FORTUNE COOKIE by Daniel Cotton

Foretune cookieThis is kind of a fun tale — well, fun, that is if you like your fun seasoned with a little paranormal, a little horror, a few improbable events, and just a dash of made-up Chinese legendary warriors.

Sam is 16, Caucasian, the adopted son of a Chinese couple who operate a restaurant cum opium den in China Town.  Just which city I have forgotten.  They couple also has a natural born daughter.

He is sent by the folks to retrieve his sister, who it turns out, is making a few extra bucks on the side by cutting cocaine for some Hispanic lowlifes.  The folks don’t know this, of course.  They think she is doing something wholesome.  Threatened by the thugs, Sam goes full on Hulk, destroying said thugs, surprising even himself.

Then in subsequent events, Sam becomes even more deadly.  Can you imagine!

You can see where this is going, right?  It has the feel of a teenage boy’s daydream, where he becomes the outsized warrior hero in the face of danger.

Turns out the danger is the Jiagshi, which are fighter, shadow soul knight,  devil of the abyss,  devil/ demon.  They have a vampire-like aspect.  They are legendary from ancient Chinese lore.  (Well, actually, no they are not.  The idea is from some video game, I think.  But why spoil the fun, eh?)  It also turns out that Sam is one himself, gaining in power, and he eventually goes to China to rid the land of these Ancient Evil Ones.

Yeah, I know.  It is all pretty improbable, and even a decent suspension of disbelieve doesn’t get you through it, but it was a pleasant journey (except for the bloody parts) nonetheless.  Here’s my policy — if it is really gosh-awful, I don’t finish reading the book.  I mean, why bother, right?  But if it has some redeeming qualities, and I have already invested some time, yeah, I’ll finish the book.  The writing was good, and by that I mean the sentence structure, the ideas flowing properly paragraph by paragraph, good editing, no boo boos of any kind that I spotted.  It was just the rather puerile story line.  Maybe because it is only novella length.  Perhaps a full length novel version would lay out all the elements a little more slowly, so the preposterous becomes thinner, not tossed at the reader all at once.  But what do I know, I am not a writer, only a reader with often rather low standards.

It would work really well as a graphic novel, I am sure.  Probably better than as a prose novel.

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THE STEERSWOMAN by Rosemary Kirstein

steers3The classification is sci fi/fantasy, but really, for me, there is nothing sci fi about this.  It is a fantasy work, written in 1989, and is the first of a 5 book series.

It is set in I think the far future, and I get the impression that the world once had great technology, but some disaster left only a remnant of civilization which is just now starting to rebuild it self pretty much from scratch.  It seems there are no books, and knowledge and information are acquired and passed on by a group composed mostly of women called Steerswomen, although there are a few Steersmen.

It is a medieval-like world, with transportation seeming to be only horses and boats. There are only a few carts or carriages in use, but mostly everyone just walks.  The Steerswomen are accorded great civility by everyone, because they are like traveling librarians, and the rules are:  you can ask a Steerswoman anything and she must answer, and if she asks you anything, you must answer, and if you don’t, you are banned from ever asking anything again.

But you will be pleased to know that there are wizards in this world, and people carry swords, so I guess that would make this a sword and sorcerer kind of thing.

So anyway, these chicks wander around the known world, which is not particularly vast, mapping and gathering knowledge.  The protagonist of this book is Rowan, who meets up with a warrior woman from the Outskirts, Bel, which is this world’s word for barbarian.  The Outskirters are a strong, warlike bunch without much knowledge of the type that Rowan and her world has.   The woman helps save Rowan from a bandit attack on the road, and they travel together from then on, in quest of the knowledge of strange blue stones with silver threads in them, that are found in what would appear to be random places.  Rowan is quite curious as to what they are.

They travel in part guided by the two guidestars, fixed bodies in the heavens.  They don’t move, and seem to be in orbit with the planet and as in every decent quest tale, meet up with someone who can help, in the form of a teenage farm boy who has been teaching himself to be a wizard.  He has found a substance which is explosive, which will certainly come in handy.  They set off with William in tow, promising to introduce him to a suitable wizard to whom he can apprentice himself.

