Monday, December 30, 2019

Rudolf isn't going to like this.

Unless I get really busy and finish book three at work tomorrow, I'm finishing off 2019 with book #65 read, also known as The City of Gold and Lead, book two of John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy.

Again, we're being narrated by Will, who, along with cousin Henry and Jean Paul (Beanpole), made it to the sanctuary of the White Mountains in the last book. We learn a little of the Resistance in this book, mainly that it's headed by Julian, and that they've been up in the mountains since the Tripods came. The boys have been getting educated both in books, language, and fighting; a plan is underway to send at least three youths to Germany for a competition that would get people into the realm of the Tripods.

The Council ends up sending three boys; Will goes to the games as a boxer, Beanpole as a long and high jumper, and Fritz as a runner. Henry, of course, is upset at not being selected, and Will is not ecstatic to hear about Fritz, since Fritz is taciturn and reserved.

The three of them walk down into Germany and catch a boat run by a supporter of the Resistance, who also is as mad as Ahab, only less obsessed. When the captain goes into town and stays out longer than expected, Beanpole and Will go in to find him. Will gets in a bar fight and winds up in a gaol, Beanpole finds him and breaks him out, but their ship has left without them, forcing them to raft upriver on the side of a barn, then stealing a hermit's boat after a long lesson in why an individual is not a threat to the Tripods, and why an individual is also not a resistance supporter.

Anyway, they do end up making it to the games, where Will gets in as a boxer, Fritz wins one of his events, and Beanpole almost wins, but gets disqualified on a technicality. As such, Fritz and Will get honored by being taken by tentacle into a Tripod and then to one of the three cities of the Masters.

The City is domed, and filled with pyramids, and the boys taken from the games are first dressed and given rebreathers, then led to to a place where the masters can choose them as servants. (There's a lot of threes in the city. the pyramids have three sides, the time in the city is kept in 9 periods, with 9 segments in each period, the Masters themselves have 3 legs, 3 tentacles, and 3 eyes in a vaguely conical shape.

Will gets lucky, sort of, as his Master is fairly benevolent at first. When he finds Fritz later on, Fritz hasn't been as lucky, getting beaten fairly regularly. Will does take advantage of his Master's affections, learning what he can of the Master's plans and weaknesses, as well as seeing the Hall of Beauty, where the beauty of the earth is forever preserved like butterflies in a glass case.

We hear of the thick green atmosphere in the dome, and the extra gravity, causing the servants many issues. We see Will and Fritz trying to figure out how and when to escape. And when we get that far, we see Will escape, finding Beanpole outside the city, and a 12 day vigil in which Fritz does not appear.

There are things in here I read differently as an adult than I did whenever back in my youth I last read these. Among other things, Will's treatment by his Master does suggest something rather more untoward than I caught as a kid. The Masters might reproduce by Parthogenesis, but Will's master does seem to enjoy getting high on Gas Bubbles and having Will rub him.  We also get the first signs that other than the Masters entire plan to corrode the atmosphere in 4 years' time, they've been a benefit to human society's ability to get along.

While most modern young adult dystopian fiction revolves around humans being evil to humans, making the enslavers of humaity from outside of humanity helps hide the kicker that we're really our own worst enemies. Which I'm sure we'll return to in the finale.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Heat of the Night

So, if I'm remembering correctly, the last time I read Under a Velvet Cloak by Piers Anthony, it would have been 2009ish. I know I was living in Missouri, and that I got it froom the Glenstone Library branch, but....

Anyway, this is/was the final Incarnations of Immortality book he wrote, dealing with the incarnation of Night, Nox. And frankly, my memory of the major plot points wasn't that great, so it was a bit like reading it for the first time.

We start in roughly 500AD England, in the time of Arthur. We get a peek at Jolie from what they refer to as T1 (Timeline 1, the one where the rest of the series takes place) entering T2 and meeting the "ugly sister", Kerena. Jolie doesn't really possess Kerena as much as she rides her, only stepping in when T1 diverges from T2, since Orlene has seen that all the other timelines end in destruction of the universe. As such, trying to get the timelines to correct by following the path that worked previously leads to Jolie witnessing the rise of Kerena as she joins a traveling magician to learn to use her "Sight". Morley vanishes, so Kerena begins a quest to find him, leading to working in a brothel, then working for Morgan Le Fey. Mogan sends Kerena to seduce Sir Gawain so that he may not touch the Grail. She succeeds, but not until falling for him.

Anyway, After dropping Gawain off in Camelot, Morgan teaches Kerena the last trick, to find Morley. Which she does, in Scotland, where he's a Vampire named Vorley. The woman who turned him, turns Kerena as well, right before Kerena realizes she's knocked up with Gawain's bastard. Who in turn has a curse attached to him, which as we see later down the line, is upon his descendants as well. Kerena seeks out the Incarnations, who all rebuff her. She swears revenge, and eventually figures out how to become Nox. (Along the way, she meets Lilith, Molly Malone, and a whole host of other minor characters who play roles in the series.)

And then, as Nox, and with her "Sight", she learns to travel the timelines that branch off T2, meeting Niobe, who's name she gives to Gabriel  Along the way, she's romanced by an Efreet, whom we later learn a heck of a lot more about than what we ever wanted to know. (This is not to say his story isn't interesting, but....)

So, basically, the entire book lays out the underpinnings of the previous 7 books, showing that Nox herself set up the entire series, as well as getting really involved in the ideas of alternate timelines, and the idea that the universe is a big tree with three major branches, one totally science based, one totally magic based, and one where they compete, and how to keep the tree from dying.

Which is really interesting, but gets bogged down occasionally under the whole "Women must pretend they don't enjoy carnal relations to keep men interested", mixed in with rape being a major factor in a few relationships.

Really, though, worth reading for completeness.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

In the end

So, after much delay, I finally got my hands on Edward Lazellari's Blood of Ten Kings, the third and final book in his Guardians of Aandor series.

It took me a few chapters to get back into the setting, as we catch up with folks on our Earth who are actually from another part of the universe, A part closer to the center of reality where magic is much more prominent. Also, as is discussed, the closer to the center, the slower time flows. (The actual analogy is that reality is like an onion, the closer to the center, the more magic there is and the more things become less material and more energetic.) Having forgotten who they all were due to a botched spell upon arrival, the heroes have lived 14 years on Earth with no memory of who they actually are, while roughly a week has passed in Aandor. The Prince of the Realm, who came to Earth as a babe, is now 14 and being trained by the Guardians to speak the language, how to rule, etc. Which isn't really easy for a 14 year old who wants to enjoy his childhood. Perhaps worse is Guard Captain Cal, who married Cat on Earth, having forgotten his betrothed, Chrys, back on Aandor. As we open, the same arguments from book two are replayed, as everyone tries to figure out when they should head back to Aandor and wipe the rival kingdom whose invasion of Aandor is what sent everyone to Earth in the first place out.

About a third of the way through the book, and after a few more Aandorians arrive, the point becomes moot as a dying Necromancer kills the Tree Mage Rosencrantz, sending most of the cast back to Aandor, whether they like it or not. (A few do get left behind, and we find out their fates later.)

As such, we get to see the Earthlings adjust to life in High Medieval fantasy settings even as the returned Aandorians bring Earth technology back with them unexpectedly, even if the magic of Aandor doesn't allow it to function very long. (Honestly, I found myself laughing as half the characters were using iPhones on Aandor to show pictures proving lineage. Good luck finding a charging port in High Medieval.)

Any rate, once we're back on Aandor, we end up following around a few different groupings of the Guardians as they get thrown into starting a rebellion. (I'm skipping a heck of a lot of narrative here, but it's kind of like watching modern folks find their way through a High Fantasy escape room.)

In the end, the day is won, and just about everyone has dealt with the revelations thrown at them during the transitions. We also get a few lessons in how magic and science can work together with some very fun results.

While this is a mostly satisfying end to the series, I also started feeling like maybe it should have been stretched out over two books, since parts of the rebellion and many of the revelations of personal info felt rushed, like everything that needed to happen was going to happen, but there wasn't enough room to particularly space it out. Also, when the bride meets the betrothed, the friendship between them is awesome, even if most of what they talk about fails the Bechdel test.

As a side note, this copy came from the library my dad ended up frequenting after he finished reading through the local library where I grew up. Part of me wondered if this would have been one he and I would have discussed, or if he would have dismissed it as too modern.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

In Nomine

So, as the library finally found me a copy of the final book of Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality, I found myself racing through the penultimate book, And Eternity. Which used to be the series finale, but ya know....

Anyway, thanks to the revelations of Satan in the previous volume, we're mostly following around Satan's first wife Jolie as she works on secret missions on behalf of Gaea. Unfortunately, Satan had her also working on observing someone, who just happened to be Gaea and Mars's bastard child, Orlene, Who had a baby by Chronos prior to him becoming Chronos, and who's grandmother is currently one of the faces of Fate, and who's cousin Luna is shacked up with Thanatos.

As we saw back in book 2, Orlene kills herself. So Jolie drags her ghost around for most of the book. Which works out, since Gaea needs Jolie and her shadow to check in on a teenaged hooker who's mother works for Luna. This leads us to Vita. We also see more of Nox, the incarnation of night, who has the soul of Orlene's baby, and who presents a quest to Orlene to recover said soul. Orlene only need to gather something from each of the seven Incarnations of Day (which we find out more about that split later on... Basically the Day incarnations split into 7 areas, while Night remained undivided.)

Anyway, after getting Vita off drugs, away from her pimp, and under the supervision of a juvenile court judge who she ends up sleeping with, the three (and on one occasion four) of them wind up seeking out each Incarnation, slowly revealing their relationships with Orlene and showing quite a bit of what each of their offices concerns.

In the end, after securing the items from six of the Incarnations, Orlene, Vita, and Jolie ascend to Heaven and find, like Satan did, God is so busy contemplating his own divinity that he no longer pays attention to the world. As such, Luna's big moment is due to come, as her destiny in thwarting Satan is to provide the deciding vote in declaring the Office of Good vacant. Indeed, one of the best scenes in the entire series, basically a throwaway, happens here, where Satan causes a traffic snarl to prevent her from voting. Which Death's white steed takes her through.

