The Perpetual To Read Pile (As it never ends, not because I'm Perp!)

Randy M.

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Maybe it’s the extra space to flesh things out, maybe it was here that Rowling started finding her feet as a writer, maybe it was that the story was just so much stronger, perhaps she had started to really cut loose and build towards her endgame or it could just be that familiarity is starting to creep in, and spending time with Potter and Co induces a warm and fuzzy feeling.
I think part of what you're seeing is a sort of maturing: I believe Rowling deliberately wrote for an aging audience, her initial readers gaining a year or more between books, she wrote with them in mind. Which makes for a terrific series to share with your kids, reading one a year, say, so the kids grow up with Harry and crew.

And yes, Harry can be trying at times -- there's a later book in which my wife wanted to slap sense into him -- but at least some of his behavior will be consistent with becoming a teen as well as with the pressure inherit in his circumstances.

Enjoy.


Randy M.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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It’s amazing what a bit of time can do when you reread a book. For me, four of the first five necroscope books are superb. They are let down by the second which I seemed to recall as being weak, almost as though Brian Lumley decided to write a sequel but did not really know where to go. What he ended up with was a bit of tenuous storytelling in an attempt to reignite what had happened before and instead failed..

Upon rereading the same novel 20 years later I was pleasantly surprised. Vamphiri! (Wamphiri! In the UK), is still the weakest of the original books, but it has a lot more going for it than I recalled, which made it a much more engrossing and enjoyable book. I still feel that Lumley was a little surprised at the positive reaction to the first book and did not really know where to go with the sequel, but some of the story works well, and his writing is more than enough to keep the reader engaged. It is something that needs to be said – Lumley is not a normal horror writer, he is something more than that, although this book is the most straightforward out and out horror novels of the first sequence.

The central character of the first book, Harry Keogh, the titular Necroscope is pretty much hamstrung, having had his physical form destroyed in the previous novel. Now he exists linked to his baby son who is slowly subsuming him, giving Harry freedom only when the child sleeps. Harry’s role is therefore very reduced, becoming little more than a device to talk to the dead and hear their stories. (This is not a bad thing). With this in mind there is not really a central character, rather a run of strong characters and three main storylines that all tie into one another as the story continues.

We as readers are reintroduced to EBranch, now run by Alex Kyle who was the gentleman who received the story of the first book by Keogh, he and his team are drawn into an investigation concerning a young man living in Torquay, Yulian Bodescu. Part of Ebranch team up with their Russian counterparts to try and discover the origins of Bodescu, while others begin to investigate him.
The best parts of the book are without a doubt Harry’s chats with the two dead vampires Thibor and Faethor Ferenczy. The detail and thought that Lumley has put into the creation of these monsters is excellent, and giving us a part of the story set in a historical context adds to it. It also enables the reader to see just what is different to his vampires and the rest of the stuff on the market. Yes many of the popular vampire novels clearly show that the undead can be monsters, but Lumley digs the screws in and turns a couple of times, his are monstrous.

Yuian Bodescu is the character around which most revolves, it is his slow transformation from human to vampire that attracts the attention of Ebranch, that triggers Harry’s need to talk to the ancient vampires in order to discover just how Bodescu came about, to learn their weaknesses. It is what enables Ebranch and their Russian counterparts realise that co-operation is needed in order to destroy a bigger threat than their own petty rivalries.

There is the feel, though, that a lot of the main story is retrofitting in order to create the sequel – the creation of Bodescu happens during the events in the first book, although it was never mentioned, although it is told well, it feels forced as though Lumley needed someway to bring a vampire back.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is the climax (there is another action packed setpiece that works so much better). Having removed Harry from the physical world in the first book, Lumley seems to have realised that he has hamstrung himself slighty. Although the way he solves the problem makes sense into the context of the story, it feels contrived and too convenient, while the full conclusion is very much a rehash of the first novel, with the headquarters of the Russian Ebranch facing the wrath of the Necrcope.

