Review of Craig Falconer’s Not Alone

February 22nd, 2018

(Craig A. Falconer, Not Alone, self-published?, 12/19/15)

Mr. Falconer’s book doesn’t need another review—at last count, 1850+ readers have jumped on the fanwagon and written their one- and two-line endorsements (called reviews by Amazon)—but I often review books that I buy for R&R reading when they have a lot of positives.  Unfortunately this one has many negatives too.  So here goes.

First, the positives. There is no Star Wars-like space opera here. Most of the first half of the book is spent uncovering a government conspiracy and battling the perpetrator’s and media’s attempts to hide it. Dan Murphy, a believer in UFOs, just happens to be present when a thief steals a Top Secret folder containing evidence for ETs from a government agency, and it also just happens that Emma Ford, an expert in PR and marketing, shows up to help him battle the media. When no one worries about who the thief is, I became suspicious—that’s a flaw some readers might glide over, but I didn’t. Still, I managed to get through this ponderous half of the story because the concept was interesting, albeit a long variation on all those conspiracy theories about Area 51.

Second, there are nice twists that happen in the second half of the book, if you can make it that far. Consider them examples of the adage, “It’s not paranoia if it’s true.” These twists can be a lot of fun, I’ll admit, but I just wish it hadn’t taken the author so long to get to them—completely unnecessary. Because Mr. Falconer can’t seem to pare things down, he should have hired a content editor.

In his “apology” at the end, he states that he wanted to make just one novel and not split it up. At 742 equivalent pages, this ebook is shorter than my Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection, but it’s certainly equivalent to at least two novels.  And it didn’t need to be! Where does Falconer go wrong? Call it his being a wannabe speech writer, overly enchanted with his own prose, or what you like—he’s just too verbose.

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Sci-Fi extrapolation can become reality…

February 20th, 2018

As readers of my novels know, my stories treat important themes. Here’s one: healthcare will become a worldwide problem.  It already is in the U.S., of course, because the whole system is based on making money for greedy Big Pharma, greedy insurance companies, and greedy healthcare networks and their associated professionals.  But other places will have problems too.  Even single-payer systems will have problems as they start having to limit costs in order to cover everyone.

Here’s a recent headline: “British Health System Felt the Strain of Cuts: Doctors Vent over Being Overwhelmed” (NY Times, 1/4/18). What? The standard for single-payer systems is in trouble? Of course, this is a question of governmental priorities—the conservative PM Theresa May is in trouble. and she can’t control her party’s desire to slash anything that benefits the middle class and poor.  Sound familiar? Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to pay for the deficit increases attributable to the tax cuts for corporations and the rich.  And Trump’s proposed budget does exactly that!

OK, I made a New Year’s resolution not to write any more political op-ed and dedicate myself to storytelling this year, but that’s the point of this article: warnings in many sci-fi stories can easily become reality. While that’s true in general for any story (I watched the movie Enemy of the State again recently and thought, “it’s much worse now!”), sci-fi writers often extrapolate current problems into the future. They sometimes get it almost right, like Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451—we aren’t burning books yet, of course, but we’re doing much the same thing because the number of readers is diminishing, and our illiterate-in-chief in the White House seems only to be capable of reading business charts with bulleted items, if that, and surely wants to burn one book in particular if extracts from it are any indication.

But back to healthcare. I’ve been concerned about it ever since Nixon and the president of Kaiser Permanente sat down and invented the HMO concept, figuring there was a lot of money to be made on the backs of the infirm and poor.  The system we now have in America should fulfill their wildest dreams…and U.S. citizens’ wildest nightmares.

I probably co-opted the phrase “full medical” for the title of my first published novel from Frederik Pohl—that’s a theme in his novel Gateway (part of the HeeChee Chronicles).  Of course, no one in the U.S. besides the filthy rich and government people have complete medical coverage, so Pohl’s main character would feel right at home in our current setting—he wouldn’t need the HeeChee. My version of that book has a 1976 copyright, so Pohl beat me by some thirty years—my novel Full Medical was published in 2006 (it now even has a second ebook edition).  But I make more specific predictions than Pohl did in reference to the theme of health care (so much so that one idiot reviewer thought it was a medical book).

