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Moojag and the Auticode Secret by NE McMorran – 4/5 Stars

Moojag by NE McMorran - Front Cover

‘The more they had, the more they wanted, even when the stuff was no good for them. That’s why they were always thirsty and never satisfied.’

What’s Moojag supposed to be about?

The book description says Moojag is a cli-fi futuristic adventure about finding your true self, for readers over ten years, neurotypicals and neurodivergents alike. Moojag is a book that promises a different kind of world, where neurologically different people have harmony with the environment and they’ve found self-acceptance or … happiness. Moojag gives us an insight into the neurodivergent mind:

‘I might be silent or look like I’m doing nothing at all, but I’m actually very busy. We are all busy every moment of our life.’

‘But my words don’t make it out.’

‘I want to laugh, smile back even, but my face is, as usual, refusing to listen to my brain.’

Many reviewers have already commented on similarities to other children’s books such as Alice and Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Perhaps the Wizard of Oz could be added here also. So this is the sort of story you could expect to read, with a modern perspective on difference and acceptance.

The story

The characters have environmental suits, which I found cool, and they’re friends with one another, but there is something missing and this drives the main character to go to Gajoomdom with her friends in search of answers. I did find the world peculiar and I liked this, and feel many children will like this also. Now, Gajoomdom is what the characters see as the past in their world but what many neurodivergents in our world see as the present, where ‘auts’ are only seen as being good for one thing: sat on a computer for hours on end with little emotional stimulation, in order to fix genius problems.

The message

In this way Moojag, in my mind, was partly a message about the dangers of stereotypes, fitting people with labels in a box because it’s convenient for those in charge. But there is much more to Moojag, about the horrifying dangers of curing those who are different by experimenting on them, which tears apart families, leads to low self-esteem and can give the victims no clue as to how they fit in, so they stick out, subject to name calling and bullying.

How is Moojag different?

There is much humour, which I liked. I found the references to neurodivergent people, even just hearing the names and labels, to be endearing when used between them: Pof Pof, Kitty, Sparkles, Sparkly, Moojag, Gajooms. Sweets in Gajoomdom are used as temptations and greed, but perhaps less moralistically than in Roald Dahl’s works.

‘Then, there are the Super-Auts who created Gajooms and keep to themselves … And, of course, there are the Pofs who keep the place tip-top.’

Criticism

I usually prefer books for an adult audience, which is why Moojag wasn’t my usual type of read, and I wasn’t the best person to review a children’s book. I enjoyed the characters’ speech and diverse characteristics. There were lots of characters and I couldn’t always get inside their heads, and in this way I felt the speech, the worldbuilding, and the messages in the story were more important than a single character’s point of view.

Overall

It was with fondness that I started reading Moojag, and the feeling remained. It’s a story about hope for our future, to show we don’t have to be shoved into a box believing we have little potential and that if we make use of our abilities and work together, especially from a young age, then we have much room to grow and change our world. Moojag was a lovely, inspiring book that may work wonders for imaginations young and old!

Author Website

Moojag on Amazon

 

Asperger Syndrome and Social Relationships: Adults Speak Out about Asperger Syndrome – 5/5 Stars

Asperger Syndrome and Social Relationships - Cover

Each chapter covers social relationships from a different author based on a slightly different topic. The book is now old so some of the websites and links are outdated, however, it helped me accept the way I am and the way I think, reading from others who have thought about social relationships similarly. In this way it has helped me see that although I see things differently to most ‘neurotypical’ people, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just because I’m naïve, unsure of myself, or that I have trouble fitting in to mainstream society – it’s a separate point of view, an individual’s point of view, I mean, which many on the autism spectrum relate with.

The book has helped me think on strategies to read people better, to be more cautious when giving out personal details online, and to remember that in thinking everybody is the same as us, even people on the autism spectrum are guilty. I assume everybody is honest, genuine, with no ill intentions, and this can make people like us vulnerable to others who think different because we have weakened theory of mind.

