This is the fifth short novel in the continuing contemporary fantasy series featuring the rock band The Banned Underground. The band members include four dwarfs, a green bog troll, and a bass playing dragon. In this episode, we find them as almost a backdrop to the main plot in which the British government is working with the Edern (think elves or fairies) to develop a future-telling system that will help the government pull the British economy out of trouble. The Dark Lord wants to hack into this system for his own (evil) purposes, and he sends a team to the ostensibly secure Edern laboratories during a fund-raising event at which the Banned are playing. The Dark Lord’s minions are there to install a computer virus. Meanwhile, the dwarves are after those same minions for an unpaid bar tab. (Confused yet?)
The SatNav of Doom is a comic slapstick farce along the lines of Robert Asprin or Piers Anthony, full of puns, word-play, and references to old rock tunes. Now, I can’t say this kind of humor normally has great appeal for me. I’m more of a science fiction than a fantasy reader, and when I do read humorous fantasy, I prefer something with a bit more satirical or philosophical content (e.g. Terry Pratchett), but in the subgenre this book represents, it’s pretty good. The characters are all clowns, but they can be funny in a burned trousers kind of way (Yes – there is such a scene). The copy editing is adequate, and whereas the prose is sparse and could not be considered literary in any sense, it is serviceable for the type of book this is. I also enjoyed the Doctor Who twist at the end.
I will caution that some may not ‘get’ some of the references (old rock songs and Doctor Who, for example). Also, this is not the book to start with in the series because the character development occurs mainly in the previous offerings. If you have read and enjoyed the others, though, you’ll like this one, too.
Disclosure: I received a pre-publication promotional copy of the eBook edition from the author.
The Banned Underground is a band. A rock band. Not terribly famous. Not original. Well, their music isn’t. Mainly they do covers of old rock tunes and play gigs at pubs and such. But few bands, even in this fantasy version of present day England, consist of four dwarfs, a green bog troll, and a bass playing dragon.
In this edition of their continuing quest for good-paying gigs, their scaly, fire-breathing bass player has gone missing, and a slinky, mysterious, scooter-riding woman in black leather fills in. She’s pretty hot, and her bass playing isn’t bad either, but she has ulterior motives.
Mayhem ensues involving a Dark Lord accountant, a record executive, some Kali-worshipping thugs, and associated minions. Oh, and a roadie who says nothing but ‘Der,’ although his meaning is clear to those who know him well. He reminds me a bit of the librarian in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, who only says ‘Ook.’ And, of course, there are some superficial parallels to Pratchett’s book Soul Music in that it is a fantasy story staring a rock band.
I grinned all the way through this short novel. It has a good deal of clever word play, some terrible puns (which ones aren’t?), slapstick humor, and generally likeable comic characters. There is also some fiery dragon romance. I also liked the bits of author (and even publisher) intrusion into the story narrative. Most guidance on fiction writing warns not to do this, but it can work in humor, and here it does.
This isn’t great literature. It’s not cultural satire. There is no single main character, and the plot is not exactly spellbinding (although there are some magical spells), but as a comic farce, this is quite entertaining. I recommend it as a quick, light read for all fans of comic fantasy.
Disclosure: I received a pre-publication promotional copy of the eBook edition from the author.
There are some very silly people living in and around Harpsden. Colin Griggs and his wife, Izzy, are no exception. They are struggling rural farmers. Colin brainstorms (in his case, it’s more like scattered showers), trying to find a way to save his small farm and, after being inspired by donuts and electrical outlets, comes up with the idea of hole farming. So many things rely on holes he figures it can’t miss.
His first contract, to make holes for the local golf course, goes astray. He uses rabbits in a complex cage system to build the holes, and the rodents overachieve with humorous consequences.
Colin is a comic character, unsophisticated, impulsive, and seemingly accident-prone, or at least very unlucky, but then most of the town’s population would be at home in a Monty Python sketch. Their mishaps and misinterpretations make for a slapstick comedy of errors with a certain charming innocence. Once you get past the silly premise, it’s a fun read.
I must admit, that was a bit difficult for me. The hole farming thing was just a bit too silly, even for a farce like this. It might work better in fantasy or Sci-Fi, but as a contemporary humor, I just couldn’t quite get into it. The prose is well done, although it could benefit from a smattering of well-placed commas and additional paragraph breaks. I noticed, I think, only one obvious typo (‘here’ instead of ‘her’ – I make this one myself sometimes).
