Chaos and a Bloated Mango

Fevered Star is Rebecca Roanhorse’s second novel in the Between Earth and Sky fantasy series, and it picks up right where Black Sun left off, except it is no longer Year 325 of the Sun. It is Year 1 of the Crow. Order has been usurped by chaos. The city of Tova is destroyed, and the sun now hovers “on the horizon like a bloated mango, casting only enough light to shadow the city in an eerie perpetual twilight.” That won’t be good for tourism.

The story opens with Lord Balam (the jaguar lord who arranged to send Serapio to Tova to crush the sun priesthood) learning how to dreamwalk – a nasty bit of sorcery outlawed for centuries. Balam is intent on breaking worlds and “realigning the very course of the heavens.” So far his plan is going swimmingly but for Serapio surviving the attack on Sun Rock. That was unexpected and unwelcome. Fortunately Lord Balam always looks for the “potential in the chaos.” Potential abounds.

Serapio has become Odo Sedoh, the Crow God Reborn. But his clan, Carrion Crow, is split on whether this is good for them or not. Chaos is unpredictable.

Naranpa, too, has unexpectedly survived. She was the Sun Priest, but she becomes the living embodiment of the Sun God. She just needs to learn how to control her incredible powers. Easier said than done. If Naranpa succeeds, she can restore order and heal the Meridian, but she desperately needs allies. All three of them do.

Serapio, Naranpa, and Lord Balam struggle to form these alliances. Each has access to powerful magic they sometimes struggle to control. The future of the Meridian is at stake. War appears inevitable. It looks to be bloody and catastrophic for all involved.

Ms. Roanhorse tells an absorbing story that moves at a steady clip. The characters are diverse, complex, and realistic. As in Black Sun, Ms. Roanhorse’s incorporation of mythology from the pre-Columbian Americas is interesting and effective. She brings refreshing elements to the fantasy genre. Most importantly, Fevered Star maintains the reader’s curiosity about where this series is headed.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Facebook Friends

If a waning moon
is still a moon
then we were children.

We were also wet
and nearly naked,
half-hidden in the dark,
hoping our drunk parents
would remain dumb.

Our probing tongues
made easy promises
that tasted like truth
with a dash of delusion.

But now the moon is new
and we are Facebook friends.
We share our virtual lives;
celebrate our virtual victories
while still hiding in the dark.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief 

first published in Artemis

A Tender Heart Prone to Foolishness

If you have been reading my posts (and why wouldn’t you – you seem intelligent), you know I regularly give money to homeless people in downtown Roanoke. This year alone I have handed out a total of $7.00. However, I do much more than give pathetic misfits a dollar. I counsel them, so they can improve their lives. After all, money can’t buy happiness. It can only buy shelter, warmth, food, and medicine.

Today on Church Street, I encountered a filthy homeless man and decided to help. His steel-colored beard was long and wild. His pants and shirt were unfashionable and mismatched. He seemed unable to focus on what I was saying. Regardless, I forged ahead. I told him businesses all over town were hiring. He didn’t need to live like a greasy feral cat. Just as I was getting to the part about picking yourself up by your bootstraps, he turned and got on a rusty bicycle with flat, no-tread tires and rode away as fast as that decrepit thing could carry him.

I smiled at myself in relief. My tender heart is blind and prone to foolishness. I almost gave that charlatan a dollar. As you know, I only give money to homeless people. It’s my motto. Now call me old-fashioned, but I also prefer the homeless to be bikeless. There is just something intrinsically wrong about giving money to someone who has the ways and means of owning a bicycle.

Knowgood Carp, Owner of All the Hotels on Block Island (and Some in Connecticut)

When Pretending to be Something, Don’t be a Nazi

In the introduction to his sublime Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut famously warns “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Take Howard W. Campbell, Jr., the novel’s captivating narrator. He wasn’t careful at all, and now he’s sitting in an Israeli jail waiting to be tried for war crimes. Hi ho.

Thirty years earlier during the 1930s, Campbell was an American playwright of “modest reputation” living in Germany. He was married to a beautiful German actress, and they were a “nation of two.” What could possibly go wrong? A brushfire called World War II.

Immediately before the war started, Campbell was recruited by an American agent to be a spy. Campbell agreed because “I would have an opportunity for some pretty grand acting. I would fool everyone with my brilliant interpretation of a Nazi, inside and out.” He succeeded outrageously and for all the world to hear. He became a radio broadcaster and propagandist for the Nazis; however, during his broadcasts he sent coded messages to the Americans to help the Allies win the war. But to the world, he is a “shrewd and loathsome anti-Semite.” His outward support for Nazism ultimately lands him in that Israeli jail.

Mother Night is Campbell’s confession to the Israelis. He gives it voluntarily and eagerly. But he’s not interested in exoneration. He readily admits to being a “man who served evil too openly and good too secretly, the crime of his times.” Is this irony or just a statement of fact? Does it matter?

Because here’s the thing. Campbell was a spy for the good guys in that war, but he still helped the Nazis. His father-in-law, early in the war, had suspected Campbell of being a spy. He hoped Campbell would be shot as a traitor. By the war’s end, he no longer cared if Campbell was a spy or not. “Because you could never have served the enemy as well as you served us . . . I realized that almost all the ideas I hold now, that make me unashamed of anything I may have felt or done as a Nazi, came not from Hitler, not from Goebbels, not from Himmler – but from you . . . You alone kept me from concluding that Germany had gone insane.” That’s quite an indictment. And it is one of the passages that makes this book brilliant. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Campbell’s vicious propaganda assisted the Nazis in their brutality. It is not clear at all how he helped the Allies. Given the severe consequences of all his lies, does being an American spy save him from condemnation?

Mother Night is obsessed with lies and their consequences. And though it was written more than 60 years ago, it is as relevant now as ever. Chew on this if you doubt me: “I had hoped, as a broadcaster, to be merely ludicrous, but this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate.”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

The Bluefish

You and I were barely burned by the sun
wearing worn out bathing suits -
yours snugly hinting at the lures to come.

Ecstatic flies swarmed the picnic table
where the sawed-off head blankly
watched as her body sizzled on the grill
dressed in a green coat of lemon juice and dill.

And you stood staring into her phlegm-colored eye
as if the fish had a secret she wanted to confide;
as if she beckoned you to jump 
on the grill and sizzle at her side
because you, too, would swim against the tide
only to have men feast upon your glistening body
while you watched helpless and horrified.

A future filled with so many sharks
must have come as a nasty surprise
because you grabbed a silver knife . . . 
those ravenous men should have seen that phlegm fly.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief 

If is Great but Unless is Best

In As You Like It Touchstone extols the virtue and power of the word if (see Act V, Scene IV). And he’s right, but there’s another word he somehow ignores. In my experience this word is equally virtuous, equally powerful, and far more graceful. It’s unless.

Allow me to paint a picture. Let’s say a bartender is working late on the third Wednesday of last July. A patron arguably has had too much to drink, but the bartender knows him well and knows he can handle his liquor. The patron asks for another bourbon with 2 chipped ice cubes. His preferred bourbon is Blanton’s, so he’s a classy guy. Obviously, the bartender should refuse to serve anyone who has had too much to drink. Unless the bartender works at an elite country club in Connecticut and the patron is a member or a guest of a member. As you can see, unless is essential here. It dictates what the bartender should do.

Here’s another painting. Let’s say the member wants to inform the country club’s manager of the bartender’s failure to do his simple job. Such conversations where you are deciding an individual’s fate should be done in person. Unless they can be done by text. It’s called courtesy, and courtesy is vital. Unless it’s inconvenient.

At any rate it all worked out. Tinoco no longer works on Wednesdays at the club, or any other day it seems. But what’s more important is he learned the virtue, power, and grace of unless. I am sure he is a better person for it.

Treacherous Gulp, Esquire – Counsel for Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology

Hag-Seed: A Tempest in a Teacup

In 2015 Hogarth launched the Hogarth Shakespeare project to have Shakespeare’s plays retold by acclaimed or (more frequently) popular novelists. Gratuitous? Yup. Lazy? Sure. Good idea? Nope. Money grab? Yahtzee! But, hey, Hollywood does it all the time, so why not?

Plus, Hogarth tapped Margaret Atwood to modernize The Tempest. So how bad could it be? Fair enough. Hag-Seed (Ms. Atwood’s adaptation of The Tempest) is not bad. At times, it’s quite enjoyable, but that’s usually when Ms. Atwood doesn’t hew to the play.

Felix is Ms. Atwood’s Prospero. Early on, we learn that his wife died shortly after giving birth to their daughter, Miranda. We also learn Miranda died when she was about 4 years old. In a former life, Felix was the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival, which he planned to make the “standard against which all lesser festivals would be measured.” To do this, he needed money, and that was Tony’s job. However, Felix’s failure to focus on the business side of the festival costs him. Tony convinces the board to fire Felix, and Tony replaces him. Felix has a temper tantrum and goes off the grid – changing his name and essentially exiling himself.

About 12 years later, Felix is working part-time at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute where he puts on Shakespeare’s plays with the inmates. “Power struggles, treacheries, crimes: these subjects were immediately grasped by his students, since in their own ways they were expert in them.” His program is modestly successful.

Tony and some of the more culpable board members are now important government officials. They will be at the institute to see the inmates perform My Fair Lady. Really? You ask. No, that would be stupid. They are staging The Tempest, of course. Felix plots his revenge.

The novel works best when it focuses on Felix’s interactions with the inmates and how they produce the play inside a prison – how they relate to Shakespeare’s works. They are effective and humorous fairies, goblins, and demons, and there is much to like about these passages. Ms. Atwood is adept at handling the “play within a play” aspect of The Tempest, and the prison is a perfect substitute for an island.

But the novel is less successful in addressing Felix’s need for vengeance. In The Tempest, vengeance is central to the plot. At times Prospero is monstrous in his pursuit of it. However, Prospero did not voluntarily exile himself. His brother usurped him and put him in a small boat with his young daughter – leaving them to drift on the sea. His brother clearly wanted them to die horrible deaths, so Prospero’s desire for vengeance is understandable.

Vengeance is central to Hag-Seed as well, and Felix at times is also monstrous in his pursuit of it. But his all-consuming need for vengeance doesn’t hold up. Felix exiled himself. Miranda was already dead, so her life was never at risk. If Felix’s life was in danger, he did it to himself. His desire for vengeance, which drives the plot, is gratuitous. Ultimately, and sadly, so is Hag-Seed.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Simple Things

These days everyone complains about student loan debt. Some foolish bureaucrats even talk about debt forgiveness, which is laughable. These debts didn’t do anything wrong. Why do they need to be forgiven?

At Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology, we shun people who only complain about problems. We embrace (in an awkward sexual way) people who solve problems. So here are 5 simple things you can do to pay down your student loans.

  1. Each month take your rent money and use it to pay your student loans. It will take your landlord one year (at least) to evict you, and that’s one year of easy payments towards your student loan debt. Mom and dad have a sofa.
  2. Get a loan to pay your student loan. Credit cards are great for this. No collateral required and a low interest rate of 22%. Are your credit cards already maxed out from paying student loans? What about mom’s credit cards?
  3. Get a night job. You don’t have money to go out after working your day job anyway. So now you will have something to do at night.
  4. Stop eating. Inflation has hit food prices hard. You shouldn’t have to put up with that. Imagine how much money you will save if you just cut food from your diet. And you’ll be a skinny legend.
  5. Go to grad school. Is that bachelor’s degree in symbology not working out? Even though you studied under Professor Robert Langdon? Take out another student loan and get a graduate degree in symbology. Robert Langdon did, and he’s doing fine. He teaches at Harvard now and looks like Tom Hanks.
  6. Bonus idea! Whatever you do, don’t lobby Congress to make it easier to discharge student loan debt. We may have encouraged (and frequently helped) you to get these loans, even though we suspected you would never be able to pay them off, but why should we be penalized? Isn’t it enough to just penalize you?

Titmouse Beak, CEO of Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology

Chicken Hawk

Now is not the time for questioning minds.
Now is the time for Bud Light with lime
because thinking is hard and hurts to boot -
that's why you have me; I'm thinking's leisure suit.

Slip me on and see how I fit.
Plenty of room for belly and hip.
Gaudy and garish like the colors of war - 
not that I have ever served before.
No, that's a privilege for others to endure.

I was created to talk non-stop.
You were made to listen without thought
so listen as I glorify a past never seen
and scorch anyone who dares disagree
with a wit fueled by methane gas
and a tongue lodged so far up my ass,
it makes me wobble when I walk
and forces me to bend over when I talk
or when I get enemas of warm liquid mint
because my breath makes garbage men squint.

But these burdens must be borne
if I'm to keep my followers uninformed
and hopefully by the end of my show
there won't be anything for them to know.
So turn the radio on and hear my jingle.
May it give your tiny penis a tiny tingle.

We'll put a boot up your ass -
that's the American way.
Apple pie served with a hand grenade.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

Kazuo Ishiguro’s No Country for Old Men

Listen. Masuji Ono desperately wants to tell you something. He’s still relevant. Time has not forgotten him.

Ono is the beguiling narrator in Mr. Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World. The story opens in Japan in October 1948. The Americans are now in charge, and Japanese society is going through monumental changes. But Ono is focused on successfully negotiating a marriage for his younger daughter. His past may make that difficult. Or it may not. It’s unclear because few people seem to remember him these days. Post-war Japan is moving on without him, and he’s not too happy about that.

At the beginning of his career, Ono was an artist of the floating world – the “night-time world of pleasure, entertainment and drink which formed the backdrop for all our paintings.” He was ambitious. When the imperialists takeover, Ono abandons the floating world and (as he tells it) becomes the center of a group of artists producing “work unflinchingly loyal to his Imperial Majesty the Emperor.”

Ono seems to have had some influence during the 1930s, but Mr. Ishiguro is coy. He never allows the reader to discern how influential Ono actually was. Even in Ono’s self-serving narration, nagging doubts poke through. Ono may simply be deluding himself and as a result unintentionally misleading the listener.

The war allows Ono to excuse and justify his work for the Imperialists: “if your country is at war, you do all you can in support, there’s no shame in that.” Except there might be – especially when you betray friends and colleagues. However, Ono smothers this shame every time it tries to breath.

Despite his arrogance and evasions, Ono is sympathetic. His unflinching support for Imperial Japan did not protect him. His wife died, and his son was killed in a “hopeless charge” across a minefield. He has suffered and done so stoically. He loves his daughters and grandson. But he’s lost in this new Japan. He recognizes (somewhat reluctantly) that the “old spirit may not have always been for the best.” That’s an understatement, but it’s the only kind he can make.

Ono spends much of the story trying to convince the listener, any listener, that he was highly-esteemed at one time. And he may have been. Or he may have just been ordinary – a thought Ono refuses to contemplate. Mr. Ishiguro is a master of the unreliable narrator, and Ono certainly falls in this category. “I cannot recall any colleague who could paint a self-portrait with absolute honesty . . . the personality represented rarely comes near the truth as others would see it.” Is Ono describing a colleague or (unwittingly) himself?

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor