2 Stars

Damned

damnedIts October so I have decided to read “horror” novels. Well, it is not as simple as that, but that is close enough. I do not read a lot of horror, so I halfway dedicated October to reading horror genre items – or things that are close-enough to horror, I suppose. It is, again, an effort to clear books from shelves and to make myself read things other than I normally read. I wanted to start off the month kind of “light” (i.e. no absolutely terrorizing horrific fiction) and so I pulled Damned by Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) off of the shelf.  Damned was published in 2011 and is Palahniuk’s eleventh novel (I think, maybe twelfth). I think most people on the planet recognize him as the author of Fight Club (1996).

Damned is a strange read. According to Wikipedia, its structure is based upon Judy Blume’s novels for young women. I have no referent for Judy Blume other than you see books compared to her books once in awhile. So I will have to take Wikipedia’s word for these facts. I suspect it is because the main character/narrator of Damned is a 13 year old girl.

The best thing about the narrator is her deadpan (seriously, no pun intended) delivery of her story. I mean, even in the most heinous scenes, the most excitement the book can offer, she remains fairly deadpan, practical, and level-headed. I mean, as she relates the story of her (short) life on earth, she maintains a healthy honesty and skepticism that makes her seem a reliable narrator. The fact that she “wakes up” in a cell in hell and is able to quickly assess her situation and be mindful of keeping her attire clean is a remarkable achievement for a thirteen year old, I think.

I am unsure whom she is narrating to. The novel has little headings at the start of the chapter in which the girl addresses Satan – but yet, she has not met this creature so it seems like a placeholder. Many times during her narrative she directly addresses the reader – as the living, of course, and counsels or goads them regarding their continuing to live while she is, of course, deceased. Madison, which is her name, is not even sure how she came to be dead. Her memory of the event is rather unclear and when this is explained later, it is reasonable to see how she can be so confused. However, she very naturally assumes that there is a logic of some sort to all of this and that she ought to be glad she died wearing solid, relatively durable footwear.

For the most part it is a coming of age novel – a super strange fact considering, well, the main character is dead and the setting is hell. Through Madison’s retrospective narration, the reader joins the character as she considers her life, short as it was. So, we learn about her parents (extremely rich, popular individuals), and her schooling (a boarding school in Switzerland), and her opinions regarding clothing, friends, boyfriends, and religion. I think it is a key fact for prospective readers to know:  Madison is quite intelligent and she knows it, but she is really not at all an arrogant character. Somehow Palahniuk was able to pull off designing a character that is full of  wit and erudition, but who remains matter-of-fact and not annoyingly arrogant.   I am not sure many readers can necessarily “bond” with Madison or find similarities, but I think it should be fairly easy to sympathize for the girl.

Palahniuk is a sharp writer in that while he makes his character intelligent and witty, he also knows when to have her make small “errors” or slip-ups, as it were. As bizarre as it sounds, he makes a thirteen year old girl who exists in hell seem quite genuine and realistic.

For the first four chapters, I think Madison’s wit is very much on display and there are definitely some amusing phrases and statements. Also, here is where the setup is for the entire novel. It is in chapter six that the rest of the storyline changes – she is released from her cell. During the first four chapters I admit that I was a little worried that the novel was going to continue in that same fashion – moving from witty and interesting into the range of tedious and repetitive. There is a lot of repetition in this novel that, for the most part works itself out, but not all readers are patient.

Palahniuk’s hell in this novel is very gross. The geography of the place is very repugnant. There are lakes of not-great-things, rivers of not-pleasant-things, and mountains of wow-that-is-disgusting. But it is hell. Still, even knowing this is a fantastical-humorous coming-of-age novel, there are some horrific sights in hell that I think maybe would prevent me from wanting to read a true horror novel by Palahniuk. Because this is definitely horrific – by a number of definitions, surely… but maybe not exactly a horror novel. Depends on perspective. Madison will share her opinion on these matters – you know, getting a manicure with her mother or some of her birthday “parties” might compete with most folks’ concept of hell. I read this for October, but some might say it certainly is not a horror novel. Well, chapter ten has some obscene, graphic, truly outrageous moments in it. Scenes that I am really sure the majority of readers would cringe or pause or something at. (If you’ve read it, this is the Jonathan Swift allusion with the Psezpolnica creature. Yikes.)

Even if the Bible is correct, and it’s easier to push caramels through the eye of a needle than get to Heaven, well, Hell doesn’t totally suck. Sure, you’re menaced by demons and the landscape is rather appalling, but she’ll meet new people. I can tell from her 410 area code that she lives in Baltimore, so even if she dies and goes straight to Hell and gets immediately dismembered and gobbled by Psezpolniza or Yum Cimil, it won’t be a huge culture shock.  She might not even notice the difference. Not at first. – pg. 110, chapter 14

Throughout the book, Madison references things like Jane Austen, the movie The Breakfast Club, and a few other items that remind us that Madison is not actually an adult and her worldview remains that of a child. Its strange to say, but I have never been even vaguely interested in such a worldview, so I suspect Palahniuk is a good writer to present such a view so entertainingly.

Still somewhere beyond halfway in the novel, Madison’s narrative becomes more focused on her introspective – efforts to make sense of her life and her death. Her insights and remembrances are sometimes serious, sometimes confused.  While Palahniuk can be called transgressive and nihilistic, I did not get that feeling whatsoever from Damned. This is a book full of honesty and hope, especially the latter. Again, I recognize the weirdness of calling a novel narrated by a dead thirteen year old in hell hope-centric, but there it is.

Pity the poor demon with but its single strategy to win.  In the same handicapped way Jane Eyre must remain meek and stoic, this demonic Baal knows only one way to exist:  by being fearsome.  While I exist plastic to change and adapt, tailoring my battle plan to each new moment, Baal can never dissolve an enemy into helpless laughter, nor charm a foe by using extraordinary beauty.  Therefore, when we neglect to fear such a brittle monstrosity, we render it powerless. – pg. 203, chapter 30

This is probably my favorite line from the book. This is because it is also one of the few takeaways from the novel. My main issue with the book, though it has some repetition and some unnecessary obscenity, is that there is not really a takeaway – not for the reader and not for Madison. Nothing. The ending is abrupt and nearly stupid. There is nothing after all of these pages of ruminating and assessing and considering. No takeaway at all. Now, I am not looking for some grand moral of the story or some incredible epiphany, but any novel should have something more than the nothing the reader gets here. Even if it is a resounding nihilism being asserted. The book ends with a “to be continued…” and that is all. Imagine a sort of coming-of-age novel without any coming-of-age. Well, what can be expected in the permanent status of hell? Thirteen forever, I suppose.

