's experiences that Downum really goes batty with the prose (which, really, you're going to read this novel for the prose and imagery more than for anything else):
"A shudder wracked her, strong enough to bring her to her knees, doubled over on the cold floorboards. Darkness spread through her veins, blue - black worms squirming under the skin of her wrists. Her teeth tingled and her mouth tasted of copper.* Her jaw ached with the effort of holding back a wild bacchanal cry."
No one escapes unscathed, including the reader. If, like many left hankering for more of his Yellow Majesty after last year's televisual exploration, or if you're getting antsy waiting for Tim Powers to crank out something new, check this one out. It'll take the edge off those cravings for a bit. It worked for me!

*These people taste copper a lot, by the way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mark Lawrence's THE LIAR'S KEY

The first book in this second/concurrent Broken Empire series, Prince of Fools, confounded my expectations a bit, presenting us in Prince Jal with a hero way more likeable than the sort-of-psychopath Jorg Ancrath of the original series and showing us a completely different part of these princes' shared post-apocalyptic fantasy universe -- a latter day Scandanavia teeming with nu-Vikings and necromancers and other monstrous delights, oh my. So it was quite a delightful read.

So, I'm happy to say, is this second volume. The Liar's Key is named for an artifact that Jal's bound-by-magic traveling companion and sort-of friend, Snorri, wrested from enemies at the end of the Prince of Fools. The titular key, ostensibly created by Loki, yes, that Loki, the god of mischief/evil/etc, can open any door, anywhere, even the doorway to the land of the dead. Where Snorri very much wants to visit, since he wants to pull an Orpheus and get back his dead wife -- and children, including an unborn son that died when his wife was killed. To mix mythologies a bit, as one does.

As we might imagine (shades of that fantastic miniseries The Lost Room), lots of entities want that key, including the Big Baddie from the original trilogy, the Dead King (and no, it's not Marius Helles, though wouldn't that be fun?). So now Jal and Snorri and the last surviving member of Snorri's Viking clan, the marvelously un-stereotypical Tuttugu, are on the run even as they follow a trail of clues that purport to lead them to death's door.

But... this is the middle volume of a trilogy, and so Lawrence is still more interested in deepening, rather than explaining/solving his mysteries. And mysteries do abound, as Jal and company leave Scandinavia and head south and east to Jal's homeland and beyond, with everybody chasing them, Hallelujah Trail-like, and setting traps for them.

In the process, we learn more about Hal as he learns more about himself -- literally -- through the magical efforts of one of his new traveling companions, Kara.* Anytime he tastes his own blood (which is fairly often, what with all the fighting he and his little crew get up to), he either flashes back to forgotten-but-shocking events from his own childhood (he witnessed his mother's murder when he was seven! And he knows the guy who killed her! It's very fishy that he forgot this!), or from his grandmother's, the Red Queen's, and that of her uncanny siblings, Garyus and the Silent Sister. The Silent Sister being the witch who's spell bound Jal to Snorri in the first place...

So, like Jorg before him, Jal is even more complicated than he seemed. Like Jorg before him, Jal's mind has been tampered with. Another unreliable narrator, another red herring of a story. Because it looks like all of what we've been watching in both Broken Empire series has really been a distraction. Don't look at the mages in the corners. Look at the princes, Psycho and Chickenshit. Aren't they fascinating? Pay no attention to the creepy half-blind woman behind the curtain...

And hurry up with the next volume please, Mr. Lawrence!

*The other is a fierce little red-haired Viking orphan boy, Hennan, who serves as this novel's hook into this hero's conscience. Mark Lawrence always thinks of the children.

Monday, June 1, 2015


We've all played those fantasy games. The ones where we loot every corpse in sight (because why not, it's not like we can smell them, or feel the slimy grossness), break into every provisions barrel, crack open every chest, perform every quest in the promise of loot, glorious loot, as much as we can carry, LOOOOOOOOOOT.

