Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Transition (The Crimson Pact) - Justin Swapp

Author: Justin Swapp
Date: 2011
Setting: the present, in Spain
Availability: in the Anthology The Crimson Pact, volume I

Story: Sloan, an American student studying in Spain, is waiting for his tutor and enjoying an espresso at an outdoor café. He is approached by an old man, a man who looks like a warrior, although he is dressed quite normally. After the man asks Sloan his name, and they carry on a short awkward conversation, the man places on the table a small die with strange markings. Sloan will never be the same again.

This is a flash fiction story, so a review will necessarily be short. However, it is part of The Crimson Pact, Volume I. This anthology has created a setting in the opening story, “The Failed Crusade,” by Paul Genesse and Patrick M. Tracy. To understand any of the 25 additional stories in the book some explanation of the opening story is necessary. At some time and place, both unidentified, humans have banded together to fight against demons who are attempting to conquer the world of men. The humans are losing the battle. However, they have all sworn to a pledge, called the Crimson Pact, that they will do whatever it takes to eventually hunt down the demons. At the end of the fateful day of loss, two people call upon the skills of a Spirit Coaxer and manage to cross over into the world of the demons.

The idea of the anthology is that the subsequent stories will build upon that introduction and tell the tales of those who crossed over and their descendants and followers throughout any age or world. Additional volumes are planned, and submissions are ongoing.

Commentary: The Failed Crusade is narrated by General Cruek Ostor, and has the feel of a cross between a medieval manuscript and a video game. The flowery language may make it difficult to immerse yourself into the world and the battle, but it has what I call “internal integrity.” This mean that you never are suddenly jogged into the wrong time or place by words or images that don’t belong. It took me a whole page to get into the story, but once I did, it worked well.

This opening story sets the stage for almost anything to happen with only a few basic ground rules that need to be followed. The remaining stories in the anthology are a complete mixture of styles- from stories that read like video game introductions to romance. “Transition” is set in the modern world, and if it were not for the fact that it’s in this anthology, would not signal any suspected direction for the plot too early.

The Crimson Pact is a classic good vs. evil fantasy. However, the contributions of many authors ensure that there are stories to please everyone, and you’ll never be able to predict where the next story will take you.

Author info: Justin Swapp grew up in a simple world where he played outside; running and hiding, talking openly to people, shooting pot guts, exploring caves, and generally looking for ways to exploit his imagination. The phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword" always fascinated him. Swapp got what it meant, but wanted to be able to wield that pen. And, he says, "that is harder than it looks."

Several other stories by Swapp can be read at his web site Justin Swapp: Fiction for your Reading Addiction

Language skills 8
Depth of meaning 6


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Passion in the Desert - Honore De Balzac

Author: Honoré De Balzac
Date: 1830
Setting: Egypt, during the Napoleonic campaign of 1798
Availability: Read A Passion in the Desert on line, free

Story: A Passion in the Desert is a story within a story. The narrator is a man who has been to the zoo with his wife (described only as “she”). While they are watching a wild animal tamer she declares that the show is dreadful and she doesn’t believe that anyone can be so certain of the “affection” of a wild beast to trust it for performances.

The man takes issue with her and insists that he knows a story, told to him by an old soldier, which will prove that wild animals and humans can communicate. The next day, he tells her the story of “The Frenchman in Egypt.”

An old soldier, with one leg, had given this first person account of his experience in the desert during Napoleon’s campaign to conquer Egypt in 1798. He had been captured by the Arabs, but managed to escape into the desert where he despaired for his life. But he finds a small oasis, which has a spring, a few palm trees (for dates to eat), and a cave. He curls up to sleep in the cave, and in the morning finds that he is sharing the space with a “panther” (which is described in detail, identifying it to modern readers as a leopard).

The leopard has recently had a meal and she shows no interest in eating the soldier. In fact, the soldier and the cat develop an uneasy relationship, and their bond grows stronger and stronger. Man and beast play together; he caresses her gently, and she purrs ferociously in pleasure. But when an eagle appears overhead the soldier’s attention is drawn to it, and the relationship changes with dire consequences.

Commentary: A Passion in the Desert is clearly symbolic of the dangers, and stages of human love. It will take several readings to uncover all of the meanings. The most obvious layer is that the man is captivated by the beauty and power of the female, but that she is the one who is in control. She enjoys the attentions of the man, but never lets him forget that he is alive because she tolerates him.

The device of having an un-named man tell the story to his un-named wife strengthens the illusion of being able to separate oneself from the raw truths learned in the desert. The final line of the story, a quote from the old soldier, cuts through any self-delusion, leaving only naked truth.

In 1998 a short film of the same name was made, directed by Lavinia Currier. The movie is based on Balzac’s story, but adds a great deal to the plot, and changes the meaning significantly.

Author info: Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was one of the most obsessed writers of all time. His masterpiece, The Human Comedy, was written over the course of 20 years, on which he worked almost 16 hours a day, every day. He died of exhaustion at age fifty. The Human Comedy is a collection of stories covering the scope of the human condition. A Passion in the Desert was one of the first ones written.

Balzac is often remembered for his romantic and sensuous novels which sold quickly and were often banned. For example, his name is brought up in “The Music Man” as a scandalous writer, who should be avoided by proper people.

He is, however, considered one of the pioneers of realistic fiction, with the creation of multi-faceted characters who are neither wholly good or bad, but inherently human

Unusual Words:
Mangrabins- north-African Arabs, probably derived from Maghreb
ma petite maitresse- my little mistress
Mignonne- darling, etc- a term of endearment
simoom- a strong, hot, sand-laden wind of the Sahara and Arabian deserts

Language skills 8
Depth of meaning 10


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Flood of Tears - M. Lori Motley

Author: M. Lori Motley
Author web: M. Lori Motley
Date: 2009
Setting: anywhere, in the present day
Availability: In the anthology Elements of the Soul

Story: Leesa and her son Ethan are just beginning to learn what life is going to be like for them since Leesa’s husband, Ethan’s father, was sent to prison for rape and murder. At school, Ethan’s former friend calls him names, while his mother confronts Leesa. Only Ethan’s teacher seems to understand, and show a willingness to treat Ethan as before. Ethan had been cast for the lead in the school play, “The Sword in the Stone,” and the boy is truly excited about being discovered to be King Arthur. Other children’s parents are not so sure they think the choice of students is appropriate for the role.

But on the way to opening night, a wild storm threatens to tear away the Carson Street bridge while Leesa and Ethan are crossing it in their unreliable truck.

Commentary: Flood of Tears explores the reactions of people when confronted with a genuine tragedy of life. Those near to a wrong-doer may be treated as if they share a part of the blame, while the accusers revel in their own self-righteousness. There is possibly a sub-theme of Old Testament justice.

Author info: M. Lori Motley's most prolific writing genres are sword & sorcery, contemporary and urban fantasy, horror, dark fantasy, comedic fantasy, and paranormal & fantasy romance.

Learn more about Lori at M. Lori Motley.


Language skills 5
Depth of meaning 6