Category: Books

The Cusanus Game – review

Where do I begin with this book?  The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke is truly a mind bending novel.  That’s a good start as any.

The Cusanus Game follows Domenica Ligrina a recently graduated botanist who is contacted by an institute affiliated with the Vatican to do a little time travel.  The novel takes place in the near future after the world has been devastated by nuclear / bio-hazard fallout and is a near wasteland. We have mutants (the Back pack for example is one the most interesting character creations in this novel).  Continents are shifting drastically and climate change has left most of the earth devoid of plant life (from what I could gather).  The political structure of the Earth is in utter turmoil  and bands of thieves and freedom fighters are a constant scourge on the liberty of people.  However, science is alive and well (and very well funded apparently via the Catholic Church, which now resides in Germany).  Domenica is hired by this institue to travel to the 15th century to gather seeds and plant life that has been eradicated in the present in order to help revitalize the flora of the mid 21st century.  That’s the plot.

Now the tough part is trying to convey what the rest of the 500+ pages are about.

Niolaus Cusanus, a cardinal in the mid 14oo’s created a game (called Ludo Globi, the game of spheres) to parallel his philosophy about relationships with God.  Think of the skee-ball, you have bocce like ball and a “wooden board displaying concentric circles.  the areas enclosed by the circles were marked the numeral 1 to 9 from the outside to inside; the circle in the center bore no number.” (Jeschke, 90)  Like skee-ball you take the ball and toss it into the circles, the difference here is the ball itself is slightly hollowed out making the arch of the ball when thrown indeterminable.  You can never tell where the path of the ball will take it and your aim is not going to be true, as it were.  This is how you relationship with God is, you may aim for the center and want to follow him directly  100% but you may end up hitting a nine.  That’s okay as long as you keep throwing the ball you’ll never stray to far and God is always there in the center waiting for the times you make that perfect throw.  Domenica is fascinated by the life and mathematical / philosophical writings of the man and just happens to be transported to his time and relative place.  I’m not being glib, it works with the geography of the story which was difficult for me to follow not knowing many of the places being written about.

Now the science – I’m gonna try to explain it; it really is a great idea

In this future the most perfect form of Star Treks holo-decks are a reality.  There are also Solitons, waves that while at a constant speed retains it’s shape (hey it’s real physics look it up).  Now, in this future while they don’t fully understand how this works, the scientist have figured out how to utilize it for traveling through time.  Solitons will pass through an area and transport people to the past and then when the wave flows back in can return the person to the present from which they came.  Time, here, is viewed not linear but as pictures laid upon one-another so the Solitons are simply moving from one “plane” to another.  This is where the “holo-deck” comes in.  In order to travel in time safely, one must visually know where they are going; so the scientists create a visual replica of the area and time to which the travelers wish to travel too.  When the travelers arrive they begin to ask detailed questions such as, was there a tree cut down last year, what was there before that house etc.  Think of it this way; if you pictured the house you grew up in 30 years ago, the street, the trees everything and once you traveled there you begin to research what was there 40 or 50 years ago; what color was the house then (if in fact it was even there and if not what was there in its place).  You record the details as precise as possible, then in the present they re-create this in the “holo-deck” and then your able to travel 10 -20 years before what you were able to earlier and you continue to that till you’re in the 1400’s.  Pretty cool idea and it’s discussed in precious scientific detail throughout the entire book.  It’s amazing and exhausting all at the same time.

The Ludo Globi is analogous to time travel.  You can try to aim but you never really know where you going to end up; and there brings us to the paradoxes of time travel.  Can one change the past; yes and no it seems.  Being that time is “planes” of existence than as one changes the past new realities are created.  Furthermore there are fixed points (as Doctor Who calls them) that the universe will make sure stay in place.  That’s where the Octopuses come in.  This was one of the coolest ideas in the book and yet another example of something far more interesting than the other characters we were following.  The Octopus’s are the Splinter Cell, the Seal Team Six as it were of the time travelers.  Assassins that go in and right drastic wrongs (at least the ones they can alter), known as Octopus’s due to their camouflage nano-tech outfits; blending them in perfectly; there actions seemingly done by ghosts. But like many things in a novel with this many ideas, they are too are only given a moment in the spot light.

oh and then there are angels and talking rats.

******************************SPOILERY STUFF**********************SPOILERY STUFF*************************SPOILERY STUFF************************************

Early on we meet Cusanus and he’s told about a trial of witch and her subsequent burning at the stake.  She defended her innocence and wrote Cusanus letters.  Cusanus states he wished he had been able to interview her due to certain information contained in the letters.  Several pages later this entire chapter is repeated, I thought it was a editors mistake, when just a few sentences are changed.  In this repeated chapter the witch has yet to be disposed of and Cusanus makes the decision to go to her.  You know this witch is Domenica, (based on both knowing what the plot of the book is from the book jacket and that she is caught with herbs and Domenica is a botanist) but Domenica has not traveled through time yet so its plot builder at this point.

