Robert Repino Unleashes D’Arc: Empowering Fun

We expect a lot from our entertainment. We want to be thrilled beyond belief by the new expanses we’re shown, even as our own inner lives are being illuminated. That’s a tall order, but look no father than D’Arc by Robert Repino. It’s the second novel, after Mort(e), in what Repino is calling The War With No Name series. He’s also published an excellent novella from this world, Culdesac.

In Mort(e), Repino quickly brought about the end of humanity’s rule on earth by virtue of the Ancient Ant Queen, a hyper-intelligent, almost god-like being that decides to eliminate humans. Not only does she create “THEM!”-like giant ants, she also “uplifts” the other species; dogs, cats, beaver, and more – so that they can walk upright, carry weapons and go on to make all the mistakes we’ve made. It is a come-uppance of Biblical proportions. Mort(e) was once Sebastian the house cat, neutered and de-clawed. His best friend was the neighbor’s dog, Sheba, a recent upliftee who has not taken a new name.

repino-darcAs D’Arc begins, Mort(e) and Sheba have managed to eke out a relatively stable life on the frontier. In a remote cabin, they raise the giant warrior ants, and try to recover from the war. But Mort(e) is a legendary figure and the events set in motion by the Queen are not yet done. A new race of intelligent monsters is creating a civilization under water, but they’re looking to the land. A city of beavers finds it is being threatened by a giant monster and there’s a serial killer foot in the tinderbox capital where all animals try to get along with one another and humans.

By virtue of great writing, Repino makes crafts the characters here with a significant emotional wallop. Mort(e) is a flinty-eyed veteran, wary of immersing himself in the violence at which he so excels. He’s filled with a gruff love for Sheba, even as we the readers know she can never feel the same. Sheba is complicated and beautifully crafted, as are Fallkirk (a heroic husky), and the beavers, WOW – the beavers. Repino’s world building matches his character insights, which are stellar. Pretty early on, you’ll encounter a scene in the beavers’ city that is every bit as memorable as your first sighting of a sandworm on Dune. The good news is that it gets even better.

Repino creates a race of aquatic monstrosities who are sympathetic even as though they plan to kill all humans most of the animals. The Sarcops, as they call themselves, are highly intelligent and as ruthless as humans. Credit must go Repino’s amazing imagination then, that the novel includes an airship battle so thrilling it’s likely to push away any movie memories you might hope to store. Repino not only blocks that action like a pro, keeping our eyes on a variety of battlefronts, he also syncs up the character arcs with the action. It’s an emotional and excitement reading high of a magnitude you don’t generally find between the pages.

D’Arc also masters the other challenge of any book that is part of a series, which is to provide an ending that feels right, but does not actually, as it were, end. And while you’ll certainly be looking forward to more exploration of Repino’s world, this is a book that you will playing the best bits of, in fact all of, on the big screen in your mind. If you have high expectations of your entertainment, if you want to see something new and feel something human, then Robert Repino’s The War With No Name books offer you no less than the best you can hope to find.

robert_repino-2015-490What makes Robert Repino so much fun to talk to is how much fun he is clearly having writing The War With No Name books. And believe me, you will have fun as well! Repino is an outlier. He’s a literary school graduate who does not come to genre through conventions and magazines and short story writing. He even confesses a bit of embarrassment at not having a kitchen window epiphany novel to his name. I think his freedom from the usual genre associations works well for his writing, and his publisher Soho, not known for SF, deserves a lot of love for taking on this work. We tried to keep matters spoiler free, beyond, “That was a helluva scene.” Jump into the world you deserve by following this link, or just listen below and the Ant Queen will do all the deciding.

