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Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Thankfully there’s not long to go with Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), but that doesn’t stop our intrepid team of scriptwriters from going down with melodrama of Titanic proportions on display. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) is spending more of his time clutching his head and passing out. Sadly this does not also induce unconsciousness in us and the rest of the cast carry the show until he revives. Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) have installed King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk) on the throne, but are now disputing the appointment of high-ranking officials based on merit or clan allegiance. To break up this alliance, the increasingly unsympathetic Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) is working as a double, if not triple, agent for his father Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo). This means deceiving Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) based on their supposed continuing friendship. Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) is training as a surgeon and goes to assist Dr Jin deliver a breech baby by Caesarian section. This doesn’t leave many medical operations to attempt. Remember Dr Jin has already drained a blister on a big toe — after that, what mountain is left to climb? So now we come into the final piece of history that will lead to war. We arbitrarily find ourselves in 1866 with the suppression of Catholicism firmly on the agenda. Dr Jin saves the life of Father Félix-Claire Ridel. Unfortunately Kim Byung-Hee produces a situation in which it’s impossible for Lee Ha-Weung to ignore the anti-Catholic law so we now wait for the retaliatory French raid on Ganghwa Island. The headaches are growing more severe but I still can’t manage to lose consciousness. No wait! A young boy is injured. He could die. Why is Dr Jin flickering in and out of existence. It’s his great, great grandfather! Come on Hong Young-Rae, prove you’re a worthy successor to Dr Jin and save that boy! Oh, wonderful. Now we have to watch another three episodes.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Well the mutual blackmail attempts continue as the French decide whether to send gunships. Unable to stand any more pain, Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) throws herself in front of Dr Jin and takes a sword thrust meant for him. For the first time in this series, his attempt at open-heart surgery fails to save a life. Before she dies, she tell Dr Jin that Min Ah, the modern lover, is already dead. I have my tenses wrong there. . . .will have been dead by the time he gets back (if he does, that is). Quite how she knows this is a bit baffling but, armed with this information, he goes to throw himself off a cliff. Sadly Hong Young-Rae stops him. So now the useless Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) deceives himself into believing he has a brain and betrays his father. Daddy Kim finally sees he can do no more and commits suicide. This leaves the loyal bastard alone, sobbing his heart out, thinking there’s nothing left to live for — after twenty hours of watching, I understand the feeling. We then cut to the battlefield with the French using canon to win the day while Hong Young-Rae tries to patch up the wounded. The tediously dramatic climax in Joseon limps across the screen. Kim Kyung-Tak makes a half-hearted attempt to assassinate Lee Ha-Weung. When that fails, he agrees to lead Dr Jin through French lines to rescue Hong Young-Rae who, naturally refuses to leave. She’s a doctor and she’s not going to abandon her patients. At the end of a lot of fighting, Kim Kyung-Tak is dead and Hong Young-Rae is seriously wounded. After performing emergency surgery to remove shrapnel, Dr Jin also receives a fatal wound, falls off the wall surrounding the fort they are defending, and wakes up in a modern hospital bed. He has a single strip of bandage around his forehead. This is supposed to signal he’s had brain surgery to remove a foetus-like growth from his skull. How they managed to do the surgery without shaving his head and having him on full life-support is puzzling. Anyway, he leaps out of his bed, runs through the hospital and finds Yoo Mi-Na who flatlines. There’s drama as Dr Jin shouts for “epi” and then braces with the paddles to fight for her life. Fortunately, in Joseon, Hong Young-Rae opens her eyes as the anaesthetic wear off. This triggers a miraculous recovery in our time and cheers from the other hospital staff. Dr Jin has triumphed again.

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

It’s always difficult to draw comparisons. In spirit, the series could be rerunning the same ideas as in Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague de Camp where a graduate student of history travels back to Rome just before the start of the Dark Ages. The question is whether to intervene to preserve Rome. Or this could be a version of the set-up in To Your Scattered Bodies Go in the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer where this return to a reconstructed past is a kind of moral experiment run by unspecified intelligences to see whether humanity is ethical or fit to be the rulers of the universe as in Transit by Edmund Cooper (cf Seahorse in the Sky where passengers in an aeroplane wake up in coffins).

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)  and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Is it all just a dream? Perhaps most infamously, Dallas ran an entire season which turned out to be Pam dreaming. This could be going on either in Yoo Mi-Na’s head after her surgery or in Dr Jin’s head after his surgery. Except in the first episode, in flashback, and at the end we get to see Choon Hong, and the doctor who wakes Dr Jin says he was found some distance away from the hospital and hands him the ring found in his “strange clothes”. We’re therefore supposed to think he’s actually travelled. Closer to this series, perhaps we should remember X-Files: Series 6, Episode 3. Triangle where Mulder travels to 1939 and then wakes up in hospital with the bruise on his cheek. Similarly, MacGyver: Season 5, Episode 12. Serenity where he travels to the Wild West and wakes up with the knife.

In this I note the actual mechanism for transmission in either direction seems to be death. In the first episode, Dr Jin falls off the roof of the hospital. To return, he has to be stabbed in the gut and fall off a high wall. This might characterise the experience as Limbo as in the TV series Lost. Or it could be a loop as in By His Bootstraps by Robert Heinlein where Bob Wilson iterates through the time gate until he emerges a free man or something. In the first episode of this series, we meet a man covered in bandages. The tumour is removed from his head and he’s later on the roof of the hospital. Perhaps this is Dr Jin ending one of his loops and, when the current Dr Jin falls off the roof, this is the next iteration. That would explain why no-one at the end recalls the man in bandages. More to the point, it explains why Dr Jin gives instructions to the young version of Choon-Hong. Despite his protestations of love and fidelity to Yoo Mi-Na, he expects to go round the loop at least once more.