But then we get overburdened. We start having to pass up some loot, or to get rid of loot to pick up better loot. And we don't have any place to store our loot because we're still saving up for a house. A house we must buy for gold.

So what we need to do is, we need to turn that loot into gold. And for that we need to visit the Store.

Ah, the Store, whereat arcane algorithmic calculations of varying complexity (depending on the game) and fairness calculate how many pieces of gold each piece of loot is worth. And we sell and trade and unencumber ourselves. Maybe we improve our equipment a bit. Maybe we get rid of a weapon or piece of armor or object that we can't use because we're the wrong class or don't have high enough stats or whatever.

Ever thought about what happens to the stuff we sell and trade after that? Ever wonder what the NPC behind the counter does when we're not haggling with him?

Patrick McLean did, and he decided he'd find out, and thus we have The Merchant Adventurer, a novel that celebrates all of the silly approximations we play through in fantasy games but sends out a fat old man with a Bag of Holding full of all of the best stuff from his store, on a quest of his very own!

Boltec, our titular hero, reminds me more than a little bit of another fat old man hero whom I loved a lot, Adoulla from Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon. In his youth, he was as starry-eyed and keen to be a hero as Relan, the eager young farmboy he has sort of backed into befriending; now he is tired and cynical and keen on nothing but his wealth -- or almost nothing.

Turns out, and he's as surprised as anyone, he also loves one Asarah, the supremely confident, competent, and beautiful in that "mature" way owner and operator of the tavern across the street from his shop.*

The tavern that gets burned down when an evil wizard and his orc army sack the village and make of with Asarah, not for prurient purposes, but because the wizard needs somebody on staff who can make 
a decent sandwich.

Don't worry, it gets addressed.

But lest you think this is going to be a story involving a lot of training and work to recover lost fighting skills, or to train up a new generation... Nah! Boltac knows his skill set. Boltac is going to use his skill set. Boltac is going to make a deal.

Along the way we encounter lots of other amusing archetypes from the fantasy game world, including a shifty thief and the aforementioned wizard (who has really had it with all of these adventurers interrupting his studies to try and steal his stuff), but there is also, of all things, a sympathetic orc character, Samga.

I kind of love Samga almost as much as I love Boltac, you guys.

The resulting novel is a fun little romp (though yes, it could maybe have used one more whack from the Claymore of Copy-Editing) , one that was obviously even more fun for MacLean to write than for us to read. Fun for everybody!

Except maybe that poor troll trapped under the Mace of Encumbrance. Poor fella. So confused when his dinner offered him a big shiny toy to hold for a moment.

Hee hee!

*So, yes, cast Alex Kingston as Asarah and be done with it. Maybe Ian MacNiece as Boltac while you're at it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


Lordy, I do love me some tempestuous, romantic historical fiction now and then, and it doesn't get much more tempestuous, romantic or historical than Winston Graham's wonderful Poldark novels, of which Warleggan is the fourth. And possibly the most tempestuous, if not the most romantic.

Though it's quite the soap opera, is Warleggan. The title, of course, referring to the family name of those dastardly anti-Poldarks, the gotten-up and unscrupulous nouveau riche Warleggans, whose scion, George, grew up with the cousins Poldark but never quite gained their acceptance because his family was so very, very declasse.

But here he is, getting a novel named for him! Do the Poldarks finally admit him to their charmed-not-really-charmed circle? Do they finally see that he's not the villain of their tale but merely a different kind of hero? Does he get a happy ending?

Well. Sort of. Yes and no. Um.

This most soap-operatic yet of Graham's wonderful Novels of Cornwall doesn't feature George Warleggan all that much (though certainly more than did the prior novel, Jeremy Poldark, feature that boy, who spent almost all of that book in his mommy's tummy). He looms over events somewhat, yes, and it is certainly a carefully executed action of his that is the most important development in the overall Poldark plot, but...

But it is the affairs of yet another pair of star-crossed lovers that hog most of the reader's attention. Lovers and the Poldark who abets them, but this time it is mostly Ross playing cupid rather than Demelza, for one of the lovers is his friend Dr. Dwight Enys (he of the prior tragic live affair in assign earlier novel).