In all, a lot better than I remembered, but showing signs that the writer might have been stretching his ideas a little too far.

Fortunately this would be proved wrong in what was to come.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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There is the old adage about not judging a book by the cover, and this is one of those novels where I did just that. I am not one for reading the blurb on the back, feeling that it sometimes can give away something of the story I am about to read. So I settled down to read Heart Blade expecting it to be something totally different to what it was, for some reason, but this was not a bad thing, because I probably enjoyed it more because of it.

In some ways the story is reminiscent of the set up for a YA novel, the main cast are all young, supplemented with a few ‘adult’ characters – I use the inverted commas, because adult does not begin to do them justice, some of them are centuries old. Del is a teenage girl, Ash is a teenage boy, coming from opposing factions, impossible to be together but have that attraction anyway, parents never going to approve...

But the author manages, as all the good ones do, to put her own spin on the common tropes and to invest the characters with enough of their own personalities to make it work and work well.

Del is a half-demon, Ash an Angel Blood, both feel constricted by the rules that govern their society and Del particularly wants out. She resents being turned from human to demon, and all that means, including the loss of her memories. She has reached the point of her transformation where she must cement her place as a member of the pack run by one of the most powerful demons in the area, Raven. To do this she must take a life, and not wanting to do so puts her on the run.

There is a third character, Rose. She is being protected by a neutral group, who want only to keep her safe. She is, however, considered to be the recipient of the Heart Blade, a near mythical weapon that can bring (in simple terms) good or evil. And everyone wants her and are willing to play dirty to get her.

It sets up a three pronged story, with a few other interesting characters added to the mix, as the majority of characters are after Rose, while one or two are trying to track down Del.

The story is told deftly, and with some perfect set pieces that keep the adrenaline flowing nicely for the reader. It is not over the top action, allowing for some interesting characters, their development and some interesting world building.

Points of interest include the supernatural elements are not all equal; some seem to be dying out, while despite the laws and agreements in place some are more than willing to twist the rules to the edge of breaking to get what they want. This leads to a level of feuding, animosity and half paid grudges, all that add fire to the flames.

One of the most important ideas, are the soul blades – weapons that are used mostly by the demons, forged from their discarded mortal souls and drawn from their hearts rather than a sheath.

There are some lovely twists and turns throughout, with a couple of really big ‘wrongfooters’ that do what they are meant to do, are logical and not just for shock. The fact that I got annoyed with the characters is another sure sign the Mills is telling a story that works, if you did not care for, or hate characters then there would be something wrong.

Finally, the book finishes with a twist that is so delicious that it makes it all the more special, and as with all good twists it is so logical in hindsight that you want to say that you always saw it coming.

But you didn’t.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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The Priest Kings of Gor is the third book in John Norman’s long running series, and it shows all the creativity of the first two books, if not more so, but and it is a big BUT, there are signs of some of the issues that would blight the later books starting to appear.

So, the good. Our hero, Tarl Cabot has decided to make his way to the Sardar mountains, home of the gods of Gor, The Priest Kings. The reason for his visit? To challenge the supposed deities over their destruction of his home city, Ko-Ra-Ba, and the scattering of its people to all corners of the globe, unable to come together again. This includes his father Matthew (like Cabot, originally from Earth), and his wife/free companion Talena.

The big problem he faces is that anyone who dares to enter the mountains never comes out again.
The Priest-Kings as a species are a marvellous creation. Norman has obviously put a lot of thought and effort into their genesis, and although they do have qualities that must be considered human, they are one of the more ‘alien’ alien races around.

Highly advanced with science so far beyond our own that it appears impossible, they have improved their genetics to make themselves impossibly long lived; they have a society that is different to our own, governed by their background, appearing as something akin to giant insects, they are strong, huge and powerful; communicate by scent, are almost fussy to the point of paranoia when it comes to cleanliness and keep an army of lesser beings (humans) to look after their needs.