There are elements from the prologue and moments throughout the book on the political freedom fighters that while were interesting at the time; I don’t think went anywhere.  Well okay they added a thorough history to a plot element of changing the future of a bombing but it felt too much for too little ??

Then there is the ending; The world or even galaxy (if I read it right) is an organism that will right itself as a body creates anti-bodies to protect itself.  Domenica and several other characters are explained to be anti-bodies for the world.  They do not need the holo-decks or Solitons to travel they only need to imagine where they want to go.  These anti-bodies can also take whatever shape they desire hence the talking rat and angel.  There are questions raised of free will; are they simply tossed around by the organism that is the world to fix things or do they make up there own minds (kinda like the ending of Quantum Leap)??

******************************End of Spoilery Stuff******************************End of Spoilery Stuff******************************End of Spoilery Stuff******************************

I loved the scope of this novel, the sheer vastness of ideas.  The science and philosophy that is discussed would have a book club all its own and I loved that.  It’s a book that I would love to discuss with others.  The ideas are certainly ones that need to be read more than once; more than twice even but the novel … once is enough.

Yet the book gets a solid 4 stars because of the endevour alone   jeschke-cusanus-game


aperçu pt. 2 : Some Brief Reviews

These reviews will be briefer than usual being that it has been ages since I’ve read the novels themselves.  So the reviews will be more or less a quick reminiscence of whether I liked the book or not and why.

Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

This book is a crime novel that takes place in my fair city of New York circa 1840’s when the NYC Police dept. was in its earliest incarnation known as the “copper stars”.  The book follows Timothy Wilde a scarred good guy squeezed into the stars by a politico older brother.  Timothy, a reticent copper, becomes the hero of a waif who runs into him covered in blood.  The novel is wonderful.  Faye has an incredible ear for early NY landscape, history and verbiage.  Furthermore, the novel, much like what I loved about Tana French’s first novel In The Woods is not a typical cop chases psycho killer fare, it’s so much more human.  Great book, highly recommend.  And a cool piece of early NY fact : “The spread of flash talk (slang) to the general population would prove to be a permanent shift in the English language.  When you say “so long” to your “pal” in parting, you are participating in a subversive cultural phenomenon dating back to 1530 and the Derbyshire scoundrels who first developed a secret language all their own.  Soo cool.

Everyday by David Levithan

This was another wonderful book I read awhile ago.  “A” is a … soul?  “A” wakes up the body of another 16year old each and every day.  It could be a girl, could be a boy; could be from a loving home, or a drugged out depressed suicidal loner.  “A” has to navigate these people’s lives for 24 hours each day something new.  “A”‘s been doing it for as long as “A” can remember, sometimes it’s easy others. … not so much.  But what happens when “A” falls in love?  How can “A” hope to express love to someone who will never see the same “A”?  Can it be done, if so how and how much will the two teens be effected?  Such a wonderfully written novel, filled with heart I distinctly remember crying several times.

Breed by Chase Novak

This one was weird.  Breed starts off, again in NYC, with a yuppie couple very much in love.  Novak wants you to like this couple, and you do; they clearly are good people (overall) and do in fact love one another.  They also desperately want a child.  They have had no luck, to the point where going out through central park gets them upset seeing all the happy couples with their charges.  Novak makes wonderful satirical and foreshadowing points of how warped out love of children and parenthood can be; such as the cannibalistic phrase “I could just eat him/her up”; how in the world did this become a positive notion?  and he’s right. lol.   Well this couple can stand it no more and spend an inordinate amount of money to go to a specialist who injects them with something .. animalistic.    Time jump ten years, twins; who think … no … know that their parents want to eat them.  I’ll leave you with that.  It’s twisted and there are some missteps along the way.  Overall though, there is a reason Novak is a pen name and why Novak is an award-winning writer.

Argo by Antonio Mendez

By now you should have heard about the new flick Argo directed by Ben Affleck.  Well this is the book that that movie is based.  I can’t wait to see the movie, it has gotten rave reviews.  The book, it was okay.  Historically the book is fascinating, how it all went down what went into the rescue, but even more interesting was the back story of our history with Iran and how we’ve gotten to where we are today.  The problem really for me came down to lack of excitement.  SPOILER : everything went off w/o a hitch, no problems what so ever.  Even the hostages, between bouts of being scared, they were drinking and having a blast.  END OF SPOILER

It’s understood, factually that they were scared for their lives and were facing certain death every hour  but I never got the sense of this.  All in all I think that the book would be a phenomenal tie in to the movie.  See the movie for the excitement of a great director directing a great cast for a great story, read the book for the facts.

Broken Harbor Tana French  next time, I’m tired.