The best part of the novel is the character’s voice. There is some wit, some creativity. However, after finishing this one I felt like it was a reasonably entertaining diversion, but pointless read. Nothing much to takeaway, a novelty. I am glad I read it – because it has sections of really skilled writing. The last third seemed to be rushed and random. I do not think Palahniuk knew what to do with this? Overall, its fine, but nothing to hand awards to.

2 stars

Dark Matter

Dark MatterIf you, as I did, decide to “pseudo-hurricane evac,” you cannot bring every book on your tbr-mountain. As distressing as this is, it is possible to just take one single book along with you. And mainly, this is for space constraints. To be honest, I did not evac for safety reasons, but for sanity reasons. So, I was not really worried about the destruction some locations had, but sitting around in power outages while 50-mph wind whips nature at you is not exactly relaxing. So, what book did I grab? Well, I grabbed Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Mainly because I figured it would last a day or two and I really had been meaning to knock it off of the tbr list for awhile.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (b. 1978) was first published in 2016. I am aware that it has been a popular read since then, but I have never gotten around to reading it. For the most part, the reviews and ratings that I have seen for this novel have been positive.

The novel is a very speedy read – its very obvious that the author is comfortable with screenplays. I think he writes line-by-line, especially dialogue. The author never really turns this into a novel. Maybe someday, if it has not already, it will be picked up by a film company and it will be easy to turn into a TV show/movie. I do not watch much TV and I never read screenplays, so this sort of writing did not grip me and pull me in.

Overall, though, this novel was disappointing. I enjoy science fiction and everyone who says that phrase also has a special little part of their heart reserved for parallel universes, time travel, quantum physics, and alternate realities. Even if they brush you off and deny this fact, ignore them – it is just that they are scared you know a secret.  Unfortunately, because this is a common fact among all science fiction fans, there are a great number of works that have attempted to, in some way, provide an exciting story within these themes. Another unfortunate fact is that these themes are particularly high-level science. Traditionally, it has been difficult to write very engaging/entertaining novels that are also filled with accurate and technically brilliant high-level “hard” science. I am not a quantum physicist, so I am not going to judge Crouch’s effort here from that angle. It seems to me that Crouch did not totally flub the science here. In fact, in several parts, he does a decent job of explaining to a reader what is going on, what is happening to the characters. Its not hard science that would block most readers who are not scientifically inclined, let us say.

However, the whole story is nearly like Quantum Leap (1989-1993).  Crouch, being born in 1978, should know about this show and maybe should have realized he was a little too close to it. The influence and proximity comes from the fugitive aspect of the storyline. Do not get me wrong, this is also where any action and excitement come from.  Yes, some of these segments are kind of thrilling and interesting.  Unfortunately, I remember watching Quantum Leap on TV back when it was originally on and I cannot say skipping through the realities is not fun – but its not super new for me.

Secondly, though this book really should be hard science fiction all the way, the book is mainly a love story. The love story (the main character is focused on his wife and teenage son), is his sole motivation for all that he endures. Like any good writer, Crouch knows that he needs to give his characters reasons. Jason Dessen’s “reason” is his family.  So when the main character has to find the motivation, he finds it in the “need” to return to and protect his family. Also, whenever the main character is feeling any sort of way, it is related to his relationship and emotions regarding his family.  This is a logical and reasonable motivation – but danged if this did not start to really annoy me. It definitely makes me sound like a cold-blooded, heartless reader, but I got pretty tired of hearing Jason go on and on about how his family makes him feel, etc.  In a sense, the storyline had me feeling some compassion and worry toward him. However the constant pounding on this theme made me actually start to dislike the characters and it turned my sympathy for him right around.

Choosing Well cover

my paperback 1982 edition

Further, the novel is actually not about the multiverse/parallel realities.  This novel is, at its very core, a question about ethics. Now, I am not an ethicist. I am, by training and trade, a metaphysician. Ostensive and defensive, if you please, along the Aristotelian lines. However, I know that most fiction writers are not very aware of what goes on in academia and think they have hit upon a new and unique vantage point or question or what have you. Rarely is this the case. Original thought and ideas are so incredibly rare…. ANYWAY, Crouch, whether he knew it or not, was literally writing very closely to the ideas put forth by Germain G. Grisez (1929 – 2018) and Russell B. Shaw in his Choosing Well (1982). Choosing Well is such an infamous book in my household because it routinely wins ugliest book ever. Its a decently academic read, short and very readable; printed by University of Notre Dame and organized logically. But it has the ugliest cover in the galaxy…. reminiscent of some 1960s self-help manual or something. There is actually a household rule that if you use/read this book you have to always have cover down (like on a table or whatever) so others don’t puke looking at it.  I suppose I could also mention John Finnis (b. 1940) here (not that I expect anyone to have followed this far down the rabbit trail of ethics texts, but I like being thorough).

Choosing Well backBecause at the end of the day, Crouch has his main character working on a problem – and it is not the problem of quantum physics or how to return to a specific universe. It is actually:  what is happiness? how does one have a happy life? of what does a happy life consist – and how do our choices determine this?

Sometimes it is really tough to be a philosopher, because you often get books spoiled because even if you want to read a new and exciting novel, the author hands you retread tires. It is difficult to keep any feeling of wonder or curiosity or excitement when its old news.

Dark Matter is a modernized Quantum Leap full of GGG-Shaw-Finnis ethics.  Now, I suppose, even such a work could be interesting because those items, on their own, are relatively interesting, of course. But – written in this screenplay manner with the limited number of characters, the endless droning about the main character’s wife, and the inevitable repetitive nature of the story – any wonder and thrill is quickly lost.

I tried to imagine this book being read by a reader who has no background in physics (or Quantum Leap) or academic ethics and maybe they would enjoy the very emotive, fast-paced plot. I am not sure. Sadly, I could not grant this thing more than two stars, though I honestly wanted it to be better. After all, it was the only book I had with me.

2 stars

Fated

Fated coverFated by Benedict Jacka is the first in the Alexander Verus series.  It was released in 2012. The entire series is finished, now, and is twelve novels. I happen to think that the USA book cover editions are very colorful and well-designed. Someone in my household read a bunch of these and left them shelved. I have been meaning to read them in a very non-prioritized way for awhile. Since this is a shelf-clearing year (do not listen to my nonsense – I say this every year), I decided to grab the first novel and take it along to the mountains this week.

Unlike my previous read, Fated is a fast-moving novel that falls into the category, officially, of urban fantasy, but really is just a little action thriller that has magical elements. It is usually compared, reasonably so, to the Harry Dresden series of novels by Jim Butcher. I read the first novel (Storm Front) in that series a long time ago – it was first released in 2000 and I do not remember much. I probably gave it either two or three stars. That being said, I have no idea if these are similar except in that they are kind of in the same category – mage/wizard in modern urban setting has to deal with magical situation resulting in action plot.