Norman does not stint in his creativity, the Priest-Kings can communicate with the humans, but there are certain concepts that they cannot grasp, and the same is true in the opposite direction. It is like there is a common ground between the species, but there are always going to be areas that do not make sense.

There is also clever tricks employed, the author giving us discourses on the way some things work, a lovely passage on how humans do not understand gravity is brilliant, but in other areas Norman is just vague, which works well, especially as the reader does not particularly want to read about power plants and how they work when there is action going on. Having the centre tear itself apart is a lot more dramatic without stopping to read how it was put together and works while it is doing so.

He also uses a third technique, which is to hint at things, which serves to add to the advancement of the Priest-Kings without confirming anything, most notably that the planet may well have been transferred to the solar system.

However well thought out their society, it has been around too long and has started to stagnate. Different factions believe that they know what is best for the Nest and trouble is on the horizon.
Then we come to the negative issue. The Gor series is known for it’s blatant sexism, a society built on human (particularly female) slavery. For all that Norman is obviously influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, he is writing in a different time from his muse, and although the seventies are a long time ago, and society has changed a lot there is still a feeling of discomfort to come in the Gor novels.

The first two books in the series touched upon slavery, but it was played down, just a part of a more brutal and primitive society, that Cabot, as an outsider could frown upon. Although there is more to come, this is the first time that we begin so see the issue becoming more uncomfortable.

As a teenager reading the novels in the early 80’s the issues raised here probably went over my head, here though some of the reading, as lowkey as it is compared to later books, is undoubtedly uncomfortable.

There is no doubt that the women are seen as a weaker sex; that their enslavement is for their better, and it is asserted a couple of times it does not matter how powerful or free a woman might be, it is Cabot’s belief that they secretly desire to be enslaved.

That men are powerful strong and dominating, and that women are to be dominated. It seems wrong and is uncomfortable to read, especially when we are offered a strong willed, and manipulative woman, who takes delight in breaking men to her will, Vika, who ends up infatuated and completely devoted to Cabot.

I am sure there I much that could be argued about modern day values being different to what they were forty years ago, and there is a real argument that could be made that just because a society is totally different to our own does not make it wrong.

But because it is different is precisely why it is uncomfortable.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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The second book in a series that proudly proclaims itself metaphysical fantasy.

The book is published using Authorhouse, which means that the set up and publication details, including editing, copy editing etc are all done by the company, and if I recall right it does cost a bit, which is a shame because there are a number of mistakes that should have been picked up...

As to what metaphysical fantasy actually is, there is a nebulous aura to the subgenre, especially as wielded by Dalton. The book feels to be very much a fantasy novel in the traditional sense, but there has been a lot of thought put into the gods, and then what is behind the gods.

The characters are, as a whole good, entertaining and individual.

The story itself starts intriguingly, the kingdom of Dur Memnos has known peace since the events of the first book, but the cracks begin to show when the infant son of two of the main characters from the first book, Saltar and Kate is stolen away from their palace, triggering a series of events that have massive ramifications for the kingdom and the world at large.

There are some excellent action sequences and a lot of thought has gone into the story itself. As a whole, it is well, engagingly written and did not prove to be a struggle to read. Returning to characters that one has not read in a while did feel like meeting up with old friends after a few years apart. All of this is good.

Some of the ideas are large (probably where the metaphysical comes in), dealing with the nature of the gods, what it means of some of the gods are destroyed, how they came into existence and that there might be older things out there in the universe, that has a problem with the deities.

The down side?

Some of the characters just seem to become too powerful.

Or in some cases, not powerful enough.

The conclusion is wrapped up a little too easily, with one character becoming so powerful that they are able to deal with the threats that have build up with a click of their fingers, mitigating the threat that has been carefully constructed throughout the book.

Much of what has been changed is reset (but not everything) and the events do leave the world change, which could be important later.

The great force that is brought into the world, is depicted as being evil, although to me, it should have been beyond the simple terms of black and white, and for all that it is meant to be, seems rather petty in seeking revenge when it is a god in it's own right. It is too easily manipulated and controlled by others.

