Chronicles of The Pale by Clare Rhoden: A harsh post-cataclysm world

Imagine a landscape more forbidding than Central Australia, the Sahara, the Atacana desert. A landscape still shifting with the after shocks of a cataclysmic event that, 197 years before The Pale begins, destroyed most species. Clare Rhoden quickly establishes this ghastly world in our minds. At the same time she moves the narrative along with fascinating characters to care about.

‘How does anything live out there?’ Tad murmured.

Serviceman Tad patrols the Pale, the last place left that bears any resemblance to a city. Within the walls exist – you can hardly say ‘live’ – a hierarchical society of citizens who, like Tad, are partly liveware (tissue) and partly hardware. The Pale has wholly adopted technology and rationality as its survival mechanism. Subservience by the citizens to the poli-cosmos is the order of the day. (I think it no accident that the author’s use of ‘policosmos’ without a hyphen somehow gives it an overtone of ‘police state’.) Even so, there are unsettling signs in at least two Servicemen, Tad and his protégé Hector, of the Pre-catalcym human trait deemed most dangerous: empathy. The story of how this ‘weakness’ affects the Pale could have made a good novel in itself, I think, but Clare Rhoden interweaves it with so much more.

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Outside the Pale, somehow life clings on. Here subsist the humans (fully liveware) of the Settlement. In their zeal to live up to Pre-cataclysmic ideals they have turned to biology. Strict breeding protocols result in a caste system. Beyond the Settlement roam Tribes. Some tribespeople have close bonds with the packs of Canini, wolf-like creatures. I defy any reader to not be fascinated by the Canini. Their codes and imperatives also serve as a contrast with the humans. All living things fear the Ferals, hybrids of biology and machine, a nightmare offspring of the former technological world. These scour the plains hunting biofuel i.e. flesh.

I particularly liked the depiction of how the mentality, society and even biology of humans could evolve to accomodate the need to survive and also to try to eliminate the weaknesses and disasters of Pre-Cataclysm humanity. In some dystopian stories all we really see, I think, is the last angry male humans mindlessly fighting each other to the last club and bullet. Here, to my relief, and I’m sure yours too, we have leaders, mostly female, relying on mutual respect, discussion, and the cross seeding of ideas between groups. This intelligent and thought provoking series looks at how the best attributes of we humans, empathy, hope, kindness, can have the power to lift us above struggle and misery.

Clare Rhoden’s website gives us more information about the Chronicles of the Pale ( The Pale, Broad Plain Darkening and The Ruined Land ) and  her other work.

Where to find The Chronicles of the Pale : From publisher Odyssey Books ,
From
BookDepository (free shipping worldwide): The Pale, Broad Plain Darkening and The Ruined Land.
From Amazon in Kindle and softcover. Also from AbeBooks.com.
Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order the series in for you, My tip: order them all at once because you’re going to want to keep on reading.

*The images and graphics you see here are copyright and courtesy of the publisher Odyssey Books .

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Twilight, Dusk, Mirrors, Dreams: Tales by Dan Djurdjevic

‘To sleep, perchance to dream- ay, there’s the rub.’ Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)

For when you are dreaming, you will wake. You assume. But what sort of waking will it be? I think we have all experienced at some time that dread, dripping, crushing sense of fighting our way back up from .. something .. out from .. something. And to emerge as though breaking through an ocean surface, taking great gulps of waking reality, and to realise that the place or something you have fled from was not really there, and must have ‘only’ been a nightmare.

“He dreams of blackness: an endless blackness, darker than the crow and more inscrutable. There is a solidary light far in the distance, a dull yellow pinpoint swallowed into the void, and he stumbles towards it on his phantom legs.” The Crow. 

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But what if, as you sit up taking in your surrounds, another realisation crashes in – that perhaps you have just woken from someone else’s nightmare?

The calm prose of Dan Djurdjevic’s Hazy Shade of Twilight stories (new edition issued as The Shadow of Dusk) belies the growing consternation of his characters as their personalities and identities shift and change. Frequently their perceived realities seem distorted.

“It took a while to realise that I was now in a different place altogether: a blank, featureless room of cold white … empty save for the bleached glare. There were no shapes, no corners, no lines. No shadows”.

They reassure themselves: it was only a dream, a nightmare, it’s because I’m exhausted, it’s what happens out in space, it’s the drugs I took for the pain. But again and again these ‘explanations’ don’t hold up. The characters sometimes seem to be changing places. Their loves and romances, fears, jealousies, start to seem to belong to other selves, as if they are seeing them through distorted memories. Or they might be seeing mirror images of themselves – which of course are similar but reversed, and perhaps distorted and warped too. Such a possibility is explored in The Mirror Image of Sound. (My review here.)

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Dan’s stories, to different degrees, float in half lights and shadows where things may not be what they seem. In the modern romantic drama Nights of the Moon to which The Shadow of Dusk collection serves as a kind of “sequel”, we met the same characters (or are they) who apparently have a very definite existence in the harsh geographical reality of a mining camp in Western Australia. But they are presented to us only through the memories of one person’s point of view. Are we reading what has ‘really happened’?Dan moon 2745

Perhaps somewhere in the obscurities of moon light, twilight, dusk, and shadows all of us are able to become more acutely aware of alternative lives that we could be living had we made other choices. Perhaps those alternative ‘I’s sometimes merge with and partially morph into the “I’ that we think we own.

