Review: “Above the Clouds” by Richard Roberts

3 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this unique story becomes quite compelling after an initial unnecessarily confusing hunting scene. The steampunk tale takes place in a world of airships and no land. How society got to this stage is unknown by its constituents, but nobody goes down to or beneath the solid layer of clouds below. A few clouds float above in their level of atmosphere and beyond that is the splendor of the cosmos with stars arrayed not unlike the Milky Way. Their zone above the clouds is similar to an Earth ocean in that large animals “swim” in this zone, and the airships hunt them with harpoons and cannons. The sharks are a menace. The skates, or rays [here called “kites” unnecessarily, when there is already an hawk-like Earth-animal called a kite] are a nuisance. The true prey is the large whales, which are so clearly not whales in that they have tentacles and “a bell.” The pointless confusion over calling something a “whale” in name when it is described as either a squid or medusa-form jellyfish is regrettable. The most whale-like features of these animals are their perceived intelligence and their haunting song.

The tale is narrated by a sentient airship named Red Baron that has a troubled relationship with his “father,” the human pilot. He also has the memory of a deceased, perfect older brother to try to live up to. Ultimately, he feels unloved and unappreciated by both his father and the rest of the squad, pilots and other airships alike. In his loneliness, Red scans through the “Chatter” frequencies where he often can listen in on others’ conversations, or at a certain high frequency, even on the whale song. It is on a remote channel that Red meets Rosie, a fellow lonely soul that has a problematic relationship with her mother. However, Red is afraid to reveal to Rosie that he is not a human pilot communicating over the Chatter.

Once this story establishes who Red is and his relationship to those around him [which takes a couple scenes], this tale takes off. The timelessness of a tale of two lost souls finding solace in each other with the whale song and cosmos as their only other friends translates well despite the strangeness of the world Red describes.
 
 
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Review: “The Colorado King” by Nathan L. Yocum

2 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this short story raises a lot of questions in its world-building though it also hints at some intriguing aspects to the dystopian, post-apocalyptic world shown. The United States, and possibly the entire world, devolved into a nuclear war some twenty years earlier. In its wake, a patchwork of nations has arisen. Colorado is a kingdom. Arizona [known as “Zona”] is a theocratic nation with preachers serving as sheriffs. Some Native American reservations have become independent city-states at odds with the former states. [The titular Kingdom of Colorado is never seen in this story–it serves as a promised land from the horrors of Zona.]

Ex-Preacher, Lead, is the protagonist who has lost nearly everything along the way: his wife, his eldest daughter. Now his only hope is that he can get to his wife’s clan in Colorado with his younger daughter, Shine. One of the more intriguing set-ups is Lead’s habit of sleeping hidden outside of the booby-trapped tent in which he keeps his supplies and daughter at night. The dangers of the world, both beast and human, are attracted to the tent and he finds piece of mind in his perceived tactical advantage. Needless to say, their travels are not without conflict.

Many other aspects to the story go unexplained. Lead enjoys Shine “poetic” take on the world and manner of speaking. However, her manner of speaking is also stilted and archaic. With her father as her only real influence, where did she learn to speak so differently regardless of “poetic” perception? Also, it is always raining ash and the skies are smoke-cloud covered, but the apocalypse was twenty years prior. What could be fueling such a constant barrage of ash and why is it not layered thick upon the ground like Pompeii after Vesuvius blew? How it is that Lead does not forage or hunt, but rather relies on only decades-old cans of food for sustenance? And why is the forest bereft of green pine needles when the ghost-town it surrounds is overgrown with Kudzu and moss? These mysteries gnaw at my sense of order, especially as they go unanswered.
 
 
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Review: A Condensation of Maps

A Condensation of MapsA Condensation of Maps by Roberto Carache Flores
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flores’ poems excavate exact moments with short, ephemeral lines, like the teasing of minute threads to open a knot. The consistently short lines don’t always work, but when they do the result is exquisite. Sometimes the result is simple and precise. [From “El Tunco”]

and a violet sun
going down
on the sea
until it
got dark.

At other times, a subtle complexity layers up. [From “Nyack Blues”]

The shadows / of cocktail dresses, / rolled up sleeves, / silky scarves, / and armpit stains / have slow danced away, / held up close / by autumn’s breeze. //
He’s kept / track of time, / how it ticks / to the clicks / of pointy heels, / revolving doors, / cell phone calls, / packed taxi cabs, / and all things closed.

It is hard not to think of the deceptive simplicity of a haiku in stanzas like, “The frogs / begin to undress / the night’s / silence / with the / innocence / of their / early croaks.” [from “Friends in Rio Sapo”], and “Remember how / you crossed / the green hill crests / with a steel wool kite / tied around your ankles, / while frantically chasing / the scent of an underground fire / you thought long gone?” [from “Leaving Perquin”].

The forward by Dink Press founder and editor, Kristopher D. Taylor, compares the poetics to “a surrealist Williams, or perhaps Lorca.” Where the surrealism emerges (and it does), it most closely reminds me of Gregory Corso’s “Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway.” This was especially true of the first in a three-poem series spread through the chapbook that revolves around two characters, “X” and “O”. [From “XO”]

X said O got caught / hawk watching / in a vacant spider web. // O said X should / run wild among / the most silent of does. . .

. I preferred the lovely sentiments expressed in the poem “X,” in which O has written a letter to X.

I hope your
inner strings
no longer feel
overwrought,
tightened
by the past,
impervious
to touch.

I hope they’ve
blossomed
into ivy
or can flutter
to make
music.

I enjoyed this collection and look forward to future works by Flores. I received this chapbook directly from Dink Press and Kristopher D. Taylor for the purpose of reviewing it.
 
