Laser House on the Prairie by David W. Barbee: Hard to Get Further from Walnut Grove, MN

Laser House on the Prairie

Laser House on the Prairie

by David W. Barbee

Kindle Edition, 164 pg.
Excession Press, 2019

Read: July 30, 2019

“I’m not trying to be a hero, man. I’m kinda the opposite, actually. Right now, I just have to do what’s right.”

In a not-so-distant past, Jeph was a solider, then a gunslinger for hire. And then he fell in love, got married and gave it up. Now all he wants is to live a quiet life at home. But, those best-laid plans have met up with an old comrade-in-arms (and crime) who wants to pull off one more heist before he dies of some horrible disease. Jeph’s not interested and tells them so definitively. But he’s cajoled, badgered and threatened into going along with them. We all know this story, having read/seen it more times than we can count. But you’ve never seen it told this way.

Their target? A weapon called The Red Orb. Not only is it unbelievably lethal, but its users become addicted to it—the power and the way it ingratiates itself with the user’s mind. A devastating weapon and users jonesing to wield it. There’s only a billion ways that could go wrong.

A lot of the science/gadgets/weapons in this science-fiction-y novel makes no sense, and that’s okay. It’s not supposed to, it’s just a plot device to get the characters and/or conflict to be where Barbee wants it. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t really understand the conventions (or lack thereof) of Bizarro fiction, but it seems to me that it’s just whatever strange and odd bit of sciency thing the author comes up with at the moment—the stranger the better—while telling his story. Feel free to correct me in the comments. The important thing is that the SF elements are cuckoo-bananas and the reader should just roll with it.

The Red Orb is in a city not that far away called Obscuria. Which is basically what would happen if you took San Diego Comic Con, transported it into a Ready Player One meets Blade Runner future and then turned it into a city. Jeph and the band have to learn how to play by the rules of Obscuria and hopefully to hijack these rules in order to find and secure the Orb. Making the book a thinly disguised critique of Geek/Internet culture but it’s done in such a way that you can tell that Barbee is steeped in the sub-culture he’s examining and commenting on. Jeph’s account may be scathing, but it’s not spiteful. Nor is it dour, and all negative—you typically can’t help but grin as you see what Barbee is commenting on (and, honestly, it’s hard to disagree with most of his commentary).

When I sat down to write, I had a very clear idea how I was going to express “What this book is about.” But the more I think about it, I’m not sure I can unpack it all. There’s a lot about self-determination, about choosing to make your present and future different from your past. About how the wounds of the past and our self-deception aren’t easily overcome to stop our self-destructive tendencies. About our own tendencies to be trapped by our perceptions. It’s about in the Internet/Geek culture how do we determine the worth of someone/an act/a thought? Is it the quality? Is it the rareness? How easily it can be licensed and commodified? Why do anything if it isn’t related to clicks, likes, influences? What about those who’ve rejected and/or not-embraced that kind of life? How can they make their way through a Geek culture? And I think I’m really just scratching the surface.

So, yeah, you’ve got a tried-and-true setup, morphed into a SF-ish reality as an excuse to talk about what’s worth pursuing in our contemporary culture. Told in a strange, generally amusing and sometimes funny way. You won’t get through this book easily (it’s not a difficult read, but sometimes the imagery takes longer than usual to conjure up), but you may come through it better.

While it shared many sensibilities with last year’s Jimbo Yojimbo, it was a bit more restrained and a lot more heartfelt. It’s probably a better book overall—I didn’t enjoy it as much personally, but it’s one of those times I remind myself that ratings are about my overall appreciation, not (necessarily) the merits of the novel. I’ve liked both works by Barbee that I’ve tried so far, I need to find more by him.


3.5 Stars

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Opening Lines: Laser House on the Prairie by David W. Barbee

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art) (also, this has a great cover). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

from Laser House on the Prairie by David W. Barbee:

Lasers everywhere. In the water. In the sky. They flashed and strobed and shined in every color of the spectrum. Lasers that sizzled beneath the ground and erupted through volcanic fissures. Lasers that saturated the clouds and struck the earth with bolts of perfectly straight lightning.

There was laser energy in the plants and flowers, flowing through the blood of animals, and it would be beautiful if everybody wasn’t killing each other for it.