Reading Fated after Count Zero is a kind of funny experience.  Fated‘s pages just flew past; I mean, I think it even has thirty more pages in it, but I read it much faster.  That just goes to show that it is not a book with great depth and intensity.  There is nothing wrong with that, per se, but I think this is something akin to how a number of readers felt this was more of a “YA” (i.e. young adult) novel.  I disagree that it is YA, I do not really even like that sort of faux-genre.  It does, though, feel like Jacka was not taking any risks and staying somewhat superficial with the storyline.

Except for the uncomfortable master mage and apprentice-slave scenario that runs through the entire novel. Clearly, the main character has some form of PTSD after having been involved in such a scenario. Alex Verus mentions it in the sort of way people mention things when they do not want to seem like they want to talk about a thing, but they really, really do.  So, again, is Jacka making the background mysterious? Is he writing “safely?”  Or, is this just a way to engage the reader that does not work 100% of the time?  For myself, I can say that I do not mind characters with shadowy and dark pasts. I do not have to know all of their details. However, in this one, it feels like Jacka needed to commit a bit better to telling the reader or not. Instead, Verus’ history is a mess.  Also, by not really being totally open about whatever is in Verus’ past, it makes the relationship between himself and the master-Dark mage take on aspects that are perhaps uncomfortably taboo or untoward.

Rather than have the clear good versus evil scenario of mages, Jacka bolsters his explanation of Dark mages as something other than just evil-driven. Maybe. It works to a point, and then it stops working. So, what I mean is, Jacka tells us that Dark mages do not buy into strict concepts of good and evil. Instead they think about morality totally from their self-indulgent egoism.  They recognize others only if and when the Other is something to have control over and to operate as one operates a tool. Thinking about this a bit deeper, though, readers might wonder if that sort of egoism is not, actually, the definition of evil. So, back again to perspectives of good and evil. Hey, I’m a metaphysician… an ontologist, I get really disinterested and bored with ethics. But it feels like Jacka really took to those ethics classes in school.

Anyway, I like a lot of the magical constructs that Jacka made for us.  Beings like Starbreeze, Helikaon, and Arachne are fun and interesting. I mean, I did get tired of Starbreeze by the end of the novel and Arachne is not exactly an original creation, but they were good inclusions in this novel.  The villains were villainous – which is good. I hate novels wherein the villains are rather pathetic and cannot hang onto their rôle as villains. The character Rachel is another who needed to have some good time with a psychologist – again because of whatever the heck happened in Verus’ past.

Overall, though, this novel is a decent read. Its not above average because it feels like a lot of the elements needed to be solidified and tidied up.  The Council, for example:  we are left with all sorts of impressions of it. After finishing the book, I cannot tell if they are a weak administrative sort of group or a snarling back-biting political thing, or a true over-seeing authority. Further, there seems to be so much magic – there is a lot and when Jacka needed a plot point, it seems like he just introduced another form of it. This needed to be shored up to a more manageable kosmology.

Finally, though it was a speedier read than Count Zero, there seemed to be some pacing issues. The time spent at “the ball” was overdone and tedious after awhile. Some of the “we are being chased” moments were a bit repetitive and therefore annoying. In spite of all of these smaller challenges, though, the world of Alex Verus is just interesting enough that I would read the next book in the series. I can also grant that maybe since this was the first novel, it was a little off-kilter and the next one rights the ship.

2 stars

The Third Gate

The Third Gate lincoln child book coverThe Third Gate by Lincoln Child is the third book in his Jeremy Logan series.  I have read the previous two novels.  The Third Gate was published in 2012 and is the first in the series that has Logan on every page of the book, so to speak. In the previous novels, Logan was not a major character; here he takes control of the narrative.

This book is a bit of a mess and is a definite step-down from the previous novel Terminal Freeze. The setup is somewhat the same – in all three novels there is a wealthy, eccentric individual who is at the heart of whatever adventure is going on.  This time Logan is pulled in right from the beginning – he is introduced as an enigmalogist. Logan meets the “eccentric” individual in the depths of the Cairo museum and agrees to join the adventure.  The mission, this time, is to locate Narmer’s tomb.  In the author’s note Child admits that he liberally manipulated and adjusted all facets of Egyptology and related sciences in service of his novel.  In other words, there is historical fiction and then there is adventure fiction and The Third Gate is most certainly in the latter category.

Once again, as with the first Logan novel, I want to accuse Child of lazy writing. There are a couple of things here and there that could have been done better and, yes, I do mean even in the context of a little adventure pulp novel.  For example, the coffee that someone is sipping in the dark deep basements of the Cairo museum – its probably cold. And where did it come from? Somehow I doubt there is a stove deep in the museum among the papyrus stacks – at least, when I was there, I did not see one. Another example is where Child unnecessarily refers to the technicians (i.e. the digital and technological crew) as “tech weenies.”  It feels jarringly crude in a setting wherein we are frequently told the adventure has gathered highly-vetted, highly-trained, highly-established experts in so many fields of study. “Tech weenies”…..?

Anyway, Logan shows up to the site with his duffel bag of items. A variety of items, kind of similar to a doctor’s bag crossed with a magician’s bag. When asked about it, Logan shares some of the items, but also plays it a bit vague.  At the same time, throughout, readers get the sense that the characters are suspicious or at least skeptical of Logan’s field of study and of his need to join the mission.  To counter that, several times readers are given Logan’s resume and stories of his expert field work and research, to include a sidebar regarding his dissertation. All of this being said, several times during the novel, Logan utilizes a device that tests air ionization. Every time except once is the air “normal.”  The one time it reads “not normal,” or increased ionization, he says he does not know what it means.  This just seems incongruous and stupid.

I disliked every character and for that reason I really was not rooting for any of them.  Makes me feel a little bad, I guess. I like adventure stories that keep me on the edge of my seat and I can cheer for a hero or something. The character that is supposed to “balance” the Logan character is one of the world’s top Egyptologists, Christina Romero.  I am not sure what to make of her – most of the time she comes across as impulsively rude, which I very much find toxic.  I guess we are supposed to think that because she is an elite expert, she is also given to temperamental behavior? I dislike that sort of stereotyping, too.

Finally, the plot itself is stupid and difficult and has this adjacent co-plot that I really hated. I really disliked the entire psychological, NDE, “crossing-over” story thread. I hated the characters and how it overtook the plot and I did not enjoy it.  Accepting Logan as an enigmalogist and as a scientist is possible. But this type of plot overextends my suspension of disbelief.

