Category Archives: Alternate Reality

Insanity – Cameron Jace

I’ll be honest, I knew nothing of Cameron Jace…never heard of him, never seen any of his work when one day I received an email from an ebook service that I subscribe to that described one of his books that was on sale (OK free) and the description intrigued me…since the price was right I went and “purchased” it.  I didn’t get around to reading it for quite some time but finally did just before the holidays.

According to Mr. Jace’s web site, he isn’t a professional writer but likes writing stories that he always wanted to read but couldn’t find already done. There’s really not much more I can tell you about the author…which bothers me as I tend to like to know at least something about the author I’m reading so I can get an idea of how their background and experiences have molded their writing.

Insanity is the first book of a series of books that he refers to collectively as Insanity; however, I think a more accurate title would be the Wonderland Wars….but, we’ll see.

Years ago, I purchased and absolutely adored a computer game called American McGee’s Alice.  It tells a very dark tale of Alice (as in Alice in Wonderland) who accidentally set fire to her home as a child which resulted in everything and everyone she loved to be destroyed or killed.  She gets institutionalized in an insane asylum and is eventually called back to a much more dark and twisted Wonderland.

The reason I mention this game is because Mr. Jace’s stories have a striking resemblance to the concept (but not execution).  In Insanity, Alice Wonder is in an institution for having killed her classmates on a school bus.  There she meets Professor Pillar, a serial killer (a-la Hannibal Lector) who believes that she is “THE” Alice and that he is The Caterpiller from Wonderland.  Together they are trying to stop a Wonderland monster that is in the real world who is brutally killing people, leaving a sewn up grin on their faces.

The story is at turns bizarre, humorous, educational and dark…very much like the real Alice In Wonderland books.

Honestly, I could not put the book down (a rarity for me).  Once finished, I actually wrote a review on Amazon.com…which I seldom do and have never done so for a freebie.  I have since purchased the collection for the first 3 ebooks and will likely buy books 4 and 5 (I think that’s as far as it goes so far).   Honestly, I was afraid to start book 2 since often books that may have been intended to be one-off frequently doesn’t translate well into a series, completely changes the characters or changes the sense of wonder…..so far, I’m happy to report that book 2 “Figment” is every bit as much fun as book 1 although perhaps a bit darker.

 

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is one if not my favorite author of all time. His books are witty, intelligent, funny yet with serious undertones, pure fantasy….yet, very much grounding in reality.  He can turn phrase that is at once hilarious but poignant at the same time.  This is the third (or second if you count The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic as one book) of collection of books (at the time of this writing number around 40 books and comics) based on a fictional world known only as the Discworld.  The Discworld is a flat micro-planet which rests on the back of four massive elephants which stand on the great world turtle, A’Tuin (whose sex is unknown…but that’s another story).

Pratchett was born in 1948 in Buckinghamshire, England.  Growing up, he wanted to be an astronomer and collected Brooke Bond Tea cards on astronomy. This eventually led him to space-based science fiction.  At 13, he published his first story in the school magazine which was later published commercially at age 15.  At age 17, he began his first job in writing working for the Bucks Free Press writing, among other things, children’s stories published under the name Uncle Jim.  One of these stories eventually led to the characterizations in his story, The Carpet People (not a Discworld novel).

In the 1980’s, Pratchett became the press writer for the Central Electricity Generating Board covering the nuclear power stations all the while writing his first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic which was published in 1983 and gave up working for the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1987 shortly after his fourth Discworld novel was published Mort.

He has been extremely proficient writing not only the many Discworld novels, which in itself contain several childrens or young adult stories, several children/young adult books not related to Discworld and several other fiction and non-fiction books.

In 2007, Pratchett was misdiagnosed as having had a stroke.  It was later discovered that he has a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, posterior cortical atrophy in which parts of the back of his brain began to shrink.  While his speech and motor skills have been affected, his cognitive abilities have not been impacted and he continues to write by dictation to his wife.

Having given so much joy to many lives including mine, I continue to wish him well.

Equal Rites, being the third (or second) novel in the Discworld stories and being an early work unfortunately show.  Don’t get me wrong, Pratchett’s wit and shear joy are present; however, the characters are slightly different than they are in the later stories.

The story begins by the death of a wizard who, upon passing, transfers his powers to the newborn child of a rural blacksmith. The wizard made a mistake though, he had thought the child was a boy…it was a girl!  On the Discworld, girls become Witches, boys become Wizards…girls do NOT become Wizards, it just doesn’t happen.

Granny Weatherwax, the local Witch, realizes that there’s not much she can do to help this young female Wizard, Esk.  Granny knows what she must do….well, she always knows, even when she doesn’t, that’s part of being a Witch, and takes Esk on a long journey to the seat of all wizardry on the Discworld, Ank-Morpork and the Wizards at Unseen University.

This story is a great introduction into what a Wizard is and what a Witch is in the world of Discworld and what it means to be one or the other.  In this story, Equal Rites is both an allusion to Women’s rights  and to the commonality of rites between the Wizard and Witches on Discworld.

If you enjoy this story, by all means read the rest of the Discworld novels, too many to list individually here.  I will likely review them over time.

 

 

The Big Over Easy – Jasper FForde

I’ve already written about Jasper Fforde, so I won’t explain what I know of him again.

I’ll admit, I’m a big fan of his Thursday Next novels and as a new series based on some comments made in the Thursday Next novels…but, don’t be mistaken, this isn’t the same series, although perhaps in the same world.  Never the less, I quite enjoyed the story.