Meanwhile, Ross and Demelza are not themselves the picture of wedded bliss, because Ross's first love, Elizabeth, who jilted him while he was away in America getting his rakish facial scar, is still a big part of their lives. She jilted Ross to marry his cousin Francis, meaning she is both family and neighbor, and then [REDACTED TRAGEDY] strikes and suddenly she becomes an even bigger problem...

And then there is Warleggan. Remember Warleggan? This is a book named for Warleggan. When I watched the original BBC adaptation as a  tween, I gnashed my teeth at him, I bit my thumb at him, I spit at the mention of his name. As an adult better attuned to problems of class and economics, though, I kind of feel for him. His family's success has thrown him into social circles that his family's background has not prepared him to navigate well. He has decent enough instincts for how to behave, has learned what fork to use and all that rot, but he is not to the classy (and somewhat impoverished but still one has FORBEARS) manor born. If the cousins Poldark had been nicer to him as young'uns they might all have been friends, or at least business partners. But nope.

But so, can we blame him for seizing the opportunity he does? Sure, he's kind of a jerk about it, but he has feelings, too, and he didn't just one day decide a chip on his shoulder would set off his slightly coarse good looks, right?

And anyway, he might not entirely be getting what he wants. Hur hur hur. He might only have given his NAME to his son, IYKWIM.

The first four Poldark books are often regarded as a quartet, and to a degree things are decently enough rapped up here, but I find there are eight more "novels of Cornwall", some yet with Poldark in the title, so I'll keep on reading them.

And yes, I had a cheeky peek at the first episode of the new adaptation, but promised my mom I'd wait and watch the rest with her when it airs on PBS here in the states later this year. I see it's got a more lavish budget than the original, and lots more scenery pork, but I don't find the cast to be any improvement on Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees et al. But they might grow on me, these new actors, and I know Ellis has a small part in NuPoldark. We shall see.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Howard of Warwick's THE HERETICS OF DE'ATH

You may recall last fall when my book-crazy mother, fan of all things with even a hint of medieval mystery fiction, turned me on to Howard of Warwick and his truly side-splitting historical farce, The Domesday Book, No Not That One. I was doubled over, I was in tears, I was gasping for air. I took many months to recover from teh funneh.

Then I finally attempted another of Mr. Of Warwick's books, and while I did not have quite the same life-threatening experiences, I did have a pretty good time getting to know one Brother Hermitage, who made a cameo appearance in Domesday but whose true character awaited discovery.

His true character being sort of an idiot savant Brother William of Baskerville, or a very sheltered Sherlock Holmes. And yes, he has an Adso/Watson of sorts in the redoubtable person of one Wat the Weaver, purveyor of pornographic tapestries, in other words, a perfect wordly foil to the decidedly unworldly Hermitage.*

In this first novel of his chronicles, Hermitage finds himself in a situation somewhat similar to that which made Brother William famous**, namely, a murder in a monastery.***Or at least a death, one which seems perfectly natural at first, but the innocent-seeming narrative of which is quickly seized on by powers greater than Hermitage as a way to further decidedly un-innocent ends.

How great those powers are, what is their scheme, and how it all relates to an exceedingly obscure and farcically pointless theological argument (did Jesus get sand in his shoes while enduring his 40 days in the wilderness?) (No, really, that's the point of contention) is kept secret until the denouement, when an entire novel's worth of bizarre and maddening tension is released as rapidly -- and perhaps with much the same sound -- as a balloon that has been inflated, but not tied off, flies around a room.

Or, in other words, this time around, the belly laughs are saved up for a big gasping mess at the end, like, say, verbs in a German sentence. As described by my mom, anyway.****

Speaking of the ending, it also sets up the most ridiculous conspiracy theory, maybe ever, concerning a certain very famous event in English history.

Now, if I can just figure out what a Dingle is. It can't be what my inner twelve-year-old thinks it is.

