Sunday, May 8, 2016

BROKEN HALO, by Rheanon Nicole: My Review

This is a novel that should be read by anyone who loves the paranormal and a good, supernatural romance. A daring novel for its themes and structure, this book has it all: ghosts, a Gypsy curse, a werewolf, a vampire, Angel/Human interaction, Unseen Visitors in the night, voices from Beyond, tragedy and heartache, and a strong heroine in the story’s main character, Adelay. A solid story, engaging and well-written, with a solid cast of supporting characters. It has a truth and beauty all its own. There is also a power and complexity in this highly intelligent story that I found totally captivating. This novel was carefully crafted and well plotted. Author Rheanon Nicole does a splendid job of creating a world of shadows, a world that will welcome you with open arms and spin you around. And I must make mention of the striking black and white cover designed by Dan Feldmeier, who confirms what I’ve always believed: a well-done cover in black and white can be a stand-out on any bookshelf.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Walter Rhein's RECKLESS TRAVELER.

Reckless Traveler is a wonderful book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to travel, to all of us armchair travelers, and to everyone who likes to read a great story. Walter Rhein took off one day from the Wisconsin badlands and spent nearly a decade living, traveling and working in Lima, Peru, and traveling throughout the country. A couple of years ago he chose to write of his adventures . . . but in the form of a novel. So what we get here is no dry travelogue, but a real story featuring the people he encountered and worked with, the young students to whom he taught English, the friends who visited him and the many friends he made, such as Kyle, another American teacher with whom he played basketball; Roberto Carcelen, a cross-country skier who became Peru's first winter Olympiad; and Bronze Medalist Martin Koukal, from the Czech Republic. Then there's Luz Marie, his Spanish teacher with a quiet humor and gentle nature; plus such friends as Julia, Annika and Marisol. These are all people anyone would be happy and fortunate enough to know. 
        For all the trials and tribulations he had to endure during his travels and years in Peru, the story Walter tells is very lovely, and I came away feeling good after reading his book, getting a sense of the soul-expanding and mind-enlightening experience he had being an ex-patriot for a while. Oh, there are a few hairy moments where he encountered some unsavory-looking soldiers armed with AK-47s, a rough bout with blisters on his feet, a battle with kidney stones, and the ordeal of coping with the interesting medical and pharmaceutical practices of Peru, as well as the frustrations of acquiring anti-malaria medications, faulty internet cafes, and the BS one has to put up with when dealing with the bureaucracy of another country. Walter made me smile with fond remembrance when he talks about living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and made me sad when an old friend from the United States who spent his leave from the military with him, and later died serving his country. 
Walter Rhein's prose, his style in telling his story is spot on, and he tempts us with his words to visit Lima . . . making at least this reader envy him his courage and daring for just taking off for another country, another continent, another world. He description of Machu Pichu alone is worth the price of admission, and it is pure poetry. 

After finishing Reckless Traveler I came away with a gift Walter gave me: he showed me that people are pretty much the same all over the world. The people of Lima come across as being more than willing to embrace strangers and visitors, welcoming them and making them feel at home. There is a certain magic to this book that has stayed with me nearly two weeks now since finishing it. Walter's grand adventure left me feeling good inside, and except for the fact that hiking up and down mountains is not my thing, he made me fall in love with Peru and its people. PBS should pick this book up, read it, and send Walter back to Lima, to do a travelogue for us staycationers. 

Once again, this is a lovely book that I think everyone will enjoy. 

http://www.amazon.com/Reckless-Traveler-Walter-Rhein/dp/0991465482/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461357686&sr=1-1&keywords=reckless+traveler

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Andrew Paul Weston's HELL BOUND: My Review

           HELL BOUND, by Andrew Paul Weston, published by Perseid Press. 464 pages. Copyright © 2015 by Janet Morris and Andrew P. Weston. Cover art and cover design by Roy Mauritsen. Cover design copyright © Perseid Press.

            Hell Bound is the latest novel by Andrew Paul Weston, best-selling author of The Guardian Series, The Cambion Journals, and The IX. Hell Bound is also the latest novel in the shared-world universe, the Heroes in Hell series, created by author/publisher Janet Morris.


