Tag Archives: literature

Hunting the Phoenix, by Audrey Driscoll

I don’t think I can define the difference between a craftsman and an artist, but I know it when I see it, and Audrey Driscoll is an artist. I know, because I am a craftsman, a good one, but not an artist.

So, enough navel gazing. What is it about ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ that’s so special?

Simple answer: everything.

‘Hunting the Phoenix’ is the fourth and last book of the Herbert West series, but it is also the climax of the preceding three books. Imagine the steps of a pyramid with the Phoenix as its apex. Or if music is more your thing, imagine a classical symphony in which each movement builds upon the last to achieve the soaring notes that grab your heart and lift you out of yourself. That is the Phoenix.

At its core, every work of fiction strives for just one thing – to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief, to become part of the story, and the Herbert West series is no different. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classical literature, the story lulls the reader into a pleasant sense of security. ‘Oh, this is what the story is about…’ And then the surprises begin. Small ones at first, as you realise the author is more daring than you thought, then more profound as the truly shocking events begin to unfold.

Each book in the series is like this, but in the Phoenix the shocks go deep. I admit, there were a couple of spots where I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief. Such careful, restrained, beautiful writing and she takes it there?

Yet ‘there’ is exactly where the story needs to go in order for the ending, the climax, to feel both unexpected and absolutely right.

I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say that the quality of the writing is superb. What may surprise some people is that it is written in the First Person POV [point-of-view], and I don’t usually like First Person POV. This time, however, I barely noticed because Driscoll effortlessly avoids every single pitfall that goes with First Person POV. As with C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series, the POV is perfect and exactly what the story requires.

I wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants more.

I’m just about to use parts of this post as a review on Amazon. If you want to read the series, the order of the books is:

  1. The Friendship of Mortals
  2. The Journey: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 1
  3. The Treasure: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 2
  4. Hunting the Phoenix

And please, leave a review on Amazon because these books truly do deserve to become modern classics.

cheers

Meeks

 


Lifeform 3 – oh…my…god!

lifeform 3In Lifeform 3, author Roz Morris has created a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. The story is deceptively simple, as is the prose, all held in perfect balance to allow the characters to shine. And what characters!

Before I talk about Paftoo, and Pea, Tickets and Pafnine, however, I have to set the scene, just a little. Imagine our world some time in the future. It has become a world of back-to-back cities with podcars that drive themselves while their human occupants sleep. It is a world of rampant consumerism and jaded appetites. It is a world where animals, especially wild animals have become a tourist attraction.

In this world, animals are categorized according to the order in which they were domesticated – dogs are lifeform 1, cats are lifeform 2 and horses are lifeform 3. And yes, that was a clue.

Now imagine a crumbling manor house set in acres of land, a tiny pocket of nature tucked away in a sea of concrete. This is Harkaway Hall, or what’s left of it. Dubbed the ‘Lost Lands’, the estate has become a tourist destination, and is maintained by a small army of bods, humanoid robots with shaggy purple hair and Manga eyes.

Enter Paftoo. Paftoo is a bod, but he is not quite like the other bods. During the day he collects the poop dropped by the animals that roam the Lost Lands, but at night, while the other bods switch off, Paftoo dreams. He dreams of lifeform 3’s galloping across the fields. He dreams of himself riding a lifeform 3.

That is the mystery underlying the story. How and why has this one bod become so different? And why would it dream of horses? Deeper still, though, is a darker theme about intelligence and self-awareness, aspirations and freedom. Paftoo is not human, yet he is not just a machine either, and in his journey we can see a reflection of ourselves. That is what makes this story so utterly wonderful.

For those interested in such things, Lifeform 3 is technically science fiction, but as far as I’m concerned it’s science fiction literature.

Did some of you cringe? Did your eyes glaze over?

Please don’t be put off  by the ‘L’ word. Lifeform 3 is not arty farty. It doesn’t use obscure vocabulary just for the sake of it. It doesn’t bore you to tears with pages of flowery descriptions, and it does not go round in circles contemplating its own navel!

Lifeform 3 is science fiction literature because it tells the perfect story. Nothing is missing. Nothing is superfluous. Everything fits, and flows as if it could not possibly be any different. Yet despite that, it’s not predictable.

As a writer who reads a hell of a lot, I often find myself re-writing sentences in my head as I read them, or mentally questioning some part of the plot or characterization. It goes with the territory. With Lifeform 3, however, there was not a single moment when I stopped to re-read a sentence or passage because it had jarred me out of the story. Didn’t happen, not even once. That is the sign of a truly good story.

So…  Would I recommend Lifeform 3 to you? You bet I would! Using my own, personal star rating system, Lifeform 3 gets 11/10, and joins a select list of novels that I think will still be wowing readers in a hundred years’ time. That, by the way, is another thing it has in common with real literature – it lasts.

Now, a request : if you read Lifeform 3 and love it as much as I do, please, please leave a review on Amazon! Even just a few words will help spread the word about this amazing book!

cheers

Meeks


2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens – a review

I first stumbled onto ‘Midnight at Spanish Gardens’ on a book review site, and was so intrigued I had to buy it there and then.  Now on with the review.

midnight at spanish gardensWritten by Alma Alexander, Midnight at Spanish Gardens is not the kind of story that fits neatly into a pigeon hole. The writing is beautiful, almost poetic,  yet it never forgets that it is meant to be prose, or that it has a story to tell. So based on the quality of the writing,  and the fact the story is set in modern times, I could easily describe Spanish Gardens as contemporary literature.

Yet as I read on,  I discovered that the mysterious bartender named Ariel is somehow sending the five main characters back in time to live the lives they might have lived if things had been… different.

How do I describe that? Contemporary metaphysical fantasy literature?

Yet even that convoluted category doesn’t accurately describe Midnight at Spanish Gardens, because how the main characters come to relive their lives is less important than what they do with those second chances. Or the choices they make when Ariel calls them back. Will they choose the first life? Or will they choose the new life they have made? Sadly, they cannot choose both.

For some of the characters, their new lives are better than the old, happier, more fulfilled. For others, their new lives turn out to be more successful in some ways, but ultimately devoid of meaning in others. Yet the story of these lives, and the choices the characters make is no morality play. Rather it is the tender exploration of what makes all of us human, without judgment, and without condemnation.

Whether the character is male or female, each one feels real and intensely believable. Some I liked more than others, but each one touched me deeply, and in my opinion, that is a psychological tour de force.

So what is Midnight at Spanish Gardens? Psychological metaphysical contemporary fantasy literature?

Nope. 😀 The book is much simpler than that – it is nothing more nor less than a work of art.

If Midnight at Spanish Gardens contained even a smidgeon of science fiction I’d give it 11/10. As it is I can only give it a 10.

Joking aside, I truly loved this book, and I promise, hand on heart, that if you read it you will not be disappointed.

cheers

Meeks


What makes a great story?

Yesterday I pontificated about what makes a great game, for me at least. Well today I’m waxing lyrical about stories and genres on Candy Korman’s blog.

What can I say? She did ask me to do a guest post. Mwahahaha… ahem.

For those who don’t know Candy, she is a writer obsessed with Monsters. Thankfully none of them are sparkly. Instead, Candy takes inspiration from classical monsters – such as Frankenstein and Dracula – and weaves their essence into stories set in the modern world. Each one is unique. And each one has a wicked twist.

Candy’s Monsters are very different to mine, but we both explore the darker side of the human psyche.

So hop on over to Candy’s blog and let’s get some interesting discussions happening!


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