Pandragon Dan

Pandragon Dan

Author/Reviewer/Blogger

Pandragon Reviews - One Hundred Years of Vicissitude by Andrez Bergen

 

Happy Valentines day to all my readers today! Hope you all get spoiled rotten by your loved ones! Today, I have another review for you - and whilst this book isn't exactly a romance per say, it DOES have a romantic element to it, so technically I can count this as a Valetine special review.

 

One of my favourite Indie books that I read last year was Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, by Andrez Bergen – a clever mix of Blade Runner and Mad Max style Sci-Fi with a touch of old school Humphrey Bogart Film Noir, all neatly blended with an Austrialian sense of humour. It was one of the most original reads I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing and one that I’ve been highly recommending to a lot of friends.

 

So when the author approached me, stating that he had another book out, I said yes without needing any time to think about it! I didn’t know what to expect – but I enjoyed what I read!

 

One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is a little bit different than Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, in the sense that’s more of a spiritual journey – but it’s by no means any less enjoyable to read! So let’s get on with the story!

 

 

About The Author (provided by the author)

 

 

Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, and ad hoc saké connoisseur who’s been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past decade. He's written for newspapers such as The Age and the Yomiuri Shinbun, and magazines Mixmag, Anime Insider, Australian Style, Remix, Impact, Beat, 3D World and Geek.

 

Bergen published noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat in 2011 through Another Sky Press, the surreal fantasy One Hundred Years of Vicissitude via Perfect Edge Books in 2012, and recently finished a third novel titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? Look out for an upcoming collection of his short stories titled The Condimental Op.

 

Bergen has published these via Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, Solarcide, Weird Noir, Big Pulp, Full Dark City Press and All Due Respect, and he worked on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by Mamoru Oshii, Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani with Production I.G.

 

Bergen also makes music as Little Nobody and ran groundbreaking indie Melbourne record label IF? for 15 years.

 

 

http://andrezbergen.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/andreziffy

 

 

Cover

 

Quite a surreal cover – but one that perfect captures the themes of the book. The story is rich with Japanese history and mythology – but you’ll also notice a couple of airplanes and a bomber in there as well, along with a couple of geisha’s. These all play an important part in the tale that is to follow – but I won’t give any spoilers away!

 

 

Overview

 

I had to admit I actually had to look up the word Vicissitude to learn what it meant before reading. And I was most interested to learn the definition of the word (or at least the definitions that I got read as follows).

 

  1. Regular change or succession from one thing to another, or one part of a cycle to the next; alternation; mutual succession; interchange.
  2. (often plural) a change, especially in one's life or fortunes.

 

Ok, now I was interested. So I read on.

 

The story is actually a sort of spiritual successor to Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat as it features the villain of the piece – Wolram E. Deaps. (SPOILERS for TSMG ahead). Having been killed by Floyd at the end of the book, Wolram finds himself in a sort of purgatory with Kohana, a geisha with a story to tell.

 

And so Wolram goes on an amazing journey with Kohana, as she shows him her life through her memories, her past, and the history of 1940’s Japan as they relive some of the most horrific moments from the country during its war-torn time. As they delve deeper and deeper into this journey, Wolram’s life starts to interconnect with Kohana’s – and he soon learns that he must understand Kohana’s life in order so that he can forgive himself for sins committed in his own life.

 

First of all, I think it’s fantastic that Wolram was the central character – it’s not often a writer takes who was essentially the antagonist of the last story and makes them the protagonist in the next book. It’s a daring twist that works well and we get to understand a lot more of the character of Wolram and learn that his hatred of Floyd wasn’t entirely unjustified. However, much like Floyd in Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, Wolram has a quick wit and is well versed in the art of literature and film. Kohana is also a great character, well versed and full of wisdom – yet she can be quite sardonic and wicked at times. The dynamics between the two of them are great and I love the way they play off each other. It kinda reminds me a little of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox – the way they try to constantly outdo each other and prove to the other one that they know it all. Both of them are a joy to read about and you just can’t help but love them, despite their foibles.

 

And remember how I said at the beginning this had a love story to it... well, you'll have to read the book to discover more as I won't give any spoilers away!

 

The story is laced with elements of mythology as well as history, creating a dreamlike world that is constantly shifting, mixing reality with fantasy. Much like with Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, the book is loaded with references to other mediums – everything from Shakespeare to Manga. But don’t worry if you don’t get the references, the book does keep you up to pace with what they are talking about so you don’t get lost. But what is REALLY clever is how sometimes they can take a reference to one thing, and then mention a few other titles with the same name! One example of this is when Kohana mentions the character Akuma from the Streetfighter series – and then goes onto mention several other titles with Akuma in the title. We then realise that Akuma was a nickname for her – as it means Devil or something to that effect.

