Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Answering Review Request: "Past, Present and Nowhere"

Glen Sheerwood asked me to review his book "Past, Present and Nowhere". It's about this pop star who writes a song saying that history is pointless and the problems this causes. I will examine plot, characters and polish and then assign a grade.

If you see a term That's Written In Caps within this review and wish to read about it, go to Tvtropes.


The conflict here is basically three people trying to convince the Protagonist, Jack Davril, to renounce his history bashing song.

I'm a history buff. I have a bachelor's degree in World History. I like the idea of basing a plot on a History Is Cool aesop and I think using a pop star as its messenger is a better idea than using some other profession, like a teacher. It's more relevant to kids. So I have some good things to say about this book.
Mr. Sheerwood has certainly done his research. That is something I appreciate.
 1. The Tolpuddle Martyrs
-A proto labor union in 19th Dorest England.
-Banished for such a grouping (technically for swearing oaths to each other for the purpose of the grouping. See, I'm learning more stuff already!)
-Inspired one of the first successful political marches in the UK

I didn't know any of this and I now I can look into them further.

2.  Steam Engine Controversy.
-Three people were involved with developing the steam engine and its applications.
-There's a "discussion" about whether or not one of them stole the idea from another.
-I looked this up and I found it interesting as well.

3. John, King of England, and other names
- "Softsword" and "Lackland".
- demonization (intentional and otherwise) of people in history by reporters and historians.
-The damage this can cause to people and family lines

There are others but those are the ones that stand out for me. All of the above are thoroughly integrated into the fabric of the story. It never feels like an Info Dump or a job for Mr.Exposition. It's like teaching through a novel instead of a textbook. It's an appealing and successful technique but it's diluted by trying to drag in other demographics.
-There's a romance between Jack and Jane that feels like Strangled By The Red String.
-There's a battle scene that feels awkward and pointless.
-There's lots of running around and avoiding a villain.

 It's a good plot but my problem is how Mr.Sheerwood goes about it. 

Considering that proving History to be relevant is the core of the story, you'd think there would be a big focus on history. Instead, it's only snippets, fun facts, sprinkles on ice cream. The biggest attraction here is a heavy-handed guilt trip.

Jack's first impression to this group is Wat scaring with sarcastic clapping and threatening him. Thus, he is predisposed to disbelieve anything they say. After that they make a poor attempt at making history personally relevant to him (This guy invented electricity which is why you can use a microphone.) and quickly transition into a guilt trip. (All these people died so you can live a better life!) Guilt doesn't work on self-absorbed teenagers who consider themselves victims.

All this time they're talking about being "on the edge of government" and that his song is "treason". They don't show him badges, paperwork, uniforms or even tell him which branch of government they supposedly work for. It's so bare-boned and pathetic that it's no wonder Jack gives them shit for it. The truth, while more improbable, at least has some meat on it.

I have several problems with the truth of this "treason" accusation. They are spoilery but for the sake of complete analysis I will go into this in full.

1. Hypocrisy
-The Other Place claims to have a higher appreciation for life because they've all died, yet they condemn an entire Line (a string of reincarnations numbering in millions) because one of them was a murderer, a suicide, or committed a vaguely defined "treason".
-Jack claims that the past doesn't matter and one should live in the present but he's lived in the past ever since his dad died of a heart attack. Also, he reaches for the memory of his dad in hard times and often flashes back to points in his memory.
-The three historical figures trying to convince Jack that History matters aren't truly interested in the past either. They're concerned about the present (people in Jack's Line, people they know and live with, dying because of him) and about the future (the people in Jack's Line that will never be born because of him).
-John's motivation for all his actions is that he is remembered as a villain when he claims he ruled as a "true king". Yet he kidnaps people, tortures them, kills them and takes great pleasure in all of this. If he wasn't evil in his previous life then he certainly is now.
2. Space Whale Aesop
Instead of saying that "history is cool" the message is undermined by several things
-Don't trash history because you're trashing your previous incarnations, i.e. yourself.
-Don't trash history because you will kill your precious incarnations, i.e. yourself.
-History is cool because your previous incarnations can give you Instant Expert status in the things they worked for.
3. Bogus Nature of the Trial
-It's a Kangaroo Court because the defendant is not present nor aware of the trial that could lead to his Cessation of Existence. I feel like the verdict was made before the court began.
-I also get the feeling that they don't care about his song. This whole "Condemnation of Lines" thing began as a solution to overcrowding. Everyone that dies goes to The Other Place and it is the same size as Earth. Thus, they condemn Lines as a means of population control. They started with murderers, then moved into suicides, and finally into "treason". I feel that eventually they will reach jaywalking.

While the book's conflict is resolved the ending is a cliffhanger. John appears at Jack's home and puts a knife to his throat. That has nothing to do with the premise. It feels like a lame The End Or Is It? A goading cliffhanger.



Jack is thoroughly unlikable. He is a self-absorbed and pretentious teenager (even if he's older than that, he sounds like it) who considers himself a victim.
-He bemoans how alone he is and how no one understands him despite legions of adoring fans and a tight friendship with his band. One member of the band is practically his brother because they've been friends since childhood and his family took Jack in after he ran away from home. They disappear from the narration once the plot proper starts.
-He likes bringing up the two months he lived on the street because he ran away from home. This leads into his mother blaming him for his father/her husband's heart attack. This is why he doesn't like history; his own history is painful.
-Also, for someone that doesn't like history he knows a good chunk about it, such as Henry VIII establishing the Church of England to annual his divorce, the basics of the British Empire, and a little bit about the Gunpower Treason. Instead of saying "History doesn't matter" he should be saying "historical people are assholes".
-When the Three Historical Figures finally come clean and tell him that they want him to renounce his song to spare the people in his Line, he can't rely on his "the past doesn't matter" excuse anymore. Instead, he says he doesn't want to look stupid. Here's the direct quote from the book. In my PDF, it's page 56

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<I looked at him. "There's no way I'm standing in front of millions of people and saying, 'sorry, made a mistake'. How stupid will I look? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
That's right. The lives of millions of people are less important than his desire to avoid looking stupid.

Jane is alright. She's the most sympathetic person here, and certainly the most honest and straightforward. I feel like there was supposed to be a Defrosting Ice Queen thing with her, but it's so minor that I feel like I'm imagining it. I enjoy the times she puts Jack in his place.

I get the sense that she's playing Good Cop Bad Cop with Wat, because he's an aggressive jerk. I can only assume friendship is the reason they're helping Cal because neither of them seem passionate about history. In the end, she's basically eye candy for Jack and he's a brute.

I don't buy that Cal is King Arthur but I'm willing to give Mr.Sheerwood a pass on this. I don't buy it because he doesn't have the trappings of King Arthur, and the difference between his "real" life and his myth is a key sticking point in his character.

Likewise for the minor historical characters like Robin Hood and Cu Culian. After being dead for hundreds or thousands of years, and living up through history to the modern era, Character Development is inevitable. However, I still find it odd that they would commit suicide because King Arthur says so.


There are no spelling or grammar errors.

This story is written in first person narration. At first I like this because Jack has a strong and distinctive personality. In fact, when I was on the fence about reviewing this book, reading his narration in the amazon preview pushed over into the "review it" side. However, the more I read the more I came to dislike his narration. There's so much whining, and bitching, and hypocrisy, that the story itself became difficult to finish.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Past, Present and Nowhere" a D-

Click here for the next review Request: Blood for Gold: The Fatal Tome

Click here for the previous review request: "From Fairies and Creatures of the Night, Guard Me"

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