 The main character in Hell Bound is Daemon Grim, Satan’s bounty hunter, also known as the Reaper. Not only does he hunt down any damned soul in Hell who gets on the wrong side of His Satanic Majesty, he has the power to visit our world and harvest those who belong in Hell, souls Satan wants in Hell now. Grim can travel between Earth and Hell using a special sickle or scythe that can open portals between the two realms. This scythe also possesses a powerful weapon called God Grace’s, which gives Grim the ability to utterly destroy souls. Since there’s no death in Hell as we know it, (the Damned are already dead) there is instead Reassignment, a twisted version of resurrection handled by an unsavory character known only as the Undertaker. However, there is Oblivion — total obliteration into non-existence. Grim’s weapon gives him the power to send souls howling into eternal nothingness.

The plot concerns Grim’s mission to track down Doctor Thomas Neill Cream, the English physician who in real life was the brilliant and infamous Lambeth Poisoner. Cream has been stealing long-hidden relics and angelic weapons from the Time of the Sundering, when Satan and his followers were cast out of Heaven. All history and knowledge of the Sundering is banned in Hell, but Cream may have illegal access to Satan’s bureaucratic network. Thus he and his crew of cohorts, including Frederick Chopin, have been able to steal these ancient artifacts, one by one. Cream is clever and manages to stay one step ahead of Grim, always avoiding capture and Reassignment. Cream is playing a cat and mouse game with Grim, leaving clues in place of each stolen artifact — clues written in the form of poetic riddles, which Cream must unravel. The first of these clues included a piece of carbonized bone from a Heavenly angel who was destroyed in the original battle of the Sundering. How did Cream get his hands on that? What are his plans? What is his ultimate goal?
 
 This is the mystery Grim must solve in order for him to bring Cream to justice (or “injustice,” as it’s called in Hell), and we aren’t privy to what’s going on until he unravels each clue and each riddle. We know only what Grim knows.
 
So Grim gathers his Hell Hounds and they set out to nail Cream. Among his Hell Hounds is Nimrod, one-time ancient King of Shinar, who’s almost as deadly in battle as Grim himself. Then there’s Grim’s female assistants, especially his l'amour de sa vie, the Inquisitor Strawberry Fields, a/k/a Red Riding Hood. Grim also encounters Nikola Tesla, from whom who he gets a “multi-phasic portal generator.” Although it’s glitch-free, it was designed to function only twice before self-destructing. Anyone using it is invisible to surveillance, which aids Grim in his search for Doctor Cream. Just envisage where you wish to go and — shazam, you’re there! There are gizmos and gadgets galore in Hell Bound, all adding to the fun of this novel. One of these is the Scroll of Divergent Union, which is an “acoustic seraphim incantation” that causes the veil drop between all the realms of Heaven, Hell, and Earth. At one point, Grim visits the Sphincter, a top-secret storage facility where artifacts from the Time of Sundering are housed — and where Cream has somehow managed to get past all the high-tech security. But how did he manage to do that? Using one of Tesla’s many inventions?

 Weston has not only expanded the scope of the Heroes in Hell series, he has introduced new themes and concepts, and new characters. He creates a fresh vision of Hell and presents to us a seedy underworld uniquely his own. Grim lives in Olde London Town, a macabre mockery of our earthly London. Rather than make up strange-sounding, nearly unpronounceable names, and because Hell is a twisted echo of Earth, Weston (as do all those who write for Heroes in Hell) comes up with names and titles that bear a warped familiarity to places and things we know. For example: Paris is Perish, Seine River is River Inseine, Drury Lane is Dreary Lane, Piccadilly Circus is Icepiccadilly, Westminster in Westmonster, and so on.

 That’s all part of the fun, part of the gallows humor that is inherent in Hell.

 Everything on Earth has its infernal counterpart in Hell.

Things in Hell often relate to things on Earth. Hell is Earth’s wicked and perverted mirror’s image. Not only do we go through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole when entering Hell, we also enter another, diabolical dimension where not only pain and torment and suffering rule, there’s also a grand touch of irony to everything that happens in the underworlds. Hell mimics Earth is a fiendish way, and if you think things can get messed up on Earth . . . just wait. Hell may give you what you want and what you need, but these things are never quite what you asked for. Hell is not what you’d expected, so always expect the unexpected. Hell gives and Hell takes away, and in Hell the Damned get just what they deserve.
 