White NileThe good thing:  listen, I love setting and the setting of this novel is really good. I mean it. I was surprised to find such a strong, interesting, and intense setting in an adventure pulp.  Child liberally utilizes the concept of the Sudd (Cp. The White Nile by Alan Moorehead – 1960) and expands and develops it as needed. Seriously, this stuff captured my imagination and I wanted to spend more time in this setting having it weigh on us, confuse us, frighten us.  In other words, Child’s idea to use it is a great idea and he did a decent job.  I just want him to have done an even better job. I did pull my old, crusty copy off of my bookshelves and think I will skim through it, just because I can.

They crawled forward into an ever-thicker tangle of logs and bracken.  The noises from the riverbanks – if indeed there were still any banks to be found in this morass – had all but ceased.  It was as if they were now surrounded by an infinite riot of flora, dead and dying, all wedged into one colossal tangle.  They waited in the bow, barely speaking, as the boat followed the line of flashing beacons. Now and then the path seemed to Logan to lead to a dead end; but each time, after making a blind turn, the fetid tangle of vegetation widened once again. Frequently, the boat had to use its own superstructure to push aside the oozing warp and weft. – pg. 67, chapter 7

At the end of the day, Ancient Egypt adventure stories and swamps and scary things are always going to draw readers in, I think. However, this novel had too much lazy writing. Again, I am not expecting high-brow literature here, but I think a lot of tidying and a little thought would have really worked.  Instead, this novel is a mess, its a bit flat, and I did not really enjoy anything at all other than the setting.  That is not a basis for a great recommendation.

I am a bit concerned about the “development” of the Jeremy Logan character. I like him as an enigmalogist. I dislike the esoteric, pseudo-ghost hunter stuff. I am glad that he got to be a main character in a novel, for once, which is amusing to consider.  Strangely, even as a main character, I feel he was extraneous. Still, I am nervous that in the next novel in the series he might actually have a magic wand or something.

2 stars

From Doon With Death

From Doon with DeathI finished another book, but its another that I really did not like.  In fact, I may actually dislike this one. I read Ruth Rendell’s From Doon With Death from 1964.  I have heard that Baroness Rendell (1930 – 2015) is considered a strong mystery writer, so of course I started with the first of her famous Inspector Wexford novels.  After having read this one, I have to say that I certainly hope that her other novels are big improvements. I think there are twenty-four novels in the Inspector Wexford series – and Rendell also wrote a bunch of other novels, besides.

In a sense, Rendell is up against some stiff competition. This year I have read novels by Dorothy Sayers, Simon Brett, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, and Georgette Heyer.  I do have plans for a Christie novel, too, sometime this year.  Unfortunately, Rendell might never had a chance with this novel.

I do not want to spoil the mystery, let us say, of the story, but I find this sort of resolution lame.  It reminds me of what Simon Brett said about Mrs. Pargeter – about how Pargeter had “a strong prejudice against murders committed by people who were mad.”  Same thing here, in my opinion, it tends to be awkward and stupid. Seems like letting detectives off of the hook or something…. So, needless to say, the resolution was a big let down and felt like a stupid trickery.

Now, among the things that I really disliked about this novel is the main character, Inspector Wexford.  I do not know how or why or when – there are lots of vintage mystery experts who can trace this sort of thing – but having a pompous, obnoxious, jerkface lead detective seems to be so accepted that it is expected in a so-called British mystery.  I would love a novel to be written, a sort of parody, starring Roderick Alleyn and Reginald Wexford.  These two are grating on the reader’s nerves. Absolute jerks. It does not seem, either, that they deserve to be exonerated for such behavior – for example, in this novel Wexford’s co-detective Burden does more work than Wexford. So, imagine a novel in which the arrogant Alleyn has to co-star with the obnoxious Wexford! Let them torture each other like they vexed readers!

“Cigarette, sir?”

“Have you gone raving mad, Burden?  Maybe you’d like to take your tie off.  This is Sussex, not Mexico.” – pg. 52, chapter four

Another element I strongly disliked, and it is pervasive, was the constant highlighting and backbiting and commentary regarding social classes.  I do not have first hand experience of London, say, in 1964.  But I am sure that Baroness Rendell did.  Now, whether she felt all of this class conflict in her novel would separate her from either side of the debate or if she was purposely trying to critique one or the other, I cannot say.  I just know that an undue portion of the novel is spent mentioning who fits into which class and, usually, it comes with sharp, critical comment. Every little aspect of the storyline has some sort of economic/social class status attached to it and running through it.  Even characters who never actually appear in the story and who are living in other continents are appraised. Its another tedious thing in a novel that already has Wexford to deal with.

Well, its obvious I was not too impressed with Wexford, but truthfully, all of the characters are unlikeable. None of them are even endearing or curious.  Several of the characters are caustic and scratchy. So, this could be a method of an author keeping all the characters in front of readers as “likely suspects” – we do not befriend anyone, so readers are ready for any of them to be the criminal, I guess. The method is too unreasonable and it makes for some rough reading; I do not have to adore characters, but making me dislike all of them is a story albatross.

Overall, this is a short novel so it seems fine that it was not very good; more or less a throw-away read. I do not see why it is necessary to start reading Wexford with this one, if one is inclined to read the Wexford series.  I cannot recommend this one to anyone, its not really of any interest, and the writing style itself is nothing special.  Again, compared to the other authors I read this year, Rendell just did not compete.

2 stars

All Shall Be Well

All Shall Be WellBlazing through books these last two weeks, I finished another.  It was on my to-be-read list because I had read the first, A Share in Death, in the series back in 2019.  I was not really impressed with that book, but I wanted to see how things went.  I enjoyed the second book in the series, All Shall Be Well, less than the first! This second of Deborah Crombie’s “Kincaid/James” series was released in 1994.

Everyone in this novel is to some extent miserable.  I do not think I have read a novel so completely stuffed with unhappy and miserable characters as this one.  The whole conceit of the book is that we are never sure if there is a crime or not and if there is a crime, whether that crime is suicide or murder. Someone has died, all right, but it was a lonely, sad death due to cancer.  Other utterly miserable people shared these woes:  a wimpy failure at life, a cruel bully with no prospects, an overworked divorcee whose ex has skipped out, a old military veteran living alone after disastrous outcomes during his service, a mousy friendless girl, and a number of relatives in mental homes and health care facilities. Literally, everyone in this book is absolutely miserable. And they are nearly vying with each other in their sorrows.

The deceased is slightly interesting because of her background. That becomes wearing and dull, though. There is a cat in the novel – I think it is supposed to be a spot of lightness to the story. Literally, the thing is neglected throughout and though it has a good ending, one cannot help but feel sad for it.

