DEJA VU by Ian Hocking

27 10 2014

Deja Vu cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

The story opens with Saskia Brandt arriving at the EU Federal Office of Investigation building close by the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin in September 2023 after returning by Eurostar from a trip to London where she broke up with her English boyfriend Simon.

(There is no guarantee that Eurostar will still be running – the tunnel seems to me an easy target for terrorists – or that the Brandenberg Gate – or even Berlin – will still be there in 2023, but they probably will, for 2023 is not far away. Which leads me to wonder about the wisdom of setting a futuristic piece in so near a future. I hope I shall still be writing this blog in and after September 2023, and I can imagine avid readers coming upon this post in, say, September 2024 and failing to realise that this story was set in the future. Think “1984” etc. So let me just point out that I am writing this review in October 2014.)

But back to the – (I almost wrote “the Future” there instead of “the grindstone”. It may have been a dream I had last night. I never remember my dreams but know I have been dreaming and often suspect that the contents or setting of a dream are lingering in my subconscious. Who knows what dreams may return to haunt our troubled musings?)

But now, seriously, back to the review.

So, Saskia returns from England to find her secretary dead and stuffed into the refrigerator.

(Do you think there is any connection, causal or otherwise, between my reading about scenes like this in books like this – which I do all the time – and the dreams I imagine I have?)

She also very quickly finds that she herself is being framed for the murder.

But this is not your average straightforward murder story. It transpires that she never went to London at all, never had an English boyfriend called Simon, that all this was a “memory” planted in her mind by means of a microchip, and that she is not being framed at all. She was there. She committed the murder.

Beckmann, her immediate superior, says: “Oh, Frau Kommissarin. You are so worried about being caught for your secretary’s murder. You think they’ll wipe your brain. It’s too late. They already did.”

Then they convince her that she is – was – a convicted murderer whose brain was wiped and the persona of Saskia Brandt implanted to replace the original. The mind and memories of Saskia Brandt inhabit and control the body of the condemned woman.

She is now Saskia Brandt, and because of this staged murder, and because of the microchip in her head – which Beckmann has a remote control for and can operate, operating her – she has no choice but to obey.

Then she is sent on the mission to which all this has been a prelude. And that is fine, a great introduction to the story.

Problems arise, though, when we are presented with too many other relatively major characters, each with their own point of view, and what is in effect their own story, at least during the first half of the book until the various stories start coming together. And this is not helped by the fact that some of these stories are set in the past when Professor David Procter of Oxford University committed  a murder at a research facility in Scotland some twenty years earlier. Or is he, too, being framed for committing a murder he did in fact commit?

Or, in some cases, the stories are set in a present that was prearranged by people in the past, twenty years ago. Anything that happens may be happening because someone travelled forward through time twenty years ago and arranged for it to happen … Nothing in this book is what it seems.

But I am giving away too much.

Though difficult to follow at first due to the abrupt changes of setting and point of view, the story is well plotted, while the characters, if somewhat stereotyped, are rounded and convincing, especially in the case of Saskia, whom I identified with from the very first page. The body in the fridge shocked me almost as much as it did her!





PAST LIVES, PRESENT DREAMS by Denise Linn

28 03 2014

Past Lives Present Dreams coverDenise Linn was one of the first to popularise the whole modern (and I suppose by that I mean Western) approach to reincarnation: learning how to recall one’s past lives and perhaps also undergoing past-life therapy either by oneself or with the help of a professional past-life therapist. She is a writer and lecturer to whom many (if not all) more recent writers on this topic are indebted.

This does not mean that I, or any other student of reincarnation, is going to agree with everything she says. Personally, I take issue with her on several points.

Let’s start though, as she does, with her being knocked off her motorbike by a man in a car who then got out of his car, aimed a gun at her, and shot her. Miraculously, she survived. But the Near Death Experience she describes in detail changed her life, and led directly to her subsequent studies with teachers and gurus as diverse as Zen Buddhist monks, a Hawaian shaman, a Japanese Grand Master of Reiki, and a wise old Native American named Dancing Feather.