Here’s one: I imagine a strong black market in body parts, leading in its extreme to clones being used to generate them for the one-percenters, including corporate and government VIPs.  This book is the first in the “Clones and Mutant Series.” In the world of 2053, most people without full medical coverage just die; the rich elites can live forever with body parts taken from their clones.  The first is happening now, of course, so we don’t have to wait for 2053; the second is a distinct possibility.  After Dolly, human cloning WAS possible, and they’ve done it with other animals, so it’s not surprising that many nations have outlawed it.  And with that personalized source of body parts, free from the danger of rejection, we have the ultimate full medical policy for the rich and famous.

Of course, Pohl was writing his HeeChee stories in the seventies when “sci-fi thriller,” that is, a combination of sci-fi and thriller, hadn’t yet been invented.  To his credit, there’s plenty of action in his trilogy, but my three novels combine the two genres. But when it comes to health care, his “solution” is less probable than mine.  The theme recurs all through the “Clones and Mutants Series,” starts in earnest in the bridge novel The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan (nursing homes for the elderly, with a nasty government wrinkle for certain elders), continues after the clone series in the bridge novel Soldiers of God, and ends with the dystopian nightmares of the Chaos in the first book of the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy,” Survivors of the Chaos (the trilogy is bundled in The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection, a real value for readers).

I’m not going to claim that everything dealing with health care in my books will come to pass, but I’m definitely afraid it will. More importantly, given current events in the world, exemplified by the first few paragraphs of this post, we know that health care will be an important theme for sci-fi to consider for a long time. And that’s critical: no sci-fi storytelling should be without important themes where the futuristic setting can provide us with the opportunity to stand back a little and analyze objectively what it all means.

***

In libris libertas…

Happy Chinese New Year!

February 16th, 2018

Chinese culture goes back millennia.  Food for thought.  I salute all my Chinese readers, friends, and relatives.  Have a great celebration along with Detective Dao-Ming Chen of the NYPD!

Movie Reviews #58…

February 15th, 2018

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Martin McDonagh, writer, producer, and director. Who said a movie can’t tell a great story? Most can’t, or important story threads are left on the cutting room floor, but this one does. If this were a book, I’d call it minimalist writing akin to what I like to practice, because a lot is left to the viewers’ imaginations, allowing them to participate in the creative process. But this movie has a great plot and fantastic characters who are both flawed and heroic. Without being a mystery story, there are plenty of twists and turns that made me admire McDonagh’s skills as a writer.

Except for Woody Harrelson, I hadn’t heard of any of the actors, but Frances McDermott, Sam Rockwell, and Woody all deserve their Oscar nominations, especially McDermott, who is great as the frustrated mother of a wild daughter who was raped and murdered. After a year or more, the case still hasn’t been solved, so she creates three billboards that embarrass the local police department, headed up by Woody.

There aren’t many people who are all bad here, and they’re not who you might expect. And there will be scenes everyone will remember. The one with the dentist ranks right up there with the outhouse scene in Jurassic Park, comedy noir corresponding to physical justice.

Intense and clever, this movie is definitely among the best I’ve seen in the 2017 offerings.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format, including a .mobi (Kindle) version, at Smashwords and the latter’s affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo). It’s also available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it).

In libris libertas!

Coincidences…

February 13th, 2018

Quite a while ago, a reviewer of Aristocrats and Assassins (in the seven-book “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series”) was generally positive about the book but didn’t like the coincidences. I’ve even had Detective Chen or Castilblanco say, “I don’t believe in coincidences”—this is a common statement from a cop in crime stories.

But coincidences are important in real life, so they’re important in fiction too. You wouldn’t have met your significant other but for coincidence, although I suppose a few people still sometimes marry their main squeeze from high school. Where we end up working is often determined by coincidence. Generally speaking, your world-line through the four dimensions of space and time is often determined by a series of coincidences.