Most of the story is probably spent developing the relationship between the two detectives and their surrounding environment. Their similarities, differences, reactions, etc. Its all very dull, frankly. As with the first book, the Kincaid character is a bit off when it comes to females. I remember 1994 quite well, so please do not try to tell me anything about how it “used to be.” His reactions and thoughts are weird – so it makes me want to raise a suspicious eyebrow at the author about all of this.

He found himself starting absently at two girls ordering food at the counter.  One had orange hair cropped almost to her skull, the other a straight fall of fair hair halfway down her back.  Spandex minis left their legs bare from the buttocks down, in spite of the chill, damp evening.  He supposed vanity provided them sufficient internal warmth – what bothered him was not the likelihood of their catching a chill, but that he’d no idea how long they’d stood there before he noticed them.  He must be getting old. – Chapter 13, pg 176

Yuck.

Anyway, the characters are miserable and the storyline is dull. But worse than that, the story is also invasive and uncomfortable.  We really dig into the deceased’s affairs – old journals from the 1960s and such – as if we are biographers. The deceased is a very private and reserved person, so doing this sort of rummaging is unpleasant to read about.

The things I did like:  we are told about every garden, flower patch, or potting soil bag in the country. Also, we have pint with every meal and its always crisp and refreshing and without struggle. Seamless pints to go along with country-food. I am a bit jealous of the pubs and the gardens.

This is a dull thing and very focused on character introspection and relationships. Its overall story is nearly not a story anyway.  A fast read about nothing much. I cannot recommend this to many readers – skip this one. I may read the next novel simply because its on these shelves around here.

2 stars

This Immortal

This Immortal ACEOnce again enjoying some vintage science fiction, I finished up This Immortal by Roger Zelazny (1937 – 1995). It is the first Zelazny that I have read, I think (unless I’ve come upon some short fiction that I have forgotten about). This is such an odd novel I actually feel bad for anyone reading this review because I feel like my review will be scattered and swirly. Sorry about that in advance.

The first thing to mention is the publishing history of the work.  Originally, This Immortal was …And Call Me Conrad and was published in two parts in issues (October and November) of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I think the first collected, novel-edition of the work was released by ACE in July 1966 under the title This Immortal.  I read the 1981 ACE edition with the Rowena Morrill cover. If you look at the cover of the edition I read, you see in the upper right the words: THE HUGO WINNING NOVEL……

….because this novel won the 1966 Hugo Award for Best Novel, which was presented in Cleveland in September of 1966. Some readers just read that line and felt no significance whatsoever and briefly wondered why I am giving them a boring history lesson. Some other readers thought something like, “Wait, what? 1966… Are you sure?” and the most precise of readers said, “Oh! I know where you are going with this! Hahaha!”

….because, actually, this novel tied for first in the Hugo Award for Best Novel.  The novel that it shared the win with is none other than Dune by Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986).

Dune is not an easy read.  It is subversive and complex and at its heart, it is a space opera. It has layers and agendas and ideas. Readers could complain about how slow it reads or how involved it is. Or even its often derivative elements making it seem very borrowed-ish. And then there is This Immortal, which is so obviously different in many ways.  Frankly, I cannot lie, I do not see how Zelazny’s novel competes.  I am not saying that it does not have merit, but sheesh, even if you hate Dune, how is This Immortal a tie with it? Now, one thing I do not want this review to turn into is a comparison-contrast piece pitting the two against one another again.

Zelazny wrote a novel with some deep, heavy ideas in such a breezy and pulpy manner that it, I think, does somewhat of a disservice to itself.  At the same time, I really do not know if Zelazny could have written it differently, say, in order to not be so utterly flippant and almost wispy with the weighty things.  The problem with being breezy and wispy is that I am willing to bet that the majority of readers are unable to pick up on all of the neat connections and “Easter eggs” and such. One of the biggest demands is that the reader be familiar with Greek mythology and culture – and the familiarity is not one from a glossary or a handbook on ancient Greece.  The familiarity has to come from study, schooling, and honestly, years of letting that stuff ferment and simmer in one’s mental slow-cooker. Here’s the first line:

“You are a kallikanzaros,” she announced suddenly.

Of course this was sudden, I doubt there is any other way of stating such a thing to someone. Anyway, the novel is off and running at this point. For a good quarter of the novel, the dialogue keeps a breezy, choppy flow to it. It is the style that one would find in noir crime novels and/or pulp fiction novels.  Another example of this writing would be John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee stuff. Snappy and sarcastic and never taking anything seriously. Everything said with a shot glass in hand and tongue-in-cheek, because the state of the world is so bad that we certainly cannot take it seriously.

The main character is the Commissioner of the Earthoffice Department of Arts, Monuments, and Archives.  Its after the “Three Days,” which is presumably when the massive bad event occurred (one suspects it involved nuclear destruction).  The Earth’s main continent lands are destroyed and the population, such as it is, lives on islands.  There are Hot Spots (likely radiation-filled zones) and a whole lot of mutated and deranged creatures that roam Earth.  There are aliens, too, the Vegans, and a Sprung-Samser medical treatment, and a Vite-Stats Register.  No details on any of these things whatsoever. Accept them at face value and build them however you, as a science fiction reader, would like.

The main character is recalled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to join a social event and be assigned as a tour guide to a visiting alien. All very farcical and strange.  So, a motley crew of whomever gets assembled to tour around with the alien – the alien wanting to go to various places to research a book or something that he is creating.  The world has gone to rot and those of us left are having theatre productions and drunken social mixers and we are all going to pop out on the skimmers with the Commissioner and the alien to see how ravaged our world is. Also, someone invited the super famous assassin to the social party.

They set off to visit a voodoo ritual – like, a pre-cursor event before they start the actual tour. It is as weird as it sounds.  I have no idea why this scene is in a novel. Bored rich folk visit voodoo shrine before they tour radiated Cairo; probably alien’s fault.

This theme of a mobile social gala continues throughout the entire book – even in the most pulpy and action-scene segments.  Very much the story felt, to me, like those British novels wherein the upper-middle class packs their bags and their Baedekers and travelled to Florence and Athens and the “coast.”  Instead of sedate tourism, though, there are several incidents of savage violence and mayhem in a post-apolocalyptic setting.  Literally, at one point, the alien sets up an easel and is painting a river scene and then everyone gets attacked by a mutant crocodile. Drama and intrigue and pulpy action all in one scene.

The weirdest scenes include one that is along the road to Volos in which a fifty-meter clearing is nearby and things get super bizarre because they see a satyr and the biologist wants to shoot it, but instead the main character (kallikanzaros, remember?) starts playing a shepherd’s pipe and more goat things appear. A strange 1960s interlude of weirdness.

Another dip into the insane is the whole segment wherein the group gets captured and there is a obese albino and Procrustes shows up and fighting and what in the ever-living-heck is this crap about? One wonders if Zelazny just felt like writing while inebriated or if he wrote scenes just to weave some weird ancient Greek mythology into them or if some editor demanded pulp action scenes. Whatever the case may be, these are basically absurdist and once overlayed on the frustrated, apathetic social gathering that is filled with ennui and motives – it just deflates the whole effort.

Constantly the novel is filled with allusions and hints and name-dropping and metaphors that display Zelazny’s interest and knowledge of ancient Greek (and other) mythologies. However, instead of peppering and simmering, he just dumps the whole spicy bottle into the stew and we get heavy-handed writing with no plot and stupid characters. For example, Cassandra – if you can believe it – is here. Why? I honestly do not know. A lot of the book actually involves her in some way, but why? At the end of the thing, I have no idea why this character is even here except maybe to fill the final scene with that happy all-wrapped-up easy peasy action novel ending. (Cassandra with a high-powered rifle is a painting I want on my walls, though.)

Overall, the novel wants you to like it and as a reader I really wanted to, as well. So engaging and breezy, but ultimately ridiculous and stupid. It is really quite like taking the well-worn concept of “humans do not treat their planet well” and then turning it into some Edwardian/ancient Greek farce. What did Zelazny want to do with this? He did not know, either, I think. Its mid-1960s sentiment with some leftover 1940s pulp. Good luck, readers.

2 stars

The Gunslinger

Gunslinger coverThe Gunslinger by Stephen King was first published in 1982, but it was actually separate stories that were previously written that made this into a “fix-up” novel, as they are called. In 2003, King famously revised and updated the novel. I do not know if this is the second or third time reading this novel.  Every time I read it, though, I feel more or less the same way about it – its really good in retrospect after having read the next two books or so in The Dark Tower series. Taken on its own, it is exceedingly weird and disjointed and awkward.

For better or worse, it is a fact that in our lifetime, Stephen King is one of the most famous and well-read authors.  His name and works are included in that batch of fiction that have become cultural references, common knowledge, and household facts.  Even people who do not read at all (yes, horrifically, these are real) are able to have some concept/referent for ‘Stephen King.’  I have not read King like many of his fans. I have read maybe two or three of his non-Dark Tower books. I have no idea if he is a good author or not, because I feel like I cannot assess him accurately without reading far more of his catalogue. 

So, The Gunslinger is an odd fix-up of stories that King wrote in the late 70s and early 80s. There is not a whole lot for me to say about the novel because everyone on the planet has read it and has given their opinions on it. There is nothing new, surely, that I can provide regarding the actual novel and info about it. For example, many fans of the book absolutely adore the first line, which seems to evoke all the best feelings and images of all the best adventures and entertainments. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”  There it is, again. All the readers quote it and now I can be counted as one of them.  I think the critical point about this first line is that it is very deadpan and very simple. Three items and two actions: man in black, desert, gunslinger…. one fled, one followed.  Contained in this little statement is all the makings of the excitement and thrills and hopes and curiousity of all readers; it seems paradoxical that such a bland sentence can do so much.

The spare writing, though, in which each sentence seems to contain so much meaning and significance, is what I consider to be the overall characteristic of this novel.  It is spare like a desert.  The writing is matter-of-fact, but yet at times somewhat poetic.  However, the poetry is not flowery or fancy, it is just honest and matter-of-fact as the rest.  Instead of having “dynamic” characters who are overly complicated and full of layers of delusions, it seems these characters are blunt and direct and very honest. The main character, Roland, is utterly honest with the reader. 

Roland is a big deal.  He is a character that, in his will, his strength, his skill, and his honesty, he appeals to readers.  He is presented as a “simple man,” meaning he is unimaginative and not prone to time-waste.  However, he is also very complex because he is not a farmhand or a grunt or a lackey.  A character that wrestles with “inner demons” and with the fabric of the kosmos is hardly a “simple man.”  However, it is clear straightaway that Roland is also not a “good man.”  This is not a sinless, shining knight of virtue and holiness. So, he causes readers to constantly have to wrestle with his morality.

The novel is a sort of Western, Dark Fantasy, Steampunk mash-up that has a vast history and expanse of setting – but it also feels unclear and confused.  The lack of detail and linear layout makes for some of the dreamy and bewildered feeling in the book.  I doubt King, at the time, had any clear ideas about all of this and purposely left his world-building vague and open. He did a good job because there is definitely an ominous and mysterious kosmology that pervades every scene.  The Western is medieval in tone and that is a very cool spin on the medieval-based fantasy usually found in books. 

Not that all of this can be granted to King. He has always admitted that he was heavily inspired by Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” (1852).   In fact, this whole business is reduced a bit once the originality is denied it and we realize that Browning handed a very creative author a silver platter full of perfect delicacies and delights.  Both that work and King’s work are strange.  Dream-like and wondrous and maybe a bit apocalyptic.

The major thing that bothers me about King’s work is the vulgarness that comes through.  I mean, I rarely read anything so vile and vulgar. Horror, as I have said previously, is often vulgar. I do not care for this kind of writing and it always makes me wary of a soul that creates and writes such stuff.  In a sense, we all write about what we know and because I could never write with such vulgarity, I wonder about the writer who knows such stuff.

The reason I re-read this novel is because lately I have been sensing the cracks in the kosmos. Hold on! Do not click away thinking I am some looney! I have been working on linguistics/logic and the odd statements that defy the good, common, healthy reasoning that we all have come to know and love. Counterfactual, self-referential, contradictory, ambiguous, paradoxical sentences that most people shrug at, other people are amused by, and metaphysicians are deeply disturbed by.  Cracks in the world, my friends. The sentences that the computer programmers just want to ignore. The sentences that the poet knows about, but cannot understand the ramifications.

Plus, I have been reading Plotinus and Porphyry and Proclus. WE, the systematic Aristotelian science-men, have long since turned up our noses at such esoteric hogwash – all that Hermetica and astrology and alchemy and Kabbalism stuff that none of us take seriously. However, every great immense once-in-awhile there is a line or a comment in the Enneads or something that sends a bit of a chill, like a draft through a crack in a cellar wall. Mysticism and magis and its all very hocus-pocus, so we do not look at those parts directly; we dismiss them as silly esoteric junk that was ridiculously overlayed on the substantial and meaty ontology. I guess.

When Roland says: “The world has moved on,” it also feels like a cold draft. I feel like in 2021, with the strange things going on in the real world, yeah, it is easier to fall in step with Roland as he crosses the desert.  The best thing about Roland is that he takes it in stride. The world is dying, everything is wrecked, there are abominations and absurdities everywhere, the remnants of the future (somehow) – but yet Roland just accepts it as it is. Zen master level.  Pretty cool character, this Roland.