Great stuff. My compliments to the scribe.

*Whose name, we learn, was bestowed on him early in his monastic career, when his fellow monks realized his nature as a big ol' dork even by monk standards, and suggested strongly the he consider a life of contemplative solitude. And silence.

**I'm talking about Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, which every reasonably civilized person should at least watch in cinema form if they're not up to reading its very dense and allusive and erudite pages. But you'd be cheating yourself, however wonderful the film is (which is very).

***An edifice which rejoices in the name of De'Ath's Dingle. Um.

****I don't know much German.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Paul Elard Cooley's THE BLACK: ARRIVAL

I enjoyed the hell out of my good friend* Paul Elard Cooley's The Black: A Deep Sea Tale, his debut in the aquatic horror/adventure genre, and so my expectations for this sidequel, in which a group of scientists on the mainland must grapple with the same creature that terrorized the oil rig in the first book, were high.

Readers of that earlier book will already know what to expect here. Cooley has nailed the technique of bogging the reader down in technical/scientific minutiae to heighten the tension of what we all know is coming, which means that, yes, the first third or so of the narrative is a bit of a slow burn as we get to know a new set of characters and their hopeful, happy little world before havoc is wrought upon it and them, and the novel explodes into an action-packed, yet claustrophobic, thrill-ride.

Again, some readers might get a bit impatient with this, if they are not immediately captivated by the relative novelty of the setting. I was captivated; the behind-the-scenes look at an industry on which we all depend, I found, is intrinsically interesting as well as providing the perfect backdrop for what is at bottom an animal vengeance tale.

We don't learn a whole lot more about the monster, except perhaps that it is a bit more capable than it had appeared in the first book. No one gets much chance to study it while it chases brilliant scientists around a quarantined facility. Perhaps more knowledge is forthcoming in the third novel, but perhaps not: knowledge can blunt the edge of fear, and stories like this work best when fear is sharp and vicious.

As it is, we do encounter a sort of Weeping Angels diminution here, as the monster takes rather a familiar form for scenes of open pursuit that, while tense and adrenaline-eliciting, are not as creepy as the slower and more insidious flow of the entity that characterized our first encounter with it. A certain type of reader (and I am that type) might get distracted by questions of how an entity that spent untold eons as a puddle of goo under incredible pressure at the bottom of the ocean knew how to [REDACTED], for instance.

Fortunately, though, the characters are real enough, sympathetic enough, and resourceful enough to distract from such distractions, to pull the reader back into caring about their immediate and horrible predicament. Time to wonder about that stuff later. We need to ESCAPE!!!!

And, too, as with the first novel, which hinted obliquely at the parallel horrors unfolding in this one, The Black: Arrival hints obliquely at parallel horrors occurring elsewhere in the screwed, screwed city of Houston that we'll no doubt observe in the next book. Oil: The Revenge has not yet spent its fury. And Cooley, as he always proclaims, does not believe in happy endings.

I can't freaking wait!

*Once again, since Cooley is my friend, I do feel I should issue a bias alert, but just in case you think my judgment of this work clouded, you can head on over to Paul's site and listen to the audio version of this or his earlier book for free.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hilary Mantel's WOLF HALL

For a book that I originally rage-quit after only a chapter or so back when it was first published, Wolf Hall has proven to be pretty much exactly the kind of historical fiction I have most wanted in my life, now that I know the "secret" of its lack of dialog tags and highly unorthodox pronounery. That secret being that about 98% of the time, the "he" and "him" pronouns, regardless of the context clues surrounding them, are meant to refer always and only to Thomas Cromwell, blacksmith's son, sometime soldier of fortune, lawyer and courtier to King Henry the Overrated, I mean Eighth, of England.

And yes, of course, it was the BBC TV adaptation that prompted me to give the book another chance, because there is always so much that is interesting and amusing that gets glossed over when cutting things down to a mass-consumption-and-camera-friendly version of a novel. And boy, is there.

