Sunday, February 28, 2016

Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen MeanyA Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is hard to fly in the face of popular culture when reviewing a much-beloved novel. Such is the case with John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. Indeed Irving had much to say, it would appear, when he wrote Owen Meany.

The novel examines morality both personal and state, religion and faith (in this case Christianity), and the concept of fate or precognition.

Released more than a decade after the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, Irving criticized loudly and clearly his government's actions in the novel. In fact, so loud was Irving's condemnation it very nearly became the undoing of the story. There are interminable pages of statistics enumerating the escalation of troops committed and troops returned as bodies, over and over again, so that all action and tension is suspended so the reader can wallow in Irving's almost Oliver Stone-like docutainment.

There are those who would defend Irving's grim and calculated reportage, stating the moral bankruptcy of the US government's involvement in the Vietnam War was a cornerstone premise of the novel. That is true. But certainly Irving's point could have been made with a less heavy hand. There is no nuance. There are only interminable statistics.

Human morality is handled in an equally obvious manner, employing what amounts to almost Dickensian caricatures, and thus Irving's message is rendered less sympathetic.

Irving's examination of Christian religion and faith is no less heavy-handed. It is, in fact, quite burlesque, from the fiasco of a Christmas pageant through to Meany's own fevered belief his life, and indeed his ending, is preordained, inescapable.

Marry all of these shortcomings to a writing style devoid of any memorable insight or beauty, and the whole epic, for this reader, fell very short of what it could have been.

That is not to say A Prayer for Owen Meany is not a novel you should avoid. Quite the contrary. It should be read. What Irving has to say is worth your effort and attention. Just don't expect to necessarily enjoy the journey.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

The artist in a society of entitlement

Consider this: If you were to work for seven years only to discover not only was your income so far below the poverty line as to be non-existent, but worse, people had been seeking out, using, and enjoying your work without paying you for it -- would you be disgruntled, perhaps peeved, perhaps even angry? Would their love and praise of your work diminish in its importance under the weight of knowing those secret customers stole your work? When the cost of your work is not much more than the price of a cup of coffee and yet still people thieve, would that drive you to seek justice, only to find there is no justice to be had?

Would you even stop working in order to prevent further theft?

Could you?

This is a problem every writer, and indeed creator of intellectual and visual content faces every day because of the power and all-encompassing nature of the Internet.

Recently I did one of my usual searches for my own writing on the Internet. And, as usual, pirate sites popped up featuring my books. I was about to prepare to fire off my usual notices to the site owners of copyright infringement, when I noticed discussion boards in which people quite freely seek out guidance from other members where they might be able to download a free copy of a book they wish to read. A free copy. Openly and unabashedly asking people where they could steal a copy of my work.

My first thought was: do these people not know about libraries?

And then my second thought was: that would be too much trouble. Because in this society of instant gratification and entitlement why should you not be able to enjoy someone's work, use their wares, because you want to, because everything should belong to everyone, quite outside of the fact you're too damned greedy to offer even the price of a cup of a coffee to the maker of the pleasure you'll receive over the next 36 hours. And of course it's perfectly acceptable to discuss stealing that person's work in public because it's your right to enjoy that work. After all, it's not really harming anyone. Not really.

Because the fact a person has worked in isolation for seven years, researching, writing, revising, paying for the professional services of an editor, revising, reworking, waking up at three of the blessed morning to realize everything you've written for the past two weeks is shite and you have to start again, and then when finally you've bashed that story into something about which you can feel a modicum of pride you then go through all those endless public appearances for signings, wrangling with social media to get your name out there, putting in all those mind-numbing hours in order to meet the needs of marketing and fans and all the business of business when you know very well every hour spent away from your desk is another hour you're not getting the next book into shape -- none of that matters. Apparently. You're not worth the price of a cup of coffee.

Would you, as a consumer, with your privileged, entitled, inflated sense of self-worth then take that ego one step further? You like that particular coat, and because you do you take it off the rack at the store, carefully remove the theft-prevention tag, and then walk out the door wearing the coat.

Oh, you'd like to have that bottle of pinot grigot with dinner tonight, and after all you're not really hurting anyone by taking it home, it's a big company making pots of money, so in a way you're really being a Robin Hood of sorts. Sure you are. You, smug in your living room without a thought for the vintner who laboured for twenty years to bring that small vineyard into production, risking everything so you could pound back some decent plonk.

Ah, well while we're at it, you really would like to drive that new car, so you jack your way into it and enjoy not having to take the public transit to buy groceries, go to work, all that hassle of every day life.

But then what happens when your boss thinks the same way you do? What happens when she steals your hours of labour with nary a pay cheque in sight? Different story, right? You march yourself to the first legal aid (because you don't want to have to pay for a lawyer) and you sue that bastard's ass because you've been robbed! You haven't been paid!

Still enjoying that ripped off read?

Yeah, and sure I'm glad you like my writing. But if you do, don't be such a cheap bastard and at least buy me the price of that cup of coffee.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Three overdue reviews of historical fiction

I've been a bit swamped with work at Five Rivers Publishing, as well as squeezing in time for my own writing, so am overdue writing reviews of three novels I recently read. Quite different in their subject matter and writing styles, all historical fiction, my reviews follow.

A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #1)A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first in a beloved and popular series by Ellis Peters. This is excellent historical fiction, well-written with a wry sense of humour and impeccable period detail seamlessly written into the narrative.

A Morbid Taste for Bones sets the tone for the series, in this case Brother Cadfael's intelligent and deft hand unravelling the deception of a fellow monk, and the obsessive machinations of another, all the while bringing justice to the Welsh village his order have all but invaded.

A great read for any age. Timeless. Memorable.

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The Physician (Cole Family Trilogy, #1)The Physician by Noah Gordon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is no secret I adore historical fiction. It is also no secret I become impatient with historical fiction which isn't particularly well-researched and riddled with modern intrusions and perspectives.

Unfortunately, such is the case with Noah Gordon's first book in his Cole Family Trilogy.

The story follows a young man's need to find gainful employment in medieval England, a search which lands him with a charlatan medic who operates an itinerant snake oil show. There is something of the paranormal in Gordon's story, an ability the protagonist develops whereby he is able to feel the health of imminent death of a patient.

When his employer dies, he takes it upon himself to travel to Persia, disguised as a Jew, in order to study with a physician purported to be the best in the world.

While a consumable read, for this reader the story just didn't hang together, primarily because there were so many plausibility questions, outright material culture errors, and stereotyped gender and cultural points.

Altogether disappointing, and not enough interest to want to continue with the series. Your mileage may vary.

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Imperial WomanImperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It isn't often I give up on a novel. Generally it's my policy to finish a book whether I'm enjoying the journey or not, because often I'm surprised in the last moments, finding the author has brought all the elements of the story together in a brilliant finish.

Such is not the case with Imperial Woman, by Pearl S. Buck.

Buck presents what should be a fascinating story about the last, and most famous, empress of China, Tzu Hsi. Instead Buck has taken the easy route and presented what is very nearly a Harlequin romance, instead of a tightly written novel rife with the subtleties and intrigues of the Imperial Court. There were moments I asked myself how many times we were going to be told about the beauty and grace of the Empress.

When Buck does present historical facts, it ends up being a dry, drawn-out narrative heavy on the expository and devoid of deep character point of view or input.

The result is a novel which feels interminable, plodding between longings of the heart and retention of power.

I am sure many readers would take issue with my assessment. That is the joy of debate and variety. But for me, this is a novel which falls into an epic fail category.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Dreams of the Moon now published in the Deluge anthology

Very pleased to announce my short story, Dreams of the Moon, has been published in a fascinating collection of speculative fiction, Deluge: Stories of Survival and Tragedy in the Great Flood. 

17 authors share their alternative visions of one of history's most popular legends - The Great Flood. These stories re-envision the great flood from a speculative fiction perspective, introducing new characters struggling for survival against the worst natural disaster to ever plague mankind. Not only will you meet introductory characters, but you'll see weird creatures rising up from the deep, challenging these characters in ways that a divine God can't.

My story chronicles the actions of the Angel of Death, Sariel, after the fall of Eden, perhaps a departure from the Great Flood theme, but included by the editor, Allen Taylor, nonetheless.

The collection includes stories from: Alex S. Johnson (Author), AmyBeth Inverness (Author), John Vicary (Author), JD DeHart (Author), Lorina Stephens (Author), E.S. Wynn (Author), Carl Conrad (Author), Anne Carly Abad (Author), Frank Sawielijew (Author), Allen Taylor (Editor)

Deluge releases November 30, 2015 in digital format through Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. The print edition is forthcoming. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Strangers Among Us anthology

Received notification from the good people at Laksamedia regarding the forthcoming release of the anthology, Strangers Among Us, in which my short story, The Intersection, appears.

Very pleased to be sharing the table of contents of this worthy offering of speculative fiction with a remarkable cast of writers, and chuffed to my toes to have my name appear with dear friend and colleague, Robert Runte.

The anthology will be available in print and digital formats as of August 8, 2016, and launches at When Words Collide this August 12-14.

The table of contents:

Foreword:  Lucas K. Law 
Introduction: Julie E. Czerneda 
The Culling: Kelley Armstrong 
Dallas's Booth:  Suzanne Church 
What Harm: Amanda Sun 
How Objects Behave on the Edge of a Black Hole:  A.C. Wise 
Washing Lady's Hair: Ursula Pflug 
The Weeds and The Wildness: Tyler Keevil 
Living in Oz: Bev Geddes 
I Count The Lights: Edward Willett 
The Dog and The Sleepwalker: James Alan Gardner 
Carnivores: Rich Larson 
Tribes: A.M. Dellamonica 
Troubles: Sherry Peters 
Frog Song: Erika Holt 
Wrath of Gaia: Mahtab Narsimhan 
Songbun: Derwin Mak 
What You See (When the Lights Are Out):  Gemma Files 
The Age of Miracles:  Robert Runté 
Marion's War: Hayden Trenholm 
The Intersection: Lorina Stephens 
Afterword:  Susan Forest 
About the Contributors 
About the Editors 
Copyright Acknowledgements 
Appendix: Mental Health Resources

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Occupational Hazards eligible for Prix Aurora

My short story, Occupational Hazards, which was published in Neo-Opsis Magazine, Issue 25, May 2015, is eligible to be nominated for the Prix Aurora Award.

All you have to do is navigate to the Prix Aurora page here:  and navigate to the Short Fiction category, fill in the form and voila you're done.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Truth and Bright Water, by Thomas King

Truth and Bright WaterTruth and Bright Water by Thomas King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas King is that rare writer capable of not only telling a compelling, interesting story, but of seamlessly marrying that to literary devices which, like a painter who understands the medium, is capable of allowing the transfer of light off and through opaque and transparent pigments, creating depth where before there was only two dimensions.

Truth and Bright Water is a story of restoration, reparation, relocation of both the body and the spirit. It follows the lives of a two young boys, and an artist who restores paintings. And it is so much more than that.

In weaving together the narratives of these people, King creates a remarkable, sustained metaphor wherein a church is restored by the artist, returning it to the land by painting it to blend into the landscape around it, yet the church's interior, like a Tardis, remains, in this case the habitation and, if you will, the spirit of the artist who has taken an edifice of misery to the First Nations and made it part of his own self. It is a brilliant bit of writing.

Highly recommended.

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