Anything as powerful as lasers would be fought over, and so there was a war, started long before anyone could remember, and probably still being waged to this day.

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2018

When I was trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). With 44 percent of my fiction, Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels so dominated the candidates, it’s like I read nothing else. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists — one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

I do think I read some books that were technically superior than some of these — but they didn’t entertain me, or grab me emotionally the way these did. And I kinda feel bad about leaving them off. But only kind of. These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t — not the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). I know I read books that are worse, too — I don’t feel bad about leaving them off.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch

My original post
I’ve read all the comics (at least collected in paperback), listened to all the audiobooks, read the books at least once . . . I’m a Rivers of London/Peter Grant fan. Period. Which means two things — 1. I’m in the bag already for this series and 2. When I say that this is the best of the bunch, I know what I’m talking about. Aaronovitch writes fantastic Urban Fantasy and this is his best yet. The series has been building to this for a while, and I honestly don’t know what to expect next. Great fight/action scenes, some genuine laughs, some solid emotional moments . . . this has it all. Everything you’ve come to expect and more.

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5 Stars

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe

My original post
I was very excited about this book when Bledsoe announced it was the last Tufa novel. Then I never wanted it to come out — I didn’t want to say goodbye to this wonderful world he’d created. But if I have to — this is how the series should’ve gone out. It’s the best installment since the first novel — we get almost every question we had about the Tufa answered (including ones you didn’t realize you had), along with a great story. It’s just special and I’m glad I got to read this magical series.

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5 Stars

Dragon RoadDragon Road

by Joseph Brassey

I haven’t been able to get a post written about this — I’m not sure why. It’s superior in almost every way to the wonderful Skyfarer — the idea behind the caravan, the scope of the ship and it’s culture are more than you might think anyone has done before. A fantasy novel about wizards and warriors (and warrior wizards) in a SF setting. I had a blast reading this and I think you will, too.

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4 1/2 Stars

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing. The characters are fun, well-developed and pretty strange. This is a great fantasy story, it’s a great bunch of laughs, but there’s real humans and real human reactions — it’s not all laughs but enough of it is that you won’t have to work hard to thoroughly enjoy the book.

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4 Stars

Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld

by Nicholas Eames
Like Dragon Road, I’ve been trying to write a post about this book for months. An epic story about brotherhood, about family, about heroism, about integrity — but at its core, it’s a story about Clay Cooper. Clay’s a good man trying to stay one. He worked really hard to get to where he is, but he has to get back on the road to help his friends’ daughter. It’s a fantastic concept and set up, with an even better follow-through by Eames. Possibly the best book I read last year — and I don’t say that lightly.

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5 Stars

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner

My original post
A Superhero story, a SF story, an Urban Fantasy, a story about friendship and destiny told with just enough of a light touch to fool yourself into this being a comedy. From the great title, all the way through to the end this book delivers.

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4 Stars

Smoke EatersSmoke Eaters

by Sean Grigsby

My original post
I started my original post about the book like this: Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:

Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.

That could’ve been my entire post, and it’s all I’m going to say now.

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4 1/2 Stars

Dark QueenDark Queen

by Faith Hunter

My original post
This could have been the series finale and I’d have been satisfied. I’m thrilled that it’s not. Hunter’s been building to this for a few books now — and it absolutely pays off the work she’s been doing. Better yet, there’s something else she’s been building toward that doesn’t get the attention it needed — and it’s devastating. The series will be different from here on out. Hunter’s as good as the genre has, and this book demonstrates it.

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5 Stars

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

My original post
I don’t have words for this. I really don’t know how to say anything about this book — especially not in a paragraph. Click on the original post and know that even then I fail to do the book justice. It’s strange, gross, funny, exciting and thrilling.

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4 Stars

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire

My original post
As much as I appreciate McGuire’s Toby Daye, Indexing and InCryptid series, her Wayward Children books are possibly the best things she’d done. This allows us to spend time with characters I didn’t think we’d see again and the family — and world — of my favorite character in the series. It’s like McGuire wrote this one specifically for me. But it’s okay for you to read it, too. I’m generous like that.

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5 Stars

Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee is strange, bizarre, funny, tragic and will make you say “ew” a lot.

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Eraserhead Books, 2018
Read: April 14 – 16, 2018

           “Ready to make it official?” said his father.