So long pals

you professor

A Brief warning before I begin, there will be slight spoilers in this review.  BUT I will alert you prior to said spoilers.  The only other thing I will say is that I hope what I don’t believe to be spoilery you won’t either.

Do you like alternate history stories?  Do you dig sci-fi?  No?  How about expertly told tales of personal journeys of understanding of life’s complexities and the search for love, albeit long winded ones?
All three are wrapped up in King’s time-traveling adventure to stop the assassination of JFK.

Jake Epping is a high school English teacher who is ever so slightly bored with the day to day reading and correcting of emotionally devoid papers.  The opening chapter has us reading with Jake the first emotionally charged paper Jake has read in a while.  The paper and the story itself and how King presents it is more a hook than the plot itself.  Kings voice in telling the bitter tale of this grown man’s childhood and the reaction of Jake as he reads it, is telling the reader what to expect and what to want out of the characters and the novel itself.  What is important?  To you as the reader, to you as a person living a life you think is boring and dull.  What would you give up to change something, what wouldn’t you?

Jake is called upon by a local burger joint owner who has a “rabbit-hole” in a closet in his diner that leads to Maine in 1958.  But Professor, you interject, the novel is 11/22/1963, you must be mistaken about 1958; that’s 5 years prior.  Why yes it is.  That!  is what makes King so good at what he does.  Jake is shown this “rabbit -hole” by Al’s diner eponymous owner and convinced to live 5 years in the past so he can effectively stop JFK’s assassination.  He can only do this once, because every time you go back through, everything resets.  Save someones life in ’59 come back to 2011 (only 2 minutes pass in this reality) and decide to go back to ’58; reset!  So begins Jake’s experimentation in changing history.  Everything he does once, he has to do a second time (first time round is only practice).

This is where the long-windedness of this novel comes into play.  When Jake ends up living a full 5 years in the past he must make money.  He does this by placing bets on various sporting events thanks to copious notes by Al.  Al has a notebook chock full of important details on this and of course the life and times of both JFK and the infamous Lee Oswald.  King waxes on and on, and on, and on, on how Jake makes his money and every punch in every fight and every cheer for every horse-race and how betting works.  It’s exhausting, to be honest.  This and Jake’s life as a teacher in ’58; putting on plays and living and eating and falling in love…. !  Ah that’s the point, folks.  Live with this character enough to where you are seeing his day to day activities and you almost forget that he is there to stop an assassination that the world is still feeling to this day.  But so does he, and then you can begin to see the formation of what may become more important to a man than his original mission.  And it is this, that makes King a champion at character development and as an ace at the writing game.

King loves to create worlds within our own existing world.  According to the afterward in the novel a good 90 some percent is historically accurate when it comes to the cast involved in JFK’s assassination.  Oswald, his wife and children; their lives and compatriots; Jack Ruby, the known FBI agents and more.  King acknowledges what he changed or added.  He deals with the conspiracies expertly and doesn’t necessarily answer any questions but he leans a certain way and it all works wonderfully.

Now here’s the funny thing; if you are a King reader or just know enough about King you know that many of his novels all interweave with each other.  They do this either simply by being in the same area of Maine, or having characters know each other etc.  In 11/22/63 King does a couple of things like this even to a humorous extent; if you know Christine and It, you’ll get the clues immediately.  This stuff happens no more than in his Dark Tower novels (which just get better every time I read them).  In The DT novels we visit various characters and locals in many of Kings previous works.  There is even Stephen King, who gets in a horrific car accident (King himself was in such an accident)  King writes what he knows, he’s a writer who has used a pen – name so he wrote the Dark Half.  He was a teacher, so Jake Epping is the teacher that King either was or wanted to be; and more.  In Duma Key Kings main character is who has also been in a terrible car accident.  It is not a surprise that this has been a corner stone to Kings immediate life story and he has used many times over.  And 11/22/63 is no different.  This point leads to a spoiler……

***********************Spoilers************Spoilers*********it shouldn’t matter but Spoilers Ahead************

Towards the end of the novel two things happen that I must write about, spoiler or not.  Jake (at this point George Amberson) gets the shit beat out of him by a bookie.  The damage his body sustains and his road to recovery is once again eerily similar to Kings own situation.  So I can only say that King (who had the idea for this novel back in the early ’70’s) wants Jake to be his own Avatar and slay the dragon that was Oswald.

