Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Friday, January 1, 2016

2113: Stories Inspired By the Music of Rush by Kevin J. Anderson and Josh McFetridge, eds.

Buy 2113 on Amazon.

Andy Rooney said, "Writers never retire." Drummers...well, it happens and it's not always voluntary. We know Neil Peart can't rock the solos forever, short of having bionic arms installed (don't think somebody hasn't suggested it), and if you've read recent interviews you know what's on his mind. Family. Writing. Somewhere he's said he hoped to adapt Clockwork Angels the novel to film. So yeah, he's not going anywhere in a sense.

While I didn't love the Clockwork Angels novel, I think there's strong potential in a film. Tighten the story and give it to right director, and I'll go see it. I haven't yet read the followup, because to be honest 2113 intrigued me more. Multi-author anthologies, for me, are a mixed bag in terms of quality, but this being a collection of stories - 16 of which are inspired by Rush songs - proved too tempting to resist.

Of the 18 authors included in the book, I've read three prior, including Kevin J. Anderson and Mercedes Lackey (I'd read somewhere she based the character Dirk from the Valdemar novels on Geddy Lee). Most die-hard fans have searched the Internet to read "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard S. Foster, which inspired Neil to write "Dead Barchetta." It is part of this collection, and Fritz Leiber's "Gonna Roll the Bones" is the other reprint.

So we have 18 stories, each connected to a specific Rush song. The cover and roster suggest all science fiction, and you'll find everything from hard SF to futuristic drama here, but 2113 also showcases some paranormal mystery and noir. For the most part, Easter eggs of Rush lyrics are scarce - which suits me fine. The stories flow nicely, much like in Rush albums where the individual songs connect to form an all-encompassing concept.

Highlights for me in 2113 include:

"On the Fringes of the Fractal" by Greg Van Eekhout - Futuristic YA about loyalty and friendship, a willingness to sacrifice social standing for a friend.

"A Patch of Blue" by Ron Collins - Another theme of "deviating from the norm," as one Rush song goes, where creators in two different realms take similar paths for what they believe is right.

"The Burning Times, V2.0" by Brian Hodge - Like Fahrenheit 451 crossed with Harry Potter; a young fights censorship and as a result has to save himself.

"The Digital Kid" by Michael Z. Williamson - A dreamer's journey to overcome disability.

"Some Are Born to Save the World" by Mark Leslie - The story of a superhero's mortality.

I won't reveal which songs inspired which stories. As noted in the book's introduction, one doesn't need to be familiar with Rush's music to enjoy the book. That the majority of the contributing authors have backgrounds in SFF keep the stories cohesive. A fair number of Rush fans I know enjoyed Clockwork Angels, but I think they will appreciate this book as much, if not more.

My only nitpick with this collection: only one female author in the bunch. If the boys sanction this as a franchise, perhaps 2114 could feature a few more women writers. Lady Rush fans do exist.

Rating: A-

Kathryn Lively is a lady Rush fan.





Thursday, December 24, 2015

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

Somewhere in the middle of Beatlebone (AMZ) the author squeezes in an interlude which explains the research that went into authenticating John Lennon's voice for this story, and the history behind Dorinish Island as once owned by the singer. Once you get to this part of the book you may think one of two things: 1) Uh, shouldn't something like this appear at the tail end of the story, like an Afterword?, or 2) Oh, thank God.

This is not to say the prose of Beatlebone will leave your eyes crossed. It's uniquely told, stream of conscious narrative married with rapid exchanges of dialogue, and given the focus of the book it's an appropriate presentation. I think that Barry's interlude in the middle works because it's unexpected, much like the things John experiences in this story, and perhaps unconsciously Barry tipped toward a similar "intermission" gag in the movie Help!

