Categories
Thrillers

Medusa’s Child by John J. Nance (The Shortest Book Post EVER)

It took me all of January but I managed to read one physical book off of my shelves: a beaten up copy of Medusa’s Child by John J. Nance!

P.S. I’m not only sick but I had to speak to my brother, which means I’m pretty well intoxicated too, so this is going to be the shortest book review / book thoughts post EVER

Long story short, a crazy & genius scientist wanted to simultaneously blow up DC and torment his already psychologically abused ex wife. If you want Speed but on an airplane, and with some aviation lingo, Medusa’s Child is great for you.  Nance was a pilot and obviously knows his shit, so there’s that. There’s lots of 90s nostalgia too like AOL chat rooms and I’m sure some outdated military technology.

The fictional president is such a bad ass in this book.

The whole plot takes place on a plane, except the novel also bounces around to Air Force One and a few other people & places in real time, but man he managed to stretch one ticking thermonuclear bomb (a few hours) into a long ass book.  Also the ‘terrorist’ is white so y’all can’t bitch about brown terrorists like, that Falling book that came out recently. Is that the name of it?

Overall:  fast ish pace, good writing. Nance had McKay and McCoy as two main characters. A tad confusing and he droned on with aircraft lingo at times. I can’t really find anything too bad to complain about. It was terse and fun to read, although not great enough that I’m going to read the other Nance that I have, they can.both go in the ‘unhaul’ box.

Who doesn’t love a good beaten up 90s paperback though?

P.s. I have no idea if this ever became a mini series or not (see the cover) if it did, did you see it? How was it?

Bookish quick facts:
  • Title: Medusa’s Child
  • Author: John J. Nance
  • Publisher & Release: St Martin’s Paperbacks, 1997
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ for fans of 90s or aviation thrillers
Here’s the GoodReads synopsis:

In the high-flying tradition of his extraordinary New York Times bestseller Pandora’s Clock, author and aviator John J. Nance launches Medusa’s Child, an explosive new thriller that takes to the skies-and takes you to the height of terror.

Now he brings you to the brink of nuclear catastrophe

At 10,000 feet, Captain Scott McKay gets the nerve-shattering news: aboard his Boeing 727 is a ticking time bomb-and not just any bomb. It’s the Medusa Project, a thermonuclear monster that could wipe out every computer chip on the continent, obliterating any and all traces of modern technology. Now Scott is flying blind, with nowhere to land and nothing to rely on but his own instincts. And one wrong move could ignite a worldwide apocalypse by unleashing…

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (Or, what makes sci-fi go mainstream?)

It seems like everyone and their mother has read Project Hail Mary. Half of the reviews start with “I don’t read sci-fi, but this is really good…” Or some similar thought.  Even the audiobook is rated as one of the highest on Audible.  I’d go as far as to say that this was probably 2021’s most widely consumed sci-fi book out there. It almost won a Hugo. A movie is in the making.

So… What makes something with this much actual science & physics go mainstream? Is it the author’s popularity?  Word of mouth? Will bloggers plug anything slated to be popular? Or, is it actually just *that* good of a book to cross genre popularity? Is it riding The Martian‘s coat tails?

I… Don’t know.  Let’s see the bookish quick facts then I’ll share my thoughts, and then hopefully you all will share yours

Bookish quick facts:
  • Title: Project Hail Mary
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Andy Weir
  • Publisher & Release: Ballantine Books, 2021
  • Length: 496 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ For those interested
Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

My thoughts:

I think I have a complicated relationship with science fiction right now. I normally read at least two per month, but with the SPSFC going and some ARCs that I picked up, I’ve been reading almost exclusively sci-fi and I just feel burned out.

PJM was a good read and had a lot of elements that I tend to love.  There’s a big disaster, plenty of snark, first contact, big problems that need solving, and linguistics issues that sci-fi as a genre is uniquely equipped to handle. All positives.  I genuinely thought he did a great job covering so many issues with real science and making things feel plausible.

Regarding my burn out – the thing is, I literally *just* read a book with space algae and fist bumps. I almost guessed maybe that book ripped this one off but the other came first. It is to be noted that the other book was vastly inferior to PJM, but the fact stands that it’s all feeling a little bit “the same” to me right now.