With all that being said I will withhold final judgement until I have read the final book in the series.

It is clear that the over arcing story is going somewhere, and the growing displays of power, and the very ideas presented throughout may well deliver an exciting and rewarding payoff.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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Hands up, it’s a fair cop.

I have, in the past referred to the Dune books by Herbert Jr. and Anderson in a number of different ways, from milking the cash cow of Herbert Sr. to the recognition that the books just aren’t good, but not being able to stop reading them.

And here is another one, the first book in a new trilogy, The Great Schools of Dune, in this instant the Sisterhood, the neophyte Bene Gesserit school.

But….

Horror of horrors, it really is quite good.

Set between the events of the Butlerian Jihad and the original Dune series (and the prelude to Dune books) it ostensibly tells the story of the formation of the institutions that are an integral part of the Dune mythology. The Bene Gesserit, The Spacing Guild, the Suk Doctors, The Mentats the Corrino Empire, and Arrakis itself, with the properties of spice becoming more and more well-known/discovered, the Freemen slowly adapting and becoming more and more a part of Dune’s civilisation.

I cannot paint the picture that this is a perfect novel, nor that it has reached the standards of Frank Herberts original novels, but this is definitely a step up from the duo’s previous efforts, possibly the kind of book that they should have been aiming for when they first attempted to insert their own take on the Dune novels.

In choosing the era they have, there is an awful lot to write about, that is fascinating in it’s own right, while adding depth and strength to what is to come.

It is a time of upheaval. Mankind has clawed its way from under the heel of the Cymeks and their robotic empire, horrified that they, as a species, were responsible for the creatures that ultimately enslaved them. Artificial Life is abhorrent, and although a lot of it was wiped out during the Jihad the wounds run deep. How far should technology be trusted? At what point does it become a threat?

There are those that feel a much more primitive existence is desirable, and others who feel the opposite, as long as machines are not raised to sentience, then there are no problems in taking and using what they can give it humanity. With an insurmountable divide between the two faction there can only be conflict.

But it is more complex than that, with individuals having their own agendas, personal issues to be resolved, jealousies and hatred. Throw in a few familiar characters from previous books, you get a galaxy in a melting pot, different ingredients all coming together, the birthing point of what will become the universe in which Dune was set.

Herbert and Anderson also don’t hold back, giving likeable character, distasteful characters, weak and strong characters. They even manage to show characters changing, going against their principles, simply because they see no other option to take.

So, I say once again, this is a good book.

Perhaps the biggest weakness is in the writer’s style. I’m not sure whether it is just the way they have come together and write as a team, because both Anderson and Herbert Jr. are noted writers in their own right, but something prevalent throughout their Dune novels in a lack of depth to the prose, a casualness that would be more suited to a movie adaptation than an original novel. With a bit more tightness and depth, dare I say it, this could have been magnificent.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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I have seen some reviews of Edgar Rice Burroughs works, immensely critical of various aspects of content, from sexism through to repetition. I am guessing that the people who review this are quite young or have not really thought about the context in which Burroughs was writing.

Tanar of Pellucidar is the 3rd book in the Pellucidar series, set beneath the surface of the world where another land exists, more primitive, filled with creatures that are analogues of the prehistoric creatures that used to roam the surface world. This book was published in 1928, thirteen years after the previous book in the series and it makes you wonder why Burroughs took so long to returns. (Probably too busy writing Tarzan, with a little John Carter on the side – there can be no doubt that these characters are his most successful creations.)

Time has passed since the previous novel, and although the natives of Pellucidar do not view time in the same way as we do, it is clear that it must be over a decade. The Empire founded by David Innes, hero of the previous novels has thrived, the various tribes have united and are knowing a period of peace and prosperity that they have not known before.

Time, though has passed, and characters who were children have grown up, one such is Tanar, son of a chief. Things take a turn though when their empire is attacked by a new threat, the Korsairs, and although they are repelled, they take a number of hostages, of which Tanar is one. And, as soon becomes apparent, this is not a story about David Innes, but about a new generation.

