Thursday, January 28, 2016

January re-read IV: Until the world ends

OK, given the book I'm reviewing today is straight out of a table top role playing game, I feel that I should do my best to summarize the setting before actually reviewing it. Bear with me here, the world building was huge with the setting. (I kind of wish Blogger had a "cyt" command so I could hide this section rather than make people familiar with the Original World of Darkness sit through a brief summary of several years and 3 editions worth of metaplot.)

Vampire: the Masquerade 's in game history starts in Genesis, when Cain (here spelled Caine) slew his brother. God delivered a series of curses to Caine that basically made him the original vampire. Some legends say he met up with Adam's first wife, Lilith, and she gave him some powers... Caine created 3 childer, vampires like himself. (The 2nd generation) They built a city, Caine destroyed it. Those three made 13 childer, who became the 3rd Generation, who are the clan parents of the 13 clans that exist in game. (Over time, bloodlines formed, who didn't have a clan parent or really stretch back much farther than the 8th Generation.) The 3rd generation became known as the Antediluvians.

Fast forward several millennia, a few of the Antediluvians are really dead, a few no longer particularly inhabit the plane of existence where they started from (or particularly inhabit what could be considered a physical body), one was diablarized (cannibalized to the point someone drunk his soul), one was almost diablarized, but it was found out he still existed in another form. None of this particularly matters that much, since modern vampires generally think of them as legends. (Regardless that one sleeps in Vienna, and everyone knows about him.)

Ugh, anyway, there's a whole series of prophecies that concern what happens when they all wake up. Most of those pretty much say they will consume their descendants and the world will end, but again, not amny particularly believe them. (Of the major factions in the setting, the Camarilla [who were pretty much the focus of the early additions] subscribes entirely to the idea that Gehenna is myth. The Sabbat, who allegedly killed off their clan founders [ed note: they failed], believe in Gehenna like some folks believe in Revelation. The Anarchs and the independents all seem to fall in between somewhere.)

Which should be enough background to start with the review of Gehenna: The Final Night by Ari Marmell. As one could guess by the title, this book concerns what happens when the Antediluvians wake up. We spend much of the book following Beckett (of Clan Gangrel, who's major power includes shape changing and who's founder, Ennoia, essentially became one with the Earth at some point) as he tries to understand why vampires exist. He's assisted in this by Kapaneus, a much older vampire Beckett meets in the ruins of Kaymakli. (Very long story short. Cappadocius, who founded the Cappadocian clan before being mostly destroyed by the Giovanni who took over the clan towards the end of the Dark Ages, got mad that his progeny weren't following directions, so he sealed them in a cave for eternity.) Beckett manages to break Cappadocius's seal on the entrance, thus waking up a few things that weren't exactly happy to be woken up. (Mind you, at the point this all starts, it's assumed Ravnos's founder had already woken up and been destroyed in Bangladesh, which was a whole other story told elsewhere.)

We also spend time following around Lucita (of Clan Lasombra, who killed her Sire back during the Clan Novels and has since taken over his place in the Sabbat Hierarchy) and Theo Bell (Clan Brujah. Theo is one of the Camarilla's main enforcers) who wind up working together as the Withering starts. The Withering is some sort of disease that affects the eldest vampires first, and gradually works its way down towards the youngest. It weakens the vampires affected, occasionally killing them. Some of the elders figure out that these effects can be treated by diablerizing other vampires, which is more or less what drives Lucita and Theo together.

And then there's Fatima (of Clan Assamite, the assassins  out of the middle east. When the Final Nights start, the clan has had a schism caused by one of the oldest expecting the clan to worship the founder rather than Allah.) Fatima, who knew Lucita of old, basically shows up mostly to pass on vital information at key points, as does Anatole (of Clan Malkavian, who are all lunatics. Anatole died before this book, but that doesn't seem to have slowed him down much.)

We follow everyone around across most of the Western World, finding that the Tremere are all dead (Tremere was a clan formed right around the start of the Dark Ages by Hermetic wizards trying to preserve their magic. Finding vampiric society to be even worse than mage society, they basically ate their way to the top of the food chain) and the Tzimisce are all pretty much gone as well. (Clan Tzimisce came out of eastern Europe and got very involved in body crafting. Their founder is basically like the Blob, only it's resting under Manhattan and calling its descendants home for dinner.)

As everyone slowly begins to realize that indeed, the Final Nights have started, just about everyone wants to kill Beckett, and Holy Lord, what's the complete blackness that keeps swallowing the sky?!?, everything slowly resolves with most of out party meeting fates one way or another. Beckett finally gets his answers in the epilogue, not long after he figures out who Kapaneus really is.

Of the three world ending books in the trilogy, this is probably the best, followed very closely by The Last Battle by Bill Bridges. (That one concerns the end of the world for Werewolves, which is also REALLY GOOD. The last book, concerning the end of the world for Mages, Judgement Day by Bruce Baugh, is horrid. I don't even own a copy any more. Which is sad, since the actual game supplement they released for Mage was the best of all the series enders.)

While I doubt all of my readers are into Table Top gaming, the original World of Darkness was one of the best. Yes, some of the mechanics were terrible, but the focus was so much more on the story than combat. I realize the reboot fixed the mechanics quite well, but the new story line was beyond bad. The oWoD was also one of the few series where the sourcebooks were so much fun to read, since they often were written at least partially in character, making it much more like reading a story than a dry dusty tome of rules

I recommend this and the second book to anyone who enjoyed the games, and even to those few who are willing to work with contectual clues to figure out what they've missed to get into a good world ender.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Januaray Re-read III: It's the End of the World!

This should be the next to last entry in my January re-reads, it really depends on the library's alacrity in getting new releases to me starting January 26th. (Expecting 2 books not long after they come out the 26th, and a 3rd one early February. Another reason I'm trying to clear off my TBR pile, since they'll likely not have renewals.)

We start Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens somewhere in Genesis, as a snake demon stands talking with the angel set to guard the entrance. Thus introducing us to a 6,000 year friendship prior to the start of the main story. Most notable here is that the Angel gave Adam and Eve his flaming sword out of a bit of misplaced compassion.

Fast forward a few millennia, and we rejoin Crawly (now going by the name Crowley) in a graveyard, meeting with Hastur and Ligur. The senior demons hand Crowley (who's gone native) the Antichrist to deliver to a local convent/nursery. Wherein said Antichrist winds up in the hands of Sister Mary Loquacious, sister in St. Beryl's Chattering Order. (Which just happens to be a Satanist convent.) Sister Mary manages to screw up the baby exchange, meaning young Warlock is actually a normal baby going home with the American Cultural Attache, whereas Adam, the Antichrist, goes home with the Young family to Lower Tadfield, England.

Aziraphale and Crowley, not particularly happy about the world they've come to love coming to an end, set out to help train the Young antichrist, in hopes of preventing Armageddon. Which doesn't seem to go well, since they're helping raise young Warlock.

Which makes the upcoming war between Heaven and Hell that much more complicated.

Into this mix, we have Anathema Device, professional descendant, who has the only copy of Agnes Nutter's Nice and Accurate Prophecies, which are the only truly accurate ones out there. There's Newton Pulsifer, who joins England's Witchfinder Army, under the current head, Mr. Shadwell. Mr. Shadwell lives across the hall from the geriatric Madame Tracy, who does seances and prostitution.

And then there are the 4 horsemen: War (here, a female war correspondent for a tabloid), Famine (who invented haute cuisine and is now marketing diet food and fast food), Pollution (who took over in 1932 when Pestilence stepped down muttering about Penicillin), and of course, DEATH. DEATH resembles the same character who inhabits Discworld, but towards the end, gets revealled by another name.

All these stories don't so much coincide as much as they careen wildly around, overlapping, making snappy commentary, and generally being one of the best books ever written.

Really, I first read this after reading Gaimen's Neverwhere and attempting to read Pratchett's Feet of Clay. It wound up getting me to give Discworld another shot. And yet, particularly as fast as the narrative goes, I keep finding new things when I re-read this one.

Highly recommend this one to just about everyone as well.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

January re-read II: The Gorilla Returns

Well, I've now officially re-read the Gumshoe duology by Keith Hartman, and now find myself cursing that he never wrote another one in the series. He did write on other novel (Murder Beneath The Buried Sky, which if I can figure out where I put it last time I redid my bookshelf might be up next), but as of late, he seems to be in Hollywood self financing fun movies. (Seriously. Go find copies of You Should Meet My Son and Real Superheroes. I guess he's still trying to get Vampire Strippers Must Die funded beyond a short film.)

Gumshoe Gorilla picks up in April 2025, roughly 6 months after the events of The Gumshoe, The Witch, and the Virtual Corpse. This time, we start with Jen ("The Psychic"), who's doing her darndest to inflict a bit of karmic retribution on her previous beau, who it seems was dating two other women and using the same cheesy lines on as he did with her.

We do return to Drew ("The Gumshoe") in due time, who is dealing with Laughing Bear constantly dropping off Ice-In-Summer's former wardrobe at Drew's apartment. We also briefly meet Natalie ("The Number Cruncher") who's basically feeding information from both the Baptist Broadcasting Network and the Christian Alliance to Roaring Grizzly ("The Tele-shaman"). We do gets hints that the three of them may be colluding, but only one is aware of all the players in the scheme.

We also meet Skye ("The Writer"), plot coordinator for CzechMates, which is currently filming in Atlanta. As plot coordinator, her job consists of making sure all the deviating plotlines from any edit of the show makes sense. Skye hires Jen and Drew to investigate what her boyfriend is doing, since she's sure he's in trouble. Her boyfriend is Charles Rockland, one of the 3 Rockland brothers working on the show. (The other two being Doug and Bernie. Albert works alone and is in Thailand, Eddie is busy keeping the tabloids in business.)

