Review – Now Then and Everywhen, by Rysa Walker
Tyson hails from the year 2304, where he has been raised from birth (and shaped even before that) to be a time-traveling historian. Madi lives in the year 2136 and has accidentally managed to stumble into time travel before it’s been invented. Their stories become intertwined when something happens to break history as they know it—something that may fall at their time-traveling feet.
Rysa Walker’s Now, Then, and Everywhen is a big, sprawling time travel adventure that hints at more questions than it answers. The bulk of the story jumps between Tyson and Madi, each surrounded by their own cast of supporting characters and influences, and each traveling in time independently of one another. For Tyson, time travel is his everyday reality; he and his co-historians at CHRONOS explore history in the flesh, trying to capture those nuances that don’t generally survive the telling. For Madi, it’s a dangerous game; she’s literally fallen into time travel and is exploring it without a safety net of any sort (either for herself or for the course of history).
The book is a prequel to Walker’s CHRONOS series, and while it certainly isn’t necessary to have read her previous books, I’m sure one would benefit from being familiar with the world she has created. The book is peppered with references and moments that feel like they carry unseen weight, and this can leave the new reader feeling like they’re not getting the whole story. Now, Then, and Everywhen stands on its own, but the most intriguing of these references generate interest and questions that the book itself never answers. Whether this is because they’ve been addressed in previous books or because they may someday be addressed in future novels is unclear. Time travel makes for a tricky focal point and there’s certainly some risk inherent in putting it under a literary microscope—risk that Walker has embraced, more to her audience’s benefit than not.
Now, Then, and Everywhen is an often entertaining and occasionally compelling read, but it suffers a little from its size and scope. There is a tremendous amount of set-up involving a daunting number of characters, and many of the most intriguing questions aren’t effectively answered by the book’s conclusion. The result is a novel that feels like a paradox of its own; it runs a little long and yet ends too soon.
Walker’s new book won’t be for everybody, but it has lots to offer to the right sort of reader.
This review was originally published by Cloud Lake Literary in December of 2020.
Review – Indians on Vacation by Thomas King
“If you had more friends, maybe you wouldn’t spend so much time with your demons.”
Thomas Blackbird Mavrias is a Greek-Cherokee former writer that feels long past making a difference with his words. Finding himself retired and in middling health, the one-time activist is vacationing with his long-time partner Mimi Bull Shield, with the shared goal of tracking down a long-lost Crow bundle. The bundle – taken to Europe by Mimi’s Uncle Leroy when he fled to Europe a century earlier – provides the impetus behind their regular international travels while a collection of Uncle Leroy’s postcards provides direction.
Thomas King’s latest novel, Indians on Vacation, follows Bird and Mimi to Prague. Bird, in turn, is followed by his various demons: Eugene (self-loathing), Cat/Kitty (pessimism), Didi (depression), Desi (despair), and Chip (of the ‘on the shoulder’ variety). Bird’s personal demons are fully fleshed out characters with thoughts and opinions that they aren’t afraid to share, and their dialogue provides a peek into those aspects of his personality that he tries to keep tucked away and out of sight. It’s Mimi that named them, that brought them out in to the open, just as she tries to bring Bird out of his shell. The two are very different people, and their differences provide no shortage of gentle conflict in the close proximity that travel forces upon them.
King’s characters are complicated individuals and the relationship they share is not always simple or smooth. The primary framework of the story takes place in Prague, but there are many digressions and remembrances scattered throughout, where the reader is provided the opportunity to see the man Bird has been, both at other stages in his life and in other stages of his relationship with (and without) Mimi. There is a lot of love between Bird and Mimi, but there are also silences and frustrations and pain, all of which come alive in clever heartfelt dialogue and illuminating prose.
Indians on Vacation is a novel woven from many stories, and those stories are full of the nudges and winks that Thomas King excels at. It’s filled with love and humour, but is also steeped in hard realities and sad truths that, along with Bird’s demons, shape a narrative that’s both a pleasure to read and a rough reminder that the world could use a lot of work.