 

The scenes are constantly shifting from one memory to the next – sometimes in just a second. Sometimes the memories jump in and out of sequence and from one time to the next. We never get the full story at once, but gradually piece it together as it goes along. It feels like a jigsaw puzzle that you just want to complete and see what the image is. And the most pieces that are added, the more we come to understand why this journey was needed. It all leads to a really emotional climax that, I gotta be honest, I did find quite moving.

 

But for all its intelligence and emotion, this is not something that a casual reader will want to dive into without preparation. The book is almost like Inception in a way, in that the plot is fairly complex and does require your full attention to get the best out of it. I often found myself going back and re-reading chapters to make sure I got the understanding of what was happening. But even though I got lost now and then, it was by no means a chore to read. And in fact it was amazing to discover little things that I missed the first time.

 

 

PROS (changing your life):

  • Main characters play off each other very well.
  • Beautifully written story that never reveals itself straight away and lets you piece the information gradually.
  • Plenty of clever references to other stories.
  • The mix of mythology and history keeps your interest throughout and paints a dreamlike world.

 

CONS (change bad):

  • Story a little complex to follow.

 

 

Summary

 

For me, 100 Years of Vicissitude is a story about looking back over your past and learning from your mistakes. And whilst I haven’t given too much about the plot away to support this statement, I feel that doing so would diminish the enjoyment of reading it yourself. Whether you have read anything else from this author or not, I highly recommend this one in your collection. It’s a magical journey, with wit and heartfelt emotion at its core.

 

FINAL SCORE: 4.5/5

 

 

-----------------------------

PANDRAGON

 

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The Legend of the Yuki-onna

When looking for inspiration for characters in my books, I tend to draw a lot from mythology and/or folklore. This way I don’t feel like I’m borrowing too much from other Fantasy stories (although they tend to use inspiration from this as well) and it also means I sometimes discover some mythological stories that I never heard of before – but find ways of integrating them into my story.

One such story was the legend of the Yuki-onna, which is a Japanese folklore myth. Her name basically translates as “snow woman” (sometimes snow witch) and she is almost like the Japanese equivalent of a succubus. She appears as a female spirit during heavy snow storms (usually a beautiful woman) with pale skin, black hair and cold lips, mostly she appears in some kind of dress or kimono. Depending on which story you read about her, she is either a friendly spirit that helps travellers through heavy snow, or a relentless hag that freezes men with either her breath or a kiss. Sometimes, she even seduces men with the intention of killing them and other times she bursts into houses and freezes the people inside. In a few other versions, she has been seen as a ghost holding a child (leading to some speculation that she is the spirit of a woman that died protecting her baby) and in this instance she is very protective around children.

 

Yuki-onna is very popular in Manga and Fantasy based video games, with versions appearing in Final Fantasy, Yu Yu Hakusho, Rosaria + Vampire, Dokki Dokki Doctor and even Pokemon. The appearance of a black haired woman with white skin has also been used in a few Asian horror movies – like The Grudge or Ring.

 

There are quite a few myths about the Yuki-onna, but the most famous one (which has been adapted into films and books) is this one:

 

Basically, it goes that two men (one old and one young) encounter the Yuki-onna during a heavy snow storm. The Yuki-onna freezes the old man, but spares the young man (finding him beautiful). However, she threatens him that if he ever tells anyone about he, she will kill him. Years later, the man marries a beautiful woman and lives happily with her, eventually they have children together. Amazingly, the woman doesn’t age and looks strangely familiar to the man. He recounts with her the memory of when he met the Yuki-onna and tells her the story.

 

You can probably guess what happens next. Be ready with that dramatic music!

 

The woman reveals that SHE is the Yuki-onna and reminds him of the promise he made. However, she doesn’t kill him because a) Technically he never broke his promise as he told her and no one else; and b) She is concerned with the safety of her children. She disappears but threatens that she will return to punish him if he ever mistreats their children. Fortunately, the man is a loving father and she never returns again. In some versions, it ends with the man dying of old age, his children at his side, and he goes to meet the Yuki-onna in Heaven – where they live out the rest of eternity together, watching over their children.

 

I kinda found this concept quite interesting – the fact that a creature like this can be cold and spiteful, but also loving and protective. It’s a trait that you don’t get with many succubus stories (because traditionally succubus’s are only concerned with seducing men with the intention of killing them), so this is why I think this story stands out a little for me.