PJM had a ton of actual science in it too, which isn’t usually what occurs in popular sci-fi novels. I was never good at or a fan of physics despite taking it through a basic college level, and trying to listen to the explanations and experiments on the audiobook just had me tuning out. Bored to tears. It wasn’t overpowering and I hope high school physics teachers everywhere are salivating, but omg I’m not.

 Ray Porter was a good narrator and I don’t feel like I wasted an Audible credit, but I did much better with the actual text. My other issue with the audiobook was that there was practically no space between the past and the present tense sections so it was difficult to follow along and I was missing the transitions.

Overall: as I said, it’s a good story. It’s a good idea and is overall quite funny too. The first contact elements were the absolute favorite for me and I always love a book that tackles a good linguistics problem with a clever solution. The ending was absolutely priceless.

So my question is, can the general non sci-fi reading public tolerate a little hard science in the presence of a good story? Could we hype up more popular sci-fi if we really wanted to and send it mainstream? I’m sure we can, and all those “I don’t read sci-fi but…” readers will hopefully give more of the genre a shot


Thanks for checking out my thoughts & review of the Project Hail Mary book by Andy Weir and audiobook narrated by Ray Porter.  I originally used an Audible credit on the audiobook, then ended up grabbing the book instead. As always, all thoughts are my own ⭐

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Fiction

Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski (thoughts)

“Tiny snail assholes” and the savior’s balls, Bukowski had me at hello

One of the many things I’ve been trying to do over the past few years is expand my reading horizons.  I’ve got a fantastic reading list of international writers, past and present, who are brilliant and not necessarily all well known… and then I also just want to read off my shelves.

I compromised by ending 2022 with Notes of a Dirty Old Man, a collection of newspaper stories by Charles Bukowski. Funny enough it was originally compiled by an erotica loving imprint called Essex House, and is now published by beat generation enthusiasts & San Fran publishing gurus, City Lights Publishing.

Ahh I love all the history there, the web of ties between the publishers and beat generation writers, the crazy lifestyles, just something the average person can’t fathom. Bukowski was never to my knowledge grouped with that lot but he was tied up with the same publishers, knew the authors, and he had opinions 😅

About the collection itself, I found the eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction a little jarring.  I’m spoiled and used to sections and titles in short story collections now, so we know how it’s organized, but this seems like total hodgepodge or possibly chronological by publication date. I‘m not really sure why it was compiled at all (way back in 1969) unless Essex House (who published a lot of erotica) was looking for the vastest spread of sex stories possible.  Now I know that’s a vast  oversimplification but most of the stories are true, or have true elements! Some are pure fantasy (like a guy with wings playing baseball) while many others happened to some extent, and almost all include some kind of graphic sex (I’m not going there to describe it).

A few stories were sad to me, such as a vivid recounting of how years of beatings and other abuse turns someone into a living but kind of mostly dead person.  It’s an extremely personal look at his life. Alcohol, homelessness, bouncing around various places to live and taking menial jobs, abusive relationships that went both ways, these are the real life parts. Probably/hopefully exaggerated a bit but who really knows, people are crazy.

What’s interesting too is just objectively seeing what he chose to write about once he knew the editor gave precisely zero fucks and let him write whatever he wanted! Remember, everything in the book appeared in an underground newspaper.

That said, back to my note about finding the stories sad: most of the collection is pretty funny.  Bukowski said, at one point or another, that he put the comedy into his writing so that people wouldn’t pity him – and the ironic thing is that it attracted quite a few odd admirers, many of which he writes about. Some of the writing went right over my head and I had no idea what he was talking about. Some got a chuckle. Something about tiny snail assholes had me cracking up, like yeah if you eat something whole you’re eating it’s asshole too 🤣

Of the many columns and blurbs here, there is one about a party and the time Bukowski met Neal Cassady. He took a crazy car ride with Neal driving and John Bryan (who published Cassady’s letter to Kerouac in City Lights (and gave Bukowski the platform in his Open City paper to write the segments contained in Notes of a Dirty Old Man).  

P.S. John Bryan and Jesus’ balls, literally.  What a strange and irreverent road to publishing and more than a bit refreshing in today’s PC era to go back and read these old guys writing *what-the-fck-ever*.

