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It's difficult to know what to make of Robert S. Taylor's "Artifacts". Published by self-publisher extraordinaire, XLibris, the tome costs nearly 50% more than a standard trade paperback, but price is not always an indicator of quality, is it? The cover is a crude, crayon drawing of a clawed hand, an ankh and a scary serpent, the sort of graphic you might find scrawled on a high-school student's notebook. The content of the book is the kind of thing you might find in the garbage can next to the slush-pile reader's desk in a real publishing house.
The story concerns Brian Miller, an archaeologist who has "graduated and has a degree and all", but makes a practice of slipping small artifacts in his shirt pockets, instead of leaving them in situ and cataloging them properly. Miller then inexplicably leaves the dig site to go home to New Orleans and visit with his chums, taking the ankh and some other purloined items with him.
Miller's chums, Lewis, whose lifestyle "allowed him to enjoy an unbelievable social life and the love of many women", and quiet Eric, are an odd pair who hurl hateful insults at one another and then claim to be only joking.
Before long, the magical, stolen objects start wreaking havoc before releasing the demon Lilith into our universe and the streets of New Orleans, forcing the three pals to join together and battle it out with the forces of evil.
The book is full of unintentional screamers and horrible dialog. Taylor, 23 when he wrote the book, writes like a Gen Xer speaks, without concern for the rules of grammar or punctuation. The plot is simplistic and full of filler; Taylor wants to write about the funny things he and his buddies used to say to each other more than he wants to tell a supernatural tale.
In one bewildering scene, an Algerian worker from the archaeological dig site, seeking revenge both for being fired and for the theft of the ankh, follows Miller onto the New Orleans-bound plane with an attaché-case full of explosives. Rather than detonate the bomb while airborne, which would at least kill Miller, the fellow waits until the plane lands, leaves the case behind, then tries to escape the blast by running and shoving people out of the way.
Moments later, after the nearly-empty plane has exploded, maintenance workers (MAINTENANCE WORKERS - investigating an airplane explosion?) discover the remains of a passenger seated on the plane with pieces of the detonator all over him. Neat trick, considering he would have been incinerated and it would have taken FAA investigators weeks to piece it together. Oh, yeah. He also had just escaped the plane by running and shoving people out of the way.
Upon release from her interdimensional prison, the demon-mother Lilith heads straight for Bourbon Street, where she lives it up with a passel o' Pina Coladas (she doesn't have to pay - she just hypnotizes the bartender) at a strip club, then sets up shop in an adult entertainment center. Ahem.
During the course of the story, one of the intrepid heros changes into a bright orange dragon, Brian Miller crumbles to dust and a kindly old professor keels over in a death scene so funny you'll have to read it twice to make sure it's as bad as you think it is.
There's a cyborg, too, but it makes my head hurt just to think about it.
On the one hand, I applaud Robert S. Taylor for having the fortitude to sit down and actually write 300 or so pages of fiction. That takes motivation and integrity. But to publish it as is, without bothering to edit, is both presumptious and deceptive. At least when one buys a professionally published novel, one has the expectation that the book will have been read by more than the author's immediate family and that someone might have tried to make the book readable. With the emerging world of self-publishing, we have no such safeguards.
"Artifacts" is a stinker of the first degree.