And in the end, the vote on who gets the office happens, and at last Satan and Nox's true plans come to light. And as Jolie swore early on, God kisses Satan while all the Incarnations applaud.

Of note, this is also the only book in the series which I've actually done more than skim the Afterward on. In it he talks a bit about he feels as if good is really not present in the world anymore, and feels good really only works if people work to bring it forward, which I kind of agree with.

I know some folks really hate this volume. While I get that, and I understand, since Anthony's conclusions on the nature of men and women is annoying, I rather enjoyed this reread. I enjoyed the idea that sometimes, if a system is broken, or really doesn't work, the time comes to stop and restart and find a new way. Something I think more than a few of us can associate with.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Let's dive into the kiddie pool

So, I finally managed to drag myself through Bret Easton Ellis's The Rules of Attraction, which evidently is part of a shared universe of stories centering around the rich, privileged, downright vapid people of the '80s. (Read as: Clay, protagonist of Less Than Zero, shows up here as the Dumb Guy From LA, Lauren shows up again with Victor in Glamazon, and Sean's brother Patrick is the protagonist of Ellis's infamous American Psycho.)

So, at its core, this one is basically farce, as mistaken identities abound throughout the novel, only without any humor or any real point. We're mainly focused on Sean Bateman, Paul Denton, and Lauren Hynde. They aren't the only narrators, but they're the major ones. Sean deals drugs, skips class, and sleep around. By all accounts, he's sleeping with Lauren and Paul at various points, although his narration skips over any sexual shenanigans with Paul. Paul is a drama major who spends most of his time complaining about the other gay men on campus, pining over Mitchell (whom he dated, but Mitchell was closeted....Mitchell started sleeping with Lauren, which is how they met), being obsessed with Sean.... Lauren loses her virginity at the beginning of the book, and makes up for lost time the rest of it. She's pining for Victor, who went to Europe. (Victor narrates a few chapters, mainly talking about sleeping his way across Europe and doing drugs.)

All of this is set at the exclusive Camden College in New Hampshire, where the students and the townies hate each other.

Sean keeps getting this really weird love notes in his campus mail box. He thinks they're from Lauren. We, the readers, know it's some nameless woman obsessed with Sean who slices her wrists open after watching Sean leave a party with Lauren. 

Mind you, this happens within the first half of the book, so we still have another half to go of people's ennui, ending up with Lauren having her pregnancy by Sean terminated somewhere up by the Maine border.

Overall, the book was engaging I guess, but really it was like unto Sodom, only without any purpose. Every single narrator needed slapped. Any time I felt empathy with any of them, they promptly did something even dumber that killed off any goodwill I had built up. Honestly, as much more developed this is from the movie adaption, I kind of which I had just stuck with the movie.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Stop me if you've heard this before

So, Lisa W. Cantrell's Torments is less a sequel to her The Manse than it is the second half of the original book. Or more to the point, like Stephen King's It or Douglas Clegg's You Come When I Call You, it's the big bad calling everyone home again to finish what was started two years previously.

In this case though, most of the survivors have stayed in Merrilville, except Vince Colletti and Samantha Evers, both of whom come back early on in the novel; the former is dealing drugs out of Miami, the latter having been hiding in California.

We do get a few new characters, most of whom are in town to deal with the Beaufort House Condominiums being built on the site of the old Manse. The condos have been having issues since construction started, bringing in Sonny, who's both troubleshooting and looking to possibly buy the property. This sets him at odds with Mike, the foreman on the project, who can't quite figure out what's causing all the problems. The Interior Designer of the project, Jennifer, is happy to see Sonny, since he stays in one of the other models, meaning she's not alone at night in the complex, dreaming of a homeless man who keeps trying to warn her away.

We also revisit Pearl Rollins, who keeps getting reminded by Dood's ghost that things ain't finished, and Ted, who's taken Pearl's watch at watching the property through the night, waiting for a sign.

And then we have the missing Jaycee's, who's graves keep coming up empty.

It's a lot of fun to watch as the house rises again and we see what happens when demons get to run normal Haunted House attractions. It's not so fun to watch Sam go running back to her (dead) abusive ex boyfriend. This has always been one of the sticking points for me. Doesn't really help the pathos generated by Ted watching her do it, trapped in molasses fog, really doesn't fit the haunted house setting of the finale.

While this one is better written than the original, and remains a fun read, the multiple plot lines that get resolved a bit too quickly and one or two not so logical actions keep it from being a perfect Halloween read. Still fun.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

There will be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover

For those who aren't on my FB, you probably don't know of my obsession with finding reprints of the comic at the end of Boys' Life Magazine from the 80's, in which came my introduction to John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy. (I've since managed to find a blog that has the adaption of Book 1 up, but due to cropping issues, it's a pain in the butt to read.)

As part of my birthday, I received the boxed set of all four books in the trilogy. (Yes, I know, this is like Douglas Adams's misnamed Hitchhiker Trilogy. Christopher went back in 1988 and wrote a prequel.) As such, I'll be reading through them as I can.

The trilogy starts with The White Mountains, in which we meet our narrator, Will. Will lives in the British countryside in the village of Wherton, bullied by cousin Henry and friends with Cousin Jack. Jack is a year older, and therefore due to be capped by the tripods as part of his rite of passage into adulthood at 14. Jack expresses doubt to Will about being capped while they hide in a den they use to sneak away from the very commune like village. Capping day arrives, and Jack dutifuly allows the very large tripod (it's never given height qualifications beyond taller than trees) to take him up, returning later with a shaved head and a metal cap attached to his skull and a more docile nature in his personality.

We find that Will's father has a watch, one of the few relics in the village. We also find that capping doesn't work for everyone, with some percent of the population becoming Vagrants, seemingly mildly insane people for whom capping didn't take very well. (There's a bit of misogyny here, since it's mentioned females are less likely to go Vagrant, likely because they don't resists the brainwashing as much.)

One Vagrant comes to town named Ozymandias. Ozy is not nearly as nuts as he acts, since he's really a member of the resistance, wearing a fake cap and looking for recruits in villages who aren't capped as of yet. He gives will a map and a compass and directions to the White Mountains, where the resistance is based.

Will sneaks off in the night, and is followed by Henry. After a fight, Will lets Henry join him as they make their way to the sea and eventually board the Orion to another land.

In the other land, they meet Beanpole (actually Jean-Paul), who shows them the wonders of the schmand fair and one of the ancient cities (Paris, I assume, since they find a cathedral on an island in the river in the middle of the city). In the underground schmand fair, they find explosive eggs that blow up after removing a pin. 

As they make their way Southeast, Will gets sick, and we get to listen to him whine about Beanpole and Henry's friendship. They do end up taking refuge with the Compte and Comptess, who's daughter Eloise teaches Will French. Beanpole and Henry plan on escaping during the Tournaments, which colnclude with capping the uncapped of the right age; Will, being a ninny, decides to stick around and be with Eloise. Well, until he finds out Eloise will be taken by the Tripods to serve them, at which point he steals a horse and rides to find Henry and Beanpole. And he gets attacked by a tripod, but the tripod leaves him be. Or not, as the boys face a tripod fox hunt as they near the mountains.

In the end, we find out how Will is tracked, watch the boys figure out grenades, and hear that they found Freedom in the mountains, even if they now will be yelling "Wolverines!" as they fight back against the Tripods.

Amazingly, the book has held up well from my childhood memories, even if I did wonder if L Ron Hubbard read this and got the idea for Battlefield Earth. I also found myself pondering how different the narrative would have been if it was set in the US, given our dystopian youth fiction involves a lot less running away and a lot more midwest stoicism and insubordination in the face of authority. Honestly, I find myself excited to start the next book and see if it still thrills me.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Could it be..... Satan?

As we're rounding in to the home stretch of Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony, I have again suffered through For Love of Evil, concerning the office of the Incarnation of Evil, who's title of office is Satan.

It's an interesting book up until most of the last third. We meet Perry, adopted son of a local sorcerer, in a medieval village in Southern France right prior to the Avignon Crusade. Perry trains and falls in love with Jolie, a local village girl. The Crusaders come, the sorcerer winds up dead, Jolie ends up dead, but Thanatos comes to collect her, even though Jolie is a good person. Seems her death will lead to a great evil. Death does put a spot of her blood on Perry's arm, which allows her ghost to stay with him as he escapes the enemy sorcerer and becomes a monk.

He does eventually track down his pursuer, curses him, and finds out that Lucifer has a plot in motion that will destroy Europe. Perry eventually figures out it has to do with the death of the Great Khan, and switched messages that won't stop the horde before they overrun the West. Perry and Jolie go deep into northern Russia and switch one of the messages back, stopping Lucifer's plot. However, in the process of stopping the plot, Jolie does possess a woman, and the marriage is consummated again, which of course, violates several of Perry's oaths. Something that the demoness Lilah is quick to point out after Lucifer assigns her to corrupt Perry.

Which she does, particularly since Lilah's presence means Jolie can't be present. Prerry does his best to mitigate the evil he does, but it's still evil. On his death bed, he casts a mirror spell on Lilah, causing Lucifer to die. Perry assume the office, taking the name Satan. All the incarnations other than Chronos hate him, and Hell is a mess.

He does encounter JHWH in the Void after seeing how badly managed Heaven is. (Both afterlife destinations draw heavily on Dante's Divine Comedy. As such, Heaven is dull. Indeed, God can't hear anyone, because God in this setting is too busy in narcissistic contemplation to do anything.) JHVH does explain more about how Incarnations work, then suggests Perry pull a Karen and go talk to the manager. Which leads us to Gabriel, who makes a bet with Satan, that eventually leads to Niobe and Orb.

Which is about the point the book pretty much rehashes the previous volumes, with some getting a brief mention and others getting whole chapters.

The only bright spot in all of this is a bit of history changing one could only wish happened in reality. As a favor to JHVH, Perry stops the Holocaust by convincing Chronos that the Nazis will lead to Satan's ultimate victory.

Anyway, we do eventually get the epilogue to Gaea's book, finding out what happens to Perry after he goes up in flames at his second wedding.

