|Books That Cure What Ails You|
Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll
Tor, 2005, $24.95
Young Simon Haden celebrates his first Christmas at three years old because his
parents felt that children younger than that could not fully appreciate or understand
Christmas. On this first Christmas, Simon Haden's "tightfisted crabby skinflint"
parents gave him, as his only gift, a large stuffed polar bear that they purchased for
eleven dollars at the local Shell gas station.
It was lub at first site.
Which is how I felt about reading this, my first Jonathan Carroll novel.
As Glass Soup begins, the aforementioned Simon Haden is dead, but he doesn't
realize it, and works as a tour guide, after receiving instructions each day from a
little man the size of a candy bar called Broximon. In life, Simon was a
womanizing pretty boy, who fell in love with Isabelle Neukor and made the
mistake of taking her to a party where Vincent Ettrich was in attendance. Isabelle
and Vincent fell in love--so much so that when Vincent died, Isabelle pulled him
back into the land of the living. Now, Isabelle is pregnant, but she finds herself
now slipping between the real world and the afterlife--into, strangely enough,
Simon Haden's afterlife. Meanwhile, John Flannery, an avatar of Chaos, is trying
to trap Isabelle on the other side permanently -- which would be bad enough, but
is even worse when you consider that her unborn child would be stuck there too,
and even worse still when you consider that this child might be the key to winning
the battle against the forces of Chaos.
Yes, Glass Soup is about the afterlife, and love, and an unborn messiah-figure, but
to summarize the plot is almost a sin -- because if you were to base your decision
on whether or not to read this book because of the plot…then you'd be missing the
point. To understand what makes Jonathan Carroll Jonathan Carroll, you have to
Here's the first paragraph, introducing us to Simon Haden:
Haden was in trouble again. Big surprise, huh? So what else was
new, right? That man wouldn't have known he had a pulse unless the
IRA was closing in, his ex-wife was circling his field with a squadron
of divorce lawyers, or a rabid dog had just bitten him on the dick.
Sighing, he threw off the thin purple blanket he'd bought at a Chinese
discount store after his wife left him and took everything, including
the blankets. But she was right to leave because he was a dog in every
way except loyalty. No, that's not fair. To call Haden a dog was to
insult canines. Call him a rat, a weasel; call him a disease with a head.
Simon Haden was not a nice man, despite the fact he was a very
If someone had told Simon Haden that he was a colossal prick and
why, he would not have understood. He would not have denied it, he
would not have understood. Because pretty people think the world
should forgive whatever their sins are simply because they exist.
With Carroll, style is king -- his prose is like an irreverent, acerbic smirk -- which
is not to say that his work is lacking in substance -- quite the contrary; his
characters are infused with so much humanity, it's as if he's writing about people
in your life, or in your past, people you knew or know so well, that to lose them
would be like having your heart ripped out.
Carroll is one of those writers, who when you discover him, you want to work your
way through his back catalog immediately. He's one of those writers who makes
you suddenly feel as though you're literarily bankrupt for not having read him
previously, and is one of those writers who, when people who ask you why you
read that sci-fi/fantasy rubbish, you can hold up one of his books and say "Because
this is what it can do."
In other words, Carroll is simply redoubtable. And that, as Broximon would say,
means kick ass, my friend.
Adventure, Vol. 1 edited by Chris Roberson
MonkeyBrain Books, 2005, $14.95
MonkeyBrain Books is a small press founded in 2003 by SF author Chris Roberson
(Here, There & Everywhere) which initially focused exclusively on nonfiction
genre studies, such as Michael Moorcock's "study of epic fantasy," Wizardry &
Wild Romance. Now, they've expanded into fiction publishing, and their first title
is a doozie -- "The All-Genre, All-Adventure Pulp Anthology for the New
Millennia!!" known as Adventure, Vol. 1. In the book's introduction, editor
Roberson promises the reader action and excitement, and the seventeen stories that
follow really deliver.
The book gets off to a good start with "Island of Annoyed Souls," a ripping yarn
by Mike Resnick featuring The Right Reverend Lucifer Jones. It's a fun
Amazonian adventure story, complete with a mad scientist, an island full of talking
animals, and danger and opportunity aplenty for Reverend Jones.
One of the most compelling stories is the first part of Lou Anders's serial novel,
"The Mad Lands, Part 1: Death Wish." Anders is well-known as an editor, but few
know of his writing prowess, according to Roberson's introductory notes; if this
story is any indication, Anders's writing prowess won't be a secret for long. In
"The Mad Lands," Anders tells a complex and gritty tale, set in a sort of
apocalyptic western landscape, peopled with con artists and gunslingers and
strange animal/machine crossbreeds such as the horsecycle and the tank-turtle.
This first installment is delightfully bizarre and refreshingly original, and my only
complaint is that the story ended with me wanting more.
Other standout stories include:
- Mark Finn's "The Bridge of Teeth," a pulpy Amazonian adventure story,
with plenty of two-fisted action and Aztec mysticism;
- Kim Newman's "Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in 'The Case of the French
Spy,'" an engaging young detectives tale that concludes with an extremely
satisfying supernatural discovery;
- Michael Kurland's Roman Empire mystery, "Four Hundred Slaves," a
richly-detailed historical mystery reminiscent of Ellis Peters's Brother
Cadfael mysteries in its authenticity and clever plotting;
- Roberson's own "Prowl Unceasing," an entertaining Victorian tale of a
young Van Helsing in which Roberson makes the Van Helsing character
wholly his own.
