Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The following review appears at and focuses on how costs affect superheros.

Author Peter Darrach


Second Skin — What Cost for Superheros?

In Peter Darrach’s SF novel, Team Commander Max Cody could lead readers to ask about the cost of being a superhero. When he asked “What is going on with me?”, his flashback saw a bright whiteness and his voice heard an apology. That questioning of an accident to the Astroid Recovery Service (ARSI) commander whisks the reader beyond the usual story line of a conflict between the economic interests of a mining consortium or a protagonist who sides with an indigenous group.

Cody faced becoming a superhero in a world rooted to more real happenings than could be found in The Avengers. But those situations usually demand a cost for the power. When the Greens played God in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy by terraforming the planet, the cost became the loss of support by the Red movement and the planet’s uniqueness.

In Second Skin, Cody’s accident allows the conflict to include how a space accident might reframe human evolution, and how a high technological experiment might strike across the parsecs without planning.

Yet blended within those issues, Cody falls in love with his navigator Elaine, deals with a surging Martian independence drive and fights an ice pirate who could be tied to a political figure in the Martian government.

Those various conflicts whet the appetite of an audience who constantly sees a fast paced, multi-tasking world zoom past them.

Other stories have dealt with part of this scope like, Ben Bova’s Astroid War Series, or the classic movie Avatar. The exploration of the economic downturn of the home planet Earth leads into speculation about how the economic and political systems will follow the characters beyond and into the stars.

However, author Darrach could take readers deeper with Second Skin into the exploration of the wide canvas he paints. What could be the cost to Cody or society for the new abilities Cody displays? What costs exist to society if a new evolution has started? What are the costs to human interaction if Cody has tied into a special accident that changes how people can travel or control resources?

Darrach has laid the framework for the factors that fill Cody’s world and his world makes us think about those issues. Some of us might even simply like the adventure ride of seeing a new superhero.

Yet Darrach just touches the surface. Cody’s accident could lead the way to some exploration about how he developed some seeming supernatural powers. Yet Cody’s attention centers more on his growing love of Elaine. When he is threatened by the ice pirate from an attack on the Mars Orbital Array, the dinner on the array continues without a set of security plans to counter or discover the nature of the threat. That takes the reader completely away from the questions about evolution or accident prevention systems.

Darrach could have developed the man versus self conflict with Cody’s new powers. Cody’s adjustment to a new power must have had some play on his psyche. How did that compare with the ways in his past where he faced and overcame an obstacle?

While Darrach shows readers the new political and economic obstacles in the space age, the author could travel deeper in character development. Cody uses his new powers to thwart the obstacles that would kill most humans. Cody has to shift gears to new situations. But Cody never has to adapt to a limitation from his new powers. As a contrast, the Lady Sula, from Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire Falls series, had to reinvent herself throughout the story to deal with personal and Star Fleet limitations.

Darrach sets the stage with characters who represent key agendas, but does not round out those people by showing the impact of competing interests. Gilberto deals with the ice pirate despite his connection to the Martian Government. Yet what are his plans to take advantage of the resources and who would he deal with to handle those benefits? That’s a missing economic or political faction that could be part of the complexity. If the new technology would help mine the resources and place Gilberto in a position to expand his power, where are his interactions with the scientists working of the tech?

The ice pirate is a cunning operative to make the Jack Bauer script people search for counter moves. But his background is a blank slate. What turned him into a pirate and why does he think he can make a big move by helping Gilberto?

Other opportunities could include exploring the technology experts’ concern about how their experiment might lead to unforeseen problems. How does the Governor of Mars see the development of the colony without the economics of Earth? Just how does the community of the planet respond to her vision?

Darrach has opened the path to explore new issues, and it’s reasonable not to expect full closure on many of the issues. Yet once a major item like a possible new evolution or technology is introduced, the concept should have some follow up. Such a blend should not take away from the impact of a character driven story. That blend should be to show how that character deals with the cost of those concepts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review — The Shekinah Legacy

The following review appears at and focuses on social pressures that undermine trust.