Put all this together and Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin turns out to be easily the worst piece of Korean drama I’ve seen so far. It not only fails as science fiction, it’s also woeful, by-the-numbers sageuk with only one sequence even remotely reaching a standard of acceptability. This is definitely not recommended.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

Sharps by K J Parker

December 31, 2012 3 comments

Sharps-652x1024

I think it’s time to plunge into a minor thicket of incomprehension and talk about irony for a moment or two. I have it on the best authority that Americans just don’t do irony. In terms of humour, the American audience is usually driven by the gag and dislikes situations in which the listeners are not sure whether the punchline has been delivered and they’re supposed to laugh. I suppose that’s why they clap at the beginning of a song. This avoids any embarrassment in not wanting to clap at the end when they find out how awful the song is. The rather specific cultural omission of an irony gene is customarily explained by an alleged seriousness buried in the American psyche. It seems Americans want uncomplicated communication, not situations in which they have to work out whether what’s being said is to be taken seriously. They therefore reject most irony as tiresome sarcasm, characterising the speakers as rude. So why start this review this way? Well, the general rule is if you don’t know what irony is, it doesn’t help to read definitions in a dictionary. But I hesitate to leave America in the dark. Given its publication in America, I therefore offer Sharps by K J Parker (Orbit, 2012) as a good example of irony for Americans to study.

 

The author specialises in writing a form of alternate history fantasy. Rather than write straight historical fiction, we’re presented with a different set of largely balkanised countries either caught up in national accumulations or Empires, or sufficiently distinct to have retained independence. It’s not uncommon for some of these kingdoms to fight economically disastrous wars, not because the people have anything personal against each other, but because their ruling elites disagree over policy. In this book, we focus on Scheria and Permia. The last war was ended somewhat abruptly when Scherian General Carnufex broke a siege in Permia by damning up nearby rivers and then releasing a flood which drowned thousands. This earned him the nickname of the Irrigator. The temporary peace deal identified a DMZ. By an oversight, this zone happens to be rich in valuable ores. If either side was free to mine, the sale of the resulting metals would rescue the winning country from bankruptcy. As it is, both governments have borrowed money and are unable to repay. As and when the governments default, the banks will collapse and both countries will lose their appearance of wealth. This does not suit the “rich”. Even though they are all mortgaged up to their eyeballs, they see salvation in the resumption of hostilities. To provide a casus belli, the powerbrokers agree that a team of top fencers shall be sent by Scheria to fight exhibition matches against Permian teams. In all the foreseen scenarios, war will be declared.

 

Of course no-one from Scheria would go if they knew they were being sent to their deaths. So a team of expendables has to be recruited. It’s led by Phrantzes, a man of military experience and an ex-fencer. He’s aided by the elusive Colonel Yvo Tzimisces who, when he’s actually around, functions as a kind of fixer. The actual team does contain a current national champion. He’s Suidas Deutzel who’s desperate for money. As a result of his experiences during the last war, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has a tendency to behave in a rather erratic way. Giraut Bryennius was interrupted while making love to a Senator’s daughter. The irate father burst in on them and was provoked into drawing his sword. More by luck than good technique, our naked hero killed the avenging Daddy in self-defence. Iseutz Bringas is a rather bad-tempered woman who refused the arranged marriage that would have given her family a status enhancement. The price of this refusal was membership of the team. Adulescentulus (who prefers the informal name, Addo) Carnufex is the son of the Irrigator — his presence gives the team political credibility. If this is a peace mission, the son of the hated General makes a good sacrificial lamb in the fights. The latter three may, at best, be described as amateurs, i.e. they have never fought in competition and have only ever used foils and blunted weapons. It therefore comes as a shock to them when they discover they will have to use “sharps”, i.e. real weapons that can maim and kill. Naturally, anyone on the Permian team who draws Addo will be out for blood.

 

So there we have it. Our team of heroes sets off for Permia and fencing glory except there are problems even before they manage to get out of Scheria. At first these problems are dismissed. Their suspicions smack too much of paranoia. And even among themselves, they refuse to believe the General would have sent his son to die. What Addo thinks is, of course, less clear. In every way, this is a beautifully constructed mystery as the author challenges us to work out what’s happening while propelling us forward with breakneck speed into a series of fights both on and off the formal piste. The politics and economics are also skillfully interwoven so we can piece together who would have a motive for each move and countermove. The character development is also a delight as either confidence is shaken or cowardice is confronted. I forgive it for being slightly on the long side. When you look back, it’s hard to see what could have been left out without damaging the end product. All things considered, this makes Sharps something of a triumph and, as a standalone, you have no excuse not to read it (missing out on it would, in itself, be an irony given my opening paragraph).

 

For other reviews of books by K J Parker, see:
Academic Exercises
Blue and Gold
Purple and Black

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice

December 30, 2012 3 comments

Red Dragon Rising Blood of War

Ah, yes, you are calmly saying to yourself. This is another of the team-writing efforts which bring the excitement of war into your homes without the need for television or the blu-ray machine. All you need for this to work is a pair of reading eyes and an imagination. Except. . . The opening title is, “Personal Chronicle: Looking Back to 2014”. Because I have a memory like an elephant, I remember reading Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy which was, appropriately enough, considered political science fiction (later rewritten as Looking Backward from the Year 2000 by Mack Reynolds which is more economic science fiction). But, if the premise of such books is they are an historical account written in the future about events that have yet to take place, we should properly label Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice (Tor-Forge, 2013) military SF. Except, to my innocent eye, the technology on display is substantially what we have now, so it lacks the key feature which is supposed to underpin the genre. There’s no new technology. Since this is an extrapolation of what might happen if China goes through a period of drought and civil unrest because it no longer has agricultural autarchy, perhaps this should be considered an alternate history novel (albeit this is also considered a subset of science fiction). Such books are predicated on a “what if”. . . what if Spain had assumed dominance in Europe after the assassination of Queen Elizabeth (Pavane by Keith Roberts), what if the South had won the Civil War (Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore), and so on. This produces a fork in the timeline and a chance to suggest how history might have changed.

