Thursday, August 28, 2014

BlightBorn (Heartland # 2) by Chuck Wendig

We should preserve this guy for the next few generations so he continues to enthrall and entertain us with such wildly exciting books across a wide spread of genres. Period. He is one of the best writers out there – a prolific productivity, an inimitable sense of dark realism tinged with shiny hope and the gift to entertain through sheer imagination that knows no bounds.

Heartland trilogy chugs ahead full speed with Blightborn, the second book that follows the adventures of Cael McAvoy and his buddies set in a dystopian future where evil schemes of the greedy man has killed the soil – there is only corn that grows out here on earth – and the Heartland dwellers – the “have-nots” stuck in this sunny dustbowl of a wasteland are grubbing their way through lives suffering under the tyranny of the sky-dwellers or the Empyreans. The title of the first book, Under the Empyrean Sky was apt. Evocative and lush, as the title imagery suggests, much of book one happens on the ground hide and seek among the corn stalks in Heartland.

But with Book Two in this series, Blightborn – Chuck Wendig slams the pedal fully down. Both the world-building and characterization get a lot of detail as we are sucked deeper into this world of piss-blizzards, blood-thirsty corn-stalks and the deadly blight. While book one was predominantly from the viewpoint of the self-absorbed Cael set mostly in and around the town of Boxelder and the unending corn stalk fields of Heartland, this time we get a wider perspective of the world and the happenings or conspiracies that led to this dystopian setting.

In short, we take to the air.

And explore the myriad mysteries of the Empyrean Empire aboard this flotilla- Mainly through Gwennie or Gwendolyn Shawcatch – Cael’s girlfriend, Obligated to Cael’s bitter rival, Barnes in the first book. Gwennie’s life changes after the “Lottery” – where her family is the “lucky” one to be taken aboard a flotilla. But to her horror, things go spiraling downwards pretty fast – the lottery turns out to be ticket to lifelong slavery – mucking horseshit and apprenticed to a quirky scientist in the sky with his own secrets and sob-stories at large. And of course, she runs into Cael’s sister, Merelda.

Meanwhile, Cael and his best buddies, Lane and Rigo are on the run. A chance encounter with a crazed hobo and the Raiders – a set of terrorists or anarchists trying to make the Empyrean count for all their sins – turns their lives on its head. And Barnes, along with Wanda and Rigo’s father form a posse to hunt down Cael’s gang and now are hot on their trail.

If the first book in that series was one ripe with possibilities, then book two blossoms out. Then goes ahead and simply explodes. Chuck ensures that the horizons are widening. As we explore the Skies of the Empyrean Empire, we understand that sky is not the limit. (pun intended) We get to see the world of Heartland outside of the Boxelder town. But the most interesting part for me – was of course the bizarre life aboard the Flotillas. The quirks of the sky-dwellers, the weapons, their obsessions with auto-bots, their whacky parties. (Mind boggling imagination, Mr.Wendig!) all makes for an engrossing read. But in typical Wendig style, the plot dives head long into twisty conspiracies – secrets come tumbling out and revelations leave you shocked and gasping for more. I found it to be one of the best ways to develop this trilogy – with the world expanding, characters evolving and the plot deepening. And fuck-a-duck, book two ends on a cliffhanger. I hated that but now the wait is desperate and restless.

Wendig’s books as I said before, all smack of dark realism – the authentic believable portrayal of the sad plight of the Heartlanders stuck on the ground gets a shot in the arm – when compared and contrasted to the lush opulent life of the flotillas. It brings out the desolation and the grimness of the situation that both Gwen and Cael are stuck in. Woven in through these different plotlines are the relationships between the many characters. It’s complex, twisty and delicious. There is romance yes – but of more import would be themes of devotion and bonding and friendship. Especially for the trio of Cael, Lane and Rigo. Both Lane and Rigo really grow out of Cael’s shadow emerging to be more than just bit players in the overall scheme of things. Gwennie is a tough nut – and from adversity is born strength – perfectly fits her character. Merelda, personally – flitted in and out of the maudlin mawkish lover girl mold – didn’t appeal much to me. Another surprising character who is set for bigger things is Harrington. I loved this crazy fellow! I missed Arthur McCavoy but I think Chuck is saving him for the ending. A shaved knuckle in the hole, perhaps.

