Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, Book 1: A Review

In Which Corwin Reaches for a Pack of Cool Amber Lights

I recently finished the first book of the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny, the first of ten books which comprise two story arcs of five novels each. If you are unfamiliar with Zelazny and his work, you might think this is a relatively new novel, given today’s penchant for series of works, often voluminous. That would be a wrong estimate though, considering that this first work was published 46 years ago in 1970 and clocks in at brisk 190 pages or thereabouts in the paperback version — a veritable novella by today’s often bloated standards.

the-great-book-of-amberThis is my first work by Zelazny; I have not read his earlier work — reputedly dense and brilliant compared to his later work, according to Publishers Weekly — nor have I read any of his later work, so I really can’t comment on that. What I can say is that the plot was taught and fast moving, and that his use of … anachronism, for lack of a better word, although that’s not quite right in this instance, was intentional and worked for the characters involved — albeit, it was a bit confusing, at first.

While later books may prove to be simple and formulaic — again, Publishers Weekly — thus far it seems rather refreshing, given its sword-and-sorcery setting. Given that our main character wakes up in an ordinary hospital room in modern upstate New York but quickly moves on to become involved in dimension hopping and a race for a throne — or should I say “the” throne — it is rather off-putting, in a good sort of way, that he talks more like Sam Spade than Gawain and the Green Knight.

And cigarettes; let us not forget the cigarettes.

Probably anyone reading it for the first time won’t bother to think too much about Corwin’s — the main character’s — smoking cigarettes when he’s running around New York state, particularly when you take into account that it is, presumptively, 1970. Later on in the novel — I’ll tell you now there is some minor spoilerage ahead; if it is an issue quit reading now — when he’s stuck for years in a dungeon in the bowls of the city of Amber, the fact that an unexpected friend smuggles him cigarettes on a somewhat regular basis may jar some readers. Given the fact that Amber is at least a couple of dimensions away — again for lack of a better word; Zelazny never precisely says — in space and/or time away from Earth, and that few people can traverse the shadows, as it is called in the novel, of which Earth is but one of many, perhaps give some pause.

How do cartons of cigarettes get to Amber? Or do they? Perhaps they grow tobacco and roll their own, just like they do back on Earth; we never learn if Corwin smokes Lucky Strikes or Amber Lights. Perhaps tobacco and/or cigarettes were bought back to Amber years ago from Earth and now they produce said Amber Lights; we all know what happened when the Spanish bought tobacco back from the “New World.”

Again, Zelazny isn’t saying, at least in this first of ten novels, and that’s OK with me. Some may fault him for shoddy world-building, but I don’t think so. It works here, especially given this fast-paced novel which has little fat; Dashiell Hammett’s characters don’t lend much time to ennui and thumb twiddling — or vivid descriptions that may wow some readers but do little to otherwise advance the plot — and neither does Zelazny. This, perhaps more so than anything else, separates him from today’s serial novelists.

So, what’s next? Am I burning through the next novels? Not exactly. I’ll say again that I liked it, but not so much that I’m addicted, per se. I’ll return at some point, but don’t hold your breath; there are many others waiting in the wings. Plus I think — or rather, I know — that my tastes seem to be changing. But we’ll save that topic for another time and perhaps another blog.

… And We’re Back

Well, it’s been a wee bit longer than a few weeks; try over four years.  Yep, years.

Lots happened in the interim. Moved across the globe a few times. Ruptured my quadriceps tendon in Viet Nam. Suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in Thailand. Cut my heel and had to cruise on back home.

As for this site, Barking Book Reviews, it has got a new domain name — actually a subdomain — but it’s the same exact stuff that was here before. Even got the same pictures and whatnot.

I probably won’t post nearly as often as I once did, to be honest — as for the book news and whatnot, forget it; I let the Internet pass me by long ago. But there was a lot of traffic here, once upon a time, and I still had the database sitting around doing nothing, so I figured what the hell. Long live Barking Book Reviews!

A barking gocko, aka tokayThese days I’ve got other fish to fry, as it were, but I still love to read, so I’ll drop in — probably with a big ‘ole wall o’ text — when a can.


Barking Book Reviews Takes a Holiday

The Gecko is Going to Go Eat Curry, Som Tam, Snooze on the Beach and Write Some Book Reviews … Maybe

It’s time for yours truly, after dealing with a busted up leg and working long hours to make up for the work I missed early in the year because of said bum leg, to take a well-deserved break. So I may or may not be posting book reviews and whatnot here for a week or two.

Actually I’ll have more time for pastimes like reading and writing (including book reviews, perhaps); it’s a holiday, which for me means goofing off and not much else. Furthermore, I used to live in the Land of Smiles, so I’ll feel no need to run off and visit wats and do the things that tourists normally do. In fact I don’t usually spend a lot of time at the beach, although I do love being by the ocean.

So I may actually be posting more often here, but I don’t want to make any promises. Once I get into holiday mode, I may not have any desire to crack open the laptop. But then I should finish at least two books over the next week, so some book reviews may appear.

But if you don’t see any posts for a few weeks; have no fear: the Gecko is alive and well and shall be barking said book reviews and whatnot in the near future. He’s just busy goofing off in the meantime, and stuffing himself with Thai food.

In the current meantime, here’s some random book news:

Funhome author Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? (book cover)Funhome Author and Artist Alison Bechdel to Release Second Memoir: Are You My Mother?

I’ve had some interesting discussions over the years with people about whether or not long-form comics, namely the graphic novel, constitute literature. Usually we can both agree that it’s art, but is it literature?

