on Oct. 27, 2014 :
Before reading this review, I'd like you to do something for me.
Yes you, the e-book aficionado who is currently perusing this text.
Take your right hand, place it palm up, and make a fist. Now, think of the name of a novel you have read in your lifetime that has utterly failed to amuse, impress, or entertain you. As you think of one, take your left index finger and touch each of your curled fingers, including your thumb, one-by-one, uncurling your fingers into a high five position as you go.
Seriously, think for a second before continuing and perform this excessive.
Have you counted five of them yet? Fantastic!
Now take your open palm and slap yourself in the face with it as punishment for not buying this book.
You have no right thinking about shitty novels when dingbats like you go out of your way to avoid original and imaginative short story collections like this in favor of the latest Pablum they are passing off as science fiction/fantasy novels these days.
*Disclaimer: If you've already purchased the book then I apologize... but only a little, you probably did something bad that deserves a slap, just not this particular sin.*
The mind behind this collection known only as "Under Stars" is KJ Kabza. A rather strange and luminary fellow who appears to have just as much love for words and prose as he does for cutting plot so dense and sharp that Masumuna himself weeps, even in death, out of pure jealousy.
I could go on about how Kabza pays sociopathic attention to the structure of each sentence, making sure that each line flows as beautifully and smoothly as water off a Deepwater Horizon otter's back. Or I could highlight how each story contains enough voluminous character growth, plot development, and story arcs to make most seasoned novel writers look like paste eating 5th graders writing fan fiction in comparison due to how utterly slow their stories move. And rest assured, I will go on about such things, but you are a reader with a tight schedule of Netflix binge watching in which to attend, so I will simply list, in no particular order or fashion, some of the awesome things that occur or are contained in this book.
A woman with cerebral palsy deftly pilfers a hand piano in order to save a ravaged Half-Unicorn.
A beach-punk surfer gains a neuro-linked surfboard that manipulates nanite sand in order to win the big surf competition and impress hot babes.
Words in a dictionary rally together in order to save the life of a recently defined quantum particle.
A single mother, her giant son, and a talking cat who imbibes colored stones to induce magic must team up with a sea captain who Is too beautiful to live to discover a technologically advanced, precursor society.
A woman learns how to blaze her own path in a society where gender is not based upon sex, but by sexual orientation.
A man invents a Technicolor nerd coat that contains a pocket dimension.
A fox has the soul of a prize-winning hog stitched to his body.
Dirty limericks that involve sex in the TARDIS.
A young man who painfully (and sensually) discovers why only women can ride the mythical dragons of his homeland.
A book that contains all of these things cannot fail to delight, and if it does, then there is something deficient in your soul and you should probably let the authorities know where the bad man touched you when you were six, because clearly your sense of childlike wonder and vigor for life were violently wrenched from you ages ago.
In summary, here are the bullet points.
1. Every story oozes originality and no two stories are alike. This is shocking in a modern literary industry that thrives on formulaic, gritty, dystopian YA pieces that dare not step too far into the exciting unknown lest they fail to even glimpse, let alone gain a tiny suckle of that sweet, sweet NYT bestseller tit
2. It is written by a genuine master of the short story form. This is no small boon for the lover of short narratives, as every other short story these days is either written by a budding, ego-soaked novelist who is using short stories as nothing but a wobbly, poorly crafted stepping stone to gain membership into SFWA and thus gain an agent for a novel deal; or you're dealing with a collection of short stories written by a well-known novel writer who couldn't condense a fucking plot into 8,000 words if his/her next overwrought, insipid trilogy deal hinged on it. If you dig short stories, then take heart; you're dealing with a real numinous writer of the form on this one.
3. Virtually all the stories are layered, meaningful and fun. Remember that thing we call "Fun?" It's that thing you used to have when you were reading well-crafted and tight stories that existed long before you were told that the best way to enjoy the written word was through seven consecutive tomes of 80,000+ words that vied to spoon-feed you endless dollops of meaningless details and unending filler dredged from a writer who is clearly squeezing blood from a stone as his publishing masters lash him with the "Book deal whip of torment."
