Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review – He Walked Among Us by Norman Spinrad

Spinrad - He Walked Among Us cover

He Walked Among Us

Norman Spinrad

Tor Books – 2010 – Hardcover - 540 pages - ISBN: 0765325845

“The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.”
-Robert A. Heinlein

     Imagine for a moment that the future existence of the planet balanced on your ability to travel back in time and explain the costs and concepts of the depletion of the ozone layer to a subsistence farmer in rural Mesopotamia. Could you do it? Enter Ralf, stand-up comic from about as far up the time-line as you can get. And he comes bearing terrifying news. The future planet is in disarray, biodiversity is as extinct as the carrier pigeon, the air is thick and un-breathable, almost unusable without heavy filtration scrubbers and to make matters worse, the last generations of humankind have taken refuge in pressurized shopping mall domes. Humanity clings to the last remnants of life on a scourged planet that could not be saved.

     Now take an aging Science Fiction writer named Dexter D. Lampkins who is a flawed but intelligent individual (and Spinrad’s pseudo- literary double) with designs of writing the next great social Science Fiction Transformation of mankind, mingle with Amanda Robins, a New Age Wunderkinds seeking total Zen spiritualism, and mix in a whole lot of Ralf “the comic from the future.” Blend them all together on the same late-night television show and what do you get? Well, Monkey-Men, let’s just say that you may want to read this one yourself to discover all the gory details.

     Ralf’s message is simple but crude. Start cleaning up the environment right now or the future world is going to suffer. Quit mucking up Mother Habitat so the deprived people of the future can take a break from living in constant fear of complete extinction.

     Whether by accident or design Spinrad does reveal a plethora of Science Fiction Convention lore, anecdotes, behavior, and attitudes. And surprise, the Sci-Fi geeks are no less real than you or I. For some reason the Cons were the most enjoyable scenes in the book for me. Though Spinrad served up many unflattering and sometimes harsh depictions of Science Fiction conventioneers his descriptions lent realism to the story that may have otherwise been lost. Perhaps I felt so close to those scenes because, like Lampkin, I too identify with the weird and geeky, slightly askew, adoring, star-struck fans. I’m one of them!

     Spinrad’s prose and dialogue is superb, humorous, enticing, and real and scans with perfect pace. If there is any real flaw with the story it is with the character known as Loxy Foxy and her strange companion the “machine-rat- from-the-depths-of-the -subway. Not so much the content itself but how long and drawn out it became in the middle of the book. It seemed like we revisited the same scenes over and over again which cluttered up the story line and served no real purpose. I suspect the novel would have stood well on its own in the absence of those characters. [I’m still unsure of what the confrontation between Loxy, the rat, and Ralf meant! Perhaps someone would care to enlighten me?]

     Much like James Cameron’s “Avatar” Spinrad’s “He Walked Among Us” is social commentary with a message concerning the current state of our eroding world and until we can, as Heinlein eschewed, figure out a way to distribute our eggs more evenly someone up the stream of time is going to suffer. We need to learn to sustain what we have and become more pro-environmental. Stories like “He Walked Among Us” and “Avatar” can only make us more socially aware of our actions and surroundings. If civilization collapses due to resource depletion we’ll have only ourselves to blame for it and our children’s children will be made to suffer. Can our collective conscience survive that burden?

3 ½ out of 5 Stars

3 and a half stars

More about Norman Spinrad

He Walked Among Us

A downloadable version of the book can be found here:

Or if you prefer .lrf, .lit, or .epub versions drop me an e-mail and I’ll forward it on to you. (Note: Click on my profile above for the e-mail address.)

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Book Review – The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

Book Review - The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

Jesse Bullington



Trade Paperback

464 pages

ISBN: 0316049344

     Its 14th century Medieval Europe and the most despicable human beings to have ever graced the pages of historical fiction are given life and a certain morbid sense of humor by debut author Jesse Bullington. Manfried and Hegel Grossbart are far and away the most evil-incarnate and foul-mouthed creatures to have ever spilled from a pen. Base, sacrilegious, and merciless these men are destined to go down in history as more loathsome than any modern day serial killer, tougher than Vlad the Impaler or a Tarantino character, and in possession of more cons than a flat-broke hustler just before the weekend. And if that alone isn't enough incentive to immediately go out and buy this book then how about this? The story overflows with well-written scenes of abject brutality, acts of unimaginable inhumanity, ill-reasoned religious doggerel, heavy-handed gratuitous violence, demonic possession, blood and guts, gore and grey matter, vengeance, retribution, indifference to the suffering of others, and a smattering of the European countryside which would, under normal circumstances, keep one interested in the exploits of the twin Grossbart's throughout an entire novel. But get this… everything I just mentioned occurs in the first few chapters!!

     The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is a quick and enjoyable read, full of wonderfully creative exposition, humorous banter, and dialogue loaded with swearing and cursing, both profane and blasphemous. But it also has a feel for the medieval way of life, how people lived and spoke and worshipped and is unlike any other historical fiction I've ever read. The Grossbart's tale will keep you turning pages and will make you miss a lot of sleep. Not only from reading late into the night to find out where the brothers quest next (and who or what they kill) but frightened by the shadows that the story conjures too.

     Plague survivors, pocket philosophers, demon killers, grave robbers, mad monks, demons, witches, and more join the Brothers Grossbart on their quest to “Gyptland” and the fabled graves of kings rumored to be held by their grandfather. But forewarned is forearmed, keep an eye on your purse and a hand on your dagger. Now that I've told you this much here's the kicker... As savage and inhumane as the Grossbart’s are what pursues them is much, much worse. And in the end while we are not told of the Grossbart’s demise we are left with the feeling that they get what’s coming to them. Or so we would like to think.

     Truly inspired The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is just that, a sad and cautionary story of evil, vengeance, cruelty, and gore and, in my opinion, definitely worth every minute of your time. Mr. Bullington? I’d stand in line for more. (And yes, that’s a hint.)

More about this unique writer can be found at his website:

An interview with Manfried and Hegel Grossbart (and Jesse Bullington):

4 1/2 stars out of 5

4 and a half stars

Also, the cover art, a facsimile of a medieval woodcut by Hungarian artist Orosz István, is brilliant.

István’s website is here:

The Alternative

Southeast Wisconsin