Sunday, April 5, 2015

Boundary Crossed: Book Review

Here goes with my first book review, Boundary Crossed. Author Melissa F. Olson, Publisher 47North, Seattle, Washington.

There are two challenges inherent for an author working in the Urban Fantasy subgenre, which is a narrowing of the vast fantasy category and a refreshing change from the medieval world and errant knights that dominate the class of fantasy offerings. Lovers of the urban-type story don’t miss the dragons, thank you very much.

Without the normal props, the urban fantasy author must create a gritty world of realism that causes the reader to wonder whether such a world actually exists around them and provide a fresh presentation of the stock types that populate these stories: vampires, werewolves, witches.

Melissa Olson hits those marks for the most part in this awakening or coming-of-age story of a young witch not aware of her power until one night she catches a couple shoplifting diapers from the all-night store she works at and by the way, they are also kidnapping her niece.

Lex, our young heroine, launches into action and a series of events unfolds as she fiercely acts to save her niece at all costs from all threats, which the author is only beginning to unfold in the first chapters. Told from a first person perspective, the author skillfully holds us in the dark and speculating about the story as we only learn about the plot surrounding the niece as Lex does.

This could have been a superficial comic book story told in a few pages with drawings, but Olson is a better writer. She takes us deep into Lex’s psyche so we can see the impulses that motivate her to make the decisions that she does. Ultimately, we are left wondering if we would be the same: protective to a fault, willing to put our life on hold for the sake of our family.

We see her past relationships, and are given but a hint of her complicated and devoted relationship with her twin sister that lays the groundwork for future stories in the series. We learn that Lex is not only a witch, but one with a specialized power (and not good at anything else): SPOILERS, close your eyes and scoll … Lex can suck the life out of anything she chooses. She gets high on it.

A+ for the fresh presentation. In fact, we should be revolted, but by the time we learn the extent of that special power, we are in sympathy with the character who has already stated her objections many times to the harming of living creatures, then is appalled by what she can do.

The vampires are also given a unique governing structure by the loyalty they pledge that they cannot break.

B for the world. Olson uses the “must stay hidden” rule, but as readers, we do wonder why. It makes sense for the vampires, whose feeding stock (us) will remain complacent in our ignorance that they are around us, but the witches? What could ordinary mortals do against their powers? Why should they bother?

To be fair, I thought this was also a weakness of the Statute of Secrecy J.K. Rowling used. She gave the lame explanation that if the Muggles knew witches existed, they would pester them unendlessly for solutions to their trivial problems. Really? A good banishing charm would take care of that. Maybe Voldemort had the right idea after all. Let them taste the magical power and they will obey for fear of their lives.

I digress. But those who work in the fantasy genre and want their magical people to be hidden from the rest of humanity need to devise a better explanation.

Aside from that quibble, the world works. It is our world, the world of city life, coffee shops, convenience stores, and suburban housing. Olson keeps it true to that and we have no problem believing that the story is taking place just down the street.

Overall, the story is great. In a few places, the plot is obvious where it is going, but give credit to Olson, she doesn’t create unrealistic twists to keep us guessing. Yes, I figured out early on who the ultimate villain was, but she doesn’t try to evade her clever readers by bringing in some 11th hour figure to take the rap for the sake of surprise. The result is a consistent story and a good read. For fans of the genre, I recommend it.

--Boundary Crossed is available on Amazon Kindle May 1, 2015.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Iran and the Negotiations

Why does Iran want a nuclear weapon? We are focused on shutting down their development of atomic technology because we feel threatened by Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, hatred of Israel, and antipathy for the United States that was born of our sponsorship of the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

I’m not in favor of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. I am sure they will not stop, framework for an eventual agreement or not, trying to construct nuclear weapons until they have them. But I am thinking about the issue in a new way.

We think they want to develop the technology to bomb Israel to eradicate its existence and to threaten us with terrorist attacks within our borders. But that’s a self-centered view.

Maybe it’s not about us.

In the West, we don’t appreciate the deep fissure that lies between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam. The feud between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity doesn’t come close. The days of Protestant heretics being burned at the stake are five centuries past. Religious wars among Christians flared and died out long ago. Christians of differing sects might think others are going to hell, but the time is long past when we thought we had a role in sending them there.

Maybe Iran sees the Sunni/Al Quaida/Islamic State threat, has seen it coming for far longer than we have, and feels the need to protect itself. That could be a defensive reason for their wanting—to put it crassly—a bomb.

Ever since the U.S. detonated two bombs over Japan in 1945, everyone has understood the devastation of such weapons. There is no need to use them, but peoples have felt a need to have them, so no one dares to attack them.

Seriously, a nuclear weapon is an ace in the hole.

Pakistan has a bomb. But they are not in the confluence of the Middle East. They are a split part of the Indian subcontinent that the British mistakenly thought would bring peace to South Asia when they cut their crown jewel colony loose. Pakistan developed a bomb because India did so first. That is not relevant to this issue.

Iran may want a nuclear weapon as a deterrent to Sunni terrorism (and that does not in any way imply that all Sunnis are terrorists), but having a bomb would also enhance their prestige as the leader of the Shi’ite branch in the Middle East.

Are you catching on that the whole issue may rest within a regional struggle for influence and power that only marginally involves the West and Israel?

Look at the proxy war in Yemen between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Damn, it reminds one of the proxy wars that took place between the Soviet Union and the United States in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Angola.

Iran plays the long game as does most of the world. Sadly, we do not. 20 years is nothing to them if the sanctions lift, their economy recovers, and domestic pressures for change ease. They can wait.

We might be able to slow it down, but we will not stop any government determined to develop nuclear weaponry. This is indeed the brave new world we inhabit. Let’s not lose our perspective while we deal with these emerging threats.