The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones

Short Take: Horror that hurts in the best and deepest way.

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(*Note: I received an advance copy of this book for review.*)

Hello lovelies, and welcome to my least favorite week of the year. I lost an hour of the weekend,  plus there’s a new virus running around that sounds like it’ll be targeting me and my crappy lungs personally. It’s all the makings of a Mostly Miserable Monday, and my body is convinced that I absolutely should not be awake right now.

Spoiler alert: I’m awake. And not terribly happy about that.

But if there’s one thing that can always lift my mood, it’s digging into a delicious book by an author I hadn’t read before. The thrill of discovery is second only to the marvelous sensation of being completely consumed by a story, and oh my sweet nerdlings, this is one that will swallow you whole and leave you shuddering for days.

Ten years ago, four young Native American men did something stupid, and careless, and wasteful, as young men of all ages and ethnicities do. But these four young men were spitting in the face of forces they didn’t fully understand and now, they are going to Pay The Price for their actions. 

I’m not going to elaborate on the story, because although it’s great (seriously, the plot and pacing and characters were all spot-on), the story itself is almost secondary to the world Mr. Jones has created (or maybe re-created?) on the page.

(I’m going to add some personal context here that might elicit a “well duh” from more than a few, but I really do live in an extremely culturally isolated place, so bear with me, k?)

I have always lived in an area where the Native population is virtually zero. Sure, some people may be part Cherokee or whatever, but that’s meaningless here. It’s like being part Irish – it’s met with indifference or an “oh that’s cool” and the conversation moves on. Which means that in this part of the US of A, we aren’t exposed to any of the Native heritage, the myths and tribal customs, the language and the dances. But we also don’t see the ugly parts of being Native today that are too common elsewhere – the discrimination, addiction, and poverty.

So while I’ve been aware of these things at a civics-class, sort of absently-intellectual level, I never really FELT the beauty of Native culture, or fury at the injustices that are still being done today, and that’s where Stephen Graham Jones kicked my pasty nerd hiney up one side and down the other, because The Only Good Indians is a full-body immersion in both sides of Native life in the 21st century, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

And it’s that blending of ancient myth and modern-day just-getting-by that makes the horror of the story so effective. I immediately found myself caring so much about these flawed but oh-so-human and sympathetic characters, and peeking over my shoulder in case [spoiler] might be back there and getting closer, and maybe gasping just a little as I felt the heat of the sweat lodge, knowing what was lurking in the shadows.

But the real beating heart of The Only Good Indians is the author’s voice. The story is told in a stream of consciousness style that feels somehow urgent but also like a deeply personal conversation, a late-night sharing of secrets, a heartfelt truth that makes even the fantasy elements feel so real. 

And oh yeah, it’s damn suspenseful and scary and all the other things you want in a horror novel too. Trust me, I’m too tired and cranky to lie.

The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and a gallon-size jug of antibacterial hand soap. Wash ‘em, people!!)

Loved this book!!

 

Buried, by Ellison Cooper

Short Take: This author is a sadist and I kind of love her.

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(*Note: I received an advance copy of this book for review.*)

You guys. You. Guys. Something seriously major has happened here, possibly for the first time ever. Y’all might want to sit down, and if you’re one of my more faint-hearted nerdlings, you may want to put your head between your knees, or just stop reading right here, because I know you will find this shocking and upsetting.

*Deep Breath*

Ok, here goes…..

I was WRONG about a book. 

I know, I know, it’s impossible to believe, right? I will be the first to admit that I’m wrong about a lot of things in life but books are the One Thing that I can usually pontificate about with great certainty, at length. 

So when I first grabbed a copy of Buried, I braced myself for that most heinous of author maladies: the sophomore slump. There is no way, NO POSSIBLE WAY, I thought, that Ms. Cooper could match the brilliance that was Caged. And by that, I mean that Caged was fantastic, not that Ms. Cooper isn’t. But all of my preconceived notions went right on out the proverbial window, and I am happy to admit it one more time: I was SO WRONG.

(*Warning!! If you haven’t read Caged, ((and just why haven’t you??)), there may be spoilers here!!!*)

It’s been a few months since the events of Caged, and Special Agent Sayer Altair is mostly recovered from both the physical and mental wounds she suffered. Her shoulder and heart still ache at times, but her new ward Adi, goofy-puppy-turned-goofy-dog Vesper, and Zen Master/downstairs neighbor Tino have done her a world of good. Although she still has questions about the death of her fiance Jake from years before, she’s ready to get back to Real Work. I mean, studying psychopaths and dodging political punches from a desk is fun and all, but it can’t compare to chasing down an active serial killer.

So she’s in luck (sort of?) when Agent Max Cho, taking a hike on his day off, stumbles into a whole pile of dumped bodies, ranging from the skeletal to the relatively fresh and gooey. 

Cue a Getting The Band Back Together montage, in which some of my favorite characters from Caged (YAY EZRA!!!) and a couple of equally charismatic newbies join the hunt,. And oh my darling nerdlings, what a hunt it is! 

Ms. Cooper has a definite flair for contrasts: combining real-life cutting edge science with the myths of the ancients, or pitting the very personal struggles of Sayer and her group against the backdrop of a Congressional investigation that has implications for the safety of the entire nation, or flashes of humor brightening a story that isn’t afraid to go very, very dark. But most of all, I especially loved (read: hated) seeing the struggles of one particular character who suffered a devastating injury in Caged – their fight for recovery and some kind of normalcy had me simultaneously cheering and tearing up.

