Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Delectable Dichotomy: a review of Beltamar's War by CG Ayling

               What surprised me the most about this book is that I had expected the lyrical, almost poetic, cadence to the writing. I had expected a deep appreciation for family. I had expected the book to be scattered with thoughtful, philosophical gems.  I had expected the characters to exhibit old world nobility. [Disclaimer: I have followed the author on twitter for a while now and I am an admirer.]  What astonished me while reading was that although I did find all of that, my attention and fascination wasn’t captured and held captive by the expected.
                What lured me back to the book again and again was the fact that, at its very core it is a mystery novel - a fantasy-mystery novel to be sure, but a mystery nevertheless; and I think that is what makes it so powerful. It starts off relatively slowly. The author reveals the world of Malmaxa, the cast of characters, and the issues they are wrestling with, and all of a sudden the realization sneaks up on you that there is far much more at play here. The quest, the problem that needs a solution, the mystery that is crying for an answer, is simply not what you thought it was. Even graver, as readers, you are gripped with a horrific fear that even the characters are unaware that all is not as it seems. Fantasy books generally begin with the outlines of some noble quest clear. The villain and hero are presented in stark clarity and the ambiguity is left to the physical aspects of the beasts fought along the way. In the beginning of Beltamar’s War there is a foe…hello, actual war is being waged…but then, with every clue revealed, a new layer of intrigue is added.  A foe exists, whose sphere of influence is more vast and cunning than they are cognizant of. Years and years, centuries even, the Seizen are unaware that a  greater threat was driving what they perceived to be their greatest enemy; a horrific and fascinating development to watch unfold page by page. I could be wrong. That awareness bewitches me. Because, here’s the thing: I believe that the author is purposefully vague.
This book is one of those rare gems, where the author permits the reader the power to exercise and utilize their imagination, giving you the freedom to room, as opposed to taking you by the hand and dragging you through the entire stretch. A delicate dance between author and reader begins at the opening line. His words adorn the pages with gentle grace, while simultaneously being evocative of the parables of old; so make no mistake, there is work to be done between the covers of Beltamar’s War. Ayling clearly knows his world, characters, and storyline, yet tells of them in such a way that you feel, with deep certainty you know what is going to happen but are aware that you have been given no clear cut signs that you are correct; especially when each turn of the page divulges another complication. This story is perfect for the dedicated lover of books, who enjoys a challenge.
                Somehow the author has created - a quick nod has to be given to the worldbuilding involved because it was superbly done - a world within a book that can mean different things depending on who is reading it. As I alluded to above, there is a delicious and delicate philosophical presence in the book. Each character battles with the freeing and yet simultaneously restricting issues of destiny and choice, and how much more complicated all of those matters can be when you are a member of a close knit family or community. It could be argued that Beltamar’s War has a heavy splash of the utopian fantasy.  The characters have a depth and duality to them that rings through to the tonality and as such, the air of nobility and family bonds presented are so clearly and purely loving; but look closer and you will feel the thrumming bands of tension, frustration, and a hidden need to break free from expectation, vibrate at the very core of them all as it threatens to bleed through with unrelenting vigor. Beltamar’s War left me yearning to know if I was right. Am I on the right track with my speculations?  Perhaps not or perhaps there is a Schrödinger's cat toying with me like a ball of yarn and Ayling did indeed gift the reader with the role of interpretation in his book.  
                I cannot simply leave without mentioning the tone. There is an ominous dash of unspoken disappear, an almost shimmering suspense, akin to the feeling that courses through you veins on that day where everything seems to be going one direction and you feel, at any given moment, without warning, the world as you know it may be turned upside down; or at the very least, the carpet might be dragged out from underneath your feet. It seems as though the story is told by a man who has seen his future and writes with a heavy heart, burdened by the knowledge that a deep loss is coming and he is helpless to stop it. There is so much old soul holding up these pages, which creates a delectable dichotomy between the uplifting nature of hope and the tethering nature of reality. As you slink between the cool concoction strength of will, the knowledge that the true value of being human is the ability to have and love your family, the exotic landscape, powers, and creatures made knowable and personable, is the awareness that it can be all swiftly taken away. Please be aware this is all me. In not a single corner of the book does Ayling even hint at this. It’s simply how it felt to read it. The skies were grey and heavy with rain the day I read it though, so perhaps my surroundings affected my perception. :) But it wouldn’t surprise me to find, at the end of the series, that the story was told by the last inhabitant of Malmaxa.  Hopefully I’m wrong and there will be an appropriately happy ending.

Look for the book here:

And follow the author here:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dan Brown's New Book and Population Control???

I didn't begin Dan Brown's new blockbuster book expecting to be confronted with some very uncomfortable facts and socially unacceptable theories that while logic filled, are rather repulsive. Brown's new book Inferno, check it out for yourself here, has much of what his readers, myself included, have come to love and expect from his books: art puzzles, a well paced mystery, a knowledgeable description of various art pieces and their history, as well as a hero we can all relate to and love. However, this one dealt with the fact that as of 2013 there are more humans on the planet than ever and unless mathematics have suddenly stopped working, there will be an explosion in our numbers soon. The protagonist is working throughout the book to see the fruition of his revolutionary, illegal, and morally questionable solution to that problem causing fact.

I grew up in a large family of seven. My grandparents all came from families of a similar number. I myself have three daughters and haven't ruled out having more and my siblings all have families numbering from just one to seven as well. I have always scrolled quickly past articles speaking on population control or clinked on them angrily to see what they are saying against 'us' this time and angrily stick up for the way I have grown up. While the world at large is having babies at an astounding rate, within the United States it is rather uncool to have more than the acceptable two-four kids. I have never looked down on someone for not desiring children at all or only a few and could never understand those who looked down on parents who wished for lots. (The Duggers....well even I had a hard time not raising an eyebrow at them lol.). I have always rested secure in my love and admiration of big families when they are built by loving parents who enjoy and succeed at that type of life. I can see the merit in the argument that with so many children already born in the world who don't have parents, those looking to begin a family should adopt. But there will always be some who want at least a few, if not all natural born children. Now of course teen pregnancy and rape sort of situations aside, those babies created under responsible circumstances are always a wonderful gift and cause for celebration.

What is so morally questionable about the protagonist's goal in Inferno (I'll do my best to not include any big spoilers) is that it creates a situation in which one person unilaterally creates two groups of people...those who can procreate and those who can't. Who among us should say he and she get to create life and begin a family but that this other he and she shouldn't? Where is the line? What are the criteria for making the cut? These types of questions inevitably bring up a Nazi reference and rightly so because whenever there is a situation where power can be abused, rest assured it can and will be. Humans are hardwired to protect their own interests. Throw in the fact that an adult human can so easily be made into a fear, hate, self-loathing filled individual to which all 'other' 'different from me' is seen automatically as wrong and an abomination to them. The creation then of any type of medical or social guidelines for who can procreate and who can not,  will be at some point misused by those who do not have the overall good of man kind as their guide post. Take it one step farther, history is rife with those who in their heart of hearts believed they were acting in the good of man kind and although they didn't perpetuate deliberate physical or emotion harm to their fellow earth inhabitants, in the end they set back the moral arc of the universe and irreparably hurt others. In China we have the One Child Rule which has been in place for some time now. Many stories have come out of the country about the pain parents have had to endure because of it but more important are the stories of the babies that are created and born and must be 'dealt away with' from some measure. Here is a state who took a hard look at their population problems when much of the world refuses to, and came up with what they thought was a solution but ended up creating new problems. Children keep being born anyway. The abandonment of these babies is something that should never happen and saddens us all. A possible solution is abortion. Abortion always must be a woman's choice and in some cases is very necessary but show me the person alive who thinks its a wonderful thing and I will kiss your feet. Even those of us who are Pro-Choice know that it is a civil liberty that must be protected, while putting as much resources towards the goal of keeping the need for an abortion in the first place, achieved. The creation of life, childbearing and birth, has been throughout history a wild west sort of free-for-all in which anybody who could or wanted to did, and many times others were forced to or did so accidentally. Knowing humans are the evil little puntas we are...should the wild west mentality remain or has the time come to confront the facts of our chubby planet and begin a discussion about a way to deal with the problem without curtailing the civil liberties of those different from us.

One paragraph that made me sit up and take notice in the book was this:

 "Did you know that if you live another nineteen will witness the population triple in your lifetime. One lifetime-a tripling. Think of the implications. As you know, the World Health Organization has again increased its forecasts, predicting there will be some nine billion people on earth before the midpoint of this century. Animal species are going extinct at a precipitously accelerated rate. The demand for dwindling natural resources is skyrocketing. Clean water is harder and harder to come by. By any biological gauge, our species has exceeded our sustainable numbers."

I actually went back and reread the intro to make sure I had remembered correctly. I had. Dan Brown assures us at the beginning that "All artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real." I will confess that for the purposes of this little blog entry I have not checked to make sure but if the subject interests you enough, I encourage you to do so and comment back if his numbers are off. Everybody knows humans need to eat to live. If you have only so much land, all you eat must be grown on that land, the land can only produce so much per year, each person needs so much to live, and more and more people are born, a problem will soon arise.There are those who offer up genetically modified food as a solution and while this would make Monsanto happy it would make the rest of us sick and unhealthy. (I can just hear the conspiracy folks standing up and saying something here lol) As a strong proponent of organic, 'grown and raised close to where you live' food, I couldn't get behind a long-term solution like that. So if there doesn't seem to be any solution for our growing lack of natural resources compared to our population growth that isn't morally icky or include the stealth of personal freedom, where does that leave us? Keep on growing? 

I admire Brown for choosing this topic because of its ick factor. Its a topic that few want to touch within their own mind much less in a public conversation capacity. Those who are comfortable confronting the scientific facts and coming catastrophic effects of our population growth can easily come off as cold-hearted pompass asses at the best or maniacal evil geniuses or dictators out to control the world at the worst. Those who speak for the fact that the individual has just as much worth as the group as a whole and articulate their abhorrence of  the often cruel nature of all solutions proposed so far seem like bleeding-hearted softies who willingly stick their heads in the mud because it hurts too much to propose a solution. I can't even say that at the end of the blog that I have come up with my own brilliant idea. I have no idea what to think. Inferno allowed me to finally realize the problem actually exists in all its severity and won't go away because I choose not to think about it. It also-and the internet digging I've done since then-made me realize that this particular debate is filled with people who are firmly in one of the two camps above. The average person...those of us who are having all of these babies lol...haven't spoken out and joined the conversation much less gotten involved with reading up on the views of both sides. 

The devil's advocate in me reading about the protagonist's 'solution' had me thinking that while it was  morally just soooo not good, it did have an element of the humane in it. Scientifically it was brilliant. Involving genetic engineering (the goal of not doing spoilers is becoming much harder to achieve lol if I haven't failed already...) and the natural process of evolution, the mad scientist in one fell swoop, took what the human body already does but sped up the process by thousands of years. Brown uses one of the characters to ask the important question is there "wisdom [in] attempting to accelerate the natural process of evolution"? This question in one form of another has been vexing us for years now. Even those who for religious reasons don't believe in evolution (most of Texas says amen) will still get a bit of discomfort when they hear of a cloned sheep or what have you. Many times our own brilliance scares us. Our brain's capacity for knowledge retention and creativity has allowed us to make some amazing things that change the world so fast that many are left wondering if it is too fast. Evolution is a fact but historically the change it brings happens so slowly. Would we be shooting ourselves in the foot to speed it up? In the conversation in Inferno, another character pipes up and says:
"Genetic engineering is not an acceleration of the evolutionary process. It is the natural course of events!"
Evolution created the scientists on the forefront of the genetic engineering discoveries being made. There "superior intellect was the product of the very process Darwin evolution over time." These scientist's "rare insight into genetics did not come as a flash of divine was the product of years of human intellectual progress."