 Hell Bound is an epic and fast-paced adventure. Part Gothic, 19th century-style mystery, part sword and sorcery, and part horror with elements of science fiction. This is a grand tour of Hell. It’s a manhunt throughout “Infernity,” brought to life by Weston’s literary style and prose that often reach poetic levels of grace. But the heart of the story is Daemon Grim, a character who works for Satan, a character who is supposed to be evil and villainous, but often comes across as heroic and valiant. Walking that fine line is part of Weston’s talent.

 Grim has his own code of ethics and morals to which he clings tenaciously.

 Grim is an enigma.

 Grim is one soul you don’t want to cross swords with. You can’t reason with him or tempt him. He feels no pity, sorrow or remorse. And yet, he has a wicked sense of humor, very good manners, never lies, and he values truth, honesty and loyalty. These make him a paradox, and part of the mystery. We’re never told exactly who or what he is — or was. Fallen angel? Demon? Human? A Heavenly angel, who has been captured, corrupted and enslaved by Satan? Perhaps he is the Grim Reaper — Death himself? But not even Grim knows: he can’t remember anything before his awakening in Hell . . . and that final revelation will no doubt eventually play out in future novels. As powerful, ruthless and deadly as he is, Grim is also very much a human character, with flaws and virtues — yes, even in Hell, the Damned can have virtues. This is part of the fun and part of the puzzle of Hell Bound and why I enjoyed it so much. Daemon Grim carried the story on his shoulders and kept me reading to the last page. What’s more, you need not be familiar with any other books in the Heroes in Hell series in order to enjoy Hell Bound . . . but it will add to enjoyment if you are.
 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

THE HAUNTED EARTH, by Dean R. Koontz

THE HAUNTED EARTH, by Dean R. Koontz. This edition: Lancer Books, 1973.
Copyright © 1973 by Dean R. Koontz. 192 pages. 95 cents.

Last time out, I did a “look back” review of Koontz’s early 1970’s science-fiction murder mystery, A Werewolf Among Us. This time around, I’m looking at another of the genre mysteries he wrote early in his career, The Haunted Earth. I enjoyed it when I first read it in 1973, and I enjoyed it again, 42 years later. For those of you who are familiar with Clifford D. Simak’s Out of Their Minds and The Goblin Reservation, as well as the works of Ron Goulart, most notably his The Chameleon Corps, Koontz’s The Haunted Earth has much in common with those: wild imagination, fast-paced narrative, interesting characters, and plenty of humor.
 
The premise is this: in the “future” year of 2000, Earth is visited by a race of Lovecraft-inspired, benevolent aliens called the Maseni. Not only were we introduced to these tentacle-wearing ETs, they brought with them their supernatural brothers. Furthermore, the Maseni showed us how to “release from bondage” our own mythological and supernatural entities. Thus, Mankind now shares the Earth with vampires, werewolves, minotaurs, dryads, trolls, etcetera, etcetera. All our myths, beliefs, legends and fairytales are real, and because Mankind created them, they look, sound and behave in accordance to our beliefs. To quote one Maseni character: “As you know, the supernatural is at the mercy of human creation, just as humanity is at the mercy of the spirits’ creation. It is a closed circle. God created us, yet we created God, sort of like your riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Get the picture? I’m sure you do.

The United Nations even drafted rules and regulations and contracts for all of us to abide by, so we could live in peace and harmony. Not all of the supernatural creatures are happy about their new freedom, however. Even a vampire is apt to resent the interference when he’s stopped in mid-bite by the precise wording of the Kolchak-Bliss Decision, which was handed down by the United Nations. We learn just about everything we know about this future world, and this U.N Decision in the opening scene.

We first meet the main character, Jessie Black, a Private Eye hired by the husband of Renee Cuyler to spy on one Count Slavek, a vampire. Slavek is in the act of seducing Cuyler’s wife Renee, a most willing victim, when Blake interrupts him. The Count can’t bite her until he reads her rights to her, and she fully understands and agrees to what lies in store for her. Blake’s timely interruption (or untimely interruption, depending on your point of view) ticks off Slavek, making him Blake’s enemy, and the vampire will play a role later on in the story.

 Jessie’s partner is Brutus, a Hell Hound who was once a very infamous man, who assisted in the murder of a Roman emperor and gave a very famous speech. Yes, that Brutus. Blake has another partner, a gal Friday who’s also his lover . . . the buxom Helena. Koontz does not beat us over the head with it, but he does let us know that Helena has a thing for Brutus, as well; there’s also ménage a trois going on with this crime-solving trio. Hot stuff for a 21 year-old reader (at the time) with tender sensibilities!