All the new characters – Eben the crazed out hobo, the raiders Sleeping Dogs – with their smooth-talking grinning mad-cap of a captain, Killian ( Who reminded me for some reason, of Nicomo Cosco – the lovable mercenary from Abercrombie novels), Percy the Peregrine– the control freak who is the head of security aboard the flotilla or the Maize Witch (!!) – Chuck sets up the stage pretty well for all of them. Everybody gets affected. All the pressure that was building up from the previous book finally bursts through – culminating in a stunning climax with mad with chaos ensuing all around.

So Blightborn is everything shiny and good that Under the Empyrean Sky offered us and then takes it up a few notches towards “really good” territory. It’s a great second book in a series that truly rolls the overall plot forwards while opening it really wide. The teeming possibilities are exciting beyond measure. And with the ending of Book two, I am now waiting on a bed of nails raked over a bed of hot burning coals. Get back to writing, Chuck!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Upcoming Movies: MAD MAX : FURY ROAD – Official Warner Bros.

Long time back, Mel Gibson - before he became the Braveheart or the action hero-detective in the Lethal Weapon series - was synonymous with one name: MAD MAX.

A road-warrior of the post-apocalyptic world. A trilogy of movies that were outrageously stylish and became cult hits in the early 80s. While the third movie was a stretch - Beyond the Thunderdome, by then the road-warrior Mad Max had become a cult-hero.

We see the cult is beginning to revive. With the latest movie in that franchise helmed by George Miller coming out in 2015. I let you feast your eyes on the trailer. I loved this mad desolate dust-bowl world of blood and pain - trailer!! Let's hope the movie doesn't disappoint. High hopes riding on Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.

Monday, August 18, 2014

CornPunk Fantasy anyone? Yess..Please...Can I have sum-more?

So a corn-punk fantasy? What in the name of blue blazes is that?

Ah. Hear the answer from the Master of Diversity and Diversification and Versatility, the evil genius Chuck Wendig overlord at the fantastic blog, Terrible Minds

"I posted on TerribleMinds at one point, saying, "Let's come up with some funny sub-genres." Something-punk. You know, this-punk and that-punk. Funny-punk. It's punk-punk. And I came up with "corn-punk." It's a future run on corn, ha ha. But then I thought, "Well, that's actually creepy, because corn is sorta scary these days." So I started extrapolating that, and I created this very sunny, dustbowl, agricultural dystopia in the far-flung future where corn has taken over. And it's about a young boy struggling against the rich people who live in big ships above his head."

The result is this. First book in a heart-stopping trilogy based on "corn" being the ultimate evil called Under the Empyrean Sky. And boy did I love it or what!

To realize the depth of such a differently imagined dystopian setting and to stay true to the voice of a sixteen-year old YA protagonist stuck in that hopeless environment and to flesh out a conflict-ridden story that doesn't get preachy about environmental problems and yet retains that theme front and center - is true genius. And Chuck Wendig proves himself to be that incredibly versatile writer who sticks true to his guns and comes out rail-gun blazing with such novel ideas. AND manages to make it stick and matter.

So on to the incredibly imaginative setting of the novel - Heartland is a desolate sunny "dustbowl" somewhere in this world far years ahead - where corn is the only crop being grown in the fields and like a slow predator, corn has killed pretty much all of the other crops - vegetables, fruits. Somewhere in the middle of the book is a terribly moving scene where Cael's (the protagonist) father explains that the incredibly sweet fruit he is slurping on - is actually mango. A scene that brings out the pathos and desperation in this world where nothing else grows. And it is this way simply because the Empyrean Empire chooses it to be. The Have-Nots grub their daily life, scraping through a living by either working in the fields manning and guiding "motorvators" - giant corn-threshing machines or in the factories where corn is being processed. The Haves of the world - live on Floatillas - giant floating cities in the sky. Away from the filth and mess of Heartland.

I didn't go into the book thinking this was going to be YA or anything at all for that matter. I just dove straight into the meat of the story and the never-ending stretches of corn-fields just sucked me in. Not to forget - the authentic original voice of Cael McAvoy, sixteen-year old rebel-yell, captain of a scavenger crew looking to hit back at the Empyrean empire who are the tyrants above. Chuck Wendig gets the voice of this surly teenager bang-on - his frustration at his father - unwilling to do anything to improve their quality of life and succumbing to the shackles of the empire - in the form of the mayor Barnes, the angst of a teenager in love, the trials that test the bonds of his friendship and love. All of this is beautifully etched out by Chuck. The usual problems of a teenager is multiplied ten-forth in these trying circumstances and Chuck really throws them into the blender. And yet by the end of book one, the revelations leave enough room for this sixteen year old to be growing into a man.