This book is a bit Monty Python, a bit I Love Lucy, and a little bit children’s story. The characters are clowns to be laughed at more than they are heroes to be identified with, and it does have some quite funny scenes. I can recommend it for readers looking for an absurd farce that, unlike many in this genre, does not rely on people being drunk or crude to create a humorous situation.
This short novel follows the exploits of Trip and Rudy as they roam a post-apocalyptic America in their armored, nuclear-powered, antique Dodge.
The main characters aren’t likeable. They’re thieves and conmen. They’re sexist, sex-obsessed, buffoons who are perpetually high, or drunk, or both. Their only redeeming quality is that they are not worse. They don’t kick puppies, well, not that we know, although one did kick a cat.
They are funny, though, but in a vulgar, base kind of way. They are clowns to be laughed at rather than identified with, and the humor relies on sex, drugs, guns, zombies, and lots of beer. The banter between the characters as they interact with these things can be quite entertaining in a juvenile sort of way.
The setting is imaginative, and there are clever, satirical bits, like the self-expanding mega store used as a weapon that creates zombie associates and shoppers, and the Sisters of No Mercy, nuns who seem to regard sex as a sacrament.
I’m a bit torn about this book. It’s quite good for what it is—crude, juvenile humor. It’s just that this particular type of comedy has limited appeal to me, personally. I tired of it quickly, but I can recommend it for those who like this kind of thing.
Related Post: Book Review – Rocketship Patrol by J.I. Greco
Title: Used Aliens
Author: M. Sid Kelly
Publisher: M. Sid Kelly
First Published: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Humor
The story begins with Jimmy Fresneaux. He wants to be the star of a fishing show. Unfortunately, he’s not very good at catching fish. This matters not at all to the aliens that abduct him. They just need to gather a few specimens and conduct some tests as part of their evaluation of Earth for entry in the Galactic Pool. They’re supposed to throw him back when they’re done, but a mishap leaves Jimmy and two of the aliens (along with their sunken flying saucer) on Earth.
That’s part of the story. The rest has to do with why Earth is being evaluated.
It’s kind of political.
This is humorous science fiction romp with a fair amount of cultural satire. The human characters are funny in a buffoonish sort of way. Jimmy is believable as a mentally uncomplicated Cajun wannabe. Mike and Greg, two fossil hunting hobbyists, are a bit less believable. They are portrayed as having some serious scientific interests and knowledge but seem to be forcing themselves to sound more stupid and juvenile than they are, mainly by saying “man” and “dude” a lot. I don’t think they needed to be written this way. Jimmy is fine as a lone clown. Three stooges are not necessary. Mike and Greg might work better as supporting characters if they were written as nerdy straight men.
I loved the aliens. They are imaginative, and the ‘good’ ones are quite likeable. Dluhosh (an evolved squid), Dee (a hug-loving bear person), and Trukk-9 (a highly ethical filmmaker with a large number of eyes) are especially endearing. The ‘bad’ aliens are more dim and incompetent than they are evil. I liked that. They’re much easier to laugh at.
The story is written in third person with a shifting point of view. The prose is casual, complete with split infinitives and colloquialisms. The writing style reminds you that this story is not to be taken seriously. It’s meant to be fun, and it is.
I have found that ‘indie’ books often provide something that traditional publishers do not—well-written stories that don’t easily fit into established genres, that defy stereotypes, and that make no effort to follow the currently popular trends—in other words, stories that are truly fresh and different. This is a good example. On the surface, it is a science fiction farce with comic characters, but it also offers insightful satire, intelligent wit, an imaginative setting, unique aliens, and even a bit of real science. How many books like that have your read recently? If there were any, I’ll bet they were ‘indie.’
I found this quirky book enjoyable. I recommend it to humor fans with a scientific outlook. If you’ve read and enjoyed Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ stories, the ‘Red Dwarf’ books by Grant Naylor, the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ books by Harry Harrison, or Spider Robinson’s ‘Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon’ stories, you may also like ‘Used Aliens’ by M. Sid Kelly. It’s not quite like any of these, but there are a few similarities in places.
It always takes me a while to get into a Thursday Next novel because the setting is so odd. It’s a world, well, a couple of different, overlapping worlds actually, in which the line between fiction and reality is much blurrier than it is in our mundane world. If you wish to know more about these, read the earlier Thursday Next books. Now, on with our review.
