Sunday, June 28, 2020

#34: The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina

Two sisters have to go live with their absent father (a famous author) after their mother's suicide attempt, and slowly unbury a troubled family history, in Katya Apekina's The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish.

Apekina's debut novel has familiar plotting--there seems to be shades of Mona Simpson, Larry McMurtry, and Michael Chabon throughout--in its discussion of difficult topics such as mental illness, infidelity, suicide, child molesting, and incest.  But its storytelling is more uniquely its own, mixing in oral histories, letters, and vantage points from various times, places, and characters.

Part of the storytelling centers around the father being involved in the civil rights movement, where he meets a teenager who becomes his wife; more around a graduate student trying to write a dissertation about the author (though more accurately, stalking him); but central is the voice of one sister, from her perspective as a teen, and the other sister, as an adult looking back at a rocky stretch of her life.

Apekina's novel is compelling and readable throughout, even with some familiar beats, and worthwhile for those comfortable with challenging subject matter.

I was sent this novel by the publisher, Two Dollar Radio.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

#33: The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch by Michael G. Coney

A businessman dealing in alien furs falls for a young woman he learns is a "Spare Parts Girl" for a fading video star, with disastrous results, in Michael G. Coney's The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch.

I came across this in a box of books at a flea market and was interested in the title, and the promise of the kind of psychedelic sci-fi I have grown to appreciate as an adult (this one came out in 1975).  I learned Coney was a British science fiction writer with a steady output.


This has a lot of funny world-building, taking place in a town clinging to what appears to be what's left of California after the rest of it slid into the ocean, whose inhabitants are hung up on para-gliding and making pets out of dangerous sea life like sharks--and an ambulatory one (set up with a water-breathing device so that he can wander around the surface) has a significant role in the story.

The core of the story features the idea that prisoners can have their sentence reduced by becoming "bonded" servants to business people--but part of the deal is that they have to donate organs and limbs if the business person needs it.  A "3-V" star in a love triangle with the protagonist and her own "Spare Parts Girl" drives the narrative.

To me, the story is marred a bit by a passive, unlikable protagonist who uses and discards several women, which as it happens causes great harm to them.  The ending has a strikingly dark note.

It's interesting to me that Kazuo Ishiguro's literary novel Never Let Me Go from 2005 has a surprisingly similar plot, though used to show class divides rather than paperback sci-fi genre beats. Ishiguro was 20 or 21 when this book came out in England, where he lived, and I can't help wondering whether he read it, and it percolated in the back of his young mind for a long time.  Fun to think about.

This was also published as The Girl with A Symphony in Her Fingers, which is another trippy title.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

#32: The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

A pair of drifters lose track of each other, and when one finds out the other committed suicide, she heads to a remote commune to figure out what happened in Margaret Killjoy's The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion.

In very short order she learns this commune, set up in an abandoned town in Iowa, has summed a three-horned, blood-red deer who for better or worse manifests a hazy form of justice over the community.  Quickly we have squatters versus cops versus the Unknown, with no answers in black and white.

Killjoy writes a sharp-edged novel with equal parts horror, post-apocalyptic fantasy, and punk manifesto, both genre-busting and gender-busting.  To me, this novel owes a significant nod to Samuel R. Delany's masterwork Dahlgren, also about an eerie, otherworldly city populated by free-thinking and free-loving inhabitants.  It is good company to be in.

I was brought up a little short by a rather conventional ending, with the survivors setting themselves up for a sequel by pledging to band together and fight against the supernatural in other towns, which seemed to betray the outsider coolness throughout.

But I would still read that novel, and enjoyed this one.  

I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

#31: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

An eclectic group of nuns--on a deep space assignment in a large living spaceship--reluctantly come into conflict with an increasingly restrictive central government on far-away Earth in Lina Rather's highly imaginative science fiction outing Sisters of the Vast Black.

Rather's storytelling has enough neat world-building ideas for a half-dozen novels, from the organic ships grown from more or less tadpoles to the repressive Earth government risen from radioactive ashes to the tenets of a future Catholic church.

Best of which are the characters, from the ship--trying to veer off course and mate with another ship she saw in passing--to the Mother Superior with a government-toppling past to the nun who has a secret romance correspondence with a woman she met at a space station.

Entirely satisfying sci-fi I read quickly on my beloved Kindle.  I hope this one becomes a series.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

#30: The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Twins born of a ruthless dictator try to forge their own paths in JY Yang's The Black Tides of Heaven.

One has tremendous precognition powers, used in service to the regime, while the other ends up joining a rebel group called The Machinists.

This is the first of a new series with tremendous world-building and an interesting plot.  The story is threaded with psychic powers, magic, mythic monsters, and steampunk-style technology, a high-wire balance of high fantasy and science fiction.  The cultural world-building has an Asian-fused backdrop and gender-fluid relationships.

Yang has written an intricate opening salvo to what I think will be a strong series.

I got this one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

#29: Code Name: Werewolf by Nick Carter

In early 70s Spain, Nick Carter, Killmaster, takes on the unlikely job of protecting dictator Francisco Franco from an assassin in Code Name: Werewolf, part of the long-running spy series.

I read these Nick Carter paperbacks fervently as a teen in the late 70s and early 80s, and had no idea they were written by a large number of authors (although I could tell some were markedly better than others).  I even ordered them by mail from the backs of other paperbacks, paying with hard-earned allowance money.

I became interested (although tentatively) in revisiting a few and thought this was a good place to start, as this was one written by Martin Cruz Smith.  Martin Cruz Smith writes the Arkady Renko detective novels that I enjoy as they are released (beginning with Gorky Park).

Although Martin Cruz Smith has apparently disavowed his few Nick Carter contributions, I found this a solid and interesting spy thriller.  Spanish politics and culture, including several bullfighting scenes involving Carter (one intended to kill him), add interest.

This was a good second-tier spy novel, not at the level of a Donald Hamilton or Edward S. Aarons but eminently readable.

I accumulated a stack of these from a friend--at one point that seemed to be stacked up in used bookstores everywhere--and might dive into another if I find an author behind the pseudonym of interest. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

#28: Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour

In 1600s England, a poor young man tries to help an affluent lady, drawing the ire of a dark-hearted aristocrat and setting off a dire chain of events in Louis L'Amour's Sackett's Land.

The young man gets press-ganged into a pirate ship headed for the New World, escapes on land and there gets a fragile toehold in the fur trading business.  But he eventually needs to return to England to deal with his old foe.

L'Amour is one of the most heralded western writers, with many popular titles and series, the Sacketts series possibly top among them.  This kind-of prequel to the Sacketts stories is a departure from the Old West stories, pretty obviously, but still chock full of manly, rousing adventure. 

L'Amour, along with Zane Grey, Elmer Kelton, Ray Hogan, and just a handful of others, were the main western writers I read during my teen and young adult years.  I haven't read L'Amour in decades, and revisited this him because of joining an online western fiction book group just formed.

My tastes have evolved to more spaghetti-style storytelling, but it moves fast and is reader-friendly for fans.

I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

#27: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

A decades-old Ponzi scheme collapses, throwing many lives into chaos, from a fading painter to an addicted performance artist to a cargo shipping manager to a bartender turned rich man's girlfriend and more; a woman jumping from a cargo ship, and a message scrawled on a swank hotel's window, bracket the narrative and tie all the storylines together in Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel.

I recommended Mandel's Station Eleven to everyone a few years ago, and find this follow-up also a literate, rewarding novel for any reader.  Attached to the spine of the story are many interweaving narratives, which showcase, more than anything else, how chance happenstance and random meetings can resonate through a person's life.

There is a magical element to the narrative too, with ghosts--perhaps brought on by guilt and strong memories, perhaps not--and an exploration of alternate histories core parts of the story.  

In fact, careful readers will see several characters from Station Eleven here, positioning the novel as an alternate history version of Station Eleven, in an odd way.   Odd especially in that her previous novel is about a pandemic that wipes out a lot of the population, and this one reflects on what might have happened if that pandemic had been contained.

A worthwhile read that I was looking forward to.  I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

#26: The Wildcatters by John Benteen

A soldier of fortune heads to a booming oil field looking for gunwork, and finds all he wants, in John Benteen's The Wildcatters.

The Fargo series was written by John Benteen, alias Ben Haas, and although packaged like a western these are more straight adventure.  The books take place in the early 20th century, with cars and other contemporary elements mixed in with the requisite shoot-outs.

Benteen knows how to wrap up a story; this one features an uncapped gusher flooding a town while Fargo fights to the death against a seemingly unkillable foe.

Benteen also wrote another series, featuring a Native American gun-hand called Sundance, and I find both to be full of solid storytelling.  In fact Benteen has become a go-to favorite.

I can't recall where I found this one, but I grab them for comfort reading when I see them, and quickly read this fast-moving tale.