THE GREY MOON by Timothy P. Callahan

Grey moonA sci fi roMANce.  I made that up.  It is a romance from a man’s point of view.  Written by a man.  Set on the moon.  Whatever was I thinking?  Oh, I know what I was thinking.  I was thinking that I couldn’t remember snagging this book and it must be a sci fi story.

Well, it was a sci fi story, but with the emphasis on the roMANce and less on the sci.  A mediocre Fred is married to a nice lady, but a real go-getter with lots of ambition.  She is qualified for a job with a mining operation on the moon, which will earn her mucho dinero and really push along her career.  But she won’t go without the hubs, who must qualify for some job there too.  Guess what his skill is.  Right.  Video gaming.  Whadda guy!  So these skills get him into training for remotely operating mining equipment in space, and they both get jobs on the moon.

Being as this is told from the man’s perspective, it will come as no shock to you whatsoever that as they arrive on the moon … on the MOON, people!!!! …. his first thought is getting laid because it is getting laid on the moon!  It will also come as no shock to learn that the wife is more concerned with just about everything else — the astounding fact that they are on the moon, getting settled into their quarters, getting a meal, and getting ready for their first shifts which start the next morning.

It pretty much goes downhill from there.  The wife is very busy with her job and responsibilities, he is working in a unit and being trained by … and I know this will surprise you from a plot point of view …. a woman, who eventually comes on to him, because this slub is just such a freaking catch!   Yeah.  I know.  I know.

The ideas that are the sci part of the fi which pertain to the technology and the moon are pretty interesting, and with a different story line that doesn’t have to do with him getting his moon rocks off every 16 seconds could actually be the basis for a good book, but alas, we are stuck with Slub Dude and his romance, tempted by the Evil Other Woman.  Not his fault, you understand.  It’s the age old story.  Woman the temptress, Man the poor pawn.

The writing is puerile, fresh out of Creative Writing 101, and frankly there is nothing to recommend this book.  I started it for the sci, and plowed on doggedly through the fi hoping against hope it would improve.   Oh well.

 

 

 

DAIMONIC REALITY – A FIELD GUIDE TO THE OTHERWORDLY by Patrick Harpur

Daimonic realityThis book is nothing like you think it is going to be, based only onthe title.   Just wanted to get that out there from the get-go.  It is Harpur’s theory of what are those folkloric creatures,  strange phenomena, unusual events or the unexplained or downright ludicrous tales, collectively known as forteana, after the writer Charles Fort, who also did research into anomalous phenomena.

In the book, Harpur systematically examines such phenomena as fairies, UFOs, Men in Black, White Ladies, Black Dogs, lights in the sky, lake monsters, ghosts, mystery cats, kaptars, yowies, Yetis, etc.,   the BVM (blessed Virgin Mary) sightings, and crop circles, among other topics.

His basic premise is that our psyche extends beyond our physical human bodies.  He leans heavily on Jung’s Archetypes of the collective unconscious,  suggesting that visions and apparitions might well be the projection of those unconscious Archetypes.

He calls all these various paranormal phenomena collectively the daimonic reality, and tells us that although this stuff may have some physical reality, such as crop circles, or Yeti footprints or UFO landing traces, it is not literally real.  It is literally metaphor.  He believes that our modern society has no room for the irrational and the incomprehensible, and that instead of fairy folk myths, or origin tales, we are compelled to convert all that anomalous phenomena into scientificism – scientific and technical explanations.  He points out that even physics, with its ever diminishing size of the foundation of matter – molecules, atoms, quarks, down to claimed entities that have never actually been seen, only postulated, the dual nature of some particles as waves/particles, are really simply more daimonic reality covered over by quasi science.

He insists that this side of our nature, our unconsciousness, has been demonized by the Christian church, whereas other older beliefs, such as even the ancient Greeks, had gods in their pantheon of both good and evil, benevolent and mischievous.

He discusses shamanism, quests, and the division of spirit and soul, and says that as we push our daimonic side further and further away, these ‘daimons’ have to resort to more and more effort to get our attention.  Whereas in the past we had fairy rings, we now have crop circles.   Where we before had tales of fairies abducting people and children and leaving a log in the bed in place of them, we now have UFO alien abductions, with the abductees often exhibiting physical scars from the experience.

He calls these kinds of episodes ‘being enchanted’, and says that to understand it all, we need to believe and yet not believe.  We have to straddle both worlds in order to comprehend the unliteralness of the physical appearances.

It all brings to mind Julian Jaynes’ concept of the early not-quite-fully-developed mind as bicameral in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind ,and how he believes early Man heard voices which dictated his daily life, and that Man was not at one time fully conscious in the way we are now.   Harpur’s views of the forteana suggest that possibly the modern mind is not quite so fused as we might wish, and we still have vestiges of that early bicameral mind.

I found Daimonic Reality a brilliantly fascinating read, and while some of it might have been a smidge hard to follow, or to even agree with, or to depart into flights of ridiculous sublimity at the end, it definitely offers food for thought.

 

 

COVER HER FACE by P. D. James

cover her faceThis is the first of the Inspector Detective (or is it Detective Inspector), police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh novels, for which she is probably best known.   She also has another crime series, staring Cordelia Gray, plus several other novels, and a couple of non-fiction works.

In 1991, she was created a life peer as Baroness James of Holland Park.  I love how the British do that — create royalty on the run as it were.

But back to the story.  One of those British country house murders, with the usual suspects:  a bachelor son, a young widowed daughter, the aristocratic mother, the very ailing and bedridden father, the old loyal family retainer, and the deceased, a young single mother newly employed by the family as a maid. It is a locked room mystery, as the young woman was found dead in her bed in her locked room.  The son and another visitor had to fetch (do you love my Britishness there?) a ladder to climb in her window when it was clear something was wrong.

There is the usual cast of secondary characters – a shady young man from a farm nearby, a vicar, the town doctor, an eccentric rich guy, and a home for troubled (and preggers) young women, the spinster director of the home,  the yearly church fête on the grounds of the big house — all the elements which make up a satisfying British detective mystery.

Although Inspector Dalgliesh came to be quite famous on both sides of the Pond, in this book, he barely figures at all, being more overshadowed by his partner, Detective-Sergeant Martin, he of the shorthand note taking role.

So, frankly, not a great book.  Not even a great mystery.  I figured it out fairly early on, and you know I seldom can do that, being the oblivious chick I am.  Well, every at-bat can’t be a home run.

She also wrote Death Comes to Pemberly, which I hated.  OK, that’s two strikes.  One does so love one’s baseball metaphors.

 

 

MAGIC BITES by Ilona Andrews

magic bitesSometimes, in spite of my PollyAnna nature which leans toward running down daisy-filled hillsides in the glorious spring, gentle breezes wafting, puffy clouds floating overhead, the sun warm on the shoulders….. <pop> …. sorry, got carried away there, a girl yearns for something grittier, darker, involving, well, violence and gore.   She yearns for a female lead, a lady warrior, a chick with balls courage and tenacity.

Gotcher damsel-dealing-out-distress rightchere, bunky.  Mz. Andrews has written a series of knock-your-socks-off books starring a female mercenary in a meticulously complete alternate world in Atlanta, Georgia, where the city is in the hands of two warring factions:  necromancers who control the dead (they pilot zombie vampires), and the Pack, a group of shapechangers which are mostly cats of various types with a couple of rodents thrown in for variety.  The Pack is led by a totally gorgeous guy with the strength of ten or twenty or whatever.

Our gal, Kate Daniels, the mercenary, works for whoever pays her, and works part time for the Order, which is a group of knights.   So you know by the name Order and the fact that they have knights that they are the good guys trying to keep order and balance in the city and region.

When her guardian, a knight, is disgustingly murdered, she is hired by the Order to find out on the Q.T. who murdered him.  She gets involved with the Pack, and also with the folks of the necromancers group, the Master of the Dead, both groups having suffered unexplained losses themselves, as they work together in an uneasy collaboration to find the nasty creature/s.

Lots of fight scenes, violence, blood.  But lots of cool stuff too, if you are into the urban noir paranormal genre.  Werewolves (the Pack), drop dead gorgeous guys, vampires, interesting cast of secondary characters, magic, supernatural events, paranormal daily life, humor of a kind.  OK, not the LOL kind of humor, but if you are not taking the whole thing too seriously, the chuckle under your breath kind. Tough lady protagonist, almost mannish, but then, when you are slicing and dicing and decapitating and gutting enemies, just how girly-girl can one be?

So, aside from the mystery, which tends to feel almost incidental to the whole thing, it is clearly unapologetic genre fiction.  I rather liked how we are immersed immediately into the world there in Para-lanta with no scene setting, but are left to find out in bits, pieces, chunks and snippets all about the world and its inhabitants.

There are 13 offerings in the series, including a prequel and a short story or two.   I think I may have satisfied my blood lust with this one.  I mean, just how many zombie vampires can a person take, right?

No, you Philistines, this is not a photo of me.  It is a zombie vampire, just in case you were curious as to what one looked like.

No, you Philistines, this is not a photo of me. It is a zombie vampire, just in case you were curious as to what one looked like.

 

THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN – by Thomas Mann

MountainWritten between 1912 and 1924, this doorstop of a novel by the German author Thomas Mann is considered to be one of the most influential works of 20th century German literature.  It is, among other things, an examination of European bourgeois society, and personal attitudes to life, health, illness, sexuality and mortality.

Doesn’t that sound erudite?  Stole it from Wikipedia.  What the book is, my Darling Readers, is a whole lotta yada yada.

The basic story stars Hans Castorp, a young shipbuilding engineer who travels to the high mountains in Germany to visit his cousin, Joachim, who is at a sanitarium trying to cure his tuberculosis.  Hans  is there for only a few weeks, but has never acclimated to the altitude or the cold climate, and experiences a continual burning of his face.   Right before leaving, he allows the sanitarium doctor to examine him, when they find he, too, has tuberculosis, and recommend he stay a while just to get it cleared up.

The story is set in the period before the First World War, and you will recall that antibiotics were not developed until the late 1920s, so basically the only cure for tuberculosis was a rest cure, usually in the clear, clean air of the mountains.

His stay there becomes a vehicle to meet other patients, a surprising number of which turn out to be philosophically-minded, including the doctors, and the book uses all this to examine all kinds of topics, from illness

Do not, for heaven’s sake, speak to me of the ennobling effects of physical suffering!

A human being who is first of all an invalid is all body;  therein lies his inhumanity.

If she was ill — and that she was, probably incurably, since she had been up here so often and so long — her illness was in good part, if not entirely, a moral one:  as Settembrini had said, neither the ground nor the consequence of her ‘slackness’ but precisely one and the same thing.

And an ongoing look at Time:

All the days are nothing but the same day repeating itself — or rather, since it is always the same day, it is incorrect to speak of repetition; a continuous present, an identity, an everlastingness — such words as these would better convey the idea.

And we have strange discussions of concepts like paradox:

Paradox is the poisonous flower of quietism, the iridescent surface of the rotting mind, the greatest depravity of all!

There are discussions and ruminations on love, on politics, Truth, art and life’s purpose.

Castorp’s departure from the sanatorium is repeatedly delayed by his failing health. He remains in the morbid atmosphere of the sanatorium for seven years. At the conclusion of the novel, the war begins, and he volunteers for the military, and we see his possible, or probable, demise upon the battlefield.

It is  very very long book, and my interest, to be frank, began to wane about halfway through it.  I can take just so much opining through the mouths of literary characters.  You know me — I am all about the story.  So here’s the story:  Hans visits his cousin in a tuberculosis sanitarium, is found to have tuberculosis himself and stays, has a lot of boring conversations to pass the time, imagines himself in love with one of the patients for a while, then she leaves, he continues having boring conversations to pass the time, then after 7 years,  WWI starts, and he leaves the institution to join the military.  The end.

TB_KILLER tb3 tb2

SNAKE AGENT by Liz Williams

Snake AgentWell!  THAT was fun!

Urban cyber punk; noir, alternate reality, sci fi, fantasy, Asian lore, thriller, Christian religious tropes, ghosts, demons, detective mystery, mixed marriages, goddesses.  Yep.  I think I got it all laid out for you.

Detective Inspector Chen Wei, is with the Paranormal Department of the Singapore Three Police.  In a near future world, the cities of China are franchised, and basically crowded and bleak.  Detective Chen works with Hell.  However,

much of Chen’s work was essentially bureaucratic with the occasional murder thrown in, and though Inari [his wife] knew that he conversed with spirits and demons on a daily basis, this was generally done by e-mail or over the phone.

