#DealMeIn2019, Week 2 ~ “A Dog’s Story”

“A Dog’s Story” by Gardner Dozois

Card Picked: 3♥
From: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July-August 2017

He was old, and his hip hurt him these days, and he had long ago quit bothering to bark at cars, but his still-restless spirit wouldn’t let him go to sleep without tasting the night…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a tale titled “A Dog’s Story” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There are some fantastical elements to it, but also a dollop of horror.

During the course of his night wanderings, Blackie finds the body of a murdered young woman in an alley. She reminds him of his special human Emily, who has been gone for several years. It’s implied that Emily has died; Blackie’s current human has been listless since Emily has been gone, but as a dog, Blackie only know that there is no more Emily. He decides that some justice should be done for this woman. His nose isn’t good enough to track the killer, nor would he be able to attack the man once he’s found, but Blackie is old enough to know other animals, like Talking Pete, a geriatric cat who knows many languages and can talk to the city’s rats. Through favors and deals, justice will be served.

This is a slip of a story, only just over 1500 words. (I love that F&SF includes word counts.) I can imagine that other writers would do more with the other animals, but indeed, this is a dog’s story and Blackie gets all the screen time.

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Review ~ Harmony in Light

This book was provided to me for review consideration by WordFire Press & the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America via NetGalley.

Harmony in Light

Harmony in Light by Walter H. Hunt

In 1880s Paris, a doctor encounters a statuette that can drive men mad, secret societies, and a bridge between worlds that threatens disastrous consequences. Throughout, he is assisted and opposed by historical figures such as Charlie Dickens, the son living in his late father’s shadow, a young Sigmund Freud and the ghost of the Marquis de Sade.

Why was I interested in this book?

On NetGalley, I’ve been auto-approved by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This means I can read any of the titles they are currently promoting via NetGalley without going through any approval process. It’s a bit of perk. I hadn’t reviewed anything for them in a while and Harmony in Light sounded like it might be interesting, despite my general avoidance of fiction with historical celebrities.

What did I think?

I was a little dubious going into Harmony in Light. Using historical personages in fiction is hard to get right. Often, a reader has a notion of the personage’s character and that can clash with the author’s version of that character. In this case though, I have very little opinion of Charles Dickens, Jr., Sigmund Freud, the Marquis de Sade, or Guy de Maupassant (who is also there). I didn’t even know if Dickens had children. He did, in fact, have 10 children.

Actually, Hunt errs on the other end of using historical celebrities: I’m not sure that the names and reputations they brought to the story were necessary. But perhaps I’m missing some connections. There are a lot of characters and names to keep track of.

I did enjoy the central mystery of the plot. Dr. Sauvier is a good investigator and the skeptical foil to the statuette’s weirdness and the societies of mesmerists looking to control it. Occasionally, the narrative felt a little padded out, but Hunt’s occult Paris is a diverting enough setting. I also rather liked the ending. Hunt has written some alternate history in the past, but he side-steps messing with future history here.

Other Info

Published: Nov. 26, 2018 by WordFire Press
My copy: PDF/Kindle ARC

Review ~ Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost by John Milton


John Milton’s Paradise Lost is one of the greatest epic poems in the English language. It tells the story of the Fall of Man, a tale of immense drama and excitement, of rebellion and treachery, of innocence pitted against corruption, in which God and Satan fight a bitter battle for control of mankind’s destiny. The struggle rages across three worlds – heaven, hell, and earth – as Satan and his band of rebel angels plot their revenge against God. At the center of the conflict are Adam and Eve, who are motivated by all too human temptations but whose ultimate downfall is unyielding love.

Marked by Milton’s characteristic erudition, Paradise Lost is a work epic both in scale and, notoriously, in ambition. For nearly 350 years, it has held generation upon generation of audiences in rapt attention, and its profound influence can be seen in almost every corner of Western culture.

via Goodreads

This is a reread of Paradise Lost. I originally read it in college in my Milton class. Back then, I read from a doorstop edition of Milton’s Complete Poems and Major Prose. This time around, I used Dartmouth College’s online edition.

There are a couple of hurdles to reading Paradise Lost:

First, it’s poetry, and poetry freaks people out. Especially long, epic poems. But the thing to remember is: while line breaks occur more often, punctuation still marks where thoughts start and stop. The first stanza of book 1 is twenty-six lines long and is one sentence. But there are plenty commas, semicolons, and even a couple of colons to break up the stream.

Second, much of the poem is really dialogue, so you need to pay attention to the beginnings, ends, and shorter stanzas because those are the ornate dialogue tags. In my paper edition, I annotated who was speaking and the ends of sentences.

Third, there are weird spellings for words. “Tast” instead of “taste.” There are a lot of heav’ns and flow’ds and th’s, which lend to a spoken reading. A lot of excess “th”s, and “ie”s for “y”s. I’m not saying these are difficult issues, but it one more thing to wade through.

Fourth, there are allusions galore. This might be a biblical story, being told by the actors in the midst of it (God, Satan, several angels, Adam), but Milton pulls from Greek and Roman myths, parts of the Bible that would be chronologically later, Shakespeare (I believe), and other contemporary texts in order to add depth and scope. Nothing was off-limits. I’d like to think if Milton were writing this today, he’d roll in some Lovecraftian mythos. The Dartmouth online edition is very helpful in regards to these last two points. It provides mouse-over spelling corrections and hyperlinked annotations.

I decided to read Paradise Lost again due to the FrankenSlam! challenge. It is one of the three manuscripts that the monster happens to read as his education. Presumably, these manuscripts were also Mary Shelley’s basis for the monster as a character. Given the amount of allusions that do require some familiarity with other texts, I’d think that monster might have been lost much of the time while reading Paradise Lost. Even so, there are repeated themes of parentage, sins, and punishments which the monster would find compelling.

Satan saw himself as a near equal to God and in God’s good graces until he was demoted for God’s son. His subsequent rebellion leads to punishment and more perceived slights as God places man as a higher being than Satan and his rebel angels. Later, when God punishes man with “death,” the punishment feels like a compromise being made by a capricious father. Man whines about not asking to be created at all.

Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay
To mould me Man, did I sollicite thee
From darkness to promote me,

Book 10, lines 743-745

It’s this quote that is Frankenstein‘s epigraph. I can see where the monster might by turns identify with Satan and also with man.

Personally, I generally enjoyed this reread. It’s been over twenty years since the first time and I have more stuff rattling around my head now, including a more recent reading of Frankenstein. Honestly, I find Milton is at his best when armies are heading into battle. I previously under-appreciated Book 6 when Raphael tells his side of the battle with against Satan’s angels. Satan, of course, gets all the good lines, and most of the manuscript, but this section of Raphael telling Adam about the conflict, kind of on the sly, is one of the more vivid passages.

Review ~ Unholy Land

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

Unholy Land

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

From the bestselling author of Central Station comes an extraordinary new novel recalling China Miéville and Michael Chabon, entertaining and subversive in equal measures.

Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveler, and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father.

Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina—a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century—has grown dangerous. Unrest in Ararat City is growing; the government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refugees. Tirosh has become state security officer Bloom’s prime murder suspect, while rogue agent Nur stalks them through transdimensional rifts—possible futures to prevented only by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

via Goodreads

It is actually really hard to review Unholy Land after reading its afterword by Warren Ellis.

Unholy Land is one of those lovely books that starts out presenting itself as one thing, and mutates into another almost without you seeing it.

In a way, that’s spot on.  This book starts with a “what if.” What if a Jewish state had been founded in Uganda? It was a scheme in the early 1900s, but one that was never acted on. And, if you’re familiar with Lavie Tidhar’s style of writing, this what if is a tasty morsel. Tidhar’s forte is in providing settings that you feel like you’re walking through, sweating in, having dinner and drinks at. It’s even better when the setting is a mash-up of cultures and technologies.

But I disagree that Unholy Land‘s transformation, from an alternate world noir to a more politically charged thriller,  occurs without notice. Tidhar does things that are designed to put the reader off-kilter. Point of view changes happen not only between chapters but within scenes. Memories shift for characters. It’s obvious early on that something more is going on than originally meets the eye. This isn’t a comfortable book despite my wanting to spend time in the world. I enjoyed it, but I also feel like I’m going to need to reread it. And that’s not a bad thing.

Publishing Information: Tachyon Publications, November 2018
My copy: Kindle ARC
Genre: science fiction

Deal Me In, Week 44 ~ “Abraham’s Boys”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Abraham’s Boys” by Joe Hill

Card picked: 9
Found at: Fifty-Two Stories

“Do you believe in vampires, Max?”

Rudy was on his knees in front of an ottoman across the room. He had hunched over to collect a few papers which had settled there, then stayed to look at the battered doctor’s bag tucked underneath it. Rudy tugged at the rosary knotted around the handles.

When it came time to read Dracula during my senior year of high school, it was a reread for me. So, while still following along with the class, I decided to read Dracula and pay attention to how insane Dr. Van Helsing is. If there weren’t vampires, zealous Abraham Van Helsing could almost be a villain.

In “Abraham’s Boys,” Joe Hill plays a what if game. What if Mina marries Van Helsing after Johnathan dies? (No details on how *that* happened.) What if they have two sons? What if they move to America before Mina’s also unfortunate end? What if… maybe… there are no vampires even though the old man teaches his sons that there are?

Oh, that this story would have been picked last week, but hey, who says the Halloween spirit can’t continue on? The ending is pretty hair-raising and offers no answers. I haven’t read much Joe Hill; this is definitely my favorite of his works thus far.

Review ~ Nothing to Devour

This book was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley for review consideration.

Nothing to Devour cover

Nothing to Devour by Glen Hirshberg

Librarian Emilia is alone in a library that is soon to close its doors forever. Alone save for one last patron, his head completely swathed in bandages, his hands gloved, not one inch of skin exposed. Emilia feels sorry for him–like her, he is always alone.

Today, he sees, really sees, Emilia.
What he does to her then is unspeakable.

Thousands of miles away, another victim rises—a dead woman who still lives. Sophie is determined to protect the people she loves best in the world—but she is a monster.

To Jess, it doesn’t matter that Sophie was once as close to her as her own daughter. It doesn’t matter that Sophie’s baby died so that Jess’s grandson could live. It only matters that Sophie is a vampire.

Vampires can’t be trusted.
Even if they love you.

Aunt Sally loved all the monsters she’d created in the hundreds of years since she died and rose again. She loved her home in the bayou. When her existence was exposed to the human world, she didn’t hesitate to destroy her home, and her offspring, to save herself. Herself, and one special girl, Aunt Sally’s last chance to be a perfect mother.

These people are drawn together from across the United States, bound by love and hatred, by the desire for reunification and for revenge.

In their own ways, they are all monsters.
Some deserve to live.
Some do not. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Glen Hirshberg is currently my favorite horror author.

What Worked
One of the strong points of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was its themes of family set among a group of monsters. That novel (and its sequels) only barely scratches the surface in comparison to Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Children trilogy, which concludes with Nothing to Devour. As a Gen X writer, it’s not surprising that Hirshberg begins with a base of found family on which to build his monsters.

In the aftermath of Good Girls (book 2), Jess flees with  her grandson and the remaining survivors, including orphan Rebecca, to a remote island in the Pacific northwest. What she establishes isn’t quite family, but it’s all she, and they, have. Their relationships are a contrast to Emily’s strong family ties, though she is trying to grow-up and away from her parents. That’s before her “Invisible Man” intervenes.

Don’t misunderstand, this trilogy isn’t all family drama. Not in the least. Hirshberg doesn’t shy away from shock and gore. He just makes sure you care about the characters first.

What Didn’t Work
I really wish I would have reread Motherless Child and Good Girls leading up to Nothing to Devour. This *is* the final book in a trilogy. It doesn’t stand alone and its cast is large enough that I didn’t entirely remember who was who at the beginning of the book.

I also still maintain that Hirshberg does his best, most unsettling, work in shorter forms. While these novels are solidly horror, they lack the gnawing chills of stories like “Struwwelpeter” or “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” (from his collection The Two Sams).

Overall
I had pretty much put a stake into vampires as a good literary monster before Motherless Child. The entire Motherless Children trilogy is a great resurrection of the trope.

Publishing info, my copy: Epub, Tor, release date: Nov. 6, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley, 7/24/18
Genre: horror

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “The Fish of Lijiang”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu

Card picked: 4
Found at: Clarksworld

It’s the fault of that damned mandatory physical exam. On the last page of the report were the words: PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II). Translated into words normal people can understand, they say that I’m messed up and I must take two weeks off to rehabilitate.

Our narrator is sent to Lijiang to “rehabiliate.” While he is there he is not allowed to have his personal electronics, not even a watch. He’s left to laze about, maybe take in some traditional Nixi music (now played by robot bands), and theorize about the strange, ubiquitous stray dogs. That is until he meets a mysterious woman, a special care nurse who is also doing mandatory rehab.

The science fiction elements in this story are very light. Robots, holograms, time dilation and compression: they’re all used in a sort of depressingly mundane way. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty lukewarm about this story. With an unsympathetic narrator, not enough setting, and an only okay plot, I’m glad it wasn’t longer.