Thursday, August 02, 2007
Duck and Cover Redux
The Oblivion Society
By Marcus Alexander Hart
An Outpost 132 Book, 2006, 363 Pages
This is not an easy book to get “into,” especially for someone who’s not a great fan of science fiction or science fantasy or end of the world books, or whatever genre The Oblivion Society belongs to. The characters, although very well-described and believable, are certainly not “heroes:” a minimum-wage shelf shocker at a run down grocery store, her brother, an obese TV and junk food addict, his friend, a nerdy geek, a skinny Goth woman whose only concern is maintaining a steady supply of drugs and alcohol, and a sex and self-obsessed frat boy. They are cynical, burned out with life, and, well, pretty hopeless. Wow! No heroes here! From the very first page, however, I was hooked, but not because of the story or the setting or even a certain degree of suspense; there is not much of these at the beginning. What hooked me was the quality of the writing and the ability of the author to tease me on from one page to the next. What also hooked me was the real mystery for a reviewer: “What the hell is this book about?” And I had to read on and finish the story to find out that there is a real story here. Literature? That’s a hard label to justify, but I think so.
For one thing, the book is a virtual glossary of the icons of western civilization. The characters speak a patois of cultural symbols and references that, although the words are natural enough coming out of the characters’ mouths, the patois provides clues that the book is about much more than the plot, or the horror, or the blood, or the strange goings on with mutants and marauding, cross-species DNA infections.
The story itself reveals a bizarre DNA of its own. To name just a few that lurk around among its ancestors are The Wizard of Oz (Dorothy and her mis-fit companions), Gulliver’s Travels, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Robinson Crusoe, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Hulk, The Fly, The Frankenstein Monster, The Addams Family, and The Wolfman. Although Hart never actually crosses the line into parody, he certainly skates close to it.
So what is the story about? Like many of its ancestors such as, The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s search for the Emerald City, it is a book about self discovery and self respect. For the characters, it is very much a “Marine Boot Camp of the soul.”
One is aware early on that the world is about to come to an end, or at least civilization was doomed by a nuclear holocaust. Now this reviewer grew up in the fifties and sixties, during the days of “duck and cover” when a nuclear attack was a ever present danger. Today, of course the major fear is from terrorists–who may or may not also present the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.
In those duck-and-cover days the world was a very different place from the world of The Oblivion Society. Young people were (mostly) clean-cut, morally straight (at least were supposed to be,) patriotic, and trusted their government. People still believed in and practiced bravery, loyalty, sobriety, shined shoes, and pressed trousers (for guys) and minimal visible cleavage (for gals.) Underlying the self image of young people in those days was hope and faith in the future. Not so in The Oblivion Society. In fact, the world Hart writes about is essentially the opposite. If the world of the fifties and sixties was worth saving, Hart’s world of 1999 scarcely seems to be.
By the end of the book, however, their travels, trials and tribulations bring the surviving characters to an Emerald City of their own. They arrive there riding in a shiny, restored 1953 Cadillac, a symbol of what they have become. Like the Cadillac, they have been "restored" (at least the ones that survived) from cynical, unkept, flotsam and jetsam–the dregs of a burned out society with neither faith nor hope. Their journey has made them better, stronger human beings. They are now human in a way that they were not at the beginning of the story. They have survived and are undefeated. They are now Self-sacrificing, altruistic people of faith and hope.
I’m glad Marcus Alexander Hart wrote this story. I’m glad that someone still writes books that champion the finer qualities of being human, even if he spills a lot of blood and guts in doing so. Order it here from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Book Review Update
The Oblivion Society by Marcus Alexander Hart (ISBN 1-4116-8575-X) Order it here:
And Conviction, a sequel of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Skylar Hamilton Burris. Order it from Amazon by clicking on the link below.
The deadline for submissions was March 31, 2007 to be eligible for the $100.00 award. I sincerely appreciate the authors who submitted their work and apologize for the delay in getting them read. Check back here periodically for updates on the review competition, or better still subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog by clicking on the RSS symbol in your Google tool bar while you're logged in to Glynns Book Reviews.
In the Footsteps of Jane Austin
a sequel of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Double Edge Press, paperback, 299 pages
Burris’ novel Conviction is a clever and well written “sequel” of Jane Austen’s classic romance Pride and Prejudice. All of Austen’s original characters either make an appearance or a brief mention in Burris’ book, but as in most sequels, even those by the original author, the characters lack the believability they have in the original work because in a sequel the arc of their personalities are not developed in the course of the story. For example Elizabeth (Bennet) Darcy lacks the sharp tongue and the intellect of the original. And we are not convinced that her husband Fitzwilliam Darcy has the same majesty of high social status he has in Pride and Prejudice. Instead he comes across as merely snappish and aloof in Conviction. The same sense of acute portrayal is lacking in Elizabeth’s Bennet sisters. Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Kitty, however rises to greater importance in Conviction, and Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, is the "star" of Conviction and has a pivotal role in the book.The character in the book closest to the original is the snobbish Miss Caroline Bingley, who in Conviction matches her social climbing and husband-chasing self as portrayed in Pride and Prejudice. In Conviction Burris introduces some especially well-drawn characters in the vicar, Jacob Markman, his brother Aaron Markman–who is revealed to be a staunch abolitionist–their father, Sir Robert Markman, and Major Arthur Talbot, an army officer.
Burris includes in Conviction a sly reflection of Jane Austen’s biography in the character of Sir Robert Markman, who lives for a time, makes a fortune, and raises his sons in the West Indies, as did Jane Austin’s youngest brother Charles John Austen, who was stationed in the West Indies in the navy where he remained for seven years returning at the end of that time with a wife and child.
It is often noted in discussioning Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that although her father and three brothers were members of the clergy, and as a clergyman’s daughter, she would have been well aware of the duties of a country pastor, especially among the poor, she did not write about her father’s or brothers’ work. In Pride and Prejudice, she mentions none of the religious aspects of a calling to the ministry. Of her characters, only Mr. Collins is a cleric and he is not portrayed favorably, but rather as an example of snobbery to the point of caricature. Burris remedies this “oversight." In the character of Jacob Markman she gives a believable portrayal of a man truly “called” by God to minister to all his parishioners, especially the lower classes, and to forsake wealth and social prominence to serve in the Church. Burris even provides an example of Markman’s “Evangelical” preaching with a skill that reveals that the author has more than a casual knowledge of the 18th, 19th, and even 20th-century tensions of Anglican theology. She also shows a solid knowledge of the structure and inner workings of the Church of England at the time, which are still present in many provinces of today’s Anglican Communion. In addition to Markman, Burris provides us with another cleric, Markman's curate, Peter Bailee, who is a competent shepherd of his flock but who lacks any special religious calling. For him "it's just a job."
Another interesting omission in Austen’s work is her lack of interest in the military, except in the case of the wastrel George Wickham: this in spite of the fact that both her brothers Francis and Charles joined the Royal Navy and ultimately attained the rank of Admiral; Francis even earned a knighthood. Her fourth brother, Henry, was first a soldier in the Oxfordshire militia, and finally a clergyman. Burris remedies Austin's lack of interest in the military in her portrayal of Arthur Talbot’s commitment to his military career and the difficulties it presents in his engagement to Georgiana Darcy and his suitability to wed at all.
Although Austen does explore the failings of society to some degree in looking with a critical eye at the class structure of her world, she does not explore any other substantive social or political issues of her day. Again Burris remedies this lack in exploring Aaron Markman's commitment to the cause of abolition, a major social issue of the time.
The major theme of Conviction, like Pride and Prejudice is about love and its many obstacles. Also like Pride and Prejudice, these obstacles include the complications of wealth (or the lack of it) social class, professional conviction, and the personalities of the characters. In the end, the complications are overcome in a satisfying way, even if at the end of the book, Burris employs a bit of Deus ex machina to resolve the rivalry between Major Talbot and the reverend Jacob Markman in winning Georgiana’s hand. This problem could have been overcome by some rewriting that better foreshadowed the complications of Talbot’s dedication to his military calling and Georgiana’s rejection of it.
Conviction is in most respects an excellent work. It is well-written and compares very favorably to its original inspiration. Incidentally, the book itself is remarkably free of printing errors especially for a self-published or small press book. Double Edge Press and/or the author has a fine proof-reader's eye. The cover illustration looks amateurish however and suggests that what's inside is amateurish. It should be replaced with something else that matches the quality of the writing.
Conviction would undoubtedly have won my award for the best 2006 book that I reviewed if it were not for he cover illustration and my prejudice against “sequels” of the work of another writer. I believe that the responsibility of creating original characters in an original story and in an original setting is a major task for a writer and it is "cheating" somehow to start with the characters and world of another writer. It is a great shame because with a small amount of tweaking, Burris could have written Conviction as an original story. Its success as a story depends very little on Austen’s work, except some small debt to the atmosphere of the late 18th and early 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice. Her main characters (including Georgiana Darcy) owe little or nothing to Austen's book. Austen's characters who appear in Conviction could have been easily altered from the originals with only minor changes or omitted entirely. By all means, buy Conviction and read it. It’s well written and a good story. Order it from Amazon.com by clicking the link below:
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Slow Progress in Posting Reviews
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Book Review Update
And The Oblivion Society by Marcus Alexander Hart (ISBN 1-4116-8575-X) Order it here:
The deadline for submissions is March 31 to be eligible for the $100.00 award. Email me if your submission is in the mail and I'll consider it submitted on time. Check back here periodically for updates on the review competition.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Interesting Article about the disconnect between Writers and "Literary Professionals"
Here's the link:http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2007/03/08/reading/
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Thursday, March 01, 2007
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