The Long Cosmos, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

He may have died in 2015, but Terry Pratchett’s spirit lives on in more than seventy of his books. His feel-good novels consistently advocate not only for the underdog, but the under-troll, the under-gremlin, the poor, the powerless, and the downtrodden. His stories and novel-series create new worlds and even new universes. His stories cross genre boundaries of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, adventure, and eccentric history.

Pratchett’s stories customarily weave multiple storylines with only the faint wisp of kinship. He offers images that require his readers to pause, savor, and reflect until the story emerges from the seemingly unrelated details. Readers float in a sea of seemingly unconnected details from each subplot, yet the enchanting prose and literary gems darned into almost every paragraph capture his readers’ loyalty and reward their patience. Eventually, as if viewing a fragment of a magnificent tapestry—a piece the size of a page in a book—the subplot fibers, like rootlets, knit together, allowing the reader to view the novel’s grand design.

Unfortunately, The Long Cosmos, the fifth book in the Long Earth series (published posthumously, thanks to co-author Stephen Baxter), fails to sustain the Pratchett tradition. The outline came from the minds of both Pratchett and Baxter, but the reader must credit (or blame) Baxter for writing the final product.

The “long cosmos” alluded to in the book’s title includes millions of Earth-like planets that stretch across space in a long pearl-like necklace. Gifted interplanetary travelers “step” or walk from one version of Earth to the next. They need only imagine themselves on the next planet, and their bodies follow  their imaginations through space. The less imaginative may fly to distant “Earths” in a vessel called a “twain,” presumably named after Mark Twain, since one of the largest twains is called the “Samuel Clemens.”

Each variation of Earth displays a unique geological and biological evolution. Predatory reptiles like Pterosaurs may glide above, while scaly swamp creatures strike from below. Trees miles in height look down through the clouds at the mountain tops. Their wood is so light and durable that it is used in the hulls of twains.

The story takes place in a time following the 2040 eruption of the Yellowstone volcano and the years of volcanic winter that left Earth, and particularly North America in ruins. Joshua Valiente, 67, against his family’s objections, decides to go camping on a distant Earth. After he suffers a serious accident, he is nursed back to health by a collective of trolls. Sancho, a silverback troll librarian, like Don Quixote’s sidekick, nurses Joshua and educates him in the complexities of troll communication and travel throughout the necklace of Earths. These trolls look more like orangutans than they do Shrek or the Tolkienesque variety, or even the massive trolls that populate other Pratchett novels.

In another subplot, an Extraterrestrial Intelligence calls all sapient beings including beagles, humans, trolls, and the Next—a vastly more intelligent human subspecies—to “Join Us.” Although all are called to “join,” each species harbors doubts about the fitness and worthiness of the other groups. Several minor plots explore the building of a vast communications beacon and travel pods, the human interactions with other sapient groups, and Joshua’s family dynamics.

Eventually, all of the threads weave into something of a New Age coming together of the minds within the universe. The depiction of the collective intelligence of the trolls, their facility in “stepping” from one Earth to the next, and their recording of Earth and troll history in their ballad-like “long calls” proved to be the most interesting memory that I’ll take from this book.

Fight for Liberty, by Theresa Linden

 

Fight for Liberty, Book Three in the Liberty trilogy, climbs to a dazzling climax, filled with plot shifts that will tantalize adult, juvenile and young adult readers.

In Book One, Chasing Liberty, an inner voice she calls “My Friend” directs nineteen-year-old Liberty 554-062466-84 of Aldonia to the realization that there is more to existence than a life totally dominated by the Regimen Custodia Terra. With the assistance of Dedrick, a member of the Mosheh, the underground insurgent leadership, she escapes to a remote sylvan colony but not to a life of contentment, as she knows her friends remain trapped in Aldonia.

In Book Two, Testing Liberty, the heroine infiltrates back into Aldonia to rescue her friends and imprisoned colony members, including all of their children, and to undermine the Regimen. She is captured and subjected to Reeducation, a form of video-game brainwashing. Like MacGyver, Liberty becomes more dangerous to the Regimen in captivity than on the loose.

In Fight for Liberty, the now tougher, more accomplished heroine comes into her own as a role model, especially for girls and women, following that inner voice calling them to greatness:

My Friend had never spoken to me as directly as he had these past several weeks. Since Reeducation, He led me to believe I would be instrumental in changing Aldonia, gave me hope that freedom would win out against the all-controlling government, the Regimen Custodia Terra. They controlled every facet of life from population numbers and education to ideologies and individual vocations. Considering all life of equal value, regardless of species, but humans akin to parasites, they had corralled people into cities and forbade entry into the Fully Protected Nature Preserves. We needed to bring them down.

The final push against the Regimen Custodia Terra begins, but instead of an orderly, focused attack against Aldonia, within its electrified fence Liberty, the remnant of the colonists from the Nature Preserves, and their superiors in the Mosheh face a tangle of conflicts.

Liberty’s love interest, Dedrick, doesn’t want her to commit to the Mosheh or participate in the upcoming attacks. The Torva, wild men—a cross between an outlaw biker gang and a Viking raiding party—will join the fray, but they won’t take orders from the Mosheh. They are more interested in owning the young women in the Regimen’s “breeding facility” than in freeing the people of Aldonia.

Previously captured colonial children have escaped from Regimen schools, but they have come under the influence of Guy, a one-armed shadow figure who will follow his own, separate agenda during the upcoming conflict.

Mosheh infiltrators of the Unity Troopers, the army of the Regimen, have found Trooper membership attractive. Silver, the mercenary, has tracked Derek into the Mosheh’s tunnel network. The Regimen would reward her for sharing this information. As dangerous as ever, Dr. Supero has become unpredictable after the treatment of his brain tumor. As the Mosheh subterfuge and subversion begins, no one is sure that their alliance will hold or that the good guys have accounted for all of the Regimen’s resources.

In Fight for Liberty, Theresa Linden has penned her most dramatic and suspenseful dystopian novel yet. The ending is anything but predictable. Although she resolves the many story lines at the end, the reader’s attachment to the characters sparks a hope that a sequel waits in the wings.

It is not necessary to read the series in order, but Liberty fans might prefer to watch the action build to a climax through the earlier volumes.

 

 

 

Consider, by Kristy Acevedo

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Acevedo dazzles with her debut YA, sci-fi novel. Imaginative, insightful and exciting, Considerdraws the reader deeper and deeper through a one-way portal to another dimension—her clear and engaging style presents an open invitation to binge reading.

Today’s seventeen going on eighteen-year-old high schoolers suffer the usual teen maladies of terminal senioritis, hormonal imperatives, and family turmoil. Add to this traumatic brew anxiety disorder, a father’s PTSD, and an apparent alien visitation and you have the psyche of the protagonist, Alexandra Lucas.

Hundreds of vertices or interdimensional portals open around the world, each with a humanoid hologram that warns of an epoch-ending collision between Earth and an as yet undetected comet. The hologram offers a six month grace period where earthlings may escape imminent doom to a blissful parallel universe.

Conspiracy theorists, deniers, and interdenominational fundamentalists attack the notion of extraterrestrial migration while potential suicides, down-and-outers, and adventures line up at the vertices, ready to travel. Alex’s focus shifts from decisions about where she’ll apply to college and how far she should go with Dominick, her boyfriend to should she stay on Earth and how far she should go with Dominick.

Consider sails with Alex through the storms of her ramped-up anxiety disorder and her attempts to lead a normal life despite the impact of the hologram’s message on her family, friends, and the general population. The subtext of Consider explores the nature of anxiety disorder, the value of medications, counseling, nutrition and exercise—valuable information for readers of all ages. Might Alexandra’s life filled with panic attacks equip her for a time when the entire planet goes berserk?

The author’s imagination explores society’s diverse reactions to the vertices. Consider its implications for prison overcrowding, credit card collection agencies and hate groups bent on ridding the world of their victims. Acevedo describes a society that must reassess its values. How useful are money, school, and employment when there’s no tomorrow? She caps her novel with an astounding climax—worthy of The Twilight Zone— that blazes the trail into the sequel. Read Consider for clues about the setting of volume 2—Earth or beyond the vertex.

Chasing Liberty, by Theresa Linden

http://web.mail.comcast.net/service/home/~/?auth=co&loc=en_US&id=541651&part=2

Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Secular totalitarian governments, no matter how utopian their intent, distort humanity as they force their relativistic materialism upon an unwilling nature. Opportunists may work the system. The less fortunate may crumble under pressure, numbing their pain with drugs. The few resist and lead others out of this dystopian world.

Re-education and/or elimination awaits each dissenter. Nevertheless, subversion flourishes. The resistance travels underground within the cities, settles in far flung colonies, and bores within the power structure spreading their poisonous doctrine of personal dignity, individual freedom and family life.

Liberty, a genetically modified, nineteen year old retirement home worker, befriends the elderly, treating them as family. “Her Friend,” an inner voice, leads her down a path of dissatisfaction with the regime’s plans for her future. When the regime and the resistance detect Liberty’s dissent, the hunt begins. Electronic surveillance records and tracks Liberty and other runaways, but dissenters attempt to frustrate these deadly video games. Can they snatch Liberty before the regime closes in?

Follow Liberty’s fortunes as she and her allies reinvent the Scarlet Pimpernel in a futuristic setting. Chasing Liberty deserves a place on the bookshelf among dystopian novels such as The Hunger Games, 1984, The Brave New World and Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue.

Good news, a sequel nears completion.

The Blue-Black Dragon

 

 

tar pit

 

A piercing whistle shrieked. Pounding hobnails clacked against the cobbles warning Moocher Waage of imminent arrest. In desperation, he dove beneath the fence, bled among the green briars, and rolled down slope toward the stench.

“I hate this place, but they’ll not follow.” Waage surmised, the Gritville Constabulary would triage at the curb, deciding not soil their expensive uniforms in pursuit. Moocher knew they’d avoid the sulfurous and nitrogenous fumes, so he bowed, resting hands upon his knees to catch his breath.

He gagged as he inhaled the vileness of the pit, although it brought him some measure of safety.

One last precaution, he’d climb the maple’s long dead arm above the pit. That branch could crack and drop Waage into the putrid, blue-black bile. He’d trust his luck once more, confident that the constables would never reach him. They’d soon find another vagrant to badger.

The pit seemed more active this night and his bleached perch more brittle. “Was this the best hideout?” Waage wondered as he hugged the long dead branch. The moon rose in all its fullness, reflecting sunlight across the oily surface, smooth as a black, marble slab, but then a busy gaggle of bubbles popped and hissed releasing their ghastly pungence. While their frequency and foulness prompted reconsideration, a shadow flicked in the woods and Moocher distinctly heard the snap of a dried stick. Waage shifted to scan his surroundings. The moonlit trees reached toward him like specters, but no human threat.

The branch cracked and bent a centimeter closer to the tarry abyss. Waage shimmied back toward the maple’s main trunk but the branch dipped another centimeter and then cleft almost in half dropping Waage so that his face dangled a meter above the blue-black ooze. The limb-tip split the tar, prompting a fizzle of increasingly larger packets of stench to mar the mirror’s surface.

Waage’s hands now soaked with sweat slipped along the sagging branch toward the shining tar. Larger bubbles jarred Waage out of his terror-trance with their pungent sulfur and ammonia mix.

“Ploop! Haloop! Halp! Help me!” They spoke.

Waage squelched a scream. “It must be the monster, long imprisoned below.” He breathed, “What do you want?”

“Free me.”

Waage, not one to help his fellow man seemed in no position to refuse this putrid gasp. “What’s in it for me?” he whispered.

The slime growled back at him, “I’ll give you a home. You’ll never feel hunger nor fear, nor will the constabulary find you, just help me flee.”

Waage snorted, “I can’t help myself. I don’t know what you are or how to help you. Maybe you will eat me for my troubles. Maybe you belong in the pit and should stay there.”

It spoke more clearly, “Go to Phlegm Dredger in the capitol. He’ll know your smell and you his. Tell him there is a rich deposit of hydrocarbons and gold as yet unclaimed. Ask for a substantial finder’s fee. Bring him. I’ll see he pays.”

