Tag Archives: Canadian authors

The Thought Dial By Canadian Author Paul Vitols Tells A Typical Tail, But Encoded Beneath Is A Mysterious Message For Those Capable Of Reading Between The Lines


Review by: KEN KORCZAK

As soon as I read the last sentence of THE THOUGHT DIAL an image of William Blake’s painting, “Newton,” popped into my mind. I replied to the chummy little daemon who likes to communicate by sending pictures into my brain: “Yes, that’s it. I see what you mean.”

Newton, by William Blake

I’ll explain this in a bit, but first take a look at Blake’s painting which I have posted here to the right.

Now I’ll fill you in briefly about this short story by Canadian writer PAUL VITOLS. On the outside it would appear to be a classic coming of age story featuring a pimply-faced teenage boy grappling with all the common elements of the strife and struggle of that age.

John Pulkis is in love with the girl who sits next to him in science class. He wants to ask her out but is mortified at the prospect of getting shot down. He comes up with a plan for a way to leverage his proposition – and I don’t want to give away too much – so I’ll just say a key element of this leveraging tactic goes awry.

He then develops a highly scientific strategy to solve this problem.

John Pulkis is enamored with hard-core material science. One of his idols is ultimate rationalist and noted skeptic, the late astronomer Carl Sagan. John also likes to noodle away on complex math equations in his spare time, such as massaging the Drake Equation, a probabilistic argument that predicts the likelihood of life in the universe.

But John’s scientific plan fails utterly. And then, something strange happens. The perfect solution to his problem falls spontaneously into his lap from an unlikely and unscientific source – in fact, not just unscientific — but an airy-fairy, New Agey, paranormal kind of trick that would make a “real scientist” gag!

And yet the hocus-pocus happens to work beautifully where the mighty reductionist scientific method failed!

Okay, so I’ll stop there except to also remind the reader that a lot of other stuff happens in this yarn as well. There’s more delightful fun than there is science, actually. For example, John is really into the Doobie Brothers and Elton John. (Obviously he was 16 around the same time I was in the mid-1970s). He goes to dance parties, has friends, an annoying sister.

Now here’s the thing: I read all the other reviews of the Thought Dial posted on Amazon and Goodreads. It seems that not a single person caught on to what this story is really about. They all took it for its surface value, that is, the story of a teenage boy working through a simple plot involving an attempt to solve a problem and get a date with a girl.

But the author’s choice of title should have given everyone pause. Sure, the actual encounter with The Thought Dial is just a few paragraphs and seems incidental, but it’s at the crux of the story.

To explain why, I now I return to Blake’s unusual painting of Isaac Newton.

William Blake

Blake was an English poet, painter, and print maker, but he was also a mystic who throughout his life was subject to fantastic visions. He saw angels in farm fields hovering over workers, apparitions, demi-gods, nature spirits, elementals. He could communicate with dead people.

Blake was one of the last true hermeticists – his kind were being drive out of existence by men of hard science. The ultimate personification of the rational, empirical scientist is Isaac Newton. Blake understood this and so created the oddest depiction of Newton ever painted.

In Blake’s painting, Newton is portrayed as a man mesmerized by measurement – even while his own physical body appears inextricably intertwined with nature. Blake saw the mindset of scientific inquiry as, “reductive, sterile, and ultimately blinding.” Blake wrote: “He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only, sees himself only.”

So, the way I see it, this is what really is going on in Paul Vitols’ story. It’s the same dynamic. John Pulkis is so taken with numbers, graphs, charts and the scientific method he has unwittingly sabotaged his own heart’s desire – the need for love. Nothing is more irrational and impossible to measure than love. Thus, what helps him move toward his goal is “supra-rational” — esoterica and magic – encountered in the form of The Thought Dial.

Okay … huh? … wait a minute … my daemon is whispering in my ear again … What? Yeah, uh-huh, yeah, yeah, hmmm, yes, I see …

Um, well, my brain critter says I should discuss that odd “bloodless” scene that John Pulkis experiences in his high school science lab. I’m afraid I must overrule my daemon in this case, however. It would be best for readers to get their own copy of this ingenious short story and discover for themselves the marvelous layers of meaning encoded and intertwined within what only appears to be a simple coming of age story.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Please see my review of another Paul Vitols story here: LOST KINGS


Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Canadian Author Luke Murphy’s Novel “Dead Man’s Hand” Is A By-The-Book Crime Thriller Worth A Read On The Beach


Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Calvin Watters is a brutal thug — in exchange for a payday, he’ll cut of a man’s finger with a tin snip or smash off a toe with a hammer. The people he works for are greedy bookies and casino owners who worship at the altar of money and power in the Bad Taste Capital of the World, Las Vegas.