In reflection, the book is better than I remember, but it does still have a feeling of rehash in the latter parts. It also manages to further muddle the timeline in favor of narrative, which gets annoying.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

It's not Halloween until we find out what the ol lady's been doing

So, a bit late in the season, but I finally got to reread Lisa W. Cantrell's awesome Halloween novel, The Manse. 

Set over roughly two years in the small North Carolina town of Merrilville, we meet the Junior Chamber of Commerce and their annual haunted house. Their venue is the old house atop a hill on the outskirts of town, owned by the elderly Beaufort Twins, Miss Bessie and Miss Flossie. Miss Flossie doesn't talk very much, but Miss Bessie is all about trying to get restoration funding for her childhood home, which is filled with tragedies, like the girl who was locked in the basement for 3 days before dying, the gardener who went nuts and killed people, Miss Bessie's Aunt and Uncle who fell and died on the grand staircase...

All of which get used as scenarios in the house as time goes on. See, the Jaycees pay the sisters a stipend and do caretaking in the off season.

Of the Jaycees, we mostly follow around Dood, Tank, Zack, Samantha, and Ted. Zack and Samantha used to be a thing, and it appears that despite the abusive nature at the heart of that relationship, there's always a chance of a rekindling. Ted, lawyer for both the Jaycees and the Beaufort twins, starts dating Samantha about halfway through.

Our first encounter starts in 1997, as the house is closing up on the final night. Tank is hustling some local juvenile delinquents out, when he overhears them discussing a haunt that wasn't part of the house.

We skip to the next Halloween, when the younger brother of one of the JDs goes through the haunt alone. Davey's all of about 8, and too young for what has become a very R rated house. Indeed, we get the house from his perspective, with glowing skeletons guiding people through, and thinking everything is real, vs Dood, who's off duty as a guide and showing us how the tricks work. This also introduces us to everyone else, as Dood walks in on one of Zack and Sam's fights, this time concerning Zack scaring kids in the line. We also get in the head of a trucker driving south through North Carolina from Virginia Eventually Dood and Davey collide, as Dood finds Davey in the Panther room scared out of his mind. Dood gets Davey out of the house and tells him how to get to the exit, so he can save face by making it look like he exited the house like a regular patron. However, he doesn't walk Davey over, so Davey braves the dark alone, and encounters a haunt that's not part of the house as the mermaid fountain tries to eat him. This sends Davey running as fast as he can, which is when his story quite literally collides with that of our lonely trucker.

Over the course of the following year, we follow our principles around, as Dood consults with the local Magical Negro/"I can't believe these stupid crackers" character, Pearl Rollins, who used to work at the Manse when the Twins were in residence. She tells Samantha, Dood, and Ted about how something evil is gestating inside, waiting to be born.

As the year progresses, the twins get declared non compos mentis and their nephew Peter gets control of the estate as of November 1st, after the 13th annual haunted house ends.

Which is what occupies the last part of the book, as the house wakes up and everyone's secrets are laid bare. Including exactly what Miss Bessie's been hiding all these years, as her narrative takes a decidedly Old Hag of the Manor turn.

It's quite a bit of fun, even if the premise isn't exactly original.

Monday, November 18, 2019

In accordance with the prophecy

Being a Green Mother by Piers Anthony wraps up the original five books of Incarnations of Immortality, and covers events leading to the ultimate resolution of the prophecies surrounding Orb. Luna's, not so much, which is why we later got two more books.

Ok, so as a reminder, Orb is Niobe (Clotho/Lachesis)'s daughter, Luna's (destined to foil Satan) cousin, Mother of Orlene (who becomes Chronos's lover before he takes office), and Mym's (Now Mars) former lover. She's prophesied to become Gaea and may marry Evil.

So, after a recap of her childhood and time with the carnival in India, we get going on Orb and her time among the gypsies and looking for the Llano, the song of songs. We see Orb join up with The Livin' Sludge, last seen in On a Pale Horse, hiring a succubus, and traveling around in the fish that swallowed Jonah. We see her courted by Natasha, who also knows parts of the Llano. And since that level of naming is up there with Alucard, Natasha is Ah, Satan.

Which isn't revealed until Orb has ascended into Nature, and manages to pretty much destroy the world for 40 pages. (Read as catfished woman gets irrationally mad about being deceived.)

And in the end, Orb makes the only choice she can make, after a long winded internal dialogue about good and evil.

Honestly, this is one of the better books in the series. It does have its faults (the courtship makes no sense to anyone, and the scene with her doing the Gypsy version of the lambada to kill of skeletons is silly), but the pacing is fun, the recaps of what's happened before don't totally overwhelm the narrative, and it does ultimately end the series in a way that makes sense. (Even if there are 3 more books.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What is it good for?

Wielding a Red Sword by Piers Anthony still remains one of my least favorite entries in Incarnations of Immortality. I mean, it's not that it's ever dull, but honestly, it's entire raison d' etre is to set up the eventual payoffs down the line, rather than give us something as interesting as the previous three books.

We start with Mym, "Pride of the Kingdom", a Brahmin stutterer on the run from his father and responsibilities of  being the second born prince of the king. He joins a traveling circus (wearing a remarkably familiar snake ring that answers yes/no questions), shacks up with Luna's cousin Orb, and winds up being dragged back into his Kingdom as the circus tries to leave India. Seems Mym's brother died, leaving Mym the heir. Because we have to, Orb is payed off like a common whore, and Mym goes home, where Daddy dearest starts executing concubines until Mym agrees to marry Princess Rapture.

He and Rapture do wind up falling in love, but things happen, Mym happens to be the angriest person in the world when War flares up after a small break in fighting around the globe, Mym gets the Red Sword and becomes Mars, incarnation of War. (One should also mention Mars has a few Minor Incarnations [Slaughter, Conquest, Famine, and Pestilence] associated with him. Given Death is a separate Incarnation, and they never do explain how the minors work....)


Long story short, Satan sends a succubus to annoy Mym. Lila does her job, helping Rapture become an independent woman. Heaven forbid that Mym be without a subservient woman, so Lila sends him after Ligea, who's unfairly damned. Mym winds up trapped in Hell, so, being a rational man of War, he starts a revolt of the Damned.

Anyway, long story short, Mym winds up foiling Satan and having Ligea as wife and Lila as concubine.

It's all kind of silly, and really only seems to be written to explain where the heck Orlene came from.

But, it's readable.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Oh what a tangled web we weave

With a Tangled Skein is the book in Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality wherein we see that the Earthly Incarnations are basically the Skywalker family from Star Wars.

We start with nubile Niobe, the most beautiful girl in her generation, being forced to marry Cedric, 5 years her junior. They eventually do come to love each other, befriending a dryad in the wetlands in the process. Cedric goes to college, becomes a wetlands advocate. Niobe births Junior. Cedric gets shot by developers. Niobe, being emotional, floats on a boat and sets it on fire to get Death's attention. Death, Time, and Nature all get involved, and we learn Niobe is destined to become Clotho soon. Which she does, foiling a few plots of Satan in the meantime.

Junior and his cousin Pacian go with Fate to a carnival where certain prophecies come to light, namely, their children will become interesting beings... one to love Death, one to marry Evil. Pacian thinsk he's stopped it by marrying Blanche, it didn't work, since Niobe leaves Fate to marry him.

Junior, in the meantime, married Blenda and births Luna. Niobe and Pacian birth Orb.

Later, Niobe comes back to Fate as Lachesis, since all three aspects wind up switching at the same time, which is unheard of.

Eventually Niobe risks hell to get information from The Magician (aka Junior).

While it does help put the timeline back in order after the previous two books, it still turns the series into "One Family to Rule Them All, and in the darkness bind them."

Monday, November 4, 2019

Oh yes, Chronotons

After rereading book two of Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality, Bearing an Hourglass, I got a sterling reminder of how much of a headache it is. Not that it isn't fairly well written, but the set up is involved.

We start with Norton, who's more or less an uninvolved drifter, living in different wilderness areas on and off. He's approached by a ghost, Gawain, who needs someone to sire his heir. Seems Gawain died fighting what he thought was a dragon, but was really a dinosaur, and he died without a child. As such, his family married the ghost to Orlene, who is supposed to bear a child to continue the line. Enter Norton.

Norton and Orlene do hit it off, and she indeed bears a child, Gawain II. However, Gawain I made arrangements with Gaea to make the child a true heir, which includes some vaguely defined genetic defect that causes the baby to die before a year. (As I recall, this gets better defined in Book 8.) Thanatos does show up and explain the situation to Norton, which doesn't help when Orlene commits suicide in her grief later on. Gawain does attempt to get Norton to provide stud service with the new ghost wife, but it doesn't happen. Eventually though, Gawain does get Norton into the position of Chronos, Incarnation of Time, as a way of apologizing for getting him into the situation in the first place.

Chronos has issues, not the least of which being her travels backwards in time in relation to everyone else. In other words, when Norton takes the Hourglass, his natural progression is now from the moment he took the office until he reaches his birth or conception. As such, he takes the office roughly twenty years after the events of On a Pale Horse, but before the events of And Eternity. (As I stated at the outset, the timeline in the series is a bit wonky. Chronos makes it even worse.)

Anyway, Norton gets an offer from Satan that leads to a changed timeline, and Norton has to go fix it. Satan gets mad and keeps throwing Norton into what he claims as contraterrine worlds, made of antimatter, where time runs the way Chronos lives. Which leads to three really cheesy adventures involving Bug Eyed Monsters and Alicorns.

Oh yes, and Orlene give Norton Sning, a snake ring that can answer yes-or-no questions as well as indicate the passage of time. And other things. Sning is awesome.

The problem is, a later part of the book involves a really involved explanation of General Relativity, which, while presented in ways to make it easier to understand, still is just as lofty and migraine inducing as the 10 page chaos theory explanation in Jurrasic Park.

Still fun to read after all these years, and I remain amazed at how many clues to other volumes are hidden within.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Final Ride

Many years ago, someone I haven't thought of in probably as many years, told me of a book series he was reading and how I should check it out. Thus how I was introduced to Piers Anthony and his Incarnations of Immortality series. I've read the series a few times in the intervening years, although the final book, released 17 years after what had been book 7, I've only read once. However, I had some Amazon gift cards and they had a good deal on the first 7 as a boxed set, so here we are.

On a Pale Horse gets attention quickly in chapter one, after showing us this alternate Earth where magic and science coexist fairly easily. Indeed, when we meet Zane, he's at a literal Sky Mall in a magic stone store looking for something to improve his existence. The proprietor, showing Zane stones that show Zane is destined to meet a great love and his own death within the hour, ends up talking Zane into using the love stone so that the shop keep can have his love in exchange for a wealth stone that will lead Zane to money. Zane makes the exchange, gets home to find his wealth stone is really a junk stone that finds loose change, and decides to fulfill the Death Stone prophecy with a gun he got off a mugger. As he pulls the trigger, Death himself walks in, which Zane reacts to by turning the muzzle at the last second, actually shooting and killing Death.

And thus begins our interactions with the Five major Incarnations; Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature. Later on, in books 6 and 7, we meet Evil and Good, and book 8 concerns Night. But right now, we're dealing with Death, and ignoring the problematic timelines that come into play later. After killing Death, Fate herself shows up and informs Zane that since he killed Death, he now gets to assume the role. Kind of like The Santa Clause, only more entertaining. It takes a while, since the position doesn't come with an instruction book, and his pale steed, Mortis, isn't good at communication. Indeed, on his second or third collection, Zane saves his client from dying and tries to get said client to kill him and take on the position.

Eventually, though, we meet The Magician and his daughter Luna, which is when some of the greater threads come into play. The Magician is a Black Magician, and has put some of the smut from his soul onto Luna's soul, thereby bringing his soul into balance, as it's only balanced souls that get direct attention from Death (also known as Thanatos.) Most souls either find their own way to Heaven or Hell. Anyway, Luna is foretold to thwart Satan's plans in 20 years, so The Magician gives her to Zane as a gift, to protect her from Satan's wiles.

Which, well, Satan does have plans, and Zane does eventually figure out that the other 4 non alignment Incarnations set him up the bomb. He got chosen for this role, since he was one of the only candidates who would fight for Luna.

After all these years, I find myself still loving this book. Yes, I could live without Anthony's rampant sexism and belief in male and female archetypes, but he's still less obnoxious about it than other authors I could name, like David Eddings. I love the world building, and the PR campaign Satan runs on Earth to convince humans that Hell is the place to be in the afterlife. I love the meditations on Death that occur throughout, and how Death works. Even knowing where all of this eventually leads, and the formula that repeats quite a bit through the next few books, this particular volume still remains on my influential book list, and one I would highly recommend to folks.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the Knife

The last library sale was slim pickings by the time I got there, although I did pick up Margaret Truman's Murder at the National Cathedral, figuring with the weather cooling down, a nice mystery might be nice.

And it was.

While this is evidently a series by the former First Daughter (complete with claims of being ghostwritten), I had never heard of it. None the less...

We start with Mac and Annabel, a lawyer/teacher and an art gallery owner, getting married at the National Cathedral by Reverend Singletary. Rev. Singletary is very much involved in The Word of Peace, a non denominational movement he's pulled Bishop St. James in to supporting, much to the chagrin of some of the other Cathedral Canons.

When Rev. Singletary is found dead in the Bethlehem Chapel, all heck breaks loose, as Mack and Annabel get sucked into the mystery. Even on their honeymoon in England, where another Anglican priest and friend of Singletary is found murdered in the Cotswald.

With MI5 and several DC based Alphabet agencies involved (as well as several suspicious Canons), who killed the priests and why?

I found this to be well written, if a but stuffy and slightly dated. The resolution made sense and one could see that the trails lead there. The thing which was killing me, though, was the 1990 publication date, when I would have been starting High School, and realizing how much the world has changed since then. I mean, no internet, so everything is going via post, everyone in the book is feeding change into pay phones, Mac and Annabel fly Pan Am to London. Perhaps it bothered me more than say, Agatha Christie, since I was actually alive in this period, and remember these things, even if I kept thinking about how the plot would play out in the contemporary era. Worth a read, if you need a good yarn.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Swine Flu

There's a lot to like in Madeline Miller's Circe, but there's also one scene in there that made me very angry.

Let's start at the beginning. Circe, witch of The Odyssey, who kept Odysseus and his crew on her island of Aiaia,. is born on the halls of Oceanus to Helios, Titan of the Sun, and a nymph. She has 3 siblings; one births the Minotaur, one goes to Persia, and one sires Medea. All four children have the powers of witchcraft, which worries the gods, since it's outside of their powers.

Circe, who confesses to using her power to turn Scylla into a 6 headed monster after Scylla steals one whom Circe loves and turns into a god after a fashion, gets exiled to Aiaia. She also meets Prometheus in Tartarus before he becomes all like Same vulture, New liver. (That scene is really interesting.)

Circe get released from exile temporarily to help Pasiphae birth the minotaur, which does introduce her to Daedalus and Icarus. Later, her brother Aeetes's child, Medea shows up on her island with Jason and the golden fleece. While Circe does warn Medea that her story will not have a happy ending, Medea doesn't listen.

Circe does get to entertain Hermes on occasions, as he likes to drop by and gossip and share her bed.

Anyway, occasionally sailors wash up on Aiaia. And here's where the problem I had with the book shows up. One round of sailors shows up, and rape her. She then turns them into swine and makes pork chops and bacon. I have two major issues with this. Among other things, I really hate it when female characters, particularly powerful ones, have their agency removed for no real reason. Frankly, Circe could have turned the lot of them into sausage any time prior to the event. (I know, in real life, folks who should be able to fight off an attacker can't. Well aware.) Second, she had the right and duty to punish them earlier on in the scene as they violated the rules of hospitality long before the attack.

Anyway, this does lead to Circe swining anyone visiting, until Odysseus shows up. He spends a year sharing her bed, and leaves, and has his own story. Circe, in the meantime, has little Telegonus, whom someone wants gone because of his destiny. When that someone shows up, Circe manages to fight off her second Olympian.

And this leads into sources I was unaware of, as we explore fragments and summaries of the Telegony (attributed to Eugammon of Cyrene) and Odysseus Acanthoplex by Sophocles. In which Telegonus finds his father, and like so much of Greek mythology, kills him. Telegonus winds up bringing Odysseus's wife and son (Penelope and Telemachus) back to Aiaia. Circe is concerned, since she thinks Telemachus will kill Telegonus to avenge his father. (There's a scene prior to this where Circe delves the deeps to challenge one of the monsters and winds up with a tail that will kill mortals and make gods feel pain. It's well written and a testament to the love a mother has for a son.)

Without going deeper into the plot, let's just say everyone's relationships are strained, the Olympians show up again, and Circe does in the end confront her father to get what she wants.

While I really enjoyed this, I feel a bit like some of the story is a bit of Glinda telling Dorothy she had the power to go home all along. Because Circe is seeking her own agency, not knowing she's had it the entire time.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Spin the Black Circle

As I may have mentioned, up until now, I had only read through the last third of the Tales of the City once, as they got released. So, this makes my second read of Mary Ann in Autumn, and I was amazed at how much I missed the first time through.

Unlike Book 7, Book 8 is back to the more rambling narrative following around several characters instead of being a first person narrative. Which is good, since it introduces us better to some of the newer or better aged characters that we caught glimpses of in the last volume. In particular, transman Jake Greenleaf, who's become transson to Anna, as well as a particular caretaker of her. Mind you, most of his narrative here involves his attraction to a Mormon missionary who needs a man to help him through his desire for other men. (Given how bad Jake's dysmorphia is, there's a lot of underlying irony here.)

We also get more of Shawna, Brian and Mary Ann's adoptive daughter, who writes a sex blog of sorts, although a chance meeting with a homeless woman helps her transition into some new styles of writing and a less Bettie Page look. (Her story crosses into her adoptive mother's towards the end, and we'll return to that here in a bit.)

However, as the title suggests, most of the narrative revolves around Mary Ann. Mary Ann is headed back to San Francisco, ready to divorce her husband following him leaving his Skype up while having a European affair with her life coach. This is right after telling him she might be pregnant, but she hasn't told him the real diagnosis of uterine cancer. Thus her return to the City, since she and Michael have evidently mended fences quite a bit. Michael and Ben put her up in their guest cottage until the surgery and during her recovery. In a surprise to both of them, Ben and Mary Ann bond, with Ben getting her on FaceBook, and taking her along on a trip to the plot of land they've bought near Tahoe where they plan on eventually building a getaway home.

Mary Ann also picks up a bit of a stalker via FaceBook, who reveals himself in the final reel.

There's quite a bit of sadness in here, as Anna gives Jake money to get his hysterectomy, the same surgery that Mary Ann is dreading, as we see Michael trying to become more of the man he wants to be, rather than who it is he wants to transition out of (again, Michael and Ben are open in their marriage, but one of Ben's tricks giving him fruit from the farmer's market sets off a large amount of jealousy). We also see Shawna and Mary Ann beginning steps towards becoming a bit closer, as the actual story of her homeless woman is directly related to Mary Ann's stalker.

The major theme here is is transition, as Mary Ann at 57 tries to change her life again, as Michael and Ben try to become the people they want themselves to be, as Shawna transitions from riot grrl to more standard writing, as Anna prepares for her time to come, as Jake learns more about what it means for him to be a man. That ride is not without bumps, but in many ways, particularly returning to themes from the beginning and wrapping up a mystery from 1976, the ride is well worth the final destination.

As a side note, my next entry will be a book I'm starting as part of an online book discussion, which may or may not add to my review, since the reread of Song of Achilles with them really makes me want to go back and redo that entry.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fi-diddley-dee, a sailor's life for me

So, book 13 of Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels finally landed, and I finally finished The Unkindest Tide.

The basic set up is Octopber and friends travel out to a knowe/demesne out in the Pacific so that Luidaig can keep her promise to restore her children, the Roane, from those who wear their skins, the Selkies.

What we end up with is a mild murder mystery topped with the overthrow of Saltmist by Dianda's brother. We also get to meet the Firstborn of the Merrow in the process. Oh yes, and a bonus novella at the end shows us Raj's fun while everyone is at sea, and gives us a date of 2014 when all this is going on.