This book is set in Fforde’s alternate England. It is not as strange as the book world setting, but even here fiction affects reality in a very, well, real way. Opinion and belief can change what happens and even what exists. For example, in this book, belief that an asteroid will impact Earth and cause human extinction changes the probability that it will occur. The more people that think it will happen, the more likely it is that it really will. When children create imaginary friends, those friends actually have a separate existence. When people believe in a vengeful god, it reveals itself and begins smiting.
This happens in our world too, of course. Fiction can change reality here, but it does so far more subtly. In Fforde’s alternate version, the effects are direct, obvious, and calculable.
The unique settings of Fforde’s books especially appeal to me. It makes them different. It takes a little more mental gymnastics to bend my mind around a Thursday Next story than it does with most others, and a good mental stretch always feels great.
As with the previous Thursday Next novels, this one includes literary references, some of which I’m sure I missed. These are like special gifts to the bibliophiles who read his books, and from what I’ve seen in other reviews, they are duly appreciative.
As for the plot, well, it sort of has one. It’s about Thursday and what she does Next (sorry – lame pun). Actually, this book is more of a series of threads. There is the mystery of the alternate Thursdays (Not every other Thursday — fake Thursdays that sometimes replace her.) There is the underlying question of the Dark Reading Matter and what it is. There is the lingering mind worm that makes Thursday believe she has daughter she doesn’t actually have. There is the suspense surrounding a scheduled God smiting and the question of whether or not Thursday’s daughter can get the smite shield working in time. There is the thread about the evil Goliath Corporation and its intentions. And then there is the human story of Thursday getting old and feeble and her kids growing up and leading their own lives. I suspect the story takes this form because it is intended primarily as a way of setting up the next Next novel. It hangs together well enough on it’s own, though.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable read. If you are a Thursday Next fan, this one is a must. It ties up some loose ends, sets up some new characters, and foreshadows yet another odd setting — The Dark Reading Matter.
This is a cross-genre story that feels like it should be classified somewhere between Doctor Who and Discworld. I’m calling it science fiction rather than fantasy because at one point the ‘magic’ is described as the clever application of the strange effects of quantum mechanics. This is no more outlandish than the Doctor’s TARDIS, although instead of the unlikely time travel of Doctor Who, this story includes travel between our reality and an unlikely alternate dimension.
It’s an interesting place.
This alternate Earth is run as a police state, and our reluctant hero, The Pan of Hamgee, is a Goverment Blacklisted Indivdual. His existence is therefore illegal, and the fact that he has survived as a GBI for five years, which is about four and a half years longer than normal, proves that he is very good at not being caught. This talent comes to the attention of Big Merv, a major crime boss who recruits him as his new getaway driver. For the Pan of Hamgee, this is good news for two reasons. As a GBI, no legitimate employer will hire him, and Merv’s other option was dumping him in the river – with cement overshoes – but these are details we don’t need to go into here.
This story has flying car chases, a bad guy you love to loath, likable gangsters, and a hero you can really identify with since, like most of us, he’s not terribly heroic – at least not intentionally. He reminds me a bit of Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. He’s a professional coward whose talent for getting into unintended trouble is only exceeded by his talent for escaping from it. All he wants is a simple, normal life, but the universe seems to have another fate planned for him. The book also has a few laughs, a lot of smiles, and even a bit of political and religious satire. There are far too few books like this. Great characters, interesting setting, humor, and cultural satire, with a genuinely good plot providing a framework holding them all together is a hard blend to achieve and an even more difficult one to do well. This book does.
The prose is well executed with just enough description for the reader to visualize the scenes. Backstory, where needed, is integrated seamlessly into the narrative. Dialog is believable and suitable to the characters and to the situation. Grammar, spelling, formatting, and other of technical requirements of the storyteller’s trade that sometimes pose a problem for the independent writer are executed professionally in this book.
It passes my personal 5-star test. In addition to all the basics needed for a well-told tale, it has that something extra that would prompt me to read it again. I enjoyed following the misadventures of The Pan of Hamgee, a likeable sod thrown into an uncomfortable situation in an imaginative world that has certain parallels to our own. I highly recommend it to readers of lighthearted speculative fiction or anyone who may be looking for something a bit different and a lot of fun.
