Review: What Makes You Die by Tom Piccirilli

17213457Title: What Makes You Die

Author: Tom Piccirilli

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Apex Book Company

Format: Electronic ARC (provided by publisher)

Review:

Look at the coffee-stained book cover. Tommy Pic, the novella’s protagonist, is scratched in red. He’s a thirty-something B-Movie screenwriter, recently released from the mental facility. His latest script, What Makes You Die, is a horror movie that he hopes his crummy agent can sell.

At the bottom of the manuscript/book  cover is a komodo dragon. He has no name, so perhaps his image is there bearing co-authorship. Or perhaps not — Tommy Pic once tried to cut the dragon out of his intestines with a steak knife. Tommy’s mental issues are such that he can never really trust reality. He suffers from bi-polar disorder, manic depression, and possibly PTSD. Despite his mental instability, Pic has managed to eek out a living and has sold a few manuscripts that have become movies.

In the process of trying to put the pieces of his life together, Tommy Pic meets a woman named Eva in the nearby occult bookstore. A relationship develops between the two and at one point he wonders if she is even real. During an overnight rendezvous, Pic finds a large portion of his manuscript completed, yet he has no memory of writing it. Even if he did, there wasn’t enough time to write it.

The plot of What Makes You Die continues with a series of uncertain realities and numerous flashbacks with one goal in mind. Can Tommy Pic finish his manuscript and get back on his feet? Or more importantly, can he remember what he wrote?

Tom Piccirilli’s writing is short and punchy, reminiscent of the biting prose of Chuck Palahniuk. Told in a first person narrative, we are brought into the depths of a foggy, but seemingly truthful narrator, who despite his lack of education is well acquainted with Shakespeare. The subject matter of the novel is often dark, but fortunately doesn’t tread too far into the gory details of the tragedies in Pic’s life.

Part of what makes the novella particularly poignant is the fact that Piccirilli is in the process of fighting (hopefully recovering from?) brain cancer. Tommy Pic, who has the author’s namesake, suffers from a mental disorder that is in no way mocked or trivialized. Pic writes and writes, battling his illness at every turn. I don’t know to what extent some of the emotions and realizations about his writing career are autobiographical, but as a reader, I couldn’t help but project these struggles onto the author. This is only conjecture — Tom Piccirilli has authored more than twenty novels in a few different genres and has become a success and well-recognized name in the field (primarily in horror).

What Makes You Die is witty and ominous, filling the reader with a mix of hope and dread as Tommy Pic reveals his past and present struggles. As a novella, the story reaches its proper length, long enough to unveil Pic’s character, but not too long as to require several subplots. While I longed for a few loose ends to be tied up a little better (better understanding the events with his childhood friend, his father, and a stronger conflict/resolution with Eva), the story was compelling to read. For those looking for a a shorter-length character study with dark horror-esque themes, dare yourself to venture with What Makes You Die.

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Review: Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

11641612Title: Edge of Dark Water

Author: Joe R. Lansdale

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: Mulholland Books / Hachette Audio

Format: Audio Book

I first came across this book when I was perusing the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2012. It was listed as one of the top horror novels, but what I discovered in reading this novel was something quite different than I expected.

Having not previously read anything by Joe Lansdale, I was expecting a more traditional novel. The publisher describes the book as “Mark Twain meets classic Stephen King,”  which led me to think of perhaps a supernatural occurrence along the Mississippi. What Lansdale delivered; however, is something much deeper.

The comparison to Mark Twain is made primarily because of the themes shared with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It takes place in depression-era east Texas, dealing with subject matters such as racism and abuse. Like Huckleberry Finn, the narrator of the novel is young — a sixteen-year-old named Sue Ellen — and it tells a coming-of-age story as she undergoes a brooding rite of passage to start a new life. Also, like Twain, Lansdale has a keen sense of dialect, employing an uneducated sense of southern speech in his dialog.

The comparison to Stephen King is a bit odd to me and I almost prefer a comparison to Cormac McCarthy. The novel’s setting, strong antagonist, and the adroit dealing with the deepest of human emotions leads me to draw this connection. Thankfully, Lansdale does not fear punctuation.

