Diary of a Parallel Man by David Elham

elhamd-diaryparallelmanImagine a world parallel to ours, occupying the same position in space, but existing in another dimension. It’s a familiar theme in science fiction, and it has provided scope for a wide variety of stories – the 1990s television series Sliders being a prime example. But Diary of a Parallel Man puts an interesting spin on the idea. For a start, the protagonist is not from our Earth; his home is the other one, and he longs desperately to return there. But he’s stuck in a world that is demonstrably alien to him. And it’s not that he has two heads or green skin. He looks exactly like us. The only difference between his world and ours is that in his history, way back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t eat the apple. His world is a world without sin and death.

As a reader who is essentially atheistic in his thinking, you might think that this fictional scenario would be unappealing to me. But one doesn’t have to subscribe to Biblical literalism to appreciate the story. Of course, it is absurd that a world could exist where there is human immortality, an unending ability to reproduce, and a finite landmass. The math just doesn’t work. Nevertheless, one can regard the story as myth and still obtain a sense of what the author is attempting to communicate. And yes, this is one of those heavy stories that is all about the subtext.

David Elham is a Christian – one who is “in the world, not of it,” as the Bible says. And this tale is essentially an alien’s observations on the world. My copy of the book is personally inscribed to me with the words “For Darryl – My ‘Reality Check'”. Reality Check is a book I wrote a few years ago, where I questioned all of the conditioning of Western society. Although my worldview differs massively from Elham’s, I have to say that it was a stroke of genius for him to put his views across in the form of a novel.

The protagonist, Mahershalalhashbaz (named after one of the sons of Isaiah, if I remember my Bible studies), manages to transport himself to our Earth, where he quickly finds himself alone, alienated, penniless and homeless. Eventually, he befriends a young woman called Kirsty, who takes pity on him – and gives him the nickname Baz. Baz (and the author by extension) is shocked by the cruelty of the world. By reading the Bible, he learns what happened here, how mankind fell from a state of grace and inherited sin and death.

This explanation for why the world is full of suffering satisfies many, but not me. My metaphysical outlook is vastly different from the author’s, but is deeply rational. Sickness, disaster, predation, and the plain old competitive spirit – these are not manifestations of something that went wrong in the distant past; one thing versus another, on any fractal level of the universe, is merely the natural outworking of energy conversion. This is obviously a huge topic, so I’ll not go into depth on it right here.

The author critiques evolution at one point, in an unfortunately scoffing manner that really only shows Elham’s lack of research on the matter – a common failing among Christians. Some of Baz’s observations about people’s irrational behaviour are on point, but Baz occasionally comes out with a line that is really far-out – and I found myself wondering whether the author realises how unusual his character (and himself, by proxy) sounds. For instance, in a scene where an unbeliever cracks a joke about Jesus, making everyone laugh, Baz is so enraged that he shouts, “Is there any reason why any of you should be permitted to live?!”

At many points in the book, I wanted to pause and have a discussion with the author, because I felt I had legitimate counter-arguments to offer. Here’s one that sticks in mind. I happen to know that the author’s particular sect of Christianity forbids believers from joining the police or armed forces. Consider this exchange between Baz and co-worker Ralph:

‘… If everyone was like me, everyone in the world, there wouldn’t be any war at all. It’s only because we have these ridiculous borders drawn up that people fight over them. In my philosophy there are no such borders.’

He put his face very close to mine. ‘We don’t live in your philosophy; we live in the real world. Your paradise Earth, and,’ he indicated Clint without looking at him, ‘and his brotherhood of man do not exist. Greed and jealousy exist. War exists.’

‘But if everyone was like me, it wouldn’t.’

He gave up.

The author appears to paint his protagonist as the winner of this argument, but it doesn’t look that way to me at all. Any philosophy that refuses deal with the world as it is fails. In the real world, if there were no police, no one would have any protection from criminals. If we had no army, we would quickly be invaded by another country. It is totally hypocritical to benefit from the existence of the police and the army, while secretly condemning them for bearing arms. Pacifism only works in the author’s imagination of a perfect world which isn’t the world we have.

Diary of a Parallel Man could be called “Christian fiction,” but it is unique in that it contains very realistic swearing, blaspheming, and some very unguarded talk about life – including the topics of sex and pornography. For this I congratulate Elham. In my experience, it’s rare for a Christian to be this honest; Christian fiction tends to sugarcoat life somewhat.

Given my atheistic worldview, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s an interesting twist on the alternate Earth theme, one that makes you assess the world you live in, and it has an ending that confounded my expectations in the best possible way.

The Blueprint by Will Hadcroft

Liam Creedy is knocked out in a nasty accident at school. When he comes to, he finds that everything has changed. For a start, he is seeing in black and white. Oddly, though, his own body remains in colour. Flashes of colour also manifest occasionally in other people, but for the most part they are uniformly back and white. Patrick Freeman High has changed even more radically. The school crest now features a fingerprint enclosed by a “no entry” sign, as if to say “No individual identity.” Prefects have become a kind of school police force. Corridors are more like streets, classrooms more like workplaces, and there is no exit to the outside world. In this strange self-enclosed microcosm of society, Liam has one friend, the strange Mr Samson, who tells him enigmatically: “Find the blueprint and change it. Only then will you find the way out.”

It’s clear that the author is using a lot of symbolism. The story is a vehicle for exploring the faults of the education system, its misuse as a means of indoctrination, ensuring that the population thinks a certain way. And the end result of this way of thinking, symbolised by a millstone inscribed with the words “Cause and Effect” rolling down a distant mountain towards the school, is the destruction of us all.

I can get on board with Hadcroft’s thinking to some extent. Like the author, I’m a fierce individualist, which makes me perceptive to the problems caused by mass herd-conformity. People work like crazy to buy like crazy, and this sort of attitude is gradually assassinating the planet. Religious hypocrisy and the pointlessness of war are touched upon in the book. I did find Hadcroft’s stance a little confusing at times, but while reading I was constantly analysing where we both differed.

I think my views would have been more in line with the author’s a few years ago, when I was reading a lot of conspiracy material. But these days, I see the competitive nature of life as something natural – a sort of stratification process, with winners and losers, a process that is mirrored in the animal kingdom. Although we fight against injustice, I don’t see a world without power struggles and exploitation as something that’s even possible. Hence, I don’t see the world we have in quite so dark terms as the author maintains. Even though we are undoubtedly indoctrinated in early life, it’s also true that the world today is so full of exciting education resources, if we would only reach out and take them – rather than spending our evenings wallowing in front of a television set watching soap operas. The real root of the problem is that many people simply don’t wish to learn. In fact, I would say that the TV is a far bigger source of indoctrination than the education system. I see television as the modern replacement for religion. It’s what people use to fill a hole in their lives; meanwhile it subliminally shapes their views and opinions.

I happen to know of the author’s personal religious convictions, so it tickled me when the protagonist had an argument with his teacher about evolution. The author takes the view that evolution is a lie, but the anecdote supplied in the story simply fails to deal properly with the issue. Today, for evolution to be false, there would either have to be a massive worldwide scientific conspiracy, or mass stupidity among scientists. While there is certainly a religious agenda against evolution, motivated entirely by a need to defend an inflexible dogma (which the author himself admits), the same accusation cannot be levelled at the scientific community, whose aim is simply to formulate the best theory from the available evidence.

