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Hugh Likes Fiction: Killing Is My Business

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Killing Is My Business

Written by Adam Christopher

Published by Tor

The Skinny: Christopher’s follow-up to Made To Kill is another rollicking robot noir set in 1960’s L.A.

Ray Electromatic is the last functioning robot in1960’s Los Angeles, and he’s the world’s only robot private detective. At least, that’s what his business cards say. His real job is assassination. With his trusty computer/business partner Ada, he finds his target and gets the job done. But when Rays targets start turning up dead or missing before he can complete the job, he starts to wonder who he can really trust.

Christopher returns to his post-robotics Los Angeles for a second novel that is as much of a noire delight as the first. Like all good detective novels, it doesn’t rely on having read Made To Kill, while pushing Ray’s story forward in some fun and interesting ways. The author has a knack for voice, and he balances the 60’s sci-fi and noire elements superbly. Ray’s momento-like limitation, the fact that his memory tape only lasts 24 hours, is used to good effect in this story, and requires Ray to engage in a fair amount of trust, something that always goes awry in a noire world.

Killing Is My Business is a cracking read, and you can pick it up from your local bookstore, or download a copy from Amazon.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Vampire Hunter D

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Vampire Hunter D
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Translated by Kevin Leahy
Published by DH Books

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The Skinny: Kikuchi blends Horror, Sci-FI, and Western tropes into an exciting novel, but the penny dreadful style keeps it a guilty pleasure.

It’s Dracula Season once again! The time of year when I turn my blog over to all manner of spooky content. And today we’re looking at Hideyuki Kikuchi’s original novel, Vampire Hunter D.
In the year 12,090 A.D, post-nuclear war humanity rises from the ashes, only to be enslaved by ancient horrors, the vampires. But even their immortal reign is not absolute, and as their empire crumbles, a single vampire hunter, half-human and half-vampire, rides the frontier. When he meets a teenage girl on the side of the road, a victim of her local vampire lord, he becomes embroiled in saving her from the count, his daughter, and the fearful townsfolk.
Vampire Hunter D is a whole-hearted embrace of genre. It mixes Western, Horror, and Science Fictions aesthetics to create something both iconic and familiar. Kikuchi’s love for black-and-white horror movies is evident, and the book is sprinkled with cameos and references, beginning with the villainous Count Lee. The sci-fi tropes stand up surprisingly well alongside the horror aspects. The world of the frontier is grim, and humanity lives mostly in the ruins, first of the modern world, then of the fantastic one created by the vampire civilization. But as powerless and preyed upon as they are, Kikuchi’s vision of humanity is still resilient and relentless, ready to conquer the challenges in front of them no matter how long it takes. D, the mysterious rider in black, takes up most of the oxygen in the story, but the world building is constantly surprising and delightful.
Unfortunately, not all of the tropes Kikuchi takes stock in are as amusing. His female characters in particular come up short. Doris is at turns shown as strong, smart, and capable, but she is constantly in need of rescue, and is almost totally valued as an object. In this short novel, she’s stark naked at least twice, and is threatened with rape more than once. These tropes also go back to the tone and trappings of the Western and Horror genres that Kikuchi revels in, but the sexism in this book leaves a bitter aftertaste to the more engaging parts.
The book is also illustrated by powerhouse artist Yoshitaka Amano, and he brings a heavier pen and ink style to these illustrations that are a stark contrast to the watercolors he is more generally known for, such as his character designs.
Vampire Hunter D is a thrilling adventure novel with genre trappings, over the top prose, and some problematic choices on the part of the author. You can find it in ebook and print from your favorite retailer.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Lincoln in the Bardo

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Hugh Likes Fiction-Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo
Written by George Saunders
Full Cast Audiobook
Published by Penguin Random House

Lincoln in the Bardo is less a novel of The Civil War than it is a novel about life (and death) surrounding the war. It is set on the night following the burial of William Lincoln, the president’s son who died of Typhoid, and follows the many ghosts that dwell in Oak Hill Cemetery.
The ghosts, all trapped between life and death by their earthly desires and attachments, observe and interact with the spirit of the boy and the mourning Lincoln, who returns that night. A mixture of fantasy and historical record, Saunders intersperses the true event of the president’s mourning with the lives of his fictional ghosts and excerpts from memoirs and accounts of the period. The result is both cacophonous and elegantly executed. Much like the spirits who deny what is in front of them, the country is caught on the edge of monumental change, change that is nearly impossible, but necessary. Acceptance and reaction to those changes, both for the living and the dead, is the crux of the story.
The audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo is a full cast recording that really takes advantage of the nature of the book. a huge cast of actors create a chorus of voices. The dizzying variety of their opinions and backgrounds reflect the diverse stories of the characters very well. The mood is well established, and it really sets the atmosphere for the story. The cast is anchored by Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and Saunders himself as three spirits who are most active in the story. The rest of the cast is a crowd of voices both recognizable and unknown, and is excellently produced.
Lincoln in the Bardo is available in audio and print from Audible and your local independent book store. I recommend giving it a listen, or a read.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: River of Teeth

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River of Teeth
Written by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor

In a lot of ways, River of Teeth is your typical western, you have your wronged hero out for revenge, the manipulative riverboat gambling entrepreneur out to fix the system, and of course, a lake full of hungry feral hippos. A clever and unique alternate history, Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth consistently surprised me.
The basis for the story is an attempt by the U.S. government to import hippos as a food source in the early 20th century. While that plan fell through, Gailey took the idea and ran with it, pushing the setting back in time and populating her world with colorful Western archetypes. But Gailey made these tropes her own in a way that made me stand up and take notice.
This is a very queer book. Protagonist Winslow Houndstooth is unabashedly and unashamedly gay. Another character, Hero, is given neutral pronouns throughout, and these are accepted as given, as entirely mundane by the characters. Gailey writes these characters, their motivations and their reactions with a deft hand and clear understanding. There is no justification, there is no unnecessary explanation. She presents us her rich palate deep characters, and gets to the good stuff: Hippo cowboy antics.
The caper, or operation as is repeatedly corrected by the main character, is worthy of a big-budget heist. The weirdness of the concept, and the fact that it is based on equally weird historical fact, adds to the richness of the story, rather than detract from it. A stampede is exciting and dangerous. A 3,000 lb. bull hippopotamus is something else altogether.
River of Teeth is another outstanding novella from Tor’s line. You can find it on their site, or from Amazon and other online bookstores. I recommend picking it up before the sequel, Taste of Marrow comes out next month.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Rencor

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Rencor: Life in Grudge City
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by From Parts Unknown Publications

“Rencor: Life in Grudge City” is the Luchador Superhero Detective novella you didn’t know you needed in your life. The eponymous setting is a U.S/Mexico border town founded in the 1950’s as a sort of hometown for luchadores. But like all things, time moves on.
Ten years ago, Technico El Victor III and Rudo Mil Calavaras III fought their last, epic match in the ring at Coleseo Rencor. The climactic battle saw the defeated Calavaras banished from Rencor, a place where the rules of the ring and the rule of are one and the same, forever. It was the beginning of the end for Luchadores in Rencor.
Now, El Victor is scraping by in a world that doesn’t hold the enmascardos in the same esteem anymore, and Mil Calavaras works as a ‘reformed’ consultant to the FBI, successful but denied his home and revenge. But an unusual break-in at Museo Rencor will bring El Victor back to hero work, and Mil Calaveras back to his hometown. Will the former rivals solve the case, or kill each other first?
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is another fast-paced, inventive, and supremely entertaining novella from Matt Wallace. Steeped in the unique lore of the lucha libre and populated by his usual eccentric and elegantly sketched characters, the book draws in the reader and gives them everything they need, even if they’ve never heard of the likes of El Santo before. Wallace’s deep knowledge and abiding love of old-school wresting shines through in every page, and the work is elevated by it. His embrace of the super-heroic and mystical bits, in a graying world that is leaving such things behind makes for a not only entertaining read, but a moving one.
While Wallace’s action scenes are outstanding and for the most part easy to follow, I think a glossary for some of the more technical moves and terms would have been helpful. I was never really lost, but Wallace throws out a lot of wrestling terminology throughout the book. That’s honestly the only criticism I can say, although I will add that the novella ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. Hopefully Matt will return to Rencor soon.
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is available in print and ebook. You can buy it via Amazon, or order it from you local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Written by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager

Sometimes the best Science Fiction is quiet and thoughtful. The genre is often buttressed by “Big Ideas” and zap-gun adventure, but my favorite stories are the slower, more character-focused novels. These are novels like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, or Nathan Lowell’s Quarter Share. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is squarely in this sub-genre, and it excels.
Rosemary Harper is a privileged girl from the upper crust of Martian society. When she decides to escape her past and society, she takes a job as a clerk on a long-haul wormhole boring ship, The Wayfarer. The misfit crew of the ship is completely different from her former life.
While the story is framed by Rosemary’s story, it is a picaresque novel following the misadventures of the small, tightly knit crew. And the book shines in this respect. The crew of The Wayfarer are efficiently constructed, and for the most part, incredibly likable characters. From Dr. Chef, one of the last survivors of an alien species that destroyed itself in a ceaseless civil war, to Kizzy, the wild-child engineer, this book is filled with unforgettable, engaging characters that treat each other like family rather than coworkers. The upcoming Star Trek series will be lucky to be half so charming.
Chambers’ galaxy is also well presented and engaging. The places that The Wayfarer travels are all detailed and iconic. She also creates a galaxy where humans aren’t top dogs. Having poisoned our home planet and settled into a pair of bickering factions, Humanity is a minor player in galactic politics. This is always a refreshing position to take in Sci Fi, and it works really well here.
This book may not be for everyone. Chambers skips past a lot of the things traditional SF banks on. We hear about massive space battles and galactic discourse in the same way the characters do: Through news and rumors, with small hints at chewier, bigger plot elements throughout the book. This is a small, personal story, and Chambers tells it well. But if you go in expecting Senate hearings or military pomp and blaster fire, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is available from Amazon and other online booksellers, or from your local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Greedy Pigs

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Sin du Jour: Greedy Pigs
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by Tor

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We’re on book five of Matt Wallace’s seven course Sin du Jour series, and if you aren’t onboard by now, I don’t know what to tell you. These novellas haven’t stopped kicking ass, and “Greedy Pigs” is no less great than the preceding four.
After being embroiled in supernatural politics and nearly taken over, Sin du Jour finds themselves catering the gala festivities as the new President of the supernatural community is installed. But something bad is coming, plans are being laid, and Lena’s best friend and fellow line chef Darren is in the center of them.
Everything that makes Wallace’s work great is still on display here. The characters are efficiently but deeply rendered, the plotting is tight, and the writing is just as wickedly sharp as ever. As things hit the fan, the humor is a bit less on display, although Wallace still finds places to sprinkle comic scenes in, such as a set of errands Lena and Bronko make early in the story that are by turns funny, charming, and bittersweet, with some uncomfortable revelations about pandas.
Greedy Pigs is the fifth part of Wallace’s seven part Sin du Jour series, which you really should be reading by now. Go read it in ebook or print, and be sure to find out more about it on Tor.com.

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