Thursday, January 28, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, Second Round :: The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke vs. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

Our fourth and last second round match of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books is The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke versus The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

The Cusanus Game:  Tor, English translation September 2013; originally published in 2005 in Germany; 538 pages; translator: Ross Benjamin. Wolfgang Jeschle was a German science fiction writer who also wrote Last Day of Creation. The Cusanus Game overpowered The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd to get into the second round.

The prologue in The Cusanus Game takes us back to 1425. Caravan leader Emilio and one of his guards Bakhtir discover that four of their men had tried to leave the caravan by crossing through the "repellers," which create the border between the past and future. Bakhtir is upset because one of the men who died during this attempt was his son.

The caravan brings supplies for an airship, which arrives periodically from the mid twenty-first century. Emilio and Bakhtir meet a holographic man who isn't really there but can communicate while exchanging goods. Distraught, Bakhtir attempts to kill the future man, resulting in the hasty departure of the airship. Emilio and Bakhtir barely escape.

The first chapter begins in mid twenty-first century Italy where Domenica lives in a war-ravaged town, with the factions still fighting. Domenica relives memories from her past, as she tries to survive the brutal life after nuclear catastrophe in Europe.

A year ago, Domenica's boyfriend Bernd was handsome, but flawed. Entertainment in the city was brutal and cruel: one show included barbaric sex on stage. Domenica felt disgusted, but Bernd seemed entranced. She decided their relationship is over.

War caused trauma seems to be everywhere, from creatures to landscape. CarlAntonio are Siamese twins, with Carl riding like a backpack behind Antonio. Stavros, fellow tenant of Domenica, has a prosthetic tongue — his was cut out while in captivity during the war. A modified military dog was dying from the inside out due to self-destructing implants.

Domenica remembers a conversation that happened a year earlier when she was out together with Bernd, his sister Birgit, and CarlAntonio. Birgit and CarlAntonio said they saw someone who looked just like Domenica, like an older twin. CarlAntonio also gave Domenica an envelope from the university.

Domenica recalls how CarlAntonio died. A racist group called the Hobbits, who wear lederhosen and call themselves the "guardians of the genetic inheritance," go around killing mutants with their knives. They ambushed CarlAntonio. Carl died last.

More recollections were about the Germans Birgit and Bernd. When the "catastrophe of 2028" occurred, they were young children in Italy on vacation with their parents. At that time the government was not releasing true details of the radioactive disaster. Their parents went back to Germany to see what happened and were never heard from again. Young Birgit and Bernd were adopted, but six years later they abruptly ran away when bad things happened to Birgit. The two are inseparable.

The envelope CarlAntonio passed to Domenica contained a papal VidChip. She slipped it into the flexomon and had a visual discussion with a man named Bertolino Falcotti who has a connection to the Holy Father. Falcotti interviewed Domenica for a job and asked her questions about her parents. She told him that her father had died in an attack 10 years earlier in Naples during the battle of 2039. Falcotti told Domenica to have a physical exam at a specified location. The experience was weird because they knocked her out for two hours, then she woke up with no recollection of what happened. She didn't hear back from Falcotti.

After one more murderous scene near her neighborhood, Domenica decided to move closer to the university. She was at her new apartment when yet another attack occurred near her old apartment at a convent. Stavros died trying to help the nuns. Domenica wept and got drunk and yelled out her window, "Rome is dying!"

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs:  Pyr; December 2013; 255 pages (with and extra 30 pages for appendixes); illustration by Andrew Bosley. Mike Resnick is a prolific writer of novels and short stories and has edited 40 anthologies. He has won five Hugo Awards and has been nominated over 30 times. He is the author of the Starship series, the John Justin Mallory series, and the popular Kirinyaga series. Resnick's novel The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is the fourth book in his "Weird West Tales" series. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs won out over The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook to get into the second round.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs takes us on a trip to an alternate version of the Wild West. Doc Holliday is dying in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado. An owl rests on the windowsill, turns into Geronimo, then offers Doc a chance to live about one or two more years if he will help Geronimo.

