Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Lit Geek
  Book Reviews by James Maxey
February 2009

Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Lamentation is primarily the story of Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forests Houses, a gypsy king who bears witness (at a distance) to the destruction of the fabled city of Windwir. Windwir was the sanctuary of scholars and mystics, a repository of the world's most ancient and dangerous secrets. Rudolfo is a classic hero -- the perfect combination of warrior and diplomat, as fast with his wits as he is with his sword, beloved by his men. He rides to Windwir to discover the secret of its destruction and discovers in the ruins a metal man named Isaac, who claims to have destroyed the city by reciting an ancient spell. The metal man is full of remorse, but Rudolfo knows that Isaac wouldn't have repeated the spell unless he was programmed to. Suspicion turns quickly to the piggish and possibly insane overseer of the land, Sethbert. Sethbert is Rudolfo's opposite in every way -- cruel and loutish, valuing the fear of those beneath him more than their respect.

There is no doubt that Sethbert is guilty of the crime. He confesses to it on his first appearance in the book. The mystery of the novel is how and why, mysteries that Rudolfo must have answers to before he can bring Sethbert to justice.

Scholes writing is fluid, full of sensual details, and he shows a masterful hand at building scenes. His characters are, on the surface, slightly one dimensional. You quickly grow to like the characters you're meant to like and despise those you're meant to despise. However, as the novel unfolds, the characters do reveal themselves to be far more complex than they seem at first. Rudolfo's unfolding history is particularly compelling.

The highest compliment I can give this book is that I finished it a month ago and it still seems fresh in my mind. I've thought a lot about some of the underlying assumptions of the book. There is an undercurrent of fate that runs beneath the plot that is difficult to discuss without introducing spoilers. Everything that happens in this book happens for a reason, sometimes due to plans and plots that have unfolded over centuries. Nothing happens by chance, which introduces an interesting philosophical conundrum. Isaac, the metal man, behaves as he behaves due to his programming. But as the story unfolds, we discover that the human players -- Rudolfo, Sethbert, and Jin Li Tam, Sethbert's former concubine and Rudolfo's new love interest -- are all following the scripts of lives carefully crafted by the true mastermind of the destruction of Windwir. At some level, the book is an argument that what we believe to be free will is anything but free. I disagree with the underlying philosophy, but still found it to be thought-provoking.

If this first novel is any indication, Ken Scholes will soon be a very well-known name in fantasy.

Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six after the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slatterly

I started off Liberation with high hopes. Brian Francis Slatterly writes with an energetic, daring style that makes the reader sit up and pay attention. His premise for the book is one that's impossible to ignore: America collapses into chaos and anarchy not due to the efforts of any enemy or natural disaster, but simply because we ran our financial affairs so badly that the dollar collapsed. No longer able to borrow money from abroad, the government is bankrupt, unable to pay the soldiers and lawmen who keep the country civilized. Riots break out, and soon the US has broken into thousands of small kingdoms under the control of local strongmen. The illegal economy suddenly becomes the new economy, and even slavery makes a return in these dark days.

The hero of the book is Marco. We meet him on a prison ship where he's been sentenced for crimes he committed as the enforcer of a criminal brotherhood known as the Slick Six. Marco is a super-assassin, trained by jungle mystics, unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat, who is in prison only because he allowed himself to be caught, to save the other members of the Slick Six. Marco kills the guards aboard the prison ship and returns to New York to seek out the Slick Six after the collapse of the dollar. This launches him into a series of adventures that, despite the title, have very little to do with the Slick Six.

Whether you will like the book or not boils down to whether or not you enjoy Slatterly's writing style. A kind critique might call it free-flowing and lyrical. A harsh critique could dismiss it as disjointed and confusing, valuing poetry over clarity. I'll come down somewhere in the middle -- lyrical and confusing. You can pull just about any two or three page sequence from this book and read it and be dumfounded by the sheer power of Slatterly's writing. Slatterly maintains his hyper-stylistic approach through every scene and every character, veering off for pages at a time to illuminate the little corners of his world, bringing even minor characters to weird and wonderful life. The downside to this approach is that it quickly becomes impossible to figure out what is important to the story and what is just a diversion. By the middle of the book, I had a hard time knowing just who was important to the plot or even what, exactly, the plot was. Marco's goals are a bit fuzzy, to say the least. And Marco's importance fades as dozens, if not hundreds, of quirky, interesting character are introduced and brought to life. It's like watching a movie where all the extras in the background are rushing toward the camera screaming, "Look at me! Look at me!"

One other oddity of the book: Apparently, after America collapses, it reverts to 1969. The book is full of song lyrics and in-jokes about sixties music. Bob Dylan's spirit hangs heavy over ever page. If there was any American culture in the decades between 1970 and the opening of the book, Slatterly's characters seem curiously unaware of it.

Despite the difficulty I had just figuring out what was going on, I still had several moments where I just flat out enjoyed the book, due to the sheer audacity of it. It's worth checking out the first chapter of Liberation on the "look inside" section at Amazon. If you enjoy the style, and don't require a book that's driven by any sort of linear narrative, this might be the book for you. If you're looking for more traditional story telling, stay away.

Read more by James Maxey


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