The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

DickTheManInTheHighCastleNarrator: Jeff Cummings

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2015)

Length: 9 hours 58 minutes

Author’s Page

In this alternate history, the US and it’s allies lost WWII in the 1940s. The US in 1962 is divided up between Germany and Japan, with an unoccupied strip in the middle following the Rocky Mountain Range. A banned novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is read by many of the main characters, influencing their choices, but perhaps not as much as the popular I Ching.

It was very interesting visiting this SF classic after having watched the first season of the TV series. Juliana is one of the few ladies to have a full name and a role in the plot. She’s Frank Frink’s ex-wife and lives in Canon City in the neutral Mountain States teaching martial arts. Meanwhile, Frank is still in San Francisco working at a metalsmith’s shop. He’s one of a shrinking number of Jewish Americans living in the Japanese occupied states. For me, it was these two characters that I initially gravitated towards the most.

A Mountain States author wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some years ago and it was initially banned in all Axis occupied lands. However, Japan lifted it’s ban and this has allowed the book to spread a bit. This book depicts a world in which the Allies won; the book’s WWII outcome doesn’t reflect our historical reality but provides yet another possible scenario which I found interesting. Most of the main characters have an interaction with this book and each character’s reaction is a bit different. Juliana becomes a bit obsessed with the book after she meets a truck driver, Joe Cinnadella, who let her borrow his copy.

I didn’t particularly like Juliana after she hooked up with Joe. Her character really had this shift that I didn’t find fully believable. I also noticed the same thing happen with Robert Childan, the man who runs a San Francisco antiques store. Both characters change direction and are then used by the plot. It felt like PKD wrote a quarter of this novel, set it aside, and when he came back to it he decided he wanted to take a different path but was too lazy to rewrite these characters to fit what came next. Instead, he just has this rather swift shift in character for each of them that feels unnatural the rest of the book.

While there is not much more than a peek into Nazi-occupied US, we do hear quite a bit about the Germans. They have a huge advantage in technology, so much so that they are sending Germans to Mars and Venus to colonize them. Japan is increasingly falling behind in their tech and tensions continue to mount between these two world powers. I did get a giggle out of the apparent jump in tech and science (colonizing Mars) and yet the Germans and Japanese continue to use tape recorders. I just had to keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1962 and many authors, even the SF greats, rarely saw any tech beyond physical recordings on some sort of plastic strip.

The story winds up the reader, tightening the tension with each chapter. Some characters are just trying to get by. Others are actively assisting the German government in maintaining their current world dominance. Some few are interested in finding a way out of this Germany/Japanese controlled world for everyone. Yet even as the story reaches what I was expecting to be the final crescendo, nothing truly big happens at the end. Most of our characters are still, for the most part, stuck in their various situations trying to find a way out. Nothing is truly resolved. Since I wasn’t fully invested in the characters, I was OK with that. This novel was pretty mediocre for me.

I received a free copy of this book from eStories in exchange for a review of their audiobook services. Their service is set up much the same as other audiobook platforms. When you sign up, you get 1 audiobook for free and you have this free audiobooks trial period as well. There’s also the free audiobooks download app for iPhone or Android. Keep in mind, my experience is for this single book. Nowhere on their website does it say that you can download to a PC or laptop, so I had to clarify that with a representative before I agreed to give their services a try since 90% of my audiobook listening happens on a laptop. Once I signed up, I picked out my book, I went to my eStories library, and there is a DOWNLOAD button, which I clicked. I was expecting options to pop up – various formats, perhaps a eStories specific player for computers (or links to Windows Media Player or iTunes), etc. However, instead it just started downloading a zip file full of the MP3s for my book. Now, for me, this was fine. Once fully downloaded in my Download Folder, I wanted to move my audiobook to another folder but the move failed completely and I had to redownload. (I don’t know if the failed download was due to corrupted files or not, but considering the small difficulty with the Android player, that might well be the case.) Later on, since we were headed out on a road trip, we downloaded the same book from eStories to my man’s Android cellphone. The download went swiftly, however there was some minor corruption of each MP3 file. Each file ended with a random sentence fragment taken from that file. At first, we thought the eStories player was cutting off the last word or two of the chapter but a spot check of my laptop audiobook revealed what was happening (though not the why of it). I informed my contact of this and the info was passed on to the tech team, so hopefully that is already fixed if you go to use the Android player. Browsing their selection is pretty good – genre, length, abridged or unabridged, etc. They don’t have as big a selection as Audible.com but they do have some small publishers and indie authors/narrators as well as the big publishing houses. You can create a Wish List as well. One cool thing is that you can upload any audiobook from your computer to your eStories library and from there listen to it on your Android or iPhone. I haven’t tried this yet but I like the idea for Librivox audiobooks for my husband’s Android. Each book has a detailed description – author, narrator, publisher, length, series, etc. However, unlike other platforms, I can’t click on the series and have all the books in the series pop up. Overall, eStories has potential.

