Wednesday, February 13, 2019

THE STAND BY STEPHEN KING THE GRANDDADDY OF POST-APOCALYPTIC FICTION

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“None of us want to see portents and omens, no matter how much we like our ghost stories and the spooky films. None of us want to really see a Star in the East or a pillar of fire by night. We want peace and rationality and routine. If we have to see God in the black face of an old woman, it’s bound to remind us that there’s a devil for every god—and our devil may be closer than we like to think.”

A plague has escaped a lab killing most of the population, only a few, a mere fraction of the whole, has immunity or manages to survive being infected.

It is over in a matter of weeks. Civilization grinds to a halt, then collapses, and then falls into chaos.

A Mad Max world is born.

A virus that kills 99.4% of the people it infects is a very stupid virus. Even the Black Plague had a 20% survival rate, so for a virus to act this stupidly, it would have to be man made. The last thing any virus should do is kill the host. Death of the host leads to death of the virus.

”Now most of the young folks and old folks were gone, and most of those in between. God had brought down a harsh judgment on the human race.”

Invariably, we can’t help bringing God into any situation where we think a judgment has been handed down on humanity, but he/she doesn’t have anything to do with this. This is man destroying himself. Some would make the case that God could have interceded, could have saved us if we had been worthy, but then when have we ever been ‘worthy’? Since we are made in his image I do think sometimes what God, if he exists, likes least in us is what he likes least about himself. The whole theory of God is built on good and evil. If evil exists, then oddly God exists. The Vatican has been working relentlessly to prove for centuries that pure evil exists to justify the whole need for their continued existence.

The proof might be rising out of the ashes of this virulent plague. ”He was coming, Flagg was coming like some terrible horror monster out of the scariest picture ever made. The dark man’s cheeks were flushed with jolly color, his eyes were twinkling with happy good fellowship, and a great hungry voracious grin stretched his lips over huge tombstone teeth, shark teeth, and his hands were held out in front of him, and there were shiny black crow feathers fluttering from his hair.”

The survivors are dreaming about the Dark Man, and they are dreaming about the old black woman in the cornfields of Nebraska. These dreams are as vivid as they are confusing. There is a battle for their souls going on. They must choose. Do they go to Randall Flagg, or do they flock to Abagail Freemantle?

You would think it would be an easy decision. Don’t most of us think of ourselves as good people? Of course, we would join Abagail, the self-anointed prophet of God. Except, maybe it isn’t so clearly cut; as the two groups grow, it is starting to look like an even split. Abagail brings her flock to Boulder, Colorado, wanting to use the natural barrier of the Rockies to be the dividing line between her “good people” and the evil people following the Dark Man.

Not to mention that she knows there has to be a reckoning.

But are they evil? When people from the Boulder Free Zone mingle with those from the Dark Side, they find them to be normal people, just like the people they left back in Boulder. The biggest difference is that they are afraid, and fear, as we know, is the most insidious and easiest way to control people. It becomes very clear that Abagail’s army is really only fighting one man, one man with supernatural powers. ”Nevermore. Tap, tap, tap. The crow, looking in at him, seeming to grin. And it came to him with a dreamy, testicle-shriveling certainty that this was the dark man, his soul, his ka somehow projected into this rain-drenched, grinning crow that was looking in at him, checking up on him.”

So it is sort of interesting to speculate about whether there are truly evil beings like Randall Flagg in the world, waiting for their opportunity, waiting for people to need someone larger than themselves to lead. Their power grows as people choose to believe in them. As long as civilization exists and people are reasonably content, a person like Flagg is never given an opportunity to thrive.

We through our own discontent empower evil.

This novel is one of the King epics. A fan poll on Goodreads, The Best of Stephen King Poll, shows that his fans still believe this is his best book. My favorite book, and the one that I feel will be considered his masterpiece, is IT , a book that I feel really brings together all of his best skills in building characters and shows off his gift for creating twisty, scary plots . IT is #2 on the Goodreads poll. Pennywise, in my opinion, might have had as large an impact on reading/watching audiences as Norman Bates in Psycho. Once you have been introduced to Pennywise try walking past a storm drain without giving it a wide berth.

The Stand has a large cast, and most readers will have a favorite character. I liked several characters, actually, and wondered if I was going to find myself in a George R.R. Martin universe where identifying with a character was tantamount to self-inflicted grief. I was fortunate to stick with Stu Redman. He is a hick from Texas who continues to show hidden depths as circumstances shape and reveal his character. He made me smile with the following response, when it looks like dire circumstances may lead to a slow death: “Ralph came over to Stu and knelt down. ‘Can we get you anything, Stu?’ Stu smiled. ‘Yeah. Everything Gore Vidal ever wrote—those books about Lincoln and Aaron Burr and those guys. I always meant to read the suckers. Now it looks like I got the time.’”

Gotta love the thought of a redneck from Texas reading the unabashed New York homosexual.

In the forward, Stephen King talks about the meeting he had with the publishing group about the size of The Stand. It was originally published at about 800 pages, but then when they decided to reissue the uncut version, he was able to put back in about 400 pages that he had been forced to excise. ”I reluctantly agreed to do the surgery myself. I think I did a fairly good job, for a writer who has been accused over and over again of having diarrhea of the word processor.” He agreed to the cuts because the publishing team made a compelling case. They were able to show him the sales from his previous four books, the profit margin, and if he sold the same number of books of The Stand, how much slimmer the profit margin would be, because of the cost to produce the 400 extra pages. So the cuts were not made for editorial reasons, but for common sense accounting reasons. King was very happy to have the orphaned material reunited with the rest of the book.

The book does bog down at times for me. I think that is inevitable with a book this size. King is taking on some larger themes here and for the most part keeps all the plates spinning in the air. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic books, and I’m sure if I ever let myself be put on a couch, a psychologist will explore those reasons thoroughly, but one thing I notice, while I am immersing myself in The Stand, is that I have a greater appreciation for my life and the cocoon that civilization wraps around me to keep me safe and provide me with the necessities so that I can have the time I want to read, putter, and write. Maybe I’m not as obsessed with the END OF THE WORLD as much as I am finding new ways to appreciate the wonderful life I do have.

I have to admit, though, that I had to agree with lifestyle philosophy of the sociologist Glen Bateman. ”But Bateman himself hadn’t wanted to get in on the ground floor of society’s reappearance. He seemed perfectly content—at least for the time being—to go for his walks with Kojak, paint his pictures, putter around his garden, and think about the sociological ramifications of nearly total decimation.”

I would hope I could ignore the siren calls of the ancient, wise woman in Nebraska and the seductive pull of The Dark Man and just enjoy the peace and quiet of a more tranquil world without the constant noise of people talking on their cell phones, music blaring from cars, planes taking off from airports, and millions of electrical lines humming.

It is truly amazing any of us can think.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

The Bonds of Love


J.M. Snyder
JMS Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars



Summary



Vic Braunson has a special kind of problem -- his lover, Matt diLorenzo, somehow imbues him with enhanced superpowers every time they have sex. It's something Vic has learned to live with in the years they've been together, and something he won't let stand in the way of their relationship. Matt hates the powers, particularly when they put Vic in danger, but what can they do?

When Vic stops an armed robbery at a local convenience store, his picture appears in the morning paper. Later that day, Matt gets a phone call at work from Jordan Dubrowski, a guy he knew in high school. Jordan was his first, in every way -- it was through him that Matt discovered his ability to transfer superpowers to his lovers. Jordan had a taste of those powers, and after reading about Vic's role in the hold up, he's decided he wants them back.

But Matt is in love, and Vic won't let him go without a fight. Still, Jordan will stop at nothing to get what he thinks rightly belongs to him.


My Review


In this third story of the Powers of Love series, Vic and Matt have been together for three years. Vic has become more accustomed to and is better able to control the superpowers that Matt gives him every time they make love.

Vic puts them to good use during an armed robbery at a convenience store. He takes three bullets to the chest at point black range, the robber runs, Vic gets up, and both he and Matt are the topic of the morning news.

Vic’s pesky co-worker, Kyle, who was Matt’s ex, has a new boyfriend and invites Vic and Matt to a cookout at his house. Vic wants nothing to do with it, but Matt wants to go, just to prove to Kyle that “Mr. Right” does exist and there is such a thing as true love. The last thing Matt needs is a blast from the past in the form of his first lover in high school, Jordan Dubrowski, who is now Kyle’s new boyfriend.

Jordan had a taste of Matt’s sexually transmitted superpowers when he found the ability to run like the wind and decided to join the high school track team.




I adore the main characters, Vic and Matthew. Their emotions are intense and their love and devotion to each other is beautiful and heartwarming. Plus, the superpowers Vic gets from making love are fun, creative and imaginative, and sometimes troublesome to both men. The secondary characters are well developed. This is a really well written story that had my pulse pounding, made me happy, and broke my heart. I like the long length of the story that really gave me an opportunity to know Vic and Matt even better.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Perfect Assassin

The Perfect Assassin (Chronicles of Ghadid #1)The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amastan has trained to be an assassin. After completing his final test, he learns there are no contracts and he feels relieved. His relief is short lived when he discovers the body of one of Ghadid's leaders, a drum chief. Amastan finds himself ordered to solve the murder of the drum chief soon or he and his assassin family will pay the consequences. On top of all that the spirit of the deceased is roaming free seeking a new body.