In that reviewer’s defense, it seemed like quite a coincidence that Castilblanco just happened to be near terrorist attacks in Europe while on vacation. At the end of the book, though, that “coincidence” is explained away. Of course, it’s still a coincidence that the terrorist-mastermind of the royal kidnappings decided to also get even with Mr. C, but he was also an old nemesis from a past SEAL op.

Life is often full of coincidences.  Considering Clancy’s maxim that fiction has to seem real, there is no harm in including them in your fiction. Can a story start with a coincidence? My book mentioned above does, but because you might not have read it (shame on you!), Clancy’s Patriot Games offers a similar example (that novel convinced me that including European royalty in my book was OK as long as their roles are positive—the afore-mentioned reviewer seemed surprised that I made them so, but why not?). Jack Ryan was coincidentally in London to receive an award when he offs an Irish terrorist’s brother.  Every Jack Reacher book is an example too. Reacher is basically traveling around with just his toothbrush, but trouble always manages to find him.  Coincidences are essential to fictional storytelling.

Authors have to be careful, though. Coincidences have to seem real. If the story’s coincidences seem too improbable—Deus Ex Machina is an extreme case—the reader won’t swallow the storyline. If the majority of readers stop and say “Huh?” the author is in big trouble, especially at the beginning of the novel. Clancy’s coincidence defines the storyline and isn’t improbable. One can argue that the beginnings of most Reacher novels are also in that category.

But the mystery/thriller author, or even a sci-fi writer, must get his characters involved in the action. In the case of crime fiction, that’s generally more coincidental than if the main character is called upon to solve the crime. Most of the time, that’s Chen and Castilblanco’s fate—Aristocrats and Assassins is an exception. But even Inspectors Dalgliesch, Gamache, and Rebus get involved in some cases because of coincidences.

Bottom line for authors: manage your coincidences, but you don’t have to avoid them!

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format, including a .mobi (Kindle) version, at Smashwords and the latter’s affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo). It’s also available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it).

In libris libertas….

ABC Shorts: Exchange Student…

February 8th, 2018

[Note from Steve: A. B. Carolan has completely rewritten and reedited my YA sci-fi mystery The Secret Lab and is finishing up YA sci-fi mystery based on my short story “Marcello and Me,” The Secret of the Urns. The first novel will be published in the first quarter of 2018, the second in the third quarter. Here’s one of his YA short stories set in one of my sci-fi universes. There’s nothing that says a story for young adults can’t have some meat to it….]

Exchange Student

Copyright 2018, A. B. Carolan

Truhan had no problem with immigration and customs at the spaceport on Wendall’s Planet. He followed other passengers into the arrival lounge and saw a tall woman with a sign bearing his name. He accessed a computer file with the implant in the side of his head. Misdak Bron from my host family. Mother of Kalin and Roh, wife of Set. Why is she alone? He’d expected the whole family to be there.

She waved at him and approached. “Welcome to Wendall’s Planet, Truhan.” She looked around. Why is she nervous? “Follow me.” They walked out of the lounge to a road filled with cars.  A sleek one pulled up. “Please get in.”

“My luggage?”

“I’ll have someone pick it up for you.” She tapped on the dull green icon next to the red; it turned bright green and the red one dimmed. The car moved out.

“Is there something wrong?” said Truhan.

“A bit of political unrest, I’m afraid. My people have elected a new leader who wants to banish anyone not born on Wendall’s Planet. They’re voting on the bill right now in our planetary congress.”

Truhan was familiar with xenophobia. Even on his home planet, some Humans barely tolerated non-Humans. “But I’m Human,” he said.

“He doesn’t care. He campaigned on cleansing our planet of all foreign elements, including Humans, blaming them for all our problems. It’s an old tactic of autocrats wanting to ensure their power, but too many voters agreed with him.”

“I wouldn’t have come if I’d known there was a problem.”