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Daniel H. Wilson Winds The Clockwork Dynasty: A Survival of Ancient Beings

How much history is hidden? Our understanding of the past comes with a back-story that we all supposedly subscribe to, a theory that sounds good but which we know to be incomplete at best. Everyone has a different idea as to how we got to where we are today, and there are plenty of places in written history within which one might hide quite a bit of story that remains untold. June is a specialist in re-assembling ancient automatons, old clockwork dolls with fine machinery. When she rebuilds a Russian artifact, a writing doll, it inscribes a message – the first sentence in a story we have yet to hear.

wilson-the_clockwork_dynastyThe Clockwork Dynasty begins carefully and economically, but not slowly. Wilson expertly crafts a scene out of time, immersing us in the scents and sounds of age. But as we become comfortable, he ups the urgency. In the present, June has happened upon a story she was not supposed to see, bringing her and all those around her into peril. As she flees, we are taken to another perspective in 18th century Russia, that of Peter, an automaton created to help and perhaps replace Peter the Great. He too, must flee, and clearly his path will cross June’s, a meeting that is likely to make things worse for both rather than better.

Given Wilson’s written history, it ‘s tempting to think that what you’re getting in The Clockwork Dynasty is a steampunk novel., but that is not the case. You will get a lot of the scenery of steampunk, specifically clockwork robots, but Wilson’s storyline aims squarely at the sense of wonder and hits on all axes. Combining terror and awe, June’s journey is much more in a Lovecraftian vein of ancient survivals and secret histories. Behind what we think we know is something we do not know at all, and our ignorance could be our undoing.

Expect to find one super-thrilling scene after another with a plot spanning centuries that you’d like to read in seconds. Importantly, Wilson spares us the usual romance and focuses on the characters and ideas, with the result being that even as he writes a blockbuster action scene, the action is matched by the ideas and the character arcs. For this reader, at least, Wilson has moved from a science fiction feel to a horror fiction feel sans the supernatural machinations. The upshot is that Wilson’s latest feels fresh and original, even as the page-turning-thriller vibe keeps you up late reading. This is a novel that were it a movie (and it should be), every scene would prove to be a good part. It not only keeps you in the present it creates, it makes you remember it after you have finished reading.

daniel_wilson-2017Consequently, this is a novel that might seem to have a more specialized appeal than proves to be the case. Don’t be fooled. The Clockwork Dynasty is big-scale crowd-pleaser with smarts and heart. It admits a sequel, but not from the edge of a cliff. Even if it proves that your motives for doing so are not your own, even if our destiny has been shaped by beings we do not know to exist and could not comprehend if we did, your time reading The Clockwork Dynasty is time well spent.

The clock is ever ticking when one sits down to interview an author with books as stuffed with ideas and good writing as those of Daniel H. Wilson. He and I have been talking for over a decade, a deepish sort of time that can seem a little bit scary. As we sat down for The Clockwork Dynasty, I also wanted to discuss Robogenesis, a novel that breaks new boundaries in body horror. Forget the post-apocalypse, etc, and settle down for a chat that includes a brief look at having your body town to shreds by tiny bits of smart metal embedded in your spine. Feel them crawl up your spine as they entwine your nerves. Follow this link to the MP3 audio file of our brief discussion, or listen below.

Let time swallow you whole for almost an hour with Daniel Wilson by following this link to download this file, or just listen below.

Tal M. Klein Throws The Punch Escrow: Which Me Am I?

The very idea of teleportation is, in Tal M. Klein’s The Punch Escrow, a clever bit of misdirection. We’ve seen it in fiction so many times, so many places. We’ve seen it go wrong almost as often as it’s gone right, yet we’re quite comfortable in a future where it’s commonplace. Our narrator, Joel Byram, has a sweet, smart, snarky voice that’s fun to read. In 2147, the world looks pretty good, even without the Mona Lisa, lost in an excitingly-described teleportation accident.

klein-the_punch_escrowUh oh. Between the dark shadings in Joel’s voice, it’s easy to guess something is going to go wrong. The clever bit is that the first things to be proved wrong are our assumptions about teleportation. As Joel points out, it’s an incredibly violent proposition. To be sure, it seems to be almost pristine. But, down and dirty, it involves annihilating your body as it is converted into data that is transmitted to another point where a new copy of your body is (hopefully) rebuilt. Viewed this way, what we take in the SF genre to be a straightforward process is really quite fraught with the potential for errors.