I confess to being a diehard Discworld fan. I have been ever since the 1980s, which was before the earlier books in the series were available in the U.S. Consequently, seven of Discworld books I own are the U.K./Canadian editions. Mort is one of these. The copy I have (pictured here) came from Canada. I was living outside Detroit when I bought it, and Ontario is just across the river. This was fortunate for me because waiting for an American publisher to recognize that there was an audience here for Terry Pratchett’s unique kind of intelligent humor would have been unbearable. Harper Collins has since corrected this terrible oversight, and now all Discworld books are available in the U.S., although with much less cool covers.
I pulled this dusty old gem off my bookshelves a few days ago because the SciFi and Fantasy Bookclub on Goodreads chose it as their selection to read for January 2013. I tried to pace myself, taking three days to read it in order to prolong the enjoyment. I had forgotten how incredibly good it is.
Mort is the story of a gangly young man who becomes Death’s apprentice. If you are familiar with Discworld, you may know Death – tall guy, boney, wears a black cloak, often seen with a scythe and in the company of a white horse named Binky. He is the anthropomorphic personification of the ultimate and final reality – and he likes kittens.
In this story, Death apparently wants an apprentice for two reasons. One is that he has an adopted daughter, Ysabell, whom he thinks could use some company. The backstory for this is vague, but it seems that Death either took pity on her or was simply curious after he ‘collected’ her parents. It’s hard to tell with him sometimes. He has a wonderfully odd way of looking at things.
The other reason to have an apprentice is that he wants a break from the ‘duty.’ This turns out less well than Death might have hoped. On his first solo mission to free souls from their mortal anchors, Mort does something wrong. He saves a young princess from the knife of the assassin fated to kill her, and this disrupts the interrelated web of causality and creates a cosmic paradox. The world thinks she’s dead, but because of Mort’s intervention, she’s not, at least not from a biological perspective. This leads to complications.
Like many of Pratchett’s books, Mort is full of clever wordplay and philosophical humor. For example, at one point Mort says, “I’ve heard about boredom, but I’ve never had a chance to try it.” This cracks me up because it’s dryly funny in the context of the story, but it also philosophically insightful, or at least I found it so. This book is filled with such little Easter eggs, little bits of prose that provoke a smile in passing but can be opened to find even more inside them.
This, in my opinion, is one of the best of Pratchett’s books, the worst of which are some of the most enjoyable stories I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.
This story relates the mild misadventures of three middle-class men who have decided to spend a fortnight boating on the Thames. The book has no heroes or villains. It is not ‘action packed.’ There is no explicit sex or violence (although they do find a dead girl at one point, but she’s just floating by minding her own business, and her appearance does not delay them long).
You can think of it as a Victorian English travelogue with commentary about the places they pass and the things they observe along the way. I found it delightful. It is witty, lighthearted, and simply pleasure to relax with for a quiet evening’s read.
I highly recommend it.
This comic farce follows a rock band of (mostly) dwarves on a quest to obtain a replacement for a magical throne they inadvertently destroyed during a gig. Their efforts are complicated by a group of evil, magic using accountants that wants to stop them in order to weaken and then invade the underground dwarfish kingdom, and a strange religious cult that wants to take over the world, or at least Wales, and skim some profits from the endeavor. There are also a couple of dragons, a few humans, and a testy witch who resolves disputes by turning her opposition into frogs.
The book is set in a fantasy version of contemporary Britain. As an American reader who last visited England at about the time of the first Moon landing, some of the references escaped me, although I don’t necessarily consider this a detractor. I’ve never visited Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, at least not physically, but I still enjoy reading about it. I just thought I should mention this for my countrymen because this book does assume the reader is familiar with British geography and jargon.
The Mystic Accountants is a zany romp that sometimes reminded me of The Three Stooges because of its slapstick humor or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in that it has a large cast of quirky characters and unlikely car chases. The central plot, that of finding and procuring a new throne, takes a backseat to the antics of the characters, which are sometimes quite funny. They are more like clowns than they are believable individuals, though. There is some very clever wordplay, but the dialog felt contrived for the sake of a joke at times.
Witty banter is probably the strongest aspect of this book, although it may be being called upon to do too much. I saw several places in which dialog between characters was the primary method for conveying the action and describing the setting, which made these scenes difficult to visualize, at least for me. There were also cases in which the scene shifted without an obvious scene break using a blank line or some other convention.
The book contains footnotes, an obvious nod to Terry Pratchett, but, at least in the Kindle version I read, these were placed at the end of the book rather than the bottom of the applicable page, making them less accessible to enhance the scenes they referred to.
Whereas I would not group this book in the same category as Pratchett’s witty satire, it has its moments. Fans of zany slapstick, especially those with a fondness for popular music from the 1960s and 1970s, might want to try it.
The cover is reminiscent of Monty Python. The characters remind me of those created by Douglas Adams. And the plot, well, for the sake of comparison, I’d put it someplace in the vicinity of Doctor Who and Red Dwarf. The story is not as clearly satirical as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it’s sillier than Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, but comparisons can be made, and some other reviewers have made them. This book is in the same category with all of these, but it’s different. Yes. It’s funny. Actually, of the seventy or so books I’ve read this year, I found this to be one of the most enjoyable.
Why, you might ask. I know I asked this. It may be the quirky characters. There is no antagonist as such, and the protagonist, jixX (no, that’s not a typo), is not much of hero. He’s a landscape architect drafted to pilot a starship, seemingly for no logical reason. You might think this would be considered a black mark on the novel, but it didn’t bother me much. It was supposed to be absurd, and it was. The selection of the crew to accompany him also made no sense. There is the carpenter who has never worked on real wood, the beautiful and mysterious gynecologist, the ostensible scientist trying to prove the existence of God through hidden linguistic clues and who (for reasons unknown) seems to have a German accent, and the professional stowaway who is not technically part of the crew. We suspect that someone had some reason for these crew selections, but none is ever revealed. Perhaps it is as completely random as it appears and it is our presumption that such things should make sense that is misleading us. There is also a ship’s computer with questionable wit.
Then there are the little, green aliens who have a peculiar fondness for bricks. They didn’t make much sense, either, but they’re fun.
The story ends about three fourths of the way in. After that, there is an epilog, and a glossary, and some appendices, and an index. They’re fun, too.
I found this book refreshingly different. Many of the books I’ve read recently seemed formulaic, as if the writers all read the same books on how to write books. They followed the same rules for building their characters and settings and for structuring their plots. If Mark Roman read any of these ‘how to write a novel’ books, he wisely ignored them.
I highly recommend this odd little book to readers who like humorous science fiction, aren’t intimidated by a bit of mind-bending absurdity, and who are looking for something completely different.
Title: Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors
Author: Benjamin Wallace
Publisher: Benjamin Wallace, Copyright: 2012
Genre: Comic Fiction
Jerry survived the end of the world, outfitted himself with all sorts of cool gear, a great big dog, and began his new career as a post-apocalyptic nomadic warrior. He finds it a frustrating and thankless job, especially when the people he wishes to save don’t think they need his help. The townspeople of New Hope most definitely do, but they don’t realize it.
This book is exactly what it is advertised to be, a short, light, entertaining read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is something far too few books do, in my humble opinion. I like a book that can tell a good story and still maintain a healthy distance from reality, one that doesn’t pretend to be anything but fiction. A great book can do this AND still say something about reality. It leaves no doubt that the story isn’t real but the story behind the story is.
This book does not do that, and the author knows it. He’s not conveying any deep insights. There is no social satire. He has provided the reader with a good book, not a great one. It is what he set out to do. In the bio on his web page, this is what he says: “I don’t want to shock you or change your mind. I don’t even care if it makes you think. I just want you to squirt that drink out your nose.”
Well… This particular book is not quite that funny, but it will bring a smile or two. It’s a good book with a good guy who is actually good. He’s likeable. He’s admirable. The supporting characters, including his dog, have personality, too. They are interesting and believable (at least for the sake of the story), and it is easy to care about what happens to them.
The weakest part of the novel is the setting. The end of the world just seems to have happened, and no one apparently knows much about why except that it was a war with some really nasty and imaginative weapons. Perhaps there is a point here after all. Maybe it’s trying to say that it doesn’t matter who fights a war; it doesn’t matter what it’s about because the result is the same. If so, I don’t think the point is intentional.
