Wednesday, October 31, 2007

John Twelve Hawks: The Dark River and The Traveler

Recently, John Twelve Hawks published The Dark River the second volume in his Fourth Realm Trilogy. I remember reading the first, The Traveler when it came out in 2005. I remember it being a little weird, and I don’t always like weird. So I pulled out The Traveler and re-read it. Turns out that this time weird is OK.

In The Traveler we learn the underlying philosophy. Our life on Earth is part of the Fourth Realm. There are five others. There are certain individuals who have the ability to leave their bodies in this realm and travel to other realms. They often prove to be the great thinkers of their times – Jesus, Mohamed, Newton, Ghandi, etc. Travelers can disrupt the existing social order, and so are opposed by the Tabula (or the Brethren as they call themselves). In promoting stability, the Tabula is trying to end privacy as we know it and implement a virtual prison for all of society. They historically try to kill all Travelers that they can find. A third group, the Harlequins dedicate their lives exclusively to the protection of Travelers. Naturally, the Tabula tries to eliminate them as well. So Harlequins try to stay below the computerized, documented radar of current society, “The Grid”. “The Grid” is monitored and controlled by the Tabula.

The stories follow the activities of Maya, the reluctant Harlequin, and Gabriel and Michael Corrigan, Travelers. Michael ends up cooperating with the Tabula, while Maya is helping Gabriel hide from the Tabula. We meet many interesting characters, both allies of Maya’s and members of the Tabula. The characters are written well enough that we care what happens to them. And sometimes, bad things happen to good people in these books.

When The Traveler ends it is obvious that the story is not over – kind of like Darth Vadar escaping after the first Star Wars movie. But it does reach a logical stopping point. The Dark River leaves us hanging with a very unresolved plot. It’s as bad as a “To Be Continued” TV show. Even when someone shot JR we just had to wait through the summer re-run season to find out what happened. But I suspect we’ll have to wait two years to pick up this story again. The Traveler could stand on its own as a book. The Dark River cannot. I don’t think it would make any sense to start the story with the second book. And I almost wish I had waited for the third book to come out before starting any of them.

The books make you think about how far we are going in computerizing our lives and sacrificing privacy for security. I personally don’t think we’ve gone too far yet, but I can understand the picture of what too far looks like. And maybe we are closer than I like to think. If you are extremely sensitive about your religion – offended by what you consider sacrilegious, these books are probably not for you.

Like I said at the beginning, I think the premise of the story is a little weird, a little supernatural. But when I set aside my logical or personal beliefs and accept the premise, then I find the story to make a good read. But dog-gone it, I hate to be left hanging.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

John Grisham: Playing for Pizza

I just finished John Grisham's Playing for Pizza. It is a pleasant little book. Like his earlier A Painted House, it is not a lawyer book. Unlike A Painted House, this book is pretty light hearted.

The basic story is about a not so great NFL quarterback who is not ever going to make it big. After all his choices run out, he goes to play in the Italian football league. The description of Rick Dockery’s fall is absolutely hilarious. And the mistakes he makes in Italy are pretty entertaining as well. Learning to drive (and park) a stick shift is classic.

I think this is a story of being open minded, setting priorities in life, and keeping commitments. In many ways, it’s a coming of age story – if that’s allowed for someone in his late twenties. I think Rick Dockery finally grows up in Italy.

But even though there may be some character values offering redeeming social benefit, to me the best thing about the book is that it's fun.