Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

2012 Book 147: Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

Reason for Reading: This seemed like a good book to read in October. I chose it because it’s currently being considered for the World Fantasy Award.

My Review  
This is an anthology of vampire stories…but not just ANY vampires.Vampires are inundating the market these days, and they’re beginning to get a tad predictable and boring. This new collection is meant to delight the reader by displaying the variety of thirsts that plague vampires (and humans). There are your classic blood-sucking varieties, but there are also soul-sucking vampires, and vampires from different folkloric traditions, and vampires that…well, ARE they vampires, or are they humans…or…are humans really vampires at heart?

Although I thought the theme of this anthology was creative, and I generally enjoyed the stories, I wasn’t wowed. I’m not a huge short story reader because I really like plot and character development, and short stories simply don’t have the space for such development–unless they really pack the info in. And in the case of THOSE stories, I tend to feel a little bogged down and need to read very slowly to pick up all the information. For me, these stories were either too insubstantial or too substantial. 😉 Being unaccustomed to reading anthologies, I don’t know if this issue was because I have difficulty with short stories, or if it was because the anthology was less than fantastic. Either way, I thought the anthology was interesting, but I’m glad to be moving on to other books. 

I was originally going to share a mini-review of each story. But these stories are so short, and the joy (for me) depended entirely on not knowing what sort of “vampire” I was reading about. There’s just not much to say about the individual stories without giving spoilers. 

All You Can Do Is Breathe, by Kaaron Warren: When a mine collapses, a minor is trapped for several days. He keeps himself alive by remembering the good things in life. But he keeps a dark secret from the media-craze that descends upon him when he is rescued. A scary “long man” came to him while he was trapped…a man who didn’t want to rescue him. 

Needles, by Elizabeth Bear: Two vampires descend upon the home of a tattoo artist. Do they want more than just a tattoo? 

Baskerville’s Midgets, by Reggie Oliver. A boardinghouse landlady befriends a set of 7 midgets and pays a dire price.  ***This one was darkly funny. One of my three favorites.

Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow, by Richard Bowes: A woman in need of money seduces her rich ex-lover to come back to the dark-side.  

X for Demetrious, by Steve Duffy: This is a fictional story based on the true-life news story of a man who, in January 1973, was found dead on his mattress–having choked on a bulb of garlic. The room was filled with crucifixes, sprinkled with salt, and “protected” with salt-laced urine and garlic-laced excrement. ***This was one of my three favorite stories in the anthology. It was thoughtful and a bit frightening.

Keeping Corky, by Melanie Tem: A mentally disabled woman who believes that she has the power to “punish” people by sucking away bits of themselves becomes angry when she is not allowed to write a letter to her biological son Corky, who’d been adopted by a couple years ago. But does she really have the power to punish?

Shelf Life, by Lisa Tuttle: While rummaging through her parent’s attic, a woman finds a dollhouse that she’d become obsessed with as a child. She takes it home and gives it to her daughter–with disastrous results. Some people just shouldn’t have dollhouses. 

Caius, by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg: Caius is a radio talk-show host who has an almost magical power to resolve people’s internal conflicts and make them feel satisfied. They flock to him. But what’s really going on?

Sweet Sorrow, by Barbara Roden: When a little girl disappears in a quiet neighborhood, her friend Brian feels that his elderly neighbors are acting suspiciously. They seem to thrive on the grief around them.

First Breath, Nicole J. LeBoeuf: A mysterious narrator goes on a trip to “find herself.” 

Toujours, Kathe Koje: After dedicating the later years of his life to help a young fashion designer become famous, Gianfranco jealously guards the young man from encroaching threats–like love interests.

Miri, by Steve Rasnic Tem: Ricky is a devoted husband and father, but something is lacking. He constantly seems drained and distracted. He spends a lot of time thinking about a woman from the past…

Mrs. Jones, by Carol Emshwiller: Two old-maid sisters entertain themselves through a long, dreary life by intentionally annoying one another. Then one day, a little demon shows up in their lives…and everything suddenly changes. 

Bread and Water, by Michael Cisco: The story of a vampire plague from the perspective of one of the original hospitalized patients. 

Mulberry Boys, by Margo Lanagan: Fifteen-year-old John helps hard-hearted Phillips track down and surgically care for a Mulberry Boy. As talks to Phillips for the first time in his life, he learns more about who the Mulberry Boys are and begins to wonder who’s the REAL monster. ***This was my third favorite story…and it was definitely the most memorable for me. I’ll probably look for more works by this author.

The Third Always Beside You, by John Langan: Weber and Gertrude suspect that there is another woman involved in their parent’s marriage. When curiosity finally overcomes Gertrude and she asks a family friend, she finds out much more than she’d bargained for.  

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

2012 Book 139: Who Fears Death
written by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik
Reason for Reading:
 This is my fourth book for The Diverse Universe blog tour, in which we are reading speculative fiction books written by authors-of-color. Who Fears Death was a Nebula nominee in 2010 and won the World Fantasy Award in 2011.