The best part of the book is perhaps the chapter on How to Recall a Past Life, which includes a section of Past Life Clues under eighteen different heads ranging from Childhood Games to Food Preferences to Books and Movies, and of course including Déjà Vu Experiences, Personality Traits, Fears and Phobias, and Dreams (as in the title). (If it had been me writing, I would have at least mentioned aptitude for particular foreign languages, which I consider one of the most significant clues.) In the same chapter there is a section on Visualization Technique with a whole series of “different methods that can help you make a successful transition”. Of these, I particularly like the “time tunnel”, the “river of time” and the ‘room of doors”; the method she calls the “mists of time” was new to me as she sets it out but I have tried it and it works – rather more abruptly and completely than the others, so it should be approached with caution (don’t do it alone first time!). This is followed by an actual script you can either record and play back or get someone to read to you while you set about making the transition.

All this is fine, and as I say, indispensable reading even if much of it has been copied and repeated by other authors.

Where I have trouble is with Denise Linn’s concept of changing the past, a form of past-life therapy she seems to particularly favour. Something that happened in a past life is having a traumatic effect on your current life? Then change it. You weren’t drowned, you survived – you didn’t have an abusive step-father, you had a very kind and loving one – and so on. “I believe that you can actually change the past,” she says, but continues “if this is too much for you to accept, then imagine that you are changing the images that are stored in your brain …”

And then there is the problem of Future Lives. Predestination, and its corollary, possible foreknowledge of the future, is a subject on which the great philosophers of the past have disagreed and modern philosophers still do disagree. I obviously cannot begin to go into it here. I would just like to quote one more line from this book and then leave you to read the whole thing for yourself and make up your own mind.

“The future,” she says, “is as malleable as the past.” Surely it should be much more so? No one has any trouble with the concept of planning the future, it is the concept of planning the past which is difficult to grasp – or to swallow.





Half-a-Dozen from among the Kindle Frees

21 08 2013

Half a Dozen recommended ebooks selected from among the many I have downloaded FREE from Amazon Kindle.

I often download free books from Amazon these days. (I am sent a list every day of books which are on offer.) However, I read very few of them right through to the end. What I think of as the illiterate ones I delete from my Kindle Reader after the first few lines. (I say illiterate rather than unedited because I know many of these books have come straight from the hands of the author to the Kindle download lists, but anyone claiming to be an author should be literate, should be able to edit his or her own work.) If I get past those first few lines, the story has to grab me. Then it has to hold me. Many of these writers start well, then become careless or boring. However, there are always a few gems. Here are some I really enjoyed and that you can safely download.

Kindle11. BY UNKNOWN MEANS

Doug Giacobbe

High adventure around Nassau, fast moving with great characterisation. James Bond country, but here only the bad guy is British.

The good guys are US Customs officers and officers of the US Navy. The bad guys, drug-smugglers. And the hero himself, fired from the Customs Service for being over-zealous in the pursuit of his duty, and not being one to give up, continues that pursuit in his own boat until he gets both the bad guy and the beautiful undercover agent who is posing as the bad guy’s amazon bodyguard. Great stuff.

Kindle22. OMEGA DOG

James Rush

Another fast-moving adventure set in the States. A hitman is targeting a group of apparently unrelated people, among them Beth, a conscientious young doctor. And the only person she trusts to protect her is ex-marine, ex-cop, Joseph Venn, the very man the police believe to be the hired assassin.

But Venn is working secretly for someone in the highest echelons of the American government …

Kindle4Kindle33. TIME OF DEATH

and

4. THE PEEPER

both by Ellis Vidler

Time of Death features the McGuire Women, a family of psychics. Alex, the youngest of them, is being targeted by a killer, either because of something she saw, or because of something she didn’t see except with her mind’s eye, for Alex is an artist and sometimes she finds herself producing automatic drawing (like automatic writing) depicting scenes of pain and death.