Fans of the television series The Prisoner will notice a deliberate nod to the show in the design of the book’s cover. Elements of the story are also reminiscent of Life on Mars and Quantum Leap. The Blueprint is an enjoyable story, extremely well written, with an intelligent and thought-provoking subtext.

Postmodern Satanism by Jason King

This is the third piece of Satanic literature I have read, and I’m now starting to get sick of having to begin each review with a disclaimer of sorts, to cover my ass. But that’s life in a society where Christianity permeates the minds of ninety-nine percent of the population – even agnostics, if only subconsciously. Let it be said that unless you have dared to read a volume such as Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re misinformed as to what Satanism is. Satanism is not devil worship, for there is no actual being called Satan. Satanism is a philosophy of opposition to all the spiritual religions which promote the denial of a vital earthly existence in favour of a hypothetical reward hereafter. To be Satanic is to be adversarial. The original Hebrew word “Satan” means “adversary,” and so the philosophy adopts the term “Satan” for its symbol. Satanism is all about life in the here and now, with the recognition that there is no higher authority than yourself. Far from being a license for amorality, this is true responsibility for one’s actions and their consequences. The only downside is that to declare yourself a Satanist means that you will be misunderstood (and possibly feared) by ninety-nine percent of the population. Of course, this isn’t really a downside, as the Satanist, by virtue of his adversarial nature, relishes conflict and is inclined to see the funny side of others’ unenlightened disapproval.

That’s my ultra-fast introduction to modern Satanism, as codified by Anton LaVey in 1969. For more detailed info, consult my review of The Satanic Bible. Now we come to Postmodern Satanism by Jason King. Postmodern Satanism essentially takes the foundation laid by LaVey and asks the question “What next?” A quote from an early part of the book:

Just as Anton LaVey’s philosophy has been superceded, so too will my own, for such is the nature of the world. No book has the power to codify reality for all times and places, whether it be called a Bible or not. Satanism must be an energized philosophy instead of a dogmatic one – I’d rather see people who agree with me formulate their own systematic analyses, instead of quoting me like some authoritative prophet or guru.

I could not have been more delighted reading the above. Finally, someone else who truly gets it. For the past two thousand years people have been claiming that Jesus is the answer. He is your truth package that will never be superceded. Many who have seen the lie for what it is have then fallen prey to countless mini-Christs. Take Eckhart Tolle as an example. Another guru with an enlightenment package that is supposed to be The Answer. Few seem to understand the simple undeniable observation that knowledge has always been progressive. That which we now understand merely paves the way to what we will one day understand, with many corrections en route. Jason King gets this right at the starting gate, and it makes a thoroughly refreshing change to all the self-styled gurus with their craftily packaged brands of salvation.

The central theme and defining characteristic of postmodern Satanism, that makes it distinguishable from modern Satanism, is the observation that nature itself is adversarial – or nature is Satanic, if you will. From cellular life right up to planets and suns, one thing sustains itself by taking energy from another. This is the Satanic principle of all nature. From the human perspective, the most obvious expression of this principle is seen in predator versus prey, survival of the fittest, in both the human and animal arena. Religions have put this state of affairs down to a fall from grace in the long distant past. Postmodern Satanism instead asserts that the world is as it’s meant to be; your human nature is meant to be what it is; there is nothing wrong with you. Man therefore should not spend his days seeking to expunge all that is adversarial about himself as though it were sinful. Instead, he should embrace it as the very feature that is carrying his own evolution (as well as that of the universe) forward towards betterment.

Some Christians, eager to scrape the barrel, will interpret what I’m saying as license to become a psychopath. But don’t you see that it is the very adversarial nature of man that allows the truly responsible human to restrain (or gun down, if required) the psychopath, for the protection of those he loves and the betterment of mankind as a whole. Or shall we all turn the other cheek and let the “demons” run amuck?

Postmodern Satanism differs from LaVeyan Satanism in that it makes an effort to conceptualise a spiritual reality, drawing somewhat from Eastern sources. Whereas LaVeyan philosophy was largely concerned with pragmatic matters of morality, postmodern Satanism delves into the larger philosophic arena of the nature of reality and the more fundamental reality beyond space and time. The book does not hold the reader’s hand, but presupposes an existing understanding in the reader’s head of the concept of a universal mind. This happens to be my personal philosophy, but it is not one without problems. I have been aware for some time of a seeming incongruency with the idea of everything being one while observing this oneness kicking the crap out of itself in the arena of duality. Jason King took my understanding of this to where it had been struggling to go. This material was pure gold to me.

Postmodern Satanism’s recognition of a unified consciousness is also what forces a radical reassessment of Anton LaVey’s original assertions, for LaVey was vehemently anti-spiritual and he based his entire philosophy on the triumph of the individual ego over all else.

A quick word on magic (or magick, as the author prefers). LaVeyan Satanism defined magic purely in ritualistic terms – the use of psychodrama to effect change. Postmodern Satanism sees magic as an expansion of consciousness. Ritual may be a means to a magical end, but it’s not the basis of magic. Real magic is rooted in your mind’s connection to the deeper reality beyond the purely physical.

God help me, but I really get this stuff (if you’ll excuse the theistic faux pas). As a person who spent two decades as an Evangelical Christian and who has spent the past two years publicly denouncing Christianity, it is perfectly true to call me an antichrist (according to the definition given by St. John in his epistles). I would be a hypocrite to deny it. Should I also now wear the label of Satanist? Well, it’s prudent to let the dust settle first. Let’s just say for now that I’m somewhat Satanically inclined.

Some of the material in Postmodern Satanism was confusing – which really just means beyond my current understanding. That’s no criticism, because I realise that I’m reading an author who is at my level and beyond – which makes a change from various occult books that have merely insulted my intelligence by making outlandish claims with no rational or empirical backup.

It’s worth keeping a dictionary handy when reading. The author expects familiarity with terms like “epistemological” (the nature of truth), “teleological” (the nature of being). Felt like being back in Bible class for a moment! It’s clear that the book is not aimed solely at the lay reader. Anyone should read it; just don’t expect to understand every single thing.

The only parts of Postmodern Satanism that I felt were irrelevant to me were a few lengthy commentaries on writings by Aleister Crowley, the Yezidis, and other occult texts.

The book is self-published. Unlike most self-published books, it’s extremely well written and edited. My only gripe is that some unusual typesetting choices by the author have caused the book to be about 200 pages when it could easily have fitted 150 and benefitted from the resulting price decrease. There’s no shame in releasing a small book. H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and many others have released important works that were even shorter than Postmodern Satanism.

I first heard of Jason King through his YouTube channel, where he is a frequent video-blogger. Postmodern Satanism is available to purchase from Lulu. It’s a stellar book, one of the most important I’ve read in recent times.