It’s an odd apocalypse, in any case. Most of the survivors we meet seem to be doing quite well either living in small communities or scavenging from the abundance left behind by those who were not so lucky. There are, of course, challenges, but they seem to be limited to organized bad guys who come to steal from the small, reasonably peaceful communities. This is where the setting especially came up short for me. If our hero Jerry can have a lavishly equipped motor home and an overpowered sports car, if there is plenty of stuff lying about for the taking, why would anyone go through all the risk and trouble of raiding the living when the dead offer far less resistance?
On the technical side, the Kindle version I read was double-spaced, which I found distracting at first. The proof reading, editing, and the cover were all above average for a self-published work, however.
After a somewhat weak start, I found myself quite enjoying this story and empathizing with Jerry. I liked the character, and the expected cliché ending did not bother me at all. It fit. Nothing else would have been appropriate. I recommend this book to anyone in need of a light read and a few smiles.
Albert Zim is a first line supervisor in one department of one section of the world-spanning Omega-Mart, which has improved the lives of everyone by providing great bargains — and everyone knows it. One day while attending a company motivational meeting, he finds himself raising his hand and asking a question.
“Since our customers are what’s most important, and our customers are also our employees, and our employees are part of our family, couldn’t we help them out every once in awhile? Like with emergencies or whatever? Couldn’t we pay to have someone’s teeth fixed?”
And this question dooms him. How can Omega-Mart continue to offer low prices if they provide something like health care to their employees? The very idea marks poor Albert as disloyal, subversive, a traitor to the very ideals of Omega-Mart. It also gets him fired — straight off the planet.
This is a well-written satire of consumerism, corporate power, and groupthink. It is humorous because it exaggerates the truth to point out how absurd some of the things we do and believe really are. It is also a cautionary tale that reminds us that things don’t need to be this way.
I enjoyed the book, but at 50,000 words, it is only about half the length of a typical novel. One part, I thought, should have been expanded. The whole visit to another planet thing makes little sense as it is written now. Yes, I know. This is a humorous satire and sense has little to do with it, but this one part required suspension of more disbelief than I personally could achieve comfortably, even for the sake of a good story. I was willing to go along with Albert being fired off the planet in a small room. I could accept that he entered a mysterious space-time rift that brought him to another planet, but even if his little escape pod could survive entry and landing, there is no way the technologically primitive people he finds there could launch it back into space. His experience could not be a hallucination because he was gone a year. A bit more about the aliens and better techno-babble for how he got there and, more importantly, how he got back was needed.
I suspect that Niccolo Grovinci is a pseudonym, but as for the author’s real name, I have no idea. From the writing, I assume the author is over 40, male, and American, but these are just guesses. This is a fun book regardless of who the author is. I would recommend it to readers who like cultural satire.
This is a fun book with lewd artists, loose women, and a lusty muse. It’s about the color blue.
It’s not about just any blue. It’s about a special blue, a mystical blue, a sacred blue, a blue that fell from the sky in a fiery ball almost forty-thousand years ago. It’s about a blue that provides inspiration — for a price. There are other colors mentioned, but the plot is about blue, and I can tell you little else about it without it becoming a spoiler.
The plot is not a terribly complex one. It could have been relayed quite well in a short story rather than a novel, but then we would not have been able to hang out in late Nineteenth Century Paris with some of the most entertainingly eccentric characters you will ever meet, real or fictional. Those between the covers of this book are a bit of both.
Obviously, this is a character-driven story more than a plot- or action-driven story. I don’t mind this. In fact, I prefer it. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about what happens to them. Conversely, if I do care about the characters, then pretty much anything they do that is worthy of mention has a good chance of being interesting or, especially in the case in this book, amusing.
Even for a character-based story, though, this book is outside the norm. It centers on the fictional artist/baker Lucien Lessard, but it begins with Vincent Van Gogh. Through the course of the story, we also meet Renoir, Monet, Pissaro, Manet, Whistler, and others whose personalities are based, with due artistic license, on historical characters. My personal favorite is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. This libidinous little guy is portrayed with such an uninhibited lust (literally) for life that I find him oddly refreshing. He is lecherous, immodest, and lewd, but his unrepentant surrender to his baser desires makes him seem somehow more honest and human.
The physical book published by Harper Collins is very well done. It includes several full-color images of works by some of the artists mentioned. The art along with the story allows the reader to imagine deeper insights into the artists’ personalities. The fact that these personalities may be largely fictional is completely beside the point. This is not a book of history. It is not a biography. It is a novel. It is fiction. It is a work of art.
