Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Hitler vs Dracula by P.S. Duncan

Dracula vs. Hitler
by Patrick Sheane Duncan
Hardcover, 506 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Inkshares

A lurid title to catch the eye.  A well-written interior to hold the imagination.  Yet, I can only give it a passing, middling grade.  “3 stars out of 5”

The good starts with Duncan’s basic writing skills.  He knows his craft on a nuts & bolts level.  The aspect that most appealed to me were the descriptions.  Characters had facial features, the landscape had colour, the world was vibrant.  After so many modern books written by lazy and/or untalented hacks who abstain from description*, this book was like eating a fully-loaded pizza after a plate of stale baloney sandwiches (without mustard).

(* ”Why would I bother describing my starship?  Everyone’s seen ‘Star Wars’.” -actual quote from work-shy wannabe writer.)

Duncan’s characterizations are also good, if a bit of a stereotype.  Then again, he is fully channeling “Dracula” by Stoker, so the characters may be more “homages” than “stereotypes”.  I’m willing to grant him a pass on this.

The action scenes are well-told and vivid.  (There’s that description stuff again!)

These points all added up to making it relatively easy to finish the book (though I don’t know if it needed to be 500 pages)  

Okay, I know for a fact it didn’t need to be 500 pages.  This is where the list of unfortunate elements starts.  I think a 100 pages could be excised without too many tears or sweat.  In particular, there is a strange section in the front half that feels very much like a late addition insertion.  It strikes me as if Duncan’s beta-readers felt the book too short for a modern market lusting after overweight books, so he created this narrative to wedge in between events.  

(-possible spoiler warning-)

The story revolves around the town of Brasov and its environs.  We meet upstanding heroes, dark villains and intriguing oddball characters.  History is established in the area, reaching back five decades and much more.  But this “insertion” sees our heroes skip off around Rumania on a tour of destruction.  The derring-do reads well enough until the merry band returns to Brasov.  There is then an abrupt change in tone.  Despite living and fighting together for months, the characters act and react in their relationship to one another as if those months never happened.  By way of analogy, I felt like I was driving on a road (the main plot) and innocently followed a detour sign.  After a winding, rambling route over hill & dale, I returned to the main road to discover I was only a block and a half distant from where I obeyed that first exit sign.

Obviously, this is nothing but my theory, but I’d lay money my “postscript insertion” theory is correct.

THE biggest problem is that the book is supposed to be Dracula versus Hitler.  Vampires in WW II.  And that promise comes up woefully short.  I’d estimate this book is nigh on 75% WW II adventure with at most 25% supernatural antics.  As a vampire, Duncan’s Dracula is quite…mundane.  Oh, he has power, but there is only a smattering of occult atmosphere around him.  For far too many scenes, Dracula is just “one of the commandos”.  He could as easily be a shipwrecked alien with extrahuman power as a vampire (which I would have preferred, in hindsight.  More honest and less disappointment from preconceptions betrayed) 

Stepping away from the vampire angle, there are also a few tasty suggestions that functioning magic and spellcraft exist.  However, that is all we get; suggestions.  Nothing but a few, brief, fleeting moments that add almost nothing to the plot.  Nothing but a pointless tease.

In summation, a competently written WW II adventure-thriller.  There is raw excitement and several cliff-hanger moments for anyone that enjoys commando capers.  If you were also (like me) expecting the mythology of Dracula and supernatural powers locking fangs with the Nazis, you will be left quite hungry.

Oh, one more observation.  All thru the work, I could not help but compare Duncan’s depiction of Dracula with the masterpiece novels of Fred Saberhagen.  Duncan comes up a bit short of Saberhagen’s artistry, but he makes a good effort.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Hardcover, 403 pages
Published  2018 by Hodder & Stoughton

Years ago, I read The Eyre Affair by Mr. Fforde and came away vastly entertained.  A lot of other people were as well, it seems, as a series of adventures featuring the literary troubleshooter Thursday Next poured from Mr. Fforde.  These did not entertain me as much.  I do love wry humour, dry humour and even doses of zany humour, but these books were increasingly, well, "silly".  Nonstop silly.  Silly for the sake of being silly.  Silly overriding any sort of plot or tension or forward action.  Silly to the point that I expected the stuffy major from Monty Python skits to stomp into the scene and demand the proceedings stop on account of being too silly.

Maybe the major did just that.  The books certainly allowed for it.  I, however, was no longer reading them by the time he did.

So, the years dribbled by with me acknowledging Mr. Fforde as a damned creative and clever writer, but not for me, thanks anyway.

And apparently enough years went by that my irritation blurred and faded until only my foggy admiration remained.  When I saw this new novel, I was immediately intrigued.  The clincher came in two parts:  1) It didn't appear to require a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in English Literature to fully appreciate. 2)  It was a stand-alone novel and not part of a #*@&#! series. 

