Tag Archives: #Stratification

Andersen, H.C.; Collected stories (1822-1870)

Once upon a time there lived a man in Denmark called Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). He was born into poverty and its overwhelming harshness. Yet talent and luck brought him out of it.

Many have heard a version of “The little mermaid”. Andersen’s version is one that brought me to tears when I was young. It felt unfair to me, that she gave up so much and gained so little. Now that I am re-reading all of his stories, I’m not certain that was Andersen’s intent. “The little mermaid” is definitely about how unfair life is, how infatuation makes us do things with long-term consequences, but also about hope. Andersen was, according to those who write about his life, a deeply religious man. The idea that he hoped for something wonderful after death shines through his stories. His fears of the horrors that await evil people also comes through some of his stories. To avoid Hell, Andersen made his people go through terrible penances. “The red shoes” and “The girl who trod on the loaf” are two examples his penance type stories. These three stories, and many others, clearly show the position women held in Danish society.

Andersen writes about people who are idiots. “What the old man does is always right” is about a man who is dumber than bread. Yet he still gets out ahead. Irony and humour is strong in that story. Humour was one of Andersen’s tools. “The emperor’s new clothes” is a funny story that nails group effects and foolish traditions right on the head.

Fables were part of his repertoire. Andersen replaced people with animals, plants and inanimate objects. With them he gave us stories such as “The ugly duckling”, “The neighbouring families” and “The darning needle”. Magical creatures such as trolls,  dryads and elves turned up in his tales.

More than anything else, Andersen’s stories are about structural discrimination and abuse. He stood up for people who needed representation. As now, these differences were reproduced and supported by people who could be heard. People like Andersen are always needed. Most societies and cultures discriminate and abuse those unlike themselves. I say most, but I have never heard of any culture where fairness and equal opportunities were practised by either the majority or minority populations. Like society, most of Andersen’s stories have dark undertones and can reveal uncomfortable truths about ourselves if we are willing to look beneath the surface fittings of the stories.

Andersen’s 168 stories have been illustrated by artists such as Lorenz Frölich, Carl Larsson, Vilhelm Pedersen, Stefan Viggo Pedersen and Isidor Törnblom. Many of them have been translated into other languages. H.C. Andersen’s stories are available at Gilead, at H.C. Andersen Centret and in various other languages at Project Gutenberg.

 

Pritchard, Laura; Monarchy (I) (2017)

Pritchard asked me to review her story about a potential future.

At some point in the future the huge division between rich and poor became the excuse revolutionists needed. As with all revolutions, all that had changed was who was in power. From the descriptions in the book we are in a fairly small Monarchy. Citizens are divided between seven sectors. The central one is the capitol city. The other six sectors produce what the population needs to survive, including members of the military. The military is made up of the oldest children of people in six of the sectors. Constance is one such youth. These youth are sent to the capitol the year they turn 16.

Once there, the group of teens first go through an induction week that is supposed to break them. After that, they are given whatever job society (Lex) thinks they qualify for. Once Constance has been inducted into the Brigadiers, she must follow orders (just as we would expect of any soldier). There is romance and all of the other relationships we often find in young adult stories.

Monarchy is not a finished product. It did have potential. With more editing and a couple of beta-reads it would have been fun. Basic stuff like getting “pallet”, “palette” and “palate” right.

Not recommended.


Reviews:

Yates, A.M.: Stealer (2016)

Cover by Clarissa Yeo

As the bus-doors squealed shut, she fantasized about stealing the rainbow-striped balloon and drifting away to wherever the wind blew. Maybe to wherever her father was.

Victim mentality is difficult to let go of. A person gets so wrapped up in what has been that they forget the future does not have to look the same. There are choices. However, reaching for that choice, when one’s self-image seems shot to pieces and one’s position as underdog appears set in stone, is nigh to impossible.

Dee is 17 years old and considered an odd-ball. She is taller than most, has unusual hair and a scarred back. Her position on the social status totem pole is low. Laura, her only, and now ex-, friend, left her for a higher spot. Predatory kids consider her easy bait.

“Don’t feed the wolves. Never feed the wolves.”

To top it all, Dee thinks she is probably insane. She hears and sees things that the other kids apparently do not. Take Danny’s broken pencil:

Every tooth mark incised the instrument with Danny’s belief in magic – belief in gods who used magic.

