The Yanthus Prime Job

The Yanthus Prime Job by Robert Kroese is a novella featuring Pepper Melange from the Rex Nihilo / Starship Grifters series. This is by far the best story out of any of the Starship Grifters books, though available separately it is also included in Aye, Robot, book 2 of the series.

There is not a single bit of Rex Nihilo in this short to annoy, and where Nihilo is an annoying doofus, perhaps like Bill the Galactic Hero but more like that douche Zapp Brannigan, Pepper Melange is smart and capable and funny and perhaps merely a few words of Esperanto away from being as cool as Slippery Jim diGriz, who you may know as The Stainless Steel Rat, with a little bit of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow for good measure.

I really liked this story and the main character in this story. Pepper Melange seems to me to suffer a bit of a personality change and is short changed by being a supporting character in her appearances in the other stories, but here there is just her and her complicated caper plotting savvy and snappy shenanigans that go awry to enjoy.

I’d love to read more stories with Pepper Melange as the main character, but this makes a nice complete story by itself, which I’ll have to be satisfied with. If I hadn’t read this story, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick up the other books in the Rex Nihilo series, but I did and I did. To be honest, I’d be more excited about the others remaining in my to read stack if I knew they featured Pepper Melange instead of Nihilo.

I made 5 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at The Yanthus Prime Job

Red Dragon

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is the first story where the character Hannibal Lector appears, and is the launching point for a series of books, movies and television, not the least of which are Jonathan Demme’s revelation that interior menace was far creepier and disturbing than the externally gross on screen with Silence of the Lambs and the tour de force apotheosis of everything Bryan Fuller that is Hannibal. I could say so much about those two reifications, but will try to focus on the book in particular, though they must be included in passing by reference.

After so many years, this was the first Thomas Harris book I read, and I must admit I finally put it on my to read stack because of Fuller’s television series. But I was surprised by how many esoteric references there were, and some of that comes out strongly in Fuller’s series. To be sure there’s the obvious William Blake connection with the Great Red Dragon image, but there’s so much about becoming and will and good and evil and nature and choice and the interaction and intertwining and internecination and integration of all these selves and shadows here to contemplate and with which to make pacts.

There’s plenty in this fiction to entertain and worth recommendation, but even moreso for those with esoteric interests who will find an even heartier eucharist.

I made 144 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Red Dragon

Descent Into Hell

Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams is an amazement. I was taken by the curiosity of the Endymion Press cover of this book having a unicursal hexagram. So, I think I picked this up without really knowing much about it other than the oddity of its appearance. But, in the end, this was fantastic to finally find.

This is quite a wonderful, convoluted, interesting story! There’s moments that seem to presage the style of the Beats, and a grand theory of a kind of Christian magic detailed here; but it’s an intensely written episodic twisty tale mostly drawn with magical realism, but that reaches some great creepy and supernatural heights.

I didn’t feel that this supposedly “Christian” book was particularly so. At least it didn’t put me off at all, so it was not preachy but rather well woven in. And the particular magical theory of exchange and substitution described is quite interesting to see developed, and something to consider for one’s own personal experiments. I’m curious to learn more about Williams’ Companions of the Coinherence, and if there’s much to be found on that topic.

I was on a Gothic binge for a while, and this is a great bridge from there to here. The writing is luscious and thick, but there’s a newness to the pacing and the style. There’s as much inbetween-ness to the action as the novel itself, for me.

Reading this wasn’t, I’d say, easy, but I felt it was well worth the effort to get far enough in that I was drawn to finish. I’m wildly impressed with this book enough that I’m very interested in what others by Charles Williams might be like.

I must admit that I was not really aware that Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, along with J R R Tolkien, whose writing I’ve adored, and C S Lewis, whose work I cannot seem to enjoy. Because I couldn’t ever get into C S Lewis, I think I pretty much gave up on exploring the work of Inklings other than Tolkien. I regret not ever having read anything by Williams until now.

