Book Review


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No Time Like The Future, by Michael J. Fox

I suppose it would be virtually inevitable that a memoir; of which there are now four; by this personality [I eschew the term celebrity] would include in its title a knowing reference to his most well known and, arguably, celebrated [whilst nevertheless still not condemning him to inclusion in that overused category mentioned above] trilogy of films; although, that said, only one of the others does; but I can happily accept that, for a variety of reasons, which don’t require explanation here. The front cover photograph; an unapologetically simple monochrome study of the man sitting sideways on an ordinary office-style chair; shows him looking straight down the camera lens with a weary, but at the same time, not completely worn-down expression on his face, which conveys, I think, what this volume wants to convey: that he is indisputably down, as a result of the health issues which have beset him over the course of his life hitherto, but by no means is he out.

In addition to the foregoing, the front cover photograph shows a deceptively youthful looking fifty-eight year old man, which is quite surprising, given his well documented tribulations. He was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease in 1991, at the cruelly early age of just twenty-nine, but rather than just giving up and accepting the inevitable; which it is, currently; he used his own resources, of money & influence, to set up a foundation, in his own name [categorically not as an ego-boosting vehicle] to raise global awareness about this scourge and help find a cure; he also engages in advocacy work. This book catalogues his most recent experience to the time of writing; and there is an epilogue, written in August 2020, which includes the arrival of the Covid pandemic, and the consequences ensuing therefrom, so it is almost, albeit not quite, how things stand today. This could be quite a traumatic read, in view of the impact this illness has had upon his life, but thankfully, his trademark wry humour shines from the text to avoid this.

In addition to the degeneration of his physical mobility; which has made something the majority of us take for granted: walking more than a few steps, inadvisable; and, what is understandably more concerning, even frightening, for him, his mental acuity, he also had to contend with a tumour on his spinal cord. He was faced with an awful decision: risk being permanently confined to a wheelchair and never walking again, or have an incredibly delicate operation which, if successful, would result in his being able to continue as he was—disabled, but still mobile, albeit carefully. His wife, Tracy, and his four children were a great source of solace & support in those desperate times, but it is also a measure of the resilience of the man that he decided the risk was worth taking, and the top surgeon in his field calmly & efficiently ensured a successful result; the post-operative delusions ensuing from the combination of the necessary medication were frightening both for him and his family but, thankfully, they were mercifully short-lived.

His recuperation was not entirely trouble-free, however: his determination to return to ambulant independence overrode any semblance of caution he should have exercised when he was back in his New York apartment, assuring his daughter that he would be able to get himself up unaided the following morning, before going off for a very welcome acting opportunity which had been especially made available for him. Predictably, he fell and badly broke his left arm, which meant he was out of action again for an extended period. There is a happy ending to that section of the story, thankfully: although that setback plunged him into a depression, it also acted as a wake-up call to be more realistic about his prospects, and eventually, he was able to do his acting job, which the producer, Spike Lee, had very honourably held open for him; he was also sanguine enough to know that his acting career is all but over, but that that is not the only thing which defines him. His life latterly has not been a triumph of hope over adversity, but there is always hope, where the possibility of a cure is concerned, and most definitely determination, so I found this a rewarding read which I can heartily recommend, and I hope you will too. The hardback version I read was published in 2020, by Headline Publishing Group [UK], ISBN 978-1-4722-7846-3.

Book Review

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The Hollow Ones, by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

When I saw the name of “the visionary director of The Shape of Water” [with which I was already familiar, but I suppose not every potential reader is] on the cover, in a prominent position at the top, my attention was drawn to it immediately; I wasn’t aware hitherto that he was also an author, although it is not uncommon for film directors to have authorial input to their films, but his bio at the back only mentions his very successful films*. However, I was prepared to take a risk with this book; I am guessing that Chuck Hogan [whose name suggests he should be a wrestler or stuntman] is the primary writer, given that he is [the usual publishing hyperbole notwithstanding] “a New York Times bestselling novelist”, with GdT supplying the fantasy element of this story. I am normally somewhat selective with my fantasy fiction, but the cover promises, courtesy of The Guardian, that this story is “Like a Jack Reacher crime thriller [of which I have read enough to know what to expect] … with a Van Helsing-style demon hunter”, so to reiterate, I thought it would be worth a risk.

Indeed it was, in my humble estimation anyway. It starts off, to set the scene, with a prelude, describing a mysterious cast iron Edwardian mailbox, situated in the financial district of Manhattan, New York; “a sliver of a property that officially stands as 13½ Stone Street.” Some history is given, and the prelude ends by saying that “Every letter that arrives at The Box is a letter of urgent need—a desperate call for help—and every single envelope carries the same name:

Hugo Blackwood, Esq.

This name is “a tribute to one of our most admired authors and the originator of the occult detective subgenre, Algernon Blackwood”, and the tribute ends with a macabre observation “that grave robbing in New Jersey, for occult purposes, is not at all fiction or a thing of the past. It’s happening. Right now.” So far, so portentous.

The story then gets going in more conventional thriller mode, introducing two FBI agents, the female of whom is a relative newcomer, Odessa Hardwicke, whilst the other is the more experienced Walt Leppo. It was a normal working night, but very quickly, it morphed into X-Files territory, when the first of a series of ‘rampage’ killings occurred, which proves fatal for one of the agents. Two other time periods are included in parallel: 1962, when a black FBI agent named Earl Solomon is sent to the Mississippi Delta to investigate the lynching of a white man, for obviously political reasons; and England in 1582, when the young barrister, Hugo Blackwood, encounters “Queen Elizabeth’s court astrologer, spymaster, and scientist”, John Dee, and Edward Talbot, aka Edward Kelley, one of “various mystics who claimed to be in contact with higher realms”, in Mortlake [but not “Greater London”, as the book states, which is a ceremonial county not established until April 1, 1965!], a village that then was part of the county of Surrey. Both Solomon & Blackwood figure in the present-day action, but of the two, Blackwood is the more helpful, albeit initially grudgingly [and almost psychopathically dispassionately], because Solomon is recovering from a recent age-related stroke; Odessa is not immediately aware of Blackwood’s unusual condition, and understandably, it takes her a while to accommodate it.

Overall, this is a quite well structured narrative, and there is a conclusion of sorts when the culprit of the killings is neutralised, but an element of doubt must remain, because the subtitle at the beginning of the book is “The Blackwood Tapes, vol. 1”, which refers to the audio tapes Solomon made during the course of his career, and would suggest that a sequel is to be expected: this paperback version, ISBN 978-1-529100-96-9, was published in 2021 by Del Rey, London. A search using the ISBN doesn’t show any reference to a sequel, so I can only presume that it is either still in preparation, or the idea has been abandoned, pro tem.

*According to the list at the very front of the book, GdT has in fact written ten books on his own account, both fiction & non-fiction; he has also collaborated with Hogan on three other books; Hogan has written five, all fiction presumably; so they are a web-established and productive team.