“No one believed he would win. He’s already arrested many people. Set and the children are in hiding because Set and I spoke against his policies. You were already on your way here, so I came to meet you. You might have ended up in jail…or disappeared…otherwise.”

“What am I going to do? I’m supposed to start classes in two weeks.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that. Too many students sympathize with the new president and are attacking anyone who’s a foreigner, especially ETs, but also Humans. And their parents encourage them. It’s as if the president created a mass hysteria.”

“How could this happen?”

“As you know, Set is a cultural anthropologist, but even he can’t understand it. I’m a microbiologist, so it’s way beyond me. All I can say is that Humans can be crazy sometimes.”

Truhan nodded. He knew Human history well.

***

Most of the remainder of the trip was spent in silence. Truhan would have enjoyed the majestic scenery if he weren’t worried about his and his hosts’ futures.

The road wound into the mountains towering over the capital city. After another hour, the robocar turned off the main road and followed an old dirt road into the woods. After another ten minutes, they came to a clearing with a rustic A-frame cabin in its center.

“This place has been a get-away for my family for generations,” said Misdak. “We’ve always called it that, but the word has a new meaning now.”

“How long will we stay here?” said Truhan.

“Until they find us or until people come to their senses and overthrow the despot.”

“What would they do to us if they find us?”

“Unknown. All of us were born here, except you, of course. It’s our speaking out against the new administration that got us into trouble. Some people who were protesting have disappeared. Our new leader is a narcissistic psychopath, so his actions have become erratic. He belongs in a straitjacket and confined to a padded cell.”

“That’s a bit strong,” said Truhan with a smile. “It true, didn’t people know about his condition before the election?”

“Of course. Too many voters turn a blind eye. Set says it’s interesting how otherwise intelligent people can lack logic and reason. Despots are good at manipulating those weaknesses.”

“Throughout all of Human history.” He looked at the darkening sky. An omen? “And ET histories too. It seems to be a galactic-wide curse. We’ve had Human colony planets destroy themselves.”

“You’ll enjoy chatting with Set about all this,” said Misdak. She hesitated. “Maybe ‘enjoy’ isn’t the correct word. Would you like to meet the rest of your host family?”

***

The daughter Kalin was Truhan’s age, sixteen standard years; the son Roh was three years younger. The father Set looked older than Misdak, but Truhan knew they were the same age. He recognized the remainder of Misdak’s family from their holograms, of course, but that was never the same as meeting someone in person.

Kalin towered over Truhan; she was already as tall as Misdak. She seemed shy at first. A natural reaction when meeting someone new, Truhan thought. She had the bright eyes, ready smile, and sunken cheeks of her mother, but the dark hair of her father. Roh was much shorter, taking after his father; he also seemed to have excess energy and was ready to take Truhan on a tour of the area around the cabin.

Set’s piercing eyes seemed to be x-raying Truhan for a moment, but then he offered to shake hands.

They were all dressed plainly. Did they have to leave their home in the capital quickly to avoid arrest? Truhan decided to save that question for later.

“I’m sorry we have to put you through this, young man. I suspect your aunt and uncle will be worried. Our esteemed leader still believes in trade, as long as it’s on his terms. He’s very selective, of course, but your home planet will have heard about our political unrest by now.” He winked at Kalin and Roh. “While Mom and I prepare some lunch, why don’t you two show Truhan around? Don’t go far, of course.”

“I’m the leader!” said Roh. Kalin winked at Truhan. “I’ll show you the river and the falls first.”

***

The exploration didn’t quite take Truhan’s mind away from Wendall’s Planet’s political problems, but it helped.

“When it’s hot, we go swimming here,” said Roh when they arrived at the falls. “That’s six meters deep just out from the falls. I can bring up rocks from the bottom.” Roh was almost shouting over the noise of the crashing water.

“My planet’s mostly desert with artesian wells. All our mountains are barren. It’s beautiful around here.”

“We like it,” said Kalin. She found a rock to sit on. “We’ve never been off planet. Tell us about your home.”