Honestly, it's a fun read, which again succeeds in humanizing the Sea Witch, and giving us a few plot hooks for future volumes, as October has to make a deal with Luidaig to go save Saltmist early on.

I'm always amazed as how entertaining this series is as it stretches onwards among the author's many projects.

(As a side note, while I did start a new book, if I don't finish it by Monday, it will be paused as I read a different book as part of an online book club. Updates may be spotty.)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Go Ask Alice or Madea

I won't say Reginald L. Hall's In Love With a Thug is bad per se; I'm just not sure I'm part of the target audience.

We start with Juan, who at the beginning is in love/fooling around with Darnell, who is one of the title Thugs. Indeed, in order to help Juan achieve his dream of opening his own salon, he convinces Juan to help him rob a bank. Which doesn't go well. Juan does make off with the money, but not before Darnell, a security guard, a pregnant teller, and another man die.

And then we return to Juan as he opens his own salon in Philadelphia. One which caters to so many name dropped celebrities, I'm surprised Mr. Hall hasn't been sued. On the first day of business, we meet the other Thug, Bryant, who appears bearing bootleg DVDs he's trying to sell to Juan's upscale clientele.

It's only a few pages before Juan and Bryant are making the beast with two backs, and Juan is smoking the devil's lettuce laced with white powder provided by Bryant. (Juan, prior to this point, hasn't touched drugs other than a bit of alcohol here and there.)

It gets progressively stupider, as Bryant's baby mama comes in and maces Juan; half the stylists get beat up at various points; we learn all about Juan's daddy molesting him; his best friend needs a kidney transplant, finds out he has full blown AIDS and high blood pressure and dies.... Juan winds up getting arrested when one of the other baby mamas calls in a tip on Juan, and the cops find quite a few drugs under the floorboards in Juan's closet. Juan's time awaiting arraignment and bonding out is filled with sex with a cellmate, doing L'il Kim's hair.... Then he has aa drugged up three way with Bryant and Bryant's cousin, after which Bryant kicks Juan out of his house after beating him again....

Juan's dad dies, his mother never forgives Juan for telling her about the molestation....

We keep hearing how Juan is a good person who has God in his life, yet then he confesses to writing a bunch of fraudulant checks in 3 states....

And then a twist at the end that's remarkably stupid.

I will say I did enjoy the presentation of the Balls and the Houses, which most folks know of through either Pose or Paris is Burning.

Honestly, Juan's descent is almost as fast as the narrator of the old Junior High Classic Go Ask Alice with less subtlety than a Tyler Perry morality play. I spent the majority of the book wanting to smack some sense into him.Like I said, I'm not sure I'm the target audience, since to me this is both unrealistic and gratuitous.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


So, another one of the raffle books I won was Shadows of the Night: Queer Tales of the Uncanny and Unusual edited by Greg Herren. Given my reserves at the library just came in and I can't get there, I'm more or less wasting time until I can get there. (We had inventory this week. I've been busy.)

Anyway, the intro makes it sound like GAY HORROR! and indeed name drops sever queer fictions that meet that criteria. This one struggles to meet bad Doctor Who fan fiction levels of awful.

I mean, of the 14 stories within, most of them are not at all memorable, and the ones that are aren't memorable for good reasons. And while a few of them have horror themes, NONE of the remotely fall into the Horror or even thriller/suspense genre.

How bad is it? "Sic Gloria Transit" by Marshal Moore starts off sounding like a "Monkey's Paw" rip off and ends up being Airplane II. "The Abdominable Snowman" by Lawrence Schimel involves a Sasquatch that wants to work out to Richard Simmons. Even the final story, "Fever"by Victoria A Brownworth, which gets lavished with praise on the back cover makes lesbian succubus sex boring. And let's not forget M. Christian's trite morality tale "Bitch" where in the course of 5 pages a bitter man coming out of a relationship complains online about the twinks partying next door, only to wind up encouraging someone to go kill them.

Frankly, about the only reason to pick this up is to get a bibliography of other, better works of queer horror/thriller/suspense books as listed in the introduction.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Redemption of Mary Ann

As we begin the final push on Tales of the City, I should point out a few things. As the last third released, I was able to read them as they came out, a luxury I didn't have with the first 6. (The original miniseries on PBS released in 1993. I had the first 3 down by mid 1994, and finished what at the time was the end in 1995.) However, I've only ever read the last third once a piece, and only one was released since I started this blog.

Which brings us to Michael Tolliver Lives, Armistead Maupin's 2007 return to the folks of Barbary Lane. Michael has the odd presentation of being written in First Person, with Michael/Mouse narrating the book in 2007. Oddly, that decision drew a bunch of criticism at the time, as did his claim that it really wasn't part of Tales. The latter he retracted, but most reviews still kvetch about the narrative style. Of course, some of those same reviews also complain that a book narrated by an aging boomer (who technically isn't, but really is) queer who lives north of the Castro is virulently anti-W. Bush.

As we open on Michael, we find that he and Thack are no longer a couple, Thack having moved to Chicago sometime prior. Instead, thanks to the magic of the "dating apps", Michael instead met Ben on a site designed for folks to meet Daddies. We get sordid details of their relationship, from its open nature to getting married at the courthouse during that odd period when San Francisco recognized gay marriage even though no one else really did. (It's kind of odd that so much has changed in 15 years. I had forgotten much of what is contemporary in the book, and I LIVED through it.) Michael sold his half of Plant Parenthood to Brian, who's 61 and looking to retire and drive a Winnebago cross country, even as his daughter Shauna is becoming an internet celebrity. Mrs. Madrigal no longer lives on Barbary Lane, having had a stroke prior to the start. Instead, she lives in a complex with Michael's new business partner, Jake Greenleaf, a female to male transsexual living with two women going the other direction.

We find out Mona died of breast cancer off screen as well, and Mary Ann is seemingly off the radar, mostly retired in Connecticut. But, honestly, most of the regulars aren't the focus until towards the end, as much of this volume concerns Michael's relationship with his mother in Orlando.

Momma, it seems, is in the Gospel Palms nursing home, dying of emphysema. As such, Michael and Ben make a trip back to Orlando, where we get to see his brother and wife and his likely queer grandson. Momma tells Michael a bit about wanting to leave his father, which she did at one point for a 10 day stretch. Michale and his brother don't have much in common, since his brother has evidently embraced Jesus in a big way along with his wife and mother. (The sister-in-law runs a Christian puppet show.) The gays of Orlando aren't particularly as progressive as those in San Fran either, although Michael and Ben do wind up having a menage a trois with  Momma's hair dresser, Patreece. Momma, like so many mothers of gay men, has a way of loving her son without really acknowledging who he's sleeping with. Momma does ask Michael to sign her living will, since she has no desire to be kept alive like Terry Schiavo. (In her defense, Momma has come a long way over the series, and honestly, even if it takes Michael time to realize it, she does love him and is proud of him and his husband, even if her framework is a lot different than his.)

Anyway, when Mrs. Madrigal has a heart attack, we get to see Mary Ann again, and we see the renewal of bonds that we thought had ended back in 1989. While she and Brian are not great, and her daughter is a bit off....

By far the thing that sticks with me very hard here is the idea of the logical family vs the biological family, something I also struggle with on occasion. (Boiled down, logical family are the friends who we choose as our own brothers and sisters vs whatever fate has declared to be our blood relatives.) It's obvious Michael and his family have very little in common, but his logical family more than makes up for it in terms of support.

I also find myself saddened by some of the things Michael encounters in the modern era; those that survived the plague now get to balance the possibility of AIDS taking them out, but also old age taking its toll on top of it. We hear bits and pieces of those who, convinced they were going to die, making bad financial decisions and now having to deal with them,; we hear of the dot com bubble and what it did to housing costs in the Bay and how even after the bubble popped, the rent kept on rising.

As much as some people hate this volume, I personally enjoy how it shows how things change over time and how we all progress with the calendar.

Monday, September 23, 2019

B. B. King in Yellow

I'm not quite sure how John Hornor Jacob's Southern Gods wound up in the raffle on my camping vacation, all I know is that I won it along with a couple other books. And since I've been waiting on stuff at the library, it provided something to read while I wait.

We open on 1951 Memphis, Tennessee, where Bull Ingram, former Marine who fought in Guadalcanal, is working as a collection agent for a loan shark. Bull, while not as shell shocked as some returnees, does seem to have a few reentry issues, and lives in a boarding house.  One of the local radio station owners hires Bull to go find Early, who was last seen in Arkansas looking for Ramblin' John Hastur and a pirate radio station that plays his music. Early also was evidently passing on R&B and early rock records along with payola to get stuff played on Arkansas radio.

In the meantime, we have Sarah, who leaves Little Rock with her daughter Frannie, following her husband (also a WWII vet who's coping with return with alcohol and beating Sarah) hitting her too many times. She returns to Big House, in Gethsemane, where her mother is dying of Lupus. Sarah's father and uncle (both passed) have amassed a rather large occult book collection stored in the study. We find out much later on they were seeking their brother, who had consumption, who also evidently killed off half the family before vanishing.

The last member of this trio is Father Andrez, originally from Montenegro, now running a small parish in Arkansas. Father Andrez used to curate the Forbidden Library in the Vatican, where much of Sarah's occult library originated from.

(There's also Alice, housekeeper of Big House, caretaker of Sarah's mother, and mild hoodoo woman. Who honestly should have had a bigger part in this, since she's by far the most interesting character. On the other hand, she's the only believer at the beginning, so it's likely her horror would not have been quite as great as the gradual unflowering of the main three.)

As the book progresses,  Bull finally meets Ramblin' John at a club outside Stuttgart following an incident at a small radio station where Ramblin' John's music literally wakes the dead DJ. At the club, something similar happens, except the living start killing each other and then reanimating. Bull follows the Pale Man to the Mississippi, where he collapses on a boat and winds up at Gethsemane.

By the very end, we know who made a deal with Hastur, have a very small idea of whom the Prodigium are, and have a very bleak understanding of humanity and its relations with several gods.

For those playing along at home, yes, there's a heck of a lot of Cthulhu mythos coming into play here, although there are gods not created by Lovecraft that also come out in the story.