 
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Canon Fodder-Friday: Nonfiction

For my final foray into considering the educational canon, I’d like to include nonfiction. Many speeches, letters and treatises have had a profound effect on the modern world as it relates to politics, economics, sciences, philosophy, the penal code, and human rights among other things. The following is my top ten non-fiction canon for works written in the last 250 years:

1) 1764 — On Crime and Punishment by Cesare Beccaria

This treatise was spread by Voltaire long after Beccaria lived out his life largely under house-arrest just for having written it. It suggested the first arguments against capital punishment, torture, and cruel and unusual punishment. It called for punishments to fit the crimes.

2) 1776 — The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith [Hello free market.]
3) 1776 — “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
4) 1845 — Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
5) 1848 — The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
6) 1859 — On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
7) 1863 — “The Gettysburg Address” and The Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln
8) 1869 — The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill
9) 1958 — Night by Elie Wiesel
10) 1963 — “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

My three previous Friday posts listed Top 10s that included poetry, plays, and novels written in European languages. As of yet, I have not included a single graphic work in any of these lists, so I’d like to propose an eleventh item for this list as I think graphic works can be just as important and literary as non-graphic works.

11) 1991 — Maus by Art Spiegelman

What would you include in such a list, or what would you exclude? Let me know.

April is International Poetry Month. My Friday posts with all be poetry-related:
April 3rd– Poetry Forms I: Haikus and Limericks
April 10th– Poetry Forms II: Sonnets, Villanelles and Sestinas
April 17th– Poetry: Rhyming and Sounds
April 24th– Poetry: Avoiding Abstractions and Cliches

Review: “Gookie Visits Her Moma” by G. Miki Hayden

5 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this very short story is fun and ridiculous in its playing with the English language. But in doing so, it manages to establish the outline of an alien culture and sub-cultural slang that is quick and effective in world-building. Gookie is essentially a bounty hunter, native to the planet, Nonser, that has taken a mission to return a run-away charge [Soiling Swnbock] back to Nonser so that she can visit her mother [aka Moma, aka Mometi] and make money [“jingle”] at the same time.

[Gookie] had little patience for babelings or youthlets less mature than she, but she restrained herself. The kid was worth a fifteen-clyde honorarium, and her haulings both to Nonser and back.
“Settle down, Swnbock,” she grunted, “and you’ll live to see Mometi and Popa again.”
“I don’t want to view them, ever after,” the youthster snarled in gross rejection. “I condemnate each of them. They’re both so crudly.”
“All kiddos feel that way about their parentises,” acknowledged Gookie.

All action takes place on the I.G. Zoom where the Nonserian boy has managed to escape his captor, and then work himself into deeper trouble. With its colorful, alien crew the Zoom reveals its hidden workings at Gookie’s prodding.

The language of the story is reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange blended with “The Jabberwocky.” This story is highly recommended.
 
 
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Review: Evolving Ourselves

Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on EarthEvolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book explains the frontline research of contemporary genetics and then explores the potential in speculative science. Bridging the gap between science and science fiction, the culpability of the human race in modern evolution is outlined.

For four billion years, nature selected what lived and died. Life forms adapted by mutating randomly so that at least a few specimens sometimes hit the jackpot and survived . . . [Darwin] is not right anymore. Over the past century, as our species grew by billions, concentrated in cities, smartened, and domesticated itself and its surroundings, we became the fundamental driver of what lives and dies. . . Half the landmass on Earth is now covered by what humans want, not by what would naturally grow without the intervention of our species. Oceans, rivers, and lakes are depleted. In just a few centuries, we have terraformed, fertilized, fenced, seeded, and irrigated enormous sections of what was once forest, savannah, desert, and tundra to accommodate our plants, our animals, our wishes. This is unnatural selection.

There is much humans do not yet know as we dabble, such as the intricate interplay between the human genome, epigenome [turning on and off of gene expression], microbial biome [especially of the gut], and the barely researched virome [the viruses living off the host and the host’s bacterial flora]. Changes in any of these genomes affects not just the individual, but generations to come. We also do not yet understand the side effects of human domestication, such as explosions in rates of obesity, diabetes, allergies, and autism.

Entering the realm of speculative science and the future of humanity, this book also explores the future of human enhancement on athletics, and space travel and colonization. More questions are asked than answers given, but that is precisely what drives science into new realms.

I received this book through Goodreads’ First Reads Giveaway.
 
 
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Review: “The Unattended Life” by J. E. Anckorn

4 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this tale feels like an urban legend come to life. Joe Russo leads a necessary and yet grim life–he cleans up after the dead for the sake of the living. Not unlike a mortician, he faces the smells, gore and general unpleasantness at locations of death and erases their imprint with his cleaning services. And he’s good at his job. But his life is joyless.

Joe’s wife was a nurse that eventually died after a long struggle with cancer. Since then, he’s joined a good friend, Frankie, at the pub on occasion, but he doesn’t live. Despite having enough to retire let alone take a vacation, Joe has for years refused Frankie’s offer to get away to a lakehouse for a little R & R. Joe’s neighbor, Dee Dee, has also been trying to get Joe out of his shell by dropping off cookies and trying to engage him in conversation, all to no avail.

Then one day, Joe starts to see the specter of death at work, on the street, in the pub, even at his house. Joe has seen many scenes of death, but never felt the fear of being tailed by Death himself. But Death is not here on business, but rather to issue a warning that he needs to be acknowledged and not merely numbly ignored and taken for granted. The ball is in Joe’s court as he gets a say in his next scene . . .
 
 
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