Waage felt the branch rise and he began to slip back toward the trunk. He dismounted as a melon-sized bubble burst, releasing words. “See, I have saved you, now do as I ask and bring me help.”

Waage scampered up the slope, scanned the cobbles and made for the train yard. He climbed aboard a northbound flat-car and squeezed beneath a tarp-covered tractor to rest and wonder. “What’s this about? Will I be safe or sorry? It’s all too strange.”

Hours later, the sun rose behind the capitol. Phlegm Dredger needed little convincing and trucked Waage back to the tar-pit. Waage waited in the shadows just inside the wood. Soon enough, Dredger emerged, drove to an ATM, handing Moocher more money than he’d ever seen. Dredger dropped Waage at the bus terminal, advising that “A sea-side vacation would benefit your health.”

Dredger departed sending Moocher toward the terminal’s gift shop, where he bought a one-way ticket and a change of clothes. He washed and dressed in the bathroom, and zipped his money into his new jacket. He found a place to sleep aboard the bus. When he woke, through the window he noticed the boats, bridges and finally the sandy beaches. The bus lurched to a stop, hissed and disgorged its load.

Moocher rented a sleeping cubicle at the sea-side terminal, his new home.

Between the sea and the showers Moocher had never been so clean. He even bought a toothbrush and a bar of soap, nonetheless he felt dirty. His suspicions of evil fleshed out when he heard of riots and violence back in Gritville. Meanwhile, Phlegm Dredger had come into a fortune of hydrocarbons and gold. Dredger surmised that the pit-monster had escaped.

“What have I done?” he asked. I’ve caused more misery in Gritville and increased Dredger’s wealth. How soon will the constabulary find me and bring me back? Perhaps they’ll throw me in the pit.” Crestfallen, he walked to the ocean.

“Sharks! Sharks!” the lifeguard called. Moocher shaded his eyes to see small boy atop a surfboard unaware of the fins about him. Moocher waved, jumped and yelled to no effect. He ran into the surf to warn the child and awkwardly paddled towards him. A shark bumped into Moocher’s leg and then another nudged his ribs. He knew that the next shark would bite him and the frenzy would shred him and maybe the boy.

A shadow blocked the sun. A swooping darkness snatched Moocher and the surfer, pinching them in the clutches of an immense blue talon. It smelled familiar.

It set its load upon the beach, allowing the boy to run-off screaming, but the beast wrapped Moocher gently with a thirty kilogram chain of gold. It belched, “Thank you. This gift once bound me, sinking me in my own greed. See that you own and use this gold to help your neighbors. It shouldn’t own nor use you.” Stunned, Moocher watched the blue-black dragon vault into the sky leaving him a wealthy, wiser and better man.

 

The Blue-Black Dragon (© 2014, Donald J. Mulcare)

Tar-Pit drawing (© 2014, Nancy Ann Mulcare) Top of page.

Branch over Dark Water drawing (© 2014, Nancy Ann Mulcare) bottom of page.

branch over dark water

The Wicked Witch and the Windmill Eating Troll

The miller’s wagon packed with tools, canvas, gears, shafts and heavy grinding stones creaked into the square before the Inn. After a tankard of Spencer Ale and a quorum of stuffed quahogs he walked about.  By day’s end, he knew in his heart that Skyblue offered the best hill upon which to set the gears and the sails that would convert the wind into blessings.The Skyblue folks delighted in the prospect although the grumblers of the Nimby Clan griped and muttered. Nevertheless Skyblue agreed to let the miller build and hoped that soon the whispering, dancing mill-sails would catch the breezes, turn its shaft, gears and stones to grind grain to the finest flour. The town glowed with festive expectation.

In the far off nether reaches, the Wicked Witch heard the Nimby Clan’s grumbling and the people’s glee. She pointed her twisted, green finger at her murky mirror where she viewed the miller’s plans. “This would never do,” she cackled, “for if wind is used the Skyblue folks would no longer buy the bones, blood and breath of long dead dragons to burn in their machines.” She could no longer suck the wealth from the town’s folk, and foul their air and water.