When the wizards learn of Rowan’s interest in the mysterious blue stones, they feel she is dangerous.  Wizards are secretive and never share their knowledge, but they do help the cities with various tasks.  Once again, my pet peeve about fantasy stories with wizards is that they can produce spells of invisibility and protection and attack, but don’t seem to be able to do anything about indoor plumbing, central heating or creating a decent vehicle.   Everyone is still running around in robe-like garments, sitting by useless fires, being cold, and using the outhouse in the back yard.  Pffffft.

Since I know you are not going to read this, I will give you a little more.  After much mathematical thinking, having to do with trajectories, infinite falling bodies, etc., Rowan comes to the conclusion that the guidestars are not stars at all, but artificial bodies put there probably centuries ago by the wizards of the time, how we don’t know, and for what purpose we don’t know, and that the blue gemstones that started to be found about 35 years ago are the remnants of a destroyed guidestar.  Who destroyed the star?  We don’t know, but Rowan suspects it was wizards.

It is an interesting concept, but does have some what I consider gratuitous violence that didn’t feel like it fit with the rest of the nature of the book, but dang, everybody loves gore, so why not.

And I want to know why every fantasy book seems to be set in medieval England?  With these wizards and sorcerers who don’t seem to conjure up anything useful?

But nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and I snagged a couple more in the series to be read sometime when I am a hundred and twenty six or so.

 

THE BURN PALACE by Stephen Dobyns

Burn PalaceOh, yeah, baby.  Another novel by Stephen Dobyns.  He wrote The Church of Dead Girls.   And this one is definitely creepier and scarier, so for those of you into creepy and scary, here’s your book.

OK, it’s a clear cut mystery thriller, with just a touch of the paranormal thrown in.  And coyotes. And sheep.  And a mortuary.  And a crematorium, known by the irreverent ambulance drivers (who in addition to their emergency skills, do transport for the local undertaker), as the burn palace.

There is a whack job off his meds, who is turning into a wolf, and walks on all fours,  some frightened kids, and a fair amount of violence.

It is set in the small town of Brewster, Rhode Island, and as the narrator tells us,

When a terrible crime takes place in a small town, it’s a tragedy.  When a second takes place, it’s a curse.

We have a newborn baby, stolen out of the hospital nursery, with a large snake left in its place.   We have  a kid who can move marbles with his mind.  We have witches, we have esoteric and possibly satanic rituals deep in the woods, we have possibly genetically enhanced wild animals and we have suspected shape shifters.  After all

Ninety-two percent of our genome contains the basic genes for all vertebrates; the rest carry the differences between all vertebrates.  Half of one percent separates us from Neanderthals; three percent separate us from other mammals.  But within a chain of DNA are inactivated intragenic regions called introls whose purpose isn’t understood.  We also have disconnected genes that are to the DNA what the appendix is to the body — useful once but useful no longer.  Some believe that within them lie the secrets to alternate forms and to activate them might make shape-shifting possible.

And you will never guess what is behind all of this.

So get your ghoul on, and …. you know what?  You might want to leave the light on in the hallway if you are reading it in bed at night.  I’m not saying there’s any such things as shape shifters, but…..

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THE REASON I JUMP by Naoki Higashida

16113737This book is a non-fiction account of what it is like to be autistic, written by a 13 year old Japanese boy in 2005.  The young man didn’t and still doesn’t speak, but his mother created a word and symbol grid to which he could point to make words and sentences to communicate.  Although he can now use a computer, and maintains a blog, he finds the grid helps him to maintain focus better.

The book is translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell.  Yes, the David Mitchel of The Bone Clocks and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet , and The Cloud Atlas, among others.  Mitchell has a child on the autism spectrum, and has written a longish introduction explaining a bit about autism.

