Different Drummers

Review by Joey Madia

You never know where the connections you make in life will lead. Simply saying yes to opportunity, out of curiosity or even as a courtesy, can open doors to whole new worlds, whole new places, that you never knew existed.

In the twenty-first century, where everything is divided into Us and Them and the Other might as well live in another solar system where their rituals and culture are uber-alienated by some shadowy cabal that has engineered itself to make such decisions, feeding them down through indoctrinal water-drips to the TV-zombied hamster-people, it is imperative to learn about other places, other sub-sets of society. And to learn about and from what occupies the time of the thinkers and artists that reside there.

For this reason alone, Different Drummers is a primer on Thailand and an invaluable read.

So… that saying yes I mentioned. It happened a decade ago, when I received John Gartland’s Gravity’s Fool in the mail for review. His poetry moved me. Still does. I can’t swear to it, but I believe John and I connected on Facebook, which is an admittedly unusual benefit to an otherwise stinking/sinking cesspool of Big Data content and insidious mood manipulation. I had been doing reviews for about five years, which is an invaluable exercise for a writer and content creator (and, should you need more proof, Different Drummers is full to the brim with Cummings’s and others’ reviews of the books of some of the expats he interviews). Continue reading

The Watchman’s Rainbow and Other Works

Review by Joey Madia

DISCLOSURE: For four years the author of this collection of short stories, plays, essays, and poems was a student in my creative writing classes held through an extension program offered by a community college in West Virginia. Most of the pieces that create the seemingly disparate yet unified tapestry of this collection were developed in those classes; I edited many to varying degrees and published early versions of The Watchman’s Rainbow at the literary site for which I am Founding Editor, www.newmystics.com.

That said, my objectivity could rightly be put into question. With sensitivity to such a probable circumstance, what follows is more of a book report than a book review. I have chosen this modification of my approach over the prospect of abandoning the work altogether for one simple reason:

These works are well written, exquisitely researched, and, as the author tells us in several of his Author Notes to the various sections, he has lived at least to some degree the realities that he has crafted into his fiction.

Constituting the bulk of the page-count for this collection, The Watchman’s Rainbow is a geopolitical action-thriller in the tradition of le Carré and Clancy. It takes as its focus the drug wars between the United States and Mexico, although, as writers and able readers know, we do not read or care about subjects when it comes to fiction—we read and care about people. And the person at the core of this collection of stories and theatre-like interludes is Amos Sanson (a pseudonym) who is coming to the end of a long, successful career as a watcher for a cabal led by a man named Simon Stoddard (think Charlie directing the Angels or the voice on the Mission: Impossible recordings). As we first meet Sanson he is struggling, akin to Sherlock Holmes (a character with whom Wyant, like myself, has great affinity) with whether or not to retire in the face of the fact that he is no longer the man he was, mentally or physically, although the villains—and his employers—are making it hard to walk away. Continue reading

The Before Heaven I Ching: Reading the Text of Creation

Review by Joey Madia

Modern life is admittedly complicated and complex. I am just old enough, having turned 50 last November, to say that it wasn’t always like this. Not to this degree. Ubiquitous technology, overpopulation, climate change, and shrinking resources have resulted in a fast pace, profound changes lurking like subtext between the sure-faced politicians assuring Business as Usual, and multiplying reasons to not be hopeful for the future.

Tools of divination and insight—such as runes, astrology, Tarot, the Kabala, and the I Ching—can be helpful as organizing principles. If you listen closely and take what is useful, they have a way of burning away the blinding, disorienting, low-lying fog the artifacts of the twenty-first century have produced. Given, as stated in this book, that we take in much more information than we can process, tools such as these are essential to creating Stillness and taking stock of where you are. Glimpses at what is really at work in your life, the forces that are helping and hindering your journey, can bring the Attention and Awareness that just might save your Soul.

For the past several decades, William Douglas Horden has focused on the I Ching. Of his more than twenty published books, eight of them are part of a series that concludes with the book being reviewed. And all of the others—either directly or by way of energetic and experiential connections—further inform the ancient tool of divination and spiritual practice called the I Ching. Continue reading

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

Review by Paige Ambroziak

There’s an intelligent and exquisite beauty to Daniel Mendelsohn’s writing. He’s clearly an educator, a deep thinker, a keen critic, and a writer in tune with an effective mode of conversation. I was taken with AN ODYSSEY from the start—once I had gotten used to his writing style, which emulates ring composition with miniature strokes that are amusing as the read goes on.

I was moved to tears by the end of the work, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. It’s part memoir, part self-exploration, part lesson in all things Homer (if you’ve never read Homer, what the *heck* are you waiting for?), but its strength lies with the gentle hand he uses to show how similar we are to the ancients. If you appreciate Homer’s “Odyssey,” you will certainly enjoy this read, and I’d wager take away a trove of antique treasures.

I’ve taught the epic to college students, and found many parallels to my own journey. It requires a certain amount of stamina and patience to lead students to discover the epic’s textual tapestry on their own. Despite how well one may know a text, there are always new things to uncover. Teaching a text seems to teach us this if anything. Continue reading

The Perfect Wife: A Novel

Review by Paige Ambroziak

JP Delaney quotes Ovid’s myth of “Pygmalion” at the opening of his novel, but as I read it I couldn’t stop thinking about Victor Frankenstein. This is a domestic thriller with a side of sci-fi. The main character is — for all intents and purposes — an emotionally advanced AI that is capable of empathy. (Creating an AI with empathy seems paradoxical since empathy is unique to human beings, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes.) It — or AI-Abbie — is also capable of recalling moments from the life of the woman of which she’s a “replica.” I won’t rehash the synopsis but essentially a man pieces together a prototype of his dead wife to bring her back to life. That seems the gist of the story. Or so you think …

I love reading AI fiction, which isn’t always done well because it’s difficult to make AI’s “real” to the world they’re set in. Often storytellers deal in the future to make it easier. Delaney’s story is set in the present time, which presents several problems. We obviously can buy into the AI idea. We see it in the news and advancements have been made. We’re already having conversations about the rights of sex robots and whether it’s acceptable to create ones with rape settings. So the reader gets this world. And of course Abbie’s husband, Tim, is a tech bazillionaire with carte-blanche to experiment on/with/for whatever the heck he wants. We’ve seen that, too. We live it. But one of the silliest leaps Delaney makes — and one that makes me incredulous — is that AI-Abbie is so lifelike people mistake it for the dead wife. Um, what? This happens several times and is actually an important plot point. This doesn’t work and isn’t going to work no matter the suspension of belief for fiction. The story falls apart with that alone. Continue reading