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Dark City by F. Paul Wilson

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Dark-City-Repairman-Jack--356160-e87bb8e4ec830c27f840

Dark City by F. Paul Wilson (Tor, 2013) sees the in-filling continue in the Repairman Jack saga. For those of you keeping count, there were the three books dealing with the teen years and then we have the sixteen book series leading up to the revised Nightworld which also concludes the Adversary Cycle. This is the second book in the Early Years Trilogy. This new sequence shows Jack arriving in New York in February 1991, and beginning to establish the basis of the career in which he becomes the Repairman. In Cold City, he consolidates the friendship with Abe, and meets Julio and the Mikulski brothers. There’s excitement as Jack gets involved in an operation to disrupt a child sex abuse ring which leads us into a story with multiple threads.

At this point I need to take one step back and write a few words for those who have not previously encountered Repairman Jack. Here’s a listing of the running order so far: http://www.repairmanjack.com/forum/content.php?157≈ As you can see, this is an epic piece of work and everything is woven together. The characters who appear in this book are fairly constant throughout the series and, for those of you new to the series, the coincidences which save our hero are not coincidences. For example, the “woman” known as Mrs Clevinger plays the guardian angel to save Jack, and on the other side, Drexler is deep in the thick of things to recruit helpers to promote chaos when the “time” comes. In fact, the teen and early years set of books is all part of a major irony which runs throughout the series. From the outset, Jack is a young man in search of himself as an independent person. He wants to live an unremarked life, below the radar. As we find him in this novel, he’s living on cash reserves. He has no social security number, no bank account, and no credit card. He thinks he’s finding his own way yet, unknown to him, he’s being shepherded — “groomed” is not quite the right word because it’s acquired an unfortunate sexual connotation — in a particular direction. If you read this book as a standalone, there will be much you will not understand. Yes, the book has exciting passages but, without a context, I suspect you will struggle to derive any consistent enjoyment. So because the YA books are less than perfect for adult sensibilities, the advice has to be to go back to the true beginning, i.e. Black Wind and The Keep. That way, you get a better understanding what’s happening and why. The only downside to this is that you’re no longer reading a conventional thriller. From the outset, the overarching narrative is a supernatural or horror thriller. If that’s not your thing, it may be a good idea not to start because, as the series gets closer to Year Zero, it grows more obviously supernatural (in the broadest sense of the word because elements of the plot are actually science fiction).

F. Paul Wilson

F. Paul Wilson

For the purposes of this plot, we have the first early planning of terrorist action against the Twin Towers. This is going to use Moslem jihadists to plant a bomb. We get to the 9/11 assault in Ground Zero (secret history stories are great fun). So this episode sees Jack still pursued by the “Dominicans”, Jack changing apartments, buying a new car, and thinking about where his relationship with Cristin might be going, and a second auction set up as a trap. As is required in Repairman novels, there’s quite a high body count. In this case, we’re also into exploring the best response to the sexual abuse of children. Needless to say, this book is not suggesting probation and/or other noncustodial forms of treatment aimed at rehabilitation. It assumes the worst of the men and takes a firm line in punishment. That this also disrupts the plans both of Drexler and the jihadists is an unappreciated side effect.

Since I’ve been reading F. Paul Wilson from the beginning of his writing career, Dark City was a necessary addition to the pile to read. As a fan it does not disappoint. It maintains the usual pace with plenty of incident to entertain on the way to a satisfying climax and a good hook into the final volume in the immediate trilogy.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

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

The Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Mao Tse Tung once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.” And then there’s that old Irish joke about the visiting American lost in the countryside who asks a farmer how to get to Dublin. The farmer advises, “I wouldn’t be starting from here if I were you. . .” All of which is a first step to a review of The Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson (Gauntlet Press, 2011).

