Review of Dreamer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad by Mark Teppo

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

DreamerDreamer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad (Foreworld Saga)
By Mark Teppo; Performed by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 25 September 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 1 hour, 25 minutes

Themes: / crusades / hallucinaion / pacifism / monks / mongoliad /

Publisher summary:

During the Fifth Crusade, the bloody siege of Damietta grinds to a stalemate and a young Christian soldier begins having visions… Raphael of Acre, a young initiate of the Shield-Brethren, becomes a war hero during a vicious battle for control of a Muslim stronghold. One of his companions, Eptor, is wounded in the battle and falls under the influence of strange hallucinations. When a superior plots to manipulate Eptor’s visions into war propaganda, Raphael struggles between duty to the cause and duty to his faith. Unable to reconcile his roles as Christian and soldier, Raphael seeks out an unlikely source of counsel — the great pacifist Francis of Assisi. Part of the Foreworld Saga, Dreamer confronts the paradox of using sword and fist in an effort to spread a message of humility and compassion.

Like Sinner earlier this year, Dreamer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad is a prequel to the main books in The Foreworld Saga. We once again see Raphael, this time without Andreas, well before the events in The Mongoliad: Book One.

This story written by Mark Teppo is less plot-driven than the previous books in the series. Instead, it recounts a part of Raphael’s past, and uses the writing to drive home some important themes/things to think about. The story is really two stories–one in Raphael’s present (1244 or so) and one in his past (1219 in the battle of Damietta in the 5th Crusade). Raphael, you may remember, is a sworn knight, and participates in the battle against the Muslims during the Crusades. One of his brothers takes a vicious blow to the head during the battle and word gets out that, as he’s recovered, he’s had visions/hallucinations that seem to be prophetic. One of Raphael’s superiors in the battle would like to use these visions to twist the truth and turn the tides of the battle, with Raphael acting as the “witness” to the prophecy. Raphael is obviously torn between his dual loyalties–that to morality and that to his superiors.

Some years later, he is still feeling the heavy weight of his decision. He seeks out St. Francis of Assisi–a pacifist–as a counselor. This is the “second timeline” of the story, Raphael’s recounting of his tale to the non-violent brotherhood and Assisi himself. This is where a second morality question is presented, the difficulty of being both Christian and a soldier. Early on, Raphael reminds us that as a Christian, he is to love his fellow man. He also reminds the peaceful brothers that the Muslims have a saying much like the Christian “peace be with you,” even if they don’t believe in the same God. Of course, as a soldier, it’s his duty to go where he is commanded, to fight for what’s “right.”

I usually like my stories to have a bit more plot than this one did, but I found myself enjoying the background and insight into Raphael’s character. I’m not sure I would have liked this story if I hadn’t read other (more action-y) books in the series, hadn’t already been introduced to Raphael. So if you are going to read this, I definitely recommend reading at least Sinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad first.

As usual, Luke Daniels did a fine job with the narration. I was able to put in my headphones, lay back in my recliner, and relax as I let the story wash over me. Unlike The Mongoliad: Book One, there weren’t too many characters with odd-sounding names in this book, making it easier. I’m looking forward to going back into the main Foreworld saga, onto The Mongoliad: Book Two.

Posted by terpkristin..

Review of The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy

August 12, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook - The City, Not Long After by Pat MurphyThe City, Not Long After
By Pat Murphy, read by Marguerite Gavin
7 CD’s – 8.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0786180862
Themes: / Science fiction / Fantasy / Magic realism / Post-apocalypse / Military / Pacifism / Art / Ghosts / War

At the root of all major religions is the simple, powerful assumption that every human being is capable of changing his character. With this premise, Nirvana, Salvation, and Enlightenment are opened to each of us, no matter what lies in our past. The logical extension beyond ourselves is that we are obliged to forgive our fellow man for his transgressions against us, because to do otherwise would deny him the possibility of redemption. Gandhi, Christ, and King have demonstrated that it takes a great deal of sacrifice and patience to follow this idea to its full conclusion, but the resulting justice for friend and foe alike cannot be won by anything less.

The vast bulk of our literature, however, belies our preference for punishing our enemies rather than enlightening them. Fantasy literature, in particular, usually frames central conflicts in terms of absolute good and evil, and shuns the possibility of change on either hand. Science fiction often simply avoids the issue by casting an inhuman force as the antagonist, such as a robot, an alien, or some crisis of scientific circumstance. But even so, these conflicts often favor a single-minded, unyielding approach to resolution, with a clear victor and a clear loser. This is especially true in the watered-down SF found in popular media.

Pat Murphy’s intriguing novel The City, Not Long After offers an exception to these rules, although it, too, flinches at the moment of truth. Apocalyptic fantasy is virtually defined by final clashes between good and evil, but Murphy’s post-apocalyptic tale pits peaceful artists against aggressive warriors in a future San Francisco that has been largely depopulated (along with the rest of the world) by a plague. The inhabitants of San Francisco are mostly bizarre artists, and they are struggling not only for their social freedom against an invasive force led by the militant General Nathan “Four Star” Miles, but for creative freedom against the incursions of a conformist society. In order to preserve their art and their free spirits, they make their resistance non-violent, and Pat Murphy takes the opportunity to make the resulting action interesting and original. In the course of it, she offers a clear-eyed examination of some darker elements from America’s past and present, and a scathing review of militant patriotism, both of which seem startlingly out of place in our current culture of eternal, chest-thumping war.

The best thing about this book is that, despite the description of its conflict above, it does not devolve into a moralistic sermon. In fact, the conflict which defines the plot takes up less than ten per cent of the novel. The rest of the time is spent developing the strange, arty, self-important characters who populate San Francisco. I’m not a big fan of characters (real or imagined) who go around proclaiming themselves artists, bemoaning society’s inability to recognize their gifts, and sculpting execrable statuary out of cold cream jars, but I ended up liking these people, especially Danny Boy and Jax, who provide the novel’s axis. They have real wounds and real tenderness that win out over their purposeful strangeness.

Marguerite Gavin’s narration was the perfect foil for these exotic, New Agey artists, for her voice is almost surgically precise and antiseptically clean. Her syllables are razor-edged for Jax and for the general narration, so the laid-back stoner voice she conjures for Danny Boy comes as a revelation. Gradually, I came to relate to almost all the voice characterizations, except for that of “Four Star”, who sounds more like a parody of a wicked military man than a real human being.

Thematically, I ultimately found the book to be a failure. The first problem is that our non-violent heroes require a discouragingly huge amount of supernatural help to stand a chance against bullets and bombs. The second is, to be vague enough not to spoil the book for you, that the climax is a cop-out. Murphy spends considerable time in the denouement trying to rub out this flaw, and she does succeed in provoking some thought, but nothing can cover the capitulation of the resolution.

That said, I still recommend this book. Murphy’s characters and situations are complex, vital, and often inspiring. It is far more interesting to watch her try and fail to deliver on her moral premise in this book than simply to wallow in the philosophical shallowness of summer-multiplex violent justice. At least The City Not Long After will make you both think and feel a little, and that is no small achievement.

Posted by Kurt Dietz