The Narration:  Jeff Cummings was OK. He did fine with regional American accents but his foreign accents were pretty rough, especially his Italian accent. He did do a good job imbuing the characters with emotions at the right times. 

What I Liked: It was an interesting look into a world where WWII had a different outcome; Frank Frink is an interesting character; Having the US divided up into 3 sections gives a view into 3 different sets of human standards; use of the I Ching; the alternate WWII ending in the fictitious book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

What I Disliked: Juliana is one of the few female characters; a few characters have sudden shifts in their outlooks and then their motives feel forced the rest of the book; no real look into German-occupied US; the story winds us up and then just leaves us; narration was a little rough with foreign accents.

VintageScifiBadgeVintage SciFi Month! This book was originally published in 1962, and being of the alternate history SF genre, it easily qualifies for my Vintage SF challenge. Hooray! Anyone is welcome to join the yearly Vintage SF Month!

What Others Think:

Philip K. Dick Fan Site

Conceptual Fiction

Prometheus Unbound

Infinity Plus

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Man of la Book

Pacific Burn by Barry Lancet

LancetPacificBurnWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Scott Brick

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 9 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jim Brodie

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works fine as a stand along novel.

Jim Brodie’s passion is art and he loves his life as an art dealer. However, he inherited another life from his father, one that is inextricably tangled in his deceased father’s security firm. The son of his good friend Ken Nobuki is dead and a week later an attempt is made on Ken himself. Local San Francisco politicians put pressure on Jim and the local police department to solve the two cases quickly. But this mystery will take Jim across the nation to DC and then on to Japan and back. All his skills will be needed to catch the killer.

Jim Brodie is a fascinating character. At first he comes off as a kind of bookish man with his love of art and as a widower taking care of his young daughter. Then we learn that he’s fluent in Japanese when the local PD ask him to act as interpreter. His surprisingly quick reflexes from years of martial arts training are put into use when an attempt is made on Ken Nobuki’s life. Then he calls in members of his security firm to guard Ken in the hospital while he travels to DC and then Japan to secure the Nobuki family and hopefully track down the killer. It’s a very interesting skill set and all sorts of seedy characters are pulled into the story via both the art world and the security work.

The plot was awesome. Naomi Nobuki, Ken’s daughter, is a journalist and anti-nuclear power activist. Of course, Jim is immediately worried that her activist activities may be the reason behind the targets on the Nobuki family. Jim races to Japan to wrap the Nobuki family up tight in security and there he hears his first tale of the legendary Steam Walker. I won’t spoil it for you because it is pretty freaking awesome. Just know that Jim and his friends have met a worthy opponent.

There’s a touch of romance in the story. On a previous trip to Japan, Jim met Rie Hoshino, a Tokyo cop. So far, their personal relationship has been kept under wraps. They have some lovely moments together that may one day lead to something more. She’s a martial artist herself and handles herself in conversations but, alas, the author never shows us her other skills. In fact, she has to be medically assisted once and rescued at one point. I hope the author chooses to do more with her character instead of giving her these cliched moments during the action scenes.

I was kept guessing throughout the tale. There’s plenty of Japanese culture wound throughout the story and it is done well. I never felt that the author had fallen into teacher mode and was giving a lecture. Even once our main characters have a solid idea of who their killer is, there is quite the chase to catch him. And this killer has yet more surprises for our heroes. I really appreciated the final note from the author noting what elements of the story were fictional and which are real. It speaks volumes to the research done by the author.

 

I received a copy at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration:  I think this is one of Scott Brick’s better works. I have listened to many of his SFF narrations but it has been a while since I picked up a book narrated by him. His female voices were quite believable and each distinct. He did a great job with all the Japanese sprinkled throughout the story. 

What I Liked: Great plot!; the myth of the Steam Walker; the activist angle; Jim’s unusual skill set; Oribe pottery; volcanic activity; realistic trauma from weapons; a very worthy opponent.

What I Disliked: Very minor – I would have liked to see the ladies do what they do instead of simply being told what they do.

What Others Think:

Science Thrillers

Bea’s Book Nook

K. L. Romo

Suncoast’s Book Reviews

 

Guest Post: Sex! Perversion! Nudity!

JameDiBiasioAuthorPicFolks, please welcome Jame DiBiasio back today. If you have been around this week, you know I reviewed his debut novel, Gaijin Cowgirl. Jame was cool enough to provide us with some entertainment for today’s guest post. If you haven’t heard of Gaijin Cowgirl yet, let Jame give a tantalizing view of what his novel entails.

Sex! Perversion! Nudity!

Gaijin Cowgirl somehow lives, secretes, oozes sex – hostesses, prostitutes, lovers, S&M, cruelty, erotica – without a sex scene.

The cover features a silhouetted female wearing boots and a cowboy hat (and nothing else). The first pages open with a moody bird’s eye view of Tokyo and zoom in on some dodgy businessmen entering a private club filled with clad and semi-clad hostesses – one of whom, American Val Benson, is our protagonist.

Her top client pays his favorite girls to paint them in the nude. And he’s not interested in their elbows or knees. Val’s friend Suki got her start in life letting men molest her in crowded subway cars.

And so it goes. Until it stops.

DiBiasioGaijinCowgirlI’m not against sex scenes in fiction. Where would we be without Philip Roth and John Updike filling us in on the juicy bits? Writing a sex scene is not that far off from writing an action sequence. Both involve intensely physical, fleshy confrontations that can be rendered visually, emotionally, internally, in many styles.

For this novel, though, I made a deliberate decision not to do sex scenes. Context is important too, and in this context, I am a foreign male writing about Japan and Thailand – specifically about issues around prostitution, human trafficking, titillation, weirdness and even love.

To get around the obvious perception problem of a person like me writing about perversion in Asia required one big decision and one little decision.

The little one was that I did not want to drag down a novel laden with important themes to the level of a cheap thrill. There’s enough sex in the story already; I didn’t think it needed to be made explicit. Instead I focused the narrative on violence and action scenes.

The big decision was to portray the story and its themes from a female perspective. I could have told this story from a man’s point of view. That would have been easier and in some ways more fun. There would have been a much closer review of straying hands and other body parts. That’s how guys think.

Putting a woman at the center of action, though, made Gaijin Cowgirl a good novel. Once I had created the character of Val, I had to let her loose. She was definitely in charge. From there I saw the whole deal through her eyes, understood her motives from her first principles.

It allowed me as the (male) author the luxury of being risqué without turning the book into one of those cheesy exposés about white guys banging Asian babes. (Those are, unfortunately, a staple in many of the region’s remaining bookshops; avoid).

That’s important to me because, firstly, I don’t want to be cast as a pervy creep. I live in Asia and I want to portray things here as accurately and sympathetically as I can. I have tremendous respect for the region’s cultures, its histories, its people, so if I’m going to dive into the darker corners, my motives need to be defensible.

Secondly, I want my work to be liked by women as well as men, with the broadest appeal possible. Call me bourgeois, but I’d like to sell more copies of the book.

It’s not a guy’s fantasy tale, and it’s not a feminist manifesto. Gaijin Cowgirl, with its James Bond-like cover, is a thriller: fun, entertaining, maybe a bit of an eye-opener, and a little over the top. And definitely sexy!

This guest post is part of Jame DiBiasio’s blog tour with Premier Virtual Author Book Tours. If you would like to see further reviews, guest posts, interviews, and giveaways, check out the SCHEDULE.

Gaijin Cowgirl by Jame DiBiasio

DiBiasioGaijinCowgirlWhy I Read It: I like nitty gritty stories that throw me into a foreign culture.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher via Premier Virtual Author Book Tours (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Those who like an action-driven plot, a bit of history, a treasure hunt, and don’t mind a bit of sex and violence would enjoy this novel.

Publisher: Crime Wave Press (2013)

Length: 393 pages

Set in the early 2000s, Valerie Benson is a young lady, more than a little spoiled, on the run from her own failings and a closet of family secrets. She ends up in Japan, crashing at her old boyfriend’s place. After several weeks, she ends up working for the nightclub Cowboy as a hostess. Charlie Kwok, a lawyer trying to bring down Japanese business men who benefited from WWII brothels, is at first bemused by her job, which is questionable, but doesn’t entail sex. In short, Val is paid to look good, flirt and dance with the customers, who spend lots on liquor and leave big tips for the ladies and the club. Val’s biggest tipper of all is known as The Painter, and he likes to paint ladies in the nude. Specifically, he likes to paint women’s genitalia. That’s his addiction. He is willing to pay lots of money, and that is Val’s addiction. Val finds herself in the middle of something bigger than anything she has ever tackled before, and this time running won’t get her out of trouble. Essentially, she finds herself the owner of a treasure map, WWII treasure buried somewhere in Asia, most likely Thailand, and long forgotten. Enter Muddy, an Australian with decades of experience treasure hunting.

Initially, Valerie is a character that I didn’t have much connection with. She lacks responsibility for herself, often leaving others who care about her abruptly. She comes from a wealthy, and highly disfunctional, family, her father being a US Congressman. She’s use to having money and someone to take care of her, always willing to rescue her or give her a place to stay. She detests her father, but can’t give up the trustfund, which is how he always tracks her down (whenever she pulls funds from it). And poor Charlie. He was once head over heels in love with her, begged her for months in every way he could for her to come back to him. But no, she gave him no hope. But ran straight to him in far off Japan when she needed a place to hide away from her troubles.

Then Jame DiBiasio takes us into the seedier side if Japanese culture, but he tells it from the view point of Val, an outsider, and Suki, soon-to-be Val’s best friend. Sure, these ladies could make some better choices in their life, but so could all of us. They are very human, with hopes, dreams, needs, mistakes. They both hostess at this bar, and while no sex happens for money, all the ladies are expected to dress up, flirt, dance, and generally let the customers believe there is always a chance some sexytimes may happen.

I also enjoyed the little history lessons DiBiasio built into the story line. First, charlie Kwok and his firm are filing lawsuits on behave of surviving comfort women, women who were enslaved and forced to work in brothels in WWII for the ‘comfort’ of Japanese soldiers. I had not heard the term ‘comfort women’ before this book, and I do enjoy a fiction that can teach me a little bit about history or science.

So, the first quarter of the book is Val’s night life and Charlie’s lawsuits. Then Val and Suki have a near-death experience at the house of The Painter that throws the plot in a new direction. Val discovers a treasure map, and she and Suki both flee, intending to go to the police with their story. However, it quickly becomes apparent they can’t and must leave the country. This option is cemented when Val looses something precious to her, forcing her resolution to follow the treasure map. Val grows as a character, and I like that in my lead characters.

DiBiasio could have built in more sex than there was, but he leaves much hinted at, or merely stated as facts, without going into lots of description. Prostitution, enslaved women, hostessing…. you would think sexytimes would be happening left, right, and center. But the author restrained himself, putting in enough to make it realistic, to move the plot forward, to show us a point, and not so much as to make me think I wandered onto an Adam & Eve film production. I applaud him for that.

Definitely fast-paced, with action happening at every intersection, this book is full of memorable characters and interesting historical tidbits. Pick it up for the treasure hunting and walk away with some historical trivia. My small criticisms weren’t enough to detract me from enjoying this book. If you are interested, my small criticisms included such things as: occasionally moving a little to abruptly from one scene to the next; Suki appears to need a man for a future; and why did it take Suki and Val so long to figure out that the bad guys would check for them at their apartments?

What I Liked: Val grows from a snot-nosed irresponsible main character, to a woman on the hunt to forge her own life; the book captured the seedier side of life without being risque; lots of Japanese cultural references, vocabulary, poetry built into the story line; historical tidbits tucked in here and there.

What I Disliked: Would have liked Suki to be a little more independent; occasionally moved a little abruptly from one scene to the next.

Jame DiBiasio and Gaijin Cowgirl are on tour. If you would like see more reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways, check out the schedule at Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.