Book Review: Beyond Redemption

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A genre-defining masterpiece of grimdark high fantasy. Imagine if the Shivering Isles were a novel written in the style of an old-school hard sci-fi heavy hitters like Frank Herbert or Dan Simmons. It’s like they tailor made it for me.

Belief defines reality, and the stronger your belief, the more insistent the manifestation. As a result, those grappling with severe mental illness become superhumans with monkey’s paw reconfigurations of their delusions pushing them toward godhood. The powers come with a price, and all the slapdash combinations of German words that essentially translate to “bugshit crazy wizard” are eventually consumed and destroyed by their reality-bending madness.

Until that point, these deranged solipsists lord over the “sane”, though it’s not sanity as much as a lack of the ill-defined (thus far) demiurgic prowess that lets their delusions to manifests, driven by the maladaptive need that is the source of their power. Slavers enrapture the minds of others, making them flesh puppets in the service of their unquenchable thirst to be loved. Dysmorphics are mutated by their own skewed perceptions into inhuman towers of muscle and sinew. The narcissistic “Greatest Swordsman in the World” cheats the system by sweet-talking everyone in the area into believing he’s better with the blade than he is, and riding that egregore burst to another victory in the ring, killing another vaunted local swordsman and strengthening his legend, and so, his power.

I don’t want to go into the plot itself because the book is too good for me to spoil it in a half-ass Goodreads review. Suffice it to say, all these kooks are trying to exploit the rules of the game for personal gain (as is invariably the case with the self-obsessed), with the end goal of homebrewing a perfect god. But even before you bring insanity into the mix, “perfect god” seems open to interpretation.

A great book. Almost the best book. I can’t wait to read the sequel.



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Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I used to work as a BSC. A lot of my job was sitting in the back of classrooms “observing the problematic behavior” of my clients, but that only worked when they were being problematic. This kid was a little demon, but he would shut up during story time, and that’s where I first had a chapter of The One and Only Ivan read aloud to me by a kindly but exasperated secondary educator.

I put it on my to-read list, then forgot about it for a couple years, because it’s a YA book (being generous) and I don’t read YA. I was born old, and crotchety. I started into my father’s Stephen King collection when I was in 2nd grade, and to regress to whatever iteration of Harry Potter knockoff is currently sucking the attention of the near-literate would be detrimental to both mind and dignity.

“Don’t be such a fucker,” you might be saying. “It wouldn’t kill you to read YA once in a while.”

It wouldn’t kill me to eat Gerber Strained Peas for dinner once in a while either, but I wouldn’t hit my macros.

Animorphs was my stepping stone between Goosebumps and terrible, pulpy adult video game novels, like the abysmal Doom novels (in every sense of the word), and the Magic the Gathering novels that shared nothing in common with the card game, except that they both occasionally referred to wizards. I was voracious with the Animorphs series, and listed K.A. Applegate as my favorite author on more than a few grim late 90s/early 2000s internet forums, each undoubtedly devoted to one of the four franchises mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

I just sat down and read this book in one sitting, cover to cover. It took me two hours. I cried, openly and like a bitch, no fewer than three times.

The story’s about a gorilla named either Ivan or Mud, depending. His family is killed by poachers and the infant gorilla is sold off to some sleazy mall manager, who tries to raise him like they did to Caesar in the remake of Planet of the Apes. It works because Ivan is far too traumatized to develop a rebellious streak. Eventually, his owner tucks him away in a glass cubicle in his dead mall and charges people to gawk at him and an elderly elephant with an infected foot that never gets treatment.

The book focuses on Ivan’s understanding of himself, his limited grasp of “civilization”, and his avoidance of remembering the joy of his childhood because of the pain it would inevitably bring. It’s driven by the relationships with the wise, sick old elephant Stella and a feral dog named Bob who plays the role of Diogenes. I’m 90% sure that in the first draft, Bob was a rat, and Applegate changed it in order to sew up a happy ending for everyone. Feral rats are rarely adopted.

The mall owner, Mack, becomes an increasingly jaded alcoholic and flirts with animal abuse, though it never shows up. Children’s book, remember.

It really starts to grind up the ol’ heart meats when Mack buys a baby elephant named Rosie, whom Stella begins to raise as her own, for as long as she could. It’s a book about learned helplessness, about the isolation and gradual dying of the soul that comes with captivity, acceptance, complacency. It’s about the horrific ways humans mistreat animals, but also the kindnesses that we can do, however infrequently.

On the surface, that’s what it’s about. But under that, it’s about freedom and security. Ivan liked laying on his pillows in his cute little pajamas, being hand-fed orange soda and watching cartoons on TV, but late at night, the snatches of dreams he remembered were about the jungle, and the wind in his fur, playing with his sister, picking ripe fruit from the trees and weaving himself a nest to sleep in.

And I think that’s true of all of us.

Five stars. Read the book. Absolutely crushing.



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