In my previous reviews I’ve been confidently writing the “news” that this volume completes the narrative arc to link up with Nightworld and so will be the last Repairman Jack novel. Yet, it seems pressure has been applied to Mr. Wilson (in the nicest possible way, of course, and probably involving the transfer of dollars) and the latest news is there will be three more books. This time he intends to fill in the gap between Jack’s arrival in New York and The Tomb. This will then be the new end and Jack will not be pining for New York. He will be no more. I’m not quite sure what I think of this. I suppose it will make a change to go back to his early days as an adult fixer — remember we’ve already seen him fixing a couple of things in Johnson which were a little tame — so it’s going to be all about Jack picking up experience while living under the radar. I’m not against the idea of Jack without the supernatural trappings. Some of the early novels do work well as almost pure thrillers. But we’ll have to wait and see how Jack’s moral code forms. One of the problems with the YA trilogy is the tendency to explain Jack’s early evolution. The difference between showing and telling led to some slightly soggy passages. As a mature fixer, Jack is formidable and just gets on without thinking to hard about what he’s doing. I fear we may meet a Jack who’s overintellectualising his development into a “hero”.

F. Paul Wilson dashing off another Repairman story

Which is my way of filling in before starting the review of The Dark at the End. The opening sections are actually rather flat, slightly lacking the characteristic Wilson sparkle on the prose front. There’s a rushed feel to it as if he’s working hard to summon enthusiasm for finishing this grand project and just wants to see it done. After a while, it settles down and gets more of a flow to it, but it’s not quite as smooth a read as some of the earlier books. As to the plot, we see everything now poised for Rasalom to unleash “Hell on Earth”. The Lady is no longer broadcasting and Jack’s attack on the One has failed. The way all the pieces are moved around the board is pleasingly precise, ensuring we get where we need to be for Nightworld to work — although, truth be told, Wilson has been at work revising the original which first appeared back in 1992. At lot has been happening in the intervening years and getting all the dots on the “i”s and crosses on the “t”s will take some tweaking. The definitive version is due out sometime in 2012.

So there you have it. For those of you who, like me have been waiting for this book, it delivers a good ending of the narrative arc. For everyone else, don’t start reading this series here. You won’t know who anyone is nor why they are acting in sometimes bizarre ways. If you genuinely want to be completest with Jack, start with the YA books and then get on to the series proper. If you want to big picture, follow this link for the storyline.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

Fatal Error by F. Paul Wilson

March 13, 2011 4 comments

Fatal Error by F. Paul Wilson (Gauntlet Press, 2010) is a perfect example of the idiom, “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” I say this knowing there’s one more novel in this narrative arc to go — called The Dark at the End — leaving only the revisions to Nightworld to follow, and then we’ll have to find something else long-running to think about.

In a sense, the Repairman Jack and Adversary Cycle oeuvre appeals to my general sense of neatness. Well, my wife would say that needs a word of clarification. In the physical world, my filing system depends on the volcano principle. The piles nearest to me are the hot papers relevant to my current tasks. The further away the papers stray from my desk, the less hot and so less important they are. My wife is actually allowed to take the really cold stuff by the door and stuff it away into boxes against the possibility I might some day want to see it again. But, allowing for this site being me at play rather than at work, I always try to get everything in apple-pie order. So it’s a joy to watch F. Paul Wilson slowly retrofit all his early works to accommodate this new arc involving Repairman Jack. I suppose there must be comparable efforts to write and rewrite at this length to produce a coherent whole out of disparate elements. But, if they exist, I can’t say I’ve encountered them.

Coming to Fatal Error, Dawn finally gives birth, the Lady is under attack again, and Veilleur’s weakness is finally unmasked in North Carolina, which you can read about in Reprisal. The most interesting aspect of this penultimate episode is the greater prominence given to the theme of free will vs determinism. Let’s leave Jack to one side for a moment and think about the Lady. As the Beacon, she’s been the one thing standing between the Otherness and a takeover of Earth. If the Ally believes the Earth has been lost, i.e. the Beacon stops transmitting, Rasalom will be able to trigger the change. So Fatal Error gives us the third attempt on the Lady’s life. Going back to Ground Zero and the failure of the Fhinntmanchca, we should all take a moment to reflect on why the Lady was still with us at the end of that book. Her return may have looked involuntary, but let’s speculate whether she might have the power to keep transmitting. How else can a tailored weapon fail to produce the intended effect?

In an ordered universe, sufficient cause will always produce the relevant effect. This would deny the possibility of free will. Going back to Secret Vengeance for a moment, Mrs Clevinger berates the dog for healing the raccoon because it bends the natural order. Yet the fate of the raccoon was changed. Some things happen despite the “natural order”. In this instance, the dog appears to be the force of free will. If Wilson was describing a world where determinism ruled, nothing “new” could happen and future events could not be changed. So, the arrival of Mrs Clevenger and the dog would be the prior event, the healing of the raccoon is predetermined. This leaves open the more interesting question of whether the Lady can decide whether to end her existence.

What makes Jack interesting is that he’s the ultimate example of genetic determinism, i.e. his existence has been shaped from the moments before his conception to his final contribution in the fight against the Otherness. The issue we are left with is whether the genetic make-up so lovingly explained in Bloodline, predetermines his behaviour. Is Jack simply dancing to the tune of his genes, or does he have the innate capacity to grow and change as a person? The way the YA Secret History trilogy is written suggests his early life’s experiences help shape his character and that he does have some freedom. Against this is the consistent mantra that there’s no such thing as coincidence in his life. This suggests outside forces are always setting him up to act in a particular way. Yet, at the very least, we regularly see him taking the decision to kill or not to kill. Notice that he does not abandon the idea of morality. If he came to believe everything he did was predetermined, the appearance of choice would be empty and meaningless. There would be no point in retaining a code of morality.

F. Paul Wilson

In reality, everyone sane, including Jack, acts in a voluntary way, i.e. what they do reflects their wishes and desires. Once you accept that people may formulate plans to achieve desired outcomes and then put those plans into action, it’s hard to deny free will. Particularly when the actions are more spontaneous. This emphasises the importance of a moral framework for actions. Instead of being fatalistic and denying the reality of choices, we should be guided by our notions of responsibility and justice. From the outset, Jack is a force for good. He may not always achieve a good outcome to his fixes by following secular laws, but he does what he believes to be right and reasonable in all the circumstances. He’s choosing between right and wrong according to a different set of values, and taking responsibility for what happens, even when that’s unexpected.

Now that Veilleur has let slip the dogs of war, we are left to see how Jack will take on the challenge in the final book before we get back to the rewritten Nightworld. I’ve already ordered my copy and am looking forward to it. I will end with my usual warning that, if you have not read any Repairman Jack, do not start here. Everything makes more sense if you start at the beginning.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

Secret Vengeance by F. Paul Wilson

Emotions run at different levels depending on events. Normally, when we reach the end of something satisfactory or better, we savour the moment, looking back at the pleasure it has given us. So here I am. I have just finished Secret Vengeance by F. Paul Wilson (Gauntlet Press, 2010). This completes the YA Secret History trilogy, starting with Secret Histories and followed by Secret Circles. Yet the best I can manage is a more dispassionate admiration that we have filled in so many of the backstory elements needed to appreciate the whole of the Repairman Jack cycle.

I suppose, in part, I am less involved because this is written for younger readers. It therefore lacks some of the textual density that can offer a better view of events. Although it does show Jack continuing to develop his interest in fixes, it’s a rather more stripped-down narrative. Nevertheless, it nicely links in with the more supernatural tone associated with the Barrens, and gives us a better look at Mrs Clevenger, her dog and Weird Walt, back in compassionate action again. We also finally get to meet Mr Foster who, as those of you who have read the continuing adult series will know, is rather important.

