Book Review: The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child is a dark, earthy reimagining of the fairy and changeling mythology. Taking its name from W.B. Yeats poem, the novel follows the parallel narratives of Henry Day, a boy stolen away from his family, and the changeling that takes his place in the human world.

Henry Day is renamed Aniday and takes his place among the ancient children of the forest, his old life largely forgotten. He learns their ways and becomes, like them, stuck in time filled with strange powers and knowledge, but at the same time adrift, his sense of self distant and vague. The changelings all yearn to return to the human world, but there are rules and each must wait their turn. They can only return by replacing another stolen child who in turn replaces them. Aniday is the youngest and he has many years to wait.

Meanwhile, the changeling echo has taken his place and his name attempts with varying degrees of success and occasionally tragic consequences to fit in with the Days. His sense of self is no more certain than Aniday’s, and as he struggles to reconnect with humanity and make connections, he is haunted by who he was before the changelings took him centuries before. Aniday and Henry’s twin quests for identity play out across several decades before ultimately colliding.

Donohue is not interested in changeling magic, per se. There are hints of powers and deeper mysteries on the edges of the narrative. The Stolen Child is far more concerned with atmosphere and people, changeling and otherwise. There is an aching melancholy to the novel and sense of hope. Donohue is a gifted and confident storyteller. Highly recommended.


The Stolen Child can be found here on Amazon.

Flash Fiction Friday: Memory in the Age of Cybernetics

First Iteration – The Wonders of Modern Technology

…Access Denied. Incorrect Passcode. Please Try Again…

…Access Denied. Incorrect Passcode.

…Please Try Again…

…Access Denied…

…Please Try Again…

…Incorrect Passcode…

…Please Try Again…

…Please Try Again…

 

Second Iteration – Memory in the Age of Cybernetics

Time to declare war, I think, on the passcode. Bloody useless things really, when you get down to it, and there are so many. A code for this, a code for that, remember throw in some Capital LeTters in odd places just to make it interesting, and if one is feeling particularly clever one can throw nu4mb8rs6 i4n at random, because numbers are the spice of life, or something. And above all, whatever you do, don’t write your password down. Or so they say. But when you’ve got forty-five and a half, sometimes a memory aide is called for. Human memory isn’t what it used to be, back in the days before computers. Of course, even in those forgotten days of yesteryear there were and passwords, and passcodes, and magic words.

In the beginning there was “Open sesame,” well not really. In the beginning there was probably something along the lines of “Argh,” and there was another pre-historic bastard, perhaps the original pre-historic bastard, wondering if the cave man outside had put the stress on the “r” or the “gh.” In any case, eventually there was “open sesame” which seems suitably random as far as magic passwords go, but turned out to be less foolproof than hoped. The password, therefore, has never been quite as effective as advertised but still one must have one, or six, or seven, or forty-five, and occasionally, but only occasionally mind you, one of them can slip your mind. This can be extremely frustrating, and, as in the present instance, unfortunate.

This is not merely an academic exercise, a literary exorcism of frustration. It is true I ma have been waxing philosophical, but I do that when I’m nervous. And I am. Nervous, I mean. Very nervous, in fact, and with good reason. This, you see, is a Nuclear Storage Facility, one of seven, and it is filled with very complicated machines and computers and such all designed to keep very, very bad things from happening, and those do work remarkably well. Except when they don’t. Like now.

Fortunately there are contingencies and fallback plans that, as far as I’m aware, should function perfectly. Unfortunately, like all sensitive information, these contingencies are protected by a passcode so that only those with proper authorization can trigger them. I, myself, lack the necessary authority, but see that gentleman over there in the cap, sweating profusely and looking like he’s a mere ten seconds from a breakdown, that’s Jacobs and he does have the necessary authority. He has also, however, forgotten his passcode, which is, as I said, most unfortunate. By my count he has tried forty different passwords so far, and he appears to be running out of ideas and time, can’t forget time. The giant clock counting down to our own private doomsday makes sure it’s never far from our minds.

Oh look! He’s trying again. Faster damn you! Type faster!

Access Denied. Incorrect Passcode…

 

Third Iteration – The Definition of Insanity

…Please Try Again…

Book Review: The Postmortal by Drew Magary

Drew Magary’s The Postmortal is an intriguing pre-apocalyptic at a world where science has finally provided the ‘cure’ for old age and near immortality requires only a relatively inexpensive gene therapy. Diseases are still fatal. There are still accidents and murder, but eternal life is suddenly a very real possibility. The novel takes the form of blog posts and diaries written over the 60 years immediately following the discovery of the ‘cure.’

John Farrell is a lawyer with well-connected friends who manages to find a doctor willing to give him the cure while it is still illegal. He doesn’t think through the consequences. He just knows that he wants to live forever. Farrell chronicles the subsequent debate over legalization, the rise of religious cults both for and against, the political battles and the smaller cultural and personal shifts. As a lawyer in the post-cure world, Farrell finds himself dealing with a rise in lucrative divorce cases, as rich couples find that an eternity of marriage is far longer than they had bargained for. Farrell himself proves unable to commit to eternity resulting in a string of personal tragedies.

Magary constructs a compelling world out of these smaller personal consequences. Another character remarks to Farrell that eternal life, frozen at a young age forever, far from freedom may instead mean stasis, working forever with no retirement, nothing. As the novel progresses, the world tips closer and closer to dystopia and apocalypse and the consequences become increasingly dire: Farrell’s sister loses her marriage and his father, having taken the cure and been left in permanent old age, ultimately welcomes death with open arms.

The Postmortal is a dark satire that attempts to extrapolate a world without aging and the ultimately chaotic upheaval that would follow. As a picture of a slow motion apocalypse, the novel is well paced and thoughtful. It is strongest and most original in its smaller moments where this new world is painted in personal moments. John Farrell’s story eventually heads into more clichéd territory and the novel’s climax is more conventional and sudden than the slow build up that precedes it. The result is a thought-provoking novel filled with imagination and ideas that could have been more.

 


 

The Postmortal can be found here on Amazon.

Flash Fiction Friday: Ghosts in the Machine

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” said the robot. It was an old Mark VII Server Droid, remarkably well preserved but starting to glitch.

The reporter nodded sympathetically. Nobody believed in phantoms these days, certainly not robots of such obvious wisdom and experience. Nonetheless, a spectral figure had been seen floating through the walls of the TransOrbital Hotel & Spa, and his readers deserved answers.

Was it true that the specter been reported nine times in the last year? That the hotel staff refused to go to Deck 6? The robot whirred and sputtered.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” it lied.