According to the Apache Geronimo, white men are digging for dinosaur bones on sacred Comanche land. Geronimo thinks Doc Holliday can convince the men to stop digging, using any means possible, including Doc's famous gunmanship.

Geronimo reveals that, if the digging on sacred land doesn't stop, the Comanche medicine men plan to resurrect some of the dinosaurs to destroy the white men and end the digging. However, once the dinosaurs are resurrected, they can't be controlled and will mindlessly kill anyone, including Apache and Comanche, in their path. In Geronimo's opinion, the better plan would be to simply stop the dig and leave the dinosaurs as bones and the sacred ground intact.

After Doc Holliday agrees to this deal, Geronimo does some chanting prayers. Although Doc still coughs, he feels as he did two years ago. Doc then sets out on his journey, which first takes him to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, he meets up with Theodore Roosevelt, who is not president yet, and they head in a northwest direction to find the paleontologists' digging site and to see what's what.

Nearby Cope's dig, outside the camp, Holliday and Roosevelt run into Cole Younger, former outlaw, who has been hired by Cope as shootist to help protect the camp. Younger tells them that paleontologists Marsh and Cope do not like each other. Their camps are about 30 miles apart. Both parties have shootists (Marsh hired Bill Cody) to protect them and both try to sabotage each other's digs.

The three men, Younger, Holliday, and Roosevelt, recollect Younger's previous raids and robberies.

The Battle:  We have The Cusanus Game, a futuristic science fiction novel that involves disaster and time travel verses The Doctor and the Dinosaurs, a Wild West alternate-reality fantasy.

The Cusanus Game is a fleshed-out epic tale that jumps from one time to another. Domenica's life takes place in her present time, with remembrances that take place a year ago, or 10 years in the past, or sometime earlier than that. Bits and pieces of historical events are revealed non-sequentially, which seems disjointed at times. The war torn area, the racist behavior, the murders, the crude entertainment all make the novel very depressing. However, awesome writing keeps me reading.

The many street names and towns can be difficult to follow, probably because I'm not familiar with the specific locations in Europe, in particularly Italy. Street names abound, such as she headed "south on Amba Aradam and Terme di Caracalla and finally came out at Via Aventino." Too many unfamiliar names pull me out of the story. The details feel unnecessary.

There are many armed factions that confused me in the beginning, not knowing who's on the "good" side: the military, the Praetorians, the EuroForce, to name a few. Maybe that's purposefully done.

When CarlAntonio and Bernd and Birgit say they saw an older version of Domenica, I wondered if Domenica will become part of the "travel back in time" group. I'm curious to learn more about this "twin."

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs has no time travel, so it's easy to follow. Humor seeps in a lot. The story is fast-paced, and the conversation between Roosevelt and Doc Holliday is lively and entertaining.

Many famous Wild West names enter and leave the story faster than two shakes of a lamb's tail. Some names seem stuck in there to educate the reader as opposed to move the story forward.

An interesting high school project would be to read this Wild West alternate-history book and write a book report, maybe comparing a couple of real Wild West characters to their fantasy counterparts. Nine appendices are included at the end of the book, which I would like to read.

Choosing a book to continue is difficult on many levels. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is easy to read, has an interesting plot, and would be fun finish. The Cusanus Game is depressing and reveals the horror of war and its aftermath. However, the writing is captivating. Although I'd like to continue each book for different reasons, I must make a tough decision.

In Battle of the Books two books face off against each other, but only one book can continue in the race to become the final overall winner. So, I (Jackie), after reading 50 pages of each book, must declare which book I’d rather continue reading.