I do believe it has been exceedingly valuable reading the perspectives of the authors. It turns out that if you put a lot of heads together that are on a similar wavelength, you can learn things through relatable experiences.

Publisher Website

The Circle by Dave Eggers – 4/5 Stars

The Circle by Dave Eggers - Front Cover

‘They were hidden in the dark water, in their black parallel world, and knowing they were there, but not knowing where, or really anything else, felt, at that moment, strangely right.’

The Circle (TC) is a story about the perils of social media and in this way you could say it fits right in to the dystopian science fiction genre. But it’s not some pseudo-1984 book we have on our hands here, though first impressions and tone signify that things aren’t all they seem. What’s confusing is that main character Mae goes along with it for so long despite this, but she does have her motivations.

Motivations for Mae’s gullibility

Mae’s father isn’t doing too well with multiple sclerosis, and it plagues her mind that her parents are struggling with the insurance company, spending more time getting him medication and appointments than actually getting him treated. Mae was a high achiever at her old job, and it didn’t resemble the promising, exciting future she’d anticipated.

So when her friend Annie comes along with an offer for her to work at The Circle, Mae jumps for joy and leaves her old job, hoping it’ll save her ego and her parents’ struggles. She’s outfitted with a new office working for Customer Experience to get ratings on her performance, and screen after screen is installed. First she has two screens, then as the story progresses she had to adapt and receive different types of notices on a number of screens. Later she ends up interacting with technology in such a way as to make her look a buffoon to some, but dedicated and vitalised to others.

TC is a subtle critique of social media companies

Author Dave Eggers makes the staff at the Circle highly sensitive to not receiving replies, though in the past such attitudes would have seemed silly, obsessive, and concerning. She’s strongly ‘encouraged’ to be involved with after-work clubs. Along with the screens installed and with the pressure Mae is under, it’s surprising she doesn’t have a mental breakdown.

There is this concept of completing the Circle also, and how this act may propel the world into a techno-future, but not much is said initially about exactly what underpins the completion of the Circle. Then, there is Mae’s ex Mercer who comes across as many things: reasonable, pompous, obese, uncaring, and old fashioned to Mae. Mercer is the old voice in TC lecturing Mae on how she’s missing social cues and not listening to her own parents. In essence, Mercer is a dying breed and Mae thinks so, but there are times we really want her to listen to him.

Overall

TC is an enjoyable read. I wouldn’t say it’s fast-paced, but it keeps the pages turning. There are times when it’s frustrating that the story doesn’t get to the point, opting instead for exaggeration. It’s thankful there is enough interest in Mae, the characters around her, and the ever-changing world that much resembles the technological revolution we’ve been through. There is no accurate vision of the future quite like the present.

Author Website

 

A Dream of Kinship by Richard Cowper – 5/5 Stars

A Dream of Kinship by Richard Cowper - Front Cover

‘Next Saturday. A tragic accident on the hunting field. We saw no other way, old friend.’

‘What Luther, Calvin, De Solero, Mountjoy, Fabian and all their legions failed to achieve, this whelp of a boy with his puny pipe and his ridiculous White Bird has been threatening to accomplish single-handed!’

The second book in Richard Cowper’s The White Bird of Kinship, A Dream of Kinship (ADOK), is much unlike the first, though tied in with both the characters and history that occurred in the first book. It’s less prophetic. The first book introduced us to the Boy Piper, the wizard who guided him, the Falcon who betrayed his cause.

There isn’t a link between two centuries in ADOK, unlike vol.1. You’d be forgiven for believing that things are just a little messy in The White Bird of Kinship. We start with the curiously named ‘Magpie’, who is a man with an aura of danger and powerful masculinity about him following a vision, ‘huesh’, to prevent the death of his old friend, Jane.