Ah, Thomas Cromwell. His very story gives lie to the whole notion of the divine right of kings, of their complete and utter supremacy, of their paramount importance. Junker Heinrich (as Martin Luther referred to Henry VIII) could still order one's head struck off, but it wasn't too hard to avoid that, really, unless, of course, you were married to him and served as extremely public proof that he mostly shot X chromosomes when he didn't shoot blanks, as it were. The others he had beheaded were those who were stubborn about imaginary sky daddy doctrine and/or swore they owed obedience to a different divinely ordained figurehead over in Rome. Smart people were flexible on these points, and kept their heads while they went about the business of actually running the country (well, until they picked the wrong replacement wife, but Cromwell's ultimate fate does not come to bear on this particular novel's narrative), as Cromwell demonstrates mid-narrative in an interview with the deeply silly Henry Percy, who would keep insisting that Henry couldn't marry Anne Boleyn because Anne was already Percy's wife:
How can he explain to him? The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift West and are burned up in the Sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.
In other words, this is the beginning of the end of the rule of inherited authority. The future is for those who work both hard and smart, rather than those who happen to have lucked into the correct noble surname and thus don't work at all unless some peasants or heretics  need killed.

Speaking of killing heretics, OMG, Thomas More. As a girl raised on great old films like A Man for all Seasons, I was more than a bit shocked at his portrayal here; he's pretty much the villain of the piece (but of course, for that matter, Cromwell is usually the villain-or-something-like-one in tales of this period, no?). Seen from Cromwell's perspective, he is a snob, a heartless and often cruel enforcer of orthodoxy, and, most importantly, a man who feels perfectly justified in breaking promises to, lying to, and treatng as sub-human anyone he deems a heretic. Which is pretty much everybody who goes along with Henry VIII's party's program to install Queen 2.0.

Cromwell-the-character, meanwhile, remains, if not exactly compassionate, at least passionate about sparing More a degree of suffering that seems wholly unnecessary. One tiny, practical compromise, saying "some words" and More could go home to a family that loves him, a comfortable estate, a good life overall. More had to earn these things just as Cromwell had to; why doesn't he value them as Cromwell does?

For we see in this portrayal that Cromwell certainly did. Under different circumstances -- his daughters' survival into adulthood, say, which might have filled his house with grandchildren -- he might not have been as willing to rise quite so high as he did? Certainly there is a sort of turning point late in the novel, when the last of his wards/foster children marries a household staffer of his and moves out of Cromwell's house, taking the staffers's children with him, that Cromwell seems very like an empty nester. Might as well become king in all but name...

Ah, but then there are the Boleyns, of course: Sir Thomas, scheming and smooth; George, touchy and annoyed; Mary, pimped out to royalty until she's had enough (really, Mary is a fascinating character here, a survivor who shields herself with amusement and has fun sharing her strategies with Cromwell); Anne, Queen 2.0 whose dark eyes Cromwell imagines as clacking like beads on an abacus. They've a mind to ruling, too, and outnumber him. Fortunately for him, too much of their power rests on Anne's uterus (though, really, it's on Henry's testicles, no?).

Cromwell will have to work much harder than any Boleyn to get himself beheaded. Even harder than More, whose execution ends this first novel (I believe Anne's ends the second, so surely Cromwell's will end the coming third).

And meanwhile, waiting in the wings, is Jane Seymour, of Wolf Hall, a place for which this novel is named but at which no action takes place; we are meant merely, I think, to feel it as a looming presence only. Queen 3.0 is ready.

Monarchy, man...

*Never mind, for now, that these guys turned out to be big jerks, too. Just let me enjoy this moment, mmkay?

