Thursday, January 21, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, Second Round :: Shadow People by James Swain vs. Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

We continue the second round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books with our third second round match-up which showcases Shadow People by James Swain combating Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

Shadow People:  June 2013; 351 pages; jacket art by Trevillion Images; Jacket design by Base Art Co. Shadow People is the second novel in the Peter Warlock series that began with Dark Magic. Swain has also published crime and mystery books in the Jack Carpenter series and the Tony Valentine series. Shadow People won out over Mist by Susan Krinard to get into the second round.

Shadow People are dark entities that you might see out of the corner of your eye. Peter Warlock first encounters one during one of the weekly séances. Joining him in these séances are Milly, Peter's foster mom; Holly, niece to Milly, and aspiring witch; Homer, a blind fortune teller and a couple others.

Peter's purpose during each séance is to go back in time or ahead in time to find murderers and find evidence in which to convict them. Right before this séance, Peter feels something is not right. He sees a dark mass along the wall and then watches it slip into a crack in that wall.

Peter slips into a parallel world where spirits dwell and goes into the future. The downside to this venture is that the murderer can actually see Peter, which means the murderer is in league with the devil. Dr. Death, the nickname that Peter gives him, tries to run him down with the car, then shoots him in the leg. Peter begs his spirit helpers to whisk him back to the séance. His spirit self can be killed in this future place just as in real time. Right before Dr. Death pulls the trigger to send a bullet into Peter's head, Peter is pulled back to real time. He tells his group what happened and Holly writes it down.

Peter walks Homer to the subway and learns that Homer has dealt with Shadow People before. Wearing a 5-pointed star helps ward them off. But they are hard to get rid of once they attach themselves to you.

Peter goes home to his brownstone and finds his magic equipment destroyed and his house trashed. Running upstairs to his bedroom, he sees his girlfriend Liza hiding in the closet and a dark entity, shaped like a person with no face. Peter gives Liza his mom's 5-pointed star necklace. He knows the only way to fight the shadow person is to gather his psychic power and attack. Peter hits the shadow person several times before it disappears. Peter then sees it in the mirror. With a closer look, he gets sucked into the mirror and ends up looking up at Dr. Death who is trying to kill him again, like déjà vu. He shakes his head and finds himself back in his bedroom with Liza shaking him and FBI Agent Garrison staring at him. Agent Garrison's fellow agents take pictures of the mess in Peter's house. Peter tells Garrison about the séance and gives him the transcript. This is a normal occurrence since they have worked on serial killer cases before.

Liza and Peter start to clean up when the lights flash on and off. When the lights come back on, everything is just as it was and not damaged. Peter says all the chaos was actually an illusion. Peter calls Agent Garrison and makes him look at the photos they took. Nothing is broken in the photos.

Meanwhile, Peter's friend Holly, who secretly loves Peter, has been scrying him, looking into a bowl of water to watch him. She saw the broken room and saw him fighting the shadow person. Holly calls Milly, who is also a witch. Milly is not happy that Holly is scrying Peter because it's such an invasion of privacy, but she agrees that they need to help Peter with the shadow person that has attached itself to him.

Holly then begins to scry the murderer Dr. Death and finds him in a bar. He seems to see Holly and says, "Fuck off!" His real name is Harold Munns, but the bartender calls him "Doc." Munns leaves the bar and goes to see his friend Ray, who is a tattoo artist. Ray wants to put another special tattoo on Munn.

Burning Paradise:  Tor Books; November 2013; 317 pages; jacket art by Getty Images; jacket design by Base Art Co. Robert Charles Wilson wrote the Hugo Award winning Spin and has won various other awards. He is a prolific science fiction writer. Burning Paradise overcame Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper to get into the second round.

Burning Paradise takes us to an alternate reality where WWII never happened. Instead, a 1914 Armistice created, so far, 100 years of peace. However, the United States is not a "free" country. Members of a freedom-seeking underground organization, the Correspondence Society are being shot, killed, and eliminated. They were forced to go underground after the 2007 massacre of the Correspondence Society.

Somehow, some group or government has engineered a pseudo-human called a simulacrum that looks very human unless it gets ripped apart and the inner guts of green goo, smelling like chlorophyll, oozes out.

Cassie, who is 18, and her 12-year-old brother Thomas have lived with their Aunt Ris for 7 years, ever since their parents were killed in the 2007 massacre. The family is part of the Correspondence Society, and the kids have a plan of escape in case they are discovered. One evening when Aunt Ris is out with her boyfriend, Cassie sees a strange sight out the window: a man, who looks like he's headed to their apartment, is hit by a car. Green goo exiting his wounds reveals him as a simulacrum. Cassie immediately wakes up her brother, they grab their pre-packed bags, and they head to another secret location.

Cassie and Thomas make it to 21-year-old Leo Beck's apartment. Beth Vance, his unpleasant girlfriend, is staying with him. Leo is the son of the famous Werner Beck, a higher-up in the Correspondence Society. Cassie tells her story of the gooey simulacrum, and the four of them grab their bags and squeeze into Leo's car.

They decide to go to Beth's dad's apartment. When they get there, they see police, an ambulance and a gurney with someone on it. They assume it is Mr. Vance, and leave town, heading to Leo's dad’s place, which is in Pennsylvania. At night, they stop at a hotel. Leo tells Cassie not to let Beth's attitude bother her. He also feels the four of them should stay together.

Meanwhile, in a remote farmhouse attic, Ethan Iverson, former University Professor, looks at a video screen showing the approach of a stranger, which he knows is a simulacrum. Ethan opens the door, invites it in and then zaps it with his 300kv shockgun. He drags the sim into the cellar and ties it up with duct tape. He plans to talk to it despite his rule that one should "never engage simulacrums in a conversation." That's because the sim is not actually doing the talking. Sims are like puppets and the string master is the hypercolony.

Ethan looks through the sim's wallet and sees that the ID calls the sim Winston C. Bayliss. Then he talks to the sim. The sim tells Ethan that, yes, "the radio-reflective layer around the Earth is an active, living entity," the body of the hypercolony. Winston says that he's working against the hypercolony and needs Ethan's help. The doorbell rings again.

At the door, Ethan sees Narissa, his ex-wife. She is also called Aunt Ris by Cassie. Narissa says that they need to find Cassie to save her life. They need to go to Walter Beck's house because that's where Leo is taking Cassie and Thomas. Narissa doesn't trust Walter. Ethan then tells Narissa that he's got a live sim in the cellar.

There are feelings that the radiosphere, which is the hypercolony, needs to be destroyed.

The Battle:  We have a dark occult fantasy Shadow People battle the alternate history science fiction book Burning Paradise.

Shadow People is the second book in the series, yet it was very easy to follow with no need, so far, for backstory. I still have to chuckle at the main character having the last name Warlock, which seems amusing for a "psychic" power character.

I liked the interesting twist that Peter's damaged furnishings were actually whole because of an illusion, an illusion that everyone saw. It brings up the concept of perception and the confusion with what is real. Holly plays a bigger role with her invasive scrying of Peter. Holly's plan to help Peter deal with the shadow person, with help from Milly, will surely lead either to disaster or triumph. I would like to know how the group catches the killer and how Peter figures out how to eliminate the shadow person.

Over-used clichés and idioms are used in this story, such as "in league with the devil," "silent scream cuts through the air like a sharp knife," "icy finger ran down Peter’s spine," "level with her," "stormed out of the theater," and "part and parcel," to name a few.

To be fair, Burning Paradise included some as well, such as "thoughts running like a hamster in an exercise wheel," and "a force to be reckoned with." But there weren't very many, so they didn't stand out as much.

Burning Paradise offers an interesting alternate reality where WWII never happened and Armistice Day began in 1914, with "peace" ever since. With the killings of Correspondence Society (CS) members, which also happened seven years ago, the peace has ended and murder has begun again. The CS knows more about the radio-reflective layer around the Earth than the rest of the world, and for that, they are hunted and killed. But what is this layer? How did it get there? What is the relationship between the sims and the hypercolony? What side is the government on? I also want to discover what Ethan and Narissa have planned. I'm curious to read more.

The whole purpose of Battle of the Books is to pit one book against the other and to choose one winner to battle further. So, I (Jackie), after reading 50 pages of each book, must declare which book I’d rather continue reading.

THE WINNER: Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

Burning Paradise advances to the semi-final round to take on The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke or The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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