The plot is not what makes this novel extraordinary. It’s quite simple, actually. A girl is found dead in a lake and Sue Ellen, who lives with an abusive stepfather with no real chance for life on her own, decides to follow her friend’s dream by bringing her ashes to Hollywood. Accompanying her on her journey are her alcoholic mother and two friends, Jinx and Terry. When they come upon some stolen money, the worst of rural civilization comes to get their piece of it. Their most dangerous foe, Skunk, a bogeyman whose reputation precedes him, is also after them and the money alone won’t be enough to satisfy his evil ways.

What makes Edge of Dark Water a beautiful novel is much more than the plot. The writing is excellent, depicting the drawl and sensibilities of the south with such a flavor that the reader gets completely enveloped in the protagonists’ travels. Sue Ellen has a combination of sass and southern charm as she tries to respect her alcoholic mother’s choices, but make the right decisions as well.

Lansdale also handles many difficult themes with style. Alcoholism, racism, domestic violence, and societal norms are interwoven into the narrative, making a southern gothic tale much richer on many levels. These struggles are ones that the reader can identify with, adding a lot of depth to the characters.

Ultimately, there is nothing tangible for me to criticize, but I must admit there were many times while listening to the novel during my commute that I had to focus to stay in the story. I don’t know if that is more of a reflection on me than on the novel itself, but the literary sense of the narrative at times left me skimming the surface instead of fully immersing me in Lansdale’s world.

Overall, Edge of Dark Water is a rewarding novel with interesting characters, deep and emotional themes, providing quite a satisfying journey for the reader. For those who like smart writing in the style of someone like Cormac McCarthy or William Faulkner, I think Joe Lansdale may be a worthy read.

Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

13539171Title: Pirate Cinema

Author: Cory Doctorow

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Tor Teen

Format: Hardcover

Review:

I have been meaning to read a book by Cory Doctorow and after catching him on a recent podcast episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, I decided to give Pirate Cinema a try.

Doctorow is outspoken in liberalizing copyright laws and this novel gets right to the heart of this matter. It features a sixteen-year-old named Trent McCauley, living in Britain, who breaks anti-piracy laws by downloading movie clips to his computer hard drive. His hobby is to splice these clips together to make a mishmash movie of doctored Hollywood movies and show them on YouTube-like channels.

His punishment for his crime is that his family’s internet is revoked for one year. This has terrible consequences for his family — his father no longer can work, his mother no longer can get the medical treatment she needs, and his scholarly sister begins to fail her classes. Humiliated for destroying his family’s posterity, Trent runs away to London.

In London, he befriends another homeless boy named Pip, who teaches him how to get food and find shelter. This friendship leads Trent into an underground society where purveying mishmash films is commonplace. He finds himself at home, creating videos for the pirate cinema with a grand vision of toppling the oppressive laws. Can he stop the law before the law stops him?

When I first picked this novel up, I had no idea it was written for the YA market. YA is not really my thing and I typically only read the mega-popular books (e.g. Twilight, The Hunger Games) or authors that pique my interest (e.g. Paulo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker). I will say that reading through Pirate Cinema works on an adult fiction level just as well as YA.

One can’t help but be reminded of authors like Ayn Rand, who use fiction as a vehicle to distribute their ideas. For some, this may be a turn-off, but I actually enjoyed reading Ayn Rand’s fiction (The Fountainhead, in particular). Likewise, while Pirate Cinema may be a bit preachy on the surface, the story and characters are compelling enough that it often goes unnoticed.

What worked well in the novel was Doctorow’s unveiling of a previously unknown niche of society to me — patrons of the pirate cinema. I wasn’t familiar with such a hobby and it was interesting to be drawn into a world of people demonstrating so much passion for their art. Trent (who later calls himself Cecil B. DeMille) rises from sleeping in a homeless shelter to stardom and is the target of police raids while winning the affections of an attractive teen named 26 (she goes by Twenty for short — something I suppose a teen would think is pretty clever).

Yes, a lot of the consequences suffered in the novel seem a bit severe (such as the calamities his family suffers without the — *gasp* — internet at home or Trent’s happenstance falling into a group of like-minded individuals in urban London). Regardless, it still is a fun romp through the sewers and abandoned houses of the city.

Pirate Cinema is a good read with likable characters. The plot is a bit contrived and teeters at the edge of the suspension of disbelief, but it still makes for an interesting, quickly-moving story.

