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Liminal States

Liminal States [Kindle Edition]

Zack Parsons
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

The debut novel from Zack Parsons (My Tank is Fight!) is a mind-bending journey through time and genres. Beginning in 1874, with a blood-soaked western story of revenge, Liminal States follows a trio of characters through a 1950s noir detective story and 21st-century sci-fi horror. Their paths are tragically intertwined and their choices have far-reaching consequences for the course of American history.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1158 KB
  • Print Length: 449 pages
  • Publisher: Citadel (27 Mar 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0063KB3B6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #312,619 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird and compelling 29 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is seriously good, but it's hard to explain why without spoilers. This is because the book is (loosely) split into three novellas, set in the 1870s, the 1950s and the 2000s - with a few short scenes in between - and discussing the last two rather gives away the mystery on which the first one rests.

I'll therefore say a bit about this first part, and then issue a warning, and you may want to look away from the rest of the review.

First, the book opens with a couple of pages which are very hard to understand, the narrative of a - what? - a "thing" of some sort but a "thing" that identifies with two men, and that seems to be giving a warning. This section was slightly offputting, my advice would be not to worry too much about it, it will make sense eventually.

So, then the story itself opens. We are in the Old West, the parched lands of New Mexico in the 1870s in the company town of Spark. We meet a sheriff. We meet the pampered son of the factory owner. And we meet the woman they both want. After a little backstory showing where each of these three came from, and why they are like they are, the rivalry spills over into robbery, revenge and a great deal of killing. It's basically a Western, but a Western with a fantastic, eerie secret at its heart, a secret that is explored through the rest of the book. The secret can give life, but those who are saved by it are changed for ever, and irreversibly so.

In the second part (look away now if you want to avoid those spoilers!) Parsons begins to explore the consequences of this. Two men dies, were reborn, and continue to be reborn: what does this mean for them, and for society around them? How can all those duplicates live?
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3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars 17 Sep 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  75 reviews
48 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astoundingly good 27 Mar 2012
By R. Farrell - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Liminal States is not so much a book so much as it is an experience, and an incredibly disturbing, thought-provoking experience at that. It is three different perspectives on a richly portrayed universe that is familiar to our own and yet progressively more bizarre without ever straying away from believability, even as it plumbs the most horrifying depths of what it means to be human. More than that, however, it is an entirely engaging puzzle, where each piece of the story falls into place with an often sinister, subtle click. Part western, part detective story, and part modern narrative, it travels each of these paths easily in entirely unique, strong voices that never falter or hit an awkward note for the duration of the book despite the most trying of situations.

It is a long, unblinking stare into something that is profoundly unsettling and alien, something more terrible than our own worst notions of hell, all described in beautiful, often sad, tragic tones.

An entire universe has been created here, introduced through song, serial, and several trailers, all of which are not necessary to enjoyment of the book but should be taken as integral parts of the experience via From the very first page, it is quite obvious that this is a labor of love on all fronts.

It is one hell of a ride.
38 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brutal, Elegant, and Annoyingly Close to Perfect 23 April 2012
By Mark Eremite - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
SUMMARY: A brutal story told through three different genres that centers around the discovery of a strange pool that can revive and duplicate any creatures that fall into it. Brilliantly realized, the novel still suffers a little from some flaws common to first-time fiction.
Parsons has written a couple nonfiction books, but this is his first fiction novel. The tale mostly concerns two men -- Warren Groves, a wild west officer with murder in his bones, and Gideon Long, a man made cruelly desperate by his wealthy father's emotional abuse. After a train robbery/childbirth gone wrong, the two men cross paths and end up discovering a sort of Fountain of Youth that has the power to revive them every time they die, and which also begins regularly producing duplicates of their past selves. As time passes, these duplicates begin to cause problems, and the true nature of the magical pool is revealed to be far more sinister than it seems.

Although I am not a big fan of Westerns, I was immediately drawn into the tale by Parsons' slick, minutely-detailed prose. His depiction of the big train robbery, for instance, enthralled me in a way few books have in recent years. Furthermore, Parsons' construction of this alternate world is so rich and fully-realized that it is truly impressive. Astounding even. The story is unique, and although the elements of it are often times bewilderingly complex, Parsons' sumptuous prose keeps the story from feeling like a chore.

Parsons does succumb to a flaw common to first-time writers of fiction: overwriting. As far as flaws go, this is the kind you WANT to have, especially if your writing is as accomplished as Parsons'. Still, the book has multiple moments where Parsons' prose seems to coil into itself, admiring its own beauty, and although the writing is, indeed, beautiful, its self-indulgent tone often detracts from the story itself. This is especially true of the very beginning of the book (which was written with such exaggerated poeticism that I shut the book and nearly did not open it again).