THE WINNER: The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke

The Cusanus Game advances to the semi-finals round to take on Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, Second Round :: Shadow People by James Swain vs. Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

We continue the second round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books with our third second round match-up which showcases Shadow People by James Swain combating Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

Shadow People:  June 2013; 351 pages; jacket art by Trevillion Images; Jacket design by Base Art Co. Shadow People is the second novel in the Peter Warlock series that began with Dark Magic. Swain has also published crime and mystery books in the Jack Carpenter series and the Tony Valentine series. Shadow People won out over Mist by Susan Krinard to get into the second round.

Shadow People are dark entities that you might see out of the corner of your eye. Peter Warlock first encounters one during one of the weekly séances. Joining him in these séances are Milly, Peter's foster mom; Holly, niece to Milly, and aspiring witch; Homer, a blind fortune teller and a couple others.

Peter's purpose during each séance is to go back in time or ahead in time to find murderers and find evidence in which to convict them. Right before this séance, Peter feels something is not right. He sees a dark mass along the wall and then watches it slip into a crack in that wall.

Peter slips into a parallel world where spirits dwell and goes into the future. The downside to this venture is that the murderer can actually see Peter, which means the murderer is in league with the devil. Dr. Death, the nickname that Peter gives him, tries to run him down with the car, then shoots him in the leg. Peter begs his spirit helpers to whisk him back to the séance. His spirit self can be killed in this future place just as in real time. Right before Dr. Death pulls the trigger to send a bullet into Peter's head, Peter is pulled back to real time. He tells his group what happened and Holly writes it down.

Peter walks Homer to the subway and learns that Homer has dealt with Shadow People before. Wearing a 5-pointed star helps ward them off. But they are hard to get rid of once they attach themselves to you.

Peter goes home to his brownstone and finds his magic equipment destroyed and his house trashed. Running upstairs to his bedroom, he sees his girlfriend Liza hiding in the closet and a dark entity, shaped like a person with no face. Peter gives Liza his mom's 5-pointed star necklace. He knows the only way to fight the shadow person is to gather his psychic power and attack. Peter hits the shadow person several times before it disappears. Peter then sees it in the mirror. With a closer look, he gets sucked into the mirror and ends up looking up at Dr. Death who is trying to kill him again, like déjà vu. He shakes his head and finds himself back in his bedroom with Liza shaking him and FBI Agent Garrison staring at him. Agent Garrison's fellow agents take pictures of the mess in Peter's house. Peter tells Garrison about the séance and gives him the transcript. This is a normal occurrence since they have worked on serial killer cases before.

Liza and Peter start to clean up when the lights flash on and off. When the lights come back on, everything is just as it was and not damaged. Peter says all the chaos was actually an illusion. Peter calls Agent Garrison and makes him look at the photos they took. Nothing is broken in the photos.

Meanwhile, Peter's friend Holly, who secretly loves Peter, has been scrying him, looking into a bowl of water to watch him. She saw the broken room and saw him fighting the shadow person. Holly calls Milly, who is also a witch. Milly is not happy that Holly is scrying Peter because it's such an invasion of privacy, but she agrees that they need to help Peter with the shadow person that has attached itself to him.

Holly then begins to scry the murderer Dr. Death and finds him in a bar. He seems to see Holly and says, "Fuck off!" His real name is Harold Munns, but the bartender calls him "Doc." Munns leaves the bar and goes to see his friend Ray, who is a tattoo artist. Ray wants to put another special tattoo on Munn.

Burning Paradise:  Tor Books; November 2013; 317 pages; jacket art by Getty Images; jacket design by Base Art Co. Robert Charles Wilson wrote the Hugo Award winning Spin and has won various other awards. He is a prolific science fiction writer. Burning Paradise overcame Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper to get into the second round.

Burning Paradise takes us to an alternate reality where WWII never happened. Instead, a 1914 Armistice created, so far, 100 years of peace. However, the United States is not a "free" country. Members of a freedom-seeking underground organization, the Correspondence Society are being shot, killed, and eliminated. They were forced to go underground after the 2007 massacre of the Correspondence Society.

Somehow, some group or government has engineered a pseudo-human called a simulacrum that looks very human unless it gets ripped apart and the inner guts of green goo, smelling like chlorophyll, oozes out.