Here’s a little backstory on Jessie Blake. (Could he perhaps the “inspiration” for Laurel K. Hamilton’s own supernatural investigator, Anita Blake? Just musing out loud.) Blake was bored with life and the same old, routine cases. But when the Maseni came to Earth with their supernatural brethren and then introduced us to our own supernatural kinfolk, his life did a 360 and became more interesting, dealing with human/supernatural, human/alien, and human/alien/supernatural affairs involving everything from robbery and blackmail, to kidnapping and murder. Life was good again and Blake was one happy gumshoe.

 The plot begins when a Maseni named Galiotor Fils hires Blake to investigate the mysterious, “of natural causes” death of his brood-mate, or brother, Galiotor Tesserat. (There will be no spoilers here regarding what really happened to Tesserat.) But I will tell you this: the Maseni and their supernatural brothers are peace-loving beings and entities. They live by a code of non-violence. So, when a new species of supernatural appears on the Maseni homeworld, a creature which does not fit into their mythology or the mythologies of any of the races they’ve come into contact with, the ectoplasm hits the fan. This new creature of the supernatural has killed Maseni flesh and blood citizens. On top of that, it has also dissipated the ethereal essence of a number of Maseni supernatural beings. The Maseni, their supernatural brethren, and even the earth-born supernatural entities want the secret of this new creature kept quiet.

Thus, the intrepid Jessie Blake, Brutus the Hell Hound and the sexy Miss Helena agree to investigate these murders, and they’re quickly shuttled off to the Maseni homeworld.

 The Haunted Earth is a quick and fun read, filled with plenty of action, some very imaginative creatures, plenty of wisecracks and gallows humor, and a plot that keeps twisting and turning. Not only are we treated to a mad, mad, mad, mad future Earth, and get to visit the Maseni homeworld, we are taken into the bowels of both human, Maseni and the supernatural underworld, where we meet a cast of shady and unsavory characters. Koontz’s prose is lean, clean and mean: he doesn’t waste words. He creates an interesting mash-up of fantasy, science fiction, and film noir style of pulp fiction. There are also a few wonderful touches that I thoroughly enjoyed, such as the Netherphone, which is used to call the supernatural world — and it’s a rotary dial phone, to boot! There is a great scene where God is interviewed on the Pritchard Robot Show. Not only is this hilarious and insightful, the interview makes perfect sense — at least to me it did.

 Like I said, The Haunted Earth is a fun novel: short, sweet and sticks to the point of its story. I have no idea whether or not a second edition was ever published, but you can no doubt find a copy of this edition at used book stores, and I do know that it’s available from Amazon. If you haven’t read it, give it a shot. I think you’ll enjoy it.

*This retro-review originally appeared in Black Gate e-Magazine, 12/8/2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015

COFFIN FOR AN OUTLAW, by Thomas McNulty

Reading one of Thomas McNulty's westerns is always a huge treat for me. Coffin for an Outlaw is the fourth one I've read and reviewed, the others being Trail of the Burned Man, Wind Rider, and Showdown at Snakebite Creek -- all published by Robert Hale of London, under the Black Horse Western banner. These are lovely, hardcover volumes with the title, author's name, and illustration printed right on the hard cover: no dust jacket whatsoever. At roughly 150 pages or so each, they read like 90-minute or 2 hour movies. And indeed, each of McNulty's westerns would make excellent western motion pictures. Directors like John Ford, William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Budd Boetticher, Burt Kennedy, John Sturges . . . any of these greats could have made these into wonderful films. Are you listening, Clint Eastwood?

Now, in Coffin for an Outlaw, we meet Chance Sonnet -- a former Texas Ranger turned bounty hunter. He's a good man who lost his wife and son to fever, a man consumed by grief and pain. He's also a fast gun who is believed to be dead, but who had changed his name and settled down to lead the quiet life of a carpenter. But when a young woman whom he has come to think of as a daughter kills herself, he's forced to strap on his guns again and take action. Sonnet has learned that a man named Eric Cabot is somehow responsible for the young girl's suicide, and Sonnet is a man who believes in accountability. Sonnet doesn't give a hoot in hell that Cabot comes from a wealthy and powerful family, or that his father is a state senator. Sonnet wants Cabot to account for his part in the girl's suicide, and so he sets out for Dodge City . . . with a coffin for the outlaw, Eric Cabot.


