The Czech science fiction comedy I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen (Zabil jsem Einsteina, panove) starts off with a fairly shocking scene, even by the standards of today: two bearded men locked in the throes of a passionate kiss. It’s a fake-out, we soon learn, a way to introduce both the central premise of the plot — the future has been ravaged by radioactive fallout that has caused women to grow beards — and the fact that this movie is going to have a grand time tweaking its nose at gender expectations, stereotypes, and comfort zones. The comedy is a mix of subtle and slapstick, something like Monty Python meets Charlie Chaplin meets the Marx Brothers, with a bit of Benny Hill-esque sex farce thrown in. Sadly, no one ever pats an old man on the head, though I’m sure Karel Effa (who should have teamed up with HK comedy actor Richard Ng) would have been up for it. Continue reading…
Posted March 15, 2012
Computers and I are not the best of friends. We’re more like work colleagues who really don’t care for one another. We may act all professional, but secretly we’re each making sarcastic comments about the other’s hair, clothing, and annoying personal habits.
Okay, maybe that’s just me.
But believe me, computers reciprocate. To me, anyway. Touch screens refuse to recognize my fingers. Desktops have been known to spark and die when I touch them. There’s an ad for a computer service that looks like a grey screen of death with the words “Do you want to erase everything on your hard drive?” in dark letters. Below that are two buttons. One says “Yes”. The other says “Yes.”
That, in a nutshell, is my life with computers.
Why I am even telling you this? Because I want you to understand how unlikely it is that I would turn to a computer to provide me with reading material. So when I say I spent the better part of an hour trying to download an Ilona Andrews novella*, you’ll understand just how badly I wanted to read it.
I wasn’t always such a huge Ilona Andrews fan. In fact, the first three novels in Andrews’ ‘Kate Daniels’ series were on my radar only because I stocked them in my store. I knew that ‘Ilona Andrews’ was in fact the team of married writing partners Ilona and Gordon Andrews. I knew they wrote Urban Fantasy, but that was about all. That changed with the arrival of On The Edge.
On The Edge was Andrews’ fourth novel, and it had a very different look. A much more Romance look. I quite liked the cover, but worried that it might work against the book in my store (odd but true: SFF readers can be quite brutal about Romance covers). So I read it in the hopes that I’d be able to recommend it to more timid readers who might otherwise look past the atypical cover. By the second page, I was hooked. By the end of the book, I was a total convert. And I sold hundreds of copies to readers who came back eagerly for more.
On The Edge isn’t really Urban Fantasy. In fact, Andrews describes it as Rural Fantasy, which is wonderfully apt. It’s the story of Rose Drayton, who lives with her two younger brothers on a narrow strip on land called the Edge which lies between the Broken and the Weird. Our world, with cars, grocery stores, and government-issued ID, is the Broken; the Weird is full of magic. Edgers like Rose and her family can live in both worlds.
It’s not an easy existence. One of Rose’s brothers is a necromancer, and the other was born a cat. Rose herself wields a magical talent that has made her the target of many less-than-honourable proposals. Thankfully, that same talent has also given her the power to back up her refusals with force. So when a powerful blueblood from the Weird arrives at her door, she’s not interested in anything he has to say. But Declan Camarine isn’t just an aristocrat looking for a broodmare or a bride. He’s a warrior with a job to do. And the fate of everyone in the Edge might rest on how well he and Rose get along.
While still more heavily weighted towards Fantasy, the plot of On The Edge gets a lot of fuel from the developing relationship between Rose and Declan. But what made the book such a standout to me were its other relationships. Unlike so many contemporary Fantasy heroines, Rose does not operate in a void. Her little brothers, eight year old Jack (the cat) and ten year old Georgie (the necromancer) get into the all the trouble that regular kids do, and then some. She’s close to her grandmother, a hedgewitch with considerable power of her own. Rose has enemies, definitely, but she also has friends who cover for her at work, and ask pointed questions about her personal life. I loved reading the book, and was sorry when it ended. (Now there are several more titles in the Edge series, so, yay!)
Luckily for me, I could dive right into Andrews’ backlist. At the time, said backlist consisted of the first three novels in the ‘Kate Daniels’ series: now there are five, plus several attendant shorter stories, with more on the way. Kate Daniels is a swordswoman who lives in a semi-contemporary Atlanta. ‘Semi’ because in Kate’s world, magic rises in powerful waves which knock out complicated technology while they last. Skyscrapers crumble; phones don’t often work; cars sit idle. The magic has also revived in the population. There are mages, witches, shapeshifters, and necromancers galore. As might be expected, the magic users tend to cluster together, for safety and for power. The witches have covens; the necromancers band together as The People, and the shapeshifter Pack lives in a giant fortress outside the city limits. The head of the Pack is an immensely powerful shape-shifting lion named Curran.
On her first job involving the Pack, Kate tweaks Curran’s tail, metaphorically speaking. You can guess what happens next. But it happens over the course of several novels, as Kate and Curran deal with all sorts of magical dangers, and scramble to overcome their pasts enough to get out of their own way. Both have lived lives that made them immensely tough, and emotionally damaged. Theirs is an unusual courtship: they frequently physically attack one other as a kind of foreplay (the title of this piece is a direct quote from Kate to Curran). Watching their slow advance from adversaries to mated pair – with plenty of backsliding, stabbings, and property damage on the way – was a rare pleasure.
And again the developing romance, while important, isn’t the only relationship that matters. Over the series readers get to see Kate develop from a smart-mouthed loner into… well, a smart-mouthed person with a network of relationships. She makes friends. She learns to take care of people, and by extension, herself. And while it makes each book more satisfying, it also ups the stakes: the more people Kate cares about, the more she has to lose.
It’s an incredibly satisfying series. Thankfully, there are more books on the way. And there are all sorts of shorter works set in the same world, including a novella that Andrews wrote and posted – for free – as a Christmas gift to readers. Gordon has rewritten several scenes from Curran’s point of view, which provide a highly enjoyable counterpoint to the novels.
At this point, I’ve read everything Ilona Andrews has written. Except… there are also two original ebooks, set in a futuristic SF world. After an embarrasingly epic struggle, I’ve managed to download and read one. Thus far, I’ve been unsuccessful with the second, but I refuse to give up. After all, neither Kate nor Rose would.
Chris Szego was very proud when she finally figured out how to program her VCR… long after everyone else had switched to DVDs.
*From iTunes. Who has trouble downloading things from iTunes, for pity’s sake? **