She dispatched her flying monkeys, Nazgûls and her fiendish ambassador, the troll called Nocebo to infect the brains of the humans so they would fear the windmills and talk nonsense against them.  She took special delight in the Nimby Clan, who of course didn’t mind that the Wicked Witch turned tap water to flame, killed lakes, destroyed agriculture and increased earthquakes a hundred fold as she extracted sludge and slime from dragon’s graves, as long as it happened not in my back yard, at least not yet.

Nocebo gathered toads, toadstools and snakes for use in Nocebo cookies, but the children proved too well informed. They actually liked the windmill and windmill cookies, but dreaded the evil ambassador and Nocebo cookies. Since the children proved too wise, Nocebo turned to the Nimby Clan with pitchers of Nocebo Sangria. In no time, the very mention of the word “windmill” evoked symptoms of stress in the Nimby Clan. Their hands twitched with the urge to write dozens of complaint letters every day, even though the windmill had yet to operate.

With increasing boldness, the now enchanted Nimby Clan predicted that the windmill’s sails would snare their beloved vampire bats, banshees and pterodactyls. Nevertheless, People for the Ethical Treatment of Vampire Bats, Banshees and Pterodactyls logged no injuries to these endangering species gliding above Skyblue.

The Nimbys claimed that since this windmill was larger than others, it would make more noise. Instead it made less noise than its smaller neighbors. They preached that real estate prices would drop in their neighborhood, but new houses have started as did bidding wars on existing homes.

The Nimbys claimed that in winter the sails would fling daggers of ice, far and wide, slicing town’s folks to the quick. This too has never happened. They said the turning sails would cast spells upon the carters and that their oxen would run amuck. No vehicular accidents ever happened because of the windmill. They spread fear that the sounds of grinding stones would quake the earth and summon demons from the depths to enchant the students at their lessons. The kids still love he windmills and windmill cookies and have excelled in school. The other schools want their own windmills.

Nocebo urged the windmill workers to quit their jobs or their teeth and eyes would fall out and they would soon go mad, but none of these evils befell them. Nocebo hired the scribes, Ditto and Rehash to write hundreds of letter against the windmill. “Look.” Nocebo said, “The households have suffered hundreds of health disorders caused by the windmill, we must tear it down.”

But the miller asked, “Where are the medical records that demonstrate injury?”

Nocebo screamed, “You can’t invade the privacy of these complainants or even know their true number, pre-existing conditions or vested interests.”

The miller and his many workers and thousands of townspeople who benefited from the windmill rose against Nocebo’s fear tactics, while those who had drunk Nocebo Sangria marched like zombies toward the windmill, chanting and grinding their teeth.

Then out of the night rode the heroine Jeannine the Brave, waving the banner of sanity. She sprayed the poisoned Nimby throng with the antidote to Nocebo Sangria. The Nimbys reeled in confusion and finally came to their senses.

They slowly admitted, “We are not victims of the windmill, but of the Wicked Witch and her ambassador Nocebo.  Hurray for Jeannine the Brave! Let her look over our health for many years to come.”

The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

The advantage of coming late to the Hunger Games is that you can have all three books available in case you want to binge through the nearly 1,200 pages at one sitting. Don’t you hate when one book leaves you in suspense and you have to wait years for find out what happened next? No problem if you have all three books in a neat box.

My grand daughters did binge through the first book long before I bought the trilogy. I figured, they’re young and have the stamina to stay up all night. By the time I reached page ten of the first volume of The Hunger Games, I was in for the long haul. I did have to sleep for four hours in the middle, but finished the next day. It took me a little longer to get into Catching Fire, but that hooked me for Mockingjay. It seems you never escape The Hunger Games.

Where should you store your boxed trilogy? I’d put my on the shelf between George Orwell’s 1984 and the original Star Wars Trilogy. The Hunger Games keep you involved with the action and rebellion of Star Wars, but leaves you without hope of ever escaping Big Brother in all his forms. Look around you if you think otherwise. Don’t we send our young off to be killed or brain injured for the bread and games of the Capitol. Boxing, football, hockey and other blood sports aren’t that far from The Hunger Games. Kids train on Grand Theft Auto and then go out and shoot up the neighborhood school.  We have a problem. Suzanne Collins brings it into focus with her wonderful writing. Think about its deeper meaning.