And Cael is admirably supported by the other characters - his father, his gang cronies Lane and Rigo etc. Maybe Chuck underplayed the role of the ladies in this book - Gwen, Merelda or Wanda. But I think I'm going to be seeing a lot more of them in book#2.

The bullying, the swearing, the girlfriend issues, the growing chasm between a teenager and their parent - check. Well drawn up and colored in typical Chuck Wendig prose that really drives home the setting. And yet none of this takes away the sheen from the root of the evil. Corn. Without getting preachy about environmental decline and real problems of poverty and famine due to poor agricultural practices, Chuck moves the plot along at a rapid clip - bringing in secondary characters, heightening the tension and really dragging Cael and gang through muck and filth. The antagonists make thier appearance; all of them three-dimensional and some nasty figures at that.  Be it Barnes Jr - Cael's bitter rival gangleader in the scavenging business, the local police-goon who has a thing for Cael or the Proctor - An empyrean citizen, a cold-hearted callous female who detests the every act of even stepping into the Heartland.

So there you have it. A taut dystopian thriller - set in an incredibly original setting featuring some endearing compelling characters with a plot that races along on hover-rails and leaves you gasping and begging for more. Don't get worked up - coz Book # 2, The Blightborn Empire is soon coming out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

I must admit that Blood Song by Anthony Ryan came to my notice a long time back. Back in the end of 2012. When this explosive debut took the genre by storm with everybody calling it to the Best Book of the Year and beyond. But with the second book coming out now, The Tower Lord – the clamor for this book hasn't died down. If possible, it has only gone higher. And so I dutifully set down to discover why it became a phenomenon that any fantasy reader couldn't ignore anymore. To peel back the magnificent hype and the rabid following this book has gained over time.

Well. Having read this now, I've got to say I have fallen under the magic myself. A surprisingly strong narrative pull and the intriguing charisma that oozes off the heroic Vaelin Al Sorna combines with the deft pacing and spectacular world building to make this book a winner at different levels. It's a book any fantasy fan worth his salt should be reading.

Despite my fears and misgivings that the book follows the traditional course of epic fantasy genre – complete with boy growing into his destiny, prophecies and a shadowed doom that threatens the existence of the world - Anthony wraps these familiar tropes effortlessly into his narrative, completely owning them and presenting the same in a fresh and entertaining manner , that you can't help being sucked into the world of Vaelin Al Sorna. 

From the moment the ten-year old Vaelin is cruelly dumped outside the gates of the Sixth Order - his training, his brotherhood with the other neophytes and the budding cautious camaraderie blossoming out to trust and friendship, the Tests within the Order - Ryan beautifully draws out the detail while never letting the narrative pull slacken. It's taut and Ryan builds out his world as Vaelin goes out exploring and then takes up various missions for his King and the Faith. 

The Faith - a surprisingly "godless" religion that believes that the ancestral spirits from "The Beyond" - a shadowy place were people's souls go to after death - will guide their actions and thus condemns and chastises other beliefs around the existence of God or idol-worship. Faith plays a critical role in influencing the events that shapes Vaelin's destiny. In the world - a kingdom called the Unified Realm that consists of four major states existing in an uneasy alliance under the rule of King Janus is where most of the events of book one unfurl. And Anthony Ryan chooses Vaelin to be the single narrator for majority of the book. 

Ryan excels at his characterization - having built up Vaelin in the broad strokes of the archetypal hero - capable, intelligent and sensitive, trained and bred for violence and war by his kingdom and faith - I had no complaints of watching the book events unfold from inside his head. I don't know if I missed much - but Ryan does a good job of ensuring the secondary characters - Vaelin's brothers from the Order - Nortah and Caenis, the scheming cunning King Janus or his feisty independent daughter Princess Lyrna, sister Sherrin from the Third Order - all get ample opportunities to be developed into remarkable unforgettable characters as well. 

A lot of the coming-of-age sequences centered around trials within the Order while Vaelin is growing up has far-reaching consequences - Ryan having done quite an admirable job in typing up these threads onto the overall series sequence. it doesn't quite fit into the grim-dark neo-fantasy wave that we've been witnessing of late but remains comfortably ensconced in the molds of traditional heroic fantasy. Like a David Gemmell. And quite a fitting tribute by Anthony Ryan as well I must say. 

Faith is mixed well with aspects of "magic" - here referred to as the "Gift" by some and the "Dark" by others uninitiated to these powers - it typically enhances one's ability to perform any craft. In Vaelin's case, Blood Song - warns him to the dangers around him and thus excel in the battles or fights. The origin of such magic is still unclear and perhaps, Ryan is setting up this for the overall series arc exploration. 

Was there anything I didn't like about it ? Ahem. Well, yeah - Vaelin is sometimes too much of a brooding hero. and never really seems vulnerable. And the names, by gods had me in a tizzy trying to remember the full names and import of these characters. But minor quibles. 

So why should you read this book? 

An effortless narrative that is compelling and entertaining at the same time, a charismatic hero with his own share of tragedy and magic, some wondrous world-building coupled with excellent pacing - detailed battle and war-scenes, forbidden love. Everything you ever loved about this genre - is rehashed and presented in a riveting fresh manner, guaranteed to entertain you. There is nothing new here perhaps but the familiarity is comforting. And at the end of the day, a great book is a great book. Never mind the bloody tropes or critics I say. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy - A goofy loopy ride full of fun.

So looks like the good folks at Marvel finally got tired of the eternally brooding universe saving super heroes who always take themselves a bit too seriously. So they decided to let their hair loose, roll up their sleeves and have some good old fashioned fun. With Awesome Mix Vol.1 featuring the looniest and biggest pop-rock songs from the 70’s blaring in the background and making a spoof of the super-hero clich├ęs with an unlikely bunch of rakish irreverent ragtag outfit who set out to guard the galaxy.

The result? Guardians of the Galaxy. A fun-ride that never takes itself seriously – loaded with all things warm and fuzzy. Outrageous corny humour that actually fits in. A crackling camaraderie among the lead actors that blows the wind out of all bromances, romances and other mances (ahem. What do you call the undying friendship between a talking racoon and an over-grown tree?), if you will.  

James Gunn “guns” it the right way (Yeah – I know you cringed at that. Sorry!) with this irreverent take on the super-hero franchise – with a fuzzball of a movie that never takes itself seriously. Heck, you got the hero doing a “footloose” Kevin Bacon dance-off in the final scene when the Galaxy is at stake. You know what is coming right from the second scene – where we are introduced to daredevil outlaw scavenger pilot, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt essaying this role with effortless aplomb, loose jerky limbs and a smart-alec mouth seemingly believing smooth talk to be the solution to every problem in this Galaxy) – jauntily sauntering into an abandoned wasteland planet listening to “Come and Get Your Love” and stealing an Orb.

This sets off a series of events – with the whole world coming after Peter to retrieve the Orb. For the orb has – in Peter’s own words, “Lost Ark, Maltese Falcon” vibe to it and is believed to contain the “Infinity core” within – powerful substance that can destroy entire planets within the blink of an eye. Landing in a maximum security prison, Peter quicks forms alliances with a raffish, misfit crew of oddballs to break out and deliver the Orb to the highest bidder. The crew – a green-skinned assassin, trained to be a living “killing” machine named Gamora ( Zoe Saldana, fitting right in after graduating from blue-skinned alien in Avatar), a wronged Humanoid called Drax the Destroyer built like a battering ram ( Dave Batista, a pro-WWE wrestler pulling in a surprisingly good performance here!) and the unlikeliest pair of mercenaries in The Rocket, a genetically modified racoon who can talk, fly airships, plan prison escapes and fire a mean machine-gun with a penchant for practical jokes. (Yeah Beat that. Bradley Cooper has the most fun mouthing the most outrageous lines of the movie!) and his best friend, Groot - a throwback from Peter Jackson’s movie sets of LOTR – a living tree that is very like the Ents from LOTR. Vin Diesel is the voice for this adorable character mouthing nothing more than “I am Groot” over and over again in different tones. Groot steals the show simply by being himself. Err…itself?...

