Sunday, November 15, 2015

So sayeth the shepherd!

Before I start discussing Chris Sauter's The Flock, I must use a warning I've only ever had to do one other time on here. I know the author. Take this review with that in mind.

At it's most basic, the plot of this one can be summed up as "Gay boy in his senior year of High School falls in lust with nonreciprocating straight boy and starts a cult just to seduce him." Because essentially, that's what much of the first half concerns. Our narrator, Cole, now 17 years on from leaving the cult, is married to Remy (technically, with the timeline, they got married in CA before the Prop 8 business, so it wasn't recognized where they were), and losing his hearing due to cholesteatoma. As we start, Cole receives a nasty story about a guy with the same condition who eventually becomes invisible to the world at large.

Then other "gifts" arrive. Like a jacket left behind at an abandoned apartment that burned down with the jacket in it. This gets Cole to start blogging about both the gifts and his history which keeps coming up from the stuff he's receiving. We learn of the first boy he ever loved, who died, who later contacted Cole via Ouija board during what sounds a bit like a date rape scenario if not something more nefarious.

Anyway, Cole meets a guy in art class, falls in lust, that basically uses fake trance possession to increase Joe's interest in him. Which works, probably better than Cole expected, particularly when people start hanging out with cole just to get some of his channeled information from such characters as Jaques, the 18th Century French drunk or Erina, the succubus.

Then he starts channeling Beelzebub, or BB for short. BB helps set up the theology that gets The Flock rolling, and sets down the "rules" of the new religion, most of which are designed to further entrap Joe. Let's see if I can sum up the theology a bit here to give you an idea. God the creator created the world then went to sleep, waiting for his creation to catch up and join him. Beelzebub was the true antagonist, his fame usurped by Lucifer Morningstar. Beelzebub is the limit on the human soul, and true ascension is accomplished by not having limits. Cole is the Prophet, one of the few who can speak for the Creator. Joe is his chosen. Acts of heterosexuality create bodies, acts of homosexuality create souls. The Messiah will be born of two fathers and one mother, aka, Cole and Joe will father the soul, and eventually one of them will father the child.

See how well that one's going to play out?

Cole eventually fakes a few prophecies (more so than usual) as pat of an end game so he can go to college. Mind you, by this point, the core group of The Flock has more or less started living communally and finding ways around the law.

Of course, the fake prophecies come true, even though those fulfilling them and Cole all know it was faked.

This all goes really south about the halfway point, when (not a spoiler, since Cole pretty much tells you from the beginning) Joe hangs himself after a rather ugly lovers spat.

At the halfway point, Mr,. Sauter does something that would make Nick Mamatas proud. (Long story short, I once submitted a story to Mr. Mamatas. His advice was put the twist in the middle instead of the end.) And we get a really large twist at the separation of Parts 1 and 2, wherein The Prophet winds up returning to the cult he founded 17 years prior. And meets the Messiah.

We'll leave the synopsis there, since most of the rest of the book is a gradual unspooling of what's been going on behind the scenes for the past 17 years, followed by another twist toward the very end.

So, boys and girls, let's instead discuss the themes like good English students.

It seems most folks realize Cole's faking the possessions and the prophecies, but believe in him anyway. How are we doing this in our own lives?

Fate verses Free Will plays a part in this, since some of the groundwork suggests a longer play going on in the background that Cole more or less becomes a figurehead in. Where is the balance?

The narrator is the very definition of unreliable. How much of the narrative, including the seemingly coerced parts in the second half would you believe to be true if reading it as non-fiction?

The narrator's memories of events rarely syncs with other people's recollections of events. Compare this with Dali's "The Persistence of Memory".

Cole's narration is reminiscent of an addict recounting the bad things done while high. Which is to say bragging while begging foregiveness. How do you avoid such things?

By far, the only quibble I have with the entire book is that the timeline of when things go off the deep end seems a bit rushed. I mean, in the book, it plays out a natural pace, but honestly, looking at the time stamps, things go from "Hey, let's go live on a commune!" to "Hey, let's start killing people!" in the course of about 2 weeks to a month.

Also, I was under the impression that this was supposed to be fairly light. It's not. It's pretty much a psychological thriller, with an opening third that evoked a very visceral reaction from me.