Author Gary Lindberg
ISBN-13: (Trade) 978-0-9848565-0-3
ISBN-13: (Kindle): 978-0-9848565-2-7
Ebook ISBN-13: 978-0-9848565-1-0

When Gideon, a special ops agent, meets a top Mossad chief in India, he asks, “We worked together before…can I trust you now?” That question drives Gary Lindberg’s thriller, The Shekinah Legacy. Lindberg’s novel races with the peril thrust on CCN reporter Charlotte Ansari as she discovers several shadowy groups wanting to kidnap her because of a relic she might possess.

Readers become immersed with questions of who trails Charlotte, who is protecting her, and how can they trust the answers from factions when Pakistanis work with the Mossad, and the CIA seems to counter the Vatican…or does it? And where does Gideon fit in?

Coping with trust is the major theme that wrings our hands throughout the story. Readers are cast into questioning how much their religion or government shovels propaganda to protect a power elite. And Charlotte, the protagonist, wonders how much she can trust her family.

Exploring trust rarely happened prior to the nation’s trauma from Watergate or the shock from 9/11. Since then, trust has filled the thriller genre. But even most thrillers take the reader into only doubting trust from one major faction. Our storytelling has gone way beyond the good guys-bad guys days of James Bond where 007 could rely totally on MI5. Smiley’s People made the reader expect to distrust political agendas. Even Van Lustbader’s Nicholas Linnear shows how the reader can not trust a family member or a colleague at times. But Lindberg throws the reader no life line — at any given time, any trusting is likely to hurt.

Readers are tossed into a world where the secure floor of religion falls from under them. Most Christians recognize the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Charlotte’s quest to save her mother, she runs into possible distortions of basic religious tenets. Lindberg has cleverly delved into history to trace possible questions about the early development of three major religions. And why is the Vatican hiding information?

Thrillers expect readers not to trust political agendas. But usually one major alliance helps the protagonist weave through the maze of hostile factions. Charlotte might trust the CIA, but then could be safer with Mossad…or not. Pashtuns are the enemy, but are they led by a Mossad agent? Can Charlotte trust the secret group of protectors who trail her? But they have ties to both the CIA and Mossad.

While Charlotte navigates trust issues with religion and politics, she would feel better if she could trust her family. But her long lost father cloaks a secret life. Her son has Asperger’s so she can not fully trust his input…or can she? And her husband is back in the States preoccupied with financial woes.

Thrillers are not about political espionage. Thrillers take readers into a special place to reexamine themselves. A novel’s struggle occurs on a worldwide stage, the conflict mushrooms beyond the narrow scope of the reader. Characters like Charlotte look at themselves through a new philosophical lens. That exploration helps all people see the world from another angle.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review — Peaceful Revolution

The following was originally posted by Tom Pope as a reviewer for

Author Paul K. Chappell
ISBN: 978-1-935212-76-8
ISBN: 978-1-935212-75-1 (Ebook)

Crowds of chanting protestors screamed in Tahrir Square, but armored units behind them supported their demands against Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Those images are part of the overall question writers like Paul K. Chappell pose on how humans can have a peaceful change in society. His book, Peaceful Revolution, examines the ways humans seek violence, or find ways to avoid taking the gun and seeing the Other as a barbarian.

Why is it possible for some changes in government to happen like in South Africa where De Klerk peacefully handed over power to Mandela? Is the pressure and potential for violence part of the human makeup or rather the structure that surrounds the person?

Chappell takes the reader on a spiritual journey through the human psyche to see what he calls as muscles of hope, empathy, curiosity and conscience among others. Yet those muscles are aligned against powerful forces like propaganda that divides people and techniques that dehumanize so that the average person thinks of violence. Chappell fills his book with specific examples of how he suffered, then developed a strength to counter those forces. He describes the value of those strengths, which allow empathy to occur.

However, Chappell takes the reader only part way in viewing the obstacles that prevent most peaceful revolutions. His focus shows the value of breaking down barriers. Yet his key emphasis could be strengthened by a more complete organization. The qualities he mentions are explained in individual interaction terms. But the concept of the book deals with how the individual can affect society as a whole. That requires some glimpse of the direction solutions would take.

His sub title states, “How We Can Create The Future Needed for Humanity’s Survival,” and that would imply examples of solutions to weaken the problems of propaganda, misinformation and dehumanization. However, Chappell fails to offer such answers. He only mentions possible solutions near the end of the book to indicate he will deal with those in a following book.

One example of disorganization can be seen by Chappell missing a connection of vital links. He wants to show that oppression arises from factors like conditioned inequality, superhumanization, and misinformation. But he doesn’t fully show how they lead to oppression in society. And he doesn’t relate how oppression can be countered by the quality of an individual’s hope or curiosity, which he mentioned earlier.

He explains the importance of empathy and then shows examples of empathy at work. But the real strength would be to show how that ability would help the conflict resolution process. Conflict resolution requires listening techniques that break down barriers. That would appear to be crucial in his conversation about empathy.

Chappell mentions a dependence on a discipline he claims helped him from attending West Point. While he has also shown the dangers of a military mentality that stops hope, and curiosity, he advocates the discipline from such an establishment.

To follow this path, he probably would want to explain when an individual would divide the positive qualities from the negative ones from such an institution. That discussion would also need some attention to the strong discipline held by members of the Civil Rights Movement, which arrived without the military structure found in West Point. Chappell doesn’t address either.

One specific that would go beyond Chappell’s generalizations would be to view a model to show how to counter oppression or propaganda. For example, how does the discipline he desires lead to a person defying an authority figure within a military structure?

How does a Captain Picard of the Enterprise ignore the social pressures or authority above him when the character should fight a propaganda that leads to oppression? Chappell uses references from fiction’s Star Fleet, but he missed a chance to mention that a model could be applied to real life. One major Star Fleet code called the, “Prime Directive” stopped any interference into another society that was not on the level of the Federation. When Captain Picard defied an admiral in the movie, “Insurrection,” Picard wanted to stop an oppression of another society. Picard relied on a system that existed — the Prime Directive.” Chappell could extrapolate that system to show how a model could be used in reality.

Chappell’s work is needed and his spiritual quest of finding values in defying violence can be a major tool in guiding society. However, society requires specific models in order to apply those tools. And society needs a direct message that connects comments on the value of peaceful approaches to structures that hinder people. Chappell has started the process, and further work is needed to detail specifics so models can set up systems that make the tanks disappear from a future Tahrir Square.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Laughs Abound

Charlestown, SC — Vulture Capitalists Fly High

Vultures from South Carolina zoos have succeeded in taking over offices of most of the state’s Chamber of Commerce since the recent Republican presidential primary. The primary was responsible for a state court action, which freed the vultures who have gone on a spree of raiding small businesses ranging from mom-and-pop stores to fast food franchises.

The vultures were initially freed because the primary allowed vultures to participate in society as capitalists. “We’re only feeding on businesses that are nearly dead anyway,” said Ray Zerbeak, the vulture spokesman.

Law officers tried to round up the raiding vultures as they attacked the businesses, but the prosecution lost the court action. Zerbeak showed the judge that the increase in sheriffs and animal trainers proved that the vultures were job creators.

Once the vultures were allowed to seize businesses from displaced humans, they made inroads on owning funeral parlours. “The vultures helped us out because we no longer need coffins, and that eases our debt problems,” said Kate Aver, a human supporter.

Vulture businesses promise to keep florists in the loop since flowers go hand in hand with funerals. “We especially like to work hand to hand,” said Buzz Ard, a vulture entrepreneur.

Ard wanted to reassure people that vultures are indeed capitalists. “We go to where the market is,” he said. “And right now, people are dying to get into the funeral home.”

Vultures are currently seeking air rights over major airports. “Like all capitalists, we vultures think that regulations stop the natural free market,” Zerbeak said. “We have to be able to fly to any spot in the state without running into limitations.”

The move to seek air rights has nothing to do with the strange email Zerbeak received that talked about commercial flights having carrion luggage.

When asked about vultures flying over fields where humans congregated after losing their homes from the mortgage crisis, Zerbeak said, “They’re only running away from bank collectors who are capitalists — do they think they are entitled to a life?”

The flurry of vulture activity has also included moves to run cemeteries. The vultures promise to create more land available for industrial growth once they clean up the former cemetery sites.

The turnout during the race for the Republican primary failed to show human resentment toward the vultures. “I’m a Libertarian,” said Memi Only, a human supporter. “As long as a vulture doesn’t fly over my head, I could care less what he does with others.”

In the move to take over the Chamber of Commerce, the vultures promised to ease the national debt by chewing on old bank notes. “The more we eat, the less problem people will have in the future,” Zerbeak said.

Image Courtesy of