Super Extra Grande – Yoss, translated by David Frye

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In the not-too-distant future, Latin Americans have pioneered faster-than-light space travel, as have six other ‘intelligent’ races – unfortunately – and the galaxy is awash is interesting interplanetary relations. Enter our protagonist, Dr Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, a colossal man with a face like an ogre, who prides himself in being the veterinarian of the giants – a huge chap with even bigger responsibilities. Elephants and blue whales eat your heart out: Dr Sangan specialises in the gargantuan. Think mountain-sized Amoebas, Tsunami-inducing sea snakes and titan leeches.

When a colonial conflict between two of the master races threatens to disturb the delicate balance of the galaxy, two super-sultry ambassadors embark on a teambuilding journey in a biodegradable spaceship – and invariably get themselves eaten by a mountain-sized space amoeba. Who ya gonna call? Dr. Sangan! To think he doesn’t have enough on his plate, what with the concern of having to administer laxatives to hoards recently cloned and a constipated Stegosauruses on planet Jurassia, Super Extra Grande sees Dr. Sangan having to save the galaxy and ensure the ‘intelligent seven’ remain in relative harmony.

There are only these small problems: the journey is secret, the mission is secret, he won’t get any credit for the job, he’s never worked with a creature of this size before and the two ambassadors just happen to be his competing love interests.

It sounds crazy doesn’t it? And it really is. This book is utterly unlike any other sci-fi novel you will have read before.

In Yoss’s future, the Latin Americans have reigned supreme and the entire world is united under a single language, a kind of English-Spanish mix – Spanglish. In fact, Spanglish has been adopted as the language, not just of the Earth, but the entire galaxy. This is largely down to human beings’ wholly unsophisticated ability to pronounce any complicated alien tongue. In running with this, the dialogue of the novel is written entirely in Spanglish, which is a thought-provoking, yet equally understandable decision on the part of the author. Language is obviously bound to change over time, but it feels like an incredibly brave move to commit to writing a whole novel in this way. That said, be warned that the novel might be a little hard to read if you don’t have a basic understanding of the Spanish language.

One particularly interesting aspect of the storyline, outside of the chaotic and often hilarious narration of the author, is the suggestion that there could be some kind of artificially intelligent super race hiding in the side-lines and overseeing the naïve and simple experiments of the seven ‘intelligent’ nations within their galaxy. It is mentioned almost in passing, but presented in such a way as to plant a seed of suspicion in the reader’s mind – what is going on outside of the novel? This could make an interesting and potentially terrifying story in itself. Perhaps he’s thinking of a sequel?

This book won’t be to everyone’s taste – it’s a little obscure and more than a little sexy at times, but it’s also very amusing and refreshing to read. The marvellous thing with writing about the future is you can really let your imagination run wild and Yoss certainly decided take full advantage of this poetic license.

This review was first published on WordPress for E&T magazine.

Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life under Putin – Oleg Kashin

“I predict we will abolish suffering throughout the living world. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.” ― David Pearce

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Translated by Will Evans, Restless Books, 12 January 2016, 224 pp, ISBN 978-1-632060-39-6 £9.99 paperback

Oleg Kashin is a rather notorious Russian journalist whose open criticism of the Putin government may or may not have motivated unknown assailants to beat him to within an inch of his life back 2010. You’d think such an event would put the dampeners on a guy, but apparently Kashin was undeterred and returned full force to publish his first work of fiction, Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin, in Moscow, just two months later. Now, in a new edition translated by Will Evans, Fardwor, Russia! has been made available for international audiences with a taste for controversial political satire. The ridiculous sci-fi dystopia nestled within the garish pink cover bears more than a slight similarity to Russia under Putin and, with new stories of corruption in the Kremlin making the front page of international news sites each month, it has never been more topical.

The main protagonist of Fardwor, Russia! is Karpov, an enthusiastic young scientist who, with the help of his deceased grandfather, invents a revolutionary new growth serum that actually works. In an old wooden shack, which serves as a makeshift laboratory, Karpov spends his days experimenting on common sewer rats and creating unspeakable monstrosities, while his long-suffering wife, Marina, sits mournfully in their dusty apartment lamenting a life left behind in Moscow.

Delighted with his results, Karpov begins offering the serum to local farmers, promising fully grown livestock in exchange for new-born piglets and calves, before tracking down a circus midget. Unfortunately for poor, deluded Karpov he is wholly unequipped to deal with the full force of his discovery, and before he can reap any rewards all hell breaks loose. The meat industry is furious with the prospect of cheap meat resulting from an abundance of livestock; a dwarf oil oligarch makes use of the serum before running away with Karpov’s wife; and a giant cat goes on a rampage and eats a man’s face and heart. But it is not until the professional scientists get hold of the serum that things get really ugly.

Fardwor, Russia! is wonderfully strange and fantastically frightening, a gruesome yet hilarious tale of genetic engineering gone awry, combined with a grim political parable of the danger of power in the wrong hands. A ludicrous satire with a serious twist – Fardwor, Russia! is a must read those with an interest in Russian politics, or fans of science fiction that borders on the ridiculous.

This review was first posted on WordPress for E&T magazine.

The Crystal Gryphon – Andre Norton

“Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.” ― Baltasar Gracián

My first vintage paperback courtesy of the Prudence and the Crow subscription introduced me to the wonderful world of Andre Norton and the fantastical realm of the Witch World series. It was so much fun receiving, and reading, a book I probably would have never experienced without the help of Prudence and the Crow. I’m so glad I found the service, and so happy to have found a new author to explore.

I was as keen-eared as any child who knows that others talk about him behind their hands. And I had heard the garbled stories of my birth, of that curse which lay upon the blood of Ulm, together with the hint that neither was my mother’s House free of the taint of strange mixture. The proof of both was perhaps in my flesh and bone. I had only to look at the mirror of Jago’s polished shield to see it for myself.

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The Crystal Gryphon is the story of Kerovan, heir to the throne of Ulmsdale, who, thanks to the circumstances and result of his birth, is set apart from the regular folk in the Dales. When Kerovan’s mother gave birth to him she did so sheltered in a ruin of the ‘Old Ones’, mysterious folk who once inhabited the Dales, and Kerovan was born with the cloven feet of cattle and eyes the colour of deepest amber. Kerovan’s mother, the Lady Tephana, swore she could never love such a creature, and Kerovan was forced to grow up living apart from his birth family, with Jago – a keepless man of good birth.

With Jago Kerovan learns the arts of war. But it is the Wiseman Riwal that nurtures Kerovan’s true passion; a thirst for knowledge of the secrets of the past. With Riwal Kerovan travels to places feared by the folk of the Dales, looking for answers. On one such journey Kerovan comes upon a mysterious crystal pendant, adorned with a gryphon, and feels compelled to send the relic to the wife he has never met, the Lady Joisan. Across the land,  Joisan treasures the relic, and dreams of the husband she will one day meet. But in the year of the Moss, when Joisan is due to take up her wifely duties, a bloody war sweeps through the land as the Dales fall victim to an invasion from the sea. The keep at Ulmsdale is betrayed and Kerovan sets off across the Dales to find his betrothed whose own home has been destroyed.

The developing relationship between Joisan and Kerovan forms the base of the main storyline and the chapters of the book alternate, being told by Kerovan and Joisan in turn. Despite having never met, Joisan and Kerovan each harbour a certain fondness for each other, each of them drawn, and warmed by the other. As though they are bonded by something stronger than the laws which connect them as husband and wife, a deeper presence draws them to one another. Even when Joisan mistakes Kerovan for one of the Old Ones, you can tell that she is drawn towards him, the strange ‘Lord Amber’, despite not knowing his true identity.

Norton uses Olde English-style dialogue, and a medieval-type setting to create a spectacular backdrop for a strange, dark and somewhat frightening fantasy world. From the start I was completely absorbed by the mystery surrounding the Old Ones. I can imagine the parts of the world that were inhabited by this mysterious race of beings appearing like a ghost town, deserted, but with an ominous presence alluding to troubled past. I am fascinated by old buildings and the remains of ancient civilisations, so the idea of there being such relics, buildings and ruins dotted across the countryside, which tell only part of the tale of a whole different existence is really quite mesmerising to me. I was so easily drawn into Kerovan’s travels, and got completely caught up in the mystery of his fantasy world. The whole way through The Crystal Gryphon I was desperate to know more about the Old Ones, and the world that they inhabited.

Thank goodness it is only the first of a trilogy! The Crystal Gryphon is a wonderfully mysterious and gripping tale, which combines the fantastical with the uncanny, and at times borders on the downright creepy. I don’t know what more to say other than I loved it and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trilogy has in store.