I also didn’t recall knowing Charles Williams was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. If you don’t know already, for those into esoteric traditions, you will find out that Charles Williams is one of us, part of our cultural inheritance, and someone whose work is worth getting to know.

This story is an experience worth having. I highly recommend it.

I made 149 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Descent Into Hell

Omon Ra

Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield, is weird. But, like, good weird. Like, you should read it weird.

Although this is the first book by Pelevin I’ve read, I’ve had The Helmet of Horror, also translated by Bromfield, part of the Canongate Myths series, on my to-read stack for ages, and I’ve ended up with some other works in my stack beyond those. But this was the first I’ve gotten to read.

There’s a mix of absurdity with realism here that reminded me a lot of Stanisław Lem, and I felt the kind of cinematic weight of Tarkovsky’s rendition of Solaris on me while reading.

For me there is here no small remembrance of the fatalistic loss and distance from My Life As A Dog, which was an oddly influential movie to my feeling in my youth. Moreover, I ended up guessing ahead of the reveal, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s some strange kerning on the cover image for this edition that makes the title seem like “Om on Ra” which may tickle a few specific occult antennae out there. But, there’s also the cosmonaut on the cover with the falcon head of Ra, which is a codename chosen by the main character, based on his childhood dreams. Ultimately, there’s a little bit of tie-in with Egyptian myth, but it isn’t quite so integral as it might seem from first glance. One might try to say this is a retelling of Ra’s journey in the underworld, but that seems like a stretch.

There’s discussion of the soul in bodies which is reflected in the story of cosmonauts in their vehicles, and there’s a strange inversion where Gurdjieff, whom I understand was a critic of the Soviet and Marxist systems, is a Party hero who criticized the “bourgeois” belief that “organic life on earth serves merely as nourishment for the moon”, which I gather was actually something Gurdjieff talked about himself. This inversion links to something mentioned about time looping, as an hourglass, where everything lives in reverse when the glass is turned. So, for me, it seems the events here may all occur in that alternate flipped timeline.

I’m not sure this is actually a profound story, but it sure has elements that sound profound and had me thinking about life, self, time, souls, earth as a clockwork, the nature of heroism, and fate. But at least it is a novel about the human condition and yearning, that, in summary, is largely about bittersweet and uncertain survival against the demands of organizational and systemic absurdity.

I made 41 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Omon Ra

Civil Disobedience

I wanted to like Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and had high hopes, nay, even the expectation, that I’d like this book. But, Thoreau comes across as an ignorant Uncle Joe Bubba who rants about the gubmint being evil ‘cuz it tells folk what to do and gets in their way, but who lives willfully rejecting its benefits and being a cantankerous selfish scofflaw.

To his credit there’s an arc here where, apparently while writing much of this from a jail cell for, I gather, tax evasion, maybe as a noble abolitionist protest, but maybe not, he realizes, from looking out his cell window at the unfamiliar sights and later walking around in town, that organized collective governance is actually useful and an important part of successful civilization. Well, at least he seems to have come around, but not without being a jerk for too long.

But I don’t really think or feel I got a good or proper discussion of any thoughtful use of civil disobedience from Thoreau in this at all. It’s historically interesting though, and I suppose that’s something. Good to have read it finally, either way.

I made 76 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Civil Disobedience

Glitch

Glitch by Hugh Howey is a far too brief vignette to be good, but isn’t bad. It’s an okay short about a robot gladiator who becomes sentient which causes a moral dilemma and struggle for control. It’s like an excerpt from, or a pitch for, a larger story, but after the end I didn’t really need anything more from it. I’m not sure there was much there that hasn’t been told before more fully and quite well in other similar stories, such as classics like Thomas J Ryan’s The Adolescence of P-1 as just one example.

I made 5 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Glitch

KLF

KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by J M R Higgs isn’t hardcore history and reads a bit like a magazine article in tone and tempo, but it’s got a lot of history I didn’t know about, both directly and tangentially related to KLF, especially around Discordianism, that I found very interesting, and it was a timely read for the resurfacing of the group this year.

