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One of the time-honored genres of science fiction and fantasy literature involves men from Earth who suddenly find themselves on other worlds, whether through super-science, magic, or mysticism, rather than visiting as, say, a “normal” space traveler. The most famous early example would be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series, but among others are Lin Carter’s “Green Star” books and Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series. In the modern age, the popularity of games such as Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and 80s helped revive the genre, with books such as Norton’s “Quag Keep,” Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame” series (especially book 1), and Brian Daley’s “Coramonde” books.

“Starfollowers of Coramonde” is the second of two books, sequel to “Doomfarers of Coramonde,” which introduces us to Gil McDonald, an American soldier fighting in Vietnam. One moment, McDonald and his armored personnel carrier crew are fighting an enemy ambush, and the next they’re in combat with a dragon. (Spoiler: APCs beat dragons. Barely.) McDonald and his men learn they’ve been summoned by magic to Coramonde, a kingdom under grave threat from the evil wizard Yardiff Bey. McDonald chooses to remain behind in the world and helps to restore the rightful ruler, Prince Springbuck, to his throne, foiling Yardiff Bey’s plot. “Doomfarers” ends with Yardiff Bey escaping and taking with him as prisoner Dunstan the Berserker, Gil’s friend.

“Starfollowers” picks up soon thereafter, with Gil, Springbuck, and their friends and allies deciding to take the war to Yardiff Bey and his masters. McDonald and a small party head west to return a magic sword and an infant heir to the land of Vegana, currently under siege by the enemy, as well as to investigate what it is that Yardiff Bey seeks in a long-dead wizard’s writings. Meanwhile, Prince Springbuck forgoes responding to the attacks on his own land and instead leads an army to the lands of the enemy and the city of Shardisku-Salama, wherein reside Yardiff Bey’s masters.

And therein lies the problem with “Starfollowers of Coramonde.” After that set up, the book becomes one long pursuit and series of battles leading to a climactic confrontation in front of the city, itself. The large cast of new characters is thinly drawn, and it is assumed that the reader has all the background information he needs on existing characters from reading the first book. Thus there is little to capture one’s interest and give one a reason to care if one is reading “Starfollowers” first. Without the ground laid in “Doomfarers,” this becomes a rather standard fantasy quest.

But it is well done and enjoyable nonetheless. Mr. Daley showed promise as a writer, even with the occasional tendency toward a Gygaxian abuse of the thesaurus, and it’s a shame he died relatively early in his career. His setting in Coramonde is interesting, and I would like to have seen it developed further. And, similar to other books of that time, I have to wonder if this was the author’s home D&D setting. If so, I would have enjoyed playing there.

I read the book in Kindle format and was disappointed in the quality of the file. There are simply too many typos that could have been fixed with decent proofreading. Not enough to spoil the book or make it impossible to read, but enough to be an annoyance. The publisher should issued a copy-edited revision. There is also a paperback copy available.

On a scale of one to five, I give “Starfollowers of Coramonde” a straight three: enjoyable, but best read if one reads “Doomfarers” first. However, I recommend just that: buy both and sit back for a good late-summer’s read.

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Book cover the last moriarty

I’ve been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories since I was in junior high, when I used to watch the old Basil Rathbone movies on Sunday afternoons. One year around 8th or 9th grade, someone bought me a volume of the complete stories for my birthday, which I devoured over the course of the summer. (“The Adventure of the Second Stain” being a favorite. ) I can truthfully say they’ve had an influence on my life, since, thanks to the “malign” influence of Rathbone and Holmes’ creator Arthur Conan Doyle, I’ve been a pipe-smoker since high school. (Don’t worry. I’ve stayed away from the “seven-percent solution”)

Since then, I’ve occasionally read modern pastiches on the Holmes stories. Some were excellent, such as Nicholas Meyer’s “The Seven Percent Solution”, while others were just awful. The good ones not only captured the feel of late Victorian London, but understood Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s characters, how they would speak, and their relationship to each other. The bad ones were only “Holmes in name only” and often had the characters saying or doing things they just wouldn’t in “reality.” Some clearly had axes to grind or thought they were being edgy, making me wonder why the Doyle estate didn’t sue them for damages.