What a wonderful blast of fresh arctic air!  It doesn't require a Lit degree, but a lifetime of SF&F reading certainly helped.  By that I mean, Fforde sets the reader on a strange twist of an Earth and without a suffocating info-dump nor rambling pre-amble, starts off at a brisk trot.  It's one of those races where the reader simply has to trust the author and his skill will keep feeding us details to follow the track and not trip up.  Any and all previous training in dealing with bizarre alien worlds will only help.

And he does.  Tidbits and morsels and offhand remarks place jigsaw pieces to expand the world picture with nearly every page.

(I am tempted to start the book over so I know what some of the background terminology means from the first page)

This "winter Earth" (focussing on Wales) is an elaborate creation and I enjoyed every snow flake of it.  It's strange and crazy and Jasper Fforde at the height of his convoluted creativity.  And while it gets odd in some places, a little goofy in others, it never gets "silly".  Despite the plot revolving around the dead of winter and people lying in hibernation, it is a frenetic action-packed tale that covers a mere handful of waking days for Our Hero, Charlie Worthing.

As always with my reviews here, I don't bother with plot details.  Read the blurb-synopsis on the back of the book for such information.  Early Riser is a fun, engaging romp that will have you thinking differently about winter and wondering about any dreams you have tonight...

PS And Jasper Fforde is a role-model for me as an author.  Not that I could match that convoluted creativity, but that he publishes books like these that defy easy labelling as "science fiction" or "fantasy" and add frown lines to people who find a place for books on their shelves.  I want to write what I want to write, not to write to order for a particular niche market and demographic.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Neutronium prose

I have this minute coined a term in my head for poetry:  neutronium prose.

Poetry takes a perfectly good concept that could be elegantly written in normal sentences but then crushes it and strips it of small but essential words until it is nothing but oddly shaped, mashed metaphor.

Prose is the shining star that beautifies the night or gives life as a sun during a warm day.  A neutron star is a fascinating anomaly without much purpose.

And, I don't want to belabour the comparison any further.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Salvation by Peter Hamilton - book review

Salvation by Peter Hamilton
Paperback, 576 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Del Rey Books

This is making me so darkly melancholy. I am a major fan of Peter Hamilton and I almost did a shout of glee when my turn in library queue came up.

And I'm giving up on it. I'm about one-third of the way into the book and it's like reading some novice's first book rather than one of a seasoned and excellent professional.

The first prologue pages featuring aliens sending infiltrators in a major long game gripped me by the throat. But immediately following is an info dump so thick and clumsy, I could practically hear the reversing beep of the truck as it emptied the pages of character bios all over me. Okay...I tried to keep track of all these dossiers and settled in and...the story jumps to some ridiculous future school without any apparent relevance. Pages of an incomprehensible game between monkeys and kids flounders by. As soon as we're free of that, we go flying back in time to the info-dump characters' past. That sequence actually re-engaged my interest until it ended, flipping us back to the "present day" and the info-dump characters not doing anything but petty sniping and arguing.

Dulling the entire work is a heavy patina of "been there, done that". No dazzling new SF concepts are trotted out, but only the ones Mr. Hamilton has used (and perhaps over-used) regularly in recent years.  His love of wormhole instant travel has hit the point that these characters are using them to save a few steps from bedroom to water closet.  Okay, I'm engaging in hyperbole, but not by much.

As I write this, memories of his Void trilogy bubble up to the surface.  I'd forgotten my impatience with that effort, though I did finish the trilogy.  Every time the plot shifted to the "fantasy novel" of the dreamscape city, I nearly cried with boredom until we returned to human space.  It felt like he'd concocted two or three novels, and rather than simply writing two or three novels, felt obligated (by publisher or reputation?) to shuffle them together to make a giant trilogy thing. 

The way Salvation was reading, I suspect he's warming up the same strategy.

I'd just shrug and say "They can't all be magical", but this thing is a trilogy, and judging from Hamilton's past output, that means it'll be the better part of five years before he moves on to a new effort.

*heartfelt sigh.*

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Scenes that hit the button...

I saw this pop quiz on a couple of other blogs recently and decided it might be a fun offering for my little part of the web.

What movie moment/scene popped you right in the button?  Whatever emotion that was evoked, be it laughter, awe, tears, fascination, etc and etc.

To get the ball bouncing, here are some movie moments that did it for me:

Dirty Harry (1971) The monologue discussing the .357 and how many bullets remained..."Well, do you punk?"

Star Wars (my original viewing in 1977) - seeing the Millennium Falcon jump to hyperspace. After umpteen SF books describing "jump to hyperspace" there it was on the big screen.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) When Mortimer Brewster (Grant) and Johnathan Brewster (Massey) both madly leap to keep the lid on the window seat closed, securing the dark secret of the contents within. The dawning comprehension and deduction on Grant's face is priceless.

Superman: the Movie (1978) Superman's first appearance. "Don't worry, miss, I've got you." "You've got me? Who's got you?!?" And then the subsequent string of super deeds keeps me smiling.

I'd suggest keeping your offering to three or four moments. Otherwise, you'll discover an hour or three of your day evaporated in memory, research and list-making.