Review: Philip Terenson – Progenitor (Cold Blood Rising book 1)

Progenitor: Forget what you think you know. There is only one conspiracy. (Cold Blood Rising Book 1)Progenitor by Philip Terenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Progenitor would qualify primarily as science fiction, but reads equally well – if not better – as a thriller. It’s fast-paced, intrigue-ridden, save-the-world writing, pressing all the right buttons to get the reading turning forward one more chapter when he really ought to be getting some sleep. Damn it.

The saving of the world falls upon the shoulders of one man, Cameron. Unfortunate name, but let’s not criticise him for that. Cameron is a journalist who, covering a war in Africa, gets himself blown up and into a coma that lasts six years. When he awakens it is, amongst other things, to the discovery that he’s lived his life telepathically bonded to an intelligent lizard, a throwback from Earth’s history which, along with its brethren, managed to survive the asteroid strike that wiped out the dumber dinosaurs by escaping underground.

As premises go this is far-fetched in the extreme, and Terenson knows it. He handles it as such, undercutting it in the characters’ responses to the revelation, even mocking it through their reactions. Through their acknowledgement of it as a ridiculous premise, Terenson succeeds in making it believable enough for understandable concerns to be suspended in the reader, a dextrous move on the part of the author.

As if evolution-tinkering lizards riding around as passengers in people’s heads wasn’t enough, Cameron also finds himself up against a breakaway group of lizards his unwanted hitch-hiker opposes; a cabal of industrialists who have already taken over the world – and have been in control of it for some time – and the mysterious Lazarus with his companions Mike and Gabby, a well-beyond human trio who could solve Cameron’s problems at a stroke were it not for the fact they have a non-interference policy. In trying to solve the world’s problems, Cameron has as his companions Meg, an ecologically-inclined lawyer; and Yuri, an erstwhile member of Russia’s special services. Oh yes, and briefly at least, the Pope in a night shirt. Don’t ask.

Bar Lazarus as an effectively neutral observer – on Cameron’s side, but only able to offer logistical support – all the other forces are ranged against Cameron in his desire to save the world as much as they are ranged against one another, making for an interesting dynamic. Any cavalry that rides over the hill is pretty-much certain not to have the best interests of the human race at heart, and so Cameron finds himself a desirable pawn in opposition to nearly everyone he encounters, his only protection being his value given the telepathic link with his lizard. He is not a too-unlikely hero given his experiences in war zones as a journalist, but he’s way out of his depth throughout nonetheless.

Everything is nicely balanced for manoeuvres to come when, suddenly – blast it – the book ends, this being the first part of a trilogy, the second and third volumes yet to be published at the time of writing this review. Don’t you hate that? I hate that.

Overall belief is readily suspended, but there are a few challenges along the way. An occasional passage from Cameron’s lizard’s point of view feel like mistakes. We really ought not to be let into the head of something so alien, it becomes way too homely. Meanwhile Lazarus, Gabby, and Mike – for all their superhumanity – have a line in student humour and a tendency to bicker which doesn’t feel quite right. These aren’t serious distractions, but they do present the odd unnecessary challenge. Progenitor is also a work which may have benefited from a tad more scrupulous editing here and there, though that comes down to one or two repetitive errors rather than being a major flaw throughout.

That the most frustrating aspect of the work, though, is its leaving this reader high-and-dry for want of the sequel volumes is the most telling issue. Progenitor is a work worth reading well beyond its end.

Review: Italo Calvino – Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings

Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical WritingsHermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings by Italo Calvino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whether to four-star, whether to three? Three falls short of a recommendation and, in the end, Hermit in Paris doesn’t quite cut it. It’s too much a mess from which enlightening snippets need to be extracted; too incoherent; too much the ‘lucky bag’.

Calvino is a writer who has fascinated me since my youth, and one I’ve not visited for way too long. Perhaps this is a work which would have read better without so much distance on my part… but then again, perhaps not. It’s as if, in its compilation, someone were given access to an attic to dust off artefacts and make a collection representative of the owner. The portrait ends up blurred, and not a little skewed.

We have Calvino answering for himself in several interviews; the odd thumbnail sketch for some purpose or another; and more extended sections which serve some greater or lesser purpose in giving us the man. Much of the first half of the book is dominated by a series of letters Calvino wrote to his publisher during a trip to America from 1959 to 1960. There was a sense of reading personal emails between friends, such privileged access giving us perhaps a little too much of Calvino as a womaniser for example when, in reality, that’s the sort of thing we may find ourselves writing about to friends when not anticipating broader public consumption of our words. That’s a criticism that extends out through the entire work. Context is needed. Without it, some of the portraiture becomes skewed; too much focus on this, too little on that. It doesn’t help that context is only provided at the end of each section once we’ve read it, necessitating a revisit in recollection to get a sense of what it really is we’ve just read.

It’s no surprise reading the work that Calvino had a great deal of difficulty penning a formal autobiography. Again and again in the book, Calvino stresses the need for distance from the subject if he is to write about it successfully, and in writing himself we may feel he stood way too far back, theorising about himself as an astronomer may theorise about some distant galaxy captured as fuzz on a photograph. Indeed, we may even be given to wonder whether Calvino, in considering himself, ends up extracting too much detail from too little evidence while missing the big picture altogether.

Some sections are more straightforward and revelatory, such as his thoughts – made comfortable by the distance of time – upon his youthful communism, and it would be wrong to say these are rare in the work as a whole. However, in the end it’s all too random. There are diamonds here, but they’re not laid out for us. We have to mine for them.

A work to be recommended for what the reader may learn about Calvino, yes; but equally not to be recommended for what he or she may feel has been missed along the way. Here an arm to the smallest scar; there a leg with every hair accounted for; but never the man as a whole.