Make no mistake good reader, I understand that some people think short story collections are a solid addition to any literati's lineup, and there are others who think them nothing but banal detritus that falls properly into the valley of "no one gives a shit."
Which camp you fall into depends on whether you're a pinky out, granola loving hippy who believes that HOW a story is told and the way the words dance across the page are just as important as what is being told; or if you're a Mtn Dew slamming, fanfic writing YA novel junkie whose only purpose in life is to read what genre experts tell you so that you have something to tut-tut about when surrounded by infinitely cooler people who don't give a shit about reading tripe and understood long ago that simply watching a well-crafted film eclipses nearly anything accomplished within the 80,000 words of the average Sci-fi/Fantasy novel today.
So it is in this vein dear reader that I recommend this short story collection to anyone who loves stories, loves words, and loves reading for the sake of watching words work their poetry. Kabza has all the trappings of a modern day Harlan Ellison, and his passion for the English language and the written form drips from each line. So take that five dollars you were going to spend on another shitty cup of organically grown, Guatemalan wage-slave harvested coffee and buy yourself a slice of the fun and fantastic that is contained within these dense digital pages. You won't regret it.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on Oct. 27, 2014 :
Under Stars, KJ Kabza's second collection of stories, is long--thirteen fantasy stories and ten science fiction, plus the addition of 69 sf/fantasy erotic limericks and author notes on inspirations for the stories. Still, I was entirely engaged throughout (with the exception, I admit, of during the limericks).
Kabza's voice is clear and unfiltered throughout the work--coming through not only in the story notes but in the stories themselves. A few of the stories feel like vignettes--"what if" moments developed into scenes--uncut gems not evolved into full story, but worthy of appreciation as they are. There are no weak links to this anthology. And with such a quantity and variety of material from a condensed period of the author's life, arranged and probably mostly edited by himself, it's like getting an opportunity to read a person's soul--or at least his journal, a sketchbook of his thoughts and his creative process. As a writer, I loved this--it reflected my own joy in self-expression through writing, in the making of art through linearizing reality. You can feel that joy, that connection, through these pages.
Some of the stories elicit the same reaction I had upon reading "The Soul in the Bell Jar," which I'd previously encountered in an issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction--feeling upset about his choice of poetic justice over the happy ending. Kabza is ruthless with his characters for the sake of story--all the more painful because he has a knack for making characters who are intensely likable--and the writing often has a dark edge to it. But much of it is also whimsical, as I found "The Color of Sand," another story previously read and loved in F&SF. The prose itself is lush and lyrical, yet down to earth, accessible. It's brain-candy for the linguaphile.
A few of my favorites, aside from those two mentioned above:
"The Idiot" is about a girl whose mind and intelligence is trapped in a body that can't speak or move properly, and her meeting with a special animal in an oddly similar predicament. This story made me cry. A lot of Mary Sue-ing goes on in fantasy writing, but here is a heroine who truly faces challenges, and who overcomes them wholly within her limitations.
"Neighbors: A Definitive Odyssey" is funny and unique--it's a story about neighbors in a dictionary turned literal, and Joystick's attempts to save his new but unstable neighbor, J/psi particle. Joystick is creative and resourceful in dragging his friend around the dictionary, and his final solution does not disappoint.
"Heaventide" has a young woman in a tribal setting whose culture demands that she marry and settle down, when all she wants is to Travel--which is something reserved only for men. Her need to express this urge in her is stronger than anything, even love. The romantic aspect of this story, although admittedly not the happiest, makes this story worth it.
"Gnarly Times at Nana'ite Beach" stars a guy who, failing miserably to impress the girls on the beach, manages to get a hold of a revolutionary surfboard that interfaces with the sand and water. This story is just ridiculously funny.
In "Something to Be Tamed," a man who's been captured by aliens actually doesn't mind being a pet, and then he meets a man who really does mind. This story details their interactions and is both amusing and oddly touching.
I wasn't that into the limericks, honestly, but I did enjoy the story of the making of them, and I suspect they're best shared when one is in a group and in a juvenile mood.
(reviewed the day of purchase)