The movie asks for no quarters and takes none as it rumbles on right from that frame where Quill picks up the Orb and picks up steam till the last frame. Gunn’s got the pacing spot-on, peppered by some inspiring comic-lines and sometime cringe-worthy dialogues. The best ones are always when the “Guardians” get together. When Quill signals with a finger across the throat to signify killing, the stumped Drax responds with “Why would I want to touch his throat?” Rocket warns Quill against using “Metaphors” while talking to him. For the simple-minded Drax the fighter with swirling tattoos all over his fearsome muscular form comes from a set of people who are completely “literal”. “Metaphors are gonna go right over his head.” To which pat comes the reply from Drax. Earnest and blank-faced. “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.”

It might not have the fans raving like Avengers, but the Guardians gets you to wear that big fat smile as the end credits roll past. It’s entertainment at its frothiest goofiest best. For James Gunn throws a little bit of everything into the mixer. The over-the-top action scenes, the zany jokes, the outfits and make-up, the CGI effects, galaxy chases in airships. Add to that a steady mix of up-tempo 70’s biggest hit pop songs that keeps the jukebox happy and hip. It all blends well and the movie works like magic. Double thumbs up!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I am the Weapon: Unknown Assassin # 1 by Allen Zadoff. A compulsively readable YA thriller

Boy Nobody or I am the Weapon was a book that caught my eye after Mihir from FBC and other fellow bloggers recommended it as a pretty addictive fast-paced thriller read. Mihir’s suggestions have been pretty spot-on and after having completed the excellent “Wayward Pines” trilogy – I was in the mood for something that’s light-duty and super-fast paced.

Boy Nobody delivered and how! A compulsively readable YA thriller that reads like a runaway freight-train. Knocking you down with its intensity and emotionally jarring narrative. Featuring a teenage (late teens) soldier trained to be an assassin, the book runs straight as an arrow with a mission that goes a little awry and plugs the boy soldier’s world into chaos. And yes. It involves a girl. 

Now if you get the impression from the above brief that this book is yet another YA – filled with angst-ridden teenagers with unbalanced hormones driving their decisions – then bam! Are you wrong, my friend. The boy nobody is a cold calculating machine – bred for violence and programmed by a mysterious institution called…well, The Program. And so we settle for a teenage viewpoint of things unraveling through the book. Without the excess baggage. And it makes for a very sharp entertaining read. It is violent yes and probably is walking the tight-rope when it comes to YA cordons for acceptable levels of violence but it is essential to the story and thus makes for a very satisfying believable read. 

So having been “institutionalized” into the Program at a young impressionable age, our hero’s memories are a jumbled mass of black and white pictures flickering past. But with the current mission – to infiltrate into the inner circle of the New York Governor to assassinate him – by be-or-boy friending his daughter in the High School (For a teenage assassin, this seems to be the most effective modus-operandi – as is established pretty early in the book – friend the “contact” usually the son or daughter of the “target” at school – get a way into the house – kill – get out. Smooth as slick.) Situation gets a little tricky. With his past threatening to spill out and pose difficult questions for Ben (his alias for this mission) he falters. Complications arise in the form of shadowy pursuers who are hell bent on killing him before the mission and of course the girl. The footsie-game of romance between Ben and Samara, the highly independent, opinionated daughter of the governor and his high-school “contact” makes for excellent read. Hesitant, confused and lost. Ben’s emotional vulnerability as a teenager has been nicely sketched out and it is this tightrope – Ben juggling between his confused feelings and jumble of memories on one side and his rock-like loyalty for the Program that brought him up after his real father “ditched” him - a balancing act that is the winner for me. It makes for an emotionally jarring read, one that will definitely make inroads into your heart. 

The action and suspense plays out craftily. Short punchy sentences – first person narrative that heightens the sense of tension to dizzying levels. Allen can wring out sentences that lay bare the truths of life beautifully – as seen through the eyes of a child soldier. The topic by itself makes for an interesting premise and no way would I have missed this book. With such a terrific hero and an intriguing plot, I am the Weapon– Book One of the Unknown Assassin series – is the perfect start.

Now am eager to pick up where the first book drops “Ben” off – searching for answers about the Program itself. Allen cleverly masks the intentions of the Program and thus builds out the larger story-arch that am assuming will play out across the rest of the books in the series. I am in this for ride. Four stars for an engrossing plot that balances explosive action and disturbing emotional turmoil. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey: A weak link to the trilogy ending.

