Category Archives: Fantasy

Kotzwinkle, William: Doctor Rat (1976)

Doctor Rat gives voice to the horrors of the laboratory as seen from the eyes of the lab-animals. Driven insane by the experiments performed on him, many of them without anaesthesia, Dr. Rat encourages the other animals to do their best to be supportive of the torture they experience.

“He’s sensitive chap and it was his exquisite sensitivity that caused him to dream up the item that’s become the latest rage here at the lab: the fabulous removal of the eggs from a female rat’s body—to the tail, to the ear, to the stomach. And for the past twenty-three days, he’s been grafting them to their eyeballs!”

In 2014 one of the Nobel Prizes handed out was for showing why our brain is a GPS system. Two of those who won that prize were May-Britt and Edvard Moser.

In this video, the Moser’s look like nice people. They cuddle the rats and talk about creating lesions on their brains. As far as labs go, this lab is far from the worst. However, this video does illustrate the human position as apex predators.

One argument for experiments like the ones in Dr. Rat or the ones in the labs at NTNU goes something like this “What about medical advancement and further knowledge about improving lives?” I don’t buy that argument at all even though I have benefited and benefit from animal and human experiments. There is no good argument for humans treating lab animals the way cats treat their victims.

I could not read Dr. Rat in one go. Some of the other stories I read can be as violent, but Kotzwinkle‘s writing dug his claws of horror and despair into my brain. In the end, there is a balancing event against the torturers (not only researchers) that in no way makes up for the terrible lives of these animals. Not that such treatment surprises, or even shocks, me. This is the way many humans treat other humans. After all, humans are both predator and prey in our genetic make-up.

“What are they doing to me, Doctor Rat?”

“Let me just check my notes… yes, here we are. You’ll be the tenth rat this week to have his brains sucked out by a pneumatic tube.”

While Dr. Rat is horror, it is also humour, humour of the darker kind, the kind I like. As satire, the story does its job of criticizing society’s proclivity towards violence.

Excellent story. Most definitively recommended.


Reviews:

Doctorow, Cory; someone comes to town, someone leaves town; New York, Tor Books, 2005

The clerks who’d tended Alan’s many stores—the used clothing store in the Beaches, the used book-store in the Annex, the collectible tin-toy store in Yorkville, the antique shop on Queen Street—had both benefited from and had their patience tried by Alan’s discursive nature. Alan had pretended never to notice the surreptitious rolling of eyes and twirling fingers aimed templewise among his employees when he got himself warmed up to a good oration, but in truth very little ever escaped his attention. His customers loved his little talks, loved the way he could wax rhapsodic about the tortured prose in a Victorian potboiler, the nearly erotic curve of a beat-up old table leg, the voluminous cuffs of an embroidered silk smoking jacket. The clerks who listened to Alan’s lectures went on to open their own stores all about town, and by and large, they did very well.

He’d put the word out when he bought the house on Wales Avenue to all his protégés: Wooden bookcases! His cell-phone rang every day, bringing news of another wooden bookcase found at this flea market, that thrift store, this rummage sale or estate auction.

Alan (or any name beginning with the initial A) reminds me of myself in so many ways. Not only was my mother a washing-machine, my father a mountain and one of my brothers a zombie, but I also like to have bookshelves full of books. But I want to have read the books. Well, actually, my family isn’t exactly like that, but Alan’s family is. We are similar in other ways as well. Like Alan, I tend to want to offer solutions to problems people have. Even when they haven’t asked for one. Maybe that is one way the Asperger brain works. Our passions often express themselves in the same manner Alan’s renovation of his house followed. I could totally live in a house like that, but would not want to go through all the hassle he did. But I have other areas where I can be as focused as Alan was with his house. Registering everything he ever owned onto a database is something I have known Aspies to do. Another way in which the Aspie brain can work is by following our own set of social rules, rules not generally accepted by neurotypicals. Take Alan’s relationship with his neighbors on Wales Avenue in Toronto, Canada.:

Alan rang the next-door house’s doorbell at eight a.m. He had a bag of coffees from the Greek diner. Five coffees, one for each bicycle locked to the wooden railing on the sagging porch plus one for him.

He waited five minutes, then rang the bell again, holding it down, listening for the sound of footsteps over the muffled jangling of the buzzer. It took two minutes more, he estimated, but he didn’t mind. It was a beautiful summer day, soft and moist and green, and he could already smell the fish market over the mellow brown vapors of the strong coffee.

A young woman in long johns and a baggy tartan T-shirt opened the door. She was excitingly plump, round and a little jiggly, the kind of woman Alan had always gone for. Of course, she was all of twenty-two, and so was certainly not an appropriate romantic interest for him, but she was fun to look at as she ungummed her eyes and worked the sleep out of her voice.

“Yes?” she said through the locked screen door. Her voice brooked no nonsense, which Alan also liked. He’d hire her in a second, if he were still running a shop. He liked to hire sharp kids like her, get to know them, try to winkle out their motives and emotions through observation.

“Good morning!” Alan said. “I’m Alan, and I just moved in next door. I’ve brought coffee!” He hefted his sack in her direction.

“Good morning, Alan,” she said. “Thanks and all, but—”

“Oh, no need to thank me! Just being neighborly. I brought five—one for each of you and one for me.”

Not quite understanding what makes up neurotypicals, and having to stand on the outside looking in, brings with it the danger of being deemed less than human, much like Krishna does with Alan. It does not take much for such a thought to take hold. People who work within healthcare are in particular danger of falling into this trap. As are people within the school system and, I suppose, any kind of bureaucrat.  It is something I have observed happen again and again to people who are dissimilar enough to any given average.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town mixes present and past into a tale of a dysfunctional family and a repressed present. Using any excuse to avoid dwelling on his family’s messed up relationships, Alan is a great example of escapism and dissociation. Only one thing can make him try to face his past and that is his neighbour Mimi. She reminds Alan, and us, of his old sweetheart Marci.  Except for the wings. Bat-like wings that get cut off whenever they reach a certain size. Cut off, that is, until her relationship with Krishna changes.

Marci is part of the story about David and his brothers. Or maybe that is Alan and his brothers. David and Alan are intertwined so tightly that only one apparent recourse seems open to the brothers. Or could something perhaps change this doomed relationship?

David (or any name starting with D) is the brother wronged by the rest. We find out how as the story moves along, but the reason is a common one in sibling relationships. Suffice it to say that being wronged had left its marks on him and his anger is most definitely deserved. Alan was the first of eight brothers. While the Golems tried to help, Alan ended up being the one who had to take care of his younger brothers. B and C had been easy to take care of.

Billy, the fortune-teller, had been born with a quiet wisdom, an eerie solemnity that had made him easy for the young Alan to care for.

Carlos, the island, had crawled out of their mother’s womb and pulled himself to the cave mouth and up the face of their father, lying there for ten years, accreting until he was ready to push off on his own.

However, the needs of the other four brothers were much more difficult for a child to understand.

Daniel had been a hateful child from the day he was born. He was colicky, and his screams echoed through their father’s caverns. He screamed from the moment he emerged and Alan tipped him over and toweled him gently dry and he didn’t stop for an entire year.

It is difficult to love colicky and needy children. Daniel had been both. Plus his first reaction to most things was violence. Some years later, Edward, Fredrik and George came along with one month between them.

Ed was working on his suspenders, then unbuttoning his shirt and dropping his pants, so that he stood in grimy jockeys with his slick, tight, hairy belly before Alan. He tipped himself over, and then Alan was face-to-face with Freddy, who was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts with blue and white stripes. Freddy was scowling comically, and Alan hid a grin behind his hand.

Freddy tipped to one side and there was George, short and delicately formed and pale as a frozen french fry. He grabbed Freddy’s hips like handles and scrambled out of him, springing into the air and coming down on the balls of his feet, holding his soccer-ball-sized gut over his Hulk Underoos.

What began as a relationship where their need for each other comforted them, slowly deteriorated into one of resentment and possibly hate. Doctorow does a great job of creating brothers that represent their role in their family’s dysfunction through their bodies and minds.

In spite of all of the commentary I have read, Someone comes to town is not particularly unusual for a reader of science fiction and fantasy. But it is well-written and well-edited and flows, even through the geeky parts. Retro-techno junkies are always fun.  Recommended.


Reviews:


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Translations:

Garcia, Kami; Unbreakable; London, Little Brown Books, 2013

My mom lay on the bed, motionless.

Elvis crouched on her chest.

The lamp in the corner flashed on and off like a child was toying with the switch.

“Mom?”

Elvis’ head whipped around in my direction.

