Review: “Whitechapel” by Andrew Buckley

4 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this short story brilliantly weaves together three major [and 1 minor] points of view to retell a London legend with much cleverness and humor. Supernatural beings are wandering the desolate streets of London’s Whitechapel district at the end of the 19th Century. Abraham, pushing 70, is still able-bodied but getting too old to continue the hunt. However, he feels the power and potential to take up this mantle in perennial-failure Jackson:

[Jackson] “I was on stage.”
“You were terrible. You also weren’t a very good window washer.”
“Just how long have you been following me? And the window washing thing was just to make some extra money.”
“Along with the carpentry?”
“I got a lot of splinters.”
“You can never get the fish smell out. Never.”
“Male prostitute.”
“Now, hang on a minute, that was just one time, and he looked very feminine…”

An observant, mystery-solving horse named Wilbert provides the third major POV. He has his own dodgy work history to overcome.

After his refusal to race was duly noted by his owner, Wilbert was sold into slavery. For a while, he pulled a milk cart, something he thought would be better suited to a cow. They leaked the damn stuff, why shouldn’t they have to deliver it, too? The whole thing felt half-assed.

Meanwhile, Jackson, orphaned as a teen, does not realize his own family’s history with monster-hunting.

“Wait, you mean a birthright like my parents handed something down to me?”
“Yes. They had a duty.”
“That sounds like responsibility.”
“The noblest responsibility! And your parents were very good at it. Did you ever notice anything strange about your parents’ deaths?”
“No, they died of natural causes.”
“I’m sorry, Jackson, I thought you were aware that they were decapitated.”
“I am. I’d say death is a natural result of decapitation, wouldn’t you?”

With a sense of humor not unlike an Oscar Wilde / Joss Whedon collaboration, the tale follows Wilbert tailing the two men as Jackson goes to confront his destiny. “Jackson didn’t know what to do. Or did he? No, he definitely didn’t know what to do.”

I really enjoyed this story and highly recommend it. I was previously unaware of this author, but am glad for the introduction to his work.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Authorized Thoughts: Know It All, Don’t Show It All

World-building is an intrinsic aspect of all manor of fantasy and science fiction novels and short stories. Beyond landforms and national boundaries, the authors need to think through modes of government, social cultures, cultural histories, species adaptations, economics, belief systems, and backgrounds of characters among many things. It’s a lot. But thinking through various scenarios, one gets to invent less as cultural dominoes fall and repercussions ripple. The story takes on a life of its own with some aspects starting to tell themselves.

This is my topic for this Friday [and weekend] as lately I’ve read some novels that did not seem to have themselves all worked out. Some fantasy social practices did not seem to have a fathomable reason. I understand that there are villains whether individuals or whole societies, but I do not accept EVIL as a reason for action. Voldemort did not do what he did because he was just evil; he was evil in that he was willing to sacrifice anyone to get what he wanted [everlasting life, power, minions etc]. There is a difference. Even villains have a reason, a logic, a belief system–however screwy and detestable it may be.

Authors: Know your world. Know it all.

On the flip side, some authors have gone to such depths in creating their worlds and the components of it that they wish to expound upon it. They lovingly tell every detail of the clothes and spaceships etc. But if it does not effect the story and plot, why are they wasting the ink? One space opera I read spent tens of pages on the descriptions of spaceships. Characters did not get developed until pg 75 or so, and the “other” alien race was described as “just pure evil.” In my opinion, all of the world-building energy went into the wrong details. Also, only the valid details of the ship and clothes should have been revealed and on a need-to-know basis.

Authors: Yes, Show Don’t Tell. But Don’t show it all. Tell the story.

I believe that the extensive world-building that takes place for an author to Know It All, will reveal itself naturally and subtly with confidence within the act of story-telling. The author’s confidence and knowledge will create consistency of expectation and give the reader the tools they need. [Good Beta-readers can help the author find that fine line by asking questions of Why? and How? If they don’t catch the Why and How then clearly another rewrite is in order.]

My question is: Am I giving too much credit to the reader, to the author, or to the writing process? Readers, what is your experience with good, awkward and bad world-building? Writers, what is your mantra? What are your tools? [I personally keep maps, calendars, chronologies, and elaborate outlines and references for my stories. I do not plan to include any of the above in the finished product. I would include a map if my story was in a fantasy land–but it’s not.]

Review: Signal to Noise

Signal to NoiseSignal to Noise by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This work stands as my introduction to both the writings of Neil Gaiman and to the illustrations and designs of Dave McKean. Both are wonderful separately in their own right, but together are exquisite and powerful. This piece of art defies genre and tags, but it may be enough to say that it is beautiful, thought-provoking, and deeply melancholic.

Premise: Roughly a decade before the end of the last millennium, an artist/filmmaker imagines a film about the unfulfilled apocalyptic hysteria that surrounded the end of the first millennium. Ultimately, it is to be a film about humanity’s obsession with imminent apocalypses/death and what the people do when confronted with the end. However, before the artist gets to writing his masterpiece, his doctor informs him of his cancer. The artist is dying, and will not live long enough to create this opus. He is facing his end.

This graphic book follows the artist through his creation process as his death draws near. The poignancy of his message muddles with the realities of his situation and amount of time remaining. The images of his unmade film meld with moments in his remaining life. As sure as the millennium approaches, the doctor’s timeline holds true.

