Monday, April 23, 2012

"Towards Yesterday" by new writer Paul Antony Jones blows hot and cold, but many may enjoy this fast-paced science fiction thriller


So, once again, for the 7 billionth time in science fiction, a brilliant scientist (you know, distinguished, silver haired, white lab coat) working on some super-high-tech contraption flips a switch and – BLAMMO! – he plunges the entire planet into chaos!

I hate it when that happens. Well, I guess it can be okay if the situation results in some thrilling science fiction fun -- and I will grant there is some of that in this worthy effort, TOWARDS YESTERDAY, which is a first-time novel venture for writer and journalist PAUL ANTONY JONES.

There is much to like, but equally as much to criticize in this attempt to write a fast-paced, pot-boiling sci-fi yarn very much in the tradition of Dean R. Koontz, although this offering blows a tad more technological, whereas Koontz leans more toward horror.

In brief, this is a time travel scenario in which the entire human race gets thrust 25 years back in time by an experiment with tachyon particles that goes badly awry. The situation offers plenty of opportunity for interesting premises – such as the dead being “revitalized” when they are allowed to wake up again 25 years in the past. Old people are young and vigorous again. Widowed husbands are joyfully reunited with dead wives, a man gets to see his long-dead child alive again. And this is juicy: Adults suddenly find themselves back in their childhood bodies, but with their grown up minds and memories all intact! Nice!

But the shock of the sudden and inexplicable time quake also creates societal chaos and a period of readjustment, forcing all of humanity to come to grips with a mind-numbing set of circumstances. The calendar gets instantly dialed back from year 2042 to 2018. Yow!

What’s agonizing about this novel is that it often misfires even when the author is doing all the right things. I mean, he gets and “A for Effort” is his ability to keep the action going – but unfortunately, some of the action scenes come off as numbingly tedious in their rendering. For example, if you want your hero to bash in the head of a bad guy with a car bumper – why spend a whole page or so describing in minute detail the process of tearing the bumper off a wrecked car as we wait for the head-bashing?

The bigger problem for me, however, was the uneven inner psychological workings of the characters. For example, the main character, Jim Baston, alternates back and forth from tormented “inwardly destroyed” man who killed his own daughter and ruined his marriage, to happy-go-lucky brilliant scientist and writer who easy-breezily falls in love with a sexy young mathematician. In one scene, Baston endures a gut-wrenching reunion and conversation with his ex-wife whom he thought was dead (along with his little girl) -- and right on the next page he is enjoying wine, a candlelight dinner and hot romance with his new number-crunching honey!

Also, one of the most promising and primary characters, the preacher Jacob Pike, just kind of recedes into the background of the plot and basically fades out of the story -- which is kind of inexplicable. A final and truly critically flaw of the story is the way the toughest challenge the characters are grappling with resolves itself – not through direct action of the heroes – but rather through a happy circumstance of science. This sort of "oh, we never thought of that" situation destroys the punch of the ending.

But, you know what? – I am going to do some of my own time traveling right now and predict the future. My prediction is this:

That one day Paul Antony Jones is going to be a millionaire because he will be a best-selling author. No, I’m not being snarky or cynical, or just trying to be nice. Not in the least. I just bet it happens. This author has everything it takes. His writing skill (which is considerable) can produce the kind of mass-market page turners that publishers love to promote, and gazillions of readers like to buy to read on the beach, or while riding the bus, or just to enjoy.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A.A. Logan is a Powerful Psychological Thriller Driven By Frighteningly Creepy, Evil and Vivid Characters


Thomas Ford was and his wife were minding their own business on a lovely day in the Scottish countryside when their world was shattered by a sudden run-in with a despicable, cruel and random form of evil personified in the disgusting form of Jimmy McCallum.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in which there dwelled a character as foul, powerfully disgusting and obnoxious as in this well-crafted work of literature, THE SURVIVAL OF THOMAS FORD.

What’s frightening about the soul-free and empathy-free Jimmy McCallum is that he seems so real. His twisted, debased personality comes alive in these pages, and readers may be afraid he’ll jump out of the book to stick his cold, merciless fingers into our hearts to infest our own sense of well being with dread.

With this offering, JOHN A.A. LOGAN, a Scottish writer who has enjoyed considerable regional recognition for the many short stories and other works he has published, proves he is an author who deserves recognition as one of the world’s most vivid and skillful writers of powerful psychological fiction.