This review was originally published by Cloud Lake Literary in September of 2020.
Book – Season of the Dead Hours
I just finished reading Season of the Dead Hours, an independent graphic novel by Merk (find him at merkasylum.ca).
I enjoyed it. Lots of walking and talking but it’s broken up frequently by little events, and it would probably need to be a much longer book to avoid all the exposition. The dead and undead seem much more comfortable in their skin than the living, but the art was solid and consistent throughout. The dragon made me think of Smith’s Bone, rounder than many and with a simplicity of shape and line that I appreciated. It felt like the artist really made it his own.
If long-dead druids seeking to change the nature of their place in the void through magical and mythical interactions with the present seems like something that interests you even a little bit, you should probably check it out.
Book – The Face in the Frost
… another post I started ages ago and just never got around to finishing. The random situations that I love to see popping up in Frostgrave are sort of making me want to read this again. Which in turn made me want to finish this post. Win-win !
Just reread John Bellairs’ Face in the Frost, and felt like mentioning it on here, since it’s brilliant. John Bellairs is most well known for the Gothic horror books he wrote for kids (I devoured them as a child), such as The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, and The House with a Clock In its Walls.
The Face in the Frost is not one of these. A fantasy novel aimed at adult audiences, it manages to be simultaneously dark and whimsical, giving both horror and humour ample opportunities to shine. I’m sure it doesn’t appeal to everybody, but if certainly recommend it to anybody. It follows two wizards, Prospero (but not the one you’re thinking of) and Bacon (exactly the one you’re thinking of, unless you’re thinking of Francis), as they notice things going wrong in the world and set out to make things right. Funny and anachronistic, they are wizards in the vein of Disney’s Merlin or the lesser-known Tolkiens, in a patchwork world of political chaos, magical mayhem, and ancient evils.
Menace and whimsy hand in hand, The Face in the Frost is a book I can see myself continuing to reread every few years.
A tiny little bit of Will Ferguson
Today in my break I picked up Will Ferguson’s beauty tips from Moosejaw, and found myself skimming through a few pages about thunder bay. The result? I feel like he didn’t do a whole lot of research. He talks about the amalgamation of the two cities into one, demonstrates some knowledge of the bureaucratic nature of the union, but then stated “how the merger of two cities could result in streets with three names is something I never figured out”.
Which leaves me feeling like he didn’t look into it all that seriously. So here’s the answer, Mr Ferguson:
Fort William and Port Arthur were two cities with a bitter rivalry (it’s been over 40 years and there are still folks from Port Arthur upset that Fort William’s city hall became Thunder Bay’s city hall), and they were a few kilometres apart when they were forced to amalgamate. Neither side was going to let the other claim the middle, hence the third street name (as well as the refusal to rename their own streets to match).
And that’s the whole answer. Not super complicated, and something any local over 50 could have pointed out if asked. Heck, I was born ten years after the amalgamation, and I’ve known since I was a kid.
It also explains why the intercity region is so industrial, they had a huge swath of less than ideal land to fill up.
So there’s today’s fun facts. Next post will probably be warhammer.
Why doesn’t everybody know about Finder?
I work at a bookstore, and a while back we got something in called the Finder library. It looked pretty cool, it had apparently won an Eisner award, and it was being released by dark horse, who may not be perfect but are responsible for the english version of Blade of the Immortal. This fact alone is enough to convince me to at least look at their stuff (Blade remains the only comic book series of any length that I purchased and read the entire run of).
So I bought it. And I read it. And I was floored. It’s huge and amazing and staggeringly deep, and I reread it fom cover to cover only a week after reading it the first time. I read it a third time before the second volume came out, at which point I read it a fourth time so I could read them back to back.
I have made the entire series (two ‘Libraries’ and an additional arc called Voice) my most prominent staff pick at work, where I keep it permanently in stock so that other people can experience it. The fact that it’s a graphic novel seems to scare some people, while the fact that it’s science fiction concerns others, but it’s so much more than either of those labels conveys.