His wife is a demon whom he rescued from Hell.  OK, part demon.  It turns out her father was a human, and she was betrothed to a truly disgusting lower  bureaucrat working for the Ministry of Epidemics.

Detective Chen meets up with Seneschal Zhu Irzh, a vice cop from Hell, with whom he teams up as they search for the spirit of a missing young girl.  At the moment, Zhu Irzh is on special assignment to Hell’s First Lord of Banking, head of the Ministry of Wealth.

There is absolutely wonderful world-building in this book.  We are thoroughly immersed in Singapore Three as Chen, his partner Ma (who is none too happy about the paranormal aspects and is basically afraid of Chen and his magic),  and the demon hunter brought in on special assignment, and then we learn all about Hell and its several environs.  One of the things that makes it Hell is the bureaucracy, which if anything is worse than in the World.  One thing Chen knew was that dealing with Hell was all about power games.  He had been there a number of times on assignment and had documents permitting him access and return.

Chen’s personal mentor is the goddess Kuan Yin, a manifestation of the Buddha.  Chen operates under her protection, and tries to live his life by her guiding precepts.

The plot revolves around the plan of Hell’s Ministry of Epidemics to devise a plague which will produce lots of blood and virgin young women in order for them to make a potion which will permit the residents of Hell access to Heaven.

Snake Agent  is the first of a multiple volume series.  It’s title comes from his decision to adopt a disguise in order to search through Hell for the missing girl.  Being undercover is called being a snake agent by the vice squad.  The author is a British sci fi writer, and her first two books, not part of the Detective Chen series, were nominated for the Philip K. Dick award.

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THE BEACH STREET KNITTING SOCIETY AND YARN CLUB by Gil McNeil

A piece of yarn beach Street Knittingwalks into a bar and orders a beer, but the bartender snarls, “We don’t serve your kind here!”  The yarn is forced to leave.

While sitting on the curb feeling sorry for himself, the yarn is suddenly hit with a brilliant idea. Working quickly, he ties himself into a knot and unravels his ends. Taking a deep breath, the yarn marches back into the bar and orders a beer.

“Hey!” says the bartender. “Ain’t you that piece of yarn I just threw outta here?”

“Nope,” replies the yarn, “I’m a frayed knot.”

Bada bing, bada boom.

This charming novel for the ladies is about knitting, both the yarn kind and the life kind.  You know, knitting your life back together.  Jo Mackenzie gave up her career in media to raise her two young sons, while her husband, one of those investigative reporters who travel all over the world, travels all over the world.  On one home trip, he tells her he wants a divorce.  He has been boffing — I mean — seeing — in the biblical sense — his assistant for over a year.  Bummer!

And to add injury to insult, he is in a terrible car accident after he leaves Jo, in which he is killed.  Well, I guess that is actually adding ‘death to insult’, isn’t it.  Double bummer.  But at least this bummer includes life insurance.

Jo has the opportunity to take over her grandmother’s yarn shop in her seaside home town, so she packs up her two boys, little hellions they are, too, and moves into a old place at the shore and tackles the yarn store.

What I like about these kinds of ‘getting it together’ books is that the getting it together part is always so easy, with everything just falling into place.  Oh so like real life, right?   She has a bestie who is a newscaster on the telly,– sure, we all have a celebrity friend —  and then a famous movie star one day takes refuge from the paparazzi in her shop, gets a yen to knit, and hires our heroine to be her personal knitting coach.  Happens to me all the time.  Celebrities are always coming up to me and hiring me for something.

Snarking aside, it is a nice story about how she makes friends, and how her celebrity friends and acquaintances help out the town in saving the library.

What I especially liked was that the famous designer doing the famous movie star’s house is friendly with her without it becoming a big romantic thing.  I mean, I need a little reality in my unreality.  And she has just awful kids…. two young little boys who are always fighting and squabbling.  Horrid little beasts, but we are not supposed to think of them that way, I am sure.

So the wandering threads of the plot finally knit themselves together in the end.  See what I did there?

You’ll excuse me.  I am going to go read.

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