Finally getting around to sinking my teeth into a second Gaiman book. A collection of short stories!
Note: While I promised myself I’d do a spoiler-free review of Infernal, I broke down a few paragraphs in, as you’ll see. It’s just not possible to discuss such an awesome and rich novel such as this without going into detail about a few things. I’ll do my best to reel it back in, but there is a few points that may escape here and there. I apologize ahead of time, but do hope you enjoy.
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T. Joseph Browder has been on my radar since listening to an episode of The Library Police Podcast. Since then, I’ve made it a point to stay on top of his self published works as he released them. As of this date, that is only a small handful of works, but the content within them are well worth your time. Starting with the short story collection Dark Matters, which offers up a series of tales that range in genre, yet are sure to please anyone’s taste. Plague came next, another short story that took us to the lengths a father would go to in order to protect his daughters in a zombie apocalypse. And most recently, the subject of this book report, Infernal, which I consider to be a drastic game changer for Mr. Browder.
Even from the short description on the author’s website, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened Infernal up on my Kindle. This uncertainty only served to increase my reaction to the whirlwind ride the first six chapters started me on. Not at all what I was expecting after having read Mister Browder’s previous works. There is more action in between the pages of Infernal than in most 2 hour movies I’ve watched recently at the theater. It picks up in chapter two and doesn’t let up as our tale unfolds.
Our main protagonist is Richard Farris, a man living alone in the wilderness with his beloved Saint Bernard. He’s a man with a past, one that involves several years in prison for murder and lots of time to improve himself. He’s self sufficient, seems to have a good head on his shoulders and keeps to himself. When he finds a wounded female in a horrible winter storm, his life is turned upside down as everything he knows is stretched to the limits, and then torn wide open.
When the action in this tale hits, it hits full on and doesn’t really let up. There is also a lot of time spent in detailing the types of weapons every character in the story is using. That small point throws me off every time Browder goes into detail with rifles, pistols, missiles and so on. And while the action does move along smoothly, the story really didn’t grab me until we get into explanations of just what is going on.
Getting into the finer details of what is going on – this is what I love. Mr. Browder explains on his website that he has spent years researching this novel, and while I won’t bother fact-checking him, his explanations into how devices and their mechanics operate is something I absolutely love. Taking science-fact and combining it with the author’s imagination to produce quality science fiction is something I have no issue investing my time in.
If you’re a follower of T. Joseph Browder’s previous works that I mentioned above, you’ll also get some nods to those as well. One in particular that I was head-over-heels with is Hammerfall. If you’ve read two shorts concerning the world of Hammerfall in Dark Matters, then you’ll recognize the name. But that’s the genius of tackling such a large topic as the Multi-verse. Sure, DC and Marvel Comics have done it for years and years. Stephen King even had his stories linked between our world and Roland the Gunslinger’s lands. T Joseph Browder joins the ranks and takes it a notch further by implementing such a fantastic logic to what is happening in his version of multiple dimensions, and he does it very well.
In comparison, I’ve tried to read the novels by Terry Pratchet and Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth saga. I could not get into those because they were so dry and lifeless to me. Not so with Infernal. Browder knows how to string along his plot, how to make use of his settings and characters and information so as to craft a tale that grabs you by the hand and makes you want to run along beside it as it happens. Another thing that sets Browder apart from certain authors is his plain, clean style of writing. He writes with a style that is approachable and flows smoothly.
The mythology that is constructed here, laid out and gone over with a fine-toothed comb. This is my cup of tea. World(s) building as its best and I have the pleasure of sitting back and reading it in the comfort of my favorite chair in the bright glow of my Kindle in the quiet of the night. The characters Browder has brought to life, the Prime’s, the Rips, the laws and governing sciences right down to the exact numbers. Yet he’s left just enough mystery out there to continue the series on and leave the reader wanting more.
And while all of this is wrapped up in a nice little self-contained novel, it’s still enough to make you anxious over having to wait for the next book. Browder has gone from writing short stories to developing a tale like this over the course of years, getting his ideas ironed out and formed into perfect little pieces to place upon the chess board. He’s ready to bust heads and kick down doors across the genre board. I realize I keep mentioning science fiction, but just as he did with Dark Matters (again, I hate to keep comparing it to a collection of short stories, but …) he proves he can write anything that is thrown at him. There are gory, horrific scenes, violence, science fiction tones, fantasy elements, religious ideas, dramatic themes … throw a dart several times and you’ll not hit the same genre twice.
So, T. Joseph Browder’s Infernal saga. It’s great! You should pick it up, give it a shot and I highly doubt you’ll regret the decision. It isn’t without teeny tiny flaws (the details in weapons becomes annoying and a distraction). But that is not something that should keep you away from this novel. The world building, the mythology and the character dynamics make up for anything else that might be called a short coming. Go! Now! Pick up this book and enjoy it!
* This review is also available on Goodreads *
I’ve actually had this book for a few weeks, but unfortunately due to family activities and other events have just started reading. So far, I’m all in to this new adventure Mr. Browder is launching us on. More to come when I’m finished!
* With this short story, I found myself a bit out of the normal range of tales I enjoy writing. This one has no supernatural, horror or science fiction turn to it. Perhaps that’s why I was a little uncomfortable posting this one. But here it is for those that would like to give it a run through. *
April 12, 2015
The loud thumping at the door woke Stewart from his nap. Cursing, he lowered the leg rest of the recliner, pushing himself up from the thick cushioned comfort and toward the front door of his apartment. Grumbling the entire way, he ran a thick hand through the thinning strands of bangs that were hanging to his forehead, damp with sweat. Squinting an eye through the peephole, Stewart could see a hazy profile of someone outside. Male or female wasn’t very clear, but it was broad daylight outside so he unlatched the door and swung it open without much hesitation.
“Yes?” he managed without sounding too groggy from sleep.
The girl stood about 5 foot 5 inches, weighed maybe 125 pounds. Her hair was tied into a ponytail that was curled around to hang from her left shoulder. The paleness of her skin set off a stark contrast against the raven black hair and charcoal sweater that clung to her body like a second skin despite the 69-degree temperatures predicted all week. She did wear a thin pair of stretch pants, sort of like those leotards the dancers wore. In the folded crook of her left arm she held a clipboard with a pen attached by a little chain and some papers resting under the spring loaded catch. A small handbag was tucked under her other arm.
“Mister,” she glanced at her clipboard, as if studying it. “Mister Stewart Dauber?” Her eyes went to the number on the outside of his door, which he now stood beside. “228 Sherwood Court?”
She was maybe in her mid-20’s, if Stewart had to guess. Possibly a college student? He honestly wasn’t sure if a girl in her mid-20’s would even still be in college. She was pretty, though, in a pale, homely girl-next-door sort of way. He’d had worse, if he had to form a crude statement about it.
“Last time I checked,” uttered Stewart, perhaps a bit more harshly than he originally intended. He shifted uncomfortable to balance his weight on the opposite foot, his left.
The girl smiled back and wrinkled her nose, almost as if she appreciated his snarky reply. “Pleasure to meet you, Mister Dauber. I’m Anita Halbreath and I’m a volunteer with the Grace Waldron campaign committee.” She produced a button from nowhere and handed it to him politely, careful to hold it by just the edge as if to avoid contact should he reach for it. As soon as he’d pinched it between thumb and index finger, she released her own grip and returned her attention to the clipboard and paper on it.
“As I was saying, Grace Waldon’s currently campaigning for the Mayor’s office of our fine city, and we’d like to take the time to get to know some of the members of our community. To hear what you have to say and get a feel for the issues that need to be addressed, should she be elected to office. Would you have a moment to spare of your time for the benefit of Mrs. Waldron and our city’s future, Mister Dauber?” She flashed a smile that revealed a perfect set of polished white teeth, straight and untouched by nicotine or soda stain.
Stewart sniffed and ran a finger along side his nose, thinking for a moment. Then nodded his head slowly and stepped back from the doorway. “Sure. Would you like to do it here? Or you can come inside if you’d like. I’d like to have a drink myself, I can fix you one, too.”
Anita smiled and nodded. “That would be lovely. Thank you!” Anita stepped inside and passed Stewart’s wide girth.
Stewart nodded and pushed the door shut behind them both, turning to follow her into his apartment. She paused beside his television, an older floor model that still ran fine, once it was good and warm. The volume was muted, but images of a soap opera flickered across the screen. Anita seemed to take a moment of interest in the happenings then smiled and looked Stewart’s way.
“My Granny loves these shows. Her stories, she calls them,” she giggled briefly.
Stewart nodded his head and offered a quick smile. “It just happened to be on that channel when I turned it on earlier. I don’t watch them myself, don’t watch much of anything lately. Too much evil in the world to keep up with for my taste.” He turned toward the open area of his kitchen, no walls separating it from the tiny living room, just a bar that a couple of cups and a fake bowl of fruit sat on. “What’s to your liking, Miss? I have bottled water, some homemade sweet tea and diet cola. No alcohol or coffee, I’m afraid.” he glanced back at her.
“Water would be great,” Anita smiled, comfortably.
Grabbing two bottles of water from the refrigerator, Stewart crossed back to the living room and handed one to his guest. “Would you care for a seat, ma’am?” he asked, motioning to either a straight-backed cloth chair, his recliner or the love seat. “None of them are very comfortable, but they do their job.”
Anita took the tan, straight backed cloth chair and Stewart settled back into his recliner, glad she hadn’t chose it for herself. He gave her a moment to look back over her clipboard, as if she were searching for a place to begin, before he cleared his throat and took a swig from his own bottle.
“How long have you lived in the community, Mister Dauber?”
Stewart swished another swallow around in his mouth before answering. “Oh, since I was a little boy, I reckon. We moved here when I was about 8 or 9. Lotta things have changed since then, but a lot has stayed the same, too. My parents use to own a house over on Lowell Street, but once they both passed on I sold it. Times have been hard for me, I’ve done what I could to keep money in my pocket and a roof over my own head. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep the one they’d provided all those years.”
Tapping the pen on her lower lip, Anita nodded thoughtfully. “And just how old are you, Mister Dauber? Have you ever been married? Have any children?”
Another swallow and a moment of silence. “I’ll be 47 in June. Never been married, ma’am, no. Come close a time or two, but dodge both those bullets. As for children, none that I’m aware of,” he smiled real big and chuckled, absently swirling the water in the bottle.
Anita shared his laugh and jotted a note down on her pad. “How active in the community are you, or have you been? Do you vote or attend any public meetings? Have you ever petitioned the town council for any requests or problems?”
Stewart shook his head. “No, can’t say as I’ve ever been real big into politics. I sort of keep to my self. Easier that way. No one else to worry about or likely to step in my way. What with my hip and back problems, I don’t get out much anyways. Taking in what little disability I can get is pretty much my only interaction with any type of official.”
“Oh, and was that related to work injury?” she asked.
Stewart shrugged. “You could say that. I met with the wrong end of another vehicle. Broke my hip, did a number on my back. Can’t stand for very long period of time, can’t sit for very long either. Kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.”
“Oh my, I’m sorry to hear that,” whispered the girl, her eyes wide and she stared at him. She sniffed and scratched a note down onto her clipboard. “One last thing. Have you ever heard of or met mayoral candidate Grace Waldron before? Went to school with her? Worked with her anywhere? Bumped into her at the super market, anything? Do you know her and would it affect your voting decision if you were to cast a vote right now?” Anita leaned in, as if anxious for his answer.
Steward cocked his head back and took down nearly half the bottle of water in a single chug. He exhaled sharply and slowly twisted the top back on his bottle before turning to make eye contact with the little girl sitting almost across from him. He smiled a large grin and revealed a couple of empty slots where teeth should have been before belching. Then he laughed. Not a long drawn out belly laugh, just a chuckle that would set some folks on the edge of their nerves.
“Let’s cut the crap, honey. What do you really want? What does that whore boss of yours want from me this time? I already gave her some of the best shagging she could have ever dreamt of, and now here you are asking me all kinds of questions about if I know her and from where.” He didn’t even bother to move, and he was surprised that Anita Halbreath didn’t bother to move either.
“I – I’m sorry, sir? What are you -“
“I said cut the crap!” his voice raised a bit. “It’s obvious you know that I know Grace. That’s why you’re here. I knew when I saw she had thrown her hat into the mayor’s race that I’d be hearing something from that white trash tramp.”
Anita finally let her little smile fade away and she sat her clipboard down on the arm of her chair.
“Yea, I’m not stupid. I knew folks would come snooping around to keep my mouth shut. So let’s just get to the good part. How much do y’all want to offer me, and how much am I really going to take to keep my mouth shut about her whoring past?”
Anita shrugged innocently. “What past would that be, Mister Dauber? Enlighten me.”
“You -“ he shook his head. “Well, you may not know, come to think of it. Maybe she didn’t give you all the information you need. Maybe that’s why you agreed to come into my home and question me. Maybe she didn’t tell you just how bad a man I am.” He sneered, but his guest didn’t budge. “I know Grace. I knew her years back. We dated for a brief bit, but she tried to break it off. Tried to tell me we weren’t in love. She wanted to be with a higher class of people, even then working her way to sleeping to the top. She had goals, and they didn’t involve a poor old boy like myself.”
He snorted and pulled a handkerchief out of his front pocket, spitting into it. “We’d done some wild things in our short time together. Even then she didn’t think she could trust me. So her new boyfriend, some fancy attorney, sent her to have a final meeting with me, see if they could pay me off. Well, all that got her was one last fling with the king.” Stewart chuckled a deep throaty laugh before clearing his throat.
“You raped her?” Anita asked.
Waving his hand absently, Stewart sneered. “Rape. Not what she called it all the other times. Either way, I should have killed her right then and there.”
“But you didn’t.”
“But I didn’t,” confirmed Stewart.
“That’s how she was able to climb across into the front seat of her car and run you down, breaking your hip and damaging your spine. Not paralyzing you, but hurting you enough to keep you down.”
Stewart had a grim look come across his face as he remembered the night. “They paid to keep me quiet then. Paid for my operations, had my disability approved so I’d never have to work again.” he nodded to himself more than anyone. “But not anymore. I think it’s time I got a little more compensation for my time and suffering. After all, that’s was near 20 years ago. I’m due a new judgement.”
Anita stood up. “Funny you should say that. And, for the record, it was 25 years ago. That was the night I was conceived. Born of a hateful act of jealousy and rage between my mother and a man that would overshadow her entire career all my life.”
Stewart sat stunned for a moment. He didn’t utter a word as he slowly slid to the edge of the recliner. “I can see her in your eyes,” he whispered to no one in particular.
“I’m sure you can. However, I wasn’t sent here to renegotiate a new contract with you.” She reached into the small handbag and withdrew a handgun. “I’m actually here to terminate the current one.”
Stewart burst into a deep gutted laugh and threw his head back at the site of this little girl holding a gun on him. “I’m sure you did, sweetie. I’m sure that is what you thought you were going to do.”
Anita cocked her head to one side then pulled the trigger. The muffled shot made them both jump, but it was the look of shock on Stewart’s face at the growing stain of red blood forming beneath his t-shirt that captured both their attention. She looked up and managed to force her own mouth closed, meeting his gaze. His large form started to move, despite the wound. Anita lifted her arm again and put a hole in his forehead. He fell back into the recliner, the springs creaking under the force of the weight.
She glanced around the small apartment and saw nothing of interest. Nothing to show the man that lay bleeding and dead before her was anything but a twisted ball of hate. The apartment, much like his life, was empty. Devoid of any one thing or object of affection. Some people lived only to serve as obstacles to others in the world. Forcing themselves upon people that no longer wanted or needed them. Standing in their way when they tried to move ahead. This man, this stranger – her father – had been nothing but one obstacle after another for as long as she could remember. A cause of pain and agony in her mother from his past indiscretions. And he’d willingly taken money to keep his mouth shut for all those years. Now, even upon discovering he’d had a daughter with the woman he supposedly loved, all he could think about was money. Just like mother had said.
Anita dialed her mother up and waiting until she picked up on the other line. “Yes. Yes, just like you said. I know, I’m sorry, too. It’s okay, mama. Yes. Just give me 15 minutes and then they can come in behind me to clean up. Okay, love you, too. I’ll see you tonight. Bye.”