Friday, February 12, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Semifinal :: Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks vs. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Our first semifinal match in Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books features Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks going against The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. In the semifinal round, the books are judged after reading a total of 100 pages. The winner, the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 100 pages, will advance to the championship round.

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 in the first round, and edged by Fiend by Peter Stenson in the second round to reach the semifinals.

After reading 50 pages of short stories in Electricity & Other Dreams, I met alligator men, chickens who ran a meth lab, Lijah and his car, a contractor with a jinn ring, a plumber ghostbuster, and a man who lived in cans. The second 50 pages brought us more fantastical tales that twist and turn in magical directions.

"How the Weatherman Beat the Storm" -- Carlos drives the van that takes the TV camera crew to their various locations. The "weather girl" is beautiful and Carlos can't take his eyes off her. One day he ends up on the smoking balcony with the weather girl. He tries to impress her and says he has always wanted to be a weatherman, which is a big lie. The weather girl says, really? He says yes. The weather girl brings down a storm cloud onto his back. She tells him that when he can make the storm go away, then he'd be a real weatherman. Carlos's life just got complicated.

"The Famine of Music" -- A beautiful inventor uses her beauty to lure people to her home so she can experiment on them. She's changing their ears to ones made of satellite dishes, ear buds, guitar strings, and trumpet valves. Men and women let her alter their ears and forgive her, probably due to their weird attraction to her. The modified people, who soon number in thousands, find that "Everything is music." Seven brothers sit on a cliff and listen to the sound of waves crashing on the rocks. Sadly, the sound is music and not waves. They go into town to find the missing sound of waves, which happens to come from the mouths of whores. "Keep talking," say the brothers. Then a mariachi band rolls into town.

"The Butcher’s Chimes" -- An old woman who makes chimes is raising her deceased daughter's nine kids. She takes the kids to the dump where they find old appliances or craft pieces that the old woman can fix and sell or use to make chimes. The woman takes the fishing line and wire and runs it through her teeth to make it straight, and anything she strings seems to come to life. A meat fair comes to the area. The old woman tells her grandkids to line their pockets with plastic bags and newspaper. They will go to the fair and steal meat and put it in their freezer. At the fair, "The Cleaver" watches the kids steal meat. He keeps track and will get his money's worth when the time comes. As the woman and kids put the meat in the freezer, she sees that she only has eight kids. She goes back with the oldest kids to look for the missing girl. Meanwhile the other kids take the meat and string it together into the shape of a boy they call Pigboy, and he comes to life.

"The Hairdresser, the Giant, and the King of Roses" -- Marti is a high school scientist, building dangerous science projects. Great things are expected of her.

A witch visits Marti while she is packing for college. The witch touches Marti on her head and steals Marti's charmed life. The witch goes to college, and Marti becomes a hairdresser, but she has a special power. Her fingers, running through people's hair, change hair to gold. Her business flourishes while the witch enjoys all the things Marti was supposed to have – fame, money, self-fulfillment.

Ricky Long is a tycoon. He has a wife and seven daughters. Every couple of months, he brings his family to Marti's hair salon to have their hair turned to gold. At home, he cuts their hair of gold and sends it all to a Cash for Gold company. Ricky begins buying up the town. He surrounds every property with a moat of thorny rose bushes. He hires ten-foot-tall Bryon Cox to plant the bushes. The men who work for Ricky would like to see Bryon kill Ricky, but Ricky has a hold on Bryon.

One day Marti invites Bryon in to get his hair washed and changes it to gold. Ricky sees this and cuts Bryon's hair and keeps the gold. Marti gets mad and comes up with a plan.

"Bluebeard’s Daughter" -- Bluebeard likes the check-out girl at the grocery store. She eventually moves in with him. There's a locked drawer that Bluebeard doesn't want her to open, but she eventually finds the key. In the drawer are photos of all Bluebeard's past wives. Each wife has committed suicide. Soon, the grocery clerk climbs a tree and jumps, killing herself. Bluebeard is devastated. He gets married again, and this wife gets pregnant. He's so excited. Will the curse strike again?