This is writing and literature at its best. Imagine Stephen King combined with maybe Cormac McCarthy and a bit of Edgar Allen Poe tossed in. But perhaps it’s not fair to compare John A.A. Logan to any others. His style is his own – his prose is crisp, sparse and lean – yet he somehow manages to fill the readers mind -- our “inner imaginative theater” -- with rich imagery and an incredible feeling of psychic involvement with the narrative.

There is a slight paranormal edge to The Survival of Thomas Ford, but this novel does not rely on mere ghosts or standard horror gimmicks to generate sheer terror and a deeper feeling of unsettling darkness – rather, it does so by showing us the potential evil that might exist in the ordinary people that are living, working – or just idly hanging out -- among us right now.

So this is a superb novel that gets my highest recommendation. It’s a compelling page turner that does not rely on plot stunts or crafty writer’s artifices to keep us burning through the pages until we get to the end. It's a work of depth, integrity and entertainment. Grab the edge of a seat, if you dare, and read The Survival of Thomas Ford.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hero Sure as Heck Ain't James Bond, But "The Grand Mirage" by Journalist Darrell Delamaide Is Still a Top-Flight Read


For a hardcore history buff like me, reading fiction based on history is like adding a spoonful of sugar that gives an extra level of enjoyment while I am learning. On the other hand, one must always remember that historical fiction is just that – fiction.

Enjoy is what I did as I read THE GRAND MIRAGE by seasoned journalist DARRELL DELAMAIDE. The novel centers on the machinations of European powers in Turkey and the Middle East in 1910, the beginning of the world’s future tragic obsession with controlling the oil fields of the world.

Year 1910 was also a time when the First World War was smoldering. Germany was determined to bolster its “empire” status on a scale that Britain had managed over the previous 100 years. To that end, the Germans were determined to thrust a railroad through the heart of the Middle East – the famous Baghdad Railway. Unfortunately, the Germans and their Turkish allies considered the railway to be an instrument of military conquest as much as a boon to commerce.

The British were not about to sit back on their hands as Germany engineered this massive power play in the region. Some historians today contend that the Baghdad Railway was the biggest single factor leading to World War I.

And so, in The Grand Mirage, the British Foreign Secretary dispatches the scholarly, but still relatively youthful and handsome Lord Richard Leighton, the 9th Baron Leighton, on a near suicide mission across the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. His goal is to gather as much information as he can about German progress on the Baghdad Railroad.

Mind you, Lord Leighton is a fictional creation – he is like a 1910 version of James Bond, but more effete and aristocratic. Leighton teams up with a chummy American, Robert Morrison, a hydro-engineer turned spy and adventurer. Leighton also brings along his personal valet into every dangerous, dusty corner of the Orient. Together, the unlikely trio gather the goods while enduring peril and hardships aplenty in their mission to thwart the Kaiser.

This well-crafted, highly intelligent novel gets my highest recommendation. However, as the U.S. Poet Laureate Randall Jarrell said: "A novel is a long piece of writing that has something wrong with it."

What Is Happening To All Our Fictional Heroes?

The Grand Mirage bears a common, and disturbing literary weaknesses that seems to be spreading among an increasing number of even today’s best novelists. The weakness is this: The hero of the story rarely does anything to extricate himself from the jams he gets into. Rather, someone else swoops in to save him at the last minute.

For example, read my review of another high quality novel, RED COAT, which also features a gallant British gentleman engaging in adventures across the globe. Like in this novel, whenever the hero is accosted by determined enemies, or confronts serious danger he either:

A. Runs for it


B. Has is fat pulled out of the fire by someone else.

Why is this such a serious problem? Because it takes the punch out of the story. It’s also a lazier form of writing. If the writer gets his or her character into a tough spot – and then forces him to leverage his own intelligence, his own resourcefulness, his strength, and his skills TO SAVE HIMSELF– it makes for a thrilling, satisfying scene that bolsters the overall narrative. The hero should have incredible self-initiative and self-sufficiency in the face of personal danger.

Think about James Bond. He’s cool, he’s enterprising, he’s deviously clever. He’s is also highly skilled in personal combat and bristles with hidden weapons. People, when you mess with 007, you do so at your own peril! He can beat a man to death with his bare hands in a bathroom, or turn a can of hairspray into an instant blow torch to fry an attacking cobra!

But Lord Richard Leighton? He relies on his scrappy American buddy, his valet – and yes, even his girlfriend – to take care of the bad guys for him. There is only a single scene in which Leighton uses a clever ruse to escape his dangerous pursuers – but even then, it is so he can be rescued by the police, not do his own fighting.

