Birds and the Vagaries of Reality; It’s All Just Too Complicated.

An Out-take from Sounds out of Time

Martin Davis, defrocked rock star, sat clutching his coffee cup. The warm porcelain soothed his perpetually cold fingertips, a curse on these frigid Nordic countries. Out the window, jagged peaks were hard etched into a blazing blue sky. The sanitarium’s garden was far too green. The lake’s indigo was far too indigo. Nature screeched with too much colour and harsh line, far too much for his shattered nerves. How he suffered.

He sipped the coffee. Caffeine might take the edge off his black mood and the relentless cravings, but wouldn’t it be better if he could transform caffeine into cocaine molecule by molecule? Shouldn’t be too much to ask. After all, Pam had come by bird attracting superpowers out of the blue and for absolutely no reason. Somebody of his stature, or former stature, deserved one small chemical superpower.

Somebody plopped down on the lounge chair opposite. So rude. The facility had several small lounge areas. Why must this toadstool intrude? The bloke crossed one institutional powder-blue jumpsuit-clad leg over the other. According to the clinic director, Dr Bauthman, the unisex outfits equalised all inmates. But as far as he was concerned, the jumpsuits only made everybody look like extras in a sci-fi film. And this bloke in front of him belonged in sick-bay or the brig.

Yes, with one eye squinted, the other eye open wide as if terrified, but terrified only on one side of his body, this bloke was undoubtedly one of the mental cases.
Even the jumpsuits couldn’t disguise the fact that two classes of inmate occupied this sanatorium: addicts and mental cases. The addicts were his set: higher class, more interesting, and suffering agonies he could relate to. Whereas the mental cases were…strange, talking nonsense, moving oddly, or staring off into space. But the unrealistic director felt both populations should mix and mingle. His eyes began to roll as he considered the doctor’s do-goodism. But bloody hell! Half way through the roll, he’d made the worst mistake one could make. He’d made eye contact with a madman.

The nutter shook his close-cropped head and wagged a finger. “Listen, man. Birds aren’t real.”

They weren’t? No, wait. Of course birds weren’t…were real. This statement confirmed his impression that the man was a mental case. As extra proof, he sounded American. Most Americans, even the sane ones, were completely crazy. Diets, religions, and conspiracy theories abounded across the pond; he knew. He’d just spent a year living in California, an epicentre of crazy. Of course, the English were mad as well, but British insanity was more genteel, often involving offbeat and obsessive hobbies such as niche gardening, bug collecting, or train spotting.

Just then, a plump grey bird fluttered by the window, alighted on a branch, and surveyed them with a beady eye, a dove of some kind, appearing gentle and possibly tame.

“See! Watching us. Just like I said,” Martin’s unwanted companion whispered. Then he covered his face with his hand and scurried off, darting looks behind himself, and ducking from doorway to chair to doorway as if pretending to be James Bond under fire.

***

A few days later, he was hard at work at his new job: folding. Doctor Bauhaus had stationed him in the laundry, thinking that the relative isolation would shield incredibly famous, handsome, and glamorous Martin Davis from unwanted attention. Although Martin almost always simultaneously wanted and didn’t want attention, he agreed with the doctor’s decision. His nerves were shattered, no, bullet riddled, no, eviscerated, and he needed peace and quiet. Besides, right now, he couldn’t trust himself around others. He’d already been snappish and otherwise not very rock-and-roll to a few fellow inmates.

The crisp hand towel held the scent of tumbled dry cleanliness, a sunshiny, bleachy smell that suggested all was right with the world. And he was an excellent folder; his creases always sharp, his folds uniform, and his stacks even. Maybe he wasn’t as quick as the others, but the task wasn’t about quantity, was it? No. The task was about perfection and soothing his nerves. And yes, sometimes he considered snorting the towels’ fine white cotton loops, but only on a bad day.

“Like I was telling you, it’s not birds. It’s B.I.R.D. Bio-electronic individual reconnaissance device.”

What? Oh. God. The bird-fixated nutter was here, in his laundry, folding at the table near the door! As expected, he was a poor folder. Uneven layers, bent corners, branched folds abounded in his done pile. Disastrous. Martin stepped over to serve as an example and provide some aid.

“I considered your hypothesis.” Years tuned to Open University were still paying off with words like “hypothesis.” “But what about the poops? Must be real to poop, mustn’t one.”

The bloke glanced around the room, as if expecting eavesdroppers, and whispered, “Tracking devices.”

Martin flapped open a towel for refolding. “Tracking devices?”

“Shh! Keep your voice down. Microelectronic radio-emitters embedded in a gel-like substrate. Why do you think eighty-five per cent of bird poop falls on cars and other vehicles? Think about it, man. They want to know where we go.”

“Perhaps, but how would you explain the mulberry tree?” He demonstrated his signature move, a crisp half-fold, then a tri-fold flip with the thumbs. Press the lower half to his belly then fold down, and voilà.

“What’cha mean?”

“The tree isn’t even on my Mum’s property. It leans over from Mrs Fitzhugh’s next door. Mrs Fitzhugh, by the way, sells shoes in town, hence she’s a person of no interest to the government and doesn’t even own a car. But flocks of birds land and eat those berries, squawking and flapping like real birds. Then they perch on the wire that runs to our house and shit purple all over Mum’s car.” Well, when he’d been living at home and had forgotten to pull the car into the garage, which was often because of the spider… “A real junker that car, and believe me, Mum is also of no interest to the government. Why track a suburban library assistant, I ask you? Consider with a clear head; most people aren’t that interesting. Are they? Most people’s worst crime is pinching the odd secretarial supply from the office. Following everybody via bird poop to track a few boxes of paperclips could never be worth the expense.”

Martin looked up, expecting a rebuttal, but the man had disappeared.

***

During his afternoon session with Dr Bathhouse, Martin stated his case in support of “real birds”. The doctor stroked his moustache, possibly covering up a smile. Not that Martin blamed the stout little subcontinental. The situation was entirely ridiculous.

“You were generous to carefully consider Mr Peterson’s theories.”

Still clinging to the idea Martin Davis was a good person, was he? Truth be told, Martin Davis was a gullible, thick witted rotter, a fact that’d been proved time and again.

“Well, Peterson was somewhat convincing, given his grasp of advanced technology. You don’t suppose he’s from another time?”

The doctor chuckled. “No, Mr Peterson is from this time, an era in which many struggle with critical thinking and rational thought. But Mr Peterson’s delusions have been especially persistent. I don’t recommend trying to argue him out of his theories.”

***

The next morning, Martin strolled the sanitarium’s extensive grounds hoping to clear his head of last night’s Technicolor monstrosity of a dream. Dr Baumner promised the dreams would pass, once he’d thoroughly detoxed. “Soon.” When exactly was soon? Not bloody soon enough.

He paused under a tree which was shedding little white things, petals or seeds. He bent and scooped up a handful. Oh, God. Suddenly, a heap of cocaine lay before him, and he was carefully carving it into lines with his monogrammed silver razor blade, the subtle scritch of razor across mirror. Gradually, he tamed the powder into perfectly straight parallel lines of ecstasy. Then the rolling of a C-note, a delicate snort, a numbing tang on his palate. He could almost feel the rush.

But, no. He was on his knees in a carpet of plant bits outside a dry-out clinic. Reality could be so cruel.

Peterson stepped from behind the tree. “Conspiracy goes back to J. Edgar himself. He commissioned NASA to design the bioelectrics and radio-frequency eye transmitters. He authorized the mass avicide. Without real birds, entire ecosystems are collapsing, thanks to the CIA. Happy to spell out the tie-in to Watergate, if you need me to.”

Martin ran his hand over the false-coke and silently grieved at the turn his life had taken. Sure, Doc Balustrade recommended against arguing with this lunatic. But damn it, if these tree-droppings couldn’t be cocaine, then bird-droppings couldn’t be radio-transmitters either. Fair was fair.

“Listen. It’s just not true. I know birds. My wife sings to birds, and they like her. They even protect her. So, I’ve seen birds up close. And very recently, a bird died from a gunshot, BAM, right in front of my face. Blood splattered everywhere—real blood, no wires, no gubbins, no knobs. And if the birds were real, the whale must’ve been real too. And it was! I felt the whale’s skin under my fingers. Trust me; it was real. So were the barnacles. Listen, NASA can put a man on the moon, but they can’t make a bioelectric whale with real-feeling skin. No way.”

Silence hung in the air like a group of friends ignoring a fart, the usual reaction to Martin Davis babbling nonsense. He sighed. It was all so exhausting.

Hands in pockets, head hanging, Peterson used the toe of his shoe to scrape a semicircle in the plant snow. “Sorry man. Sounds like you have serious problems. Better talk to the doc about the…um…whale.”

Then a plop sounded close to his left ear. He turned his head seeing a gooey bird dropping sliding down the shoulder of his powder-blue jumpsuit. Above, a big black crow loosed a raucous caw and winged away.

Peterson eyed the whitish goo and shot him a meaningful look. “Better clean that off ASAP.”

***

But was Peterson correct? Decide for yourself at https://birdsarentreal.com/

A Queen Among Crows by M.S. Linsenmayer, A Review

Steampunk-Alternate History-Magical Fantasy and Talking Crows!

1908-Russia: A scrappy intelligence officer from war torn North America hires herself out as a mercenary in the service of Catherine the Great. Both women are “Queens,” descendants of the Gods possessing certain powers. Eryma communes with crows, and her birds provide reconnaissance and protection. Though bashed, battered and covered in tread marks, she plans to help recover a crash-landed asteroid in exchange for eternal youth. But both Catherine’s court and Eryma’s plans are suffused with intrigue. 

A complex series of events ensues laced with historical distortions, magic, monsters, blood, gore, and a steam punk feel. The plot unfolds gradually, and Eryma’s intentions and history are delivered in bits and pieces, leaving room for reveals and plot twists. And the novel excels in characterization, including Eryma who’s battered but tough and resolute with a goofy sense of humor.

“Other women may have had beauty, class and romance; I had wit, experience, and explosives. The latter, in my experience, solves more problems than romance does.”

Grim, hard-living, violent, and lusty Dame July provides a frenemy-romance, and several acts of savagery. And Eryma’s crow community includes both a corvid genius and a comedian. 

     “So, if I am dead, which religion was correct?” I mused aloud.

“Yog-Slaggoth,” Lois stuck her head through the drapes “The Elder tentacled on is coming to dine on us later. Please be properly shaved, greased, and seasoned by five.”

If you’re after diversity, banter, wordplay, action, and strong female characters, A Queen Among Crows is your book. However, please observe the CLIFF HANGER WARNING sign and don’t tumble off at the end of the novel. Stand alone readers may be disappointed. On the bright side, several additional volumes of this series are already out and available.

  1. Genres: LGBTQ+ Science Fiction, Steampunk Fiction, Alternate History, Fantasy.
  2. Humor: Interlaced
  3. Violence: High
  4. Diversity: High
  5. Sex: Closed Door
  6. Warnings: CLIFF HANGER (but series completed)

Hotel Bars and the Art of Life’s Third Stage

Hotel Bars and a number of other stimuli triggered my consciousness to consider how life’s three stages intersect with literature. According to Daisy, the three stages of life should be titled:

Childhood, sexual, and the difficult to name one, postsexual.

As you’ve probably noticed, humans are obsessed by life’s sexual stage during which the focus is finding a partner in order to procreate then rearing and supporting children. Naturally many readers new to this stage flock to steamy “emerging adult” titles, erotica, and romance. Those in the child-rearing portion of this stage might crave the romance or thrills they’ve missed whilst changing diapers or being passed over for promotion, and reach for escapist titles; thrillers, fantasy, mysteries, and romance, because; let’s face it, adult life is difficult.

Second-stage literature encompasses the bulk of titles because second-stagers are obsessed with sex and spend money. And many still seek outwardly to define themselves, features that draw market savvy authors like flies to honey.

Eighty-five percent of content focuses on characters in the thirteen to thirty range.

However the postsexual generation also reads. Sure, some of them are satisfied by the same titles as younger readers. But some of the older set have lost interest in certain aspects of life’s earlier stages. Some have reached the conclusion that romance and heroics don’t hold life’s answers.

Right after finishing Hotel Bars, I came across Midlife Witch Unexpected in a independent authors group promotion. Midlife Witch exemplifies “paranormal women’s fiction,” a literary genre which places a forty-plus heroine in a plot combining elements of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and/or mystery. Intrigued, I did a bit of research into the genre.

Detail from “The Crone Age,” an example of paranormal women’s fiction. However, in real life very few menopausal witches retain this bust to waist ratio.

Have to say, I was amused by the women depicted on some of these novel’s covers, many appearing twenty-years shy of forty. The genre seems to focus on “magic, romance, and starting over.” In short, a child-free woman over forty divorces, moves to a new location, discovers special powers, saves the town or solves the case, and finds a hunky dude. At a glance, the underlying messages seem to be resilience, coping with change, and remaining powerful, attractive, and visible as an older woman.

I’m reminded of a side-of-the road billboard featuring a group of very fit almost naked older people captioned “Can you see us now?” The billboard seemed to be part of a campaign raising awareness of older adults. As an introvert, my response to the billboard was “why would you want to be seen?” And I wonder, how many third stagers care about being seen by the general population. How many still chase, public acclaim or being attractive to a younger hunky dude? What percentage? Aren’t many happy to be left to their gardening, bowls club, bicycling, and game streaming? But paranormal women’s fiction is popular, so the notion of using supernatural powers to dive back into second-stage must appeal to many readers.

Aren’t any forty-somethings and fifty-plusses writing stories about the meaning of life? Or does everyone remain captivated by the love theme?

So I queried on my sci-fi/fantasy group for novels featuring older female protagonists who are okay with themselves. Who don’t feel deficient or tossed aside. Who aren’t seeking a replacement man, replacement family, replacement career to create meaning for themselves in middle age and beyond. I’ll let you know what I uncover.

Maybe part of the issue is that stage three is an extraneous blip of existence, featuring people past prime reproductive age, with minimal evolutionary purpose. Maybe there is no meaning for this group.

But people who’ve lost meaning are usually unhappy, and studies show life happiness peaks around age sixty. Presumably,  everything is less fraught; the kids are gone, the pets are dead, the job is over. Hobbies are still doable. Friends are still healthy and alive. Perhaps oldsters appreciate these experiences more keenly because they’re less embroiled in drama, and they know time is short. Maybe if you’re lucky, drama comes earlier in life. And maybe contentment’s lack of drama accounts for the dearth of third-stage literature.

Of course not everyone ages well. Some people go very dark and looney, wreak great havoc, and make great fodder for novels. Consider Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, a mystery featuring a deeply eccentric older woman.

And the activities of contented older people, whether they’re meditating, contributing to the community, writing novels, crafting, or caring for grandchildren “reverberate until the end of time, in some small way.” And may be of literary interest. Just consider Miss Marple.

Hotel Bars and the Art of Being Conscious by August Delp, A Review

Hotel Bars and the Art of Being Conscious is more of a thought experiment than a novel but a thought experiment well worth reading.

After Daisy drops her teenage son off at boarding school, she’s officially an empty nester. What should she do with the last phase of her life, the phase past child rearing, mate seeking, and striving?

These questions are pretty first world, and Daisy is a highly fortunate first world-type. She played her cards right in the dot.com era and has no economic concerns. So seated comfortably at the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, highly cerebral, alone but not lonely Daisy contemplates life.

In the beyond stage, though, a person doesn’t really need anyone else. At that point, all you really need to do is die, and everyone dies alone.

Daisy decides to seek meaning through experience, and the experience she chooses is bar-tending. Sure, bar-tending is social, and she’ll meet all sorts of interesting people, but Daisy is also an alcoholic, highly functional, but an alcoholic none the less. And interestingly, as she dissects her personal meaning of life, she’s entirely untroubled by her alcoholism. Much and varied alcohol is convivially consumed in the course of this tale without ill effect to the point that this book might not suit a reader in recovery.

Through bar-tending, she encounters several characters who aid her search, and the novel includes a subplot revolving around scientist Bianca. The subplot doesn’t add much interest, but the character adds philosophic and scientific street cred to some of the conversations.

But Daisy must defines her meaning of life alone, and the result is interesting, especially for readers traversing middle age and points beyond.

Troll: A Love Story, by Johanna Sinisalo

In the alternate Finland of Troll: A Love Story, Angel returns to his apartment after a night of drink and thwarted love to find a group of teens tormenting a juvenile troll. Trolls, an accepted denizen of Finland’s forest don’t usually stray into the city. They’re a sort of wild animals, falling somewhere between a cat and a primate on the evolutionary tree. But Angel, falls in love with the fragile beast at first glance, and brings him home, believing he’s rescuing a baby animal. Or is something very different going on?

Troll asks what happens when urban loneliness encounters nature: tooth, claw, and pheromones.

This short novel also explores loneliness, isolation, and transactional sexual maneuvering. The inventive text includes multiple points of view, snippets of poetry and folklore, and excerpts from “scientific articles” about Felipithecus trollius, making for an interesting read. Judging by the beautiful prose, the translation is excellent. Here’s Angel’s description of an unavailable lover:

His eyes are computer icons, expressionless diagrams, with infinite wonders behind them, but only for the elect, those able to log on.

The juxtaposition of myth, science, and modern society, and the tale’s ending twist makes Troll contemporary fantasy at its finest.

Black Hole Apocalypse

Darby Harn’s, A Country of Eternal Light, A Review

Genre: Science fiction, apocalypse

Positives: Stunning prose. Emotional depth.

Negatives: A happy ending isn’t really an option, given the scenario. Difficult main character.

Mairead, traumatized by the loss of her child, her mother’s rapidly progressing dementia, and her father’s relatively recent death is withdrawn and suicidal. And now, a black hole wanders closer to Earth swallowing everything in its path.

At in the novel, I was reminded of the movie Melancholia, in which a rough planet is on course to smash into Earth. And the main character, an acutely depressed basket case, weathers the planetary collision with greater composure than her ‘together’ relatives. Continue reading Black Hole Apocalypse

The Hammond Conjecture by M. B. Reed, a Review.

Hugh Hammond of The Hammond Conjecture is an everyman, who thinks with every organ other than his brain. And unfortunately, the fate of Europe lies in his hands.

He wakes in an isolation ward with no recollection of his past. Encouraged to dredge up memories by writing, the confused man diligently types away. But the emerging memories recount an impossible history: WWII ended by 1941, Europe stultifies under Nazi rule, and Britain continues to appease.

While he languishes in home for incurables and relives his spy years, the mystery of how Hammond bounced from 1970 to 1980 is slowly revealed…

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Hammond’s decade-old memories of his spy career are beyond embarrassing. He’s an Austin Powers, saddled with an early 1970s attitude toward woman and the raging ego of a young man, but possessing low self-esteem and a talent for making the wrong choice. Every. Single. Time. Not dissimilar to my character, Martin. Fortunately for the reader, many of Hammond’s choices and much of the dialogue are quietly hilarious.

And the alternate Europe in which the spy-action occurs is complex, believable and depicted in detail. The author does an excellent job of describing the ramifications of an early treaty between Great Britain and Nazi Germany, clear even to a reader with no detailed knowledge of WWII.

This novel will interest alternate fiction and time travel readers, as well as those who enjoy thrillers. The ending is left open, suggesting a sequel is on its way. And I appreciated the professional-level editing and formatting.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Branches, by Adam Peter Johnson – a Review.

Branches, an alternative universe novel rings frightfully true, a precision hit on a raw nerve. 

Still reeling from the loss of his mother, a man dives into the social media black hole surrounding an unnamed right wing president. Several of my Facebook acquaintances went this route. And at times, I worried for their mental health. Several of the negative reviews of this novel complain about the character’s political angst. But his obsession is warranted. In his alternate timeline, the worst has happened and the US has descended into storm-trouper, police-state, racial-cleansing fascism.

Then, a shadowy company extends a bizarre offer, allowing him to shift timelines. Can he find peace in the multiverse?

What follows is a series of alternate nows and near-pasts; so more alternate universe than alternate history. And the author handles these subtle and not so subtle shifts cleverly. The plot never lost me, and I found the prose entertainingly of the moment. Most of the character’s heavy-lifting is psychological, but the novel includes plenty of action. 

Certain readers, including avid Trump supporters, social conservatives, and racists, will struggle with this novel. Those readers might want to lay aside their prejudices or give this book a miss. 

But I highly recommend this book to those of you that can lay aside politics and the other factors that divide society. Because this book is not actually about those issues. It’s about a more insidious problem in our society. It’s about becoming lost in adulthood and missing one’s own life. The last five years, packed with hatred and anxiety, have given many excuses to lose themselves. I hope this novel gives some the insight to get back on track.

This indie published first novel appears professionally edited and formatted. And the prose is high quality. 

Available Now!

The band won’t make any money in remote Finland. But Pam insists on including the tiny country in their Scandinavian tour. “What could go wrong,” she says. Well. Plenty, when one is cursed, sent off on a quest, and especially when one’s mum turns up and starts flirting with the tour manager. Can Martin fulfil his quest, survive the supernatural denizens of Finland, and withstand his mother?

Quest for Harmony is a short read which bridges the gap between Harmony Lost and the band’s next adventure (coming soon).

Expect humour, folklore gone amuck, and bad behaviour on the part of Martin Davis, rock-star. If you enjoy the story, please add a review in GoodReads.