Now, that isn’t because I loathe reading because nothing could be further from the truth. While I wasn’t much of a fan back in my school days, I discovered a broader love for books of all types – Science Fiction, Fantasy, and fact-based stuff as well – in the mid-1980’s. Through a good portion of the 1990’s, in fact, I made it a personal goal to read at least two books a month but averaged closer to four. The reason I just don’t do it all that much these days is maintaining ‘the world’s greatest SciFi and Fantasy blog ever’ (my term, not yours) requires an awful lot of time and attention. Something had to give, and reading was it.
Still, every now and then, a little something something comes to me by request over the vast Information Superhighway that is the World Wide Web. If it sounds interesting enough, then I’ll take a gander. And author Dana Hammer’s request – a forthcoming tome curiously titled The Cannibal’s Guide To Fasting – really piqued my interest. She promised the Apocalypse and Horror – two things that go hand-in-hand ‘round these parts – along with a healthy dose of Humor. Throw in the SciFi angle along with some hints of Zombies and cannibalism … and I ask you: “What’s not to love?”
In all seriousness, I couldn’t pass it up. We connected online, and she forwarded me a copy for review purposes. I’m glad she did, even at the risk of me biting off a bit more than I could chew … (snicker snicker)
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the book’s Amazon.com citation (though edited for length):
“Igor Fenenko, a former research scientist, is a scary, scary man. Not only is he a massive bodybuilder with a spider tattooed on his face, he has also been infected with Pestis Manducans – a viral cannibalism. Caught, disgraced, and sent to a ‘rehabilitation center,’ Igor is now forced to live in a government-mandated Containment Center. Igor’s brother, Karl, is also infested with Pestis. He lives down by the river, where he runs a cannibal rights group. But when Igor discovers their evil practices, he is forced to intervene. Aided and opposed by rich eccentrics who have their own agendas, Igor must use brains and muscles to find a cure while fighting the urge to turn brains and muscles into a delicious lunch.”
Anyone whose read much of what I’ve written over the years about Comedy in genre projects knows my particular stance on the topic: Comedy combined with anything – SciFi, Horror, Thrillers, etc. – is an exceedingly risky proposition. This isn’t because those subjects are not funny or the writer (or filmmaker) isn’t gifted at slinging jokes. Rather, what each individual viewer or reader finds funny varies widely, so I’m always urging caution when dabbling with such a mix. Occasionally, it’s done well, but far too often the humor doesn’t feel organic to the situation and characters; this produces the effect of slowing down the narrative (when the opposite is expected), and the meal is ruined. Just ruined.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with The Cannibal’s Guide To Fasting … and that’s largely because author Hammer rather smartly doesn’t revel in any of the ensuing hilarity. Her book moves with relative briskness (just over 250 pages), allowing her chief instigator – Igor Fenenko – the observational blurb here and there. The humor here isn’t the construct – there are no passages built around a punch line nor any soliloquy’s leading to some big laugh moment. Instead, what’s funny is often tied directly to the narration (the author’s voice) and the assembly of sometimes quirky characters who surround the tale’s hero. As such, that’s a very good choice because the novel works well on that level.
… even stronger is the world-building that Hammer builds into these pages. There’s an effortlessness to the prose I didn’t expect, especially given the potential scope that’s outlined in the full synopsis (found at Amazon.com, in case you missed it).
Let me explain:
I typically avoid Fantasy novels because I find some of these reading absolutely exhausting with how much time a particular writer wants to spend in fleshing out each and every corner of the world itself. While I appreciate any readership that clings to every idea – every kingdom, every city, every borough, every street address, the color each character wears, etc. – I’ve always personally found those things plodding. Because I’ve always felt more inspired by a simple central story populated with smart and recognizable characters, I steer clear of things I believe are “getting into the weeds.” I hate weeds. I hate ‘em.
With Fasting, however, Hammer has a unique ability to give me just enough in each crafted moment to grasp what’s necessary for me to achieve and understanding … and then she’s back into the story. While there are the obligatory author’s ‘time-outs’ here and there – every writer wants and uses a chance to bring folks alive on the page – she avoids the “Read this, I’m writing here” sensibility that many other established voices tend to fall back on. Consequently, I felt like I was being encouraged to keep with Igor’s journey instead of falling into cracks exploring too deeply ideas of government and class and morality; those things are there, but they’re subservient to the plot and not vice versa.
Still, Fasting had a few shortcomings for me.
I never quite bought into these two brothers’ evolving adversarial relationship. Without spoiling some of the finer details (which I never do), it’s clear to me that Igor played the role of ‘brotherly protector’ in more ways than one in their past, so I struggled in accepting the full gamut of where and how the book ends. Some of this, I think, is also owed to brother Karl’s unstated characterization: as the physically and emotionally weaker of the two boys (from their youth), where exactly did this ‘high and mighty’ opinion of himself later in life come from? I don’t doubt that Hammer can answer these questions; my point is only that I can’t answer them easily on my own (without making a few guesses based on my own experience), and that weakens the ride. (Doesn’t destroy it; just weakens it.)
There are also a few small(ish) details – things about how gold coins are handled, how government and non-government agencies act, and whatnot – that pulled me out of the world here and there to minor degrees. These aren’t so much errors as they are, perhaps, differences of knowledge? Or opinion? For example, my understanding of antiquities – especially gold – is predicated on my few years of working in the banking industry; because a transaction in the book happens far easier than it would in reality – especially in this day and age – I get distracted by those events. True, these differences can always be tempered by saying, “Hey, this is the future, so the rules are different,” and that’s why I never make big deals out of them, only mention them in passing.
But Igor Fenenko certainly stays front-and-center in the engaging adventure. Sometimes bloody – but always pulpy, if you get my drift – his is a hard act to follow.
The Cannibal’s Guide To Fasting (2022) was written by Dana Hammer. The book is being published by Cinnabar Moth Publishing LLC, and it is scheduled to ‘street’ on September 6th. Amazon.com shows hardcover price at $31.99 and digital (Kindle) at $4.99.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the author and Book Sirens provided me with an advance reader copy of The Cannibal’s Guide To Fasting by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.