It’s a pedantic argument at best, but then pedants are as pedants do; we like to argue about this sort of thing. To those who would fall into the “no they aren’t” camp – and once upon a time I would have – I would submit to you Daniel Clowes’ Ghostworld and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

Of course many people have heard of Ghostworld thanks to the eponymous film, which, while more faithful to the source material than most movies, nevertheless takes too many (and often needless) changes to Clowes’ work. Fun Home has had no movie interpretation, and I’m not sure it would lend itself easily to that medium.

But this is neither here nor there. Both works were commercial and critical successes, and Fun Home, by Dykes To Watch Out For writer and artist Bechdel, was arguably a huge success. Book critics loved it; I don’t recall seeing a bad review of it. The thing about Fun Home is that its writing is as important – and as well done – as its art, and as both come from the same source, they are inextricably woven together. Each could perhaps stand alone, but would be considerably lessened.

So why I am I bringing this up? Bechdel, who notably has won a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors and awards, is releasing her second memoir, Are You My Mother? on May 1st. Fun Home was simply brilliant; a very moving work and dramatically different from the comic which has made her famous (not that I don’t love that too; I never would have read Fun Home if I hadn’t been a Dykes fan since I discovered the strip in college many moons ago.

Are You May Mother? may hasten my purchasing of a tablet that has a color-capable screen. Bechdel uses color minimally, and I imagine Are You My Mother? would look fine on my old-school Kindle’s e-ink display. But there are other graphic novels that I would like to be able to read. And aside from the convenience of the ebook form, living in Viet Nam I have no other choice for these titles other than ebooks.

Rest assured, there will be a book review of Are You My Mother? appearing here eventually. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.

Speaking of comics I’d like to read:

Dark Horse Comics' Alabaster: Wolves #1 (cover), written by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Gorgeous artwork, yes?Caitlín R. Kiernan Helms Alabaster: Wolves at Dark Horse Comics

I’m late to the table on this one but such is the lot of the hobbyist with a full-time job. On the other hand, the Gecko is his own boss with regard to barking and blogging. Dancy Flammarion has been one of the more popular characters created by Kiernan, appearing in both novels and short stories, as well as comics.

Earlier this month Dark Horse Comics launched the Alabaster: Wolves title, written by Kiernan and featuring Dancy. There are previews available at Dark Horse, and the artwork is nothing short of incredible. Kiernan has discussed this work at length on her blog. The thing that really has incited me to want to read this title, aside from enjoying Kiernan as an author, is that this isn’t just some project she’s doing to pay the bills; she is clearly invested in this as a writer.

She is a woman with a lot of irons in the fire; her latest novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, appeared earlier this spring.

Can one write book reviews of comics? Should I wait for the entire series to complete? Should I do a running review/commentary? I never really stopped to think about it before. Something to ponder while snoozing on the beach at Hua Hin.

Shirley Jackson Award 2011 Nominees

The cover of Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf.Some Thoughts on Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf Upon its Shirley Jackson Award Nomination

Hmmm. It seems a popular werewolf tome, The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, has made the Shirley Jackson Award list. Before I pontificate, let’s talk about the awards, for those not familiar with them.

The awards bear the name of author Shirley Jackson who is perhaps best known for The Haunting of Hill House and her sort story, “The Lottery.” As it stands today horror as a genre owes a lot to Jackson; if you’ve read her works it’s easy to see her influence not just on horror writers but authors of dark fantasy and speculative fiction, not to mention television and movies.

The Shirley Jackson Award looks to honor “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic,” according to the Jackson estate. A jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics decides upon the awards, with input from a board of advisers. I’d like to know who comprises this Shirley Jackson Award board of advisers, if they have the aforementioned writes, editors and critics and whatnot on the jury.

But that’s neither here nor there, as they say. As noted above, I noticed that The Last Werewolf is up for the Shirley Jackson Award for best novel. I read this book earlier this year after reading the New York Times book review of Glen Duncan’s werewolf opus. As I mentioned back then, it is not without its merits. But the plot and characters are extremely derivative; i.e. tired; if Lestat or just about any literary monster since (and including) Shelley’s Frankenstein (I emphasize here the literary Frankenstein’s Monster, not the Hammer Horror bolt-necked creation), had he/she/it been a werewolf, he/she/it would have been The Last Werewolf.

There’s homage and then there’s cliché; The Last Werewolf falls squarely in the latter camp. Furthermore, Duncan’s writing swings wildly, from competent narration to moving, artistic beauty to livid purple prose.

Here’s but a few brief examples (there are many) of the latter:

When I’d imagined this moment I’d imagined clean relief. Now the moment had arrived there was relief, but it wasn’t clean. The sordid little flame of selfhood shimmied in protest. Not that my self’s what it used to be. These days it deserves a sad smile, as might a twinge of vestigial lust in an old man’s balls.


It was still snowing when I stepped out into the street. Vehicular traffic was poignantly stupefied and Earl’s Court Underground was closed.

Needlessly and awkwardly personifying things that don’t need to be seems to be a trademark of this novel; there are plenty more examples.

Then there is this gem; it transcends the purple of the most purple of prose:

Snow makes cities innocent again, reveals the frailty of the human gesture against the void.

I take days off my life every time I read that sentence. It was a dark and stormy night.

And yet. And yet, this author is capable of artistic turns of phrase and moments of true poignancy. Here the title character (yes, as I’ve remarked before; it seems as if authors are incapable of the third person, these days) describes the first days with his new wife:

She was a year older than me, ten deeper. She loved in casual imperious exercise of a birthright. I loved in terror of losing her. The staff at Herne House couldn’t have been more amazed if I’d married a Bornean orangutan.

But then in that same paragraph we get the groan-worthy cliché of romantic clichés:

I hadn’t known desire could dissolve selves into and out of each other. I hadn’t known love’s indifference, love’s condescension to God.