The thrust of that plotline works out to finding out Charles is trying to help Eddie out of a really bizarre blackmail scheme, which brings Drew and Jen back to working with Linda ("The Woman in Black"), who was last seen working for Justin Weir.

There's also a case Drew is working to try to figure out what's wrong with Daniel, his much younger call boy friend, who is indeed now dating a man named Vincent as Drew saw in a vision last book. Drew's concerns stem from Daniel getting arrested for possession of Bliss (think MDMA), and then finding out the Bliss is laced with heroin. This leads to a vampire sex club, and further down the rabbit hole into the camps where unwanted gay youth were housed in the years following the genetic test. We also find out more of Drew's past, like how he got kicked out of his parents house during his sophomore year when his genetic test showed he was gay, and how he worked for one of the escort agencies to get by until he joined the police later on.

Ultimately, these mysteries get wrapped up (including one introduced early on about a woman convinced her daughter's new husband is hiding something) satisfactorily, but again, one is left wondering what happens to everyone after the lights go down and everyone takes off their masks.

This one is also less focused on big ideas, and more so on little ones like individuality and the prices of fame. During one of Drew's Shamanic voyages, a mockingbird recites poetry on the latter, before being eaten by the asphalt.

As I stated above, I caught a few things I haven't noticed in previous readings (something Laughing Bear says near the end seems to register with something Skye says elsewhere earlier), which makes me really wish there was another Gumshoe coming out sometime.

Don't let that stop you. The book is still a damned good read.

Monday, January 11, 2016

January re-read

I sort of reviewed Keith Hartman's The Gumshoe, The Witch, And the Virtual Corpse (as well as its follow up, The Gumshoe Gorillaway back in 2013, but a January slow down in library book has afforded me the opportunity to re-read the duology. (I have a few quintets I'd like to re-read as well, but quintets are much more of a time sink.)

The year is 2024, in a week that ends with a Friday the 13th. We start on a Sunday evening, with one of our narrators (Drew, who's chapters get listed as "The Gumshoe") on a case, trying to figure out if his clients fiance is gay or not. When the client shows up on the stake out, it gives us a chance to examine America in the mid-20's, with Atlanta being a microcosm of the nation. We hear of the genetic test for homosexuality, which leads to an uptick in abortions in all populations other than Catholics. ("'You gotta love the Pope. She may be a reactionary old cow, but at least she's consistent.'") Most populations have managed to segregate themselves, with the gays taking over midtown, and the Southern Baptists occupying northern Cobb County. The client's fiance works for Rev. Zachariah Stonewall, one of Georgia's senators from the Christian Alliance party.

As the scene plays out, with the client following Drew up to her fiance's hotel room in DC to see if he's doing bad things with Drew's sidekick Daniel, we cut to "The artist", James Calerant, an artist with a sordid past. In this section, Calerant is at a grant performace surrounded by other artists showing off what they did with their money. (This included Foy Kucu rolling around in frosting and sprinkles while screaming racial epithets.) Calerant's performance for the evening (before which we get an overview of artistic politics) involves an old painting he bought from a museum where it had been languishing in a basement for 50 years. He sets it on fire, giving it meaning by destroying it. Then we cut back to Drew, who's client has pulled a gun on her fiance after finding him in the act. Drew takes a hit to the head and starts seeing thing right in the middle of the ensuing fight.

And from there we're off. We meet Megan, "The Police", who gets woken up to investigate a vandalism case in a graveyard. Given she's Special Investigations, she resents this, until she gets there and finds out the case involves a corpse exhumed and set up in what appears to be a Satanic ritual of some sort. We meet Ice-In-Summer, "The Lunatic", Cherokee shaman who's looking for her replacement, as she approaches the courthouse for a hearing about Raging Grizzly's "Ghost Dance" that wound up in a shootout between the Cherokee and the Baptists. We meet Benji, "The Chosen One", a young Baptist boy who writes an underground comic. We meet Justin, "The Singer", who just one best Male Artists at the Christian Music awards, and who's trying to bring down Stonewall. We meet Holly, "The Witch", who writes for a Wiccan newssite, and who's daughter becomes involved with Benji.

The story gets more involved and interrelated as 3 murders happen as well as an act of terrorism at a family planning clinic. As the clock winds slowly towards Friday the 13th, tensions ramp up between all the communities and violence breaks out among them. We find out who Benji's real parents are and why he's being chased by Men In Black Suits, we find out why Ice-In-summer believes her time is nigh. We go with Drew on his shamanic hero's journey and enjoy his frustration with one of the archetypes he encounters on the way. (A giant turtle who tries to get him to journey over water and enter the underworld. Said turtle starts quoting Joseph Campbell before Drew finally takes matters into his own hands.)

And ultimately, we find out who started the Satanic Panic and why. And why "In order to save something, you must destroy it."

It's by far one of my favorite books of all time, one that I've bought for a few people and recommended to several others. I think the mix of Sci-fi, urban fantasy, magical realism, and just plain humor is a heady mix, frosted with themes that are close to my heart, was just what I needed to get 2016 off to a good start.