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Review: A Transcendental Habit – James Callan

A Transcendental Habit - James Callan

Genre: Sci-Fi, Paranormal

Reviewer: Ulysses

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About The Book

Palindrome is a sprawling, sordid, mega-metropolis populated by roborgs, shapeshifers, holographic kids, and rats the size of Labradors. Among its myriad of destitute city-dwellers is Jarred, a down-and-out nobody whose tedious existence amplifies into an ultra-bizarre escapade after meeting Bee, an alluring enigma loaded with bionic upgrades and brimming with Squidge, a coveted drug new to the black market that enhances anything it touches. With Bee by his side and Squidge in his system, Jarred savors a newfound zest for life. But when the founder of Squidge, an unhinged zealot corporate mogul, becomes the target of Bee’s obsessive need for revenge, Jarred finds himself immersed in a violent feud between ex-lovers who have the power to save or destroy the world.

Originally from Minnesota, James Callan is a writer and fulltime father living on the Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand. His short fiction has appeared in various literary journals and several print anthologies. His first novel, Neon Dreams, was published in 2021.

The Review

So, this is kind of not my thing; but so very good, it’s impossible to resist. James Callan gives us a dystopian, paranormal sci-fi Lord of the Rings, in a world uncomfortably familiar in all the wrong ways.

Jarred (whose name we don’t get for quite a while), is wandering around his truly disgusting home down – called Nyvyn, but known ironically (sarcastically?) as Palindrome – or various other nicknames that I won’t repeat here. 

Jarred runs into a gorgeous, mysterious man with a sword and a bionic eye who we learn, eventually, is called Bee. I want to tell you about Bee, and why Jarred falls for him, but I can’t, because it would sort of ruin the surprise of the whole book. Let’s just say Bee is pretty magnetic, both in terms of looks and personality. Charismatic? Sure. But also short-tempered and prone to violence. 

Jarred meets Bee’s sister Lily, and her, um, friend, which is inadequate as a description. Their name is Azalea Ren, known as Ren. I can’t tell you anything more about them either, because spoilers. 

Bee is rich, and rich for a very good reason. His crazy violent ex is responsible for both the wealth and the bionic eye. Jarred, as I said, falls for Bee, and having not much of a life to abandon, abandons his to follow Bee, Lily and Ren on a sort of road trip, Mission Impossible, Fellowship of the Ring kind of escapade. It is dark (emotionally and physically), disgusting, dangerous, and also rather fun. It is unlike anything I’ve ever read. 

Callan’s text is edgy, hip, wryly funny, manic, and oddly poetic. His use of words can be heavy-handed, but also striking, clever, and visually powerful (see: poetic and disgusting). He really brings the characters to life, and, as their journey into the even more repulsive underworlds of Palindrome unrolls, gives us a wide, appalling view of life on this planet. It is not just a story; it is a cautionary tale.

Jarred, the narrator, is slightly detached from it all, yet caught up in his growing feelings for this bizarre found-family situation. “Never before had I felt a part of a family. Felt a type of love that didn’t come from [expletive].” For all his cynical narration, here is the emotional heft that carries the reader into the story. Even in dystopia, there can be joy. 

Now, I am an old gay man, with a life-partner of 47 years. I am all about romance and happy-ever-afters. This is very dark for me. Jarred is not, at core, sympathetic to me as I am. That, however, didn’t keep me from enjoying this book on every single page. Even when it was gross. 

Like I said, it’s not my jam. But if it’s your jam, it’s very sweet indeed.

5 Stars.

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City.