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Heart of Stone, Denny DeMartino

January 11, 2017

heart_of_stoneHeart of Stone, Denny DeMartino (2001)
Review by Ian Sales

Philipa Cyprion used to be the emperor of Earth’s astrologer, but she fled the planet, and her job, after the murder of her husband, who had also worked for Emperor Theo. Now she’s been called back, because one of the emperor’s sons (has has over a hundred children) has been murdered, and the emperor thinks Cyprion, with her science of “the interplanetudes”, can solve the crime. To this end, he pairs her with a Terrapol detective called Artemis Hadrien – despite the name, he is male. Details of Prince Lundy’s murder suggest a link to the Waki’el, an alien race with which Emperor Theo is allied. In fact, he has such close ties to the Waki’el that he has a half-Waki’el daughter… And she becomes the next victim.

The Waki’el are humanoid, and either blue or cranberry-coloured (DeMartino seems confused as to what colour cranberries are), possess some sort of sternum ridges, and visible within the cage they form, an external heart. The female Waki’el also produce an addictive drug called “honey” in glands in their mouths when sexually aroused. Some of them produce an even more potent form of this substance, called “amber”. These last belong to a different caste to the ruling Waki’el, although they are born among them.

The plot of Heart of Stone is tied up in both the science of astrology as practiced by Cyprion and the life-cycle of the alien Waki’el. It’s all something to do with zero-point energy, or “creation energy”, and photons and the speed of light in this dimension and an alternate dimension where souls go when people die, and from where they are reincarnated… but the Waki’el apparently have a direct connection to that dimension. Except the current Waki’el leadership have been trying to take control of the zero-point energy, or something, by fitting “quantum pacemakers” to their external hearts, in order to extend their lives. They’ve been assisted in this by “balloon heads”, who are the super-intelligent but profoundly disabled results of humanity wanting “to see how a human fetus would form while stranded for nine months in the creation energy” (p 114). Also involved in the conspiracy is the emperor’s “executioner”, Cornelius Paul. The dead prince and princess were just collateral damage in the plot to seize control of the zero-point dimension and the Earth. Or something.

Cyprion and Hadrien learn all this during a visit to Arif, the Waki’el home world, in the Pleiades Star System (DeMartin probably means “star cluster”. They have travelled to Arif with Paul, although they are at pains to point out they are acting under the direct orders of Emperor Theo. Unfortunately, this seems to cut very little ice with the various people Cyprion and Hadrien interview… and their eventual stumbling onto the solution is more the result of Cyprion’s wild theorising on creation energy, the way in which the Waki’el interact with it, and the “tachyon pacemakers” designed and built by one of the Waki’el chief priests…

As if Heart of Stone‘s failure as a crime novel, and its frankly confusing science-fictional world-building, weren’t enough… DeMartino chose to make Cyprion British, and the Britishisms she uses throughout the novel are all… wrong. I can’t even tell if it’s done as a joke, they’re so completely tin-eared:

“… If I get the chance, I’m going to give the little bramble bunny a piece of me mind.”
“A piece of me mind?”
“And that’s another thing. Don’t go braying about me accent. I’m from East London. Get used to it.” (p 6)

Rhyming slang is used quite often in dialogue – and it’s often wrong, or a phrase you very rarely hear:

“… So, tell me. Which dustbin lids were they?”
“Dustbin lids?”
“Dustbin lids – kids,” I said. (p 11)

“Have you ever seen so many bobbies in one place, going about their trade like it weren’t nothing?”
Bobbies was short for Bob Hope which rhymed with dope. (p 138)

Some other British terms are mis-used – a “johnnie”, for example, is not a toilet…

“… so I hid in the johnnie for a while…” (p 19)

… “wank” is certainly not

I didn’t distract him by replying. It wasn’t so much because I didn’t want him wanking Hadrien but more because my brain had swerved into overdrive like a Rolls-Royce driven by a spoiled princess. (p 133)

I smelled his musky odor. It threatened to make me wank, but I held in the nausea, sitting back quickly. (p 161)

Some more mangled Britishisms – I suspect “tiddlywink” is supposed to be drink…

I polished off the rest of my tiddlywink before standing up (p 163)

… but the phrase is definitely “bread and butter”…

… no astrologer worth his bread and jam would say (p 175)

… and it’s “birthday suit”, but not “pony trap”…

“How dare you invade me privacy? I’m in me friggin’ fancy suit … if you ever come into me space uninvited again, I’ll rip off your Tommy Rollocks at the root and stuff them up your pony trap (p 177)

And even verbs get misused – Hadrien will have been grassed up… and…

I had a feeling that Hadrien had been grassed by one of the boys at Terrapol. (p 76)

I’d say Cornelius Paul is crapped up in the brain (p 188)

“Brahms and Liszt” means drunk…

“Are you telling us that Zebrim Hast has fed us a load of Brahms and Liszt?” (p 190)

And “septic tank” is rhyming slang for Yank, not the reverse…

” … it stinks like an overflowing yank in here,” I muttered (p 202)

As for the rules of cricket…

… and we found ourselves offside at the cricket match (p 205)

Philipa Cyprion is without a doubt the most unconvicing British character I have ever read in a book, and that’s in a story which itself doesn’t convince, set on a late twenty-third century Earth which doesn’t convince, and in prose in which all the cultural references are mid- to late-twentieth century, like Elvis Presley and Adolf Hitler…

A sequel to Heart of Stone, titled Wayward Moon, appeared in the same year as the first book. DeMartino had previously published a near-future urban fantasy quintet under her real name, Denise Vitola.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. adamrobertswriter permalink
    January 11, 2017 1:07 pm

    Oh … my.

  2. January 11, 2017 3:33 pm

    Hi Ian

    My wife and I read Vitola’s Ty Merrick Mystery series Quantum Moon etc and thought it was okay. Certainly Ty Merrrick was more interesting than a lot of the werewolf themed characters you see now with such an emphasis on glamour inspired romances like Twilight. I will have to take another look with a more critical eye.

    There were a lot of howlers/oddities in the dialog you provided, some of the most stilted I have seen in some time.

    Regards
    Guy

    .

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