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Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas

May 23, 2016

Because I’d read that it’s a satire, I picked up Christian Kracht’s Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas. At first it wasn’t that interesting but just weird enough to keep me reading, so it got relegated to my bedside table. For a couple of weeks, I would read until something really grossed me out, and then I’d put the book down and proceed to having extremely weird dreams.

The fiction is based on the life of a nudist from Nuremberg named August Engelhardt who died in German New Guinea in 1919 from malnutrition, having been unsuccessful at establishing a colony where people would subsist on sun and coconuts. It sounds like a wacky but kind of nice dream.

In the hands of Christian Kracht the details of the story become extremely unpleasant; his aim, the book flap explains, is to “craft a fable about the allure of extremism and its fundamental foolishness.” The foolishness comes across, but I didn’t see much allure.

From the very first page, August Engelhardt is an unpleasant character, the kind of ascetic who sneers at anyone enjoying anything or having fun. On a cruise ship, he sees his fellow passengers on the deck after breakfast as
“the buttons of their trousers, open at the fly, dangled loosely; sauce stains from saffron-yellow curries coated their vests. It was altogether insufferable. Sallow, bristly, vulgar Germans, resembling aardvarks, were lying there and waking slowly from their digestive naps: Germans at the global zenith of their influence.”

After this introduction, the narrator tells us that August’s story will serve as
“a stand-in, the tale of but a single German will now be told, of a romantic who was, as are so many of this species, a thwarted artist; and if at times, in the course of things, parallels arise with a later German romantic and vegetarian who perhaps ought to have remained at his easel, then this is entirely intentional.”
Since the reader has quickly grown to despise August, this seems like it will be an easy task. But August is trying to read a book when one of the German planters, Otto, comes up to him and starts telling him that the deck chairs are called “Bombay fornicators” and that he sells feathers from dead birds of paradise, feathers that must have blood at the tip to prove they were plucked from a live animal, rather than fallen out naturally. There’s a big to-do over Otto inviting August to lunch and August refusing the meat dishes, and the reader is left unsure which character to despise most.

We go on following August, however, and when it seems he has lost all his books, we might be inclined to be sympathetic. Except that on the next page we find out they weren’t lost at all, but were immediately produced by the stevedores on his ship when he finally remembers to tip them. Later, when he is robbed by a traveling companion, August realizes that “he had revealed everything to a complete stranger, to a passing acquaintance, in the belief that frugivorism created an invisible bond of solidarity between men.” He trusts no one and is inevitably conned by those he wouldn’t have imagined capable of it, like the woman, Queen Emma, who sells him a plantation. Every exchange he participates in with another human being has something grotesque or unpleasant about it, like the small talk Queen Emma feels obliged to make about the fruit bats: “during high heat…the animals urinated over their own wings, and the evaporative cold produced by flapping then provided the desired cooling effect.”

His first landing on the island where he intends to establish a coconut plantation is described in a grand and sarcastic manner:
“He leapt from canoe into water, waded the last few yards to the shore, and fell to hi knees in the sand, so overcome was he; and for the black men in the boat and the few natives who had found their way to the beach with a certain phlegmatic curiosity (one of them even wore a bone fragment in his lower lip, as though he were parodying himself and his race), it looked as if a pious man of God were praying there before them; it might remind us civilized peoples of a depiction of the landing of the conquistador Hernan Cortes on the virginal shore of San Juan de Ulua, perhaps painted by turns—if this were even possible—by El Greco and Gauguin, each of whom, with an expressive, jagged stroke of the brush, once more conferred upon the kneeling conquerer Engelhardt the ascetic features of Jesus Christ.
Thus, the seizure of the island Kabakon by our friend looked quite different depending on the viewpoint from which one observed the scenario and who one actually was.”

The natives help August build a hut and give him food and clothing, and the narrator “cannot avoid saying that the inhabitants of Kabakon knew nothing whatsoever of the fact that the little island on which they had lived for as long as anyone could remember suddenly no longer belonged to them.” August is so incompetent, however, that they do not consider him a threat, but volunteer to help him. A young native boy, Makeli, shows him where he can go and he teaches him to read German. Presently, a vegetarian named Halsey comes along and makes friendly overtures to August by asking him for his opinion about names for his vegetable paste. August responds by inviting him to live naked with him on his island and “try subsisting exclusively on coconuts for three months.” Halsey tells August that he is, “like all romantics, merely an egoist of a Schopenhauerian persuasion” and leaves, taking with him his recipe for vegemite.