A second thing that is worth mentioning and it’s too bad that is blanketed by a spoiler is how King deals with the future sans the assassination of JFK.  If you are reading this and know about my recent Facebook quandary about Dan Simmon’s Flashback; than you’ll understand what I’m about to write.  If not, in a nutshell; I want to read Dan Simmon’s Flashback because I loved his novel Drood (I mean really freakin’ loved it) and really enjoyed The Terror.  Flashback has an awesome plot but I’m dismayed to find that this novel is a very lightly barely even veiled attempt at what some critics have called a Tea-party manifesto, and that every thing that goes wrong in Simmon’s future is due to something Obama did wrong.  I don’t know if I want to read something that is not so much an alternate history/future but a finger pointing political ranting and raving.  Anyway; King handles an alternate present day with finesse by doing research!  Most of all in the afterward he acknowledges the aid of JFK historians when he asked them “the worst case scenario’s had JFK lived” and what some of his political choices may have been and where they may have lead us.  So the world Jake “George” Epping comes back to in 2011 after saving JFK are all highly educated “worst case scenario’s.  I really like that, Research!  It means something to me.

End of Spoilers ********** End of Spoilers***********end of spoilers ************************************

It was all a dream!!!  No I’m kidding!  All in all 11/22/63 was a really wonderfully written novel that you should take the time and read. King does some wonderful handling of time travel, how the past will try and fix things that you may put wrong and how it may even try and stop you.  He really put “the Butterfly Effect” into high gear.  Think about it, what you try and change about the past; and what if you fell into something that changed your life and someone else’s while you were trying to change that first thing?  What becomes more important and more importantly than that, why?  While you ponder, read 11/22/63; continue to follow your dear ole professor and remember; Dancing is Life (so says the King, the writer not the rock star).

A friend pointed out to me a mistake in my review.  In Duma Key, Kings’ main character was a home builder not an author, the correction has been updated in the above review.  Thank you very much for you attention to detail and bringing it to my attention; Jay Palmer.  Now please go read the rest of my reviews and correct them to your hearts content. 🙂

I read quicker than I can write reviews.  So this blog entry will try to give brief summations of a few of the books I’ve read over the past few months.  They won’t be in great detail, and I’m not going to go in depth concerning plot; but I’ll try to write more than a few sentences for each. 🙂

Let me get the one that will get me the most flack out of the way :

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I disliked this book immensely.  I thought the writing was so sub par that I was shocked every time I read a glowing review.  Maybe I missed something, but for everything that I started to like there was the prose that hindered me from even desiring to read the remaining books in the series.  It’s been a while since I read it now, so it’s hard to give specifics,  but I do remember at no time did I really care what was going to happen.  I really didn’t “buy” the “love interests”.  I did enjoy many of the scenes themselves, the desperation of Katniss in the games and the sense of hunger (which was lacking desperately in the film) and pain.  Everyone argues w/ me saying, “it was written for kids”.  Sorry I’ve read some young adult books that are of a higher reading level some adult books, so don’t give me that; young adults aren’t stupid therefore their books should be written as if they are.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Speaking of young adult novels that don’t suck, Garth Nix (apparently a deity in the realm of Y/A lit) has written was has been deemed by some reviewers (and I agree) as Dune lite.  I really enjoyed this novel, until the end. 😦  The universe is ruled by a race of genetically altered “princes” who are the mouthpieces of an unseen and unknown “Imperial Mind”.  After being chosen based on preliminary biological tests, these princes-to-be are taken away from their parents (whom afterwards are given a choice of death, or memory loss and address change so as not to remember that their child was taken from them).  The princes are then thrown into a Battle -school type scenario in which princes try to kill princes because every x-amount of years a handful are chosen to become Emperor!  What is the Emperor?  What does one have to go through to become an Emperor?  What happens to those not chosen?  Nobody knows, but our hero Khemri is going to find out.  So many neat ideas are thrown into the mix in this novel.  Princes bodies and minds are augmented, they are stronger, smarter than the average human.  They are able to heal, speak to their bodies in physiological fashion.  When Khmeri is put through several test his augmentations are removed, allowing the reader to now better associate with him.  Princes have “priests” that connect them w/ the Imperial Mind and help the princes in their activities; such as the Master of Assasins (again Dune lite).  The first thing you learn (first page those of you who worry about spoilers), is that princes can be ‘re-born” and our hero has died three times; very cool idea and very cool to follow Khemri through those deaths.  Over -all a very fun and interesting book; one that doesn’t shy away from sex as a physical thing aside from as well as an emotional act.  Tons of ideas but some good non-stop thinking – persons action sequences.  The end, however does come on rather quickly and not as paced as the rest of the book.  The end worked it just hit you quicker than expected.  Thoroughly enjoyed this one and will look into Nix’s other series.
And lastly for this installment:

The Devil Colony by James Rollins

I enjoyed the first few Sigma Force novels (*Map of Bones, *Black, Order, *Judas Strain, Last Oracle & the Doomsday Key)[* the ones I dug].  The last three (this one included) were a chore to read.  Rollins has created a high octane updated version of Doc Savages crew (Monk being the honorary epynomous character) [someone correct me on the proper use of that word in that context please :)]  Sigma Force is the science geeks delta force, spies that deal with chemistry and such.  Rollins begins each of his novels with two abstracts; notes from both the historical and scientific records.  This is to give the sense of realism of what is happening in the novels; and that is great, but it is also the bane of fact.  Rollins chooses things that give conspiracy freaks their ammunition, hints of facts that have answers but what is written and given to the readers are superfluous and half-truths.  But CC!  it’s fiction.  Yes it is, and that is why these “facts” should  be reported as such; many writers will give a notation of “facts have been altered, many facts are true but the authors have played w/ them etc).  Rollins does no such thing, however to his credit he does give a plethora of citations and bibliographies so the reader can do their own investigations!  Kudos to that.

Anyway, the latest Sigma Force adventure deals with the the American forefathers and Mormonism and it just gets more and more far fetched as the books go on.  The writing is brisk and unrelenting and is wonderful for the action adventure it is, but it tries so hard to be based in reality that all the ridiculousness pulls me out too much.  It’s mindless action where it’s trying to be thought provoking and the two just don’t mesh for me anymore.



What an absolute joy to read.  Ready Player One is a pop-explosion.  All the things one could love to remember about the 80’s (give or take five years both ways) is in almost every page of this book.  Chock full of references of music, movies and of course video games, Ready Player One catapults readers into an age where nostalgia can save lives.  The last time I read a book with this many references was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, now RPO is no Brief Life but it’s still loads of fun.  While Oscar Wao reference drops needs full on access to sci-fi/fantasy wikis, RPO lets the reader know exactly what is being referenced and that’s okay based upon what the author is setting up.  In RPO, the nostalgia is used as fact based information wheras in Oscar Wao the sly references are used to fully encapsulate the obscurity in which the character is ostracized by and ultimately is consumed by.
Ready Player One makes some light comments about our current situation (globally, financially, politically etc) but is not heavy handed in it’s voice and is ultimately a love letter not only to a generation but of how enjoyable escapism can be but how true life is to be lived more-so.

Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson published in 2011 by Harper Collins

There are tons of gimmicks that authors and film makers use to propel their plots.  In Memento and Shutter Island (two books that Before I go to Sleep are compared too) and even 50 First Dates, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, use the same gimmick; memory, or lack thereof.  The thing about gimmicks is that I feel if your going to use one that the story en masse relies upon to work then the author should make sure the plot line is on solid ground.

Watsons book, in my estimation fails right at the end, the gimmick doesn’t make sense with what happens at the end.  Think of it like this, if in the movie Hangover II the phone that they recorded all the pictures on where they are able to piece together all the mishaps and figure out what happened; imagine that in act II we saw that phone smashed but we see them looking through it in the end.  The gimmick falls apart.  Not a great example but I”m trying to think of something that works without too much of a spoiler alert (for those who care; I don’t care about spoilers).

Now I feel that Watson fails in terms of one of the  gimmicks he has chosen to use, but I must say the story he tells and how he tells it is quite good.

Our heroine Christine has amnesia.  She wakes daily without any memory of the past twenty or so years.  She wakes distraught most days next to a man who must explain to her that he is her husband, they are very much in love and that she was in a terrible accident leaving her with the inability to create new memories.  When she looks in the mirror she expects to see the twenty some year old woman she remembers but is confronted with a late forties image of herself.  She gets a phone call (on a cell phone which she knows nothing about; one of the several interesting pieces written in by Watson being that Christine had this accident in the mid 80’s prior to laptop computers, flat screen tvs and cell phones) from a man claiming to be a doctor who has been helping her, on the sly from her husband Ben, try to regain her memories.  He relates to her that he has told her, and she has complied, to keep a journal.  Christine finds said journal and begins to read about her life, beginning two (or so) weeks ago; in the front page in large letters – DO NOT TRUST BEN!

So here we have two gimmicks at play; memory (amnesia, diary form narration; and I might as well add unreliable narrator to the mix).  Each diary entry is a building block on the previous entry, some questions are answered, other beget other questions; some entries are confabulation (a word you’ll learn about within the book itself).  Here I must respond to some reviews I have read attacking this part of the novel.  Several readers claim that this novel is repetitive and still others claim it is downright predictable and not worth two cents.  I disagree wholeheartedly on those two points.  Yes there is a repetitive quality to the diary entries but isn’t that too be expected?  If your going to make the gimmick work and the main protagonist is one who repeatedly forgets who they are and must read a journal to understand the who, where and why of their situation, recapitulation must occur.  The strength here in Watsons prose is what to repeat and what not to repeat in order to tell a compelling and taught story.  I feel he does a very good job overall.  As far as being “predictable”; good for you, you figured out the ending!  It requires more than two sentences of ones opinion to qualify a books predictability as a negative when balanced against scores of books and movies that cover much of the same plot lines.  We live in a world where more books and movies are released weekly that more come out than we know off.  This is going to mean that scores of books and movies we see and read are going to have many of the same machinations, the more you read or see within a particular genre the more sense you may already have of what is to come.  I feel that Watson’s writing was not predictable but gave clues for the reader and the main character (as she was essentially a reader as well) to figure out what was going on.