  • Then, we’re cutting the action to Cardinal Constant of the Secular Arm in York (non-kinsfolk) who wants an end to the threat represented by the heretical kinsfolk and has some schemes in mind that are reminiscent of Game of Thrones-style treachery. The Secular Arm had as good as taken over Britain after the Drowning event. We’re in the future, in the 3000s.
  • Then, we’re back to the Magpie; only he’s partnered with Jane’s friend Allison now (who he almost strangled earlier in the story) and they’re raising Jane’s son who resembles the Boy Piper of legend.
  • Then, we’re on Lord Marshal Richard’s conflicts of conscience and loyalty, either to the kingdoms’ kinsfolk or Cardinal Constant in York. The story is at tipping point here, and I had to read what happened.
  • The story moves on further to when Tom is grown up, and he’s an underachiever or aloof messiah figure infatuated with the alluring, feminine, and proud Lady Alice, who we know is a noble and is there to test Tom’s love or destiny.

As you can see, events are dizzying, and though the characters are all connected and related the situations aren’t.

To be frank, the characters were fascinating. If it’s not the Magpie’s ferocious strength, it’s Richard’s loyalty, Tom’s infatuation with Alice, Cardinal Constant’s grimness, cyclopean Brynlas, and more. I felt I was infatuated with Alice and that my mother loved pottery and that there were real threats against the kinship and success of the kingdoms. The author really put me in his shoes. Things moved so fast I was fascinated by the change in circumstances. The scene that stuck with me, for its atmospheric detail, has to be in the theatre. You have to read it!

ADOK was one of those rare examples where the second book is better than the first. I really felt surprised and absorbed by the worlds, politics, and characters. If you’re interested in British or medieval fantasy, don’t hesitate before giving this series a read. You don’t even have to read the first book. That’s how good it was. I’d definitely like to read more of Richard Cowper’s work.

See Author’s Works on Goodreads

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff – 5/5 Stars

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - Front Cover
What’s it about?

The Eagle of the Ninth (TEOTN) is an historical adventure story set in Roman times. I had seen the film and so I had heard of the title and I knew the main goal of the main character, to retrieve the Roman eagle used by legionnaires. I did not know much about the symbolism when I watched the film, which was described in the book, and I had forgotten it was the main character’s father’s eagle, giving him motivation to retrieve it from the north, for family honour as well as personal triumph.

Was it as I expected?

I remember the film having a lot of tense action. The way the northern tribes were shown was exciting, and the palpable fear of being caught was done well. With the book there was less of both of these, which I found disappointing, and the only battle was at the start of the book. But TEOTN did focus more on the Roman side of the story, how Britain was changing but had not quite changed as much as main character Marcus had expected; and there were interesting characters on the way north who we didn’t know whether we could trust, with the most memorable being Guern the Hunter.

Character and plot

Marcus is crippled from a battle and his dreams of rising through the Roman military ranks and securing land back home are lost, but there is his family’s honour to recover. With a gladiator, Esca, he teams up with, they begin on the lunacy of heading north without any support to discover the whereabouts of the eagle, and to take it if necessary. They go there in disguise.

Praise

Marcus’ and Esca’s adventures were made really interesting through the prose. There was the danger they were in up north and the process of ritualistic discovery of where the eagle was, which showed a world of tribal worship of older gods, natural yet brutal compared to the ‘civilised’ Roman Britain. The discovery came as a surprise. There was something about the point of view of Marcus that worked so well in describing the character Esca and really bringing about dialogue and circumstances that I already want to read the second book!

Criticism

I felt the latter stages of the story were concluded too quickly, without one or two more transitions, although every chapter still retained interest. The reader was almost teleported to new circumstances and there did feel there were gaps. For an adventure story I expected more trials for the characters to go through on their way north. Some readers may disagree.

Conclusion

What’s the second book like? I’m interested in reading it.

Author Website

Resource For Writers To Choose Their Words

On the 4th November I attended the CIEP’s conference (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading). I attended chiefly as an editor and proofreader to attend webinars on various subjects and to find new connections. What I didn’t know was how much I’d take from the conference as a writer. Not only did I have the opportunity to network with potential copy editors and proofreaders for my own works, I came across this gem of a webinar: Choosing Your Words: Using the Historical Thesaurus of English to Explore Vocabulary presented by Fraser Dallachy.