In Part Two, things go from bad to worse. August gets a disciple, Heinrich Aueckens, from Heligoland, but he does not turn out to be a true believer, ogling August and finally raping Makeli, after which we are told “whether Engelhardt beat the anti-Semite over the head with a coconut himself, or whether Aueckens, wandering in that same grove of palms where he had violated young Makeli, was accidentally struck dead by a falling fruit, or whether the native boy’s hand raised a stone in self-defense—this tends to vanish in the fog of narrative uncertainty.”

August visits a neighboring island where a “light-eater and practitioner of prana” is supposed to be subsisting on light alone, but finds him a cheater and, in fact, the same traveling companion who had robbed him on the occasion of their first acquaintance.

Finally another disciple arrives with a piano, a vegetarian German named Max Lutzow. He meets August, who has been described at length as “just then finally cutting his toenails after many months of their sun-induced growth…they had grown out several inches from his feet such that he had tripped several times on exposed tree roots and larger conches.”

It seems that August
“felt a great and profound respect for artists and their abilities; the fact that he had never been able to muster up either the talent or the discipline to create something like real art provoked a feeling that almost bordered on envy. While squinting his eyes at the horizon, he pondered whether his stay on Kabakon might not indeed be regarded as a work of art. Suddenly the thought occurred to him that possibly he himself was his own artistic artifact and that perhaps the paintings and sculptures exhibited in museums or the performances of famous operas constituted a completely outmoded conception of art—indeed, that only through his, Engelhardt’s, existence was the divide between art and life bridged. He smiled again, dispatching this delectable, solipsistic fancy into a secret and remote corner of his edifice of ideas, sat up, and opened a coconut while inspecting the wounds on his legs, which, oozing, had grown ever larger in recent weeks.”

Lutzow’s letters home, with “descriptions of having established a naked Communist utopia under palm trees” inspire more German pilgrims to set sale for the south seas, but instead of welcoming them, August lets them languish and die of malaria, camped in the meadows and on the beach in Rabaul, where the big ships dock. When Lutzow persuades August to go and talk to the governor about the would-be disciples, he can’t even stand inside the man’s porch without us having to hear about how “his garb was suddenly stained yellow by a load of earwax that had dissolved into a flow.” After the governor makes August agree to borrow against the plantation’s future “profits” to pay to send the Germans back to their own country, August and Max sail home to Kabakon, but things are not the same.

August finally drives Max off the island. His leaving is described by the narrator as such: “Lutzow acted most fairly toward his friend, and so his morning exodus from Kabakon, though it doesn’t quite seem like it to him, is in fact a respectable course of action and not some slithering away.”

After Max has left, August succeeds in alienating everyone who was ever prepared to tolerate him, even the natives. We’re told that he has contracted leprosy and then, because that’s not horrible enough on its own, that “the ostensible epicenter of infection lay somewhere within the perfect fifth formed by the C and G keys on Lutzow’s piano, where a scab loosened from the Tolai chief’s leprous finger remained, which Engelhardt a short time later took for his own and, as a matter of routine and reflect, stuck in his mouth without bearing in mind or imagining that there were several bleeding spots in his oral cavity and on the gums, so-called canker sores.”

We’re left with a final image of August and Makeli eating their own fingers and thumbs and then August, alone, “an attraction for voyagers in the South Seas who visit him as one might a wild animal in the zoo.” There’s a fantasy epilogue in which August is discovered living in a cave and the action of the novel starts all over again, people devouring their own fingernails at his story and a scene of passengers falling asleep after a big ship’s breakfast evoking disgust in the witnesses.

Imperium is one of the most unpleasant books I have ever read, the kind of satire nobody likes and I think nobody benefits from, since it suggests no alternatives for human behavior but shows us mired in a continuing morass of meat, malice and meanness.


May 17, 2016

Well, the title is less literal than I’d (secretly) hoped, but Stephanie Saulter’s novel Regeneration is still a good ending to the series that began with Gemsigns and continued with Binary.

Gaela and Bal, the good parents from the first book, are still bringing up Gabriel, now 16, and an adopted sister they’ve named Eve. Two minutes after she is introduced, it becomes obvious that she is Zavcka Klist’s clone, the one whose birth was awaited in Binary. Zavcka is in prison, though, and Eve seems happy and safe.

The gillungs have cleaned up the water in the area of London known as “Sinkat Basin,” created a corporation called Thames Tidal Power for generating energy, and scheduled an event called “TideFair” to show what they can do, so that
“Now gems and norms of every description mingled in a colorful, noisy flow of bright clothes and brighter hair: exploring the bridges and quays that crossed and knitted together this watery village, watching technology demonstrations and holographic displays, playing with interactive modules, investigating booths selling everything from food and drink to scarves made of whisper-thin algae silk and vivid thermo-sensitive biopolymer bodysuits, to waterproof tablets and cranial bands.”

The TideFair is marred by an attack in the water that makes gillungs sick, and the main action of the novel takes place as Gabriel works with a gillung named Agwe and with Sharon and Mikal to find the source of the attacks.

At one point, Gabriel asks his gillung boss, Pilan, if he will take off the cranial band that keeps Gabriel from being able to read his thoughts, because the boss has asked him to help write a statement for Thames Tidal. This is pretty much what anyone who has ever been to a college Writing Center wants from a writing conference:
“It took Gabriel ten minutes of unfiltered conversation and half an hour of drafting to come up with the statement. He put in things that Pilan hadn’t thought to say out loud but that he sensed were part of what the Thames Tidal boss wanted to communicate.”
Yep, definitely an ideal world, there.

You see what good parents Gaela and Bal are, as Gabe asks their permission to tell his friend Agwe why it’s so important to protect his sister, and as they, in turn, manage to make everyone at Thames Tidal responsible for Gabe’s safety, so that for a moment “he felt less like the efficient, talented, and valuable press officer he knew himself to be and more like everybody’s slightly delicate and overly doted-upon young nephew.”

At the end, Zavcka takes a surprising turn, until she convinces even Aryel of her change of heart. Like Zavcka’s misguided followers, readers might have hoped for a more literal regeneration, but what we get is a new generation with renewed hope for human progress.

The Water Knife

May 16, 2016

It’s been raining here for more than a week. There are puddles in the yard, and muddy tracks through the grass where the neighbors tried to mow. Everything is green, which is a nice backdrop for the azaleas, in full bloom. During our nightly thunderstorm, we worry about the storm drains backing up into our basement, as they did once before, a few years ago. We have tickets to a baseball game on Sunday, and hope they will get to play. When I walk into the Kroger or the dry cleaners, everyone I meet wonders aloud whether it will ever stop raining.

If you live in central Ohio, you don’t tend to worry about water. We have too much of it. So listening to Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Water Knife as I drove around town was something new. I had an inkling of what it’s like to live in the American desert, having visited Tucson three times in the past year, but this novel, set in a Phoenix of the future, paints a picture of what will happen when water is more scarce.

An imaginary friend of mine (someone I know through the internet) said the other day that she knows people who throw away water bottles with water still in them, and pointed out that this takes the water out of the earth’s cycle. Then I read an article about bottled water, giving good arguments about why we shouldn’t drink it. These kinds of arguments make more sense to me than the ones that say I shouldn’t take long showers in Ohio because we’re running out of water in California. Californians complain about drought, I say let them move out here and deal with the damp.

That’s what people have done in Angel’s world—his job as a Nevada Water Knife is to cut off the water to whole cities along the Colorado river whose water rights have not been upheld in court. Nevada and California own most of the water rights now, so Phoenix is a ghost town full of refugees from Texas. The two other main characters in the novel are Lucy, a journalist from Phoenix, and Maria, a young Texas refugee living in Phoenix.

Early in the novel, a friend of Lucy’s tries to identify the moment this future water crisis began, and he says “you don’t believe data—you test data….If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.” So, in other words, the future crisis has already begun.

Maria is the product of a world without enough water to go around. She doesn’t long for how it used to be, as Lucy does, but faces the world with few illusions. She is characterized, early on, by how she thinks about her friend Sarah, who
“reminded Maria of a kitten that she’d found mewling inside a banged-up trash can. The kitten hadn’t had a mother, probably because some needleboy had caught and cooked her, and there this little kitten was, curled up and begging for something it would never get.
Maria had petted the tiny creature, understanding its need—the wishing for milk that would never come, the desperate desire to have someone come back and take care of you—but you couldn’t just lie there praying for rescue.
Sarah, though….Sarah acted hard, but the girl was soft. Even when she peddled ass, she expected someone to be taking care of her. Kept thinking the world gave a damn about her worthless life.
Sarah. That kitten. Maria’s father. They were all the same.”

Maria believes she is tough, but her friend Toomie has to warn her “you keep worrying about right and wrong, you’ll end up just as dead as your daddy. He liked to lawyer things, too. Kept talking about how the Supreme Court was going to open up interstate travel again.”