I was pleased with the exploration of the circumstances surrounding Jack’s birth and it was interesting to learn that, according to the test administered by Mr. Drexler, Jack and his father both have blue overtones. Obviously, the long-term breeding programme works to transmit the right genes. It was intriguing that this is probably responsible for rendering Jack “invisible” to Saree, the Piney children and you know who. It also confirms why the q’qr would keep him safe in Secret Circles.

F. Paul Wilson — proof of life

Anyway, this is a slightly more traditional Jack fix. Weezy is attacked by the local school’s quarterback hero so he must be taken down a peg or two. The primary point of interest is not so much the way in which this is achieved — truth be told, in round three, this is somewhat overwritten — but in the continuing slow evolution of a moral framework for Jack’s activities. Prompted by one of his teachers, Jack extends the debate of what he might consider it legitimate to do in defence of himself or others, continuing the “good work” begun in Secret Circles. Incidentally, this prompts the right response to the temptation offered by Abe Grossman, the man who later becomes Jack’s quartermaster.

Structurally, I feel the trilogy would have built to a better climax if we had reversed the pyramid and the quarterback. Although, in saying this, we still have the big unknown of what’s going to happen in The Dark at the End — the book that finally closes the narrative arc and links us back into Nightworld. So it may be necessary for Jack to make better contact with the Pineys and see the lumens as the concluding elements in the broader narrative pattern. However it does all fit together, Secret Vengeance is slightly more downbeat in tone with Jack inevitably feeling some guilt in contributing to the death. Perhaps, given the darker feel to the adult Jack, that’s not a bad way to say goodbye to him as a teen.

For all my reviews of books by F Paul Wilson, see:

Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

Secret Circles by F. Paul Wilson

Well, here we are with the second installment of the young adult series involving the soon-to-be Repairman Jack. Continuing on from Secret Histories, we are once again pitched in with Jack and Weezy growing up in Johnson on the fringes of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. In production terms, Gauntlet Press has produced one of its better pieces of jacket art, neatly capturing the antiquity of the pyramid. It’s interesting to compare this to the jacket design produced by TOR which is completely underwhelming. The repetition of the word “secret” in the titles continues the theme of the secret history of the world which underpins the entire series. But this reference to circles is somewhat pedantic. Let’s take the idea of the narrative arc. As you know, arcs are parts of a circle. To highlight the “obvious” notion that plots develop cause and effect which may have some degree of circularity is uninspiring, to put it mildly. Even a young reader might find it redundant to have all this explained at the end of the book.

I confess to finding the first outing in this Jack Junior version somewhat tedious as, regrettably, I find most modern young adult fiction indigestible. But this is a major improvement. We are caught up in the disappearance and probable kidnapping of a five-year old. It’s not Jack’s fault Cody Bockman goes missing, but he feels guilty in not having seen the boy home when he had the chance. This leaves us in the situation of knowing Jack will be at work in trying to get the boy back.

Why, then, is this “young adult” book more readable? Several factors are at work. The first is a less patronising approach. Despite the explanation of circularity referred to above, F. Paul Wilson has managed not to follow the more usual tendency of authors in dumbing down the plot and the language used. Although the vocabulary is slightly less demanding, it’s definitely pitched at “older” readers. More importantly, the adults are acting with a more appropriate level of intelligence (or lack of it). In part, this is forced because of Jack’s emerging interest in fixing things. Once Jack is exposed to the reality of marital abuse, we are into complex human emotions. Fortunately, Wilson keeps everything reasonably realistic as Jack wrestles with his conscience when “wiser” heads advise him not to interfere. Later thinking about whether he did the right thing strikes the right tone for adults, young and old. For younger readers it’s an engaging teaching vehicle. For the completists among us, it represents the first real attempt on Jack’s part to rationalise his value system. In the first book, there was too much left unsaid. Wilson has begun to take this origins project more seriously and the results are better.

The next factor is a more dense set of references from and to the Adversary Cycle and the Repairman series. Part of the appeal of any origins series is the opportunity to put all the building blocks in place for what we know is to come. By definition, this is an elaborate game. As readers, we can watch the author tick all the boxes while all the characters are going through the pages, oblivious to the significance of the events unfolding around them. So now we see the emerging relationship between Jack and Drexler more clearly and, thanks to Bloodline, we can understand why Cody’s kidnapper would not want to hurt Jack. The Traveling Circus pitches its tents. It’s good to see Walter Erskine back in action after The Touch, and is this an underground village along the lines we first saw in The Keep? The idea of a buried city is always interesting. In this case, we avoid the necropolis cliché and focus on how this might be connected to the pyramid. For those who like a little additional information, the creature is a q’qr, a survivor from the First Age. That said, the idea the pyramid would not have been found by more outsiders is a bit convenient. With the government overflying the area in helicopters, you would expect someone to have seen it, particularly if they were so interested in the first site discovered in Secret Histories. Experienced investigators would have widened the area of search. And then Jack can quickly pick out a fifteen-foot high pyramid on an aerial photo. . . Yeah, well, he’s good like that.

Despite my minor carping, this is a genuinely more interesting effort from Wilson with everything set up nicely for the third installment — Secret Vengeance. It’s worth having a look at.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

Ground Zero by F. Paul Wilson

As it should with such a mammoth effort spanning so many novels, novellas and novelettes, the book begins with an author’s note. It apologises for the fact that, after we get back to Nightworld (only two more volumes to go before the loop closes, although a revision of Nightworld itself is promised), there will be no more Repairman Jack. In some senses, this was probable. Having established the broad narrative flow from the Secret Histories onward, it would be quite difficult to create new Jack stories without it being related to the Adversary Cycle in some way. The only real option would be Jack’s first cases before we get to The Tomb. Yet, perhaps after so many million words on the subject, I can well understand Wilson might be tired of him. Except, of course, the same vague rumours of a film version of The Tomb continue to rumble away in the background. This could force Jack on to Wilson’s front burner from time to time. I speculate that a successful film might persuade Jack out of retirement for non-horror-related repairs in the style of Travis McGee — a not-uninteresting prospect.

Anyway, as to Ground Zero (Gauntlet Press, 2009) itself, this is a classic example of a whole new set of blasts from the past all being fitted together into the narrative drive. Characters from the Secret Histories series are suddenly front and centre with a lot more explanation of the links between people being given. At a purely technical level, the structure of the work as a whole is genuinely impressive and it would be fascinating to know how many years ago Wilson began to fit all the pieces together. Although there are inevitable moments of clunkiness as vertical strokes made earlier are crossed or dotted to make the right letters, it’s a pleasure to watch the crew set up the stage for the final scenes by moving props and furniture into position, and getting everything ready for the actors to say their lines.

This is not a “classic” Jack novel with our hero recruited by a client and then cutting through the opposition to a neatly packaged solution. We are now very much on to the fixed set of rails taking us towards Rasalom’s emergence into our world as the representative of the Otherness. To that extent, this is a stepping-stone book to get us from here to there. This is not to deny the ingenuity of the plot. As a conspiracy theory underlying the attack on the Twin Towers, this is a very clever inversion of expectations. There are also innovative solutions to problems. I had always wondered how one might actually get useful information out of the Compendium. Now I know. The introduction of the noosphere and its creation of a beacon to signal its existence to outsiders is just on the right side and not overplayed as a Gaia Earth Mother which would have been far too New Age for my taste. More importantly, the idea of the Fhinntmanchca as a kind of antimatter to switch off the beacon and so undermine the support of the Ally is particularly pleasing. We can cavil at the slight lack of logic that it is not dangerous per se. It can move through the world without damaging anyone or anything unless it touches a person, thing or surface with its hand. But, hey, this is all supernatural magic so it does not need to be logical.

As someone well into the careful reveal of the events leading up to Nightworld, I remain hooked. There are slight moments of tedium where exposition slows things down too much. But, overall, it’s another readable and enoyable book from F. Paul Wilson. It should go without saying that, if you have not read any of the other books, do not start with this. For all the other fans, this is another must-have.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

By the Sword by F. Paul Wilson

As the explanation for an idiom, let us allow for the world to be an impossibly large place. To lose one object or one person would present you with a haystack worthy of the challenge to find the needle. Even a city the size of New York — a mere 8,274,527 people occupying just under 305 square miles if you believe wikipedia — would make life difficult. So it is that F. Paul Wilson pitches Repairman Jack back into the continuing saga of the Adversary Cycle. This time continuing on from Bloodline, we come into By the Sword (Gauntlet Press, 2008), the title containing a big hint about the number of people likely to die. He still has the need to search for Dawn on his mind and, as is the custom, he picks up a commission to look for a sword. So, as Randy Jackson would say, “Keeping it real, dog!” this would present a serious challenge to the combined forces of New York’s finest, the FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA to deal with the Threat from Beyond. But there is one consistent thread in all Repairman stories. There’s no such thing as coincidence. Put another way, this brings us to the Moirae.

In classical mythology, there were three women who worked together as The Fates. The first, Clotho, spun the thread of life. The second, Lachesis, measured the thread out to each person as their span of life. The third, Atropos, cut the thread of life when it was due to end. The point of this trinity is that fate is an inexorable mistress. They know the span allotted to you and never hesitate to bring death as closure when time has expired. Yet, unlike the word “destiny” which has quite positive connotations, the Fates were seen as remorseless or relentless. This is quite different from the notion of destiny which has more positive connotations. People are always far more positive and hopeful as they work towards their end. Even if they believe their destiny is to die, it is associated with the idea of heroism and this can inspire both actors and their observers to respect the individual. Fate, on the other hand, has a bad reputation. It can play us false and lead us to destruction.

As we have seen from the prequel Secret Histories, Jack’s feet were firmly planted on the path from his youngest years. He is, if you like, genetically predisposed to be a player in the final battles. Thus, as a young man, he is already surrounded by the characters who will play a major role in his adult life. This brings me to a metaphorical moment. A watch has a face with hands or a digital display to mark the passage of time. The mechanism for analogue timepieces has a balance wheel, which as its name suggests, keeps an even balance between equally matched but opposing forces. There is a gear train to produce the driving force for the whole plot of time to be delivered to that point when the spring must be rewound to restart the movement and, for Jack, there must be escapement (for now). Time marches on inexorably and, in a sense, we are forced to go along with it (or perhaps that should be the other way round since it was the humans who thought up the concept of time in the first place). Whatever! We know Jack has to survive until we get to Nightworld, the last book in the cycle. Thus, there is no suspense. No matter what happens, Jack has to survive.

This leaves him and the readers as rather passive observers to the passage of time. Everything that should happen to advance the plot does happen. Dawn and the sword move round like pawns on the writer’s board. Jack gets all the other major factions to fight each other and, for the most part, lets them get on with the serious business of killing each other. It’s all a little perfunctory, including the resolution of what happens to the sword. As Donald Rumsfeld, who was Secretary of Defence in the US, once famously said, “Stuff happens, and it’s untidy. . .” Except that here it’s all a bit too tidy. The mechanism has to deliver us to a particular point so the next volume can carry on, and that’s what it does. It does so as entertainingly as it can. Wilson’s prose is as clean cut as ever, the plot develops at a good pace with some nice quirks, but I feel my interest waning a little. To paraphrase Macbeth, “. . .to be well done, it were better done quickly.” I want to see the whole Adversary Cycle all over. The oeuvre is beautifully envisioned and it deserves to be finished. I just wish I could skim through the rest now and see how all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed. Then I could walk away contented.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

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