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Monday, May 4, 2020

The Origin of Birds in The Footprints of Writing by Raymond St. Elmo (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)



Buy The Origin of Birds in The Footprints of Writing HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Quest of the Five Clans series
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Stations of Angels


Author information: Raymond St. Elmo is a computer programmer living in Texas. A degree in Spanish Literature gave him a love of magic realism. A fascination with artificial intelligence gave him a job. His books tend to be first-person fantastical accounts with frequent references to William Blake, Borges and PKD.

Format: The Origin of Birds in The Footprints of Writing was self-published by the author on July 30, 2016, and is available through Kindle Unlimited and in ebook and paperback formats. It counts 387 pages.

Overview: An interesting book, for sure. Three hundred pages of bird tracks scribbled out in pen. Not something you see often nowadays.

Joking. Although it does contain bird tracks. And much more.

Raymond St. Elmo not only has a remarkable imagination but also the skills to translate that onto the page. His books tend to play with the narrative and blur the lines between reality and feverish dreams. They tell the story, celebrate the meaning of stories, and pay homage to literary heroes (JL Borges, Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, EA Poe) while making readers laugh.

It's easy to like the story's protagonist Clarence St. Claire, a programmer who cherishes an orderly life and has a fondness for languages. Socially awkward, rather shy, he finds fulfillment in developing artificial intelligence. He's doing well. He even keeps up the pretense of being serious. Not for long, though. A mysterious manuscript from his past returns to haunt him. Clarence needs to know if pages of bird prints contain hidden meaning or not. He goes as far as to dream JL Borges into existence to learn the truth. In consequence, he'll have to face a secret order of past writers.  


The Origin of Birds in The Footprints of Writing is a book about books, languages, magical and virtual reality. It's in turns fantastic, nostalgic, funny, thoughtful, and bananas. Above all, though, it resonated with me. It has more serious moments, but overall I found the tone light and humorous. Much of what happens, especially in the middle of the book, is insane and Clarence’s adventures made me think of a grown-up version of Alice in Wonderland. St. Elmo plays with literary references and fates of his characters (say, deceased authors) were written by themselves in their famous literary works. Here, though, imaginary blends with the real.

After stepping through a Spirit Door, Clarence finds himself in the labyrinthine Dark Library and the narrative turns feverish. He meets dead writers, birds, hackers, discusses words and meanings. He even learns about the sexual life of books:


"Sure, you can pretend it is just how the books talk to each other," he continued. "Umberto Eco described it as conversation going on across centuries. But no; it's sex. One book argues with another from an earlier time, and their argument gives birth to a shelf of little lesser arguers. Or a book inspires a painting that creates a discussion that leads to a piece of music that leads to a play that inspires a book that argues with all its parents. Kids. God knows they are all quoting each other, stealing from each other, passing the DNA along. And when translation and transcribing go off-track you get mutation. Maybe even evolution."
At some point, this part of the book tried to tie together a lot of dreams. Though it never got to the point where it got confusing, I did not feel invested in all aspects of the story. But that's just a minor complaint.

Conclusion: I loved this book and found it hard to put down. I know it won't appeal to everyone, but if you love books and languages, I urge you to give it a chance. 


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