The action of the novel centers around some almost-mystical-sounding water rights so senior that they would take precedence over everyone else’s claims to the Colorado River. Angel and Lucy are trying to figure out why people are dying, and it turns out to be because they’ve heard about these rights.

As the novel comes to its climax, Lucy became less of a fully-realized character and more the representative of the old order. She believes she has ideals, and yet even her own faith in them is shaken when she is tortured and then her family is threatened. The first time she betrays Angel, it seems unnecessary. I think she could have told him her family had been threatened and asked him to go to the place she’d been told to deliver him to, but instead she tricks him and then later saves his life. The second time she betrays him it is no big surprise, and then no big deal. Like the past she represents, Lucy’s part in the story has dragged on too long.

There’s a reversal at the end that might delight Europeans, or any American who thinks the country should still be called Turtle Island. Maria and Angel, who don’t completely trust anyone except themselves, end up on top, with an old copy of Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. Angel says “that guy Reisner, now. That man saw things. He looked. All these people now, though? The ones who put that book up like a trophy? They’re the ones who stood by and let it all happen. They call him one of their prophets now. But they weren’t listening back then.” Back then, of course, meaning now.

When I looked for a copy of Cadillac Desert to link to, I saw that the first reviewer says he read the book after seeing it mentioned in The Water Knife. So I’m not the only one who came to some of the facts from fiction.

Has other fiction made you more aware of things that were wrong with the world in fact?

The Captive Prince trilogy

May 9, 2016

The Captive Prince, Prince’s Gambit, and Kings Rising make up a trilogy by C.S. Pacat that starts out in real Game of Thrones fashion, throwing readers into a world that seems to be full of abhorrent violence and voyeuristic sexual scenarios. As Rhapsody in Books points out, though, as you read on, you find out that the nastiness is part of the overarching drama; in fact, you have been thrown into a world in which great wrongs have been left unrighted, and if you read on, you will see a new order restored.

The Captive Prince is Damianos, prince of Akielos, whose brother has sold him into slavery in Vere, a rival country whose prince Damianos slew in battle a few years ago. The prince of Vere, younger brother to the man Damianos slew, now owns Damen, as he is called as a slave. Damen finds out how this new kingdom works from the bottom up, and when, halfway through the first book, he is given a chance to side with the Regent of Vere against its prince, Laurent, he chooses the prince, mostly because he is already neck-deep in the political intrigue that culminates in the third book, and partly because he is, against all reason, falling in love with Laurent, who seems cruel and capricious.

The style of Veretian politics is more subtle than Damen believes he has been used to in his own country, but as he is drawn to the defense of the Veretian prince, Laurant, he finds out that some of what he believed to have been straightforward in his own life was the result of political intrigue. Damen and Laurent, in Prince’s Gambit, both mature by learning how far they can trust each other. In one conversation, Laurent says to Damon “every time I see you fight, I wonder how it is Kastor got you in chains and onto a ship to my country.” Damon tells him “I didn’t see it coming” and reflects that “he had never, in those days, sought to put himself inside the mind of Kastor, of the men around him, their ambitions, their motivations; those who were not openly his enemies, he’d believed, were basically like himself.” Then Damon says to Laurent, “I’m sure you would have sidestepped it….I remember the night your uncle’s men attacked you. The first time he tried to kill you. You weren’t even surprised.” And Laurent replies “I was surprised…the first time.” Over and over this happens to Damen, and to the reader—we are made aware that Laurent is playing a very long game, that the storm about to break in this story has been gathering for a very long time. We begin to sympathize with Laurent a little bit, as we see how hard and how cleverly he has fought for his kingdom.

In Kings Rising, Damen/Damionos and Laurent find out who they can trust and how far their own strength can take them, both separately and together. In a very satisfying ending, each has to risk everything for the other, and Laurent has to kill Kastor when Damionos finds he cannot do it. At the end, Laurent is the one who makes the offer of his kingdom and himself: “It was one kingdom, once.” And the answer is “’yes,’ said Damen, feeling light-headed at the question.”

If you like your fantasy filled with court intrigue and based on swordplay and feats of strength and guile, these are three fine books with which to while away some hours.

The Raven King

May 5, 2016

The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater, is the culmination of her four-book series that begins with The Raven Boys. I eagerly awaited its publication, enjoyed reading it, and was disappointed by the ending.