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The death of imagination…

February 6th, 2018

Social media is addictive. Computer games are addictive. Streaming video is addictive. Writers can be addicted to these technologies as well as readers. Or should I say ex-writers and ex-readers? As a consequence, the number of readers dwindles, and writers will stop writing books.
The ultimate casualty in this depressing scenario is human imagination. When someone reads a book, s/he turns words into real scenes, real people’s dialogue, and real action, especially while reading fiction. Writing is the reverse process: the author’s imagination turns those elements into words. Imagination is the common denominator, and losing it makes all of us less human.
Social media doesn’t take hardly any imagination, as a famous Twitter addict has shown, so I won’t dwell on that. Gaming and streaming media need even less, as the players and viewers participate passively in something audiovisual a company’s multiple workers have toiled to create, usually each contributing a piece. That process is formulaic and more geared to encourage the addicted to buy more of the same type of product. The storytelling, if it happens to exist at all, needs no imagination on the part of the viewer, only their attention.
As imagination dies, all those wonderful gizmos so many are addicted to, especially young people, will no longer improve, and new ones won’t be created either. Creation needs imagination. If you think that an iPhone or Space-X rocket is created without imagination, you don’t understand science and technology. You’re just a technological savage, an addicted user of technology and completely dependent on those who supply your daily fixes. It’s not all about imagination, of course. I can imagine a different kind of thermostat, for example, but I don’t have the engineering skills to make it. But the first step is to imagine it.
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Steve’s shorts: Skeleton Crew…

February 1st, 2018

Skeleton Crew

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Mandy Wang was the first of the six to awake. Others soon followed her from their cryosleep tanks to the shower stalls.

“I feel like shit,” said Guillermo Rivera, the Chilean, sitting on a bench while waiting his turn.

“The shower helps,” said Mandy. “I’ll soon be done.”

When she exited and started toweling off, she smiled at Guillermo. “Don’t get any ideas. We have work to do.”

He shrugged. “In those tanks, it’s like being under anesthesia. You can’t even dream. Cut me some slack.”

Abdul Hakim and Judith Allan looked at each other, smiled, and then laughed. Sam Roberts and Sheila Townsend frowned. The first two waited patiently in their birthday suits. Sam and Sheila had covered themselves with towels.

“Mandy is correct,” said Sheila. “We must follow protocol.”

***

Protocol meant checking all the ark’s systems with the help of the AI, outside and inside the hull of the huge ship. Two readouts that were the most important were the integrity of the huge ten-square-kilometer forward hydrogen scoop and the aft reactors that not only slowly accelerated the ark but provided all the power for life support, even though all flora and fauna except for the six humans was in cold storage, including millions of frozen embryos.

Unless there were problems, that protocol would take six Earth days. After that, the six would rest one day, and then they would return to the tanks for another twenty years.

This was the first wake-period after leaving the solar system. The AI had monitored the events happening on Earth all the time, though. They watched the video records in horror as those events confirmed the necessity for launching the five arks. Most of Earth was now nuclear slag.

“I guess the Christian Union got its wish for Armageddon,” said Abdul. “Crazy bastards. And to think they criticized radical Muslims. Those SOBs now have their Second Coming and reward in Heaven, I guess.”

“It takes two to tango,” said Sheila.

“More than two,” said Mandy. “The tipping point was Christians trying to retake Jerusalem from the Jews and Muslims.”

“We Buddhists,” said Mandy, “aren’t attached to Jerusalem. I never could understand the big deal.  Couldn’t Christians, Jews, and Muslims share the city?”

“Don’t wrap this all up in religion,” said Guillermo. “We all know unscrupulous leaders use religious fervor and hatred and bigotry to further their own fascist agendas. Ever since that crazy U.S. president was elected with that kind of base, we started our descent into the maelstrom.”

“He wasn’t the only one,” said Sheila.

“Earth’s descent into populist tribalism was worldwide,” said Judith. “And those leaders go at least back to the 20th century where millions of my people were sent to Nazi ovens.”

