Del Rey, 2004, 531 pages, C$22.95 tpb, ISBN 0-345-46635-7
Now that was one interesting fantasy novel.
Interesting as in different, interesting as in readable, but also interesting as in flawed. A too-quick plat description of The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad would be something like “the lives of two twentysomething friends changes dramatically after one of them falls for a mysterious woman”. But given that this encompasses everything from DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR? to WHITE SKIN, maybe it’s best to describe how this novel is different from the standard Echo-Gen lad-lit template.
For one thing, our two protagonists are pure-breed Science Fiction geeks. Hamza may be more of a media/comics fan whereas Yehat is closer to the hard-SF genre, but that doesn’t make them any less geeky. They’re the protagonists and that makes them cool –especially, I suspect, to the intended readership. But their comfortable wasted lives (Hamza washes dishes for a living; Yehat is a video store clerk) spent in pop-culture ephemera are about to get interesting (as in unpredictable, as in weird, as in dangerous) as soon as Nubian goddess Sherem starts taking an interest in one of them.
I wish SF could be diverse enough that a novel featuring two black Muslim Edmonton-area heroes wouldn’t in itself be worth singling out. But it’s not, and The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad is a welcome bit of difference. The novel soon delves deep into mythology, and it’s thankfully unlike anything west-European writers have done before. Minister Faust (pen name of Edmonton activist Malcolm Azania) bridges the SF culture with his own, and the result is a book that’s quite unlike anything before, melding modern pop hipness with African roots.
This difference carries through to the prose style, which is driven by the same cooler-than-thou energy one often sees in mainstream novels destined to the younger generation. The prose style is packed with CAPITAL LETTERS-
-abrupt line breaks-
-and tons of references that will be lost on anyone who failed pop-culture 101. The book is set in 1995 for some reason (perhaps because that’s Faust’s “best year” as far as pop references are concerned), but it certainly feels like the work of a modern young writer.
It can be a lot of fun, but as with most first efforts, Coyote Kings is also harmed by a number of miscalculations, or unsuccessful attempts to do too much when little was required.
First, it should be said that the novel is told through multiple narrators: almost a dozen of them. While most of the novel is told by Hamza and Yehat, many of the antagonists get two or three chapters in which to say their piece. This causes a number of problems: It’s confusing (the first few lines of every chapter are spent figuring out who’s talking), it’s unnecessary (even bordering on gratuitous showboating, as if Faust was trying to show that he, too, can write accents) and it takes the action away from the compelling protagonists. Hamza and Yehat are the core of the novel, and every moment spent away from them seems superfluous. While I will recognize that the antagonists’ viewpoints often present information that would otherwise be unaccessible to our heroes, they also feature “the FanBoys”, maybe the most unlikely aspect of the entire novel. Faust smothers his novel with terminal hipness, but even lively writing can’t hide the unevenness of tone that can make Coyote Kings a bit of a bother.
Then there is the ending, which culminates almost as an easy afterthought. While there is definitely a conclusion to the events of the book, it seems to be one borne out of desperation. At least one major loose end remains untied; I wouldn’t care to guess whether this means a sequel, but there’s a sloppiness to the last few chapters that is really annoying.
This doesn’t make Coyote Kings a disappointment, but that’s because it’s so different that the difference itself overwhelms the annoyance. Still, it makes it difficult to praise the novel beyond the prose and the unusual setting. It could have been shorter, better and more focused, but it’s not… and that’s really a shame because the rest of it works quite well.