And I’m a little closer to death, with that. But just a few pages later, there’s this:

Falling in love makes the unknown known. Falling out of love reverses the process. I watched the mystery of myself thickening between us into a carapace. Once you’ve stopped loving someone breaking his or her heart’s just an unpleasant chore you have to get behind you. My God, you really don’t love me anymore, do you? No matter your decency the victim’s incredulity’s potentially hilarious. You manage not to laugh. But breaking the heart of someone you still love is a rare horror, not funny to anyone, except perhaps Satan, if such a being existed, and even his pleasure would be spoiled by not having had a hand in it, by the dumb, wasteful accident of the thing. The Devil wants meaning just like the rest of us.

Here Duncan has managed to convey in a few bright, dramatic sentences what other authors have spent entire books discussing.

So it all begs the question, what the hell? Less than a third of the way through the novel it occurred to me that The Last Werewolf reads like two different authors wrote different parts of this book – one good, perhaps even excellent, and the other not so much – and an incompetent or extremely rushed editor stitched it together piecemeal. Or else the author was extremely rushed and there was no editor.

I don’t know. Where I see tired, time-worn conventions, the New York Times book reviewer sees an admirable adherence to genre convention. He does admit that Duncan’s prose “occasionally overheats” — if this is occasionally overheating, then I’d hate to read what he thinks is over doing it.

Perhaps the reviewer hasn’t read a lot of horror; I think if I had read this book as a much younger person, before I really delved into the genre at all, its foibles might seem less apparent.

At least it was werewolves and not vampires – although these are present and full of modern vampire clichés – or zombies.

I’m clearly in the minority on this one, however; obviously lots of critics and readers liked the novel; to each their own. In any event, without further ado: The Shirley Jackson Award 2011 nominees:


The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)
The Dracula Papers, Reggie Oliver (Chômu Press)
The Great Lover, Michael Cisco (Chômu Press)
Knock Knock, S. P. Miskowski (Omnium Gatherum Media)
The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan (Canongate Books, Ltd.)
Witches on the Road Tonight, Sheri Holman (Grove Press)


“And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living,” Deborah Biancotti (Ishtar, Gilgamesh Press)
“A Child’s Problem,” Reggie Oliver (A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books)
“Displacement,” Michael Marano (Stories from the Plague Years, Cemetery Dance Publications)
The Men Upstairs, Tim Waggoner (Delirium Books)
“Near Zennor,” Elizabeth Hand (A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books)
“Rose Street Attractors,” Lucius Shepard (Ghosts by Gaslight, Harper Voyager)


“The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine,” Peter Straub (Conjunctions 56)
“Ditch Witch,” Lucius Shepard (Supernatural Noir, Dark Horse)
“The Last Triangle,” Jeffrey Ford (Supernatural Noir, Dark Horse)
“Omphalos,” Livia Llewellyn (Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, Lethe Press)
“The Summer People,” Kelly Link (Tin House 49/Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, Candlewick Press)


“Absolute Zero,” Nadia Bulkin (Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, Prime Books)
“The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece,” M. Rickert (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sept/Oct, 2011)
“Hair,” Joan Aiken (The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories, Small Beer Press/ The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/Aug, 2011)
“Max,” Jason Ockert (The Iowa Review 41/1)
“Sunbleached,” Nathan Ballingrud (Teeth, HarperCollins)
“Things to Know About Being Dead,” Genevieve Valentine (Teeth, HarperCollins)


After the Apocalypse: Stories, Maureen F. McHugh (Small Beer Press)
The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)
Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, Livia Llewellyn (Lethe Press)
The Janus Tree, Glen Hirshberg (Subterranean Press)
Red Gloves, Christopher Fowler (PS Publishing)
What Wolves Know, Kit Reed (PS Publishing)


Blood and Other Cravings, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor)
A Book of Horrors, edited by Stephen Jones (Jo Fletcher Books)
Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (Harper Voyager)
Supernatural Noir, edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse)
Teeth, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (HarperCollins)
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Harper Voyager)

The 2011 Shirley Jackson Award presentations take place on Sunday, July 15th at Readercon 23 in Burlington, Massachusetts. Readercon 23 guests of honor and authors Peter Straub and Caitlin R. Kiernan, author of The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (and future Shirley Jackson Award nominee, surely?) will act as hosts.

Check out the Shirley Jackson Award winners for yourself at Amazon. 


Big News: Publisher Tor to Remove DRM From eBooks. There Was Much Rejoicing

Readers Against DRMBy July All Tor Plredges All eBook Titles Free of DRM

A major publisher dropping DRM really is huge news, and I’m surprised it didn’t make a bigger splash; it even took Boing Boing a whole 24 hours to catch up with it, much less yours truly.

Well, in case you haven’t heard by now, Tor, a science fiction imprint of Macmillan – one of the so-called Big 6 in publishing, at least here in the United States – announced earlier this week that by July of this year all of its ebook titles would be DRM free; Tor UK made a similar statement.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 15 years or so, then you know that DRM is digital rights management; Wikipedia is your friend. Or you can  try Defective by Design. DRM has been a pain in the ass of digital media users for years, be it music files or video files – and of course ebook files. I understand that piracy is an issue, and personally I believe that artists should be remunerated for their work. But I also believe that if I buy something – if I give money that I have legally earned in exchange for something – it’s mine to do with if I see fit.

If I want to listen to it in my car, on my computer and on my phone, I should be able to do so. It’s the same with ebooks; I should be able to read it on my Kindle, my phone, my laptop and my Android tablet. It seems the folks at Tor have seen the light:

Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time, Tom Doherty, TOR president and publisher, said in a statement. They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.

Yes, we have. Yes, we are and yes it is. Yes it does.

Macmillan imprint Tor and Forge logoAmen. When the producers of the works in question themselves are saying this isn’t the way to go to address issues of piracy and intellectual property, it’s time to listen.

Let’s hope this continues to be a trend with both publishers large and small. DRM is easily circumventable, and often has the opposite affect, forcing people to either a) pirate works or b) do without (including not PAYING MONEY for books) because their files are crippled by DRM.

As usual props to Locus, where I saw Tor’s DRM announcement first.

Pulitzer Poo-Poos Fiction, Self-Publishing for a Published Author: Book News

Swamplandia by Karen Russell (book cover). One of three novels noiminated for but not getting a Pulitzer Prize in 2012.Pulitzer Panel Poo-Poos This Year’s Fiction While Publishers Panties Bunch, Readers Cry Pshaw

And that, kids, is how you write a headline. The biggest news in the book world this week is obviously this: for the first time in 35 years the Pulitzer Prize board will not name a prize for fiction this year. It seems the jurors couldn’t reach a consensus, so they just said meh, to hell with it.

Needless to say, this got a lot of people in the publishing industry, not to mention readers, bent out of shape and perhaps rightly so. The Pulitzer Prize award winner invariably sells a lot of books, after all. But then winning a Pulitzer Prize for fiction is no guarantee of literary immortality.

The New York Times‘ Julie Bosman has a good rundown of the ensuing hubub following the Pulitzer Prize board’s announcement Monday.

Why Would a Published Author, Under Contract, Turn to Kickstarter and Self-Publishing?

The publishing world – and consequently the world of literature and books – is in a state of flux, at the moment, to be sure; we are living in a Chinese proverb: these are indeed interesting times. At the forefront of this is the rise of the ebook market along with and declining print book sales.

What does it all mean? And perhaps more importantly, how does an author cope? When ebooks can be bought with a click – and subsequently pirated with a click – and at the same time when self publishing and independent publishing have become viable and cheap – what’s an author to do? Furthermore, how does marketing work in this postmodern publishing world?

Author Kate Milford, who is already a published author of so-called young adult fiction and is apparently currently under a contract with a traditional publisher, has an interesting approach to these publishing issues. Milford is using Kickstarter to self-publish work that will stand alongside novels published traditionally. As she relates to uber-blog Boing Boing:

I’m raising funds to self-publish a novella companion to my second traditionally-published YA fantasy, The Broken Lands. This is the first installment in what I hope will be an ongoing project with two goals: to combine traditional and self-publishing by releasing companion content alongside my hardcover books; and to use indie bookstore-friendly resources for the self-pub end of things.

The first novella, The Kairos Mechanism, also acts as a bridge between the stories told in The Broken Lands and my first book, The Boneshaker. It will be released in three editions: paperback (via McNally Jackson’s self-pub services and Espresso Book Machine); digital (via Google Play); and a Super-Special Digital edition, free or pay-what-you-like, which will be illustrated by young reader artists. The funds raised will finance the costs of publication as well as paying the young artists.

There and Back Again: It Was the Best of Nepotism, It Was the Worst of Nepotism

Charles Dickens is one of my literary pet peeves; if there was ever an author in the annals of Western Literature that was and is over-rated, it is him, or so I like to argue. And argue I do; people seem to hold him dear – even my friends who should know better (I’m talking to you, Johnny O).

J.R.R. Tolkien, on the other hand, is one of my favorites. While in some respects his works arguably do not stand the test of time, he nevertheless single handedly gave us the genre of modern fantasy. And more importantly, I still enjoy rereading his works; for me they do stand the test of time in spite of the faults that people perceive in his works today.

In any event, aside from my personal opinions one way or the other, both are so-called literary giants; there is no disputing that fact. So one wonders what they would make of this patently obvious gimmick: a British publisher is publishing two fantasy novels penned by Tolkien grandchild Michael Tolkien, allegedly based on stories told him by his grandfather.

As if this weren’t dubious enough by itself, naturally they will be tailored for young readers, the publisher says. Apparently adults don’t buy books anymore. Damn this young adult market/marketing trend, anyway.

Oh yeah. The accompanying audio books will be narrated by one Gerald Dickens, a great-great grandson of Dickens.


There is more at New York Times’ Artsbeat blog. Already exhausted your 10 articles for the month at Delete your cookies or go straight to the horse’s mouth, Thames River Press.

John L. Beiswenger's 2002 novel Link (book cover). Beiswenger is suing Assassin's Creed maker Ubisoft, claiming it infringes upon his ideas in Link. Science Fiction Author Sues Assassin’s Creed Maker Ubisoft Claiming Copyright Infringement

Tech blog Ars Technica reports that a science fiction author is suing videogame producer Ubisoft, the name behind a number of huge titles, such as Halo, Far Cry and Prince of Persia, alleging copyright infringement.

Author John L. Beiswenger claims in his suit in U.S. District Court that Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games lift ideas from his 2002 novel Link without his consent. As Ars Technica explains, Beiswenger’s novel centers around the device from which the novel takes its name, which enables users to relive memories of relatives and ancestors through DNA. This does sound almost exactly like the Animus devices of the Assassin’s Creed games — incidentally, I have played the first game in the series, albeit briefly.

The Ars Technica post also quotes a lawyer specializing in video game legal issues – what crazy times we live in – as suggesting that the suit may be without merit, regardless of whether or not the similarities are intentional or coincidental.

“The level of comparison they’re trying to make would be along the lines of both Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure have time machines as plot devices, so one must be infringing the other,” said Mark Methenitis, as quoted by the blog. “A copyright does not protect abstract ideas at that level.”

Even so, I doubt if that will encourage the two parties to be excellent to one another.

And I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me if Bill and Ted’s phone booth had been equipped with a flux capacitor, well, I’ll bet lawyers would have gotten involved.


The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan: the Barking Book Review

Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (book cover)The Drowning Girl is an Incredible Achievement for Kiernan as She Continues to Evolve as an Author

It has perhaps taken me longer to get around to writing my book review of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl: A Memoir than it would have with some other book. But then one of the benefits of writing for your own amusement is that there is no such thing as a deadline. Having written under deadlines for so long, it always feels like a ridiculous luxury, this. So I’ve let several weeks pass between the moment I finished it and now, letting it digest and fully settle within my psyche.

To say that Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl did not disappoint would be an understatement, especially considering that I’ve had a year to look forward to it, having read the beginning chapter that long ago when she featured it in her monthly publication, Sirenia Digest. Then there is the fact that she is one of my favorite modern authors – I’m sure it that if this book had not been up to snuff in even the slightest regard, it would have registered as a big disappointment. But not only is it up to snuff but a pinch above it, even.

So if you’re not interested in the long of it, the short of it is this: it is most assuredly bow tie. And unless you are a frequent reader of Kiernan’s blog, you won’t get that inside joke, so let me clarify: it’s more than worth the cover price; buy it and read it. However, like The Red Tree, it is far along the writer’s evolutionary track and is some considerable distance from its predecessors. Personally I think this is a good thing; there is nothing more disappointing than seeing a talented author phone it in for the paycheck (not that I necessarily fault anyone for doing that; authors have to eat, after all). Fortunately for us Kiernan seems to be incapable of doing this sort of thing – incidentally, in my humble opinion, this inability separates the artist from the craftsmen when it comes to writing, and perhaps any artistic endeavor.

So anyone pining for another Silk, or even a Daughter of Hounds – which is still one of my favorites, by the way – is going to be disappointed. But then I suppose those readers have already jumped ship after The Red Tree.

That’s Gothic, Not Goth, Gawth, etc. …

There is a specific part of The Drowning Girl: A Memoir that echoes what I’ve come to think of as “classic Kiernan,” but I’ll touch upon that later. For now just let me reiterate: while The Drowning Girl has elements and themes in common with The Red Tree, it’s a distinct artistic entity, to say the least. In many ways what we have here is an almost traditional gothic novel. There are elements of horror and speculative fiction, to be sure, but they bubble and percolate through the background for the most part in what is a truly character driven novel.

After finishing The Drowning Girl I purposefully decided to read something familiar – to see an old friend whom I know well and am comfortable with, if you will. I wanted to let The Drowning Girl and the thoughts it engendered simmer in the back of my mind – there seems to be a theme developing here in this review – while I enjoyed a diversion that wouldn’t occupy my attention too much. In retrospect I think I may have unconsciously but instinctively chose Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights specifically, among the many other things I could have read (when reaching for literary comfort food I typically reach for Somerset Maugham, William Gibson or Tolkien).

Don’t get me wrong: you’ll find no Byronic antiheroes here, although Kiernan’s protagonist does enjoy the modern equivalent of a ramble on the moors: a drive on deserted back roads. But I think you could make a persuasive argument that The Drowning Girl has more in common with what we think of as the traditional gothic novel than that with much of Kiernan’s own oeuvre, specifically her earlier work.

This is perhaps by design, consciously or unconsciously – I would imagine the latter. Notably, Kiernan talked recently about her evolution as a writer and author on her blog. To wit.

People frequently ask: “I’m new to your writing. Where should I begin. For many years, this question vexed me. In the last couple of years, however, I’ve finally formed an answer to this question. I think it was, in part, a matter of maturing as an author, and gaining perspective, and being able to put my earlier works behind me. Now, I still can’t say, “Begin right here.” Rather, I can say, “Here are the books I believe would be a good starting place, a place from which you can develop a fair and accurate opinion of who and what I currently am as an author.”

She lists her two most recent novels, which includes The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, and several collections of recent short fiction. As she goes onto explain:

Now, please note that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Silk or Tales of Pain and Wonder being your favorite books I’ve ever written. If they still work for you, that’s cool. I’m saying they no longer work for me, as I am no longer that writer or that person. Indeed, I never could have written the books of mine I currently favor had I not first written the books that are no longer representative of me as an author. Also, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy the older books; you should do as you, as a reader, please. I’m merely trying to honestly answer a persistent question.

And it’s entries like this that make her blog so eminently readable; she offers a lot of keen insight into the life of a working, published author and the art of writing itself.

And if you are new to Kiernan’s work, don’t get the wrong impression. There is much in her early works that is quite venerable and not without merit. Silk, for example, won or was nominated for a number of literary awards.

But I digress, as usual. Let’s get back to The Drowning Girl review.

Confronting the Truth in The Drowning Girl: A Memoir

Kiernan has remarked on a number of occasions in her blog that the process of writing The Drowning Girl was a difficult one; in some ways the most difficult to write of all her works. On one hand, while this is a work of fiction, she has stated that this is her her most autobiographical work to date. While not factual, or even thinly-veiled fact, it is nevertheless true. In fact – 🙂 heh – she has had some interesting blog posts in the wake of The Drowning Girl’s publication about truth vs. fact.

Indeed – I almost wrote in fact again – the protagonist of The Drowning Girl, Imp (a nickname; she’s not an actual small demon – which the reader might actually have encountered in Kiernan’s earlier works) – often discusses truth and fact. Something might not be factually true yet nevertheless be the truth of a matter; this is a theme at the heart of The Drowning Girl – as it arguably is for any gothic novel (and many non-gothic novels, of course).

Does Heathcliff every actually, truly see Catherine’s ghost wandering upon the lonely moors on a moonless, rainswept evening? Does Imp actually meet Eva Canning, and is Eva Canning really what Imp knows her to be – ghost, wolf, mermaid?

Does it matter? Whether something is factual or not – is this even relevant if it’s a matter of truth?

This is the question that ultimately India Morgan Phelps – Imp – must deal with and answer, if not definitively (and can anyone ever really answer this question definitively?), then to her own satisfaction. While every reasonably thoughtful person perhaps must deal with this question at some point in their lives, for Imp it is a key to her continued existence, as she must contend with her schizophrenia. What is truth and what is pyschosis? Is there a difference when ultimately we all live out our own lives, alone in the confines of our individual skulls?

The Drowning Girl: A Memoir author Caitlin R. Kiernan, by photographer Kyle CassidyWriting With Someone Else’s Voice: Kiernan’s Amazing Achievement

To elaborate, I think, would serve no more purpose than to provide spoilers. Let it suffice to say that Imp meets someone that may be a ghost; as such, she has to decide for herself the truth of her experience and confront her own mental state – and the ghost – in the process, because that has bearing on this truth.

While The Drowning Girl can be said to be a gothic novel, it can also be said to be a psychological novel. Written in the first person, Imp takes us along for the ride on her journey to the truth in her own mind, much of which takes place while she goes about her daily life – in other words, much of the novel takes place in Imp’s head. I imagine this may be a problem for some readers; it would be for me if the novel weren’t well written and Imp’s voice believable and sustained throughout the novel.

In fact I would hazard a guess that this is indeed a problem for some of her long-time fans; Imp is most assuredly not the writer that Caitlín R. Kiernan is (nor does she have much in common with many of her earlier characters); as such this is an amazing achievement when you think about it – and presumably part of the reason it was so difficult for her to write. While there may have been autobiographical elements – experiences common to both her and her protagonist – Imp nevertheless isn’t Kiernan, at least not the writer that Kiernan is; I know because I’ve read all of her published long fiction and much of her short fiction.

Kiernan manages to step out of herself, so to speak, and not just write about the character of Imp but assume the character of Imp and sustain that character throughout the entire novel. In fact there was only one point in the entire work where I felt she slipped in this endeavor and the author shined through – and this was the choice of one word. Nit-picky, perhaps, but these are the kinds of things that stick out like a flare on a cloudy dark night when I read, and why The Drowning Girl is such an accomplishment.

There were a few other places in the first half of the novel where I initially felt that Imp might not have said this or written that, but after having read further and gotten to know the character of Imp better, only the one aforementioned moment in the novel sticks out in my mind as problematic. Furthermore, this might not even trouble most readers; I think this maybe says more about me as a reader than Kiernan as an author. But it’s really the only true fault I found with the entire work (aside from the typos that seem to plague every first edition).

To reiterate: it must be incredibly difficult for an author to curtail their own instincts as a writer and write as someone else. To sustain it successfully over the course of an entire novel is an amazing feat. Only when Imp decides she must quit taking her medications for a time in order to confront the truth do we start to see a familiar voice – the so called classic Kiernan mentioned above. What this says with regard to the autobiographical elements of the story, well, I’ll leave that to the reader to contemplate and speculate – which is all I could do myself.

There is one spot in the novel, though, where Kiernan steps out of Imp, so to speak: a short story “reprinted” within the novel that is relevant to Imp’s experience. It is reminiscent of Kiernan, but even then reads more like an author that shares some similarities in tone and subject matter, as opposed to reading like something written by Kiernan herself.

No, It’s Not Silk. Now Stop Whining

So there you have the long of it; all 2,000 words of it. Go buy it and read it, especially if you enjoy well-written, character driven gothic and psychological novels. Only two more things to add. One, I couldn’t help but notice when I was digging up an Amazon link for this novel that there was one – and only one – one-star review. I couldn’t help myself and read it; I’m a glutton for punishment.

The Red Tree by Sarah Crowe (and Caitlin R. Kiernan) -- alternate book cover.I think here we have someone – who claims to be a long-time fan – who wants the author to keep writing the same novel over and over. This person complains that nothing happens in the novel and that it is nothing more than a ripoff of Kiernan’s previous novel. This Amazon reviewer even goes onto more or less say that they don’t like it because it’s not like Kiernan’s novels prior to Red Tree.

To this person I would say they missed the entire thematic point of the work. But then you really can’t argue with someone who constantly seeks the literary comfort of the familiar; I know as I’ve tried. This is particularly true in this post-Tolkien age of George R. R. Martin- and Stephanie Meyer-dominated era of popular fiction.

As for the comparison to The Red Tree, I would say that if anything the opposite is true: The Red Tree is the knockoff of The Drowning Girl. I would hasten to add that I don’t see it this way, but thematically, The Red Tree has much in common with The Drowning Girl, and in retrospect, from a reader’s and critic’s perspective, it feels like the novel that had to come before The Drowning Girl. Again, I’m just speculating — and may actually be way off base — but I don’t think Kiernan could have gone from Daughter of Hounds to The Drowning Girl without The Red Tree coming in between; it serves as a bridge. I think more thoughtful long-time readers of her long fiction would agree.

As for that second other thing to mention, it is this: The Drowning Girl, A Memoir hit a little close to home. This talk of ghosts and haunting – Imp is not only troubled by the appearance of Eva Canning but haunted, in a sense, by the memory of her mother and grandmother and the respective manners in which they died.

I know what that is like, to be haunted by memories, to have troubled ghosts wander through your dreams or leap into your thoughts, unbidden, during the waking hours. But I’ll save that for a metaphorical ramble some other time.

Buy The Drowning Girl: A Memoir at Amazon. 

Check out a video book trailer for The Drowning Girl here.

Cranky Christopher Priest’s The Islanders Wins BFSA Award for Best Novel

The Islanders by Christopher Priest: BFSA Award winner for Best NovelNo Word Yet if Garnering a BFSA Award Untwists His Knickers

So author Christopher Priest’s latest novel, The Islanders, has won the 2011 British Science Fiction Association (BFSA) award for best novel; maybe that will assuage his feelings that fomented the brouhaha over the Clarke Award. The BFSA awards are similar to the Hugo Awards here in the United States – fans of the genre can vote on the awards, which are held at the annual British science fiction convention, Eastercon; the latest Eastercon just wrapped up last week.