Burroughs opens up his world, exploring more of it, but there seems to be a bit of the creativity missing that was there in the first two books. The world is still fun, but the creativity and invention that was so impressive in the earlier novels (and the Mars books) is missing here. He builds up the geography of the world, but the depth of previous novels does not seem to be there, it is still interesting, but the sense for me of ‘Wow! The creativity here is astounding.’ was missing. In some cases, the construction seemed rather simplified. From an island of love where everyone is happy to an island where everyone is cruel and unhappy

The Korsairs save the day slightly, although their society is close to 2 dimensional, they play out as good villains and the fact that they are descendants of other people who have stumbled into Pellucidar from the surface world give them a different feel.

Burroughs has improved over the intervening years when it comes to setpiece action scenes, he was always good, but here you find yourself holding your breath and really caught up in the moment on a number of occasions. There are a couple of descriptive pieces that work well too, really conveying the sense of the situations in question.

So, repetitive? Yes, but not in a horrendously bad way. One has to remember that Burroughs’ work was published in episodic format before being collected into a novel, so in order to convey excitement and adventure there is almost going to be some repetitive parts, that stand out when collected together than when they were published in monthly instalments. The reader would want to be thrilled again and again, and if a character escaped and was captured again then so be it. It was no different to the adventure film series that would follow decades later.

Sexist? Well, by todays standards probably so, but even then not so much. The context should be taken into account, Burroughs was writing in a time when the role of the female in society was incredibly different than today, and taken into account it is possible to argue that his main female characters are quite forward thinking and are almost feminist role models. Yes, there is a bit of swooning, and they can’t help falling in love with the male lead, but they are also strong characters. In this book the main female is Stellarer and she is a magnificently strong creation. She is prepared to fight fore herself, stand up to the patriarchal society to which he was born. She choses her own partner, and makes decisions that are hard but done to protect others.

For a book of its era it is a lot better than some.

More enjoyable than its predecessor like a lot of Burroughs work it is laying the ground work for later generations and should be judged on the merits of its time, not by modern standards.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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Hellshock is a graphic novel written and drawn by Jae Lee, originally produced as a limited series by Image comics back in the mid 1990’s. This is the second series, and to say it is dark is an understatement.

It is grim, slow, but relentless and about as far away from the comicbook norms of Image (at the time) that it could be seen as one of the comics leading the way to less traditional output by the publisher.

The first series introduced the reader to the character of Daniel, a Nephilim and although dark in nature it is more standard fair, in that it has a powered protagonist, with a tragic backstory, that requires him to face a ‘bad gut’ (his father’ and bring redemption for both himself and his father.
The second series tears that down, turning it into a pretty child’s tale with pink ribbons and cuddly unicorns. The story takes place in an asylum, where Daniel is an inmate, but in some ways he is only incidental, the main character being Dr Christina Marceau, a young just qualified doctor, thrown in the deep end to see whether she will sink or swim.

It seems that the chief doctor has seen something in it, and she received encouragement, but there is also a crack in her personality, something that slowly starts dragging her down. The more she interacts with the patients, the more she realises that there are those that try and get help, even though they do not have any mental issues – and as such can’t be helped by the asylum; the darker things become, the harder she finds it to cope.

There is a ray of light though. She manages to reach one of the more difficult patients, a young man called Daniel. She sees something in him that strikes a chord, and it seems as though it is reciprocated. At the same time though things continue to get too much for her, until in the end she finds herself taking sickdays/weeks and risks losing all that she has worked for.

By the time she returns to work, Daniel has become more withdrawn, is placed with another doctor and she is not allowed to see him.

What happens after this is in many way the key to the story, but it is something different and special. It can be seen as triumphant or tragic, delusional or radiant. Whatever you decide, there is no denying that it is a masterpiece of storytelling.