So it's 1978. Lennon hasn't cut a record of original material in about four years. He has a toddler at home and an island on the Western coast of Ireland, bought in the late 60s. He gets the idea if he spends a few days on this deserted floating rock and employs some Primal Scream therapy and chain smoking he'll rejuvenate his creativity. Getting there, though, is half the battle, most of the headache, and all over a trip more surreal than the back-masking on "Strawberry Fields Forever." Seems some of the locals are in no hurry to help John get to where he wants to go. In his de facto guide Cornelius, John find camaraderie and irritation in the same package. Cornelius wants to feed John blood pudding (not on a macrobiotic's menu) and drag him to a pub and help him dodge the press with a quick hideout in a hotel full of "ranters."

John just wants to get to the "fucken" island. What happens from there, a lost "album" spilling from John's mind like coming down from a magnificent high, is at once lyrical and bizarre. Makes you want to go back and find In His Own Write and Spaniard in the Works to see how they compare.

Barry writes in his interlude how he sees most Lennon-centric fiction as "character assassinations." It's easier to do when your subject can't speak up, but Beatlebone aims for an introspective John who doesn't treat everybody like crap. If you're looking for a more traditional narrative this book might drive you nuts, but it's worth the read if you can hold on.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively did get to cross Abbey Road, but doesn't Scream.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snodgrass and Other Illusions by Ian R. MacLeod

I found Snodgrass and Other Illusions (AMZ / BN / KOBO / ITUNES) by accident. I had a credit to redeem for a free book on [defunct ebook site], and Open Road Media is one of the major publishers that accepts it. I've purchased a number of reprints from the house, and when this purple floating mirage of cartoon Lennon appeared on my screen I bit. This is a collection of stories from acclaimed author MacLeod, speculative and science fiction, yet Snodgrass is presented at the forefront not necessarily because of the Beatles link, but due to a recent UK television adaptation. For this review, as we're a rock and roll book blog, I'm only reviewing this story.

Despite my trigger Buy Now finger, I remain wary of Beatles fiction. I've read some interesting takes and I've seen some shit. With the exception of John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe, everything I've read stays within the boundaries of band history. Some have classified Snodgrass as science fiction, but it's more alternative history. It's a What If that has a middle-aged Lennon - having missed the acorn planting, war is over if you want it phase - living hand to mouth in Birmingham. Cynthia and Julian exist, but you only hear of them in passing as John left them long ago. Them and the band. In this timeline, creative differences prompt John to quit The Beatles on the cusp of their international breakthrough. In 1990, Lennon can barely buy smokes and The Fabs have plugged along for decades, presumably with no Lennon versus McCartney tension to inspire a break-up.

It's a bleak story, and after reading I still can't decide who is worse off in this speculation: John for having left the band in 1962, or The Beatles for maintaining commercial popularity yet not achieving that level of influence that other bands can't touch. Lennon comes off as grouchy and sardonic, a shell of the younger man whose dark sense of humor is legend.

I liked the story - it's definitely one of the better Beatle fictions I've read. I'm slowly working through the rest of the book to see how other stories compare.

Rating: B

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rubber Soul by Greg Kihn

If you're my age (and the coming reference is the only hint you're getting), you are probably familiar with Greg Kihn. Turn on your local BOB or JACK "we play anything" radio station and chances are the song Jeopardy is in rotation, sandwiched between Taco's Putting on the Ritz and that horrid Will.I.Am/Britney earworm. Greg Kihn co-wrote and performed Jeopardy, which was a huge song in its day. Constant MTV airing huge, Weird Al parody huge. If you haven't given Kihn a thought since 1984, no need to worry. He's apparently still kicking and writing in another arena.

Kihn's latest effort, Rubber Soul (AMZ), follows the adventures of a Liverpudlian entrepreneur as his life intersects periodically with those of several hometown friends striving to launch careers in music. I have read quite a few Beatle-inspired novels, and reviewed some Beatles fiction here in the past - I find stories like these go either away in terms of quality. I hesitate to call such works glorified fan fiction, since the Beatles themselves are basically historical figures now, and it wouldn't be fair to lump these books as fanfics when other writers bring true to life people into fiction and dodge the stigma. That said, some stories I have read seem to lack the polish that carries the characters out of fandom into something serious. In the case of Rubber Soul, I found a concept that interested me -- a look at the early Beatles through the eyes of a friend -- despite the rough patches.