This leads to a second problem: there is no tension to the tale. It is masterfully told, brilliantly constructed, and vividly imagined, but there is a lack of humanity to the story. Parsons attempts to use Groves' and Long's rivalry to give juice to the character-driven aspects of the tale, but these two men are not particularly sympathetic or relatable, and their rivalry fades in import as the tale gains scope. In light of the vast richness of the story, this isn't a terribly big problem, although it does render meaningless several key elements of the book. For instance, a character named Milo makes a critical but baffling decision at the climax of the novel, irrevocably altering the shape of the story for every character. Although it is clear he made the decision for deeply emotional reasons, even the most careful of readers would have difficulty accepting or comprehending those reasons. At what should be the tensest moment of the story, there is mostly just confusion.

Parsons touches on concepts of humanity, individuality, family, love, memory, history, and power, but his tale sprawls so much that what lessons he hopes to illuminate get lost in the noise. Once again, if he'd had the talents of a more ruthless editor, he could've cut the clutter and delivered one of the greatest sci-fi novels I've ever read. Instead, there are lovingly crafted passages that seem to have little bearing on the book (transcripts of phone calls home, overlong descriptions of people navigating hidden passageways, and at least two of the most graphic and brutal scenes of cannibalism I've ever read, both of them nauseating me so much I had to stop reading for awhile). As a Lit major, of course, I can see what Parson's is trying to do, the morals or symbols he's trying to convey, but at the same time, I can also see that they're only secondary to the main thrust of his story, and therefore they slow the book down.

The second portion of the book -- written in the form of a hard-boiled detective thriller -- is the only part of the tale written from the first person point of view (that of Casper Cord, a sort of private eye). Casper's story is meant to tie together the first and third portions of the book, and although it does that in a solid way, Parsons' decision to let Cord tell the tale was distracting as well. I will reiterate: I loved Parsons' prose and admired his ability to shift and bend genres, but he dropped the ball here. Cord tries to talk like your typically noirish detective, referring to people as "palookas" and fist-fighting as "chin music," but in the next breath Casper will describe in over-lush detail a "conflagration" or "spiracle" or "ossuary" as opposed to simply saying saying "fire" or "hole" or "bone orchard."

I know I am spending far more time on the negatives than a four-star review might warrant, but that's because I was so impressed and blown away by the rest of the book that these minor complaints stood out in greater and greater detail as the pages turned. If you don't have a weak stomach, if you like complex sci-fi, and if you are a patient reader with a love of great prose over great characters, then I highly recommend this tale. I will definitely be buying Parsons' next book, and I'm hoping that a little practice and experience will have sanded away these rough spots and left Parsons' with the makings of my next favorite writer.
37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Original and Unifying Experiment 29 Mar 2012
By Rob - Published on
Liminal States is an amazing novel. It is an amazing three novels. Zack Parsons manages to explore a disparate selection of literary genres while maintaining a cohesive whole. In each book he touches on and plays with genre cliches, but they never feel tired because they're always in service to the central conceit, which is wonderfully original. Each of the three different voices works in service to the novel as a whole, and the ultimate conclusion is a product of them.

The book plays with characterization in a unique way and develops the leads across all three sections. They only become more developed and more compelling as the story moves towards its conclusion.

This is not an easy book. Things are not spoon-fed to the reader, but they are there. Working out what exactly separates this world from our own can often mean going back 10 or 20 pages, but figuring out these slight irregularities is incredibly rewarding. Reading the online prequel serial will make some things much clearer and increase appreciation of certain moments in the story.

Liminal States is an enormous undertaking, especially for a first novel, but Zack succeeds magnificently.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing 4 Nov 2013
By Ryan - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I just finished this book, and it provoked a strong reaction in me, so I have to leave a review. First of all, let me say that in my opinion, this is not a perfect book. There are some small issues I had with it, but I just didn't have the heart to give it four stars. I think it's much closer to five than four. Let me begin with the things that I personally did not like:

The single most glaring flaw to me (though this is entirely subjective and others may disagree) was Parsons' prose. It's not bad, exactly, I don't want to say that, but it did repeatedly pull me out my immersion in the story. The thing is this: even though I like literature and do a fair bit of reading, I'm a physics major, and thus I'm pretty left-brained most of the time. Unlike some artier people, who are more in tune with this sort of thing and have a better eye for it, when I read a novel, I do not generally notice the "style" of the prose. I comprehend what it says and move on, unless it strikes me as particularly graceful, as does much of Adam Smith's writing (though he didn't really write literature), as does much of Twain's writing, to name two examples off the top of my head.

