Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
March 2011

Title: The Desert of Souls
Author: Howard Andrew Jones
EAN: 9780312646745

I loved this book. This could possibly be the shortest review I ever write, because I don't know how to say it any other way: I loved this book. I wish it had been about 800 pages long. I wish I could pop in the DVD and watch the movie. I wish I had the kind of pocket change to pay Howard Andrew Jones to write me another story just like this. I wish I had the power to stop time, drop everything, and read every single one of the source texts he lists in his afterword. Heck, I wish I had the power to turn back time two days just so I could read this book all over again.

I was raised in a family of storytellers. At a very young age I fell in love with Grimm and Andersen fairy tales. I was used to having stories "told" to me, and this was how these tales were written. The whole "show me, don't tell me" rule was the hardest one I've ever had to learn . . . and I later discovered it was possible to do both. Jones has made this discovery too.

I feel very old-fashioned sometimes in this sea of urban fantasy -- werewolves and vampires are like Bluetooth cell phones. It's tough having a new world with new rules explained to me every time I crack open a cover. A true storyteller snares his or her reader with a subtle intrigue, and from then on if magic happens, it happens. Everything is within the realm of the imagination if the storyteller tells us so.

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Jones is a masterful storyteller, as is his main character, Azim. He uses techniques of storytelling -- such as foreshadowing, hyperbole -- with deft subtlety. The tale begins with the whims of a warrior trying to distract his rich master from the death of a beloved pet. What better reason does one need to start an adventure full of sandstorms and djinns and keys to other universes?

Guess what: Azim lives. This shouldn't come as a shock to any of you who have ever read a novel told in first person, as the narrator (in most cases) is the one needed to survive the adventure so he or she can pass it along to you. In fact, in the very first chapter of the book, Azim and his master visit an old woman who tells them their future. In a way, you as the reader already know everything that's going to happen. This ruins nothing . . . for as any great taleswapper will tell you: the heart of the story is never about the outcome. It is about the journey.

Let this knowledge set your mind at ease. Fill a bowl with popcorn, pull up next to the fire, and let yourself be swept away by Azim's tale. Your only disappointment will be when the book lasts only two nights, instead of a thousand and one.

And if you find desert sand when you reach the bottom of that bowl, blame it on the djinns.

Title: The Stainless Steel Rat (audiobook)
Author: Harry Harrison
Reader: Phil Gigante
EAN: 9781441881090

For the last few years, Brilliance Audio has been expanding their science fiction and fantasy selections by snagging the audio rights of classic novels in the genre. It's a brilliant (no pun intended) move on their part -- the audio presentations breathe new life into these gems, putting them back on the radar for those of us with too little time to go back to the library and catch up on the sections we missed when we were twelve.

The Stainless Steel Rat was originally published in 1961. Back in those days the novel format was a lot shorter and tended toward the "pulp" side of serial novelization, reading more like an episode of a television show today. The mission of these novels was to throw you into a setting far and away from your every day life and take you on a fast-paced adventure with one or more very interesting, larger-than-life characters.

Harry Harrison's main character is Jim DiGriz, the titular "Stainless Steel Rat." Are you familiar with the television show Leverage? Jim, in essence, is every one of the team members combined: Hitter, Grifter, Hacker, Thief, and Mastermind. Outwitting the interstellar governments has almost become too easy for this talented, slippery rat -- until this last job, where he's herded through a maze and meets Harold Inskipp, one of the Great Rats of All Time, at which point he is pressed into service with the Special Corps. Because what better way to catch a rat than with a rat? And what else is Jim doing with his time, really? He may as well work for The Powers of Good for a change.

Almost immediately, Jim uncovers a scandal and gets permission to travel to the planet and check it out. But the rat he's stumbled onto is possibly even slipperier than he is . . . and crazier. This one doesn't mind leaving bodies in her wake.

For a 50-year-old book, I have to say, this classic pulp novel definitely stands the test of time. In fact, the caper-esque subject matter might be even more popular right now than it was back in the day. (Don't be surprised if you suddenly see a promo for a Stainless Steel Rat TV show. FX, are you listening?) The characters are fun, the banter is witty, the backwater alien planets are easily taken advantage of . . . it's the perfect storm.

Phil Gigante is no stranger to fiction narration, and he does a mighty fine job here. So fine that at one point I caught myself thinking, "Ha! Jim does a pretty good imitation of Inskipp." And then I remembered that Phil was reading every character. Obviously he would do a passable imitation of himself. Duh. I might have smacked myself in the forehead were I not worried about falling off the elliptical machine at the time.

The only real flaw is that the first half of the book barrels along so fast that the second half (when Jim becomes obsessed with catching Angelina) seems to drag a bit. But the outcome is satisfying, if not slightly predictable . . . but only because by 2011 we've seen so many television shows like this. After finishing this adventure, I'd find myself curious to know how the next episode was going to play out. Which is exactly the point of the pulp novel, isn't it? Well then, consider me hooked.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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