To dream. Ah there indeed is the rub. For how can we know if we ever wake fully?

My review of The Mirror Image Of Sound is here. And of The Girl in the Attic here.

Where to find Dan’s books: Book Depository (also with free shipping):
A Hazy Shade of Twilight – and other nightmares, The Mirror Image of Sound, Nights of The Moon , The Shadow of Dusk , Essential Jo and, suitable for Young Adults, The Girl In The Attic.

On Amazon: The Mirror Image of Sound, Essential Jo, The Girl In The Attic, Nights of The Moon, The Shadow of Dusk   (first edition titled Hazy Shade of Twilight). You can also find them at AbeBooks.com: there is a general link below.

AbeBooks. Thousands of booksellers - millions of books.

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

The Mirror Image of Sound, by Dan Djurdevic

The Mirror Image of Sound, A Novel Written in Real Time.
gives us several levels to absorb in one book: the portrait of a failed marriage, martial arts action, workplace and domestic bullying, a philosophy and possible science of alternate worlds, or parellel lives, if you like; and there is even a romance.

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It would become a classic of it’s kind but only for the fact that it is the one novel of its’s kind I believe exists, particularly as it was written in real time – of which more later. I feel fortunate to have read it, although, I must say, in the early chapters I was not so sure as this begins as car-crash-watching material. But there is more, so much more.

Black comedy of the darkest hues

We are at first spiralled down into a black comedy of a disintegrating personality. Because much of the daily detail is horribly familiar to the experiences you and I have once endured and yearned to escape – or perhaps still do – we can’t help following Dan, the hapless hero, through his ghastly days with the boss from hell, the friend from purgatory and the wife from nightmares.

Only Dan’s Uncle Frank seems to care about him. But when Frank suddenly dies, Dan finds himself being manipulated from beyond the grave. Exhausted by the demands on him, Dan wrestles with mounting debt, the scorn of his relatives, a mystery basement filled by sound equipment with peculiar instructions, and the curious case of Bugsy, the droopy-eyed cat, who simply vanishes.

If only Dan, and you, and I, could just vanish and start again

If only Dan could vanish too – to a whole new life: new house, new friends, new job, new love affair. Have you not toyed with such a dream? I admit I have. (Not now, thank all the elder gods, but in the past). But if you do create a new life, even a new self, you might also unleash new and drastic consequences of your actions. After all, do you know the extreme possibilities of your own personality? Really, do you? I HAD to read on.

This science-fiction tale warps within inner space, the infinite space of Self. As you barrel through it, you will not only learn Dan’s chosen path but also be whisked across useful tips on how to create your own band, how to make Balkan moussaka, and how to totally destroy a front lawn. There is also a heartfelt homage to the music of The Hunters and Collectors. (You may recall Throw Your Loving Arms Around Me, from this band.)

Real Time Writing

We’ve seen a few movies try to portray say two hours of action within the two hour running time. But this novel began with a much greater challenge. It  was uniquely written and presented, at first, in real time, that is each day of writing became a day in the life of the character.

As the author completed, for instance on a Monday, what the hero ficitionally endured on that Monday, he uploaded that chapter/day to a blog the same night. This must have fascinated the readers for some 8000 followed it in those (real) weeks).

But the author states that he often finished the chapter/day with no idea how he was going to extricate his characters the next day. And there was no going back. He couldn’t think, oh that angle is not working, I’ll go back and change what’s happened so far. No, he pressed on with what he had.  Dan talks about this fascinating approach in an appendix to the book. (Personally I would wonder, children, whether to try this at home. The pressure on the author strikes me as enormous.)

The supplementary website provides more material to enhance your experience of The Mirror Image of Sound, including sound tracks and even videos of the martial arts moves described (see notes below).

Dan Djurdjevic’s other tales include, Nights of The Moon The Shadow of Dusk and, not shown here, A Hazy Shade of Twilight. You can find all of them at Abebooks.com.

Amazon links: The Mirror Image of Sound, Essential Jo, The Girl In The Attic, suitable for young adults, Nights of The Moon, and The Shadow of Dusk. 

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Information about the author for those interested in martial arts

Dan is the author of the award winning blog “The Way of Least Resistance” as well as Essential Jo and “Applied Karate”.

He is the current chief instructor of the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts based at the Bayswater Martial Arts and Yoga Centre in Western Australia. There he teaches Okinawan karate, Chen Pan Ling style taiji (t’ai chi) and other gong fu (kung fu) as well as various traditional weapons systems.

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears. He is the writer-bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In.

 

Altaica, Book 1 in the Chronicles of Altaica, by Tracy M. Joyce

Your reviewer made a classic blunder when buying Book One of the Chronicles of  Altaica: not getting Books Two and Three at the same time. And I made another blunder on opening it for ‘just a quick look’ at lunchtime. I was embroiled in desperate situations on page 38 before realising I was way late for work. Quick peeks are not going to work for you with this pacy story. Fortunately Asena Blessed  is now to hand and I will be soon immersed once more in this world created by Tracy M. Joyce.

Her stories are gritty, a little dark and morality is like quicksand.  You won’t find any unicorns or fairies here.’ (Tracymjoyce.com.)

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From the first lines we are on the run with Isaura, fleeing a huge army devastating her home. She and some of her community flee down river in a barge which the wind and currents later take far out into the ocean despite all they can do. The desperate group endures storms and scorching sun and, as the food runs out, they begin squabbling. As the long days pass hope ebbs away, and they become suspicious of one another, particularly of Isaura who, we learn, is not considered ‘one of them.’

‘Two things your race is known for -magic and murder. Hill clan witch!’ …. No one would look at Isaura, no one would speak to her.

Much of the engrossing first part of the book takes place in the cramped confines of the barge. Tensions and fears are exacerbated by the harsh conditions. We readers are plunged into a time of starvation, death and grief, complicated by the corrosive power of envy and a mire of moral complexity. We even get a little romance when Isaura finds herself awkwardly playing cupid to Gabriela and Jamie, who are among her few friends.

‘My kingdom for a good looking man who has a fully working brain’. Isuara.

As the refugees drift helplessly toward apparent death, the action shifts to the peoples and complexities of Altaica, ‘a land rich in tradition; ruled by three powerful clans. A land with a history marked by warfare; where magic as we know it does not exist. Instead what is here, in abundance, is a more primal power. (Back cover.)’

By the gods, how long have they been on this boat? How much longer can they last?’. Umniga the Kenati of Bear Clan.

Umniga, a wise woman, who discovers the strangers has her reasons for wanting to rescue them, altruism not being the first. She and her acolyte Asha can’t do it alone but must persuade the clan chiefs to help. They mistrust one another and see no reason to trouble themselves over strangers. They want to know what is in it for them. A canny play of brutal politics between factions now begins, breaking out inevitably into conflict. When we pick up again with Isaura’s particular fate we are hurtling at a hard gallop toward the second book, Asena Blessed.

Altaica and Asena Blessed are published by Odyssey Books and the beautiful covers designed by Karri Klawitter. They are available through major online retailers, including Book Depository, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can obtain signed copies at Tracy Joyce’s website.

You are in the blog of Mark who, as well as being a bibliophile, is guardian and photographer for Mawson Bear, one of this bright world’s very few Writer-Bears. Mawson wrote It’s A Bright world To Feel Lost In.

Sannah and The Pilgrim, and Pia and The Skyman, by Sue Parritt

Sue Parritt’s Sannah and the Pilgrim is the first title in her climate fiction trilogy, followed by Pia and the Skyman and The Skylines Alliance.

Australia and Aotearoa  (formerly New Zealand) have been ravaged by drought. The coastal plains have been inundated by rising sea levels. The ‘Whites’ of Australia, although impoverished by today’s standards, hang on to power through apartheid. They force the ‘Browns’, mostly refugee populations from drowned Pacific Islands, to labour on the little arable land that’s left.

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We see this entirely plausible future from the point of view of a resistance movement, the Women’s Line, as they endure dangers to help the serfs held in the underground prisons escape to what we hope will be a better life for them in Aotearoa.

Sannah, “The Storyteller”, belongs to the Women’s Line. When a light skinned stranger calling himself Kaire arrives at her dome she must consider whether he is a spy. The twin mysteries of Kaire’s origins and Sannah’s purpose in “storytelling” drive along the narrative in the first novel. Kaire’s background when revealed gives us another viewpoint of the conditions on the planet.

As with all resistance movements, nobody quite knows who else is to be fully trusted. Missions are planned and after excruciating buildups of tension go wrong in some way. We have escapes by desert and by sea, rescues, betrayals, brutalities and passions. Yet Parritt’s low key writing makes this stark way of life seem almost normalised, which makes it all the more disturbing; and the wreckage of not just the planet but of humanity springs out at us.

In  Pia and the Skyman the story picks up from the bases in Aotearoa.

Parritt writes on her website –

“I want readers to grasp what is happening not only in contemporary Australia, but throughout the world with regard to refugees and the ongoing environmental degradation that poses increasing problems for humanity… By writing fiction that I believe could easily become fact, I hope to inspire more ‘ordinary’ people to take a stand and work for a more equitable and sustainable world.”

Sannah and the Pilgrim was Commended in the FAW Christina Stead Award, 2015.  Pia and the Skyman was commended for the Christina Stead Fiction Award 2016 in the National Literary Awards of The Fellowship of Australian Writers. You can learn more about Sue Parritt and these books at her blog.

Where to find the trilogy: All the books are published by Odyssey Book and available through BookDepository and AbeBooks as well as Waterstones, Indigo and Amazon. The third book, The Skylines Alliance, is also now available.

You are at Baffled Bear Books, the blog of Mark, guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson is writer bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In.