So despite this increasingly common flaw – in this novel and many others today – this is an enjoyable and well-written piece of historical fiction, and gets my top recommendation.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Scientific Yet Sensitive Examination of the Near Death Experience By A Seasoned Journalist With A Lucid Writing Style


I’ve long been interested in the NDE or Near Death Experience since I experienced one myself when I was nine years old. After being shot through the stomach in a hunting accident and nearly bleeding to death on a northern Minnesota farm site on 15-below-zero day, I experienced some of the standard NDE events reported by others – such as being sucked through a tunnel, meeting strange beings – although my experience involved many bizarre events I have never heard in other reports.

Over the years I have read voluminously on the subject, and so I wasn’t exactly expecting to learn something startling new in a Kindle short document of just 41 pages – which I didn’t.

However, I give DEAD OR ALIVE high marks, mostly because of the extraordinarily sensitive portrayal of the author’s uncle, and the penetrating way she handles the details of his death.

Hayasaki uses her sharp journalist's eye and well-honed writing skill to show death as a strange mixture of lost personal dignity accompanied by a sacred aura of mystery. She makes us look directly into the face of death with the vivid portrait she paints of her uncle -- both as a robust young man, and then as a withered cancer-ridden shadow of his former self.

Her uncle's example, and the NDE he reported 20 years ago after a heart attack, serves as a launching point to survey the latest research on the NDE. Interest in the NDE seems to be catching on among mainstream science, according to Hayasaki.

Like the author, I am a journalist by trade, so I will say only very gently that I think Dead or Alive is just a tad less than objective than maybe the more skeptical-minded might demand – she seems eager to believe in a more spiritual explanation for the NDE, and so seems to tilt slightly away from the accepted rational, empirical and scientific point of view that “all of this can be explained away by science.” On the other hand, I could just as easily accuse the latter crowd of harboring their own biases, and perhaps in an even a more “unscientific” way than the author.

In the end, however, readers may learn something they didn’t know about the latest NDE research. Even better, anyone with a warm body and a beating heart should be moved by story of the author’s lawyer-turned-free-spirit uncle who comes alive in these pages through the story of his death.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Free Science Fiction eBook: "Castaways" by Stephen Huff is a Thin Gruel That Will Leave Robust Appetites for Science Fiction Unsatisfied


CASTAWAYS is one of numerous short stories offered for free in the Amazon Kindle store by prolific author STEPHEN HUFF, PH.D. This is one of only two of Dr. Huff's pieces I have read, so keep in mind I have not made an extensive review of his work. But based on the two I have read, I must admit that I am distressed.

This story involves a distant planet on which a spaceship crash landed, perhaps centuries ago. Many generations later the people who continue to eke out an existence now possess only a mythical memory of their space-faring past. Their leader (and head cook, I guess) is Ulgi, whom everyone refers to as a SynMan - which I presume stands for Synthetic Man - meaning he is a robot.

As it happens, Ulgi has a dire warning for his people - that some kind of "Darkness" is about to descend upon their world. He asks them all cryptically if they are ready to "stock the freezer." None are willing to oblige Ulgi's strange suggestion.

The meaning behind "stocking the freezer" is what serves as the lynchpin or payoff of this story - but in my mind, it's not a lot to hang one's literary hat on.

The central plot elements of the story are also not terribly original. Crash-landed star travelers who only vaguely remember their origins has been done gazillions of times in science fiction. The concept of "The Dark" is also extremely similar to the scenario made famous in Isaac Asimov's widely-read short story "Nightfall," and is also a central factor of the movie "Pitch Black," to name just two.

So, not high marks for this offering from Mr. Huff, but I plan to sample more of his work.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Human Sister" by Jim Bainbridge Is A Brilliant Re-telling of the Promethean Myth and Should Be a Contender For Science Fiction's Hugo Award


Mary Shelley’s paradigm-busting 1818 novel, Frankenstein, is subtitled “The New Prometheus,” referencing the theme of man’s constant striving to overreach himself and play god, which always seems to bring disastrous results. Prometheus was chained to a rock by Zeus to have his liver pecked out by an eagle. Victor Frankenstein’s monster murdered his creator’s young bride and brother. Then the monster kills the man who gave him life before lumbering off in self-loathing to the North Pole to destroy himself in flame.

The first known writing of Prometheus dates to about 800 B.C. It was made more famous by Aeschylus in his play, Prometheus Bound, circa 500 B.C. – and so onto Shelley’s Frankenstein in the 19th century – and all the way up to today in many incarnations, including this marvelous novel, HUMAN SISTER.