Although I've singled these few stories out, every story in the anthology is
enjoyable in its own right, and lives up to the anthology's "all-adventure" hype.
Roberson has done a fine job with his first fiction anthology, and I for one will be
eagerly awaiting Vol. 2.
Sea of Red, Vol. 1: No Grave But the Sea by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer,
and Salgood Sam
Image Comics, 2005, $8.95
Sea of Red is an ongoing comic book series from Image Comics, and this graphic
novel, Vol. 1: No Grave But the Sea, collects the first four issues of the series.
The story begins with the protagonist, Marco Esperanza, a sixteenth century sailor,
trapped at the bottom of the ocean, tied to the decrepit remains of a shipwreck.
He's consumed by hunger, with only fish passing by to feed on, but he's survived
down there for centuries. We soon learn that the reason he's stayed alive all these
years is because he's not alive at all -- he's one of the undead, a vampire.
Back in the 1500s, when he was a sailor aboard a ship that wrecked, Marco stayed
alive by latching onto pieces of ship debris. But just when he thought all was lost,
a magnificent ship appears out of nowhere and saves him…or so it seems. For the
ship is crewed by vampires, and when Marco kills one of them, the captain of the
ship, Captain Blackthroat, exiles him to "an eternity in the briny deep" to satisfy
his crew's thirst for vengeance. And as he sinks into the water, Blackthroat recalls
Marco telling him of his wife and boy, then ominously promises Marco that he'll
be "pay'n her a visit."
Fast forward to the 21st Century, when a filmmaking crew in a submersible stumble
across Marco's tortured form. They rescue him, only to have him immediately
attack one of the crew to slake his thirst, and in the process, turn her into one of the
undead. But Director Joel Cameron, a single-minded egomaniac, reminiscent of
King Kong's Carl Denham -- in both his aspirations and his actions -- sees Marco
as his opportunity to make the greatest film of his career. Plying Marco's tongue
with fresh blood donated from the crew, Cameron draws Marco's story out of him,
and learns of Captain Blackthroat's home port, which is located on an island in the
Bermuda Triangle. Cameron and the crew set off for and find the island, only to
discover much more than they bargained for.
Sea of Red is rendered beautifully in black and white pencils, with sepia-tone
shading that gives the book a dark, grim feel that is entirely appropriate. The tale
itself functions quite effectively as horror -- it's sinister, bloody, and graphic --
but the characters are fully-realized, and the plot has enough subtle nuances to keep
Sea of Red from descending to the level of a mindless splatter flick. Overall, a fun
mix of tropes that is not groundbreaking but is enjoyable nonetheless.
"When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" by Cory Doctorow, read by the author
Podcast, 2005, Free, 84 minutes, 6 parts, Digital Audio
Cory Doctorow has long been a fan and proponent of audiobooks, and he has
recently started podcasting. Upon launching the first podcast, he said, "I've held
back before because I just couldn't see how I could possibly reliably get quiet
places to record in -- my flat and office are loud, and the hotel rooms, airport
lounges, etc., where I live most of my life are no better." However, he
reconsidered when a friend of his told him that "the ambient noise adds texture"
and so Doctorow was "inclined to agree." This is all well and good, though it
presented somewhat of an obstacle initially. Doctorow's first podcast, "After the
Siege," began with some terrible acoustics -- there was a lot of loud static that
made it a bit of a chore to listen to -- but about halfway through the story,
Doctorow gave into popular demand and purchased a headset with mic, which
made the noise level decrease dramatically. Which means that his newest podcast,
"When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth," is blessedly free of static-y annoyances,
allowing the listener to just sit back and enjoy the reading.
"Sysadmins" tells of a group of system administrators locked safely away in a
data-center when an apocalyptic virus strikes, devastating the world's population.
Felix is our protagonist, a man deeply in love with his wife, and the new father of a
little boy he and his wife affectionately call "two-point-oh." He's awoken in the
middle of the night by his on-call phone due to a devastating Internet worm
infesting the network, and he's forced to go down to the data-center to straighten
things out. Luckily for Felix, he's safely inside the hermetically-sealed data-center
when the biological virus begins spreading, but his wife and child, and millions of
others are not so fortunate. Since many other sysadmins were forced into their
data-centers to combat the Internet worm, the Internet was still largely functioning
despite the world-wide catastrophe. Thanks to this, Felix and the other sysadmins
are able to piece together what's going on, and start making plans for a new world
order once the realize the extent of the plague. To tell much more would be
spoiling the story, so I'll stop there, but suffice it to say Doctorow's apocalyptic
vision is by turns funny and moving, and he really gets inside the mind of his
protagonist, perfectly depicting the gamut of emotions that would run through the
survivors of such a disaster.
Doctorow's reading, meanwhile, is just as proficient as his storytelling. It's
important to keep in mind that this podcast is more akin to a live reading than it is
to a fully-produced audiobook, but Doctorow delivers a reading that is among the
best I've heard -- which is saying a lot, as I regularly attend a live fiction reading
series in Manhattan. His voice is in the low tenor to high baritone range, and is
both dramatically effective and pleasing to the ear. Doctorow reads fairly quickly,
so inexperienced listeners might have some trouble keeping up, and he stumbles a
bit over a word here and there, but the overall performance is quite good, and will
leave listeners eager for the next podcast installment.