And even with that little part of me that missed that fun, getting-to-know-you buzz of first meeting Sayer, being able to skip the niceties and just zoom off on her Silver Hawk to kick some [censored] was great too. For all the personal and emotional elements of Buried, there are still plenty of twists, turns, fights, chases, and a bombshell or two. We even get a new dog friend, who’s Vesper’s opposite in every way, and is it weird that I’m looking forward to the two of them meeting? (Confession: I may have watched way too much Lady and the Tramp as a kid.)

Guys, I even liked the cliffhanger ending, and you all know how I feel about those. For real, just read it. After you read Caged, of course, because did I mention how much I love that one?

The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS! (and something sweet that isn’t lava cake. Because gooey is NOT good right now. Also, I need a hug. And maybe a puppy.)

Loved this book!!

The Automation, by BLA & GB Gabbler

Short Take: To quote Poe (1), “It’s a wonderful idea… but it doesn’t work.”

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(*Note: I received a free copy of this book for review.*)

Do you ever look back and wish you’d learned more in school? I don’t mean all the stuff that they teach you, that nobody ever pays attention to or uses later in life, like cell mitosis or algebra or drivers ed? (2)

I wish we had learned more of the cool classic literature, like mythology from all over the world, or the King Arthur legends, but since I live in a small town in the rust belt, we got Ethan Frome (3), auto shop, and relentless bullying. I grew up in a world where “classical” was a synonym for “as boring as humanly possible”, at least according to the local board of education.

So I wish we’d learned more of the cool stuff, but fortunately, there are people like the pseudonymous BLA, who deep-dive into alllllllll the awesome stuff, and take it to crazy directions.

Odys (no, it’s not short of Odysseus, quit asking) Odelin and his twin sister Odissa have a quiet life together. They share an apartment, consume copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes, and collect generous payouts from their father’s will every so often.

But one day, when Odys is out walking, he is confronted by an old man who introduces himself as Pepin, insists that Odys take an old coin, and then blows his brains out in the middle of the street.

And that’s just the start of the weirdness.

The coin is actually an Automaton, an immortal being created by the god of fire Hestus. An Automaton bonds with its Master (now Odys), can transform between a human shape and a small metal object, and turn anything into gold.

Now, this sounds like a pretty good deal (4), but there are a few teensy drawbacks. For one, the Automaton draws its energy from its Master, meaning that Masters are often exhausted, and it slows down the aging process for its Master, meaning that Masters will have to watch everyone they know die. And then there’s the thing where there are only nine Automatons (5) in existence, and one evil-ish Master is trying to collect them all, so the other Masters have to band together to protect themselves and their demigod-ish servants.

It’s a really, really fantastic concept. The Automatons are very cool, along with the rules of their existence, the backstory, and all of it. But it’s just not told very well.

From the start, the author has inserted themselves in the story, as The Narrator, and the editor (Gabbler) does so as well through a series of footnotes in which they make sarcastic comments or explain references. When I first started reading The Automation, I thought it was a pretty clever idea, but it doesn’t take long to become grating (6).

Speaking of sarcasm… it overflows in this one. I’m obviously not opposed to snarky comments (quite a fan, actually), but it is NONSTOP. Masters, Automatons, humans, gods, everyone sounds exactly the same. It’s exhausting after a while – the author/narrator/editor feel the need to constantly reassure themselves that they are more clever than YOU, the lowly reader.

Also, it’s just too crowded. There are several Automaton/Master pairs, plus Odissa, and they are all treated as main characters. It’s difficult to keep everyone straight. The writer(s) could’ve consolidated some of these characters down, and, as it’s the first book in a series, introduced others later. And as bits of some kind of Grand Design are revealed, the relationships between everyone become more and more convoluted.

Oh yes, the relationships. There’s a lot, I mean A LOT of ick going on here. The twins are engaged in an incestuous relationship, and I don’t even want to THINK about what happened to Odissa in the past and how she’ll be used going forward. One of the Masters (Mecca) is a ten year old boy who’s a raging pervert obsessed with taking pornographic photos of his Lolita-ish Automaton. That particular character, we are told repeatedly, has only one purpose in the story: to be annoying. We’re supposed to believe that he is mentally older, due to the slowed physical aging, but he constantly acts like a screechy oversugared kid at the world’s longest Chuck E Cheese birthday party. Who also is a big ol perv.

Finally, the story just doesn’t work. There are these super powerful beings, and a whole lot of Masters over the centuries who know what the Bad Master is up to, and they haven’t just taken him out. Instead, they all go into hiding and allow him to do horrific things to them. It makes no sense, and it’s never explained. Early in the book, Odys has a serious case of OCD and can’t deal with any kind of odd number. Then it just randomly goes away and is never mentioned again. Huh?

And in this book, nothing really happens. There are pages and pages of exposition, and when bullets, flames, or explosions break out, there’s a brief moment of “that happened” followed by a multitude of characters all explaining things to each other. Sarcastically. And in the end, when we think we’re going to finally learn some of what’s been hinted at (repeatedly), well, turns out it was all just a setup for the next book in the series.

So in the end, although there are quite a few moments of genuine brilliance, I can’t get past the writer’s obvious disdain for the reader.

  1. The musician, not the author. Actually, the line is spoken by someone else, but the point stands.
  2. I’m basing that last one on the moron I got stuck behind the other day USE YOUR FREAKING BLINKER YOU IDIOT.
  3. Absolutely nobody on reading Ethan Frome: Wow, this is great! Unputdownable!
  4. BRING ON THE GOLD
  5. Automata?
  6. Getting annoyed yet?

The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS (and some gum. Which I will not be sharing.)

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