Deal Me In, Week 2 ~ “The Wrong Foot”

DealMeIn

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

“The Wrong Foot” by Stephanie Burgis

Card picked: Q
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story

Needless to say, I didn’t want to try on the slipper in the first place.

Have you ever thought about the absurdity of Cinderella and the whole “marry the girl who can wear the glass slipper” thing? I mean, even though Payless didn’t exist in 1600s Italy, foot size isn’t exactly the same as fingerprints…or her face. (Although now I want to write a Cinderella variation in which the Prince is face blind…) What kind of cobbler makes glass slippers anyway? And if you take away the interference of fairy godmothers, why was Cinderella so eager to get away from the prince by midnight?

Sophia is a modern girl. She likes to read. She has her own inheritance coming to her. But her mother think she needs a husband and, if her small feet happen to fit in the glass slipper, why shouldn’t that husband be the Prince? Not helping matters is the Prince’s secretary whose hazel eyes make Sophia feel distinctly unscholarly.

This story is a clever and sweet, a nice twist on the fairy tale. I’m two for two on stories this year.

The Author
I don’t believe I’ve read anything by American/British writer Stephanie Burgis in the past. Info about her other stories, long and short, can be found at her website.

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Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”

DealMeIn

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

“A Dead Djinn in Cairo” by P. Djeli Clark

Card picked: 5
Found at: Tor.com

The Story
A bit of a longer story for my first of the year, but one I was especially looking forward to when I put my list together. Why? Djinn. They are underused in my opinion and I’m always interested in what different authors do with them.

Clark puts one in the center of a mystery…as the corpse.

Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, stood gazing through a pair of spectral goggles at the body slumped atop the mammoth divan.

A djinn.

In this history, the border between our world and a world of the supernatural has been breached. There are ghuls, “angels,” and, of course, the djinn who have brought their brand of steampunk-ish technology to the era. This is still Victorian/Edwardian Egypt, though. While the djinn have helped remove the English from Egypt, Fatma, a woman, is still unique in her position as an inspector. On the surface, the death of the djinn seems to be a strange suicide. With unknown runes left inscribed around the body and an “angel’s tongue” found at the scene, Fatma suspects more but her theories are dismissed.

The investigation takes a world-endangering turn, which felt a little abrupt. The world that Clark created for this story is a lot of fun and it was surprising that Fatma and the Ministry don’t currently live on in other works.

The Author
P. Djeli Clark is an Afro-Caribbean-American writer of speculative fiction. He can be found online at The Musings of a Disgruntled Haradrim and on Twitter.

Review ~ The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. (And trust me, if he knew about the extended metaphor in this review, he probably would have thought twice about asking…)

Cover via Goodreads

The Ramshead Algorithm and Other Stories by K.J. Kabza

Ramshead Jones has a billionaire father, a dysfunctional family, and a shocking secret nestled in the hedge maze in his backyard: Earth’s only portal to hundreds of other realities. When Ramshead’s unwitting father decides to rip the hedge maze out, Ramshead is forced to use dangerous magic to move the portal before it’s destroyed, too—unless the deadly maze of other family secrets that come to light destroys him first.

In THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES, sand cats speak, ghost bikes roll, corpses disappear, and hedge mazes are more bewildering than you’ve ever imagined. These 11 fantasy and science fiction stories from KJ Kabza have been dubbed “Sublime” (Tangent), “Rich” (SFRevu), and “Ethereal” (Quick Sip Reviews) and will take you deep into other astonishing realities that not even Ramshead has discovered.

Cover design and interior illustrations by Dante Saunders. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Ages ago, I reviewed a Best Horror of the Year anthology that included Kabza’s “The Soul in the Bell Jar” (also included in this collection). I’ve been a fan ever since.

What Worked
Short story collections are like a box of chocolates. Sure, looking at the glossy bonbons, you don’t know which is going to be coconut cream and which one is, uh, pink, but you do roughly know what you’re getting when you buy a box of Whitman’s or Russel Stover. Such is the case when you pick up a collection or anthology—a certain quality author or editor is going to provide certain quality stories, despite inevitable pink cream equivalent. The way to avoid that is to buy a better box of chocolates. The Ramshead Algorithm, my friends, is a box of top-end Godiva.*

Every story in this collection is excellent. I had read over half of them in the past between Kabza’s self-pubbed collection Under Stars and some of his more recent publications. I decided to reread them in order to have the full experience of the collection. I noticed certain details (gardens, hedge mazes, ruins, and oceans) that repeat throughout as well a theme of searching and finding which I might have missed if I had only read the new-to-me stories.

