In Memoriam: Mattie K.

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Mattie

We had a death in the family yesterday. Please spare a thought to help lift her over the Rainbow Bridge and into heaven. RIP sweet Mattie.

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Review of Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

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This novel was published in 2016, so it’s not eligible for awards next year, but I was impressed enough that I’m going to review it anyway and encourage people to pick up a copy. It made the Locus Recommended Reading List but was passed over for SFF award nominations. Jones is a Native American of the Blackfeet tribe. This is published by William Morrow/HarperCollins and would likely be considered dark fantasy.

Grandpa tells fantastic stories about being a werewolf and running under the moon. The boy listens, rapt. He lives with his grandpa, his Aunt Libby and his Uncle Darren. His mother is dead. When grandpa dies half wolf and half man, Darren steals a backhoe to bury him. Then they have to pack up and move again. Darren normally works as a trucker and Libby at low wage night jobs of some kind. They’re always on the move, from Texas to North Carolina to Georgia to Florida, afraid to stay in one place too long, because violence, suspicion and a taste for blood will catch up with them if they do. The boy wants to be a werewolf, to be part of the tradition, but his mother never changed. Will it happen for him?

This is very much a book about the human condition, the underbelly of indigent migrant workers that exists on the fringes of society. Jones builds the picture slowly, and we start to understand how the boy idolizes Darren, with all his faults, as the only father-figure in his life, and Libby as his mother’s twin. He finds a girl he likes, but loses her when they have to move again. It’s all about the characters and the family, very different for a werewolf tale.

On the negative side, there’s not much plot here, but then, it’s not that kind of story. I also thought some of the events and lore were a bit too exaggerated and tongue-in cheek. Still, that gives it a kind of honky-tonk charm.

Four and a half stars.

Review of ‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’ by Sam J. Miller

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This is one of the Nebula nominees. This story was published in Clarkesworld (7/15).

The pastor’s wife is looking for her son Timmy, who didn’t come home last night. She has been concerned about his rebellion, as he has appeared on Facebook with That Whore Susan. She searches Timmy’s room and finds different things that convince her that Timmy has strayed from God. She finds drugs, which she tries out. These cause hallucinations, but she soldiers through, deciding to visit That Whore Susan. Susan tells her that she and Timmy broke up six months ago, and accuses her of standing by while Timmy’s father abuses him. The wife gets a tip from a hallucination to check with Timmy’s friend Brent, where she finally locates Timmy and has to confront the facts about gayness, family and relationships.

This story is written in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone and makes gentle fun of the religious right with their fundamentalist values and how these can drive their children away. The pastor’s wife does reach enlightenment, which makes this a sweet story. However, I’m not sure it’s speculative fiction. There’s nothing here about science or fantasy, except the hallucinations.

This narrative has high diversity as it addresses gayness and the difficulties children have in coming out to conservative parents. Because of the humor, it has low drama and conflict, even when discussing things like drugs, abuse, gayness and coming out. The message is excellent and clearly stated. I gather that Miller is sure he’s addressing a liberal audience, though. I can see where this would be seriously offensive to conservative fundamentalists.

Three and a half stars.

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