Monday, January 23, 2017

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden WondersAtlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was once a world-traveler. This had nothing to do with my courage and everything to do with my father being in the US Air Force. I had the privilege of being born in Germany and living in The Philippines, Italy, England, and even Nebraska. And all over the United States.

The funny thing is, though my parents were sure to take me to several tourist destinations while we were abroad, I usually didn't seek out such places myself. This was especially true in Italy, where my friends and I would go explore the extensive tunnel systems under the city of Brindisi, and visit beach-side World War II bunkers where we would look for (and find) old shell casing from a time when our grandfathers might have been storming the beach. This was also true when I lived in England, where our favorite thing to do was to break into an old, supposedly haunted 12th-century priory, complete with trap doors in the floors and passageways hidden within the walls. They are real. I found them and walked through them myself. But I never did get to the Roman Colosseum, nor did I ever visit the Tower of London. Maybe I had an aversion to doing the touristy things because I LIVED there. Yes, the stay was temporary, no more than three years, but these places were "home" for me. So I didn't feel like a tourist. I'd much rather go watch the bums roll each other on Carnaby Street (affectionately known as "Cannabis Street" to us teenagers and, which has become way more commercialized now than when I was a kid hanging out there in the mid-'80s) than step foot in Madame Tussauds (I even had to cheat to see how to spell that). I've had hookers proposition me on Leicester Square, watched hungry bands busk on the tubes, and, yes, watched bums roll each other in alleyways. This was my idea of "touristing".

So when I saw that the fabled website Atlas Obscura had put out a book, I had to give it a read. Thankfully, my local library had a copy sitting front and center on a display as I entered in. I couldn't believe that it hadn't been snatched up yet, so I grabbed it fast. The book, like the website, provides GPS coordinates and a "Know before you go" caveat for each location or event, a helpful hint or two that might just save your life, if not save you a lot of embarrassment.

So, from the Narcisse Snake Orgy to Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum to The World's Quietest Room, take this book with you on your travels and discover the hidden strangeness that the world holds. I guarantee it will be much more fulfilling than merely walking like well-behaved sheep along well-manicured routes led by well-spoken tour guides. The world is awkward, grungy, untidy, weird, and broken. Embrace the strange! Sure, you should see some of the normal destinations, but don't forget the abnormal!

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Twist in the Eye

A Twist in the EyeA Twist in the Eye by Charles Wilkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the candor of Mark Samuels' introduction. He introduces his "impartial bona fides" then proceeds to heap praise on Wilkinson's work convincingly, stating that "A Twist in the Eye is the most exciting collection of weird fiction (or strange fiction, if you will) that I have read for many years."

I am in whole-hearted agreement. This collection ranks up there alongside the best of short-story collections, including that of Mark Samuels himself, The White Hands and Other Weird Tales, Thomas Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco, and Brian Evenson's The Wavering Knife.

Truth be told, I ordered this book on Samuels' endorsement, the cover, and the fact that the incredible Egaeus Press (who had published another favorite of mine, Stephen J. Clark's criminally under-known In Delirium's Circle) had published the book. Yes, it was a gamble. I previewed one of Wilkinson's stories that I found online (not collected in this work), so I hedged the bet a tiny bit. But really, I took a chance with my money, and I won yet again. I'm beginning to think that Egaeus is totally incapable of producing a bad book.

Now, regarding the stories themselves, I leave you my notes, with a short addendum at the end:

"Returning" is a melancholy ghost story that I had felt, at first, "cheated" the reader by allowing the narrator too much knowledge right up front and beating the reader on the head with foreshadowing. I was wrong. Wilkinson does an admirable narrative twist that slips past reader expectations or the careful readers' notion of plot "rules" and then slides up behind him with an emotionally-impactful "soft surprise". 4 stars, and we're off to a good start.

Recently, I watched several short films by one (actually two, though they are identical twins) of my favorite directors, The Brothers Quay. As I read "The Human Cosmos," I am struck by unspeakable aesthetic similarities. The line between banal reality and the superluminal universe beyond our own is smeared. What seems like forgetfulness might be an apotheosis. This story is beyond brilliant. 5 stars!

"Hidden in the Alphabet" has echoes of Poe's "Cask of Amontillado". I have to admit that the third person present tense often threw me out of the story, as did several obviously missing words throughout. Auctorial trick or just error? I'm not 100% certain, but it bugged me a great deal. Still, enjoyed this excellent 4-star story!

"Line of Fire" is a story about discovering one's familial roots and thus knowing oneself. This story drips with atmosphere and grey obfuscation. 5 stars.

"In His Grandmother's Coat," a story about minks, yes, those scrappy little creatures, provides a devious bait and switch on who the real monster is. Brilliant. 5 stars.

"Night in the Pink House" is one of the most disturbing stories I've read where most of the horror is evoked by implication, rather than representation. Reminds me of a story I read years ago in Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, vol. 9, "Redacted," by Joyce Carol Oates, where redactions were used to great effect. Sometimes, it's not what you see that produces the terror, it's what you don't see! Another 5 star story.

"Cold Plate" was the weakest story thus far, but still a 3 star story. While the writing could have pushed it to 4, the utter predictability, the gift of too many foreshadowing winks and nudges by the author, holds it back. I'm not disappointed, per se, but not thrilled by it either. Yeah, a solid 3.

I have a friend who's a "car guy". When I say that, I do not mean the same thing as the main protagonist in "Petrol, saved", though I could use those exact same words. This story did not spin the way I thought it would. The overall mood changed from one kind of creepy to another kind of creepy, but still held enough coherence for this reader. 4 stars.

"The World Without Watercress" is more of a mood than a story. The prose is rich and luxurious. In some ways, it's evocative of "The Shining," but far, far more well-written. 5 stars.

"Gold in Ash," loosely founded on Welsh folklore, is surprisingly tender and sweet, yet does not feel out of place in this dark collection. Five stars to this grim and beautiful story of love and family. Yet another 5 star story.

"An Invitation to Worship" focuses on the (very) old folk fertility cults, at first in a roundabout way. Then it cuts to the chase! 4 stars, dragging the modern domestic into the ancient mystic.

"The Investigation of Innocence" was unexpected. After a series of stories centering around folk horror themes, for the most part, this dystopian future folk noir (yes, that is what it is) was a nice change of pace. Still fantastic writing, though, and a twist in the plot and several twists of character that I'm finding is the hallmark of Wilkinson's work. 5 stars.

"Choice" is a ghost story unlike any you've read before. The twist in this one telegraphed a little, but I can forgive that. The voice of this story is compelling and, frankly, exciting, but not in a shoot 'em up kind of way. Thrillingly subdued, I guess. Yet another 5 star story from Wilkinson.

"A Lesson From the Undergrowth" shows, with great literary panache, that grudges and vengeance have a price to the holder and avenger, as well as the victims. Though it is a bit of a slow start, in the end, it really gets under your skin. 4 stars.

"Watchers in the Wood" is a moody tale about trees and people, outcasts and society. It is not quite as atmospheric as the other work in the volume, yet it is still a good, solid story. 3 stars. I do, however, have to point out one issue, and it's throughout the book: line editing. "Gwyn" turns to "Glyn" in one instance in the story, and other stories are missing small words: "to", "is", etc are missing or repeated.

"Hands" caps odd this excellent collection with a fitting denouement, a quiet tale hovering in the interstitial zone between creepy and comforting. The perfect story to end on.

As noted in a couple of places above, there are some slight difficulties with the book itself, namely, the line-editing. Several stories (more than I noted above) were missing small words ("it" or "to" seemed to be commonly AWOL). At first, I thought this was some sort of game on the part of the author, then I realized that these were just plain mistakes that were not caught in the editorial process. Not a "deal breaker," by any means, but noticed. That said, I'm still giving the book a full five stars. These (admittedly trifling) errors leave the book imperfect, but nearly unblemished. The strength of the fiction, with its many twists and ethereal mood, combined with some of the highest production values from any existing publishing house, ensure that this work, this work of art (on several levels) will hold a prominent spot among my chained books!

Get yours quick! Only 260 copies are available. You don't want to miss this!


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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Books and Possibilities: Opening Salvo

I'm not here to share wisdom. This entry is simply me processing possibilities.

After purchasing a few Egaeus Press Titles (namely: A Twist in the Eye, The Tainted Earth, and In Delirium's Circle), along with examining Ezra Claverie's outstanding The Shadow Out of Providence and the Tartarus Press edition of Gustav Meyrink's The Golem, I got to thinking. Why haven't I ever made a book like this? Okay: Money. Sure. But now there's Kickstarter, which can go horribly wrong, if not managed correctly. But, hey, I manage projects all day every day at my day job and have done so for years. Besides, I've brought out my own little chapbook Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, Beyond the Silver Scream (physical copies are still available, by the way), and what is a very expensive, very fancy, professionally-produced book but . . . a very expensive, very fancy, professionally-produced, significantly larger chapbook with a whole lot more risk involved, right?

So I've watched and re-watched Joseph Goodman's seminar on Book Making 101 and have identified some potential printers, including a storied bindery that is, apparently, about a ten minute walk (literally) from my house.

I think I can do this.

The problem is, deciding what it is, exactly, I want to do. Because I can't do everything at once. Yes, I have almost made my money back on my investment for Beyond the Silver Scream, but here, we're talking a much bigger investment with a much bigger risk. One step at a time.

I do know that whatever I choose as a first, trial-run project will have the following characteristics: 1) Cloth-bound cover, 2) marbled end-papers, 3) foil-stamped spine, 4) silk placeholder ribbon, 5) internal illustrations (the number dependent on the chosen project).

So, project options:


  1. Short fiction collection. Yes, this one appeals to my vanity the most. I have a short fiction collection published by Raw Dog Screaming press many years ago. And I've done a short self-published e-book of some of my other stuff. But it's time to do this again. And, as most publishers will tell you, their economies of scale vis-a-vis potential sales do not normally justify producing single-author short story collections. The exception here is the "bespoke" collections like those done by Egaeus Press, Tartarus Press, and Zagava. These are very expensive, limited-edition collector pieces. I know some readers who will snatch up almost everything done by these publishers because of the publisher's strong reputation. Problem is, I don't have that strong reputation. Nor do I have a huge audience of readers, despite what I will call the relative success of my novel Heraclix and Pomp. Given time, I might just make my advance. Maybe. In any case, I think I could probably sell, say 100 copies of a very fancy short fiction collection. Maybe 250 if the dominoes fall just right. 500 if I catch lightning in a bottle. The reason these numbers matter is economies of scale. The price-per book on printing and binding a print run of 500 is significantly lower than a run of 250; 250 is better than 100; etc. In any case, I am way overdue for another fiction collection. I don't say that in a prideful way - I have just written a lot of short fiction and it needs to get collected again.
  2. Novel(la). I have a novella under consideration at a publisher I won't reveal. My agent has shopped this thing around to a number of publishers, one of whom told him "it's too well-written". That's an actual quote. I would have to take a look at my contract in order to produce this thing on my own, but it's tempting. I'm guessing I could push the same numbers as a short fiction collection, with a stronger possibility of a 500-book run because things that are in the novel-ish range tend to sell better than short story collections. Or so I am told.
  3. As you might know, I won a World Fantasy Award and was nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award a long time ago for editing the Leviathan 3 anthology with Jeff VanderMeer. After that, I edited Leviathan 4, Text:UR - The New Book of Masks, and The Nine Muses (with Deborah Layne). It has been many years since I've edited an anthology, however. Yes, I know how to do it, but I have not kept super up-to-date on my ties with people in the industry. Some have washed out, some have passed away. I think I could get a few "big" names, but I would have to pay top-dollar to get some of them, and rightfully so - they are great authors who deserve to be paid well for their work! I'm not certain about numbers here, but again, I would think that 250 would be reasonable. Possibly 500, if I had the right names and the right theme at the right time. Lots of variables there. But given the seeming dearth of really good short fiction anthologies at the moment, maybe it's time to make a go of it again?
  4. Role-playing Supplements. I am working right now on a project for a publisher, a super-secret project I can't let out of the bag yet, which will get my name in front of a fairly large contingent (a couple thousand) of role-playing gamers who like to spend money on very nice RPG projects based on certain game systems. Yeah, I should probably be working on that right now, but . . . In any case, I'm finding that many of the nerds I grew up playing D&D with are now programmers with lots of spare cash. Have you looked at the returns on RPG Kickstarter projects? Holy cow. Gamers will spend when they want something! I know - I'm one of them (not a programmer, just a gamer who will drop some cash on the "right" kickstarter). I have several ideas for RPG books, but I'm loathe to talk about them because a) they are my ideas and I don't want to give them away just yet, b) to talk about them too much would spoil them, and that kind of destroys the whole idea of a game, and c) some of these ideas still need to be playtested, which takes a long time. Still, I think this option might have the most likelihood of getting a return on investment if it isn't too fancy for the system with which it is associated. There's this funny aesthetic in gaming where we still value books with crappy blue maps that fall apart in your hands. Then again, take a look at what Lamentations of the Flame Princess is doing with their books, or Goodman Games, and you'll see some select pieces that belie the "scratched on a pad of graph paper" model.
Now I have the sneaking suspicion that those who read my blog tend to skew to the RPG side. But I really, REALLY want to know what people think. I'm just in the thinking stages at this point (though I am about to send off an email to that local bookbinder to get a quote for an imaginary book run, so I can start thinking about costs vs price, profit margins and such). I need to talk Kickstarter with more people who have experience with it (though I've gotten a bit from people here and there). And, most of all, I have to decide just what the heck I want to do.

Your opinions might just help me decide. Feel free to comment below or E-mail me at forrestjaguirre at gmail dot com with your thoughts, suggestions, or wish-lists. As with any project, I can't do this on my own. And while I think I know who I want to tap for design work and internal art, the rest, including the decision on which project to start with, can be influenced by your opinions. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the novel every sixteen-year-old wants to read. And by "sixteen" I mean anyone who is chronologically sixteen or sixteen at heart. That probably means you (so long as you're not allergic to a lot of swearing and violence - if you can't handle this, find something else). No, it's not a coming of age novel. Not really. I'd pity the sap who had a childhood like Locke Lamora's - an orphan whose "family" was a band of child thieves before being sold to another "family" of thieves. But it is as bawdy, violent, and intelligent as one could ever ask in a fantasy novel. It is also incredibly well-written - elegant, though not baroque or overwrought, limned with brilliant turns of phrase that wrap the reader in the story, rather than pushing them out.

I won't even attempt to go over plot details in this one. First of all, I'm not very good at relating plots; and, second, the many comparisons I've heard to Ocean's Eleven and The Godfather are more than adequate to underscore the complexity of the plot. Suffice it to say that we see the titular thief's beginning, much of his upbringing and those of the other "Gentleman Bastards," we see their exploits as a cocksure gang, including an intricate heist involving the duping of a pair of nobles (brilliantly planned and executed) then, with the entrance of a mysterious figure known as the Gray King, things start to go wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

The wonder of this is that the book is written, throughout, with a chronological back-and-forth dance between past and present. Lynch choreographs this dance more deftly than I have ever seen before. The book progresses chronologically, at first, to the point where Locke is sold to his new garrista, or gang boss, Father Chains. From there, we jump to the present, and from there on out, we weave our way back and forth, following Locke and the Gentleman Bastards' heist and the complications presented by the Gray King in a linear fashion, while dipping back into interludes from the past that provide just enough information about the characters' pasts to give the needed background to understand aspects of the present, but not so much information that it feels hokey. Other, less skilled authors, would make these past sections feel like an awkward interpolation, but Lynch's flashbacks never feel like an infodump.

The setting, the city of Camorr, is mysterious and well-realized. I'm not certain if subsequent volumes of the adventures of Locke and Jean (one of the other Gentleman Bastards) also take place in Camorr, but Lynch has definitely not tapped the potential of the city with this one novel. Imagine a city not unlike Venice, but rife with sharks in the water and human sharks in every alleyway. The city itself is built atop the architecture of some past civilization that we know almost nothing about. This alien architecture is made of some unknown material called "Elderglass" that is sometimes translucent, sometimes opaque, and glows with "falselight" in the evening, lending an eerie quality that is used throughout as a sort of time marker indicating nightfall.

While the other Gentleman Bastards, Jean, the twins Calo Sanza and Galdo Sanza, and the young Bug, are all critical to the story, the focus is, as one would expect, on Locke Lamora. Locke is not the most physically deft person (that would be the Sanza twins), nor is he very strong or a good fighter (that would be Jean). But he is absolutely cunning and a fantastic liar. He is brilliant, and he knows it. But he is also very cautious, which saves his hide several times over. He is more cocksure than brave, but never stupid, even as he derides himself for being so. He is the ultimate Scheisster. As with any very intelligent person, he has a cutting wit, which is actually a common trait among all the Gentleman Bastards. The humor is thick and ribald in the first two-thirds of this book, then becomes grim by the end. Expect to laugh a lot at first, then expect to wonder if you should be laughing or not. For the reader with a dark sense of humor (read: me), this is a hilarious read when it needs to be and becomes more serious when it ought to (though it never loses its snarkyness).

I must admit that there are times when I read a book and am just plugging through it to get through it. I started that way with this book. Yes, I had heard it was good, but it took me a moment to "buy-in". But that was a quick moment. Maybe three or four pages, and I was hooked. The story flows quickly, yet uses intelligent, complex syntax with clever twists of irony. Lynch shows a master author's touch in The Lies of Locke Lamora. I haven't been "taken away" by a fantasy like this in some time. This book will demand all your attention, and it should. It is THAT good!

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Glowburn, Episode 4: Stowaways on the Warden

Glowburn, Episode 4: Stowaways on the Warden

Please fasten your seatbelts at this time and stow any and all artifacts or adventuring equipment underneath your seat or in the overhead compartments: In this episode, we are taking off with the Starship Warden to explore Metamorphosis Alpha. Judge Forrest recounts Gameholecon and we hear an actual voice of the Ancient Ones! Judge Bill and Judge Forrest then unleash an unintentionally horrific pair of artifacts on Terra A.D. Opening and closing theme song is Juno by Chronox.




Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Tainted Earth

The Tainted EarthThe Tainted Earth by George Berguño
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All short story collections (even my own) have high points and low points. The trick is to find collections where the high points are so good that they pull the other stories "up". If the low points were your average stories, the collection can still be outstanding. And this is the case here. Though some of the stories were, for me, average, there wasn't a stinker among them, and when Berguno shines, his light is bright, by which I mean it is gloomy and ethereal, light gray, if you will.

The title story, "The Tainted Earth," is reminiscent of the decadent writers Gautier or de Gourmont: very capably written, with little originality of plot, and a little twist at the end. I found that same decadent voice throughout the collection, to some degree or another, which is not a bad thing! The framing device for "The Tainted Earth" really is the story, which isn't usually my thing. But it flows so smoothly, one has to admire the writing behind it. I would normally give this sort of story three stars, but the prose is so well-constructed, that I'm giving it four stars.

Ah, Berguno, you trickster, you. Here, in "The Sick Mannes Salve," the author pulls the old bait and switch, though masterfully done. This story's tone is highly evocative of Poe and maybe a touch of M.R. James and a very tiny pinch of Dunsaney. Nicely done, though a touch predictable in hindsight. Four stars for you.

"The Ballad of El Pichon" is a tale of (dark) magic realism every bit as worthy as anything Marquez ever wrote. Surreal like a fever dream. I swear this was the reality I knew as a child when we traveled to Mexico for a day trip. Did I see that old man selling canaries? Or, worse yet, did he see me? Five stars!

"Fugue for Black Thursday," a vortex of respect, social chains, and revenge set in Nazi-occupied Poland, is centered around Bruno Schulz, author of The Street of Crocodiles (brilliantly interpreted in cinema by The Brother's Quay). This story had true pathos, with a plot that creates sympathetic creatures in the most evil of men. It is grim, loathsome, and altogether enjoyable, if you get what I mean - in much the same way that a Brother's Quay movie is, though quite a bit less surreal. This story, the second-strongest in the collection, easily gets five stars.

"Mouse and the Falconer" felt manipulative. This is forgivable, though my resistance to the authors overt attempts to play with my sympathies and fears ironically prevented me from feeling the depths of emotion I was "supposed" to feel. Still,the syntax and vocabulary are exquisite, but not adequate to earn any more than three stars.

"The Rune Stone at Odenslunda" fell flat for me, but was still not a bad story. Imagine if Dunsany and Ovid had written a horror story and set it in Norway. Three stars.

"The Good Samaritan of Prague" is a labyrinth meandering through dream and destiny, with a shadowy figure that may or may not exist as a sort of mystic minotaur. But monster and hero are conflated and indistinguishable from one another. A convoluted, gloomy story which is, at its heart, a brooding on homelessness, but I can't tell if it makes me sad or merely contemplative. Four stars.

"Three Drops of Death" could have been stripped straight out of the pre-Raphaelite short fiction collection, The Dream Weavers, except that Berguno gives the characters much more depth by showing their quirks and flipping reader expectations on their head. Five stars for this clever and endearing piece of dark humor.

The pièce de résistance here is to be found in the absolutely amazing novella "A Spell of Subtle Hunting". Another piece starring a Nazi as its protagonist, this story, written in the second person (a form that I usually hate with a flying passion), is an all-engulfing dreamscape with emotional depth that tugs at the heartstrings and immerses the reader in a hazy fugue state. Ernst Junger, the controversial writer, is the narrator. The war has come and gone, and Junger is old, very, very old, and about to die, so he seeks out a piece of his youth, from the time before he "began to die," when he was dismissed from the German army for his ties to the officers who attempted to assassinate Hitler (referred to as "Kniebolo" throughout) and had to relinquish his post in Paris, where he had become acquainted with such luminaries as Picasso and Jean Cocteau. "A Spell of Subtle Hunting" is a master-class in painting with an airy brush saturated with sadness, regret, and a hint of self-satisfied defiance. This piece is strong enough to cause the most avid reader to ask "why aren't there more novellas in the world"? We get enough of an insight into the character that we can see them from several angles, yet the form is short enough that we don't get mired in minutiae. This is especially important: The tone of the story, a touch grim and yet playful at the same time, is facilitated by the lack of fluff. As Calvino used to say, "I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury". That same impulse is evident in spades in Berguno's longer (but not too long) masterpiece, "A Spell of Subtle Hunting".

This book would have been complete had it only contained this last novella and "Fugue for Black Thursday". Thankfully, it has these and much more to commend it. Add to this the exquisite production values I have come to expect from Egaeus Press (if you've never bought and held an Egaeus title, go NOW and do it!), and even the average stories become lifted up such that the The Tainted Earth is well-deserving of five stars.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cannot provide a more succinct and excellent summary of the plot of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World than Michael has provided. Nor would I wish to try to describe the plot. It is classic Murakami, which means that several disparate elements are fused together in a surreal totality that somehow works. This may have more to do with the mind's attempt to fuse together disjointed pieces, filling in any logical gaps with its own concoctions, than the intention of the writer. Yes, Murakami supplies many pieces of the puzzle, but the reader's brain must itself invoke any missing pieces from past experience or the subconscious's sheer creation of additional fiction on the fly. Of course, this is the case with any piece of fiction, but the chasms that we willingly cross with Murakami are a testament to his power as a writer - the power to draw one into the story, to fold the reading experience in with the story itself.

That is not to say that the book is not without its flaws. I must admit to having felt "thrown out" of the story for a good portion of the story: an infodump in which one of the characters explains complicated concepts about neurology and consciousness in a highly-distracting, "folksy" voice. For a chapter, I thought I might set the book down, as I found this voice so annoying at what seemed like such a critical juncture. In the end, I'm not certain that the section in question was really even necessary. It could have at least been reduced by half and simplified, in order to keep the flow that I normally enjoy from Murakami.

Still, after that bump in the auctorial road, the story comes together again, as if it has jumped a hurdle and is now racing, quite confidently, to the finish. At a certain point - which I won't reveal - the two stories that comprise the book begin to meld into one, and yet the ending came as an utter surprise to me . . . because it was the ending I was expecting all along and the ending I both most feared and the ending I had secretly hoped for. It "rocked my world" because it did not "rock my world".

Ultimately, this is the sort of bittersweet story I've learned to hope for from Murakami, a sort of Hegelian dialectic in which hope and despair resolve into a sort of triumphant acceptance of inevitability. This has been a timely read for me, and rather poignant, since my father was recently diagnosed with cancer which has not, thankfully, metastasized. He had surgery to have his kidney removed just two weeks before I am writing this review. He is doing well, but, in talking with him on the phone, I can tell that he is finally feeling his age and, while I hope and pray that he will live for many more years (his prognosis is actually quite good), he is being faced with his own mortality. Dad is a fighter. And he won't go without holding on as long as he can. But I think he'll do it with dignity. Do I wish he could live forever? Yes. Do I know that he must eventually die? Yes. And still, there is a quiet beauty to his growing old, not a fear of fate, but not a desperate struggle, either. I can hear a twinge of sadness in his voice when I talk to him, but also an increase of appreciation for Life.

All intellectual concerns aside, I can't think of a more appropriate book to have read at this time.

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