Thursday, December 26, 2013

Back in Little Niflheim...

I've spent most of Christmas week knee deep in Pemkowet, Michigan and its troublesome eldritch community. (again, I'm not sure why people use that word in a supernatural manner, while it's picked up connotations of supernatural goings on, it still means green.) Which can only mean I'm back in Jaqueline Carey's Agent of Hel series. The second book, Autumn Bones, came out recently, and I found it a much more balanced read than the first installment.

Again, we have out half demon with a tail protagonist, Daisy, working part time as a file clerk on Pemkowet's X-Files at the police station. She's sort of dating Sinclair, the Jamaican by birth supernatural tour guide who moved to Pemkowet from Kalamazoo at the beginning of the first book. This leads to issues, as Sinclair's twin sister shows up on Labor Day to drag him back to Jamaica The twin sister he never told Daisy about. The one who serves to balance Sinclair or vice versa.

Emmeline, the sister, is an Oxford educated lawyer, working with Sinclair's mother to get her elected to Jamaica's parliament. Sinclair has no desire to go back with his sister, since under the laws of the Obeah, the further into the light he goes, the further into the dark Emmeline goes.

This causes quite a bit of grief, since Sinclair has no desire to watch his sister pull an Anakin Skywalker.

Emmeline and her mother (also Sinclair's mother) show up with an ultimatum. Come back to Jamaica or else. Mommy dearest refuses to take no for an answer, so she unleashes Sinclair's grandfather's spirit on the town, thus creating a duppy.

Most of the book revolves around this particular conflict, which gets resolved in a very satisfying manner on All Hallow's Eve. (Hel herself mentions to Daisy that she has until midnight on Halloween to fix the issue before the wall between the living and the dead collapses because of the duppy.)

In the mean time, Daisy gets it on with Sinclair following a very amusing Satyr party at the gay bar in Pemkowet, then later mambos with long time crush and co-worker Cody, who happens to be a werewolf.

We also learn more about Bethany, Daisy's best friend's sister, who lives out at Twilight Manor trying to become a vampire, as well as Stephan, a ghoul working with Daisy on her anger management issues. (Her anger acts a bit like Stephen King's Carrie. It also could cause her to claim her demonic birthright and break the Inviolate Wall.)

And we get a fairy creature, Jojo, who I came to love, if only because she started throwing out Shakespearean insults at Daisy because Daisy dared to love Sinclair. While she never broke out the Painted Maypole comment from A Midsummer Night's Dream, she did work "scullion" into several conversations.  

Another new character is Lee (nicknamed "Skeletor". He evidently had as many issues in High School as I did.) Lee designs video games and helps Daisy build a searchable database for the X-Files in exchange for an audience with Hel herself.

Improved upon in this is Casimir, the gay shaman and head of the local coven. In the last book, he came off as a sissy sorcerer. In this one, he's much more fleshed out and not as bloody stereotypical.

With a few plots introduced to carry on into the next book, this one gets my award for most improved series writing. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oh No! Not the bees!

You can tell a novel is going to be fun when it starts with a trip to London Undertowen to meet the old Celtic god Lud and winds up in a good Christopher Lee movie/Bad Nic Cage remake.

Since the library didn't have a physical copy of Spirits From Beyond by Simon R. Green, I had to navigate through the Overdrive Media app to download the book digitally. I'll be honest, much as I like my Nook for some things (it's great for traveling, since I can watch NetFlix and check e-mail on it), but I'm not all that thrilled about trying to read on it, mainly since any movement with the device is a bit like waving your hand in front of a TV. Which means finding a level surface to put it on, then trying to find a comfortable position. Also, thanks to an old Mad Magazine parody, any title with the word "beyond" in it auto corrects in my mind to Bayonne. Thus making many horror/thrillers all about New Jersey.

Anyway, Spirits starts with JC being lonely in his room, missing his ghost girlfriend Kim. Who shows up after about a page and a half. She tells him to return to the building he investigated back in the second book. The rest of the team, Melody and Happy, join him, and they descend into London Undertowen. Whereupon we meet reanimated Druids who are part of the Flesh Undying's effort to wake up Lud to open a big enough gap in reality to let the Flesh Undying escape. Even if that would destroy the world as we know it.

As in many of Green's novels, this is more or less a prelude into the greater story that takes up the rest of the book. Which in this case involves being ordered to investigate The King's Arms Inn which is supposed to be a routine haunting.

Given this is Green, it's anything but routine. Once the Ghost Finders get beyond the normal haunting stuff "blood that never cleans up, stuff like that) and the locals get chased out by a storm, we delve into doors that switch what lies behind them (time slips, a being from Outside that eats the unwary paying guest....), a spectacularly angry young blond, a young suicide who once loved the current owner....

And oh yes, there are naughty bad evil druids of The Wicker Man kind. Who really don't figure much into the plot as much as they do the background on The King's Arms. No bees though, which puts this a step above the horrible remake.

When they're not busy being cheeky with the preternatural, we're getting some character rounding within the quartet. Kim is keeping secrets, JC is worndering why something from Outside saved him during the fight with Fenris Tenebrae (especially after a few cryptic comments from Lud and Kim both), Happy is back on "the pills", and Melody is dealing with the fact that her love of Happy can't save him from his addiction.

There's also a rather silly running joke about as as yet unseen character known as the Traveling Doctor. Who created an Index for the Carnacki Institute archives that's bigger on the inside. Given the ending on this one, I look forward to seeing what Green has in store next for these characters.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

And the Gods heard her prayer....

As promised with my last update, we're going to Eastern Europe and the Greek peninsula.Back in time to the Hellenic and Hellenistic eras, specifically. Back when the Gods roamed the Earth, having children with nymphs and humans alike.

The problem has been for a while that most translations tend to cut out the interesting parts in favor of making it a more G-rated pantheon. And given that most Americans only study Classical Mythology once or twice, usually in Elementary School, this makes sense, since no one really wants to discuss with prepubescents that Kronos cut off Uranos's penis or testicles (depending on translation) and threw them into the ocean, thus creating Aphrodite.

However, Oh My Gods by Philip Freeman tries to correct this a bit, with more accurate translations, although he did modernize a few of them. (This is not to say that he set them in modern time, more that some of the stories get a more modern filter.) This works well at times, however, it doesn't work well in other cases.

Again, we're getting the less sanitized translations here, which means we also get information on same sex lovers different gods and heroes took. (Like Pelops. Who's life ends when his dad, Tantalus, chops him up and makes him into a stew for the gods. Only Demeter doesn't notice, because of her Persephone issues. The Gods restore Pelops to life and make him a new shoulder to replace the one Demeter ate. Then he becomes Poseidon's lover before starting his own tragic house.) I will also say it was nice to hear the story of Perseus's conception as a shower of golden coins, rather than the less specific "Zeus came on Danae as a golden shower" in most versions (which carries a VERY different modern connotation than what the Greeks intended.)

On the bad side, the author takes any considerations of consent and seduction out of the picture (which other "adult" translations generally keep), thus making it seem like Zeus is less about questionable seduction and more about sexual assault. The main reason why I can't quite go along with this (and Zeus isn't the only one who seems to be performing forcible penetration while wearing a ski mask) is that most of the actual rape gets punished rather severely and violently in the mythos.

The book itself is organized by different subsets of myths, starting with Creation and running through the Aeneid and some of the myths surrounding the founding of Rome (Romulus and Remus, who sadly have nothing to do with Star Trek. Then three very brief tales of Romulus's descendants.) Most of them are fairly familiar, just more fleshed out than what one was taught early in life. And it becomes very obvious which tales the author loves the most, based on the treatments they get. (Really, he spends most of The Odyssey quoting directly from Homer, which is beauteous  in its own right. However, Theseus's travails get very glossed over, meaning we never really get a good glimpse at the challenges he faced. He also leaves off the tail end of Bellepheron's tale, where Bellepheron tries flying the Pegasus up the side of Olympus to join the gods and gets struck by Zeus's thunderbolt for hubris.)

Things I very much liked were his habit of discussing different tellings of the myths when multiple sources disagreed as to what happened. (The creation of man get lumped in here, since Plato's Republic and the discussion on the origins of soul mates gets thrown in. As do some of the fates of characters from Homer's epics.) I also loved the tales included under "The Lovers", since more than a few of them were new to me. Like Ceyx and Alcyone, who get turned into Kingfishers at the end. Or Pyramus and Thisbe, who are the subject of the play within a play in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. (I chuckled and said, "Oh Wall, show me thy chink!" when I read the myth.)

I also really enjoyed how Freeman presented gods about whom we can prove little about. Hades, for instance, is an Olympian, but the only major myth he really is a part of is more a story about Demeter. Or Hecate, whom we know was worshipped, but she shows up once in the myths. Much as I'd like to know more about those two and Hestia, who also really doesn't seem to have much to do, there really isn't much material that survived that goes into any detail about their stories.

One thing I really disliked is that there's no real chronology here. There isn't a real sense of what order this stuff happened in beyond the initial Creation and Clash of the Titans (when Zeus overthrew Kronus and cut off Kronus's genitals with the help of the Hundred Handed Ones) and the Heroes and the Lovers. Honestly, we don't enter any kind of chronology until the last few sections when we meet Jason and the Argonauts and proceed into the Illiad and the Odyssey and the Aeneid.

Now, I'm going to mention another book here as a contrast to Oh My Gods, one very near and dear to my heart. Great Zeus and All His Children by Donald Richardson, which is out of print. (Or at least it was in 1996.) The reason I know this one is that it served as the textbook for CLS 101 at Wright State University where I took the class and had my eyes opened to the myths beyond what I remembered loving as a kid. (Yes, I was a Classics minor.) Again, it's the unsanitized version, but, unlike Oh My Gods, Richardson made the myths as linear a narrative as could be done with several centuries worth of myths with lots of variations cropping up as the stories evolved. Richardson also kept as many of the titles and mnemonics as he could when referring to people places and things. Thus we hear about rosy fingered Dawn  spreading her fingers over the sky, the wine dark sea, etc. Richardson, however, left out more than a few stories that Freeman includes, and Richardson's gods are mostly heterosexual. I think Ganymede gets mentioned in passing.

There are also entire myths and fragments both books miss that I know from other sources. Like that of how Athena became Pallas Athena (Thus her Palladium in Troy), or bits of the story of Persephone before and during her abduction to Tartarus. (Like the boy she turns into a lizard who dies, then his shade feeds her the pomegranate seeds in Hades. Or how she takes the time to give Tantalus food and drink.)

I did label this as survey/synopsis, mainly because there are other things I want to mention while were here. The Greek myths have been around for quite some time, and show up both obliquely and blatantly in literature. The aforementioned Shakespeare borrowed heavily from them. Neil Gaimen borrowed from them for Sandman. There's a wonderful book by Marie Phillips called Gods Behaving Badly about the Greeks in the modern age. Heck, even I have borrowed from the myths to write a story or two.

There's also the exceedingly awful The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Which removes all the fun of the Illiad and replaces it with a so over the top parody of feminism Cassandra as to make it unreadable. I should have known better than to read it after reading The Fall of Atlantis. With a title like that, I was expecting Atlantis to sink. It didn't.

I'll also mention Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons, which is a very bizarre mix of Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and science fiction. Like 30th century recreations of Troy bizarre. With Caliban running around on Earth bizarre.

And the WebMage series by Kelly McCullough, which centers around the Greeks in the modern era as well. Even if his version of Persephone is much darker than what most of us will encounter in other collections.

There is one last book I'll mention, and this may be the only time I ever link to Amazon on here. Olympus, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Bruce D. Arthurs is one of the most amazing anthologies of modern Greek mythology. Like any anthology, some of the stories are hit or miss, but there are two standout comedies; one involves the entire House of Atreus on a Jerry Springer type talk show, the other involves Demeter getting annoyed that Persephone comes home early after a marital spat with Hades, forcing her to start Spring early. Those alone make it worth owning.

In short, Oh My Gods is a worthy read for anyone with an interest in the mythology of the Greeks and Romans. While you won't find all the myths, you will find a very wide selection and a bibliography of where the author found them. Which is very handy for when I actually learn Greek and brush up on the Latin.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

So, I saw this going around...

"In the status line list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard-they don't have to be "right" or "great works" just ones that have touched you."

The problem is, as I came up with my list, my desire to explain my picks filled the status section with too many characters. So, I'm blogging it here and adding explanations.

1) Greek Gods and Goddesses (I don't remember the author's name).

 I found this one in 3rd grade, I think. It was a slim volume, consisting of 24 stories, the 12 Olympians and 12 tales of figures in myths. It was black with white lettering and a stylized picture in thin blue lines on the cover. Admittedly, it was geared towards juvenile readers, but it awakened my interest in Greek mythology, something I've been studying ever since. (When I finish the book I'm reading now, we'll be returning to this.)

2) Adolph Hitler (Again, I don't remember the author.)

Found this one in 4th grade, I think. Having never heard of World War II or Nazis, or the Holocaust, it was a bit shocking to plunge into such a biography. I kind of chuckle, since the tone was one of "Hitler was born, and for that he deserves flaming bamboo shoots under his toenails"... (While I'll not be defending Hitler, I will say that he did actually do a few good things before going totally insane. I'll also point out that he had a lot of help in instituting his policys of evil. And yes, he deserved the bamboo shoots. But not just for being born.) This book makes this list since it got me interested in World War II. This book also got me discussing my own family's role in said war. It's a very interesting topic to me, and one I love researching.

3) It by Stephen King

Read this one the first time in 7th grade. While it isn't scary to me, nor did I find it scary at the time, it was a huge undertaking for me. It's also one I understand better as an adult than I did as a kid.

4) Lightning by Dean R. Koontz

Read this one in 8th Grade. Again with the World War II connection. Plus my Reading teacher loved Dean R. Koontz, and I loved her. We had some great bonding moments over discussions on books in this vein.

5) Imajica by Clive Barker

I can't begin to describe how much this book influenced me. Multiple worlds, bunches of theology, a non binary gendered character, and one of the sweetest gay couples in literature.

6) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This is the only book on this list I haven't read multiple times, and indeed, one that I really hated. So why is it on here? Because, even as much as I disagree with Rand on most things, and disagree with her reasoning on the conclusions she came to that I do agree with, and as poorly written and deathly dull as the book is, it also forces you to think. "It's not right" is not an argument. It required me to figure out why I hated it.

7) Great Zeus and All His Children by Donald Richardson

This was my Classics 101 text book, actually. Much more in depth than what I'd read previously. Again, we'll be returning to it after I finish the current book.

8) Men With the Pink Triangle by Heinz Heger

Interestingly enough, if you ever watch Bent, it borrows heavily from the account here. Well, except the ending. It's a depressing read, talking about the author's experience as a gay man from Austria convicted of being gay after Germany invaded Austria. While it's not Night by Elie Weisel, it shares some common themes and a lot less of the losing faith that colors Weisel.

9) The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike

Yeah, it's Young Adult. But it's a fairly solid meditation on death and coming to terms with mortality.

10) Midnight Express by Billy Hayes

Don't ask me why, but I loved this book. Yeah, the author was a bit of an ass, but his account of Turkish Prison was facinating. Even if they did edit some of the more interesting things out for the movie.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tis the season

I've discussed Discworld before; however, with the Holidays upon us, I feel compelled to bring up the very Christmas-like book of Terry Pratchett's, Hogfather.

A bit of background. Discworld is held up on the trunks of four elephants who in turn stand on the back of Great A'Tuin, a giant turtle floating in space. On Hogswatchsnight, the Hogfather rides through the sky on a sled pulled by several hogs delivering toys and presents to the good children of Discworld.

Well, except this year. DEATH shows up at his granddaughter's (Susan Sto-Helit) house dressed as the Hogfather. He tells her not to get involved. Which,  a classic grim reaper dressed in red velvet and a long beard showed up at your house dropping off presents and eating food meant for Hogfather, wouldn't you investigate?

There's quite a bit crammed into a fairly slim volume. Death's plotline involves him taking several Discworld traditions a bit too seriously (Saving the little Match Girl from freezing to death, thus annoying an angel; stealing food from the king's table to give a beggar an endless repast...) to trying to re-instill belief in a missing Hogfather by Showing up in full regalia at an Ankh-Morpork mall and giving children presents. (For which the owner tries to have him arrested. The Night Watch's reaction to this is priceless.)

In the meantime, Susan (along with DEATH-OF-RATS and Quoth the Raven) winds up at the Hub palace of the Hogfather, where she finds Bilious, the "oh God" of hangovers. The palace crumbles around her as she escapes. She winds up at Unseen University, which itself is being plagued by The Veruca Gnome and several other very minor god like beings. A consultation with HEX, the magical computer in the High Velocity Magic section concludes that with the Hogfather missing, there's much spare belief  floating around that's forming into these minor manifestations.

As the plots begin to collide, Susan winds up finding the home of The Tooth Fairy, where the Assassin Mr. Teatime (Te-ah-to-meh) is using the collected teeth of the children of Discworld to fuel a sympathetic magic spell that's causing the children of Discworld to forget the Hogfather. Here, we find out the true nature of the original Tooth Fairy, which is oddly touching for such a humorous setting.

Susan joins her grandfather for a final confrontation with the Auditors (who seeks to make the universe an orderly place and thereby kill it.) The Hogfather is reborn from his very earliest mythological roots and rides out for his midnight flight.

Later, Susan and DEATH reconcile in the nursery of the house she works as a governess in while discussing the importance of the Hogfather. Well, after a final confrontation with Teatime, of course.

It's really an oddly moving piece of fiction with some very funny bits thrown in. Probably one of the best balanced works in the entire setting, really. It also has one of the best adaptions of any of the Discworld novels. (The BBC made a wonderful TV adaption that does leave a bunch out, but it certainly captures the essence of the book. The other two adaptions I watched were horribly animated things that only passed any muster by having Christopher Lee voice DEATH.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

What a fine broth....

So, I could swear I read A. Lee Martinez's Gil's All Fright Diner, but I may not have. I did, however, read A. Lee Martinez's Too Many Curses, which wound up being very silly and occasionally poignant.

Our Heroine, Nessy, devotes her life to cleaning and organizing the evil wizard Margle's castle. He pays her in insults and a cot. Until the day he brings home an egg that hatches a One Eyed, one horned purple people eater. Which eats Margle them imprints on Nessy. Nessy, being a kobald, may or may not be the best mommy for a One Eyed, One Horned Purple People Eater, particulalry not in a castle filled with people cursed by her master.

Nessy, thankfully, is a very practical sort, She finds ways to scrape 30 minutes a day out of her busy life of polishing and alphabetizing and reading to the monster under her bed to study magic to reverse the multiple curses laid upon the inhabitants of the castle. (My favorite is the poor owl who was also cursed to speak in alliteration.)

Anyway, most of the plot revolves around The Door That Should Not Be Opened (which tends to wander the castle following Margle's untimely demise), a Demon queen trapped in the form of 10 million fireflies, and an evil wizardess looking to destroy the castle.