I’m happy to say, however, that “The Last Moriarty” by Charles Veley largely falls into the “good pastiche” category. In fact I’d say it’s very good and well-worth a fan’s time and money.

(Warning: mild spoilers may follow.)

The story opens with the discovery of a dead American floating in the Thames. First ruled a suicide, Holmes (naturally) concludes it was a murder. He then learns the victim was in the employ of the Rockefellers and was in London as an advance man checking into security for a meeting between the highest levels of the British government and the richest men in America: Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie. From there the plot involves multiple murders, terrorism, blackmail, Great Power intrigue, secrets from Holmes’ own past, not one, but two damsels in distress, and Gilbert and Sullivan. Famous characters from the time also make their appearance: not only the Americans, but Prime Minister Salisbury and the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte. And, as the title avers, Professor Moriarty himself is somehow tied up in this.

Author Veley paces the story well. Like a serial publication from that era, the story is broken up into many short chapters. The pacing is swift, but never rushed. An average reader could easily finish this over a weekend or even a single long night.

Veley captures the London of Doyle’s tales nicely: you almost hear the horses’ hooves’ clack against the cobbles and feel the cold wind off the Thames. The characters largely sound like they should, too. My favorite dramatic interpretation of Holmes was the late Jeremy Brett’s, whose performances in a British series from the 1980s and 90s set a bar I don’t think anyone will ever clear, even Benedict Cumberbatch. When reading Veley’s “Holmes,” I can hear Brett saying the lines. That to me is a mark of his success.

He’s less successful with Watson’s narrative voice, which doesn’t sound quite right to me, and I think he gets it wrong when characters address each other by their first names. It’s fine for the Americans, being a less formal people than the British, but for our two leads to call each other “Sherlock” and “John” with regularity, instead of “Holmes” and “Watson,” is off: acquaintances would say “Mr. Holmes” or “Dr. Watson;” male friends would address each other with last names without the honorifics. First names would only be used under moments of stress or emotional significance. This is a minor quibble, though.

Where I think the author really missteps is in his two final twists. No spoilers, but they involve Holmes’ past and, I think, go one step too far in reinterpreting the character. The revelations go against two of Holmes’ major attributes: his misogyny and, more importantly, the role of Irene Adler as “The Woman.” Veley handles the consequences of this well, but it’s a step I would not have taken.

Some might criticize the villain for being a two-dimensional caricature, but I think it fits fine with what is, after all, a melodrama involving the theater.

Overall, I highly recommend Charles’ Veley’s “The Last Moriarty” to fans of period mysteries in general, and Sherlock Holmes fans in particular. It’s enjoyable, fun, and even a bit gripping – a definite three-pipe read.

Note on the Kindle edition: Too often reviews of Kindle books make no mention of the format or the quality of the translation to electronic media – and Amazon is far too tolerant of publishers selling error-laden Kindle books. I’m happy to report “The Last Moriarty” has no such problems: the formatting is clean and easy to read, and I could find no typos that I recall. Well done!

PS: Before anyone shoots me, I happen to think Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job with his modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes (and his “Watson” is excellent). I just believe Brett’s is still superior and truer to the character.

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"But please give us subsidies"

“But please give us subsidies”

I wrote a small review of John Etherington’s book “The Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist’s Evaluation” at GoodReads:

The Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist's EvaluationThe Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist’s Evaluation by John Etherington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather dry, but a good overview of why wind-power is a scam: uneconomical,an ugly blight on the landscape, unlikely to reduce the “problem” of greenhouse gases (assuming for a moment such a problem exists), and a way for “green energy” firms to drain “rents” (tax money) from gullible governments. Focused almost wholly on the UK, the discussion is useful to critics of wind-farming here in the US, too.