I believe in my review of Under Stars I mentioned how well-done the world building is and I want to reiterate that. The short story form necessitates brevity, but every detail in these stories creates the world, whether the flash fiction-sized “All Souls Proceed” to the novella “You Can’t Take It With You.”

What Didn’t Work
My one and only beef was that I had scheduled out the stories from this collection not realizing that the final one in the collection “You Can’t Take It With You” was indeed a novella of a hundred pages. My entire reading schedule was messed up and it was basically my own darn fault.

So, there is nothing that didn’t work.

(Btw, “You Can’t Take It With You” is what Ready Player One would be without the nostalgia nods every .5 seconds. And this story is the better one.)

Overall
Readers might be interested to know that Kabza is a LGBTQ+ writer and some of his characters are LGBTQ+ as well. If your doing a diversity-in-reading challenge, sure, go ahead, this is a great collection to add to your pile. But, please, don’t let that be the only reason you decide to read The Ramshead Algorithm. Read it because who doesn’t want a box of Godiva?

* Okay, I’ll admit it, I have pretty middle class tastes and Godiva is what comes to mind when I think of classy chocolates. With a little googling, Godiva does make it to many “luxury” lists. Plus, most people have heard of Godiva while many of the other Swiss/French/etc. chocolatiers don’t really roll off the brain. But if you have a favorite high-end chocolate, go ahead and substitute it.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF, Pink Narcissus Press, 1/16/18
Acquired: 10/10/17
Genre: fantasy, science fiction, a dash of horror

Review ~ The Overneath

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

Cover via Goodreads

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

An odd couple patrols a county full of mythological beasts and ornery locals. A familiar youngster from the world of The Last Unicorn is gifted in magic but terrible at spell-casting. A seemingly incorruptible judge meets his match in a mysterious thief who steals his heart. Two old friends discover that the Overneath goes anywhere, including locations better left unvisited.

Lyrical, witty, and insightful, The Overneath is Peter S. Beagle’s much-anticipated return to the short form. In these uniquely beautiful and wholly original tales, with new and uncollected work, Beagle once again proves himself a master of the imagination. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Peter S. Beagle is one of my favorite authors and I’m always excited to see a new collection of his short stories.

What Worked and Didn’t Work
The majority of stories in this anthology follow something of a theme: unicorns and other mythological friends. Three of the fourteen stories are about unicorns, whether the traditional western European version or the chi-lin of China and Indian karkadann. There is also an assortment of dragons and trolls and other shape-shifters. My favorite of the anthology was “Trinity County, CA: You’ll Want to Come Again and We’ll Be Glad to See You!”, positing the creation of an organizational cross between the ATF and SPCA if dragons were a part of this world and possibly used by California marijuana growers for “security.”

Another two  stories are about the early days of  Schmendrick the Magician, from The Last Unicorn. While always nice to have his narrative expanded, neither “The Green Eyed Boy” nor “Schmendrick Alone” come close to the pathos and complexity of “The Woman Who Married the Man in the Moon,” a story from the 2011 collection Sleight of Hand. My second favorite story of the book involves a different “wizard” and gives the book its title. In “The Way it Works Out and All,” a fictional Beagle and fictional Avram Davidson embark on an adventure into the Overneath, an alternate plane of sorts—navigable, if careful.

The setups for a couple of the stories were rather long and the collection might have been better if it were about one story shorter. My nomination would be  “Music, when Soft Voices Die” or “Olfert Drapper’s Day,” though the latter does fit the theme better.

Overall
A whimsical collection with definite high points.

Additional Note
Many of Peter S. Beagle’s ebooks are being sold by Conlan Press. Currently, Peter S. Beagle and Connor Cochran, the founder of Conlan Press, are involved in a legal dispute. I doubt that money from Conlan Press ebooks will get to Mr. Beagle. (Not to mention the many, many customers of Conlan Press who purchased physical merchandise, but have never received it.) Be aware when you purchase.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, Tachyon Publications, 11/07/17
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: fantasy

Reread ~ The Last Unicorn

Cover via Goodreads

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

She was magical, beautiful beyond belief — and completely alone…

The unicorn had lived since before memory in a forest where death could touch nothing. Maidens who caught a glimpse of her glory were blessed by enchantment they would never forget. But outside her wondrous realm, dark whispers and rumors carried a message she could not ignore: “Unicorns are gone from the world.”

Aided by a bumbling magician and a indomitable spinster, she set out to learn the truth. but she feared even her immortal wisdom meant nothing in a world where a mad king’s curse and terror incarnate lived only to stalk the last unicorn to her doom… (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’m currently writing what I’m referring to as “light fantasy”: fantasy with more humorous animals and sly curses than armies and thrones. So, I decided to reread some of my favorites of the genre.

What Worked
During this reread, I noticed the themes of ownership more. I’ve always been intrigued by Mommy Fortuna’s  line “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” It’s a sentiment that is echoed over and over again as each character gains and loses something, but with attention that can be focused on the fate of that owned thing.

What Didn’t Work
I read aloud the first couple chapters of The Last Unicorn on our way back from Sacramento. I had noticed in Beagle’s last book, In Calabria, that occasionally the use of similes and metaphors is a bit…excessive. I had never really noticed it in Unicorn until I was reading it to Eric. I think our conversation went a bit like this:

Eric: Uh, that prose is a bit purple.
Me: …yeah.

Takeaway, in my own writing, make the similes special.

Overall
Still my favorite book. Peter S. Beagle, still one of my favorite writers. I’ll be reviewing his newest collection The Overneath in a couple month’s time.

Publishing info, my copy: paperback, ROC, 1991
Acquired: UNL’s bookstore, summer of 1993
Genre: fantasy, light fantasy

This is 5/10 Books of Summer!

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “The Stoker Memorandum”

(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 Stoker Memorandum” by Lavie Tidhar

Card picked: K
From: Daily Science Fiction, Jan. 20, 2012

I’ve read and enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s science fiction anthology/novel Central Station, but I hadn’t dipped into what might be more up alley: his Victorian steampunk series the Bookman Histories. Until now…

“The Stoker Memorandum” is connected to this series and introduces an adjacent 19th century populated by characters fictional and real, terrestrial and celestial.

The Queen herself was there, in the Royal Box, stately as ever, with her forked tongue hissing out every so often, to snap a fly out of the air. I remember the prince regent did not come but Victoria’s favorite, that dashing Harry Flashman, the popular Hero of Jalalabad, was beside her. So were many foreign dignitaries and many of the city’s leading figures, from our now-Prime-Minister Mrs. Beeton, my friend and former rival Oscar Wilde, the famed scientists Jekyll and Moreau (before the one’s suspicious death and the other’s exile to the South Seas), the Lord Byron automaton (always a gentleman), Rudolph Rassendyll of Zenda, and many, many others. Your brother, the consulting detective, was there, if I recall rightly, Mr. Holmes.

The Memorandum is, of course, written by Bram Stoker. He’s not yet the writer that we know him to be, but he’s being given the opportunity to write the biography of Charles Babbage, a recluse who has taken up residence in castle beyond the Borgo Pass… There’s a lot of literary allusions and steampunk-ery. Almost maybe too many, but I’ll probably give the first in the series The Bookman a try at some point.

(Aside: Central Station just won the Campbell Award. Congrats, Lavie Tidhar!

Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Buffalo”

(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?

“Buffalo” by John Kessel

Card picked: 4
From: Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57 (Feb. 2015)

The Story
I picked stories from this issue of Lightspeed Magazine for Deal Me In back in October/November-ish of last year. It was an issue I had downloaded at some point in the past and I added the short stories to my list without knowing anything about them other than Lightspeed is a pretty solid mag. Around Thanksgiving I joined a read-through of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which started me on my current scientific romance kick. So it’s a bit of Deal Me In coincidence magic that brought me to “Buffalo,” a story about a fictional meeting in 1934 between H. G. Wells and Jack Kessel, the author’s father.

Jack Kessel is the son of a Polish immigrant, an itinerant family until they finally settled in Buffalo, NY. When we meet Kessel, he’s working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, clearing trees from the road that will become George Washington Memorial Parkway. On the cusp of age thirty, Kessel has worked half a dozen jobs and lived as many places. He considers himself a step above his blue-collar peers. Kessel is an artist and a reader, fond of fantastic literature, especially the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. G. Wells. His one vow is to never return to Buffalo. For Kessel the city and its culture are a limiter to what he might be able to achieve.

In 1934, H. G. Wells is in the twilight of his career. He’s spent a lifetime attempting to imbue his literature with social consciousness, but he fears that it is for nought. Despite FDR’s New Deal, Wells is concerned that it is the common man who will get in the way of those who know better and can do better. He is also dismayed by the hollow entertainments of those small men, especially the sensational but bankrupt fictions of someone like Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Obviously, when these two men meet, things don’t go well. Each is left disappointed: Wells in that Kessel sees Wells’ writings at the same level as Burroughs; Kessel in that Wells ultimately sees him as just another Polack.

Wells’s weariness has dropped down onto his shoulders again like an iron cloak. “Young man—go away,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Go back to Buffalo.”

Never meet your idols, they say.

Kessel, the author, doesn’t leave us with entirely without hope. He stages this meeting at a jazz club where these two very different men have incongruously ended up. The headliner is Duke Ellington, and Kessel asks us to ponder: What is art? What is it worth? What can it change?