Word spreads that Sonnet is alive and well, and after him. So he does the only thing he can do: he hires a gang of killers to go after Sonnet. Along the way a struggling reporter, Jenny Connolly, hears the story of Sonnet and the coffin destined for Eric Cabot, and she takes off in pursuit of what she knows will be a great story. Another character who hears of Sonnet's quest is Captain William S. Walsh, a retired Texas Ranger who was one of Sonnet's closest friends, back in the day. Walsh arms himself, saddles up, kisses his wife goodbye, and sets out to find Sonnet and make certain that he doesn't "cross the line between justice and vengeance."

Besides Sonnet, Jenny, Walsh, Cabot, and a host of gunmen on Sonnet's trail, there's a would-be gunslinger named Toby Grapewin. Toby is a naïve and almost hapless young man who's seeking to earn some quick money and make a name for himself when he signs on the Cabot payroll. Along with several other gunmen, they attack Sonnet, who is not an easy man to kill. Sonnet wounds Toby during a shoot-out, but rather than leave him to die, he saves the boy, and the relationship that builds into a friendship between them is a nice touch, perfectly illustrating what kind of man Sonnet is: decent and caring, but with a strong sense of justice and again, accountability. When Jenny and Walsh finally join up with Sonnet, old friendships are renewed and a new relationship is born. And then the sparks of gunfire begin to fly and clouds of gunsmoke fill the air as Eric Cabot and his men close in on Sonnet and his friends. Will killing Cabot assuage Sonnet's pain and grief? That's the heart of this action-packed and character-driven novel? How and why Cabot is responsible for that girl's suicide is something we don't learn until late in the story, and I'm not giving that away here. And the ending was something I did not see coming, for among all the twists and turns of plot and character, that was the most surprising.


Once again Thomas McNulty has show us that he is a master of the western genre. His prose is as crisp and clear as mountain air: you can smell the sagebrush, taste the sparkling waters of a mountain stream, hear the creak of saddle leather, feel the heat of the western sun and the cold of a night spent in the woods. There is plenty of action, gunfights and fistfights, and dialogue that rings true and genuine for the genre . . . dialogue that moves the story forward and reveals character, the way great dialogue should. The novel is nicely-paced, too, and there is a sense of old-school sensibility, a comfortable familiarity of setting and theme that plays out in a well-constructed plot that is pure McNulty . . . uniquely his own style. I certainly will be reading more of his westerns. 

http://www.amazon.com/Coffin-Outlaw-Thomas-McNulty/dp/0719816475/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448808378&sr=1-1&keywords=coffin+for+an+outlaw





Friday, October 16, 2015

A look back at Dean R. Koontz's A WEREWOLF AMONG US



A WEREWOLF AMONG US, by Dean R. Koontz. Ballantine Books, original paperback edition. Copyright © 1973 by Dean R. Koontz. Cover art by Bob Blanchard. 211 pages. $1.25 USD.

            DID THE BUTLER DO IT? — by Joe Bonadonna.

 Wow — check out that price! Hard to believe, isn’t it?

I can’t recall exactly how I discovered this enjoyable mash-up of two very different genres. I was probably hanging out in one of the many bookstores that were, in those days, like Starbuck’s: one on almost every other street corner. We had the big chain stores like Kroch’s & Brentano’s, and Walden’s (later Waldenbooks) here in Chicago, of course, among smaller, local chains like Barbara’s Bookstore (still around), and then later we had The Stars My Destination and The Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Shop, two of the best book stores I’ve ever patronized. Crown Books came along in 1977, founded by Robert Haft, and then Barnes & Noble emerged, followed by the rise and fall of Border’s Books and Music, plus a chain called Books-A-Million, which I haven’t seen around in a long time. There were also scores of “Mom and Pop” operations, selling both new and used books, and you could go into any Sears-Roebuck, Marshall Field’s, Montgomery Ward, Woolworth’s, Post-Office News, drug store, and candy store and find books of all kinds. In the early 1970s I worked across the street from a small but very eclectic book store called Brainfood, and I’d spend my 30-minute lunch break (often extended beyond that time), browsing and shopping.

 It was the best of times. Period.

 Then along came the internet and Amazon.

 Nowadays, sadly, Barnes & Noble seems to offer more coffee, food, music, videos, toys, games, and gift “ideas” than books. And Half-Price Books, at least the two near me, are always far more crowded then Barnes & Noble, and they’ve raised their prices. I’m expecting them to change their name to Almost Full-Price Books any day now — and they certainly don’t give you much for your old books. You’re better off giving donating or giving them away. I did read an article a while back about how indie book stores, specialty book stores, were on the rise, like Rickert and Beagle Books in Pittsburgh, owned by Kim Rickert and Peter S. Beagle. Yes, that Peter S. Beagle. They even carried and sold some of my books for a while.

 Anyway, what’s this all have to do with Dean R. Koontz’s A Werewolf Among Us, you ask? Well, I just wanted to set the stage for younger readers, for those who missed the halcyon days when brick-and-mortar book stores were cornerstones of almost every neighborhood and shopping area. And that’s how I discovered so many books — by hanging out in as many of those stores as I could, the same way I hung around in record stores, pool halls, and tattoo parlors. So it was probably in one of these many book stores that I discovered A Werewolf Amongst Us. But it wasn’t the cover that caught my eye (it’s one of my least favorite book covers), but the title and the back-cover blurb that sold me. I can’t even remember if this was the first book by Koontz I ever read or not. But in those days, before he became a household name and an industry unto himself, he wrote science fiction and horror. So I decided to give Werewolf a reread and see how well it holds up, and I’m happy to say that it was worth visiting again.

 The main character is Baker St. Cyr (I smile at the connection to Sherlock Holmes), a cyber-detective who wears a vest-like bio-computer that helps him in his investigations and offers some psych- and dream-analysis to the troubled St. Cyr, who suffers from recurring nightmares. According to the bio-computer, St. Cyr is suffering from paranoia and fears that the symbiote is really a parasite, feeding off him, controlling his thoughts and emotions; at times it does seem that the bio-computer is a drug to which the detective is addicted. The interplay between man and computer is often interesting and amusing, for the machine acts like his conscience, his overseer, and the second half of his personality. I should point out here that the bio-computer is plugged into St. Cyr’s chest the way a guitar cord is plugged into an amplifier — male jack into female jack, and he supplies the female jack, interestingly enough — and the thus the bio-unit communicates with him telepathically.

 The plot takes on and challenges Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics,” although the late Doctor is not given mention in the book. As for the story, it takes place on Darma, a serene resort planet for the ultra-rich, where the wealthy Alderbans, a classic family of dysfunctional, self-centered elitists who more often than not behave more like automatons than people, are plagued by a series of grisly murders. There is also an indigenous race of humanoids living on the planet, who seem to have been shoved aside by interplanetary colonialism, vaguely echoing the plight of Native-Americans, although Koontz doesn’t make this a big issue in the novel or even delve deeper into this clash of species: it doesn’t seem like the take-over of the planet by humans was a very bloody affair, however.

 The Alderbans are an insular lot, and their entire existence seems to be run by Teddy, their Master Unit Robot: a highly intelligent mechanical man that’s a cross between a butler, major domo, and guardian of the estate. Each member of the family has undergone hypno-keying — a process that helps guide them, find their true talent and lead them to it. All of them, except for Alicia, the family matriarch, underwent this process as children, and as a result they all act a bit odd and distant, and somewhat trapped in their own little world bubbles. Alicia underwent the process as an adult, and now she drinks a lot. One daughter, Tina, is a little more normal than the others. She’s a Bohemian-type of character, very much a modern woman of her time, and she and St. Cyr eventually take more than a liking to one another. She’s against his wearing that bio-computer, and happily for all, helps him to break the habit and not be so reliant on the thing.

 At first, the murders are attributed to a wolf, for a wolf hair was found at the scene of one crime. But St. Cyr discovers that all the indigenous wolves, a very vicious and dangerous breed had been totally eradicated once the colonization of Darma had begun. There is, I must add, the native superstition of du-aga-klava — the werewolf. St. Cyr is taken to a Darmanian Gypsy woman named Norya, who offers some enlightenment and insight to this legend; she is a telepathic projectionist who can make you see her memories, and St. Cyr learns that her late brother, so she and her people believe, was a werewolf. This all leads to further speculation about the possible existence of a disease that mimics lycanthropy, a disease once spread before Planetary Authority ordered the wolves to be hunted to extinction.