Few books so adeptly capture the contemplation of one’s own mortality so touchingly. It is highly recommended.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Calling the Boys Home (Part 6)

[From Feb. 08 – Mar. 08, I will be releasing the nine sections of my longer narrative poem, “Calling the Boys Home.” One section will be posted each Sunday and Wednesday. The sections alternate between two different timelines occurring in the same location. Start with “Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)]

“Calling the Boys Home”

Lee knew the bay, cockles and boats.
His best mate, Robert, had inhaled
the bay as his last breath during
an autumnal anomaly. A year passed. Still,
Lee heard the messages with the rhythmic
pulsing of the waves. Robert’s sister needs
me. Little Rachael, who hid flowers
in our lunch sacks and dotted her i’s
with circles, has blossomed. I cannot
watch her wilt breathing salty waters.

For his lunch hour, Lee went to find her.

Not all breezes carry voices. I will
tell her: Steps will hold; stones
will crumble, with or without you.

“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 2)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 3)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 4)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 5)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 7)
[Check out other original poems here.]

Review: “That Which is Hidden” by Julie Frost

4 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this short story is full of heart. Gideon tells his tale starting with his giddy, anxious waiting on a train platform for his girlfriend, Clementine, to disembark. The mountainous American West comes to life with bank robbers on horseback and a town’s Mormon doc that hands over a fifth of whiskey before stitching a patient up. Gideon’s not looking for trouble–he likes his simple life. But as the first paragraph of the story develops, his life has taken a turn for the worse:

. . . a chill skittered up the back of my neck, and my smile faded. People poured out and scattered, stinking of fear. A few women were in hysterics. I heard the words “robbery” and “murder,” and fur sprouted on my back as I realized Clementine was nowhere to be seen.

So, yes, Gideon’s a werewolf with a broken heart and a mission of revenge thrust upon him. His lupine behavior is never hidden in his account, though he doesn’t advertise it to his fellow town-folk. The supernatural surprise [but not a spoiler, it’s the entire plot] is that he can still hear Clementine’s voice–in ghost form. She, too, now has unfinished business–though she doesn’t recall many details about her undoing.

Romance is not usually my go-to. And star-crossed lovers are a timeless tale, with few fresh tellings. But this is an exceptional and sad tale. Women don’t stick around when Gideon tells them his deal, none except Clementine that is. And then she’s gone. And then not gone, but incorporeal which has its own desperateness about it that can never be solved to satisfaction. He wants her there in ways that she cannot possibly be anymore. And revenge may give a little satisfaction to him and it may completely solve her unfinished business. But what then? She moves on? He loses her again?

I really felt for Gideon’s story, and recommend it.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Akarnae

Akarnae (The Medoran Chronicles, #1)Akarnae by Lynette Noni
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite enjoying many aspects of this fantasy story and the author’s blog chronicling her writing and publishing experience, and looking forward to the second book in this planned five-book series, the logical inconsistencies and problematic world-building must be acknowledged. This doesn’t mean that the novel is not fun, it is. However, it also means that Noni has her work cut out for her to pull this story and world together. Rowling managed to do that in her third Harry Potter story after mangling the second book, and overall that series pulled together nicely considering its randomness at the beginning. One can hope that Akarnae will pull the same feat rather than following in the path of its other major influence, the Narnia series, which never solidified its rules in its world-building. To be clear, this story pulls heavily from the Narnia and Potter series, and never to good effect.

Too many borrowings from the other series just do not make sense in the world of Akarnae, which is supposed to be a technological world far in advance of Earth. It insists repeatedly that what seems to be magic is really genetics and technology–good for it. Then why does the Akarnae Academy for Gifted Students not reflect that reality instead of embracing medievalism? Why–in an advanced civilization where long-distance travel is made instantaneous through wormholes–are Archery, Sword-play [Combat], and Equestrian Skills core subjects? Not once do archery nor horses play a part in the action sequences, or elsewhere for that matter. Harry Potter’s Care of Magical Creatures is given yet another core class [though under a different name], but not a single unique creature plays a part in the plot, not even a minor role or a background cameo.

The major characters are enjoyable for the most part. Alex[andra] Jennings, the protagonist from Earth and her two sidekicks: Jordan Sparker and “Bear”, both of Medora, are a little too sarcastic all of the time and very good-looking (every single person in Medora is described as very good-looking without note to unique features beyond eye-color), but they manage to stay fun more than not. Their actions and reactions “feel” real after the initial few chapters of awkward set-up. [Initially, the boys are surprisingly casual and uncurious about someone from Earth appearing for the first time in thousands of years.] Later, their characters come into their own. Unfortunately, that is not yet true for many secondary characters. Alex may not understand a character’s motivations, but that doesn’t mean the character shouldn’t have a logical motivation. All too often, motivational questions are raised and not answered. Hopefully, a near sequel can tie up loose threads and separate itself from its influences to become its own world and series.

The potential for an intriguing series are definitely here. The second installment will make or break this one. I received a free Kindle-version of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for a review.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Calling the Boys Home (Part 5)

[From Feb. 08 – Mar. 08, I will be releasing the nine sections of my longer narrative poem, “Calling the Boys Home.” One section will be posted each Sunday and Wednesday. The sections alternate between two different timelines occurring in the same location. Start with “Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)]

“Calling the Boys Home”

The rising red sun illuminates the falling
mist to outline the boats trolling for cockles.
The seabirds circle like flies at a milk
platter. The bay breathes calmly
as if no storms had ever upset her,
as if the men beneath her waves
were just waiting to resurface. She, too,
had launched a thousand ships. She, too,
had men who had died for her. Old,
beautiful Swansea Bay gathers
the rhododendron blossoms released
in homage and folds them into her
delicate, churning silts.
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 1)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 2)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 3)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 4)
“Calling the Boys Home” (Part 6)
[Check out other original poems here.]