Purpose of the thesaurus

The purpose was for the study of semantics: ideas as they are expressed as words.

So, there is a book and a website

Book: The Historical Thesaurus of Oxford English Dictionary

I learnt that Old English covers the period of the 8th century to 1150. The book’s first edition takes us to 2000, and the book’s second edition takes us after 2000.

Website: ht.ac.uk (The Historical Thesaurus of English)

The website is invaluable at looking at the language as a whole: word history, semantic history, and the history of ideas.

I will be using this resource to look for specific words in both my writing and editing to see when they were used. It can be used to avoid anachronisms, for both historical and speculative fiction writers. I suspect the next resource planned, The Future: The Time Traveller’s Dictionary, will also be of great value to writers and editors.

The webinar was a fascinating session for language lovers everywhere who have much to gain from learning how the history of semantics informs present word choice. And it’s such a fantastic resource anyway to analyse the language as a whole.

 

Ella Sanderson at the Diverse Poetry Event

Powerful poetry performance by poet with Asperger’s, Ella Frances Sanderson, who covers the feelings many of us share being on the autism spectrum such as meltdowns, alienation, trapped, and unable to be free to be themselves.

Ella was a guest performer at a café in Saltburn at the Diverse Poetry event (@DiVerse_Poetry) in June 2019. The video resonates strongly in the present, when it’s difficult to escape from some of the problems people with autism and Asperger’s struggle with on a daily basis, for those with the condition and those who live with others who have the condition.

Watch Ella’s evocative poetry

Follow Ella on Twitter @EllaSanderson18

Greev by Leo X. Robertson

Greev by Leo Robertson - Front Cover

Greev begins with a mysterious event. Inexplicably, anyone who is a mother dies. It’s an horrifically startling premise, and Robertson uses it in order to explore the ramifications of these deaths for the people impacted in its aftermath. The name chosen for the city featured is Los, I assume an allusion to the word loss, which itself loses an s for the city’s title. Los is also associated with the names given to large cities, most notably Los Angeles, or The Angels, and again here there is a loss, as angels is missing. The city of The. The on its own is forever left without resolution, without its subject, and is indeed at a loss. This is only musing, but gives some idea of the thoughtful nature of this unique book.

The novel is divided into sections, where a sequence of characters are given space to relay the unfolding consequences of the death of the mothers. What makes the book particularly distinctive is the inclusion, interwoven with the rest of the narrative, of an account by the author of the very real experience of the death of his own mother. Written in the early days of grief, the novel stayed suspended for quite some time, before the author returned to finish it. Taking such a personal and unflinching approach, Robertson makes public a very intimate pain. The themes tackled in the book unify the author’s choices, and ultimately a contemplative inquisition into the dead and the bereaved emerges.

The character who anchors the novel for the most part is Joe, a young man hit very hard by death and struggling to make sense of what has happened. A recurring theme in Robertson’s science fiction works is artificiality and the implications of android presence amid daily life. Here, the issue is used very effectively, raising more questions than it answers, and emphasising how adrift, and without anchor, our anchor really is. It is the sense of drifting which defines this novel, for me anyway—the amplified disappointment and disillusionment with life that accompanies, paradoxically, the numbness of grief. If at any time we experience the most mixed and unfathomable of emotions, it is the ones grief throws at us. The structure, with differing points of view, is initially a fragmented one, but this too ultimately pays off as apposite. Another theme which recurs for Robertson is disenchantment, both externally and internally. A scene I recognise from elsewhere but crops up included here also, is one where a character expresses that a loved one should leave them because they are not worthy of their attachment. A very potent example of the lies that a despondent mindset can tell itself, as, if we are to agree that anyone, even the most repellant of people, is entitled to understanding and perhaps even affection, which I do think is the only appropriate response to the world, then it is not for ourselves to have the final say on how loveable, or forgivable, we are or not.

For all the heaviness the subject suggests, the novel itself incorporates many themes admirers of science fiction will enjoy. The city itself is an impressive backdrop, a looming presence throughout, and as I find with most science fiction, has an innate character, making for an immersive experience. The novel is littered with ingenious details that enhance the city’s atmosphere, implying a rich history and organic development.

The main thrust of the novel involves a young woman, Cova, who has a past linked with an underground cult. She presents Joe with a potential way to right the wrong that has struck the city, and leaves him with a haunting dilemma.

A fine novel about death. Bitterness and hurt under neon. A farewell to a good woman.

Review by Rebecca Gransden on Goodreads

Author Leo Robertson’s Website

1984 by George Orwell – 5/5 Stars

1984 by George Orwell - Front Cover

What’s it about?

Many of the early chapters of the story are pure worldbuilding, giving the reader blocks of information about past and present reality in an unknown year thought to be 1984, when Big Brother’s revolution has succeeded. History, and therefore reality, is at the mercy of Big Brother’s Party, and so is fiction when it is permitted to exist. As in most dystopian novels of this type, Winston Smith is an ordinary guy at an ordinary job, bored even, yet allowing his liberal thoughts to roam, which is the only freedom he has. He’s being watched by telescreens in the corridor, and in his own apartment. Outside, there are spies and microphones everywhere looking for aberrations of personality or behaviour that can be seen as evidence of treachery against the Party, or anything different.

Sex has been repressed, seen as the energy that can work against party community and worship, and the hysteria lack of sex creates works in the Party’s favour. Sex happens to be one of the things lonely Winston craves, embodied by young and attractive Julia, who is a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, and her membership must seem like irony to Winston, believing she’s a spy for the Thought Police.

Praise

1984 gives us a taste of a world we may have been starting to step into in the 20th century, of leader worship, totalitarianism, and a party or nation above all individual thought and freedom, which is now seen as insanity. The past has been all but erased, and members of the party are forced to accept this or commit an act of ‘thought crime’. Reality is shaped continuously. Life is always getting better, and the enemy has always been the same, even when the enemy changes every so often. Failure to accept these tenets is dangerous.

‘It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.’

1984 can induce nightmares: the thought of a government knowing your every thought and using it against you to betray those you hold most dear, waiting in the wings long enough to ensure the utter downfall of your individual self and connections. Later, we don’t see a character have individual thoughts; we see them quacking along with the rest of the hateful masses. The thought that a human being could lose their individuality in such a fashion to become a cog in a societal machine, is reason to see this book as terrifying, yet immensely valuable in its warning of a time when we may begin to enter such a type of society again.

Criticism

It’s not until Winston meets Julia that the story really gets going. On a first read, the ideas are novel, but on the second read they are of interest but can become a touch laborious for a novel by today’s standards, being more focused on political ideology, however, they do well in showing a world where the ideas are inhuman and alien.

Conclusion

1984 is a terrifying vision of what we hope won’t become the future, based, it seems, on disturbing chapters of human history and taken to the extreme. Inferiority is proved after torture, individuality is erased, and so much is spied upon and known by the Party you no longer believe you can maintain freedom or loyalty to anybody. The message: you will love Big Brother, whether you want to, or not!

Sea of Glass – Extract

Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

‘The theatre was empty, brighter, he could see more of it through the gloomy light this time, though its edges remained elusive. He wouldn’t dawdle in the place. The feeling that someone had only just coughed and left the room hit him. He rushed to where he’d found the way out before, the doorway in the dark he’d hurt himself trying to round. Now in the twilight of the stage there was no door, only old plaster and paint, an oddness to its colour.

The pit hummed at him, calling him forward, inviting his compliance. If he didn’t want to be stuck he’d have to move through didactic pathways, sacrifice his will to self-govern in extremis and resolve to temporarily surrender to whatever capricious assholes turned the cogs of the place.

He took the old steps to the stage floor and wandered to where the builder had sat. The pit was still and shadowy, no hint of the struggle that had taken place within. The emptiness soothed him and he allowed himself a pause to wilfully forget about his EXIT. Under the theatre light that fell on him, especially his face.

Name.

Take to the centre and forsake the mask, wear your best then let her undress you, all the moments flicker past in her, you stole her you know, hustled her like a numbskull in fluke, couldn’t ride her waves incandescent, so she spat you out poisoned chalice style, her movements pyrrhic victories you’d hold against her because she shone her fractured light on your want, now you wander umbilical precipitating perfected shits, walking away, forever walking away.

Kattar moved to backstage, around the chipboard blank scenery, wires hanging disconnected, copper and rubber tubes, nails in the walls. A power box was fixed to the wall near some steps leading into a dark way back farther. He opened the box, full of switches with stickers and worn away diagrams for instruction. One switch glowed green so he flicked it. Music filled the room, muffled from out front in the theatre. Closer, the sound of whirring machinery sprung into life, grating and squelchy.

Rumbling travelled from the stage on the other side of the scenery. He hesitantly moved to retrace his footsteps, peeping around the splintered wood to spy the open stage floor. There, in the middle of the stage, the flooring opening up, a square trapdoor controlled by robotic pulleys. From below a bulk rose, difficult to see, to make out at first, rounded and bent. It pushed from beneath, a portion of it caught under the sides of the trapdoor. The trapdoor gave and a foot sprung up, dirty and bruised. The body ascended, twisted, inverted, guided by rope, flopping at the knees, cracked skew-whiff at the ribcage. Discordant grimy guitars rattled in minor chords, reverb in a whirlwind around the theatre. Her thighs ready to split, like an unpicked sausage. Someone’s daughter. Someone’s daughter. If this is Anna then that’s too bad. The woman’s dress had fallen inside out and over her face, her hands peeking out from under the hanging material with wrists bound, a tattered bra rotted into her skin, the rest of her naked and bare. Someone had stripped her, hoisted her up, hidden faceless. Kattar couldn’t decide how to react. The sight of her was a world. The dress was stained, with dirt, excrement, patches of fluids. He found a clear section of hem and lifted it, to confirm her deadness. The shadow underneath showed a face beaten and shocked, lacerated cheeks pointing to a forehead with letters carved, the right way up for him, upside down for the woman. ‘Queen of Worms,’ it said in bloody cuts, as worms slimed through her hair and balled squirming inside the hole of her open mouth. Her eyes were shut.

Kattar dropped the hem of the dress, which fluttered back to cover the woman and her worms. This felt forensic. His neck hairs prickled like he was under observation, a study onstage. Now who was making him an actor? Shitty move, thinks it’s clever. But the body is real enough. The music tore his nerves, wearing him down, twangs turning into fuzzbox mush, distorted whines percussive and deconstructing feedback until his ears pounded hot. Was it louder, or he more sensitive? There was something in the music he couldn’t background anymore. Squinty, he glanced at the pit, but all was vacuum.

Blue flames emerged from her fingertips, softly curling them. The blue grew, flowed ethereally across her hands, took hold on the binding of her wrists, turning to warm orange flickering faster. The binds burned away and her arms swung free, her hands alight flung sideways, rocking to and fro. The flames travelled along her arms and ignited the dress, which burned with white intensity up her frame. At this the body screamed and gurgled, expelling worms in a cascading arc, contorting against the flames. Violent as the yells were they carried an unnatural music, frequencies spectral. Kattar stood transfixed with astounded curiosity because she sounded long dead. The flash of fire enveloped her, and a wriggling cocoon of light undulated spitting cinders and rolling sparks. Kattar held out his hand, reaching cautiously, to find no heat to the flame. The sparks at his feet travelled over the dark floor to catch every wiggling worm, and crisp them up on collision leaving charred pellets in their place. Mid flow the smouldering brickettes briefly formed the words ‘FIND ESPE’ in fierce orange before continuing to scatter and then cool to coal dust.

The light on the woman diminished and she hung blackened, swinging gently, tannery shine like midnight.

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https://rebeccagransden.wordpress.com

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https://books2read.com/u/b6jqKW