Review: 'The Entropy of Bones' by Ayize Jama-Everett
One of the most interesting aspects of a superhero is their superpower itself. Spiderman's superpower is the ability to walk up surfaces no human can traverse. For Quicksilver, it's the ability to move and react at the speed of light. For Chabi, the heroine at the heart of The Entropy of Bones, the latest work of sci-fi from Bay Area novelist Ayize Jama-Everett, it's the ability to use the entropy of bones to disarm opponents. Like the author's previous books, The Liminal People and The Liminal War, this new work, published by Small Beer Press in September, is concerned with the battle between good and evil, spearheaded by the Liminal people -- a race of humans with supreme strength -- who have the given ability, if they choose to employ it, to defend and protect humanity.
From the opening page it's clear that Chabi, as a Liminal, is no ordinary teenager. She's just completed a run from Sausalito, where she lives on a houseboat with her mother, to Napa -- a cool 60 or so miles. Chabi runs the distance in half a day, cuts through the mountains, and then makes it to Calistoga in another three hours. She supplements the epic runs with swims from Larkspur to the Oakland harbor. Jama-Everett lives in the Bay Area and he uses locations across Northern California to strong effect. Aside from Calistoga, Chabi fights battles in Mendocino, Oakland, San Jose, and in the city proper. The reluctant teenaged superhero is nearly impossible to defeat in a fight, thanks to training from her adopted mentor, the possibly sinister and mysterious Narayana, a drunk warrior from India. Through it all, and despite uncanny physical displays of power, Chabi doesn't realize that she's a superhero, part of her scrappy charm.
Chabi breaks the mold for superheroes in more ways than one. She begins fight training with Narayana, while still in high school. She is Mongolian on her father's side and Black on her mother's side. She loves dubstep with an obsessive, almost propulsive force, and spends nights out at clubs dancing as a portal into bliss. And she's got a sense of humor, with a strong voice that permeates the book and moves the narrative forward.
After Narayana disappears, Chabi is lost, though the hole in her life opens up opportunity to develop a better relationship with her mother, who has gone from drunk to sober in the course of a few years. Chabi is a hired gun, the muscle for a marijuana operation outside of Calistoga. Little does Chabi know the brothers that own the operation, out of a desire to make a load of cash, are going to pull her into a shady underworld populated by a tribe of Alters who want nothing more than the total destruction of humankind. This tribe, of course, is headquartered at a swanky, creepy hotel deep in the heart of San Francisco.
When Chabi meets A.C., a superhero with the power to travel on the back of the wind, she learns all about the seductive powers of the Alters. The warning is doubly meaningful since Chabi has discovered her kryptonite in Rice, the son of a powerful hotel magnate, thrower of rambunctious parties, and an Alter with an energy that she finds addictive.
"They are oxymorons. Creations of entropy. They exist... their sole purpose... is to hurry humanity to its eventual entropic end. To join with the cold of the universe," A.C. warns Chabi. "It's not evil I'm talking about. Evil exists to corrupt, pervert, transform. It can actually be useful in some cases. I'm talking entropy. The end of all things."
Luckily, if the end of all things is a possibility, having a superhero around at least offers some modicum of comfort. If that superhero happens to be a twenty-something, old school hip-hop and dubstep-loving, half-Mongolian and half-Black woman who lives on a rusted old houseboat in Sausalito, all the better.
Boots Riley at Litquake
Boots Riley always speaks his mind. The radical Oakland rapper, activist, and leader of the Coup is unabashedly political, a refreshing stance in this day of apolitical pop stars with more interest in crass consumerism than much else. So it's appropriate that Haymarket Books, named for the Haymarket Riot of 1886, recently published Tell Homeland Security -- We Are the Bomb: Collected Lyrics and Writings, the complete collection of Riley's lyrics introduced by oral interviews in which Riley explains the thought process behind nearly every song in the Coup's catalog. The intros are pleasantly casual, and feel a bit like you're just kicking back with Riley while he relays the stories behind the songs. He also reveals a diverse range of influences: from literary icons like Michael Ondaatje, Salmon Rushdie, and Pablo Neruda, to Occupy Oakland, and, of course, Prince.
On songs like "Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO," from 2001's Party Music, Riley strikes a powerful balance between class awareness, sharp critiques of capitalism, and bombastic, danceable deep funk beats. "Often people see the title, and they picture a vicious attack on the system," says Riley in the book. "I don't know, it's up to you to say whether this is a vicious attack on the system. I clearly do not like the system of capitalism, and to make it clear, would like there to be a world in which the people democratically control the profits they create, and that would be communism, socialism, whatever you want to call it. But '5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,' if you look at the last verse, I list 5 million ways to kill a CEO, and it's basically them being killed by their own greed."
Boots Riley appears at Litquake on Oct. 15, in conversation with writer Adam Mansbach (who wrote the intro to Tell Homeland Security), and comic W. Kamau Bell.
My Bookish Bay Area with Nayomi Munaweera
With just one novel under her belt, novelist Nayomi Munaweera has already racked up many accolades. Her debut Island of a Thousand Mirrors won the 2013 Commonwealth Literary Prize for Asia and received high praise from the New York Times. She appears at two Litquake events this week: A Night of Historical Fiction on Oct. 15 and Hazel All-Stars at Lit Crawl on Oct. 17.
How long have you lived in the Bay Area and what city do you live in?
I've lived in the Bay since 2001 when I escaped from LA. I'm in the Temescal District of Oakland now.
Where have you found writing and story inspiration in the bay?
My second novel What Lies Between Us is very much a San Francisco novel. It's out in February 2016. A large part of the book is inspired by this very beautiful and sometimes cold place we call home.
What are some of your favorite local bookstores and why?
I love Walden Books, Half Priced Books, Mrs. Dalloway's, Diesel, Moe's, Pegasus and of course City Lights. They all have such character -- what's not to love? When I first moved to the Bay as a young inspiring writer I spent hours in Moe's. These felt like sacred hours and I always walked out of there with the sense of having lost time in the most wonderful way. I'm launching the second novel at City Lights which is absolutely thrilling to me.
Do you have a favorite cafe or someplace that you like to go to write?
I write at either Farley's East or Arbor. I write at home a lot but when that gets too lonely and I've been talking to myself too long these are the places I end up. The coffee's pretty mediocre but the sense of being around people doing interesting things is necessary.
Any favorite Bay Area writers?
Alice Walker's around. I've been lucky enough to be at meditation classes she's taught at the East Bay Meditation Center. Maxine Hong Kingston teaches at Berkeley. These are my favorites.
Favorite books that take place in Northern California/Bay Area?
Micheal Ondatjee's Divisadero. Especially as I was living quite close to the street when I read it.
Is there any bit of local literary lore that you find particularly interesting?
Not specifically, but it's exciting to live in a place where people are constantly pushing the creative envelope in a thousand different ways. This is a place where anything is possible, where culture is created for the country and for the world, and I just adore being around all that explosive energy.