With this book, though, the prose stuck out at me. The writing sort of plods along, for lack of a better term. Sentences tend to be simple, declarative statements with a single clause, with not very many commas. Perhaps "journalistic" would be a better way of describing it. I just recall many instances in which I would become distracted by the way in which a passage was written. Here's an example from the first paragraph of chapter two:

"He was barefoot. His nightshirt was soiled with blood. The same blood sheathed his face and his eyes were wild marbles in its midst [I am going to interrupt here and note that there are a LOT of people in this book whose eyes 'are marbles']. Smoke coughed from every crack of the shanty."

Now, to be fair, you could very well argue that in this particular scene, it is a stylistic choice designed to evoke the urgency of the character's situation, but this happens many times in disparate circumstances. Here's another example from chapter nine:

"He staggered to the writing desk again, opened the drawer he always locked with a key, and took out the lavender box. He could not look at it. He quickly snatched it up and shoved it into the valise. He put on a high-topped hat, denting its crown as he pushed it over his brow. He closed the bag and brought with him a bottle of Portuguese wine."

I might have written the above as: "He staggered to the writing desk again, opened the drawer he always locked with a key, and took out the lavender box. Unable to look at it, he quickly snatched it up and shoved it into the valise. After donning a high-topped hat, denting its crown as he pushed it over his brow, he closed the bag and brought with him a bottle of Portuguese wine."

All the "he...he...he..." repetition (which happens frequently) is just monotonous and jerks me out of the story. It does seem like it gets a little better as the book progresses, but the style is similar throughout. Oddly enough, this (perhaps overly) simple prose is absolutely festooned with poetic descriptors: words like umbral, azure, porcine, and many others. It's a strange contrast. Personally, I also felt like the three main characters were somewhat lightly characterized, despite the fact the we spend quite a bit of time with them by the end of the novel. I never felt like I really understood what made Warren tick, for example.

Anyway, on to the good things about the book, which far outweigh the bad. It's a very interesting concept, told in an ambitious way, and it manages to hang together admirably all the way through. There are a couple things I really like about the book. One is that he takes the concept of this pool, and then does a very good job of exploring the possible consequences, both large and small, which would come from its existence. Little bits like explaining how one character planned to use a duplicate to pose as his son so that, upon death, he could inherit his own business, or illustrating the societal tension between different factions really show me that the author put a lot of thought into this, and it really made the world believable.

Really the best thing is probably just the overall flow of the story. Pacing is good, and I think he strikes the absolutely perfect balance between withholding, on the one hand, too much information from the reader, and thus leaving everyone hopelessly confused until the end, only to lay a hundred important details on you all at once (cough, William Gibson, cough); and giving the reader, on the other hand, too much information, thus removing the mystery and suspense. Little by little, along with the characters, you will put together the clues about what is really going on with this strange pool.

I also have to single out for praise the last third of the book, the 2006 section, which quickly turns into a sci-fi/horror story, and a very good one at that. I absolutely loved this part of the book. A lot of the time, sci-fi/horror elicits the following response from me: "Cool!" This story, however, was mainly just genuinely creepy and extremely icky (on that note, I doubt anyone on this page is very squeamish, but be warned: this is a very violent book, and in particular, there are a couple of scenes in the last third of the novel that are mildly disturbing if you're sensitive). Anyway, I tore through this last section, reading the last 120 or so pages in a day.

All-in-all, it's probably the strangest novel I've ever read, which as far as I'm concerned, is about the highest praise I can give it, since I love strange novels. The strangeness doesn't get in the way, however; the book is very easy to digest, and it's not really weird for the sake of being weird. Given the plot, it absolutely makes sense to tell the story the way that he does. Again, it bears repeating that Parsons has done a fantastic job writing what is really a fairly complicated (in terms of "moving parts" of the plot) book that just works and doesn't "feel" complicated. Bravo, and I can't wait to read more from Parsons.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind 26 Feb 2013
By Benjamin K. Potter - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Probably the weirdest book I've ever read, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It's very ambitious and fires on all cylinders from the word go. The first act is a Cormac McCarthy-esque blood-soaked Western, the second act is a gritty noir mystery, and the third act is a dystopian sci-fi adventure. At the heart of it all is a Hatfield/McCoy rivalry that spans centuries thanks to a mysterious pool that allows the main characters to replicate themselves. Seriously a great read. Not for the faint of heart, though.
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