Abdul looked around the group. “Shall I turn the video off? I’ve seen enough of this collective insanity.”

The others nodded.

***

Governments had tried to stop the international group that had financed the arks, but it had many rich financial backers who were more frightened of how worldwide disputes were going every day that passed.  That group had carefully chosen the six to monitor the ship during the wake-periods. Some in the group of financial backers felt that the powerful AI was sufficient and more than six could sleep through the journey and take over when the ship reached its destination, but others, arguing for an insurance policy, had won the argument for the periodic checks on progress.

But no screening was perfect. All the compatibility measures on Earth hadn’t predicted the psychological stress of interstellar space travel and its effects on the six.

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Storytelling…

January 30th, 2018

Readers of this blog know I’ve recently doubled my storytelling power. I’ve entered a collaboration with A. B. Carolan. He is rumored to be a descendant of the great Irish harpist and troubadour Turlough O’Carolan. Whether true or not, he was a child who was stolen and raised by leprechauns, who either taught him or honed his skills at storytelling. He now lives in Donegal, Ireland, where he communicates frequently with me, as all good collaborators do. We don’t always agree and argue about turns-of-phrase and the bons mots, but we both favor Jameson whiskey, a mighty fine drink.

Storytelling dates from human beings’ pre-history. It makes us more human.  If readers and writers disappear, we will be less human.  Cultural anthropologists (I almost became one) and other scientists often study the hunter-gatherer foundations of civilizations and use the few remaining hunter-gatherers as test groups for their theories. They predate agricultural society and got us started down that long road to where we are today. Stephen Greenblatt in the Times’ op-ed column “Why Our Stories Matter” (12/21/17) asks: “How did humans learn cooperative behavior such as food-sharing, the care of others, the coordination of tasks, [and] the acceptance of [social] norms?” His answer: it “…has everything to do with the stories we tell.”

I suppose many of these stories originally were pantheistic myths to explain the world around the hunter-gathers: day and night, sun and sky, the seasons and weather, flora and fauna, and so forth—simple stories that acted like social glue. Fast forward to the wandering minstrels of the Middle Ages, troubadours like O’Carolan and his predecessors, and even the singers in Harvard Square, MA, where Joan Baez acquired fame as a folk singer before she became political. These were often poets as well, creating sagas of romance, heroism, and war and conflict. And let’s not forget those Irish monks who preserved the great classic stories that would have been lost as warring Viking hordes burned and pillaged their way across Europe.

Storytelling is as old as any cave painting, I’m sure—it’s the oral/aural part of ancient art while those paintings are the visual, but they probably often told similar stories. No fiction writer should ever forget this tradition. No fiction reader should either. The ability to tell stories, listen to them, and read them, is quintessentially human. While one can argue that plays and movies tell stories too, they start with and depend on the written word. When I saw the movie The Shape of Water, I noted that Guillermo Del Toro, the director, had written the story and collaborated on the screenplay, and immediately thought, “That’s why this movie is so good!” All plays and movies start with the written word; the great ones carry on the storytelling tradition that makes us human.

I like to think I tell good, entertaining stories. Some are better than others—that’s a given—and some readers will never see because I don’t think they’re good enough. Note that I don’t say that agents or publishers think they’re not good enough. Too many of them don’t know a good story when they read one, and too many care more about profits and representing publishers, not authors, than great storytelling.

That’s what we’ve come to these days. Too much of our entertainment is passive drivel that can’t even compare with the most pre-historic oral myths or cave paintings. That’s sad because humanity is becoming less human in the process. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is effectively occurring now as reading and literacy take their nosedives into irrelevancy, and we humans will have no one to blame except ourselves.

Have you read a good book lately?