I always thought Eastercon sounded like a religious youth group gathering. In fact the first time I heard of it, I assumed that’s what it was, and questioned some friends intently as to why they were participating in such an event, given their proclivities at cons, which are, um, anything but biblical in nature. More devilish, if you get my meaning.

But I digress, and have no time for that; life and work that pays the bills have co-opted time usually spent on my blogging hobby this week, so this is going to be relatively short in sweet. As in, here are the awards, with no further commentary. Except that is, to praise Locus, which had the BFSA award winners list posted even before the BFSA folk posted them on their site; guess they are still recovering from Eastercon. If they are anything like the aforementioned con-going friends, it may take a few days’ downtime.

Best Novel

The Islanders, Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

Cyber Circus, Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)
Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan)
By Light Alone, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Osama, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Best Short Fiction

“The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s July 2011)

“The Silver Wind”, Nina Allan (Interzone #233)
“Afterbirth”, Kameron Hurley (
“Covehithe”, China Miéville (The Guardian)
“Of Dawn”, Al Robertson (Interzone #235)

Best Non-Fiction

The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition, John Clute, Peter Nicholls, David Langford, & Graham Sleight, eds. (SF Gateway)

Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as We Know It, Mike Ashley (British Library)
Review of Arslan, M.J. Engh & Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog)
SF Mistressworks, Ian Sales, ed. (SF Mistressworks)
Pornokitsch, Jared Shurin & Anne Perry, eds. (Pornokitsch)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who, Graham Sleight, Tony Keen, & Simon Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)

ArtisDominic Harman BFSA award cover art for author Ian Whates' novel The Noise Revealed (book cover)Best Art

Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed, Dominic Harman (Solaris)

Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama, Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow, Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)

One Colum Paget Wins James White Short Story Award

James White was a science fiction author from the land of bards and scribes, Ireland. My mother’s family originally hails from Northern Ireland; I still have cousins over there. This may explain a few things about me.

Anyway, the James White Award is an annual short story competition open to non-professional writers with the winner chosen by a panel of judges made up of professional authors and editors. Story submissions must be original and previously unpublished, and entry is free; winners are announced at Eastercon each year.

Colum Paget’s story, “Invocation of the Lurker” garnered the award this year; look for publication of the story in Interzone in the near future. Paget also gets £200 for his efforts. You can read more about Paget and the shorlist for this year’s James White award by following that link. Doncha’ know.

Nominees Named for 2012 Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award

Jo Walton's Among Others (book cover): nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award for Best NovelScience Fiction Fandom Speaks with the Hugo Awards: Latest George R. R. Martin Opus, Yet Another Zombie Novel Up for Best Novel

Again with the zombies — but then given the fact that the Hugo Awards are determined by fans, perhaps not surprising.

If you’re like me – middle-aged and cranky – you’re done with vampires and zombies. This is the most horrible aspect of aging, even more so than entropy gradually mucking up your chromosomes and causing your body to fall apart: it’s how everything in popular culture gets recycled. Again and again. And again — ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

And the thing of it is, each time there’s a new generation of people for whom it’s all new and wonderful. I remember when I was that guy, a few decades ago. But now I’m 43, and I’ve seen the vampire thing come and go and come around again. Ditto with the zombies; done with that trope.

Unless the author has come up with something startlingly original – or at least so rarely recycled that it’s original to me – I don’t want anything to do with vampires or zombies. And obviously, I’m in the minority when it comes to popular culture, including popular literary fiction. To wit: the Stoker Award and the Hugo Awards.

Among the five novels nominated in the Hugo Awards category for Best Novel is Mira Grant’s Deadline (see what she did there?), yet another zombie apocalypse novel (this one is part of a series, naturally). Now, before you get your knickers twisted, I’m not knocking it, as I haven’t read it – I’m just saying once more, I’m not interested in zombie and vampire novels anymore – aside from some old friends that I like to reread once in a while.

It’s one thing if you bring something original to the table, but based on the blurbs I’ve read for Grant’s Newsflesh series, it sounds like the same stereotypical zombie stuff. Engineered viruses mutate and just happen to raise the dead, who want to eat the living. Nope, no one’s ever used that idea before. There is some mildly interesting sounding stuff about the evolution of the media, the Internet and politics in the wake of the zombie apocalypse – I guess it’s only a partial apocalypse – but not enough to interest me in reading it.

Again, I’m not knocking Ms. Grant; she may be the authorial bees knees and I’m missing out. So be it; call me when she gets over the zombie thing.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons (book cover): Nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award for Best NovelNo Surprise Here: A Dance with Dragons Among Hugo Awards Best Novel Nominations

The fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, his gritty fantasy magnum opus, titled A Dance with Dragons is also among the five novels nominated for the Hugo Awards. Released in July of 2011, it came out nearly six years since the previous book, A Feast for Crows. The lengthy interval became so onerous to some fanboys and girls that they resorted to browbeating Martin on the Internet, including on his own blog.

I guess they all forgave him, given the fact that fans nominate and subsequently chose the winners of Hugos.

While I have mixed feelings about Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, as expounded upon at length here on Barking Book Reviews, generally (and shortly) speaking, I like it – enough to keep reading, at any rate. I read A Dance With Dragons shortly after it came out – naturally it was a best seller the moment it was released – but that was right before I returned to Southeast Asia, and I consequently never wrote a follow-up review. But I will say that it shares the same strengths and weaknesses with the previous books, and that I’ll read the next one when it comes out.

