“The Cusanus Game” by Wolfgang Jeschke (Tor, 2013)

Cusanus Game

From the so-called “grand master of German science fiction” comes The Cusanus Game, a work of hard science fiction and philosophy that forces the reader to think far beyond the story.

It is the year 2052 and the world is in a sorry state, especially Northern Europe after an atomic disaster along the French-German border, contaminating the continent with radioactivity. As the threat and fear begins to spread, paranoia and terror break out, affecting the entire planet. The radiation is also messing with human DNA causing mutations and creating monstrosities that shouldn’t be.

A secret research facility located within the Vatican is searching for and employing covert scientists with a plan to reintroduce fresh, healthy fauna to the ravaged world. Biologist Domenica Ligrina may be their saving grace, as she dedicates her studies to the mysteries and puzzles of the Middle Ages and learns of a possible solution that may change the world back to the resplendent place it once was.

While an interesting work of science fiction, the writing is clunky and overly complex and labyrinthine that may be due to the translation, or the style of writing, causing the reader to lose their way at times.

Originally written on January 2, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Cusanus Game from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Guest Post: The Ultra Long Journey of “The Ultra Thing Man” by Patrick Swenson

The Ultra Thin Man’s road to publication survived a long and strange journey to say the least, even though I wrote the first draft in four months. Well . . . actually, I wrote the first draft in four months and twenty years.

The first words hit paper in the early 1990s. My brother Paul left Washington State for California, and we thought it might be fun to collaborate on a novel. My brother led off, sending me the title, a prologue, and a first chapter. “Here you go, bro,” he wrote. “I look forward to your chapter.”

We had no outline, and no idea what the other was thinking. We wanted it that way. I sent him chapter two. He sent chapter three, with tweaks of his previous prologue and chapter based on what I’d written, and I did the same for chapter four. All the while, we were both trying to figure out the mystery and think ahead. I’d throw a twist in there and shout, “Ah ha!”  He’d write the next and answer, “Oh yeah?” – and my earlier thoughts and theories would crumble.

Mind you, it took years to do all this. Sometimes, several years would pass before the next chapter showed up. We’d dive into our lives and forget about the book. But always, I went back to it, thinking: This isn’t bad. I really would like to find out what happens. At some point, about five years had gone by without a new chapter. We had written about 12,000 words each, roughly. I searched my computer recently and the oldest file of the novel was dated 2002. This file had the last chapter I’d written, chapter 12 (now chapter 13 in the final novel), and that was as far as the story had progressed. I read it again, thinking: there’s something here.

I don’t remember when I asked Paul if I could write the book on my own. He gave me his blessing and said I should definitely go ahead. Burdened with his own photography business, he couldn’t see himself putting in any more time on it. Even then, I dabbled. In the intervening years, I’d made my life even busier.

I started Talebones magazine in 1995, and the book line, Fairwood Press, rolled out in 2000. Whenever I returned to the The Ultra Thin Man, I had to make sense of everything the two of us had contributed, and a lot of tweaking and reimagining ensued. Cut here. Add there. Drop the prologue. Switch this, switch that. I updated the science and tech. (So much time had passed that I had to reconsider what life would be like a hundred plus years out for the inhabitants of the Union of Worlds.) When I sat down to work on it, the words never seemed quite right, and I’d end up just rewriting the opening over and over. I wasn’t getting very far putting down new words.

In the middle of 2009, I closed down Talebones to spend more time writing. I teach high school English, and that September, as the new school year got under way, I decided I would plan my classes before school, after school, evenings, weekends. I reserved my scheduled planning period to write. From September until January 1st, I wrote every day at school for at least 45 minutes. I still didn’t have an outline, but the book had bounced around for so long in my head that the rest of it came easily. Before heading back to school in January, I’d completed a 96,000 word first draft of The Ultra Thin Man. More drafts came after that. First readers looked at it and I edited some more. Then I sent it to Tor.

The rest of the novel’s journey is pretty standard for debut authors, and I was lucky enough to have a major publisher take it on after the first try. Still, a lot of waiting went on. My editor made his offer for it June 2012. A lot of work went into the book between then and now.

The journey is almost complete. In a handful of days, The Ultra Thin Man reaches its destination. After that, it’s in the hands of its readers.

In early 2012, I started a new journey for a proposed sequel, and I’m closing in on the ending. I couldn’t  afford the longer, arduous journey of the first novel, so this one kicked along at a faster pace. Call it a week-long vacation rather than an all-inclusive world tour. If I get a chance to write a 3rd novel in the series, the journey will be more like a day trip.

It will, however, be just as satisfying.


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“Chiliad: A Meditation” by Clive Barker (Subterranean Press, 2014)


Bestselling author Clive Barker has an innate ability to find an unusual and compelling word, story or book that grabs a reader’s interest; and he does just this with Chiliad. A chiliad is a measurement of a length of time, exactly one thousand years; this book features two novellas that stretch across the span of a millennium.

“Men and Sin” takes place in the year 1000 AD about a strong relationship between an ugly man and ugly woman, and when this man has his love taken from him, her life ended, he vows revenge against those who have committed this grave sin for removing the thing he cared for in his life. “A Moment at the River’s Heart” taking place a thousand years later also features a brutal attack against a woman and its repercussions against those who carried out the act and those who care.

Barker apparently wrote these novellas after a period of depression, and while the stories can feel convoluted and overly-philosophical, it’s possible to feel the dark, strong emotion emanating from Chiliad. It is an evil and twisted ride, one you might want to end, but it is also one you shan’t forget.

Originally written on December 30, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Chiliad from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell (Random House, 2012)

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David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, originally released in 2004, went on to become a quick bestseller, winning a number of awards including the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award.  In 2012, the book was re-released to tie in with the movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks.

Cloud Atlas employs an unusual literary device that behooves the reader to know about it before they begin reading the book, as it will make the reading experience a richer and fuller one.  Often books employing unusual styles or literary devices force the reader to spend anywhere from 50-100 pages in grasping the device and style that is going on, which can lead to missing part of the story.  The device used in this book involves a series of framing stories, five in total moving forward in time, beginning with first parts, then a complete story at the center, and then the second parts of the five stories moving back in time, ending with the conclusion of the story that the book began with.

The first story is set in 1850 in the Pacific archipelago known as the Chatham Islands.  Adam Ewing has a troubling experience that leaves him with a lethal parasite lodged in his brain; fortunately one of the few doctors who knows how to treat it happens to be on the same boat. The second story takes place in 1931 in Zedelghem, Belgium, where Robert Frobisher is serving as an aid and assistant to an old music composer who is looking to write something memorable.  Frobisher tells his tale through a series of letters sent to Rufus Sixsmith, an old lover and dear friend.  The third is set in Buenas Yerbas in 1975, where Luisa Rey is investigating the Seaboard HYDRA nuclear power plant, using the help of one of its engineers, one Rufus Sixsmith.

The fourth story, set in present day Britain, is about the editor for a vanity publisher who publishes a successful manuscript but now owes people lots of money.  He flees, looking for escape and finds himself trapped in a strange asylum.  The fifth framing story, set in a dystopian future, is revealed to be a totalitarian Korea where clones work underground, making food for the humans above, until one day one of the clones decides to break free.  The center story of the book is about a primitive post-apocalyptic society set on the Big Island of Hawaii, told in a particular vernacular.

Cloud Atlas is an interesting experiment; one of those books that is a great example of good science fiction that is sectioned and shelved in regular fiction for its literary qualities.  Each of the stories in the book feature references that link them with the succeeding and preceding stories. The center story is told in a vernacular that becomes overbearing for the reader.  Overall the book feels more like a short story collection that an overall themed novel.  It is nevertheless a fascinating work of fiction, both original and entertaining.

Originally written on February 11, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Cloud Atlas from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“New Earth” by Ben Bova (Tor, 2013)

New Earth

Bestselling science fiction award winning author, Ben Bova, returns after setting the stage with Farside. The new Earth-like planet has been discovered and studied, and now some years later the first exploratory expedition is on its way to the distant planet, which is already being called “New Earth.”

The trip takes eighty years each way, as the crew sleeps in cryonic suspension, never aging. By the time they return to Earth, 200 years will have passed. But for now the crew has no thoughts of returning home, but finding out just what is happening on this planet. As everyone is brought out of their long sleep, everything seems to be functioning normally. Before they know it a weird light is seen on the planet and the following day most of the crew go down to explore and discover.

It is soon discovered that “New Earth” is inhabited by a considerable population of very human-like beings. In fact, the similarities are bizarre and at times astounding. Apart from the fact that they are able to speak English, they have names from Earth’s mythology and history, and appear to know a lot about the planet the crew calls home. Clearly there is a big mystery here that needs to be solved; the question is whether these alien beings are friends or enemies?

Originally written on August 26, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of New Earth from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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