***

Last chance for my Smashwords sci-fi sale! More than Human: The Mensa Contagion is about the strangest first contact you’ll ever encounter in your sci-fi reading. A benign ET virus creates homo sapiens 2.0, and society goes through major change. One consequence is that this new society becomes more motivated to colonize Mars.  Rogue Planet is the story about a rebellion against an oppressive theocracy. It has “Game of Thrones” fantasy elements, but it’s still hard sci-fi. If you missed either book, now is your chance to download some good reading to cure the cabin fever caused by all this bad winter weather because these ebook prices are reduced from their already low prices. All formats are available, including .mobi. Use the Smashwords coupon codes at checkout.

In libris libertas….

Book review of M. J. Neary’s Wynfield’s Kingdom…

January 25th, 2018

(M. J. Neary, Wynfield’s Kingdom, Crossroad Press, ASIN B01LM3QZT8, ISBN 978-1519020086)

Novels should have more than good plots.  They should have meaningful themes interweaved reflecting on problems humanity faces.  I don’t read fluffy romances or cat mysteries.  Thank you, author Neary, for writing an excellent one that is more than fluff…a lot more!

The British aristocracy and government never historically promoted slavery per se, but they exploited other ethnic groups in their colonies and allowed the latter to exploit them and have slaves. And Britain effectively exploited their own people in the poor city slums they created from medieval times to the present day. The worst aspect of this was the exploitation of women and children, especially the children.

This is the setting at the beginning of this novel, gritty historical fiction (mid 1800s) that makes Dickens’s stories (Dickens is mentioned as a Wynfield contemporary) and Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (made famous by Hauptmann and Weill’s Threepenny Opera) seem like sugar-coated visions of a much grimmer reality.  Dark and gloomy doesn’t really begin to describe it.

Life is hard in Bermondsey, a London slum. Dr. Tom Grant, a physician black-listed by a rich patron, retreats from medicine and saves two waifs, a boy Wynfield and a girl Diana, from evil experiments linked to their orphanage; the two become the author’s main characters. Wynfield and Diana have their own separate pathos created by an uncaring British society as they struggle to survive clinging to the underbelly of London propriety. Their lives seem more than fictional. Instead, they’re a dark biographical indictment of an empire where aristocracy still reigns and lies heavily on its people, especially on the middle class and poor.

Poverty is where revolutions, be they good or bad, are born; that’s a lesson we shouldn’t forget even today. People who are pushed too far and have nothing left to lose can justifiably cope in many ways, as this novel shows. When men, women, and children are treated like street mongrels, they have a tendency to bite back. With their absurd monarchy, the British have never realized this. I’m not sure the rest of the world has either.

But I digress. Let’s summarize the story. After Dr. Grant saves Wynfield and Diana, the two foster children grow up and become closer.  Diana becomes sick and Wynfield becomes the king of the slum, a rowdy rake of a fellow without many scruples when it comes to minor crime. The two become close, but he meets a ship’s captain named Kip who befriends Wynfield; the latter becomes obsessed with Kip’s girlfriend who leads Wynfield on a bit. Kip and his girlfriend have a hidden agenda, but I offer no spoilers here. When a gun Wynfield stole from a local cop is used to kill that cop, Wynfield is arrested and faces the gallows as the cop’s replacement tries to use the case to make his mark so he can move up to a Westminster beat. Things get hectic from there, as the author takes the reader through many twists and turns in the plot, leading to a surprising ending that involves none other than Victor Hugo.  There’s a bit of nuance here: Dr. Grant is to Wynfield as Jean Valjean is to Cosette, and the wretched in Wynfield’s Kingdom live squalid lives similar to those in Les Miserables.

Some interesting scenes that captured my attention: A play about Cromwell performed by Wynfield and friends is important for its portrayal of the Irish people’s nemesis as seen through the eyes of a Brit. The confrontation between Wynfield and the old thief, who was his mentor yet sold him for experiments as a child, is a curious coincidence. There are also some interesting quotes too: With respect to child labor, Henry Mayhew, a founder of Punch, states: “…since crime was not caused by illiteracy, it could not be cured by education…the only certain effects being the emergence of a more skillful and sophisticated race of criminals.”

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