What we ultimately find is a message about how what we are cursed with is less important than what we are on the inside. Thus an Excalibur-wielding fruit bat.

It's geared towards a younger audience, but it remains a fun read.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ask not for whom the bell tolls...

We're coming full circle here at James's Genre Books, as I'm returning to the series that started this blog off.

One of the biggest issues with any series fiction is keeping things fresh. After all, if a relatively weak character spends every book going up against long odds and coming out unscathed, it kills any sense of suspense. How different authors get around this tends to color the series, from making the main narrator a god like necromancer schtupping every werecreature that moves to treating most of the lead's romantic interests like Bond girls.

Here, in Seanan McGuire's Chimes at Midnight, we see a more interesting trend. The Scooby Gang. Our Heroine, October Daye, Dóchas sidhe changeling and narrator, starts off by trying to stop the influx of Goblin Fruit and winds up involved in The Mists's revolution. Along the way, we meet new friends and expand on old ones.

Goblin fruit, originally grown only in one of the closed plains of existence, is instantly addictive to changelings, and exceptionally fatal for mortals. (It is for changelings as well. Just takes longer.) There's a rather large influx of the stuff on the Fae haunted streets of San Francisco,  and October and her crew are trying to take it out before it breaks the veil that hides Fairie from the mortal realm. Sadly, as October finds out, the Queen in the Mists is behind the current influx of the stuff. And in finding this out, October is given a 3 day notice of eviction and exile.

Which leads to seeking out The Sea Witch (one of Maeve's brood, and a First One, kind of the Antediluvians of the fay world) , who imparts on October knowledge that the Queen is not who she says she is. And thus is the major thrust of the plot, finding the real children of Gilad Windermere and getting them on the throne.

We get to meet Mags, the flighty librarian of The Library of Stars, who was one of my favorite characters in the novel. We also meet Madden, Cu Sidhe (dog fairy), who's guarding Anwen and her brother, in hiding from the usurper Queen in the Mists. (Madden is quite gay, and tends to steal the few scenes he shows up in.) Dianda, Queen of Saltmist, comes back for the revolution, and winds up providing some of the best scenes in the book, on the only way a mermaid kicking the crap out of guards can. That she swears like a proverbial sailor (not quite 4 letter words, but the intent is much the same) helps.

And, much like the authors note at the beginning promises, the end of this one and the short story tacked in the end of the novel set the stage for a much larger conflict to spread out over several novels. And that is a voyage I look forward to joining.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

We're short an insane man in a blue box.

I'm really at a loss on how to explain London Falling by Paul Cornell. It's got quite a bit in common with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, only much darker. Well, maybe not darker, just...grittier. And lacking in the humor inherent in Gaiman.

We start with two undercover cops, Sefton and Costain, on the last night of an 4 year long sting trying to nick Rob Toshack, sort of the Godfather of London. The two UCs are supervised by Quill, who's suspicious of Costain, since Costain seems to be breaking the first rule of undercover and doing the drugs he's "selling". And processing information on the case in the background is Ross, who we find out is Toshack's niece.

They do manage to arrest Toshack, not long after Costain (while wearing a recording device), manages to out himself and Sefton as UCs. Sefton, in the meantime thinks Costain has it out for him because Sefton is gay. Sefton, in the meantime, goes out of his way to get Costain in trouble as everyone gets rounded up.

Toshack goes quietly, and confesses to everything while being interrogated by Quill. At which point Toshack explodes into a big bloody mess. For no apparent reason.

This sets up thr thrust of the book, wherein the four principles investigate a soil sample found at one of the residences Toshack spent the night before the arrest visiting, only to be gifted with "The Sight". Which manifests itself in such ways as Quill finding his best buddy is being tormented by his Dad's ghost.

As Operation Toto proceeds (and the 4 coppers try to deal with the new gift), we find the chief suspect in Toshack's death is one Mora Losley, who had a season ticket next to Toshack at the West Ham Irons football team. (Football in the case meaning soccer. Since Europeans and Africans have no idea what real football is. Amurika! Heck yeah!) Mora, they figure out, seems to be in the habit of using the bloody explosion trick on anyone who scores a hat trick on her beloved Irons. Of course, they also find out the way to make people explode in blood is to boil three children alive. (Mora really needed a gingerbread house. Of course, given her familiar, she could just have easily lived in a hut dancing on chicken legs.)

As the story progresses, we get insight into all four of our protagonists and their various relationships, and, thanks to the aforementioned familiar, we also get to know Mora's history. Which makes her much more of a sympathetic character. Well, other than that whole boiling children in a big pot to kill people who score three points against a team playing a sport no one cares about.

In this, the first book of what will probably become a series (I say that, since the extradimensional entity Mora works for remains quite enigmatic through the end), we get several themes in what forms the metaphysics of Cornell's world building. Among other things, none of the wonderful abilities work outside London, and one of the running issues is what actual borders London has. Pretty sure the definition used in this is the outerbelt that forms the sigil for the Black hand of Mu, or whatever that joke was in Good Omens. What's true is less important than what's remembered when it comes to the setting.

Also, there is a very strong thread of isolation wrapped around almost every character in the novel.  And interestingly, it's the characters' isolation that eventually binds them together. Even if they do more or less form a standard Dungeons & Dragons adventure group in terms of roles within their cell.

I look forward to whatever followup Cornell eventually releases.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Back in St. Olaf....

In one of those rare cases of my picking up non-fiction, I happened to see Betty White's If You Ask Me (And You Probably Won't) at the library and picked it up.

I was kind of disappointed, mainly because I was expecting more narrative and a linear progression. However, as I found out later in the book, the 90 year old woman has 5 or 6 other autobiographies, which may be where I find something closer to what I was expecting.

So, if this isn't a true autobiography, what is it then? I'm glad you asked.

What's contained in these pages is a series of essays, usually a few paragraphs to a few pages, grouped under different topics about a more specific topic. Like the section "Animal Kingdom", which has 6 essays about various pets she's had, or animals she's met at zoos and aquariums.

Most of the sections dealing with her career have to do with TV (Hot in Cleveland, hosting Saturday Night Live) or some of her more recent movie appearances (The Proposal, You Again, The Lost Valentine). She does mention in passing how much her cast mates on Hot in Cleveland remind her professionally of the women of The Golden Girls, in that they're very professional and have great chemistry. She does discuss Sue Ann Nivens for a hot second or two, mainly discussing how the role was written as a "sweet, sugary, Betty White type".

Another major topic that comes up quite frequently is her now deceased husband Allen Ludden and how much she still loves him. Which is really hard to read at times. It isn't exactly full angst like one finds in in old LiveJournal posts, but more of a love that didn't die with him 30 odd years ago. Kind of reminds me of my mom these days.

She really does love all kinds of animals as well. One of my favorites among her animal anecdotes in here involves Koko, the gorilla who communicates with sign language.And who, when Betty visited, was undergoing an obsession with cleavage. The way Betty describes the situation, one can't help but laugh and see her disarming a gorilla that's semi-determined to remove her blouse.

Really, it's a fun, if very short read. It's a bit like sitting through a one woman show, with Betty telling stories for a few hours.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mendoza, you oaf!

True story. I've been postponing reading The Life of the World to Come by Kage Baker mainly because I've already reviewed 3 books in the series on here already and I wanted to space things out a bit.

And on a side note, This blog is about 13 months old now. Which I really wasn't expecting, since the last time I tried tracking my reading, it fell off after a few months. (Not that I post about everything I read, more than a few titles are either YA lit I picked up on Ebay or comic book collections, etc.)

Anyway, the series so far has alternated narration duties between Mendoza (books 1 and 3) and Joseph (books 2 and 4). Which should mean Mendoza should be narrating this one. And she does for the prologue. Living on Catalina Island in the WAY WAY BACK when animals hadn't yet crawled out of the sea, she chops vegetables for Company resorts to serve to guests. She mentions boredom, and how she sometimes sleeps for several years, based on her internal chronometer. And then a handsome man crashes a time ship in her front yard. Who also quite resembles Nicholas Harpoole, last seen burning at the stake in The Garden of Iden, as well as Edward Alton Bell-Fairfaix, last seen being shot by American agents and dying in Mendoza's arms in Mendoza in Hollywood. Alec Checkerfield comes from about 4 years before The Silence descends. Of course, he and Mendoza go a bit loopy and ravish each other in the primeval. She helps him disable the explosive device on his stolen time machine, and tells him how to avoid being sick from time travel. He promises to return once he has avenged his Captain, whom Dr. Zeus Inc. killed. Not loing after he leaves, Mendoza's journal gets cut off mid sentence. A Latin verse that roughly translates as Strong as death is love, hard as hell is envy. Well, it would if she had completed the sentence. Thankfully, Google found the full phrase and the translation he in 2013.

Anyway, the rest of the book follows two different plots. One follows young Alex, growing up on his father's ship, cruising the world, free from the regulations of the modern world of the 2300's. The other follows three effete men in 2350 who are trying to design better versions of the Enforcers,  who, as we found during The Graveyard Game, kind of went off the radar. Rutherford, Frankie Chatterji, and Foxen Ellsworth-Howard work for Dr. Zeus, tailoring genes to create a better Enforcer, under the codename Adonai. Which is amusing, since one gets the distinct impression they're trying to create a man who can be what it is they most desire but refuse to pursue for whatever reason. (Seriously. They walk outside at one point for what amounts to maybe a few blocks. They wind up with blisters on their feet and sunburns on their bald heads.)

Alex, on the other hand, spends most of his childhood blaming himself for his parents' divorce not long after they moved back to London. Mom leaves, Dad goes back to the sea. His caretakers give him a virtual playmate (to help keep children away from germs), whom Alex manages to reprogram on day 1. The Captain (Alex likes pirates, you see) pretty much loses most of his ethics programming, thanks to Alex, who is quite the savant when it comes to tech.