It is an unflinching examination of mental illness, the way it is looked at by society, and how it is treated. The writing is precise and perfect for the story, allowing you to see what Christina is going through – even though she probably does not see it herself. Although there are people around her she is an isolated person, slowly being pulled into to the darkness and depression that effects so many people. Her bond with Daniel is both a glimmer of light and something to grab hold of to stop her from drowning.

The culmination is understandable and perfect even as it is undoubtedly desolate.
Lee has always been a great artist, but here it resounds all the more, it has never been better.
Lee, I believe, was suffering from depression at the time, and it shows in the nature of the work, whether it was cathartic or not is open to debate. He never finished the fourth and final issue, something that eh was persuaded to do for this special graphic novel release over ten years after the original release.

It is worth it.

There are not may comic strips out there that are like this, making it all the more special.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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Stephen R Donaldson, writer of huge tomes, surprises us all with two simultaneous releases, in the form of some nice hard back novellas. That is not just small, but very small books. The first of which is The King’s Justice.

If nothing else the story shows that Donaldson can write in the short form, and does it exceptionally well.
This is a simple, but atmospheric tale of a stranger arriving in a small town/village where a horrendous murder has taken place. It is part of who he is to try and find out why, who and whether it is a simple killing or part of something that might be a threat to the kingdom.

Along the way, Donaldson introduces us to a number of characters, most of which are individuals and well-drawn; and interesting and different magic system, with a well-considered religious set up as well.
Main character Black is probably meant to be a bit like a magical terminator character, but he is given a little nuance, not only is he someone completely dedicated to his cause, something that is at the very root of his being. He is willing to die to carry out the justice of the king – someone who we do not see, but is hinted at being more than just a title, but there is still some individuality left in him, the ability to feel compassion for others, to hate wrong doers, to like people and to give a little nudge to make things better for those who deserve it.

Not only does it prove that you do not need hundreds of pages to write an epic fantasy story, but in the hands of a writer as established and as competent as Donladson you feel as though you have just read one.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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Neil Gaiman has grown from his comic book roots into a world renowned author and a recognised talent. His works are acclaimed and turned into films and TV series, but when it comes to the written word it is the readers that matter, because there is nothing more intimate than a reader and a book.

But I ma beginning to think that we adult readers might be missing out on some of the material Gaiman turns out for a younger audience (if you don’t already read it of course.) I’m almost tempted to say that novels like The Graveyard Book, Fortunately, The Milk and Coraline are better than the material he puts out for adults.

Coraline was written for his 5 years old daughter (but not completed until another daughter was 5 and the first was 11…), so that gives you an idea of the age the book might have been aimed at. (Like all good children’s books it can be read by any age.)

The thing is, reading it as an adult, it is genuinely disturbing, and the design of some of the beings is borderline terrifying. Gaiman has managed to look into the soul of his kids and see what is the most terrifying thing there and translated it onto the page, without any gruesomeness, blood or guts makes something that is both macabre and disturbing.

To a child engrossed in the written word what is scarier, a vampire dripping blood from it’s fangs or a familiar figure twisted slightly out of kilter, a mum or dad, a little too pale, a little too thin or long, with the most familiar and important feature taken away and replaced with buttons?

Simple, elegant and tapping into the wonder of being a child, Gaiman delves into his own childhood to dredge up memories and sell them in a way that is always going to appeal to the child in all of us. Exploring old houses, doors we are told not to open, places we are told not to go to, (so we do anyway), eccentric adults, some mystery and the hint of magic. It is all there, and it seems so simple, not so easy to conjure up, then convey in a manner that catches the excitement and believability for kids, and catch and unbottle that jaded sense of wonder carried in the hearts of most adults.

It is all about facing fear and not giving up, a lesson that often needs to be taught, but told in a manner that is thrilling and scary, not just showing a writer in complete mastery of their abilities.
It is worth giving to the kids to read, or reading yourself.

And when my wife says to me, “Have you seen what the kids are watching on youtube, it’s terrifying?”

The ideal response is now at my fingertips, “I don’t know have they read Coraline?”
 
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