Bobby Dingle helps his father run his antiques shop in Liverpool. Like other teenagers in the port town, he's fascinated by American rock and roll, and through the right contacts is able to snare prized 45s before anyone else in town (What's a 45? It's like an MP3, but different. Google it.). His love for American rhythm and blues and rock solidifies a friendship with a young John Lennon, and soon Bobby's position as the band's Forrest Gump is secured. Throughout the story - from encounters in Hamburg, Bobby's later adopted home of Baltimore, and London - Bobby peppers little influences like Easter eggs for John to find and integrate into the Beatles' success. If you're a fan, you'll spot them on sight.

As the reader gets a lesson in early rock and roll - with names of the Fabs' musical idols sounded off in a constant roll call - dark shadows cast occasional palls over the action. Bobby's thug half-brothers, Mick and Clive, cause trouble for the band, while fatal events in Hamburg have a lasting impact. Rubber Soul covers the period from the late 50s to the Beatles' nightmarish experience in Manila, in 1966. I've read more than my share of Beatle bios, too, and while Kihn doesn't specify actual dates throughout the story he appears to present an accurate timeline of events. That one scene where John dupes Bobby into trying LSD? I confirmed the date John tried it for the first time (it's a fairly famous story, mind you), just to make certain. A casual music fan may gloss over particulars, but a Beatleologist can nit-pick. Given that the pace of Rubber Soul runs rather swiftly, one may accept that Kihn properly placed the fixed points in Beatles history within his fiction. Curiously, though, this story omits the "bigger than Jesus" controversy altogether.

So, accuracy aside, is the story any good? Firstly, I commend any author willing to fictionalize people who existed. I did find overall dialogue stiff at times - in some parts it didn't feel natural, more like a recital of facts. I did like that the story focused more on Bobby as he connected with a variety of supporting players - the fictional Clovis, for example, came off more colorful as the rest, which would make sense given the author could write the character more freely.

Rubber Soul should please Beatles fans, and fans of early rock and roll. You'll find it's more than another version of an oft-told history, but a view of a changing time as youthful innocence morphs into moments of cynicism and turbulence. Ending with the events in The Philippines seems to cut the story short, but it doesn't make the ride there any less thrilling.

An ARC of this book was provided via NetGalley by the publisher.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

When I first heard Neil Peart would collaborate with author Kevin J. Anderson on a fiction project connected to the latest Rush album, I was intrigued. For about two years, since the release of the band's single "Caravan," we waited for something - anything - resembling a larger project that might necessitate a tour for support. The hardcore fan base saw that wish realized with the release of Clockwork Angels the album (which I do enjoy) and the corresponding novel of the same name, which crafts the various themes of Peart's songs into a story that blends steampunk and fantastic imagery with the humanist ideals for which the band is known.

If you follow Rush religiously (sorry), you may find the former elements curious, since steampunk isn't something one would associate with them. Having browsed Anderson's bibliography, steampunk doesn't appear to be a major genre for him, and I would hesitate to place Clockwork Angels the novel solely in this category. As I read the story I didn't get a true sense of time to go with the settings - odd considering time is a primary theme. One could see this as a fantasy or dystopian adventure as well.

Anderson and Peart's clockwork world is comprised of a few major continents and cities with names drawn from mythology and ancient tradition: Posiedon City, Atlantis, and Albion...an ancient name for the island of Great Britain. Here the people seem more apt to pursue manual labor, save for those who study at the Alchemy College. We are told that the country of Albion had suffered turmoil and crime before the appearance of the benevolent and enigmatic Watchmaker. For the following two hundred years through the present day, Owen's bucolic home of Barrel Arbor, the more cosmopolitan Crown City, and surrounding villages live in peace and punctuality. You can literally set your watch by everything that happens, from the distribution of national news to changes in the weather. All is for the best, as the Watchmaker is known to proclaim, and few people argue with those words.

