Science Fiction & Fantasy

CHOSEN ONES

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Book Reviews: October 2020

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Hey everyone, I hope you’re all doing okay in these increasingly turbulent times we find ourselves in. I’ll keep this intro short and sweet because there’s really only one thing left that’s important to say: Anyone can be a hero, not just the protagonists your favorite authors dream up, but it requires the conviction to act, even (and especially) when it seems like things are falling apart.

Americans, this is a link (vote.gov) to learn how to register to vote in your state. Please make sure you’re registered to vote, please make sure everyone you know is registered to vote, and then please make sure you actually vote. If we want to turn back the tide of anarchy, we need every last one of us to have the same passionate intensity that the worst currently find themselves filled with. Be a hero. Vote like it’s the last chance you’ll have to make a difference.

On to the reviews!

Beowulf
Maria Dahvana Headley
Paperback / Digital Audio / Ebook
ISBN: 9780374110031
MCD x FSG Originals, August 2020, 176 pages

Bro! So begins the latest translation of the epic poem Beowulf, that confused, confusing, malleable epic of poetic prose that has tormented schoolchildren and scholars alike across the years. For those who haven’t experienced Beowulf in one of its multiple incarnations, it is the story of a hero (eponymously named) doing heroic things like slaying monsters, accumulating treasures, and battling a dragon, all set in ye olde tymes Denmark and Sweden that bear passing resemblance to reality.

What makes Headley’s translation so interesting is that she keeps the traditional form of the epic (3182 lines of nameless narration) while making of it a contemporary piece, liberally utilizing modern day nomenclature and slang such that one can believe it a particularly long-winded drunken ramble at some mysterious smoke-shrouded bar where past and present rub shoulders unconcernedly. It is a translation that celebrates the fluidity of English language, reveling in the transitory ephemeralness of Internet slang even as it anchors itself on thousand-year old foundations.

If you were to ask, “Is this the definitive Beowulf translation?” then I would tell you no, because as Headley says in her foreword, “Every translator translates this poem differently. That’s part of its glory,” and I wholeheartedly agree. This version of Beowulf is of our particular time, a time where monsters and kings can be one and the same, where mead hall shouts are replaced by message board boasts, and not every hero has to be a man pricking something with his sword. Celebrate this translation, immerse yourself in its conjunction of the now and the then, because just like every Beowulf translation before it, there’s no telling when its time will end.

Read if: you enjoy the classics; you don’t mind some Hamilton with your Hamlet; you want to stick it to the stuffy gatekeepers of stasis.

Ballistic Kiss
Richard Kadrey
Hardcover / Digital Audio / Ebook
ISBN: 9780062672575
Harper Voyager, August 2020, 368 pages

For our other review, I’d like to direct your attention to Ballistic Kiss, by Richard Kadrey. Ballistic Kiss is the eleventh entry in the Sandman Slim series, a supernatural noir thriller featuring James Stark aka Sandman Slim, a tough talking, hoodoo slinging half-mortal for whom dying is just another bump in a long and rutted road.

I must confess, I hadn’t read a Sandman Slim book before Ballistic Kiss (I know, I know, but there are only so many hours in the day), and you would think this makes starting with the eleventh book in a series a weird experience. Happily, I can tell you this was not the case—Kadrey’s cast of characters are varied and have surely experienced adventures together that I have no idea about (and am looking forward to discovering), but everything in Ballistic Kiss is presented contextually in a way that allowed me to follow the story with ease, despite not reading the previous ten.

As far as the writing itself, Kadrey puts together an excellent style of gory, hard-boiled noir that turns Los Angeles from the city of angels into a sun-baked nightmarescape Sandman Slim must navigate using all his varied powers in order to solve a set of seemingly unrelated mysteries. Kadrey weaves together familiar landmarks in unfamiliar ways, and like all good noir novels, you know the protagonist will suffer through the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune on their way to the finale, but you’re never quite sure they’ll survive the ending.

Another thing I appreciated in Ballistic Kiss was the inclusion of a non-binary character and how Sandman Slim reacted to them throughout the course of the book. It’s clear Kadrey did his research and the interactions never felt forced or artificial—it’s just people being people, trying their best to figure out how to treat each other in ways that don’t cause each other pain (and when one of those people is a half-human murder machine called Sandman Slim, untying that particular knot can be thorny indeed). I may not have read any of the Sandman Slim series before Ballistic Kiss, but after reading it I can tell you I am quite excited to start from the beginning and read them all.

Read if: you like some mayhem in your mystery; you enjoy pissing off those who deserve it; you try to help others even when you can’t help yourself.

• • • •

And that’s it for me, folks. Remember to vote!

Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe grew up in Southern California among a colony of wild chinchillas and didn’t learn how to communicate outside of barking and howling until he was fourteen years old. He has played football in the NFL, once wrestled a bear for a pot of gold, and lies occasionally. He is also the eternal disappointment of his mother, who just can’t understand why he hasn’t cured cancer yet. Do you know why these bio things are in third person? I have no idea. Please tell me if you figure it out.