After having absolutely loved the opening salvo Three in the Legends of the Duskwalkers series by Jay Posey, I had my hopes sky-rocketing for the second book, Morningside Fall.

Truths be told, after having set such a high-bar with the testosterone-filled opening featuring one of the most enigmatic heroes and having masterfully built up a suspenseful post-apocalyptic world with its own set of twists and horrors – It was always going to be a really tough deal for Jay. To surpass the stratospheric expectations. Three was a surprise debut for me last year. Delightful and punchy.

Alas. Morningside Fall is a weak addition to the series. It's not really a series bridger - in the sense, we still are in the dark about the Legend of the Duskwalkers. I would like to place my bets on certain aspects, sure but things are still clouded and hazy. The dust hasn't settled yet and we await the conclusion to this series – that still retains its originality and brilliance.

Jay – who writes screenplay for games for a living – brings about his vast experience of the wonderfully weird in having invented this post-apocalyptic world – chocked up with creatures like the Weir (An electronic zombie of sorts?), people whose souls can be loaded up into a central system, who can “pim” others over long-distance and the armory – mouthwateringly delicious inventions for those inclined in that direction. Who appreciate the guns and weapons.

All this ain’t new. We are introduced to all this and more in the series opener – along with the enigmatic mysterious hero, Three who becomes the reluctant savior to Cass and Wren. But sadly for us, Three dies at the end of book one and we have contend with an entirely different set of “heroes” in book two.
As the name suggests, the book chronicles the downfall of the great city of Morningside – where Wren and Cass had taken refuge in and Wren, being the son of the previous governor Underdown, becomes the natural choice for taking over the reins of administration. Too young a shoulder to bear this burden, Wren is obviously under a lot of duress. In spite of a bevy of councilors to advise him and guide him. Including his mom – Cass – who is the first of the Awakened. Brought back to her humanity by Wren’s powers. The city though is a cesspool of milling conspiracies – the shadow games for power get under away – ultimately forcing Wren and his mother out into the wilds for a second time. This time without Three to look out for them. But with them are a completely new set of trained militia unit, completely loyal to a fault for protection.

The action unlike book one, takes time to build out. The initial parts of Morningside Fall is set within the walls of the great city – where Jay builds out the suspense and gives time for the power-play conspiracies to play out. And more importantly, introducing new characters into the milieu. Chief among them being Painter – another of the Awakened beings, torn by the fact that his own sister rejected him when he came back from the folds of the Weir and now is slowly nursing a hatred towards the section of city that hate the Awakened. The militia team is a motley mix of experienced soldiers – professional and all duty personified. Gamble, the de-facto leader along with Sky – the scout, Able – the mute but extremely loyal and efficient bodyguard to Wren, Mouse – the team doctor are some that stood out but they ultimately are pale caricatures of stereotypes we’ve encountered before. The only enigmatic character who would have been interesting is this blind old man with his own set of mysterious agenda armed with a wicked set of blades ( the bad-ass on the gorgeous cover!) who calls himself “Justice”. Sadly he gets pigeon-holed into becoming yet another soldier for Wren’s cause of justice. The characters introduced are many but none of them get enough justice to stand out.

Jay’s writing is confident and measured and the pacing of the book is flawless. Slowly building up the tension and escalating into explosive action sequences through the latter half of the book. I have no qualms about the same but the plot by itself, was underwhelming. Sure – there are revelatory moments of surprise through the book that really hit you between the eyes.  I am not letting them out here. But ultimately all of this doesn’t make up for the fact that Jay has restricted the scope of this book two to the downfall of Morningside. The tone of this book is completely different from that of Three. I was seriously hoping there would be larger hints of around the duskwalkers perhaps and the world-building would get a boost. Sadly the action is restricted to the areas we know and there weren’t too many new things added to the narrative.

It's not secret - I found Wren exhausting and annoying in the first book – and that fellow now is the “hero” of the book. * groans * But by the time I finished the book, I realized he is much better in this book. But I cannot get adjusted to the fact that an eight-year old has to play savior to the rest. He is destined for greatness but he is still young – and all the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of a youngster comes to fore many a times. And his choice of actions that determine the end of this book smacks of the inexperience and foolhardy unthinking bravado of youth.