As Alex grows, he becomes quite rich, not only due to the fortune he inherited from his father, but from the profiteering he does running contraband on his ship, the Captain Morgan. He gets involved with a revolutionary group founded by one of his upper class peers.

In the mean time, results from the first two incarnations of the Adonai project come in and get reviewed. The first winds up burned at the stake. The second gets shot by American agents on Catalina Island. (Sound familiar? Particularly when the 3 creators get annoyed the same Preserver botanist is involved with both deaths.) The third one is being run in contemporaneous time, and you guessed it, is one Alex Checkerfield.

These two plots collide as Alex breaks into Dr. Zeus to steal a time machine to run guns to Mars One before everyone in the colony gets forcibly evicted. (This is a nasty subplot.) He manages to steal the time machine as the Captain gets taken offline by Dr. Zeus's avatar. Alex winds up in the WAY WAY BACK where he meets a beautiful preserver named Mendoza.

To make a long story short, the device Mendoza deactivates in the WAY WAY BACK ends up changing Alex's destiny, which ultimately leads to Alex getting an opportunity most of us don't get in life, that of meeting his maker(s). It also leads to a case of multiple personalities as Alex, Edward, and Nicholas end up inhabiting the same body. We also now have a name of someone who's been manipulating things behind the scenes.

As much as I want storyline resolution on what the heck happened to Mendoza, plus what's going to happen when Joseph wakes up his mentor, or find out what actually happened to Lewis, this book really brought out the themes of the series in a very readable way. I can't wait to find out what comes next.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Help Eleanor Come Home...

So, with the season upon us, I dug out Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, figuring a good old fashioned ghost story might help me get in the mood.

And given how much this book managed to influence just about every haunted house story that came after it, it's not a bad thing.

The book focuses on Eleanor, a very childlike woman with a history of poltergeist activity surrounding her in her youth. Eleanor essentially runs away from her sister, who didn't particularly want Eleanor to run off on some strange adventure. And given Eleanor thinks she hit someone on her way out of the parking garage, her sister's fears are probably warranted.

Anyway, due to her previous experience with the preternatural, Dr. Montague has invited Eleanor and a few others to come investigate Hill House for the summer and help prove the existence of ghosts. The main other one being Theodora, the bohemian who becomes something of a friend and occasional antagonist to Eleanor. Theo is probably a lesbian, although this comes through mainly as subtext. (Evidently, one couldn't really discuss sexuality in 1959.) The secondary other one is the drunken heir to Hill House, Luke.

The caretakers don't like the house, and remind everyone that they won't be in the house after dark.

Hill House itself is a character. All the angles are off. The house is plagued with a history of suicides and murders.

As the book goes on, we see haunting events that everyone experiences, and a few that only Eleanor is privy to. Also, many of them are left intentionally vague, leaving up to us, the reader, to figure out why Theo is telling Eleanor to run. Most of the manifestations that we do get to witness involve standards such as pounding on the walls, door knobs turning on their own accord. Then we get personal ones like Eleanor becoming convinced it wasn't Theo's hand she was clutching in the dark.

Eleanor, to put it quite succinctly, is a few fries short of a happy meal. One of the biggest questions is whether the haunting is all in Eleanor's head, or just being magnified by her presence in the house. Given that she sort of gets sucked into the house about 2/3 of the way through, I rather tend to think there's an actual presence in the house, although I'm with Dr. Montague in my opinion that the house isn't doing Eleanor's sanity any favors.

I won't spoil the ending for anyone, but wow.

A few side notes here. The book has been made into movies twice to my knowledge. One, The Haunting (1963), is quite good. It make Eleanor a bit older, but otherwise stays pretty close to the book. Plus Theo in the movie is a pretty good example of how Hollywood got away with portraying lesbians in cinema, when they weren't causing innocent girls to commit suicide.

The other that I know of was 1999's The Haunting. Which not even a pretty good cast could save from a horrible script that changed around just about every detail from the book and buried any sense of suspense under a sea of bad CGI.

I also found out while doing research that The Haunting of Hill House is what inspired Steven King's Rose Red. And having re-read the book now, why yes.

I'll also add that Jackson's short story, "The Lottery" should be required reading.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When we were young and our Mood Rings were blue...

National Coming Out Day is October 11th, and I'm only about halfway through my current read, so YAY survey/synopsis!

I'll preface this by saying I had never heard of this series until TV guide spotlighted the PBS premier of the mini-series based on book 1, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. I watched the series, and wound up enraptured by the full on 70's in California story. As I recall, I had an appointment with my shrink in Dayton not long after, and wound up buying the first three books at the old Books & Company I'd visit after sessions.

The story starts with Mary Ann Singleton, on vacation in San Francisco from Cleveland, calling home and explaining to her parents that she's decided to stay in San Francisco. A few chapters later, after taking us shopping at Safeway for more than veggies, Mary ann winds up moving in to 28 Barbary Lane on Russian Hill, under the management of one Mrs. Anna Madrigal. Along with the other tenants; Brian, the straight himbo who waits tables at Perry's and Mona Ramsey, an aging hippie who works at Halcyon as an advertising executive, a sort of family forms. As the novel progresses, we meet Michael, Mona's new roommate, who's ex boyfriend Mary Ann tried to pick up at the Safeway. We also meet Norman Neil Williams, who has the roof apartment and sells vitamins.

By the end of the first book, Mary Ann has had an affair with Beauchamp Day, who is married to her boss's daughter, DeDe. Beauchamp has also been screwing around with Michael's on again, off again lover, Jon Fielding, who's also DeDe's gynecologist. (DeDe gets knocked up by the Asian grocery delivery boy.) DeDe's father, Edgar, has been having an affair of his own with Mrs. Madrigal, even if he doesn't like her marijuana habits. (She has plants growing in the yard with names like Barbara Stanwyck. She also has joints at the ready for all of her "children".) Mona has moved in with D'orothea, an African American model, but that ends in disaster when Mona invites D'or parents to Christmas dinner. Brian, in the meantime, has hooked up with several women. (As a character, he really doesn't grow much until the next book.) Oh, and Mary Ann has found out Norman Neil Williams has been investigating Mrs. Madrigal, stars in child porn, and manages to drop him off a cliff.

 The next two books expand on these characters. More Tales of the City starts with Mary Ann and Michael on a cruise and ends with a cannibal Episcopal cult. Further Tales of the City winds up with a bunch of Jim Jones in Guyana aftermath. (Given I read this one before I had ever been on the internet, I had to do a bit of research. I was familiar with some of it, but there's a heck of a lot involved.)

Now, to a high school senior dealing with a bunch of issues related to coming out, these books were awesome. Gay characters abounded, and a virtual array of possibilities were explored by pretty much everyone. Plus there's an awesome letter that Michael writes to his mother during the Anita Bryant affairs. They gave hope to a fairly lonely gay young man who had a few issues of his own at the time.

I didn't pick up the next three books until my sophomore year in college. See, book 3 ends right on the cusp of the time that so many gay men in San Francisco started getting odd cancers. Book 4, Babycakes, picks up after AIDS has pretty much destroyed gay life as portrayed in the previous books. I cried for about 30 minutes after starting, since it seems Jon died between books. Out of all of the things in the series, having Jon die off screen was probably the one thing that made me angry. Anyway, Significant Others and Sure of You round out the next three books. Which basically turn Mary Ann into a shrew. After she marries Brian,things...don't go well. They have a kid via adoption, but Mary Ann, who becomes something of a TV personality. We see Michael not only survive AIDS, but thrive as a gay man entering his 40's. And fall in love again. We see Mrs. Madrigal growing older. We learn that everything changes over time. And we end in 1989.

Which, as I read these in 1996, I was really upset by the way things ended. I mean, on one hand, Michael, to me and so many other gay men, was proof that we're not alone in our feelings of insecurity and that we can survive just about everything. But when Mary Ann ceases to be a likable character, it's a bit like losing an old friend. And given that book 6 was the last in the series for quite some time...

Then 2007 rolled in and Michael Tolliver Lives hit the shelves. It was a bit different than what preceded it, since it was written in first person. We see Brian and Mary Ann's daughter all grown up, meet a trans man, and see Michael who's survived AIDS and the dot-com boom as he tries to choose between his biological family and his family of choice. We also meet Mary Ann again, living in Connecticut, and find out a bit of what happened to her after 28 years or so. In the end, Michael's decisions make sense and hit right in the feels.

And in 2010, Mary Ann in Autumn brought us back to San Francisco, again with the multiple perspectives, and added some closure on one very old plotline in the process. We deal with Mary Ann's fear for her health, and her attempts to fix relationships she messed up years ago.

These two did much to repair the anger I felt after Sure of You. It was almost like a reunion of sorts, where you find that tiem healed a bunch of wounds you'd forgotten you had.

And now, I get to add The Days of Anna Madrigal to my watch list, since it will be the last. Sort of a trilogy of trilogies, I guess. It's going to be odd realizing that this will probably be the last time we see a family that's been around in fiction for 35 years, but it helps that the final act has rectified some of the worst moments of earlier years. I only hope that we get a happy ending, or at least one that is fulfilling here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Play's the thing...

I mentioned Simon R. Green's Ghost Finders in passing a few books back, and I just finished the latest volume, Ghost of a Dream. (According to Wikipedia, the next volume is out, but I have yet to find it. So this is technically the most recent.)