View all my reviews

Not so sure I like GoodReads, but, what the heck. I haven’t posted here in a while.

And wind-power is still a farce.

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Of course, a Melnibonean dragon would be much tougher:

There have been innumerable science-fantasy books about crossovers between our world and a world where dragons and magic is real; one of my favorites is Brian Daley’s “The Doomfarers of Coramonde,” which is about a Vietnam-era US Army unit that winds up in another world… and fighting a dragon.

I’m surprised no one’s done a movie on this, yet, given the glorious special-effects possibilities.

h/t The Daily Beast

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book cover odd thomas

“Odd Thomas,” written by Dean Koontz, is one of those books I wanted very much to enjoy, but just didn’t. It is the kind of story I should have found gripping, but, like a spirit almost ready to leave this world behind, I often found myself close to “letting go.”

“Odd Thomas” is the name of the title character, a short-order fry cook in his early 20s in a fictional California desert city who has an unusual ability: he can see the spirits of the dead, those who haven’t been able to “move on” for one reason or another. They cannot talk to him, but some do find ways to communicate with him, in order to lead him to the person or persons who killed them, or otherwise solve the mystery of their death. Odd uses this ability to aid the small local police department. The local police chief is a good friend and knows of Odd’s talent, as does Odd’s girlfriend, “Stormy,” and a few close others. (His parents are not among that group.)

The plot surrounds Odd’s realization that something very bad is about to happen in his town, “Pico Mundo,” when he sees a somewhat disconcerting man and then begins to notice “bodachs” luking about town. Bodachs are creatures (Odd isn’t sure if they’re spirits, demons, or something else) that appear when bad things happen. Odd frequently sees one or two, but now dozens and even hundred are appearing. They don’t involve themselves in the disaster, but they like to watch, and their growing numbers give Odd an urgent sense of desperation to prevent whatever they’re here to “enjoy.”

No spoilers, but there is a serious threat our hero must prevent. He succeeds, but only mostly and at great cost to himself and others, fitting for a horror novel.

My problems with this book are twofold: first, I’m convinced there is a superb short story hidden within this plodding, overwritten novel. I only wish Mr. Koontz had realized that. I often found myself thinking “get on with it.”

Second, the writing style put me off almost completely. Told first-person from Odd’s point of view, his narrative is very straightforward, almost formal, and at times overly descriptive, like a talented but undisciplined young writer. His own personality is odd, of course, and studiously even-tempered, polite and again formal. While Koontz makes clear why he made these choices over the course of the novel, I found the execution off-putting, almost dull, and even annoying.

Others obviously disagree with me; this is the first book in a popular series and it has been made into a movie. But, in comparison to the works of masters of horror and occult fiction, such as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Ramsey Campbell,  I found “Odd Thomas” bland and  lacking.

Not recommended.

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book cover wailing asteroid

I’ve gotten way behind in my science fiction reviews, so let me jump back in the saddle (or choose another cliché) with a short review of Murray Leinster’s “The Wailing Asteroid.”

My brief evaluation: Recommended with strong reservations.

Regarding Leinster, I’ll confess, for a science fiction fan, I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of him, even though he was referred to as “The Dean of Science Fiction.”  Speaks to my cultural poverty, I guess. This Wikipedia entry gives a good summary of his career, and there is also a informative entry for him in the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia. He wrote in many genres besides science fiction, including mysteries, adventure, and romance; his earliest science fiction tale was published in Argosy in 1919, making him one of the pioneers of the genre.

Spoiler warning. The rest is “below the fold” (more…)

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Book reviews I owe

Books

More of a reminder to myself.

Dear Self, you still need to do reviews for “Eight Worlds of C.M. Kornbluth,” “The Wailing Asteroid,” and “The Hangman’s Daughter.”

Love, Me.

(Quickie reviews: “Eight Worlds” is recommended, “Wailing” is recommended with some reservations, and “Hangman’s” is recommended, highly so for fans of WFRP.)

Really, I will get around to it, someday…

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