The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum

What is every father’s worst nightmare? There might be any number of specific answers to that question, but the one which Henry Baum delves into is this: imagine surfing the net and encountering a porn video of your teenage daughter. That’s what happens to Eugene Myers in The American Book of the Dead. You could run a whole novel on this idea alone, but as it turns out, this aspect of the story is merely a precursor to something much bigger in scale. After the inevitable confrontation between father, mother and daughter, Eugene goes on the hunt for whoever made the movie, starting at his daughter’s school. This ends in violence, with Eugene suffering a head injury. And here’s where the real story starts. He begins having vivid dreams about people, dreams which end in a voice telling him the names and addresses of the people he is dreaming about. He investigates these locations and discovers that these are real people. But he has no idea what he is supposed to do about it, or why he is dreaming about reality, or what significance these particular individuals have. Meanwhile, another story is going on in another part of the USA: President Charles Winchell is being tutored by his father, past President Herbert Winchell, on secrets involving religion, aliens and the approaching World War III. The trouble is, Charles is a fundamentalist Christian, despite his father’s claims of religion being merely a tool of manipulation. Charles begins to wonder if his own father is the Antichrist.

Okay, that’s all I’m going to say about the story, which might leave you wondering, “What the hell is this book actually about?” But the wackiness of it is part of its unpredictable charm. I’ve a feeling that some people are going to love it and some are going to hate it. I’m something of a conspiracy buff, and I have some strong spiritual views, so I found the whole dynamic of the Winchell story to be rivetting: the wise father, carrying the world on his shoulders, having no idea of the religious insanity that is brewing inside his son’s head, as he tries to instruct the younger President on secrets that are about to affect the future of the whole planet. The Eugene Myers side of the story was also very well done. The author has a real knack for brutal honesty when it comes to describing the innards of a person’s head. This honesty also comes with a dash of humour at times. Ultimately, you see parts of yourself in the character, and it really brings him to life.

I don’t want to say too much about where the novel heads. I’ve mentioned the Antichrist, World War III, and a man who dreams about real people. Suffice it to say, the Eugene Myers story and the Charless Winchell story eventually come together. I had no idea how the book was going to finish until the finish line, and the ending was very satisfying, casting fresh light on an intentionally confusing first chapter.

If you have an interest in government conspiracy, alternative spirituality, the paranormal, I think this is a novel you’ll really enjoy (and if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, you’ll probably be offended). The story packs a little something extra for the conspiracy theorist than for the mainstream reader, especially on the theme of culling the human population. The American Book of the Dead is too wacky to be taken entirely seriously, but it does have a serious undercurrent, in the same way that John Carpenter’s movie, They Live, is on the one hand a dumb action movie about some butt-ugly aliens who secretly rule the world, and on the other hand it’s an expose of how asleep and enslaved people are and why the world is this way.

The American Book of the Dead is a self-published novel, but please don’t let that put you off. The book is skilfully written and edited to pro standards. Baum is a credit to alternative publishing. The story is totally fresh. I haven’t read anything like it before and I give it an unhesitating recommendation.

The Biggest Secret by David Icke

I think this is the tenth David Icke book I have read. It is, I believe, his most popular and biggest selling volume. You may wonder why I didn’t make this one a priority. Well, it’s because this is the book where Icke introduces the lizards for the first time, and I just wasn’t ready to tackle that. I couldn’t fathom that I could end up believing that our world leaders are actually shape-shifting reptilian entities from another dimension. I also didn’t want to have my opinion of Icke dashed to pieces, since I have benefitted so much from other parts of his research. But … I reckoned it was time to bite the bullet and dive in.

Firstly, the title of the book led me to believe that the entire five-hundred-page volume was going to revolve around the theme of reptilian entites. It doesn’t. The reptilian theme is something that Icke weaves throughout the pages, but a lot of the material in the book is concerned with hidden agendas in human society. In essence, the theory that the world is ruled by reptilian entities is based largely upon the view that the gods of antiquity were actual beings of an extra-terrestrial or inter-dimensional nature. Mankind was ruled by these so-called “gods,” and many cultures do speak of reptilian gods. In Icke’s view, the gods never left. Overt rule was exchanged for covert rule. Today, the British Empire is nothing more than the ancient Babylonian Empire relocated and repackaged. Rather than dismiss this whole thing with a knee-jerk reaction, there are certain elements of this research that I personally find fascinating. One is the importance that ruling monarchy place on bloodline, and especially how the bloodline of many key figures in politics, both here and in the USA, can be traced back to Charlemagne (assuming the research is accurate). I find it interesting, and a little suspicious, that we have Egyptian obelisks placed outside powerful buildings around the world. We even have a pyramid with an “all-seeing eye” on the dollar bill, and the same on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States. This is very much tied into the secret society known as Freemasonry. A look at the key figures involved in the formation of the United States reveals a massive prevalence of Freemasons. Furthermore, Freemasonry has definite links with the occult.

Icke, by his own admission, has never seen an actual reptilian. Evidence for their existence relies on the testimony of witnesses that Icke has been in contact with, including Arizona Wilder (allegedly a “mother goddess” involved in occult ritual), Christine Fitzgerald (allegedly a close confidante of Princess Diana), and Cathy O’Brien (allegedly a Project Monarch MKULTRA mind control slave). Much is said about the British Royal Family in regard to reptilians and occult ritual. Icke places massive amounts of confidence in the testimonies of the people he quotes, and it’s hard to see why he should expect the reader to be carried along with it all. This reminds me of his early books, which are full of “channelled” messages from so-called psychics that Icke placed his trust in. I have to wonder if he’s making essentially the same mistake here again, merely in another context.

The closing chapter of the book, and one of the most fascinating, is about Princess Diana’s death. Icke goes into a lot of detail in an attempt to show that it was an assassination, and not only that but a pre-planned occult ritual sacrifice.

Much of the research in the book was sloppy, disordered and inconclusive, and in the end, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t hold something resembling proof in my hand and say, “Here it is!” So, do reptilian shapeshifters rule the world? Only in the imaginations of those who read uncritically.

Reality Is Plastic! by Anthony Jacquin

Reality Is Plastic! is a book on hypnosis. It’s extremely short, just shy of 100 pages, but those pages are packed with information. There’s less of an emphasis on understanding what hypnosis actually is, more on practical routines that you can try on your friends. The book provides illustrated step-by-step instructions, such as how to invoke paralysis in limbs, how to invoke amnesia in your subject, how to make your subject think you are invisible. It all sounds far-fetched, and it’s not something that I have personally tested, but I have a friend who swears by this book and has used the routines to great effect.

The book places great importance on the confidence of the hypnotist being one of the prime factors in hypnotising someone. It’s the idea that hypnosis occurs when your confidence creates the expectation in the subject that they will be hypnotised.

It’s true that this kind of esoteric knowledge can be used for ill intent, but equally true that it can be used for good intent, such as the curing of phobias and the releasing of addictions. Ultimately, knowledge is neutral. It’s how we use knowledge that matters. Personally, I’m all for learning as much as I can about the workings of the mind, and research into hypnosis is proving for me to be a great avenue.

The book will be more useful to those who are interested in street hypnosis – the fun side of things. But the insights apply right across the board.

