Deal Me In, Week 8 ~ “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” by Saladin Ahmed

Card picked: 7♣. Last week I picked the 8♣. I shuffled, I swear!
From: Engraved on the Eye, also available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The Story

The toughest man I ever met? That’s an easy answer to give, but a tricky tale to tell.

Mister Hadj was from the same place as my rattlesnake of a Pa. Araby, or someplace like, though I don’t rightly know…

Our narrator, a young man of half-Arabian decent but American West upbringing, tells of his mentor, a man he calls Mister Hadj. This is weird west story and, within the telling, Mister Hadj’s Muslim observances have as much mystical weight as the other supernatural elements. Or, rather, they are treated with the same lightness. In a world that includes hexes and zombies, what does it matter if our hero prays to the east on his “little heathen rug”?

I never learned Mister Hadj’s Christian name, but tell the truth I don’t think he was a Christian. Not to say he wasn’t living Christianly, you hear—

Weird west is a subgenre that I often enjoy more in concept than in execution. I think it easily gets bogged down by an overage of tropes, as horror (and often steampunk) gets heaped upon a western. “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” is short enough to avoid that. Our villain, Parson Lucifer, is a very bad man. Our heroes are out to bring justice. With silver bullets and Mister Hadj’s stone singing. Simple as that.

The Author

I have a confession to make. I don’t go out of my way to read diversely. My reading choices are pretty much dictated by curiosity. This goes for fiction as well as nonfiction. When I encountered a free anthology by someone named Saladin Ahmed, I presumed that the author was possibly Middle Eastern and possibly Muslim. The thought of speculative fiction written by someone of that background intrigued me. What would that author bring to his stories? So, here I am. Thankfully, Mr. Ahmed is a great teller of tales.

Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed

Card picked: Eight of Clubs
From: Engraved on the Eye, also found online

The Story

God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will go to the charity-yard of the Western Mosque in Old Cairo. She will live.

Ali is a veteran of the Global Credit Crusade. Although it’s been years since he’s been a soldier his embedded OS still sends him random reminder messages. Things like “God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will pick up your new field ablution kit after your debriefing today” and “God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will spend your leave-time dinars wisely–at Honest Majoudi’s!” But poor and with a dying wife, one message that repeats nightly seems prescient.

In an effort to do something for his ailing wife, Ali walks from Free Beirut to Old Cairo, facing tigers, toxighuls, and sandstorms along the way. When he reaches the charity-yard of the Western Mosque he receives a new message, one that helps a crime occur. Are the messages just a glitch? A hack? Or something more?

I’m not sure I buy into the Global Credit Crusade as a WWIII situation, but there is a lot of world-building bits in seven pages of story. I’ve had  Engraved on the Eye in my collection for ages. (I believe you can find it perma-free at most of your favorite ebook retailers.) I had read the first story in the collection sometime last year. So far, it’s 2 for 2 on great stories.

The Author

Saladin Ahmed was born in Detroit and raised in a working-class, Arab American enclave in Dearborn, Michigan. His first novel, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Crawford, Gemmell, and British Fantasy Awards, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal. He was nominated twice for the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer for his short stories, which have appeared in YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION and have been translated into a half-dozen languages. He has also written nonfiction for NPR Books, Salon, and The Escapist. He holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, an MA in English from Rutgers. (via Amazon.com)

Deal Me In, Week 6 ~ “Flower Garden”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Flower Garden” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: Eight of Hearts
From: The Lottery, and Other Stories

The Story

Mrs. Winnings lives in Winning house at the top of the hill with her husband and two children and her in-laws. She always dreamed of living in the little cottage on the way down the hill, but she is, after all, a Winnings. When Mrs. MacLean moves in to the cottage, Mrs. Winnings thinks that it will be the next best thing: she can be friends with the new resident and often visit the cozy little cottage. Mrs. MacLean, from New York City, is a widower with a son the same age as Mrs. Winnings’ oldest boy. She paints the little cottage in bright colors (so much different than dark, drafty Winnings house) and plants a large, elaborate flower garden.