The two who do challenge this order have different motives. Owen seeks adventure and the opportunity to live out a story he can tell his grandchildren one day; the legendary Clockwork Angels who parrot the Watchmaker's maxims draw him to Crown City, and the wonder of a traveling carnival entices him to extend his journey. The story's antagonist, the Anarchist, creates havoc in hopes of waking people to the realization that the Watchmaker doesn't exactly have Albion's best interests at heart. The way he carries on, of course, makes one wonder if the Anarchist's view of the world is any better.

In keeping with the story's connection to Clockwork Angels the album, an assortment of song lyrics and characters provide ample references, perhaps a bit much. A reader more familiar with Anderson's work than Rush's may be able to breeze through the book without making many connections, but I have to admit I found the Easter egg-style lines distracting at times. Anderson doesn't limit himself to the recent album, either, in this respect. A character shouts, "Presto!" and I know there's more to it than the parlor trick he's performing.

What disappoints me more about this book, however, is the overall style. Between the many instances of telling instead of showing (and this is not another song reference) and repetitiveness of narrative and dialogue (more than once the author has Owen recapping his adventures and echoing lines) made it difficult for me to appreciate the story. I get the impression, too, that maybe the author hoped to attract the YA reading audience in addition to Rush's older fan base. Owen's young age and the dialogue may imply that, but I think of other books I've read in the dystopian YA genre (most notably The Hunger Games) and find them more sophisticated in style and dialogue.

Clockwork Angels had the potential to deliver a thought-provoking adventure, but the writing just didn't grab me. When I think of the other Anderson/Peart collaboration, the story "Drumbeats" (reviewed on this blog), I find I enjoyed that more. For its length, "Drumbeats" is a tighter story with better dialogue - it is also in first person, which makes me wonder if Anderson had attempted Clockwork Angels in that POV would the story be improved.

Will you like this book more if you're a Rush fan? You certainly don't have to be one to read it. The book hasn't changed my perception of the album, but I do know I'll revisit the songs more than the story.

Rating: C-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and a book blogger.






Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FM for Murder by Patricia Rockwell

Recently I went on a book-buying tear at Amazon to burn down some gift card credit. Part of my goal was to stock up on some less expensive titles - given the recent boom of 99 cent eBooks, I thought surely I'd find some titles relevant to this blog. FM for Murder, part of a series starring an acoustics expert, held an interesting premise, and a good price.

Bear in mind, this is the second book in a series, so if you are the anal retentive sort who must start with A before going to B you may wish to see what else Rockwell has to offer. This book, FWIW, is written in a manner that doesn't give away anything important from its predecessor. That's a good thing in terms of spoilers, and to give Rockwell credit I didn't feel lost due to any inside references.

Getting to the story: the Black Vulture is, rather was, a popular local DJ who held court during a late-night shift of alternative rock and songs for the goth/emo set. His on-air murder sets off a ripple of shock and concern among fans, but for college professor Pamela Barnes the event rekindles her sleuthing desires. Not that she takes charge immediately - local authorities call on her expertise in sound recordings and voice to assist with digging up clues, and we find out quickly that her family is none too pleased with this moonlighting.

Meanwhile, a subplot involving Daniel Bridgewater, heir to a carpet manufacturing company a few hours away, takes the reader slowly through a familial conflict veiled in secrets. Desperate to mend ties between his ailing father and prodigal brother, Daniel tracks down the elusive David to discover a reunion is inevitable, but not in the way he expects. To go further into detail would give away too much of the story, so I will just say that Rockwell brings together both story lines the way one would slowly pull on a zipper. The lives affected do not cross so much as meet together at the right time for a resolution.

I personally would not consider FM for Murder a mystery in the traditional sense. The book is presented more like a crime drama, where the pieces gradually come together. You may get a sense of where the story is going as you read - I got to a certain point and figured out much of the revelations before they happened. Still, it didn't diminish what I enjoyed of the book - mainly Pamela's sleuthing. A sub-plot involving a co-worker's pending marriage - while likely used to shape Pamela's workplace and expand on characterization - didn't catch my interest as much. I felt that space could have better served in Pamela's corner.

As a quick read for a good price, however, FM for Murder just may satisfy readers of suspense.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author whose titles include Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek

My first word of warning to anybody who is interested in buying the eBook version of My Favorite Band Does Not Exist: there are numerous instances where the book shifts to a "book within a book" that is presented in semi-graphic form with dog-eared pages and fancy fonts. Clicking through these sections of the eBook seems to slow the loading something fierce, to the point you might think there's something wrong with your reader or the eBook file. I opened the file in two separate eReaders and encountered the same issue, and I have to admit that waiting for pages to load proved irritating. I promise, though, the following review doesn't take that into account - I just note it here for the reader to be warned should anyone decide to buy e.

My Favorite Band Does Not Exist seeks to convey an adventurous spirit that takes readers on, literally, a whirlwind tour - imagine the Beatles' bubblegum tour bus and its passengers compressed into a paranoid teenager and his flight companion, then hold a mirror to the result for a parallel story. Idea Deity is on a mission to save his parents from going through with a public suicide pact to preserve and promote the cult movement they have founded. While Vengeful and Loving Deity (and these are perhaps the tamest of the names bestowed upon this book's characters) are measuring potions or knife lengths on the other side of the country, Idea has hooked up with the bubbly Eunice who assists in keeping him hidden from the Deitys' toughs. Slipping under their radar might be easier to do if Idea weren't already preoccupied with the plan he's set in place to upstage media attention the suicide might receive: he's fabricated a rock group with a viral following for which Lady Gaga would give up her meat bra, and Youforia has left Bic lighters aglow from sea to sea. This is despite having never cut an album, played live, or existing.

Cut to Reacher Mirage, who would argue the point of Youforia's existence. His band rehearses in secret, travels incognito, and deflects pressure placed upon him by management and band mates to do something besides nothing. It's when Reacher gets wind of website updates made without his knowledge and songs leaked through "YoFace" and other aptly named social media sites that he suspects something he's apt to fear more than playing in public.

Meanwhile, Idea can't understand why people are scalping tickets and making money off a band that exists only in his mind, crammed in his conscious along with the belief that he is a literal Truman Show - a character in a book set to die in Chapter 64. Certainly it's not the same book he's carried around on his quest: Fireskull's Reverent, a hefty tome that also has Reacher turning pages. Suddenly any determination to save his parents is forgotten as Idea and Eunice detour to track down those profiting from Youforia's, er, presence.

When realities and fiction collide, one would think things start to make sense, yet in reading My Favorite Band Does Not Exist I find the narrative off-putting and at times frustrating. Whether the saturation of odd character names (Wicked Livenbladder comes to mind) are there as some satirical commentary on goofy names dreamed up in typical YA fantasy I can not say, but having to take it all in - while juggling three parallel universes within the book - left me weary. There is a good germ of a story here, but one may end up re-reading chapters and passages to make it come together. I would dare suggest having too much of the novel within the novel made it difficult for me to follow the complete story - it's like David Lynch remade A Hard Day's Night.

As an adult reading this book, I may also concede a younger reader - the target audience of this book - will have little problem getting through the story and enjoy the irreverent humor and moments of slapstick. My Favorite Band reads like an acid trip Saturday morning cartoon, and though I don't consider a book like this my cup of tea I wouldn't mind mixing some that drug in with it.

Rating: C-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author whose titles include Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop.