About ogresan

Richard Parks' stories have have appeared in Asimov's SF, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, and numerous anthologies, including several Year's Bests. His first story collection, THE OGRE'S WIFE, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He is the author of the Yamada Monogatari series from Prime Books.

Review: Ahab’s Return: The Last Voyage

Ahab’s Return: The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford. William Morrow, 2018, 259pp.

 

In the mid19th century, a man named George Harrow works as a fabulist for a penny dreadful called The Gorgon’s Mirror, making up absurd stories for a willingly gullible readership. It’s hard work making up the right kind of nonsense and he’s going through a bit of a dry spell, so it seems a stroke of luck that brings a one-legged sea captain to his office, claiming to be ‘the’ Ahab from Moby Dick. Which, of course, was actually written by Ishmael, a former writer/copy editor at the Mirror, and not that Melville fellow.

Ahab, it seems, did not drown attached to the great white whale after all, and is now returned, looking for his wife and son who believed him dead. Harrow, of course, sees the possibility of a series of stories based on Ahab’s experiences and his search for his family, and offers his help in exchange and we are off and running.

Ahab’s wife has long since passed away and his son, Gabriel, is one of many young men in the thrall of a Fagin-like criminal boss called Malbaster, who keeps the so-called Jolly Host in line with opium and appeals to bigotry and racism. There’s also a sad zombie(ish) assassin named Bartleby, and a manticore who eats people and recites poetry. Ahab and Harrow assemble their own team: Arabella, an apparent opium fiend who is much more than she seems. Mavis, a courier for the Mirror and genuine badass, and Madi, a former harpooner and fellow survivor of the Pequod. Many alarms and excursions as the group attempts to rescue Gabriel from Malbaster’s clutches and put a stop to Malbaster.

All of which is and is not what the book is about. Malbaster himself drops a hint at what’s really at stake:

“…Love generates great energy with which to form the world. But Fear and Ignorance aren’t bad themselves, producing their own grim yet powerful magic. The secret, Harrow, is e pluribus unum.”

I don’t think I’m giving away too much by stating that a great deal of the book revolves around Malbaster’s true nature, and true danger. Any reader well in is going to pick up on that, and plainly see the correlation to certain events taking place in this country now. If you’re not into subtext, you’re still left with a rousing magical adventure taking place in the New York of 1853, including references to and plot points depending on: changing street names, Seneca Village, and John Jacob Astor’s secret stash of opium.

Reading over the above, I have to say that it just doesn’t do the book justice. Ford is at the top of his game here, and there isn’t anyone better (or at all) doing what he does. Read the book yourself and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

Advertisements

Checking In

Snowfall

Which is about all I can fit in today. First I had a doctor’s appointment way too early for my schedule (not a morning person) and then we took a trip to check out new pellet stoves because our old one is just too much trouble. Trouble to clean, trouble to run. We’re looking at a better model, with the recent and likely future polar vortexes in mind. Another expense, but it saves heating oil and allows for more selective heating. They’re marvelous things when they’re working correctly, as our old one had ceased to do reliably.

No new excerpts today, though I’m thinking it’s something I will be doing from time to time as the new project matures. Also considering putting up complete chapters the way I did with Power’s Shadow a while back. Still haven’t decided on that, since I’m not sure it’s going to lend itself to that kind of exposure prior to the edit and rewrite. We’ll see.

 

No Context For You

You probably shouldn’t need any. This is from the current WIP. You won’t know the players, but the situation I think is clear enough:

 

We made our way through the tangle. Modern steel was one thing; it was blended with carbon and whatnot to be both strengthened and tamed. This was different. Cold cast iron was something else again. It was pure and old and had its own sort of power. No fae enjoyed being in its presence. It wasn’t actually dangerous, but it did tend to dispel glamor and weaken fae magic, two things our kind rely on. But wrought iron? Hand forged iron? That was worst of all. Smiths were the world’s first human magicians, even if most of them never knew it. What they put in the iron when they worked it, our kind recognized immediately even when the smiths did not. Old magic, it was, perhaps even as old as our own.

And the door to the coal mine was sealed with it.

“We’re going in there?” Aednat asked incredulously.

“If we can get it open,” I said.

“Normally, doors and walls are no problem for me. That thing? That’s a problem.” Mera crossed her arms. “Any ideas?”

None came immediately to mind. As for the door itself, ‘that thing,’ as Mera described it, was fairly accurate. It was basically a flat cage, with iron straps two inches wide and probably a good quarter-inch thick. There were massive hinges fastened to the rock and a bolt as thick as a man’s thumb, with a very old padlock binding the bolt to a thick iron ring on the side opposite the hinges, in the usual fashion of a door.

I took a closer look at the lock. It was rusty, of course, and likely hadn’t been open since the colliery had closed down, probably sometime early in the previous century. Fortunately it was of mild steel, not iron and forge slag. Cast iron was recalcitrant. You could break it if you were strong enough, but it would not bend. Steel, by contrast, could be reasoned with, and one couldn’t be a proper trickster without learning a thing or two about locks over the centuries. The Japanese once believed that anything which survived long enough could develop a soul and mind, of sorts. I knew it for a fact. The lock, while made of inanimate steel, was in a sense alive, and as such tended to have opinions.

This one was bored. I could tell.

“They left you all this time with nothing to do but hold onto a door. Hardly seems fair.”

Aednat spoke up behind me. “Nudd, who are you talking to?”

I gave the pair of them a quick glance. “The lock, of course. Please don’t interrupt.”

I could imagine Aednat and Mera giving each other the side eye at the tableau of me talking to a lock. No matter. Just as I wasn’t privy to the inner secrets of either the banshee or nightmare, this was pooka business, pooka understanding, and they could jolly well shut it until I was finished.

 

 

FlashCast, Episode 9 Part 3 “Spring”

The new FlashCast is online, available for free from iTunes here, and on Spreaker.com. The theme word was “spring.” If you want to hear my dulcet tones reading one of my own stories, FlashCast is the only place that’s happening, aside from mike night at Canal Place here in town, where a bunch from the local writer’s group will be doing group readings now and then. We did our first one last Thursday and it went rather well. For FlashCast it’s:

“Predator’s Fortune,” by Richard Parks

“Give Me a Break,” by Peggy Scarano,

“All the Lonely People,” by Sally Madison.

Spring seems a bit far away right now. It’s -8F as I write this with about two feet of snow surrounding and on top of the car. I’ve dug a path to it and with luck will get enough snow cleared to get it free by tomorrow, as I have appointments to keep. Technically it only snowed about a foot, but we’ve had high winds during and after the snowfall, so the drifts are the real problem. Next year I think I may have to “spring” for a real snowblower. Sciatica and shoveling snow don’t mix very well.

I’ve finally gotten a little traction on the new project, though I’m still uncertain as to whether it’s going to be a novel or novella. That’s one problem with being a pantser instead of a plotter—you’re never completely (or even slightly) in control. When it works, and it usually does, it’s the best. When it crashes and burns, it tends to do so spectacularly.

Taking Sides

For all of my voting life, I’ve been a registered Independent, because I’ve always had problems with both parties (and don’t even mention the Greens; that’s another can of worms entirely). While I’ve usually leaned toward the Democrats, I’ve voted for Republicans a few times in my life. The old, idealistic, “best person for the job” approach.

That doesn’t work anymore, if indeed it ever did. While trying to get coherent policy out of the Democrats is worse than herding cats, the Republicans had other problems—the few at the top made decisions, and everyone else fell in line. So it didn’t really matter who the “best person for the job” was. With a few very rare and sporadic exceptions, they vote and support what they’re told. Then in the wake of the Voting Rights Act, the GOP learned that it was easy to stir up support by dog-whistle and relatively subtle racism and religious bigotry. These days it isn’t even subtle any more. Rep. Steve King asks “When did white nationalism become offensive?” and mostly what you hear on the GOP side are platitudes and crickets. If there are any actual consequences I’ll be amazed.

And then there’s the “President.” If I have to say more than that, you’re not paying attention.

Regardless, last week I changed my voter registration to Democrat. At least that way I can vote in the primaries. We need not just more Democrats, but better ones. I think they’re out there; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shows there are at least some. I’m hoping for more like her, with actual fresh ideas and the passion to get something done. Maybe it’s impossible, but the thing about impossible is that history is full of “impossibles” which suddenly weren’t.

A guy can dream.

I recognize that by taking sides I may lose some readers. Actions have consequences, and I get that. Sorry to see you go. Not at all sorry for why. For those who are left, next week I promise to get back to writing matters. I may even talk about the current project.