Friday, June 29, 2018

Disturbing Stuff For Your Friday

     Well, maybe it won’t all be disturbing. I mean, some of it, certainly. At least, it disturbs me. But the stuff I’ve been writing has been so serious lately that it seems imperative that I take the blog a wee distance “off road” for a change...

     There are pop bands that “made it” whose appeal I can’t fathom. Plenty of them, actually. Then there are the “one-hit wonders” that dazzled us with a single track before vanishing into obscurity, never to be heard from again. What becomes of them? In many cases, no one knows. However, I met a couple of refugees from two such bands a few years back. One had taken a job as the superintendent of an apartment colony. The other...well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to share his residential accommodations. So they don’t all die of drug overdoses or vengeance by cuckolded husbands.

     If you’ve been looking for an under-served area in which to exercise your charitable impulses, how about this one? I mean, a home for derelicts who once played in one-hit wonder bands might even become a tourist attraction. And you’d have no trouble booking entertainment for Friday nights.

     On the other hand, there are bands that really “should” have become popular but, inexplicably, never did. My favorite – and surely you have one as well; don’t you, Gentle Reader? – is a band from Albany, NY named Blotto.

     I love a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously:

     There’s a Collected Works CD available at Amazon.

     If you’ve acquainted yourself with the works of the late Robert Ludlum, you may have noticed a certain similarity among his titles:

  • The Scarlatti Inheritance
  • The Osterman Weekend
  • The Matlock Paper
  • The Rhinemann Exchange
  • The Gemini Contenders
  • The Holcroft Covenant
  • The Chancellor Manuscript
  • The Matarese Circle
  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Parsifal Mosaic

     ...and so on: always “The” followed by a proper noun – usually a character’s last name, though not always – followed by a suggestive improper noun. The pattern was so consistent for so long that when a friend passed along Trevayne, I was briefly unwilling to believe that it was written by Robert Ludlum.

     This caused me to begin composing new Ludlum titles for books he hadn’t yet written...and never would:

  • The Moses Amputation
  • The Jesus Remission
  • The Jefferson Declaration
  • The Clinton Rejection
  • The Bozo No-No
  • The Terrytoon Circus

     ...and so on. (A friend once suggested “The Heimlich Maneuver,” but that sounded too much like the title of an actual thriller.)

     Granted, most of Ludlum’s books were fairly diverting, though it was unwise to read several of them in a row. But those titles...was his editor inhibited against saying that “You know, Bob, you’ve been getting a little...repetitive lately” -- ? Or was the publisher afraid he’d produce another The Road to Gandolfo?

     There isn’t much originality in contemporary fantasy and science fiction these days. Yes, yes, I’ve ranted about that plenty of times in the past. But that only makes it that much more important to note the occasions of originality I’ve recently encountered.

     First up, because it’s the one I read most recently, is Craig Zerf’s Hex. It’s got a lot of the usual urban-fantasy tropes and features, but despite that it displays a freshness I haven’t often encountered in that sub-genre. Protagonist Sholto Gunn, a.k.a. Hex, is a grayish hero to be sure; You won’t approve of everything he does. But he and his quondam ally Vusi, a figure of some mystery out of darkest Africa, definitely get the job done. They also have some fun along the way. Recommended.

     Second, I laughed my slats off at Margaret Ball’s A Pocketful of Stars. Another urban fantasy that marries suspense to a rollicking good time. I mean, how can you miss when the graduate students of the Center for Applied Topology discover that their mathematical specialty has equipped them with magical powers? Especially given their alliance with “Mr. M,” a severed turtle head (though quite alive, happy in his robot body, and very voluble in several languages, most of them no longer spoken by other living creatures) who was a mighty mage in Babylonian times and assists them in defeating deadly dark enemy Raven Crowson, Master of Ravens and general no-goodnik? Ball keeps it sprightly and humorous despite the discovery of genuine villainy in an unexpected place. Also recommended.

     Third – and this one gets my strongest recommendation – comes Jonathan Maas’s Dion: A Tale of the Highway. I’ll simply repost my review from Amazon:

     It’s a rare thing for anyone to encounter a work of imagination so original, so vast in extent, and so filled with ideas that it transcends all considerations of period, genre, and social context. It’s even rarer that it should be from a relatively young and unknown creator. It’s rarer than diamonds that one should be able to obtain it for free. But here it is.

     In “Dion” Jonathan Maas has presented an extraordinary panoply of ideas in a compact package. More impressive still, he’s invoked archetypes and images from deep in human memory to which to anchor those ideas, giving them a vitality contemporary attempts at a novel of ideas seldom possess. Most impressive of all, he’s populated his story with gods – gods that have believable reasons for caring about Mankind – and demons determined to thwart our rise toward the divine estate.

     I can’t say much more about this novel without committing one or more spoilers, and that would be unforgivable. Just read it. Please. I wish I could encounter it for the first time AGAIN; that’s how good it is.

     If your to-be-read stack has been getting short, add Dion to the very top. You’ll thank me.

     That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. The rest of the day will be given to fiction and yard work. Enjoy your Friday.

1 comment:

jabrwok said...

Tried reading "Dion", but eventually the author's misuse of pronouns drove me to drop it. It may seem like a small peeve, but the use of the third-person singular feminine rather than the masculine to denote an individual of unknown sex (or the use of the plural, or the use of "gender" rather than "sex") tells me that the author has an agenda which I do not support.

It's one of those little camel-noses which I don't want to see in my tent.

Here's a recommendation: The Garbage Generation by Daniel Amneus. If he's right in his analysis, then the creeping feminism I see in the pronoun wars is just another symptom of the ongoing degradation of Western Civilization.