The only downside is the price. Anthony Jacquin sells the book for £22.50 plus £2.50 postage from his website, which is an insult for a paperback book of this size. For me, esoteric knowledge is a joy to share, not an opportunity for excessive greed. Worse still, the book is ring-bound, giving it an air of amateurism. And the text hasn’t seen a decent edit, judging by the many puncutation errors throughout. It you want to self-publish, do it right.

That said, the book was a fascinating and worthwhile read. A useful book for any budding hypnotist to have in his library.

Tales from the Time Loop by David Icke

The book begins with a short autobiography, which I read with great interest, particularly to hear David Icke’s own reflections on his experiences in the early 1990s, when he had his brief “son of God” phase that caused so much public ridicule. The rest of the book is divided into four parts, or layers, as they are called.

First, “The five-sense conspiracy.” This is the largest section of the book and comprises some two hundred pages. Icke begins by filling us in briefly on the overall picture of the conspiracy, involving secret societies, hidden-hand leadership, pryamid power structures, and the various scams that are played on humanity. The bulk of this section of the book is taken up by an examination of the wars in Afganistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11 – a tearing down of the propagana given to us by the mass media and a look at the US government’s real motivations, as well as the consequences of their actions for innocent Middle Eastern civilians. Icke’s previous book was Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Centre Disaster. Although I haven’t read that book, my guess is that the material in Tales from the Time Loop forms a sequel of sorts. The information quickly gets complicated to sift through, and I confess that at times I’m left not quite knowing what to believe. The chapter on civilian casualties is particularly moving, and at the very least the reader is left with a sense that he needs to question an awful lot more than when he hears on the TV news.

Layer 2 is “The extra-terrestrial/inter-dimensional conspiracy.” To call the information in this section startling is an understatement. Essentially, Icke’s claim is that many of the key people in positions of power (and throughout what is called the Illuminati) are possessed by entities from another dimension – entites that have a reptilian form. Icke was first introduced to this side of the conspiracy through receiving numerous reports in the late 1990s of people who witnessed another person “shape-shift” into a reptilian. When enough of these reports came to light, this indicated that there was something worth researching. 100 pages of Tales from the Time Loop is dedicated to this topic, merely a fraction of what went into his earlier book on the reptilians, The Biggest Secret, which I haven’t read. In summary, the secret rulers of the world can be traced back to antiquity, via secret societies and religions, right back to ancient Babylon and Sumer. The worship of the serpent, in various forms, can be seen far and wide in ancient religion. Human sacrifice is one of the primary ways these entities obtain energy. Such practices never ended, but go on in secret today, among the rich and famous. Reptilian shapeshifting is commonly reported in Satanic ritual abuse.

That’s just a fraction of the story. It reads like a science fiction extravaganza, and I can’t get on board with all of it. Icke’s big problem is that he never pauses long enough to let the reader catch his breath. The revelations come thick and fast, building one of top of the other, and the reader (me, anyway) is left behind somewhere along the way amidst a fog of information that he can’t hang on to as provable. Icke relies heavily on quotes from other written souces, particularly authors Zechariah Sitchin and Stewart Swerdlow. The former has written books which take an alternative view of human history and the latter claims to have had access to an underground base where reptilians were operating from. I simply don’t have enough information to make a decision. I wish Icke had simply tackled a few aspects of the reptilian theory thoroughly instead of trying to cram everything into a small space. For instance, I find it very interesting that the ancestry of the vast majority of American presidents can be traced back to Charlemagne. If that’s true, then there has been something very big and very fishy going on for hundreds of years outside the public eye. I also find it very interesting that so many Freemasons were involved in the formation of America, and that government people participate in a secret dark religious ceremony at Bohemiam Grove every year. It is unquestionable that there is something shadowy going on in the world that the public is not privy to. I just wish these themes were developed fully, but all too often Icke says, “You can read more about this in my book, X.” To be fair, though, Icke’s summaries do raise important questions and open up many avenues waiting to be explored. Every chapter has thorough footnotes about where you can go to find out more.

Layer 3 is called “It’s all an illusion”. This is where the book goes in the direction that I really appreciate, where we delve into the philosophical and the intuitive. Physical reality, as we know it, isn’t solid. Three-dimensional solidity is just a perception of the human body and brain. Underneath all of this, the universe is really an energy field. Now, you can believe that, or you can believe that physical solidity is the basis from which all else stems. Either way, it’s a belief, and none of us can get outside of our perceptions to find out. You might ask, what does it matter? Well, if the physical universe is just a perception, perhaps consciousness is a far greater thing we have imagined. Perhaps all that exists is one gigantic consciousness, and every human life is that consciousness undergoing an experience of separation from the full magnitude of what it is. The cornerstone of this part of the book is an experience that Icke had in Brazil, where he was invited to take a psychoactive drink called ayahuasca as a means of opening the door to a higher perception of reality (a similar account is told by Aldous Huxley, regarding mescaline, in his book The Doors of Perception).

Layer 4 is “Transforming the illusion.” The focus is on waking up from all the nonsense we’ve been conditioned to believe is normal life and all the traps that keep us hypnotised. The ultimate conclusion to all this is that we learn to laugh about life – to realise that this tiny life is just a game, full of endless possibilities, on the great canvas of infinite awareness. Really insightful stuff.

There were moments, in the earlier parts of the the book (especially the reptilian section), that I thought I was going to be giving this a bad review. But overall, when I’ve digested all 450 pages (and they’re pretty big pages), I find myself yet again impressed with David Icke’s insight. Once more, my mind has been stimulated to learn more and more from the wealth of information that lies ignored just outside the mainstream.

Trance-formation of America by Mark Phillips & Cathy O’Brien

We all know that the world of politics is a manipulative and sometimes seedy realm. Politicians and distrust are two words that go hand in hand in the minds of many people, and the reality of this is borne out by the broken promises and sexual scandals that often hit the news media. I got the first hint that this was merely the tip of the iceberg when I read a chapter called “The Depths of Evil” in David Icke’s book I Am Me, I Am Free. This offered a brief condensation of Trance-formation of America, and the reading of it left me thinking, “Surely this is simply too outrageous to be true – that the world I’m living in is nothing like the way everyone thinks it is?”

The trouble is, I’ve been discovering that, in general, the world really isn’t the way most people think it is. Most people are blind to the fact that the food instrustry is destroying health. Most people are blind to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is not about health, but wealth. Most people are happy to continue raping the planet of all resources and poisoning it with pollution, and will think of this situation as normal life. This book challenges the reader to get to grips with information claiming the governments of the USA (and other countries) are rotten to the core – so rotten that the word diabolical is maybe the only one that fits.

Co-author Cathy O’Brien suffered sexual abuse by her father Earl as a young child. When it was found out by the authorities, the US government offered her father immunity from prosecution if he would agree to have Cathy introduced into the MK-Ultra mind-control program. Child abuse victims are specifically targeted because because of the effect on the mind caused by trauma. The mind becomes compartmentalised, learns to close off memories as a coping mechanism, and develops Disassociative Identity Disorder (what used to be termed Multiple Personality Disorder). After much painful training, Cathy developed numerous personalities which could be switched by various programmed methods. Each personality was hidden from the others and she lost all awareness of the passage of time. This compartmentalisation allowed her to be used in various criminal activities: prostitution to high-ranking government people, government sanctioned drug-running, “carrier pigeon” secret messaging.

