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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Reykjavik: On We Sweep With Threshing Oar

Saturday, September 21, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song

Fish and chips should fix this. We dropped into a fish and chippery and ordered the standard fare. They tried to upcharge us three American dollars for tartar sauce, so we ate them dry, with salt and vinegar.

“I am not a narcissist!” yelled a Swede at the other table to his bros. “I tell you why. You know why? 9/11. Worst day of my entire life. I still remember what I was wearing on 9/11! My blue shirt, and my white khakis pants.”

“Some would argue his believing that’s proof count as narcissism,” I whispered to Ladygirl. “But it’s not like I’m a professional.”

“We’re not saying you’re a narcissist,” said his French bro. “We’re just saying, we have things we don’t want to joke about, and you joke about them. So we joke about this.”

“2,977 people died!” the Swede yelled. “2,977! It was the worst day of my life! You tell me not to joke about it when the worst day of your life kills 2,977 people!”

He then started monologuing about the true heroism of the first responders, then stepped outside with one of the other bros for a smoke.

The remaining two were venomous.

“What a fucking asshole,” the French one said. “Absolute narcissist. Do you hear him? ‘The worst day of my life’? I can think of some people who had a worse day than you!”

“Yeah,” said the other one, whose accent I couldn’t place. “2,977 of them.”

“Idiot. He always does this. He just likes to yell.”

When the squad reconvened, they offered him 1000 krona to drink the entire bottle of vinegar.

“What is 1000 krona?” asked the Swede.

“I don’t know,” said the French guy. “I have bill that says 1000 on it. You want it or not?”

“How about half for 500?”

“Okay, yeah.”

The Swede took a sip of the vinegar and choked and sputtered all over his table, to riotous applause.

It was 5 o’clock somewhere. Brewdog had become a sort of base camp, but we were on the wrong side of town and wound up at the other resident craft brewery, Session.

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Westerbro IPA #beer #bastardtravel

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Most of their beers were named after Game of Thrones. Flaunt it if you got it.

Braxton joined the party and we did a quick lap around the city in the rental car. The previous day, we had ranged out to one of the hot springs, a place of scenic vistas and oppressive Silent Hill fogs, called Reykjadalur.

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shimmyin up #hiking #bastardtravel

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For you linguists out there, Reykja- means “smoky”. -Dalur is valley, -vik is bay.

“You know, it’s weird,” Braxton told us after this exposition as we made our way through the beers. “Almost all other languages name their places after defining characteristics. Only in English do you get things like “Scranton”. What the hell does that mean?”

“Town of Scran,” I said. “Scran is the feeling you get when you’re there.”

“What’s it mean?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But it’s fitting on phonetics alone.”

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#hiking #reykjadalur #bastardtravel

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When we arrived at the trail, an American with an outlandish handlebar mustache was stretching his calves on the back of his car.

“If you guys are going up to soak, you might as well stop now,” he said, not even pausing in his calesthenics. “It’s been raining too much. It’s too cold to go in.”

We exchanged a look.

“I mean, it’s still a beautiful hike, if you like wind and rain in your face,” he said.

“We’ve been getting plenty of wind and rain in the face these past couple,” I said. “I think I’m immune now.”

“Welcome to Iceland,” he said with a shrug.

We decided we’d come too far and hiked up the hill, where it immediately began to downpour in earnest.

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Burble burble #hiking #geyser #bastardtravel

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“You know, in this past week,” Braxton said, “we’ve already hit the monthly average for rainfall in September? In five days.”

“It’s because of me,” Ladygirl said. “I’m cursed. It’s following me.”

“Global warming is a hoax,” I said with a wave of my hand. “These damn millennials should take a lil peep at a job application.”

Three miles uphill in the increasingly severe rain. The ground became quicksand, and at intervals both Ladygirl and I plummeted into the mud up to our thighs. The madness took hold and we splashed clean in the river that was, as promised, too cold to soak in.

But that had been yesterday. Today, we were wrapping up our viking adventure. We did a lap around Reykjavik, then returned the car and celebrated with more beer.

Braxton took us to a flea market where everything cost as much as it did in the shops, which means it wasn’t a flea market. It was just a market. It called itself a flea market, and outside we gathered more icelandic lamb hot dogs.

They also had this atrocity, masquerading under glass as cake.

We had nearly run the full gamut of Reykjavik. Iceland still had some volcanoes and glaciers to offer, as well as the dreaded Necropants, but none of those were accessible without buying another plane ticket, and I had places to be.

Still, there was one last stop to make.

The Lebowski Bar was conveniently located across the street from Kaffibrennslann, perhaps the finest cafe in Reykjavik. Since I’d spent nearly every morning of my stay  sucking down cappuccinos and tickatackin there, I couldn’t avoid the Lebowski bar. I could feel its pull like a neon, bowling-themed Charbydis.

I resisted until my final hours in Iceland. The burger (“the Lebowski burger”, innovatively) was decent. They seemed to really shine in the White Russian department.

“Listen!” screamed drunk white women at the waitress. “I got a question, and I need you to be honest with me.”

“Ya?”

“Is this an American bar?”

“Um-”

“Cuz we don’t wanna go to an AMERICAN bar. Like, do locals come here, or did you make this for us?”

“It is bar based on American movie,” the waitress said, “but it is not an American bar. I don’t like American bars. I like this bar. If it were an American bar, I would not like it.”

Her logic seemed somehow flawed, but the fleet of American ladies bought it.

We bade our farewells to Braxton, thanking him for all the rainy hikes and smashed fish, then headed to the bus depot to get out to the airport.

“The next bus doesn’t come until 8,” she said apologetically.

“Our flight’s at 9,” Ladygirl said. Her eyes did the thing where they get real big.

“Maybe another bus company? I will look for you.”

Across town, another bus company would take us at 7. The drive is an hour, which would give us enough time to through security and on the plane. The problem was, the other bus company was a half hour away, over a bridge and across a superhighway.

We rolled them bones. It immediately began to rain.

I won’t leave you in suspense.

Or will I?

To be continued…

Love,

B