One of the biggest problems with Lovecraft is racism. While Arkansas in 1951 (and Tennessee for that matter) wasn't exactly integrated, for lack of a better term, this only gets mentioned in passing in relation to a segregated pool. Also, given Ramblin' John is a blues man, much of his audience is African-American. (On one hand, most of the characters know John is a problem, but again...) I can't personally judge whether or not this is mildly racist, but I'm also in a place of privilege. Had Hastur been a mincing queen or any of the other bad guys been queer coded or limp wristed sissy, then I could better judge things like that. They aren't, so...

For those most part, it's a fun read. My biggest issue, besides the most interesting characters being mostly reduced to pop in and out roles, is that it feels quite a bit like much of the story got left behind in the editing room, like we're only seeing skeletons instead of a fully fleshed out monstrosity. But, it is still a fun take on Lovecraft in a more modern setting. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Forbidden Planet

So, the library happened to have the second book in Lori Handeland's Shakespeare Undead series, Zombie Island, which while not quite the unexpected treat the original volume was, still wound up being really fun to read.

Unlike the original volume, this one more or less stays focused on one Shakespeare play, as Kate, feigning death, has been been packed into a coffin on a ship bound for the New World by her husband, thus robbing Shakespeare of a crypt to awaken her from. Said ship gets wrecked by a storm, and only Kate and her husband survive the wreck. Shakespeare, having been clued in by the ghost of Nounou as to what's going on, ends up giving chase in another ship, that also gets wrecked in a storm and lands him on the island.

The island is inhabited at the outset by zombies raised from several passing ships; Kate and her husband; Will; a sprite named Ariel; and a certain wizard named Prospero, who is using the sprite to wreck ships to create a zombie army to retake the kingdom he has lost. His first encounter with the husband doesn't end well, as he curses the husband to become as bestial on the outside as he is on the inside, thus creating a Caliban.

Anyway, the five characters slip in and out of the passages, as everyone but Ariel and Prospero start killing zombies, and everyone but Prospero has relationship issues. Prospero here has plenty of issues, but most of them are related to magic and insanity.

All's well that ends well, though, as Prospero's lineage gets revealed at the end as does the lineage of another monarch of the time, those who should be together wind up together, and we have a bridge to another book, should the series ever continue.

While more current pop culture references do crop up occasionally, this book largely stays close to the plot of The Tempest, minus some of the larger themes and the masque at the end of Act IV. It also wind points for giving Caliban a better ending than the play.

Makes me kind of sad there seem to not be any books after this.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Thanksgiving ghost story

This past week, before I left on vacation, I grabbed the first book I could find on the shelf on my way out the door. In this case, it wound up being the Young Adult classic, Crash Course, by Nicole Davidson.

The set up is fairly standard, 8 high schoolers go out into the woods of for an SAT prep course over the extended Thanksgiving break at Deep Creek Lake with just a teacher keeping track of them. We have Kelly, who's going mainly because Thanksgiving has been awkward since her mother left; Paula, who's boyfriend has already gotten an appointment to the Air Force Academy most of the way across the US from Maryland; Isabel, a new student who's along to make friends; Angel, the goth girl who goes out of her way to be strange an unusual; Jeff, the wrestler who has a crush on Kelly; Chris, the football player trying to get into UCLA who also has anger issues; Nathan, the guy from the wrong side of the tracks who plays foil most of the book; and Brian, Paula's boyfriend. Watching over everyone is Mr. Porter, an unpopular teacher who no one knows why he's doing this.

We focus mainly on Kelly throughout the book, with occasional passages covering another character briefly. (Although to be honest, the prologue lets out more information than we should have, as astute readers will likely figure out half the mystery early on.) Essentially, Deep Creek Lake is cold and has an underground creek that feeds the lake in the middle. Legends tell of young Susquehanna lovers who returned to the lake after finding their tribe slaughtered, and asking Gweemush, the underworld guardian what to do. Needless to say, his answer was to join him, so they drowned themselves.A story that Isabel tells around the fire the first night. The next morning, before dawn, a scream awakens everyone, and we run out to find several characters outside the cabin who shouldn't be, and Paula claiming Brian had been in a boat in the lake with a stranger who pushed him in to the lake.

With no bus coming back until Sunday, and no sign of Brian or his body, Mr. Porter sets off to get help. He never returns. The seven folks left start becoming more and more at odds, as everyone secrets come out. Nathan gets stabbed, but survives, even though he's mostly unconscious.

Eventually, Kelly pieces everything together and like a young Miss Marple, brings all the truth of the weekend to light.

While there are some fairly major plot holes, and a premise that seems largely unlikely in the modern age (one supervisor? no way to contact the outside in case of emergency?), it does provide an amusing distraction that holds up several years after publication.

She actually wrote a sequel a few years later, but I don't remember the name of it, nor did I particularly like it. But that's neither here nor there.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Every ending is a new beginning

Sure of You, which until the late 00's was the end of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, remains a painful book to read.

We're in 1988 San Francisco, with Michael and Thack now living together at the north end of the Castro, and Mary Ann and Brian still in their luxury condo atop the Summit, while Mrs. Madrigal still runs her house on Barbary Lane.

As we open, Michael and Brian are partners in ownership of Plant Parenthood, while Mary Ann has a morning show that's part Oprah and part Springer. Mrs. Madrigal is getting ready to go to Lesbos with her daughter Mona for a month or so.

Burke Andrew, last seen running from the cannibal Episcopals in book two, is back in town, offering Mary Ann a syndicated show based in New York.

What follows is the end of Brian and Mary Ann, mixed with Michael's fear about what his 600 T-cells mean in the face of something on his leg, and a few interludes on the beaches of Lesbos.

The problem is that we never really see what has become of Brian and Mary Ann, since their ending is almost bloodless, even as they hurt each other. We see Michael trying to play peacemaker, and Thack becoming more militant as the dying continues. (Seriously, he builds a trellis with hopes of getting pink roses to make a triangle shape on it.) We see Bill Rivera again, last seen in the bushes with Father Paddy at the end of book three.

We also get something similar to ________ ________ back in book three, as we meet the Rands, he a fashion designer, she an admin at the rehab clinic he went through. Rand, who raises money for AIDS with Liz Taylor, but professes his heterosexual love for his wife everywhere he can, is also sleeping with every man who will say yes. That friction between personal and public life really lies like a shark under the waters of the plot, as we discuss the end of Arch Gidde, who died suddenly of "Liver Cancer".

I'm happy we as a society have seemingly gone well beyond this "Hide the faggots in the closet" mentality, but here's a striking reminder of how we swept the dying under a rug and pretended they didn't exist. Something that many of us missed due to age or being dead.

I still cry at the end, even knowing how it all comes out. It hurts. It's not the howling pain that consumed book four, but more the pain and anger of those who have been denied any kind of dignity or acknowledgement of who they are or their personhood.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Blank verse and no reflection

So, among the many piles of books around the house from various book sales, I happened to find a copy of Lori Handeland's Shakespeare Undead, which happily filled my time this week.

We're quite typically in Elizabethan England, following around one playwright at the Rose theater, who just happens to be a necro-vampire, able to see ghosts and raise the dead. In opposing chapters, we have Kate,  who's husband has land in the New World. That said husband is away most of the time is a good thing, as it allows Kate to hunt an increasing zombie population through the streets of London while disguised as a boy. The two meet and fall in some kind of love, with both hiding secrets.

In this mix, we have a plot of foulest treason versus the monarch, who does show up towards the end; an interfering nurse, who eventually gets locked up in the stables as a plague victim; and more verses and plot lines out of the folio that should likely be legal. (There are even a few future plots thrown in, as we see Willy have visions of The Wizard of Oz and The Sixth Sense.)

For the most part the Shakespeare references are the well known ones, although even then I likely missed a few; and the plot breezes along quite nicely, poking fun while also honoring the source materials.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

End the cycle

So, after more years than I care to count, I've joined the rest of geekdom and finished Russ T. Howard's The Ultimate Helm, the final book in the SpellJammer Cloakmaster Cycle.

We again join Teldin on his voyage to meet the legendary ship, which he technically found at the end of the last volume. The ship responded by attacking his Nautiloid. Anyway, as we begin, the legend impales Cloakmaster's ship, and three survivors board the SpellJammer, joining the human population living on the back of the Manta Ray.

And promptly get attacked by every non human population living on the SpellJammer, all of whom have heard the legend of the Dark Times heralded by the arrival of the Cloakmaster.

So, basically, the entire ship goes to war, all the different fleets come join the war, and eventually, after being reunited with Estriss the Illithid and Cwlanas, the elf maid from book 1, and a psionic projection of the kender Gaye, we finally find the final secrets of the SpellJammer.

(As a side note, given that pretty much the gnomes of Krynn are about the only ones who know anything about SpellJamming in general, one is hard pressed not to imagine the Silvanesti, models of elven grace and xenophobia, watching people get kidnapped by aliens, and not wonder how that went over. Redneck elves.)

While this is a satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole, the war for the SpellJammer and the various factions vying for control really isn't that well fleshed out. One never gets a sense of the intrigue floating aboard the ship. And frankly, the serious contenders for taking out Teldin are almost cartoonish in their villainy. Unlike book 1 which took a turn for the very dark during the Neogi torture scene, this one has the villains doing the equivalent of tying the helpless maiden to the train tracks while twirling a moustache.

So, honestly, while the finale is actually really good, the build up to everything is rushed and silly. But I'm happy I read it anyway.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Oh yeah, this is where Mary Ann gets evil

Hey, it's the second part of the twofer, with Volume 5 of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Significant Others.

Again, we're mid 80's and dealing with AIDS and its impact on San Francisco. Michale has been diagnosed as HIV antibody positive and has been mostly virginal since that result. His friends are trying to change that. So, when he meets Thack on Alcatraz as part of a dying friend's bucket list, a new relationship gets planted. Mary Ann, on the other hand, is now running her own local version of Donahue, and is going to appear on Entertainment Tonight. Brian's uptight nephew arrives in town, leading to Brian to find one of his old conquests to deflower him. Mrs. Madrigal is trying to save the wooden steps leading up to Barbary Lane. Mona is dating a post mistress in England. DeDe and D'or are headed to Wimminwood, while DeDe's mother's husband Booter is headed to the Bohemian Grove. We meet Wren Douglas, the plus sized model, who ends up getting hired by Booter for an extended weekend.

