Friday, April 3, 2015

Making a Case for Myth in Modern Life: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s The Storyteller’s Bracelet

(Thomas-Jacob Publishing, 2015), ISBN: 978-0989572989

Frequent readers of my book reviews and creative writing are well aware of my belief that mythology, folktales, and multicultural tales, and storytelling in general, are an all-too-often missing and yet vitally important element of a healthy mind and well-functioning society (I am in the process of writing a new book about it), so when I got the opportunity to read and review this book, I jumped at the chance.
            I was not disappointed.
            Smoky Zeidel is not a Native American, as she tells us in the book’s Afterword. And yet she captures the syntax, symbolism, and simple beauty of the Native American expression of human experience with an artistry that makes for almost hypnotic reading.
            The Storyteller’s Bracelet is the story of two young people, Otter and Sun Song, from The Tribe (more on the nonspecificity of exactly which tribe later) who are sent East to an Indian School to be trained in the ways of the Others, the Whites.
            The history of the subjugation, the conquering, of the Native Peoples of North America is hopefully known to the reader of this review, so it will suffice to say that in the process of Education, there was no small amount of derision and humiliation directed at these students—forbidden to speak their language, to practice their rituals, to wear their traditional clothing—they were expected to Assimilate. There are countless other examples of this practice on the global scale—the English engineered this very thing against the Scots.
            Zeidel has done her research and has woven both Native and White practices seamlessly into her story. Having been a longtime student of Lakota practices and having participated in vision quests and sweat lodge, I can say with some confidence that Zeidel gets it right. And this accuracy undergirds the more mythological and magical parts of the story.
            I hesitate to say too much about the story itself—I found myself surprised on more than one occasion by the twists and turns the story took, and I would hate to ruin them for another reader. Instead, I’d like to spend the rest of my allotted space talking about some of the larger thematic issues at work in The Storyteller’s Bracelet.
            It is clear that Zeidel’s decision to pull traditions and myths from numerous tribes instead of focusing on a specific group was an excellent one. It gives her freedom to combine the strongest elements available to reinforce her story and it guards her against offending or otherwise misrepresenting any given group. It is also then easier for the reader to get inside the symbols and freely swim around inside of them.
            Zeidel also does a fine job of telling the story with balance and multiple viewpoints. As she says in the Afterword, not all Indian Schools were the vicious, disrespectful, and dangerous place as this book’s Oak Tree School is, but in the pursuit of telling an engaging and edgy story that will keep the reader’s attention (especially in our desensitized, visually and aurally overwhelmed modern world) this “heightening and compressing” (as writing theory calls it), is both appropriate and necessary.
            The Whites and Native Peoples represent a broad spectrum of beliefs and actions. Zeidel has confidence enough in the tale she wants to tell to let the circumstances speak for themselves. Because all points of view are given equal weight in the core story, there is no agenda on the author’s part, and that is to be applauded. Agenda-ism is killing healthy dialogue in modern America, to our collective peril.
            The notion of the bully within the educational system is an important one to examine, again falling under the umbrella of agenda-ism. What version of History or Science is being taught? How are our other social institutions, such as churches, feeding into and shaping the curriculum?  How does socioeconomic status and ideas of the Privilege of the Wealthy shape our society?
            An albeit rare yet connected element of this is the privileged predator in a position of power who targets children through sexual abuse. There is a character in The Storyteller’s Bracelet that is chillingly close to the convicted child predator Jerry Sandusky.
            All of these pressing social issues aside, though, The Storyteller’s Bracelet is first and foremost about our collective experiences and histories as a single, whole Humanity, no matter our color, our gender, our religious beliefs, or our socioeconomic status. It is here that our Myths are most important and most resonant. When we consider that the Hopi word for the moon is the Tibetan word for the sun and vice versa, and that all ancient peoples assigned one of four colors—white, red, black, and yellow—to the four cardinal directions in their own unique patterns, then it is hard to rationalize our pervasive attitude of Other, for it seems we all started from the same central point, the Axis Mundi, as philosophers, anthropologists, and comparative mythologists call it.

            I applaud Smoky Zeidel for keeping story and myth alive and radiant in our darkened modern world, and for doing it with such splendid skill, craft, and heart.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Review of John Gartland’s Orgasmus

(e-book, Lizardville Productions 2015)

This wild, well-paced ride of a book, first published in 1986, was the debut novel from poet, playwright, and academic John Gartland. The novel centers around Brian J. Carver, a bored and seemingly un-remarkable British civil servant with a Literature degree (a rich tradition in storytelling that Gartland makes anew). His is a life spent shuffling papers, writing memos, and devoting as much time as possible to his writing endeavors on the government’s bill.
         The whole thing is thrown into motion (after a mysterious scene in Chapter 1 detailing various global gatherings and turmoil that later proves to be a flashback) when the Assistant Senior Inspector decides to transfer our man Carver to a new department, where he can “utilise his talents as a communicator” by “drawing up new forms, modifying old forms and dealing with correspondence about existing forms” (p. 25).
         Amid Carver’s settling in to his new position in the familiar atmosphere of paperwork purgatory (including a series of maneuvers to outwit his boss, Mr. Withers), events on the global scale are ramping up and the Zonex Corporation is introduced—offering a self-assembly clock designed by one of the most famous civil servants of them all—Albert Einstein.
         Zonex turns out to be wide-spread and all too insidious in its offerings, a fact we find out through the expansion of the cast of characters to include the button-down Howard Hooper (another struggling writer) and his sexually adventurous wife Helen, and the fetish-film porn auteur Don Varnier, who watches their kindky amorousness through his self-assembled Zonex binoculars and seeks out Helen for his films (he later directs a scene between two women in a bathtub full of broken eggs).
         Interested yet? It only gets more deliciously twisted from here, with the arrival of packages from “Far Out Travel” that pull together the various stories into a unified whole. [Turns out that mild-mannered Carver is a “member of a secret society of visionaries” (p. 85) going back to his college days]. He brings his best friend, Arthur (think Jeremy Pevin or Jon Favreau sidekick types) along for the ride.
         Carver’s involvement with a femme fatale named Suzanna is another lascivious layer of the mayhem.
If you are a fan of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or the Illuminatus trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson (or, dare I say, my own Minor Confessions of an Angel Falling Upward) then Orgasmus is required reading. The back stories of characters like Peter Ignatius Gesto (the head of Far Out Travel) are entertaining and pull in a terrific mix of political history, pop culture, and spiritual philosophy featuring those darlings of ancient and secret orders, the Knights Templar (they figure into non [semi?] fiction books I’ve been reading lately, such as Second Messiah, Hiram Key, and Secret Germany—the kind of stuff that sets writers like Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer—and myself—all alight with inspiration).
My father and father-in-law, who were NCOs in Naval and Air Force intelligence, respectively, have always maintained that most governments are too stupid to engineer big conspiracies, but that still leaves room for the global banking cabals and their pseudo-governmental arms (Bilderberg, TLC, CFR, etc.)—the types of shadow government string-pullers “illuminated” by Conspiracy enthusiasts like David Icke and Alex Jones.
Chapter 20 caused a scribbling-in-the-margins, highlighting frenzy for me, as Gartland really ramps things up on the way to Orgasmus’ explosive climax. Fans of Wilson’s Illuminatus writings will be in conspiracy-fiction Heaven here.
         Orgasmus (Organisation for Salvation of Mankind, Universal, Secret) is one of those good old-fashioned anarchist groups that were so fun to write about before 9/11, after which anything to do with terrorism and bombings became all but verboten. Still in all, despite the fact that I threw out my entire collection of Tom Clancy books on September 12, 2001, when that kind of fiction was no longer “fun,” Orgasmus is presented as tongue in cheek and a gentle reminder that we can (and should) still laugh at things like this.



Friday, January 2, 2015

“Sumptuous Sculpture”: A Review of Eileen Tabios’ Sun Stigmata

(Marsh Hawk Press, www.marshhawkpress.org, 2002)

In 2009 I reviewed Eileen Tabios’ Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (2002, Marsh Hawk Press; http://newmysticsreviews.blogspot.com/2009/01/poetic-meditation-review-of-eileen.html). I encourage the reader to take a few moments to read that review, because what follows, including a reconstitution of that review as a poem, proceeds directly from where it ends.

Always pushing boundaries, Tabios, after 12 years, took the prose poems from Reproductions and reworked them as “written-sculpted” poems, likening the process in her Preface to a sculptor releasing the image from a block of stone.

While the prose poems in Reproductions employed mainly painting metaphors, this re-constituted collection brings in music, dancing, architecture, writing, and, of course, sculpture.

Revisiting and reworking one’s work is not without precedent. Poets such as Walt Whitman and novelists such as F. Paul Wilson have made edits and updates to their work over time, and I experimented for over a decade with electronic publishing of a “liquid morphing novel,” periodically adding, subtracting, and updating the content of the chapters until the book was published in 2012 (the previous versions of the chapters are archived online). Tabios says, of her own process, “I often do not recognize who then was the poet who wrote those poems” and “When it comes to poetry, I don’t want to know myself as a fixed identity” (Preface, p. 11)

Sun Stigmata is laid out much like its parent, with similar sections and the use of quotes from various types of artists. And the condition of the artist and one’s Identity (geographically, sexually, psychologically) are key subjects in the considerable volume of work Tabios has created. In “(Come Knocking” she asks, “What is the surface of reality?/With what are we grappling/when we are dreaming?” (p. 26)

Another thread I have followed through Tabios’ publications has been the dynamic tension between affluence (banking and finance, pearls and furs and gems judged upon their hardness) and Diaspora, orphans, and despair and challenge tied to place. The poems of Sun Stigmata bring these subjects forth with a tangible power. It is up to the reader to find unity in disparity; to be the catalyst in an alchemical transaction (a hieros gamos) that rises beyond Reality into the etheric realms where the nigredo of our art is born(e).

For those who have not read or do not have access to Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole, there is a prose poem in the Afterword that one can use to compare the “original” to its “written-sculptured” expression. There is then an invitation: “maybe my prose poems (or yours!) can source some of your own sculpted poems. If so, feel free to share your efforts with me at GalateaTEN@aol.com.”

When the book first arrived I was immediately struck by the vibrantly colored cover. There is a 7-page exploration of artist Emmy Catedral’s work and philosophy included that is well worth reading. Like Tabios, she is sculpting art from re-purposed materials: in her case, yellow legal pads.

Ending Sun Stigmata is an extended poem constructed from snippets of reviews taken from Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagment)—another example of ways to sculpt. A well-done review is a work of art in and of itself, as this section of the book capably demonstrates. (At least in my opinion—one could debate standards of objectivity in critique, but this isn’t journalism, it’s an extension of the art. And I’ve always admired Hunter S. Thompson and Sebastian Junger…)

“(Poetic Meditation” [based on my review of Reproductions…, 2009]

A reproduction
of a Reproduction
needn’t be Baudrillardian simulacra

Tabios is proof
that one need not be
just one thing
within a space
within a place
within a time

Writer/editor/performer—
New-found, always,
The ways of what we write.

A subtle cinematography—
A filmic flow of words.

Triumphant in triumvirate—
Poetry, Painting, Place.

Visiting “My Greece,”
“Returning the Borrowed Tongue”
Turning in its tablature
a “Triptych for Anne Truitt.”

Take the words of Others—
A quorum of quotes
from painters and philosophers
and mate them with your own

This is art created [mated]
in a laboratory of Logos, liquid

Pouring paint upon the canvas—
[words upon a page].
Never hellishly haphazard
(no matter how it seems)
Put effort into optics
so clearly can be seen:
Setting, Texture, Tone. Technique.

Nothing ever finished—
Like a sculpture made of water
Like a song without caesura
Infinite in coda
Poems ever onward
(They don’t tell us when they cease)

“Respect”: A letter found on a tourist-town sandstrip
in desolate mid-Winter—
Protruding from a can
in the alley-lit lights
on the night you closed the bar

Have you ever driven through
New Hampshire
and fully felt the forest
like a painting from Cezanne?

Why not wonder why you didn’t
stop to drink it in?

Pirsig, in his Zen-ness
said it’s more TV—
Those mise-en-scenes from auto windows
seen but still Unseen

Read and read and written in,
The book is fin’lly closed.

Prick your thumb
On “Rose and Thorn”
From blood, new poesy flows.

[And from that flow,
new flow,           

¥]

Thursday, October 9, 2014

“A Light in Darkened Spaces”: A Review of Carbon (Writer, Daniel Boyd; Illustrator, Edi Guedes)

“A Light in Darkened Spaces”: A Review of Carbon (Writer, Daniel Boyd; Illustrator, Edi Guedes) (Caliber Comics, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-9857493-3-0)

Carbon is a fantastical tale that marries new Creation mythology with the very real coal-mining-culture-at-a-crossroads narrative now happening in southern West Virginia. Daniel Boyd, a three-time Fulbright scholar and Media Studies professor at West Virginia State University, has recently joined the ranks of accomplished filmmakers (he is known for Chillers, among many others) who are utilizing the graphic novel format to tell their stories. Cinematically illustrated by Brazilian Edi Guedes (with great attention to light and dark and mise en scène), Carbon tackles the tough questions and points an unapologetic finger at large Energy Corporations and state-level politicians.
Before I go into the characters and story, a little context is called for. Having lived in West Virginia for the past 7 years, I have watched from an outsider’s perspective as the Obama “war on coal” has been playing out, and also experiencing through close friends the increased presence (and resulting damage to property, roads, and people’s lives) of the energy industry practice known as “fracking.”
While recently researching WV politicians from the late 1800s for a cultural history project I was writing and for a Web series I acted in, I learned a lot about how little has changed since the state was founded during the Civil War in 1863. Coal was the means to solidifying the fledging state’s economic future and by the late 1880s all political policy was aimed toward that end. Politicians owned coal companies, and invested in them, as well as in all the corollary industries they spawned. Incidents like the Matewan massacre (the subject of a film by John Sayles, who wrote the Carbon Introduction) and the Monongah (1907), Sago (2006), and Upper Big Branch (2010) mining disasters, as well as the 2013 chemical spill near the state’s capital that made water unsafe for use by 350,000 citizens in the midst of one of the worst winters on record, have made an indelible imprint on the lives and psyche of West Virginians. I have seen plays about and been to the memorial for the miners at Monongah. This is sobering, complex stuff.
I purchased 3 acres in north-central WV nearly a decade ago, looking to get away from the changing landscape and personality of my home town in Jersey post-9/11, when deep-pocketed New Yorkers began to flee the city and relocate at the scenic shore. My wife and I, environmentally minded as we are, were anxious to give our children a simpler, more nature-connected experience of life. So it has been ironic and disheartening to watch the knife-edge dance between natural beauty and the way of life one would expect in the mountains and forests of the state and Big Energy. No. Better make that BIG ENERGY. Because of the social justice and arts entrepreneurial work I do, I have sat on several business and community service boards, attended state-wide leadership programs, and gotten to meet, talk to, and even introduce at high-level events a broad array of state politicians, up to and including the governor and a few U.S. Congressmen.
But I am, unlike Daniel Boyd, an Outsider. Something of which I have been constantly and straightforwardly reminded. So I don’t say much, though I have decided to move my family and my theatre company out of state the middle of next year.
Given this background, it was with great interest, after meeting Boyd at the West Virginia Writers Conference in June of 2014 (where he and I shared the stage with Bram Stoker Award Winner Michael Knost to read from our books—all, ironically, about sons returning to the coal fields they had tried to escape) that I read Carbon.
Coming from a Horror background, Boyd employs some variations on familiar tropes: a demon species spawned in the process of the humans-employing-Free-Will-and-God-letting-them of his Creation myth and a sort of Super-Coal that burns continuously that drives the Big Bad in the story (the head of an Energy company) to do some out-sized and horrific things (although they have clear analogs in the “real world” of Energy companies cutting costs by compromising safety in order to bulge their bottom line and fund their political payola…).
In the midst of all the Fantastical is a down-home redemption story about a local baseball hero who comes oh-so-close to the Big Leagues but blows it on a crucial pitch and is forced into the mines where his father was killed several years earlier.
As I’ve learned in my decades-long study of Story and Structure, it’s all about that identifiable hero, the one with the major flaw with which we all can identify—no matter how fantastic the genre. It’s what makes the Spielberg remake of War of the Worlds work, and why “historical” films like Pearl Harbor and Apollo 13 are compelling and watchable although we know the outcomes. It’s what made TV series like Lost and Supernatural initially so fascinating despite their outlandish, fantastical worlds and well-traveled tropes. 
Like a carefully constructed film, Carbon’s dialogue is secondary to, and in service of, image, but the characters are well defined and succeed in illuminating various aspects of the central theme. And, most importantly, Boyd honors the coal miners (to whom the book is dedicated), much in the way that twenty-first-century America has done a better job of honoring Veterans by separating those who serve in the Armed Forces from the profit-enhancing corporate-patsy politicians who send them into War Zones for less than honorable reasons.
And, in the end, this is very much the point of Carbon, and what makes the “coal mining/energy question” in West Virginia so thorny and compelling: It is not the working person who is at fault, but the Profiteers (the real-life demons in the darkness) who put them in harm’s way and wreak havoc with the natural landscape and the health and happiness of those who haven’t got a voice.

Kudos to Daniel Boyd for giving them a Voice, and creating a wonderfully entertaining and fantastical journey in the process. Perhaps, like I am now compelled to do through this review, others who have been silent will now begin to speak.

Monday, September 8, 2014

“The Brains behind the Bulk”: A Review of Smashed: The Life and Tweets of Drunk Hulk

by Christian A. Dumais (2014, ISBN: 978-1500538354; available at Amazon.com)

I have known the man behind the Drunk Hulk Twitter phenomenon, Christian Dumais, since 2003, when the art and literary website he co-ran, Legion Studios, first began the monthly publication of the strange rants and politico-religious poke-prods of my own alter-ego, Planner Forthright.
I reviewed a collection of euphictional anthology, Cover Stories, that he co-edited, and have followed his journey to Poland and into marriage and parenthood and into stand-up humor and his continuing productivity as a writer (ironically, through another social media mechanism, Facebook).
I have to admit—although I knew of the Drunk Hulk Twitter account, and followed it—I am Luddite at heart who won’t use a Smart Phone and rarely uses Twitter, doesn’t see its purpose, and follows and is followed in the mid-100s.
Nevertheless, the Drunk Hulk phenomenon of the last 5 years (191,000 followers as of this writing) has been fascinating to me—and is now made even more so by the release of the collected Tweets and a rich variety of accompanying essays that both contextual and offer insight into both the writer and the writing.
First, the writer, whom the opening essay focuses on. Dumais begins with a well-crafted exploration of the sincerity/insincerity divide when it comes to answering (and asking) “How are you?,” spurred in part by his move from America to Poland. This is a discussion I had some months ago with some friends. When we ask each other “How are you?,” the last thing anyone seems to want is an honest answer. Give it a try. See what happens.
What has this to do with a Hulk in his cups? It’s about Identity. It’s about Story—yours, and mine, and everyone else’s. And—given all the reading and research I’ve been doing lately for my own book about the fundamental need for all people to know how to tell their Story, including the work of Brené Brown—Authenticity. 
How do our alter-ego writing channels work? Are we always, on some level (like in our dreams) all of our characters, all of the time? Is the alter-ego, the manifestation of the Secret Personalities our authorship allows out, as in the case of Drunk Hulk, just an extreme example?
What is it about social media modes that have allowed so many of us to express our characters in these often revolutionary ways?
What do these cyber-avenues of complex self-expression say about our society, and our relationship with Story? If Dumais (or I) were to say the same things as ourselves, without Drunk Hulk or Planner, would the interest—the impact—be the same?
Moving into the writing process, and the genesis of Drunk Hulk, Dumais writes, “I spent most of my life writing, hoping for readers to give my work a chance, and the moment I started writing in ALL CAPS in broken English, they started paying attention” (p. 23).
No one really knows why a Drunk Hulk hits big (or a Twilight, or a Harry Potter), and that’s probably for the best. But I do think it starts with where we are as a Society. In many ways, Conflict is the new Communication. But, after reading the opening essays of Smashed, I think that, in the twenty-first century, Sarcasm is also an aspect of Communication. And further, as Dumais observes, “Sarcasm, like humor, is communication’s self-defense mode” (9).
Nothing has been the same in the Post-9/11 malaise and the decision to go to war in 2003. My 15-year-old daughter has no memories of a world without war, and the morning of the attacks on NYC and Washington, DC, unable to get in contact with two uncles who often had business in the Towers and my wife, working in north Jersey and watching, smelling the smoke as she drove across the bridge to get to our home, are burned indelibly in my mind. Planner Forthright was created around the same time as all of this, and in response to it.
It was within this never-to-be-the-same-again world that Dumais hints at the origins of Drunk Hulk, sitting in a pub in March of 2003, listening to the president make his proclamations of Patriotism, War, and Vengeance.
Dumais goes on to talk about the increasing popularity of Drunk Hulk in the ensuing years and how living in Poland stymied talks with editors, producers, TV people in the States. But it was in Poland that Drunk Hulk was born, where he (through his author’s continual changes) developed and grew.
As I read this text , I began to ask: Why do we write? Why does the Muse strike as it does, when it does?
Dumais tells a story about a cab driver doing him a favor by driving him in a blizzard from Philly to Jersey and back and telling HIS story… a profound story of life and love. As I immerse myself in the importance of story, it’s a reminder that, so more important than being a Writer (with all its thorny problems) is simply telling OUR STORY. Telling it well is a bonus.
Five years on, Drunk Hulk has drawn the attention of Time Magazine, among other stalwart news corporations, and Dumais has done three TEDx talks as a result of it.
It is at this point that Dumais gives a primer on using Twitter successfully (I took notes, for the future) and lets the reader know that the book is set up as Tweets by year (a Director’s Cut, actually; he has removed some he deemed “terrible or repetitive”).
The Tweets themselves are a mix of politics, psychology, pop culture, and often-times profound spiritual insights. If the Buddha was a drinker, some of the tenets of Buddhism might have sounded like some of these.
I’ve pulled a selection from 2010 for readers unfamiliar with Drunk Hulk:
PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS DRESS LIKE BUFF SMURF FROM AVATAR! ISRAEL TO RETALIATE WITH TWILIGHT THEME!

DRUNK HULK KNOW DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOST AND SARAH PALIN SPEECH! LOST MAKE SENSE!

PROTEST IN KYRGYZSTAN HAS WORLD ON EDGE AS PEOPLES SEARCH FOR IT ON GOOGLE MAP!

IT GREAT THAT TEA PARTY SAME FOR ADULT AS IT IS FOR CHILDS! IT REQUIRE LOT IMAGINATION TO MAINTAIN ILLUSION!


AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION WANT RID ASPERGER SYNDROME! THIS MEAN PEOPLES GO BACK TO BE JUST WEIRD AGAIN!

DRUNK HULK HAVE NO THING TO DO TODAY! DRUNK HULK FEEL LIKE CHARACTER IN MURAKAMI BOOK!

LISTEN GRANDPA! IF DRUNK HULK WANT HEAR SAME STORY OVER AND OVER! DRUNK HULK READ DEAN KOONTZ BOOK!

As Dumais states in the introductory chapters, this collection serves as a snapshot of the past several years in world events. At times, it is even prescient (or synchronicitous, as today in the news there is an article about the accusations against the writer of True Detective as plagiarizing from several sources):
DRUNK HULK AGAINST PLAGIARISM! THERE NEVER REASON TO COPY SOMEONE ELSE WORK AS YOUR OWN! CUT AND PASTE IF YOU AGREE!

After the sections by year, there are specialty sections, called “Resolutions!” and “Pick Up Lines.” There is also a fascinating section of retweets about Gaddafi’s death first being found out through Drunk Hulk. It is instructive to read the abundant amount of tweets wondering what is wrong with the world (and the tweeter) that they got the news from such a source. [Twitter as News Source and Gateway is becoming increasingly important and prevalent in academic study. While writing this review, I was also editing a series of articles for the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment examining the use of Twitter during the 2010 BP oil spill.]
In a final essay, Dumais announces that, after a nearly 5-year run, he has decided to end the Twitter feed for Drunk Hulk, so he doesn’t become too dependant  on it as a writer and speaker. With attention from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Russell Brand, plus the cover quote from NPR, Drunk Hulk has certainly gotten attention and made an impact, and has served his creator well.
Perhaps this End of 2013 tweet says it best about the impact of the Drunk Hulk tweets, and others like it:
TWITTER WORTH $40 BILLION! HEY TWITTER! YOU WELCOME!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review of Ken Hart’s The Eyes Behold Tomorrow

(Pensacola, FL: World Castle Publishing, 2014), ISBN: 9781629891163 (print edition)

A few months ago I reviewed Ken Hart’s debut novel, Behind the Gem (Gypsy Shadow Publishing, 2010), which I found to be an enjoyable and well-paced science fiction adventure with a heart.
In his follow-up, The Eyes Behold Tomorrow, Hart uses a similar setup—a human male transplanted on a planet with a female-dominated, more advanced alien race, a situation that leads to political intrigue as well as a considerable amount of romance—but it is there that the similarities end.
The protagonist of The Eyes Behold Tomorrow, namesake of the pirate Edward Teach (“Blackbeard’), has little in common with the former Army Ranger of Behind the Gem. Teach is a playboy genius with sharp business sense and a wild side. When Earth is threatened by aliens, Teach is chosen to enter the pilot training program of a benevolent race called the Feletians.
His training, evaluation, and appointment to the Feletian fleet is the highlight of the book. Fans of Star Trek and the iconic James T. Kirk will appreciate his impulsive, cocksure attitude, and the situations it puts him in (and gets him out of). Much of the dialogue on the bridge of the ship, between captains, and between the captains and their bureaucratic overseers recalls the very best of both the Original Series and Next Generation.
The descriptions of both ship technology (propulsion, weapons) and the various technologies of the other planets are detailed enough to make the story real without overloading the reader with needless technical jargon.
For those interested in the romantic angle that sets Behind the Gem apart from drier science fiction, The Eyes Behold Tomorrow delivers not only romance and family but a bit more sexual content than its predecessor, although it never becomes graphic.
I look forward to reading more from this author.
If you are interested in learning about Ken Hart and to order this and other titles he has authored, visit www.kenhartscifi.com

            

Saturday, June 21, 2014

“How to Walk Like a Warrior”: A Review of Jaguar Dreams, by Nora Caron

(2014, Homebound Publications, ISBN: 978-1-938846-15-1)

In 2009 I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the first novel in the New Dimensions Trilogy, Journey to the Heart, followed by 2013’s New Dimensions of Being earlier this year.

In the third book of the trilogy, Lucina undertakes a classic Hero’s Journey to try and locate her former love, Teleo, whose last contact had been from Guatemala City. No longer content to sit and wait for him to come to her, Lucina follows her heart through the city, the jungle, and on the edge of the ocean to win back his love and once more walk upon the path she had so dearly paved at the start of New Dimensions of Being.

Aided as ever by the old wise woman, Señora Labotta, Lucina also enlists the aide of a British shop owner and a jungle guide named Alejandro who functions in a way similar to Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan or Dan Millman’s Socrates from Way of the Peaceful Warrior, serving as a threshold guardian and mentor as she crosses into the new and dangerous world of the jungle.

This truly is an Initiation, a Rite of Passage, for Lucina, as Alejandro instructs her in the essentials of clothing and equipment for surviving in the jungle. Stripping her down to her barest essence, he calls her “little lady” and “Walmart poster girl” instead of her given name. Answering the Call to Adventure, she aptly leaves behind her cell phone, and, covered head to foot in bug spray, undertakes her quest.

As readers of the first two books might guess, this transplanted Canadian—who was not quite roughing it in her surroundings in Mexico—endures a steep learning curve in the heavy rains and humidity of the Guatemalan jungle, and like the razor-sharp mentor he is, Alejandro drives her as hard as she can go.

As they get to know one another, Alejandro opens up about the nearly four decades of the Guatemalan civil war and America’s complicity in what the people (labeled rebels by the government) had to endure at the hands of a ruthless succession of dictators. He recalls to Lucina one night in particular when he lost everything, including his wife and children.

The philosophical discussions that ensue as they make their way through the jungle, touching on Buddhism, the nature of the nagual (the shaman’s spirit animal), and Mother Earth (Gaia) theory, unfold with a light and engaging flow, planting ample food for thought and spirit as the story continues its unfolding. Equally engaging are Lucina’s encounters with the howler monkey, the tarantula, and the jaguar.

A highlight of Jaguar Dreams (and of the trilogy) is the exploration of the path of the Warrior, which begins almost exactly at the mid-point of the book. Beginning with Lucina’s childhood memories of playing She-Ra with her friends, through her Italian mother’s advice on inner strength, the Warrior work in the book centers around Lucina meeting her own nagual in the jungle and Alejandro’s explication of what it takes to walk the Warrior’s Way.

This came to me at a time in my life when I was re-focusing on the Way of the Warrior in my own daily practice and study of shamanism and spiritual discipline. I have Alejandro’s list of “Sacred Warrior Keys” tacked to my writing desk, and I meditate on it daily. Alejandro also bestows upon Lucina a new name, Jaguar Woman, as their time together ends.

After leaving the jungle, Lucina decides to go to the Pacific Ocean to continue her quest to find her missing love, where she is joined by Señora Labotta. Switching from Earth element to Water element, Caron challenges her lead character in different but reinforcing ways, as Lucina continues to apply the Warrior Keys in her quest to find herself as she attempts to find her boyfriend.

For readers interested in Edgar Cayce, there is some excellent information about his life and work incorporated into the story.

For most of those walking the Warrior’s path, getting out of the world, into Nature, into meditation, into solitude, is the easy part. Like any warrior-shaman, Lucina must return to the city to apply what she has learned. Back to her apartment, back to work, she must incorporate her training, her transformation, to her everyday life.

How she handles it, I’ll leave to the read to discover and contemplate.

Jaguar Dreams, and the New Dimensions trilogy, are important stories for our times. I encourage the New Mystics readership, and all those seeking strength on the Warrior’s Path in our troubled but transformative times to avail yourselves of their deep and sacred wisdom.