 

In actual fact, the Yuki-onna was actually a big inspiration for one of my characters in Trapped on Draconica – Zarracka Dragonkin, and I did take a lot of influences from the folklore. She is a woman that possesses ice breath and tends to use her beauty to get what she wants. And she is also extremely cold hearted and enjoys tormenting her enemies. She doesn’t really have that much of a soft side though – at least not at the moment.

 

Yuki-onna I think is one of the more underrate folklore stories – unless you read a lot of Japanese mythology and I believe that the above story shows both sides of the Yuki-onna’s personality very well. It’s a good love story as much as it is a chilling (pardon the expression) ghost story.

 

Thanks for reading. Do feel free to leave a comment below.

 

Image above is copyright of it's respective owner and used only for demonstration purposes.

 

 

Regards

Pandragon

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10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Japan - A Guest Post By J.S Council

In the first of what I hope will be many guest blogs, I am today delighted to be joined by Author J.S. Council, Author of the Airion Series. I gave her the opportunity to talk about anything that she wanted to and provided me with this extremely interesting post about Japan. Being hugely influenced by Japanese culture in my writings, I found this post extremely insightful - even including some stuff I didn't even know about the country. Some stuff even surprised me!

 

A huge thanks to J.S for such a wonderful guest post. I do recommend you check her writing out as she writes some extremely entertaining sci-fi/fantasy. I gave her a bit of a hard time about the typing issues in my review of the book (see here ) but I would like to say that I did geninuely enjoy this story and look forward to the next one. Please check out her works (links are below at the end of the post).

 

With that being said I now hand over to J.S for her post. Enjoy!

10 Things you Probably Didn't Know About Japan

 

When Dan Wright gave me the opportunity to do my debut author’s interview on his blog site, I was honored. It was one more step in the right direction toward my dream of becoming a successful novelist. One more step toward getting my name out there. I loved every minute of it.  So, naturally, when I found out about the opportunity to guest blog on Dan’s blog site, I jumped at it. There was only one problem… What to write about?

 

I thought about writing about my second novel AIRION: Light and Dawn. It is the sequel to AIRION: Return to Zire, my debut novel and the first in the Airion Series, which is available, now in e-book and paperback on various purchase sites. The first draft of the novel is finished, but, because I’m taking the Stephen King’s On Writing recommended one-month rest before editing the novel, I’m quite sure that the story will change a bit once I sink my claws into it again. Especially since the time taken to write Light and Dawn was only six months compared to the four years it took to write Return to Zire. So I’d like to see where the story truly ends up before going into details. If, however, anyone is just dying for information, I do welcome questions and comments to my email jscouncil@yahoo.com.

 

Now back to my problem. As those of you who read my author’s interview on Dan’s blog a while back might know, I currently live in Japan writing and teaching English to children and Adults ranging from ages 3 to 65.  It’s a great job and I love it. Although, if I really want to write for a living I might need to move to a country where people can actually read my work. When someone hears about my book, they always ask me, “Is it in Japanese?” When I say, “No, it’s in English,” I can just see the disappointment on their faces because they can’t read English well enough to comprehend an English novel.

 

But I decided, for this blog entry I would name 10 things people who have never been to Japan might found surprising or interesting. Or rather, things I was surprised or interested to discover when I got here.

 

1. Many stray cats – There are not many stray dogs in Japan. In fact, I don’t think, in the two combined years that I’ve lived here, I have ever seen a stray dog. But cats?! Now that’s a different story completely. Staying in hiding unless foraging or begging for food, cats get quite fat living outside of restaurants, schools, or homes.

 

2. Sorting of trash and the lack of public trashcans – It is very difficult to find public garbage cans in Japan and almost impossible to find one where you can just put all of your trash in one bin. You must (and they are very strict about this) sort your trash into plastic, burnable, pet bottles, plastic bottles (with caps off), glasses, and cans. And that’s just the general separation. This doesn’t include the separations you must make in your own home or the fact that there is a curtain day of the week that different things must be thrown away. For example, plastics (not bottles) are on Tuesdays and burnable items (not furniture) are on Mondays and Thursdays.

 

3. They have wildlife like bears, monkeys, and foxes – I am an animal lover at heart and I was very surprised and delighted to find out that there is still some wildlife in Japan. Although in relatively small population, animals such as bears, monkeys, foxes, and raccoon dogs (yes they are real) exist in various parts of Japanese’s bamboo forests in Hokkaido and the Main Land, country areas.

 

4. Anime is more popular in America than in Japan – This is something I found interesting. Anime and Manga like Rurouni Kenshin, Yu Yu Hakoshou, and Inuyasha are not as popular as you would think. One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, and Pokemon are very popular here as well as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, but they aren’t nearly as crazy about anime as we are in the states in terms of conventions and things like that. You can buy many things with the popular anime characters on them though, Luffy and Chapper from One Piece being the top runners for that at the moment.

 

5. Smoking is very popular and the average life expectancy is still high for most Japanese – I was shock to find the amount of smokers in Japan. Although cigarettes are really expensive (averaging $5 or $6 a pack), one out of every 3 people smokes. Smoking is going down a little now but there is still a very high percentage, and the average life span is still about 85 or 90.

 

6. The worst crime a normal person will encounter is bike theft – Seriously, there is hardly any crime in Japan. No kidnappings, spousal abusive is low, child abduction and abuse is very low, and the only gang activity is buying loud motorbikes and riding them around town (being annoying). This may not apply in Tokyo or maybe Osaka, but for the rest of Japan, the only thing you really have to worry about is someone stealing your umbrella if you leave it unguarded or your bike if you leave it unlocked for too long.

 

7. It’s a surprisingly good place to write – I wrote much of my first novel and my entire second novel in Japan. This place is a very low stress environment and it is quite easy to develop a routine, which most writers need in order to get any writing done.

 

8. Cheap rent – Although bigger and more luxurious apartments in places like Tokyo and Osaka will cost you a pretty penny, medium studio or one bedroom apartments in small cities or towns can cost as low as $240 a month. Very nice considering the low taxes and the amount for pay one gets for teaching.

 

9. No central heating in houses or apt – No matter the apartment size or the luxuriousness of your home, there is NO central heating or air conditioning in places other then shopping areas. Even in school and some business buildings, there is no heating, so they must use floor heaters or fans depending on the weather. There is a heater/air conditioner on the wall close to the ceiling that regulates the room you are in, but if you have to go to the bathroom or the kitchen or anywhere other then that room, the temperature is drastically changed, especially during the winters, which can get very cold.

 

10. Getting good grades only matter in grade’s school – Just yesterday I was talking to one of my Japanese friends who is going into her forth year of college soon. She told me that she was looking for work for after college, she would know something before she graduated next year. I asked if the company were worried that she might not do well in her last year of school and she said that companies (those who just heir salary men and women) don’t really ask about the grades you get in college. They mostly just look at the college you went to. So basically, you could just barely pass college with any degree and still get a good job.  No wonder Japanese college kids drink so much, Haha.

 

Airion: Return To Zire is available from the following places:

 

PAPERBACK

 

Amazon UK

Amazon Japan

Barnes & Nobles

Borders online

Ailibris

 

EBOOK

 

Smashwords

Barnes&Nobles

 

Author Contact:

 

Website

Facebook

Twitter

 

Thanks to J.S again for such an amazing guest post. More to follow from other authors in the future.

 

Kindest

Pandragon

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One Year On - The Japan Tsunami

EDIT : To any who have just seen this post now, this special offer is now done. Thanks to all who helped. However, please contact me if you have any charity donations that you think I should take part in as I am always open to ideas.

 

It was one year ago that the world watched on in horror as Japan was hit by one of the most devastating tsunami and earthquake to ever hit the country. It was a terrible event and the turmoil is still felt today, with many having lost loved ones and families to this event.

 

Today, I'm going to take a few moments to remember those who lost their lives. Events like these make us appreciate our lives and realise what we've got and my heart goes out to those effected. However, I would like to feel that I can do more to help.

 

Therefore, for this entire week (up until end of next Sunday 18th) I am offering to donate HALF the profits I make on sale of Trapped on Draconica and The Wandering Valkyr to charity to aid the relief force in Japan as they still need our help. Whether they are brought on Smashwords, Kindle, or paperback, I'm wiling to give up half the proceeds I would have made to Japan relief so that I can help those who were affected. And you all can help. Please visit my website and click on the link "Dan's Writings" to visit the links of where to buy the book.

 

DAN'S WRITINGS

 

You will also notice that I have added a donate button to the page. Even if you do not wish to purchase a book, please feel free to leave a donation (however small) and whatever I make from this will be sent on Sunday. Please let me know that you are donating and I will personally thank any who do.

 

I want to assue you all that I am not doing this with the intention of selling more books. I geninuely was upset by what happened to Japan in 2011 and wish to do my bit to help. I did something similar to this last year and raised a good amount of money, but I am hoping that this year I can do so much more. Whether you buy a book, or can donate some money, it will all go to help.

 

Thanks for reading guys and I hope you all have a good weekend.

 

Kindest

Pandragon

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EDIT: Due to feeback I've had from some people, I have decided to not specify a charity that the money will be donated to. But are openingly accepting suggestions. The aim of this is to give as much money to Japan so that I can help get the country back on it's feet and do my bit to help. For those who wish to suggest a charity, please feel free to mention it to me in a comment/suggestion.

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