I almost did not pick up this book. The cover sucks. I mean, some covers are simply bad but the cover of this book crosses over bad without looking down and lands well over the border to ‘WTF were they thinking?’ The blurb on the back cover by Stephen Colbert doesn’t help things. It says nothing about the story and, if fact, makes it sound sophomoric. The blurb on the inside dust jacket that compared it to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett attracted me, though, so I gave it a try.
It’s good. It’s not the wild, bizarre ride of the Hitchhiker’s guide or the insightful, satirical humor of Discworld, but it is lighthearted and fun and a thoroughly enjoyable romp with an almost competent space faring rogue trying to escape his luck and his past. I found it a very welcome addition to the far too small field of humorous science fiction. I recommend it.
The Second Volume of Defying Fate
His nation is headed for war, his father thinks he’s imagining things, and his mother still regards him as a child. How can Prince Donald convince the king that the real threat to his kingdom comes from his most trusted adviser? The young prince has only his wits, his courage, and his friends, including two ancient androids, one of which has four legs and barks.
The Warden War continues the quest begun by Prince Donald in The Warden Threat. His father, King Leonard of Westgrove, has been told that the neighboring kingdom of Gotrox has discovered a magical means to animate a mysterious and gigantic ancient stone warrior, the Warden of Mystic Defiance, which it plans to use it to spearhead an invasion of his country. Donald is convinced this is a hoax carefully crafted by his father’s chief adviser to bring about a war to gain control of Gotroxian resources. Donald is determined to thwart him. It will not be easy. Chief Adviser Horace Barter has resources, connections, influence, and the almost unquestioned trust of the king. Donald, sadly, has none of these.
He is not without some resources, though. Although he does not realize it, two of his friends, well, one of his friends and the dog that recently seems to have adopted him as its new master, are androids. They were left behind by an ancient commercial enterprise established on the planet centuries before and have now decided to assist humanity, starting with the prince. The best way to help, they believe, is to reactivate the almost omnipotent artificial intelligence that once ran the now defunct alien business project. This could be risky. One of the reasons it was shutdown two-thousand years ago was that it was quite insane, dangerously so.
Technically science fiction, the first two Warden novels are almost anti-fantasies, which poke a fair, or perhaps an unfair amount of good-natured fun at the serious tone and dependence on magic common to many epic fantasy adventure genre novels. Because they are loosely based on the U.S. buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they include elements of political and cultural satire as well. With their charming and truly likeable characters, witty, intelligent humor, and prose style blending humorous science fiction and epic fantasy elements, they are a fun read. I believe they will appeal to readers of these genres who may be looking for something fresh and different.
I love to read but even with the exponential expansion of available fiction, I still have a hard time finding new books that really appeal to me. My tastes are apparently somewhat outside the norm.
I was reminded of this recently when I sent out a call for help on Twitter. This is what I said:
I’m looking for a good 99¢ indie ebook novel similar in tone and mood with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Any suggestions?
I sent a few other Tweets in the same vein over the next few hours. Eventually a kindly Tweeter responded with a recommendation for a book by an indie writer that he was offering for free on Smashwords. It was a promotion to gain readers for the other books in the series. Great! Maybe there was a whole series of new books I would like.
I downloaded it. Last night I opened it on my Kindle and began to read.
It opened with a war scene full of action and seemingly mindless violence. This is normally a big turnoff for me but the Tweeter recommended it so I continued to read. Well, I thought, maybe it would get better. The nonstop action continued. I scanned ahead and there seemed to be no end of blood and brutality and nothing that indicated the book would eventually appeal to me and none that it bore any similarity to the wonderful books by Sir Terry Pratchett. I closed it and opened up my copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol mainly because I hadn’t yet moved it from my Kindle to my computer hard drive. Today I made an emergency visit to the library.
Now I know there are many people who thrive on nonstop action and I’m sure they would have not been able to put a book like this down. I just don’t happen to be one of them. To explain why not can be the subject of a later post but the short answer is that it ultimately comes down to a matter of taste. I find action by itself dull and uninteresting. I need to know about the characters first and there has to be something I find admirable about them before they are put in peril in order for me to care about their fate. Otherwise they are no different than those they are in conflict with. This is actually the same reason I was never a sports fan. I could never find a good reason to care which team won. The action isn’t enough. The game for the game’s sake isn’t enough. I need a reason to not only prefer one side over the other but also something to admire about the chosen side; something which their opponent either lacks or is opposed to.
