Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: Mark Capell’s Edyl – Island of Immortality

Once again, in spite of my best intentions for Nerds Who Read, I find myself reviewing a political book. I blame Amazon. It told me that Edyl – Island of Immortality by Mark Capell was “Recommended for You.” So I downloaded to my Kindle and started reading.

I found it entertaining and it kept my attention, but I can’t help wondering why Amazon recommended it to an ornery libertarian such as myself: it seems to be a manifesto for Occupy Wall Street.

Edyl takes place about 100 years in the future, when the 1% has achieved its sinister objective of replacing all government with a corporation (known as the World Organizing Committee, or WOCO), and thereby bogarting most of world's wealth, along with all of its sunshine, clean water, fresh fruit, and massage beds. And immortality – WOCO has discovered the secret of eternal life. But since the world has limited resources, this secret cannot be shared with just anyone. People must compete for it. Once a year, thousands of individuals who have reached the tops of their professions are nominated for the Edyl Sporting and Cultural Olympiad. They travel to Edyl Island, home of the immortals, where they vie to be named the best at art, weightlifting, plumbing, and so on. The closing ceremony is the grand March of the Immortals, when the winners pass through the Golden Gates to the “island proper.” There they will undergo the immortality procedure and begin their new and lengthy lives in the sun. So basically, Edyl Island is Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis with an Olympic Stadium.

And mind readers. The narrator, known only as R77K through most of the book, is a rising, mid-level employee in the WOCO “Reading Department”, a sort of telepathic NSA. R77K is assigned to spy on the thoughts of three of the contestants. Two are typical enough: Lena is a nineteen-year-old rock star and Ollie is a championship runner. But it’s the third target that sets off alarm bells in R77K’s mind: Darrick – a contract killer. Clearly dirty work is afoot at the Edyl Olympiad. The mystery deepens when Darrick completes an assignment and reports back to his handler, a shadowy figure whom he calls Mr. Croak (because of his ability to cause people to croak). Croak tells him, “You might just have fired the first shot in a revolution.” But whether it is a revolution for good, and whose side he’s on, he doesn’t say.

The world of Edyl is imaginative, but the prose is not. Although clear, it lacks good lines or clever turns of phrase. And most of the characters just don’t pop for me. I never had a good feel for who R77K, Olly, and Darrick were. The happy exception was Lena, a vivid portrait of a teenager who thinks that, unlike the adults in her world, she has all the answers. And yet, in spite of her superior wisdom, she lives in a state of constant emotional turmoil. I said she was vivid, not endearing.

I also thought the author missed an opportunity in that we never see the WOCO hacks relishing the spectacle of the contestants competing for their lives, a la the Roman colosseum. Perhaps he'll use that in a sequel.

The ending was somewhat unsatisfying. Although Croak eventually explains everything going on behind the scenes, and we learn who is revolting against whom, it turns out that people who are supposed to be good guys did some real harm to the contestants, for reasons that were never clear to me.

Still, I did get caught up in the story, and I haven’t given up on Mr. Capell. His CafĂ© Insomniac looks promising and I look forward to reading it soon.

UPDATE (29 Sep): The author responds...

Edyl is one long interior monologue, and people don't think in imaginative prose.

I was honored to receive this, and it raises an interesting question about literary theory: to what extent should the monologues and dialogue in a novel resemble the way we think and talk in real life?

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt?

Atlas Shrugged III Movie Poster It’s not my intent for Nerds Who Read to be a political site. But political content aside, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is enough of a science fiction story in its own right that a review of the third and final installment of the big screen version is not out of place here.

The film premiered on Friday amid reviews that make Ray Rice look like a pacifist. No doubt you’ve seen the long lists of things that are wrong with it, and I see no need to repeat them here. They’re all true.