In the ancient past, we needed the archetype of Prometheus to deal with the spiritual schism between ourselves and the transcendent gods. But since the dawn of rational, empirical, materialistic science, we still grasp at Prometheus, but now it’s to help us deal with the relationship between man and science. It’s painfully obvious that many of our brilliant advances have turned out to be double-edged swords. Think about nuclear power. It was supposed to usher in a new age of prosperity and unlimited energy – but it has also pushed us to the edge of total annihilation.

So this scenario is played out yet again by JIM BAINBRIDGE in Human Sister, except this time the Frankenstein monsters are androids – and also bioroids – robots that are getting ever closer in make-up to human beings.

Instead of Victor Frankenstein, we have Professor Severn “Grandpa” Jensen, who might have been modeled on the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.” Like Oppenheimer, Jensen is a brilliant scientist much used and abused by the paranoid machinations of the U.S. government and military – only to be cast aside when he outlasts his utility and becomes less than cooperative.

The viewpoint character is Professor Jenson’s granddaughter, Sara Jenson – our titular "human sister" -- given over by her distracted parents to be raised by her grandparents.

Sara is the ultimate symbol of humanity, human warmth, human love. She is innocent, a poetic soul, incredibly generous, loving, kind, pure of heart, altruistic – but she is callously used and manipulated (or not, you decide) to become the experimental bridge between the lifeless, cold materialism of science and everything that is naturally alive, spiritual and beautiful.

My fellow readers, make no mistake -- Human Sister is an absolutely wonderful novel. It is beautifully, artfully and even poetically written. It masterfully retells the Promethean tale for us in just the way it urgently needs to be retold today – addressing all of the fears, anxieties and hopes that computer technology is thrusting upon us at a frightening pace.

Bainbridge has made ancient mythology exactingly relevant to our modern times – the current political climate, the world’s “war on terrorism,” the rights of privacy, to torture or not to torture, the influence of fundamentalist religion on American politics – and more.

For those of you who might shy away from a book that sounds like a hyper-intellectual study of post-modern society and technological determinism – don’t!

This works just fine as a fun science fiction read, populated with cool robots, moon bases and Mars colonies, fascinating high-tech gadgets, and, best of all, vivid characters that are both heroic and complex, all of whom readers will eagerly cheer on, right up to the end.

I can’t imagine that Human Sister won’t be a contender for science fiction’s highest honor – the Hugo Award. It’s that good.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Monday, April 2, 2012

Free eBook: Nesta Webster's Secret Societies Displays The Mind Of A Fascist's View Of History


After about 50 pages into Nesta Webster’s Secret Societies and Subversive Movements, I felt like saying, “Oy vey, what a deplorable hag!” Mind you, I’m not even Jewish. But you don’t have to be Jewish to be creeped out by the sticky, pseudo-intellectual webs being spun with matronly fervor in this study of arcane organizations and their bizarre agendas.

Webster sees evil Jewish Cabalists hiding behind every corner of history, plotting, planning, infiltrating and sabotaging as they attempt to control governments, destroy kingdoms, form false religions and … and … I guess … doing so from positions of power, yet always in the shadows. These potent, shrouded manipulators emerge every few hundred years to pull strings whenever they feel it is necessary to kick over the swarming goyim anthills that pile up around the globe.

Take the French Revolution, for example. Webster says it was engineered by the Jews and the Masons. Christian Gnosticism was a perversion of true Christianity with precepts of the Cabala, she writes. How about Bolshevik Revolution in 1917? Jews again. World War I? Take a guess.

The most insidious propaganda is factual information interspersed seamlessly with one’s own hidden agenda, in Webster’s case, the exultation of snowy-white version of Christian Fascism. To be sure, Webster was no slouch. She was a real wonk for gritty, painstaking research. She wasn’t lazy, which is what made her so dangerous. Even Winston Churchill praised her work, and she was allowed access to make special presentations to high levels within the British Military.

Webster was an unabashed in her Fascism. She praised Hitler for “halting the Jewish attempt to control the world.”

I doubt many are reading Nesta Webster today. Still, it’s interesting that her work lives on and now infects cyberspace in the form of a free ebook you can download from from sites such as Amazon and, somewhat ironically, from Project Gutenberg, the ebook site named for Johannes Gutenberg, who was most likely a Jew, and famous for printing a Bible.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER