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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dead People with Problems (Review of Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire)

"The only people who don't have problems are dead people," my mother is fond of saying, but boy, have I got a ghost for you who's dying (har) to take issue with that. Her name is Rose Marshall and she's the protagonist of Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road. She was killed in a car crash on her way to her high school prom back in 1952, a crash that was deliberately caused by a sorta-undead Bad Guy name of Bobby Cross. As a ghost "hitcher" ever since then, she's been on a mission to save drivers she can sense are about to die in wrecks or, failing that, save their souls from being taken by Bobby Cross. Are their paths going to cross (har) again? What do you think?
Ms. McGuire has postulated an afterlife of baroque complexity, full of beings like "routewitches" and haunted highways who populate a thousand levels of "twilight" and "midnight" underlying the "daylight" America, and brother, every ghost of them has a story to tell and a passel of problems that don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy afterworld.
The underlying plot is sound, the fantasy setting is intriguing, and the atmosphere is sufficiently eerie--reminiscent of one of Neil Gaiman's better books, like a cross between Neverwhere and American Gods. On the down side is Rose's habit of sounding disconcertingly like a twenty-first century American teenager. I grant you that she's been keeping up with the times in her unchanging Sweet Sixteen form, but still, a girl who died in 1952 ought not to express her displeasure with her circumstances by saying that they "suck," nor should she have the habit of dropping such irritating present-dayisms as "I'm good" for "No thanks" and "Oh wait, I just did" to express sarcasm. And is it really necessary for Bobby Cross to intone, "This isn't over" after his first encounter with Rose? A better editor would have spared us these minor literary sins.
Still, I give the novel two-and-a-half Phoboses out of three. More, please, Ms. McGuire.
This review is cross-posted on

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chimes of Freedom

Listening to Bob Dylan's great song "Chimes of Freedom," where he sings "for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight." Where are the outraged demonstrations in Western cities for refugees from IS, like the Yazidis pictured below? Could it be that the professed "left-wing" sympathy for the Palestinians is really because those who claim to speak for them are killers of Jews, not "refugees on the unarmed road of flight"? Who will really sound, in our time, "the chimes of freedom flashing"?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Go Back in Time and Erase This Season!

The new season of Dr. Who is off to a disappointing start. I don't have any beef with Peter Capaldi as a Scottish-accented Doctor, though I do wonder whether another "regeneration" is in store for him if Scotland votes for independence on Thursday.
Episode 1, which aired (I was going to write "erred") August 23, featured a dinosaur stomping around the Thames in Victorian London until some "rubbish robots from the dawn of time" blew it up and made it into liverwurst, whereupon Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the beast of Thames, it was the wurst of Thames." OK, I stole that joke, but they stole the plot of Fantastic Voyage (the 1966 movie and Isaac Asimov novelization) for the second episode (August 30), in which our heroes were miniaturized and injected into the Doctor's nemesis cyborg antagonists, the Daleks, for a "Fantastic Voyage into a Dalek's Brain." Come to think of it, the writers even stole from themselves the concept of the "good Dalek," which David Tennant and Billie Piper already squeezed all the juice out of several years ago. And then in the third episode (September 6, thanks for ruining my birthday, Doctor), Clara tells the Doctor she wants to go to see Robin Hood, only there are these robots and a spaceship disguised as a castle, you see, but not to worry, because the giant Batman Action Figure comes along and helps the Doctor by smashing the Lego castle.
Well that's what it felt like, anyway--as if the first three episodes were written by some not-very-imaginative third graders. Episode 4 (September 13) was a little better, reviving the creepy theme of the Man Who Wasn't There, but they tried to cram too much into it. Like liverwurst, I suppose.
Your plot holes are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, Doctor.