The other negative reviews called the book vulgar and containing too much sex and sexuality.  These reviews need to be qualified as well, in my opinion.  A book may have more “F bombs” than you’re comfortable with but that is more the reader than the writer.  And to be honest I didn’t notice that many F words till the end of the book, where the intensity of the action occuring deemed the language relevant and not in the least gratuitous.  In response to  the sexuality of the novel being a negative, I felt that it was handled deftly and so well done that I truly thought that S was a woman and not Steven.  Throughout the novel Christine is mystified at her body as a near fifty year old woman where in her mind she is still in her mid-twenties.  She is galvanized by her confusion of wanting sex, ability to, “right to” deny sex to a man that she is told she loves and loves her.  I feel that the writing from Christine’s POV about her sexuality is once again relevant and dealt with in a non vulgar fashion.  Opinions of this nature should be backed up with more than a sentence or two.

All in all I felt the narrative was well paced , Christine’s angst with her situation was communicated in a tense and intriguing way.  I had some ideas about how it would all end, but that is more to our cultures exposure to vast stories and plots than poor writing.  However due to the fault of one gimmick that in truth kinda does crumble the structure of the story, I recommend either borrowing it or hit the strand for a cheaper edition (maybe wait for paperback).  I will, all that said, read his next book; I enjoyed the ride.

Odd Thomas is the first in a series of now 5 novels, two comics books, a 3 part novella and an upcoming film that details the adventures of the eponymous character.  I read Odd Thomas when it was first published in 2003 and it quickly became one of my favorite novels of Koontz cannon.  Now that a novella in three parts are being published weekly preempting the publication of the 5th novel of the series I decided to reread the series.

Odd, that is his real name, sees dead people; but he does something about it.  This sentence, when I first read it in 2003 bummed me out.  I sat there thinking has my man Dean completely jumped his own shark?  I mean The Sixth Sense had only come out 3 or so years earlier with the first part of that phrase as it’s calling card and pitch.  After reading the book and now reaffirmed with the thought that Dean, like so many other artists saw an idea and said “I can do better with that premise” (again this is a thought, this idea could have been rummaging  in Dean’s mind long before M. Night’s movie became a hit, or he could have just heard the catchphrase and ran with it never having seen the film, I doubt this but what are you gonna do).

Odd is a twenty year old short order cook in a small Cali town.  Only a handful of people know of Odd’s talent of seeing the dead; the town Police Chief and his girlfriend Stormy included.  Among seeing the dead, Odd also see ‘bodachs’, creepy inky shadow like creatures that portend horror and strife on gran scales.  When Odd sees in an inordinate amount of these death-dealing creatures following a creepy man he dubs “fungus man” Odd knows something bad is going to happen, and soon.

With the wonderful characters one can expect with Koontz, the reader is brought alongside Odd (as it’s told in 1st person narrative) throughout his latest adventure (his past is wrought with terror filled experiences).   The tale is told with a light-hearted tone, as Odd is told to keep his narrative light by his friend ‘Little Ozzie” a massive man with six fingers who writes copious volumes of a best-selling series starring a detective who suffers from bulimia .  The tale does get dark and the intensity ratchets up as August 15th (the day whatever is coming is supposed to happen) approaches.

Odd is such a wonderful character, from the first pages you fall in love with him.  When you read the last chapter, you will decide to follow Odd to the ends of the Earth.  Koontz writes Odd with a love that very few authors can truly infuse into strange characters.  Odd is a truly novel character in such that he is almost Pooh bear like; he wants a simple existence and sees the joy in the littlest of things, he brings joy not only to the company he shares in the novel but to the reader.  He doesn’t want to be a hero, but he feels that it’s not a choice.  He just wants to fry (or go into the tire life) and be with his love Stormy (they have matching birthmarks; which just shows that they are destined to be together).

There is definitely the good ole’ Koontz here; the all good vs. the all bad, the quirkiness, the banter and wit.  What is missing is the preaching and the grand standing that I’ve found in later novels.  Here Koontz has yet to fill his books with an anti-science message (it’s there in a few sentences but it’s not soap boxy).  Odd Thomas seems to be, to me anyway, good ole Koontz storytelling, at its honest to goodness fun .. funnest??

I recommend Odd Thomas highly.  I do remember not being as excited with the following novels, but with this rereading maybe I’ll be surprised, who knows?

Nocturnal – Scott Sigler (2012)

During a recent interview on Skeptics Guide to the Universe (a great podcast for science and skepticism geeks) Scott Sigler discussed his new book Nocturnal.  He said that barring “some exceptions” everything in the books is scientifically plausible and extensively  researched.  I just don’t buy that.  I’ve tried reading another of Sigler’s books and didn’t enjoy the first chapter enough to even venture further.  However after hearing this interview and being intrigued by the premise, I bought this new one.  650 pages later; nope didn’t enjoy it and would not recommend it nor will I be reading any more of Siglers books.

Now first things first.  I have to give credit where credit is due.  Scott has written several books, as I understand it the first few self-published and now under the auspices of Borderlands press publishing.  So that’s great for him.  I can’t deny that he has (at least this one) written a 600 page novel which is no small feat. One can tell he enjoys writing, he get’s a kick out of his own characters which is felt via the page and again that’s wonderful.  I just particularly didn’t care much for the style and prose that Sigler chooses to write with/in.

During the interview he makes reference to a team of Phd’s and other fact checkers that he employs that will uncover the science of, say how a man can jump several stories or feet (I don’t remember exactly) and land unharmed.  This and other situations within the book harken to his term of “hard science horror”.  This exact thing happens within the novel and somewhere along the line we’re given the idea that maybe this character has some characteristics of other characters within the book that have hardened muscle tissue and hardened bone structure due to some unknown gene.  That’s where the science begins and ends for the reader.  There is a lot of referring to science and talking about genes and DNA etc. but how it all “really” works within the story to me falls very short of my expectations of a “hard-science” horror novel.

Nocturnal takes place in present day San Fransisco where strange sadistic murders are being committed and the two cops who want the truth are sidelined at every pass; making them wonder are the murders being covered up?  We are also brought along the journey of a young teenager who is bullied and tormented viscous at the hands of a teenaged gang and mother.  Our young victim and one of our cops are having strange dreams that eerily mimic the murders.  Oh and the violent murder involving dreams give both characters hard -ons.

The other half of this “hard-science horror” is a “love letter” to 80’s buddy cop movies.  Now I love Lethal Weapon; its one of my all time fav flicks that isn’t even a guilty pleasure because I can defend it’s qualities as a well made film.  This novel is not of that caliber.  One cop “Pookie” is simply juvenile; every word spoken (written) is either a lame catchphrase, unflinchingly homophobic, degrading to women or other wise sexual.  I understand the want to create banter between your buddy cops but no one talks like Sigler has his cops talk.  No one calls every single person he/she knows by a silly nickname EVERY time they refer to that person.  Reading this was lowering my IQ.  Fiction written and published in Playboy magazine is not this juvenile.

Sigler says (in the SGU interview) that there is a rational explanation to every “crazy” thing that happens.  Unless I missed a bunch of explanations I believe he has misled me.  There are “crazy” things aplenty with no explanation, supernatural or otherwise (zero science for some).  Furthermore, if there is, and I am mistaken that there are “hard-science” rationals for the exploits in the novel, they are not written out in such a way that the reader was explained said science.  I’m not saying that everything must be wrapped up in bows and explained in color by number fashion, I hate that if film and prose; but there were a lot missing numbers in my opinion.

While discussing the dichotomy between his cop characters, Sigler describes one cop, Clauser as a skeptic and atheist and his partner “Pookie” as a devout religious man.  This is written on one page, and for the most part dropped completely.

All in all, the novel is nothing like I was wont to believe from the interview and the novel itself was written in such a way that all I walked away with was that violence gave characters hard-ons, the cops smelt pee because the bad guys marked their kills, hard – science must mean something different in my world and the only witty banter between two cops can consist of anti-women, anti-homosexual jokes that are popular with fifteen year olds.

Sorry but I was not a fan of this book.  To be honest I’m disappointed in Scott Sigler who obviously had some really wonderful  ideas, wrote liked he loved writing, and for the science that was discussed read like it was fully researched, but lowered what could have/ should have been something of intellect to a lowest common denominator hokey young adult boys novel.

I’ve started to group some of my reviews based on topics.  I have my science books (God, I love science), I’m sure to have my groupings of particular authors (McCammon, Koontz, Barker etc.) and now I’m starting my werewolf strata.  I’m sure I’ve said it before but I love werewolves.  Werewolves have always been cooler than vampires or ghosts, even demons and hell spawn rank below my wonderful moon howling beasties when it comes to my supernatural loves.  Robert R. McCammon still has the gold (in my opinion) for best werewolf novel, The Wolf’s Hour (which I keep saying I will review and I will).

Now I know many may be confused; I’m an outspoken atheist who loves science and rational thinking and going to skeptic conferences but give me a good horror novel any day.  My opinions have become a little strange and hard for me to even rationalize as I’ve gotten older and wiser (and more educated) so this review may need to be updated every once in a blue moon when I argue with myself about a piece of it, or if one of my loyal readers (I do have one or two believe it or not) brings up a good point to contest with me.  That all said on to the review, of one of the worst novels I’ve read in years.

Anne Rice has written it.  The Wolf Gift is Rice’s “gift” to the werewolf genre.  Now I cannot deny she rewrote the literature when it came to vampires, Lestat is just as synonymous with vampires as is Dracula, and rightfully so.  I love Lestat and his adventures, movie included.  I can’t say I was enamored with the Mayfair Witches but  Lestat and Co. … downright brilliant stuff.  She is some writer.  She was some writer.

Reading this was like enduring the Star Wars prequels, being such a fan of the universe you had to watch the new ones right?  But as they kept getting worse, and then Lucas started retooling (let’s be honest; fucking with) the old ones, it got harder and harder to bear.

The story takes place in present day San Fransisco and our hero is a young reporter who speaks in a fashion befitting royal snobs in a forgotten era.  Every once in a while Rice tries to support Ruben “the sunshine boy” and the other casts ridiculously overladen vernacular with wisps of something along the lines of their education or background or the fact that Ruben; just has a way of words and that is why he is an amazing reporter ????  yeah, didn’t hold for me either.

So Ruben is writing a piece on this grand estate belonging to a gorgeous woman whose uncle has been missing for decades and the house is being sold.  He wants to buy it and he can, ’cause his family is rich; and he sleeps with the beautiful woman within hours of meeting her.  He muses on whether or not sleeping with her is right or wrong because he has a girlfriend, but he’s sure she’ll understand (he can’t be expected to say no to such a stunning woman right?)  I know I know, I should put my values on the characters I’m reading about, they do what they do and you’re not expected to agree with all they do.  However it was how it was written, we are supposed to be on this young man’s side and we haven’t been with him long enough to understand where he may be coming from to agree with him on this.  Anyway the house is broken into and Ruben and Co. are attacked by a wild animal but Ruben left alive soon to come face to face with changes that make him feel alive.  He has been given the wolf gift.

So Rice begins to give us some elements of present day science and then creates odd deus ex machina (I don’t know what the plural would be) to wave it away.  Our hero / werewolf can smell evil and now we have a wild animal horror creature we can root for.  I shrug my shoulders not really enjoying the book as a whole but it’s a werewolf, what can I expect (they all can’t be the Wolf’s Hour).

Then some really weird shit happens; this werewolf has 100% human cognitive functions in wolf form, he uses a cell phone for christ sake!  He meets a woman in the woods that not only is not afraid of him but beckons him into the house where they fuck!!!  while he is a FUCKING WEREWOLF!!  And he also attends confession while in werewolf form.

I’m reading a book about a man who turns into a wolf and hunts bad guys and I’ve hit a mark where I say this is RIDICULOUS !!!

The book begins an up trajectory when Rice begins to create an anthropological and evolutionary history of the werewolf … genus ??  There are characters that I really liked and wished the book was more about them than Ruben (don’t worry after he cheats on his girlfriend with the second woman, our resident zoopheliac, the girlfriend goes and hoods up with Ruben’s bff and all is good).

Too bad the few good things happened towards the end and not before and instead of the confession and werewolf on human copulation.

This is to be a trilogy and like the Star Wars franchise I will read them even as my eyes bleed.  At least I can always pick up my copy of the Wolf’s Hour (and the subsequent short stories McCammon has written since revolving around my all time fav werewolf).

Paranormality : Why We see what isn’t there by Richard Wiseman

So many of the skeptics that I have met since getting into the movement five or so years ago have a history of being magicians.  Richard Wiseman is among them.  A magician turned experimental Psychologist, Dr. Wiseman has written several books entertainingly demystifying everything from how to change aspects of ones life in under “:59 seconds” to how “Luck” works and now the supernatural.

A great companion piece to this would be Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain; but I digress.

While using science to debunk the many mysteries of supernatural happenings is found in many books, Richard’s book(s) are not only informative but wonderfully accessible and easy to understand mainly due to his humor and direct experience to many of the experiments discuss within.  From the history of the Oujia board (did you know it was a derivative of two sisters playing a trick on a whole town?) to the Forer and Barnum Effects (a well-known psychosocial effect used as a ploy by not only magicians performing a mental-ism act but by charlatans positing that they can tell ones future or talk to the dead).

Once again I’m reviewing a book that takes things that we see in our everyday lives and reveals how and why our brains decipher the information the way it does.  From wanting to believe in something so much that  believing it becomes a reality to your mind, to how your brain truly cannot comprehend the idea of “where” you are if you confound it with visual stimuli (really there is an experiment here where you can actually feel like you’re in two places (or more) with just a mirror); this goes far in explaining “OBE’s”, Out of body experiences.

Not only do I recommend this book, but I highly recommend all Wiseman’s other books.  Try, if he’s in your area to see him live as he is a wonderful performer bringing to life many of his anecdotes.  If you are not available to see him life, fear not he has a website where experiments and really interesting brain teasers are always on display