My Review

This book takes place in a post-apocalyptic Sudan, which is peopled by two races–the dominant Nurus and their “slaves” the Okekes. Onyesonwu Ubaig-Ogundiwu (whose name means “Who Fears Death?”) is a the daughter of an Okeke woman who was raped and brutalized by a Nuru sorcerer and his genocidal army. Onyesonwu was considered “Ewu,” a mixed-race child who brings bad luck and violence wherever she goes. Despite Onyesonwu’s mother’s lucky marriage to a kind man, the girl spent most of her younger years feeling insecure and angry at the world. However, as Onyesonwu grew, she inherited the powers of a sorcerer…angry powers that she couldn’t control without the help of a teacher. This story is the coming-of-age of a young sorcerer destined to wreak vengeance on a violent father. 
I am having a really difficult time deciding what rating to give this book. Okorafor’s writing was powerful (as was the reading by Flosnik). The story was compelling, though a few sections dragged for me–these parts could have been cut out to make a shorter book with no loss to the story. The genocidal violence and rape were described in disturbing detail, though these details were tactful and necessary. Okorafor used a post-apocalyptic setting to write a powerful story about issues (like genocide, female circumcision, and oppressive sexism) that are current problems in parts of Africa today. In fact, the most powerful part of the story (the consequences of human brutality) were disturbingly realistic and representative of the world many of us Westerners choose to ignore today. But, as disturbing as this book’s content was, there was also a ray of hope and optimism. And behind all of this darkness and light, there is the story of a girl who wants nothing more to love her man, her friends, and her mother despite all odds. (Well, ok, she also wants revenge…)
About the Author:
Nnedi Okorafor is the American-born daughter of Igbo Nigerian parents. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has written several YA fantasy novels. Who Fears Death is her first book for adults.  

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin

written by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Reason for Reading:

First of all, let me thank Morphi who recommended this book a few weeks ago when I said I was reading authors-of-color…-of-speculative-fiction for the Diverse Universe Tour. This is EXACTLY what I needed after reading all those heavy literary works. This book was fun brain candy, but it also had some interesting messages as well. 🙂 

My Review:

When Yeine Darr’s mother dies, she is called for an unexpected interview with her estranged maternal grandfather, the ruler of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Under the guise of adopting her into the family, her grandfather’s twisted family holds Yeine against her will in the city of Sky. Presumably, she is a third contender to take her grandfather’s place as ruler–but what are his motivations for accepting her (as outcast) into the family? On top of that, Yeine is also being seduced by the charms of the “gods” of Sky…and one of them is the ultimate bad-boy. These gods have been treated as slaves by Yeine’s family for two thousand years, and they want their own piece of Yeine’s new life. Yeine must weave her way through a maze of deceit to decide who her allies are. I loved this book because I was in great need of some brain candy right about now. It’s light, fun, fluffy…as long as you approach it like brain candy, you’ll really love it. 🙂 Despite it’s fun fluffy nature, Jemisin manged to weave in messages about unbendingly dogmatic religions, slavery, women’s rights, and abuse of power. These messages do not overpower the story, but they’re there if you want to think about them. In my mind, this was a perfect mixture and just what I needed right now. 🙂

About the Author:
N. K. Jemisin was born in Iowa city in a year un-noted by Wikipedia. 😉 She grew up in New York City and Mobile, Alabama. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is her debut book…it was considered for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards the year it came out. I look forward to watching as Jemisin’s writing develops. 🙂 If her first book is so good, then perhaps her writing will get even better as time progresses!

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

2012 Book 137: Kafka on the Shore

Written by Haruki Murakami; Narrated by Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur

Reason for Reading: In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, which is Japanese magical realism / surrealism. This is one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and it won “best novel” for the World Fantasy Award in 2006.

My Review

Kafka on the Shore follows two seemingly unrelated characters whose stories collide in surreality. The first character is a 15-year-old runaway boy who has renamed himself Kafka Tamura. Kafka runs away from his father for reasons that slowly reveal themselves as the plot thickens. He ends up in an obscure library, where he must overcome a dark curse. The second character is Nakata, an old man who suffered an injury as a child and lives as on a stipend for the mentally disabled. Nakata may not be very smart, but he can talk to cats, and he has an uncanny ability to accept surreal events at face value, thus providing a unique perspective to the strange plot twists. Kafka on the Shore highlights the extreme effects alienation can have on a person’s psyche. It had some VERY dark undercurrents (and even one scene of brutality that was quite shocking). It was a fascinating story, but after thinking about it for several days, I’m still unable to figure out quite what it meant. Perhaps it was only an expression of dark loneliness and nothing more? Whether I’m missing the deeper meaning or not, I greatly enjoyed reading my first Murakami book, and look forward to reading many more of these fascinating works. 

About the Author

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949 to parents who taught Japanese literature. Murakami was greatly influenced by Western culture. His “modernist” books invoke an interesting mixture of classical music, Western literature, and Japanese culture. Like many surreal / modernist writers, his novels depict alienation, loneliness, and trauma.

Final Comments

It’s interesting that I followed up The Blind Owl with Kafka on the Shore. Both are Asian surrealism (which I haven’t read too very much of) and both have explicit use of the Oedipus complex. Is the Oedipus complex a common characteristic of surreal literature? Or a common characteristic of Asian modernist fiction? Or maybe the Oedipus complex is a defining characteristic of alienated characters? Maybe it was just a coincidence. I guess I’ll see as I read more of these types of books. 🙂 I have decided to include Kafka on the Shore in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge because of the unexpected dark undercurrents.