Cassie, who is 18, and her 12-year-old brother Thomas have lived with their Aunt Ris for 7 years, ever since their parents were killed in the 2007 massacre. The family is part of the Correspondence Society, and the kids have a plan of escape in case they are discovered. One evening when Aunt Ris is out with her boyfriend, Cassie sees a strange sight out the window: a man, who looks like he's headed to their apartment, is hit by a car. Green goo exiting his wounds reveals him as a simulacrum. Cassie immediately wakes up her brother, they grab their pre-packed bags, and they head to another secret location.

Cassie and Thomas make it to 21-year-old Leo Beck's apartment. Beth Vance, his unpleasant girlfriend, is staying with him. Leo is the son of the famous Werner Beck, a higher-up in the Correspondence Society. Cassie tells her story of the gooey simulacrum, and the four of them grab their bags and squeeze into Leo's car.

They decide to go to Beth's dad's apartment. When they get there, they see police, an ambulance and a gurney with someone on it. They assume it is Mr. Vance, and leave town, heading to Leo's dad’s place, which is in Pennsylvania. At night, they stop at a hotel. Leo tells Cassie not to let Beth's attitude bother her. He also feels the four of them should stay together.

Meanwhile, in a remote farmhouse attic, Ethan Iverson, former University Professor, looks at a video screen showing the approach of a stranger, which he knows is a simulacrum. Ethan opens the door, invites it in and then zaps it with his 300kv shockgun. He drags the sim into the cellar and ties it up with duct tape. He plans to talk to it despite his rule that one should "never engage simulacrums in a conversation." That's because the sim is not actually doing the talking. Sims are like puppets and the string master is the hypercolony.

Ethan looks through the sim's wallet and sees that the ID calls the sim Winston C. Bayliss. Then he talks to the sim. The sim tells Ethan that, yes, "the radio-reflective layer around the Earth is an active, living entity," the body of the hypercolony. Winston says that he's working against the hypercolony and needs Ethan's help. The doorbell rings again.

At the door, Ethan sees Narissa, his ex-wife. She is also called Aunt Ris by Cassie. Narissa says that they need to find Cassie to save her life. They need to go to Walter Beck's house because that's where Leo is taking Cassie and Thomas. Narissa doesn't trust Walter. Ethan then tells Narissa that he's got a live sim in the cellar.

There are feelings that the radiosphere, which is the hypercolony, needs to be destroyed.

The Battle:  We have a dark occult fantasy Shadow People battle the alternate history science fiction book Burning Paradise.

Shadow People is the second book in the series, yet it was very easy to follow with no need, so far, for backstory. I still have to chuckle at the main character having the last name Warlock, which seems amusing for a "psychic" power character.

I liked the interesting twist that Peter's damaged furnishings were actually whole because of an illusion, an illusion that everyone saw. It brings up the concept of perception and the confusion with what is real. Holly plays a bigger role with her invasive scrying of Peter. Holly's plan to help Peter deal with the shadow person, with help from Milly, will surely lead either to disaster or triumph. I would like to know how the group catches the killer and how Peter figures out how to eliminate the shadow person.

Over-used clichés and idioms are used in this story, such as "in league with the devil," "silent scream cuts through the air like a sharp knife," "icy finger ran down Peter’s spine," "level with her," "stormed out of the theater," and "part and parcel," to name a few.

To be fair, Burning Paradise included some as well, such as "thoughts running like a hamster in an exercise wheel," and "a force to be reckoned with." But there weren't very many, so they didn't stand out as much.

Burning Paradise offers an interesting alternate reality where WWII never happened and Armistice Day began in 1914, with "peace" ever since. With the killings of Correspondence Society (CS) members, which also happened seven years ago, the peace has ended and murder has begun again. The CS knows more about the radio-reflective layer around the Earth than the rest of the world, and for that, they are hunted and killed. But what is this layer? How did it get there? What is the relationship between the sims and the hypercolony? What side is the government on? I also want to discover what Ethan and Narissa have planned. I'm curious to read more.

The whole purpose of Battle of the Books is to pit one book against the other and to choose one winner to battle further. So, I (Jackie), after reading 50 pages of each book, must declare which book I’d rather continue reading.

THE WINNER: Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

Burning Paradise advances to the semi-final round to take on The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke or The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, Second Round :: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord vs. The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder

Continuing with the second round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books we have The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord going against The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder. In the second round, the books are judged after reading a total of 50 pages. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

The Best of All Possible Worlds:  Del Rey; February 2013; 306 pages; book design by Victoria Wong. Keren Lord's debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, was published in 2010 and won the Frank Collymore Literary Prize in Barbados. The Best of All Possible Worlds defeated 23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd to get into the second round.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds, the first event is a Sadirian genocide. The Sadirians are an introspective people whose males go off-world on meditation retreats. The women rarely go off world. While Dllenahkh was off-world on a meditation, he learned that his home world had been poisoned, killing most of the females.

The people responsible for the vicious murders are the taSadiri or Ainya people, who are originally from the Sadirian home world. They do not practice the meditation discipline and had left the home planet, or possibly were ousted.

Sadirian Counsellor Dllenahkh travels to the planet Cyrus Beta. Dllenahkh is on a mission to find mates for the planet-wide multitude of males who lost their wives. If they cannot secure mates with similar Sadiri genetic heritage, their race might become extinct.

Biotechnician Delarua of Cyrus Beta has been demoted to Civil Service liaison, which mostly involves working with Counsellor Dllenahkh and the Sadiri people. Delarua is not happy to relinquish her biotechnician job to the famous Dr. Freyda Mar, although a friendship between them is easily established.

Delarua travels with Dr. Mar and Dllenahkh in the province. During the hours of driving time, Dr. Mar likes to sing loudly. One day, Dllenahkh shows up with Dr. Lanuri and suggests Lanuri and Mar take one car, and Dllenahkh and Delarua take another. Delarua thought the move was to separate Dllenahkh from Dr. Mar's singing. The actual purpose was to put the other two together. Dllenahkh believed they’d make a good match since Mar and Lanuri had similar personalities and Dr. Mar had Sadiri heritage. And he was right.

Soon, Delarua and Dllenahkh set out with a mission team on a year-long mission to travel around the planet, looking for genetic matches for the Sadirian males. Other team members include Dr. Qeturah Daniyel, who does the lab work and Sadirian Jorel who seems bent on finding a mate. Jorel asks Delarua if Lian is a female. Delarua is taken aback saying it's not polite to ask the gender of someone who claims to be gender-neutral, and "Lian has decided to live without reference to gender."

The team comes to a fishing settlement and discovers Sadirian genetic matches. When their work is done and it's time to leave for the next settlement, a boat shows up with a dead fisherman. This settlement has quarreled with another settlement over fishing boundaries. The community leaders ask the team to stay out of their fight, but the team seems to have other ideas.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi:  A Burton & Swineburne book: Pyr; July 2013; 438 pages; cover illustration, John Sullivan; cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke. Mark Hodder is the author of A Red Sun Also Rises and the Burton & Swinburne books, which also include The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi won a decision over Mage's Blood by David Hair to get into the second round.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi begins on a British dirigible, the HMA Orpheus, in 1859. The feverish Captain Burton is recovering from malaria, which he contracted while on the expedition in Africa looking for the source of the Nile. Burton enjoys drinking Saltzmann's tincture that has cocaine as a major ingredient because it seems to help him function. Sister Raghavendra, Burton's nurse and fellow explorer, says the Captain's misconceptions stem from the malaria medication, and he'll be better soon.

Burton soon hears chanting and decides to investigate. In a distant cabin Burton sees Mr. Oliphant, Lord Elgin's secretary, standing in the center of a pentagram drawn on the floor, chanting over a kneeling and dazed Stroyan – Burton's friend. Oliphant then slits Stroyan's throat. The walls are covered with symbols and numbers. Oliphant declares that Burton can't stop him now because the master has been summoned. Burton whips out the sword from his walking stick and attacks Oliphant, eventually knocking him out. Fortunately, others soon arrive to help Burton. Oliphant is shackled and stowed in a cabin to await further questioning when he gains consciousness.

Around this time the telegraph develops problems. It is disconnected but still reveals a disjointed message with English words and "nonsensical balderdash," which no one understands. Also, strange lights are in the sky, like an aurora borealis.

Meanwhile the dirigible lands in Vienna to pick up Lord Stanley, Lord Elgin and Prince Albert, widower of Queen Victoria.

Lord Elgin reveals info about his secretary, Mr. Oliphant, to Burton. Oliphant had become overly involved with a book, which stated that there are multiple levels of existence that can be seen by using mind-altering drugs. Burton replies, "Utter claptrap!"

The airship lands at London's Royal Navy Air Service Station. Prince Albert, Lord Elgin, and Lord Stanley climb into a six-wheeled armor-plated carriage pulled by two steam horses. Captain Burton, Sister Raghavendra, and Royal Geographical Society (RGS) member Sir Roderick Murchinson depart in another growler, a steam-horse conveyance. Burton is disgusted with the smell in the air but learns that the sewage system is being revamped and should smell better in a couple months.

On the way to the RGS welcome-back-reception, Murchinson discusses the Society and its connection to communicating with the dead and the connection to the Afterlife. Sister Raghavendra is skeptical but open to the ideas while Burton believes the concepts are absurd. Murchinson says that Burton is in the minority, and even the Prince backs the RGS.

After the reception and after downing more Saltzmann's tincture, Burton walks home alone under the strange aurora borealis lights. He takes a shortcut through some seedy part of town. Burton gets accosted by a man who accuses Burton of being part of the assassination of Queen Victoria some 20 years earlier. But once discovering that it would be impossible, due to Burton's age, the man who calls himself Macallister Fogg takes off.

The next day, Burton does his best to find Fogg to no avail. From a paperboy, who is also a Whisperer who gathers information, Burton finds out that "Macallister Fogg" is the name of a fictional detective in a periodical. Burton will have to try a different path to find the elusive man.

The Battle: We have The Best of all Possible Worlds, a galaxy-spanning science fiction epic, battle a dark, alternate-history, steampunk novel The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi.

The Best of all Possible Worlds has us follow the Sadirian Dllenahkh and the Cygnian Delarua. In the first 25 pages, I wrongly assumed Delarua was male. The first person narrative didn't give me a clue. In the second 25 pages more details arose as to Delarua's gender as well as to the non-importance of gender identity with the Cygnians. This fact now seems important and a bit amusing since the Sadiri males are looking for Cygnian females with Sadiri genetic heritage. Looking for females in a sometimes gender-neutral society might prove difficult.

Delarua has genetic bloodlines to the Ntshune, who have the ability to make people laugh, "giving people the giggles," which I find to be a unique gift. Dllenahkh has some ability to be genetic matchmaker, which he demonstrates by pushing Dr. Mar together with Dr. Lanuri.

A simple plot gets more interesting as details show up within the story. I'm enjoying the interaction between the characters. The reader learns at the same time the characters do. I felt surprise yet amused when I found out the true sex of Delarua.

In the earlier pages of The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, the concept of multiple levels of existence is proposed. When Burton talks with the RGS about the Afterlife, the thought arises about how these two ideas might be connected.

When Burton is accosted by "Macallister Fogg," another mystery pops up, and I’m curious to learn more about this fake character. I think he might be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s just a wild guess.

After Burton arrives in London, he grabs life by the horns and takes no flack, even when accosted at gunpoint. I like Burton and root for him as he tries to fit into civilian life after his African expedition.

Sometimes alternate reality novels stick in historical characters, which I like when they are major or minor characters in the story but not when they enter the story just as tidbits of fact. In The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, Sir Murchinson brought up famous civil engineer Bazalgette who oversaw the rebuilding of London's sewage system. We'll probably not hear about him again.

Both stories continue to evolve and go in directions that capture my attention, with good writing and bizarre worlds. Neither story provided more information about the Caretaker in The Best of All Possible Worlds or Swineburne in The Secret of Abdul El Yezdi. I’m sure that details will come in later chapters.

After reading 50 pages of each, I (Jackie) like both novels, however, only one of these books can continue in Battle of the Books. I choose to continue reading about people on another planet instead of people in an alternate reality.

THE WINNER: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible Worlds advances to the semi-finals round to take on Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, Second Round :: Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks vs. Fiend by Peter Stenson

We begin the second round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books with Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks going against Fiend by Peter Stenson. In the second round, the books are judged after reading a total of 50 pages. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

Electricity & Other Dreams:   New American Press; May 2013 (the collection of 26 stories were published individually from 2010 to 2012); 224 pages; cover design and interior art by Liz Green. Micah Dean Hicks writes "magical realism, modern fairy tales, and other kinds of magical stories." Electricity & Other Dreams got past The Returned by Jason Mott to get into the second round.

My 50 pages of reading included a total of 6 short stories plus one page of another. For the first round of Battle of the Books, I read the short stories "The Alligator Guides", "Ladybaby's Chickens" and "Dog Summer". You can read my descriptions of them here.

For this second round match, I read 25 additional pages, which are the three short stories described below, plus one page of another short story titled "How the Weaver's Wife Killed the Motorcycle Man." No "spoiler alert" endings are revealed.

"The Time of the Wolf" -- Jackson, on a break from work, wants to buy a beautiful jinn-stone ring as a gift for his son. The shopkeeper Abdul Carin of Contractor Town warns him that it is a cursed stone and its evil side effect – death – follows it. Jackson wants it all the more and offers an exorbitant amount of money. Abdul says the jinn stone has power and can literally stop bullets, but the phoenix rising from the fire will make sure that Jackson will die. Jackson thinks that to be hogwash but puts on the ring and can't get himself to take it off. He decides to get his son a different gift. Jackson begins to feel energetic and takes on lots of jobs. But that displaces many other workers, who then try to kill Jackson. Bullets seem to bounce off Jackson. Soon something stranger begins to happen to Jackson.

"When the Plumber Drank the Ghosts" -- A new owner of a haunted house (previously a bar) had hired a priest, an exterminator, and even a weatherman to exorcise the ghosts occupying this abode. Next, Henry the plumber was hired. When the plumber first entered the bar, he saw about 30 ghosts reading newspapers and drinking coffee. The stench of alcohol was strong. The ghosts would sometimes interact with each other and occasionally look at the plumber. Henry discovered that the ghosts were confused as to what the problem was. They had happily occupied the bar with no one complaining. But now, the new owner wanted the ghosts out. Henry decided to first fix the atrocious plumbing in the building. The ghosts followed him around and asked him questions, which he didn't answer. At the end of the day, Henry opened a can of beer and a weird thing happened.

"Dessa and the Can Hermit" -- Dessa collects cans in ditches on the side of the road. She finds a mound of beer cans. She picks up the first can to add it to her sack and finds a finger inside. In another can, there's a nose, and so forth until, before her, is "a shriveled old man with worn out clothes." The old man, the can hermit, asks Dessa to give him back his cans because they make up his home. Dessa responds, "Go live in a hole." Dessa leaves, and the old man crawls after her. When the old man sees that Dessa lives in a trailer, he says that she should understand how he feels because Dessa also lives in a can. Dessa tells the old man that he can have the cans back if he does everything she tells him to do. He agrees. But that's when the evil can collector man, to whom Dessa sells her cans, shows up.

Fiend:   Crown Publishers; 2013; 295 pages; cover design by Christopher Brand. Stenson has published stories and essays in various magazines, newspapers, and journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Publishers series.  Fiend is Stenson's first published novel. Fiend defeated Never by K. D. McEntire to get into the second round.

Fiend begins with first-person narrator Chase Daniels looking out a window of the house. He watches a cute little girl creep up to a Rottweiler and rip out its throat. Chase thinks that his high from smoking "scante" has warped his vision. Chase and his friend named Typewriter John are high and getting higher.

Typewriter and Chase are shocked when the Rottweiler-killer girl breaks into the house with the intention of killing, accompanied by little girl giggles. Typewriter picks up a typewriter and kills the zombie girl.

Chase decides to go home to his apartment building, hoping this weird "trip" will end soon – after first setting fire to the room to destroy the murder scene. As Chase and Typewriter travel, they notice that no one is in the streets, no cars drive by. Stores are empty. The first thing Chase sees at his apartment building are cats eating another tenant named Rebecca. Next the guys try Svetlana's apartment. A computer is on and some guy on the computer messages that they should kill Svetlana. Confused, Chase and Typewriter look around — and there is a giggling Svetlana-the-zombie ready to pounce on them.

Svetlana attacks Typewriter, clawing and scratching. Chase picks up a sharp shard and stabs her in the neck so many times that her head rolls off. Chase, continuing with his in-head chatter, wonders if the scratches will infect Typewriter.

It's dusk when they run outside to the Civic and notice that the streets are filling with zombies. They high-tail it out of there! Chase demands Typewriter give him some "thirty rock," which Chase immediately burns and takes some hits. Typewriter drives to Cabela's where they break into the store and steal guns and ammo. As they flee, they get a flat tire but keep driving.

At a gas station, they meet Travis, a semi-truck driver who trades Chase some drugs for guns. Chase gets higher. Travis warns them that the zombies are part of the end of days, the Apocalypse. He also says there’s a zombie virus that affects only healthy people. Suddenly the giggling zombies attack. After firing many rounds, Chase and Typewriter jump back into the car and leave behind Travis who is calling out for help as the zombies close in on him. Chase comes to the realization that "certain people are meant to make it, others aren't."

The Battle:   I was not looking forward to having the fantastical short-story collection Electricity & Other Dreams battle the vulgar, coarse, offensive, dark, zombie-apocalyptic novel Fiend because believe it or not, I really like both books so far.

Electricity & Other Dreams, in the first 50 pages, offers me short stories to ponder. Fortunately, each one was so unique that I never knew what to expect or knew in which direction the characters would go. "The Time of the Wolf" began in a what-seemed-to-be normal Middle Eastern bazaar but it progressed into the world of weird. "When the Plumber Drank the Ghosts" began with some humor and then took me on a trip into the fantastic. Bits of imagery are still with me: the plumber's "right hand was always twisting, working a wrench that wasn't there." "Dessa and the Can Hermit" began creepy and ended creepier. All stories contained vivid imagery.

Entering, again, the world of Fiend, I found myself on a wild ride with drugged-out Chase and his companion Typewriter, who seemed to take control of the situation as Chase became more and more brain-fried with every chapter. The only downside was the continued drug use – can Chase's brain have any functioning part left?

I still enjoyed the distinctive crude metaphors in Fiend, although some made me blush. Their uniqueness, though, deserves recognition in a sea of books out there that use the mundane and recognizable. For example, after taking a hit of "thirty rock," Chase's "smoke expelled with a sigh like pissing in a pool." Chase and Typewriter meet Travis "with eyes like train tunnels and a jaw like a gear shift."

But after reading 50 pages of each book, I (Jackie) must choose a winner to move on in the Battle of the Books. It saddens me that one of these books will not move forward. Although both books have tremendous merit because they are so well-written and captured my interest with their bizarre twists and turns, there is one book that calls to me a millionth of a fraction more.

THE WINNER: Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks

Electricity & Other Dreams advances to the semifinals to take on either The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord or The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder.

To see the whole bracket, click here.