 There are plenty of the usual suspects to go around in this short, fast-paced novel, both among and outside the Alderban family. Besides mother Alicia and daughter Tina, there is the father, Jubal, who comes across as a bit weak and helpless; Dane, the brother and novelist who totally believes in the legend of the du-aga-klava; and Herschel, Jubal’s wild, elemental brother who seems to have stepped right out of the pages of Wuthering Heights. Other suspects include a guy named Walter Dannery who was fired from the family business for embezzling and ended up serving some hard time. Then there’s Salardi, a roboticist with some ties to the Alderban family and is now allegedly wanted for some crime he committed in the Inner Galaxy.

 Koontz sets up everything quite nicely, and he manages with a sure hand to merge the genres of science fiction and mystery, a mash-up I have enjoyed and still do since I first read Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. While depth of character is often a bit thin at times, each character does come across as real and believable, and it was easy for me to get sucked back into the give-and-take relationship between Tina Alderban and Baker St. Cyr. I think Koontz wrote a decent mystery here, and whether or not he fools you, whether or not you can discover who or what the murderer is all depends on your own powers of deduction. At any rate, it was fun to revisit this novel, a very nostalgic reread, and I enjoyed it the second time around. I don’t think Koontz ever wrote anything else starring Baker St. Cyr, and if he didn’t, that’s too bad. He might have had a nice little series going with this one. But you have to remember, this was 1973, and still some years away from the market-driven glut of endless sequels and franchises.

 What I found interesting were little asides that Koontz tossed off, like how most major corporations had their own industrial police forces and even armies. And those corporations with a million or more employees often have their own set of laws. All very “Haliburton,” I thought. And of course, the fun is in the looking back, at the conventions of the day, what was “in vogue” back in 1973, and what came to pass when the future landed on us. Of course, there’s no mention of DNA, no internet, no cell phones or personal computers, and no Facebook in this futuristic novel. There are, however, still tape decks, waterbeds, and telephones with lines that can be cut.

 Next time out, I’ll revisit Koontz’s wild ride of fantasy, sci-fi and the supernatural: The Haunted Earth. Until then . . . keep reading!

*This article originally appeared in Black Gate e-Magazine, October 14, 2015.

 


Sunday, October 4, 2015

ANOTHER CLASSIC OF SCIENCE FICTION RETURNS

This is a novel that changed the game for women characters in science fiction, and the women who write science fiction. A daring novel for its time that still
retains that same sort of power, it is a complex and highly intelligent read about one women's quest in the far future to find her father and her own identity, to find her destiny and make a difference in her world, to be a catalyst for change. Herein Janet Morris deals with issues of women's equality to men, their sexuality, the power of it, and how, in the simplest of terms, beauty, brains and sex can make a combination as potent as any nuclear blast. If memory serves, I think this novel was first promoted as a new breed of Sword and Planet, and later it was labeled Sword and Romance. What it is at its core is speculative fiction, futurist fiction that takes a serious, hard look at the universe surrounding it, and the main character of Estri and her place in it. She is an aristocrat who becomes and outcast, then a slave, then a ruler. Like all of Morris' books, there is a lot to think about in High Couch of Silistra -- questions of philosophy, sociology, sexuality, and governmental rule. Action and adventure? There is plenty of that. But this book was also carefully devised and structured, well plotted and deeply thought out. This is not a book for kids or for readers looking for a simple, pulp-action space adventure. The issues are real, the characters are real, and you will either find yourself agreeing with the politics and point of view; themes and questions will provoke careful consideration in the reader, and the story will make you think. Is the sexual content explicit or not? I don't think so, but you be the judge of that. I think Morris has handled the violence and sexuality was just the right touch, as she always manages to do. This book was ahead of its time upon its first publication, and while we have caught up to certain aspects of this novel, society still has a long way to go, and much of what passes for science fiction these days is still lagging far behind this novel. In my opinion, it has not aged at all and holds up even better than I had expected, a fitting tribute to a writer who books never grow old or outdated.

http://www.amazon.com/High-Couch-Silistra-Quartet-Book-ebook/dp/B014RGHCG2/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1443977499&sr=1-1&keywords=the+high+couch+of+silistra