Some quick background on how this particular series is laid out. JC, Melody, and Happy work for the Carnaki Institute, shutting down hauntings before the general public finds out what's actually going on. (Think Torchwood, only without Captain Jack.) Happy is a manic-depressive telepath and an improving drug problem. Melody is the super science brain, using instruments to figure out what's going on. JC, the team leader, had a bit of an adventure in book 1, and now has eyes that glow with brilliant light. He also has a ghost girlfriend, Kim, who has issues of her own.

Like other volumes in the other series in this shared world, Dream's first two chapters deal with our protagonists dealing with something totally unrelated to the bigger plot of the book. In this case, JC, Melody, and Happy deal with a haunted rail station in northern England. Which, it turns out, has to do with a train that went into a tunnel back in the late 19th century and is just now getting ready to come back. (Interestingly, the first book in this series, Ghost of a Chance, involved a haunted Underground station.) Once that situation resolves, we move on to the main focus of the novel, the haunting of The Haybarn Theater.

Now, the one thing I like about the Ghost Finders is that, unlike Secret Histories and Nightside, the three protagonists are basically fairly normal humans. No armor, no flying Valkyries on dinosaurs, no Merlin, no time slips. Basically them and their skills versus the supernatural.Which is to the good, since it allows the narratives to play out almost like a Role Playing Game, wherein the characters grow with each adventure.

And this one is actually quite creepy. Not only is there a normal haunting, but The Undying Flesh sends in his avatar, Faust, to take out the ghost hunters. Some of the tricks played between the haunts and the outside dimensional entity actually made my skin crawl on my lunch break. Which, given that I don't scare easily, I was in a retail store's break room at 1PM, and I was surrounded by people...that's quite an accomplishment.

Really, I can't wait to get my hands on the next volume. Hopefully I find it soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

For those that go down to the sea in ships

This would have gone up earlier, but I was camping last week, and I really didn't end up reading much, so I'm running behind on my lit.

Since Storm Surge by Taylor Anderson is book 7 in his increasingly misnamed Destroyermen trilogy, I'm going to have to recap a little bit of the metaplot to get everyone caught up.

When the series started with Into the Storm, the USS Walker and USS Mahan (Two WW I era destroyers stationed in the Pacific) were trying to escape the Philippines as the Japanese were invading towards the start of WW II. They were pursued by a few advanced Japanese shops, including Armagi, captained by Kurakowa. With chances of being sunk by the Japanese increasing exponentially with each passing minute, the American ships steered into a large storm.

And then it gets weird. As the storm clears, there is no sign of Mahan or Armagi. Instead carnivorous Mountain fish assail Walker. And then they see a giant wooden ship being attacked by another wooden ship. Taking their pick of the underdogs, the crew of the Walker inadvertently meet the Mi-Anaaka (or Lemurians, or 'Cats), who look like anthropomorphic Lemurs. Who are being attacked by anthropomorphic reptiles known as the Grik. By the end of the first book, we've found out the Lemurians speak English and Latin, Kurakowa has allied with the Grik to wipe out the 'Cats, and the geography of this new world doesn't always resemble that of the world they came from.

As the series has progressed, they've discovered others from their own time who've made the crossing into the new world, as well as cultures who've arrived from earlier time periods, which has managed to significantly expand the conflict. As of this volume, the fighting has spread into the Continental American Pacific, mainly because an alliance with the Empire (who crossed over during the age of exploration and inhabit the Galapagos and Hawaiian islands) have allied with the Grand Alliance, and managed to get everyone dragged into a war with the Central and South American group known as The Dominion (which is basically run by Conquistadors who seem to have mixed Catholicism with Aztec religious practices, or at least what stereotypical Aztec religious practices have come down from the exaggerations of the Conquistadors.)

Add into this makeshift technology to get war supplies (like oil, P-40's, and steel), and you have a very interesting alternate history series that doesn't rely on things from OUTSIDE to change the timeline around. And the books have improved over time. Unlike some military novels, the books don't get bogged down as much in tactics and weaponry specifications.

This is not to say that this book doesn't have a few issues, like a very long chapter dealing with "special weapons" and whether or not to use them, and the Eastern Front is very back burner in this one. (Mind you, two books ago, we were embroiled entirely in the political struggles of the Empire as the Company and the Dominion tried to take over), but we're also not bouncing around as much as that one volume in The Wheel of Time where every bloody chapter was a day in the half in the life of every character as Bran attacked the Source.

I will also say that he's so far taken a middle ground between Laurell K. Hamilton and George R R Martin in terms of character management. Which is good, since the major deaths in this are likely to affect you the way Flint and Sturm in the Dragonlance Chronicles (Which is to say I wind up crying a lot). He also has really managed to make some of the enemies much more understandable and sympathetic as the series has progressed. Which holds in this book during the Second Battle of Madras  as one of the newly elevated Grik generals defending India from Allied invasion became someone I wound up hoping wouldn't die.

Mind you, Kurakowa and Reddy have become Ahab and Moby Dick, but hey, that conflict has been propelling much of the series since Book 1.

Really, this is a fine series, and one I thought I would hate at first. Given most of my family who saw action in WW II were Pacific theater, I should have more interest, but I'm still much more fascinated by the European and African theater. But it continues to draw me in, even if I do have to get the atlas out every time they sail someplace new. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thy torc and thy armour, they comfort me...

So, anyway, I'd have been a lot sooner in the posting of this entry had it not been for the sinus infection that joined an ear infection, both of which proceeded to infect the lymph node they drained into. All of which meant a few nights hallucinating alternate sequences from Casino Infernale by Simon R. Green. This would be book 7 in his Secret Histories, all of which so far are plays on James Bond titles. (The listing at the end of this one for volume 8 lists the title as Property of a Lady Faire, which doesn't correspond to a Bond novel or movie that I know of.)

Anyway, I can't really go into the review of this without some backstory, which even then will be incomplete, because evidently some of his earlier medieval/renaissance fantasy has common characters.

So, for the sake of simplicity, we'll start with the 12 books of the Nightside, which was kind of like London Below in Gaimen's Neverwhere, only with many more explosions, time slips, and organizations straight out of the old Illuminati card game. While that series resolved in book 12 (The Bride Wore Black Leather), after invasions by Hell, Heaven, Lilith, Merlin Satanspawn, time travel, and just about everything else, Secret Histories started publishing around book 8, maybe?

Secert Histories concerns Shaman Bond, who is secretly also Edward Drood. Of the Drood family. Who mainly exist to protect humanity, whether they like it or not. While they, by old pacts, will not enter the Nightside, characters do jump series here and there (and also with the newest series, Ghost Finders). The Droods are a very, very old family, we find out most of their origin in Book 1, starting back at the dawn of man. We've been through various betrayals, bitter infighting, the death of The Matriarch, the death of Eddie, the destruction of Drood Manor, and Eddie leaving the family (AGAIN) and Joining the Department of the Uncanny. Which is where we join him and Molly Metcalf, Wild Witch of the Woods.

As we've been finding throughout the series, things assumed about the characters' pasts are not always as they seem. Which is why Molly and Shaman get sent to the northernmost island of Scotland, at the behest of the Regent of Shadows, to spy on a new organization first founded by Molly's now dead parents. They do find the information they seek, but at a price. As they try to transport back to London via the Merlin Glass, they wind up at Drood Manor to help with a "Family" matter. Namely, a summit between several organizations who might be affected by the war over Crow Lee's Inheritance. This ends up happening in the tombs of Mars. After much posturing, a few fights, and general silliness, Molly and Shaman go back to the Manor for equipment as they go try to break the Shadow Bank at this year's Casino Infernale.

Which is fine, except that they arrive to find that Shaman's parents have already lost his soul to the Casino. Which means he gets to bet Molly's, even though several have claims on it already. They have only their wits, as Eddie's torc gets removed before they go, and the Casino radiates a null zone most of the time that kills Molly's magic.

What follows careens between outright silly to deadly serious, often in the same paragraph. It's honestly one of the things I like best about Green's writing. I mean, during one scene as they first arrive in France, the talking car with an attitude helps Shaman and Molly escape from Valkyries that ride pterodactyls. When presented with such a ridiculous scene that is both funny and nail biting at the same time, it's a magical moment in its own right. His writing may veer off into outright lunacy, but it's done with such flair and elan that it's very hard not to go cheering right along with the shared delusion.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

And we're back across the Mackinac bridge.

Ah, Libriomancy. Once again, we're with Isaac in the Upper Peninsula dealing with the magick of pulling things out of books based on the amount of belief readers have put into them over time.

As some of you might remember, I reviewed the first book a while back, and became ecstatic when Book 2 came out.

We start Codex Born about a year after the climax of Libriomancer, with Isaac training a new student who's learned to do something thought impossible. Namely Jeneta has figured out how to magically pull items from her e-reader. And no one can figure out HOW she's able to do so.

Jeneta soon falls by the wayside as the plot starts picking up, as Isaac and his Dryad companion Lena get called out to investigate the slaughter of a few Wendigos not far from Isaac's house. What follows is a greater exploration of the magic in Jim C. Hines' world, as we discover the followers of Bi Sheng who fled into books as a way to survive a purge by Gutenberg during the early years of the Porters. They survive in books, with their books being read several times a day by a reader, constantly pouring belief into the text.

We also have several meditations on family and relationships throughout the course of the book. Each chapter opens with part of Lena's story, which is not exactly a pretty one, and one of the main villains is the father of a dead Porter who pretty much abused the hell out of his son growing up.

We also have the nebulous Devourers, who are trying to reach through the magic and invade the Earth. We met them briefly in Book 1, in this one, we get a bit more on them, and by the end, we have a brief glimpse of a face and a name.

