Scott M. Sandridge

A Work in Progress

SpecMusicMuse Double Whammy – Review of Unburning Alexandria plus an Interview with Paul Levinson

Got a nice two-in-one special for y’all today: a review of Paul Levinson’s new book, Unburning Alexandria, plus an interview with the great Lev, himself, an author who has been a mentor to many among both the big and small press. So, without further ado, on with the show!

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SpecMusicMuse Review—Unburning Alexandria by Paul Levinson

I spent the past few days trying to figure out how to write this review without sounding like a gushing fanboy. Post-biopsy, I’m no longer worried about anything that involves the word, “gushing.” And as for the fanboy part, I finally decided, “Screw it. Who cares if I sound like one?”

Those who’ve read my review of The Plot to Save Socrates, the book which Unburning Alexandria is the sequel of, knows how much I liked it. Well, Unburning Alexandria by Paul Levinson is one of those extremely rare sequels that end up better than its predecessor. It could be because it’s the second part of a pre-planned trilogy, and we all know how much better the “middle” part of a larger story can be (Cough! *The Empire Strikes Back* Cough!), or it could simply be because it’s just that damn good.

In Unburning Alexandria, our time-travelling heroine, Sierra Waters, disguises herself as Hypatia in order to save as much of the knowledge that got lost when the Library of Alexandria got burned down as she can. Any history buff knows that Hypatia didn’t have a pleasant end, so already the reader is presented with the question of “How is Sierra gonna’ get herself out of that mess(pun intended)without significantly altering history and causing those damnable paradoxes? And with the scrolls to boot?”

That situation, alone, would be worthy of the title, blockbuster, if this were a movie. But there’s also her arch-nemesis, Heron, to deal with—who has personal motivations of his own to insure the secrets in the library meet their untimely demise—as well as a few time-shattering (hehehe) plot twists for her to deal with as well. Like with the last book, you get acquainted with quite a few historical figures of the time period, none of whom get treated as cardboard cutouts, and all of whom have integral roles in the story as opposed to merely making “cameo appearances.”

This book will keep you turning the page from start to finish, twisting your brain like a paradox pretzel while keeping the action hot and heavy (and in a couple scenes, steamy!). If you didn’t fall in love with Sierra in the first book, you will in this one. Indeed, every character, even Heron, has qualities about them that make them worth caring for. Long story short, Unburning Alexandria is by far the best time travel story I’ve ever read. Levinson manages to navigate his way around the paradoxes like a seasoned pro, almost as if he, himself, has travelled through time….

Nah. Can’t be….

Can it?

Best to read while listening to: Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy, with a smidgen of the soundtrack to Gladiator.

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SpecMusicMuse—Interview With Paul Levinson

What sparked the idea for The Plot to Save Socrates and Unburning Alexandria?

The Plot to Save Socrates came from my dissatisfaction with the story in The Crito, in which Plato has Socrates refusing Crito’s good offer to escape Athens and its death sentence of hemlock.  I know that had I been sentenced to death by a corrupt government – democracy or otherwise – I would have been on that boat out of Athens in a New York minute!  Humanity as a whole, and mine in particular, come before any government.

In writing The Plot to Save Socrates, I hit up another part of history – the burnings of the Ancient Library of Alexandria – that I wanted to undo.   The loss to humanity of those manuscripts – more than half of Aristotle’s works alone – is immeasurable.  This seemed like a good problem for Sierra Waters, my time traveler, to jump into.

Where’d you get the idea for an awesome character like Sierra Waters? Also, how did you come up with her name?

I always wanted to have a woman protagonist – the heroes of my other novels are all male – and a graduate student in classics seemed like a good place to find her.  I came up with her name as follows:  someone by the name of Sierra Phillips wrote a great review of my first novel, The Silk Code.  I really liked that name.  But I wanted something a little more eternal and flowing through time.  Hence: Sierra Waters.

Time travel stories can get pretty complex. How did you keep all the paradoxes from unraveling the time-space continuum while you were writing the book?

In my first draft, I just write wherever the plot takes me.  But when I go over that draft, I get focused like a laser on making sure all of those loops and twists in the space-time continuum hold up to logical scrutiny.   On the one hand, time travel may well be impossible precisely because of all of those paradoxes at every turn.  On the other hand, if you’re going to write time travel, you’ve got to respect them and give some sort of rational explanation for the events in your story. Stories that ignore the paradoxes or just give them lip service leave me cold.  I tried to better in Socrates and Alexandria.

I have this feeling Sierra’s story isn’t yet over….

No, it isn’t.  I’m writing her third novel right now.  All I can tell you that there will be some changes in the world based on what she’s done in the first two novels.  And there will likely be a part that takes place in the Renaissance.

So, in addition to being a university professor and an author, you also do music. Anything cool out?

Donny Frankel, who played organ and accordion on my original 1972 Twice Upon a Rhyme album, has teamed up with Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) to form a new band called Sundial Symphony.  They’ve recorded two songs from Twice Upon a Rhyme – “Looking for Sunsets (in the Early Morning)” and “Today Is Just Like You” – both written by me, and I’ve released the first on my record label HappySad Records.  Twice Upon a Rhyme and the new Sundial Symphony recording are both on iTunes. The new “Today Is Just Like You” will be there soon.  And there’s a great new Sundial Symphony video of “Looking for Sunsets” which will be up on YouTube by the time everyone reads this.

Anything readers need to know that hasn’t already been covered above?

I’m also writing my fourth Phil D’Amato novel, in which weather is used as a weapon, and my third Phil D’Amato novel, The Pixel Eye, will be published as an ebook by JoSara MeDia any day now.  My first two Phil D’Amato novels – The Silk Code and The Consciousness Plague – are already available as ebooks. If any reads these and has any questions, I’m on Goodreads, Twitter – as PaulLev – and all the good online places.

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Paul Levinsons’s novel The Silk Code won the Locus Award for Best First Novel of 1999, and was published as an “author’s cut” Kindle edition in 2012.  His other science fiction and mystery novels include Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002, 2013), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006; author’s cut Kindle 2012;  Entertainment Weekly called it “challenging fun”), and Unburning Alexandria (2013). His short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards.  Nine nonfiction books, including  The Soft Edge (1997), Digital  McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009, 2nd edition 2012) have been the subject of major articles in the New York TimesWired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Polish, and eight other languages. He appears from time to time on MSNBC, Fox News (“The O’Reilly Factor”), The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, NPR, BBC Radio  and other TV and radio programs – he likes talking just as much as writing. He’s also a songwriter, and has been in several bands over the years – one had two records out on Atlantic Records in 1960s.  His 1972 album Twice Upon a Rhyme (on HappySad Records) was re-issued on CD by Beatball/Big Pink Records in 2009, and on re-pressed vinyl by Whiplash/Sound of Salvation Records in 2010. He was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10  Academic Twitterers” in 2009, and review the best of television on his Infinitte Regress.tv blog and on Starpulse. Last but not least: he have a PhD in Media Theory from New York University and is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City.

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February 11, 2014 - Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , ,

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