I know this is out of the ordinary but that’s my point. With all the new indie authors publishing now you’d think some would be writing books that are not modeled on currently popular mainstream fiction and that there would be some that appeal to whatever niche you might find yourself in. I’m sure there are some out there for mine. Finding them is the problem.
So that is why I am asking for your help. I want to find more books to read and enjoy and I’m hoping some of you might know of some that suite my particular reading preference niche.
The following list should provide some indication of my personal tastes. Breaking out your tastes and preferences in a similar fashion may help you define and find new books you will like.
- Genre – I prefer Science Fiction although Fantasy is a close second. Mysteries and “literary fiction” can also be good if they share several of the other traits listed here. The target audience can be either adults or young adults. I find that YA books are often the most enjoyable. Within these genres, books that include insightful cultural satire are the most appealing.
- Mood – The mood is the overall feeling you get from a book. If you feel an emotion when you finish a book, the author has effectively conveyed a mood. I prefer books with positive moods such as, fanciful, happy, hopeful, idealistic, intellectual, joyful, or optimistic. If a book provokes a smile from me in the first twenty pages, that is a big plus. (You can find out more on mood here if you wish: Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood)
- Tone – The way the mood is expressed by the attitude of the author is the tone. It can also be thought of as part of the author’s style or voice. Tone reflects the author’s attitude toward the story, the characters in it, as well as toward the reader. The books I prefer tend to carry a prevailing tone that is amused, cheerful, humorous, ironic, lighthearted, optimistic, playful, satirical, or witty. (You can find out more on tone at the same link as above.)
- Theme – I tend to especially like books with an implied message of personal and/or cultural progress and discovery.
- Characters – There should be something admirable about the protagonist and his, her or its allies. They should be ethically and philosophically superior examples of humanity, even if they don’t happen to be human. This could be because they are unbiased, kindhearted, caring, nurturing, empathetic, or several other positive traits. This is what makes me care about what happens to them and makes me sure that their goals deserve to prevail. It also helps if the main character is intellectually above the norm. Those who are bright, analytical, observant, inquisitive, insightful or skeptical are especially appealing.
- Fantastic Creatures – If the story is a fantasy and includes such things as vampires, zombies, ghosts, or other supernatural or mythical beings, I prefer a certain amount of humor and satire in how these creatures are portrayed. I can suspend disbelief for the sake of a story and pretend such things can exist but it is more enjoyable if the tone of the book conveys that I’m not expected to.
So now know more about my taste in books than you ever wanted to. Thanks for letting me share. I have one more favor to ask. If you know of books that you think meet my somewhat peculiar taste by authors I have not listed below, please let me know either as a comment here or on Twitter.
These are some of the writers I know of who have written books that met the minimum threshold of my exacting standards.
- Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
- Piers Anthony (Xanth Series – These are almost too silly but can be fun to read.)
- Robert Asprin (Myth and Phule Series)
- Kage Baker (Company Series – a bit too much romance but not bad.)
- Terry Brooks (Magic Kingdom of Landover Series)
- Lois McMaster Bujold (Miles Series)
- Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl Series)
- Peter David (Apropos of Nothing Series)
- L. Sprague de Camp (The Reluctant King)
- Gordon R. Dickson (The Dragon Knight Series and others)
- Jasper Fforde
- Cornelia Funke (Inkheart)
- Neil Gaiman
- Craig Shaw Gardner
- William Goldman (The Princess Bride – one of my favorites.)
- Tom Holt (Some of his are good, others I didn’t much care for.)
- Jim C. Hines (The Goblin Series was especially fun.)
- Fritz Leiber
- Gregory Maguire (Wicked was enjoyable. The others, not so much.)
- Lee Martinez (Usually his books are a hoot.)
- Jack McDevitt (Alex Benedict Series)
- Martin Millar (The Good Fairies of New York)
- K.E. Mills (A bit verbose but not bad.)
- John Moore
- Grant Naylor (Red Dwarf)
- Terry Pratchett (My favorite writer by far. Fortunately a prolific one.)
- Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials)
- Robert Rankin
- Rick Riordan
- Spider Robinson
- J. K. Rowling
- John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation)
- Martin Scott (Thraxas)
Thanks and happy reading.