Lincoln Mitchell’s first novel, body scout (Class, 356 pp., $27), Blends noir, cyberpunk and sports together in something timeless and original. In an uncertain near-future New York where extreme climate change has made cybernetic organs and genetic modifications – called “upgrades” – necessary and common, massive income inequality and dire medical debt are more prevalent than ever. But the book isn’t really about those things. First and foremost, it’s about baseball.
Kobo is a scout in a world where baseball teams are mostly owned by giant pharmaceutical corporations. In addition to players, he scouts scientists, geneticists and neurosurgeons who help shape players into proof-of-concept displays of their latest genetic treatments. Kobo’s adopted brother, JJ Zunz, a star slugger for the Monsanto Mets, has pinned his hopes on him for the ensign. But during the playoffs, Zunz steps up to the plate and suffers a gruesome, shocking, widely televised death. Kobo, devastated, believes it to be murder – and is recruited by the Mets to investigate. He makes his way through the hidden passages of his famous brother’s life, even as parts of his body are tried to be taken over by medical loan sharks.
Kobo’s love and sorrow for his brother livens up every page, and the real seriousness of those feelings is present in impressing in contrast to the glib, corporatized dystopia he lives in. Mitchell’s writing is beautiful too, breathing refined life into the stock genre types, and illuminating the story’s vast tracts with casual wrist-flicks of world-building. “The Body Scout” is a wild ride, sad and funny, surreal and intelligent.
ryaka aoki Light from Unusual Stars (Tor, 372 pp., $25.99) Mixes styles too, but is messy, with results ranging from surprisingly delightful to hopelessly imperfect. In this love letter to music, food, and California’s San Gabriel Valley, Christian devils clash with supernatural beings over the souls of a famous violin teacher and her gifted student.
Shizuka Satomi has trained six brilliant violinists to reach career heights before turning their souls to hell in fulfillment of their own demonic contract; He is looking for the seventh and last student to pay off his debt. Katarina Nguyen is a young transgender woman running away from her abusive family, trying to make ends meet with cheap violins and occasional sex work. Lan Tran is a mother, a starship captain and a donut shop owner who protects her family of alien refugees from the Galactic Empire by passing as human refugees. Their paths cross and entangle a duck pond in El Molino Park: Shizuka and Lan begin dating, and Katarina agrees to become Shizuka’s student.
There is much to appreciate here. More recently science fiction and fantasy have aspirationally drawn gender diversity, creating a world where transgender and non-binary identities are accepted and expected. Instead Aoki based his novel on the hardships people endure in the real world. Katrina lives with poverty, restlessness and suicidal thoughts; She always leans towards abuse and relief when it is met with kindness. His love of music is a lifeline carrying him through a vibrant Los Angeles with good sounds and rich aromas, fusion foods and immigrant ancestry, a stark contrast to the typical, rarefied circles of international violin competition.
That said, just as Katrina’s big heart and tremendous talent race against the limits of her novice technique, so does the making of this book. Frequent dizziness – sometimes every few sentences – makes writing feel like it’s always interrupting itself; There is such a cacophony of characters and concerns that many of them fall short, with some plots and dynamics feeling while others feel tense and repetitive. These issues of speed and technique are depressing – but the book brought me to tears despite them, and bursting with love and insight on food, music, heritage and change.
Cadwell Turnbull’s No Gods, No Monsters (Blackstone, 387 pp., $26.99) There is an intricate sequence of moving, intimate character portraits before and after an event called Fracture, when a pack of werewolves deliberately reveal themselves to the public. As other so-called monsters emerge out of the shadows, fronts emerge in a war fought between secret societies, overseen by a mysterious narrator who slips from place to place and lives in his sleep.
The depth and care with which Turnbull inhabits each character is captivating; Despite the vast cast spread across the vast terrain, I never felt lost or confused. His attention to location details is perceived and clear: the story moves confidently smoothly from Massachusetts to St. Thomas to Virginia, carried by beautiful, conversational prose that is by reminders of who is telling the stories – and how. is shocked.
Finishing a book without knowing the first book in a trilogy is like looking down after being chased by Roadrunner off a cliff. In retrospect, I can appreciate how well Grounded Turnbull delivered this mammoth first act; At that point, I ran away helplessly. Hopefully I’ve spared you that, and you can allow yourself to sink into this gentle, brutal book by hand in piano keys, or teeth in the flesh.