The other book, The Peeper, you simply must read. The Peeping Tom turns out to be – no, I’m not going to tell you. Let’s just say that in this book Ellis Vidler turns all our prejudices on their head.

Kindle55. THE FERAL SPY

Joyce Weaver

Very British, this one. A dotty old lady is arrested for shop-lifting. It transpires that she and her companion are living in dire poverty – and I mean starvation and exposure – in the derelict ruin of what was once the stately home belonging to her family. But how did they come to be in this state? And who – and what – were they, once, before most of these patronising young people were born?

Kindle66. THE MIST ON BRONTË MOOR

Aviva Orr

A time-slip story which turns into a truly fascinating glimpse of life at Haworth on the Yorkshire Moors when the Brontës were teenagers. You really feel you are there with Heather Jane Bell, the unhappy 21st-century girl who suddenly finds herself in a weird other world.  And the two she gets on best with are Emily, who befriends her, and Patrick Branwell, with whom she falls in love.

She had never heard of the Brontës, so it is not a form of wish-fulfilment.

(Look at that name, and don’t tell me time-travellers can’t affect the time they visit! But she doesn’t manage to save poor Patrick from himself …)





ROBERT HEINLEIN

30 07 2013

I’ve been rereading some of my grandmother’s old SF. (I read them all in my teens.) Her two favourite authors in this genre were Julian May and Robert Heinlein, and it’s Heinlein I picked up first this time round; one of his Howard Families novels, Methuselah’s Children.

Heinlein Methuselah cover

The Howard Families are the result of an ongoing experiment in – let’s not mince words – eugenics: the selective breeding of a species for one or more traits, in this case of people for longevity. The Howard Foundation actively encourages people from families where living to a 100+ is the norm to marry each other and pays them a large sum of money for each potentially long-lived baby they produce.

What I really like about Heinlein is that whereas most if not all other SF writers would have had this result in either tragedy or catastrophe, implying that these people were doing something wrong, Heinlein passes no such judgement and we find ourselves siding with the Howards when they start reaching ages like 150, 200, and it becomes necessary to hide this from the rest of society, the short-lifers.

However, some of the Howards prefer to be open about it, to “come out”. A mistake. It is not so much the envy and bitterness of ordinary “ephemerals” as the fury of the governing classes, who will stop at nothing to get hold of the Howards’ secret but naturally have no intention of sharing it with the plebs.

The arrests and tortures start. There is, of course, no secret to reveal, but no one will believe that.

Enter Lazarus Long, captain of a spaceship, paying a visit to his native Earth – and, as it happens, the oldest man alive.

Can he save the Howards? Of course he can.

Which brings us to To Sail Beyond The Sunset, the story of one of the earliest groups of Howards, set in the United States towards the end of the 19th Century. A historical novel then, but cross-genre, for it takes place within an SF frame.

Heinlein Sail cover

Maureen, the heroine (who, it turns out, was Lazarus Long’s mother), tells the story of her first life-time as she awaits execution for a murder she did not commit somewhere, somewhen, in the future (approximately 2,000 years hence).

They just don’t write books like this any more, but luckily I have one still to go: Time Enough For Love, which continues the story of Lazarus Long. I’m trying to read it slowly, make it last!





THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES by Paul Levinson

27 12 2012

Plot to Save Socrates coverThose of us who love Time Travel (I mean the genre, but the real thing, with a time machine which, at the click of a button whisks you backwards or forwards through Time with a capital T) have been having a lean time of it lately.

I even thought of writing one myself (on the “if you want a job done properly” principle) and got as far as mapping out a story in which I brought Time Travel and Past Lives together, my heroine sorting out problems she had gone through, was still going through (!), in previous lives, but only she, of course, knows that she and they are in a very real sense the same person.

An interesting idea, but I never came up with a good plot and – well, you know, it’s somewhere among my files …

Paul Levinson, unlike me, comes up not only with a great, attention-grabbing idea, but a plot that carries the reader along like a river – or should I say the river of time – in flood, with multiple sub-plots swirling around – I’m getting carried away here myself.

Back to reality. And by that I mean real time. Which in this case is AD 2042, in New York – at the bottom of the first page, page 13. Athens AD 2042, in the top half of the first page, is not real time at all. You will understand that by the time you finish the book and turn back for another glance at the first page as I usually do.

Sierra, a doctoral student specialising in some rather recherché aspect of ancient Athens, I had no trouble at all in identifying with. By the second page I was hooked. And it is on the second page (no messing about here) that Thomas O’Leary, one of her supervisors, hands her a five-page fragment of a hitherto unknown Socratic dialogue.

Naturally, she is sceptical. She is a scholar; Plato is notoriously easy to imitate and there have been other hoaxes.

But when, later, at home, after a hot shower, she curls up on the sofa and reads it through, then in astonishment reads it through again, she knows this is something unique. A visitor to Socrates in his prison during the final hours before he drinks the fatal hemlock (and presumably after the departure of Critias) tries to persuade Socrates to leave and accompany him to life and freedom.

How is this different from Critias’ persuasion?

Well, this visitor, Andros, is a time-traveller, and has with him a mindless clone of Socrates that can be left there dead in Socrates’ place when they leave.

Socrates declines the offer. End of fragment.

But that weekend Thomas O’Leary disappears. And searching for him, Sierra finds herself caught up in the plot to save Socrates.

All perfect, classic SF Time Travel.

But what about the theory? For some reasonable scientific (or at any rate pseudo-scientific) theorising is what distinguishes SF (Science Fiction) from SF (Speculative Fantasy).

Heron, an Alexandrian inventor, who turns out to be (to have been) a traveller from the far future and the inventor of these “chairs”  which carry one through Time, tells Alcibiades that Heraclitus was “one of the greatest thinkers of all time”. (Yes, Alcibiades is in the story, too – he and Sierra fall head over heels and make love at various times – and I mean various different times. You see why I identify with her?)

“Heraclitus recognised that you can never step into the same river, exactly the same river, twice, because new water is always flowing. And yet we are right in thinking there is a reality to the river Maeander, a reality which endures, and makes the river Maeander distinct from any other river, such as the river Cayster. So the river always changes, yet stays the same, has continuity – both are true. [...]

“And what is true of rivers, of all existence, is also true of time itself, because time is part of existence,” Heron continued. “I, and others throughout history, have recognised that essential point. And if that is so, then travel from one time to another should be possible, even easy, since, even though time always moves, it also stays the same – stands still, is the same time.”

And as the book moves on, and events have begun to influence the past, to change history, Sierra begins to realise that what they are in fact doing is bringing into being alternative universes, not changing the history of the one she grew up in, the one that existed before she was handed that fragment of dialogue.

For instance, speaking of Alcibiades when she knows he going into danger, she says, “He is dead already, in one universe. I want to make sure he stays alive in this one.”

And wondering what Plato is doing “now”, she asks herself: What had Plato done at this time in the original history – the history of the world she had grown up in, before she had been drawn into this? Not much was known about him in those years.

All this – Herclitus and alternative universes – is metaphysics, though, not science as such. And we are given no inkling of how these “chairs” work or even might work.

A small complaint, from one who is all too willing to suspend disbelief when reading a good story. Which this is, believe me.





THEBES OF THE HUNDRED GATES by Robert Silverberg

12 12 2010

A short novel – 30,000 words or so, hardly more than a novella – by one of the grand masters of the genre.

In Thebes of the Hundred Gates, the Time Service in Home Era (like NOW) sends a young “volunteer” (none of the more experienced operatives will touch it) back to ancient Egypt in search of two of their own who overshot the mark and got lost in time a year and a half earlier. Now Service backroom-boys have managed to pinpoint them in Thebes – Thebes at the height of its splendour, under Amenhotep III, the great pharaoh whose son, Amenhotep IV, better known as the arch-heretic Akhenaten, husband of Nefertiti, attempted to reform the Egyptian religion. (I have a couple of books about those two, Nefertiti and Akhenaten, that I want to review here some time.)