It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong, in spite of the titular protocol that essentially performs a checksum to verify a good copy. Fortunately for Joel, his fiancé is a maths genius who works for International Transport. Alas, that may prove to be problematic as well. Joel is no genius himself. He’s a “salter,” who earns his living by using his wits to come up with arbitrary arguments he aims at any available AI, with the intent of improving its wits. For a certain personality type, it’s the ultimate job: he’s a professional smart-ass, paid by the snark. Where snark meets Big Teleportation, danger and thus entertainment, follows.

The Punch Escrow is punctuated by engaging footnotes that offer selected and well-written dollops of the hard science behind Klein’s solid world-building. It’s refreshing to find science fiction with actual science in it, made more so by Klein’s super-fun prose voice. The pulse-pounding plot elements lock into place nicely, and readers are in for a wildly cinematic ride even as they are enjoying the world-reveal. Klein offers some amazingly resonant emotional notes for his well-crafted characters, more often than not keyed into the science of the story itself. It’s not surprising that the book is already in production. For readers, the best news is that it hardly matters whether or not it ever makes it to the actual big screen. It plays like one as you read it, but offers enough details that it begs to be re-read upon completion.

tal_m_klein-2017-editFor all the newfangled aspects of The Punch Escrow, perhaps the most pleasing aspect is very old-fangled, which is to say that this feels like a classic science fiction novel. It has the science, the thrills and the satiric humor that mark some of the best work of the previous century, without any sense of being deliberately “retro.” The Punch Escrow does what the best SF is supposed to do; it transports you to a future that feels real, with smart science and an equally smart sense of story. Your encounter with teleportation manages to teleport you with no technology involved.

Tal. M. Klein told me a great story about how his book came to be. It is absolutely not what you think it might be, and it was just the beginning of a conversation that was as engaging and surprising as the book behind it. As you might expect, he’s pretty stoked about the whole movie aspect, and as you might also expect, he’s got more than a grain of salt ready for the actual completion. You can hear our lightning round interview by following this link to get the flyover view, or listen below.

When you’re ready for the high-science version with grace notes about footnotes, follow this link to download the file, or listen below!

Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas: Topian Fiction

Well into Christopher Brown’s exciting new novel Tropic of Kansas, the title itself is described as, “…the line in our heads where ingenuity runs into loco.” Well, yes, we crossed that line and not recently. As a nation of boiled frogs, we are finding it harder and harder to understand not only how we got here, but as well, where exactly we are in the first place. As the present becomes more incomprehensible, the necessity for re-inventing it becomes increasingly urgent.

brown-tropic_of_kansasWe first meet Sig, a kid in an America that is somewhere in the gray zone between discombobulated and dystopian. Sig is fierce to the edge of feral, and he’s being rounded up as an illegal immigrant and sent back home – to America. As we meet Tania, a (US) government employee with lots of questions about both sides of the matter, we begin to wonder, where in the hell is this taking place. Is this meant to be our future? It’s not exactly the future and that’s your first clue that Christopher Brown has something much more nuanced and interesting than “dystopian” prescience.

As hellish as things look; climate change, economic disaster, and Untied, not United States – Brown is happy to offer us some solace as well. Not everybody with a modicum of power buys into the madness. The possibility for real change is present, and low technology is there to help. The experience of reading Tropic of Kansas is thrilling not just because Brown is a masterful plotter with Sig (sort of) maturing into a genuine hero, the kind of character that makes readers want to cheer out loud. One of the major thrill here is realizing that this is not the future. It’s the present, lightly re-mixed, with a plot that reality sadly seems to lack.