Larry Bond posing with an unexploded bomb before defusing it

Larry Bond posing with an unexploded bomb before defusing it

 

The Red Dragon Rising series of which this is the fourth and presumed last in the series, has economic chaos not only in China, but also the US where petrol is more than $14 a gallon during a new recession following the bursting of another bubble. The Europeans have comparable economic problems as a result of collapsing world markets. The essentially pragmatic Chinese decide the rice bowl of Vietnam will potentially keep a lid on their political problems. Anticipating little resistance, the Chinese mobilise and cross the border. The primary series characters are President George Greene, Mara Duncan (CIA), Major Zeus Murphy (Army), Josh MacArthur (civilian scientist), Dirk Silas (US Navy) and Jing Yo (Chinese assassin). Essentially, the basis of the tetralogy has covert US military support for the Vietnamese Government while the basis of a cease fire is sought. Conveniently, Josh MacArthur has evidence of a Chinese atrocity which faked the casus belli so he has to be smuggled out of the war zone, while on land and at sea, Chinese progress is frustrated. Adding to US difficulty is a rebellious Congress threatening impeachment for fighting a war without approval.

Jim-DeFelice catching up on his reading

Jim-DeFelice catching up on his reading

 

The delivery vehicle is written to a very precise formula. In saying this, I’m not making an adverse criticism. Every book designed to fit into a genre must, of necessity, match reader expectations. So this is beautifully crafted individual action scenes against the big picture context. Although Zeus Murphy proves indestructible in a series of engagements, most of the military descriptions have a high-adrenaline quality showing American heroism at its most inspiring. Fortunately, although out gunned and less well trained, the Vietnamese are also allowed to do quite well while a multinational group of CIA operatives do what’s necessary to break Chinese morale north of the border. If we look beyond the natural desire of American authors to show national pride in their military personnel and hardware, there’s a nice balance struck between the human emotions of those involved and the rigours of war. People do care for each other and bond under difficult circumstances. For the most part, this feels credible. If there’s a false note, it lies in the journey taken by Jing Yo. Throughout the series, he trails after Josh MacArthur and, in this final book, finally catches up with him. I think my favourite sequences are at sea. I was born close to the mouth of a strategic river which came in for heavy bombing during World War II. Both my father and uncle served in the Royal Navy so I grew up with oral histories of their experiences. So reinforced by fairly extensive reading of naval fiction when I was young, I find the tactics of this form of fighting fascinating. Again, the US destroyer proves remarkably unsinkable but I forgive this pandering to national pride. At the end of the book, the Chinese must be vanquished. The big picture of how we get there is more important than individual losses in credibility. As a commentary on some aspects of Chinese culture, this feels plausible. So I remain something of a fan of Larry Bond and his various co-writers. Red Dragon Rising: Blood of War is top-class military fiction (with science fiction overtones).

 

For reviews of other books involving Larry Bond, see:
Exit Plan (with Chris Carlson)
Red Phoenix (with Patrick Larkin)

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice by Chris Ewan

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Good Thief;s Guide to Venice-dec-2011

When we reviewers want to show off, we tend to bandy words like “metafiction” around as if we actually know what they mean. I‘m not entirely sure such academic extravagance is justified but, in this case, it does give me the right starting point to talk about The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice by Chris Ewan (Minotaur Books, 2012). In many ways I’m always inclined to like books that self-consciously play with the medium of writing. Here we have a first-person narrative exploring the world of a semi-retired thief called Charlie Howard. As someone experienced in dishonest arts, this potentially makes him an unreliable narrator but, only in certain key moments does he actually hide things from the reader. For most of the book, he’s disarmingly honest and not a little confused by the circumstances in which he finds himself. That said, he’s abandoned the life of crime to focus on writing crime fiction. Appropriately, he’s created a burglar as hero who, in fiction, plays out some of the “real” crimes the author has committed. Should he ever be suspected as a very good thief, the police would only need to read his books to identify his methods and some of the crimes he had committed. Such are the minor excitements of an author when he choses to write about what he knows best. More importantly, it also gives Chris Ewan the chance to play with the craft of writing and, for example, discuss how to arrive at those sentences at the end of chapters intended to hook you into turning the page rapidly to find out what happens next.

This would all be wonderful if our author had stopped there. But he has also decided to engage in what’s intended as a slight aping of past prose styles. I would have been happy with a parody of hardboiled pulp. Having grown up surrounded by the detective magazines and adventure/mystery fiction that so dominated the first four decades of the last century, I enjoy an affectionate reprise if it’s done well. Nostalgia for days of innocent fun still runs strong. Unfortunately, instead of aiming high for Chandler or Hammett, we have something rather closer to a poor parody of Leslie Charteris filtered though Wodehouse. Now don’t get me wrong, the tradition of the gentleman as a thief is littered with interesting historical relics. The Saint is paper-thin plots but some morality, while Hornung’s Raffles shows slightly more brio. Perhaps the Maurice Leblanc creation Arsène Lupin is the best both in their originals and all those who followed in his footsteps. He does at least manage to avoid looking foolish. Chris Ewan has similar pretensions with his “good thief” taking on criminals who are at least as bad if not worse than he. That he emerges in one piece speaks loudly of some skill and quite a lot of luck, i.e. he does look foolish some of the time.

Chris Ewan showing a little British understatement

Chris Ewan showing a little British understatement

So where does all this leave us? I like the plot of this novel. There’s a certain elegance on display as we slowly work our way through the revelations to the punchline at the end. There are, however, a number of problems. I prefer to avoid coincidences and the arrival of one figure as we work our way up to the final confrontations is an egregious example of the phenomenon. It’s all a little too convenient in a story that had been moving along comfortably under its own steam. Secondly, there’s a serious problem in the tone of the book. Even at the best of times, it’s very difficult to generate humour out of a thriller scenario. In this instance, the reason for the failure is the metafictional self-consciousness of the first-person voice. When the author is smiling with us, showing us how clever he is in deconstructing the process of writing a page-turner, it’s difficult to make us laugh with or at the narrator when he falls flat on his face or goes through some other experience that might otherwise have raised a smile. This is easier with a third-person show-and-tell. A more omniscient author can expose the mechanism of the prat fall by walking us through the scene, giving us a sense of anticipation, and then laughing as the expected catastrophe befalls the character. In the first-person form, the main feeling is the embarrassment or humiliation of the victim.

Finally we come to the problem of a book wanting to be a caper movie. Although my heart will always belong to Rififi, we’ve all sat through and enjoyed The Italian Job, the Ocean’s series and all the others where the pleasingly criminal show off their skills with a sly but endearing smile. Sadly, this hero could not be played by George Clooney. Worse, the wit and humour, such as it is, comes over as rather more laboured. Earlier in the review, I referred to Wodehouse and the humour of this book has a certain period charm about it, i.e. it is populated by slightly eccentric characters with curious interests and superstitions (our hero feels he can’t write unless he can look up at the first edition of The Maltese Falcon he stole early in his career) with two strong female characters to help and hinder. But the version presented here is too long, the slight jokiness wears thin, and the payoff is not really amusing. It just feels like a reasonably good place to stop. So, on balance, The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice would have been better if a strong-willed editor had persuaded the author to cut out the deadwood and leave us with a faster-paced thriller where we might actually feel our hero was in real danger.

For a review of the next book in the series, see The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as we accelerate into the second half of Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), everyone is plotting now. Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) continues the plan with Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo) to kill King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) and blame Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon). But it all requires careful timing. The clan need to move their nominee into position as heir before the latest puppet dies. Working the other side of the fence, Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) plots with the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) to line up the boy who will become King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). This is proving difficult but he does literally hit the jackpot and manages to get Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) exiled for trading with Westerners. That gold finally came in useful.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Dr Jin finally manage to convince Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) that it’s her destiny to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) so she’s really miserable while the young lover manages the first smile we’ve seen out of him for hours of screen time. Not surprisingly, Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) walks back into the picture with vague explanations of how he managed to survive and who helped. He’s currently hiding out with Choon Hong. Which just leaves us with all the doctoring. To fire up the excitement, the King decides he has acute appendicitis and rolls around in agony. This would normally be a quick and easy operation, but Dr Jin discovers his patient is anaemic. So he throws together a blueprint for a centrifuge and before you can say, “Blood typing for Dummies”, he’s discovered that Lee Ha-Weung is the right type to act as live donor. There’s just one problem. Lee Ha-Weung wants the King to die so his son can become King. Dr Jin gets all disappointed that this great man should want him to kill the King. This produces the irony that Kim Byung-Hee and Dr Jin insist the surgery should go ahead. Saving the King comes first. They can argue about the succession later. Anyway, as the script requires, it all works out well because, when the King wakes up and, wait for it, feels as if he’s cured, he’s so overjoyed he says the young boy can be adopted by the Dowager Queen which puts him on track to succeed. Kim Byung-Hee barely flickers. He thinks he’s got lots of time to persuade the King to actually nominate someone else as the heir.

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

This leave us with two points of interest. Choon-Hong proves she’s a genuine time traveller by showing Dr Jin the Rubik’s cube he gave her in the hospital as she recovered from brain surgery. If she can go back and forth, so can he. Hong Young-Rae is now dreaming of Yoo Mi-Na, her future self, and to prove the entire thing is all going to require the maximum melodrama to work out, she’s also diagnosed with breast cancer. I have visions of script meetings where they discussed whether Dr Jin could search the countryside for meteors and hope to find enough radioactive material to give radiotherapy. This idea was, of course, dismissed. The risk of him finding Kryptonite was too great. Then comes the operation. Should he save the girl? He cuts. The pain in his head explodes. Lights flash before his eyes. He’s changing the future (again) but this time with the Universe telling him he’s doing the wrong thing. My head hurts too. The future is fighting back. “Don’t save the woman!” it shouts. So the naturally stubborn Dr Jin oversees the operation and her life is saved. He’s the irresistible force and the Universe had better look out. So to prove everything is now up for grabs, Kim Byung-Hee orders the worthless Kim Kyung-Tak to kill Lee Ha-Weung. He shoots. The man falls. Has the future really been changed?

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life's losers

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life’s losers

Frankly I can’t say I care. Dr Jin has been blundering around in the past saving everyone and changing history beyond all recognition since the series began, even introducing blood transfusion and making his own stethoscope out of bamboo. He saved hundreds in a cholera outbreak. Are we to assume this had no effect on the future because most of the people saved were slaves and peasants? It’s absurd this script makes everything turn on saving the yangban Kim Byung-Hee. In a science fiction plot, Dr Jin has completely wrecked the past and no matter what he might try to correct things, he’s doomed to fail. Except this is a historical fantasy with chronic romantic pretensions so one of the two versions of this woman, Hong Young-Rae or Yoo Mi-Na, will presumably get her man (or perhaps they both will). I’ve given up caring. However, just to bring us up to date (ha!), the latest explanation of this time travel ability depends on a particular mutation in the brain — step aside Time Lord in your TARDIS, this is a job for X-Woman Kate Pryde, i.e. the adult Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat. This explains both Choon-Hong’s physical travel and the visions of the future or past. However, she now informs us the downside of this mutation is that it becomes the site of a tumour if what the mutant does pushes either end of the transfer out of balance. So the foetus-like growth Dr Jin removed in the first episode was the organ permitting travel but grown life-threatening. Choon Hong tells Dr Jin he’s only got days left before he too dies. His headaches grow more frequent and disabling. Even so, he saves Lee Ha-Weung who, when the King dies without changing the implicit nomination of the boy destined become King Gojong, blackmails Kim Byung-Hee into permitting his son to be named heir. Progress of a kind is maintained as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) lurches towards the end for which will bring us all a merciful release from these terrible flashing lights and headache-inducing pictures on the screen.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe

December 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Wake of the Bloody Angel

Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe (Tor, 2012) is the fourth in the series featuring Eddie Lacrosse. He’s what the author calls a sword jockey, that’s fantasy-speak for a PI. He occupies space above Angelina’s Tavern in Neceda and, for twenty-five gold pieces a day plus expenses, you can hire him to do stuff for you. I need say no more to tell you what the formula is here. This is another of these genre-benders that mashes up hardboiled PI tropes in fantasy world of roughly late-mediaeval or early Renaissance level technology. The theory says this is a Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe figure with a sword and attitude. Sadly, the reality does not live up to the promise. I read the first in the series when it first came out. The Sword-Edged Blonde was his first published novel and it showed all the usual rough edges by not making up its mind what it wanted to be. It’s not a sword and sorcery with a mystery element. Although there are supernatural features like the dwarves and the horse goddess, it’s a very thin veneer. Our hero may be on a horse with a sword, but we’re expected to see through this fiction and accept it as a 1940s style PI novel. Hence the language is more modern and the social institutions are definitely not in period. This incongruity is intended to generate humour but, although the technique was polished. I was left less than impressed.

Alex Bledsoe at peace with his black coffee

Alex Bledsoe at peace with his black coffee

We now fast forward to this fourth outing and, if the formula was reasonably fresh when Eddie Lacrosse first appeared, it’s grown distinctly tired in the intervening years. This time, the supposed excuse for our hero to go traipsing round the landscape is the need to find out what happened to Angelina’s first and only love. As the name of the book suggests, this man was a notorious pirate: one Black Edward Tew. Twenty years ago, he was reputed to have captured an enormous treasure but then the titular ship was lost at sea with all hands. There’s been no sign of the treasure since which tends to confirm the reality of its loss. Thieves tend to be greedy and rather stupid. Put them next to gold, jewels and other expensive stuff and, ten minutes later. they are down at the nearest brothel spending like money is going out of fashion. So to help Eddie track down the bones of Black Edward, he recruits Jane Argo — a female counterpart who knows the pirate world and is deadly with the sword if called on to fight.

At this point, I release a pent-up deep sigh. This is a book which spends quite a lot of time at sea or on islands, doing piratical things. I’m not against people writing pirate books. I actually read one or two very good efforts fifty and more years ago. But modern authors tend to be reinventing the wheel. Indeed, truth be told, there’s very little to be done to make pirates interesting. Even space pirates capturing and plundering fails to inspire although I do admit to a sneaking admiration for One Piece which does have the right attitude, i.e. it can be magnificently silly. So Wake of the Bloody Angel is formulaic in the somewhat pejorative sense of the word. Our hero and sidekick go off, find out what happened and, in the best traditions of PI novels, report back to the client. Naturally, on the way, they discover their client has been somewhat economical with the truth. Since Angelina has been a major series character, the book is really filling in her back story and it does leave our hero with a slight dilemma of how much to tell her. All I can say is that I read it to the end. I have this misplaced sense of duty that, if an author has invested the time in writing the book, the least I can do is show respect and get to the end. Sadly, it lacks whatever spark was present in the first novel. This is more slick and professionally put together, but it has the feel of going through the motions. What little humour enlivened his first appearance at novel length has evaporated so, unless you are a die-hard fan of this author and his work, I cannot recommend this book.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) progresses, my hopes of crossing dimensions have been put on hold as our good Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) has confessed travelling back in time to Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young). And she believes him — he just looks so convincing with that sexy ponytail and those handsome eyes. Anyway, she’s now enthused with the idea of learning future medicine and so breaks off the engagement with Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) — poor boy, he looks so lost. Her mother (Kim Hye-Ok) is very distressed at the failure of this arranged marriage and throws her daughter out of the house. With nowhere else to go, she moves into the clinic. To keep the pot boiling, the jealous Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) conspires with Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) to frame Dr Jin for killing patients. All the clinic doctors get a beating and the clinic is closed. Note the scale of values on display here. The doctors are supposed to have killed several peasants so they each get ten strokes. I suppose it’s painful but, as punishments go, it hardly matches the seriousness of homicide. To move round Left Side Minister Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo), Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) gets in to see the Queen Dowager (Jeong Hye-Seon) and persuades her to allow Dr Jin to give her a wellbeing examination. While he’s inside the Palace, one of the Dowager Queen’s favourite entertainers falls ill. Yoo Hong-Pil, the Royal Doctor, says it’s just indigestion. The good doctor diagnoses a perforated ulcer. To demonstrate the point, he cuts open the man’s stomach with the Dowager Queen looking on, points out the hole, and just in case she wants to try it herself later on, shows her how to sew the stomach wall back together. It’s all terribly educational and, suitably impressed, she orders the clinic reopened. Meanwhile Lee Ha-Weung has moved a gambling operation into the upmarket brothel and is coining money. He plans to throw a banquet for the Dowager Queen and persuade her to back his son for the position of next King.

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and  and Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su)

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and and Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su)

We now come to a sequence showing what Korean drama can do if it tries hard enough. Mrs Hong stops eating properly after throwing her disobedient daughter out and gets Beriberi. Being stubborn she refuses to eat “ordinary” food with the right vitamins inside, so Dr Jin introduces donuts filled with the right stuff. This tempts her into eating and she begins to recover. When the Dowager Queen hears of this, she wants to eat donuts so they are ordered for the banquet. It all boils up nicely. Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) decides to assassinate Left Minister Kim Byung-Hee who, in turn, plans to kill the Dowager Queen and blame everyone troublesome. Come the day, Kim Kyung-Tak saves his father and, in a quiet back street, unmasks Hong Young-Whee. The Dowager Queen is fed poison and, under Dr Jin’s direction, Yoo Hong-Pil stomach pumps the poison out and saves her life, i.e. the murder plot is failing. But Dr Jin, Hong Young-Rae and Lee Ha-Weung are arrested anyway and tortured. With the King fed edited news, he orders their execution and it’s left to the conflicted Kim Kyung-Tak to save the day. As a reward, Kim Byung-Hee orders his illegitimate son to commit suicide, having carefully removed the bullet from the gun, and sends off Lee Ha-Weung into exile. Up to this point, this sequence is all relatively small-scale in terms of emotion and has a clever mystery element. Although we could have done with a less dramatic piece of surgery and the execution scene is interminable, this has been very successful. And finally, at the halfway mark, we get hints of how Dr Jin came to move through time (if that’s what he did). It all seems to be connected with Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon). How or why she has done this is unclear, but she tells him he has messed everything up because he saved the life of Kim Dae-Gyun. At least this is a step in the right direction and, if we’re going for the simplistic solution, Dr Jin can get the future back on track if only he can get rid of the Left Minister and fix the life of Hong Young-Rae which has been disrupted by his arrival. I could have done with a half-hour monologue from our hostess explaining exactly what’s going on, but that would be too much to expect at the halfway stage. Hopefully, we’ll get more infodumps nearer the end.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)

We now shift to Jinju in Gyeongsang province and the time is 1862, i.e. we arrive for the uprising. All the key players are present and tie themselves in rather silly knots as we slip into corny sageuk melodrama. Kim Kyung-Tak and the army arrive to put down the rebellion which is now led by Hong Young-Whee — promotion comes fast in the distant past. Lee Ha-Weung is passing through on his way into exile and Dr Jin is running after him to stop a premature execution ordered by Kim Byung-Hee. Hong Young-Rae is trying to find her brother. On this road trip, Dr Jin kills an insect nesting in a brigand’s ear and stitches up a corrupt magistrate who later shoots Hong Young-Whee. Dr Jin is now burdened with guilt but, when he returns to the capital, he’s promoted into the Palace to look after the King. Naturally, Kim Byung-Hee and Yoo Hong-Pil plan to kill the King and blame Dr Jin. Hong Young-Rae is left unconscious and in shock while an anxious Kim Kyung-Tak mops her fevered brow with a wet rag — it’s all he can manage in a tent in the middle of a battlefield after killing all the rebellious peasants. Hong Young-Whee fell off a cliff and is missing — we’re supposed to think he’s dead.

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) caught in the middle

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) caught in the middle

So we had a few good moments in this quartet of episodes before it relapsed into court intrigues and conspiracies. I’m warming to Kim Eung-Soo as the villainous Kim Byung-Hee. He’s a steady captain of the corrupt clan ship, doing just what he needs to maintain control. Kim Jae-Joong is still walking around like a pale ghost, making Kim Kyung-Tak a bit wearing to watch, but he’s beginning to show signs of a brain capable of independent thought even if he was prepared to kill himself on his father’s orders — also following this line, Lee Beom-Soo as Prince Lee Ha-Weung was submissive to the King’s order to drink poison. What a terrible waste of talent if all the best men obey the command to die if that’s what their Lords order. So Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) is verging on the unwatchable, but I’m still vaguely interested to see what explanation the scriptwriters offer for this time travel.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Clean by Alex Hughes

December 24, 2012 1 comment

Clean by Alex Hughes

I suppose I must classify myself as having been an addict. I grew up at a time when more or less everyone smoked so, being one of the herd, I followed. Looking back, this was less than rational. I was born an asthmatic and was plagued by a wide range of allergies. To have begun smoking was a tragic error. With breathing an increasing challenge, I then recognised the only approach to quitting is abstinence. It’s the psychology of the process. If you are serious, you give it up and never go back. If you are less than serious, you switch your dependence to something supposedly less dangerous. Why? Because perpetuating addictive behaviour means you don’t want to make a full recovery. As part of the process of getting clean from the more dangerous drugs, many in the counselling industry advocate different versions of the 12 Step Programs. Obviously you should not try to beat addiction alone so regular meetings with other addicts reinforce the commitment to stay clean. It’s helpful to know others are struggling with the same problems and holding out. This package of measures may include finding a “higher power” This is often taken to mean you should pray to God, but prayer and reading the Bible are not actually necessary so long as you develop the self-discipline to avoid relapse. Feeling you have someone stronger in your corner fighting for you helps. Why are we starting in this way?

As the title, Clean by the gender-neutral Alex Hughes A Mindspace Investigation Novel (Roc, 2012), suggests, our nameless Level 8 telepath with precognitive skills is a recovering Satin addict. As a first-person narrative, we’re therefore given a ringside seat as our “hero” struggles not to relapse (again). In the general run of genre classifications, this makes the book a dystopian, noirish, urban fantasy, thriller, science fiction police procedural story about identity and redemption (assuming he can stay clean, of course). Ah, you noticed the labelling confusion. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I despair of the publisher/retailer conspiracy to categorise books. Although I concede it’s useful to know which part of a big store to visit to find books I’m likely to want to buy, it’s not constructive to label with increasing particularity. This forces authors to write to a predetermined formula so their book fit, i.e. it stifles creativity. For what it’s worth, I approve of books like this which conflate elements into the whole as needed to build a world in which the action is to take place.

Alex Hughes with a promising first novel

Alex Hughes with a promising first novel

So we have a telepath who works for the police force. There’s a serial killer on the loose so our hero and Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino are off on the trail. The writing style is reasonably hardboiled or noir, but we’re set in a future following Tech Wars in which sentient technology tried to take over the world. Humanity was saved by those with Abilities and there are serious consequences including the abandonment of many types of technology. This has left the survivors in a very rundown city environment in which many aspects of life are unpleasant. To relieve the pervasive dystopian gloom, there are elements of romance between our hero and the Detective. Finally, the general level of threat and the need to fight to survive allows us to consider this a thriller. Thematically, if our hero stays clean, he may be considered redeemed and this will say something important about him as a person.

As a not wholly irrelevant aside, I wonder whether a part of the author’s intention is actually Edenic. Although it would be literally absurd to consider a dystopian environment anything like the Garden of Eden, we have a man who is struggling not to eat the apple. I also note that one of the 12 Steps is establishing a relationship with a higher power. In the Biblical sense, we distinguish between two types of covenant with God. Some are unconditional, i.e. God holds to His side of the bargain no matter what we do. Others, as in the Garden of Eden, are conditional, i.e. to avoid the loss of God’s bounty, Adam and Eve had to obey the covenant about the apple. What was the penalty for breaching this covenant? Instead of being able to live free off the land, Adam and Eve would have to work hard as farmers to grow their own food. Now return to one of the unconditional covenants. If you are redeemed from sin, you are allowed into Heaven. By hard work, you earn the ultimate reward.

So the essential questions are what Satin is, how and why our hero was first exposed to it, and whether he has sufficient strength to avoid relapse. In the midst of it all, there’s a serial murder case to crack and considerable personal danger to overcome. I find Clean very interesting. Although this may sound as if I’m damning the book with faint praise, this is not intended as a negative review. One reads books for many reasons and while this may not be the best science fiction book I’ve read this year and it’s certainly not the best noir thriller I’ve read, it does have a genuine willingness to explore the city and the implications of the Tech War that proved so devastating. The interaction between the Guild responsible for those with Ability and the police is intriguing. And the underlying motivation of those involved is revealed in a distinctly pleasing way. Clean is worth reading. For the record, the second book in the series is titled Sharp is due around Spring 2013 and I shall look out for it.

For a review of the second in the series, see Sharp.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well now we have these reviews for Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) under way, I need to catch up a little with some of the history on display in this Korean drama. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon), our time traveller, has ended up in the Joseon of 1860 and has met Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) before he becomes the Regent for his son, King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). We have King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) on the throne as this series starts. The initial intention of placing these real people in the path of our neurosurgeon is supposed to give him his first experience of keeping history on track (ha! as if that’s what’s happening in this series). So when the young king-in-waiting catches cholera, our hero is in there “inventing” IV technology to prevent dehydration. That way he keeps the future king alive for his appointment with destiny. Everything else is, of course, absurd. Having cured everyone in this peasant class suburb, our good doctor eventually succumbs to cholera (not surprising since he would have had no natural immunity to it). Thanks to Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) inserting a drip, he’s soon up and about and able to run around rescuing the sick when Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and the troops turn up to burn the village. Disease control in those days was rather basic. If you can’t cure the disease, destroy all places of possible infection. Notice that a blacksmith has now made needles for insertion into veins for the IV drips, there are glass jars slung from bamboo poles with clamps to regulate the flow. And when Dr Jin fell down, Hong Young-Rae knew exactly where his femoral artery was to save his life. This medical expertise is spreading with the speed of a contagious disease.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) wise beyond his years

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) wise beyond his years

Anyway, now Dr Jin’s talents have been recognised, he’s established himself as a teacher (can’t imagine why he does not think this is changing the future). He’s teaching basic anatomy and the theories of infection control with antiseptics made by boiling down rice wine to liberate the alcohol. Our good doctor then finds himself called into action by Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon). Yeon-Sim (No Eul), one of the girls, has developed syphilis. So our expert is all fired up to invent Penicillin using mould scraped off whatever happens to be rotting. But then he stops himself. If he does this, he says to himself, he will change history. This is a revelation. Change history. No he can’t possibly do that! I suppose we just have to close our eyes and accept this farrago of rubbish as the best a scriptwriting team inexperienced in science fiction can produce. He started off saving individuals who would have died. Then he saved the capital from a cholera epidemic — imagine how many people that saved who should have died. And now he stops because he wants to let a prostitute die! This series has some twisted morality on display.

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)  as a desperately jealous young man

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) as a desperately jealous young man

The relationship between the illegitimate Kim Kyung-Tak and the legitimate Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) is boiling up nicely. The young one has been victimized but still has a sense of morality about him. The aggressive legitimate son is a crook who was profiteering during the cholera outbreak and is dealing with the Westerners on the quiet which is a federal crime. Anyway, as a result of his market manipulations, dim-but-legitimate son has managed to amass a cache of gold. Lee Ha-Weung and Joo Pal Yi (Lee Won-Jong) work out he has the gold hidden in his home. Since they also know Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) is the leader of a rebellious bandit group, they persuade him to steal the gold. Meanwhile Dr Jin’s conscience has been gnawing at his vitals, so he whips together an instant production facility and produces Penicillin while teaching the doctors all about the scientific method. This saves Yeon-Sim only for her to be arrested and tortured to reveal whom she told about meeting the Westerner. Rather than give up her love, she commits suicide leaving Lee Ha-Weung all fired up to change Korean society for the better. He starts by getting Dr Jin to operate to remove a giant tumour from neck of the current Dowager Queen’s favourite niece. Meanwhile Kim Kyung-Tak pushes up the date for his marriage to Hong Young-Rae. When she goes to Dr Jin’s clinic to quietly return his future clothing, she’s injured in a fire set by one of the doctors who has stolen the Penicillin to sell on at a vast profit. Now Dr Jin has to save the girl (again) which would be straightforward except Kim Dae-Gyun is encouraged to kill him and Lee Ha-Weung. Oh dear, the assassins are back in action wearing their black straw hats of office.