It’s also incredibly deep, and layered, and complex, but it reveals itself to you as you read. Just hang on and enjoy the ride. And for those of you that need the plot? It follows Jaeger, half-Ascian finder and sin-eater, as he weaves in and out of various lives, some of which we get to know more intimately than others. It takes place in a far-flung future where much of civilisation is made up of a few genetic lines, with everybody else living on the fringes. It explores more issues than almost anything I can think of and does it better than most. It builds a world so big you’d swear it had to be real, and introduces you to it a piece at a time.
Finder is one of the best things I’ve ever read.
But don’t take my word for it. Strange Horizons calls it “bar none, the best SF comic being published today.” Warren Ellis calls it “completely fascinating,” and names it as one of his “treasured favourites of the last ten years.” Seriously, read the book. The whole thing. And when you’re finished, tell me you aren’t amazed.
Shove Over, White Akira!
So I’m feeling that familiar, hollywood-inspired, mix of anticipation and terror/anxiety (anxicipation? anticipiety?) that comes with a book I like being made into a movie.
I first read all you need is kill a couple years ago, and enjoyed it a great deal. A few awkward bits of writing here and there but that could just be the translation. Occasionally the effort to turn a ‘hip’ young dialect into english can be a little interesting. The book follows Keiji Kiriya, a young Japanese recruit in a United Defense Force defending the planet from incredibly hard to kill alien invaders. He pilots a mechanized suit of armour, and dies an agonizng death only to wake up and relive the previous couple days. And again. And again. Like groundhog day and vanquish mashed into war of the worlds. Apparently the author was intrigued by the real-world implications/possibility of a videogame-style respawn effect. For sci-fi fans (especially fans of mecha and anime) I definitely recommend it.
I am picking it up again *now* because I’ve discovered there’s a movie coming out in 2014, and I want to reread it before I get too close to the release. While I may or may not end up enjoying hollywood’s version, they’re definitely planning on changing some stuff, and I’ll probably be better off without having the book too fresh in my mind.
So what makes me so sure they’re planning to mess about with the book I liked so much? Remember young, inexperienced rookie jacket pilot Keiji Kiriya, of the UDF’s Japanese component? Meet ‘merican Sgt Bill Cage, as played by Tom Cruise. Given that the whole point to me was that some inexperienced young nobody is granted innumerable deaths and uses them to become one of the greatest warriors the world has ever seen, it seems ludicrous to replace the raw recruit with an experienced soldier. Never mind the hollywood obsession with turning every tailor-made asian role into a white guy. Seems extra weird since the book makes a big deal of there being an American Special Forces squad assisting in the defense of Honshu. I look forward to some fantastically cutting remarks from George Takei.
Zork adventure book 3 (the cavern of doom) turned out to be a decent little romp. Nothing too intense or tricky, but a couple high points that really took me by surprise (in a good way). The first of these was a meeting with a dragon. I was given 3 choices: sneak by, fight, or attempt to trick it. What was awesome was that only one of these was correct, and I knew which one it was, because *I could totally come up with a plan*! Based on the environments I’d seen and a conversation I’d had, and some other factors, I was able to formulate a plan that made sense to me, and which also happened to be the answer they were seeking. Awesome. It felt very organic. The second amazing bit came after I’d finished the adventure, and went back to read all the branches I’d missed. Mostly they involved me dying horribly. But one was totally different. As I read / played through the adventure, I found objects and solved puzzles that would later impact my options. An example? ‘Did you find the ruby? Turn to page 132’ or something similar. One of these was something I hadn’t found, but I figured it must just be an alternate path (since I’d survived through to the end). Upon rereading the braches I’d not taken, I flipped to the page indicated and was immediately informed that a wizard showed up and stopped me from reading. He was from the zork anti-cheating league, and was ejecting me for claiming to have found something that didn’t exist. The cavern of doom totally broke the fourth wall.