KJ Kabza sent me a copy of his second story collection, Under Stars, which will be released on Oct. 27. He sent it because I’d positively reviewed a couple of his stories in Tangent Online (The Color of Sand and The Soul in the Bell Jar). I hadn’t actually realized that the same person had written these two stories, as I don’t usually pay attention to the author’s name. Anyway, in one of my reviews I said that I’d read anything this author wrote (I did have a caveat that I would prefer his endings be slightly happier), and with this anthology I wholeheartedly second that first impression.
This collection 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) and it added a special level of enjoyment to my nightly visits to my basement sauna, during which I like to catch up on reading.
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”–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.” (Both of those stories are included in this collection, by the way.) 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.