Things get complicated as Brian ends up heading north with Thack and Michael as he deal with his own HIV scare (This alone leads to one of the most painful exchanges in the book), Booter's friend dies, sending him drunk in a canoe down river, and DeDe and D'or start fighting about trends in feminism and lesbianism of the era. (DeDe, being a Dowry Dyke, is a lot more conservative than Radical D'or, D'or wants to go topless, DeDe doesn't, DeDe pulls a security shift at the festival and winds up letting rednecks in who trash the place, D'or lusts after lesbian poet Sabra....)

With Booter floating down the river, he misses an appointment with Wren, who calls in Thack and Michael to find out what happened. Brian ends up joining Wren and finally working through many of his issues by talking with her. Booter winds up at Wimminwood, captive of Rose, the authoritarian head of security.

It all eventually works, out, and Brian does eventually tell Mary Ann what happened. The one question I wind up with has to do with Sabra, whom I assume is a cypher, much the way ____ _____ was for Rock Hudson a few books back. The question is whom she's supposed to be.

This installment has a bit more humor than the other two books in the middle third, but it also has a bunch of meditations on love and loss, and occasional new beginnings. Probably the best of the middle three.

Go with the flow

Twofer again tonight, starting with Nigel Findley's return to The Cloakmaster Cycle with The Broken Sphere. 

There isn't that much to say about the plot of this installment of Teldin's adventures in the Phlogostein, since most of the book is an extended chase from Crescent to the eponymous Broken Sphere wherein he can find the fabled SpellJammer.

On one hand, this one does have a few advantages; with the return of Julia, we get a better reason that recycling as to why characters keep returning to the series after being presumed dead, and we also get a lecture on why late stage capitalism in Medieval space is just as bad as it is in post modern time.

Unfortunately, this is still a big "Sail here, find out there are traitors and spies on the new crew, meet an old cast member who may or may not be bad, find out who the actual big bad is an their motivations, then proceed on the quest."

Which, honestly, isn't poorly written, and indeed features a Beholder in human disguise as a crewman. It's more that we've have 4 books prior to this really following a similar formula. I am happy they decided to enter an Elvish concept of a person to whom fate bends around as a reason why people keep wondering in and out of the story.

It's just, if it weren't for the appearance of the legendary ship at the end, this book would have been filler.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Just a faded reminder of who I used to be

Many years ago, like when it got released, I first read Christopher Rice's A Density of Souls. I just finished rereading it again today.

We open on Stephen, Meredith, Greg, and Brandon, still in Elementary School, playing hide and seek in one of New Orleans' cemeteries. Stephen doesn't play as much as he goes and sits in front of his father's tomb. A thunderstorm breaks out, Meredith stumbles on Greg grinding on top of Stephen. Brandon yells out as he hits home base, they discover the gate is locked, and they're trapped. Brandon freaks, Stephen calms them with a poem his father wrote.

Cut to first day of school at Cannon Academy as the gang starts their freshman year of high school. Stephen has fallen out of favor, as Brandon and Greg are football players and Meredith quickly joins the ranks of the popular girls. Stephen, effeminate and fey, becomes outcast. Meredith and Greg start dating, Stephen becomes a theater geek. The rift between the friends gets worse as Brandon affixes a note reading "FAG" on Stephen's back in English class. This leads Stephen to crying in the theater and introducing Jeff, a football player with theater pretensions, who gets kicked out by the teacher, who blames the athletic department for Stephen's ouster.

Freshman year passes, Stephen goes to Rome and sees handsome men he wants to sleep with. Sophomore year, Stephen gets a car that Brandon and Greg destroy and spray paint "Cocksuckr" across the windshield. Jeff picks up Stephen after school one day, takes him to the river with beer, and punches Stephen's V-card. While it snows in New Orleans. Anyway, Jeff's ulcers act up, so he has to sit out the Playoff game, making Greg quarterback for the last game before the state championship. Brandon gets kicked out of the game, shattering his helmet on the bench on his way out. Greg's parents are late arriving, and Greg's little brother gets run over by a garbage truck. At the funeral, Greg's mom goes nuts, and is escorted out. Later that evening, Greg commits suicide.

Then we skip ahead 5 years, and the southern gothic kicks in, as we have Jeff return to Stephen's life until he gets blown up by a bomb Brandon planted, Meredith goes to the asylum where Greg's mother is catatonic, and Brandon's older brother, Jordan enters the picture. We also get to see the rather pained relationship between Stephen's mom and Brandon's mom.

By the end, we finally find out everything that happened in the Bishop Polk bell tower the night Greg died,  we know the true relationship between certain characters, even as they remain blissfully unaware of it.

My initial response is about the same as it was several years ago, there's a heck of a lot of plot holes and a bunch of trying to imitate his mother, characters that are the worst sort of privileged white rich kids, adults who are as bad as their children, but.... much of Stephen resonates with me on many levels, which makes it a good read, even with the flaws.

On the other hand, rereading it managed to swing me back into some of the headspace I was in when I first read it, which wasn't a good place emotionally. But that discussion belongs elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

That's Snow Ghost!

Teldin Moore is back for more in The Radiant Dragon, book 4 of the Cloakmaster Cycle.

We open on a Reigar captain finding the fabled SpellJammer, only said Reigar isn't. She's really a space dragon who also has one of the Ultimate Helms that are supposed to allow a person to control the ship. Whatever said dragon sees on the ship leads to her reverting to her draconic form and destroying the ship she was captaining.

From there, we rejoin Teldin on his current Helm, a really understaffed ship that gets attacked by Illithid slavers, who happen to be hosting Estriss, last seen floating in the void a few books ago. (This series recycles characters so often, I feel like I'm watching a soap opera half the time. I half expect the last book to involved every dead character to be waiting on the SpellJammer.)

The Elves rescue Teldon and his Half-Elf navigator and Gnome engineer, who in turn wind up rescuing two Dracons and a Space Gypsy from a Beholder. The Elvish ship is piloted by Vallus Leafblower, last seen also two books ago on Toril. Speaking of Toril, we wind up briefly in Evermeet on Toril, as Vallus and the elves are trying to convince  Teldin to go get the SpellJammer and bring it to bear on the Scro in the Unhuman War. The Scro, in the meantime, are trying to get the cloak themselves as well as bring a new weapon to bear from the prison world Armstice, where entire generations of goblinoids have lived in ice caves for generations following the first Unhuman War. And an elf joins the crew, na,ed Raven Moonbeam, who's a legend among the elves.

Anyway, we eventually all wind up on Armstice as the Swan Ship (the elvish ship Teldin sort of commands) has to make an emergency landing. We find out about the Insectare plotting with one of the clans of Bionoids (Elven creations that transform from Half Elf seemings to giant battle insects) to take out the Scro and the Elven fleet. And we find out who Raven really is.

 There's a lot going on here, and it mostly hold together.  If nothing else, we've at least been shown that the living ship that looks like a manta ray with a city on its back does indeed exist and a way to reach it eventually. Two more to go.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

This is why I don't live in a high rise.

Finished up Riley Sager's Lock Every Door today while waiting at a dealership.

With each book written under the name, the pacing of the thrillers improves, and indeed, we get the final twist roughly 2/3 of the way through the book, allowing for the full revelation to really resonate with its consequences.

Basically, we're following around Jules, an orphan from Pennsylvania couch surfing with a friend in New York City. We know bits about her past, that her sister went missing and her parents died, leaving her overflowing with debt. We learn she had a job, got laid off, then came home to find her boyfriend screwing someone else, thus leading to her sleeping on Chloe's couch.

As such, Jules in thrilled to find a job listing looking for someone to apartment sit for $1000 a week at the swanky 12 story Bartholomew on the Upper East Side. Said building is also the setting of a beloved book Jules and her sister used to read.

Anyway, Jules gets the job and moves into 12A next door to Dr. Nick. She meets one other house sitter in 11A via messages passed on via dumbwaiter. Ingrid is flighty, but she bonds with Jules early on.

Then Ingrid vanishes the next day. Jules, flashing back to her sister's disappearance, starts trying to find her. And we meet some of the other residents of the Bartholomew, like a Soap Opera Actress, a retired senator, Dr. Nick, and of course, Greta, author of the beloved book.

Eventually, as things progress, another apartment sitter vanishes, the book veers off into Ira Levinson before turning into Robin Cook.

Honestly, as I said before, the pacing has improved as the books get written, and this one is very entertaining. Indeed, I almost felt like yelling at our protagonist as she hooked up with one person who was hinted at being really bad.

Fun read, can't wait for next year's installment in abandonment theatre.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Love in the time of a different plague

Part two of the twofer.

Book 4 of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Significant Others, starts the second third of the 9 volume series and brings us into the early years of the AIDS crisis. Which unfortunately means we hit one of the more controversial aspects of the series, as Michael's lover Jon dies a few months prior to the beginning of the book. We'll return here in a second. We start with Queen Elizabeth arriving in San Francisco following a night on the QEII with Ron and Nancy Reagan.

Her Majesty flies to San Francisco due to bad weather, although her ship sails in later to take her to Seattle. However, her arrival does mean Mary Anne, now hosting Bay Window on the TV, has to cover anything Queen related, leading to some stress in her marriage with Brian. Brian, who's having issues at his wait job, wants a baby. Mary Anne does as well, but she's found out Brian is sterile. Not that she's told Brian any of this.

Anyway, the widow Michael is mourning, and the rain isn't helping matters. Ned shuts down the greenhouse for a month and takes Michael and a few other friends to Death Valley camping.Which gives a bit of a peek into the lives of gay men in San Francisco as the dying begins. (Like one random waiter discussing how he's quit cruising Folsum Street in favor of cashmere bars for safety, or a discussion while camping about the sudden impetus to use condoms.)

While covering the Queen's departure, Mary Anne meets Simon, a radioman from on board the ship who has gone AWOL. Simon eventually works out an apartment swap with Michael, sending Michael to London for a month. (Simon also bears a striking resemblance to Brian, which becomes important later.)

