This week, taking a look at Stephen Kozeniewski’s Every Kingdom Divided, and Puppet Skin by Danger Slater!
Title: Every Kingdom Divided
Author: Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Mirror Matter Press
Here’s another of those books that may have been intended to be outrageous over the top satire but instead seems disturbingly prescient, given the current state of the nation’s political climate. Red states and blue states, right and left, conservative and liberal … taken beyond any logical extreme … pushed far past any sane limits.
For the Blues of Pacwest, it’s compulsory atheism, pot sold at every neighborhood coffee shop, militant pacifists, and political correctness. For the Reds, in the Coalition of Christian States, it’s God and guns and gung-ho patriotism. Then there’s Mormonism-gone-mad in the State of Deseret, the Mexican Reconquista looking to take back what’s theirs north of the border, the fence-sitting Whites whose ideas of neutrality and moderation involve fighting every side, and, basically, the nation’s a shambles of war.
Jack Pasternak, a Blue trying to get from , keeps ending up smack in the middle of conflict after conflict, one bad situation after another. The guy starts the book off in front of a Red firing squad, but his last request to plead his case allows him to tell his story. The clever structuring of the chapters manages to sustain this dynamic throughout, almost like one of those old-timey serial dramas, as Jack’s flashback is interrupted at cliffhanger moments by current disastrous events.
It may seem crazy to suggest something that starts with facing a firing squad gets worse and worse from there, but, Jack has a real knack for trouble. He also has some inexplicable way with the ladies; his quest starts when he’s trying to reach his fiancee in New England, but he picks up an infatuated blue-haired barista along the way, not to mention the tough blonde with the grenades.
There are bare-knuckles pit fights, towns of crazy cannibals, religious fanatics, car crashes, trains, sieges, tanks, old rivalries, and new complications. And a really awesome cat. I’m always a sucker for an awesome cat.
Now, as Kozeniewski’s nightmare dystopian near-futures go, I think I do still prefer the world as presented in his Billy and the Cloneasaurus, partly because that one’s just so gloriously wacky but mostly because it’s somewhat less likely to, oh, COME TRUE.
Title: Puppet Skin
Author: Danger Slater
Publisher: Fungasm Press
Adulthood, conformity, societal norms, religion, expectations, peer pressure … part of growing up is being reshaped by these things, being remade into an acceptable and productive member of your community.
Or, in other words, they turn you into a puppet. That’s the fate teenager Hannah is facing, as her class nears graduation day. The day in which they’ll have their solemn ceremony, then file into a special final room … where their bodies will become wooden, their features painted, and their strings will be attached.
Literally, they turn you into a puppet. All grownups are puppets. All kids are flesh and blood (the particulars of reproduction isn’t really addressed, which is a shame; I would have loved to see Hannah’s puppet parents or teachers giving some sort of birds-and-bees talk.)
Hannah isn’t too sure about this. She’s already something of a misfit, with her rebellious best friend who dreams of running away to the City, and her Little Miss Perfect cousin. She’s always butting heads with her puppet-mom, who insists they will finally be able to have a proper relationship once Hannah’s all grown up. She wants to be a good girl, a good daughter, but she’s feeling more and more dubious about the big change.
The feeding tube stuck into the backs of puppet heads doesn’t seem like that great of an improvement on her steady diet of acorn mash, though. And the way everybody’s strings stretch way up into weird black voids in the sky … people say there’s a creator up there, an ultimate Puppeteer, but who knows?
It also doesn’t help that something seems to be seriously WRONG with the puppets. As if they’re getting sick, or going mad, or rotting from within. Hannah notices, but nobody will listen to her.
What follows is a nightmarish sort of Pinocchio in reverse, with elements of Westworld and Stepford, and the general over-arching fears of being subsumed, violated, and losing one’s sense of self. Plus, y’know, you’re stuck as a puppet forever … or, given what Hannah’s been seeing lately, maybe not forever, maybe there’s worse in store for the puppets, too.
Next week, reviews of: A Brutal Chill in August by Alan M. Clark, and Exercise Bike by Carlton Mellick III!