While this book had much better pacing than the first volume, he did leave many things unresolved. Which is good, since it gives him places to go in future volumes, but it also tends to make Jeneta seem like an afterthought, as she shows up early on, then more or less vanishes until the epilogue.

Also, one scene around the middle of the book reminded me quite a bit of Jim Butcher's Dead Beat. Also not a bad thing, but I found myself wondering if it was an honest homage (quite common in the series so far) or just a case of serendipity.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It just keeps going and going and going.....

I was mildly disappointed when I opened The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, since the first book in this series, The Long Earth, ended on something of a cliffhanger. Thus, when book 2 opened 20 years after the events of book 1, I was mildly annoyed.

That annoyance didn't last terribly long as the plot got rolling along. Once again, most of the focus is on Joshua, an orphan and natural stepper currently living in Hell-Knows-Where on Earth West 1 million or so. He has a wife and kids now (the wife being the one whose journals narrated part of book 1, talking about how settlement of the Long Earth progressed), and serves as mayor of his town. Then Sally (another natural stepper, but one who can sense the "soft spaces", places where one can get between multiple Earths at a go) re-enters his life, begging him to go back to Datum Earth to do what he can about the mistreatment of the Trolls.

(For those of you who have not read the first book, here's a quick setting synopsis. On step day, plans for steppers popped out on the internet via Sally's father. Made of cardboard and a potato to power it, one could hit the switch and "step" East or West onto a parallel Earth. Or several steps, really. Josh and Lobsang [Lobsang being an AI who thinks he is the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman] took a special airship West across the Long Earth to see what they could find. Along the way, they found races that could also "step", most of which had not ever really been seen on "Datum Earth". One such race was the trolls, who have a group intelligence and communicate in song. Another, Elves, were bloodthirsty hunters.)

Josh's wife, Helen, is fighting with her dad, who lives a few steps away in Valhalla, which is currently involved in a dispute with Datum Earth over the so called Aegis laws. Which basically state anyone living in an alternate Earth in what would be current US political boundaries (Most of the Earths retain similar shape, but there are "jokers" and a few worlds where the Earth no longer exists) must submit to US regulations. Folks in far out Earths like Valhalla feel that they're being taxed without representation. Which leads to the trip of the USS Benjamin Franklin across the worlds to remind settlements that they are still United States citizens. What that crew finds between poles of Datum DC and Valhalla is a mushy middle ground where they have to step in to help solves strange disputes in various colonies. We also have a Chinese expedition going East to Earth East 6 Million, wherein we see another theme of the novel... One of the worlds they pass is habitated by non-human sapient creatures about to be wiped out by a typhoon. That the crew does nothing to help them causes a very reserved girl from Valhalla to finally find her humanity.

We also have trolls vanishing about halfway through, which makes the last half a race between Josh and Sally to figure out who can find the trolls first.

I enjoyed this book, and indeed, I've enjoyed the series so far. And this one was an improvement, since there weren't near as many plot threads in play. There's still quite a bit going on, but the narrative is much more cohesive in book 2.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

No one likes a dictator.

I'm am going to have to preface this post with some boilerplate. I try very hard to avoid expressing personal views on here, as A) this blog is mainly for keeping track of what I've read, and B) this is a very public forum, and I generally don't expose my views en masse. However, due to the nature of the book I'm reviewing, things may slip. You have been warned.

Goodreads suggested I might like Frederic C. Rich's Christian Nation. I reserved a copy at the library and started delving into what is an at times very uneven alternate history/future novel that explores what might have happened had McCain won the presidency in 2008.

We start with our narrator, Greg, announcing that he's sitting at an old typewriter not hooked up to the "Purity Web" at the behest of Adam, his host at a remote lodge in Pennsylvania. Greg tells us bits of things to come, such as the fall of Manhattan and the death of Sanjay before delving into the past before the alternate timeline splits from the real one. We hear of Greg's college days, becoming a lawyer; we hear of his roommate, the gay Indian Sanjay, who teaches Greg Yoga and how their friendship continued after college as Greg starts working for a large firm in New York, while Sanjay starts a Social Network. We meet Greg's girlfriend, Emilie, who works for Credit Suisse. Emilie, who dosn't much like Sanjay, and more or less is the voice of disbelief as Sanjay starts delving deeper and deeper into the relationships of Fundamentalist Christianity and the political world.

As the election closes in 2008, McCain wins. McCain turns the horrid economy over to advisers, preferring to concentrate on foreign relations.  Then, not long into his presidency, McCain has a stroke in Russia while trying to barter with their premier. Palin makes an ass out of herself trying to get the body back from Russia. A few more foibles happen, leading most everyone to encourage her to resign. Then 7/22 happens. (7/22 involves terrorist cells launching SAMs from isolated areas outside of major airports in about 7 major cities.) As such, Palin is able to focus on that as she prepares to run for a second term. Which she wins.

Sanjay sells the social network for a very large profit and forms Theocracy Watch, devoted to exploring the relations between Fundamentalist Christians and politics.

And we witness, as Palin declares Martial Law in the wake of 7//2, doing her best to deport Muslims, as Steve Jordan moves into the White House, as the USA is declared to be a Christian Nation. We watch as Jordan becomes president, and the insidious ways various rights start getting stripped at the Federal level. It's a long process, and filled with worst case scenarios. (Seriously. 2 Supreme Court justices die. One of cancer, one in a car accident. Stuff like that.) And then comes The Blessing. Which is 10 general statements ("Covenants") with 50 specific points groupeld between them. ("Blessings".) (An example: III. The Nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Covenant] 8. The American Constitution is a divine gift and shall be strictly construed. The Constitution shall be interpreted in accordance with the higher law of the Bible. [Blessing].) (pg 181)

This passes through a largely Evangelical congress, only to be challenged by Theocracy Watch. When three specific cases get through and overturn the law, Congress impeaches the judges.

It gets uglier. Gay people become outlawed over time. Many escape into Canada. Anyone not married by 30 is presumed to be gay and then sent to re-education camps. Jewish folks unwilling to convert to Christianity in accordance with a literal interpretation of Revelation are sent to Israel (which is aided by the US for the same reason as wanting the Jewish folks to convert.)

We get into the second American Civil War, with Manhattan being the last place standing. We see the fall of Manhattan, we see the forced conversion of the rebels, and we see the dawn of the Purity Web, which keeps track of what you do online, who you talk to, etc. (Think Big Brother in a cell phone type devices.)

I'm leaving a lot out, mainly because there's much covered in the narrative. And it's filled with real world quotes by real world movers and shakers, only in a different time. (Included is by my town's own Rod Parsley, who's World Harvest Church is not one of my favorite places. This has much to do with being told by an usher that my contribution the offering wasn't enough.) We hear about the folks homeschooling so their kids don't get exposed to secular ideas. We hear about The Family and other organizations that are trying to insert religion into politics. Most of which I was aware of, even if I do tend to think like Emilie, that the American electorate is not so ignorant as to elect folks who want to install a theocracy at the national level. Then I look at folks like Mom's Congressman and shudder.

While I'm sure some folks will assume a huge liberal bias in the writing (and there is to some degree), I'd also point out that he has some very conservative ideas in there, particularly when dealing with Saudi Arabia. (Without the US supporting the Saudis, the Shias pretty much take over the region.)

I'll also say that much of the anti-gay sentiment from the antagonist in this book ring true for me. Hatred cloaked in words of love is still hatred. One of my most unusual stories concerns the Pride event in Missouri I went to, where James River Assembly of God and some other allies stood on one side and a group of Neo-Nazi's stood on the other. Us poor gay folks, rather outnumbered, did our best to enjoy the barbecue at the 3 bars sponsoring the event.

Really, this narrative reads a bit like 1984 by George Orwell or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The difference being that rather than being set directly in a totalitarian dystopia, we instead see how one is built. Rich does his best to show us how a minority can destroy a civilization in the name of saving it, much like Hitler or Stalin.

It's a good read, although the people who would most benefit from reading it probably won't.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's like a Benji movie....

When last we left Atticus, Oberon, and Granuaile, two certain huntresses from the Greco-Roman pantheon were going to chase them to Briton. Which is pretty much where Hunted by Kevin Hearne starts.

And let me tell you, given that the run starts in Romania, it's a long trip by ground to Windsor Castle. Much of which is punctuated with occasional run ins with Diana and Artemis, the coven of witches from 4 books back, Loki, Hel.... It's almost old home week in this one.

We also get a few cameos of new antagonists, like the Life Leech who is more or less a psychic vampire; the Manticore out of Sumerian systems; and what's looking to be a conspiracy to bring about Ragnarok by interests with ties to Tir na nog. Oh yes. Mr. Hearne is settling in for the long run with this one, since the sirens of ancient Greece long ago prophesied the end of the world within a few months of the end of this book. Which gives him plenty of wiggle room to squeeze a few books out concerning the conspiracy, figuring out where and what Theosphlis the vampire is doing, what's going to happen with Ragnarok now that Thor's dead...

But, back in the current book, The Morrigan fights Artemis and Diana early on to give our trio room to start running.  (I'm sure a few Celtic fans will be annoyed with the character. However, one of her big plot arcs concerns trying to break out of patterns and personalities instilled by years of belief.) So, they run, including occasional narration from Granuaile, particularly after a run in with a vampire in the Black Forest. By the time they reach Windsor Castle and hook up with Herne the Hunter, the books 3/4 done, leaving us a bit of time for a resolution of the hunt and, later, a confrontation with the Manticore.

