Food of the Gods (Gods and Monsters) (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

“I used to wonder if death kills your sense of humour. It does.” (Loc 72)

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Rupert Wong, “cannibal chef,” prepares food for gods and ghouls. Sometimes he is the food. He used to be a triad and has a dark past he’s not proud of. These days, he’s just trying to make enough for him and his girlfriend to get by, as well as keep the right gods and monsters happy enough to keep him out of hell. That’s hell with a capital “D” or “Diyu”, the Chinese realm of the dead.

“The holy man didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t already expecting. He said I had an express pass to all Ten Courts of Hell. I would be there for a thousand years, if I was lucky.” (Loc 198)

In an effort to work off some of his bad karma, Rupert agrees to investigate the murder of the Dragon King of the South’s daughter. The only clue is a couple of feathers rumoured to have belonged to one of the Greek Furies. Press-ganged private investigator or chef to gods and monsters, Rupert Wong could be the hero we’ve all been waiting for. Continue reading

The Arrival of Missives (2016) by Aliya Whiteley

“There are deep roots to May Day, stretching back through the centuries. I find I have a taste for power in all its forms, […] and what is more powerful than a Queen?” (p.76)

This is the second novella by Aliya Whiteley that I’ve read this year. The first one was her stunning story The Beauty (2014) which left me in awe of its invention, its beautiful prose, and its genuine strangeness. The Arrival of Missives is not quite as strange as The Beauty, but it is equally as fascinating once it draws you in.

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Set in a small village in England just after the First World War, this is the story of Shirley Fearn, the teenage daughter of a successful land-owning farmer. She attends the village school and has a crush on its teacher, the injured war veteran Mr. Tiller. Shirley dreams of escaping the traditional, sleepy village life and is exploring the possibility of training to become a teacher in a school in the next town. Continue reading

What’s Your Choice for World Book Day ’17?

This is my physical TBR pile going into March. If you had to choose 1 book to read next, what would it be? Please post your answer in the comments section below:)

(Adam Roberts’ Adam Robots and Brian Aldiss’s The Secret of this Book are short story collections.)

The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories (2017) Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud.  And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
(Quran 15:26-27)

Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:

“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind.  The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.”
(Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)

the-djinn-falls-in-loveIn The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.

And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me. Continue reading

Counter-Clock World (1967) by Philip K. Dick

“The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” – Philip K. Dick, from a speech he gave in 1978

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Counter-Clock World
is the twelfth PKD novel I’ve read this year, accompanied by a monthly quota of 75 pages of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Out of the twelve books I’ve read, this has become one of my favourites. It is built on a simple concept: what if people’s lives started running backwards? So, instead of being born as a baby from the womb, people are “old-born” from the grave and age in reverse, getting younger year by year. Dick calls this process “the Hobart Phase”.

“Those who were presently being old-born had been the last to die: final mortalities before June 1986. But according to Alex Hobart, the reversal of time would continue to move backwards, continually sweeping out a great span;” (p.14)

The older we get, the more we dream of slowing or halting the aging process. Isn’t this what so many of us desire? But this is a PKD story which means it has his unique take on such a concept. And if we stop and actually think about the ramifications of reverse-aging, we might not see it as being such a great thing after all. For one thing, can you imagine regaining consciousness in a coffin six feet underground? Continue reading

Occupy Me (2016) by Tricia Sullivan

“I leaned into HD. My body folded like a paper airplane and I went down as a shaft, shedding importune photons like confetti. He got closer and closer. Every beat of my heart was dedicated to this one thing. Fly like an arrow. Fly. Every breath. Every impulse to muscle and every thought. My teeth sang in the wind.” (p.25)

 

31423509Tricia Sullivan won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1999 for her novel Dreaming in Smoke. She has written nine SF and three Fantasy books, but I’d wager you haven’t heard of her. (Although I would be happy to be mistaken.) I recently read a fascinating speech she gave at Stranimondi 2016 about the difficulty of attaining recognition as a female SF writer. Here is a link to that speech. Occupy Me (2016) is her latest book. I picked it up on impulse because I liked the sound of what I read on the back cover.

The story opens with a page of instructions for using a “HD waveform launcher” with a warning about its “internal gravity”. We are not told what it is or even what it does, just how to switch “from scan mode to launch mode.” (p.1) The narrative voice then switches to the second-person with the narrator telling “you” how a “briefcase turned up in your life.” (p.2) The problem is “you” don’t have any recollection of where this briefcase has come from. And for some reason you are afraid to open it. But at the last minute you pick it up and take it with you. Continue reading

Retrospective for Year One – Oct. 2015 to Nov. 2016

 
It’s been a year since I started reviewing books on this blog, so I thought I would write a retrospective post to celebrate. It all began with Richard Matheson’s 1971 horror novel Hell House which I chose to read for Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read. His idea was to gift a scary book to a friend for Halloween:

 

“I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.

I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands — new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. Make their flesh creep…”

-Neil Gaiman, Blog Post “A Modest Proposal (That Doesn’t Actually Involve Eating Anyone)”, Saturday October 23rd 2010.

Continue reading