Review: Island by Richard Laymon

201644Title: Island

Author: Richard Laymon

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Leisure Books

Format: Paperback

Review:

Rupert Conway is on a deserted island with his girlfriend Connie’s family when their boat blows up. Then one by one, the men on the island start to be knocked off, leaving Rupert, a sex-crazed college kid, alone with three beautiful sisters and their exhibitionist mother. It sounds like paradise for Rupert aside from one thing — the killer’s still loose and Rupert is next on the hit list.

Like most Laymon novels, Island is good, campy horror. The entire novel is actually a first-person diary entry of Rupert, but reads more like a novel than an epistolary collection. Rupert is sort of a loser and even his “girlfriend” can’t stand him. He gets caught ogling the most attractive sister, Kimberly, on several occasions and even the sisters’ mother. Connie pulls no punches in her snide criticisms of Rupert, adding to his pathetic persona throughout his journal entries.

What Laymon does particularly well is create characters that the reader cares about. I am reminded of Stephen King’s The Shining in this novel. You see, the island (like the Overlook Hotel) seems to make everyone a little crazy that we are never fully convinced who is good and who is bad.

What begins as innocent lustful desires in Rupert gradually turns into sadistic horror and the last third of the book is not for the squeamish. But this lust is not just gratuitous and it becomes a prevailing theme throughout the novel. Rupert’s sexual fantasies are hyperbolically brought to life in the actions of the killer and as he confronts this evil, he sees his own thoughts betraying him.

This book was very difficult to put down, but near the end, very difficult to read as well. Once one makes it past pages that might have been better off left unread, there comes an ending that is completely surprising, yet fitting.

While there are no literary awards going to what really amounts to an escapist horror novel, Island is an exciting, fast-paced read. The characters are likable and the twists and turns left me on the edge of my seat (figuratively speaking — I am much too lazy and read while lying on the couch).

For those who like horror, especially in the style of Bentley Little or Richard Laymon, Island will not disappoint.

Review of Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

SW2Title: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

The first novel of the Thrawn Trilogy, Heir to the Empire, brought back the nostalgia of the original movie trilogy. Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the rebellion now face a formidable foe in Grand Admiral Thrawn. While I appreciated the new characters of this novel, I found it to be primarily a setup for the trilogy and incomplete as a stand alone (review here).

The second novel, Dark Force Rising, comes back with full force (forgive the pun). After nearly being assassinated by the Noghiri, a race loyal to the Empire, Leia travels to their home planet to try and establish them as allies. Luke heeds the call of a self-proclaimed Jedi Master named Joruus C’Boath. Han and Lando try to unveil treachery within the Rebellion and discover that there are a fleet of ships left over from the clone wars that could turn the tide for either the Rebellion or the Empire.

I enjoyed the second novel much more than the first. Dark Jedi C’Boath toes the line between evil and insane, but covets power nonetheless. He believes that he can convert Luke and Leia to his cause and devotes all of his energy to luring them into his self-righteous plans. His character is interesting and one wonders if the very able and almost clairvoyant leader, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is really in charge or if C’Boath controls the puppet strings.

Luke’s interaction with C’Boath is a tad naive, like he is back in training with Yoda before experiencing the struggles against the Empire. Han also falls short of his suave, but rugged self, constantly concerned for Leia’s welfare while he embarks on his own journey with Lando.

While it didn’t reach the same level of magic that it did the first time I read it, Dark Force Rising is an enjoyable read. Mara Jade is one of the better characters, complex in her loyalties and in her abilities. She struggles with her desire to kill Luke and her desire to form an alliance with him. She starts to display Jedi powers, but she has only touched the surface of the power of the force.

The Thrawn Trilogy is a definitive series in the expanded universe and even as I read it twenty years later, it still holds up fairly well.

Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

MockingbirdTitle: Mockingbird

Author: Chuck Wendig

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Angry Robot

Format: Audio (purchased from Audible.com)

I had a rather tepid review of the first Miriam Black novel, Blackbirds. The book had its issues — an overuse of crassness for the sake of shock value and some inconsistencies, I felt, in Miriam’s abilities at changing the future. But in my review, I was dead wrong when I said that Blackbirds was not a “particularly memorable read.” Here I was, months later, wanting to give the series another shot. Not so much for the plot, but for the character of Miriam Black. She is absolutely unforgettable.

You see, Miriam isn’t a run-of-the-mill, cardboard cutout protagonist. She’s edgy. She’s cool. She lives in the cracks of society where most of us don’t dare to venture. Oh, yeah — she has this unique ability to tell how and when a person is going to die after touching their skin.

In the first novel she was single — a drifter with ever-changing hair and a real hard attitude toward the world. In Mockingbird, she is trying to live a more stable life. Her hair is back to its natural chestnut and she has a place of residence (albeit a trailer on the Jersey shore). In fact, she even has a job working as a cashier, scanning items with her gloved hands in an effort to suppress her gift.

As one can expect, Miriam’s stable life doesn’t last long. It’s just not her and after a run-in with her boss, she takes off her gloves (literally) and goes after her. Through this confrontation, she sees that a killer is about to go on a shooting spree and she steps into her newfound role as heroine. A gritty and scrappy, take-no-prisoners heroine, that is.

Miriam later becomes acquainted with a hypochondriac teacher named Katie at a troubled girls school who wants to know if she is about to die. To Miriam’s surprise, Katie is about to die — of pancreatic cancer of all things. The teacher’s death is but a blip of what is going to happen at this school. Miriam accidentally reads the death of one of the school’s students and learns that a serial killer is loose and this girl will be one of his victims. With the help of her one-eyed trucker boyfriend, Louis, Miriam embarks on a journey to save this girl and rid the world of a terrible monster.

In the first novel, Miriam comes to grips with her hard, loveless attitude toward pretty much everything. She uses her gift for good rather than her selfish devises (originally believing that events are controlled solely through fate). In the second novel, she understands that in rare circumstances, she can circumvent fate’s hold. But it is hard work and rather than embrace her gift, she tries to conform to society. Whether or not to use her gifts is the first bit of complexity in her character.

She also fights her internal feelings of self-inadequacy, preferring to leave Louis for his own good, rather than dragging him down to the low depths of her morality. She was once uncaring for anyone, but now is willing to form friendships even when it leads to future hardships. Throughout the novel, Miriam reluctantly forms relationships, even with the foreknowledge that it will cause pain in the end.

Mockingbird reads like a superhero novel in that she has supernatural abilities and acts as a vigilante to stop an archnemesis. Her archnemesis, who is unknown throughout much of the book, also has a certain ability that makes Miriam aware that she is not alone in the world. Some might even consider her heroics a mission of revenge, bearing many similarities to the comic book and movie hero, Eric, from The Crow.

The biggest question that remains with me is when can Miriam change fate? After reading two novels, it seems that she can only change fate when the reader has an emotional stake in a person’s death. While this is convenient in plot development, I would really like for Miriam to understand her gift a little bit better (note: see comments for what I oversaw in the novel — spoiler warning) 

There are some unanswered questions that still remain (in a good way) — are there supernatural forces outside of her that are giving her and Louis visions or is it all inside her head? Does she have telepathic abilities to communicate?

After a hesitant start to the series, I will be reading future Miriam Black novels, hoping that Mr. Wendig will continue to push deeper into Miriam’s psyche and abilities — explore who she is on a deeper level and not hold back as she tries to distance herself from those around her. Good improvement in this novel and if you liked the first one, you will definitely like the second.

Review: Proper Gauge (Wool #2) by Hugh Howey

wool2Title: Proper Gauge (Wool#2)

Author: Hugh Howey

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Broad Reach

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

The first book in the Wool series follows the underground city’s sheriff as he contemplates and finally decides to exile himself to the potentially toxic, post-apocalyptic world. In book two, Mayor Jahns and her deputy, Marnes, climb deep into the depths of their silo city to seek a new and promising recruit for sheriff to replace Holston. Descending over a hundred floors down leads them to discover that things aren’t as they thought and there is a threat that is growing in power and authority.

The second book, while twice as long as its predecessor, is still a short one (barely exceeding 100 pages). But don’t be deterred — its length suits the story well. In Proper Gauge, we gain a much better sense of the world in which the citizens live and the political workings within it. The story is slower paced than the first book, but still full of intrigue and emerging conflict.

Howey has embraced the electronic model of publishing, a form of media that can take advantage of serial, short-lengthed fiction. Like an episode of the television show, Lost, the reader longs to understand more about the silo cities. Why are they built so deep? How do they survive? How does the society remain stable? And like the show, each story ends with a kicker — a cliff hanger of sorts, answering some questions, but leaving more ahead.

The second story, while enjoyable and well written at its core, is somewhat of a bridge novella, enriching the world and introducing new characters, but falling short in delivering an overall conflict-climax-resolution that was more evident in the first book. But it was still a delight to read and I look forward to reading the rest of the series with enthusiasm.

Review: The Store by Bentley Little

Title: The Store

Author: Bentley Little

Rating: 

Publisher: Signet

Format: Paperback

Before we had kids, I would often go down into our basement on one of these wintery, cold mornings and watch a movie. Occasionally, there’d be one of those campy horror movies that has a premise that sounded a bit silly, but you watch it anyway. You’d want to turn the channel, but you can’t. It’s not that it’s that bad — it’s actually good and you enjoy the characters and the story even though it is completely unbelievable.

This was my experience reading Bentley Little’s, The Store. The novel takes place in a rural town when a Walmart competitor named simply, “The Store” begins to build on what was once preserved wildlife. The protagonist of the story, Bill Davis, sees dead animals on the property as construction begins, which he recognizes as an omen for worse things to come. Some in the town are excited at the prospects of The Store putting them on the map, while others have their reservations.

When The Store opens, both of Bill’s daughters seek employment. In fact, as The Store begins to strong arm its way into a monopoly on the city, it becomes the sole place of employment. There are some people who oppose what The Store is doing and some of them wind up missing or dead. Bill Davis refuses to back down from The Store’s oppressive and supernatural power and will stop at nothing to save the town and his family from complete ruin.

There are many who will comment that this novel is making a statement on consumerism and the degrading of society through corporate power. I suppose that is true, but it isn’t really Little’s statement on society that makes the novel interesting. What makes this novel effective is that it is the corporation that is the source of fear. Horror often devolves into a person trying to escape a one-dimensional killer. That in no way represents this novel. Bill Davis’s fear is that his town and family’s way of life is threatened. He fears the enslavement of those around him driven by their lust for consumerism.

The Store capitalizes on these fears by taking over the government, schools, and police force. Death is only a penalty for those who resist the new way of life and there are many (particularly Bill’s daughter, Sam) who embrace what The Store is doing. She was a popular, beautiful girl at the top of her class, but finds herself willing to throw away everything she has and believes in to rise the corporate ladder. This contrast between Bill and Sam reaches a pinnacle where there is no turning back for either of them.

There is nothing genius about this novel and it reads like a paperback you might find in an airport kiosk. It has short scenes and is full of dialog, but I really like what Bentley Little has done. He has taken a broader and deeper subject and made it into a no-apologies horror novel that in no way tries to be anything more. It is one you will read very quickly and in the end, probably won’t think a whole lot more of it than realizing it was a fun read.

Even though the premise and many actions of the people in the town are totally unbelievable, the novel continued to work for me. The stark contrast between Bill and his daughter also worked even though their actions did not fit what any reasonable person would do in the same situations. If you are looking for a horror novel that isn’t about serial killers, vampires, or werewolves, give this one a try. It is horror the way it should be written — not at all pretentious and appealing to the feeling of dread and fear of the unknown rather than the cheap use of glorified violence and gore to shock the reader.

Review: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

Title: The Frozen Sky

Author: Jeff Carlson

Rating: 

Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam

Format: Electronic (provided by author)

I was unsure of what to expect from the novel, The Frozen Sky. The book’s description proclaims it to be a “sci fi thriller” taking place on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. I’ve read a few science fiction titles this year that have taken place in our solar system. Would this be like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a hard sci-fi novel exploring colonization of multiple moons and planets in a semi-distant future? Or would it be more like James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, a space opera where science is still believable, but far from the novel’s focus?

The Frozen Sky is clearly a hard sci-fi novel, reminding me most of the writing of Joe Haldeman. It takes place in the distant future where bureaucratic self-interest abounds, sexual promiscuity comes without consequence, and advanced technology flourishes. Alexis Vonderach (Von) is the novel’s protagonist — the sole survivor on a mission to Europa and discoverer of an alien civilization deep beneath the moon’s ice (or frozen sky).

When news of another life form reaches Earth, multiple countries send teams of scientists to study the potentially sentient species. Von is a critical member of one of these teams and when she fears that these creatures will be exploited, she breaks from the ranks to try and bring about a peaceful alliance.

I must admit, my personal tastes are geared more toward soft science fiction. I am more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy and I often find a lot of the technical conjecture to be of little interest. Even though this novel is quite technical, I never found it to be bogged down with science. There are a lot of cool concepts that were explored including the transferring of human consciousness into machines and the use of mechas in performing heavy labor. Carlson also examines moral conundrums that accompany a first contact when it is very difficult to know if the alien species is actually sentient.

Von is an interesting character, as is her fellow crew member (and friend?), Ash. In the company of many other crew members who blindly follow orders, Von serves as the team’s moral compass, willing to go rogue to protect the creatures she knows very little about.

My biggest criticisms of the novel are the lack of compelling characters. Beyond Von and Ash, I didn’t find any of the other characters particularly memorable or multi-layered in their pursuits. Also, the interaction with the alien species was only semi-compelling as they could only communicate on a very rudimentary basis.

But the novel succeeded in many other regards and overall, The Frozen Sky is a thought-provoking read. For those who are a fan of the Golden Age and writers like Joe Haldeman or Isaac Asimov, The Frozen Sky will be a novel worth reading. I wouldn’t personally classify it as a “thriller,” but the novel moved at a steady pace and had a fitting conclusion. It is a unique take on a first contact and a well thought-out novel.

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Title: Cloud Atlas

Author: David Mitchell

Rating:

Publisher: Random House

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

Cloud Atlas is a novel that is difficult to categorize. First of all, it is not really a novel, but more of a collection of six interrelated short stories. The time peroid spans from the mid-1800’s to the far future where clones are commonplace and later when civilization has fallen.

The first story is “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” stylistically reminiscent of James Fenimore Cooper or Herman Melville. It takes place during the 1850’s, dealing with the themes of slavery and colonization. The writing reflects the time period, which requires a bit of patience on the reader’s part to get into the story.

The second story is “Letters from Zedelghem,” an epistolary account of composer Robert Frobisher and his humorous escapades working as a scribe for a famous composer. He writes letters to his friend/lover, Rufus Sixsmith, who we don’t gain much knowledge of throughout this narrative. Frobisher is connected to the first story when he finds the journal of Adam Ewing.

The third story is “Half Lives, The First Luisa Rey Mystery.” This story is the simplest of the bunch, and tells a murder mystery that involves journalist, Luisa Rey, and a corporate conspiracy. The pulpy crime thriller involves none other than Rufus Sixsmith, the scientist receiving Frobisher’s letters.

The fourth story is “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish,” dealing with an aging publishing agent who reads the Luisa Rey mystery with the intent of publishing it.

The fifth story is “An Orison of Sonmi-451,” written as an interview that questions the motives of a slave clone who defies her masters. This story has many science fiction elements, closely related to such dystopian works as 1984 and A Brave New World. Sonmi-451 watches one of the greatest films ever made, called “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.”

The sixth and final story is “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After.” As one can guess from the title, the language is challenging to read, reflecting a time in the far future after civilization has fallen. Zachry finds a recording of the interview with Sonmi-451 and believe her to be some type of god. Later, their valley tribe is invaded by an advanced civilization known as prescients, uniting the final story to the first.

I can appreciate what Mitchell has done here. The six stories are nicely nested within one another, each written in a completely different style. There is ambiguity into the truth of each story, but it’s not important for the reader to separate reality from fiction. What prevails is certain themes that carry from one story to the next. It deals with slavery and freedom, religion, culture, and power. The number twelve becomes symbolic throughout the stories as does a birthmark, which finds its home on the skin of multiple characters. Mitchell pays homage to many great literary works and in the end, he writes a very clever and intelligent collection.

Despite the novel’s cleverness, I found myself slogging through much of it. Some of the writing is difficult to read. I also had a difficult time developing any kind of emotional connection with the characters. So while I can appreciate the literary quality of this work, I would not call it an enjoyable read. The way the stories nested together left me somewhat satisfied at the end, but it did not come anywhere near achieving what I felt Dan Simmons did with Hyperion, also a collection of stories written in the style of Canterbury Tales.

With the upcoming movie of Cloud Atlas, there are many people discovering this novel for the first time (I am one of them). For casual readers, I think you will be disappointed. For those who enjoy literary fiction, you may find yourself right at home. Mitchell clearly is a good writer and he was able to put together a thoughtful and original collection.