And, the pencil…… It glowed and floated.

Her way out of victim mentality and hiding from the wolves slowly begins when the Vasquez brothers go after Danny. In spite of being left with dog shit in her hair,  facing her fears slowly becomes possible.

Dee has a strange treasure collection. A broken pencil, broken key-chain, broken glasses, broken lighter, broken needle and broken guitar pick probably do not seem like much to most of us. But Dee senses that these objects represent something more, and the only person with whom Dee dares talk about what she sees and hears is her grand-father. He is also the person who reveals who her father is, a man called River who appeared and disappeared right before his eyes. As it turns out, Dee’s heritage becomes essential to her survival. One day, a guy steals her collection and disappears into thin air. Dee desperately wants her things back but has no idea how to go about it.

Then, she sees a speaking glow bug that calls itself Nid. A deal is made. If Dee frees Nid, Nid promises that Dee will travel safely to the place where the box has gone and that Dee will make it back to her family, safe and sound.

Yates has done a great job on her new world. Crescent is both similar and dissimilar to our own world. Society is highly stratified into different Breeds. At top are the “Leaders” and near the bottom are “Stealers“. Guess which one Dee belongs to. The right to define is a right we fight wars over. Stealers are a perfect example of what happens when the powers that be use their power to re-name. Stealers used to be called “Scouts“.

A scout is a person who seeks information about the unknown, one who goes in front, one who acts as a buffer for those behind while a stealer is a person who takes what does not belong to them. Instead of being part of a team, Stealers are now enslaved by those who can afford to own them. Propaganda has it that the only thing Stealers do well is run from trouble and steal your things. Propaganda also has it that as long as people fulfil the duties Leaders claim each breed must, all needs will be taken care of. As Stealer shows, propaganda in Crescent is as true as propaganda anywhere.

I really liked Stealer. Some of the foreshadowing is obvious and trendy. For instance, Dee and Hunter. If two people meet, and that meeting is hostile, it is almost written in stone that they become lovers. In addition, Yates  throws in the required competitor for the main character’s affections. Dee follows in the tradition of a mystery parent giving their child great powers. Then something happens and those powers become immense. For the most part, Yates avoids  overdoing it. Yates also writes Dee as a believably confused and surprised young woman in a confusing and surprising situation. Moving to new cultures is difficult. Language, traditions and presentation in Crescent are different to the ones of her own home-town somewhere in the US. Yates tells a story full of action and adventure with interesting characters, both main- and side-characters. I could identify with some of them. Crescent is a fun world with solutions I do not think I have seen before.


Reviews:

Zoelle, Anne; The Awakening of Ren Crown (Ren Crown I) (2012)

Hiyo to all who read my blog posts,

Ren Crown: The Awakening blog tour

From March 28 – April 1, 2016

I was asked to join it as a reviewer.

First, formalities:

  1. Rafflecopter giveaway: This includes Amazon Gift Card, Special Edition poster and coloring book and pens!
  2. Anne Zoelle may be found on her websiteFacebook and Twitter. An excerpt can be read on her website.
  3. All 3 books in the series are on Amazon. The Awakening sells for $0.99 during the tour.

Now to the fun stuff. Let’s review The Awakening.

The Awakening should appeal to people who are into interesting magic systems and worlds. Ren Crown’s world is the one we inhabit (Layer one). A suppression spell has been cast on our layer keeping people from remembering anything to do with real magic.  At some point the Magic community had decided to split the mundane world from anything to do with magic. Unauthorized magic is immediately discovered and investigated.

The Awakening begins with a death. Florence (Ren) Cross and her brother Christian are breaking into the garage of the girl Christian is asking for a school dance. Just weeks are left of the school-year. Christian had been acting peculiarly a few weeks. This evening he keeps on rubbing his wrists. Even Ren had been feeling an itch under her skin and feels an urge to create her own paint.

Outside, the weather is acting strangely. As soon as the two leave the garage lightning begins a thunder-less dance. Christian is having cramps and sparks fall off his fingertips.

“A weird wave of electricity surged through my fingers where they touched him. I snatched my hand back, staring at the digits. The charged feeling dissipated within me, but increased in the air around us, swirling and darkening. I tentatively touched his arm again, and the energy shot into me once more. It was like focused euphoria.”

In the magic community Christian and Ren are what the call “ferals”. Ferals are children with innate magic who grow up outside of the influence of the magic world. While they are supposed to be protected by magic laws, having unregistered magic-users available is a dream come true for scruple-less magic users. Christian’s awakening works on them as bees to pollen. These magic-users  have the tools to drain all magic from a person, killing them. And so Christian dies and we meet grief.

At this point, Ren is still not aware of her own magic. Her awakening happens a little later, in her classroom under the eyes of their new art-teacher, Mr. Verisetti. What was supposed to be a dangerous yet happy event, is instead one of anger, tears and fear.

Zoelle writes about Ren’s grief in a manner that I think could help those who, themselves, are grieving or affected by the choices of others who are grieving. A consequence of a loved one dying may, sometimes, be that we, intentionally or unintentionally, make stupid and/or dangerous choices. Ren does and is not exempt from their consequences. Nor are her surroundings. Zoelle does not preach or judge. She just shows.

Not everything in the story is about Ren and her sorrow. There are strifes in the magic community that she and we find out about as we go. The magic school has students from all over the wizard community. Without preconceptions about this new world she is entering, not knowing who belongs to which family, the class system (highly stratified community) or what is possible, Ren finds herself stepping across divides that were thought unbreachable.

Without Christian about, Ren discovers that people want to be her friend. She is highly suspicious of some motives, but accepts any person with the same level of nerd/geek as herself.

Until she accomplishes her goal, Ren’s greatest fear is that others discover she is feral. Once her goal is over and done with, Ren wants to get the hell out of an incredibly dangerous place. Who knows. Maybe she will.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:

Meaney, John: Bone Song (2007)

My introduction to John Meaney came through the Nulapeiron series with the book Paradox. I was blown away by the quality of the writing. Then I placed the novel on my shelf and sort of forgot about it (I read a lot). Through my library Bone Song came to my attention. Talk about pleasant reunion with an author. This reminder led to the purchase of the remainder of the Nulapeiron Sequence and the later continuation of Tristopolis with Dark Blood.

John Meaney writes a mean book, a novel that draws me into its lair waiting to be consumed by it. And I was. Bone Song was incredibly difficult to put down. Meaney’s description of Tristopolis is beguiling and dark. Atmosphere and personalities light up like a beacon in my mind.

Considering the title of my blog Bone Song is the perfect first novel to review. In it we find the darker side of humanity described in a manner that shows us the lure of power – power-hunger – power-addiction and the concept that some people are more equal than others.

Bone Song is the first book in the Tristopolis series. Tristopolis is the city of Lieutenant Donal Riordan, the good guy in this plot. It is also a city where the dead are sent to give energy to the generators that keep the city running. Zombies, wraiths and gargoyles are only some the races inhabiting this world along with humans, and Donal manages to interact and make friends with them all.

Bone Song is supposedly a horror book but I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. It’s certainly a dark enough world, but it seems bleak rather than horrifying and creepy.

Donal has been assigned to protect an exceptional opera singer who the authorities suspect is on the hit-list of a mysterious serial killer. The job does not go well. Donal gets drawn into a world of deception and betrayal, a world where he has to find someone hidden by powerful connections.

There is murder and mayhem, but Donal shines like a beacon in this book. He’ll kill and maim if he has to, but he’d prefer it if he didn’t. His opponents (mysterious as they are) are quite different. “The end justifies the means” seems to be their motto. This does seem to be the motto of power-addicted people.


Reviews:


Bone Song available on Amazon US

Decruyenaere, Gilles: I Dreamt of Trees (2015)

I Dreamt of Trees is an amazing first novel. Mr. Decruyenaere has managed that difficult feat of listening to his editors and written tightness and tension into his story. Words flow from one to another drawing me into a dreary and terrible future inhabited by people who are all too believable.

The USS McAdam seems to have been built with every contingency in mind except the humans inhabiting it and the Squelchers. But for the most part it is the humans who are its main problem and also the main theme of the story. We enter the USS McAdam centuries after its launching from a place only guessed at by the general population.

“to think that anyone on the ship actually knew its true origins was just ridiculous; too many centuries had passed since the ship had launched; too many computer malfunctions, human errors, and political shenanigans had transpired for any real proof of Earth to remain.”

The society on the MSS McAdam seems to have been half-way decent during the Prologue. Thirty-five years after the appearance of the Squelchers, life has changed for the entire population of the vessel.

A crisis is a wonderful thing for power-hungry people. What was once unthinkable becomes doable by manipulating a fearful population into wanting to destroy the new “THEM” by any means possible. Even if that entails becoming a strictly stratified and segregated population (“one must make sacrifices”). The “have-nots” are stuck on the Rim-side of a ship-wide sewage moat while the “haves” get to live on the Core-side. Understandably, Core-dwellers will do what is required to remain on their side of the moat.

Core-dwellers are the people the High Command (and true rulers after the revolution) deemed desirable. The High Command tell their puppets, the Council, what attitudes need to be enforced through propaganda and terror. Like many of our own revolutions here on earth, life seldom becomes better for any but the very few. But while life may be terror-laden for Core-dwellers, it is infinitely better than what Rim-dweller endure.

What new regimes need are heroes and “Them”. In this case the major “Them” is obvious. Squelchers are bizarre aliens who zap people into their spaceships when their beams get through the shields of the MSS McAdam. Our new heroes are the Flashers and the Boosterettes.

Flasher Jason Crawford is our main character and seventeen years old. His level of aggression is at a height that is either drug-induced or bred into him. For some reason anger and aggression are seen as a positive qualities for the Flashers (along with youth and short and slender bodies). Everything about Jason screams aggression. His language reveals both his lack of ability to control his temper but also the extremely homophobic and misogynistic nature of his society.

A young girl’s greatest goal is to be able to work in privilege suites as a Boosterette. I strongly doubt dream and reality line up for these young girls. Medical staff are assigned to take care of what is left once the Flashers have “released the pressure”. Thankfully, Mr. Decruyenaere never shows us what goes on in the privilege suites.

Life is going to be full of surprises for young Jason and most of those surprises will shock him. I loved the ending. It was perfect.

Definitely recommended.


I Dreamt of Trees available at:


I was given a copy of this book by the author

 

Jeter, K.W.: Madlands (1991/2012)

Madlands is in many ways similar to the underbelly of Los Angeles (and any city with major power players) of today. Identrope is the creator and most powerful person of this dystopian version of Los Angeles. K.W.’s version is considered cyberpunk, and that may be true. At least it would seem that way as the net of the city is explained in greater detail in a section of the story.

This explanatory section is the only downside of Madlands. During it Mr. Jeter fell from dystopia into teacher’s voice. The setting itself was a dream about a teacher/student situation, and preaching might be considered relevant in such an environment. But it felt out of place to me.

Strangely enough, and wonderfully fitting to the story of Madlands, the most powerful person in Los Angeles (downtown) today is supposed to be Tim Leiweke of the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Entertainment is what Identrope does to boost his opinion of himself and to gather worshipers in a city you may enter but can not leave. It’s not that anyone tries to hold you back from leaving. What high Identrope exudes keeps you staying until the side-effects of his miasma of madness kills you.

We hear a lot about Identrope, but he makes few appearances. I suppose that is as it should be when part of his power lies in what he has to offer in the way of highs and entertainment. Our main character is Identrope’s deputy, Trayne.

Part of Madland’s appeal has been brought about by Trayne. It seems the US is a little low on entertainment. Trayne started a dancing group and for some reason that group made people want to listen to whatever invitations Identrope made on television and follow through on them by donating money and traveling to LA to be near their god.

Surreal is one sensation I felt while reading the story. Madlands also came through as a great piece on power. Clearly, the people who had power wanted more (even Trayne) and those who were without were disposable tools on the way there. One of those power structures happened to be the KKK. I have to admit that I was not aware of the influence the KKK had (and possibly) have in Southern California. Power is such a lure and few use it appropriately (for the best of as many as possible). I have trouble understanding why people hunger for more and more power. Madlands shows us a place where there are people who apparently never get enough of it.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Madlands available for free at Amazon Kindle (per 01 Feb 2014)


Translation:


San Diego’s Ku Klux Klan 1920-1980

Spartacus Educational

The 1922 Ku Klux Klan Inglewood raid