I totally sidetracked there. Anyway, in that particular segment about meeting Cassady and his suicide, there’s quite a dig that shows how Bukowski really felt 😅

Screenshot_20221227-222510~2

Jack had only written the book, he wasn’t Neal’s mother, just his destructor, deliberate or otherwise 

Oyy ok let’s get this wrapping up, I’m rambling which means I had a lot of thoughts and didn’t know how to frame them. A little bit less gay bar action would have been nice for me personally but I don’t think anyone delicate or easily offended would read Bukowski past his introduction. I’m not worried about discussing the writing here. It’s irreverent in every sense of the world and the title is aptly named. I actually started listening to this book on audio because Will Patton’s voice is everything, but without actual chapter breaks it was too hard to follow.

Overall, I think Bukowski is an interesting character in American literature and I enjoy his short stories in small doses.  He’s a decent tie in for those interested in the beat generation and those looking for irreverence in everything.  Barfly (the movie he wrote about his life) wasn’t bad, I watched it after reading, but then I read that he didn’t like his actor’s portrayal.  I guess the takeaway is that you can see a lot of the stories in the film too. Anyway, give him a shot if you are checking out American short story writers


P.s. if anyone wants sources for anything I was writing about, I can find them for you for further reading. Most of the nonfiction type info is general knowledge or came vaguely summarized from a publisher’s information, or something else Bukowski wrote

Categories
Literary Fiction Thrillers

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer (Snarky Book Review)

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time you probably have heard me say that by principle, I don’t read books that have a legitimate Goodreads rating of under 3.7 ish.  Rare exceptions are made like when I happen to have time to finally read a Jeff VanderMeer and one is available, and unfortunately I picked his worst rated book by far (3.27).

Guys..don’t be me. Let’s do a quick look at the book first then I’ll share some thoughts


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Hummingbird Salamander
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jeff VanderMeer
  • Publisher & Release: MCD, 2021
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐ I mean no not really but if you are a fan of the author maybe give it a try

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

From the author of Annihilation, a brilliant speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the possible end of all things.

Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.

Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out—for her and possibly for the world

This book tried to be a lot of things. It tried to be dystopian and didn’t succeed.  It tried to be an eco-thriller and missed the mark. It didn’t fall anywhere into science fiction despite a lot of bird and salamander facts that ground the plot action to a halt every time he did a facts chapter.

If anything it’s a bit of a mystery and thriller at times and alternate future.  I felt like he skimmed over pandemics and chaos and the world devolving but nothing got enough attention or traction to stick with me.

The main character was absolutely terrible too. Not only because she was aloof and anonymous and her arc didn’t make a ton of sense, but she had the nerve to call herself a good wife and mother despite the fact that she cheated on her husband multiple times, almost did it again, and left them both to the wolves when she could have used her skills in security to hide and try to protect them.  Mom of the year award, right?

I didn’t even mind all the cryptic language – in fact I liked that. The anonymity and ever progressing loss of identity made sense.  It was the random springing from point A to point F that was terrible, and that the narrator really had no motivation to do anything she did (really, you’re just going to sacrifice your family and life and everything for a random mysterious letter?

When the ending came around, even with the mystery kind of solved and the motivations unveiled, even if the main character had known from the start that was what was happening and why…. Would she have done it? I really don’t know.

Basically the premise sounded really good and, yeah, you know, save the trees don’t trash the Earth and wear a mask, etc etc etc

Onwards and upwards


thanks for checking out my book review of Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer.  This copy was obtained through Libby and as always, all opinions are my own  

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

Death, Rites, Lore, & More: How do various fantasy books look at these things?

I’m not sure I’m readily equipped to handle such a big topic yet but I’ve been preoccupied with death and started thinking about how death, ghosts, remembrance, rites, customs and etc are portrayed in different fantasy books.

I’ve also been taking fan submissions for what to write about this week and a Twitter follower said something like “books and/or quotes that left you breathless.” This was a pretty easy thread to combine so here you go, friend!


I know there are a lot of really unique takes on death throughout the fantasy genre but I wanted to take a look at a few I’ve read recently (think the past few years, or, I remember them vividly enough to comment).

First off, in broad terms, a lot of military fantasy handles death in a light that tends to reflect our modern day thoughts.  Characters can die en masse during conflict, some go out as heroes, others die in accidents or simply senselessly, much as in real life.

I’ve got to mention one passage first that left me absolutely breathless when I read it – from Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson.  One could write three essays on death in Malazan but it’s an embodiment of what I wrote above, everything from hundreds of thousands dieing in one day to an isolated hero, to the last man standing.  Malazan spends a lot of time brooding on death and remembrance, with reincarnation and spirits and many, many related themed explored throughout.

Anyway, here is that passage:

The unnamed soldier is a gift. The named soldier–dead, melted wax–demands a response among the living…a response no-one can make. Names are no comfort, they’re a call to answer the unanswerable. Why did she die, not him? Why do the survivors remain anonymous–as if cursed–while the dead are revered? Why do we cling to what we lose while we ignore what we still hold?

Name none of the fallen, for they stood in our place, and stand there still in each moment of our lives. Let my death hold no glory, and let me die forgotten and unknown. Let it not be said that I was one among the dead to accuse the living.

and a quote from Toll the Hounds:

Survivors do not mourn together. They each mourn alone, even when in the same place. Grief is the most solitary of all feelings. Grief isolates, and every ritual, every gesture, every embrace, is a hopeless effort to break through that isolation.

To face death is to stand alone.

Whether or not you agree, I feel this in my bones.  I’ve thought about these passages more than anything else I’ve read in the last year, I’m sure of it.

So let’s look at how death is handled in some other popular (and not so popular) fantasy.

I know there’s a lot of understandable hatred towards Harry Potter right now but as a kid, it was the first book I read that took an honest look at death and put it in palatable terms for me as a young reader.  The series takes a frank look at how much is lost in war, the cost to community, family loss, orphans, and also gives the reader the idea that family never leaves us. When Harry saw his family in the Mirror of Erised, it planted that seed for honor and remembrance and the ones that never leave us, a scene rehashed at the end of the series.  It also runs the themes of heroes, accidents, senseless  curse rebounds, and that no one is immune to death. My favorite was the story of The Deathly Hallows, embracing the eventuality of meeting death on equal terms.  I also love the idea of Thestrals, the skeletal pegasus that is invisible until someone has viewed death – terrifying but actually very friendly and useful once a respectful relationship has formed.  I could write pages on Thestrals alone.

Another favorite series of mine that I talk about frequently, Green Rider, has choked me up more than once in it’s remembrances of the fallen.  I have never read a book with such a subculture built around death and preservation.  The catacombs are the scene for some of the most moving parts of the entire series and shows that heroes and history can be cherished and revered.  The main character has an affinity for communicating with ghosts (which will break your heart some times) but she also experiences such things as a type of berserker ride fuelled by ghosts, the shenanigans of ghosts wreaking havoc in the archives, and more.  One of my favorite scenes is a remembrance ceremony where they all say the name of a deceased rider. That all said, it’s another fantasy series that kills characters in conflict, lets some go out at heroes, some die cruelly at the hands of enemies, and some are just. So. Senseless.  Which is another reason why I shamelessly label Green Rider as military fantasy.

Moving on to a book which holds a rather alien view of death that stopped me cold when I first read it- Slaughterhouse 5.  Just think about death for a moment and try to expand to a nonlinear frame of reference, then read this passage:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them….

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.

Kurt Vonnegut

A bit mind-blowing, isn’t it?

There are lots of YA fantasy books that focus on death too, like Scythe, where Neil Shusterman looks at death from a pinpoint of random necessity.  It’s not fair, and no one is immune, but a universally accepted construct of the reapers.  Some other recent ones include The Keeper of Night, about Japanese reapers, and Give the Dark My Love, about necromancy and the toll of plague and death on one’s sanity.  Love and souls.

I’d be amiss if I talked about YA/MG books and didn’t mention The Graveyard Book. I love this book because it gives kids the wonderful message to not fear death, to embrace being alive, and to kind of introduce the solitude and isolation that comes with grief.  If the Macabray existed, would you dance with the dead even if you had no memory of the fact?

You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change

This is starting to get long, so I want to end with another of my favorite authors and how he tends to handle death in his books – from a Christian perspective. Jeff Wheeler writes a lot of fantasy with Christian undertones, so you get everything from the funeral rites of Kingfountain to The Deep Fathoms, where the living can visit the dead once a year should the proper channel be opened.  In one series he offers us a land of the dead symbolized by a wall, in another it’s spirits exiting through a portal in the abbey.  I always find his deaths to be terrible but necessary, back to the theme of heroes and wars and accidents.

Very briefly, some indie books with interesting takes – The Last Blade Priest where deaths are sacrificed to these vulture type deities for sustenance and a whole religion (and conflict) is built around the practice.

A Touch of Light by Thiago Abdalla – I don’t honestly remember this one too well already but there was a new and interesting theme regarding not mentioning the dead at all.   It was really convenient for the characters who seemed to be chased by memories of the dead, frequently.


Wrapping this up, I have always been fascinated with how different books handle death.  I’m not even speaking of books where death is a character like, oh I don’t know, Terry Pratchett, but as a theme or subtext or just a book with interesting ideas. 

Do you have a book that deals with these topics that you enjoy or that made you think? Even a quote? Let me know in the comments!

Categories
Science Fiction

A Bonus Classic: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

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Back when I polled you guys for my Fall classic book read, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea came in a near second to Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. There were multiple buddy read offers too.  Seeing as one stood out more than the rest, here I am having read two classics this Fall 😅

If you want to read something more academic on Verne, skip to the end.

Verne needs little introduction as one of the founding fathers of sci-fi.  His series of very sciency travelogue type novels are dubbed The Extraordinary Adventures and I have to say I enjoyed the trip around the world’s seas in Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.  That said, I didn’t realize there were more Nemo novels and I’m curious now.

These are the things I learned while reading, and my general thoughts in no specific order.

20k  was originally published as a serial in 1869-1870.  I’ve got a gorgeous box set edition of Verne’s classic adventure novels and as much as I enjoyed reading this relatively short one, it took me a while because small print slows me down and classic sci-fi books are notoriously small printed!

Like someone on my blog pointed out with Lovecraft and aviation, here with Verne and exploration & travel, classic sci-fi took the science of the time and made it accessible to the general public.  I think Verne really succeeded here because despite all the hard facts and science and navigation, it felt a lot more readable and accessible than some of the classic Sci-fi that I’ve read.  I’m paraphrasing here but apparently, Very wanted people to actually be able to learn about geography, history, biology, and other natural sciences by reading his books and I can see where this would have been wildly popular at the time.

As well as informational, there’s the fictional part: it was interesting to see Verne extrapolating on the uses for submarines when the sub seemed to have been a mere prototype he was shown, and even making plausible electricity undersea when most homes still had (idk, what, gas lamps? I know electric wasn’t a common household utility in the late 1800s.)

I also never realized that Arronax and friends were essentially prisoners! While Nemo was gracious enough to take them on a tour of the world underwater, I guess I didn’t recall the mai plot of the book from my childhood read.  I did enjoy the dialogue and Stockholm syndrome esque worship of Nemo during the professor’s captivity.

Overall – I did like reading this one.  There was plenty of danger and action among the science.  I liked the prose well enough for the 1800s without being bored, but some of this could be the translator. I did read though that this is accepted as a more literal translation than those done by the guy who changed all the names in Journey to the Center of the Earth, for example. (Google that, there’s some interesting literature on various Verne translations).

At the end of the day I think it’s interesting to read these classics and just see where so many modern novels take inspiration from.  I also like how a lot of these classic novels are character studies and spend a bit of time taking a look at the nature of man and applying it to, say, the nature of scientific discovery.

Here are some more random thoughts that may make more sense for people who have read it and want to discuss the book:

  • If I was Nemo, I wouldn’t have shown them how the escape boat worked 🤣
  • Nemo is like Batman or Tony Stark or Elon Musk even – a rich guy doing rich person things.  Iron Man, Batmobile, Space X rocketship – I ask my readers, if you were rich: what stupidly cool thing would you build?
  • I learned a lot about the timeline of electricity becoming mainstream because I got curious and found an article
  • I also learned about ocean currents and such, I assume these are still pretty currently valid observations
  • Underwater libraries and museums sound like a good plan! I did like how studious both Nemo and Arronax were, even if they knew there was a chance of never making outside contact.
  • I wish the editor had left in Nemo’s backstory, the gaping hole where it was cut out is obvious
  • The French really love to write hyper dramatic men.  I thought Nemo felt a lot like Hugo’s villain in Notre Dame, without the back story but equally dramatic. Verne and Hugo did work together so maybe they rubbed off on each other
  • Did anyone else wonder at the Arronax and Conseil relationship? I don’t know how devoted typical manservants were but it felt like a too close for comfort father & son relationship 😅

In closing, if anyone ever wants to Buddy read a classic novel with me, I am always willing. I have a little mini series called Struggling Through the Classics but I didn’t really feel like this one was a struggle at all.   Also I want to mote that this article makes me feel stupid 🤣 but here’s a much more academic look at the novel, Verne, and the foundation of sci-fi on general from the reading buddy!

Categories
Fiction Horror Mysteries Science Fiction

Struggling Through Another Classic: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

You voted and I am delivering! One of my final GrimDarkTober reads is also my last 2022 edition of “Struggling Through the Classics”

Every season, I let you all vote on which classic I will read and then drop some thoughts on it! Earlier in the year I suffered through Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), then it was The Scarlet Letter, and now you all let me off the  hook fairly easily with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde!

Let me ask you all a question first – tell me in the comments, phonetically, how you pronounce Jekyll? Don’t look it up, just tell me how you read it in your head.  I never would have guessed JEE-kill, I was a JECK-ull person, but now I know that everyone says it differently. So, go tell me yours!

I guess what I didn’t remember or realize about this book is that it’s essentially a long short story.  I’d say novella but it’s really, really short.  For a “book” that has multiple full length movies and book retellings, how was it so short!

One thing that you all should never do, is quote me on anything, but since this was written in 1886 I’m pretty sure it came out prior to (or at the same time) that Freud was doing the whole three-parts-of-the-human-psyche thing, which to me makes the *idea* of Jekyll & Hyde pretty interesting.

In reality though, Stevenson managed to make Gothic London boring as hell because the book read like a legal brief.  I enjoyed the first chapter because I liked how he described the characters, and the last chapter because we got all the answers, and in between it just was a bunch of confusing stuffy old doctors and lawyers trying to piece a rather odd mystery together.

Don’t get me wrong, it was blessedly short and not a bad read at all but it seemed like a lot of leadup to a biiiig reveal/info dump that was presented in more or less the form of a legal brief.

Ahem.  Well. Onto the next one after the new year, I’ll put the next poll up sometime in December 🤣

A GoodReads Synopsis:

‘All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil’

Published as a shilling shocker, Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the idea of the split personality. The story of respectable Dr Jekyll’s strange association with damnable young man Edward Hyde; the hunt through fog-bound London for a killer; and the final revelation of Hyde’s true identity is a chilling exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil.

Categories
audiobooks Horror Science Fiction

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (Story Thoughts)

I was wide awake around 3am last night and looking for something to read on my phone that was short and GrimDarkTober appropriate. Hummm.  Not that I don’t have an entire library on my phone, but I started thinking about Poe which eventually led me to At the Mountains of Madness via the Project Gutenberg website. Originally published in three parts in 1936 in Astounding Stories magazine, this is one of the first chronological stories featuring certain Lovecraftian entities.  I guess it’s also in line with my sort of consistent sci-fi on Saturday posts too.

Here’s a little synopsis from GoodReads:

Long acknowledged as a master of nightmarish vision, H.P. Lovecraft established the genuineness and dignity of his own pioneering fiction in 1931 with his quintessential work of supernatural horror, At the Mountains of Madness. The deliberately told and increasingly chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition’s uncanny discoveries –and their encounter with an untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization–is a milestone of macabre literature

Can’t go wrong with a little cosmic horror, right?  Well, this one was a mixed bag for me.  On one hand, I wish the novella had been a 15 page short story (it was somewhere around idk 130 pages)?  On the other hand, the weird parts are SO blessedly weird that it’s oddly endearing.

The things I think are important to know about Lovecraft are that 1) he actually was afraid of the cold and didn’t react to it well, and 2) most of his stories are connected in some way.  At the Mountains of Madness is the first of his stories in which The Old Ones are mentioned, plus he’s talking about the Cult of Cthulhu and The Necronomicon, as well as references to other stories.  I’d maybe like to re read some of the stories in order but man, ugh.

So… Ok.  It’s a great concept.  One disastrous and terrible expedition to Antarctica prompts the survivor to try to dissuade another team from going.  All things considered, the novella managed to put me to sleep because a girl can only take so much geology and archaeology in one story.  It was so slow to get to anything even remotely interesting, which I considered the discovery of the aliens.

Oh, the aliens! They’ve got heads, respiratory systems, tentacles, but they’re obviously vegetables.  They came about 100 million years ago when Antarctica was a jungle (book logic) and obviously couldn’t possibly be a threat.  It was interesting to learn about them (through statues and art because they can draw with tentacles, obviously).  Like I said, blessedly weird. The history of the Elder Ones vs the Shoggoth was probably the high point since to this day, it’s the most bizarre creation story I’ve ever read.  What gives that someone so full of such wild ideas can be such a dull writer?

“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.”

Well…. Yeah obviously they should be left alone, but for the sake of the story not being three pages long, better dissect it immediately 

Towards the end when we are trying to build suspense, what the actual heck was Lovecraft’s fixation on the stupid penguins? I’m trying to learn about bodies and terror and the big bad guy in the cave, not the stupid penguins.  Also a little architecture is always cool but there was so. Much. Architecture.  Yes I get it, there are arches and cartouches (I know what this means now) in quantity, moving on. More book logic was that since they took four hours to walk into the cave, photographing and drawing everything, it would obviously take them even longer to straight backtrack in a hurry……right? Right!? I’m sorry I just can’t with this.

Unfortunately (or fortunately)? the novella would have been only 20 pages long if Lovecraft didn’t describe every angle of the sun and keep the characters pushing forward despite cosmic horror and certain death. Oh hey, the cave is too dark and obviously something tore these men and dogs apart. Nope.  Too short, have to send them forward.

Not going to lie I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t find an audiobook, of which I listened to the last three hours today.  I found a copy narrated by William Roberts by Naxos Audio, which was still honestly boring as hell but it sounded like a radio broadcast and fit the story well.  I would recommend that style in case anyone wants to tune out the truly droll parts.

Overall … I’m like ok, I definitely would stay the hell away from Antarctica if I heard this account.  That was the whole point of the story: the narrator was trying to scare off a future exploration expedition. He did succeed.  I liked it and love weird things, plus certain parts were definitely suspenseful, but it was just too long and repetitive and mostly boring for me to love At the Mountains of Madness.  I’m going with ⭐⭐⭐ but I do think sci-fi and classic fans should read this one!

Categories
Fiction Literary Fiction Science Fiction

Vaguely ‘The October Country’ (or: books with meaning cont.)

I feel like I’m screwing everything up this October and the blog is no exception. A hastily assembled month of guest content, genre diverse reading, and nostalgia related articles has led to my worst two weeks of views ever when I was thinking (and hoping) it would be well received.  I know the loss of Instagram traffic is hurting and change is always hard, but…. sigh, tell me again why I even bother?

Last Saturday I started some rambling thoughts on ways that a book itself potentially enhances it’s own reading experience, such as when it’s borrowed from a friend and some bookish conversation is enabled as a result. Or, in this case, when it was owned by and now a link to a deceased relative.

I’ve always gotten nostalgic reading Bradbury, especially the few remaining books I have from my uncle’s collection. The October Country is a short story anthology of some of Bradbury’s oldest stories, a macabre and fantasy-horror filled assortment of human observation and meditation on loss (among other things).  Not sci-fi. One thing I read about Bradbury recently that irked me was someone hating on the book because it wasn’t sci-fi? Like why? Authors evolve over time and sometimes write outside their classically known genre, although I do blame that on early publishers for marketing some of it as sci-fi when it’s not.

Anyway, I’ve got an old Ballantine sci-fi classics edition (see, to me this is setting the book up for undue scrutiny) of The October Country that’s falling apart at the binding.  I’m almost afraid to read it any more but also felt like thumbing through a few stories was suitable for my mood this October, as I tend to do anyway each autumn.  I don’t actually know what my mood is but it’s manifesting as smelling the book and imagining that I can still detect pipe smoke.  It’s having a minor melt down because I dropped and broke one of the last plates I had from his set, I’m supposed to be taking care of them right? It’s feeling one more page detach even though I’m barely cracking the spine and just feeling like I’m destroying everything.  

Anyway, to make this bookish, another way to connect to the physical reading experience is to know who else has owned and loved a book. As evidenced by a beaten to hell paperback that probably belongs in a dust sleeve for preservation but I don’t really think that’s what anyone would have wanted, so I continue to read a few stories every year.

I’ve only read the first few this time around and found myself enjoying and connecting with, not for the first time, the prose contained in “The Next In Line”.  With the frantic wife and the speed of her thoughts.  The evaporating warmth that keeps things (Bradbury uses the clay analogy) from moulding anew.

I’m not scared of skulls and bones…If a child was raised and didn’t know he had a skeleton in him, he wouldn’t think anything of bones, would he? … In order for a thing to be horrible it has to suffer a change you can recognize


If anyone is still following for GrimDarkTober content, I’ve got a guest review coming from Brandy at The Review Booth tomorrow, a review for Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde coming probably Monday, then a slew of guest content including a surprise interview 💀

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction Horror

Wizard & Glass by Stephen King (or, why I can’t finish a series)

Ever notice that I tend to get about three or four books into a series and then quit? The fact is that in between ARCs I never had time to read these giant, door stopping books, and once they got above 8-900 pages I was just about out of luck …

Well, this book was one of these clonkers. It took me two weeks to get through it even listening on partial audio (28 hours total 😭) so it’s kind of easy to see where a reader with deadlines gets to these longer books and comes to a screeching halt.

Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, the great Mark Lawrence wrote (see GoodReads) that you are either a Roland (and hate Wizard & Glass because no progress is made) or an Oy (you love everything about the journey despite it being a giant flashback).

For once I am glad that I’m taking the time to be an Oy, and this is a more than appropriate kickoff to GrimDarkTober.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wizard & Glass
  • Series: The Dark Tower #4
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Grant, 1997
  • Length: 704 original hardcover (my PB around 930 pages) 
  • Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ I’m team “enjoy the journey”

Here’s the synopsis:

Roland the Gunslinger, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake survive Blaine the Mono’s final crash, only to find themselves stranded in an alternate version of Topeka, Kansas, that has been ravaged by the superflu virus. While following the deserted I-70 toward a distant glass palace, Roland recounts his tragic story about a seaside town called Hambry, where he fell in love with a girl named Susan Delgado, and where he and his old tet-mates Alain and Cuthbert battled the forces of John Farson, the harrier who—with a little help from a seeing sphere called Maerlyn’s Grapefruit—ignited Mid-World’s final war

So this book started out where The Wastelands left off, in an epic riddling contest between Eddie and Blaine the Mono. Was I belly laughing at the dead baby jokes? 

Um…. Maybe? I had a cathartic laughing experience at the baby and the SuperFlu one, I have such tied up feelings about pandemics and it’s not usually who I am but I think I just needed to laugh at something particularly horrible.  Some inner turmoil definitely released there, so thank you Mr King.

Anyway, Eddie is probably turning into one of my favorite book characters of all time, even if our main characters essentially drop off the page once Roland starts his story.

It’s creepy, dark, witchy, mystical, had me absolutely cringing at some especially gory parts, and was everything I’ve come to expect from King at this point.  I wanted Roland and Cuthbert and Alain to succeed. It was painful to watch youth and inexperience war against the more hardened players as they uncovered the true goings on in Hambry.

Not going to lie, I’m all for Roland and Susan too.  I was actually pretty broken up about how that all ended.  P.S. none of this is spoilery, it’s all alluded to in prior books.

Character wise – really quick – yes I liked the boys and their personalities. It was nice to finally “meet” them. Rhea the witch is probably the creepiest witch I’ve read in a LONG time, and more than once I had to put it down and go think non-gorey thoughts for a bit.  Sheemie was the real hero in the pages for sure.

One thing that struck me was the level of anticipatory grief that I was having for certain character deaths that actually never occured. They have to happen at some point but not all happened here and for that I was glad, because it was hard enough to read what was already there.

I do wish that King hadn’t essentially gone all Wizard of Oz at the end. It was just weird, and felt a lot weirder than the whole Charlie the Train thing he had going on before.  I won’t hold the ending against the rest of the book but it did put a weird taste in my mouth after such a disturbingly wonderful journey.

Quick note on what I heard from Frank Muller when I was listening – he’s a great narrator and added a LOT to the story, made my skin crawl reading Rhea’s parts!

Long story short: I’m an Oy. I appreciated the journey and am excited to keep reading forward.  When will I have time for the next book, even longer at 931 pages? I hope next month! 


The Dark Tower series so far:

1. The Gunslinger

2. The Drawing of the Three 

3. The Waste Lands