Edward Davis, our all-American-boy hero, materialises in the heat and dirt of a secluded back alley and immediately falls ill. Not because of the filth …

Two donkeys stood just in front of him, chewing on straw, studying him with no great curiosity. A dozen yards or so behind him was some sort of rubble-heap, filling the alley almost completely. His sandal-clad left foot was inches from a row of warm green turds that one of the donkeys must have laid down not very long before. To the right flowed a thin runnel of brownish water so foul that it seemed to him he could make out the movements of giat microorganisms in it, huge amoebas and paramecia, grim predatory rotifers swimming angrily against the tide.

But he had been inoculated against anything Thebes might come up with. No, it was temporal shock – it’s like “a parachute jump without the parachute“, they had told him, jumping so far uptime, “but if you live through the first five minutes you’ll be okay.” He had been back 400, 600 years before, but never anything like this.

He loses consciousness; and when he wakes up, finds himself in a temple, in the capable hands of Nefret, Priestess of Isis. However, she seems only to want to be rid of him, and as soon as he recovers, arranges for him to live and work among the embalmers, the mummifiers, in the necropolis on the other side of the Nile.

It is a refuge for which briefly he is grateful, but it turns out that he is little more than a slave there and the overseers have whips and he has only thirty days – twenty-eight left now – before his rendez-vous for pick-up at exactly midday back in that alley. How can he hope to track down the missing time travellers from there, stranded on the wrong side of the river?

A wonderful glimpse, not only of the world of the future where chrononauts travel uptime and back downtime – it is still, obviously, the early days of time travel – but also of the past, of Thebes of the Hundred Gates, teeming with people, all of them, in the childhood of the world, concerned with only one thing: death, and the afterlife; and reincarnation.

This little book is perfect.





TIME TRAVEL by J.H.Brennan

24 11 2010

This book is subtitled “A Guide for Beginners”. It is, in the sense that it assumes no previous knowledge, but it also covers an awful lot of ground.

Did you know that geologists have occasionally found modern or futuristic artifacts in rock strata millions and even billions of years old? For instance, the various solid metal balls discovered in layers of Precambrian sediment in the Western Transvaal, South Africa, must be at least 2.8 billion years old. “They have the appearance of artifacts, balls manufatured in a factory from specially toughened steel for a specific purpose. Yet on the face of it, they can’t be man-made.” Why not? Well, for a start, at that time the only living creatures around were algae and bacteria and a few primitive jellyfish. Unless there were visitors from elsewhere – or elsewhen.

It’s not just the metal balls, either. A wall built of polished cubical blocks, yes, a wall, 150 yards long, in a coal seam in Oklahoma at least 260 million years old. A gold chain inside a lump of coal. An iron pot inside another large piece of coal. A human footprint – I’m not kidding – some 500 million years old.

According to the author, it far more likely that the visitors to these bygone ages travelled there through time than through space. In Part II, The Physics, he tells us why, starting with a discussion of our common-sense view of time and comparing this with the very un-common-sense views put forward by philosophers ancient and modern (ie those who really thought about it), by the founders and gurus of the various religions, by physicists and astronomers. And he comes to the conclusion that “it is not time that flows like a river carrying us along from a disappearing past into a constantly created future. Rather, it seems we are the ones who ‘flow’.” Which is to say, time doesn’t pass; we pass, through time. I couldn’t agree more.

Another very interesting point the author raises later in the book is whether “flying saucers” are in fact time machines. As he says, UFOs are not to be dismissed out of hand. There is just too much evidence for their physical existence. They even show up on radar screens. Again, is it more likely they come from elsewhere, or elsewhen? And the occupants don’t seem all that alien; on the contrary, they seem all too human!

A brilliant and thought-provoking introduction not simply to time travel but to the whole question of what we mean by TIME.

(That statement above – “Time doesn’t pass; we pass, through time” – comes from the novel TIME SLAVE by John Norman, an SF classic which I will review here asap.)








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