The book is divided into 58 short chapters, or questions, such as Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars? and Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks? and Why do you repeat certain actions again and again?  It is interesting and heartbreaking at the same time,  but is certainly a testament to the indomitable desire of the human mind to communicate and have social interaction.

And just for the record, no, I don’t think autism is caused by vaccinations.

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MIDNIGHT ROBBER by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo-Hopkinson_2000_Midnight-Robber-e1341837629858Classified as sci fi, but really, it seems more like fantasy fiction.  No, not even that.  Let’s call it speculative fiction.  Dang.  Now I have to make another new category.  Life is so much easier to pigeonhole if you just stick to crime fiction, thrillers and romance novels.  I know, right?  Like life should be that neat and tidy.  Pffft.

Let me see if I can lay out the basics for you.  It is set in some far future, on another planet to which have traveled several (generation?) ships of people from the Caribbean. We don’t know exactly why.   To have a better life?  Could be.  Anyway, manual labor is now looked down upon, and they rely on A.I.s which connect to them through nanobots or something implanted in their ears when they are babies.  They have a number of robot devices which do the work, however, there are some humans called runners who pull rickshaw type vehicles, and who prefer to live totally without the technology.

Granny Nanny is the quantum computer web that oversees everything and overhears everything ….. but in a benign way, as a way of keeping order and peace.  If someone has done something horrific, such as child abuse, or killing, they are either imprisoned or sent into exile, which is by way of  a device which sends them to Half Way Tree, a prison planet or dimension.

The Nation Worlds does ship them all to New Half-Way Tree, the mirror planet of Toussaint [the planet where Tan-Tan lives] on the next side of a dimension veil.

So is it  a planet or a dimension?  Whatever, this is where  the exiles must make a home by their own two hands and deal with the native inhabitants there, a kind of bird/lizard creature.

The protagonist is Tan-Tan, the daughter of her city’s mayor.  Although he has apparently had a number of women, when his wife cheats on him, he becomes enraged an engages in a duel with his rival, the rules of which are only until one fighter or the other cries enough.  However, he secretly poisons his sword, nicks the guy, who subsequently dies.  He is then sent to prison.  While Tan-Tan is visiting him, she gives him something a runner friend has made which allows him to escape his cell, and grabbing Tan-Tan, he runs through the prison until he comes to the room with the device for exile.  He pulls her in with him, and off they go to the new place.

The second half of the book is all about her struggles on the new planet/dimension or wherever they are, and becomes a kind of coming-of-age story, which gets darker than indicated in the first half of the book.

The entire narrative is told in a kind of Caribbean patois, or Creole, and bless me chile if I know if it is authentic or made up, but it is beautiful and rhythmic, and some reviewers absolutely hated it, but I found it gave a wonderful flavor to the whole story.

Men make things and women magic them.  Is so the world does go, ain’t, doux-doux?

It is an interesting read.  I mean, how often do you find Caribbean-based sci fi?  Not so terribly often, I’m thinking.  So, yeah, total thumbs up, 5 stars, and topped off with a hearty “You go, girl!”

 

CLOVENHOOF by Heide Goody & Iain Grant

ClovenhoofHeaven is a bureaucracy,  God hasn’t been actually seen around the place in a few hundred years, Hell is wildly overcrowded with people pushing and crushing the entrance, like the Japanese subways at rush hour, and Satan hasn’t met his Management Objectives for performance improvement.  He is to come up with a vision statement.

Vision:  To be the provider of choice for corrective torment and to offer “best-in-class” suffering for souls with challenged purity.”

Mission:  Exploit synergies with other providers and expand into emerging markets.”

After a review meeting where he is found wanting in his executive management skills, he is tossed out on his ear…er horn…to live life as a human on earth.  Specifically, in London, England. He gets a resettlement package that the Authorities consider very generous.

He still has his cloven feet, and his horns, but only one person seems to be able to see them, due to the glamour which the authorities have cast over him.