I have to say, that am ultimately a bit disappointed by this book and I really hope Jay does a turn-around in the series ending to redeem himself. But the series still remains one of my favorites for the sheer scope of originality and the hard-hitting game-like action sequences peppered throughout. Looking forward to the ending now. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

GUEST POST: "Tilting at Satellites" by Peter Liney

I had recently read The Detainee by Peter Liney - chronicling the adventures of the Big guy Clancy stuck on an island - where the old and infirm of a dystopian society are sent away - as garbage to rot the rest of their lives out. It was a powerful and emotionally draining book - a soul-searching attempt at questions around the devolution of human society and mind. I loved the book - the prose, the ideas and the wonderful execution. So with the second book in the series coming out - I am pretty excited that Peter actually agreed to do a guest post on what ideas influenced him to set upon writing this fascinating trilogy.

I was asked recently what some of my more direct literary influences were for The Detainee Trilogy. Of course, like every other writer, there were many, but it got me thinking about what books had had a more subtle, lingering influence, and I came up with one rather surprising one: Don Quixote.

Why I would equate the ‘Big Guy’, Clancy, an ex-heavy who’s dealt out more than his fair share of violence over the years, with the gentle, soft-in-the-head righter of wrongs of Miguel de Cervantes’ tale might not be immediately obvious, but it’s true nevertheless. One of the reasons Clancy ended up on that grotesque Island was because he’d forsaken all violence. If he’d stuck to his old trade he would’ve no doubt continued living on the Mainland and in something close to luxury. But he began to question his lifestyle, to believe in other things: integrity, honesty, and what that Knight of the Woeful countenance would’ve no doubt described as ‘the nobleness of the human spirit’ – very old-fashioned stuff in the twenty-first century, but then, Clancy is a very old-fashioned guy.

The fact that I chose to make the hero of a dystopian novel an older man (63), has caused a great deal of interest and comment, but I wanted to write about someone who believed in traditional qualities and values, and who better than a poacher-turned-gamekeeper? Clancy follows in a fairly long line of classic heroes who have renounced violence, only to find that they then have to take it up again in the pursuit of a greater Good. And that’s the way I wanted my hero: a traditional tough guy fighting for what he believes in, taking on the world in his pursuit of putting things right – just like our intrepid Man of La Mancha. And for a good-old fashioned hero, what better than an altogether modern heroine? In many ways Lena dominates the trilogy with her incredible inner strength, the way she inspires Clancy to fight back, to tackle apparently insurmountable odds in the same way she has.

And just how insurmountable those odds are: the Island must be one of the grimmest places ever imagined (I spent forever debating whether to include one particular aspect of the story) but if I had to nominate the three words used most to describe the trilogy, I can guarantee that ‘believable’ is right up there. The foundation thought for The Detainee was a question I first asked myself at least fifteen years ago: ‘What are we going to do when the elderly outnumber the young?’ And do you know something, all these years later, I still don’t have an answer – and it doesn’t seem as if any of our politicians do either. Is it so far-fetched to think that human garbage might end up being expelled along with the everyday kind? I’ll leave you to answer that.

In Book 2 of the trilogy, Into the Fire, our heroes think they are going ‘home’, yet the panicked authorities have resorted to even more desperate measures to rid society of those they can no longer afford. Furthermore, the government has paid for its lack of imagination by being made to realise that there are always those waiting to take advantage of such situations, that the most tyrannical of leaders often steps into such anarchic vacuums – though there have been few leaders quite as frightening and formidable as the one who enters Into the Fire.

For me the best fiction is ‘believable’ fiction. The moment I can’t relate to a person or situation is when I start to lose interest. I’ve never known any old men from La Mancha who thought they were knights, but I flush with pride of my species when I think about what he believed in and was so determined to fight for. I’ve never worked for the Mob (you’ll be glad to hear), but I still understand the need to stand up against what you think is wrong.

Old-fashioned it may be, but that’s really what The Detainee Trilogy is all about.

About the Author:

Peter Liney was born in Wiltshire but has spent a large part of his life overseas. He has written sitcoms for ABC and Channel 4, and drama for the BBC and South African radio. The Detainee is his debut novel. He lives in Salisbury.