I ran to the bed and he leapt to the floor. (p. 21)

Unbreakable is about five families who seriously messed in 1776 by opening the door to the demon Andras. Apparently the Black Dove Legion wanted to use the demon to stop the Illuminati from taking over the world. They had planned to use the angel Anarel to hold the demon back. Alas. More than 200 years later, the descendants are still doing damage control.

After Kennedy’s mom is killed, identical twins Jared and Lukas turn up, in the nick of time, to save her life. Yes, yes. I know. This part is extremely predictable. Right away Jared and Lukas seem interested in Kennedy as more than the descendant they are convinced she is. Those who have read my previous reviews know how I feel about these love-triangles. Blech.

Jared and Lukas take her to a warehouse where she meets the other two Black Dove members, Priest and Alara. Warehouse living came about because of the unexpected deaths of the guardians of all five youth. Each youth has their own talent to contribute to the group. They decide to go on a hunt for a mysterious tool they think would drive Andras back to hell.

What do I think of the writing? Somehow I felt like there was too much telling. Or maybe there wasn’t. I think that the problem was in how the information was presented. The story went from a smooth flow to a stilted teacher rhythm. Other than that, the story was well edited and internally consistent. The encounters with the various types of spirits were fun. All in all Unbreakable is the same old, same old. But that is fine. It is a fast read.

I generally post links to well-written reviews of the novel I am reviewing. I don’t think I have ever seen Supernatural, but after all the comments about the similarities, I had to see what Wikipedia had to say. There are definitely similarities, but I think only someone who has seen Supernatural would be provoked.

Unbreakable is the first novel of the Legion trilogy. The second novel, Unmarked, was published in 2014. The third, and final, novel of this serial has not been published yet and I have not found any indication that it will happen anytime soon. Because of that, I recommend you wait before beginning the Trilogy as it is written in serial form.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audiobook: Narrated by Candice Accola; Blackstone Audiobooks, 2013
  • Dutch: Onbreekbaar; Translated by Willeke Lempens; Full Moon, 2014 (Review)
  • French: La Légion de la Colombe Noire; Translated by Christophe Rosson; Hatchette, 2014 (Review)
  • German: Der Kreis der Fünf; Translated by Eva Müller-Hierteis; CBT, 2013 (Review)
  • Portugese: Inquebrável; Translated by Joana Faro; Galera Record, 2014 (Review)
  • Russian: Непобедимые; Translated by Ирина Тетерина; Азбука-Аттикус, 2014 (Review)
  • Spanish: Sin temor; Translated by Adolfo Muñoz; Anaya, 2015 (Review)
  • Swedish: Ondskan vaknar; Translated by Carina Jansson; Semic, 2015 (Review)
  • Turkish: Kırılmayan; Translated by Atilla İzgi Turgut; Epsilon Yayınları, 2014 (Review)

Dennard, Susan; Truthwitch (Witchlands I); London, Tor, 2016

Ultimately all stories (real-life or fiction) seem to be power. Mainly the power to control ones own and/or other people’s lives. Sometimes that includes war between nations on the pretext of one person. In the case of Truthwitch, that person is Safiya fon Hasstrel.

In the Witchlands series there are three kinds of people: witches, norms and the Cleaved. You have to read the story to find out who the Cleaved are. Witches have all kinds of strange powers. Thus far, I know about Truthwitches, Sightwitches, Threadwitches, Bloodwitches, Windwitches, Earthwitches and Waterwitches. The different categories cover every degree and permutation within their field. Threads are the ties that bind people together and to life. The category people seem to know least about is Truth.

Truthwitches have not existed for about 200 years. That is, until Safiya became one. In the past, people in power wanted a Truthwitch by their sides because Truthwitches knew if people were lying. It was sort of a love/hate thing. At least, that is as much as Safi knows about her powers. Safi really wants to hide her witchery from as many people as possible. But she sucks at being inconspicuous. Fortunately, she has Iseult to hold her back. Sadly, there is only so much Iseult can do no matter how level-headed or good at strategizing she is.

Iseult is a Threadwitch. The world is filled with threads that Threadwitches can see. Except for their own and other Threadwitches’ and those of Bloodwitches. These threads bind people together to varying degrees, but can also be bound into stones to help members of a thread-family find each other. Unlike most Threadwitches, Iseult cannot make threadstones nor is she able to control her feelings as much as a Threadwitch is supposed to. Keeping level-headed (stasis) is essential to the safety of those around them.

Both women are trained in martial arts and fighting with various weapons. Both started fighting by themselves, but soon became an unbreakable team and later Threadsisters. The two of them have trained together for years, and that is the only thing that saves them when they are unfortunate enough to encounter the Carawen monk Aeduan who has been trained to fight since childhood. To make things worse, he also happens to be a Bloodwitch, a type of witch thought to no longer exist. Bloodwitches can smell a person’s blood and the witchery within it. Like bloodhounds, Bloodwitches can follow that smell across continents. It is debatable whether anything can kill them. Safi and Iseult fear he has smelled their witchery and run, run, run. And they will need to run far as not only Aeduan, but also the guards, soldiers and Hell-Bards of Emperor Henrick end up being after them. And then, of course, come the Purists.

Purists are non-magical people who do not want others to have powers they do not have themselves. They are an odd and violent group. Real life history is full of what people like that are able to do in the name of “purity”.

Another important encounter for the two women is Prince Merik of Nubrevna. Merik happens to be a Windwitch. Windwitches control air currents. Merik has problems with his temper. Not setting air on the Guild leaders he is meant to make trade agreements with is nigh to impossible. To make matters worse, knows that most Guild leaders have no interest in a trade agreement with Nubrevna. In fact, the opposite is more likely. Nubrevna is full of magic but empty of most other things that keep people alive.

Truthwitch is the first story in what looks to be a 4-novel & 1-novella series. Number two, Windwitch, has already been published. According to Goodreads the next stories are titled Sightwitch (novella), Bloodwitch, and untitled.

The story is written in third person – my favorite POV. It has been well edited. Considering the people Dennard works with, anything else seems impossible. Its musicality drew me in.

Plotwise, Truthwitch has been told many times – both in fantasy and in real life. War, peace, growing up, freedom, starvation, death, love and hunting others are all topics we have heard before. As is magic. But the refreshing thing is our main pair, Safi and Iseult. They are both amazing and annoying at the same time. Humour abounds between them. Their support of each other, even when blame could be placed on the other person, is not often seen in teen fantasy.

I’m not sure any of the characters are particularly likeable from the onset. But they are fun all the way through. Even when I think they ought to be drowned. But then drowning does not always help get rid of them. What seems inevitable is that a pairing off of at least two of them will happen. It would be nice if it didn’t, or at least if it did not happen in the usual YA-fantasy manner = love-triangle.

Truthwitch is not the best story I have read, but it is one of the better ones. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Bulgarian: Сюзан Денърд; Веровещица; Translated by Александър Маринов; Егмонт, 2016 (Review)
  • German: Schwestern der Wahrheit; Translated by Vanessa Lamatsch; Penhaligon Verlag, 2016 (Review)
  • Polish: Prawdodziejka; Translated by Kołek Regina, Pawlak Maciej; SQN – Sine Qua Non, 2016 (Review Youtube)
  • Romanian: Vrăjitoarea adevărului; Translated by Andreea Florescu; Nemira, 2016 (Review)
  • Russian: Видящая истину; Translated by О. Грушевская; Издательство, АСТ, 2016 (Review)
  • Turkish: Doğruluk Cadısı; Translated by Murat Karlıdağ; Novella Dinamik, 2016 (Review)

Torr, Edwin; Blood, Bone and Coffin (Dead Means Dead 0); Obulus Books, 2017

The relative merits of my weapon of choice all became a little academic when my phone began to play the Mexican Hat Dance. I rummaged in my pocket, wishing I was better at technology so that I could change the ringtone or at least mute the damn thing. It’s hardly appropriate for a Specialist Funeral Director to have such a chirpy tune ringing out across a graveyard. I pulled the phone out and stabbed randomly at the buttons, trying to silence the thing. It was then I realized that in doing so, I had inadvertently stood up, revealing myself to the dead head.

“Hello?” Detective Inspector savage’s voice sounded incredibly loud. Somehow, I’d managed to put him on speakerphone. “Are you there, Coffin?”

The dead guy spun round. He looked fast for someone who had died a few weeks ago and just finished the impossible journey from six feet under the soil to the surface. He also looked like every one of the days of those weeks had taken its toll on him. His face was bloated and grey, the skin splitting around his forehead to reveal white bone and a lining of something creamy. He gave a low growl from his black lips which gave me a lovely view of his yellowed, uneven teeth.

“Hi, Savage, can I ring you back? It’s not a good time right now.”