It’s hard to turn the pages fast enough as you read Tropic of Kansas. Brown writes set-pieces with a powerfully cinematic eye, but remembers to invest them in character. And, as you are reading, Brown’s visionary writing and world will drop your jaws every time his perceptions laser their way into the heart of today. This happens early and often; importantly, the book was written well before today, so that Brown’s vision seems topical without resorting to “ripped from the headlines.”

christopher_brown-2017It’s also critical that this is not Another Book About the Dire, Awful World. Things are bad in Tropic of Kansas, but not entirely so. There’s a soupcon of “getting-better-ability” even in the most horrific situations. This isn’t dystopian or utopian fiction, but just, what you might call “Topian,” which is to say a system that has Humans in it and thus is incapable of reaching Heaven or Hell. We can imagine both, but we know in our hearts that it’s Purgatory for us.

I first encountered Christopher Brown as the editor of the excellent anthology Three Messages and a Warning, and so was queued up early for his novel. I just admit that the novel really knocked my socks off, and it’s the kind of work that offers lots to talk about. When we sat own at KQED, there was so much to talk bout that I barely got time to mention his anthology – but we did some quality time to discuss both his novel and the anthology. You can hear our lightning-round interview to cover the basics by following this link, or listen below.

For a deep dive into the nascent genre of Topian Fiction, follow this link, or immerse yourself in the antidote for Our Topian World by listening below.

Rob Goodman Jimmy Soni Examine A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

Claude Shannon was a man of a different age from ours, and not simply because it was his mind that informed the creation of our world. Even for his time, the mid-20th century, he was the quintessential quiet man. An engineer, a mathematician, a tinkerer, Shannon’s story proves to be riveting and relevant here is the 21st century, where we now understand ourselves to be swimming in a sea of information. With their biography, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman have crafted a gripping narrative that honors their subject even as it astonishes their readers. A Mind at Play is an engaging exploration of the silences and spaces from which Information Theory, and the Internet, eventually emerged.

soni_goodman-a_mind_at_play-300Shannon is not an easy man to write about, but the authors manage to create a seamless single voice with which to examine what proves to be a very American success story. To do so, they find the perfect scenes and prose to match, to wit, a story from Shannon’s youth about his use to electrified fences transmit coded messages on the wires. The authors are clear on the fact that this was not uncommon, but they write the prose and paint the picture so that readers cannot help but be thrilled in this intimation of what was to come. It is but one of many quiet moments that reverberate into the present.

Soni and Goodman bring in some heavy hitters and major players from this era; Vannevar Bush, whose genius was to find those like Shannon and others and bring them into the war effort; Alan Turing, who came to America to check up on our cryptography; John Von Neumann and Albert Einstein. They effortlessly weave these stories into Shannon’s story of creating the idea of the “bit.” He wanted to call it the “binary digit,” but was dissuaded from doing so. And so, Soni and Goodman offer us the wonder of seeing our world built one bit at a time.

One senses the authors’ respect for and understanding of Shannon with their occasional inclusion of the math and physics behind and of Shannon’s discoveries. It’s pretty damn easy and thrilling to read the core equation at the center of Shannon’s Information theory. Goodman and Soni pull off these scenes with ease. In honoring Shannon’s sense of quiet, they find their greatest strength as biographers. A Mind at Play is a playful and entertaining look at the man whose Information Theory underpins our reality.

Thrilling is an understatement with regards to my conversation about with Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman. To be fair, we were all playing in the key of Claude Shannon, and these two experts earned their expertise in the creation of A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age. But I also think that what was informing all of us was the fact that we are all in a sense children of the Information Age. No matter how loud it has become, our world was born in quiet. Follow this link and listen to Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, or listen below to pure information. Beauty!

Rick Wartzman Explores The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America : From We to I

Early in The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America, Rick Wartzman introduces readers to what many may feel to be a mirror image – those whom labor economist Guy Standing calls “the precariat.”   Wartzman goes further: “a group of people who invariably live lives defined by economic insecurity and are all too aware that they’re stuck in the mud, if not falling ever further behind. Their ranks extend well beyond those in gig jobs or other forms of ‘contingent work,’ and their disenchantment with how poorly they’re faring is hardly new.” The not-so silent majority is ever growing and living from paycheck to paycheck has become the new normal. How did we get from the American Dream to this nascent nightmare?

wartzman-the_end_of_loyaltyIt’s a great, if unhappy, story, impeccably and compellingly well-told by Wartzman, who elects to follow the history of relations between employees and those in charge of four major American corporations; General Motors, Coca-Cola, General Electric and Eastman-Kodak. In just a little more than a hundred years, America has journeyed from welfare capitalism to corporate welfare. Wartzman keeps his eye on the liminal space between those in charge and those on the line, taking readers from the creation of what we now understand to be The American Dream, to its peak, and then through the decades in which it is nibbled to death by ducks. And here we are.

Wartzman is a superb historian and storyteller. He has a knack for finding great stories and characters within each of his chosen realms, and an amazing ability to re-create the past from the perceptions of the past. This helps us experience the birth of what we now call “The American Dream” – a good job with pay that enables a middle-class lifestyle not so different from the lives of those who lead the company. Critical too, was the security of the employment and the social contract between employer and employees, with the former understanding that the latter were key elements in the success of the company. Wartzman explores the truth, explodes the myths and tells a lot of great stories about a lot of great characters.

Balance of story, history, concept and character are vital to the success of this book. It’s a lot of fun to read, chock-a-block with colorful characters and pretty wild scenes, especially to those of us today who will look upon the days of “welfare capitalism” with more than a whiff of head-spinning utopian nostalgia. Wartzman is also a master of showing and not telling, allowing readers to arrive at their own moral conclusions and letting the facts speak for themselves.rick_wartzman-2017

One of the most engaging aspects of The End of Loyalty is Wartzman’s ability to weave corporate and human character arcs, so we can judge for ourselves, for example, the impact of “Electric” Charlie Wilson versus Jack Welch over at GE. However you may feel about corporate morals, or the lack thereof, the stories are a powerful and sobering look at what the 20th century did to the average worker.

For all that The End of Loyalty is a serious work about something that matters greatly to each and every American, Wartzman understands how to tell an unhappy story in a manner that will make readers happy. The End of Loyalty offers up a full serving of American Quirk, with blow-hards, do-gooders, self-promoters, self-starters, suburban dads, working moms, corporate raiders and the old-New and new-New Deal. It turns out we’d be lucky if we were to “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Alas, we are not going back. But if we read The End of Loyalty, at least our next steps need not be off the same cliff from which we have so slowly fallen.

As an example of the American Slowly-Boiled Frog, I experienced The End of Loyalty with a combination of wonder, depression and hope. Wonder was the result of reading Rick Wartzman’s flawless prose creation of The American Dream, depression a result of reading his incisive dissection of what happened, mostly from the time I entered the workforce onward, and hope, well – when you listen to Rick Wartzman speak, the reasons for hope will become clear. You can tell The Man where to go and how to get there by brazenly listening below, or just follow this link to the MP3 file of our lightning round.

For an extended discussion of How We Came To This Terrible Place, follow this link, or simply invite your supervisor over and have them listen with you.

Thomas E. Ricks and Churchill and Orwell: Atomic Freedom

To us, Churchill and Orwell are towering figures, and rightly so. It’s easy to think that this was always the case. We see (and hear) them almost entirely in black and white – photographs, words printed on paper, tinny recordings from another century. The legends loom large, but the men behind them remained elusive – until now. With Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Thomas E. Ricks brings into focus both their humanity and the shared source of their greatness. These men, of utterly different beliefs, upbringings and lives, found a purpose in focusing on the necessity of freedom. For John Donne, no man was an island. For Churchill and Orwell, every man was an unconquered continent, individual at an atomic level of freedom.

rick-churchill_and_orwell-400Against a 21st-century backdrop intense interconnectedness, Churchill and Orwell is a toe-tapping tale of terror. Ricks razors away everything that is not salient to his vision of these very different men, finding powerful storytelling through-lines to weave the most pertinent times of their lives together. Churchill and Orwell is a masterpiece of economy, immersing us in perfectly detailed descriptions that bring to life these very different men who nonetheless had their eye on the import, no,, the necessity of human freedom.