The most interesting sounding novel on the list is Jo Walton’s Among Others, which has already garnered recognition: it was named one of School Library Journal’s Best Adult Books for Teens for 2011, as well as one of io9’s best Science Fiction and Fantasy books of the year for 2011. Walton has previously won a Prometheus Award in 2008 for the novel Ha’penny, and a 2010 Mythopoeic Award lifelode, among other accolades.

After perusing this excerpt of Among Others at publisher Tor’s site, methinks I’ll be adding that to my own shortlist of books to read and review.

The rest of the Hugo Awards list, along with the other major categories; you can find a more complete list of 2012 Hugo Award nominees over at Locus, from which I cadged this short list. Or you can go straight to the Hugo horse’s mouth. Also, again, if you are like me, you have perused that list and thought, “what the hell is a novelette? How does it differ from a novella? And why do we need further, arbitrary distinctions? Follow that link for an answer to the first two questions; as to the latter question, we’ll save that for another time.

On other interesting thing to note about the list for Best Novel: it includes British author China   Miéville’s Embassytown, which is also nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke Award. This Clarke Award nomination, among others, got fellow British science fiction author Christopher Priest’s panties in a bunch.

Wondering about Cambell Award? Scroll down, dear gentle reader.

Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam; Harper Voyager UK)
Embassytown, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)

“The Ice Owl,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 11-12/11)
“Countdown,” Mira Grant (Orbit Short Fiction)
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/11)
“Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s 6/11)
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Ken Liu (Panverse Three)
“Silently and Very Fast,” Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

“Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders ( 6/8/11)
“The Copenhagen Interpretation,” Paul Cornell (Asimov’s 7/11)
“What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (F&SF 9-10/11)
“Fields of Gold,” Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
“Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog 12/11)

“Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s 3/11)
“The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)
“The Homecoming,” Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 4-5/11)
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City (Prologue),” John Scalzi ( 4/1/11)
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld 4/11)

The Unwritten, Vol. 2: Leviathan, Mike Carey, art by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
Locke & Key, Vol. 4: Keys To The Kingdom, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW Publishing)
Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (
Digger, Ursula Vernon (
Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

Lou Anders
Liz Gorinsky
Anne Lesley Groell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Betsy Wollheim

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Michael Komarck
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio

Karen Lord's debut novel, Redemption in IndigoKaren Lord Among Authors Nominated for John W. Campbell Award

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year honors the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, now named Analog. Many would say that he is the founding father of modern science fiction; if anyone can be said to be such a thing, it is Campbell. Writers Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in Campbell’s name some decades ago..

Unlike the Hugos, it is a more traditional sort of award; you can read more about it at the University of Kansas’ Center for the Study of Science Fiction. This year’s nominees are:

Mur Lafferty
Stina Leicht
*Karen Lord
*Brad R. Torgersen
E. Lily Yu

*authors in their second year of eligibility.

Check out the Barking Book Review of Karen Lord’s excellent Redemption in Indigo here.


Morden’s Samuil Petrovitch Series Garners Philip K. Dick Award

Simon Morden's Equations of Life (book cover), the first in the Samuil Petrovitch series -- the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award winner.A Gritty Near Future Thriller Series from UK Author Simon Morden Gets A … Er … Dick. Award

One Simon Morden has won this year’s Philip K. Dick Award, which is – and I quote – “presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States.”

I’m not familiar with Morden or the Samuil Petrovitch trilogy, Equations of Life, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom, published respectively in April, May and June of last year. But between the blurbs on Morden’s site, and his bio – a house-husband author and father with degrees in geology and planetary geophysics – color me intrigued.

It seems the title character is a Russian refuge who escaped the nuclear destruction of St. Petersburg to the London Metrozone, the last remaining city in the U.K. An apparently amoral man seeking a simple life, Petrovitch’s life gets complicated in what sounds like a Ridley Scott version of future London via Philip K. Dick – I refer, of course, to Blade Runner, which was inspired by Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep.

From the blurb of the first book in the series:

He’s lived this long because he’s a man of rules and logic. For example:

getting involved = a bad idea.

But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he’s saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London. And clearly:

saving the girl = getting involved.

Now, the equation of Petrovitch’s life is looking increasingly complex:

Russian Mobsters + Yakuza + something called The New Machine Jihad = one dead Petrovitch.

Intriguing, the gratuitous abuse of CAPS (which I’ve fixed here) notwithstanding. I’m not too keen on so-called thrillers, per se; all too often the cornerstones of good literature are lacking and the resulting structure is subsequently buttressed with ACTION and SEX and other standard genre cliches. Now this is fine, if the author is good enough to pull it off, but that’s a rare thing; typically we end up with a rickety shell that lacks solid foundations.

And I’m quite pleased with this building metaphor, if I do say so myself – and I do, I do. But I digress.

With the Dick Award behind it, I might have to give Morden’s trilogy a read, or at least the first book. Incidentally, the Publisher’s Weekly review says that the first book stands alone, even though it serves as the first of a trilogy. I perused the first chapter Equations of Life, which is available on Morden’s site, and while it may have won the Dick award, my first impression is that it owes more to William Gibson – and every thriller ever written, unfortunately – than anything else. To those familiar with Gibson’s first three novels, Petrovitch’s character certainly would not feel out of place in the Sprawl or Chiba City.

So I figure anything that that wins the Philip K. Dick Award and wears its Gibson influence on its sleeve must be tolerable, at the very least.

Incidentally, as Morden posts on his blog, he was off at something called Eastercon during the presentation of the award last week. His wife watched the live broadcast stream to ascertain he’d won and then called at 4 a.m. to let him know, playing the stream of his acceptance speech, as read by his stand-in.

Somehow, that all seems apropos in a Gibsonesque, post-modern way. …

 Buy Simon Morden’s Equations of Life at Amazon