We get reintroduced to Mrs. Madrigal's daughter Mona, briefly at first, as she works in a copy shop in Seattle.

Michael's adventures in London eventually lead to him finding Mona in Easley-on-Hill as she's set to get a green card marriage to the current Lord Roughton who wants to move to San Francisco.

Brian and Mary Anne have a huge fight after it becomes known Mary Anne has been sleeping with Simon, but it works out as Mary Anne's friend Connie dies in childbirth and leaves them her baby, Shawna.

This middle third is really rough in several places, and what up until book 7 came out was a really ugly ending to a good series. While this book does have some shining moments, it lacks some of the lightheartedness that the first three had. (This is not to say the darkness is new, but it's much more visceral here.)

Love, it's a burning thing and it makes a firey ring

Twofer tonight, although both will likely be shorter entries. (Got delayed by taking a vacation last week.)

Starting off with Pass of Fire by Taylor Anderson, the latest installment of his alternate Earth Destroyermen series.

This volume has been a long time coming, since it marks the beginning of an actual naval assault on the Holy Dominion is a volcanically active area where Costa Rica/Panama would be in our world. Mind you, 2/3 of the book covers what looks to be about the end of the Grik conflict, but hey, at least we're getting more than a few pages in the prologue and epilogue about what's going on in Central America.

But first, we begin with teh big risks taken to take the ancient Grik city at the head of the Zambezi river, and the rather large split between the current Celestial Mother and First Regent Esshk. Indeed, by the end, the Celestial Mother forms a very strange alliance with the Allies to take down her former champion after his partisians try to kill her.

In the mean time, the assault on South America gets going as the Allied forces try to break the pass and link up all parties in the Pacific with the New United States in the Gulf. This gets particularly ugly, as the Holy Dominion likes using children to run attacks. On the other hand, one of the solutions for clearing out the Dominion Navy is one of those grand moments akin to a Dresden moment where an animated T. Rex skeleton goes on a rampage.

By the end, the Allies are pulling most of their assets out of Africa to join the South American fight, while know one knows what Halik (last seen marching through Persia from India) is going to do when he arrives. The fascist League is mobilizing some of its navy to join the fight in South America while one of their ship has been sighted taking out transports in the Pass.

It's a good installment in the series, allowing for some focus shifting, which is most welcome.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

And the Rock cried out no hiding place

Due to some timing issues getting to the library, I went ahead and started The Maelstrom's Eye by Roger E. Moore before starting some of the other books in the TBR pile.

Anyway, we're back with Teldin as his ship reaches the Rock of Bral, where he can contact the Elven Fleet. Which is fine, except unknown to everyone, the Scro are back and hell bent on exterminating the Elves. (Scro are Space Orcs.) Unfortunately, said Scro get in contact with a lich who can trace the cloak and contracts them to go after Teldin to get the Cloak. However, once they know what the Cloak is and does, they start their own plots to get it.

In the meantime, Teldin does meet up with the Elves, who inform him that his cloak is The Cloak of the First Pilot, which would allow him to control the legendary SpellJammer, thus why everyone wants it. Including the Elves.

What follows is essentially a drawn out chase across a few systems, as everyone goes after Teldin and we find out just about everyone has a spy on his ship. On the other hand, one character thought to be dead at the end of the first book comes back.

It is kind of silly, but it's also hard to to get excited when the ship lands on a "megafauna", a giant creature with a foot that's about the size of a continent.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Why are we out of Rum?

I need to go watch Pirates of the Caribbean again, since I'm running out of Captain Jack quotes, and I just realized that between 4 more volumes of the  Cloakmaster Cycle and the two books I just got from the library all having nautical themes, I'm going to need them.

Anyway, it would seem that all 6 books of the Cloakmaster Cycle have different authors, which does mean that book 2, Into the Void, has some major tonal differences from its predecessor, making me wonder if this is going to be a case of Naked Came the Stranger in RPG format.

Anyway, we pick up with Teldin Moore as the Gnomish ship he's flying on is getting ready to leave Krynnspace. Sadly, the gnomes get attacked by more Neogi. Teldin happens to be out on a longboat when the attack happens, leaving him and 3 of the gnomes stranded as the gnomeship make evasive maneuvers.  Thankfully, they get picked up by a Hammership crewed by mostly humans, captained by Estriss, an Illithid.

The Probe is bound for Realmspace, specifically the island of Rauthaven, where Estriss is looking to buy strange artifacts at an auction. Which does take us out of Krynnspace and into the Flow for the first time. We learn bits of Teldin's cloak's powers, like the ability to change his appearance, which Teldin does end up doing in Realmspace, after the Probe rescues a stranded ship.

Once again, the Neogi attack, although this time we find out they have a spy on the Probe.

In the end Teldin gets betrayed by at least 3 people, as just about everyone except for some of the crew wants the cloak.

 Fun read, and it looks like the next book will explore areas that are specific settings for SpellJammer, which should be interesting.

Monday, July 1, 2019

But seriously, where did the rum go?

Finished the as of now last book in Morgan Brice's BadLands series The Rising while waiting to clock in this morning.

Again, we're dealing with Vic and Simon and various hangers on as a bad winder squall is making its way inland towards Myrtle Beach. Which is kind of a looming threat over the narrative as we deal with the real plot, which concerns an unearthed pirate ship washed into shallower water by a hurricane and some stolen knives. All of which centers on a Plantation house being haunted by the original owner.

Oh yes, and the Gallows Nine, the pirates hanged from the recently discovered ship who trafficked in cursed Caribbean artifacts.

Anyway, descendants of the people who convicted the Gallows Nine end up hanging themselves with brine soaked hemp rope, and the stolen knives keep winding up in the backs of people getting to close to the Plantation Owner's fetter.

As one might guess, Vic and Simon get dragged into this, with a showdown between possessed people with antagonistic ghosts riding them while the storm cuts the plantation house off from the road.

Again, these are fun reading, with the M/M romance adding a bit of naughtiness to the proceedings.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


So, thanks to Amazon, I've assembled what really amounts to the Infinity Stones of the Dungeons & Dragons, all six volumes of The Cloakmaster Cycle by David Cook. (I think Book six has a different author, but bear with me.) Set in the SpellJammer setting, book 1, Beyond the Moons begins on Krynn, home of the DragonLance setting. (Note for those getting buried under geeklore here. SpellJammer was one of a few settings in the overall game that allowed passage between different settings within the multiverse. SpellJammer was different in that that travel was generally done by using flying ships [sometimes literally sailing ships that could fly through the air and space] and crossing the phlogiston and traveling between the Crystal Spheres that house different worlds. DragonLance is a High Medieval setting where the main timeline concerned the return of both Gods and Dragons after a very long absence. Interestingly, one of the creators of the setting modeled quite a bit of it off Joseph Smith and the Golden Disks. The Gnomes of Krynn mostly live in Mount Nevermind, where they as a race are mostly engineers.)

Anyway, we center on farmer Teldin, a retired muleskinner who served in the War of the Lance. While he by the end answers the Call to Adventure, at the outset, his entire motivation is to farm melons and avoid fighting. However, this doesn't last long, as what Teldin's elderly neighbor Liam mistakes for a dragon is actually a SpellJamming ship that crashes in the melon patch. An unusual captain  gifts Teldin with a cloak as she dies. Sadly, the only survivor of the crash, Gomja the Grif, thinks Teldin killed the captain at first, which gets corrected fairly quickly, although it's half the book until they really trust each other.

What a Giff might look like.
Any rate, it isn't long before Teldin and Gomja find out the ship that shot down Gomja's former ship (referred to later as a Death Spider) is in hot pursuit and after the cloak gifted to Teldin. Seems the Neogi want the cloak for some reason. 
What a Neogi might look like.
Teldin and Gomja make their way to Palanthas, where the Scribe Astinus hopefully has answers on what's going on. They join up with a mercenary group run by an old comrade of Teldin's. For the sake of expediency, Gomja is cloaked and passed off as having been cursed by the Dark Queen. By the time we get to Palanthas,  we find out Teldin's old friend is employed by the Neogi, the cloak can change Teldin's appearance to others. Teldin also finds out he can't take the cloak off, but it does adjust its size at his command. As he wants to get rid of it, get Gomja out in space and go back to his farm....  Astinus agrees to a brief meeting after being gifted star charts. He send the pair to Sancrist Island, home of Mount Nevermind, where the only SpellJamming race on Krynn lives. This means stowing away on an Elven ship, who aren't exactly happy about passengers. (As a side note, and some nitpicking, the Captain is Silvanesti, who at this period in the timeline avoided contact with all other races. Also, he's a Red Robed mage, which would also be unusual for an Elf, since Red is neutral, rather than good. One wonders if the captain has a story that never got told.)
Gomja uses this interlude to teach Teldin combat techniques, which works out, since the ship gets attacked by minotaur pirates. Teldin manages to save the captain's daughter when she goes overboard, and Captain gifts the pair weapons. 
They finally arrive at Mount Nevermind, wherein we get to meet the Gnomes. This book mentions the Gnomeflingers aren't working, so they are forced to resort to what passes for Gnomish elevators, since the stairs are being repaired.  These elevators work by putting passengers in bucket attached to another bucket by a pulley. The other bucket is filled with rocks, and dropped, allowing the passengers to rise to a different level. (I never said Gnomes were GOOD engineers.) 

Any rate, The Gnomes have a new SpellJamming ship being built, named Unquenchable. Before they can get off the ground though, the Neogo show up and attack. Gomja and Teldin manage to organize the Gnomes into a fighting force quickly, although Teldin gets captured and tortured. After a few days, Gomja does manage to rescue him, although Teldin has almost escaped by that point. 

Teldin decides to join the Gnomish SpellJammers, thinking correctly that the Neogi will continue to attack Krynn until they get the cloak. Gomja leads some of the Gnomes onto another Neogi ship to crash it. We end, with the Gnomes and Teldin getting ready to leave Krynnspace and enter the Phlogiston while acting like tiny Captain Kirks. 

While this ain't exactly DragonLance fiction, it's still pretty amusing. I look forward to what the next volumes hold.