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BAD SUSHI – a Cthulhu review

September 10, 2011 – 10:03 am

A new Cthulhu anthology came out last month, THE BOOK OF CTHULHU, edited by Ross Lockhart. The table of contents is an impressive roll-call that includes Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, Elizabeth Bear, T.E.D. Klien, Cherie Priest, John Hornor Jacobs, Brian Lumley, and more. Some stories and authors are new to me, some I’ve read before.

I wondered what they’d do in the Cthulhu realm, so I thumbed through the book at the Powell’s on Hawthorne, catching random words, sentences, descriptions and submerged imagery, until I knew this anthology was a keeper.

BAD SUSHI by Cherie Priest is the first story I read. It centers on Baku, an old-timer, a sushi chef at a joint called Sonada’s in an average modern American town. Raised in coastal Japan he is intimate with the ocean and its bounty, so I believe it when Baku thinks he’s caught a strange scent among the fish meats at Sonada’s.

The smell triggers a memory for Baku, who fought as a young man in WWII at Guadalcanal in the Pacific, a battle which put him within reach of an unexpected danger. The memory is a well written flashback in this short story and absolutely impressed upon me why Baku would react strongly to and never forget so strange a smell. From there we come right back to Now as Baku returns to work and notices more askew than just the smell.

Cherie Priest’s BAD SUSHI is a terrific Cthulhu story that resonates with the sort of Jungian imagery that tethers Lovecraft’s stories to our unconscious fears. With images of war, watery depths, seafood, and night’s dark possibilities, Priest plants fun genre references–from the implied name of the vendor to the delivery man’s fishy behavior–and keeps Baku’s story adroitly limited. It’s a tight short story and a pleasure to read.

Ganymede – review

January 16, 2012 – 2:18 am

Ganymede is Cherie Priest‘s latest installment to her Clockwork Century chronicle, a series that began with the novel Boneshaker, then wound through Tanglefoot, Clementine, Dreadnought, and, I think, an anthologized story I haven’t read yet called Reluctance.

This is a series–which you don’t need to read sequentially–with some recurring characters but each story really focuses on a new character’s adventure. This works especially well as it’s a great way to tell the bigger story: an alternate history America in which the Civil War lasted longer and technological developments advanced differently. An accident in the frontier city of Seattle–a strange gas seeping up from below–has turned a few people into “rotters” (zombies.) The gas has been processed into a drug which is slowly, but steadily, turning more folks into rotters. Basically, the problem is spreading. This is a terrific conceit and Priest is doing some fine world-building with these stories. The slow advancement of such a problem over a vast American landscape allows for a lot of interesting adventures, but where these stories excel is in their focus on the characters, what they need to accomplish, and how their journey is complicated primarily by other characters and tertiarily–yeah, that’s the word I want to use–by these rotters gumming up the works. See, the focus is on the characters.

Josephine Early and Andan Cly are our two main point-of-view characters in Ganymede. Alternating chapters they get us through this adventure, which, in a nutshell, involves her hiring him to pilot a submarine down the last couple bends in the Mississippi River to a Union frigate that may or may not be waiting for them if they survive. The primary complication comes when the “Texian” occupiers put the beat down on the area’s rouge sky pirates, a clash which comes about after two Texian officers go missing under mysterious circumstances.

What happens is well described and the characters are interesting and I especially like the conceit and where this all might be going, but in several places Ganymede uses dialogue to tell us what’s going on instead of using narrative to show us, to the point where it pulls me out of sync with the novel. It felt rushed, but it won’t put me off reading her next installment–the story is simply too much fun.

Priest is a hard working writer with a steady output that includes another series of books and short stories popping up all over the place. She not only writes well, but she’s writing strong female leads in interesting stories, which is something we could use more of.