Monday, May 11, 2015

SUNS SUNS SUNS: The Claw of the Conciliator 11-15

Back in Chapter 10, Jonas did a pretty good job of summing up what Severian thinks his goals are at this point in the story, even as he mocks how some of them just might cancel each other out:
You want to serve Vodalus, and go to Thrax and begin a new life in exile, and to wipe out the stain you say you have made on the honor of your guild -- though I confess I don't understand how such a thing can be stained -- and to find the woman called Dorcas, and to make peace with the woman called Agia while returning something we both know of to the women called Pelerines.
 Can Severian do any of this, at this point, let alone all of this? We'll see. But first he has a Very Special Meal to eat, and it's even ickier, and more life-changing, than we've been led so far to anticipate, for the "analeptic" (stimulant) quality of the alzabo is just the first course of this bizarre "meal."

Recall that Severian first met Vodalus and Thea in the midst of a grave-robbing. Didn't you wonder what they were going to do with the corpse? Now we're going to find out. Not, of course, with the corpse that they were stealing back then. Oh no. There is a much more important corpse out there now. And it's been roasted for increased edibility, but then dressed and posed so artfully that for a second, Severian seems to think that maybe Agia's note didn't lie, because THE MAIN COURSE IS THECLA!

So now Severian has something in common with this little lady. We thought she liked eating Eddie...

Maybe, though, Columbia would have been less upset if she'd gained the sort-of-benefit that Severian does here, because alzabo+Thecla+Severian's freakish Marilu-Henner memory = Thecla's entire experience, even a sort of print of her mind, now permanently shares Severian's skull with Severian.* Just the way we'll learn that someone else does much later on, for Vodalus & co. are not the only ones who exploit the strange properties of the alzabo. But so, no wonder Severian is crazy, and some of his narrative flights of memory seem so discombobulated; he's recording his story years later, and his skull is not entirely his own. Sometimes Thecla cuts in with her own memories. And perhaps someone else has a say in things, too. Dude. And so again, when he says that it's really Thecla's education that makes him capable of holding his own amongst the cultured, it literally is: what she learned and how she learned it, in minute biographical detail, is how Severian knows what the Snape people are talking about.**

But here's the thing: many people are sharing this experience, though for everyone else memories of it will fade naturally. For a time, though, all these people in Vodalus' inner circle are now going to experience all of Thecla's life in some degree. Including her time in the Matachin Tower of the Torturers' Guild. Including all the times she had sex with Severian. Well, I'd feel a little weird about that, were I Severian, is all I'm saying. Some of the guardsmen who'd escorted Severian and Jonas to this gathering were kind of ickily excited about the Sharing (and it seemed to make a difference to them that their, uh, meal, this time was a pretty Exultant woman). So, um, eww.

But anyway! We also finally learn about the mission Vodalus has in mind for Severian: go to the House Absolute -- it turns out that Dr. Talos' theatrical troupe has been invited, so he and Jonas have the perfect excuse to be there -- and pass on a message (in the form of a small piece of steel, vaguely knifelike, of the kind you strike a piece of flint against to get a spark and start a fire) to whoever gives the code phrase "the pelagic argosy sights land"; and if a return message is then given, Severian can pass it on to anyone who tells him "I am from the quercine penetralia."

So, I think at least the first code phrase is referring to the megatherians -- a pelagic argosy being, basically, a flotilla near the shore? Really near the shore if it's sighting land? But as for the "quercine penetralia"... um, quercine basically means "oak" or "oaken" and "penetralia" refers to interior or private parts but NOT ONLY IN THE SEXYTIMES SENSE YOU GUYS I've seen the word used in the context of describing, say, rooms deep inside a house. So, I'm from the heart of the oak? But oh wait, that was the name of a naval song in Nelson's navy! They played it on Jack Aubrey's ships sometimes in Patrick O'Brian's novels. So that, too, is rather an oceanic or nautical thing to say. So, yep, it's all about the megatherians. Or at least those among them or their lackeys who "wait until man is purified again, ready to join with them in the conquest of the universe."

Next morning, Severian and Jonas(who reveals he didn't eat any Thecla, actually doesn't really eat much at all [because he's most likely a cyborg, about which more some other time]) wake to find everybody's gone, but they've been left with some very nice horses to speed them on their way to Autarchland. Easy peasy, lemon -- what the hell is that? Oh look, we're back in Clark Ashton Smith territory again, as ATTACK OF THE WEIRD BLACK DRAPY THINGS THAT SUCK HEAT. Which Severian quickly learns are a mistake to slice up with his sword because that just makes more of them. Fortunately, as bravely bold Sir Robin Severian runs away, he comes upon an uhlan (basically, a lancer, except this is a POWER LANCE THAT SHOOTS BLUE BOLTS OF POWER, YO) and basically maneuvers the "Notules" into attacking the uhlan instead. Of course the uhlan fights back, but of course his BLUE BOLTS OF POWER, YO just give the things more energy and they finally overwhelm the poor sap and GET SUCKED UP INTO HIS MOUTH AND NOSTRILS.

So the uhlan seems to be basically dead, but neither Severian nor Jonas seem particularly concerned about that. Jonas, it turns out, has encountered these things before and knows that the only way to really deal with them is to contain them in something air-tight. So he draws each of them out of the guy's head and stashes them in the guy's little herb box and BOOM, they're done.

But now Severian is feeling a bit guilty about sic'ing the notules on a probably-innocent stranger, and gets an idea. While Jonas gets the horses, he whips out the Claw and puts it on the uhlan's head for a moment and maybe it brings him back to life? But then Jonas just thinks he wasn't quite dead? But never mind, because Hethor is here! And he's brought us a new friend, Beuzec!****

Why are you looking at me like that?

I haven't talked much about Hethor in these posts yet, but it's not because he's not an interesting guy. I'm just trying for SOMETHING like brevity here. Hee. Anyway, Hethor, whom we last saw whining over the loss of his sex doll, has declared himself Severian's "slave" and has been following him doggishly since forever and will turn out to have been the author, by mysterious means, of the notules, as well as many other weird and inimical creatures Severian encounters in his travels. Now, Robert "Solar Labyrinth" Borski has a whole thing about Hethor and maybe Beuzec too being shapeshifters (and thus aliens?) as the best explanation for how Hethor manages to cart his menagerie of monsters around, but as far as I can guess, Hethor is named for St. Ethor (aka Hethor), a Celtic saint and martyr who was killed with 89 other monks in a Viking raid. And as for Beuzec, Beuzec is an alternate name for another Celtic saint, Saint Budoc, who was supposedly born in a cask in which his mother had been sealed by her jealous stepmother ("beuzi" being the Breton word for "drowned"), who no sooner had been born than was reassuring his terrified mother that "we have nothing to fear. God is with us, we are near the end of our voyage, and the time of consolation God promised us by his angel is at hand." He grew up to be a great churchman, whose saintly relics if sworn on guaranteed punishment to those who broke their oaths. But so that kind of blows Borski's shapeshifter thing by his own logic, because only humans from Urth get saints' names in BotNS?

Anyway, it still doesn't preclude Hethor's being some kind of beastmaster, possibly one with access to the same weird mirror technology we learned about in the story of Father Inire and the fish.

But enough about Hethor and Beuzic for now, because suddenly all attention is on a flash of white in the distance and it's like H&B aren't even there anymore. And off goes Severian on a wild walking statue chase.

Walking statues? Yes. Four times life-size and inhumanly beautiful and walking around what is rapidly becoming a garden as they progress. Maybe we're closer to the House Absolute than we think, yes? Yes. Because suddenly praetorians! In impossibly shiny and reflective armor that makes them very hard to see, so perfectly does it mirror their surroundings! And they've arrested Severian and Jonas and, presumably, Hethor and Beuzic! And it turns out that they've all been on/in the House Absolute for quite a while now, because the House Absolute's roof is covered in soil and stone and flowers and paths and walking statuary! Because the House Absolute is underground! As Thecla already kind of knew, come to mention it, but Severian is still getting acquainted with how the whole Head-Thecla thing works.***

But soon it's 100% Thecla memory as Severian works out where they've been brought: the infamous Antechamber, where we soon learn generations of prisoners have lived and died waiting for an audience with the Autarch to explain away their crimes. Or their ancestors' crimes? It's all very weird and terrifying and monstrously unfair. Jonas winds up shanghai'd into lengthy conversation with a lot of people who have never been outside of the Antechamber, whose parents never got out, etc etc until they have a lot of weird funny ideas of what the outside world is like, on the order of believing that the people who carry sugar are armed with swords to defend it****, because the whole concept of "bees" got lost in a big game of generational Chinese Whispers.