All is well until the middle of the summer when the garden becomes too much work for Mrs. MacLean. She hires Mr. Jones to help her. Mrs. Winnings tries to tell Mrs. MacLean: Mr. Jones, a black man, was involved with a white woman and they had three children before the woman left. But Mrs. MacLean just doesn’t pick up on the subtleties of the situation. Mrs. Winnings severs her friendship with Mrs. MacLean, almost too late to protect her own reputation.

As the summer grows hotter and longer, Mrs. MacLean’s garden withers and no one is friendly to her anymore. She wonder’s out-loud to Mrs. Winnings about what might have changed.

“Are you sure it isn’t because of Mr. Jones working here?”

…and Mrs. Winnings went down the hill thinking, The nerve of her, trying to blame the colored folks.

So, there you go: story about race relations with old New England Shirley Jackson flair.

Review ~ In Calabria

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

From the acclaimed author of The Last Unicorn comes a new, exquisitely-told unicorn fable for the modern age.

Claudio Bianchi has lived alone for many years on a hillside in Southern Italy’s scenic Calabria. Set in his ways and suspicious of outsiders, Claudio has always resisted change, preferring farming and writing poetry. But one chilly morning, as though from a dream, an impossible visitor appears at the farm. When Claudio comes to her aid, an act of kindness throws his world into chaos. Suddenly he must stave off inquisitive onlookers, invasive media, and even more sinister influences.

Lyrical, gripping, and wise, In Calabria confirms Peter S. Beagle’s continuing legacy as one of fantasy’s most legendary authors. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books ever, and Peter S. Beagle is pretty much on my auto-read/buy list. (It’s really a very short list.)

As I did in my review of Summerlong, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some mention of the controversy between Beagle and his former business manager Connor Cochran. Peter S. Beagle filed suit against Cochran back in 2015. There are also ongoing complaints from fans who have purchased items from Conlan Press, but never received products. I would advise that if you’re going to buy any of Peter S. Beagle’s books, do not do so from Conlan Press and avoid ebooks edited by Connor Cochran. In Calabria, as well as some of Beagle’s backlog, is published through Tachyon.

What Worked
A hallmark of Peter S. Beagle’s work is his light touch with weighty subjects. In Calabria is about a man entering the winter of his years. He has regrets and is alone. It’s the quirky details that make Bianchi’s life real. His farm is populated with Cherubino the goat, Garibaldi the dog, and the cats: Sophia, Mezzanotte, and Third Cat. He has a comfortable life, but perhaps a life devoid of poetry. His visitor, a unicorn, changes all that. For better and maybe worse.

The writing is lovely, of course. Lyrical and poetical, though we are rarely treated to Bianchi’s work. ;)

The story winds out to a conclusion that might not be satisfying for some, but I liked it well enough.

What Didn’t Work
I’m not sure Beagle’s forte is ever works set in the “real” world, in the present day. Would an older man manage to survive such violence against him that is presented in the book? Eh… I don’t know.

This is also the second work in a  row for Beagle in which an older male character ends up in a relationship with a much younger woman. At a certain point in my life, I might have found these May to December plot lines to be charming. But now? I guess I’d like to see an older man in a new relationship with an older woman.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, Tachyon Publications, January 16, 2017
Acquired: 11/15/16, NetGalley
Genre: fantasy, magical realism

Review ~ Moby-Dick

Cover via Goodreads

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

‘Call me Ishmael.’

So begins Herman Melville’s masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. As Ishmael is drawn into Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest to slay the white whale Moby-Dick, he finds himself engaged in a metaphysical struggle between good and evil. More than just a novel of adventure, more than an paean to whaling lore and legend, Moby-Dick is a haunting social commentary, populated by some of the most enduring characters in literature; the crew of the Pequod, from stern, Quaker First Mate Starbuck, to the tattooed Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, are a vision of the world in microcosm, the pinnacle of Melville’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is a profound, poetic inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?

I have a degree in literature, yet I had never read Moby-Dick. My reading in college was pointed toward pre-1800 and my reading for fun has been mostly post-1970 with a few exceptions. I have a wonderful huge gap to fill!

What Worked/What Didn’t Work

I decided this year to make an effort to point out what works/what doesn’t work in what I’m reading and, at the second review of the year, I’m stymied.