But here’s what's right with it:

  • Kristoffer Polaha as John Galt. He carried the film. (So he was Atlas.)
  • Peter Mackenzie (Mr. Thomson). Although I'm sure Rand would say he was too forceful for a character whose sartorial trademark was wilted shirt collars, I liked his performance; he reminded me of Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.
  • Scene with Kristoffer Polaha and Peter Mackenzie
  • Among the minor characters, Francisco d’Anconia, Hugh Ackston, Dr. Hendricks, and Ellis Wyatt
  • Cinematography. Technically, this was the best movie in the series. Gorgeous panoramic Colorado mountainscapes. Pure eye candy, as you can see in the trailer.

  • Music. I'm sure this is one part of the movie Rand would have loved. Again, I refer you to the trailer.
  • The Speech. Having a 60-page speech in a work of fiction is problematic to begin with. As a professional novelist, I’m downright offended by the breach of good storytelling. Transferring it to the screen is perhaps the most challenging part of making an Atlas Shrugged movie, but the filmmakers stepped up to the challenge. I especially likee the 1/2 second or so blank screen at the beginning. Excellent use of the dramatic pause.
  • Moment when Dagny sees Galt among the railroad workers
  • Cameos by Ron Paul, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck (although is it significant that they weren't in Galt’s Gulch, among those worthy of being rescued from the destruction of the world?)
  • SPOILER: Eddie Willers gets to live.
  • Samantha Mathis wasn't in it.

In spite of its many flaws, I loved this movie. Unfortunately, due to the poor reviews, ASIII is unlikely to be in the theaters for long. So go see it. But hurry.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A long journey, but worth the trip

Book Review: A Storm in Tormay by Christopher Bunn
Review by Michael Isenberg

A Storm in Tormay by Christopher Bunn tells the story of the boy Jute, who’s a cross between Peter Pan and the Artful Dodger. As the story begins, Jute is robbing a wizard’s house. He’s been given detailed directions to retrieve a box, and strict instructions not to open it, on pain of having his throat slit. Jute finds the box but when he touches it, it opens on its own. Inside is a dagger, on which he cuts himself.

Was it an accident, or did the dagger choose him, the way wands in the Harry Potter universe choose their wizards? Like those wands, the dagger possesses great power, and absolutely everyone is after it: among them, the wizard Nio whose house was robbed, the shadowy leader of the Thieves Guild, and his mysterious client, the not-quite-human servant of an unknown but sinister master.

But they’re wasting their time. The magic in the dagger is gone. It's inside Jute now. As his powers grow, he finds himself in the midst of an epic battle between good and evil, with the lives of the inhabitants of Tormay hanging in the balance.

Mr. Bunn has an excellent ear and dialogue is one of his strong points. Birds and rabbits say exactly what would be important to birds and rabbits, if they could talk. A group of children who set off to rescue people sound exactly like children who set off to rescue people.

But without doubt, the strongest point of the book is its characters. My favorite was the ghost of an old wizard, who attached himself to Jute and never shut up. I also liked some of the semi-villains, especially Nio, who reminded me of the second of the title characters in Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and Smede, the hardworking but greedy accountant for the Thieves Guild. Both of these characters, regrettably, die (sort of) early in the story, and one of my two criticisms is that I wish they had stuck around longer.

My other criticism is that Tormay is a large country, and I badly needed a map to keep track of its many duchies. Perhaps Mr. Bunn will put one on his website some time soon.

At 748 pages, A Storm in Tormay is a long work. As I read it, there were times when I wondered, where is he going with this, and is it worth it? If you find yourself in a similar position, I have two words of advice: keep reading! All the pieces do come together in a feel-good ending.

A Storm in Tormay can be purchased as three separate works, The Hawk and his Boy, The Shadow at the Gate, and The Wicked Day. However, I recommend buying the entire trilogy. Not only is it a better deal, but A Storm in Tormay is really one long story in three parts, not three separate books. You’ll want the whole thing.

In an afterward, Mr. Bunn promises to “return to Tormay and discover some other stories that must be told.” I hope that’s soon!

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on