Meanwhile, Severian has been pulled aside by two old people, Lomer and Nicarete (no, not the stop smoking aid, but rather a lady whom our friend Robert Borski has convinced me just might be the mother of Thea [Vodalus' girlfriend] and Thecla, the latter being Nicarete's-or-someone's illegitimate daughter by the Autarch). Lomer seems to be a garden variety offender, but Nicarete, Nicarete is in the Antechamber voluntarily! She claims it is in order to help humanity earn the forgiveness of all the pissed-off-aliens who sent the megatherians by way of making it hard for society to forget that there are generations of people trapped here in the Antechamber. But she appears to have grown old there, so, how's that working, huh?*****

And then we come to Jonas' big freak out. What he has learned from the habitual prisoners is bothering him in lots of ways, right into a big ol' existential crisis. He reveals some things. Like that the group of prisoners he was talking to all claim to be descended from a guy named Kim Lee Soong, a name that seems to have considerable meaning for Jonas because it might just have been his original name when he was 100% organic human, centuries ago, and was maybe part of an early wave of space colonists from, not Urth, but Earth (a time and place when Kim Lee Soong "would have been a very common kind of name")...

BUT, no time to ponder that now, though, because lights out! And they really mean it. It's pitch black in there at night. Except when it isn't. Except when it's lit up by brilliant flashes of green light, which are pretty much our clues that there is danger, not only because they are unusual, but also because they are a good sign that our friend the Green Man is making another time-tripping attempt to pay off his debt to Severian by saving his life! Chaos ensues! Severian hears "the clear laughter of a young woman: then it was gone."

And... scene. More or less.

*A crowded, crowded place is Severian's skull. But I'm trying not to be entirely spoilery here. But it's a crowded, crowded place.

**And but so take that, Severian sister-hunters. I submit that the puzzle of Severian's missing sister (eyeroll) that so many are on about is entirely beside the point. Severian has one woman that he is closer to than any other (and yes, Robert Borski, she meets the creep-o criterion for female relatives in that he has boned her), and that is Thecla, living in his head. She may be dead, but she has a more intimate connection to Severian than anyone could (well, except for [REDACTED FOR NOW]). And it is perhaps this, the ultimate in highly developed feminine sides, that gives Severian the edge in terms of New Sun candidacy. That also-ran, Appian [HEE], only got a feminine side after he was gelded for his failure. Har. I am the funniest Gene Wolfe blogger.

***For me, it's impossible not to imagine this relationship as being pretty much exactly like Head-Six on Battlestar Galactica. And yeah, I could picture James Callis playing Severian, come to think of it. Hmm.

****There is probably something very clever to be said tying this remark to the former life of the current-within-this-part-of-the-narrative Autarch, Appian, who apparently started palace life as a honey steward, but it's not coming to me now. Nor is the clever remark about the Antechamber being a microcosmic hologram of Book of the Long Sun's generational spaceship full of people who don't remember that the artificial intelligences that govern the ship are artificial intelligences governing a ship but rather think they are gods who control a small hollow earth lit by a really gigantic fluorescent tube suspended in the middle, which they call the Long Sun. Insert your own here.

*****Nicarete's namesake saint is pretty interesting, too, by the way. An early (5th century) Christian, she was a student of theology and became a physician and follower of St. John Crysostom, whom she once cured of a stomach problem. I don't know for sure how transgressive it was then for a woman to be involved in this kind of stuff, but it kind of fits in with our character's self-given mission to make sure the poor dwellers of the Antechamber aren't forgotten, eh?