Friday, July 21, 2023

Summer escapist reading tips

Here are some reading suggestions to escape from reality in the summer of 2023...

DARC AGES (book series)

It's like "Star Wars meets Game of Thrones." Illustrated in comic-book style.


A horror comedy about a young man who finds out the CEO at his new job is a vampire.
If you like WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, this is the book for you.


A zany illustrated book with fairytales, all featuring monsters - some funny, some spooky, and the occasional scary one. Fun for the whole family.

PRECINCT 20: DEAD STRANGE (crime fiction)

Hardboiled cops tackle paranormal crime. This one gets genuinely creepy. Don't read the final chapter alone. A critically acclaimed book!

ALIEN BEACH (science fiction novel)

What if it finally happened? Aliens land in public, to visit Earth for one year. They seem friendly - but even so, their arrival cause upheaval both to the world and to individual lives.

These book titles are available on Amazon, in both digital and print format.

#books #summer #literature


Friday, July 14, 2023

Book Review: I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes


Book review:
I AM PILGRIM (2013) by Terry Hayes

”The only thriller you need to read this year,” gushes the review quote on the front page.

That year was just a decade ago – and boy, does it feel like several decades have passed since. One part of my experience reading I AM PILGRIM is nostalgia for a simpler time, when Islamist terrorism was the scariest thing in the world. Those were the days, eh?

Plot-wise, this novel is a straightforward spy thriller about hunting a terrorist who plans a devastating attack on the United States. The story consists of two parallel threads:

There is a running third-person account of how the terrorist ”Saracen” is radicalized by his upbringing in Saudi Arabia, and how he then proceeds to single-handledly plot the destruction of America.

The other narrative thread belongs to the protagonist ”Pilgrim” and his first-person account of how he came to be a (very) secret agent, his career, and how he chases Saracen in a race against time to stop the attack.

Pilgrim and Saracen eventually confront each other. I can safely spoil the plot by saying that Pilgrim wins – because the entire novel is narrated ”after the fact” so that you'll know in advance that things turned out well in the end. (I'm not sure this narrative device was a good choice.)

This is not a badly written novel. It has a task and accomplishes it competently. A big plus is that the main villain is not a one-dimensional monster; the author takes pains to depict how Saracen is shaped by circumstances into a dangerous fanatic.

Also positive is that the intelligence ”community” is not depicted as infallible or morally pure; the secret agent protagonist gets his hands dirty, and is frequently scared by the high stakes, risks and crimes of his profession.

I am not qualified to judge how credible the terrorist scheme is. At some point I began to doubt that Saracen could really pull it off all by himself – but there are no obvious holes in that part of the plot, as far as I can tell.

Why, then, do I not recommend I AM PILGRIM? Simply put: For the same reason that I didn't like the TV series ”24.”

Torture and the threat of torture is a crucial plot device; the success of the protagonist hinges on it (as in ”24”).

The narrator ”Pilgrim” repeatedly expresses moral anguish about the things he has to do in his work, and tries to paint himself as (vaguely) above other agents who are willing to use torture... and yet, the plot relentlessly drives home that the clock is ticking towards doomsday and doing reprehensible things is necessary to save millions.

But isn't this exactly what every psychopath and serial killer employed by a totalitarian state would say in their defense? (If you have the stomach for it, you can hear Russians say such things on social media, or on Russian state TV, in the year 2023.)

The ”torture is necessary because it brings out the truth” argument is this novel's main Big Lie. In reality people being tortured do not say what is true, but what they think the torturer wants to hear.

Also – and I hate that we live in a world where this needs to be spelled out – the narrator's argument that ”torture is necessary for intelligence work” is morally bankrupt, to say the least.

Let's be specific here. Would torture have prevented the 9/11 attacks? You should rather ask: Would competent intelligence work have prevented the attacks? 

The fact is that the real intelligence community utterly failed to prevent 9/11. It wasn't a lack of waterboarding that allowed the Twin Towers to collapse, but an institutional inability to follow up clear warning signs about Al-Qaeda's activities.

The 9/11 attacks are featured in I AM PILGRIM, and are very important to the protagonist... but he conveniently does not even try to explain the colossal intelligence failure... even though he is supposedly one of the best agents in the world. Even though he should take a professional interest in such things. Even though the reader would be dying to know how and why the CIA, NSA and military intelligence all failed to prevent Al-Qaeda's scheme to attack the U.S.

That is the novel's other Big Lie – a lie by omission. If Pilgrim had cared to explain just how the real intelligence work failed, the argument for the necessity of torture would fall apart. 

I conclude from this that Pilgrim is an unreliable narrator with a hidden agenda – a spook who lies to the reader in order to make himself and his profession look good. (While we're on the subject of lying, how dishonest can real spooks get? Don't get me started.)

Conclusion: The only thriller you don't need to read this year. It has a shiny, polished surface – but underneath that surface is a stinking turd.

On the other hand, I do recommend the non-fiction book Military Intelligence Blunders and Coverups (2004) by Colonel John Hughes-Wilson.

#IamPilgrim #bookreviews #bookreview #books #literature #thrillers #terrorism #espionage

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Book Review: JAGANNATH by Karin Tidbeck

JAGANNATH (2012) by Karin Tidbeck

Karin Tidbeck is an award-winning Swedish writer, whose works have been published in English. JAGANNATH is a collection of Tidbeck's short fiction. Tidbeck has won critical praise from writers such as China Mieville and Elizabeth Hand - and
Ursula K. LeGuin (see the cover photo).

My personal taste in literature tends towards science fiction, but also what I like to call ”surrealist” fiction – stories with a dreamlike quality or logic, where the nature of reality itself is blurred or challenged. These stories may be SF, horror, or fantasy, or magical realism, or defy simple categorization. They leave the reader mystified yet haunted, as if by some strange dream.

All of the stories in JAGANNATH are surreal in some way. Mythical beings from Scandinavian folklore may appear in present-day Sweden. Or a person will go to his daily work in an office, but the work itself is an impossible task. Or... a protagonist will fall in love with a non-human machine (no, not something as obvious as a robot). Or... a nightmarish pocket universe exists somewhere, that makes the monsters of H.P. Lovecraft seem tame by comparison.

All that, and more, is offered in this collection of stories. What made me enjoy them was not just the ideas and imagination, but the execution of the stories.

Tidbeck's prose is spare, restrained and focused – a talent I have always admired. (Bad writers tend to flail around as they struggle to express what they wanted to say, and their prose ends up being both vague and overlong.) To clarify: this is not ”iceberg prose” in the sense of, say, Hemingway. I mean that there is no excess of words.

The author has included an afterword which describes the challenge of translating these stories from Swedish to English – and how hard it can be to convey the original nuance or ”mood” in translation.

I noticed what seemed like recurring themes in JAGANNATH, and wondered whether these were going to be Tidbeck's ”big subjects”; most successful writers have some themes that they keep returning to. I shouldn't spoil the book by telling you what they are, because I recommend you read this very original book and find out for yourself.

JAGANNATH compares well to the works of other outstanding ”surrealist” writers such as Jorge Luis Borges or Philip K. Dick.

Other works by Karin Tidbeck:
AMATKA (novel) - reviewed

#bookreviews #books  #sciencefiction #karintidbeck #böcker #litteratur #boktips