Ricks weaves back and forth between the two men. We get perfectly cropped portraits of their childhoods – every detail contributes to an understanding of how these men became the guardians of the intangible. Part and parcel of the power of this book is that these are both deeply flawed men, and Ricks is wisely (and compellingly) candid on this. Churchill starts out seeming like a demagogue in the making, and Orwell does not deal well with women. Their flaws are combined with – not compensated by – a powerful vision of individual freedom, which, in both cases, changes the world.

Ricks goes easy on the editorializing and leans hard on the storytelling, and in the process creates a tense narrative filled with memorable, often cinematically described scenes. Churchill is a mass of contradictions, and while our memory is understandably filled with his greatest speech sound-bytes (perfected years before the phrase would come into being), Ricks remembers his years on the wrong side of popular. It’s sobering because Churchill was on the skids for the very views that make him a towering figure in our time. As for details – few will ever see the great man, or even hear him again, without remembering his requirement for pale pink silk underwear. A man ahead of his time indeed!

With Orwell in Spain, Ricks also excels, crating scenes of war and paranoia that would be perfectly at home in a Hitchcock movie. Alas, during his life, Orwell was pretty much unknown, overshadowed by the bestselling novelists of his time. He made a living – and managed to make it out of Spain alive, despite getting shot in the throat. But his own understanding of freedom was not itself so well understood until well after he died.

However, with Churchill and Orwell, Ricks does much more than give us a carefully-crafted dual biography. He understands the essence and necessity of storytelling, and that even as he has told us the stories of these two men, he has also been carefully crafting the story of an idea. He knows that no reader can experience these two men and the fixation on freedom without thinking about today’s world.

To this end, Ricks finishes the book with a concise and powerful Afterword. “We should remember that most of us, most of the time, do not welcome the voices of people like Orwell and Churchill appearing in our midst,” he writes. Indeed, this is true. It is generally only in hindsight that what actually matters becomes noticeable, let alone obvious. With Churchill and Orwell, Thomas E. Ricks offers readers an engaging, crystal-clear vision of the past that works equally well in the all-too-opaque present.

thomas_e_ricks-2017The humor and verve that Thomas E. Ricks brings to his writing are immediately apparent when you are fortunate enough to hear him speak. For me, it seemed as if he might have thought that writing a book about these two men would be a bit of a break from a world that is too much with us. He is, after all, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005. But, the more he wrote about Churchill and Orwell, the more the world came around until his publishers were clamoring for the book yesterday. I can guarantee you that you will be heading over to your usual online vendor (say Ziesing Books) to get this one even before you finish listening to the file you can download from this link, or by asserting your individuality and listening loud and proud in your cubicle or car (queue it up before you start the vehicle) to the file below.

Danny Goldberg Is In Search of the Lost Chord: New Ideas and Newer Ideas

History hardens as stories are sprayed on the sheets of the past. Our visions and ideas become set when we think we know what had happened. But history, while experienced from afar, is lived on the ground, and the stories of those who were there can bring the past to life, adding depth, color and even joy. Joy is the big feature of In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea, a personalized and individualized portrait of a single critical year. Danny Goldberg, who ruled the music roost of Mercury Records (and others) in the 1990’s, had just graduated from high school in 1967. He proves to be the perfect guide for a year that is, in many ways, still with us.

goldberg-in_search_of_the_lost_chord-smGoldberg made a wise decision up front to confine his narrative (mostly) to the year of 1967. It gives him a chronological through-line to keep his journey though incredibly complicated times comprehensible. He begins with a round-up chapter that sets the scene, then reaches back a few years to offer an understanding of the background and then – you’re off to a race through a year that proves to relentlessly exciting to read about and clearly informs our culture to this very day.

In successive chapters, Goldberg take us through the areas that were transformed by 1967 as he explores the central idea, “the hippie idea,” that was at the core of this change. Goldberg is quick to point out how swiftly the word “hippie” and all things associated with it were trivialized to the point of cartoonishness even as he demonstrates the more powerful political and cultural concepts that drove the movement. The problem with the hippie idea proves to be that the idea itself is at odds with many of the forces needed to make it cohere. A celebration of youth, change, innovation, creativity and rebellion is quickly overtaken by competing factions on the inside and co-opted by commercialism from the outside. But the idea lives on.