This story is based on the Nursery Crime Division staring detective and family man Jack Spratt who is investigating what may or may not be a crime, a certain ovoid minor celebrity has been found in pieces…literally.  Did he fall to his death off a wall, or was he murdered?  Yes, the down and out Humpty Dumpty has been found dead and the investigation, much like all of Fforde’s novels, takes some seriously twisted and humorous  turns.  Written in much the same manner as Dashel Hammett and others in the genre, this hilarious noir crime novel is one entertaining gem of a story.  Despite the bizarre premise, the pace is fast and consistent with believable characters that you genuinely care for….a talent that, perhaps not uniquely his, is a particular talent of Ffordes.

If you enjoy this, read:

  • The Fourth Bear
  • Or any of Fforde’s other novels

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman was born in 1960 in Portchester, Hampshire, England.  He loves to read and claims to have been able to do so since he was four years of age.  J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorecock, and many others inspired him.  In the 1980’s he conducted a number of interviews and wrote book reviews which ultimately was beneficial in getting him published later in his career due to connections in the publishing industry he acquired in those days.

In 1984, he wrote a biography of the band “Duran Duran” and a book of Kim Newman quotations called Ghastly Beyond Belief, which sold very well although he though they were terrible.

What really got him noticed was writing “Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion” and collaborating with Terry Pratchett with the hilarious doomsday novel “Good Omens”.

Ultimately, his most enduring fame came from his re-write of the old DC Comics character “The Sandman” in which he changed quite drastically from the original, making it more hip, gory, and since it was being published by DC’s Vertigo label, nudity, blood and cursing were allowed.  “The Sandman” is to this day considered to be a classic work of graphic novel fiction and I myself have the complete collection in both graphic novel form and in bound collectors editions.

In 1999, Gaiman released Stardust which is a fantasy novel (and also a graphic/illustrated novel version).  The story is primarily about Tristran Thorn (a half-Faerie, half-human) and Yvaine (a fallen star) and their travels through the lands beyond the wall.

Tristran lives in a small English village named simply “Wall” which is set against a massive stone wall which devides the Human world from the world of faeries (which to my memory was never actually named).  Tristran knows he’s different and wishes for more. He desires “the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around” (i.e. Victoria Forester), who only enjoys his attention but doesn’t love him.

One night they witness a falling star and Tristran claims that he will cross over the wall and collect the star for her if she will marry him.  Thinking that Tristran isn’t serious, she agrees.  Tristran does indeed cross the wall into the faery lands and comes across a crater which has a beautiful young woman at it’s center with an injured leg, Yvaine, which Tristran comes to realize is actually the fallen star.  He forces Yvaine to go with him as he is intent on bringing her back whether she’s a person or a rock to win his prize, Victoria.

The story follows the two as the experience hidden dangers at every turn, dangers such as the Lords of Stormhold who are also after the fallen star to gain the rule of Stormhold while killing off each other.  The witch, Ditchwater Sal and worse of all the Lilim which are three sister witches who have grown quite old and wish to capture Yvaine to cut out her heart and consume it to become young again.

I have to say, I loved this book in both forms; however, I preferred the book form over the graphic/illustrated novel.  The charcters are enjoyable and the story is both memorable, unique and at the same time vaguely familiar.  While over the wall, many characters and situations resemble fairy tales we learned and read when we were children, yet, they aren’t at the same time.  They’re not as terrifying as the actual originals, yet are creepy in the way only Neil Gaiman knows how to tell them.  It’s hard to describe exactly what it is about Neil’s style that makes it so creepy and in this case “sweet” at the same time, so I won’t try…just sit back and enjoy, again and again.

As of note, there was a theatrical release of Stardust in 2007, staring Charlie Cox as the renamed Tristan Thorn (face it Tristran doesn’t roll off the tongue as well), Claire Danes as Yvaine and Michelle Pfeiffer as the Witch Queen, with Robert De Niro, Peter O’Toole, and Ricky Gervais.  The movie was good, but, but much of what made the novel greate wasn’t present.  The journey was too short and the campy portrail of Captain Shakespeare as a cross dressing pirate was way too over the top.  The movie couldn’t decide whether it was a fantasy, comedy, or romance.  The movie was OK…it just wasn’t as good as it could have been, which is often the case when a beloved book is turned into a movie, particularly when it’s done by an American big distributor.  What was a saving grace was that it wasn’t produced by a big studio.

If you enjoy this, try:

  • The Sandman (graphic novels)
  • American Gods
  • Neverwhere
  • Anansi Boys

 

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

Beginning his career in the British film industry on such films as Quills, GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, The Saint and Entrapment as the first assistant camera who’s primary responsibility as a member of the film crew is to maintain image sharpness on the filmed subject.  His first novel, the one being reviewed here, is the first to be published.

The Eyre Affair follows the exploits of Thursday Next a member of the SpecOps (Special Operations) 27 (i.e. Literary Crime) division of the police department.  Thursday assists in the capture of her former professor and known terrorist, Acheron Hades.  Acheron evades capture by use of his superhuman abilities allowing him to withstand gunfire and in the process kills Thursday’s entire team.  Thursday would have been dead as well if it weren’t for a copy of Jane Eyre which stopped a bullet.  A stranger helps her while waiting for the paramedics leaving behind a monogrammed handkerchief embroidered with the initials E. F. R. and a 19th century jacket.

Thus begins a fast, action-packed, hilarious adventure spanning the alternate reality in which Thursday lives to the literary world of Jayne Eyre. The story is rife with puns, literary references both commonly known and obscure (or sometimes just forgotten).  The story is a genre-bending mix of Sci-Fi, Super-hero, Procedural, Mystery, Romance, and just about any other type of story imaginable and completely engrossing.

Note: The series is described as actually two series, the first story essentially wrapped up with Something Rotten and the second on-going series beginning with First Among Sequels.

If you enjoy this, try the rest of the ongoing series:

  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
  • First Among Sequels
  • One of Our Thursday’s is Missing
  • The Woman Who Died a Lot