He finds an apartment  in a small building where he becomes friends with Nerys, a promiscuous chick looking for love in all the wrong places, (but she is organized about it, with a spreadsheet and everything), and with Ben, Nerd Extraordinaire, who is deeply involved with gaming and making miniature gaming creatures.  We suspect he is a virgin.

This book is a hoot.  At first, it being so clever and funny and all, I was afraid it was going to be like one of those SNL skits that just goes on too long, long after we get the joke, laughed at it, and are ready to move on.  But, people, NO.  It just was so adept and skillfully written that it never got stale.

A lot of the fun is watching Satan, under his new name of Jeremy Clovenhoof  learn his way around life on Earth.  Kind of like Mork and Mindy in the first season.  He gets into all kinds of scrapes, becomes a rock star for a night, cooks a gourmet meal for friends, complete with blood pudding using the blood from a mortuary where he is employed, takes away a huge money heist from a robber in hiding as he makes his rounds fundraising, and sets the apartment on fire.  And tries to hide a dead body by first dissolving it in acid in the bathtub.

Turns out there is a plot afoot in Heaven, which is also terribly overcrowded, so much so that a tent city has set up outside the gates to house people still trying to get into Heaven.  It seems that St. Peter and ……  no.  No.  I am not telling you any more of the story.  Go read it.  It will cleanse your palette.

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VENETIA by Georgette Heyer

Venetia2This is a Regency romance, written in 1958 and set in 1818.  Romance isn’t usually my genre of choice, but somewhere I read a recommendation for this, so I thought I would give it a go.

It is written in the kind of language style used by Jane Austen, and I found it quite delightful.  It is not a ‘bodice ripper’ type romance.  It is more an examination of the manners and mores of the time.

Unlike Austen, who wrote about and for the times in which she lived, Heyer, writing in mid-century 1900s  had to include all kinds of  information about the period so that we readers would understand the setting.   Heyer essentially invented the historical romance and created the subgenre of the Regency romance.   Her books revolved around a “structured social ritual — the marriage market represented by the London season  where all are in danger of ostracism for inappropriate behavior.

Just as I have enjoyed Austen, I enjoyed Venetia.  So much so that I might try a few others of Heyer’s books.  They are an easy read, with the tidy happy ending that we all so hope for.

The basic story line of Venetia is all about the title character, a 25-year-old young lady of good breeding, living in a prosperous manner house in the countryside of Yorkshire, a very rural and sparsely settled area.  Her oldest brother and since her father’s death the current title holder of the estate, is away in France in the army, and she is left at home to take care of all household management and estate management, and to look after her younger brother.  Her younger brother of 16 who was born with a hip disease (whatever that means) and who is lame, is an autodidact, working only with a local elderly scholar.  The brother is of genius caliber who cares for nothing but his studies.

Venetia is terribly independent for the age she lives in.  She has only two suitors, there being only the two available men living anywhere near her.  One is a callow youth of 19 who is deeply smitten, and something of a featherbrain.  The other is a gentleman of about 30, a childhood friend, who is bossy and dictatorial and thinks he knows everything.  He is very annoying.  Needless to say, she doesn’t want either of them, and resolves to eventually set up in her own home with her younger brother.   This plan is set forward when the older brother surprisingly sends his new bride, of which they had no prior knowledge, home to live in the house.  Along with her awful mother.  This means she is now Lady Whosis and in charge of the house and household.  She is a quiet, dim,creature, bossed around appallingly by her appallingly awful mother.  And she is preggers.

Meanwhile, or before while, as it were, the other stereotypical character of these stories, the badly behaved rake who owns the property next door, shows up after having been absent for many years.  Guess what happens.  Of course.

A delightful little story, no big surprises, but a couple of little ones, some interesting commentary on life in those days among people of a certain social class, where appearances mean a great deal, and a potential spouse’s worth is noted in pounds per annum, and if there are enough pounds per annum, it can wash away a lot of otherwise dirty laundry.

If you like Austen, you will like Venetia, I am quite certain.

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