Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
November 2008

Zombie Haiku, by Ryan Mecum
How Books

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have the best friends in the entire world. They know how I take my tea, and what to order at Starbucks. When they walk by a magazine that has to do with fairies, demons, or Doctor Who, they pick it up. So it did not come as a surprise the day Lillie walked into my office and handed me a little book entitled Zombie Haiku. It was love at first sight.

The book itself is a work of art. Every page of the facsimile journal is four-color - how else could it be covered in blood spatter? - with replicas of Polaroid pictures randomly paper-clipped or masking-taped or duct-taped in. Sometimes hair gets caught in the duct tape. There are random line illustrations, more like doodles, to accompany the text. Sometimes there are bugs. Or teeth. No matter how much I try to explain it, I won't do it justice. If you happen to come across this book in your travels, you are required to pick it up just to look at it.

The storyline of Zombie Haiku is this: Ryan Mecum is/was a terminally single guy with the soul of a sappy poet who decided to keep this "poetry journal" in which he records his day-to-day life and random musings all in traditional 5-7-5 haiku form. The initial Polaroids are of flowers, and the accompanying verses are angsty emo groanfests like: "Sometimes rain is sad / but after the time we shared / rain can't pull me down."

Within a few pages, however, we realize that there is something - literally - rotten in Denmark, and Ryan hasn't quite clued in yet. He's not sure why his neighbor won't return his friendly wave, or why his co-worker Beth is sitting in her car, staring out into space, and eating spaghetti. The television is uninteresting and the paper is just "death death death comics." It takes Ryan perhaps a little too long to realize that he's surrounded by a zombie mob, from which he does not escape unscathed. But the book doesn't stop there.

Yes, Zombie Ryan continues to document his exploits - complete with photographic evidence - in haiku form, at which point Zombie Haiku (like most horror flicks of the same ilk) turns from pedantic exposition to drop-dead hilarity that will undoubtedly make you nauseous. But in a good way, as you journey along with Ryan through his sympathetic, still-poetic, zombie perspective. Some of my favorite sentiments include: "I keep saying 'brains' / I remember other words / but I just need one" and "Blood is really warm / it's like drinking hot chocolate / but with more screaming."

Zombie Haiku has a much broader appeal than your average die-hard zombie fan, but in order to read it one definitely needs a morbid sense of humor . . . and a very strong stomach.

Zoë's Tale, by John Scalzi
Tor Books

I'll admit it right now, up until last week I had never read a word of John Scalzi. Oh, I knew of him, sure, and I have every single book in his Old Man's War trilogy on my shelf at home. I had even heard how wonderful it was, from the mouths of people whose opinion I trust highly; I just never picked it up. The first time I checked out Ender's Game from the library I returned it unread, too. It happens sometimes.

The thing that got me to pick up John Scalzi was, in fact, John Scalzi. I attended the reading he shared with Mary Robinette Kowal at WorldCon and was quite pleasantly blown away, laughing hysterically as he regaled us with Pluto's woes and polite suggestions on how to deal with alien coworkers. As a finale, Mary herself read the first chapter of The Sagan Diary, a moving piece which brought most of the room to tears. I actually felt bad that I was not one of them; I was sure if I had known anything about Jane Sagan at all, I would have been.

Within twelve hours of landing back in Tennessee, I had a copy of Scalzi's new book, Zoë's Tale, in my hands. And this time, I opened it up and started reading. The titular heroine, Zoë Boutin-Perry, is sharp, sarcastic seventeen years old. She's on a spaceship full of colonists ready to launch a community at the "ass-end of the universe." She's got a new boyfriend. Everybody's celebrating. Only, the planet that's just come into view isn't the planet they planned on colonizing . . . and Zoë has a lot more to offer the universe than she thinks she does.

It's second nature for a reader to connect with a Chosen One - be it Harry Potter or Ender Wiggin or Zoë Boutin-Perry. Each of us wants to feel, in some small way, that we are just as special, just as vital to the existence of the species. Scalzi ushers us right into Zoë's footsteps with this masterful, character-driven story. It's less about what the humans and aliens look like and more about who they are. Not only does he get under a character's skin, but he also stays true to that character while he's in there. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to read a science fiction tale that didn't bury both its readers and its characters under heaping mounds of technobabble and far-future military jargon. Or maybe I can. Maybe I just did.

I will warn you: John Scalzi is a dangerous man. He is a talented storyteller who draws you in with his intelligent humor and then entrances you with his power to make you care. You travel with Zoë, love with her, get in trouble with her. You care about what happens. Yes, you will care enough to need a tissue at least twice. When I complained to a friend about that, I was informed that I suffer from a not-uncommon condition known as "human being syndrome." When I complained to the author, he thanked me.

You're welcome, John. Now I'm off to read all your backlist.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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