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When he was a child, Bob Craton’s teachers often remarked (not always favorably) about his day-dreaming. He spent much of his time lost in his own imagination, often creating elaborate elementary school tall-tales, and the habit never went away as he grew up. Coming of age in the 1960s filled his head with dreams of saving the world and having a career in academia. Then the real world closed in. With a family to support, he took a job at the corporate grindstone, just temporarily until he could get back to grad school and earn the PhD he desired. Somehow ‘temporarily’ turned into thirty-three years of stress and boredom but he kept entertaining himself by creating stories inside his head. Interestingly (well, he hopes it’s interesting anyway), his best ideas came to him while he was stuck in rush-hour traffic during his daily commute.
At age fifty-seven, he retired early (a euphemism for ‘got laid off) and had time to put his tales on ‘paper’ (an ancient product now replaced by digital electronics). The ideas in his head were all visual, like scenes from a movie, and as he began writing, he learned to translate visual into verbal and improve his skills. Or at least, that’s what he says. He admits that sometimes minor characters – or some who weren’t included in the original plan at all – demand attention. Frequently, he agrees with them and expands their roles. Many people believe he is bonkers for believing that fictional characters talk to him, but he calls it creativity and remains unrepentant.
on Feb. 02, 2014 :
Jesika's Angel is a novel that explores a different sort of future: one where much of our technological advances have been stripped away, life has been taken backwards to a more minimalist existence, and knowledge of history is almost nonexistent. On a world isolated from the rest of the galaxy, we find Jesika and her family. Living on the Fringe, they live a simple life, at least until Toby saves Janna and Jesika from would be bandits. There is still something interesting about this novel that made it worth the time. The world-building is intricate and the characters are intriguing, something that is lacking in many novels today.
When I first started reading this book, I admit it was a little slow for my tastes. There was a lot of time spent on the emphasis of how far into the 'future' this story was, and how much had been forgotten over time. It feels a little wordy at times, and the prose felt like it could be touched up a little. Sometimes there were moments where the phrase 'show, don't tell' comes to mind.
There are also some times where formatting was a little awkward. When Janna reads the story to the school students, the asides can be distracting. Sometimes the story arcs outside of the Fringe to show us other things that are happening in the city and elsewhere, but the timing and placement almost seem random at times. Most of these little problems are something that a context editor could have perhaps helped with. The transitions and story itself wasn't bad, but there is still room for polishing.
I do like the way documents appear at the beginning of each chapter. It creates a further sense of history and helps shape the world. The actual message in the book is nice as well.
Toby's transformation to Angel helps carry the story, although I wish there was a little more action early on to help carry the beginning. In the slower points it is possible to loose a reader, and you have to rely on their interest in what's already presented to keep them going.
Overall, it was a nice read, and I enjoyed getting the chance to look at it.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)
Solemn Chanting Press
on July 12, 2013 :
[Disclosure: This author asked me to provide a honest review his work. He was made aware that a negative review was possible, but I did enjoy the work.]
Jesika's Angel is more an exploration on themes than a blockbuster. The smaller moments like Jesika picking weeds and being bullied are ripe with subtext, the politics of being an individual in a collective, a society. The work subtly and with grace raises questions about identity, how individuals regard themselves as autonomous even though history plays an inescapable part in shaping who we are.
The book starts with Jacenia firmly declaring her role as a narrator. She affirms herself as author and hence authority. She clearly makes statements of cultural value as to who "storytellers" are and why stories are told. She may even perhaps be too earnest in repeatedly declaring her objectivity. For a close reader, how storytelling works and its nature becomes fundamental as a world of personal and larger political narratives, small every day people and larger forces, begin to weave together.
Jacenia encourages the reader to study her story, and it is up to a reader why she chose such a mode in the first place. She assumes its power. And by the end any doubt is laid to rest. Jacenia may be regarded as unlikeable for knowing the value of her chronicle, but it's important nevertheless. Her assumption that being forthright as opposed to likeable makes her a case study in her own way. She wants to impress the importance of her tale, but in turn makes herself open to study. Who is she? Can she back up her warnings? This breakthrough of voice and character sets the reader up for the kind of work they are going to read where small moments resonate with meaning.
In line with narrative, this work, even though sci-fi could make an interesting comparative studies to works like Huck Finn. Toby, the mentally slow laborer, is essential to a town's prosperity, much like a slave. Meanwhile, Jesika, a young soul, a member of the majority, is generally good natured even if in need of a lesson or two. However, the power of fiction and the aesthetic of sci-fi arise to make this world not just an obvious mirror of our own, but its own fully realized entity. In a reverse, Toby is light skinned with light features, while Jesika is described as having dark features and light brown skin.
Also, the town understands its dependence on Toby and appreciates what he has done. The town may be more utopian oriented, idyllic and good natured as embodied by Jesika and her family, but this does not simplify Toby's and the town's relationship. Instead of clear cut good and bad guys, there is complexity. The people who value him can't also help but question his existence. He has proven valuable; but he is still a mystery. He lives amongst them; yet he's different. Can a town depending on a stranger truly love him?
The novel goes further than most in dismantling the stereotype of the "dumb laborer." Toby's nature is not as two-dimensional as it appears. The nature of his nature is like ours, a bundling of layers that at times seems appropriately contradictory.
Ultimately though, Jesika's Angel is an exploration on the cyclic nature of peace and violence, where violence is also cyclic within itself, contrasting to the more stable nature of peace. But how stable can peace be when the seeds of violence are just waiting to sprout? How can peace reign when it's just a microcosm in a vacuum of chaotic politics? Can people find their own corner of the universe to just be?
In the end, the dynamics between laborer and town, "The Help" and his employer, give way to something new...those of savior and the wannabe saved. To some the end may be cliche, but I found it more poignant and classic. As happens throughout this work, very rich and detailed language conjures a web of symbols that weave a somber layering of themes. The writing is of a somber quality, fable-like. The ideas settle into the reader, they're not drilled into them like a lot of today's ham-fisted stories. I think there may be some risk in accessibility at times, especially for readers breezing through details or not willing to give the work a close reading.
Overall, Jesika's Angel is a great read for a quiet sunny morning with a cup of tea. If you appreciate fine detailing and can read the deeper meaning of small moments, then this book is a palette cleanser, a refreshing course after filling up on bombastic more hyped fare. However, I subtracted a star because at times the exploration of daily life and backstory exposition made things a bit too slow. Ultimately this work is enjoyable without pandering for attention. The writer has a vision and it is up to the reader to give themselves over to the experience.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)
on May 02, 2012 :
A well written story about a little girl and a strange man who acts as her guardian angel. Toby is a man of few words and seemingly low intelligence, but having immense strength and stamina, a great help to the small peaceful agricultural community on the fringe of their nation. One day their peace is broken by some bandits, a circumstance which brings about changes in Toby which nobody could ever have foreseen.
I recommend this tale to anyone, scifi reader or not, and I look forward to any new stories by Bob Craton.
(review of free book)
on April 30, 2012 :
Well done, well developed and fun to read. I look forward to reading more from this author.
(review of free book)
on April 18, 2012 :
Very interesting and enjoyable story. I would recommend changing the name of the Master Sage character as his surname is slang for something else in the UK and it distracts from the story for us Brits.
(review of free book)