Overall, its hard to separate the vulgarity and the derivative context from the book.  So, sure this one is only two stars. But when I read further into the series and then look back, I want to give this maybe four stars.  Readers who have not read this (are there any?) will likely be shocked, confused and not know what to make of this craziness. Helps to think of the world moving on and there being cracks in the kosmos, I think.

2 stars

Beers and Fears: The Haunted Brewery

hauntedAmong all the other books I am currently reading, I managed to read through this one.  I was looking forward to this book because its a collaborative, small-press/self-published work that at 159 pages, I knew would be a easy reader.  I have previously read an item by Armand Rosamilia, but I have not read any of the other authors.  One of the things that I found appealing about the work was that it was just supposed to be a good fun read – these authors allegedly get together and drink beer and write out some horror stories and have fun with the genre.  The book has a second volume, but I do not own that one.  Beers and Fears: The Haunted Brewery was first released in 2019.

I like the concept for the structure of the book a lot. In fact, it was one of my main reasons for getting the book. One author writes a present-time framework story and then the other authors contribute backstories or sidestories to that frame.  The frame story in this one is called “The Last Taproom on the Edge of the World” and it was written by Tim Meyer. The first story is “No Fortunate Son” by Chuck Buda, the second “Have a Drink on Me” by Frank Edler, and the last story is “Alternative” by Armand Rosamilia.

I have run across the names of Buda and Meyer before, I kinda feel Meyer does not write what I would like to read, generally, and though I have not yet read any other Chuck Buda items, I would be open to doing so. Anyway, the frame story starts off really well. It does a good job of setting the scene and making the reader settled in for a rough and rowdy horror funhouse.  The characters are introduced and the purpose of the frame and the included backstories is sufficiently set up. Nothing at all wrong with this segment. But the first story… its got a lot going on in it.  The Vietnam backstory (which comes with intense flashbacks), the Mafia, the drugs, the porn, the brewery, etc. The story is completed, fairly polished, and there is nothing wrong with it, I guess. But I did not like it. I feel like the drugs and the Vietnam and the porn and the mafia took away from what could have been. I can imagine a story with the miserable veteran who is on hardcore drugs. I can imagine him making bad choices. I can imagine his choices affecting the brewery. However, this story, as it was written, seemed to go on too long, the porn chunk made the story lose a lot of the build-up of the psychedelic confusions, and at the end of the day, I hated every character. The horror was lost to the parts.

I was trying to imagine readers after having read this story.  Is the story relevant and readable? Yes. It is also gritty, dark, violent as hell, and gory. But after, I think, a day or two, I do not think the story sticks around. Its just easy in and easy out consumable junk food.  There is a surprising amount of sex in the book, though it just feels like another avenue of violence. So, you have violence between humans, violence through alcohol, violence via sex, violence from demons…. So, the first story tends to lean more towards just violence than horror or macabre or anything like that.

Frank Edler’s story “Have a Drink on Me” is much opposite of Buda’s story.  This story was more like what I expected from the book.  Over-the-top outrageous insanely creative, but still horrific and amusing as hell.  This was the fun and wild and utterly ridiculous story that captured what this book could be.  Unlike Buda’s story, which was really just violence upon violence, this one was the pinnacle of ridiculous.  I do not know if calling it humorous is valid, because this is not quite humor. The level of ridiculous that plays into this one encapsulates that B-movie, but oh-so-fun wildness that horror movies often contain.  So, Buda’s story is just gory and violent, I did not like it and I will shortly forget it.  Edler’s story is the ridiculous horror that is so outrageous I know I will not forget. I mean, its still a bit gory and savage, if you know what I mean.  However, I had fun reading it and I imagine Edler had fun writing it.  This is the story that author dudes with beers in October are supposed to be writing! I am still chortling over the “bad guy” in the story.  I want to have drank about three beers and nod with a lopsided grin at the author and say things like, “makes sense, bro! totally!”

Now the frame story segments that came before and after Edler’s work started to go downhill. For one thing, leaving a setting and going to another is hazardous because the author just built up a scene and now all that work is swept away. So, there needs to be a real purpose. Frankly, there was not a purpose.  These segments should have been exciting little interludes and really scary moments. Instead, they just read as pointless.

The last story is Rosamilia’s. It is probably the most realistic, if one can say that, of the stories in the book. By that I mean that the characters and setting seem natural and real as opposed to seeming cardboard or created cartoons. The main characters Trevor and Jackson are engaging and the storyline moves around them without hiccup.  I think the horror is really most developed in this story. Of all the stories, this is the only one that could claim “spine-tingling” or “creepy.”  There is still a bit too much of the sex/violence in this one, which is probably just there because this story somewhat circles back to the first story and its contents.  I did not really find the interconnectedness very crucial to the stories, though. They all take place at the particular location – at some point. Sadly, on the last page of the story is a nasty typo – the wrong character is named, “Trevor nodded” when it should be “Jackson nodded.”  Yeah, it was clunker of an error. Overall, it was a good story, a little more work and this would have been very creepy.

The structure of the book is difficult to separate stories out to rate. I think the frame story needs a lot more purpose and function. I am only going to give it 1 star.  “No Fortunate Son” is also a 1 for me. I really did not like it. No beers, no fears for that; just revulsion. The Edler story is 4 stars without a second to think. I will remember that one for a long, long time! Armand’s “Alternative” is a solid three. Overall, I think the concept is an awesome one. I think the execution was not so great. Some overwriting (Buda), some lack of direction (Meyer), but the other stories are good enough for a fun October splatter horror mess.

And after all of this, the concept is so good that I think I will read volume 2.

2.25 stars

Nightmare

NightmareNightmare by Chad Nicholas was first released in 2020, it is Nicholas’ first novel. I saw it on a bunch of recent internet postings by a number of fellow readers that I follow.  Everyone seemed to have very positive reactions, so I added it to my plan of October.  Honestly, since I am not a very frequent reader of horror, I am not really sure what to expect in a lot of these books this month.  Obviously, I expect gore and darkness, but I don’t know about all of the styles and nuances this genre utilizes. That being said, I do think it is really key for this genre that readers not “spoil” the books for other readers.  That’s sometimes true with other fiction, of course, but I feel like its even more important not to do that with this genre. So, that is an added challenge in reviewing such a book – I am going to try to weave a careful path, then.

Overall, I can see why a lot of readers thought this book was well-written and they were captivated.  I read the novel over two days and I can agree that it is a very fast read and one that the writing style and storyline are built to be read in one larger space as opposed to being broken up over a longer duration.  I did not find any typos or any spots where editing was needed. Also, as a quick remark, I think that for a debut novel, the author chose to write a difficult storyline, but managed it fairly well. 

So, this particular horror novel is one that I would put in the pyschological horror subgenre.  After having read not very much horror at all, I am going to share that I do not think this is my preferred segment of horror.  I paused after typing that in order to give myself a moment:  could I develop a reasonable taxonomy of horror types?  Let me see, there is cosmic horror (which I have heard about, but I still wonder if there is a solid definition), there is devils/possession/religious horror, and there is monster horror (which would include, perhaps, kaiju science fiction themes, as well), psychological as seen in Nightmare, Gothic, and maybe, finally, stuff that is just slasher gore.  So, possibly six different subgenres. I kicked around the idea of “survivor” horror and “haunted space” horror, but ended up arguing with myself. I am unsure about those. Most survivor horror would fall under slasher or monster, I think. And most haunted space, though a frequent setting/locus, would still come to one of the other subgenres, usually religious or maybe monster.

SPOILER ALERT

From here onward, though I will still attempt to not add heavy spoilers, I still intend to talk about this novel, so I will have to include some things that may spoil the read. Such is the way of the review…..

Regarding the overall plot, there were plenty of hints and clues that the author is banking on readers not picking up on. And the author’s strategy is to throw so much “shock” and “awe” that the reader does not notice and the hints and clues slip by because of the fast-paced page turning and the sudden gory shock, perhaps.  Apparently, and this is me going by a number of reviews (YouTube/Goodreads/blogs), this strategy worked very well. Sadly, it did not work on me. I say “sadly” because yeah, maybe I wish it had worked on me? I have been thinking about the reasons why it did not work on me and I do not know how to write about them without sounding awful and arrogant and hideous.  I guess, I’m just going to say:  I’m a philosopher – by education and trade, you think you gonna sneak dat stuff by me? Naw, bro, not gonna happen.

I suspected what was going on in this book, but on page 93, that’s when it got a bright pink Post-It note smacked on it. Wham! pink post it 2 Because, you see, what I had read was so incongruous that it could not sneak by me. Most of the clue was based on mundane details.  SPOILERS ARE COMING NOW —->  The main character calls his doctor and the doctor answers: “Hello?”  First of all, it is highly unlikely that you direct call a doctor unless you are part of his golf foursome.  Secondly, for the sake of fiction license, let us say you can reach the doctor directly, he certainly is not going to answer “hello.” Instead, he would say “Dr. Reynolds.”  A small thing? Maybe, but the clues continue.   The main character opens a desk drawer at work and pulls out a lighter.  At no point throughout the story was smoking hinted at or mentioned. Why is there a lighter in his drawer? Does he smoke – he does not seem to be a character that smokes? Next, the character dumps papers in a wastebasket and lights them on fire. At work – on one of the upper floors of the building.  Yeah, this is not going to happen in the real in 2020 (smoke alarms, fire hazard, fireable action, etc.).  So, what is going on here? Is the author truly stupid? No, instead these are hints that we are not in reality. 

There are other clues, but I think the one of the biggest is on page 182 in chapter eleven wherein:

Outside, Dr. Reynolds spoke with them. “You can go home for the night if you wish.  I will make sure that she is well looked after.”

This obviously is not a realistic reaction to how we started this chapter, which was fraught with action and sorrow and drama:

Scott rushed into the hospital, carrying May in his arms.  He ran straight past the desk to Dr. Reynolds, who was in the hallway, speaking to another patient.

“What happened?” Dr. Reynolds asked as they ran down the hallway. 

“She was stabbed,” Scott said, not telling him how.

This one is much more obvious than a lot of the previous clues.  I mean, a doctor cannot recognize stab wounds? And at the end of the chapter, the doctor telling them they can “go home” as if bringing anyone, especially a child, into a hospital covered in stab wounds will not result in any call to the police. 

Finally, the last clue that was much like a bright flashing marquee to readers, was late in the book on page 247.  After having a massive ridiculous-level blowout at his house, Scott drives to the county library. 

The first aisle he walked down was history, the next children’s books, and the one after that thriller.  It struck him as a weird order to have the sections in, but what did he know about libraries? He had never been in one before.

What now? Now, before this, we have learned that Scott is college educated and he also has a library card account.  Again, obviously we are not in reality. 

The title of the whole book is called Nightmare and I feel like that should be a really massive clue to all readers as to what is going on here.  Granted, the plot does involve nightmares, but the reader should have been able to realize what was going on – to some extent, I think. Well, the author chose a tough plot and took a big gamble on strategy.  I want to say it did not work, but after looking at the internet for awhile, I guess I would be wrong.  The author’s strategy worked plenty on a whole slew of readers. They enjoyed the novel and they were kept off-balance and on the edge-of-their-seat.  Unfortunately, the strategy did not work for me. I almost want to apologize to the author for this. At the same time, I am sure the author knew he was not going to hook all the readers; as long as he got a large percentage, I am sure he is pleased.

Unfortunately, the author was never going to wow me because, besides my suspicious Cheka-trained reading, the last sort of novel that I enjoy is the psychological one. It is a bit difficult to define, though.  The blatant heavy-handed psych stuff always bores me and that is what happened here. In this novel, I got bored quickly. I just wanted it over already. Yes, that makes me sad because that is obviously not something an author every wants to hear. But, consider… after I figure out it is not reality, what is left to keep me reading? Such is the gamble with this strategy.  Take D. G. Compton’s Synthajoy as an example – I gave the novel four stars because it was very strong and intellectual, but I knew reading it that I was not able to really connect with it or comprehend a lot of it. In a similar, but not exact, vein look at my rating of VALIS. I gave it two stars, because of the blatant psychological/psychotropic business of it. I just do not do well with this sort of fiction. 

Along with this point, however, if an author is writing a psychological novel – that rather means it is character-based.  We need strong character development or the reader needs to be able to connect with the characters.  Due to the need to keep this novel constantly shocking and fast-paced, there was not much effort at all to build or connect with the characters.  Another risk for the author, one that I do think he could have modified or reworked. As a reader, I am usually not for character-driven plots, but I do like to be able to identify the character. For some readers, characters are all that matters and they practically bond with these fictional identities. In either case, there is not a lot I can tell you about the main character and that keeps me, as a reader, at a distance. I do not care about the character, which usually means I do not care what happens to him. Also, that distance allows me the perspective to see the plotholes or the dull parts. 

Overall, not a book for my tastes and aptitude. However, I recognize a lot of readers really enjoyed this. I think it was a heavy lift for a young author.  Would I read this author again? Yes, but not everything he writes.

2 stars