In adulthood Cathy lived with her handler Alex Houston in a sham marriage. Houston was not her first handler; there was also Wayne Cox, with whom she had a child, Kelly. Like Cathy herself, Kelly was introduced to MK-Ultra at an early age and was soon taking part in child pornography and prostitution to members of the government. Cathy eventually became what is termed a “Presidental Model,” and was in close contact with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill & Hillary Clinton. Some of the sexual stuff that Cathy claims went on between her and these people almost beggars belief. One of the worst was when Bush took Kelly into another room and violently raped her while Cathy had to listen to her daughter’s cries on the other side of the wall. This book took so long for me to read because at times I just couldn’t take it. I had to put it aside for a while and read other things. It was too terrible.

Co-author Mark Phillips first met Cathy by going into business with her “husband” Alex Houston. When Houston eventually put some trust in Phillips, this paved the way for Phillips to find out what was being done to Cathy and Kelly, and to make a plan to rescue both of them. After a lot of running, and much learning about mind-control, he was able to de-program Cathy and eventually bring about her complete recovery – and uncover all the memories that the government thought it had so effectively hidden. Kelly was not quite so fortunate and remains in psychiatric care.

So, what should we make of a book like this? Are Cathy O’Brien and Mark Phillips a couple of sensationalist attention-seekers wanting their fifteen minutes of fame? After having read the book and also seen Cathy talk about her life on video (look her up on YouTube), I just don’t get that impression. She does not seem the slightest bit unhinged. And it strikes me that you would have to be more than just a little unhinged to write the sort of things she writes and risk prosecution from countless famous names.

For me, the thing that helps pull this book out of the realms of fantasy is the picture section. We have photographs of Cathy and Kelly, pictured with some of the people mentioned in the book. Business cards, with addresses and phone numbers, are supplied for many, many people involved in the events of Cathy’s life, any one of whom can be easily contacted to verify information. There are several letters from the government, demonstrating Cathy and Mark’s ongoing quest for justice. There are medical reports on Kelly, showing evidence of her sexual abuse and her ongoing psychological trauma.

Cathy describes a mutilation inflicted on her by one of her handlers, where the inside of her vagina was made to resemble a grinning witch’s face. It was hard to believe until I stumbled upon an actual video of it being examined by a doctor.

It’s no surprise that this book is self-published. What publisher would dare to take it on and risk prosecution? For me, therein lies the most convincing aspect of the story. There are countless high-profile people named and shamed in this book, and yet here it is in publication with not a single charge laid against Cathy and Mark. Why? Is it perhaps because it’s a true account and to draw attention to it through a legal battle would only bring the awful truth out into the public eye? Or should I perhaps give the government the benefit of the doubt and simply say they are innocent until proven guilty?

People who read conspiracy books are often accused of wanting the world to be a more exciting place than it really is, trading the mundane for the sensational, swapping rational investigation for wish-fulfillment. Well, here’s a book that will really put you to the test. Because there is nothing to like here, nothing pretty, nothing that makes me feel good. It only makes the world seem like a much darker and more foreboding place than I thought it was … if it’s true. Is it?

Let me be absolutely frank and rational, because this book left me feeling disturbed and frustrated. I need more than a testimony. And that’s all this is, when you get right down to it. I need something resembling proof, or else I’m trafficking in rumour.

Infinite Love Is the Only Truth, Everything Else Is Illusion by David Icke

David Icke has written many books on the subjects of the global conspiracy and the nature of reality. I’ve read three before this one, all of them published on or before 1996. So I thought it was about time I jumped in at the deep end and read something from his more recent research. This one was published in 2005.

The book begins with a couple of chapters summarising Icke’s research into the global conspiracy and the inter-dimensional side of the manipulation, including his theories about shape-shifting Reptilians. These chapters serve only as a taster, and to really get into them properly, you need to read books like, And the Truth Shall Set You Free and The Biggest Secret – something I haven’t yet done, and therefore I have to remain on the fence with some of his assertions.

After that, the book starts going in the direction that most interests me, in a chapter called “Downloading Reality,” where the author aims to show to that the physical world is nothing more than a holographic illusion. Some of the claims are startling and fascinating – that our own DNA can be consciously modified, and this is the real explanation behind evolution. We also have the ability to heal ourselves to some extent. Icke talks in a lot of detail about DNA/RNA, and unfortunately I found myself getting confused, but that material did serve as an interesting introduction to some thought-provoking ideas.

There’s a chapter on the nature of religions. I first read Icke tackling this topic in I Am Me, I Am Free, and I was stunned by his insight. This time round, oddly, he concentrates on Judaism rather than Christianity, exposing the craziness of all the impossible rules and regulations.

Another chapter takes a look at society and invites us to take a hard look at much of what we consider to be normal life, in education, the media, health services, banking, etc. Good stuff.

Another chapter is critical of the New Age movement, which shows a dramatic shift in Icke’s views since he started out in 1990 with The Truth Vibrations. Back then he was very pro New Age. Now he believes the New Age movement to be the most enlightened of all expressions of religion, but still caught in the program. In the past, Icke spoke about our souls being on a journey of evolution. Now he denies that. Now he sees reincarnation as part of the program – another aspect of us being trapped in this physical life “matrix.”

This change in ideas is due, it seems, to an experience Icke had a few years before, when he was invited to take ayahuasca, a drink that shamens use to tap into the reality beyond our five senses. He claims that he was spoken to by a female voice for five hours. One phrase that was repeated many times was “Infinite Love is the only truth, everything else is illusion.” Getting to the bottom of that is the cornerstone of this book. For instance, if we are all one consciousness, if our separation from each other is just an illusion, if the only thing that exists is Infinite Love, and if we are everything that exists, then how can we possibly evolve by experience? I have to admit, he is asking the right questions and getting right down to the nitty gritty of what this idea of “oneness” (that he has been promoting for many years) implies.

My only criticism of this book is that the amount of new material in here is relatively small. Much of the book is a refresher course in research Icke has already expounded in previous books, and in greater detail. I have his previous book, Tales from the Time Loop (2003) on my shelf, waiting to be read, and I can tell that it contains massive amount of overlap. That said, I appreciate that Infinite Love was written to be self-contained, so that it can be understood without reference to other works.

It takes a certain type of mind to appreciate a book of this nature. You have to be unafraid to question everything you’ve been contitioned to believe, to take no norm for granted, and also to abandon skepticism in favour of allowing yourself to flirt with new possibilities. That’s me, for better or worse. I found the ideas in this book stimulating and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

God Outside the Box by Patricia Panahi

I was drawn to this book by a review I spotted elsewhere, at a time when my life had just undergone great spiritual change. I had chosen to abandon my Christian faith, on the grounds that I had been ignoring terrible problems with it. See my personal blog for more detail. In short, I came to view my religion as a sort of mind prison, where you are lured into sacrificing your freedom to think for yourself to a massive set of beliefs that are laid out for you by others: the Bible and the Church. And any attempt to reclaim that freedom to think for yourself instantly makes you a denier of the Word of God. It was a breath of fresh air for me to start looking at life and universe and saying, “What do I think?” instead of “What do they want me to think?”