 A stroke of brilliance within a single paragraph! I'm not saying this thought hasn't been thought and said by many before but Brown was the first to say it to me. It seems to me, to be logic itself and completely takes away the footing of 'we must go slow' in inventing and implementing scientific discoveries. Now this isn't to say that all discoveries are good or that each one can't be twisted into something bad...atomic bomb anybody? But that is something you deal with everyday, humans mess everything up lol. You make adjustments or put in place watchdogs or checks and balances to balance out the inevitable misuse. But the fact remains that the conversation doesn't end with eugenics or the One Child Policy, or genetically modified food. The topic of scientific discovery and population control in 2013 is amusing since the discovery or invention of the condom is how many years old now? Proven to be the most effective form of birth control yet, it eradicates the need for all but the most dire abortions, keeps the number of large families down to only those who want them and is incredibly inexpensive to buy. The Catholic Church should take a moment to think about what their god would have to say about exhausting 'his' lol planet's resources and killing us all simply because the robed powers-that-be blocked the access of so many to condoms or made them fearful to use them. I digress? Not really because the fact remains that condoms are the only non-icky solution currently around to keep our growing numbers down and the Catholic Church has been very vocal against them, particularly in many third world countries where the growth is the highest. There was another passage in the Inferno that wasn't speaking about condoms but it could have been.  "...nature has always found a way to keep the human population in check-plagues, famines, floods. it possible that nature found a different way this time? Instead of sending us horrific disasters and misery...maybe nature, through the process of evolution..." has given us brains who invented condoms?

It shouldn't end with condoms I think. After all they are a discovery many many years old. Even speaking outside of the narrow category of genetic engineering we have learned so much. The more that is known in one area the more will be known in others because information is like running water. Often that stroke of genius or flash of insight will come from taking the new information discovered in one category and realizing it can be used in another. Also as a character in Brown's book said  "we as humans have a moral obligation to participate in our evolutionary use our technologies to advance the species, to create better humans- healthier, stronger, with higher-functioning brains." Now that we are here at this particular moment in history as humans with these large fabulous brains, it is time for use to not sit back and passively await the next flood or what have you, but push for a better future.

"If we don't...then we are as undeserving of life as the caveman who freezes to death because he is afraid to start a fire."

~Thanks to Dan Brown for creating such a fabulous story! Not only did it make for a great summer read but clearly it sparked a great deal of thought in at least one of his readers lol. All in all a #MUSTread!

~I would welcome any and all comments and opinions. The topic is a complex one and my personal opinions are not all fleshed out either. This blog is my thoughts on the book and the ideas it raised. If the book or this blog did the same for you, I would love to hear them. :)

~Also I do apologize if there were to many spoilers lol

Monday, July 8, 2013

Published...even if its #selfpublished Feels So Good! lol

 Campagna by Amie Gallette

 ~Afraid to love, a beautiful doctor divorces her husband, joins Medec ins Sans Frontieres, fleeing New York City and her emotions, for Myanmar. But a mysterious woman helps her realize that what she left behind might be worth the pain. ~

~A short romance story perfect for a summer afternoon on the beach, this 'harlequin' type love story follows one modern woman's struggles with relationships and love in modern day New York City. The highs and lows of a love story are never more enjoyable to experience as when they are safely observed within a book. :) So sit back and escape for a bit into a exotic glamorized world where love and loss are just a page turn away.~

 Available at:
 -Barnes and Noble