I didn’t know quite what to expect from Moby-Dick. Obviously, I knew this was a story about ill-fated obsession. I knew many of the names. I knew there were going to be long passages about whales and whaling, circa 1850. What I didn’t expect was just how odd of a tapestry this book is. There are adventure bits. There are poetical, metaphysical digressions. There is bawdy humor and Shakespearean soliloquies. And yes, a lot about whales and whaling.

The summary above kind of makes me roll my eyes because it plays up the “literature” aspects of the book. As a mostly genre reader (despite my degree), I think it’s those other things—all the boring reality, all the dirty adventure—that make Moby-Dick work. This novel is sort of a weird ride. Much like Shakespeare’s plays, especially if you’re reading/watching them for the first time, if you let the text carry you along, you get a sense of the thing. Will I read Mody-Dick again? Maybe. If I do, I’m pretty sure the next time would be a totally different experience.

Observation: The only writer I know of that “tastes” a bit like Moby-Dick (I won’t say Melville since I don’t know him well as an author) is Ray Bradbury.

Observation: Having read War of the Worlds and Moby-Dick nearly back to back, I get this sense that science was folded into literature more often in the past. Maybe this is a reflection of the times, maybe of the authors, maybe of the genres; I don’t know, but it’s something I enjoy.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Pigeonhole, public domain, originally published 1851
Acquired: May 20, 2014
Genre:  According to Wikipedia: Novel, adventure fiction, epic, sea story, encyclopedic novel. I guess I agree.

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Deal Me In, Week 4 ~ “In the House of Gingerbread”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“In the House of Gingerbread” by Gene Wolfe

Card picked: Jack of Diamonds
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter Pautz

The Story

It’s the gingerbread house, she thought… It doesn’t eat you, you eat it. But it gets you just the same.

Tina’s husband died of lung cancer…from asbestos insulation. Her two-year old son was poisoned by paint chips. There is more to Tina’s house than she knows and more to Tina than her step-children suspect. “In the House of Gingerbread” plays with many fairy tale tropes, but it didn’t quite come together in the end.

The Author

Gene Wolfe has been writing science fiction and fantasy since the mid-1960s and has won nearly every major award in those genres (the Hugo being elusive). Though oft anthologized, this is the first story of Gene Wolfe’s to make it on to my Deal Me In list.

♣ ♣ ♣

Did you know if you can pull off eight perfect faro shuffles, a deck of cards is returned to its starting order state?

Tabular proof at Futility Closet

Favorite Stories from Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov-Dec 2016

Cover via ISFDB

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2016

I purchased a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in Sept. 2016 due to one short story. While the subscription only cost me $5, I decided that if I was going to justify this, I was going to actually read each issue…unlike every other time I’ve had a fiction magazine subscription.

My reviewing of issues might get better as the year goes on, but for Nov/Dec 2016 I’m just going to highlight what I found to be the outstanding stories. All of these authors were new to me.

“The Rhythm Man” by James Beamon – Would you make a deal with the devil? If could, what would you ask for? What is that thing in your heart of hearts that you’d sell your soul for? All that bluesman Horace wants from the Rhythm Man is a song… Great mythology and a marvelous sense of place in the setting.

“Lord Elgin at the Acropolis” by Minsoo Kang – The director of a museum is certain that paintings and sculptures are being replaced by forgeries. Except, there’s no evidence. The art is re-certified as original; the security tapes show no tampering. Is he going insane? Or is technology beyond current comprehension to blame? This is half story, half thought experiment, and all good.

“Special Collections” by Kurt Fawver

We only have two rules at the library. The first is that you don’t go into Special Collections without a partner.

I’m lying when I say I don’t like cosmic horror. My problem, I think, is one of scale. To abruptly see some grand transdimentional horror and claim that it is so incomprehensible that it inspires insanity—that doesn’t work for me. But show me the little things that get under a character’s skin, show me the creeping obsessions that lead to questionable moral choices. Then, I’m all in. “Special Collections” is a deliciously spooky tale.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle (the navigation is really nice!), Spilogale, Inc., Nov. 2016
Acquired: Sept. 2016
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror

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