I enjoyed reading this one. I'd recommend it to a few friends, but go in knowing forewarned that parts of it are very graphic in nature, and may cause some serious self examination.

(Another rarity on here: if you wish to get a copy, here's the Amazon listing .)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Break out the BBQ sauce

So, with World War Moo, Michael Logan returns readers to the Britain overrun by virus infected animals that essentially want to pass on infection via biting or sex.

Which is, of course, why Great Britain remains under forced blockade with no one getting in or out.

The zombies have set up BRIT, basically an ad hoc government to run things until the situation resolves one way or another, under Tony Campbell. Tony made a cameo in the first book, threatening to eat intrepid journalist Lesley McBrien during a televised interview. However, the Russians, Americans, and Chinese plan on using a series of nuclear weapons and planned invasion (Operation Excision) to eliminate the virus and make the Isle habitable for normal folks again.

On the islands itself, we have Ruan, who is immune to the virus, who ends up finding a group of infected who have learned to control the impulses associated with infection by sexual conduct, marijuana, and yoga. Unsurprisingly, Geldof Peterson's mother Fanny (who survived the pig stampede it seems) is running the resistance. This, of course, leads to Geldof and his grandfather hiring mercenaries to get her out. Geldof winds up going in with the mercs, because of course he does.

Tony, in the meantime is learning to control his viral urges by channeling Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Not easy, since a group named Blood of Christ is looking for ways to get the virus everywhere else, thinking it's G-d's judgement upon mankind. Tony is attempting two different plans to reconcile Britain with the world, one of which is dropping infected blood bombs on France via Britain's last remaining nuclear submarine, the other convincing people that Britain can control itself.

Lesley, bless her heart, winds up getting pulled in when she reposts about Operation Excision, then promptly gets extraordinarily renditioned (along with her source) to Scotland.

It's a little les subtle with its metaphores than the first book, and the rage virus seems to have been retooled for this one. But still, there are worse ways to spend reading.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

He's not lost anymore....

Well, I finished what as near as I can tell was Edward Lazellari's last Aandor book. Which is sad, since The Lost Prince was published in 2013, and ends without really resolving the ongoing crisis.

Which is fine, since it wraps up most of the Earth based business introduced in the first book.

But first, Lelani's spell to wake up the other guardian's hit during the prologue. Which introduces us to the Reverend, the Rock Star, the billionaire industrialist, and the English professor. (We find out the cook also recovered his memories, but we don't meet him until towards the very end.)

The Prince the book is named for is holed up in a trailer court in North Carolina Daniel, last seen fleeing Baltimore after killing his abusive step father, is more or less trapped with Colby, our literally heartless private detective, in Colby's sister's double wide, along with her 16 year old daughter.

Cal and Seth, on the other hand, on hot on his trail, although they get some help when Colby contacts them, after realizing the the antagonist wizard Dorn can't deliver on his promises.

In the meantime, the Billionaire Dwarv Malcolm (who's gay in the reality, since Dwarv women in Aandor are essentially men with female bits) is gathering those still in the New York city area at the Waldorf-Astoria. This includes Tim the minstrel (who fronts a popular rock band) and Balzac, the jester. Allyn, who's now a Christian minister with a wife and child, is also based in North Carolina, who also freaks out his congregation by using Clerical magic. As should not be a surprise to anyone, it's the reluctant Allyn who winds up saving Daniel during a rather large standoff between the Prince's guardians and his would be assassins, the later who have put out a rather large reward for his capture.

Eventually, we all end up back in New York, where Seth ends up making amends to people he'd hurt and eventually regains his ability to do wizard magic. Cat, Cal's wife, gets kidnapped, and despite being a lovesick ninny along the lines of Laurana in Dragonlance, does eventually get to go full Buffy.

We get a rather explosive final third was wizards duel from between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building as flesh golems rise from the sewers and we find out who among the heroes betrayed the party.

The ending is satisfying, even if it does end on Earth, with Aandor left unseen. Even if the characters follow D&D archetypes, seeing that reinterpreted is terms of Earth translations is quite a bit of fun. Really, it's kind of like a reverse of Brook's Magic Kingdom of Landover.

I only wish he'd continued on.