This book is essentially Patricia Panahi’s autobiography, and she has an interesting story to tell. In her childhood, she was in the rare position of having a Muslim father and a Catholic mother. They weren’t overly religious people, and didn’t impose their beliefs on their daughter. This allowed Patricia to look at what she was being taught from two standpoints that were very different, whereas most of us grow up with a single religious view and the idea that “I’m right, and everybody else is wrong.” In her college years, she learned about Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddism, etc., but always from the perspective of an outsider looking in. She started to notice ways in which all religions were expressions of some of the same ideas.

As I was reading this, I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be if we all had opportunity to learn it this way – if we were shown a big picture and allowed to choose, instead of being encouraged to blindly follow what those around us are doing, and never dare to question it for fear of being branded unacceptable or fear of facing some eternal punishment.

Patricia appears to possess that rare kind of skepticism that is actually looking for answers rather than looking to deny the reality of everything. A little later in life, a friend encouraged her to go to something called a “Rebirthing” session – a New Age type practice that involved lying down and allowing your higher self to affect you. The results of that session were the first big wake-up call to the idea that there was an actual spiritual dimension to life that was real and definite – something you could experience rather than simply have faith in. This awakening led Patricia to start reading everything she could get her hands on, on a vast array of spiritual topics. Over the course of her life since then, she has learned and experienced a great deal that she shares with the reader. Not only strange experiences that scientists would balk at like walking on fire, but hard experiences of life that contain priceless lessons.

The theme of the book is spiritual awakening. I felt a great sense of kinship with many of the ideas that Patricia communicates. I wouldn’t say I was on the same page with everything, but overall this is an excellent read. If you’re learning to see the world in wider terms than the rigid scientific mindset that says “This world is all there is,” or you’re daring to step outside the boundaries of a religion that has been programming you, I thoroughly recommend this book. It will be a great encouragement to you in your own quest for truth.

Faith Awakened by Grace Bridges

Faith Awakened caught my attention because it’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in Northern Ireland – specifically Bangor, which is only about forty miles from where I live. It’s not often the Emerald Isle gets the sci-fi treatment. This is also a Christian novel, and those who know me from my personal bloggery might think this would automatically make it right up my street. News that something is “Christian fiction” actually has the effect of making me feel quite ambivalent, because I’ve had the experience of reading some pretty bad Christian novels, dripping with melodrama. I’m pleased to announce that Faith Awakened avoids this trap to a large extent, which is no easy thing because this is essentially a love story.

Grace doesn’t pull her punches. She is not afraid to kill off about six billion people from the get-go, at the hands of a deadly virus. Then, rather than step into the “cosy catastrophe” genre, things get even worse for the tiny band of survivors. It seems that their mysterious immunity to the virus is temporary, as the virus mutates. There seems to be no hope for the last remnants of the human race … until the discovery of a cryogenic research laboratory. The survivors theorise that it may possible be go to sleep for many years, experiencing a virtual reality dreamworld, with your body safely sealed off from infection. Then, many years later, the virus will have died, and it will be safe to emerge.

The novel appears to jump back and forth in time, telling two apparently unconnected stories: one the life of Mariah in the post-apocalypse world, and the other the life of Faith in a world like the one we know. We are left to ponder what’s really going on – whether it is two points in time, or a real world and a virtual one; are Mariah and Faith separate individuals or the same person? Grace resists answering these questions until the end. I had a pretty good idea what was going on long before that, but I did like being left to deceipher it on my own.

This is a Christian novel only in the sense that the outlook of the central character is Christian – and only loosely Christian, at that. Characters refer to God as “The Awakener” and Christians are “The Awakened.” Christianity itself is not mentioned by name. During the reading of this novel, I coincidentally happened to be moving away from my personal Christian faith, so I was glad that this was more of a story told from the author’s peronal outlook than an attempt to convert an audience.

The author often uses very broad brush strokes in telling the story. The usual advice you hear in writing circles is “show, don’t tell,” whereas Grace has largely chosen “tell, don’t show.” But I’m going to defend her stance. The entire life of Faith is crammed into these pages, and it’s often not high-octane drama where you want to pull the reader in and show him every detail. It’s a gentler, everyday kind of story, and I found myself mostly content with the fast pace with which events were told. That said, there were points where I wanted the author to really zero in and pull the reader right into the direct experience of the protagonist.

On purely a personal interest level, I would have to say that the overall nature of the book as a love story didn’t really grab me as much as other aspects that I would have preferred to have seen developed, such as the nature of the totalitarian pre-apocalypse society, and a deeper exploration into virtual reality. In terms of the story the author wanted to tell, the stand-out for me was that I got the distinct feeling I was reading something autobiographical at times. And having now met Grace in person, I can confirm that this was indeed the case to a large extent. And it’s this that elevates the book to more than mere entertainment.

Faith Awakened is a self-published novel, and since so many self-published authors take the easy route of not learning correct grammar and not weeding out errors from their manuscript, I always feel I need to comment on this topic. Well, I’m pleased to say that this novel is very cleanly presented – obviously a labour of love in every way.

I had opportunity to meet Grace in person recently, in the bizarrest of coincidences. I happened to be reading her book while members of the Christian Fiction Review Blog (of which Grace is one) were gearing up to review my own novel, Chion. Grace happened to be living in Ireland at the time (she’s actually from New Zealand, and had been living in Germany until recently), so we arranged to meet up at a halfway point between our towns. Grace brought her laptop, and we decided to interview each other. I’m delighted to share that interview with you here. Grace has also agreed to allow Faith Awakened to be featured here for free download. For more information, visit the Faith Awakened website.

The Grace Bridges and Darryl Sloan interview:
[ Part 1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ]

I Am Me, I Am Free by David Icke

I first heard of David Icke on the Terry Wogan show in 1991. I was about nineteen at the time. Icke had once been a famous footballer, until his career was cut short by arthritis. He then went on become a BBC television sports presenter. The reason why he was being interviewed by Terry Wogan was because he had recently published a book called The Truth Vibrations, where he claimed to have undergone profound spiritual changes and was in contact with beings from a higher dimension. The audience was very amused. Even more amused when Terry asked him if he was the Son of God. Not given time to explain the difference between a son of God and the Son of God, hilarity ensued. For me, the outrageous nature of this made the Wogan interview one of the unforgettable moments of television, and the name David Icke was firmly locked in my mind, forever shelved under messianic crackpot. Well, not quite forever, it seems.

Earlier this summer, whilst browsing the website of Christian conspiracy theorist Mark Dice, I came across an audio interview of Mark interviewing David. I thought it was a strange combination of interviewer and interviewee, given their opposing backgrounds, and so I got curious. I can’t remember what specifics in the interview caught my attention, but I was enthused enough by David’s presentation to seek out some of his books.