Goldberg’s power as a storyteller stems from his ability to acknowledge the weaknesses while clearly identifying the strengths and the people responsible for them. The characters you meet here – Allen Ginsburg, Timothy Leary, Martin Luther King, among others – may seem familiar, but Goldberg has a real knack for placing them in time and drawing them vividly into his own slightly personalized story. He devotes chapters to media, music, civil rights, flower power, politics, and consciousness. Each little focal point is a blast to read and Goldberg’s concise overview brings it all together. He makes his history fun even as he lets us discover just how relevant all of this is today.

Alas, even though most of us are unclear on exactly what happened in that tumultuous year – there was a lot going on! – it is unlikely that this particular slice of history will get repeated. That’s a shame, because we could use some of that positive sweetness about now, as a relief for the dystopian drama unfolding around us. Every idea has its time, and we can hope The Hippie Idea gets another round. But until then, Danny Goldberg’s In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea is a riveting look at a bit of history that, since we’re unlikely to repeat it, we might as well learn from.

danny_goldberg-2017It’s no secret that I enjoy talking to authors, but there was something about talking to Danny Goldberg, no listening, to Danny Goldberg tell this story that was so compelling, it made the era, the hope and the book come alive for me. Give Goldberg a listen and you’ll have that book in your hands soon after. I’m sure some visionary back in the day probably imagined that in the unknowable future, which is to say NOW, you’d be able to “follow this link to download the MP3 audio file” – which is to say, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out and listen below, no matter what The Man says!

 

Laura Caldwell, Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King Examine the Anatomy of Innocence: Story Ark

We might be tempted to think we know our system of justice is broken, and just how this came to be. The exoneration of those whom editor Leslie S. Klinger calls (terrifyingly) “the factually innocent” goes on, and the cases we hear of now and again are absolutely enraging and heartbreaking. Intellectual understanding is one thing, but immersion in life stories is another. Now, it is not as if these stories have not been told before. They have. But to truly get an insight into how each cog in this machine can break, simple linear storytelling is not sufficient.

Anatomy of Innocence_978-1-63149-088-0.inddCredit editors Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger for the brilliant insight that informs Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, an anthology of exonoree stories told to top-notch mystery writers. The entire collection offers an in-depth view of every broken bit of our justice system, from the arrest of an innocent man or woman to their release, generally decades later.

Each portion of the wrongfully-accused-and-convicted story arc is from a different exonoree’s story. After introductions by Scott Turow and Barry Scheck, and a forward by the editors (all alternately compelling, informative and alarming), S. J. Rozan starts off the arc with “The Knock On The Door: The Arrest.” Rozan effectively and economically tells the story of Gloria Killian, a woman whose twisted story is so chock-a-block filled with convoluted idiocy and deliberate legal malfeasance that it seems utterly horrific. Factually innocent, which is to say the suspect did not commit the crime, period, Killian spent some seventeen years in jail. Wisely, each entry offers a brief introduction to set up the very short story that follows, and the story is followed by an afterward that follows up with a précis of the aftermath.

The book breaks down the wrongful accusation process into fifteen parts, and the cumulative effect is powerful. The men and women are from all stripes of life and all levels of income, though, not surprisingly, it’s a lot easier to end up here if you’re under-funded or under-educated. Many here are young enough to be both. And while the genre is non-fiction the feeling is often one of immersion in a Kafka-esque nightmare. Turow’s introduction is aptly titled “The Ultimate Horror.”

The storytelling within each segment is very taut and very powerful. Writers have been matched well; for example, ex-Marine Kirk Bloodsworth spent much of his life on death row and bonds well with Lee Child. Each writer takes the tack that works best for them, but the uniting theme of the progression through the arc of exoneration ensures an unsettling coherence. It’s a page-turner, stunningly well-paced and executed, but the hooks it plants stay with you. It helps to remember that as you read this, you are innocent, lucky and ultimately vulnerable.

