Parallel Lives

Parallel Lives by Parker Gordon is a wibbly-wobbly astral time-travelling puzzle-solving caper. There were points where I thought the narrative got a little unclear, a couple times it seemed the narrative was treading the same bit again without reason to do so, and maybe a couple things didn’t feel like they got resolved in the end. Maybe it could have been done in half the number of page, but I don’t regret getting through them. Overall it was an engaging and interesting story of strange big society-level and believable small interpersonal-level battles engaged across time.

I made 53 highlights.

Little Boy Lost

The Librarian: Little Boy Lost by Eric Hobbs is a neat framing pastiche which sets up a premise where the Astoria Public Library (in nearby-ish to me Astoria, Oregon!) is magically connected to famous public domain fantasy worlds from other books, like Neverland, Wonderland, Oz. I couldn’t help but be interested in a story with a magical library. Definitely targeted at a younger audience, but it was still interesting enough as, mentioned already, a pastiche and a bit formulaic in places. I’m not likely to read the next installment, but it was good for a lark, and I’m sure it would be more fun for someone more in the directly intended audience.

There was one interesting thought I had while reading this that I’m not entirely sure was intended, but one of the themes is how the characters in the famous stories are trapped by the writing to repeat the same thing over and over forever. “It was the curse of living a life controlled by words on a page” was something I highlighted. They are trapped by the words in their books. This seemed an interesting allegory for me about people who let themselves be trapped in their lives by books, whether for escape or as sacred volumes. The thought I got from this was that people curse themselves by such things, and don’t let themselves live their own creative lives. To be sure, there’s a creative cosplay and fanfic way to engage with personally meaningful books, but there’s also a way to become small and narrow and diminished. The former seems fun and fine for everyone. The latter seems a true curse to not only themselves but the rest of us as well.

I made 6 highlights.

The Golden Key

The Golden Key: And Other Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman collects three tales that presumably didn’t make the cut into Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. It’s a bit like an outtakes reel, especially since in the introductory material Pullman seems to be shitting on these stories a strange amount. I started to wonder if this was something he was forced into doing, that he didn’t want to do, like Kurosawa being forced by his studio to do Sanjuro as a sequel to Yojimbo (so he went off the reservation, and subverted expectation).

I wasn’t familiar with these stories so they were new to me. Anyhow, they aren’t all that bad. There’s some good moments. It’s short.

I made 10 highlights.

Alighting on His Shoulders

Alighting on His Shoulders: Ten Tales From Sideways Worlds by T Thorn Coyle is a collection that hits so many different genre buttons it makes its own meta music. There’s a wide variety on offer here and within the ten stories there’s a lot of different things to like. For example, there’s a couple that reminded me of Charles de Lint‘s Newford sequence, there was an angels on earth Supernatural / The Prophecy offering, there was a modern gothic fairy tale feeling in another like The Night Circus or The Devil’s Carnival and maybe a little bit of Killer Klowns from Outer Space for me, and more. Each of the ten stories collected in this brief volume hits some grand genre button for me, and the whole feels far more engaging and fully realized than the short length of the volume would suggest.

Although I’ve long been familiar with T Thorn Coyle from her works on more occult subject matters, and have, to be clear, met her in person several times and so on; this was my first encounter with her fiction. I can honestly say that I’m definitely a fan, and can highly recommend this collection on its own merits.

Also, in passing, I wanted to mention that the work on the ebook formatting and production was extremely well-done, enough better than many and most that I noted it.

I made 22 highlights.

RIDE

RIDE from The Janos Corporation purports to be written by a pulp-era writer Henry Abner, and from “newly discovered manuscripts … currently being edited and released” after his death.

The fictional author Henry Abner is described as “the pen name of hard-boiled fiction author Henry Abner Sturdivant” who “had a long career in law enforcement, and served as the chief of police of Washington, Georgia from 1921 until his death in July of 1935”. When I looked there were no authoritative external references anywhere other than a Wikipedia page presented with a straight face for Henry Abner. I pretty much convinced myself that Henry Abner is as much a literary fiction as “his” works. Turns out now that Wikipedia page has since been deleted and there’s a talk page about Henry Abner’s page as hoax. Guess the actual author also created a gallery of shopped images which I didn’t find when I was looking, until now. But, you know, well played, I suppose: a little bit of promotional fun.

This book is first in the Tales from the Goddamned Lonely Universe series, for which there is another volume. There’s a third volume which is the first in The Goddamned Lonely Universe Saga, apparently a different series. Nothing new in either sequence has been released in the interim between my read and this review, and there doesn’t appear to be any discussion of other volumes on the JanosCorp website, so maybe that’s all we get, but if this collection is any indication of the others that’d be a shame, especially as it seems like there were plans for more.

RIDE is a collection of stories held together by the presence in them of a particular robotic taxi. I found a feeling of familiar fictional future here. The taxi reminds me of the one driven by Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element, and the neo-noir setting seems quite similar to the gritty, grungy future New York in that film. My mind also included Harry Canyon’s taxi story from Heavy Metal. There’s interstitials between each story with in-world ads, which adds a kind of Verhoeven touch, that for me included by indirect reference the feeling of Robocop‘s Detroit. The stories don’t feel dated; since, you know, they aren’t actually old that makes sense. It’s a fun and interesting collection for fans of the genre to dig in, and suggests a lot of promise for the other “Henry Abner” books, which I’ve already added to my to-read stack.

I made 4 highlights, but, hey, it’s short!

Bohemian Society

Bohemian Society by Lydia Leavitt is a very short, around 50 pages, volume in which I made a around one highlight each page, so I’ll probably end up adding this old work to Hermetic Library, though, if there was a direct connection to the library subject matter, I’ve forgotten it. This is a story about a gathering where people tell stories within the story, an interesting historical snapshot of early 20th century society, and an interesting collection of stories. Here is an interesting, and perhaps not entirely imaginary, social circle in action, sharing ideas.

Well read and familiar with such writers as Tyndall, Huxley, Spencer and other scientists, and being rather cosmopolitan in tastes, liked to gather about her, people who had—as she termed it—ideas.

I made 52 highlights, some of which were truncated because of how many adjacent and lengthy highlights I made.

Unto Thee I Grant

Unto Thee I Grant: The Economy of Life by S Ramatherio is one volume in the AMORC book series. This work is also found in other editions, not from AMORC, as The Economy of Life and Infinite Wisdom published in 1923, from which the AMORC edition was probably derived.

Unto Thee I Grant as it appears here is an insipidly stupid collection of comically weak aphorisms written in an entirely unnecessarily pompous archaic style that falls victim to that familiar old fallacy of pretension to imaginary lineage and provenance.

Unto Thee I Grant also has historical interest as one of the sources that Drew Ali used to construct The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America, along with Dowling’s The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. So, the AMORC edition taken from another publication was taken for even yet another publication!

Some of this strange twisting history can be found discussed in Peter Lamborn Wilson’s Sacred Drift, especially page 21, and Roberto Tottoli’s Routledge Handbook of Islam in the West.

I made no highlights at all.

The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is a emotionally strong and heartfelt story of a woman hired for a time to be care for a former professor of mathematics who is suffering memory issues due to an accident. The woman, her young boy, and the former professor come to care for each other and have a meaningful brief, almost accidental, time together.

I find that I wanted there to be more mathematics integral to the story than there were, and to to be more core to the way the story develops, implying the philosophical thoughts and feelings. The professor might as well have been a professor of baseball, but, I suppose, to be fair, the professor’s mathematics was reflected in the story by his love of baseball, and that allowed the mathematics itself to be unintimidating and approachable. But I kinda wanted more from that that I got.

Overall, a nice story that provides, for a few moments, a wholesome but emotional journey and character study.

I made 25 highlights.

I Am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is a post-apocalyptic, last human alive, vampire story that is delightful and adds a couple deep new twists to the genre that are still fresh even after the intervening years since the original 1954 publication date. Somehow I hadn’t ever read this before, and I’m glad I finally did. Moreover, reading the story makes the 2007 big screen adaption with Will Smith even that much worse than it seemed at the time; gods, they really screwed that up, and how!

I made 39 highlights.

Pines

Pines by Blake Crouch is the first installment in the Wayward Pines series and inspiration for both the Wayward Pines television series and many additional Kindle Worlds Novellas. I read this in conjunction with the audiobook read by Paul Michael Garcia.

I enjoyed the first season of the television series. Were there additional seasons? I’m not sure what was happening in my life, but I stopped paying attention. But, the first season was good. I think I must be, if what everyone else says about themselves is true, one of the few fans of M Night Shyamalan stories; I really dig how he subverts expectation through creative narrative. The Wayward Pines series seems extremely well aligned to that style and perfect for his stewardship in bringing the book to a live action series.

But, I wish I’d not seen the live action adaptation before reading this, as I really had a difficult time feeling like I wasn’t just repeating the same ground with which I’d become already familiar. The story and twists were just not repeatable experiences for me, and reading the same story didn’t reveal any new depth or any surprises. Perhaps that speaks well for the way the series was developed, but I’m afraid it may just be that the story was too thin and shallow, in spite of the wild premise, to provide joy when experienced more than once.

And, if truth be told, I’m not really a fan of how this was written. I think the audio narration by Paul Michael Garcia did a yeoman’s job adding emotional depth and emotional changes to the written word otherwise missing. Overall, the writing seemed unemotional and formal, almost like an episode of Dragnet. Not only was that awkward, but there were some writing choices that were just bizarre, and jarring; for example, at one point, a dangerous and deadly creature is described as leaping like a ballerina, and I can be pretty damned sure the image that appeared in my brain was not intended by the author, and was not in service to the story and destroyed my immersion in it at that moment. Sometimes words are used just to use them, without really being in service to the story.

However, the idea of the story is still compelling. If you’ve not worn out the novelty it would provide, by seeing the series, this could be worth reading. It’s a cool premise.

Also, I have a hard time being so tough on the writing as the back material in the book makes it clear how this was the culmination of 20 years of inspiration provided by the revolutionary phenomena of David Lynch’s original Twin Peaks. That’s a worthy progenitor that lends gravitas to the book that is missing in and of itself. Oddly, that’s a bit like how much more I liked M Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water after watching the bonus materials, revealing a warmth of heart I didn’t get from just the feature, but that provided a welcome halo effect after, making the whole better.

I made no highlights at all.

Pride and Joy

Runaways, Vol. 1: Pride and Joy by Brian K Vaughan and Adrian Alphona is a story of six friends that stumble upon a shocking super-powered secret about their parents, and discover their own secrets in response to their parents as they become a team in spite of themselves. They become their heroic selves and find they have meaningful purpose for being in the world. The art and writing are not complex, but, even still, a lot happens in these first 8 issues in the collection. Also, the promise and premise provides ideas that are complex, and offer a depth for those looking for it. I hope the rest of the series develops those potentials further and eventually reveals itself to be narratively as superpowered as the heroes.

A live action adaptation of Marvel’s Runaways, once planned to join the cinema releases, is now scheduled as coming to Hulu in November 2017, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Who Goes There?

Fantastic novella Who Goes There? by John W Campbell is, of course, the inspiration for The Thing movies, including the 1953 The Thing from Another World, John Carpenter’s masterpiece rendition, and a re-remake that I’ve not seen. For some reason, the ebook version I read is no longer available, perhaps there were rights issues; but it can be found still in an edition with an introduction and screen treatment by William F Nolan, which I didn’t have in my edition, so I mention that only in passing.

As great as Carpenter’s rendition was at fulfilling the story as written better than the older movie, there’s still elements that were not brought fully to screen. So, even having seen both the previous movies several times, and Carpenter’s an untold number of times, if I’m honest, there was still a novelty to reading the original story that revealed a whole new dimension in the narrative to explore. There were places where the story shows its age, but it was still a damned fine experience of creep and paranoia. For example, the initial character descriptions are pretty stock manly men for heroes and degraded manliness for those not heroes. Another example is that the absolute end was a bit of stale period B-movie coda that wasn’t quite as great as the rest. But it is, ultimately, more than just what it was.

I made 12 highlights.

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a retelling of a sequence of stories from the overall Norse corpus. There’s an arc, but it’s not a smoothly contiguous novelized story. But, the collection of stories are a good series, and well written. I also read this in conjunction with the Norse Mythology audiobook, read by Neil Gaiman himself. So, I had the author’s own voice to reinforce the rhythm and tone of the writing.

The brightest points were those where the alliteration and poetry arose in the writing and the reading. If this is your first approach to this material, I strongly recommend following up with the pure poetry of the poetic Edda and other source material. If you’re coming to this work already familiar with the source material, these bright points of alliteration and poetry will strongly strike you with memories of what you have already read. But, those moments feel a bit random in the whole, and not in places of the strongest action or in places that seem intentional for the story. They come and pass almost like a surprise for no reason other than, perhaps, they were inspired by such moments in the source material; though I didn’t try to go back and compare.

All in all, a good gift for someone new to the stories, and a welcome reminder for those already familiar with them. Also, having the whole read aloud by the author was a delight.

I made 70 highlights.

The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross is the first book in the ongoing Laundry Files series, for which there’s also several short stories to be found not listed with the series. I read this in conjunction with The Atrocity Archives audiobook, read by Gideon Emery.

This is the first time I’ve read anything by Charles Stross, and I’m slightly in shock by how awesome the first story in the book was. The book contains two separate stories, and the first, “The Atrocity Archives”, for which the volume is named, is a just smashed full of a perfect storm of geeky and nerdy nostalgia for my late 90s self, deeply mixing references to technology, Illuminatus!-style paranoia, magic, and eldritch otherworldly Cosmicism horror. The second story, “The Concrete Jungle”, was good, but not quite as awesome.

Wow. What a start! I’m still blown away by how I hadn’t read this before given how perfectly related the first story feels to so many of my interests, both when it was first published and even still. Then again, maybe the 2006 publication date was a little late to catch me in my 90s Internet-professional phase and too early to elicit the hyper-nostalgia I felt while reading it now. Well, I may have missed it then, but I’ve read it now, by damn.

I made 49 highlights.

Mittens

Mittens: A story about two women falling in love and doing really weird things to each other by Phoenix Baker doesn’t quite deliver on the “doing really weird things” promise in the subtitle other than hints and thoughts of things that happen later, and the two characters appear not so much to be “falling in love” but already in love. But this does offer a good first installment in what appears to be an ongoing “two women in love exploring kinks” series that does eventually delivers on the “weird things” part.

The story is well written, and has a very grounded and real voice full of joie de vivre. The characters feel completely real, and there are many moments of verisimilitude missing in other such stories, and more than most stories not even in this genre.

This first installment is essentially about that particular time when two friends realize, both in the sense of becoming aware and in the sense of making something actual, they are in love with each other and learn how to start negotiating what that looks and feels like for a couple comprised of someone who’s experienced in kink and a partner who is just starting their journey of discovery.

Not sure I’ll pick up the other volumes, but Mittens is a playful and warm and first part to a good story about kink, sex, and love that leaves you with the feeling of a happy glow and cuddle.

In the interest of transparency, I picked up this book because ads for it appeared on Hermetic Library’s Project Wonderful ad spaces.

I made 19 highlights, slightly over half are errors.

Mud and Horn, Sword and Sparrow

Mud and Horn, Sword and Sparrow by Brandish Gilhelm is the first book by the creator of Index Card RPG and host of the Drunken & Dungeons channel on YouTube.

This was a good, short story. There’s a unique narrative voice and a compelling swords and sorcery adventure. It’s worthy on its own merits, and does not require any knowledge of ICRPG, even though the setting Alfheim is used as a world in the game. The narrative feels deeper and more engaging than the short length would suggest, and it’s actually pretty darned epic.

However, I cannot recommend the ebook edition on Kindle as it is in awful shape from poor conversion. I made 358 highlights as I painfully read through this, and the vast majority of those were about sometimes egregious formatting errors. There were a few other errors, and a couple regular highlights, in the mix, but the formatting issues are overwhelming. So, pick up the print edition, or wait for the electronic text to get updated at some point.

Because of the sheer number of highlights about formatting issues and only having made a handful of non-issue highlights, I’m not making any of them public; but I did send them all to the author directly. (If I hadn’t been making notes to send to the author, I would have given up reading halfway through.) So, I hope a future update will make this good story possible to read for those buying the electronic version.

A Nation Under Our Feet Vol 1

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, & al., is narratively deep and visually impressive. There’s social, political, and economic allegorical levels to the story, which are welcome complexity to the overall genre. The inter-, intra-, and extra-, relationships that T’Challa must navigate and learn from are well developed and interesting to see explored. The art style is a nifty syncretic of many influences, both pan-african and including the futurism of Jack Kirby’s technological schematic visual lexicon.

This first collection starts out a little slow as it tries to deal with a bunch of previous narrative threads, but quickly picks up and builds a good foundation on which the following volumes can continue to construct. On the other hand, the apparently slow start also did give me a quick primer on the Black Panther series, which I am not familiar with, as this is the first I’ve read of any of them. These previous events are also the collective source of the current state of unrest and turmoil that is core to the developing story for both individuals and the collective groups involved. In that sense, I’ve just completely talked myself out of this being a problem and into it being a strength.

The last part of this volume includes a reprint of the very first appearance of Black Panther, in the pages of Fantastic Four, which is a nice bonus, and provides interesting comparison and parallax to the current artwork and writing, as well as being a bit of history to include.

I’ve already picked up the next 2 collected volumes, and am looking forward to the rest of the story.

I Can Explain

I’ll be honest. I picked up Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain, & al., because I saw the kerfuffle about the cover for the second volume, and grabbed both to support the series. It then languished in my to-read stack for a long time, but I got around to this and devoured it in one sitting.

This is freakin’ hilarious, and smart. The arc in this collection has a modern storyline with a cool narrative structure. It reminded me of Archer and Deadpool in various ways. The dialogue is witty and sharp, there’s tons of easter eggs in the panels to find, and fun cameos, not the least of which is Howard the Duck! And, it’s a female protagonist who’s the smartest person in the room, in charge, and unapologetic about any of that.

Great stuff I definitely recommend.

Demons by Daylight

Most of the narrative in the stories collected in Demons by Daylight by Ramsey Campbell occurs at night. Daylight, my ass. That’s about the level of quality here, with a few brief but truly good creepy spots that shine, in this rather mediocre repetitive-feeling collection not really worth the light needed to read the pages. I ended up finishing this out of spite, not because I cared at all for it. Publishers Weekly, with glowing blurb on the cover, was smoking crack in a gutter, if they saw any stars at all. Keep this in the dark where unpurchased things lurk, and don’t bother.

I made 11 highlights.