I chose I Am Me, I Am Free first, primarily because I was more interested in Icke’s spiritual views than his conspiracy theories or his radical theories about shape-shifting reptilians. Why was I not put off immediately by the knowledge that he believes reptilians are walking among us in human bodies? I don’t know. Maybe the Mark Dice interivew sounded too sane, and maybe the fact that I couldn’t marry this sanity with the outlandish claims created a sense of intrigue in me. In any case, I chose not to jump straight in with his reptilian book, The Biggest Secret, but rather to break myself in gently.

I Am Me, I Am Free disturbed me from the first chapter. And it disturbed me because it was chipping away at a closed-minded attitude that I possessed and didn’t know I possessed. It disturbed me because it seemed to be right. Some way into the book, I felt that I was finally starting to understand the greatest spiritual battle of my life: the battle between athiesm and Christianity. Icke woke me up to the “mind prison” that is conventional science – the idea that the world should only be understood in terms of “this is all there is,” that the burden of proof is the only measure of rational thought. But wait, he doesn’t stop there. He also makes an attack on religion, too. This was the most problematic aspect of the book, because I was a Christian as I was reading it, and had been consistently a Christian for about seven years.

But for the first time in my life I started understanding that there was an alternative to dogmatic religion and equally dogmatic science. And that alternative was the pursuit of truth without any attachment to an “ism,” without the necessity of taking on a strict set of beliefs, without fear of damnation. Just the breaking free from closed-minded assumptions you’re not even aware of and the openness to all possibility. I dared to deconstuct my Christian beliefs and start again from the ground up. Guess what? I can’t accept the Christian view of reality any more. One personal example of this (not from the book) is the way we can encounter things in the Bible like God commanding the Israelites to slaughter the men, women and children of Amalek (1 Samuel 15). We can’t understand this, so we put it on a shelf in our mind, thinking that we’ll get an explanation some day. But you know, it never comes down the from shelf. It just gathers dust. But you start to wake up to some of the craziness you’ve allowed yourself to believe, when you dare to deconstruct your beliefs and attempt to put them together again. Suddenly the bricks don’t fit as neatly as you thought they did.

The book covers much more ground than I’m mentioning here. There’s some excellent material on self-esteem and a particularly difficult chapter on mind control, which makes some terrifying claims that need further verification. But it’s the sort of book that contains much in the way of self-evident truth, and it’s the sort of book that you don’t have to accept hook, line and sinker. You can gain something from it and leave what you find unacceptable.

For me, this was a totally life-changing book. I didn’t expect this to happen to me when I started out. I know the world is full of people making all sorts of claims to enlightenment, and I don’t consider myself an easy man to fool. Richard Dawkins didn’t get very far with me. I’ve been waking up to a lot of things over the past few years, and this book has served only to step that awakening up a gear.

David Icke is an extremely important thinker in today’s world, and I am a better person for having discovered his books.

The Mars Run by Chris Gerrib

When I got some distance into The Mars Run, I realised I was reading something that belonged to that rare sub-genre known as “mundane science fiction.” If you think that’s me putting it down, you would be wrong. Let me educate you. Mundane SF is a tricky beast to write, and something that I, as an author, have not attempted. Mundane SF is all about what’s really likely. You are not allowed to feature time-travel, interstellar space travel, teleportation; even aliens are frowned upon. Mundane SF takes what technology we already have and theorises realistically about what seems genuinely possible in the future. Doesn’t that make for rather dull sci-fi? Depends on what you’re looking for in a story. For me, I like to sink my teeth into a good human drama. That’s what The Mars Run is. If anything, I found the mundane SF aspects of the novel fascinating. When Gerrib tells me about a spacecraft that has a spinning central section creating an area of the ship with artificial gravity, it excites the scientist in me, in a way that the phrase “Kirk to transporter room” won’t.

The novel is set in the 2070s, told in the first person by Janet Pilgrim, a young astronaut in her late teens. In order to raise money for college, Janet agrees to become a crew member on a cargo haul from Earth to Mars, a vocation no more exciting than a present-day truck driver. A mining colony has been established on Mars, and there is regular traffic between the red and blue planets. There is also the danger of pirates; outer space is the new ocean. Janet’s ship gets attacked and the whole crew murdered – except her. Janet is given the opportunity to join the pirate crew. It’s that, or death. From there on, the trip to Mars turns out to be much more dangerous and difficult that she ever expected.

On the author’s website, Gerrib writes, “Warning – explicit sex and language!” I’m a Christian, so you know right off the bat that I’m going to be tolerating rather than appreciating those two things. In actuality, the sex is not very explicit at all. It’s almost written as summary. Which is no bad thing, considering that there’s a lot of raping going on – or at least something very close to rape, as Janet spends a good portion of the novel forced to play the role of sex slave, and using her feminine wiles to get the upper hand. The exception is a consensual and rather pointless lesbian relationship. I can imagine what a movie of the novel would be like (Kleenex to the ready) but as a book, with Gerrib holding back on the eroticism, the lesbian relationship seems superfluous and is ultimately swallowed up by the larger story.

The Mars Run is a self-published novel. Gerrib’s writing style is clear and streamlined, respecting the reader’s intelligence. When Gerrib writes about an astronaut placing his helmet against a closed door in a vaccuum, he expects the reader to figure out on his own that this is a little trick you can play to hear what’s going on inside the room. Too many author write timidly and slow their work down with pointless qualifications. Not Gerrib. I spotted some grammar and punctuation errors, but not a lot. It wouldn’t take a great deal of work to lick this into truly professional shape.

The novel is a character drama, and on the characters it succeeds. Everyone was well defined, their actions believable, and the reader really feels for Janet’s plight. The only part of the story that I disliked was an overly long section near the end where Janet seems to be carried along by events over which she has no control, and everyone around her is merely talking politics. Thankfully, this section is not characteristic of the story as a whole.

This was an enjoyable read, and one I’ll remember. Reminded me of Robert Holdstock’s space trader novella Elite: The Dark Wheel. I had qualms about some of Janet Pilgrim’s moral decisions in the story, but the ending was surprisingly refreshing on that score.

North of Sunset by Henry Baum

There’s a new serial killer with an unusual MO stalking Hollywood: no one with a personalised number plate on his car is safe. The psychopath’s name is Curt Knudsen and he’s known to the public as the Vanity Plate Killer. His name is no secret to the reader, because this is no mystery story. Author Henry Baum likes to take you right inside the head of your killer, putting his life and his motivations in full view. But this is not only the tale of a serial killer. It’s a shifting-perspective novel that lets you see the thoughts and feelings of several very different and flawed individuals: a detective, a paparazzi photographer, a producer, and principally, top Hollywood actor Michael Sennet. Michael and the killer become inextricably linked, due to an unfortunate incident. A paparazzi photographer captures Michael’s infidelity on camera and tries to bribe the actor. Michael, in a fit of rage, clobbers the photographer to death. To cover his tracks, he dresses the scene to make it look as if the Vanity Plate Killer commited the crime. But Curt Knudsen isn’t too happy about having his image tarnished by a copycat. However, if you think the rest of the novel is about Curt out for Michael’s blood, think again. There are far more complex issues going on in the killer’s head. The story also has an amusing and insightful satirical side, poking fun at our tendency to become starstruck when encountering celebrities – celebrities who may well be immoral behind all the glitz and glam.

North of Sunset is very well written. The style is snappy and polished, a rare find in a self-published novel. The author also pulls off two very tricky things of note. The first is his decision to write a story about bad people. When you learn about how to tell a story effectively, they tell you to make the reader sympathise with the protagonist(s). Well, there’s not much to sympathise with here. Even the characters who aren’t killers are still wrapped up in their materialism, greed and adultery. And yet the novel remains a page-turner. Secondly, the author indulges in talking us through a lot of each character’s backstory. It’s usually better to reveal a character’s nature through his present actions in the story rather than communicating it through lengthy passages of exposition about the character’s past. And yet there’s no denying that Henry Baum is able to do just that and make it all very interesting. The author is involved in the Hollywood movie industry and rubs shoulders with the sort of people he’s writing about. The writing definitely carries an air of realism. As an author myself, but with a different background, I know I couldn’t handle the same material as Baum.

The only disappointment I found in the novel (and this is purely personal) is that I rather liked old Detective Harry Stein. He was the one character with a bit of moral backbone, and he seemed a little underused in the story. I would have liked to have seen him get a bigger slice of the action.

Nevertheless, North of Sunset is a very good thiller, both insightful and inventive. A worthy read for those who like crime fiction.

Antarktos Rising by Jeremy Robinson

I’ve had my eye on Jeremy Robinson for a while. He’s a self-published author running his own publishing imprint (Breakneck Books), and he’s one who seems to be going places. After spotting a couple of glowing reviews on some blogs, I had to get hold of this.

I love the concept Robinson came up with. America inexplicably freezes, while Russia boils, and Antarctica thaws. The earth’s crust has tilted forty degrees on its axis. All the earth’s nations are now in ruins, with billions dead. As humanity picks itself up from the apocalypse, the remaining governments seek to claim Antarctica (later named Antarktos) as their new home. Rather than descending into war, all the nations agree to a participate in a race. The first three to reach the centre of Antarktos will divide the continent into three equal sections. The losing nations will have to make do with the harsh conditons of their present homeland.

After only two months of mild weather conditions, Antarktos has mysteriously transformed into a lush paradise. Trees and plants have grown at an alarming rate. The thaw also reveals Antarktos to have been inhabited in the distant past, eons ago when it wasn’t covered in ice. Worse still, the thaw has released Antarktos’s wildlife from a state of cryonic suspension. The race teams not only have to outwit and outrun each other (with talented assassins and Arab terrorists in the mix), but they must also face dangerous dinosaurs and do battle with a more intelligent enemy – mentioned briefly in the Bible: giants, known as the Nephilim, recorded in Genesis chapter 6.

From the beginning, the story is divided up into several sub-plots. We follow Dr. Merrill Clark, Antarctic explorer, as he experiences the changes on the continent first-hand. We follow Mira Whitney, in the USA, who must escape an incoming tsunami followed by a rapid freeze. We see right inside the lives of Arab terrorists, intent on sabotaging the American race team. And there are Russians and Chinese sub-plots, too. All the jumping around from place to place does unfortunately have a negative affect on the story’s pacing, but it did help maintain the sense of epic promised in the story’s premise. Occasionally, I got impatent, eager for the race to get moving and the real adventure to start.

The first point where the story faltered a little for me was when Dr. Clark emerged from a naturally dry valley in Antarctica and discovered that all the ice had gone, leaving only soil and rock. The temperature had risen, then the ice had melted and presumably flowed out to sea. But I had to ask myself: why didn’t the water flow into the valley and drown Dr. Clark? A valley, by definition, is lower than the surrounding land. No matter how I tried to think about it, I couldn’t conceive of how one man could survive the “birth pains” of the new continent. I put this plot-hole aside, hoping it would be the only one. Sadly, a little later we see Whitney in the USA hiding from men with guns by pretending to be dead. However, she’s in sub-zero temperatures. The author seemed to forget that the very act of breathing would betray her, as her warm breaths hit the frigid air. Maybe I’m nit-picking, but it bugged me, because I thought it should have been so obvious. To be fair, though, the novel wasn’t littered with these inconsistencies.

The author makes a reasonable attempt to add a more intimate and personal side to the story. The lives of the principle characters are fleshed out. We even see the terrorists’ motives from inside their own heads. But none of it rings true enough for me. The characters were just too straightforward and uncomplicated, their actions occasionally spoiled by melodrama. The novel just lacks a necessary richness in the area of characterisation. And that’s a great pity, because that’s one of the main things I’m after, as a reader. If the characters don’t come alive in my imagination, even the most original and action-packed story will fail for me.

Antarktos Rising is essentially a cross-genre novel. Nothing wrong with that, in principal; genre definitions are merely labels to determine where a book should be placed in a store. Antarktos Rising starts out as a thriller with sci-fi leanings, but by the end it’s in full-fledged fantasy territory. Robinson starts off by appealing to those who like their fiction grounded in something close to reality; he goes to great pains to inject some science into his theory of the earth’s crust shifting. But at the end, we have winged beasts and magical healing powers. Those who where expecting a scientific explanation for the accelerated growth of Antarktos will be disappointed to discover that it boils down to an explanation more at home in a Tolkien-esque fantasy. All I’m saying is, you have to like both genres. You have to be able to handle the massive suspension of disbelief that is part-and-parcel of any fantasy novel right alongside scientific thrillers, which typically thrive on rationality. This strikes me as a hard sell, and it didn’t quite work for me.

It’s more than just thriller plus fantasy. There’s a religious side to the story. I have no problem with that, in principle, and I think it’s good that a writer injects his own beliefs into his fiction. That’s writing from the heart, after all. However, there was something strange about reading two characters debate about the historicity of the Biblical Flood inside a novel that was already steeped in so much fantasy. If you want to convince a reader that the events of the Bible really happened, you’re going to need to place your argument in a more reliable context. As a Christian myself, I felt Robinson went a little too far when he suggested that the Flood was not God punishing mankind for its wickedness (as stated in the Bible), but God wiping out a race of demon-human hybrids that had mixed with man’s bloodline. The Flood, he suggests, was a means of restoring humanity back to a pure bloodline. I’m shocked that a Christian author would dare to mix fantasy with reality and be so bold as to misrepresent the will of God.

I hate having to voice all these criticisms, because I really wanted to love this book. In fairness, there were some really atmospheric scenes. The short chapters, many of which ended in cliff-hangers, kept the pages turning. Robinson, as a self-published author, is one of the minority who are doing self-publishing the right way – taking time to shine their prose up so that it sparkles. Robinsons’s grammar, punctuation and style are almost indistinguishable from a professional novelist’s. I think, however, that the story could have benefitted greatly by being submitted to some hardcore critiques prior to publication. The plot-holes alone make me suspect that Robinson is running a one-man show. Every writer needs his advisers.

Overall, this is a story that attempts to be great and succeeds in being good. It’s clear that the author is working to the best of his ability and aiming for the top, which is something I can respect. And I hope that Jeremy Robinson continues to hone his craft with future novels. It struck me that fans of Jules Verne in particular may appreciate this novel.