The Perfect Assassin is a murder mystery with slightly different surroundings. Rather than a straight forward detective, a novice assassin is tasked to find out who done it. The book also features very active souls called jaani's that must be quieted or else they will go wild driving people mad and possibly even worse.

I personally was expecting much more assassin action and much less detective investigation. That would have been fine if the investigation aspects were better. The hard part of the investigation for me is the world wasn't developed enough to make it clear who the killer could be. Amastan is chasing a nameless faceless individual with little more than the standard family, employees, and enemies as suspects. Even that doesn't really get developed and there was only one flimsily attached potential suspect. After not introducing strong suspects the book practically tells you who the killer is in an unsatisfying way.

All that being said I did come to like Amastan. He's methodical and careful. Probably too careful. He wants to help everyone and doesn't seem much like an assassin throughout.

The Perfect Assassin was a decent mystery even though the mystery was underdeveloped.

3 out of 5 stars

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

FICCIONES BY JORGE LUIS BORGES

FiccionesFicciones by Jorge Luis Borges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The truth is I grew up in a garden, behind lanceolate railings, and in a library of unlimited, English books.”

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Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, possibly one of the greatest readers of all time, lost his eyesight later in life. I believe the most terrible thing to have happen to a reader is to lose their ability to see. Yes, with Audible now making thousands of books available to be read to people, a blind reader has not completely lost the way to their magical escape tunnels to other worlds. Maybe, if I were blind, I could convince myself that I’ve returned to the age of Homer, where an oral tradition is the only means to pass on stories to others, but that will be a difficult transition for me. I am a reader. I process words much differently by reading them than by having them read to me, so I do think that if I did lose my eyesight, I would be, frankly, finished as a reader.

The question would be, which is very much a Borges type question, is who then would I be?

The blind Borges became Homer, a lecturer who travelled the world, sharing brilliant suppositions by pairing bits of knowledge from here and there that were only made possible by his prodigious reading. These wonderful suppositions, new revelations of what makes us tick as thinking human beings, were only made possible because of all the information he had stored in his brain from...books. So when someone says to me, why do I need to know anything when everything is on the internet? I always say, having the information available doesn’t mean that you have the capacity to make the connections to fully comprehend and use that knowledge, or for that matter even know what to google in the first place.

Borges had the internet in his head.

I never really know how to review collections of short stories without the reviews becoming ponderously long. I decided to share a few quotes from the stories that I find to be interesting. My notes from reading this book are vast and easily could have led to a dissertation many times longer than the original source material. I desisted.

For those readers who struggle with Borges’s text, don’t worry. I struggled as well. I had to read and reread sections of the story to make sure that I captured more of what Borges meant. I am positive, many times, that I failed to completely comprehend all that he intended for me to glean from his writing. My advice is to forge ahead, keep swimming from island to island of wonderfully written passages. Do not become overly anxious. I do not want you to get a cramp and drown in the Borges Sea.

”From the far end of the corridor, the mirror was watching us; and we discovered, with the inevitability of discoveries made late at night, that mirrors have something grotesque about them. Then Bioy Casares recalled that one of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had stated that mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of man”--Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. I’d never really thought of mirrors as abominations before. Though mirrors have been associated with sex probably from the moment the inventor of mirrors first hung a shard on the ceiling over his bed (fanciful supposition).

”One of the schools in Tlon has reached the point of denying time. It reasons that the present is undefined, that the future has no other reality than as present hope, that the past is no more than present memory. Another school declares that the whole of time has already happened and that our life is a vague memory or dim reflection, doubless false and fragmented, of an irrevocable process” --Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. I can remember pondering the concept of time as a child and wondering why we are so obsessed with it when it constantly reminds us of the quick passage of our lives. If we don’t know what time it is or what day it is or what year it is, we can’t possibly be crippled by the knowing our own age. We would be perpetually as young as we think ourselves to be.

”I cannot imagine the universe without the interjection of Edgar Allan Poe“--Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote. Poe, so ignored by his own country for most of his life. Thank goodness the Europeans (and one Argentinian European in particular) saw his merit.

”Every man should be capable of all ideas, and I believe that in the future he will be”--Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote. Ideas used to travel so slowly. It is almost as if Borges is anticipating the internet. Of course, as I stated earlier in this review, people must still have a wide base of knowledge in their own head to fully appreciate or apply the brilliant ideas of others.

”With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him”--The Circular Ruins. This would explain a lot. Whoever is dreaming me needs to drink less alcohol or shoot less heroin because I could really use a more coherent path forward.

”I deeply lament having lent, irretrievably, the first book he published, to a female acquaintance”--The Work of Herbert Quain. Ahh yes, who hasn’t lent a book to a saucy literary woman or a handsome poetic man with the hopes of words shared easing the assault on their virtue. The problem, of course, is that rarely do lent volumes return to us. The rule, clearly, for readers and especially collectors is to never lend a book that you expect to get back.

”Quain was in the habit of arguing that readers were an already extinct species”--The Work of Herbert Quain. If they were really serious about saving readers as a species, they would have us behind bars in book filled zoos, encouraging us to reproduce with one another.

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Library of Babel

”I suspect that the human species--the unique human species--is on the road to extinction, while the Library will last on forever: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly immovable, filled with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret”--The Library of Babel. There was a time I would have agreed with Borges. It is a nice thought that our libraries would exist beyond us, but with the current rate of libraries going extinct, especially in the United States, I would have to say that our species, or some devolved illiterate form of it, may outlive our libraries. Of course, when the internet goes black and the electrical grid goes dark, guess who will still have books to read….me! Candlelight was good enough for Honest Abe. It is certainly good enough for me.

”Whosoever would undertake some atrocious enterprise should act as if it were already accomplished, should impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past”--The Garden of the Forking Paths. I could have used this advice several times over the course of my business career, when I sold pieces of my soul. To imagine that the act is already done would have eased the moment when the loss is weighed, measured, and excised.

”In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the most unfathomable Ts’ui Pen, he chooses--simultaneously--all of them”— The Garden of Forking Paths. I was thinking as I read this how useful it would be to run simulations of several choices that could show me the outcomes, not only of the first decision but the rippling effects of that decision over the next ten years. The interesting thing in watching how people make decisions is that, even if they have the percentages before them of potential success, they will still go with those fabled gut instincts, even though the simulation shows a much lower potential for success. We are a baffling species, naturally distrustful of knowledge.

”What one man does is something done, in some measure, by all men”--The Form of the Sword. The capacity for greatness or horror exists in all of us. To celebrate one is to celebrate all. To condemn one for an act is really, in many ways, condemning us all.

”’The next time I kill you,’ said Scharlach, ‘I promise you the labyrinth made of the single straight line which is invisible and everlasting’”--Death and the Compass. This has got to be one of the most unique death threats I’ve ever heard uttered. If only Clint Eastwood was still making Dirty Harry movies.

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”The time for your work has been granted”--The Secret Miracle. We can only hope, right? I hope Borges accomplished most of what he wanted before the final swing of the glittering scythe. I do want to encourage everyone that, if there is something you know you should be doing, you should get to it. If you have been putting off asking the libidinous (hope springs eternal) librarian out on a date, do it. If you are supposed to be painting, writing, or starting your own business, move the time table up. The sand in the hour glass is flowing faster than you think, and there will be times when it inexplicably speeds up. Carpe Diem!

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Friday, February 1, 2019

Matching Tats



J.M. Snyder
JMS Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary



Vic Braunson's latest tattoo makes his lover, Matt diLorenzo, decide that he might want to get inked, too. He'd like a heart with his lover's initials in it. Vic likes the idea, and agrees to get the same tattoo, with Matt's initials inside. They have fun deciding where to put the tattoos -- a spot Vic hasn't already covered turns out to be pretty hard to find.

Once they decide where to get inked, Matt fears he may not be able to go through with it. He's more than a little skittish when it comes to needles, and watching the tattoo artist at work is frightening. With the powers love gives him, however, Vic finds a way to help Matt overcome his fears ...



My Review



Vic and Matt have been together a year and a half. Matt is no longer worried that Vic wants him just for his powers. They still share the ability to communicate telepathically, while Vic’s other powers change depending on their positions during sex. On Vic’s day off from work, he decides to get a facial tattoo. Even though Vic has more tattoos than bare skin, it was the first time Matt got to see one while it’s healing. Matt decides he’d like to get one, even though he’s a wimp when it comes to needles and pain, and both guys agree they’d like to get matching hearts with their initials inside.

When they get to the tattoo parlor and Vic has his done, poor Matt is so frightened he is nearly unable to go through with it. Vic’s soothing thoughts, good loving, and a new power he recently acquired help Matt get through his ordeal.

This story was hot, short, sweet, and a lot of fun!