Jimbo closed his cuttlefish eyes and prayed the revenge vow.

Let me kill ‘em, he thought. Let me exist only to punish them that wronged me, for such is the pain of my life that only the pleasure of their death will weigh it equal. Amen.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” his dead father said.

Who doesn’t like a good revenge story? Especially one featuring swords and blood and gladiator-like battles, and surgically-enhanced hybrid warriors, and warlord chefs, and . . . oh, man. I don’t know how to summarize this one, I really don’t. So let me just steal from the publisher:

           From the author of Bacon Fried Bastard and A Town Called Suckhole, comes a countrified samurai epic in the vein of Squidbillies if directed by Akira Kurosawa.

A flood of frogs drowned the cities and gunked up all the guns. Now an evil restaurant chain called the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company rules a finger-licking shogunate of seafood mutants and murderous redneck swordsmen like Jimbo Yojimbo. Jimbo wants revenge on the Company for killing his family and stitching a cuttlefish to his face. After a daring escape, he will hack his way through hordes of crawdad soldiers, a church of quacking gun nuts on a jihad, and Bushido Budnick, the master chef who rules them all. But with every step he takes, Jimbo Yojimbo’s sweet revenge will surely begin to taste like shit gumbo.

JIMBO YOJIMBO is [a] fast-paced post-apocalyptic redneck samurai tale of love, revenge, and a whole lotta mutant sumbitches.

I’ve read plenty of imaginative works over the last couple of years where I asked myself “what did I just read?” Typically, that was because as imaginative as the novel might have been, the author didn’t relay the information too well and I just couldn’t follow it (I usually didn’t feel like I missed much). With this book, every time I asked something like, “Did he just say this cult was called the Holy Quackers?” I’d have to answer with, “Giant figures, wearing tattered camouflage kimonos and rubber boots, with giant duck bills on their face? Yup, he did say that.” As strange, as out there, as bizarre as the trappings got — the story made complete sense. It wasn’t overly complicated, it wasn’t overly messy, it was really a straight-forward revenge tale. Just one that felt like it was the offspring of any two randomly selected sentences from My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

Strip away everything and you’re looking at a tale of a guy who was betrayed by his wife and watched his father be butchered by a megalomaniacal dictator, who just wants to rescue his daughter from that dictator’s clutches (and, sure, maybe overthrow the government while he’s at it) while being pursued by his wife and his arch-enemy (who happens to be fixated on his wife, too). It’s a basic story, decently developed and told — effective enough to entertain. But, once you add in the humor, the voice, the panache, the multiple cults, the hybrid warriors, the very strange world all this takes place in — and the tale becomes dazzling.

And you buy it — you buy all of it. Including the fact that Bushido Budnick can create entirely new species in his lab, but can’t figure out how to take guns work anymore because science is hard or something. I’m not even sure it’s that your disbelief is suspended, the book’s just so cool that your disbelief says: “Who cares? I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Just turn the page ‘cuz I want to see what’s next.”

The fight scenes are disturbing, and bloody and . . . you’ll say “ew” frequently. There’s one fight near the end that just might be the grossest thing I read in 2018. There’s another that’s as close as you’ll get to the Bride v the Crazy 88s in The House of Blue Leaves in print (just with robots, warriors with crawdad claws for hands, a samurai with sea anemones attached to his head in place of hair, and so on).

I’m tempted to just list off some of the stranger and/or cooler ideas that are given life in these pages, like the cult that “worshipped ideas and facts, and their relics were strange, ancient items that had mostly turned soggy in the flood: books. . . building a small army of highly literate and lethal fanatics dedicated to discovering and protecting that which would outlive them all: the untouchable truth of knowledge.” But I won’t — just trust me, there are plenty. This book is like the Mos Eisley cantina scene — something strange and interesting to look at everywhere, with a bit of violence and a bit of business going on in the midst of it all.

I’m in danger of going on too long here and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself — if you like bizarre settings, stories told with panache and boldness, and don’t mind a good bit of violence along the way — get this. David W. Barbee is the real thing, I’ve got to get more of his work soon.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this in exchange for my honest opinion — I greatly appreciate it (the book wouldn’t have appeared on my radar if not for that), but it didn’t make an impact on my opinion (beyond giving me something to have an opinion about).

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4 Stars