Articles

The Last Gods of Indochine- Samuel Ferrer

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Great writing, and an interesting use of historical fiction with two separate but ultimately connected storylines from the past. The first story is set in the 13th Century reign of the Khmer King Jayavarman VIII and the second between the 1860s and1920s. This is a well written quality read. I found every chapter to be entertaining in of itself and so maintaining a strong desire to read on. I would have liked an ending with a few less swirling dreams and rather more ‘facts’. Most of the characters names are borrowed from history but precious little that is actually known about them. With such a thin veneer of known history perhaps the ending had to be mysterious and ephemeral, leaving a host of possible paths along with the unsubstantiated assertion that science and not religions’ unprovable possibilities dictates our fate.       I am critical of historical fiction that use long dead names but so little of the admittedly thin history. I can forgive such a high degree of storytel…

The Lumberjack- Erik Martin Willén

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Willén, in his first departure from sf space adventure/opera, has written a present-day thriller set in a generic northern forest reserve territory of the USA. Once begun the book is hard to put down, as one is driven on by the pace and tension in the story. The character elements of the evil antagonist bound along the edge of implausibility, on a tightrope between impossible and just about conceavible human physicality. In contrast, the rest of the cast of good, bad and pretty are within a more normal range of observable humanity. The plot is just about conceivable, except for the behaviour of a pack of wolves. We note that the author is Scandinavian, so of a population that has been responsible, more than any other, for demonising the wolf. The author also seems keen to exaggerate the danger from the cougar, or mountain lion as many Americans choose to call the creature. Both the cougar and wolf can on rare occasions be a genuine threat to even uninjured, but isolated, humans, …

How We End Up- Douglas Wells

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I was swept along by this multi-shaded literary social drama. Even when the colour of life was bright dark shadows always lingered, ready to overwhelm any, or all, of the three main characters. On the face of it, these people have been dealt a more than reasonably favourable hand in life, but none played it out at all well. This is a deep-dredging read full of soul searching, variously damaged character and of the randomness of life’s dice that are never afraid to roll. We see great opportunity contriving to yield far from great results. Sometimes the less than satisfactory play of events, emotions, preferences and addictions are overcome by great strength of character, and yet more often they are compounded by ingrained flaws. This book is not only well written, it is also pacey and extremely gripping drama. The characters all feel real to me, being an individual whom can be seen to have perhaps made less of himself than apparent opportunity might suggest. I guess that most people m…

El Cajon- Joel Shapiro

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One thing is for certain- this book gives El Cajon, California one heck of a reputation and one no city would want. Another thing, for certain- people don’t do well when addicted to Vicodin. Opiate addiction is very topical. One can only hope the medics and pharma people get a conscience before too many more people have their lives torn apart by addictive prescription drugs. But what the heck has that got to do with this book. Well, apart from the fact that Haim, the first-person narrator, is still somehow alive and even gets a few things right, there is a serious warning here. We see a few heroic deeds, but not from an actor one would ever wish to emulate. He is the very antithesis of John, Die Hard, McClane. A film about Haim Baker would not create quite the same sort of wannabe buzz. Before you take a first overdose on opiate-based medicines, read this book. However, don’t read this book if you are planning a trip to San Diego County, unless you are open to having your mind c…

Ape Mind, New Mind, Old Mind- John Wylie

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A well written academic book written in a style and at a scientific level that most of us can connect with, even if we can’t quite compute all the scholarly depth that make up the full picture. I definitely place myself in ‘the superficial understanding’ category but never felt intimidated by complexity. Wylie re-explores evolutionary biology bringing into play his clinical and philosophical knowledge and private observations in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and medicine. Wylie’s observations which build into a broad psychological theory that fits as a complementary extension to classic Darwinism, add considerably to our conventional understanding of human evolution. With the obvious exception of many dogmatic scripturalists, I think this book has a lot for all those interested in why we are what we are questions. Wylie adds to our understanding of personality evolution, looking at the intellectual creature that with all the psychological baggage we carry …

Life Unfinished- Martin White

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White has created a very readable biographical fiction out of the life and times of Franz Peter Schubert. The book is very engaging, even for one that knows next to nothing about the ‘engineering’ of music. Period history is my fascination here, along with my naive appreciation of the music itself. I now know a good deal more about the history of the classic period of European music than I did before the enjoyable experience of reading this book.      There are many books and films about the life of Schubert, all rather building on the same store of facts and sometimes rather weakly anchored conjecture. The widespread, if not consensual, view is that Schubert was bisexual. That is based only on the certainty that many of his acquaintances and friends in the worlds of music, theatre and painting were of diverse passions. Though whether he caught syphilis, a disease that in this account almost came to finally define him from a rare sexual encounter or from a promiscuous existence …

When a Stranger Comes- Karen S.Bell

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Writers enjoy having the power of God over their characters, but what if they also attract the forces of the devil? What if the power of life and death in a fiction translates into a ‘real’ existence, if some elements of the authors omnipresence on the page slips into physical life? The book is very much paranormal, some of a magical realism bend and some with a quasi-religious one. Through excepting the premise that many good versus evil, religious/paranormal boundaries collide in mystical ways one can enjoy the book. Most of us have little trouble suspending belief to enjoy a good yarn. I preferred to read this is the imagined world of a psychotic personality in total meltdown. This was easy given that the book is written in first person. I enjoyed this as a false reality from which we are supposed to hope the character voice, Alexa, will escape. I was a bit underwhelmed by the lengths Bell went to in exploring the threads of the story as it drew to the end, as for me the deta…