Really, this entire book, even during the chase, seems to be more of a transition into a larger metaplot that will extend beyond the trilogy system Hearne had been writing in. Which generally would suggest he just got a longer contract. (The first 3 got released every six months, then a year wait, then another 6 months between releases. I'm guessing this pattern will either continue, or we'll get a book a year, probably hardcover, if it follows the patterns of Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison.)

Any rate, the series is quite good, even if his portraal of Loki doesn't seem to fit the mythos. (Even is Loki was released from having snake venom in his eyes, and has been hiding and healing, he's still a god of chaos and trickery. That he seems to only show up and destroy godhomes with fire or throw a fireball at druids really doesn't do the Eddas justice. On the other hand, Hearne's portrayal of Thor probably annoyed his fan club, although Thor's mythos in no way really reflects Marvel's portrayal.)

 As and added bonus, there's a novella concerning some of the 22 missing years between Tricked and Trapped. It's pretty good.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He's so prolific that his first book was in 1939 and his latest was last year....

A few dollars on Ebay later and I seem to have bought a few lots of Hardy Boys novels.

Which, given this blog is mostly devoted to adult reading material, the works of unappreciated ghost writers needs some recognition from the youngster in me.

Given how long the Boys have been around, I'm fairly certain most of you are familiar with their exploits, or that of their occasional cohort Nancy Drew (or Tom Swift, or Cherry Ames, or The Bobbsey Twins...)(or the TV show, which I watched on DVD a few years back for no real reason) and so I should be able to get by with a fairly short synopsis here.

The basic premise is that the Hardy Boys are brothers, Frank, 18, with dark hair and Joe, 17, with blond hair. Depending on what series you're reading in and what year will bring out a picture of what they look like for that era. Some of the older hardcovers have them in chinos, while the newer paperbacks involve jeans and tee shirts. Frank and Joe are Fenton Hardy's progeny, Fenton being a famous detective. The family lives in Bayport with Mom, Fenton, and Aunt Gertrude. They have a fairly diverse group of friends, like Phil Cohen  (Jewish) and Tony Prito (Italian immigrant). Chet Morton was chubby to fat, and Iola Morton was Joe's girlfriend until she blew up in a car bomb in Casefiles #1, Dead on Target. Frank, on the other hand was dating Cassie. Almost all of these characters got dragged in at one point or another, and usually in some kind of jeopardy by the end of it.

The cases rarely involved murder, although they did seem to wind up breaking up smuggling rings quite frequently. The usual scenario was people would seek Fenton out to solve something, and he'd either ask the boys for help, or being unavailable, the boys would take on the case. And they traveled extensively. I wish I had their travel budget at their age. (Mind you, based on the very few Carolyn Keene books I read about Nancy Drew, she also had a travel budget from hell. The one book of hers I bought involved Nancy and Co. in Venice, Italy.)

I still remember my 1st grade introduction to the boys. My classmate, with the name Sixten Otto (who'd write it out as 610 and a picture of a car and who also taught me to play Canasta) brought in either The Mystery of the Chinese Junk or Night of the Werewolf. Which of course lead to one of my family's visits to Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio, where my brother would buy music at Camelot and my Dad would escort me to B. Daulton, wherein I found shelves and shelves of Hardy Boys books waiting for me to blow my allowance on. (And oh boy, did I blow money on them.) I usually bought the paperbacks, numbered from #59 up, since they were cheaper  than the hardcovers. Well, that and the hardcovers got tripped up in archaic language and the aforementioned chinos. (I kind of thought The Missing Chums would be about stolen shark bait, actually.)

I used to half-joke that Joe was my first crush and a strong indicator early in life that I was gay.  I found out later that I obviously wasn't the only one with feelings like that when I found Mabel Maney's Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys: A Ghost in the Closet at one of the small bookshops near Wright State. I still laugh at that book, what with one modern lesbian trapped with stuck in the 50's Nancy and her "friend Nurse Cherry Aimless and the Hardly Boys... It was a spot on spoof of the genre made even funnier by the straight faces all the principles had.

Some notable titles in the original 190 + a few one offs series include While the Clock Ticked, which featured Joe and Frank tied to chairs while a mas scientist tried to blow them up; Cave-In, where Frank and Joe wound up in California during ski season trying to figure out who the ghost miners were; Sky Sabotage, where Frank and Joe go to Florida to figure out what happened to a missing satellite and a pair of missing dolphins; and The Hardy Boys Ghost Stories, which involved 6 cases of the boys encountering the actual supernatural.

That list title bears mentioning since pretty much every other book in any of the various series  that had supernatural elements ended up being a Scooby Doo mystery, wherein the element was not real, and easily explained during the resolution. In the Ghost Stories, we get real ghosts and phenomena, but they of course do no real harm. Like the Scarecrow that comes to life and chases them out of an abandoned farm house just before lightning hits and burns the place down. (May I add that one gave me nightmares for a few nights.) Or a later tale where the boys wind up on an 18th century Ghost Ship filled with whalers, wherein the ghost on the ghost ship gets them to safety.

I mentioned the Casefiles above, and I suppose I should mention them in passing. In Book 1, Dead on Target, Joe turns 18. His girlfriend blows up in a car bomb. The series was aimed at older kids, and read a bit like Rambo solves mysteries. It was more miss than hit for me, mainly because I got sick of the whining that tended to become vigilantism in Joe following Iola's death.

I guess they have a newer series aimed at millenials and the generation that are kids now, but I haven't bothered, since the updated graphics make the boys look like escapees from 1 Direction.

I still love the boys, even if I long since outgrew them. So many memories of my childhood are tied to them. And I really hope that other kids find as many happy memories in them when they grow up.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can't we all just get along?

The answer as presented by The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Laferty, is yes, with a few qualifiers.

Zoë, our protagonist, has recently moved back to NYC from the Research Triangle in North Carolina not long after finding out her boss at the publishing firm (whom she was sleeping with) was not only married, but his wife, who is also a cop, is a little upset that Zoë has been sleeping with her husband.

So, being a good travel guide writer/editor, Zoë starts looking for out of the way places in the Big Apple. Which leads her to Mannegishi's Tricks, a run down bookstore in Manhattan, where the proprietor refuses to sell her anything. She does, however, find a flyer looking for someone with publishing experience to work for Underground Publishing. The owner, Phil, tells her not to apply. She wouldn't fit in.

Next, Zoë hits Bakery Under Starlight, where Carl takes orders and Tenagne passes them out with constant insults. She sees another Underground Publishing flyer, and this time, John, a customer at the bakery who happens to work for Underground, talks her into sending in her resume, even as he tells her she wouldn't fit in.She also buys tea for Granny Good Mae, a slightly batty old woman who talks in riddles.

One interview later, Phil takes her to dinner in an attempt to explain why she won't fit in at Underground. Which consists of going to an Italian restaurant with Air Sprite waiters, a zombie Maitre d', and demons eating gerbils. Phil, on the other hand is enjoying a nice pint of A positive, as he is indeed a vampire.  He tries to hypnotize her with limited success.

As should be expected, Zoë gets the job at Underground, working with an all coterie staff. Phil gives her a reading list to help her wrap her mind around the various species she'll be working with. These include Phil, the vampire CEO; John, the incubus; Morgen, the water sprite; and Paul and Montel, the zombies.

Then we get the new CR (Coterie humans, other than Zoë), Wesley. Wesley is a construct (think Frankenstein's monster, although in this setting they get lumped in with golems of all shapes and sizes) with the head of Zoë's ex-boyfriend.

We also have Zoë's strange next door neighbor, Arthur, who works for Public Works, kind of the human coterie police. (If coterie members break the rules, Public Works breaks the coterie.)

What follows is a really strange mix of mystery (who's behind the formaldehyde in the zombie brain supply?), invasion (the plot hinges on the person behind everything trying to take over the whole of the city), a bit of romance (There's almost an office romance when Zoë accompanies John to a succubus/incubus feeding ground/bondage club; later on Arthur and Zoë figure out they have a lot in common). For the most part, it works, although there are a few places where the narrative gets a bogged down, or characters vanish for no apparent reason. Or some foreshadowing that borders on spoilers in the excerpts from the guide Zoë is writing in the book.

Regardless of any narrative issues, and also regardless of the rape trigger inducing incubus scene that toddles a fine line between creepy and erotic (and was not meant to be read while on public transit), it remains a fun read, in the spirit of the InCryptid novels.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And after his divorce, he wrote Paradise Regained...

I dislike Paradise Lost. I've probably mentioned this before. Even with an English to English translation, Uncle Milton's seminal poem about Satan and his rebellion.

Wrong Uncle Miltie.
I understand why it remains popular; among other things, his version of Satan is one of the original templates for an anti-hero. Yes, Satan ruining Eden to get his revenge on God is a bad thing, but because he did that, God can send a saviour a few millenia later. 
Adam said, "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
And Satan, not understanding sarcasm wandered off sort of happy.
Which brings us to  The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. 

Our narrator, David Ullman is one of the preeminent scholars on Milton and (you guessed it) Paradise Lost. David teaches at Columbia in New York City, when not going to various gatherings of people who want to know more about Milton. The irony here is that David, who also specializes in religious texts, is a big ol' atheist. David is married, although his wife is cuckolding him with a hot young Physics prof who specializes in String Theory. His daughter, Tess, shares his unnaturally dark melancholy. And his friend Elaine, who teaches psychology, is dying of cancer. 

All of which comes out as Spring term is ending and Professor Ullman receives a strange female visitor in his office after he finishes his last class of the term. The Thin Woman (there are more than a few characters in here who don't get names as much as descriptions. The Thin Woman is the first of several.) offers David a bunch of money to fly out to Venice the next day, go to a specific address, and then return to New York. David laughs it off and goes out for drinks with Elaine. Well, after a brief confrontation with the String Theory Studbiscuit. 

When David returns home, his wife announces that she wants a divorce. He can keep Tess, she wants the Physics professor. As such, David and Tess fly to Venice, Italy, the next morning to give wifeypoo the chance to start moving her crap. 

Oh, and what fun we have in Venice. David goes to the address, is given a camera, and lead upstairs to see a man tied to a chair. Said man pulls a full Linda Blair. The man, speaking in several different voices, says proof will be delivered on a certain date. It quotes Milton at him. At the end of his speech, the man in the chair's voice changes to that of David's father, echoing the father's last words to David. "It should have been you."

David, understandably upset by this, races back to his hotel, concerned for Tess, who was left in the hands of an Au Pair. Said babysitter isn't in the room, and Tess is poised to take a dive off the balcony and into the canal below. Tess speaks first in the voice of The Unnamed, and then in her own voice, telling David to find her.

And oh boy, does it get weird from here. The Venice police are convinced Tess was washed out to sea. David returns to the states, and we meet The Pursuer. We don't find out until the end much about this guy, who claims to be a fairly good Altar Boy from Brooklyn. He wants The Document from David. David says he has no idea what the guy is talking about. 

Somehow, David begins a very long journey that starts in North Dakota, winds its way across much of the US and into Canada, and all of which is framed by passages from Milton that give David clues as to where his next stop is. He has six days to save his daughter. He has six days to figure out who The Unnamed is. He has six days to stop the Pursuer from trying to stop him.

While the climax is quite satisfying, the actual ending falls more than a little flat, as at least one part of the conclusion makes absolutely no sense at all. But then, given the nature of the narrative, I suppose this is to be expected.

All of this is narrated in first person present tense. Which takes more than a little adjustment. 

Amusingly, for a book about demons, religion is downplayed. It's about at the level of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wherein it exists as background noise, present, but not really the focus of the narrative. G-d's part in this narrative is exceptionally quiet, only really showing up in quieter moments. Interestingly, organized religion gets knocked a few times in the process, and not just by The Unnamed.

And the horror aspects really weren't all that horrifying for me. Then again, I don't have children, and most of the horror is centered on the idea of "Demons ate my baby!"

I'll also admit I was a bit disappointed that The Unnamed wasn't Louis Cypher, the rather enigmatic character in Angel Heart, who basically wanted Mickey Rourke to find the devil and prove he exists.

Overall, a good read, even if I did feel like the author (despite having a good grasp on the concepts of Milton) was treating Paradise Lost like a salad bar, grabbing out passages that best suited narrative needs.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Last Midnight

One of the reasons people try to revoke my gay card is that I proudly announce that I really don't like Sondheim. I find much of his music and musicals trite and annoying, There is one he wrote that I did enjoy though... Into the Woods. Even then, I'm not sure it was the musical itself as much as the plot that made me like it. (Because, really, I almost walked out after the first act. Then the second act started and I was all like, "OK, I kind of like the idea, even if the execution sucks.")

For those who've never seen it, the First act is a retelling of several fairy tales. The second act...well, the narrator dies and suddenly, the characters no longer have any guides to what they're supposed to be doing.

Like I said, loved the idea.

I bring this up, because a similar idea is at play in Death's Apprentice, what is evidently the first book in K. W. Jeter and Gareth Jefferson Jones' new Grimm City series. According to what's available on the book jacket and in blurbs, the unnamed city the book is set in is supposed to based on all of  the Grimm Fairytales and other writings by the Bros. Interestingly, while I recognized elements that might have been part of a Fairytale at one point or another, the only out and out storyline I actually recognized in this was Rumpelstiltskin.

We start with Nathaniel, Death's Apprentice. Nathaniel's dad sold him to Death at a very young age in exchange for 10 more years of life. Sadly, daddy sobered up, realized what he did, and jumped off a bridge. Anyway, after witnessing Death claim the soul of a drug addled lawyer in a nightclub bathroom, Nathaniel passes out in pain.

Then we meet Blake, who's come to the nameless city, seeking The Devil. Blake's looking to pay back Lucifer for a rather nasty trick the devil played on him in Afghanistan that ended with Hank getting trapped in the Devil's Overcoat. Said coat more or less makes Hank immortal, although Hank can be wounded quite severely.

And Hank, who gets hired by a dwarf lawyer who works for Lucifer. (Don't they all?) Hank is a man with no fear, making him a fairly unstoppable hit man. Hank gets hired to kill the 3 champions prophesied to kill Lucifer. This gives him carte blanche to pretty much kill anyone he wants.

Lucifer himself sits atop a large tower in the center of town, refusing to extend people's contracts and generally proving Milton right again. (Which is to say Lucifer is probably the most interesting character in this.)

The stories coalesce around a woman who made a deal with the dwarf to get answers to her law exam to make her parents happy. The dwarf ends up stealing her baby. (Not exactly spinning straw into gold, but...) 

This is one of those books I finished and felt really at odds about what to think. There's a lot of Christian allegory in here (not quite as obvious as say, Left Behind, but still present in a Narnia type way), and there's also a lot of fate vs. free will discussion, particularly towards the end. There are also a few parts that feel like The Seventh Seal.

By the time I finished and found out what the heck the point of all of this was, I felt cheated in some ways, although there really was no other solution to the whole mess.

Interesting read, but you may want to bookmark a page with the Grimm tales for reference.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


(Note: This is a concurrent post with Candy-Coated Razor Blades by my friend Bob. He's covering movies. I'm covering the writing.)

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

I'll confess, I'm a Cthulhu groupie. (There used to be cultists, but since Cthulhu went mainstream... It used to be one had go diving beneath the waters or go hit up profane cults in isolated places to get icons. These days, one can go to a store and buy all the iconography you want of he who lies dreaming.)

Like this.

 Or this.

I'll also confess I'm not fond of H. P. Lovecraft's writing. It's a bit like reading Hawthorne, if Hawthorne had Hester giving birth to alien babies after Dimmesdale himself found out he was a hybrid of normal isolated New Englanders and underwater fish people.

Seriously. That's Baby Pearl up there.
(This must just be a Southern New England thing. Writers from Northern New England tend to write like a tabloid reporter. "Captain Trips is taking out 99.4% of the world's population, and Frannie's pregnant!!")

Lovecraft is quite a bit like Bob Dylan. I much prefer his stuff when it's done by someone else.

(I'll be citing examples here in a sec.)

But, the real reason I'm writing this has to do with The Lovecraft Anthology Vol. 1, edited by Dan Lockwood, that turns HP Lovecraft's words into illustrated graphic novels. Or graphic short stories, to be more precise. This particular collection includes " The Call of Cthulhu", " "The Haunter of the Dark", "The Dunwich Horror", "The Colour Out of Space", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Rats in the Walls", and "Dagon". It makes Lovecraft's words much more accessible to the readers who may have run across Cthulhu in other places and tried to find the source.

But then, based on what I've read, Lovecraft never really set his pantheon in stone, preferring to use it as  background noise, for lack of a better term. What does emerge from what he wrote (usually based around Arkham, Massachusetts, or Miskatonic University, or some isolated New England backwater) is the idea of the Outer Ones (Like Azathoth, the blind idiot god at the center of the universe), Great Old Ones (like Cthulhu, sunken in his house at R'lyeh), and lesser horrors (The shoggoths, more or less used as slave labor and the Mi-go, who either worship Nyarlathotep or are at war with the elder gods. Given how many people who have worked in the mythos, this kind of confusion is bound to arise. However, just keep in mind that this is like Alien vs. Predator. Whoever wins, we lose.)

We also have what generally remains a pattern in Lovecraft's fiction. The narrator reads someone else's mad ravings, investigates, then goes mad himself. Mind you, if I, like our narrator in "At the Mountains of Madness" ran across 5 foot tall penguins being used as cattle for either the shoggoths or Cthulhu himself, I think I might go a little mad as well.

Cthulhu has become a cultural icon of sorts the farther from the original writings we get. From the RPGs The Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Tech to movies, books and graphic novels...

Cthulhu shows up briefly in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. Cthulhu shows up fighting beat poets in Nick Mamatas's Move Under Ground. An entire graphic novel series entitled The Fall of Cthulhu concerns The Harlot fighting Nyarlathotep as the latter tries to wake up Cthulhu.

We have Brian Lumley's non-vampire series concerning the Dreamlands. (I liked these a bit better than Necroscope. That one got a bit confusing after a while, what with time travel, psychics, vampire planets and all. Fun to read, but I really needed a damn flow chart to keep up with it.) 

There's also Mick Ferrin's very wonderful Victor Renquist Quartet, where Cthulhu shows up in Book 2, Darklost. In that appearance, Cthulhu ties in with the vampire mythos Ferrin created as something of an enforcer the Nephilim created to keep the Nosferatu in line. Mind you, Merlin shows up in book 3, and book 4 concerns Nazis in the Hollow Earth, but the series itself is a wonderful read. The vampires aren't mindless antagonists, nor are they Twilight sparklers. (Seriously. Find copies of The Time of Feasting and keep reading.)

If you like a little humor with your insanity inspiring pantheon, there's The Eldritch Pastiche From Beyond the Shadow of Horror by Christopher Welch (from the Blood Lite anthology. This one gets a shout out, since I've felt much like the narrator on more than a few occasions.)

There's even a Dr. Seuss version of Cthulhu out there.

And of course, more recently, there's The Six Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher, which I reviewed previously on here.

In all honesty, as bad as his writing is, H.P. Lovecraft's influence is felt far and wide in contemporary horror. And really, if you can find a good introduction, the writing gets easier to plow through.

I leave you and your sanity with the following.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.