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 in the first round, and overpowered The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder in the second round to reach the semifinals.

The first 50 pages of The Best of All Possible Worlds find us on the planet Cygnus Beta. "Councillor" Dllenahkh, a Sadirian, is on a mission to find other humans with Sadiri genetic heritage. His own planet was poisoned, killing most of the females, since they rarely go off-planet. Male Sadiri want to find suitable Sadiri-genetic-compatible females, with which to mate, in order for their race to continue. They are telepaths.

The Cygnian Delarua is assigned to travel with Dllenahkh and others to the various distant villages to do genetic testing. Discussions with the leaders of each settlement are undertaken to work out possible mating agreements. During these village visits, Dllenahkh and the team find various telepathic abilities being used. Delarua is also found to have some "psi" abilities.

In the second 50 pages, we discover more about the characters. Dllenahkh needs to "realign his nodes," or something like that, at the nearest monastery since he was affected by surges of anger that were difficult to control. Delarua drops Dllenahkh off at the Monserrat monastery, and takes a side trip to visit her sister Maria and her family. Maria married Delarua's past love interest Ioan. He seems to have a hold on Delarua's mind, which is a punishable offense. When Dllenahkh, and Fergus another team member, arrive in the shuttle to pick her up, Dllenahkh feels the mind control Ioan has on Delarua. On the shuttle, Dllenahkh touches Delarua's forehead, draining the mind-hold. Delarua suddenly feels whole again. Delarua contacts the authorities to turn in Ioan, which she couldn't do until now. Delarua needs her own therapy, which Dr. Daniyel, part of their team, can perform.

The group decides to split into two groups to hit more settlements. Delarua, Dllenahkh, and others travel to the next settlement on forest elephants. Along the way they must cross a rushing river. The mahout swims with the elephants and urges the others to do so, but they decide to take a rickety rope bridge instead. As Delarua and Dllenahkh cross, a surge in the river washes them off the bridge, and Delarua loses consciousness. She comes to in a hidden monastery filled with monks — men, women, and children. They are Sidiri and have surpassed the mind control that Dllenahkh's race has achieved. Delarua wonders what she and Dllenahkh should do next.

The Battle:  We have two different books battling it out to make it into the finals. The fantastical short-story collection Electricity & Other Dreams works its magic against the galaxy-spanning science fiction epic The Best of All Possible Worlds.

Through 100 pages, I am enjoying the bizarre, varied tales found in Electricity & Other Dreams. However, the rich planet of Cygnus Beta and the variety of settlements in The Best of All Possible Worlds seems like I'm traveling to different settings and experiencing new peoples with each sojourn. Both books are written with flourish and detail and keep me entertained.

Electricity & Other Dreams takes me to the world of magical realism. In "How the Weatherman Beat the Storm" we watch the weather girl as "she tumbled up into the wind and was gone." It happily reminded me of Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude when Remedios the Beauty flies into the sky holding a sheet that she was pinning on the clothesline. Just as good and just as amazing! There is humor within the stories as well as horror. Give me another short story to read!

The Best of All Possible Worlds is more than a story of one race's fight to survive. The character development unfolds with each chapter. Details emerge about the world as the characters travel the planet. I find more humor with each chapter. When Dllenahkh needs to rejuvenate at a monastery, Delarua says to herself, "My God, get this man to a meditation chamber, stat!" Quite funny when reading the book!

I still dislike all the names beginning with a "D." Really? We have Dllenahkh, Delarua, Darithiven, and Dr. Daniyle, who has Dalthi's Syndrome. Also, something was compared to an "Indiana Jones classic holovid." That brought me out of the story.

In Electricity & Other Dreams, there were seven brothers in one short story and seven daughters in another. I wondered if the author's favorite number was seven or maybe the reference went past me.

After reading 100 pages, I (Jackie) must choose which of these two well-written, romp-filled, entertaining books will go on the battle in the championship round. One book grabs my attention a bit more at this time, and I want to follow the characters on their planet-wide journey.

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

The Best of All Possible Worlds advances to the championship round to face either Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson or The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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