Monthly Archives: June 2015

Book Review: Pandemonium (Daryl Gregory 2008)

Note: in this review, I avoid specific spoilers beyond the first few chapters or back cover blurb. I discuss my reaction to the ending, but none of the specific events.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I chose to read Pandemonium because it was the book club selection for a book club meeting I failed to attend (sigh, moving). I devoured this book in less than 48 hours and I really enjoyed the process of reading it. For two reasons, this book forced me to contemplate the nature of science fiction versus fantasy: 1) because the book explicitly calls out the artificiality of the separation and 2) because I myself strongly tilt towards science fiction.

Pandemonium is set in a world where demonic possessions happen. They come in many flavors; there’s the Captain, who possesses soldiers and performs acts of bravery and there’s the Little Angel, who possesses little girls and releases old people from the pain of the world. Del Pierce was possessed as a child, and now as an adult he suspects that the demon never entirely left him.

Science wants to understand these possessions as much as it wants to understand cancer in our own world. Del wants to be freed of his demon, by science or otherwise. He’s damaged by what he’s endured. He talks to scientists and to their less-scientific groupies. Del’s condition isn’t considered possible by science, and he’s exasperated by the limitations of science. The characters criticize the way the scientific community regards the demonic possessions. It felt like the tired criticisms of our scientific process. Perhaps, as a scientist, I’m over-sensitive to such things.

People separate fantasy and scifi in different ways, and here’s my separation: fantasy is about exceptions to the rules and scifi is about inevitable outcomes of the rules. Harry Potter is an exceptional member of an exceptional class of people. Piers Anthony’s Xanth stories are about the people with the best magical powers. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is about one of many sentient programs that through a unique set of circumstances becomes something more. Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain is about the first products of genetic engineering. Both genres often focus on exceptional characters, but in scifi the character is exceptional due to circumstances and in fantasy the character is inherently exceptional in some way that cannot be explained.

In arguing a lack of separation between science fiction and fantasy, Pandemonium has the trappings of fantasy but makes several explicit science fiction references. Early in the book, a character (named Valis) quotes Philip K. Dick and asserts that “you cannot separate science fiction from fantasy.” There are references to AE van Vogt and Theodore Sturgeon. I made a mental footnote to expect something genre-defying at the end.

After the book argued for the lack of distinction between the genres, the ending didn’t challenge my definition of fantasy. For me, this was a book about demons and possession and the human psyche. Which is fine. But like Chekov’s gun, after a lot of discussion about the blurred lines between two genres, you expect to partake in a book with blurred lines. I didn’t dislike the ending, but I didn’t feel affected by it either. I flew through the book, finished it, and shrugged.

Pandemonium is a lovely read. As a mild scifi snob, I am out of its core audience, and I can’t say how those with different genre sensibilities might feel about it. For me it just felt insubstantial, like a book that will fade from my memory.

Writing prompt: “I think my house is haunted”

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“I think my house is haunted”

 

I leaned into the corner of the room, huddling over the phone. “I think my house is haunted,” I whispered.

Gale laughed. “Haunted? I’ve seen pictures, it looks like a slice of the southwest straight from the route 66 days.”

“Yea…” I said, not following.

“Well, you know. Haunted houses are like… Victorian houses. Or Cape Cod houses with a dark past. Not adobe houses.” She sighed. “Well, maybe that’s just where I live. Why do you think it’s haunted?”

“There’s a soft spot in the floor. And sometimes it squeaks when I’m not over there.”

“Houses settle.”

“And twice now, Miss Kitty has reared up and hissed at absolutely nothing.”

“Mm hmm,” Gale murmured. She thought Miss Kitty was a psychotic cat already so I could imagine now what she was thinking.

“And…” I inhaled and looked around the room. “The other morning I think I saw the ghost of a Spanish conquistador in the garden hacking at plants.”

“Whoa.”

“After he left, I went and checked the plants and they were damaged where he’d swung his sword.”

“Why’d you lead with the first two?”

“They wouldn’t have sounded like much if I said them after. I tried to call the previous owner. He was very helpful with directions on the irrigation system and how to get the oven to light. But when I mentioned the conquistador he stuttered and hung up.”

“That’s got to be some kind of real estate faux pas,” Gale said.

Welcome to the west

I’m back online as of this week, after driving across 10 states in a compact car with my husband and two cats. I come to you now from the west, and it’s hot! This week I will get back to my regular schedule of posting writing prompts on Thursdays and regular posts on Mondays.

For the last month, I’ve been packing, unpacking, driving, assembling furniture, and creating spreadsheets of the dimensions of my furniture. I’ve been struggling all day to come up with a good topic for today’s post;  my brain is still in moving mode, uncreative but good at spatial organization. But as with writing prompts, the key to getting back into things is to start. So with this post I’m starting!

Some brief thoughts on the west:

  • Low humidity is nice. Yesterday the high was 102, but I went on a two-hour bike ride from 10-12 and did not evaporate. The humidity is 9% right now.
  • Hooray for southwestern cuisine. Charlottesville was big on the locovore movement, but that’s more about ingredients than combinations. St. Louis has its lovely paste cheese and transcendent toasted ravioli, but these are specific dishes. Here we have words for food that I have to look up: calabacitas, fideos, sopapilla, adovada, posole… Here there is an entirely different kind of food rather than a few different dishes.
  • I’m back in the land of gridded roads! Charlottesville has a handful of through streets. Windy, narrow through streets. For a town of its size, the traffic is insane. If you choose to bike, you can choose between 45 mph rural country highways with no shoulder or bike lanes placed thoughtfully between moving cars and parked cars on said over-crowded urban streets. My bike gathered cobwebs in Charlottesville.
  • Western mountains are neat. Yes, Charlottesville had mountains. Ancient, sanded mountains covered with forests. Here we have big craggy mountains. Mountains that make hikers go missing, mountains of extinct volcanos.
  • Things seem close, but they aren’t, but they kind of are. Charlottesville is 2.5 hours from DC, and 6 hours from NYC. That drive to NYC is 6 hours of eastern aggression hell. Thank goodness for the train. Here, all the cities are 6 hours away at least. But that’s 6 hours of calm, flat road. I’m looking forward to exploring the west.