But not to worry, Calvin Watters is the hero of this crime thriller and his story arc will take him from angry-at-the-world punisher-for-pay to a kind of righteous, cop-friendly big ol’ Teddy Bear.

Calvin Watters shares the protagonist stage of DEAD MAN’S HAND with Las Vegas Police Department Detective Dale Dayton. He is brought into the plot when one of Vegas’ biggest casino owners is brutally murdered. It’s Dayton’s job to catch the killer.

Watters gets entangled in the whole mess when a conspiracy among conniving creeps attempts to frame him for the murder. Watters is seen a perfect fall guy — he hangs out with sleaze, lives and works on the criminal edge, has been arrested a few times — and he’s black.

There’s much to like about this tightly written, fast-paced crime thriller with an excellent plot involving greed, conspiracy and murder. The character of Calvin Watters is vividly drawn — he’s complex, dark, alienated and violent, and yet embodies a heroic aura that is engaging and charismatic.

Luke Murphy

The action scenes are well handled. The violent murders give us just enough visceral feel for their horror and brutality, but without dwelling on them overlong for prurient interest or gratuitous effect.

Author LUKE MURPHY also has a tremendous feel for Nevada’s Sin City. Murphy lives and writes out of a small town in Canada — and yet, readers will feel the hot streets of Vegas thumping out from these pages as if Murphy penned this novel while sitting on an orange crate in a dicey studio apartment with dirt streaked windows six blocks off The Strip.

It all makes for a standard, fast-paced summer-on-the-beach read that will keep you turning pages to reach to a clean, no-aftertaste denouement that wraps up in a nice bow.

I chose the descriptive word “standard” in the sentence above because there are many elements to DEAD MAN’S HAND which prevent it from rising above a rather formulaic genre novel, however. One reason is that all the supporting characters are basically cardboard cut-out props we’ve seen in thousands of crime novels, cop shows and movies.

Detective Dayton, for example, is a tough big city cop married to “The Job.” His wife has left him because he’s always working and never home. Now the only thing he has to go home to is an empty house. He mopes over his vacated marriage and buries himself in his police work to get his mind off his busted personal life. It sounds pretty familiar to me.

Carter Shaw (Deep Blue) is tough LAPD cop, wife divorced him because he was married to ‘The Job.’

Tough NYC Cop Andy Sipowicz (NYPD Blue) first wife divorced him, married to ‘The Job.’

Jimmy McNulty, tough Baltimore cop (The Wire), wife Elena divorced him because he was addicted to ‘The Job’ and booze.

 

Lt. Vincent Hanna (Heat) tough cop, twice divorced, third wife Justine frustrated with police-workaholism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: I rant in much greater detail about the cop-with-a-dead-wife-and/or-dead-marriage-issue in these two reviews:

THE ELDRIDGE CONSPIRACY

SEASON OF THE HARVEST

All the other supporting characters are strictly off-the-shelf tropes, as well. For example:

Calvin’s girlfriend comes off as a weepy daylight drab. She’s the classic ex-hooker with a heart of gold. Her personality is about as stimulating as a wax bean. Her only role is to cling to Calvin and moan about his safety, offer him sex and, I suppose,  wring her hands in her spare time.

Detective Dayton’s partner, Jimmy Mason, is an extremely standard prop — an African American good guy buddy cop with 20 years on the force and a nice wife and stable family at home. (See: Danny Glover’s ‘Roger Murtaugh’ in Lethal Weapon.)

The primary antagonist is Ace Sanders, and with a name like “Ace” you just know he is a Vegas gambling big shot. He’s driven by a lust for power and money to do a lot of bad things. We don’t know we he’s that way because we are offered no background or origin story for Ace, which makes this character flat as a taco wrapper.

Even the former U.S. Marine Corps sniper dude — now gone bad and working as a paid-for-hire assassin — comes off as a hollow stand-in because we’ve all seen this trope so many times now in books and movies.

There are other aspect of this book which rob it of that edge-of-your seat tension it might have had — but already I’ve gone on long enough and my further comments may devolve to petty bickering — so I’ll leave it there.

All in all, this book gets my recommendation, however. Despite a few drawbacks, It’s a taut-enough thriller with an adequate level of escapism and action to provide you with more than enough entertainment to make you feel like you got your money’s worth.




Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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