jeudi 3 octobre 2019


My Father’s War Journal – D-Day



“Be brave. Remember, you are a soldier first, a surgeon second.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that if I ever come across you on my operating table.”

My Colonel growls. I am the youngest surgeon, the only unmarried man, I must volunteer for the ambulatory medical units.
I wish I had the courage to say no… but I have exhausted what little I possess with that flippant remark.

On June 1st 1944, I embark on a ship in Tilbury. Voluntarily, yes, but ten minutes late, and without my cap. My Colonel is furious, but if I’m about to die, I might as well do so with noble insouciance.
The LST 258 is part of the American fleet, and its commander is a young cowboy who lets me break the rules and take photographs from his cabin as we await the fateful day in Southend.

On the fifth, thanks be to God, the invasion is cancelled. On the sixth, it’s back on: we get moving. We cross the channel, and arrive in sight of the beaches of Normandy. Our ship, a whale-like barge with a flat bed, slides up the sands in front of Courseulles, and we set up our makeshift hospital.

Bursts of gunfire sound on all sides, a cloud of smoke envelops us, sinister shroud that chokes the hope out of me. For a while, all is silent… Until fireworks illuminate the gloom, courtesy of the Luftwaffe.
We wait for the wounded. Only ten, then nothing.

In front of me, France awaits. All my life I have dreamed of the mother country. I must set foot on land. I ignore orders and disembark; my cowboy commandant turns a blind eye. In my euphoria, I forget everything, except my camera.

Uniform akimbo, I run on the sand, visit the village, get chased off by soldiers warning me there are leftover German snipers in the church tower, and take photographs of everything.
On my way back to the beach, I find myself in the middle of a misunderstanding between the British soldiers and the people of Courseulles. I heroically become translator/mediator, even though my English is rather dreadful and the villagers have trouble understanding my French-Canadian accent.

And when my big head and I get back down to earth, my ship has sailed.

I ask around, trying to find another boat to get to mine. Severe officer faces greet my request. The Admiral of the British Navy, his sumptuous beard bristling, finally answers my request: “Not a one. Not even a raft… If you do find a raft, send it to us, we need it.”

I’m stuck on the beach. I take more pictures and give a hand to some medical personnel. They notice I know what I’m doing (my vest could have told them I was medical corps, but I seem to have lost it somewhere). When fifty wounded are brought onto a vessel without a doctor on board, I see a way out of my predicament. I volunteer to accompany them.

Whatever sea legs my body had made during the long wait, they had deserted me on the beach. As I climb up the rope ladder to my ship, I lose my footing and fall headfirst into the sea.
Wet and cold, I can’t help but think this does not bode well.
I find a dispensary woefully lacking in supplies, and get saddled with two assistants, American “Pharmacists”, who seem to know very little about medicine, or drugs for that matter. My heart sinks, but I must hide my discouragement. I find a reserve of overlooked chloroform (deemed too old-fashioned by my new team), and get to work.

I do my best, but it’s not enough. What’s more, this boat is under orders to stay where it is. Out on deck for a breath of fresh air, I spot a ship I suspect is better equipped with medical supplies.
It is: on deck is a doctor, nurses, reserves of blood, and what’s more, it’s leaving for Southampton within the hour.

Oh, the miracle of the American Navy. No bureaucratic dilly-dallying, no evasive pretenses. The commandant agrees with my plan: in less time than it would take me to describe, fifty moribund patients are carried from one boat to the next, and we are off to England.

My first minutes on English soil are like a dream. I am the feted surgeon-hero who has saved fifty valorous soldiers. Generals congratulate me for my initiative; the press surrounds me for interviews… Then suddenly, I find myself flanked by two military policemen.

My papers, all matters of identification are either on the LST 258 that left without me, or in my vest somewhere on the French sand. I recite my rank and file, but this just makes it worse: my English is so bad they come to the conclusion I am a Vichy spy.
I protest, in my name, in the name of Canada, of my sovereign… to no avail.

Finally, my last interrogator, a British lord who finds humor in everything, deigns to call my Colonel.
“Is it possible that Captain J got lost during the invasion?”
“Him? With him everything is possible.”

Just like that, I’ve become Someone Else’s Problem. I am released at the first light of dawn. I haven’t shaved in eight days; my clothes are tattered and stained. I feel a right fool as I make my way back to London.

First stop: the post office. To my family, who thinks I am still on that beach, dead or prisoner, I send a telegram: “Not missing, just traveling.”


dimanche 2 décembre 2018

An Excerpt From Incoherent Gods


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CIRCLES AND ROUNDABOUTS



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Athena and John listened to the new directions, and the abuse, attentively. When the bureaucrat reached an end to both, she thanked him/her profusely and shut the door.
“I told you that water fountain was the –” He hated the quote gesture, but sometimes it was necessary, ““drinks station”.”
Their search for the Burelaine was not going well. First, they had encountered a fork, which had made it impossible to “walk straight down”. With his compass, John had determined that one of the passages was less divergent than the other, making it the obvious choice. Of course, it had also been the wrong one. A fact made abundantly clear by the bureaucrat they had surprised in the shower (a disturbing sight to say the least). Apparently, they needed to learn how to read the corridor nomenclature; this would have told them which was the first one’s continuation. John was more than ready to do this; problem was, he couldn’t figure out where they hid said names. He’d found one so far, when he’d tripped on a loose floor tile: underneath the tile.
He’d tried looking for other loose tiles elsewhere, with no success.
They had turned around, but hadn’t been able to find their way back to the fork. In desperation, they had followed a short blond mustachioed man and his enormous redheaded sidekick looking for an A-37 permit, which eventually led them back to their starting point.
Then the “third corridor on the left” had turned out to be the fourth. There had not been any “drinks station” of any kind. The corridor just led straight into a funky smelling hangar that contained a river, a bridge, a troll, and a goat, all four busy arguing the best method to collect excise taxes. When at last Athena had managed to knock out the troll and grab the goat’s beard,they had found out that the second passageway on the left was sometimes walled off because it led to the wing outsourced to the Teleport Inc. reward miles’ industry, and even bureaucrats find some things repulsive.
They had finally taken the right corridor, but had walked along its bendy ways for a good half-hour without seeing a “drinks station”. Then, once they’d given up, they had gotten lost trying to retrace their steps, in defiance of John’s deeply held conviction that it was impossible to get lost following a corridor that didn’t branch out.
It was now well after five, at which time the bureaucrats, while tolerating people who had gotten in before four, did not see why they should be helpful in any way whatsoever. The lights were dim, and the entire place felt empty. When by some incredible chance they ran into a rare straggler, their pleas for help were met with vague excuses before the bureaucrat would scuttle away and disappear in an elbow of the corridor.
Finally, despite their apprehension, they had decided to knock on an office door where they could hear the clacking of computer keys.
It hadn’t been computer keys. It had been the creaking sounds of a swing’s chains. They had walked into a strange photo shoot. The bureaucrat had been holding a long stick from which dangled a new kind of camera and taking (sultry? seductive? macho?) poses on the swing. While apparently this was very important, as the obvious annoyance of the bureaucrat had made clear, s/he had agreed to help them find their way to the Reception and Dispatch Burelaine, because to quote him/her: “The least that promotion stealer deserves is being annoyed after hours by bumbling idiots such as you.”
And now, at last, they found the “water fountain”.
John stopped. “Wait, did the bureaucrat tell us it was the
office to the right before reaching the water fountain?” “Yes.”
“But didn’t the Information Attendant tell us it would be the office to the right after the drinks station?”
“Yes.”
“Then it should be the office to the left before we reach the water fountain, no?”
Athena shrugged. “Let’s just knock on both doors.”
They did. Or, at least, they tried to. Their fists hit the doors, but no knock could be heard, no vibration felt.
They tried again. They switched doors. 
“I get it,” said John. It’s like a computer application form. You can’t get to the next step before completing the previous one. Apparently, we need to make a choice.”
If Athena had had the fiery eyes in her divine abilities package, the door in front of her would surely have been reduced to a pile of ash. Instead, the goddess narrowed her eyes and her fists, then took a deep breath and slowly released the tension.
“Fine. How? Which right is the right right? Clergy! I wish these doors had numbers.”
“Wouldn’t help, the Attendant didn’t give us one. I do think you might be on to something, right is probably the important factor here. Let’s go to the next elbow in the corridor, come back, and knock on the door to the right.”
He was about to join action to word, but Athena held him in place.
“Wait. Toward which should we go? To the elbow where the office would be on the right after the ‘drinks station’, or the one where it would be on the right before the ‘water fountain’? And which way is which?”