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) it's tough to be the love interest in Korean drama

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) it’s tough to be the love interest

As an irrelevant aside, suppose Dr Jin has not gone back in time but has moved sideways into another dimension which is at an earlier point in its development. If that was the case, the timeline would be irrelevant and he could make a new world without worrying about its future. I mention this because he keeps talking about coming from “another world” rather than from this world’s future. In fact, that version of the plot would solve all of the paradox issues at a stroke. I suppose Song Seung-Heon is not doing too badly as a fish out of water — Dr Jin does have trouble with the local culture even though he’s apparently grown a ponytail in incredibly fast time — and it has been mildly interesting to watch Lee Beom-Soo sober up as Lee Ha-Weung. There’s very bad continuity before, during and after the fire as the young King Gojong seems to have disappeared. That just leaves us with Kim Jae-Joong doing reasonably well as the conflicted and naturally jealous Kim Kyung-Tak. Everyone else is on auto-pilot as Joseon stock characters. Overall, Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin is rather tedious as historical fantasy. I had hoped there would be invention as science fiction but, so far, the only thing missing has been a plague of zombies for him to cure, i.e. the medical side of the plot is ludicrous and the Joseon sageuk side is by-the-numbers court conspiracies.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

December 22, 2012 2 comments

The Emperor's Soul

According to Brandon Sanderson, the author, The Emperor’s Soul (Tachyon Press, 2012) is set on the same world as Elantris which was the quite spectacularly wonderful first novel he published. In my estimation, it’s now been relegated to his second best book but, if you have not read it, you should. It’s a remarkably assured piece of fantasy writing. For our immediate purposes, there’s no need to have read Elantris to enjoy this novella. Although the seeds of the system of magic are the same, this can be read as a standalone. So what’s it about?

Let me start off with a question for you. Suppose there are two people whose command of the craft of painting is so complete, they can both replicate the styles of well-known and collectible artists. One uses this skill to copy existing masterpieces. He then steals the originals and replaces them with the copies. His motive is the satisfaction in knowing the works on display are fakes but of such high quality, no-one viewing them would ever be aware of the substitution. The other paints creatively in the style of well-known artists. He then “discovers” previously unknown masterpieces and sells them on as authentic. Needless to say, he has to forge documentation providing the paintings with due provenance. But both painters arrive at the same result, namely that their paintings hang on display with everyone accepting them as genuine. Indeed, you could argue that the more people see the paintings and accept them as genuine, the more strongly genuine the fakes become. If you like, the collective belief in their validity transcends reality and gives them a greater veneer of respectability. The more time passes, the greater the public certainty the paintings are masterpieces. Why does this matter? People collect originals for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important is more than a passing respect for the artist’s vision. When you see the picture, it’s as if you are looking through the artist’s eyes, seeing the world as he or she did. There’s also the attraction of owning something with a reputation — the longer the reputation the better if you are caught on the third reason which is the investment potential. Or perhaps there’s a rather more subtle ineffable emotion, a kind of mystique surrounding the ownership of a genuine example of beauty. Whatever the reason, some people’s lives are built around collecting. For them, it would be very distressing if they were to discover they had a fake hanging on their walls. Yet, in a way, it might suit them to deny such accusations. Admitting they had been deceived would make them look less than expert. It might be better to insist the paintings were real.

Brandon Sanderson — now the standout fantasy author of this century

Brandon Sanderson — now the standout fantasy author of this century

It’s the same with people. If you want to pretend to be someone you’re not, the way you present yourself to the world has to be authentic. Mere imitation will never succeed. Everyone has to believe you are real. For example, someone like Frank Abagnale was able to persuade people he was an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and so on. The question, of course, is how you appear to be genuine. It’s all to do with the signs. You have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, adopting the right manner with other people around you accepting your right to occupy that role. The more other people reinforce your credibility, the more likely it is that newcomers will fall into line and also accept your performance as genuine. Identity and status are very much in the eye of the beholder.

So let’s meet Shai. She’s a Forger (note the capitalisation) and a thief — although being a thief is incidental to her primary trade which is using a form of magic to persuade objects and places to remember being something different. Such are her skills, she can make more or less anything appear to be a genuine example of [insert appropriate noun]. This could be changing a crudely made vase into a beautiful jug or persuading a wall it would look better with a hole through which she could escape capture. She has been captured while attempting a rather complex series of substitutions. This is fortuitous because Emperor Ashravan has been attacked by assassins and left as an empty body. The ruling council decides to use Shai to recreate the Emperor’s “soul”. The idea is simple. If she can fake an object, why can she not fake a person so that all around him would accept him as genuine. The fact this person happens to be the Emperor raises the stakes and makes it an interesting challenge. The ageing Gaotona accepts the primary role of go-between while she goes through the creative process. This is just as well because he’s the only truly honest person on the council.

What then happens is a fascinating discussion about the nature of authenticity and the extent to which it can ever be faked. This is beautiful storytelling combined with some provocative ideas about how we view the world and the extent to which we can be manipulated. Although it’s properly to be classed as a fantasy, it’s actually a fake. It’s really literature exploring notions more usually found in dry books dealing with semiotics and psychology. Not that this thematic subtext should deter you. This is pure fantasy — no, really, it is! I unreservedly recommend The Emperor’s Soul. It’s a joy to read!

For reviews of other books by Brandon Sanderson, see:
Alcatraz versus The Scrivener’s Bones
The Hero of Ages
The Rithmatist
Warbreaker
The Way of Kings
The Well of Ascension
The Words of Radiance

This is nominated for the 2013 Hugo Awards for Best Novella.

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