Spoiler to follow:
A main character comes back from the dead. He is changed, but he is still essentially himself and there is no real penalty for bringing him back. His death is couched as a sacrifice, but he’s only dead for a couple of minutes (so in Princess Bride terms, I guess he’s only “mostly dead”). For the other characters, those couple of minutes are significant; I love Blue’s reaction, which is to think that she “was already tired of a timeline without Gansey in it.” But for the reader, it’s a cheap “everybody lives” ending to a story that seemed to be setting up bigger stakes.

Maura says she wants Blue to “look at your future as a world where anything is possible,” and I do like the way Blue’s role as one of Glendower’s magicians helps her find a way to do that. What I don’t like is that even though Neeve survives to tell Piper “I don’t think it’s wise to pair yourself with a demon. They are inherently subtractive rather than additive. They take more than they give,” there’s no illustration of that. After all the buildup about the hornet demon and the boy allergic to stings, no one gets to ask Death where is thy sting.

Gansey’s death is supposed to be a sacrifice, a “willing death to pay for unwilling death.” It cheapens it to see that the mystical spirits can be satisfied by the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it: “you’d fulfill the requirements of the sacrifice to die. Nothing says you have to stay dead.” And yet, the life that is fashioned to replace Gansey’s is made out of pieces of others, so there is, at least, a sort of conservation of magical matter, or hylomorphism.

It made me happy that Blue, Gansey, Adam and Ronan stay alive to possibility, enough to create more possibilities for themselves. It made me sad that, in the end, Maura’s role is to stay in Henrietta with the father of her daughter in a tree in the backyard and her daughter traveling the world.

My disappointment in the ending of this book is partly a reaction to how much possibility the series offers, and perhaps the impossibility of any mortal being able to realize it all in the last novel of the series.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

May 2, 2016

I can’t resist a satire, so when I read about Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on someone’s blog (wish I could remember whose—was it yours?) and saw it called satiric, I had to read it.

The main action of the novel takes place on one day—Thanksgiving Day—at the super bowl football game in Dallas, Texas. The eight remaining men of Bravo Squad, temporarily back from the Iraq war, have been declared heroes, and so they have been given leave and are now being taken to the super bowl and being paraded as heroes at half-time.

I like the representation of the way Billy hears only individual words, some of them in a Texas accent, when he’s in a crowd, like in the hotel lobby before they set off for the football stadium—these words are spread out unevenly across half a page:
“terrorist, freedom, evil, nina leven, nina leven, nina leven, troops, currj…”

The story of what the Bravos did in battle, a confusing memory for the protagonist, Billy, is being considered for a big movie deal:
“It is a heroic tale, not without tragedy. A tale of heroism ennobled by tragedy. Movies about Iraq have ‘underperformed’ at the box office, and that’s a problem, according to Albert, but not Bravo’s problem. The war might be up to its ass in moral ambiguity, but Brave’s triumph busts through all that. The Bravo story is a rescue story, with all the potent psychology of the rescue plot. People respond deeply to such stories, Albert has told them. Everyone worries, everyone feels at least a little bit doomed basically all the time, even the richest, most successful, most secure among us live in perpetually anxious states of barely hanging on. Desperation’s just part of being human, so when relief comes in whatever form, as knights in shining armor, say, or digitized eagles swooping down on the flaming slopes of Mordor, or the U.S. cavalry charging out of yonder blue, that’s a powerful trigger in the human psyche. Validation, redemption, life snatched from the jaws of death, all very powerful stuff. Powerful. ‘What you guys did out there,’ Albert has assured them, ‘that’s the happiest possible result of the human condition. It gives us hope, we’re allowed to feel hopeful about our lives. There’s not a person on the planet who wouldn’t pay to see that movie.’”

However, as Billy’s confused memories of having survived the battle remind us, hope is not what the humans who were actually present got from the experience. “The Fox footage shows him firing with one hand and working on Shroom with the other, but he doesn’t remember that.”

Billy is still trying to make sense of the experience of the battle and the loss of his friend who died, but the traditional Christians he’s met aren’t helping at all, especially “Pastor Rick,” who keeps texting him aphorisms.

The people they meet at the super bowl mostly respond to them in aphorisms, too, until Billy’s sergeant, Dime, loses his patience and tells one of them “We like violence, we like going lethal! I mean, isn’t that what you’re paying us for? To take the fight to American’s enemies and send them straight to hell?”

The satire, of course, is not simply about the war. It’s about the nation that sends these boys off to war. As Billy’s sister says, “everybody around here’s such a major conservative till they get sick, get screwed over by their insurance company, their job goes over to China or whatever, then they’re like, ‘Ooooooh, what happened? I thought America was just the greatest country ever and I’m such a good person, why is all this terrible shit happening to me?”