I made 258 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at KLF

Straw Boss

Straw Boss by J R Evans is a novella tie-in with Straw Boss: A World of Adventure for Fate Core. A lot of times that might seem like a warning sign, as game tie-ins aren’t always so great; but this one is not only perfectly good as a stand alone without any need to know about the game, but also a well done spoopy October read in and of itself. The only thing that I didn’t get from the novella was what the title references, but the narrative quickly builds its world and premise, and explores it well, and the creepiness creeps up on you to an end that I didn’t see coming. There’s new bits of the world revealed all along the way, in a story with flashbacks, that feels very well supported and developed.

The story explores one character’s experience at a particular cult compound in the rural United States, as well as, episodically, a road trip to return a kidnapped child to her mother. But, as one says, things are not as they seem. The framing premise is that there’s a cult of Scholars, founded by John Dee, that exists around the world; and that they adopt orphans whom they train to become possessed supernatural warriors. If you’re a fan of shows like Supernatural and the idea of the Men of Letters, this cult is kinda like that, but maybe with a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Watchers and The Following mixed in. Basically, you get to conquer your demons and put them to work for you in the game while on the frontlines between dark and light in a mix of mundane reality, myth, and magic.

At one point, I was amused to see that Murmur seems to get a few cameos in places for some reason. Murmur’s seal showed up on the TV show Sleepy Hollow, back in 2013, on S01e08, as an “Egyptian hieroglyph”, which I found risible, and was pretty much the point when I gave up on that show. Then in 2016, Murmur showed up in Erwin and the Method Demons. So, as an aside, what I’m saying is that Murmur cameos are a thing. Case in point.

The Straw Boss novella does a solid, standalone job of telling an interesting story that would make a good read for October, or another time. Whenever. Murmur murmur murmur. Also, check out the game world supplement!

I made 3 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Straw Boss

RIDE

RIDE from The Janos Corporation purports to be written by a pulp-era writer Henry Abner, and from “newly discovered manuscripts … currently being edited and released” after his death.

The fictional author Henry Abner is described as “the pen name of hard-boiled fiction author Henry Abner Sturdivant” who “had a long career in law enforcement, and served as the chief of police of Washington, Georgia from 1921 until his death in July of 1935”. When I looked there were no authoritative external references anywhere other than a Wikipedia page presented with a straight face for Henry Abner. I pretty much convinced myself that Henry Abner is as much a literary fiction as “his” works. Turns out now that Wikipedia page has since been deleted and there’s a talk page about Henry Abner’s page as hoax. Guess the actual author also created a gallery of shopped images which I didn’t find when I was looking, until now. But, you know, well played, I suppose: a little bit of promotional fun.

This book is first in the Tales from the Goddamned Lonely Universe series, for which there is another volume. There’s a third volume which is the first in The Goddamned Lonely Universe Saga, apparently a different series. Nothing new in either sequence has been released in the interim between my read and this review, and there doesn’t appear to be any discussion of other volumes on the JanosCorp website, so maybe that’s all we get, but if this collection is any indication of the others that’d be a shame, especially as it seems like there were plans for more.

RIDE is a collection of stories held together by the presence in them of a particular robotic taxi. I found a feeling of familiar fictional future here. The taxi reminds me of the one driven by Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element, and the neo-noir setting seems quite similar to the gritty, grungy future New York in that film. My mind also included Harry Canyon’s taxi story from Heavy Metal. There’s interstitials between each story with in-world ads, which adds a kind of Verhoeven touch, that for me included by indirect reference the feeling of Robocop‘s Detroit. The stories don’t feel dated; since, you know, they aren’t actually old that makes sense. It’s a fun and interesting collection for fans of the genre to dig in, and suggests a lot of promise for the other “Henry Abner” books, which I’ve already added to my to-read stack.

I made 4 highlights, but, hey, it’s short!

Originally posted on my personal blog at RIDE