For all the myriads of ways you may buy Incoherent Gods and the other books of the Gods Inc. Series click here 



mercredi 7 novembre 2018

FATE

A short story from the Gods Inc. Universe

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With a trembling hand, Lika traced the letters engraved in the door: “BACCH’S”. At long last, he had arrived.
His birth, his sickness, his pain, the tortuous treatment, the ostracism from his peers, all had conspired to bring him here. To amass the necessary funds for the astronomical teleportation fee, he had spent ten horrible years of arduous toil punctuated by the sporadic kicks of elephants in the granite quarries of Siruvalai.
Two hours earlier, he had finally set foot in the wondrous city that was Atlantis. He hadn’t taken the time to admire its marvels. He had gone directly to his seedy hotel to change into his best suit, also seedy, before running here.
He pushed the door. The low-ceilinged room was jam-packed, hazy with smoke, the noise deafening. He made his way to the bar, where he found a free stool. He sat down and looked around. He was miffed that this legendary establishment, of which he had heard so many tales, looked like any other.
Not that he had frequented such places often, but apart from the maelstrom of colors created by the enameled brick walls, the shimmering fabrics and the miniature altars disseminated all around, the rest seemed ordinary. Small tables, wobbly chairs, and an elongated bar that protruded from the back and divided the space in two. Inside the gleaming wood fortress, good-looking girls were busily serving drinks under the watchful eyes of Bacchus; around its periphery, clients were getting steadily drunker.
At least they were peculiar. One wore a plumed helmet and brandished a huge hammer at regular intervals. Another was relaxing, floating a meter above the counter. In front of Lika, a monstrous woman (it was hard to be sure, what with the elephant skin and the tortoise-like face, but the enormous breasts trying to escape the décolleté were a clue) winked at him sexily. He ordered a whisky to regain his composure.
He drank and saw her through the bottom of the glass. Her blue skin, her six arms, her golden ornaments and her nudity defied the thickness of the crystal. His country’s statues hadn’t lied. He had found his patron, the goddess that had presided over his birth, Kali.
He took a last sip of courage and got up. A few feet from her, the alcohol evaporated and he lost his resolve. Two clients were playing a game of dice at a table beside him. He dropped into the third chair and asked if he could join the game.
“We’ve already started this one,” answered the kindly old man. “But you can play the next round.”
His thick beard, as white as the aureole of his hair, didn’t hide his smile. Only the fact that he was wearing a long white nightgown, adorned with what seemed to be small pink flowers, suggested that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill patriarch.
His opponent was weirder. His skin was red, bright enough to compete with a wedding sari. A thin goatee elongated his chin. His black hair, greased back, revealed two small horns growing on his forehead, and the furry end of his tail would smooth it back from time to time. His clothing was just as incongruous: his tight shirt was covered in purple sequins and his assorted pants seemed to be made out of cellophane (luckily opaque). A long cape, black as night, completed the ensemble.
Lika thought he had heard about these two immortals, but to avoid any faux pas, he tried to start a round of introductions: “My name is Lika.”
“We know,” replied the red one without reciprocating.
He threw a six, a three and a five.
“What are the rules?” asked Lika.
“You must throw triples,” explained the Old Man. “The highest one wins, but the other has another throw to nullify or beat it.”
He threw two threes and a two. The other one threw two fours and a five.
Blue hands laid themselves on Lika’s shoulders. He turned slowly, dumbstruck. Kali, radiant with beauty, had approached him from behind. To give himself time to regain the use of his speech, he handed her a pen and a pad in that universal gesture of submission meaning: “Give me your autograph, PLEASE.”
Keeping one hand on his shoulder, Kali smiled, took the pad and signed. He read what she had written under her signature: “Be careful, these two have taken you in charge.”
Confused, he looked back at her. She sighed.
“If you had come to me first,” she said in a gentle voice, “I could have helped you. But you sat with them, and now they are playing for your soul. If the old man wins, your suffering will be… shortened, and you will go to heaven. If the other one wins, you will be cured and live for a long time, but there will be a price…”
She left him in suspense, returning to her table at the back of the room.
The old man threw two fives and a six.
The other one, predictably, threw a triple six. Lika felt a surge of joy.
“Hou! I won!” exclaimed the red being, jumping out of his chair. “I won! Gna-gnan!”
He pulled out his tongue, which stopped one centimeter away from the old man’s nose.
Lika felt a shiver run down his spine.
The red being started to gyrate in a bizarre dance: he slid while going backwards; he made his tail spin with one hand while grabbing his crotch with the other. And finally, he squeaked a little cry and lifted his hand, now covered by a sparkling white glove, high up in the air. The old man shrugged.
“I still have a turn left, stupid.”
The other froze for a moment, then exhaled loudly.
“Crap!” he said, sitting back down.
The old man plunged his blue eyes into Lika’s, right down to the soul. The moment stretched into an eternity.
 He threw three eights.

samedi 1 septembre 2018

Incoherent Gods - now available for pre-order






Hercules, guardian of the Lemuria Zoo, has a big problem: the Zoo’s divine animals have been going crazy. To make things worse, Queen Louhi, the CEO of Gods Incorporated, has just arrived for her yearly visit… with a new fiancé in tow (along with his yenta-minded grandfather Jupiter). Of course, the fact that Hercules is desperately in love with her doesn’t help his plight in any way whatsoever.
 
His attempt to cover up the situation quickly blows up in his face and they finally realize the animals’ madness is caused by artificial means. Cue in the bodiless god Mimir, who reveals that the real target of the mind-altering poison is Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

And if the Tree loses its cohesion, then so will the barriers between the worlds, crumbling the foundations of reality. Who in gods’ names could be crazy enough to want to do something like that?

https://www.russogabriele.com/buy-the-books

jeudi 2 août 2018

WHAT THE *&?%$#@ IS SATIRICAL FANTASY?


Whenever I tell someone (be it excitedly or with false modesty) that I am now a published author, that my third book is coming out this fall (save the date folks – great Christmas present for everyone in the family), always comes that question:
“What kind of books do you write?”
It comes even before “What is the title of your book?” In a way, that’s perfectly all right, there’s only so much you can deduce from a title. I mean, Incompetent Gods could be about anything, fiction or non-fiction: a tsunami in India, the tribulations of an animist priest in Africa, the banking fiasco in Iceland… Name it, I’m sure there’s a way to blame the gods for it.
I answer, and there it is: the blank stare, the Huh?, the what the *&?%$#@ is Satirical Fantasy? I guess I could be condescending and say that it’s Fantasy mixed with Satire, but most of the time, the person I’m talking to is smart enough to have gotten that. No, I think they just don’t quite understand how the two genres can blend together. So I give the Terry Pratchett/Douglas Adams reference, but sadly, in the United States and Canada, they are not the literary idols they should be.
If I have more time, I try to explain: “It takes place in a world that is different than ours, and in poking fun at its society’s quirks, actually points out the absurdities of our own.” I personally feel it’s a pretty good explanation, but it doesn’t seem to help, the blank stare is still there (despite the ardent nodding accompanying the fixed smile).
And I have to ask myself: why is that? In a way, this mix is almost as old as the written word. If we remember the Ancient Greeks more for their tragedies, they wrote just as many comedies, and the most constant thing you can say about their plays is that the fantastic was always involved somehow. Even at the birth of European literature we find examples of it: Aesop’s Fables led to the stories of Reynard (a multilingual corpus of fables that pits a malicious talking fox against medieval society). Later Rabelais shook the world with his giants Gargantua and Pantagruel. In modern times, the genre crossed the channel and gave us Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm.
These books are all well known, great classics of literature even, so what is it about Satirical Fantasy that bothers people to the point of having difficulty acknowledging its existence?
First, let me specify that none of the aforementioned novels was ever classified as such. Usually, they were stuffed in an uncomfortable category, like Gulliver’s Travels – and its almost savage satire of British contemporary society – finding itself in children’s literature… And yet, they all make use of the fantastic (gods, monsters, sorcerers, talking beasts, magic, giants, Lilliputians, fairies, and so on), they all make you laugh, and, most importantly, they can all make you think (if you feel so inclined).
Of course, it doesn’t help that the term Satirical Fantasy is not official. Most Satirical Fantasy novels are classified in opposition to heroic High Fantasy (which is inherently hostile to laughter), and so dubbed Low Fantasy – a derogatory term if I ever heard one – or Humorous Fantasy. This last actually works quite well as a classification (maybe I should use it – make my life simpler), but feels a little too large and vague.
Satire is not quite comedy. While it is often confused with parody or pastiche, it is fundamentally different: if they are meant as funny imitations of a (usually) more serious work, satire aims to be an ironic parody of society itself. It exposes the difference between man as he is and man as he should be, and can be tragic in its humor. This brings us back to our main issue: if satire is meant to laugh at our society, our institutions, how can it be layered onto Fantasy?
The problem stems from the many misconceptions that plague Fantasy and Science Fiction. Both genres are usually considered with disdain as paraliterature, or mere fluff, and while sometimes this reputation is fully deserved (there is plenty of mind-bogglingly bad fantasy out there), many authors have managed to rise above it to give us thought provoking, beautifully written prose.
However, the most important thing people forget about Science Fiction and Fantasy is that the worlds they present are meant to be transcendent images of our own. They can help apprehend reality, pierce through its illusions. Like Tolkien posited, Fantasy is in fact about simple, fundamental things, but these banalities are valorized by their environment. Another advantage is that if the inhabitants of these other dimensions have the same moral and spiritual concerns as we do, these can be more clearly defined, making the necessity for a solution more vital. In building a world, writers of fantasy study questions that have preoccupied political philosophers since the dawn of organized society.
Think of the incredibly complex universe of the Dune series (to my taste, the best mix of Fantasy and Science Fiction ever written). Jumping across large spans of time, Frank Herbert explores one salvation after the other (creating systems that are often eerily familiar), then debunks each one, extrapolating its end or eventual limit. He shows us that maybe there is no single or simple solution; that we are doomed to always be searching for what will inevitably become a temporary fix-up.
When you think about Fantasy that way, then adding Satire to it doesn’t seem as far-fetched. What’s more, irony, far from invalidating Fantasy, adds dimension to the often over-simplistic ethical commentary of the genre, bringing it closer to real human preoccupations. And in return, Fantasy, with its intense moral aspects, allows the critic to address issues at a more profound level.
Satire coupled with Fantasy brings us to the realization that no matter what world a sapient being inhabits, life remains a constant source of frustration, tragic ridicule, and comic absurdity. Through that Other’s eyes, you can turn preconceptions around: the impossible becomes logical, logic reveals its absurdity, and the absurd suddenly seems familiar. 
Turn evil into ridicule, and it disappears; evil has its pride. Laughter destroys fear and veneration, but it needs, and creates, familiarity. To make you laugh, the writer of Satiric Fantasy must anchor the imaginary in reality. And herein, perhaps, lies the problem: is Satirical Fantasy too real? Realer even than reality? Does it touch a nerve?
Fantasy is free-form, and in that mirror image of infinite possibilities, the reflection Satire shows us can be difficult to accept.

Brave enough to peek? Here are a few suggestions:
      Terry Pratchett – All the novels of Discworld
      Tom Holt – Pretty much everything
      Douglas Adams – the Dirk Gently books
(The Hitchhiker series is wonderful too, but more Sci-fi than Fantasy)
            And, of course, Yours Truly – The Gods Inc. series.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Mikhaïl Bakhtine, Esthétique et théorie du roman.
John M. Bullit, Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire.
Andrew Butler, Theories of Humor, in Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Litterature. 2nd Edition.
Jean R. Sheidegger, Le Roman de Renart ou le texte de la derision.
Ann Swinfen, In Defense of Fantasy. A study of the genre in English and American litterature since 1945.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf. Including the poem Mythopoeia.

vendredi 4 mai 2018

An Excerpt from Inclement Gods






Olympus
Two thousand years ago
  
Minutes from the meeting affectionately dubbed:
“Oh Us! Will it ever end?”
  
“Let’s kill’em all!” yelled Mars, presiding in lieu of Jupiter.
Ahura-Mazda sighed wearily. These young gods were exasperating, and now that the meeting was in its fiftieth year, there were always a few standing in for their elders. Mars, always hot under the helmet, was one of the worst.
He smoothed his long curly beard, rose and rearranged his silken robes. “How many times must we explain this? We tried that before. Does the Deluge ring a bell? And now we’re back to square one. There has got to be a better way.”
“Not to mention how much work it was,” said Vishnu, playing with his nose ring. “Exhausting! All that rain… and then having to recreate everything.”
“Well, I for one wouldn’t mind getting a good storm on,” said Thor. “It would be more interesting than this meeting.”
“You gods do what you want with your humans.” Inti’s sun-disk crown of feathers was disarrayed from shaking his head so much. “My believers are still faithful, and no one is dumping a shitload of water on their heads.
“How long do you think that’s going to last?” asked Mwari kindly. “We’re well isolated, both of us, but sooner or later this plague of disbelief will spread.”
“Not to mention that Yahweh fellow,” said Amun with aristocratic disgust. “Telling people he’s the only real one and that they should renounce us. The gall!”
“Says the god who tried it a thousand years ago,” retorted Vishnu.
“Hey, that was a disagreement with my pantheon. I never tried to encroach on any of yours.”
“What about that Science gal I keep hearing about?” wondered Thor. “Who is she?”
“I don’t think she’s a goddess,” said Ahura-Mazda, unable to repress a frown of doubt. “It’s rather a way of explaining things that doesn’t give us any credit.”
“Like those humans who says the sun would come up no matter what since the earth is round,” said Athena.
Everyone turned to look at the tall young woman in armor. She stopped playing with her long auburn braid and blushed, partly with embarrassment but also with pride (the humans in question were her worshippers).
“What? Who let them find that out?” said Inti, leaning in and staring up at her with suspicious eyes.
“So, what you’re saying is that some humans are studying phenomena and then giving us the finger?” asked Thor. “A good thunderbolt always puts that to right.”
“It’s more complicated than that,” said Ahura-Mazda. “They are questioning our power and so their belief wanes. This in turn weakens us and so reduces our influence.”
“So we’ll kill’em all!” repeated Mars. “They’ll believe in us then.”
“Who?” Athena’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “The dead ones?”
Amun stood up before Mars could reply. “Talking of death, what about Anubis’s proposition the other day? That thing about us going back to earth to live with the humans.”
“Might not these scientists interpret this move as one of weakness?” asked Inti.
“Not if we kill them all!” shrilled Mars with mounting anguish, cheeks now red under his strawberry blond peach fuzz of a beard.
“Ah yes, good idea,” said Athena. “Live with humans and piss them off so they revolt.”
Thor twirled his hammer. “How can they revolt? We’re gods.”
“Perhaps,” said Ahura-Mazda. “But we are few and they are many. Personally, I preferred Mwari’s idea about creating a new dimension, even if it does mean leaving what’s left of my believers without guidance.”
“Both ideas have merit,” said Athena, “and their faults: I think the disbelief runs too deep here for our presence to do any good. What if we tried a combination of the two?”
“You mean create a new world AND live with the humans?” Vishnu’s voice became pensive.
“No!” Mars’s whole face turned vermillion. “Killing them is the solution! A nice little blood bath… Ah! Come on!”