The halftime show is a culmination of all the ridiculousness Billy has seen on this day: “ it is a rat-bite fever dream of soldiers, marching bands, blizzards of bodies bumping and grinding, whoofs of fireworks, multiple drum lines cranking go-team-go. Destiny’s Child! Drill grunts! Toy soldiers and sexytime all mashed together into one big inspirational stew. How many dozens of times has Bravo watched Crack’s Conan DVDs, many dozens, they knew every line by heart, and out of all the streamings and veerings of his over-amped brain Billy flashes on the palace orgy scene, James Earl Jones as the snake king slurping and licking and humping in glassy-eyed bliss. It creeps him, the overlay of that sludgy sex scene on what he sees before him now, the complete and utter weirdness of the half-time show and the fact that everybody seems okay with it.”

At the end of the day, the Bravos get into a limo and prepare to be sent back to the war. Billy’s last action is to put on his seat belt, hearing “that snick like the final lock of a vast and complex system.” There may or may not eventually be a movie about their battle, but they probably will not live to see it.

It’s a dark satire, full of situations and people that most Americans will recognize. You might even see yourself.

Second in a series: Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free and Binary

April 27, 2016

The second book in a series is sometimes just more story following the same characters or situation, and in both these cases—Randy Henderson’s Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free and Stephanie Saulter’s Binary—that’s pleasant, because it’s a good story.

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free is the sequel to Finn Fancy Necromancy. This time Finn and Dawn are in love, and Finn has decided to use the Kin Finder his father invented to find true love for other people. His first client is Sal, the Bigfoot.

There are a few fun new things in this sequel; I especially like the explanation of a “burabura” which is one of a “race of objects that had come alive….possessed by a sprite-like Fey spirit from the Other Realm who was too weak to bond with a true living being. Thankfully, it took at least a hundred years in most cases for an object to gain the kind of spiritual resonance that allowed possession, and modern societies rarely kept objects around for more than a decade or two at most. I didn’t even want to imagine gangs of animated New Kids on the Block action figures running rampant in the streets.”

I also really enjoyed the explanation that
“thaumaturges once had a booming business in inventing clever magical interrogation devices. Once such devices were no longer needed or as popular due to truth spells and ethics and such, many of them ended up being reimagined for commercial use….the most successful adaptations were toys and board games. Mouse Trap was based on an interrogation device, of course, but so were Mr. Mouth, Don’t Break the Ice, and Hungry Hungry Hippos.
But one of the most effective and insidious devices was reportedly turned into the See ‘n Say. Its use as a magical brainwashing device apparently had something to do with mixing up the pictures and the sounds and forcing the victim to play them constantly Clockwork Orange style, until they accepted their torturer’s new reality. To this day, there are believed to be sleeper agents out there ready to do whatever “The Farmer” tells them if triggered with a bit of magic and the correct phrase, such as The Cow says…Oink Oink Oink!”

When Finn has to talk to a vampire, he is startled by his banshee scream doorbell, and then thinks about how much
“vampires love practical jokes….They played them on anyone….
The practical jokes that vampires played on each other, however, could be deadly to anyone caught in the crossfire. Being both immortal and virtually indestructible, a battle of practical jokes between two vampires could escalate over years, even centuries, to insane extremes. And with so much time on their hands, they were not above setting up jokes that took months, years, even decades to come to fruition, which made it difficult to end a battle since a joke whose foundations were laid decades ago might not bear fruit until years after a truce was called, triggering a response and starting the whole process over again.
Parking meters. Junk mail. Daylight Savings Time. All rumored to have begun as a vampire’s practical joke. It’s said one ancient vampire was responsible for both the invention of toilets, and of fireworks, just so that centuries later he could do the first cherry bomb in the toilet joke.”

Since Finn’s second story ends with not only a wedding but also a mysterious note from his missing-since-the-end-of-the-first-novel grandfather, it’s clear that there will be a third part of the story.

Binary is the sequel to Gemsigns, and it focuses on Herran, who has “a brain that speaks binary as well as human.” It’s also the story of Gwen and Rhys, Aryel’s younger foster brother and sister, who have surprising abilities of their own.

Three-quarters of the way through, I thought I had guessed who the third novel, Regeneration, would focus on, but then this novel went ahead and revealed her secrets, as well as the rest of the secrets Aryel has been keeping. Now I’m not sure who the third novel will focus on, but I’m anxious to find out more about the secrets of regeneration, as you can all well imagine.


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