Savage was one of those people who never took the hint. “It won’t take a minute, Coffin. We’ve had a report of an open grave in a place called Hampton Green…”

“I’m dealing with a lich, right now, Savage, I can’t really…” I didn’t finish the sentence. The dead guy launched himself forward and rammed his shoulder into my gut, grabbing me round the waist and forcing me backwards onto the ground. (ch. 1)

Blood, Bone and Coffin is a prequel to Demons. It is a novella about the Specialist Funeral Director whose job it is to lay the undead to rest. Sometimes the police give him work to do. Usually, they do not call him at such an inconvenient time as the one in the quote. Or perhaps Coffin learns how to silence his cell-phone.

What begins with the request to lay a zombie to rest, ends up being a search for the killer of residents at the Twilight Grove Nursing Home in Hampton Green, England.

BB&C is a fun little paranormal whodunit with odd people all over the place. Recommended.

 

China, Max; The Sister; Skinnybirds Productions; 2014

My copy of The Sister, is the 2014 edition. Apparently, some of the problems in the 2012 edition have been corrected.

“You should have learned to swim.”

The perfect murders are the ones where the murderer is never discovered. As The Sister is a traditional mystery-thriller, that cannot happen. Having said that, the boiler-suit murderer seems a likely candidate for a murderer who might never have been caught in real life. That has to do with his methods.

When we are introduced to him, we find ourselves in Cornwall during the summer of 1967. The year my sister was born.

“You told Lei you were coming here?” the girl asked. “Are you sure she won’t get lonely and come down to join – us?”

“No. She won’t come here. Like I said, we argued, and now we’re not talking … besides, she is scared of this place, what with all those old stories …?”

20 August 1967 three things happen simultaneously. The Milowski family decides to go on a picnic not far from a haunted site. Something he saw through a telescope unsettles seven-year old Bruce, and he decides to investigate that feeling. He is too young to realize how dangerous following such hunches might be.

At the same time, the above-mentioned Lee follows in the foot-steps of her disappeared boy-friend.

Rescuers found his tent pitched near the mine’s entrance. It was empty, his equipment missing. Unable to find any trace of him outside, the rescue team concluded that he must have decided to sleep in the mine. …

At the same time, at Celtic Deep, Vera begins seeing things, and the first thing she sees is the death about to happen.

All three lives are irrevocably changed, while the boiler-suit serial killer gets to keep on doing what he enjoys most in the world.

In the end, The Sister is mainly about power. The lengths to which we will go to have it and the lengths to which others will go to take it from us. The Sister is also very much about the long-term effects of traumatic events. What Max China writes about different ways of dealing with trauma, reminds me of how I used to deal with my own experiences. I was also reminded of the strength it took to discover how to live with PTSD and to acknowledge the effects of that survival.

China’s serial killer is frightening because he is believable. Watching programs and reading articles about real life serial killers has shown me that the boiler-suit killer would fit right in with them. Vera’s powers are what brings The Sister into the realm of Fantasy fiction. I would not want a stone like the obsidian stone in my life, nor would I wish the slightest ability to see into the future. I liked Vera. She is a woman who chooses to bear burdens that most of us would be unable to carry.

The editing of The Sister is good. It is a relief to read a story where the author understands the words he uses, has a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, seems to have the ability to listen to what editors and beta-readers suggest and understands the music of words. In addition, the characters are believable. While I might not like all of them, they are people I can relate to on some level. Yes. Even boiler-suit man. I also prefer the third-person tool China uses in his telling. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


The Sister is available at Amazon US and Amazon UK

Silvers, Shane; Obsidian Son (Nate Temple I); Argento Publishing, 2012

I completely agree with the criticism of some of the reviewers of Obsidian Son. Much in the way of the Paranormal Romances I have read, Obsidian Son has a bizarre view of looks and what attracts people to each other. Instead of big cocks, there are big racks. The main character is shallow, obnoxious and has few redeeming qualities. In addition, there is a lack of research. Finally, there are grammatical problems.

In spite of all that, I had fun. Imagine what Shayne Silvers could have accomplished with a better team. So many of the authors I read, or try to read, claim their stories have had editors and beta-readers. As does Silvers. Hmmm. Who are these editors and beta-readers?

I still had fun. This is an urban fantasy interspersed with mythological and magical creatures. The main character has magic, is wealthy and is extremely attractive to the opposite gender. Some of that attraction is because of out-of-control magic. There are dragons. They are the best part of the story. Really fun dragons.

Not recommended.


Reviews:

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