Review: The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes

Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes

The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes (ISBN: 978-0-85766-831-8) is the story of a stuffed triceratops detective, Detective Tippy.

Detective Tippy lives in the Stillreal, a world constructed of abandoned ideas. These ideas, or Ideas, are the personification of people’s hopes, dreams, fears, and youthful coping strategies. Ideas are populated by Friends, creations of younger people as a vehicle for those dreams and fears. They first become “real” to their humans and, when the human can no longer use them or their human is forcibly disillusioned, the Idea becomes real in the Stillreal. Detective Tippy’s little girl created him to solves mysteries, which are often just the things people do that can by mysterious to a young person or child.

Detective Tippy is introduced to us when he is on a case investigating why a farmer’s corn is screaming instead of singing. It turns out to be a new Friend, a nightmare from a child. Friends in the Stillreal retain many of the youthful attributes of their creators, which means the nightmare Detective Tippy finds, Spindleman, is little more than a scared child itself.

The mystery begins to deepen when Detective Tippy watches a Friend get murdered. Generally, Friends who die in the Stillreal return after a period time, similar to how children will play characters who die, but are rejuvenated or resurrected after a couple of minutes. Except that this time, an imaginary creature actually dies. And it’s Detective Tippy’s job to find out who killed them and why.

Hayes imagines the impact of real life on our imaginary worlds. He looks at the imaginary worlds of children and asks “what happened” to all the creations we make when we are young. He also takes a cue from Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit in his basic construct of his world; similar to Williams’ creation, when a child loves a toy or idea in the real world sufficiently, it becomes Real. Detective Tippy was Real to his little girl, Sandra, until events forced them apart and then he became real in the Stillreal.

But where Williams’ toys actually become the real life versions of the toy they were, Hayes’ toys keep their basic childlike qualities of being a toy. Thus, real life issues like real death are nearly unmanageable for the characters, even as they would be nearly unmanageable for a child. Hayes also expands the idea of imaginary friends becoming real by including the worlds of imagination that can be created by people that only find form in drawings and stories, such as superheroes and cartoons.

Hayes’ Detective Tippy is a realized character. For being a stuffed yellow triceratops, Detective Tippy is a conflicted and very human protagonist. Detective Tippy’s reason for existence is to solve mysteries, though in a world populated by the creations of people’s imaginations, “mystery” can have significantly whimsical overtones; a rough case can mean Detective Tippy drowns his sorrows in root beer at the local “bar,” which is nothing more than a soda fountain with tough-talking toys as customers. When he has to face a mystery lacking in whimsy, such as real murder, Detective Tippy struggles just as people struggle with working outside their comfort zone and no amount of root beer can assuage the pain.

The Imaginary Corpse is not Young Adult, but it is definitely suitable for adolescents. There are some mature themes that are touched on, but are not explicit. There is a darkness in the story sufficient to give adult readers a chill, but not so heavy as to alienate younger readers, such as teens.

Death and the pain of personal loss is present as a theme throughout the story, but Hayes only hints at the individual stories of the characters. This distancing of character’s backstory, such as Detective Tippy’s story of how he got to the Stillreal, is consistent with how many people deal with their pain in real life. Explanations are glossed over and other people are only allowed the briefest of descriptions. When Hayes applies that psychology to avatars of innocence, such as toys and cartoons, he creates an inherently sympathetic character. Even villains that Detective Tippy faces have their own pathos that gives them depth. He must also face the pain of being unable to prevent harm to others.

The Imaginary Corpse is both a fun, easy read as well as an examination of the power of imagination to both hurt and heal.

Review: The Punch Escrow by Tal Klein

The Punch Escrow by Tal Klein

Tal Klein’s The Punch Escrow is an outstanding debut novel. The writing is tight and the narrative flows quickly. This is a must-read for science fiction fans.

It’s the 22nd century. Corporations rule the world and humans have finally broken the secret of teleportation. Although, it’s not exactly teleportation in the Star Trek-dissolving-into-a-bunch-of-sparkly-lights teleportation, people are moving vast distances at near-instantaneous rates.

As the protagonist, Joel, explains, teleportation involves a basic point-to-point transmission. It requires an enclosed station at each point. One station performs a detailed molecular scan of a subject while the destination station replicates the subject. The implications of what happens to the original person is the very core of this story.

The story is told, by the way, in the first-person point of view of Joel, as he is drawn into an intense thriller. Joel is what is known as a “salter,” a specialist in refining Artificial Intelligence applications through verbal ques, logical tricks, and non sequiturs. His wife works as a researcher for the company that holds a monopoly on teleportation. When a terrorist blows up a teleportation center when Joel is on his way to meet his wife for a second honeymoon, the reality of what teleportation actually is begins to be revealed to Joel.

There’s actually elements of political thriller and spy novel woven through, as well, which helps to add to the story’s interest.

Tal Klein has written a sci-fi novel in the best tradition of the genre. From the get-go, Klein creates a world as reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock as it is of Ray Bradbury. The entire story keeps a sense of plot that I associated with North by Northwest as well as Fahrenheit 451.

Perhaps the single greatest heritage of science fiction is its ability to provide a medium for authors to ask big questions, such as gender, race, or religion. Klein tackles another major idea with his layering a thrilling story with ethical questions about the nature of technology and our relationship to it. There is also no bigger question than “what is life” and Klein manages to illustrate a serious issue through a narrative that moves along at a quick pace.

From the very first lines, Klein creates an atmosphere of anticipation. Much of the narrative seems modeled on a deposition-style of speaking, as if it was dictated and then annotated after the fact. The tone is sardonic, as if Joel is speaking to people who are familiar with his world and are just as jaded to the incredible technology. There’re also laugh-out-loud moments and an honest-to-goodness “oh, shit” moment, which is the absolute pay-off I look for as a reader.

Seriously, this is one of the best sci-fi novels I have read in a long time. It’s hard sci-fi, classic sci-fi, the kind of sci-fi I fell in love with when I first read Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Isaac Asimov.

Well-done, Mr. Klein. I’ll definitely look for your books in the future.

Review: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land is fantastic. It is thrilling, the characters are alive, and I was enthralled until the last page. I do not recommend this book for everybody, however. There are some truly disturbing images and sequences that could act as triggers for survivors.

This is the story of a 15-year-old girl, Milly, whose mother is a serial child murderer. She has been raised in a life of abuse and has been forced to assist her mother in her crimes. The story picks up after Milly has turned her mother in to the police and her mother has been arrested. In the first person, Milly tells the story of her adjustment to a foster home in London in the weeks before her mother’s trial where Milly will be expected to testify in court.

As part of her adjustment to a more normal life, Milly attends an all-girls school. At school, she is harassed and bullied by her foster sister and other girls, a conflict that is intimately bound up with the plot.  If that seems rather vague, it’s because revealing too much of that story thread will reveal too much of the overall story.

Go read the book to see what I mean. It’ll be worth it.

Two major themes run through Good Me, Bad Me. First, Milly feels an incredible amount of survivor’s guilt for her participation in her mother’s crimes. She is as much a victim as the children her mother kills, but she feels she could have acted sooner to help. Milly’s guilt pervades the entire novel.

The second theme that threads through the story is the contest of nature versus nurture. Milly is afraid that she is the same as her mother and will become a killer. She wants to reject how she has been raised while at the same time she is afraid that people will assume her nature is to be a serial killer if they know about her past.

Land structures the story very similar to a personal letter from Milly to her mother. The language is intimate, with the flow reflecting deep emotional wounds and betrayal.

One of the delightful aspects of the story is Land’s inclusion of Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, as a school play that Milly is part of. Many of the themes found in Golding’s classic story are reflected in Milly’s story, giving it extra depth and tenor. There’s the contrast of the individual to groupthink as well as the question of how civilized people really are are their core.

I was also reminded of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. While Milly doesn’t revel in her personal issues the same way Holden Caulfield does, she nonetheless is an outsider looking in at “normal,” but finding it dysfunctional and anything but normal. While she wants to become part of a family, she also is painfully aware of her alienation, in this case because of her background.

In my Instagram post sharing I had received my copy of the ARC, I said “hints of Hemingway.” Ali Land’s writing at times is very sparse, with sentence fragments and intentionally broken narrative flow. The effect is of someone trying to speak about a terrible memory or secret, but being not quite articulate. The truth, teased out by Land’s stripped-down narrative, is stark and cold and unfriendly, as it often is when deceptions are revealed.

Good Me Bad Me is an outstanding book. Go forth and read it.

Review: Eteka: Rise of the Imamba

Eteka: Rise of the Imamba by Ben Hinson

Eteka: Rise of the Imamba
by Ben Hinson

The inheritance of European colonialism in Africa is one of fractured cultures, tribal territories split by arbitrary national borders, and violence.In the second half of the 20th century, the Cold War would be the incubator not just for the last gasp of European colonial influence, but also the beginning of diverse people seeking to heal 400 years of slavery and foreign rule.

Eteka: Rise of the Imamba, by Ben Hinson, is set in Cold War Africa. The story spans several distinct decades at the end of the Cold War, from the 1960s to the 1990s. The singular thread of the novel is the lasting impact of colonialism and how those forces could be a crucible and catalyst for later violent groups.

In American entertainment, during this same period, Africa was often depicted as a continent filled with incompetent and comedic dictators who were followed by hapless and incompetent thugs. In Hinson’s novel, the men and women of Africa are dangerous, duplicitous, complex, and motivated by a tapestry of circumstances. Their loyalties are complicated, but the people are anything but hapless. The characters are compelling and sympathetic, even those characters who are supposed to be antagonistic.

Oga, for example, is the commander of the Imamba, African mercenaries pulled from sundry national military forces. He’s revealed early to be interested more in profiting from his skill as a soldier than he is in a more noble calling, such as contributing to the building of African nation-states that benefit Africans. He is venal and cold-blooded. He is also a man who makes a compelling case for why he doesn’t need to be anything more than he is.

Oga’s partner, Yisa, is conflicted with the the role he plays in the Imamba. A founding member with Oga, Yisa wants to see their group be part of a pan-Africa recovery from colonialism. He wants the Imamba to help train future leaders in the different countries. While he sees being a mercenary a necessary job, he doesn’t lose his compassion for people. Just as Oga is a sympathetic, if distasteful, character, Yisa is a man who’s at times unlikable because of his psychological conflict.

That’s not to say the story is purely a character study. It’s also a Cold War thriller full of intrigue and action, in the best tradition of Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy.

One of the delightful nuggets in this book is Hinson’s choice to write French dialogue in French, with the translation in footnotes. Often, writers use simple tricks to give the impression of characters speaking a foreign language, but Hinson appears to have a sufficient grasp of the language to allow him to write pages of dialogue. Rather than become cumbersome, it further illustrates that the characters and setting are not American.

Speaking of footnotes, the book is full of explanatory footnotes. While this might be a challenge or a distraction to some readers, I found this to create an aspect of the story that helped further suspend disbelief. Often, the novel has an air of a biography or documentary rather than a novel.

Another highlight of Eteka: Rise of the Imamba is the series of illustrations. From the cover art to the interior illustrations of characters, it seems as though the novel is ready to transform into a graphic novel, which is testament to Hinson’s narrative that is alive and vibrant.

Eteka: Rise of the Imamba is a thrill. It is a different look at a time and place too often caricatured in popular American culture. It is well worth your time. 

Jan. 20, 2020: TAG!

Last week’s video was a book tag about the history of Matt Reviews Books. It was a fun exercise in reviewing the highs and lows of the last three years. You can watch it here.

The purpose of the tag, as I undstand it, was to introduce the channel to viewers and give something of a background on the channel beyond the channel trailer that may or may not exist. I found it was a good way to take inventory of where I was and where I am now, both from a personal point of view and from a video production point of view.

To be honest, it’s been a slog. Between trying to stay inspired and personal health challenges, keeping the channel going has been touch-and-go at times. For most of 2019, I really didn’t do much of anything.

And I felt it. I missed the planning, the production, the editing. I missed the niggling fear that what I was creating was utter crap. That anxiety was what kept me writing to the best of my ability when I was a reporter and it’s what pushes me to learn more about making videos.

So, while I currently am not the most optimistic about the inherent quality of my newest video, I’m confident I’m going to be proven wrong by you, the viewer, and more importantly, that I’ve learned from what I don’t like.

Win, lose, or draw, I hope you enjoy.

Jan. 13, 2020

It’s a new year! With a new year, I’m resolved to be more mindful of my goals and health. 2019 wasn’t a good year for me in terms of either item. I produced very little and my health was a rocky road.

That being said, the road ahead looks smooth, even as I can recognize challenges. Potentially, another move of home address is in the works, for the third time in as many years. But I also feel more energized and committed to writing and video production than I have in a couple years.

Additionally, I’ve returned to freelance reporting for the local newspaper, which adds another element to the new year.

All that to say that I’m excited by the new year. Already, we’ve shared a livestream on the Matt Reviews Books YouTube channel and I’ve posted the first (of hopefully many) book review of the year. Two more videos are in production, in addition to the written versions of reviews for this site.

I’ve also drafted a production schedule to keep me in line and to help plan upcoming videos, rather than just hoping I think of something every week. That also gives me a chance to develop some sort of pattern or cycle in production.

So, stick around this year. And find me on social media. My links are somewhere around here. Possibly under that old pizza box in the corner. Maybe in the dirty laundry pile.

It’s been a minute.

Notes from Aug. 13, 2019

J.D. Salinger’s books, including Catcher in the Rye, will be released in e-book format. Finally. I’m not the biggest Salinger fan, but Catcher in the Rye was a great read in a modestly surreal fashion. For anyone who doesn’t want to invest the physical real estate on their bookshelves to Catcher, but still wants to experience what the fuss is all about, getting it in e-book format will be the ticket.

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was a tough read for me in high school. I read it again later and I realized how much of a horror story it really is. That being said, I didn’t realize I wanted a Lord of the Flies movie until I read that Luca Guagdagnino was going to direct an upcoming adaptation of Golding’s novel. My expectations are modest, but I really hope the movie hews close to the source material and receives an “R” rating.

Reading about a comic book collector having his collection stolen made me sad. But reading that the self-same collector was part of solving the crime warmed the cockles of my heart.

Matt Reviews Books is coming back!

Okay. So here’s the skinny. Matt Reviews Books (on YouTube) and have been off the radar. No new content has been made since the end of last year.

But! That is going to change in the near future! I’m working on this new website on a new hosting platform, which should give me more flexibility in presentation and content. There will also be new book reviews coming soon, both to this site and to Matt Reviews Books.

So, stay tuned!