Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Alien Abduction: Joe4 a Novella by Salem

Joe4 is a novella by Salem that continues the author's story from his novel Black Hole Butterfly (BHB). Both books describe restricted life in a futuristic New York City. In BHB, the Naranja solar empire fought opposing special interest forces to corner the market on physical energy in the City and manipulate psychological energy to control the thoughts and behavior of the citizens. Detective Rook Black attempted to solve crimes in the city and because of his detecting methods, became the eye of the storm of characters competing for control of the City. He was a "psychonaut" able to enter dream states that allowed him to experience parallel realities, escaping the artificial feedback loop of time controlled by Dr. Naranja that kept other citizens in an artificial reality.

Joe4 is an employee of Dr. Naranja. He is an engineer who analyzes the effects of acoustical vibrations on solar satellites that are used in the Naranja empire to generate the artificial energy source "sunjuice." But, like Rook Black, Joe4 is able to enter a dream state in which he escapes the physical and psychological domination of the Naranja solar empire. He receives "alien" messages in the form of visual/acoustic "dark music" that he can transcribe with pen and ink in his journal into classic reality tunes. Presented on radio stations by pop star, DJU, most of Joe4's compositions rise on the music charts to top ten positions. He is offered a contract to produce music full time if he can resign from his position with the paranoiac Naranja empire, not an easy task.

Dr. Naranja has a team of agents who look for spies within the organization. Usually, a person can come to the solar energy manufacturer but not leave. Dr. Naranja decides that Joe4 is an unusual threat to him and allows him to resign with the plan of spying on him and secretly discovering Joe4's alien source of musical inspiration. Rook Black was drawn by an alien impulse to the desert to live for a year and attempt to solve his mystery cases. Joe4 is also drawn for a year to the desert to work on his grand opus. He arrives at the Four Corners area of the United States that is historically the site of extraterrestrial alien activity. With his dog, Aoede (named after the Muse of Song and Voice), Joe4 sets out to find his source of power that makes him the tuning fork of an alien communication code (444) that came to him in a dream state.

Joe4 is a very good stand-alone novella that can be read and enjoyed without exploring the connections with Black Hole Butterfly. But, BHB allows the reader to understand the complicated alien source of power for both Rook Black and Joe4 (father and son?). Both books make it possible for us readers to go beyond our daily limitations of artificial reality. By reading the books, we may be able to tune in to a pirate radio station narrow casting information about space, time, and existence and join Joe4 in his abduction.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Deadly Exercise in Tact: Jade Dragon Mountain a novel by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain is the first novel of Elsa Hart, and I hope to read more of her novels in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of Li Du, a librarian of the Forbidden City in China exiled for his friendship with traitors.

In the early 18th Century, after almost five years of travel as a destitute scholar, Li Du walks into the city of Dayan in the hinterlands of southwestern China. He must get papers authorizing his travel through a pass over Jade Dragon Mountain in order to leave China and explore lands to the west.

Li Du’s biggest challenge as he enters the city is to have an audience with the Magistrate of Dayan, his cousin who is ashamed of Li Du for the disgrace the exile brought to the family. Li Du finds the city crowded with people from all over the region preparing for a festival in honor of the Emperor of China who will visit Dayan in six more days.

Lisa Hart has described the setting of Li Du’s story with details that immerse the reader in the exciting turmoil of people anticipating the event of their lifetime in a rural district of China. Every scene is like a Chinese painting with lyrical prose similar to the brushstrokes of master artisans of the era. The reader is never distracted by the beautiful descriptions of the settings of scenes because they are essential to the story involving the interactions of the characters.

The main characters are diverse, interesting, and well-developed. Li Du, an intelligent and observant man, is the focus of interaction with Jesuit Priests, East India Trading Company representatives, courtesans, imposters, entertainers, spies, librarians, outsiders, and Dynasty royalty. Mystery, pageantry, and intrigue are themes evenly distributed between divisions of days before the Emperor’s visit. I think the ending was a bit rushed with some add-on pages to give an incomplete closure to the novel. But, I believe the purpose of these pages is to set the stage for future adventures of Li Du (I hope!).

This is an excellent novel, very entertaining and informative. I put it in my category of favorite recent novels of China: Old Town by Lin Zhe; The Long March Home by Zoe S. Roy; and even Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Metamorphorses: To the Top of the Mountain, an Intercrime novel by Arne Dahl

To the Top of the Mountain is volume 3 of an Intercrime mystery series by Swedish writer Arne Dahl. The elite 7 detective A-Unit is reconstructed in Stockholm to investigate violent international crime after being disbanded due to major errors made in prior cases. This novel can be read by itself, and only a skeleton history of prior cases is presented in the story. Often in other crime series, the reader must wade through details of prior installments to understand later episodes. The story was so good that I want to get volumes 1 and 2 published in English as The Blinded Man and Bad Blood.

This 390 page novel is exciting but not fast-paced. It begins in a popular sports bar in Stockholm that caters to soccer fans. An international cast of characters representing ethnic, political, and criminal groups gather in the bar and noisy tension is high. A criminal event occurs that has ramifications for separate investigations involving members of the disbanded A-Unit who are still involved in police work but have been re-assigned to other detective divisions.

The A-Unit comes together when their detective assignments show a common thread. The former leader, Detective Superintendent Jan-Olav Hultin, who was forced into retirement, is visited at his lake-side house by the Head of Division from the National Police Board. Jan-Olav is offered the opportunity to bring his A-Unit back to life and follow the thread that involves cases of murder, international drug dealing, sub rosa internet pornography, violent pedophilia, neo-Nazi gang activity, Bosnian activism, violence in prison, and an individual detective’s criminal cross-over. The characters involved in these cases are fascinating involving implications about the current social situation in Sweden.

The A-Unit detectives are interesting, and Arne Dahl describes their backgrounds and motivations in a way that integrates personal historical information into the mystery story. A separate tale linked to the revived A-Unit activity emerges involving a young man and woman whose life together gains mythical proportions.

To the Top of the Mountain is a very good mystery/crime novel that is challenging to the reader to understand the intricacies of the plot. The excellent translation by Alice Menzes from Swedish to English facilitates the reader's understanding.  It is an example of an author imagining the  experience of characters in a culture that is both appealing in its geography and social history and disturbing in its description of violent interaction of ideological subgroups.