Wednesday, September 30, 2009

By The Light of the Full Moon: Werewolf Fiction

Night of the Wolf / by Alice Borchardt
The year is 350 AD. As Roman forces sweep across barbarian lands, a battle of another kind culminates when a rogue werewolf named Manael is confronted by Dryas, a wicked Druid priestess bent on wiping out Manael and the rest of his kind. Borchardt (Anne Rice’s sister) wrote this prequel to accompany her first werewolf novel The Silver Wolf, a story in which a fledgling female werewolf named Reagan fights to preserve her heritage during Europe’s Dark Ages.
High Bloods / by John Farris
With LA in the near-future steadily succumbing to a werewolf epidemic, humans have formed Lycan Control, a militaristic effort to oppose werewolves and prevent further carnage and destruction. But with the hoard of werewolves ("human 28 days out of the month but ravenous under a full moon") increasing daily, will Lycan Control have time to execute its mission before its too late.
The Wolfen / by Whitley Streiber

When two New York City police officers are viciously attacked and brutally mutilated, the detectives assigned to the case steadily begin to suspect the culprit(s) to be from a pack of wolf-like creatures recently having been spotted in the area. But these “beings” which stalk the city by night are smarter than they look and are all too eager to savagely prey on those who try to eliminate them.
The Nightwalker / by Thomas Tessier
As a Vietnam veteran, Bobby Ives still experiences combat flashbacks in addition to memories associated with a possible past life. After a night of roughousing, Bobby begins feeling strange and soon afterwards comes to the realization that his ‘self’ (both body and soul) is transforming into a werewolf. In desperation and with time running out, Bobby starts seeking for a reversal treatment.
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf / by Viktor Pelevin; trans. By Andrew Bromfield
On the streets of modern-day Moscow a 2,000-year-old werefox named Hu-li masquerades as an underaged prostitute preying on the ‘life energy’ of unsuspecting men. But when Hu-Li meets Alexander, a werewolf disguised as a Russian intelligence officer, her predatory lifestyle is challenged by new feelings for the handsome lycan and his oddly appealing philosophical values.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Small Place / by Jamaica Kincaid

A native of the Caribbean island of Antigua, Jamaica Kincaid (born Elaine Potter Richardson) is the renowned author of the novels Annie John and Lucy as well as numerous essays and articles for various magazines. Though moving to the U.S. in her youth, Kincaid's strong ties to her homeland remain fervent, a sentiment resonating in this book in which she shares her opinions on the island's colonial heritage, its transition to independence and modern-day economic problems.
With lyrical, descriptive prose, Kincaid examines the history of Antigua, first viewing the island through the eyes of the typical North American tourist who, upon descending onto the lush, beautiful island would wonder why an airport would be named after a Prime Minister. "Why not a school, why not a hospital, why not a public monument?" It's because its the only facility on the entire island nice enough to bear such a name. "You have not yet seen a school in Antigua, have not yet seen the hospital in Antigua, have not yet seen a public monument in Antigua". From Kincaid's interpretation, the transition from colonialism to independence has done more harm than good, merely serving to establish a commercial and governmental enterprise that benefits only a select few mostly non-islanders. In effect the everyday people of Antigua are nearly as oppressed, neglected and exploited as they were during British colonial rule.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: a Novel / by Susanna Clarke

With this, her breakthrough novel published in 2004, British author Susanna Clarke established herself squarely in the middle of the fantasy/magical realism genre. Though the novel's length (782 pages) and breadth of detail has undergone some scrutiny, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is clearly a superior work, blending the genres of history, culture, sorcery, magic and mysticism into a prolific, engaging tale.

Though the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment had rendered much medieval superstition obsolete by the year 1800, remnants of the old ways of magic and sorcery still aroused intrigue in select circles. In Britain especially, a country long affected by fascination with the supernatural, persons and groups preoccupied with magic were prevalent. 

In 1806, a group in the north of England have formed a society known as The Learned Society of York Magicians. Essentially it involves several men who've accommodated magic (and its Faerie world counterpart) as a topic of scholarship, publishing some quite lengthy though largely unappealing papers derived from texts "on" (but not "of") magic. An intriguing new development occurs when the society discovers a reclusive, mysterious man named Mr. Norrell living a very ordinary life at a nearby abbey. The astounding thing about Mr. Norrell is that he is the proprietor of a library containing many lost and forgotten books, all "of" magic and all holding many strange, wondrous secrets from England's mystical past. Consequently, having absorbed the content of his collection over many years, Mr. Norrell is a real magician. 

After meeting with the society (and with some gentle cajoling from its members), Mr. Norrell agrees on a trip to London where, in addition to a number of other fantastical feats, he resurrects a beautiful young woman from the dead. Instantly Mr. Norrell is engaged in service to the government whereby, despite his slight reluctance, he performs some quite astounding military maneuvers in the war with Napoleon. All is well until another magician named Jonathan Strange arrives, attracting favor not only for his equally magisterial conjurations and tricks, but for his refreshingly eager ambition and desire to display both. Though Mr. Norrell is initially pleased to discover another practicing magician, it soon becomes clear that each's ideas of how to use magic are very different. For Mr Norrell, magic is a very delicate matter, something to be undertaken with extreme caution and heed to the potential ramifications. Strange on the other hand sees no reason why magic can't be taken to its most powerful extreme. Their continued opposition soon escalates into a situation beyond the control of either man. 

Authentic, sophisticated and scrupulously convincing, Susanna Clarke's masterful novel featuring the interwoven themes of history, magic, enchantment and sorcery is as complete a work on man's confrontations with the mystical realm as may ever be published. Fans of Neil Gaiman will find this awe-inspiring novel a worthy undertaking. Even its length, if viewed by the elongated standards of novels in the early nineteenth century, which in style and approach 'Norrell' closely resembles, can be understood and forgiven.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Wolfman / by Nickolas Pekearo

Not too many novelists are volunteer police officers in their spare time. But that's exactly what Nicholas Pekearo, a budding author already having penned his first novel at 28, was doing when his life was tragically cut short. A member of the NYPD Auxiliary Police Force, Pekearo was working the beat in the very neighborhood where he grew up, Greenwich Village, when he was suddenly gunned down in the street after a botched robbery. His novel, The Wolfman, is narrated by a drifter werewolf who, though a sympathyzing individual, has no choice but to prey on those around him.
 Marlowe Higgins isn't who he pretends to be. He's not even what he pretends to be. A bit of a drifter since his combat days in 'Nam, Higgins currently resides in a sleepy middle-american town (in one of the "fly-over" states) working as a short-order cook by day and spending his nights, at least those under a full moon, mindlessly seeking to devour unsuspecting victims. His condition irreversible (a family blood curse damning him to his situation), Higgins can't help but be consumed with remorse for the countless innocent lives he's claimed--memories and internal characteristics of the slain permanently inhabiting his soul long after the act is perpetrated. In an effort to alleviate his guilt, Higgins secretly acts as an amateur detective tracking vicious crimes that have gone unsolved by the police and consequently targeting the perpetrators of said crimes while in lycan mode, tricking his "inner-wolf" into pursuing the deserving criminals.

Pekearo's skill at making Higgins both believable and sympathetic is a considerable achievement, all the more so considering the novel's crossover appeal. The twist involving the town's police detective Daniel Pearce, Higgins' only real friend, is an extremely clever plot device and Higgins’ gruff, hard-boiled demeanor makes him appealing as both a werewolf and amateur sleuth. Werewolf novels in general are underrepresented in fiction, but books like this present a worthy standard for others to follow. This novel's deceased author had quite a lot of potential. (FIC PEKEARO)

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Mercy Rule / by Perri Klass

Dr. Lucy Weiss has come a long way. As a child she spent her early years bouncing around various foster homes until ultimately being adopted by one of her teachers. Now a pediatrician, Lucy manages a clinic specializing in care for the disadvantaged and travels the country delivering speeches on the particular medical needs of children under foster care. Also a devoted wife and mother, Lucy's the central figure in the lives of her professor husband, her gifted 10-year-old daughter Isabel and her mildly challenged son Freddy. Lucy's commitments to both her work and her family bring her into contact (and conflict) with seemingly endless series of confrontational issues including what to do when a mother abandons her 3 school-age children, when and how to cross the line of professionalism when dealing with clients and colleagues and what to do about David's increasingly retreative lifestyle.
Klass, an M.D. as well as an author, delivers another warmhearted but practical novel on the ups and downs of life providing for the medical needs of the less fortunate. Dr. Lucy is a well-rounded character and the supporting cast, though marginalized, present a largely believable scenario. This book doesn't really have a plot; there's no real story arc and situations don't really develop or resolve themselves by the book's end. But it doesn't seem to matter. The novel does fine without any major plot twists and Klass's writing is able to keep readers interested through various anecdotal pieces like Lucy's airplane conversations with a kid being flown from one parent to the other--essentially a modern-age "foster" child, reflections on her own childhood and intriguing conversations between Lucy and her patients.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

At the age of 60, William Styron, world-renowned author of Sophie's Choice and Confessions of Nat Turner, succombed to a life-threatening depressive episode; one so severe that all faculties of his life were essentially disengaged as his mind became consumed by detrimental, even dangerous thought patterns. Insomnia was constant, his mood was one of perpetual "dank joylessness", his appetite diminished and he experienced a particularly odd aversion to alcohol--which had previously been, in his own words, "an invaluable senior partner with my intellect". Also absent was any initiative or ambition to work, play, participate or basically interact with others. Unable to apply himself to his profession, several projects and works-in-progress were abrubtly abandoned and lay gathering dust for months on end.

While his wife and family were sympathetic to the situation and various remedies were prescribed and proposed--all ineffective--little change came. In fact it got worse. Months into his illness, Styron began to have recurring self-destructive fantasies and was finally admitted to the psychiatric ward of a hospital for observance. It wasn't until a sustained period of drug treatments and psychotherapy that Styron's despair was ultimately lifted and his world began to be more accommodating. Personalized memoirs and essays focusing on mental illness don't always connect readers who, often times, tend to be either unsympathetic, dispassionate or unmoved by the unseen afflictions described by the narrator. But Styron's melodramatic recollections on his plight offer a genuine glimpse at his helplessness, the inner turmoil and fragmented mental capacities of his condition, not to mention the legitimately dire medical implications the "disease" ultimately instigated. (616.8527 STYRON)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cosmopolis / by Don DeLillo

28-year-old Eric Packer works on Wall Street earning a fortune managing assets for some of the city's wealthiest, most prestigious residents. Deciding to get a haircut one April day, Eric promptly sets out on a quick jaunt across midtown Manhattan inside his ultra-luxurious stretch limo. The percievably short trip swiftly becomes a very slow-moving promenade delayed by, among other things, a Presidential visit to the city, a funeral procession for a slain rapper and a political demonstration transformed into an all-out street riot. In addition to the traffic congestion, several conspicuously bizarre incidents are encountered. Confrontations with various pushy New Yorkers and passers-by are routine, but repeated sightings of Eric's estranged wife in various odd predicaments and continued harassment from two vaguely identified but very determined pursuants-- the "pastry assassin" and the "credible threat"--aren't so readily excepted by Eric as OK.
The delays, however disruptive, give Eric time to speak to his clients whom he urgently persuades to follow his lead in speculating against the rise of the Yen and fluctuations in the Asian market. In the course of the day, Eric's market forecasts ultimately spell doom for he and his clients when his projections falter and unfathomable sums of money are lost by all involved. Yet Eric seems strangely unaffected by the crisis. His voyage to the barbershop proceeds as planned even while his fortune dwindles, his clients abandon him and utter financial ruin rapidly becomes a reality. Upon finally arriving at his objective, things are quite different from what they were earlier on. But so is Eric.
Delillo, award-winning author of Underworld and White Noise, presents a quirky jumble of society and modernity in this eventful, oddly arranged novel of the 1990's. The narrative is almost permanently one-dimensional--all things immediate, actions percieved but not interpreted, virtually no background context allowed to invade the atmosphere, etc. Everything is observed or experienced from inside the limo, a position mirroring Eric's own affectless, disengaged attitude towards the world around him. This short, manageable novel would adapt well to the big screen or dramatic theatre.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Who Killed the Electric Car (DVD) 2006 / a documentary film

The need for the worldwide reduction of emissions has been preached for decades. In the United States particularly, which has only 4% of the world’s population yet consumes over a third of its energy resources, the situation is growing more and more desperate. As energy consumption increases, little headway has been gained in the two areas most concentrated on improvement: dependence on oil (especially foreign) and development of alternative energy sources. Some may say the problem is one without a solution; society is doomed by the natural increase in population, necessity of private transportation, lack of alternative resources and inadequacy of mass transit systems. Yet the 2006 documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car?, tells a different story altogether.
By the 1990s, the idea of an exhaust-free automobile which ran on electricity wasn’t just a daydream, it was reality. The General Motors EV1 (electric vehicle) model was en route to a market breakthrough, already endorsed by a select number of celebrity owners and noted enviromentalists like Ed Begley Jr. Yet oil conglomerates and car companies, who stood to lose enormous profits if EV1 sales took off, had other plans in mind. Not wanting the emergence of the electric car to hinder their economic protocol, these entities with backing from key bureaucratic offices, effectively succeeded in ending production of the EV1. Any possibility of a functional, gas-free automobile becoming mainstream was subsequently terminated.
While the film obviously has an agenda, it provides a solid argument for the great potential that the electric car "had" for reducing the nation's (and the world’s) emissions output, not to mention aiding the environment by preserving biodiversity within ecosystems and reforming personal transportation issues. Aside from the environmental implications, if the movie is viewed from a purely objective angle, the viewer has to be alarmed out how certain things are handled within the system from a sustainable development standpoint.