Like democracy, the American system of justice may be the worst form of justice – except for all the others. That said, we know it is broken and this book goes a long way towards immersing readers in just how it is broken. Before we can fix anything, we have to not just know, but feel that it is broken. Anatomy of Innocence breaks the story into pieces, and in so doing, is exactly the first step in a new, better story about how justice gets fixed.

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I sat down with editor Leslie S. Klinger and contributor Laurie R. King to talk about Anatomy of Innocence and indeed, the innocence Project itself. This is a passion project not just for these two, but all of the contributors. You can follow this link to enter other people’s nightmares, or just ask your jailer employer to lock your cubicle door so your responses to the powerful work will not disturb your fellow inmates co-workers.

Daryl Gregory Discovers Spoonbenders : Take the Astral Plane

American families are famously fractious. It’s normal to argue, the kvetch, to get entrenched in an unreasonable position. It’s less normal to read minds, detect if one family member or another is telling the truth, or to move paper clips, say, or pinballs with your mind. But that’s the Amazing Telemachus family, and they have sort of learned to deal with one another over the years. In Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders, the seemingly wild and wooly Telemachus clan, with their varying degrees of psychic prowess, might seem a bit weird at first – like most families. But spend some quality time with them, and they start to seem like a pretty good vision of American suburbia as it slowly fractures while the world inches towards the 21st century.

gregory-spoonbendersMatty, the third generation, is a hormone-driven teenager who has his first out-of-body experience as he has his first … (nearly) sexual experience. It’s a funny scene, and fantastic example of how Gregory combines humor and heart with his imaginative science-fiction trope to externalize the untold anxieties of adolescent males. The Telemachus family once stood on stage with Mike Douglas, where instead of becoming famous, they were debunked. Teddy Telemachus, who has no psychic powers other than sleight-of-hand, his wife Maureen (a powerful remote viewer employed by the US government), their daughter Irene (the human lie detector), their son Frankie (weakly and unreliably telekinetic), and Buddy, who can see the future so clearly that he’s never sure when, as opposed to where he is, are tossed on the scrapheap of washed-up never-weres. But the family endures.

Most of the novel is set in the 1990’s, as the now disparate Telemachus clan are forced by hard times and bad choices to return to the Teddy’s home. Maureen died in the 1970’s, but she’s still sending Teddy letters of advice hen he needs them. The forces coming after the family now are all economic; money jobs, debt, employment, being sort of psychic makes all that harder, don’t you know? And your average totally not-average American family can pretty much pull together when push comes to shove, which you can bet will happen in this wonderfully plotted and engaging novel.

For all that the various powers and government programs to exploit them are the compelling stuff of page-turning excitement, the greatest moments in this book seamlessly combine plot and character moments to really get under your skin. Gregory hews to the science fiction side of the psychic world and gets more mileage out of the limits and foibles of average and sort-of flawed people with powers than he could ever achieve with big set pieces. There are great scenes in this book, make no mistake, and they feel big, but more believable. Psychics, schmycics, whatever – the true and most powerful powers of the Telemachus family are love, forgiveness and regret. And while these are psychic powers, they are powers we can all aspire to. If you need to bend a spoon, find a pair of pliers.daryl_gregory-2017-edit

Daryl Gregory in person seems almost as if he might be one of the Telemachus family. He has the full-bore enthusiasm combined with a laid back version of showmanship. Moreover, as we spoke, you could really feel his American family almost in the room with us. Fractious, perhaps, but ultimately, sweet, entertaining and bracing. And he does give me a ‘yes-or-no” answer to the “Do you believe?” question. You can follow this link to our lightning round interview, or use your 21st century psychic powers to listen below

For an extended journey on the astral plane, you can follow this link to listen to our in-depth interview. If you’re prepared to circle the earth without leaving your seat, just listen to below. If you levitate while doing so, make sure to catch it on your phone!